I'm sorry to say I've been putting off this post for weeks now, because it's one I wish I didn't have to write.
One Monday morning, a little over a month ago, Paul and I got an email from the family of Cougary, the author of 'The Last Hamlet' and many other fine and thoughtful contributions here at Oort Cloud.
Sadly, the email informed us that Cougary had passed away the previous weekend.
Moldan the Big of Bog awoke with a start; he had dreamt that he was a hundred; he was a hundred, that very day, which meant decision time.
Most Boggians lived to be at least a hundred and twenty. Every Boggian - not just the Bigs and the Lesses of Bog - had, on their hundredth birthdays, and for eight days thereafter, the option of entering a decelerator. This might kill them, or effectively take them back to their fiftieth birthdays. For the one and a half per cent who did not come out of the machines alive, death was sudden and apparently painless. Seventy four per cent of the ordinary citizens of Bog chose not to decelerate; but Moldan the Big was not an ordinary citizen. He was supreme ruler of his planet. He had, during the days of Steefax Draxy Mania, travelled the galaxy. He had negotiated trade and peace treaties with the likes of Kryptos and Ee-arth. He was big in name and in reputation. He was generally thought to be the very greatest of the Bigs of Bog.
By means of a chute rigged up by Macroida, the first load of Draxy was scattered on the surface of the reservoir at the edge of the Wilderness; within a week, most of the people of our world were drinking the super enriched water, and less than a week later the taps on the Moon were running with it. Eight loads in all were ferried from Fendergedano, and the life giver was added to mountain streams, lakes, and rivers, spread on arable land, and scattered to the four winds in the lower atmosphere. None of it was kept in stock, not even a 'token amount' for the rites and ceromonies which some thought we should perpetuate, for 'old time's sake'!
ON THE STEPS OF THE TEMPLE OF DRAXY
We were now over the City. Beneath us was a teeming mass of people flowing and creeping and oozing through streets and squares and narrow lanes and alleys like the contents of a gigantic pot of treacle. Soon, having nimbly dodged its battlements, the ship was hovering over the Royal Palace. With the delicacy of a frost-shorn autumn leaf finding its gentle way to the ground, Darande put us down upon the newly mown, neatly striped grass of the Great Lawn.
As Captain Terson was setting out, in the darkest hours, oppressed by a cold and dampening mist, on Jobbins' best mare, towards the Wilderness and the performance of his terrible duty, King Hamlet was leading all of us with hands to spare in the writing out, in large block letters, on the hundreds of sheets of the white paper Darande had added to the expedition's manifest 'just in case', two words and an exclamtion mark. Of course, it would all be worse than academic if Nell was not convinced that we were already destroyed. We just had to believe.
ALARUMS AND EXCURSIONS
"Ullyses calling Moonbase! Ullyses calling Moonbase!"
"Ullyses calling Moonbase! Ullyses calling Moonbase!"
But before the radio operator could switch once more to transmit, we heard:
This recorded message is not authorised. I am acting entirely on my own. Do not attempt to reply. I repeat, do not attempt to reply. If you suspect foul play, and you still have your mining pod, loose it. Let it enter Steefax atmosphere in your place. One dot on a screen may look like any other to the untrained eye. Good luck to Your Majesty. Good luck to you all.
FURTHER ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN TERSON
Two days after the rescue of the Queen, on a clear, windless, comfortably cool evening, as he sat in a bed of browning bracken with his back to an oak tree which was just beginning to shed its leaves, in a spinney adjoining a farmstead from which he had lately 'commandeered' half a dozen newly laid brown eggs and a can of fresh creamy milk, Terson was able to suggest to himself that life on the run might have its compensations. He was halfway down the milk, having just polished off his second egg - he liked them raw well enough, but a bit of salt and pepper would not have gone amiss - when a voice adjacent to his left ear said, "Hoo hah, 'oo mus' be 'at cap'n they'm arfter."*
*This rather strange manner of speaking was an example of the 'salt tongue' of the former east coast fisher folk. Though most of their descendants had given up on the dialect, some of the more traditional families still made it a point of pride to retain it.
"If you find yourself on the wrong side of a door, can't you simply go back through it?"
For three hours or more there had been sighings and head shakings, manipulations of computers, calculators, and even slide rules, and the passing of bits of paper bearing the latest scribbled conjectures. The King's question lit up the scientific and technological fog with luminous simplicity. It was just the sort of thing that I might have come out with, but on this occasion I was jolly glad that I hadn't! When the ship had been turned round, and we were as close as Darek could calculate to where we had been immediately after being flung out of our galaxy in the first place, we accelerated to the same displacement velocity as before, and injected the same amount of Draxy. Moments later we saw Fendergedano beneath us once again. Were we surprised? Not really. I think we were all well beyond being surprised at anything by that point in our adventure.
CAPTAIN TERSON'S DAY OUT
Newly appointed Captain of the Guard Terson had been not quite nineteen when he had married Tella, his childhood sweetheart and latterly deputy housekeeper. Their lives together had been pretty blissful until the stillbirth of their first child. Against medical advice they had tried again - to be rewarded by a bonny bouncing boy. Everything had been as good as could be until Tella had weakened at the age of twenty four, and died before Helden's fourth birthday. Draxy Palace theory regarding bereavement and mourning was one thing, but the practice could be very different, which it certainly had been for Caprtain Terson, who had been inconsolable for many a day, with not even his son being able to lift his spirits. It was not until Archdraxite Nell had come onto the scene with new ideas and fresh challenges for Draxy Palace servants that the boy had begun to play a major role in the recovering of his father's spirits.
It was about ten minutes to ten when Nell and Terson arrived at the guardroom.
"Good evening, Shug. Good evening, Moby."
"Good evening, Your Grace," came the unison reply.
"Shug, Captain Terson and I are here to see the Queen."
"Very good, Your Grace, I'll take you both along."
"You're off at ten, aren't you?" Terson asked.
"That's right, sir."
"Look, let me have the key to the Queen's cell. Then you can get away as soon as your relief comes."
"That's good of you, Captain. Thank you very much, sir."