On the elevator landing of the twenty-third floor of the dark, empty office building, there was a heavy grinding, whirring and thumping sound that echoed throughout the complex. The grinding stopped with a thump that made the the elevator doors shudder. There was silence for a moment before a small ding, then the doors opened. Inspector Edison stepped out, gun in hand, pointed skyward as he carefully peeked out of the doors.
“Looks clear,” he says, stepping out. The Duke followed behind him, laser spanner in hand, scanning the surrounds with a red beam of light. Edison withdrew his flashlight and lit the way in front of them. “What is this place?”
“This facility was used by the Eighty-Eight,” said the Duke. “They were using it to try to integrate Belosian and Rathean technology.”
“And they were trying to stick Duke’s Orb in a spacejet,” said Anise “Didn’t work out too well, they basically made a smart-bomb with enough rocket fuel to drown the whole planet.”
“Uh huh,” said Edison. “So, you’ve met the Eighty-Eight before?”
“We didn’t know who they were at the time,” said the Duke. “I thought they were just daft scientists, who’d made a deal with a rogue Time-Traveller. Here, this is it.”
Edison saw a door which had been forced open, the door jamb and strikeplate snapped off. He peeked around the corner, then stepped inside.
“Whoa . . .” said Edison as he saw the smashed window. “What happened here?”
The night air was cool, but rather still, whistling softly around the edges of the smashed window.
“Runaway spacejet,” said the Duke with a sigh as he looked around the empty floor. “They’ve packed up their cables, their equipment . . . “
“So, you’re saying that they set up a space-ship in here?” said Edison, looking around. “How did it fit?”
“It was relatively small,” said the Duke.
“Well, they probably just broke in, then,” said Edison approaching the Duke. “I’ve seen this kind of organized crime operation before. Break in, use the space for some ‘nefarious purpose’, then break out. It makes it harder to find, since there’s no paper trail.”
“Wouldn’t they have to be pretty clever to have snuck an alien spaceship into an office building?” asked Anise.
“Not really,” said the Duke, scanning the room with different spectrums of laser. “Besides residual exhaust, and the window, there really is no trail here, paper or otherwise.”
“They’re obviously a dedicated group of individuals,” said Edison. “Did you really think that finding the Eighty-Eight would be that easy?”
“Not really, no. But at least we’re exploring all possibilities,” said the Duke.
“There’s something I’ve been wonderin’ . . . ” said Anise, when her pocket starts ringing. “Oh, uh . . . one second, guys. This is Anise,” she says, answering her phone.
“Annie, where are you?” asked a bubbly voice on the other end of the phone.
“Uhh . . . out?”
“It’s almost half-past eight, you said you’d come out wi’ me.”
“To . . .?”
“Simon’s!” said the voice excitedly, “Come on, he even got a band. Mate o’ his, kinda cute.”
“Oh, uh . . . one moment,” said Anise. She hugged the phone to her shoulder. “Uh, Duke? I was invited to a party, like, pre-time-travel ago?”
“You’re telling me this because . . .?” said the Duke.
“Because I don’t know what to do. I know we’re busy on this space mission stuff, but if I don’t go, Bee will know somethin’s up. But, we are busy, aren’t we?”
“Doesn’t look it,” said the Duke. “There are no leads here. How long is this party?”
“Hmm,” said the Duke, stroking his beard, “Well, that being the case, I don’t see why not.”
“Okay. Ya, I’m good,” Anise says into the phone. “But hey, can I bring a friend? Or two?”
“You filthy girl . . . yeah, sure, but stop dilly-dallyin’! Oh, and bring drinks.” Bianca hangs up.
“Bye, Bianca . . .” says Anise sarcastically, putting the phone in her pocket.
“Did I just hear you invite us?” said Edison.
“Of course, you’re my mates,” said Anise. “Is that a problem?”
“Definitely not,” said the Duke. “And it gives me the chance to scan over this planet . . . when does the revelry begin?”
“Actually, we’re already late,” said Anise.
“Nonsense,” said the Duke, heading towards the door. “I’m never late, the party begins when I arrive.”
“Right . . .” sighed Edison, and the two followed him down the hall and into the elevator, where the Duke’s timeship was nested within.
The Duke immediately moved to the centre console, and began typing into the console.
“So, what’re you scannin’ the planet for?” asked Anise.
“Knack guitar?” asked Edison. “Why are you searching for that?”
“Because the Eighty-Eight collect alien technology, yet for reasons I don’t quite understand, alien technology seems to be scattered all throughout your world, so that alone doesn’t help us,” said the Duke. As he spoke, the screen displayed a holographic display of earth, and covered it in a spherical grid-pattern. “But there’s one piece of tech’ that I can track: The wormhole generator.”
“The what?” said Anise.
“Ring-shaped device, nine chevrons? You don’t recall?”
“Oh, right, the portal-thingy!”
“ . . . yes, the ‘portal-thingy’. Well, the portal-thingy is made out of naquadah, which is a very rare material. If I scan your entire planet for it, when I find it, that will lead us straight to the Eighty-Eight.”
“Okay,” says Anise.
“Wait, hold up a second,” says Edison. “The reason you know they have a wormhole . . . thingy, is because you were there, and we left through a portal. Can’t we just go back the same way we left? Through a wormhole?”
“Definitely not,” said the Duke. “For starters, it would be pointless. My goal is not to barge in with a big gun and wreck the place, and if I even tried I’d be killed in the process, that facility was the belly of the beast, and that generator was especially valuable to them. They captured me and risked decimating your world to keep it from being destroyed. No, I wish to understand the Eighty-Eight, so that I can find a way of stopping them without bloodshed. Only a madman would go face to face with an enemy he can’t perceive.”
“Oh, yeah . . .” said Anise, “I was gonna ask before, before the call - If there are only eighty-eight of them, well, we know a lot of them already, right? We’ve seen Tattoos, Baldy, Traveller-lady, McDoctor & half a dozen guys in that warehouse. That’s about ten down, right?”
“We can’t assume that ‘Eighty-Eight’ refers to the number of members,” said the Duke. “It could mean a whole lot of things . . . it’s the atomic number of Radium, the number of moons in the Sutides system, the number of . . . well, uh . . .”
“It’s the number of keys on a piano?” offered Edison.
“Yes. As well, it’s the approximate lifespan, in Earth years, of homo sapiens.”
“And, uh . . . oh!” Edison clicks his fingers. “The DeLorean! It goes eighty-eight miles an hour to go back in time!”
“. . . the what?” said the Duke. “I can’t even translate that.”
“It’s from Back to the Future. It’s a movie.”
“‘Movie’ . . . ? Oh, right, the hologram-like ‘film’ projection. Anise mentioned it. You might have to show me at some point, it sounds fascinating,” said the Duke as he stepped up to the console. “Anyway, the point is that we can’t be sure, so we need to keep an open mind, and look for more clues. In the meantime, Anise, I see no reason not to attend this party of yours. Where is it?”
“Peckham, close to Warwick Gardens. Do you know how to get there?”
“No, but if I access a detailed scan of the surrounds, I could get a facsimile of the cityscape. I just need you to point me in the right direction . . .”
The Lift flew through the night sky, softly groaning and whining as it moved effortlessly and precisely, an elevator car outside of its chute with exposed wires and brackets. The ship stopped still for a moment in the middle of the air, then began to descend. It landed softly at the kerb where several cars of other partygoers had parked. Inside, the Duke shut down the engine and moved around the console to a different set of controls.
“Alright . . . just need to execute the scan,” said the Duke, he jabbed at the holographic keyboard with one finger, and immediately a large circle appeared, with the label "00.0%" hovering in the centre. “This will take several hours to scan the entire planet, pole to pole.”
“Cool. Well, let’s go,” said Anise. The three of them stepped onto the road, but as the Duke locked the doors behind them, Anise stopped suddenly and spun around.
“Oh, crap, I forgot. Duke? Bee told me to get drinks.”
“Drinks?” asked the Duke
“Yeah, I usually bring wine or some bubbly.”
“Oh, of course . . . I can help with that,” said the Duke. He turned around and unlocked the ship. After a minute, he’d entered the ship, and returned holding a large, black bottle.
“Oh no . . .” murmured Edison.
“What’s that?” asked Anise.
“New Capitol black wine,” said the Duke. “It’s an antique vintage; made from nugberries fermented in the digestive enzymes of Howling mountain algae.”
“You never told me it was fermented in algae,” said Edison.
“Didn’t seem relevant,” said the Duke, gesturing forward. “Now, shall we?”
Anise lead the three up to a two-storey, square brick house nestled into a small block of suburbia. Anise knocked on the door, and as the three waited, they heard muffled pop-rock music through the walls.
The door opened to the sound of slightly too loud music and to the sight of a short woman with peroxide-blonde hair.
“Annie? You got here quick.”
“Hey, Bee. Sorry I’m late, I was doin’ some stuff . . .” she said, grabbing her friend in a hug. “I didn’t forget about you, darlin’.”
“Not a problem, Annie,” she said, returning the hug. “But who’s this?”
Bianca released her friend, and smirked at the sight of the Duke.
“Hello, tall-dark-and-handsome,” she said, then she turned to Edison, “and Prince Charming.”
“Bee, this is Duke and Edison.”
“Yes, feel free, you’re all welcome. Come right on in, boys.”
Bianca stepped inside, and the three followed her into a cosy entryway with a staircase to the right and striped creamy wallpaper. She headed to the end where there was a small kitchen, but the air filled with sound as they passed a doorway to the left where several dozen people were enjoying themselves, and a band and their equipment was crammed in the corner behind stuffy sofas; they were playing a cover of ”The Other Side”.
“We’ve just got started,” said Bee, entering the kitchenette, “so you’ve not missed much, but Prem was going to line up some shots - hey, Sime! Simon, Annie’s here!”
A young man chatting in the dining room with light brown hair and rectangular, frameless glasses turned around; he had a black collar-less shirt and a bottle of cider in his hand.
“Annie, darling. Great to see you,” he said, coming over and giving Anise a light, careful hug as though not to wrinkle her clothes.
“Sime, it’s great to see you again,” said Anise, turning back “This is Duke and Edison.”
“Ahh . . .” said Simon with a smile. “Which is which?”
“Edison,” said the Inspector, with a nervous wave.
“I’m the Duke,” said the Duke, and he stepped forward giving Simon a hug, just as Anise had done.
“Well, hello . . .” said Simon with a smirk, as the Duke stood up once more.
“Are you the host?”
“That I am, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Then may I offer you a bottle of black wine from New Capitol, as thanks?” the Duke asked rhetorically.
“Excellent, I never say no to wine,” said Simon, taking the offered bottle. “Looks expensive.”
“I have several in the Lift wine cellar,” said the Duke, offhandedly.
“Okay, I’ll find somewhere to put this,” said Simon. The Duke nodded respectfully as he stepped past them into the kitchen.
As the Duke looked over the dozen or so people laughing, chatting and drinking, he stepped back to face Anise, leant down and whispered in her ear. “I’m afraid this is different to what I’m accustomed to; how does one traditionally engage in a party on your world?”
Anise patted his shoulder.
“It’s not all that organized. First, let’s get you guys a drink, then we go and talk to people. . .”
Anise went over to one guy who was short and had a lot of freckles on his face, she whispered something in his ear, and he nodded, then she went to the fridge and found some cider for the three of them. Handing each of them a bottle, she moved to the kitchen drawer.
The Duke examined the bottle in his hand, holding it with only three fingers, his ring and pinkie fingers pointing out.
“Anise, the lid to this beverage has no spiralled thread; I cannot op-” Anise effortlessly popped the top off with a bottle-opener. “Intriguing . . .”
The Duke smelt the bottle and took a swig, then turned up his nose.
“Time’s end! . . . that tastes rotten.”
“It’s cheap cider, Duke,” said Edison, taking a sip and frowning, “I don’t drink, and I know that Old Rosie is swill.”
“It’s not swill,” says Anise, opening her own bottle. “It’s scrumpy.”
“Scrumpy? Call it whatever you want, it still tastes like apple juice and dishwater.”
Anise sipped her cider slowly and defiantly.
“Alright,” said the Duke, putting his drink on the kitchen bench. “Now, who do we talk to?”
“Anyone,” said Anise, picking up his drink and handing it back to him. “Don’t let your drink leave your sight. I trust Sime and his friends, but it’s a bad habit.”
“Alright, who wants shots?” asked Simon, returning to the kitchen. “Prem, get over here.”
“Shots?” said the Duke.
“It’s a small glass of spirits or something strong,” said Anise.
As she spoke, a short Philippino man with blond tips in his hair lined up twenty plastic shot-glasses, put a pouring spout on a bottle of peach schnapps and expertly filled all twenty, only spilling a few drops on the bench when uprighting the bottle.
“Whoops,” said Prem, putting down the schnapps bottle, “I . . . am drunk.”
Everyone picked up a shot, and Anise picked up two, handing one to the Duke. He moved to take a sip, but Anise stopped him.
“Nuh-uh . . . you do it quick, tip and swallow . . .” Anise’s hair swished as she threw her head back to drain the shot.
The Duke followed suit.
“That is incredibly sweet, and very alcoholic,” said the Duke, cringing as though he’d just licked a lemon. “Is this common practice at Earthly parties?”
“Common enough. Why?”
“It’s really not my style, I’m used to a much more formal gathering.”
“Come on, do you never let your hair down?” asked Anise. The Duke raised an eyebrow, and Anise glanced up at his smooth, brown scalp. “Okay, never mind . . .”
High in the sky. there was a soft, bass humm in the air like a kind of gigantic bumblebee, as the Nembrian craft flew through the clouds. From the ground, the ship could not be heard, and looked like nothing more than a ripple; but above the clouds, it was a bulky, black and yellow machine the size of a dump truck which looked vaguely like an upturned armchair with four barrel-like engines pointing outwards and down, with a dome-like holographic projection underneath to cloak it.
Inside, the ship was softly lit, but the three occupants were wearing shiny black suits tight like a second skin, and wore brightly lit orange goggles with lenses the size of shoe-polish cans. They stood in a cramped room surrounded by buttons, levers and controls
One of the creatures croaked, pointing at a display in front of it, which showed a top-down image of the Duke’s timeship, and a scrolling scanner result with several thousand lines of data.
“Roark, nyak-yek. Goyanshk errerngen,” it croaked, groaned and garbled meaningfully, turning to the other two in a voice harsh and guttural. “Browr-errk, nerg.”
“Gallifrey’ak . . .” croaked one of the creatures.
“Yek yek,” croaked the first. It scanned the area, the screen in front of it newly displaying several hundred red dots residing within the homes of the top-down view, but selected a light green dot which was surrounded by a dozen more that were red, and used the controls to surround the house in a yellow outline. “Nerg, oy grou browr-errk . . .”
The ship stopped and began to descend.
“Good evening,” said the Duke, approaching a group of people chatting by the band, “I’m not quite used to this manner of scene. Are you all Simon’s associates?”
“Yeah, duh . . .” offered one girl with a heavy fringe and black lipstick.
“Well, I’ve only just met him this evening, I came with Miss Trevino. So, are you all co-workers? Cultural socialites? Academic disciples?”
“Well, I work with him on the magazine, and I knew him in school,” offered one helpful man with long hair tied back in a ponytail, holding a wineglass.
“Hey, did you say ‘Trevino’?” said one guy, with short brown hair and a beard who was holding a can of beer. “Anise Trevino?”
“Yes,” said the Duke.
“Where is she?” he asked, wiping some sweat from his cheek.
“Well, approximately four metres to my rear, she’s standing next to Simon and Mr Edison, the blond-haired man-”
The man stepped past the Duke, headed towards the kitchen.
Anise’s face dropped as she saw the man.
“Hey, Annie,” said the man. “It’s been a while.”
“Hey, Swell,” said Anise, and the two stood awkwardly for a moment.
“How’ve you been?” asks Swell.
“I’m good,” says Anise.
“Yeah, me too. Hey, uh, you didn’t respond to my text . . .”
Anise looked down at her shoes.
“Swell, what are you doing?” said Bianca, stepping in when she saw the pair together.
“Could you back off?” asked Swell, frowning. “We’re having a private conversation.
“Can’t you take a hint?” said Bianca, “You’re a loser, Swell.”
“Bee, don’t . . .” said Anise.
“I don’t need you to tell me how she’s feeling! I want to talk to Anise.”
“Is there a problem, here?” said the Duke, placing a hand on the man’s shoulder. Swell shrugged violently to get his arm off and stepped to the side.
“Hey, don’t touch me, man.”
“Duke, this is Maxwell . . .” said Anise, timidly.
“Sir, you’re intoxicated,” said the Duke. “And if you don’t becalm yourself, I’ll eject you from this venue.”
Swell burst out laughing.
“What the hell is this guy?” he said, pointing the hand holding the can at the Duke. “Is he who you’re with, is that it Annie? Are you sleeping with this guy? Is this why you’ve been bein’ such a bitch to me?”
“Who ever taught you to speak to a woman like that?” asked the Duke.
“Sorry Mister ‘white knight’. Or ‘black’ . . . whatever,” said Swell, turning back to Anise. “Look, this guy is a freakin’ nut cake.”
“Swell, I went out with you because I thought you were sweet,” said Anise, frowning. “This isn’t sweet, you’re bein’ an arsehole. You’re just drunk, now let it go.”
“I’m not DRUNK I’m PISSED!” said Swell, pointing his can at Anise. “You lead me on! And I trus-”
The Duke grabbed Swell’s hand, and twisted it behind his back so it looked like a limp chicken wing, then grabbed the back of his shirt.
“I warned you,” said the Duke, as the man made a pained, whining sound.
“Duke!” said Anise, shocked.
“I won’t damage him.”
“Let him go,” said Anise.
“Yeah, what she said, let go of me you freak!”
The Duke nodded, and let go. As soon as he did, Swell spun around swinging a fist at his head, which the Duke sidestepped. Swell lost balance from the missed punch staggering over, so the Duke swung a swift uppercut that clocked the guy right under the jaw, dropping him like a sack of bricks on the living room carpet.
“Woo!” said Bianca, “knockout!”
Anise frowned at her friend, then turned to the Duke.
“Hey, can someone help me lift him onto the couch . . .” said Simon. Edison leant down to help him and Anise grabbed the Duke by the arm.
“Duke, come here . . .” she said, and the Duke followed as she lead him out the kitchen door, and closed the door behind them so it was just them on some tiles behind the garage, which housed an old, blue Ford.
“What on Earth was that?” asked Anise.
“Just then?” said the Duke. “I was helping you to deal with an unsociable individual.”
“You knocked him out, Duke, you call that help?”
“Of course, he was threatening you.”
“I was perfectly safe, Duke. He’s not stupid enough to hurt me, and even if he was I’m surrounded by friends.”
“Then he was being idiotic,”
“We’re all being idiotic, Duke, we’re drunk! That doesn’t mean you get to punch someone in the face!” said Anise.
“Do you think he didn’t deserve it?”
“That’s not the point, Duke. He was being a creep, but it’s because he’s immature and doesn’t know how to handle rejection; if you’d stayed out of it, I could have put him down gently and he’d slink off with his tail between his legs. You didn’t step in because you wanted to help, you did it because you wanted to ‘save me’.”
“ . . . I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t, you spend all day being a hero. But this is a party, Duke. I like that you’re decisive; I like that you’re in control under pressure. But you’re not saving the world today, Duke, you’re having drinks with my friends. I don’t want you trying to be a hero when I’m just trying to relax, okay?”
“Alright . . .” said the Duke, and he nodded solemnly, “I’m sorry, Anise.”
“Okay then. Apology accepted.”
As they stood there, there was the sound of high-pitched whirring and a clunk from deep in the garage.
“Who was that?” asked the Duke.
“A rat?” suggested Anise.
There was garbled croaking and a buzzing sound.
“Do rats know how to operate a polyphasic drill?” said the Duke.
“No . . .”
“Then that was not a rat,” said the Duke. He placed his bottle of cider on the ground and removed the laser spanner from his pocket, pointing it at the garage door. With a flicker of red light from the spanner, the entire door automatically swung open, to nest up and over the blue car. Near the left side of the door, on the driveway, they saw a creature with orange goggles and a tight, black suit that jumped to its feet holding a strange, black device in its hands like a mix between a tommy gun and an electric drill.
“Goyanshk!” croaked the creature, pointing the drill threateningly.
“Easy now . . . I’m not here to hurt you,” said the Duke.
“Nyak-yek wuark yarnch. Nrit grou!”
“What’s he sayin’?” said Anise.
“I don’t know, the translator’s not working,” said the Duke, stepping towards the creature. “I don’t want to harm you . . . put down the drill.”
The creature pressed a button on its belt.
“Eeh-wa! Nerg!” it barked, and it suddenly jumped onto the roof, out of view. The Duke ran outside, and Anise followed behind. They heard a scampering sound which stopped suddenly, but as they got to the driveway and looked up at the roof, they couldn’t see the creature.
“Where did it go?” asked Anise, stepping back to try to get a better view.
“I have no idea. It appears to have just . . . disappeared,” said the Duke. “Perhaps it transmatted away, or jumped-”
“Duke? What’s that?” asked Anise, pointing at the roof.
The Duke couldn’t see, so he walked back to join Anise. As he did, the new angle allowed for a full view of the roof tiles. On the roof, in what looked like bright sky-blue paint, were a series of alien symbols.
“Now, that is fascinating . . . “ said the Duke.
“Why, what does it say?” says Anise
“I have no idea,” said the Duke. “The translator isn’t working, but not for lack of trying. The distinctive scythe and dot markings are similar to Mino, but I’ve never seen this particular language before. But, what’s interesting is that it’s only written on this house. Look around, only this house has been targeted.”
“Simon’s house? Why?”
“I’m not certain, but unless your friend is involved in some form of galactic espionage or astronomical research that you’re unaware of, the most reasonable conclusion is that they are targeting this house because I’m inside of it.”
“And why would someone target you?” asked Anise.
“You flatter me, Anise. I do have my fair share of enemies; but, considering that I’ve never met this species’ language before, it’s fair to say that I have no earthly idea.”
“Well, what are we going to do?” asked Anise.
“Nothing,” said the Duke.
“Nothing?! But, what if we’re in danger?”
“We’re probably not. Most of the time, although unusual, aliens are perfectly peaceful and harmless. I’ll scan the house for any more anomalies, you go and have drinks with your friends.”
“Really? But, what about the alien-guy?”
“If it’s around, I’ll find it. You’ll be perfectly safe. Trust me,” said the Duke, smiling. He began walking back into the garage, and Anise went back inside.
Edison leant over the couch, administering to the unconscious Maxwell as Simon stood behind him.
“Is he going to be alright?” asked Simon.
“Yes, he’s just knocked out. He’ll get a bruise on his neck, but there’s no real damage,” said Edison
“It was a powerful blow, is your friend a boxer or something?”
“No, he’s . . . more of a travelling scientist-pope good guy kind of thing.”
“Okay,” said Simon, chuckling. “And what about yourself, Mister Edison, I’ve never met you before. You’re friends with Anise?”
“Yeah, we both kinda met through the Duke.”
“ . . . 'the’ Duke?”
“Yeah, he’s kind of full of himself. But he deserves it, he’s a good guy; not all the time, but often when it counts.”
“Do you love him?”
Edison looked shocked.
“What? No. Why would you say that?”
“Well, you’re bitching about him a lot, but you are clearly fond of him. I thought maybe he’d caught your eye. So, tall, dark and handsome isn’t your type?”
“Uh . . . I mean, I don’t . . .” Edison ran a hand through his hair nervously. “That’s not really a thing that I, uh . . .”
“What’s the matter? You are gay aren’t you?”
“Shh!” Edison flinched, and he stood close enough to Simon so he could whisper. “I don’t like to advertise that. I don’t even know how you know.”
“My gaydar is the best in London. I mean, the way you stand, the outfit, the way you act around Annie . . .” Edison sighed and stepped back from the couch.
“What’s the matter? Are you still in the closet?”
“No, not really,” said Edison. “I just don’t like . . . I don’t think of it as very important.”
“Isn’t it? It’s who you feel for - who you love - why keep it to yourself?” said Simon, and he added with a smirk. “plus, being gay has its perks.”
“Look, I just prefer not to. Just leave it be, alright.”
“Oh, but how can I?” asked Simon, stepping closer. “I’m fascinated. You’re not in the closet, so you’re not that ashamed of it, but you act as though you want to keep it a secret still.”
“It’s not a secret,” said Edison. “But what is there to say? I like men - three words, that’s all there is to say.”
“Now that’s not true,” said Simon. “You say you’re not a stereotype, but your boiling who you are down into a token, a bite-sized, watered-down tidbit of who you are. I mean, are you looking for love, do you like big guys or little guys? Bears, daddies, twinks? Are you looking to settle down, do you want kids? Do you like to play the field, or do you want that special man?”
“No, I don’t do any of that,” said Edison
“None? That sounds a bit sad.”
“Sad? I’m not sad.”
“Well, it’s like you’re looking at the candy store, but you refuse to go inside. I mean, do you actually want someone? One day?”
“I don’t know,” said Edison. “Someday, maybe, but not now.”
“Why not now?”
“It wouldn’t be right . . .” said Edison, and he stared off into the middle distance. “It wouldn’t be right, while my father is alive.”
“Ohh . . .” said Simon. “Now we’re getting somewhere . . .”
The front door opened and the Duke stepped back into the house, waving his spanner around as two red laser lights shone from each prong of the tuning-fork shaped device. He glanced around the house and shook his head.
“Perfectly normal . . .”
He looked up as the girl with black lipstick stumbled into the entryway.
“Hey, you’re the Dude, right?”
“ . . . Duke.”
“Whatever, do you know where the bog is in this house?”
“Bog? I’m afraid my translator seems to be malfunctioning this evening. Did you truly mean ‘bog’? Like a ‘swamp’?”
“Look, guy, I don’t need your gibberish, I’ve gotta take a piss!” she said, crankily.
“Oh, right. Well, there are no such facilities on the surface level, I can tell you that much.”
She huffed and walked past him, heading up the stairs. The Duke headed into the loungeroom through the side door, as the band stopped for a moment.
“Hey, can someone get me a drink?” said the singer, in a Lancashire accent, and the man with a ponytail took a few steps towards them and threw a can in his direction. The singer caught it, cracked it and took a swig. “Alright, alright. I want to first say thank you . . . to Simon, I don’t do house parties, but Sime, I’d do anythin’ for you, mate for gettin’ our name on the map. Cheers.”
Anyone with a drink in hand raised their glass, can, shot or mug in respect. The singer skolled the can, then dropped it.
“We are The Zingany Equation!” barked the singer, “And this is Be My Head!”
The drummer thrashed madly and they started another song. The Duke approached the centre of the room, pointing his laser spanner at the ceiling, when Bianca approached him holding two glasses of wine.
“Duuuke, mate. What’re yeh doin’?”
“Scanning the premises for any signs of unusual radiation; non-domestic energy; persistent fields; subspace anomalies . . . that kind of thing.”
“Uh-huh . . . well, you don’t have a drink, mate,” she said holding out a glass.
“Yes, I’m afraid I left it outside . . .” he said, peeling his eyes away from the ceiling. “But, I see you were diligent enough to have acquired me another. How thoughtful of you.”
The Duke cautiously took the glass from Bianca, only touching it with the thumb, middle and index finger of his free hand.
“So, are you and Anise . . . official?” asked Bianca, having a sip of wine.
“Official what?” said the Duke.
“Y’know . . . are you exclusive?” said Bianca, in a harsh whisper. “Boyfriend, girlfriend . . . ?”
“Oh . . .” said the Duke, looking back at his spanner. “No. No, we’re not.”
“Oh?” said Bianca. “Then what did you do to get a plus-one to Simon’s?”
“I saved the world,” said the Duke half-mindedly, as he scanned over the band’s electrical equipment.
“So, you donated to charity or somethin’?” said Bianca, having another sip. “Well, you two seem pretty serious.”
“I’m usually quite serious,” said the Duke, turning to look Bianca in the eye. “Especially with my friends. I take friendship very seriously.”
“But, y’know . . . it seems like you really like one another. She seems into you.”
“Does she?” asked the Duke, frowning slightly. “She does present a certain ‘fondness’, I thought of it as little more than social propinquity.”
“I don’t know, she’s real easy with yer, and she only met you yesterday,” said Bianca. “And don’t you have feelin’s for her?”
The Duke took a slow breath, and stared off into space as he exhaled, the air buzzing lightly with Bianca’s anticipation.
“ . . . do you hear that?”
“What?” asked Bianca.
The Duke stepped past her and headed towards the glass doors leading to the backyard, dplacing his wineglass on the kitchen bench on the way past. He opened the door and the high-pitched whirring of a polyphasic drill could be heard. He stepped outside to see the alien, once more.
“Stop right there,” said the Duke.
“Nyak-yek will work, browr-errk,” said the creature, taking a thin, black tube from its belt. “Uk-nrug goyanshk party.”
“Wait, please stop,” said the Duke. “The translator is deciphering your words. Please, wait.”
The creature dropped the tube into the hole, and with a sharp ZAP! sound, a line around the back of the house let off a plume of smoke, and instantaneously turned off all the power in the house.
“Duke!” cried out Anise. The Duke glanced into the house and back at the alien.
“I’ll get you later . . .” muttered the Duke, and he returned inside, closing the door behind him.
“Anise, where are you?” asked the Duke. Several people took their phones from their pockets, turning up the brightness to use the screens as makeshift lanterns.
“What’s happened, Sime?” someone asked. There was a loud creaking outside, then a soft rumbling sound underfoot.
“Now, everyone, don’t worry. It’s an old house, we probably just blew a fuse with the amp. I have some replacements in the cupboard under the stairs . . .” said Simon. “Just sit tight, have another drink.
Outside, on the tiles behind the garage, there sat an abandoned bottle of cider. It rocked slightly from the rumbling of the building, and tipped over. The liquid spilled out and it pooled on the tile, but as the puddle grew large enough, the edge of the spill touched the softly glowing green line which had been placed there by the aliens, and sizzled, quickly evaporating into steam. The entire house was surrounded by this barrier, which was cut into the ground one foot deep.
The wind picked up, and rolled the bottle towards the barrier as well. As it crossed the line it rolled off the edge and fell. After a swift drop it landed on the ground intact, just a few metres from Simon’s birdbath in the backyard below, but where the house had been there was merely a square pit of dirt as the house which had occupied it was rising from the ground a few feet every second.
The Duke found Anise standing in the entryway, using her phone to help Simon see into the small stair cupboard.
“Anise, are you alright?”
“No,” she whispered. “The lights are out, I think it’s the aliens.”
“I know it was, I saw him do it.”
“Yes, but what am I supposed to tell everyone? I can’t tell them the truth,” said Anise.
“Because aliens don’t exist. Not to these people, anyway. They’d be freaked out.”
“Ah, yes . . . right, I’ll handle this.”
“Alright, here we go,” said Simon, holding a fuse up to the light of Anise’s phone. “This one looks good.”
He stood up, walked the length of the entryway and opened the front door, where it was pitch black outside
“Simon!” barked the Duke, jumping to stand behind him.
“Yes?” said Simon, standing on the doormat. “What is it?”
“Perhaps I could do that for you,” offered the Duke.
“No, it’s just over here,” said Simon, as he took a step back, the Duke quickly grabbed his arm before he stepped off the ledge, just a few centimetres behind his right foot.
“No, Simon, you should make sure your guests are alright,” said the Duke. “Besides, I have a nightlight.”
The Duke held up his laser spanner and pressed a button which made the two prongs brighten up like ignited magnesium.
Simon squinted and shielded his eyes.
“Alright, alright, don’t blind me,” he said, handing the Duke the fuse. “Here, the fusebox is just by the rectangular plant pot . . .”
He stepped past the Duke back inside, and the timelord sighed heavily with relief.
“Duke, is everything okay?” asked Anise, stepping behind him.
“No, Anise, see for yourself, said the Duke. He stepped outside, holding the doorframe with one arm, and holding out the other to both point outwards and offer something to grab in case Anise tripped. She stood on the threshold and looked out at the brightly lit suburbia below.
“Oh my gosh . . . we’re flying?”
“Hanging,” said the Duke, pointing to a spot above them. “Those aliens were drilling holes to place forcefield projectors into the ground. Now they’ve connected nano-lattice winchwire to the projectors and have lifted us off the ground.”
“Well, what can we do about the power?” asked Anise.
“We were severed from the main line, this fuse won’t do anything,” said the Duke, throwing it over the edge. He turned around and opened the fuse-box, then jammed his spanner into one of the connections. With the press of a button, green arcs of electricity surrounded the fusebox, and the lights inside the house turned back on. There was the sound of applause and whooping from inside.
“What did you do?”
“I’ve set the spanner to supercharge, and connected it into the house’s main supply. It could last us at least forty-three hours.”
“Forty-three ? . . . wait, what if you need your spanner to fix this?”
“I’ll do my best to make do without,” said the Duke. “You said to keep extraterrestriality a secret.”
“Yeah, but surely you need to get us on the ground too.”
“I can do both; but only by surrendering my spanner for the sake of keeping the lights on.”
“So, how are you goin’ to get us down?”
“I’m going to have a little chat with our alien visitors,” said the Duke. “I think the translator circuit is finally beginning to decipher their language. If I can discover why they have decided to take this house for a joy-flight, perhaps I can convince them to put it back.”
“‘If’, ‘why’, ‘perhaps’? That’s not very encouraging, Duke.”
“Do you trust me, Anise?”
“Then trust me when I tell you that this is in all likelihood a simple misunderstanding, and I can get us all back on the ground even before my ship completes its scan,” said the Duke, with a grin.
“You go inside, and have drinks with your friends . . . and, if at all possible, make sure that people stay away from the windows and doors.”
“Alright,” said Anise, and she went back inside the house.
Edison was standing beside the band, looking out the window behind them at the swiftly distancing suburbia below, when Anise entered the living room, telling people that the Duke had fixed the fuse. He went over to speak to her
“Anise, what is going on?” he asked.
“Oh, uh, aliens,” she said so only he could hear her over the band.
“What, here?” he said, shocked. “Well, what’s the plan of attack?”
“Duke’s handling it, just make sure everyone stays calm,” she said. “Don’t let them look out the windows and stuff.”
“Right . . .” said Edison.
Anise snuck around the back of the kitchen and started to close the curtains as Edison locked the doors leading to the backyard.
“What are you doing?” asked Simon, approaching Edison.
“Nothing,” said Edison, taking three steps away from the door.
“I’m glad,” said Simon, having a sip of a glass filled with what Edison recognized as black wine. “I was hoping I could continue our chat.”
“I’m a little busy . . . and there’s not much more to say.”
“But, you said your father knows you’re gay. I mean, what’s the problem.”
“Look, I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why not?” says Simon. “Look, we’ve all gone through the coming out, some have it easier than others. I mean, I lost several friends when I came out, got into a few fights. Do you hate your father that much?”
“No,” said Edison angrily. “I love my father! But he’s ashamed of who I am. The day I came out, he didn’t say anything, he didn’t even smile, he just sat there while my mother did all the talking. The next day, he took me out to the farm and taught me how to shoot. The next day he forced me to learn self-defense; I could never dance or sing or . . .” Edison sighed heavily and shook his head. “He said he was going to make a real man out of me. The fact is, he always thought that being gay made me weak, that I was never good enough. That’s why I don’t want to talk about it.”
Simon was dumbstruck as Edison pushed past him to close the front curtains.
The Duke was lying on the ground, peering over the edge where the house had been severed from the ground. He wiped a finger across the green, shimmering forcefield and quickly whipped his hand away, shaking it.
“Lacks thermostatic shielding, they must be primitive space-farers,” muttered the Duke. He stood up, and moved around the edge of the house. The porch to the house was inset from the garage, but the edge was cut sheer one inch in front of the garage entrance, so the Duke clings to the side of the garage door mechanism to step around the pillar and into the carport. He walked in front of the car and stopped near to the winchwire from which the house was suspended, it was a little under an inch in diameter.
“This must transfer power to the field,” he muttered. He turned and picked up a wooden-handled hammer from a shelf a few feet behind him. He placed the metal to wire and raked the hammer down it. It made a squeaking sound, but not much else.
“Well-insulated,” he said, dropping the hammer behind him and gripping it with his hand. “Good friction, perhaps I . . .” his voice trailed off as he saw something in the clouds a kilometre away.
“No . . . no no!” he shouted, as he saw a passenger plane appear. It was going to fly right overhead of them . . . right into the wires. He held onto the wire and swung out to look above them. He could barely make out the ship behind the holographic cloaking dome, but the wires were so still. “Oh, you idiots! MOVE!”
The wires didn’t move and so the Duke glanced around desperately. He saw the car, the gas tank, a bench full of tools, the water heater chained to the wall, a small laundry. He smirked to himself, then his smile dropped and he ran inside.
“Everyone!” shouted the Duke, as he ran through the kitchen. “Everyone listen!”
Some people turned, but the music was so loud. The Duke pushed past people and walked up to the band. He grabbed the microphone.
“Partiers and patrons, I need your attention,” he said, taking a few steps away from the angry singer, who was swearing at him. “I’ve just heard news that there is going to be an earthquake, a lot stronger than the tremor before. I need everyone to lie down on the ground!”
“Aren’t you supposed to stand in the doorway during an earthquake?” said the long-fringed girl.
“You’re all intoxicated,” growled the Duke. “It’s much easier and safer to lie down. Please, lie down, this will be over shortly! . . . Oh, also, there will be rolling blackouts.”
The Duke dropped the microphone and sprinted towards the front door and Anise followed him. She stood in the doorway as he ran out towards the fusebox.
“What on Earth is going on?” asked Anise.
“That is going on,” said the Duke pointing towards the plane.
“Holy shit . . .” said Anise.
“It’s alright, I have a plan,” said the Duke, removing the spanner from the fusebox with a loud ZAP! “Ouch! Drat . . .”
He marched back to the door and Anise stood aside then followed closely behind as he sprinted to the garage.
“What’s the plan?” Anise asked, as he moved to the water heater.
“Pendular motion,” said the Duke, using a bright red laser on his spanner to sever the water heater from the wall. Then, he rolled the tank onto its side. “Can you give me a hand?”
Anise moved beside him and the two of them rolled the tank towards the square patch of tiles behind the garage.
“I don’t understand,” said Anise, but the Duke changed the settings on his spanner, stood back and aimed the laser at the bottom of the tank, which - as it was lying on its side - was facing the side of the house.
“It’s simple, this tank is full of heated water, meaning that if I apply further heat, it will soon reach boiling point, then continue to increase in pressure,” said the Duke as the bottom of the tank began to change colour, then glow red, then yellow. “Since I am creating great weakness in the bottom of the vessel as I heat it, it will eventually burst, and shoot the entire tank off in the opposite direction. Actually, you should probably stand back.”
Anise went to crouch around the other side of the car, but she peaked her head over the trunk.
“So, how will shooting that off to the side help?” asked Anise.
“For every action, there is an equivalent and opposing reaction,” said the Duke. “The force of the projection will create an opposing force against the wall of the-”
BANG! The tank exploded and shot off, and the Duke stumbled as the house swung in the opposite direction. Steam filled the garage and Anise couldn’t see, but felt as the house tipped from zero to ten, twenty then thirty degrees, swinging on the wires. There was clattering and crashing as things fell from their place and onto the ground. The Duke gripped tightly to a crack in the tiles as they swung up, then began to swing backwards.
Inside the house, Edison was holding onto people, with one arm gripping the fireplace, and another holding Simon’s shirt. Some people were laughing, others were screaming.
Because of the burst of steam and closed curtains, nobody saw as the plane flew near them. There was a loud rushing sound as they swung the other way, then a loud ripping sound and a twang! as the very tip of the wing clipped some winchwire. The house didn’t even shudder, but the plane dropped slightly before counterbalancing.
Then, the house stopped swinging and the ground sat level.
“What’s going on?” said Anise. “Did we hit something?”
“No,” said the Duke, standing up. “The aliens levelled their ship to stop us from swinging.”
He dusted himself off, and turned to see Anise. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine, just a little dizzy.”
“That’s probably the affects of the altitude. And the alcohol.”
“Well, it’s a bad idea to be drunk and high at the same time . . .”
“Here. you go inside, make sure everyone else is alright,” said the Duke coldly, holding out his spanner. “And put this back, to power the house once more.”
“What about you?” Anise asked, taking the spanner.
“I’m going up there,” said the Duke, glancing at the winchwire near the rear-left corner of the house, on the edge of the backyard tiles. “Before those idiots drop us right out of the sky.”
As Anise returned inside the house, the Duke approached the wire, reaching into the pocket of his long, leather coat. He withdrew a pair of what looked like dark brown, fingerless, leather driving gloves with black padding on the palms; then he donned them and flexed his fingers, they fit perfectly. The Duke then jumped, grabbed onto the wire and started climbing, using his feet to steady himself as he pulled himself up with his arms in short lengths, climbing very quickly.
The lights switched back on inside the house and people started getting to their feet.
“Is it over?” someone asked.
“I can’t see out there,” said Simon, heading for the window. “It’s like fog . . .”
“It’s fine,” said Edison, jumping to his feet and grabbing Simon’s hand. “Step away from the window. It might . . . in the aftershock, it might shatter.”
“Thanks for your concern,” said Simon with a grin.
“It felt like a rolllll-” fringe girl stood up as she spoke, “-lllller coaster. Loop-de-loop.”
“You’re just drunk,” said Anise, now standing in the doorway to the entry. “It was a mild rumble, nothing more. Come on, it’s like a funeral in here. What happened to the music?”
“Oh, yeah yeah . . .” said the singer, heading to the microphone.
Edison left Simon to head over to Anise.
“What the hell was that?” he asked sternly. “We have to clean up, what happened out there?”
“A plane was headed for us, so Duke swung us clear,” said Anise. “We just need to keep everyone safe in here until Duke can get to the top of the rope.”
“The top of the rope? What rope?”
“Well, the cable-things. We’re hanging from an alien ship by black cables.” said Anise.
“And what is he planning to do when he gets to the top?” asked Edison.
“I don’t know,” said Anise. “But he looked really pissed . . .”
Half-way up the rope, The Duke hung, clinging with his feet as he stopped to catch his breath his bald head was covered in sweat. The rope was almost 30 storeys high, and he looked up, seething, at the ship above. Then he glanced down at the roof of the house. The symbols which he couldn’t read before, the alien writing, was finally being deciphered. There was the slightest blurring behind his eye before he could see the words:
Earthlings Have Rights Too“What are you people doing . . .?” he snarled. With a yell, he lifted another arm up, and grunted deeply as he moved, heaving every time he pulled himself another few inches higher, keeping his arms close to his chest. In a short minute he was passing through the holographic camouflage, and he lifted himself up the last three metres, where there was an enormous pulley, extending from a bulky arm, and underneath was an inspection gantry, a metal platform with railings that the Duke stepped onto as soon as he was high enough. He fell on all fours, breathing ragged, as he looked at the ship in front of him. With a cough he got to his feet, approached the air lock and pounded a fist against the yellow metal. He was about to yell out, when he saw a lever labelled ‘Emergency Entry’. The Duke pulled the lever and there was a blaring sound as the door shifted inwards and slide to the side. He stepped inside, and the door slid shut behind him. There was a hissing sound as the room’s pressure was levelled, and the Duke noticed that the air was made to be cool, but humid.
The airlock itself was barely larger than a broom closet, and the other door was wire-reinforced glass, revealing a dimly lit interior on the other side, and a red light was flashing around the edges of the door.
“Open this door!” yelled the Duke, banging against the glass. “I am the Duke of Rathea, and I demand to speak to whomever is in charge!” A skinny alien in a tight, black suit came into view, and took the orange goggles away from its face as it looked through the glass.
Where the goggles had been were big, round yellow eyes with black rectangles for pupils, like the eyes of a goat, but its skin was mottled and green. The creature pressed a hand to its belt.
“It’s the politician,” croaked the creature. “He’s aboard.”
“And I demand to speak to your leader!” yelled the Duke.
“And it demands-”
“Bring him here,” replied the radio with a buzz and a click. The alien pulled a lever and the door slid open. The Duke stepped out and marched in the direction from where the alien had appeared. Shortly, he came to the end of the hallway, which opened out and down to an open space, with a ladder at his feet leading into the command centre of the ship. The Duke looked down to see two more aliens standing at panels surrounded by controls.
“Which one of you is in charge here?!” demanded the Duke.
“Here,” croaked the shorter alien, stepping forward. “I am Alnag, I planned this.”
“Then can you please explain to me what in all of existence do you think you’re doing?”
“This is a protest!” announced Alnag. “A Bluespace protest for these humans you so heartlessly ignore!”
“Ignore?” asked the Duke, raising an eyebrow. “Are you insane?”
“This TransPlanet policy is evil!” chimed in the second alien, grunting emphatically. “Your consulate will not get away with this unlawful genocide!”
“Silence!” barked the Duke. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, I couldn’t even speak your language an hour ago! I have never heard of any consulate or this policy, but I need you to return this stolen building to its foundation immediately. You are endangering the lives of several dozen humans in that, and countless more in those flying machines.”
“How could you be unaware of the consulate?!” said Alnag, confused. “You are a time lord, you must be involved if you are in this region.”
“No,” said the Duke. “The time lords aren’t involved in anything, anymore . . .”
There was a loud straining sound, then a twang as one of the cables loosened. The three aliens covered the sides of their heads as the ship vibrated from the shudder.
“Crane number three is failing!” said the second alien. The alien behind the Duke pushed past him, jumping down into the command centre to help pilot the controls.
“I don’t understand, it’s designed to lift a warship. Why can’t it lift a house?”
“It was the near-miss,” said the Duke. He spun and slid down the ladder, then turned to face the aliens once more. “It was much more ‘near’ and much less ‘miss’ than I’d hoped. I heard it collide with the wire, it must have damaged it.”
“We can maintain the weight distribution, but if the forcefield generator fails, the artificial cradle will collapse. We need to lower the load before the cable snaps.”
“Is there no way to boost power?” said the Duke. “Can you tell me where you were taking the house? Is there a power source there?”
“We weren’t taking the house anywhere,” said Alnag.
“We were just flying up and around, so the TransPlanet fleet can see us. This is a protest.”
“ . . . a publicity stunt? You ripped a building full of people out of the ground for the sake of a publicity stunt?!”
“We want to show them that humans deserve to live too.”
“And so you chose a house full of alcoholics?”
“We were headed for the human queen’s building,” said Alnag. “But, we took the opportunity when we saw you.”
“Right. Perhaps, this was the better choice . . .” said the Duke, pushing past the second alien. “What’s your name?”
“Grennit,” croaked the alien.
“Alright, Grennit. Now, correct me if I’m wrong,” said the Duke, pointing around the console. “Articulated propulsion control, automated downward counter-balance thrust, pivoting around a reinforced knuckle, with a . . . micro-petrol engine?”
“Sounds right,” said Grennit, “But, we have a micro-fusion cell . . .”
“Drat . . . that will make things a little harder,” said the Duke, and he took the controls.
“What are you doing?”
“Trust me, I come in handy during a crisis. I’m going to fix this mess, but if someone could balance the cargo, that would be appreciated. Otherwise, hold onto your goggles . . .”
In Simon’s dining room, everyone was sitting around the table, drinking, and picking cards from around a half-full glass of a pink liquid. Fringe girl took a card and read it.
“Jack, Lords,” she said, and all of the men at the table groaned before taking a drink.
“You’ve barely had any,” said Simon. “If I get an eight . . . “
Anise heard a soft humming, and looked at her bottle of cider. It was slowly crawling across the table from the vibration. She quickly picked it up and stood.
“Hey, uh, everyone? Everyone, I think now is . . .”: Anise blinked heavily as she stumbled. “Wow, drunker than I thought. Anyway, I want to toast Simon! For . . . being awesome.”
“Hear hear,” said someone and everyone else picked up their drink to sip. Anise stood and stared for a moment, trying to think. As people finished their respective toasts, they stared at Anise.
“Anise, are you alright?”
Anise clicked her fingers, jumping to action.
“I’m just drunk, is all . . . is it my turn? I think it’s my turn.” Anise sat and picked up a card. It was an ace. “Ah, a ten! I get to make a rule. Well, what about everyone keeps hold of their drink. If it touches the table, you take a sip.”
“Ahh, clever,” said fringe girl. Anise took a drink and put the card in her pocket.
At an empty lot near Warwick Gardens, a great shadow loomed over the lawn until the hanging building aligned with the rectangular cavity cut into the ground, then lowered until it was a foot above the grass. After a minute of gentle adjustments and tweaks, the entire house lowered down into the hole like a key into a lock. There was a hiss of escaping air, then a thud.
From between the four cables that had suspended the house, one of the aliens descended on a much thinner wire attached to his belt. Using the wire as a kind of bungee, the alien swiftly hopped from one corner of the house to the other, disconnecting and deactivating the forcefield generators, the cables retracting after each was detached. Finally, after collecting all four generators, the alien too was retracted. He sailed quickly through the air, swiftly rising the wire on his belt, before the retracting wire slowed as the alien was drawn up into the ship through a round opening, before a five-bladed leaf shutter constricted closed around it.
“Good work, Unwick,” said the Duke. “Now onto the other matter. Why were you protesting this ‘TransPlanet’ policy?”
“It will kill everything on this planet,” said Alnag, as Grennit unbuckled his shipmate from the wire.
“How?” asked the Duke.
“They plan on mining your sun,” said Alnag, shaking his head. “It’s small enough to be plundered without gravity being an issue, but it would destabilize this system.
“It would destabilize the solar reaction,” said the Duke. “I’ve seen other star-miners before, it destroys planetary systems. Do they know this system is occupied?”
“Yes, we told them that it could kill you all, so they created the ‘TransPlanet’ policy.”
“Which is?” asked the Duke.
“They promised that any creatures they destroyed through their mining would be replaced.”
“Replaced . . . one life exchanged for another?”
“That’s the policy.”
The Duke shook his head.
“I can’t allow that to happen . . .” said the Duke, and he turned to climb up a ladder to the side of the drop-deck.
“What do you plan on doing?” asked Grennit. “We saw this as our last hope to stop them, but we couldn’t even get their attention.”
“I can,” said the Duke. “Can you contact the consulate using the communications circuit on this ship?”
“Why would we do that? We’d be contained,” said Alnag.
“But you will save the people of Earth. You’ll be heroes. I just need to speak to them,” said the Duke, turning to face Alnag. He stepped closer, towering his full height over the small alien. “You recognized my authority. If you understand the power of a time lord, then so will your leaders. I need an open audio broadcast, to send them a message on all subspace frequencies.”
Alnag nodded and Grennit adjusted the controls until there was a buzz from a set of speakers.
“The Consulate of . . .” the Duke frowned, “where are you from?”
“Nembria,” said Grennit.
“Yes, Nembria!” said the Duke. “I am the Duke of Rathea; Field Director of Temporal Logistics with the Timelord Academy; His Brilliance, Consecrated Lightseer of the Bei’sianu Temple; Specialist in the Enigmatic and the Paradoxical, and Secretary of the Seven Worlds of the Conduit . . . and I want to know who is the contemptible tyrant responsible for the attempted genocide of this protected planet!”
There was a moment of silence, before a small alarm on the control panels chimed.
“We’re being summonsed,” said Grennit. “I’m putting it on the projector.”
The curved wall of the command centre was filled with the light from a projector which showed the life feed from the video call. The video was of a mottled amphibian-looking alien with a dark green, business-suit like outfit. From his eyes, the Duke could see it was the same species as the three men around him.
“This is Consul Glurn, I represent the Consulate.”
“Consul, what are you doing in this sector?” asked the Duke.
“We are conducting a final appraisal before we calibrate our thermal plasma scoop.”
“Then you will cease and desist,” said the Duke. “This planet, and indeed its sun, is protected under Article Fifty-seven of the Shadow Proclamation. Subsection . . . twenty-eight I believe.”
“Under whose authority?”
“Mine,” said the Duke, and he reached into his pocket to take out a maroon, pocketbook with a circular symbol and a stylized emblem that looked like cephalopod stamped in gold on the front. He opened to the front of the book, where there was a sketch of his face on one page, and printed round emblem on the other, this one looking like a historiated number 8 in a circle. He faced it towards the camera on the control console.
“I declare this planet to be a level five on the civilization index, and under my protection. If you do not cease all operations and leave immediately, I will consider it an act of war and have you as well as your entire consulate incinerated. Do I make myself unmistakably clear?”
The video disconnected and the projector stopped.
“They stopped,” said Grennit. “They’re turning around.”
“Congratulations, gentlemen. You just saved over seven billion unsuspecting lives,” said the Duke, and he placed the pocketbook back into his jacket. “Now, would you mind returning me to my friends?”
“Just like that?” asked Alnag.
“If you wouldn’t mind . . . you did interrupt me in the middle of a party,” said the Duke.
The Duke’s feet touched the ground, and he disconnected the wire from the belt around his waist, heading into the house. As he opened the door, he glanced at the fusebox, saw his laser spanner and walked over. Yanking it out of the machine, the lights of the house flickered, but remained on.
“That’s the best landing I’ve executed in eighty years . . .” the Duke murmured to himself, “Even lined the wires up.”
As he entered the living room, Anise jumped up and ran to the Duke, but stumbled on the way.
“D’you . . . uke. Duke,” she said, grabbing his arm to steady herself. “I was so worried. Are you okay? Are we okay? Is the this . . . okay?”
“Yes, we’re safely on the ground. It turns out some people thought I was more important than I was; and I resolved the whole mess by proving I was more important than that.”
“Okay . . . so, the house is landed?”
“Yes, the house is landed,” said the Duke. Anise smiled and grabbed him in a hug. “Did you have a good time?”
“Yes. Scary, weird, but good,” she said, then she leant up and whispered. “I drank too much though.”
“Yes, I can see that. Edison?” said the Duke, and the Inspector looked up from the couch, where he’d been sitting and got to his feet. “Are ready to leave?”
“Yeah, if you want,” he said, adjusting his shirt. The Duke moved for the door and Edison followed, but Simon stood up from the table.
“Wait,” said Simon, as he walked over to Edison. His face was a bit reddened from drinking, but he spoke calmly and seriously. “Do you . . . have to go?”
“Yeah, he’s kind of my ride,” said Edison.
“Alright, well, it was interesting meeting you, Edison,” said Simon.
“Likewise,” said Edison, with a curt nod. He turned towards the door.
“Are you really going, just like that?” said Simon. Edison stopped.
“He is my ride.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Simon, leaning in closer to his face. “What do I have to do to persuade you to give me your number?”
“Oh, uh . . .”
“Sorry, I have had a bit to drink. Am I too forward?”
“No, I’m just not used to this kind of thing.”
“Cute guy like you? You should be.”
Edison laughed nervously.
“Uh . . . do you have a pen?”
Inside the timeship, the Duke was standing impatiently by the console as Edison entered.
“If you want to stay, you can stay,” said the Duke. “I never force you to follow me, Inspector.”
“No, I was just . . . making friends,” said Edison. “Where are we headed?”
“The Bermuda Triangle. Duke’s found where the necrodria is,” said Anise.
“Naquadah,” corrected the Duke. “Are you ready for our next trip?”
“Sure,” said Edison.
“Good,” said the Duke, pressing a button to close both the outer and Lift Lobby doors. Then he began entering the coordinates on the console “Because I have had more than enough partying for one day.”
The Duke pulled the ignition lever on the console, and the Lift vworped away into the vortex.