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Astropup and the 7 Mountains of Genius

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Story and picture by Bertie.
Read by Richard.
Proofed & audio edited by Jana.
Thanks to Harrwalk for suggesting a story about becoming hooked on a video game.

Hello, this is Richard,
And I’m here with a story about our favourite space-traveling dog, Astropup. It’s in two parts. Now I’m going to hand you over to Astropup himself.

You Earthbound kids and pups probably can’t imagine being cooped up for months on end. Unless you’ve ever been on a space mission, you couldn’t possibly know what it’s like.

How would you feel if you could not go out and about and see your friends? What if you were stuck inside, under house arrest? At first, you would think that not going to school was the best thing ever. And then, slowly, but surely, you’d start to go CRAAAAAZZZZZY!

Now as you know, I traveled through space in our tiny ship with two friends. Each of us passed the time in different ways. Marlow, the human, liked to play an air guitar to the clashing sounds of 1970s heavy metal playing through his earbuds. Sometimes he would howl in sync with the music letting out a sound something like ...

“Lonely! Lonely! Lonely!” [LedZep]

And I would join in ...

“Aroo! Arroo! Arroo!”

And my other friend, The Parrot Major, would fold his wings over his ear holes and grimace in pain.

Sometimes Marlow worked out in his space gym or did target practice with his laser gun.
[sound fx zap, zap, zap]

But most of all, he played video games on his console for hours, days, weeks on end.

The Parrot preferred more cerebral pastimes. I only know that word, ‘cerebral’, because he used to say to me: “You four-legged animals live by your instincts. We, feathered creatures, are cerebral.” When I asked him what ‘cerebral’ meant, he told me: ‘brainy’.
There’s no doubt my friend the parrot was a cerebral bird. As a rule, he was dead against all types of fun, but for light relief, he would memorise diagrams of the 1972 world chess championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.

For many a long journey, I never saw the parrot once show the slightest interest in anything that was not 100 percent cerebral. He used to tell Marlow that he was missing a great opportunity to expand his mind, albeit from a small base.

“You are wasting your life on those silly games,” he used to tell him. “You will never get back the lost hours. Think of what you might have accomplished while you were traveling through space? You had all the time in the universe to compose symphonies, or to write books or to contemplate the infinite beauty of number patterns in nature. But what did you achieve? You shot 3 million virtual star-troopers and reached level 187 in a pinball game. Tell that to your grandkids.”
That was the parrot’s attitude. Games were a waste of time. Until, one occasion when Marlow called out:
“Hey Mr. Parrot Major sir, do you happen to know what is the smallest species of bird on earth?”

“As it happens, I do. The smallest bird on earth is the male bee hummingbird, so-called because his body is about the size of a large bumblebee. The species is native only to the island of Cuba.”

“Thank you, Mr Parrot, sir,” said Marlow, “that will do nicely.”

“Just out of interest, why do you want to know this fascinating fact?”

“Oh, it’s just for a game called The 7 Mountains of genius.”

“Hmmm. That sounds more cerebral than the usual nonsense.”

“Hey, you should try playing it! I bet you’d get to be one of the top players real quick.”

“Since it is called The 7 Mountains of genius, I rather expect I’d be THE top player in no time.”

“Well give it a go!” urged Marlow. “It’s a hot game in this part of the cosmos right now. And there are prizes for the top players. You could even win a brand new Worm Phone. You can use it to speak in real-time to folks who are light-years away.”

Now, this was a wonderful prospect. Our communications were slow, to say the least. Imagine sending a WhatsApp message to your friend on the other side of the cosmos like, “Hi, long time no see,” and having to wait an entire year for the reply to come back, “Yes, we really should catch up,” and then you text, “How about next Tuesday?” but by the time the message arrives another year has gone by. Frustrating or what? That’s what it’s like sending radio messages long distance through the vacuum of space. But a Worm Phone sends messages via wormholes, and they get there in no time. Why, I’d be able to have a video chat with my owner, Jenny. And the parrot could natter on Twitter. And Marlow could play Minecraft online with his mates. Life in space would be SOOOOO much better with a Worm Phone!

Nobody understood this better than the parrot. I knew that he coveted a worm phone to chat to his mate who was a professor at the bird academy. He did his little trick where he stands on one leg and leans his head on his left claw. He does that when he’s thinking more deeply than usual. After a few moments of contemplation, he jolted his head back, flapped his wings, and declared, “I shall enter that contest and I shall claim my rightful title as Mountaineer Brain of the Universe! Hand over your game console, Marlow.”
“Hey what am I going to do without my console?” protested Marlow.

“It’s high time you took a rest from games. You can do something useful, like researching space maps.”

“Ai, ai, sir,” said Marlow, reluctantly.

From that moment on, the parrot pecked away at his phone, furiously answering thousands of multiple-choice questions. I could see an eager fire light up in his eyes as he worked. I knew that he was totally determined to win a worm phone and the title of Mountaineer Brain of the Universe.

After 16 hours or so, his head was pecking at the phone more slowly.

“Are you getting tired?” asked Marlow.
“No,” he replied. “The higher level questions require more thought and take a few seconds longer to answer.”
“Why don’t you take a rest?” I asked.

“Can’t stop,” replied the parrot. “There’s a budgerigar from Planet Budie who is three mountains ahead of me. Of course, that’s only because he started two earth months before I did, but I can’t let him finish all the questions first. I must catch him. I must win. Must win. Must!”

He continued to peck, peck, peck at the screen.
“You’ll die of exhaustion if you play games for hours on end,” warned Marlow. “Take a screen break. Have a peanut. Sip some water from your bottle.”

“Can’t see. My eyes are going blurred!” squawked the parrot.

And that was when he fell from his perch.

“RRRRRRR Woof! ”I woofed out in alarm, and Marlow pushed himself off the wall of the spaceship through the weightless cavity of our cabin to where the parrot was floating motionless on his back.

“He’s not, he’s not, dead is he?” I ventured.

Marlow tested the parrot’s little chest to see if he was breathing. “I’m afraid,” he said mournfully, “that the parrot is no more. He has ceased to be and gone to meet his maker. He is one more statistic. A victim of chronic game addiction syndrome.”

“ARRRROOOOOO!” I howled. “It can’t be! He was a big-headed little bird, and pretty annoying most of the time, and most awfully bossy, but he was the cleverest creature I ever knew, and once you got to know him, you couldn’t help loving him.”

“Yes,” said Marlow, wiping a tear from his eye, “I will miss that little brainbox till the day I die.”

Suddenly, the parrot sat bolt upright and squawked, “I’m not dead, you idiot, I’m only resting! But thanks for the touching tributes. Now back to winning that game!”

And immediately he was back to pecking at the games console, his head nodding back and forth, answering questions at the speed of light, or thereabouts.
“The cunning thing about those games,” said Marlow, “is that they capture your brain with positive and negative feedback. When you get an answer right, the game gives you the reward of five virtual fruits, and when you get an answer wrong, it squishes ten fruits and makes a raspberry sound. Rewards and punishments are highly addictive.”

{FX Cashing! Cashing! Cashing! ….BARP!)

“You blithering idiot!” exclaimed the bird. “Now look what you made me do, you interfering fool! You broke my iron concentration! That’s my first wrong answer, thanks to you, Marlow! Stay in your place and don’t interrupt a genius at play!”
“And I should add,” said Marlow quietly to me, “It’s been proven that playing games for too long can make you angry and irritable.”
“You don’t say,” I replied, “I would never have guessed that.”
Sometime later the console emitted loud trumpet music.
“HURRAH,” squawked the parrot. “I’ve won! I’m the Mountaineering genius of the Universe.”
I was about to join in the celebration by yapping at the top of my voice, but the celebration was cut off by a voice from the console that declared:

“You have climbed the first mountain. Only six more to go before you can claim your prize!”

“WHAT? WHAT? WHAT?” exclaimed the parrot. “Six more mountains to climb. This game’s a total con, that’s what it is.”

“That’s why it’s called The 7 mountains of genius,” said Marlow. To claim the top prize you have to excel at 7 different super-powers. You have passed the General Knowledge Test. Next up is shooting. Is shooting one of your genius talents?”

The parrot had to concede that his claws were not much use with a laser gun. Marlow however, was a keen marksman. While the parrot nodded off with his head on one side, Marlow put on his Virtual Reality goggles and leaped around the spaceship shooting at 3d villains like evil cats, foxes, postmen, and cyclists in bright yellow vests. Well, I could not see what he was shooting at, but whatever they were, they were really bad.

It took him about 24 hours to destroy all the baddies on the mountain. Eventually, he slid into his sleep-pod saying, “All done, now I need a long, long rest.”
“OOh! Can I play on the next mountain” I yapped excitedly.

“You can if you want to take up mathematics,” said the parrot.

“Oh, no thanks, I’ll pass on that one,” I said disappointed. All that adding and taking away has never been my thing. I know that when it comes to food I want more, and when it comes to baths I want less, but that’s about it as far as it goes with mathematics for me. So I left it to the parrot to spend a couple of earth-days pecking away at maths problems.

Next up was the Mountain of Music.

“AROOOOOO,” I sang, that’s more like my thing. I have a fine voice.”

“No way Astropup,” called out Marlow from his sleep-pod. “When you sing, moons explode and suns implode.”
“Hey,” I said. “At least I don’t screech like that Led Balloon band you listen to.”

“The musical mountain has my name written on it,” boasted Marlow.

The parrot gave him one of his steely stares. “Playing air-guitar does not count as musical ability,” he told him.
“Hey, I can play the drums too!” insisted Marlow, miming a solo with two imaginary drum sticks.
“But can you analyse the counter-point of a Bach fugue?” asked the parrot.

“I might if I knew how,” said Marlow.
“But the whole point is that you haven’t a clue how,” said the parrot. And there and then,the Commander Parrot appointed himself to climb the Mountain of Musical Genius.

“What’s up next?” I asked when he had finished composing a string quartet in the style of Franz Schubert...

“Next up,” said the parrot, “Is the Mountain of Physical Fitness Genius.” I have never claimed to be a genius in the gym. What about one of you two muscle brains?”

I would have happily done running on the spot while chasing a virtual squirrel, but there were all sorts of levers that needed pulling, and pieces of elastic that needed stretching, and weird yoga poses that needed doing. Marlow took up the challenge of the fitness mountain instead of me.

“Will there ever be just one mountain of genius for me to climb?” I asked.

“Seems doubtful,” the parrot told me, shaking his little head.

The sixth challenge was the Mountain of Coding Genius. There was no argument about who should climb that one.
Sometimes I think that the parrot’s brain is a computer. When he had finished his coding challenge, which was to design a safety system for a nuclear reactor, he flopped his head onto his keyboard and sighed:

“Just one more mountain left to climb!”

“What is it? What is it?” I asked eagerly. “I’m the only one who hasn’t had a go yet. Why can’t I have a go?”

“Because,” said the parrot, “well, I’m too tired to answer that question… Marlow will have to climb that mountain. I’m all out.”

“Ba!” exclaimed Marlow. “This one isn’t for me, it’s all about food.”

“Food!” I yapped. “I love food! I dream about it all the time! Oh please Marlow, let me at the food mountain, let me, let me, I know I will do well. I’m sure I could eat an entire mountain of food, no trouble!”

“Sadly, I don’t think it’s about eating food,” said Marlow. “It’s about cooking. You need to be a master chef to climb the final mountain. All I can do is open a can of beans.”

“But it’s always been my dream to be a master chef,” I said. “I have sooooooo many recipes in my head! Let me loose on the food mountain. I know I can do it. Please let me, Marlow. This is MY Mountain.”

Marlow was smiling. I am not sure he was convinced by my pleas. “I’ll have to ask the parrot,” he said. But all the parrot would say in reply was:


“Oh go on Marlow! Let me!”

“Well … okay... I can’t say I know anything about cooking. And the parrot is fast asleep. And time is running out. And it’s not as if we have a queue of volunteers. So here, Astropup, try on these VR goggles.”

Richard: Well thank you Astropup.

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