Cosmic Cacoethes

by Devyani Borade

Everyday Science and Mechanics!

I own a spacecraft. It’s called, um, ASpacecraft. I use it for (what else?) space travel. I keep it in the paper-clip box at the bottom of my desk drawer. The paper-clip box is nearly empty, just a couple of paper-clips left in it, so ASpacecraft fits in pretty snugly. I store it at the bottom of the desk drawer to keep it away from the prying eyes of my younger brother. (Actually, I don’t really have a younger brother, but if I did, I’m sure he would have prying eyes.)

ASpacecraft has taken me on many an interesting journey through space. It’s a pretty little thing, red in colour, with cute little antennae peeping out from the front. Anyone less informed could easily mistake it for a Ladybug. It’s getting on in the years, though, and is a little rickety. Still, what else would you expect from a hand-me-down belonging to my football-crazy cousin?

I am standing in my balcony admiring the night sky, when my old friend, The-Man-In-The-Moon winks down at me and says, ‘Hey, it’s a beautiful night, why don’t you come on up here and visit the Little Bear? The Hunter says he has caught something nice, but he may be boasting as usual.’ I think it is a great idea, so I dust out ASpacecraft, pump it up and position it at the precise angle in my balcony. (For the un-initiated, ASpacecraft is a unique vehicle that runs on air. It needs to be pumped till the very precise pascal, which comes after years of practising. Also, the required thrust and velocity are obtained from a whole lot of other procedures involving a lot of complicated formulae which you unscientific people wouldn’t understand anyway, so I’ll skip it.)

After I am satisfied with the Banking Angle, the Radius of Curvature and the Mass-to-Weight ratio of ASpacecraft, like a dutiful daughter, I go to look for my mum. I find her in the kitchen. A big pile of green leaves steams quietly in the pan. Eeyuck, I think. Spinach again. I ask mum if I can go out to do a little exploring. She is rolling out the dough, which is a bad time to ask her anything, for the simple reason that she is liable to wave the rolling-pin around and hit you in the eye. That is only, of course, if you get her mad. I always take great pains not to get her mad when she’s rolling the dough. So anyway, she tells me to be back by dinner time. I roll my eyes. Her concept of time is really out of this world. ‘Mum,’ I say, ‘It’s space travel, not a market run, y’know. I need at least two hours.’ So she tells me to go ask my dad. I turn to leave the kitchen and spy the spinach again. It seems to be mocking me. I swipe some of the leaves and tuck them into my pocket. This creates a large dent in the pile and makes it look funnily lopsided. There. That’ll teach it.

I find my dad in the hall, reading his newspaper. I tell him I am going space exploring. He grunts something unintelligible from behind the business section. I politely ask him if he wants to come along. He snorts. ‘If I have to commit suicide, I can find many more painless ways, thank you. The way you kids man your space cars nowadays… why, when I was young, we used to…’ I cut him short by explaining patiently for the hundredth time that no one says ‘manned’ anymore because it is sexist. Not that he is listening anyway.

Having thus encountered no serious objection to this little trip of mine, I go back to the balcony and take off. ASpacecraft first takes me to Moon, where the Man and I share a drink from the Sea of Tranquillity. Then I greet the Hunter and obediently admire his catch (something nebular that is extremely dusty and makes me cough, but you can’t be rude to the Hunter, he has the bow and arrows, you know) before flying straight and true onto Mars. On the way, I also pass Little Bear who is gently snoring; I guess it’s past his bed-time or something.

Contrary to what scientists and researchers would have you believe, Mars is not a red planet at all. In fact, everything on Mars is coloured a bright purple. The air is a bright purple, the soil is a bright purple, the water is a bright purple, the trees and leaves are a bright purple, the buildings are a bright purple, the curtains on the windows are a bright purple, even the Martians are a bright purple (talk about racial freedom).

The place where I land is called £$%^&*@#. Translated, that still means £$%^&*@#. (So what did you think, that it would have an equivalent phrase in English?) Upon landing, I immediately direct my steps towards my old haunt called £$%^&*@# in the centre of the city of £$%^&*@#. Don’t ask me why they are all called £$%^&*@#. There seems to be some sort of fierce sentiment amongst all Martians regarding equality and such-like. And on their turf, I am not about to argue – I have to get back home in time for dinner, remember?

When I reach my destination, I chance upon my old friends M1, M2 and M3. I usually meet them only during my Algebra classes, but those times are more stressful for obvious reasons. They are sitting in the corner of the bright purple café, drinking bright purple drinks from bright purple glasses. I stroll over to them, we say our hellos and chat for a while.

‘eersauydg!’ exclaims M3 suddenly.

We all shush up while M3 turns up the volume on his intergalactic radio. The café is suddenly resounding with the voice of the saturnine Saturnian convoy to Mars, who has recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

‘What!’ I shout after a stream of squawking outpouring from the radio. ‘But that’s ridiculous. Martians can’t invade Earth!’ I round up on M1, M2 and M3. ‘You! Take me to your leader!’

They hurriedly gulp down their drinks, say their goodbye-it-was-nice-meeting-you-come-again-sometime’s and leave in a whirlwind through the bright purple skylight.

I sigh. Already I’m bitterly regretting my unthinking outburst. I know I ought to have been politer with M1, M2 and M3. Now they will take their revenge in Algebra.

But enough of wallowing in self pity. Time is running out. I hail a passing purple dinosaur and instruct it to make all speed, trying not to show my disapproval of such blatant disregard for a decent fashion sense. I mean, a green outfit? With his bright purple skin? C’mon!

Dinosaurs being very large and fast, within no time we reach the abode of the Martian King. As a native Earthling, I am granted audience to see him immediately.

‘Why do you wish to invade my planet, Your Martianness?’ I ask with a low curtsey.

‘Please, call me Marty. You see, your planet has something that ours doesn’t.’

I am puzzled. I raise a questioning eyebrow.

‘We are desperate to try this thing you call spinach. We’ve heard it is very healthy. We Martians are always on the lookout for anything that’ll keep us in the purple of health.’

I can’t believe my ears. All this ruckus for a little bit of vegetable?

‘Tell me, Your Majesty, have you ever eaten spinach before? Would you like to try it before you set out on your, uh, exercise?’ I say.

When the Martian King shakes his head sorrowfully and nods eagerly in turn, I put my hand in my pocket and slowly take out the handful of spinach leaves that I nicked from my mum’s kitchen and silently offer them up to him.

A gasp goes around the room. All eyes are on the spinach. With trembling talons, the Martian King accepts the proffered gift and gingerly shoves it into his eating receptacle. The seconds tick by. Everything is still. Only his jaw is moving. Then he stops, screws up his face and spits out the morsel. ‘Pttooooiiiiee! This is foul! We will not invade Earth for this vile thing.’

As everyone starts clapping in relief, the Martian King gratefully showers me with precious gifts and bids me goodbye.

I look down at my feet where the precious gifts have been showered upon. Several used erasers, a couple of thick gloves and a tyre tube. Excellent. Apparently the rubber plant is something else that the Martians don’t have enough of.

Job done, I return to the café, to relax a bit before I have to be home for dinner. The next thing I know, this Martian guy sidles up to me grinning in his most swagger-ry fashion and croaks, ‘kkkrragggah?’

‘Nope, buddy, I’m not interested in buying Plutonian stock options.’ I frown and try to look unpleasant (which for a pretty lass like me is almost an impossible task). He persists. Says he can offer them to me at a real cheap price and he has insider information that the Milky Way market is going to jump in a couple of Earth-days. He can’t seem to take no for an answer.

I get angry. I take whatever is left of my bright purple drink and topple it over his bright purple head. Not that it shows, of course. If anything, it merely serves to enhance his looks. But evidently Martians are not stupid, because then he finally gets the message and lams. So there’s something to be said for purple speeches after all.

The band (called Keratosis Pilaris, don’t you know) strikes up a catchy tune. My feet are tapping of their own accord, which I’ve found, happens very often in Mars. Something to do with the gravitational field and so on. I, however, take this as a sign of wanting to dance and before long, am trying to keep up with Terpsichore J. Mollusk, who, with his eight arms and legs is a dextrous hopper indeed. He lifts himself on one tentacly limb, twirls himself around, settles himself down and then repeats the performance with another limb. After exhausting all appendages, he curls himself up into a ball and lolls around on the dancing floor. Sadly, a passing landcar flattens him just as he strays out the door. Sigh, now I’ll never learn what the J stood for.

Outside it really is a beautiful night. In the distance I can see a black-hole playing hide-and-seek with a red giant. On the other side of the earth, in the shadows, our sun looks pale and withdrawn, I wonder what is eating her. After all, the eclipse isn’t for some weeks yet.

After a while, I stroll along the edge of the planet, careful not to lean out too far lest I fall over and then have to feel the sting of mum’s rolling pin for being late to dinner. Then hunger pangs suddenly hit, so I hurriedly get back to ASpacecraft and zoom home, just making it to the table in time.

‘Why have you left so much spinach on your plate, young lady?’ asks mum in her dangerous don’t-waste-food-you-should-consider-yourself-lucky-there-are-people-starving-in-Somalia voice.

But for once I am unfazed. ‘Mum, spinach’s vile. Why, even Martians can’t stand it!’ I giggle at her goggle-eyed look and skip away to my room happily. World peace is easier to achieve than I thought.

Yawn… and now it’s time to get some shut-eye, these space journeys to save the world can be real tiring y’know… zzzzzzzzz…

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