Two flying kittens careered into her from behind and all three collapsed in a heap. Kiki landed on top. Consuella Starcluster added to the pile. Then Mother Superior, who rolled away with an agility that belied her age and sprang into the rampant mongoose posture.
“Here perfectly safe you are madam.” Dorje seemed to float out of the tunnel and landed lightly next to the cautious nun.
“Oh wow, again, what is it?” Scarlet DuBois was staring in wonder at the Analytical Engine. It clacked intermittently and with a loud hiss its steam engine, way down the far end, emitted a dense cloud of vapour.
“It’s a sort of computer,” explained Augusta, as the group straightened itself out. “I shall feed in details of our predicament and it will calculate a solution, eventually.”
“Putting the kettle on in that case I shall be,” said Master Dorje.
Phoebles was on his fourth banger. But he was slowing up and coming a poor second to Zelda, tucking into her fifth.
“These things taste fantastic,” she said. “What sort of vegetables are they made of?”
Beryl looked up; of course, the Lesbian Brides were supposed to be vegan. She spoke quickly, before Phoebles, who was spluttering a little, could put his oar in.
“Processed vegetable matter, mostly potato peelings.”
“Converted to a hi-protein plant substitute by Mr Porker,” added Flo helpfully. “It’s mixed with breadcrumbs and a few spices I think. Good, aren’t they?”
“You lot will get it in the neck if she raves about sausages back at the convent,” Le Brocq whispered conspiratorially to Boz.
“Yeh, well we’ll worry about that later. We’ve got this rescue first,” he replied. “Come on everyone, we’ve got to find Rotskagg. Shouldn’t be hard to spot a big black airship.”
“No one leave the bus when we get up north,” commanded Le Brocq. “Latest word is the renegades have taken over Durrell’s old zoo. Turfed out any animals they couldn’t eat. There could be anything in those woods.”
The Routemaster left the main A8 and took to the country lanes. They were in bandit country from now on and did not want to be any more conspicuous than necessary. As they wove their way slowly northwards, taking it in turns to be ‘airship spotter’ on the top deck, storm clouds rolled in from the southwest. It began to rain, a persistent, penetrating downpour. All but the lookout had retreated to the lower deck at the first spit and with the light fading a drenched Flo descended the stairs.
“Can’t see a thing out there anymore.”
Le Brocq strained to see their way as windscreen wipers clacked from side to side. Foliage dripped, broken twigs and cones rattled off the bus, the darkening undergrowth bordering the road came alive, twitching and rustling. The huddled passengers each, please let it be only in their imagination, saw golden eyes, pinpoints of fire peering from behind every tightly packed tree. Boz, remembering the all too accessible open rear platform, nervously inched his way to the back of the bus. Quick as he could manage he stretched a chain across the doorway. A dangling sign read ‘Out of Service’. Now he was gasping for air, must have held his breath during the entire, horrid operation.
At that very moment of uncertain relief a long, mournful, hollow howl rent the evening gloom, feasted on their terror. Answered from near and far the ghastly calls echoed off the looming hillsides.