The silence on the bridge of the Royal Space Regiment enforcement shuttle Sir Prijs was palpable. In fact, a few of the junior officers as well as, it is probably worth noting here, their captain, the redoubtable (or, at least, often doubted) Captain Rik van Winpell, did try a tentative, exploratory palp, but decided it wasn’t worth the effort and consoled it, that is to say they put it back on the console where it belonged.
“What do you mean, asylum? Over,” the captain asked then, turning to his crew, “What does he mean, asylum?”
It is probably reasonable to suggest that most of those present were, at least in a general, rudimentary, overview kind of way, familiar with the concept of asylum. It is even likely that the captain himself had come across the term in his reading, although whether what Big-Ears offered to Noddy, when Mr Plod the policemen threatened to arrest him for waving to people while driving his car, could really be termed asylum is a moot point.
“You don’t know what asylum means?” Merry asked incredulously.
“Of course I know what it means. Do you think I’m silly?”
“Well,” Tarquin started to say, though he was quickly interrupted by the captain.
“Don’t answer that, prisoner Stuart-Lane,” then, after a pause just long enough for Tarquin to gather his wits, but not long enough for him to think of a response (so, ‘him’ being Tarquin, about three minutes), the captain added, “I know that it means he wants somewhere safe to live, health care, social housing, food and all that kind of thing, but, for goodness’ sake, these are not humans we’re talking about; they’re aliens. What do we know about their needs? How will our doctors know how to treat them? We don’t even know what they eat!” At this point, Captain van Winpell was frothing more than a badly drawn pint of Guinness (other brands of Irish dry stout are available) and clearly in full swing.
“Each other,” Merry said.
“They eat each other, Captain,” Merry explained.
“You mean these alien savages are cannon balls?”
“You might want to take your finger off the transmit button, Captain,” CFP Edna Bucket helpfully suggested.
“Thank you, darling, I will,” he said, hastily withdrawing his digit from the send key.
“Darling?” Ship’s Counsellor and defender of reprobates Lt Joan Weinberg asked.
“Yes, Joan. You’ll get the job when I tire of her, don’t worry.”
“When you tire of her? Is she just a commodity, to be discarded when the novelty wears off? Is that all the position of CFP means to you?”
“Well, yah, actually. If you don’t want the job, I’ll promote one of the galley maids.”
Not unexpectedly, that remark caused the bridge to fall into silence. Three floors down, in the galley, a fight broke out among the staff, as each vied for the CFP’s job. The entire female complement of the section joined the fray, along with Henri, the sous-chef, and Julian, the head waiter, who were also, not to put too fine a point on it, interested in the role. That little affray continued for some minutes with no winner being declared, although there was no doubt about who came out on top. Sadly, it was the only female member of staff who had no interest in the job; she only joined in because she didn’t want to miss out on a good punch-up.
Meanwhile, on the bridge, the captain was still negotiating with the alien asylum-seeker.
“What exactly do you want? Over,” he asked.
“Depends on what you’re offering,” came the reply.
“That’s not how it works. The system is very simple, or so my gorgeous adjutant informs me. You tell me, in great detail and with total precision, what you want from us. Then I explain to you, in similar detail, why you can’t have it. Over.”
“We need somewhere to live. Somewhere safe. Somewhere with an atmosphere.”
“You can have the London Dungeons. Hell of an atmosphere there, or so they tell me. Over.”
“Is there someone sensible I can talk to?”
“What’s wrong with me? Over.”
“Where do I start? You are—”
“Let me interrupt you there, Mr Flathead. I am the ranking officer here—”
“I can believe that; rank is probably the most appropriate word I could use for you.”
“On this shuttle, my word is law. Now talk to my adjutant and tell her, clearly and concisely, what it is you want.” He handed the microphone to Lt Weinberg, saying, “See if you can get any sense out of him. I’m retiring [cheers all round] to my ready room to consider my options… CFP Bucket, you’re with me.”
Lt Weinberg picked up the microphone and hit send. “Borborygmus Flatulon, Lt Weinberg here. Let’s discuss your needs.”
Those remaining on the bridge remained silent, unlike those in the captain’s ready room who were conducting themselves with a good deal of noise; oohs and aahs and the occasional plea to one or more of the planet’s more popular deities.
Flatulon explained his position to Joan Weinberg, while the rest of the bridge crew and the two prisoners listened in silence, occasionally nodding sagely. Lt Weinberg undertook to relay his requests to the relevant government agencies and revert to him as soon as she was able.
“Before I do,” she said, “can you confirm your susceptibility to the list of circumstances and conditions I’m transmitting to you, please? Over.”
There was a pause of some minutes, after which the radio came to life again, and Flatulon said, “We need to avoid extreme heat, but we’re fine with intense cold, high winds and radiation.”
“Excellent,” Lt Weinberg replied, “There are a few small islands and pockets of land that can’t be settled by humans because of residual radiation. I shall recommend that we offer you one of those. It will also keep you separate from human populations, giving you time to adjust to Earth, and us time to adjust to your presence, before we start trying to integrate your group. Over.”
“I’m glad to be speaking to someone sensible at last. Thank you, Lt Weinberg. We’ll wait for your next transmission, and hope it will be favourable to us, and hope it will be soon.”
“Thank you, Flatulon. Over and out.”
The crew and prisoners on the bridge broke into spontaneous applause. Lt Weinberg blushed and mouthed a thank-you. Captain van Winpell came out of his ready room, bowed flamboyantly and waved and smiled to his crew, apparently believing that the applause related to his performance with his CFP.
Lt Weinberg turned to her prisoners and whispered, “What are we going to do about him?”
“I have a plan,” Merry quietly replied.
Tarquin, still in awe of his companion, said, “It’ll be a good one. Merry makes the best plans.”
“Did someone order a flan?” asked the victor of the galley fracas, as she bounded up the stairs.