Landing on Siluria
This mission was supposed to be totally routine. That’s what they’d told me at mission control. No slavering Mud Lizards to worry about, no time vaults, no extermatrons, all very straightforward. Well, I can tell you, as our little ship plummeted through the lower clouds on Siluria at breakneck speed, everything felt very much ‘not routine’. I held tightly to the arms of my chair and involuntarily squeezed my upper thighs together, as the urge to set loose my bladder grew with the feeling that very soon, at this speed, we would smack into some very hard ground.
I looked across at my AI, Cat, the Rubanon encased robot who had been my companion on long-haul tax investigations now for several years. To say he was fighting the controls on the flight deck would be a bit of an overstatement as on lightships in 2225, there were only screens to tap away at when piloting. However, it would not be an understatement to say he was tapping away quite furiously with both front paws at the pilot’s control screen in front of him. I couldn’t really at that moment think of anything else to say other than,
“Are we going to crash?”
Cat glanced across at me and said “Yep. Think so.”
My lower jaw and lip scrunched up into my top lip as I squeaked out “Nothing you can do?”
“Nope. Don’t think so,” said Cat.
“Oh that’s just great,” I whined. “Nothing you can do. Well that’s ok for you being made of totally indestructible Rubanon isn’t it? I mean I’m a human right. I’m going to wind up like a jigsaw puzzle for the crash investigators. The worst thing that’s likely to happen to you is that you’ll bounce about for a while after we smack into the ground. Just typical!!”
“Don’t collapse into total cowardice just yet,” said Cat, “I may not be able to stop us crashing but I think I’m going to be able to make the landing effectively soft enough for your scrawny body to survive.”
“Seriously?” I responded as I pulled myself up slightly in my chair before lurching uncontrollably forward with great force, as the ship impacted. I lurched back and then forward and then back again several times as the ship gradually juddered to a slowish downward motion until I was finally able to sit relatively still and upright in my seat. Unfortunately, my focus on the impact, allied to the valiant attempt my upper body had made to stop itself from being shaken about like a mountain in an earthquake, had led to me losing concentration on keeping my bladder under control, with inevitable consequences. I felt the warmth inside my pants spreading and, as the damp patch became obvious at the front of my khaki coloured tunic bottoms, I really wished I hadn’t had that large glass of Baffleberry juice just before our descent started. Especially because it tasted of onions.
As Cat spotted my expanding damp patch he exclaimed “Eeeyuck. Can you not control yourself?”.
“Well I have to some extent,” I said, “My bowels have so far stayed relatively still.”
At that Cat rolled his eyes and said: “Right, we’ll head up now.”
“Up where?” I responded.
“To the surface,” said Cat, “The only way I could see to slow us was by landing in the ocean” he continued. “Now we need to head up, but slowly. Whilst we are ascending I will try to work out what happened to the ship. Lightships don’t just fail like this. It’s very puzzling.”
Onwards and Upwards
As I felt the ship start to move slowly upward, I watched my Rubanon companion as he busied himself again, this time at multiple console screens. He was alternately tapping away at and then staring for a few moments at one screen or the other, presumably as the results of his tappings were displayed. Though a robot, to all intents and purposes, due to clever body sculpting, Cat looked like an ordinary domestic cat. However, unlike the genuinely ordinary moggie, Cat has really serious airs and graces and conducts himself as though he were the Crown Prince of the Universe. As a consequence he really was the most annoying of companions, frequently doing things without telling me and never fully explaining what was going on from one minute to the next. He was supposed to be my assistant and bodyguard but often it felt as though I was the servant and he was the master. You see, being an Intergalactic tax inspector was not the most popular of vocations and many an inspector like me had found this out the hard way through a variety of means, including painful death. So Cat was there primarily to support me with facts and figures but also to ensure that clients behaved themselves and that I returned to Earth in as few pieces as possible. As mentioned, he has a Rubanon outer skin which makes him pretty indestructible, though a T. Rex nearly bit him in half once. Now that’s a story – and of course, once again, I can tell you, I saved his bacon on that mission.
And me? Well, as I’ve indicated I am an Intergalactic Tax Inspector (an ITI). Wow, and what a job. I would never have dreamed of a job like this when I graduated from my local Learning World at the age of 27 with 137 digital badges covering topics from languages, alien lifeforms, history, lasers in society, through to communication skills, martial arts, and mathsomics. I was fully expecting to drift from homework to homework earning variable sums of credit. How lucky I was to be recommended by one of my old tutors (who obviously realised how talented I was) for a government-sponsored fast-track civil service programme. Fully expecting to become a government official, proofreading and air publishing new galaxy laws, I managed to get on the wrong hoverbus outside the new trainee transit station and the next thing I knew someone was taking my arithmetic capabilities to a new level and telling me that I was going to become an ITI.
So here I am, several years later earning a good salary, traveling the galaxy with my trusty (ha ha) companion Cat, checking out the tax affairs of individuals and major corporations across many globes. Despite all of our constant bickering, we had been on many missions together now and had become known for dealing with complex tax investigations. Over the years these investigations increasingly had less to do with tax and more to do with saving the Earth from one dastardly alien plot or another. Of course, he (Cat) would have many believe that much of my success was down to him. But I knew better. I had lost count of the number of times I had pulled his furry tail out of the fire. We sometimes would undertake missions on good old Earth, in between our space travels, and here again, all of my skills and staggering capabilities came forth to ensure I succeeded, helping to make Cat look vaguely useful in the process. Cat acknowledged my skills, only recently telling me that my capabilities rivaled the most intelligent amoeba he’d ever studied. Cat was currently writing up the thesis for his 15th Doctorate degree!!. Boy, what a know-all!!
Siluria and Our Mission
For this mission we had been sent to Siluria to start new tax framework negotiations with the Silurian Ambassador. Siluria was an Earth-like habitable planet discovered around the end of the 21st Century in the XXi Regus 7 star system. Silurians were the dominant species on the planet and were basically bi-pedal reptile-like beings, with huge eyes and even ‘huger’ teeth. They were however, despite the teeth, generally an extraordinarily friendly and placid civilisation. They are one of only two extra-terrestrial groups that have made proactive contact with Earth with a view to meeting and sharing knowledge and expertise. And they did, of course, give us Baffleberry juice!!
The Silurian way of living was quite uncomplicated compared to the daily life of humans. They did have rudimentary technologies for communication (so they could phone home when they needed to) but they didn’t have the lifestyle ‘tools’ that Earth had. So they didn’t need vehicles to move around on their planet and they only ate vegetables and fruit. They also didn’t wear clothes as they had no obvious dangly or otherwise private bits to hide. Procreation apparently only really involved their tongue. They had quite tough and wrinkly skins that varied from pale brown to almost black. So, all in all, they led a very simple life on a daily basis, enjoying a very temperate climate that hardly varied as they went through their equivalent of a year.
Trade was limited with Siluria primarily because they had few needs and therefore didn’t need to import much and had only a limited number of items to export. Their two main exports were Baffleberries and Silurian silk rugs. The latter were unique because living Silurian silkworms were incorporated into every rug. The rugs were very popular on Earth as you could buy a small one and then, if you ever moved to a larger place, you could trigger the growth cycle of the worms and watch the rug grow to fit the space. Downsizing was a bit of an issue as there was no equivalent means of shrinking a Silurian rug. In addition, Silurian silkworms have remarkably strong legs which meant that on occasion a rug could go walkabout unexpectedly!!
Baffleberries on Siluria were quickly determined by the early explorers to be essentially delicious and then, by the inevitable scientists, to yield a juice with remarkable antioxidant properties. The juice rapidly became popular on Earth as a natural way to address the aging process and have a sometimes yummy drink for breakfast. Baffleberries got their name for a number of reasons. First, it was never easy to work out when the bright green triangular shaped berries were ripe, so farming them was something of an art. Not only that but from the consumer side, their flavour could vary enormously from sweet raspberry, banana-like, to something like raw onion. Consumers never really knew whether the Baffleberry juice they bought at the cloud market was going to bring a smile or a grimace to their face. However, committed Baffleberriers (members of the very popular Baffleberry club which made someone very rich) didn’t mind too much if they got one of the fairly rare onion flavoured batches – wrinkles were kept at bay and that was the most important thing. Silurians, in contrast, didn’t really care because they were wrinkly by nature, so Baffleberry juice was exported to Earth quite cheaply. And finally, as if that were not enough to baffle, the juice, when refrigerated for longer than an hour, became totally invisible. This meant that you never quite knew how much you had left or worse, if you were in a rush in the morning, how much you had actually poured out into your glass!!
Cat had by now finished his investigations and announced,
“Well, that is worrying.”
“What is?” I enquired.
“Sabotage. It was sabotage.”
I felt my eyebrows head towards my hairline as I said,
“You mean someone tried to kill us? Or rather me, because as we all know you’re pretty indestructible.”
“Yep someone tried to kill us.” responded Cat, “and I may have a pretty tough coating but in a full-blown crash at the speeds we were going at, I too would wind up in quite a large number of pieces, albeit generally indestructible ones. Anyways, we don’t have time to dwell on it. We’ve surfaced and we are being met.”
The Welcome Party and Disembarking
We had indeed surfaced and noises were coming from the main hatch. As that opened, bright sunlight rushed into the flight deck of our lightship. I blinked and walked over carefully to the open hatch. I had something of a track record of falling out of open hatches so was taking no chances, especially as our ship was bobbing about a bit. A hoverboat hummed away just outside the hatch and drew closer just as my head poked out of the hatch. The hoverboat was not Silurian, they had no need for such things, it was manned by staff from Earth’s consulate on Siluria. A very young looking uniformed man smiled at me and said,
“Quite a landing. We were expecting you at the spaceport over there” and he pointed somewhere to the right in the distance.
“Yes” I said, “we had a bit of a problem. Shall we step aboard?”
Cat, who had his own built-in short distance hovering capability, fluttered through the hatch. I stepped up on the lintel of the hatch with my right foot and then reached up, over and out with my left foot, planting it firmly onto the edge of the hovership. Right at that moment, our lightship lurched in the water and the distance between my two feet grew dramatically, as open water appeared between our ship and the hoverboat. Things were starting to get quite painful in the basement department of my body when suddenly I felt myself lifted into the air. I wriggled a little as my legs thankfully came together and, as I looked sideways and up, I realised Cat had grabbed me by the collar of my tunic and was holding me. It felt most undignified and I growled at him,
“Will you please let me down, you wretch. I wouldn’t be surprised if you were doing this on purpose just to show off.”
“Ok,” said Cat and with that, I plummeted into the water between the two craft. I was, as you might imagine not in the best of moods as, having been fished out of the water by the crew of the hoverboat, we headed for shore with me dripping pools of Silurian seawater onto the hoverboat deck. Fortunately for him, Cat floated just out of reach above my disheveled form.
By the time we reached shore, I’d been below deck, dried by a vanity droid and re-equipped with new clothing. At the dock, as we disembarked, a hovercar was waiting to take us to meet the Silurian Ambassador at his den. I grabbed hold of Cat by his tail, much to his annoyance, and slung him over my shoulder. We’d never quite worked it out but there was something in a hovercar’s electronics that created havoc with Cat’s own sensors and basic navigation. Ordinarily, this resulted in him hanging from the internal roof of a hovercar, once it had started its engines, in a temporary catatonic state. Any hovercar journey then normally ended with me having to prise his claws from the roof before slinging him over my shoulder by his tail to disembark. This time, to pre-empt the inevitable, oh and ok to annoy him, I decided to carry him on tail-first for a change. As he wriggled and squiggled against my back, the hovercar rose up and in that instant, I felt Cat’s body stiffen and go still. I let go of his tail and he tumbled to the floor, bouncing a couple of times before settling in a frozen heap. Well, I thought, at least I had saved the hovercar upholstery from claw marks. I eased my back into my chair and as we moved off, rested my aching feet on the rather handily placed prostate body of Cat.
Meeting the Ambassador
A short while later we arrived at the Ambassador’s den. Silurians, and that included their senior officials, didn’t live in houses. Their habitat was the forest and they had ‘dens’. A den was typically a cluster of trees marked with the scent of the Master of the Den (in other words the head honcho had pee’d and smeared excrement all over the trees). The more important you were the more trees you had and the larger was the central clearing within the trees, which was where the Master and his family spent most of the time, lounging in leaf and branch covered hutches.
Though Silurians did not typically cook or suffer from the cold, they would sometimes have an open fire crackling away in the centre of the clearing. The Ambassador’s den had a very large open fire roaring away. Ordinarily that would have been quite cozy. To sit around an open fire, perhaps with a glass of Baffleberry juice in one’s hand, chewing the cud over tax reform. However, as both Cat and I were suspended upside down from a tree branch swinging none too gently back and forth above the roaring flames, the coziness element was somewhat lost in the moment.
I felt the intense heat on the top of my head and could smell decidedly singed hair, as I passed once again the zenith of the arc that Cat and I had traversed many times by now. Underneath us, the Ambassador sat eating from a larger bowl of wiggling insects and periodically looked up at us. The more educated Silurian could speak some English though the Ambassador was using an interpreter to communicate with us.
“So you swine refuse to reveal what you know about our special silkworm exports do you?. We know you are not really here to discuss any new tax frameworks between our two planets. Admit it and tell us how much Earth knows” the interpreter said.
As I swung past and felt searing heat flash up my nose I gasped out words as and when I could given the swinging,
“We don’t……. know anything Ambassador, do…… we Cat? This must ………all be some sort of mistake. We know…….. the Silurian people are…….. so nice and kind – what have we done……. to upset you? For goodness…… sake……. say something Cat. I appreciate…….. you may not be……. feeling the warmth but……. I am.”
More searing heat hit the top of my head and body every 5 or 6 words as we continued to swing, left-right, left-right, left-right over the fire.
“Tell him Cat,” I urged desperately.
“Ahhrrmm, tricky,” said Cat,…… “That no-lie chip you…. insisted be added …….to my motherboard …….at my last service means……… I can’t really say…… we know nothing. Especially……. as we do.”
“HUH!!” I exclaimed, “What……. do you mean….. we don’t know nothing?………. I know nothing. If you know …….something…… then……. for goodness sake….. tell this creature, – Oh, sorry…… Mr Ambassador I mean……..not creature but……. tell the Ambassador…… what we know so I can…… stop being cooked, pleassssee!!!”
Cat replied, as we passed each other on each swing of the ropes holding us, “It won’t matter……. if I tell him what…….. we know. He…… already knows……. what we know. He’ll still…….. cook us. Well, you. I’ll just……. get a bit overheated.”
Somehow I managed to get my next response out in a very ‘jointed’ manner, “You keep saying ‘we know’ you rubberised tin can. I DON’T KNOW!!!!”
Cat’s reply was again disjointed, more so as the arc of the swing had become longer, “I’m sure……you do…..know. There……was an…air-memo…….you…..really should pay……attention…..to them…….you know.”
“ARGGHHHH,” I screamed in return but before I could start to say how I was going to slowly dismantle him when I got out of this mess, I found myself plummeting to the ground.
Fortunately, I didn’t land on the fire but well to the side in a rather damp thick mound of leaves. This was also fortunate in another way as it cushioned the impact of my head, which hit the ground first. On the unfortunate side, as I groaned and lifted my head, the smell told me that I’d landed headfirst in a Silurian latrine.
Rescue Part I
As I groaned, I looked around me. I could hear lots of whooshing noises and a combination of distinctly Silurian grunts and squeals.
“Well done Joosthava” I heard Cat cry, “Well done!”
Despite my grogginess, I managed to raise my head sufficiently and twist my neck around to see Joosthava, blue hair flailing. I could see two motionless Silurian bodies on the ground and two more were firmly gripped in thick strands of her hair as she flung them up over and around her. Then the two Silurians disappeared from my limited view as she released them from her hair with a ‘velocitous’ flick that sent them flying. I heard a rather loud scrunching, cracking noise and slowly twisted my neck 180 degrees to see the unconscious bodies of the two who had moments before been being whirled around. I couldn’t see the Ambassador but then caught sight of another familiar figure and comrade, Krokus Joe, who was wielding a large extermatron under one arm. We had been rescued I concluded by the other two members of our team, Joosthava X Minot, and Krokus Joe. They must have followed us. Thank goodness they had I thought.
As my still throbbing head returned to the perpendicular, I became aware that the latrine that I was laying on was moving noticeably. Suddenly and right beneath my nose, a single eye-like organ, on the end of a stalk, popped up almost touching my face. My head jerked instinctively as far backward as it could go, as another stalk and then another popped up and collectively started to grip at my face. I tried, despite the aches in most of my body to stand up but then realised that movement was occurring underneath, all along my body. I felt myself rise up a little in the air and then a little more before I realised that the number of eye stalk things had multiplied manifold and I was now almost encased in them. The next thing I knew I’d taken off. Not in a vertical direction but a horizontal one. I shot off at an alarming speed in the direction of a tree before veering off sharply to avoid hitting the tree. As my body veered, more of what was moving me emerged from the ground. It became clear to me that I was astride a very very large worm. As the worm rose further out of the ground so I clung desperately to its round body with both my arms and legs. We traveled past the immediate trees and deeper into the forest. I held on tightly for what seemed like forever but was, in actuality, probably no more than a couple of minutes. Then without warning, the head of the worm, which was actually only about a metre in front of me, rose up and dove at the ground. Its head disappeared into what turned out to be very soft earth, followed by the rest of its body and me.
I realised I could not free myself from the worm’s body, so drew the deepest breath I could just before I disappeared underground. Fortunately, only moments after entering the ground we broke through into an enormous cavern. The worm thudded to the ground and as it did I managed finally to extricate myself from its body and eye stalks. It shot off along the ground away from me thankfully.
As it wriggled and wormed its way along, with myriad legs at the base of its fat round body and its eye stalk thingies sticking up at the top, I gave a long involuntary shudder and stepped back as it raced away from me. Almost instantly I bumped into something quite hard. I then stepped forward very voluntarily and turned around. In front of me were an even more impressive collection of worm legs, waving at my face. They belonged to the bottom of an even fatter worm than the one I’d ridden on. I looked upwards following one pair of legs after another until my eyes were as vertical as they could possibly be without breaking my neck. Now I could see several pairs of eye stalky things, surrounding a wide open and quite voluminous mouth, staring at me. There were no teeth, which was something of a comfort, though their absence did make me think that being sucked to death would probably be slower and ultimately more painful than being shredded by a sharp set of gnashers.
As the open mouth of the worm plummeted towards me I closed my eyes, thought how I’d always really wanted to be a librarian, and wet myself.
Rescue Part II
I had fully expected the warmth of the pee in my pants to be a mere passing sensation given that I was just about to travel down the gullet of a mega worm but strangely, the glow of my initial excretion had time to start to feel cold to my brain. In addition, I also now felt very wet all over, from head to toe, not just below the waist. I sank to my knees, opened my eyes and saw bits of worm all over the place. I realised that just at the moment I was to be engorged by the worm, Joosthava, and Krokus Joe had burst in through the short vertical tunnel caused by my passage on the back of the first worm. Krokus had blasted the mega worm about to ingest me with his extermatron.
Worm bits were everywhere and I was covered head to toe in warm worm goo. I managed to stand up, and thick gelatinous bits of worm dragged themselves from the top of my head and stretched down past my chest, some just breaking off and ‘glooping’ to the ground whilst others slid slowly off my face and down my chest, clinging on as though they needed me. Then, Joosthava was in front of me. I was unable to speak really. I had seen my life race before me several times in the last hour, as first, the Ambassador tried to cook me, then I fell into a Silurian toilet before being taken on a very fast ride by a very large worm and being entombed underground.
Although one could argue that it ended well because the mega worm did not manage to devour me, there I was standing in front of Joosthava X Minot, the famous time miner and mutant, dripping in goodness knows what worm fluids and viscera. To say I felt somewhat hard done by as an Intergalactic tax inspector at that moment would be an understatement. Before I could start to cry, however, I remembered that I was supposed to be in charge. After all, I was the Inspector, Cat was my robot, my assistant, as were both Joosthava and Krokus.
I stood tall, despite the remarkable weight of the remaining worm goo clinging to me, and opened my mouth to speak. Sadly, right at that very moment, a largish patch of goo slid down my head in the vicinity of my mouth so all I managed to do initially was suck that into my mouth as I opened it. I coughed, spluttered and spat out as much of it as I could get out, noting that actually, it didn’t taste that bad, before standing tall once again and managing to say
“Well done Joostava and Joe. Well done. Where’s the rubberised tin can?”
Cat hovered into view looked at me and said,
“Oh dear. You are a bit of a mess. We’d better get a VanityDroid on you as soon as we can get out of here.”
I gave him my iciest stare but before I could quietly explain my desire to have him slowly disassembled, Joosthava weighed in with,
“Great work Inspector once again. You’ve found the evidence we need.”
I looked at her and said “Yes” not having the faintest idea what evidence had been found or what it was for.
Meanwhile, we backed our way out of the large cave we were in as Krokus Joe had found a tunnel leading to the surface and leaving seemed a good idea, as multiple shadowy worm figures had started to emerge from the darkness that was only about 5 metres away all around us.
Into the Light
As we emerged from underground we were surrounded by what was a mix of Silurians and security guards from Earth. The Silurians were chit-chatting away in their grunt and squeak like way but they seemed to be working with rather than fighting the Earth security personnel, which seemed positive. Cat spoke as we stood in the clearing again and a VanityDroid started to gently clean me up.
“Once I saw the idiot being dragged off I realised that it was likely that the worm he was riding would be heading off to the nest. As I always have a tracker on the buffoon, I knew we could follow, so I alerted Earth security. I also told them the rough coordinates of the nest and sent out a homing signal so they could be here when we emerged. With the evidence of the nest, the actions of the Ambassador and the files that show the genotype of the genetically engineered Silurian silkworms that were to be sent to Earth, we have all that the Silurian authorities need to act.”
At that I noticed the Silurian Ambassador being escorted away by four other Silurian officials.
I still had no idea what Cat was on about so I picked him up by the scruff and marched a few metres away from the rest and said to him “Before I re-boot you all around this forest will you tell me what is going on precisely.” He glared at me, clearly annoyed at the indignity of being scruffed and said “I told you just a short while ago if you bothered to read the Inspectorate’s airmemo’s properly you would know. The Silurian Ambassador is in league with the Mud Lizards on Amora. He hatched, together with the Mud Lizards, a plan to flood the Silurian rug market over time with silkworms that at the flick of a genetic switch would grow into monsters on Earth and terrorise the planet. In exchange, the Mud Lizards would ensure he would become King of Siluria. Earth intelligence picked up information about this plot early last year. Our job was, on the pretext of discussing a new tax framework, to find clear evidence to convince the friendly Silurian King of his most trusted aide’s treachery. The Ambassador trying to cook you plus you accidentally finding the worm’s nest is all the evidence we needed. The Silurian King will now make sure that the Silurian Ambassador is punished and that his work with Mud Lizard genetic engineers is destroyed.” I stared at him in disbelief and just said,
“But I came here to talk about taxes not to become intimate with giant worms!!.”
As I felt my temper rising I caught sight of the Silurian King, with his crown wobbling on the top of his head. I therefore quickly recovered my composure and marched back towards where the King, Joosthava and Krokus were standing and, with Cat hovering at my side, I said,
“Well done everyone for your help in making my plan to apprehend the Silurian Ambassador a success. I could not have saved our two planets without you. Earth and Siluria can now continue together in peace and prosperity.”
Joosthava applauded enthusiastically at my words and cried “Bravo” whilst Cat’s eyes rolled backward as he shook his head and said,
“You crass, moronic twerp.”
I ignored him and took the plaudits. The King looked very pleased, ambled right beside me, squatted and pee’d on my feet and up my legs. Cat roared with what can only be described as maniacal, hissy laughter and managed to say,
“Looks like the King is marking his new territory.”
Joosthava said, “Oh no, dear Inspector, you really are very unlucky at times.”
I looked at her with a kind of ‘smile grimace’ and watched her slowly start to grow taller in front of me, as I started to slowly sink into what was now the King’s toilet.