Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Dead Hamlet

But back in the control console, the needle was twitching on the ham detector. It slowly swung down into the lower readings until it came to rest at "0". A warning light began to flash on and off, but there was no one left to notice...

Jaylemurph and basset hound Sebastian K. Poochles star in an all-new adventure in space and time this Saturday at 5.15 here on BBC-TV's new serial, "Poochles Poo".

We re-emerged in the console room a short time later. I was feeling much more prepared in a nice cardigan and some sensible shoes, and the Poochles had replaced his lost Astrakhan hat with a straw panama. Completely ignoring the safety monitors, we walked out the doors...

And I blinked. "Is it just me, Poochles, or has it gone all over-exposed?" I asked. "It is a bit bas-relief," he said. To make sure, we both gave our heads a good shake. That seemed to clear things up.

Looking around, we were in a kind of still, creepy wood. Poochles already had his nose to the ground, sniffing. "Look at the soil," he said, letting a palmful of it run through his paws. "It's all burned into ash and sand. The heat must have been indescribable!"

I realized there was a fairly stiff breeze blowing but none of the branches were moving. I touched one. "Hunh. It's like stone," I said "Very brittle stone." But Poochles was ignoring me. He'd found a little pink flower. "It's kept almost all its colour," he said.

I wasn't listening. I saw what could only be called A Thing. As I backed up, I ran into his flower. "Sir!" he said indignantly. But he soon saw The Thing and trotted over to it. "It's A Thing," he said, helpfully.

I waved my hand at it in the fiercest way I knew. It didn't move, so I assumed it was as dead as everything else around. "It's stone," I said. Poochles gave me a withering look. "No, I think it's metal. It's a metal ham." He was right -- it certainly looked like a ham. Poochles gave it an exploratory chomp. A little piece of his tooth sheared off. "Not juicy," he said.

"Oh my god, Poochles, are you okay?" I asked, concerned. "It's nothing, sir, nothing. I can only imagine it's held together by some magne...." he kept rattling on, but when I saw his was okay, I wandered away, bored. I went over to the edge of the jungle, about 6 and a half feet away.

"Look at that, Poochles! A city!" Sure enough, a few miles away from us, a city bloomed up from the foothills of a mountain range. It looked like nothing as much as a stacks and stacks of washing-up liquid bottles with some dry ice fog floating over it. When we looked again, it was clearly different: much more complex and defined.

Poochles frowned. "Too bad it's 9.56," he said. "All the lights go off in four minutes. We'll have to come back tomorrow. Let's go back to the BASSAT and rest."

On the way back, I saw another of the flowers Poochles had found. I stopped to pick it up as Poochles nosed ahead through the forest, but as I was picking the flower, I felt a hand discretely touch my shoulder and heard a plummy voice cough and say "Pardon me, sir, but..." Naturally, I panicked and ran screaming all the way back into the BASSAT.

The Poochles looked at me funny but didn't say anything.

As we walked through the Ship's double doors, Poochles remembered it had been days since I had eaten. "You probably need some foods. Besides, they've built some nifty sets for the next serial: let's go see them." We went through a pair of roundel-ed double doors at the back of the console room I was sure hadn't been there before. Behind them was what could only be called a big, clunky Space-Age machine.

"What would you like to eat, then?" Poochles asked. I thought about it briefly and said "A chopped barbeque sandwich would be nice, and some french fries." He looked at me dumbly. "An aspirin, then? I've got one hell of a headache all of a sudden." Without missing a beat, Poochles looked at me and said "Ham and Eggs it is then, sir." He turned a dial or two and cranked a lever. What looked like a aged Mars Bar was excreted. "Eat up, eat up!" he said. I took a nibble. It was the best-tasting tuna casserole I ever tasted. We finished nibbling our bars, only to leave the mess behind us as Poochles marched back into the console room.

"Well, you'll be wanting to get back to 1960s London, I imagine," he said, forgetting I didn't actually come from there. I didn't say anything, as he had a TV and VCR in the ship. I thought I might try to record an episode of TV or two, figuring the BBC would have wiped it by my time. Who wouldn't want a lost episode of Doomwatch, I thought?

As he spoke, though, a thick blanket of smoke filled the room.

"Do you think I didn't see you mess with that control?" I said. "You yanked it right out!" The Poochles ignored me, holding up the little component and squinting at it. "This fluid link is empty. We need to fill it up before we can take off again. We can only find the necessary Mercury in the city we saw!"

"If you wanted to go there, why not just say so? It seems a bit more interesting than pre-Swinging London," I said.

"Yes, we'll just have to risk it. We'll just have to risk it," he said as he operated the door controls and walked out.

A few hours later found us at the edge of the City. I was sweating profusely and he was panting to beat the band. "It's no good," he said. "I'll have to rest."

"I need to use the Little Time Traveler's Room," I said. "I'll be back here in 10 minutes." It was a lie, of course. I had to heave, big time. I opened one of the little electronic doors and went through into the city.

I wondered around the city for some time. I noticed the doors were quite small and rounded, not shaped for a human. After a while, I began to realized I was being guided. Doors were sealing off. Eventually I was bundled into a room that converted into a lift. I plummeted several stories. When the door opened, I went through, heavy with foreboding.

I knew I was being watched. I turned around. There, in front of me, coming towards me was... was...

I could only scream...

Next Week: The Surviving Things.

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