“So you’re back,” I said, trying to keep a calm air about me as I gathered fragments of my phone off the ground. “Nice work with the disappearing act.”
The spaceman walked over to my cab and hit the top of the boot; it sprung open and he looked at me with beetling eyes as if to say, “You like that?”
“You owe me a fare, you know. And… and an explanation.”
“Well done, my friend,” he said as he inspected his suitcase. “Things have kicked off much sooner than I’d expected!”
Although it fit neatly in with all the unpredictable unpleasantness that I’d experienced in my life, I’d had it. This day was not going to descend into another one of those ‘Justin-gets-drilled-by-whoever’s-next-in-line-and-he’s-just-gonna-have-to-grin-and-say-cheese’ days; not if I was still sober. I was going to march back up that steep and potentially knee-splitting hill, collect Lorelei and get her to somewhere where we’d both be safe. Or I could just drive – after all, it was my cab.
I looked up at the sky – the incoming storm was getting closer and looking weirder than ever; it was time to leave. The pieces of my destroyed phone could stay on the ground.
“You know what?” My voice was trembling and venturing into that high-pitched breaky croak that characterised most of my confusing rants. “I don’t need answers. Have you seen the latest weather prediction? They’re forecasting shit all over my face and it’s time I was getting undercover. So take your suitcase and get out of my way.”
The spaceman appeared to consider my words, then he pressed a few buttons on the panel attached to his suit.
I wanted to say “Are you serious?” in a sarcastic and sort of insulting tone, but I only thought it because I didn’t have enough time to open my mouth when a hologram, the size of the taxi cab, shot out from the spaceman’s breast and surrounded us. I’d not been a taxi driver very long, but I’d seen my fair share of maps and, to me, that’s what it looked like; only this map didn’t have street names and the word ‘Map’ written anywhere: there were dozens of blue lines, which crossed translucent, three-dimensional spheres and cubes containing more lines and numbers and arrows. While I thought of something relevant to say, the spaceman calmly paced around the area of the map scratching the glass of his helmet.
“Interesting,” he said. “Very interesting. You will notice that our present trajectory-”
“Can you please tell me what in the hairy snake’s tonsil is going on?”
“Don’t be alarmed. This is a merely map of your solar system, I just wanted to show you-”
“Why do I always get the crazy ones?” I moaned at the increasingly darkening sky.
He turned to look at me and smiled exactly the same way as he had when he’d entered my cab that very morning: in other words, like an idiot. “If you’ll stop interjecting, we might have ourselves a reasonable dialogue. We had to part ways back there, Mr Armstrong, and no, it wasn’t due to your incompentent navigation skills. You see, it had occurred to me, rather unfortunately too late I’m afraid, that I was being followed – so I thought it prudent to, how do you say, ‘high-tail’ it. It was the only way to preserve both my safety and yours, and ensure the success of the mission.”
“It was me they were after, not you. They couldn’t have possibly known that I’d left the most important device this planet will ever know in the back seat of your urban shuttle. I managed to lose them by smuggling myself onboard a public bus and then following the device’s signal back to you. But I see from the map, that we’d better get a hurry on if we’re to stay on track. Time is short, Mr Armstrong!” And with a click the map dissolved and I found myself being led back to the driver’s seat of the cab. “Good,” he continued. “I expect, as one of this city’s experts on streets and such, you’ll know where the nearest entrance to your engineering room is, no?”
“To what?” I asked in a daze.
“What do you mean what? Are you in full charge of your faculties?” he snapped back at me. In the space of a few minutes my spaceman had become both very rude and very articulate; I didn’t like it one bit.
” No, you’re crazy,” I said. “Believe me – I know crazy, and you are it.” I pulled the keys out of my pocket and held them away from him, indicating that we weren’t, in fact, driving anywhere.
Seconds later however, what I could only describe as a salvo of super-heated pizza dough landed next to my shoe and sizzled itself demonstrably into the concrete. Then another fell from the sky. One fell on the spaceman’s helmet, where it fizzed and began to eat into the transparent dome before he flicked it off excitedly. Then more came pelting down. It was showering goo.
“OK, time to go!” he sung and snatched the keys from me.
But before I knew it, I was hustled into the passenger seat, still flustered and glassy-eyed. With the spaceman now driving, we tore away from the beach’s carpark and sped back up the hill.
“Are we under attack?” I asked hysterically.
The spaceman, whose name I later found out to be Helmut, made a theatrical shrug of his shoulders and sighed, like I’d just failed an elementary breathing test.
“You people really know nothing, don’t you?” He said, then leaned back on the car and, as we steam-trained through the traffic, proceeded to tell me the strangest story I’d ever heard.