Stargirl

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Chapter 25: Launch

They took a taxi to their warehouse, a medium-sized unit among hundreds of other identical grey cuboids. Marty was waiting outside, wearing tight dark jeans and a peacoat.

’I had a great idea for a new dish for M&M,’ he said as they pulled up. TM got out and wandered over, patting him on the shoulder; Veggie made a faff out of fishing change out of his pocket to pay the taxi driver. ‘It’d be soup, but the most stylish and decorated soup of all time.’

‘What’s in it?’ TM asked.

‘Doesn’t matter,’ Marty said. ‘It’s superficial soup.’

Superficial Soup Official,’ TM hummed. ‘I’ll run it past the chef.’

‘Derrida and Nika are heading over now, by the way,’ Marty told them. Veggie, having paid the driver, hopped over and planted a kiss on Marty’s cheek.

Veggie and Marty had supported each other after Ziggy had gone, which perhaps inevitably led to a relationship blossoming, and within the year it was fully official and they were engaged (Marty had proposed by yelling out ‘Will you marry me?’ in the middle of a performance, which had led to record-breaking sales of CDs and merch). They spent roughly equal amounts of time at Marty’s parents’ undeniably swanky pad and the new, less-swanky-but-still-better-than-the-old-one flat above Muscles & Mussels.

‘So… look, I haven’t got a clue about the first thing to do with space travel, but I’ve made this thing as cool as possible and that’s the best I can do,’ Marty said, beckoning them inside. ‘Derrida says it’s stupid, but Nika likes it and she’s usually pretty good at knowing… stuff.’

Inside the unit stood a cylindrical contraption clearly designed to look as much like a stereotypical spaceship as possible. It had things that resembled wings, things that looked a bit like thrusters, a thing that might well have been the rough shape of a cockpit. All of these things were, TM was assured, held together in one way or another.

‘That looks…’ Veggie began, taking in the sight. The rocket was around four metres high - not as big as a ‘proper’ rocket, perhaps, but as large as they could fit in their little warehouse - and bright orange (chosen for being the cheapest colour of paint, according to Derrida). Stacked in the corner were a group of old-fashioned consoles with green screens and a small speaker so that everyone on the ground would be able to hear the pilot. TM tried to gauge his partner’s reaction; Veggie examined the machine closely, then took a deep breath.

‘... A-fuckin’-mazing,’ he finished.

‘I know, right?’ Marty agreed, grinning.

’And we’re - we’re just going to do it?! Right now?!’ Veggie demanded, bouncing around like a small dog. ’This is the best!’

‘Far be it from me to curb your enthusiasm,’ Derrida interrupted, entering the warehouse with Dominika in tow, ‘but actually attempting to fly that thing is a terrible idea. I mean, a really legitimately terrible idea.’ Dominika’s dark hair was now grown out almost to waist-length and dyed so that various blues and pinks flashed from under the dark red hairs when she moved; Derrida had had the same hair for years. He wore a waistcoat over a shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up his forearms, holding a jacket over his shoulder by one finger; his usual smartness looked incongruous against the dirty warehouse.

‘You helped make it,’ Veggie countered, pouting.

‘I thought it was some sort of catharsis thing,’ Derrida said. ‘I didn’t think anyone was planning to get in it and launch, for heaven’s sake.’

‘It is some sort of catharsis thing,’ TM said, ‘but may as well try to get the most possible emotional whatnots out of it.’

‘So basically,’ Derrida said, ‘you’re just doing this because why not.’

‘That’s pretty much it, yeah.’

Derrida sighed. Dominika nudged him. ‘As good a reason as any, I suppose,’ he conceded. ‘Let’s do this.’

They all exchanged glances for a few moments, then realised that they had failed to plan for this part.

‘So, er…’ Marty scratched his head. ‘Who’s flying it?’

‘TM,’ Veggie said immediately, to TM’s surprise.

‘Really?’ TM asked, wondering whether this was Veggie’s way of teaching him something beautiful about the universe, or perhaps letting him know that he believed in him.

‘Yeah, you’re pretty skinny, you’ll fit.’

‘Oh, right.’

‘We probably need to move it outside,’ Marty pondered, looking up at the roof. ‘I mean, we could just blow a hole in the unit, but I think you might have to pay for that.’

‘Did we build it on wheels?’ TM asked.

‘Er…’ Marty leaned down and peered under the structure. ‘Narp.’

Dominika sighed, then shrugged and toddled over to the rocket, stuck her hands underneath and heaved. The ship tilted; she glared pointedly at the rest of the group. Derrida and Marty took up positions around the machine; between the three of them, they crab-walked the entire spaceship out of the warehouse (with some difficulty getting out of the door, like a scaled-up version of trying to move a sofa out) and plonked it down on the concrete outside.

‘I don’t know if it should be light enough to just pick up like that,’ TM said. ‘Not trying to sound negative, but I’m about to get in that thing and go to space.’

‘It’s fiiiiiiiine,’ Veggie reassured him, which was entirely un-reassuring.

‘Much as I hate to relinquish my usual stance of total cynicism about everything,’ Derrida said, brushing his hands off, ‘I think the only way to make sense of the way the universe works, in the light of what we know about Ziggy and stars becoming humans and all that, is to accept that things are broadly just a bit weird and perhaps usual scientific standards aren’t in fact the best way of measuring whether something’s likely to work or not.’

‘This guy gets it,’ said Veggie.

‘What you’re saying,’ TM said uncertainly, ‘is that maybe this will work not because it’s built in a smart way that makes sense by normal standards, but because… our standards of what makes sense are different, and if we think this makes sense to us then it’ll just work in real life?’

‘Something like that.’

TM sighed. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Strap me in.’

*

I got Green Dragon, I ride Red Hare

I’ll beat the shit out of Monobear

I’m a ghoul, I’m a Death God, I’m an Anti-Spiral

It’s long past time for a Psychonauts revival

I got my Buster Sword

I got my Keyblade

Got dragon’s balls

Shove them in your face, yeah

I wear my Mega Ring

I go Bankai

I bust out my Scissor Blade

And show you why, yeah!

TM ejected the cassette. ‘I’m flattered that you gave me a recording of “I Got My Buster Sword” -’

‘Latest version, trying out a couple new verses,’ Marty chirped through TM’s headset. ‘What ya think?’

’I think the fact that you fitted the rocket with a cassette player is immensely reassuring,’ TM said, checking out the rest of the cockpit. He was strapped into what seemed to be a repurposed rollercoaster seat, surrounded by buttons that, for the most part, were there for stylistic purposes and not in fact hooked up to anything. A small window pointed skyward, a rectangle filled with blue. ‘Anyway, I’m flattered by the gift, but don’t you want the tape back before we go? It might not come back.’

‘Naw, you gotta keep that,’ Marty said. ‘That tape’s gonna be the first of many Inciting Incident demos sent into space and enjoyed by all the many inhabitants of the cosmos.’

‘Righty-ho. Can I speak to Veg?’

There was a crackling over the headset as Marty handed his mic over.

‘We should probably have got more than one of these things,’ Veggie said when the sounds of movement faded.

‘Hm.’

There were a few moments of silence. ‘What’s up?’ Veggie asked eventually.

‘Just… I thought that after Ziggy was gone, things would get less surreal and more normal-reality-like, and now I’m literally about to try to shoot myself into space in a can built by people who know nothing about space travel.’

‘I read a book,’ Marty yelled from a distance, his voice tinny through the headset.

‘I know what you mean,’ Veggie said. ‘About the Ziggy thing. She made everything… weirder.’

‘That she did.’

‘I think she’s just changed us for all time, y’know. I don’t think things are ever going back to normal.’

TM nodded slowly. ‘Wouldn’t have it any other way.’

The muted, static-laden sound of discussion burst through the headset, then Derrida took the mic.

‘We’re ready for launch,’ he told TM. ‘I’ll be your co-pilot on the ground.’

‘So, er… how does this actually work and what do I do?’ TM asked, thinking that these might have been questions he should have asked earlier.

‘We put engines on, so we’re pretty sure that’ll do something. I’ll talk you through your end of it; Dominika’s drawn you a map so you’ve got some idea where we’re going.’

TM cast around the cockpit and spotted it: a piece of lined A4 blu-tacked onto the wall. She’d drawn, in purple felt tip, a circle labelled ‘Earth’ and a dot labelled ‘star-Z’. An arrow pointed from the Earth to the star, the words ‘go this way’ written next to it. That was all. ‘Thanks for the map, Nika.’

He thought he heard her give a thumbs-up.

‘Right, let’s switch some shit on,’ Derrida said.

‘Technical,’ Marty retorted, his voice coming through clearly, as if they were squished together at the console.

Something started to vibrate. TM’s whole body shook with the force of the entire pod, the cocoon to which he had entrusted his body, building up force around him. Then it all stopped.

‘Er.’ TM could hear Derrida tapping at something on his end.

‘Was that supposed to happen?’ TM asked.

‘Not as such,’ Derrida admitted. ‘It looks like we just didn’t give the thing enough power.’

TM closed his eyes and sat there. It was stupid, he thought, to have really believed that they would be able to shoot him into space and bring Ziggy back, and yet he had believed. It seemed so much easier to believe in things that made no rational sense now that he knew that something like Ziggy could exist in the universe, but this… might have been a step too far.

‘I mean…’ Marty began. TM could hear his voice wobbling slightly, as if he were tapping his feet, unable to stay still. ‘At least we didn’t run out of power halfway to space? That would have sucked.’

‘Better not to have to fall back down, I guess,’ Derrida agreed. ‘Sorry.’

Veggie’s voice came over the headset next. ‘Dom, what are you -’ There were sounds of a struggle, then a loud burst of static as the microphone got knocked over. TM winced. ‘TM, she’s stealing my space rock necklace!’

TM sighed. There was a knock on the window, and he looked up to see Dominika crouching on top of the rocket, clutching the sliver of space rock. ‘What are you -’

She thrust the rock meaningfully in his direction.

‘That… meant something to Ziggy,’ TM realised. ‘She didn’t know what, but she felt something in it.’

Dominika nodded furiously.

‘She was linked to it somehow.’

More nodding.

‘You think it can get me to her?’

A casual shrug.

‘I’ll take those odds.’

Dominika saluted and hopped down. TM heard scratching and banging around the sides of the rocket.

‘She just put my space rock in the engine!’ Veggie wailed.

Everything started to shake again.

‘Er, ground control to TM?’ Veggie’s voice came over the headset, almost drowned out by the noise of the rocket coming to life. ‘I think it’s working.’ The shaking and booming intensified until TM was aware of nothing else. He tried to yell down the headset:

‘I think it might be -’

Everything was silent.

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