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Synopsis

Halley’s Casino is set in 1986. 26-year old Nebula Yorker (Neb to his friends), is patiently awaiting the return of Halley’s Comet. He is about to discover that the world is not what it seems.

Upon the arrival of Halley’s Comet, Neb is confronted by a mysterious stranger who literally swoops out of the night sky. What happens next will change the course of Neb’s life and that of all he befriends.

This stranger (Mr. Tict) reveals to Neb that Halley’s is not a comet at all, but an Intergalactic Casino that has been posing as a comet for countless years. Mr. Tict is the Concierge of the Casino and he has come back to Earth to recruit Neb as his assistant.

What happens next is an eye-opening experience for young Neb that no one on Earth can imagine. It can only be explained by watching old Star Trek reruns, while eating cheese sandwiches and drinking hot chocolate. From androids with attitude to a vast assortment of alien beings and historic individuals, with a touch of time travel from ancient Babylon to 1757 London and back to Rome of 12 BCE, Neb soon learns that his past, present and future have always lain in the stars above.

It’s a rock and roll ride chock full of chaos, a formidable nemesis, drama, satire, humour, death and new beginnings, with revelations that Neb never saw coming.

Even John Lennon is amused!

Starting out on a quiet evening of star gazing, Nebula Yorker finds himself caught up in the most extraordinary time travel and planet saving adventure of a lifetime.

And that’s only the beginning of what is to come.

Think Hitch Hikers Guide meets Red Dwarf meets Bill & Ted
meets Dr Who meets The Stainless Steel Rat meets Star Trek
for tea and a chat
Halley’s Casino is the 1st in the Halley’s Casino Trilogy


Chapter 1

In the beginning...

Halley’s Casino
No one really knows the future. Sometimes just living in the present is enough. Thinking about the future is really just that, thinking. In my case, the past is the future.
Nebula Yorker, Rome, 12 BCE

February 16, 1986, 1:16 AM Woodside Hills, California
Nebula Yorker reclined on the cool grass and looked up through his telescope into the clear early morning sky. Stars, planets and faraway galaxies reached down to his searching eyes. After a few minutes of stargazing, he turned his lantern up a notch so he could unpack his knapsack and take out his notepad, pencil and thermos. Pulling the cup from the thermos, he slowly twisted the cap. The coffee aroma drifted up and out. Steaming, cosmic-like vapours of coffee danced around and reached his nostrils. He took it in with a smile and poured a cup. Drawing it up to his mouth, he could feel the heat as it began to burn his lips. He knew he should stop but he couldn’t. His body instinctively straightened up and half the coffee flew from his mouth, shooting out over the top of the telescope lens and himself.

“Shit. Shit, shit!” Neb cried. Reaching back into the knapsack, he snatched out the lens cloth and, within seconds, was cleaning off the lens with cat-like quickness. “That’s all I need right now,” he said to himself. Good thing there was no sugar in the coffee, he thought. That would have been a disaster.

Satisfied that no damage had been done, Neb readjusted the telescope. He peered into it, adjusting the lens back to where it had been pointed.

“Hello, Mr. Big Dipper,” he whispered, reclining back on the grass. Then, clutching the thermos, he poured another cup, this time gently blowing on the hot liquid before he took another sip. Mm, that’s better, he thought.

Leaning back on his elbows, cup in hand, looking up at the brilliant night sky, his thoughts turned to his Mom and Dad and how they had so longed for 1986 to arrive. To see it twice in their lifetime had been a dream and a goal. They had both been ten years old when they first saw it in 1910. Neb sighed sadly as he thought of them. He missed them terribly.

He was six years old when they had adopted him 20 years before. He never understood why, at the age of 66, they had decided to adopt. But he didn’t object. He’d just been grateful to get out of that orphanage and begin a somewhat normal life. Being raised by older parents was an adventure for Neb as it had been for the Yorkers and something he would never trade for anything imaginable, not even to find out who his birth parents were and why they gave him away. Though, like anyone who was adopted, it did cross his mind now and then but never to the point of obsession. Perhaps there was a good reason for their decision; perhaps one day he would know, or maybe not. He didn’t think it made a difference in how he turned out and how he was raised and loved by the Yorkers. He was Nebula Yorker – Neb to his friends.

He remembered that day so etched in his mind – Thursday, July 10, 1966, 11 AM. He was washing the dishes in the kitchen, standing on a footstool so he could reach the sink. He heard the footsteps behind him. His hearing had always been impeccable, even at an early age, making him imagine he had superpowers. Now if he could only fly away from this place. Before he heard her voice, he knew it was Miss Strummer, the matron of Saint Joseph’s Orphanage.
“That’s him, the small one on the stool.” Her voice snarled as it always did. “Get your ass over here. These nice people want to get a look at you!”

A shiver ran down his spine as it always did when he heard or saw Miss Strummer. A portly five-feet-four inches of mean. Never had a good thing to say about anyone. Turning slowly around and thinking, now what have I done? Neb saw them standing like giants above and behind her. The plate in his hand slipped and crashed to the floor. He cringed, watching in slow motion as the plate dissected itself everywhere. His face reddened and he looked up and saw that Miss Strummer’s face was about to explode into her regular fiery rage but, for some reason, it didn’t.
“He’s yours! Good riddance!” She faced the older couple and stomped out of the kitchen. Neb leaped off the stool, avoiding any shrapnel from the plate, and ran into the waiting arms of one Mrs. Victoria Yorker. It was just instinct. He did that without thinking. To her right stood her husband, Neb’s new father, Mr. Bancroft Yorker. Bending down now, face to face, eye to eye, he gave Neb a hug and whispered in his ear.

“This is the first day of the beginning of your life, the one that you should have had at the start.” With that, Neb walked out with his new Mom and Dad, holding tightly to their hands swinging him back and forth. He remembered walking out the front door of Saint Joseph’s and seeing Miss Strummer, her eyes glaring down at him for the last time. He stuck out his tongue at her. It was picture perfect, as only a six-year old boy can do.
“Now that wasn’t very nice,” said Mrs. Yorker, with a grin. Mr. Yorker just winked and smiled.
Coming back to the present, Neb took out his notepad and pencil. Gazing back up at the night sky, he began to write.
1:35 AM – Feels like I am watching and waiting for a kettle to boil. Nothing as yet, though I remain optimistic that soon it will appear.

Placing his notepad and pencil down, he remembered something. He pulled out a photo from the back. It slipped from his hands onto the now dewy grass. He picked it up and gave it a quick shake. He beamed with pride looking at it. It was his favourite picture of his Mom and Dad. They were standing outside the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California. He remembered the day he had taken it as if it were yesterday. How could he not? It was his sixteenth birthday. Below the photo was written:
Nebula, when you reach for the stars, anything is possible. Let your star shine radiantly wherever you find yourself. Always remember, the goal is to move forward. The past, present and future lie above, which we strive to reach and understand. Happy 16th Birthday, May 10, 1976 Love always, Mom & Dad
He kissed the photo and placed it on top of the scope so that they both could get a good look when it came into view. Man! I wish they could be here, all three of us together, he thought. He rubbed a few tears from his eyes and smiled.

For 18 years, they were stitched together for the most part. They would take him everywhere with them. London. Paris. Rome. Greece. Germany. You name it, they were there, except for two weeks every August from the 15th to the 30th .

Neb would then be left with some of their university colleagues while they went off to the Amazon. He did ask them once why they always went alone and why they did not take him. Downtime, you know, personal stuff, they would say. In the end, he really didn’t mind. He kind of got to live like a kid and hang out with other kids his age during those two weeks – swimming, fishing, camping, and to enjoy his own downtime.

Both Victoria and Bancroft Yorker were professors who taught at the University of California, Berkeley. Bancroft’s field was Astronomy and Earth and Planetary Science. Victoria’s speciality was in Science and Quantum Physics Mathematics. As for Neb, he knew a little of just about everything there was to know. He chalked it up to the benefits of home schooling and never gave it a second thought. He never went to grade school or high school or any school, for that matter. Everything came naturally to him. You only needed to tell him something once and he retained it. He was a proverbial sponge, so to speak, and having the Yorkers as teachers wasn’t a bad thing either.

He didn’t miss out on the entire hi jinks that kids go through. He had a few friends in the neighbourhood and they could be somewhat mischievous. Like the first time they smoked pot. Pot was Neb’s Kryptonite. His brain just didn’t function as it should, not that anyone’s does on pot. It was indeed a trip, an inner, outer, in and back out again adventure. Quite amusing at times. Its effect on him was slightly different. He got high and laughed, listened to rock ‘n’ roll like the rest, as they did back then. He would go into a state of flux where everything that he knew became tangled. He saw faces and places he had never been to, as though he had. Or perhaps he was just stoned, who knows? It was trippy to say the least. Once he started to mellow out, all became clear once again. Of course, the munchies would soon overtake logic and everything else.

Neb had worked part time since he was 17, and still did, at Free Bee’s Record Shop. Not that he needed to. He had enough funds without working. After his Mom and Dad disappeared on their last trip to the Amazon and were declared missing and dead two years earlier, he inherited everything. He spent a year searching, retracing their every step, every movement. Every lead ended up empty, a cold trail in the Amazon. It was as though they had vanished from the face of the earth.

Victoria and Bancroft Yorker were quite the unique odd couple if ever there was one, but in a good way. They never seemed to have aged from the first day they rescued Neb. He remembered that they had never been sick, not once. Never saw a doctor. Never took pills of any kind. He realised that he had never been sick either. He liked to think that they were out there somewhere, perhaps doing what sneaky 86-year-olds do. And to believe that they were cuddling together somewhere under the stars. Perhaps sitting around a campfire with their own telescope set up, looking up at the same sky, waiting for that one magical moment to happen, as he was now doing. That’s how he liked to think of them, retired and living happily. No one is really gone as long as you remember them, ever.

Neb stood up and gave his body a good stretch, bending fingers to toes, slowly breathing in and out. His eyes stared over to the brush. All this moving about had given his bladder pause. The coffee wanted out. He stood there looking, thinking. He had heard that Neil Young, the musician, lived nearby and hoped that he was not trespassing on his property, though it would have been cool to meet him. He was sure that if he did meet him, Mr. Young would appreciate what was taking place. Not the peeing of course. He zipped up, refreshed, ready to continue on with his task.

Heading back to his telescope, he tripped and fell face down. Grass and dirt stuck to the side of his mouth. I didn’t see that coming, he thought. Slowly, he got up, dusting himself off and spitting out little bits of grime. He looked up. I see it! I can really see it! Dashing over to the telescope, he took a deep breath and peered in.
There it is, finally!
HALLEY’S COMET!
WOW!

He gushed. He couldn’t get over it. It’s really there. It was named after the English astronomer Edmond Halley, who, in 1705 had determined the comet’s periodicity, meaning its tendency to recur at regular intervals every 75-76 years

Halley’s prediction proved to be correct. The comet returned on December 25, 1758, though he did not live to see it again. Throughout history, the comet had made itself known, from 240 BCE onward. Chinese, Babylonian, Roman and Medieval European chroniclers had reported sightings, but they were not recognised as a reappearance of the same object at the time.

Halley’s Comet is the only short-period comet that is clearly visible to the naked eye from Earth and the only such comet to appear twice in a lifetime, if you’re fortunate enough to live that long. Edmond Halley’s confirmation of the comet’s return was the first time anything other than planets had been shown to orbit the Sun. It has probably been in its current orbit for 16,000–200,000 years, give or take a century or two or three. Halley’s projected lifetime could be as long as ten million years, or less depending on past, present and future developments.
What’s that saying?
“What goes around usually comes around.”

At last! Neb gasped looking up at the comet. Nervous enthusiasm rattled his whole body like a kid in a candy store waiting for that first bite of chocolate, cotton candy, a jawbreaker, a long stick of licorice, if you’re prone to be into that sort of thing. High up above the atmosphere, Halley’s Comet soared. Pulling his head away from the lens, Neb was as giddy as could be. Looking up again, he could see it; it was now visible to the naked eye.
AMAZING! BRILLIANT! OUTSTANDING!

He danced a little jig around the telescope, enthused, jubilant and overflowing with joy. He stopped and looked around, hoping no one was watching. Then he didn’t really care. He watched the comet through the lens, so beautiful, so far away. As he continued to gaze at it, it almost felt like it was moving closer to him. Drawing away again from the lens, he could see it moving towards him. He thought, it can’t be!

Wait! That’s not a comet. Peeking through the lens once more, he did a double take. It was unbelievable! It was definitely moving, and in his direction. He fell back on his ass. It was now hovering above him, a small glowing ball of light. It almost resembled a jellyfish floating on air; it made no sound whatsoever, just hovered. He lay motionless on the ground as the jellyfish- like object positioned itself about ten feet above him. He could have pissed his pants if he had not emptied his bladder 15 minutes earlier.

In what seemed like an eternity, but was probably about 10 seconds, the object the size of a football sat above him, and then zipped into the nearby brush. Staring up from the cool ground, Neb could see Halley’s Comet, picture perfect, also looming over him, protecting him, as it were. What the hell just happened? Still lying on the ground, he turned his head to the left and looked straight into the woods where whatever it was had entered.
OK, he said to himself, let’s try and be methodical about this. Standing still, though not overly frightened by this event, he could hear his father’s voice as if he was teaching him one of his lessons.

Now, Neb, what do we do next?
MOVE FORWARD, he heard. Always move forward. Slowly, and without a second thought, he moved forward towards the trees and entered. Broken twigs crackled beneath his feet, a light breeze hit his face. He raised his hand to push away a branch in front of him. It flipped back, slapping him directly in the face. The swipe burned and the branch swung back, hitting him again. As if once weren’t enough. It stung but he somehow held back from screaming out loud, not wanting to disturb whatever might be waiting.

His eyes darted from side to side, back and forth like he was in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. He could hear up ahead what sounded like water trickling, perhaps twenty to thirty feet away. It was so dark though that he was not sure; when he found this spot the week before, he really did not do much surveying except for the opening where his telescope now sat alone, waiting for his return.

Suddenly, a bright beaming light overshadowed the entire circumference of the brush where he stood, as if someone had switched on the lights at a ballpark. He held his hands to his face to shield his eyes from the light. Opening his fingers, he peeked through and could now make out the shadow of a figure standing next to a tree.

The figure began to move slowly towards him. His feet were like cement; he wanted to move, but couldn’t or wouldn’t. He was immobilised with fascination. Most of the light seemed to be emanating from the head of the figure, as if the moon was reflecting off it. Or was it the other way around?
The light now began to dissipate and, as it did, his eyes quickly adjusted back to his surroundings.

It was a man, a short stocky man, about five feet tall. The hair on his head was pure white, as though the light had absorbed itself back into his full head of hair. He wore a black tuxedo, a white shirt with a black bow tie, and on his feet were the most shocking, intense red shoes Neb had ever seen.
All he could do was say hello.

“Hello there!” an enthusiastic British accented voice answered. “Sorry about the glare. It usually takes a few minutes to die down.”
“Of course it does,” Neb said, as if everything was normal.
“I really had to drain the lizard.” The little man zipped up his trousers.
“Excuse me?” Neb asked.
“I had to relieve my bladder, dear boy. People haven’t stopped peeing, have they?”
“Not as far as I know,” Neb answered, wondering who this guy was and how he had come out of the middle of nowhere. He thought maybe he was a stray from one of Neil Young’s parties or something. He looked harmless enough.

“What’s with the red shoes?” Neb blurted out. He felt as though he had to say it. The man looked down at his shoes and back up at Neb.
“They are kind of bright, aren’t they? Never really seemed to notice before, but they are so very comfortable and the anti- gravity hopper inserts really do cushion the feet. Forgive me. Archibald Tict at your service,” He bowed and held out his hand to shake Neb’s. Neb hesitated for a second, then held out his hand.
“Nebula Yorker,” he replied as they shook hands.

“You can call me Mr. Tict, which most do, or just plain ole Tict,” he smiled.
“Most of my friends call me Neb. Hmm, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but where did you come from?” Neb asked, rubbing his chin. “I thought that I was all alone out here.”
“Where did I come from? London, England or, more precisely, I was born in London, England in the year 1707.”
Tict quickly changed the subject.

“Hey, did I spot a telescope out in the clearing?” Tict pointed and started to make his way out from the brush, walking past Neb.
What is happening here? Neb thought to himself. He wondered if there was an old folks’ home or an insane asylum nearby.
“No, there isn’t,” Tict shouted back at him.

Neb hadn’t said anything. He turned to see Tict exiting the bushes. By the time he reached him, he was sitting, pouring himself the last cup of coffee from Neb’s thermos.
“Wow! Real coffee beans! Remind me to pick some up before we leave.” Tict continued to drink the last cup of coffee as Neb looked on. “I am glad you like it, Mr. Tict, but, more importantly, who are you and what is going on here?”

“My dear boy, you may drop the ‘mister’ part of the name. Tict will do fine.”
“OK Tict, here’s the question. Did you happen to see a hovering white mass flying around here?”
“ What? Are you on drugs or something?” Tict took another sip. “Mmmm, good to the last drop.” Tict finished the coffee, shook the cup and returned it to the thermos, twisting it back on. Now turning his attention back to Neb, he said, “Now, what was it you were saying? Oh yes, a hovering white mass of light. Did it look like a kind of jellyfish floating in midair?”

“Yes, yes.” Neb finally thought he was getting somewhere.
“Sorry, can’t say that I have.”
Neb tilted his head down, shaking it in dismay, not knowing what to make of this tuxedo-clad hobbit-like man. “Hey, is that Halley’s Comet, Neb?” Tict sheepishly pointed up, changing the subject again.

“Yes, it is Halley’s Comet.” Neb looked down at his wristwatch. It was 2:05 AM. “Where’s my notepad?” Neb asked, searching the ground. “Looking for this?” Tict held up the notepad and pencil. “Give me that!” Neb grabbed for it and missed. “Now, now, don’t be rude.” Tict handed it to Neb.

“I am sorry. It’s late and I am getting tired and you drank my last cup of coffee.” Neb sighed heavily. “I’m sorry, Mr. Tict. I mean Tict.” If his parents had taught him anything, it was to be polite to strangers and this Mr. Tict was strange indeed. He kind of reminded Neb of a tic.

“That’s OK, Neb. I can understand.” Tict patted Neb on the back.
“Now, where were we? Oh, yes, a white hovering mass of light.”
“So you did see it? I thought I was going crazy. No offence, Tict.”
“None taken, my dear boy.” Tict moved towards the telescope. “Yes, I did see it. Or rather, that white glowing mass was me,” Tict said, looking into the scopes lens.

“What do you mean, it was you?” Neb sarcastically quipped. “And I’m a giant ball of belly button fuzz.”
“Well, you asked.” Tict gestured Neb over. “Come here and take a peek.” He moved away while Neb peered into the telescope lens.
“I don’t see anything.” Neb pulled back and looked at Tict. “Wait! I don’t see anything!” Neb straightened up and looked to the sky. “Where did it go?”
“Where did what go? You mean Halley’s Comet?” Tict grinned.
“Yes, crazy man! Halley’s Comet! Where did it go?”

“Do you know this is the first time in 75 years that I have taken in real fresh air, not that any kind of air isn’t real. Recycled air just doesn’t have the same freshness that makes it real fresh air. Thus, fresh air. My lungs are getting a high out of this.” As Tict breathed in, his nostrils flared open, taking in deep snorts of air. “Man, this is good stuff.” He stood there with his eyes closed.
“Don’t change the subject. What do you mean you haven’t breathed in fresh air for over 75 years? Have you been locked up somewhere?” Neb asked, thinking, Yeah, I think you might be high on something. I don’t think it’s the air. Are you one of Neil Young’s friends or something? He’s having a party and you slipped out or got lost? Neb sighed, shaking his head. “I give up.”

“Oh, never give up, never, my dear boy,” said Tict in an alarmed voice, but with a soft tone. “Look, I know all of this must be confusing at the moment and you’re wondering what’s going on. Who am I? Where did Halley’s Comet go? Why am I not at home having a cup of hot chocolate watching reruns of Star Trek? Or running a hot bubble bath but then at the last moment you forget to add the bubbles because you decide to make a cheese sandwich and in the meantime your bathtub has overflowed and your downstairs neighbors who are watching Star Trek reruns start to notice drips of water falling through their ceiling while they drink their hot chocolate and eat cheese sandwiches. It’s all so relevant, you know, when you think about it.”
“Look, Halley’s is back,” Tict pointed upwards.

“That was a mouthful and yes a few answers would be nice and your analogy about the hot chocolate and cheese sandwich was interesting and Star Trek was oddly spot on. Have you been stalking me or something, because I’m feeling a little creepy just about now?” Neb stepped back.

“Stalking you? By no means!” Tict replied reassuringly. “Well, that’s good to know,” Neb said and looked down at his watch. It was 2:25 AM.
With no coffee left to keep him going and Halley’s Comet not going anywhere, he thought perhaps he would try again the next night for another opportunity to observe Halley’s. “It’s been nice to meet you, Tict, but I am afraid it’s time for me to pack it in.” Neb yawned and proceeded to dismantle the telescope.
Tict sat on the grass watching him quietly. Neb’s head was full of thoughts watching Tict as Tict watched him.
“You’re not some kind of alien, are you?” Neb broke the strange silence between them.

“Alien?” Tict’s voice shot up once again, alive with enthusiasm. “By Jove, no,” he replied, “Not that aliens exist and, really, what does alien mean? To someone not from Earth, let’s say, who would be considered the alien, the visitor or the native?” he said.
“I guess it might depend on the circumstance,” Neb replied. “Does the alien look like, you know, human, or is it a big blue, green, ten-eyed creature? Then again, it depends on one’s perspective. Just as long as it doesn’t want to eat me or something like that,” Neb mused.

“You wouldn’t have to worry about that, Neb, everyone knows that big blue, green, ten-eyed creatures are vegetarians,” Tict remarked solemnly.
Neb wasn’t sure if he was being serious or not; it just felt that way. They both laughed.
“Now, on the other hand, I might be considered a foreigner as opposed to an alien, being British, “Tict said.
“Do you have your green card?” Neb asked. “Green card? What is that?”
“How long have you been in the country, then?”
“In the country? My dear boy, I’ve only been on the planet for less than two hours!”

“Tict, it’s now 2:30 AM. I am really tired, confused and out of coffee. I am going home. I’ll try and forget about all of this, take a warm bath, sans bubbles, no cocoa or cheese sandwich, and jump into bed. When I wake up after a nice restful sleep, excuse the pun, this will all be an odd dream of a strange alien encounter. By the way, you’re not an alien from another world, are you?” Neb asked again, this time jokingly. They both laughed again.
“Wait!” Tict started. “Before we go, may I tell you a story?”
Before we go? We? Neb thought it strange of Tict to say this. Did this odd little, but likeable, man figure on following him?
“It won’t take long,” Tict said.
Neb thought about it for a few seconds.

“OK. If you must.” Neb sat down on a small chair. As Tict began his story, Neb started wondering where the chair came from. He also noticed Tict was sitting on a similar chair.
To hell with it, he thought, and settled in to listen. He didn’t think this could get any weirder than it already was. Maybe a cup of hot chocolate and a cheese sandwich wasn’t such a bad idea.
Tict straightened up in the chair and began.

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Mark Fahey

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