he’d turned to painting local scenes and there had always been a
cow in the picture, always the same breed. Residents who knew their
livestock remarked upon this, that the idyllic image drawn, with its
glossy dark red coat and pure white horns looked more like the
American Milking Devon – though originally derived from the British
North Devon, they were not to be found in the area. However, these
cows were somewhat handsomer, and any question over why the artist
had chosen the breed over any other was put down to aesthetics by all
but the Japanese businessman who one day offered the sum of fifty
thousand pounds for the purchase of one of these paintings. During an
unplanned visit to the south-west coast of England, the businessman
had entered the local art gallery of Roswell (the English coastal
town, with no connection at all to its American counterpart; with no
hint whatsoever of a UFO sighting).
In 1997 this was
a fair fortune and enough, almost, to set one up for life.
popped. Our artist, you see, had had the wonderful idea of hiring out
a room in the local art gallery for a month of the summer season and
filling it with his own work which he’d priced to levels of
extortion. He would only have to sell one painting …
Sat on the floor
of the circular room, stared down at by twenty-two versions of the
American Milking Devon – stuck in the corner of a pasture at night;
beside an old barn; holding up a line of early nineteen-fifties
sports cars on a gritty, country lane; the moon, stars, bright
sunshine and cool dusk – he felt them from distance, always in the
background, slowly chewing and always far away. In another picture
the sports cars had been replaced by a group of schoolchildren. In
another the same children were dancing round a maypole. A local fair,
a farmyard scene, harvest and haystacks and always the cow looking on
from far away.
In one picture
alone the cow had been at the forefront, pushing its wet nose up to
the artist. But this picture was no longer there for the Japanese
businessman had taken it.
His mother, the
artist’s mother, found him a week later at his flat. She’d heard
of the sale, she knew about his pictures. In truth the artist owed
her for a small loan he’d been promising to pay back but she hadn’t
been there for a handout, no. She’d gone there to advise him.
Divorced and then
redundant; living alone, the artist had turned to gambling, turned to
drink; he’d been irresponsible, unable to cope with such a large
amount of money.
over to where he lay, unconscious on the sofa. Called an ambulance.
“My son …”
But it had been
two days too late, and afterwards, almost as long as a year
afterwards, she’d found herself flying out to Tokyo.
From the airport
onwards she’d swum through a confusion of trains, taxis and rich
new buildings; strange young fashions; through a plethora of foreign
scents and the buzz of an alien race.
She had a card:
repeated the doorman.
expecting me. We’ve been in contact. By telephone.”
The doorman spoke
to her in English, though unaware of this (for his accent was strong)
the artist’s mother nodded and smiled, nodded and waited until
eventually a man came down; not much taller or younger than herself
and they shook hands; the grey-haired old woman and the ageing
businessman, welcoming, smiling and bowing. “Won’t you come up?”
he said to her, and she understood perfectly for Mr. Suzuki’s
English was much better than the doorman’s.
To the artist’s
mother it was like a high class hotel but it was apartments and his
on the fourteenth floor. As they entered he gave her slippers to wear
and she thanked him, taking off her coat and counting four rooms in
total, three closed doors. In the main living space there was a
shallow dining table, calligraphy on the walls and a small television
next to a strangely archaic stereo for long players – an extensive
collection of the latter took up a whole wall from floor to ceiling
in a fine set of cabinets.
businessman asked. A record was playing which she recognised as jazz.
Old jazz from the forties or fifties. Her son’s picture hung
amongst the calligraphy.
out,” the artist’s mother told him. They were sat by the table.
He had prepared a selection of snacks.
“It does,” he
“And why that
stood and went over to the picture, pointing to top right corner.
“The cow is quite something, but the, up there …” He pointed to
a splodge of light. “You know,” he said, turning around and back
to her, “when I went to your country, it was quite by accident.”
mother fiddled with her chopsticks. “Not something you’d
what is the word … a feeling …” The businessman sat down again
opposite her, took up a piece of dried tofu while she sipped at her
tea. “Once arriving, in London, I had the idea of driving out to
the countryside. The city, it didn’t …” He smiled, thinking
back. “I drive. I drive and I drive.. And then I see the sign for
Roswell and, fate!” he remarked, eyes brightening. “You see, I
“Yes, yes. But
not your town. I mean I was there, in New Mexico. In 1947!”
“You mean when
that alien landed?”
laughed. “Yes, yes, the alien.”
the artist’s mother shuddered. “Why did you have to go and do
“No, no. No
alien. Not true.”
“Of course, of
course,” she said. Then absently: “You know I saw it on the
they called it. And it reminded me of that cow cut in two.”
“No, no,” she
laughed. “The one by that artist, Damien something or other.”
“Was that his
The cow and calf in … formaldehyde. Very famous.”
There was silence
for a fair few minutes before he filled her cup, explaining: “I was
part of a team. Long time ago now. Aircraft. Experimental, new
models. That alien business. The UFO sighting. A misunderstanding. A
story.” The businessman opened his arms wide.
how you made your money? The aircraft?”
“Ha, ha. In a
way, yes.” He sat chewing, saying no more while awkwardly the
artist’s mother picked up a fresh piece of okra.
“Your home here
is very nice.”
smiled again. “In Tokyo, the apartments are small. Not like the
houses in your country.”
“No, no. It’s
lovely. You’ve done well.”
He thanked her
humbly, made a short bow, then caught the artist’s mother looking
again at her son’s picture.
“He died, you
know.” She was clutching at her tea cup. “He’d been
mother had closed her eyes and in her mind she was moving over to the
picture; smashing at the glass – she was throwing her hot tea
against the bare, naked canvas.
she said, opening her eyes to the worried expression before her. She
made as if to stand, then sat back down, defeated.
on Earth, looking at a dark pink poppy, cupping it in your rather
tired, leathery hand; in a park alone, surrounded by scrappers and
the hum of distant automotives. You fly upwards to the busy skies.
Further and further you rise. Beneath you is nothing. White and blue.
to soar, out through the atmosphere, your home planet is soon but a
dot in the background.
spaceship lies ahead. A turd shaped heap of junk housing a thousand
TG mining robots. They sleep in their cells – inactive, powerless.
Only two ordinators aboard, yourself and your partner, in a cell
slightly bigger, two beds, two cupboards and a shared toilet cube.
_ _ _ _
good, huh?” you say with a puff of white breath.
how many …?”
injured. But yeah,” he huffs, getting to his feet. Could’ve been
a lot worse.”
first accident had been the worst.
you up,” they told you.
sacrifice those miners had made. It sickens you to think of it.
you’d been happy on that day. On that day you’d been a success.
_ _ _ _
Melody, a pretty name and just as you’d expect she’d been young
and beautiful (or do you just remember her that way?). Her first day
on the job and she’d died in a cave-in that could have been
prevented with a little more funding.
a buddy of Manny’s for almost a month. You’d been jealous in a
weird sort of way. But when his suit had malfunctioned, when you’d
witnessed the freezing and crumbling of his face … you’d told
Manny that he’d died quickly and peacefully. The expression of
horror in his eyes staring up at you, it was something you’d always
been able to, had to shake off.
Miller, Tessa, Nathan, Eli … somewhere in your subconscious you
carry stories of these people too. And explosion on Demos. A gas leak
on The Good Companion.
Worrit. Did he die or just leave? He’s there in your memories.
That’s right. He’d been the one before you. Manny’s original
partner. His mentor.
happened to Captain Worrit?” you feel like asking Manny. And you
will, you will ask him.
_ _ _ _
bomb that went off killed thirty of your colleagues. That had been
the second time, also on the moon. You’d tried to blame the
authorities, back in the bar at moon base alpha, you’d all had
plenty to say and most of it had been directed at them. Some of it at
the inevitable danger that these jobs took – even Manny hadn’t
blamed you. But you’d been tired, it was a careless mistake. A
minute too soon and it had blown away those just a hair’s breath
There’s three of them and the perfect
opportunity already. I take up my seat, order a pitcher of wet.
“Captain Flycatcher,” I state. “Here
to welcome you all.”
“To what?” one of them hogs.
“To the legend,” I answer.
They’re Grinthems. Planet Grintha
natives. Green-skinned with large ears and bulging eyes. Their fists
have claws which can extend to become deadly – though in modern
Grinthem culture it is something of a faux
pas to use these claws in
battle. It shows weakness, an unfair advantage.
The fattest of the three gets down from
his stall. He’s short but stocky. They all are and I’m
“To the legend,” I slur, raising my
glass at them. I swivel, challenging them to meet my toast. “You’re
lucky it’s my day off,” I say. “Or it could be an early night
for you all.”
The fat one who’s standing, he squares
up to me, butting his shoulder against my side. Part of my drink
spills on my lap and I have an idea.
“An early night, you say?” he’s
“To your good self,” I reply,
feigning drunkenness. I raise the drink at his ugly face, knocking it
against his flat nose and the contents spill down his front.
His two friends stand.
“Well look what you’ve done now, Mr
“Captain,” I correct, swinging about
on my stall. “Captain
“You seem very sure of yourself,
Flycatcher,” says another of them, emphasising the ‘captain’
part with a sarcastic twang. “Seems to me you’d be better off
offering my friend here an apology.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I slur. “It
is you three who should be thanking I.”
I let that one hang until one of them
finally answers. Here in the bar the only sound is now from their
“Thanking us?” one of them relents.
“For not taking you out where you
stand,” I reply. “I am, after all, trained in sixty-eight forms
of martial art.”
“Unlike the three of you,” I
continue. “I hear on Grintha it’s all hugs and growling. That is,
when you’re not using your claws. Rather dull if you ask me.
Neanderthal,” I laugh.
“Backward, my good sir. Simple. You
wouldn’t stand a chance.”
“He’s mocking us,” says one of
“You want to try me?”
says the fatter one. He moves forward to grab me by the scruff of my
Lifting me, he proceeds in hurling my
body across the bar where I land with a crash against a stack of
bottles that clatter with me to the floor.
“Well,” I say, now standing from the
mess. “Looks to me like you fellows need to be taught a lesson in
I apologise to the barman who is very
much now next to me.
“We don’t want any trouble here,”
he’s saying. “This establishment is a peaceful one.”
He’s roughly dressed and of geriatric
age. I pat him on the shoulder, brush myself down and smile.
“No need to worry,” I say. “Got it
all under control.”
“I’d say he has,” says one of the
Grinthems, and they each begin to laugh.
“Take the damages out of their
credit,” I grin, patting the barman on the back. Then I launch
myself up and over the bar again, lunging at the nearest Grinthem
with a flat palm swipe.
He falls to the floor, dumbstruck.
“I’d say you asked for that,” I
scold, then smile towards the remaining two.
They look down at their companion. He’s
not out, not yet. Instead, slowly, he’s getting to his feet
“Back for more?” I say, putting out
my fists. I move two
steps forward, then back. Then the three of them are suddenly running
I kick at the one on the left; the
fastest and lightest and he’s spun and over a table. In the same
move, with my left fist I’ve done a ‘duck and under’ at the
next. He’s stopped in his tracks and looks perplexed at where I got
the strength from.
While dodging the third Grinthem’s
run, I spin and hit him again, watch him slowly fall to the floor.
“You Quelga!” the third one says.
“Now, now, no need for that kind of
This Grinthem whose run I avoided is the
one who I hit first. Standing before me, he’s snorting heavily,
full of spite. “I’ll kill you …”
“Now, now …”
But his claws are now unleashed.
“I’ll murder you …”
“Now hold on,” I try. “Wait a
second here …”
“What d’ya say?” he asks the
others who have each now risen to their feet once more. “Last night
on the station? What difference would one more kill make?”
“Now wait here a minute. I was only …
only playing here.”
But all three of them now have their
“You’ve no idea who we are, do you?”
says tallest and thinnest of the three. Their eyes are filled with
venom. On their belts I take in the clubs.
I think. Those clubs, they mean something.
“Afraid I don’t,” I relent, which
by the look of their expressions could well have been the wrong
On their right breasts are the crests of
the Grinthem monarchy. A slug-like creature split into two over a red
“I’m … how about a round of drinks
here?” I say to the barman who’s standing there watching us.
Whatever it is I’ve missed here, it’s hard to guess whether he
knows, but he knows I’ve missed something. Hell, they all do.
I look around the rest of the bar. Count
twenty pairs of eyes, watching us sullenly. Three humans, two
together and one by herself at the back. The two are young men like
me. Officers. They’ll be of no help.
Flycatcher prefer to be slashed or ripped?”
There’s four Capulka, and with their
tentacles I’m sure they could hold off these Grinthem for long
enough for me to get away.
“Hey, guys,” I try. “A little help
The three Grintha begin to snort and
bellow in laughter.
Flycatcher has a lot of friends today …”
Two Falunas covering in the corner. A
couple of droids and then the woman again. She’s coming this way.
She’s holding …
“Problem?” she asks. In her left
hand is a large motor-shooter.
The three Grinthems turn.
“Well look what we have here?” one
of them sneers.
“I’d say we have three dead spies,”
says the woman. “You want to keep up the act with him, then fine.
But my ex-husband was a Grinthem, and I must say, I’m insulted.”
She points the end of the motor-shooter at their claws. “A royal
guard would never need to be reduced to such barbarianism. You even
know how to use those sticks?”
“So maybe we kill you too,” says the
fatter Grinthem to her. “You
accuse us of not being who we are. If you were married to a Grinthem,
you should know,” he coughs,
“that such an insult cannot go dismissed.”
“You calling me a liar?” she spits.
Each of them is now taking out their
I’m thinking. But I’ve got nothing – this woman’s knowledge
of Grinthemian culture is obviously far greater than mine.
They’re advancing at her and she’ll
either shoot them dead or suffer that consequence herself.
“Now wait a second here,” I try. “No
need for any more trouble.” I offer my apologies, doing a little
bow. “Should have recognised three Grinthems of status when I saw
The Grinthems stop: three ugly heads
turn back at me. The word ‘status’ is rather generic; though I
know they must have some kind of position, even if only Hades knows
what it is.
“Need your girlfriend here for
rescue?” asks the shorter one.
“Yes, yes I do,” I relent. I’m a
good actor, always have been. It’s got me out of a lot of scrapes.
Knowing when to quit, knowing when not to.
“It’s fine,” I say to the girl.
She’s pretty but I’ve hardly had time to acknowledge that yet.
“My friends and I, we were just playing,” I tell her. It’s a
risk but better than getting anyone killed. I stumble over to the
three Grinthems, arms out and full of warmth. “My friends,” I
slur, then pull them into a rather clumsy embrace. For the bystanders
watching, it must be the strangest sight they’ve ever seen.
Think of it in slow-motion. Three ugly
expressions of confusion, then disgust. They rip away, then push at
me and I let them. Then they’ve lifted me up and thrown me at the
Once more I fly, at the stack of bottles
the barman has just reassembled. Again I crash to the floor.
Though this time I’m playing a
“My sincerest apologies to you all,”
I sing with the same piteous performance of a bow. “And a round of
drinks for everyone.”
I gesture to the crowd, my audience of
I’m looking for a fight, to freshen
up, to kick ass to the three months of nothing – mining negrolite
for credits on that godforsaken planet and here I am on Station
Electra, no plans for what’s next.
I stare at the mirror, tighten the suit.
It’s beautiful, pathetic. Wonderfully idiotic.
“Captain Flycatcher,” I mumble.
Pulling on the dark red boots, I smile
at my reflection.
A young face, thirty years of age;
stubble and flushed cheeks.
I stand and the fake leather squeaks
with my joints. My lanky figure accentuates the haplessness. A blonde
fringe waving to his left and my right; blue eyes, the perfect
“Captain Flycatcher,” I repeat.
And I stride to the door.
it sounds, shunting upwards.
out into the corridor, I make my way to the bar while the
videoscreens scream at me. This room, that room. Injections for
pleasure. Rides to Gzynthem. Casinos that value the customer and
opportunities in a life of trade.
left along a series of flashing oblongs, I measure my pace, ignoring
on me tonight how I’ve never seen Jimmy outside his room. Remember
wondering for a while – and still now – if he’s got some sort
of problem. Like agoraphobia or whatever. After seeing him again just
now, I’m more certain than ever.
a good night at the start, listening to tunes and playing Tomb
Raider. This time it was mostly Jimmy, I and Led Zeppelin, an old
band Dad used to like when he was younger. There was this funny
moment when we imagined if aliens were observing the planet to study
human behaviour and they’d homed in on us. The two of us sat there,
listening to seventies metal and generally chilling out. How the
aliens’d be deciding that of all the people on campus, we were the
ones who knew what the score was. Who were using their time in the
best way possible. (Doesn’t sound as funny as I write it now but at
that moment we were finding this scenario hilarious.)
just as the night was ending, the worst thing happened in that Jimmy
said he was leaving university. The situation is, he hasn’t been to
a single lecture since getting here (he’s supposed to be studying
I asked “Why not?” he simply replied that he hadn’t felt like
it; like his heart hadn’t been in it. His course I mean. At least I
think so. But anyway he got a letter last week kicking him out.
didn’t seem particularly bothered when telling me. Said it was fate
and probably a sign he was meant to be doing something else. Said
he’d miss halls and the friends he’s made, but that he’ll still
visit from time to time.
strange to say I’d miss him, but finally said I was sorry to see
him go, which sounded better I guess. Dawned on me again how I’ve
never seen him anywhere but his room – a few times we’ve been out
as a group, Graz, Jung, Adam and even Sean, but though Jimmy always
says he’s gonna join us on such occasions, he never does.
Tomb Raider with a random selection of people dropping in and out to
say hello. Next term there’s gonna be none of that. A few weeks
from now and it’ll be a blurred, “See ya later,” sort of
farewell that won’t properly sink in until the option of going up
there is no longer around.
Jimmy’s room … I’ll miss it for sure. But at least now I’ll
be forced to kill the addiction.
I’ll make cornflakes
with hot milk before going to bed. For some reason I’ve got a real
craving for cornflakes.
I’m not saying every night is as great as all that. Sometimes it
can even get a bit boring, especially when it’s just me and Jimmy.
then there’s what happened a few nights ago, which was downright
off all right. There they were, Jimmy and Sean, sitting on the
bed playing Mario Cart as though they hadn’t moved since the last
time I’d been in there – imagine it seemed to them as if I’d
only gone downstairs a few moments before, at least, that was the way
it felt. No need to even say hello. It was simply, “Got some
gingerbread,” and “Cooool,” and, “Have a try on this,
first, as I say, it was just like normal: but over the next few long
minutes of nothing I began to realise that something was kinda wrong.
It’d been a tiring day with three lectures and an extra maths
class, maybe that’s why, but pretty soon my head was in a right
set in and suddenly Jimmy and Sean were plotting something against
me; literally plotting – they’d been waiting all day and now I
was here they were gonna do something terrible, like, I don’t know
what. Kill me?
mean it all went from me happily eating Mum’s carefully sliced
gingerbread pieces, pleased to’ve decided to go up to Jimmy’s
room, them playing Mario Cart and us all getting on really well; me
thinking that maybe I had two great friends here and how much better
it was in Jimmy’s room than downstairs by myself … but like I
say, before long the whole feeling on this night was kinda different
from most and I needed to get out.
of escape swirled confusedly round my head before finally I mentioned
the firework display on campus; asked if they were up for it. Then
without even speaking to each other they were silently refusing,
showing a complete lack of interest.
changed the CD and in my paranoid state I couldn’t understand why
he’d chosen this moment to do so. Then it occurred that it was a
two player game and when was the last time they’d given me a turn?
Could’ve only been a minute before; the state my head was in, I had
no idea and was becoming convinced they never let me have a go so
what the hell was I doing sitting with them? Why the hell should I
put up with that?
a blur I stood up, saying I had to go see the fireworks, trying my
best to be polite and not cause a scene – which of course I wasn’t
doing, but with the condition of my emotions at the time, simply
leaving the room was a mammoth task.
thing I remember was walking over grassy fields in the pitch black,
finally finding my way to the top of the hill and being rewarded with
the best firework display I’ve ever seen in my whole life.
Fireworks after being in Jimmy’s room is awesome, I’ve gotta say.
Stood there at the edge of the small crowd that there was, gaping up
at the sky, completely taken aback by the whole experience.
enough (and quite randomly) Jung was there too. All at once I’d
found myself stood next to him in the dark. Can’t remember exactly
what I said but his reply was something along the lines of, “Man,
you so wasted,” which I thought was quite funny. Although when I
was laughing and saying, “Yeah man,” he didn’t seem to be
finding it as hilarious as I was.
with the fireworks. I think he considered the whole thing pretty