Ottoline Beamish McBooth was, as you would imagine, not overly thrilled by her name, having neither an aristocratic heritage, nor a colourful eccentricity with which to excuse it. What she did have, however, was a lamentably under-utilised degree in Exobiology and a flair for devising bizarre but brilliant contraptions that her coffee shop colleagues loved and Heath Robinson would have considered worthy of a room-sized applause machine with an added cheering apparatus for good measure.
It was the timely conjunction of these two talents that resulted in her last and best invention – the device that simultaneously saved humankind from its self-inflicted energy crisis as well as from the potential wrath of our newfound cosmological neighbours, the Enceladan Hird. What isn’t generally known, however, and is likely to cause the deletion of this blog faster than a politician’s pornographic party pictures, is her tragic part in solving the Hirdian Controversy.
Ms McBooth was the first of our old Cosmology class to suggest that the life-forms recently found on Saturn’s moon are descendants of our own dinosaurs, flung into space as dormant eggs by the same meteor impact that casually smooshed and suffocated the rest of their kind. She bravely upheld this belief even after the satirical press dismissed it as the fanciful dream a bored barista after a late night cheese panini.
Like Ottoline (or ’Boo’ as she marginally preferred to tolerate) the Hird would have had every right to feel aggrieved – were they capable of it – after our probe crashed landed on their habitat with all the grace and delicacy of a Loony Tunes anvil. Hardly justified by our –
“Oops, sorry, didn’t know you were there – just being nosey about your moon’s enormous geysers.” And their undeniable likeness to hippo-sized turkeys could have been a monumental embarrassment at first contact were it not for their similar level of sentience and incapacity for speech. Can you imagine otherwise?
“So…. there are millions of our kind on your Earth? That’s wonderful – we must meet them! Are they explorers too? What role do they have in your society?”
“Ahh… well, actually we – um …we devour them by the lorry load every weekend.”
“Right, well in that case, we’ll have those canapés back, there’s the door, and here’s a nice big thermo-nuclear parting gift.”
Suffice to say, the sighs of relief from the official speech-makers’ over that one could have powered a standard issue wind turbine for the best part of a week.
The cover-up began after it was realised that the Hird could be relocated to Earth to form the living heart of a self-sustaining, ‘steam’-powered energy source. The mere rumour of this apparently turned the Arab Oil Consortium as pale as an Asian face cream advert, and the newly formed alien rights groups battled the global energy crisis planners like elbow-sharpened sales customers in January. But as things have been nearing crisis point – at a tally of two energy ration riots to ten consecutive weeks’ of nighttime power outages – dear old Boo thought up an almost thigh-slappingly triumphant solution.
During a phone call from her nap-inducingly long-winded sister, and its accompanying three page doodle fest (a practice developed to prevent said reaction), her scribblings gave shape to the now celebrated Orbiting Geo-stationary, Solar-wind-powered, Bi-furcated, Enceladan Exhaust Funnel. Of course, its name being more of a mouthful than a jumbo packet of gobstoppers, plus its undeniable likeness to a gigantic pair of human buttocks, rapidly earned it its better known nickname of ‘The Ten Tonne Tush’.
Its swift and ingeniously contrived construction above the Enceladan surface – from the remains of the probe plus all but one of its service droids – was marred only at that stage by one celestial spanner in the works – that for the device to work, the Hirds had to be somehow corralled into a narrow, equatorial region – a specific bandof valleys and canyons that would align their photosensitive ‘grazing’ with the path of the solar winds. As this rare specialism was one of Boo’s areas of expertise, it was duly decided, after much debate and enough red tape cutting to impress Amazon’s gift-wrapping staff, that the mission was best co-ordinated by Boo herself. And so it was, some days ago, she went from making paninis and cappuccinos to making history.
From the supposed safety of Houston’s Remote Ops room, under the watchful eyes of NASA, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the International Guild of Master Shepherds,the momentous migration was begun. Breaths were held, calculations were made, guidance computer servers whirred in hyperactive, discordant chorus. And all went surprisingly well until it became obvious that the sheer number of variables involved in maintaining operational success was rather greater than anticipated. A better super-computer was needed. And in a greater hurry than someone doing a trolley-dash with a bladder weakness. But a super-computer with all the expertise pre-programmed into it, that that wouldn’t be affected by the inevitable power cuts. There was only one answer – a human brain. Someone was needed to stay permanently – neurologically – connected to the remote CPU – the very core of the Tush. And that someone, it transpired, was Boo.
Our protests fell on deafer ears than those of a toddler with its hand in the cookie jar. Boo had, it seems, in a shortsighted, sleep-deprived stupor,signed a contractof optometrist-worthy small print that somehow covered this desperate possibility.
Naturally there were numerous volunteers who offered to take her place – esteemed astronauts, noble armed services personnel and several of our own graduate fraternity.To our immense dismay, however, the Powers That Be decided to enforce the contractual loophole, claiming her unique knowledge and problem-solving genius crucial to the ongoing success of the mission, and that anyway, she was already hooked up at immense cost to the taxpayers’ budget (which, it seems, was almost as limited as its controllers’ consciences) leaving any defence lawyers as much chance as an elephant hiding behind a lamppost. With a boombox.
And so, dear readers, this account is being posted on all ‘respectable’ social media across the blogosphere, to honour a vastly noble sacrifice, and to expose the outrageously trivialised decision that, in the interests of ending the energy crisis for all of humankind,
(and I quote)
“The Hird in the Band is worth Boo In the Tush”.
Taria Karillion grew up in a tiny cottage in the grounds of a castle and is supposedly descended from an infamous pirate (much to the amusement of her fencing coach).. Despite her historical background, however, and thanks to the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a staircase and a nasty attack of gravity, she rapidly became a fan of science fiction, though she does venture into other genres without the aid of a safety net. A Literature degree, a journalism course and some gratuitous vocabulary overuse later, her stories have appeared in Five Stop Story, Weirder Science, The Great British Write-off, and several literary anthologies for readers to dally with at their own risk. She is a Mark Twain House Award finalist, a Percy French Award Finalist and was the winner of the Multi-Story Short Fiction Award 2015, a Magic Oxygen Award and the Writing Times Winter Fantasy Competition 2015. She is, as yet, however, in no need of larger millinery. Her future plans include a forthcoming SF collection, a quest for World Peace and calorie-free chocolate. Not much to ask, really…
Photo by: Ana Prundaru