HIGH up in the coldness of space, the alien research station was silent.
The control desk in the centre of the viewing deck was a mess, with empty beer bottles and several Domino's Pizza boxes spread across the banks of computers. One of the ergonomic office chairs was upside down with its wheels in the air, and the other was on the far side of the room next to a large dent in the wall. There were balloons tied to it.
In front of the desk was a large screen, in the middle of which hung a blue and green planet quietly going about its business.
Suddenly the computers began to beep quietly. Lights flickered and flashed, underneath a pizza box something began to print and in the corner the terrible coffee machine started to splutter.
A minute later, the sliding door swished open and Bob, the deputy research scientist, slithered into the room.
But first he slithered into the door frame, because he had his eyes shut. He swore quietly and put out a few tentacles as he found his way slowly onto the viewing deck, still with his eyes tightly closed. He fumbled and found the wheels on the upside-down chair, moved on to the desk, and then scrabbled at a drawer from which he pulled a pair of sunglasses.
He put them on, and sighed. "That's better," he said. He turned and slithered to the coffee machine and picked up the cup of black sludge which had been prepared.
"Ow, fuck!" he said, putting it down quickly, then locating an empty paper cup and sliding the first into it so he could hold it without burning his slime-covered feeler.
Grumbling, he uprighted the chair, flicked some switches, found the last slice of cold pizza, lifted the sunglasses onto his forehead and applied his single eye to the viewing scope trained on the planet below.
The door swished again. If he'd had legs he would have strode, but instead Grfelft the chief alien research scientist slithered purposefully into his office with every appearance of being sober, chipper and at the top of his game.
"Morning!" he boomed at his minion, who flinched. "What a lovely day!"
Grfelft oozed over to the coffee machine, gave it a hearty slap on the back, and caught the sludge which spurted out in his favourite mug held underneath its nozzle. He took a long slurp and went to stand behind Bob in that way bosses do all over the universe, just out of view but slightly too close and able to read everything on your computer screen.
"A fine, fine day," said Grfelft, beaming, with one tentacle on his hip. "Life is good, isn't it?" He slapped the back of Bob's chair, knocking him forward so his single bloodshot eye was rammed into the viewing scope with some force.
"Ouch!" said Bob. "Oh sorry," said Grfelft, with a broad smile. Bob rubbed his eye and glared with it at his boss, who was normally filled with despair and loathing from his task of monitoring the human race on the planet below. He was never happy or smiley, and Bob didn't like it. Grfelft carried on grinning, slurping from his mug. It said 'THE PLANET'S BEST DADDY!' on it in big blue letters.
Bob put the sunglasses back on his nose nodule. He tried not to sigh, and failed.
"So what are the little darlings up to today?" asked Grfelft, putting down his coffee and slithering over to the second office chair in the corner.
"You don't want to know," grumped Bob.
"Oh now, come on, don't be like that," said Grfelft as he grabbed the back of the chair with a tentacle, and began pulling it towards the desk.
"The Big Wang sent us here nearly half a millennium ago to watch what the humans get up to and, do you know, they're pretty entertaining. They're doing a marvellous job with America, considering it's full of Americans, and they're very good at gardening. Did you see those organic bonsai roses Liz Jones sent back from her last mission? The Big Wang's going to love them."
He spun the chair seat round and stuck out his bum to sit on it, but the moment he let go of the back the chair shot off down the room and back into the dented wall with a bang. Grfelft was so surprised he could not stop his descent and ended up sitting down on the floor with a splat.
Bob laughed and immediately stopped when Grfelft shot him a glare. He could still remember his last punishment for insubordination, and had no wish to spend another week trying to renewing the electrolytes in Liz Jones' battery pack.
Grfelft struggled up with as much dignity as he could muster, went back to the chair, and pulled it away from the wall.
"There's a huge piece of elastic tying it to this bracket," he said, turning in fury on his underling. "What kind of game are you playing?"
Bob shook his head and took a bite of pizza. "Not me boss," he said. "That was you."
"Yeah. You thought ergonomic office chairs on elastic would be a really good entry for next year's Britain's Got Talent."
Grfelft stared at the chair as memory began to dawn. "We had quite a lot to drink, didn't we?"
"We were celebrating about the dancing dog weren't we?"
"So we started drinking three days ago?"
"Why don't I have a hangover?"
"You're still drunk. Want some pizza?"
Grfelft used his thumb claw to slice the elastic, pushed the chair back to the desk, sat on it uncertainly, and accepted the proffered slice of congealed dough. "Tastes good," he said.
"See? That proves you're still drunk," said Bob. "Wait til the flashbacks kick in."
Grfelft sighed. He had very little reason to celebrate in this dull backwater of the galaxy, watching a less-advanced species blunder its way towards extinction while a long way from the methane swamps he called home. But a dancing dog! That was cool. And it had made him think that maybe the humans had finally done something right.
He shook himself out of his reverie and tried not to notice the headache starting at the back of his skull. "Right, well, let's clear the decks and see what we have. We have to report to the Big Wang at lunch. So, what's going on down there?"
"Do you really want to know?" asked Bob.
"Of course!" replied Grfelft.
"You might want another coffee."
"Oh, come on. Let's get this report done."
"Fine. Rebekah Brooks, her husband and a bunch of other people have been charged with perverting the course of justice."
"Well that's good, isn't it?"
"Yes, except everyone's so busy talking about it and saying they're all guilty that there's probably quite a big risk the trial might collapse, or if it does go ahead the verdict will be skewed, and if there is a sentence that they would be able to appeal it."
"Oh. Well, it's only Twitter. Humans like a gossip. It'll probably be fine."
"Hmmm. They're all busy talking about her rather than her husband."
"The horse racing chappie? So what?"
"He's been the Prime Minister's best mate for 30 years."
"Ooookaaaay... so the Prime Minister's had to resign, then?"
"Well he's in trouble over his judgement again?"
"He's had to put out a statement, at least?"
"Not yet. He's gone on Desert Island Discs and said he likes Pink Floyd."
"Hang on. The leader of a quite important nation is best mates with someone who's up before the beak for allegedly trying to cover up crime, in fact crimes which involve the PM's former spokesman, and no-one's too bothered?"
Grfelft rubbed his temples. The headache had moved around to the front.
"Right. Well. Not brilliant, not brilliant at all. I doubt Maggie would have tried to brass-neck that one out. What else?"
"Derek Acorah says Madeleine McCann is dead."
"IT WAS HIM! I KNEW IT! He's a dodgy sod, I always said..."
"No, no, no. He says someone in the spirit world told him."
"Well how would they know? They're all obsessed with trying to tell people about the 3.30 at Epsom."
"He also accused the journalists who reported what he said of being irresponsible and upsetting her grieving parents."
"... then he exploded with the irony, right?"
Grfelft sighed. The headache pounded. "I presume he's selling something?"
"He does happen to be on tour at the moment, yes. Sixteen quid a ticket to hear someone say your dead granny is happy on the other side."
"And humans still believe this tripe? Even though not once has anyone ever spoken through a medium to say 'the money's in the cellar' or 'stick it all on Widget in the 4.15' or even 'Uncle Barry killed me, it was UNCLE BARRY'?"
Bob finished off his pizza and licked the end of his limb. "Yep, pretty much. Acorah's a millionaire, so it seems to sell."
"Have you got any aspirin? I need some aspirin." Bob tossed a box to Grfelft, who popped a couple of pills with another swig of coffee. "Tell me something good," he said. "There must be something good."
Bob scratched his head and shuffled through some printouts. "Well, um, that woman off EastEnders you hate has got a new boyfriend who's even worse than the last one, no? Er, oh someone beat Manchester United in the Premier League?"
"Fantastic!" said Grfelft. "Who was it?"
"Man City," said Bob.
"ARSE," said his boss, thumping the desk with a slimy limb. "Why is it never Accrington Stanley's turn? Everyone was talking about them not long ago, you know."
He put his head in his tentacles. "What else?" he asked in a muffled voice. "Hit me with it, go on."
"Greece is buggered. The Euro's about to collapse. France has elected someone who's going to try something different but everyone's upset he's not married. A girl died from TB because the doctor didn't spot it. Macca nearly had a massage from a pervert. They're going to stop thousands of special needs kids having extra schooling. And they still don't know where all the money went."
"Right," said Grfelft, quietly. "And I suppose you're going to tell me Liz Jones malfunctioned on her latest field trip, too?"
"She dressed up as the Queen and went round The Mall on a child's scooter drawing attention to herself by saying how ugly and overdressed she felt."
Grfelft smashed his head onto the keyboard in front of him and screamed. He raised it, blinked, then did it twice more.
"That's better," he said. "The hangover's nearly gone."
He did it a fourth time, just to be sure.
"Okay. Okay. Fine. Liz Jones probably just needs a software patch or something. We've still got the dog. The dancing dog. The Big Wang will like that. It will stop him unleashing the intergalactic missiles or sending us somewhere even worse than this for another 500 years. Humans are crap at everything but they're nice to animals."
Bob looked uneasy. "Weeeeeell...."
Grfelft closed his eyes and sighed. "All right, tell me."
"A third of all the animals have died."
"The World Wildlife Fund says 30 per cent of all creatures in the wild have died since 1970. There's three-quarters less tigers, the Congo's lost 95 per cent of its hippos because of all the poison from mining in its rivers, and they like fish and chips so much there's only a quarter of the cod left. Dolphins in the Yangtze haven't been seen for 10 years and there's only half as many Emperor penguins as there should be."
Grfelft was quiet. After struggling to speak for a moment or two, he asked: "And beyond humanity being a rapacious bunch of thoughtless idiots who just screw everything up and then tweet about it, what does that mean, exactly?"
"They're going to need a new planet by 2030."
Grfelft stared at the viewing screen, and the blue and green planet which hung there. He thought about the billions of people loving, hating, fighting and being born on it.
He thought about the dancing dog. He sighed.
"Tell the Big Wang to blow it up," he said. "But get Pudsey off first."
He stood up and announced he was going to spend some time on his own in the methane chamber. Bob watched him slither through the doors, which hissed shut behind him, and looked at the message on the printer which was asking for today's report on Earth.
He thought for a second, and then typed in: "ALL WELL. DANCING DOG ELECTED TO RUN WORLD."
Then he hit send, told himself that Grfelft would feel better in a couple of years, and flicked the viewing screen to Midsomer Murders.
"Dishface Investigates!" he said aloud. "I wonder if he'll ever investigate himself?"
And he ordered more popcorn from the ship's computer.
Read previous reports on Bob and Grfelft here:
* Humans seen from space.
* Humans seen from space part deux.