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 Following on from the Überkatzen disaster the Multinationals have withdrawn funding from the British Government in Exile.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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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.

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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Civet Poo Coffee

At last the gang had their pints; best bitter, mild ale, or porter, Black Velvet for Augusta and warming Po Cha for Master Dorje, served from a copper teapot with a dragon spout into a delicate china bowl with only one small chip out of the rim.

“Impressed I am. Where in Limehouse, yak butter did you manage to acquire?”

“Under the counter at Jamrach’s Exotic Pet Emporium on Ratcliffe Highway,” replied Sam, looking over his shoulder as he sat at the piano, “They also do a side line in Kopi Luwak, a natural by-product from the feline department.”

“Civet poo coffee,” shouted Flo from behind the bar.

“No thanks!” sang out the entire company, in unison.

“Now, Master Dorje,” enquired Augusta, “what is your important news?”

“Ah, so. The Merovingian Lizard Kings my news concerns. The Dark Lords of Pandemonium are well displeased with this coup by Les Chats Souterrains. My companions and I…” There came renewed hammering on the cellar trapdoor. Flo jumped and then, baseball bat in hand, cautiously lifted the trap. Three more Tibetan worthies emerged. They were marginally less wizened than Dorje, identically clad in tall hats and yak skin coats, and similarly lacking in stature. They did not speak. “Aware were you that within your beer cellar a portal there is?”

“Do you think we’d have spent all that time wallowing around in the sewers if we’d known we had a portal of our own?” asked Phoebles.

“Ancient as time it is, referenced only in one single, rare, coded Sanskrit text, and known to no-one but the Lizard Lords. Also, fiendishly difficult to activate it has proved. But, to continue – my companions and I charged with bringing Les Chats to order are.”

Beryl was sitting alone in a dark corner of the room with a hubbly-bubbly pipe and a glass of Absinth. She stopped sucking. “Heavy, man. I hope you’re in time to save Aunty Stella. When we flew in it looked like a seriously bad trip was unfolding down the river.”

“Let us hope… Somewhat lacking in detail my instructions were. To improvise I am required.”

“Not again,” said Phoebles.

Outside clouds parted and a shaft of sunlight shone down, through the den’s bay window, to illuminate the back of master Dorje’s head. He rose, haloed in glowing gold:

“Have faith. Get me to Greenwich.”

Da da da dum. The long, final E-flat reverberated around the low ceilinged room, Sam hunched over the upright his fingers resting on the keys, the gang froze and Dark Flo looked up, stirred from the innocent act of tea-towelling a nonic beer glass. There was a pause, pregnant with dimly perceived significance.

“Right,” said Boz, “that will be ‘everyone back in the flying boat’ then.”

*

Ferdy butted the nose of the Do-X up against Greenwich Pier and Ginsbergbear tied the mooring line to a handy bubblegum dispenser. Overhead Les Chat’s foo-fighter ducked and wove about the sky, emitting a frenetic, wavering Wooh sound and mobbed by three corsair ‘Tsetse’ ornithopter ship-busters. The pursuers were blasting away, randomly and ceaselessly with their Molins six-pounders, pouring 57-mm round after 57-mm round into the vicinity of the flying saucer and giving it no chance to bring its death ray to bear. As Boz and the gang watched a stray round took out that woebegone relic of the golden age of sail, trade, and empire, the emasculated, land-bound Cutty Sark. They marched past the blazing hulk, strode up to the Chats’ guards on the West Gate of the Naval College, and pushed Master Dorje to the fore.

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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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Observatory Ridge

“Buccaneer it is then,” said Flo. “Everyone pile in while I operate the donkey winch.” With the gang settled in the launch Flo, “Lowering away!” controlled the steady descent. There was a bump as the sea came up to meet the pinnace. The placid ocean was as smooth as glass, mirroring the sky; a long, slow swell rising and falling like the heaving breasts of a slumbering, Rubenesque, strumpet. The lines went slack.

“Unshackle the stern line, Boz. I’m coming down.” Flo began to shin down the for’ard tackle, Boz let go aft and the launch swung lazily round. At the same time a deep throb set up within the bowels of the Überkatzen and the water abaft of her twin bronze, 22ft diameter screws began to churn. Flo landed on the fore deck of Buccaneer as the gigantic drone carrier surged forward. The line went taught, dragging the bow of the launch clear of the water and tumbling it’s crew into the stern. Flo hung on.

“Duck!” she cried, drawing her wakizashi, slicing through the tackle and turning her hunched back in a single move. The severed rope whiplashed a cruel blow across Flo’s shoulders, knocking her to the deck.

Leaving Buccaneer bobbing in the water, the Überkatzen performed a tight 180-degree turn and accelerated towards the western horizon. The gang began to rise, checking themselves for damage; Flo was on her hands and knees breathing heavily.

While they were still sorting themselves out Ferdy splashed the DoX down as near as he dared, her Fiat A-22R V12 water-cooled engines droning loudly, and taxied towards the little craft. The hatch opened and Beryl stepped out onto the port float. “Redbush anyone? I’ve got the kettle on.”

*

Aunty Stella eased her backside in the saddle. It had been a long, hard ride and her chafed thighs stung horribly. She passed the field binoculars up to Mad Jack whose imposing grey towered above her sturdy skewbald cob. “There’s snipers on the first floor of the Queen’s House. They’ve knocked out some of the windows.”

Mad Jack panned the binoculars along the sandbag wall that fronted the arcades each side of the classical edifice and paused to study the gun emplacements at the outer ends.

He and Aunty Stella were perched atop of the ridge outside the Royal Observatory. Behind them, strung out in a line were the rough riders of the Hampshire Light Horse and further back still, the massed cavalry of the Snake Pass Zapatistas. They looked magnificent; the Light Horse in bush hats and khaki, the SPZ horde sporting multicoloured balaclavas, their black banners cracking and snapping as they fluttered in the stiff breeze. In front, at the bottom of a long slope, was the enemy. Les Chats Souterrains were dug well in, far too well. A frontal charge was going to be costly.

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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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