The edge of the universe...Out here in the dark, starless void, there is nothing. There are no stars, no suns, no life, nothing. Not a sausage. Bugger all.
Actually, this is not quite true. There is one thing, and, very shortly, there will be another.
Off in the distance a shimmering boundary defines the space that men call real. When you hear people talking about the Final Frontier, this is the one they are talking about. This... is the Final Frontier...
You may wonder why it shimmers.
It could be caused by tiny particles of matter annihilating themselves as they meet the total chaos that encloses our universe.
On the other hand, it might be caused by a vast amount of matter trying to push its way through into our dimension.
Which is probably far more likely.
The vast amount of matter in question is a Pibbilian Battle Cruiser from the planet Pib. Deep inside the huge vessel, are Pibbles.
First impressions of a Pibble would put you in mind of a two foot high, red plastic chicken. Those unlucky enough to get a second impression - but not a third - would realise they were actually red leathery lizards, with blue Mohicans and bright, multicoloured, well-groomed tufts of feathers for tails. You would also get the impression - very briefly - that they didn't like you very much. Pibbles don't like anybody very much.
An accurate summary would describe them as frighteningly tenacious, unnervingly eager and outrageously bloody-minded savages who are not generally known for their desire to seek out new life and welcome it to intergalactic harmony. They are far more likely to seek out new life and kill it.
Which, amazingly enough, is exactly, what is about to happen...
Grand Rad Ingwaz the Ninth, stared coldly at his second in command. "...and then it did what?"
"It mocked the Sacred Bible, Grand Rad."
The Grand Rad's tail feathers quivered slightly as he pondered on the enormity of the blasphemy. Never before in all the history of his kind had anything dare insult their religion and live. "And what was scrawled in the margin?"
Arjiwhoops regarded his leader nervously for a moment before continuing. "What a load of bollocks, love and kisses, Dexit."
The enormous warship tugged itself free of the grip of the inter-dimensional interface like an extremely relieving bowel movement.
Most bodily functions however, don't have battery after battery of laser turrets, or rows upon rows of plasma cannons, or countless disrupter rays, or photon-nuclear torpedo launchers or quantum accelerator guns; and most bodily functions don't hold a grudge.
The massive bulk of the battle cruiser indicated left, turned right and advanced menacingly onward through the inky void.
Somewhere out there in the beckoning starlight was the glittering, golden city of Bubbletown, and in that city, was their tormentor...
* * * * * *
"We're sixty-five million years too late if you ask me, we should have done something about this centuries ago."
In a domed office perched precariously atop a towering, golden skyscraper, far away from the prying eyes of the busy nite-life below, three highly-strung members of the Intergalactic High Council of Safe Space sat in special session.
They faced each other across a large desk.
The desk, like the room that contained it, was huge, and, in common with boardroom desks across the universe, was not quite as stupid as it looked. It had been paying attention to the raging argument for many hours now and was seriously considering getting up and walking out. The only thing that was stopping this drastic course of action was the likelihood of a severe reprimand from its union.
The tension in the air thickened as the Council President leaned forward. His many suckers oozed green liquid over his chair's protective covering. "Too many complaints have come in from intergalactic entities for us to ignore them. We have to show that we're doing something. That's what Councils are all about, isn't it?"
Strained mumbles of unenthusiastic agreement echoed around the room.
"Maybe if we left them for a few more years guv'nor?" pleaded the Clerk desperately. "They're bound to blow themselves out of existence sooner or later."
The President quietly pondered this, oh how he had longed for that to happen. "We've already left it far too long!" He scolded, staring sternly at the Clerk. "The official purpose of the zoo was to house endangered species, it was supposed to be safe! These....Humans," he spat, "are destroying the place. I want it stopped!" He turned his almost-but-not-quite psychotic glare and his long, pink, flabby tentacles at Dexit D'fejoozabt, who was by then doing rather a good job of keeping himself inconspicuous - he was hiding under the desk.
"We've kept our part of the deal, we waited to see if they'd nuke themselves, but they haven't, have they? And it doesn't look like they're going to, does it? You were responsible for building the damn thing, get rid of them!" He flopped another podgy tentacle angrily on the table.
"You're not allowed sentient beings on a Class H planet without proper planning permission anyway." squeaked the Clerk, peering out from behind the huge stack of formal complaints. His antennae quivered slightly as he detected Dexit's mounting rage and with another squeak, he pulled his head back inside his black, pockmarked, or, more accurately, battered, shell. The reason for these marks was down to his amazing ability to say the wrong things at the wrong time, thus bringing on himself the damaging blows that regularly came his way.
"They weren't part of the design! How many more times? I don't know where they came from!" Dexit shifted his heavy bulk back into his chair and fiddled furiously with his short, stubby horns. It wasn't fair, it wasn't his fault. He tried again. "I'm losing out too, remember? I wouldn't let lunatic life-forms run wild on purpose, would I?" He held his breath, waiting for the usual incriminating response. When none came, he relaxed slightly.
Which was a mistake.
The President raised another threatening tentacle for silence. "Why don't we note the facts, hmm?" He stared meaningfully at Dexit. "You designed the Zoo for the protection of intergalactic species..."
"And the profits."
The Clerk acquired another pockmark.
"...and for the pleasure of all who would visit it..."
"It hasn't turned out that way, has it?"
"No one will go to the Earth to tell the Humans they're trespassing for fear of receiving a nuclear missile up the ar...exhaust! This has gone on for long enough, I've seen all the data I can handle without losing my mind and I want to know where they came from. Most of all I want them somewhere else. And I don't want them anywhere near Safe Space. Do you understand?"
"Something has to be done!" he shouted angrily. "Now, I'm going to leave this room and when I come back, something or someone will have taken the blam... taken the ...sorted it out!" He slipped away from the desk and slithered out through the door, slamming it behind him.
Dexit grinned lamely towards the stack of complaints - where incidentally, the Clerk had now buried himself completely - and sighed. "Fat lot of good you are." he said.
The stack of complaints rustled nervously.
"Feel free to join in any time you want," prompted Dexit. "Should you have any idea's..."
"Shall I take that as a no?"
"Right, well, I suppose it's up to me then?"
"Yes, Dexit." said Dexit. "It's up to you old boy. After a moments thought, he grinned. And then, just for good measure, he punched the Clerk.
* * * * * *
"Don't know why we got lumbered with it," grumbled Zork, peering out through the porthole at the blackness outside. "What do we know about Humans? Apart from the fact that they're obviously nutters."
"Think of it as a training objective," suggested Torg helpfully. He hovered the craft to a standstill and released the legs.
"Training objective?" said Zork incredulously. "Think of it as a training objective? Are you mad?"
"It was just a thought."
Zork was very wary of Humans. The terrifying tales that had floated back to the Safe Space bar, Bobo's Byte & Blitzed - known to the locals as the B&B - of what had happened to aliens who had got caught, were lodged firmly in his mind, or at least, where his mind ought to be. From what he had seen and heard of Humans, he didn't think they were a very friendly bunch and firmly believed that the creation of Mankind had been a major cock-up that no one had owned up to yet.
And rightly so. For who would be so stupid as to raise their hands to that one, eh?
"Why couldn't he have got some other poor buggers to find out where they come from, huh? Why us?" Zork was not going to give up. "I mean, it's not as if we've done anything to deserve it." He thought for a moment. "Nothing that deserves this, anyway."
The metallic bulk of their spaceship squatted easily on its tripod of stout, curved, landing gear.
Seen from a distance, it would give the casual observer the impression of an impossibly oversized poached egg.
With three legs.
"Someone has to do it," reasoned Torg. Out of the two of them, he was the most sensible and didn't believe in all the tales that had filtered through his ears. However, this didn't mean he was stupid. "Not that I'm willing of course," he added hastily.
"Great!" said Zork. "I suppose I have to do it, do I? What do you want me to do, huh? Go up and ask one of them?"
The aliens confronted each other in their Grade C spacecraft, which was illegally parked in a muddy field on the outskirts of Nottingham, in England, on Earth.
"...and it's bloody dark!"
* * * * * *
Far, far away and hundreds of feet beneath RAF Leuchers, in Fife, Scotland, Flight Sergeant Ted Potts was pissed off. His area of responsibility, being the air defence of England's East Midlands, was usually the cushiest number on the shift. But not tonight. An unidentified bogie had somehow evaded the long range AWACS planes, slipped through the net of RAF interceptors and was now buggering about in his territory.
Quite why unidentified objects are referred to as 'bogies' by members of the military profession has never been adequately explained. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word 'bogie' means:
'n,. an undercarriage, with two or more wheel pairs, pivoted below the end of a rail vehicle'
The only logical explanation available is that members of the military profession have an extremely poor grasp of English.
Sergeant Potts traced the unidentified flying object anxiously across the display in front of him. Beads of sweat found their way to his creased forehead in a determined effort to be part of things. The target blinked. He leaned closer. It blinked again. Potts grimaced, the last thing he needed now was an equipment failure. Suddenly, without further warning, the bogie vanished. "Damn it!" Checking first to ensure that no one was looking, he thumped the offending machine. It didn't make any difference, he'd lost the target. Whistling quietly, he casually leaned his chair back and glanced at his colleagues' radar screens, they were all working perfectly. Which could mean only one thing...
He reached over and stabbed the 'panic' button.
* * * * * *
On the outskirts of a quiet little village known as Tyem, north of Nottingham, population 103 - and a small dog named Jeffrey - strange goings-on were also plaguing another individual.
Billie Luggins is a young (ish), attractive (so she claims), witty (yet to be proven) and open minded, extra terrestrial believer. She has joined every club, read every book, seen every film and documentary, and bought every T-shirt. She is the Chairwoman of the Regional UFO Society and regularly does her bit by ringing up the local policeman, Inspector Stubbs (who she fondly refers to as 'Arsehole') to report any strange phenomena. She also likes eating flaky chocolate in the bath with nothing on (her, not the bath) and playing with her cute, white, fluffy cat named Schwarzenegger.
Although she also enjoys smoking a bit of pot now and then, she doesn't drink.
Her dislikes include ducks, traffic wardens and uninvited guests. Currently awaiting prosecution by one of the aforementioned guests, Billie stands firmly by her statement given to the press after the 'accident' - that "Double Glazing Salesmen should be shot at birth anyway" - and to support this view, has erected a sign at the gates of her farm stating that "TRESPASSERS WILL BE SHOT FIRST AND QUESTIONED LATER".
Being a young girl living on her own, this also served as an effective deterrent to any burglars who might have heard rumours that the farm had been left to her by her recently departed father. Where he departed to, is anybody's guess.
Billie shook herself and stared at the sight confronting her. Blue, green and yellow lights illuminated the field, flashing intermittently from a strange vessel resting on three plump legs. She had never imagined that a UFO would resemble a poached egg of course, but there you go. She wondered vaguely if she had over done it with the illegal substances. Maybe it was all in her imagination?
Her imagination sidled up to the front of her brain and tactfully informed her that it wasn't this good and that what she was seeing was real.
Billie realised very quickly, and rather reluctantly, that wanting to see a UFO and having one actually land in your back garden are two totally different things.
The spaceship's pulsating lights cut out, leaving behind an eerie blackness. It lit up again seconds later, this time a hazy green. Billie shuddered, it was almost spooky. She tried to calm herself, after all, this was the chance that every UFO enthusiast dreamed of. The chance, once and for all, to prove that life existed on other worlds. It was up to her to do something about it.
Billie crouched silently by the window of her bedroom, she was fascinated but at the same time scared shitless. Her nervous system seemed to have left her a while ago to have a breakdown on its own, leaving its panic stricken owner to cope with a UFO parked 300 yards from her farmhouse.
They hadn't seen her, but she could see them. There were two of them. Two little green Humanoids dressed in one-piece blue boiler suits had left the craft by what can only be described as a blue, fluorescent shaft of light descending slowly towards the ground.
Which is exactly what it was.
The bigger of the two, who was also wearing what looked suspiciously like a baseball cap, was standing by the legs of the craft swinging a strange, circular device. Studying it, then swinging it some more, studying, swinging, studying, swinging...
Billie turned away from the window, not sure of what to do first. She ought to telephone the police and report the incident, but Inspector Stubbs was probably on duty tonight and unfortunately, to cut a long story short, past experiences had given them a sort of hate-hate relationship.
She thought of the members of her local UFO group, maybe it would be worth ringing one of them? No, she decided quickly, this was her field, so it was her UFO. By letting other members in on it she might not get the full credit. After a few more moments thought, she came to the painful decision that her 'duty to protect the public' would have to come first. Besides, Stubbs would probably tell her to "Bugger Orrff" anyway.
Pulling her black and red lumberjack style shirt tight around her, she scrambled across the bedroom floor on all fours and dragging the telephone off the bed, savagely punched out the local police number. Four rings later, there was a 'click'.
Billie immediately recognised the yokel drawl she hated so much.
"Tyem Police Station, Inspector Stubbs speaking."
"Oh, hello Inspector."
Stubbs groaned. "Miss Luggins. What is it this time?" he asked, in a tone of voice which suggested he knew only too well what it was and that he wouldn't believe a word of it anyway.
"No need to be like that, Officer." said Billie pointedly. "As a member of the local UFO watch, as you well know, I thought it my duty to..."
"Don't tell me, let me guess, you've spotted a UFO complete with two little green men."
"My word, Inspector, you are in a very receptive mood tonight." said Billie flatly.
"Now you listen 'ere young lady, I've tole' you before to stop wasting my time with these ridiculous phone calls, they're a real nuisance." He paused. "In fact, come to think of it, I could book you for making nuisance phone calls. What do you think of that then, eh?"
Billie gave up, she could almost feel the smug grin down the telephone line. "It would do your reputation as a stupid old man a lot of good."
The said grin dissolved. "Listen gal, they don't exist so don't you tell me they do, because I know they don't. Now bugger orrff!!"
Stubbs broke the connection, leaving Billie with a dead telephone line and a UFO in her field.
"Arsehole." she mumbled quietly.
* * * * * *
Somewhere out in the deepest regions of the universe, all was not well.
"Now then, lie back, relax, take it easy and shut your eyes."
Arjiwhoops, shaking uncontrollably, lay down on the hard wooden bench and closed his eyes. Moments later they sprang wide open again as the horrifying memories of the last few hours flooded back with alarming accuracy. He started to whimper.
"Now now, what did I just say?"
Arjiwhoops nodded and tried again. It wasn't easy. For extra comfort, he wrapped his tail around his shaking body.
Dillet, the ships counsellor, hid 'The Beginners Guide to Hypnotism' behind him and concentrated on his latest patient. This was a difficult case - never before in all the history of the Pibbles, had a Pibble had a nervous breakdown.
"Right. I want you to concentrate on the sound of my voice, understand?"
"You are feeling sleepy," said the Counsellor, trying to keep his voice steady, as the manual had instructed.
"No I'm not, I'm wide awake."
Dillet ignored him and tried again. "You are feeling very sleepy."
Arjiwhoops stared at the Counsellor, he wasn't sleepy in the slightest. "I'm not!"
"Look, you're not helping, you know."
Dillet sighed and started again. "You are very very sleepy."
"Right! That's it. I'm not helping you. Get up."
"What?" Arjiwhoops stopped shaking and opened his eyes.
"Get up," commanded Dillet irritably.
"But we haven't finished!"
"We haven't started," said the Counsellor, tapping his foot.
Arjiwhoops sat upright and gave Dillet the benefit of his most quizzical stare. "Why not?"
"Because," replied the Counsellor coldly, "you keep interrupting."
Arjiwhoops lowered his head and studied his tail. "I'm sorry Counsellor, it's just that this has all got to me, it's too much, I just don't know how to handle it, you have to help me counsellor, you just have to!" There was a moment silence. "My shakes have gone."
Dillet Sighed. "Good."
"Um, would it help, Counsellor, if I just told you what happened?"
Dillet could not help but look disappointed, this was not what he'd had in mind. He had been looking forward to practising his hypnotism and Arjiwhoops was just the perfect targe...Subject. He sighed again. "Yes, Arjiwhoops. Perhaps you'd like to start at the beginning?"
"Thank you, counsellor." said Arjiwhoops gratefully. He lay down again and closed his eyes, his tail twitched as the memories came back to him. "Well, there I was..."