The following is a 3 chapter sample from Rigel.
Have you ever felt so alone that you feel there is only empty space inside you? A hollow place that nothing could fill and left you aching with longing for something you’ve never had?
That was how Rigel felt as he trudged home from school that day.
That was how Rigel felt as he trudged home from school every day.
The sea fret had washed over the town and blew in cold droughts through the rusting railings of the sea front, swirling around him and then on to the buildings beyond. The padding of his coat had long since matted and worn through, leaving him with something that did not work and looked bad too.
… as if the other children did not already have enough to laugh at.
Passing an old factory he heard a tapping, metal clinking on metal, as the wind whistled through the empty building, blowing pieces of the old, broken, abandoned machinery against one another. The monstrously huge buildings had been abandoned in the eighties when they were found to no longer be profitable. Their empty iron shells scarred the landscape, looming over the edge of the sea, large enough to put off potential developers from knocking them all down and rebuilding the town … although in Rigel’s opinion Brackness-on-Sea was dead in the water.
Maybe it would be better if it just burnt to the ground.
Maybe it would be better if it just burnt to the ground and he did too.
Now he had passed the factories, he arrived at Brackness’s only commercial points – a small row of seaside shops, candy floss, hot dogs, rock, chips, arcade, repeated twice, standing like the last bastion against ruin, although the shutters were closed on all of them today. The only thing open was a McDonalds in the distance, the M-shaped logo raised into the sky, shining like a neon yellow beacon.
Passing a tall plastic ice cream, he walked past the shops and around the corner to the next line of factories. Slabs of concrete, thirty feet long and slickly smooth, formed the pavement beside them; this was where he walked now. He found himself wishing, as he always did, that he had a bike or a scooter so that he could whizz along and get home in half the time.
Not that he could afford to fix his broken scooter.
Not that there was anything he had to rush home to.
The open doors of the factories gaped like hungry creatures of the night, the blackness within promising things best left uncontemplated.
Trying not to look inside in case he should glimpse something he did not want to see, Rigel looked out over the sea instead. The grey churning mass was visible just between breaths of the fog. Today’s tide was particularly high, causing waves to occasionally slosh over the edge of the sea front and slide over the concrete, slipping back a moment later, as fleeting as awaking dream. Spray from the waves flew over and brushed Rigel, beading him with freezing cold moisture. Shivering as he hurried on his way, he did his best to keep huddled in the coat for what sparse heat it would offer.
Arriving at the end of the sea front, Rigel crossed the road and moved along the alley-way, out across the other road and then through the fields. His house was set a long way from the others in the town, although for what reason he could not divine.
Reaching the garden he paused to examine the gate, which was broken. Pushing it open he decided he would have to fix it … before realising he had no idea how. Pulling it up, he then pushed it against the post and wedged it straight. Walking down the garden path, he stayed on the cracked paving stones, avoiding the waist-high grass.
At the back door he reached into his pocket and pulled out a large ring of keys. Missing his mark he knocked off more of the peeling paint, exposing the worn grey wood beneath. Aiming again, Rigel slotted the key into the lock and twisted. The rusty lock resisted for a moment before turning with a loud clank. Moving down the door, he turned the seven other remaining locks and knocked the door open with his shoulder. It scraped on the floor.
The musty smell of the kitchen overwhelmed him for a moment, but he quickly grew accustomed to it – he had lived there long enough after all. Knocking the backdoor shut he re-locked it behind him. Only when all eight separate locks were engaged did he feel slightly more relaxed.
Although not happy.
Turning on the single, shadeless bulb, Rigel peered around the dimly lit kitchen. Stacks of dirty plates lined the work surfaces and the table. Cups ringed with mold were balanced precariously on top. He would wash everything … he had tried to wash everything, but there was no hot water after the boiler broke and the washing-up liquid was all gone. After that he just tried his best to scrape everything off and rinse it.
He realised that he was still wearing his wet coat so stood up and shook it off. Picking up several thick blankets from the floor he wrapped himself in them.
Walking out of the kitchen he went to the front door and was dismayed to see another pile of letters resting on the door mat. The usual feeling of panicked helplessness rose in his chest as he looked down at the envelopes.
FINAL WARNING. LAST NOTICE. PAYMENT EXPECTED. BAILIFFS WAITING.
He did not understand what they were saying or what he could do to stop them. The boiler had broken last year so he could hardly be expected to pay the gas bill and as for the other things … well, what could he do? He didn’t have any money, unless you counted The Account. This was a hole in the wall in the front room that had several small piles of 20 and 50 pence coins. The piles would mysteriously replenish themselves and he had just enough to buy some food but that was as far as they stretched. He did not have enough to pay the bills and the idea of being able to afford something nice for himself was laughable. He had no idea where the coins came from and the money was almost useless.
Brought out of his thoughts, he found his lip was trembling as he looked down at the letters again before opening the drawer on the telephone table and shoving them inside. It was hard work as several years’ worth of letters were stored there. Perhaps it was time for a new drawer… or a bonfire.
Returning to the kitchen, he sat down and waited for the clock to crawl to five. At least he could start making tea then.
There was nothing else for him to do at his house. The television did not work anymore. It had fallen off the rickety old cabinet, smashing the screen. The fire it had caused scorched half of the carpet. There was no radio or any books, really. Well, there were books, but he did not understand them.
There were his photo albums and cassette player but he preferred to listen to his cassettes just before bed. Always before bed and only before bed.
So he sat and waited, watching the clock go around as it grew darker outside.
When the clock struck five he opened the cupboard and pulled out a tin of tomato soup. Dragging a semi-clean saucepan over, he cracked the lid of the tin and poured it in before placing it on top of the stove. Now came the tricky part: lighting the cooker. The gas worked fine but the button that caused a little spark on each gas ring to ignite it was broken. This meant he had to hold the gas on whilst trying to light a match at the same time. Fortunately he had had much practice over the years so managed it relatively easily. Whilst the soup heated he tried rinsing another bowl out under the cold tap so he would have something to eat out of but only managed to clear the thick of it. A greasy remnant remained at the bottom.
Realising the soup was boiling (spoilt again) he turned off the gas and poured it straight into the bowl. Sitting down at the table he spooned the food into his mouth, too overcome with hunger to notice how much he was burning himself.
Sitting back with a sigh, he looked down only to realise that he had spilt quite a lot on his jumper. More washing then. He had tried to hand-wash his clothes before, ever since the washing machine broke, but it only seemed to make them look worse.
What was he going to do?
It was this, the soup on his shirt, that finally broke him. He had been broken before, wearing down a little each time. He welled with bitter frustration and the deep well of sadness and loneliness, which was always present, overflowed and spilt. Racked with sobs he threw himself down on the table and howled. Grief tore at his heart and the reality of his miserable situation hit him with the force of a train.
He was alone. He had no-one and there was nothing he could do.
No parents. No friends. Alone.
How long he cried for, he did not know. Only when he arose from the depths of his crushing sadness did he try to reassess his situation. But with another wave of grief he realised that there was nothing to change and no-one to help him. The realities of being a starving, freezing, dirty, helpless thirteen-year-old orphan crashed over him.
Then the first meteor flared in the sky.
The golden light shone off Rigel’s tear-stained face as he gazed out of the window in wonder.
Standing up and moving over, he rubbed the filthy glass and stared out at the sky.
An orangey-gold ball of light was streaking slowly towards the earth. Behind it, it left a streak of gold so bright it almost appeared silver. He barely breathed or moved, fearing that the most beautiful thing he had ever seen would disappear at the slightest hint of anything.
Its pace was almost leisurely but seemed to Rigel highly co-ordinated. It moved at a constant speed in a careful arc until it began falling to the ground. In the end its course appeared to be a quarter of a circle.
Finally it hit the ground. The impact was slighter than Rigel had imagined it would be (although it still rattled the windows). It hit with a double boom like a firework or a flare. Erupting into the sky, a strange golden mist expanded from where it hit before fading again. Rigel predicted that it had landed in the second field along from his house. For one sickening moment he thought that he had imagined the whole thing, but then he saw that the golden-silver streak was still burning in the sky (although admittedly fading), marking its progress to the earth. His immediate reaction was to throw on his wet coat and go and look for the meteor, but then a more sensible course of action instilled itself in his mind. It could be dangerous. Then he realised that if he told someone else then they might go and look. He might be credited with the discovery and get a bit of money! Or maybe they might be able to help him!
It was only as he rushed down the hall and picked up the telephone from its cradle that he remembered that it had been cut off some time ago – the result of another bill gone unpaid. Replacing the phone with another feeling of crushing helplessness, he trudged back to the kitchen, looking out of the window and trying to decide what to do.
There had been no signs of other meteors and, he reasoned, there was no-one around here for miles. Perhaps he was the only person who had seen it. Yes, that made sense. The more he thought about it the more he believed that he could have been the only person to see it. That way his money and possible help from someone would be safe.
Thus reassured, he moved away from the kitchen and up the stairs.
Creaking and groaning, the house settled for the night.
In the bathroom Rigel changed out of his sweaty, grubby clothes and into his sweaty, grubby pyjamas. Brushing his teeth without paste, he rinsed under the tap and managed to get his face at least a little cleaner.
Moving to his bedroom, the pre-night routine could commence.
He shut the curtain and then his door before turning on all the lights. He had moved all the spare ones from the other rooms into here. Several standing lamps, four table lamps, torches, glowing colour boxes, wall light and even night lights, tucked into the spare plug sockets, were all clicked on.
Once that was finished he felt safer still. Rigel was very uncomfortable in the darkness and scared of it. It did not concern him that the other children would have another thing to laugh at if they found out he was scared of the darkness, because he felt he had a good reason to be.
He always saw things moving in it.
Things that stayed at the edge of his vision and disappeared when he looked straight at them. Things that lurked, waiting for him to close his eyes.
That was why he had all the lights in his bedroom: so he could make sure there was not one centimeter of darkness there. At all. Nodding once as the first part of the job was done, he then moved over to the desk where the cassette player was. Opening the tape case, he pulled out the cassette – Bernard Cribbins’ A Combination of Cribbins – and loaded it into the player. Closing the side and pressing play, he turned up the volume to seven and then jumped into bed before the first song came on.
The first song began to play just as he had settled under the covers. He nodded again; the next part of the ritual was completed.
Finally he pulled the photo albums off the bedside table and opened them. He was not entirely sure that they were pictures of his father, but he liked to believe so. Even if the man in the photo, tall, radiant, and smiling, was his father though, there were no pictures of his mum. Maybe she had been the photographer? But still he was not convinced. His father looked like he did now but older. How did that work? Maybe it was just a close resemblance … .
He looked through all three photo albums twice. Setting them down, he nudged the corner until they were in perfect alignment. Then he shut his eyes and thought.
For as long as he could remember he had had no parents. No-one else seemed to be related to him … or even notice him. Teachers and others of that sort seemed to barely notice him. He had only once plucked up the courage to confide to someone that he was an orphan with no-one to look after him or feed him.
They had forgotten he had spoken to them.
After that he just tried to muddle through on his own. It was too painful to reveal what he was living through. He preferred to keep it to himself.
He dared not talk to a social worker or anyone like that. The prospect of being taken into care frightened him even more than living alone did. He had almost come to accept it. Sometimes he thought that so long as he did not die then he was fine … sometimes he thought that if he did just die then that would be better altogether.
He just wished there was something … else. More. Life seemed to have little to no meaning to him. Without family or friends, what was there to live for? Material possessions held very little value to him (although he would have liked some central heating). So if that did not matter, what did? What was the point in life if there was nothing to live for?
Then another flare ignited the sky. Glaring through the closed curtains and Rigel’s eyelids, it shone as brightly as the last. Another meteor. Opening his eyes he was startled to see that the lights in his room (usually looking like a flare themselves) seemed dim in comparison to outside. Rushing to the window he flung the curtains open, squinting against the blaze from outside.
Like the first meteor, it was falling in an arc towards the same spot as the last. Golden, orange, and silver. Beautiful. Excitement at the prospect of telling news crews about his discovery welled up for a moment, but then he was overcome by the sight of the meteor.
The golden silver light shone on his face, upturned in wonder.
He made a wish.
The next morning, Rigel’s eyes snapped open as anticipation coursed through him. This feeling sometimes took him when he woke, only to be replaced by the crushing realisation that there was nothing. Today however, it remained; there was something to be hopeful for – the meteors!
Jumping out of bed he dressed before rushing downstairs, pausing just long enough to grab a slice of stale bread for breakfast, and then went outside.
The grass was damp with dew, leaving wet brush strokes against the bottom of his jeans. Shivering, he ran in the cold air. Reaching the back of the field he clambered over the dry stonewall and then through the trees separating the fields. His house looked small now.
In the next field he ran slightly slower as the uphill climb took its toll.
The third field was where he had been aiming for. They should be here. He willed himself not to become overexcited as he stood there but he could not help it. Here was something extraordinary that could change everything.
He walked slowly through the field, scanning the floor. However the nearer he got to the middle, the more disappointed he became. Where was the impact? Something that size ought to make a crater. He had actually seen it hit the ground … so where was it? Disappointment crashed over him and for a moment he feared that he would be overwhelmed. Fortunately, reason overcame his emotions and he decided that he should look again and in the other fields to find out for certain.
Moving to the right, his eyes glanced at something sticking in the ground. All thoughts of abandoning the search were forgotten as he rushed over to see what it was.
What he found confused him more than the original event. Embedded in the ground was a large copper casing with a bulb in the middle. The light was as large as Rigel’s hand and occasionally omitted a pulse of light along with a high-pitched beep. Peering over as he heard another beep, discordant with the first, he spotted the other meteor.
Walking over, he saw that they matched. Two lamps in copper cases, each emitting a pulse of light and a beep. Suddenly one word registered.
They looked as if they were meant to assist some kind of landing craft. He decided to tell no-one. He would either be branded a fantasist (Aliens? Sure thing kid …) or the place would be staked out to see what was coming. No, he wanted to keep this for himself.
Looking at his watch he yelped. It was eight o’clock! He should have set off to school fifteen minutes ago.
Running back, he collected his things before racing all the way there. The journey took his mind off the beacons for awhile.
He arrived late, even though he ran, but when he sat down in class he remembered the beacons and lost himself in thought.
It was only after the final bell rang that he realised he had no recollection of the day– he had been so absorbed in thinking about the lights.
Rushing home he noticed for the first time ever that he was eager to get there.
He threw his rucksack against the back door, neglecting the house and instead going straight up to the back fields. The grass was drier than it had been this morning but the air had taken a bitter chill and the sun was already setting. Moving in the dark, he was only sure of his destination when he spotted the golden lights pulsing intermittently.
Walking over, he examined each one but neither had changed. Rigel peered up at the sky, squinting in the hope of spotting something enlightening.
Time passed. His rumbling stomach and the cold in his bones almost turned him back to the house. And then the next meteor fell.
With a sharp crack like thunder it appeared in the sky from nowhere. Shining as brightly as the night before, it fell towards the earth in a perfect arc with a deep ripping sound. Rigel planned to move out of the way until he realised that this beacon was falling further forwards than the others.
Still, he probably should have moved because as it hit the earth the impact threw him off his feet.
Clambering back up again, he was startled to see that another beacon was already falling. There seemed a matter of urgency about it tonight, whereas the previous night’s beacons had seemed almost leisurely. Hurrying out of the way, Rigel waited at the edge of the field as it fell. It landed next to the third and once the hazy golden explosion had cleared, he saw a fourth beacon pulsing brilliantly in the dark night.
Twice more meteors fell, these two further forward than the last. He only spotted the formation when he walked nearer – three in a row, a gap, and another three in a row. Like an airplane landing strip.
This was a landing site.
He waited late into the night until, with disappointment, he was sure that nothing more was going to land there that night.
Trudging back to the house he suddenly realised how cold and hungry he was. His preoccupation with the lights had made him forget completely. He staggered home, feeling weak.
Back inside, he fed and warmed himself as best he could, all the while staring out of the window, convinced that something was going to happen. When nothing did he felt the usual pangs of disappointment. After another half an hour he finally decided to go to bed. During his usual pre-bedtime routine he reasoned that on the other nights not everything had happened at once. Perhaps the final stage (the landing?) would happen tomorrow night. Thus reassured, he settled beneath the covers and fell asleep quickly.
The next day passed like the previous one until Rigel was running straight for home again.
In the kitchen he tipped the contents of his rucksack onto the floor before putting various other items in: a flask of tea, a squashed sandwich, and some blankets.
Running back up through the fields, he arrived in plenty of time. Laying the blanket down on the grass, he wrapped the other end over his head and waited.
The cold air was soon biting at his exposed face, causing him to shiver unpleasantly. He was beginning to wonder if anything would turn up at all but he did not leave. Experience from the other nights had taught him that just when he thought nothing more was going to happen another meteor would come down, although tonight he was not hoping for another landing light; he was hoping for the landing craft.
Unscrewing his flask, Rigel poured out the tea before sipping it. Continually glancing up at the sky, he was beginning to feel disheartened that nothing was happening. But still he waited, determined not to miss anything.
Despite the cold he realised he was falling asleep. He tried not to but kept jerking awake as his head bobbed down too low. Just as his eyes were closing again, he heard it.
Standing up with a jolt, he looked around, desperate to see what had made the noise.
But silence reigned again and he sank back down onto the blanket, thinking he must have imagined it.
Then it came again.
But where on earth from? He was certain now that the noise was not a figment of his imagination but it left him wondering what could have made it. There was nothing around for miles. He looked up and with a sudden flare of excitement he realised that something was happening. He was unsure where or what it was, but it was definitely coming… and it sounded huge.
Rigel wrapped the blanket around himself and staring hard at the sky. His neck began aching but he refused to look down, fearing that he could miss the crucial moment.
Then the sky began to lighten and his heart soared. Sounds of engines filled the air and he knew that this must be the moment. A huge flash lit the sky…
But then something went wrong. Just as the light became brighter and the engines swelled to an impossible roar they faded suddenly, disappearing into the night. The sky was cold and black once more.
Rigel stood gaping, wondering what had happened. Why had it all gone so suddenly? His squashed sandwich lay forgotten on the floor as he stood there, devastated.
For a while he hoped that if he waited, something else might happen. Standing for more than half an hour, it was only when he was freezing that he realised it was not coming back. With a heavy heart he picked up his things and trudged back to the house.
Crawling into bed he did not bother to get undressed, but just pulled the covers over his head, overwhelmed with disappointment.
He woke the next morning and was crushed with the feelings of last night.
Doubt is a terrible thing. Rigel found out that day how doubt could fill his mind, poisoning every thought. He sat in school, not listening to any lessons, just desperately thinking about the landing site. Would the thing in the sky ever come again? As he walked home from school he was almost tempted not to go up to the field because he was so worried about the disappointment if it did not come back. Something on the door mat when he came inside changed that idea.
Amid today’s pile of bills and other letters, a light was glowing. Knocking the stack away, his eyes were assaulted by a purple envelope. Not just purple; it was glowing with a fluorescent light that filled the hallway with dancing stars. Writing in red neon read: Open Me! Obeying, Rigel slit it, only to cough and spit a moment later, cursing as he wiped his eyes; glitter had exploded out. Several small fireworks whizzed out from the bottom, screaming as they twirled down the hallway before crackling in the air. Rigel yelled and dropped the envelope and stomped on it until it went out. Heart thudding, he poked it cautiously in case it should explode again. When it remained still, he picked it up again. What on earth was this all about? Peering inside, with caution now, Rigel spotted two small golden coiled devices. Tipping them onto the palm of his hand, he wondered what they were. They were tiny. Looking back in the envelope, he saw a slip of paper and pulled it out. The edges flared like a sparkler, making him to drop it. When he realised there was no heat coming off, he picked it up again and read.
“Congratulations! Now put one of these in each ear. Please do it – it’s really important. Love from a friend.”
“What friend?” he asked himself. “Oh well.” Shrugging, he picked up the devices and put them in his ears.
At first they did nothing. Then with a sudden whirl they screwed into his ears. Crying out, he tried to pull them out but they screwed in deeper still. His eyes spun around but stopped as the devices did. He could not feel them anymore. Clicking on either side of his head, he found he could still hear properly but was none the wiser as to what the things had done.
“Too late now,” he said. Then a thought crossed his mind – it could only be the people in the sky! Too excited to wait and think about it, he grabbed a pile of blankets and ran off outside again. Climbing up towards the field, he sat down, wrapping himself up when he arrived.
There were no signs of the ship but it was still early. Anyway, it was so quiet up here … and peaceful… and…
Rigel’s eyes snapped open. Peering around, he berated himself for falling asleep. Had he missed it?
No. But he almost had. The sky was lighting up again. Once more the roaring sound was filling the sky. Boom! There it was again. Perhaps this really was the time! Thank goodness he had not stayed at home.
A third and final bang, louder than the rest, shook the air. The huge rumbling sound grew louder and seemed to strain before fading again. The engines strained louder, growing towards a deafening pitch. Then a heavy ripping split through the air.
A hole was torn in the sky above the middle of the field; inside was a tunnel of swirling smoke and the occasional flash of hot white light. The emerging shape fascinated Rigel more.
A hint. A shadow. Something enormous. One minute it was almost there, the next it was being pulled back again. Rigel’s chest was tight, nerves crawled through his stomach, and there was tightness in his throat. Then with a huge roar of engines it broke through.
An airship, the kind he had seen in history books but at least five times larger, was slowly flying out of the hole in the sky. Majestic and sleek, the sight of it sent Rigel’s heart racing.
But something was wrong. As the bang resonated again, Rigel realised that there was a line of cannons on each side of the deck. Swirling around the airship was a black shape that blew like smoke and water as it flew around, making the most dreadful shrieking noises. Whenever it came within range, the cannons fired at it, although it appeared to keep missing the target. Even as Rigel watched, a huge hole was ripped in the lining of the balloon and the airship began to sink towards the middle of the field. Sensing its advantage, the black shape converged on the hole and sent a stream of fire towards it.
The shape split in different directions just as the balloon caught fire. The engines seemed to falter and the ship began to lose height. Rigel heard a siren wailing from within. Then with a shudder the propellers whirred for a final time before hitting the ground, sending up chunks of soil and pieces of metal that flew everywhere.
Finally the ship skidded to a halt just as the engines gave one last puckering whirr. Rigel stood open mouthed, staring at it. Black smoke began to rise steadily into the air just as the hole in the sky began to close.
So there was something coming after all! But it looked so strange … and where had it actually come from? He had been expecting something coming out of the sky, not through it! What should he do? The apparition scared him. His feelings were confused – why had it been attacked? Had the people driving it done something wrong? It was obviously otherworldly and he did not know if that made it dangerous. He did not know but it was incredible! Here was something from somewhere else! What was it doing here? He was the first to see it. He did not know what would happen next … but then another thought overtook him: What if they were aliens coming to invade the Earth? Sudden terror clouded his mind and he gathered his things quickly before they noticed him. He would go back to the house and find a way to contact the authorities. Now he realised that thinking this was just something interesting to look at had been a very foolish and selfish thing to do. People could be in danger and if he did not warn them soon it would be all his fault.
He was just stepping back into the woods when a voice rang loudly over a speaker system, giving it a slightly distorted edge.
He paused despite himself, more out of surprise than anything. So they had seen him after all.
“Rigel, please remain where you are. It has taken us a very long time to find you and we would appreciate it if you didn’t run off. Now, if you just– oh, damn it, my sleeve’s on fire.”
Rigel could just make out general cursing and the sounds of people running around and beating fabric. After a moment a harsh whine of feedback made him wince, but then the person spoke again.
“Sorry about that. Now … er, what was I saying? Oh this has just spoilt the whole thing! Hang on ….”
With a loud pop the speaker was disconnected. Frozen between fear and curiosity, Rigel did not move, just watched. A door on the side of the craft opened. However the angle of the deck meant that it swung too fast and ripped off its hinges, landing on the floor with a loud clang. More cursing could be heard from within before a heavily booted foot probed outside. The rest of the body quickly followed but finding the doorway of the deck very slippery, with no foothold, the figure lost its grip and fell onto the floor. When the person did not get up immediately, Rigel’s empathy overruled his caution and he moved over to help.
“Are you alright?” he asked, surprised at how croaky his voice sounded, but then he realised that he could not remember the last time he had used it.
“Been better,” muttered the man.
Hoisting himself up onto his elbows, he spat out a mouthful of grass and soil.
“Your ground doesn’t taste very good,” he commented, sounding almost disappointed.
“Well, we’re not really renowned for eating the grass,” Rigel replied.
The man stood up suddenly. “Really?” He sounded fascinated. “How strange.”
He turned to look at his ship and groaned.
“Oh no. They’re going to kill us!”
“Why? It’s not your fault you crashed.”
“Ha ha, yeah … but it wasn’t really our ship to crash …” “What do you mean?” “Well, we might, sort of have … stolen it…”
“Well we didn’t steal it – they were going to give us one to come in but it was basic and not very impressive. So we took this one instead. Guess we’ll just have to fix it up as best we can …”
Rigel was not really listening. Now he was up, he was looking at the man. He seemed quite young but held himself with the grace of someone much older. A pair of brass-rimmed goggles hung around his neck and he had long floppy black hair that kept swinging into his eyes. He wore a long black overcoat that had silver buttons and he was holding a cane. A leathery waistcoat was just visible underneath the jacket; the chain of a pocket watch shone dimly against his stomach.
“Who are you?” asked Rigel.
“Who am I?” repeated the man. “I am Lorrirone Orunstone Peririer the Third… but you can call me Laurie. Everyone else does.”
Rigel laughed before he could help himself. “That sounds like a funny name,” he said.
“Funny, does it? I’ll have you know that where I live it’s one of the most aristocratic names around. But go on. I’m curious: What do they call your type around here?” he asked with a raised eyebrow.
“John mostly,” Rigel admitted.
“John? John! What kind of name is John?!”
“Not a complicated one,” replied Rigel, thinking of the Captain’s name.
“Oh,” said Laurie, looking around. “We have so much to talk about!”
A sudden idea struck Rigel.
“How can I understand what you’re saying?” he asked.
“If you’re from another world, surely you speak a different language?”
“We do,”said Laurie.
“But it sounds like you’re talking English to me!”
“That’s right,” said the Captain. “What do you think we sent you that letter for?”
“So it was you!” exclaimed Rigel.
“Bingo! We might have had trouble getting a whole airship through the sky but sending a letter through a little gap was much easier. It saves on time later as well because we can understand each other from the start. Those devices are translators. You speak our language; we speak yours. Cuts down on the confusion. Well done for putting them in; most people ignore what we say.”
“So I’m speaking a different language … and I can hear yours as if it were English … Wow.”
“Very nifty, isn’t it?” Laurie said, smiling.
Rigel nodded in agreement until another question surfaced.
“What were those things attacking you?” Rigel asked, curious.
Laurie jumped. “Oh no! I’d forgotten!” he shouted. “Lights! Lights!”
Spotlights, at least twenty, burst into life and flooded the field with a pure white light. Shielding his eyes against the glare, Rigel shouted.
“What was that for?!”
“Don’t worry! We just needed to do that to stop those things coming near us. Here, take a pair of these.”
Rigel felt a cool, spikey object placed in his hands. After a moment he realised it was sunglasses and slipped them on. The glare diminished until it was almost unnoticeable, allowing him to open his eyes. He saw that Laurie was also wearing a pair, dainty things with circular lenses.
“Thanks,” he said.
“No problem,” Laurie replied, smiling easily. “I’d ask you to come inside – it’s very comfortable in there but I don’t think you’d like it at the moment. The bar was on fire last time I checked.” His voice rose to a shout again. “Say! How about we get some chairs out here?”
“Sure thing, boss,” came a voice from within.
A moment later two chairs were thrown unceremoniously from the ship onto the floor. Laurie set them upright and offered one to Rigel before taking the other. Laurie tapped the edges of his chair, appearing preoccupied.
“Have to do everything myself,” he muttered, climbing back into the ship.
A moment later he returned with a tray. On it was a bottle of pale liquid and two tiny glasses. Pouring out the drink, he handed one to Rigel before sitting down again. Inside the ship, Rigel could see the silhouettes of people running backwards and forwards, swearing more often than not.
“You don’t seem particularly bothered that your ship has crashed,” Rigel commented.
“Ah, it’s mostly cosmetic damage,” replied Laurie, wafting a hand airily, although as he said this, steam ripped through the side of the ship. Rigel jumped backwards.
“Don’t worry,”said Laurie,“it’s just the steam breaking from the boilers. Better than it building up, I suppose.”
“What’s the steam for?” asked Rigel, curious.
“To power the ship, obviously,” he said, as if Rigel were dense.
“Surely you need petrol for that?”
“Fuel! How can you not know what petrol is?”
“Well I don’t. Don’t use it. All our stuff uses steam for power.”
They fell silent for several minutes. Laurie broke it.
“So have you made up your mind yet?”
“Oh yes, forgot to mention that,” said Laurie, scratching his nose. “We’ve come to collect you and take you away… if you’re interested, I suppose.”
“Take me where?” “To another world!” he said dramatically, waving his hands around to help emphasise the point. “To Kozenia!”