It’s been a while since we’ve heard from our space-travelling canine character, Astropup. He returns in this two part adventure in which we discover what happened to his comrade, the Parrot Major when he was put on trial for disobeying orders.
There have been many times in my space career when I’ve been only too glad to be classified as a dumb animal. Well now, having made that opening statement, I can see that some of the brighter sparks among you are wanting to know how it is that I, a dog who can not speak your language, landed this jammy job as a narrator of stories. All I will say for now are two words: “Alien Technology”…. there, that’s got you panting to know more, but you’ll have to wait to hear the details, because today, I’m here to talk not about myself, but about a bird. His brain’s the size of a medium sized nut, but don’t let that fool you, because he’s a super-smart fellow.
I think you are already pretty familiar with him: He’s a Parrot and he’s a Major in the Space Force, and boy, can he talk, -and talk and talk and talk, far better than he can squawk even. If you’ve been cramped up in a space capsule with a long-winged bird as long as I have, then I think you will understand the meaning of the phrase, “silence is golden.”
Now, let’s imagine for a moment that he couldn’t talk, or that all he could say was: "Who’s a pretty Polly” or some other such nonsense that amuses the human folk. If that had been the case, then I don’t suppose that they would have Court Marshalled him. For if you heard our last adventure, you’ll know that as soon as we got back to Earth, the Space Force put the Parrot on charges of Disobeying Orders and Deliberately Jeopardising a Critical Mission.
Let me take you back to our last adventure in the out-reaches of cold, dark, space. As soon as we had escaped from that twittering and tweeting abomination, the Ship of Birds, we high-tailed it across the galaxy, back to the gorgeous blue planet that we call home. Our capsule splashed down in the ocean, and after a long, long wait, the humans came to fish us out. They hauled us up on board a navel ship, and it was straight into quarantine for the bird and the dog. The scientists were curious to know if we had picked up any novel or interesting infections , like space-pox, or martian flu, or alien super-fleas. I didn’t mind the inconvenience too much because I got a bag of squirrel flavoured dog biscuits as a reward. The poor Parrot though, nearly went out of his mind until they gave him an internet connection and a book of cryptic crossword puzzles.
You’d think that after months of space-travel and quarantine, it would be hard to throw anymore punishment at a Parrot. But I almost felt guilty when at last I was set free, and able to enjoy my canine rights, and chase cats and rats around the park, and lick the face of my owner, Jenny. You see, as soon as the doctors had finished with us, the Military Police took the poor old Parrot away in a cage like a common criminal. His beak was even pictured in the newspapers. They had a headline that dubbed him:
“The Parrot Who Betrayed the World”
I know this, because Jenny’s Dad read it out to the family at the Sunday breakfast table. He patted my head and said:
“They won’t be sending our Bonzo out on any more missions with that treacherous bird.”
Looking back, I understand now what the humans were driving at. They were hinting that the Parrot was more than a hothead who wouldn’t listen to instructions. They suspected him of colluding with alien birds, and conspiring with them to take over the world. But as they didn’t have any hard evidence, they were aiming to nail him on lesser charges.
I felt bad enough for the poor Major, but then a letter came with even worse news. I never trust postmen myself, and I don’t know why humans open those letters – they only ever seem to make Jenny’s Dad furious. He shouts things like, “What? That idiot plumber was only here half an hour and he wants me to pay him the price of a decent holiday!”
And true to form, this letter was a right stinker. Apparently the prosecution department had cast me as the star witness at the trial of the Parrot. It was a tricky situation: I’d either have to fib on oath, or spill out the the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and land my feathered friend right in the doggy-doo. I didn’t fancy either way. But fortunately, my lawyer got me off the hook. He showed the Judge my “Dumb Animal” certificate, and it was agreed that I was too stupid to give evidence at the trial. Well I didn’t care what they said about me, so long as I didn’t have to be cross-examined in court.
And so I’m glad to say that I watched the Parrot’s Court Marshal from the public bench along side Jenny. I wanted to be there, to give my friend moral support. He can be quite an annoying bird, as nobody knows better than myself, but there comes a time when fur and feather should stick together.
Because it was a Court Martial the legal bigwigs wore military uniforms. The Parrot proudly sported his medals and his insignia, which showed that he was a Major, on his wings. He tried to sit up as straight and as solider-like as possible. There was a grim seriousness that hung over the whole proceedings. It was as tense as a vet’s waiting room.
Even without my help, the prosecution lawyer thought he had the Parrot as good as sent down. He had all the transcripts of the radio conversations with Mission Control, in which you could hear him telling our human superiors where they could get off, so to speak.
When the prosecution finished the opening remarks and sat down, the Major’s feathers were looking even more yellow than usual, and his little beady eyes were red with fury. At this rate, he would be getting a ten year stretch in the bird coop.
But that was before we heard what the defence had to say. As soon as the lady-lawyer who was on the Parrot’s side stood up, I began to feel hope in my heart. She gave the impression of being immensely clever – like the dog trainer I went to when I was a pup. She asked the defendant to take the perch on the witness stand. She looked at him over her spectacles and said:
“Now Major, will you kindly tell the court when you first realized that you had the power of human speech?”
“It was in my first year at university,” said the Parrot. “I used to fly into the lecture hall and I would listen to the philosophy lecturer. Later on, when I was back in my tree, I would repeat all that I had heard back to myself.”
“And how did you enroll into the university?”
“Well, I didn’t. I was sort of an unofficial student.”
“So do you have any formal education?”
“Thank you. That will be all.”
The Parrot looked puzzled as he fluttered back to his place on the bench. You could see he was thinking the same as me: “Is that it?”
But his lawyer was a smart lady, and she had a top-notch expert witness up her sleeve. She called a zoology professor who had written some learned papers on avian communication and thought. This professor was famous for having taught a parakeet to say things like: “Pass me a nut please” and “Tidy up this cage, it’s a disgrace. ” For a while, the parakeet had his own TV show on Tuesday afternoons on Channel 97, but that celebrity bird-brain couldn’t actually hold his own in a dinner-party conversation, let alone fly a spaceship like the Major.
The defence asked the witness if a parrot could be held responsible for his actions: The zoology professor laughed and wanted to know if it was a serious question.
“Deadly serious,” said the lady lawyer sternly, “The reputation and freedom of a distinguished officer in the Space Force is at stake," and the judge leaned over and reminded the professor that he was on oath.
“Well no,” said the professor, “By nature parrots are the most irresponsible birds you could imagine, and no matter how chatty they are, only a fool would put them in charge of anything.”
“And because a Parrot can speak, does that mean that he can understand?”
“Of course not,” said the professor looking quite puzzled that anyone could ask such a dim question.
At that, the Parrot screeched “Rubbish! I can understand everything” and the judge banged his hammer on the desk and gave him a stern talking to, saying that he would have him taken down to the bird cages if he went on that way.
“This is an insult. I want to plead guilty!” the Major squawked. I barked to tell him to pipe down, and all at once the court was filled with the sound of chatter and gossip.
“Silence! Silence in court!” called the Judge, as he hammered away with his gavel.
The defence lawyer stood up and spoke over the uproar: “My Lord. The Parrot can’t change his plea because he lacks the power of reasonable thought, and as we have heard, he isn’t responsible for what he says or does. The case for the defence is that a bird cannot be put on trial because he isn’t a rational, intelligent or responsible being.”
“That’s it. You’re fired!” called out the Parrot.
When the noisy prisoner had been dragged down to the cells, and all was quiet in the court room once again, the Judge said. “Well that’s better. It’s time to call this farce to an end. Case dismissed.”
There were gasps of astonishment around the room and I woofed with delight. The guards were sent down to the cages to release the prisoner. But do you think the Parrot was pleased with his freedom? Not a bit of it. I’ve never known such an ungrateful bird. Outside the court, he perched himself on a statue of justice with her weighing scales, while his lawyer read out a statement to the scribbling reporters, fast snapping photographers, and smart-suited television crews:
“This is a case that should never have come before the Court Martial. My client has served in the Space Force with great distinction for a number of years, and he is deeply hurt that his employers could have treated him so shoddily. He will be seeking damages from those in the media who have dragged his good name through the dirt. In the meantime, he wishes it to be known that he has resigned from the Space Force with immediate effect.“
I could see that my friend, the ex-Major, was hopping up and down with fury, while bird-pooping on the head of Lady Justice. He was a proud Parrot, and I think he would actually have preferred to be found guilty, than to be let off on the grounds that he was not a rational, intelligent or responsible being. That was the last I saw or heard of him for quite some time. I learnt on the grapevine that he had retired to a bird sanctuary in England.
But way out in space, a chain of events had begun, that would lead inextricably to the Parrot’s restoration as an inter-galactic hero. The first signs that the very existence of humanity and all intelligent life on Earth was under threat were…. well, that’ll have to wait for another story, because I’ve only been paid to rattle on for twelve minutes or so. If they give me another bag of dog biscuits, I’ll tell you what happened next in a story called “Astropup and the Invasion of the Bird-Brains.”