All usual disclaimers apply, yadda yadda.
By Marcus L. Rowland
"Holy..." said Robin, then tailed off into silence.
"Find something?" whispered Xander, hoping that the librarian wouldn't point to the "Shhhhh!" sign on her counter again.
"Here. Your guy Wallace was charged with a jewel robbery a few years ago. Eventually released when they discovered that a penguin was the real culprit."
"The Penguin? With the exploding umbrellas and the birds?"
"No, a real penguin. Apparently it was renting a room in his house, framed him for the robbery."
"A penguin rented a room in his house. Riiiight."
Robin handed silently Xander the paper.
"Holy..." said Xander, then tailed off into silence.
"The weird thing," said Robin, "is that nobody seems to have thought that there was anything odd about the idea."
"You sure this isn't a Hellmouth?"
"Giles says not, and he ought to know."
Xander was still reading the article, and said "What the hell is this?"
"Right at the end it describes him as a 'local businessman, inventor, and amateur astronaut.'"
"Someone's joke, I guess. Or they meant astronomer."
"Well, lad," said Wallace, "I think we've a right to be proud of ourselves." He finished screwing the casing onto the third prototype. "Just think, lad.... direct inductive coupling to the visual cortex of the brain, no electrodes needed. Solar powered with battery backup. Zoom lens, infra-red vision, and it receives BBC1 and ITV..." Gromit gave him an odd look, and Wallace added, "...which admittedly wasn't really planned. He'll have to be careful about that when he's driving. All we need do now is add the plastic outer coating. Let's get it into the back cellar, we'll spray it on there. Ready, lad?"
Gromit nodded, and began to put a harness of chains around the prototype, attached to an ingenious block and tackle arrangement hanging from a rail in the ceiling. When he was done he pressed a remote control, and a winch lifted the three-foot sphere from the work-bench. Wallace patted it approvingly, listened to the metallic 'boing', and said "When we've got the plastic hardened we can start to think about getting it miniaturised. And registering the patents, of course..."
"Can I help you, love?"
Vi looked at the woman behind the counter of Wendolene's Wools, and wondered if everyone in the town was massively inbred. It seemed that most of the people she saw had the same sort of lumpy look Xander had spotted in Wallace. It was probably just a British trait, like liking warm beer. She got her thoughts together, and said "Um, yeah. I'd like some wool, please, and knitting needles. Those thick wooden ones look about right, and some medium steel ones. Two sets of each, please."
"What colour wool, love?"
"Let's see... I want to make myself a nice warm cap and a scarf. I'm not sure what I'll be wearing them with, so something that doesn't clash with anything."
"Dark's probably best then," said the shopkeeper. "Dark red or maybe blue. Or a mixture of both. Or you could go for white, of course, though it might be difficult to keep it clean."
"Dark sounds better," said Vi, remembering that she might want to hide at night. "I'll have four balls each of the dark red and the dark blue, that ought to be enough. Are they colours you always have in stock if I need more?"
"No problem, love, though I doubt you'll need more. You could make a nice cardigan with that lot."
"I'd rather be on the safe side, I'm not the world's greatest knitter."
"Well, practice makes perfect." She put the balls of wool into a paper bag and added the needles. "Don't see many Canadians in these parts."
"Oh, right. Are you anything to do with the people that bought the old school?"
"That's right," said Vi. "We're reopening it as a martial arts school for girls." She gave Wendolene the half-true cover story they were using. "We've got three schools in the USA, now we're going global."
"Martial arts? Like judo? For girls?"
"It's wonderful fitness training. And it's handy if boys get too fresh."
"I suppose so," Wendolene said dubiously. "You're awfully young to be a teacher, aren't you?"
"I'm going to be one of the students at first, finish my advanced training, then once I've qualified I'll probably be teaching. They've already offered me a job."
"That's nice, love. Let's see, eight balls of wool at one seventy-five a ball, two pairs of thick wooden needles, two pairs of medium steel needles. Comes to eighteen pounds seventeen pence."
Vi reached into her purse and pulled out a handful of unfamiliar notes and coins. "Is this enough? I'm still learning how British money works."
"More than enough, love. Here you go, take those two pound coins back, that leaves eighteen-fifty you've given me, and here's thirty-three pence change."
There was a loud metallic whirr and a machine that looked like a cross between a dog and a vacuum cleaner rolled out from the back room, barking.
"What the..?" said Vi.
"It's only Preston, love," said Wendolene, patting its steel head. "Poor thing gets lonely out t'back." A steel tail wagged sadly.
"But what is it?"
"He's a cyber-dog," she said with the tones of someone stating the obvious. "Daddy built him a few years ago, to keep me company when he was on business trips, but once daddy died poor Preston got a bit out of hand, a little uncontrollable. Then the poor thing had his accident, and it would have been all over for him if Mr. Wallace hadn't fixed him."
"Mr. Wallace?" asked Vi. "Is that the guy with the dog, the window cleaner?"
"That's right, love, d'you know him?"
"Not really, but someone at the school was talking about hiring him to clean the windows. Said he had a very clever dog."
"That's right, love," she repeated. "They're really very good, although I did have to mention that they'd missed a corner of the bedroom window the other day." She sighed deeply.
"Something wrong?" asked Vi.
"Well," said Wendolene, leaning closer, "between you and me," she said in low dramatic tones, "I did rather like mister Wallace, but our friendship was not to be."
"He's very partial to cheese, and it brings me out in a rash. After the problems with Preston were all over I told him that, and it was like he was stricken. He just couldn't understand the thought of someone disliking cheese. Things might have been very different if I could stand the nasty stuff."
"I guess," said Vi. "One of the girls at my old school was lactose intolerant, she just couldn't keep it down and never could understand why we liked cheese and ice cream."
"I doubt mister Wallace eats much else," Wendolene said with another sigh.
"That's a shame," said Vi, mentally catalogueing demons and trying to remember any that had a cheese fixation, "but like you said, I guess some things aren't meant to be."
"I'm afraid so," said Wendolene, sighing again. "Was there anything else?"
"No, that's it," said Vi. "I'll see how it goes with what I've got, and get back to you if I need more wool or something. Thanks, see you around."
"Thank you," Wendolene said politely. After Vi had gone, she turned to Preston and said "What a nice polite girl. I hope that they're all like her at the school." Preston barked. "Oh well, no customers, I'd better get on with my own knitting." She reached under the counter and pulled out the jumper she was making. She wasn't quite sure what had put the idea into her head, or who it would fit - it was going to be someone taller and slimmer than her - but the unicorn pattern was coming along nicely.
"Here's an odd story, lad," said Wallace, reading the evening paper. "You remember the old chicken sanctuary on that little island down-river from the town?" Gromit nodded. "Well, apparently all the chickens have gone." Gromit shrugged. "Scientists think that for some reason they're migrating. I wonder how they got across the river. Can't have flown, lad..."
A few miles away a fleet of crude chicken-sized rafts bobbed, abandoned, under the cover of a willow tree. Faint tracks led across country into the woods, where a vast flock of chickens, bearing their eggs and chicks on improvised travoises, were labouring to put as much distance as possible between themselves and their former home. Night fell, and eventually, on the island, the moon rose on a row of chicken-sized graves. Faintly, in the distance, something howled, and an owl screeched in reply. There was a faint whisper, an odd muffled scrabbling sound. Then, with a shower of earth and pebbles, a razor-sharp beak stabbed up into the air...
I'm evil, aren't I...
won't post to archives until I have the next part written, in the meantime all comments gratefully received.