“Damn! By the red sludge of the Zorgons, where am I?”
Chuck Marley thought he must have slept 20 hours. Or overdosed on Gelsem X, the equivalent of falling into a coma. His previous record asleep was 18 hours.
The reflection in a metal cabinet shocked him. “My hair, my priceless haircut! I’ll have to go back to the Bad Ends and get it redone.” He scratched his cheek. “Ow!” He looked at his hands. Although he hadn’t cut his fingernails in months, he had chewed them yesterday. His nails were sharp, ragged, and long.
Yesterday? When was yesterday, where was yesterday?
He smacked his palm on the side of his head.
As his vision unblurred, crazy images went flapping through his mind like bats. They were more than vagabond dreams. He knew he had failed Xenophobic Etiquette, borrowed some money, become the custodian of a secondhand spaceship, repatriated a Zorgon, quashed exploitation and thievery, saved a city from annihilation, lost a shirt, and gained a shirt.
And…the photon annihilation!
But here he was. And where was here? He rested against a mainframe. Then he drew back when he saw the contorted body of Rothball Hazard. It lay near some metal conduits, lifeless.
Marley quickly rose, too quickly; he gave himself a head-spin. He faced the controls. Only a few of them were backlit. Most were unblinking. Blank. As if they hadn’t seen electronic action in decades. He squinted at the monitors. The radar, the area of effect monitor, was on standby. On the topmost screen an aqua image swayed slowly back and forth. It was like looking through the porthole of a ship in a calm breeze. He remembered that this camera linked to an external array. The image flicked to a sky blue background. It had to be sky, and those wispy feather-bones, they were clouds.
The image flicked back to the deep aqua blue, wrinkled now by a stronger breeze.
A calm, beautiful sea.
These were not dreams. All he needed now was a cocktail, a strangbrew, even a Fancy Fred. Then maybe some sand and three Sirian girls waiting on him. No, make it four. If this was lucid dreaming, all he had to do was visualise and: kapow! They would appear.
Nothing happened. The white walls of the annihilation chamber remained stark white. The control lights stared unblinking. The external cameras flicked between sky blue sky and sea blue sea.
He pressed a few buttons.
He punched a few buttons.
He head-butted a lot of buttons and regretted it.
He climbed onto the control panel and stomped and promptly slipped. Luckily he grabbed a lever for balance. Hoisting himself up, he peered at the camera screen. He appeared to be floating in the middle of nowhere. It would be a nice nowhere, if he could add some sand and Sirians.
The image flicked to the sky. A perpendicular line divided it in half, probably a scratch in the camera. A tiny red light descended the line. Marley zoomed by pressing his nose on the screen. The line became a shaft. It slowed, disappearing out of range.
He suddenly remembered his final thoughts before entering the bowels of the universe and being shat out…here. He had hoped with all his will to be on Epicurus. For a large portion of his life he had dreamed of the pleasure planet. The red dot ascended the shaft. It travelled to the sky and beyond.
This must be, it could only be: “The Great Elevator of Epicurus!” He shouted with delight.
Marley entered the hoverpod, an all-purpose escape vehicle. No matter where you found yourself, a hoverpod would set you free. Lost in deep space? Its attitude jets and emergency beacon would have you at the nearest way station before you could say ‘Fancy Fred’. Trapped 20,000 leagues under the sea? The hoverpod converted the surrounding water into a drinkable nutritious mixture and sent you floating towards the surface.
Marley flicked a switch with the icon of a speedboat underneath it. This setting would easily power the hoverpod to shore.
Except there was no power. The annihilation incident had fried the generator. However, the hoverpod had made allowances for this. Two oar handles flopped down either side of him. He immediately longed for Gaston Dimble.
* * *
The Multiverse looked on with mild amusement as Chuck Marley rowed the hoverpod inch by inch towards the Great Elevator of Epicurus. To accompany his journey, it selected some ambient guitar riffs for background music. Marley didn’t hear it, but the Multiverse was in a romantic mood and had a soundtrack for every conceivable setting. Soon it would turn its attention to the modern jazz concert reaching its climax in the Sha universe. Then maybe it would have another go at universe creation. But for now, it remained zoned into the Omniverse, intently watching Chuck Marley, enjoying his journey.
Quite possibly not The End