by James Edwards-Smallbone
“Well, what was it like?”
The square shouldered speaker lounged in a musty leather armchair, its cushions grooved deeply by long years of relentless sitting.
“What was what like?”
The respondent, something like a rake given human form, leaned against an ancient oak bookcase idly thumbing a time stained copy of The First Men on the Moon.
“Oh come on Alan, don’t play coy with me. We’ve known each other for far too long.”
“Getting on for twelve years…”
“It’s fifteen. And don’t change the subject.”
“Dan,” Alan’s voice was playfully reproachful “you really think I can put into words the wonder of what I’ve seen this past year? The sheer enormity of the universe laid before me to traverse as easily crossing the road! Planet after planet, galaxy after galaxy. It’s so big out there, so utterly vast the mind can scarcely conceive the scale of it. If I had the lifetime of every living being there ever was I could explore but a tiny glorious fraction. I saw twin suns set over mountains that dwarf Everest, I swam in crystal seas so vast they would drown Africa. I lived among races so completely alien that I thought them a hallucination. And you want me to condense all that into a neat little postcard paragraph?!”
There was an awkward, dusty silence.
Alan laughed, his eyes twinkling like the distant stars and he clapped his hand on his friend’s shoulder.
“It was pretty good.”
Dan grinned along with his friend’s melodious chuckle and both men were soon in near hysterics, the sound of jollity ringing around the old room and displacing cobwebs from the ancient oak paneling. So engrossed were they in the joke that they failed to hear the soft but officious knock that preceded the entry of a sharp-suited man. The fingers of one of his hands was pressed against a small earpiece and in the other he clutched a clipboard as if it were the only lifebelt in a sea of chaos. Given the expression of tense disapproval etched into his high, pale brow, either the instructions he was receiving through the headset were far from to his taste, or he saw no cause whatsoever for good humour.
“Ten minutes, Dr Chambers.”
“Yes, yes,” the thin man forced out between stifled giggles, ignoring the poorly disguised sigh the highly strung man uttered as he closed the door behind him.
“Typical of this government”, Chambers said with a sarcastic eye roll. “I’ve only been back on the planet five minutes and they’ve already got me doing a press conference.”
“Well you are the flavour of the month, Alan. ‘Starsailor’, that’s what they’re calling you. Some bright spark at the Mail coined that one.”
“The Mail?! Well if all else fails at least I’ve got Middle England on my side.” He chuckled again. “Starsailor though. I do like that. Lovely sort of ring to it. Dr Alan Chambers, Starsailor. Yes I do like that. And of course not forgetting Professor Daniel Axminster, celebrity sidekick.”
The larger man made a sardonic face and collected two tumblers from a nearby cupboard, decanting a generous measure of single malt into each. He handed one to Chambers.
“Well Starsailor, this landlubber’s pleased to have you back.”
“It’s good to be back, Dan.” Chambers radiated genuine warmth of feeling. “In the words of Miss Dorothy Gale, there’s no place like home.”
The bright clink of glass heralded another appearance by the smart-suited man, now clearly in too much of a fluster to bother over the pleasantries of knocking.
“Dr. Chambers, makeup say you haven’t been down yet!” It was as though he were announcing the Apocalypse.
“Indeed I haven’t. I’m going to talk to the press, not put on a fashion show for them.”
The man eyed Chambers’ tweed and beige ensemble with something like complete alarm.
“Uh uh uh,” Chambers tutted. “Just because I’ve been to the far reaches of the universe doesn’t mean I’ve lost all sense of values. This is St. Matthew’s College Oxford, and in Oxford makeup is reserved for women and actors. I am neither.”
The man paled further, if that were possible, tapping his earpiece as though he willed it to give him some kind of release from the torment of dealing with academics. Alas the device was not so obliging and he winced away from what was clearly an even more exasperated voice on the other end of the line.
“Well this’ll have to do Dr Chambers, we are live in seven minutes.”
The man did his best to drag Alan out of the door whilst avoiding all physical contact, the Starsailor sauntering unconcernedly behind him.
“Best of luck Alan,” Axminster called after him with a cheerful salute. “Stick to the script won’t you.”
Chambers looked back at him with his bright but unutterably deep eyes and winked. “Always.”
James Edwards-Smallbone (and no, he did not make that name up) is somewhere between Baloo and Brian Blessed, and writes to get rid of ideas that are taking up valuable brain space.