Return To Earth

This is the story of when Mark returned to Earth at the end of Unwilling From Earth. It was in the first draft, but it got cut from the final published version.  A few people have asked why Mark never came back to visit his home planet, so I have reworked the story specially for my reader group members. This is not available anywhere else and access is limited to those who have signed up to join my readers group.

There are a couple more story threads that got cut from the published version. If you would like to see these too, email me at If there are enough that would like to see more, I’ll re-work them and put them on here just for my readers group members.

I hope you enjoy this story.

Willing To Earth

Copyright ©Andrew Maclure 2018

All rights reserved.


Chapter One

Willing To Earth

Mark and Sally sat at the coffee table in their room on Alan’s ship. Mark had a tea, Sally had a coffee. She had just got back from yet another meeting with a newly promoted Colonel.

“I’m going to be busy here for a while.” she said, “Why don’t you go back to Earth and visit your parents?”

“They manage to forget me between my annual visits, so I don’t think they’ll notice if I never turn up again, and I don’t need them to nag me and point out my faults any more, I’ve got you and Mike to do that for me.”

“You must have some loose ends to tie up. You left rather suddenly when that thing whisked you away.”

“You mean Alan? He hardly whisked me away. I practically begged him to take me.”

“Yeah, I remember. And you just dumped me, leaving me there. A poor little girl, broken hearted and lonely.”

“Except you aren’t a poor little girl, you’re a psycho killer alien with your own army.”

Sally sipped her coffee. “But you didn’t know that at the time.” she said, with a pout.

“Don’t do the pouty little girly thing. You broke my nose as soon as you saw me again!”

“Yes, I did, didn’t I.” she said with a smile.

“Anyway, I’m not sleeping in my old flat again.” he shuddered. “I’d rather sleep in a ditch.”

“There’s a luxury flat above the Chequers. You can stay there.”

“I thought the barman lived there.”

“No, he has some rooms at the back of the building. It’s an old coaching Inn, it’s a lot bigger than it looks from the front.”

“I would have to contact the agents – if there’s no-one living there at the moment.”

“There had better not be.” Sally said. “It’s my flat.”

“You own the flat above the Chequers?”

“I own the whole building. It was up for sale and closing down when I got to Earth. The barman, Roger, was going to be homeless and I needed somewhere to stay, so I bought it.”

“What with? You don’t use money, and you would never have got a mortgage.”

“There is a hobbyist in Winchester who owes me a favour. He arranged the purchase and paid for it.”

“A hobbyist? What is he, a stamp collector? A train spotter?”

“No you idiot. He takes gold and diamonds to Earth, sells them on the black market and gives cash to tourists. He likes the thrill of avoiding the authorities, and it doesn’t hurt anyone. And he makes a lot of contacts who owe him favours. I’ll let Roger know you are coming. Now, I’ve got another meeting, so off you go. Let me know when you get back.” Sally stood and blinked out.

‘Well,’ Mark thought to himself. ‘Looks like I’m going back to Earth’.

“Kate, would you take me to the Swift and then take the Swift to Earth please?”

Mark blinked to his shuttle, then took the short trip to the Swift.

“Kate, this flat over the Chequers, do you know if it has a synthesiser in it?” Mark asked his AI.

Of course not Mark. No technology beyond the current human level is permitted on Earth.

“Apart from my shuttle.” Mark said.

That is correct.”

“And what is embedded in me.”

Of course.”

“In that case, I’ll need to pack. Can you make a pattern for a rucksack, a modern one with a logo on it, like Nike or Adidas or something and get it made please?”

Certainly. A Rygel Sports rucksack.”

“A what?”

Rygel Sports. It’s the most popular sports brand at the moment.”

“If you say so. I’ll need a couple of jump suits, a spare pair of boots and – say, six sets of underwear. Anything else I’ll buy while I’m on Earth. And maybe I’d better take something for the hobbyist. What do you suggest?”

Diamonds are easy to make in a synthesiser, they are small, light and are very valuable on Earth. I’ll have a synthesiser make a kilogram of small diamonds made with cuts that are popular. The black market price on Earth for diamonds is much lower than for those with valid certificates of origin, but a hobbyist should be happy to be given a kilogram of them.”

“How much would they be worth on the black market?”

About ten million pounds, or thirteen million US dollars.”

“Wow! That would have made me happy if someone had given them to me when I lived on Earth!”

I am sure it would.”

Is it safe for me to take my shuttle and leave it where Alan’s was?”

Yes Mark, that facility would appear to still be disused. It is three forty in the morning local time there now, so it is still dark. Now would be a good time to leave.”

Mark packed his new rucksack and blinked to his shuttle. “Take me down, Kate.” He instructed his AI.

Chapter Two


His descent to Earth was a lot more comfortable than his ascent, with no free fall, no re-orientation, no need for wrist or ankle straps. Mark supposed that it was Alan’s vocation that made him cling on to archaic, outdated technology. A bit like his dad still having a VHS recorder. The shuttle quietly and gently settled into the space that Alan’s shuttle had occupied. Mark stood up, stretched, picked up his rucksack and stepped out into the cold air of pre-dawn Winchester.

It was now ten past four and still pitch dark. Mark looked up and saw a few stars through the light pollution, and a crescent moon hung low on the horizon. He realised that when he looked up on clear nights on the planets he had been on since leaving Earth there had been no light pollution, and that if the skies were clear, he could see a myriad of stars. He smiled to himself. It was such a short time ago that Earth had been his universe and now it was just another planet to him, even if it was where he thought of as home. As he contemplated the night sky he realised that with the life span that he could now look forward to, and the way that things were moving forwards on Earth, what he thought of as home would soon be gone forever, along with everyone and everything he knew and remembered. A feeling of nostalgia for his old life caught at him and he felt his throat tighten. He began to appreciate that near immortality had its downsides too.

As he started to walk into the City, he realised that nowhere would be open yet. As best as he could remember, Starbucks opened at five o’clock, but he didn’t like their coffee very much and their tea was best avoided.

“Kate, where is the nearest place I can get some money from, and when do they open?”

There is only one person in Winchester supplying tourists with money. His name is Dongyul. He is the one Sally spoke of. I’ll take you there, he’ll probably be there now.”

“Dongyul? Doesn’t he have an Earth name?”

It is an Earth name, it is Korean. It helps him to explain to the natives why he is a bit different from them, and why he has so many strange visitors.

The walk to the City centre took Mark a leisurely twenty minutes, and he arrived at a door with flaking black paint, sandwiched between a shop selling expensive housewares and an artisan coffee shop in a side street just off the high street. It had the name Intercontinental Trading Partners on a small brass plate screwed to the door. Mark pushed at the door and it swung open straight onto a narrow flight of stairs with a worn and grubby dark green carpet. He walked up the stairs to a small landing with another door in need of repainting. He turned the handle and the door opened into a tidy and well-lit office. It’s occupant, presumably Dongyul, sat behind an old fashioned leather topped desk. As Mark walked in the occupant rose to his feet.

“Can I help you? Are you lost?” he asked.

“I think I’m at the right place. I need some money.”

The occupant squinted and tilted his head sideways. “I think you are at the wrong place. There are several banks on the high street. You’ll easily find them, but they won’t be open yet. Goodbye.” He then sat down and picked up a piece of paper and started reading it.

Mark tried again. “Ah, excuse me, I know you normally deal with tourists, but I’d like some help please.”

The occupant of the desk looked up suspiciously. “What do you know about tourists?” He asked.

“I know that you are a hobbyist and that you supply tourists with money. I’m not exactly a tourist, but I’d like some money please. If that’s OK.”

“Who are you?” The occupant demanded, reaching into a drawer.

“I’m Mark, Friend of the People, recently fighting with Sally’s army against the forces of Tk’ng Dach Rm. Access my AI to confirm my identity.”

The occupant frowned for a moment then leapt to his feet. “Mark, Friend of the People, slayer of Tk’ng Dach Rm! What are you doing here! I mean, I heard that you were from a pre-emergent civilisation – but you’re a human! I didn’t know… What are you doing in Winchester? Sit down, sit down. Make yourself comfortable. Can I offer you tea, coffee, something stronger? Something to eat? Recreational drugs? I’m Dongyul, by the way.”

“I guessed you must be. A coffee would be good please. I’m a bit tired and haven’t taken a sleep suppressor.”

“Sleep suppressors eh? I can tell you’re military. I’ll just put the machine on. It’s new. I only bought it a couple of weeks ago, from next door. It makes great coffee.” Dongyul busied himself with the coffee machine and got two clean mugs out of a filing cabinet drawer.

He sat down at his desk and continued. “As I was saying, what are you doing in Winchester?”

“I live here. Lived here, I mean. I’ve just come back to tidy up some loose ends, then I’m off again to travel the galaxy.”

Dongyul looked puzzled. “How did you get here? Did one of the People bring you? The coffee is ready. Do you take milk?”

“Yes please to milk, just a splash. I came here in my own ship. It’s my first trip in it.”

Dongyul fetched the coffees and sat down again. “Your own ship? How did you get that?”

“The People gave it to me. Or rather, I asked for one and they gave it to me.”

“A People’s ship? One of those damn great big ones? Are you travelling alone?”

“It’s big enough, but they have bigger. I’ve got a travelling companion. They left Sally’s army to travel with me.”

“Is your companion with you on Earth?”

“No, she’s a reptile. She wouldn’t blend in here.”

“No, she wouldn’t. Anyway Mark, you came here because you want some money. How much?”

“I’m not planning to be here long. Would ten thousand pounds be OK?”

“If you think you need ten thousand, you’d better take twenty. Maybe thirty. Would you like a debit card as well? I can make one for you now.”

“I didn’t think you were allowed to use advanced technology here. How can you set up an account and a debit card right now?”

Dongyul grinned. “It’s not that complicated. The card will debit my account and I bought a little machine on Ebay that makes the cards. I don’t think it’s strictly legal, but it’s not hurting anyone.” He swivelled round in his chair and pressed a few buttons on a small beige coloured machine. There was a faint smell of hot plastic and a gold coloured card was ejected from it. Dongyul passed it to Mark. “There you are, complete with chip. The PIN is 1111.You should remember that. I’ll get you some cash.” He stood and walked over to a book case full of dusty looking books. He pressed the spine of the second book from the left on the bottom shelf and the book case swung open to reveal an opening with shelves from floor to ceiling. Each shelf held four wooden boxes. He took one of the boxes and placed it on the table. “Pass up your rucksack, I’ll put it straight in there.”

Mark lifted his almost empty rucksack on to the desk and opened it, first lifting out the bag of diamonds. Dongyul proceeded to stuff it full of rolls of fifty, twenty and ten pound notes until it was nearly full.

“I bet you don’t have a wallet, do you?” He asked Mark.

“No, I lost all of my personal possessions in a recycling accident just after leaving Earth.”

“These things happen.” Dongyul said with a smile. He reached into a drawer in his desk and pulled out a slim leather wallet which he tossed to Mark. You don’t want to pull out bundles of notes every time you want to buy a coffee.” He said. “Is there anything else you need?”

“No that’s great, it’s very generous of you. Although I’ve just realised that amongst the things I lost are the keys to my flat. Do you know of a locksmith who could get it open for me?”

“What sort of lock is it?” Dongyul asked.

“It’s a Yale lock. Does it make a difference?”

“Yes.” He stood up and opened a drawer in a filing cabinet and pulled something out of it. “Now look, I shouldn’t really have this, it uses advanced technology. Not advanced to us, it’s pretty simple really, but far in advance of Earth technology. This is a smart metal Yale type key. It will open any lock. Recycle it when you’ve finished with it or bring it back to me. Whatever you do, don’t leave it on Earth or tell anyone I gave it to you.”

“Thanks Dongyul, I owe you one.” Mark said with a smile.

“Yes, you do.” Dongyul replied with a grin. “I may need to collect on that one day.”

“By the way,” Mark said, “I brought something for you as a bit of a thank you for your help.” He handed over the bag.

“What’s this?” Dongyul asked, a little suspiciously.

“A kilo of cut diamonds. My AI suggested they might be useful to you.”

“Thanks Mark. That’s thoughtful of you.” He dropped the bag into a drawer without looking inside it. “Another coffee?”

“No thanks. I’ve got a lot to do and I want to get it done as soon as possible. But… this sounds a bit weird, do you have a container so that I can take a sample away with me. It really is good coffee.”

“That’s not weird at all! If you can get a good pattern for that can you have your AI download it to me please. My civilisations synthesisers aren’t up to making a decent copy.” He stood and poured some of the coffee into an insulated cup, screwed the lid on and handed it to Mark.

Mark stood up and held his hand out. Dongyul stood and shook Mark’s hand. “Thanks for your help Dongyul. I meant it about owing you one, contact me if you need a favour.”

“It was an honour meeting you Mark, and I meant it when I said I may need to collect on that.”

Chapter Three

Back To The Day Job

Mark walked to the station taxi rank and took a taxi to his flat. It cost a lot more than a bus, but money wasn’t a problem now, and in the short time that he had been away he had got used to going where he wanted, when he wanted. He either blinked around Mother, or there was always a lander about to leave wherever he was, going to wherever he wanted to go, and Winchester buses ran to their own time table, not his. He asked the driver to wait outside. Handing him a twenty pound note quickly pulled from a bundle in Mark’s rucksack helped to persuade him.

He opened the door with Dongyul’s key and walked in to his flat. It was a lot smaller and scruffier than he remembered. He opened the fridge and recoiled at the smell of spoilt milk. The half pizza that he had left in there had grown an impressive coat of green fur, which probably didn’t help the unpleasant fridge aroma. Mark poured the milk, which came out in thick lumps, down the kitchen sink, washing it down with hot water. The pizza went into the bin.

His plan had been to collect his clothes and anything else that he could get into his suitcase, take it to the Chequers and then go into the office and resign. Looking round at the seedy flat in great need of re-plastering, redecoration, rewiring, re-plumbing, new carpets, kitchen, bathroom and furniture, Mark reflected on his life here. He had been desperate to get out of this existence and now he wondered why he hadn’t done something before. This place wasn’t fit for human habitation and his job was demeaning and boring. He thought about changing into his suit before going into the office, but then thought – stuff it, he would go as he was. Then he remembered that his one remaining suit was still at the dry cleaners.

He grabbed a roll of notes from his rucksack and ran down to the taxi. He negotiated a rate with the driver to hire the taxi for the whole day. Mark thought he had been ripped off but didn’t care about the money. As a sign of good faith he paid the driver half up front.

Back in his flat Mark retrieved his passport and thought about what else he needed. There was nothing else he really needed, and nothing else that he wanted either. The only things of real value that he owned were his Xbox, its collection of games, and a high resolution TV that it was plugged into. He didn’t want them, but he didn’t want to leave them for Mr Perkins, his landlord. Then he remembered Mrs Sayed, who lived in the second terraced house further down the street. He had spoken briefly to her a few times in the local convenience store and knew that she had struggled since her husband, Javed, had been killed when he was knocked over by a hit and run driver while crossing the road about eighteen months ago. He was pretty sure that her son Sanjit would appreciate the Xbox and games.

Mark got a bin liner and bundled the Xbox, games and TV into the bag and after a moment’s thought, dropped one of the rolls of notes from his rucksack in with them. He paused a moment and then dropped four more rolls of notes into the bag, then another five rolls. He carried the awkward shaped bundle down the stairs and along the street to Mrs. Sayed’s front door. It was still very early, not quite six o’clock, but he wanted to get finished here and put his old flat behind him. He rung the door bell and waited. After a few minutes, he rang it again.

A couple of minutes later he heard Mrs Sayed’s voice coming through the door. “Who is it?” She asked.

“It’s me, Mark, from the flats down the street.”

He heard the chain being drawn back and Mrs. Sayed opened the door just far enough to look out at him. “What’s wrong? Do you need something?” She asked.

“I’m really sorry to call so early Mrs. Sayed. I’m moving out today, and when I was getting my things together I realised that I didn’t need these anymore and I wondered if Sanjit would like them. It’s my Xbox and TV.” He held up the bin liner for her to see.

The door opened wider and Mark saw Mrs. Sayed in a dressing gown and slippers, with untidy hair. “That is so kind of you Mark, but I’m not sure that I can afford them.”

“No, I don’t want to sell them to you, it’s a gift.” He was beginning to feel embarrassed about it now and could feel his face reddening. He held the bag towards her. “There’s a little something in there for you too, something that I don’t need any more.”

“Oh thank you Mark. That’s so thoughtful of you.” She gave him a tired smile. “Are you going far?”

“Yes.” He replied. “Very far away. Anyway, I mustn’t keep you. Goodbye Mrs. Sayed.”

As he turned and walked away she called after him. “Thank you again Mark, have a safe journey.”

When Mark got back into his flat he looked around one last time. No, there was nothing he wanted. He paused to pack the wallet that Dongyul gave him with cash and the debit card, straightened out a roll of notes and slipped it into a breast pocket in his jump suit. He checked to make sure that he had the smart metal key and shut the door behind him.

He got into the taxi and asked the driver where he could get a good breakfast at this time of the morning. He drove Mark to the city centre and directed him to Cafe Winchester in St Thomas street before dropping him off. Mark took the drivers card and told him he would call him in two or three hours.

As the taxi drove away, Mark said “Shit. I forgot, I haven’t got my mobile now.”

He heard his AI’s voice speaking to him. “That’s not a problem Mark. It is simple enough for me to get into the mobile phone network. Let me know when you are ready, and I’ll set up the call.

Mark had a relaxing breakfast and killed a pleasant hour and a half. He took a leisurely walk to the office, arriving ten minutes early. The walk to his desk felt uncomfortable, it was the first time he had ever done it while not wearing a suit. He logged in to check his email, eventually deleting all of it. There wasn’t a single email of any relevance to him. He sighed and leaned back in his chair. How had he put up with this for so long? Out of curiosity he went down to the archive, getting some curious stares as he walked through the office. The ‘Beware Of The Leopard’ sign on the door had come unstuck on one corner and hung loosely down. Mark carefully re attached it and went into the archive. As far as he could remember, every part-sorted pile of paper that he had left that Friday when Alan whisked him away was still there, untouched. Shaking his head, Mark walked out, pushing the door shut behind him. He slowly walked up the stairs and back to his desk. Before he sat down, his team leader, Terry Mason called him to his cubicle. Mark walked in and took a seat.

“Where have you been for the last two weeks?” Terry asked.

“You noticed I wasn’t here?”

“Yes, of course I did.”

“You didn’t notice that I have been away for four weeks?”

“Really? Well, where were you?”

“Personal business. Sorry, it was all a bit sudden.”

“I can’t help noticing, but you aren’t wearing a suit.”

“I’m more comfortable in this.”

“Well, now you’re back, I’d like an update on progress and an anticipated finish date for sorting the archive documents.”

“I’ve been thinking about that while I was away.”

“Good.” Terry said. “At least your mind was still on the job, even if you weren’t here.”

“No, not good. That job is well below my capabilities. It is demeaning to give it to an experienced and skilled IT specialist. What were you thinking giving me that job? Sod Anthony James’s empire building. If he’s so bloody keen to keep it in the department, he can do it. If you won’t tell him, I will!”

Terry sat back in his chair. Who was this in his office. He looked like Mark. But this wasn’t the Mark that he knew. “Well, perhaps I can put you onto another project. Did you have anything in mind?” he asked, a little nervously.

“No. I have had time to review my career here. I relied on you to look after my career development and all I have had is the crap jobs and years of minimum pay reviews despite good performance reviews. I’ve seen what else is available to me out there and I’m going to pursue that. I resign, with immediate effect. I’m not going to work a notice period, there is nothing to hand over. You let me down Terry. Do me a favour and look after the rest of your staff with a bit more consideration.”

“But Mark, there are lots of opportunities here. If you go somewhere else you won’t get access to the kind of technology that we are planning to implement.”

Mark laughed and stood up. “You are certainly right about that. Look Terry, you might be a crap manager, but you’re a nice guy. I don’t want to part on bad terms. I’m going away now and I’m not planning to come back. Tell HR to hold anything for me here and I’ll collect it later.” He held out his hand, Terry stood up and shook it.

“Good luck in the future Terry.”

“You too Mark. If you change your mind or it doesn’t work out, I’ll always find a role here for you.”

Mark smiled and left. As he walked out he told his AI to call the taxi driver and tell him to meet Mark at the entrance to the IFG office.

Mark sat on the steps of the office as he waited for the taxi to arrive, enjoying the early summer sun.

Are you planning to buy sample foods to take back to your craft?” His AI asked.

“No, I really just want to get away from any reminder of my old life. All the time I’m here it reminds me of the person I was before, and I don’t want to be that person any more. I’ve got two more things to do, then I want to get to my ship.”

The taxi pulled up and Mark jumped in. “Take me to the Chequers please.”

Instructing the taxi to wait, Mark banged on the door to the chequers. A few minutes later, Roger the bar man opened the door, looking a bit tousled.

“Sorry, did I get you out of bed?” Mark asked.

“That’s OK. I was going to get up some time. Can I help you?” Roger asked sleepily.

“Have you heard from Sally?”

“No. Should I have done?”

“Yes, Well, if you get a note from her to let me use her flat, I don’t need it now.”

“You woke me up to tell me to ignore the note that I haven’t got yet? Aren’t you the guy that Sally brought in just before they all left?”

“Yes, I’m Mark. You remember me?”

“Yeah. You drunk far too much Skull Splitter and Sally left with Simon carrying you over his shoulder. You probably don’t remember that bit.” He yawned and rubbed his eyes. “Hey, you’re wearing that black kit that they all wear. Have you joined them?”

“Yes, sort of.”

Roger opened the door wider and stepped back. “You’d better come in then. Would you like a coffee?”

“I’d prefer tea. With milk please.”

Roger shut and locked the door behind Mark. “Take a seat anywhere, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Mark walked around the bar, looking at the pictures and antique farming implements fixed to the walls. When Roger came back a few minutes later carrying two mugs, Mark took a seat at a table close to the bar. Roger sat down and passed a mug of tea to Mark.

“So what can I do for you Mark.”

“This might sound a bit strange, but can I have a pint of Skull Splitter to take away?”

Roger smiled. “That might seem strange anywhere else, but I get asked that a lot here. I’ve got some pint bottles with screw down tops in specially for that. Anything else?”

“Would it be possible to take some tea bags and milk?”

“You sound like one of the tourists.” Roger said. “They usually ask for a whole basket of stuff to take away – crisps, peanuts, bar food, all sorts of stuff. Do you want all that?”

“Well, if it’s not too much trouble. I’ll pay for it of course.”

“No problem. Sally seemed to like you, I’ll put it on her tab.”

“She runs a tab?” Mark asked.

Roger laughed. “Not really. She just gives me a fist full of cash every now and then and tells me to take what she owes the bar out of it and to keep the rest.”

“OK.” Mark said, with a grin. “I’ll do the same.”

Ten minutes later Roger returned with a large canvas bag with ‘The Chequers, Winchester.” Printed on it in large letters. “Here you go. Do you know when Sally is coming back?”

“She may be some time.” Mark told him.

“Kate, is there any way that Roger can contact Sally using People’s communications?” Mark asked his AI.

Give him your mobile phone number and tell him to message you. I’ll route it through the local subspace node and I’ll receive it.”

Mark asked for a piece of paper and wrote his mobile number on it. He gave it to Roger saying “I’ll be meeting up with Sally again soon. The phone signal is really poor there, but messages will get through. If you need Sally, WhatsApp me and I’ll let her know. I’ve got to go now. Thanks for the tea.” He reached into his backpack and pulled out a roll of notes. He handed it to Roger. “This is for the stuff in the bag. Take what I owe the bar out of it and keep the rest.”

Roger took the roll without looking at it a put it into his pocket. “You didn’t need to pay for it, but thanks.”

“I’ve got to go now, I’m sure I’ll be back some time with Sally.” Mark got up from the table and walked to the door. “Thanks again for the tea.” He said as he left.

Chapter Four

Landlords And Tenants Act

Mark got into the taxi and gave the driver the address for the office of Mr Perkins, his landlord. When they arrived he asked the driver to wait for him. He entered the building and climbed a flight of stairs to Mr Perkins office. He walked straight in and found Mr Perkins sitting back in his chair, with his feet on the desk, reading a tabloid newspaper. Mr Perkins was a thin, oily looking man with a distinct pot belly bulging over the waist band of his trousers. He was wearing a brown suit with a cream coloured shirt that looked like it should have been changed yesterday.

He glanced up at Mark and said, “What do you want?”

“I’m Mark Brennan. One of your tenants.”

“I’ve got a lot of tenants.” Mr Perkins said, showing more interest in the newspaper than in Mark. “Give me a clue.”

“I’m one of the ones renting a shithole of a flat and paying you far too much rent. But that probably doesn’t narrow it down much.”

“Gerry!” called out Mr Perkins. A large, heavily muscled man with a shaven head came in from a back office. “We’ve got a smart arse here. Throw him out will you.” He then gave his full attention to the newspaper.

“Come on sunshine. Out you go.” The large heavily muscled man called Gerry said.

“If you’d just like to take a seat a moment.” Mark asked Gerry. “I need to conclude some business with Mr Perkins.”

Gerry laughed. “Cocky little bugger aren’t you? Get out!”

Mark sighed. “Look, there’s no need for any unpleasantness or for anyone to get hurt. Just sit down please, I’ll finish with Mr Perkins and leave, and then you can get back to whatever it is you were doing.”

“Right!” Exclaimed Gerry and reached out to grab him. Mark’s training with Mike kicked in and without him even thinking about it, stepped back and to his left, and as Gerry moved forward Mark caught him off balance and gave him a shove in the back. Gerry stumbled into a row of filing cabinets. He turned around looking very angry.

“Gerry, you’re outclassed. Just sit this out. I won’t be long with Mr Perkins.” Mark told him in a conciliatory voice. By now, Mr Perkins had put his paper down and was watching with a smile on his face.

Gerry responded angrily. “Outclassed by a fucking ballerina! You’ll be sorry you did that.”

Mark sighed again. Gerry launched himself at Mark, swinging his fist at Mark’s face. Mark had trained for just this kind of attack, although Mike had always assumed that his assailant would be armed with a blade of some description. He ducked underneath and came up again with the heel of his right hand slamming into Gerry’s jaw, snapping his head backwards. As Gerry’s momentum carried him forward, Mark stepped round him and grabbed his left arm. Leaning back, Mark swung Gerry round then drove his fist into his solar plexus. Gerry dropped to the floor gasping for breath.

Mark turned his attention back to Mr Perkins, whose smile had disappeared and was now looking rather worried.

“Now, Mr Perkins, would you ask Gerry to stand down please, I don’t want to have to break him.” He heard Gerry coughing as he lay on the floor and turned around to face him.

Gerry looked up, still wheezing, and grinned. “So you’re not a ballerina.”

Mark smiled. “No.” He offered his hand to pull Gerry to his feet, ready for his next attack. Gerry grasped his hand and pulled himself up.

“I’ll just sit this one out Mr Perkins.” Gerry said and slapped Mark on the back before sitting on a chair at the side of the office, next to the door.

Mr Perkins was looking nervous as Mark turned to face him again. “You are an idiot Mr Perkins. I was going to pay you thirty days’ notice on my flat and tell you to keep the deposit to pay for clearing it. Now, to compensate for the inconvenience that you just caused me and Gerry, you can keep the deposit, but I’m not giving notice now. OK?”

Leaning forwards in his chair, Mr Perkins responded with, “No. You owe me a month’s rent in lieu of notice! I’ll have that, or else!”

Mark leaned forward and picked up a glass paperweight, a souvenir from the Vatican gift shop. With the aid of his phase shift armour, he squeezed the paperweight until, with a loud crack, it disintegrated into crushed glass. Mark let it trickle through his fingers into a pile on the desk.

Mr Perkins gave out a squeak and jumped back in his chair.

“No notice.” Mark repeated.

“No notice.” Mr Perkins agreed in a tremulous voice.

Mark turned to leave, and Gerry stood up. “I’ll walk down with you Mr Brennan.”

He led the way downstairs and stopped at the door.

“So what are you? Special forces?” Gerry asked Mark.

“Sort of, I was, uh, an adviser to a special forces unit.”

“Thought so.” Gerry grinned. “That was a good trick with the paperweight. How did you do it?”

“If I told you that, I’d have to kill you.” Mark said.

Gerry grinned again. “Course you would. Good to meet you Mr Brennan.”

Mark realised that Gerry thought he was joking.

Gerry stuck out his hand. Mark shook it and said “Good to meet you too Gerry. Why don’t you get a proper job? You don’t need to work for that weasel Perkins. You’re better than that.”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about joining the army. Maybe I will.”

“There’s no time like the present Gerry. It could be the making of you, it was for me. Go to the recruiting office now and sign up while the idea is fresh in your mind.”

“Yeah… Yeah, I think I will. Thanks Mr Brennan. Maybe I’ll meet you again in the army.”

“It’s possible.” Mark said, although he knew it wasn’t. “Good luck.” he said, as he got into the taxi and as they drove off, he saw Gerry standing, watching him leave.

The taxi took Mark to the industrial area where his shuttle was parked and paid off the taxi for the days hire.

He walked briskly to the shuttle and stopped by the door. He looked around at the deserted warehouse and the stack of rusting containers, at the busy units across the road, then turned and stared at the fields and woods across the river behind the warehouses. Seeing it with fresh eyes, he saw a beauty to it that he had never realised existed before, but he was seeing it through the eyes of a stranger. He didn’t belong here anymore. Earth was no longer his home. In a short time he had become something else. He felt that he didn’t have a home any more, he had become a galactic nomad, an outsider on his home planet and an outsider in the galactic community. He sighed. He had never fit in on Earth, so this wasn’t much different from his life before leaving Earth, but at least he now had friends, however weird and inhuman they were. Then he smiled. At least he wasn’t as whiney and self-centred as he had been before he left Earth. He knew what he was doing now. He had a mission in life, to make the galaxy a safer and better place. To stand up for the weak and to help those who couldn’t help themselves. If that was OK with them, of course. And if Sally let him.

He took one more quick look around at this alien place that had once been home, stepped into his shuttle, and left.