My Uncle Peter kept a spaceship in his garage. He was restoring it, he said, so that one day he could go and explore space. See the Helix Nebula up close. Visit Kapteyn’s Star. Maybe head out along the Perseus Arm.
Nobody believed that the spaceship was a real spaceship. Even my aunt didn’t believe it, although she didn’t mind that Uncle Peter spent lots of time and money hunting down parts. ‘It makes him happy,’ she’d say when people commented, and that was that. She loved my Uncle Peter, and Uncle Peter loved her, even though she was the kind of woman who didn’t believe in spaceships.
He’d found the wreckage half-buried on Dartmoor in the mid-90s, and had spent a week excavating it. Crucially, he told me, it still had its registration plate. That was important. You could build a fully functional spaceship with all the necessary safety features, but without a registration plate the authorities wouldn’t let it fly. That’s what he said.
One day some TV people came to interview him for a programme on Channel 4. He was happy to take part. They asked if he really intended to go to space. ‘One day,’ said Uncle Peter. ‘When I’m ready. And once I’ve got the capacitor working properly.’ He chuckled at that. When the programme was broadcast it made Uncle Peter look like a crazy person, and everybody laughed at me at school. I cried, but Uncle Peter didn’t. ‘They laughed at Copernicus, remember,’ he said.
Part of the problem was that the spaceship didn’t really look like a spaceship. Spaceships, people felt, should look like Saturn rockets, or like the Millennium Falcon or the Enterprise, or at the very least they should have the decency to be good old-fashioned flying saucers. But Uncle Peter’s spaceship looked more like an oversized aluminium shed, on skis. Several key components had been borrowed from the corpse of an old Ford Prefect, and the air filter had been salvaged from a broken lawnmower. There was a pink, elephant-patterned umbrella sticking out through the roof, as though it were a piña colada. The instrument panel, incredibly, was from a genuine Mark IX Spitfire that had flown reconnaissance over the North Sea; Uncle Peter had found it hanging on the wall of a laundrette in Telford, and had picked it up for thirty quid. He was chuffed at that. He said it was important for there to be something truly British in the spaceship. ‘You know your grandfather flew Spitfires,’ he told me, although Mum said that wasn’t true.
After we moved away I saw Uncle Peter less often, but he’d send me letters with progress updates, telling me that he’d bought a sonic camshaft at Goodwood Revival, or that he’d found a gravity flux compensator in a scrapyard near Rendlesham Forest, or that he’d finally worked out how to hook up the ion drive so it wouldn’t explode. Then, one Friday, I got a postcard with just two words written on the back. “It’s finished.”
I went to visit the next day. From the outside the spaceship looked much as it always had, except that Uncle Peter had painted it racing green. He let me go inside, and showed me how the controls worked. He was very excited. ‘Need the paperwork to come through, of course,’ he said. ‘But after that I’ll be all set.’
‘You’re really going to space?’ I said.
‘Well, not right away,’ said Uncle Peter. ‘One day though, when I’m ready. I promised your aunt that we’d enjoy our retirement on Earth first. She wouldn’t like space much, and I couldn’t bear to leave her behind.’
Uncle Peter died last year. He was fine until suddenly he wasn’t, and then he got much less fine very quickly. Within two weeks Mum was helping my aunt with the funeral arrangements. Lots of people came to pay their respects. We sang “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” and buried Uncle Peter in the corner of the cemetery, near the hedge. There were ham sandwiches at the wake.
Of course, he left the spaceship to me. So now it’s sitting in my back garden. The paperwork is all in order, and I’m practicing with the controls. I’m getting pretty good. The capacitor is playing up again, but that’s an easy fix. One day I’m going to explore space like Uncle Peter wanted. Visit Kapteyn’s Star. See the Helix Nebula, up close.
One day. When I’m ready.
Ed Avern lives in London, England. In addition to writing short stories he also produces documentaries, which probably sounds more exciting than it is. He has a music degree that is gathering dust, a doomed hope that Arsenal will win the Premier League, and a mounting collection of Star Wars t-shirts. He is 6 feet tall, in the right shoes.
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