Cosmic tales 5 pipe drea.., p.1
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       Cosmic Tales 5: Pipe Dreams, p.1

           Richard C. Parr
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Cosmic Tales 5: Pipe Dreams
COSMIC TALES 5: PIPE DREAMS

  By

  Richard C. Parr

  * * * * *

  PUBLISHED BY

  Cosmic Tales 5: Pipe Dreams

  Copyright (C) 2015 by Richard C. Parr

  * * * * *

  This particular copy of the eBook series Cosmic Tales is licensed for the enjoyment of everyone. It may be freely distributed to others without conditions. Thank you for supporting the author by downloading and reading this story.

  * * * * *

  Pipe Dreams

  A stream of snow performed a twisting pirouette as it kicked up and moved in random directions. The wintry dance was disturbed by a pod car, levitating with a low buzz and a scent of fiery metal as it melted a track with a trail of stream. Its engine moaned and petered out as it slowed to a standstill approaching what appeared to be a barrier taking shape as the mist cleared. Two silhouettes, one substantially taller than the other, came into view. The tall one was grey, robotic and not at all dressed appropriately for an unforgiving winter, while the other donned a thicker than usual furry fleece, deep hood and a grimacing expression as a bracing wind battered him down. The fleeced being struggled to walk through the snow to the pod car's driver window. A thickly gloved fist padded the window and performed a winding motion. The driver, wearing a brown extra layered leather top and reinforced trousers, pressed a button to open the window ever so slightly, immediately allowing the warm air to be sucked out.

  "What do you want?" he said in a raised voice. "Why is the barrier down?"

  Before he could say another word, the barrel of a pistol was pointing at his forehead. He raised his hands very slowly and swallowed hard.

  "Ok, I'll do whatever you say."

  "Take us to your boss at the front of the pipeline, and don't ask any questions."

  "How do you know there's a pipeline here?"

  "I am a man who knows how to get information."

  "My captain climbed on to your garage, then climbed the wall and broke into your second floor window. This was before he realised you had a front door. Then he looked through all of your personal information."

  "Damn it, 234. Keep quiet and get in the back."

  "Sir, I am programmed to always tell the truth."

  The two clambered into the pod car and squeezed together. The driver looked in his rear view mirror.

  "When we get to your boss, introduce us as two archaeologists. I will take it from there."

  "You're not exactly dressed for an archaeological dig."

  "Just drive."

  The pod car jolted forward and slid across the snow, then screeched and cracked into the lowered barrier. The windscreen became a spider's web and the engine automatically shut off.

  "Sir, I think I forgot to do something important."

  "You two really are the most disorganised criminals I have ever met," said the driver, bashing his fist on the wheel.

  234 got out of the pod car, walked to the barrier, knelt down as far as he could and head-butted it. The barrier snapped off its hinge and 234 turned to give a thumbs-up with a big smudge of white paint between its eyes.

  * * * * *

  Two different figures sank their feet deep into the piled snow and trudged a thin track across terrain lined with white sprinkled evergreens and thinly veiled rocks. One had antlers and a brownish complexion, the other was a black grizzly bear. From somewhere inside this bear came the voice of a human, and the hands of the bear popped up to remove its head piece. The human within blinked repeatedly at the chilling air. The shock of the icy blast gave him the shivers even inside his protective padded costume. The reindeer by his side was better prepared for encountering the harsh conditions, and seeing Elwood take a step closer to a sloping edge, she guarded him with her antlers.

  "Stay back, Elwood."

  "It's all right. I'm used to the cliff edges of Robin Hood's bay. I don't suffer from vertigo."

  "Be careful. You cannot see where the rocks are under the snow. My feet are more sensitive to the terrain than yours. Keep to the thicker covered areas to avoid -"

  Her words trailed off at a sudden slipping of snow. Elwood the bear toppled with the flailing graceful arms of a frantic man directing a military plane into a hangar. He backward somersaulted into a deathly silence. Rodeena the reindeer could barely watch. All she heard was a distant trail of "noooo..." and the howling of the wind. She gazed over the slippery edge to see where Elwood had impacted, but her view was obscured by a lower edge and a bunch of trees lining the slope. Then came a snapping of branches and a familiar voice call out, "Argh, not me bollocks!"

  A rustling of bushes forced Rodeena to jerk her head to abrupt attention. Wide-eyed, she stood motionless as a dark figure moved into view and darted between lines of tree trunks. Its steaming breath rose in fast puffs, getting louder and closer to her, and she fled, kicking up snow.

  Below, Elwood rolled and gathered snow in a rotating cataclysm of slowly becoming a snow bear. He oofed and aghed until he struck a tree and the snow crumbled off him like dried out icing on a cake. One of his pieces flew off and became the first unmanned flight of the costume foot. He watched it sail and acknowledged that it was irretrievable. As he wrenched himself upright, he gasped. His exposed foot sank deep into the wintry terrain and he got a frosty sole. He howled with the encasing cold. Moving onwards, he raised a leg and hopped, clinging to trees until he reached an opening. He saw smoke rising from an encircling of dead tree trunks and tarpaulin. Three men sat eating meat off the bone close to a campfire. One of them grunted and pointed to a large furry animal emerging from a tree cluster performing a single legged dance.

  "Give me a shoe," the bear shouted in a fine Yorkshire dialect, speaking English as a second language. The men picked up sticks and panicked in what sounded like dodgy Russian.

  "Son of a bitch," Elwood cried while trying to retain his balance.

  "Sonovabich! Sonovabich!" came the hasty enraged responses of the rapidly enclosing men. They rushed in with their powerful branch weaponry and stood several feet from the freeze framed bear.

  Higher up the mountain, Rodeena the reindeer guided herself through the thicket, searching for a trail spiralling down to lower ground as the dark figure closed in on her. A shot rang out and a flurry of snow flew up and cascaded down the hill. She was a sitting duck, or a static deer, to the approaching poacher. Another shot fired and she shouted in agony as a section of her antler was obliterated. Coming to a ledge, she saw an opportunity - there was a gap in the cliff at the end of a hazardous narrow path that had deteriorated against the elements. She had a mere second to respond, darting across the path as more shots rang out.

  The poacher came to the edge and crept, staying low and clutching its rifle, listening for the tiniest of noises. It leaned over and saw the windy gap of free fall, tracking smoke from a source below, wanting to give a signal to the others that dinner had been acquired.

  But then, as it was busy considering its next course of action, a sharpness splintered into its back and the force of antlers bundled the poacher over the side, its rifle spinning and only screams ringing out, muffled by the sickening twisting and snapping of the body against the evergreens. Rodeena had ensured herself temporary respite and safety.

  Further down the mountain, the three men surrounded the bear, preparing to fire at will. But then, as they took aim, a body feel through the trees and landed at their feet face upwards. They screamed in unison.

  "Sonovabich! Sonovabich!" they yelled, grabbing the body, stamping out their campfire and retreating into the backdrop of snow. When they were out of sight, Elwood took a spare shoe from the abandoned campfire equipment and laced himself up. A short while later, a reindeer accompan
ied him.

  "They saw me in this costume and ran away in terror," said Elwood as he brushed the snow off himself. Rodeena tried to frown but discovered reindeer do not have emotional expression. Instead she made it look like she was trying to fart hard but without pooping.

  "Well, Ro. At least we can now move on, find the pipeline and scare off the workers. Hopefully Phoenix and 234 will turn up on time, then we can get off this sorry frozen planet and find a planet with pancakes."

  "In my present physical state, I have to stay low or I'll end up above a fireplace. You can go on alone from here. Follow the path to the site and rendezvous with Phoenix. If he's on time. If he knows where he is. Oh, and if he's sober. And Elwood?"

  "Yeah?"

  "Don't be racist or say anything ignorant. We don't want to be chased off yet another planet."

  "They sound like Russians. They're probably going to invade their neighbours, illegally try to reclaim their land and steal their resources."

  "Just withhold your opinions. I will create distractions where necessary. Can you do this?"

  "No."

  "Good. Best of luck."

  * * * * *

  "Do you seriously think you can stop such an intensive, efficient, ruthless construction project like the pipeline from reaching completion?"

  The driver's words stayed in the air as they slowed and arrived at the site entrance. Wingclipper and 234 saw colossal construction machinery and masked, fleeced and well-equipped workers toiling away in sub-freezing temperatures. Some workers stopped and diverted their attention to the abnormal presence of a reputable, shiny, executive looking pod car evidently ill prepared for facing wintry conditions. The pod car slid around and pulled into a space. Without a word, they got out and walked through a line of fencing to a point where a humongous hole exposed a cavern in the side of a cliff, with a massive piece of tubular assembly dangling from a tall crane. The shifting crane creaked to a standstill, and then Wingclipper looked up to see exactly where he was standing - right underneath another crane carrying a smaller sized piece of tubing. The two men and the robot were breaking site safety protocol, accessing a restricted zone with improper clothing and walking directly under an operating crane. Some men were more taken aback by the special design and intricacy of 234's body frame, marvelling at the unique structure. One of the workmen wolf-whistled at 234 and the robot flipped them a wink.

  They came to a man who was directing others around the site. He oversaw a digger collecting cliff rubble, sporting a green hard hat, producing semaphore-like construction code and speaking in building site jargon.

  "Find your wages, find your wages," he said as the digger collected more rubble. "That's it. Put some into your pension, into your pension." The digger deposited the rubble into a very deep hole in the ground. "Aaaand repeat."

  "It's nice to know even the men find me stunningly attractive," said Wingclipper to the driver. "Did you hear that whistle? Ah, so this man in the green hat, he must be the gaffer." The driver nodded. The green hat site boss stopped waving and using terminology when he saw the robot, Wingclipper and one of his employees on his dangerous site.

  "Honrik, who are these two and what are they doing out here?"

  "I'm sorry," said the driver. "I had no choice."

  "How many times have I told you about bringing guests unannounced to these premises?"

  "Way to go, Honrik," said Wingclipper. "You could have warned your boss that we were coming. Now he probably thinks we're protesters."

  Honrik gawped at Wingclipper in disbelief.

  "I am sure you are here for a good reason," said the site boss. "I do not mean to show you disrespect. Now, what is the nature of your business?"

  "My paper shuffling assistant and I are here to discuss an alternative route to your magnificent pipeline. Isn't that right, Honrik?"

  Wingclipper waited for Honrik's response but received a thin, low scowl from him instead.

  "Get out of here, Honrik," said the site boss. "These two clearly want to talk to me."

  "B-but...b-but..."

  "Honrik, your speech impedimediment will only slow my already overcrowded schedule. Leave me with these travellers and bugger off."

  Honrik departed with seething stomping noises and rapid breathing.

  "What a strange employee of mine. I do wonder why he reacts in such a way."

  "Sir, it is because my captain held a gun to his head," said 234.

  "Proverbially," said Wingclipper. "I gave him no choice by saying it was an emergency that we speak to you."

  "I see, traveller. Do you have coffee on your planet?"

  "Of course. Only the finest ground beans rolled on the thighs of high value sluts."

  "Each individual bean?"

  "They're lined up in a big factory. It pays a decent wage."

  "Then we must have a drink and discuss this matter further."

  "There's really nothing more to it than beans rolled on their thighs."

  "I meant your proposal."

  * * * * *

  A circular hovering shadow encased in snow made a route along the winding mountain valley, sloping down to the busy building site. Several metal prongs sprouted from various littered holes in its casing to detect human and animal activity, plant life, terrain statistics, schematics and weather changes. It bleeped and detected a heat source passing a stream close to where a gaping hole graced the side of a cliff. Zooming in with an intense focal ray, it layered red and black graphs together over virtual depictions of the land. It then calculated possibilities within a probability range. Locking on to its newly acquired target, it selected the most energy efficient route through the thicket. A dead straight line. As it got closer to the chosen destination, it noticed the heat source outline translating into a definite bear shape, and using a thermal graphic, located the target hiding within the bear itself. It accelerated and soared to within the costume's range.

  "What the..." Elwood cried out as an antenna prodded his bottom.

  "A---e-----i-o-o-h--t-aa--a."

  "Bink! You are supposed to be protecting the ship."

  "H--a--e-i--e--e-f--o."

  "Who can blame you? Who wants to stand around and keep watch?"

  "Q--a--o--o."

  "Where?"

  "Q--a--o--t-t-tt-o--i."

  Bink zoomed its focal lens and overtook Elwood, leading him along the snow and forcing him to keep up.

  "Hey, I'm in a costume. Slow down. I guess this means you have seen something and I now have to follow you into the path of guaranteed danger. Why do I bother with these ridiculous missions if I'm nearly killed every time?"

  Further ahead, Bink stopped and assessed the surroundings.

  "I--ii-o-g-wo-l."

  "I don't know what you're saying. Translate your own bibble bobble bip bop."

  Then Elwood saw the hurdle. Up ahead there was a river bridge. A portion from the middle had collapsed into the water. It was the only viable route to the pipeline. He gulped and reasoned between choosing a zero hours contract office based job and dodging death on foreign planets for little to no pay.

  "Bink, I'm going back to my cubicle with the computer, electric fan and fake palm tree. This is not worth dying over. I would rather stand near someone from Nottingham without wearing a face mask and gloves than attempt this. We are figuring out another way across."

  Bink bleeped and barged into Elwood's waist, inching him forwards.

  "Quit that! Did you just say there is no alternative?"

  Bink bleeped again.

  "I am not Indiana Jones, or more importantly the first Prince of Persia. I cannot walk across a wide gap without falling."

  Elwood proceeded with caution to the bridge.

  "This is insanely retarded. Only an absolute idiot would try this."

  Bink bleeped and let out what sounded like a laugh.

  "That's not why I'm trying it!"

  Elwood looked below at the racing rushing river and let out a small drippage of pee. Bink an
alysed its contents and presumed Elwood could be diabetic.

  * * * * *

  The site boss looked impressed with Wingclipper's ease and expertise in finding his way through the mechanical bowels of the machinery floor as they navigated their way through to the grand cavern entrance and the pipeline opening. A ladder took them upwards and into the circular hole filled with the echoes of interior hammering, cutting and grinding. Orange warning beacons rotated and displayed a funky electronic discotheque of ever present danger.

  "You seem to know this area well. I take it this isn't your first visit to the cavern."

  Wingclipper's mind temporarily froze over and he spoke uneasily.

  "Caves. Big holes. You go inside and out. They're the same across the galaxy."

  "Sir, I have the area map still downloaded to my hard drive from our secret visit. Do you need directions?"

  "Not now, 234. You can follow us but try and switch off your inner volume. Better still, temporarily power off."

  They arrived at a point along a wooden plank where a single stone sat untouched in a crevice. Wingclipper leaned and picked it up, turning it around against a dim beam of light. He expressed a sheer delight that he had rehearsed many times for this specific moment.

 
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