* * *
The door of the shuttle craft hissed downwards and An Kohl stepped out along the ramp it formed. Two younglings stared at her with interest, but when they saw that she wasn’t carrying goods to barter or sell they lost interest and scuttled off about their own business.
Such was the nature of the galaxy these days; not even the arrival of a shuttle craft attracted any interest. She doubted that the younglings would even mention her arrival to their parents. That suited her for the time being. She wanted to find the one she was looking for and then get off this useless lump of rock and never see it again.
Dust swirled around her and she wrapped her neck-cloth around her face in a vain attempt to keep it from entering her mouth and nose. Already she could feel the grit between her teeth. She looked at the hand held tracker. The steady pulse indicated that her target was about one hundred li to the north, if this lump of rock actually had a north. Ok, she
admitted to herself, north was a concept not an actuality; her target was about one hundred li diagonally to her left. It would feel like double that in the heat and dust of this shitty rock. She wished she’d landed the shuttle a little
closer but she hadn’t wanted to let him know she was coming. He was the type that always ran first and asked questions
An Kohl took a deep breath, regretting it at once as she inhaled a mouthful of dust, and strode forward, skirting past some mud built houses. She passed the same two younglings struggling to pull a bucket of water from a well and then pour it into a small tank mounted on wheels. When the tank was full it would need both of them to drag it home. Again she puzzled at the nature of a galaxy where the arrival of a shuttle craft from an orbiting space ship could attract so little attention, but where the inhabitants of the planet still drew their water from wells. She gave a mental shrug. The galaxy
was a big place and she had encountered stranger things than younglings at a well.
The dust continued to torment her as she crossed the open ground. Across the rock strewn plain she could see the building she was heading for. There were draft animals tethered outside and a crude sign announced its purpose, though she couldn’t read the alien script. She corrected herself angrily. Here it was she who was the alien.
She pushed open the door and ducked under the low lintel into the dim room. Bars across the galaxy all seemed to conform to a type, she mused. The darker the interior the more shady its clientele and there was no one shadier than the one she was looking for. Now for the fun part.
He was a shape shifter, which meant that he could be any one of the occupants of the bar. There was a trick to identifying a shape shifter, though. Stare at him for ten seconds or more and he was bound to reveal himself. They hated being stared at. The problem was that if you stared at people in this sort of bar you were likely to start a fight, which was why
shape shifters liked bars like this one.
Her arrival had caused heads to turn but one look at the powerful Menafield Pulsar holstered on her hip suggested that there was nothing to look at here and that it was a good idea for people to just go about their business. She stomped her way to the bar, her thick souled boots making the floor vibrate.
An ancient droid bartender creaked towards her and offered her a drinks menu. She knew that this was a pretention and that whatever she ordered would numb her taste buds for days, but she made a show of looking at it before pointing to the glass of the man standing nearest to her and saying “I’ll have one of those.”
The droid creaked away to get the drink and she scanned the room quickly, not allowing her eyes to rest on any individual for more than a few seconds.
Not the two men sat at the back of the room. They were clearly having an argument, perhaps over the rather frightened looking female that sat between them. It wasn’t the female either. Shape shifters can’t change sex, though they can make themselves appear in female form if you don’t get close enough to find out which bits haven’t been disguised. She was showing plenty of the bits that a male shape shifter would have to make by stuffing a bra with socks.
Not the two men sitting opposite each other in silence, staring into their drinks. They were the defeated, worn down by years of scratching a living out of land that was only fit for growing rocks. Scattered around the room were half a dozen more men, drinking by themselves, each with an attitude that suggested it wasn’t worth bothering to talk to them.
Two more of them she dismissed as being in the same defeated category, which left four that might be her quarry. The droid returned and placed a foaming glass in front of her.
An Kohli took a tentative sip and narrowly resisted spitting the liquid out. She was not the sort of woman who spat in
public. The liquid was a sour tasting beer. The man whose drink she had copied raised his glass and took a large mouthful. An acquired taste, An Kohli concluded. She returned her attention to the four men she thought might be him
and tried to stare at them without appearing as if she was staring. A difficult task as any lovelorn teenager who has ever tried staring at a pretty girl would be able to testify.
The first one was easy enough. He was the one further along the bar, standing with his back to her, though the way he
twitched his head suggested he sensed he was being watched. Just as he started to turn An Kohli switched her attention to another man on the far side of the room. He was sat sideways on but the glazed look in his eyes suggested he wouldn’t notice if the roof fell on him. She counted ten seconds; nothing. She shifted her gaze again, across the room. A young man in dirty work clothes. Not likely, the one she was looking for had never done a day’s manual work in his life, but a disguise is a disguise. Nothing.
The final possibility suggested someone from off-planet. He was well dressed in a modern style which she recognised but
couldn’t quite place. Not local, she concluded. He met her gaze directly but didn’t react to it. Again, nothing. She checked her tracker. The light pulsed steadily and indicated she was standing within a few mett of him. She heard the droid creak towards her again and then it hit her. She turned and levelled her gaze at it.
After ten seconds the droid slammed it’s fist onto the bar in frustration, making heads turn. Yes, she was right. A backward planet like this wouldn’t have the technology to build droids. This one was old and badly maintained and the know-how to maintain it wouldn’t exist here either. She doubted that they had even developed as far as steam
“Damn you.” The droid said, its voice wheezy and crackling.
“You can drop the disguise, Den.”
“Not in front of the natives.” he wheezed. “Don’t want to scare anyone. How did you find me?”
“Female intuition.” She smiled a mischievous smile.
“You bitch. You planted a tracker on me, didn’t you?”
“That would be telling.” She continued to grin broadly.
1. The original Aswan Dam, now known as the Aswan Low Dam, was started by the British in 1902. Deduct 1
point for saying the 1960s, which is when construction of the Aswan High Dam, 10km further upstream, was started.
3. Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman (one point for each name).
4. Eskimo. Use of the term Inuit is incorrect (deduct 1 point) because that is the name of only one of the
Eskimo tribes which also include the Yupak and Inupiat peoples.
5. 1940 (June). They were formed by soldiers, not Royal Marines. The Royal Marines didn’t take on the Commando role until 1942.
6. Uhtred. This series of books is highly recommended if you like history or swashbuckling stories.
7. 73rd Regiment of Foot, which through various re-namings became The Black Watch (either answer accepted).
8. 1934 in the cartoon “The Little White Hen”. Give yourself a bonus point if you also knew the name of the film, smart arse.
9. The Great Barrier Reef. Anyone saying the blue whale deduct one point, but I will accept the giant redwood tree as it can be argued that a coral reef isn’t a single ‘thing’.
10. A TV remote control and a DVD (one point for each).
11. Spanish Composer Francisco Tarrega (1852-1909). The tune is taken from Grande Valse written in 1902 for solo guitar.
12. Melbourne Gardens. Their name was changed in 1886 when the gardens were bought by John Franklin.
13. Tottenham Hotspur and Glasgow Rangers (one point for each).
14. Augustus and Nero (one point for each).
15. Plaster of Paris. Deduct one point if you said pumice or volcanic ash. There were no bodies, only body shaped cavities left when the bodies were burnt up by the hot volcanic ash. These cavities were filled in by archaeologists pouring plaster of paris down holes to form the ‘mummies’ that are now on display.
16. Vespasian. It is built on the site of Nero’s palace, whom Vespasian replaced in AD 69.
17. Joshua. He was named after his earthly father. Jesus is the Greek version of the Hebrew Yeshua which we call Joshua. Deduct one point if you said Jesus or Emmanuel.
18. Deduct one point if you said Stonehenge or Woodhenge. A henge is an earth bank with a ditch running
round inside it. Both Stonehenge and Woodhenge have the ditch on the outside and therefore aren’t henges. Avebury ring is probably the most famous real henge but there are others.
19. Steve Peregrin Took. He was born Stephen Ross Porter and took his name from a character in Lord Of The
Rings, which was popular in the hippy culture at the time. He went on to form the bands The Pink Fairies and Shagrat before dying after being asphyxiated by inhaling a cherry stone in 1980 (drugs are said to have been involved but aren’t
mentioned on his death certificate).
20. RFC squadrons kept their original numbers in the range 1 – 199. The RNAS, with less than 100 squadrons in service in 1918, put a 2 in front of their squadron numbers to use the range 200 – 299.
Feel free to post your name (or a pseudonym) and your score in the comments section.