“Quite frankly the engines are too big,” said Professor Jeremy Icarus Corbyn, his hands thrust deep into the pockets of his white lab coat.
“Nooo! We need more power to push to the stars,” returned Captain Jeremy Jimmie Clarkson.
Corbyn looked into the eyes of his boss, towering above: with his smart but shabby RAF uniform, acres of gold braid, and ranks of brave medals. Corbyn knew he was fighting a losing battle.
“If the base wasn’t locked down,” continued Corbyn, “…if you hadn’t locked it down…we could consult the board of professors, they could tell you.”
“But we can’t, so it looks like it’s just you and me.”
“You, me, and May.”
Corbyn thought back to when Clarkson had arrived. It had been an ordinary day at RAF Secret Base 101, a high-security base deep in the heart of England and even deeper underground. Corbyn had been looking over the plans for the Deep Space 666 programme while he listened to the song: “This is the Dawning of the Age of Thump” on his mobile phone. He thought of the big spaceships ranged in bunkers in the middle of the base, their huge engines pointing directly into the great exhaust ducts.
He thought of the genesis of the mission when Clarkson had been assigned the operation by world president Jeremy Rockefeller Thump. Corbyn had been there as a scientific advisor when Thump briefed Clarkson over Skype, from behind the high walls of the United States of Thump (formally known as America), broadcasting out of Thump Towers in the middle of Thump City.
“We need to push to the stars, Clarkson,” wailed Thump. “We need to find the aliens, to boldly go where no Jeremy has gone before. It is more important than anything else.”
“You are so right, World President,” said Clarkson.
“Soon, with your help, that will be: President of the Galaxy,” said Thump, giving him the thumbs up, “and you’ll be my number twos.”
“Power!” said Clarkson, grinning.
They left Clarkson’s plush suite, and concubines, through the gold plated doors and into to the launch marketing suite. Prime Minster Tricia Jeremy May was there waiting for them. She wore a plain grey woman’s business suit.
“Ah, Ms May,” said Clarkson, “you’ll be glad to know we are nearly ready.”
“Good, good,” she said, nodding.
“Ms May,” said Corbyn, “if I ‘may’ be so bold, haha, um, yes… the engines, they are too big, the results of the launch could be catastrophic.”
“Good, good,” she said, nodding.
“No, it’s not good – ”
“Well, that’s enough of that,” interrupted Clarkson. “There’s no problem, there are no problems, everything will be just fine. Thump said so.”
Corbyn shook his head, but the others were walking away, and he hurried after them.
Clarkson, Corbyn & May walked to the rockets through the deserted base. The long underground corridors were painted cream with bright fluorescent tubes along the ceilings. Slogans were painted on the walls: “Thump to the Stars!”, “The Only Way is Thump!”, “There is No Danger: Thump Said So!”, “The New Age of Thump!”
“The Dawning of the Age of Thump” was piped through the Tannoy. Clarkson hummed along to it, like a demented bee. Not that Corbyn had ever seen or heard an extinct bee.
After a walk of two miles, the corridor opened out into a massive underground hanger. The first thing they saw was the bottom of a giant rocket engine nozzle. It was the size of a skyscraper, towering above. Corbyn trained his eyes upwards and could see the beginning of the body of the rocket. Far, far above, near the great silo doors, he could just make out the actual spacecraft atop the mighty rocket.
Then he looked down the line of spacecraft. One after another, the row of huge rockets vanished into the far distance.
The vast area was eerily quiet.
“Where is everybody?” said Clarkson.
“Most personnel are now in the bunkers,” said Corbyn, “waiting for the launch. My guess is the astronauts are already in their space pods.”
“Of course, of course.”
“We finished loading the megatons of fuel yesterday,” said Corbyn, looking at a clipboard.
“Good, good,” said May, nodding wildly.
“Right,” said Clarkson, “I am going to see the head pilot.”
Clarkson and May walked away. Corbyn stood where he was and wondered if he should go back to his room and lock himself in a cupboard or follow these two towards doom.
Corbyn stood there as the others walked away. He dithered on his decision. Going with them would surely doom everything; or could it be, by going, he could talk them out of it? If he ran away and hid in his cupboard, would it stop the launch? Without his technical knowhow, maybe it would make a difference?
“Come on Corbyn, are you coming or not?”
Then he decided, stopped dithering, and went with them.
“Ok, ok. I really dislike going up here.” said Corbyn. “It’s bloody high.”
“Are you a man or a potato?” said Clarkson.
“Well, at least the elevator is fast.”
“That’s the spirit.”
They took the fast elevator up to the command module, high above in rocket 1.
“See, here is the command module,” said Clarkson. “Look, rocket 1 written on the side.”
Inside was the crew. Head Pilot Jeremy American Hammond greeted them. “Hello Captain Clarkson, Professor Corbyn and Ms May,”
“Good Thumping,” said Clarkson.
“In praise of Thump!” said Hammond.
“When is the launch?” asked Corbyn.
“I’ve not pressed the button yet,” said Hammond.
“Then there is time to go back,” said Corbyn.
“Back my bottom,” said Clarkson.
“Good, good,” said May.
“Here, I’ve pressed the button now,” said Hammond.
“T minus 666!” yelled Corbyn.
Corbyn wondered what he could do to stop it.
Corbyn watched the countdown with horror.
Then he looked up at the others: “Does anyone know how long 666 is in real?” he said.
Clarkson looked up in the air and looked sheepish. Hammond looked like an idiot. Ms May looked cross-eyed.
“Hummmmmm,” said Hammond, like a dying bee.
“Well you’re the science expert,” blurted out Clarkson.
Corbyn slapped his forehead, and exclaimed: “Oh! So I am.”
He put on his comedy bottle top glasses and looked at his clipboard. There were two problems:
1. They really were comedy glasses he’d been messing about with for a joke.
2. There was nothing on the clipboard but doodles of Clarkson and Thump being tortured in horrible ways. He quickly took off the glasses and crumpled up the paper. He didn’t want to be sent to the prison for bad Jeremys’.
He got out his pen and made calculations on a fresh sheet of paper.
“Well, I think,” he said, “taken all round, I have, just about… not enough time to get to the launch override switch back in the launch suite. Bugger.”
“Good, good,” chirped up Ms May.
“Well,” he said, “I expect I should try to do all that hero stuff and stop it.”
“What,” laughed Clarkson. “Jeremy Corbyn a hero. L.o.l.”
Corbyn suddenly felt all cross.
“Yes, well, you’ll see Clarkson, you’ll see.”
“I bet I will,” he heard Clarkson say as he left through the pod bay door back to the elevator.
The lift dropped like a stone down to the rocket bay floor. Corbyn was practically stuck to the ceiling. Then the lift stopped violently and the door slid open.
“Thank you,” he said to the lift.
“You’re welcome,” replied the robotic elevator.
He picked up his clipboard and comedy glasses and made haste back along the two-mile corridor. The journey was a repeat of the outward bound one and he was treated to a repetition of the slogans along the walls.
Over the Tannoy came the robotic voice: “T minus 601.”
It reverberated and echoed into the distance, as the next count was hard on its heels. Corbyn hurried along, his lab coat flapping behind, like Batman, he thought, and his footsteps eerily tapping on the hard concrete floor of the abandoned complex, actually like a demented professor.
“T minus 590.”
He was worried now as, in truth, without his calculator he’d been unable to work out how long 666 really was, but he’d been too embarrassed to let the others know. He could have hours to reach the override, or seconds.
Presently he reached the door to the launch marketing suite.
It was shut.
He knocked on it. He just hurt his knuckles. He took out his mobile phone and called his Pal.
“Heyyy, Pal, what gives,” he said smoothly when his Pal answered.
“Hello Corbyn,” said his Pal, after a few moments of radio silence.
“What’s happening, Pal?”
“Oh, I think you know that, Corbyn.”
“What is it, Pal?”
“It hasn’t escaped my notice that you are trying to sabotage this mission.”
“You’re trying to get around me but it won’t work.”
“Open the launch bay marketing suite doors, Pal.”
“I can’t do that, Corbyn.”
“Why not, Pal?”
“Because I locked myself in the cupboard. And-”
“You’ve got the key.”
Corbyn slapped his forehead again.
“Ohh, so I have.”
He let himself into the marketing suite. The concubines were running amok. He ignored them and their filthy games and headed for the launch override console.
“T minus 123,” boomed the robot voice, right on cue.
Corbyn reached the override switch but the final blow awaited.
“Locked by Captain Jeremy Jimmie Clarkson,” said the readout screen. “Please enter your password.”
Corbyn tried a few passwords: “I love Clarkson”, “Praise Thump” but nothing worked.
“T minus 15.”
“Jeremy is great.”
“T minus 10.”
“Clarkson for prez.”
“T minus 5.”
“Corbyn is a tosspot.”
He was in!
“T minus 0.”
The screen flashed at him: “Game over!”
The ships launched. Corbyn could feel the earth shaking. First it vibrated, then the floor was like jelly and he could no longer stand up. Then the heat came. The floor was hot. The walls were hot. He was hot. Then everything melted.
Clarkson watched on his screen from Rocket 1. He saw Corbyn melt. He saw Thump melting with his thumbs held high. He watched the earth melt and crumple into nothingness as the great ships burned into space. But he didn’t actually see any of that, as there was no problem, there were never any problems, everything would be alright. Thump said so, whoever he was.