Following on from Part 9:
Adrig grabbed the front door handle of the transportation pod that had been made to look like a van, and Engineer Macrig laughed at him as he struggled to pull the door open.
'What are you doing?' exclaimed Macrig, 'The doors are not real. It's a mock-up exterior. Even the transparency of these windows is not real, if you care to look carefully.'
Then Macrig explained that the travellers would have to enter and exit through the small side hatch, which was opened by a hand swipe for palm capillary blood-flow recognition.
'And you'll have to crawl in on your hands and knees.'
And so Adrig and Edrig crawled into the pod on their hands and knees, and took their seats facing one another in the dimly lit space with buttons and lights and switches on one wall, and a small location screen, but no windows.
With the hatch closed they looked at the screen and saw Macrig standing outside and waving goodbye with an enigmatic smile on his face. Edrig was pretty sure that the engineer was shaking his head a little, and somewhat disdainfully, it seemed.
After carefully punching in a long serious of coordinates, Adrig smiled at his young colleague and announced, 'Here we go my boy!'
'You sure you know where we're going?' Edrig asked.
'Absolutely positive my lad! Hang on!'
'I don't need to, do I?'
'No, of course not,' Adrig agreed. 'It's just an expression, isn't it?'
And they sat looking at each other, while the pod emitted a fain hum, and after a few moments Edrig began to feel rather queasy.
'It feels like we are spinning,' he said quietly.
'It does,' Agrid agreed, 'but the best thing is to try not to think about it, because we really will be spinning very fast. That's why the screen now seems empty. It's all joined together. We are spinning faster than we could survive without the gravitational compensator field all around us. Faster than any life form could possibly survive.'
'I would find it easier to not to think about it if you would stop talking about it,' Edrig pleaded, as his queasiness grew.
'You are a bit of a nervous chap,' Adrig commented.
'Some degree of apprehension seems appropriate given the circumstances. I'd prefer to survive the journey than spin out of control to my death.'
This prompted Adrig to look rather intently at his companion for a while, before asking, 'Do you fear death, Edrig?'
Edrig furrowed his brow, and in thinking about death, he forgot about the fact that he was spinning faster than his body could possibly tolerate, without the gravitational compensator field.
'I fear the unknown,' he eventually replied. 'I know that I will just be returning to the great unified consciousness, so I will not be exactly dying. I know all that, but then I will be dying, won't I, in the sense that I won't be me anymore, when I get subsumed back into the unification. But I do fear the unknown.'
'I try not to think about it,' Adrig offered firmly. 'I try not to look forward to possible future events very much at all.'
'I've noticed that,' Edrig said quietly in return, as he began to ponder all the uncertainties facing them in this rather rash and poorly planned venture to Sample 717. And while pondering that he noticed that Adrig's head had slumped to the side, and Edrig realised that his senior companion had either fallen asleep or lost consciousness in some other way. So Edrig examined the flickering lights and the buttons and switches, pondering that there was currently no Adrig available to push or flick any if that was needed. Then Edrig also slipped into the carefree oblivion of the unconscious, as their transportation pod spun onward towards its destination.
Meanwhile... At the dark edge of an urban park in a big city in the land known as the United Kingdom on planet Earth, two homeless men were sharing a bottle of cheap sherry as they sat on a bench and huddled close together against the cold. It was a summer night, but at just after three o'clock in the morning Alan and Edmund were cold, despite their heavy overcoats and woolly hats.
'We should've stayed sober and gone to the hostel,' muttered Edmund, who, at fifty-seven was younger than Alan by ten years.
'It might have been an idea,' agreed Alan. 'Why can't the bastards let us in with just one wee bottle of sherry between us?'
'I think you know why old man, since they know that even just half of a wee bottle of sherry can turn you from a friendly old man into an angry old man, if someone annoys you.'
'It's true,' Alan conceded sadly. 'It's very true. Anyway, a bit left yet... Two more glugs each eh?'
'Just make sure your glugs are not bigger than my ones.'
'Well you just make sure that your last glug leaves a decent glug for me mate.'
And thus, in broad agreement about the plan, they drank on.
'What a damn life this is sometimes though, eh?' mused Edmund.
'Yeah, but probably not for much longer for me,' said Alan, 'then I'll be whisked off to heaven for a nice warm bath and a new set of clothes and made all ready to meet my old mum and dad and, oh...'
'My old mum and dad. They will be very disappointed in me.'
'Ah, but will they though Alan? Do you actually believe in any of that stuff?'
'No. Not really... Nope. No heaven, no hell, and nothing under this sky other than poor bleedin' us, stuck here on this shitty little planet and waiting to die.'
'There you go again, The ex philosophy teacher whose philosophy has led him to be sitting on a cold bench in the middle of the night drinking sherry with a failed fraudster and not enough money for another bottle of booze between us. And anyway. No heaven, no hell, but what about aliens, up there?' And as he spoke, Edmund raised his eyes to the sky, coincidentally looking in precisely the direction from which Adrig and Edrig were spinning inwards.
'Oh... That's a bright star up there,' indicated Alan, whose gaze had followed Edmund's. 'But no. No aliens either, if you ask me. We are in this huge pile of useless shit all on our own mate, if you ask me. Up shit creek. No paddle. No hope. No way out.'
'Ah well,' sighed Edrig, and they both bowed their heads and looked to their feet, only vaguely noticing the increased brightness of the ground, which could easily have been attributed to an approaching car.
And that was precisely when a big dark blue van began to materialise at the roadside just a short distance from where Alan and Edmund sat, and the van was making a slight hum as it materialised, which caused the two old pals to look up and towards it.
'What the...?' exclaimed Alan.
'Eh...?' responded Edrig.
'Good god mate, is this booze OK? It's not got meths in it has it?'
'I wouldn't put it past that bastard grocer to be selling us duff stuff, but look, it's a bloody big van!'
'Did you just see it kind of eh....'
There was a pause, as they both stared, and pondered. Then...
'Nah... It must've been there all along mate. Must've been hidden by mist or smoke or... I dunno. Let's just calm down... There is always a rational explanation.'
While... at the same time... inside the pod, Adrig was triumphant.
'Would you look at that!' he screamed with high excitement as the location screen showed what the camera could see as it panned around the outside. 'We are sitting beautifully at the side of the road! The road at the side of the park! An absolutely damn perfect piece of parking! Would you just look at that!'
This jubilation had several effects on Edrig. First, relief. But second, he thought it revealing that Adrig was so overwhelmed, as if he was actually rather astonished that the pod had apparently materialised where it was meant to. Then there was also concern, for they had arrived intact, and so this mission really was going to happen. So what now?
Adrig's 'Uh oh' interrupted Edrig's thoughts, and so he looked at the screen and saw a rather blurry image of two humans sitting in dark clothing huddled together on a park bench, and staring right at the camera.
'Uh oh,' repeated Adrig. Then continued with, 'I chose this side of the park because I expected it to be deserted. But... ach never mind. I think I recognise the type from my studies. They look like a couple of old drunks. Probably completely pissed and oblivious to everything.'
'Drunks?' Edrig enquired. 'I wish I understood just a little bit about 717. Ask me anything you want about the history of 243, or 576, or even 719, and I'll be able to give you a lecture on it, but 717 is all new to me, and from what I've seen it is very different from those other places I've studied.'
'Ah well, nothing we can do about it now my boy,' declared Adrig with his typically unconcerned attitude returning. We are here now, and here is where the pod stays until we return. So now we just open the vents, sit tight until the morning, then have a look round. You fancy a bite to eat? We could see what Macrig has put in for us.'
'Yes, a bite to eat would be good, and then a bit of nap perhaps. I'm bloody tired.'
'Yes,' Adrig agreed, 'a bit of a nap. I'm tired too. Travelling does that though. It makes you tired.'