As he hunted for the Huge Evil Bubble through the wood-panelled halls of Alice Hertling's Victorian-themed spaceship, Alfred found himself thinking about his daughters. He didn't see as much of them as he would have liked, now they had moved on to uni. They still came and visited now and then, but it was always a little awkward for some reason. He'd never been as close to them as he wished he'd been when they were younger, and he had no idea how to connect to them.
He had two daughters. Janet and Petra. Janet was a bookish type who wore oversized glasses and was studying political science or sociology or one of those feel-bad-about-bad-things sort of subjects. She tended to date earnest looking young men who were so keen to argue about everything that Alfred hardly dared open his mouth in front of them. Petra had ostensibly been Alfred's son, Peter, until the age of twenty when she'd tearfully explained that she really a woman, and Alfred had feign surprise and pretend he hadn't seen that coming a mile off. Actually he'd been a little pleased, since it was the one and only time he'd shown more insight into his children's lives than his ex-wife had.
Not that this insight had brought him closer to Petra. She still left her computer programming books everywhere, only now she had taken over half of the counter in Alfred's bathroom.
Alfred loved his daughters. He had loved his ex, Lora, once. He'd done nothing wrong to them, nothing cruel, nothing hurtful. He'd just never done enough to keep them. Too busy – busy in a shop that bored him in a career that didn't interest him and still too busy for the people he loved.
He sighed, adjusted his grip on his butterfly net and turned a corner, finding himself facing a small cul-de-sac. He'd heard the Evil Bubble howling somewhere around here, but the ship was a rabbit warren. Alfred took a moment to examine the watercolours that decorated the little dead end. He wondered why Sarah had chosen to decorate her ship with artwork like these rather than something more Aboriginal, then he wondered if that was racist, before deciding that he didn't know.
And he was lost in unfocused guilt, his walkie talkie buzzed. Alfred was at a loss to understand why an advanced starship used 1980s era Dick Smith walkie talkies as personal communicators, but he had long since stopped complaining about such things lest it lead to yet another knockoff Abbott and Costello routine.
"Are you reading me, over." It was Delia, which was something at least.
"Alfred speaking. I am in corridor – " he looked for a corridor sign, expecting to see some cool sci-fi alphanumeric key printed on the walls, but instead saw a stained wooden sigh neatly lettered in copperplate writing. "Corridor 'Banksia'. Over."
"Do you see the Death Orb? Over."
"The Huge Evil Bubble? No sign. I can hear it howling, but the direction is unclear."
There was a long pause. Eventually it became uncomfortable, until with a pang Alfred barked, "Over."
"Well be careful," Delia said. "You know how dangerous it is. Over."
Alfred's heart leapt a little at Delia's concern. "Relax. The Bubble and I go way back. It's usually a big sook, really. Only kills and digests people who are trying to escape. Over."
Again there was a long silence. "Aren't you trying to escape? Over"
Being as he was a fan of horror fiction, Alfred didn't waste any time in looking around, expecting to see the Bubble directly behind him. Still, it was nowhere to be seen.
"Well… Yes. Of course I am. But…"
"But you said you came here to capture the Bubble," Alfred said. "I know you well enough to know that we're not leaving until we do so. Consequently, I'm not trying to escape yet. Over."
"There's no other reason that you might not want to escape right now? Over." Delia said, her voice sharp. Or perhaps that was the cheap 1980s speaker?
"No, of course not," Alfred said. "I'm really over this place. Too many druggings, you know? I mean, one's too many, when you get right down to it, and…"
"Be careful if you find that thing," Delia said, her voice warmer now. "Over."
The walkie talkie went dead. Alfred scratched his head. Delia made a good point, as usual. If he had been trying to escape, the Bubble would come for him. So he just had to try to escape.
By doing what exactly? If he knew anything about piloting a spaceship, he could pretend to be trying to fly away. Well, he could if he knew where the control room was, anyway. And that was if the Bubble recognised what he was doing as escaping. And how could it see him and know what he was doing, anyway? It had no eyes or other sense organs.
Perhaps it just… sensed escape somehow. It made no less sense than the rest of the things that went on in the Suburb. Alfred closed his eyes and thought hard. Escape. Freedom. Breaking out of prison. The Great Escape. That was a good movie, how long had it been since he'd seen it last? Or The Wooden Horse? that weird one with the soccer match where the POWs get away because of Pele…
Alfred opened his eyes again. Nothing.
Escape. What did escape mean? Wait, he had it! He pictured closing up his shop at the end of late night shopping on a Thursday. On a night in early spring, when there was just that hint of warmth on the cold wind. And oh, the sweetness of the air!
The howl was closer this time, much closer. Alfred turned around and readied his comically oversized butterfly net. There it was, the Giant Evil Bubble. It had killed G and two Rs, just in the time Alfred had been in the Suburb. Now here it was, after him. His blood ran cold, as his cowardice caught up to his cleverness. God, even though it was eyeless, he could feel it staring at him.
Slowly – so, so slowly – he drew the walkie talkie from his blazer pocked and pressed the big orange button. "Delia," he said. "I could do with some help."
"Over," he added.