I pulled back the sheet and saw the two metal limbs that now occupied the lower half of my body, much as Central City occupies the lower half of England in the twenty eighth century. Dammit – I’d only been there a few minutes and I was already talking like Maitland. And John. This whole hallucination / reality thing was really starting to cheese me off. Maitland handed me the remote control and gave me a quick overview of its controls. I don’t know what Maitland – with his tight one-piece tunic – thought were above average sized pockets but the remote control was enormous and would barely have fitted in my satchel, let alone a pocket in any jacket or trousers I own. And I own three jackets and two pairs of trousers so I’ve got a lock of pockets to choose from.

“By the way, where is my satchel?” I asked.

“You didn’t have a satchel with you when we found you” replied Maitland.

“Dammit, Brent, you’re not making any sense. You weren’t riding a horse so why would you have a satchel? Even I wouldn’t have made a mistake like that. I carry a cushion with me on away missions but cushions can fit on almost any chair in the universe. A satchel really only works on the back of a horse or, if it’s slender enough, a cow.”

“I think you’re mistaking satchel and saddle. They are two different words” said Maitland in a stage whisper.

“Dammit. I might be. You might not be wrong there, mate. Thanks for keeping a lid on it – I wouldn’t like Pen to know I get a bit muddled up – it might affect my allure.”

“I’ll add a learning module indicator to your personal development zone.”

“Thanks” said John through gritted teeth.

After a few exploratory twiddles with my new knobs I had managed to position myself at the edge of the bed. My new legs stuck out at right angles so I looked a bit like a book end or an unfinished bridge built by a socialist government which lets the workers go out on strike whenever they feel like it and as a result ends up wasting huge amounts of tax payers money and…

I was becoming irate. Oddly, more irate about socialist governments than about having had my legs amputated and replaced by metal ones. I pushed the forward button and jutted forwards. It was an anxious moment as I slid off the bed but eventually, and with much perspiration running down my back (which I later discovered was exposed to the air as even in the twenty eighth century they haven’t invented a hospital gown that doesn’t reveal things about the wearer that are best kept confidential), I stood upright and ready to start walking. I pushed the right foot button and my leg shot upwards. I pressed it again and it came down a pace further forward than it had previously been. So far so good. I did the same with the left button and moved forward again. Right, left, right, left. I was moving. True, I was goose stepping like it was the 1930s but at least Dennis Brent was mobile again. I was no longer a burden to the state and a tax black hole from which no worth nor value would emerge.

I marched out of my little sickness bay and practiced going up and down the corridor. When I felt I’d got the hang of it, I went in search of Maitland as I had just had a marvellous idea.

“Do you have the internet on this space ship and, if so, how much does it cost per minute?” I asked.

“The inter-net? I’ve never heard of the inter-net” he replied.

“The world wide web?”


“Dial up?”


“80% off on Mega Monday?”


“h t t p colon backslash backslash?”


“Tick here to confirm you are over 18?”


“Enter your credit card details for access?”


“I’m baffled” I said at last. “How can you not have the internet? It’s a lot of computers joined together with wires that mean they can talk to each other and enable fascinating technical debates to be interrupted by ignorant youths with nothing better to do than slander me and make extremely irritating points that are beneath contempt.”

“Ah – you mean the National Userlink Database Engine – it links all twenty computers in Central City and lets you click on and share information. The queues can be long after significant television broadcasts buts NUDE is one of the most popular technological innovations of the twenty eighth century.”

“Twenty computers? Are you able to access it?”

“All INNER space vessels are fitted with a copy of the key factual data centres of NUDE before departure so arguments between crew members don’t spiral out of control for want of a simple piece of information. It’s already proved vital on our trip – once when John was ready to fight me after we disagreed on the number of spoons that were made out of the Eifel Tower after the world ecology computer over-reached its remit and had it melted down – and once when Penny and John nearly came to blows over which was the better World War – the first or the third.”

“So there is a copy of NUDE here that I can use?”

“Of course – help yourself. Your username is Guest1 and your password is ABC123.”

He showed me what to do and I clicked on to NUDE. Obviously I wanted to look myself up and see what became of me, what my legacy was and how soon I became the world’s only telehistorical professor. The NUDE database was enormous and covered all sorts of topics so it took me a while to filter down to the name I wanted to see.

BRENT, Dennis – historian, writer, media personality. Doctor of Digital from the Digital University of England, Wales and Luxemburg. Author of over 700 books including the autobiography of actress WHITECASTLE, Lola

I punched the air slightly before continuing.

…, the biography of DEVINE, Sir Francois (the first man to watch television on the moon) and the controversial warts-and-all biography of STELLING, Jeff which lead to Mr Brent being briefly imprisoned in a landmark libel judgement. He is perhaps best known as the father of pioneering transgender activist BRENT JUNIOR, Dennis who married Prince George in 2037 and reigned as Britain’s last Queen before the pair were shot by revolutionaries during the 2055 uprising.

This was all too much to take in. I was going to read on when the ship began to shake violently. I struggled to my feet and goose stepped over to a window where I could see we were being bombarded with meteorites. A siren went off and Maitland immediately apologised over the intercom for any distress this might’ve caused. The ship was taking a real battering when suddenly one of the shards of rock came right through the glass and struck me in the face…

“Oww” I swore.

“About time you woke up, Dennis Brent” said Francois Devine. “Smasher is having an episode.”

“I’m BESIDE myself” he shouted, throwing another tea cup at me. This one missed me fortunately and left me able to ask what was the matter. “It’s you, Dennis Brent. I’m FURIOUS with you for falling asleep and not letting me tell you about my afternoon tea with Lola Whitecastle. I’m absolutely STEAMING.”

He hurled a sachet of sugar at me and, with nothing more to throw, he began to calm down.

“Count to ten, Smasher, and I suppose you’d better tell us all about it.” I sighed.