Catch up on earlier episodes at this link
Meanwhile, outside a settlement a few hundred metres from the MoonShip Waist of Space…
At a gentle pace, it should have taken about an hour for Tarquin and Meredith to reach the Waist of Space. As luck would have it, little more than ten minutes into their journey, while they were amusing themselves and each other with tales from their schooldays, they heard from behind, the unmistakable sounds of the treble section of a West Indian steel band.
“Oh drat, Merry,” Tarquin said, “Arty’s come to take us back.” He turned to face the Borborigmus and shouted, “Leave us alone. We aren’t your pets and we would rather die here than go back into your cage.”
“I only came to see if you wanted a lift to your spaceship,” Arty said artlessly, “it’s quite a long way for little legs like yours. My Dad says I’m not allowed pets anyway. He says I didn’t look after you properly.”
“Oh, okay Arty,” Tarquin replied, “Yah. A lift would be spiffing. Good egg.”
Arty gently picked them up and deposited them in his top pocket, so they could still see out of it. “I’ve brought the rest of your food, too,” he said, “My Mum said you’d probably need it.”
“Thanks, Arty,” Merry said, “you’re not such a bad sort, are you?”
“I hope not. I try to be a good boy, but sometimes I can’t help doing bad things.”
“Yah. Right. Tell me about it,” Tarquin guffawed.
Arty reached their craft in about three minutes, and placed them at the top of the walkway. Tarquin and Meredith relieved Arty of the pile of tins of sardines he had been carrying in a side pocket, thanked him, and entered the Waist of Space through the airlock. Once inside they could see that the strange being had made extensive repairs; everything looked pristine and in good order.
Meredith sat in the command seat and flipped the master switch. Lights came on everywhere, dials and counters came to life and immediately, the sound of pressurisation was evident. As soon as the gauges read one atmosphere, Tarquin extracted the sampler from the pocket of his utility belt, pressed its button, read off the numbers and declared the air breathable. Having learned to trust that particular device, the pair removed their helmets and breathed the slightly sweet air that was coming out of the Life Support Module.
“Hear that?” Merry said.
“What?” Tarquin asked.
“That gentle whooshing and pumping. Sounds just like it did before we landed – well, crashed – here.”
“According to these dials, some things called CO² scrubbers are working at eighty-five percent; and I imagine the green light by it means that eighty-five percent is good.”
“I should say, Tarq. I don’t know who that young guy was, but he knows his stuff.”
“How’s the radio?”
“Don’t know yet; let me try it.”
Merry switched the radio on, selected the frequency for the control room at the Royal Space Regiment and activated the antenna’s auto-alignment feature. As soon as she had pushed the button, the pair heard the tell-tale whirring from outside, which meant that that the antenna was changing its targeting. Whether it would end up pointing to the right place they would find out shortly.
“Preparing to send test pulses,” Merry said.
“What does that do?” Tarquin asked.
“Weren’t you listening at the briefing?”
“That sends a set of pulses at a known frequency, each with our identification embedded. If they find the Regiment and its systems recognise them, Earth base will respond and a green light will come on here,” she said, pointing to a set of LEDs on the console next to the radio.
“And if not?”
“The signal should come back, allowing for processing time, in a little less than three seconds. It nothing is received after five seconds, a red light will show.”
“Got you. Go on then.”
“Sending… now.” She pressed the pulse-test button. Five seconds later, a red light came on.
“Oh cripes,” Tarquin said, “now what?”
“According to the established protocols, we try at five-minute intervals for one hour. I’ll try again in five minutes.”
“Do we know that any of it is working?” Tarquin asked, “I mean, the young lad said he’d fixed it, but we only have his word for it.”
“Fair comment, Tarq; perhaps we should… bear with… bear with…”
“Did you hear something?”
“Shut up and listen, then.”
There was definitely some crackling and what sounded like a distant, tinny voice coming from the radio speaker.
“Turn the sound up, Merry,” Tarquin suggested.
“It’s already on ten, and that’s as far as it goes.”
“Hmmm,” Tarquin said as he, without meaning to, leaned on a button labelled ‘auto-gain’. That had an immediate effect on the quality, and volume, of sound emanating from the speaker, and they both heard the same voice.
“…I say again. Whoever you are, please leave this frequency clear. This frequency is one of a range that belongs to the Royal Space Regiment, and we shall be jolly cross at anyone else who uses it. Now, whoever you are, get off this frequency and don’t make another sound. Please confirm you understand this instruction.”
“Oh, golly. We’re in trouble now, Merry,” Tarquin said, hiding behind his colleague.
Meredith picked up the microphone. “Algernon Pippington, is that you?” she asked.
A little over two and a half seconds later, she heard, “Gosh; rumbled. Who’s that?”
“It’s me,” Merry replied.
“And who might you be?”
“I might be the resurrected spirit of wartime leader Winston Churchill, but I’m not; I’m Meredith Winstanley, and you know it, Pipsqueak.”
“You can’t be. She’s dead. So’s her partner, old what’s-his-name.”
“That’ll be me, Tarquin Stuart-Lane. Alive and well, last time I looked,” Tarquin said.
“I can vouch for that, too. Definitely alive and, well…”
“Why aren’t you both dead?” Commander Pippington asked.
“Why aren’t you?” Tarquin responded with great emotional maturity.
“Because I wasn’t sent… oh; forget I said that. Protocol breach. Stand by for Station Command.”
“Old Reggie? Is he still there? How is the old boy?” Tarquin asked, but there was no response.
I wrote part one of this tale in response to Kreative Kue 39, issued on this site earlier. Feel free to join in; just follow the link.