…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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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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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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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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