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On a routine mission to the moon, Astropup finds the Moon Dog who hands him the key to the Universe. Our hero’s first instinct is to share the key with his human masters. His commander, the Parrot Major, says that the secret is far too important and powerful to be given to such an untrustworthy species as people. The situation presents a dilemma for Astropup.
In this story we will hear a slightly unusual version of Pandora’s Box.
With four original pictures for Storynory by Nick Hayes. Nick’s book, The Rime of the Modern Mariner, is reviewed here by the Guardian.
Story by Bertie.
Read by Richard. Duration 27 Min.
Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.
This is Richard, and I am here to introduce the latest instalment in our canine space adventure, Astropup. If you have heard the earlier stories, you will know that Astropup tells them in his own words. So, if you will just hang on for a moment, let me adjust the microphone stand down to dog level.
Thank you Richard. This story is about a moral dilemma. A moral dilemma is when an animal, or a bird, or a person… or perhaps even a fish… and I suppose we should not entirely dismiss insects and creepy crawlies… has to look deep into his or her soul and ask is it more right to do this – or is it more right to do that? This or that? Left or right? Up or down? Sometimes both ways are a bit wrong… and a bit right… so which way do you go?
I had this moral dilemma while on a routine mission to the moon. As you know, by the standards of the Universe, it’s little more than a skip and a jump to the moon – a mere 240,000 miles. The humans gave me a special probe to take there. It was a gizmo that measured moisture, and temperature, and ultra-sonic thingies, and solar whatnots, and all sorts of clever stuff. Some smart-alec scientist made it in the shape of a bone to encourage me to bury it. My comrade the Parrot, who came along with me, thought that was very funny.
Our Lunar Module touched down on the moon nice and soft-like. After two days cooped up in that tin can, I was desperate to go space walkies, and I wasn’t going to hang around while the Parrot put me on a lead. I bounded out of the hatch and out onto the moon. Soon I found myself bouncing around like a rubber ball. On the moon, you take a little leap and you fly forward about twelve feet. It’s great fun.
“RRRRWOOF!” I barked with glee.
“Haven’t you forgotten something?” squawked the Parrot Major, adding: “Dunderhead.” He was never the politest of birds. And yes, I realized that I had. Of course, I had left the bone-shaped space probe behind in the ship. I used my tail as a rudder to try and steer myself round and back to our craft, but it had no effect, and I just kept bouncing in the wrong direction.
“Help!!! I can’t stop!” I called out. The Parrot came hopping after me, but not nearly fast enough to catch me up.
I must have bounced uncontrollably for about a mile or so before I finally came to an abrupt halt in a shallow crater. It was most disconcerting, and I wondered if I would ever find my way back. I looked around and every direction looked a bit the same – all covered in dusty old rocks – and I wasn’t even sure which way I had come.
“Oh dear,” I said. “Oh dear oh dear! I am doomed to die on this forsaken moon! Awe, Awe, Awe AWEOOOOOOOOOO!!”
The strangest thing was, I heard my voice echoing back.
Only, I wasn’t quite sure that it was my voice, because I think I know what I sound like, and that wasn’t quite it. And then I heard a “Woof Woof Woof!” and I knew that wasn’t me, because I hadn’t woofed at all.
That was a moment of great excitement, when I realized that I was not the only dog on the moon. I peered over in the direction of a hill and I saw the unmistakable silhouette of one of my own kind. He was pointing his muzzle in the air and baying at the planet Earth. Soon I was taking giant lunar leaps in the direction of the dog. I could hear the Parrot squawking over the radio.
“Wrong Way! Come back here you dumb pooch!”
But I took not a jot of notice. I was heading for a close encounter with my own kind. It was no trouble to climb a hill on the moon. I just bounded up. Now I was close to the moon dog, I could see he had grey hairs around his nose. He was an indistinct breed – just a dog sort of dog. But the strangest thing was that he was breathing the thin air of the moon without an oxygen mask. Later on, the Parrot explained how that was impossible, and said that I must have dreamt that part of the story – but I swear to you now on my master’s grave that it was true. He greeted me in the traditional way, with the quick sniff around the hind quarters. I was unable to return the courtesy as I had a glass helmet wrapped around my face. We both wagged our tails. So far so good. But would I understand his woof? I was pleasantly surprised when he said clearly, and without an accent.
“I have been waiting for you these past 2000 years.”
“Oh,” I said, “I’m sorry if I’m late.”
“No,” said he, “You are right on time. I must give you this.” And so saying he scratched at the moon dust with his paw and revealed a small golden object.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It is,” said he, “the key to the Universe.”
There was much more that I wanted to ask, but I was unable to do so, for they were his last words. He curled around, tucked his nose under his paw, and settled into eternal sleep.
Needless to say, I was deeply moved… Here I had found proof of a higher canine intelligence, only to see him pass away to the great park from which no dog returns. Moments like those are the tears of the Universe.
I think if I had not brought the key back in my mouth, the Parrot would have assumed that I had made the whole story up. But there it was. I dropped it on the floor of the Lunar Module – the golden proof that I was neither doggy-dreaming nor fibbing.
“What’s that?” he squawked
“It is,” I said gravely, “the key to the Universe.”
“Oh,” said the Major. “I see. Well if you’re not as dumb as you look, you’ll keep that strictly to yourself and not tell the humans.”
“And why should I do that?” I asked.
“Because,” he said, “It’s way too valuable to entrust to mankind.” I have to say that these words jarred in my ears somewhat. The heart of every dog beats to the drum of loyalty to his or her master. I had one master, my dear Jenny, who looked after me when I was at home on shore leave. But I had another when I was working for the Space Force. Yes, I had to admit that even up there on the moon, I felt that I was still mankind’s best friend. I tried to explain my moral dilemma to the Parrot as best as I could, and he retorted:
“Don’t give me mankind’s best friend. You’re mankind’s best slave more like.” I could see that he was still angry with the humans for court marshalling him, a sorry story which you no doubt have heard in the episode entitled ‘The Parrot Who Betrayed the World.’
“Well anyway,” I said, “It’s just a key – what’s all the fuss about?”
“Ah,” said the Parrot. “It’s not just any old key. This key will open Pandora’s Box.”
“Panda’s Box?” I gruffed quizzically.
“Pandora’s Box, cloth ears,” said the Parrot. Now the Parrot of course, was the brainiest bird I have ever known, apart from of course, the wise old owl who commanded the Ship of Birds, but that’s another story which perhaps you’ve heard. My friend the Parrot Major spent every spare moment stuffing knowledge and learning into every cell of his bird brain. And so it was not entirely surprising that he knew the story of the key to the Universe.
“It’s an ancient legend. Long ago, on the slopes of Mount Olympus in Greece, a shepherd dog found a metal box. Like the slave he was, he took it up in his mouth and tail wagging he brought it to his master as a present. On the box was written the name, Pandora, which means, gift of God. The shepherd tried to open the box, but it was locked firmly shut. He took it to his friend the blacksmith, who put it on his anvil and bashed it with all his might with his heaviest hammer, but still the box would not break or open or even dent. The box was indestructible. So next, the two friends took the box to a famous Oracle who could communicate with the gods. She told them that the box contained the secrets of the Universe, but to open it, they would need the golden key, which, she said, was buried on the moon, and guarded by the Moon Dog. She predicted that one day, the key could come back to Earth, the box would be opened, and the secrets of the Universe would be revealed to the opener. As the moon was rather a long way off, they sold the box for a few drachma in the market. Last year, according to the newspapers, it turned up in an auction and was sold to the British Museum for £1 million. The museum asked the help of the best locksmiths in London, and yet not one of them could prise the box open. They even hired an ace safecracker, who had robbed several banks, but even he failed. Right now, it is on display in the museum. All we have to do when we get back to Earth, is to break into the British Museum, steal the box, and open it – and then we will be in possession of great knowledge that will make us rich and powerful beyond the wildest dreams.”
“Well that doesn’t sound too difficult,” I said.
And the Parrot replied: “Well not for a master brain like mine.”
On the way back down to Earth, the Parrot faked a malfunction in the computer of our spacecraft. Instead of bringing us down in the Gulf of Mexico, as was per our orders, he plopped us in the English Channel where we were picked up by the Royal Navy. From there, we were taken to London where the Space Agency paid for us to stay in a plush hotel on Park Lane. It was the first time I have ever slept in a four poster bed. The pillows were the softest I have ever rested my chin on. It was just a shame that the Parrot was perched on the bed rail, because at 1am he squawked:
“Oi Pooch, time to wake up.”
15 minutes later we were in the middle of Hyde Park. “This is a strange time to go walkies,” I moaned.
“You stupid mutt,” said the Parrot Major. His manners always did leave something to be desired. “We’re not here to go walkies. We are here to hide the key. Now get digging.” And so I dug. And then he told me to dig some more, and some more, until the hole was deep enough to satisfy him. Finally he dropped the key in, and I covered it up with earth using my hind legs.
Next stop was Russell Square, which we reached by night bus. We found ourselves outside the firmly closed gates of the famous British Museum.
“What next?” I asked the master planner.
“Wait and see,” he said.
And we waited. And we Waited. And I tucked my muzzle under my paws. And I closed one eye. And then – Woooooosh! I was up on my four feet. A streak of light shot out of the sky and straight through the dome of the Museum.
“What in the Solar System was that?” I asked.
And the Parrot replied with the two words that rouse my heckles and my anger more than any other pair of words in the Universe.
“GRRRRRRRR,” I said. And then for good measure I added “Woof Woof Woof!” The din I was creating enhanced the general sense of confusion. There were alarms and sirens going off all over the place.
“It’s no good barking your stupid head off,” snapped the Parrot. “Calm down and stop all that silly noise. The cat people have been following us ever since we left the orbit of the moon. They’re after Pandora’s Box the same as we are.”
“And are we just going to let them take it?” I asked.
“Yes, because it’s no good to anyone without the key. And only we know where the key is hidden. Now wait here while I have a quick parley with the enemy.” So saying, he flapped off up to the roof of the Museum where two hideous forms were already climbing out of the hole that they had made with their in-coming vessel. From a distance you might have thought they were a couple of ninja humans – more flexible and better balanced than most – but pretty much like people. But the arching of their spines, the backward bending of their knees, not to mention the curling of their tails – were all give-aways to an experienced space dog. There was no doubt about it. They were cat people alright. Ugggh!
I could see that the Parrot was fluttering about their heads – just out of claw distance – and speaking to them – but not for long – because soon the sky filled with the juddering noise of a police helicopter. In an instant, they were off into the shadows of the London skyline. The Parrot flew back to me.
‘We’ll meet them in Hyde Park just before dawn,” he said.
“Oh Yuk,” I replied.
I found it hard to contain a growl when we came face to face with the hideous cat people. Quite frankly I was most furious with myself, for if I had stayed true to my instincts, and loyal to the humans, I would not now be dealing with the most treacherous species in the Universe – a horrific form of cat. This was what came of putting my trust in a Parrot with a grudge the size of infinity.
They had what some deluded humans might consider to be pretty kitty-cat features. Neat purse-like lips, pink little noses, and pointy velvety ears. Their eyes were sly little slits that shone in the dark. It makes my stomach turn to think of them. Compared to an earth cat they were huge – but by the standards of Cat people, they were on the small side. They were the most dreaded and dangerous sort of feline. They were siamese cat commandos, from an elite regiment that prowled deep behind enemy lines leaving chaos, mayhem and confusion in their wake.
“Grrrrrrrrrrr,” I said. I couldn’t help myself. And both the cat people raised the laser guns that were strapped across their chest.
“Steady on,” squawked the Parrot. “We’re meeting in a spirit of inter-galactic-cross-species trust and cooperation.”
“Well I’m watching their every move,” I said.
“Likewise,” hissed the nastiest looking of the cat commandos.
The Parrot turned to me and said in a haughty voice: “Your job is to shut up and dig.” And so turning my hind-quarters on the cat people I started to dig, and in doing so, kicked earth in their faces. I could hear them hissing, sneezing and spitting out dirt. That made my work rather more pleasant.
Finally I found the key and held it firmly between my front teeth. There was no way that I was letting it go before they produced the box. One of the cat people placed it on the ground and stood back covering it with a laser gun.
“Put the guns on the ground over by that tree,” said the Parrot. “Or the deal’s off.” And after some meowing and complaining the pair did as he said.
The Parrot took the key from me and turned it with his beak in the lock of Pandora’s Box. The lid sprung open. One of the cat people pounced and tried to grab the box, but I met him with barred teeth and he backed off.
“Okay everyone, calm down,” said the Parrot. “It appears that there is a scroll inside this box and on it are written the 3 secrets of the Universe. They are in Ancient Greek of course, but fortunately I have made a study of the language. Those of you who are interested should stay still and listen while I translate.”
And this is what he read:
“I, Bonzotes, the greatest of the dog philosophers, hereby summarise for all posterity the secrets of the Universe which I have discovered through a lifetime of contemplation on.”
1) The Theory of Relativity –
Time passes seven times faster for dogs than for human beings. Therefore one year of a dog’s life is equal to seven of a person’s. In that time a dog enjoys life seven times more forcefully than a person. The smell of horse manure or a dead rabbit is seven times as enjoyable for a dog as for a human.
2) The Big Bone Theory –
The Universe starts with a whimper and ends with a woof. It expands and contracts like the chest of a panting dog. It will expand and contract nine times in all. On each contraction, cats will lose one of their nine lives and become less of a menace to other creatures.
3) The Survival of the Stupidest –
Superior intelligence will be the downfall of birds, bees, cats, humans and other smarty-pants know-it-all animals. Brains will tempt them to tamper with life itself, and will lead to their own destruction. The dumber animals who concentrate on food, water, sleep and running around the park will prevail. I therefore urge dogs to act as if they were stupid. Stupidity is the most intelligent course to take.
I could see from their spiky fur and arched backs that the cat people did not appreciate these secrets.
“You’re making it up,” hissed one.
“Hand over the scroll,” hissed the other showing his claws. And in the dawn light I could see that the Parrot’s green feathers were turning a shade paler than usual. I started to growl and one of the cat people lashed at my face scratching me dreadfully. I bit his ankle as hard as I could but the other cat person was clawing my backside. The pain was searing. I can chase any number of earth cats up the nearest tree, but this pair were far bigger and stronger than the worldly sort. It was a fight that I could not win, though the Parrot was taking advantage of it to pop the scroll back into Pandora’s box and fly off with it. My comrade was deserting me – leaving me to be torn to shreds by the dreaded cat people until I heard the sound of music to my ears. A great cacophony of woofs and barks. Two alsatian dogs and a doberman pincher came racing down the hill to where we were fighting. The stench of cat must have filled the morning air of the park. They went crazy for it and were ready to shred the catty alien intruders. The cat commandos saw that their number was up and turned and fled. They would have liked to have grabbed their guns but by now some bull dogs were standing between them and the tree. The cat people headed straight for their spaceship which was just then collecting an early morning parking ticket on Park Lane. I saw them shoot up into the sky and outer orbit.
“Good Riddance!” I growled, as the park dogs gave them a send off with a chorus of barks. I saw some early morning human strollers staring up at the sky. So the cat people now shared the Secrets of the Universe with the Parrot and me. And a fat lot of good it would do them. I thought of Bonzotes the brainiest dog of them all – and then looked at my new park friends as they woofed and howled – and I thought: “Yes, dog-kind is safe.” We have followed the advice of the great one.