From Small Seeds to Tall Trees, A Perfect Combination and the return of the Eye of the Snake
Captain Lou looked up as the Vistascreen crackled into life and Admiral Bunting’s face appeared. Since the events at Hammer’s Myth he had been reinstated as a full Admiral of the Fleet. His retirement cabin at Svalbard would remain empty a little longer.
‘All hail, Admiral’ said Captain Lou. ‘What can I do for you?’
‘All hail’ replied the doughty ex space renegade.
‘I want to tell you a little story about the inhabitants of Terra Gaia. Why don’t you gather your crew?’
Captain Lou sent out a ship-wide telecast summoning her strapping cohorts. They assembled around her: Bombardier Walker, the spaceweed specialist; Sonic Architect Parsons, head of flangection, and Ricardo the Astral Bard, mischief playing around his twinkling eyes.
‘All present and correct, Admiral’ said Captain Lou. ‘Go ahead!’
‘Ok’, said the wily old spacedog.
‘Have you ever heard of a place called Udder’s Field?………..’
‘Udder’s field? Doesn’t ring any bells’, said Captain Lou.
‘Well’ said Admiral Bunting, ‘what would you say if I told you that the inhabitants of Terra Gaia are never weaned?’
‘Never weaned!’ exclaimed Captain Lou. ‘What in heaven’s name can you mean?’ She was beginning to think that the Admiral was losing his grip.
‘They are never weaned’, he repeated. ‘That is to say, they drink milk throughout their lives!’ Captain Lou and her crew all burst out laughing, now certain that the famously droll space veteran was spinning them one of his implausible yarns.
‘I’m serious’ he said, a note of tetchiness entering his voice. ‘And there’s more – they don’t even drink the milk of their own species’. This was greeted by stony silence; surely the Admiral had gone too far. Not even the most debased creatures in the universe would drink the milk of another species. It was akin to – to bestiality!
Eventually Captain Lou found the strength to speak; ‘well then, whose milk do they drink?’ amazed at herself for even asking such a question.
‘Cows’ said the Admiral.
Bombardier Walker turned away just in time as the contents of his stomach erupted from his mouth. All four Leconauts could scarcely believe their ears.
‘What?!’ exclaimed Captain Lou. ‘But that’s, that’s….’
‘Disgusting?’ volunteered Admiral Bunting.
‘Yes’, said Captain Lou. ‘Disgusting. How can they debase themselves in such a way?’
‘And that’s still not all’ said the Admiral. ‘Do you know what they do with the cows when they are no longer able to supply their milk?’
Captain Lou could hardly form an answer. ‘No’ she croaked.
‘They kill them and eat them’ said the Admiral.
All four Leconauts were completely stunned.
‘So the Galactic Council has a mission for you; we want you to go back in time to where we think this barbaric practice began, and alter the course of history. The Galactic Council was very impressed by your use of a Time Tunnel.’
Captain Lou felt her face flush; she hadn’t realised the Galactic Council were quite as well informed as they appeared to be.
‘We believe the key is at Udder’s Field. We think this is where the Terra Gaians fell from grace and became cannibals. We want you to steer them down a different path. And we’d like you to do it before the end of the month of Veganuary.’
‘Wow, that’s quite an ask, Admiral’ said Captain Lou, amazed at her own talent for understatement.
‘Well, you know what they say; from Small Seeds mighty oaks will grow’, said the Admiral weightily.
‘And if we can’t turn them towards the Light?’ asked Captain Lou.
Admiral Bunting smiled. ‘Then you flangect the hell out of them……….’
Captain Lou sat in the Experience Chair down in the Sensory Modelling Zone of the Leco. She was trying, mostly in vain, to rid her mind of the terrible things she’d been told by Admiral Bunting with regard to the habits of the inhabitants of Terra Gaia. But her vivid imagination was holding on to psy-pictures of the debased creatures and their unsavoury practices.
Five floors up Ricardo the Astral Bard was preparing himself for the effort of creating another Time Tunnel, through which the Leco would travel to a bygone age on Terra Gaia. He knew he would have to intone the ancient spell which, coupled with the melodic and rhythmic efforts of his crewmates, would take them through spacetime to their destination.
Seven floors further down, Bombardier Walker and Sonic Architect Parsons were setting up the Edifice of Song in the Studio of the Fair View. ‘I don’t know what’s fair about this view’ said the bombardier. ‘It just looks like the confinement cell they threw me in that time on Phobos. All I did was offer to de-spaceweed the Galactic Commissioner’s landing pod. How was I to know that the Phobons held spaceweed to be sacred?!’
‘Indeed’ replied Jeff. ‘We’ve seen some strange things on our travels and I don’t suppose we’ve seen the half of it yet!’
He stood, in thought, and then made some small adjustments to the flangector interface which he’d just assembled.
‘Right, we’re ready to go’ he said.
The door ‘wooshed’ open and in stepped Captain Lou and Ricardo.
‘Right on cue’ said the Sonic Architect.
Ok, said Captain Lou. ‘Let’s do it.’
Just as they’d done before, the Leconauts began to create the haunting sounds which would set the scene for their journey through time. The archaic command of ‘onetwothreefour’ cued them to begin together and the mellifluous strains issued forth. Ricardo stepped up to the speech-sound converter and began to intone the ancient poem which began ‘I’m a time traveller, and I will break your heart…….’
After what may have been a very short or a very long time Captain Lou felt the onset of the Timeless Moment and projected her mind to the co-ordinates given to her by Admiral Bunting. The sound enveloped them and the Sonic Architect stepped on a pedal; the world twisted and turned and the sound of jet planes of old careened back and forth as kaleidoscopic colours raced and pulsated in all five dimensions. The pull in the pit of her stomach told Captain Lou that they had travelled immense distances through spacetime in the blink of an eye.
The celestial sounds faded and the sense of motion receded. ‘That’s it’ said Captain Lou. ‘We’re here……….’
The crew of the Leco wandered in amazement through the streets of Udder’s Field. At every step there was something bizarre or thrilling to see. The feelings of disorientation produced by the Timeless Moment were receding and they were beginning to feel hungry.
‘Remember what Admiral Bunting said’, said Captain Lou. ‘We’ll have to be really careful with food. In this time they were far less discerning than we are. Look out for anywhere which says ‘vegan options’.
‘Over here’ said Ricardo. ‘The Peppercorn – it’s a vegan café!’
‘Sounds like a good place to start’ said Captain Lou.
Wholesome and appetising aromas filled the air. ‘Mmm, smells good’ said the Sonic Architect.
‘I feel a little queasy’ said the Bombardier. ‘I’m just going to get some fresh air.’
‘Ok’ said Captain Lou, ‘but don’t go too far. We can’t be sure that all the natives will be friendly.’
‘I’ll be ok’ smiled the Bombardier. ‘See you soon.’
Before long the three remaining Leconauts had engaged the café staff and patrons in conversation and were soon discussing everyday topics which the locals seemed to find outré and exotic.
They learned that far from all the inhabitants of Terra Gaia were still practicing barbarians and that more and more natives were seeing the light.
Ricardo realised that Bombardier Walker had not returned, and that almost an hour of Gaian time had elapsed since he went out for a breath of air. He whispered to Captain Lou.
‘Right, we’d better go and have a look’ she said.
The three space renegades left the Peppercorn and retraced their steps but saw no sign of their crewmate. Captain Lou began to feel real concern. Just then Ricardo stopped in his tracks. They were outside a glass-fronted building which bore the legend ‘Milk Bar’. They could all clearly see Bombardier Walker sitting inside, a large glass of milky liquid raised to his lips, with a glazed expression of sheer ecstasy on his face………..
The more time the Leconauts spent in Udder’s Field the more conflicted their emotions became. Whilst still being appalled at some of the habits of the city’s denizens they could also see a kind of noble humanity which was somehow missing in their own time. People were able to exercise free will, at least up to a point, and seemed to be in control of their lives.
‘Ok’ said Captain Lou. It’s time to beam back up to the Leco and prepare the Edifice of Song for Friday’s beanfeast.’ She was pleased that she had found it easy to speak in the parlance of the times.
‘We need to reach these people on a gut level. We have to show them that there’s a better way.’
The day dawned and the Leconauts arrived at Small Seeds with their Edifice of Song. By 8pm Gaian time a large number of curious locals had gathered. The Leconauts took to the stage. ‘Come spiral up, hitch a ride past sea ivory’ intoned Captain Lou and the Sonic Engineer. It seemed that the locals were happy to oblige……..
Three hours later and the Leconauts were in the midst of a happy throng, answering questions, engaging in discourse, making friends, changing minds.
‘We did well’ said Captain Lou. ‘I really think we have planted some small seeds today’.
‘Yes’ said the Bombardier. ‘We just need to come back and water them now and then!’
Captain Lou felt strongly that she could report back to Admiral Bunting that their mission had been a success.
‘Right, let’s get back to the Leco. Beam us up, Astral Bard’.
Ricardo closed his eyes. Nothing happened. ‘Ricardo?’ asked Captain Lou.
Visibly shaken, he replied ‘I can’t connect to the source. I can’t beam us up. It looks like we’re stranded in 2019………………………..
The Leconauts sat in the cosy surroundings of the Peppercorn café, contemplating their next move. ‘Are you absolutely sure you can’t connect to the source, Astral Bard?’ asked Captain Lou, with more of a degree of hope than she really wanted to display.
‘I can’t even feel it’ said the Astral Bard. ‘It’s like it was never there.’
A stark choice lay in front of them; find a way back to their orbiting starcruiser or live out their lives in this different age.
Bombardier Walker smiled inwardly; he was beginning to like this time and place with its strange customs and habits.
Just then the Sonic Engineer did a double-take. ‘Well, I never’ he exclaimed. ‘There’s a guy out there who is the spitting image of Lord Ron of the Hale!’
‘Maybe it’s one of his ancestors’ said the Astral Bard.
‘No, it actually is Lord Ron of the Hale! And what’s more he has Count Callum and Young Lord Nick with him!
All four Leconauts jumped up at the same time and ran out of the café.
They quickly realised that Lord Ron and his crew weren’t in the least bit surprised to see them.
Sundry exclamations of ‘what, how, why’ were quickly bandied around. The venerable Spacelord smiled and held up his hand.
‘We’ve been looking for you’ he said, quietly. ‘When you went back in time Admiral Bunting had the entire surveillance capability of the Galactic Council trained on you. It took them a while but they figured out how you did it. Luckily I had hacked into their system so I know how you did it, too! I’m guessing you’ve been trying to get back to your ship without success?’
‘Yes’ said all four Leconauts simultaneously.
‘Once they’d figured out how you time travelled they cut you off from the source.’
They all gasped. ‘Well, it didn’t take you long to find us’ said Captain Lou.
Lord Ron shot her a quizzical glance. ‘Really?’
Captain Lou sensed something was amiss. ‘How long have you been here?’ asked the spacelord.
‘Two days’ said Captain Lou.
Lord Ron smiled. ‘You’ve been missing for seven years…………’
‘ …………Seven years?!’
All four Leconauts struggled to take in the import of Lord Ron’s words. They had been absent from their own time for seven whole years!
‘That’s correct’ said Lord Ron. ‘They figured that with you out of the way they’d have the monopoly on time travel. I guess they didn’t consider that they may have let their security become a little lax!’
‘And what’s more’ said Count Callum, ‘we think we can reconnect you to the Source.’
‘Wow’ said Captain Lou, suddenly enlivened by the prospect of being able to return to her own time. ‘How do you think you can do that?’
‘I’ve been doing a little time travelling of my own’ said Lord Ron.
‘I went back to the place of my birth, a city called Hull, not far from here, in fact. I went back to the year 1969 to watch myself become a spacelord. It was, instructional.’ The gnarly galactic pirate smiled at his own memory.
‘Then I came forward a while to the time when you became renegades. I’d always been interested in why the Galactic Council seemed to have it in for you. And I think I found the answer.’
‘Please tell’ said Captain Lou.
‘There was a spacechant which you created; it told of the legend of the Gypsey Race and the Stone at the Bend.’
‘I remember it well’ said the Astral Bard.
‘Well, the Galactic Council figured it was a coded message from you to the renegades of the galaxy.’
‘Wow’ said Captain Lou for the second time. Her mind was racing.
‘So did they think we were getting close to some big secret?’ she asked.
‘You had them spooked’ said Lord Ron. ‘It’s all to do with the Stone at the Bend of the Gypsey Race.’
‘Is the Stone something to do with the Source’ asked Ricardo, barely able to contain his excitement.’
‘In a way’ said Lord Ron. ‘The Stone IS the Source……………..’
Captain Lou sat in a Ford Transit van, along with her crew and the crew of the Eye of the Snake. Lord Ron was at the wheel. He had procured the primitive vehicle by waving a handful of spacecoin under the nose of the previous owner of the van.
‘Gaians can’t get enough of aurum’ he had said, smiling.
They were travelling to a city called Hull on the Plains of Kardomah. From there they would journey on to Rood Stone, the village in which they would find the Stone at the Bend. Lord Ron was sure that this place held the key to reconnecting the Leconauts to the Source, and thus returning them to their own time.
Ricardo was sitting in the back, eyes closed, his mind working overtime. He was recalling the legends around the Gypsey Race, and the Stone at the Bend. ‘All roads lead to the Stone at the Bend of the Gypsey Race’; he remembered the ancient spacechant. Obvious, really, that this place was special. Special enough to be the One Source. He prayed that they would arrive there without having to fight for their survival………..
Lord Ron swung the Ford Transit van in to the churchyard of Rood Stone. The nine space renegades disembarked and walked around the ancient building. They were all breathless with expectation; then, there it was – the Stone at the Bend. Huge, towering, brooding and sinister. This silent sentinel had seen ages come and go, just like the passing of seasons to a human.
Lord Ron headed back to the antique vehicle which had brought them to this spot. He opened the back doors. Inside, impossibly, were two Edifices of Song.
‘We need to set these up around the Stone’ said Lord Ron. Captain Lou was beginning to think that Lord Ron knew more than he was letting on. The crews of the Leco and the Eye of the Snake worked in silence. In twenty minutes they had built two Edifices of Song, creating a circle around the venerable Stone.
‘One thing’ said Captain Lou. ‘How are we going to power all this equipment?’
‘Don’t worry about that’ said Lord Ron. ‘We are, after all, standing in front of the Source!’ He indicated the ancient monument with his outstretched hand.
The Astral Bard raised an eyebrow, mischievously.
‘Ok, positions everyone’ said Captain Lou. The nine Star Travellers readied themselves and Lord Ron issued the archaic command; ‘onetwothreefour.’
They began, and Sonic Engineer Parsons realised that even though no power was connected to their equipment it was functioning anyway!
As Captain Lou began to intone the ancient spacechant three things happened almost simultaneously: the sky grew dark and the air thickened with the buzz of electricity; as if from nowhere nine Galactic Fighters swooped out of the heavens; the ancient Stone split into four, peeled back like a banana skin and a towering column of golden star plasma shot skyward.
‘Interesting’ said the Astral Bard………………………..
The smell of static filled the air as the nine Galactic Fighters spiralled down towards the nine Space Renegades; one for each of them. But the golden column of star plasma which had issued from the Stone at the Bend was forming itself into a phoenix-like creature of living flame, propelling itself on wings of coruscating sparks. Its head seemed to sweep the skies seeking out the spacecraft and engulfing them.
‘Aah, the Firebird’ whispered Sonic Architect Parsons, a look of wonder upon his face.
Before Lord Ron was able to issue the command ‘Flangectors north’, the Galactic Fighters were so much ash scattered around the churchyard. As the world settled back into normality, the skies lightened and the Astral Bard fancied he could hear the fast flowing of meltwater, as the Gypsey Race burst forth.
‘Looks like they’ve decided to do a bit of time travelling too’ said Lord Ron. ‘They should have stayed at home.’
Captain Lou shot a glance at the Astral Bard. ‘Can you feel it?’ she asked, almost afraid to hear the answer.
Ricardo smiled, mischief in his eyes. ‘I can feel it!’
‘Take us home’ said Captain Lou, but Lord Ron interrupted.
‘Actually, there’s one thing we need to do before you leave this spacetime’ he said.
‘I want to seal the source against the Galactic Council. Just to make sure they don’t send any more of their suicide missions against us.’
‘How will we do that?’ asked Bombardier Walker.
‘We go to the capital of the Plains of Kardomah, on the Street of Alfred the Gelder.’
‘And we send out a series of spacechants; a coded message to the One Source. If we do it correctly then the Galactic Council will never know that we existed and we’ll be free to go renegade for the rest of eternity………………………..’
The Leconauts and The Eyes of the Snake were travelling in the old-fashioned way; in a fossil fuel-burning road vehicle along a tarmac track at the impossibly slow speed of seventy miles an hour! ‘Will we ever get there?’ thought Captain Lou.
They were on a mission to save themselves from the wrath of the Galactic Council, indeed to hide their existence entirely. It all depended on them reaching the capital of the Plains of Kardomah, the city of Kardomah itself, and a music temple on the street of Alfred the Gelder.
‘Almost there’ said Lord Ron, as a bridge over a river estuary hove into view.
‘They pulled up their ancient vehicle outside an impressive building on the street of Alfred the Gelder. As they disembarked Ricardo looked around, nervously.
‘Well, this is impressive’ said the Sonic Architect, surveying the gothic edifice in front of him.
‘No, it’s this one’ said Lord Ron, indicating a much less grandiose building on the other side of the road.
‘This is the music temple you spoke of?’ asked the Bombardier, incredulously.
‘Don’t be fooled by outward appearances’ said Young Lord Nic.
They entered. ‘All hail’ cried Lord Ron.
‘All hail’ came the answer. ‘Welcome to our humble hostelry. I am James of Saint Paul.’
‘What can you recommend to feed nine weary travellers?’ asked the spacelord.
‘Our pizza is renowned across the Plains of Kardomah’ said James, proudly.
‘Then we’ll have nine of them’ said Lord Ron, ‘and nine flagons of spacejuice.’
‘James shot a quizzical glance at the hoary galactic adventurer.
‘I don’t think we have any of that’ he said, doubtfully.
‘Well, nine flagons of whatever you recommend’ said Lord Ron.
They sat at a table and gathered round so as not to be overheard.
‘The Galactic Council has spies everywhere’ said Lord Ron, conspiratorially.
‘So, this is the plan. We set up our Edifices of Song in the music temple next door and perform a series of spacechants at the appointed time. If we get it just right then we will seal the Source and the Galactic Council will not be able to move through spacetime. Moreover, they won’t even remember that there was a time when they could. And as far as they are concerned we will never have existed. So when we get back to our own time we will be the only people with working starcruisers!
‘Opportunities’ smiled the Bombardier.
‘Indeed’ smiled Lord Ron.
Just then the door to the street opened.
‘Don’t look now’ said Captain Lou, ‘but Admiral Bunting has just walked in……….’
The nine space renegades all jumped to their feet at the same time and assumed battle stations. Lord Ron loosed off a volley of Lydian arpeggios which took the hapless Admiral completely by surprise. He found himself rendered powerless by the strong cords of musical power which had issued from the spacelord’s flangector.
‘Wait’ cried the Admiral, ‘I can explain!’
‘A likely story – this is more treachery from the Galactic Council’ hissed young Lord Nic.
‘Hold fast’ said Captain Lou, ‘let’s hear what he has to say.’
‘Ok, talk’ said Lord Ron, holding the neck of his flangector dangerously close to the Admiral’s jugular.
The Admiral began.
‘When the Galactic Council reinstated me they asked me to build bridges with you; they wanted to bring you back into the fold. But I got wind of what they were really up to. I knew they wanted to cut you off from the One Source. I told them I wasn’t playing ball, but they had an ace up their sleeves.’
‘Did they threaten to burn down your log cabin in Svalbard?’ asked Bombardier Walker.
‘Much worse, I’m afraid’ said the Admiral, tears appearing in the corners of his eyes.
‘They cloned me’.
Everyone fell silent. Cloning was outlawed by the Galactic Council’s Second Prime Directive.
‘They locked me up in my own cabin’ he continued. ‘They chained me with samphire’.
Another collective gasp.
‘It was my clone which sent you on the mission to Udder’s Field. But then, a couple of days ago a strange thing happened. I heard one of your ancient space chants in my mind and the ice around the cabin began to melt. The water began to flow in a torrent until the cabin was left on an ice floe drifting in open sea. The samphire faded and suddenly, I had travelled here, to this time.’
‘How did you know you’d time travelled?’ asked Captain Lou.
The Admiral looked down, somewhat sheepishly.
‘When I came to I was stark naked’ he said. I was standing in the middle of a road in front of a sign which told me I was fifteen miles from Kardomah City. In my head I could hear your voice singing ‘all roads lead to…..’ I knew I had to come here.’
‘I guess you didn’t betray us after all’ said Ricardo.
The Admiral looked affronted. ‘I would never betray you’ he said, emphatically.
‘I didn’t think you would’ smiled Captain Lou, ‘but it did look bad.’
‘Looks can be deceiving’ said the Admiral.
‘Perhaps you can help us’ said Lord Ron. ‘We are going to send forth some spacechants this evening. We need someone to make sure no-one from the Galactic Council comes near whilst we work.’
‘I can do that’ said the Admiral.
‘Excellent’ said Sonic Architect Parsons. ‘Pizza?’
‘Don’t mind if I do……..’
The evening came and Captain Lou and her crew were surprised and heartwarmed to see many astral travellers arrive at the Temple of Song in Kardomah City. Inside, the two bands of space renegades were looked after by a genial chap called Matthew. ‘He’s a LUND’ whispered the Astral Bard in Captain Lou’s ear. ‘A LUND?’ she asked.
‘Yes, a Lifeform of Ultra-Normal Design’, specially created to excel in a particular area of skill. This one is a Sound LUND!’
‘I didn’t realise that they had such sophisticated AI in this spacetime’ said Captain Lou.
‘They didn’t’ said Ricardo, ‘until we went back in time and created it!’
Captain Lou marvelled at the whole host of adventures that the Leco and the Eyes of the Snake would have in the future – or should that be the past?
The Eye of the Snake took to the stage and began their sequence of spacechants. The assembled astral travellers were mightily impressed and showed their appreciation in the time-honoured way. Admiral Bunting stood at the back, smiling beatifically.
The Leconauts took to the stage and launched their spacechants into the aether.
Just as Ricardo intoned the last couplet of the spacechant known as The Time Traveller, a very tall man stood up at the back of the temple and cried ‘I am Andy, Son of Richard’ and I seek my father – he was a Time Traveller……….’
To be continued…
By Loudhailer Electric Company’s Sonic Architect and keeper of the sacred flangector, Jeff Parsons
Loudhailer Electric Company photo gallery by Sydpix