Serendipity was the last to slip through a hole in the hedge. But just as she was falling through to the other side, the hole was closing up.
“Goodbye! thanks!” she shouted. But by the time she had said it, the hole in the hedge had completely closed as if it had never been there and she had no idea if Kamachal or his friends had heard it.
Because the Clenicline tablets were not in their bloodstreams yet, the nemotoxigen affected the three children. It descended in black clouds which once or twice covered them. It made Rosalind feel really ill.
In Grimley Wood, the trees were not as close together as in Threadbare Wood, so light permeated more easily down to walking level. Nevertheless, the sky had grown a barely illuminating dark green now,
Grimley wood also held other variations. As they progressed down a tortuously winding road, in the direction of the city Blackbod Miasma, the green sky turned a dark olive and its black woolpack clouds grew considerably in number. Many of the small clearings held rocky outcrops. Trees were sparser, the ground was springy, uneven, with sharp inclines followed by sudden falling into tree lined gorges. The pungent smell of nemotoxigen was overtaken by a worse stench as they approached a wide clearing. Rosalind held her nose and breathed through her mouth. But when she saw what was causing the stink she had to close her eyes. Before them was a hill, the height of a lampost, of dead naked human-looking babies. There must have been at least a thousand infants piled high, the pile looking so precarious no one could grasp why it hadn’t collapsed.
They circled the hill of babies listening attentively, trying to discern the sound of any crying against the blustering wind, but they heard no sound coming from any child. Many had their eyes unblinking, wide open. They all looked so vulnerable, thought Rosalind.
“Let’s keep going,” said Maximouse, there’s nothing useful we can do here. Don’t allow yourselves to become despondent by what you see here. It’s a terrible place. Be strong in your heart! We’re going to stop the crimes of this monstrous woman.”
They continued into the black fog, along the exhaustingly windy bridle path. They passed a dilapidated signpost with two readings pointing in the same direction: ‘Chemgantrial 5 miles’ and ‘Blackbod Miasma 10 miles’.
It was difficult to estimate what time it was so Rosalind checked her pocket watch which still kept good time. It was only eight in the evening, yet it felt more like a doom laden early dawn.
“I’m really tired,” said Marie, “Can we have a good sleep for a change?”
“Yes,” let’s make a temporary camp and get some sleep and wake up with the light,” agreed Serendipity.
At dawn, they woke, roused themselves quickly and continued their trek. One thing had certainly improved for all of them: the tablets that Kamachal had given them had removed the dreadful smell that pervaded the air. But despite this, it was not a heart-warming ramble. Between the floating black clouds could be seen weeping trees; dead wildlife was strewn everywhere; bird song was not heard.
Although the tablets had cut out the smell of nemotoxigen, it had not cut out the open sores of cess pit streams, full of pus and bile and filthy chemicals. Most of these streams were stagnant, the arteries of the land were blocked.
“I could swear I’m being watched,” said Marie
They all stopped and listened. No sound.
Not much further on, as the woodland began to thin out, a massive edifice in the shape of a purple cube, presented itself on their left. Serendipity said these cubes were full of Broudhous, a race of small people-like creatures who were made to work almost continually during their lives – like slaves. Each Broudhous was placed in a box not much bigger than themselves and here they worked all day. Each box was computer controlled with video cameras observing the performance of each worker. They had to do a certain amount of work within a given space of time. If they were failed to do they were given an electric shock. If they succeeded, then, gradually – over a the same period of time – more work would be expected from them. They were allowed five hours of sleep a day.
“Ugh!” said Marie.
“Let’s see if we can release them,” said Rosalind.
“We really ought to put our foot down for our destination. This is a distraction,” said Serendipity. Then seeing the childrens faces, she smiled. “Okay. Let’s have a quick look.”
The gang crept up through the long grasses to the gigantic cuboid building. There were no windows, but a door was found on a west facing wall, which was not locked.
“Go easily,” said Serendipity.
They all snaked down the grey corridor that faced them. The noise of repetitive mechanical noises were going on all around them.
“Ah you’ve come to take the spent away?” said a voice behind them. They all turned round simultaneously in alarm to see the oddest of creatures. Rosalind thought it was half man and half washing machine. Its short stumpy legs carried its body, a large white box with a see-through circular door and a panoply of knobs and buttons. It’s human looking head bobbed about on a flat spring neck which stuck up from the white box. Short stumpy robotic arms stuck out from the side. She humourously wondered what she would call it. An Omotaur? Or a Persilosaurus?
“Yes, that’s right,” bluffed Serendipity quickly.
“They are in despatch room 1002, just carry on along the corridor to your left.”
Serendipity, positioned at the front, subtly beckoned the others to follow. She came to the door. It was locked.
The Omotaur was coming up behind them.
“Forgotten the pass-number? Didn’t you have to give that to get past the outguard? That’s unusual for your lot, usually so efficient. He must be skiving again. The number 07125. That will let you in.”
Serendipity began pressing the numbers in the keypad outside the door. The Omotaur was now coming alongside the group.
“I’ve not seen you before,” he laughed jokingly. You ARE from Blackbod Miasma I hope. They usually send the Buzzors up. Have they had a change of systems down at HQ? More than my life’s worth to let these out to aliens!” He laughed again.
Serendipity tried her best to laugh with him, but even she thought her laugh sounded hollow and false.
The door opened.
Serendipity hesitated, she wasn’t sure whether to go in or to wait. But the Omotaur had now rattled himself level past her now and he took charge of her indecision by leading into the room himself. “Come and take them away,” he said. They all followed him in.
Inside the room were a dozen Broudhous. Rosalind had never see such a sorry sight. They were about five feet tall, dark grey skinned, with white shiny teeth. They had large hands. They all wore shorts but no other clothes. They all had jet black hair that shot straight up for two inches before curving out towards their ears.
But the most terrible thing about them was their expressions and their postures. They were hunched over. They had bruises all over their arms and legs. Their faces were long, tired and weary. She wondered if they had always looked like this or if their features – which were still relatively young – had been transformed into this expressionless sludge by continual slavery.
“Right you lot! It’s your lucky day! You are going to be terminated. Take them away,” he shouted to Serendipity.
The room was full of many humble ‘thank yous,’ coming from the Broudhous, as they formed a line.
“Right! Lead the way out,” shouted Serendipity to Marie who was now standing in the doorway at the front. Marie was quick on the uptake and quickly led the Broudhous out of the building.
As the last Broudhous departed the giant cube the Omotaur stood on the threshold of the doorway and craned his neck out to watch them all walk away in single file. “Strange,” he muttered to himself, “They usually guard them at the back as the front and they don’t usually send so many. Something not quite right here. I’ll have to contact HQ. I’ll do it in a bit. And where’s that outguard got to?” He closed the door and went inside to have a lie down.
*** *** *** ***
After five minutes, getting out of sight of the Giant cube, Serendipity stopped behind a large rock and waited for everyone to catch up. She told the twelve Broudhous to stand by the rock. “Thank you, thank you,” they were all shouting.
“We are not going to kill you,” she said. “We will set you free to go back and rescue all your companions.”
The eyes of the Broudhous opened a little wider.
She repeated her statement again, and told them the pin number to get into the main part of the building.
Eventually one of the Broudhous spoke. “We don’t understand. We don’t want any more electric shocks please. We just want extinction.”
“You are free,” butted in Rosalind. “You no longer have to be in a cage. You can live as a free people.”
The earlier speaker looked very confused and began fidgeting. All of them looked uncomfortable, darting confused glances at each other, worry and anxiety beginning to deepen in their faces. “We don’t want any more electric shocks. We do what you want. We don’t want any more punishment.”
“Go back to the grand cube,” said Maximouse, “Go in the door and open every single door and cage. If you can’t get into any of the doors break them down. If you meet resistance kill it. Free all your brothers and bring them out into the daylight. That’s an order!”
Suddenly the Broudhous expressions perked up. They could understand an order, but only if it came from without. They had never learned to listen to their own internal desires.
“Go now!” said Serendipity or you will be punished.”
Suddenly there was a crash behind them. A large object had fallen out of a tree. It was a boy. He struggled quickly to get to his feet and began running off.
“Stop him!” said Serendipity.
It didn’t take long for the youth to brought back down to the ground, as his only way of escape was by the way of the Broudhous. Responsive and effective in following commands, one blocked him, another took him at the legs, and another three sat on him.
The youth wore a helmet and a blue military costume with ‘R’ on its lapels.
“Bring some rope from the rucksack,” said Serendipity.
Within minutes the youth had been tied up. His body shook with anger and belligerence, but he spoke not. “I’ve seen him before,” said Marie. She recognised him instantly: I worked with him. It’s Rig from the city farm.
The boy scowled at Marie, but said nothing. He shut his eyes tight, as if by doing so he would make her disappear, he then thrust his sulking chin into his chest.
Serendipity turned her attention to the Broudhous.
“Go and release your comrades!” repeated Serendipity to the Broudhous. Go now!” The Broudhous, eager to carry out any command, walked hurriedly off the way they had come.
“Do you think that will work?” asked Tchi.
“We haven’t got time to worry, we’ve done our best. Let’s hope their brains still work after the dreadful lives they’ve lived.”
Rig lifted his head derisively. “It’ll never work. You’ll never defeat them! I’m as good as dead. You’re all dead.”
“We must be on our way,” said Serendipity, leading forward.
“What shall we do with him?” asked Marie.
“Leave him tied up. He won’t be able to do any harm for a while,” said Serendipity.
“No!” squealed Rig, his eyes almost popping out. “Take me with you. I was employed as an outside guard of the Broudhous. You wouldn’t have got in if I’d have been doing my job properly. I’ll be boiled alive if they find me now. I’ll escape with you. I’ll help you. I’ll be able to show you the way out.”
“We’re going to the Marcoomian Pyramid at Chemgantrial.”
“You’re mad! You’ll never get there!.”
“Leave him,” said Serendipity, turning round and moving her heel.
“Wait! Wait! You can’t leave me here. The Buzzors will finish me off. You’ll never get past the Fearurial Gardens without me.”
“You will guide us to the Marcoomian Pyramid?”
“Some of the way.”
“All the way, or we leave you here.”
Serendipity looked round for confirmation. No one disagreed.
“Please untie me,”
“Stand him up and let him walk, but don’t untie his arms,” said Serendipity.
“I need one of those bottles. I’m thirsty,” he complained when he was on his feet. The bottles of pop were being packed away.
“No. We need to conserve our supplies,” said Serendipity sharply.
After climbing the steep side of a hill they came to the edge of the wood. Before them spread a field full of the most unusual games, board games on a gigantic scale.
Directly in their path stood a massive chess set. The pieces were twice the size of the children. Tchi was the first to notice that it wasn’t a standard set. The black pieces had two kings and the white pieces had two queens.
Over the chess set, nailed to a tree, a sign read, “All competitors will play black”.
“Well, that’s mad,” said Rosalind. “How could two kings win against two queens? Queens move much faster and all over the board.”
“That’s right,” said Marie.
“But on the other hand,” said Tchi, “It must be difficult to checkmate two kings.”
“But how do you checkmate a queen?” retorted Rosalind.
“Forget about the chess,” snapped Serendipity, “We’re not here to play, but to get to the Comms Centre. Let’s move.”
Rig was shivering and impatient. “We have reached the Gardens of the Fearurual of Ursula the Unstable,” said the Youth. “She has a collection of strange games. On no account should you play any of them. There’s hopscotch with landmines. And that’s skipping ropes with trip wire. They’re all deadly. We should move.”
“Look,” said Marie, “There’s a massive Monopoly board.” She had walked out into the field towards it. Everyone followed, ignoring Rig’s warnings. “It’s so big a person can stand within each square.”
“Collect £200 before you pass go,” read Rosalind as she stood on the board.
“I’ve never played this game before,” said Maximouse.
“Come on!” insisted Rig.
“It’s long winded and boring,” said Tchi.
“I like it,” said Marie. “Hey, look!” She had noticed that all the prices of the properties around the board were moving in every square. “Look! Old Kent Road is going up in price with every passing second.”
“So by the time you’ve been round the board,” said Tchi, “and collect £200, the houses have gone up by £1000. Some version of the game this is.”
“It was like real life before the credit crunch,” muttered Rosalind.
“You can’t stand here!” hissed Rig as loudly as he dare, “We must move. Go across the field and get under the trees, or we will be seen by the Quark.”
The Quark! Rosalind suddenly felt dizzy. The word had filled her with fear and loathing. She remembered it from her experience here before. Had it been a dream, or a reality. It was a terrifying name.”
“Which way?” asked Serendipity. Suddenly they could hear some wheezing coming from the woods behind them, and a dreadful stink drifted over them.
“Over the course,” demanded Rig. “Quick. We must not be seen!”
Everyone looked confused and began bumping into each other being completely unsure which way they were going. And then at last they began to hurry across the undulating greenery after Serendipity.
Some strange statues were placed in the middle of the golf course simultaneously playing croquet and playing cards. Rosalind thought she recognised them but couldn’t remember where from. A history book?
They all got to the cover of the trees without incident.
“I don’t know what came over me, I just couldn’t think straight back there,” said Rosalind.
“Perhaps the Boddlegogs are around somewhere,” said Serendipity.
“Now, we need to get round the side of the house,” said Rig, “and pick up the path on the other side.”
“I don’t know if I can trust you,” said Serendipity.
“I’m in the same boat as you are. If they catch us, I’m dead,” said Rig.
“Hmm..” said Serendipity shrugging her shoulders. “Suppose you’re taking us to your employers?” she said.
“No way, now,” he said. “One mistake with this lot and you’re toast,” he said. “If I turned you all in, they still wouldn’t have any mercy for me.”
“I’m watching you all the way,” said Serendipity.
They knelt behind a bush, under the thick shade of many dark beech trees.
“What’s the Quark?” asked Marie timidly.
“It’s black and oily with tendrils that cling onto you,” explained Rig
“And it has a mouth positioned sideways in the middle of its body,” continued Serendipity
“That’s right,” concurred Rosalind.
“How do you know?” asked Marie.
“I’ve been here before,” said Rosalind, sometime long ago but I can’t remember it clearly.”
“Ssssh!” cautioned Serendipity. “Let’s go along this path, through those green hedges at the side of the house.”
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” said Rig, tugging at his bound hands in frustration. “Getting lost in the maze would be disastrous. “Let’s go along the path that runs along the wall at the side of the house. We’ll have to duck down by the windows but I think that will be safer.”
“How do you know those bushes are a maze,” asked Serendipity.
“I’ve been here before, working for the Fearurial’s prison squad. If you go in the maze you can’t find your way out because there isn’t one. And you can’t get back to the entrance. There are giant slugs in there that surround you, and then consume you. Ursula the Unstoppable loves to watch the sport from her balcony, when she is in residence.”
“Is she in residence now?” asked Serendipity.
“I hope not. All I know is that the slugs will get you if you go that way. We need to go along the wall path.”
“You’ll need to untie me. I can’t crawl with my hands tied.”
Serendipity looked at him carefully, and then untied the knots that bound his hands behind him.
Rig led, followed by Serendipity, Rosalind, Marie, Tchi with Maximouse at the end.
The narrow yellowish path was a couple of feet to the right of the brickwork of the house, between was a strip of soil covered in colourful weeds and plants, which thrived despite the lack of sunlight here. Rosalind studied them, as she crept along. One flower had a revolving head and snapping jaws. I wouldn’t want to be a bee collecting pollen from them, she thought.
The path had been chosen because it was the most protected path of escape round the house. A clump of tree branches overhung the roof of the house from the West, allowing little sunlight to penetrate down onto the path.
They moved slowly, ducking as low as they could every time they came level with the doors and the windows that ran alongside the house. They were also concerned about the balcony above for should anyone come out, as they were creeping by, they would be spotted immediately.
*** *** *** ***
Serendipity was thinking. She was curious about how confused everyone had got at the Monopoly Board game. Normally confusion only reigned when the Boddlegogs were around in force, but there had been no sign of them. She knew from experience that she, as a Sprite, was less affected by the Boddlegogs power than most other creatures. Then a poem came into her head that the edible dormouse had given them at Jill’s. It had said something about trees and losing the power of thought. But she just couldn’t remember all of it. Yet she knew it was important.
“Move along,” whispered Rosalind to Serendipity.
“Sorry,” said the fairy, quickly catching up with Rig, who had by now got himself under the balcony and was half hiding in the trails of black ivy which trailed down from it.
“‘Thought’. What rhymes with ‘thought’?” wondered Serendipity as she crept trying to keep hidden from anyone on the other side of the bay window. “Bought, caught, fought, nought, ought, sort, taut?” It just didn’t click somehow.
She got past the balcony now. Rig was leading up ahead to some french windows, and after that he would soon pass the last brick of the house and come out onto the path to leading to Blackbod Miasma. All the others were close on Serendipity’s heels.
Then it happened. Just as they were all feeling that they were going to make it past without incident! The French windows, where Rig was approaching, flew open. Out came the most horrendous creature that Rig – or anyone else – had ever seen. Rig had heard of the Quark, but he had never seen it, and now it was bearing down on him.
“Yoush are all deash!” It hissed. It made the sound of a whisper, yet it was loud enough to be heard all along the line.
Confusion reigned. Everyone shot to their feet and turned to run back along the path but no! A number of giant slugs had come out of the maze and were coming along the path. They had fallen into a trap.
“I like salty blood,” the largest was saying, his voice sounding like a low whistle.
“Over the fence,” shouted Serendipity, clambering over the wooden fence that ran along the side of the path to the South. On the other side of it was dense woodland.
Serendipity was over, Rosalind was right behind her.
But the Quark was not slow. Its torso stood like a big black tree, and yet when this torso moved it divided into two legs. In its belly was a large sideways pair of lips. Above this was a head with tentacles that flailed a metre out from its body. It’s head was eyeless.
The children had taken the Clemicaline tablets that defended them from the pungent smell of the South Darklands, but Rig had not and this proved to be his downfall. Everyone could smell the most disgusting and noxious stink the Quark exuded, but Rig took the full force of it and wilted on the path. The Quark’s tentacles enmeshed Rig’s body, lifted it, and pushed it head first into his mouth.
“Give us some salty blood,” whistled the talkative slug.
“Nice Foosh, like human foosh,” said the Quark and wheezed. He was then up by the fence.
“I’ve got to remember that poem!” shouted Serendipity to Maximouse, as he got down from the fence into the dense woodland.
“It’ll save us! The one from the edible dormouse.”
“Get into the wood!” screeched Maximouse.
Rosalind was over, Maximouse and Tchi also. “Keep up with me,” shouted Serendipity and went deeper into the dark trees.
It was so dark in there that it was difficult to see the person in front. It was so overgrown that there was hardly room between the barks of the trees.
“Keep going!” said Maximouse in a low voice. Create space, as much as possible. I don’t care how dark it gets.”
“I’m sure he’s right behind me,” said Marie, who was last in line. “Where are you all.”
“I’ll go last,” said Rosalind, and slipped in behind Marie. However she soon realised that Marie’s had not been an idle worry. She could hear wheezing right behind her.
“I can hardly see where I am going. There are too many trees in this wood,” said Marie.
“That’s it! That’s it, that’s the beginning of the poem,” said Serendipity.
“Uh?” said Marie.
“When the wood’s lost for trees
When you’ve lost the power of thought
When there’s wheezing in the breeze
No I can’t remember the last line.”
Rosalind didn’t like being on the end at all. Then she heard in the near distance behind her: “You’sh will all my mysh breakshfast. I shall eat you all. A delicashy. Hoomanfoosh.”
“Keep quiet Serendipity, he’s following us and he can hear you. Just keep quiet and go faster.”
“It’s not ‘power of thought’” said Tchi, “It’s the power to think’, I think.”
“What rhymes with think?”
Suddenly there was an almighty scream. It was Rosalind. They turned and went quickly back. In the halflight they could see the Quark had his tendrils around her legs and she was on the floor. Tchi and Marie grabbed around in the dark and found Rosalind’s flailing arms.
“Drink!” shouted Serendipity. It was as if she were in another world completely. “Give me that!”
But no one was paying any attention. Maximouse had grabbed a branch and was sticking it into the soft tissue of the Quark’s body but, apart from keeping the monster at arms length, it caused no damage. As the Quark turned away from the stick, the holes in its soft tissue just filled up.
Tchi and Marie were losing the battle with Rosalind, who was squealing from the agony of being the rope in a tug of war. She would be either eaten or torn in half.
And then, in the darkness, they all got soaked and sticky. And then came dreadful squeals of agony. The hold on Rosalind’s leg began to relax. There was intense fizzing and strange noises that sounded like bad plumbing. Maria and Tchi pulled Rosalind towards them, and dragged her to her feet.
More sticky liquid came flying all over them. More fizzing and groans came from the direction of the Quark. The cries, continually evident but growing quieter, eventually subdued, but the fizzing had grown louder and sounded like an acid bath.
Suddenly there was light. Serendipity had struck a match, from a box she had found in the rucksack. “He’s dying,” she said. “We must get out of here as quick as we can. Go round him back to the house.”
But as they circumnavigated the Quark’s fizzing body, a body which was gradually melting into an ooze on the forest floor, they could hear the giant slugs coming nearer.
“Great!” tootled the leader, “It’s lots of salty blood.” Much to the children’s relief all three slugs leapt onto dissolving Quark. “It’s got human and Boddlegog salt,” said another, trying to eat and talk at the same time.
“Go!” said Serendipity.
Having circumnavigated the slugs and their fizzing meal they back tracked the way they had come to the fence. They climbed it and raced down the path towards the road that lead to Blackbod Miasma. “There’s a signpost here for Chemgantrial. This is the way to the Marcoomian Pyramid,” said Serendipity.
*** *** *** ***
Arm in arm, Marie and Tchi helped Rosalind along. Her face was flustered with shock. The lower part of both her legs, all the way up to her knees, were covered in a foul slime.
Serendipity and Maximouse were walking ahead keeping to the side of the wide path. Buildings of perfect geometrical shapes, cylinders, spheres, cubes and cones, were evident behind the trees, amongst the vegetation, although none were anywhere near the size of the Broudhous factory. There were no windows or doors in any of these buildings. No one was around, no sign of life at all.
They came to a bridge over a river. Everyone followed Serendipity down to the bank. They were all desperate for a wash – being sticky from head to foot.
“I threw a fizzy orange juice,” said Serendipity. “I remembered the poem just at the last moment. Tchi helped me. I thought it was ‘thought’ not ‘think’ and so couldn’t come up with the last line. Aha! Then I got it:
When the wood’s lost for trees,
When you’ve lost the power to think,
When there’s wheezing in the breeze,
Throw a drink to stop the stink.
“Earlier I couldn’t understand why you were all thrown into confusion by the nearness of the Quark – and then it brought back the poem, but I couldn’t remember it at all. The slugs revealed an answer though, somehow the Quark had eaten a Boddlegog. After eating the Quark was unknowingly contaminated by their confusing and negative influence. This affected you all. In fact, it also confused the Quark, because it never usually fails to capture its prey.”
“You mean the fizzy pop killed him?” asked Tchi.
“I’m drinking that stuff again,” said Tchi.
Eventually everyone felt a little better. Most had washed their hair in the river water. The slime now removed from Rosalind’s legs, socks and walking boots, she was able to talk again. Occasionally she would burst into tears and put her hands over her eyes.
“How much further?” she asked. “I don’t know if I can do much more.”
“Just around the corner, according to my loose calculations,” said Serendipity. “The Marcoomian Pyramid is nearby.”
Serendipity was right. The road carried on for a short measure and then turned to the South, where an urban sprawl of buildings presented themselves. ‘Chemgantrial’ was written on a white sign on the road.
“Get inside the trees again,” said Serendipity. “We may be seen.” They collected on the edge of the forest, able to see out into the light, but remaining hidden from prying eyes.
“They’re like the Buzzor’s globes in the city well,” said Tchi. Several large silver spheres stood up on their poles in the air some 100 metres high.
“Yes,” said Serendipity gravely.
There were four of them. Down below on the ground between them were two buildings. One a massive shiny black pyramid and the other a large grey cube. All around these, crane scaffolding was in the stage of erection, although no one was around doing this presently. From the girders and gantries black smog floated in whispery clouds. At the back of the buildings lay a field of concrete on which stood many vehicles. “That looks like a small airfield,” whispered Marie.
“We’re here,” said Serendipity. “In that Marcoomian Pyramid the bomb is to be detonated.
The three children smiled at each other in relief at having got here at last, pleased that the trekking, at least for the moment, was over. Nevertheless, now it was time, they knew, to really show their mettle.
“It’s not very well protected,” is it?” said Tchi, “you’d expect battalions of soldiers and tanks.”
“They wouldn’t expect anyone to get this far into the state,” said Serendipity. “The main battalions are on the West in the actual city of Blackbod Miasma, we are still about fifteen miles away from there.”
To the North of the road, woods ran along the complex. It was decided to track the edge of the woods and get as close as possible to the Marcoomian Pyramid. After that no one was quite sure what to do. Serendipity would lead, Maximouse would be backstop. Not following a path in the woods but manoeuvring between the outer trees would be difficult and everyone must keep close to avoid getting lost, or losing contact, said Serendipity.
*** *** *** ***
Soon, protected inside the wood under the trees, they were able to spy out. Outside the Marcoomian Pyramid, across the street, a big sandwich board stood by its front doors heralding: ‘The Biggest Explosion Tonight!’. It read: ‘Welcome to the destruction of worlds. 7.30pm Friday 24th October.’
“What time is it?” asked Serendipity.
“It’s six fifteen.”
“We have just over one hour,” said Serendipity, “to think of how we are going to stop this bomb.”
A figure came into view walking along the road. It was an ugly goblin. Then there were two. And then there were four figures in black cloaks, and then three more. They all filed into the Marcoomian Pyramid.
“I’m going to try out an idea,” said Rosalind. “I was going to try this out at Kamachal’s but forgot about it.”
“Don’t go off. If you got lost that would ruin everything,” said Serendipity.
“I’ll just go behind those trees – I‘ll go no further.”
After she had gone Tchi suggested they burn the building down. “We’ve got some matches,” he said.
“We don’t know if that material would burn. And how long would it take to make a fire? We’d be captured in seconds,” said Serendipity
“If they are going to set off a bomb, a box of matches won’t do anything a bomb can’t do,” said Marie.
Tchi looked perplexed. “We need to get inside,” he said, “there’s no way we can destroy the building from the outside.”
“How on earth do we get inside?” questioned Marie. “Look at the video cameras and surveillance all over the place.”
“Hey look, there’s hundreds of them,” said Tchi.
The small dribble of creatures going into the pyramid had now turned into a flood. Cutless-carrying Wergs, evil looking Sprites, hoodies in all colours of cape, Pulwhisites in their original revolting shape and other creatures of shapes and substance beyond the imagination were all queuing to get into the Marcoomian Pyramid.
Suddenly they heard a shriek from behind the tree where Rosalind had gone. Maximouse instinctively ran into the wood to defend her.
But instead of finding Rosalind he stopped dead. A hooded figure in a black cloak stood beneath the tree. Maximouse began to cautiously back away.
“Wait! Wait! Its me! Rosalind!” she said, dropping the hood and revealing her face.
“I’m so pleased. I’ve done it,” she continued, beaming. “I now understand how I got those amazing walking boots out of thin air!”
Maximouse continued to stare at her.
Rosalind grabbed his hand and escorted the shocked Moonbeasley back to the others. They were equally surprised to see her in a long robe.
“I was given a pendant to wear around my neck in Wizicky Waxicky Wood by a fox when I got lost. He said it was a dress pendant. What he meant was if I touch it and wish for some item of dress I get it by magic! That’s how I got those walking boots. I must have been holding or touching the pendant at the same time as wishing for them. When I tried unsuccessfully many times later, I couldn’t have been touching it, so it didn’t work.”
“That’s fantastic,” said Marie, “that means I can have some comfortable walking boots.
“Does it work over and over again?” asked Tchi.
Tchi put the pendant around his neck.
“Ask for the same robe that Rosalind is wearing,” said Serendipity.
Instantly he became clothed in a long black cloak that covered his body. It fastened around the waist with two tie cords. A hood covered his face.
“Brilliant!” shouted Serendipity. “Everybody borrow the pendant, follow the instructions, get a cloak and in we go!”
The insurgents dressed in their new gowns waited until the crowd began to diminish before attaching themselves at the rear of it, hoping to call no attention to themselves whatsoever.
Inside the amphitheatre they held their breath. Two Buzzors stood each side of the single entrance and exit. Although the Buzzors were keeping guard neither asked for tickets or passes of any description. They were also lucky in that the back row of the amphitheatre inside the pyramid was still vacant and here they sat.
All around the room were rows and rows of seats – most occupied – gradually rising at the back like those in an amphitheatre or lecture theatre. The lowest and most central seats comprised of many white coated individuals who sat in front of in built computers
But what dominated the whole area was a black bomb in the centre of the room. It took up the height of the whole pyramid, it’s rounded nose almost reaching the apex of the spectacularly tall building. Two vent holes at its girth kept emitting belches of black smoke, which floated about the room in clouds.
Around the base of the bomb was lattice of benches facing back towards the audience. A number of broad headed Wergs, in military uniform, sat here protecting the bomb.
In front of this was a trestle table and behind this, facing the audience, stood a man. Rosalind recognised him immediately. It was Eggplant, Urusula’s chief scientist. Now he was here welcoming the guests. In between pleasantries to the guests he occasionally drew on a pipe which he inhaled with a big smile on his face, and black smoke occasionally puffed in clouds out of his nose mouth and ears. “It’s great to be home,” he paused, “but soon all the North will be our home too!” The audience burst into laughter and applause. “Soon we will all be breathing nemotoxigen all the time all over the island. And when I say ‘soon’ I mean in about five minutes.” Again everyone hooted and clapped with appreciation.
“Ladies and gentlemen, creatures, loyal supporters of Princess Ursula, monsters of wealth, gluttony and greed, welcome! WELCOME! I say no more, other than to pass you on to our divine and sublime head of state, Ursula the Unstoppable!”
Rosalind had never seen this woman before and – expecting a monster but not finding one – was surprised. She had jet black hair that rained down and danced around her head. She was pretty in a peculiar way, like the way of a doll. She had no lines on her face. No lines of frustration, frowning, wrinkles or even laugher, or lines of caused by suffering. Yet she didn’t look at all young for all her beauty or taut skin.
She wore a low cut long evening dress. On the necklace around her neck hung a huge black cut gem the size of a golf ball.
“Welcome to you all,” she began. People clapped.
“In a few minutes you will be witness to one of the universe’s’ major events. We are going to explode this bomb and release nemotoxigen into the Palingenesis Island and the whole universe. All old Gods will die. Life – for a short time – will then be about money power and status – and then eventually I will become the only God.”
More cheering, clapping and hooting.
“This has taken years of research and scientific and magical enquiry, but thanks to my brilliant scientist, Eggplant, we have achieved an absolutely remarkable feat. I will now bring him back to explain the details before returning to start the count.”
After thunderous applause for Princess Ursula, another ringing applause followed at the return of Eggplant. Gradually it subsided as he began talking.
“Many years ago a certain Arthur Hedgehog lived in the North in Wizicky Wazicky Wood with his family. Arthur was an explorer and he travelled to many strange worlds, way past these islands. When he returned on one occasion he bought a strange magical substance with his called triclinnium sulphite. After realising the importance of the chemical he had, Arthur, on his death bed, told his son Cedric that it must be guarded at all costs and that no one should have access to it. Cedric was concerned about the chemical. He decided to hide it in a pocket watch, which he stole from a girl who came from a parallel universe. He put the sulphite inside it and then gave it her back, knowing she would return to her own universe. This she did.
“When we set about making the nemotoxigen bomb it was critical we had the reactive qualities of triclinnium sulphite. As there was none of this island we set out to trace this girl, Rosalind.
“Having located her, we had to send some Buzzor troops to her domain, England, Earth, to get this watch back. As our troops were sent to do this I simultaneously made an amazing discovery back here on Palingenesis Island. I discovered a local indigenous chemical which had the same properties as triclinnium sulphite and was available on this island. You’ll forgive me if I don’t tell you where.”
“This chemical was christened plantophinnium. We immediately aborted our efforts to get Cedric’s pocket watch from the girl. It was proving a little difficult and it was no longer necessary. Now we had plantophinnium we could detonate our bomb!”
“The crowd gave another burst of applause.
“Incidentally,” he laughed, “that girl is presently in Palingenesis Island with a number of home grown insurgents. We know they have headed this way because we have a spy in their group, and should they manage to get through our state borders, our friend, the Quark will sort them out.”
Suddenly someone demanded from the audience: “Why haven’t we caught these monsters already?” It was a white coated half-human, half-Werg character seated in the second row next to a computer.
Eggplant was surprised to have a heckler, but came back with a prompt response.
“Have no fear. We’ve been watching them all the way down and they have absolutely no way of causing us any damage at all. They will walk right into our trap.”
Little do they know we’re standing in this room, thought Rosalind.
“Now, with plantophinnium we have no need of triclinnium sulphite. So here it is! The Unstoppable Ursula’s illustrious scientific team has set about building this bomb behind me. So, with no more ado, switch on the preactive stage!”
Instantly the metal cylinder behind began to hum.
“When Princess Ursula starts the countdown the computer will take over. However – as you are all sitting far enough away – there will be no danger for anyone here. The top part of the cylinder will shoot up through the apex of the pyramid and explode three miles up into the sky. Of course we will all get covered in delicious nemotoxigen, so sit tight and watch.” He pointed to Ursula who came back over to the table.
“Let the countdown begin!” she shouted.
As the countdown started, being called out in metallic speech by a computer on the side of the bomb, Rosalind didn’t know what she should do. It’s all very well asking us to stop the bomb, she thought, but how on Earth are we supposed to know how to do it. We’re not scientists!
The gang of insurgents all sat there, in desperation, wondering themselves what they should do. 10… 9…. 8….
Suddenly Rosalind in desperation jumped up out of her seat and ran towards the bomb. Her action was instantly contagious as all her friends ran after her down the steps.
For a few seconds confusion reigned. None of the gang even managed to get to the bomb before they were jostled to the ground or restrained in some way. Eggplant immediately stopped the countdown.
Eventually Eggplant waved for everyone to be silent as the gang were tied up.
“Well I did say they would fall into my trap, didn’t I?” he scoffed.
He kept requesting that everyone to calm down and sit down.
“These Northern insurrectionists have never had a chance from the first minute,” he quaffed. “Amateurish all the way through.” He looked with pleasure at the bright eyed Ursula, who smiled radiantly and clapped him from her seat. Everyone soon joined in.
Ursula stood up and said: “Place them round the bomb, so that they feel the vibration when the rocket is ejected.”
A few minutes later, each securely tied prisoner was placed with their backs to the metal base of the cylinder.
“Let history be made! Start the countdown!”
“10… 9… 8… “ began the metallic voice.
“7… 6… 5… 4…
Rosalind began to cry. This was awful. They had got so close but only to fail.
“3… 2… 1… Now!”
But nothing happened.
No rocket shot out of the metal cylinder.
Silence reigned for a very long ten seconds.
“What’s happening?” asked Ursula of Eggplant.
Eggplant face flustered. “T-t-there appears t-t-o be some kind of m-malfunction,” he said hesitatingly. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“Um…” he was fighting with the print-outs on the bomb computer.
“Your highness, its says here,” began the white coated technician in the second row who was reading the analysis on his own computer, “that plantophillium cannot combine with the radion to provide effective boost at such neutroniun levels.”
“What does that mean?” she asked her face reddening.
“It means,” he continued in a rather lofty voice, “that despite plantophillium working on laboratory levels it will not work at levels required in the bomb.”
“What it means is that plantophillium is an inappropriate replacement for triclinnium sulphite.” The creature rubbed his toad-like brow with his hand. “I had been saying this all along but Eggplant wouldn’t listen.”
“But the tests all worked,” shouted a scientist sitting near eggplant.
“Only on a small scale,” said the scientific toad.
Ursula walked over to Eggplant.”
“We need triclinnium sulphite. Get some now or we’ll be the laughing stock of the universe.”
“But the only place we can find that is with this girl,” he said pointing to Rosalind.
“That’s it,” said Ursula. “Search her!”
Rosalind had realised seconds before that she had granddad’s watch in the pocket of her robe and had began to wonder if and how she could conceal it, but it was too late now.
Despite resisting and screaming as much as she could (which was not a lot because she was tied up) she couldn’t stop them. They quickly found and took the watch.
“As the preactive stage has started we don’t have time to strip the watch. The triclinnium sulphite will work inside the watch casing,” said Eggplant admiring the pocket watch and grinning.
“Right!” said Eggplant, reaching up and putting the watch into the detonator shaft on the side of the bomb. “Now we mean business. Phew! That was a close shave.” He didn’t wait for Ursula but pressed the initiation button himself.
“Begin the countdown!”
“10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… Now!”
But still the bomb still failed to explode.
“It’s the wrong watch!” squealed Rosalind at the top of her voice. Everyone in the whole pyramid looked at her in astonishment. Something she should have kept to herself had suddenly been shouted out aloud to the enemy.
“It’s the wrong watch,” said Eggplant.
“It’s the wrong watch,” echoed Ursula.
“The watch that we need is still back there on Earth! We need to go back and get it.”
“We need to get it quickly,” said Eggplant. “I won’t be able to get the preactive stage running for another two years when the system shuts down.”
“How long have we got, bungler?” rasped Ursula.
“The preactive stage will run out of chemicals in fifteen hours. We need to get to the Comms centre immediately.”
“Bring me the girl!” demanded Ursula.
Rosalind was grabbed by a Werg soldier and placed in front of Princess Ursula.
“Bring me the Moonbeasley.”
He was soon standing next to Rosalind trying very hard not to shiver.
“You like the Moonbeasley, don’t you?” she said to Rosalind.
Rosalind said nothing.
“You will tell me where the other watch is or I will have him cut to pieces. Ear by ear, arm by arm, until there is nothing left.”
“I don’t care,” spat the brave Maximouse. “I’ll die for Gluid. Don’t tell her anything.”
“Shut your face, you pathetic creature!
Ursula the Unstoppable beckoned a Werg soldier and took the cutless from his belt. She placed the cutless behind Maximouse’s ear.
“I’ll tell you if you promise not to hurt him,” said Rosalind, carrying on, not waiting for a response, “it must be in my lounge, in my home town, we must have left the real one on the settee.”
*** *** *** ***
Suddenly there was a clamour all around them, as everyone in the room became seized by action. In a blur Rosalind felt herself grabbed.
“Put them in the sky dungeon,” Ursula shouted.
A Werg soldier was speaking over the public address system to the crowd, “If you have time to stay around and see the bomb exploded you may stay in our hotels for the duration. Should you not be able to do this the airfield will have transport available within minutes to take you home.”
*** *** *** ***
“How quickly can we get the task done at PC7 Comms room?” asked Ursula.
Eggplant was trying to ingratiate. “It will take about half an hour to get a replacement zico computer from the city down to the PC7 Comms room, half an hour to set it up and then half an hour to send the Buzzors across. Then add on the time for the Buzzors to carry out the task and get back. Not much more than three hours, I should think.”
“I’m calling alert red.”
“Oh,” said Eggplant, trying not to show his alarm.
*** *** *** ***
Amidst all the frenetic activity in the Marcoomian Pyramid, the five captives were shuffled out by the Werg soldiers. Behind the pyramid, floated the strangest of buildings. A black iron ring was held up by three almost invisible giant knitting needles coming out of the ground. The captives were shoved ungraciously towards a lift that rose all the way up to the circular building above the iron ring.
All of a sudden Rosalind felt tired and defeated.
Even the Werg soldiers began to miss their step.
And then Rosalind understood. They were coming over the airfield. Boddlegogs were coming in force.
“Get in that lift shaft,” said a Werg soldier, pushing them in, and pressing a button. The doors closed on them. They began ascending to the room in the sky.
“We couldn’t have escaped. The Boddlegogs are out in force. It looks like Ursula has called up all her monsters. I wouldn’t fancy being a visitor or a Werg at the moment. The Boddlegogs don’t care who they muscleize.”
“What does that mean?” asked Marie.
“Let’s hope you never find out,” said Serendipity.
Eventually the lift came to a stop and they climbed out into a circular room with two windows – neither of which had glass. As the lift returned to the ground, Marie – resting her arms on the low sill – looked down at the Boddlegogs. “Those creatures are vile, I hope we don’t get any Boddlegogs coming up in the lift.”
“It’s unlikely,” said Serendipity, “They usually travel in groups. And we seem to be out of their influence up here. We must be far enough away from them to not have our minds affected,” said Serendipity joining her.
“How are we going to get out?” asked Rosalind, keeping away from looking down. She didn’t like being cooped up, but she didn’t like heights either.
Maxmouse studied the lift shaft. He said the closed door was held tight with two bolts that went underneath. He gave that up as a non starter. He then turned his attention to a hatch which was open but had no controls with which to operate it.
“It must be for sending up food,” said Tchi. “it goes all the way down and is too small for a person to get into.”
“That useless too. Even if we could get down we’d just meet the Boddlegogs at the bottom.” He looked around the rest of the circumference of the room. He joined Serendipity and Marie at the window.
“We’ve had it,” said Marie. “We’re stuck.”
“There’s always a way,” said Maximouse.
“You have an idea,” said Serendipity, daring to turn her frown into a smile.
“A very dangerous and stupid idea,” said Maximouse.
“Do we still have the rope, knife and tools in the rucksack?”
“Yes,” said Tchi. “I’m still attached to it. Everything is still here. We’ve even still got some fizzy pop left.”
“Do you remember at Plasticia I was given wing humps that produced ego-gas?”
“Aha!” said Serendipity beginning to understand.
“Go on,” said Marie.
“I think I’ve still got some left and I could fly down to the ground, although I have little control of my flying.”
“I don’t like where this is going,” said Marie.
“If I have enough I could fly past the Boddlegogs.”
“But even if you got to safe land how could you rescue us?” asked Marie.
“You’d come with me.”
No one spoke for a moment, thinking of the risk and danger involved.
“Let me see,” said Maximouse, “One of you can hang around my neck. Another could be tied on at the front. And the other two could be tied on to my legs.”
“Urrrrh,” said Marie, “I’m not doing that. Count me out.”
“We have to try it,” said Serendipity, “it’s are our only chance.”
“But won’t you be too heavy to fly with all of us hanging on.”
“Possibly but we could try it with two and then add another two up here.”
They eventually agreed to try it as it was their only option. A small piece of rope was cut with the knife into long and short lengths and everyone drew straws to see who was going to go where. By this method it was eventually decided that Rosalind was going to hang on to Maximouse’s neck, for Serendipity to be tied at the front and for Marie and Tchi to be tied onto both his legs, the rope having been reinforced by being tied round his body first.
It was also decided to rid themselves of their hooded cloaks, as these could be problematic in flying. Rosalind’s dress pendant put them all in the lightest and warmest of tight fitting clothes.
First Maximouse had to see if he could still fly. He wriggled the humps on his back and slowly shot up to bump his head gently on the roof. “Pull me down,” he said. Once back down on the floor, he stayed there with no apparent need to float up again. “I’ve never quite got the hang of this,” he said.
“Don’t say that,” said Tchi, “just tell us you’re in complete control.”
After tying the slip-knots to go round his body and hang down from his feet, Rosalind got on his back and hung on to his neck. “Slip your feet under the ropes for extra safety,” he said.
Next, Serendipity – who was the lightest of them all – was tied on with a rope harness around his shoulders and under his arms. “Now let me go up again,” he said and began twitching his shoulder humps. Again he rose to the ceiling, but much slower this time.
“Now put yourselves in those rope harnesses that are hanging from my legs,” he said to Marie and Tchi, looking down at them.
Soon they were all connected up.
“I can’t test if we’re too heavy, because I can’t fly any higher in here.”
“I don’t like this at all,” said Marie.
“Marie, have faith. You two down below will walk to the window sill and stand next to it.”
“Oh God,” said Marie, “Please help us.”
As they neared the window Maximouse told them to stop. “I need to generate as much ego-gas as I can,” he said. After a couple of minutes of him doing the strangest gyrations, he said; “Listen. This is very important. You two below need to leave the ledge at exactly the same time. So I will count four, and on three you will stand on the ledge at the same time and on four you will both jump away from the building.”
“I feel sick,” said Marie.
“Hold my hand,” said Tchi.
“Right. Stand ready,” said Maximouse.
Marie shut her eyes and held Tchi’s hand.
“Okay. Everybody ready? Here we go…” said Maximouse
“One… two… three…..four….”
And Marie and Tchi leapt into the sky.
At first they plummeted for about ten feet but their acceleration came to a halt and they stabilised. The two children at the bottom banged into each other a few times, and then started going up again.
There was breeze in the air and fortunately it took them away form the building.
“Can’t you steer properly,” shouted Serendipity.
“Steer? Who said I could steer,” said Maximouse.
Down below a couple of figures were stirring. One or two Boddlegogs had noticed the aerial escape. And within seconds all the Boddlegogs were pointing up in the sky.
The strange airship started to plummet down again.
“What’s going on Maximouse!” said Rosalind hanging on with all her might.
Down they went, ten feet, twenty feet.
“I’ve run out of ego-gas.”
“Find some more!” shouted Rosalind. She suddenly felt ghastly as if her mind was turning upside down. They were going to die, they were all going to die. She may as well let go. What was the point of Maximouse trying to agitate his wing humps. It was all worthless, hopeless and not worth the struggle.
“We are going to beat Ursula, We are going to beat her,” sang Serendipity at the top of her voice. “Sing with me everyone, sing your heart out!”
Suddenly they started going up again, Maximouse somehow having generated more gas. They were still singing as they leapt back up the distance they had dropped.
Rosalind, still trying to sing, suddenly felt better. “Keep singing,” said Serendipity. “If we drop down the Boddlegogs will affect our minds and make us depressed and negative, so keep singing something positive, especially if we drop down again.”
“On no!” screamed Maximouse.
“What wrong?” said Serendipity
“The transportation CD has dropped out of my pocket down to the ground. The pockets are too small on these shorts.”
“I wouldn’t consider losing a CD my priority at this particular point in time,” panted Serendipity.
*** *** *** ***
A breeze had taken the gang further towards the Marcoomian Pyramid, which was not the direction they wanted to go.
“If we could get over to the wood we might stand a chance,” said Serendipity trying to kick her legs as if to create a propulsive mechanism. But it didn’t work, in fact, now the breeze now started blowing them back from where they had come.
They gradually started sinking again. Down, down. Directly below them were the Boddlegogs. The gang sang as loud as they could, while Maximouse tried to agitate his wing humps to produce more gas, but this time it didn’t seem to be working. Down, down. Now they were at tree top level, their singing was getting more difficult. Gradually it slowed down and became quieter as everyone began to feel very depressed. Down, down. Below her Rosalind saw hundreds of dreadful gas mask looking creatures. Down, down.
Who cares. We never thought we would stop Ursula. We always knew we were mere children playing with big cosmic problems. And what’s wrong with Ursula anyway. She may have a good idea in releasing the nemotoxigen bomb. Perhaps we should help her. Down, down, down.
And then out of the sky, from the setting sun, came a white figure, flying directly towards them. It was a swan, a massive swan, and on immediate collision course.
But the swan pulled up its wings just in time and took the rope around Maximouse’s shoulder’s in his mouth. Instantly the swan flipped its wings and flew off with the five hanging below. The speed of lateral flight suddenly increased dramatically, shaking the dangling Marie and Tchi about. But the swan took them higher, and within a minute, as they left the Boddlegogs behind, their minds were emptied of negative thoughts.
“You’re getting a bit heavy now,” said the swan.
“Put us down,” Said serendipity. “Can you put us down in the wood by the Marcoomian Pyramid?”
“Of course I can, Serendipity.”
“How do you know my name?”
“Aha! Now thereby hangs a tale.”
*** *** *** ***
The swan gracefully descended into a small clearing in the wood opposite the Marcoomian Pyramid.
“Thank you very much,” said Serendipity.
“We would be dead without you, muscleised by the Boddlegogs,” said Maximouse.
“And I would be dead without you,” said the swan. “You don’t recognise me, do you?”
“That voice sounds familiar,” said Marie. And then she opened her eyes wide with disbelief.
“That’s right, I’m DagDag. I’ve been reborn on this island. I went into the water and suddenly I just saw light and a great heaviness, the heaviness of worlds was lifted from me. And the next thing I knew I was a swan.
“I flew around trying to find you but didn’t know which way to go and then by luck I came across Kamachal and he told me what had happened. I came after you but had to fly low to see where I was going because of all this terrible smog. Also I had to take care to avoid the flying Buzzors.”
“DagDag, I’m so pleased,” said Marie giving the swan a hug around his neck.
“We told you, Marie, that things would be okay,” said Serendipity. “Anyway, this is not over.” She continued. “We need to get to the Marcoomian Pyramid to stop them getting Buzzors over to get the other pocket watch.”
“Follow me,” said Tchi, “it’s only a 100 yards away through those trees, how on earth are we going to get in…”
“The Boddlegogs are bound to be on our trail – they must have seen where we landed,” said Maximouse.
“And the Buzzors will be guarding everywhere,” said Serendipity. “We must be careful.”
They hurried to a vantage point allowing a view across the road to investigate. Now they needed to come up with a strategy.
Suddenly a figure stepped out from behind a tree.
“It is in my interests,” said the white coated figure, “that you are successful in sabotaging this mission.”
Rosalind recognised him as the scientific heckler inside the Marcoomian Pyramid who had been criticizing Eggplant.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Dr. Schurncoat.
No one spoke.
“We have a mutual interest,” he said. “You do not want the mission to succeed and neither do I. If you sabotage it I will be very pleased.”
“So will we,” sighed Rosalind.
“Eggplant will be finished and I will have his job. I do not care what happens to you after you have destroyed the computers, I just want to make sure you are successful.”
“You can get us into the Marcoomian Pyramid?” asked Tchi excitedly.
“They are not there. They are in PC7 Comms, where the control desk and computer banks are. There is no way you could get in there but, as it happens, I have a key to get you in the side door.” He held up a chubb key.
“Will we meet a lot of resistance?” asked Marie.
“Because many Buzzors have been despatched to stop a Broudhous revolt that has broken out some miles East, it would seem unlikely. The Quark has also gone missing so we are somewhat overstretched at the moment. However there will be resistance and I have something which may help you in that regard.” From over his shoulder he pulled forth a large rumpled sack and opened it. He showed them doughnut shaped objects. “These are jam and dog food bombs. I’ll hand these out in a minute. You may never have heard of them, but they send the Buzzors into complete chaos. It takes them ages to wake up again.”
“Oh we’ve heard of them,” said Rosalind.
“Allow me to lead the way,” said Dr. Shurncoat.
He led through the forest for five minutes of walking to a technical looking building, not unlike a mobile classroom. Once inside he started walking down a staircase for several floors until they came to a cellar. He inserted a key into a solid door. “This is a defence tunnel which leads all the way to the PC7 Comms,” he said.
“These are underground bunkers for the operatives in case of aerial attack,” he said. On each side of the tunnel were bunk beds, sinks and telephones.
“Before we approach the door at the end of the corridor to go back up the stairs that will lead you to the HQ you will need to take some water bombs with you -“
“They destroy the electronic circuits, don’t they,” interrupted Tchi.
“That’s correct. But I have prepared some acid solution bombs which will do the job even better. Put these water bombs in your pockets,” he said handing them out, “and now hold your jam and dog food bombs in your hands. One for you, and you. Everybody take what they need. Alright. And now we shall walk down quietly and I will open the critical access door.”
The lock turned slowly and noiselessly. The door opened.
“Now go up two floors as quiet as mice. The swing door you will find will take you straight to your enemy and your mission. Do not fail me.”
Maximouse led creeping quietly up the stairs, Tchi next, the girls and the Sprite following.
“Are you ready to teleport the Buzzors over yet!” screamed Ursula inside the control room.
“We’re still having a problem linking to a live TV set,” said Eggplant.
“Trouble! Trouble!” she screamed. “You’ve made us all look completely stupid today. You better sort this out or I’ll have you boiled in oil on a public holiday.”
“Yes, I think I’ve linked a TV in that area now,” said Eggplant, in as a calm a fashion as he could muster. “It’s a bit of a weak signal but I think I can amplify it to make it useable.”
“Are you ready, Buzzors?” asked Eggplant turning his head towards the two Buzzors standing beside him, a TV set flickering between them. Wa!”
The swing door had suddenly burst open and mayhem had taken place. The Buzzors didn’t stand much of a chance due to the surprise and unexpectedness of the attack. Jam and dog food bombs went everywhere and very successfully rendered the two Buzzors completely ineffective. As Eggplant was fighting with a sword Ursula grabbed the mic and began shouting for reinforcements from the Boddlegogs, but Rosalind knocked the microphone out of her hand.
Eggplant ran out of the door chased by DagDag pecking at his neck. The Buzzors had sunk to the floor, soporific insects rendered ineffective by their obsession for jam and dog food. Rosalind, serendipity and Maria dragged the fighting and screaming Ursula down off her chair and she fell heavily to the floor. Rosalind saw the switch on her pelvis toggle back on to air. Princess Ursula screamed: “I can’t breathe air any more. I must breathe nemotoxigen. Help me. Help me.” She said and fumbled trying to reach down to toggle the switch back so that she could breathe her heavenly gas.
“Hold her tight,” said Marie.
“I must breathe nemotoxigen. It’s what I live on, that beautiful foul air.”
“Call everyone on your intercom and tell them to head West and to leave the town. .”
“Too late I’ve already called the Boddlegogs. They’ll be coming from the forest. You’ll all be dead in a few minutes.”
“Call your forces, call them off!”
“If you let me put the switch back.”
They let go of her arms and immediately her arms rushed down to switch back the toggle switch. Click. Before they could stop her. She grabbed the microphone and shouted, “All forces to PC7 Comms. Attack! Attack!”
She had been wrestled back down to the ground again and the mic had been taken out her hand.
“I’ll do it!” said Marie impatiently, and clicked the toggle switch into the air breathing position. Ursula screamed. “No! Nor air. I hate air. I love pollution, I love nemotoxigen.”
“You will be forced to breathe air all the while unless you tell your forces to stay away.”
“I think we should trash the computers and get out of here before its too late,” said Tchi looking at the Buzzors who’s whiskers were beginning to twitch nervously
“We can’t. Not until we have got her to send her troops off.”
The Buzzors were now beginning to stir from their binge stupor.
Holding her down they put the microphone to her mouth.
“I’ll snap off your toggle switch,” rasped Marie aggressively into Ursula’s ear, “so that it can’t be toggled back. It will remain permanently in the air breathing position – and you won’t be able to breathe nemotoxigen at all.”
Ursula didn’t take any time to think about this and responded immediately by bringing the microphone to her mouth: “All orders cancelled,” she shouted into it. “Fly East to sort out the trouble with the Broudhous.”
Much to everyone’s surprise – including her own – , Rosalind then suddenly grabbed Ursula’s toggle switch and, forcing it with all her might, quickly snapped it off. Ursula the Unstoppable writhed about on the floor screaming.
It took four of them to hold her down, while Maximouse and Tchi poured the acid solution all over the computers and control desks.
Suddenly DagDag returned by the front entrance. “I lost him in the car park. I think he’s hiding out there,” he said.
“Are there any troops out that way,” asked Tchi.
“Didn’t see any when I came in.”
“Quick, let’s go out that way. I don’t trust that Schurncoat, if we go the other way, he’s likely to have locked us in.
“We need to get back to Kamachal,” said Maximouse, “If we can get back there we can use Grudger’s computer. Let’s march, we just have to back track the way we’ve come.”
“That will take about two days,” said Marie, “and we have got to get through the ring of thorns. How are we going to do that?”
“Why don’t we steal a boom-jet from the air field.
“I think that might be Eggplant’s idea,” said DagDag
*** *** *** ***
Not long after the rebels had gone out of the front door of the building, Dr. Schurncoat came in through the swing door. He appeared distressed to find Ursula rolling about on the floor.
“I need nemotoxigen,” she screamed, “my toggle switch is in the wrong position and as it’s broken I can’t switch it back.”
“I’ll get you a gas cylinder, Your Most Divine, just give me a moment.”
Promptly he returned with one. He sat her up and inserted the gas nozzle under Ursula’s nose. He released the gas and she calmed down. “You’ll have to breathe these until you get your surgeons to repair the damage,” he said, with the gentlest of bedside manners.
“Kill these insurgents!” she shouted, stumbling to her feet. She grabbed the microphone and began a series of commands, but then the horrible realisation spread across her face that nothing worked.
“First, Your Most Divine, I think we should get the Buzzors to Earth to get the original supply of triclinnium sulphite. They’ve destroyed the control desk and the computers. It would normally take a day to get it all replaced, but I have several computers in my car. It will only take me several hours to set them up and the preactive stage of the bomb is still running for another fifteen hours.”
“Look. The Buzzors, are waking.” The Buzzors opened their terrifying eyes, their heads began nodding, their tongues panting, and they stood to attention. “The Buzzors are ready to go,” said Dr. Shurncoat.
“Excellent! Thank the Putrefaction that you have come to save the day. I would have Eggplant destroyed immediately if I knew where he was and I could communicate with my troops. I always knew you were the best scientist.”
“Thank you, Your Most Divine,” he said taking in a big gulp of nemotoxigen that was rapidly invading the room. “We should have this done in a short time. Off to work!”
*** *** *** ***
When the gang had burst out of the PC Comms front entrance, they had been wary of facing a wall of opposition but neither Buzzors nor Boddlegogs were to be seen. A few visitors to the Marcoomian Pyramid spectacle were still milling about the site, some were waiting to board air and land vehicles, but most had gone.
“I don’t like this,” said Serendipity. “It all seems to quiet somehow.”
“How on earth are we going to steal an aircraft? if we ever get one we wouldn’t be able to fly it.”
“What about you, DagDag, could you fly us to Kamachals?”
“I could carry all of you for a short distance, or I could carry one or two of you for a long distance. If I did the latter and came back to get the others, by doing repeat journeys, it would take an awfully long time,” he said sighing. “I do have an idea though. I’m off and good luck. If we lose each other I’ll see you at Kamachal’s.” And so saying fluttered his wings and flew away.
They crept along the slabs laid around the PC7 Comms building, keeping low, protected from the gaze of any evil force by keeping behind the strange small shrubs sporting black dripping leaves. At the back of the building the could see across the large flat sea of concrete that constituted the airfield and vehicle park.
Only a few aircraft remained. On the edge of the airfield was a large boom-jet, a machine that reminded Rosalind of Star Wars. It was a brilliant green, oval in shape.
Suddenly the doors opened and a young girl was ejected. She landed with a bump on the concrete. Eggplant appeared in the doorway. “Go and say hello to your mum,” he shouted and began to turn away.
She stood up and screamed for him to stop but the doors closed before she could get back into the ship again. The machine began to hum and the girl ran in the direction of the PC7 Comms building.
But then came a strange sensation which affected everyone. A sensation of dread, and a stomp, a familiar stomp.
“They’re on the mulch,” said Maximouse, “get down..”
Now they could see them.
The Boddlegogs were walking over the concrete of the airfield towards the boom-jet. It began to taxi, towards them, but after a few yards it stopped dead and the hum of its motors stopped.
Rosalind felt like she was going to be sick, like she wanted to die, like all was over. She would never see any of her family again, and she didn’t care, she didn’t care about anything.
Marie groaned, which caused Rosalind to look up at what was happening. Eggplant had opened the boomjet door and was walking down the ramp towards the Boddlegogs.
“He’s mad,” shouted Tchi.
“He has no choice, they’ve locked onto him and he’s now completely in their control.”
Eggplant was surrounded by the Boddlegogs, and then seconds later, all the Boddlegogs almost floated into him, as if they were all ghosts returning to a body at the same time. There was a dreadful uncanny scream and the body of Eggplant that everyone recognised suddenly became something else. He was now like jelly, an amorphous mass crumpled up on top of his shoes, with blood pouring out of his nose, ears and mouth.”
“They eat the muscles and leave everything else,” said Serendipity.”
“Do you think we should move?” asked Tchi lazily.
“I can’t be bothered,” said Rosalind.
“Keep saying to yourselves in your mind: ‘we will escape and prevail and keep heart’, over and over again,” insisted Serendipity.
Rosalind tried it. “We will escape and prevail and keep heart.” It made her feel a bit more lively. They began to crawl back, but not the way they had come, but back round the other side of the Comms building.
“Keep your head down, it’s a window.”
When they had cleared it, Tchi said, “I saw Shurncoat and Ursula and two Buzzors. I think they are replacing the computer systems.”
“We need to attack again?” moaned Marie.
“We’d never do it without bombs,” said Serendipity. “I think Shurncoat would be against us this time. I suggest we get as far away from the Boddlegogs as we can for the time being and work out what we can do.”
“We’re never going to stop them getting the other pocket watch,” said Rosalind.
“Let’s make it over the road to the forest again,” said Serendipity.
*** *** *** ***
Resting briefly in the forest they felt uneasy. They had foiled the bomb explosion plan for a short time but they had certainly not stopped it, and they had no way they could do so. Also Ursula was now hell bent on their destruction, and the Boddlegogs were no doubt trying to find them right now.
“We can’t just wait here until we come up with a plan, it’s too dangerous,” said Marie. “Let’s try and march back to Kamachals.”
“But that will take forever, and how will we get out of the Ring of Thorns,” asked the exhausted Rosalind who was struggling to keep her eyes open.
“It’s the only plan we have and it’s the safest,” said Tchi.
“But it’s not stopping the bomb which is what we came for,” said Serendipity.
“But if we got back to Earth before they did we could hide the pocket watch,” said Rosalind.
“Little chance we’d do it in time.”
“Yes,” she responded despondently.
“Let’s create some space between here and the Boddlegogs, and head back. At least we’ll be able to sleep better.”
Having decided this was all they could do, they began walking, making sure they kept hidden within the forest. After putting several miles between them and the Chemgantrial they settled down for a well deserved sleep in a small clearing. But they soon woke unrefreshed, flapping and slapping was going on all around them.
Alarmed they jumped to their feet, only to have their anxiety sent sky high by finding themselves surrounded by strange creatures that looked like flying dinosaurs.
“Scavenger birds!” said Serendipity backing away under the trees. “Take cover!”
“Stop! Stop! Stop!” cried a familiar voice. It was a swan, it was DagDag.
“I wish you had waited where you were – I’ve wasted hours trying to find you. I’ve bought my friend over to help carry you all to Kamachal’s. Jump on and hang on and don’t delay. Time is of the essence. After some gulping and eye rubbing, Rosalind and her friends did as they were instructed and with no harnesses or security hung on tightly to the birds thick necks.
Up and away into the night. It was a dark and starless sky. A full moon was out and look wasted and diffused.
*** *** *** ***
Once back at Kamachal’s they wasted no time at all. Grudger was hauled out of bed and his computer was put on, as was the TV. His copy of the CD was placed in the computer tray, and then Maximouse took over.
“I need to locate a TV set that’s on, that’s near your house,” he said looking at Rosalind. “According to the info here it’s 6.35pm in your town at the moment, so we should get quite a few sets on. A minute later he shouted with pleasure. “Yes, we have a connection at a TV shop which is close to your house. All three of you, stand near the TV.”
“What about you and Serendipity, what will you do?”
DagDag replied, “We’ll be safe up North. That is, if you stop them getting the pocket watch. My friends, the scavenger birds will help me take these two back up North as soon as you have gone. We wish you the best of luck. The whole future of the Island and the universe is in your hands. I just hope you’re not too late.”
“Gee thanks!” said Rosalind, “that’s not much of a responsibility is it?”
“No more talking, here we go,” said Maximouse.
Suddenly everything was pulsating, light was operating in stripes. Parts of the room around her began to be completely missing. She started to feel sick, like she was being turned around in a mental spin dryer. Down a tunnel, down a corridor, at incredible speed, as if she was flying, with thousands and thousands of doors on either side. It went on and on, being jettisoned out of a white spot in the distance, infinity, but not going away from it, despite being spewed out from it.
Flashes, flickering lights, sunlight, red brick, and then she found herself standing next to the familiar TV shop in the High Street. Tchi appeared like a ghost gradually forming into reality, like being transported on Star Trek, but completely different. Then Marie.
They all looked startled at each other.
“We’ve got a job to do,” said Marie.
But as they stepped to cross over the road they noticed three girls on the other side were coming towards them. It was Marissa, Sade and Della. “After what I’ve been through,” said Rosalind angrily, “I’ll punch their lights out.”
“No time. Let’s get out of the way, we have more important things to do,” said Tchi.
So the children began running down the High Street.
“Get them!” shouted Marissa, and the pursuers began, but not for long. As they ran along the street pursuing their victims, two creatures suddenly formed in front of them. The two Buzzors solidified directly in front of the pursuers and Marissa, Sadie and Della stopped dead in their tracks. Two gigantic wasps topped with dog’s heads now stood a footfall away from them. The girls screamed and fled in the direction from which they had come. They almost collided with Constable Bill who was cycling along on his bike. He swerved to avoid the girls, saw the Buzzors, and went crashing through a hedge.
The Buzzors did not remain stationary for long, and were neither interested in the delinquent girls or the policeman, but sped after Marie, Tchi and Rosalind. They took to the air with ferocious buzzing and flew directly to Rosalind’s mother’s house, only a few hundred yards away.
As they got there, they saw Marie running in the front door, but she wasn’t able to close the door before they got to it. The two Buzzors forced their way through into the hallway to the screams of the retreating children. They pushed Tchi aside on and went into the lounge, where they found Marie cowering near a window and Rosalind holding the pocket watch containing the triclinnium sulphite.
One of the Buzzors walked over and with one of its tentacles grabbed the watch.
Rosalind, Tchi and Marie thought they would be killed but it seemed that the Buzzors had no time for such sport and fled the house. The children ran to the front room window and watched the Buzzors flying into the air, and watched them gradually dematerialising, both things happening virtually at the same time.
“We’re done for,” said Rosalind.
“Palingenesis Island is doomed,” said Marie, bursting into tears. “Whatever will Maximouse, DagDag and Serendipity think of us? We’ve let them down.”
Tchi had sat on the sofa and was staring at the wall in total despondency. “After all that!” he was thinking. “After all our combined efforts!” He was furious with himself.
The phone went. Ros picked it up, tears now coming down her face.
“Hello there, I’m from the local UFO society organisation and there has been some reports that you and some of your friends were seen with some strange creatures, aliens, in the High Street about ten minutes ago. Could we come round and get an interview?”
“No. Get lost,” said Rosalind and put the phone down.
When Rosalind’s mum came home she found them sitting slumped on the settee in the front room.
“I’ve bought Granddad home,” she said, smiling. “He seems fine now.”
“You lot don’t seem very happy. You all look most depressed.
Once Rosalind would have been in complete panic at having lost Granddad’s pocket watch, but now that didn’t seem very important. She couldn’t stop thinking about Maximouse, Serendipity and all the great creatures she had met, and how she had let the watch be taken out of her hand.
“I think you’d better come in here dad,” said Mum. “They need cheering up.”
He smiled and sat next to Tchi on the settee. “Good as new, now, he said.
Rosalind thought she had better get it over with. “I’m sorry Granddad but I’ve lost your watch.”
“Oh, that’s what you’re all so miserable about.”
“I’m really sorry.”
“That doesn’t sound like you, Rosalind, you’re usually so careful.”
“Huh,” she said, almost rudely.
“Anyway, it doesn’t matter. It was only a copy. I copied it because I wanted to keep the original one that you gave me, so I had that one copied for a doctor friend at the hospital. The watch was in a jeweller’s anyway being repaired.”
“You’re joking!” said Marie. All the children were sitting up, listening avidly.
“Yes, that’s right. The original watch you gave me for my birthday I’ve got it here now.” He put his hand in his pocket and retrieved a pocket watch that looked identical to all the other ones. “I just collected it. It works fine now, look it’s seven o’clock. This is the original one, so no harm done. I’ve just got to get another one copied to give to my doctor friend.”
The children simultaneously screamed with joy and leapt out of their seats to dance around the settee. “Granddad, you’re a hero!” shouted Rosalind, and soon Marie and Tchi were shouting the same thing over and over again.
“What on Earth have you done, dad? They certainly look at lot more cheerful now that you have been talking to them,” said mum coming in with a mug of coffee for the recovering patient.
Granddad – you must keep that watch safe!” said Rosalind earnestly.
“Well I’ve kept it safe so far, haven’t I?” he laughed. And the children burst out laughing again.