could’ve been a very ordinary year on Earth…
Over 50,000 people — a pretty average number — reported seeing a bird in the
sky, even though all birds had been extinct for many years.
The Grand Council raised some taxes and lowered others, thus ensuring people
stayed as confused as ever.
The President of Earth, Guttly Randolph, remained popular in the polls despite
the tabloids claiming (incorrectly) that he was having a romance with Helena
Jadely, a fellow Councillor.
And Earth’s Deputy President, Elsorr Maudlin, killed a traffic-warden while
showing off his sword-skills, but escaped punishment because it was ‘an
could’ve been quite unremarkable had a certain round object not fallen through
Earth’s atmosphere, shot down a chimney, and landed in the centre of The Grand
Guttly Randolph, Elsorr Maudlin, Helena Jadely and the other Councillors looked
on in amazement as the small sphere broke open and the invitation below was
The Wilchester Academy for Younger Adults
Tommy Storm hated two things about
himself when he was a kid.
The first was his stutter — which
would go into overdrive whenever he became angry or upset.
The second was possibly worse…
Towards the end of the 21st
century, spiky hair was in fashion for boys. In fashion, meant that
of the 3.5
billion boys on Earth aged 6–16, approximately 3,499,999,999 had spiky hair.
But no matter what Tommy tried — gel, melted marshmallows, super-glue — his
efforts always ended in failure.
You see, much to his disgust, Tommy Storm was the only boy on Earth whose
hair wouldn’t spike.
Two days after the Inter-Stellar
Invitation landed in The Grand Council Hall, Tommy found himself in an
Felkor Stagwitch wasn’t the tallest
boy in the class, but he was definitely the strongest. In fact, he was
possibly the strongest boy in all of The Wilchester Academy for Younger
Adults. He could run faster than anyone, he had a punch that could knock out
a mule and he had a laugh that set itself apart from everybody else’s. It
sounded like a dog being kicked. Repeatedly. Felkor was laughing now as he
watched the red computer-pad float higher and higher towards the ceiling of
the blue-marbled classroom. He pointed his sabre-beam a little to the left
and the computer-pad dodged to the left.
‘G-g-g-g-g-give it b-b-back,’ cried
Tommy, but this only made Felkor laugh even harder. ‘All my w-w-w-w-work is
Again the peal of laughter like a
dog being kicked and the computer-pad soared higher — towards the floating
spotlights high above the classroom. Just then, someone shouted something
about Tommy’s hair, making all the other kids laugh hard.
‘P-p-p-p-please Felkor,’ Tommy
pleaded, the top of his head only just reaching the maddening boy’s
Felkor aimed his tractor-beam sabre
yet higher. ‘G-g-g-g-give me b-b-back my computer-p-p-p-pad,’ he mimicked.
Then he laughed his piercing laugh. ‘Darky’s gonna cry now, innit?’
Felkor often called Tommy Darky.
Indeed, Felkor could’ve called a snowman Darky since his skin was so
white that he sometimes looked almost light blue (not that he’d ever seen a
snowman in real life). He had blonde hair (spiky of course) and very, very
light blue eyes. The other detail to remember about Felkor was that he would
fart whenever he got scared or nervous — although few of his classmates knew
this because he always managed to blame someone else for the smell of rotten
Felkor wasn’t the only classmate who
called Tommy names. The freckly kids called him Dusky, the kids of
Oriental origin claimed he was Latino, the Latinos said his eyes were
half-Oriental, and some of the very dark kids called him Pasty. One
kid had laughed at him one day and called him a mongrel. If Tommy
could’ve asked his parents it might’ve helped, but he knew nothing about
them. Not even that their names were Lola and Errol.
At this moment, however, his parents
were the last thing on his mind. He’d just spent two hours, under test
conditions, writing an essay on The Great Climate Enhancement into
his precious computer-pad (also known as a CP). Miss Gideon would be
returning to class any moment and would want to see everyone’s work. Famed
for her high-pitched scream, and three-time winner of the
award, she wasn’t someone you wanted to cross.
Felkor’s laugh and grating words
pierced through all Tommy’s thoughts. ‘Darky’s gonna cry.’
Tommy pointed his sabre-beam at his
CP, but Felkor had a Royce Turbo Tractor Beam VVS sabre (VVS standing
for Very Very Strong) — Tommy had a Mega Minor NVS model (you can
make your own guess what NVS stands for).
Realising he had no chance against
Felkor’s sabre and hearing the laughter of other classmates, Tommy aimed his
sabre at the platinum-plated duster on the teacher’s desk. It was at this
moment that Miss Gideon stepped into the room and witnessed an act of ‘pure
evil’. Her prized duster — the one she’d been presented with upon winning
her record-breaking, third World’s-Strictest-Teacher® title
— yes, that very duster flashed through the air, hit Felkor’s belly (sending
him into a heap on the floor) and bounced onto a corner of marble,
sustaining a long ugly scratch. Felkor dropped his sabre-beam, releasing
Tommy’s CP from its grip.
And so it was, that a high-pitched
scream rang out across the class — heard by everyone in the school — as a
red CP obeyed the law of gravity and smashed into little pieces across Miss
(7-times voted Earth’s most
In 2096, it was 34°C throughout
planet Earth at all times. The sky was never visible through the
permanent layer of clouds, it drizzled constantly and there was no wind.
(Unsurprisingly, weather forecasters found it difficult to make a
Let me take you
back briefly to the day that the Inter-Stellar Invitation splattered onto Earth…
Once the twelve members of Earth’s Grand Council had read and
digested its meaning, Guttly pleaded with the Council to accept the invitation.
He was supported in the debate by Helena Jadely.
‘This is an opportunity for us to extend the hand of
friendship to other people in the Milky Way,’ she said.
‘But how can we send five children to some unknown place?’
said a Councillor. ‘It could be very dangerous.’
‘The MilkyFed could destroy Earth at any time,’ said another.
‘Exactly,’ replied Helena. ‘So why don’t we send a Grand Council member with the
children? Then, if things get too dangerous, the Councillor could withdraw the
children from the training school and bring them back to Earth.’
(headline from The Cloud — a
newspaper hostile to the MilkyFed)
The MilkyFed consisted of 4 solar
systems in the Milky Way that had sustained intelligent life for millions of
years. In 2082, the MilkyFed sent a video message to Earth, introducing
itself. Subsequently, Earth received invitations to join the MilkyFed — but
The strongest opponent of the invitation was the Deputy President, Elsorr
Maudlin, who had an intense dislike of ‘space-people’, preferring to refer to
them as ‘alien monsters.’ (He almost always voted against Guttly’s
recommendations — some said this was due to the fact that Guttly had beaten him
in the Presidential election years earlier.)
Eventually, despite Elsorr’s protests, The Grand Council
voted to accept the invitation by a majority of eleven to one. Five children
would be chosen to represent Earth on the MilkyFed space-station and a Grand
Council member would accompany them. Guttly would choose one of the children and
The Grand Council would choose the other four.
Two weeks later, Guttly Randolph was standing on a platform
before The Grand Council members.
He was bald as an eagle (a bald-headed
one, that is), although wild silver hair bushed over both ears and spilled into
a thick, finger’s-length beard.
Despite the widespread availability of anti-baldness pills, he stubbornly
refused to alter his appearance — which surely cost him the chance of appearing
in many soft-drinks commercials as previous Presidents had done. Like all the
Councillors, the old man wore a white cloak, draped around his body like a gown.
Guttly twirled a large ruby ring on his
right index finger then raised his arms to hush the dignitaries seated around
the Majestic Table. ‘So now our job is to choose the five children who will
represent our planet within the Milky Way and beyond.’
The Councillors had been briefed for
days by a team of 1,999 researchers who’d made continuous presentations,
promoting various children from around the world.
There was the kid who was double-jointed
all over. Double-jointed elbows, double-jointed knees and even a double-jointed
chin. Or the girl who could speak three different words at once. When you
listened, it sounded like she was speaking gobble-dee-gook, but if you recorded
her speech and separated it into three, she was having three very intelligent
conversations at once. This could be very useful on an intergalactic
space-station, some believed.
Helena Jadely especially remembered the
boy who only ate things that began with the letter B. This would’ve been
quite restrictive, except that he could eat anything beginning with the
letter B. Bread and barbed-wire sandwiches were one thing
(OK, so they were two things), but bottoms, buildings and
battleships were quite another. This eating skill could be quite useful,
some contended, if the boy were sent far into space where normal food rations
ran quite low. Maybe he could feed on a black-hole if he got particularly
hungry. (It should be stressed that he only ate things that began with the
letter B in the English language, as English was almost the only language
spoken on Earth at this time. This little fellow’s digestive system could’ve
benefited greatly if he spoke Gaelic or even Hungarian — there being many
additional things beginning with the letter B in these languages.)
Guttly Randolph stood back and let the
appointed Councillors come to the platform one at a time. Within fifteen
minutes, three children had been decided upon. They were:
Egbert “Sugar Floyd”
Fitchly (age 11½) — a boy who talked very, very
fast and could convey more information in a minute than most people can in an
(age 11¾) — supposedly, the best girl in the world at art-o-pathy (I’ll explain
Jalfrezi (age 11) — a girl who could scream louder
than anyone on the planet (it was thought she could be useful in emergencies).
It was at this point that Elsorr Maudlin
raised his objections to the whole project. He stood up, pulled his sword from
its hilt and stabbed it loudly into the Majestic Table...
To find out more of the
listen to recorded excerpts 2-5
on the sample Recording page
the book. (Go on, you know you want to...)
(c) 2009 A.J. Healy