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Danny woke in the middle of the night. His anxiety levels were high.

What the fuck? He opened his eyes and faced total darkness. Something bad’s happened. Something real bad.

He was on his side, one armed draped over Chastity whose sleep remained untroubled.

Danny sat up and looked at his wristy. 02:34. He ran his hand over the wall until he found a dimmer switch. Giving himself just enough light to see by, he slipped out of bed and put on a dressing gown.

After spending a few moments looking down on Chastity and envying her oblivion, he hurried into the lounge, grabbed a remote control, dropped into an armchair and switched on the television.

‘... at 02:12 GMT, a spokesman for Magellan Spaceways confirmed that contact with Argo 1 had been lost.’ The newsreader’s eyes shone with excitement. He was in his element. ‘This followed reports from several observatories of an explosion in the vicinity of the space craft. BBC News has just received footage of that explosion. It was captured by the Persephone Deep Space Telescope which was trained on Argo 1 as part of a calibration test.’

Argo 1 was on the screen, an arrowhead in a field of black. Its rear boosters made Danny think of a hippo’s nostrils. A banner at the bottom of the screen read: Persephone DST. Beside it, a digital display gave the time as 01:56 and some seconds.

There was a red flash on the port side of the ship. It was no more spectacular than the flash of a landing light. The digital display counted off three more seconds and then the craft exploded.

The hull appeared to be ripped apart by white light, the pure essence of existence.

Even without sound, the sight was enough to make Danny feel like he was in free fall. As his wristy bleeped to let him know his metabolism was getting out of control, he reached into his pyjama pocket for a blister pack of Fromoxodin.

The television returned to the studio where the newsreader’s attempt to look gravely concerned barely concealed his glee at having such a juicy story to break. No doubt he saw it as his ticket out of the graveyard shift and on to daytime work.

‘Shocking pictures,’ he said in a voice intended to convey great sorrow.

Danny thrust three pills into his mouth and switched off the television. He tried standing up but his legs gave way, forcing him to crawl to the mini bar from which he grabbed a tin of beer to wash the tabs down with.

This was the first time he’d taken three Fromoxodins at once. He was in uncharted territory here. Sitting on the floor, his back against the wall, he hugged his legs and waited. And while he waited, he analysed why the news regarding Argo 1 had so undermined his mental well-being.

It’s a warning. The Martians or Venusians or Fromoxians or Secret Masters – the Freemasons, Illuminati, Satanic Cabal – are telling us to stay at home. They don’t want us roaming the galaxy like some malignant infestation. We’re not welcome.

There again... I knew this would happen. I said it would. Because it’s all a hoax. There never was a mission to Mars. They faked everything in a TV studio just like they did the Apollo moon missions. And now they’ve pulled the plug and created a wave of psychic angst all around the world which they can tap into and use to generate black energy to drive their devil machines.

He stared up at the ceiling in what he intuited was the direction of the remains of Argo1. Had the astronauts any inkling they were going to die? If so, what were their final thoughts?

Their brainwaves must still be out there, propagating through the ether, rippling across space-time at the speed of light. And their ghosts? What becomes of a spirit set free from its corporeal bonds in the vacuum of space with no gravity to anchor it?

The soul becomes light. It knows no time, only existence. And nothing can erode it or tarnish it in any way.

Lux aeterna.

His nerves began to sing. His synapses whispered. Everything in the room acquired an aura.

The Fromoxodin was kicking in.

‘Three Frommies,’ chided the man-headed insect. It hovered in front of Danny and he realised it had been there all the time only he couldn’t see it until the drug had triggered dormant pathways and opened his third eye. ‘You’re some kind of twat, aren’t you? I’ll be surprised if this doesn’t fry your brain for once and for all.’

Danny smiled benevolently at the insect. He felt a connection with it. We are all one, he thought, by which he meant he and everything in the universe from the merest atom to the biggest galaxy. ‘What happened,’ he asked, ‘to Argo 1?’

‘You saw for yourself, you dingbat. It blew up.’

‘But why?’

‘Devil worship.’

‘Get away.’

‘The astronauts were performing a black mass. It got out of hand and now they’re in Hell.’

‘That’s dreadful.’

The insect laughed. ‘Oh boy! You’ll believe anything, won’t you? Of course it wasn’t devil worship. They were highly trained astronauts on their way to another planet. What the frak would they be doing conjuring up the Lords of Hell?’

‘Then what?’

‘A bomb.’

‘No kid? Who’d do a thing like that?’

‘The British Defence Force.’

‘Why would they blow up a spaceship?’

‘They were worried there might be intelligent life on Mars. You think immigration is a problem now? Imagine what would happen if there was a whole planet full of would-be refugees wanting to feel our wind on their tiny green faces.’

‘That’s daft. Just plain daft.’

‘That’s the BDF for you. If you look at their manifesto you’ll see they want everyone to have their DNA tested for Neanderthal genes. Anyone who has them will be sterilised.’

‘What’s happening to the world? How did it get to be so crazy?’

‘Don’t ask me. I’m only an insect and not even a real one at that.’

The insect disappeared just as Bela Benedek walked through the wall. He was older than the Benedek of the crystal garden. With his white robe, white hair and beard, he looked like an Old Testament prophet. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘there’s some seriously bad shit going down tonight.’

‘How did you get out of the Crystal Garden?’ Danny asked.

‘I didn’t. I’m just a figment of your imagination.’

‘Of course.’

‘Will you pray with me, Danny?’

‘I ain’t got nothing to pray about.’

‘You sure?’

‘Listen. I’ve taken three tabs of Fromoxodin. It's meant to stop me hallucinating like this. Do you think I should call a doctor?’

‘It’s better that you pray.’

‘No it isn’t.’

‘Fine. Call a doctor. But don’t blame me if you get sectioned and chucked in the loony bin. Let’s see you rescue your precious Colette when you’re bouncing off the walls of a padded cell. They might even lobotomise you.’

‘They don’t do lobotomies anymore.’

‘Who told you that?’

‘No one. I just assumed.’

‘You, young man, are suffering from Fromoxodin poisoning and lobotomisation is the only cure.’

‘Not much point me praying then.’

Benedek nodded his wise old head. ‘You have a point.’

‘Why are you here, Bela?’

‘That’s something you ought to ask yourself. Although, in a way, by asking me you’re doing just that.’

‘If I stay like this for the rest of my life – talking to hallucinations and feeling like I don’t have a care in the world – I don’t think that would be such a bad thing.’

‘You’re becoming a lotophage, Danny. That’s a bad thing.’

‘A loto-what?’

‘A Lotus Eater.’




The three crew members of Phobos 1 lined up in front of Danny. To the left was Annie Palmer, the youngest of the astronauts. Just recently she’d graced the centre pages of Playboy Magazine. The other two astronauts – Chuck Madison and Martin Copperfield – looked like Arizona farm boys. If they hadn’t become astronauts, they’d surely be quarterbacks for the New York Yankees.

‘Why have you come back to Earth?’ said Danny.

Chuck Madison smiled like a used car salesman. ‘This is our home. Where else should we go?’

‘To Mars. That was your mission.’

‘We want to go to Calvados Bay in Avalon III. I hear it’s very nice there.’

‘It doesn’t exist.’

‘That’s all right. Neither do we.’

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