By Marcus L. Rowland
Wallace and Gromit drove into the central courtyard of the school and immediately set to work, Wallace setting up the ladders while Gromit ran a hose from the water cannon mounted on the sidecar to a tap near the kitchen entrance. "It's a big job, lad," said Wallace, looking around the red-brick building with anticipation, "but we're the ones to do it."
"Good morning," said Robin, coming into the yard. "Mister Wallace? I'm Robin Wood, the principal of the school. Would you like anything before you start? Tea, or maybe coffee?"
"We wouldn't say no to tea once we're done," said Wallace, "but the sooner we start, the sooner you'll be able to judge the quality of our service."
"Okay," said Robin. "We've tried to clear everything for you, and Xander or I should be around to lend a hand if you need to move anything."
"Is that the lad with the eye patch?" asked Wallace.
"Good. I was hoping to have a word."
"A confidential word," said Wallace, propping his ladder against the wall.
"Oh. Okay, he's around somewhere."
"So long as I see him before I go," said Wallace. "It may be to his advantage."
. . . . .
"It looks quiet enough," whispered Vi. "But I get kinda nervous breaking into places in broad daylight."
"Nonsense," Giles said quietly, busying himself with lockpicks. "Broad daylight is the best time for it. If you sneak around at night someone's sure to call the police." There was a click and the door swung open, and the picks vanished into Giles' pocket. "Mister Wallace," Giles called loudly, "are you in?"
"What if he is? Or someone else?" hissed Vi.
"Then I say the door's been left open," said Giles, "and ask if he can recommend a glazier to fix the broken window at the school."
"What broken window?"
"The one I cracked this morning to give myself an alibi, of course," said Giles, then more loudly "Looks like there's nobody in. We'd better go in and leave a note."
They walked into the hall and looked around, and Giles pulled on thin leather gloves. "Doesn't look very sinister so far," said Vi.
"Not really," said Giles, peering at a potted plant, "unless you count the bite marks on this cheese plant."
"Not exactly demonic," Vi said dismissively.
"It's been nibbled by something with big pointy teeth," said Giles. "Could be a rabbit, I suppose, but it'd have to be one hell of a large one to get that high." He called "Mister Wallace?" again, then said "Let's try through here," and led her into a comfortable but rather old-fashioned looking dining room. The table was piled high with books, one of them open at a labelled diagram of the human brain. At one end of the table was a control console with several buttons, at the other a complicated-looking device resembling a small up-ended cement mixer with lots of extra flanges and gears, with cables and hoses disappearing into a hole in the floor.
"I'll check the books," said Giles. "See if you can work out what that machine does."
"Okay," Vi said uncertainly, inspecting the control panel. There were several unlabelled buttons. On a hunch she pressed the top one with the tip of her fingernail, taking care not to leave fingerprints on the button. There was a whirring noise, and the upper part of the machine began to rotate rapidly. "Ummm... Giles."
"Mmm...." said Giles, leafing through Wallace's copy of 'Cyborgs For Beginners,' by Dr. Margaret Walsh, and noting an illustration that bore a striking resemblance to the Initiative's Adam.
"It's doing something, Giles."
"Well stop it," said Giles, with most of his attention still on the book, "we don't want to leave traces."
"Okay." Vi pressed the button again. There was a loud rumbling noise and the rotating upper cylinder of the machine began to tip down towards Vi. She hastily ducked to one side, knocking over a chair, but nothing else happened. "Giles?"
"Hmmm?" He looked up, saw at the cylinder was pointed down the length of the table, and said "back away from the table very slowly, get out of the line of fire, I think it might be some sort of weapon." He followed his own advice, and Vi hastily retreated. There was a "sproing!" noise from the machine, a cogwheel fell off, and it slowly whirred to a halt.
"I think you broke it," said Giles. There was a sudden "Ftoooop!" and a huge blob of grey goop fired out of the barrel, along the length of the table, and into the wall with a loud "Splatt!". It stuck, then slowly oozed down the wall towards the floor.
"What the hell is that?" asked Vi.
"Some sort of demonic slime, I'd imagine. Whatever you do, don't let any of it touch you." There was a second eruption, and another blob of goop followed the first, followed by several more in rapid succession. The mound on the floor seemed to pulsate and grow as more of the goop ran down the wall and into it.
"I don't like the look of that," said Giles, backing towards the door.
. . . . .
"What do you make of that thing?" said Xander, gesturing across the yard.
"It's obviously some sort of supercharged pogo stick," said Robin, watching Wallace bounce up and down on a machine that looked like a pneumatic drill on steroids, with a huge sponge on a long spring attached to his oversized crash helmet, spreading lather across several windows with every bounce. Gromit was firing the lather from the bike's water cannon.
"What I can't figure out is how he's gonna clean off the detergent."
Wallace reached the end of the wall and flicked a switch on his helmet. The sponge somehow retracted, and a rotating polishing mop took its place. He started bouncing back the way he'd came, removing the suds as efficiently as he'd left them.
"You know," said Xander. "Some people would pay good money to see something like that."
At that second the end of Wallace's mop caught on a protruding overflow spout and tangled around it. The pogo stick went down, and Wallace dangled helplessly as the mop whipped around the spout. Suddenly Wallace was spinning around the mop. There was a loud "crack" as the helmet strap broke and he was flung across the courtyard. Fortunately a holly bush broke his fall. The pogo stick bounced and juddered to a halt. The helmet continued to spin around the spout.
"Are you okay?" shouted Xander, running across the yard towards him.
Wallace sat up groggily and said "Still a few minor teething problems, but nothing to worry about."
"I think you'd better rest for a minute," said Robin, "that looked like a nasty fall."
"I'll be fine," said Wallace. "Don't want to let a little thing like that delay us." He staggered back to the nearest ladder, moved it to the wall to one side of the spout, and climbed up towards the spinning helmet.
"I'm not sure that's a good idea..." began Xander, but it was too late. Wallace grabbed for the helmet, and began to spin around, his body flailing like the blade of a propellor. Gromit covered his eyes as the mop shaft broke and Wallace was flung up and across the courtyard again. This time he landed head-first in a large cistern, originally intended for use if the school was on fire, and still full of rain-water. The splash drenched Robin. Wallace emerged from the water, triumpantly raising the helmet, and said "oh dear" as he noticed Robin's dripping form. A toad sitting on his head went "grkkk!" and jumped back into the cistern.
"Good thing we've got showers," said Xander. "I think you're both gonna need them. And maybe something hot to drink?"
"Well," said Wallace. "It's not very professional to stop before I've finished, but I wouldn't say no to a nice cup of tea."
"Coffee for me," said Robin, squelching off. "The showers are this way."
"Right-ho!" said Wallace. "Gromit, see if you can clear up a bit, I won't be long." The long-suffering dog shrugged his shoulders and began to mop up the mess. Xander watched him for a second, shrugged, and went inside to put on the kettle.
. . . . .
"It doesn't seem to be doing much," said Vi, peering cautiously into the dining room from the hall. The amorphous grey blob made a "gloop" noise but didn't move.
"Probably trying to lull us into a false sense of security," said Giles. "Did you notice the trap door in the ceiling above that chair? My guess would be that somehow he lures people into the room above and drops them through the trap, ready to be bombarded with ooze."
"I guess," said Vi, "but why have the control panel there? Wouldn't you want it well out of the target area?"
"Demonic reasoning doesn't always make perfect sense."
"I'll take a look upstairs," said Vi. "You keep an eye on the blob, and listen out for anyone coming in."
"Be careful," said Giles. "There could be traps."
"I know." Vi went upstairs, and called down "Looks like there's a bedroom above. I'll see if I can find the trap door." Before Giles could comment there was a loud "Twangg!" and a series of clanking mechanical noises.
"Vi?" said Giles. "Are you all right."
Behind him the front door opened and Vi came in, looking dazed. Somehow she'd acquired a baggy jumper, oversized rubber boots, and a crash helmet. "I think so."
"Good lord, what on earth happened to you?"
"It's kinda blurry, but I think I found the trap door..."
. . . . .
"Nice tea," said Wallace, sipping from his mug in the kitchen.
"I guess," said Xander, "I'm more of a coffee kinda guy, but I've learned how to make the stuff."
Gromit came in from the courtyard, sat on one of the chairs, and poured himself a cup. Xander and Robin exchanged glances, but neither said anything.
"Finished clearing up the mess, lad?" asked Wallace. Gromit nodded. Wallace patted him, and gave him a slightly soggy dog biscuit. Gromit looked at it, sniffed, and tossed it into the pedal bin near the sink. Xander offered him a plate of Jaffa cakes instead, and Gromit helped himself to a couple.
"Clever dog," said Xander.
"I suppose," said Wallace.
"You were saying," said Robin, "that you wanted to talk to Xander about something."
"Talk to... oh yes." said Wallace. "It's a little confidential..."
"That's okay," said Xander. "I don't mind Robin knowing my business."
"Well... if you're quite sure," said Wallace. "Confidentially.... I've been working on an invention."
"Like the helmet?"
"Oh no... this one's quite different. A new era in biotechnology."
"And you're looking for investors?" asked Robin.
"Eventually, I suppose," said Wallace, "but first I need a volunteer to try it."
"And you wanted to ask me?" said Xander, raising his eyebrows.
"Well yes," said Wallace. "You're the obvious choice. In fact you gave me the idea."
"For the eye, lad."
"Eye?" said Robin.
"Didn't I say? There's still the size problem to tackle, but I'm ready to make a few preliminary tests."
"What about my eye?" asked Xander, confused.
"That's what I've been saying. It's bionic."
"You've built an artificial eye?" said Xander.
"Direct inductive coupling to the visual cortex of the brain, no electrodes needed. Solar powered with battery backup. Zoom lens, infra-red vision. I've got the technology, and I'm nearly ready to apply for patents..."
. . . . .
"So that's what he said," Xander said a couple of hours later. "He wants me to go round there tonight and try it."
"I think you need to be very cautious," said Giles. "That house is riddled with strange machinery and booby-traps, and one of the reference books he was using was written by Maggie Walsh."
"He wants to turn me into Adam?"
"He seemed reasonably sincere," said Robin, "and I didn't really see any evidence that he wasn't human, even in the shower. Just rather... um... lumpy-looking."
"Well, he's met you so he shouldn't complain if you come along with me as backup."
"And your girlfriend could come too," said Vi. "He couldn't object to that."
"Dawn's still in... oh, I see what you mean. Kinda young for me, aren't you?"
"I'm older than Dawn..." said Vi. Xander looked uncomfortable, then nodded.
"Better not," said Giles, "we still need to investigate the vampire chickens."
"We could do that later," said Vi. "I'm not letting the guys go in there without some real muscle to back them up."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," said Robin.
"That slime creature could still be there," said Vi, "just waiting to pounce."
"And exactly how were you planning to deal with it if it does?" asked Giles.
"That's something we need to work out between now and this evening..."
. . . . .
"I'm bored," said Harmony. "Isn't there any night life in this town?"
"It's only three PM," said her minion.
"Not now, you moron. Tonight, after dark."
The minion thumbed through the local paper and said "There's a disco in the church hall..."
"Too many crosses."
"A Darby and Joan Club dance..."
"Isn't that, like, really old people? Anything else?"
"karaoke at the King's Head..."
"A pub? Too many mirrors and smokers."
"You don't need to breathe, mistress."
"I guess... and there might be guys there." The minion looked at her reproachfully. "Guys with blood, dumb-ass. A song, some flirtation, out to the back alley for some hot love and it's chow time. I'm not feeling much in the way of fear in this town, maybe it's time to step things up a little."
"What about me, mistress?"
"You can try to score someone for yourself. If not, I guess you'll just have to stick with rats."
"As you wish, mistress."
Harmony briefly considered offering him a share of her prey, if she got lucky, but decided against it. Minions needed to be kept in their place.
. . . . .
"Nothing seems to have been stolen, lad," said Wallace, clearing the last of the porridge from the dining room floor. "Are you sure that someone was here?"
Gromit tapped his nose..
"Oh, you can smell them?" asked Wallace. Gromit nodded.
"And I'm sure I didn't leave those boots and the crash helmet in the hall, or that jumper on your bed. Hmmm.... could be industrial spies, after my inventions."
"Well," said Wallace, "there's no time to do anything about it now. We've a lot of work to do if we're going to be ready for that lad Xander."
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