Michael sat at a long kitchen table with Abigail nestling into him, squeezing his hand reassuringly.
‘Can I get you a cup of tea?’ asked Abigail’s mother, Jean. She looked like an older version of her eldest daughter. Both had a head of untamed dark curls. Jean had a small, slim frame and apart from a few lines and wrinkles around her eyes and mouth, one would be hard-pressed to guess they were mother and daughter. More like niece and funky, cool aunt.
‘Boy doesn’t want a cup of tea,’ said Abigail’s father. His name was Gordon. He was tall and broad-shouldered, straight backed, with a full head of hair, it was silver and cut short like an Action Man. His hands were huge, the size of dinner plates. Michael knew that Gordon had been in the army but hadn’t made a career out of it. He did however look like an old soldier. Like he could be picked up and dumped in the middle of nowhere and he’d be able to build a shelter out of twigs and leaves and ladybird poo and then the next day fashion a fully operational tank out of granite and save everyone. It was like discovering your future father-in-law was Liam Neeson. ‘He’s been driving all day. Boy wants a drink, don’t you, boy?’ Gordon put his hand on Michael’s shoulder. Michael thought his collar bone might possibly disintegrate. “Glass of wine? Lager? Or something stronger?’
Michael opened his mouth to say he’d like a lager but that isn’t what came out.
‘Do you have any rapeseed oil and turmeric?’ Michael knew those words had come out of his mouth but he hadn’t meant to say them. What’s more why would he say them? Gordon, Jean and Abigail exchanged puzzled looks.
Gordon took his hand off Michael’s shoulder, which was a pleasant relief, and looked to his wife. ‘Er, do we have any rapeseed oil, Jean?’
Jean looked a little perplexed as she opened a store cupboard and searched through various bottles. ‘I think we do, yes. Yes, here it is.’
‘Why do you want rapeseed oil?’ Abigail asked, her face contorted, trying to work out if this was a joke on Michael’s part and if so was it going to be funny or just embarrass her in front of her parents. Abigail had been here for three days now and by day two she had become aware that she was talking about Michael way too much. Michael said this… Michael said that… Michael and I went there or Michael and I want to go there… Michael’s so brilliant at… etc etc. She really liked him. Really, really liked him but sitting there in front of her parents, seeing their puzzled expressions, it was like watching a movie you adored with someone who just didn’t get it. Suddenly you’re seeing the movie through someone else’s eyes and all the plot holes that never bothered you before become huge and ugly and ridiculous and you start to feel stupid for liking this dumb movie in the first place. It was Point Break all over again.
Michael’s mind was blank. He had no idea why he had said that. ‘I… I… I… I read somewhere that it was a pick-me-up after a long journey.’ He felt quite pleased with that. It sort of made sense. He saw Gordon and Jean exchange a look that made him think they were buying it.
‘So you drink it, do you?’ asked Jean as she set the bottle of bright yellow oil on the table in front of him. Then she turned to a spice rack on the wall and ran her finger along the two parallel rows of small jars until she found one containing ground turmeric. She put this next to the oil.
‘Not unless you have a syringe with a very long needle that I can inject directly into the liver.’
What the hell am I saying? thought Michael. What’s wrong with me? Am I having a breakdown? Is it the Cornish air? Probably not that last one. Michael saw the horrified looks on everyone’s faces. He wasn’t sure what he could say to explain this one so instead he laughed, trying to make it sound like he was joking. Jean forced a laugh too. Abigail laughed a little too hard and Michael could tell she was over-compensating for his weirdness. Gordon just glowered. He looked like an angry mountain.
‘No, no, I’ll just drink it,’ said Michael. ‘Just a little.’ He held his thumb and forefinger up to show he only planned on taking a sip. Jean took a glass from a cupboard, a large, frosted, heavy-bottomed tumbler, and set it down in front of Michael. He looked at it, realising he was actually going to have to drink some oil now. He grabbed the bottle and dribbled a very small amount, barely a mouthful, into the bottom of the glass. His intention was to drink no more than that but for some reason he was unable to stop pouring. He could not control his own hand. He grabbed at his right hand with his left and tried to force the bottle upright but he could not shift it. Not until the glass was three-quarters of the way full. Then all of a sudden, his right hand relaxed and set the bottle down on the table.
Michael didn’t want to look at Abigail or her parents. He could tell they were all staring at him. Right now he had two choices. He could admit to them that he was having some sort of “episode” and ask them to call him an ambulance or he could just pretend nothing was amiss and this was the most normal thing ever. He was shocked to discover that the jar of turmeric was already in his hand and he was sprinkling the butterscotch-coloured powder liberally into the golden oil. Again he tried to stop but his hand was refusing to cooperate until it was ready. He put down the jar and picked up the glass. He stared at the mixture within. The powder was collecting in globules on the surface of the oil.
‘Anyone care to joi—’ Michael was trying to make light of what he was doing and also postpone the actual drinking as long as he could but his body had other ideas. As he was mid-sentence, his arm rammed the glass into his mouth and poured the viscous oil swiftly down his gullet. It was gone in seconds and he slammed the glass down on the table and fought the urge to vomit everywhere. Then he was on his feet. It took everyone by surprise, not least of all Michael.
‘Would you point me to the nearest lavatory? I need to defecate with some urgency.’
Michael had raced to the bathroom and had only just made it in time. Now he was staring at himself in the mirror as he washed his hands.
‘What is wrong with you?’ he asked his reflection.
‘Nothing much,’ said his reflection. ‘You have imbibed too much alcohol and your body does not function to its optimum but we’ll work on that.’
There had never been any history of mental illness in his family that he was aware of though his great aunt Edna did used to wee herself on purpose at family gatherings.
‘I don’t feel crazy,’ said Michael, out loud, still talking to himself in the mirror. ‘But maybe when you’re crazy, it just feels normal.’
‘You’re not crazy,’ said his reflection.
‘Obviously,’ said Michael. ‘Which is why I’m having a conversation with my own reflection.’
‘You’re not having a conversation with your reflection,’ said his reflection. ‘You’re having a conversation with me.’
‘You are my reflection.’
‘No, I’m not.’
‘Yes, you are.’ Michael would have to admit that it was like having a conversation with someone else because he didn’t have the first clue what he was about to say before he said it. ‘You certainly look like me.’
‘What word are you going to say next?’
‘If I’m only your reflection then you must know what you’re about to say. Go on, on three.’ Michael realised he was now having an argument with his reflection. This was more serious than he at first thought.
‘One… two… three.’
Michael answered despite himself. ‘Penguin,’ he said.
‘Spatula,’ said his reflection. ‘See.’
Michael buried his face in his hands. ‘If you’re not my reflection, who are you and what are you doing in that mirror?’
‘My name is Gor Ul Hatamakatakanaka. I am an Emuti refugee and I require asylum.’
Michael looked up at himself. ‘You’re what now?’
‘I am Gor Ul Hatamakatakanaka. I am an Emuti refugee and I require asylum.’
‘I now don’t understand the words I’m saying.’
‘Because you’re not saying them.’
‘Then who is?’
‘Gor Ul Hatamakatakanaka. I have said this already. Twice. I am an Emuti refugee and I—’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Michael. ‘Require asylum.’ He thought of something then. ‘That bit of chicken I had last night. I think it was off.’
‘No, it was fine,’ said Michael’s reflection.
‘I should just leave,’ said Michael, considering all his options now. ‘Yes, that’s what I should do. Just go. Just get in my car. Never see Abigail again. Not that she’ll want to see my again.’
‘No, you’re quite wrong.’
‘Am I, Michael’s reflection? Am I really?’
‘I told you I’m not your reflection.’
‘Well, you very much look like my reflection.’ Michael was getting cross now and his voice was getting louder.’
‘That’s because that is your reflection but that’s not me. I told you I’m Gor Ul—’
‘Please don’t say it again.’ Michael pleaded. ‘I’m not sure I can take it any more.’ He stood quietly for a moment before a question occurred to him. He didn’t want to ask it because asking it meant he was engaging with his insanity but he really wanted to know the answer. ‘What did you mean when you said I was wrong about Abigail not wanting to see me again.’
‘She thinks it’s wonderful. You being so weird.’
‘How can you know that?’ Michael corrected himself. ‘How can I know that? I can’t know that.’
‘I can monitor data streams. She sent a text message to Libby eleven minutes ago telling her that you are clearly in love with her because you’ve gone proper mental over meeting her parents.’
Michael’s heart pumped a little bit faster then. He so wanted that to be true. So despite himself he engaged himself in further discussion on the subject.
‘What do mean, you can monitor date streams?’
‘I can see electronic information as it travels through the atmosphere. It’s everywhere. Invisible to your human eyes.’
‘Human eyes? What does that mean?’
Michael rolled his eyes then or at least they rolled. He didn’t realise he was doing it.
‘You’re human, I’m Emuti. Please keep up.’
‘And Emuti is?’
‘A resident of Emut.’
‘And Emut is?’
‘A planet in the Binnabek system about 30,000,000 light years from here.’
‘So you’re an alien?’
‘Well, to me you’re the alien but we’re on your planet so go on then.’
‘Where are you?’
‘Where do you think? I’m inside you.’
‘How did you get inside me? Was it that bit of chicken?’
‘Forget about the chicken. No, it was earlier today at the rest-stop.’
Michael replayed the events of earlier. ‘The light. You were the light. You were the light?’
‘Yes, that was me,’ said Gor Ul Hatamakatakanaka. Gor Ul went on to tell Michael all about the invasion of his home world and his exodus from it. How he travelled through the universe until he found Earth and he crash-landed. Michael remembered the missile he saw earlier, the red streak that flew overhead when he was on the motorway. That had been Gor Ul coming in to land.
‘Wait a minute,’ said Michael. ‘If you only landed here a few hours ago, how come you speak perfect English and know all about text messages and liver cleansing? If you’re a big ball of light then I’m assuming you don’t even have a liver.’
‘No, I don’t have any internal organs,’ said Gor Ul. ‘Or external ones for that matter. I am what I am,’ he added. ‘I told you, I can tap into streams of data and your planet is basically just one big mass of jumbled data streams. It’s like a billion sets of Christmas trees lights that have all been shoved into the same box. I’m very good at unravelling them. Once I was close enough I tapped into your Internet. Now I know everything there is to know about you: history, geography, languages, science, the Kardashians. Drunk Panda was funny. Of course only by your quantification of what funny is but still.’
This was a lot for Michael to process. Gor Ul waited for him to work through it until finally Michael said:
‘So let me get this straight, the good news is I’m not mad, bad news is I have an alien squatting inside me and you have full access to not only my vocal chords but all my bodily functions?’
‘Well, yes, but don’t look at it as a bad thing. You have access to all my knowledge, which is all the knowledge of your planet and half the universe.’
‘No thanks, get out!’
‘You can’t just turn up and move in to someone’s body without asking them.’
‘Well, Catch 22 that. You see I would need to be inside someone’s body in order to use their vocal chords to ask their permission.’
‘Fine. Well, you are in me, that sounds weird, let’s pretend you have now asked my permission, I’m saying no so please vacate. Now.’
‘Well, I can do that,’ said Gor Ul. ‘But…’
‘But?’ Michael didn’t like the sound of this.
‘You would ever so slightly…’ And Gor Ul took his time choosing just the right word in order to make perfectly clear what he was trying to convey: ‘Die.’
‘It’s such a shock to the host body when I leave that it basically stops functioning.’
‘This can’t be happening.’
Just then, there was a knock at the bathroom door and Michael heard Abigail.
‘Michael, are you alright in there? It’s just you have been in there quite a long time… talking to yourself.’
Michael let out a silent scream. This was not how he wanted this Christmas to go at all. Then he took a deep breath and forced himself to sound normal.
‘I’m fine. Thanks. I’ll be out in two minutes.’ He heard Abigail say okay and he listened as her footsteps went back down the stairs.
‘Look, Michael,’ said Gor Ul and Michael, despite himself, turned to look at his reflection.
‘Stop making me do things. It’s my body.’ Michael knew how odd that sounded.
‘Look,’ said Gor Ul again. ‘Stop focussing on the negative. Accentuate the positive.’
‘Stop quoting song lyrics.’
‘Sorry. You want that female to be your mate, yes?’
‘I can make that happen.’
This was the first thing that Michael had heard in this conversation that he liked.
‘Trust me,’ said Gor Ul. Michael didn’t see that he had much choice.
At roughly the same time that Michael’s whole life was imploding or improving, depending on point of view, 17,000,000 light years away, in an area known locally as the Jinza nebula, a ship was cutting silently through space. It was called The Lissanda. It had once been sleek and streamlined but now it was old and had been repaired and customised so many times that it’s original colour and shape, that had looked a little like a copper-coloured cuttlefish, had been lost. Now it looked like a bruised cuttlefish who had been duffed up by all the other cuttlefish and was covered in bandages and plasters.
The Lissanda was home to a family of bounty hunters. Nuck Cattor had been considered handsome in his youth. Though his race, the Pijnu, had bright red skin over skeletal faces that looked like they had been freshly flayed. They hadn’t. It was just the way they looked but beauty was in the eye of the beholder so most other races would scream at the sight of him. Pijnu women however had thought he was a total hotty. But that had been a long time ago and he had not looked after himself. A colony of maggot-like insects had take up residence on half of his massive nine-foot-tall, five-hundred-pound corpulent frame. The insects caused him some discomfort as they continuously burrowed in and out of his flesh, leaving a trail of white pus-filled boils in their wake, but not quite enough discomfort for him to actually do something about them.
The rest of his crew consisted of his daughter, Jyly, and his adopted son, 7X-89, who was an android that Nuck had won in a card game on Rugana-4. He had always meant to give him a proper name but had never got round to it. Jyly looked nothing like her father. Pijnu women were considerably smaller in stature and had bright yellow skin and a glut of tentacles instead of arms and legs. The more tentacles a woman had the more attractive she was to a potential mate. Anything over ten was hot. Jyly had seventy-nine tentacles.
7X-89 was more or less humanoid in shape though his arms, legs and head were not physically connected to his torso but hovered in close proximity to where they should be. Jyly, like many sisters the universe over, took great pleasure in torturing her adopted brother. She had an app that would allow her to reconfigure the location of 7X-89’s limbs and head.
‘Dad!’ Nuck had been trying to squeeze one of the parasites out of an open sore on his fleshy forearm. He glanced up to see 7X-89 hopping onto the bridge on one mechanical leg. The other was where his head should be and his head was stuck on his butt. His arms were nowhere to be seen.
Nuck was about to reprimand his daughter when a light started to flash on the console in front of him. He leaned forward to consult a screen and started to chuckle.
‘We’ve got a bounty. An Emuti in the seventh octant. A system of eight planets. He’s on the third planet. Northern hemisphere. Hello, hello. He must be someone very special. They’re offering six credits for him.’
Jyly popped her head up from behind a locker. She had her brother’s missing arms clutched in her tentacles.
‘Six credits,’ she exclaimed. ‘He must be royalty.’
‘Whatever he is, he’s ours. Set a course and Jyly, give your brother his arms back.’
End of part two.