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When we last left Astropup, he was flying into the mouth of a giant spaceship shaped like a bird (see Astropup for Freedom). At the centre of the spaceship is a giant tree holding up the nests and families of thousands upon thousands of highly intelligent birds. Astropup’s commanding officer, the Major (who is a parrot) wants to stay. So will our space dog hero be stranded on the Ship of Birds?

Story by Bertie. Duration 16.59.

Read by Richard.

Proofread by Jana Elizabeth.


Astropup here again. Last time I left the story at an exciting moment, and I could hear some of you howling at the moon saying: Tell me, do please tell me, Astropup, What happened next? Well here we go again, back to the weird and wonderful Ship of Birds.

I’ve given you some idea of how many different types of birds there were inside that spaceship. What I haven’t described yet is the noise they made. As we opened the hatch of our craft, the sound of all that twittering and tweeting, not to mention squawking, was as deafening as it was confusing. It was like you could hear every creature who had ever lived or died all talking at once. I wanted to howl, only I knew that nobody would hear me over all that din. But it was surprising how soon I got used to it. My brain just stopped listening.

We had landed somewhere near the foot of the great tree. It was at the centre of the Ship of Birds. Its branches supported their nests and families. I began to sniff its roots, and the Parrot said:

“Whatever you do, don’t lift your leg at that trunk.”

“I wouldn’t dream of such a thing,” I protested.

A flock of doves came to greet us, carrying worms and nuts in their beaks as offerings to make us welcome. The Parrot politely took a nut. I hoped nobody would be offended if I didn’t eat the wiggling worm that was dropped at my feet.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to follow the feathery ones to wherever it was that they wanted to take us, because that would involve flying. The Major went off with them. I was content to dip my tongue into a cool stream that was flowing not far away, to sniff the scent of ducks on the water, to chase a pretty butterfly, and then to fall asleep in the long grass that covered the floor of the giant space bird. This was the way to travel, I thought, once you get used to the noise. The problem with our own spacecraft was that it was designed by humans. They would never think of including anything so pleasant as a blade of grass let alone a single duck in one of their vehicles.

I learnt what the Major had been up to when he fluttered back an hour or two later. He had been granted an audience with a most remarkable bird. He was an ancient owl – at least 250 years old – and his brain served as the ship’s computer. That’s right, they just plugged him in, and he controlled the whole caboodle. Now that’s what I call smart. He lived right at the top of the tree – as you would expect – and he was surrounded by exotic birds who tended to his every need.

“They’re the most gorgeous creatures you ever did see!” Squawked the Parrot, and I could see that their plumage had impressed him. Fortunately, he had picked up a bit of interesting info too. The birds came from a planet that had been invaded by the cat people. At the time of this calamity, the owl had been leading a project to build the giant bird ship. As the computer was not yet complete, he simply plugged his brain in to the control panel, and took off with as many of his feathered friends, friends of feathered friends, and friends of friends of feathered friends, as he could gather. There were about a 1000 of them to begin with, but since then they had multiplied many times over. I asked the Parrot:

“How many birds are there now?”

“I would say that there’s at least a myriad,” he replied.

I didn’t know how many a myriad was, but I had never learnt to count anyhow.

Next I asked if these clever feather brains could fix our spacecraft.

“They already have,” he replied. And I thumped my tail on the ground with glee.

“We’ll be on our way back home then,” I said hopefully, But something told me that salvation was not going to be as simple as that. And I was right. The Major shook his head.

“Nawww,” he said, “I like it here. And besides, if I go back to Earth, the humans will court marshal me for disobeying orders. But you go back if you like. I’m not stopping you.”

That remark made me growl. He knew perfectly well that I didn’t know how to fly the ship. That was his job. Without the Major, I was going nowhere. It was all very well for him to hang out here. There were enough nuts and fancy-feathered friends to set up a parrot for life. But it’s beneath the dignity of a dog to eat worms – unless he’s really hungry that is. I could have murdered a pheasant or a wood pigeon, but even my dodgy doggy brain realised that such a diet might be bad form in a place like this.

And so I chewed on a few sticks, because there wasn’t anything better to do. I was impressed that our Parrot had picked up the language of these alien birds so soon, but then he let slip that he hadn’t. They had deciphered his Earthly squawks in a matter of minutes. He was only just beginning to puzzle out their lingo. I began to realise that there is smart, and there is smarter still.

Now, I’m not normally one to be envious of cats who, as you know, are the most despicable creatures in the Universe. But I began to wish that I knew how to climb trees, because I was longing to see more of this incredible bird world. I don’t know if those birds were so clever that they could read my thoughts, but they soon sent a giant swan who offered to pick me up on his back and take me for a site seeing flight around the ship.

It was quite scary up there, clinging onto the swan’s neck with my front legs but it was a flight that I shall never forget. We swooped in and out of the branches of that giant tree and saw every coloured feather from gray sparrows to electric blue kingfishers, and many others besides. I saw flocks of quick thinking birds, all plugged into the ship’s power system, and the Wise Old Owl himself, thinking deep thoughts while birds of paradise groomed his feathers. But just as I was getting used to this form of transport, the swan swooped sharply around the top of the tree and turned upside down. And then, oh dear, I was falling to the ground, and it was a long long way: …OWWWWWWWWW! MURDERRRRRRR!

As you can imagine, I thought that my number was up, but that sneaky swan assassin had miscalculated. I ended up in a huge nest of feathers that had been collected from all over the ground by worker sparrows. It was the softest landing I could have hoped for, but one that made me sneeze. Now I was under no illusions. These birds might look pretty and harmless, but they were deadly when they wanted to be. The Major recked that perhaps they were frightened of me – thought I might be tempted to eat a duck or something.

“I’d lie low for a while, if I were you,” he said.

“Well thanks very much,” I woofed, and crawled off into some bushes to sleep. The food had run out, and I was pretty hungry by now. In fact I was quite tempted to try my luck at a duck.

Meanwhile, the Major applied to the senior birds for a job as a space engineer, but they wouldn’t have him. Apparently they weren’t too impressed with his efforts with soldering iron on board our own ship. They said a dog could have fixed wires together better. Now I’m the first to admit that that’s not strictly true, but the drift was that if the Major is a brainy bird in our world, among this flock of fellows, he was just averagely smart, if not a downright dunderhead. And when I turned this over in my canine brain, I had one of my occasional but big thoughts.

Everything is relative, you see.

Ok, now I have travelled around the Universe, I admit that there are things that are absolutely true always and everywhere. Like, where ever you go, cats are mad and can’t be trusted. The only other universal I know of is that Might is Right – like whoever is in charge, they make up the rules and say what’s ok and what’s not, according to what suits them. All the rest – well it’s just different where ever you go. When you are in another world, you can’t be sure what’s wrong and what’s right. Sometimes I ask, is it always wrong to bite a postman? Probably, but GRRRR I just can’t help myself!

I don’t mean to get too deep. The fact is, our Parrot was out classed by these bird brains, but he wasn’t so dim that he didn’t know it.

Both he and I were unemployed. He hopped over to my hideout in the bushes. I could see his head was hanging low. I asked him what most of the birds did for a living in this ship, and he said:

“Transcendental mathematics,”

Apparently these birds plugged their brains together and thought about circles. They had calculated the ratio of a circumference to a diameter to fifteen billion decimal points.

I haven’t a clue what that means by the way, and if you do, well you’re smarter than this old space dog, and you’re not the only one. But to put it simply: the Ship of Birds was powered by thoughts. All that fiendishly clever feathered thinking generated enough renewable energy to take them where ever they wanted to go, which by and large was nowhere in particular. The only job our friend the Parrot could get on board this ship was as a common thinker. He would have to sit plugged into the ship’s power system contemplating circles all day. It was what thousands of birds did around this place. And do you know what the Major said when they offered him the job.

Well perhaps you can guess.

“No thank you.”

He was used to being someone rather more special you see.

And that’s why, after two week’s on board the Ship of Birds, our friend the Parrot, a Major in the Space Force, finally decided to fly us back home to Earth even though he knew he would have to face a court marshal for disobeying orders.

I can’t say the birds on board were too sorry to see us go. Some kind blue tits brought us a big supply of nuts and berries to see us home. By the time we reached Earth, I was a much slimmed down space dog.

As the Parrot had predicted, the humans put him in a cage soon after we touched down. He was charged with disobeying orders on a critical mission, and ordered to stand trial before a court marshal of the Space Force. One day I’ll tell you what happened to him.
But I’m glad to say that the Major told the humans that I was innocent.

“Don’t bother to arrest him,” he squawked. “He’s too stupid to disobey orders.”

Well not the most flattering remark, but I wasn’t complaining, because I was off home to see my Jenny.

That was the story of Astropup and the Ship of Birds.

I do hope that you’ve enjoyed Astropup’s recent adventures – and are glad that he’s come back to us after a gap of some years. Bertie says it’s one of the biggest comebacks in the history of Storynory. Talking of which, we are still looking forward to Natasha’s return, but unfortunately can’t quite say when that will be.

By the way, if you are listening on our iPhone app, look out for the bonus audio that Bertie’s going to be publishing there. He’ll be bringing you a quick guide to the planets.

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