The spaceship had punched a hole through the biggest tree in Boakle Woods and now lay off-kilter at the bottom of a crater, wreathed in orange smoke. It looked like a flattened cigar with plastic bubbles all over it, about the size of the bus Rab took when he visited his gran in Carluke, but it was hissing and clicking, and it stank like a wino’s underpants.
“Whit is it?” Rab asked.
Gordie was doing jimmies on his BMX at the edge of the crater. “Spaceship.”
“Aye, but whit sort?”
“Galactic interceptor,” Gordie said, balancing on his front wheel. “Same as the wans offae Deep Space Nine.”
“No it’s no.”
“How dae ye ken?”
“We’ve got Sky.”
End of argument. Gordie had played the satellite TV trump card again. It wasn’t fair. Rab’s dad said they’d get Sky when Hell froze over, said it was full of lard-arsed Yanks, and you had to pay extra for the fitba. And Rab had protested and said that Jean-Luc Picard wasn’t a Yank, but his dad had just clipped his ear and said, aye, he’s English, which is worse. But what did Rab’s dad know? He was only a scaffolder, while Gordie’s dad sold used cars, some of them Beamers and flashy rad-mobiles with fat-boy exhausts so big you could stick a can of juice up them, so he knew quality. And no matter what Rab’s dad said, Craigmillar was sprouting more and more of the white satellite dishes every day. It was getting to look like a mushroom farm, with the only bit of bare grey wall being the bit outside Rab’s dad’s flat.
“It’s wan o’ them Type Fours,” Gordie said. “Probably from the Mogadon Cluster.”
Rab bristled. This was the sort of primo knowledge his dad was keeping from him. His education was being compromised. Mrs Tilly in Geography probably didn’t even know where the Mogadon Cluster was. She was too busy fussing over a bunch of trees in some arse-backward jungle halfway around the world. Fat lot of use that when you’re at warp nine with a Klingon battle fleet after you and a crack appears in the space-time constituency.
He chucked his bike down. “Ahm going doon.”
“Watch oot for disruptors,” Gordie said. He’d stopped doing jimmies and was now trying stoppies. “If it’s a Type Four, it’ll hae disruptors.”
“Aye, ahm no daft.” Rab picked his way down into the crater, holding his arms out, careful to show he was watching for disruptors. Beyond the woods, blocks of flats loomed up, grey against the grey Edinburgh sky, satellite dishes proudly on show, all pointing the same way — probably towards the Mogadon Cluster. He walked the length of the spaceship, looking inside the bubbles. Most were full of brown, sludgy liquid, but one smaller bubble was clear. He peered in. “Hey, Gordie, there’s a wee bald gadgey in here.”
“Whit colour eyes?”
“The eyes. If they’re yellow then it’s an Armenian. They’re the worst in the whole Cluster, the Armenians. They can kill you wi’ telephonists.”
Rab recoiled. “Ah cannae see its eyes,” he said, trying to conceal his panic. “It’s got a mask on. Whit dae telephonists look like?”
Gordie snorted. “Jeez. Telephonists. Like energy waves frae their big roond heids. Ye cannae see them withoot laser vision. Or ye happen to be half-Armenian, like Data.”
“Data’s no an Armenian, he’s a robot.”
“Data’s no a robot, you divot.” Gordie gave him a big self-satisfied smirk. “He’s an android. Where dae ye hink they make a’ the androids? Armenia, that’s where. Dinnae argue wi’ the dish.”
“Ah dinnae hink it’s an Armenian,” Rab said. “It’s got a flat heid.”
“Whit, like E.T.?”
Rab looked closer. “A wee bit,” he replied. “But it’s no got a lightbulb on its finger, so it’s no an E.T.” He was feeling more on solid ground. He’d seen E.T. last Christmas and his big sister Kylie had cried and he’d hooted and threatened to tell her boyfriend Patrick, then hit her with his action-man-jungle-intruder-craft until his dad had told him to stop or he’d get skelped. Besides, E.T. was plastic-looking, not like the proper aliens he’d seen on Sky when he was round at Gordie’s. Not like this thing. A silvery mask enveloped almost all of its face, but it had a whole bunch of tentacles, like wee willies, hanging from its chin.
Gordie had arrived with a branch he’d found. “Dinnae hink the Federation ken aboot this one,” he said, squinting through the bubble. Then he lowered his voice so he sounded like Captain Picard. “We are boldly going, Rab. Boldly going.” He smashed the branch against the bubble.
But Gordie wasn’t listening. He was whining the tune from Star Trek, and making phaser noises each time he hit the bubble. Five minutes later he was puffed out. He threw the branch over the spaceship and they both made explosion noises to compensate for the feeble crunch when it landed. There wasn’t a scratch on the bubble. “Probably plasmaloid filament,” Gordie said, nodding gravely.
“Aye, that’s whit ah thought.”
Gordie looked at him sideways. “Aye? Whit’s plasmaloid filament then?”
Rab kicked at an uprooted tree stump. “That stuff, you know. Like on spaceships. In Star Trek an’ that.”
“Ye dinnae ken, dae ye?”
“Ah dae so.”
“Whit episode was it in?”
“That episode wi’ the aliens in it,” Rab said. “The wans whit looked like pizzas.”
Gordie peered at him like he was daft. “Pizzas?”
“Aye, Spock lasered them offae the walls, an’ then—”
“Spock!” Gordie burst a laugh. “Spock? Jeez.” Great big exaggerated belly laughs. “Spock. That isn’t even Next Gen, you spasmoid!”
Rab felt his face go red, and he wished he had a phaser then. He’d phaser Gordie, once in each kneecap, Glasgow style, then go home and phaser his old man right into the Mogadon Cluster. Right then, that bit of bare wall outside his flat felt like the only patch of uniform in the Royal Scots Fusiliers without a medal on it.
Gordie was still laughing, making a big show of it, when a sudden click made Rab wheel round.
The bubble on the spaceship opened.
“Spock. Ye total spongoid.” He was rolling on the ground now. “Spock. Aha. Aha. Aha.”
“Gordie. The gadgey’s getting oot.”
Gordie’s laughter tapered to a wheeze. “Whit?”
“The gadgey,” Rab hissed, “is on the move.”
The alien climbed out unsteadily, like Rab’s dad getting out of his chair at half time to get more cans of Export from the fridge. The tentacles under its chin were wobbling. Its mirrored mask reflected the woods and the Craigmillar skyline. It had a spacesuit on, a proper one with plasmaloid nodules, all silvery blue and rippling.
“Rack me rigid,” Gordie said. “It’s pissed.”
“It’s no pissed,” Rab said. “Probably got mongled in the hyperspace.”
Gordie considered this, then gave a stiff nod. “Well mongled,” he agreed. “Look at the wee shite go.”
The alien had climbed free of the spaceship and was staggering through the crater. Bolstered by Gordie’s agreement about the mongling, Rab said, “Whit will we dae wi’ it, Gordie? Dae ye hink we can keep it, like in E.T.? Dae ye hink it’ll make oor bikes fly?”
Gordie snorted. “That film’s for bairns,” he said. “Aliens dinnae make bikes fly. They come doon and blow stuff up and eat folk. Remember Independence Day? That’s the modern handbook fer invasions. Ye cannae go by E.T. any more. Not if ye hope tae survive.”
Rab hadn’t seen Independence Day, but he didn’t like the sound of aliens eating anyone in Craigmillar. “Hink it’s hungry?”
“Wan way tae find oot,” Gordie said. “Hey, gadgey!”
The alien turned, still wobbling, and faced Gordie. It made a gurgling, clicking sound.
“It disnae understand,” Rab said.
“Course it does. These boys all got interpreter hings.” He faced the alien again and pointed through the trees. “See that over there, pal, that’s ma hoose, and if ye want tae park yer spaceship here, we’ll be wanting a toll off ye.”
“Dinnae provoke it, Gordie.” Rab was thinking about a film he had seen. It had been a dodgy copy from his dad’s mate Mick down the market, and it was kind of fuzzy and had Polish subtitles, but he remembered the alien clearly. “One word,” he whispered to his friend. “Predator.”
“That’s no a predator!” Gordie said. “Predators hae loadsa weapons, and ye cannae see them unless it rains, and onyway, predators are big and look like crabs. That hing’s wee and squishy.”
“Might be a wee predator.”
“It’s no a predator.”
The alien gurgled again and swivelled its mask between them. Rab saw his own reflection flash back at him. “Ah hink we should get oor bikes, Gordie.”
But Gordie stuck out his chest and went right up to the thing. He looked down at it, menacing like. “Ah dinnae see a sign here whit says alien parking,” he said. “This planet belongs tae me an’ Rab, an’ if ye want tae leave yer spaceship here …” He rubbed his thumb and forefinger in a let’s talk cash way.
Rab watched in awe. Silently he cursed his dad. The old episodes of Star Trek didn’t cover this. You had to be up-to-date with these aliens. The universe moved too quickly to rely on the BBC. But Gordie had been prepared. He had Sky. He knew about plasmaloid filaments and Armenians. Watching his friend, Rab felt a surge of pride.
“Ahm still waiting, wee man,” Gordie said.
The alien pulled out a gun.
Gordie stiffened. All at once he looked scared, scared like whenever his dad hit him and he came round for Rab so they could go and share a fag behind Mr Morrison’s Bedford campervan. “Mogadon matter blaster,” he said. “Dinnae move, Rab. That hing could vaporise half o’ Craigmillar.”
Rab froze. He had what he supposed was a life-flashing-before-your-eyes moment. Gordie and Rab, tanking it down Leith Walk on their BMXs, scrumping cans of cider from Tescos, playing Newmarket over the garden hedges on Warrender Park Road. The Craigmillar BMX posse. His best mate. Gordon Ferguson. The Jimmie King. Frozen, at the end of a Mogadon matter blaster.
Gordie took an uneasy step back. “Ah dinnae want tae be vaporised,” he whined. “Ahm too wee.”
Suddenly Rab saw himself at the funeral. Gordie’s mum greetin’. Gordie’s dad pissed and red-eyed. The minister with his head low. The piped God-music. The coffin—empty because Gordie had been vaporised, a big floral wreath on it shaped like a BMX. And Rab standing up before them all wearing his cousin Wullie’s suit, a clip-on tie, and three pairs of socks inside borrowed shoes, his voice breaking as he cried out:
It wis a wee predator!
The alien approached Gordie, holding out its gun.
Rab whispered, “It wants ye tae take it tae yer leader.”
“Ahve no got a leader,” Gordie wailed.
“Tam McClintock,” Rab suggested. “We’ll take it tae Tam McClintock. He’ll ken whit tae dae.”
Tam McClintock had a head like a concrete post, and a biker’s jacket with the words Craigie Hell’s Devils in studs on the back. The Craigie Devils consisted of him and his mate Malkey who didn’t have a bike but was an honorary member.
Tam wasn’t happy when he opened the door to his flat. “Ah told yous tae buzz the buzzer four times quick,” he said, “and then three times slow. Ah wis cutting sulph in there. Thought yous was the filth.” Then he saw the alien. “Whas the gadgey?”
“It’s frae the Mogadon Cluster,” Rab said.
“In space, like. Crashed its galactic interceptor in the woods behind the lockups.”
Tam’s eyes widened momentarily. Then he got that look about him, the one he had whenever the Indian lad came up from Liverpool in his van with one of his special deliveries. “Space?” He studied the alien as if working something out in his head. “Knock me doon, space? Looks a bit like wan o’ they predators, does it no? Except for that radge wee tinfoil suit, and a’ them willies on its chin.”
“It’s no a predator!” Gordie cried.
The door next to Tam’s flat opened and Mrs Rankin’s wrinkled head peered round, hair full of curlers and white as a loo-brush. Suddenly the close smelled of pee. “Whit you lot up tae?” she said. “Whitever it is, ah dinnae want it.”
“Whas that?” Mrs Rankin said. “Ahve no got ma glasses on.”
“It’s a wee alien, Mrs Rankin,” Rab said.
“Well ah dinnae want it.”
“It’s no fer sale, Mrs Rankin. It’s frae ooter space.”
“Ah dinnae care where it’s frae!” Her hands fluttered. “Away wi’ the lot o’ ye afore ah call the polis.” She slammed the door.
Tam was frowning at the alien. “Whit’s that hing it’s holding?”
“That’s its matter blaster,” Rab said. “It wis gonnae vaporise Gordie, so we took it here, tae oor leader, like.”
The biker nodded. “Aye. Good lads. Yous did the right hing.” He looked the alien up and down. “Ah suppose ye better bring it in.”
Tam’s flat was full of motorbike parts and foil curry cartons and had posters on the wall of topless women draped over bikes that made Rab feel a bit funny downstairs like when the bus to Carluke went over a bump too quickly. The alien looked around, gurgling and clicking, then lowered its weapon. Gordie relaxed visibly. Rab’s attention shifted to the TV where the crew of a starship were engaged in a fierce debate in the captain’s ready room. Tam McClintock had Sky too.
“Whit episode is it?” Rab said.
Tam plucked a joint the size of a torpedo from the ashtray and took a drag. “Dinnae ken, Rab. But it’s got that lassie in it, the Borg wan wi’ the tight top.”
“She’s only half Borg,” Gordie said.
“Aye, an’ it’s the right half an’ aw,” Tam said. He cleared stacks of Custom Bike Magazine from the two armchairs. “Sit yerselves doon. Gadgey, park yersel ower there on the cooch.”
“Its communicator hing’s bust,” Rab said. “Mongled in the hyperspace.”
“Gadgey.” The biker motioned to the couch and spoke loudly. “Sito… doono…” He caught Rab’s eye. “Dago,” he said. “Went tae Corfu last year an’ came back fluent.”
The alien sat.
Rab was impressed.
Tam offered it the joint.
For a moment the alien just looked at him, then, slowly, it set its weapon down on the coffee table and accepted the joint in three tendril-like fingers.
“That’s ma boy.” Tam gave the alien a slap on the shoulder before facing the others. “What we appear tae have here is a close encoonter o’ the third kind,” he said. “Now, ye say it’s got a spaceship doon behind the lockups?”
Gordie and Rab both nodded.
“Well, we’d best get on tae that sharpish, stake oor claim afore a’body else finds it. Next, there’s the question o’ the gadgey himself. Is it just this wan, or are we talkin’ a fu’ on invasion here?”
“Just that wan,” Gordie said.
“Shame,” Tam said. “Ah ken this bloke doon the zoo. But ye need a breedin’ pair.”
“Ye cannae pit it in the zoo,” Rab said, aghast.
“Just kiddin’, Rab,” Tam said unconvincingly. He leaned forward. “Then there’s the matter blaster.” Their gazes converged to the coffee table. “That hing alone has gottae be worth a hunner and fifty poond.”
“Mebbe even two hunner,” Rab said, anxious to show that he knew as much about the price of a Mogadon matter blaster as anyone else, even though he didn’t have Sky and was navigating mostly uncharted waters.
“Aye,” Tam said. “An you boys’ll get yer share.”
Rab and Gordie exchanged a new-BMX sort of glance.
“Wull no cheat it like,” Tam said. “Wull gie it somehing back. An interplanetary trade.”
Nods all round.
The biker turned back to the alien, then sheeshed. “Jeez, man, dinnae bogart the joint. If yer no gonnae smoke it, pass it roond.” He made like he was puffing on an invisible reefer.
Imitating him, the alien lifted the joint into the tentacles under its chin. The tentacles wobbled, contracted, and then relaxed.
Greuch. Smoke leaked out the edges of its mask.
“Radge wee bastard,” Tam exclaimed. “It liked that.” He snatched the joint back from the alien, replaced it in his own mouth, then went to rummage through some plastic bags in one corner of the room. After a moment he brought out a small bag of grass and laid it on the coffee table beside the matter blaster. “Gadgey… weo… tradeo… bago … skunko…” He tapped the grass. “For yer mattero blastero.” He tapped the weapon. “Capeesh?”
Gurgle… Greuch… Gurgle.
The biker picked up the bag and thrust it toward the alien. “Primo… stuffo.”
Greuch. The alien accepted the drugs.
Tam lifted the weapon and turned it over. “Done deal,” he said. “That must be whit they call a close encoonter o’ the fourth kind. Markets, lads. Hink o’ the potential markets.”
“Ye gonnae vaporise somehing?” Rab asked.
Tam pointed the matter blaster at a poster of a girl straddling a Honda VFR 800. She had none of the usual safety gear on. “It’s no got a trigger on it,” he said, frowning.
“Probably mind controlled,” Gordie said. “Gies it here.” He reached for the weapon, but Tam yanked it away.
“If it’s mind controlled,” the biker said, “then we’re a’ stuffed.” He looked down at the alien. “Right then, wee man, whit we gonnae dae wi’ you?”
“We could take it doon tae oor bikes,” Rab said. “An see—”
“Ah telt ye.” Gordie pulled a face. “Aliens dinnae dae that.”
“Can we no try?”
“It’s no E.T., Rab.”
Tam interrupted. “First hings first… we’ll go doon and hae a look at the spaceship.” He stood up, and cracked his knuckles. “Mebbe we can start her up an’ go oot fer a blast.”
For the next two hours they tried to get the spaceship to work. No amount of force would open the large, sludge-filled bubbles, so they leaned inside the small open bubble and prodded and wiggled all the controls. Nothing happened, even when Tam tried to jump-start the craft with the battery from his Suzuki Bandit. The alien didn’t seem concerned. It lay down on its back by the side of the crater, gazing up at the trees, and gurgled quietly to itself.
Eventually Tam squatted down beside Rab and Gordie. “That hing,” he said, “is tighter than a gnat’s chuff. We’re gonnae need proper tools tae dae this right.”
“Like whit?” Rab asked.
“We’re gonnae need” — Tam paused theatrically — “Big Jim’s Hing.”
Gordie sat bolt upright. Rab held his breath. For a long moment nobody spoke.
Big Jim’s Hing had reached legendary status among the Craigmillar youth. Most said it didn’t exist, that it couldn’t exist, but — like the Loch Ness Monster — everyone secretly hoped it did exist. Over the years and the many tellings, the size of Big Jim’s Hing had increased to the point of absurdity. It was as big as a car, as big as a bus, as big as a house. Parents would threaten misbehaving children with it. Wan mair word oot o’ ye, an’ ahl go ask Big Jim fer his Hing. The little ones cowered at the mention of it.
Big Jim’s Hing was reputed to be the mother of all power tools. When you cranked it up, it was said, lights dimmed all the way to China. It was so loud, fathers whispered to their sons, that when it was running the BBC had to stop live broadcasts throughout the country.
Big Jim had worked for the council for thirty years, digging up the roads, and when they’d made him redundant he’d salvaged the Hing from the council works depot. If they’ve no got work fer me, he always said, they’ve no got work for ma Hing. And so, the Hing disappeared into his lockup, where it faded into myth.
“Jesus in a bottle,” Gordie said. “Ah thought Big Jim’s Hing wisnae really real. Ah thought ma old man was taking the mick.”
Tam stood up. “It’s real,” he said. A half smile tugged the corner of his mouth. “Believe it, boys, the Hing is real.”
They found Big Jim perched at the bar in Slammers: an old man’s pub with torn, yellowed wallpaper and a sticky carpet the colour of chilli con carne. A TV on the wall showed horse racing. Apart from Big Jim and the barmaid Moira, there was the usual crumple of regulars hunched over their half-pints.
“Right, Tam. How’s the bike?” Big Jim was big: big hands, big tattoo-covered arms, and a belly like the Usher Hall. He had big eyebrows too: monstrous, scraggy things that twitched and jiggled like ferrets do when you wire them up to car batteries.
“Still in bits, Jim,” Tam replied. “Needs a new manifold.”
“Can ye no weld it?”
“Aye, ahl get roond tae it wan day.” Tam ordered a pint. “Whit ye havin’, Jim?”
“Pint o’ Best. Cheers, Tam.”
Moira pulled the drinks. “Whas the wee lad?” she said. “Friend o’ you boys?”
“It’s a wee alien,” Rab said.
“That’s pure brilliant, so it is,” Moira said, studying the alien appreciatively. “You’ve done a grand job wi his costume.”
Big Jim turned, gave the alien a cursory glance, then went back to his pint. “Disnae look like an alien tae me,” he grumbled. “Looks mair like a squid-man or somehing.”
Tam paid Moira. “Listen, Jim,” he said. “You still got… yer Hing?”
Big Jim took a slow sip of his beer. “Whit ye wantin’ ma Hing fer?”
Tam looked uncomfortable. “Ah, ye ken…”
Another slow sip.
“…some work whit needs daen fer a mate.”
“Aye, Tam,” Big Jim said at last. “Ahve still got the Hing. Still got the Portaloo an a’.”
That was the other item Big Jim had nabbed from the council works depot. Too big for the lockups, the Portaloo had sat on the waste-ground behind the estate for a couple of years. Rab and Gordie used it as a TARDIS whenever they played Doctor Who, but it wasn’t a very good TARDIS — the time vortex controls were crusted with junkies’ puke.
“Got some tarmac wantin’ lifted?” Big Jim said.
“Somehing like that.”
“Help yerself.” Big Jim rummaged in his pocket, and handed Tam the keys to his lockup. “Mind ye lock the place back up. Ahve had no end o’ bother from kids gettin’ in and going through ma gear. Wee buggers pinched Senga’s plastic Christmas tree last year, an’ it wis a six fitter.”
“Sorry tae hear that, Jim. Cheers.”
The Hing turned out to be a searing disappointment. Although Rab had known in his heart of hearts that it couldn’t really be as big as a house, part of him had hoped for something more than the mud spattered tool they found propped against tins of paint in Big Jim’s lockup. It was one of those tools people used to dig up roads — a jackjiggler, or hammerjugger, or whatever they called them.
But it did weigh a ton, and even Tam, who was no small man, had trouble hefting it out to the spaceship. It came with a compressor, a machine that looked like an engine on wheels, which Tam filled with petrol from a can.
Work began in earnest. The biker climbed on top of the spaceship, wedged the end of the Hing into the place where one of the bubbles joined the hull, and fired her up. A tremendous pounding echoed through the woods. Gordie and Rab sat on the crater rim with the alien and covered their ears, then, as an afterthought, Rab covered the alien’s ears instead. The alien didn’t seem to mind; it was jigging up and down like Mad Malkey did when he played his rave music. A minute later, there was a crack and the bubble flew open.
Brown sludge spewed down the side of the spaceship.
Greuch, greuch, greuch. The alien leapt to its feet and ran down the slope towards the spaceship. Gordie and Rab hurried after it.
“Holy Mary,” Tam said. “Smell that. It’s rank.” He crouched to inspect the sludge. “There’s a mangled spacesuit and bits o’ alien in here.” The thick fluid looked like someone had taken a bag of cod and put it in a liquidiser.
Greuch, greuch, greuch. The little thing was running in circles and waving its bag of skunk. Rab tried to calm it down. He found a fag in his jacket and offered it up, but the alien wasn’t interested. “It’s no happy,” Rab said. “Dae ye hink that’s wan o’ its family?”
“Aye,” Tam said. “Poor wee sod. Looks like the rest o’ them burst.”
Gordie scraped a stick through the sludge. “Definitely no Armenian,” he said.
Tam stood up. “You lads take the gadgey back tae ma place an’ get ‘im settled doon. Call oot fer a curry. Ahl keep at this, see if there’s ony mair o’ them inside. Meantime, there’s a load o’ Next Gen vids in the telly cabinet. Squiz through them an’ see whit ye can learn aboot these aliens.”
It took both boys to steer the alien away. The little creature was very agitated and kept trying to return to its spaceship. Rab wrapped an arm around its shoulders and told it not to worry. The sound of Big Jim’s Hing shook the woods behind them.
Back in the flat, Gordie called Curry in a Hurry. They ordered something called Palak Gosht for the alien because it sounded a bit Klingon, and a garlic nan in case it didn’t like spicy food.
By the time the food arrived, Gordie and Rab had settled into the couch and were sipping cans of Irn-Bru and watching Tam’s videos for clues about the alien’s home world. Plastic Next-Gen boxes littered the rug in front of the TV. There had been other videos in the cabinet too, right at the back, with handwritten labels that said things like Deep Throat and Carmen Opens Wide, but they left those where they were after Gordie said he wasn’t interested in dentistry.
The alien sat on the floor among the videos, clutching its bag of grass and shivering. No amount of cajoling would make it eat. Rab felt mightily sorry for it. “Mebbe we should hae got it a fish supper,” he said.
Gordie munched a popadom. “Ah dinnae hink aliens eat fish suppers. Ye never see fish suppers oan Star Trek.”
Three episodes later, the sky outside had darkened and Tam returned, exhausted.
“They’re a’ deid,” he said, collapsing on the couch. He had chunks of alien all over him. “Gie us wan o’ them pakoras, Rab.”
Rab handed him the carton. “Did ye get inside the spaceship?”
Tam shook his head. “The bubbles dinnae seem to lead inside the main ship, just intae them wee cockpits, an’ if there’s another way in, ahve no foond it yet. Did you lads find oot onyhing frae the videos?”
“No mention so far,” Gordie said. “But we’re no even half way through the first series.”
“How’s the gadgey?”
“No eatin’,” Rab said. “It’s been shiverin’ and it willnae even touch its Irn-Bru.”
“Well, it can crash in my bed and ahl take the cooch. It’s getting on and ahm knackered, so you lads had better be off.”
“Can we no watch the videos?” Rab asked. “We might still find somehing.”
Tam sighed. “Ah suppose so, as long as yer folks dinnae mind.”
Rab phoned his dad and told him he was staying at Gordie’s and Gordie phoned his mum and told her he was staying at Rab’s, then they both told Tam that neither parent minded and settled down to watch every episode of Star Trek in the biker’s video collection. Rab was in Next-Gen heaven. Tam put the alien in his room and tucked it under his Yamaha Virago duvet. He offered it just about everything in the fridge, but it still wouldn’t eat.
Next morning things looked serious. Rab and Gordie had stayed up till 3 a.m. watching videos but hadn’t found anything of use. Jean-Luc Picard, it seemed, had not encountered this particular species before. Gordie promised to bring round his Babylon 5s for the next stint, but Rab was worried.
Ugly brown-yellow patches had appeared on the alien’s skin. Its chin-willies trembled and it gurgled weakly whenever it tried to rise from the bed.
Tam helped it sit up, a look of concern on his face. “Wull need tae force-feed it,” he said. “Go next door and ask Mrs Rankin fer a cup-a-soup or somehing. Tell her it’s an emergency.”
Mrs Rankin cursed and moaned until Rab told her they were looking after a sick child. Then she emptied her cupboards and gave them everything she had. There wasn’t much — two tins of soup and a jar of beetroot. Despite Rab’s protests, she insisted on accompanying Rab and Gordie back to Tam’s flat.
“Whar’s this wee lad?” she asked the biker, scrunching up her watery eyes.
“Ye didnae huv tae come yersel,” Tam said. He glanced at Rab and Gordie, who were standing behind the old lady. The two boys shrugged.
“Whit? An’ let you eeejits take care o’ him?” Mrs Rankin demanded. “Awa wi ye! Oot ma way!”
She crouched over the alien, squinting down at its face. After a long moment she said, “Whit bit o’ him am a lookin’ at?”
“That’s its chin,” Tam said.
“It’s no his chin,” Mrs Rankin said. “Ahm eighty-three years auld. Ahve nursed mair sick bairns than ah care tae remember.”
“It’s no a bairn, Mrs Rankin,” Tam said quietly. “It’s an alien.”
“An alien, Mrs Rankin. Frae ooter space.”
The old lady was silent for a long moment. Then she laid a hand on the side of the alien’s face. “It’s just a bairn,” she said.
The alien looked worse than ever. Its skin was almost all brown and yellow, and its chin-willies were hardly moving at all. Mrs Rankin sat vigil for the rest of the afternoon. She ordered Tam to heat up some soup, but the alien refused to eat it. Rab held its hand while Gordie played it Bon Jovi CDs on the stereo. The gurgles became weaker. By eight in the evening it had stopped gurgling completely and lay there wheezing.
Tam ushered Rab into the living room and whispered, “We’d better get it doon tae Accident and Emergency.”
“Will they ken whit tae dae?” Rab asked. “It’ll no hae human insides.”
“Most o’ the drunks on this estate huvnae got human insides,” Tam said. “An’ the Royal sees plenty o’ them.” He shrugged. “Ah cannae hink whit else tae dae.”
But just as Rab picked up the phone to dial for an ambulance, Mrs Rankin shouted through from the bedroom, “Tam, Rab, get in here!”
The alien’s tentacles were motionless. It appeared to have stopped breathing. Lying there on Tam’s bed under his Yamaha Virago duvet, it looked very wrinkled and very small. Mrs Rankin’s face had sagged. She cupped a hand over her mouth.
“Gie it mooth tae mooth,” Rab cried. “Quick, Gordie.”
“Ah dinnae ken if it’s got a mooth,” Gordie said.
“Well, gie it mooth tae tentacle!”
Tam crouched by the bed and rested a hand on the alien’s forehead. “It’s awfy cold,” he said. “We better get its mask off.” He reached over to pull off the mask.
Rab stopped him. “But it’ll no be able tae breath!”
“It’s no breathin’ noo,” Tam said softly. Gently, he removed the mask.
Rab gasped. The alien didn’t look like a predator at all, or even an E.T. A small lipless mouth formed a downward curve below a button nose. Without the flat head and the tentacles, it might have looked like a boy. Its eyes weren’t yellow like an Armenian’s, but light blue like Gordie’s and Rab’s.
“Dae somehing,” Rab said. “Please, Tam, dae somehing.”
Tam covered the alien’s nostrils and blew into its mouth, once, twice, three times, then listened at its chest.
“It cannae be deid,” Rab said. “Help it.”
“Ahm no a doctor, Rab,” Tam said.
It seemed to Rab that they stood over the alien for hours. Tam tried every few minutes to resuscitate it. Rab continued to clutch its hand while Mrs Rankin made a hot compress and dabbed its forehead. But for all their efforts the alien didn’t come back to them.
Finally Rab said, “Ah wonder whit its name wis.”
Tam squeezed his shoulder and Rab was shocked to see the biker’s eyes were as wet as his own.
* * *
In the weeks that followed, Craigmillar became a hive of activity and then returned to quiet normality. Tam got some of his mates round with angle grinders and welding gear and they set to work dismantling the spaceship. They broke down the hull, stripped out the innards, and sold the lot to Dooley’s Scrap and Demolition where no questions were asked. Rab and Gordie both got new BMXs out of the deal.
They tried to sell the plasmaloid bubbles down the market as real spaceship bubbles from ooter space, but everyone just laughed so they dropped the price and sold them on to people who kept fish. They let Mrs Rankin have one for free. Tam scooped most of the alien sludge into buckets and gave it to Mr Morrison for his tomatoes.
The matter blaster turned out not to be a gun after all. With some fiddling they got it open and found it to be full of small magnetic discs, each embossed with odd hieroglyphs. Most of these they lost or traded for conkers and football cards, but a couple ended up on Rab’s fridge. Despite Rab’s claims as to their origin his dad still refused to get Sky.
And the gadgey itself?
Rab thought about it often. He always wondered what its name had been. On clear nights he lay on the roof of the block of flats with Gordie, looking up at the stars and trying to guess where the Mogadon Cluster was. They eventually agreed it was just to the left of Jupiter, which they couldn’t see, even with the telescope they made from a loo-roll and Gordie’s dad’s bifocals.
The alien didn’t turn to soup like its family. Its body stiffened and soon began to smell. Tam painted it with varnish to preserve it, then carried it out to his lockup.
Word of it soon got round the estate. People came from as far away as Dalkeith, and one man all the way from North Berwick. No one seemed overly impressed. Gradually the stream of onlookers dwindled and Tam opened the lockup less and less. By winter nobody came at all. It was still there, lying in the coffin they’d made and wrapped in tinfoil so that it looked spacey, still wearing its plasmaloid spacesuit and its shiny mask. And if Tam had time he’d still let you in to see it, although it would cost you a pound.
Alan Campbell was born in Falkirk, Scotland, and went to Edinburgh University. Before becoming a full time writer, he worked as a coder and designer on several video games including the Grand Theft Auto series. He lives in South Lanarkshire.