LECo in Harperspace!
Captain Lou was feeling good; she sat in her rightful position on the bridge of her starcruiser, the Leco, her faithful crew arrayed around her. She was preparing to take her ship into space for more renegade adventures.
The Leconauts had enjoyed their time on Terra Gaia but now the freedom of deep space beckoned. It was time to leave the grey planet behind and head into the wild blue yonder.
Kardomah City Space Control was about to give clearance for the Leco to set sail from its moorings at King George Spacedock.
The Vistascreen crackled; ‘Leco, you are cleared for Harperspace Harway Fahve-Nahne’ came the robot controller voice.
‘Sorry’ said Captain Lou, somewhat puzzled. ‘Did you mean Hyperspace Highway Five-Nine?’
‘Yes, that is what I said’ came the robot voice. ‘Harperspace Harway Fahve-Nahne!’
‘I repeat’ said Captain Lou. ‘Did you mean….?’ ‘It’s ok’ said Ricardo the Astral Bard. ‘They speak with an unusual accent in this quadrant.’
‘They sure do’ said Captain Lou.
‘So, we’re heading into ‘Harperspace!’ Everyone laughed.
‘Yes indeed’ said Sonic Architect Parsons. ‘I wonder what kind of adventures we’ll have in “Harperspace”!’
The Leco streaked along Hyperspace Highway Five-Nine into the deep reaches of the galaxy. The crew were enjoying themselves, the tension and stresses of the last few septalogs gradually receding into the collective renegade memory.
Bombardier Walker was floating just outside the airlock, engaged in the seemingly endless task of keeping the Leco free of spaceweed. In this quadrant of the Skunk Nebula, it was particularly troublesome and could easily foul the intricate sensors and probes which the ship relied upon. The Bombardier never complained of his responsibilities.
Sonic Architect Parsons was in the Flangection Command Module, reprogramming, patching, priming and calibrating the ships mighty flangectors. He believed in being ready for action at all times, even when enjoying a little R ‘n’ R in the outer limits.
Ricardo the Astral Bard was in the Room of Manuscripts, deep in the bowels of the starcruiser, mind-scanning an ancient text on time travel, a subject with which he was becoming rather obsessed. Or was he remembering becoming obsessed? He was chanting quietly to himself.
In the Sensory Modelling Zone Captain Lou was sitting astride an ancient machine called a Harley Davidson, speeding along a two-lane blacktop through a desolate landscape named Monument Valley. Her hair blew back behind her with the force of the wind. She was wearing a buckskin suit and mirrored shades.
All at once the Telepathic Communication System activated and each crew member saw the cheery face of Admiral Bunting in their mind’s eye.
‘Greetings, Leconauts’ he said. ‘Enjoying yourselves?’
They all replied simultaneously. The Admiral couldn’t quite make out their replies, but was fairly sure someone said ‘what the trump do you want?!’
‘Sorry to spoil your fun’ he said, without sounding sorry at all, ‘but I need you to return to Terra Gaia within a septalog, and I need you to travel via Harperspace.’
‘You mean hyperspace’ said Captain Lou, pleased that she was finally getting used to the unusual accents of the denizens of the Plains of Kardomah.
‘No, I mean Harperspace’ said the Admiral. ‘On the next Day of the Sun I am welcoming Lord Nick of Harper to the Temple of Oriley. He has suggested that he would like you to rendezvous with him to launch spacechants into the aether. I told him that even a ship such as the Leco couldn’t make it back from the Skunk Nebula in time, so he suggested you use Harperspace.’
‘Well, if we are needed urgently we can time travel’ said Captain Lou.
The Admiral suddenly shifted from one foot to the other, nervously. ‘Er, maybe that won’t be possible just now’ he said.
‘How come?’ asked Captain Lou, immediately on guard.
The Admiral hesitated for a moment, then spoke. ‘Lord Nick has discovered a crack in time……..’
‘How exactly do we access Harperspace?’ asked Captain Lou.
‘I’m sorry’ said the Admiral, ‘did you mean hyperspace?’
‘You know full well I didn’t’ replied Captain Lou to the cheeky galactic commander. ‘We’ve been travelling through hyperspace for dodecamoons, by Jimi. But Harperspace is a different matter. I don’t even know where to begin!’
‘Well, first, you have to do some Blue Sky Thinking’ said the Admiral, enigmatically.
‘Right’ said Captain Lou, wondering just what the wily old space renegade was getting at.
‘And remember, in Harperspace nothing is quite as it seems. You can use it to travel here very quickly, but you will see, feel and hear things which may seem…..improbable.’
‘Improbable?’ repeated Captain Lou.
‘Impossible, even’ said the Admiral, almost apologetically. ‘It will be a wild ride, but then again, you and your crew are used to wild rides aren’t you? Which reminds me, how’s your Bombardier? Still on permanent spaceweed duty?’ A hint of a smile played around the Admiral’s lips.
‘He is’ said Captain Lou. ‘And that’s the way he likes it.’
Back on the bridge of the Leco the crew gathered around Captain Lou. ‘Blue Sky Thinking’; she weighed the words carefully. ‘What do you suppose the Admiral meant by that?’
Everyone was silent, looking at their feet. Then Ricardo spoke.
‘As you know I’ve been spending some time in the Room of Manuscripts. I’m sure I came across this phrase in an ancient spacechant. Perhaps that’s the key.’
‘Perhaps it is’ said Captain Lou. ‘Why don’t we all take a trip to the Room of Manuscripts…………….’
Captain Lou, Bombardier Walker and Sonic Architect Parsons were in the Room of Manuscripts, eagerly awaiting enlightenment from the Astral Bard who had lifted a large Thought Transference, known as a Teetee, from a high shelf.
Ricardo opened the volume and placed his hand on a palm-shaped imprint. He began to speak.
‘Yes, here it is. “The traveller must journey through the Shadowlands, past The Glittering Eye where they must stop to Build Their Own Temple. Beware of The Tyger which roars at the place where The Sky Goes All The Way Home.
The traveller must then intone The Verse Time Forgot, for There Is Magic In This World which you can unlock by Watching The Stars. The Wanderer And His Shadow must take care that they are not parted, especially when they reach the fork in the trail where Boy Meets Planet. The Boy will speak; if he says ‘By My Rocket Comes Fire’ then you will know that your Blue Sky Thinking has produced the code to unlock the mysteries of the universe.
You can then walk through The Field Of The Cloth Of Gold to a place which you will think is the end, but really, This Is Just The Beginning. Winter will fall, and as you espy The Incredible Melting Man who is Lost In The Snow you will encounter Dark Forces who will tell Lies! Lies! Lies!
Do not listen to them, but close your eyes. When you open your eyes, your Journey Through Harperspace will be at an end.”’
‘Wow’ said Captain Lou. ‘It looks like we’re in for quite a trip!’
Bombardier Walker smiled.
Ricardo closed the Teetee. Simultaneously, a clap of thunder sounded, a distant, high voice laughed maniacally, and the world became a roaring kaleidoscope of clashing shapes and colours which the Leconauts began to fly down toward a pinpoint which never seemed any closer………
Captain Lou and her crew were cascading through a fountain of coloured shards as if they were players in a psychedelic drama being acted out on an all-encompassing stage. Captain Lou realised that although what was now her world was rushing headlong past them, she and her crew didn’t seem to be moving at all.
Suddenly the colours became muted and the crazy bright oranges, purples, greens and yellows were replaced by muted shades of grey and midnight indigo. ‘The Shadowlands’ thought Captain Lou. Out of the darkness came heavenly sounds, like minstrels of old playing instruments which were now lost in the mists of time. Captain Lou felt herself become drowsy and as her eyes began to close she became aware of a pinprick of light which seemed to grow. Time ceased to have meaning as she floated in a warm sea of vibrations. Gradually, the greys and blues began to fade and scintillating sparks of flashing hues assaulted her senses. The pinprick of light continued to grow until she realised it was a huge sparkling orb. ‘The Glittering Eye’ she heard herself say, as if from afar.
All at once the four Leconauts hit soft ground, breathless and bruised. ‘Here’ said a harsh voice, and a hooded figure handed them each an ancient tool. The figure pointed with a bony arm to where a huge edifice was being constructed by countless silent apparitions. A whip cracked. The space renegades each picked up a carved onyx block and began to trudge toward the spectral structure. Words formed in Captain Lou’s mind; ‘Building Our Own Temple….’
The Leconauts toiled for what seemed like dodecamoons, shaping the onyx blocks with diamond-tipped chisels, until weariness claimed them. As Captain Lou fell into unconsciousness a mighty roar brought her back to full alert. A colossal striped animal was bounding towards them. It opened its mouth to reveal savage teeth of steel. They could feel its hot breath as it pounced, a huge paw sweeping across to skittle them like so many ninepins.
But the monstrous beast simply evaporated just as it was about to deal its death blow and the Temple with its spirit masons was gone…..in its place was the endless expanse of clear blue sky, pulling Captain Lou towards……yes, home. No place like home, no place like home…..The Sky That Goes All The Way Home…….
Captain Lou awoke from her reverie; she and her crew had been floating in space, surrounded by an endless blue sky which seemed as if it were leading them towards……but then suddenly they were all back in the kaleidoscopic vortex of Harperspace, heading pell mell towards a point which never came any closer.
Once again, she heard the shrill, maniacal laughter which seemed to mock their efforts to negotiate this weird sector of spacetime.
She realised that a spacechant had appeared, unbidden, in her head but there was a part of it she couldn’t remember. The whirling psychedelic maelstrom receded into the back of her mind as she struggled to recall the words. She looked across at Ricardo and gradually it dawned on her that her crew were all experiencing the same consternation. ‘The Verse That Time Forgot……’
The spacechant began to take on visual form; paisley patterns danced in front of the Leconauts’ eyes. As the spacechant changed, so did the shapes and colours. Captain Lou realised that the different patterns were being experienced as tastes and aromas, and exerting pressure on her being. As she experienced the jumbling of her senses she found herself thinking ‘There Is Magic In This World.’
At that point the chaos of colour ceased, just as if someone had thrown a switch. The sense of loss was acute. The space adventurers found themselves in a lightless void, with no reference points to tell them where was up or down, left or right; they simply existed. Then, Bombardier Walker spoke; ‘Over there!’ The others all looked to where they imagined he was pointing. A single star, effulgent and twinkling. Then another. Before long they were seemingly suspended in a whole galaxy of shining celestial bodies. What was happening? Captain Lou suddenly realised; ‘Watching The Stars…….’
The starscape became so actual that the Leconauts found they could walk among it. ‘Follow me!’ said Captain Lou. As she looked over her shoulder she saw that they each were accompanied by a myriad of shadows, cast by the endless stars careening around them. She immediately became fearful. ‘The Wanderer And His Shadow’, she found herself thinking, ‘must not be parted.’
She looked ahead. Movement of a different kind arrested her attention. It was a child, a boy. He was playing a game. He was kicking a ball repeatedly, controlling it skilfully with his head and feet. Captain Lou watched, enraptured. The boy came closer and all four cosmic outlaws realised at once that this boy was no ordinary being. Perspective had become skewed but now they could see that the boy was colossal, and he wasn’t kicking a ball, but a planet!
The whirling stars which had up until now been moving randomly suddenly began to move together. Captain Lou saw that some were funnelling off to the left, and some to the right. ‘The fork in the trail where Boy Meets Planet…….!’ She knew they had to choose. ‘Go left!’ cried Captain Lou. All four Leconauts turned into the left fork as a sleek chromium missile shot past them, leaving a trail of dragon fire. The boy spoke in a voice of thunder; ‘By My Rocket Comes Fire……’
Everything changed again. They were back in the sea of blue sky, suspended, floating, euphoric, immaculate………
Captain Lou and her crew were floating in an endless blue sky. The air was still and nothing moved. Even so, Captain Lou felt movement. Ideas and concepts were shifting in her mind, positioning themselves, re-arranging, making connections, gradually finding order from chaos. Her vision became pin-sharp, all her senses heightened and a profound feeling of contented euphoria coursed through her. A sudden realisation; ‘I know kung-fu!’
And then, they were in a field on which stood a massive palace, except it wasn’t a palace, but a replica of one, made from a glittering material which rippled in the gentle breeze. Knights in armour processed along the green in front of the strange edifice, in preparation for a joust.
Trumpets sounded. ‘The Field Of The Cloth Of Gold….!’
‘This way!’ said Captain Lou, and she and her crew ran along the green in front of the improbable edifice. They saw a man holding a chequered flag. As they approached him he waved the flag in a series of grandiloquent gestures.
‘The end!’ thought Captain Lou. Except it wasn’t the end, for there was the man again, up ahead. They passed him for a second time and he made the same lofty movements with the standard. And again he re-appeared in the distance. ‘Not the end’ thought Captain Lou. ‘This Is Just The Beginning!’
The man vanished with a loud ‘pop’ and the flag fell to the ground. The verdant meadow suddenly was covered with snow, inches deep, and their feet began to trudge through the crisp covering. Captain Lou heard a voice; ‘Help me, help me!’
A man was flailing a path through the snow, but he was clearly in some kind of trouble. As they approached Captain Lou saw that he was not made of flesh, but of a thick, viscous substance which resembled chocolate, and despite the winter chill, he was melting, leaving brown splashes on the ermine white ground.
‘The Incredible Melting Man who is Lost in The Snow……!’
As Captain Lou reached out her hand the man turned to face her, but there were two hot coals where his eyes should have been. They seemed to burn into Captain Lou’s very soul and fill her with a nameless dread. The two fiery embers then turned to face each other, merged into one and exploded with a deafening ‘crack’ and showered hot sparks which melted the snow in a circle around the Leconauts. Improbable shapes loomed from the shadows and lumbered toward them.
‘Dark Forces!’ cried Captain Lou. The nameless shapes began to speak all at once, creating a babel of sound which assaulted the Leconauts from all sides. The voices rose to a accusatory crescendo of almost unbearable intensity. ‘Lies! Lies! Lies!’ cried Captain Lou, closing her eyes against the onslaught. The voices stopped. She hesitated for a second, then opened her eyes. The foul spectres had disappeared. She looked at her three crew, all of whom had their eyes closed tight. No-one moved or made a sound. Then, Bombardier Walker opened his eyes, followed by Sonic Architect Parsons. Lastly, Ricardo opened one eye, then the other. He surveyed the scene. Captain Lou noted that there was mischief in both his eyes.
And then, a shift; a strange feeling in the pit of the stomach and suddenly – they were in the Temple of Oriley in Kardomah City, Terra Gaia. Admiral Bunting and Lord Nick of Harper were huddled conspiratorially in a corner. They both turned.
‘Ah, there you are’, said the Admiral, with no more concern than if they’d just been out for a Sunday morning stroll!
‘Yes, here we are, apparently’ replied Captain Lou, somewhat tetchily. Lord Nick of Harper turned toward them, a beaming smile upon his face.
‘Welcome, brave Leconauts!’ he said. ‘How was Harperspace?!’
‘It was….interesting’ said Captain Lou. ‘Are we able to fix the crack in time?’
‘It’s already fixed’ said Lord Nick.
‘You mean we went through all that and we’ve missed the fun?!’ exclaimed Bombardier Walker.
‘Not exactly’ said Lord Nick. ‘The crack in time was caused by a Carthusian glitch in Harperspace. The action of you travelling through it has fixed the glitch. You are here just in time!’
Both Lord Nick and the Admiral laughed out loud.
‘Just in time……?’ said Captain Lou, exasperation showing in her voice.
‘Yes, just in time’ said Lord Nick. Now, let’s launch some spacechants into that wild blue aether…..!’
By Loudhailer Electric Company’s Sonic Architect and keeper of the sacred flangector, Jeff Parsons
Photo gallery, photographs by Sydpix unless otherwise captioned.