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Friday, 31 January 2020


                                                BRAIN  GAMES ON QINSATORIX

                                                          by  Tom Leonard

                                                         FIRST  FOUR CHAPTERS

                                            CHAPTER 5: THE APE SWANS' NEST



And so it came to pass. The autumnal winds were blowing in from the East and the pine trees giving vent, when the youthful High Priest of the Aztalan and six of his ageless Elders took shelter in the Wigwam of the Fireball Fighters to meet with the Shiner delegation: the gibbon-faced Foreign Secretary of Qinsatorix, the bullish, green-haired Chief Economic Advisor to the First Minister, the corrupt prince of the homo erectus, and the manipulative ' headshrinker' who was headmaster of the Alpha-Omega Academy.

      The eleven wily politicians discussed great matters of State, in particular a proposed Peace and Reconciliation treaty with all indigenous Icarians in the entire Red Trojan Universe, a treaty
which would, in reality, be orchestrated by the Shiners on behalf of the so-called Divine Plutarchs.

(The plutarchs were projected by the Shiners as representing the interests of the 'ruling' hi-tech Icarians in Trivoli, though the plutarchs regarded themselves as in God-like manipulative control of the entire planet, rather like the Borgias and the other sick, cruel and abusive Roman Catholics who sought to control Planet Earth 'from above' for over two millennia.)

      Who the twelve Divine Plutarchs actually were was an open question, though it was generally accepted that the Grand Reincarnate Sir Aristotle Sunkist was one of their number, and it was rumoured that they all lived on separate islands, or in hermit's huts on isolated rocks, in the Archipelago of the Shiners. It was even suggested that they were all Shiners of sorts, though the Shiners themselves fervently denied this (as of course they would!).

      The plutarchs weren't quite as powerful as they imagined themselves to be, largely because of the strong though competing effects of the aggregate forces of humanoid behaviour. In particular, group humanoid consciousness can fly off the rails in its entirety in situations where specific evil humanoids are only partly to blame.  Humanoid populations that are unable to harness their group consciousness face doom and even Armageddon on the planets they inhabit.

       Even though the Foreign Secretary Dirk Eradacus was a low-class Apollo Gibbon, he was a long-time Honorary Closet Shiner, and as such had been secretly elected to be a Superior Elder of the Closet Shiners (The Closet Shiners didn't usually attend the meetings organised by the common or garden Shiners, but instead got themselves involved in all sorts of covert intrigue of the type that tends to make the minds of ordinary folk boggle in disgust).

      The vain and narcissistic  First Minister of Qinsatorix, who resided in  Trudeau Tower in Trivoli, was  kept 'totally unaware' of Eradacus's and  Ket Martingale's two-faced conflicts of interest, and was not himself a Shiner. As far as the proletariat was concerned, it was the democratically elected Parliament in Trivoli who made the crass decisions, though subject to the influences of mysterious 'ripples from above' and a variety of crass political advisors and eugenicists.

      The Emperor and the Imperial Icarian Royal Family played a largely ceremonial role, though they flapped their Charlesian ears and stuck their long  noses in whenever they thought that it was in their own interests to do so. They'd lost public respect in AD 2698, when the Princess Royal was discovered in flagrante delicto in a public latrine with the Archbishop of  Madron and two horny Apollo Panthers, and they'd struggled to maintain their credibility ever since.

      The expensive jabber-elk  hunting trips in the Salacian Urals didn't help, particularly since the talented jabber-elks were a much-treasured species. Neither did the infernal show-jumping.The overworked dromedaries received lots of public sympathy, and oodles of favourable coverage in the tabloid press. When the portly Princess Infante won an Adephian gold on Sasquatch, it was  Sasquatch who received the plaudits for tossing her into a ditch after the last fence. The princess was roundly booed when she received her medal, for her never to be forgotten cruelty to the family pussy cats and porgis.

Left to their own devices, Pippa and Slim drifted off for a natter under a Mumbo Jumbo tree, where they discovered a couple of comfy places to park themselves, in the gnarled, snake-like roots. Barely had they sat down when two tiny Aztalan girls crept up, squatted on their heels in front of them, and listened to their every word, while the purply-black, star-shaped festoonettes eavesdropped from the prickly bark.

      "Dreyfus was so very kind and considerate to me last night", said Pippa, only for the Apollo Unicorn in question to stride up, waggling his noddle and wobbling his slightly twisted silver horn. He came arm-in-arm with Tamzin Soyabean, the intended indentured wife of the Qinsatoran Foreign Secretary; she still looked sullen and distraught, though the bruises covering her lovely face were now a lighter shade of blue.

      Slim swatted a hungry festoonette that was making inroads into his shoulder."You should switch to a vegetarian diet, Dreyfus," he joked."Your tummy's wobbling as much as your alicornia."

      Dreyfus clasped his tummy in dismay. "That's a funny word. I hope you don't mean my weegie."

      "I meant your feckin stupid horn, you ted."

      "And how are you this evening, Tamzin?" sidetracked Pippa, as gently as she could.

      "It's a relief to be able to talk to another human," burbled Tamzin, "---homo sapiens, I mean. Some of the other creatures on this planet are beyond the pale. And, as for those homo erectus---."

       Slim felt a bit insecure about that since he was a full silver-blooded Icarian. "Please tell us the story of your life, darlin'," he interrupted. "Where was you brung up?"

       Tamzin smiled a glimmer of a smile at that attempt at the vernacular.

       "I was brought up by two redundant copper and arsenic miners in the tiny village of Bethlehem-on-the-Dnieper, and felt repressed and traumatized as a child," she spieled, as if on a stream of oblique consciousness. "My Uncle Joe worked me and my mother to the bone in his gin and crystal crank distillery. The crank was so noxious that it gave me pimples on my face, and it made me so brain-fogged that I failed my standard grades in Pottery and Cookery at Beth Remedial."

      Pippa felt very disturbed by that. "How appalling! Wasn't crank banned in the Destructive Chemicals Act of 2702? It's almost as bad as Ritalin."

      "It certainly damaged me, even more than the gasohol," sobbed Tamzin. "And after that miserable let-down, I was forced to work with the hard-boiled laundresses in  Wash and Tailor Incorporated as a lowly assistant seamstress. I was really skilful with needles, and seemed to have developed fresh talents. But the laundresses enjoyed having fun with the stray lads; first of all they'd coat the poor lapdogs with raspberry goulash, would you believe? And then, before I could say 'How's your father?' the bitches coated me with goulash too! And then they had the audacity to try to lick it all off ! And when they ran out of goulash they opened their pots of marmalade----Aaaaaaarg!"

      Slim had once been licked by a laundress himself, and the peanut butter had stuck to his skin. "How utterly degrading! Our employers should show more duty of care in  the workplace."

       Tamzin pulled herself together. "Yes," she sighed,"and that mean-fisted lizard's negligence got me into a right fucking pickle. One day, Lady Jemima Sunkist came in and offered me a job in Fantasia, as a receptionist in the Hotel de Wash. It sounded like a chance to escape the drudgery and all the bullying, the chance of a lifetime! But, before I could say 'Bob's your uncle' the sleazy gibbon from the harem took me upstairs to the God-dammed Celebrity Suite, and made me spread by lovely legs for all and sundry. It was so revolting! And now they've hitched me up to another smelly gibbon. It's  enough to make you want to puke in their soup."

      Pippa was wondering how best to reply to Tamzin's very sad and troubling tale of woe, when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw the web-footed ape swan Lysistrata walking determinedly across the meadow, hand-in-hand with a swarthy Apollo Walrus (who Pippa took to be the bubblecopter pilot).

     The Aztalan girls read Pippa's thoughts."They're off to the casino in the Cavern of Chance and Fortune," said the one with the snub nose. "It's under the khaki wigwam next to the first-aid tent."

     "They'll be able to chance their luck on the roulette wheel with three zeroes," said the one with the floppy ears. "It's totally biased. Why don't you all tag along and take your chances too?"

      After empathising for over ten minutes and in very compassionate terms with Tamzin's sad dilemmas, Slim and Dreyfus decided that they wanted to visit the casino to ferret out more social injustices. So away to the Wigwam of Saint Fortuna  they all went.

Two talking llamas checked the four companions' credentials and showed them into the inconspicuous-looking wigwam. Thereupon, the tiny Aztalan girls encouraged the inquisitive quartet to follow them through the vibrating Ring of Randomness, down an ancient limestone staircase lined with Plurassic Age paintings of humanoid Dinosaurians, and through a maze of curiously shaped stalagmites that stood over seven feet tall and resembled zany part-humanoid, part-machine Grottzappers from the Planet Ceres.

      After successfully negotiating a six inch wide vertical 'squeeze', Slim got totally discombobulated by the bright red flashing lights and python-like silver stalactites, and thought that he was in psychosis. And when a passing Aztalan waiter gave him a free glass of Potentia, Slim's eyes turned into prisms.

      "Welcome to the Cavern of Chance and Fortune," exclaimed a very tall, extremely slender Aztalan lady with three neatly arranged, big floppy breasts, who was painted glossy bright green all over. "The azure-jack and multi-dimensional dice tables are behind the beanpoles on your right, and the Monte Carlo roulette wheel is straight ahead. If you strike lucky on number 13, then today's special prize is a trip down to the Hades tavern for a free flagon of consciousness-enhancing Psychedelia. Otherwise, it's forty cents a shot. Our waiters would be glad to run a drinks tab for you, and we wouldn't object too strongly if you didn't pay up.  If you'd like to gamble, then the chips cost a silver guinea each. Please pay cash up front or punch your pin number into your friendly croupier's Facilitating machine."

       The gambling tables behind the beanpoles were surrounded by hordes of perfectly sober ape swans from the nearby Isle of Mainau and a number of well-plied tourists from the Hotel of the Pink Hapsburgs in the village of Mainau (many of whom were on psychedelic highs). The Aztalan croupiers were having a field day; they were chuckling away while the tourists got fleeced. The secret lenses and wily, orange festoonettes in the stalactites were enabling the croupiers to pull every mean trick in the book.

       To the left, a squat and very hairy Aztalan was guarding a huge red hot cauldron full of bubbling Sweet Paprika seasoning fluid, which generated a stream of yellow noxious gas that gushed through a flue in the roof of the cavern. He occasionally threw in a chicken or a live fox.

      "This is where we throw customers who cheat," snarled the Aztalan, in apparent jest. "You lot look as if you'd make a tasty supper, though I'd probably mix you with chives."

      "I don't want to be mixed with chives," wailed Dreyfus, clearly misinterpreting what was doubtlessly an idle threat.

      The other three teenagers also felt a touch nervous. So they all marched straight on, penniless and guinea-less, to the Monte Carlo Simulation Chamber.

      The roulette wheel was fully twenty foot in diameter, with 39  pockets equally spaced around its circumference, and it took four beefy Aztalan to set it in motion,  Thirty-six of the pockets (which were coloured either silver or gold) were haphazardly assigned one of the numbers 1,2,--,36, and the three green pockets were each labelled zero. The casinos on the mainland were required by legal statute to ensure that their wheels were fair, in the sense that on any particular spin the heavily weighted, round leather football could be regarded as 'equally likely' to end up in any one of the 39 pockets (each with probability 1/39). A punter betting a guinea on a specified number between one and thirty-six would receive 36 guineas if his bet turned out to be correct. However, if the outcome was one of the three zeroes, then the House would scoop all the bets. It wouldn't take a statistician to be able to work out that if the roulette wheel was fair, then the House would in the long run (i.e. after a large number of spins) invariably make a substantial profit. This would indeed amount to 1/13 of all money bet.

      A highly compulsive businessman from Naples-under-Lyme was repeatedly betting on the number 17 while being plied with free glasses of Potentia by a fawning waiter from Hades. The slick businessman felt that 'since 17 hadn't come up for a while, it was very likely to come up soon'. Little did he realise that the wheel had been fixed so that the football couldn't ever end up in the number 17 pocket! The stupid chancer was therefore set to lose his shirt, and his bow-tie too.

      As if by a fluke, the number 23 came up on three consecutive spins. All the punters therefore rushed to place their bets on the same outcome, number 23, on the next spin.

      "Don't be silly, folk!" cried Slim. "The outcomes on consecutive spins are statistically independent!"

       A hefty croupier ran up, booted Slim in the seat of his pants, twisted his fingers Freemason-style, and made a strange hand gesture (with Slim's twisted fingers) towards the ceiling. On the next spin, the football landed in the number 23 pocket, but bounced out and ended up in the number 7 pocket.

      'I do believe that the wheel is fixed with a deflecting device," muttered Pippa.

      All the losing punters ranted, raved, and  demanded their money back. Not to be outdone, Dreyfus Dreadnought leapt onto the roulette wheel, and hung on to the ivory statue of Erosia in Flagrante at its epicentre.

      "This wheel is biased and grossly unfair," he announced, with aplomb. "It, in all probability and according to my advanced calculus level multiple pi calculations, scoops up approximately 31.416% of all money bet, regardless of how skilfully you bet."

      At that, eight stroppy talking pigs ran up, hauled Dreyfus and his three companions through the exceedingly tight subterranean squeeze, dragged them up the stone staircase, and, to the consternation of the talking llamas, threw all four of them onto the sheep and llama dung heap in the ravine.

The eleven wily politicians emerged from the Wigwam of the Fireball Fighters an hour or so later, with impassive expressions on their faces, and Prince Alfredo skedaddled  at pace towards the bubblecopter without uttering ne'er a word of farewell, followed by the two hard-nosed government officials from Trivoli and the ubiquitous psychopath Alistair McCull.

       Lady Jemima emerged from the Wigwam of Saint Fortuna and caught up with her colleagues shortly afterwards after stopping for a brief snog and a well-received canoodle with two of the Aztalan octogenarian elders.

      When the four dirty, smelly, and dishevelled teenagers boarded the bubblecopter, they  were encouraged to sit down immediately behind the swarthy Apollo Walrus pilot, who apart from objecting to the stench, turned out to be suffering from a rare compulsive disorder. During take off he rambled on incessantly about the price of toothpicks, and was still complaining about the price of toothpicks a few minutes later when, after a  hop up to 2000 feet, he took the copter into a spiral nosedive over the postcard-perfect Isle of Mainau.

      During their steep take off, Pippa caught a glimpse of a fleet of shining blue ocean freighters at anchor in Scalpel Flow. During their rapid descent, she caught a briefer glimpse of a tall, shining white, castle keep emerging from a small lake. The greenish-blue lake (known as Lake Spectrum) was nestled inside a redstone asteroid crater and looked as if it was well below sea level. The lake was partly concealed by a ring of dense, dark green trees surrounding the rim of the crater.

      Maybe that's where the nasty Snazis once hid, deliberated Pippa. It could be the Ape Swans' NestThe Snazis escaped along the subterranean canal to Fantasia, where they were shot to shreds and hung from lampposts.

      Just when the copter seemed about to dive head over heels into Lake Spectrum, it abruptly levelled out, as if by animalistic instinct, and headed for the landing pad by the Hotel of the Pink Hapsburgs, where the pilot endeavoured to land it in one piece.

      Pippa was still sorting out her baggage, and looking for the very tiny otter she thought she'd hidden inside her night bag, when she saw Sleeping Sparrow, High Priest of the Aztalan, riding up the beach on a giant llama, cheek by jowl with his favourite non binary squaw. They'd travelled at pace from their village on Fantasia to catch the low tide.

      The hotel ranked equally in the tour-guides with the highly expensive Ambassadors Lodge off Tavistock Square in the City of Lanterns, in terms of both Spartan luxury and imaginative handicap courses for physically disabled guests needing a quick pee. It was staffed by a hundred or more ape swans who fell over each other in their efforts to provide ultimate satisfaction for the more prestigious of their guests, if not for the plebs.

Later that night, Pippa and Slim, now looking remarkable spruce, attended a highly convivial St. Crispin's Eve reception in the Drawing and Quartering Room, hosted by the Grand Reincarnate Sir Aristotle Sunkist and his delectable fifth wife, who Sir Aristotle nicknamed 'Whatchamacallit' since he could never quite remember whether she was called Tipsy or Tracey. While Dreyfus Dreadnought wasn't formally invited, he took a whiff of the hedgehog and mackerel hors d'oevres, and decided to gatecrash the toffee-nosed proceedings in the hope of polishing off a chocolate and meringue pie.

       Pippa and Slim focused their vibes on Tamzin Soyabean once again. She promptly left her gibbon-faced fiancee Dirk Eradacus hob-nobbing on the podium with the Sunkists and their power-seeking cronies, and when she joined her soul-mates it made her feel human once again.  But when Pippa was button-holed by a minor official with a diatribe about the whereabouts of the six local were-walruses, Slim and Tamzin made their excuses, and retreated to the ornately decorated terrace outside.

      Dreyfus surveyed the VIPs on the podium, like a child on the sidewalk, while taking a gulp or two of Iron Brew.  And he suddenly noticed a female Apollo Unicorn standing there, silver horn firmly in the vertical, who could have been his twin sister. Upon closer scrutiny, he realised from the way she flinched that she must be the spouse of the host, Sir Aristotle Sunkist, a rough diamond of a whore-monger if ever there was one.

      What a wonderful creature, pondered Dreyfus, in the deep and dark crevices of his mind. If only I could be her gay lover. But then Dreyfus recalled that he'd been brought up as a bloke, and tears welled in his eyes.  .

      Sir Aristotle must have sensed Dreyfus watching. He cut short his political and highly complex conversation with Sleeping Sparrow (who was somewhat provocatively dressed in a frilly, mauve quanta-skirt and an Aztalan bra-ket). Thereupon, the Grand Reincarnate of the Shiners took out his crystal glass monocle, and scrutinised his prey from a distance, in minute detail. He decided that Dreyfus was the girl for him, for that night at least, out of his deplorable inner consciousness.

     "You make such admirable choices, Daddy," purred the mind-reading Lady Jemima. "Your sixth wife, perchance?"

      "You know I prefer them as cuddlesome and hairy as the Queen of Sheba's legs," growled Sir Aristotle. "Maybe I should chance my luck with the talking Koala instead."

      A few minutes later, Dreyfus crept closer to the podium and hid behind a huge Fritalian panda who was having a whale of a time. Dreyfus was just in time to overhear a snippet of dialogue which seemed to be of vital political importance.

      "---and my dear brother King Philippe, Archduke of the Asturias is waiting in Constanta for the Homo Erectus troops to arrive from the Land of Qet," Prince Alfredo Saxie-Monteith was saying. "They will then join forces with several battalions of Royal Pelimodes, and march on Trivoli, uniting the squabbling factions of Apollo revolutionaries as they go. My dear mother, the Dowager Queen Wilhelmina, Lady of the Lake, will follow with the uranium-powered battle-tanks and Big Meg. She'll blow 'em away."

     "You're doomed to failure," retorted Sir Aristotle Sunkist. "The Divine Plutarchs will never countenance such an outrageous adventure. You're all from an inferior sub-species, every man jack of you!"

      "But you promised us your support," wailed the prince, "at the Summer Solstice Weinfest in Garmisch-Partenkirchen in June. While we were downing a bottle of vintage malt together."

      "Poppycock, malarkey, and blatherskite! I said that totally in jest."

      "Now I see you pretty game," growled the prince, with the gravity one would expect of a royal homo erectus. "We will nevertheless proceed at pace with our revolution, and the Icarian Royal Family and all you fucking plutarchs will suffer the consequences."

       "The gin is going to your head, Your Highness, and I didn't even hear you say that. Now, would you like a soothing mug of creamy---."

         The giant pandas were getting noisier and noisier, and so Dreyfus wasn't able to hear the conclusion of that emotive conversation; indeed he largely forgot about it when he was approached by a delightful flower girl, who blew him a kiss and gave him an immense bunch of red and pink roses, and a crafty wink.

An hour later, Slim and Tamzin were still whispering sweet nothings together on the terrace. And then, upon a sudden concordance of impulses, they hid behind the Icarius and Periboea tree for their first tender kiss.

     "Wud yer like to come up to my room for a quick coffee and a bite of my peppermint cookie?" Slim sheepishly inquired.

     "They still burn adulteresses at the stake on this planet," chuckled Tamzin,"but who gives a toss?"

      Meanwhile, Dreyfus was taking a bite out of a well-spiced slugs-and-snails-and-puppy-dogs-tails hors d'oevres, when Lady Jemima Sunkist mischievously sidled up.

      "My Daddy wishes to deign to meet up with you," she burbled, fluttering her crimson, artificially elongated eyelashes.  "I think he could be mistaking you for Mummy's twin brother."

      "Wot the Alfie Dickens does he wanna meet me for?" stalled Dreyfus, feeling a bit itchy.

      "I don't know about Mummy, but I'm up for a four-way."

      "Fuck!" wailed Dreyfus, suddenly feeling a mite insecure.

       At that very moment, there was a concordance of humanoid consciousness across the entire planet. Three wizened old creatures in Ur-in-the-Chaldees stirred in their beds, and got up to visit the loo.

      "Unto us a Child is given!" wailed the one with the false teeth.

      "Looks as if we're going to have to head west again," slurped the incontinent dribbler, "searching for some stupid heavenly star."

      "Fuck that," reacted the bearded reactionary. "I'm goin' back to my bed."

In the morning and after a late breakfast of Quaker Oats, fried ostrich eggs and sliced llama, the Shiners set off on foot for the Ape Swan's Nest, with the four youngsters, Sleeping Sparrow, and his ever attentive squaw in tow.

      When they reached the Hillock of the Mad Hares, Prince Alfredo told Ket Martingale that he felt completely at ease with the conversations of the evening before, and that he thought he'd reached an accord with Sir Aristotle Sunkist before the Grand Reincarnate left for the Ape Swan's Nest, looking completely shagged out, in the early hours of that morning.

      Ket scratched his green sideburns, and pulled out a flea. "Jolly good show, old chap," he bullishly replied. "I'm sure that the courageous efforts of the Royal Family of the Homo Erectus will draw all good humanoids together, in the spirit of the Shiners, and Sir Adebe Adobe Maneke, his very self, and that you will conquer the evil oppressors and reduce the Imperial Icarian Palace to dust."

      The prince raised his fist in triumph. "Gung ho, old bean!"

      Ket sniggered to himself. He thought that the prince was an unadulterated buffoon.

      The party was accompanied by an honour guard of six unisexual pectishes, large eagle-faced sub-humanoids with sawn-off shot guns for upper arms which they fired using their trigger fingers (one finger for each upper hand). The pectishes had been intelligently designed by an eminent Grottzapper on the Planet Ceres a couple of centuries previously, and fetched a thousand bronze dollars each on the black market. Their lower arms sported large fists which could clench like a vice, and their claws could take off a humanoid's head in a blink of an eyelid.

      Slim and Pippa politely detached themselves from their companions, and walked hand-in-hand along the woodland trail, feeling a touch irritated by a pectish with B.S.D. who kept squeaking to itself while its claws scraped the gravel.

      Slim decided not to let on to Pippa about his bedtime frolic with Tamzin Soyabean of the night before, since he was concerned that she might be jealous.

      "I think that Tamzin  is beginning to recover from her ordeals, now that she has made friends with people of her own age," he said, with an all-knowing tilt of his head.

      Pippa furrowed her brow. "Yes, but we must find away of protecting the poor darling from that monster Dirk Eradacus. He'll treat her abominably for a couple of years and then exiled her to the Isle of Limbos. He should not be allowed to marry her!"

      "That's easier said than done," argued Slim. "Once she's indentured, he'll lock her away in his turreted mansion on the Aventine Hill in Trivoli, and we won't be allowed any contact with her."

      "I'll find a way of helping her to escape. That I will!"

      "But where would we hide her? Where would she stay?"

      "Hummmmmmmm. That's a problem---Maybe we could ask the mammashunters to help us."

      "Great idea!  I'm in secret j-spot mail contact with Hera. I'll seek her advice when we develop our escape plans more fully."

      Pippa looked puzzled "Hera? Hera who?"

      "Hera Herrera of course, silly. She attended the meeting on Lismore with her two even brighter orange granddaughters."

      "That rings a bell! She may be the mammashunter who visited me on Caleb a week or so ago. I mistook her for an apparition! She said she was a budding revolutionary."

       "She certainly is, but she may need to incite violent protests by the Apollos and maybe the Trinkons. There were only a few hundred mammashunters left after the Stingwell massacre of 2710."

        "Wow! Methinks we should spread our wings and become revolutionaries too."

        "Yes, in principle at least," agreed Slim. "But we should protect our own butts."

        "Too true," agreed Pippa, feeling a twinge in her recently transplanted kidney.

 The woodland pathway merged into a much wider, muddy track. Just as Slim and Pippa were about to soil their shoes in the sludge, a cylindrical, steam-powered truck roared by and headed towards the dense thicket of Jasmobob trees that obstructed the view ahead.

      The party of visitors and the intellectually challenged pectishes successfully negotiated the next quarter mile of the mud-and-dung-ridden track, despite having to step into the nettles whenever yet another truck zoomed obliviously by. And when they emerged from the other side of the thicket, the trucks were all unloading their wares onto a ledge overhanging a redstone crater.

      When Pippa peered over the edge of the crater, as nervously as a sheep on the Isle of Tiree, she saw the bubbling bluey-green waters of Lake Spectrum about eight hundred feet below, and wondered whether she was taking an eye-test . In the middle of the half-mile-wide lake stood a magnificent, white castle keep almost five hundred feet high, and Pippa was most impressed by the flowering Mango trees she thought she saw on its roof.

      "It's a replica of the tower which the courageous, predatory Normans built on Planet Earth to suppress the cowardly indigenous citizens of London," asserted Prince Alfredo, vigorously scratching himself. "and the only way in is through the Water Gate. So we'll need to go down on the heavy traction elevator. Don't worry! The lift shaft is firmly riveted to the sloping rock-face. "

      Pippa didn't dare to even look sideways when everybody descended  in the enormous titanium elevator cage, with only a few jolts, the stacks of crates shaking  precariously around them. She opened her firmly shut eyes, with a start, when the exit gate crashed upon, only to see a dozen or so pectishes herding a flock of yellow, woolly sheep onto an ancient Royal barge.

      The lake was teaming with ape swans, many of whom shouted words of welcome while the Shiner delegation and their appendages were crossing the bubbling water on the quarterdeck of the barge. Sleeping Sparrow and his non-binary squaw waved condescendingly back from the Royal throne, looking as imperial as any Emperor and Empress of the post-modern era.

      When Dreyfus Dreadnought threw a red pebble at an ape cygnet, a slightly larger ape cygnet threw a mollusc shell back which deflected off Dreyfus's snout and hit Lady Jemima in her navel. The Foreign Secretary Dirk Eradacus gave Dreyfus an awkward look, while his fiancee Tamzin couldn't stop herself from chortling. Dr. Alistair McCull simply sat there looking obstinate.

      When the barge reached the Water Gate, one of the dumb pectish escorts yelled, "No traitors today, only sheep for the slaughter!"

      The portcullis was slowly raised, and there on the crab-shell-encrusted stone steps stood the lovely 'Whatchamacallit' , the Apollo Unicorn spouse of  the Grand Reincarnate, Baron Aristotle Sunkist of the Hapsburg Principality of  Mainau.

      "Welcome to the Ape Eagles' Nest," she politely declared. "My husband is waiting for you in the Chapel of St. Vincula. Would you all care to join us for a glass of cream sherry?"

          Please click here for

                                        CHAPTER 6: INTRIGUE ON LAKE SPECTRUM



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