The Tale of the White Queen and the Red Special

Horace Cope

In the early hours of Tuesday, August 11th. 1964, Brian was stargazing from his observatory - or whatever you call a telescope in a shed at the bottom of the garden.

He had been mapping craters on the waxing crescent moon. It had set some time ago, but he had stayed up hoping to catch a glimpse of the Perseids, one of the brighter meteor showers. He was not disappointed. Entranced by the spectacular display, he forgot about the effects of wishing on a falling star.

"Perhaps one of the meteors is a UFO in disguise," he thought whimsically. "It would be interesting to meet an extra-terrestrial. I wish I could."

As he watched, he noticed one streak longer and straighter than any of its fellows. At first, he assumed it was merely a bigger lump of stone that might actually make it to the ground. Then it made an abrupt right-angled turn and headed east...

"That's no meteor," he thought - obviously doctorate material! - as he watched the shining object bank sharply and follow a bearing that looked as if it would pass right over his house. He was almost right. In fact, the glowing opalescent object came in at roof-top height and stopped dead, directly above his Dad's vegetable patch.

At that time, extra-terrestrials were imagined to be "Little Green Men" with eyes on stalks. Just at that moment, Brian looked remarkably like one! Overcoming the sudden queasiness, he peered upwards from behind the shed door at the smooth, fat, lens-shaped craft.

A thought exploded in his brain: "IT'S O.K., YOU CAN COME OUT. I DON'T BITE."

Brian sat down very sharply.

"Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to shout," the thought twanged around inside the May cranium. "Most e'Orthe'ingas don't pick up thoughts terribly well so I was broadcasting on maximum power. Usually that's ten, but I go up to eleven! Should've realized, though. You came over clear as a bell. Stands to reason you'd be a good receiver too. Is that better?"

"Yes, much."

As curiosity got the better of his initial consternation, Brian stepped out on to the little path between the shed and the vegetable plot.

"Er...hi!" he mumbled.

"Oh, yeah - hi! Fancy a quick trip around the planet and so on? Have you back by morning. Promise."

Brian's thoughts probably registered something like, "???%* @+# ??^+ *+??^ ! ! !" which his visitor obviously took to mean, "Yeah, sounds like a reasonable idea to me. Let's go."

A ray of clear blue light shone down like a theatre spotlight, and Brian found himself inside the space-buggy with no clear idea of how he'd got there. He was sitting beside an amazingly human-looking golden-haired young man in a rather tatty silvery space-suit.

"Hi, there! I'm k'Varn a'Heek'n from 'Viek in the Empire of g'Herreth."

"Er....B-Brian May..."

"Well, pleased to meet you, b'Brian m'Ay."

"Please - just call me Brian."

"O.K. - and friends call me Varn. I'm a student on a field trip from kin'Firel University - reading e'Orthe studies. I should be working on my thesis, but I was getting a bit bogged down, so I thought, 'What the Hell! A night off won't kill me.' Well, here we go!"

The space buggy shot vertically upwards at astronomical speed leaving Brian's stomach some sixty miles below. It's never been quite right since.

From the outside, Varn's ship looked metallic; from the inside, you could see clearly all round, like you were surrounded by mirrored sunglasses. The view of the rapidly dwindling earth was phenomenal. It took away any breath you had left from the meteoric rise.

"Why do your people talk about a meteoric rise, Brian? Don't they know that meteors fall?"


"Oh, just a figure of speech, then?"

"S'pose so. You speak very good English."

Varn cracked out laughing at this, and the buggy did a spectacular wobble that freaked out the pilot of a nearby U2 spy 'plane.

"gar'Ptoonic - my lecturer - told us you folk were arrogant. He doesn't know the half of it! I'm not speaking good English. You are speaking reasonably good g'Herran."


"Well - sometimes... Say, don't you know the origin of your language? Well, no, I suppose you wouldn't, given that we keep a very low profile. Our people have been studying your planet for quite a long time now - several thousand of your e'Orthe years - and the best way is to get into the field and observe from close to. We thought it would be easier if we adapted your language to ours."

"Who were you calling arrogant?" Brian asked mildly.

Varn chuckled. "Oh, that was in the past. We don't do it now. The Empire passed laws about non-interference around a thousand years ago. Your language has changed considerably since then. Students of e'Orthe - sorry, I suppose I should say 'Earth' - have kept up with the evolution of your language, but you'd need to be a scholar of the Old English to read any of our books. Talking of which, have you read this? - Damn, where's it gone?"

Varn was ferreting about on the floor of his craft, and Brian suddenly became very aware of the fact that he was travelling with a student. All around was the detritus of student life - books, papers, food remains, empty drink containers and discarded - probably dirty - clothing. Surprisingly, there was quite a pleasant perfume in the capsule.

"I've got an 'Odorama' stick-up behind us," Varn cut in rather disconcertingly, then laughed.

"Can you hear everything I think?"

"Pretty much. You haven't learnt to mask your thoughts, have you?"

"The problem's never cropped up before - so no, I haven't."

"Sorry. Better switch to speech mode, then."

"You can talk?" Brian asked aloud.

"Don't sound so surprised," Varn replied in a soft, musical voice. "Ah, here it is - "

The spaceman pulled a battered paperback copy of 'The Lord of the Rings' from under his seat.

"Where did you get that?" Brian asked in amazement.

"W.H.Smith's I think."


"Yes, I was surprised too - Oh, I see what you mean. I told you I was on a field trip. I blend in amazingly well with the other students. You wouldn't give me a second look if you met me in the Union bar."

"What Union bar?"

"At Imperial College. It's a great place. I recommend it. The music's really fab."

Instantly, the little craft was filled with the Beatles blasting out Long Tall Sally. Brian's eyes lit up and he launched into air guitar mode as the two joined in with gusto and Paul McCartney. This 'heavenly choir' was swinging around Jupiter by now.

"I wish I was in a famous rock band like that," Brian said wistfully as the track ended. (Presumably wishing in a falling star amplifies its effect!)

"You play guitar?"

"Yeah - when I'm not studying. In fact, I'm making my own guitar at the moment."

"No kidding! Y'know, I've got something back at the base you might find useful. If so, you're welcome to have it."

"Where is your base - or is that classified information?"

"Well, I suspect it's been filed under 'Top Secret' by your planet's governments, but I don't think you'll have any difficulty in recognizing the place when we get there."

The music played on as they pair travelled on towards Saturn. Brian looked on in awe as Varn orbited the ringed planet several times.

"Guess we'd better turn for home now if I'm to redeem my promise," Varn said. "Shame we don't have time to visit the other ringed planets."

"What other ringed planets?"

"The ones you call Uranus and Neptune."

"They've got rings?" Brian asked incredulously. (This was 1964 remember!) "I thought Saturn was the only one with rings."

"You mean you didn't notice Jupiter's ring? Well, I suppose it is kinda insignificant and I guess you can blame 'Long Tall Sally' for missing it!"

Varn looped round on to a vector that interposed the earth between his ship and the sun. As they neared earth from the night-side, the dark form slowly grew to eclipse the sun, then Varn swung into a high orbit and Brian watched the glory of 'Earthrise.'

"Isn't it beautiful," Varn asked simply. "You can see why I chose to study it, can't you?"

Brian nodded mutely, suddenly overcome by the awesome wonder of it all. The space buggy swung away from the earth and a few minutes later, reached the moon. Another surprise awaited Brian around the back of the moon.

He had seen pictures of part of it, taken by Lunik 3 some five years earlier. One distinctive feature was the dark crater of Tsiolkovskii. He now realized that the pictures had been touched up, for where the crater should have been, was a transparent dome, glistening in the sun like a large drop of early morning dew.

"I bet that gave the Russians a Hell of a shock," he thought, and jumped as another thought twanged through his mind—

"Certainly did! It rather caught our people on the hop too. We should have redirected that satellite - rotated it in its orbit a little, you know - so its cameras missed the entrance to the base. They would just have put it down to some minor malfunction."

Varn slowed his craft slightly, then came to a dead halt which did nothing to improve the state of Brian's stomach. They were immediately above the dome which possessed a double skin that incorporated an air-lock. The buggy sank gently through the protective dome then down a wide shaft into the moon.

Deep below the surface, the shaft opened out into a cavernous hangar which looked like a giant parking lot for space craft. The space buggy drifted along to the far end and stopped in a small bay between two similar machines, one a metallic silvery grey, the other a pale pearly pink.

"That belongs to m'Haree, my girlfriend," Varn remarked, picking up Brian's thoughts again.

The faint hum of whatever powered the buggy fell silent. Overhead, a circular door opened with a soft hiss and Varn climbed out. Brian followed him and was not entirely surprised to find that his friend's craft had a vivid red 'go-faster' stripe. The bodywork, when the craft was it rest, was a kind of multi-coloured black, like a black opal.

The two crossed the hangar, Brian lagging some way behind taking in the enormous variety of extra-terrestrial vehicles. A number of people - aliens! Brian realized with a shock - were going about their business in much the same way as people on Earth. The only conspicuous difference was the clothes, and even they were not so very outlandish. No, the difference, he decided, was in the materials the clothes were made of.

Varn had stopped beside what was identifiably an elevator. Brian caught him up, and had another stomach-churning experience as the infernal thing dropped like a brick down a well, and stopped about as suddenly.

Fortunately, Varn's quarters were quite close to the elevator and consisted of a study/bedroom, shower room and kitchenette. The walls of the main room were plastered with posters, mostly terrestrial - the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Tottenham Hotspurs F.C., the Cerne Abbas giant, Brigitte Bardot, the legendary James Dean, a red Ferrari...

On the desk was something that was recognizable as a T.V.set, but only just. Around it were scattered an untidy jumble of small, flat, black boxes. There were more of the boxes on a shelving unit along with assorted books. Some of these were terrestrial: The First Men in the Moon, The War of the Worlds, Out of the Silent Planet, The Feynman Lectures on Physics, volumes I and II and so on - and some weren't. Se Lætra Wyrcan of H.G. Wellser caught his eye.

They were not alone in Varn's quarters. As they arrived, a boy of around thirteen in Earth reckoning came out of the kitchenette.

"Hey, you're up early, brother! Brian, this is my little brother, ch'Haant. He wants to be in a rock band too! That reminds me..."

Varn pulled out a drawer in his desk and reached to the back.

"This any use to you?" he asked, handing Brian a small electronic device. "It's the same kind of pick-up used by f'Jarg a'Xeek, probably the greatest rock guitarist in the Empire - or was, until he tried linking six live electric k'Zeets into the system - they're a bit like a cross between your electric eels and crocodiles but not so docile. He might have got away with it if he'd tried connecting them in series— "

Varn shook his head sadly and looked up at a poster of a man in spectacularly outlandish gear. The sparkling white pleated 'shirt' with immensely long sleeves scintillated in the spotlight, while the tight black trousers looked positively indecent.

"I bet he knew how to put on a show," Brian thought enviously.

"Damn right!" cut in another thought.


Brian was beginning to think his head wasn't his own, or that squatters had moved in.

"O.K., sorry!" Varn said aloud. "I keep forgetting... Better take you home now anyway. Wouldn't want you to turn into a pumpkin!"

They were about to leave, Brian clutching his new pick-up, when an all points bulletin cut through everybody's thoughts. As it was not in modern English, Brian didn't follow much of it. For an instant, he wondered if he was about to be apprehended as a spy, but Varn's reaction quickly banished the idea.

"Well, there's a surprise. You're in luck, Brian. I knew we were due a visit, but not this soon. We've all been called to the main hall to welcome her."


"ar'Vaheer'ar'Wen, Queen of 'Viek. She's made it her duty to visit all the outposts where our people are working from time to time. It helps them feel in touch with the home world. You may as well come along. It's not every day you get to see 'foreign' royalty!"

The three joined the throng of colonists filing into the magnificent hall. Despite the presence of several hundred people, the only sound was the occasional shuffling of feet.

"God, I hope all these people don't read my mind," Brian thought in momentary panic, feeling that he shouldn't really be there.

"Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!" "Shh!!"

The sounds surged through his head like a tidal wave. There seemed no place to hide. Mercifully, his attention was seized by the arrival of a tall, stately lady and her entourage. She had long, waving golden hair and a simple white gown that shimmered as she walked.

Walked? Rather she seemed to float between the ranks of her people. Brian felt suddenly breathless. As she approached, his mind filled unbidden with a jumble of unruly thoughts. He wished desperately that he knew how to shield his thoughts, or that the floor would open up and swallow him.

The Queen stopped and her gaze fell directly upon him alone. Her eyes were deeper that the depth of waters stilled at even; She had three lilies in her hand and the stars in her hair were seven 1. For a long moment, she seemed to look deep into his soul.

"Moonstruck!" he thought.

Then she smiled softly and was gone. Brian walked as in a dream back to the parking lot. He didn't even notice the elevator ride, and the trip in the space buggy was positively passé. He had more or less sobered up by the time they arrived over the vegetable patch, enough to thank Varn for the pick-up and the wonderful experience.

"Hope you enjoyed the flight, too!" Varn joked.

Brian laughed. "It was out of this world!" he said, then he was back on the garden path in the glow of the blue light.

"Wonder if I'll ever see Varn again?" he thought.

"Shouldn't be at all surprised," came the responding echo in his mind as the space buggy shot upwards into the lightening sky.

Brian shook his head and went into the house. He might get an hour or two's sleep before the alarm went off, he thought. He did and felt all the worse for it.

His Mum observed that her only son was looking like one of the walking dead, and made the mistake of asking why.

"Must be space-lagged, I guess."


"Hm, wonder if telepathy's catching," he thought and went off to install the new pick-up in the Red Special.

Now you know how Brian produces that 'heavenly' sound!

1 Extract from The Blessed Damozel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

The Blessed Damosel by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Link to The Tale of the Franken-cat and the Flight of the Condor Link to Queen Index Page Link to The Tale of the Silver Lotus and the Cult of Kali

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