Authors: Tony Morphett
Bobby Harrison has always known that girls are weird, but this is ridiculous.
It’s his twelfth birthday, but instead of being at their party his twin sister Sally is in hospital and the doctors are saying she’s an alien from outer space.
Suddenly, right here in Middle Street, the most boringly ordinary street on Earth, the whole future of the Universe is in the balance. Before twenty-four hours have passed, two twelve-year-old kids—with the help of their wits, courage and a garden hose—will decide the fate of the Galactic Empire.
The Distant Home
Published 1993 by Mammoth Australia
a part of Reed Books Australia
22 Salmon Street, Port Melbourne, Victoria 3207
a division of Reed International Books Australia Pty Limited
Copyright © Tony Morphett, 1993
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the publisher.
National Library of Australia
Morphett, Tony, 1938– .
The distant home.
ISBN 1 86330 218 2.
I. Title. II. Title: Distant home (Television program).
To storytellers everywhere and everywhen, to the yarn spinners whose tales and books and movies lured me to join them in the endless task of putting a shape on actions and dreams, to the very real inhabitants of stories, to the heroines and heroes, to the dragons, goblins, unicorns and aliens, this story about storytelling is dedicated.
The author wishes to pay tribute to the late Robert Bruning, producer, actor, treasured friend and bon vivant, who commissioned the telemovie which inspired this book.
Throughout the Universe, wherever sentient creatures gather, they tell stories.
Stories record history, preserve lessons learned in peace and war and put a shape on the everyday events that can otherwise seem meaningless.
On whatever planet, under whatever star, they tell the story of the hidden ruler. This is a story about a ruler who was hidden as a child until the time came for them to assume their real identity and take up their life’s work.
Sometimes the hidden ruler is a king, sometimes a queen, sometimes the leader of a people.
On Earth, we have many such stories. King Arthur, hidden as a baby until it was time for him to reveal his true kingship. Moses, hidden in the royal court of those who had enslaved his race, until it was time for him to lead his own people to freedom. Theseus, hidden as child only to return and claim his kingdom, and save his people from oppression.
But in the far reaches of the Galactic Empire, the story most often told is of Narani, hidden by her mother among the Tiger People of the Gailan Highlands of the Origin Planet, returning to her distant home as an adult warrior to save her people and found the First Dynasty.
We tell stories so that we can remember things which should not be forgotten.
They start from truth.
They become legend.
Sometimes, by remembering them, we can make them happen again.
The ship was running.
Against the black of space, the ship looked like a burning spider’s web, forming and reforming—for the ship, like its crew, was a creature of energy.
The ship was running from her enemies, Ursoid invaders from beyond the galaxy. No one knew where they came from, but they came, and kept coming in their ugly, stubby ships.
For a thousand earth years the war had been fought. Planets which had once borne ecosystems and civilizations, planets which had produced artists, musicians, thinkers, now revolved around their stars as dead, slagged, airless, cratered moons. For what the Ursoids could not conquer, they destroyed.
Just a short time ago, the ship had been part of a flotilla, but one by one, her escort vessels had been cut off and destroyed by superior Ursoid forces.
Now she ran on alone, not turning to fight because the cargo she carried was too precious to risk in combat. On board the ship, in the womb of the Galactic Empress, was the most valuable energy matrix in the Universe.
For the empress was to have a child, and one day this child, if she survived, would lead the empire in its thousand-year fight against the invader. But only if she survived. The pieces were in play, and all might still be lost.
In the ship, shimmering creatures of light communicated soundlessly. If the thoughts could be turned into words, then their conversation would be something like this.
‘Majesty? They’re gaining.’ It was the adviser who spoke.
The shimmering creature who was empress of the galaxy already knew. ‘And we cannot outfight them?’
‘The odds are not good. The penalty for losing is extreme.’
For a moment, the empress paused. Those who knew her well, and the adviser knew her very well, could sense the pain in her, the pain of anticipated loss. Then she spoke. ‘It’s time we put the Narani gambit in play.’
‘The Narani gambit?’
‘You know exactly what I mean.’
On a little backwater planet called Earth, a real estate salesman named Charlie was looking at more cash than he had ever seen in his life.
‘You want to pay
?’ Charlie said to the little old lady. She stood there in her sensible boots and floral dress, tapping her walking cane on Charlie’s office carpet and glaring at him through her spectacles.
‘I don’t trust banks,’ the little old lady said, taking some more bundles of hundred dollar bills out of her embroidered handbag.
As the real estate man watched, it seemed to him that there was something funny about that embroidered handbag. More money was coming out of it than you could have fitted into it.
Idly, he wondered whether the handbag was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside, but then he put that thought aside. He hadn’t made a sale in a month, and here was someone wanting to pay cash.
‘It usually takes a little while to exchange contracts,’ he said.
‘I have to move in today,’ said the little old lady.
‘Mrs Webster,’ the real estate man began sternly, and then saw that Mrs Webster was starting to put the bundles of hundred dollar bills back into her embroidered handbag. ‘I’m sure we can do it,’ he said. ‘For cash.’
‘You’d better,’ Mrs Webster said and started bringing the cash back out again.
‘I’ll need to check the money.’
‘Do I look like a forger?’
‘Mrs Webster, what we’re doing here is very unusual.’
‘You said it. Now let’s speed this up, uh?’
The real estate man moved to a grey filing cabinet that had been almost new when he had moved into this office ten years before. He opened the second drawer, the one that always stuck a little, but if you lifted it up and to the right, it slid free on the first try nine times out of ten.
This day it stuck. He was pulling at it, when he found Mrs Webster alongside him. He could not believe that she had got there so fast or so silently. Firmly, she pushed him to one side, took hold of the handle on the drawer and jerked it out. Then she ran it back in and out again, looked at the rails it ran on, and reached in and straightened the slightly crooked one using her finger and thumb.
‘Needs a bit of grease as well,’ she said.
He stared at her. He had been trying to straighten that rail for ten years, but it had always defeated him.
‘The contract,’ she said.
‘Right. The contract.’ He got it out. He had had it ready for three months, waiting for the right sucker. ‘We could save a little money on legal fees if you used the same lawyer as the person selling the house.’
‘Just because I’m an old lady doesn’t mean I’m crazy, buster,’ the little old lady said to him. Then she hesitated. ‘But I’m in a hurry. So we’ll do what you suggest. But if you cheat me, I’ll come back and kill you. Deal?’
The real estate man laughed. This was some little old lady. Then he looked at her and saw that she was not laughing. She was just standing there with that crazy old walking stick in her hands, and he suddenly knew that she was telling him the absolute truth. That if he cheated her, she would come back and kill him. Then he started thinking about the cash piled in front of him. Law-abiding citizens did not carry this kind of cash. Who was he selling this house to? A gangster’s mother? Who?
‘About this cash …’ he began.
‘You want to sell the house or not?’ she said.
‘I want to sell the house.’
‘Let’s do it then.’
He hesitated no more. He put down the contract. From the embroidered handbag she whipped out an old-fashioned fountain pen. He hadn’t seen one like that since he was a kid, but it worked OK. Already she was initialling each page of the contract.
‘You don’t want to read it before you sign?’
‘We have a deal, don’t we? Where you don’t cheat me?’
He could feel cold sweat dribble down his back, soaking into his shirt. ‘Just a few clauses I might strike out here,’ he said.
She was signing the last page. ‘You know a good removalist?’ she asked.
The removal van pulled into the forest clearing. They had followed the little old lady in her tiny beat-up car from the city and then off the highway ten kilometres along a fire trail into the National Park. This job was getting weirder by the minute.
It had started weird. The phone call came in from Charlie, the real estate man who sometimes gave them work, providing they kicked him back ten percent of the fee.
Charlie sounded nervous, which was not at all like Charlie. Charlie always sounded on top of the world, in a hurry, ready for everything, but this morning Charlie had sounded a little off.
‘I have a job for you, but it has to be today,’ he said.
‘Can’t do today,’ said Pat, who ran the office.
‘It’s an old lady. She has to move in today, and she’ll pay double.’
‘All the trucks are out except one and they’ve got a midday booking,’ said Pat, who liked to keep her system running to order.
Suddenly Charlie was not on the line any more, and Pat was hearing a woman’s voice. The voice reminded her of a hospital matron she had known once. ‘My name is Mrs Webster. I’ll pay treble in cash but it has to be now.’
Pat liked to keep her system running to order, but treble rates were something else again. As she hesitated, Charlie came back on the line. ‘Tell the other people your truck broke down. Do I have to teach you your job?’
Half an hour later Mrs Webster arrived at the depot in her tiny little beat-up car, the sort of car they used to make in Europe but had not made for twenty years. She stepped out, paid in cash, and inspected Steve and Lazlo as if she were a drill sergeant and they were sloppy recruits.
‘You don’t look very strong,’ she said.
‘You want to arm wrestle?’ Lazlo grinned.
‘Don’t push your luck,’ she said, then turned and moved back to her car. ‘Follow me!’ And she got in and started the engine. It roared.
Steve and Lazlo looked at the little car that had finished roaring and was now just purring. ‘What’s she got there?’ Steve said.
‘Sounds like a Formula One,’ said Lazlo, and laughed and elbowed Steve in the ribs.
Both of them laughing now, they climbed into their removal truck. They got in casually enough, then had to speed up. Mrs Webster’s car had shot out of the yard. They followed, spotted her turning right a hundred metres up the road, and accelerated after her.
When they got to the corner, she was already out of sight. Then the little car appeared again, backing into view at the next turn but one. As they closed the distance, the phone in their cabin started ringing.
Steve picked it up. ‘Yes?’
‘I said follow!’ It was Mrs Webster’s voice.
‘Right!’ said Steve, and then hung up, looking puzzled. ‘How’d she know our phone number?’ he asked Lazlo. Lazlo just stabbed the index and middle fingers of his right hand in the direction of Mrs Webster’s car.
‘What’s that mean?’
‘Evil eye,’ said Lazlo. ‘She’s a witch.’
‘Witch? Where’s the broomstick?’
‘So don’t believe me,’ Lazlo grinned, ‘but I know what I’m saying.’
The witch joke kept them busy until they hit the forestry turn off from the highway. As they followed the little car along the fire trail through the National Park, the trees leaning in on each side of them, Lazlo began to get agitated.
‘I don’t like this,’ he said.
‘Come on, she’s a little old lady, what can she do to us?’
‘Turn us into toads maybe.’
‘You don’t believe that.’
Lazlo shrugged. ‘You’re right. Maybe I don’t.’
Then they entered the clearing and there it was. All this stuff. Enough furniture to furnish a house, plus kitchen appliances, stove, dishwasher, microwave, washing machine, drier, all sitting out there in the middle of the forest. And all of it shining, brand-new.
Mrs Webster pulled up, got out of her car and walked back to where the truck was.
In the truck cabin, Steve and Lazlo just sat and stared.
‘You don’t believe she’s a witch?’ said Steve.
‘I don’t believe any of that stuff,’ said Lazlo.
‘I think I believe she’s a witch,’ said Steve.
‘And the gingerbread house fell down?’ said Lazlo. Before Steve could reply, ‘Let’s move it!’ Mrs Webster shouted. The tiny little woman stood by the furniture beckoning.
Steve put the truck in gear and started to manoeuvre it around so he could back up to the stack of furniture and appliances. ‘The sooner we get this over the better,’ he said.