Friday, September 7, 2012

"The Whispering Tombs (Quality Times #1)" by Gayle Ramage (Novella)

Genre:  Adventure, Science Fiction

Type of Short Story:  Novella

Summary:  Meet Quality Times, just your average 21st century woman who happens to own a shrinkable time machine. Along on her intergalactic adventures is Tim, a self-confessed sci-fi geek who takes everything in his stride.

In 'The Whispering Tombs', Quality and Tim are residing at the luxurious Baala Haven Resort, on an unpronounceable planet, when they're invited on a quest to find ancient hidden treasure by a wealthy alien archaeologist. Reaching the caves of Azrokaran, however, loyalties are tested to the very limits as those within the group reveal their true colours.

A light-hearted mix of science fiction, adventure and humour.


I dropped the pen onto the desk and stared at the words on the page until they blurred before me. God, how pointless. How in the world did I manage to get coaxed into writing a bloody journal by a teenage boy?

Describe your experiences. Tell humanity of the worlds you’ve been to and the different species you’ve encountered, he’d said. Then we can hop back to the 16th century and leave the book somewhere. It’ll really freak out the archaeologists! The poor sap had even paid for a customised t-shirt bearing the legend: AN ARCHAEOLOGIST FREAK-OUT. Yes, he was that sad.

Tim, he of the customised t-shirt, had gone out for the evening, sampling the night life on this planet. It was our first night at the Baala Haven Resort, Baala being the region of this unpronounceable world. I should have really been out, too, living it up and shaking it down but, to be honest, I’d rather have popped into my incredibly comfy-looking bed and have inappropriate dreams about the blue Adonis who’d caught my eye when Tim and I had arrived.

Tim had asked me if I wanted to join him, but more out of courtesy than anything else. As I had been eyeing up Bluey, Tim had his eyes firmly on a pair of Barbie dolls standing in the queue behind us. I’m not being rude when I refer to them as Barbies. They did genuinely resemble the toys so beloved of young girls, even down to the plastic-looking skin. No, Tim didn’t want me cramping his style, though if I wasn’t so tired, I probably would have made damn sure I did.

I slipped underneath the soft blankets, ready for a good night’s sleep, then remembered the SD pills. SD stands for Sweet Dreams and does what it says on the tin. What you do is spend ten minutes or so focussing on whatever it is you want to dream about before chucking the little orange things down your throat. I’m not sure how they work exactly. Something to do with the stuff in the pills contacting your brain and catching your thoughts pre-sleep. I didn’t know if it would work, but I was more than willing to give it a try.

I had reached the point in the dream where Bluey peeled off his skin-tight underpants when I was rudely awakened by Tim hissing my name. Believe me, if you opened your eyes to find a spotty youth inches from your face, you’d scream, too.

‘Shut up, will you.’ He stepped back to avoid a thump. ‘It’s only me.’

‘Exactly,’ I muttered. ’Now fully awake, I sat up and glanced out the window looking onto the silver-sanded beach. It was still dark. ‘Is that... burning I can smell?’ I asked, sniffing the air.

Tim nodded, his cheeks turning a similar colour to his hair.

‘What happened?’

‘It wasn’t my fault,’ he began, after a moment’s pause. ’I mean, she looked plastic. I didn’t realise she actually was plastic.’

‘At the risk of sounding repetitive, what happened?’

‘Well, you know those two females we saw in the lobby earlier?’

‘You mean the ones I saw and you drooled over? Yes, I remember them.’

He gave me an unimpressed look before continuing. ‘Well, after partying for a bit, we went back to their apartment and-’

I raised a hand. ‘Spare me the graphic details, Timothy.’

‘Huh, we didn’t even get to that! We flirted for a bit, then the girls decided to get more drinks from the kitchen. I felt a bit cold, but there wasn’t a fireplace like we’ve got, so I found a bundle of candles hiding away in a drawer. Thought it might be a bit sexy, y’know. Romantic.’

Plastic girls. Burning candles. I could see the punch line coming, but let him continue.

He started to twist the hem of his red chequered shirt. ‘They came back through and, well, started going mental, screeching like mad harridans! Screamed at me to put out the flames. I did, and planned to get the hell out of their as soon as I could. Except one of the girls tripped over their feet and went flying.’

‘And she came into contact with a flame and started to melt,’ I finished.

‘Something like that. She’s all right, though. Still alive. It was strange, though. When the flame touched her, her whole arm was set alight.’

‘Hang on. Wait a minute. Does this little mishap mean we’ve been kicked out of the resort?’

He frowned. ‘No. I got a bit freaked out, that’s all.’

I stared at him. He’d woken me up, taken me away from untold pleasurable dreams about Bluey, because he was “a bit freaked out”?

‘They called the reception desk. Someone came to take her to the medical unit. Her sister went with her so I came here.’ He sighed, and sat down on the edge of the bed. ‘I need a drink.’

‘You need a shower,’ I shot back. ‘Sod off back to your own room and I’ll see you in the morning.’

He gave me a vacant look. ‘It is morning. Or what constitutes morning in this place.’

‘But... it’s dark outside,’ I said redundantly.

‘The people on this planet don’t sleep for long. Only a couple of hours in Earth time. The resort lets the residents sleep for as long as they want ’cos, well, they’re paying guests, but a lot of the natives are already up and about.’

‘Aren’t you the expert all of a sudden,’ I said. ’Well, as long as nobody comes in to change the bedding, I’m travelling back to the land of nod.’ I lay down and threw the covers back over me.


With a heavy sigh, my head emerged from the blankets. ‘What now?’

‘I bumped into someone on the way here, got talking and, well, we’re invited to breakfast with him.’

I was tired, but also hungry. In the end, I swore and got out of bed. Tim obviously gauged my mood correctly. He departed pretty quickly, informing me he’d go back to his own room for a quick wash before returning for me in half an hour. I waved a “whatever” hand, then disappeared into the bathroom.

Twenty-nine minutes later, refreshed, awake and smelling faintly of jasmine and cotton milk shower gel, I left my room. Tim stood outside, wearing black jeans and another of his slogan t-shirts. This beauty declared: “My other ship is a TARDIS”, which was rather lost on a universe that didn’t enjoy British science fiction shows. In fact, in the first few weeks of our intergalactic travels, Tim had gone around claiming he was a Timelord from Planet Gallifrey, called The Hacker. It didn’t last long. No one had a clue what a Timelord was, nor which system Gallifrey was part of. Soon afterwards, Tim had been forced to admit he was just a regular human being from 21st century Earth. The idiot.

He was regarding a row of paintings depicting some of the resort’s important, rich clients. They looked like rejects from Doctor Who and, when you think about the state of some of the monsters that were used in the show, well, you can only imagine the ones affronting our eyes at that moment.

My room sat on the ground floor, so we took a walk along to the dining area, already populated with various-coloured, limbed, and sized beings eating and chatting with one another. I scanned the surroundings for my blue crush, but instead my eyes rested on a hirsute creaturing putting a porridge-like substance into a place no porridge-like substance has any place being in. I looked away so fast I almost knocked over one of the marble-skinned waiters carrying a tray of brightly-coloured drinks. I gave him a sheepish smile and trailed after Tim.

He’d stopped at a table currently occupied by an incredibly thin, grey-skinned humanoid in what appeared to be an early 20th century safari outfit, khaki-coloured clothing covering his pallid tone. I observed with uneasy fascination as the food he ate slid visibly down his throat, he was so thin. I gulped self-consciously and vowed to order a big breakfast.

‘Tim!’ The breakfaster greeted as we sat down across from him. His bead-like black eyes landed on me. His nostrils emitted wisps of blue smoke, and the slit beneath stretched into a grin. He introduced himself as Bob, a rather rich being from Planet Gastron, somewhere neither Tim nor I had had the pleasure – or misfortune – of visiting yet.

‘Bob? That’s a bit of an Earthy sort of name,’ I said.

‘Oh it is. Many years ago, it became fashionable for visitors to Earth to give their offspring common human names. My parents, particular fans of the British Isles, thus named me Bob. I quite like it. Sounds exotic.’ He shifted in his seat and looked at me. ‘Now, Tim. Are you going to introduce me to your charming friend?’

Tim looked up from the menu booklet in his hands. ‘Oh yeah. This is Quality Times.’

‘I bet they are,’ said Bob, in a suggestive manner.

I groaned inwardly.

‘She’s my... mum.’

‘What?’ I exploded. ‘When exactly did I have you? When I was fifteen?’

Tim shrugged. ‘It happens.’

‘Not to me it bloody well doesn’t.’ I looked at Bob. ‘He’s my adopted brother,’ I lied. ‘His own family didn’t want him. I really can’t understand why.’ I added, giving Tim a smug look.

I received a one-fingered salute in return.

A waiter approached our table, wearing the typical service uniform of a white shirt, black waistcoat and trousers – yes, the uniform was universal. We both ordered a large English fry-up and cups of strong tea. The waiter made a note and scooted away again. The resort, we’d quickly found out, catered to every species in existence, even humans. You could even get pot noodles, here.

‘So, Bob,’ began Tim, leaning back in his chair. ‘What brings you to Baala? A bit of a break from the daily grind?’

‘Something like that. My assistant and I are here for work and pleasure.’

Oh god, I thought, he’s probably having a grubby little affair with some buxom bimbo.

‘And what brings you two here?’ Bob asked in return, finishing off his food.

‘Pleasure,’ Tim explained. ‘We heard about this place, so thought we’d come and check it out. It’s not half bad,’ he said, looking around.

A different waiter from the one before arrived at our table. ‘Are you Tim, the human?’ he asked with a heavy sigh.

‘Yeah. Who wants to know?’ Tim replied, his eyebrows dipped in a frown.

‘One of our guests asked me to give you this.’


The waiter raised a hand and slapped Tim hard across the face. Those sitting nearby paused to behold the aftermath. Tim sat there in stunned silence, cradling his blotchy cheek in his hand. I felt sorry for him. Almost.

‘What was that for?’ he asked, his bottom lip trembling.

‘The lady made the request,’ explained the waiter, pointing to the far side of the room where the two Barbies stood by the entrance doors. One of them supported a bandaged arm. Directing a smug look towards us, they turned heel and left.

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