Chapter 3 – Duty Calls

Twenty minutes later, Cal was heading back into London on the train. He stared out the window, watching as the industrial sprawl of the suburbs rose up and overtook the fields and trees. In his heart he felt a corresponding sense of gloom rise up and overtake the fragile feelings of contentment that the swim had brought him.

His communicator bleeped with an incoming transmission, and his gloom blossomed into full-blown misery.

 Cal checked around before pulling the device out of his bag. Twelve failed communication attempts. Not good. He toyed with not answering it, but knew he was only delaying the inevitable. He activated the device and skipped the pleasantries.


Reeva Prit was an Ascenti, and Cal’s boss.

“I’ve been trying to reach you for an hour,” she said.

“I needed to get out of London. I guess there wasn’t a signal.”

“How awful for you. Don’t do it again. You know how I rely on you.”

When the Ascenti first arrived on Earth, Reeva Prit had been a prominent member of the delegation negotiating for sanctuary. But, thanks to a few high-profile TV interviews, it wasn’t long before she had won over the public and became the closest thing Britain had to an alien celebrity. Fast-forward a few years and Reeva had ensured that people knew the Ascenti as much for their fashion sense and glamorous lifestyle as for their off-world origins.

Right now, however, she had more practical matters to discuss. “Cal. Do you mind telling me why I am staring at a string of compliance reports against Prince Droovani.”

Cal groaned. “Just tell me Droov didn’t kill anyone this time.”

“No, not this time. But while you have been gallivanting around the countryside, the Ruvali you were supposed to be monitoring has been causing chaos all over North London. He’s been thrown out of two drinking establishments already. And he ran away from a third after pushing a human.”

“That doesn’t sound too bad.”

“Through a window.”


“I’m currently looking at security footage from a bar in Highbury called the Twelve Pins, where His Highness is attempting to lead a group of football supporters in song.”

Cal couldn’t help laughing.

“This is serious Cal. He’s teaching them a Ruvali hunting chant. You’re at least thirty minutes away, so I’ve sent two operatives to collect him and take him home. Can I leave you to ensure he understands how precarious his position is?”

It was not a question.

“Of course,” said Cal through gritted teeth.

“I wish you would keep a closer eye on His Highness. I assigned him to you specifically to avoid this sort of unpleasantness. This is the third time this year.”

“He’s not the easiest…”

“And it’s only February.”


“I will expect the Prince to provide compensation to the Ascenti Nexus. If you could persuade him to part with some of his lovely rings…”

“He got drunk and broke a window. He didn’t destroy an entire building.”

“True. But Droov’s behaviour is out of control, and we cannot have a member of the community threatening the safety and security of us all, no matter who his parents are. If he wants to carry on like this, he must deal with the consequences. Anyway Cal, I’ll leave it in your capable hands.”

Reeva hung up, leaving Cal alone with his thoughts.

When Reeva had first invited Cal to join her community, she had flattered him about how much she needed his vast experience in interplanetary relations, and how essential that would be to her mission on Earth. The actual truth, however, was that she needed someone to babysit Prince Droovani of Ruval.

As Cal turned the corner onto his street, he could see a figure sitting on the low wall outside his basement flat. However, as he cycled closer, he realised it wasn’t Droov waiting for him but his landlord.

This wasn’t good.

“Alright Cal,” said Dave, standing up. He held out his hand. “I rang the bell but there’s no-one home. Thought I would be waiting here all night.”

“Sorry about that,” said Cal, taking his hand for a brief shake, and hoping he did it correctly. “I’m afraid I didn’t know you were coming.”

“The other one, what’s his name…?”


“Yeah. He didn’t give you the message? I’m here to sort the back door.”

“Right, yes. No, he didn’t mention it. But it shouldn’t be a problem.” Cal cursed Droov. Where was that irresponsible idiot? He should have been home by now. Cal carefully removed his helmet and tried to picture the living room as he had left it. There wasn’t too much obvious incriminating stuff on show from what he could recall. But he still needed to get in and de-alien properly before the landlord set foot inside.

He put his key in the door and turned it. “Do you mind waiting here for a bit longer? I left some laundry drying.”

Dave’s impatience was growing. “I’ve already been here ten minutes. I’m not bothered about your underwear.”

“Just thirty seconds. Promise.”

As he opened the door, a voice boomed down the corridor. “Cal! Come and have a drink, you great fishy bugger.”

Cal quickly pulled the door closed and turned to Dave. “It may be more than thirty seconds.”

Before Dave could respond, Cal had slipped inside and slammed the door behind him.

“Droov! We have company.”

As Cal passed his bedroom he looked in with dismay at the pool of water that sat in the middle of the floor. Buying a birthing pool had been one of his better ideas. It was deep enough that he could entirely submerge; something he could never do in their short and shallow bathtub. But birthing pools were not designed for long-term use, and this one had developed fine surface cracks along the top. It was also long overdue for a water change. But there was no time to sort that now. Cal shut the door and hurried down the hallway into the main living area.

The kitchen sink and worktops were piled high with dirty plates and cups, but there was nothing too obviously off-world. The living room, by way of contrast, was a disaster. Alien devices and weaponry covered the floor and furniture. In the middle of this incriminating maelstrom, Droov lay passed out on the couch. His black shirt was torn and his trousers were soaked in a substance that Cal was not keen to investigate any closer.

Cal rushed over and shook Droov’s shoulders. “Droov, wake up!”

Droov snorted awake and stared at Cal, glassy-eyed. “Where were you, Cal?”

“I went out.” Cal began gathering up every piece of alien equipment he could see. “The landlord is outside right now. Help me get this stuff put away.”

Droov didn’t move from his prone position on the couch. “I looked for you.”

“No, you didn’t,” snapped Cal, hurling a selection of priceless Ruvali weaponry into Droov’s bedroom. “You went out looking for alcohol and trouble.”

“And I found it,” said Droov, smiling to himself. “You know, some of these humans put up a pretty good fight for such an undeveloped species.”

Cal didn’t mind Droov’s drinking so much – they all had their different ways of getting by. But the problems came when Droov forgot where he was and started treating Cal as his house servant and London as his personal fiefdom. Cal threw another armful of technology into Droov’s room.

“Hey watch it!” said Droov. “Some of that is worth more than… more than… well, more than you can afford.” Cal came back to the living room.

“For Vardi’s sake Droov. Wake up and help me. This is serious. We need to get this stuff put away.”

“Don’t stress,” said Droov. “If the human sees something and contacts the police, so what? The Ascenti will just do whatever it is they do to make it all go away.”

He had a point. No matter what Droov got up to during his drunken escapades, the Ascenti would always make it disappear. Over the years, Droov had started fights, crashed cars, damaged property and even put people in the hospital, but he would always get away with it; repaying any costs by selling one of the many priceless trinkets he had brought with him to Earth. He lived his life free of blame, regret and anything resembling consequences.

But then again, thought Cal with bitterness, he had just condemned two Xanthi to a life of misery and there had been no consequences for that. Was he no better than Droov now?

Cal gathered up the last few things and looked around the room. The only incriminating evidence left was Droov himself, but there was nothing he could about that. He threw the last few things into Droov’s room and shut the door. He then went down the hallway, put on his best fake grin and opened the door for Dave.

“Sorry about that, all put away now. Please come in.”

Dave grunted and entered the flat. Cal followed him nervously down the corridor, scanning for any incriminating evidence he might have missed. By the time they got back to the living room, Droov had fallen asleep again.

“Was he here this whole time?” Dave asked Cal.

“He’s overdone it. Sorry. Didn’t hear the bell.”

Dave walked past Droov and turned his attention to the back door. The lock had stuck weeks ago and the only way they had been able to get into their small yard was through the window in Droov’s room. Dave tried turning the key a few times before pulling a blue canister out of his bag and spraying a substance into the keyhole. A smell reached Cal’s nostrils that reminded him of his ship’s engine room. The landlord tried the key again and turned it successfully.

“There you go,” said Dave, opening the door. “It was just stuck. Don’t you boys know about WD-40? It’s always good to have a… What the hell is that?”

Cal looked at where Dave was pointing and saw with dismay a pile of fox pelts and bones in the middle of the yard – the remains of Droov’s nocturnal snacking. Flies buzzed around the pile, and a rancid smell reached his nostrils. How on Earth was he going to explain that?

“That’s… err… that’s just….”

“Taxidermy,” said Droov, joining them in the doorway. “A little art project I have in mind. Getting that little collection stuffed.”

“I think you had better get on with it,” said Dave, wrinkling his nose in disgust. “I never understand you arty types.” He turned to Cal. “Right then, if that’s everything, I’ll be off.”

Cal escorted him to the front door in a daze. When he came back into the living room Droov had turned on the TV. He drew breath to launch into another critical tirade.

“Save it,” said Droov. “We got through it, didn’t we?”

Cal couldn’t think of a response.

“Look,” said Droov. “That hospital show you like is starting. Come and sit down. I got you a beer.”

Cal sighed. A million conflicting impulses raged around his head, but right then all he wanted was a cold beer and to not think for an hour. He sat down next to Droov and took the offered drink as he settled back into the soft cushions of the couch.

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