TAXI

“THE SPACETIME TUN…NEL IS PROGRAMMED,” announced the Analytical Engine faintly in the distance. Zelda ran round. “AT THE FA…R END YOU WILL FIND AN INTER…DIMEN…SIONAL CHAM…BER AND BE…YOND THAT THE SEW…ER. TURN LE…FT AND FOLL…OW THE FLOW. THE DR…ONE CAR…RIER WILL BE… …”

There followed a zip zip sound from the box beneath the horn. Zelda rummaged around in her tea chest and emerged clutching a freshly inscribed foolscap sheet of paper. She rushed back to report and was met half way by the gang.

“What’s that in your hand,” asked Boz.

“It’s a chart,” replied Zelda, “with the carrier’s predicted course marked out on it.”

“Good,” said Augusta, “let’s crack on. Back down the pipe everyone.”

“Remaining with the machine I will be for now, retrieving further data,” announced Master Dorje, “Perhaps a visit to Shambhala in order would be.”

“Well, be careful,” replied the countess.

Linking arms in an attempt at a more orderly transportation than had so far been the norm, the rest of the group stepped forward.

“Whoah!”

“Watch out!”

“Cripes!”

They emerged, precipitously, into a Portaloo that had never been conceived as having to contain nine heroes at any one time. Conditions were cramped. Squeezed hard up against the side of the cabin Slasher struggled to work a hand free and reach the lock. He cracked the door open and cautiously peeked out. As he expected they were in an Atlantean branch tunnel. Set into the far wall, some yards away, was a steel watertight door. Stencilled red lettering proclaimed:

DANGER OF DEATH

NO CHILDREN

NO PETS

NO SMOKING

The tunnel was not however entirely deserted. Parked alongside the door was a bright yellow DeSoto Sky-View taxicab and nearby a lone Chat Souterrains stood with his back to the Portaloo, his attention taken up with eating a Big Mac takeaway.

“Wait here,” whispered Slasher as he stepped out and shut the door behind him onto muffled protests. “I’d give it ten minutes to clear if I was you,” he said, closing the gap between himself and le Chat at speed. “Is this cab taken?”

The startled Chat dropped his hamburger and spun round, reaching for his PPSh-41. “I’m not a taxi driver I’m a sentr…” But Slasher had pulled a blackjack from his trench coat pocket and the Chat’s world had gone black. The unconscious sentry’s body crumpled to the ground. Never one to pass up a gift horse, Slasher retrieved the discarded Soviet sub-machine gun.

“Come on everyone. Let’s get this door open before his mates turn up.”

“Nice car,” said Phoebles as he passed the DeSoto.

The hinges of the little used steel door were rusted, but by bracing their feet against the tunnel wall and pulling steadily Boz and Slasher managed to gain access.

“Quick, inside!”

‘Inside’ proved to be a room, a roughly ten-foot by ten-foot by ten-foot cube, almost entirely filled with junk.

“This is an Inter-dimensional Chamber?” asked Aunty Stella. No one was particularly impressed. Steel shelves, stacked with cartons and box-files and defunct technical gear, lined the walls; corroded pipes and perished rubber cables hung from the ceiling; stained, uninspiring grey paint pealed. The floor was littered with more boxes and unidentifiable pieces of equipment and light from a green glass sphere, that seemed to float independently above their heads, illuminated the scene. The air smelled musty and a thick layer of dust covered all about them.

Ahead was another door, identical to the first. To one side a fuse box, its contacts exposed, and on the other side a wall clock ticked away the seconds, backwards. This second door proved to be equally rusted up, but with the whole gang pushing, it finally gave way and dumped them into chest deep shit.

“Did anyone else feel a bit weird as we came through that last door?” asked Ferdy before the experience of being immersed in excrement drove the thought from his mind. Down stream, in the far distance they could make out a glimmer of light.

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The Analytical Engine Speaks

It was gone teatime when Zelda and Master Dorje appeared wheeling a shopping trolley piled high with junk. Dorje cautiously isolated the readout mechanism and digging out a box of gears and worms began to ferret around in that section of the Analytical Engine’s mainframe immediately behind the blue boy. Meanwhile Zelda, utilising a watchmaker’s screwdriver, detached the lad’s writing hand. She then produced a medium sized tea chest, the contents of which were to remain a mystery to the surrounding, fascinated company.

“What does all that stuff do?”

“What’s in the box?”

“Is it safe?”

A large Papier-mâché ‘morning glory’ gramophone horn protruded from the top of the box and a twangy spring steel strip stuck out of a hole in the side. Zelda donned Chat-style goggles and pulled a welding torch from the supermarket trolley.

“What haven’t you got in that workshop of yours, Dorje?” asked Augusta with a mixture of exasperation and admiration.

Soon Zelda had firmly affixed the steel strip to the wrist tendons of the automaton. The resultant fire damage to its blue sleeve and the writing desk were deemed to be repairable if and when the opportunity presented itself.

“Ready,” she announced.

Master Dorje threw the Readout lever again. An unnerving whirring and grinding emanated from the mainframe, the lad’s arm quivered and a tinny voice issued forth from the trumpet.

“WOW…TK…AN…OY…DOF…OR…YOW?”

“Hm, just needs a little tweak,” said Zelda delving into the tea chest.

“…YEOW

“…YIEW

“…YOU?”

“There,” she said, “ask it a question.”

“How?”

“Ah, you’ll have to type into the teleprinter input port.”

“But that’s ten minutes walk away, round the other side,” said Lady Augusta.

“Am I supposed to think of everything?” The geek was becoming petulant.

“With me, your ladyship.” Slasher stepped up. “We’ll be in charge of the input. Zelda, you and Master Dorje look after your contraption. The rest of you spread out, shouting distance apart, relay messages back and forth.” The exact positioning of the gang round the perimeter of Augusta’s machine was hotly debated, resulted in one minor scuffle and was finally resolved when Aunty Stella took charge. All were in place by the time Slasher and Mrs King had reached the teleprinter terminal.

“What shall we ask it?”

“Something straightforward,” suggested Slasher.

Augusta typed, WHAT HAVE YOU FOUND OUT SO FAR?

The machine whirred. “DO YOU WANT THE GOOD NEW…S OR THE BAD NEW…S FIR…ST?”

“It’s being sarcastic,” shouted Phoebles.

“Just relay the message, Phoebs,” shouted Aunty Stella.

“Is that the message?”

“No.”

“Look,” shouted Augusta. “Can we have some discipline please?”

GOOD NEWS FIRST.

“THE…RE IS NO GOOD NEW…S.”

“Great!” AND THE BAD NEWS?

“YOU A…RE ALL GOIN…G TO DIE.”

“This is going really well,” muttered Slasher.

“Can we junk your machine and go back to making it up as we go along, please?” shouted Phoebles.

“When? Where? Why?” shouted Boz.

COULD YOU BE A LITTLE LESS APOCALYPTIC? typed Augusta. MAKE A SPECIFIC PREDICTION.

“OK. PREDIC…TION: TOMO…RROW LUNCH…TIME – E S T – FOXNEW…S WILL RE…PORT THAT – IN AN AMBI…TIOUS EXPERI…MENT, A 70,600 TONNE…S, 280 METRE…S (920 FT) LONG DRONE CAR…RIER LA…DEN WI…TH LAS…ERS, CAME…RAS AND OTH…ER SEN…SORS – BUT WITH NO ONE’…S HANDS ON THE WHEEL – HAS BEEN DE…PLOYED BY THE WEB-BASED UB…ER TECHNO…LOGIES INC ON…TO THE CHA…LLENGING SEAS OF THE NOR…TH ATLAN…TIC – STEE…RING ITS…ELF TO PRESEL…ECTED CO-ORDI…NATES OFF THE EURO…PEAN SEA…BOARD — AUTON…OMOUS DRON…ES – PRE-PROG…RAMMED FROM THE SAFET…Y OF UBER’…S SAN FRAN…CISCO HEAD…QUARTERS WILL BE DIREC…TED AT STRA…REGIC TAR…GETS WI…THIN THE ROGUE AN…ARCHY.

“THEN …YOU …DIE!”

Everyone rushed round to join Slasher and Augusta.

“What on earth is it this time?” said Boz.

“CIA black ops again,” said Slasher. “They’re still in with Les Chats.”

Ginsbergbear puffed on his briar. “Zelda, can you hack an aircraft carrier that’s on autopilot?”

“Not remotely,” replied the geek. “I’d need to be onboard.”

“Good as done,” said Dark Flo. “I’ll alert Beryl.” She took out her smart-phone, looked disappointed, tried holding it above her head. “No signal. We need to get back to the Den.”

“How will we possibly find this drone carrier in the middle of the Atlantic?” said Ferdy.”

“No problem,” said Lady Augusta. “I’ll get Mr Doom and Gloom here to calculate a Latitude and Longitude for it.”

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The Blue Boy

“What just happened?” Aunty Stella tried to straighten her turban where it had tipped forward over one eye and dislodged her spectacles. “What’s this place?”

Lady Augusta took a deep breath and began to blurt out an inadequate explanation. “It’s not really a tunnel as such. It bends space-time back on itself so that where you are and where you want to be are next to each other. That results in a bit of a multidimensional vacuum that kind of sucks you in and spits you out again. Not entirely unpleasant.”

“Mostly though…”

“Yarrooo!”

Boz was ejected onto the Carrara floor, with Phoebles clinging to his knees. They were closely followed by Phoebles’ waders and a strong smell of catnip. Ginsbergbear emerged holding his deer-stalker on with both hands, his Peterson glowing flame red and pouring out more black smoke than a Greek tramp steamer.

“I’m flying!” Ferdy shot out of the tunnel and into the far wall. “Oh.”

Unruffled, Master Dorje and Zelda, old hands at spacetime travel, stepped into the room. Slasher McGoogs was on his hands and knees heaving noisily. He coughed up a huge fur ball. “Oh dear.”

“Is Flo here?” asked Boz.

“I am.” She was squatting, panther-like, where she had landed by the Analytical Engine.

“Welcome to my bubble universe,” said Augusta. The little party gathered their wits whilst the great engine loomed over them, clattering, whirring and clanking as it continued to analyse the data Zelda had fed into it on her previous visit. “Let us see what the miraculous beast has to tell us. Come round to the output terminal.” The countess patted the bronze framework affectionately as she led them to the far side. Five minutes walk down the length of the machine a small boy in a blue velvet suit sat at a vintage school desk. With expressionless face and vacant stare he held a cheap Biro poised above a scroll of printer paper.

“Would you do the honours, please, Master Dorje?”

The monk threw a lever labelled ‘Readout’. With a jerk the child put pen to paper and painstakingly inscribed a copperplate ‘a’. Its hand moved along and wrote another letter, and another, and another. Unseen within the torso of the automaton a programmable wheel, with the alphabet inscribed about its rim, began to rotate. A column of irregular discs stepped up and down to align with steel arms, sprung to follow the contours of each disc as it turned. Each time the scribe reached the end of a line the paper inched up and the process continued.

“Is this as fast as it goes?” Phoebles was looking concerned. “Les Chats will be ruling the world long before we get an answer at this rate.”

“It’s very elegant though, isn’t it,” said Ferdy.

“Aesthetically pleasing,” added Ginsbergbear. “Does it do poetry?”

“Bloody useless,” said Boz.

“Oh…” Lady Augusta was downcast.

“I might have an idea.” Said Zelda cheerily. “Have you got a box of bits?”

“In my workshop.” Master Dorje replied.

“Come along then, Master D. You lot stick with this antediluvian contraption while me and the magus work on an upgrade.”

Quantum Physics

The wall of rock was gone and there was a sudden rush of musty air that seemed to give out a relieved sigh. Dorje stepped back to retrieve his staff.

“Quick you must be. Open for long this portal will not remain.”

“Come on then,” said Boz, rushing through and panning his headlamp around. They found themselves within a passageway whose curving walls, of gleaming obsidian, were at least twenty feet apart and stretched in both directions way beyond the reach of their torch beams. This side branch on the edge of the World Tunnel System looked little utilised and, spacious as it appeared to our heroes, was mean by Atlantean standards.

“What now?” Ginsbergbear’s voice reverberated off the hard stone. “How will we ever find your bubble universe Mrs King? We’re a long way from Jersey.”

“With a little ingenuity the time/space tunnel induced to come to us will be,” replied Master Dorje. “Much there is about the Ancient Ones that even Les Chats Souterrains are unaware of. Now, a suitable venue we must find.”

He led the way and the company followed. Some meek, some inquisitive, all bemused, they trudged behind the diminutive Tibetan along the vaulted highway. The polished basalt road surface was slippery and strangely interactive. With each footfall it squeaked musically.

“Is that a light at the end of the tunnel?” said Ferdy.

“Philosophically or incandescently?” asked Boz. But they were all becoming aware of a lifting of the gloom. Soon they could see clearly. The tunnel opened out beneath a great shaft. Light streamed down from high above and so did water, like gentle drizzle, pooling on the floor.

“Gather round,” said Dorje, “Not too close.”

He removed his orange felt hat and from inside it he took out a tin of mackerel in chip shop curry sauce. He opened it, rolling back the lid, and placed it carefully at his feet. Sitting cross-legged he produced a battered, leather bound copy of the I Ching and three worn bronze Chinese coins.

“What on earth is he doing?” Aunty Stella asked Augusta King.

“No idea. He’s never done anything like this before. Not with me.”

Dorje tossed the coins into the air where they hung longer than seemed right before tinkling to the ground. He read the Book of Changes, quietly to himself.

“What’s going to happen now,” Phoebles asked of no one in particular.

“Shush. Patient you must be. Quantum physics this is.”

Nothing happened.

Then the mackerel tin quivered. Without warning it jumped, or as Master Dorje explained later, all its atoms simultaneously jumped, sideways some six inches. There was a plop and it vanished. At the same moment a plank door with a heart shaped hole and a Suffolk latch appeared behind the old monk. It was painted sage green and bobbed slowly in mid air.

“Wow!”

“A dunny door?” Dark Flo was unimpressed.

“It’s the space/time tunnel,” said Lady Augusta, rushing forward. “Prepare to be amazed.” She flung the door open with a dramatic flourish and revealed a ceramic lavatory pan with a varnished mahogany seat. A black printed legend on the cistern tank proclaimed:

Thos Crapper & Co

Invictas

with Symphonic Flush

“Bugger!” she exclaimed, glaring at Master Dorje.

“I’d give it a minute or two,” he replied. “Yank the chain.”

They all heard the deluge of water, the gurgle as it swirled down the pan, and then the porcelain pinnacle of pissoirs folded through space. The familiar, to some, John Williams intro jingle burst forth, and they were staring into the mouth of the spiralling time tunnel.

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Underground

“Which way did the caretaker say?”

“Right fork… I think,” replied Ginsbergbear absently.

“Probably doesn’t matter so long as we’re headed upstream,” from Boz, “He’d no idea what we were looking for anyway.”

This branch of the sewer soon began to narrow, the brickwork was old and weathered and the stuff they waded through becoming deeper. The air was thick and treacly with a hint of ammonia, the heat oppressive and the darkness, alleviated only by the skittering beams of their headlamps, was unsettling the reluctant heroes. An eerie mist, faintly glowing a bilious green, hung above the ‘liquor’ that rippled about their knees. There was a splash from up ahead, the mist swirled and a low bow-wave swept towards them. Something large and slithery brushed between Phoebles’ legs. Lady Augusta jumped, shrieked and then looked embarrassed.

“Keep moving,” said Slasher.

‘I’m really not enjoying this a lot,” said Phoebles after a while.

“You should try it from down here,” said Ferdy, whose lack of length in the leg department was, yet again, proving a disappointment.

A pair of turquoise eyes, on stalks, popped up to stare at the interlopers, and Zelda blasted them with her shotgun. Everyone ducked as slime splattered in all directions and the booming discharge echoed up and down the tunnel.

“For…” Slasher howled, “We could have brought the Dagenham Girl Pipers if we’d wanted to make sure everyone knew we were here. Don’t do that again.”

“What’s this?” said Aunty Stella. She was pointing to a semi-circular arch just above head height in the tunnel wall. There was a broad arrow chiselled into the capstone, a grill hanging awkwardly where it had rusted through and a little stream dribbling from the orifice. Dark Flo went over to inspect.

“It’s not sewage, it’s fresh water,” she observed.

“You been tasting things again?” asked Phoebles.

“Glamour it is,” said Master Dorje,

“Eh?”

“A disguise. Making the tunnel a working outlet to look like, it must be.”

“Eh?”

“And it’s not on the map,” noted Ginsbergbear.

“Good enough,” said Slasher, “we’ll check it out.”

Dark Flo yanked the corroded grating off the wall and they were lifting Dorje and Ferdinand into the side tunnel when Ginsbergbear noticed a pair of beady crimson eyes piercing the darkness up the main sewer. There was a squeak.

The two eyes became six and the squeaking increased, attracting Bozzy’s attention. He nudged Slasher. By the time everyone was aware of the situation there were dozens of tiny, perfectly round red eyes with pinpoint black irises peering at them. Flo reached for her katana. Zelda loaded a flechette cartridge into the breach of her SPAS and fired up the tunnel. Blood curdling shrieks filled the air, died away and the eyes were gone. Indescribable shreds of matter flowed past. Phoebles shuddered.

Slasher’s ears were ringing, his hearing muffled.

“I thought I said… Just stop that, Zelda! Now, everyone up into the hole. Quick.”

The side tunnel’s stonework was ancient. Its barrel roof, barely five foot high, forced all but Ferdy to bend over and waddle inelegantly.

“I hope this doesn’t go on long, it’s murder on the knees,” said Phoebles.

They tottered on, with the occasional ‘Ouch’ as someone banged their head. After ten or so painful minutes they came to a small pool where a spring bubbled playfully.

Dorje pointed with his staff. “The source of your stream this is.”

“Hmm,” said Boz, “I think we’d worked that out.”

A low, stone sill just beyond the pool ensured the crystal water flowed in the desired direction and after a few paces the passage took a sharp turn to the left. It began to open out until they could all stand upright at last. Then the tunnel ended, in a solid wall of bedrock. A Minoan Labrys had, long ago, been incised into the rock and picked out in gold leaf.

Master Dorje began to search.

“Let us see. Ah yes.” He was scraping away, with one sandalled foot, at the dried mud that obscured the floor of the passage, revealing a pentagram of Tyrian purple glazed tessera set into a plain mosaic. He thrust his staff into a two-inch diameter hole at the centre of the pentangle and began to rummage in the folds of his yak-hide overcoat. To the amazement of all he produced a soprillo saxophone and handed it to Phoebles.

“Dressed most appropriately for this task you are. When I call for it, a ‘B flat’ you will give me.”

Phoebles fingered the instrument without much confidence.

Dorje placed one hand on each blade of the carved pelekys and began to press.

“Now, Mr P.”

Phoebles blew hard on the sax and the rock wall, like a stretched rubber sheet, began to give.

“Again,” cried Master Dorje.

Note:

The Minoan Labrys, also known as “pelekys” or “sagaris”, was a double headed ritual axe, found in ancient Minoan depictions of the Mother Goddess. Its symbolism is related to the labyrinth and it is believed that the meaning of the word labyrinth is the ‘house of the double axe’. The Labrys was used by female priestesses only, for bull sacrifices. The shape of the double axe (referring to the moon) and the belief that it was used in battle by the Amazons make it a symbol associated with female empowerment to this day.

Representations of the double axe are found in Africa, in Old Europe and in Minoan Crete among other places.