My family was at a hockey game out of town, and as it was the girls playing, young Stanley was becoming restless. As we were pondering how to fill time in until Mary and Bliss had finished the second half, Stan noticed that a Cobb & Co horse-drawn coach had pulled up on the other side of the road at the old garage.
'Wow, can I go and look at the coach? Dad please,' Stan asked as he is always fascinated with relics of the past.
I told my wife Anne that I would be back shortly after checking out the horse-drawn coach.
'Okay, don't take too long,' Anne stipulated.
Stan's hand firmly in mine we waited for a break in the traffic, after an eternity, we managed to cross as a semi-trailer pulled in and parked. Walking around this new obstacle, we found the coach still there. Stan spent time examining the exterior of the coach and patting the horses. Once he had satisfied his curiosity outside, Stan wandered into the big shed behind where the driver and garage owner was chatting.
'Welcome young fellow, we don't see too many of these old coaches nowadays. If you are still curious, take a look through that peephole over there,' The garage owner invited.
'Check for spiders first Stan,' I advised and received a laugh in return.
Stan ran over and looked through a knot-hole and exclaimed, 'Look, Dad. Kids are playing, can I join them?'
'Hang on a minute, let me look first,' I suggested as Stan was inclined to run before thinking.
I looked and saw that several children were playing.
'OK just for five minutes,' I said. Looking again, I then noticed that they were wearing old-style clothing like the Amish, boys in baggy pants held up with buttoned braces and the girls in 'Mother Hubbard bonnets' and long dresses, Stan dashed over, introduced himself and without any drama, he joined in the fun. Needing to fill some time in I turned around to speak to find that both of the men had left the shed, and the coach had departed.
I decided that Stan had played enough and walked around the back of the shed to call him back to the hockey game. However, instead of the children playing there was now a rugby game with both sides comprising young teens of Pacific Islander appearance and Stan was nowhere in sight.
On the sidelines were their parents who welcomed me, 'Hello, it is not often we find a tourist watching junior football in Samoa,' One man said then asked, 'Have you seen Te-lea he is due to arrive soon? Ah, there he is now,' the last as a boy ran around the corner and joined one team.
Puzzled I returned where I came from and looked through the hole, and there were the children again with a smiling Stan right in the thick of the action. As I started to join him again, the proprietor called me over and said, 'Mr Williams? You have someone waiting in the office.' He pointed to a corner which was walled off to form an office. Walking in there I found an old man sitting in a wheelchair,
'Hi Dad, it has been a long time. I have enjoyed my life; please give my best wishes to Mum as I won't be around much longer.' He finished saying that and before I could even respond, an ambulance pulled up and loaded the old man aboard without further comment leaving me standing stunned. I asked myself, have I missed my boy's entire life? Confused, I went back to the peephole to see if he was still there. The scene on the other side was now night time, and there were no people of any age.
Looking around the proprietor waited with a sober look, 'Perhaps I can remove some part of the confusion. It seems he enjoyed the old times so much he stayed there. If you are interested, you may find what you are looking for in the peephole?'
Confused by the suggestion, however, thinking 'what could I lose', I went over to the peephole and looked. There on apparently the same field was now a weird cheese wheel structure supported by an undercarriage; it puzzled me, 'surely not a flying saucer', I thought. At the base of a ramp stood an apparition looking like an oversized teddy bear dressed in a tartan suit, making this figure seem somewhat familiar.
'Why are you waiting? Go and inquire, if the idea scares you just come back in here,' The proprietor advised with a challenging smile, 'I know that you always wanted to go into space.'
I thought, ‘How would he know? Though it is true, and why I became an aircraft maintainer’ I made my way out to have a closer look.
The figure was full without the typical sagging if a person was wearing it.
I walked over after taking a deep breath to steady myself, then being a polite person introduced myself, 'Hi, I am Harry.'
'Mine is Humph, how would you like to travel the Galaxy?' Humph invited in a small child's voice out of character with his size, 'If you do, please come aboard, and I will show you the ship and explain the game plan.'
'As long as you don't just lock the door and leave before I make any decision,' I stipulated going along with the joke.
'Never been one to Shanghai anyone, my regular crew are taking a holiday, and I have a few spare seats,' Humph explained, 'Now if you follow me, I call my ship the Yella Terra and perhaps you may see something that interests you.'
We arrived at a cabin filled with screens and familiar-looking aircraft controls; Humph suggested, 'If you take a seat, then put this helmet on. It will teach all that you need to know to make a decision.'
I did so with some trepidation and was stunned by what seemed ages of strange languages and mechanical apparatus running through my view and hearing. When at last it ceased I took the helmet off and on checking my watch found that only a few minutes had elapsed.
'Now are there any questions?' Humph asked.
'Plenty but will take time to sort them out and ask sensible ones,' I said, still overwhelmed by the information overload and considering the possibilities.
'How long is the job available to take?' I asked.
'About thirty minutes before the next adventurer needs the spot,' Humph answered.
'Can I bring my family? I will need to speak to them a lot more than that time?' I asked.
'Yes that can be done, and if they don't wish to join, I can always drop them off,' Humph said.
I returned to the hockey field, crossing the road as fast as I could. Despite nearly getting skittled in the process, I approached my wife somewhat sweaty and flustered.
'Anne, something strange has happened. Stan has gone off and returned as an old man. And I have a spaceship waiting to take us on a tour of the Galaxy,' I blurted, not entirely sure it was real.
Anne sat stunned, looking at me like I had lost the plot. 'What are you saying? Have you been drinking?' Anne demanded, 'And what do you mean, Stan is an old man?'
'Grab the girls, we have to drive over there right now; perhaps I can explain, though damned if I know what has happened myself,' I lamely tried to explain.
'If this is one of your jokes you are in for it, big time,' Anne promised as she loaded Mary and Bliss into the car while I loaded the picnic gear.
I drove over behind the shed following a gravel track, Humph and his ship were still waiting, the sight of which silenced Anne, the girls were excited as Humph looked just like their favourite TV character in his tartan suit and straw boater.
We drove up I identified our potential host as Humph, and yes he looks just like the TV character, 'Anne, Mary, Bliss this is Humph, he proposes that we accompany him on an interstellar tour.'
'Welcome, I am pleased to meet you. Please drive your car aboard; I have to leave shortly. I can take you anywhere you like,' Humph invited,
Looking at Anne, I asked lamely, 'Well? We are due for a holiday?'
'What about Stanley? We can't just leave without him?' Anne demanded hotly.
'I will stop at his house if you wish,' Humph suggested.
'If this clears things up, please do, drive on Dear,' Anne decided now too confused to object, at least it was an improvement over 'in for it big time'.
I drove up the ramp and into the ship then several figures secured my car, we exited the car and followed Humph into the cockpit.
'Take a seat. I will swing over and land next to Stan’s house,' Humph said.
With hardly any feeling of movement, the scene through the screen changed to a tree clearance height and then wafted towards a village, before descending again next to a large house.
'If you go inside, he is waiting in the lounge room; he knows you are coming,' Humph suggested.
Swapping looks and shrugs we trooped down the ramp and into the house, a butler escorted our family into the room where the familiar old man was waiting in his wheelchair.
'Hello, Mum, Dad, Mary, Bliss; I am chair bound nowadays, I haven't been able to come to you. There has been a spell preventing me doing that until I left this morning; I am sorry not saying goodbye until now,' Stan expressed in a breathy whisper, 'I have had a great life Jackaroo, Coach driver, Station Manager and lots of other jobs.'
'How was this possible, surely your story would be in the newspapers?' Anne asked.
'When next you visit the library, my story may be there,' Stan advised, 'I have no idea the how.'
Anne went up and tentatively hugged Stan, then she burst into tears, the rest of us were too stunned to say or do anything.
The Butler cleared his throat and said, 'I am afraid that is all that Sir is allowed, your spaceship is about to depart.'
'But what can I do? My little boy has gone,' Anne wailed in protest.
'I am sorry, you should follow your dreams where ever they may lead you. I will still be here when you return from the void, I promise,' Stan said then broke into coughing and breathing hard.
'I am sorry Sir, Madam, but I really must insist, Mr Williams needs his rest,' The Butler said as he stepped in and wheeled Stan away.
Dismayed we pulled ourselves together and went out to the ship to rejoin Humph. 'Just what is happening, we only came out to watch the girls play hockey and now this?' Anne asked.
'Perhaps I can shine a little light on the subject,' Humph suggested adding when Anne and I nodded dumbly, 'This is a dream that from which you will wake. As you journey, all will become clear.'
I looked at Anne, lamely I asked, 'Shall we?'
'Okay, what can we lose, he did promise to wait for us,' Anne surrendered, 'Girls are you with us?'
'As long as it is not boring,' Mary responded with Bliss nodding.
'Lead on Mr Humph, and we will see what adventures await,' I declared to end the debate.
The family entered the control room and sat where Humph directed. He said, 'Strap in now, and we are off, how about a circuit of the Moon and then on to Mars. Not much to see as both are dead and dry, but they are in the news, it makes you among the first to see up close.'
'Sounds good. I suppose the Moon is not green cheese?' Bliss asked which surprised me as she rarely ventured opinions or questions, usually being the silent twin.
'Indeed, it is only rock where it isn't dust. We can land, and you can see for yourself,' Humph suggested.
'If it is no problem. Do you have space suits?' I asked, adding a practical note.
'I can supply them; each is a part of me and automatically adjusts to size,' Humph assured then directed, 'Under each seat is a blob, hold it over your head and say spacesuit. If I am nearby, that isn't necessary but good practice.'
The girls immediately did so, with the blob flowing down and forming a close-fitting suit with a face mask.
'If you are fond of a particular colour say so, and it will change,' Humph advised, 'There are mirrors in the cabins.'
The girls then ran back to the cabins behind the cockpit and returned with Mary now pink and Bliss green.
Anne went through the process coming back with her suit now pale blue, her favourite colour. I left mine white as I don't care and rather than get it wrong by not looking in a mirror, besides I would rather watch the view unfolding as the ship rose into the atmosphere.
'How come we don't have company demanding to know what you are?' I asked, 'Doesn't the radar paint a blip back on the air traffic control screens?'
'I have a field that absorbs the Radar Frequency. They could still see me if an aircraft flew close, I can detect them first, and avoid them,' Humph explained, 'Once we are in space, I will give you the grand tour around the ship.'
After a while, Humph announced that we were cruising towards the far side of the moon, and the tour could commence.
As Humph was doing the leading, I asked, 'Who is steering the ship?'
'I am, haven't you noticed I am a man of many parts?' Humph laughed and then leading the way, 'Come this way first we have your cabins there are ten, choose one for yourselves. Later I can send down a shuttle to pick up more clothes. Otherwise, I can make what you may need.'
After a time had passed and they had finished looking at the freight holds and admiring the access passageways lined with gardens and murals they returned to see the Moon ballooning in size as they swung around and approached the far side which as it was between the Earth and the Sun.
'Except for Mike, No humans have landed on this side because they didn't want to lose radio contact,' Humph narrated as the ship lowered gently down to the surface and came to a halt.
'I have reduced the apparent gravity to match the Moon's surface as I approached so there would be no sudden change. Take care you now weigh about a sixth of what you normally do,' Humph guided us to the airlock which then was pumped down to vacuum, opened the door and lowered the ramp.
'I can talk to each of you individually or to everyone. If you want to speak to a particular person, say their name first, and only they will hear. I don't breathe because I am one big space suit,' Humph informed.
Once you have seen one rock, you have seen them all. Humph did point out the cave holding his factory visible as an opening on the side of a cliff face. 'I will take you through that next visit,' Humph said as they returned to the ship, 'I usually fly straight in.'
Noting the size of the ship and the apparent opening in the wall; the cavern was many miles away and the cliff holding it immense.
Once they had one their sightseeing on the Moon, they reboarded, and the Terra rose and pointed to Mars and accelerated towards their next landing. As the distance was much more, it took several hours first to accelerate then decelerate lining up for a landing.
'Welcome to Mars, you will be the first human to set foot on the planet as only probes have done so far,' Humph said.
As he had warned, there wasn't much to see; some deserts are as windswept and dry. Apart from the gravity at about 38 per cent we could have been in an Earth desert. 'Seen enough and have your happy snaps?' Humph then asked, 'We can do flybys of the other planets as we head out to the jump-off point for interstellar destinations if you like?'
'Sounds fun, I suppose you don't usually come this way?' I asked.
'True unless the jump point is in that direction and we are at least one Astronomical Unit from a planet, heading out of the Earth plane is closer,' Humph clarified.
As they re-boarded and found their seats, Humph said, 'Once we complete the grand tour we will head to Grnatz where I have some freight to move around the Oxzen sector that your astronomers call Bootes constellation.'
'It would certainly be interesting, still game?' I asked.
'Depends on how long will it take, we might be missed after a couple of weeks,' Anne replied.
'We have another two weeks before we are back to school,' Mary and Bliss chorused.
'That's how long the trip will take,' Humph confirmed.
There was a chorus, 'Then we are all going.'
From the solar system, Humph headed for the jump point for Oxzen sector which was in what the astronomers call the Bootes Constellation. Sometimes called the Plough or Ox driver, of course from any other viewpoint it would look different.
'Prepare for the hyperjump,' Humph warned then moderated the tone, 'As long as you are sitting and expect some effects, there is no real sensation.'
The visual aspect was as the hyper-jump activated, the stars within view seemed to streak away to the back with a virtual feeling of acceleration. Once at speed, they were surrounded by grey otherwise not much to see.
'Well that's it for about a day then we exit into the Grnatz solar system; where we will have a patrol ask who we are, this should be only a formality as I am a regular visitor. Then we spiral inwards toward the planet to land on, which takes a day and a half,' Humph narrated, 'For now I suggest that you walk around the passageways for exercise. For entertainment, there are console games.'
As Humph predicted they exited with the sensation of deceleration with the streaks resolving into stars, waiting in orbit were several small craft who radioed, 'Oxzen Navy patrol; Identify vessel."
'Yella Terra inbound from Sol to Grnatz, Humph commanding, Passengers and freight as follows,' The last followed by a squeal.
'Thanks, Terra, proceed to planet orbit, Oxzen Navy out,' This a language which I understood.
'What did they say?' Anne asked.
'To Identify craft, then Humph identified the ship and to proceed,' I translated, 'That was Gal Basic, perhaps Humph can give you a speed lesson on how to speak it.'
'I should have offered, it will only take a few minutes and should cover everything you may need as well,' Humph said.
'Sounds good, I am first,' Bliss decreed.
'Me next,' Mary claimed.
'It is safe, Harry?' Anne asked, trying to insert some common-sense.
'While it took what seemed for ages, my head hasn't fallen off yet. As I see or do something that I learnt, it then makes sense.'
Bliss then Mary took the treatment then Anne lined up for her turn. Each said in turn, 'Are you sure it was only three minutes?'
After the treatment, Humph suggested that they re-tour the ship, and it will be clearer than the first time. When the girls had returned from the second tour, they now understood more about what they had seen.
After a day, they came within sight of their destination; they were able to recognise the continents almost as if they lived there all their lives. 'Oh there's the continents of Brntz, Srres and Bastz nearly as beautiful as Earth,' Bliss said, 'Oh wow I know what that means.'
They spiralled to the spaceport; the girls were busy pointing out then announcing each landmark. They would have had trouble with their town, Humph landed the Terra and dropped the ramp, 'The air here is like Earth if a slightly different smell, after five minutes you won't notice or so Mike tells me.'
'Yes it seems to have a faint ginger scent,' Anne said, 'And most of the people are blue.'
'Follow me, and I will introduce you to my associate, apart from being a senior merchant, he is also the king of the sector, though no formality is required,' Humph explained,'Expect some curious looks yourself for being pink.'
Walking up to a large warehouse, as he led the group in, called out for Loxz. A blue gentleman came out of an office and welcomed us, 'Humph, my old friend. You have a new crew?'
'These folk are the Williams family. Anne, Harry, Mary and Bliss from Earth they are having a tour with me while Mike and Su Lin are honeymooning,' Humph introduced them, 'This gentleman is El ali Loxz merchant extraordinaire, etc., etc.'
'Glad to meet you, sir,' I greeted, shaking his offered hand, then the girls greeted him in turn.
'Now none of that I just have extra jobs which take me away from flying,' Loxz demurred, 'Humph, are you here to do your run?'
'Yes, I am ready to load while I give the Williams a grand tour of the town,' Humph confirmed.
'Done in a couple of hours; I will have the manifest ready for you to see,' Loxz assured him, 'Have an enjoyable day sightseeing.'
'Come with me, and I will show you the sights,' Humph invited the Williams.
'Thanks, off we go,' I said as we filed back out of the warehouse and back onto the street.
As they wandered following Humph, he narrated their travel along the street.
'This is their parliament building, They don't believe in spending too much beyond function,' Humph explained. 'The system is a meritocracy; they have to qualify as a successful merchant and spaceship captain. When elected, they are expected to contribute to their portfolio. Make a profit, and they share, a loss and they have to make it up, this ensures an honest government.'
'Sounds strange, I suppose it works,' I commented, 'Probably wouldn't get any of our mob to vote something like that in.'
As they approached a functional building, Humph said, 'This is their equivalent to a church; again function determines what it looks like, no edifice to show how good they are, which may also send them broke. Not too ready to spend money on frippery.'
'Yes they are neat, tidy, and I would have to be told their function to know what they are,' I said.
After the rounds had been completed and they headed back to the Yella Terra. On the way a purple ship came in for a landing, 'Here is my daughter Blossom with Loxz' daughter Algertz. I can't go any closer, you can walk over and introduce yourselves, they both understand English,' Humph explained, 'I will wait for you on the ship, I will speak to her on the radio.'
'That's awkward why not?' Anne asked puzzled at the need.
'Our people put out a type of telepathic signal which interferes with communication with each other's parts, my largest part is practically immobile,' Humph informed.
'That's a shame. At times I wish I could have a little distance from the kids, but that's over the top,' Anne shook her head then offered, 'I will pass on your love.'
'Thank you, I will see you on return to the ship,' Humph said.
The family trooped over to the new ship and were greeted by Algertz having been advised by Humph over the radio.
'Hi I am Algertz, and you are the Williams?' A young blue woman greeted them in English.
'That's correct; I'm Harry; this is my wife Anne, daughters, Mary and Bliss. You are Loxz' daughter?' I said, 'Girls now you can say that you have met a real princess.'
'Mere accident of birth, I have to work hard to carry on any further as did my father, no fuss please,' Algertz said playing down the title.
'Hullo, I promised to say hi from Humph to Blossom,' Anne said.
Another young woman then came out and announced, 'I am Blossom, Dad told me that you were coming over, glad to meet you.' You could have walked past her on any Earth street without comment.
'Lovely to meet you, Humph sends special love to you,' Anne said in greeting.
'Thank you. Would you like to see my ship? I call it the Snapdragon?' Blossom invited with a grin.
'Yes, please. It looks lovely. How old are you?' Bliss asked then apologised, 'Sorry if that sounds rude.'
'Oh let me think, about twelve of your years, with ten as a child, and two as an adult,' Blossom calculated.
'Wow, same as me, I am still treated as a child,' Bliss looked accusingly at her parents.
'Okay then, I will find you a job when we get back, and you can keep us,' I suggested teasingly.
'Dad, you know that's not what I meant,' Bliss said, sticking out her tongue, then added, 'Okay we are ready Blossom please lead the way.'
She showed the way and while substantially the same; it was subtly feminine compared to Humph's ship and the girls were thrilled.
'I would love to have one myself,' Both Mary and Bliss said, 'How would I achieve that?'
Algertz answered, 'It means long study, qualifying in a range of skills and a big dose of luck meeting Humph, you have ticked the last box, he builds the ships, and likes giving them to his friends.'
'You watch, best marks ever at school from now on,' The girls promised, 'Then all we have to do is keep on Humph's best side.'
After a time viewing the Snapdragon, 'Dad is ready to go all loaded; thanks for visiting it was great. I will see you when I visit Earth once a month on delivery runs,' Blossom said.
'Bye, for now, we loved meeting you and seeing your gorgeous ship,' Mary and Bliss hugged both Algertz and Blossom before reluctantly following their mother and me towards the Terra.
Once we were aboard Humph announced that Terra was bound for Bernotz known on Earth as Theta Bootes then onto Crentz and then to several other stars in the group. 'Once we have done that run I am due to return to Earth and swap you for my regular crew,' Humph advised.
'Well we will see plenty of space following that programme, and I am sure that the girls will glad to have a quiet time at school,' I said.
'Talking about school, just how much do we need to have a regular job in space?' Bliss asked.
'It is more the right temperament, the training done in stages by the helmet. Why would you like to do this, aren't you happy to live on your lovely planet?' Humph asked teasing as he had been talking to Blossom.
'Oh? It's nice, but the town is boring,' Mary said a bit unsure as to the point.
'Rainbow and I have a pair of nearly two-year-old children who will need partners in about eight years. I will be building them a ship each. In six years if you are still keen, you can do a two-year traineeship with Rainbow and me,' Humph considered, 'Junior, my boy will be joining me soon, I will promise to keep in touch.'
'We will wait until then and work hard at the temperament,' Mary and Bliss promised in return, 'As soon as we work out what that is.'