In a dark and dusty corner of a Universe, far from the lights of men or the brassieres of women, on a planet made of rock and dust and quite a lot of water, lived the Phligm. The lighted men and brassiered women, if they chanced to meet them ever (as well they could, what with all the technology bursting from fertile brains), might call them reptilian if they met on a dark night under a full moon, and reptilian they did seem to be, with piercing green eyes and rather unpleasant blue veinery, creating a network not dissimilar to tramlines across their faces, which were awful.
The Phligm, in their undoubted ugliness, were inveterate explorers but they had discovered during a trans-Universe (that is, across one Universe and slipping into another) expedition that there are some things best avoided and chief amongst those things was the turgid air of planets like Mother Earth. And it wasn't during the technological age of pollution that they made this discovery but rather in ancient, classical times when a wafting and barely detectable thread of a strange gas unknown to them slowly evaporated from the red pigments used by ancient Egyptian artists as they concentrated all their skilful attention on their favourite sideways distortions of the human body.
So they avoided such planets in their conquest of more than one Universe, and because they avoided them the conquest could never be described as actually complete. But the Phligm were a phlegmatic people and took the restrictions imposed by Egyptian art and similar across time and space in their stride, and just used a rubber eraser on their maps to make it seem that they had conquered everywhere.
That worked perfectly well for millennia (or what we on this little planet would call millennia; they had an entirely different and unpronounceable word for a humongously long period of time.) But the trouble with adventuring civilisations is they do insist on adventuring from time to time, and every so often one of their colonising fleets of inter-universe vessels collided with something their maps said shouldn't be there, and this made two sets of people unhappy. Firstly, the aforementioned Phligm who got vaporised in strange and alien atmospheres at speeds considerably in excess of the speed of light (and don't start telling me that the speed of light is an absolute: the Phligm have proved many times over for quite a long time that it isn't and I fully respect their technology). Secondly, the inhabitants of the planets that shouldn't be there because they, too, become vaporised but in a slightly more messy way involving fire-storms and sheet-lightning.
And a fleet of such vehicles was aiming across an outer arm of a spiral galaxy (OK, call it the Milky Way if you must – they didn't but their name for it involved a huge number of consonants and no vowels and was thus impossible for a human mouth to get its teeth around). The Captain, (let's call him Oik because that's easily pronounced and ghrhcggd isn't) was a wild and uncontrollable searcher after glory, and he spied through a looking glass made of ghgjdjfh (OK, diamond it you must) that there was a nowhere spot somewhere ahead of him.
“My lads!” he called to his crew, “ahead we have a turgid spot, a blur in space and time which indicates that something's been disguised as nothing, and, my hearties, that something is ours!”
There was a general and very rousing cheer, Oik was offered strong liquor to soothe his nerves and the Chief Engineer plotted a course towards the blur.
“That's odd,” he grunted, “a Phligm has been this way before!”
“One has?” queried Oik, “say more!”
The Chief Engineer (we'll call him Glug if you like) grunted again. His main contribution to most discussions consisted of grunts and this was widely accepted as the best you could expect from anyone called Glug. Then he hiccoughed.
“Grim Caterwauls!” he exploded, “It was the Phligm Almighty, may narcissism grow from his butt, in almost ancient times! He came here, I detect in my copopterinterface the presence, even now, of his dust! For there is a planet in the blur, a hopeless little tuppenny planet with billions of semi-intelligent – wait for it, you'll never believe this, it's almost laughable – hominids in charge! In actual charge! Bipedal creatures, dreadfully warm-blooded and all of them making mad passionate something-or-other with each other, and producing offspring at an unbelievable rate! And, now don't laugh or I'll split my sides, they don't even lay eggs!”
“But what happened to the Phligm Almighty, may the spirit of the Universes wipe his bottom?” asked Oik.
“He dusted,” sighed Glug.”The odd air of the wretched planet and a trickle of some unknown gas from a pigment used in decoration did for him, and he scattered into dust. It is noted that after a long time a fleet of rescuers came this way and located the Phligm Almighty, but only succeeded in finding two grains of his sand! And two grains is not enough for a reconstruction, not enough at all!”
“So do we blast the place to nowhere?” demanded Oik, for although he was the Captain he was more a blusterer than a decision maker.
“And further scatter the Phligm Almighty, may his oddballs be never so chilled?” asked Glug, who could make decisions.
“You mean?” asked Oik.
“It would distribute the mighty Phligm Almighty to the witchiest of places, may his cuddles never turn puce,” replied Glug, doubtfully. “And anyway, there's a being there entombed in a spell...”
“In a spell?” chorused the rest of the crew.
“A hominid … it is recorded in the dust that he trod on the Phligm Almighty's toe, may the sun ever shone from his back passage” sighed Glug, “and that earned him petrification. And he's there now, slowly being weathered as winds blow and rains fall... the only mortal in anywhere to have cast his eyes on the power that was the Plligm Almighty, may his baubles be ever so round!”
“What must we do?” chorused the rest of the crew.
“That's easy!” gloated Oik. “We must abandon ship!”
“What?” screeched Glug.
“And demand that the petrified hominid returns our Phligm Almighty, may his nocturnes be in C flat major, to us!” hissed Oik. “We must take him to our masters where he can be interrogated to death – or something like it.”
“Then we will orbit the wretched planet,” decided Glug, “but be warned, shipmates: should a pixel of red gases come our way then we must scarper, or our own wonderful scales and unborn eggs will turn to dust, and we will blow hither and thither like the Phligm Almighty did!”
“May his knackers be never bruised,” chorused the rest of the crew.
TO BE CONTINUED
© Peter Rogerson 22.02.14
I wrote a piece called The Curse a couple of days ago, and was tempted to follow the story on with the above.