…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.

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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.”

Emissaries

The sentries carried Heckler & Koch MP7 submachine guns, wore ballistic vests under their trench coats and helmet cameras attached to their pickelhaubes.

“Halt! Who goes there?”

“My companions and I, emissaries from the Himalayan stronghold of the Merovingian Lizard Kings are. Taking me to your leader you will be.”

One of the guards idly watched the dogfight unfolding above. The other leered.

“Yeh, like that’s going to happen. Bugger off old man.”

Dorje stood his ground. “Failing to comprehend the situation you are. Imperative to the very survival of your high command my mission is. Insisting I must be that detaining us you are not.”

What the sentry lacked in intelligence he made up for in bulk and aggression and he was not used to being contradicted. “It’s you that’s failing to comprehend, mush. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a war going on. If you were to get shot no-one’s going to care about a few extra dead gooks. Collateral damage.” At this moment of mounting tension a Lieutenant emerged from the guardhouse polishing the lenses of his goggles with a paisley silk handkerchief.

“What’s going on soldier?”

“These chinks want to see the commander, sir. I think they’re taking the piss.”

Master Dorje stepped forward, produced a small parchment scroll from the depths of his robes, and presented it to the officer.

“My credentials.”

The lieutenant read the scroll with an air of suspicion. He studied the crested heading, the signature, and the back of the document. He sniffed at the parchment. “Seems in order.” He reached through the open guardhouse window and picked up a phone. “I think you should see this, sir.” He listened for a reply. “Of course, sir. I’ll organise an escort and send them through.” He turned to Master Dorje, “Are these hippies with you too?”

Boz, Phoebles and Ferdy were whistling innocently as they ambled away in the direction of the pier. Flo had disappeared. Ginsbergbear, arm in arm with Beryl, turned in feigned surprise.

“Us? Nope, never seen the little fellows before today. Haven’t even been to the Himalayas.”

Augusta was lighting a fresh new cheroot from the smouldering nub end of her last.

“I’m with the monks,” she called out as they strode in through the gates.

The heavily guarded party was crossing an open quad when, with a blood-chilling siren scream, the foo-fighter dove almost vertically towards them from out of the firmament. It zoomed overhead still pursued by the three Tsetse warbirds that barely cleared the rooftops, the clatter of their flapping gossamer wings clearly audible to the group below. For a split second the Chat Ray-gunner managed to get one of the tormentors on to the cross hairs of his weapon’s sights and fired. Lightning bolts crackled and zigzagged through the air. There was the distinctive, acrid stench of ozone. At the same moment yet another shell from the lead ornithopter exploded beneath the flying saucer. The craft tipped and the death ray went wide, slicing an arc through space until it met with one of the Naval College towers. Classical columns split apart and the cupola exploded. A tangled brass weathercock landed at Augusta’s feet.

“Could we just get under cover, a bit smartish?”

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Meanwhile Back at the Den…

Beryl followed the Thames down stream from Richmond half-tide lock, past Isleworth.

“You could never understand,” she told Ferdy, “Grass is such a bright green, rooftops such a gaudy grey. Everything glows like it’s made from neon tubing. The sunlight on the river is a firework display. And I am part of an eternal, infinite wholeness.”

“Good for you. Could we just concentrate on our driving?” During her enthusiastic praise of the beneficial effects of whatever concoction it was that she’d acquired from Rotskagg’s corsairs Beryl had veered away from the river and was heading for Greenford. “More black coffee up here please.”

Having got Beryl back on track Ferdy took a spell at the helm. He flew the Do-X over Hammersmith Bridge, past the Buddha in Battersea Park, and beyond the old Palace of Westminster, now a Steamroller factory. As they passed over Tower Bridge and the Lower Pool he was aware of thick smoke obscuring the southern tip of the Isle of Dogs.

“Looks like trouble down by Greenwich.”

As soon as they neared Bozzy’s Catnip Den Ferdy dumped the flying boat onto the river. He taxied up to a handy buoy and while the Do-X was being tethered the dinghy was launched.

“All aboard the Skylark!” And they headed for the shore. Sam was out on the den’s patio and as the gang scrambled up the ladder he organised a bosun’s chair for Lady Augusta. Once they were all inside Flo headed for the bar and Boz grabbed Sam’s arm.

“What’s going on?”

Sam took a breath, “Les Chats have been running rampage. They’ve occupied the Millwall Docks and Aunty Stella has rushed her troops to Greenwich to take them head on. It’s a reckless mission; my agents say Les Chats are well prepared and heavily armed.”

“Pints all round? Jugs or sleevers?” Dark Flo had a hand on the nearest in a row of beer engine handles, London porter, but before she could start to pump there came an urgent tapping on the trapdoor beneath her feet. “Who’ve you got in the cellar, Sam?”

“No one, I’ve been on my own all day.”

“Hmm.” She produced a baseball bat from under the counter and tossed it to Boz. “Cover me. Let’s see what’s going on.” With Boz poised by her side Flo grabbed the ring in the trapdoor and pulled it open. The black hole gaped. Then an orange plumed hat appeared, and an oriental face, and Master Dorje clambered out from the beer cellar.

Mrs King gave a gasp of surprise and clumped across the room on her crutches to greet him.

“Augusta my child, much important news for all of you I have.”

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Take the Piratey One

Boz and Phoebles, Ginsbergbear and Flo more or less carried Augusta through the catering department and galleys enroute to the medical facilities, all glistening stainless steel ranges and work surfaces, rows of apprehensive, scrubbed clean pans and utensils waiting nervously for a crew to feed. Phoebles had a quick scout round and expressed his disappointment on discovering the pantries to be devoid of anything edible.

“I hope we’re not stuck here too long.”

There were however bandages and Germolene ointment in the surgery. The hospital block smelled strongly of disinfectant, equipment and bedding still wrapped in plastic, water dispenser blopping intermittent punctuations into the pervasive languor of the deserted chambers.

“The navy wasn’t anticipating another Trafalgar any time soon,” observed Flo, “One operating theatre and twelve beds.”

“She was built just before the revolution,” said Boz. “I don’t think the old government was planning on having that sort of war. More the sort of sitting safely out at sea and bombing native villages sort of wars.”

Flo finished strapping up Augusta’s ankle, “I’m afraid you won’t be able to put your boot back on till the swelling’s gone down.”

“These should get you mobile,” said Ginsbergbear as he emerged from an adjoining locker room carrying a pair of crutches.

“Arh,” exclaimed Augusta as she tried to stand, “Yes, I am going to need those for a while. Thanks everyone.” She gritted her teeth and took a practice swing around the room. “Hey, these crutches are great.”

While the others watched and her confidence grew the infirmary lights flickered, yet stayed on, and the great ship fell silent.

“What’s Zelda done now?”

They met up with her on the hangar deck.

“Quick, we’ve got about quarter of an hour to get off.”

“What the…”

“No time. Follow me.”

“Zelda, hold up. You can talk while we run, but you are going to explain.”

“Oh, OK. The ship’s hove to and we’ve got about fifteen minutes to launch a boat and get clear. Then she’ll be off.

“Over there.” Zelda indicated a watertight door some way ahead; “There should be two launches on davits.

“I’ve reprogrammed the carrier to return to the States, at full speed. She’ll lay off the US East Coast and launch drone strikes against every military target within range.”

Clunk pad, clunk pad, clunk pad, clunk pad… Augusta flashed past her companions to fling open the door to the boat deck.

“Zelda, you haven’t?” said Boz. “You can’t. We don’t…”

“It’s OK. It’ll never happen. The Überkatzen’s going to broadcast her intentions before she gets there, continuously, on every commercial radio and TV frequency in the US. The Yanks’ll have to destroy her, very publicly, live on television. Probably be watched all round the world.”

“Which one do we take?” Augusta eyed the two launches. One had Swordfish painted on its transom the other was Buccaneer.

“Better take the piratey one,” said Phoebles. “Shame we didn’t think to bring a jolly roger.”

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SkyDive

“It’s safe to come down now. I’ve spiked the guns.” The call eventually came after a tense twenty minutes of radio silence.

“Are you certain you know what to do, Mrs King?” asked Boz as they carefully strapped on their parachutes.

“Mostly,” replied Augusta. “I’m sure I can work the rest out on the way down. Let’s get on with it.” She stepped out onto the starboard float and was instantly sucked off by the slipstream. Boz went next; and then Phoebles.

“Geronimo!”

Ginsbergbear and Zelda, firmly strapped together, performed an inelegant and rather embarrassing waddle out to the hatch. Then Zelda tripped, failed to grab hold of anything, and they were airborne.

“Eeeaaaaaroooh!”

The carrier had looked tiny from the air, but it was coming up fast. Then the chutes opened with a whump and the harnesses bit deep, delivering the mother of all wedgies. Had the cats or teddy bear possessed anything down there to be crushed there would have been some very squeaky voices after they landed. Lady Augusta had drifted far from her comrades, but a serendipitous zephyr swept her back towards the carrier and left her dangling high above the deck, her chute caught up in one of the Überkatzen’s sensor arrays. For the rest, frantic manoeuvring brought each safely, if somewhat heavily, down onto the flight deck.

“That was great!” squealed Zelda, “can we do it again, Ginsbergbear?”

“No.”

“If you lot are all in one piece, I could do with a hand up here.” Dark Flo was hanging upside down, her legs wrapped round the slotted wave-guide of Überkatzen’s short range radar, and hacking away at the tangled suspension lines to Augusta’s chute with a razor sharp wakizashi short sword. Augusta King was becoming agitated.

“Quick,” shouted Boz. They rushed into the forward island. “Someone grab a blanket on the way up.” They located the bridge and climbed out onto the monkey island above, directly below Augusta and Flo. Minutes later Phoebles joined them, considerably out of puff, clutching a blanket pilfered from the deserted crew’s accommodation.

“Stretch it out tight.”

Flo cut the last of the nylon lines and almost immediately lost her grip. They fell together.

“Ayee! Oof.”

The pair were not exactly ‘caught’ in the blanket, but it broke their fall a bit.

“Is anyone hurt?” asked Boz.

“I’m OK,” said Flo, “I landed on Mrs King.”

“And Mrs King,” added Augusta, “is probably just bruised.” Ginsbergbear helped the countess up. “Oh, ouch. No, I may have sprained an ankle.”

“We must locate Mission Control.” Flo still seemed to think she was in charge and no one else felt inclined to challenge her. “Get Zelda cracking on the job in hand. Then we can take Her Ladyship to the infirmary and sort her ankle out.

Flo and Ginsbergbear supported Augusta down past the Roles Royce marine gas turbines and out into the hangar deck. Regimented row upon regimented row of expectant drones stretched into the far distance within the cavernous space. There was one gap in a line of General Atomics MQ-9 Reapers.

“That’ll be for the Certifiable Predator B I took out,” said Dark Flo.

“Why’s it called a Certifiable Predator?” asked Boz idly.

“’Cos they’re psychos. Never give up, never stop, never rest; fully autonomous nutters. And they pack a punch.”

“Sorry I asked.”

Beyond the Reapers were the sleek outlines of Northrop Grumman X-47C stealth drones, glittering under the flickering strip lights.

“And they’re worse,” added Flo.

“Mission Control is one deck down,” said Zelda wielding her cutaway drawing of the ship. When they found the war room and entered it was just like those pictures of NASA at the space launches, a ‘big board’ facing rows of computer screens. Zelda got herself ensconced at the nearest terminal and immediately began to type.

“Great,” she exclaimed, “They’re running Windows 10. That’ll make hacking in a lot easier. Off you all go. I’ll be fine.”

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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