Frank’s hyperdrive bike lay upturned and out of commission in Engineering. Busted chain. That meant his route to the mini-market had to be by transporter beam. Multi-hop, lamppost to lamppost. And this planet was hot.
Back aboard ship, his chief science officer activated the transporter and Frank shimmered out of existence, ran to the next lamppost with his eyes half-closed then snapped back. Made it. He scanned the terrain for dog poop. Negatory. All clear. He’d walk this one and beam the next.
With no warning, Frank’s two-piece Bubblicious reached the point where one more chew was gonna make him gag. He ejected the wad into Mum’s shopping list.
“Do not buy anything else,” she’d said. “Not one other thing. I want the receipt and every last penny of the change back. Do you hear me Frank?” She’d poked him, then tapped her fingers on his forehead. “Are you listening to me? Are you listening in there?”
He’d been listening. He always listened. But this planet sure was hot and his life support systems had started to flash a big red Low Ice-cream warning. He beamed to a black bin with a Keep Edinburgh Tidy sticker on the side, cast the squidgy bubblegum-padded shopping list into the dematerialiser then telepathically requested a transporter away from the stink.
He beamed all the rest of the way.
Why did people make lists? Why couldn’t they just remember?
Frank remembered everything. He’d bought every item Mum had written on her list and the most amazing thing had happened: Those little jam tea cake mallows Mum wanted had been on special offer. Three pence off. Her change from a fiver was exactly the price of a Wall’s Strawberry Split. Exactly. That had to be a sign. He was meant to have that ice-lolly. God Himself must want Frank Friendship to have a Strawberry Split. He couldn’t let God down.
Frank leaned into the freezer, past the smoky mist, to retrieve his lolly from the collapsed box.
He’d get a whack around the head for this, but he was always getting a whack. Might as well earn it this time. Besides, his systems were failing, every honker sounding off. He needed ice-cream. He needed ice-cream now or he’d burn to char as soon as he set foot back on the planet’s surface.
Frank shoved his plastic basket up by the till, eyes on his Strawberry Split, already salivating.
“Five pounds and three.”
Frank blinked. That wasn’t right. That’s not what his basket added up to. Frank shook his head, held up his hand, and spread his fingers. Five. Five pounds exactly. He waved the banknote.
“Five pounds and three pence.”
Frank picked up those jam tea cake mallows and pointed at the sticker. Normally fifty pence. Three pence off. It said quite clearly, in red and white. He held up his hand again. Five.
The shopkeeper lifted the mallows, then picked the sticker off the box. “It’s Frank, isn’t it? That offer’s over, Frank. You understand? This lot” — he waved at the basket — “comes to five pounds and three.” He crumpled the sticker up and tossed it aside. “Either put something back, or go tell Mummy she needs another three pence.”
The man across in the Pakistani shop would never try a dirty trick like that. Frank shook his head, held his hand up. Five.
“Five and three, you little dummy. Five and three. Got it?”
Frank clamped his hands over his head. This wasn’t right. He looked around for a native of this flea-pit planet, somebody who spoke the language. An adult to come sort this swindler out. Frank wasn’t about to speak. Not to him. Not for a lolly. No speaking again until he was eight. He’d made that a rule.
“Put. Something. Back,” the man said, as though Frank were two. “You don’t have enough money.”
No way that offer on the box was over. The sticker said nothing about time limits. And Frank needed that ice-lolly.
He picked up the box of jam tea cakes, all set to put it back, then he hesitated. To come home without the change was one thing. To come home without the change and without the mallows… He’d never survive.
“C’mon, son. Move it. I don’t have all day.”
Frank dropped the box back in the basket, snatched up the lolly — his rightful lolly — stared the man straight in the eye, then traipsed back to the freezer.
Look at all that ice-cream. Sixty lollies and thirty-six Cornettos down there, not even counting the open boxes. If that old git cheated every ice-cream buyer out of three pence, that made two pounds and eighty-eight pence. A lot of lolly. How could that be right?
Frank tightened his jaw. That swindler had to learn a lesson. And Frank was gonna teach him. He telepathically called the ship and had them lock onto the freezer coordinates, then made his move. It was done in the blink of an eye. Two blinks. Both eyes. ’Cos the blink of one eye would be a wink. And a wink would be friendly, and Frank was not feeling in any way friendly.
Frank gave the shopkeeper a big smile, held out his hand for his change and the moment he was outside, gave the command.
Mum counted the coins back into her purse. “Amazing,” she said, then opened up the box of jam tea cake mallows and offered him one, knowing he didn’t like them; they were inedible, coated in that fake chocolate for dogs.
Frank made himself a cup of diluting orange juice and guzzled it down to silence the klaxons in his life support systems. The phasers were still firing into the shop. He wouldn’t be giving the command to stop.
The voice at the front door next morning — familiar, but out of place — reminded Frank about the ongoing phaser attack.
“Frank?” Mum shouted. “Get your arse through here, this instant.”
He beamed to the front door.
“There’s the culprit.” The shopkeeper pointed at Frank. “I know it was him. He had a grin ear-to-ear when he left.”
So the phasers had hit their mark. Frank smiled.
“See? He’s laughing. The little shit is laughing. He did it when he was in at the ice-lollies.”
“Ice-lollies?” Mum slitted her eyes, folded her arms. “Frank didn’t have money for an ice-lolly. Did you have an ice-lolly yesterday at this man’s shop?”
Frank shook his head. Negatory.
“He didn’t,” the man said, “but—”
“Well you can bugger off,” Mum said. “Go on, bugger off. You’ve got the wrong boy. He’s a little shit but he doesn’t steal, and I checked the receipt.”
“Who’s going to pay?”
“Try your insurance,” Mum said and slammed the door.
“Lucky for you,” she said and poked his back. “He had me worried. That’s just the kind of stunt you would pull.” She stopped. “But he’s put me right in the mood for ice-cream.” She scrabbled in her apron pocket for her purse. “Now, listen. I want you to go buy two Strawberry Splits. Bring back a receipt and my change. Every penny. But you’ll have to go to the other shop.” She hoisted her thumb towards the door. “That loser has nothing but ice-cream soup. Some yob switched off his freezer.”
A mission to the frozen planet. Excellent. Frank had fixed his hyperdrive bike. If the chain held up, he’d be there and back before a single drop of strawberry had melted.