The Cabinet Room

Larry sat at the head of a long table that took up much of the cabinet room in Number 10. The gang were seated along its length. Barrymore was pouring out shots of Havana Club at the very cocktail cabinet after which, so it was said, the room had been named. It was all 1950s Formica and mirror glass on spindly legs.

“Rum for the boys,” said Barrymore, “and what will you girls be wanting?”

“A Mah-Jongg cocktail for me, please,” said Flo.

“Ooh, what’s in one of those?” asked Beryl.

“Dry gin, white rum and Curaçao.”

“Oh yeh, I’ll have one of those too.”

“Tiger beer for me please,” said Lady Augusta, “And Zelda will have a dandelion and burdock.”

The young punk sighed, “But…”

“Small sherry please,” said Aunty Stella, “I’ve things to do this afternoon.”

“Now,” said Larry, “let’s get down to business. Situation reports please.”

Boz coughed, “The counter revolution has collapsed. The Yanks are somewhat averse to failure, particularly spectacularly embarrassing and public failure. Following on from the Überkatzen disaster the Multinationals have withdrawn funding from the British Government in Exile. There will be no more trouble from that quarter. Consuella and the Kittens will shortly be returning from Jersey, by air.”

“Les Chats have remained conspicuously inconspicuous since their ticking off,” said Lady Augusta. “I think now would be a good time to take Zelda home and for me to return to Shambhalla.”

“Looks like you can go back to not being in charge, Mr Acting Prime Minister,” said Flo.

Larry gave a satisfied sigh.

As the pals sat back, tucked into their drinks and wondered if biscuits would be arriving any time soon there came an edgy whistle from outside. They crowded the windows in time to see a fireball glowing emerald green and gouging a smoke trail across the sky. As it passed there was the double bang of a sonic boom and the whistle tone dropped an octave. Soon after the object passed beyond the horizon there was a momentary intense white flash that cast deep, sharp shadows even within the cabinet room and, some seconds later, a dull rumble like distant thunder.

“What now?” asked Larry.

*

The good ladies of Maldon clustered at the landward end of Northey Island’s tidal causeway. A sudden shockwave had shattered windowpanes, dislodged roof tiles and chimney pots in their town and a disgruntled deputation had marched to the source of the explosion. Many carried infants within the folds of their shawls, most were knitting ganseys for their men folk as they surged forwards. At the far end of the causeway a menacing assemblage of junkyard scrap metal crafted into the form of a humanoid robot stood sentry, gleaming chrome-like in the watery Essex light, Behind it a freshly ploughed crater still glowed dimly and smoked. The mayor’s wife pushed through the crowd and stepped onto the narrow land bridge. A small creature dressed in a silvery space suit with a bubble helmet approached from the island.

“Now look here. Someone’s going to have to pay for all our broken windows.”

“Madam, we have come to negotiate the retrieval of a long lost artifact, whose power is beyond your comprehension. Take me to your leader.”

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Back in Time for Tea

Chapter11 (Edit)

When I regain consciousness, I am lying on the ground at the park. Someone is crouching beside me and they’re saying something, but I can’t understand it.

‘Gran,’ I try to say but my voice is a mere wheeze and my lungs and my throat hurt, just for trying.

Then the voice again. It isn’t Gran. I open my eyes and immediately blink them shut again. The pain is excruciating. I feel as if I have a thousand flecks of dust in them.

‘Hello?’ the voice says again. I must be more ‘here’ than ‘there’ now. As I can understand it now. ‘Hello? Are you OK? Can I help?’ I open my eyes just the smallest amount. There’s a girl there. She’s not Gran and she’s not June. June! I try to push myself up onto my elbows. I need to find out what happened to June! The girl puts her hand on my shoulder, steadying me and holding me back, I think. ‘Easy now,’ she says. ‘You look like you’ve been in the wars.’ In spite of everything, this prompts a small smile from me. If only she knew! ‘That’s a bit better,’ she says. ‘Look, I don’t know what happened to you, but you were lying on the floor and I saw you as I walked past.’

‘There was a fire,’ I croak out. ‘I got out, but my friend-‘

‘A fire?’ the girl sounds shocked. I find I can open my eyes a little more now, so I take a good look. She’s a bit older than me. She has died black hair, with purple streaks in it. Her clothing is black, despite the warm weather, and she wears a black choker and dark red lipstick. She looks kind of cool and edgy, I think, whereas I look…a state. ‘A fire?’ she asks again. ‘Where?’ She looks around, as if trying to detect a mysteriously hidden inferno. I decide to change the subject; this could get awkward.

‘I need my Gran,’ I tell her.

‘Do you know where she is?’

‘Home,’ I’m not coming over too well here, I know, but you try talking to someone when you’ve just fallen out of a burning barn and the past. I’d like to see you try! Just as I’m trying to think of a way to sound less like doofus, I hear the gate squeak and in comes Gran, almost at a run. As much at a run as Gran can do, anyway.

‘Ellie!’ she calls.

‘I found here like this,’ says the other girl. ‘She’s been asking for her Gran. Are you…?’

‘Yes,’ Gran replies. ‘Thank you so much for keeping an eye on her. I got here as quickly as I could.’

How on earth did she know, I wonder?

‘You’re welcome,’ says the girl. ‘Is there anything more I can do for you?’

‘No, I think we’re – actually, could you help me get her to her feet? If you wouldn’t mind?’

The girl nods and drags me upwards. This is neither comfortable nor dignified. I have to hope we never meet again. Then again, she is kind and didn’t even flinch at touching dirty old me.

‘Thank you,’ says Gran to the girl. ‘Thank you, I can manage from here.’

The girl nods, gives me a smile and a wave, and leaves the park. Gran helps me to walk, fussing over me an awful lot. She suggests calling an ambulance but I shake my head. I’m not burned. I have sore eyes, a dry mouth, stiff limbs and I look a sight, but I’m pretty certain I’m OK. Gran fusses for most of the way home. Then she sits me carefully in a chair and brings me a cold drink of water. I’ve never wanted anything more in my life!

‘Now sip that – no gulping!’ she instructs, and watches me carefully to make sure I comply. When the last of the water is drained, Gran throws her arms around me and sobs. I will not get used to this, I think: Gran crying. ‘Oh Ellie,’ I can’t believe the danger I put you in! There must have been another way! How are you? Are you all right? What happened? Tell me everything! No – don’t rush – go carefully. Tell me exactly what happened.’

I manage a smile at Gran’s eagerness mixed up with her concern. Then I tell her everything. I tell her about how pushing June out of the way didn’t work. How it just brought us back – or forward – to the park. I told her how Lilian came with me one time. Gran nods, as if she remembers that. Perhaps she does, I think. After all, it happened. Then I tell her how I forgot her the second time, so she’s still in the henhouse. She touches my arm, by way of reassuring me that this is alright, that she doesn’t mind being left behind. In the henhouse was where she remembered being, anyway. I tell her about my solving the mystery of her telling me to be, ‘back in time for tea,’ and she looks surprised.

‘Why did you say that, Gran? Why didn’t you just tell me what to do?’

‘I didn’t know,’ is her reply. ‘I just thought maybe…maybe we needed more help, you and I. Maybe it would work if we could get the adults in on it, but you were gone too fast for me to elaborate. It wasn’t really a plan, Ellie, just an idea – half an idea, really. You were brilliant to work it out like that.’

I smile, feeling kind of brilliant for a moment, but then my story turns to June, the matches and the barn. I think she got out OK, I tell Gran. I think Billy saved her. I want to go back and check now, but Gran is adamant that this won’t be happening – not today, at any rate. Then, for the first time since I arrived at Gran’s, I burst into tears. I sob and sob. I’m crying for exhaustion, for June, for not being able to tell Gran for sure if I did the one things she’s been waiting for all these years. Eventually, between sobs I manage, ‘I don’t know if Billy did save her, Gran. I don’t know for sure.’

‘He didn’t,’ says Gran. ‘Billy didn’t save June, Ellie: you did.’

‘How do you know, Gran?’ I plead. ‘I didn’t stay for long enough to find out.’ I hang my head. I am ashamed and afraid. In answer, Gran hands me an envelope. I look at her and she nods, so I take it and turn it over in my hands. On the front is Gran’s address and a foreign stamp. I peer at it closely, my eyes still smarting from the smoke. ‘Canada?’ I ask.

‘Oh, open it!’ says Gran, and she’s almost bobbing up and down with excitement. The envelope has been opened already. I take out the letter, which is on thin blue paper, unfold it and begin to read.

All’s Well That Ends Well

The auditorium had rapidly emptied and they were alone on the stage.

“The Andromeda Geräte an omnipotent alien artefact is. Buried for millennia beneath the Neuschwabenland ice it was, until discovered by Kapitän Alfred Ritscher almost eighty years ago. Over this machine the Dark Lords have power and Armageddon it brings.”

“But not in time to save you little man.” The brutal black shape of a Beretta Pico pocket pistol was in Mr Fluffy’s hand, the red dot of its laser sight quivering on Master Dorje’s forehead. Startled, his Tibetan companions ducked, but Dorje refused to flinch. Lady Augusta moved swiftly between Fluffy and the ancient sage.

“Really Mrs King? This baby holds six rounds. I can waste you all.”

There was a metallic swish and in an instant the edge of a Yoshindo Yoshihara katana blade, cold and hard as a stockbroker’s heart, sharp as an Italian suit, was at Mr Fluffy’s throat.

“Drop the peashooter General.” The tiny automatic clattered to the boards.

“Flo?” asked a relieved Augusta.

A shadowy ninja stepped into the light, still keeping her blade under Mr Fluffy’s chin. “Just keeping an eye out. That was quite a performance Master Dorje. How long do you reckon before Les Chats realise they’ve been duped?”

“Oh, keeping their heads down for a while they will be, so long as Mr Fluffy here does not attempt to stir them up again. The real Merovingian Lizard Kings re-establishing normal relations within the Atlantian tunnels soon will be.”

“Don’t worry about Mr Fluffy. He’s going to be on the next airship flight back to Canada.” Dark Flo sheathed her katana. Augusta had retrieved the Beretta and was keeping a cautious eye on the self-styled general.

“But… I… This is not over yet.”

“Yes it is, Mr Cat.”

Boz, Ferdy and Phoebles were standing around on Greenwich Pier.

“It’s all gone very quiet,” observed Ferdy.

“Can’t just sit around here,” said Boz. “Let’s find out what’s going on.”

The sentry boxes were deserted when they reached the gates of the Naval College. They peeked gingerly beyond the entrance just in time to see Dark Flo, Augusta and the Tibetans crossing the courtyard. Mr Fluffy was in front, manacled with the pink, fur lined handcuffs that Flo always kept about her person should the occasion call for their use.

“Ferdinand,” she called out, “can you call up Silvertown Airways? Mr Fluffy wants to go home.”

The two parties had barely had time to exchange pleasantries when a third group rushed towards them across the square.

“We’ve been having so much fun,” shouted Zelda. “Professor Flosso was amazing.”

Professor Flosso was, in fact, still sobbing. Near to collapse he was being supported between Beryl and Ginsbergbear.

“Did it go all right then?” asked Beryl.

“Champion,” replied Lady Augusta. “It would appear that, for the moment at least, catastrophe has been averted. Les Chats are fled and Mr Fluffy is in chains.”

“But what about king Charles?” asked Phoebles. “What’s happened to him?”

“His Imperial Majesty turned out to be a bit of a disappointment,” Mr Fluffy cut in on the conversation, “He was last observed hiding in the ladies’ toilets, disguised as a common sailor.

“Let’s go get him then,” said Boz.

“No need. He has already escaped.” No one had noticed Slasher McGoogs joining the group. “He is, at this very moment, making his way in a small rowing skiff towards Tilbury docks.”

“Slasher, long time no see,” said Boz. “We could still catch him.”

“He had help, my help,” continued Slasher. “Agents on the docks will assist him in stowing away aboard a certain merchant vessel there, the SS Kandelfels. Once safely out to sea he will discover that the Kandelfels is really the commercial raider Pinguin. A spell in the Kriegsmarine under Kapitänleutnant Felix Graf von Luckner will put hairs on his chest, and if all else fails he can be marooned on a cosy little atoll somewhere mid Pacific.”

“That’s OK then,” said Ginsbergbear.

…Or the Baby Gets It

“Look, do you want the money or not?” Ginsbergbear fingered Judy’s rolling pin.

“An IOU’s not really money is it. I can’t just go changing the script. I’ll be up before the College of Professors and drummed out of the Punchmen’s Guild.

“We’re not offering you a choice,” growled the bear. “Get your hand up the puppet and read the script when you’re cued.”

“Really, I can’t,” whined the professor. “Such a substantial deviation from the standard plot… If word got out it would be more than my job’s worth. I will lose my livelihood. I have a wife, children.”

Quietly Beryl picked up a swaddled bundle from the props basket and held it at arm’s length. “You will do as you are told Mr Flosso. Shape up or the baby gets it.”

“No. Please. Not the bairn… I can’t bear this. The world is too cruel. I will do as you demand, though it will be the end of my career.”

“Oh, come on prof, your College will never know. Have a good stab at this and you might just save the world,” said Zelda.

“A punchman’s skill is never in question.”

*

There was a good deal of shuffling and muttering along the front rows of audience seating in the Lecture theatre. They were crammed with Sphinx-like, self-important Chats in three-piece suits or flamboyant military uniforms. A sea of pallid faces with beady pink eyes and huge ears surveyed the stage. On the platform the monks and a reluctant Mr Fluffy stood before a large projector screen. Master Dorje and Lady Augusta were at the podium. She plugged her i-Phone into an HDMI port and opened the FaceTime App.

“Gentlemen, heeding my advice it would seem that you are incapable of. Drastic measures called for are. Behold your nemesis.”

Mrs king dialled Zelda’s mobile number.

“Sister Zelda, is everything prepared?” asked Master Dorje in a commanding voice.

Zelda’s head appeared on screen. With an orange towel draped about her shoulders she appeared convincingly monkish.

“It is master, His eminence would speak with the miscreants now.”

“Ready we are.”

The screen went dark. As light slowly returned a hideous reptilian face emerged. Lit from below its yellow eyes glowed and rows of pointed teeth gleamed in a Colgate smirk. The high collar of an imperial robe framed its head. Close to, the word Kellogg’s could just be discerned beneath still wet poster paint. But the shocked audience saw only a Merovingian Lizard Lord.

“Minions.” The squawking comb-and-paper voice rasped on shattered nerves. The gaping jaws clacked noisily as they moved. “Wretched minions, you have provoked our wrath.”

As one cat, the audience fell grovelling to their knees. A groan echoed within the auditorium. Mr Fluffy started.

“No. Get up, all of you. It’s some sort of a trick.”

The groaning grew louder.

“My poor misguided children. What am I to do with you? Your treachery will not go unpunished, but what form should that chastisement take? Return to your tunnels and contemplate your fate. Listen to me. The Andromeda Geräte has been dispatched. Be below ground when it arrives, the surface is to be purged.”

The Lizard Lord reached down out of shot and reappeared with a string of sausages in its mouth. A large, unfocused hand quickly blocked the lens and with a pop the phone link was cut.

The majority of chats rushed for the doors, others shouted angrily at each other, fear filling their eyes.

“Now look what you’ve done.”

“Me? This putsch was your idea.”

“Not me. Someone else is to blame.”

“Andromeda what?” asked Mr Fluffy.

Save

Save

The Painted Hall

Master Dorje’s party was urgently escorted into the soaring, domed vestibule of a gilded extravaganza. A vast hall stretched away into the far distance, every square inch of wall and ceiling embellished with scenes of baroque fantasia. Legions of naked muscular men, buxom women and gambolling cherubs yearned towards their martial monarch and his sombre queen; clustered about the ornate, gold painted sterns of men o’ war; squatted on pastoral banks or rocky outcrops. A winged Adonis lounged a little too intimately alongside a wary and anachronistic white bull. Every triumph of trade and empire was glorified in the flamboyant panels; England at her best in the best of all possible worlds.

The captain of the guard felt that his charges must be impressed, “Behold a masterpiece of the interior decorator’s art, executed by the painter Sir James Thornhill at the dawn of this nation’s imperialist venture.”

“Your Mr Thornhill must have OD’d on Beryl’s cough drops,” observed Lady Augusta.

“Just keep walking.”

They traversed the lower hall, mounted a short staircase to an upper level and, at last, faced an end wall where Mr Fluffy was dwarfed before a Trompe-l’œil arch spewing fleshy, classical deities and lugubrious worthies into the room. The circle of stars at Mr Fluffy’s collar and gilded braid of his general’s cap blazed in the twinkling candlelight of grandiose chandeliers. His corncob pipe belched smoke like an old tramp steamer. He waited as Master Dorje and company crossed the checkerboard marble floor and held out a hand to the old monk, which the latter did not take.

“Here to speak with the leadership of Les Chats Souterrains I am, not their lap dog.”

“I am empowered to negotiate on behalf of le Conseil Supérieur des Chats.” Replied Mr Fluffy, with an air of self-importance.

“To be a negotiation there is not. Here to pronounce I am. This current enterprise of Les Chats, unacceptable to the Merovingian Lizard Kings it is. Very cross they are.”

“Your reptilian masters may well be cross, but they are impotent.” Mr Fluffy’s eyes gleamed, “For millennia they have fiddled around the edges of momentous events, but everyone knows they do not indulge in direct intervention. Les Chats wish to return to the surface, they crave the light. But your world is a disorderly mess. It will be better, it will be perfected. World peace, harmony, tranquillity, that is what they want for you. A new world order achieved through world domination, global felicity, does that not appeal? Who would not want to live within the Pax Feles?”

“I quite like a little mess,” mused Lady Augusta.

“Les Chats’ treasured goal to me is known, but misguided they are. Utopia is to be sought, imposed it cannot be. Their methods are not to be tolerated. They underestimate the Lizard Lords. A contract breached has been. Contrition they must demonstrate.

“Like I said, your lords will bluster. They will send emissaries like yourself to threaten and cajole. But they will do nothing. Their power is a myth.”

“Trust me, a demonstration of their mythical power you do not want. But for this banter I have no time. Do you possess a video projector?”

“In the lecture theatre, but…”

“Direct me. And try to persuade your Supreme Council to join us there.”