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Book: Hippies
Chapter 8: Asthmatic Donkey

The bridge of the lentil seed appeared eerily quiet following the rumbling, creaking and straining noises during the ship’s launch from deep beneath the ice crust of Europa.

Commander A’Doner ended the silence. “Where are those intruders?”

Moonbeam, awakened by the commander’s loud voice, slipped off his seat and fell to the floor with a thump. He pulled himself back up onto his seat and quickly operated his console. It took all the concentration his drug-saturated mind could muster to read the data on his screen. “Erm… The intruders are in, like, section four of deck three. I think they’re, like, making their way to the bridge, or something.”

Anxiety was obvious in the commander’s voice. “They’ll be here in a couple of minutes at this rate! Gas them! Now!”

“Erm… Like, okay.” Moonbeam said. He hit a large green button.

Ross, Peter and Pan strode confidently down yet another dank passageway.

Ross screwed up his face. “Fuckin’ hell, Pan! Have you dropped your guts?”

Pan took a defensive tone. “No way! You’re always the one that farts without remorse. Never me!”

Ross shook his head. “Not this time.”

Peter’s face was also a little screwed up. “That’s quite disgusting. Smells a bit like rancid vegetable soup.”

Everyone yawned. And then everyone yawned again.

Realisation hit Pan like a hammer in the groin. “Shit! It must be some kind of sleeping gas! Close your visors!”

Everyone pulled down the visors on their helmets. Their suits’ quickly removed all of the gas.

Peter was still yawning. “The medical status panel on my heads-up display is flashing red. What does that mean?” He yawned once again.

Pan voice sounded distant and dreamy. “I think it's too late. We've had too large a dose already.” He dropped to the floor. A second later he was snoring like an asthmatic donkey.

“Fuck!” Ross said as he too fell to the floor.

Peter managed to stay on his feet for a few more seconds, but then he succumbed, just like the others.

Commander A’Doner had watched the screen on his console as the three humans fell to the ground. “Ha! Well done, Moonbeam, good work!”

Moonbeam grinned inanely. He lit up a cigar sized reefer and took a deep and satisfying draw. His eyes glazed over.

Hooch McArse, the emaciated engineering cadet, was curious. “What's that smell, man? It’s makin’ me, like, want to eat stuff.”

All of the command deck crew – those that happened to be conscious, started sniffing the air.

Commander A’Doner’s eyes widened. “Moonbeam, you vacant bum fondler! You've let the gas get in here!” He slumped back into his well-padded chair, barely able to focus. “I’m sending you to the…”

The commander and the rest of the command deck crew lost all remnants of consciousness.

An eerie silence took hold of the ship once more. All consciousness had been lost. The Lentil Seed continued on its course through deep space. No one was aware that the ship was on a direct collision course with an unusual anomaly - a rip in the very fabric of space and time.

Far behind the Lentil Seed - three-million miles behind in fact - HMS Death Reaper matched the hippy ship’s course and speed. With its navigation lights off, and all non-essential systems shut down to prevent emissions of any kind, the giant British submarine was almost totally undetectable.

General Kath, now dressed in a tight-fitting electric-blue body suit, sat in the command chair on the bridge of the Death Reaper. The ship was in full stealth mode, and the only light around her was the blue and green glow of the many control consoles, each one manned by an anonymous and expendable crew member. They all seem decent enough, Kath thought, but they’re still a poor substitute for my heroic friends trapped on that hippy ship.

Kath turned and looked towards the back of the bridge. There, strapped tightly into a chair with rope and gaffer tape, sat Lawrence. He snored deeply, and thick green bile dribbled steadily out of one side of his mouth. No one had told her why her friend was in such a state, but she knew he was probably best left there. If the movie ‘The Exorcist’ had taught her anything, it was never to trust someone with green goop coming out of their mouth.

The general turned her attention back to the task at hand. The main screen at the front of the small but opulent bridge was showing the Lentil Seed’s glowing rear end, far ahead.

“Status report?” She ordered.

The young officer to her side looked down at his screens. “We’re twenty-three billion miles from Earth following the Layzee Sponjer vessel at maximum speed, and at minimum stealth distance. Heading is 213-by-012-by-331 – a direct course for the Hayzee Nebula. All systems nominal.”

General Kath looked at her subordinate. “Are you certain we can’t be detected?”

The officer smiled. “Oh yes, ma’am. We’re at stealth level ten – the highest level possible. And the fact that we’re so far away from the sun means there’s very little light out here. They wouldn’t see us even if they looked directly at us. We’re as black as the inside of my arse, ma’am!”

Kath cringed. “Thank you for that vivid report. Maintain heading.”

The officer nodded and turned his attention back to his screens.

The communications panel on the command chair bleeped. Kath answered the call. “What is it?”

It’s… Erm… Me, Private Schwimmer. Captain Codd’s frozen head is in sickbay, as ordered.

“Excellent. Well done. Finally you did something right for a change.”

Erm… Well… Yeah, almost.

The general frowned with suspicion. “What does that mean?”

I dropped the jar just as I got here. The damage to Captain Codd isn’t too bad, his lower jaw and left ear snapped off. The rest of his head seems fine.

“You clumsy idiot! What the hell is wrong with you?!”

Erm… The doctor still says he can save him. He’s operating now!

“I’ve had enough of your mistakes!” General Kath shouted. “You present a danger to this mission. You’re confined to the brig for the duration.” She silenced the communicator. “Who’s in charge of security here?” she asked the bridge crew.

“That would be me, ma’am.” A particularly large-breasted officer said.

“Send a squad down to sickbay and have Private Schwimmer arrested and charged with incompetence. Throw him in the brig.”

“Aye aye, ma’am.”

“But don’t beat him.”

“No beating. Aye, ma’am.”

The Death Reaper continued its sly pursuit of the Lentil Seed.

…The bright sun glared fiercely off the powder snow. Pan, Peter, and Ross raced like jet-powered penguins down the eastern slope towards the town of Breckenridge far below.

Lentils were still falling like hail from the sky, and Pan, like the true gastronomic hero that he was, gulped down as many mouthfuls as he could. “Got to eat them all!” Pan yelled. “Every single one!”

Ross pulled alongside his hungry friend. “There’s no way you can eat them all! You’re fuckin’ mad!”

“It’s my destiny!” Pan shouted. He swallowed yet another mouthful. “I must absorb the awesome power of lentils!”

Ross grabbed Pan and pulled him to the ground. The pair tumbled through the deep layers of snow and lentils and came to a halt at the edge of a deep crevasse.

Ross began to repeatedly slap Pan hard across the face. “What the fuck is wrong with you, Pan?”

Slap. Slap. Slap…

Pan opened his eyes. A loud banging echoed through his head. He looked up and saw Ross punching his visor.

“Wake the fuck up, Pan!”

Pan held his hand up. “Okay! Okay! I’m awake!”

Ross helped his friend sit up.

“What happened?” Pan asked.

“We were gassed, remember? I thought we’d be captured, but for some reason we weren’t.”

Further down the passageway, Pan could see Peter recovering. Pan looked up at Ross. “I had a dream whilst I was unconscious. I was snowboarding through a lentil rain storm. I felt compelled to eat them all, and you were trying to stop me.”

Ross looked shocked. “That’s so freaky! I had the same fuckin’ vision!”

“No way!”

“Fuckin’ way!” Ross confirmed, leaning back against the passageway wall. “What the fuck is going on?”

Peter crawled over. He looked at them both. “I just had a really strange dream.”

On the command deck of the Lentil Seed the crew members’ were regaining consciousness.

Commander A’Doner gazed dreamily at the giant screen in front of him. It was showing the view directly ahead. Something did not look right. The centre of the screen showed no stars. It was completely black. “Somebody tell me what that is!”

After a few seconds the ship’s sinewy pilot responded. “Well, I haven’t got a clue.”

The commander was recovering fast. He sat up straight, pulled his small pistol out from his robes, and aimed it at the pilot. “Try again.”

The pilot was still deeply stoned from the gas. “Erm… Try what again?”

A bullet, small and blunt, passed through the pilot’s wire-like neck, mincing his throat and blowing spine fragments far across the deck. The pilot slumped to the floor, blood pumping like a fountain from his gaping neck wound.

Commander A’Doner looked at the screen. The strange oddity displayed seemed larger. “Somebody else tell me what that is. Now!”

On a lower deck Peter was looking out of a small porthole window he had found at one end of a passageway. “Guys? I may be seeing things, but half of space has gone black - no stars. Nothing!”

Pan and Ross wandered over and took a look.

“Fuckin’ bizarre!” Ross exclaimed.

Pan was shocked. “Holy Shit! Is that a black hole? Those damn stupid hippies are taking us straight into it!”

Ross nodded. “Fuckin’ looks like it. We’re right on the event horizon. I think we’ve reached the point of no return!”

Pan reacted in the only way he could think of. He reached into one of his suit’s side pockets, and pulled out and unwrapped a king size Snickers bar. He stuffed the entire snack into his mouth. He began chomping like a hippopotamus.

Curiosity and a healthy touch of fear could be heard in Peter’s voice. “What’s going to happen to us?”

Ross, a genius of a physicist, answered. “At first we won’t feel any gravitational forces at all. Since we’ll be in free fall, every part of us and this ship is being pulled in the same way so we’ll feel weightless. As we get closer and closer to the center of the hole we'll start to feel tidal gravitational forces.”

“What does that mean?” Pan asked, opening another Snickers bar.

“You'll imagine that your feet are closer to the centre than your head. The gravitational pull will get stronger as you get closer to the centre of the black hole, so your feet feel a stronger pull than your head does. As a result you’ll feel stretched. The tidal forces get more and more intense as you get closer to the centre. Eventually they’ll rip you apart.”

Peter asked an important question. “Any chance we could get out of this?”

“It depends on what type of black hole that is. What I just said is true for your regular run of the mill black hole. The equations of general relativity have an interesting mathematical property: they are symmetric in time. That means that you can take any solution to the equations and imagine that time flows backwards rather than forwards, and you'll get another valid solution to the equations. If you apply this rule to the solution that describes black holes, you get an object known as a white hole. Since a black hole is a region of space from which nothing can escape, the time-reversed version of a black hole is a region of space into which nothing can fall. In fact, just as a black hole can only suck things in, a white hole can only spit things out.”

Peter pointed at the porthole window. “That looks pretty black to me.”

“Pete’s right.” Pan said, dribbling chocolate.

Ross continued. “If the black hole we’re entering is rotating and has an electrostatic charge it’s possible to fall into it and not hit the singularity. In effect, the interior of a charged or rotating black hole can ‘join up’ with a corresponding white hole in such a way that you can fall into the black hole and pop out of the white hole. This is more commonly known as a wormhole.”

Peter seemed happier now. “Sounds good!”

Ross had not finished. “There is one draw back to this.”

Pan took a swig of Fanta from his suit’s dispenser. “What’s that?”

“Well the white hole may be somewhere very far away from the black hole; indeed, it may even be in a region of space and time that, aside from the wormhole itself, is completely disconnected from our own region of time and space – essentially a different universe!”

“Well,” Pan said. “As long as there’s food there, I don’t care where we come out of that thing.”

Peter was a bit concerned for Ross. “Are you feeling all right? You haven’t uttered a profanity for several minutes.”

Ross nodded. “Yeah, I feel fine. Thanks for asking.”

Pan stepped in front of Ross and punched his chest hard.

Ross stumbled backwards, almost falling to the floor. “What the fuck did you do that for, you fuckin’ horse-rapin’ piss drinker?”

“Yep.” Pan said, grinning. “He’s fine.”

And then everyone shuddered violently as reality folded away…

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