Wobbly Table Discussions

 

Robert sighed as he looked at all the bits of incredibly useless information they had collected, and rubbed his temples.

“Alright,” he said, wearily pointing to the whiteboard next to him, “let’s try going through this again.”

The Police Fire News Department sat around a conference table in the middle of their office, looking at the information Robert had written out. The table had been made by pushing together the desks in the office. So as not to suffer the indignity of bumped knees, they had purposely arranged things so the legs that were mostly burned off were in the middle.

“Aleya and Haizea found a giant clock, which probably fell through the Earth – sorry, the Mars,” said Robert, circling the words ‘whiskey clock’ on the board. “It looked like the Amulet, right?”

Aleya nodded, her feet up on the table.[1]

“I figure we can reasonably assume they’ve got something to do with the gods,” he continued. “The Amulet can travel through time, and Venus kind of stopped time.”

“Did he, though?” asked Space Dan. “I mean, everybody else stopped moving, but maybe he just paused them. Time itself probably went on just fine.”

“If you stopped time, would the light go all weird?” asked Martin. “Because if you kept moving but all the photons didn’t, would they bunch up against one another? If I stopped time, and then ran away, would everybody turn red when I looked back? Or would I not see anything, because the photons didn’t move into my eyes?”

“Well, who knows,” said Robert. “Additionally, it looks like-”

“Unless I ran really fast,” continued Martin, scratching his head, “but then I’d be running so fast the atoms would squish up in front of me too, and I’d accidentally make fusion! Which would be hot. Except I’d be able to run away from the hotness before it made me catch on fire!”

“Well, I don’t know if he stopped time, but he made everybody freeze, so it’s anybody’s guess,” snapped Robert.

“Except the people who were time-frozen,” interjected Space Dan.

“Like microwaveable pizzas,” added Martin sagely.

He and Space Dan nodded self-congratulatorially to each other.

“Well done, bug buddies,” said Robert defeatedly. “Haizea, did Mars mention making any giant box-shaped things while you were dating?”

“…no,” frowned Haizea grumpily.

An awkward pause followed.

“What?” asked Robert.

“Why have all of you decided that Mars and I have a history?” she asked the room in annoyance.

“But…you did, right?” said Space Dan.

“Yes, but you shouldn’t just presume!” said Haizea.

“That was a secret?” asked Hibiya, glancing up from picking his nose. “You were halfway to fighting all the time!”

“Wait,” said Aleya. “If fighting is love for you oni, and you wanted to fight us before-”

“Oh, no, that was just platonic fighting,” said Hibiya.

“Wasn’t he a crewmember on Tannoy Clong’s ship?” asked Martin.

“No, that was Platonic Dickens,” said Space Dan.

Aleya snorted.

“Anyway, Haizea, don’t worry about it!” Space Dan continued. “Mars probably did it a while back and just forgot to tell you. Gods are really forgetful sometimes, because they’re really different from us normal people. That’s probably why the two of you didn’t work out, because-ARGH GO AWAY”

He flailed his gold-striped arms in terror at Agamemnon, who had chosen that moment to get all up in Space Dan’s face.

Robert, thankful for the fly’s interruption, loudly cleared his throat, pointed to the words ‘Saucy Ogtol’ and continued.

“Space Dan and Hibiya, you ran into the Faeries at the club, and then became closely acquainted with Gotanda, leader of the Zoot-Suit Troopers.”

“I wouldn’t say closely, we just- oh!” said Space Dan, comprehension dawning across his face. “We joined the gang! Yes, that makes sense. I wondered what the whole blood oath thing was, but now I know!”

“Blood oath?” asked Aleya.

“We had to swear an oath to donate blood every month,” said Space Dan. “It’s very important for saving lives!”

“But Space Dan, you have Uranian blood, not oni blood,” said VAL, over the crackly walky-talky on the table. “Plus, I’m not sure you’d pass the weight requirements.”

“I’m working on that!” said Space Dan. “See?”

He took hold of his chest expander with both hands, and vigorously pulled it out and in so VAL could hear.

“After we joined up, and they showed us the Fire Swordber, we went to the Writer’s house,” said Hibiya.

Safety Ninja began to write something, but was interrupted by an aggrieved shout.

“Would somebody bring me a gateau, for the love of calligraphy?! I’m hungry!”

Everyone shook their heads in annoyance as they all turned around to look at the hole in the floor, through which a fireman’s pole joined the ceiling. The rooms below it had been converted into a set of holding cells, where the Writer was being kept for his own safety.[3]

“You’ve already eaten five quiches!” called down Robert.

“But we bought four,” said VAL, through her walky-talky, “and one for Martin.”

“Um…” said Martin.

“Martin, why didn’t you eat your quiche?!”

“You’re always saying to think of the starving children!” said Martin. “Well, there was a starving writer right here, and I gave him my quiche! So there, VAL!”

Space Dan, both impressed and terrified by Martin’s cavalier rebuke of VAL, pulled his chest expander even harder in the hope that the noise would make her proud enough of him to forget.

“Space Dan, Hibiya, Safety Ninja, the Writer, and Martin had separate run-ins with the Pie Bar Gang, which seems to be vying with the Zoot-Suit Troopers for control of the city,” said Robert.

He circled the words ‘Rescuing the Writer’ and (in Martin’s scrawling handwriting) ‘no pies’.

“Which brings me to my own discovery!” Robert continued proudly.

Martin clapped his hands.

“You finally decided what to do with Chromos McAllen!”

“No,” said Robert, who hadn’t. “I have found this picture in a vegetable garden, which was insidiously tunneled under, for the sole purpose of smuggling…mushrooms!”

He slammed the Pie Bar Gang’s picture onto the whiteboard dramatically.

Then, realising that he had no magnets to keep it there, he continued to hold it to the board in front of everybody.

“So this whole time, these tigernuts have been sneaking boletaceae past us?” asked Aleya.

“Mushrooms are strong stuff,” said Hibiya. “A pal’a mine ate one once, and he thought he was a stool. An’ givin’ him the mushroom just made it even worse!”

“Who cares?” asked Aleya. “If the worst thing they’re doing is Martian boeuf bourguignon, our job’s done already. Let’s just steal the Firesabre, give it to Clong and leave.”

“Woah, woah, hold on there!” said Space Dan. “We are Police Fire News officers, Aleya. It is our sworn duty to clean up this city, and we can’t do that by bowing to lizard terrorists.”

“That’s the entire reason we came here, you gacking cluster-fig!”

“Aleya-” Haizea began.

“He’s always talking out his gambooge!” Aleya yelled, and she flicked Agamemnon off her wooden leg, where he had returned after his dalliance with the aforementioned.

The popcorn fly bounced across the table towards Martin, who gasped, and cradled Agamemnon in his fingers.

“Aleya!” scolded VAL through the walky-talky.

Aleya made a rude hand gesture towards the walky in response, and though VAL couldn’t see it, Space Dan still paled, aghast, and accelerated his chest expansion efforts.

“Quiche!” called a voice from the holding cells, amidst the squabbling. “Quiche!”

Safety Ninja slammed the table, and everyone fell silent. He loudly wrote on a sheet of paper while he maintained steely eye contact with everybody.

He angrily held his result up:

STOP FIGHTING PLEASE

“…Safety Ninja is right,” said Martin. “To defend the good people of Peanut’s Asbestos, we must give Tannoy Clong the Firesabre. It’s probably for the best anyway.”

“Clong won’t leave,” said Haizea. “It’s just another way to make people fear him.”

“And people won’t fear Gotanda?” asked Robert. “Or Gravesend? Apart from Hibiya, every oni seems to want to fight no matter what. It’s a wonder they’re not tearing themselves apart for the Sabre as it is.”

“…Jabungo!” said Hibiya, jumping up and slamming his fist into his section of the table.

This proved to be a mistake, as it sent the unstable table crashing down in a cloud of charcoal and dried-out typewriter ribbons, causing Space Dan to shriek in surprise and leap away.[4]

“That’s it, Bob!” Hibiya continued. “You said it! Most oni don’t like fightin’ with weapons, right? Only when it’s business!”

“Gotanda was having a practice fight with that other oni,” said Space Dan, “and neither of them were armed.”

“Right!” said Hibiya. “So, why would Gotanda have the Firesabre? He ain’t gonna use it!”

“He did say he was transporting it,” said Space Dan. “I wonder how?”

“Somethin’s going down with the Pie Bar Gang,” said Hibiya. “Probably the mushroom smuggling. The Zoot-Suits wanna stop’m because they don’t want their mushroom smuggling to go sour.”

“Do mushrooms go sour?” began Martin, but Robert quickly gave him a piece of tiramisu he’d saved to shut him up in an emergency.

“And no way would they give up a good fight just so they can use some sword,” said Hibiya. “They’ve wanted to beat up the Pie Bars for years. Gotanda ain’t got that sword for himself.”

“…he’s got it for Tannoy Clong!” said Martin. “Maybe he’s hiding it from Tannoy Clong so he can get more money off of him, and that’s why Clong sent us here!”

“He didn’t know us before we showed up,” said Robert. “That leaves you, Haizea. Either you’d die trying to take the Firesabre from Gotanda, or you’d succeed and he’d get it early and for free. Pequod’s Albatross is at risk no matter what we do, and Clong gets the Sabre regardless.”

“That wily varmint!” shouted Haizea.

Everyone stared at her.

“What?”

“You said ‘wily varmint’ as if you meant ‘vicious bastard’,” said Robert.

“What else would ‘wily varmint’ mean?” asked Haizea.

“Somebody bring me a bucket!” the Writer called.

“You already have one!” snapped Robert.

“I want another one!” said the Writer. “Buckets add to the decor!”

Ugh,” said Haizea wearily. “Come on, let’s go down and ask him some questions.”

She grabbed a bucket from on top of a filing cabinet, turned it upside-down to get rid of any remaining paper inside, and slid down the fireman’s pole. The others swiftly followed, Aleya fitting her wooden leg back onto her stump while Martin and Space Dan descended as a pair.

“Here’s your bucket,” said Haizea. “Stand back and put your hands on the wall.”

The Writer did so as Haizea unlocked the door’s number combination.[5] Martin stood by as backup, holding his mop threateningly at the Writer, so he didn’t try any funny business.

Haizea put the bucket next to the Writer’s bed, then slowly backed out of the cell and locked its door again. Of course, the Writer had only been imprisoned for his own safety, but Space Team One had very much taken to their roles as police officers.

“Thankyou,” said the Writer.

He kicked the bucket over tastefully, looking appreciatively at how it rolled into the corner.

“Writer,” said Robert, “how do you know Tannoy Clong?”

“Who says I do?” asked the Writer. “Or ever did? Or that Tannoy Clong even exists?”

Aleya reached into the cell and grabbed him by the horns, pulling his forehead up against the bars.

“Listen, pickle-juice,” she said, “I haven’t gotten enough sleep, I just quit explosions, and everyone around me is a dillisk. How’re the Zoot-Suits going to sneak the Sabre past the Scorpion-Man?”

“They’re moving it through a different path, though how I do not know,” said the Writer. “To the surface, at any rate, with a shipment of mushrooms. They want everyone above and below buying their produce.”

“Upworlders would never give up whiskey,” said Haizea.

“Give it time,” said the Writer.

“What about Clong?” asked Aleya, giving his head a threatening shake.

The Writer hrrmed, and there was a horrible screeching sound as he gnawed on the bars of his cell in thought.

“I first met Tannoy Clong a long time ago,” he said. “He wanted me to translate an ancient scroll for him, that he stole from his previous captain.”

“And?” asked Haizea, looking at him over Aleya’s shoulder.

“It was difficult, but I managed it!” he boasted. “I was able to look at the most commonly used letters first, to determine whether-”

“No, I mean, what did it say?” asked Haizea.

“It described a sword,” he said, “a sword with no blade, but that in the right hands would burn with a blade of fire hotter than the sun.”

Aleya let go of him, and he rubbed his dry leathery forehead indignantly.

“Oh, that’s good!” said Martin. “Maybe Tannoy Clong doesn’t have the right hands, so he won’t be able to use it!”

“So then instead of a calm, incredibly dangerous outlaw, we’ll have to fight an angry, very dangerous outlaw?” asked Haizea.

“Let’s not waste any more time,” said Robert. “We need to figure out how they’re going to move the sword. Everyone with your partners. I’ll go with Martin and VAL. Writer, stay here, and if anybody comes around, hide in your buckets.”

The Writer sighed, and placed one of them over his head as practiced. He then awkwardly crouched down into the other one, like the world’s saddest lamp.

The Police Fire News Department hoisted each other up the pole-hole and back into the office. Grabbing their coats, which they had all appropriated from the office in imitation of Robert, they hurried outside. Safety Ninja was the last to leave, as he had to carefully place his loaded revolver inside his coat pocket, and he quickly shut the office door behind him.

The office was still for a moment, as the final particulates of smoky dust settled from Hibiya’s area of the table. Then a metallic creaking sound filled the room as the doors of two filing cabinets opened, and Birdy and Ogtol clambered out into the office. Both were wearing blue police uniforms over their clothes, which made Ogtol look very bulky, as he was wearing his over the top of his dress and wig, which in turn was over his akubra hat and poncho, and that in turn was on over his regular armour.

“Haha!” said Ogtol. “Those dishonourable fools have failed to realise our presence!”

He punched Birdy lightly on the shoulder in solidarity.

“Our impeccable skills of disguise are proven yet again! Nor have they discovered the secret entrance we used to enter to this underground realm, using the train tracks which access the surface!”

Space Team One and Haizea abruptly burst through the doors, Robert pointing an accusatory finger at Ogtol and Birdy.

“You two!” he spat.

“How could you have realised our presence?!” Ogtol demanded in surprise.

“You’re speaking very loudly,” said Space Dan.

Ogtol looked to his companion.

“Quick, Birdy, escape!” he cried.

In one fluid motion, the Faeries leapt to the fireman’s pole, and swiftly slid down right into the cells.

“…oh.”

“Hello!” greeted the Writer. “Would you like a bucket?”

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[1] Both her real foot, which she was resting comfortably, and her wooden leg, which she had disconnected from her knee and placed on the table.[2] Its presence was somewhat distracting to Space Dan, who kept glancing over at it uneasily, though this was probably because Agamemnon was waddling up and down it.

[2] Although technically her wooden leg’s end was a real foot, in that it functioned as a foot for Aleya’s wooden leg, even if it was not biologically a foot that she grew. Martin felt much the same about his baby parents, both in the sense that he considered them his real parents even though he was not biologically related to them, and also that he occasionally considered them to be wooden legs.

[3] The fireman’s pole had been installed near the holding cells in case the prisoners spontaneously combusted and needed to be accessed quickly. There were no firemen on Mars, but that was the kind of thing that oni liked to watch.

[4] Fearing smudges on his ceremonial spacesuit, he opted not to sit down again, and instead hovered awkwardly around the table for the rest of the conversation.

[5] ‘002’.