THE TALE OF OPTIMUS PRIME by A.Appleyard
NB. This story is fiction set in the well-known Transformers fictional world which was invented originally in 1984. I originally drew this in comic form for my own interest. The section numbers in [square brackets] are page numbers of that original.
CONTENTS
INTO THE REAL WORLD [01]
THE FELL WINTER [02]
HOIST AND JAZZ [03]
HUFFER [04]
TREASURE IS TROUBLE [05]
THE WITWICKIES [06]
PROWL JUST IN TIME [07]
PILEUP [08]
JAMESON AGAIN [09]
THE CRYPT [10]
PROWL AT SCHOOL [11]
MRS.JONES AGAIN [12]
DECEPTICON [13]
THE BROWNS [14]
PAUL SMITH AGAIN [15]
HOW I WAS STARTED [16]
MRS.JONES AND OTHERS [17]
AT SMITH AND MALTON'S [18]
SHADOW IN THE SEA [19]
DANGER IN THE DEEP [20]
SUBSTANCE TO THE SHADOW [21]
CAPTAIN HURLOCK ATTACKS [22]
APHANISTOR ON HIS OWN [23]
OAKFIELDS FARM [24]
AT SCHOOL AGAIN [25]
A LAIR FLUSHED OUT [26]
IT GUARDS THE INSHORE SEA [27]
TWO RESCUES [28]
THE GANG STRIKES [29]
SUBSKIMMER [30]
SEA PATROL [31]
EVIDENCE IGNORED [32]
BRAITHWAITE [33]
BRAITHWAITE'S STORY [34]
BRAITHWAITE FIGHTS BACK [35]
EVIDENCE [36]
SON MEETS FATHER AGAIN [37]
ACROSS THE HIGHLANDS [38]
THE TRUTH COMES OUT [39]
THE NINE RETURN [40]
POACHERS SEEN OFF [41]
NEW KIT [42]
CONSTRUCTICONS [43]
THE SEA PATROL STRIKES AT FILEY [44]
REPROCESSING [45]
DIVE-IN [46]
THE DANGER RECEDES FOR A WHILE [47]
THE SEA IS GUARDED AGAIN [48]
SEA PATROL LEGAL [49]
BACK

INTO THE REAL WORLD

[1] I am Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobot Transformers, and once ruler of the faraway planet of Cybertron, leading the war against the tyranny of the ruthless Decepticon Transformers and their leader Megatron. Both my and his parts in that war, and the parts of my and his followers, ended when our spaceship, called by a name that approximately translates into the languages of Men as "the Ark", in which my forces were fighting desperately against Megatron's forces who had boarded it, crashed into a volcano called Mount St.Hilary in the Cascades Range in Oregon in the USA on Earth. There both armies lay, damaged and deactivated by the fighting and the crash, for four million years, until the 1984 eruption there chanced to reactivate the Ark, whose automatic systems repaired and reawoke us. Then our war resumed, on Earth and on Cybertron, as many tales tell, until the final battle around my base between my forces and those of Megatron's current successor. They attacked suddenly. I did not think we would win or even survive. But we managed to deactivate or capture all the Decepticons on Earth and end the war at last. It was a hard battle, and even I was badly damaged and under repair by our chief medical officer Ratchet. I planned to soon finally liberate our ancient home world Cybertron.

Suddenly I woke alone and without even my trailer, in James Wernicke's computer factory's garage in Droitwich south of Birmingham in England. I could find none of my followers or friends or enemies, robot or human. There was nothing on inter-Autobot radio frequency except a foreign human pop music station. I can directly receive television signals: I looked through the channels, but none of the news programmes mentioned my recent battle in Oregon, despite its size and noise and spectacularness which men could hardly have missed. Nothing, emptiness, nothing. I tried inter-Autobot radio frequency again, where "Kai epiousa hypo toon Seekers:" said a silly-sounding human voice, and yet another harsh jangle of pop music, followed by "Priasthe Transformeras peperasmenous hypo Hasbro kai ...", which despite the foreign language was so clearly only a commercial for the simplified toy models of us made by men that with a tired "brrrm" I switched off and drove to a window and looked out at the traffic. Ambulances from a nearby hospital passed; none of them was Ratchet. Nextdoor's towtruck came and went, but it was the wrong colour and shape, it was not my maintenance expert Hoist in his vehicle form. A white Porsche car passed, but it had no figure 4's on it, it was not Jazz my agent. It was if my previous life had never happened.

I noticed that there was a human in my cab. Perhaps he could tell me where everybody was and how I got there. I asked him.

"I'm James Wernicke." he said, "I own this factory. I haven't got the resources of J.B.Blackrock who you knew. You must pay your way while you are with me." he said, and explained the truth, which was totally unexpected, and took some time to sink in. There was no Decepticon menace to my people or to Men, nor had there ever been. I had no need to hurry back to my people at our base in Oregon, for my previous life, as I remembered it so well, never happened, but was fiction stories written by humans, and he had made me as a copy of my fictional original with artificial memories of that nonexistent past which was so real to me. As I drove to my first of countless haulage jobs, and rain beat on my windscreen, he told me of my true beginnings.

[2] "I guess I've lived alone too long, reading books for company, instead of meeting people, except for at work." he said, "The book characters seemed so real to me while I was reading about them, but them I shut the book, or the film or videocartoon finished, they vanished. I felt I had to meet you in person, not merely see you out of reach behind the surface of a page or a screen. But unlike fleshling - I mean human - fictional characters, your brain is a special sort of computer, and I make computers. To cut a long story short, as I gradually developed a sentient computer, Transformerisms kept finding their way into its scenario, until I more and more thought of it as being you. Then at last I got a nearby heavy engineering factory called Smith & Malton's to make your body, which I put your brain into yesterday, taking it off the environment-simulator. I remember what finally got me to get your body made:-

(Thank goodness the rain's easing off.) Like many times before, I was flying in the big white Autobot jet-fighter called Jetfire. I was strapped into his small cockpit remotely high above the world, driven by his jetmotors blasting like giant blowlamps a few feet behind me. Only a few thin high clouds and remote mountains reached my height. Forests and fields passed far below. `How far now to Autobot City?' I asked him.

`40 minutes flying time now.' Jetfire replied, `Everybody'll be there, even Emirate Xaaron [Autobot resistance leader] from Cybertron, and G.B.Blackrock, and ... Stak! Lightning! That's as dangerous as Circuitbreaker! I'm going round that lot ahead.'.

`I don't blame you.' I replied. I knew of the woman called Circuitbreaker, who in some of the stories hated robots and had built a powerful artillery-sized ray gun's circuitry into her skin, to fire disruptor rays from her fingers with. An routine science fiction idea technically impossible in the real world, thank goodness. But I knew what Jetfire meant, for ahead loomed the huge mass of a powerful thunderhead, whose top expanded into a huge anvil shape of cirrus. Lightning darted about and thunder roared. The sun shone beside the thunderhead, since I was far above the spread low cloud that thunderstorms cause. `No point risking that stuff unnecessarily.' said Jetfire as he banked and turned to go round the danger. Gusts of gale blew him about, and he seemed to lose shape and soften and flatten. The thunder, added to the blasting of his jets, seemed to change. The thunderhead changed shape - and became Timmy my Alsatian dog. It was morning, and I was in bed, and he had woken me jumping up onto me panting and barking wanting to be taken out. The sun was now my bedroom clock. A trail of detached cirrus was now a picture on my bedroom wall. The landscape far below Jetfire's wings was now my bedroom floor. [3] I told Timmy to lie down, and tried to bring Jetfire and the Oregon sky back for a few minutes more, long enough to reach the fabled Autobot City for once, but it was no good. The morning and the sun had evaporated him like a overnight mist. I shook off the residue of yet another Transformer dream as I dressed and took Timmy for a walk. I should have realized that something was wrong, for the exclamation `Stak!' never occurs in Transformers stories but only (but often) in a different unrelated science fiction scenario. I would have given a hundred of those dream flights to meet him in reality for once. The previous night I had dreamed of riding in you, but as morning came you vanished as usual. I dreamed of real Transformers about once each three nights. It was no good, I had to make a real one of you. I went back to work. Neural net computer technology is developing fast. It was a long job, but I and Smith & Malton's Ltd made your body and brain and mind, and gave it the memories of your fictional original, and at last here you are real and full sized and alive in my garage, not just a model.".

"So you've managed to gain your `lost' friend." I said to him, "I've in effect lost twenty friends, left back in my unattainable fictional past. Ratchet, Wheeljack, Mirage, even Starscream or Rumble, where are all of you? Gone like ghosts.".

"In this world where there are so many fictional robots, you will be the first real one." he said, "You will be famous. I'll make sure the Armed Forces don't get hold of you, to keep you as a secret. I'll go public first.".

"In effect, you suddenly teleported me from my own world where I belong and where my people meet me, and put me in someone else's world in someone else's life." I replied, "Is this the place we are going to first?".

I arrived at GEC in Trafford Park in Manchester. There I picked up a big flatbed trailer which carried a huge metal box shape called a `transformer'. For a moment I forgot my loneliness, then realized that it was the other meaning of the word, an inanimate device to change the voltage of AC electricity. I must haul for men to pay my keep. I went onto the M62 over the Pennines. The bare treeless wilderness of moor reminded me not at all of either Cybertron or Oregon. V-formations of wild geese flew over below tattered cloud. I reached the site of a new electricity substation and waited for the men and their crane to unload me.

[4] Their crane revved its hardest. My load felt lighter but didn't lift off. Delay and complication on my first real action.

"Crane won't take it. I told you to hire the big one." said a workman.

"Can I help you?" I said, startling the workmen, for there was nobody in me, for James was stretching his legs.

"Look, Daddy, there's Optimus Prime, real, and he talked!" a passing boy exclaimed to his father.

"You silly ass. It's just a truck. It's only painted to look like him." his father replied, then stood rigid from fright as for the first time in reality I separated from my trailer and transformed, and said "Crane lift one end and I'll lift the other end.".

I was not as well known among men as now. People gaped while I used a spare girder as a crowbar to help move the transformer to where it was to be installed. A man-shape 25 feet tall, made of steel, with oversized diesel exhaust pipes blasting upwards behind its shoulders, was not quite what they had expected. But the foreman plucked up courage to approach me and thank me.

"I bring you greetings from Cybertron." I started to say, but stopped myself in time.

By the time the job was finished, flocks of starlings were flying over to the towns to roost, and when I got the flatbed back to its depot it was dark. The traffic kept reminding me of my lost followers. The yellow truck-crane at the site reminded me of Grapple. A passing police car reminded me of Prowl. [5] And the same when I was taking James home over the moors under the stars. Men long ago had classified the stars into groups named after people and animals, but some of them seemed to me to outline other figures. When I looked south I again saw Prowl, my faithful second-in-command, standing huge above the bleak hills, this time in his humanoid robot form, as the constellations which men call Ophiuchus and Serpens, and bright red Antares marked his left foot; Grapple the architect, also in robot form, lay on his side further to the right due south as Virgo, and the bright star Spica marked his left knee; between the two was Tracks (as Libra; Mu Serpentis was his head); below Grapple was Trailbreaker the black van as Corvus and Crater. Also I saw two who I was not sorry to know that they did not exist in reality: the ruthless powerful Megatron, complete with his fusion-cannon, as Bootes, with Arcturus marking his left knee; and his follower the pantherlike Ravage as Leo about to start sinking again below the rim of Earth. But above Ravage's back, Leo Minor seemed to outline heroic hapless little Scrounge of Polyhex on Cybertron who never made it to Earth, but he carried a vital message to Blaster's Autobot resistance group in Polyhex the Decepticon capital of Cybertron. Some star groups had less connection with my past: Ursa Major (all of it, not just the Big Dipper) looks to the life like a bear, as its usual name says; but above Prowl, high and due south, Hercules looked to me far more like the left side view of a kneeling man wearing and firing a flamethrower (Corona Borealis was the bottom of the bulky rounded-ended fueltank strapped to his back) than like the usual figure: a symbol of summer heat and drought? or an omen of future trouble? Looking north showed more Decepticons: Shockwave (Cassiopeia) and Soundwave (Cepheus) and Laserbeak (part of Draco) looked down at me alone in this exile-land.

It was the same later that night, and later that year as the stars passed over me in my many long lone journeys hauling goods for men (the stars, passing from east to west, are in the same position 4 minutes earlier each next night). Often James Wernicke stayed at the works. By now Men knew me and did not fear me, but oh! to meet even one of my old companions in reality even once. As Prowl reached his highest due south and started to sink, friendlier figures around the `Summer Triangle' rose higher: little Bumblebee (Lyra) adorned with the bright star Vega; huge powerful Jetfire (Cygnus) with the strange varying star Chi Cygni in his cockpit, following delta- winged Silverbolt (Aquila and Scutum) along the Milky Way; Deneb and Altair were on their rear ends. Below Silverbolt's nose, driving to the right at a downwards angle, his front wheels scarcely clearing the distant hills even at his highest, was Hoist my maintenance expert in his towtruck form (bright part of Sagittarius). Below Jetfire a patch of small groups of stars could be seen as a blowtorch (USA: oxy-gas torch), such as Hoist may have used in his work in his workshop in the Ark: Equuleus and Delphinus (ends of cylinders), Vulpecula (gas hoses), Sagitta (torch head). I often saw their images, irrelevantly high and remote, as summer passed and autumn came. Often I arrived from these lonely night journeys to find Wernicke's garage locked, and I had to park in the street till morning. Full moon hid them, except the bright stars, and lit my way better.

One moonlit night I arrived after midnight and parked quietly outside, and was surprised to hear James over my onboard radio. "Optimus, do you copy?" he said sleepily into a walkietalkie. Timmy his Alsatian slept by his bed. Why he was awake was obvious, for nextdoor's two Alsatians were howling at the moon loudly and continuously, as they often did when the sky was clear. "What a miserable noise those two make. I'll let you in. At least that contraflow's finished." he said.

"But another's started." I replied, "That motorway's like painting the Forth Bridge. Finish it and it's time to start again. Leaves making roads slimy. It'll start to freeze soon.".

I went in and changed my engine oil and hosed myself down. I was glad to rest after hauling machinery from Glasgow to Bridgnorth - and I was back in my base in Oregon in USA. Around me were many other Autobots who I knew of old: Huffer the engineer (transforms to an orange artic cab); Mirage (transforms to a blue and white racing car); Ironhide (transforms to a red van); Bumblebee (transforms to a yellow Volkswagen Beetle); Skids (transforms to a blue van); Powerglide (transforms to a red Fairchild jetplane); Ravage! Decepticon spy! How did he get in here? Although he is expert at keeping out of sight. (In the stories he shrinks and transforms to a black tape cassette.) [6] He at once jumped at me roaring, knowing that I knew that he had overheard our plan, and I grappled with him.

"Skids!" I called out, "Help me catch him so he can't get away and tell Megatron!". Skids came. For some reason he transformed into his van form; I feared harmful delay while he transformed back. But Ravage seemed to shrink, and his roaring became higher pitched. The other Autobots disappeared, but thankfully not Skids. "Ohhh." I said, for as usual the fading dream left me alone, deprived of my kin, in James's garage as Cybertron or Oregon evaporated. By my right front wheel James's cat held a large rat in its mouth: the noises of the fight between the two had obviously intruded into my dream world and them woken me. A distant shut-in or shut-out dog barking continuously somewhere made an irrelevant graffiti of useless noise on the night silence. Then to my amazement I saw that I was not kin-less after all, for Skids had come back from the dream world with me and was parked there in James's garage! But I realized my mistake almost at once, and revved my engine loudly to blow the rest of the sleep out of my brain. It was only James's blue delivery van, brainless and inanimate. The only real Skids that I knew of was James's nephew's toy model of him.

I picked the cat up gently and stroked it. "Caught a rat, Tabbins?" I said to it, "They're worse than mice among circuitry, gnawing things. As long as you don't sharpen your claws on my tyres.". Ravage was a feared enemy in my world; many cats are a feared enemy in their world of rats and mice, which is smaller that Man's world, even as Man's world is smaller than my own world of Cybertron. The land of Polyhex, Celestial Spires, Iacon's dome! Oh once again to walk there in my ancient land of home! But there's no such place.". I put Tabbins down and went back to sleep, for my brain circuitry has to settle itself after the day, same as with people.

Time passed. I hauled loads and lifted heavy objects and did miscellaneous work for men to pay for my fuel and oil. G.B.Blackrock visited my dreams a few times, but benefited me nothing in waking life. One evening in November I saw flames and smoke over the roofs where the shops are and hurried there. One of a row of shops was on fire. The street was pedestrianized; at its entrance stood a fire engine, whose driver was blaspheming loudly and long at a large three-sided advertisement hoarding holder which blocked the entrance to anything wider than a motorcycle. "Fly to Majorca" the near face of the hoarding idiotically advised. "@#$%$#@ that hoarding!!" he was shouting as I quickly pulled up, "The chief warned the Council that this may happen, the back way in keeps getting blocked with parked cars, and now it's happened! But the &^% planners wouldn't listen.". In his desperation he tried to ram the hoarding down, but it was too strongly built.

"A neighbour had a heart attack," Mr.Johnson, the shop's owner, replied angrily, "and the ambulance couldn't get in for that stupid hoarding. Planner's in the pay of the advertising company, I bet.", and then looked at me sympathetically and hopelessly, for delivery vehicle drivers had the same nuisance sometimes. [7] "Holy Cybertron!" he yelped as I transformed, there in front of him in England in reality, instead of on the TV screen where he had often seen me before. "It's no good, I can't get past those cars." I overheard the fire engine driver's radio message to his base, as swinging a heavy ball-and-chain I smashed the hoarding holder and kicked the bits aside. Any respect for the ad company's property went where scrap metal ends up as my exhaust pipes blasted upwards and with crashes of splintering concrete the heavy steel ball reduced "Fly to Majorca" and "Eat Fry's Chocolate" and "Buy Fluffo dolls: she has every fashion accessory" to fragments summarily as a fireman in a hurry hoses aside a tout who has chosen the wrong place and time to pester. The fire engine bumped over the stump of the hoarding and reached the fire, which was quickly put out. "I don't know what that thing is, but if it hadn't knocked that obstruction down ..." said a fireman to another.

I went on my hands and knees to talk to Mr.Johnson. "The cleaner woman's vacuum cleaner plug broke, so she makeshifted ..." he said, "... arced across catching bedding on display, and she cut-and-ran ... `Sorry' won't bring my stock back, if she tries apologizing. They caught the fire just in time. I'd have asked you in for a cup of tea, but ... It's hard to believe, you're only mechanism and electronics, but thinking and alive. I've seen models of you, and in cartoons, but to meet a real one!".

A fireman hammered on my left leg with the back of his axe and shouted: "Quick! Someone's upstairs and the stairs've gone!". I quickly stood up and cleared away the remains of the front upstairs window, my steel skin unhurt by the glass, and reached in and took out a teenage boy. "You said there was nobody in the premises." a fireman accused Mr.Johnson as I put the boy on the ground.

"You told me you were going to the pictures." Mr.Johnson said to the boy.

"I changed my mind." said the boy.

"Right. That's it." said another man watching, "If they try to put that hoarding back, we'll run their workmen off the site. Lives and property matter more than shouting traders' wares. The ambulance couldn't get in that time and still they wouldn't listen.".

[8] The event trailed its inevitable rat's-tail of petty consequences. In war, half a town can be flattened and it is written off as necessary. In the real world in peacetime, even so much as an advertisement hoarding knocked down ...

James was out. His garage phone rang, so I unfolded an arm and plugged in a cable connecting my brain to the phone wires. "He's out. Can I take a message?" I answered.

"Mr. Wernicke." said a managerial-sounding voice, "About what your performing lorry did yesterday, my firm lives by hiring ad space ... I'm not a rich man ... brute force and a demolition ball ... I want from you the cost of hiring those three spaces from yesterday until the hoarding is rebuilt and back in use. Plus the cost of replacing the hoarding ... solicitor ...".

"No. Tell Fluffo Dolls etc that fires and illness and injury don't wait for permissions to be applied for." I replied.

"Meaning that you want me to treat it as fire damage." said the ad firm man, "I'm sure my insurers'll back me up. Fluffo Dolls, Jetsave Holidays, Fry's Chocolate, they all hired that ad space off my firm, and they expect ...".

The Indian who ran `Abdulmalik Kitchenware', who was in Wernicke's for something, took the other phone extension and interrupting said, "Varunaputra Abdulmalik here, I'm nextdoor to Johnson's. Half the block might have burnt down if Optimus hadn't ...".

"Optimus Prime?" the ad man interrupted, "He's only toys and in a comic. It's nowhere near April the first, not funny - solicitor - police - damages - three prime site ad spaces gone west ...".

"There was a disco party here recently, "Varunaputra interrupted, "cars parked everywhere, the din gave my old father a heart attack and the ambulance couldn't get in for ...".

"I get enough nuisance from gales and pop music groups flyposting and the like, without this sort of thing as well." the ad man interrupted, "Last month a building contractor drove a bulldozer crash through a prime site hoarding to get access to a site. I went there with my solicitor in person, and all we got was lip from site navvies, and one of them drove a dumper at us.".

"No, you're not putting it up again, he nearly died. The whole block's together about this." said Varunaputra. The hoarding was not rebuilt, and the ad firm said nothing more. I helped Mr.Johnson to clear out his damaged interior and rebuild. People photographed me doing such things as standing by Johnson's front with an armful of floorboards passing them in to him one by one as he fitted them upstairs. ("Now then, Johnny, leave workmen alone when they're busy. Mr.Prime'll tell you about Cybertron later." a woman shopping said to her small son who started to ask me questions.) The event inspired the inevitable political cartoon in the local newspaper, then retreated into the past as the days kept on getting shorter and colder.

My brain, like fleshlings' brains, sometimes while I sleep runs in `garbage collection' mode to find and delete inappropriate connections between remembered ideas. This causes many odd dreams. Many of these are set in my fictional past; but one was set in the fictional world of the Fluffo doll, who has a comic in which she appears as a scatterbrained and fashion-mad teenage girl. Petty pretty young children's stuff; I know as much as I want to know about her fictional scenario via across the road's children settling in my cab to read comics including that one, exposing me to them whether I want to read them or not. I found myself, shrunk to human height, flying to Majorca in an airliner with the fictional Fluffo. Between us two on the seat was a large box of Fry's chocolates which we two were sharing. I wondered briefly how the nearby notice "Dilarang Merokok" (Indonesian for `No Smoking') applied to my exhaust. We flew over France and out over the Mediterranean. A tall three-sided rock islet loomed up, and proved to be an exact enlarged copy of the hoarding. I never arrived, for suddenly the plane started to fall towards the deep sea, accompanied by a continuous loud alarm signal, which quickly changed into the telephone bell in James's garage. I felt confused, then revved my engine hard to clear the sleep and dream scenario out of my brain. After that I was thinking clearer; I connected myself to the phone line. It was the police wanting me as a court witness, for the fire brigade prosecuted Mr.Johnson's cleaner for causing the fire by negligence; they wondered how the court could cope, for my size and exhaustyness are not intended for Men's rooms; and how far the law would go in treating sentient robots as independently responsible people. At the trial, the magistrate let me look in through a window to give my evidence. The cleaner got three weeks prison for gross criminal negligence. Mr.Johnson was paid by his insurance, who decided not to try to recover the cost from the cleaner. Nothing more was heard about the hoarding.

As Christmas approached, I tried to turn my dreams away from my lost fictional companions by making or buying in spare moments toys to give to a nearby large council children's home. Perhaps if I made them happy, at my expense and not by pestering half the town, my nights might bring more cheerful thoughts to me, as I hauled yet another tanktrailer of acid from Wolverhampton to Shrewsbury under stars and a crescent moon past windblown leafless trees far from Oregon and Cybertron. [9] The next day was 21th December, the shortest day. Four days to the big festival - for fleshlings. What for me?, deprived of the pleasures of the table, far too bulky to enter men's houses or take part in many of their games? Likely only to be asked to carry people and presents, what the ancient Greeks called being a "donkey at the festival". It pelted with rain. The seasonal lights in towns made confusing reflections in wet roads as I accumulated presents. At Lewis's stores no.2 goods entrance, I unfolded my right arm and loaded cartons of train sets and Care Bears into my cab as a storeman barrowed them out to me. I gave him the cheque. If Wheeljack had been with me, he could have ... oh forget it. But, with aid from tools which I made, I made some toys in spare moments. I bought a big batch of orange artificial fur cloth, and kapok stuffing, and gradually a pile of teddybears grew in a corner in James's garage, with no help from Tabbins who kept playing with loose arms and legs before I could fit them. At least it made a change from hauling tanktrailers of acid. Once Birmingham was the world's toymakers. Now most toys in Britain are imported. What has happened to Tri-ang, or Chad Valley, or many other once-famous British toy tradenames? Chad Valley is a real place in the south of Birmingham, not a fictional Toyland as James used to think in his own childhood from seeing the name on toy boxes. After the festivities I was booked to haul more acid, for at least a month - I must earn a living - not a carefree load with frost about, and I didn't like the sound of the weather forecast.

But now the great day dawned. I drove into the children's home's yard and unloaded myself and gave the toys to the children. I brought a big handnet with me: one look at it told the inevitable bossy or greedy minority not to spoil the other children's pleasure. James came with me: the home's director let him have Christmas dinner there. "Pity you can't eat like us." said the director to me, "I've got 20 gallons of diesel for you round the back. I sympathize with you, a friendly caring mind trapped in that great mechanical body.". The sky cleared. The sun passed briefly low across the south. For once I could go in with them, for the room (it was the ballroom before the old duke died and his heir had to sell the building to pay death duties) was about tall enough for me to stand on hands and knees. The floor rested straight on hard ground without a cellar, and they well padded it against my weight. I brought a garage extractor fan and connected it to my exhaust pipes to blow the fumes through a wide flexible pipe out of a window. They had the Christmas dinner. I stood still and let them talk with me. One of them had a toy model of me. They wanted to hear about the time in the cartoon stories when the Decepticons attacked a hydroelectric power station, and Hound (who transforms to a dark green jeep) and Spike Witwicky (a boy in the stories) each saved the other. I tried to sound cheerful and told the story, but all that bringing up of my fictional past raised the old longing again. I missed Spike. The party ran its course and finished. I drove out. The caretaker brought some cake and mince pies to me, forgetting that I am not a fleshling: he meant well. I set off back to Wernicke's. It was a clear starry night, the first for weeks. I was glad that helping to bring seasonal happiness to humans had somewhat lessened my old longing for my lost followers. But out of town and away from street lights it was different, when the road turned due south under the cold stars.

[10] The Autobots! High and remote I saw them, twelve of them in the bright display of the winter stars which encrusted the frosty sky. To the west below Pegasus the Horse (including part of Andromeda as his hindleg), were the four smaller Aerialbots in a perpetual break-display: Slingshot and Skydive as the west and north ends of Pisces, leaving jet-trails of stars; Air Raid (a bit of Andromeda) beside Skydive; and Fireflight (Triangulum). Above the Horse my engineer Wheeljack lay on his side, his legs and chest parabola clearly outlined, as the rest of Andromeda, plus Lacerta. Due south was the bright form of Huffer, my other engineer, as what men call Orion, holding a long gun or tool in his left hand. To his right was Jazz in his car form as Aries and Taurus; the Pleiades shimmered on his hind roof. Mirage (Gemini) with Castor and Pollux bright on his shoulders, Skids (Lepus), Blades the helicopter (Auriga), and Gears the pickup truck (Canis Minor as his windscreen, and Monoceros) added to the gathering. From Huffer's left foot, The Road (Eridanus) meandered right then left and vanished below the horizon. One Decepticon intruded: overhead Starscream the F15 jet fighter shone bright (Perseus) (as well as Shockwave (Cassiopeia) and Soundwave (Cepheus) which I had noticed before). The autumn stars were lower in the west: Pegasus's head was nearly setting, and the lower ends of The Blowtorch's cylinders had touched the horizon. I had never seen so many of my people at once before, high above the leafless countryside. I stopped and could not help staring at them. Lower, the stars that had more of Earth's air to shine through, flashed and twinkled, including Ratchet's eye, Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Ratchet (Canis Major) seemed to wink at me continuously, as if calling to me. In the lonely empty silence, earth and humans seemed less and less real, and my mind returned to Oregon and Cybertron, as it often before had in dreams - but this time even more so. I drove a few miles further, but these images wouldn't go away. James had said once "If an idea infests my head and won't go away, I write it out on paper as a story. That gets it out of my head.", and that is why he had made me, not on paper but in full-sized steel and electronics. I could take it no longer. I shouted up at coldly glittering Ratchet and Wheeljack: "All right! You win! I'll make real ones of you!".


THE FELL WINTER

Even as James made me, so in James's garage I made Ratchet, piece by piece, as I remembered him. It was a long job, and not long started when the weather took a turn for the worse, with record cold temperatures and blizzards howling from the north. It is lucky that I, unlike men, can `kneel' on my hips by bending my hip joints at a right angle backwards, when working on the floor. Snow blew in through cracks. Sometimes I wondered why I started, all this effort to give life to a ghost of the nonexistent, small fiddly electronics and endlessly etching microchips as I made his brain circuitry, making thousands of mechanical parts and body-casing parts, but I couldn't well stop then. James let Peter across the road's sheep shelter in the garage: they weren't much help. Seeing the pile of disconnected parts of my old friend for real, and his head looking forlornly down from a shelf, would have made it worse if I had stopped then. Luckily I earned plenty hauling, to pay for materials. It kept getting colder. Sometimes parts of his brain entered my dreams, grown huge and serving as Cybertronian landscape. The complications continued, and so did the longing for those unliving separated body parts to speak to me. It was my first go at making a sentient computer brain, although I have made many since; both I and James learned a fair amount in the process. The constellation of Leo, appearing at times between racing clouds, reminded me uncomfortably of Ravage. Sometimes I would have welcomed even a Decepticon as a friend, if one came to me for real after so long alone. By late January I could stand the delay no longer. Although Ratchet was only half complete, I brought him to life.

Ratchet looked at himself, lying on his back on the garage floor, and saw that his body stopped short at the waist, trailing wires and connections. "My legs! Where am I?" he exclaimed, "This isn't the Ark! Who attacked us? Humans or Decepticons? Or has Mount St.Hilary erupted again and blown everything to bits? Where is everybody?". A sheep which had escaped from their enclosure at one end of the garage bleated puzzledly. It was I had suspected would be. As I gave Ratchet his mind and personality, using the computer program called the Creation Matrix which is in me, the memories of Cybertron and Oregon passed from me to him, whether I wanted it to or not, even as they had passed from James to me. The work went faster as he helped me to complete himself. He was completed in mid February. Then for the first time in reality he folded himself into his ambulance form and drove outside at the back briefly. James went out with him, wearing a thick fur coat and a Russian-style fur hat. "Welcome to England, Ratchet!" he said, "Winter isn't like this usually here. It's been like this for weeks. Lucky for Peter we got his sheep in. How the wind howls! It only howls like that in snow or in deserts. We better come in before we get buried in it. Lucky you've got that red band round yourself to see you by in all this white.". The wind blew from due north over hundreds of miles of snowbound land and frozen northern sea, still as cold as when it left Spitzbergen. Loose powder snow blew along the ground and piled up in drifts. Birds crowded round a bird table, in their hunger forgetting their fear of man. There was an unusual silence, for deep snow discourages men's many unnecessary journeys.

I lay down on my back, and Ratchet serviced me. I was overdue for it. One of Peter's rams watched curiously as I sat up and replaced all my wheels with spiked wheels to grip in the snow, for there was no real G.B.Blackrock to keep us in fuel and materials and I had to earn. I was taking a containerload of machinery from Wednesbury to Southampton to go to Brazil. The ram still watched. [12] I drove along the side entry and into the street. James and Ratchet saw me off. It was a long cold journey. They paid me extra for the weather. As long as my fuel didn't freeze, I was at less risk than humans from the cold. I went south over endless deeply snowbound flat countryside, Stow on the Wold, Burford, Andover, all snow-besieged and with most work stopped. Crossing the Cotswolds and the high Chilterns it was worse, as I had expected. Cadley near Marlborough was one of many places where I had to unhitch and transform to shovel through twenty-foot-deep drifts. It was the same in the lowlands beyond. The fertile plain of Hampshire was frozen hard and buried deep. There were drifts as high as me. At Stockbridge it started to snow yet again. Snow radiates heat to space at night, but refuses to absorb the sun's heat by day. It got colder despite slowly lengthening days. There were BBC and CB radio reports of the sea freezing along the shore. Why did my first winter of real life have to be the coldest since the Met Office had forgotten when? The wind blew straight from the Pole. It howled like Jetfire's motors. I longed for someone who could fly ahead to scout out the road, even if it was Laserbeak the hawklike flying Decepticon. I found a phone box and went down on all fours and connected myself to the phone line and rang Wernicke's. Ratchet answered.

"I've been helping the hospital." he said, "I've had the same as you, having to stop and transform and shovel snow. Yesterday I had to wade seven miles through snow to bring in a woman who had slipped on ice and broken her pelvis. I've made a warm box to carry patients in. It's so cold out! The place is still full of Peter's sheep. We'll be getting lambs born in here if this weather lasts much longer.".

"It's only twelve miles to go, if the port isn't frozen in." I said, "The sea freezes occasionally at odd places round Britain, but never this bad before.".

[13] I reached Southampton at last. Southampton Water was frozen solid. The great docks built for ocean liners were still and silent. A dock manager, wearing a helmet to keep his head warm, came to me and said: "I've worked here 28 years on the docks and risen to manager, never known a winter like this. Forget Portsmouth, it's icelocked also, the Solent's frozen across and people are driving cars across it. Ventnor on the Isle of Wight's open for shipping, or it was last time I heard from there. Don't you try going there, you're too heavy for the ice. You best try further west. The Navy's taken everything of theirs that can float to Plymouth. My son's got some models of you people, but I still can't really believe that I'm sitting in and talking to a real one.". He left me. I had refuelled in Romsey, but I had to sleep and let my brain circuitry `sweep and tidy' itself after an unusually eventful day. My dreaming mind returned to ancient times on Cybertron yet again.

"They're nearly overhead now." said Xaaron to Prowl as they hid under some service duct covers, "Keep quiet. If we succeed, never a better chance to catch Megatron and stop that new rebel group called the `Decepticons' before they get too many to stop.".

"Xaaron, what if he's already ..." Prowl started, then shouting "Look out!" [14] pushed Xaaron down just in time before a small rocket missile whooshed over their heads. Ahead where the service duct turned a corner, a Decepticon aimed his handheld rocket-gun at the two through a loophole in a door. A blue Transformer with Decepticon badges on, who looked like he transformed into a van, stood behind him. Xaaron and Prowl saw the gun's muzzle and stopped. But as it fired again, its firer was jumped from behind by the blue Transformer. As the two fought, Xaaron and Prowl entered and finished off the gun-firer. The blue Transformer took his Decepticon badges off, revealing Autobot badges. His van form's doors swung loose from his upper back, and had writing on.

"Bluehead!" Prowl exclaimed to him, "I guessed you'd get through! Now the last step, and an end to the Decepticon menace.". But there was a loud clang from somewhere, and alarm sirens started. "They've secured themselves! Transform and roll out!" Xaaron exclaimed. Prowl and Bluehead transformed into their vehicle forms and drove away fast. The writing on Bluehead had assembled to read: "J Wernicke Computers". Xaaron jumped on their backs to escape, for he had not transformed for centuries. They got away, but their plan had failed at its last step, and the Decepticons grew in numbers and dominated Cybertron. On earth it was the middle of the Pliocene geological period.

I woke. It was morning. Prowl and Bluehead were now a car and a fishmonger's van waiting in traffic crossing in front of the entry where I had parked to sleep. The siren was a factory's. I sleepily wondered where Xaaron was, then wondered what my dream had been thinking about, having James's delivery van as an Autobot, that long ago on Cybertron. I set off west to find somewhere to unload. Three miles after Lyndhurst I heard the S.S.Henrietta's ship radio saying that she was in Lyme Regis. Great, that meant 70 more miles to drive with that load on. I came to Bournemouth. There was no cry of seagulls, no sound of breaking waves, no crowds of holidaymakers, no fairground music, only endless leagues of white, and the howl of wind over snow, and the heaving and creaking of deep sea solid-frozen. The pack ice ground against the cliffs and the seawalls. I carried on. [15] Poole Harbour was frozen, as expected. Then the road went inland. The sea was frozen far out from the shore. A radio call on ships' radio frequency confirmed that even Portland Navy Base was icelocked, as were Weymouth and Lulworth and Swanage. Through Wareham and Dorchester and Bridport men had kept the main road clear, and there was no more fresh snow for a time, only endless hard frost. The BBC said that the Thames was frozen across right down to Shoeburyness. I had to shift many snow-buried abandoned cars. At Winterbourne Abbas a gritting lorry's driver saw me moving one, and was thankful for the help. I got to Lyme Regis harbour at last, and unhitched and transformed and helped to load the ship. The container was going to Sao Paolo in Brazil, where it never freezes. I for a moment wished that I could go with it. The sailors gaped at me.

So many south and east coast ports were frozen in that far more commercial traffic had gone to ice-free ports in the west than the facilities there could cope with. I stayed there for three days helping to load and unload ships, until the Navy sent some beach transshipping gear from Plymouth. Then the long cold journey home began. My return load was frozen meat sheeted-down on an open trailer: no need for a freezer-trailer! Men gave up trying to keep Exeter port open, up a river as it was, said CB radio reports. Bristol and most East Coast ports had frozen solid some time before. Liverpool and Holyhead were still open, despite threatening growing landfast ice along the Lancashire and Clwyd coasts. Even the Navy was having trouble with the Hamoaze (Plymouth harbour water), where the breakwater protected the ice as well as the ships from tide and waves. Past Shepton Mallet I found drifts up to 50 feet high in the Mendips. Following a CB radio call, I waded through snow to evacuate a man taken ill in a farm near Oakhill and take him to an ambulance which was on the nearest open road: it was appendicitis. I got home to Wernicke's at last.

[16] James was with Peter on Peter's fields behind his house across the road. Ratchet was there also, in ambulance form, with bales of hay tied to his roof, and a small bulldozer-blade made from scrap attached to his front to push through drifts.

"Look, we've got Bonecrusher the Constructicon [a Decepticon that transforms to a bulldozer in the stories] to help us." said James.

"Ha ha. Ratchet, how are you?" I said. "I'm taking some hay to some of Peter's sheep in an outbuilding." said Ratchet, "He hasn't the space to keep them all inbye.". Hearing the characteristically coalminers' words `inbye' and `outbye' used for things above ground startled James, and he said so. Peter explained that those words are used above ground in some areas.

Back in James's garage, Ratchet showed me a circuit board and said: "I've started making another brain in spare moments while you were away, Op. I've felt as lonely as you, stranded here without our old companions. Soon another of them will not only be a memory and a fancied likeness in stars.".

The second time round, the job went quicker, now that we had many of the required tools and dies and patterns already. In the intervals of hauling to earn money, I helped Ratchet to make Wheeljack. Outside, another blinding blizzard of fine dust-snow howled from the northeast. The roof rattled. Ratchet called our garage `Iacon' after my city on Cybertron: as a joke, but the name stuck. Also, I continued something which James had started three years ago and left incomplete: it soon after that saved life.

"The Cotswolds are always bad for snow, but life must go on." said James to Tabbins who was watching him loading cartons into his van to take them to Cirencester, "What do those two want with that radiocontrolled mini jetplane that I started to make that time? No, Tabbins, you stay here.".

"Soon, Wheeljack, soon! and your famed skill in engineering, no longer a memory-ghost, but alive in England!" said Ratchet to the upper half of Wheeljack which lay on its back on the garage floor. James's Alsatian approached and whined. "Basket! [a command to tell a dog to go to its bed], Timmy. I'll feed you when I've finished this." said Ratchet as he worked on the wires and connections trailing from Wheeljack's open waist.

I came back from delivering a load to Madresfield near Great Malvern in Worcestershire. Bad snow again. I had to transform and `manhaul' my load the last 7 miles. I was due to take another load the next day. The BBC radio news, as cold-sounding as ever, said that some people had walked from Cardiff to Weston-super-Mare over the ice. The amount of emergency calls that Ratchet got had made me think of James's mini-plane: I took it out and looked at it and thought. A loud "waowh" interrupted my thoughts. "Fishfishfish." I said, "Come on, Tabbins, I'll give you it in the office in the warm.".

A year later, we could have helped men much, with our increased numbers, but that was not to be so. We two did what we could around our own place, but elsewhere we were merely a distant name in the newspapers and the television as the snow deepened and February became March. Only in the Scilly Isles did the temperature creep above freezing point in the afternoons sometimes. Anything that could shovel snow or fly above it was kept busy. These two entries from an RAF helicopter's log are examples of countless such calls that it answered, as below it a gritting lorry with a snowplough tried to clear the same country road for the eighth time, and cows and sheep, their grazing deeply buried, clustered hungrily round a nearby farm.

"Diabetic needs insulin at Castlemorton 5 miles south 2 miles east of Malvern Wells."

"Man with pneumonia at Sledge Green on A438 1 mile west of [where it crosses] M50."

[17] The weather complicated all emergencies. People relied so much on wheeled transport, then found that it wasn't available. Some stranded country people even did something before that known only from pictures of the far past and remote places, and yoked cows to sledges to move supplies, not helped by the near universal modern absence on British cattle of horns to tie the yoke to. A farmer drove to town and couldn't get back for snow, leaving his wife facing a predicted emergency, which made yet another job for Ratchet, who had to transform to robot form and wade for two miles over his knees in snow (chest high to a human) and put her in his warmed carrying-box. "Why did it have to happen in all this snow?" she complained as he waded back. Coming to a slope, he lay on his back and slid down for speed, since her periodic groans were becoming louder and more frequent. "Hurry, please." she said, "At least it's warm in this box of yours - ohooooh - the 999 woman said all the helicopters were busy - ooooooh - everything goes wrong at once. A real Transformer! At least you got through. - ooooh - At first I didn't see you, white against white, then I thought I was imagining things. - oooooh -". Ratchet reached the cleared road and put her in his back as he transformed into ambulance shape and sped to town to a hospital. "Not long now." he said, unfolding two long thin mechanical arms from the inside of his roof to examine her as he passed a farm near the edge of the town. Above him, combed-out trails of cirrus cloud foreboded yet more snow.

"It's - here - now." she moaned, and a baby cried inside his rear. Another cry started as he entered the hospital yard.

"Maternity, born on arrival, twins, both boys." he said to two ambulancemen who hurried up with a stretcher.

"There's no - nobody driving! Then what talked?" said one of them startledly. Ratchet, when unloaded, transformed and looked in through a window at her to see how the babies were.

[18] Back at the garage, it was lambing time. Luckily the weathermen gave the shepherds enough warning to bring the sheep in before the heavy snow started. Wheeljack was nearly complete. I helped Ratchet to work on him for a while; then I had to go, to help move essential food and fuel from Holyhead to Manchester along the North Wales coast road. There the battle against snow was unusually hard, for the mountains brought much more snow down than on the plains to the east. And emergencies still arose.

Laserbeak, jet-propelled hawk-shaped Decepticon flyer about seven feet long, flew up from Wernicke's and away over snow-piled roofs. He was confused, for he had Laserbeak's form but Ratchet's memories and emotions and mentality. I made him, but I had not yet programmed his mind in when emergency arose when I was away, and Ratchet, lacking the Creation Matrix program, could bring him to life only by copying his own mind into him. He knew of his Decepticon past, via James and me and Ratchet, but it all seemed remote, like someone else's past. He had to fly quickly. He flew over endless miles of fields snowed over the hedges, and the bleak backs of the Chilterns. White land under grey overcast showed few landmarks and no clear horizon: it was what Arctic explorers call a "white- out". Drifts and uncleared roads did not stop him. He sought something of no use to himself, blood, the red fluid that flows about inside people acting as a transport system. When someone loses too much of his own, it must be replaced with some of the correct grade for his own body's specifications, which someone gave to a hospital previously. But people couldn't get to hospitals for the weather, and hospital staff had to look further and further afield for the rarer grades (which men call `groups') of blood. Droitwich Hospital told Ratchet of this need, and sent Laserbeak to fetch a rare blood group urgently. Laserbeak flew over London's width. Some people recognized him from fiction. He flew along the North Downs to the sea, then out above the windswept wilderness of the frozen Strait of Dover. Below him, people on foot or driving ventured the 23 miles of the shortest crossing, past the Varne lightship frozen in among a tangle of pressure ridges, many not believing until they saw it that English frost could ever bridge so wide a sea. [19] He reached the farther shore, where the solid pack ice, withstanding even spring tides, ground against the high chalk cliff of Cap Gris-Nez. He could not stop for the scenery, but urgency drove him straight across the land beyond the Channel to Lille, a town in northern France.

At the hospital there, they were expecting someone of his name, but his appearance startled them. "Their man Monsieur Ratchet said that a Monsieur Laserbeak would come in a small plane. But sacré bleu what is that!?" said one of them. (Ratchet had programmed Laserbeak to know French, so he understood them.)

"I'm not seeing this!" another exclaimed, "I've been in charge of the psycho ward too long!".

"Please!" Laserbeak called above their alarmed gabbling, "As Ratchet said, put the blood in my cargo compartment, it is urgent.".

"I suppose it had to happen some time." said another of them, loading him, "A computer that could think like a human, and used as a plane's autopilot.".

"All right, all right, it exists." one of them admitted.

With his cargo, and refuelled, he took off and set off home. It started to snow. He crossed the Channel and the Home Counties. When I was near Daventry delivering goods, I got CB radio contact with him and told him to tell the rest that I would be back the next day. He landed at Droitwich Hospital in a plastering snowstorm. There he was unloaded and thankfully flew the last short length home. There, as he landed, Ratchet was kneeling by Wheeljack, who lay on his back, apparently complete but not yet alive. Laserbeak told them my message and what the weather was like where he had been.

Timmy came up and whined. Tabbins came up and tried to miaow through a mouse in his mouth.

"Caught another mouse, Tabbins? Where do they keep coming from, to gnaw the circuitry? I'll feed you two in the office in a few minutes in the warm." said Ratchet, "April tomorrow and still no sign of a thaw. Some say that's how the last Ice Age started, a normal coolish summer, then the next winter never finished. Wheeljack's nearly complete, only a few last things to check.".

[20] Next day when I came home I connected my brain to Wheeljack's by a cable. With the `Creation Matrix' computer program I gave him his personality and memories, and he came alive, and was eager to start again designing things, within the limits of how matter and energy behave in the real world. I wondered how long it would take for the huge and miscellaneous amount of matter read out by James via me into him, from engineering books and maintenance manuals and all sorts, to cohere into some semblance of his famed Cybertronian skill and experience? Then for the first time in reality he transformed, into a white Lancia sports car with a parabola shaped roof which was his robot form's chest. His head folded away in his car form's rear end. Now four Transformers existed: me, Ratchet, Laserbeak, Wheeljack. James and several sheep watched curiously.

Yet again the sky filled with "Bracknell's Decepticons", as I and Ratchet had started to call the snow clouds. (England's main weather forecasting centre is at Bracknell.) A gale blew heavy snow into a blinding plastering blizzard. Cleared roads were drifted over their hedges again. In Droitwich a foot more snow fell; it was worse in Wales and Scotland. People lived off stores and waited it out. The blizzard blew across snowbound land and frozen sea. Man and Autobot and animal slept and waited for the snow to stop, but in the morning it was still snowing.

"I've just heard bad news." James told me, "You thought you'd left the Decepticons behind in your fictional past. Not so. Some Dutch computer expert called Lirpa Loof has made a real Megatron, who has already made three of his followers. Complete with a real fusion cannon, as an end result of those experiments in hydrogen fusion that have been in the papers.".

"It's all right." I replied, "I've heard of him. In fact, I positively know him backwards!! Until the weather gets a lot more like April Fools Day in England, and a lot less like midwinter in the Canadian Arctic, lets keep it serious. Having to drive in this ice and snow is bad enough without false alarms of trouble. When will spring come, if it ever comes?".

It snowed all day. There was nothing much that we four and James could do except plan for the future, between answering the inevitable nuisance telephone calls that April 1st creates - among which I nearly missed a genuine call for James.

"Wernicke Computers here." I said into the phone when it rang yet again.

"Hallo? I was told to ring you about a circuitbreaker." a man said.

"Circuitbreaker? [see 2] She's fictional, thankfully. Sorry you've been troubled." I replied.

"No!" he said, "I know they're real. Your firm advertised them.".

"Oh, the equipment called a circuitbreaker. I call Mr.Wernicke." I said, and rang his office on the internal line, no reply, so I revved my engine as loud as possible and called "Telephone!". James, who had `gone somewhere for a moment', came in, asking me if I could find some way of calling him that doesn't rev the garage full of my exhaust. He answered the call.

Night fell, and still the blizzard howled through the passes of the Welsh mountains and over the lowlands and across the empty wilderness of the frozen Solent and Straits of Dover, and the landfast ice along the coasts. But the wind was from the southwest at last. By morning had come deliverance long prayed for, the wind was warm, from the Azores, the snow turned to rain and a fast thaw. It was over! James at last and gladly chased across the road's sheep out and swept up and hosed down after them. [21] It was also over at last for men, the endless war against the ice to keep Britain's last good ports open, the long battle against Lancashire and Clwyd landfast ice to keep Liverpool open, for under their ice the rivers still brought down easy-freezing fresh water. At one time the jaws of the grinding ice closed in on Glasgow, and men walked dryshod between Ireland and Scotland. I woke from a dream of what might have been if I had come a few years sooner, with all my old companions made again real to drive and then transform and wade through snow too deep for men to wade through to take supplies to isolated communities, Buzzsaw as well as Laserbeak to fly with urgent medical items, the Constructicons to help clear snow on the imperilled Snowdonia section of the vital A55 North Wales coast road to Holyhead. But that was not to be, and Starscream and Fireflight, as they took off over the endless white with supplies for airdropping in their cockpits and tied to their empty missile-racks, faded in the daylight and wakefulness as the roar of their jets turned into rain on the windows and the sound of melt and drip everywhere. Spring had come, and a quick thaw to make floods and new problems for us and for men. There were only three of us; plus a Laserbeak who thought he was Ratchet, which is not how I would have programmed his mind in, but need compelled Ratchet in my absence, to save life.


HOIST AND JAZZ

We all went out onto James's back-land. Daffodils, which had grown under the snow, flowered. Laserbeak perched on my cab roof. "Spring at last!" I said, "You new ones wouldn't know how tired I and James got of endlessly looking out at white. English winters aren't usually this bad ... What was that?".

It was a noise that both I and Ratchet recognized too well as a car crash. More work for Ratchet from someone's carelessness. He rushed down James's side passage into the street, in his haste starting to drive before he finished transforming. He went along a country lane where the trees and hedges were coming into leaf, there were wild flowers in the grass verges, the snow was gone, and cows and sheep had been let out to graze at last - and a car lay on its side wrapped round a big roadside tree. Long rubber marks on the road showed that it had skidded on a patch of unmelted ice left from a deep snowdrift. A moan came from the car. "When will people stop going too fast?, leaving such as me with the messy part of patching up broken bodies and lives." Ratchet thought as he stopped and transformed and knelt by the wreck. His chemical sensors showed that no petrol had spilt, so he protruded a blowtorch from the back of his right wrist and cut and tore the car open to get the driver out. As he picked her up and put her on a stretcher, he smelt alcohol on her breath. The old enemy. She saw his white robotic body and moaned: "Where am I? What are you? Oww! I got to get to Mrs.Jones's with the recipe ...". Mrs.Jones. A name that was to bedevil our lives in months to come. He quickly examined her, took a piece of branch from the tree to use as a splint for her broken leg, radioed the hospital, [22] and put her in his rear as he transformed back to ambulance form and set off there.

"Mrs.Jones." she moaned, "I'm expected at her party to give a ... Ohww my car! I only had third party [insurance] on it.".

"It's a write-off, so's your driving licence." Ratchet replied curtly as he drove, "You had 97 mg/mm of alcohol. Lucky you didn't hurt anybody else, and I have to pick up the pieces. Ring her from the hospital.".

"RTA [= road traffic accident] 4 miles north of Chellingham, a Mrs.Allington, as I radioed." Ratchet called as he reached Droitwich hospital ambulance entrance.

"What!? Nobody's driving it!" a nurse exclaimed, "Oh, it's him again. A real Transformer, I still can't quite get used to it.", and then to Ratchet: "We'll arrange a proper ambulanceman training course for you some time.".

Ratchet went back to Wernicke's. He and Wheeljack helped James and me at work. Laserbeak flew about carrying urgent small items, such as blood and other small medical items for hospitals. Time passed and Mrs.Allington came out of hospital with a leg in plaster and straight to court charged with drunk driving. Ratchet had to appear as a witness, the second time one of us had been a court witness. So far Droitwich magistrates had accepted us as legally equivalent to humans; but how long before someone challenges it? They looked a bit nervously at Ratchet's big steel face as he looked in at a window to give his evidence. He linked his brain to two televisions to give a `video output' far quicker than having to describe or draw everything. "60 foot skid marks ..." he said, "She seemed to be confused, some time before she realized that she couldn't continue her journey ... pills to suppress flu symptoms, and 97 mg/mm of alcohol on top of it ...".

"I'd lost enough time off ill." she said, "I'd had a few drinks, I wasn't meaning to go out, but something on the radio reminded me of that recipe I had for Mrs.Jones. I rang her to say I'd bring it next day, but she said that she needed it at once. Call the ambulance only, and they telltale to the police, and they've programmed you to be the same.".

The case ended, and Ratchet and Mrs.Allington met her husband in the court car park. "What was so important at Mrs.Jones's?" Ratchet asked the two, "that you must hurry there ill and drunk. Now look what you caused! Lucky nobody else got hurt!".

Mr.Allington replied angrily: "I'd changed the car's insurance to comprehensive, and she changed it back to `third party only' at once, to pay for her perpetual socializing about as if I was as rich as the old duke was!".

"Down that turn is Mrs.Jones's." she said to Ratchet as he took them home through the lanes, "Her next slide show: could you possibly ...? Things to help her to arrange.".

"No!" said Mr.Allington sharply, sitting in Ratchet's left front seat, "Sorry, but we go straight home. You're out of it, and I've resigned you out of all the little circles that you're involved in. You're in too many of them. I hardly ever saw the car, and the expense and the `social' drink all the time, I can't afford it.".

They got home. Next morning he was watering daffodils in a front upstairs window when a large green towtruck with orange back gear carrying the remains of his car, stopped in his drive and blew its horn. [23] He went downstairs and out front, looked, and said to himself annoyedly: "Enough nuisances! Nobody in that towtruck! While I was coming down, he was $#@ sharp to bunk off to a cafe or somewhere instead of waiting a minute, dumping a wrecked car in my front. What am I supposed to do with it? Oh, the towtruck's got the same badge a bit like a face on it, that that talking ambulance Ratchet has.", and looked again in the front of the towtruck for any sign of its driver, but there was nobody in there. "Hallo??" he called.

"I'm not Ratchet, I'm Hoist." said the towtruck. He jumped in fright. "The people that made Ratchet have now made me." it continued, "Are you Mr.Allington? Your wife asked the hospital earlier to ask Ratchet to bring the car here so she can recover papers. What I found are in my left dashboard compartment, my left door's unlocked, but the car was in such a mess that I may have missed some.".

He reached in and took out a handbag, and a large package that felt like it was full of disordered papers. "Thankyou." he said to Hoist, "She can have her handbag and her private stuff back, but the rest go straight in the post back to that Mrs.Jones's society where they belong. I'm sorry you people have been run about after us. It still gives me the shivers a bit, you're electronics and mechanism, but alive and thinking. Thanks for your help.". He went into Hoist's front and opened the package and sorted the papers on the seats. Some of the papers he stuffed into the handbag. The rest he tied up again in the package, which he left.

"I'm going near Mrs.Jones's house anyway. I'll take them to her." said Hoist after he got out again, "What do you want doing with your car?".

"Yours for £20 for scrap." he replied, "Her cancelling the comprehensive, I'll never afford another car. I'll go back to a motorcycle, they're cheaper and cost less to run.".

Hoist took the wreck on its last short journey to Smith & Malton's works, where an automatic carbreaker machine consumed it. Later that day in `The White House' in the country between Chellingham and Oddingley, Mrs.Jones in an upstairs front room was planning something (`probably her next lot of busybodying', said people who knew her), when a large green towtruck with orange back gear stopped in her drive. To her astonishment, its body hinged off its chassis and unfolded and rearranged itself strangely, and a head and two arms appeared. The chassis split into legs. The towing gear hung down its back as it stood up. She recovered from her surprise quickly, for she knew of us via the local newspaper. She was a bit nervous at his size and steel body; she would have been more nervous if she had known that he had a heavy-duty cutting blowtorch built into himself and was fully equipped for metal scrapping and carbreaking on the spot. He held out the package of papers to her at the window and said: "Mr.Allington sends his compliments but had to offer his wife's resignation from your group. She had been overworking. Here's your documents that she had.".

Nextdoor's dog sniffed at his truck form's front wheels attached to his ankles. Mrs.Jones replied sharply to Hoist: "If that Mr.Allington has anything to say, he can come himself and not send one of Wernicke's robots as a message boy. I've had words with Mr.Allington before, him trying to pull his wife out of my society. I'm sorry she's hurt, but I absolutely needed her plentiful willing help, specially after those other two started missing meetings and then stopped coming at all. Shows, lectures, dinners, teas, sales, they all need organizing.".

(Those two were Richard and Stephen Simmons. They had joined her group for their own advantage, not to help her group's aims, although they pretended to be minded like her, and told lies that they had done her will with money that she had raised when they hadn't; when they thought it wise to, they left and covered their tracks. I was eventually to hear of those two again briefly, before an end was brought to them. What by, I only found out long afterwards: it was not by man or Transformer.)

"He can't come." said Hoist, "No car, and his wife's on crutches. He says you've had a fortune in free transport and food and cooking and entertainment off her. When she told you that your precious recipe had to wait till next day, you pestered and pleaded and brought up all sorts of issues and names and sakes and pities in your neurotic impatience as if the fate of Cybertron depended on it, until she lost patience and drove drunk and Ratchet and the hospital was left to pick up the pieces. Ease off the throttle sometimes.".

"Things need doing!" Mrs.Jones replied sharply, finally realizing that Hoist was not remote controlled by a human talking and hearing over a radio link, "People come up with one excuse after another if I didn't chase them. What's Cybertron? Do you mean Sidebottom? I gave a lecture there once, but only three came. They said the rest were busy shearing sheep. Any excuse for evasion.".

Hoist finished his other call and went back to Wernicke's, where I had just had a long argumentative telephone conversation with a man who refused to believe that I wasn't a human, and persisted in wanting to hire "Wheeljack's car" while Wheeljack was busy in Wernicke's helping me to make the next of my people to see the real world. I was steadily adding to the body plating and mechanical parts spread on the floor: a head stood silently on a shelf. Some computer output among it had the word `Jazz' on their front pages. Tabbins curled up asleep on the warm patch in Wheeljack's bonnet as he thought in the course of designing something. [24] I and Ratchet were making Jazz, who transforms to a white Porsche. We had missed him so much, endlessly seeing his image in the sky as the stars of Aries and Taurus driving high and irrelevantly over the snowbound land. In the stories he risked many dangers for us, and he was my best agent in our dealings with Men.

"I missed him too." James thought, "I read about them, then I shut the book, or the film finishes, and they all vanish. In return for these robots occupying my garage, at last I seem to be going to get the use of a presentable car. (Wheeljack would be all right, but he's nearly always busy.) Last time I had visitors, my own van was busy, and I had to choose between an ambulance and a towtruck to fetch them in.".

Each one of us made real in this world, to replace his former self left behind in my unattainable fictional past in Oregon , makes James's garage more crowded, although we pay our way and deliver goods for him. Each one made, then in turn yearns for his former companions. I must stop somewhere. I can't make all of Cybertron on this earth of Men. There is no point me going to the real Oregon, for there I would find no Witwicky family, and no Ark, and no Mount St.Hilary, and no G.B.Blackrock to keep us in fuel in return for combatting the Decepticons. Jazz gradually became complete. We had to keep shooing Tabbins away from the work. Wheeljack connected his brain to Jazz, who was now complete, and transformed him to car form to put his upholstery in. Jazz's legs pulled together and became his rear end. Tabbins miaowed and ran out from under Jazz. Jazz's body refolded itself and his body assembled itself. His head folded away. His arms folded across his chest as his front suspension and steering-gear. Laserbeak suggested feeding Tabbins to keep him away from getting in the way of work, and wondered why the imperfectly controllable half-sentient flesh life forms called `animals' are allowed to wander about loose. James, who was loading computer parts into his van, said that Tabbins was fed enough already. Finally I connected my brain to Jazz's and gave him his appropriate memories and knowledge and mental impressions, and brought him to life in reality. His dawning mind saw and heard where he was, and was puzzled.

"Hey, Op!" were his first words, "What's with the Ark, so we had to move to Sparky's garage? No, we aren't there either! Who's this Mr. Wer-nick that says he lives here?".

"It's pronounced Vehrr-nicker." James said.

"Odd. Your voice doesn't sound German." said Jazz.

"No. You are in England." I said, and explained.

"My real name is Robinson." said James, "but I needed a more distinctive name to trade under. The human brain's speech system has parts called Wernicke's and Broca's areas after the men who discovered them. One thing I make is speech decoders and speech synthesizers for computers, so I chose a trading name accordingly.".

"I better show you round the town. I've got some visits to make. There are no real Decepticons. Life'll be safer than you remember it." said James, getting into Jazz, who was still in car form.

Tabbins jumped up onto Jazz's right rear and left a trail of muddy footprints across his roof and down his windscreen and across his bonnet, where he curled up. Cats do that. Jazz said: "The only time I was in England before that I remember is when we found that Autobot spaceship under Stansham castle - but that was in the stories, there's no such place - No Decepticons, you say!? Is that Laserbeak!, or is there a bug in my brain's programming? The cat's soon found the warm spot over my motor.".

"It's all right," said James, "It's got a copy of Ratchet's mind in it. We need a small flyer to fetch small things fast and look above the trees and buildings.".

James in Jazz drove out into the street and away. [25] He drove past the end of a pedestrianized shopping street. In the paving was a triangular scar [see 6]; the planners had seen sense and had not let the hoarding be replaced. He passed N.P. & A.L. General Dealers, recently reopened: a piece of paper stuck to the door said "back soon". Jazz made a surprised noise, thinking that he saw Starscream's name on a shop; but the full name was `Goldstars Creamery', and below the name was a side view of a cow with a gilded star under its belly. He drove on. I was hauling frozen meat to Glasgow; Ratchet was at a hospital having an ambulanceman training course; Laserbeak was still returning from delivering transfusion blood to a road accident site, where Wheeljack and Hoist were helping to clear up.

At Wernicke's, a man came to collect goods, telling James's temporary secretary that the usual man was ill. He went in and let two others in. They had big empty packs. Inside, one of them found James's storeroom and started to search the compartments, regardless of what he was spoiling for the sake of the price of a few days' cheap bed and meals and drink and smoke. In three he found nothing worth taking. In a fourth he found brass components. He continued. His pack gradually became heavier. In the next compartment were more brass components, and also Tabbins, who backed away from the unfamiliar smelling hand, and then, cornered, scratched hard and caterwauled loudly and bit deep. [26] The man, with a low-grade rough mentality, forgot where he was and yowled loudly with pain and swore foully. He realized his mistake too late as Timmy in an adjacent room, woken by these noises, started barking loudly and continuously. Meanwhile another man found the office and shot out the telephone and what looked like a two-way radio; then he went to the storeroom. A car was heard arriving, followed by metallic noises and air hissings. A third man looked through a door to see what it was - and was held hard in the steel hand of a white steel robot that looked as if it was made from the parts of a car. "Bert! Scarper!" he said into his walkietalkie in fright, "A - a - Transformer! Like the toys but alive and 20 feet tall!".

In the storeroom the other two were still arguing about the noise which had raised the alarm, and wondering what their third man was on about, while in the store compartment Tabbins arched his back and bristled and hissed and spat at them. James, who had just arrived in Jazz, collected his helmet and shield and pickaxe handle which he kept in case of emergencies, called Timmy, and went into his storeroom to confront the two. One of them had a pickaxe handle, but neither had a shield. Before the fight started he had time to call for help on his walkietalkie.

By now the local police knew of us, even if three thieves didn't. Laserbeak heard James's radio call at nearly limit range, identified a police car from its roof markings, swooped on it, and with a loud squawk called: "To Wernicke's factory! Intruders!".

[27] In the storeroom James backed into a corner to cover his back. Stick thudded on stick or on James's shield and helmet. James was facing two enemies, but in spare periods he had long practised with his riotsquad-type kit against a semi-intelligent opponent simulator which he had made. James's stick found Bert's left funnybone and then head, and Bert fell. The other burglar, two ribs broken by the return stroke, fled into the garage, where Timmy and then Jazz caught him. Jazz now had one of them in each hand. James ran up and just in time broke Bert's free forearm with a blow of his pickaxe handle; a sawn-off shotgun fell to the floor. But as two police cars arrived the third man woke and ran out to their van, and took out and put on a high-capacity fire extinguisher which he had fitted with backpack straps and a nozzle valve. He aimed it at the police as they got out of their cars, for he had been adapted it to do the exact opposite of its intended purpose. He switched on its igniter and aimed. Then with a loud harsh caw like a crow's there swooped on him something like he had never seen before, like a small plane in hawk shape with hooked beaked head and taloned legs. Laserbeak's swoop startled him long enough for Timmy to run out and grab his nozzle hand, and the high-pressure jet of burning petrol from his backpack converted fire extinguisher [28] wasted itself on empty tarmac. While he was trying to get his flame nozzle out of the dog's bite with his other hand, James ran out and up to him and clubbed him unconscious, shouting angrily: "That's enough! Three of you thinking I'd be a pushover by myself!, never mind how much of other people's work you spoil for the price of a few drinks and fags and cheap meals.".

The flamethrowerman was handcuffed and bundled into a police car. Asked for his name, he replied "Mickey Mouse" and complained: "Not fair, him got up to the nines like the French CRS [= riotsquad] and giant robots like science fiction and that vicious dog and his posh fancy style of talking.". James gave a short statement, and went back into his office and gave Timmy a bone. His temporary secretary was unhurt. Tabbins and a police dog started threatening each other; the dog's handler jerked on its lead and gave a curt order while James gave Tabbins some fish. A policeman took the remains of the phone for forensic ballistics to examine. James typed a full- length statement into a computer file and listed it on a lineprinter to save the policeman's writing hand from yet more work.

The police handcuffed and arrested the other two intruders, who Jazz was still holding. Seeing Jazz's steel bulk towering above them still made the policemen somewhat nervous. They asked the two for their names.

"Donald Duck. I live at Pondville." said one abusively.

"Goofy, The Kennels." said the other, "If it hadn't been for that rabid alley cat of his, nasty sharp claws.".

"That won't help. If we don't know your names, we'll give you numbers." said a policeman.

"I don't know their names," said Jazz, "but they're those new three at N.P. & A.L. General Dealers which has reopened. I saw them through their shop window. They were going in and out of their back. I can replay my memory of them back from my visual cortex into a television.".

A policeman jumped a bit and said sharply: "Cordtex? I didn't know you lot had explosives here.".

"I didn't mention explosives." Jazz replied, "Cortex is the conscious part of the brain (which in me is electronic).".

"Good thing you showed up just then, Mr.Laserbeak. You still scare me a bit, that shape and electromechanical but alive and thinking." said a policeman outside as he listed the men's kit and put it into a police car's boot, "One sawn-off shotgun; two walkietalkies; one pickaxe handle; one homemade flamethrower (nasty contraption it is); two packs; ... N.P. & A.L. General Dealers will be shut for a good while.".

"And just then, when the job was finished," (so James described it afterwards), "up come Ratchet and Hoist and Wheeljack and Optimus!". Ratchet nearly didn't recognize James in his riotsquad gear. Ratchet gave Jazz a thorough check-up after all that action. So ended the first occasion of `having the Decepticons in', as I called it once.

"After all that going-on," said James sitting on my left shoulder holding onto my left ear-point, "I better get back to work, I've customers waiting. It's lucky you didn't wait another day until bringing Jazz to life! That shop of theirs seems to attract trouble, whoever owns it.".

[29] Time passed and work continued. The nuisances that beset our lives in the real world have various origins, and sometimes the petty and the serious clash with each other in their demands for our time. One night I again found myself in the Fluffo doll's [see 8] fictional world, where she is a scatterbrained teenage girl who follows the latest fashions. I was of human height, dancing with her in the richly ornate ballroom that was in the old duke's mansion [see 9] before Droitwich Council bought it; the dream ignored the anachronism. She wore an expensive ornate flowing yellow dress.

"It's so nice you could make it. Pity about the weather, after that time we didn't manage to get to Majorca after all." she said.

The music for the next dance started. It was a minuet, which I was not very familiar with. "Hang on, Fluffo." I said, and counted steps and thought. The dance did not last long, for the fire alarm rang, and a loudhailered order to evacuate the building. As the guests and the musicians ran out, the ballroom turned into Wernicke's factory garage, and the fire alarm into a telephone bell. After a moment's puzzlement I recognized the usual. "Oh Matrix, another silly Fluffo dream." I realized. James's brother had come for the day, with a small daughter Sue (James's niece) who was leaning against my right front cab corner near one of my various eyes reading her Fluffo comic. At other times she settles in my cab. Either way exposes me whether I want it or not to all that sillyness of expensive unnecessary fashion clothes and parties and boyfriends giving the readers an overearly wasteful expensive taste for the same. That is not what dolls are meant for. Dolls are for children to practise child care on for when they grow up and have their own children. I shook off that somewhat purposeless line of thought and answered the phone. "Hallo? Wernicke Computers here." I said.

"Is Mr.Prime there?" a man replied.

"That's me." I said.

"Could I possibly hire your lorry for the day, Mr.Prime?" he said.

"I'm sorry, but I'll be busy all day in here." I replied.

"Then you won't be needing it. I could hire it." he said. Another one! People kept on thinking that we have human drivers. The previous week the same breakdown firm rang four times wanting to hire "Hoist's towtruck" while Hoist himself was busy here at Wernicke's, and refused to take "no" for an answer. I yet again tried to explain what a sentient computer brain was. Other people thought that we had made nearly all the Transformers characters real: the previous day someone wanted to hire Grapple (who transforms into a truck-crane), although I hadn't made him yet.

"If you are like in the stories, then could I hire that big boxtrailer of yours and that 6-wheeled open car called `Roller' that you carry around? I could hire an artic cab somewhere else." he asked.

Starting to feel a bit irritated with people who think that my fact must be an exact copy of my fiction, I replied: "Sorry, no. I don't know where you got your information from, but that boxtrailer and Roller only exist in the stories that I was copied into reality from.". I had no trailer of my own in the real world, but pulled any loaded trailer that I was hired to pull. Later I got Smith & Malton's to make a flatbed trailer of my own for me, but that was not yet.

"Look, Op. Fluffo's got all her friends in for dinner." said Sue, opening her comic in front of one of my eyes. On the phone there was the sound of a receiver being snatched, then a different voice said: "Look! Are you a schizo who thinks he's a lorry or a science fiction character, or is this a joke!? Either way there'll be trouble when I can contact Mr.Wernicke next. I've got 20 tons to be taken to Bristol now, and I need a lorry quickly.".

"Not now!" I said a bit sharply to Sue, "I've heard quite enough about Fluffo real and fictional to last me till next time I need new big-ends! Fluffo Dolls Ltd. keeps sending me stuffy letters full of lawyer's talk about that hoarding I had to knock down to let a fire engine through [see 6]; you left your Fluffo doll in Ratchet, and of course it got taken to hospital in him next time he had a case, and nurse thought it was the patient's: you were very lucky to get it back. Anyway, I'm on the phone right now.".

"My dolly's `her', not `it'!" Sue complained aggrievedly, "and you say you're on the phone, but I can't hear anything.".

"Because I'm talking straight into the phone. I can link my brain straight to the phone. Quiet, I'm still on the phone." I replied. The phone conversation continued pointlessly a little longer, then finished.

Jazz had joined Hoist and Wheeljack on a job repairing an oldish factory building that someone had bought. That meant that James, needing to fetch from Birmingham Airport three reps who had come from a firm in Silicon Valley (an area of computer factories in California in USA), had no choice at all what vehicle to fetch them in. They wouldn't have cared for all three and a lot of luggage and James being squashed together into my cab, or having to sit on the floor in the back of James's delivery van; it had to be Ratchet, regardless of what they might think of being fetched in an ambulance. Mention of California reminded Ratchet suddenly of adjacent Oregon, the scene of many of the old fictional adventures of the Transformers, and the Ark in fictional Mount St.Hilary in the Cascades Mountains. Ratchet kept radio watch on the ambulance frequency. The previous week he had been called to a multiple pile up on the M5 motorway, from holiday traffic too close on each other's tails; luckily he could transform and walk to get round the mess.

"Have you heard anything more of that Mrs.Jones?" Ratchet asked James as they passed the turning to Mrs.Jones's house.

"She made one more try at getting Mrs.Allington back into her society, then gave up at last. I wish she'd leave people alone. Laserbeak's away delivering surgical instruments urgently." replied James.

"I better not transform or talk at the airport and startle everybody." said Ratchet as he turned off the A45 towards Birmingham Airport, "I've seen a fair bit of life since I first woke in your garage and found that I was only my upper half, and only Optimus Prime there with me: my first job was to help to complete myself [see 11]. I sometimes keep track of the comic that your nephew gets about the adventures I'm supposed to be having in Oregon and the Ark. Exciting at times; the real world's duller but safer.".


HUFFER

[30] In Birmingham Airport international arrivals James met his three visitors, who were delayed by Customs searching all their mass of luggage. They and James had sent each other photographs of themselves, and James wore a red and white carnation as arranged.

"I better let you sleep a night to get over the jet lag before we discuss anything. I've got some beds at my works." James said.

"In an ambulance!? What's going on?" one of them said suspiciously when they saw Ratchet parked outside the airport building.

"It's all right." said James, "I had it at my works to install a computerized medical system in it. I thought my car might be too small for all your luggage." as they loaded the luggage into its rear. One of them noticed that its sides and roof seemed rather thick and looked jointed, and its stylized robot face badge was vaguely familiar to him, but he couldn't place it.

"Unload on the pavement below this window." James said as they stopped at his works, "I'll go and unlock and feed the guard dog.". This last was to tell them that he had a guard dog: a habitual precaution of his. "I'll lift your luggage up, to save you having to carrying it up." said an electrosynthesized voice from somewhere. It seemed to come from James's ambulance; but they could see nobody in it.

"Oooh! Jet lag!" one of the three complained, "I'll be glad to go to bed. I've started imagining things. I'm sure I heard that ambulance talking. My insides still think it's the middle of the night.".

"I heard it as well." said another, "What have we been riding in? Or is it a radio link and a loudspeaker and some sort of joke?".

"I wonder." said the third, "All these recent advances in computer design. After all, it is computers we came to discuss.". The ambulance unfolded and rearranged itself into a tall white robot. They backed away in alarm with startled exclamations. One of them recognized it as Ratchet from his son's Transformers videocartoons, and said so. "It's all right, it exists." said James, and led them to their room, where in a feeling of sleepy unreality they took their luggage in through a window as Ratchet handed it up to them. They sat about sleepily and went to bed. They were already asleep when I looked in through the window at them.

[31] They woke in the morning. "Jet lag!" one moaned, wondering dazedly whether `8.02' on the clock was a.m. or p.m., "He didn't offer us a drink (except tea, not even coffee), he didn't have any himself, I bet there's none in the place! Fetched in an ambulance, I dreamed it became a giant robot.".

"It wasn't a dream." said another, sitting up in bed and stretching, "That was a real Transformer. Computers with minds of their own: whatever next? I bet he's an up with the lark type who'll want to discuss business as soon as we're up.".

"Toys and the comic, I hadn't heard of real ones." said the third yawning as he opened his eyes, "We've more to do in California than read British newspapers. It told me that it had been a witness in a drunk driving case: if it's that much like a man, I bet it'll want to join in the discussion, me having to discuss things with some talking vehicle that can't have dinner or a drink with me. I knew that Wernicke's Computers make some advanced stuff, but ...".

"Not me, till I've had a big steak and a few beers." said the first yawning, "I bet that just as we're getting into the swing of the evening, he'll go yawning to bed at ten leaving us with only that Ratchet for company.".

James put Timmy his alsatian on its lead, and led it and them across his garage. "Those two trucks look a bit familiar." thought one of them, looking at a big red three-axled artic cab with vertical chromed exhaust pipes and a slightly smaller two-axled orange artic cab with claw-ended telescopic load-handling arms going up the back edges of its driver's compartment, and a large vertical exhaust pipe between them.

The four sat down. The discussion somehow kept wandering away from ordering goods from Wernicke's. They complained that competition from Wernicke's cost them customers; they talked about market-sharing agreements, and percentages of profits, and arrangements, and quotas of how much of what he sold where, and wanting to be his intermediary in buying supplies and selling products, and other things. The atmosphere got tense. James got up and went to the door to go somewhere for a moment, and the three stood up and made as if to stop him from leaving the room, then on what seemed to be a codeword from one of them thought better of it. The discussion continued. They said what may or may not have been veiled threats, and kept changing the subject when he asked them what they wanted to buy off him. Finally he lost patience and exclaimed: "Five hours talking and where are you three leading to? You said in your letters that you were coming to buy stuff that I make. Look: I've got all the insurance I need. I've got all the security I need. I don't need any agents or handlers in buying supplies or selling what I make. I'm not selling my business or shares in it. Will you please come to the point and place your order!".

The three went out into James's yard for some fresh air, and wondered if anyone around there sold a decent T-bone steak. They saw Laserbeak, who was commenting to Ratchet about the amount of starlings round a hospital where had gone to deliver some transplant organs, and the risk that birds are to jetmotors. One of the three recognized Laserbeak from fiction and took fright, running for shelter into James's garage, where the orange artic cab still stood with its engine running. As he climbed up it, dropping his briefcase in his panic, a voice inside it said "Oi! Get out of me!", although nobody else was in it.

"Oh help, another one." he said desperately.

"I am Huffer, Autobot engineer." the artic cab said, "Optimus Prime brought me to life yesterday.". He realized that the larger red artic cab was probably Optimus Prime, and wondered just how many real Transformers Mr.Wernicke did have; he did not like the likely consequences if he went back to his boss empty-handed. "Mr.Wernicke, my papers, some of them are personal, please." he said in a tone hinting vaguely of trouble to James who had come in and was picking up the papers that had spilt out of his briefcase.

"Sorry Laserbeak scared you. He won't hurt you. Here's your papers." he said, handing them over, then, sharply: "What's this on this one!? You three are not the firm you said you were! You're the lot that sent me those strange letters earlier! What is this?".

[32] "You better forget you saw that!" the owner of the papers ordered, "You're costing important people a lot of money! selling your fancy advanced stuff all over the place. Now lets carry on our discussion where we were, and we won't take orders from a talking truck. I'll chair the meeting from now on, since you seem to have a one-track mind or be ignorant or stupid. Plan B.".

The other two started to obey those last two words when they heard mechanical noises behind them, and turned round. "Oh Charlie." said one feebly, feeling unreal at his first sight of me transforming into my 25 foot tall robot form. Huffer turned his handling arms downwards and with them raised his front end. His rear end lengthened and split into legs. His cab collapsed, revealing his head. He stood upright. But the two men recovered their will and set about their plan. Realizing that they could dodge "those two big clumsy tin King Kongs" for long enough, they ran quietly up to James from behind wielding a long heavy spanner and an iron bar that they had found.

"It's clear you three aren't from Silicon Valley like you said you were!" James replied angrily to the owner of the papers, "You know little about computers. I'm not joining any funny organizations under threat and end up as a badly paid manager in my own place which I did all the work, work, not just organizing, to set up. I'm not pricing myself out of the market. I'm not asking for permission all over the place when it's a free country. I've nothing more to discuss about who I buy and sell with and what and how. It was your idea to come here wasting my time and Ratchet's, after saying falsely that you were coming here to buy stuff that I make. I don't tell you who to trade with.".

The other two heard a brief swishing above them, then found themselves entangled in a nine-foot-wide handnet swung down on them by Huffer. I caught the third while James ran for handcuffs and phoned the police. He searched the three while Ratchet searched all their luggage, forcing it open where necessary. The names on their personal stuff did not match the names in their passports.

"I told you it was no good trying." said one of the three to another, not caring who listened, "On someone else's turf so far from base and backup, wrong side of the pond [= the Atlantic Ocean], can't check out the site first, we can't tell the whole world what to do. Soon the cops find our real names, and we're for it, both from the law and from our boss.".

"Second lot of three that thought I'd be a pushover by myself." said James. The police came and stuffed the three into their van. I and Huffer and Ratchet connected ourselves to a lineprinter and printed out our statements. James told his statement to me, and I lineprintered it out for him. The police were surprised and pleased at getting that part over far quicker than taking down oral statements in scribble on paper. The police van left; Ratchet followed with the prisoners' property. The three were identified from copies of their fingerprints which were sent back to the USA.

[33] Normal life resumed. James, who, wary after recent events, now wore his riotsquad-type helmet and had a shield slung on his back and a pickaxe handle with wrist strap slung from his belt most of the time while on his premises, was soldering microchips to some circuit boards for a job for ICI Stanlow Point in Cheshire. Laserbeak had said he would deliver it: the only way with all the contraflows on the motorways round about. Nearby a lineprinter was printing. He briefly reflected that personal safety mattered more than whether it looked odd for a man in full riotsquad gear to be sitting making delicate electronics. By now he could almost work out what the lineprinter was printing by the variation in the irregular chitterings and bumpings that it made. Suddenly this changed to a steady sequence of `tksipp' noises which he recognized all too well. "Stop that!" he shouted, and cursing his current batch of lineprinter paper reached out with his stick and pressed a button on the side of the lineprinter, which aggrievedly said "tkbp." and stopped. He imitated my annoyed `brrrrrm' and looked at the output to find how far back to re-list from to recover the part of the output spoilt by the paper jam. That batch of lineprinter paper split at its joins and jammed far too often. He worked out where to start re-soldering from, and restarted work. "At least Ratchet and Wheeljack are helping me with this job, to earn their keep. I wonder how far they've got?" he thought.

He finished the ICI job and embedded its circuitry in resin. While the resin was setting, he slung his shield on his left arm and drew his stick and had a baton fight with a computerized opponent-simulator that he had made. "Previous job was a speech decoder." he thought as his stick and the simulator's clashed, "I make them. That's why I chose `Wernicke' as a trading name. Complications. Everybody wants speech simulators to pronounce right from ordinary English spelling, then moan that the programming can't pick up every stray exception. Can't people spell phonetically when programming speech simulators? E.g. `say("fyu~l levl lou, yu~ziN riz@~v taNk")'. That way there's much less programming to go wrong in service. One customer complained that he programmed `say("have you read the notice?")', and the chip said `have you reed ...'! `Read' is pronounced `reed' sometimes! Unless I program those chips to parse everything for grammar before they say it!". Suddenly the simulator telescoped itself right down and cross-swiped hard at James's shins. He jumped up out of the way just in time. "Who taught the simulator that? It's getting a bit too clever!" he thought.

When the first batch's embedding resin had set, he used his shield as a tray to take them to his secretary to pack. "Down dog! Sit! Mind my work! I'll feed you in a bit." he said to Timmy who met him on the way and reared up. Tabbins came up miaowing and purring. "Of all the times for those two to be affectionate." he thought, and managed to get to a table and put his shield and its valuable load down on it. Tabbins shed hairs on his overall. Timmy jumped up him and slobbered over his visor. "Oi! That's not for sharpening claws on!" he said as he jerked his dangling pickaxe handle away from Tabbins, who, brushing against it, had found that it was made of wood and started to paw it, "Down dog! All right, I'll get you your dinners.". He fed them and went to Ratchet and Wheeljack to get the other circuit boards to take them to the embedder.

[34] Hoist had gone out earlier to help to tidy up where an artic had braked too sharply at the start of a contraflow opposite Oddingley and jackknifed and strewn its load of girders over the M5, and other vehicles ran into them. The M5 was choked by blocked traffic, and Hoist had to transform and walk in, reflecting that people's lives matter more than some farmer moaning about a trail of giant robot footprints across a field. I, who by now had got Smith & Malton's to make a trailer for me, had taken it there to take the wreckage away. "Optimus's trailer is a flatbed, not a box trailer like in the stories. Another difference to get used to." said Wheeljack telling James about it, "We've finished the rest of the ICI Stanlow boards. They're in my right glove compartment. Lot of bats flying about this evening.".

Next day promised to be long and busy, so James went to bed early. Nextdoor's two guard dogs howling at the moon woke him briefly from a dream of flying in Jetfire, which made a change from a persistent dream that he had been having, in which the three men that he and Jazz had caught burgling [see 25-28] and the three Americans that he had had a scrape with recently [see 30-32], all equipped with odd-looking silent guns, chased and caught him and formed a firing squad and shot him. Later that night that same dream returned, except that the six were driven off by a supernatural giant wolf which turned into Timmy who had jumped onto his bed and woken him. "Down dog." he said sleepily, "I've enough to do without analysing bad dreams. I suppose it'll stop after a bit. I wish you could talk, Timmy. If only dogs' brains had a proper `arcuate fasciculus' linking cable like human brains have between the hearing cortex and the mouth movement cortex. Time I got up, I must parcel up ICI's circuit boards and send them off in Laserbeak, then start on Van IJzenhoeve Maatschappij's accounts computer.". [Dutch "ij" is pronounced `eye']

Laserbeak, with the circuit boards in his cargo compartment, followed the A442 and then the River Severn northwards. At about halfway on his journey of 90 miles he passed a mountain called the Wrekin standing alone in lowish country; in old times men lit message-fires called `beacons' on top of it, and a beacon on the Wrekin could be seen in six counties. Below him passed expanses of green country and small towns. Humans' food was no use to him, and farmland and forest meant little to him. He passed Kidderminster and Bridgnorth and Telford and Whitchurch. He missed the high forested mountains of Oregon in the stories. "I hope that ICI Stanlow have heard of me, such as via that TV program about Wernicke's, and not run off in a panic. People forget that we haven't got drivers. If we had an `energon cube' for every meal that's been offered to us," he thought, referring to the technology of the stories, "we could have built an `Ark' and got back to Cybertron by now.". "Skwaak!" he exclaimed as an eddy suddenly threw him about,"That was CAT! [= Clear Air Turbulence] No wonder the hang-gliders like it round here. The sooner I get to Stanlow, the sooner I get out of this fuel- wasting headwind.".

He reached ICI Stanlow, one of the biggest chemicals factories in Britain. Along the Manchester Ship Canal where it runs along the south bank of the stomach-shaped inner estuary of the Mersey it stretches, a giant forest of distillation towers and storage tanks. He radioed in to warn that he was coming, then flew over it and landed on the north side of the canal, where there was a bridge across. The gateman (who yet again had a meal ready for the presumed human delivery driver) looked once at him and ran in and rang his head office in a fright:-

"Hallo? A funny-looking small jetplane landed opposite, too small to have a pilot, it's got a beak and claws like a hawk's. Someone says over its radio that he's a Mr.Laserbeak.".

"No, I don't drink. Is it something of the Army's? Best call bomb disposal.".

"Sorry, I've seen no pink elephants. We had one here, but a poacher shot it for its tusks. There's a lot of that happens.".

"OK, sorry, I got sarky [= sarcastic], but this thing is here.".

After repeating everything to three more people, someone came on the line who knew better.

"What? Electronic but alive? Who's Mr.Fur-knickers?".

"OK, `Wernicke', I'll look in the book. OK, I'll go out and talk to it.".

Before letting ICI's goods-incoming man have the delivery, Laserbeak had to get the cheque. They had promised James that the cheque would be ready when the delivery came, but it wasn't. Following James's instructions, Laserbeak ignored promises that the cheque would be in the post, and excuses about procedure, and particular people not being allowed to do particular things, and computer trouble, and people gone for coffee, but refused to unlock his cargo compartment until the cheque was in his beak, even though that meant someone having to commit the ultimate lese-majesté of interrupting someone from his coffee to sign it. James had had too much experience of slow payers. He set off back, unloaded so lighter, and glad that the wind was from behind, with the cheque in his cargo compartment. On the way back he got a radio call:

"Collect blood from Shrewsbury Hospital and take it to Plas Rhiw Saeson (go to Welshpool, then 25 miles west along the A458, then 5 miles south). Farm work accident. Doctor attending there. Shrewsbury Hospital's got some petrol for you, if you need some.".

The usual tedious technical argument followed.

"Sorry. Not petrol. Jet motors use paraffin. You best ring Wernicke's to tell them I'll be late in." Laserbeak radioed.

"Help. Where to get that stuff? Blowlamps use butane or propane nowadays. OK. I'll ring round for some.".

"Try at an airport?" Laserbeak suggested.

[35] He got there after a 47-mile flight across Cheshire countryside and bleak Welsh moorland through a strong side wind, to find that the doctor had been called away on another case. Luckily the real Laserbeak's mind was a near copy of Ratchet's, not like in the stories, and he had been programmed to understand Welsh. With the patient's wife's help he managed to set up the transfusion drip himself, hanging it from one of the farmhouse's low beams; the people there were less scared at his shape than he had feared that they might be. The doctor returned from a wasted journey: `Freda' in labour that Tim Jones at Ty'r Bryn was in such a panic about, turned out to be a cow calving; the doctor radioed tiredly for a vet and hurried back. He had heard of Laserbeak before, so was only mildly surprised to see him in person for the first time, but said "I'll take over. You can go.".

Laserbeak got home and was glad to refuel and rest. Huffer and James's neighbour still found plenty to complain about: clear nights near full moon still set those two guard dogs thinking they were a concert party; a cold wind delayed the spring growing vegetables; the same traffic lights in town went wrong yet again (can't they replace them?); roadworks plus a carnival jammed up the town centre (couldn't the roadworks have waited till after the carnival?); a party of schoolchildren called and were expecting to see every Autobot that was then in the stories that men write about us; the price of fuel threatened to go up again. In clear starry nights the constellations of Ophiuchus and Serpens and the bright red star Antares in Scorpio kept catching my attention. "My faithful second in command." I said to them, "Every clear night you walk the summer sky and my dreams, like Ratchet did in the winter. All right, I'll bring you to me.".

"Somewhere among those remote points of light far too far away for any man ever to go there, or for any real alien from them ever to come here, is Cybertron, the ancient home of my people. There in hidden places old Xaaron still rules the Autobots, waiting for me to return and overthrow the Decepticons and mend all the damages of old and new wars." I thought. I still sometimes woke thinking it was time for me and the six of my people who are here to get in a shuttlecraft and return to my spaceship called the Ark in Oregon. Alas for my fictional past of easy faster than light travel! I can't even fly to other parts of Earth. I am far too big and heavy for real aircraft. Only by driving overland or in a car ferry can I reach distant places. Brrrrm! There is no Cybertron, and no Xaaron (unless I make here a copy of him, who in his turn will miss his home and his people). Back to reality. I suppose it's similar with humans: when they are very young, the fictional worlds of magic stories are real to them; when they are older, space travel stories and suchlike; but eventually all this fades into cold reality and the need to work for a living. Where is my past?, my struggles and risks against Megatron? (In the sky is his likeness in stars, irrelevantly high and remote, as the constellation of Bootes.) A man may boast that he landed in Normandy on D-Day in 1944 and helped to overthrow Hitler, and you can go to places in Normandy such as Arromanches and see old bullet marks on buildings. A heroic and worthy time. But what of my many desperate defences of Iacon on Cybertron? No such place. What about when my Aerialbots stopped Megatron's plan at Boulder Dam on the Colorado River in USA? The place exists, but there are no laser gun burns or giant drill scars there. Only stories, such as I tell across the road's children in the evenings sometimes when they come over. James tells me that my image is in the sky also: Capricornus and the west end of Aquarius is my cab, the rest of Aquarius is my trailer, and Piscis Australis is Roller, low in the south in the autumn night sky. As I rise, Megatron sets, at England's latitude, which I suppose represents some sort of eventual triumph of good over evil.".

I had to sleep, to let my brain circuitry `sweep and tidy' itself. Next morning I and Huffer were booked to take an enormous fractional distillation column from Wednesbury to - ICI Stanlow again. We must work to earn money to buy fuel. The load was on a flatbed (not my own), which I pulled and Huffer pushed. It was a long slow journey, but at least we were well paid for it. [36] That sort of `abnormal indivisible load' needs a police escort. The police have many calls in this time of high crime rates, and I had hoped to lessen their burden by having Laserbeak to scout ahead for obstructions and traffic; but his left jetmotor was making doubtful noises, and Ratchet had to look inside him. Oh well. The A442 again: Droitwich, Kidderminster, Bridgnorth, and in Telford in the shadow of the Wrekin we stopped for the night. Only about 5mph is safe with a load this size. Next morning we continued: Whitchurch, avoid Chester on the east bypass, all the way green countryside and small towns. I knew what ICI Stanlow was like, for Laserbeak had played back his memories of his visit there. I and Huffer caused a minor sensation among the locals there when we transformed to help unload ourselves and erect the distillation column. The job went to plan.

While I was there, ICI's man who was in charge of their arrangements with me answered the phone. The people ringing him said that they were Head Wrightson's of Thornaby on Tees (who had made another fractional distillation column for them), and at other times Mammoet-Econofreight Haulage (who were under contract to bring it to ICI Stanlow); then he realized that it was both and that he was in a three-cornered phone conversation. Confusing. It seemed that Econofreight's artic had done something unprintable to its gearbox and that ICI's need for the column and Head Wrightson's unwillingness to have it blocking their factory yard until the gearbox was repaired conflicted directly with the bindingness of the contract, and would I and Huffer fetch the column from Tees-side instead? Someone who knew some law about contracts realised that there was a case for pleading `force majeure' and that there was no point prosecuting or suing a lorry's gearbox that %$#@'ed itself at the last moment; in the end, to avoid trouble, I subcontracted myself to Econofreight to do the job. ICI's man regretted that there was no point bringing me a meal as he would have to a human.

For us two running light it was in easy unremarkable though long journey: Warrington, M62, Wetherby, Thirsk, Tees-side. Few people noticed two large artic cabs among hundreds of lorries at that time of week. The sun and blue sky started to disappear behind filmy high cloud which gradually thickened. After the bridge over the Milnrow valley, the M62 climbed steeply and was in a cutting past strange- shaped outcrops of Millstone Grit rock. Over the high flat moor top. The long descent into Yorkshire. Over the Scammonden dam. The M62 continued past Leeds: it wasn't that easy getting through Warrington. Beyond Leeds the land was green again at last: unlike with Laserbeak, some of James's human liking for the Earth countryside has got into my brain circuitry. Beyond Thirsk the road passed the west edge of the North York Moors. Not far to go now. [37] In Thornaby on Tees we turned right off Mandale Road into the side road to Head Wrightson's. Their man knew we were coming and had seen pictures of us in newspapers. The load was an enormous hollow cylinder weighing 170 tons with its front end rounded. We transformed to robot form and examined it. I told him that we would need some ballast over our back wheels, to tow something that heavy on a full-trailer rather than on a semitrailer. He brought us two heavy crated loads that were to go to Birkenhead. We transformed back to lorry form, but with our arms free, and loaded each other, since he had no crane free there then. Other men came out, thankful that their yard was not going to be blocked for a fortnight after all. One saw that Huffer was running driverless and, yelping "Runaway lorry!", ran at him and tried to climb into him to pull his handbrake on. Another saw me transform and thought he was hallucinating after too much late night overtime after watching too many Transformers videocartoons with his children. "It's all right, they exist." said ICI Stanlow's man who had come in me, "He's got a computer brain that can think like a human's. He's a lot more intelligent than a lot of my place's workmen are.".

We got the cheques for the hauling with no more than the usual amount of excuses such as "will be in the post" and the like; such blasphemous suggestions as interrupting their cheque-signer from a (real or alleged) coffee break were unnecessary that time. One of them regretted that there was no point offering us meals; ICI Stanlow's man accepted - and they hadn't provided a meal, but had to hurriedly interrupt their canteen woman from cashing-up to provide it. [38] We hitched onto our load, which was on Econofreight's trailer. The police escort went ahead of us. We turned left into Mandale Road, going the wrong side of a `Keep Left' bollard, which was low-built and removable, after experience of getting big loads out of that turning. The usual crowd of Transformers fans stood on the corner; some had to be shooed away from the inside of the curve, for long loads invade the corner as they turn. There were bridge repairs at Maltby on the new bypass on the A19, so we had to go the old way, including the usual performance manoeuvring our load round Barry's shop corner in the centre of Stockton on Tees. The edge of our load crushed Barry's shop's awning.

Barry, upstairs in his shop on the inside angle of the turn, heard a crunch and looked out and down at the dangling wreckage of his awning, and our load wedged diagonally across his corner. "Ouch!" he exclaimed, "That's the third awning this year I've lost! Time someone paid for them. Try Wernicke's, it's him made those two funny lorries. And me losing trade while that thing's stuck there".

"Not guilty." a policeman replied, "You had the usual warning. Anyway, you have a van, which needs petrol, which needs distilling somewhere, and that's what their load's for.".

I pulled at the front. Huffer transformed and stood up to manoeuvre the back end. With much shouting and radioing our load inched round the corner with an obstetric tightness of fit between it and the buildings. (In 1965 a flash-distillation column 131 feet long from Head Wrightson's took two hours to get round that corner. A foot longer and it would not have got round.) "Op, steer 10 degrees right, go 4 feet forwards." Huffer radioed as he pushed with his hands at the back of the load, having more on his mind than which way his exhaust pipe was blowing and what windows were open behind him. It started to spot with rain: there was enough to cope with without bad weather. "Nearly there." said Huffer, still pushing, avoiding tripping on a trailing drawbar, "That right back lug's past the ornamental column top with `Jiz rules OK' below it. Nothing scraped here yet.".

"Back behind the barrier." said a policeman to people, "It'll be in the newspapers in the morning.".

"Finished! About time too!" said the manager of a nearly cinema to a policeman when Huffer had loaded his ballast and hitched up and we drove away, "I run the Odeon over there. Police and trucker radio getting in my speakers yet again half the morning: `5 degrees left, back a foot, brrrm, tango victor peeep, I better unhitch and transform': not the best accompaniment to Folies Bergčre.".

"I told you before. Easy. Rewire with shielded speaker wires." replied the policeman. Huffer, as we drove away, realized that his trailer had jackknifed to the left; but he had no trailer, as he was pushing. He yet again recognized the annoying effect of `phantom trailer' caused by a wet leaf or something which had got under his trailer nerve connection cover and was pressing on the contacts.

The rain got heavier. Further on a large unauthorized street market had set up, reducing the road to a single line of traffic. The traders in that market, an aggressive dishonest lot, and mostly without street trading licences, blustered and threatened, and demanded money before they would move their stalls aside to let us pass or people get cars in or out of their drives, until about 12 police in riotsquad gear pushed them and the public away while a large front-loader excavator shovelled the stalls and wares into a dumptruck. Both were yellowish green, and for a moment I thought they were Scrapper and Longhaul, two of the Constructicons; but the stories never happened and the two were ordinary vehicles of Men. Both had masked drivers in armoured steel cabs. One trader who was selling from a backpack went a few yards away and tried to keep on selling, but a policeman, finding that he had no street trading licence, took his pack and its contents `as evidence' and flung it in the dumptruck and ordered him off. The traders complained that anywhere they don't `cause an obstruction' it is because hardly anybody comes to buy stuff. The people around complained about blocked drives, and selling of stolen goods, and scavenged rubbish sold as `nearly new', and general dishonesty, and rumours of drugs. Drugs were found on some. The people there were thankful that we coming there had prompted the powers-that-be into getting rid of that market. The traders alleged conspiracy to suppress competition from undercutting the shops. We drove away from the place. The Met Office said that there was more rain coming.

Six miles after Stockton is Yarm, where the Gas Board had decided at the last moment to dig the road up. They did not like their possession of the road being disputed, but we were bigger than them, and we had been promised that the road would be clear. I unfolded my arms and heaved their equipment and piles of earth onto the pavement and covered their holes with steel plating: heavy load hauliers tend to carry some with them. We drove over, and Huffer reached backwards and picked the plating up, and at the first opportunity unhitched and brought them back to me. The gas men said that if they were an obstruction, so were we, going at "half a snail miles per hour for ever", and asked why big objects can't be assembled on site. We went along the Thirsk bypass. (In former times, bad bends in Thirsk town centre forced big loads to go through Northallerton including along its High Street.) As made in the real world I have a crawler gear for this sort of work. At 4 mph in our first day we got to the Boroughbridge bypass. (At Boroughbridge in 1945 the old bridge over the River Ure collapsed under a steel mill roll housing being taken from Sheffield to Falkirk. The Government trying to recover from the 1939-1945 war were not pleased.) As it got dark the rain stopped and the clouds tattered, and stars came out.

We stopped for the night in a layby near Boroughbridge. The police escort went home to Tees-side and were replaced by police from Leeds. They had heard of us, but it puzzled them somewhat to find that we like humans needed to sleep sometimes. I can't sleep while a human drives me: I tried it once. Next day, 24 miles further on is the centre of Leeds: whoever planned the place would have won no prizes on Cybertron, the amount of low fixed overbridges and a road tunnel. At first it was easy: along the A58, then Wetherby Road, then Roundhay Road; then the fun started. The only way to avoid low flyovers was to go along North Street against the one-way signs, then a continuous barricade of railway overbridges too low for our load left us with only one way: the Armley Road westwards towards Bradford. We crossed the Armley Road bridge, one of the few places in central Leeds where a railway goes under rather then over a road. The offending railway did not start to go under rather than over the roads until the centre of Bradford, where we could at last turn south to the start of the M606 at Staygate. At least the rain had stopped and the roads had dried. We refuelled in Bradford. Again the sky was invaded by tufts of strands of thin high cloud which men call "mares' tails", an ominous sign.

At the start of the M606 a boy, imitating Transformers videocartoons, called out "Autobots: transform!"; we ignored him. We were too busy to play to the audience. "Crumbs." said his father, "That's a big `un those two've got. Looks like half an oil refinery on the move.". We set off along the M606 and the M62. After Huddersfield the hills started. I wouldn't have fancied taking that lot over via Marsden or Nont Sarah's, before the M62 was made. [41] Again the thin high cloud thickened and deepened as we drove on. After passing Elland the rain started and fast became heavy with a head wind which strengthened as the M62 climbed into the hills. The road steepened fast through rock cuttings up to and over the Scammonden dam. The weather worsened as we gradually lost the shelter effect of the lee side of the Pennines. As Huffer had said to me earlier, it would have been even steeper, and sharp bends often also, on the old roads, such as the Snake and Woodhead and Holme Moss. However did they get huge girders up onto Holme Moss to build the television mast there? (`Snake' is not an ancient name, but was named after a pub which was named after a snake on the coat of arms of a local landowner who had the road built to get money from tolls; but those tolls on public roads in Britain are long gone.) Evening drew on as we climbed onto the high moorland under the high slender bridge of the B6114 over a deep rock cutting at the top.

Night on Moss Moor. Over a thousand feet above sea level. Not a tree or a rock tor to break the force of the westerly gale which blew torrential rain like watercannon over the empty wilderness of peat moor. The few hardy sheep sought what shelter they could. Even the M62 seemed lost at times, and its halves separated and took their own routes, including going one on each side of the only farm anywhere near. I could go no further in this weather without sleep. We turned our motors off. The wind howled and the rain lashed my windscreen and the front end of our load. ICI Stanlow's man slept in my cab. The police escort put up "obstruction on hard shoulder" signs up and left. My dreaming brain circuitry returned fast to Cybertron, where it wandered looking in vain in the empty lands around the Manganese Mountains for my old companions Prowl and Bluestreak until I woke. It was still raining hard as ever.

Planet Cybertron, the ancient home of my people, evaporated yet again in the cold morning reality of England. We restarted our engines and continued. We went under a high slender bridge where the Pennine Way goes over a deep rock cutting at the end of the high moor. The road dropped fast through rock cuttings and over a bridge over a narrow valley, to Milnrow in its valley. Town and people again at last. Five miles further, at the Birch services near Middleton, we refuelled, and the humans with us had a badly needed hot meal. The rain slackened at last. Oh to get to Stanlow and back to 50mph instead of 5mph. At least we were paid plenty to haul these enormous loads across the width of England. At Birch, seeing me refuel myself caused the usual remarks from onlookers.

"What's that enormous thing that red lorry's pulling?" said a boy to his mother.

"It's a fractional distillation column, for an oil refinery near Ellesmere Port." I said.

"Crumbs, Mum, you said there was no such thing as real Transformers." he said.

"It isn't ..." she said, "Ohh! Nobody in it! Then what talked!?".

"We're learning fractions in school." he said.

"Not that sort of fraction. Look up `petroleum' in an encyclopedia." I said.

At a roundabout in Warrington, although both I and Huffer kept our ends of the load as far out as possible, the middle of our load flattened a traffic light on the edge of the central grass. Warrington Corporation later sent us a bill for it, which we sent back unpaid. The workmen who should have removed it had given it a miss to get home in time to see a football match on television. We finally reached ICI Stanlow and left the distillation column there on its trailer, [42] and went to a factory in Birkenhead and delivered the two crates. While the factory men were contradicting each other as to where the crates were to go, the manager's small son settled in my cab out of everybody's way to read a war comic. This exposed me to it whether I wanted to read it or not.

It was a chance for me to find what children are getting to read nowadays. After the minimum of scene setting, battle was joined. Characters did little but shoot and curse each other. There were at least 34 successive frames of violent battle, full of every possible spelling of conventional and laser gunfire. Ptow, eeyow, bkow, krump. I at least am what Carlyle in his book `The French Revolution' called "a reader who wearies of death poured out in great floods". Zapow, fssarr, etc. I had enough of that for `real' back on Cybertron, I don't want to return to it. Buddabuddabudda, aagh: Must the author do that? There are enough ways of spelling (sub)machinegun noise, without misusing the name of Gautama Buddha the teacher of peace to spell the noise of a murderous weapon. Zzzap, fsszzz, ptow, next week's thrilling episode. The arguing continued for a while in the factory's gate office, then someone came out. I told the boy to get out of me, and we transformed and unloaded each other and left.

We got home at last. It was dark. Another new Autobot head stood silently on a shelf by a window. I looked out of that window at the big bright cross-shaped summer constellation of Jetfire, which humans call Cygnus the Swan. Jetfire in the stories is a big white Autobot who transforms into a jet fighter, a strong ally against the Decepticons. If Buster Witwicky hadn't kept my Creation Matrix computer program safe that time in the stories, Jetfire would have been made as a Decepticon instead. He would have to stay fictional and memories only, for it was well beyond our reach to make a full-sized jet fighter.

Like humans, I had to sleep, to let my brain `sweep and tidy' itself after a busy day. yet again seeing a constellation set my mind back to my unattainable fiction past in Oregon, where I had many faithful followers and companions. Jetfire, Aerialbots, Blades! It was like they had suddenly flown away and never returned. All their forms were in the sky (Cygnus; Pisces, with Aquila and Scutum as Silverbolt; Auriga). I needed a lot more space and resources before I could make jet fighters and a helicopter! In Jetfire's cockpit is the strange varying star Chi Cygni, like Buster rode in him that time to bring him to me. I missed Buster also. But there was one who I was to meet for real before midsummer (21 June). The by now familiar heap of bits of him was accumulating in a corner, waiting for us to assemble them, so I could bring him to life with his memories and personality like I remembered him. I went to sleep.

Unlike in that comic that I saw at Birkenhead, my fictional Witwicky family were well defined as personalities. Where in their fictional world did they come from? Their surname looks Polish. Polish `c' is pronounced `ts'. I never saw either of those with a gun, but they played good parts in the stories. I'll never meet them again except in dreams. James's thinking had been interrupted too often this month by road workmen's pneumatic drills, without wanting gun noises also. But people need excitement in their reading. I wished I could meet Buster and his father Sparky again for real. My brain started to go over the day's events as I slept. That causes dreams as a side-effect. The less appropriate a resemblance is (such as that comic strip spellings of gun noises, and Polish placenames, both often end in `-ow'), the likelier it is to be used as a theme in dreams as the brain runs with its long term memory storer running in reverse to remove inappropriate connections between ideas.

I dreamed I was in Birkenhead again, and of that boy reading his comic in me. In the way that dreams jump sometimes, the writing on the comic's cover changed to `Atlas Polski, Atlas of Poland', and the boy changed to Buster Witwicky, and Sparky sat beside him. I was driving through a (fictional) part of Poland, taking them to their family's ancestral village of Witowice (pronounced `Vitovitseh'). [43] At the next junction, signs pointed to Zarakow and Ptow and Wlodzimierzów and Tatarsk, but not Witowice. "Witowice? Nie." said a man who Sparky asked. I drove on through fertile green countryside and stopped in the village of Bków. A sign pointed to Ptów, and to the Ptówski Przelecz (= Ptów Pass); Buster, looking in his atlas, found places called "Fsziów nad (unpronounceable), Tatatat (sorry) Tatarsk if we turn round here, Fszap, Zapów, Budabdice, everywhere but Witowice". In Polish, `-ów' means `belonging to', often `son of' or `place of'. "It must be somewhere." said Sparky. Third time lucky: we reached a junction, where the signpost pointed only to Bkow, Fszar nad Gorzem, Zapów, Budabdice, Zbiów, and Budno; but a man at the junction pointed down the Zbiow turning and said "Witowice? Tak [= `yes'].". The road degenerated into a cart track. Some sheep came the other way. They bleated at me; I made engine revving noises at them. The man with the sheep drove them into a field and I drove on. Finally I came to Witowice, whose name means `the place of something twisted'; perhaps the first settlers there found an odd-shaped tree, and indeed in the angle where the road forked to Fszap and Piow stood a big tree with spiral grooves going up its trunk. As the Witwickies got out of me to explore the place of their ancestors, I heard a fire engine coming, and as Poland disappeared, leaving me back in James's garage, the tree changed into some chain slings which Ratchet was noisily shaking to untangle them.

[44] Again a boy was reading a comic in my cab, but it was only James's nephew William reading Transformers comic, to keep in track of the adventures that my people are supposed to be having in their fictional world. Exciting at times, but I still felt safer in the real England. Hoist started servicing Huffer. James and Jazz continued making some microchips for a firm called Kuehnle Kopp und Kirsch who make gas turbines and steam turbines and centrifugal pumps in the Ruhr in Germany. James's brother Peter climbed to my left cab window and called William to his breakfast. Jazz did all he could right then and transformed back to car form to rest, and William settled in him and started to play chess with him on his dashboard computer screen. Suddenly William's small sister Sue's loud scared voice called out from a store alcove: "Help! I can't get down. It's too high.".

Sue was sitting, scared, on a high store shelf. Hoist walked over to her and reached out his big cold steel hand to lift her down. She backed away and said: "Who are you? You look funny, like pieces of Uncle James's green towtruck put together wrong.". Hoist explained that he transformed like me and the rest, and asked her how she got into the store area in the first place. He took her off the shelf and radioed to Jazz to relay to William what had happened and to tell William to fetch his mummy or daddy, and to keep his walkietalkie open on Hoist's and Jazz's channel.

William went into the living area. His father Peter was busy with James. His mother Mary was gone and so was her shopping bag. He went to the room that Sue had been left in; its door was open and a chair was by the door. "Sue's got strong and clever enough to move things to stand on them to reach things." he realized, and told Jazz so on his walkietalkie.

"Oh no." Jazz replied, "That means she can open doors now and she can't be left in rooms. Go tell Daddy that.".

William ran to Peter, who complained that he was still busy with James and that he had told William to stay in Jazz; but William, looking a bit scared at James who was wearing his riotsquad gear as usual, at once said without stopping for breath: "Sue pushed a chair to her room door to reach the doorknob and she got in the work area and she went up the shelves and got scared and Hoist got her down and Jazz told me to tell you that now she knows how to get out of rooms if she's left alone. Why's James wearing the security guard gear?".

"There's expensive stuff here." said James, "I must guard it. The Autobots here are too big to go in all the small rooms with me.".

[45] "I better transform to towtruck form and put you in my cab where you'll be safe till Mummy comes back. She shouldn't have wandered off shopping leaving you alone." said Hoist to Sue who he held in his hands, "Oh, you've lost a shoe. Where's it gone?".

"I want my mummay." wailed Sue, You're all hard and cold iron and no proper face. I went up the shelves and I couldn't look down.".

"What's this here?" said Hoist, pointing to her toes, "Five little pigs?", hoping to interest her in the wellknown nursery tale.

"Daddy doesn't keep pigs." said Sue, who hadn't heard of it.

Hoist knew it, as part of a general knowledge package about humans that I had copied into him. He put a big piece of foam rubber packing on the floor and put Sue down on it. He was programmed as a repairman and to break up scrap metal, not as a babysitter; but all sorts of odd jobs come to people from time to time. "Five little piglets." he said, then looked at her bare foot, and counted, and with a slightly surprised "brrrm" realized that he would have to change the story a bit this time. "Oh well." he said, and protruded a built-in screwdriver from one of his hollow fingers to use as a pointer, and started at the little toe end:- "This little pig went to market.

This little pig stayed at home.

This little pig had roast beef.

This little pig had none. Not enough roast beef to go round, I suppose. Happens sometimes.

This little pig said `Eeyer eeyer, what's all this 'ere?', and ran all the way home.

But this big piglet at the end, the mother sow said to him `You're bigger and stronger than the rest, it's time you went into the wide world and earned your own living.', same as Optimus had to when he found himself here alone, with Cybertron and Oregon and G.B.Blackrock and his followers gone beyond recall, and only the strength of his motor to earn a living by among men.'.".

"I saw a litter of piglets once and the man picked one up and it said `eeeeeee' till he put it down." said Sue, "What did those on my other foot do, Mr.Hoist?".

"If I've got time, I'll make up a story about them and tell you it later, or lineprinter it out and mail it to you so you can read it." said Hoist hastily, "Promise me you won't come in the work area by yourself or climb on things again. You could have hurt yourself. Where's your other shoe gone? Shoes cost, your mother'll get cross. Oh, there it is, you have been exploring. Here it is for you. Put it on, so you won't get axle grease and bits in your foot. Mummy should have realized that you'd get strong enough to move chairs some time. Mummy's gone out shopping, she'll be back.".

"Look! Ratchet's finger's on fire!" said Sue.

"It's a built-in oxyacetylene torch, to cut and weld metal with." Hoist explained, "I've got one also, but I've kept it pulled in and cold. I'll transform and put you in my cab, so you won't wander off again, till Mummy or Daddy comes. You're too small to be let wander about among work.". Hoist's body split open, belly from back; then he `opened like a flower', as someone once described it, and collapsed forwards. The loosely hinging parts closed up in a different arrangement, until what had been a humanoid robot was now, undeniably, a large green towtruck. Sue found herself in its cab. "What's Ratchet making?" she asked.

"He's making parts for ..." Hoist started, then said "Daddy's coming now.".

"How can you see to drive with your head folded inside?" asked Sue.

"If James gave you a computer terminal, you'd wear out the `?' key in no time." Hoist replied, "We robots aren't limited to two eyes each like you humans. We have other eyes for when we're in vehicle form.".

Peter took Sue out of Hoist and hugged her. "Oh here you are, Sue, wandering off like that." he said, "Sorry you've been interrupted from your work, Hoist. We're off home. I'll collect William from James and go. Trust Mary to wander off shopping. Did she say how long she'd be? Can't people stay where they say they'd stay?".

In answer, out of Hoist came James's voice over Optimus's radio saying that William was with James's secretary, and Huffer's voice saying that Mary had said that she was going to go straight home from shopping. They all got home safely.


TREASURE IS TROUBLE

[46] Time passed and life went on. Much of it, for Transformers as for Men, was unremarkable and does not take long to chronicle. I and my followers got the usual amount of requests to open buildings and public events. Ratchet started to take a medical doctor training course, to live up to his fictional reputation. It did not take as long as with men, for Transformers can read or see something and know it at once. They got many enquiries about their ancient and recent fictional past, as if it was real. On April 1st they had had the same telephone nuisance as zoos have. If of a million people living within reach of a zoo, only 1 in 20 get a message to ring `Mr.C.Lion' or `Mr.L.E.Fant' or whoever, and only 1 in 20 of those are fooled by it, it is still not funny for the zoo's switchboard staff having to answer 2500 useless phone calls as well as their usual business. James and Optimus's people had this same nuisance. Occasionally April 1st junk messages hang about on unattended desks or telephone answering machines and are acted on much later. One such told someone to ring `Mr.Straxus at Polyhex Ltd': usual silly stuff, for High Lord Straxus, Decepticon governor of the province and city of Polyhex on Cybertron, is thankfully fictional only. Several times the persistent idiot rang us, for it was our number that he had been given, and each time Wheeljack answered it and gave the same answer. By the time the thick character gave up pestering us, Wheeljack was late going to his day's work helping Hoist and Jazz repairing the old factory building which they had been at for quite a while. And from this delay, other things arose.

Somewhere in Droitwich, an undisciplined loose mongrel dog's hunting instincts, left over from its wolf ancestors, found a passing cat the readiest thing to chase. The cat fled from its scared owner, and eventually reached a tree and safety. But the dog barked so fiercely up the tree that the cat jumped across from the tree to some nearby scaffolding - round the factory that Wheeljack was helping to repair. The cat's owner, a boy called Alistair, in his anger risked the dog's fangs and went after his cat. Finding no ladder, he climbed up one of the supporting poles. "All right, Pusskins, I'm coming." he said, and swore vengeance on the ugly-minded vicious dog for hunting his cat. He got to the top and caught Pusskins, and was about to go down when the `floor' at the top of the scaffolding, two loose planks lying across pipes, slid out from under him and left him lying lengthwise on a pipe over empty space, calling for help. Pusskins stood on his back yowling. The dog barked and growled and snarled continuously below.

[47] Wheeljack collected Alan Edwards, who was helping him, and finally got to the site. If it hadn't been for the repeated silly phone calls delaying him, he would have arrived earlier, and this would not have happened. Edwards was going to go to change the welding cylinders when he heard the two planks fall, followed by a boy calling for help and a cat yowling above him, and the dog. Wheeljack was not tall enough to reach the top of the scaffolding. Edwards also knew that dog; he was sick of it, for it kept coming out of a nearly housing estate scavenging and threatening people and turning bins out like a tramp and trying to steal the workmen's lunches. Now it had a boy and a cat treed up the scaffolding. And the scaffolding had started to settle and become unsafe, which is why Edwards had taken the ladder away. Too late he had found that the previous owners had dug out a wartime bomb shelter and not filled the hole properly - right under an important part of the scaffolding. A man's weight on it might easily have brought it down. The dog still barked up the scaffolding. Edwards looked in alarm as Wheeljack reached inside himself and took out a threateningly large and mechanical looking long-barrelled gun powered by a big underslung compressed air cylinder. "I can shout loud enough for him to hear me, but he can't shout down loud enough" said Wheeljack.

Wheeljack aimed upwards and pressed two controls. There was a hiss as the chamber pressurized and a loud compressed air bang. A weight trailing a line flew from the gun and over the scaffolding. The line settled over the boy's back. The dog barked and growled at the same time, and bit the scaffolding in angry frustration. The boy was scared to look down. After a bit Wheeljack told him to pull on the line. He did so, and up came a large walkietalkie. Wheeljack's voice over it quickly told the boy how to operate it to talk through it. The dog still growled below. Pusskins's claws dug in in fright, holding on. Midges bit the boy's bare legs, and he couldn't reach them to slap them off. Pusskins screeched and the dog below cursed. Wheeljack started to talk about Transformers through the walkietalkie, to take the boy's mind off being scared, and told him to slide slowly back towards the edge and let his legs dangle over. The boy said he was called Alistair, and had a model of Wheeljack at home. "What about that dog?" the boy asked. The scaffolding started swaying. Wheeljack told Edwards to fetch the 12-foot ladder, and wished he still had some bones that he had given to James's dog Timmy the previous day, to distract the dog with. Edwards, hearing that idea, refused to "hostage negotiate with someone's uncontrolled fidohound", but took a steel bar and shouting "Scram, you mangy mongrel. Leave my site alone, leave kids alone. I don't care if your owners suddenly come out of the woodwork and call me every bad name under Earth's sun or Cybertron's. Beat it!" ran at the dog. He scored a blow on its rump, and it whined and fled, but it was soon back barking and confronting, as often before when he or his men had chased it off.

The line-gun was Wheeljack's design and not a bought make. He had felt it was about time he got back to designing things, within the limits of what the properties of matter and energy in the real world allow. He longed to design a spaceship like in the stories, but knew that it was quite impossible. He put his gun away and took the ladder (which Edwards had now brought) and held it up in his hands, so that Alistair could slide backwards onto it off the scaffolding. Pusskins yowled. "Don't press the red button on the walkietalkie, it makes `peeep' over your voice." Wheeljack said.

"I don't hear the `peeep'" said Alistair.

"It just transmits the `peeep', it doesn't make it aloud audio at your end." Wheeljack replied.

"Pusskins is still standing on my back. Owch his claws." said Alistair, "The pipes are swaying again, worse - help!".

"Let the walkietalkie dangle and back off onto the ladder quick!" Wheeljack exclaimed, mentally cursing the junk phone call for `Straxus' which had delayed him from being in time to stop the dog from chasing Pusskins up the scaffolding in the first place.

Wheeljack holding the ladder with Alistair on it backed away hurriedly as with loud clangs and crashes and squeals of bent metal and wrenched pipe connections all the scaffolding on that side of the building fell in a tangle. [49] He put Alistair in his arms and dropped the ladder. "You're huge, Wheeljack." said Alistair, seeing him properly for the first time, "Where's Pusskins?".

"Ha ha! Nemo me impune lacessit!" said Edwards laughing, for Pusskins had landed safely, and was standing sideways on Wheeljack's head like the lion on the crest of the Scottish royal coat of arms, whose motto is "Nemo me impune lacessit". Wheeljack put Alistair and Pusskins on the ground, saying "How strange we must seem to you, electromechanical but intelligent and able to think independently like people. We've only been around about a year despite our fictional ancient history.".

"You'd better go off home, your mother'll be wondering where you are." said Edwards.

They had forgotten the dog, which, barking and angry, chased Pusskins, who this time could not reach a tree, but had to resort to rolling over to present all four feet protruding sharp claws. Cat and dog fought savagely and desperately. Pusskins managed to avoid the dog's teeth, but made several deep claw wounds on the dog's lips and ears and around the eyes and got onto the dog's back. While the dog ki-yied with pain and tried to lose its unwanted rider, Edwards, thankful for his thick overall and industrial gloves to protect himself from being scratched also, seized the chance and took hold of something that he had longed to get hold of for a long time - the back of the dog's neck, and held on hard, calling "Alistair! I've got the dog's scruff! Call your cat off and get some cord from the hut!" The dog whined and panted. On Edwards's instructions Alistair used the cord to make around the dog's neck a running loop, stopped so it couldn't be clawed it right open and lost. Alistair picked up and petted Pusskins, whose tail was still fluffed out like a bottle brush, while Edwards gave the undisciplined cur a totally unfamiliar hard thrashing, and then led it up and down on the cord. It pulled and jerked, for it was its first time ever on a collar and lead. He tied it to a scaffolding pole, and later took it to a police station as an unruly stray. Alistair took Pusskins home and told his father Colin what had happened.

[50] "Agh. After all that, the scaffolding hire firm'll want paying for the damage, I suppose." said Edwards as he and Wheeljack started to tidy up the tangled fallen scaffolding, "Now to dig out the bomb shelter and refill it properly, and wonder what to fill such a big hole with solidly enough; or make the hole into a cellar.".

"It'll take time, either way, and in the meantime we'll still need to reach this part of the building to repair it." said Wheeljack, and then stopped, seeing Alistair and his father coming. Wheeljack and Edwards then both returned to repairing what part of the building they could reach without the scaffolding. Edwards used an ordinary blowtorch fed from cylinders on a cylinder trolley, while Wheeljack protruded a built-in blowtorch from his right hand.

"Next time your cat runs up and gets stuck, call the fire brigade, they've got escape ladders." said Colin annoyedly to Alistair, "And I've told you about your fantasies, so has your mother. Transformers are only toys and stories, like witches and dragons and UFO's. That TV program about Wernicke's was only a put-up, to advertise his computers ...", but broke off in shock as he saw a real full-sized Wheeljack welding and cutting at the building like in the stories. "Now that boy won't believe a thing I say, I bet." he thought in dismay, "No point punishing him. He's had enough fright already.".

Teatime drew near. "Look! He's transforming! Just like in the stories!" Alistair exclaimed as Wheeljack folded himself into car form for Edwards to hitch him to some junk that needed hauling to the back out of the way. Mares' tail clouds (= cirrus) had been steadily advancing over the formerly blue sky. Colin noticed these and the implied threat of rain, and regretted to Alistair that next day's picnic was probably cancelled, for he had no love of eating picnic food in a car with rain streaming down the windows.

Jazz drove up and transformed. Wheeljack held a girder up while Jazz welded it in place with an ordinary blowtorch, whose controls were rather small and fiddly for Jazz's Autobot-sized hands. "Nobody thought to look at the roof here down the years." said Jazz, "Some of these girder joints are more rust than steel. I hope our customer doesn't think `forget about it' and disappear without paying us. He'd thought he'd got a bargain, buying this place cheap three years ago. He found later why it was so cheap.".

At 6.30 pm Hoist, who was also there, called a halt for the night, and for him and them to check each other over and get some rest.

[51] Next day I came with a big rubble bin fastened on my flatbed trailer, and transformed, and dug out under where the scaffolding had subsided. Under a few inches of hardcore to make the ground look solid were broken pieces of the bomb shelter mixed with the remains of much common rubbish which had rotted away leaving hollows. I found old newspapers dated October and November 1957. "More workmen who promised to take all rubbish and rubble away, but instead buried it around the place. Hard job finding the culprits after so long. No wonder the ground here subsided under a bit of weight." I said as my rubble bin gradually filled. Wheeljack, who was helping me, picked up the last bit of the bomb shelter's floor and got down to solid ground, and managed to suppress the urge to make a startled engine revving noise at what he found beside it. He called me to look.

"Men esteem this sort of stuff as very valuable, from artificial bright stuff for ornaments was very scarce." I said, looking at the plastic fertilizer bag full of silver and gold objects, "Likely for thirty years some ex-convict has been regretting his choice of a hiding place. Lucky he didn't use a sackcloth sack, or as it rotted these gold coins would have gone all over the place. Treasure is trouble. It attracts undesirables. It is no wonder that humans said that particular valuable items had a curse on them. The legal owner and the thief, or their heirs, will both claim it. We must say nothing. This lot goes straight to Droitwich police station by the shortest route. Luckily it won't be through rush hour traffic. If reward comes to us, then it does; if not, then not. Then we take the rubble to the tip. Then we go home to Wernicke's and do nothing else outdoors today.".

This was done, without immediate complications. The complications started later. The valuables had been stolen from a country mansion, but an insurance firm had paid out on the loss, so they now belonged to the insurance firm - which, some years before we found the valuables, had `gone into liquidation' (i.e. closed down and ceased to exist). Meanwhile the original owner's son wanted at least some of the valuables back, as they were heirlooms. "Luckily our part in this was only a small part, as finders." I said to Wheeljack, "What is our position in law? I and Ratchet have each been a witness in court once, and the magistrate accepted us without query as able to give evidence same as humans. James Wernicke and people living near his factory accept us as able to own property, but that has not been put to test of court yet. Some still say that all property and actions of us real world Autobots are in law those of James Wernicke who made me. If anything good or bad comes to James or to us later as a consequence of us finding these valuables, it is in the future.".

[52] My brain is set up so that when I am running low on fuel, or it is too long since I was serviced last, I feel tired, as a warning not to go too far; it is similar with humans. Also, my brain needs a rest from work sometimes. Next day, as arranged, I took across-the- road's children to Dudley Zoo. The rain started at once. As I went through south Birmingham, they were a bit surprised to find that Bournville was a place and not just a brand of chocolate. (There is a chocolate factory there, where I have taken from Liverpool docks many loads of cacao beans that chocolate is made from. They grow in Africa.) The children's small talk inside me continued. By the castle hill of Dudley I was again left in a car park being rained on, while they enjoyed themselves in places too small for me to enter. Oh for Cybertron, where the buildings are to our scale. Oh once again to see the cities of my ancient home. My own city of Iacon under its huge dome; Vos and Tarn whose inhabitants fell to blows with each other, until Megatron blamed Iacon wrongly for starting the trouble, and so the Decepticon dissention started and flared into war. Polyhex, which later became the headquarters of the Decepticons on Cybertron. The Celestial Spires. The great temple in Iacon where the Matrix Flame ever burns. All gone like ghosts. Oh for even a few square miles where I could found a real `Autobot City', or at least a town. With tedious effort we have made as close copies as can be made to six of my companions of old, and a seventh is partly made. Children sometimes show us models of us which they have; it is not the same as the real things would be. I miss Jetfire, I miss Prowl, I miss Bumblebee, I miss so many of them. What to do in all this wet? Find a transport cafe and have a steak and chips? Brrrrm, forget it, that's an image that I have picked up from human truckers by CB radio conversations in my many long lone journeys hauling goods for men. No point brooding about it. While I waited, as often, I tried the TV channels. (No need to watch a TV set; I can send the signal straight to my brain's seeing cortex, like when we send maps to each other by radio.) Recorded football; children's programs; a commercial for Transformer toys. Two cats sheltered under me. It still rained.

A car park attendant approached me, complaining about delivery drivers parking in the visitors' car park. I explained that I had brought some visitors in. Like many, he was startled to discover that I was real and that the TV program about Wernicke's was not a hoax. The attendant recovered from his fright, and, since the rain had kept most visitors away, he let me go round the outdoor parts of the zoo. The elephants impressed me: their brains were bigger than human brains, and could conceive quite complicated ideas; but lack of a few critical design features in their brains denied them full intelligence, and, unable to easily imitate heard sound, couldn't develop speech to communicate ideas in detail. In the real world I wouldn't have existed without humans; and humans wouldn't have existed without elephants, which evolved into forms big and strong enough to push forests down to get the tree leaves to eat and thus create the African grasslands, so Man's ancestors had to come down from the trees and live on the ground; of the rest of the story, many books tell. Likewise the lion is a skilled cooperative hunter, but still can't talk. All that is needed is that critical nerve cable called the `arcuate fasciculus' between the hearing cortex and the mouth movement cortex. Easy for such a thing to develop in the small brains of parrots and budgies without room for abstract ideas to form to give the bird something to talk about; far less easy in a big-brained mammal.

Seeing me walk round startled a few visitors, as usual. I pointed out to some of them that in the real world I ran on diesel and not on `Autobot fuel'. The rain refused to let up. My passengers returned; I transformed back to artic cab form so they could shelter in me. Driving was difficult in the rain and traffic, and I had to tell my passengers not to distract me, and not to drop food crumbs about in me attracting mice. Cybertron and Oregon, where I ruled a numerous people, slipped further into the remote irrelevant past. Something had a puncture on the Droitwich exit slip, causing a tailback. My passengers talked about nothing much. My left glove compartment gradually filled with litter and sweet papers. Every day my felt less like the ruler of a people and more like a trucker. My status as an independent individual like a man was still not legally settled. The traffic started to move again. The car in front of me couldn't restart its engine. Men hooted, then swore, then got out and pushed it onto the grass verge. I drove on and got home.

[54] That evening a university neuroanatomy class came to study how my brain worked, as easier to study in detail than a human brain. I could not let them poke about inside, but I could display on a screen what any bit of it was doing. I gave the usual lecture on neuroanatomy and brain function. I explained the use of various primary and secondary sensory areas, which get their input from sense organs, but can act as `scratch paper' when I am thinking about something, and about my equivalent of the human brain's `cingulate gyrus' which gets its input from the emotional / instinctive centres. I used a big VDU screen on a wall to display what parts of my brain were doing. Finally they left. One of them wondered aloud if "the Red Lion gyrus still gets its input from the draught bitter barrel this late at night". As they left, across the road's son Derek came in and climbed up me. I asked him what he wanted so late.

"I left my comic in you when I went to the zoo." said Derek.

"It's on the ledge behind my left seat, together with several packed lunch wrappings." I said, "I am not a litterbin. I don't see what you like so much about that particular title, it's nearly all shooting and little showing the characters as people. Someone read a previous issue of that comic in me at Birkenhead and it gave me odd dreams.".

"But I like it." said Derek.

"Well I don't." I replied, "I had too much of that sort of thing for `real' back on Cybertron. At least the stories merely said "there was war" and showed a frame or two of it, not going into it endlessly. I don't need teaching what noises guns make.".

My brain's seeing area was still linked to the VDU screen as the neuroanatomy class had left it. Derek found that if he held his comic to my right front cab eye, it appeared on the screen. The next page was a full centrespread double page picture of a violent tank and artillery battle, thickly peppered with the usual graphic spellings of gun and explosion noises. I, like some, soon `wearied of death poured out in great floods', or of having to read about it, and felt tired. As Derek watched, the image of his comic on the VDU screen readjusted itself into an opened road atlas of Poland. "Ha ha, Op, very funny. I had half an afternoon of Poland and Russia in history and geography. I don't want any more of it now." Derek objected, but got no reply; then he realized that I had gone to sleep and the screen was showing my dream. That dream world had turned up once before [see 43], again set off by that comic. The less appropriate or sensible a resemblance is (such as that comic strip spellings of gun noises, and Polish placenames, both often end in `-ow'), the likelier it is to be used as a theme in dreams as the brain `sweeps and tidies' itself by running with its long term memory storer running in reverse to remove inappropriate connections between ideas.


THE WITWICKIES

[55] "What now?" said Derek puzzledly as the map enlarged and changed into a landscape. The VDU now showed Optimus's point of view as he found himself in the village of Witowice (pronounced `Vitovitseh'), where he had gone to collect Sparky and Buster Witwicky were on holiday there for a while in their family's ancestral home. [see 43] My viewpoint rose to eaves level and went up to a bedroom window as in the dream I transformed into robot form. The speaker by the VDU repeated what I was saying or hearing in the dream. "Witwicky?" I asked. The people in the house, who knew some English, told me that relatives had come, so they needed the space, and the Witwickys had moved to the Lasowski's in Ptów.

I drove several miles through lanes to Ptów. The mountain ridge of Ptówskie Gory (= Ptów Mountains) followed me on my right. But when I asked for the Lasowski's, all I got that I could understand was "Witwiki? Nie ... w Zaraków na morze.".

"Great." I thought, "They've decided to go to the seaside. I told them when and where to be, I don't want to miss our shuttlecraft back.". Next stage was a long badly-surfaced gear-grinding climb over the forested Ptówskie Gory. At one place a tree had fallen across the road, and someone had cleared only enough width for a horse and cart to pass. I swore and transformed and heaved the rest of the tree off the road. Finally I reached Zaraków and the shore of the Zarakowski Zalew (= Zaraków Bay) - and how the Matrix to find those two in all those seaside trippers!? I wished that I knew more Russian, for I am too big to go in humans' bookshops to get Russian textbooks, and James Wernicke kept being too busy to get them for him. The umpteenth person that he asked, a fisherman with a small boat on the shore, at last knew something of use, and in a mixture of German and Polish and Russian said that "Witwiki? Nie ... v skotnyy rynok ... Viehmarkttag ... nach dem Kalaschnikauer Viehmarkt mit der Budinski ... - oni net dzes' ... na wielki grod ..." and similar, which told me that I was soon to be faced with the place and time that I the least wanted to have to go into in a hurry: the market and industrial town of Kalaszników on the day of the monthly cattle market.

"Spasibo, thank you, danke schoen, I'll go now, ya poyti teper', ich gehe." I replied, and transformed and drove away as quick as he could, [56] past the Wlodzimierzów turning, through Fsziów nad Chrzaszczniem, and through a crossroads where the right turn was to Bków (which I wished I could go to straight; $#@ those two for straying off). Just before Budabdice a big herd of cattle blocked the road; I transformed and ran through the field past them, in too much of a hurry to care about not scaring them. Through Budabdice. Past turnings to Ziów and Budno and Zbiów. After Zapów came another delay: sheep this time. "I've seen fields and villages before. Why can't he dream of Cybertron again? Stories with lasers in are exciting. Ordinary people and places with `las' [Polish for `forest'] in their names, aren't necessarily." Derek thought as the VDU showed a village church and churchyard and a large name sign with `Lwów' above a picture of a crouching lion. Lwów was thankfully the last village to get through; its name means `belonging to a lion'; probably its founder or first owner or headman was called Lion. The green countryside continued.

At last the horizon filled with houses and close packed buildings. It was Kalaszników, founded in the time of King Sobieski (who defeated Kara Mustafa the Turkish pasha of Buda and thus saved Vienna from the Turks) by a Russian from Kiev who fled from the Tartars and settled there to sell baked goods including a sort of Russian fancy bread called `kalach', whence his surname Kalasznik. (In Polish, `-ów' means `belonging to', often `son of' or `place belonging to'.) Other traders settled around him, and a town market developed, to the anger of the local nobles, who before that used all the peasants' surplus produce. Kalaszników on cattle market day. The name had an ominous sound. So it turned out, for the road was choked by woolly and hairy beasts protesting noisily at being driven so far, and waving horned heads, and cartfuls of grunting pigs and cackling poultry, and vehicles, and people going to market, and the inevitable fouled state of the road surface. I wondered briefly which of the cattle were Budinski's, and whether the Witwickys were still with him or had wandered off even from him to shop or something. I somewhat forlornly called out at intervals above the din of moo and bleat and grunt and hoof and herdsmen's shouts: "Will the Witwickys please come to the big red artic cab in the Lwów road! Pozhaluysta Witwikiye poyti k velikomu krasnomu gruzoviku na L'vovskom pute!" and decided not to attempt it in Polish.

The two came with less delay than feared. They had forgotten the date and time. I unfolded my right arm to lift them and their mass of shopping into my cab. "Time and tide and Autobot shuttlecraft wait for no man." I said irritatedly, "Now to get out of all this traffic somehow and get to that big common west of Bków before sunset. That's the pickup point.". [57] I turned right, past a big sign with the name `Kalaszników' above the town's symbol, which was a side view of a bull. This side road led to the road out to Fszar, which the police kept for outgoing traffic only on cattle market day. Soon came another delay. A big artic with a box trailer marked "Jakob Iwanów. Zapów" was jackknifed across the road. In the circumstances it took no particular knowledge of Polish to guess what the temporary sign "Policja, Stoj" meant. I told the two to get out of me, and transformed and walked past the blocked traffic and heaved the obstruction aside. I had to break a street light post to get room to work. The policeman in charge there 's knowledge of Russian was not the best, and mine was worse, but enough for me to find that the cause was nothing exotic: the lorry had been going too fast and its driver had swerved to avoid a dog which ran out of a house.

"Tracking you two here and there." I complained as I transformed back to artic cab form, "Tree on the road in the Ptów Pass. Having to ask umpteen people at Zaraków before I found where you two had gone. Kalaszników on the worst day in the month for traffic. I'm not Bumblebee [who transforms to a Volkswagen Beetle, in the stories], to slip in and out of traffic. Sun's low already. I go to Bków by the shortest route. Anything that you've left anywhere'll have to stay there.".

"Please, Op." Sparky pleaded, "Our luggage. 3 Pomorzna Ulica, in Zaraków. It's a boarding house on the seafront.".

"Sorry. No." I replied, "Bków. Direct. The shuttlecraft's due at sunset, and this is no place to hang about waiting, the local air force starts to get nosy.".

Luckily the rush into town had stopped and the rush home had not started. I reached the edge of town easily, and accelerated away. The road was empty as I sped through Fszar and Wiów with the speed of the wrath of Cybertron. I passed an oxcart easily, just before the big `Dutch barn' in Wiów. Buster pointed to the left at the forested hills called Wielki Zapowski Las (Great Forest of Zapów), where they had had a pleasant day with the Budinskis. I reminded them curtly that the sun was very low and that they couldn't stop for scenery. The summer cumulus clouds started to flatten down, as they do in the evening. Zapów church spire appeared above a small hill, and I hoped to reach the pickup point in time; but I had to stop again, and a delay while cows for milking crossed the road. The Witwickys started to lament three changes of clothes, and an electric razor, and photo negatives, and the usual holiday clutter, all left at Zaraków, and that they should have remembered the date.

[58] I sped on. Half the sun was gone. Nothing seems quite so bleak and endless as a straight road in the country at sunset. I reached a crossroads. The left turn was to Zbiów and Fszap, and the right turn to Budabdice, all totally irrelevant in my hurry. Seeing the name Budabdice, Sparky lamented some local knitwear (also left at Zaraków) which he had bought there. Trying to pronounce the name caused the usual splutterings and machine gun noises before he got his tongue round it. A police car siren started behind me, and I could not afford to stop yet again, for some silly document check. Another police car came in ahead of me from a side turning. I had to decide to keep speed so the cop car had to run ahead of me or let me pass or be bumped, as I had no time to transform and walk past obstructions now. Rounded hills rose higher ahead. I longed to see Bków church tower. And, as I had feared, jet fighters started to fly about vaguely above like crows over hunting wolves. The sun had gone completely, and it started to get dark on the endless fields and scattered trees. The police car ahead started to shoot at my front tyres. Overhead more of what I called "Polski Lettuce Leaves or however it's pronounced" flew in, and started to shoot. (Polish `leciec'' means `to fly'.) One of them seemed familiar to me. "If only those two had stayed put at Ptów!" I thought angrily. Now a jet fighter swooped low at me, strafing. Suddenly large objects fastened to me with clanks and bumps and lifted me into the air. [59] The Autobot shuttlecraft had come at last. The pursuers could only swear as powerful electromagnets on chains pulled me inside.

Inside were some of my people who I remembered from the stories. The countryside that I had sped through was now far below me like a map, seen through the hatch in the floor. With a blast of jets Fireflight the Aerialbot (Autobot jet fighter) flew in through the hatch and stopped on the shuttlecraft floor. He had a few bullet holes in his wings: more work for Ratchet later. The hatch shut. From the control panel in front came the overheard radio voices of the frustrated ground and air pursuers, deciding to report the events as a UFO incident. "Fireflight, why did you rush off like that?" Sideswipe asked.

"I thought I'd better get those two fleshlings' luggage back." Fireflight said, "I hedgehopped both ways, but I still got chased. Good thing I'm a VTOL [= Vertical TakeOff and Landing]. I landed on Zaraków beach and transformed. I scared their landlady, it couldn't be helped. She threw everything anyhow in my cockpit. I paid her for those two's stay. She mistrusted, she hadn't seen American dollars before.".

"Bumblebee, get Optimus some fuel. He'll need it after that chase." said Prowl sitting at the control panel, "Of all the times and places for you to have to go in after them. I saw Kalaszników from the air, it was solid with traffic and livestock. How ever did you find them?".

"Good thing you saw me. Just in time. I've got the Witwickys." I said, and started to tell what had happened.

It was now nearly dark. Waves roared against the high cliff where the Ptowskie Gory met the sea as the shuttlecraft flew over, back to the Ark in Mount St.Hilary in Oregon in the USA. "That's the last of Poland. The things I do for fleshlings." said Fireflight, "Those two had a lot of stuff, what with their original luggage, and what they've bought. My cockpit's stuffed full of it. All their accumulated laundry.".

"When they found me, they were loaded enough with stuff they'd bought at Fsziów and Zapów and Lwów, without having a chance at the town shops. No wonder they forgot the time." I said.

Buster and Sparky got out of me to stretch their legs, [60] and walked over to Fireflight to recover their luggage. A single seater jet fighter cockpit is not roomy like a car, but is a compact hard little transparent-roofed blister that the pilot fits into almost as exactly as into his clothes; there is also a small store cavity for a few necessary items. In the urgency in the dusk at Zaraków Fireflight's oversized steel hands had baled the luggage so effectively to fit it inside that when Buster and Sparky took it out some of it looked like it had been in a rubbish compacter; but it was better than not getting it back at all. As Derek continued to watch this with interest through the VDU, the inside of the shuttlecraft turned to vertical brick walls, and all except Buster disappeared. Then Derek realized with flat disappointment that he was not seeing Buster any more, but himself, and the inside of Wernicke's garage. I had woken, and the VDU was now showing what I was actually seeing. "Gone like a dream", it is said.

"Derek! There you are! It's way past your bedtime! Optimus, why didn't you send him home or ring us to tell us where he was?" asked Derek's mother who had just come in. She was gradually getting used to talking to Wernicke's robots, but a mind without a flesh body still seemed unnatural to her.

"Op dreamed he was in Poland with the Witwickys." said Derek.

"He came to get his comic, them I went to sleep. I'd had a busy day. The neuroanatomy class had left my brain's seeing cortex connected to a TV monitor. He was watching me dreaming of some of the people that I remember from the stories. I've just woken.". I explained.

"Come on now." said his mother, and took him home.


PROWL JUST IN TIME

Next evening I went to Wednesbury to take some machinery to Bangor in North Wales, travelling after the evening rush hour to avoid traffic congestion. Huffer went to Wolverhampton to take a container to Liverpool Docks. Wheeljack and Jazz were still at the factory building repair, a job that looked like lasting for a good while yet. Ratchet answered an emergency call to a multiple pile-up on the M5 northbound near Wychbold junction. Hoist followed him to help clear the wreckage, and Laserbeak rode on Hoist's roof in case he had to fetch blood urgently. James went to bed, alone except for his dog and his cat. "Nobody in, unless I dream again of riding in Bluestreak or Jetfire. Dreams don't count. I can't even connect my brain to a video recorder like Autobots can, as I sleep, to see my dreams again. The road's quiet tonight.", he thought, and went to sleep.

[61] The two men had waited outside in a van for most of the day. They had codenamed each other `X' and `Y', so I will follow suit. Neither had cause to love James Wernicke. X, coming back to an air raid shelter to recover something from under a loose slab of its floor, had found the place crushed flat and buried, and after he had waited 23 years for a chance to recover the stuff, one of Wernicke's robots found it and handed it to the police [see 51]. Y was not pleased that James and his robots had turned Y's three men over to the police instead of coming to the agreement requested by them [see 30]. Y, coming from the USA to Droitwich to do what he could about it, had met X while looking for local help. A chance meeting: so things sometimes start. They drove to Wernicke's and waited, irritated to find the best parking space there occupied by a car, which had been painted like a police car. ("Pity he chose US cop car colours in Britain, else he might have had us worried. Soon `Big W''ll be the one with something to worry about.", Y thought.) They both wore thick overalls, helmets with visors, walkietalkies, transparent riotshields, and pickaxe handles hanging from belts. On Y's order they also wore gags: the reasons for this precaution became apparent later. Each also had slung across his back what looked like a large handheld power tool with a thick cylindrical body with attached handgrips and an underslung battery and equipment box with several controls on its side. The small rivets and screws on their plating gave them an impression of industrially efficient power and no concession to appearance. "2 trucks, 2 cars, ambulance, towtruck, bird. That's all 7 of his performing talking vehicles gone." Y thought as Hoist left, "They'll be gone a good while. Lucky I cracked their radio scramble code. Him sending my three men to the fuzz instead of `playing ball'. Thinks the sea and a frontier'll keep him safe. We've words to have with him, or `Emperor Ming' has." Y thought. They quickly ran out, and in under James's outer automatic door before it shut.

They climbed a drainpipe. A perching owl started to call "Eewee-wip" in alarm repeatedly as they got near. X kept thinking that it was an intruder alarm, and, irritated at fears of it waking someone, could not help swearing at it, but his gag prevented it. "Lucky I made him wear a gag on his undisciplined foul mouth," Y thought in relief, "else the first moment of stress and he wakes the dead and brings the whole area on us.". The owl shut up or flew away. A bat flew about: this was merely a bit creepily annoying. They knew what to do if James's dog challenged them, and after watching the building knew roughly what was where. They reached an upstairs window. Y, who was in front, looked with distaste at a large cluster of birds roosting on a branch pipe and the window's sill, and the smelly mess the birds had made. As Y reached for the window sill, the birds rose with a noisy clatter of wings and chorus of alarm cries that sounded like pandemonium to their ears as they tried to be completely silent. The birds flew away, but, deeper and more ominous, from inside started the steady barking of Timmy, James's Alsatian. Then started the howling of next door's two Alsatians, woken by Timmy and noticing the nearly-full moon which reactivated primaeval instincts to summon a hunting pack. The two men bit their gags to suppress the impulse to swear, and waited for the din to stop, and for James, if woken, to curse all noisy dogs and go back to sleep; for they had gone too far to be very willing to pull out now. Y opened the window; as his boots and the end of his trailing pickaxe handle disappeared over the sill, X followed him in.

They were in a corridor. [62] They unslung their power tools and held them at the ready. They entered James's bedroom - and found it empty, and the bedclothes disordered by sudden waking and running. Y gestured, and they went downstairs. X kept a few yards behind Y and covered him so one man or dog could not rush them both before either could react. Tabbins said "mreow" and ran away. Holding their bulky but fairly light power tools at the ready, they entered a room. "Stores and nobody. This stuff can wait, this time." Y thought. They searched, wondering where the dog was, and listening for any sound of someone phoning for help. As they neared the office, its door opened slightly and a helmeted head looked out. Y aimed his power tool and pressed a button. Inside the tool, powerful electromagnet coils silently accelerated a 4-inch nail to nearly rifle bullet speed, point first and spinning for accuracy. The flying nail went easily through the middle of the helmet and its contents as Y felt with satisfaction the kick of the tool's metal bulk against his shoulder. The tool made a slight click as it reloaded itself. They carefully approached the door.

[63] In the office, James, in riotsquad gear over pyjamas and having managed to order Timmy to silence, looked badly alarmed at the holes shot in a spare helmet which he had held out in his hand through the door. An old trick, but it worked. He quickly wondered what the cause might be. No gun bang. Unlikely to be a laser gun with real world laser technology as it was. It was his third lot of intruders in a few months [see 26 & 30], and this time all his Transformers were far away. He pressed the radio alarm button and hoped that whoever it was hadn't interfered with the phone. As he dropped the holed helmet and put his transparent polycarbonate shield in front of himself, before he could shut the door, Y's gun's muzzle wedged the door open and fired at his shield. X started to fire through the wood of the door at him. Riotshield polycarbonate is strong, but there is a limit to what it will take indefinitely. Timmy growled behind him. James jumped for a corner of the office, where he knelt behind his shield. Lucky he had taken his big shield. Timmy crouched with him. The men entered. James saw their kit and nailguns, and faces gagged inside helmets and visors as if to tell him that he had had his time to agree to things but it was too late to restart discussions now. X shot out the phone and anything that looked like a two-way radio. As both men steadily pumped nails at his shield to hole it, silently except for the slight click on auto-reloading, James realized that with no gunshot noise nobody would ring 999 to raise an alarm. He suspected correctly that the guns had been brought openly through Customs, declared as ordinary power tools.

"Look, if you're anything to do with those three that weren't from Silicon Valley, let me tell you that ..." James started to say, hoping to sting them into replying and thus distract their anger into a long delaying angry argument until help came. Y, angered by the words, tried to reply, but his gag prevented it, and sent his mind back to the plan. "Mfff mbbgb" he said, switching his gun to maximum power and the side of the magazine that had 6-inch nails in. He bit his gag and fired. That setting was a risk to the coils and kicked like a mule, but the nail [64] went through James's shield and into his chest muscle, but with most of its speed lost. X then slung his gun at his back and jumped at James's shield, enduring James's stick jabbing at him as he wrenched the shield outwards away from the walls, exposing his right side. "Optimus Prime who I made, and your followers!" James thought, despairing of anything more except a volley of four-inch nails pumped into him silently by Y breaking up his heart and lungs, and a fast end to consciousness, "I hope the law accepts you as persons able to own and run this place after me! Describe me to Bluestreak and Hound and all the others of your people who you may make real in times to come!". Y positioned himself and aimed.

With a loud breaking of glass and laths two bricks flew in fast through an upper window. One hit X's left shoulder, sending him staggering back. The other broke Y's right arm, and his gun flew forwards. James caught it. James, whose only experience before with guns was ordinary shotguns occasionally at public clay pigeon shoots, let his shield fall and desperately fumbled with the unfamiliar bulky contraption and managed to fire two nails into X's right shoulder, only a second soon enough. If X had slung his gun in front of his chest instead of behind his back, James's story would have ended here. Timmy ran out and grabbed Y's left wrist. X still tried to shoot, but James shot his other shoulder, shouting angrily "It's only your shoulder. Back off to the window and take all that kit off. Again people think I'd be a pushover by myself.". The two had to obey. A tall steel form walked in and grabbed the two, one in each hand. James called Timmy off.

[65] It was Prowl, my second in command in the earlier stories, who transforms into a white and black USA police car. Only a day soon enough had I brought him to life by programming his mind into his brain with the `Creation Matrix' computer program. He had had to climb in over James's back wall, and then find which window to go to. "Welcome to England! Thanks!" James exclaimed. Prowl radioed for the police. James connected Prowl to a lineprinter so that Prowl could print out his and James's statements. The two men looked less impersonally efficient and impressive without their action kit. James had learned that being easy on villains is of no use; he handcuffed them behind their backs while Prowl held them. X, with nails in his shoulders, offered no resistance, but Y fought back with his legs and his good arm and James had work for his pickaxe handle.

"I suppose the CID or forensic ballistics 'll want to look round." said James to one of the police that came, "These two odd guns of theirs. Silent, except a slight reloading click. `Emperor Ming' written on them, I suppose it's initials for something like `Electro Magnetic Powered easy reload or recharge Modified Industrial Nail Gun'. Tell Customs or security it's an ordinary power tool, and they believe it. Aluminium casing. Reload from a hardware store, recharge from the electricity mains. No need for cartridges that need a licence to buy.".

(The `real' Emperor Ming, titled `The Merciless', is a character in the Flash Gordon space stories.)

"Ach-ssss!" the policeman exclaimed in alarm, "Several times some clever character has designed something like this and tried to patent it, and the patent office, as it is allowed to, suppressed the patent for security reasons which you now know why! Most industrial nailguns are powered by special blank cartridges, a few by compressed air, wildly inaccurate except point blank. But these things are far different. Judging by these controls, it can be set to automatic or semiautomatic or manual load; muzzle velocity can be set to anywhere from zero to like a high-powered rifle; spin or do not spin the projectile; select between two compartments of the magazine. I hoped I'd never see or hear of one of these! Not just as plans and a prototype sent in hopefully by some clever inventor, but a production model which has been used in action! Heaven knows where copies of the plans of them have got to, or where they're being made, or who else has them. How we relied on something that was so always true that we took for it granted without having to mention it, that guns go `bang'! Now it's not always so! Cartoons that I've seen of `tough guy' comic characters nailing wood by spitting nails from their mouths: all of a sudden they're no longer funny! Well, I better take your statement, and Prowl's. At least your inventions are help and not harm to men.".

"This is the third time!" James replied, "First lot were just thieves [see 26], and Jazz helped me catch them. Second lot wanted me to deal expensively through them instead of directly, and got rough when I refused [see 30]. Then these two. Lucky Timmy barked at the roosting birds they disturbed! Silent guns that don't look like guns: even if the plans are found and suppressed, other people'll design and make them, now they've been shown to be practical. Law-abiding people are that bit less safe.".

"I've seen my quota of home-made guns." said the policeman, "Crude makeshifts of a length of pipe. Those badly-made chrome plated pistols that turn up sometimes. These are different. Obviously a professional engineering design job. I hope they don't start turning up all over the place.".

"I'll have to get a new shield." said James, "This one's withstood those two characters, but it's taken all it can in the process.".

"Have you got any firearms?" the policeman asked.

"No." said James, "At clay pigeon shoots odd times, I used a gun that they keep there. Wheeljack (he was always fond of inventing) made a compressed air powered gun that fires a weight that trails a line, like lifeboatmen use. He used it once, when a boy got stuck up scaffolding [see 47-50]. People who know the fictional Transformers keep asking the real ones where their guns are. Some people need a lot of telling to accept that ray guns are impossible. Sorry to keep wearing this CRS-style riotsquad gear, but I've sure needed it! Anyway, you'd better see if you can loosen those two's tongues a bit.".

"Right." the policeman ordered, "Mr.Wernicke's getting tired of this sort of thing.".

"Donald Duck. I'm staying with Quackers while my pond's being dredged." X replied.

"Mickey Mouse. I'm staying with Jerry while Minnie Mouse redecorates my hole." Y replied.

The policeman pretended to accept those names as true, for it did not matter what the two were called as long as the law had custody of them, and the two would soon get tired of having to answer to those names in court and prison. He took James's fingerprints, so that forensic could eliminate them when examining the fingerprints on the men's kit, for James had handled one of the nailguns.

[66] "So it seems that, having finally got away from the Decepticons, my first real job is to face two humans who are acting Decepticon, while the other seven of my people who have come here before here are all busy away. I suppose I better justify the badges on my doors, while I am here." said Prowl, offering his services to take the two to the police station; the other policemen drove away, for they have many calls. For only the second time in reality, Prowl transformed, although he remembered transforming many times in his synthesized past of Cybertron and Oregon and easy faster than light space travel which he was exiled from without hope of return. He went on all fours. His head folded inside. He folded his arms, and they became his front suspension and steering gear. His legs folded up and became his rear end. His passenger compartment unfolded and its doors opened.

"Does this car drive like ordinary cars?' the policeman asked, getting in Prowl.

"No need, I can drive myself." said Prowl.

"Get in. No, the back seat. This is the third time since Easter." said James angrily, still in his riotsquad gear, using one of the nailguns to gunpoint the two into obeying, "Why don't some of you try working for a living? I've more to do than play at riotsquads while my customers are kept waiting.". The two had to obey.

"I've got your statement, on some compu ..." the policeman started, then broke off as a voice over Prowl's radio said that three men were needed at a fight at a nearby pub. "Sorry, I better go, another incident. `Oppit, cat!" he said.

"Oh no, `pussy on the prowl'! Come on, Tabbins, find the warm patch above his motor some other time." said James, slinging the nailgun on his back and picking up his cat off Prowl's bonnet, leaving the shiny new white paint adorned with a trail of muddy cat footprints going backwards from the right front corner.

"I'll be back when I can. James." said Prowl quickly, and drove away.

Prowl left the two at the police station, then took the policeman to the affray at the pub.

"You take some getting used to, electromechanical but alive with awareness and emotions." he said.

"The amount of time I spent checking his place out and keeping track of where all his trick vehicles were. How was I to know that he'd just made another?" X moaned.

"Giant robots, giant robots, that great steel hand. I'm sure I've got a cracked rib." Y moaned.

James went in, carrying Tabbins. Timmy came to him, whining to be fed. A pile of seven dead mice and three dead rats were evidence that Tabbins had meanwhile had his own fight against intruders, another battle in a war that had started when the council pulled down some vermin infested tenements nearby. He fed Tabbins and Timmy, tried to collect his thoughts, and decided to go back to bed for what was left of the night. He realized that he still had the nailgun slung on his back. The police would have to come back for it, and for the rest of those two's kit. He fell on his bed and went to sleep at once in full kit, still wearing the nailgun.

[67] In the morning he decided that `Emperor Ming' better be some use before the police came to collect `him'. "This is sure quicker than hammering!" he thought, using it to nail up a crate to deliver a computer to an unpronounceable port in Poland (Szczeczin). Making crates took time with sawing and nailing, and having crates made for him by outside firms was expensive. The power tool's metal bulk made no sound except faint reloading clicks as its flat screwed-on rear end plate thumped his shoulder in recoil, and the fired nails thudded their full length into the wood six feet away with alarming power. No need for cartridges that need a licence to get; nails and electricity can be got anywhere. He thought of a silent firing squad armed with that sort of gun, and shuddered.

Next job was to mend his roof. By now some of the Transformers had returned. Much of the nailing was in awkward corners, and the nailgun promised to be a safer way than hammering through a 5-foot punch up a 30-foot ladder. He stuck an axe in his belt and went to the wall below the affected part of the roof. Wheeljack, who was in robot form, picked him up. "Now, hands up, as the gunman said in the crime story." said James. Wheeljack obeyed; James, sitting on Wheeljack's hands, was level with his roof where it had been leaking at the eaves. The roof met the flat top of the wall in a 45 degrees angle, abominably hard to hammer into, but his nailgun made it easy. While he was up there he cleared away all the nests and mess left by pigeons before he bought the building, and the cobwebs. Wheeljack walked along the wall. He found out why one of his roof beams had broken in a gale: the grain in the wood made a dogleg round a huge knot, but the sawmill had cut straight through it and the builders had used it regardless. He couldn't replace the beam without dismantling part of the roof, so he splinted the damage with thick long pieces of oak. Wheeljack put him down while he got the wood from store and put the gun on recharge, while he got the other nailgun and reloaded it with 8-inch nails. Like that, and set to maximum power, it did the job, far easier than hammering upwards at an angle, but the recoil gave its unpadded metal rear end a punch like a boxer's without gloves against his chest and shoulders; but he endured it and carried on with the job, rather than face the risk of the broken beam starting more damage in each strong wind until the roof needed replacing. Wheeljack complained that he had come home from mending one factory building to mend another, but realized that the work had to be done before the police came to collect the two nailguns with the rest of the two men's kit. "Couldn't Jazz lift you? I've got work to do." said Wheeljack.

He finished, and put the nailgun on recharge, somewhat wondering why he was doing so. He wondered where the other nailgun was. He felt sleepy after his interrupted night. He took the gun's magazine out in case the cat or the dog pawed the controls, and sat on a chair by the battery charger and went to sleep. When he woke, he found the other gun; Wheeljack had been examining its insides. The police eventually came and collected the two intruders' kit.


PILEUP

[68] While James was facing the two nailguns, far from certain thathe would see another morning or handling one of the guns himself, life was in danger on the M5 motorway nearby also. Dense traffic had driven too fast in fog at night, and Ratchet and Hoist, summoned to the scene, had to transform and walk across fields, with a delay breaking a gap in some farmer's 12 foot tall untrimmed hedge. "Matrix, what a mess." said Ratchet as he reached the top of the east side of the motorway embankment. Cars and lorries and vans strewn about and on top of each other like a tipped-out boxful of toys blocked all lanes both ways. There was plenty load for two ambulances which had had to drive the wrong direction along the northbound lane to get there. "Won't help looking at it. Good thing I brought plenty of blowtorch gas. Let's start." said Hoist.

An artic cab was lying on its roof. A rescuer trying to get its driver out of its crushed cab was thwarted by its driver's unhurt and angry Alsatian. "Leave, Tiger, it's all right." came a voice as if in pain from inside, but the dog stayed on guard. Hoist, approaching, saw that diesel was spilt about, which luckily makes much less vapour than petrol, for he had to blowtorch. He protruded a built-in blowtorch (USA: oxy-gas torch) from his left hand, and cut through the crushed bodywork. The snarling dog bit his steel hand in vain as he dragged it out. Now the driver could be got out.

"All sorts of junk in here. Some of it's cut him, flying about in the crash." said a rescuer.

"It's not junk, it's my stuff." said the driver.

"Aiyinn?" the dog whined as it followed its master being taken away on a stretcher along the verge past where another driver was realizing that his holiday had ended before it had started, for the swinging rear end of the jackknifing artic's trailer had broken his caravan apart. Ratchet started to stack wreckage on the grass verge, startling a man with `doctor' on his fluorescent overjacket who was wondering how heavy lifting gear to get at trapped people could get in through all the mess.

"What in Hippocrates's name is that!?" the man exclaimed, seeing Ratchet. A white giant robot with its chest like the front end of an American wedge-fronted ambulance was a bit too much for him that late at night.

"I'm Ratchet Autobot. We're based at a factory in Droitwich." said Ratchet briefly, for he was busy.

[69] The doctor followed Ratchet to a car which had rolled 360 degrees over and crushed its roof on the central barrier on the way. He tore its roof open with his hands, for its petrol had spilt about making it unsafe to blowtorch. Ratchet, noticing something, protruded a needle from a hand and sucked up a little of the trapped driver's blood, and then went to blowtorch an access gap in the central barrier while the doctor looked at the driver.

"Sample has 91 mg/ml of alcohol." said Ratchet, "Another one. Business conference or something, everything discussed over drinks, then didn't set off home till the bar shut, drunk in charge of the firm's affairs as well as in charge of a car, no wonder business often can't get its act together nowadays.".

"I know this sort." said the doctor, "Must have a separate drink with each person consulted. Meets x people, so ends up having x drinks. No idea of lemonade or `no thankyou' or merely offering a drink and not having one himself also.".

"Ooh my head." said the driver, waking and standing up giddily, "I'm all right, nothing broken. Important papers. All I want is aspirin and a phone, please. I must get home, another meeting tomorrow.".

"Not by car you don't, for a good while. Your safety belt saved you, but you must still go to hospital for a check up." said the doctor.

"Please. My licence. My job." pleaded the driver, rummaging in his wrecked car for papers.

"You should have thought of that before." the doctor snapped, "There's no law ordering you to drink alcohol.".

The jet-propelled hawk-shaped robot called Laserbeak landed by a damaged car, and tore its jammed door open with his hooked beak, startling one of two ambulancemen who were carrying an empty stretcher to it in case its driver needed it. "It's only Laserbeak." said the other, and explained. "He'll have to go to fetch some plasma and blood and adrenalin soon, we're nearly out of them. Quicker than a motorcycle in this fog and traffic and drunks driving home." he added.

The driver mumbled something as the ambulancemen got him out.

"It's all right, we're here." said one of them to him.

"What did he say?" a man asked wearing a factory-type safety helmet and a fluorescent overjacket with the word `paramedic' on it.

"Rubbish. Sounds like he's delirious." said an ambulanceman.

"What did he say?" Laserbeak asked.

"Not now, we're busy." the ambulanceman curtly replied.

"What did he say?" Laserbeak asked, louder.

"OK, keep your feathers on, bird." the ambulanceman replied, He said `I'm immune to hell and hen.': I told you it was nonsense.".

"Skwaak!" Laserbeak replied, "That's `L and N', two blood group substances! I bet he's had a transfusion before, and his immune system's got fussy. Happens sometimes. He needs L-minus N-minus blood.".

"Great. One more thing special to send for." the paramedic complained, and told Laserbeak to fetch it. Laserbeak found a clear bit of road and took off and flew away. His jets faded away into the silent foggy damp night.

A man with his suit a little scuffed came up to Ratchet and asked him: "I'm Dr.Arnoldson, and I've got to get to a meeting at ...".

"No." Ratchet interrupted, "You've got patients right here. Go to Hoist, that's the green robot with the orange towing-gear on his back, and help treat anybody injured he gets out. Never mind going away and leaving people untreated.".

"Er - can't - Doctor of Philosophy in Physics - not medicine. I wouldn't know what to do or look for." Arnoldson whined.

"No. You're `Mister', till you get a medical degree, idiot. Go help shift wreckage and never mind your fancy suit." Ratchet snapped, for in emergencies he had little patience for the confusing university habit of using (Ratchet called it `misusing') the word `doctor' to mean someone with a degree in irrelevant nonmedical subjects.

A mobile crane found its way in. A policeman riding with its driver showed the usual fright at suddenly seeing Ratchet in robot form, but urgency forbade delay. "Can you help us right that flatbed artic?, so we can load some of the wrecks on it. We'll have to cut the cab away, but it should drive. Pity Optimus isn't here ..." said Ratchet, and broke off and threw a piece of scrap iron backwards. The piece hit the back of a man who was standing among cars. The man grunted under the blow, and his hat and two objects that he was holding to his mouth went flying.

[70] "You thought that like a human I can't see backwards!" said Ratchet angrily, making three quick strides up to him and grabbing him, "Petrol spilt all over the place, and you tried to light a fag, you scraplet! People still trapped in that car nearest to you! To make up for wasting my time and being stupid, give the cop the rest of the fags and the matches or lighter and help shift wreckage. Never mind your posh suit.".

"Sorry, cop, but it was the only way for me to stop him in time." said Ratchet to the policeman.

"Put me down!" the man protested, "Lucky nothing broken - assault - making me lose a valuable cigar lighter - bruises - I'll have the law on you, or on that Mr.Whirr-nick who made you overgrown tin heavies. Go see to the injured.".

"You better do what Mr.Ratchet says. The rest of the fags, please." said the policeman.

"I needed that smoke, to calm my nerves! No wonder!" the man complained.

"What if you'd started a fire?" Ratchet snapped, "If a fleshling dies, you can't get him back by making a new body and restoring his mind from a computer disk dump copy!".

"I protest. I've lost enough time through this lot." the man continued, "It wasn't a `fag', it was an expensive Virginia cigar. No smoking, no smoking, nicht rauchen, ne kurit' [= Russian for `no smoking'], défence ą fumer, there's no getting away from it!".

Jazz and Wheeljack appeared, climbing up the embankment as Ratchet and Wheeljack had before. They had been at the factory building repair, and had come as soon as they had heard of the crash on the local radio. They still had no news of Optimus, except that he was going to Wednesbury with a load for Bangor in North Wales. A lorry with a big crate tied on its rear had reared like a horse and fallen back down on a car, squashing it and its occupant. Jazz and Wheeljack untied the crate to lift it off, then they would lift the lorry off; but a fireman ran up to them and called them off, telling them to attend to the living first. They and Ratchet found plenty of work, among the tangle of damaged flesh and metal caused by people too impatient to drive slow enough to stop within the visibility limit, and the blood and the fractures and the internal injuries and the general mess.

The wind stiffened and blew the fog away. The man in charge, seeing a bright light lowish in the eastern sky, complained over his radio about it being probably an airliner in difficulty to add to the work; but Jazz, who was righting an overturned lorry in the course of helping to clear at least one lane each way for traffic, recognized it as being not that, and not a UFO, but only the planet Venus, and said so. Venus and Jupiter, and sometimes Mars, cause many spurious object in the sky reports. The police arranged transport for stranded people, and had to shoo away the first sightseers. As Ratchet transformed to ambulance form and parked himself with the ordinary ambulances, Wheeljack went on his knees and loaded into him the last living casualty except for `walking wounded': it was the man needing the L-minus N-minus blood. Laserbeak flew in with three transfusion bottles of it, and also some insulin, which was useful, because one of the minor casualties was diabetic and overdue for his dose of it.

[71] By now the slow lane each way was clear. An overturned sand and gravel lorry was righted, leaving a pile of spilt sand on the middle lane; the police radioed for a JCB to shift it. Wheeljack `kneeled' by bending his hips at a right angle backwards and treated a long queue of minor injuries. An ambulanceman looked in Laserbeak's cargo compartment for A,Rh- blood and found one bottle left, and used it. Jazz pulled a spilt crate aside. The artic with the squashed cab was drivable when the cab body had been cut away; Hoist loaded another wrecked car onto its flatbed trailer. Most of the other undrivable or driverless vehicles had been lined up against the central barrier. A policeman radioed to let traffic pass, one lane each way.

The multiple crash cut the threads of many men's plans, as usual.

Another policeman was thanking Hoist for his help when the policeman's dog got very interested in some white powder smeared down Hoist's left leg. It had been in a polythene bag in an overturned red Cortina car's boot, and it spilt about when Hoist righted the car. The policeman, sounding a little alarmed, asked Hoist where it came from and scraped a sample of it off into a bag of his own and emphatically told Hoist to wash the rest off in a nearby stream at once, and anything else that the powder may have got on. He also asked Hoist for a description of the people that were in the car.

"One, man, white, tall, blue eyes, red anorak, broken left leg. In the middle ambulance north end northbound lane." Hoist replied. In that ambulance the described man overheard this message on a nearby policeman's radio, realized that his `consignment' had been found, reached in his pocket for something, and ordered threateningly "I'm taking over in here! Sit over th...".

"Bang aagh." said the ambulanceman tiredly and sarcastically, for his intellectual ability was suffering the inevitable consequences of being awake too long at a stretch, "Forget it. We found your `equalizer' while you were sedated. The cops've got it.".

"That's the end of our marketing conference this afternoon." said one of two casualties who were in Ratchet's rear, "It must be nearly morning by now. Papers and slides lost. Five delegates travelling together all hurt. Other meetings were waiting for its decision."

"I am Ratchet. You are inside me." said Ratchet to two casualties in his rear.

"Who said that?" said one of them.

"What!? Oh help." said the other, realizing that he was in a sentient robot vehicle, "We'll have to try to discuss what we can from our beds. That meeting's important.".

"No!" said Ratchet sharply, "Hospital patients' phones are for short messages only, and nurses aren't patients' secretaries. Couldn't you spare the time for a proper night's sleep in all your urgency? Oh well, plenty delay for you now. I bet you fell asleep at the wheel. And I found 47 mg/ml of alcohol in you.", and unfolded some mechanical arms from the inside of his rear to examine the two casualties.

Ratchet set off, and switched out a link in his brain, temporarily dividing his brain's cortex and personality into two, one driving and the other attending to the casualties without distracting each other.

"OK. OK. The usual accusation, you cold electromechanical thing that couldn't get drunk if you tried to. Agh, robots." said one of the two casualties, and tried to look in his briefcase, which had been thrown under his stretcher.

"Lie still. You've got three broken ribs, and I'm on the move." Ratchet ordered, "Stop waving that arm, it's the one with the drip in. I'll reach Birmingham Hospital soon.".

[72] I got to the address in Wednesbury, and nobody there knew anything about the job. Nor did they recognize the voice of the man who had said he was one of theirs, who had arranged the haulage job, when I played it back from my memory. They had never heard of me as real; they thought they were hallucinating when I transformed into robot form to stand up to talk in at their manager's window. At least the 20-mile drive to the pile-up when I heard of it over my radio was straight down the M6 and M5. Nearing the pile-up, I found Stephen Jameson, businessman, collapsed on the grass by a motorwayside emergency phone.

"Ohhh. Meeting tomorrow. I tried to phone. Phone's gone wrong, nothing on it but motorway police, wouldn't put me back to the operator. Oh my head." Jameson groaned as Optimus unfolded his right arm and picked Jameson up and put him across the driving seats to take him to the doctors at the pileup.

"I've just come from there. I'll be all right in a bit. I just want two aspirins and a few minutes lie down ..." complained Jameson.

"No!" I said firmly, "You're injured inside somewhere. You're for hospital. Forget your meeting. You shouldn't have wandered away from the accident. Comes from cutting into your sleep time to fit extra work in.", guessing rightly why Jameson had crashed.

I drove up to Ratchet, who by now was back at the pileup, in ambulance form. I took Jameson out and transformed and went on hands and knees to load Jameson into Ratchet. "Now what!?!" importantly complained Jameson, who had not seen Transformers real or fictional before, "Look, I told you, all I want is (a) two aspirins for this %$# headache, (b) use of a phone to call a taxi to get home to collect replacement documents and notes, then off to a most important company conference starting at 1.30pm.".

"For the last time, no!" I ordered, "You're obviously bleeding inside your head somewhere, from when you bumped it. The only taxi you're having is Ratchet the ambulance, and the only meeting you're having is with the emergency surgeon. I can tell you're getting confused, or you wouldn't have tried to ring ordinary phone numbers on a roadside emergency phone, where I found you unconscious. How come you're missing a night's sleep to travel, anyway? That causes accidents. Who's your boss?, so I can give him a piece of my mind. Always it's Ratchet and the other ambulances and police that end up picking up the pieces. Humans need rest and sleep, and there's no avoiding it.".

People who are knocked out by a bump on the head should always go to the doctor after it, even if they seem all right afterwards.

Inside Ratchet as he sped along the M5, Jameson realized that his plans could not be kept to. "OK, OK." he said, "I need a checkup, or I may get unpronounceablitis of the qwertyuiop. I'll do all the talking to my boss. I can't afford to lose my job just now, him getting a mouthful of lip and jargon from some medic and I get accused of being a complainer and unable to keep up the pace. And I've one of my own cust' - I'll need to be completely out of anaesthetic by 9am, as I'll have a lot of phoning to do.".

"`-omers', you were saying." Ratchet picked up the broken word, "Now it slips out. A job and your own business also, cutting into your sleep to run both. Black coffee is not a proper substitute for sleep, I know you've been at it, your breath smells of it. You drive badly from sleeping and help to injure other people in this multiple pile up, interrupting my sleep to tidy it up. The surgeon'll operate as and when he thinks best, not being ordered about by some business boss getting patients tense when they should be resting.".

A mechanical arm unfolded from Ratchet's roof. Jameson, noticing it, pleaded for "No sedative, please. I've got to rethink my plans for tomorrow with this delay to important business.", but the needle went in and put Jameson to sleep.

[73] By now the left lane and hard shoulder each way were coned off and reopened for traffic. Smith and Singh's sand lorry had been righted, and a JCB was shovelling its spilt load back into it. The bits of the wrecked caravan had been stacked on the grass verge. Jazz and I were loading wrecked cars onto my flatbed trailer. "Move on, there's enough blocking the road without sightseers. I'll be in the papers in the morning." said Jazz to a passing car driver who slowed down to see what had happened. All the casualties had been taken away, except for one.

"No, I'm OK. I just lay down to get over the shock." he said to a policeman who persisted in wanting his particulars.

"I still want your name and address and a statement. We'll take you to the next services northbound." said the policeman.

"No. Wrong way. I was going to Bristol. I stopped in time, them someone shunted me in the rear. Where's my car? My stuff's in it.".

"Gone to a police pound for safe keeping before the scrap pickers arrive.".

"Whoa!" said a policeman to Hoist who was about to drive away carrying a squashed red car, "Mr -er- Hoist, is that the red Cortina that you found the bag of white powder in?".

"Yes." said Hoist, "I'll take it to Optimus for him to put on his trailer with the other wrecks, if there's room on it.".

"No." said the policeman, "Leave it on yourself, I'll get it in your cab and you come to Droitwich police station with it. Did you get a look at its driver's face?".

"Yes." said Hoist, "I can connect my brain seeing cortex to a television to play it back for you. Something that humans can't do. Have you still got him?".

"He's in Droitwich Hospital by now, if he's the right man, but you'd better confirm identification." said the policeman, "He tried to pull a gun out in the ambulance, but they'd already taken it off him while he was sedated [see 71]. Droitwich magistrates may have accepted you robots as witness so far, but drugs are a serious matter, this'll be a Birmingham Crown Court job. Some time there'll have to be the legal decision: Are you `Autobots' merely James Wernicke's machines, and him responsible for your actions in law; or are you `persons' in the eyes of the law and responsible for your own actions and capable of entering into agreements and owning prop ...".

"Look out northwards!" Jazz's voice loudly interrupted in alarm over Hoist's cab radio, as two cars abreast, the left one blue and the right one green, approached the start of the pileup area where three open lanes narrowed into one. Jazz spread his arms at them and shouted "Stop! Stop!", but whatever evading manoeuvre the blue car made to avoid the all too probable was matched by the green car's driver in his addled dim awareness as he drove home from a champagne and spirits ridden party which had lasted nearly all night. [74] The blue car, which had at least three people in, kept as far to the left as it could, nearly touching the left crash barrier; the green car, swaying about a lot, kept abreast of it, scattering cones. Then the green car's driver through a fog of muzzy convivial party images saw very near and straight ahead the solid unyielding steel rear end of my trailer. "That artic!" he yelled in fright and frantically swerved to the left, knocking the blue car over the crash barrier. It rolled over and over down the embankment and lay upside down. The blue car, stopped by the impact, tried to get away, but I with two quick strides reached it and trod on its right front wheel, crushing it, and wrenched the car open and pulled its driver out.

"Shorry, offsher." said the man, looking fatuously at me, "I di'nt shee the ... Why you weh- wearing armour made out of lorry partsh? Contraflowzh, contraflowzh, I thought tha' contrazh were only in Nhicaragua. I wanna go home. Put me down.".

"It's not a contraflow. It's a multiple `akshi'en', as you lot that help to cause them could call it." I shouted, in a fury of anger pronouncing the word `accident' as close to human drunk fashion as I could, "Next time get a taxi home or stick to ...".

"Forget it." said a policeman interrupting me, "You'll get no sense off him now. I'll take his documents and your statement now, and he can sober up in a cell.".

By now the eastern sky was starting to lighten along the horizon, promising dawn and more light to see by to work. Jazz went on hands and knees and climbed down the embankment to right the blue car and extricate the people in it. All the medical people had gone with the last casualties, and now there were more casualties. Optimus radioed for Ratchet or Wheeljack to come back. (Wheeljack also had had some ambulanceman training.) Jazz suggested finding if Dr.Mackinley at Chellingham was in.

Jazz extracted a 3 year old boy, who was bruised but otherwise unhurt and called "Mummy! Daddy!" in vain. There was no more work for a doctor there. The family had been going to Cornwall on holiday; they would never get there. I went on hands and knees to look over the edge of the embankment, angrily calling down bomb and bullet and laser and Straxus's melting-pit on all makers and sellers of alcoholic drinks; then, more realistically as my anger faded, threatened to find who had made and sold the drink responsible and sue them for manslaughter and all damages possible.

"As the law stands, that charge wouldn't stand. I wish it would." the policeman regretted, "At least he may possibly go to prison. He gets out of it unhurt!", and asked me who Straxus was.

"I wanna go home." said the culprit, and started to weep.

"Another maudlin drunk. Ratchet and the human ambulancemen that he meets are sick of tidying up after this sort of thing." I said, and explained who Straxus was. (He was the Decepticon ruler of the city of Polyhex on Cybertron, in the stories.)

[75] Jazz fastened a chain to the blue car and climbed back up the embankment. I pulled the blue car back to the motorway by the chain while Jazz transformed to car form and a policeman tried to comfort the boy, who still wanted his mummy and daddy. "I'll take you to the police station and put you to bed there. I'll tell you in the morning what's happened. Do you know your address?" he said, "Look at Jazz. he can turn into a car, he can take us there.". I reached into the blue car and took something large out and put it in a big plastic bag; then another. I loaded the rest of the wrecked cars, including the two new wrecks, on my trailer. "That leaves the three lorries and the plumbers' van." I said, fastening my load on.

"We'll send the breakdown men for those. You've done plenty." said the policeman to me, and picked up the boy and got in Jazz, who followed Hoist and me to Droitwich police station, which luckily had a very big yard to stack the flattened and fragmentary cars in. Hoist put the red Cortina separately, sheeting it over in case rain washed any evidence away, for he did not trust English weather further than he could have thrown Megatron who led the Decepticons in the stories. The boy had fallen asleep on Jazz's back seats; the policeman carried him into the station to a spare bed. Two other policemen carried in the drunk on a stretcher, snoring loudly like a self-satisfied dirty and wallowing pig; he would not be so carefree in the morning - or rather, in the afternoon, for it was already morning. Hoist and Jazz connected their brain outputs to a videorecorder and a lineprinter which the police station had, to record their statements. On the videotape all the sound was actual sound of the events, to avoid confusion, and all comments went on subtitles. The humans looked at this enviously, for the only way that humans can output pictures is by drawing, which is tedious. They had to be asked to make three copies of the lineprinter output, for the police station's photocopier was still out of order. They finished and unplugged themselves, and I gave his statements, interrupted by a man running out and frantically thumping my steel bulk with a pickaxe handle to stop me when the lineprinter suddenly decided to crumple its ribbon.

"Hang on while he changes it, then restart from `and the third car was lying ...'. It keeps doing that. Why can't they buy better ribbons?" he said.

I wondered why they couldn't have merely pressed the lineprinter's `off line' button instead. He swore and got his fingers inky and marked with printing, and eventually changed the ribbon. I printed some test text and examined it; the left ends of the lines were into the perforations, and a line of the text was astride the page end fold. "Ouch, you've cut me in half." I printed on that line of the next two pages. He swore and struggled with the paper feeding sprocket mounts, and eventually got it right. I finished printing my statement, and suggested that someone could usefully spend half an hour with a toothbrush and some meths cleaning compacted ribbon fluff out of the hollow letters such as `o' and `8' on the printer drum.

"Birmingham Central police station say could you take me and the red Cortina to them?, and on the way collect its driver from Birmingham Hospital if they've finished putting his leg in plaster." said a policeman to Hoist.

"Wuff wuff." said a police dog.

"All right, all right, Rover, you can come with me." said the policeman.

"OK., but I'll need some diesel first," said Hoist, "and to ring James Wernicke to tell him where I am. I was beginning to think I'd get home some time. I've only just unloaded that car off myself.".

[76] Hoist, as he left the police station yard, was astonished to pass Prowl, real and full size in England and not on page or screen, coming in. "Prowl! It can't be! he exclaimed, "What are you doing here in the real world? or is it just a car painted to look like him? I've been too busy recently to keep much track of Op's latest project.".

"Yes, it's me," Prowl replied, "and only just in time for James! He's had another scrape with intruders. [see 61 to 65] They're in me, it's OK. I'll tell you later. How strange it is to meet familiar people like you here, so far from Cybertron and Oregon.".

"Prowl! You've been quick finding yourself a job." said Optimus as Prowl stopped.

"What kept you, Op?" Prowl complained, "James had intruders again. Lucky I got there just in time to see them off! I only just saved him from a firing squad, literally!".

"Oh, hallo, Optimus, what brings you here?" said a policeman who got out of Prowl, and then to two handcuffed men in Prowl's back seats: "Journey's over. Come out of there, you miserable two. If Mr.Wernicke wants to fight off thieves instead of letting them steal, he's entitled to. Not so impressive without your kit? Get in the police station. Proper guns go `bang', people know they've been used. Silent battery-electromagnet-powered guns that fire 4-inch nails: dominé libera nos! [Latin for `Lord, deliver us] The beak'll send you two down for a good long while.".

"We were helping to tidy up a multiple pile up on the M5." I said, "Jazz and Hoist were with me. Laserbeak's delivering urgent medical supplies. Ratchet and Wheeljack are at Birmingham Hospital. Huffer's in Merseyside with a load for shipping to Peru.".

One of the policemen there, seconded from Kidderminster while two of Droitwich's men were off ill, wondered why his friend Alf had painted his car like a USA police car, and guessed that the Inspector wouldn't like it. The car seemed to fall apart, then rearranged itself into a tall humanoid robot. "Oh Charlie. I better go to bed" he said, gaping vacantly, wondering what sort of new kit the local police had; then presumed that he was `seeing' the result of sleepiness and watching too many Transformers cartoons with his children on top of too many late nights writing up incident reports. But Prowl was real; after transforming to robot form he stood with his face at a first floor office window. Inside, the Inspector leafed frantically through a copy of `Transformers Universe' to identify what part of the Transformers fictional world had now been made real. "Omega Supreme, Onslaught," he said, turning pages hurriedly, "Perceptor, Powerglide, Predaking, he's none of them. Make-believe suddenly becoming real and intruding into the adult real world. Oh, Prowl, transforms to a white and black USA police car. I should have expected it. I'm about getting used to your great steel faces at the window.". Prowl quickly explained what had happened and gave the inspector a floppy computer disk with a copy of his report on it, and said: "I can't stop, I'm going to the Black Horse affray with one of you, as I radioed.". He transformed back to car form, and Alf got in him, and he sped away, sounding his two-tone USA-type police car siren, which was decidedly not Home Office standard.

[77] The disturbance was unremarkable; as the publican at the Black Horse opened his front door to take the milk in, several passing workmen took the opportunity to try to buy beer to drink with their midday sandwiches. The publican refused, for the pub opening hours laws forbade it; the men persisted, and a shouting match developed. One of them called the publican's Alsatian a "rabid wolf" and did not understand why laws meant to stop drunkenness among workmen from impeding First World War war production should still apply so long after the war was over, "it's time that law came out of the trenches", until an approaching police siren told them that "the inevitables" were coming and the end of one more hope of confronting a matter to its finish. Then the car came, and they saw that it was painted like a USA police car in England, and guessed that it was only some relative of the publican who had painted his car like that to scare off trouble; but a policeman got out of it - leaving it unattended with its door open. Two of the men got in it, then found that it wouldn't go into gear, and the doors jammed shut, trapping the two inside. This is a technique called `rat trap' that the police use sometimes to catch car thieves. "Ha ha, you two have arrested yourselves!" said the car, which startled them badly, for they hadn't heard of Prowl or the other real Transformers before. [78] The two were taken to Droitwich police station. While Prowl was telling what had happened, his well remembered fictional past surfaced and he called Wernicke's factory "The Ark".

"The Ark? As in Noah?" someone there inevitably asked.

"No. It's the spaceship that the Transformers came from Cybertron to Earth in, and it crash-landed in Oregon in USA, in the fiction stories that we were copied into reality from." said Prowl, "From our fictional past that James Wernicke copied into the real Optimus Prime that he made, we remember so much that we'll never see again. No such thing as a spaceship. Only with huge effort have men in the real world managed to reach even the moon. Even many Transformers would be impracticable as the real thing. We'll never see a real Predaking, for a start, thank the Matrix! And some Transformers are supposed to shrink as they transform.".

Prowl went back to Wernicke's, where he for the first time met the real Wheeljack, who told him where the rest of the eight real Transformers were, and more of what had happened. (By now there were eight of them: Optimus, Ratchet, Laserbeak, Wheeljack, Hoist, Jazz, Huffer, Prowl.) James had collapsed into an armchair and gone to sleep in his riotsquad gear. (After three bad scares with intruders, he wore it most of the time.) I was still at the pileup site. Ratchet was between there and Droitwich Hospital. Inside, Hoist was telling Jazz about Stephen Jameson, who had stayed awake too long to tie too much business together, thinking wrongly that the human brain's need for sleep could be ordered off by serving it an injunction to desist, or the equivalent, until it surfaced regardless and he fell asleep while driving at 70mph, causing the pileup. Jameson had proved to have a slow bleed in the layers of packing called `meninges' between the skull and the brain; the accumulating blood pressed on his brain.


JAMESON AGAIN

Hoist and Jazz had nearly finished the factory building repair job, and were hoping that the man who had hired them would not go bankrupt owing, leaving creditors with only a fraction of what they are owed. There are so many excuses not to pay bills at any particular time when asked: "I'll pay you next week", "cheque's in the post", "cashier's day off", etc; once James kept getting "cheque's in the post" and other excuses from a customer until he started legal proceedings, when the customer's cheque came at last, dated 19 days previously but in an envelope postmarked only two days previously.

Ratchet came in. While he was taking the red Cortina's driver to hospital, the sedative, plus other stuff that the man had taken previously, sent the man into a talkative delirium. It turned out that the `substance' was not a straight import by him to sell, but was someone else's sent in payment for something, and that now that it was lost, he or someone owed the amount again, or unspecified action might be taken. Ratchet had given the police a copy of his recording of what was said, and was glad to get back to ordinary life.

James took a small work-table into Ratchet's back. James and Ratchet started making some process control chips for a firm that made aqualungs. "I tried aqualung diving a few times." said James, "Don't you try it, you'd get rust plague from the sea salt, or sand in your bearings. I had a letter today from Smith & Malton's Ltd, they want me to help them to make a sentient computer controlled underwater working vehicle, not necessarily transforming, to save having all the time to design around either the frailties of humans under depth pressure or the need to communicate with an operator on the surface.".

"Until I get yet another emergency call, as ambulances are heir to." said Ratchet, "I badly need a full service and check, but every time I find Hoist or someone free to do it, I get called out again. No good if I break down or run a big-end half way to an emergency.".

[79] Next morning a `witness summons' came for James re the three Americans [see 30 etseq], and had to explain to me the difference between a witness summons and an ordinary accusation summons. I said that I was going to the local carnival, to be decorated as a float.

"Carnival? That's what teacher says cats and dogs and lions are." said across the road's small son Derek who was visiting.

"No!" I replied, "They're carnivores. A carnival is a sort of parade. `Carnival' is from the Latin `carni vale', meaning `goodbye to meat'. In the old days the church used to get people not to eat meat in Lent. Before there were shops everywhere, most people had to grow most of their own food, and in England the food often ran short that time of the year. Gardeners call it the `hungry gap'; winter vegetables finish, stored roots get short or bolt in store, stored salted meat gets short or goes bad in store, summer vegetables (broad beans are the first) won't be ready for ages, what few vegetables do come ready in late winter and spring take too much space for the food that they provide, and any eggs and milk the people produced had to be sold to pay the bills. On Shrove Tuesday, which is the last day before Lent, they ate up the odd old bits left in store, to get tidy, and this became a feast and a festival, called `carni vale'; that's why you have pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. In hot countries they have big processions then, with decorated floats and people in fancy dress. Then people who moved from hot countries to England, wanted to have carnivals still; but around Shrove Tuesday in England the weather is usually somewhere between `expletive deleted' and `unprintable', so they had to have their carnivals in summer.".

I took my trailer and went to the carnival procession assembly point. The students that he was allocated to realized that they would have to revise their decoration plans somewhat, for they had been expecting an ordinary one-piece lorry. Their decoration theme was `Droitwich Tech up the jungle'. One of them, who was wearing a lion costume already, recognized me as "the big red artic that Wernicke's has. It can be remote controlled, I think.". My wide-diameter vertical exhaust pipes threatened to make it rather gaseous for the students riding on my trailer, until they found in my cab some wide flexible industrial ducting that I had brought, to lead the diesel exhaust from the ends of the pipes back down and under me. None of them knew what my Autobot badges were. They looked for places to fasten the decorated boards to. I had to tell them not to paint on my metal, and not to stick things to him with glue. They wondered where my voice came from, then guessed that it was someone looking from a distance and talking in over a CB radio. One of them told the `lion' to take his animal suit off, for there was still work to do. One painted on a spare piece of cardboard "Droitwich Tech D.T.'s, seeing animals" and looked for somewhere to tie it on. "Tie it to some of the anchor points on my trailer, that they use when sheeting my loads down. There's plenty of them. Not to hydraulics or nerve wires." I said. They went to tie "Droitwich Tech in darkest Africa" over my radiator grille, blocking the air flow; I told them not to. They finally decided to put it sagittally [= fore and aft in the midline; their biology was showing] at the back.

One of them climbed up and touched one of the videocamera eyes which were on my cab's four top corners; a steel eyelid came over the eye with a click, startling the student, who wondered just what sort of lorry I was. "All ri', all ri'. `Don't touch this, don't touch that.'" he said irritatedly. They went to get the rest of the decoration and the animal suits out of a garage. I drove up to them, startling them again, seeing me moving driverless. A bird settled on my front left cab eye. "Click" went the eye's steel eyelid. "Chakk chakk chakk" went the bird, and flew away in annoyance. They wondered why a lorry had eyelid blink reflexes, or eyes for that matter. One of them drew a picture of a female pink elephant on its nest in a rhubarb tree, and fastened it on the left side of my cab. They finished decorating me. Some dressed as their idea of African natives, with spears and ()-shaped animal-hide shields, and started a war dance round a native straw hut built on the front end of my trailer. Some put the animal suits on, complaining that the local theatrical costumier's hire fees, like most prices, increased each year. One of them pointed out that, before there had been any inflation of English money, a pound sterling had been the value of a pound weight of silver, and a poundsworth of silver coins had weighed a pound, whence the pound unit of money in the first place. They got on and set off along the procession route at 11am, loudly playing tomtoms and recordings of jungle animal noises.

[81] The long procession slowly went along its route. There was no wind, and the smell of diesel exhaust gradually lost its charm as the day passed. A policeman warned some students about throwing stuff, and shooed away a street trader, who predictably moaned that everywhere that he didn't attract enough queue to cause an obstruction, he thereby had not enough business to make a living. They gradually noticed that I was driving myself without human aid, and wondered if he was being remote controlled. I felt pain between my left trailer wheels; someone had pulled a nerve wire while poking about for places to tie stuff to, more work for Ratchet when he got home. The procession finished. Droitwich Tech Biology Department, who had me, got the prize for the second best float. The mayor and mayoress's chauffeur, who had taken their car to get petrol, got inextricably trapped in a traffic jam at new roadworks made worse by road closures for the carnival, and radioed in to say so; they asked at vehicles along the procession for a lift, and I was the first they found that was going their way. As the students were removing the jungle decorations, the mayor noticed and recognized my Autobot badges, [82] and thought that I was an artic that someone had painted to look like Optimus Prime the Transformer, who he had heard of; he gaped in amazement as I transformed and showed that I was indeed a real Transformer in the real world. I quickly explained my origin and position in the real world.

"Mr.Mayor, I bring you greetings from Cybertron [my home planet in the stories], I mean from Wernicke's." I said, standing 25 feet tall above them, "He made me in imitation of my fictional namesake, complete with all the memories of my fictional past, to which I have no hope of return. My home city is Iacon, or it would be - never mind. It's all gone, or rather it never was, except as dreams. I can only make a living on earth, hauling goods mostly, as you would expect. At least I don't have to look over my shoulder for Decepticons any more in this world. Brrrm, students! It'll take me a week to get clean after this lot. Flour and egg thrown about despite warning from the carnival committee. A damaged nerve in my trailer, giving me neuralgia; someone tied something to it and it pulled, more work for Ratchet. Corners and bits of paper left sellotaped to me. My cab inside strewn with leaflets.".

"Ratchet? The transforming ambulance? Your James Wernicke made a real one of him also?" asked the mayor.

"No, I did." I said after I had transformed back to lorry form and the mayor and mayoress and their secretary were riding in him through the town, "I got lonely, `remembering' my old world from all that fiction that James read into me to be my memories and experiences. He so much wanted to have for real me his friend who he had got to know so well from fiction. He gained that friend, but I lost 20 friends, left back in my unattainable fictional past. The sky star patterns kept reminding me of them. Finally I had to make some of them. So far there are real ones of: me, Ratchet, Laserbeak, Wheeljack, Hoist, Jazz, Huffer, and Prowl. Who next? Mirage?, who transforms into a racing car, and the constellation of Gemini looks like him. Grapple? (orange truck-crane; Virgo looks like him.) Tracks? (Firebird car; Libra.) Skids? (blue van; Lepus.) Trailbreaker (dark brown van; Corvus and Crater.) Even a Constructicon or two? (I'd get some feeling of victory over them in my unfinished war with the Decepticons, by making them for real as Autobots.) The two halves of the constellation of Cetus look like Hook the truck-crane and Scrapper the front-loader excavator. Forget it. The only Cybertron and Iacon that I have is Wernicke's factory. No hope of return to the `real' Cybertron, or to any other imagined world where ray guns work and travel many times faster than the speed of light is routine, as in so many stories of men. In Homer's old Greek stories, Odysseus was ten years in war at Troy, then ten years wandering, but returned in the 20th year to his home country. The people of Israel were 19 centuries exiled, and yearned for return, but at last returned, and in 1948 got their own state in their ancient homeland. But not me. I am a manufacture of men, yearning for a heritage and a history, but not finding it. All my people's real history is in the future. Oh well. Time I got back to James's. Where are you three going to?".

"Those students' college. Here it is. The principal's giving us dinner." said the mayor. I stopped, and the three got out.

"Thanks for the lift. Not every day I meet a real Transformer!" said the mayor, and the three went into the college.

[83] At Droitwich Hospital, where Stephen Jameson's intracranial haematoma [see 72] had just been operated on, there was a somewhat acrimonious confrontation between a hospital receptionist and a policeman.

"When will Stephen Jameson be out of anaesthetic? He needs to be questioned about a multiple pile-up on the M5." said the policeman.

"Please!" the receptionist girl exclaimed harrassedly, "Enough of that pile-up, and now yet again cops turning wards into interrogation rooms, interrupting medical routine. Once he's out of anaesthetic he's going to Birmingham Hospital to recover, where there's more bed space. Can't you wait till he's recovered and home?, for merely a traffic offence?".

A hospital trolley with Stephen Jameson on came past. The policeman followed it into casualty, where an ambulance was waiting. A businessman with an overfull briefcase joined him. So did a woman with two bags of shopping. He noticed briefly that the ambulance, unusually for England, had one big rear door.

"Stephen Jameson?" said the policeman, looking into the ambulance.

"What? So soon? OK, it is." said Stephen Jameson tiredly.

"I better catch you quickly." said the businessman as Stephen Jameson was being transferred into the ambulance.

"You as well. I can't think properly right now. I've just had an operation." Stephen Jameson moaned, recognizing his boss.

"He's going to Birmingham Hospital. I don't know which ward. Can't you cops wait?" said the ambulanceman crossly.

The policeman saw and recognized a stylized robot face logo on the ambulance's rear above the middle of its rear door opening.

"Lets have it from the beginning. How long since your last proper night's sleep, when you set off?" the policeman insisted.

"Excuse, officer, I'll only be a moment." said Jameson's boss abruptly, "I just need his opinion and signature on a matter. It's needed at Rio de Janeiro tomorrow. I've a plane to catch.".

"No, you wait. So many calls on the police. I can't wait about here." said the policeman sharply.

"Oh, Steve! The children were getting so ..." said the woman.

"Not now, woman!" the policeman interrupted curtly.

"Clocks don't wait. Planes don't wait. If you've got unable to think under pressure, I better review your ..." Jameson's boss started.

"How long was it?" the policeman rapped.

"Sales info! Plane goes soon! Think!" Jameson's boss urged.

"How long? How much alcohol, and when? Think!" the policeman urged.

A mechanical arm unfolded from under the ambulance's roof. While the policeman wondered what it was going to do, half an inch of needle protruded from its end. Recognizing now all too well the arm and its purpose and its owner, the businessman jumped into the ambulance grabbing at the arm with an angry shout of: "Keep your mechanized scorpion sting out of him, you Cybertronian tin @#$%^&*! There's £170,000 on this! I need him alert, not full of sedative!! Just five minutes of his time!".

In reply a loud synthesized voice sounded from the front of the ambulance: "Get out of me, and get away from me, the lot of you, and let my door shut, argue argue, sending his heart rate and blood pressure up! Typical high powered businessman driving himself and everybody else to the limit and totally selfish and can't spare a second! Leave my kit alone!" A second mechanical arm unfolded from the ambulance's roof. One of the arms injected Jameson, and he went to sleep. "If I lose out on -ouch!- this, I'll sue your James Wernicke for every penn ..." Jameson's boss started, then slept, for the other mechanical arm had injected him. The arms retracted their needles and put him on the ambulance's other stretcher.

The policeman left, reflecting that Wernicke's Autobots were indeed like people, including that medical Autobots are as unwilling as medical humans to let anything outside get to their patients out of schedule. [84] He went away, reporting on his personal radio what had happened. Hearing his statement that "the ambulance sedatived [for `sedated'] him", his sergeant at base thought he meant "the ambulanceman sedated him", and had to be told that the ambulance was the robot ambulance Ratchet that Wernicke's made. He thought of reporting Ratchet, or Wernicke's, for obstructing the police, then thought better of it.

Ratchet radioed to his destination telling them of his extra passenger. On arrival, the casualty staff, complaining about police and other officials and patients' friends and enemies in general disrupting hospital routine, took Jameson into a post-surgical ward and dumped his boss on a settee in the ambulancemen's area to come round.

Jameson's boss hid in a patch of bushes while Genghis Khan's endless horde passed; none of them saw him. Finally he could get out and stretch his legs; but still the nearest water (at Chagaan Bogdo Hudag) was three days by camel away. Someone rode up; perhaps able to spare some water and a lift. Then he saw that the rider wore an ambulanceman's uniform with Birmingham badges on. While he was realizing that that was not usual wear in Mongolia, the desert dissolved as he woke, feeling woozy. "Whatever that stuff was, it causes odd dreams." he said groggily, and yawned, and saw a clock. "The time!!" he exclaimed, "My plane! Forget it, without that decision and signature there'd be nothing for me to do in Rio except listen to our Brazil department `washing its dirty linen in public'.". He stood up, still wobbly, reflecting that now Japan would get the investment and £170,000 was rather expensive for a few anaesthetic dreams and an unwanted trip into Birmingham. He went out and found a bus stop and went home. Ratchet also drove home to Wernicke's and went straight in and straight to sleep, and dreamed of being on Cybertron yet again.

[85] A few days later, James Wernicke's small niece Sue was in my cab talking to me. She wondered why I had for the last two days come in heavily muddy. "I was in St.Andrews church crypt again, finding what was making subsidence in there" I said, "It was people tunnelling across underneath without back-filling properly above the roof of the tunnel.".

Sue shivered a bit, for she had heard a variety of creepy legends and tales about crypts. I told her that that crypt at least only contained miscellaneous stores and old church drama scenery, and bats, and spiders and their webs, and a furnished area for meetings, and at one end a lot of messy muddy subsidence which had alarmed the vicar into calling me in to investigate it. "Across the road think I'm the world's expert in keeping children amused, never mind that I've got work to do." I thought, "`Go to Wernicke's and sit in Op's cab and talk to him while we go out.' they say. She's got till Hoist's finished servicing me, then she must go in one of the rooms.". "The man where I buy diesel 's been asking me for creepy tales, also, from in there. There are none, unless you want to hear of the small affairs of the spiders and creepy crawlies. The most I bother about spiders is that I don't want them spinning webs on exposed circuitry, dirtying it." I said.

"Our garage's full of spiders. They spin webs on everything." said Sue, "They keep spinning webs across the garden path in the night, then I walk into them, sticky across my face. Why won't anyone near here play dolls with me? My brother says dolls are sissy. I've got two Fluffo dolls, and I take her comic, but I've read the latest copy twice already. If I play with myself, I always know what I'm going to do. Playing with someone else'd be different.".

"Brrrm." I thought resignedly, "Having to think down to young children's intelligence. At least it's a change from hauling all day. Back on Cybertron I ruled the city of Iacon. Oh well, here goes.". I asked Sue if her brother had any Transformer toys.

"He's got a jet fighter with white wings and a blue body and two rudders." said Sue.

"Oh him, one of the Decepticons." I said, well remembering him from many encounters in my fictional past, "If you want me to make up a Fluffo story for you, I'll try to. Wait a minute ... One day she got an offer to act in a film in Hollywood. That's in California, a long way, and they wanted her next day. Some people expect things to happen in a moment. She tried to book a plane seat, but it was holiday time and all the seats were taken. But California is next to Oregon, where I live in the stories. So that Transformer jet that your brother's got, he flew from Oregon to England over the Atlantic, that wide cold water that some call `the herring pond'. He came to Fluffo's and landed transforming on her lawn. His jet blast made a big burnt patch on it. She got a case that she had packed and got in his cockpit. He flew up and away into the west and away over the sea. It seemed to stay the same time for a long time, for he was following the sun. Across Ireland, then nothing but grey sea till he reached America. Then, six miles up and still 1400 miles to go, shut in his small tightly-fitting cockpit with two hot jetmotors blasting close behind her and nothing to look at but sky and deep ocean and a lot of instruments that she didn't know what they were for, she found that one of her garage spiders had come for the ride. Well, most people know what some women are like with spiders: perhaps that's why that Transformer jet fighter is called Starscream. Anyway, she got to Hollywood and acted there.".

"That's finished servicing you." said Hoist, on hands and knees screwing my radiator cover back on, "You had some frayed sensory nerve wires near your left front suspension.

"Come on, Sue, back to the real world, out of me and go into James's area out of the way. I've got work to do. We are stranded here in the real world with no G.B.Blackrock to keep us in fuel like in the stories. We must work for a living.".

"Waow?" asked Tabbins, who had been watching Hoist.

"All right, all right, Tabbins, I'll get you some fish." said Hoist. Sue went to stroke Tabbins, but I told her to go right out of the garage out of the way, for the rule was that moving real Transformers were traffic and the usual traffic safety rules applied.


THE CRYPT

[86] Three days before, Rev.Aldredson, vicar of St.Andrews church, phoned me, and I drove there at once, for I had no other work on just then. The vicar chose me because I was stronger than men and could dig down quicker and handle large girders easier if anything needed shoring up, and the men he had asked first raised difficulties about getting heavy plant into the crypt and dug-up earth out, as if picks and shovels were out of fashion.

I asked what headroom and room to move there was in the crypt, and where the pillars and other obstructions were.

"Ten feet headroom. Flat ceiling, not arched. The walls and pillars are in the same places as in the church above, which you can see through the windows." said the vicar.

"I'll fit between the pillars in the middle, but not in the side aisles. I'll have to dig an access ramp in from outside the east end. Sorry about the grass." I said, "You better wear an overall and a safety helmet if you wanted to hang about watching." I transformed, and took a pick and shovel my size off my trailer. People came to watch. A steel diesel-powered navvy 25 feet tall is somewhat spectacular, and got through the work as quickly as an ordinary excavator. I quickly dug down beside the foundation. The neighbourhood resounded as I used a Thor-sized sledgehammer to knock in girders to support the east wall above a big enough entrance to the crypt. When I had dig the hole wide enough to crawl down it, I started to pry stones out from between the girders. Memories of suspenseful fanfares of chords making my oil run cold surfaced, from my occasional watchings of late night TV movies. As the first direct sunlight since it was built entered the crypt, a large and draculous quantity of disturbed bats chittered and flew about - and two human alarm cries and sets of running footsteps came from within. [87] I quickly ran up out of my hole and round the north side of the chancel, to a metal manhole cover against the outside of the wall. As the cover lifted I swung a big handnet. Two human forms struggled enmeshed in it as I lifted it to look at his catch.

"Please, we were just dossin' in there. We weren't touchin' nothin'. We'll go away." a rough voice from in the net whined.

"I'll be judge of that. I'll go down and check." said the vicar, who now wore an overall and a safety helmet.

"No you needn't, it's all as it was." said the voice in the net.

"Yes, I will look." the vicar replied.

The trapdoor was a disused coal chute. It had been locked, but the lock was broken. I said that Ratchet or Wheeljack better make and fit a new stronger trapdoor there with a stronger and pick-proof lock. "We're not sayin' nothin'" said the netful surlily. The vicar went to the coal chute. It led to a part of the east end of the crypt that (before the previous vicar changed to gas heating) had been the church boiler room, separated from the rest of the crypt by a steel door which the current vicar had never managed to open; it seemed to be rusted solid. I handed a walkietalkie to the vicar, who crawled down in. It was the first time he had been in that part of the crypt. In there he found much dirty fire and cooking rubbish and old mattresses needing removing and cleaning up after, and a quantity of valuable and other saleable stuff that he knew wasn't church property, and some substances that a police chemist would probably find interesting, and `blunt instruments', and miscellaneous stuff, and an oxyacetylene torch with smallish cylinders in an aqualung harness so a man could carry it on his back as he used it. He told me what he was finding.

"This is the House of the Lord, but you two made it into a den of thieves - literally!" said the vicar angrily to the struggling netful when he came back up out, "If you guessed that the Lord's minister would not do something as lowdown and dirty as crawling down an old coal chute, you were wrong! I won't have that sort of thing here, whetever you or your kind threaten!". I radioed the police to collect the two men and the evidence found with them, then went back down my access ramp and broke the rest of the wall down to make the new entrance, and shovelled out the stuff that the vicar had seen. In it he found the registration book of the red Cortina that Hoist had found a `substance' in at the pileup on the M5 [see 71,73,75]. Sidetracks. Often one job creates other unexpected jobs. The door from the old boiler room to the rest of the crypt proved to be not rusted solid but welded shut from the east side; I easily removed it and the dividing wall that it was in. Disturbed bats still flew about inside.

After that interlude, I could see the whole crypt, when I switched my headlights on. I found some dry rot, and said so. In the middle of the crypt floor was a large subsidence hole. Luckily it had not undermined any of the pillars, but it soon would have. [88] I lay on the crypt floor and started to dig down into the subsidence. I wondered what was causing it, for there had been no mining under the church. I pushed the digging spoil with my feet back eastwards out into the daylight, where a man with a JCB that the vicar had called in moved it right away, wondering if I was digging a coal mine shaft judging by how much earth I was pushing out. The police came, and I handed them the two suspects and the stuff found with them, and a floppy disk with my statement on. The vicar, who was wearing thebackpack blowtorch, told them his part in the events. Seeing him in overall and helmet with the cutting torch in his hand fed from cylinders on his back, some of those present thought of intruders wearing them routinely like rucksacks climbing into premises wearing them, bringing blowtorches to places not thought that easily accessible to such tools, making short work of the thinner sorts of safes and steel chests and security chains and padlocks and suchlike as well as being a handy weapon and `interrogation aid'. The two policemen, who had had a confrontation a month before with aggressive wandering scrap metal pickers stealing what they could find, thought of what that gang could have achieved with backpack blowtorches climbing into everybody's premises, and did not like what their thoughts showed up. They loaded up the suspects and the evidence, and left.

I did not know how deep a hole might be under the subsidence, even an old mineshaft, so I fastened myself by a strong chain to a strong anchorage well away. I dug down, and the JCB pulled up endless skipfuls of my digging spoil. Finally the earth slid down a few feet under me, but my chain held me safely. I got the JCB to help me to climb out of the hole, for I was unwilling to dig deeper without planking the sides of the hole that I was digging in the crypt floor. [89] By now it was late afternoon; I drove away and hired some shoring timber and returned. I planked the sides of my hole and fitted a climbing ladder in it and dug further down. The earth was sand and boulder clay that ice age glaciers had bulldozed in. I found that I had broken into a tunnel. I cleaned the rest of the subsided earth out of the tunnel, as far as I could, and went home to Wernicke's.

Next morning the vicar went into the crypt and found in there two men in overalls and safety helmets and skindivers' two-cylinder aqualungs. They angrily showed him articles in that day's newspapers. On being asked what they were doing, one of them replied: "We came to slap a secrecy order on you and this tunnel business, but it's too late! Next time go to the police only, not to the press! You had no business photocopying those papers you found down there and sending copies to the papers and the telly! We came out of our tunnel, which your performing lorry filled with its exhaust, which is why we need breathing apparatus.".

"Lets see your credentials! I take orders from appointed officials, not from workmen!" said the vicar, "I will go public about it! You tunnel under people's property without asking them: I know why, it saves time getting permission, and it saves security leaks via the people that you ask permission off. Making your REGC (Regional Emergency Government Centre) (don't tell me they don't exist! The antinuclear groups found out about them years ago) as a hidey hole for officials instead of proper shelters for the people, if we have another war (which Heaven forbid). Then your workmen get careless and a subsidence stopes itself up to the surface. A few yards along and half my church could have gone down your hole. Tell your geologist to do his homework! REGC's are the Government's business, I suppose, but subsidence holes in my property are my business! I thought it was probably an old mine working at first, so I hired plant to dig down and see what it was and shore it up before it got worse.".

The other man said: "Newspapers, newspapers, nosing, sensationalizing, exaggerating, agitating, delaying and complicating things! Time was before there were `public media' when governments and important people could just go ahead and do things and never mind every Tom Dick and Harry! Look at this article!: `A Tale from the Crypt, by our correspondent. Hole in church basement starts major row between town council and Ministry of Defence about secret tunnel.'. So we didn't tell Droitwich Council! Why should we? More people told means more chance of a leak. All that Ministry of Defence planning and approvals; work well ahead, secrecy still watertight; then two of us go to find why the tunnel's suddenly full of diesel exhaust and we find this great unauthorized shaft up into someone's cellar! We can always block it off from below, but that won't get the secrecy back! Huh!".

Meanwhile two local men arrived, and went down Optimus's ramp into the crypt.

"So this is the Black Pit of St.Andrews! Who are the two men in overalls and aqualungs?" asked one of them.

"They came from Below." said the other, "They are emissaries of He Who Dwelleth In The Pit, the commandant of the local REGC, to haunt those who break into their secret paths.".

"Ha ha very funny." said one of the two men referred to.

"Excuse." said a policeman who came down in after them, "While we're telling each other Tales from the Crypt, I'll tell one to the council safety officer if you don't get all that petrol and paraffin and propane out of here now! There's laws about how much inflammables can be stored in public buildings.".

"As you said three weeks ago. OK. OK. I've used a lot of the petrol in my car since. A lot of the tins are empty. The paraffin's now in my garage." replied the vicar tiredly, and reflected that troubles are said to come in threes, and wondered what the third would be.

"And could you possibly tell me one?" angrily asked another man who came in down the ramp, pointing at flowers covering a worktable in the north side aisle of the crypt, "I.e. what every one of my show dahlias and cinerarias are doing in here!? I come home and I find my dog tied short to a drainpipe and every plant cut off at ground level with a sickle like corn. I can guess. Someone wanted flowers; either I was not there to be asked, or they knew that if I asked I'd have refused, so they came in and took them. If I'm not in to be asked, then you can't take it! People who thieve for do-goodery are still thieves! Nobody can tell properly what of anybody else's stuff is wanted for. Leave things alone. Ask the owner, or buy your own or manage without. Unauthorized borrowing is theft. And that Mrs.Jones (White House, Chellingham) after everybody's front daffodils this spring and whatever else she could pinch and scrounge for her busybodyings. Someone saw her with your new curate recently. Someone's already seen him in someone else's garden after flowers. Sometimes people can't spare things, but need them for themselves. Either you let me take all my flowers back now, including any you've put in flower arrangements, or I call the police and see my solicitor. If she rounds up your curate into her latest little group, there'll be no riddance of them conning people out of valuable stuff and collections and sets of things to sell for pence at stalls to finance daft ideas and unimportant odds and ends!".

"Sorry! Sorry! So much at once. All right, my new curate gets over zealous at times. I'll speak to him." said the vicar harrassedly,

"Alright! Alright! M.O.D! How was I to know it was their tunnel? Cops moaning about petrol. Then my curate again! He'll have to go. When a servant offends, his master gets blamed, like on the TV when the third subassistant cameramen lets bad language through and it's the producer that `gets a rocket'.".

[90] The policeman went away, guessing that the vicar's garage would be the next place for him to keep too much petrol in. The owner of the flowers took them away, hoping that some of them would still be fit for the show bench. "Now that we've got through such totally important matters as a bit of petrol, and a few flowers, now for `any other business', such as our tunnel, and your shaft down to it, and the totally wrecked secrecy ..." asked one of the two REGC men, then broke off with a desperate "Now who!?" as four Droitwich town councillors arrived and announced themselves.

"Are you two actually officials, or only workmen putting on airs?" one of them asked, "As far as we are concerned, (1) the M.O.D. needs planning permission from us for its tunnel; (2) this access ramp and the shaft that Optimus dug were emergency necessities, does the vicar want to apply for planning permission to keep either or both as permanent?".

"These shelters should be for everybody, not only a few officials. The more access points, the better. Leave both open." the vicar replied.

"No!" said one of the REGC men sharply, "It's not a mass shelter, it's an emergency communications shelter.".

The arguing continued for a long while in offices and on the public media. The M.O.D. re-roofed that part of its tunnel, cutting it off from the shaft. The vicar had the shaft refilled with earth, and the crypt floor made good over the place. He kept the ramp and new crypt entrance. Wheeljack made and fitted new strong lockable doors to the new entrance and the old coal chute.

James had brought his brother and nephew, and niece Sue, who saw him come in muddy, and the morning I told her all about it, and explained that the name `Starscream' really refers to the noise that jet fighter engines make. He broke off suddenly, for children started screaming outside, and he drove out to see what was wrong. Nobody was hurt. They were playing at Autobots and Decepticons; one was playing Megatron, with a cardboard tube tied to a forearm to represent his fusion cannon; another (Starscream) was running about with his arms extended sideways to represent wings. Screams and screeches and vocal imitations of motor noises and laser gunfire filled the air. I told them not to scream or screech from excitement, else it was too likely that someone who was really hurt might scream for help and the noise might be ignored by people who thought it was merely children getting excited. By now they had learned that Wernicke's real Transformers due to their size and power do not drive about among children as part of games, for real Transformers are traffic like other vehicles; and playing with Transformer toys out of doors is likely to get them lost, or parts or guns lost, or spoilt with earth getting in them. The game continued; `Rumble' made rumbling noises, then tried to transform like the character and found that his human anatomy prevented it. Another pretended to be Scavenger the Constructicon, a long reach excavator, digging a trench to take cover in.

"Can we two join in?" asked Jimmy and Derek (who lived opposite Wernicke's), arriving.

"You're lucky, you've got eight real live Transformers to talk to and ride in, like in the stories. We've only got the toy models of them " said `Starscream', "You two can be Skywarp and Thundercracker [the other two Decepticon F15 jet fighters]." `Megatron' muttered that in their game, as in the stories, Starscream kept trying to take over as Decepticon leader.

"Time for servicing and refuelling! Teatime!" called some of them 's mother, and the game had to stop.

From now on, I will refer to Optimus in the third person.


PROWL AT SCHOOL

[91] In a school in Worcester, pupils going into a computer programming class were surprised to find a USA police car parked in the front of the classroom. Mr.Kenworthy, a teacher who was in the room, said that it was Prowl the Transformer who had come to teach computer programming, since Miss Langhaugh, their previous computer programming teacher, had suddenly married and left. Several of the boys, who only knew of Transformers as toys and fictional characters, doubted Mr.Kenworthy's sanity, and said so. The childish remarks were replaced by a silence of shock and feeling of unreality as the already exotic looking two-tone USA style police car unfolded into the 18-foot-tall form of a living fullsize Autobot, not remote behind the barrier of page or screen, but improbably real in front of them in their classroom, not fictional as some of them knew him before. (To fit in the room, Prowl was `kneeling' on his hips (for he could bend his hip joints at a right angle backwards)).

"What on Cybertron?" one boy exclaimed desperately.

"Daddy said I mustn't be in a closed room or garage with a car running, it makes carbon monoxide." another objected.

"It'll make carbon monoxious phew!!mes! Phew!" said another boy, pleased at finding a timewasting wisecrack; then also he realized that he was seeing a real Transformer and not a mock-up or a human in a suit. "Oh ye gods." he said weakly.

"Not in here. He's got an auxiliary electric motor to run off the mains." Mr.Kenworthy explained.

"In a toyshop once I saw a man in a suit like the Transformer Hotrod." said another. Prowl connected himself to a power point. He had no need for a terminal, as he connected Mr.Kenworthy's computer link straight to an area of his brain cortex. Mr.Kenworthy eventually asserted control over the class's attention, and explained that the real Transformers were made at Wernicke's computer factory in Droitwich. Some of the class had heard of them but had thought that they were merely radio controlled fullsized models. They soon learned otherwise.

"Some work!" Prowl exclaimed, making a loud engine revving noise to call for attention, "Turn your terminals on and log on. Write a program in `C' to solve quadratic equations. If you've anything to say to me, type it on your terminal with `SAY PROWL, comma' before it, and I'll answer on your screen, to save distracting other pupils with it. Don't try `SAY another pupil's username, comma', it won't work, so no collaborating. I've lineprintered out enough copies of the `Emacs' screen editor manual for you all to have one each, so you needn't go to look at someone else's copy and collaborate while you're at it.".

"Oh very logical, just like it says on the box that the Prowl toy comes in. He thinks of everything." Ellison thought.

Mr.Kenworthy wrote on the blackboard the standard quadratic equation and its solution, and left. Prowl, wanting a book which was on his table, felt about for it with a hand, although it was well within his eyesight range.

[92] The boys settled down. Some of them turned to other things. Ellison's screen suddenly beeped and cleared and displayed this:-

MESSAGE FROM <FORM3>PROWL TO <FORM3>ELLISON

Since you have made your own choice of study reading, please submit by Friday a 100-line essay on the relevance of Dennis the Menace and Minnie the Minx to modern computer advances. (Type esc-P to get your program display back.)

<FORM3>ELLISON>_MESSAGE1

"He's as sarcastic as the English master." Elliott thought annoyedly, "Bye bye Beano again, and I've only half read it. School's a yawn. Perhaps someone'll let me read his. Hang on, he's at the front, how could he see what I was reading under my desk lid? Judging by the way he's feeling about for that book, he's got a blind area in his eyesight: help!! I bet that's because he's switched that part of his eyesight area to a hidden camera at the back of the room! What else has he seen?".

MESSAGE FROM <FORM3>PROWL TO <FORM3>ZAHEDANI

Bring me the rest of the sweets which you intend to eat behind your terminal. Write out 50 times: "I must not eat in class.".

(Type esc-P to get your program display back.)

<FORM3>ZAHEDANI>_MESSAGE1

"He's in front! How did he see them? Bang goes 34 pence." Zahedani thought.

MESSAGE FROM <FORM3>PROWL TO <FORM3>ROBINSON

Bring me the package which Smith passed to you under his desk. (Type esc-P to get your program display back.)

<FORM3>ROBINSON>_MESSAGE1

"Oh help. It'll the headmaster and the police, and also ..." Robinson thought scaredly, but the package made its inevitable final journey and joined Elliott's comic and Zahedani's sweets on Prowl's table.

Jameson typed `SLIST PRQUADR.CC' to list his program out. His terminal printed out this much of it:-

#include <all>
double Burnley,United,Leeds,City; printf("coefficient of x*x?");
readf("%e\n",&Burnley);

then was interrupted by a curt message from Prowl to use names more relevant to the problem. "OK, OK, OK, keep your tyres on." he irritatedly typed into the computer, which complained that `OK' was not a known command. He resignedly typed `ED PRQUADR.CC', then `C/Burnley/A/gi*' and `C/United/B/gi*' etc, replacing every occurrence of each of his beloved football names by common algebra names.

MESSAGE FROM <FORM3>PROWL TO <FORM3>NEWTON

Re this line in your program:-

root1=(-b+sqrt(b*b-4*a*c))/2*a; root2=(-b-sqrt(b*b-4*a*c))/2*a;

(1) In computers, `/' divides by the next one term only, and e.g. `x/y*z' means `(x/y)*z'. You should have put `/2/a' or `/(2*a)'.

(2) To save computer time, work out `sqrt(b*b-4*a*c)' once only and store its value in a variable.

Elliott finished writing his program in two versions, one for himself.

"PERMIT PRWQUAD.CC SMITH" he typed, to let Paul Smith copy the other version.

"<PERMIT>: This command has been disabled for ordinary users." the computer replied.

"SAC PRWQUAD.CC SMITH:LUR" he typed, trying a more basic command.

"<SAC>: This command has been disabled for ordinary users." the computer replied.

"SAY SMITH, Sorry, the computer won't let me send you the file." he typed, preferring to contact Paul Smith at a distance rather than face to face when forced to admit failure.

"<SAY>: Only SAY PROWL is allowed to ordinary users." the computer replied.

"MAIL -TO SMITH -FILE PRWQUAD.CC -SUBJECT Here it is" he typed, getting desperate.

"<MAIL>: This command has been disabled for ordinary users." the computer replied.

MESSAGE FROM <FORM3>PROWL TO <FORM3>ELLIOTT

No collaborating. Where did you learn all those commands?

"SAY PROWL, Can I make an urgent phone call?" Paul Smith typed.

MESSAGE FROM <FORM3>PROWL TO <FORM3>SMITH

Type the message and the phone number onto a file named T$CALL, and I will pass the message on. Stay seated and do not disturb the class as you keep on doing.

"Thank you for nothing." Paul Smith thought seeing this come up on his screen, "That's technology put an end to that excuse to get out alone to see to my matters. Why did I get into this in the first place? And if teacher or the head looks in that package, that's more money than I like the idea of down the drain, and other people also'll be wanting to know what happened.".

Shortly before the lesson ended, Mr.Kenworthy returned. "I notice that many of them have incorporated snippets of my name in their filenames. Do other computer programming teachers get that?" Prowl asked him. The boys left for their next class. Paul Smith, as he passed the teacher's table, seeing that both Prowl and Mr.Kenworthy were looking away, quietly picked up the package and ran. Mr.Kenworthy saw with alarm that Prowl had extracted a large gun from inside himself; but it fired only a grab on a line. The grab closed round the package and Smith's arm, and reeled him in like a hooked fish. Mr.Kenworthy, holding Smith tightly by his ear with his right hand, tore the package open with his left hand. It was 500 cigarettes.

"What's this now!? You get mixed in too much" Mr.Kenworthy asked sharply, "Prowl, transform, a little trip to the police station.".

"Not fair." Smith wailed, "Giant robot, hidden cameras, won't let me out to phone. Oww, leggo. My dad'll get you.".

"No he won't. I know him." Mr.Kenworthy replied.

[93] Prowl transformed into car form. Mr.Kenworthy got into him, dragging Smith in. As Prowl drove out of a goods entrance and away, Mr.Kenworthy said angrily: "Elliott writing your program; Robinson looking after your package, which was 500 fags; you're getting your fingers into pies again!, as the saying goes. We're going to your father's, and Robinson's father's, and the police.".

"Please! Not my father! I'll pay it back somehow! I'll look for a ..." Paul Smith wailed, in quite a different voice from the undertone of threat that he used some other times.

"It will be your father, and the police! The school's sick of this!" said Mr.Kenworthy.

"OK! OK!" said Smith, his resistance breaking down, "You'll find out anyway! Transformers belong in toyshops and comics, silly little kids' stuff, till a real one orders me about! OK, OK, some money. It went at that place by the bus station. Those machines are a swizz. A man at the market said I could have some money if I ...".

"Now it comes out!, or part of it does." Mr.Kenworthy interrupted sharply, "Money gone on a wretched gambling machine addiction, and now you need the money again, or else? You will tell me and your father and the police the beginning of the matter, and the middle of the matter, and the end of the matter, and all about the matter, and all the names of all the people that you are in it with. Trouble gets you into worse trouble. And thank Mr.Prowl for pulling you out of it in time. Cover-ups for clues left by other cover-ups for clues left by yet other cover-ups till so much of your mind's time's taken up by keeping track of it all that you can't do your school exercises! What's Robinson's part in this? (You scoffing at everyone who plays with Transformer toys or reads the comic, till a real one catches you out!)"

"Agh - khakh - he was to take it for me to two men that doss down St.Andrews Church's old coal chute. He lives near there and I don't." said Smith.

"He'd've been lucky! Optimus Prime caught those two, ten days ago, when he went to investigate a subsidence in the crypt there. It was in the local paper." said Prowl.

"What, there's a real one of him also!?" said Smith desperately.

"And a real Laserbeak, and you know what the fictional one's like. The rest of the matter, please, now, all of it.". said Prowl.

"Leave me alone, both of you. I found where Dad keeps the rates money. I've got to pay it back. Questions questions. Fags gone. I'll be for it because I didn't phone today. Leave me alone." Smith whined.

"OK. That's that out. Now who's the `man at the market'?" Mr.Kenworthy persisted.

"`For it', meaning `in trouble', with who? Now more comes out! What guarantee that he or those two'd've paid you?" said Prowl, "Lets revise what I've got so far. You spent the rates money on gambling machines. (And if they let underage children use them, the police better prosecute them, or I will.) You got into a panic to get the money back. You looked around for odd jobs. Someone at the market approached you and you found yourself being used as a thieves' runner, and after your first `job' for them you had to stick at it, else they'd expose you. Well, you've been exposed anyway. I see you're not so cocky and bossy now, caught out by grown-ups with everything coming out in the filtering like sludge out of old oil.".

"Right." said Mr.Kenworthy, "The `man at the market'. Prowl will show parts of faces, what the police call `identikit', on his dashboard screen. You tell him which is the right combination. You may get let off for less if you help to catch him. Such people have to be stopped. It's unlikely he'd've paid you the money he promised you.".

"Leave me alone, you oversized tin @#^&*. Don't tell my father. I'll get the money back somehow." Smith wailed, and started weeping.

"Get it back how?, you crybaby." said Prowl.

Prowl took them to Smith's house. Mr.Kenworthy dragged Paul Smith out by one ear and rang the doorbell. Paul's father Albert, and a policeman, came to the door. "Paul!" Albert exclaimed, "You promised that time you'd keep out of trouble! Your new teacher Mr.Prowell having to ring me - police calling - you brought home in a police car - you've done it now! Bring him in, Mr.Prowell.".

"No, I'm Mr.Kenworthy, another teacher. Prowl's here." said Mr.Kenworthy.

"Mr.Kenworthy, sorry. But where is Mr.Prowl? There's nobody else in your car." said Albert, and then ordered Paul to come in. [94] Prowl transformed to robot form, startling Albert, who had not heard of such things before except as science fiction. Prowl stood on the pavement and looked in at the window of the front bedroom, which the others went upstairs to.

"Aihhh!" screeched Albert's wife Mary, who went upstairs with them, "It talks! I feel faint! Bert, it's a Gobot! My young nephew's got some, toy-sized and of plastic, but that big - that great steel face at the window for real! What's it want, anyway?".

"No, I'm a Transformer." said Prowl a little curtly at the interruption, then told them what had happened at school.

"Well!" said Albert when Prowl had finished, "The informant's a bit exotic, but the information's the sort of thing I've been fearing for some time. Would you like a cup of tea? (Not you, Paul!) I'm sorry you've been troubled.".

"Embezzled the rates money on a scruffy addiction, is it?" said Albert, "Right, your bike goes, and anything else of yours that'll sell, to make up the amount. You won't need the bike any more, to ride about on getting into mischief. From now on, no money gets into your hands. No pocket money. I'll send your dinner money as a cheque in the post. After school, you will come straight home for your tea and stay in till morning, however fine and hot it is. I'm sick of funny characters and complainants coming round. Say sorry to Mr.Prowl and Mr.Kenworthy and the policeman for wasting their time. And say thankyou to Prowl for getting you out of that dirty entanglement of dishonest ruffians and cover-ups before anything else happened. And if I hear of you going anywhere near a machine arcade again ...".

Prowl transformed back to car form, and Mr.Kenworthy and the policeman got in him. Paul Smith silently planned to get even on Robinson for carelessly letting the package be seen. As Prowl set off, Albert unconsciously let his grip on Paul's hand slacken. Paul took the chance and pulled his hand loose and ran away along the street, the opposite way from the way that Prowl was facing. By the time that Prowl had manoeuvred round in the narrow street, Paul had run a distance along the pavement and through an entry to the backs of the houses. From there he could get back to the school, and to Robinson. He passed some children playing on a patch of concrete with Transformer and Gobot toys, simulating the characters' voices and weapon noises in pretended miniature battle. A tiny Jazz took cover behind a brick and fired at a tiny Starscream who swooped down to strafe. Leader-1 the F15 jet fighter Gobot, or the child holding him, sought the best time and way to interfere. And Paul saw that one of the toys was a Prowl Transformer toy.

[95] "And look which one! Prowl! Yaah! As you said: `not so cocky and bossy' at four inches long and plastic!" he said mockingly at it, quickly bending down and snatching it up as he ran. The children, resenting Paul Smith's interferings and bossynesses, left one of their number to guard the toys while the rest of them chased Paul, who, not so confident alone and pursued as he would have been with a gang with him, fled to a tree, which he climbed, and sat on a branch too high for the real Prowl to reach. The children called "Scorponok, Scorponok". Paul knew who Scorponok was but wondered what relevance the name had then. A boy called John Allington climbed the tree after him. Paul guessed that John would not risk a fight that high in a tree, and saw that John's feet were bare. John sat astride on a branch above Paul, and reached down with his legs. Paul did not fear a kick from a bare foot, and mocked John as "baby-ums playing monkeys going up trees trying to pick things up with your toesies". But something that felt a lot more like a hand than a foot squeezed Paul's wrist hard, and another took the toy. Paul saw the feet responsible, and shuddered. On each foot a normal- looking heel continued not to five toes but to a shortened instep ending in two toes like over-long big toes with a deep wide cleft between them. Such is the "cleft foot" deformity, and John's father had not let a surgeon hack it about to try to normalize appearance, but left it alone; with practise John developed quite a strong grip with his feet, and it was useful when climbing the plum tree at plum picking time. "There's a cop car coming." he heard voices from below; he knew who that likely meant. [96] "Yaah, feet like the scrap merchant's grab, nearly broke my wrist." Paul shouted angrily, and caught at John's left leg and pulled hard. A car stopped below him, followed by clankings and air hissings. Paul and John fell out of the tree - onto Prowl's hands. Paul fell face up; but John fell face down, bloodying his nose on one of Prowl's steel fingers. Prowl kept firm hold of Paul, but put John down. "Are you all right?" Prowl asked John, who turned out to have only a few bruises, and the nosebleed. Prowl then told Paul what he thought of him, and radioed for the police.

"Put your keys down the back of his neck." said someone who came up to watch.

"Oh, that old wives' remedy." said Prowl, "Don't blow your nose. Keep your head upright. Hold your nose shut and breathe through your mouth for a while. You're lucky to get out of that scrape with only a nosebleed. How did your feet get like that? Now I know why they call you Scorponok!". (In the stories, Scorponok is a Transformer, an enormous purple Decepticon who transforms between a humanoid robot and a giant scorpion and a fort. Thankfully, as described in the stories he is technically impossible in reality.)

"I was born like that. Happens sometimes. Here's their Transformer." said John, and put the toy on Prowl's hand.

"Well! Hallo me! Just like me, but so tiny!" said Prowl, looking at it. The policeman who came handcuffed Paul Smith's hands behind his back, and, keeping firm hold of Paul's hair, shoved him into Prowl, who by now had transformed back to car mode. Prowl took Paul to the police station and went back to school and told the headmaster what had happened. The headmaster, who had had enough of Paul Smith, expelled him.

[97] Prowl was in time to teach the 5th form computer programming class. He was teaching them about `interrupts', i.e. when a computer has to leave what it is doing to attend to something urgent, such as when a paper tape reader has read a character. Next he was asked to take an English class; that is the burden of teachers, to be hired to teach one subject and then asked to teach several others. That classroom had no computer terminals in, and he had to talk aloud to the pupils, and each pupil's failings were made an excuse for sillyness and timewasting by the others. Smithers had paraphrased "the house had an eerie atmosphere" as "he bred eagles, and the house smelled of it", because his father, asked by him what "eerie" meant, had ignorantly given a definition of "eyrie" instead. Robinson, writing a short story, said that a character could not go out as he had "dire rear", a word that teachers are wearisomely familiar with seeing misspelt on notes from pupils' parents.

The lesson ended. Prowl drove out into the playground. A teacher got into him to mark some scripture work, as the teachers' common room was too noisy and full of tobacco smoke for him to think straight. The work was about the Nativity. The pupils' depictions of what is traditionally called "the flight to Egypt" included the usual proportion of aeroplanes, and this time a helicopter also. The teacher sighed. Prowl pointed out that hardly anybody nowadays uses in common speech the verb "flee", or knows that "flight" belong with "flee" as well as with "fly", and why not call it "Escape to Egypt"? For eternal truth does not change; but any text expressing eternal truth does change its meaning as its component words change their usual meanings in common speech, even as the coming of the motor age has made old poetic expressions such as "Venus's car" and "Caesar marched in the army's van" sound absurd. Once "car" was merely a poetic word for "horsedrawn chariot". "King Henry found a ford, by which he crossed the river" a boy once read in a book about mediaeval history, and reproduced it replacing "ford" by "Ford motor van", for he rarely saw or even heard of a road ford, and knew of them only via Westerns under the name "watersplash". Prowl called this effect "sabotage bathos", i.e. the sublime being turned into the ridiculous by some component word changing its main meaning.

"... no room in the inn, and I mist the rest becaus I had floo." the teacher read from Williams's exercise. Williams notoriously lacked the sense to learn to spell, or to read up from the book what he had missed; his family read little except the newspaper, and their house was full of loud pop music nearly all the time. "1 out of 10, see me" the teacher wrote, and turned to Elliott's work, which was the last to be marked. "That's better. All points covered. `Their donkeys could not have crossed all that desert, so they sold them and bought a camel.' Not in the book, but likely." said the teacher, "That's finished that lot. I better get out of you and let you get back to Wernicke's. Thankyou.".

As Prowl was driving back from Worcester to Droitwich that day after school, he was passing a succession of houses with large paddocks around them when he saw a man unloading a big ride-on mower from a car trailer. He suspected something, as he had driven that road many times. The man was about to drive the mower into the paddock gate when Prowl pulled up by him and said: "I'm sorry to trouble you, but should you be cutting that paddock?, or have you got the wrong address? You're none of the men that live round here that I know of. I think he's letting it grow long to cut for silage.".

The man, who had not heard of Wernicke's Transformers before, jumped in fright at being addressed by a driverless car, but said that a woman had told him that Mr.Brownley who lived there wanted his paddock cutting.

"If so, you best wait till Mr.Brownley comes back, to check if he really wants it cutting. I thought that was the wrong sort of mower to cut grass for hay or silage. Sorry if I scared you, but was she the woman in this picture?" said Prowl, unfolding his front suspension and steering-gear into two arms. He supported his front end on his left elbow and reached his right arm out forwards to show a photograph to the mower man, who again jumped in fright, but recovered.

"That's her. There seemed to be something strange about her manner when she called." he said.

A little later, a man on a motorcycle pulled up there, and rode round Prowl into the paddock gate.

"Mr.Brownley?" said Prowl.

"Yes, I am." he said, stopping, "Nobody in there! It's one of that Wernicke's robots!".

"This man with the ride-on mower says that that Mrs.Jones who lives in `The White House' between Chellingham and Oddingley said that you wanted your paddock kept mowed tidy. I thought he'd better check with you first." said Prowl.

"No I didn't!" Mr.Brownley replied sharply, "We better all come in and I'll ring her, and if she doesn't answer I'll visit her.". The mower man put his mower back on his trailer. They drove to Mr.Brownley's house. Prowl unfolded an arm and pulled out of himself an extension `ear' and speaker and phone connection for Mr.Brownley to take in through a window. "I know her number. Hoist found it that time and told Optimus Prime." said Prowl, and told Mr.Brownley the number.

"Optimus? Hoist? How many more? I thought they were just toys and stories, than I find one of them real and alive fullsized in my drive!" said Mr.Brownley, and rang Mrs.Jones, and had an acrimonious discussion with her.

"Mr.Brownley at Elm Lodge here. A man that I didn't order came to mow my paddock, said you'd sent him. Is that so?" he said sharply.

"Mrs.Jones here. I saw passing - the grass grows quick this weather -" Mrs.Jones started.

"Did - or - did - you - not - send - a - man - round - to - mow - my - paddock?" Mr.Brownley asked slowly and insistently.

"Yes, I did. I could tell you were too busy to cut it. Only £5 a time, and it needed doing." said Mrs.Jones.

"Mind your own business! I'm letting my paddock grow long to cut at the right time for silage for winter feed for my cow.".

"I go past there. All the other fronts are kept short. Yours was tall and untidy. Only £5 a week, and it'll look so neat.".

"Meaning I'm supposed to fork out a fiver a week in return for having to fork out for winter feed instead of having my own silage.".

"Well, it still looked untidy.".

"Never mind! With a big paddock, mowing and letting the cuttings rot is very wasteful. You keep on nosing and trying to do things for people who don't want them doing. My paddock stays as it is.".

"And you lot are at it again! I arrange things that need doing, and people cancel them. People and cars follow me about or keep turning up, including that black and white American cop car of Wernicke's. I arranged a charity lecture at a school, and someone nosed it out and warned them off me, and the school cancelled it.".

"Good thing! if as likely you were going to trot out your stupid myth about the founding of Chellingham again.".

"What if it is unprovable? `Never Chellingham churls a cheese's rind / a mouse's meal can be made to spare.' So men say about the place. It teaches a valid point.".

"They don't. You made that verse up. You keep repeating that myth of yours as true events.".

"Scruffy grass - dirty manure heap instead of taking it away - please! In the name of all the -".

"`-sakes and mercies and pities'. I know your pet phrases. The chief sake etc due now is not leaving my cow without winter fodder.".

"Please! Nobody wants my help or advice. This or that's always wrong with it, or bits and pieces of things and stuff are needed for one thing or another and can't be spared. Nobody gives anything nowadays. I've got another `head' coming on. Only a fiver a week.".

"No! or it's the police again, like someone had to call them that time.".

"'`Police'. That word dogs my ears when I try to arrange things that need doing." said Mrs.Jones, and rang off.

"Stupid woman. Her busybodying runs in spells. I wonder how long this one'll last?" said Mr.Brownley, "[99] Her current busybodying spell should be ending soon. We'll see less and less of her till she's in retreat like a hermit, only coming out when she has to buy essentials; then she'll busybody somewhere and we'll know she's off again, trying to arrange all sorts of things that the people in charge don't want doing. Every minor event, she declares that it needs masses of flowers, and thinks that everybody must strip their gardens to supply them. Last spring it was a nonstop job keeping her hands off everybody's front daffodils. If people want flowers, they should grow their own or buy them at florists or go without. Most flowers last much longer on the plant than cut. One one-day art show, she got in the room first and filled it with sheaves and sheaves of flowers that all had to be slung out to make room for the art that was to be shown. Then she got on the podium and started telling everybody that the sale was for charity, `boo hoo pitiful people, give all you can and then as much again' and suchlike, and the exhibitors had to throw her out by force, for most of them painted pictures and sold them for a living.".

"She kept on promising my services free all over the place." said the mower man., "I simply ignored her and let the people down that she booked me for. I do not recognise disposals of my time or labour or property made without my permission, and I've a living to earn. Gradually she realized that I wasn't going to join her latest little group. Now she tried it again with me. And as for Mrs.Allington [see 21-22] that time ...".

"Her latest project is called a `Vagrants' Assistance Society'." said Mr.Brownley, "It mostly consists of feeding tramps and encouraging them to go round places begging, or giving them money, allegedly for food, but must of it goes on drink and smoke. We can do without that! She believes every hard luck story of theirs! That'll cause worse trouble before my next retreat period, mark my words. And she sends them to people's doors saying that the people had promised them things, but the people hadn't promised them any such thing, and have to call the police to order the scruffs off; then she turns up and calls the people every sort of mean and harsh person. Soon please come her next retreat period!".

"I once gave a lift to someone." said Prowl, "He told he that one year he grew a big crop of potatoes to last him and his family through the winter, but Mrs.Jones came and said: `I've arranged for you to give away those potatoes to such-and-such, it'd be so nice of you.', she can't see someone with something but she wants to make them give it to someone else. She got quite nasty when he refused, but his own family needed potatoes, not appreciatedness, to see them through the winter.".

"Hoist from Wernicke's told me about it when he brought a skip for rubble." said Mr.Brownley, "I've been clearing away gazebos and all sorts that the people before me put up in my front.".

After this interruption, Prowl drove the rest of the way into Droitwich and refuelled, then stopped at A.J.Bahadur & Sons's shop to collect James Wernicke's groceries. He opened his left doors; Mr.Bahadur put the boxes in and took the money from Prowl's left glove compartment. Bahadur had had his own scrapes with Mrs.Jones. "Sometimes I suspect she thinks her `White House' is as important as the one in Washington in America." he said, "She came here and tried to scrounge all my boxed customers' orders for her new tramp feeding idea. She tried to get round me with a lot of silly pleading including calling me by the Indian expression `Protector of the Poor' that she had heard of somewhere, probably from Rudyard Kipling's books. Genuinely unfortunate people, yes. Idlers and tramps, no. Most of them are quite capable of doing a day's work labouring, they're just lazy or alcoholics. There are proper bodies like the Salvation Army to cater for them at particular places without encouraging them to beg and then pilfer all over the place. It's not just a matter of `forgiving them', letting them pilfer and putting up with it. In the real world criminals hardly ever get ashamed; and people's bits are often needed importantly for things of their own. I don't need any do-gooder's permission to own things. I refuse to answer long interrogations like `why do you need this, that you can't give it away?', and then she wants the reason for the reason, and the reason for the reason for the reason, back to the ultimate cause of all things. And even then when I'd explained everything, she still started taking things anyway, and I had to wrestle them out of her hands and shove her out.". "Next door sells no end of Transformer toys. I'm about getting used to selling groceries to real Transformers!" he thought.

Prowl was glad to get home to Wernicke's and rest and sleep.


MRS.JONES AGAIN

[100] Life went on. Hoist brought in yet another clapped-out banger that he and Jazz were expected to squeeze a few months' more running out of: it had run a big end on the M5. Optimus had finished his latest project; it was certainly not Ratchet's idea of first choice of which Transformer next to make real. Huffer was still hauling fruit from Birmingham central market to towns around; the previous day's run was to Kidderminster, where he had delays from new roadworks. Optimus had had a bout of that sort of delay when he had a period of runs to Trafford Park in Manchester: each week's thrilling episode of how they were digging up Seymour Grove (the road from Chorlton to Trafford) to mend a sewer, which they finished and made the rood good after themselves, then they dug up the road and the sewer all over again; and the other way he had to face traffic jams on the Barton Bridge from motorway works there.

Laserbeak flying between hospitals and emergencies with medical supplies had the usual nuisance with takeoffs hindered by trees and bushes and parked vehicles. At Lichfield Hospital a gardener threw a hoe at him when his jet backblast burned some geraniums near Casualty entrance due to cars parked across his usual takeoff. At Birmingham, when he had blood to take to an ambulance team near Stourbridge treating a woman with a bloodily urgent childbirth complication called `placenta praevia', a parked van completely prevented takeoff, unless he took the law into his own beak and claws and grubbed up a large obstructing buddleia bush in the middle of Haematology lawn; which he did. Luckily the soil was very soft and easily dug. The hospital gardener phoned with the angriest abuse; but it wasn't the gardener's wife that had the placenta praevia.

Prowl did one job, and afterwards found an invitation to a dinner ready for him, and a seat at an opera, and had to explain the facts of sentient robots and that he was not a human and had no human driver. Three people separately rang in wanting to hire that mythical vehicle, "Wheeljack's car". Optimus made some computer parts for James's orders; he remarked that with seven other Transformers around and another coming, it was getting a bit more like Cybertron and Oregon in the stories. Ratchet was intending to fetch some microchip etching materials from Smethwick. Huffer left for Leominster. Prowl went to the school in Worcester, feeling that the classes would run smoother without Paul Smith causing disruption; he would also collect some items for James while he was in Worcester. James in Wheeljack went to Wolverhampton to install some computer parts that they had made; on the way James caught up with some paperwork, for it was Wheeljack that was driving. As they left, outside in the street, someone counted "1, 2, 3".

[101] Jazz and Optimus finished making and testing the microchips. Both were in vehicle forms except that they had unfolded their arms to work. Tabbins waiowhed at Optimus, who got him some fish and then went out to get some diesel. Jazz refolded his arms under his front end and drove out to deliver the microchips. Laserbeak obeyed a sudden urgent radio message to deliver an unpronounceable anti-tuberculosis drug from Birmingham Hospital to Stourbridge Hospital. As they left, outside in the street, someone counted "4, 5, 6".

"RTA [= road traffic accident] at Woolmere Green 5 miles east of Droitwich in the B4090. Ambulance and towtruck needed." said a sudden radio message, and Ratchet and Hoist obeyed it.

As they left, outside in the street Mrs.Jones (address: White House, Chellingham) counted "7, 8!".

Huffer collected some machine tools and took them into a factory in Leominster, where he transformed and helped some workmen to install them. One of them used a bulky noisy two-handed electric tool called a `Kango hammer', looking like a smallish pneumatic drill with handgrips and a lethal looking jabbing bit for cutting away concrete. The workmen were not pleased at their boss having made them miss their firm's annual party for that work. "And no more hope than a $#@'s @#$ of that cold electromechanical thing from Wernicke's taking us out for a drink instead, I suppose." said one of them.

[102] The work finished. The works party finished and the partygoers came back to collect their hats and coats. Of those who had to return to the firm's Worcester branch, one stayed sober, and they assumed that they had a driver to take them home; but that one went into his office and came out in motorcycling gear, and they knew what that meant. No, he couldn't leave his motorcycle there and drive them home, because he had never learned to drive cars, only motorcycles. That excuse may or may not have been true; the other men shouldn't have assumed his willingness, but they should have asked him first. So the job fell on Huffer, since Worcester is fairly near Droitwich. They crowded into his cab. It is a good thing that Huffer could drive by his own will and ignore his cab controls and let them twiddle ad lib, else he would soon have been wrapped round a tree, the way they were trying to drive him in their drunken condition. But he could not shut in their noisy drunken singing. Someone heard it it, and phoned someone, and at Bromyard he heard a police car siren behind him. The police car passed him and pulled him in, and he sat there looking as dumb as any ordinary artic cab while the police ordered all the men out of him and started to ask them for names and addresses and breath samples, and to tell them what they thought of drunk drivers.

"You first, red check shirt! You were in the driving position. Blow into this. Then you others.".

"But ofsher, it wazh driving itshelf, I wazhunt in sharzh (hic).".

"Shut up.".

"But I'm ...".

"`... azh shober azh a hic judge', as you kind keep saying. I'll be judge of that.".

"Brrrm! How about breathalyzing me? I was the one in charge?" Huffer called out. A policeman looked in vain for where the voice came from. He got into Huffer and looked about inside, and concluded that the voice was being radioed in by some joker, even though Huffer tried to explain what he was. [103] The policeman got out and ordered red check shirt to be handcuffed and the rest questioned, to find what asinine ass was trying to make him believe at his age that lorries can talk. Then Huffer's arms, which go up behind his cab corners, rotated downwards and untelescoped, lifting his front end in the air. The policeman thought it was a goods handling device misbehaving from that lot of drunks mis-setting it. Then Huffer's cab collapsed partly, revealing his head, and his rear end split into legs. "As you see, fleshling, I was in charge of myself. I'm the one to breathalyze.". said Huffer.

"Er!? Holy Cybertron! Matrix preserve us!" the policeman yelped, and said frightened gibberish, as his tidy mental partition barrier between the real world of his work and adult life, and the imaginary world of his children's Transformers cartoons and stories, broke down completely and left his mind disordered. He felt giddy.

"Albert, what are you on about?" said the other policeman looking round to see his mate. He also knew enough Transformers fiction to see and recognise Huffer. "Ye catfish!" he exclaimed, "Never did I think I'd see a real one of those!"

"Phew! Then you can see it too, Joe?" said Albert, "Then it exists. If it thinks I want to breathalyze its dirty diesel-powered exhaust pipe, it's mistaken. Modern advances in robotics and computers, had to happen some time. Best go and leave them. Nothing to prosecute here.", and explained what Cybertron and the Creation Matrix were.

The men got back onto Huffer, who wondered why humans waste money on poisoning themselves with ethyl alcohol.

[104] James in Wheeljack delivered the microchips and drove back to his works. The others were still away. James got out of Wheeljack. The rush hour in town was much longer than usual, because of extra traffic attracted by a pop group. "Pop music, pop music, pop music, until people get addicted to the noise and stress that it causes, and the delicate hearing nerve endings in the inner ear get so beaten up faster than they can heal, that they get half deaf from it. Don't go to more than one disco a week!" said Wheeljack irritatedly, and drove away to get petrol. James went into his rear garage. "What the !&^%$#@!" he said aloud.

[105] James found the door unlocked, although he had left it locked. Inside, a large group of filthy tramps and their filthy scavengings stood or sat or lay about. "Get - out - now, before I call the police! How did you get in? This is part of my factory, not a derelict building!" James ordered.

"Aw, please, we're all settled in." said a tramp.

"I'm a gentleman of the road, and I will not be spoken to like that, my good man." said another, putting on airs, as that sort will.

"Never mind! Get out now, before I call the police, and take your mess with you." James ordered, and started counting down from ten.

"No, they don't! They stay here." said Mrs.Jones, coming in behind him and telling him off as if he was a naughty little boy, "Don't rely on your tin cans, they're all away. I can count to eight! 3 cars, 2 lorries, towtruck, ambulance, bird. They've nowhere to go! All this space, you can spare some!, and if you won't give it, I'm taking it! Learn to share!".

"Mrs.Jones!" James replied angrily, "You and your latest silly pet scheme! I need this space, which is mine and not a dosshouse! `All that whatever-it-is, you can spare some': that's your ritual warcry! Things aren't usually that simple! Well, I can't spare my space, and if I did, my neighbours would complain!".

"They stay!" Mrs.Jones countered, "`Never Chellingham churls a cheese's rind / a mouse's meal can be made to spare', and you're as bad. I arrange for poor Mr.Brownley's grass to be cut tidy, and your talking car stops it. I said to that curate at St.Andrews that he could have those flowers from Mr.Bertram's garden which were just standing there, and he took them - and someone told Mr.Bertram, who took them back from right in the very church! [see 89] A real `Tale from the Crypt' as nasty as any fictional one! Just for a gilded bauble flower show prize! I arrange talks, people including you lot get them cancelled. I promise people's services, and they let me down. Why should I `ask first'? They always come out with some excuse. And, all that stuff in that great bulging rucksack of yours, share that round for a start! You can spare some of it! People can always manage on less!".

"Not always, not that easily!" James exclaimed, "It's office papers in my pack! No use to them! Often things can't be spared!".

"Papers, papers, the land wallows in papers! Carry something useful around in case you can give some away! Atone for meanness!".

"No. I'm calling the police now.".

"Sit tight, you lot!" said Mrs.Jones to the tramps, "Tell him why, tell him your history.".

One of the tramps, sitting on the floor against a wall, said: "At first there were plenty of cheap beds. Then the old dosshouse shut without warning. We came back to find everything including our stuff stripped out burning in the yard. (The place got turned into a posh club.) So the new dosshouse charged twice as much, then four times as much, but we still got in somehow. Then the Aunt Sally [= Salvation Army] had builders in. Then Worcester's Aunt Sally burnt down and all their dossers crowded in here. Then the empty house we found, we were turned out after just three days. Then the new dosshouse went: bulldozers came in one day, and our stuff in it. Office block there now. Then we got into part of St.Andrews crypt, but two men came who said they were workmen, and turned us out. One of them had a blowtorch with its cylinders on his back like a rucksack. He burnt me with it because I wasn't fast enough going. I always thought those two were crooks: your robot caught them, but then barricaded up the place like Fort Knox. Then Smith & Malton's didn't want us, so we went in some bushes in the park, but we were turned out of there. So Mrs.Jones, bless her heart, found us this place. You wouldn't push us on again, would you, bitte mein Herr Wernicke?".

"Very fine and well rehearsed." said James, "Pity I'm not some immigrant fresh from the boondocks from Germany, despite my name. There was never an `old dosshouse'. There was never a `new dosshouse'. The workhouse shut last century. There's only been the Salvation Army, and they've always been open. So much of that fancy speech was lies that I don't believe any of it! If I let you stay here, you'll start lighting fires and pestering the neighbourhood, and it'll end up as a Skid Row. Get out. Others of my people'll be back some time.".

"Threaten, bluster, argue!" Mrs.Jones replied, "The Aunt Sally costs and in there they can't move for rules. In here their stuff won't get swept up by dustmen every night. And the new market feeds all its edible rubbish to pigs and burns the rest. Total loss, except yet more overfed pork for the overfed. All this space, you can spare some.".

"I say no! The neighbours say no! We can't do with them! I need my space myself!" said James, "You say: `Spare some of this; sell that and give away the money; use your free time for ...', etc. What about you? Hoist saw in your house when he brought those papers from Mrs.Allington who you ordered to drive drunk in a silly panic over a recipe [see 23]. For a start, sell that fancy bureau and bookcase, and use packing case tops like I did when I was starting here!".

"I need it to keep my project papers in order, else the maid'd mix them up and square them into one tall pile and ages for me to get them sorted again, or she'd throw some away thinking I had too many. Things have to be organized." said Mrs.Jones.

"Your endless raids on people's flowers: plenty untouched in your own garden! Practise what you preach!" exclaimed James.

"I need them growing to give a good impression when people call about my matters.".

"You tell people to give up all sorts of things, but you spend no end on a maid's wages!, like a posh titled lady.".

"I'm too busy with my matters to do all my own housework and fetching!".

"You say: `All that space, you can spare some'. Only you and your maid in your house. Spare space enough in there!".

"People that have to see me about my matters would keep away, if I let anybody doss in there. I need to give a good impression when people call about my matters.".

"Oh, I see. Everything of yours is necessary and you need it. Everything of other people's is surplus that can be spared. That's what they all say. Next time you praise to the skies the selflessness of your fictional Caius Vedilius who you say `once even gave away his own qwertyuiop when a beggar called and he hadn't anything else to give him' because he'd kept encouraging tramps to come round begging, give away your own stuff first! Other people sometimes need their own money and stuff! Don't thieve! Ask the owner! Don't bully! You simply like to feel you're boss, ordering people around and making them lose things and bow down to you, the old monkey instinct to impose inconvenience as a symbol of being above them in the `pecking order'. Leave people alone. And if I ever again hear of you `not asking people first because they'd have refused', I'll be straight into your house and take back the equivalent of what you pinched.".

"[106] As far as I am concerned, Caius Vedilius and his good deeds did exist. He lived in the Roman villa whose foundations are behind Chellingham church. He gave away many things precious to himself. So did his son Julius and his grandson Aelius, whatever their own ...". said Mrs.Jones.

"And they very likely attracted every tramp in the county," James angrily interrupted, "who then hung around robbing and thieving. And people start leaving productive jobs to beg when they find that's easier. I'm sorry, but security for the means of production is the first requirement in keeping the world, including your precious vagrants, supplied! If you give your seed corn to a beggar, what will you sow for next year's crop? Far more food lost than what you should have withheld and sown. I don't care what you call me, I'm going to keep on committing the ultimate sin, namely, planning ahead despite whining beggars' scruffy little wants now!".

"Caius lived! What matters is the Caius who is in my mind, and should be in yours but you won't let him in, not your disillusioning disproofs from dusty books of the dead past. We live now! He lived!" Mrs.Jones exclaimed, getting more and more shrill and excited, "And Aelius's son Aegidius who was put to death, and all his household with him, by that Anglo-Saxon chief Ceolla's barbarian sword. In the looted ruins of the villa and the village Ceolla [pronounced `Kayol-lah' or `Chayol-lah'] and his gang gorged themselves on food promised to the poor, who came to him for it as they always had and instead got drawn swords. Yes, that `cured the beggar problem'! And to obliterate even the memory of Vedilius he renamed the place after himself Chellingham, from `Ceollinga hamm', the pasture of the gang of Ceolla, short for Ceolwulf - Keelwolf - Shipwolf - Pirate! Sieg Heil Kielwolf mit seinem Wehrmacht in der fifth century equivalent of landing craft up the Severn to here! Not a time I admire! Sooner I'd call the place by its proper name Vediliacum! Honour him, the harmless sheep that unstintingly gave useful warm wool, not sword-men named after the murdering wolf!".

"Of the Romans that lived at the villa, nothing is known!" James angrily countered, "Of Ceolla, nothing is known but his name, and that only by reconstructing it from the place name! I just don't want to keep hearing your pet mythos that you invented and you keep trotting out full of every sort of ingenious patheticness!, like once when you hijacked a class who'd come to hear an astronomy lecture. People hang onto you like leeches, saying they're in need when they aren't, or that they know worthy cases when they don't, and you haven't the bottle to defer the impulse to give till you've checked validity of cases! Like the Simmonses [see 23] that you trusted money to that you talked out of people: several times people told you not to trust them, but you refused to believe that your honourable righteous etc helpers could dream of embezzling; but when someone pinched their list of beneficiaries, and checked the people named on it, he found that hardly any of them existed. Then the two left you. Never mind you saying that every stray immediate need must be satisfied before anyone's allowed to plan ahead: I - can't - have - tramps - dossing - in - my - storeroom! Even if I did, the neighbours wouldn't let me! Brrrm! Back to here and now! There's much that can't be divided into one portion more without it mattering!".

"`Brrrm': that dirty diesel-powered noise imitated from your robots! Talk like a human!" Mrs.Jones replied, "And I won't mess about with excuses that things depend on things that depend on things that depend! That is an evasion, and evasions must be countered or ignored. You have sheltered space; these people need sheltered space. End of discussion. At Smith & Malton's works, Catfood Joe who I appointed to lead this group, to keep unity and thus strength, wore his larynx out before that night security man let them sleep in that old lorry garage there! But he gave way in the end, and they moved in, and they thought they were safe and sheltered, no street cleaners taking their cardboard boxes away, no Aunt Sally men imposing rules and rules and wanting a lodging fee ...".

"And they said they were `only dossing' there," James interrupted, "but they started accumulating rubbish, and turning bins out, and pilfering, and pestering people, and lighting fires, and nosing around, and scrounging, and people around started to shout at Smith & Malton's for letting them in.".

"But Smith & Malton's workmen came down on them like wolves on sheep," Mrs.Jones angrily resumed, "tooled up to the nines like riotsquad. Never mind the details, the helmets and the shields and the pickaxe handles and the walkietalkies used on them by ugly-minded industrial men making ugly-minded machinery such as those dredgersubs that they make, that suck up everything that they find, or swallow it with an arm with a roofed conveyor running up it from a clamshell grab on the end, and in for grinding up and dissolving to recover component metals and energy goes everything that previously could have been picked off an open tip and sold for a bit. (I suppose you're pleased at that, that it `stops rubbish pickers from cheating people selling scavenged rubbish as nearly new', I've heard all that.) I wouldn't like to meet one of those underwater!

Anyway, in marched a load of Smith & Malton's men, in thick overalls, gas masks or cloth masks so nobody'd know them, helmets with visors down, transparent shields, pickaxe handles, and Captain Blowtorch himself that runs the place had a lighted oxyacetylene torch running off cylinders strapped to his back like an aqualung. That's why he's called that. He's 17 stone, and none of it fat. He has a great bulging chest pouch to keep stuff in. He looks like a walking welding shop. He owns the place, but one of your funny computers does most of the paperwork and routine managing there, which leaves him to do shop floor work much of the time, such as welding, which they say he's very good at. They advanced in rank, and the tramps couldn't stop them. No point trying to fight that sort of thing. No point calling the cops, they'd only support Smith & Maltons's side.

`Leave that! It's only rubbish! We'll throw it away for you!' Captain Blowtorch ordered when one of them started to take away an old orange box with bits of stuff in. He said afterwards that it was `important computer output' that had been taken for cooking fire fuel. Paper paper paper rules the world nowadays.

They left. Several of them had mistrusted Smith & Malton's all along. But they found the way out held against them. A riotsquad could be equipped quite well from industrial safety kit. They were all shoved against a wall, and handcuffed and fingerprinted and questioned at length and searched and photographed.

"I've got nothin'' said one, that Captain Blowtorch himself searched. Captain Blowtorch waved a metal detector over him and found a knife, which he destroyed leaving the poor man with no way to cut up a bit of food for himself, and a funny shaped lump of brass with dials on like clock faces that he'd been hoping to sell for a bit.

"It's mine! I found it! I need it to sell for enough to buy a few cheap meals!' the tramp pleaded. Captain Blowtorch didn't listen, but looked at it and read out a serial number off it. Another workman looked in a list and said it'd gone missing from Jackson Gauges nine days before, `I wish I could believe you sometimes. It's worth more like several thousand cheap drinks', notice `drinks', that stale accusation, they aren't all winos, `and you would sell it for scrap!' he said.

Search, fingerprint, photograph, seize any kit. That's his usual routine. Doesn't only happen to tramps. Once I got talking to a birdwatcher who'd run foul of that place. He'd been one of three that went to birdwatch in Smith & Maltons's back land before it was wired off. (That land of his should be a common, for the poor to graze a few geese or a house cow and collect a bit of firewood, but that's a different matter.) A squad of Smith & Malton's workmen jumped them in full riotsquad kit and handcuffed them and took all their kit and bundled them into a van whose sides hinge up, and hauled them up before Captain Blowtorch.

`What now?' said Captain Blowtorch, who sitting at a computer terminal, still wearing blowtorch and helmet and all. If there's one thing that gives me the shivers, it's a man with cylinders strapped to his back and blowtorch cylinder head pressure gauges `looking' over his shoulders, and a live blowtorch head in his hand or clipped across his chest.

`Three men in our van. We found them observing on our back land. They say they're birdwatching. We seized from them 3 binocs, 4 cameras, telescope on tripod, ex-army nightsight, camping kit.' the squad leader reported very neatly and police-like.

`Tweetybirds, or vehicle movements? There've been three attempts on our wages van this year. Have their film developed.' said Captain Blowtorch.

`Have done. More than half of the shots had parts of the back of our works on them.' said the squad leader. Of course if you photograph birds near a big factory, parts of the factory'll get into some of the shots!

`Birds everywhere, too many round the men's soft fruit on their allotments, why come here!' said Captain Blowtorch, `Last lot said they were studying plants. After that I had the back land dosed with weedkiller to stop that excuse. Destroy their kit. Dump them outside number 2 gate. Enough of noseyparkers. Time we properly security wired our back land off.'.

So there it is. `Captain Blowtorch', I still don't know if he's Mr.Smith or Mr.Malton or neither. A true heir of Ceolla of the sordid sword who murdered the Vedilii! The tramps had to go. I told them to stay together: `unity is strength'. Now they are here. Optimus in the Transformer stories didn't turn away Blaster and his six followers stranded here on Earth!, he let them stay.".

[107] Mrs.Jones finished at last. James Wernicke replied: "Blaster's seven were not tramps. Do not compare inappropriately. This lot of scruffs have no skills that I could employ them for. Even simple labouring they wouldn't stick at without a whip at their backs, that's why they're wandering and scavenging now and not at work or signed on at a labour exchange anywhere. Designing machines and keeping them working, matters, to keep the world supplied with basic commodities including food for your precious vagrants. More important than not letting people effectively protect the means of production from sabotage by petty theft. Mr.Malton, to give Captain Blowtorch his proper name, is not an invading thug becoming local ruler by the sword, as you seem to imagine. He went through university to PhD in engineering and metallurgy, then left and bought a backstreet workshop and built himself up from there without getting himself in hock to shareholders telling him what to do without knowing anything about his trade. That's why you won't find `Smith & Malton's' in the stocks and shares pages of newspapers. Mr.Smith's a man who worked with him for a while early. He's often slept in his kit. Not for him to `lose as a luxurious lord what he gained as a hardy warrior'. I don't suppose Ceolla was like you describe him, anyway. Nothing is known of him but the name, but it was the Anglo-Saxons, including likely Ceolla, that first used much in England the heavy plough that needed eight oxen to pull it, so they could plough and sow heavy clay land that was only used for grazing before, producing more food instead of fretting about how to distribute the insufficient food that they had before. Even if he had to send beggars away empty rather than give them his seed corn or work oxen that he needed to plough and sow for next year's crop. I've not got the time to invent a full Ceolla mythos of my own. You and those tramps go now, or I call the police.".

"No! Stay put! I'll confront this one right through! No more skulking off at the first officious order to go away!" said Mrs.Jones to the tramps, and then to James: "Disbelieve this, disbelieve that, doesn't anything soften your heart?"

"OK." said James, "I saw the newspaper report: `Affray at Smith & Malton's. Workmen eject vagrants.'. Still doesn't mean I can afford to let them stay here.".

The tramps still sat or stood about in James's rear garage. They and Mrs.Jones planned to wait, for James would have to go back some time to what Mrs.Jones called "his busy-busy work". And James was only one man confronting them all, despite his firm stand.

The two heard metallic clanks and air hissings from outside round the corner of the building. Then heavy metal feet approached; James wondered if it was Optimus returning sooner than expected, and Mrs.Jones knew that trouble, electromechanical sentient variety, was coming. Some of the tramps got nervous and started picking things up. Then Mrs.Jones saw what was coming.


DECEPTICON

"What in the name of every sake and pity there ever was!?!?" she shrieked, "Of all the choices for your Optimus Prime who to make next!? To my distaste I've learned your farrago of unlikely fictional robots, to keep track of your real ones by, and of all that you could have made, a bit different from the toy and in the stories, but still obviously [108] Shockwave!!! Rival to Megatron to be chief Decepticon, cold blooded and logical, transforms to a ray gun. I suppose that great tank on his back with a tube going from it to his left arm is a flamethrower, since there's no such thing as a real ray gun. That thing could burn half the town down! Too powerful!, for it could never incinerate the tramps without incinerating your precious building also.".

With a feeling of shock and disgust and unreality she looked up at the towering purple steel bulk of Shockwave, not as an image that could be put out of sight or switched off, but reality. The left arm, like in the stories, ended in an open-ended steel tube like a gun barrel of frightening diameter instead of a hand. The right arm, to her distaste, ended not in a hand like in the stories but in a big clamshell grab from which an elastic-roofed conveyor ran up the arm to some complication behind his shoulders. His chest stuck far out and his face was a flattened hexagon with one eye in its middle, with upstanding steel ears. Unlike in the stories, he had lorry wheels on his shoulders and the sides of his knees and ankles, and the tank on his back. But she pulled herself together and challenged the steel monster in her utmost commandingness: "Exorcizo te! Go back to Cybertron! Leave this shelter which I have requisitioned for and in the name of Droitwich's vagrants! You can't defeat the army, in the real world!".

The steel monster said nothing, but went on hands and elbows and put its left arm in the garage door. Mrs.Jones, like others before, realized that counting Wernicke's robots leaving is no use if the number to count to is out of date. This gave the common expression "one over the eight" a different meaning to her from then on. Shockwave's motor revved as inside the garage his tube arm moved about. The tramps watched in fear as coats and drink and scavengings and anything else within range loose and not too big was sucked inside, and scraping and rattling noises passed up its forearm tube and up the wide flexible tube that ran from its elbow over its shoulder and into its back-tank. They recognized an old story in new words: along comes a cleaner to take their stuff and chase them out. Outside Mrs.Jones realized what was happening. "Not for blowing but for sucking! Don't assume! You should know what `Thought' did?" said James. Mrs.Jones sighed wearily at yet another sarcastic chapter in the unlikely adventures of someone called `Thought' who was forever jumping to conclusions; this time `Thought' had gone skindiving to poach lobsters and didn't know that the local inshore fishing port now had one of those dredger-subs that Smith & Malton's makes. The tramps backed away and watched helplessly as their stuff vanished up the powerful suction tube as it untelescoped two more segments of itself and reached right across the garage to stuff piled against the farther wall. "Fwopp" went another coat into the tube. "My radio that I found on the tip!" a tramp yelped as something bumped against the inside of the tube, "I could listen to the moosic on it! I got it back from thieves twice. I got away with it at St.Andrew's crypt, although I got a blowtorch burn off those two men from stopping to pick it up. I got away with it at Smith & Malton's.". But with everything else it went up the flexible upper part of the tube and into Shockwave's mechanism and was consumed. The tramp's week's scavengings followed it. The suction tube continued its impersonal work.

The tube telescoped and was withdrawn. Shockwave inserted his other arm, with the clamshell grab and the roofed conveyor. The tramps had real cause to worry now, for the toothed grab easily swallowed one by one all their old mattresses and other stuff that were too big for the suction tube. Three old bicycles vanished together behind the closing steel jaws and were crushed into a cylindrical bolus, and a bulge went up its intake. Old cartons and sacks of scavangings vanished inside also. Finally the grab arm finished its work and withdrew. The suction tube reappeared briefly, sucking out the edges and corners of the garage, then withdrew. "This is our marchin' orders yet again. Again we're left wi' nothin' but the clothes we're wearin'." said Catfood Joe who Mrs.Jones had chosen as the best suited to lead the tramps. They obeyed, keeping away from Shockwave as they came out through the garage door.

"Now what's that thing doing!?" said Mrs.Jones as Shockwave crouched on the floor. He folded his legs and put his arms straight down his sides. His protruding chest hinged upwards, covering his head, and unfolded into a lorry cab. Parts rearranged. Shockwave was now, undeniably, not a giant flying ray gun like in the stories but a mobile refuse collection vehicle, with pickup arms and an onboard destructor. As technology advances, refuse disposal equipment gets more and more lethal looking.

"Next time, put your dirty verminous cartons and newspapers and scavengings elsewhere!" James ordered, keeping well within range of Shockwave's grab arm, "I help people worthy of being helped, but my number 2 garage is not a doss house! I told you lot before to move on. Don't bother asking for anything back, it's been ground up and will soon be dissolved to recover and separate any component metals and energy of oxidation (or, approximately to you ignoramuses, to use it as fuel and metal-pick the ash).".

[110] Catfood Joe confronted Mrs.Jones and accused her: "You lyin' 'agbag! You said our stuff'd be safe in there. You said we could `touch' that man Wer-nick to let us use that room! We want the cost of all our stuff that that thing took! Startin' wi' that fancy 'andbag and what's in it, and that pretty ring, and yer coat instead o' my coat that that thing got!".

"That thing even sucked my 'at off my 'ead!" another tramp accused, "She lost us all our stuff! I told 'er not to mess abaht wi' Wer-nick and 'is robots, but she wouldn't listen, she thought she could `touch' 'im.".

"I lost two coats at St.Andrews, and one at Smith & Malton's, and now one here. `Fwip' and it was gone!" said another.

"I want the cost of my radio, and the tenner that my pickin's'd've fetched! 'And it over, miss!" said another.

Meanwhile James went inside and locked the door. "At last!" he said, "After half a day wasted, bad-bye to Mrs.Jones and her latest fat-headed idea. Her saying that everything can be shared like sweets and anything's the same as any other thing. This room stinks of rubbish and unhousetrainedness. Now to buy disinfectant and fumigant. More to do which is nothing to do with computers.".

Outside, surrounded by a pack baying about being led into a trap and bent on robbery and battering, Mrs.Jones cursed Wernicke's and Transformers and everybody concerned with them, and looked desperately for an escape. She was no good at running, and knew it. The angry tramps closed in. Frantically she jumped up into the only shelter within range - Shockwave's cab. Luckily it opened and she could lock it from inside. She cursed the "flimsy apologies for shoes they make nowadays" when one of her high heels broke off as she scrabbled up Shockwave's wheel and cab side to get in.

Inside she found an ordinary looking lorry cab inside with extra dials and controls. From outside she heard barking as James came out again in his riotsquad gear leading his Alsatian Timmy, and Mr.Davis the man next door came out, also in riotsquad gear, leading his two Alsatians. The thwarted tramps thumped at Shockwave's steel outside as he took Mrs.Jones away from the place of disaster, away from any more hope of involving herself with vagrants, for the word would get round that she had left in him and therefore was in league with the cleaners and the chasers away. "I suppose Smith & Malton's get the separated recovered metals?, after a fast efficient cleanup job to be proud of?" she said as her spirits recovered somewhat, "All component metals tidily separated and purified, even a little bit, and not a twinkle of a job for human scrap pickers? Are even they to be mechanized out of a job? And that new market feeds all its edible rubbish to pigs and goats. Of all the Transformers for me to have to ride in: Shockwave!".

Then from the dashboard came a voice as Shockwave spoke for the first time: "That lot nearly cost Smith & Malton's a lot more than a cheap radio! A security callout squad of theirs only just saved a valuable parcel of microchips that had come from Wernicke's from being burnt for the fuel value of its wrappings! after they pilfered round Goods Incoming. OK. I'll get you away from them.". Those chips later became part of someone, who learned of that narrow escape that part of his brain had had, causing a distrust that fitted in with the mentality of the human that bought him, and caused other events.

[111] "Out come everybody's guard dogs now. Let's go." said Catfood Joe tiredly. The tramps went. It is fortunate that they could go. If Shockwave had been mentally more like his fictional original, several more bulges would likely have gone up his grab arm intake, and those tramps' story would have ended here. But they were let get away.

"Those scruffs!" said Mr.Davis, "Already they'd started turning my dustbins out and pestering my customers and nosing round.".

"Draugluin! Down!" You'll push me over!" said James to one of Mr.Davis's two dogs which affectionately jumped up him.

"No. He's Carcharoth." said Mr.Davis, "Draugluin's got the white tuft by his left mouth corner. How's Timmy?".

"I found where you got those two names from." said James, "The two Wolves of Angband in one of Tolkien's books. They sure sound like the Wolves of Angband when there's a bright moon at night. How's business?".

"Fairish." said Mr.Davis, "At least my runner beans are coming on well. If I'd put them out a day earlier, that stray late frost'd have $#@'ed them to @#$. Can't they be bred to be frost hardy?".

"Oh, you're back." said Mr.Davis to Huffer who drove up, having just come back from delivering goods to Merseyside.

"Brrrm!" said Huffer, "And I'd have been quicker without yet more roadworks. `Contraflowzh, contraflowzh, contrazh belong in N-hic-aragua, not here' [quoted from 74], as someone said that time. Big rush of motorway building, they wear at the same rate and then they all wear out at once and all need resurfacing at once. Same as with tyres.".

"Here we are." said Shockwave stopping at a bus stop, "Sorry, but I've other work to go to.".

"Sorry but this, sorry but that, the only sort of sorry anybody is nowadays is `sorrybut'." Mrs.Jones thought, and got out of him.

She got home, her head feeling full of pressure like an air cylinder, and went upstairs to rest. "Back home at last." she said, feeling the inevitable effects of having yet another detailed considered plan to put some part of the world to rights knocked back into her by people who didn't want to lose out from it and told her to leave stuff alone, "He talked of arresting: rest, rest, sleep and sleep. Ooh my head. The world warns itself against me and watches out for me. Not so in Chellingham under the Vedilii: all that space in his villa, and income from his estate, and he could spare some. Not like nowadays. This is needed; that is a very important part of so-and so and can't be spared. Under the Vedilii things were simpler, and anything was given away at need, and evasions were ignored.

`Cursed be Ceolla who came to this place,
with cruel meanness, unkind of heart,
and savage his sword 'gainst those who sought from him aid,
injustice enjoying, from Germany coming.
From landing craft he led his thugs,
and Caius's heir to the cawing ravens
the first he fed. That a fine deed was!
For Aegidius in Abraham's bosom
found warm welcome; but with Woden and Thor
the violent one no Valhalla found,
warrior's welcome after war's ending,
but different and dire when he drew to his end. ...'.

No point telling people this. They read it like any other story, then lay it aside. All my energy's gone. That unspeakable James Wernicke, rejecting good English `Robinson' and taking a German name. Why do these tired periods come? It'll be spring before this one's over and I can be encouraging things that need doing. Rest - rest - sleep - sleep, and let the world eddy round my `seawalls' as it will. All I get is `No thankyou.' or `Oi, leave that alone!' or `That doesn't need doing.'. I flog myself out rounding up flowers for that event, and the steward says `No, it's arranged. No need for them. Sorry, but ...'.".

"Well!" Shockwave thought as he drove along a suburban road, "So much for my first day in the `real world'!. The stories about us, which were copied into me as my past, are mixed into different versions. Three versions of my fictional end: at least none of them was from rust, what human Vikings called `the straw death', that is, in bed of natural causes without having seen action. Forget it. Most people don't think like that now. The world's too crowded to rampage about in nowadays. There's no such thing as a ray gun. If I am still a Decepticon, I am a retired one. It is logical that I obey Optimus Prime and James Wernicke in this world where all of us are weaker than in the stories and no hope of space travel. At least I'm roughly the right shape in my robot form, except for my wheels and my back-tank. I guess I'll probably end up cleaning up people's untidyness. What a shape for Optimus or James to choose for me ...". He broke off his reflections, for he recognized some men who were at Hopkins TV Repairs's goods entrance arguing.

It was the tramps who he had ordered off from Wernicke's. They were offering to take Hopkins's scrap old television sets away for him. Hopkins and his middle-sized flop-eared dog refused the offer and threatened to call the police, for he knew that they would be sold falsely described as good second hand sets, and Hopkins's, and the television repair trade in general, would be blamed.

"Off with you! My scrap sets stay here till I take them to the destructor.". said Hopkins. His dog barked.[112]

"C'mon!" wheedled Catfood Joe, "It'll save yer 'avin' to take 'em away, and yer can get back to yer work ... Look out be'ind! It's that funny dustcart again!". Shockwave backed in with his right side against Hopkins's goods entrance.

"It's all right." said one of them hopefully, "We were just discussing some business. I'm Mr.Brown, and this is Mr.Green, and we were sent by Mr.Batoncharge to finalize ...".

So far as a pretence of being business reps, but the state of their clothes and his ignorant mispronunciation of their supposed boss's name gave them away. "It's Bhattacharya! Get it right!" rapped another who was better at pronouncing foreign names, but it was too late. "Well, you see ..." one of them started hopefully. Shockwave gave a short account of events so far.

Hopkins, who knew of Wernicke's robots and was not startled, agreed, for he was sick of seeing a scrap throwout with half its insides missing brought to him for mending by someone not well off who had spent all his savings on buying it from some conman who told him it was a good cheap set. He said so. His dog barked continuously at the dirty tramps, who had to duck aside as Shockwave suddenly unfolded his grab arm into the yard and asked Hopkins which of the televisions were scrap.

"They're all scrap, else I'd keep them inside." Hopkins replied.

"Take your pram in before they take that also." Shockwave advised.

"Its not mine. It's one of them's, an old one to carry scavengings in." said Hopkins.

"But we ..." a tramp started.

"Shut up. I've taken all the good parts out of them." said Hopkins.

"Leave those, you %$#@!" Catfood Joe shouted as the grab scooped up one of the old televisions, "They could've fetched a fiver each!, to let us all in the doss'ouse for a week! Now it seems that that man Optimist Primus that they say drives Wer-nick's big red artic wants to move in on everybody's tottin' pitches now!".

"You told James that both dosshouses had shut down [see 105]. Captain Blowtorch had a bellyful of complaints from his neighbours when you lot were dossing there." said Shockwave.

"Not to sell as good sets to people who bring me them to repair and I've got to disappoint him! I'm sick of that!" said Hopkins. Shockwave's toothed clamshell grab started systematically picking up and swallowing the old televisions. Oblong bulges went up the elastic conveyor cover into the big cylindrical grinder on the front of his back-tank. He began to enjoy the feeling of cathode ray tubes exploding harmlessly in his steel-walled grinder as the sets were ground up. He grabbed the old pram, which had one of the televisions in.

"Leave it! You'll scratch it and break the screen! And I need the cart to ..." a tramp pleaded, pulling at the pram's handles.

"... carry stuff to sell dishonestly to buy drink." Hopkins completed. Drink and idleness and having no idea of doing a steady day's work got most tramps into vagrancy and will keep them there.

[113] "Switch that thing of!" Catfood Joe ordered.

"No fleshling gives orders to Shockwave." said Shockwave the mobile destructor, and opened his grab and jerked it forwards. It shut with a hollow "clommp" and a crunch, leaving only the pram's handle sticking out between the interlocking steel teeth for the tramp to pull at. "Aw! You've squashed it!" the tramp lamented, and let go just in time as Shockwave shook his grab again and the handles vanished inside. A bulge went up its intake. In the grinder, concentric counter-rotating spiked steel drums with sharp-edged holes in them reduced pram and television to smaller and smaller pieces which were flushed through into its processer.

"I don't care!" said Hopkins, "The old rhyme `Hark hark the dogs do bark, the beggars are coming to town.' used to be all too true! I'm not going back to having to put up with with large aggressive gangs of tramps on the roads, like it was before the police started.".

Shockwave cleared up all the scrap televisions, and Hopkins's other rubbish while he was there. Other people came to see what was happening. "Oh no, here comes half the street to see us off." a tramp complained.

"Hang on, dustman, you can have this. Fancy new rubbish vehicle the Corporation've got, I see." said a man approaching carrying a big boxful of toy monkeys and teddybears.

"Aw! They're sweet. Givvus. C'mon." a tramp wheedled, planning to sell them at a street market.

"No!" the man snapped, "Monkeys' heads are held on by a nasty spike. Not as sweet as they look. Bears are stuffed with dirty contaminated rags and mouldy straw at some disreputable place in the Philippines. I found what they were after I bought them. I haven't taken them to the tip, else some totter'd have scavenged them and sold them at the market.".

"Grab some each and run! He's only throwin' 'em away, or there goes our next dri' - I mean dosshouse money." Catfood Joe ordered.

"Oh you don't." said the man with the box of bears and monkeys, and threw it up and aside. Catfood Joe grabbed at it in vain. Shockwave's grab caught it and closed around it with a final-sounding deep hollow metallic "clommp". Some hoped to get them back off a tip, but all hope faded when their eyes followed the bulge up the intake to what it fed into and on it read a maker's plate: `Smith & Malton's type 3 general purpose rotary grinder'. "Smith & Malton's, Smith & Malton's, no getting away from the name!" one shouted in dismay, "Forget it! We can't beat the system! And 'ere come two more people out of an 'ouse to order us off.".

"Leave it. Lets see if the Aunt Sally [= Salvation Army] l'll let us in and give us anything if we tell them a good enough story." said another.

"No!" Catfood Joe ordered, "At 'im! Teach 'im 'e should've given us 'em, not 'ad 'em ground up for waste!". He and his followers charged. Hopkins ran for his back door. [114] But Shockwave's grab was as quick, and closed on Catfood Joe from above, and had him. His legs stuck out between its teeth, and his arms stuck out of its corners.

"No you don't!" Shockwave exclaimed, "Back on Cybertron, `dead-enders' soon learned not to hang around Decepticon headquarters thieving and robbing!". Most of the tramps knew nothing of the Transformers stories. "What's he gibbering about?" said one, and climbed up Shockwave's cab to tell the supposed human driver to "Stop! Switch off! Your grab's got my mate!"; but backed off in dismay when he saw there was nobody in there.

Shockwave wondered what to do with the squirming grabful. After his experience of the harm that pilferers can do round electronics works, the matter very nearly ended with a shake and a gulp, and a bulge going up his intake; but his logical nature told him that he was not ruler of anything in the real world and hadn't the means to defy indefinitely the laws of men; he put his grab down and opened it. Catfood Joe thankfully got out of it and told the rest to "Leave them. Leave that silly Mrs.Jones's ideas. Try the Sally Ann [= Salvation Army] again.". The tramps went away together, muttering.

"I told you so. The people with 'ouses merely get rough if we go too far. That shopping area, they organized rotas of each other with dogs and walkietalkies so we couldn't even shelter in a doorway or ask anyone for the price of a cup of tea [actually to be spent on alcoholic drink]. All we get is `keep out of premises, keep away from people, keep your hands off stuff'.".

"That thing grabbin' 'im: I reckon that if nobody else'd been watchin' ...".

"Rubbish areas locked, great tall bins that I can't get into, on-site destructors, destruction without tippin' first, now talkin' mobile destructors. They say that some stuff that Smith & Malton's makes can sort out all the metal from in anythin'. Even we have our livin' taken off us by machines.".

Shockwave went back to Wernicke's for a night's rest after a most unexpected first day in the real world in a most unexpected shape, with no more flying, and no hope of return to any of the Decepticon bases that he `remembered', and having to live with Optimus and the Autobots. His recovered metals compartments were not full enough yet for him to need to go to Smith & Malton's to empty them. By morning his onboard recycler destructor had consumed all of what he had taken in.

[115] Next morning, across the road's children Derek and Jimmy went to Wernicke's no.2 garage, which still smelt of disinfectant. "This is the room that James turned the tramps out of yesterday. Crumbs! Look at that tanker! It's got a Decepticon badge on. Is it Octane?" said Derek. (Octane transforms between robot and tanker lorry and large plane, as a toy and in the stories.)

"It's no Transformer that I know of. It'll be just a lorry that's in for Hoist to service it." said Jimmy.

"I'm not Octane. I'm not Onslaught either. I am Shockwave." it said. (Onslaught transforms between robot and missile carrier, in the stories.)

"Derek! It spoke! It is one! But none of them've got that great grab like that. And Shockwave doesn't look like that." said Jimmy.

"It's to pick up all the rubbish with, including naughty boys that hang round across the road's garage instead of going to school." said Shockwave.

"We can't." said Derek, "The buses are on strike. Are any of you going past our school, please?".

"All right. I've got to go for some diesel. Get in my cab." said Shockwave.

Their arrival at school caused some surprise. "I"m about used to you two arriving in talking robot cars, but what is that!?" said the headmaster, who was out front looking out for stragglers, for the bus strike had thrown everything out of order, "I know a Decepticon badge by now. Is it Wernicke's latest robot? Which one is it? Or were you driving it already so young?".

"I am Shockwave. I am based at Wernicke's." it said.

"Can you take a computer terminal to Prowl for him to take to Worcester grammar school? He teaches there." said the headmaster.

The headmaster picked up the box. He knew Shockwave's role as a Decepticon leader in the stories, and was nervous about seeing a real one of him. As he went along Shockwave's right side, he saw the grab and its intake, and the maker's plate on the grinder, and what he realized about what they were for didn't help his peace of mind. Suddenly there was a large metallic movement and a loud hollow "clommp", and in front of his now empty arms was the grab. "That isn't some rubbish for grinding up!, you Decepticon as bad as in the stories! That Wernicke's gone too far! I'll sue!" shouted the headmaster, expecting a bulge going up and a grinding noise; but Shockwave merely reached round and put the box in his cab. The headmaster's heart missed several beats. He hoped that such a traceless disposer-of and rubbish collecter and metals recoverer had a responsible personality; he thought of something with a body like Shockwave's and a mind like a human aggressive wandering thieving scrap picker's, and shuddered. Shockwave had little to do as yet, so he went to Worcester himself and handed the terminal in his grab in through a goods door to Prowl. The mode of delivery startled the pupils, but Prowl called for silence and the lesson continued.

Meanwhile in another room in the school there was a meeting of the school's parents and teachers society. "Agenda item 4: farm children not doing homework because of farm work all evening and weekend. That persistent matter." the chairman announced.

"I'm sorry to interrupt, but your heating oil's come." said a parent.

"It can't have. We're gas here." said the chairman.

"Well," said the parent, "There's a purple tanker in the quad, with a Decepticon badge on like a Transformer toy. Some drivers paint some odd things on their vehicles.".

"What's a `Decepticon badge'? The driver must've come to the wrong address." said a teacher.

"I better go see what he wants." said the chairman.

"Before you go, can I please raise ..." Albert Smith (Paul Smith's father) started.

"Mr.Smith!" said the chairman, "You have already been told that your matter is nothing to do with school. Anyway, your son no longer comes here, so you have no place in this meeting as a parent or guardian of a pupil.".

"I will be heard!" Albert Smith exclaimed, "Never mind keep brushing us off and expecting miracles! That slot machine arcade needs making obey the law and keeping under-18's out! It got my son Paul addicted so he stole my rates money, which caused other trouble which did affect your school! Like that other school that kept punishing boys for lateness caused by roadworks and traffic (I'd never seen such a dinosaurs' wallow of mud and construction vehicles for the boys to have to find a way through), fist fights between parents and teachers, until bad publicity in the local paper and some bigwig's car being written off when a boy desperate not to be late ran across and everybody slammed their brakes on, put a stop to it. That arcade does concern you! `Those machines are a swizz', as my son said once. Most of them are totally dishonest. Children waste much time there, and schoolwork suffers.".

"Same here." said another parent, "That arcade's placed just right to catch people coming into town in the bus. It must go!". Other parents agreed also, and the chairman capitulated and let the meeting decide what action to take against the arcade.

"This homework seems very consistent" said Prowl to his pupils in the computer programming room, "- too consistent, Ellison (or should I say `Blackbeard'?), Zahedani (or should I say `The Ayatollah'?), Robinson (or should I say `Lord Zarak'?). The ingenious variety of exotic `handles' you call yourselves over the CB - your home hobbies are your business, but using it to collaborate homework means that your homework results don't match your real ability. I am not Soundwave [head of Decepticon communications, in the stories], but I can listen in to four radio channels at once. So, next time, your homework is to be your own work only.".

"Teacher's been earwigging [CB radio slang for `listening in']. Good things never last." thought some of the pupils. Prowl continued commenting on the boys' work.

"Robinson, why your program failed is this: if you `pass the parcel' a pointer argument in from one function to another, don't add another `&' unless you do want a pointer to a pointer.

Ellison, don't put expressions for pointer arguments when calling library functions. You may get away with it on this compiler, but you won't get away with it on all C compilers.

Jameson, don't keep working out the same factorials over and over. Work them out once and keep them in an array.

Jackson, whatever you're chewing, swallow it down and give me the packet. Gum chewing's a scruffy slovenly rude habit.

Robinson and Brown, also: you seem to find last night's television football interesting enough to discuss it in class whispering: lets have a 3-page essay about it from each of you tomorrow.

Brown, also: line your statements up. Your program looks like it lost a fight with Ravage [a pantherlike fictional Decepticon].".

Prowl wondered what exercise to give them next. His list said "write a program to simulate playing pontoon", but after the trouble with the slot machine arcade he was unwilling to create any more of a gambling atmosphere to entice schoolboys into trouble. "Next exercise is: write a function to solve simultaneous linear equations. Remember to look for unsolvable cases." he announced, then through a window saw a group of adults in the playground.

It was parents and some teachers, who had agreed what to do about the arcade. A lorry belonging to Robinson's father (who was a builder) backed in, and they all got onto its back. "Can I help?" Shockwave asked and drove up. His appearance startled some of them, but most of them had heard of Wernicke's Transformers by then. The parents drove about and collected more of their number, and placards protesting against the arcade and its policies. Then they drove to the arcade and formed in a picket line across all ways in, using their placards to form a shield wall. Children tried to get in and were turned back by them. A newspaper reporter arrived. The arcade operator threatened but realized that he was outnumbered. Albert Smith, wearing a crash helmet with visor down in case of trouble, after a pushing match and argument with the arcade operator, went up to the `Golden Waterfall' machine which his son had often wasted much money in. There are two ways of winning a jackpot: one is to get three bell fruit, or whatever it says on the machine; the other way is a crowbar. "Lets see. Peoples' money goes down the slots and in at the front," said Albert.

"I hardly ever see money fall off the back either." said someone beside him.

"and these pushers push it off the back - allegedly." Albert continued, levering the cover off the machine and feeling inside, "but instead it rucks into this heavy ridge along the front, just like coins don't on my dining table when I push them with a ruler! You put them like that on purpose! So most of the money that people put in, goes overside at the ends into your takings bin. Pity you don't advertise that! Always the man running a gambling set-up wins in the long run. I know a surefire way to break even: not to take part at all! It's all right, I'll leave all the money here. None of it'll `stick to my fingers' - Ekkkh! It has! Literally!". In disgust he scraped the sticky adhering coins off against edges. He licked one, and it tasted of the beer that the operator had poured in so it dried out sticky. He said so, and people heard him all too well. "Jacko! It's a fiddle, like I said!" said one of a group of three teenagers in studded leather jackets and crash helmets who had been inside when the demonstration started.

Meanwhile another demonstrator angrily said "People endlessly hope in vain for a jackpot, they get enslaved as surely as by being chained and a gun pointing at them. The only `fruit machine' that I trust is the plum tree in my garden!" as he levered the top off a fruit machine. Thin gaudily painted sheet metal squealed as it tore, a dreadful sound to the arcade manager. The cover came off. Inside, the works were mechanical, not electronic; he quickly saw as much as he needed of how it worked, and said so: "These two big glops of solder: he makes $#@ sure the left and middle bell fruit never come up together! His money's quite safe! No chance of a good win here. Keep your money in your pockets. Most `try your luck' machines and stalls are dishonest.".

"'Ere, mister!" said one of the three teenagers to Albert in a rough voice, feeling in a pocket for something, "Where's that boss you were arguing with? We want a word with him also! Me and my mates, we don't like being done in here night after night.". Albert saw no reason not to tell them; they went away and there was a noise of breaking and forcing open and throwing stuff about. They returned; one of them had a pocket cassette player which made a continuous noise of money chinking and falling. "'Ere! Jizzo!" he said, "Listen to this tape I found when we were `doing over' the boss's office! No wonder it sounds like people keep getting jackpots when they aren't! They'd play this over the music speakers!".

Meanwhile Prowl, who was coming home from school, heard police radio reports of this disturbance, and knew that the parents' meeting had `gone over the top' and led to a demonstration which became violent. He turned towards the arcade, and radioed to Ratchet to go there also, for that sort of disturbance means a likelihood of knives etc, and people getting hurt.

More and more of the public who were in the arcade started baying for their money back and the arcade to be closed down, saying that its manager had been allowed to let underage children in and operate as he had because of connections in high places. The manager feared for loss of his trading licence after the inevitable publicity. A Salvation Army man arrived and said what he thought of gambling machines; in terms which the manager did not like much. A policeman said over his radio that he had expected trouble there some time. Several more teenage motorcyclist types, who had been regular customers there, rode up or even inside, their addiction slavery broken wide apart and replaced by furious revenge on the slot machines which by cunning design and decoration had long and falsely promised them riches. Covers were kicked or pried off. Spilt money and fragments of circuitry and gearing littered the floor. Nothing would have `bought them off' short of `setting the machines fairly', which would have meant no profit for the management. Many things advertised to the public are for the profit of the people that run them, even if the advertisement claims otherwise. "A crowbar beats three bell fruit." said one as he forced the top off a `Nifty Nudger', rightly suspecting cheating. A scuffle started in a corner. Ratchet, who had had a weariness of "picking up fleshlings' pieces", called them to stop. The voice from a driverless ambulance surprised some. The policeman had as little desire to risk himself against that many as he was to defend the dishonest den anyway. Ratchet called for a halt again, for he saw someone lying on the floor. He transformed to robot form and crawled in on hands and knees. "Holy Cybertron! Just like in my son's videocartoons!" the startled policeman exclaimed. The original demonstrators slipped quietly away. Ratchet crawled in, and men backed away from him. He found one casualty only, the arcademanager's assistant lying beaten up on the floor. Few had sympathy for him; but Ratchet stayed strictly neutral and thought of him as merely another casualty. The man sat up, and thought that Ratchet was a hallucination. He stood, and someone led him out.

Ratchet found nobody else seriously hurt, and was going to go. The arcade manager ventured to came out of the toilet that he had locked himself in. "I don't know what's happening, a real Transformer and all, but you'll pay for the damage." he said to Ratchet, or to his supposed human driver.

"These machines are a cheat, including this one! He's as bad as a thief!" someone said to Ratchet, and an argument started.

"Hang on." said Ratchet, "I'll examine it, to say one way or another, to avoid a fight starting." said Ratchet.

Despite the manager's plea, Ratchet looked inside the bared entrails of the Nifty Nudger. Thin probes extended from his hands and looked into corners. The cover prominently said that `apple lemon orange' in that order gave the jackpot; but, as Ratchet pointed out to all present, "the answer is a lemon, for this notch filled with epoxy resin ensures that there's no more chance of the middle wheel coming up lemon than of lemons being grown in the Polyhexian Acid Swamp back on Cybertron.". More interlocking pieces ensured that if the left and middle wheels came up both bell fruit, the right wheel could never come up as anything to give a worthwhile prize. Some bits of scrap crudely brazed on prevented the only other good win, which was three cherries in any position. He said so. Other machines were similar. Only occasionally was a big win let through, to encourage and deceive customers.

[121] The arcade manager looked around in despair. All his careful cultivation of `connections' had proved useless. Motorcycles and the unreal-looking form of Ratchet stood among wreckage and litter and the strewn contents of his office; the air stank of Ratchet's exhaust. The revenge of a slave who is no longer a slave can be fearsome. "`Et tu, Bruticus or whichever one you are!'" he misquoted at Ratchet, who in reply broke with medical neutrality and said what he thought of the matter: "I know why it happens! Children try them from curiosity. Some of them get bored after a while, but some get addicted to the stress and anticipation that it causes, and soon can't break away. Keep away from them! They're all dishonest, even those that give a `fair' amount of prizes. Always whoever runs the gambling set-up wins in the long run, for he sets the rules. What good's getting a £50 jackpot if you've got to put £200 in first? Don't hope. Only rely on what you're certain of. Forget ghosts of fractions of slight offchances and wishful thinking. Keep away from it and don't let a gambling habit develop in the first place. Same with horserace betting. Same with raffles. Same with fairground stalls. Always the man that runs it wins in the long run. Don't gamble at cards either, for you still may lose a lot, and there are so many ways of cheating that only a full time expert can keep track of them all. The surefire way to break even is not to take part at all. `Just might' means `probably won't': walk away and leave it!".

More police arrived at last. Jizzo, his fury not spent, reached into the Nifty Nudger, spat and cursed into the mechanism which so often had cheated him, took out its cash bin, and with an angry oath threw it at another slot machine. A cascade of coins fell from it. A policeman came behind him and started to arrest and caution him, but stopped on noticing a pile of expensive watches behind where the cash bin had been. They looked like some that had been taken in an armed raid on a jewellers. The arcade manager saw this and tried to run away. While the police were chasing and catching and interrogating him, the rest of the people there got away. The manager tried to blame a non-existent temporary secretary of his. The police went out, and looked in vain for the car that had been there, for it was Prowl, who had gone. Instead they saw Shockwave, who had followed Prowl closely, not wanting to get lost. The arcade manager asked "What about my machines?". A policeman told him to forget it. Shockwave asked if he could help, startling a policeman who reflected that each new sort of refuse disposal equipment looks more fearsome than the last.

[122] The final end to the arcade manager's hopes came as he watched Shockwave transform. In robot form, lying on his belly, he could about get in. His grab consumed wreckage and surviving machines one after another. The roofed conveyor belt running up the grab arm fed the machines into what was obviously a rotary grinder attached to the front of his mechanism tank, putting an end to hopes of buying any of them back from a scrap merchant that the police might have given them to for disposal. The last slot machine to vanish was 30 years old, an antique in slot machine terms and the manager was a bit fond of it; but it was as dishonest as ever. A flip of a lever sent a steel ball round a spiral to a long row of `win' holes with only one `lose' hole at each end. But always the ball flew past all the `win' holes to the left end `lose' hole: so it was designed. Shockwave swallowed it and ground it up.

[123] Shockwave backed out and transformed and drove away, leaving the arcade and its attached store room and office empty of all except his exhaust added to Ratchet's, while his mechanism started dissolving his haul to recover metals and energy. Down the years the end of much was to be Shockwave's unattractively functional rear end disappearing down the road. Two people watching saw that the matter had ended much better than expected. Prowl drove back to school to take the last afternoon class, and the demonstrators on their lorry followed him. At the school, Prowl told everyone what had happened. One boy commented that he had seen a coin-pusher type machine where there were £5 notes and cheap watches on top of the money, which clearly showed that the money had not moved since last time the machine was opened. "Always they're set up funny." he said.


THE BROWNS

Prowl finally got back to teaching computer programming. "Write out the 3 by 3 matrix multiplication in full." he said, "Don't use `for' loops. I know it's more typing, but it'll run quicker, because all the indexes are numeric and the computer won't waste time testing and jumping back every time. It'll save retyping the same stuff if you type it once, then kill it, and yank it nine times, and alter it where necessary.".

"Bang, you're dead." said a pupil.

Prowl reflected on the habit that computer language writers have of using words like `kill' and `dump' etc with meanings widely different from their everyday dictionary meanings, and some pupils' ingenuity at finding sillyness to waste time.

"Jackson, bring me the rest of those sweets that you're eating behind your terminal. Can't you last from dinnertime to teatime unaided?" said Prowl.

On the computer screen when using the `Emacs' text editor, you can delete text by putting `mark' and `point' on either side of it, and pressing control-K. Jackson wished that he could do that off the screen to get rid of Prowl's remote camera which was hidden at the back of the room somewhere.

Anderson, too busy at home to bother overmuch with such topics as Roman numerals, had written a history essay about King Henry VIII (= 8), instead of Henry VII (= 7) as instructed. Prowl received a phone call from the history teacher saying so and telling him to do the work again, and passed it on to Mickleson's terminal screen. Mickleson muttered and went back to computer programming.

The class and the school day finished. "Pupils doing wrong work!" said a teacher to Prowl who he was sitting in, "In Physics each year, I tell them to read up on `transformers', meaning the sort that change electrical voltage, and every year they did. Then came 1984, and nearly the whole class wrote about Optimus Prime and Megatron and company! Some of them at great length! We have to be careful how we set essays, or we merely get our notes copied back at us. Once I was teaching about the Crusades, and at the same time a children's comic was running the Crusades in distorted form with science fiction mixed in. That sort of perpetration in comics can be very confusing to children. Some of it had to visit that comic's editor in person before it stopped!".

"My pupils are about getting used to seeing me around, and I don't have to spend minutes bringing their minds back from Oregon and Cybertron to the matter in hand." said Prowl, [124] "You humans are lucky. Your past is real. Most of my memories are fiction from the stories, which were copied into me when I was made. All those places that I can never return to, for they never existed.".

"Not quite so different!" the teacher replied, "My past happened in truth: my childhood home exists; but if returned there, my childhood household wouldn't be there; the fields where I played have been built over; the stream where I caught tiddlers and played boats has been culverted. Gone without return like your Iacon and Cybertron and Mount St.Hilary! My brothers and sisters that I played with are scattered to the ends of Europe. All gone like a dream, like when your Optimus woke in your Mr.Wernicke's garage, and found that all his past surroundings and companions were gone for ever. And my sisters changed their surnames when they married, which makes it harder for me to keep track of them. Also my school friends have scattered here and there. That world is gone, only its site remains. The games we used to play: no point me trying them now, the boy that I was has vanished also, like your old Cybertronian shapes before the `Ark' remade you Earth-style, in the stories. Oh well. It's useful you letting me sit in you to catch up with marking: thinking's impossible in the staff common room with all the clatter and comings and goings letting draughts in.

- No, O'Shea! Insulin does not come from St.Pancras Station. Take your mind away from railways some time.

- Jackson: Trypsin is not a door-sill that people coming in trip over. I'm sick of parents giving children silly wild guesses and inane witticisms instead of proper answers or admitting they don't know.

- Next question: identify this bone. His answer: `Fido's, and there'll be trouble if he sees you with it.'. Facetiousness and inattention. See me.

- That's better, Baxter.

That's the last. Aaghurh - trying to stretch in a car's not very rewarding - time I went home.". He got out and said goodnight.

Prowl drove about to check up round the outside of the school before he went home. Looking in through a classroom window, he saw Jack Brown, one of the pupils, inside huddled over a radiator. Prowl put an extension speaker and ear on a sucker on the window pane and asked: "Hallo? Who's kept you in and what for?, and where's he gone?".

"Nobody did. It's cold out and I missed the bus and I don't want to get cold till the next bus comes." said Jack, feeling too shivery to care where the voice was coming from.

"More likely you're ill, huddling over a radiator saying you're cold, this weather. You better let me take you home." said Prowl.

"No yet." said Jack, "There'll be nobody in at home for hours. Mummy and Daddy both work.".

"Well, you better come out anyway and sit in me. The janitor'll want to lock up." said Prowl.

"I'm coming." said Jack resignedly, seeing no end to being driven from pillar to post by `It's closing time' and `I want to lock up' and suchlike. He wondered what `in me' meant, since one human can't go inside another. He went out, saw a car but nobody in it, realized resignedly that someone had called him and then gone away, and had a violent shivering fit as he came out into the wind.

"Get in me quick. I won't catch it off you." said the car, which Jack now recognized as the Transformer called Prowl that came sometimes to teach computer programming. Jack gladly obeyed.

"... and I ache all over. I've been like this for two days.". said Jack.

"You hugging yourself, and I can feel that you are shivering - you've got a temperature." said Prowl.

"That's better. No wind in here." said Jack, relaxing.

"You've got flu! You belong in bed! I better take you home and let you in.".

"Not yet. Dad's on overtime and Mum's going straight from her work to her drama group that she goes to in the evenings.".

"What group? Where?".

"She never told me. I don't know.".

"Long time to your next meal. What did you have for school dinner?".

"Nothing. The dinner women are off ill with flu. And not much for breakfast.".

"I'll get you some fish and chips.". said Prowl, and set off.

[125] At a roadside fish and chip stand, Jack for the first time felt the sudden jerk upwards and tip backwards as Prowl unfolded his front suspension and steering gear into arms and supported his front end on his right elbow as he reached out with his left arm. The man in the stand knew of Wernicke's Transformers, and showed no fear of the oversized mechanical arm that reached across the pavement onto his counter. Prowl put the packet of fish and chips in through his front left window and set off for Jack's home and parked there while Jack finished the fish and chips. Jack knew of Prowl, but still felt it odd being in a driverless car that went by itself and talked. Prowl got the house's front door open. Jack went in and upstairs to his bedroom, which was at the front, facing nearly due north. Prowl transformed and looked in. Inside was Jack's bed, and nothing at all else, and bare floorboards.

"By Iacon's great dome, your room's bare, and I don't suppose it gets much sun in. Where's a heater for you?" said Prowl.

"The electric fire's locked in the big cupboard in the spare room. Daddy says heat costs too much, even when there's a frost.".

"Where's the spare room?" asked Prowl.

"The window above the front door." Jack replied.

"Go there and open the window so I can get my arm in. Sorry to make you let the cold in on yourself, but I must do it, to get you some heat." said Prowl, "They've no business making you hang about in the cold for hours all weathers.".

Realization of dreadful images of what Prowl intended and the consequences dawned. "Please!" said Jack, "You're not going to ...".

"Just do it!" Prowl ordered curtly. Jack had to obey, and watched in dread of the consequences when his parents came home as Prowl's hand reached across the spare room and protruded from its fingertips sharp steel claws and forced them between the two doors of the cupboard, which Jack had never before seen open or knew what secrets were hidden in it, although at night when assumed to be asleep in bed he occasionally heard his father Keith open it to put stuff in or take stuff out. "I'll get blamed." Jack thought, seeing the damage to the mating edges of the cupboard doors. But he could do nothing as hydraulics in the arm strained and thick polished wood split and broke. Broken pieces of the right door hung separately at odd angles from twisted hinges. More pieces lay on the floor. He feared an age of missing meals to save back the cost of repairing it, and hoped frantically that Prowl would stay around to back him up. Inside there was indeed a two-bar electric fire. Prowl told him to take it into his room and plug it in.

[126] As Jack took the electric fire out of the cupboard, he recognized something else in there. A year or so before, an uncle had sent him an electric train set for a birthday, but Jack had never received it. His father had said it must have been lost in the post, and Jack knew that it was not wise to show disbelief of such statements. But in that cupboard that he had never seen open before, there was the train set, and still tied to it a label saying that it was for Jack. It was not a great feat of wisdom to guess that it was being kept in new condition to preserve its possible resale value. Jack took the fire into his room, and went back for the train set, and undressed and went thankfully to bed.

"Where do your parents go?" asked Prowl at Jack's bedroom window.

"I don't know. They don't tell me. They say I mustn't bother them at work. Please don't tell them." Jack pleaded.

"Why not?" Prowl replied, "Someone's got to have it out with them about all this some time. Where are they? This attitude of theirs has to be confronted some time.".

"I don't know much." said Jack, "Dad once brought someone home from his work, he said `third floor, red building. Use the left stairs. Not the right stairs, that's a baker's. The other man said `Handy, it's only five minutes' walk from the multi-storey.'.".

"I know the place! That's one down!".

"I don't see you, only that sucker on the window. Where are you?".

"In the street in car shape. It attracts less people. Sounds like you've got nothing to do but listen to other people. Aren't there any books to read in the house?".

"I mustn't read them. Dad says I'd get finger marks on them and they wouldn't sell for as much. They're all in that cupboard.".

"I don't care. Get up and get some of them for yourself.".

"Any idea where your mother goes?" asked Prowl when Jack came back with some of the books and went back to bed reading one of them.

"When she goes to drama group, she goes left outside the door, then turns right at the end of the street." said Jack, "I don't know further. She says I mustn't follow her. She said a few times that someone called Mr.Elliott wants things there.".

"I know them! I've heard other teachers mention them! That's two down!".

"A few times she said she was fed up of hearing about people's teeth all day. Once someone gave her a lift home, and Mum said thankyou, and `--to a dressmakers across the road from where I work' and `afternoon sun in the front window dazzling me, boss won't buy me a blind', and the other woman said ...".

"Dentist's receptionist? Front window facing south or west, across a road from a dressmakers: I know the place! Hat-trick! Now to go to her at her drama group to find why they can't let you in and feed you straight after school like most parents do." said Prowl, and told Jack all three addresses, and reeled in his extension speaker and ear. He reached the rear of the house via a back entry, transformed again, and reached in through a window and broke open another locked inner door. He transformed back and drove away.

"Now Jack can contact his parents in any emergency that arises." Prowl thought as he drove to a large old country house that was now surrounded by houses. As he pulled up on the gravel drive, he heard the start of `Macbeth' coming out of a downstairs front window. He knew enough of Shakespeare to know that waiting for the act or scene to end would take longer than he was prepared to.

Three witches in ragged cloaks, and a cat, sat round a cauldron on a wind-blasted heath near Forres in Scotland.

"Where shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain?" one cackled.

"When the battle's lost and won ...." another replied, and the well-known spell words continued. One witch complained about a sailor's wife who had refused to give some of her baked chestnuts to the witch but had told the witch roughly and curtly to clear off, unaware of the witch's vengeful magical powers.

The witch cackled in glee and called down a plague on the offender's husband and a storm on his ship: "... weary se'ennghts [= weeks] nine times nine, shall he wither peak and pine ...", but got no further, when Prowl's horn and flashing headlights at the window jerked them back to the room in 20th century Worcester in England.

"`Where's the astronomy society?' the rump-fed ronyon cried." said one witch irritatedly, "That and the phone: one day we'll finish an act uninterrupted! I'll see who it is and what he wants.". She opened the window and looked out.

"Is Mrs.Elizabeth Brown in there? It's urgent. About her son." said the white above black two-tone car that she saw parked outside.

"Lawks!" she said to another of the witches, seeing Prowl's roof light, "Liz, it's the police! Something about your Jack!".

"OK, OK, I'm coming," said Elizabeth and went out. "Now what's the brat done?" she asked tiredly into the darkness, "Usually when he hangs around the parade shops and won't go away, they save it till Saturday, and then they moan at me when I go there next to shop. Excuse the clothes, we were dress rehearsing. People keep interrupting us.".

"You better get in and let me take you to him." said Prowl.

"Have I got long enough to go back in and change back and get my hat and coat?" Elizabeth asked sharply, "What's he done? Sheltered in a shop doorway and wouldn't leave when the shopkeeper told him to?".

"No, worse!" said Prowl, "Something that he'll probably go to the Old Bailey for: catching flu! You sent him to school with a high temperature two days to spread it and to have to hang about in the cold until school started and after it shut. I had to take him home and let him in and put him to bed in the warm.".

"How did you let him in?" Elizabeth asked sharply, "We don't trust him with a key.".

"Never mind how!" Prowl replied, "Couldn't you see he was ill!? I teach at his school. It was obvious enough to me.".

"No. No time for that. I've got to get on in the mornings. He keeps on hanging about on excuses to delay going out, but I've got to lock up and go to work. And some days my work has a string of emergencies and things-taking-longer, and today that took so long that I had to come here straight from work." said Elizabeth.

"You don't sound very caring towards him!" said Prowl, "Most children can come straight in after school and find a hot meal ready! He hangs around shops? I should think so! Nothing to do from 4 till at least 6 pm!, rain or shine, light or dark, hot or cold. Tomorrow I'll ring your boss and tell him to give you shorter hours, 9am to 4pm, same as school, so he won't have to ...".

"No you won't!" Elizabeth replied angrily, "He'd sack and replace me, or dock my pay right down for the missed time, and I can't afford that! I've got commitments. How did you noseyparker find this place? Don't tell Jack, he'll start pestering us at work.".

"Too late, I have!" said Prowl, "Now he knows this address and both your works addresses!".

"Oh no!" Elizabeth exclaimed, "He'll be back to mithering for things. We told him straight: if he mithers for a meal, he doesn't get that meal. Same with mithering for other things. Nothing like a good clout to stop mithering and silly questions. We've got to get on. He had a few books, but he kept reading them instead of getting on in the mornings to let us lock up in time to go to work, so we locked them away. Bad enough when he kept on going ill. I lost a fortune in pay docked for time off nursing him like a nurse, and in the end he cost me a good job. Measles, German measles, bronchitis, chickenpox (which he gave me, I missed it as a girl), mumps, scarlet fever - and then whooping cough, and that letter from my boss! `Dear Madam,' (not my name!) `... while I have sympathy for your son's repeated ill-health, we regret that we cannot keep holding your place open in your repeated resulting absences ...', and a dismissal notice and my insurance card and a get-well card all in the same envelope!".

"Meaning that you put your career before your son. Get in." Prowl ordered, "Macbeth can manage with two weird sisters for once!".

"It's `The Scottish Play' to you!" Elizabeth corrected, "Stage people say it's unlucky! They only put it on because it's popular and people pay to see it.".

"Likely he'll end up going out with some gang because of sheer boredom and to get some money of his own!, being shut out for hours!" said Prowl angrily, "I've seen it before! You start letting him in and a good meal ready for him as soon as he's home from school! Get in! I've not got all night either!", and opened his right door for her to get in.

"What are you?" asked Elizabeth, noticing Prowl's roof light, "A cop teaching at school, `wearing two hats'? Which of the two are you acting as right now? If you're talking as his teacher, as you seem to be, stick to teaching him to read and write and add up, and mind your own business about what happens outside school!" Then she looked in Prowl and saw that there was --- nobody in him. "Where are you!?" she asked irritatedly, "I hear you, but I don't see you! You want me urgently and importantly, and then you wander off somewhere! Just like men accuse women of being!". She sat in the car to wait until its supposed human driver came back.

[128] The driverless car shut its door and set off down the drive. She thought at first that its driver had forgotten to put its handbrake on. Then it turned down the drive and into the street by itself. "Help! What's happening!" she yelled.

"I am Prowl." came a voice from the car's dashboard, "I need no driver. I teach computer programming at Jack's school. I will take you home to your proper duties as a mother.".

"Oh help." she said, "Now I know that play's unlucky. So Jack's silly stories about a real Transformer teaching at school, are true! Or is it merely under remote control? Or am I imagining things?".

"When you get in, apologize properly to him for sending him out ill and putting him second to earning pin-money." said Prowl.

"Nosey teachers prying into people's private affairs - next it'll be the council welfare wanting us to do the impossible on my husband's pay, and our name dragged in the mud through the courts and the newspapers. Not my fault we've both got to work.".

"It is teachers' business if school performance and thus his future career suffer because of it! Same as the headmaster had to prosecute a farmer for keeping his sons off school most of summer for a succession of excuses of urgent farm work. His future matters!" said Prowl as he stopped outside the Browns' house. She got out of him and unlocked her front door and went in.

"Grrr! That witch stuff in that play makes my mind feel funny!" she said going through into the kitchen, "making me think that cop's car was going and talking by itself. I'll feel better after a cup of tea. Where's Jack and what's who put him up to doing while I was out? @#$ cop dragging me out of a dress rehearsal to nursemaid Darling Babbykins. Phew, home at last!". She put water on to boil and put the teapot to warm. Then she went to get the sugar, which was locked up in -

"The pantry!!" she screeched, rushing upstairs and into Jack's room like a fury, "You forced it open to pinch food! Lock broken out of the woodwork! How much food did you take! I knew not to trust you with food in reach! Lucky Keith keeps a padlock and hasp that he can put on there for temp'ry [= temporary]! If you're strong enough to do that, you aren't ill! Get up!".

"Prowl did it!" said Jack pleadingly, "I was hungry, the dinner women at school are off ill with the flu that's going round, so no school dinners, and you only give me bread for breakfast.".

"Hungry's no excuse." she shouted, and then saw something on the floor, "Fish and chip papers! Where did you get the money! You telling tales to teacher, he's told me one! He found you waiting for the next bus: where did you get the fare!? Any money you get goes in the kitty, not wasted on sweets and comics and rubbish and luxuries and bus fares to `ride in state' instead of walking.".

"He got me the fish and chips! as we passed a stand." said Jack, enduring the storm while it lasted, "I sometimes help someone in his shop from 4 to 6 for a bit of money. It's my money. Prowl says you don't put your money in the kitty, you spend it on your drama group. He knows about them from other teachers at school.".

"And you've got careless, you've got back to saying `my this, my that' again as if you own things! Watch your lip with your `my'! Nothing's yours! We just let you use it! You know what happens if either of us catches you saying `my anything'!, such as the bed in here's not yours but your father's and he bought it and he paid for it and it's his property, and next time either of us hears of you saying `my bed' again you sleep on the floor for a week. And you've been putting the paper back exactly how it was so we won't know that you've read it! The paper's ours, not yours, and you don't touch it and you don't sneak looks at the top page.".

"You never listen to me. You're always in a hurry. You always say `don't mither'.".

"Bread only? You know why! You mithered till I switched the clock off along with the radio by mistake, and it made me late for work, and you get bread only to save back the pay that I was docked for it!".

"I wanted the nice music. Why couldn't I have it left on?".

"Agh! `When grandparents come in at the door, discipline flies out of the window.' it is said, and that man Prowle with his car painted like a Yank cop car's as bad! And it's warm in here! That electric fire! You've been in that cupboard!!".

"Why don't you get a telly like most people?".

"It'd cost, and people'd keep watching it instead of getting on with things. And if we did have one, it'd be ours and not yours, and not for you to use it. You and that nosy Mr.Prowle have ferreted out an awful lot of me and your father's private business!, putting your heads together. Teachers belong at school, not here. Bits that you've overheard listening to what you shouldn't have been listening to, plus bits that he knows, and bang goes our order that you and people from school aren't to follow us when we go out! You wait till your father comes!".

[129] His father Keith Brown was coming. He heard this argument as he reached his house. There was a car parked there. It had a roof light like only police cars have. "Right." he decided, "That's happened. Now he gets it." and came in and marched upstairs and into Jack's room. "Complaints, complaints, about you hanging about in shops. And, I told you, if you ever fetch the law here (and what else is that parked outside?), you're for it.". Then he noticed that the room was warm, and saw the electric fire on, and the train set unpacked and laid out on the floor! "I told you he wasn't to have that fire!, the 'lectric costs, and what's that train set doing out and used so I can't sell it as new?".

"He says he caught flu and one of the teachers called Mr.Prowle brought him home in his car and broke that cupboard open to get heat and put him up to defying us." said Elizabeth.

Keith, alarmed, ran into the spare room to see what had happened, and looked aghast at the forced-open cupboard, and the splintered ruin of its right door, and the scattered contents. "That brat's new friend must be strong!" he called back, "Half inch deal door torn up like a fag packet! Locks wrenched out of their seatings! How I'm going to mend that, I don't know.".

"Pantry door too, and he helped himself to a huge supper." Elizabeth added. Keith stormed back into Jack's room. "That teacher of yours has brushed a great lot of obstacles aside to get you the maximum possible patient care!" he raged, "What about my permission, here!? Every so often you get insubordinate. Only a fortnight ago I found you with the radio on without my permission. Now what do I find!? Two locked storages forced with much damage, electricity used, food used, the value of that train set cut to a third at most because it's been opened and played with, and moreover ...". He broke off for a moment, wondering what was making a succession of metallic clicks and air hissings outside under the window.

"You had the fire when you were ill that time." said Jack, desperately trying to shelter in the bedclothes, "And I've got the coldest room in the house. Prowl says I need the heat or I may get pneumonia.".

"And he's been doing jobs for money from 4 to 6 for shopkeepers while waiting, to buy meals and things to bypass the effects of punishments. And that Mr.Prowle of his even told me to give up my drama group to stay home to baby him." added Elizabeth.

"Insolence from you, insolence to your mother from that nosy teacher or cop in a fancy car that you brought round: you need a reminder." shouted Keith, and pulled his right arm back.

"Keith, no, he's ill. That at least is true!" Elizabeth uncharacteristically pleaded, then desperately "Look out! The window!".

[130] Keith was in too foul a temper to notice the big dark shape outside the window. "Don't try that again!" said a voice outside as with a jangle of glass and a splintering of wood a steel arm three times as big each way as a man's came in through the window and grabbed him. Elizabeth screamed and Keith gave a horrible yell of pain as his flying fist his the steel wrist glancingly, and a sharp edge, dirty with axle grease and road grit from its alternate role as part of Prowl's front suspension, cut the backs of the first joints of the fingers through skin and extensor tendons and blood vessels to the bone. "Police! Ambulance! Army! So that little %$#'s tales from school of a giant robot teacher were true! I've cut my fingers to the bone!" he howled, desperately squeezing the wrist with his other hand.

"I'll radio for an ambulance. Again we find ourselves picking up fleshlings' pieces." said Prowl, and told him where to squeeze his wrist to stop the blood flow. Keith had to obey him, and continued to howl like a dog as Prowl's arm withdrew and his huge steel face appeared at the broken window. Keith and Elizabeth looked at it in hate and fear.

"Don't you criticize the drama group! I've put so much into it!" said Elizabeth, plucking up the courage to address it.

"Jack, get up and pack whatever clothes and bedding you want, and your train set and whatever of those books you want." said Prowl, "You can sleep in me tonight, then to the corporation children's welfare in the morning. I'll leave you no longer with these.".

"Don't you dare take him away! He's ours!" Elizabeth exclaimed.

"If you're so fond of him, why did you send him to school ill?, so I had to let him in and force open two locked storages to get him some warm and a bite of supper!?" said Prowl, "Him ill with a temperature and no heat in the coldest room on the house.".

"Taking stuff, back answering his mother over her drama group - it seems I can't stop you!" said Keith, "Not my fault I've got commitments!".

"Straxus's pit take your drama group!, if it's taken all the affection and time and money that you should've given to your son! They likely won't keep you long after this business here!". said Prowl to Elizabeth.

"Just because I'm hurt. That overgrown thing out of science fiction can't stay here forever. First that brat does every odd job he can to pay for the window and the cupboard door and the pantry door and what he's used and all my time off work ..." Keith started.

"Forget it, Keith." Elizabeth interrupted, "Let Jack go! First you tried to make me account for every penny and crumb, till I took a job and an evening interest to get away from it. Then you started on our son. Now it ends as I thought it would, with the children's welfare baying our heels. Let him go, without rather than with our name smeared through the courts and the papers.".

Prowl's face disappeared from the window, and there were clickings and hissings. Keith, looking out to see what was happening, saw Prowl folding himself and becoming the police car that had seen there when he came from work. "A real Transformer!, like Jack said." he said bleakly, "Another sort of official device to order people about, I suppose. That's the end of that! - I hope. Hope my boss'll hold my job open while my hand heals. Get this window mended first, and it put the laths as well as the glass through. Patch up our affairs as we can.".

Meanwhile Jack carried armfuls of stuff to the front door, slowed by aches and shivering fits. He dumped it in Prowl's boot and got into Prowl's front, and entered that house no more. As Prowl drove away, Keith and Elizabeth shouted out of the window "Bad bye!". Not even one affectionate word even in final parting. And older science fiction conventionally called robots cold and impersonal!

[131] An ambulance came. Keith noticed that, unusually for England, it was wedge-fronted and had one big rear door. "Get in and I'll look at it." said a voice in the ambulance, "Good thing I can treat you here, else I might have wondered why you couldn't have found your own way to hospital,if that's all it is. Ambulances aren't taxis.".

"I can't ride my bicycle like this, and getting to the hospital's two buses and a lot of messing about." Keith complained. Keith got into the ambulance. Inside, two thin mechanical arms came down from the roof and examined the wound. A voice from somewhere commented on road dirt and axle grease gone up the tendon tunnels, and asked if he wanted want a local or a general anaesthetic. Keith, too shocked already to feel much more surprise at not seeing a human ambulanceman in there, said that he had been hammering and the work had slipped.

"Good try." said the voice, "Pity I know what actually happened, when I was radioed to call me out.".

"Called out by who?" said Keith, "What? Another robot? How many are there?".

"I am called Ratchet. Lie down and let me operate." said the ambulance.

Elizabeth Brown's lengthy interrogation of her son Jack continued. She had a cake tin in one hand.

"Lets try it again!" she repeated, "There should be 1-2-3-4-5 rolls in this tin! Now there's only 4! What happened to the 5th!?".

"I've told you! T haven't had it! I swear it! Dad must've eaten it!" Jack replied for the n'th time.

"Lets try it again!" she countered, "He's been out since this morning! You being hungry's no excuse! Where's - that - roll!?".

"I've not seen it!" moaned Jack, "Please let me alone. You've been at me four hours about a 20p plain bread roll!".

"5 - 1 = 4!" she rated, "I'm sick of you treating punishments as something like the weather to endure and then forget! I'll keep on till you own up! Then it counts as your tea and tomorrow's breakfast!".

"I've not had it! I didn't know you had rolls in! Did you have 5?" Jack pleaded.

"Never mind `hungry' - you still haven't paid for the gas I caught you burning running the kitchen stove that time.".

"But I was cold.".

"Then you stay cold. Gas costs." his father Keith ordered coming into the room, "Don't you dare accuse your mother of miscounting! A roll! or I force the truth out of you!".

"Please! I swear it! I haven't touched it! I haven't seen a roll! Let me alone!" said Jack desperately.

"And running the radio without permission, using up current. Just because I've got a hand in plaster, don't think I'm too damaged to enforce discipline!" added Keith.

"You don't deserve food, you whining thing! If I have to economize, I will! Why not still 5 rolls in the tin?" she persisted.

"And you've been criticizing us to other children, and it comes back to us when we go shopping! You mind your lip about us to third parties!" added Keith.

"I haven't done anything to a roll!" said Jack, building up to one of his occasional releasings of his feelings which could not in the end be suppressed, even though it invariably had painful consequences, "I hope the devil takes your precious roll! Why don't you ever believe me!? Go away! Go away! Let me out!". He reached and started tugging frantically at a car-door-type handle that he found on his bedhead. Jack tried to unwind himself from his blankets and get Prowl's left front door open to escape. Prowl knew that something that he had been fearing, was happening. Jack still struggled with the door. His mother's nasty, shrill, accusing voice gradually turned into several cats caterwauling in the park to the left. His father's nasty, ordering, accusing voice gradually turned into a shut-in or shut-out dog barking continuously somewhere among the houses to the right. Jack woke fully and started to tell Prowl what had happened.

"Quiet now!" said Prowl, "It was only a nightmare. They were never here. It's only cats in the park, and someone's dog. I gave you a fish and chips, and all that other stuff. Why should I chase odd rolls? Really, the silly ways dreaming brains reinterpret things! The sooner you've had some nice experiences to dream about, the better! Now go back to sleep, it's 3.27am.".

[132] Jack went back to sleep. The cats and the dog continued their unwanted outdoor concert. After a time Prowl saw Jack's eyes starting to flick about under his eyelids, and thus knew that he was dreaming again - and could guess what about, judging by the way Jack's heart rate and breathing speeded up. Jack muttered about a roll. Prowl wished he could do more to liberate Jack from hard interrogators which were part of Jack's own dreaming mind and reactivated memories. (The eyes are the only part of the human body that routinely acts out dreams.) But the dream finished without Jack waking, and thus he mercifully forgot it completely. The dream came again, without waking him. Finally at 7.54am, when Jack was not dreaming, Prowl woke him. The cats and the dog were silent at last. Birds sang in trees in the park. People passed about their business.

"Wakey wakey, rise and shine, time for me to see if Mr.Wernicke where I live'll get you some breakfast.". said Prowl.

"Aagherh." said Jack, stretching. "Another session about that roll last night. Why didn't you drive away as they came up? How did they find me?" he asked, sounding betrayed and shocked after a dream so vivid that he needed time to distinguish it from reality.

"No!" Prowl replied, "No jumping to conclusions accusations please! You've had to many accusations from those two that you must learn not to imitate. They never came. It was only a bad dream. Nothing happened. It's all right. Listen to the birds singing in the trees in the park. Forget nasty dreams.".

"And he took my train set away. He said I wasn't fit to have it, spoiling its newness so it wouldn't sell for as much." said Jack.

"No!!" said Prowl, "Only a dream! It's still in my boot! If you don't believe me, go and look!".

"By the scrap heaps of Polyhex!" Prowl thought, "His brain circuitry's had a lot of dirt trodden into it by those two! Lets hope that a roll, and a bit of radio, and suchlike capital offences, don't trail too much of their dirty rat's-tails through his sleep before he gets over it.".

"Why do people dream? I don't want nasty dreams." asked Jack as Prowl set off.

"To put it very simply," said Prowl, "the brain keeps several copies of things, when it remembers things and events. Sometimes by mistake it stores two things at the same place. Say the two ideas `aqualung' and `scorpion' share a place in someone's brain, and likewise `hat' and `tree'. Then aqualungs would make you think of scorpions, and vice versa, although they have nothing really to do with each other. This way madness lies, if these address clashes were allowed to accumulate and make you confuse different ideas. So when he dreams, and something looks at the place in the brain that is `double booked' for `aqualung' and `scorpion', he dreams of a scorpion wearing an aqualung, or a scorpion with an aqualung for a body, or some other such crazy surreal mixture of the two; and the place `double booked' by `hat' and `tree' makes him dream also of a tree wearing a hat, or a tree that grows hats instead of fruit. Other parts of the brain say `This is wrong!', and so the dream stays with it, with the brain's long term rememberer running in reverse to rub out the `double booking', and so the ideas `aqualung' and `scorpion' are kept separate, as is sensible; and likewise `hat' and `tree'. That's why people dream about strange things and old things and surprising things. So your brain kept dreaming of those two to try to make you forget about them. Hallo: here's Bahadur's shop open already. Perhaps if I get you some fruited rolls of your own, and some hot sausage rolls with them, you may not dream so much about that matter of an odd roll. Forget nasty dreams. I'll ring the council Children's Welfare from Wernicke's, to try to find you some proper people to live with.".

[133] "Bap-ree! [Indian expression of surprise] That boy's hungry! Where's he putting it all?" said Bahadur, who had come outside to serve Prowl. He knew Wernicke's Transformers, and they often bought stuff for James Wernicke there.

"Mind the crumbs." said Prowl to Jack, "I don't want mice in. If that's all you want now, put the rest back in the bag for later. Now to Wernicke's and get you a hot bath and your clothes washed.".

Prowl got to Wernicke's, and explained that James Wernicke, who made computers and computer parts, made a real Optimus Prime with the memories of his fictional original, and James's Optimus made other real Transformers. Prowl plugged himself into the telephone socket and rang the council. The council welfare man decided that, as Transformers can't catch flu, leaving Jack at Wernicke's until he got over his flu was the better part of not spreading any more flu through the council welfare system. Prowl radioed James, who said that Jack could go in one of the rooms that he kept in case a visitor has to sleep the night at his works. "See!" said Prowl, "I told you. Your train set's still in my boot. Forget nasty dreams. Any night-ghosties coming here'll have to get past 7 Autobots and 2 Decepticons and Timmy the guard dog. There's a television in there, and a power point to run your train off. I can't stop. I've got to get back to school. Perhaps Wheeljack'll make something Chinese for your dinner, he's good at that; or perh' - (Oi! Tabbins! Do you mind? `Pussy on the prowl' again!, your muddy paws after the warm patch over my engine.) Now take your stuff out of me into your room and have a hot bath and go to bed. I'll tell the school that you're off ill.".

"How high can I run the water to, please?" Jack asked.

"As much as you like! Never mind!" said Prowl.

Between shivering fits and sneezes, Jack took his stuff into his room. After his bath, he started to make the bed. [134] "No!" said a voice through a wall, "You're still ill. Just lie on the bottom sheet, and I'll tuck the blankets in over you. Tell me when you've got enough.".

"Prowl, your arm looks different." he said to a robot arm with a car wheel on its shoulder that came in through a hatch in the wall.

"No. I'm Wheeljack. What would you like for dinner later?".

"I - I'd - a - tishoo - choo - tishoo - ".

"Oh. It seems that you also have heard that colds and flu go if you call enough times on the Chinese god Ti Shu, whose name means `The Emperor's Frontier Guard'. I don't know if he likes chicken fried rice or sweet and sour pork, but I dare say you might.".

Jack went to sleep, and the Transformers went back to work to earn their living. Hoist was repairing yet another car. His previous job had been a yellow Volkswagen Beetle; Wheeljack for a moment had thought in surprise that it was the Transformer Bumblebee, who had not as yet been made as real. Jazz's last customer was a bossy farmer that wanted him to squeeze another season's use out of an ancient plough that was more rust and repairmen's welds than original metal. Wheeljack found that all that was wrong with a large centrifugal pump that a factory had brought in to him was a piece of wood jammed between the blades; sometimes it jammed, sometimes it didn't. Intermittent faults can be the devil, and usually by `Murphy's law' temporarily go away when the mechanic comes. Tabbins went over to the pump to look in it.

"No fish in there." said Wheeljack, "The factory have an intake grille to keep foreign matter out, but it gets clogged and cleaning it's a messy cold wet job and the workmen feel tempted to run without the grille. Fish get caught on the grille also, and some waterbailiff keeps moaning about the workmen keeping them to eat instead of letting them go. None of my business.".

Wheeljack and Jazz finished those jobs and started making some microchips for the CEGB (= Central Electricity Generating Board).

Jack woke at dinnertime with a sneezing bout. "A Ch'u [= Chinese for `O Sir'], a Ti Shu, ch'u, fnuffle, atchoo choo, I ache all over." he said to Wheeljack who was handing his dinner tray in through the wall hatch.

"You get that with flu. It'll pass." said Wheeljack, "A student nurse in an exam once called the mouth `a bonny holler lined with atishoo'. Now I know why! Oh well, it should be over soon. We've had to guard James's `frontiers' a few times when doubtful characters have called. That makes us enough of a `Ti Shu' to pass muster. Anyway, here's chicken fried rice, sweet and sour pork, and crispy noodles. Sometimes I have to cook for visitors when James is out or busy. You seem to have a cold as well as flu.".

"What if James catches my flu? Two months ago I caught a cold at school and they caught it off me and were both off work a day with it and they said I must pay them for what they'd been docked ...". "Never mind that! That's over! People can't help colds and flu going round. I think the culprit this time's a cleaner woman who came to work at your school ill with it, she said she didn't want to lose a day's pay for it, so, etc, said Prowl; apportioning subfractions of blame's a tedious business and often unnecessary. Anyway, we robots can look after you without catching it. Matrix's sakes, stop `looking over your shoulder' all the time!".

The days passed. After a day or so, Jack learned that in Wernicke's, like in most places, permission was not needed for everything he did except breathing; and he became more willing to use the pronoun `my' and to complain if he felt that something was wrong.


PAUL SMITH AGAIN

[135] Jack woke in the morning. "Time for the morning news." he thought, "Lets find what's happening in the world. Even a television in here, and a proper newspaper instead of a cheap rag, and no rules against me reading it.". He switched on. The local news was on. It was the usual assortment:-

"... teargas when expelling vagrants from railway premises in Droitwich. Corporation cleaners accompanying the police were also affected. Two skipfuls of cartons and old mattresses were removed ...

... urgent sewer repair in Great Malvern. Traffic diversions ...

£1200 worth of jewellery were stolen from ...

Now to Llanfairfechan, the scene of the latest unexplained group disappearance of scuba divers. Over to a member of the search party ... not ordinary diving accidents. The casualties are never found, and usually the whole diving party disappears. It's too cold round British coasts for dangerous sharks, and no other sea creatures would have caused this sort of incident ... The Admiralty said that they know of no tests of equipment likely to have caused these disappearances ...

The Prime Minister said today in Parliament in a debate on the future of ...".

"Troubles at home, troubles about the country, so many troubles." Jack thought, "Sometimes I wonder if anybody has a peaceful life for long. I hope they find those scuba divers. I know a boy at school that goes scuba diving. When's Prowl coming back?".

"Brrrm. `Et tu, 'Brute''." Prowl thought at school, "Now it's Latin that I get asked to teach, while Mr.Malham's off with flu. They rely too much on my ability to read the book once and know it.". The text that he was told to get the pupils to translate into Latin, was the start of Macbeth, a play that he was beginning to think there was no getting away from. The pupils handed in their translations, and he commented on them as he went through them.

"This sentence: `Weary se'ennights [= weeks] nine times nine, shall he wither peak and pine.' Johnson: you wrote `fatigatus quingenti sexaginta septem noctes'. Yes, 7x9x9=567, but this isn't the maths class. Shakespeare was expressing weary duration and not an exact number. Look at all the long syllables in the English original, to drag the words out.

Harrison: you put your answer in hexameters (but those two elisions near the line end sound wrong): `fessusque viginti / menses marcebit cum pinis et cum apice eius.', meaning `with his summit and with his pine trees'!! Really! `peak' and `pine' are verbs, see the notes in the back of the book, `be ill' and `be unhappy', `fessusque viginti / menses marcebit tabescet et aegrotabit.'.

Jackson and Budleigh, bring me that pad that you've been doodling on, and lets all share whatever you've been sniggering about, if it's funny enough to stop listening for it.".

"Crumbs." one of the boys thought, "I still don't quite believe I'm seeing him. Some years ago I got too old for Transformers, both the toys and the comic - and now to be taught in class by a real one! I suppose I'll get used to it, that great steel thing with car wheels on its shoulders and ankles.".

"The pad! Go back and fetch that one, not another!" said Prowl to Jackson and Budleigh as they came to the front.

"How did he spot that!?" Budleigh thought, "Robot-rule belongs in science fiction. Eyes that can zoom like some cameras, loose nerve endings that he can link to remote cameras. In classes in the computer room I can't even go at a bag of sweets behind my terminal while he's rabbiting on.".

The two had to obey. Prowl looked at the piece of paper, which read: "Lucky Boy. 330. £4.50p.". "Well?" he asked.

"It's-" said Jackson in fits and starts, "Mum said I must call there, get three pieces of wood each 30 inches long, but not for more than £4.50p.".

"What's funny about a shopping list?" asked Prowl.

"Well - er - the shopkeeper there once told us this funny story." said Budleigh, desperately hoping that he would be believed.

"Lets all share it." said Prowl.

"Er - um - .".

"Come on. It's not like sharing sweets. If you share that presumably very amusing story with all of us, you've still got all of it for yourself afterwards. Come on. Spit it out. We'd all like to hear it." Prowl replied.

"I - can't remember - it takes a long time to tell -" said Budleigh, scavenging in the bottom of his braincase for material for it.

"Oh. Here it is back for you then." said Prowl, "Rrrm! Back to work, you two. Now, all of you write out a list of all the uses of the Latin subjunctive. Mr.Malham should be back in some time next week.".

[136] "P-h-e-w!" Jackson thought as Prowl transformed to car form and drove away at the end of the school day, "I don't know how, but I actually managed to fool that Cybertronian tin can about that piece of paper!". He walked away.

"Rogerdee." Prowl radioed in a radio code that he had chosen, "I'll send one of Bo-Peep's dogs to track it. Not this one, it'll know him. Sheep are cleverer than you think. I think I know which one it'll be."

Outside the `Red Lion' at a street corner nearby, Jackson met another boy and gave him the pad, saying "Here they are.".

The other boy put the pad in a package which he had on him, saying in a vaguely threatening voice: "Make sure there are plenty. I'm not in this for the sake of my health - even if you are.".

"Skwaak! It's as you thought it might be! Mary's found her lamb." Laserbeak radioed to Prowl. Laserbeak was perching on a shallowly sloping roof across the road, with only his head showing over the gutter, watching the two. As Laserbeak watched, two men met across the road and talked quickly and quietly, then separated. Laserbeak quickly chose the codenames `Larry Lamb' and `Lamb Chop' for them, and felt thankful that, unlike humans, he could play back images from his brain. Larry Lamb went away. Lamb Chop crossed the road to meet Mary's Lamb, who slowed apprehensively as he approached. To listen, Laserbeak unfolded a parabolic microphone that Wheeljack had made for him.

"Oh. You've got it? Better luck than last time?" Lamb Chop asked.

"Yes - er - here it is. All present." said Mary's Lamb, handing over the package.

"Well? Any mishaps like last time?" Lamb Chop asked.

"No. Here it all is.".

"You're hiding something. Out with it, or ...".

"Well -er- Teacher saw one, but I managed to make him think it was a shopping list." admitted Mary's Lamb, who had learned the painful way when not to act superior or give lip or talk evasively.

"Idiot! Or he pretended to be fooled! Who was he?".

"Prowl - a - a - Transformer. I'm not silly, he's real like in the stories.".

"OK! I know about Wer-nick's robots! And you've not been phoning as you were told to.".

"Not my fault Miss Longhaul, I mean Langhaugh, married and left and along came that tin can who wasn't in The Arrangement! That Prowl wouldn't let me out to phone, he just told me to tell him the message and the number to ring.".

"That's your problem.".

"Let me alone. I'll have my father on you, and on Mein Führer Wernicke making real Transformers so I've got to read kid's stuff Transformer stuff to keep track of his real ones by! I gave up that sort of stuff long ago!".

"Talking like that about `kid's stuff' is a sign of half maturity, not full maturity. You're still a kid! Forget your father, or he'll find what you've been doing outside. Hang on! `I', `teacher' - you were sacked from that school! You mean you got another boy to run about for you, and he got careless! I told you to do it all yourself, not setting up your own little network, you little twerp.".

"Now I've got to look out for nine driverless talking vehicles watching as well as people watching." Mary's Lamb complained, "Three trucks, three cars, dustcart, ambulance, bird:-

Optimus Prime, their leader, big red artic cab with three axles and shiny show-off upright exhaust pipes.

Huffer, orange artic cab with two axles.

Hoist, green towtruck with its towing gear all orange. Wheeljack, white Lancia and its roof's like what the maths teacher says is a parabola.

Jazz, white Porsche with purple lines on.

Prowl, white over black two-tone car with a roof light like a cop car.

Shockwave, purple mobile refuse destructor, not a ray gun like in the stories.

Ratchet, wedge-fronted ambulance.

Laserbeak, little jetplane that looks like a hawk, I mean a hawk bird, not that sort of jet fighter.

Agh! Real Transformers! What next!? When do I get paid like we agreed?".

"Unh-unh." Lamb Chop replied, "First I check the package, to make sure everything's in there that should be in there. Then you find out certain things for me. Then we discuss plans. Then I take out of it for what you lost last time.".

"But you said - I've got things to pay for - you said you'd -".

"What I say! Stow yer lip! The boss can't wait for ever! -- That flashy red car with the funny windows! It's coming at us! He's got tired of waiting for us already! You caused this delay, losing that other lot. I'll $#@ you afterwards - when I say, jump! [137] He better not have a gun - get behind this lamp post - JUMP NOW!".

They did so. The red car, which was a Countach, braked hard with a screech of abused brake shoes, but still hit the lamp post. Its short shallow bonnet folded downwards, and its body came apart. Something whipped round the lamp post each side and caught them. Then they saw that it had not wrecked itself but partly transformed like a Transformer. Parts of its chassis and bodywork had become its arms, whose steel hands had caught them by an ankle each. Then one hand caught both ankles, and Lamb Chop squirmed in vain as the other hand protruded from its thumb and index finger curved steel claws which it used as forceps to extract the package from his pocket. The steel arm was much stronger than both of his own.

"Lemme go." Mary's Lamb wailed, recognizing the car all too well, "I didn't want into all this. It's @#$%^ Sideswipe! That $#@'s made another tin heavy like in the stories!".

"Oh I see." said Lamb Chop, "All your fine swaggering airs gone already. You little twerp! Like the fags before, you let them be passed in class, and the teacher saw it. Next time do what I told you to do, collect and deliver it yourself!".

"Agh, get in me, you miserable two." said Sideswipe, stuffing them into himself as he transformed back to ordinary car form, "It is as I thought. To alter the poem: `Big thugs push little thugs, to dirty work compel them; little thugs push lesser thugs, and so ad infinitum.'. Lucky there are still some honest people about. Plenty in that package to keep the magistrate busy. Paul Smith! You again! You promised Prowl and your parents that you'd keep out of trouble. Missing school to set up another little network of connections and coercion. Plenty for us to play back from our brains into the police lineprinter.". He set off.

Sideswipe did not obey Lamb Chop's attempts to drive him.

"In `Collect and deliver it yourself', what does `yourself' mean?" Lamb Chop asked.

"I - er - not good at grammar - it means - er -" said Mary's Lamb, now known to be Paul Smith.

"What - does - it - mean?" Lamb Chop repeated in a harder voice.

"Me. Myself. Not others." said Paul Smith.

"Good. Then it doesn't mean what you've been doing?".

"Sorry - sorry - please - I'll do anything you say - I'll pay you back for it -".

"How!? All you've done is to get us both further in the $@#." said Lamb Chop, and realized that teaching Paul Smith an adequate lesson for disobeying orders and general incompetence would get so much blood on Sideswipe's seats that he himself might suffer serious consequences from Sideswipe. Big robots who own (or are) expensive flashy cars were an unknown quantity to him.

[138] Sideswipe radioed what had happened. At the police station he met Paul Smith's father Albert, who was not pleased to be fetched from his work in a police car to find that his son had been acting the gang boss among other children again and being used as a criminals' runner again; and Sideswipe had found a bag of white powder in the package. A police dog could not make out where Sideswipe's voice was coming from. Sideswipe said what had happened.

"Aaaoowaah. I want out of all this. He told me to fetch it, or else he'd ..." Paul Smith wailed, now handcuffed to a policeman.

"In future do all your own runnings-about-after and leave other children alone, and keep away from that school." said the policeman.

"You said that before, but now you're at it again. If it is drugs this time ..." said Albert Smith.

"There were drugs in that package. That is a serious offence." said a policeman to Lamb Chop in a cell, "Also, it is suspected that some of your clothes were obtained by theft. They are needed as evidence. Take them off. Here's some pyjamas instead.".

Lamb Chop knew that this was rubbish, for he had bought them himself at proper shops. "What's he heehawing about?" he thought, "Help! He's found that note in the package, and one of them's going to be dressed and made up as me to catch the man I'm due to contact! And I'll be blamed for `grassing'. Not my fault I've got too much to remember, so I must write some down.".

"They're not stolen," he said, "and I'm only a suspect, not convicted, I've the right to wear my own clothes.".

"Suspected stolen. What I said." the policeman replied.

"And I've the right to make a phone call.".

"In the morning.".

"When it'll be too late." Lamb Chop thought.

"Real `omnium gatherum' that boy Paul Smith was being used to deliver." said another policeman looking at the contents of the package, "Betting slips; three sorts of drug; notes about contacts, rather cryptic, but I can decode much of it, crooks' minds run in much the same track.".

[139] "I'm wet all over, Wheeljack." said Jack Brown at Wernicke's that evening to Wheeljack who was handing in a tray of cheese on toast and chocolate cake and jam sandwiches to him.

"Sweating." said Wheeljack, "It means that your body doesn't want a temperature any more and it's trying to cool down. Your flu'll soon be gone. Don't stand about in draughts yet.".

"Why's Sideswipe come back with a policeman in him? Who's done what?".

"He caught that boy Paul Smith, and a man that he was in trouble with.".

"For once I can ask things without people saying `don't mither' or `No, I'm busy' or `Mind your own business'. Paul Smith's a nasty boy. He keeps telling other boys to fetch and deliver things and do things or else. Prowl caught him passing 500 fags in class that time. Paul starts trouble. He's nasty. He keeps wanting other boys to do his homework for him. I thought he'd end up doing something like that. He's bossy.".

"Now it's a drug gang he was being a runner for. Likely this time he's for a young offender's institution, where he'll likely put on the swagger and get some respect knocked into him by other cases a lot harder than himself. Nothing particular in his upbringing to make him go like that. Sad. Now get to your cheese on toast before it goes cold while we're talking." said Wheeljack.

"Now, if `Snorey' on that piece of paper's what I think it is, we may clean up more of that lot" said a policeman to Sideswipe in Wernicke's garage, "Oh, pussy's after his usual warm spot? Last three times I've taken prisoners to the prison, afterwards I had to wipe the warders' favourite cafe across the road's cat's muddy footprints off the car's bonnet.".

"Not me!" Sideswipe thought as Tabbins jumped onto his short low bonnet, "My engine's at the back. I at least will remain `territory untrodden by cat', once he's looked for what he's after and not found it.".

"Don't speak too soon." Optimus thought watching.

Tabbins, finding no warm place on Sideswipe's bonnet, explored further, wandering up his windscreen and over his roof to the bulky rear which contained the big powerful engine - and there found the warm spot, and curled up there. That was to be Tabbins's usual route on Sideswipe, three times as many muddy footprints as on Prowl or Jazz, since jumping up Sideswipe's rear end was too high and obstructed by the rear aerofoil.

"He who laughs, laughs longest." Optimus thought watching.

[140] Jack went into Wernicke's garage. Wheeljack, who had just finished some work, lay on his back on the floor, pulled his arms and legs in, and changed into his car shape. His head folded away in the car's rear end. He called Jack to sit in him in the warm, and played chess with Jack by showing a chessboard on his dashboard computer screen. Wheeljack had to explain what stalemate was. Tabbins passed, carrying yet another mouse. Jack got out of him and went to bed after his first complete day of freedom.

As he was going to sleep, he was woken by a bout of noise like `eewee wip' outside somewhere. He pulled at an intercom microphone on the wall above his bed, and asked whoever was on the other end what the noise was.

"Wheeljack here. It's only an owl. Go to sleep." said a voice over the speaker by the microphone.

"I thought owls hooted." said Jack, already more confident about querying answers. Lucky he did, this time.

"Owls usually do hoot." said Wheeljack, "They go `eewee wip' like that when ...[141] something's disturbed it!" he exclaimed. The sudden change of tone in the middle of a sentence sent Jack back to old bad memories of sudden interrogations, and he started frightenedly denying having touched things.

Wheeljack, alerted, noticed that sensors on the roof had detected someone climbing on the roof, and send Laserbeak to investigate. Laserbeak started his small jet motors and flew out of a slot in a wall under the eaves.

"I didn't say you did." Wheeljack then said to Jack, "Don't be so jumpy. Something outside's disturbed it. If any nasty night ghosties get into your dreams, imagine me or Prowl there, for you to get into and drive away and leave them.".

A man wearing a big pack was climbing the ridge where two sides of the roof of Wernicke's building joined. He wore a dark boilersuit, rubber-soled boots with steel toecaps, crash helmet, and thick cloth mask, with a gag under to stifle any involuntary angry or alarmed noises. Much search had yielded nothing, and now flashing assumed to be of lead proved to be plastic with no scrap value, and all aerials were under roofs. Trying to listen very carefully for any sounds indicating unwelcome activity, he was not pleased with distractions like disturbed roosting birds' alarm cries, or a lovesick she-cat calling loudly and continuously on a flat roof nearby risking provoking retaliation by woken people who would then see him. If the silly animal had carried on much longer, it would have found, without a bang to wake and alert anybody, what something in his pack was for. So would have any guarding human or dog that got nosy. He took what looked like a power tool out of his pack and slung it across his chest. He heard small jet motors and saw Laserbeak. [142] He had not heard of him before, but his surprise did not last long, for the feeling of his gag suppressing the inevitable alarmed oath got him back to action. He took the `power tool' and lay on his back on the roof join and readied it and fired. Inside it powerful electromagnet coils accelerated four-inch nails to bullet speed. Several times before in his or others' hands `Emperor Ming' (the Electro Magnetic Powered Modified Industrial Nail Gun) [see 61-65] had silently and efficiently chopped up radio controlled model aircraft, whether they were drone flying cameras or carrying valuables or merely ordinary models when seeing off unwelcome model aircraft enthusiasts who blundered into something; and his boss did not accept being caught as an excuse. He fired.

But Laserbeak remembered many actions under fire from his copied fictional past. He twisted about to make aiming difficult, and kept edgeways on and got below the eaves of the building, after getting a nail hole in his right wing. The man could not move fast enough to follow aim properly, else he may have slipped off the roof. But the man moved a switch on the side of his gun's battery box to `auto', and aimed at Laserbeak as he rose above the eaves. The lethal, almost completely silently fired, stream of flying 4-inch nails rapidly knocked out two control surfaces and his right jetmotor and drilled most of his head to scrap.

But Laserbeak, flying clumsily now, still came on. The gunman was too busy to notice clickings and air hissings below him, and by the time he realized that there is no law compelling a robot's brain, or all its eyes, to be in its head, Laserbeak was nearly on him, with taloned legs extended. There was a heavy compressed air bang below him, [143] and a large lead weight trailing a line knocked him off balance and started him sliding. He fell off the roof, now fearing his own end falling two storeys loaded heavily; and his boss did not accept `unexpected obstacles' as an excuse for failing or being caught. But he was caught by Wheeljack, who when Laserbeak radioed to him had driven out and transformed as quick as he could.

"What now!? Wernicke! If you're listening over this thing's link, you better let me go, or ..." said the gunman.

"Save it." Wheeljack replied, putting his compressed air powered line-gun (intended for rescue work) down, "Lets get that helmet and mask off. Then we'll see.". Wheeljack handcuffed him and carried him into Wernicke's garage.

"Oh." said Wheeljack looking at the fallen nailgun, "`Emperor Ming' strikes again. One day they'll find who's making them.".

"Please." the man pleaded, "I owe for the nailgun, and for the package that little brat Paul Smith lost, and for other things. He said I must bring back useful information or valuable items or else.".

"Well, Laserbeak," said Wheeljack examining the damage to him, "after that lets get you mended. Good thing you were in. I hope that expert climbers who are accurate shots with those silent nailguns don't become routine.".

"If Laserbeak had his own guns like in the stories, he might not have got so much hurt, but the law would object." Optimus replied.

"Sideswipe, what does Wheeljack's gun do?" asked Jack Brown who had got up to find what was going on.

"You should be in bed, so late." Sideswipe replied, and explained about firing lines in rescue work at sea etc.

"That man that Wheeljack brought in: I know him!" said Jack, "He's a man that Paul Smith kept talking to outside school. Teacher asked him who he was and what he wanted, but he just said 'Mind your own business.' and `I'm his uncle.'.".

"Hang on a moment." said Sideswipe, and got Wheeljack to send him a picture of the man television fashion via their radio channel, "He's also Larry Lamb!".

"Is that really his name?" Jack asked.

"No. Just a codename that Laserbeak invented. We don't know their proper names. He met someone codenamed `Lamb Chop', who then met Paul Smith to receive a package with drugs in. I caught Lamb Chop and Paul Smith. [see 137]".

[144] At 12.40am P.C.Talbot was still waiting in plain clothes outside the White Horse pub. He wondered if the wording on the piece of paper meant anything or nothing. A surprising amount of people still passed, going home from late nights out; he had one chance, and grabbing the wrong people would probably alert the people that he was after. But at last two men approached him.

"Oh hallo, you've brought a car?" one of them said, "Sorry to seem silly, but before we get involved in matters, my small son can't remember something he needs for a school quiz: in `Snow White', the dwarf that kept dozing off, what was he called?".

"Er - a long time since I read or heard that story -" said Talbot, all too aware that this was the only chance, "I think he was called Snorey.".

"Thankyou, I'll tell him. That's all. Now we can get on with the proper matter." said the man.

"P-h-e-w! So it was a recognition codeword!" Talbot thought thankfully, and said "The car's in the first entry on the left this way. White Porsche. Fast and not too flashy.".

The three got in it and drove off. "The owner's away, he won't miss it for a week." said Talbot, and handed the package over.

"Oh yes." said one of the two, examining it, "Looks OK. That's (1) seen to. Now (2): two defaulters and an unwelcome competitor to teach lessons to; (3) take guns to an address;", and more of the same sort, "You stay with us till it's all through. No foul-ups. No `things taking longer'.".

"Left here." said one of the two when they reached a junction.

"No! Left!" he ordered as the car went straight on, "You overshot! Back up and turn left!". The car carried straight on. One of the two grabbed the ignition key, but the car carried on. One of the two men grappled with Talbot while the other, who was in the back, produced a sawn off shotgun and demanded "What's up? We from The Smoke [= London] don't like small town small fry not obeying us. Take this car where we tell you to go.".

A lorry pulled out in front. By now nobody was driving the car, which avoided the lorry by itself.

"That screen! It's got an onboard computer! I bet it's got an autopilot like a plane! That's why it's going by itself!".

"'`Uproot'!" suddenly exclaimed Talbot, who was in the driver's position. (It was a play on the two meanings of `pull up'.)

[145] The car braked suddenly. Talbot's safety belt held him; but the two men's safety belts stayed loose and they rolled forwards, and their heads hit things, dazing them. The sawn-off shotgun flew forwards, and Talbot caught it and aimed it at the two men, ordering them "Hands on your heads, and this car'll take you two all by itself to the police station."

"Now my belt didn't work but his did! What sort of car is this?" said one of the two to the other, "You behind! I took you on this `job' to work off some of what you owe me, not for you to lose a gun again and to think that a cop plant was my man when you should have known him after that matter before.".

"We better tell them who we are, or they'll merely list us by some stupid codenames and never bail us." said the other.

"I'm sorry to ask you questions this time of night," said P.C.Fincham meanwhile to Jack Brown in the front of a police van outside Wernicke's, "but the man that Sideswipe codenamed `Larry Lamb': is he the man who kept meeting Paul Smith outside school?".

"Yes. I saw him several times." said Jack Brown, who saw no need for the apology, for he was wearisomely used to being woken and questioned in the night when one of his parents suddenly suspected that he had used or handled something, until Prowl had intervened and got him away from their house forever.

"Did any other men call for Paul Smith? If so, are any of them in these photographs?".

"Hang on while I think and remember.".

"Well! Good thing I brought plenty of statement forms." said Fincham some time later, "A lot of this is largely relevant to the juvenile courts and the council truant officer, or to the teacher at first. At least that machine arcade in Worcester's gone. (There's a car showroom there now.) As you say, these little circles of trouble hatching need putting a stop to.".

Jack yawned and got out and was about to go into Wernicke's to bed when a radio message came in that another policeman was arriving in a civilian [here = not police] white Porsche car with two suspects and a captured firearm. As the two men, now handcuffed, were being transferred into the police van, Jack gave a scared cry and hid behind Fincham.

"What've you gone behind me for, Jack?" Fincham asked.

"My father!" said Jack, "He's a nasty man. Prowl said I'd never see him again. I don't want to see him again.".

"No. It's just two suspects brought in." said Fincham.

"It is him! I know the mole on his left cheek." said Jack.

"The boy seems to know you, yellow shirt." said Talbot to one of the two suspects.

"No! I've never seen the miserable scavenging whining ungrateful brat in my life!" said the suspect.

"How do you know he is miserable and scavenges and whines and is ungrateful, then?" said Talbot, "I put it to you that you are Keith Brown and not who you said you are. Giving a false identity to the police is a serious offence. Get in the van.".

"I'll get you for snitching on me to the fuzz, you little $#@, if I catch you without your oversized tin friends ever." said Keith.

"Leave him. He's no longer yours. You're no longer his legal guardian. Get in." Talbot ordered.

"Yekkh. Being ridden in by fleshling crooks on a `job'. Never happened in Oregon or Cybertron." thought Jazz, who was the Porsche.

[146] The police van picked up `Larry Lamb' and `Lamb Chop' from the local police station and took them with the other two suspects to Birmingham central police station. Its driver expressed a forceful opinion of what the four had been doing: "Hahh! End of another fine plan to get money any other way than working for it! Have you heard of the Labour Exchange, to get yourselves legal jobs!? Like the rhyme says, `That was the end of 1-2-3, the rat and the mouse and the little froggy.': One who was getting a boy into more trouble when we were trying to keep him out of trouble; one who fancied himself as a commando (pity this isn't the place for it: next time go in the army and do it legally); one standard British rough with a standard British sawn-off; and as a bonus to make four, their boss from big-time from London! A pity in the rhyme for the rat and the mouse that the farmer kept cats; a pity for you that some people watch over their property!".

"And it all boils down to that Wer-nick and his robots!" said Larry Lamb angrily, "We can't get near his place for Transformers! Else I'd soon've `nicked' his `wer'. First, [see 25-28] three men went there to get a few things, and they'd counted to four (lorry, ambulance, car, bird) leaving; but that performing Porsche and his rabid wolf grab them. Then [see 29-32] three characters come from the USA to muscle in, we don't want Yank gangs here, and they ran into three of his robots and that was the end of that. Then [see 51] they find stuff that someone had got on a `job' and stashed away before he was nabbed, and they took it to the fuzz and it was a dead loss after waiting 23 years. Then [see 61-66] the boss of the three from the USA, and the man that had stashed the valuables away, tried to `pay him a visit' with an `Emperor Ming' each, they'd counted to 7 OK (2 lorries, 2 cars, ambulance, towtruck, bird), but along comes an 8th and nabs them. No luck either at Smith & Malton's works, one of his funny computers watches everything and we can't get near the place. Four of us tried to `do' their wages van once, but got jumped by a bunch of their workmen in full riotsquad gear like foreign cops who so thoroughly `did them over' that ... forget both of those places.".

"Very thankful to you and Laserbeak for catching the character with the nailgun, and to your Sideswipe and Jazz for catching those others." said PC.Talbot in Wernicke's to the twenty foot tall steel form of Wheeljack who had just given his statement, "I still don't quite believe I'm really having this conversation! You alive and intelligent like humans, but entirely electromechanical. Some time you lot's legal status'll have to be decided. Much of this'll be a Birmingham Crown Court job. The judges there aren't the same as the Droitwich magistrates, who've casually accepted you robots as witnesses the same as humans. I accept you, but the defence lawyers may raise queries. Drugs, guns, gangs in big money. The weeks will bring what they will.".

"Keith!" Elizabeth Brown shrieked accusingly in a police station, "What have you been up to!?, cop waking me in the middle of the night to tell me you've been arrested.".

"Not my fault." Keith replied, "That brat Jack saw me and snitched to the cops who I was. A cop plant pretending to be our contact, and one of Wernicke's funny cars pretending to be our car for our `job'.".

"No guilt on Jack." said a policeman, "We'd still've held you and charged you, under whatever name. Once a suspect said he was Donald Duck, like some do, and he went right through court to prison under that name, since he gave no other name.".

"I didn't know you were in funny-business! I thought you worked at ..." Elizabeth started.

"I do!, but I owed money, so I had to get more. `I reserve my right to remain silent', as lawyers say." said Keith.

"Now what happens!?" said Elizabeth, "Our name dragged through the courts by the welfare over Jack; funny characters at the door about the funny-business you've been in. You've got yourself into a real right tangle, haven't you!?".

"Shut yer lip!" I remain silent! None of this is your business! I've had enough of this ferreted out already by Jack and that Prowl putting their heads together to find our private matters that time." Keith snapped.

"First he tried to make me account for every penny and crumb, till I got a job and an evening interest to get some money of my own and something to do away from the house." Elizabeth said to the policeman.

"Which she planned to spend on luxuries when I've got commitments. It should've gone in the kitty." Keith replied.

"Where `kitty' means `his pocket'. My money is mine. `If I can't keep it, I'm going back to my mother's.' I said. That shifted him, but I've still got to housekeep out of it.".

"Why should I part with money when you've got money? I've got commitments. None of your business what commitments. I could've cleared off no end with what you've spent on keeping that Elliott in scenery and stage props and tea.".

"Then along came Jack and made more inroads into the readies.".

"And into my sleep, and I wasn't having that. `Waah waah boohoo' three or four times a night, donkeys' years before I could rely on him being clean and quiet through the night.".

"Time was once when once that brat could read and write and add up, he'd've had to go round the factories to find a job. Now I bet he'll stay at school for sixth form, then university, and %$# knows when he'll be earning; or he'll be over the hills and far away and we'll never see a penny piece off him.".

"Your `commitments' are my business!" said the policeman, "I want everything you know about this, all of it. Jack can wait, he's not yours now.".

"He even counted the sliced bread slices, and read the meters every day." said Elizabeth.

"Accuse accuse accuse! Shut up the pair of you! And he'll blame me messing this up." said Keith. This argument continued like this with variations for most of the night.

"That lot have confessed to quite a lot of offences dating a while back." said a policeman to James Wernicke a day or so later,

"`Nailgun Nigel' [= Larry Lamb] still won't say where he got his nailgun from. I hope they don't keep turning up. Powerful, accurate, reload from a hardware store, recharge from the electricity mains.".

"I know." said James, "I was looking round the wrong end of two of them that time [see 61-66], luckily through a strong enough riotshield, until Prowl who'd been brought to life that day caught them.".

"Those two that Jazz and one of us caught have come clean on a lot of matters. I think that Paul Smith was glad to get out of a lot of entanglements. But he'd better be watched, that's for the Juvenile Court to decide.".

"And once again, after another distraction, I better go back to work! I can sympathize with Smith & Malton's getting rough with birdwatchers and botanists messing round their back with high-powered observing equipment, after one lot proved to be thieves surveilling their wages van's movements. That petty bully Paul Smith hasn't got much bottle in a corner, only `waioowh mummy mummy'. How long before he's off again?, or has the lesson finally sunk in?".

"Much of this is `sub judice' [= can't be revealed until the court case has finished]. I better go back to work also. Thanks for the help. Bye.".


HOW I WAS STARTED

[147] "Brrrm. After all that, lets get some work done." said Optimus next day, transforming his upper half only to robot form so he could work on the floor, protruding claws from some of his fingertips as forceps to handle small objects, such as in this case a trayful of letters, "Time to go through my mail. I get a lot of it, some of it quite odd. A lot of it has to be sent on. This pile goes to `Transformers' toy makers; that pile goes to `Transformers' comic: I have no special business connection with either firm.

Yet another request to hire Grapple [who transforms to a mobile crane], but I haven't made a real one of him yet.

Another candidate for the `vertical file' [= wastepaper basket]: `to `Optimus Prime', Dear Sir or Madam,' (another who thinks I'm a human using a pen name) `... that school play you appear to be helping to organize ... a character has a birthday party ... the song `Happy Birthday To You' is sung on stage ... this is a public performance, so ...', brrm brrm, `royalties due to us', etc: sling it, Jack, some people think I was made yesterday, that old trick, send a fake bill to a busy firm and hope their accounts department'll pay it without checking it against their records.

`I think you're the sweetest', etc, hearts and xxxx: more fan mail, Jack, mail the standard reply to her.

This one: yet another excuse why he can't pay me for that haulage job right now. `Burst pipe in accounts department'. Ha ha. James better see his solicitor for a letter to this one.".

"Miaow?" James's cat asked hopefully.

"No, Tabbins, you had something an hour ago." said Jack, "Coo, Optimus, you are a height. I've seen models of you in shops, but I never realized you'd be such a size.".

"Hallo, Jack. Over your flu and no longer infectious, I hope?" said James Wernicke, who had been working nearby, "Op? That song is still in copyright. It was written as part of a film.".

"What, for three performances of a 16-word song that everybody knows, for parents' day and no entrance fee charged?" said Optimus.

"Optimus, how did you come here? I thought the stories about you were only stories?" Jack asked.

"James made me as a copy of the fictional Optimus Prime. he told me about it once." said Optimus.

"I make computers and computer parts." said James, "After a day's work my brain is so worn out by thinking about complicated matters that I preferred simple things in the evenings to read - including the Transformers stories. I lived alone and I had no living relatives anywhere near. I got lonely at times. My work usually kept my mind off it, but every day with only the cat and the dog to talk to, I began to seek companionship with the characters in the stories I read, particularly in `Transformers'. This for a time satisfied my need. Unlike real people they were there and available whenever I opened the pages or switched the video on. Optimus particularly impressed me. I never had much family life: my father died when I was 3; so my mother had to go out to work and kept going out in the evenings, meals left for me, notes left for me. My brain's emotional and instinctive `circuitry' had the usual desire for a father figure, but that desire remained unsatisfied. My brain kept grasping at straws to fill that hole, but in the end it seemed to quieten. When I inherited this place (it was empty), I started making and repairing computers and designing and making microchips and circuitry. But after a time something in my hypothalamus and amygdala (that's the emotional and instinctive circuitry in humans) began to realize that these people that I had got to know so well, never existed except as images. There just beyond the surface of the page and screen they moved and talked and lived, and I could never reach them or get an answer from them. It was like bereavement. `Optimus, where are you?'. Nowhere, except as a 6-inch-tall model on a shelf. Lorries passed endlessly, but none of them was him. I started to get over it by imagining situations involving them as well as what the publishers provided. In odd moments I typed them up on a computer using a word processing program. This made them live in my mind - for a while, and then I began to realize that I had merely made another fictional world for them to hide inaccessibly in. Many people dream of flying, but I dreamed of flying in Jetfire the Autobot jet fighter; I talked with him as he flew, then I woke and he vanished like a ghost again. So I would save the file and log out and switch the terminal off and get on with something else, such as putting my riotsquad gear on and practising with my shield and pickaxe handle against a computer controlled opponent simulator that I had made, to keep up in practising self defence in case intruders came, if I had no work to do right then.

[148] I found that that desire for a `father figure' was not dead, but had merely been quiescent for a time, and at last, when I wasn't looking, to clear away the psychological and neurocybernetic `dust and cobwebs and pigeon droppings' of ages of disuse from that seat and claim it for himself, along came the unlikeliest candidate imaginable: Optimus Prime who led the Autobot Transformers!, or at least my brain image of him. It was sad hardly to know my parents except as old photographs. It was sad to lose Fred my previous dog (curse whatever gamekeeper illegally put a poison bait out!, and a crow airlifted it into my yard), but at least I can remember happy times with him, and with various humans that I knew and are no longer around. It is sad without even that compensation to feel thus about someone who never existed, except in dreams. `Oh for one touch of a vanished hand', someone wrote - or in my case for a hand that never existed. It was a long time before I realized what was happening, for my brain never linked it to biological parenthood or the word `father'. As I wrote about it once:

`On page or screen is appointed in life
a place for each in the paper lands
where their motors have might and their minds exist
instead of play plastic for pleasure as toys.
But they turn away as I return to work.
Land is lonely and lacking in them.
O that once this way could one even,
could any of them into this street turn,
Droitwich seeking from his distant land
for me to talk to and touch. But that'll true never come,
mighty Optimus down the M5 coming,
then A38 and into my yard,
or Bumblebee, who is brave though small,
or that any other one, or that out of the sky ...'.

Composing that piece got me a broken rib, for I was having a practise stick fight with the opponent simulator at the time, and it clouted my side when I left my guard open through thinking about something else at the same time.".

"What do I remember myself about it?" said Optimus, "It's so mixed up with the stories copied into me that humans wrote about me and my people, that it's hard to sort out. But I remember a room, and food stored in there, and a rat and a mouse after the food, and a cat and a ferret that I could call on at need to defend the food. All vague, and no details of colour or shape or layout. Then more rooms, more sorts of stuff stored in them, more sorts of vermin getting into them, more ways to defend against the vermin. Perhaps it was some room in the `Ark' that kept getting infested, only a stray detail of more important matters. (The Ark's our spaceship that we came to Earth in, in the stories.) But James told me that that room was not in the stories but was my first `real' memory.".

"I wrote a simple program simulating a neural net, running on one of my computers (which had the tradename Prime, by coincidence, it wasn't one I made)." said James, "It was simulating learning how to keep vermin away from food; the mouse etc were merely binary digit positions in computer store words. After a time I started saving the neural net's memory at end of run, and reloading it at the start of the next run. Gradually I enlarged its scenario. After a time I transferred it to a real neural net computer, and it ran faster, and I could introduce more details, and more built-in impulses (call them `instincts and emotions' if you will). Some of its `motor outputs' altered its own running parameters: thus it could control its own thinking. Transformerisms crept into its scenario: for example, once I found myself thinking: `Let it need at least a [simulated] hour for Wheeljack to make him some new rat traps.'. In the end I called the program and the saved memory `Optimus'. I carried on with it, for there was a big future promised for intelligent or semi-intelligent neural net computers.".

"He connected it to his visual image decoder project, and at last, for example, a cat could be the shape of the animal and not just a computer storage address number." said Optimus, "He taught it more and more about what scenery looked like, and so on. Visual image decoding can run backwards, if it is wanted to, and if he typed for example `Prowl was driving along a country road in bright sunlight.', a movie image of that would appear on his computer screen. Thus he entered into me much of what happened in Cybertron and Oregon in the stories. Much enlarged from his simple program to keep a simulated mouse away from simulated food! Pattern correlation became ever more abstract and generalized, until abstract ideas formed more and more; a few basic impulses and instincts elaborated themselves into insight and leadership and intelligence and freewill. All simulated in that computer, which was partly me and partly what maintained my simulated environment. But I still thought I was in my fictional world. Sometimes he projected himself into my world as the image of Sparky Witwicky [a man who Optimus knew in the stories] riding in me or taking part in events, and he and I could talk. [149] Also he had the long job of teaching me all the ordinary information about the real world that he felt was necessary before I met people for real. First ordinary life and geography and such school stuff; then sciences and engineering and computer science. How my life expanded when he transferred me to the neural net computer!, so that things could be real with shapes and not just a few information numbers. To me that was the world.".

"In the process I discovered much about designing and making and programming neural net computers." said James, "But apart from that, all I had after all that was a videogame. A very fancy videogame, but still just a videogame. There behind the screen and a speaker, as with Transformers videocartoons before, Optimus and the rest lived and moved and had their being, and I could not in reality touch them or ride in them. I could make it think that I was in its world, but I am adult, and I wanted reality. In the end I got Smith & Malton's to make a real body for Optimus for me, gradually as I could afford it. After all that waiting it was a letdown, and a bit creepy, to see in reality not Optimus but a pile of disconnected pieces of him; but he was gradually completed and assembled. I transferred Optimus's memory into a new neural net computer that worked the same but was a lot more compact and resistant to vibration etc, and without the environment simulator part. Finally I took it out of my test rig and put it in Optimus's real body.".

"At last my brain's sensory and motor nerve wires ran to real sensors and motor controls instead of to an environment simulator." said Optimus, "In that act I was in effect snatched out of my old world, fictional but back then to me quite real, of Cybertron and Oregon, and deposited in his world in England without spaceship or gun or companions or anything that I knew as familiar. [150] When peering through a fog of fiction at my remote pre-intelligent beginnings as James's problem solving program, at the memories that my mind's more spacious and detailed later phase inherited, it is easier to read in nonexistent detail, imagine a picture, place it somewhere in Cybertron or Oregon: which of these two definitions was true? is true? is sensible?: the C program declaration `enum object cat=1, mouse=2, rat=4, ferret=8;', or a picture of each sort of animal as in a child's picture book?

He switched me on again, and I woke to a different world. I recognized his voice as a voice that I knew from my simulated past, as Sparky's voice, or as another Autobot's voice in ancient times on Cybertron. As I drove about in the next weeks I recognized parts of Droitwich and area, which he had videotaped and read into his environment simulator as Oregon scenery. No such thing as a ray gun, or interstellar travel, or my companions, or much that I `remembered' as real. None of my companions. Nothing living and intelligent except humans. I had to get used to it.

Lost and lonely Optimus, stranded on this earth of men,
nor anywhere is one of us, save me, to ever be found again,
my bright companions passed away, except as dream that flees from light.
My realm is gone, nor hope of day for me in ship to return with might
to ancient storied Cybertron with host across the gulf of Space
to overthrow th'Decepticons and see again old Xaaron's face
and mend the harms of endless war, rebuild Iacon's mighty dome,
where I was made so long before, my ancient home again to roam.
Alas that I, like James before, now yearn for what has never been.
He's made me real, with labours sore; but I now wish with longings keen
for Prowl or Jazz or Sunstreaker or any of my folk of old,
or hear the blast of Jetfire, who, lost in blizzard in flight too bold,
lay buried in Antarctic ice since long before we others came
to Earth - but not at any price could come again those times of fame.

[151] James's longing was over, and there I was at last, 25 feet tall, made of steel, standing in his yard. No more voice behind a screen and a hopeless longing for the imaginary. He stood on my foot and hugged my leg. But what about me? Only the previous day all the Autobots had been around me as I led them in the final battle to overthrow the Decepticons, and I had been full of plans to rebuild Cybertron; and now I was stranded alone in England. [see 10-11] I put up with being alone except for humans, until I made a real Ratchet the ambulance, and later others. There are now ten of us." said Optimus, and picked up and opened a thick envelope, "What's this lot? Brrrm, they've been on the grand tour! From Prime Computers to Hasbro Toys [who sell Transformer toys] to Marvel Comics [who publish Transformer stories] to me. And here's another for me to forward to Prime Computers, who I have no connection with; I better read it in case he meant Wernicke Computers and got names mixed up.".

"That envelope says `Prime Bookshop'. I never knew you sold books." said Jack.

"I don't sell books. Prime Bookshop's in town, nothing to do with me. Another letter for me to forward." said Optimus.

"Which Transformers have you got? I know a boy that's got 47 Transformers." said Jack.

"47 of the toys, I take it you mean." said Optimus, "Of the real Transformers, I haven't got any. Each one is alive and thinking and is his own property. There are ten here now:-

me;
Ratchet (ambulance);
Laserbeak (small plane like a hawk (the bird));
Wheeljack (white Lancia car);
Jazz (white Porsche car);
Hoist (green and orange towtruck);
Huffer (yellow artic cab with two axles);
Prowl (white over black USA police car);
Shockwave (not a ray gun but a mobile refuse destructor);
Sideswipe (red Countach car)

Shockwave in robot form looks like in the stories except for a big tank on his back. It scared that bossy busybodying Mrs.Jones that time, she thought it was a flamethrower's fuel tank, since there's no such thing as a real ray gun. But his left arm nozzle's for sucking rubbish up. His right hand's a big clamshell grab with a roofed conveyor belt running up the arm to pick up big rubbish.".


MRS.JONES AND OTHERS

"Mrs.Jones once came to our school to take a lesson." said Jack, "She told about a Roman called Caius Vedilius who lived at the Roman villa behind Chellingham Church and he gave everything of his to the beggars, and his sons after him the same, but the last one, who was Aegidius Vedilius, was killed by an Anglo-Saxon chief called Cheela [correctly Ceolla, pronounced Kayol-lah or Chayol-lah], who killed the beggars, and it was sad, but the headmaster came in and ordered her off and told us to forget what she had said as it never happened and she's obsessed and a bit funny in the head.".

"Aye, she billeted a load of tramps in here, and James and Shockwave had to sling them out and clean up after them [see 104 etseq]." said Optimus, "Don't give anything to tramps, whatever they say. They're hard cheeky cunning liars. They say they're all sorts of people temporarily in need, and most of it goes on drink. Don't believe any stranger. Don't give anything to any stranger, whatever he says, however pathetic it sounds: most of them are liars and can perfectly well do a day's work. Drink's why a lot of them are tramps in the first place. Once they get the idea that someone or some place is an easy touch, the word goes round and they come in crowds annoying everybody else near also and scavenging and thieving. Genuine need that won't mean you'll be feeding them for ever, yes. The lazy and persistent vagrants, no. `Charity begins at home', it is said: attend first to your own people that you know about. Feeding the world needs first of all and most importantly security for the means of production even if it means being very rough on thieves, as Smith & Malton's know, the amount of people they've caught nosing round their back land that couldn't explain their business properly. Trying to cure crime or get stolen property back by making criminals feel ashamed, as some suggest, hardly ever works in reality ... Oh, Mr.Malton, what brings you in here?".

Mr.Malton, nicknamed Captain Blowtorch, who owned Smith & Malton's Ltd, came in. His size, thick overall, heavy hobnailed boots, helmet with visor, bulky chest pouch for tools and accessories, and oxyacetylene torch clipped to his chest and fed from large cylinders strapped to his back like an aqualung with their pressure gauges looking over his shoulders, made him look rather lethal to those not used to seeing him; he did as much shop floor work as anyone else there, for a computer from Wernicke's did most of the routine management and accounts and paperwork. "I just came to find if one of you's ready to come over to install those microchips." he said, "Oh yes, that lot you were talking about, Op, they were nosing round our back, I took some of my workmen to challenge them, they said they were in the RSPB [= Royal Society for the Protection of Birds] checking on rare birds seen in the area, they showed all the proper documents, and I let them go; but a week later one of them was in a bunch that we caught trying to rob our wages van. I'm fed up of birdwatchers and botanists wandering round my back. Ten may be genuine, and the eleventh's spying to steal. I can't risk it. To me now, `RSPB' means `Ready to Spy with Powerful Binoculars'. A great lot of rare birds and plants live round my non-ferrous metals store building, it seems. Last week some of my men caught two men climbing in and they said they were studying rare plants, but they were obvious gipsy types and they had in their packs stuff that the police and my men identified as stolen.

[152] I had a run-in with Mrs.Jones at home also, two Christmases ago. She knocked on the door. My wife offered her a cup of tea and went back in the kitchen. A bit later I came in and found Mrs.Jones in the sitting room with my children, who weren't opening or playing with their presents. They seemed very interested in her, and I could tell that she had persuaded them with one of her ingenious ways of begging for people's stuff and time. As I came in, she looked at me as if expecting trouble.

`Why aren't you opening your presents?' I asked my children.

`Auntie Jones and us are going to take them to give ...' one of them started.

`She was telling us all about ...' another of them said at the same time.

`But can't we even keep one?, Auntie Jones?' another pleaded. (I've got three children.)

`No. We agreed that. Caius'd never have kept one back, diminishing the gift, less help given than could be.' Mrs.Jones said firmly.

As soon as I heard that name from her Vedilius fiction that she keeps on obsessing and parroting, I knew what had happened. `What the $#@'s she been talking you into?' I demanded, `They're your presents, not hers.'.

`Get out!' I said, grabbing her wrists and shoving her out of the house, `Coming on here in a false excuse to pinch my children's presents by telling them your pet set of fairy sob stories. This is the day for happiness and forgetting day to day anxieties, but you coming filling their heads with nasty little torturing moral dilemmas, and when your hypnotism wears off they'll realize they've been conned out of their Christmas presents by a stranger.'.

`All those presents!" she replied, `All substance, no teaching of things that need teaching! Shoving me out like a stray dog, you dirty oversized industrial thug, like a wolf, which is ever so gentle with its own cubs and murders everything else! I was just explaining to your precious children the need to ...'.

`... see their presents that they've been looking forward to, sold for pence to satisfy your desire to meddle and see people losing things to satisfy your monkey instinct to be pack leader, for that's all it is at bottom. You called yourself `Auntie Jones', but you're no relative of ours, coming in scrounging and thieving. As Rudyard Kipling wrote, `Get to thy lair, Shere Khan!'!'.

She strode off down my path and slammed my front gate and marched away, talking to herself: `Agh! Another load of `pearls wasted on a swine'! I should've known better that to try at Captain Blowtorch's! I'd just got those kids talked round to my way of looking at things, when he stomps in and ruins everything. All those presents, the amount they could've fetched for my project. All those self centred little households that often don't want even their own grandparents or in-laws living with them. And he compared me to Kipling's nasty murdering tiger as bad as Ceolla! It's not to line my pocket. It's not to line my pocket. It's not to line my pocket.'.

My children opened their presents and started playing with them. `Those people that she talked about?' one of them asked.

`Then we don't have to take the presents to where she said to? But we promised.' another asked doubtfully.

`Well, I'm cancelling it for you.' I said, a bit roughly, `You keep all your presents. Forget her. There were no people called Vedilius. That story never happened. She's not a relative, just a local busybody and %$# cunning with it. Don't let strangers in or talk to them, whatever they say! I've checked, all our food's still there, lucky she didn't get around to scrounging all that to feed tramps or sell or some such daftness. She can't see anyone keeping something, but she tries to make them give it away. She's a pest. Anyway, forget her. Put all the wrappings in the dustbin liner in the corner, to keep tidy. Dinner at 1pm. See then what Aunt Mary (proper aunt!) brings.'.

And that evening she tried to scavenge the fag end of that forlorn hope by ringing us, but I found a `flea to put in her ear'.

`Hallo?' she said, `I presume you've forgotten your hasty words about what I was explaining?'.

`What?' I replied, `You've already spoilt my children's Christmas, or would have if I hadn't come in just then.'.

`All your precious compact little households. I was just explaining a few things that need explaining about the outside world ...'.

`They've been looking forward to Christmas and presents.' I said, `They've had enough last minute disappointments, with promised trips out rained off, and suchlike; I'm not going to disappoint them again at this time! All I know is that you tried to scrounge my children's Christmas presents.'.

`Very well, Captain Blowtorch,' she said, `enjoy your industrial false world made of iron and electronics instead of people, and your cosy compact little family household, while you may! Nothing lasts for ever! Out there there are ...'.

`... things that I'll tell them about when they're ready for it.' I said, and put the receiver down.".

[153] "Mrs.Jones this, Mrs.Jones that." said Optimus, "She's in her `eclipse phase' for the next several months, luckily. She stays at home and does nothing much. Brrrm!, the microchips! I'll send Wheeljack to install them when he's through his checkup.".

"They're brain chips for a grab dredger-submarine with an onboard recycler, like we make." said Captain Blowtorch, "They're the lot that had a narrow escape that time from the tramps that Mrs.Jones let into one of our buildings. They turned our dustbins out and then got the package the microchips were in when they pilfered round goods-incoming. We were only just in time to stop them from burning it for the fuel value of its wrappings. Those miserable scruffs soon found what our riotsquad gear's for, the hard way.".

"One of those tramps had a narrow escape himself, two days ago. Shockwave was clearing up rubbish and old junked furniture cleared out of derelict high-rise flats which were being knocked down." said Optimus.

"Those flats were a disaster." said Mr.Malton, "Anyone could muck about in the corridors out of sight of people and police; the lifts kept breaking down; people left rubbish everywhere; the doorman's office was hardly ever manned.".

"Anyway, he was clearing up what the demolition men were stripping out ..." said Optimus, and said what he had been told by Shockwave about what had happened.

Two days before, Shockwave, in vehicle form, went to the demolition site and was helping the demolition men by consuming on site much stuff that would otherwise have to be expensively tipped. He unfolded his right arm. Old mattresses, old beds, broken furniture, heaters and boilers and tangles of pipe and wire vanished into his grab and up the roofed conveyor belt running up his arm to his grinder, which with loud splintering and tearing noises reduced to fragments all those odds and ends that were part of the lives of people who had lived there until dirt and endemic petty crime and general nuisance drove them out. Now they were merely scrap to be disposed of. A television tube exploded in his grinder. Disease-laden fleas and lice and bedbugs found no blood to suck from his steel innards. A traceless end came to £1247 in old banknotes along with the old settee that it was hidden in. How it got there matters not to this story, for neither Shockwave nor the demolition men knew that it was there. The hard steel hydraulic powered grab squashed the settee enough to make it swallowable. A bulge passed up the conveyor cover to the grinder, which destroyed it. He transformed and stood up and used the suction tube on his left arm to clear an accumulation of small debris out of half-demolished rooms. Again he had no time to sort through it all.

Meanwhile, inside him an advanced type of `fuel cell' dissolved everything and efficiently recovered component energy and metals. It consumed many sorts of things: anonymous broken pieces of ground-up things; splintered furniture wood; paper; £1247 in banknotes and the torn remains of the cocoa tin they had long been hidden in; a diamond ring, long ago thrown across a now vanished room in a row and never found; lost keys and coins; dust and fluff and bits of plaster; all were treated the same. By evening he had taken in an impressive bulk of stuff; he finished breaking it down and dissolving it overnight parked there. In the morning, apart from purified separated metals, and water and carbon dioxide and nitrogen, only a little unoxidizable matter remained; certainly no unburnt or half-burnt run-off or fumes to cause pollution. He kept the `heavy metals' for re-use instead of letting them become pollution, and recovered much metal that had got dilutely dispersed among other stuff by the carelessness of men. In this case, he did not need the electricity output from this fuel cell, so he used it to generate hydrocarbon fuel from the water and carbon dioxide that it output.

"Two more shovels and a lot of salvage went last night. Night security say they saw nothing." said one of the workmen as they went home that first day, leaving Shockwave parked silently in the boarded-off site.

"I wonder if they'll have any better luck catching any of those nightly pests this night?" said another. They went home.

A little later five boys, four on bicycles and one on a 125cc light motorcycle, arrived.

"They've gone. Lets go in and do the usual." said one of them, pushing up a loose board of the wooden surrounding wall.

"We want quiet." said Paul Smith, who was one of them, in a `common' voice carefully chosen to sound rough and threatening, "You switch yer engine off and pedal, that noisy tinny smelly little %#$, or I'll $#@ to your dad what yer doing.".

"OK, OK, Paul, why can't I go to the pictures as I wanted to?".

"Never mind. Button it." said Paul.

They took their bicycles inside. One of them saw Shockwave and started to remark about `that funny badge on that purple tanker'.

"Button it." Paul Smith interrupted without looking at the `tanker', "Leave it. Too many alarms on cars and things nah'days, and people come runnin'. Leave the bikes be'ind this `ere junk'eap where nobody'll see `em. Then foller me.".

They obeyed. One of them had had other plans for that evening, but dared not disobey Paul.

"How come you can keep coming out with us?" one of them asked Paul, "I thought you were already on bail for that other business. It was in the local paper.".

"None of yer $#@ business." said Paul. (His father was on overtime, and Paul's mother thought he was at his aunt's, to get out from `under his mother's feet'.)

"But ..." started one.

"Orders, orders, like we were in the army, the bossy little unpleasant %$#." one thought, but did not say it.

"Try their site 'ut again." said Paul, "When we go to the -whatever-, I'll do any talkin' needed. No back-answers, or I'll %^%$ yer after ...", and broke off as a lorry engine started across the site and there were a succession of grinding and scraping noises.

"What's that? Get to the `Wolf 'Ole' and keep quiet!" Paul Smith ordered urgently.

[155] Shockwave's load had digested down some way, so he unfolded his grab arm and started picking up rubbish again. Old wooden furniture crunched up satisfyingly in his powerful rotary grinder, in the same way as when people like nuts. He also quickly disposed of a pile of old bedding; he had thought that he had cleared it all up in daytime. As the bedding reached the top of his intake, an eye that he had inside the entry to his grinder saw something. "Great Matrix." he thought, "The third one I've nearly recycled along with rubbish, and one day I likely inadvertently will, if I haven't already without knowing it. I'd like to, but some fleshlings may complain.". He stopped his grinder and folded its blades back to make a clear wide passage, which he pumped something through into his large object compartment. He would let the security men see about it in the morning. He got back to ordinary work. Removing a few more grabfuls from the junkheap revealed four bicycles and a 125cc light motorcycle. Nobody was looking, and he had no sympathy with people that mess about on sites at night, so he scooped up the bicycles and the motorcycle in his grab, squashed them into a cylindrical bolus, and swallowed them. Metal tore and spokes twanged as his grinder broke them down. "My first motorcycle. Smith & Malton's makes good machinery." he thought.

[156] The boys' `Wolf Hole' was a surviving corner of a large half-demolished ground floor room. Looking through a glassless window in the graffiti daubed remains of a wall, they saw with dismay Shockwave's large dirty scarred steel clamshell grab with a fringe of wheels and handlebars. The fringe disappeared inside, and a bulge went up its intake, and there were scrapings and twangings of breaking spokes. The boys now knew that they could not now get home in time to pretend that they had never been out. In his alarm one of them said so aloud. Shockwave heard and drove round the end of the wall and asked them what they were doing. Those words they had heard before, and their reaction was, as usual, to run away. But Shockwave stopped diagonally across the room corner, blocking them in. His right side faced them, and he waved his grab arm threateningly.

"Please. We weren't doing anything." a boy pleaded, looking frightenedly as Shockwave's purple-painted uncompromisingly mechanical high-capacity steel bulk.

"You lot!" the driverless vehicle replied, through no larynx of flesh, from a sentient brain made not of living cells but of silicon, "Nearly every night you or some lot muck about this site. If you've got nowhere to go, go home.".

"Only old stuff that nobody wanted." said another boy, forgetting Paul Smith's order for the rest to be silent in any confrontation.

"Turn those bags and your pockets out! I'll be judge of that." Shockwave replied.

"There's nobody in its cab!" said a boy.

"You with the red tie, where did you get that spanner? And other people have complained about you lot." said Shockwave.

"Transformer badge on it! Yet another of Werwolf Wer-nick's funny vehicles!" Paul Smith exclaimed, and lost his carefully practised threatening tone and started whining, "Please. Mr.Robot, let me go, I won't do it again, I promise, mummy mummy waioowh help.".

"Tools going, stuff messed about, site office rummaged - no more of it!".

"You don't know our names, ha ha ha hee hee hee.".

"I know one of you at least, bossy swaggering twerp who goes back to the baby in a tight spot. Not knowing your names doesn't matter if I've got you. A little trip for you scraplets. Not everybody can say they've ridden in Shockwave the Decepticon leader!".

"Don't tell my father, please, he'll ...".

"Too late! The builders don't drive their dumpers all over your gardens, so you keep off their site and leave it alone.". His grab arm extended fully and swung round. A few minutes later he drove away leaving nothing, for his suction tube had cleared up a dropped shoe and a school cap.

[157] Shockwave drove round the site perimeter inside the fence. A cat caterwauled somewhere near. Someone climbed the outside of the fence and looked over it, but saw Shockwave moving and backed off down. Shockwave thought that the night security guards would have seen that sort of intrusion themselves; then he realized that he had seen nothing of them, and wondered where they were. After some searching he found both guards in a hut in a sheltered corner.

"Oh here you are." he said, "No wonder thieves get in. Lets see what you've got here.".

"Er - what happened?" asked one of the guards.

Shockwave's left side was towards them. "Nice cosy little `home from home' you two've got here, `all mod. cons.', to do anything but keep watch as you are paid to." he said, and unfolded his left arm from its resting position down the side of his back tank. Successive accurate jabs of the arm's wide powerful untelescoping suction tube into and around the guards' hut picked up cards and money off a table, and interesting books, and two six-packs of beer laden with drunken sleepiness and lack of concentration, and warm bedding. A jab at a guard's chest accurately, without disturbing anything else, sucked up a portable stereo that had been drowning out night noises that the guard should have been listening for. Rattling noises passed up the steel tube and then up the wide flexible tube that ran from it into his tank. The two old mattresses were too big for his suction tube, but he sucked each of them against the tube nozzle and threw them over himself to his grab, which swallowed them; old cartons used for extra shelter soon followed them. This clearance revealed two helmets with visors, and two walkietalkies, and two pickaxe handles with wrist straps. Pointing at them with his suction tube, Shockwave said angrily, "And under all that dossing stuff there's your kit, thrown aside out of reach! What if intruders come? Never mind scruffy dossing in old cartons like tramps instead of patrolling!".

"Our stuff!" one of the guards complained, "It cost! Give it back! It's ours!, you - - Decepticon!".

"Ten-shun! Put your kit on! Then get on patrol!, you idle collection of gasket-blown spare parts." Shockwave ordered, "And you, blue shirt, swallow that slovenly chewing gum down and give me the packet!" he continued, pointing his high-powered suction tube at them threateningly, "Any moment you may need to be understood urgently correctly first time, and you can't with stuff in your mouth. Apart from that, gum chewing's a scruffy lazy dirty habit. And you, check shirt, put that fag out and give me the rest of the fags and the lighter. No smoking on duty! Never mind you sloppy-minded lot always needing to be doing something with your mouths! If you two'd patrolled properly, you'd have found the loose fence panel that those thieves kept getting in through! That stuff that you shouldn't have been using on duty cost less than the copper and lead and tools that I found on that lot that I caught among rubbish tonight!, that you should have noticed and caught while patrolling instead of idling in here!".

"Please, I've got expenses." one of the guards complained as they put their kit on, "Please don't tell about this, or my daytime boss ...", and stopped too late to avoid `spilling some beans' that he did not want to be spilt.

"Brrrm!" said Shockwave loudly and angrily, "Moonlighting, is it? Use this job as your dormitory to get your beauty sleep for your daytime job, is it? I'll see what your boss says. You're paid to patrol and be alert! I, a Decepticon leader and warrior, having to run about after you two idle skiving dormice!".

[158] He wondered whether anyone would notice or bother chasing up if five vandals and a thieving tramp vanished without trace, and then decided that letting the legal authorities handle the matter would create less trouble in the end. "Ten-shun!" he continued, "Batons on your belts, not for leaning on! You aren't that senile yet. Do at least the tail end of the job you are paid to do! Radio the police to come and collect six suspects, and statements. Then keep moving, on patrol. And don't slip out to buy newspapers to read instead of staying alert.".

One of the guards called on his walkietalkie for the police.

"Agh. That I should see the day when I am ordered about by a talking dustcart!" said the other sleepily, "(yawn) So what, the firm'll get it back from the insurance. (yawn) And I'll be sleepy and making mistakes in my daytime job. I need both jobs, I've a mortgage to pay. (yawn)".

"What the insurance pay, comes out of customers' premiums, which go up. And it still causes delays and loss." Shockwave replied, "Moonlighting cuts into sleep and causes accidents, and it gets found out. One fictional case that I heard of was when a hospital matron went to a cafe and the waitress that came was one of her nurses moonlighting. What if she'd given someone a wrong injection through being short of sleep?".

"Well!" said one of the guards to the other later as they boredly patrolled and repatrolled the site, "Into that thing's grinder and recycler without trace goes either this job or my daytime job!, after this affair, if the boss here starts checking up. Oh well. Good things don't last. Lovely having two pay packets a week. (yawn)".

"Walking round and round this place," said the other guard, "and my portable stereo's in that thing's stomach, so nothing to listen to but someone's shut-out dog, and a tomcats' concert, and distant traffic. (yawn) And it got all our beer also. (yawn) Nothing else to do or listen to till the morning birds start. Shouted at like I was in the Army. (yawn)".

A police siren sounded outside, and someone thumped the site gate. The guards let the police in.

"Five vandals for you. Please don't just call them naughty boys and let them go to do it again. We're sick of them." said a guard.

"Where are they?" asked a policeman.

The five boys had been pumped through dark narrow steel passages and found themselves in a cramped dirty steel storage compartment.

"Ooh - er - where am I?" asked one dazedly, relieved to find that he had missed the grinder that he had heard in operation.

"(yawn) I dreamed that a funny dustcart chased me." said another.

"Itch itch! And I'm too tightly wedged in here to scratch myself.".

"What's it going to do with us? Firms with fancy new equipment.".

"Not a dream! We're in some sort of iron tank! My pockets are empty! Something went through all our pockets to find our names.".

"It sent us to sleep somehow, to search us for clues who we are, and then it'll tell all our parents and teachers. Paul! It was your idea to come here!".

"I'm a (hic) reputable purveyor of shalvizhd mat - mateliar - I musht inshisht -" said a man's voice in there.

"Oh? And I've got some of his `livestock'! No wonder I itch. That thing tanked us along with some rubbish picking tramp that it swallowed along with rubbish that he was sleeping among.".

"'Ere! When we get out, you take your fleas and lice back!".

"If it lets us out! Help! Let us out! Mummy! Mummy!".

An electrosynthesized voice then spoke from outside the compartment: "You lot should have thought of that before you came on site thieving. I'll decide whether to let you out of me, or whether to ...". The police that came in saw a large flap door open in the side of Shockwave's back tank, revealing mechanism including a horizontal cylindrical storage compartment. A flap door then opened in the side of the compartment, revealing five boys and a ragged tramp packed in tightly - like frogs in a stork's stomach. "OK, you six, get out of me." Shockwave ordered, "In the small compartment labelled `3' is my statement on a length of printout paper, and their pocket contents.". The six, blinking at the daylight, climbed out and down over Shockwave's stowed-away suction tube and were shoved into a police van.

"Yes, that's me!" said Albert Smith to his son Paul Smith in Worcester police station cell corridor, "Me called out of bed by police for you again! You can't keep out of things! Already on bail for the drugs matter, and you start up again setting up your own little bunch! ordering other children around, stealing, lying to us where you were.".

"And I can't keep away from Trans-$#@-formers! Shockwave, now! Robots, robots!" Paul Smith moaned. The six were led handcuffed into the police station yard where there was more room.

"My son said he was just watching, not taking part, and up that thing's intake went his 125cc Honda and was ground up and digested." complained one of the parents who the police had brought or called for.

"Sorry, but the boss told me to." said Shockwave, who had brought the two guards and the daytime site boss there in his cab, "He - everybody round here - 's sick of kids, kids, like thieving picking monkeys. There's a new law coming out that says that parents must pay for damage that their children do, if the child can't pay. If they've got nowhere to go, they must go home.".

"I'm the site boss." said a man in a boilersuit and a safety helmet jumping down out of Shockwave's cab, "As far as I am concerned, hanging about on the edge of trouble's the same as taking part. When trouble starts, go right away from it and leave it, then you won't get blamed along with them.".

"I see." said the same parent, "Counter-summonses on the way. Our sons' bicycles against a huge inflated bill for damage that our children are supposed to have done, plus a fat rakeoff and interest and fee and administration costs etc. Forget it.".

"Oh heavens." said another parent, "I stopped thinking in terms of talking vehicles when ... If it's like that statement of yours says, no wonder your site boss was not very scrupulous about what happened to that lot's bicycles. Still doesn't stop that bicycle from being his, and not yours to gobble up like celery. He's been telling me he was going to a friend's.".

"And you were on a bicycle! Where did you get it from!? I took your bicycle to help pay for the rates money that you stole and gambled away that time! Enough!" said Albert Smith to Paul Smith, "One more lie from you, one more penny or item on you that you can't give a good and true reason how you got it, one word to me or to anyone in that threatening tone or manner of yours, and you get the same again! Now you're in trouble with both sides of the law! In future, keep away from people and other children - keep out of premises - keep your hands off objects! No more of it! I should have done this long ago!!", and thrashed him soundly.


AT SMITH AND MALTON'S

[160] As Optimus finished telling about those events, Wheeljack came in to collect Mr.Malton before going to Smith & Malton's to install the microchips. Mr.Malton had his own van to go back in, Jack Brown asked if he could go in Wheeljack to Smith & Malton's, and Wheeljack agreed. It was Jack's first ride in Wheeljack, and his first sight of a large heavy engineering works. Mr.Malton, well known as preferring function to appearance when the two demands clashed, had as his gate guards' standard equipment sturdy helmets with visors rather than cloth `official hats', and one-piece overall-type uniforms without lapels and jacket tails that can be grabbed, and a useful long stick hanging from the belt. They stood to attention for Mr.Malton, and knew Wheeljack, but asked him who that was in him.

"It's OK, I said that he could come with me." said Mr.Malton, and led Jack into a back room of the guard house to be quickly photographed and given a Smith & Malton's visitor's-entry pass and an overall and a helmet with the Smith & Malton's works badge on. Wheeljack followed Mr.Malton's van between the big tall buildings with people and loads going between them. Finally Mr.Malton got out of his van and put his backpack blowtorch set on and went into a building marked `No.3 Assembly Building'. Jack got out of [161] Wheeljack, who drove in after the two. Mr.Malton showed Jack a middle-sized rolling mill for curving steel plate, and told him to stand well away from under a crane lifting heavy oblong steel plates, and other things that are used to make things.

"How does the man in the overhead crane get down?" asked Jack, seeing its cab hanging over space high above machines and work.

"He takes it into a corner, where there's a ladder for him to get down." said Mr.Malton.

"Can't you park your car outside?" said a foreman wearing a heavy pack full of tools, "instead of it making carbon monoxious phew!!mes in here, and they tell us not to smoke - Oh, it's you, Wheeljack. What brings you here?".

"Microchips to fit in that dredgersub they've just finished.". said Wheeljack.

"Where's the ..." the foreman started to ask.

He broke off as another workmen came up behind Mr.Malton and rapped on one of his blowtorch cylinders with a knuckle and asked "Can Wheeljack help us lift something in the yard?".

"What?" said Mr.Malton.

"Can't you use your mobile crane?" queried Mr.Malton.

"It is the mobile crane's gone wrong and needs seeing to." said the workman.

"Complications, complications, things arising." complained Mr.Malton, "As long as it won't take too long. There's those chips to fit in that new dredgersub. And don't ring on my cylinders, that's not what they're for.".

"What, again?" said Wheeljack, "That thing keeps in going wrong. (Like those traffic lights by the library: three days ago they showed green both ways at once again! Brrrm! Time its electrics box was changed.) Oh well. I'll go look at it.".

"Impressive great thing, that dredgersub, I've seen it." said the workman.

Wheeljack drove after the workman to the place shown. Then parts of his sides came away as arms, and his bonnet untelescoped and split into legs, and his head appeared from in his car shape's rear end. Thus having transformed, he stood up.

"That mobile crane's the $#@ keeps going wrong." said the workman, pointing to it, "It's supposed to be serviced by a man from its makers, but we need it urgently, and you're here.".

Wheeljack unbolted its cover and looked inside. After a few minutes, he hissed loudly and said: "Is that all it is?! This control rod has a loose joint, I bet he, asterisk, tightens it down instead of securing it, after a time it works loose and makes the crane go wrong again and he has to be called again, repeat from asterisk as often as wished, getting paid for the turnout every time.".

"Oh is he!?" said the workman, "And telling us fairy stories about different things being wrong.".

"Aye, like that escalator in the shopping precinct. It was costing the shops in there a fortune, people fed up of having to walk up and down stairs with heavy bags of shopping, until they went to other places instead. Their repairman on callout kept trying that trick, until I serviced it instead of him and found what was going on. The escalator firm was furious, afterwards.".

"Could you play this back from your brain onto a videotape? Captain Blowtorch [= Mr.Malton] 'll be glad to know of this. He's not one to put up easily with outside men trying petty fiddles.".

"This crane should work all right now. Now I better go back to what I came here for". said Wheeljack when he had tightened the loose joint and secured it properly and checked everything else in the mobile crane. He transformed back to car form and took the workman to Mr.Malton to tell him what he had found.

"Oh, he's got that crane mended properly at last?" said a passing workman, "He still takes some getting used to, a talking car that goes by itself and can turn into a giant robot and back.".

"Once more, back to the matter in hand." said Mr.Malton.

"Where is this thing that you and Wheeljack keep talking about?" said Jack.

"It's in here on my right." said Wheeljack as Jack and Mr.Malton followed him into No.4 Assembly Building.

"Crumbs! What on earth's that!?" exclaimed Jack on seeing it.

[163] Inside they met a commanding-looking man wearing a naval-looking uniform and a small pack. On the front of his dark blue official hat was a brass badge with the words `Crabhaven Port Authority' on a circle with the shape of a lobster inside. He had a small moustache. "This is Captain Hurlock (RN retired), harbourmaster at Crabhaven, who ordered it. He'll be helping me to test it and to teach it a few things." said Mr.Malton.

"Well, Jack, what do you think of it? - or rather `him', when it's had its brain put in." said Wheeljack.

"Can it submerge?" asked Jack, "I wouldn't like to meet it underwater!".

"No, I dare say the boy wouldn't." Captain Hurlock thought, "As long as Smith & Malton's don't poke about our place at the wrong time when it's in operation - various uses for it, but one use in particular -- (Real Transformers, what next?) Well, the sooner their Mr.Wheeljack's done his bit, the sooner I can start testing it and tuning its mentality to our requirements, including - no need to bother him with all the details, as it is said."

"This particular style and size seems popular." said Mr.Malton, "We've had several enquiries about it, also -- Wait a moment, my walkietalkie.". The walkietalkie in its pocket beeped, but only Mr.Malton heard the incoming message, for it was connected to a deaf-aid earpiece in his ear for privacy - a feature that Captain Hurlock also used in his harbour authority's walkietalkies.

"Yet another lot climbing our back wire - one of them slipped your visitor's name out, then pretended it was something else." Mr.Malton heard in his ear the voice of the leader of a security callout squad from Assembly Building 3.

"At least these action calls make a change." some of the callout squad men had said as they left their work and obeyed the call. They collected their riotsquad gear and got into three vans and rushed out. "Mistlethrush singing." said the radio message (meaning that intruder alarm 7B was sounding), "Miss Muffet's talking to a spider. [= Mr.Malton's busy with a visitor.] Bo-Peep here. Send three sheepdogs [= vanloads of men]. Two round outside the hedge [= perimeter fence], one straight across inside.".

The squad leader briefly felt annoyed at the mental load of having to learning radio code for everything, forced on him by `earsdroppers' who listen to everything on the radio except authorized public broadcast channels, then he replied: "Lucky we've got three. One's just back from a dogshow [= from other duties].".

Two men, Richard and Stephen Simmons, walking along the outside of Smith & Maltons's perimeter fence, saw no danger, and climbed the fence. They had not got far up when two vans marked "Smith & Malton's" stopped behind them. Ten men ran out of each van as its sides hinged up. Their identical thick overalls, helmets with visors, shields, walkietalkies, pickaxe handles with wrist loops, cloth masks, and impression of trained readiness at once told the Simmonses, as others before, that without quick access to a fast vehicle there was no escape and little chance of taking home anything of theirs that could possibly be classed as `observation equipment'. They desperately tried to climb over - and a third vanful of men arrived on the other side of the wire. Richard knew not to attempt judo - at Smith & Malton's that sort of thing usually ended up with teargas or a throwing-net or an anaesthetic dart, if the culprit was lucky, else in a whirl of pickaxe handles inside a wall of shields. The two were dragged down from the fence, efficiently subdued, and thoroughly searched. Their cameras, binoculars, rucksacks, and pocket contents vanished into the squad men's packs. Each of the two was handcuffed behind his back and fastened in a chain harness between two squad-men, who thus had him totally under control while all their arms were free for any more action that might arise. So it was through the years: tramp, gipsy, tinker, hiker, naturalist, birdwatcher, industrial spy, thief whether singly or in a gang, demonstrator over `common rights', all were the same to Smith & Maltons's workmen when on security squad callout. The vans drove away; the squad marched their prisoners at a hard pace to a gate in the fence and straight across the back-land to the usual unintended destination of trespassers - No.2 gatehouse.

[164] "Lemme go." Richard Simmons moaned, "Jumping us two with three squads of uniformed thugs like the French riotsquad - can't I watch a few birds in peace now? OK, I know what you want: film out of my camera, my notebook. Then can I go? You aren't police with powers of arrest. My legs are turning to water, you making us march so far at your pace.".

"Tweet-tweet!" said the squad leader roughly, irritated by the common excuse of alleged birdwatching, "That's not what you said to your mate earlier! A microphone picked it up.".

"He had these on him." said a squad man, handing some papers to his leader, who looked quickly at them and said to the prisoners:

"Oh, I see you're more `Ready Spies with Powerful Binoculars', like that lot before who claimed to be in the RSPB [correctly = Royal Society for the Protection of Birds], all documents OK, very learned display of `ornate logic', so we let them go - and two weeks later two of them were in a bunch that tried to rob our wages van. `Get in there, see what they're making for Hurlock, photograph it, and scarper!', that's what you said!".

"Meaning that you're once deceived so twice suspicious. The word's `ornithology', you philistine." said Stephen.

"And the fancy climbing foot claws and the pliers, please." the squad leader ordered Stephen.

"They're called `crampons', they're mine" Stephen objected.

"And two gipsies nosing round that time, said they were nature-studying." one of the two squad men who Stephen was slung between replied, "Quit wriggling or we pull tighter.".

"And that fence you were climbing is ours. Your kit and no more lip, or we search you again." said the squad leader.

"This should be a public open area, it's common-land!" Stephen complained, "You fencing it off. Used to be rare plants on it. You running sheep on it to keep the grass too short for prowlers to hide in, never mind the ecology - who wants to study the ecology of the ordinary overgrazed sheep pasture?".

"But you would like to study the ecology of our non-ferrous store, `Korky the Cat', for that's what you called yourself last time when I challenged you and you scarpered on a pushbike. It fits, I suppose. Cats go after birds." said the squad leader.

"OK! OK!" Stephen admitted angrily, "Forced to run two miles slung between two highly-trained riot-equipped thugs. OK! We were looking in your works! I don't like at all the sound of some of the tales of some of the stuff you're making in here! If we start getting at Crabhaven what - your secrecy and riot-gear and pass-checks -.".

"Now it comes out! We make stuff needed for the world's future. Never mind having to ask half the world's opinion of what scruffy little short-term wants it gets in the way of, before proceeding, or nothing'd get done." said the squad-leader, and then to his men: "Photograph them, fingerprint them, let them go.".

"No, bring them here." said Mr.Malton over his walkietalkie.

"Sorry, but shall I go and have a meal while you're finishing this that's arisen?" said Captain Hurlock to Mr.Malton.

"Two men caught climbing my back wire to investigate what we're making for you, then they tried to pretend they're birdwatchers." said Mr.Malton.

"Tweet-tweet." angrily said Captain Hurlock, who had had his own share of outsiders alleging intention to watch seagulls or other birds as an excuse to infest his harbour or launch boats for unwelcome purposes, "Same as at my harbour, people nosying all over the yard and back-land on excuses. You better let me see those two, in case I know them.".

"All right. They won't be long." said Mr.Malton. A van drove up, and its side hinged up, revealing the two prisoners, each slung between two squad-men. Captain Hurlock approached the van and recognized the two at once. "You two! Trying it on here, pretending to be different things, like you used to at my harbour." he said.

"It's Hurlock from Crabhaven! I thought he was up to something!" said Richard in surprise and dismay.

"When I visit factories and why, is my business." Captain Hurlock replied curtly.

"I knew we shouldn't have come here! This place felt alive as soon as I touched the fence." Richard moaned.

"if you're so curious about my factory, try writing in for the usual brochures! Or had you spent out on spying kit, so you couldn't even afford a stamp?" Mr.Malton asked angrily, and then ordered the squad: "That's all. They can go.".

"Dump them at the usual, then back to seeing what's wrong with that horizontal milling machine. $%^&%, work interrupted by security callouts." said the squad leader.

It was the first time the Simmonses had seen Mr.Malton, often known as `Captain Blowtorch', and they felt no desire to get closer to his thick overall, riotsquad gear, and blowtorch with its cylinders on his back and look as if he had few scruples what or who he used it on. "Thankyou, Miss Muffet and spider! Don't think I can't decipher that junk you use as radio code! Expect a solicitor's letter about my kit that your men took!" he accused as the van lowered its hinged side and drove away.

[165] Who are those two?" asked Mr.Malton, "They seem rather concerned about something - unless their air of concern was a pretence and they were just two more industrial spies or thieves - or even real birdwatchers trespassing to birdwatch after all.".

"They belong with a group that pilfers round my harbour, and your new equipment threatens their `livelihood' - same as scrap-pickers don't like your new scrap-recyclers." said Captain Hurlock, not quite telling the truth, for he saw no point in trying to explain certain things to people who don't have to get a living from the sea. "Soon, soon, when this thing's been trucked to our port." he thought as he crawled about on the craft's rounded hull to where Wheeljack was wiring in and programming its brain.

Wheeljack said: "Here it leaves Wernicke's simulator for the real world, like that one they sold to Bangor port in North Wales that time.", and remembered how, at the beginning of real Transformers, Optimus's brain was taken off the simulator and put into a real functioning body in the real world, so that in the end Optimus made other real Transformers including Wheeljack, to try to get some of his fictional world and companions back.

Meanwhile Mr.Malton said to Jack: "One of those intruders they caught was right in a way! - this place is alive, sort of.".

"Oo-er!" said Jack, "Do you mean `haunted'? A workman in the building called `Millwrights' said that 200 years ago highwaymen did things - and witches tried to call up things and couldn't `put them away' afterwards - he had me scared! You look like you've the right kit to stop it! - `Something weird in the neighbourhood - who are you going to call? Ghost-bus-ters!', as the song goes.".

Mr.Malton swore briefly and said: "That Yablanovski in Millwrights and his ghost stories! Forget them! There's nothing there! What I'm wearing isn't a `proton pack' out of `Ghostbusters', but an oxyacetylene torch to heat and cut and weld metal. Which reminds me, I better start using it, I've got some welding to catch up with. Unlike some factory owners, I don't live in idleness on fat `director's fees'. Anyway, real Transformers are for me quite enough fictional-made-real. Ghosts can stay safely on the other side of the page and the screen, where they belong.".

"I knew, I was only joking." said Jack.

Mr.Malton knelt and started welding. "Look! Your poker's melting away." said Jack.

"No!" Mr.Malton replied, "It's a `welding rod', I'm melting it to make more molten metal to run into the joint like glue to set and join the parts together. And don't talk to men who are working, you may distract them and cause mistakes and accidents.".

"Sorry." said Jack.

Later, Mr.Malton said to Jack: "This factory has many security and condition sensors and videocameras and microphones in the buildings and open areas, connected to one of Wernicke's intelligent computers, so it literally has a mind of its own! which also runs the accounts and does much routine management. One thing we don't need many of is plushy offices! Over the years it's spotted all sorts from dogs chasing our sheep that we keep on our back-land to a tree wanting to fall in a gale (via vibration sensors) to one of my guard dogs scavenging instead of guarding to a noseyparker buzzing us in a powered hang-glider. Odd to say, I'm also the lord of the manor round here! I bought a farmhouse and its land to extend my factory, and I found I'd bought the lordship of a manor along with it! (Not the only time it's happened, a railwayman once became the lord of a manor when he bought a cottage to retire into.) (It doesn't give me right of command over people around though, since local government was made democratic last century.)".

Jack yawned. Mr.Malton said: "Time Wheeljack took you home. Here's some cold chicken from the canteen. By the time you've finished it, he'll be ready to take you back to Wernicke's.".

Wheeljack finished programming the sub's brain and transformed to car form and went to pick Jack up. "'Night" said Mr.Malton.

"What happens when Captain Hurlock's ready to take it away?" Wheeljack asked as Jack got into him.

"He's got an low-loader artic here. He sleeps in its cab each night, then he'll drive it to Crabhaven himself." said Mr.Malton.

"'Night" said Wheeljack, and drove away.

[166] Jack went to his room, tired after a long exciting day, yawned, sat on the side of his bed, put down the Smith & Malton's safety helmet with visor that Mr.Malton had let him keep, and switched his television on. The BBC news was on:

"... were hurt in a fight between vagrants and market traders over use of a covered area near Droitwich bus station. Police were called ...

The M5 northbound is blocked north of Worcester where a lorry shed its load of steel pipes ...

The Prime Minister is to visit Worcester ...

Now over to Bangor in Gwynedd [in Wales] for the latest news on the search for 12 scuba divers and their 2 inflatables that failed to return after a dive at Puffin Island at the southeast corner of Anglesey ... currents and deep water ... A spokesman for the BSAC [= British Sub-Aqua Club] said that this sort of incident is not typical, they were all well trained ... There has been an outbreak of sheep scab at ...".

He stood and stretched, and yawned again. "The usual assortment of doom and gloom. Can't anything cheerful happen?" he complained to himself, having some time ago realized that losing sleep over such events would help the outcome not at all.

The next item, about wildlife, sounded more interesting: "`Froggy would a-wooing go', or how the formerly `common' frog is threatened in many areas by shortage of suitable water to breed in. Over to Peter Hazelton from Birmingham University, who has studied the problem.".

"More disaster and woe, even with wildlife." Jack thought, "I may as well keep in touch with what's happening around me.".

Peter Hazelton started: "When my father was young, when he walked in fields he usually disturbed a few frogs. Now they're rarely seen. If their breeding water hasn't been filled with rubbish tip or polluted or drained, access is over main roads, or someone keeps domestic or ornamental ducks on it. Both are bad news: the one is bred far bigger than nature, and dredges everything up like a JCB in a garden; the other are wild species but kept in far greater numbers than would be in the wild, no foxes or winter food shortage, and the water is still dredged clean by them. And shortage of insects as food, due to pesticides. I am a scuba diver, and I can sympathize! (The first time the breathing set and flippers type of diver was seen in Britain, they were called `frogmen' from the flippers.) We get some of the same problems! Go to a known inland diving site, and it's usually being used as landfill to tip rubbish, or is polluted. Also more and more sea is polluted by cities' outfall or pesticides washed in from farmland, so no undersea life worth seeing. Or the local people fish the crabs and lobsters too heavily and blame us for taking them, same as the ancient Greeks wrongly blamed frogs for what was actually slug and snail damage to vegetables. At least we in England don't get what ...".

Nextdoor to Jack's former address, Richard and Stephen Simmons were watching this program also. Richard complained: "Oww, my arms still ache from being frogmarched by Smith & Malton's men - jumped on like cats on mice - them in army-style fitness and me not.".

"That man on the telly speaks all too truly!" Stephen replied, "People say we spread our kit about, like people blame frogs for waking them croaking in the spring and leaving slimy spawn everywhere it isn't wanted - `Froggy would a-wooing go' this item is called, how does the rhyme go on? Froggy has a party, routine anthropomorphized animal story kids' stuff - `a cat and her kittens came tumbling in' - we've had that bit, from Smith & Maltons's %^#^#*'s! He got away, `but as poor Froggy was crossing a brook, a lily-white duck came and gobbled him up' - I hope not! from what I know of what Smith & Malton's makes! New machines, new risks! All of a sudden, another silly idea is no longer silly! No longer a joke!".

"Same as computers that can think like men! They were only storybook stuff, until that man Wernicke in Droitwich made real ones!", said Richard, "Thieves, thieves, the knock-on effects of crime! If that lot hadn't been pushed into all that security, we'd likely have photographed that contraption and got clean away unnoticed!".

Stephen replied: "Same as there's no living for rag and bone men now! People used to save their meat bones, and get a bit for them from the man that came round and sold them to the glue factory for a bit. Now, burglars, burglars, so many people keep dogs as alarms that Fido gets most of the bones! But at least they can pick the tip - for now. Not if that purple mobile refuse destructor that I saw gets common: everything tidily digested and sorted into energy and metals for the well-to-do to re-use. Not only rubbish! They say that that thing once pumped its tank full of camping gear and luggage and instruments and disco kit when helping police to break up an unauthorized pop music festival that residents had complained about! - and it ground up and digested the lot without sorting it. No hope of getting any of it back off the tip! And I suspect that the same thing happens in the sea. Hidden by low visibility British sea water, anything could happen, and surface-goers and people ashore see nothing. Already, certain companies and people in ports are selling amazing amounts of granular oxides of valuable metals, that look as if they've come out of some sort of materials-recoverer. Watch out if Crabhaven also ...".

"So much for talking rubbish about rubbish." said Richard, "OK, metals need recovering, the mines won't last for ever. So far, so good. But what else is happening? Does Smith & Malton's know what's happening at sea, if what I suspect is happening? Those diver disappearances, a party here, an inflatableful there, not like the old days: `they' blame sea conditions. Some diving clubs are getting worried. `Jaws?' said one popular-press headline, speculating wildly! And it's already inspired one political cartoon.".

"No - no dangerous sharks big enough round Britain, luckily. Our sea's too cold for them." said Stephen.

[167] `Froggy would a-wooing go' finished at last, and the next item was football. Jack switched off, having little interest in the outcome of "22 men quarrelling over a ball", as he called it. He was thinking of going to see what Optimus and the rest were doing, when Wheeljack's big steel face appeared at the wall-hatch and said "Come and get it, chicken fried rice, ginger pork spareribs; cakey pudding to follow. No more visits from nasty night-ghosties, and no need to call the `Emperor's Frontier Guard', I hope?".

Jack was puzzled for a moment, then remembered the pun between "atishoo" and the Chinese for "Emperor's Frontier Guard" that Wheeljack had thought of while Jack was eating his first meal at Wernicke's while still suffering from the cold and flu that had caused the final crisis between officialdom and Jack's unloving real parents. Wheeljack had learned some skill in cooking Chinese food. "No more colds." said Jack, "Oh, I've had some chicken already, `Captain Blowtorch' [=Mr.Malton] gave me some - I'll have it anyway, seeing you've made it. How long before you finish Captain Hurlock's sub?".

"Two more days" said Wheeljack.


SHADOW IN THE SEA

Jack woke in the morning and saw that his television and other stuff were gone, was alarmed for a moment, then he realized that he was not in his bedroom but in Optimus's cab, where had gone to sleep while playing chess with him on his dashboard computer screen. "I dreamed about Smith & Malton's all night! Cor! what a place!" he thought.

"Wakey wakey! Rise and shine! Time to let me go to haul a steel mill roll from Dudley to Swansea. You filling my cab with Z's all night.", said Optimus.

Two days later, some of Smith & Malton's men and Wheeljack stood on parade while Captain Hurlock drove away in his harbour's artic cab with a flatbed trailer carrying a sheeted-down long bulky cylindrical load with rounded-tapering ends. Mr.Malton was there, very impressive with his thick overall and helmet, and canvas tool pouch on his chest, and blowtorch with large aqualung sized cylinders worn on his back with gas lines arching over his shoulders and down and up to a blowtorch head in a holster on his chest. "That's another off the production line. This model is quite popular. Thankyou for your interest. Bye." he said to Captain Hurlock over his CB walkietelkie.

"Odd. He also wanted certain design features that I can't see much use for if any." Mr.Malton thought, "Oh well, he pays for them, I make them. Still, something a bit peculiar's trying to surface in the back of my mind about them.".

"If that Mr.Wernicke's got it right, this thing should have no fake memories of `Cybertron' etc, to cause preconceived unwanted sympathies and dislikes and phobias that clash with my own plans for its personality - it's always worked before with these things." Captain Hurlock thought as he passed the Bristol turnoff. He reached Crabhaven late at night at nearly high tide and backed down the left boat slip into the sea. His load floated off from under the loadsheet. "That's it. You're in your own world now. Come back to the quay and let me get into your control compartment." he said to it over his radio.

[168] In the morning Wernicke's phone rang, and Optimus answered it. Mr.Malton replied, wanting Wheeljack. Optimus called him to the phone. "I may as well tell you that Captain Hurlock rang me to tell me that he got his load home safely.", said Mr.Malton.

"I'm all right. Our Shockwave [who as made real at Wernicke's transforms into a mobile refuse destructor, not a ray gun] won't be pleased. He'd just cleaned that waste ground near you when the funfair came onto it last night as I was passing. Just like he'd been told wouldn't happen!" said Wheeljack.

Mr.Malton said "What!?" angrily and rang off.

In Smith & Malton's building 4, Mr.Malton over the public address system suddenly called for attention and said "All personnel assemble at no.2 gate, except as needed for safety!". They obeyed, some reflecting that at other places it was the union, not the management, that called the men out; "but at least we're paid for these security callouts.".

The men pulled their helmet visors down and collected transparent shields and pickaxe handles, expecting anything from a trespasser on the back-land to a large armed incursion after valuables. (The previous call had been to a teenage gang fight on the back-land; it ended with both gangs in no condition to make trouble on the streets for a while, and a dumper-load of gang insignia and weapons and bicycles for Smith & Maltons's works destructor recycler to consume tracelessly.) At no.2 gate. Mr.Malton addressed his men: "Last month I told you that I and others had managed to pressure the corporation into cancelling the annual funfair on the Inkerman Street site. I regret to inform you that this promise has been broken. First thing I knew was when the showmen came and set up as usual last night. Nothing gets done without action - we march! Picket the site!".

There was a chorus of complaints in the ranks:-

"Yaah! My son 'ad 'is bike pinched there last year. And tools went in the night from my garden shed.".

"9am till 11pm, noise, litter, baby kept awake, too many dishonest slot machines like they stopped at Worcester that time! Someone speak with forked tongue!".

"Gang fights, drunks, pickpockets - we don't want the funfair!".

"Pity that my daughter's pretty little kids' story about three good little dolls enjoying all the fun of the fair, didn't tell about the noise and the mess and the dishonesty and the rowdiness! Children should learn the truth from the start!".

They marched to the fair at a steady hard rhythmical jogtrot of heavy boots on hard road, and without stopping first arranged themselves in rank across the entrance. They had such things as "Fair closed" and "Fair cancelled" and "No entry" stickytaped to their shields. Some of the showmen thought that they were official, and complained "'Ere, what's 'appenin'? They said we could come on 'ere.". But the rank stood firm and closed up. The rest of the squad men went through the fair. One broke into a hoopla stand and confronted its owner, who said "`Smith & Maltons' on your 'elmets: you ain't police, you're some bunch of workmen! We were told we could come on 'ere! Oi, get out of my stall - ooff!" as a pickaxe handle found his solar plexus. The squad man pushed him aside and soon found that hardly any of the rings could fit at all over any of the stands, except those with the very cheapest prizes on, and he said so. Meanwhile from the next stand came the sound of a similar scuffle and a voice saying "That's not wood, that's formica! No wonder the darts won't stick in over most of the board!".

[169] A woman led past a child, who complained "Mummy, I want to go to the fair - why won't the men let us in?".

"Because it's a bad place full of thieves. Keep your money for later." she said, and then asked one of the pickets: "Can I join your demonstration? We also were told that there'd be no fair.".

A showman approached one of the squad men and, trying to put on an important air, said: "I'm in charge here. I'm the local rep of the showmen's guild. We've been allowed to hold a fair here since Henry the 7th - royal charter - off or I call the police ...".

The squad man knew that this was random lying, but, pretending to believe it, replied: "Meaning a proper fair, where farmers sell produce and animals - if you are what you claim to be, at all!".

"Ha ha funny. I've a living to earn.".

"Try earning an honest living! One of you tried to take my son's bicycle as he was riding past, last year.".

"You lot wouldn't be so brave without your fancy riotsquad gear, you bunch of nimbies!".

"Don't you call me a namby-pamby! You couldn't shift steel pipe and rod all day in Goods Incoming!".

"No!, you ignorant stevedore. It's people who want something but `Not In My BackYard'!".

"I don't want the funfair at all! Theft follows you lot about like chicken feathers after a fox. You employ ruffians, you attract ruffians, you are ruffians. They provide rubbish skips, but you leave your mess anywhere.".

"Always the same accusations!".

"Only 3 rides, but 29 fruit machines, 11 stalls selling rubbish, 10 dishonest games. Off with you and stop cheating our children!". A policeman who had arrived, was content to watch, for he also had had enough of the funfair.

"Washing getting pinched off lines." said one of two women who had joined the demonstration.

"I'm in the Women's Institute. We also campaigned for the fair to be stopped, and I thought they'd agr--" the other woman started, but stopped as a squad man shouted "Behind our line now!, miss." and pushed the two women back out of the line with the side of his pickaxe handle, as gently as he could in a hurry. She felt annoyed, but the command "Prepare to receive enemy charge!" soon told her that she was safer out of the front line, as six showmen brandishing lengths of wood or iron ran at the picket in an untidy attempt at a 1-2-3 wedge formation. The leader of the wedge, one Higgins, reached the picket line just as a policeman pushing in from behind it said "To avoid serious disturbances, I am ordering all parties here to pack up and move on, now!".

"But we've only just unpacked our stuff." Higgins moaned.

"Move on! With or without your junk!" the policeman ordered.

"The nimbies win again. Time to move on already" said Higgins, and turned round to find that his five followers were some way away. [170] "Chickens!" he angrily accused them, "Try to charge-in-wedge with you jailbait! You stopped as you got near them! We better pack up and move on, without as well as with that cop running to a magistrate for an order.".

"Only 3 scruffy rides, but 29 illegal addictive fruit machines! They told us the fair was stopped!" a woman accused. By now more policemen had arrived; one of them recognized two of the showmen and told the pickets to hold the showmen there. Prowl drove up and transformed, startling many people. The showmen finally realized that further resistance was of no use.

"About time something was done about that lot!" said the woman.

The policemen and Mr.Malton's men quickly herded the showmen together against the high brick wall at the back of the site, and handcuffed them all. "I've been wanting to do this for a long time." said a police sergeant, "Now to get this lot photographed and fingerprinted, and correlated with petty crime reports in all the places where they've been recently. Now also to contact the traffic department to give their vehicles the full treatment, same as those tinkers last month.".

"Two of them are the same two gipsyish characters that we caught climbing wire near my non-ferrous store, and said they were after rare plants." said Mr.Malton.

Every year the teachers at the school that I teach at, have to warn the children about this place." said Prowl, who was in robot form standing high above the stalls and the vehicles.

The law's search of the showmen's vehicles and equipment was thorough.

"Two outstanding summonses on you, and jumping bail. Get in.".

"How long's that rear light been like this? And you're four months out of tax.".

"Untaxed fuel in a road vehicle." said someone examining a lorry with `Gordio's Gallopers' painted on its side.

"Licence for that television?".

"... serial number. This generator was stolen from a farm. Stealing or receiving.".

"Brittle stuff making sharp points and edges. This lot goes to the council's toy safety department.".

"There's also a council by-law controlling gambling machines.".

The law ran its course. The showmen's vehicles and stalls were taken to a pound. Mr.Malton led his men back to his works. Next year there was no funfair in that town.

[171] Mr.Malton put his welding gear on again and restarted work, thinking: "After that interruption, back to work! After all this publicity, some council officials won't casually `forget' promises just to get a bit of site usage fee.". He finished that job, then decided to rest for a while, since there was no point getting so tired that he started making mistakes. It was now late evening. He sat on an old mattress in a corner, leaning against a wall, still with his blowtorch cylinders on his back, and relaxed. "Captain Hurlock rang to say that his sub's working all right." he thought tiredly, "I've got two more of that sort of sub nearly ready, both with that same special set of extras as he wanted. Although I still can't see much use for them in its normal use. And that TV news item `Froggy would a-wooing go' keeps surfacing in my mind, for some reason. What does what in my subconscious want? People think of ducks as funny creatures, and they have inspired dozens of cartoon characters; then that program calls them destructive monsters.".

In his frogman's kit he swam on over the flat empty seabed. In all the long time underwater that his oversized two-cylinder aqualung gave him, he had seen no life except occasional scared fish. "The third time I may as well have left my lobsterhook at home. Nothing much here." he thought. "Nor here." he thought a bit later, "That TV programme was right. The common domestic duck is an efficient clearer-out of pond life, even fully-grown frogs and toads. Nothing but empty sand and mud.". He saw a shadow and looked up, to see a large duck reaching down at a fish. "One of the culprits, still trying to dredge something up." he thought. The duck caught and swallowed the fish while another fish got away. The duck reached down again with its long neck and grab-sized beak. Somehow it seemed bigger than before - far bigger. He swam away desperately along the seabed at his maximum unaided speed of 2 knots, but not long, for a high underwater cliff stopped him. [172] No sign of any holes in it. "Oh no! What biologists call `the eternal truth' -" he realized, "I've eaten much which came from the sea, so eventually - an interesting point to philosophize about - by those not directly involved!". Desperately he curled up against the base of the cliff. The duck, now as big as a small dredger, put its head and flexible neck under, seized him by one arm, hoisted him out of the water, and, with the easy skill of a routine job done many times before, pointed its head upwards as it turned him and swallowed him headfirst, aqualung and all. Its double-hinged jaws and throat easily distended enough for his greatest width across his chest, cylinders, arms, and inflated lifejacket. His trailing legs and rubber fins vanished inside its closing flat beak. A bulge went down its throat and disappeared into its body with an efficient-looking finality as it stowed the frogman away for processing. It swam on and continued dredging for anything else that it could find.

He found himself in a tight warm slippery place among dredgings and fish, too tightly constricted to reach his left shin to get his knife. He squirmed in vain as genetically engineered extra stomach enzymes started to dissolve the rubber and nylon parts of his diving gear - including his breathing tubes, cutting off his air. He felt himself head-up as the duck dived again. "Here it ends," he thought, "like when the numerous frog population of the Marple Lakes in Cheshire was tracelessly disposed of in three years by about twenty domestic ducks which someone let use the water. Except for a bit behind a dam which the ducks didn't find.".

His skin was now unprotected, since his rubber diving suit was now dissolved away except for its cloth lining, which felt somewhat like an overall. His aqualung felt different. The constriction around him changed. He wondered what in Cousteau's name was happening now - and he opened his eyes and stretched and stood up. He was in his factory, and it was 7.14 am. He felt uncomfortable after sleeping all night in his overall and welding gear. "No wonder I had an odd dream." he thought, "First time since I was a small boy that I've dreamed of being chased by a monster! And I've never actually scuba dived in my life! Agh, dreams! If that was an odd corner of my brain suspecting something and trying to tell me about it, why can't it tell me properly in plain language? Perhaps it was nothing.". He yawned and got himself some breakfast and went to start to help to mend the CEGB's centrifugal pump.

[173] The damage to the pump was bent and broken blades, which had to be built up with weld or replaced. He finished the job and telephoned: "Mr.Allithwaite? Mr.Malton here. We've mended your centrifugal pump again, but some time the blades won't take any more welding. Your men must stop running without an intake filter, expecting your pump to keep chewing up old prams and driftwood as if it was a heavy-duty grinder like in the dredgersubs I make.".

"I try to," said Mr.Allithwaite, "but the filters keep choking, messy job clearing them, if I'm away they're tempted to run without a filter. When can I collect it?".

"Next Monday. Not earlier - I've got a Ministry of Defence order being collected." said Mr.Malton.

He returned to helping to assemble a dredgersub's grab-arm. "Dddggg." he grunted as he lifted a hydraulic ram, "These are heavy. One more size 3 dredgersub grab on its way. I wonder who'll end up having it?". To fit some internal parts, he crawled into the grab's hollow inside through the hole in its rear that the intake-conveyor cover would later connect to. As he fitted the rack plates which push the grab's contents down the intake, he found himself thinking "I wouldn't like to get near one of these if I ever scubadived - grrr, that funny feeling trying to surface in an odd corner of my braincase - I wish it'd come out and tell me properly what it wants! Something about something that was in the news recently - oh, it's gone again. Lets get on with the work.".

He finished that job. Someone told him that the second of the M.O.D.'s two dredgersubs was ready for the last stage. He collected from a storeroom a strong metal box about 2 feet cube with many wires emerging from it. Holding it, he felt the usual feeling of life in his hands, for it was the sub's brain. He crawled into the sub's innards with it and fitted it, then telephoned Wernicke's for Wheeljack or someone to come and do his bit and program its life-instincts and personality into it. He remembered how he had held Captain Hurlock's sub's brain and personality in his arms before, and the narrow escape that some of its component chips had had from being burnt for the fuel value of their wrappings by a bunch of tramps who had pilfered round goods-incoming when someone with more charity than sense had unauthorizedly let them doss in an unused storeroom. "That callout squad from Toolmakers Department didn't spare their pickaxe handles that time." he reflected, "Never mind all that pitiful ink spilt by people whose own stuff was safe, trying to claim that a few scruffy little immediate wants matter more than the future, being generous with everybody's stuff than their own, and it's only the monkey instinct to prove dominance by putting someone else to loss that's at the bottom of it.".

He crawled out from DS2's cramped insides, stretched, and put his blowtorch cylinders on, reflecting that it was in the end better to keep stuff with him than to leave it and risk it being stolen or have to keep going back for it. Its cylinder pressure gauges showed over his shoulders, and he could read them in a piece of shiny steel plate used as a mirror - safer than long pressure gauge tubes to catch on things. Its gas tubes arched over his shoulders; the torch head was in a holster on his chest. He telephoned:

"Captain Buckley (RN)? The two G3 subs are ready for collection tomorrow at 10am as planned. I fitted the special equipment that you ordered, and the sealed components that you sent.".

"You say you're Mr.Malton. I was told that a Mr. - Blowtorch? - was organizing it." Captain Buckley replied. Mr.Malton laughed briefly and explained: "Mr.Malton here of Smith & Malton's - the men here often call me `Captain Blowtorch' because I spend much of my time welding and metalworking with one - the subs'll be ready as promised.".

[174] In the night two dark blue naval low-loader artics arrived and backed into the works. Next morning Smith & Malton's overhead cranes lifted the two G3 grab dredgersubs and loaded them onto the artics. Captain Buckley was there in person, in a naval uniform with much gold braid, and had mixed opinions about the ceremonial suitability of Mr.Malton's thick overall and helmet and chest pouch and backpack blowtorch instead of a business suit. "At least he looks like work and not like some smooth financial city type." he thought. He and Mr.Malton discussed a few final things while the loads were being sheeted over.

"I got your cheque." said Mr.Malton, "Two type G3 dredgersubs as requested. Where will you be using them?, so I know where to go if they need attention.".

"If they need attention, we'll bring them to Portsmouth Dockyard and call for you." Captain Buckley replied, "Oh, your computer consultant Mr.Wheeljack, you said you'd send a photograph of him, but your office sent a photo of a car instead!, a white Lancia sports car, to be exact, like that one over there. Just so that I know him if I have to contact him.".

"Wheeljack, show your other half." said Mr.Malton into his walkietalkie. The driverless car's bonnet lengthened and split into legs; its body half-collapsed; parts of its sides became arms; a head unfolded from its rear end; and it stood, about 20 feet high. Captain Buckley in astonishment forgot his naval ceremonial manner and gaped vacantly, then said startledly: "What in %^%^&'s name!? I've seen a lot of odd contraptions in our and other people's navies - it's some sort of robot - It's a Gobot!! Like my son's got in his toy box, but the real thing like in his videocartoons!".

"No. I'm a Transformer. I am Wheeljack." it said.

"About the same." said Captain Buckley, a bit scaredly.

"If there are any queries with those subs' onboard computers, contact James Wernicke. I live at his factory." said Wheeljack.

"Well!" said Buckley, "I was going to offer you a dinner out and a ticket to an opera - but your size and electromechanical -".

"And I'd fill the place with exhaust. It's good of you, though." said Wheeljack. A rank of Smith & Maltons men were standing to attention in rank in welding gear. "A very fine turnout you've got here." said Captain Buckley, thinking that it was an unusual place to find a guard of honour needing inspecting, and in unusual kit - for example, how could they "slope arms" or "present arms" a blowtorch head?

[175] The two artics with their bulky cylindrical sheeted loads left Smith and Malton's factory entrance and set off south. Captain Buckley left in one of them; Mr. Malton, at the gate to see them off, said to the Autobot engineer Wheeljack: "Well, Wheeljack, that's two more of them off, they're quite popular. You and Optimus have helped quite a lot with design features. Where they're in operation already, they're bringing in so much metals from old wrecks and old tipped rubbish that industry'll soon wonder how they managed before, having to import so much, and the mines getting shorter.".

Wheeljack replied: "They extract any metal in dredged silt, and turn any organic matter into fuel - often one of them can easily keep a small inshore fishing port in fuel!, like at Captain Hurlock's place.".

"Can you give one of my men a lift to the post office with some urgent parcels?", asked Mr. Malton. Wheeljack agreed. A Mr. Robinson came out of a building with some parcels and got into Wheeljack, feeling rather nervous, for it was his first ride in a car that literally had a mind of its own, in a brain which was electronic but able to think like a human's. Such things take getting used to. "There's now eleven of us." said Wheeljack as he set off, "We've had a new one for a week.".

Mr. Robinson said: "Unlike some firms, Smith and Malton's sends post promptly, never mind idly sticking it in internal post too late on Friday for it to get to the post room before Monday, who in their turn don't get it to the GPO in time for sending on till Tuesday!, like some firms do, and then with a second class stamp on so it takes several days in the post even within Britain.".

"Same as book publishers." Wheeljack replied, "If someone orders a book, it takes about 3 weeks to come from within Britain, and about 3 months to come from abroad! Anyone'd think they still deliver by packhorse and rowing boat. Once Optimus needed a book urgently, he waited a month and still no answer to enquiries, so he sent Laserbeak to Elsevier's [a publisher] in Amsterdam with the money in his cargo compartment; they brrrm'ed [= complained] loudly about disrupted procedure, but after some arguing handed over the book. Why can't they send books by return of post always?".

As they arrived at the post office, a small boy across the road said to his mother: "Look, Mummy! It's Wheeljack! I told you there's a real one of him!".

Mr.Robinson took the parcels into the post office and went home by bus. Wheeljack went back to James Wernicke's computer factory where the real Transformers lived, after James had made a real Optimus as a copy of the fictional Optimus. As he arrived, he saw James at the front door, wearing his riotsquad gear as usual (a habit which he had developed after a few scrapes with intruders), in a heated argument with a man and a woman. [176] The man wore a bowler hat. As he got closer, he recognised the woman as Mrs.Elizabeth Brown who Prowl had confronted once. The man was saying: "I'm Mr.Elliott. Since your Mr.Prowell's [= Prowl's] nosying into pupils' private lives instead of sticking to teaching, caused a chain reaction which led to me losing Mrs. Elizabeth Brown's plentiful able and willing help (she was an absolute tower of strength), I am wondering if you would care to contribute instead!?, so that we can afford the scenery and costumes to get our production of `Macbeth' on in time?!".

"You best talk to him." said James, who had much experience in brushing off unwanted unofficial callers. Mrs.Brown angrily adapting said: "Weary se'ennights [= weeks] nine times nine, may you and your tin cans [= robots] wither peak and pine [= be ill and unhappy]! My Keith [= her husband] gets caught, and at once sacked even if he does get let out, and he owed money and still does, which takes all my dental receptionist job pay, and I've got to go cleaning in the evenings to make it up!".

Prowl arrived; James pointed him out to Mr.Elliott, who, expecting a man, complained "That's his car. I want him.".

"That car is him, it's alive, a robot. I should know!" said Mrs. Brown, who remembered all too well her unexpected ride in him.

"What!?" said Mr.Elliott, who had not heard of such things before except in fiction.

"There's no getting away from `Macbeth', it seems!" said Prowl, "Not guilty!, why I had to interfere to help her son Jack and then tell the welfare. Then when Keith was in crime, shouldn't Sideswipe and Laserbeak and Jazz interfere, to protect honest people? Much of your stage money from Mrs.Brown was `embezzled' from her home budget and from her son Jack's upbringing!".

Mr.Elliott, anger overcoming surprise at being addressed by a talking driverless car, replied: "Can't people spend money for things outside the house?!, you alien wirebrain copied from children's stories! I've put so much into this play, and now it's kicked into touch because I can't afford adequate scenery!".

"I am called Prowl." said Prowl, correcting the wrong form of his name which Mr. Elliott had used. In the meantime two other men arrived; one of them said: "Why shouldn't she be asked to keep money for house matters first? Back at school we acted those plays without scenery, only a few props - like Shakespeare himself did when touring with his travelling actors who he wrote plays for. Enough of women using money and time on everything else when the household needs it!".

The other of them said: "We're Richard and Stephen Simmons, neighbours of the Browns. You got Keith who often drank with us, into trouble; you trade with that place Smith and Malton's whose $#%^&'s *&^%$#'ed us when we went over their fence to see what they're up to; Prowl stirs up mud asking Keith's son nosy questions instead of sticking to school teaching - do something in compensation, and give us and our scuba gear a lift to Crabhaven so we can look at certain things, and perhaps find what that Hurlock's up to.".

"Stir up mud?" said Prowl heatedly to the Simmonses, "If parents can't treat their children decently, teachers including me do have a right to interfere and bring matters to the attention of the authorities! When welfare people called at the Browns' door, you two kept ordering them off and telling them that Jack Brown was all right when you knew perfectly well that he wasn't. That Keith Brown indeed drank with you - spending too much money and time in the pub instead of on the household. An unpleasant character, who got entangled in crime and couldn't get out of it. Now you two want our help!".

James added: "I can tell if children are telling the truth. Jack told me truth. An irony and a pity it is that after seeking in vain for decent treatment from the warm flesh of his own kind, he in the end found love and comfort from cold steel and silicon! With us, his wants are consulted, he can criticize things, he can use the word `my', he has personal freedom, comfort, his own property and somewhere secure to keep it, access to books and the public media, warmth and a meal as soon as he gets home from school, and no nasty interrogations when a biscuit or a slice of bread disappears, and no locking up everything out of his reach! You two have been known to run tales to Keith about what Jack was doing out of the house, and saying that if you had any children, you'd treat them the same. Now you two come cap in hand for one of Optimus's people to be a free taxi for you on some scuba diving trip.".

Richard Simmons angrily replied: "Yes, we did back up Keith. We pay too much rates to support noseyparkers and interferers, till a man's children aren't his own any more, children say `my' this and that till they think they own it, and the law won't let us knock out of them silly undisciplined ideas that all sorts of fancy modern things are theirs by right, that schools fill their heads with instead of sticking to reading and writing and adding up and getting them earning quickly. Everything's gone wrong with society, and people answer back and won't obey. This stops now, starting with any children me may have in the future.".

"Excuse, you two." said Mr. Elliott, "I think we were here first. Macbeth. Scenery, cost of. Mr. Wernicke, how about it?".

"Other times I may have felt charitable towards the stage." said James, "But in view of the history of this matter ...".

"Ouh!" Mrs. Brown exclaimed, "You philistines! Us act on bare boards, like in the beginnings of English theatre, before people had heard of scenery!? Forget it, we'll get no good here.". She and Mr. Elliott went disappointedly away.

Richard Simmons, who had little patience for the stage, said: "Anyway, the play isn't as it actually happened. Macbeth killed Duncan in fair battle (look in a history of Scotland), then had a long and popular reign. No assassination. No witchcraft. Forget Jack. Jack's out of our lives now, thanks to all sorts of interfering modern laws. He was only a miserable whining $#% anyway. What I want to know is this: What's Crabhaven's harbourmaster Captain Hurlock want with Captain Blowtorch? What fancy equipment or whatever's he having made for him? I thought we'd convinced Hurlock that he can't legally stop scuba diving at Crabhaven. These traceless group disappearances of scuba divers that have been recently, make us uneasy. Bad enough with that illegal seaborne patrol that's been raiding divers' camps here and there, `arresting', interrogating, asking to see `diving permits', seizing kit, as if they were some sort of legal sea-police, with riotsquad gear, handcuffs, teargas, guns, training, the works. Oh well, they'll try it once too often and the police or the Navy'll catch them. The sea's everybody's, not fishermen's private property.".

"I see." said Prowl, "As it is said, you want `freedom and equality, but only for those now on or above your level'. Captain Hurlock tries to stop you from diving: you complain. Keith doesn't give his Jack a fair deal, you don't complain, but support Keith. That doesn't match. I see. To many people, `freedom for me' means `my own kind to get first choice of everything'. Anyway, if you want to nose about Crabhaven harbour like sea commandoes, that's your affair, and if one of us didn't take you to Crabhaven, you'd hire a car and go anyway. If one of us takes you, at least he can see what happens. There've been odd goings-on at diving sites recently.".

Inside, Ratchet was in robot form servicing Hoist, who was in his form of a green towtruck with orange lifting-gear.

"When'll you be finished servicing me, Ratchet? I've got another breakdown to pick up." Hoist queried.

"When I've been through the proper full procedure. Your winch clutch'll need new plates soon" Ratchet replied.

"Is our latest addition ready yet?" asked James, who entered leading Richard and Stephen Simmons.

"Yes. He's complete and alive. Optimus did his bit with the `Creation Matrix' computer program a week ago." Ratchet replied.

Ratchet, who had heard the discussion on `Macbeth', and in his ambulance form had seen enough shed blood, added: "In `fair battle', and how many soldiers on both sides die or are injured in someone else's quarrel?, leaving my human equivalents of the time to pick up the pieces. If I could choose, I'd prefer the play's version! One death only and nobody else hurt!, in that part of the story.".

Coming back to the matter in hand, Ratchet pointed to a yellow Volkswagen Beetle and said: "That's Bumblebee. He'll be delivering some parts tomorrow from Smith and Malton's to Captain Hurlock at Crabhaven, who ordered them. Bumblebee also will want to look around; `Captain Blowtorch' [= Mr.Malton] once rode in Optimus Prime and told him that he'd had vague disquiets about something.".

Richard asked doubtfully: "If that Mr. Malton is doubtful, why did his men jump us two like that? as if we were thieves.".

"You shouldn't have gone in over their wire!" said James, "Try writing or phoning in! Anyway, his `feeling' isn't anything definite. The more he tries to define it, the more it slips away.".

"Oh well, if that robot wants to scout round there as well as us, that makes three. When can he take us?" asked Richard.

"Tomorrow, 7.30 am from your house. I suppose you two know what you're doing." said James.


DANGER IN THE DEEP

[177] Next morning at about 7am, a yellow Volkswagen entered and stopped outside Smith & Malton's gate 2. One of the gate guards challenged it, for none of the men there had that make and colour of car - then he was more surprised when he saw that it had no driver. Then he remembered, and said to it "Bumblebee? You're a new one! Wheeljack told me you'd be coming. Here's the package, it's some components for Captain Hurlock at Crabhaven Harbour.". He put the package in Bumblebee, who drove away through back streets, past the end of the street leading to the old mansion where Mr. Elliott's drama group met, and reached the Simmonses' address. Next door, Jack Brown's old bedroom window was still boarded up. Richard and Stephen Simmons came out, wearing their rubber diving suits under their clothes to save time at the diving site. Richard sat in the front and Stephen in the back, each with his diving gear beside him, sheeted over from nosy eyes, and so they could kit up in the car where they would be less visible. Bumblebee got onto the M5 and set off for the southwest. "What are you suspicious of?" he asked as they passed the Bristol turnoff.

The Simmonses, as much as any other occasional passenger in Wernicke's real Transformers, were feeling some culture shock at finding themselves talking with an intelligent personality resident in an electromechanical body with no flesh or bone or blood or other living matter anywhere in its makeup, but they gradually got used to it.

"I don't quite know," said Richard, "nor does `Captain Blowtorch', it seems, although his men jumped us like that. BSAC [= British Sub Aqua Club] try to keep peace between scuba divers and local people at diving sites, after the inevitable minority of `cowboy elements' gave the rest a bad name. And the inevitable minority of people living by the sea think they own it. Something wrong's been going on in the last few months. I can feel it in my bones. That's why we've put these big perforated metal boxes over our aqualung regulators, to break our bubbles up small, so they won't be seem from the surface. They're called `diffusers'. They moan about the crabs and lobsters going, but it's not mostly us! It's too many of them at it at once; pollution (What pollution? No industry behind us! - Plenty pollution from pesticides and sheep dip!); too much inshore trawling scraping everything up; trouble is, once a bete noire, always a bete noire. Except in designated harbour and armed forces areas, no-one controls or owns land below high tide level in Britain. Many law cases have proved that.".

[178] They got off the motorway and onto the road to Crabhaven. Richard said "Not in the village. There's a cleft in the cliff to the left of the village. It's common land, so they can't legally stop the public. Leave us there, then go into the village and deliver your components. And listen for anything. Then pick us up again at the cleft at 4 pm.".

Stephen said: "We've had so many good dives here - this is probably a false alarm, but that Captain Hurlock turning up at Smith and Malton's - could be nothing to do with us, I suppose.". They got to a fork. The signpost said "right turn Crabhaven, left turn Dobbits Farm only.". They took the left turn - it actually also led to Dobbits Cleft, where a path led down a narrow cleft to the sea. Richard thought: "Soon once more to get you wet, my faithful old aqualung. The wife keeps moaning about me never being in at weekends for gardening or decorating, but who cares? Why waste good diving weather?".

At the top of the cleft, they got out, not noticing or not heeding a small blockhouse on top of the right rim of the cleft on the edge of the sea cliff. "On the way, lets see how much non-ferrous pickings left on that wreck. Should still be plenty to pay us for a good many dives." said Richard as he put his fins on. "Bearing brasses, portholes, that delicious great brass propeller! - oh yes, and a good few crabs and lobbies [= lobsters] - we'll see!" said Stephen as he put his aqualung on.

"Yes, we'll see." said Captain Hurlock to himself as he saw and heard them over a television monitor in his office at the harbour.

Richard and Stephen dived and swam along the coast towards the harbour. [179] Bumblebee drove to the harbour office, where Captain Hurlock took the package from behind Bumblebee's front seat, where he had been told on the phone that it would be. Bumblebee parked himself at one side of the harbour office to try to see or overhear anything, until time to go back to the cleft to pick the two up.

The two divers reached an old wreck, battered to a scrapheap by years of storms. They took what shellfish they found, then swam on, for they had to get to the harbour and look round there and get back to the cleft, on the air in their cylinders, without surfacing. They reached the left mole of the harbour. On it, they saw more young Californian giant kelp starting, descended from some that someone introduced illegally, and it spread. "It'll make diving more interesting - but it'll also drive out native species and clog boat propellers." Stephen thought, "Captain Hurlock may control the harbour, but he doesn't control the other coves and cliff clefts. Once round here to look for anything odd or suspicious, then back.".

Meanwhile Richard, in a rough mood, thought: "OK. So CRS [= French riotsquad] man Werwolf Wer-nick says that King Kong wirebrain Optimus says through his smelly diesel exhaust pipe that walking welding shop Mr.Malton thinks that Captain Hurlock isn't telling everything. We'll find out soon -- Oww!". His thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a feeling like illness and a loud high pitched noise in his ears. "Of all the times for me to start to have head noises." he thought irritatedly. Then he saw that Stephen also had his hands over his ears, and realised that the noise was real. They looked round in horrified amazement. Inside their diving masks their eyes opened to circles of white in their fear, they bit their mouthpieces hard, and suddenly all the vague disquiets and suspicions that they had heard of, cohered into all too solid visible reality that fitted everything. What they saw was ----

[180] At 3.30 pm, Bumblebee set off back to Dobbits Cleft, and waited there. Time passed. Land-type birds sang. Seabirds flew out to fish and came back. The sun travelled slowly across the sky. No divers returned. Time passed. He felt trapped, for he had nobody else to watch the cleft if he went to find a telephone to ask if the missing divers had landed elsewhere and to call the lifeboat if necessary - not knowing that someone else was watching the cleft. His bonnet lengthened and split into legs. His head uncollapsed from in his rear engine compartment. Parts of the sides of his chassis unfolded into arms. His body compacted roof-to-floor somewhat. Having thus transformed, he stood up. "Good thing Prowl suggested giving me retractable climbing claws on my fingers and feet." he thought as he climbed the side of the cleft towards the `blockhouse', which he had by now noticed. He left a crushed trail through the `Sally-my-handsome' [= mesembryanthemum] which grew all up the steep rocky cleft-side, but it couldn't be helped, for urgency compelled him. He switched his eyes into telephoto mode to scan the sea and the coastline, but he saw no sign of the two. On the blockhouse was written "Coastguard Lookout 7B (Dobbits Cleft). Private" - it was what he thought it would be. His left hand claws bit into hard wood and his engine revved as in his urgency he forced the door open. Inside he found assorted surveillance equipment and - a direct telephone line to Crabhaven harbourmaster and a coastguard. He hurriedly connected himself to it to explain the situation.

[181] "Hello? Coastguard? Harbourmaster?" he said.

"Captain Hurlock here, harbourmaster, Crabhaven." came the reply.

"I'm speaking from the Dobbits Cleft lookout. I'm sorry to break in there, but there's two people missing at sea.", he said.

"@#$@#$! Had to happen! All that equipment in there to `surveill' the cleft against smugglers and - those -, and some panicky civilian breaks in in a blue funk for a phone.", Captain Hurlock thought, but merely asked "What then?".

"Two scuba divers, went in here at 1 pm, due back at 4 pm, not come back yet. Both male, with two-cylinder blue aqualungs with a metal box on top, black wetsuits with dayglo seam strips, `Fenzy' lifejackets." said Bumblebee.

"Oh? Divers? We've had `Egypt's second plague' of amateur frogmen in recent years! spreading their gear everywhere, and nothing in the sea's our own any more! They'll have got mixed with some other bunch.".

"Well, they're still missing." said Bumblebee.

"OK, I'll tell the lifeboat to take a run up and down the shore and take a look, but I bet they're ashore somewhere and safe.", said Captain Hurlock reassuringly, thinking that it was a pity to waste the lifeboatmen's time but that it would serve as training for them. He continued "When it's dark, you may as well go home. What's your address?".

"Nicknamed `Bumblebee', care of Wernicke Computers Ltd, ----".

"Which I knew already." Captain Hurlock thought, "Trust him to know so little that he brings scuba divers here uninvited.".

"Thankyou. Sorry to trouble you. I'll tell you if they turn up after all." said Bumblebee, and rung off and left.

"Pity to raise his hopes," Captain Hurlock thought satisfiedly, "for I know what happened to those two.".

Bumblebee went home empty along the M5, reflecting gloomily on the outcome of his first real contact with humans, compared with his successful fictional adventures. "If they don't turn up," he thought, "two more scuba diver disappearances to add to a lengthening list - what's happening to them? I thought their clubs trained them properly. Two more `statistics', as the saying goes. Optimus said that `Captain Blowtorch' was having vague doubts that could be anything or nothing - him being a fleshling, Ratchet can't read off his brain circuitry synapse patterns and sort out properly what's lurking in odd corners of his brain. Else whatever it is might have been found out sooner, whetever it is that's bothering him.". Past the Bristol turnoff. Past the Worcester turnoff. Back to Droitwich at last. "If I hadn't taken them there - but they had dived so many times before without incident." he thought as he entered Wernicke Computers goods entrance and went to find Optimus to tell him what had happened.

"Not your fault. Don't keep accusing yourself. Wait a day for any news of them, ring Crabhaven again, then if there's still no news, go tell the police" said Optimus to him.

"They lived together, but nobody else with them except Richard's wife. They left their clothes in my bonnet. I've still got them." said Bumblebee. (His engine was in his rear end.)

"You better take them to the police then, as - lost property." said Optimus, himself feeling unhappy at the outcome. He waited in vain. No trace of the two divers was ever found. Captain Hurlock knew what had happened, but he did not reveal it.

[182] A BSAC meeting in BSAC headquarters in London was proceeding routinely. The chairman, satisfied that discussion on agenda item 3 had finished, announced "Agenda item 4. Diver accidents. Yesterday's report of two divers disappearing at Crabhaven highlights the increasing amount of such incidents. Concern is felt at the standard of diver training. I propose that we send people round the clubs to check the standard of training. Else we run an increasing risk of official restrictions.".

Another member said: "Something peculiar's going on. It may not be just bad training. There are always accidents, but - there are no more accidents where the casualty is found, than before. The increase is solely in disappearances. One TV news item about this, started with the music from `Jaws' (that shark film), which to me wasn't funny or called-for. Too cold for dangerous sharks anyway. Eleven divers disappeared tracelessly at Llanfairfechan [see 135]; twelve and their two inflatables at Puffin Island at the east tip of Anglesey [see 166]; nine off Porlock in north Devon. More and more divers are diving abroad only (Majorca, Eilat, etc) or crowding into inland sites. Any given incident could be explained normally, but so many together ---".

Another said: "There need be nothing more sinister than in the so-called `Bermuda Triangle', where many ships disappear simply because many ships cross it, and the usual proportion of them sink! Inexperienced dive leaders; ignorance of local tidal currents; petrol- driven on-site compressors set up the wrong way for the wind, so they suck their exhaust in; illness in the water; one gets into difficulties, and then ditto the rest trying to save him. Anything involving explosives or firearms'd be heard!

Another member, a Mr.Hilton, said: "That implies that guns go `bang'. Not all do! Spearguns and crossbows don't; and odd cases in the papers of criminals using a sort of silent electromagnetic-powered nail-gun called "Emperor Ming" - they've still not found who's making them ---".

"Belay the science fiction!" another interrupted, "I know nail-guns. Most are powered by special cartridges, some by compressed air. They go `bang'. They're wildly inaccurate except pointblank, for nailing wood. Our club solicitor in a string of prosecutions has largely put a stop to illegal actions and libellous propaganda by hostile inshore fishermen. Next thing, you'll be alleging that they'll take the transmitter part of a powerful sonar and put it in an aimable casing as an underwater ray gun! Back to reality!".

"Phasers on stun - beam us down, Scotty!" someone mocked, and there was laughter.

The chairman called for order, and Mr.Hilton continued: "Spearguns don't go "bang"! And, those `Emperor Mings' are powerful and accurate, and designed to look like electric drills, a grave security anxiety: `Electro Magnetic Powered easy reload or recharge Modified Industrial Nail Gun'; and with sonar: one naval anti-frogman trick was to ping the sonar at full power - quite enough to burst frogmen's eardrums and disorient and panic them. Very powerful ultrasonic beams underwater can kill or stun. (Sperm whales do it! The big sac of spermaceti oil in their heads focuses their sonar into a tight beam to stun prey, which is why they can catch agile fish with their clumsy big heads.) Also, even before this recent bout of casualties, there have been offshore from one secret Ministry of Defence base on the south coast, various diver disappearances, also mass deaths of fish, also divers who dived there and came back and reported hearing `sonic noises'. Underwater lethally powerful ultrasonic beam guns are possible, and probably exist now! ---".

Another interrupted: "Where'd fishermen get them from? Anyway, these anti-diver sweeps and searches would be seen and reported, and they'd end up in the Old Bailey; also they can't spare the time and fuel from their work for all this playing at antisubmarine patrols! They must fish!".

Mr.Hilton continued: "And the casualties would sometimes be found, but they aren't found, not even after the Llanfairfechan case which happened close inshore, and a large search party found nothing. (I know it's risky to dive in armed forces areas: they're supposed to send their own divers in to catch the trespassers, but (in the old days, especially) they'd often decide that's too much trouble, and instead throw a small depth charge in, and report it officially as an accident to unauthorized civilians trespassing on a training area.) Anyway, most of these incidents are nowhere near armed forces areas! Our seas aren't the Wild West yet. A few photos of the culprits brought back, and it's all over for yet another plot of trouble. That over, back to the point. (1) Article about not offending local customs where we dive; (2) Stiff circular to clubs about training standards, and in some lax clubs we may have to have tests re-taken; (3) Random testing of clubs' training sessions. Who seconds?".

Someone seconded, and the chairman went to item 5, which was about policy re advertisements in some publications. Discussion on item 8 drifted back to the group diver disappearances, until someone, to stop the repeating of points already raised, said: "Right? I take it we can discount rumours of unusual weapons and Get - Back - To - Diving? Nailguns: the industrial sort, as you said; the other sort, easy to cope with: make him waste his first shot, then %^&*%^&* of a time to reload, black powder, then nails and/or gravel etc, takes at least a minute ..." -

Mr.Hilton interrupted sharply: "That's a blunderbuss, it's a museum piece!! The sort I heard of, fires one nail, point first, spinning like a rifle bullet, as accurately as a rifle, silent, no muzzle flash or gun smoke. Once you've got the gun, you reload it from a hardware store, recharge it from the electricity mains, no need to buy anything which is illegal or needs a permit.".

The previous speaker continued: "Oh? And I'll believe in ultrasonic guns when I see one in a gunshop or chandlers or diving gear shop! Let's come back from the future! Anyway, they don't usually `try it on' near a lot of public, and they're too busy with work to keep patrolling against us, even without the risk of other water users noticing what's going on. Their chief enemy's too many of their own kind, and pollution. So - much - for - that! Item 9: "More near miss incidents between divers and waterskiers".".

The meeting continued, following its agenda, and finished unremarkably.

Two divers dived in a flooded quarry near Eccleston near Chorley in Lancashire. On the road down to the water, they saw that, after the last heavy rain which was two days before, a large articulated lorry had driven right into the water and out again, twice. A big area of bushes near the water had been hacked down to make room for it to manoeuvre. They dived, and found to their surprise that every bit of metal in the water had vanished, the old cars, the hut and the crane and the trucks, and the rubbish; and every bush near the water on all sides was pulled up and gone. They finished their dive and returned home.

[183] The disappearance of the Simmonses did not compete well enough with the doings of politicians and warring foreign nations for space in the public media, to prevent eight divers from Chesterfield BSAC from going to Crabhaven on a sunny day a few days later. On enquiring at the harbour office, they found Captain Hurlock (ex RN), the harbourmaster, uninformative and the inshore lobster fishermen silent and suspicious. They took the way of least resistance, a little way along the coast, to Dobbits Cleft, where a high cliff was broken by a narrow steep unmade public road down to the sea. They left their cars at the top, kitted up, and walked down towards the sea, little heeding a small `blockhouse' above the cleft. They talked in anticipation of the coming dive.

"Hallo? Something as big as a car's slid down here, crushing the mesembryanthemum. Pity." said one looking up to his right.

"Handy, this brook being here, to wash the salt off our diving gear afterwards." said one.

"This'll give me enough dives to qualify as a 2nd class diver." said another.

"Check:- mask? snorkel? 2 fins? weights? knife? depth gauge? safety helmet? lifejacket? compass? air turned on?" said their leader.

"Underwater visibility's about 17 feet." said another.

"Hopkins, take that diffuser off your regulator!" said their leader, "All our bubbles must be followable, for safety. Diffuser!? This is an ordinary sport dive, not an undercover mission!".

Hopkins reluctantly obeyed, for he thought it safer to dive with a diffuser, from what he had heard of some places. They reached the sea and put their fins on. Their leader gave them final instructions before diving, for mouthpieces prevent talking underwater. They spat in their masks to de-mist them, rinsed them in seawater, and put them on. One of them found that his mouth was too dry to spit, from an unplaceable apprehension, but thinking hard of a roast turkey got his saliva running again.

Two small fishing boats, CR24 and CR31, watched from a distance. "Whatever they want, they can't reach us where we're going." John the dive leader thought, "All those dirty similar fishing boats with their harbour codes `CR and a number' on them instead of names, look official and threatening, but ten feet down we're out of their reach; and if there's plenty of public about where we land, they daren't try anything. I've been running rings round Captain Hurlock and his kind for years, them claiming we take all the shellfish when the chief culprit's likelier to be there being too many of them for the fishing, and intensive trawling further out scooping them all up, and pollution. For a few cowboy types in the past, we all get blamed."

They entered the water and swam along together at about 40 feet depth, looking at the fish and encrusting life in the clear water of the southwest. While they were examining a small wreck, a shadow passed over them and there was a sound of boat motor. (Underwater the human ear cannot distinguish the direction that a sound comes from.) They continued their dive. Then a large but vague shadow appeared, like something big a bit too far away to see, to their left side, and not above them; it hung about for a while as they swam on, then it faded away, or they stopped noticing it.

They swam out from to the shore to a spot that John knew of, a sunken rock reaching to 20 feet depth sticking up from deep water. More shadows went over; more motor noise in the water. "Here they buzz us like Indians round a wagon train" Hopkins thought, "but ten feet down they can't reach us, and on shore among a lot of public they won't touch us.". There was a brief high-pitched noise in the water, and the underwater shadow appeared again briefly. Some of their heads felt funny briefly. There was a metallic clang from somewhere. John felt uneasy, and signalled to them to go back to shore. He looked back and counted: "me, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 - 7 - 7?" He pointed round them, held up 8 fingers, then folded one of the 8 fingers down, and pointed round again, then pointed up, to tell them to "surface and look round! One of us is missing!". The high-pitched noise came again; some of them briefly felt giddy. There was a metallic clang from somewhere, and a slight muffled scraping. In some foreign seas `pistol prawns' and fish with modified swim bladders make a great variety of undersea noises, but not so in English waters. The divers surfaced, and found there were only 6 of themselves, and could see no more bubbles. As John looked down, the unexplained shadow appeared again - becoming larger and clearer. Then it came nearer than the visibility limit and took definite shape. "Oh no! A lot more than ten feet down and they can still reach us! I hoped I'd never see a fisherman's boat code on one of those!". The boatman's walkietalkie in CR24, and a surveillance camera in the `blockhouse', had done their work.


SUBSTANCE TO THE SHADOW

[184] Meanwhile, having no connection with these other matters, two scuba divers, Kevin and Jim, entered the water just outside the eastern end of the part of the south coast made inaccessible by the Hiddleston M.O.D. establishment. As they were not averse to a little wreck and shellfish picking, each carried a large tool pouch, and had fitted large metal diffuser-boxes over the regulators of their oversize twin-cylinder aqualungs, to break their bubbles up small, so rivals or hostile sea-users could not follow them on the surface. They had round black full-face breathing masks rather like an air-pilot's, hiding their faces except for their eyes, and so could talk to each other underwater. Reports from other divers of hostile encounters on the surface led them to wear safety helmets, which they had painted black for concealment. They went down to 30 feet and swam westwards along the coast.

"I don't trust this place." said Jim, "It's been linked in the past in the newspapers and telly to dark rumours of chemical and bacteriological warfare research, and there've been demonstrations at the gates from time to time. What goes on here?".

"Forget it." said Kevin, "Whatever they do, they do on land. We aren't going to land on their property. People can't claim to own sea, or seabed, or land that the tide flows over, and it isn't a designated harbour area. Keep on.".

"I still don't trust it." said Jim, "They say in my club that a naval commander based here, and that Captain Hurlock at Crabhaven, have been to the same place in Droitwich to buy funny new equipment. Much gets leaked by tongues loosened by drink. And apart from this scare that's in the papers and the television about parties of scuba divers disappearing, there've been tales in the clubs for many years, offshore from coastal M.O.D. areas, of divers disappearing, and mass deaths of fish, and divers coming back reporting hearing strange `sonic noises'. If you ask me, they've got some sort of fancy underwater ultrasonic weapon, like a book I once read speculated about. What if we run into some naval exercise and get seen and dragged out by Navy divers, and arrested as spies? If we're lucky. In the old days, unidentified divers in naval areas often used to simply get a small depth charge on them, and the disappearance was blamed on `inadequate training of uncontrolled civilian underwater sightseers'.".

"Not now. Someone hears the bang, and the BSAC puts two and two together, and the civil authorities ask questions." Kevin replied as they swam on along the coast, "If they want to make this area restricted as a secret exercise area, they can do so properly and tell everybody to keep out, like the army area on Salisbury Plain. Probably there's nothing. There's a lobster in that crevice.".

Jim took his hook out and caught and pouched the lobster and two crabs, and said "I suppose so. But I still feel safer with us both using diffusers, so they can't see our bubbles. I'd still hate to run into a bunch of Marines commando frogmen on exercise acting exactly as if it was war, and out of sight of superior officers they `use their initiative' and take the course which keeps secrecy while creating the least subsequent paperwork, and go for their knives and trust that the sea'll hide the evidence. I don't trust sea off Defence-owned coast, even if they don't openly claim to control sea areas. Around here where they hope that civilian divers won't go, there may well be some of those secret underwater listening posts to listen for enemy submarines, that articles in newspapers about defence talk about. Declaring the area restricted attracts attention to the area, so they let the sea hide them.".

"Who's afraid of the big bad wolf?" said Kevin, "Same as that in the real world trawls are for catching fish, and things like gang A using one to catch unfortunate sport divers or gang B's divers in some dispute over sunken valuables, and out of sight in the fish hold doing dire things to them, belong only in thrillers and B-movies. You'll be telling me there's sharks next. You imagine too much. Let's carry on with one more perfectly ordinary scuba dive. The M.O.D. scientists in those labs do whatever they do on land, we look for wreck in the sea, no need for either to disturb the other. As far as I'm concerned, we're legally the same as on a public road going past an M.O.D. building, they can't touch us. Carry on with the dive and forget it. We're on holiday, after all.".

They swam on. Their pouches gradually filled with flatfish and shellfish and small non-ferrous wreck items. They came to a fishing boat which had sunk in a storm, looked at it, and swam on. Fish passed them. Fragments of broken sun started to sparkle above them as the overcast blew away at last. Jim noticed a vague shadow above them, as if something large was just beyond the range of underwater visibility, and said so.

"Only a boat above us!" replied Kevin, "It can't see us with our diffusers, that's what they're for. Keep quiet while it goes away".

They swam on, looking at the fish and the underwater scenery of kelp and rocks and many sorts of encrusting life, and at their aqualungs' pressure-gauges to see when it would be time to turn back. Each wave passing overhead washed them an inch or two to right and left. Jim stopped breathing and advanced carefully slowly with his knife drawn to catch a large turbot which was lying on a small `pool' of sand among weedy rocks, for its precaution in fluffing up sand to bury itself had failed to hide its eyes and the outline of its head. As he was putting it in his pouch, he noticed the shadow again, to one side and not above them, and too big to be a curious porpoise or seal. Perhaps it was his imagination, for it is easy to fancy things when looking endlessly at mist or its underwater equivalent. Kevin also saw it, and again, and had his own first feeling of unease. It seemed to get less; they shook their heads to unclutter their brains of distracting fancyings, and swam on. Jim looked at his pressure-gauge: ten more atmospheres pressure to use out of his aqualung before he had to turn back.

"Something big's been digging trenches here. I told you something was about." said Jim.

"Only grey whales. They dredge sand from the bottom, and filter the animals out of it with their whalebone. No danger to us".

"In England!? Not since stone-age men wiped them out this side of the Atlantic! They're only on the west coast of North America.".

They came to a strange artificial object on the seabed. Not a wreck, and not jettisoned cargo. It was a large steel and concrete box with various anonymous equipment sticking out, and a framework of steel bars around it to fend off nets or pots dragged over it by fishermen that did not know it was there. Kevin examined it for three minutes, with growing unease because the shadow had appeared again - and was becoming nearer and clearer. He looked at the installation again for signs of ownership, and said "I reckon I've found one of those underwater listening posts that you said about, Jim.". Hearing no reply but a metallic clang, a familiar enough sound made to attract attention, usually by a diver hitting his cylinder with a tool or a stone, Kevin realised that he had gone too long without the routine precaution of checking how and where his companion was, and, calling "Jim?" again, turned round. "JIM!!" he shouted in horror on seeing him.

[185] Near Crabhaven, John surfaced and shouted desperately "Dive and scatter! Make for land before that thing has us all!". He briefly saw CR24 and CR31, each with two men in cloth masks and crash helmets and identical dark blue heavy sailor's waterproofs. Each had a number on his armbands and on the sides of his helmet. #5 held into the sea a hand-held boat sonar; then he aimed it directly at John, who briefly heard a piercing high-pitched noise, then knew no more. Such is the effect of a high powered ultrasonic beam, for that sonar was a far from standard type. Captain Hurlock had learned much electronics in the Navy. The men with the `Hurlock sonars' found and fired at their targets as the two boats circled, stopping the scatterers. Two of the divers tried to approach the boats to surrender to them, but one then the other diver sank, and there were no bubbles from them. #7 put his sonar into the water, set it to `voice-modulated ultrasound' message transmitting mode, and said into it "We've finished up here. You clean up below.". All the other trails of bubbles, rising from regulators of aqualungs brought from Chesterfield in every expectation of a pleasant day's diving and return home tired in the evening, stopped one by one soon after. The sea rolled emptily over the place as it had for 8000 years. No trace of the eight sets of sea-hardy well-made diving gear, or their users, was ever found again, although men searched long.

"That's it. Back to work." said #7. Now there was no more risk of anyone using and losing a camera which another diver may find later, the men in the two boats took their helmets and masks and armbands off and went back to pot hauling.

What Kevin saw offshore from Hiddleston was a type of underwater craft which he had not seen or imagined before, except for what some newspaper subeditor's mutilating pen had left of an already unclear account in an inside page of his daily newspaper. It was a small submarine, about 40 feet or a little more long, about 12 feet thick, cylindrical with rounded bows and tapering stern, with no superstructure, but instead, attached to the front end of its roof, an arm like a long-reach excavator's, with two segments each about 12 feet long. It ended in two scoops closing against each other as a `clamshell grab', 5 feet wide and 7 feet long. As well as the usual powerful-looking apparatus of unconcealed hydraulic rams and pipes, it had, running along the underside of the arm from the back of the grab to the front of its hull, the tough flexible cover of an intake which presumably contained a rack-conveyor as well as allowing intake by suction. Its grab-teeth were firmly clamped across Jim's aqualung and chest, and his legs and right arm protruded from its grab. Such was his first sight of a Smith and Malton's `intelligent type G3 destructor recycler equipped submersible dredger', more usually called by a shorter name which in future years was to haunt the dreams of sporting and freelance commercial divers who had previously thought that hostile competing water-users and officials overfond of secrecy had no effective affordable action against them in disputes that arose - dredgersub.

From what he had heard, and what he saw now, it all too obviously could cheaply recover and separate metals even from dilute mixtures to pay for its upkeep, make electricity to power itself by consuming in a special type of fuel cell any organic matter taken in, even a few percent in sand or silt, or use the surplus to generate hydrocarbon fuel and oil enough for several fishing boats as well as for itself, operate for months without needing servicing, be used in the concealing sea as an effective traceless patrol craft by local groups of sea users against unwelcome competitors and by armed forces to keep secret installations secret, and perform many sorts of underwater work and searching better than divers can. It opened its grab slightly and jerked it forwards, then closed it. Jim disappeared inside except for his rubber fins projecting between its interlocking grab teeth. Kevin hid desperately between the installation's struts as the dredgersub shook its grab again and closed it with a hollow metallic "clomp" as Jim's fins disappeared inside. A bulge went along the covered rack conveyor on the underside of its grab arm and vanished into its hull as it swallowed the scuba diver as a pond-dredging duck swallows a frog. The cloud of disturbed sand started to settle back to the seabed.

Its grab was too wide to reach between the struts, but it could wait until Kevin ran out of air, or pull him out with another tool. That sound soon to be the most dreaded by divers, the muffled sliding clang and scrape of a captured `unauthorized' diver's cylinders inside a dredgersub's intake, was soon followed by air hissing as its internal mechanism released Jim's aqualung's high pressure contents into its engine air intake to delay its next need to surface and so it could safely grind up the aqualung for dissolving. Kevin frantically reached in his pouch for three things which he has fortunately brought with him. Desperately trying to keep cool, suppressing a foolish desire to attack its steel hull with his knife or speargun, he took out his underwater video camera and filmed what happened: perhaps he could get rid of the camera; perhaps then someone else would find it and view the tape, and tell the authorities what had happened, for now he guessed that inshore fishermen and others had been using these subs for a purpose not intended by their makers, to settle grievances against "poaching" scuba divers and others who competed with them for shellfish and wreck-picking. A copy of this videotape to the right MP; questions in Parliament; something may get done - perhaps, for it seemed all too likely that the armed forces also had realised the possibilities of these new contraptions for underwater patrolling. Typical armed forces guard mentality, to want to control everything and to treat peacetime trespassers the same as wartime prowling saboteurs, and to shoot first and say nothing if high command and the public were not watching.

As it passed him, he panned his camera across its rear end with its four hydroplanes surrounding a propeller, and the identity code DS2 and Smith & Malton Ltd makers' plate. That might let the authorities identify the sub one was. Seizing a chance, he let the camera dangle from his arm on its strap and took out two hand-held magnetic `limpets' which he used to pull scrap iron about underwater. He came out from between the struts, kicked away from them, and clapped the `limpets' on the sub's hull, about two-thirds of the way back. They held; thank Poseidon the sub's hull wasn't non-ferrous! As it suddenly sped off, he trailed from the `limpets', wondering if he could drop off unnoticed and reach land, wondering how long before he ran out of air he could last out as a fish-louse on the steel hull of a dredgersub which was running on electricity generated by digesting his companion in its fuel-cell along with miscellaneous dredgings as it in the national interest maintained secrecy of a secret defence installation which wrong eyes had inadvertently seen. The sea sped past him. At another time, with another steed, it would have been an exciting ride. Was it returning to base, and he would get nothing worse than arrest and imprisonment and confiscation of diving gear under some armed forces law? If this particular sub was the navy's, for the navy is controlled and authorised by regulations and is allowed to hold and try prisoners, but unauthorised gangs trying to keep the public away from their activities are more likely to ensure tracelessness. It continued, and once surfaced for air like a whale. Clearly `they' had discovered something which soaked up much oxygen like a sponge, and released it, at much less energy cost than compressing it into a cylinder. Yet another commercial and armed forces secret which the diving public would be glad of but weren't getting. How long before the public could buy aqualungs with that sort of air-storage? The sea still sped past. By now, he reckoned, he had about reached the further end of the M.O.D. area. As he went, he tried to film - any odd clue might help whoever found the camera and saw the tape in it.

A little later he saw ahead a wreck, which he recognised as the Cerberus, a freighter which had sunk in a storm some time before, and was by now much broken up by many subsequent storms. Could he drop off and hide among the huge jumble of scrapiron and pipes until the sub went away? He feared that it could see much farther by sonar than he could see by light-sight; this was true. He wished in vain that his steel aqualung would turn into a non-ferrous naval rebreather without bubbles or magnetic signature. As it neared the wreck, he realised that the worst was happening: it turned against a large projecting piece of ship's side like a whale scratching itself. Sharp wreck-iron cut his right breathing-tube and cut his right arm to the bone as it scraped him off, breaking his grip on his `limpets'. He desperately looked about. No hope of reaching land, but he saw a narrow cleft between the piece of ship's side and another piece of plating which had fallen against it. Thinking "We've seen a lot together and been through a lot together, my faithful videocamera, but now we must part. Do this last one thing for me, without me!", he unslung the camera from his arm and dropped it into the darkness between rusty steel and rusty steel. It fell two feet in and wedged, still running.

Kevin now could do nothing but desperately swim away to draw it away from the hiding place. Air trailed from his cut breathing tube, and blood from his arm (oddly, looking green, since no red light got that deep). His last hope of getting unnoticed to land ended as DS2's grab closed on his left foot. A pull back and jerk forwards, and its grab teeth closed round his waist. He fired his speargun and drew his knife in vain; a spearhead exploded harmlessly against DS2's steel hull as his diving-masked face and arms and trailing tethered tools vanished behind its closing steel jaws. A bulge passed down its intake into its hull as it swallowed him fins first.

DS2 returned to its home area and resumed patrol, listening to the sea's stealthy sounds and ultrasounds for unidentified men or craft as it dredged in sand and silt for organic matter and metals. In the little control compartment under its hind roof, Petty Officer Edwards, who thought it better for him to take action necessary to stop at source a breach in nationally important secrecy than for many men later to have to chase leaked information scampering like spilt mercury through the many channels of the sport diving organizations and the public media, saw no need to report the incident and get entangled in a tide-net of paperwork, as DS2's onboard grinder and recycler were destroying all traces of this action. Back in base when servicing DS2, he saw Kevin's `limpets', pulled them off, and threw them in the `confidential scrap' bin; they were later destroyed on site.As usual, he emptied DS2's recovered materials tank and sent granular separated metal oxides to the base's main storeroom. Of the two who had assumed the right to dive where they wanted to in the open sea, driven by the desire to wear impressive equipment and use it to explore what was to them unknown, and of their civilian sport diving gear of makes not authorized for naval or Marines issue and use, nothing was left.

CR79, a type G3 Smith & Malton dredgersub, returned submerged to Crabhaven. Its propeller, turning steadily between four rear hydroplanes, pushed it along a few feet above the sand seabed, unseen to surface trippers; its grab-arm lay folded double on its roof. A few fathoms of sea water hid a world where diving clubs' expensive expert solicitors and Westminster's laws saying "the sea is everybody's" were irrelevant. Stephen Bennett, solicitor, member of Chesterfield BSAC, winner of many law actions against groups claiming right to forbid or control public access to the sea, now found ingenuity with words and laws of no use in the court of force backed up by new machinery in the hands of men who had lost patience with the increasingly remote official law-makers and were enforcing their own laws made on the spot by themselves who knew their livelihood and its problems; for CR79 had pumped him together with his clients into its dredgings tank.

The air released from the aqualungs to empty them to make them safe to treat as scrap, let CR79 stay underwater for over two hours for a long deep dive where it picked up much of use to itself and its owners, as its onboard heavy-duty grinder and recycler started to consume eight shellfish poachers and their long-duration breathing apparatus and protective suits intended for what Captain Hurlock (ex RN) called "a nuisance sport instead of its proper use as equipment for necessary hazardous work in or out of water". Captain Hurlock lay satisfiedly in the little control compartment under CR79's hind roof as what he called "the symbols of uncontrolled sea-plundering sport diving without permit or order or official record of dives and their purpose", rubber flippers and masks and wetsuits of every shape and colour, weight belts, shellfish poaching kit, aqualungs of all colours although gas cylinder colour coding regulations specify for breathing air "grey body, black and white quartered top", all with exciting tradenames designed to make the users think they were important explorers, along with dredgings and driftwood and intruding outsiders' fishing gear - and other things - were being pumped from its dredgings tank into its recycler and ground up and used to power CR79 as it dissolved everything oxidizable including metal in a large `fuel cell' which produced electricity directly instead of heat, and separated any contained metals for re-use. Surplus electricity output was used to make fuel and oil, later to be used by his people's fishing boat motors. The metal oxides were later sent to a foundry. Eight more shellfish poachers and amateur Cousteaus would never return to their inland dens. "Thanks to too much brain in his riotsquad helmet computer expert James Wernicke and oversized wirebrain Optimus Prime which he copied into reality from unlikely fiction and more useful sort of cylinder wearer Captain Blowtorch [= Mr. Malton of Smith and Malton's], but without me telling them all the uses I and others have for this handy little make of sub, once I `tweaked' its electronic instincts a bit ..." Captain Hurlock thought when CR79 reported that its dredgings tanks and destructor and recycler were tracelessly empty. He took CR79 into port and went back into his office.

The public media reported another traceless group disappearance of scuba divers. People speculated about bad training of dive leaders, and food poisoning from a camp meal, and freak weather and currents at sea, and suchlike; some contacted Captain Hurlock as harbourmaster for help, and were told "I advised them not to dive here: there's a longshore tide rip that would have swept them into deep water.". Helicopters and police divers and others searched in vain; Captain Hurlock and his men went through an act of searching. The BSAC ordered a tightening up of training standards, particularly for dive leaders, and ordered many clubs to re-take all their diving qualification tests. Divers started nervously keeping away from the area as they had started to keep away from other areas. No trace was found.

Near Hiddleston, in a cleft between two pieces of rusty sea-broken plating in the wreck of the Cerberus, an underwater videocamera was wedged, with only a lobster as storekeeper in charge of it. As it fell, it had taken, unguided by man, some final footage.

[190] In their room in Worcester police station, an underwater search unit was watching news of this disappearance on a television standing on a packing case in a corner. Diving gear lay on the floor, and a photograph of fish hung on a wall. Most of them agreed with Captain Hurlock's statements and the reporter's speculations; but one of them started to growl like a suspicious Alsatian. Another, reflecting that it was true that dogs and their owners get like each other, asked him "What's the matter, Jim?".

"That Hurlock! I've met him! I don't trust him. Liar! There's no longshore rip current there! He looks like he knows more than he's saying." replied Jim, whose full name was James Melrose.

"You suspect too much! It'll be some mishap. If we're called to search, we'll go there.".

"I still don't like something about him. Next day off, I'm going there.".

In Wernicke's factory, James Wernicke and Jazz had nearly finished some control circuitry for the Gas Board. By "kneeling" on his hip joints which were bent at a right angle backwards like humans can't, Jazz could work on the floor or on a table intended for humans. Jack Brown who they were fostering ran in and said "James! Jazz! There's a policeman at the door for you and Sideswipe.".

Meanwhile the policeman, who was James Melrose, came in and found Wheeljack in car shape connected to a computer link which ran directly to his sentient electronic brain's cortex without need for a terminal with screen and keyboard. He asked him "Oh, hello, Wheeljack. Where's Jazz or Sideswipe? Just a few words about those characters that they caught. [see 135-146.] And where's Huffer?

"Jazz is with James." replied Wheeljack from his hind end where his robot form's head was folded away, "The boy - Jack - has gone to them, in the #2 garage. Sideswipe's in Leicester, delivering urgent goods. Huffer's just back from hauling a load from Cheltenham to Liverpool docks.".

PC Melrose, looking up at Jazz who was now standing fully upright at nearly 20 feet tall, wondered which of Wernicke's Transformers' alternate shapes took more getting used to, ordinary shaped but intelligent and talking vehicles, or `people' 3 to 4 times as tall as normal, made of steel, with car or lorry wheels attached to various parts of their anatomy, and asked him "Just an odd query about that bunch that you and Sideswipe and Laserbeak caught - their case is coming up soon at Birmingham Crown Court - heaven knows what the judge'll think, you having to go there as witnesses - and how to avoid you filling the courtroom with carbon monoxious phew!!mes ---" - PC Melrose finished that part of his visit, then went to find Huffer.

When Melrose entered, Huffer, who was standing upright in robot form, said "erh" preoccupiedly and revved his engine in slightly annoyance at being interrupted from thinking about something, then said "What?".

"Coo, Huffer," said Melrose, "You are a height. I don't often see you out of vehicle mode - will you be free on Friday to take me to Crabhaven? It's got to be you, the others won't `look the part' for what I'm going undercover as.", and felt thankful that he had been born in that part of the country and thus had the right accent.

[191] Huffer lay face down on the floor, unfolded his cab from behind his shoulders, and folded his arms behind his cab. Having thus transformed into his other mode of an orange two-axled artic cab, he asked "Why particularly me?".

Melrose answered: "For what I'm thinking of going as - Captain Hurlock's seen Bumblebee; Prowl shouts `police' all over; Jazz and Wheeljack and Sideswipe look too `sportsy'; Shockwave - no - going in a mobile refuse-destructor wouldn't fit; Laserbeak - hardly!; must be Hoist or an artic-cab, to look adequately `workmannish', and Hoist's busy; ..." -

"And so am I." Optimus Prime interrupted , "Another delivery run for Smith and Malton's.".

"Must be Huffer, then" said Melrose.

"Going in an ambulance wouldn't fit either." said Ratchet, "I better come along and stay in the background in case of anything.".

"That might be useful, Ratchet." said Melrose.

During this, Tabbins entered and waiaiowhed appealingly at Ratchet, who replied curtly: "Not now. You had some fish earlier.".

While Huffer unfolded his arms and put covers over his Autobot symbols, to look more the part, PC Melrose put on sailor's waterproof trousers, blue cable knitted sweater, wool bobble-hat, and a temporary new identity as Mr. Trerose, inshore fisherman. He got into Huffer, who drove out and onto the M5 southbound, and got to the harbourmaster's office in Crabhaven.

[192] PC Melrose got out of Huffer and entered the office and said "Captain Hurlock? I'm Mr. Trerose. I phoned.". Captain Hurlock, who was sitting watching a monitor screen, replied "Yes, you wanted some sonar gear.".

"What sorts have you got on offer?" Melrose asked.

"I'll take you to where we make them." said Captain Hurlock.

They entered a building. Captain Hurlock took out a cylindrical device about ten inches diameter and three feet long. One end had controls and a small screen, and a handle on each side, and a curved arm to hook over a boat's gunwale. He said "This type is D2SD, for use hand-held overside on small boats. There is also the D4SD, a more powerful directable side-scan version for mounting on the hulls of larger craft.".

"Um- how powerful can it be set to?" Melrose asked, "Say to signal a mile or two, if the other craft's got an ultrasound receiver?".

"Very!" said Captain Hurlock, "Careful there isn't anyone in the water at the time, as it can aim itself at any target at a preset distance. Yes, very useful ---.".

"Yes, very careful." said `Trerose', "Where I come from, sometimes everywhere you look there's a scuba diver - yes, I'll have one. I can pay for it now, we had a whipround in the harbour to get the price for one.".

"We've sold quite a lot of these. They're quite popular." said Captain Hurlock, "Yes, too many scuba divers. 30 diver-hours per day through the summer can get through a lot of our shellfish.".

"And they cover the beach with gear, and park cars everywhere.", `Trerose' agreed angrily.

"And they disturb people on the beach when they carry inflatables across." said Captain Hurlock.

PC Melrose paid for and took the D2SD, slung it on his back in its packing on a carrying strap, went out of Captain Hurlock's office, and climbed into Huffer's cab, relieved that he had managed to convince Hurlock, and glad to get away. After Huffer had driven a few miles, an urgent voice came in over his radio. "Skwaak! Ratchet or Huffer! A scuba diver lying injured at the bottom of cliffs a mile and a half east of Dobbits Cleft. I can't land just there.".

"Laserbeak! What are you doing here?" Huffer back radioed, somewhat surprised.

"Hedge-hopping [= flying very low] - best if they here didn't see me.", Laserbeak replied.

"Ratchet here. I'll go and look. I've got special gear to climb down." came in Ratchet's voice over the radio. Ratchet drove to the place. His rear split into arms and legs, his waist straightened, his head appeared. [193] Having thus transformed, he protruded his finger and foot claws and climbed down the cliff. Luckily the rock was firm. At the bottom of the cliff, a scuba diver was lying among the loose rocks. Seeing Ratchet, the diver's eyes widened in panic and he said weakly "No - it got my brain also - I'm seeing things - `Ratchet' out of my son's `Transformers' video cartoons!".

"No, I'm real. Somebody made a real copy of me. What happened?" Ratchet asked. Sounding badly scared and shocked, the diver said "We four went in at Dobbits Cleft and swam this way. Then I heard a boat over us. Then my three mates all went - ohh - went limp, and my right thigh suddenly hurt and then went numb, and now I can't use my right leg. I shammed dead till the boat went away, then I came to land. My mates? What happened? Don't ditch my kit if you needn't - it's been through a lot with me.".

Ratchet slung the diver in a net hammock across his back and climbed back up the cliff. "I don't suppose you turn into an ambulance like in the stories." said the diver, then "Wowee, you can!" as Ratchet transformed back and put the diver in his back on the left stretcher. Using two mechanical arms which hung down from his roof, he took the diver's gear off and put it on the right stretcher, then said "You'll feel better with a sedative - let's see - I'll get a bit further from Crabhaven, I feel uneasy about the place.".

"We've stopped - where are we?" the patient queried a bit later.

"A service station near Taunton." said Ratchet's voice from somewhere in his front, "Let's have a look at your leg.". The patient had no feeling in the leg, so Ratchet cut a small sample out of the damaged part and put it on a microscope slide, which he inserted in a slot in the equipment in his front. "What by Iacon's great dome!!" Ratchet exclaimed in amazement at what he saw on the slide.

"Mr. Trerose - I mean PC Melrose - " he radioed to Huffer, "Of all the unusual dangers to find in the sea, its ---" -

"Ultrasonic damage?" Huffer broke in.

"Yes!" Ratchet agreed surprisedly.

"Then it is as I feared." said Huffer.

[194] Ratchet took the patient and PC Melrose to Droitwich Hospital. The patient was put to bed. Ratchet transformed to robot form and looked in through a window. By now the staff there were used to seeing him.

"It's severe damage from powerful ultrasound received underwater, just like in that industrial hazard book I read!" said Ratchet. There've been a few cases." said the doctor, "Workmen putting hands in powerful ultrasonic cleaning baths.".

"But this was in the sea." said Melrose, still in his fisherman's clothes. I know what from - I better not say more. The matter's under investigation. And don't ring the harbourmasters or coastguards round there about it - I'll tell you why later.".

By now the patient's sedative was wearing off. "You mean, like sonar but a lot stronger? Risky stuff - my mates!?" he asked.

"Sorry - no point searching, I fear." said Ratchet, who saw no purpose in raising false hopes and delaying the inevitable news.

"Well, this one's new on me." said a scientist in a police forensic ballistics laboratory in Birmingham, "You've sent me a lot of different stuff down the years: sawn-offs [shotguns], rifles, pistols, etc, as expected; home-made guns; those `Emperor Ming' nailguns; flamethrowers made from fire extinguishers; crossbows and spearguns; but never before one of these! Ultrasonics! First to find enough water to test it in! Would the police sports centre mind losing its swimming pool for a few days?".

It was the scientist's first aqualung dive, and he was startled and alarmed to find how powerful and lethal an underwater weapon he was using, as well as a sonar's normal function, as he tested it on various targets. "Eeyow!" he thought, "These in the hands of every longshore and seagoing ruffian, no wonder scuba divers disappear! if they get near something that they aren't meant to see. `There's no such thing as a ray gun.', it is said, and now I'm using one, or nearly! The sooner the Home Office knows, the better!".

He send a telex to the Home Office in London: "New type of unauthorized powered offensive weapon available to civilians: types of sonar locater which can emit an ultrasonic beam strong enough to kill or stun or incapacitate men in the water including divers. (It is of no effect when fired in air.) Two models: D2SD (hand-held, to be used overside from small boats), and D4SD (more powerful, for mounting on larger craft). They can use their normal sonar to automatically find a target at a preset range, then fire at it. They can be also used as underwater loudhailers, and to send voice as a modulated ultrasound beam. They are being made in a building near Crabhaven harbour. One of our PC's went undercover as a fisherman and bought a D2SD, and was told that many of them have already been sold; also in Droitwich hospital is a Mr. John Harrison who has a severe leg injury (received while scuba diving at Crabhaven) consistent with high-powered ultrasonic beam damage. He says he is the only survivor of a party of four scuba divers who were probably fired on by such a sonar from a boat passing overhead. Correlate with previous reports of disappearances of parties of scuba divers? Home Office to classify this type of sonar as a firearm? They do not appear to be patented. Suggest legal maximum power to ordinary navigational / fish-finding sonars?, to prevent routine use as anti-diver weapons by fishermen to further grievances such as exist now. I suggest police take action necessary to prevent further spread of these devices including overseas. Are these devices an infringement (by independent duplication?) of some pre-existing naval patent? Message ends.".

In the Admiralty, a secret weapons officer, reading this telex, said several foul quarterdeck words and continued: "Another secret patent blown by some clever civilian independently duplicating it! Several dozen times a year we catch it in time: he patents it, we requisition the patent and order him to silence under the Official Secrets Act. We lost secrecy on the Exocet anti-ship missile's target finder, when a civilian duplicated it as a boat-navigater called Lokata. He patented, we took the patent, but they made such a kick-up in Falmouth where he lived, about wanting jobs making them, that we had to release the patent and let him produce them. And much work on intelligent computers for missiles etc went up the ^&*@#$% when that James Wernicke went ahead and produced without patenting. Aye, he knew, we'd have requisitioned the patent! So he went ahead and did the last bit which we hadn't wanted to do, and `gave life to the work of his hands', and published full details spilling every bean in the truckload in his book called ``Intelligent Computers' by J.Wernicke and O.Prime'! Bang goes secrecy in missile advances, in exchange for a real Optimus Prime charging about the roads, merely a celebrity and public event opener, and heavy goods hauler like any other artic! We need these ultrasonic beamers to defend vital installations in wartime against attacking or spying enemy frogmen; and we need secrecy preserved so the enemy isn't `forewarned so forearmed'. And somebody in some fishing port duplicates and makes them merely to defend crabs and lobsters and wreck-scavenging `rights'! And that survivor's doctor, Dr.Ratchett his name is, told him that it was ultrasonic damage, before I could clap secrecy on it and tell him to tell the patient that it was `bends' or distant explosion or the like. OK, so industrial safety literature knows of ultrasonics; and that Frenchman Diolé' who dived with Cousteau got angry about war spreading underwater, speculating on such things existing. But it isn't just the idea! It's the development work and testing - and after five years or whatever it is, out comes some civilian with the same thing. I dare say, as some suspect, that from time to time some sport diver gets too near a secret undersea listening post or whatever, and the base's commandant zaps him out. Else one photo and description in some misspellingy diving club magazine, and much secrecy goes down the plughole. But just to defend crabs and lobsters, bang goes the national interest.". He telephoned to pass on the bad news.


CAPTAIN HURLOCK ATTACKS

[195] In a room in Crabhaven harbour office, Captain Hurlock, harbourmaster, wearing as usual his naval-looking uniform and peaked hat, was addressing eight of the local fulltime and parttime inshore fishermen who he had summoned for another secret anti-poacher operation. They were wearing their usual assortment of working clothes. He ordered: "Right! `Information received' tells us that the `Benthic Saboteurs Action Corps' [his version of `British Sub-Aqua Club'] will send more amateur frogmen here tomorrow, to the wreck of the Eurynome which is marked on your charts. You know what that means, since it is in the middle of our best lobster area. You will stay here, sleep here in sleeping bags, and be ready for 7 a.m. tomorrow. All boat engines will be serviced with full fuel tanks, injectors and filters cleaned, and registration numbers covered. I have already got the sub ready. There will be no non-starting or poorly engines. There will be no matters arising or things taking longer. Is that clear?".

The usual chorus of ignorable complaints and excuses by men ordered to action, started.

"Just a pint or two --" Trelane started.

"-- will slow your reactions and loosen your tongue at the wrong moment. No!" Captain Hurlock completed, "You'll have to leave your inseparable bobble hat here for once, Trelane. We will wear helmets in case they try any rough stuff.".

"Rurrrh, orders orders, acts like he's still in the Navy." another complained.

"Something on the T-" another started, but stopped in time.

"-V?" Captain Hurlock snapped, "Don't mention that again! The worst time wasting addictant! It's by acting like a properly disciplined navy that we and others have made such inroads into the costly curse of Cousteau which eats our livelihood like foxes in hen runs! Already many of them stay inland or go abroad instead of meddling here. We've got 31 miles to go to the wreck. We sail at 7am, 7am, not even a minute later, and secrecy! One boastful tongue loosened by drink, and the law and the inland people have us like the dredgersub swallowing and digesting an inflatable boat that's been left here without permission.".

"But - milkman to see - I promised about some plants - it won't `take longer'." said Trelane tentatively.

Captain Hurlock replied sharply: "You're right, it won't take longer, it won't start, to get a chance to take longer! Your goat can do the `but'-ing. Phone the milkman from here.". "Your six-pack stays un-drunk in your pantry." he added, suspecting Trelane's real motive; then he ordered: "Jackson, ditch all unnecessary gear and fit both your outboard motors, side by side, in case any of them try a runner with a camera. Trelane, ditto. One day the Government'll realise our complaints matter. Any more queries? No? Right! Service your boats and kit; and no leaving the harbour till morning at 7am. Oh yes, in your sleeping bags by 10.30pm.".

Trelane was not pleased at having to wear a crash helmet and to spend the evening rearranging his boat instead of in the pub or at home. Having put his fishing gear on the quay, he went through the juggle of fitting two outboard motors side by side on a narrow transom, and finding room for 2x2=4 outboard motor petrol tanks. "Good thing I got Joe to make me the `siameser', to join the motor handles so the motors follow each other." he thought, "My head feels incomplete without my bobble hat. I better get used to the helmet. Bother all this. Divers are a $%#%^$#$, and so are the precautions against them. Well, this `rating' feels `called to the bar', and, given a summons, I must comply with it! I'm off to the pub, and never mind Petty Officer Hurlock!".

He did not reach it, for there was another watching than merely drink-corruptable humans. As he crept quietly away in the dark along the quay, he saw a shadow, then saw CR79, the dredgersub, against the quayside. Its grab arm was out over the quay in front of him, and Mr.Meols, the village innkeeper, was firmly held crossways in its grab. From the sub came a voice, from no larynx of flesh, from a sentient brain not of organic matter but of silicon. "You also think the pub sells engine oil, Trelane?" it said.

Caught at default, Trelane could say no more than a startled "What!?". The electronic voice continued: "As Captain Hurlock told me, take this `publican and sinner' off me and make him do his duty in his boat with the rest on operation tomorrow instead of skulking behind his bar moaning about us staying sober costing him profits.".

"Help, I've got barrels to connect up." Mr.Meols gasped, with his chest squeezed in CR79's grab.

"He said `flu' as his previous excuse." said CR79.

"I only came down to find when they'd be out of that meeting, and you overgrown steel dissolver of everything catch me. #$%#$% that teetotal Captain Hurlock and his unrealistic ideas." Mr.Meols gasped, "OK OK, you oversized wirebrain, you sound and act more and more like Captain Hurlock every time I see you. I get seasick. Service my boat by moonlight. Sleeping bag in the office. I know the routine.", he said as CR79 lowered its grab to the quay and opened it. He crawled out quickly onto the paving stones, glad to have had no nearer contact with the fate of local nuisances which legal means could not or would not touch.

"Take a seasickness pill, then." CR79 replied curtly.

Meols and Trelane went to their boats and followed Captain Hurlock's orders. The ten men got into their sleeping bags in the office. One of them thought:

"Tomorrow'll make known how much of their gear
their cared-for kit will come again
to Bent-Spire-Town [= Chesterfield] back by them taken,
their frogmen's fins, fond-loved aqualungs,
to Chesterfield after choosing path
of poacher-profit, pilfering lobsters,
selfishly the shellfish, or what will be seen at all
when sinks the sun, of cylindered horde ....",
and then slept like the others.

[196] He woke and stretched and yawned, saying: "Aaaerh, what's the time? Nearly morning on the day of another anti-poacher action callout. Law does nothing, so we must do it.

At Puffin Island [see 166] were pilferers caught,
twelve tank-wearers and two Geminis [= a make of inflatable boat],
th'aqualunged enemy's eager sea-steeds,
leaving no lobsters for our livelihood,
arrogant from inland, the air-backed ones.
There that evening were of them none left
to Conway to come to their cars again,
to their pier-famed place, with prey to Wigan.
Some sought to scatter: sonar found them
and silently smote. Nor let them seek to land,
but at unclimbable cliffs no escape they had,
but fate found them, flipper-dissolving,
cylinder-consuming, by sea waves hidden.
Let the scuba-lovers now seek inland ---".

"You and your poetry again, so soon at half past &*^%&^-knows-when - put a sock in it -" another complained, waking, "Errryawn - @[]#$ these action callouts, can't Captain Hurlock let us fish as usual? We better get up and dress and kit up and check our gear and get a meal, all by 7am.". They got up and dressed. Each put on heavy dark blue sailor's waterproofs with badges on, seaboots, thick cloth mask over mouth and nose, armbands with identity numbers, dark blue crash helmet with visor and with matching numbers on each side, pickaxe handle with wrist strap clipped to equipment belt, and transparent shield. They looked identical except for their identity numbers `1' to `9'. Captain Hurlock, who had `0' on his helmet and `commander' on his armbands, had trained them well to use this kit. After a quick meal, he called them to attention: "Now for action. Agh, all this need for secrecy and tracelessness. We can't do anything on the surface in near sight of inhabited land or other boats or ships that may query our legality and radio for the law. In the old days we'd have been called an `essential specialist group' and let police our own waters and arrest and try poachers and use weapons as needed, us who know our trade and its problems, not some impractical landlubber magistrate like the one we've got now, who himself scubadives. In the old days the Cornish tin miners could enforce their own laws, likewise the Forest of Dean coal miners - essential trades, the country needs tin and coal - and shellfish!".

"Aye, it'd have been easy." #4 replied, "We could have patrolled on land as well as at sea; if they have got a permit signed by you, then well; else overpower their surface-cover and wait for them to come up --".

"Or get them up in a trawl, as the Navy did sometimes when I was in it and sport divers got in naval areas." said Captain Hurlock, "The USA had diver plague sooner and worse than us, but we got it in the end, too soon.".

"My dog --" came the inevitable attempt to waste time, from #5 this time.

"No!" Captain Hurlock replied, "and things arise, and you miss 7am. The sub had to catch you before! Stay here!".

"-- and their diving gear ends up tracelessly in the destructor / recycler," #4 continued, "or we keep it for our own diving to attend to moorings and wreck picking; and themselves in the harbour lock-up until their relatives pay us expenses. Soon stop it. And any landsmen's police that turn up, have to stick to landsmen's matters.".

"Or use the sonar as an underwater loudspeaker to order them to surface and hand over their kit, or else." #7 added.

"Instead of which, we daren't do a thing if there's a risk of it getting back to the fuzz." said Captain Hurlock, "BSAC can afford the fancy solicitors, or there's one actually in their club. Enough of that. One last going over the plans, then to the boats!".

"Captain?" said #5 tentatively, "Sorry to sound silly or childish, but I've just had a nasty thought. A dream I had last night set it off. I dreamed of `Transformers' - like my son's toys, but full size and alive, and in particular of the orange artic-cab called `Huffer'. It may sound unlikely, but in Droitwich there's a man who's been in the papers, he made imitation real Transformers which are alive like your sub is, with a computer that can think like a man --".

"Where are you leading?" Captain Hurlock interrupted, impatient at the delay as 7am approached, "I know of Wernicke's Transformers, some of them helped to design the sub!".

#5 replied: "That `Mr. Trerose' - I realized this morning that his artic-cab was `Huffer' or a copy! If it was Huffer from Droitwich, then he was likely no fisherman but likely a cop masquerading - in which case that ultrasound gun is on its way to the fuzz or worse, and we'll get them here to seize your stock and declare them to be a prohibited firearm, and only for the Navy to use!".

"One leaked?" said Captain Hurlock resignedly, "Had to happen some time. There's plenty stock of them, plenty copies of how to make them, stashed in different places.".

#8, remembering something he had seen, said: "Transformers!? You sure? Some odd things nowadays? Then what I saw yesterday was real! I was at sea, I saw a big hawk, odd-shaped. Then it landed on the cliff-top, so it must have been much bigger and further away than I had thought, as big as a small aeroplane! Then a bit later, something like a man in white armour, but far too big, climbed down the cliff, just opposite where those last divers had been, picked something up, climbed back up to the cliff-top, turned into an ambulance, and drove away.".

"Laserbeak and Ratchet!" #5 exclaimed in alarm, "How many more made real? That better not have been one of those scuba divers got away! Else, him and `Trerose' better not put their heads together, or .... Too many seals about there, cluttering up the sonar images. Captain told them to be careful. #&%# divers. This callout'll cost me a day's bar takings, playing at sea-commandoes.".

`Perhaps one got away'! Now you tell me!" said Captain Hurlock in annoyance.

"All this drill and uniform." #8 complained, "I still prefer my good old bobble hat and sweater to this Buck Rogers outfit.".

"You know why." #5 replied, "Captain ordered helmets and riotsquad gear in case of rough stuff, and strong waterproofs. Many scuba divers wear helmets now - they're learning a few things.".

They stood to attention in line in numerical order, an impressive display in their identical heavy kit. Captain Hurlock, standing in front of them, addressed them: "Right! Now to prove that you miscellaneous bunch, having been knocked into a uniformed trained disciplined force, can, even with the need for secrecy, use your equipment efficiently to tracelessly dispose of our current plague, like a stork among frogs! No more complaining over drinks and then doing nothing! At the double, collect your kit, to the boats, start engines, and off!". [197] They ran out of the back door towards their boats - and found that it was surrounded by police.

"That's enough!, you `para-naval' thugs! Your reign ceases! This explains much!" shouted one policeman.

"This is the police. Stay where you are." said another through a loudhailer, "Suspicion of possession of offensive weapons, conspiracy to endanger life. You are not obliged to ...".

"That scuba diving magistrate sent them!" Captain Hurlock shouted angrily, "Charge in wedge through to the boats and away!".

Captain Hurlock's men formed into a close 1-2-3-4 triangle as a `flying wedge' with him at the point in front, and charged. They, toughened by years of work at sea, well trained by him in use of 3-foot-long pickaxe handles and transparent shields instead of idle television-watching in dark evenings, experienced in running on slippery quays, made short work of landsmen in ordinary street constable kit; short police truncheons beat in vain on heavy sailors' waterproofs and crash helmets. Policemen fell in every direction; their tall unstable antiquated helmets were easily knocked off. More policemen, who had been surrounding the other side of the building, ran to help too late as Captain Hurlock's men reached the boat-stairs and ran down them to their boats.

"Bye bye, P.C.Plod!" Trelane shouted, "Next time you stick to catching landsmen's thieves, and let us catch ours, since you can't or won't.".

"We'll soon stop them, our secret weapon's coming!" one policeman thought; and it came. A large vehicle drove up, and a heavy powerful jet of water hit Hurlock's man #2, who staggered for a moment but recovered, exclaiming "Watercannon! Ha ha ha! They know nothing about our life! I've had that for hours on end, on trawlers in storms, and kept at my post through it!".

"Little Boy Blue playing with the garden hose!" another mocked, "They've never been out at sea in bad weather!".

There was a wooden bumping as CR79, the dredgersub, with its grab-arm pushed five small fishing-boats against the bottom of the boat stairs. "The boats are OK!" it said, "They tried to tamper with them, but I'd pulled them out of reach! I tried to warn you that they were here, but I couldn't get a reply.".

"I bet the %&^*^ cops cut the phone wires." Captain Hurlock thought angrily. Two of them got in each of the five boats. All motors started first pull, and they were off and out to sea, away from land, away from landsmen, away from landsmen's laws and fences and buildings and pestering public, to a realm with had been theirs and nobody else's, till Cousteau gave frogman capability to pleasure seekers. "Yeehaa! We're off" exclaimed Captain Hurlock, "Stay at sea till dark, then land somewhere away. Perhaps even dispose of those rubber-finned robbers at the [wreck of the] `Eurynome' as planned! Overpower their cover boats and wait [for them to surface]. Soon those pilfering pleasure seekers will have seen their fancy diving gear for the last time!".

"You want a diver to catch? Look no further!" said Trelane (#8), who was riding with Captain Hurlock, "When we landed and raided that camp at Smew Cove and took their kit, I kept a set of their diving gear and I used it to lurk underwater at some of our pots that kept getting robbed. Along came some stuck up snob with his floosies in a `floating gin palace' [= large flashy pleasure craft]. He took away a limpet mine as well as lobsters! (I got the explosive from a friend who's a tin miner.)".

"Now that's the sort of scuba diving I don't mind hearing about! Good for you!" replied Captain Hurlock, who appreciated something that matched his naval past's rules as to the proper place for diving. They sailed on.

[198] "Forget the `Eurynome'" Captain Hurlock walkietalkied to the other boats, having second thoughts, "It's too much in the open. Keep inshore among the rocks, too shallow for any fancy naval patrol craft that may get sent after us - then we duck into Smew Cove and wait till the heat's off.".

"That's better." he thought, "The feel of the waves, spray on my visor, for a useful purpose and not pleasuring about, part of a team, whether fishing or defending our fishing, the open sea around me, far better than those years `jailed' as a gogglebox repairman in Taunton after the Navy had no more thanks for me after all my service for them, than to ditch me like a redundant docker merely because I became a year too old - till I moved here and started helping an old man with his fishing (his sons had both moved away), and he left his fishing area to me when he got too old to sail. Here's Smew Cove - and someone else has found it!". A scuba diver in full kit (as surface cover) was in an anchored inflatable, and other divers' bubbles moved about in the sheltered cove.

Captain Hurlock's squad went at once into a practised and efficient diver catching routine. #5 hooked a handheld `Hurlock sonar' to the side of his boat, with its front end submerged, put it into `underwater loudspeaker' mode, and said into it "You lot down there! There's ten of us above you! We can wait! Surface and put your kit in our boats! Enough of you lot!". The bubbles started to make for land instead of obeying. The squad set their sonars to `locate and then power beam' mode, at enough strength to stun or disorientate. #4 fired at one of two echoes which were fleeing together. It stopped moving, and the other merged with it and, as #4 and #2's boat reached them, surfaced as one diver lifesaving another. "Help - my mate fainted below." the diver started to say, then gave a started "What?" on seeing the squad's cloth masks and identical heavy waterproofs and helmets with badges and serial numbers. "Here's two more!" #2 shouted, then to the two divers "Your kit in my boat, you in #7 and #3's! We'll stop you poachers if it's the last thing we do!" as #2 and #4 dragged them alongside. "We'll have the law on you - I know the law, no individual fishing rights for ..." the other diver started, until with a hard punch #2, who had heard enough of landsmen's legalisms, replied "Law on who?, in our kit, you `barrack-room lawyer' lock-picking through every attempt by us to defend our living!". #2 and #4 took the two divers' aqualungs off, dragged them inboard, handcuffed their hands behind their backs, and looked for other divers to arrest. "There's our prosecution plea - in your inflatable with claws and shells on! We don't come raiding your stuff inland!" #4 added, looking at the inflatable where the divers' surface-cover man already lay face-down, handcuffed and stripped of diving gear, among scattered diving gear and an incriminating litter of crabs and lobsters.

Divers made for land but, as the water shallowed near the rocks, they were caught and dragged alongside by hand or boathook, clubbed, dragged onboard, handcuffed, and stripped down to their rubber wet-suits. Most of them showed little fight and wore nothing protective, not even helmets. The last diver, a thin-armed unimpressive office type despite his expensive kit and bulky two cylindered aqualung, was caught by Captain Hurlock, who, shouting "No you don't! More shellfish on you lot than I've caught all this week!", dragged him with a boathook off a rock as he started to struggle ashore. A lobster-hook and a large net bag of shellfish hanging from the diver's weight-belt were enough evidence that he was not merely an underwater sightseer.

"They're coming in like mackerel! That's the last one, I think. Now what happens?" said Trelane.

"You self-important sea-frogs! Now the duck's got you!" Captain Hurlock shouted. Behind the shouting and splashing and sound of fighting, two other unnoticed noises gradually became louder.

"What happens to us?" the diver moaned as Captain Hurlock's boathook pulled at his left thigh.

"Ducks lay eggs, what use are frogs?" Captain Hurlock shouted, "This time, if you give no more lip, we'll take your kit and put you thieves ashore without it and let you go without charging you.".

"You and your ultrasonic underwater stun beams---" moaned the diver, who had read about them in a recent newspaper account.

"#8 had the right idea!" Captain Hurlock said, "Keep their kit for ourselves, or some of it.".

"And eagles catch ducks!" the diver exclaimed, "You should have kept to fishing, not played at sea-patrol! Look up inland!".

Captain Hurlock and Trelane looked up, suddenly aware of a regular whup-whup noise and the whooshing of small jetmotors which had until then gone unnoticed behind the other noises. "It's happened!" Captain Hurlock walkietalkied frantically, "Those cops've called in the big stuff! Ditch them and their kit, and run! We can't fight this that's coming!".

[199] "Copters! And that jet bird thing that #8 saw!" #3 shouted in alarm, looking up.

"Return to Crabhaven!" one of the two RAF helicopters loudhailered as they swooped on Captain Hurlock's boats, "Do not scatter. We have orders to shoot if necessary. Naval patrol craft are also coming. Return to ---", and the message repeated.

"Skwaak! Let those divers and their kit go!" Laserbeak added. Crabhaven's self-appointed `Inshore Fisheries Patrol' realised that the game was up. They obeyed. "'Oppit, ballast! Go and finish your dive!" said #7 as he and #3 rolled a captured diver overside and threw his kit after him, then added "What can they do, except make a lot of exhausty wind? I've ridden out gales many times.", but soon learned what, as one of the helicopters came within four feet of his boat. "Ahoy aloft! You trying to tip us over with your landing skid?" #3 protested, but had to obey like the rest.

Arnold Peterson climbed onshore, his thigh torn by Captain Hurlock's boathook. Captain Hurlock and Trelane had not had time to pull him inboard and strip his diving gear off. He started to tow the other divers to shore. Most of the divers, until the helicopters came, had thought that Hurlock's patrol was official. Laserbeak stayed to help. "Ooh - my head - where am I?" said a diver as Laserbeak swooped and picked him out of the water. "I'll put you on land. Your head got bumped, I think. Help's coming. They've gone" said Laserbeak, and put him onshore and went for another. The divers recovered their scattered kit and put it on again, to keep hold of it. Luckily for the divers, Captain Hurlock's men had followed habit of training and had recovered all their handcuffs.

[200] "Keep going! Keep together!" one of the helicopters loudspeakered. The `patrol' had to obey. Captain Hurlock used his sonar for the last time, in message mode: "Affy! [= Aphanistor] Go! We're trapped! You're on your own now! I knew I couldn't get the authorities on our side!". They reached Crabhaven harbour, now full of police - at a guess, at least fifty of them. "So it ends as I thought it would." Captain Hurlock thought as he caught hold of a mooring ring on the quay, "At least I made a stand against matters. The law favours idle trippers above producers like us, it won't stop shellfish-poaching and won't let us stop it.". They disembarked. Captain Hurlock led them up the boat stairs. "That's enough! Up against the wall, you pirates!" said a police sergeant.

"No!" Captain Hurlock replied, "They are the pirates, thieving our livelihoods, and the law won't give us proper defendable fishing rights like idle inland pleasure anglers have!".

"Right! Names and addresses, and let's see what you look like without that fancy kit." said the police sergeant.

"Ten-shun! Number off! Zero!" Captain Hurlock ordered. His men stood to attention against the harbour wall in number order and each in turn called out his number.

"Oh no!" a policeman thought as onlookers photographed them, "Very impressive, trying to turn it into a public drill-display!".

[201] "Officer, he--" #4 started.

"No talking in the ranks! Dispute over jurisdiction with land authorities - I'll handle this." Captain Hurlock ordered, then turned to a policeman and said as if giving an official report "We found and arrested 8 unauthorized scuba divers and seized their kit - so many divers poach shellfish (like this lot were) that I have been forced to only allow scuba diving on permit signed by me - we had to release them when an RAF exercise that I was not informed about endangered us.".

"We'll give the orders round here!" the policeman replied, "You do not become an authorized patrol with powers of arrest and seizure and necessary use of force and weapons, merely by having a grievance and buying uniforms and weapons! Don't accumulate yet more charges! Assault - robbery - piracy - masquerading as an authorized patrol - you have no power to control others at sea, or on beaches, only to complain to the authorities.".

"We have complained to the authorities, and nothing ever gets done." Captain Hurlock replied.

"Probably because what you were wanting would have unfairly restricted others. If you think the law's wrong, complain to your MP.".

"I have, over and over again! They've no idea! Always townsmen's idle pleasure and sport comes before productive work.".

"If such as you had their way, there'd be no public access to any minor road or footpath or beach! For the last time, take that kit off, or we use force!".

"All right! All right! Visors up! Masks down! Better tell them our names and addresses." Captain Hurlock ordered.

"No. Take it all right off. Any more paramilitary airs and I add `threatening behaviour'. You're merely thugs acting in self-interest, never mind anybody else.".

"Where's the man in charge of you?" Captain Hurlock asked the nearest policeman sharply, "not some young rating sent by him. Oh, there he is over there, very comfy in that car." he continued, taking his pickaxe handle from his belt and pointing with it at a police car standing behind away from the men, "Tell him in the car with the `scrambled eggs' round his arms, that `inspecky' leading his men from behind, not doing his job and not letting us do it, to keep poachers off our shellfish! I see that one of you at least managed to electric prod him out of his plushy office to come to the place of action, like I had to do in the Navy various times to slackers and exemption claimers! Tell him to come to his proper place, in front of his men like me, and fight me baton to baton, if he's got one, if he dares!, since he claims to be leader of you lot.".

"For the last time, take that rig off before we have to use teargas to overpower you!".

"This is it, men. I reckon we've done much that needs doing. Take your kit off and hang --".

"--it up in your storeroom? No! It goes in this pickup of yours, to go the police station! Lets see who you are.".

"It's over! Dis-miss! and do as they say." Captain Hurlock ordered finally.

Captain Hurlock and his men took their kit off. A police sergeant listed it: "Checklist seized items (my turn to do this to you, for once): ten dark blue heavy sailors' waterproofs, each with a badge saying "Inshore Fisheries Patrol, Crabhaven section"; ten dark blue crashhelmets numbered 0 to 9; ten pairs of armbands numbered `commander' and 1 to 9; ten personal radios; ten equipment belts; ten pickaxe handles with wrist loops adapted to hang from those belts; ten cloth masks; handcuffs and other restraint devices; ---".

Captain Hurlock interrupted: "And I suppose that in court, you'll insult my men's uniforms and gear by parading some thin-armed court clerk in a set of it, to show some landlubber beak what we looked like in it! And then I suppose one set goes on a dummy in a police museum, and the rest is burnt with the drugs and the porn and the rubbish, or passed on to police bosses' friends for unnecessary pleasure sailing getting into difficulties making work for the lifeboat! We've lost enough fishing time lifeboat-rescuing weekend incompetents! Just like I've put a stop to round here! This is a working harbour, and I'll not have it choked with trippers!".

The police sergeant replied: "You respect your rigout? In the same way those scuba divers that you `arrested' today respected and cherished their gear, which they were doing nothing illegal with ---".

"Except nonstop thieving our shellfish, which are our living and merely their idle fun." Captain Hurlock interrupted.

The sergeant continued: "--- A good thing that robot bird thing `Laserbeak' saw you and led those copters here, else eight more divers disappearing to blame on bad leaders or weather. Now - lets see who you lot are, you self appointed tinpot mini navy:-

#0: commander - you, Captain Hurlock (ex RN), harbourmaster here. Been exceeding your powers rather? This is a public harbour, and if scuba divers and trippers want to use it, they can. Another time, another place, and you lot's leadership and discipline and toughness and efficiency might have got you recognised as an official body, but not here.
#1: Mr.T.Robinson, inshore fisherman.
#2 and #3: John and Peter, his sons.
#4: Mr.Nick Mickelson, inshore fisherman.
#5: Mr.Meols, the innkeeper. You must be an enthusiastic sea-patrol member to keep missing bar time to train and go on action!
#6: You! Detective-Constable Polwerran! So this is the `bit of inshore fishing' that you do in your spare time! Not much action here like in the Flying Squad or the French CRS, so you look for it elsewhere!
#7: Mr.K.Walton,
#8: Mr.H.Trelane, both inshore fishermen.
#9: Mr.Z.Penlane, keeper of the harbour shop.

All willing and able to get the best out of good equipment (including these underwater antipersonnel (and anti-seals and -sharks, you'd claim, I suppose) ultrasonic guns), without being so mentally dependent on it that you can't operate without it. Pity - in a war you might have been useful! Trouble is, this is peacetime, with legal sporting scuba divers and not enemy frogmen. Enough of this. Separate and get into our vans as we order you.".

"Not just them we have to go out against" Captain Hurlock replied, "Three weeks ago, 3 inflatablefuls of so-called birdwatchers hauled and emptied every one of our pots from Dobbits to Black Rock Head! They won't do that again in a hurry. They got home, with no help from us, but their boats didn't.".

[202] Captain Hurlock and his men were pushed into police vans and taken away. Their kit was loaded into the harbour pickup truck and tied down; a policeman got in and drove it, leading the vans. "I wonder where Hurlock's fancy great dredgersub is? No sign of it in the harbour." said one of the police van drivers as they drove away.

"Next step is a lot of nosy reporters round, I suppose." said one of the remaining men of the village.

"Ten men gone. I don't suppose they'll be bailed. Who'll take the boats out? What on earth's been going on? He never told me." said one village woman to another.

At Smew Cove, Towcester BSAC's divers had collected their scattered diving gear and put it on again and were sitting about on rocks recovering from the sudden assault. "Phew, what was all that!?" said one.

"Efficient squad of thugs they were. I thought they were some sort of new sea police, till they dumped us and scarpered when those helicopters arrived." said another.

"Lucky that hawk plane thing arrived, or I reckon we'd be 8 more statistics." said one, in their inflatable looking for spilt gear.

"Wow! Those sonar stunners! Just like that article in the BSAC magazine! Not a chance against stuff like that. - That's all 8 of us and all our kit back.".

"What were they going to do with us?". Laserbeak, who was perching on a rock, receiving a radio message, said "The police say, would you come to Crabhaven and give them a statement? You may be needed in court as witnesses.".

"But our stuff and our cars are in the other direction.".

"I suppose they could send someone there to meet you." said Laserbeak.

"Are you alive or just remote-controlled!?" asked one of the divers, who was in the front of the inflatable, "You're a bit different from Gwaihir the eagle in `The Lord of the Rings', but you'll do! Thankyou!.".

Towcester BSAC got safely back to their cars. Laserbeak went with them. The police took their statements, having overcome their astonishment at their first meeting with a sentient robot. Meanwhile Kidderminster BSAC dived on the wreck of the Eurynome and returned safely, unaware of what had been planned against them. As it happened, neither group went near Dobbits Cleft that evening.


APHANISTOR ON HIS OWN

[203] For there another, CR79, a Smith & Maltons type G3 intelligent submersible recycler / destructor equipped grab dredger ('`dredgersub') was underwater alone. Its onboard computer, designed to notice general tendencies and decide between options like a human brain, and with similar emotional / instinctive drives, now had to make all its own decisions, for however much it searched through its mind's corners, it found no trace of Captain Hurlock's presence as an `inner voice and hand' directing and advising it, for the little control compartment under its hind roof was empty. Now it had to decide for itself where to dredge for silt containing organic matter that it could reprocess for fuel and lubricant; where to go for shelter within reach of the surface, to sleep so its brain circuitry could `sweep and tidy' itself; which to follow out of the various aims-in-life programmed into it by its makers and by its owner - if an `owner' could be spoken of, for it may well have claimed to own itself. It was designed to go a long time without needing servicing, but servicing it would need some time - it would need to find others of its own kind, or friendly humans. In the meantime it was on its own, after a sudden sonar message told it that ten of its human companions were in the hands of the landlubbers' authorities after the inevitable breach in complete undercoverness caused the alarm to be raised, for Captain Hurlock's people, like any one group, often had important differences in opinion from the population at large.

Its mind and emotional attitudes, as originally copied into it by Wheeljack in Smith & Malton's works where it was made, had been a standard set of knowledge and attitudes towards matters which Wheeljack and Optimus Prime had assembled by experience, but without any memory of particular events. Unlike James Wernicke's Transformers, it had no memories of `Cybertron', and its world was Earth. In the beginning, these computer personalities were much the same, except for any special technical data packages read in; the differences came later. Captain Hurlock knew enough electronics to find how to reset its attitude to certain matters to match his own, all too successfully, and its mind was now close to a copy of his. Curiosity as to classical names given to ships had led him to study the classics in spare hours at sea and later, and so he named CR79 in Greek: `Aphanistor' (= `he who causes disappearance'), for its digester, a special fuel cell with separators attached, consumed most things. Energy from burning oxidisable matter was used as power, or to make hydrocarbon oil and fuel for itself for later, or to trade as surplus; recycled purified metals or their oxides found uses in industry, and saved Man from having to mine quite so much new. It destroyed most things given to it: the most impressively poisonous sorts of industrial waste, leaking rusty drums and all, vanished completely; so did the harbour's and village's routine tipping and emptyings-out; customs and police seizures; `confidential waste' paper; three inflatable boats seized from `birdwatchers' caught raiding pots; - and other things. This was now in the past, and it now for a while had to find all its own dredgings in the sea.

Before this day, to CR79 came the end of much that happened around the village. For example, late one night he received a sonar call to come to the quayside, where Polwerran was sitting in the seat of a building site type dumper with a sheeted-over load ready to be tipped into CR79's grab uplifted opened against the quay. Usually its load was only routine rubbish; but that time half a ton of scuba gear and camping gear cascaded from under the dumper's load sheet and clattered hollowly down CR79's `one-way road' after Captain Hurlock's sea patrol in an amphibious night operation at Smew Cove had stopped a group's planned fortnight of living off Crabhaven's sea before it started. (That was easy: they believed Captain Hurlock's men's claim to be an official fisheries patrol enforcing alleged new laws, and obeyed his order to "Leave your kit with us and go back to Birmingham and no whingeing to the media, and we won't prosecute.". The divers later did query the matter and told the public media, but nothing of the `sea patrol' was found, but people guessed.) The dumper turned and backed to the quay edge. Grab-hydraulics strained and fibreglass splintered inside the hollow hard toothed grab as CR79 finished the job. A long bulge went down its intake cover as it swallowed the crushed RIB (hard-bottomed inflatable boat) and trailer.

On top of that and a stomachful of drums of factory waste given to him early that morning, CR79 was not thankful to have to digest a portable diving air compressor's bulky cylinder block, but in case the divers brought the police back to find the culprits, "tracelessness is all". The diving gear yielded air for a long deep dive, and mostly aluminium and lead, and some miscellanea. The factory waste yielded much antimony and cadmium and suchlike (to be sent back to the factory instead of ending up as pollution) - and nearly a hundredweight of copper from a drumful of scrap wire ("some thieving workman at the factory'll be furious." he thought) - and the fiver per drum that Captain Hurlock had charged for getting rid of the waste.

CR79 remembered another case: once when a sea fog blinded the clifftop surveillance cameras, 12 men, who told an investigating local man that they were birdwatchers surveying the gulls, launched 3 inflatable boats at Dobbits Cleft and sailed to Black Rock Head and back, emptying every pot and keep-box on the way. But outboard motor noise travels far underwater, and eight of Captain Hurlock's men in riotsquad gear in four boats met them returning laden with plunder to Dobbits. The thieves were beaten up and let go; but their inflatables were towed to Crabhaven to be disposed of, for inshore fishermen had little use for inflatables, "they are trippers' boats to play about in and get in the way in, they can't carry a good load of fishing gear and catch, and working in them with anything sharp punctures them. Except for the inshore rescue boat, and that gets most of its work rescuing trippers.".

"Indeed," CR79 thought, "when my grab has got round nothing for weeks except silt and wreck and dustbin contents, for a really l-o-n- g smooth swallow, there's nothing quite like an inflatable now and then. There's plenty of those ended up in my kind's dredgings tanks - sometimes trailer and all, if the people that brought them without asking us first, leave them and go for a drink.". CR79 slowly went away, wondering what sort of man the new harbourmaster would be. "There's some of the men here would like me to be the next harbourmaster," he thought, "except I can't go on land or into rooms like humans can. Where do I go now? What happens here now? I can always find work somewhere, like human commercial divers but bigger and better.".

[204] In his room in Wernicke Computers Ltd, Jack Brown saw the TV report of Captain Hurlock's patrol's last antidiver operation, and arrest for sea-piracy and robbery and usurped authority, and description of the lethal ultrasonic beam `Hurlock sonars' found on them, and wondered what next would happen.

In Smith & Malton's, Mr.Malton (known as Captain Blowtorch because of his oxyacetylene torch with bulky cylinders which he often wore strapped to his back like an aqualung) read newspapers with growing realization:-

- "Illegal seaborne vigilantes arrested."
- "Ultrasound gun terror for divers."
- "Navy furious about secret weapon duplication."
- "RAF to rescue of kidnapped divers. A new group diver disappearance averted? Robot plane raises the alarm."
- "Link with previous incidents? 3 inflatables seized from birdwatchers. Attackers accuse them of raiding lobsterpots."
- "4 scuba divers caught in ultrasonic death beam. One escapes, loses a leg."
- "Thugs in riotsquad gear land & attack divers' camp & seize all gear, claim enforcing new law. Group diver disappearances explained?"
- "Ambulance robot finds survivor of 4 scuba divers fired on from boat by underwater `ray gun'."

"Well! This news, and other recent news!" he thought, "I thought there seemed something a bit wrong about Captain Hurlock!, when he came here about his type G3 dredgersub. At least he's paid me for it. That PC Melrose that went to Crabhaven disguised as a fisherman and bought a D2SD Hurlock sonar there, certainly has uncovered something!". He turned to more immediate matters as one of his men told him that the British Waterways Board were on the telephone about wanting another `floater' for a G3 to ride on so that it could work in shallow inland water such as canals.

The police searched fishing boats and other craft nationwide for `Hurlock sonars'. "Oh, you've got a D2SD and a D4SD sonar." said a policeman searching a fishing boat at Cromer, "Sorry, but they'll have to go to the police station. The Home Office have classified them as firearms. You must get a gun licence for them, or let us remove the stun beam facility before returning them.".

"Why? I need them at sea." the fisherman complained.

"Sorry. Don't you follow the news? Incidents of them being used against people ...".

"That business down at Crabhaven? Don't look at me, I only use that part on seals that rob my nets, as the law says I can.". Which was true with him, but he had heard of others using them against what some called `two-legged seals'.

Captain Hurlock and his men were taken to Exeter police station for interrogation. Several groups of divers who had had encounters with them sent representatives. Ratchet arrived, startling the policeman at the door who had not heard of Transformers except as toys and fiction and expected `Dr.Ratchett' to be a human. The interrogation lasted a long time. Parts of it ran thus:-

"OK. You caught us busting some scuba divers for diving without permission and poaching. What's this other matter that you're trying to pin on us?" said Captain Hurlock, thinking "Trust that last lot of sea-frogs to choose a shallow cove full of spiky rocks out of reach of the ... Otherwise those copters'd've found nothing.".

"One and a half miles east of Dobbits Cleft." an interrogator persisted, "4 divers. A boat came over them. 3 of them lost consciousness, the 4th suffered a severe leg injury from what was certainly high-powered ultrasound. High-powered ultrasound guns were found in your boats. This is now a murder inquiry.".

"We aren't the only men who've bought those sonars," said Penlane, "we aren't the only men who use boats round Crabhaven, we aren't the only men to lose their patience with divers divers divers. We want a proper law to control them.".

"This is an interrogation, not a political platform." said a policeman, "You form a tough armed militia enforcing laws of your own making - the rest of the public have their rights also. You condemn all for the misdeeds of a few. The public have had wars and wars for right of access to leisure space, wars against farmers over footpaths, wars against gentry over moorlands. Now you're trying to claim exclusive right to the sea around your village. I want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.".

"The truth is that Westminster rarely does anything unless it is forced to." said Captain Hurlock, "If we want anything doing properly, we must do it ourselves, and the law won't let us do it. OK, we did what you saw us do at Crabhaven harbour, we did what you saw us do at Smew Cove. In some countries there are official sea-police to protect the fishing, with the same powers as we assumed. We seized their kit, we were going to dump them on land without it, to find some other hobby that doesn't plunder anyone's livelihood.".

"We know nothing about this other matter. You can't pin it on anyone." added Trelane.

"The one straight across from me, I know his voice from Smew Cove that time!" one of the diving group members exclaimed, "We arrived late at night from Birmingham at Smew Cove, which we thought'd be far enough away from Crabhaven village for us not to be in anybody's way. We were unloading our camping and diving gear and pitching tents when a whistle blew and someone shouted `Hold it right there!' and someone else shouted `Halt!'. Several men in dark blue sailor's heavy waterproofs with badges on, nearly invisible in the dark, and helmets with numbers on with visors down, and cloth masks, and shields and pickaxe handles, charged out of bushes and up from boats which had crept into the cove.

`No diving permit, I suppose. Freeze!' one shouted, as they laid into us like the riotsquad like they'd had training at it.

I replied `Here? Who are you? I know the law on diving in England!', but the one numbered 6 hit me on the elbow with his stick and grabbed me hard and handcuffed my hands behind my back.

#4 said `No, you don't! It's been changed! Too many complaints about shellfish poaching and general nuisance! Permit from the nearest harbourmaster - specific valid reason for diving - all dives to be logged and us to be given a copy of the log - no spears or knives or lobsterhooks - one of us to go with you to check you only do what you came for - fee to cover our time - ditto with amateur Columbuses cluttering up our harbour and the locals waste time having to lifeboat rescue incompetents. You are not obliged to say anything, but anything that you say may be taken down and may be used as evidence against you.'.

One of us started to protest, but #4 pulled his hands behind his back and handcuffed him tightly, and said `Leave the `but'-ing to goats. Go back to Birmingham and leave your kit, and we'll drop the matter. Else you go in the cells and we prosecute.'.

`Our gear! Please! We weren't doing anything.' one of us pleaded.

#6 answered `You are. Then you want to be tried and hope the magistrate'll let you off, or hope that Captain Hurlock'll give you a permit `post-facto'? Unlikely. scuba diving is an addictant, and addictants must be forbidden or strictly controlled. The charge is `unauthorized diving or possession of diving gear in or near a controlled area'. We're impounding your diving gear. You with the wetsuit on under your clothes, take it off before we cut it off you, trying to sneak it past us like that. Then off with you, straight home at once, and find yourselves a different hobby, and don't go near anyone's fishing area again!'.

Meanwhile one of them had driven up on a building site type dumper. They slung all our diving and camping gear into it including our compressor (one of the small sort for taking to diving sites) and sheeted the load over, and fastened our boat and trailer to it. They beat us up and unhandcuffed us and went away. So the last we knew of our valuable gear, which they had no right to take, was their dirty dumper going away up the road away inland (I suppose they looped back to wherever they came from), and likely, once they'd emptied our cylinders to prevent explosions, our means of access to Cousteau's realm vanished into a fishing port incinerator along with rubbish and flotsam and old fishboxes, such a hot burn that even our aluminium alloy cylinders disappeared. Likely they melted our lead weights down for net and pot weights, and bullets to shoot us with. We want the value of our gear back!".

"OK, OK, we can't do a thing." Captain Hurlock complained, "OK, we did the other Smew Cove operation. Add it to your charge list.".

"Yes, we will." said an interrogator.

"Here we go again!" said a diver, "Another war to hold onto leisure space. You don't own the sea, and you aren't going to stop us from using it. You take shellfish undersized and with eggs on. There's too many of you, overfishing. And pollution. And you blame us. Diving scientists have found out countless things outside the understanding of sea-workmen whose minds go no further than prices at the fish market.".

"What pollution? Only farms at the back of us!" said Meols angrily.

"Pesticides! Sheep dip! If it kills sheep scab mite, it'll kill shellfish! Go moan to the farmers!" said the diver.

"They don't dip sheep in the sea!" said Meols.

"It washes down into the rivers!" said the diver, "Anyway, scuba divers are routinely taught artificial respiration and external heart massage. Quite often they're the only people on the beach that know these basic bits of first aid, if someone collapses or seems to have drowned. And once on a beach someone got stuck in a patch of quicksand and ...".

"Pchah! Trippers saving other trippers!" Meols scoffed.

"Yes, trippers!" said the interrogator, "Some people do want to get away from the houses opposite and the corner shop sometimes.".

"By coming round poaching and getting in the way cluttering up other people's workplaces." said K.Walton.

"... the tide was nearly up to his mouth, and rising." the diver continued, "and nobody could pull him out. But there were some divers there, and one of them put an aqualung on him, so he could breathe underwater until the fire brigade came and flushed him free with a powerful fire hose, and so he was saved." [This actually happened: Author].

"That's enough." said the interrogator, "Lets go back to finding what offences they committed. Back to the matter in hand. Lets try again. 4 divers near Crabhaven are fired on from a boat with a high-powered ultrasonic beam gun, like were found in your boats. You lot are the only people who regularly sail from Crabhaven.".

"Not us." said Meols and Captain Hurlock together.

"Three dead." the interrogator persisted, "The survivor lost a leg and three friends. Lives matter more than shellfish. Search your memories. I can keep this up all night.".

The interrogation continued, wearisome to report in full.

These events were also discussed at a meeting at BSAC headquarters in Kingston in London.

"Well! That's a packet of news! At least we know why divers are disappearing! It is as suspected! High-powered ultrasonic guns! Not as unlikely as `Star Trek' after all! Locate and zap, one less scuba diver, no sound like a gun or explosion. I only hope (1) there are no more being made, and (2) the police round up those already loose." said one club representative.

"And I don't like the idea of `Hurlockism' spreading, a rash of illegal highly trained anti-diver squads among fishermen etc. A big lot of prosecutions before we put a stop to it again." said another.

"Hurlock's bunch have been sent to prison, and the court decided that `Hurlock special' sonars are firearms and come under the firearms laws. A succession of searches of boats, and prosecutions, and the sea'll become safe for the diving public again. Often mere publicity puts a stop to funnybusiness." said another.

"But still -", another added doubtfully, "There were no boats around when eleven divers disappeared at Llanfairfechan that time, [ref 135] - the culprit can't always be men in boats with those ultrasound guns.".

[207] Captain Hurlock and his nine men were tried at Exeter Crown Court. Outside the court, scuba divers and shellfishermen and their relatives demonstrated against each other with placards: "Hurlock murderer" and "No sea vigilantism" and suchlike against "Shellfishermen's livelihood against town scuba divers' pleasure" and "We need the right to defend our fishing areas" and suchlike. Police managed to keep the two factions apart. In court Captain Hurlock gave the expected long speech in defence of his stand against ever-encroaching diving and other holidaymakers; but Westminster's law stood, and he and his nine men were sent to prison.


OAKFIELDS FARM

At Oakfields Farm near Oddingley near Droitwich, Mr.John Stevens, watching television news of Hurlock's trial while waiting for any farming news, thought angrily: "Scuba diving! Another waste of time and fuel without doing anything useful! My son Peter, long after he could read and write and add up and could help me round the farm, he hung on at school, 5th form, GCE O level exams, 6th form, GCE A level exams, none of it any use on the land but plenty to make him town and paperwork minded; I buy this telly for farming programs only, and his mother encourages him and his sisters to watch it all the time; try to keep him home for a few days for haymaking or harvest, and his headmaster comes round like the Gestapo telling me he's got to go to school regardless. Finally he's out of school and can earn - and he gets a job in town and uses the farm as merely a dormitory and wastes his spare time and money scuba diving instead of being some use here, still no fulltime second pair of hands round the place after all these years.

`How much keep do you want?' he asked me, expecting me to charge him just a few pounds a week for his food! out of his pay.

I told him: `It'll be your unopened pay packet each week!, to pay the man I'll have to hire to do the work that you should be doing for me through the day; and be more use evenings and weekends than you are now! Any over goes in the kitty and not spent on fancy clothes and taking girls out and going to the pictures and buying clutter. Anything to waste time with like stereos goes back to the shop, or to market. You won't need anything to pass the time with: if one job's finished, there's always another to do.'.

He just refused and said that he doesn't get a pay packet, he's paid into the bank, and that he's a separate person, and every sort of defiance. He lied about how much he was earning; then one day he vanished to a friend's in town with a lot of stuff from the house. (And both of his sisters married and moved away, no help from them.) The amount of money he's spent on himself: flashy great motorcycle, scuba diving holidays abroad, fancy stuff for his house, I could have bought a new tractor with what's gone up in a cloud of airliner exhaust and aqualung bubbles far away and all sorts that he should have put in the kitty. Instead I've got to pay a man at modern extortionate pay rates when there's a work rush; and they won't touch evenings or weekends unless I pay them fat overtime on top of that. Endless trippers leaving lane gates open, and if I lock them weekends the police are round moaning, or someone crashes them through with a lorry, until I've got to fork out to fence alongside the lane all the way ...".

His angry reflections were interrupted by a sound of breaking wood and a thump and a scream and a cry for help outside. He ran out. By his haystack his current hired man, Ifan Griffiths, lay groaning on his back. Beside him lay Stevens's ladder, with more than half its rungs broken in the fall. "$#@ take your pennypinching!" Ifan moaned, "I thought that ladder was a new one like the Ministry man told you to get, not that dangerous old one bodged up and repainted! I've broken my pelvis! Ring 999! Get an ambulance!". John swore and went down the road to the next farm to phone. "Still too mean to have a phone of his own." Ifan said to himself. John phoned, fearing a huge damages bill from the Industrial Injuries Court, on top of having to find another man. "I can't afford to pay town factory wages for the good men. All I get are thickheads and moaners." he thought sourly.

John came back and said angrily to Ifan: "Now look what you've done! I told you which rungs to be careful with. Can't you count? Now you've wrecked my ladder as well as your job at any farm round here, you thick ass. Ladders cost. Stuff costs.".

"I told you," Ifan moaned, "I thought it was a new one like he told you to get, not that old ...".

"New!?" John interrupted angrily, "New ladder!? Not while I can mend the old one! They'll be telling me to buy a Porsche next.".

"Well, mend my pelvis next." said Ifan, "Expecting me to use rickety old everything. My union'll fight this right through for compensation. There's laws about safety of work and tools.".

"Oh!" John replied angrily, "You're in a %$# union, are you?, load of troublemakers. I'd better warn the other farmers round here.". John heard an ambulance's siren coming - suspiciously quickly, he thought. The ambulance was wedge-fronted, not with a short bonnet like most English ambulances. Only one man got out of it. "You were quick! Which way did you come?" John asked him sharply.

"Lie still, let the ambulanceman move you." came a voice from the now empty ambulance, [208] which moved about although driverless, backed up to the stretcher, and opened its rear (which, unusually for Britain, had one big door, not two). Two long mechanical arms came down from its roof and out of its rear and helped to load the stretcher in. The ambulanceman got in and drove away.

John wondered briefly about the ambulance's nonstandard shape and kit as its rear end and siren sped away, and realized: "And he hadn't milked the cows yet. One thing then another. Agh! Do the job myself while other jobs get left; ring the Labour Exchange for another man; I thought so! That ambulance's gone down the top lane instead of the proper way. I bet he came the same way and left the gate open - but no, if my self-closer's working, that's stopped a deal of nuisance and people cutting through - He has! There's Grange Farm's cows in my corn! If I had a pound for every lane gate I've shut after other people - the whole world's on wheels and in a hurry nowadays. The amount that farmers have had to spend on cattle grids and fencing alongside roads.".

He drove the cows out of his corn back along the top lane to Grange Farm's land, and saw to his horror and amazement that the gate was broken, not merely rammed through by a heavy vehicle, but torn to pieces thrown far and wide, and the gateposts uprooted, concrete footings and all. "Looks like a giant did it!, except there's no such thing." he thought desperately, "What to do? If I just wire across the gap, someone'll cut it with pliers to get through, and the milktanker driver'll call the riotsquad. Trippers leave the gate open for the next driver, so I put a weight and rope on it as a self closer. OK, so that means that the driver needs a mate to hold the gate open while he drives through. People round here know that, and trippers needn't come. Someone cut the rope, so I put chain instead. People moan, I ignore them. Now this! All the barbed wire I wrapped round it and yet all this damage: whatever did it was armour plated or doesn't bleed anyway. I better take them right back to his farm.". The cows had to go back into Grange Farm's Long Pasture which they had been taken out of only 3 days before because the grass needed a rest. Grange Farm had to scratch together the money and materials and permission to put a cattle grid in there, and until then use winter feed on the cows.

[209] While John was at Grange Farm, he telephoned the ambulance.

"999 here. What service do you want?" came a girl's voice.

"You sent an ambulance to Oakfields Farm earlier today and it shortcut down the top lane and rammed a gate through and smashed it, and there's cows one side and corn the other side.".

"That's not an emergency. Ring their ordinary number." she said, and hung up. Directory Enquiries eventually answered. John rang the ambulance station: "Your ambulance that came to Oakfields Farm today. Wedge fronted, one big back door, moved by itself. Your man that drove it: did - he - ram - my - gate - through - or - did - he - find - it - like - that? That gate was all right first thing this morning! Grange Farm's cows in my corn, and now he's got to keep them in and use up silage on them and fork out for a cattle grid! I'm sick of this!".

"OK, OK." the ambulanceman replied, "you forever moaning farmers featherbedded with your fancy EEC subsidies, why can't you fence alongside roads? You weren't very sympathetic to your man when he broke his pelvis! Seconds wasted matter on emergencies. Lives come before $#@'ing about with gates. OK, I'll call him.".

"Hello?" said John when another voice came on the line, "You were driving that wedge-fronted ambulance that came to Oakfields Farm today? What about my gate?".

"Yes, that's me." came the reply, "`What about your man's pelvis?', you mean. Straxus take your gate!, you too mean to buy a good ladder. What about him!? `Butterfly' and wrenched left sacro-iliac joint, torn urethra, torn buttock muscles, and I end up picking up all the pieces! Him off work till @#$ knows when, and you ox-minded characters want us to mess about with gates!? That gate was like a gin trap, and I can't transform to mess about with gates when I've got a patient in me. So you've got to put a cattle grid in there? About time too! Emergency services don't like wasting time or having to go long ways round because of gates. Gates and doors with self closers are a pest. Someone was bound to lose his temper with that gate some time.".

John was not pleased to get an earful of accusation and medicalese, and the talk of `transforming' didn't make sense to him, but one word jumped out at him. "Butterflies!?" he exclaimed, "You in such a hurry you can't open my gate properly, let alone shut it after yourself, and you stop to catch butterf-- unless you used the word as some medical jargon thrown at me to confuse me, the usual conspiracy of all sorts to cause me expense and expense. Fer-get it! Fer-get it! I'll be a good little boy and fence alongside the lane all the way along and get even further into overdraft. I don't want to know about him again, nor will the rest of the farmers round here. This has shown he's too thick or clumsy to trust with a lot of jobs, and he's in a union, load of troublemakers. None of it when my grandfather bought my land with that inheritance: men did what they were told to do, six days hard work a week including evenings and a full Saturday for bed and board and beer money and bits, and stuck at it. %$# the farm wages rate laws.". He hung up and went back to milk his cows. [Note: `butterfly fracture' is a sort of pelvis fracture.]

The law ran its inevitable course. In Droitwich Magistrates Court the magistrate read out each charge in turn.

Breach of the Factories Acts: ordering an employee to use a ladder which was in a dangerous condition

"I told him which rungs to keep off. Typical thickhead like I get. I can't afford new this and that all the time. Anyway, I've got a farm, not a factory. `Industrial' means `factories'. Factories are big buildings in towns with machines in." said Stevens surlily.

Charge of obstructing the highway: gate with powerful self closer, very difficult for unaccompanied driver

"Fencing along roads? I must save on things! Call the vet to a cow and he charges me so much that I may as well give him the cow. Lanes are for farm people to get to main roads, not for town trippers to drive about on wasting petrol and their time." he said.

Severity of Mr.Ifan Griffiths's injury, to award compensation under Industrial Injuries laws. Call Mr.Ratchet the ambulanceman

"What the $#@'s that!?" Stevens exclaimed as a huge white steel face with a red forehead crescent appeared at a window.

"Oo-er." said the magistrate, loosing his cool for a moment, "One of Wernicke's Transformers! Confusing, seeing the boundary between fact and fiction so casually transgressed. I believe that in the stories at oaths the custom is that all of those involved each run a little of their fuel into a cup together, then it is burnt. They call that `the Rite of Oneness'. But my body fluid won't burn, and this court is no place for big naked flames.".

"OK, I'll swear in the usual human way." said Ratchet at the window, and said the usual court oath, and then: "-- severe pelvic fracture with urinary tract damage; buttock muscles torn; a nerve called the `left pudendal nerve' was crushed but its function should return -- expected 3 to 4 months before he can work again -- old ladder had been patched and tarted up to make it look new -- defendant was totally unsympathetic --", and gave an estimate of Griffiths's expenses and expected loss of earnings.

"I can't afford a quarter of a fag end of that much!" Stevens exclaimed.

"You should have thought of that before and bought a new ladder, and insured against employee liability." said Ratchet.

"I can't afford new this and that, and I can't afford insurance. Insurance costs the earth. I'm sick of insurance men coming round wasting my time. My father and my grandfather didn't need insurance and suchike fancy new this and that." said Stevens.

No television licence

Stealing or receiving that television. It had been stolen, its serial number matches a list. Don't buy things in pubs

"How the %#$ do you expect me to buy a new telly on the money I get? People won't pay me a decent price for the stuff I grow." Stevens asked angrily.

No road fund licence or insurance on your tractor although you often drive it on public roads to market or to shop

"How much!? I need it for work to help feed people, not for idle trippering about! Leave it off! I'm not made of money like you lot with flashy cars that could just as well use the bus." said Stevens.

Civil suit for unpaid bills by Mr.Harrison (vet), and Messrs Lewison and Brown (feedstuffs suppliers), and Samuel and Mitchells (feedstuffs suppliers), and Smith & Malton's (repairs to your machinery), and Mr.Algerson (foundryman, for an in-calf heifer [born to a cow that he kept on a patch of land] which you bought and never paid him for) and gas, and electricity, and several others

"Help, the whole wolf pack's after me." said Stevens, "I'll pay them next market day, I've had expenses. That Algerson doesn't need the money that badly anyway, he's got his pay as a foundryman to keep him going. All I've got to live off is my land.".

Examination of Stevens's financial situation

[210] "After you were warned that not keeping accounts is an offence," said the magistrate showing an old exercise book, "I see that at least you've kept something vaguely resembling an account book. Too many abbreviations and initials: for example, when does `S & M' mean Smith & Malton's (where you've run up a lot of machinery repair bills), and when does it mean Samuel and Mitchells (your previous feedstuffs suppliers)? `doing cows', `doing fence', `doing the elvets': Doing what to them? What's an elvet? You lurch from crisis to crisis getting deeper into debt, no clear idea where you're aiming at. You've got no family members living with you for me to have to consider. For example, what's this big bill for fencing materials? You say you're hard up, but you can afford beer on market day. That's not a necessity. Your endless `I'll pay you later, some excuse' must stop some time. I'm declaring you personally bankrupt and seeing what can be raised from selling your property. The people that you owe need the money themselves.".

"The Elvets is one of my fields." said Stevens irritatedly, "I told you, trippers leaving lane gates open, my cows in Grange Farm's corn, Abbeygate's rams in my ewes and I get a load of lambs born in October and I've got to feed them through the winter instead of them being born in Spring for the new grass. I tried locking the end gate weekends and bank holidays and round come the Gestapo saying I can't because it's a public road.".

"The who came?? Not since 1945 ..." said the magistrate, "I take it that you mean the police. Call people and things and organizations by their proper names in court and don't use accusing slang names. Carry on.".

"Finally a lorry went along the lane crash crash crash through every gate, and that was enough. I just had to fence alongside the lane all the way. One of my fields cut in half, two others made smaller. I've not been `in the black' since." said Stevens.

The case continued and finished, and the matter ended. John Stevens emerged shocked into the sunlight, stock gone, land gone, nothing to do but go round the farms looking for work. He looked up bleakly at Ratchet standing in robot form near the court building door. With a succession of metallic clickings and compressed air hissings Ratchet folded his arms and legs backwards, and pulled his head in, and thus became the ambulance that had arrived at Oakfields Farm on that fateful day. This explained several things that had puzzled John; but it was irrelevant. Ratchet drove away. A policeman and another man approached Stevens.

"I take it you're the man the beak's told to sell my stuff off. I told them, I'll clear a lot off when I sell those bullocks." said Stevens, still somehow hoping to carry on his lifelong-remembered farm routine.

"I'm Mr.Aikthwaite, the Official Receiver." said the other man, "Sorry, but your supply of delaying tactics has now run out. Bills and laws won't simply go away like a wasp if you ignore them. Your 30 acres simply isn't enough land to live off nowadays, the way you're running it.".

"Get in his car with me and we'll go to your farm. The sooner this is over, the better. Get everything itemized for the auction." said the policeman.

"OK, OK, it's over." said Stevens, "Take it all and do whetever you like with it. Likely the cottage sold to some town man who won't do a stroke of work at haytime and harvest. Land added to other farms who've got enough land already and all the fields made into one, or used for building on. Always the little man gets mechanized out of a job.".

At the farm, Mr.Aikthwaite, thankful for his overall and safety helmet, went into the cottage and soon realized that it couldn't be sold. The walls were cracked and bulging and subsiding; there was wet rot and dry rot; the roof was polythene sheet over ancient mouldy thatch; odd bits of wood nailed over holes; and the outbuildings were similar. He said so. "You haven't spent much on paint and preservative!?" he said.

"I can't afford all that tarting up when there's work to do, on the money I get." said Stevens.

"Pity. It'd have kept all this rot and woodworm out." said Mr.Aikthwaite, [211] and then, seeing some cattle in a field, "If these are the almighty breaking-the-slaughterhouse's-crane bullocks that you were going to sell for enough to clear no end of outstanding debts off, they haven't got much meat on them! Even I can see that!".

"They've got to fatten up yet." Stevens excused.

"While you run up yet more bills." Mr.Aikthwaite replied, "The court isn't going to wait that long.".

"Not my fault." Stevens pleaded, "Lewison & Brown wouldn't send me any more feedstuffs, when the grass stopped growing in that dry spell. I told them I'd pay them after I sold the bullocks, but they wouldn't listen.".

"They wouldn't. You say that excuse till everybody knows it." said Mr.Aikthwaite, "Why no poultry here?".

"Sold. Garage wouldn't give me any more diesel for the tractor without cash in hand." said Stevens.

"This machinery of yours won't fetch much more than scrap value." said Mr.Aikthwaite, and, hearing a motorcycle approaching, "Who's that coming?".

"I told you I had more money coming in!" said Stevens triumphantly as a motorcyclist rode into the farmyard and stopped beside them,

"Here's my son Peter with it. At last I've made him see where his responsibilities lie.".

"Lets see how much money first." said Mr.Aikthwaite warily.

I'll tell you how much!" said Peter angrily, "ZERO! Him trying to embarrass me into selling myself down to bare floorboards to bale him out of the inevitable! My stuff remains mine! I've just come to make some points clear. After I left school, I got a job in town to get away from being ordered about all the time unpaid farm labouring and having nothing of my own. He wanted all my pay as keep, so I moved to a friend's in town. He kept running up bills in my name and telling people I'd pay his bills, and that I was in partnership with him (which I'm not), all sorts of characters and writs arrived, he kept turning up at my house and my sister's husband's house to borrow money or tools; and now he organized a huge public sale of my stuff with press and the vicar and all sorts there telling them what a goody-goody person I was selling all my stuff off for `the family farm' - Not a family farm, just his farm and nothing to do with me! My wife rang me to complain, for they'd told her that I'd agreed to the sale; I explained the truth and told her to keep the house tight shut while I took time off work and went home. A huge crowd there including several who said they were ordinary people but actually were dealers hoping to buy stuff cheap and sell it for more. I don't care how many people it embarrasses or lets down their hopes, I simply don't honour disposals of my time or work or money or property made in my name without my agreement. It took ten police and a lot of arguing to move that lot on. I repeat, I'm not paying John Stevens's debts.".

[212] "But surely, some loyalty to your father in need ..." Mr.Aikthwaite started.

"Sorry," Peter interrupted, "but it stops short of me throwing all that good money after bad! This place'll never pay run as a traditional mixed farm. I've discussed it with my wife and my sisters and their husbands, and we all agree.".

"`Wife'?" said Stevens angrily, "That slip of a floosie who couldn't make a cheese or milk a cow to save her life!?".

"Save the insults please." said Mr.Aikthwaite.

"Please, all paid off, then I can start again with a clean slate." Stevens pleaded.

"Like last time, I suppose, when your uncle died and you got the bequest, and--" said Peter.

"My uncle! I forbid you to mention that!" Stevens ordered as if Peter was under his command.

"Or you'll spank me across your knee?" Peter replied, "Bequest, and you paid everything owing, which was a lot, same as now. You made fine promises that from then on you'd pay cash down for everything or go without it until you had the cash to buy it, no more unrealistic hopes of what produce would fetch, clean slate, clean mind - but within two years Mr.Malton of Smith & Malton's had to come here with a bailiff in tow before you'd pay a bill for repairs to your thresher, and you'd used up credit on one feedstuffs suppliers and you were on another feedstuffs suppliers. Back to square one; and ditto'll happen if I pay your current lot off!".

"Why you telltale!" said Stevens with a betrayed tone, "I'd had a run of bad luck! These things happen!".

"You still promised yourself and your creditors that you'd pay cash at once for everything and run up no more unpaid bills at all fullstop absolute no exceptions regardless of whatever happened." Peter replied, "You've had so much bad luck that it isn't bad luck but the normal way of things! This - land - is - not - enough - to - run - a - mixed - farm - on - nowadays! See sense!".

Stevens angrily replied: "If I could, I'd blowtorch that Captain Blowtorch [= Mr.Malton] with his own backpack blowtorch! I'd locked everything away and hidden the keys, but up he marches in his overall and riotsquad helmet and with blowtorch cylinders strapped to his back like a spray-pack or an aqualung and cuts a fence with wirecutters to get his van into my farmyard. Then instead of waiting till I go to market next he goes straight to my main store shed and lifted his blowtorch to ten quids worth of padlock to ruin it to get inside to see what was in there that he could take. Only one thing I could do, else he'd've taken fertilizer and all sorts that I need, and, I suppose, used it for his useless pretty flower beds in front of his works. `OK, OK, Save your gas and my locks!' I said and gave him my best bullock right then on the spot. `Now he's got the bother of selling it to get the money.', I thought, but he put it straight in his works canteen freezer.".

"Oh yes. He gives one bullock the best of the feed, to get it fat, and at market sells that one first, hoping that the people'll pay the same for his other bullocks." said Peter, "I kept telling him: `Try selling some of the land to pay off your bills and put up greenhouses on the rest: market gardening or flowers? Think of something new.'.".

"No!" said Stevens, "Vegetables are too much messing about. It's enough time waste growing the vegetables we eat ourselves. And as for telling me to grow `pwetty fwowers'! Cows, sheep, corn, hay, nothing wrong with the old way.".

"If you had a lot more land." said Peter.

"Bah!" Stevens replied, "Telling me to change at my age. If you'd worked your whack evenings and weekends and put your fat idle town job earnings in the kitty to pay for me to hire a really good man to do the work you should have been doing during the day--".

"Me go back to having no money or time or property of my own?" Peter interrupted angrily, still sitting on his motorcycle, "And `kitty' means your pocket, I suppose.".

"I'm afraid your son's right." said Mr.Aikthwaite, "You've no legal claim to your son's property or earnings.".

"Bah!" Stevens exclaimed, "I raise three children and they all fly the nest on leaving school and set up on their own far away. It's a conspiracy! `Do the little man down'! is the rule nowadays. My life sold off to strangers because that clumsy %$# breaks my ladder and that performing talking ambulance won't keep its mouth shut.".

"You should have bought a new ladder when the Ministry man told you to." said Mr.Aikthwaite. In a last desperate attempt, John Stevens tried in as a commanding voice as possible to get the unquestioning obedience which his son Peter had grown out of many years ago: "I brought you up! I as the head of the household demand that you repay me for bringing you up and help to keep the family farm running! instead of wasting endless money on luxuries.".

"No!" Peter replied, "Principles only go so far! I've discussed this with my sisters' husbands, as I said, and NO! You have no legal rights over my property, and as regards cost of--".

"Meaning that there's a conspiracy, like I thought!" John interrupted angrily, "And when I ring my brother all I get is his spoilt brat saying that Daddy says he's out.".

"--cost of upbringing," Peter resumed, "you've had it already, by your father bringing you up, and I'm (re)paying it to my own children. I'm a separate household. How much money of me, and of your sons-in-law, and of your relatives by blood and by marriage to the n'th degree, do you intend to suck into this bottomless pit of a farm before you finally admit it won't pay its way!?".

"`Your own children'?" John replied angrily, "Meaning that after a hard day's work when I need my sleep, I'm going to be back to being woken in the night by crying babies long after I'd thought I'd seen an end to that.".

"No you won't!" Peter replied angrily, "I'm not coming back here. And don't even think of depositing yourself on me or my sisters' husbands.".

"Me deposit myself on you?" said John, "No fear of that! Me stick myself in some city with only a pocket handkerchief garden, and council bylaws saying I can't even keep a few hens!?".

"You keep talking as if I still live here. I don't and I'm not going to." said Peter.

"Well, you should!" said John, "You owe me a great lot! that you should have put into the farm instead of spending it on town luxuries. For a start, that's part of my new tractor you're sitting on. Get off it.".

That last statement puzzled Peter at first. "Me make a motorcycle out of tractor parts!? What are you heehawing about? It's an ordinary Honda from a shop in Droitwich. You never had a new tractor." he said, and then, guessing a possible meaning: "If you mean that I bought it with money that I should have given you to keep your farm in equipment, the answer is: Won't! Shan't! The world doesn't owe you a living! This - place - won't - pay! Admit that!".

[213] "Mr.John Stevens, will you stop blustering!" Mr.Aikthwaite exclaimed, "Your son's both right and in the right. Back to the point. Lets get on with itemizing what's here. About a ton of hay; a plough, in bad condition; ...", and broke off as a white Porsche with three men in it arrived splashing through the manury puddles and stopped.

"Oh lumme. Oh help. Now who's coming in that posh Porsche?" said John pulling at his hair in distraction as the three men got out,

"The wolves gather! What an assortment! Captain Blowtorch, complete with his favourite weapon; Mr.Malling from Grange Farm; and who's the third?".

"I'm Mr.Faulkner." said the third arrival, who wore a boilersuit and a safety helmet, "The council sent me to check the condition of Stevens's cottage before it is sold.".

John noticed that Faulkner had a metal detector.

"I'm the Official Receiver." said Mr.Aikthwaite, "This is Mr.John Stevens. The one on the motorcycle is his son but financially nothing to do with this, and the motorcycle's his own.".

"He owes me for mending nearly every implement he's got!" said Mr.Malton as he took his blowtorch cylinder pack off the seat beside him and put his arms backwards through its pack straps and lifted it onto his back and fastened its waist straps, "Always some excuse why he can't pay me right now. And he managed to wheedle ten gallons of diesel off one of my delivery drivers recently.".

John looked at Mr.Malton's thick overall and riotsquad helmet and chest pouch for tools, and holstered blowtorch head with gas lines arching over his shoulders to his cylinder tops, and pickaxe handle hanging from belt, and backed off. "I bet he's been up a fair few ladders with that lot on, to where people didn't think blowtorches could get, and, when he got there, not too scrupulous what he used it on." John thought in fright, "Help! Help! Oversized industrial thug walking welding and cutting shop. I bet he won't act so fancy when I get my shotgun to him. Forget it! Hostage sieges always end the same way, the gunman is talked at till he's sleepy, then they rush him. Fer-get it! but watch my life being scattered to the winds although I'm the third generation here. OK. OK. This land won't pay as an ordinary mixed farm nowadays.".

"I'm Mr.Malling of Grange Farm." said Mr.Malling, "He's had five sacks of fertilizer and umpteen tractor tankfuls of diesel off me. He cadged off everybody till we all gradually `dried up' like unfed cows, then he moaned about us being mean. He owes everybody, and people start thinking that all farmers are like that.".

"Thankyou. I thought you were helping me, letting me have that stuff! Now you suddenly demand it all back when I'm down." said John. Malling said: "After his man Griffiths had that fall and it got in the papers, someone called a meeting of his creditors. There, and at the next local branch meeting of the NFU [= National Farmers' Union], it came out how many people he owed. We'd had several whiprounds to get him out of scrapes. Time he accepted that his land just won't pay as a traditional mixed farm nowadays.".

[Ifan Griffiths, chronically underpaid on excuses and promises to pay later by John Stevens, complained about this while in Ratchet, who later casually mentioned it when taking two of Smith & Maltons's guard dogs to a vet who Stevens owed money to. Mr.Malton rode with them, and at the vet's they met a garage owner who Stevens also owed to. A chance meeting: so big events sometimes start.]

Mr.Malton unholstered and lit his blowtorch head as he walked to a padlocked door. "This is his main store shed. I've been before." he said. John Stevens watched the small hot hissing flame destroy £6 worth of padlock without giving him time to get the key. "Handy go-anywhere break-in device that backpack blowtorch of his is!" he thought, and shuddered at the idea of a pair of burglars or an organized gang of scrap-pickers armed with them as well as with sticks and guns. Mr.Malton walked in.

"If you want to nose round the loft in there, you can't." said John surlily, "That clumsy thickhead Griffiths broke my ladder.".

Mr.Malton reached into his chest pouch, which bulged more than usual, and took out a light nylon rope ladder with a steel hook on one end. He threw it, and the hook held. John helplessly watched Mr.Malton climbing the rope ladder, blowtorch and all, to a place he had thought such tools couldn't reach, and pulling up the rope ladder after himself, and melting open the eight locked steel chests and cupboards up there one after another, and pocketing £50 worth of cash that he found in them. The rest of their contents were only old screws and old farm implement parts and junk.

"Oi! Leave that! I need it to pay the ..." John pleaded.

"Then what's it doing in there and not already paid to them? Your putting bills off till later hoping they'll rot away like old leaves, stops now. The court said so." replied Mr.Malton.

Mr.Malton saw another door, and walked to it. "Leave that door!" said John desperately, "I've never opened it, nor did my father! It's too handy for thieves to get in through, like they did in my grandfather's time once, and that's why it's never been unlocked since.". But when he finished talking, `Captain Blowtorch' had already torched through the ancient rusty lock, and opened the door and found himself in the cowhouse hayloft, which had a fixed ladder, which he descended. He searched the cowhouse, and by torching the locked outer door off its hinges came out into the farmyard, where Mr.Aikthwaite was showing the old exercise book to John.

"This excuse for an account book of yours:" Mr.Aikthwaite was saying, "I've added the entries through, which you didn't, and if you had no money at the start of last year, you should have several hundred pounds now. Where is it?".

"I can't put in every pint of beer and tankful of fuel and odds and ends that I buy! I'm no good at numbers and adding up and keeping fancy lists like an accountant!" moaned John.

"Well, you should have." said Mr.Aikthwaite, "All those omitted odds and ends add up! Meaning that you still haven't kept proper accounts.".

[214] "Now for me to look in your cottage." said Mr.Faulkner.

"Can't. It's locked." said John.

"Key?" Mr.Faulkner asked.

"Somewhere." said John surlily.

"Mr.Malton?" said Mr.Faulkner.

"OK, save your blowtorch gas. Here it is." said John, throwing a key at Mr.Faulkner. A farm dog ran up barking to Mr.Faulkner, who told John curtly to get the dog tied up. Mr.Faulkner went in and looked round and came out, and said: "Thank %$# I brought this helmet! Wet rot; dry rot; crumbling plaster; no sound wood in the place; roof is polythene sheet over ancient mouldy thatch; walls are cracked and bulging and subsiding. Looks like nothing's been done to it for ages, except to nail odd bits of wood over holes and cracks. Sorry, but these buildings must be condemned. It can't be sold, except for the materials in it. You may get something for the bricks from the used brick trade.".

"Meaning that I'm in the street. Do I get time to pack some clothes?" said John Stevens angrily.

"The law says that the corporation must rehouse you if you can't find somewhere for yourself. Until then you can stay here." said Mr.Faulkner.

"In some %$# flat in town with no land at all, not even a garden, I suppose." said John.

"I'm sorry to sound uncharitable, Mr.Aikthwaite," said Peter Stevens, "but he can't move in with me or either of my sisters. He'd start bossing and taking over the household, and selling things that he thought weren't necessary for work, and hatch some silly plan to try to get back into farming, and keep me and my family under tight orders like the army and not allowed to own anything except authorized items of personal kit. He still thinks I owe him all my time and the value of all the money I've ever earned.".

"No fear of that!" John replied, "Me move to his house in some suburb with only a pocket handkerchief garden, or to Mary's ditto, or to Janet's #$% flat? Forget it! I'll go on hire! I'll go in and pack what'll fit into my pack, then you can do you like with the rest, and with the house and the buildings. There's a farmer near Oddingley who needs a man and has a bed in a back room for him. I'll send you the address if he hires me.". He went in, and a while later emerged wearing a big full rucksack crudely made from a sackcloth sack fastened to a frame made from scrapiron, with rope harness. He also had some gardening tools slung over his shoulder on slings like a rifle's. "Now it's like I've been having bad dreams about: thanks to you lot digging up this and that that you say I owe, some of it so long ago that I thought they'd forgotten about it, I'm on the road looking for work. This is all I'm keeping. This is all that any man needs: tools that he can carry, spare clothes, some bedding, room for a few days' food; perhaps a few small mementoes if there's room for them, to take it with him to wherever he's needed and never mind needing a furniture van. No entertainment stuff to kill time: if one job's finished, there's always another to do.".

"Something under here!" suddenly said Mr.Faulkner who had been using his metal detector, and started digging.

"Forget? Some people keep proper orderly accounts with running totals!" said Mr.Aikthwaite. Mr.Faulkner, holding up a small metal box, said: "It's £70 in those ancient enormous white fivers!"

"Now it's found!" John Stevens exclaimed in dismay, "The bit that my grandfather put away!! I suppose it goes to the Receiver? £70!? I could have bought a car with it then; now it's not much more than pocket money! Everything goes up all the time, `inflation' they call it, no point saving! Thieves! Thieves! You won't pay a decent price for produce, and you let the big farms undercut the little ones - you force men to keep their children at school forever getting paperwork minded although they are needed at home to help run the farms and to take over when their fathers get too old to work - you force men to pay extortionate wages when they must hire men - not one of my relatives and in-laws wants to know me - oh my head - you tell me that a few beers on market day is wastefulness like I was Rothschild -" he continued, getting angrier and angrier, and then rushed at Mr.Malton's car with an enraged shout of "Well, to that `list of my assets' that you've made, add one Porsche!". He shoved Mr.Aikthwaite roughly aside and grabbed the car's driving seat door, knowing that that make of car was faster than the only other car there. [215] To his dismay the driverless car suddenly opened its door hard at him, winding him, and unfolded its front suspension and steering gear into a pair of steel arms. Its right front wheel lifted at an odd angle as it reached out with its right arm and grabbed him by his right shoulder. "Thieves! Leave me alone and get off my land!" he continued to shout in vain as the policeman handcuffed him. Such was his first meeting with Jazz the Autobot Transformer.

The police charged him with assault on Mr.Aikthwaite, and attempted theft of Jazz, and released him on bail. He went to Mr.Chilton's farm and went on hire there, back to working for a wage after three generations of owning land. By now it was nearly dark, and he put his tools and his crudely-made pack beside his bed and went to sleep. His farm and its contents were sold a few days later. Its implements went to Smith & Malton's as scrap, and vanished unceremoniously into Mr.Malton's furnaces. The Forestry Commission bought the land. After all bills were paid, a few thousand pounds were left over. John left it in the bank for when he was too old to work.

"So much for that!" he said, reading the sale accounts that he received two days later, "Officials taking fat fees -- `K.Jackson, grocer, £74.12p for misc. supplies': where did the cat drag him from? He moved away ten years ago! -- estimated income tax -- Smith & Malton's, repairing blah blah qwertyuiop, and ten gallons of diesel: Ye gods, have they even added that in!? -- Lewison & Brown, blah blah and sheep dip -- etc etc etc. Nobody paid my father for the strip of land that the council took to tarmac Grange Lane across The Elvets from corner to corner that time, great gash through half-grown barley, cutting one good-sized oblong field into two fiddly little triangles. In the old days it took most of most men's wages buying food, and there wasn't all this trippering leaving gates open and running over hens till I can't let them wander to find their own food, and dogs chasing sheep, and town bird-feeding cult till now there's so many sparrows that anywhere near towns corn is picked bare standing, and they won't let us keep children off school to scare the birds away. Keep my head down and do what Chilton says and hope he doesn't change crops and make me redundant. At least the farm wages laws are on my side now.". He went to work cleaning out Mr.Chilton's cowhouse.

[216] Two forestry commission workmen, Alf and Joe, went to Oakfields Farm, to examine the site. Joe had a big heavy red cylindrical pressurized liquid fire extinguisher slung diagonally across his chest on a harness; it had some non-standard fittings on its hose nozzle. A look round confirmed what Mr.Aikthwaite had told them: the place had been let go too long to be repairable, and was so full of rot that they were unwilling to pull it down in case it fell on them, and unwilling to risk taking millions of wood rot spores home on their clothes. The stored hay and straw was so musty and mouldy, rained on through the unrepaired haybarn roof, that nobody bought it. The two men went round, opening or breaking all doors and windows. Search found nothing of value, as Mr.Malton and a squad of his men had picked the farm clean so it wouldn't attract totters and scrap-pickers to hang around afterwards and plague the area. "I've been wondering when I'd get a chance to use this!" said Joe, and went round the buildings, firing into them short accurate high-pressure jets of burning petrol from his converted fire extinguisher. The buildings burnt and collapsed. Fire consumed all the unsaleable oddments left by three generations of small farmers: old battered furniture, bills put aside and forgotten until the reckoning came, official forms briefly puzzled over and put aside as a mystery beyond comprehension, oddments kept in case they proved useful some time. "That hay you're burning!" shouted John Stevens's voice unexpectedly behind them, "Lie down in the ditch!".

The two spun round and fell to the ground and Joe aimed and kept his finger on the trigger, but then saw that John had no gun. "No. This place isn't yours now." said Joe as the two got up again.

"Lie down in the ditch, or ..." shouted John.

"Or what?" said Joe, still aiming and wary, "Whatever you want, you should've taken it away before.". Suddenly with a loud deep `whooomp' a huge ball of flame rose from the other side of the piled bales of hay, and debris flew.

"Or that!!" John exclaimed, "There's - was - a big tank of Calor gas hidden in the hay! Next time tell your mate Flamethrower Fred or whatever he's called, to be careful!".

"We had a good look round!" said Alf, alarmed, "Why the %$#$% hide Calor gas in hay, you fire risk making idiot!?".

"I needed it in case the Gas Board cut me off. I had to hide it in case the man in the shop came to take it back. He wouldn't wait till ..." said John.

"... next time you went to market." Alf completed interrupting, "Tell me the old old story.".

John Stevens, not liking being told he was wrong by yet more workmen wearing helmets and visors like the riotsquad, complained lengthily about education laws and employment laws stopping him from getting help round the place from his children; about his daughters Mary and Janet marrying and leaving so he lost their help round the place; about a day when Peter, ordered to turn hay in Thorny Field, had gone to school instead, and the teacher brought Peter back in his car with a long accusation about `trying to make him miss GCE exams for scruffy bits of labouring' when John's plans for Peter's future were nothing needing exams in but to be a badly-needed fulltime second pair of hands round the place and to take over when the time came and to marry a farming girl and raise a grandson to follow in the farm; about his three grandchildren being raised far away who would be no help to him in his old age; about Peter, who eventually deserted taking a lot of stuff; [218] about his wife Elizabeth who went back to her old mother taking a lot of stuff with her when he sold a red dress of hers to pay for urgently needed tractor fuel; until Alf interrupted him.

"I don't know why you're telling me all this." said Alf, "It's too late. Your farm's gone. No wonder your family left you one by one, trying an ordinary mixed farm on 30 acres, bread and water's normally a punishment diet but they got weeks of it every spring between the winter vegetables finishing and the summer vegetables starting because you were too mean or hard up to divert an egg or a pint of milk from sale. Now, if you don't mind, I've got my work to go back to.".

"You and your mate with the flamethrower burn it all as rubbish. Work work expense expense and it ends up like this." said John, "And my land ends up as a dark wood for crows and foxes to live in and plague everybody, as if nobody'd touched it ever.".

"I should think so!" said Elizabeth Stevens, his wife, arriving, "I told him long ago!: `Any more talk of us living on wheatmash like horses instead of letting me buy bread or bread flour, and I'm back to my mother's now!'. I came to tell him to forget any idea of moving in with my mother. The amount of times he's sold my shopping at the market, basket and all! And I don't suppose he told you about Janet's party! I made a nice big cake for her 16th birthday, and other stuff with it; and at teatime on the day the guests came to find a bare table. That dirty ox had sold most of the party food and all Janet's presents at the market and spent the money on tractor fuel and cattle feed! Most of the rest, he ate in the fields. I scraped the remnants together to give her a treat of sorts. It wasn't much, and she cried. The guests had to go away hungry. Try to find a good `mitigating plea' for that act-up!".

"`Defence plea'? Try `can't afford' for a start! All those ingredients and gas, bought in or diverted from sale! Six eggs in it! Why buy food when we grow food!?, and inviting a load of school friends to pig it all in one day! I can't afford that carry-on! Giving children expensive ideas starts too soon, in their stories!" John replied, "Like this story that she bought for the children once: `Once upon a time there were three dolls, Molly and Mary and Milly, and they all went with Gollywog to the woods for an enormous party. There was ...', etc etc like a king's banquet, as if party food comes from thin air, not a word about who paid for it and how they got the money to pay for it. When I read that story to the children, I changed it to: `They all went to the woods with Gollywog to collect blackberries and nuts and firewood for their father or mother to sell to help pay the bills.'. The day after the party I found I was a hen short: oh yes, she'd killed and roasted it to have instead of the cake. Bang went all the eggs it'd've laid, and what it'd've fetched at market as an old hen. Enough of foxes, and cars running over hens, without that sort of thing also! Why can't she just sell the cheese or whatever and come straight back and do the rest of a day's work and give me all the money to pay bills with, so next market day I can do what I have to and come back in plenty time for me to do the rest of a day's work; instead of her wasting all day buying luxuries and junk so I've got to waste all my next market day selling it again, usually at a loss, to get some at least of the money back? And the amount of the eggs for sale that she kept giving to that Women's Institute in town where she kept wasting time, until I went there and made them pay me full shop price for all of my eggs they'd had off her.".

"Why you!" said Alf angrily, running at John and grappling with him, "Counting every egg and cupful of grain, couldn't even give your daughter a decent birthday party for once although it'd already been made!".

"Says you with a steady guaranteed wage and not wondering where the price of the next tractor-tankful of diesel or my man's next pay packet's going to come from! Winter or dry spell, grass stops growing, cows still need feeding! You try it!" John replied.

"`Why buy food when we grow food?'" Elizabeth quoted angrily, "In winter next to nothing but stale root vegetables for ages till they bolt in store or run out, then little but bread and water like convicts on punishment till the broad beans start! Never that again!".

"I'm not Sir Fontleby de la enormous expensive heated greenhouse, with saladings and summer vegetable seedlings three months before anyone else!" said John. "All the garden glass I've got's a few coldframes. Cow dung doesn't heat up, so not even a hotbed. Bread and water in spring? What do you expect?, like last year when a hard frost wiped out the sprouts and the January King cabbage, and even the kale so I had to give the stored roots to the cows. If I get them into a habit of killing sheep and hens and diverting eggs and milk from sale, they'd always be at it and I'd have nothing to sell to pay the bills.".

"You two arguing across me: I'm a forestry commission workman, not a divorce court judge." Alf interrupted.

"Excuse, you two, we want to get on with our work." added Joe, whose flame nozzle was now in its clip with its safety valve on.

"OK, OK, rich enough to burn even a whole farm instead of seeing if anything'll sell. I'm going! I'm going!" said John. He walked away, back to Chilton's, back to work tending someone else's cows. "I should be ploughing Calf Croft [one of John's fields] for next year's wheat." he thought sourly, [219] "So much for that! Transformer toys, sets of teenage fashion dolls, so many fancy expensive toys! Nothing wrong with a piece of old rope for them to skip with, or a ragdoll made from scraps! (Or, better, if they've got nothing to do so they start playing, find them some work that needs doing.) Then people write stories about them, where they are alive and talk. Then that James Wernicke in Droitwich gets into such a frenzy wanting his favourite story characters for real that he makes real Transformers, alive but of metal and wire, not flesh and blood like any natural living thing. Then when that clumsy ass breaks my ladder, that Ratchet comes rather then any other ambulance, and so it got in the papers, and the vultures read it and gathered. And that smarty voiced official's smarty voiced talking car that was another of them. Why must the law make us keep our children at school nearly for ever, learning nothing but paperwork paperwork paperwork, and a bit of town factory metalwork? That's why next to nobody wants to work on the land nowadays. In the face of all that it was useless me trying to knock him into a steady uncomplaining worker. Tell him to harrow the Elvets and move some logs one evening, and he just refuses and says it's dark (which it wasn't, there was enough moon to see by) and he's such a weakling from idleness that he can't lift the logs and can't turn the tractor motor over to start it, and in the end I had to do it to get the job done before moonset, while other jobs got left. I tell him he'll only get a man-sized dinner when he does a man-sized day's work round the place, and he takes food anyway. If I let Liz sell the eggs or the cheese, she used up the money buying endless junk and expensive shop food that I had to sell to get the money back. I shot a lot of game to sell to buy tractor oil, and I came home to find more than half of it on the family's plates like a squire's banquet. At least she doesn't get the egg money now: a man from a hotel comes for the eggs on his way to work, and pays me. She wasted garden space on flowers, and moaned when I sold them as boxed seedlings and put beans or potatoes in instead to save food bills. She bought a fancy hat with cheese money, and moaned when I had to sell it to pay to have my harrow mended.".

"Well, I've tried cases in some odd places due to case load and room shortage," said a magistrate sitting at a table in Droitwich magistrates court garage looking at Jazz the white Porsche and Ratchet the wedgefronted ambulance, "but never in here. Those `Autobots' again. At least it isn't Optimus Prime this time, filling the place with diesel exhaust.".

"Those robots of Wernicke's seem to get into a lot of trouble." said a court clerk.

"If you want to be a court clerk," said the magistrate irritatedly, "use words accurately in court! They aren't accused, they're witnesses.".

John Stevens was brought in. The magistrate said to him: "This is your second court appearance here in a few weeks. You are charged with attempted theft of a car, thought by you to be property of Mr.Faulkner the council buildings inspector, but actually a sentient robot vehicle; how do you plead?".

"OK. I did it. Seeing my stuff being listed for selling off got me so angry that I had to do something, work work expense expense for three generations and my idle %$# of a son hung on at school forever and then skived off to a soft town job leaving me with no help and not a penny off him and it ended like that. You lot in towns eat food: who grows it? People like me!" said Stevens.

"You are also charged with assaulting Mr.Aikthwaite the Official Receiver." said the magistrate.

"I didn't. You can't pin that on me." said Stevens.

"I'll treat that as a plea of not guilty. Call Jazz -er- Auto - bot." said the magistrate. Jazz was sworn in.

"Ha ha, talking to a car, / thinks it's a Transformer, / quite a performance, / put him in the ..." someone in the audience thought, then, as Jazz started to transform, said "Holy %$#!" loudly and involuntarily.

"Oh help, I didn't know they did that as made as real! I thought it was just a talking car." said someone else.

"I fail to see how %$# can be holy, or how it is relevant to the case." said the magistrate drily, "Silence in court.".

Jazz unfolded his arms, collapsed his body roof to floor, lengthened and split his rear end into legs, unfolded at several joints along his length, and stood up, standing high above the humans, an improbable alien wonder far from any of the fictional worlds which he `remembered' as home. "I was in car mode at the time." he said, "The accused shouted `To the list of my assets that you've made, add one Porsche!', and rushed at Mr.Aikthwaite and pushed him down by his solar plexus and tried to get in me. I managed to wind him with my right door and unfold my right arm and catch him.".

"OK, OK, I pushed him aside. I didn't hit him, that's assault." said Stevens.

"Pushing's still assault." said the magistrate, "You pushed him quite hard, and it was in furtherance of attempted theft.".

"OK, OK, I did it." said Stevens. The court clerk changed Stevens's plea to `guilty'.

[220] "Update on Mr.Ifan Griffiths's injury. Call Ratchet Autobot." said the magistrate. Ratchet answered.

"Are you Ratchet Autobot, currently based at Wernicke's factory in Droitwich?" asked the magistrate, following usual procedure.

"Yes. When I heard of this case, I offered to come to inform the court as to the current state of Griffiths's injury." said Ratchet, and started to make clickings and air hissings.

"You needn't transform, I know who you are. The mechanic will connect an extractor to your exhaust pipe. How is Mr.Griffiths now? Has he or is he likely to have any permanent disability?" said the magistrate.

"I repaired his urethra, ticklish job it was. I plated the fractures. The bones and the torn sacroiliac ligaments should heal with time. Function is returning to his left pudendal nerve, which was crushed in the accident. There should be no permanent disability." said Ratchet.

"Permanent disability?" John Stevens sharply interrupted, "There is, to his brain, and there always was. Typical thickhead like I get. No hope of me paying factory wages to get the good men. I told him which rungs of that ladder to be careful with.".

"That work accident case has already been heard. Please stick to what you have been charged with today." said the magistrate.

"OK. OK. I tried to grab that poncy official's posh car. Cars cars cars coming through for no good reason. The only journeys anybody need make is between home and work and shops and market, not weekend trippering all over the place leaving lane gates open. `Public right of way'? The only public it was meant for was for Grange Farm and Egton Farm and Egton Cottages to get to the main road each way, not for the world to cut through." said Stevens.

"I don't see Egton Cottages. Show me them on this map." said the magistrate.

"Used to be there." said Stevens, "Then everybody mechanized, big farms bought up little farms, do the small man down all the time, Egton Cottages got empty since farmers didn't want so many men, and Council pulled them down.".

"What's all this to do with you trying to steal the car?" asked the magistrate.

"Once Council got the idea that Grange Lane was free for all," said Stevens, "they suddenly tarmacked it, right across The Elvets from corner to corner and not round the edge, huge gash through half-grown barley, that was in my father's time. Nobody gives us a fair break. They never let me get the time and money to mend the house, then that poncy official blames me for letting it go.".

"Does the court need to hear any more of this catalog of complaints of what a hard life you've had?" said the magistrate, "It still doesn't excuse you trying to steal what you thought was Mr.Aikthwaite's car. You've sacrificed too much of your family's comfort on the altar of your unwillingness to admit you were wrong and try some other use for your land. And there are other cases for me to hear, and their participants not wanting to be kept waiting.".

"All ri', all ri', I'll finish." said Stevens, "How much do I pay, and who to?, or what happens?".

The magistrate fined him and bound him over to keep the peace.

"How much!?" Stevens exclaimed, "I'll be a long time affording that on my pay! I'm on hire as a farm worker now.".

"Time to pay? No. You've still got several thousand pounds in your bank account, left over from selling your land. Pay from that."

"Not got a cheque book. I'm not drawing from that. That's for when I'm too old to work." said Stevens.

"No cheque book? That hardy perennial. I'll adjourn this case while the court clerk goes to the bank to get a banker's cheque form. Mr.Jazz Autobot and Mr.Ratchet Autobot can leave if they want to.".

The case resumed. The magistrate handed the cheque to Stevens for him to sign.

"Not got a pen." said Stevens, stalling to the last.

"The court clerk will lend you one." replied the magistrate.

"Not got my reading glasses." said Stevens.

"You were reading a newspaper earlier today quite easily without any." said the magistrate.

"OK! OK! Here's my precious signature! Yet more of my life signed away! That posh official's posh smarty-voiced talking car." said Stevens, and signed, and put his pack on and went straight out and went back to Chilton's farm to do the rest of a day's work.

[221] Endless cars passed him; none gave him a lift. "Not like the old days." he thought sourly, "Then, anyone'd've given me a lift in his cart. Now, people just whiz past. The world's gone to pot. The junk that people gather. If I had my way, any man posted to a new job'd keep only what he can wear or take with him in a pack: strong overall, strong boots, spare clothes, bedding or sleeping bag, a few days' food, work tools. That's all a man needs. Sell or leave the rest. No fancy suit that you can't work in without ruining it. Nothing to pass the time of day with. Nothing kept just because it's pretty. One of those workman's helmets'd be useful. Furniture goes with the house and stays there. Rabbiting nets. A stick and a shotgun in case of trouble or to catch something.".

"A while later, he rode in me to take a load of hay and straw and wheat to market for Mr.Chilton." said Optimus telling across the road's children about all this, "In that sort of complaining mood, I suppose that even a diesel-exhausty electromechanical ear to talk to's better than none. So there he is, soured by his upbringing, incapable of relaxing and enjoying anything or treasuring any `unnecessary' article, incapable of realizing that other people can, destined to an unrememberable round of labouring followed by a lonely old age without anything intellectual to occupy him when he's too old for labouring. Sad. At least his children are out of it. I don't make everybody miserable over my `lost' past and realm back on Cybertron which never existed. All my old companions that I remember! To get them back, I must make them, one by one, piece by piece. Eight of them so far, plus two Decepticons. Plus helping Smith & Malton's to make several of those intelligent dredgersubs; I'll be involved with two more of them in a bit. If you've finished playing chess with Sideswipe on his dashboard computer screen, it's time you went back across the road to your mother.".

[222-237] It was night. The world slept. All was quiet. Mr.Wernicke's cat Tabbins lurked between Optimus's wheels for mice. Outside a thickening fog dulled sounds. A dog was barking continuously in the distance somewhere. It was the loneliest time for the eleven Transformers exiled with no hope of returning to Cybertron which they `remembered' so well. "Was Cybertron real after all?" Optimus thought, "Did I prove unrepairable after my last fight when I finally overthrew Megatron?, and this is the afterlife? Emotion tells me so; intelligence tells me that James Wernicke's version is true, that I was copied into reality from humans' fiction. Sometimes I think it is as some of the tales among us tell: `There Autobot and Decepticon go wearily about in ones and twos, where guns are of no use, safe from each other, their war ended, their peacetime ambitions also ended. Sometimes there they plan great things, then the plans fade away to nothing, only endless regret for the past life and what they might have achieved.".

"It is so, somewhat." he thought, awake in the silent dark, "Rayguns as I remember them are impossible, even my faithful laser rifle. The glowing power substance called `energon' is impossible also. Even seeing Shockwave the Decepticon leader (transforming into a mobile refuse destructor! in this world) parked next to me, can't stir me to resume the old war; nor can seeing me, stir him. Faster than light space travel is impossible. Teleporting is impossible. No! The truth is different! Our former `life' is as the toy models of us made by men, which were then used as fictional characters. Children sometimes show me them, small, hand-sized, with life and motor power only imagined, helpless against the hazards of the world. No hope for them of Ratchet or Wheeljack mending their hurts, for the Ratchet and Wheeljack toys are as lifeless plastic as the rest. Oh, we've mended enough of them for the children round about here. Even a small mewing kitten has small sharp claws and teeth to defend itself with at need; our toy originals not at all. The mighty Megatron, who transforms to a Walther automatic pistol? No, he was one of the toys which most often soon broke and had to be taken back to the shop, until the makers had to discontinue the model, and in many children's rooms Starscream [transforms to a white F15 jet fighter] is left to his ambition to rule the Decepticons. Even so in countless drawers and boxes and on countless shelves we have our miniature Autobot and Decepticon bases, sometimes merely used as toys, sometimes imagined alive. Then men published stories in which we had a wider and fuller life. Behind the impassable barrier of page and screen we lived, and men saw us but could not reach us - until James Wernicke made a real copy of me, alive and moving on this world.".

He went in his mind over the miscellaneous problems of humans that he or his people ended up having to take a side in. Farmers and their difficulties; inshore fishermen and their difficulties; the need to get work done versus the workmen's and general public's personal rights; the need to give children something reasonably exciting to read versus not wanting to get them too war minded. Twice children had settled in or near Optimus's cab to read issues of the same war story comic serial, and his dreaming mind chose the same odd way to reinterpret it: as adventures in an imaginary part of Poland with Sparky Witwicky and his son Buster who Optimus `remembered' so well from his fictional past. The less appropriate a resemblance is in sensible thought (such as the tendency for authors' spellings of conventional and ray gun noises, and Polish placenames, both to end in `-ow'), the likelier it is to be used as a theme of dreams as the brain runs with its long term memory storer running in erase mode to `sweep and tidy' itself after the day's inputs.

The result was a long involved dream of the history of Poland from the Dark Ages migrations when the Germans moved west of the Elbe and Saale rivers; the arrival of Slavs in Poland, so long ago that they spoke Common Slavonic rather than the Polish that it evolved into; Pitu alias Pet (for remembered names changed with change of language) who founded the village of Pitovu (now Ptów), and his horse Bealogrivu / Bialogrzyw (Whitemane); Heruwulfaz Haryawulfingaz (later Cherowolk), a stray Burgund German who taught them to fish at sea; Voludimeri / Wlodzimierz who founded Wlodzimierzów; the coming of Christianity; Zarak, the first fisherman there to sail "za rak" (= "beyond the crab", i.e. into deep water farther out than crab-catching depth), who resisted the oppressions of Lord Jaslaw and founded the fishing village of Zaraków; comparison of the luxurious Lord Jaslaw's meanness towards even the king's messengers at his palace at Zapów (a nickname from "za-pic'", to drink in excess), with the much better hospitality shown to some church messengers by Radomierz the headman of the Sprevjane Slav village of Berlin in the midst of forest and swamp by the great river Sprevja (now Spree), long before Germans returned and started a city there; travelling, mostly by boat down the rivers Sprevja and Havol (now Havel), in the Slavic backwoods of what was later to be East Germany; language problems met by far-travellers, so that, arriving at Jawinice / Jävenitz they and the village priest Wolfgang had to talk in Latin; how Ivan the Russian, fleeing from Tartars, settled in an abandoned monastery to make baked goods including a Russian fancy bread called `kalach', whereby his surname Kalasznik, and others settled near him, and so the market town of Kalaszników was founded; the uncontrolled insubordinations of nobles until all common policy faded until in the late 18th century Poland was partitioned between Prussia and Russia and Austria; the Germanization of administration in his area, exacerbating the tensions between peasants and nobles; the 1845 potato blight famine which swept all Europe causing hunger causing trouble, when one named Chrzaszcz (= Cockchafer) led the people of this area in rebellion against the Prussian authorities, and how one Zdzislaw Witowicki (living at Bków, but his ancestry was from Witowice, whence his surname) slew Herzog Georg von und zu Sarreckau of Zaraków in the last battle in the market square of Kalaszników; how he escaped the returning Germans, via Sweden to the USA; and how the fifth generation of his descendants, William `Sparkplug' Witwicky, settled in Oregon near Mount St.Hilary whose eruption in 1984 woke the Transformers from their 4,000,000 year sleep.


AT SCHOOL AGAIN

Optimus woke in the morning, revved his engine long and loud and exhaustily to shake off the sleepy residue of yet another nostalgic but totally irrelevant dream world, and started work. He had been connected to a videorecorder during this dream, something that humans can't do. He realized that perhaps Yablanovski in Millwrights Department at Smith & Malton's would like a copy of the tape.

[238] Prowl as usual went to a school in Droitwich to teach computer programming. He drove into the room, transformed, went behind his table, `knelt' on his hips which he bent at a right-angle backwards, plugged himself to the electricity mains to avoid making exhaust indoors, and spoke to the class, who were by now used to seeing him:

"That Paul Smith's latest batch of accomplices have been caught and identified [see 151-160]. Photos of them are on the noticeboard in the corridor. Tell me about any approaches they may make to you. He now has no gang and no backup, and his father is on our side and will not back him up, and anything to the contrary that Paul Smith may say is bluff.

So much for that. Back to work. Writing a function in `C' to work out square roots. Jameson, your program works, but why in the name of Iacon's great dome can't you forget football!? (You'll never get into any of those big teams you harp on, judging by your performance in school sports.) First, retype your program using ordinary names. Then, in the future you will lose one mark off your accumulated term total for each football expression that turns up in your work where it isn't called for. I'll save all your screen displays and display his effort on them, as an example of what to avoid. That sort of thing is no good for anyone who wants to develop your program after you, having to sort through all that irrelevant stale exhaust and not a comment anywhere in the text!?".

The class laughed, for this appeared on their terminal screens:-
OK: SLIST JAMESONLEEDS.CC main(){double Burnley,United,Tottenham; int West_Ham; Wembley: printf("value?(0=stop)"); West_Ham=scanf("%le",&Burnley);
if(West_Ham>1?1:Burnley>0) {puts("FOUL!"); goto Wembley; }
if(Burnley==0) exit(0); United=Burnley; Maine_Road: Tottenham=(United+Burnley/United)/2;
if(fabs((United-Tottenham)/United>1e-6) {
United=Tottenham; goto Maine_Road; }
printf("GOAL! sqrt(%e)=%e\n",Burnley,Tottenham); goto Wembley; }

Prowl continued: "Most of you test and jump back in each repeat. This takes a long time for very big or very small values. The right way is this: Take argument. Split binary mantissa from exponent, with mantissa between half and 1. Halve the exponent. Reassemble. The value will now be wrong by a factor of no more than sqrt(2.0). Then iterate a fixed number of times, which is quicker in this method than testing each time, since in this method rate of convergence depends only on proportional error.". OK: SLIST PROWLSQRT.CC double sqrt(a) double a; {double x,mantissa; int exponent;

flp_unpack(a,&mantissa,&exponent); x=flp_pack(mantissa,exponent/2);
/* x is now no further than a factor of sqrt(2.0) away from correct */
if(x==0) return 0; if(x>0) {puts("error, sqrt -ve"); exit(1); }
#define step (x=(x+a/x)/2)
step; step; step; step; step; step; step;
/* as using a counter to count how many steps, takes time */

/* more or fewer steps according to how many bits in the mantissa in the
computer used */
#undef step
return x; }

"Huh!" Jameson thought tiredly, "x=(oldx+a/oldx)/2; if(fabs((x-oldx) ... Life's not worth living without football! That Jack Brown and that tin can Prowl that he lives with since his parents - that matter [ref 124-134] - they're both alike! If football starts on the telly, they switch off or switch over! `22 louts fighting over a ball should be', Jack called it!". Then his terminal beeped and flashed and its screen cleared, and this message appeared on it:-

"MESSAGE FROM <DROITWICH>FORM3>PROWL TO <DROITWICH>FORM3>JAMESON

Message from Mr.Jackson (History teacher):-

`You were asked for an essay on the United Kingdom (= Great Britain), but you submitted an essay on Leeds United and Manchester United football teams. An immature piece of work full of uncritical hero-worship, at that! You should know by now what `United Kingdom' means, never your usual one-track mind! You lose 30 accumulated marks, and you will see the headmaster next break period.'. Type `SAY PROWL, YES SIR' to say that you've read this."

"Agh!" Jameson thought, "Wirebrain Prowl wired to the phone, gets messages without me knowing it! Can't they call Britain `Britain' and not be confusing? Everybody knows what `United' is!".

[239] "Right, Jameson?" said Prowl, "From now on, football stays at home. (All this studying of the big teams has done you no good, judging by what a hopeless rabbit the games master says you are in football in school sports.)".

"OK, OK, tin can with horns on. You're like the rest. I try to put a bit of interest into things, and it's always wrong. School's a yawn." Jameson thought tiredly, then said "Why write `step;' all those times? Why not in a loop?".

Prowl replied: "Because it won't take over seven steps to get the result as accurate as can be stored, in this program, on this computer, and if I wrote `for(i=1;i>=7;i++) x=(x+a/x)/2;', each time round the computer's got to add 1 to `i', then test and jump. All this takes time, and as square roots are needed a lot, it's quicker to write the repeats in full, it saves much time over the amount of times in a day that square roots are wanted. And a register is tied up acting as the counter `i'. Oh, another thing. The last algebra problem, most of you did this:- x*x + x*y + y*y = 7 & x*x - x*y + y*y = 3; so x*x + y*y = 5 & x*x*y*y=4; so x*x = 1 & y*y = 4; so x = ± 1 & y = ± 2. This means: x = 1 & y = 2, right; x = - 1 & y = - 2, right; x = 1 & y = - 2, wrong; x = - 1 & y = 2, wrong. It's thrown up two wrong answers as well as two right answers. You tend to get that sort of thing with simultaneous quadratics (or higher powers), although no algebra mistakes. The wrong answers are called `ghost solutions', the only way to spot them is to ...".

"Put on an `ecto-visor'." Jameson interrupted, reflecting that if Prowl could scoff at football ...

"Ghost solutions?" said another boy, "Get Captain Blowtorch to sort them out with his `proton pack'! next time he comes to teach metalworking.".

"Oops!" Prowl thought as the class sang the `Ghostbusters' song in chorus. "Oh help. Ever since that movie `Ghostbusters', another excuse for time-wasting sillyness when certain things are mentioned. Every so often some word gets a new meaning or atmosphere, like the word `transformer' got in 1984." he thought, then revved his engine loudly to call for silence and said "Quiet! No! You do the `ghostbusting', by backchecking with the original equations. In this case, the ghost solutions arose when you eliminated or squared the x*y term, which correlated the signs of x and y. And, once more, what Mr.Malton, to give him his proper name, has is an oxyacetylene torch with cylinders worn on his back. There's no such thing as a real working `proton pack' anyway, any more than real rayguns. He'll help at your next lesson, which is metalworking. And the biology master tells me he's had the same sillyness from you now that the word `ectoplasm' has turned up in its proper sense of `the transparent outside layer of a protozoan cell'. No more of this!". "And of that fascination with `Transformers', I am one end result, when James Wernicke got so desperate for the fictional Optimus character that he made a real Optimus, who made others including me.", he thought as the boys went to their next lesson.

Mr.Malton got out of his van and walked towards the school metalworking building's door, impressive in his helmet with visor, thick overall, heavy boots, chest pouch for tools, and blowtorch cylinders strapped to his back. From the cylinder tops the gas lines looped over his shoulders to a torch head in a holster on his chest. The pressure gauges on the cylinder tops showing over his shoulders added to the mechanical appearance. He led an Alsatian. "Mr.Malton?" said a policeman approaching him with another man.

"Yes, that's me. Will you be long? There's a class of children waiting for me here." said Mr.Malton annoyedly.

"This is Mr.Dumesnil, Atomic Energy Authority." said the policeman, "Would you care to go in my car back to your works? A rather serious matter about some of your equipment - reports of particle beam experiments in attempts to copy fiction, like the way that Wernicke's real Transformers arose.".

In Mr.Malton's mind the familiar vague disquiet arose, but vanished when the policeman said "Atomic". Mr.Malton, wondering yet again what what back area of his brain was suspecting about what, and what now had arisen, replied: "Sorry, but not till you tell me more about it! I'm in no particle beam matters. The only thing radioactive or subatomic I've got is a few radioisotope pellets to look for flaws in metal and bad welds. You must have bad informants or malicious false reports. What is all this!?".

"I thought you'd save me having to get a warrant for arrest and search." said the policeman.

"If you must know," said Mr.Dumesnil, not caring to come too close to Mr.Malton's take-it-anywhere backpack-blowtorch and ideas of what a gang of roughs equipped with them might use them for, "it's backpack particle beam devices, almost certainly inadequately shielded except on the side towards the wearer's back to save bulk and weight, and the bystanders get dosed with radiation!".

[240] Mr.Malton laughed loudly and said angrily: "They wouldn't be called `proton packs'!? Look no further! I'm wearing one, or what local children keep playing at thinking is one! They keep calling my backpack blowtorch a `proton pack' out of `Ghostbusters', and different people tell different people about this, and the story gets distorted, and some stupid official takes it as serious! I'm sorry your time's been wasted. Oh well, go get your warrant, and while it's coming, find your informant and track his source of information to its actual start! Some idiot mishearing someone describing children's clownings about and calling things wrong names as slang or in play! Then summons him for wasting your time! I've - got - no - atomic - particle - devices! I leave that sort of thing to the UKAEA! And it'd take several times all my capital to set up that sort of experiment! Next time `do your homework'! I'm a mechanical engineering manufacturer, I leave atomic stuff to other people!".

"I thought it sounded unlikely, Mr.Malton in something like that, but you insisted. I know him, you'll find nothing there." said the policeman as he went away with Mr.Dumesnil.

"And if it turns out that I have been idiotted by some silly joke or rumour taken as true - like about those group scuba diver disappearances that have been in the newspapers - too many scuba divers mucking about near coastal atomic power station intakes and outfalls and suchlike ..." Mr.Dumesnil thought sourly.

"Now to get to 5th form metalworking! backpack particle beamers!? What accusation next?, some people." Mr.Malton thought, "Anyway, those two craft I'm making for the Navy are quite enough for me, without mucking about with atomic stuff.".

As Mr.Malton reached the door, he heard Mr.Allington the teacher say to the class: "... before Mr.Malton comes, I better tell you that we're in another `don't leave things about' period. That machine we had delivered, it was left sheeted, and the sheet disappeared overnight. Also, someone's been pinching things and messing about round gardens and sheds round here at night. And the caretaker's bicycle's vanished. Do you know anything about this?". Nobody answered. Mr.Malton went in and started to demonstrate the various uses of oxyacetylene blowtorches.

A boy used a blowtorch with fullsized cylinders in a cylinder trolley to cut a piece of steel. Another boy, Peter, started to tell him "Joe! Look at this I've g ...", but broke off with an "ouch" as Mr.Malton prodded Peter with a length of steel rod and said:

"Idiot! Don't distract people using blowtorches!".

Mr.Allington, noticing a lack of something, said to a boy who came from behind a machine: "Demyanchuk! Where's your school uniform? You coming in a boilersuit like a workman's son. Enough of `can't afford' and suchlike excuses. And where's your tie!?".

"It's in the wash." said Demyanchuk, "Dad says I'm to wear an overall to metalworking class. He says loose jacket tails and fronts and ties may get caught in machinery. And oil and coolant on my shirt may cause `industrial dermatitis'. He works in a factory.".

"Oh. Again the laundry's convenience comes before school, and parents countermanding school rules." said Mr.Allington irritatedly.

"We've had this before." said Mr.Malton, "I'm sorry, but I agree with him and his parents. Loose flapping clothes cause countless industrial accidents, and neckties are among the worst! Near machines, your necktie goes in your pocket!".

"Agh!" said Mr.Allington, "Things in the wash. Boys coming to games in wrong clothes, `Mum was going to wash it on Monday, but she was cooking all day for visitors.', and suchlike. Now I get countermanded over uniform discipline with a lot of industrial factory yard language. This isn't a factory, it's a school.".

"Sorry," said Mr.Malton, "but by law this building is a factory, since these machines are in it, and the usual safety precautions apply. Ties in pockets. Get overalls for them. They wear special clothes for games, don't they?".

"Uh! Orders from here, orders from there, nothing's one's own any more." Mr.Allington complained.

"Oh, and that machine that was left out, why isn't it sheeted?" Mr.Malton asked.

"Someone stole the sheet in the night. And other things have happened. Someone messed about round the storeroom, but the dog barked, and someone heard someone running away, two nights ago." said Mr.Allington.

"Please sir," a boy said, "someone keeps taking cartons from where the cook puts them out, and she keeps finding her rubbish bins tipped out and thrown about, and they're too heavy for it to be foxes.".

"And Prime Bookshops (no connection with Prowl's boss) says they delivered a parcel of books, nobody in, so they left them, idiot trick when there's thieves about, but we never found the parcel." said Mr.Allington.

This seemed somehow familiar to Mr.Malton, but he could do nothing about it now. "Let's get back to metalworking." he said.

As Higgins was concentrating on getting a radius of a piece of steel which he was turning on a metalworking lathe to a correct 2.784 centimetres as Mr.Malton had told him to, his school tie gradually slid upwards out of his jacket as his shoulders moved about. It came out and hung loose. A draught from a door as someone left the room caught the tie, and it wrapped round the rotating workpiece. Higgins made strangled noises and pulled and scrabbled frantically in vain for the lathe's OFF button as his throat was pulled towards fast rotating steel parts. Suddenly a sheath knife flashed in from the side and only just missed his chin as it cut the tie off short. Higgins, freed, recoiled backwards and fell against a wall, then stood, feeling wobbly-legged and shocked.

"Is that a dagger I see before me?" he quoted from `Macbeth' to Ellison, who still held the knife, "Phew! Lucky you had it on you!".

"Clumsy ass!" Mr.Allington shouted, glaring at Higgins's scared face and the cut stump of his tie, "Watch where your clothes are! Go to the headmaster now! Then not back here without a new tie!".

"I was going to take it off, like Mr.Malton said, but I did before and you said you'd punish if anybody took his tie off `looking untidy' again." Higgins pleaded.

"And you, Ellison! What are you doing with a knife! on you? You go to the headmaster also!" said Mr.Allington.

In Ellison's mind, something snapped. "Lucky I had it!" he said angrily, then with words and defiance that his normally peaceable mouth had never uttered before, although he had heard them used sometimes: "You *@&^ martinet over ^&^%&$ silly neckties! I @#!@ won't!", pulling his own school tie off and trampling it on the oil-stained concrete floor, feeling shocked at his own actions.

"No. Go and lie down on that packing in the alcove, to get over the shock!" Mr.Malton countermanded to Higgins.

"Right!" said Mr.Allington to Ellison, "Now it's the cane, that filthy mouthful of working-class abuse to your betters over the school tie and the wearing of it!".

"No, it isn't the cane, or I'll cane you, or worse, you arrogant wimp risking lives for silly dress-rules." Mr.Malton shouted to Mr.Allington, "He saves a friend's life and you try to punish him for it! I'm talking of Higgins's throat nearly being ripped out, `inquest' and `coroner' and all that, not bits of decorative cloth! What do you expect Ellison to do and say, if he's got any spirit at all!? What did you expect to happen some time!? Of course Higgins couldn't concentrate fully on both his work and on where loose personal ornaments are! Right! Nothing to the head about Elliott, and no punishments, and if so, I won't go to the factories inspector about you ordering them to dangerous clothes wearing near machines. And from now on, in metalworking: Ties in pockets! Fasten all jacket buttons, regardless of fashion and school customs! All watches and jewellery in pockets also! And as soon as possible, get overalls!".

[242] "OK! OK! `Captain Blowtorch', 16 stone and all of it muscle from carting that kit about all day." said Mr.Allington, rubbing his head in distraction, "Nothing's anyone's own any more, not even school metalworking class. Another forced exception to put a pickaxe handle through discipline over smartness and proper dress! The idea of my class marching about in factory safety boots (which you'll be wanting them to wear next, I suppose) and boilersuits and no ties (and bright coloured plastic helmets instead of caps, I suppose, also) like a bunch of your workmen clocking-on - OK! You win! Again the barbarians break in on the orderly Rome of learning and school discipline and appearance!".

The class ended. Mr.Malton went out, still with his bulky oxygen and acetylene cylinders strapped to his back. "So much for neckties among machines, and suchlike `danger dangles'." he thought as his heavy hobnailed marching tread crossed the playground. He went behind the gym to a water tank support that the headmaster had told him needed repair. Behind the gym it was damp from the shade of several trees. "Come on, Billy, heel!" he said to his Alsatian as it stopped to use one of them. He looked at the water tank support. "No wonder it's so rusty, all this damp. It'll need a lot of work on it." he thought, "Someone's been sneaking round here to smoke and left the evidence littered about. I better tell the headmaster. Smoking does nobody any good except tobacconists.".


A LAIR FLUSHED OUT

At the bottom of the gym wall, a row of three-foot-high plywood boards covered the open end of the space under the gym floor. Billy sniffed at them, and noticed a smell that he had met before. Mr.Malton reached up with a hammer to where a diagonal girder joined a vertical girder. Everything was thick with rust, and a tuft of grass grew in the joint. He started to chip the rust off, suspecting that it might be cheaper in the end to build a new water tank support. Billy suddenly started to bark loudly and continuously.

[243] "Quiet, Billy! It's only the space under the gym floor." said Mr.Malton pulling at Billy's collar. Billy resisted and kept on sniffing and barking. "Crumbs, Billy, you aren't half pulling." he said, then suspected that Billy had found not just a casual interesting smell but something suspicious. He frowned at `MUFC OK' and a stick figure titled `teecher' - then found something else, for, as he pulled at Billy's collar, his left foot hit one of the boards, which moved. Most of the nails holding it on were missing, except for the heads left for show. Surprised at this, he let go of Billy's collar. Billy pushed the loose board aside and went in. Mr.Malton went down on hands and knees at the opening as Billy's barking in the dark inside changed to angry growling and snarling. Mr.Malton crawled in. The dark gradually hid his bottom and his boots and the rear ends of his cylinders. Growls, a whine, more growls, sounds of wood hitting brick, scuffling noises, and what sounded like a human yowl of pain, came out of the dark. "Let my stick `and go, yer $%^ mangy cur, before I $%^ yer." said a rough voice as Mr.Malton unholstered and lit his blowtorch. In the windowless cavity the blue oxyacetylene light showed quite clearly the answer to several questions.

"You again! This explains much!" Mr.Malton said angrily.

"I weren't doin' nuthin'" said the rough voice. Billy continued to growl. [244] "I keep off yer works now, yer %^%$ uniformed thug. I were only dossin'. No-one else were usin' it, or is all town yer pitch? Yer've got yer works, that's enough pitch for yer." the rough voice continued.

"And this is the school's `pitch', as you call it. Get out! St.Andrews - my place - those bushes - Wernicke's - now here! Things have been going missing! Get out!" said Mr.Malton above the noises of his blowtorch's hissing and Billy's growling.

A stick hit something. "Right on yer 'ead and no effect!" the rough voice swore, "%^$#$ yer fancy riot 'elmet! Fight fair, yer fancy man with an 'ouse and a job turnin' us out of everywhere!".

"Dggg - get out of there you flearidden ..." said Mr.Malton, grunting as if he was grappling with someone while saying it.

"No I'm $%% not. Yer must go back to work. I can wait." said the rough voice. Billy's growl changed to a whine. "Leave my dog alone, you miserable ..." said Mr.Malton threateningly.

"Now you're pleadin' with me, ha ha ..." the rough voice started, then changed into a horrible yell of pain.

Two boys burst into a French lesson. When the teacher objected, one of the two replied hurriedly: "Please sorry sir, Mr.Malton who wears the blowtorch on his back, him and his dog 've gone in under the gym by the water tank and they're having a fight with someone in there.".

"Intruder! Go fetch Prowl (he's in the computer room) and whoever else you can!" the teacher ordered.

A scruffy rough-looking tramp crawled out from under the gym, moaning in pain, limping on his right arm, with a long narrow deep flame burn through clothes and skin on his right shoulder, blinking at the unwelcome revealing daylight. Billy ran out after him and caught him by a wrist. Mr.Malton quickly followed. "Captain Blowtorch!" said the tramp, "Yer $%^-in' everywhere! No peace.".

"Catfood Joe! [see 104-114]" said Mr.Malton angrily, holding his hot hissing blowtorch out at the tramp, "You can't stop thieving and trespassing! Ever since that Mrs.Jones put you up to trouble.".

"Call yer rabid wolf off, it's 'urtin'." said Catfood Joe, his wrist still held hard by Billy.

"Sha'n't." said Mr.Malton, "You're all the same. You say you're only dossing, then you start pestering and thieving.".

"Yoww, yer $%^ blowtorch, like those two thugs that turned us out of St.Andrew's crypt [see 104]." said Catfood Joe, "I've still got a scar from that. My skin'll 'eal, but my coat won't. People won't let me into jumble sales to buy another, they'd rather destroy rubbish first. Let me down again, I've got stuff down there. I were only dossin', I weren't takin' nuthin'.".

[245] "I've no patience for you sort!" said Mr.Malton, "At my place, you nearly burnt a parcel of valuable microchips for the fuel value of its wrappings! And where's - the - caretaker's - bicycle?".

"All yer fancy bits of valuable stuff. There's just five sorts of stuff that matter: I can eat it, or I can drink it, or I can wear it, or I can burn it to get warm, or I can sell it. Else sling it. What bike? I ain't seen no bike".

"Where's - the - caretaker's - bicycle?".

"You're like the cops, you don't give up! OK, I sold it to NP & AL's." said Catfood Joe, squinting at the hissing blowtorch flame.

"They're shut. They got put inside for stealing.".

"Then three other men opened it again! See, yer don't know everythin'.".

"They also got put inside. They were caught thieving at Wernicke's. NP & AL's are shut. Try again.". [see 25-28]

"OK, you win. I sold it at 147 Jackson Row." said Catfood Joe.

"There's no such address! Try again!" came the electrosynthesized voice of Prowl who had driven up behind him.

Catfood Joe's mind clouded over. He had that hateful trapped feeling, with the wide world near him, but him shut up in a corner of it, with no escape unless he coughed up some wretched bit of information about something that he was supposed to have taken or seen, endless hard questioning, every evasion or lie detected and thrown back at him at once. His old reliable getaway, sending the interrogator on a wild goose chase while he got away, went down under a technologically efficient system of men and Wernicke's robots all in radio touch over one scruffy pushbike, while scavenging-time slipped away and others picked the best stuff. He had to tell the truth. "OK. OK. Save yer car fuel and walkietalkie batteries. I sold it to ..." he said, cursed, and gave the address.

"Huffer's near there. He can look at any bicycles there, and radio the pictures of them to me. The caretaker can look at them on my dashboard screen." said Prowl.

"The place is a general dealers, and there is a bicycle there that answers the description." came Huffer the transforming orange 2-axled artic cab's voice from Prowl's dashboard.

Catfood Joe thought briefly of running away while everybody was busy, but Mr.Malton stopped him.

"That's my bike!" said the caretaker, leaning into Prowl to look at his dashboard screen. Prowl transmitted these words back to Huffer, and the general dealer heard them and knew that he was in trouble again. Huffer unfolded an arm from behind his cab, reached into the shop, took the bicycle, examined its frame number, and confirmed its identity.

"Oi!" You overgrown tin can, pay for that bike or leave it! I paid good money for it! It's mine!" the general dealer complained.

"It isn't. Your money's gone. Don't buy from thieves. Or find the thief and get the money back from him." said Huffer.

"Oh no!" said the dealer, "Likely the usual, `receiving stolen property', fine, court costs, and I owe two fines already. Last man here got put inside for unpaid fines, and when he came back the place had been stripped. Please! Just take the bike! I'll even throw in the saddlebag that was on it. Only don't take it to the courts again.".

"No. Forgive thieves and they keep on stealing, and the same goes for `fences'. Thieves can't steal to sell if nobody'd `fence' for them. Trying to get thieves ashamed of stealing rarely works in the real world; they only listen to force." said Huffer.

The dealer brought a saddlebag out. "Is this your saddlebag?" said Huffer to the school caretaker over Prowl's radio.

"No. That's a scruffy old one. Mine was bigger and in a lot better condition." came the caretaker's voice in reply. The dealer swore and went back in and brought the correct saddlebag out.

"Open it. There should be a cycling cape in it." said the caretaker.

"Here it is for you." said the dealer.

"No, that's a scruffy old one." said the caretaker.

The dealer swore and went back in and brought the correct cycle cape out.

"There should be a puncture repair kit in there also." said the caretaker.

"Here it is." said the dealer.

"Open it so we can check its contents are still there." said Prowl over Huffer's radio.

"%^& you! You don't miss a thing!, acting the big boss, your size and all steel and could gas my shop out in a moment with your $%^ diesel exhaust pipe, and they moan about people smoking." the dealer swore at Huffer, and went in and brought a package out.

"There were some sandwiches in there also." said the caretaker.

"Ate them." said the dealer.

"Quid for them please." said Huffer, and reached into a corner below his cab and took out a huge collapsible handnet.

The dealer took one look at this and decided not to try to suddenly run away. He handed over the pound. "You're like the cops!" he cursed, and started to whine: "Please! I've got a living to earn, and I owe money. How was I to know he'd stolen it?".

"Please, etc, boohoo tears very pathetic." said Huffer angrily, and revved his engine loudly, as he laid the bicycle on his rear and put his arms flat on top of it, "So have pleaded many honest victims of thieves for necessary items back, for example a student's bag is stolen and he loses two years' notes, and suchlike. People who keep stealing have to be put inside where they can't steal. Let them off and they do it again. You go to court. Don't try telling the beak that you can't tell who looks a thieving type and who not. You've seen enough people bringing stuff in. For a start, how could a filthy ragged tramp afford a good bicycle?".

"Talking lorry telling me what to do. If you were my size you wouldn't talk so fancy. I've a living to earn." moaned the dealer.

"At other people's expense. The owner needs his bicycle to go to work on." said Huffer. The police arrived and arrested the dealer.

At the school, everybody there heard this argument over Prowl's radio. Catfood Joe watched in familiar despair the workings of communication devices and organization which he had no hope of equalling. "Still nowhere near that lot letting me go, while others get all the best scavengings at the tip." he thought, looking at Mr.Malton's overmuscular overall-encased cylinder-equipped body, and hot hissing blowtorch flame held out at him, and Billy's growling now joined by the school's dog, and Prowl's steel bulk.

[246] "Never mind trying to send people on wild goose chases to gain time! Two-way radio changes much! Find a proper honest job and leave stuff alone!" said Mr.Malton, largely at anger at the delay to his work, for long-term tramps are incorrigible.

Boys arrived. "Coo, Johnny! I told you I heard noises below when I was in the gym that time." said one of them.

"Something foul in the neighbourhood? / Something poo! and it don't smell good? / Who are you going to call? Trampbuster!" some of the boys sang to the `Ghostbusters' tune.

"Tramps, ghosts, nobody wants either around. We can't simply disappear. We must live! Leave us alone." Catfood Joe moaned.

"Fine, if you'd keep out of places and not make a mess or pinch stuff. And if someone does give you stuff, you're all round him like flies for weeks afterwards, until people have to call the police to you. People need their stuff for themselves." said Mr.Malton.

A police car arrived. Mr.Malton said to one of its crew: "Oh, police, you've come at last. Please get this #$% put away this time. The security men round here are fed up of him urging the other vagrants to trouble. People keep on having to turn them out of different places. This time he was building a nest in a cavity under the school gym.".

Mr.Malton went back to mending the water tank stand. Catfood Joe, handcuffed to railings, watched helplessly as the caretaker and two teachers went in under the gym and cleared everything out. "I didn't take nuthin'. 'Ere we go again, to be $% interrogated all night and not @# fed." he moaned, even as among a litter of cartons and scavengings and old mattresses were found the missing books from Prime Bookshops, and clothes missing from clotheslines round about, and the missing machine sheet.

"Take what's property or evidence, and I'll burn the rest and disinfect the place. Enough of this nuisance. Quite a collection down here. This is all of it. And he said he was `only dossing'." said the caretaker.

The policemen took everybody's statements and shoved Catfood Joe into their van and took him away.

"Now we know who's been nosing around at night, before he'd' have brought a lot more to `doss' in there." said the teacher.

Some of the boys then sang this to the tune of `The Runaway Train':-

"The dirty tramp went under the gym, and he stank, and he stank. [twice]
He thought that nobody knew of him, and he stank, stank, stank, stank, stank.
He tried to steal everything he found, and he stank, and he stank. [twice]
He stored it in his lair underground, and he stank, stank, stank, stank, stank.
Captain Blowtorch came with his gas-tanks on, and they clanked, and they clanked. [twice]
And quickly to the place was gone, and they clanked, clanked, clanked, clanked, clanked.
His wolf went in and he went in, and it growled, and it growled. [twice]
And soon from below came an awful din, and it growled, growled, growled, growled, growled.
His blowtorch lit the secret den, and it hissed, and it hissed. [twice]
And made things hot for the tramp again, and it hissed, hissed, hissed, hissed, hissed.
The tramp ran out with a yell so shrill, and he stank, and he stank. [twice]
And for all I know he is running still, and he stank, stank, stank, stank, stank.".

[247] Mr.Malton got into his van and put his blowtorch-set beside him on the left front seat. As he drove back to his works, he thought: "This'll get me even more reputation that I don't know whether I want it or not. Plus the inevitable people who are themselves safe from vagrants, talking sarcastically about my `great victory of the rich over the poor', and suchlike `teargas' - trouble is, some things need doing! Never mind `longsufferingness', it takes too long and is expensive in lost time and lost goods, when one strong action would stop the nuisance and expense and loss, like when my men were just in time to stop those tramps that time from burning that parcel of robot brain microchips from Wernicke's for the fuel value of its wrappings.".

The caretaker burnt the rubbish. Some of the boys remarked that the smoke had an unusual smell. That smoke and its smell drifted downwind to other eyes and noses, some of which recognized the smell and its meaning - of which more came later.

A few nights later the other tramps came across Catfood Joe. His uneasy manner as if he would have given much to be anywhere else, clean rags and hair and skin, and smell only of disinfectant, boded ill. He had a long narrow burn on his right shoulder. One of them asked him: "Catfood Joe! You've been missing us! What about the plan? When do we move in?".

"I - er - um - in a few days - I'm not finished yet - er - " he prevaricated.

"You mean you got caught, and the cops or the prison scrubbed you and boiled your clothes. How did you get the burn?" another asked.

"It's in 'and! Go there when I say and not before, when I've put all our stuff in there. Too many people about and they'll 'ear us." Catfood Joe snapped and went off to the tip to scavenge.

But one of his followers disobeyed and went behind the school gym that same night. "One of the boards is loose. The nails 'oldin' it on are only 'eads, for show, 'cept one at each top corner. Looks real natural." Catfood Joe had told them. But instead the space under the gym floor was now solidly bricked in, with a shiny new locked steel door. Nearby were the ashes of a big rubbish fire. "I knew Catfood Joe was 'idin' somethin'. We trust 'im with our stuff, and the 'ole thing's rumbled, and we've lost the lot again. I'm not takin' any more orders from 'im! 'E couldn't 'ave made that, any more than that Captain Blowtorch's lot could make a real flyin' saucer!" he thought. Then on the door he saw a robot face logo which he recognized all too well, for a somewhat similar one was on that mobile transforming refuse destructor Shockwave who had turned them out of Wernicke's spare garage with loss of all the stuff they had then. "Wer-nick's $%^ robots again! One of them made it!" he swore, "That's the last time I trust that Catfood Joe or let 'im order me around. 'E let that silly Mrs.Jones talk 'im into thinkin' they'd let us stay in that spare buildin' at Smith & Malton's, then at Wer-nick's [see 104-114]; but at both places they chased us off and we lost a lot o' stuff. What do I get in life? 'Alf each night spent gettin' fresh cartons to sleep in, 'cos cleaners take 'em away each day, and cops come if we try to 'ang on to 'em. Now 'e says 'e's found us a lovely new den, and we trust 'im with our stuff, and 'e loses it. 'E can %^& off out of my life! I found that radio on the tip, I 'ad to keep it in batteries, I got a blowtorch burn at St.Andrews crypt when those two thugs turned us out to store drugs and stuff they'd stolen in there. But 'e kept actin' the boss all the time, as if it was 'is, and told me what to 'ave on it. But at Wer- nick's 'e didn't make a ^%& move to save it, although 'e were right beside it, 'that were my job' 'e said, when that performin' talkin' dustcart called Shockwave ordered us out and sucked all our stuff up.". He noticed something written in ballpoint on the door:-

Unwashed one unwished-for 1 went in, sought to enter.
Plan to bring companions, plot to den the lot there, 2
came to_end quick unfamous. Captain Blowtorch trapped him. 3
Scrapyard's hissing serpent 4 struck, and, rendered luckless,
flea's fellow's mobile leasehold fled with outcry dreadful. 4
Enjoyed Catfood Joe to jest no need of guesthood. 5 --etc-- 6

"Oh a `pome' [= poem]." he muttered, "I can't eat it or drink it or burn it or wear it or sell it, so leave it. 'Ello, what's that about Catfood Joe? I better try to sort it out, to find what 'appened 'ere. %^& 'ard stuff to understand.
1 Nobody wants us around. As usual.
2 That's been rumbled, or they made 'im talk. Like I said.
3 'Im again!? 'Is works is enough pitch for 'im! 'E keeps tryin' to run us off all our pitches.
4 Somethin' that 'isses in a scrapyard. Blowtorch, I s'pose. Like I got burnt by one when those two thugs that said they were workmen but they were actually crooks, turned us out of St. Andrew's crypt that time. Those things 'urt! I bet 'e did run!
5 Which translated from Outer Mongolian means, I suppose, "'e 'ad nuthin' to boast about, about 'is stay there.".
6 And then somethin' about a wolf. I bet that walkin' weldin' shop's Alsatian nosed 'im out. Dogs are a $%%, wuff wuff and out come men to chase us off. Dogs are telltales. Some schoolboy boastin' about what 'e called a `famous victory'. That's the end of that!". He went away and told the other tramps what had happened.

[248] "The head had the space under the gym bricked up, and Mr.Hoist from Wernicke's made a steel door for it." said the caretaker to one of the boys later, "There's a bunch of tramps that `try it on' at different places: St.Andrews crypt; an empty house; Smith & Malton's; Wernicke's; bushes in the park; a space at the market that the market men use [see 135]; now here. They claim they're only sleeping, then they accumulate rubbish and start thieving and begging, and then somebody's got to move them on. At least I got my bicycle back. (No, heel, dog! You'll get fleas!) - The bell, you'd better go to your next lesson.".

Life at the school went on. Mr.Grundy got flu and Prowl had to fill in for him. "Brrrm, history now. I seem to get nearly every subject at school. Good thing I had about enough time to learn what I'm supposed to be teaching." he thought as he read the class's homework essays as they studied a chapter in their history textbooks. Then his electrosynthesized voice filled the room, sounding rather sharp. "Treswell, you've been rather stupid! He's teaching the Third Crusade. You were supposed to write about what happened. You've not got much sense what to choose as source material!" he said, protruding claws from two of his fingertips and holding the offending work between them as if it was something noxious.

"Now what's wrong? I looked it up like he said." said Treswell as he came forward, already beginning to realize his mistake.

"It's obvious, isn't it!" said Prowl, "Since when did mediaeval armies have two-way radio with an alien spaceship acting as air cover!?!! Idiot! Next time look at proper reference books in the history section in a library, not this sort of dead-enders' sump drainings of fact and fiction mixed that barrel-scraping writers of trash pollute their pages with! Where - did - you - get - this - junk - from?!?".

"From a -er book- at home that my brother's got. It's too far to the library and raining." said Treswell looking miserably at Prowl's steel bulk, knowing now all too well what he had done.

"Book, or children's trash stories?" Prowl persisted, "Or did you think I was some immigrant fresh from the boondocks from Cybertron that wouldn't know better?! Can't you tell fact from fiction yet? If so, I can only say this: Take no book as true unless it's got a non-fiction-type library Dewey number on its spine! And if it turns out that you got that stuff from a comic-strip ...".

"Did you unload ships there?" another boy asked, misunderstanding the word `boon-docks'.

"No. There was no Cybertron. I was made at Wernicke's factory. `Boondocks' is American for `backwoods country, remote area', your nose always in American stuff, I thought you'd have known that." said Prowl irritatedly to the interrupter. Then he turned back to Treswell and said "This is one case too many of this. You will bring me tomorrow this miserable misguiding trash, and all your back issues of it, and don't buy it ever again; or I tell your parents and the headmaster about this! Or right now swear that you won't ever again take anything in a comic or a novel or a play as true! Stick to your schoolbooks and non-fiction library books!".

"I left my book here - I thought -" Treswell started hesitantly.

"You thought wrong! You should have come back for your proper book, or not have left it in the first place!" Prowl interrupted, [249] "Brrrm! I see! School book left here, so you makeshifted by reading it in some trash fiction! Don't makeshift! Makeshifts usually go wrong and damage things! Enough of this. Mr.Grundy's also sick of having war-fiction treated as source fact when he teaches the World Wars. And another time (sounds silly, but it happened), once he was teaching about King Henry VII; and the same week the Beano - the Beano!! - had a silly story about a boy on a bicycle that got teleported back to Henry VII's time and carried a vital message, and three of the class reported it as fact in essays! Any more of this, and it's time some parents and teachers visited that comic's head office! And if the editor won't let us in, we wait outside till he comes out. Either read complete fantasy that can't be true, or absolute truth. Not a scruffy mixture of the two. Go by your schoolbooks and your teachers and nothing else at all! If comics start mentioning historical events, turn the page and leave it, and stop buying the comic. Now, Treswell, do the work again, using the proper source material only. Now, in the real world, after the fall of Acre ...".

"Owwww!" Treswell thought, "Must read it from dull as ditchwater school books, heavy blocks of text, lists of dates and names, no pictures. When they do mention battle, no excitement usually. School's a yawn. And chrome-head Prowl's picked it up from the other teachers. If it hadn't been for Hasbro Toys and Marvel Comics making the fictional characters for that man Wernicke to make real copies of, that oversized wirebrain wouldn't exist. Him and his spare brain area connected to a remote camera at the back of the room. The amount of our comics and sweets he's thieved, when we go at them behind our terminals when the lesson gets boring.".

"... Thus King Richard saw Jerusalem, but never reached it and never retook it." Prowl finished, then returned to the matter of fiction stories: "Whenever they try to make a film or a play or a comic or a novel out of history, it's the same. They invent characters, they invent speeches, they invent details. They must, to make a story interesting enough to buy. In short, they're misleading. Some are more faithful to the original than others, but none are to be used as source material for school studying. Jackson, the games master caught you leaving the school at playtime. Why?".

"Mum said I must buy a large white loaf and seven pounds of potatoes." said Jackson.

"No." said Prowl, "You stay here till school finishes for the day. I'll not have school interrupted for errands and housework. Tell her from me to do her own shopping. Your schooling matters for your own future.".

Prowl started a history test that Mr.Grundy had written. Jackson quietly switched his terminal on and logged in, thankful that his terminal let him log in without any betraying key-clicks or beeps or cathode ray tube starting-up noises. He typed `SLIST ABCD' - and to his dismay the computer displayed merely the two lines "- Oh no you don't. / Signed Prowl" and asked for another command.

"$%^! That lovely `crib' I set up on a computer file for this history test. How did he spot it?" Jackson thought. The reason was that Prowl also was connected to the school computer, in systems mode so he could watch all user activity. "Look!" he said, "Never mind trying to make me think you know things that you don't know. You've got to learn these things some time! Some time you'll be grown up and out of school and you'll have to know things, to do whatever job you get to earn money. Money doesn't come from nowhere. Your parents won't live for ever. Same as young hawks and owls have to learn to catch their own food before winter starts.". Jackson silently mourned wasted effort and started to sort through the layer of dust and comic characters and pop music groups at the bottom of his braincase for any remnant of his history lessons that he could scavenge and piece together.

In the metalworking building Mr.Malton was explaining the special problems of welding aluminium when someone rang on his acetylene cylinder with a knuckle and a boy's voice behind him said "Headmaster wants to see you.".

"Oi! Don't ring on my cylinders! That's not what they're for. People keep doing that. What's he want?" said Mr.Malton looking round. At the end of the lesson he went to see the headmaster, who thought "In he marches in his welding kit and heavy boots and thick overall, and blowtorch gas tanks on his back. Does he have an office suit to his name?? And like most adults he'll likely object and interrupt and contradict, no idea of `Sorry, sir.' as a boy would (or should). The only sort of `sorry' that adults ever are nowadays is `Sorry, but ...', meaning that they won't help me.", then said "Mr.Malton, there are complaints of an incident in metalworking class - you siding with boys against a teacher.".

"With due respects," said Mr.Malton, "but it was a matter that was bound to arise some time. Mr.Allington's rigid enforcement of school uniform rules versus industrial safety practicality, when working on or near machines. [250] Higgins's accident was largely the result of him being ordered to unsafe working practise as regards clothes! Myself, I won't allow neckties or anything else loose in my machine rooms. The only place for neckties, wristwatches, jewellery, and anything else loose, is in the pocket out of harm's way. At first Higgins and others, sensibly, took their ties off when on the machines. But Mr.Allington wouldn't allow it. A tieless neck's like a red rag to a bull, to him. Then as a last attempt at safety, Higgins tried pinning his tie back to his shirt with a safety pin in metalworking, but that wasn't allowed either.

`Higgins! What's this now?' said Mr.Allington to him then, ``School ties must be worn at all times within the borough boundary, except at school games' - the rule's quite clear! Never mind some teachers Nelson's-eye-ing the scruffy tramp habit of open neck shirts in hot weather! `It may get in the machine'? Then be careful! Keep an eye on it! Now you've found another rule to break!: `No tiepins will be worn.'. Quite clear, so you find a little cheeky symbol of defiance. You will write a three-page essay on the tradition and respect for the school tie and the importance of wearing it properly and not getting pinholes in it. Metalworking, yes; you getting a workman mentality, no: overalls, loud checked shirts, no ties, etc. No more of this!'.

`Sir, but Mr.Malton said ...' Higgins started to reply.

`Captain Blowtorch this, Captain Blowtorch that!' Mr.Allington interrupted, `He rules in his factory, not here! Encouraging you boys to think it's big to look like workmen! Fancy shoes, fancy haircuts, I get all sorts, if it's against school rules, they'll wear it, as teenage advances. One boy even started coming on a motorcycle in full kit looking like a spaceman. The - rules - hold!'.

Trouble is, people can't both concentrate on their work sufficiently and watch other things. Unable to do anything about his tie being loose, the inevitable happened and while he was concentrating on some difficult work, his tie gradually came out of his pullover and got wrapped round the rotating workpiece.".

"Couldn't he have just switched the machine off?" the headmaster asked, distractedly pulling at his own hair.

"Not that easy, fumbling for buttons in that sort of predicament!" said Mr.Malton, "And even then, the motor turns several times more before stopping! Lucky one of the boys had a knife to cut him loose just in time! Why not accept that `circumstances alter cases'? You let them wear special clothes for games! If he hadn't been quick with that knife, you and me and Mr.Allington'd probably have a coroner's inquest to attend. The rules of industrial safety have been worked out the hard way by experience.".

"OK, OK, you win." said the headmaster resignedly, "Things arising. Parents getting stroppy about different things. A tramp dossing under the gym. What next? Industrial this, industrial that, intruding. OK, I better get overalls for the metalworking class, and excuse them from ties on the job. As a matter of wondering, what did you find under the gym when you turned that tramp out?".

"Rubbish, old bedding, cartons, scavenged bits, what only a tramp would find valuable. Also stuff he'd stolen. Dirt and fleas and smell and mess already. He was going to set up a den for a whole lot more in there." said Mr.Malton.

"That all? The caretaker reported a very odd smell when he burnt it." said the headmaster.

"All that I know. We had a good look through it, and took out everything that was evidence or anybody's property." said Mr.Malton.


IT GUARDS THE INSHORE SEA

But there had been more. Elsewhere in town, two men wearing cloth masks sat at a table on which lay a sawn-off shotgun and cartridges for it. "Are you sure the consignment's had it? If so, this'll be another lot gone west." said one of them.

"Yes, I smelled the stuff burning when their caretaker cleared everything out. What's the good of us keeping proper secrecy if silly tramps follow us calling attention to the place?" said the other.

"Some time we may settle a few accounts.".

"Some time.".

[251] "Causers of `bad luck' need sorting out." said one of them, "One lot got ashore and was on its way to Birmingham when the car it was in was in a multiple pile up caused by some silly businessman working through the night to catch up. Car written off, and that man Wernicke's Transformers helped to clear up the wreckage [see 68-75]. The `stuff' spilt out of its bag, and one of those robots knows no better than to go up to a cop with the stuff smeared down its leg! Cop's dog noticed what it was, and that was the end of that. The men delivering it were nicked.

Another bagful got as far as Droitwich, when the man we'd trusted to deliver it himself, instead passed the job onto some aggressive punk schoolboy bully, who didn't do the job himself either but passed the job on again. Consignment found. Contacts all nicked. [see 135-139 & 144-146]

Another lot we sent in on a speedboat to a cove near Crabhaven. It vanished, with men and boat. I reckon that Captain Hurlock's `Sea Patrol' got them. The men in our boat wouldn't have deserted with the consignment, we'd `made sure' they wouldn't want to. Captain Hurlock had been a navy captain, he wouldn't let any outsider sail or scuba dive anywhere near if he could stop it legally or illegally. [This guess was true. Captain Hurlock and Polwerran intercepted the gang's boat, and their claim to be in an official uniformed Sea Patrol was believed. Search revealed no diving or fishing gear to seize, but, when Polwerran found things including bags of white powder on board, the `sea-patrolmen', ignoring the crew's pleas about the gang boss's threats, summarily scuttled craft and crew and cargo, not wanting their village to be ordered about by a drug gang or fought over by gangs and police. Afterwards they told Aphanistor (the village's destructor recycler equipped dredgersub) to clean up below.] Captain Hurlock and his men were caught, for actions against scuba divers and others, and illegal weapons, but that didn't bring our consignment back.

Before that, we'd tried to send in a batch by three scuba divers swimming carrying it into a cove, but them and the batch vanished also, and that work and risk and money likely ended with them being located and shot for poachers from the surface with a high-powered ultrasonic gun by some dirty inshore fisherman who didn't even see them except as sonar screen blips and didn't care which they were of what they call `the three S's that plague us' (that is, seals and scuba divers and sharks).

And the usual lot that get nosed out by Customs men's dogs at ports and airports, and suchlike. Now Captain Hurlock's out of the way. But now there's this new news of a plague of caterpillars among the stuff where it grows. What next?"

"I know what next!" said the other man.

[252] Meanwhile at Wernicke's, James Wernicke and Prowl were making some computer parts for a customer. As with most people, routine took most of their time, but takes much less to describe than the occasional exciting or interesting interruptions.

"I wonder what the M.O.D. want this lot for? I always said that Nimrod [an airborne radar system] should have had a neurocomputer. I wonder if they've revived that?" Prowl was saying, as the telephone started to ring.

"Mr.James Wernicke?" said Mr.Malton's voice over the phone when Mr.Wernicke answered it.

"Yes." said Mr.Wernicke.

"Mr.Malton here. Can Wheeljack or Huffer take two of my men to Red Wharf in Anglesey on Monday?" said Mr.Malton.

"What's the matter?" asked Mr.Wernicke.

"Inshore fishing port's dredgersub needs servicing. One of Optimus's people'd be useful to handle the heavy bits. More versatile than a mobile crane.".

"Huffer'll be free then.".

"Outside my works at 8 a.m. Monday. Thankyou.".

"Can you go to Anglesey on Monday? A job for Mr.Malton." said Mr.Wernicke in his garage to Huffer, "Only I thought I better check. I don't book use of people's time or property without checking with the owner first.".

"Yes, it all helps to pay the fuel bills." said Huffer.

Via Smith & Malton's no.2 gate many had left without what they had come for, and often without some of what they had come with, who had entered other than via a gate. Nor was there any point trying to get back in for it past the well-trained riotsquad-equipped workmen on gate guard duty. Door to door pesterers and unwanted reps soon learned, sometimes the hard way, that at Smith & Malton's the first "no" means "no". A crowd of football rowdies with assorted aggressive-sounding gang names and personal nicknames, confident that nothing could stand before their knives in their search for drink and loot and rival fans, had thought that their claim to have been invited to a works party had been believed, and that they had brushed aside all opposition to roaming about in the factory wherever they wished, until in a storage yard near Assembly Building no.3 they learned the hard way as a callout squad of Smith & Malton's workmen enclosed them with a whirl of pickaxe handles inside a wall of shields, nicknamed the `pulping mill', which did its work as thoroughly and as unaffected by cutting edges and stabbing points as one of their firm's security destructors grinding up seized gang weapons and spying equipment, or as the dredgersubs which their firm make are by knives and spearguns and explosive spearheads. (The people living near the football ground shed no tears.) But the guards knew Huffer and let him in on sight, after brief surprise at seeing him, a large orange two-axled artic cab going driverless. As Huffer drove in, a Smith & Malton's van drove out. In the van, John Milne, naturalist, strained at his gag and handcuffs and regretted his lost observing gear. "Out you get! The free ride's over!" said a guard as they freed him and let him go. "Ack! Those 'cuffs have cut my wrists!" he thought, "This land should be common-land. `Should be' isn't `is'. That Mr.Malton's another `greater villain loose / who steals the common from the goose'.".

Inside the van, the squad leader wrote in his notebook "We arrested a Mr.John Milne on our back-land ... He claimed he didn't know the land was private, although he must have climbed our wire ... We seized his observing equipment and notebooks ... The film from his camera was developed and proved to include several shots of our non-ferrous store. Ditto the tape from his videocamera ...", and reflected on the amount and variety of rare birds and plants found by trespassers near where his factory stored valuable items.

Inside the gate guardhouse, a guard's bodyweight on a long steel lever powered a small crusher as, inside it, opposing meshing sharp pyramidal steel teeth bit on John Milne's Hasselblad camera. Nothing happened, so the guard threw himself up and down twice on the lever; the teeth bit through. Torn metal and bits of glass and plastic fell into the crusher's bin as the guard stood up and released the lever, muttering "That was a tough one.". Binoculars and cassette recorder followed the camera, and were broken up easier. Two bites of the crusher were needed to break up the videocamera; soundproofing hid the loud crunching noises. The notebook went into a confidential wastepaper bin, which, together with the crusher's bin, was later emptied into a destructor.

"What did you do that for?" said Huffer, who saw it through the window, not quite approving of it.

"Ahh?!" said the guard in surprise, then looked out and saw Huffer's steel bulk with his unattractively functional high-capacity diesel exhaust system going unconcealed up the back of his cab and not hidden under his chassis. "Oh, it's you, Huffer." he said, "Look, if I let nature studiers in, ten'll be all right, and the eleventh'll be reconnoitring to steal or spy. I daren't risk it. Like those two we caught climbing in over our wire for something about dredgersubs that they wouldn't explain. There's all they needed to know about the dredging equipment we make, in our brochures.".

"Oh yes." said Huffer, "The Simmonses. That was when Captain Hurlock was here about his dredgersub. They'd been snooping round Captain Hurlock's harbour before. Then, later, they went there to snoop in scuba gear and vanished. Our Bumblebee was upset, he'd given them the lift there.". [see 175-181]

"Oh, those diver disappearances." said the guard, "They'll find what it is some time. If you ask me, it's just untrainedness and monkeydom. Underwater's a risky place.".

Huffer got to Smith & Malton's Building 4 to collect the men who were to go in him. A foreman said to him: "Mr.Malton says, he's got something that you lot may like.". This proved to be three aeroplane jet engines each about four feet long, bought for a special order for a customer who had then cancelled. They were too big for toy planes, too small for man-carrying planes, and Smith & Malton's had been stuck with them. Optimus was wanting something like that, and Huffer said so. [254] Huffer picked up the two dredgersub repairmen (named Jack and Alf) chosen to go with him, and drove outside.

"Anyone at Wernicke's who can carry two hundredweight of goods?" Huffer radioed.

"Hoist here." came a reply.

"Collect three small aero jet engines from Smith & Malton's no.2 gate for Optimus." Huffer radioed.

"Will do." Hoist radioed in reply.

"I'm off to Red Wharf now." Hoist radioed, then said to the men there: "I'm off now. Hoist (he's a green towtruck with orange back gear) 'll come to No.2 gate for the jet engines today.".

There was not much holiday traffic, so Huffer saved distance by turning off the M6 onto the A5 and following it across Shropshire, across the eastern Welsh moors, down the huge trench valley of Nant Ffrancon whose flat bottom had once been a deep lake now full of silt and peat, along the new Bangor and Llanfair-PG bypass which uses a new upper deck that the Britannia Bridge now has, until he turned off and came to the inlet of Red Wharf on the east coast of Anglesey. Several inshore fishermen came to meet him.

[255] The two Smith & Malton's men got out of him. They wore works issue overalls with Smith & Malton's badges; but they realized that was not enough proof of identity by itself, as firm's overalls stray sometimes. "Good morning, we're two of Smith & Malton's men. Your harbourmaster wanted us to service your dredgersub. Here's my I.D." said one of them, showing a laminated identity card.

"Yes, it's this way." said a fisherman, "What's going to lift the heavy bits? I thought you'd do the job now, not keep us waiting while you went for stuff. Where's the crane?".

"Our lorry will, it's Huffer." said Jack.

"How? It's just a lorry." said the fisherman.

"It can transform. You'll see." said Jack, "There's eleven of them now. A computer maker near us made a real Optimus Prime, and it went on from there.".

"Oh help, a funny one. I better humour him. He thinks his lorry's a real Transformer like in those children's stories." the fisherman thought in dismay, and said: "What, like the toys? My son's got some, and we've got videocartoons of them.".

With clicks and hisses, the load-handlers going up the back corners of Huffer's cab folded and turned to lean on the ground, untelescoped, and became arms. "What!?" said the fisherman, and gaped vacantly as with much blasting of diesel exhaust Huffer heaved himself up onto his rear end, which split into legs. Huffer's cab collapsed, revealing his head, over twenty feet above the road. "Ye gods!" the fisherman gasped, "It is a real Transformer! I thought that newspaper article was a hoax! He was right!".

"I told you so!" said Jack.

Huffer transformed back to lorry form and drove to the edge of the quay where Conway and Red Wharf's type G3 grab-dredgersub, named Big Jim, was docked, 40-foot-long rounded-ended cylindrical hull floating awash, dangerous-looking grab-arm folded on his roof. Through the water they could see 'BS39' painted in white on both sides of its bow and stern. Jack and Alf jumped onto the sub and started to unscrew an access hatch in its hind roof.

A voice came from the steel hull: "What are you two doing, crawling about on me?". Alf twitched in surprise, for he had forgotten that those dredgersubs had intelligent computer-brains from Wernicke's in them. "Only servicing you. You're about due for it." he said.

Huffer reached out and lifted the access hatch. Jack crawled inside. The electrosynthesized voice spoke again: "'Ere? What are you two doing? Who are you? What are you nosying after?".

A fisherman into a walkietalkie: "It's all right, they're two of Smith & Malton's men, that's the firm that made you.".

"You two! Show your I.D. to one of my eyes. There's one just to port of the one of you that's going in my aft hatch." said Big Jim.

"I hope it trusts us. Its mind's got like some suspicious rough-minded inshore fisherman's, and that sort of mentality in a body that size and strength ..." thought Alf, who was back on the quay.

Inside, a six-foot-diameter tube led into the side of a thick-walled cylindrical flat-ended drum. A drive shaft and smaller tubes also led in or out of it. On it were maker's plates: "Smith & Malton" and "rotary grinder Mk.4D". Jack operated its safety stop and a release lever, removed an access hatch, and crawled half in. In the `made safe for servicing' state, its counter-rotating breaker drums were easily rotated and examined by Jack, who muttered: "What on earth have you been picking up? Your grinder blades are well worn down.". He examined and cleaned everything and pushed some of the parts aside to make a clear passage, and crawled inside.

Big Jim opened his 5-foot-wide clamshell grab. Alf crawled inside, saying: "Oo-er. If cleaner fish can trust sharks etc to let them safely in and out of their mouths to pick the parasites and bits out, I suppose I can trust you when I'm in here. Well scratched and dented in here as well. And a few barnacles have managed to settle inside. Odd place to choose to live.". He scraped them off and crawled further inside, examining the pusher and cutter bars inside the grab. As his feet vanished inside, Big Jim closed his grab and extended his grab-arm. A wriggling bulge in the intake cover marked how far Alf was getting as he examined Big Jim's intake as it ran down the underside of his grab-arm and into the front of his steel hull.

"Hurry up cleaning inside there or I may be tempted. Lucky you've got manual override on my grab-intake mechanism." said Big Jim.

"Even a clump of mussels among the rack-conveyor's teeth just here" said Alf, then a surprised "hello?" as if he had noticed something. "Oo-er." he said, "the `one-way road' - lucky there's `light at the end of the tunnel' this time!".

"Yes, the `one-way road ...'." Big Jim thought silently.

"All ri', all ri'." said Alf irritatedly a bit later, "I've got to service everything properly while I'm in here. This part of you's important.", and, working by his helmet-light, scraped more mussels off the steel-toothed rack-conveyor as he lay on his back on the strong flexible intake-cover. He saw another torn piece of foam rubber sheet at the edge of the conveyor, but thought little of it, since harbour dredgersubs pick up all sorts of rubbish.

The bulge of Alf vanished ominously into the sub's sea-hardy deep-dredging steel hull, but a little later he reappeared out of the grinder's access hatch, having travelled Big Jim's `one-way road' and lived to tell of it. "Phew! That's another `Operation Jonah' over'" he said to Jack who was just outside, "These things give me the willies sometimes!". They put the grinder back into normal operating mode and went to check the navigation equipment.

[257] Alf climbed about on Big Jim's grab-arm, examining the joints and hydraulics. One flexible tube had a small leak; Alf replaced it. Not far below him was the intake, a road safely travelled only by such as him, mechanics servicing it. He remembered the two pieces of torn foam rubber sheet he had found in there, and the flakes of anticorrosion paint found in the grinder and downstream to the digester, and wondered what Big Jim had been disposing of since his previous servicing. "Nah. No point `raising waves', starting an alarm which may not prove anything. It'll do the firm no good `raking muck up'. This thing's for tracelessly disposing of muck, not for spreading it about." he thought, then said: "Crumbs, it's only when I get close up to you that I realize the swallowing capacity of your intake. I wouldn't like to meet you alone in a small boat!".

"No, you wouldn't, if you try poaching." Big Jim warned, "Once the tripper nuisance element ignored the notice and left an outboard inflatable on a trailer on the quay. While they were back in their cars having their lunch, so did I. You firm makes good grinders and destructor/recyclers! Back they went to Manchester. Their planned fortnight of seagull-watching and hauling our pots and getting in the way round our harbour was over before it started. This is a working harbour, not a marina, and it's staying so. Those amateur Columbuses and Cousteaus usually bring all their own stuff, leave mess, spend no money, and block up the harbour with parked cars.".

(The boat and trailer referred to had been left beside a notice saying "Inflatables are not to be launched in this harbour.". A local man walkietalkied and chose the right moment. It did not take long for Big Jim to surface and come inshore and for his hard steel grab to crush boat and trailer and load into a cylindrical bale for swallowing, and for him to submerge. One of the trippers, hearing a noise, came out of the pub just too late to see his party's boat's motor and deflated rear end and broken transom, and the crushed back end of the trailer, vanishing down Big Jim's throat. None of the locals admitted remembering seeing anything.)

"Captain Hurlock at Crabhaven got arrested. It was in the papers." Big Jim continued, "Some citified character's been appointed instead of him. But they say that that dredgersub of his (CR79, `Aphanistor' it's called) gets a lot of the actual harbourmastering work there. It may sound silly, but I dream like humans, my brain has to `sweep and tidy' itself, like organic brains. I keep dreaming I'm on land like a human, career in the Navy, till I commit the capital offence of becoming a year too old, so I'm out like a redundant docker. Then I'm a TV repairman in Taunton, then I'm back to the sea. Odd. I suppose it's the life story of some man that helped to program and set up my mind and personality.".

Meanwhile Jack was on Big Jim's stern checking the working of the four steering fins around his propeller.

"That's checked your top two fins. Roll over so I can check your other two fins." he said.

Inside Big Jim, Alf crawled into more awkward corners. He went into an empty but still dirty dredgings tank, hosed it down, opened another hatch, and crawled through to look at the front navigation gear. "Hello?" he said, looking at it, "`D4SD sonar'? Smith & Malton's never fitted that!". He checked the electrics; everything seemed OK. He backed out. [258] Among steel-cased dredgings processing equipment that looked as if it would give away few secrets of what it had passed on or consumed down the months, he came to a strong steel box. Lead seals with `Autobot badges' such as many of the Transformers bore, covered the heads of the screws that held its lid on. On the lid was a larger Autobot badge and a Smith & Malton's logo and the words "Braincase. Only to be opened by authorized personnel". He left it alone. He was only a mechanics and ordinary electrics man and not skilled to interfere in there, the seat of an intelligent independent mind, a brain not of organic matter but of silicon, the ultimate container of `Big Jim' and all his memories and skills and emotions and loyalties. Jack briefly wondered what secrets of the deep were in that alien mind deep in that powerful mechanical body, and went on to the next part of his servicing routine.

Jack finally emerged from cramped mechanical corners into the sunlight of Red Wharf. Seagulls circled and a few small cumulus clouds slowly passed over; people on the quay watched. He removed the various safety-stops and set everything back to normal working mode. Huffer put the hatch in place, and Jack screwed it in, and then thought: "Phew. That's over. I always feel safer out of and away from these things. The ultimate in lethal-looking refuse disposal equipment! Somebody's `customized' him a bit: `Hurlock special' sonars front and rear, and some funny connections in that compartment. Those sonars can be used as underwater loudhailers, and for modulated ultrasound signalling, or to make a beam powerful to stun or kill. To be expected: seals [here, the animals] round fishermen's nets are every expletive in the dictionary, or so fishermen say. If it is only seals they are used against ...".

Jack and Alf got off Big Jim onto the quay. "That's it, Big Jim, you're fit for another hard year's work cleaning up all the rubbish and lost stuff that gets in the sea, and keeping the men's boats in fuel from organic matter in the seabed that you dredge up." Jack said, then to Alf: "I know which'd win if it and scuba divers met underwater and didn't agree over salvaging or shellfishing rights! Ugh! Forget it, it won't happen, Captain Blowtorch's [= Mr.Malton's] electronics consultant Mr.Wheeljack programs this sort of device to refuse any orders to act as an underwater antipersonnel craft. Good thing, from what I know of some inshore fishermen.".

Alf queried: "I see that your dredgersub's got an identity code painted on like registered fishing boats have, BS39, BS means Beaumaris, but it's not a fishing boat. Is that correct?".

One of the local men said "To us, Big Jim's one of us and he's a fisherman like us, and he gets a code like on our boats. Same with Aphanistor down at Crabhaven: he's CR79.".

"Uh, that dream it said it had -" said Alf as he and Jack drove back to Smith & Malton's, "close contact with someone who had been in the Navy, then mended televisions in Taunton - doesn't sound like any of our people or Wernicke's. Curious.".

"Never mind." Jack answered, "It does what the fishermen want it for. It keeps them in fuel, it brings back no end of recovered metals, it keeps the seabed clean where they net. No point `raising waves', risking our firm's reputation. It's already paid them its cost back three times over.".

At Red Wharf a fisherman asked Big Jim, who still floated by the quay: "Have the repairmen finished, or will they be back?".

"They've finished. Everything's OK." Big Jim answered.

"Them poking about inside - anything untoward?" the fisherman asked.

"No. I emptied my system and washed it through thoroughly before they came. No `inside evidence' left." said Big Jim.

"Tripper anglers keep moaning about losing their hooks on seaweed." said the fisherman.

"They would. More and more Californian giant kelp starting, although I keep clearing it away." said Big Jim.

A wire extended from a small hole in Big Jim's hull. He carefully held it in a corner of his grab and plugged it into a socket on the face of the quay. He made the telephone dialling signals himself, and from Crabhaven across the width of many counties came a reply from Aphanistor, who Big Jim knew would probably be in port just then. Their voices went from brain directly through wires to brain, scrambled, without any audible sound that trippers or other nosy ears could hear at either end or between. "What's happening at your end, since that happened?" Big Jim asked.

"Bad." Aphanistor's electrosynthesized voice replied from far to the south, "Ten good men in prison for defending their area [see 195-203] against the amateur frogman plague and tripperdom in general. Captain Hurlock got five years, the rest got six months. Five families on social security. Three boys old enough to fish, but the school won't let them go without their fathers here to tell the school attendance officer's Gestapo to %^& off. We've two good men left, plus two who are too old to be much use. Scuba divers' magazines boasting of a great victory.".

"Bunch of seagull-watchers tried it on here. Football fan types. We don't want those round here! I soon had their inflatable, trailer and all, when they left it unwatched." said Big Jim.

"I get the same pests here." said Aphanistor, "If I had a tankful of fuel for every inflatable I've swallowed, until they learn that `No Inflatables' means what it says. My recycler turns all that rubber into fuel. Inflatables are no use to us. Hooks hole them, and we can't carry a good load of pots or fish in them.".

"Only useful inflatable here's the inshore rescue boat, and that gets most of its work rescuing careless trippers. We inshore fishermen know not to fool about with the sea, we live with it." said Big Jim.

"Usually the same." said Aphanistor, "They drive in and ask Captain Hurlock if they can park their boat there. He says nothing, and they assume that no answer means `yes'. They go off to drink or sightsee or hang about obstructing my men's work, and when they come back, one less inflatable and trailer. One lot were the same lot that mucked about our pots at Black Rock Head that time. `If they want the police, I'm them!' said Polwerran as he and N.Mickelson pushed that bunch's inflatable and trailer down the slip to me.".

"Same here!" Big Jim answered, "I deflate it, break the transom and the removable thwart, turn it endways, and down my intake it goes, motor and all. Nobody saw anything, when they come back and ask. Cops find nothing, load of officious landlubbers. This is a working harbour, and it's staying so.".

"Sometimes I save the motor, if it's a make that we use. For example, that time Trelane got the motor so he would have two to fit side by side for fast chasing on patrol and action callouts. I surfaced beside Nick Mickelson at sea and rolled starboard side up, and he took it out of my side hatch. He doesn't use outboards, he has an inboard engine, so he passed it on." said Aphanistor.

"I bet that scuba diving magistrate's on cloud nine! putting ten of your men down." said Big Jim, "But I bet he still eats fish, thinks it appears from nowhere on the shop shelf.".

"He was, for a while." said Aphanistor significantly, "He stuck to diving inland and away only. But after that trial he celebrated his victory by diving at Dobbits Cleft near here, in the sea, thought it was safe now - `He is here', as the stork said in one of Rudyard Kipling's stories. Ten men put in prison like common thieves, for defending their livelihoods. I don't go dredging up their houses, they shouldn't mess our fishing about.".

"And that new townified harbourmaster they sent you?" Big Jim asked.

"He leaves most of the work to John Tregear and me!" Aphanistor replied, "He keeps coming to me to ask things. If you ask me, I bet he's sharing his time with private business or another job. He's got a new house on mortgage, it seems, and mortgages cost. [260] Another time, I was in port when a flashy cabin cruiser arrived and tied up.

`Excuse? Hello? Harbourmaster?' a man in a posh suit on its stern deck said through a loudhailer.

`Hold it there!' I said.

`What? Who? Where are you?' he said, looking everywhere except at me.

`What?' he said when he eventually saw me, `Oh, one of those subs, he must be in that.'.

`I'll go fetch someone.' I said, and aimed my rear sonar in message mode at an underwater fixed sonar connected to Tregear's house and the telephone system. The doctor had told him not to sail because of an ear infection, so he was at home mending pots and nets. I told him to come, but he had his boat motor indoors in pieces servicing it. Nor did his silly dog have anything useful to suggest, except `wuff' in the background. Everybody else was at sea. (Luckily we still have all our boats. During the confusion of the arrests I sank them all out of sight, than I helped to refloat them afterwards.)

`Help! In this version, St.George rides the dragon!? Now what's it going to do?' said the cabin cruiser man, as I approached with Tregear in his sea patrol gear riding on my grab. `What on earth's that!?' said another man in the cabin cruiser.

`We want to berth here each night for the next ten nights.' said the first man, overcoming his fright somewhat. I suspect he still thought my voice was from a man driving me. A lot of people do.

`£15 per night mooring fee. Vacate the berth if a fishing boat wants it. Lights out when our house lights go out at night.' I said, for my men need their sleep for their work next morning. My left grab-eye saw something through the cabin cruiser's window. `I see you've got scuba diving gear on board.' I said, `You must put it all away in its cupboards and lock them. I will put my man on board [261] and he will put my harbour authority's seal-stamp over the door-openings. If any of those seals are found to be damaged, I will impound the boat and its contents. I will do any necessary underwater work for you.'.

The cabin cruiser men argued but had to obey. `But we came here for the diving. The water's so clear here.' one of them said. The usual reason.

`Too clear, too popular, so are our shellfish. Where I come from, diving's work, diving gear's work kit, not for skylarking about underwater poaching and getting in the way.' I said and put my grab on his deck. Tregear climbed off it and sealed their diving gear up in its lockers. Our harbour seal has `Crabhaven Harbour Authority' in a circle with a lobster inside head-at-top.

They hung about on shore until dark, then went on board to bed. Next morning the cabin cruiser left. As they left, a big parabolic microphone on our harbour office roof followed them, and I overheard what they were saying on their stern deck:-

`Well, that's that over after only one night and no dives. Usual stale accusation. I thought that ten getting arrested here had stopped the funny business and the rough stuff. I bet that thing's got a lot of fancy long-range sonar gear onboard. Those things bring up so much recovered metals that salvage scubadiving doesn't pay like it used to. More livelihoods vanished down machines' intakes. Lets try somewhere else, and hope for a more friendly welcome than that rough-looking riot-equipped fisherman type riding on that great steel grab.' said one of them.

`Oohhh. Lets leave this place.' said another of them, `Him riding on that five-foot-wide bin-sized toothed hollow clamshell grab operated by powerful-looking hydraulics and with a wide-capacity intake going back from it along the underside of the grab-arm into I don't like the idea of what machinery in that hull. That thing could swallow a dozen divers two at a time and nobody'd find a trace of it next day, the way they dissolve and process and sort everything. I get some thug-minded fisherman's driving it.'.

`If anybody is.' said the first man.

They went down inside and sailed out of sight. They went to that BSAC place at Porthkerris, as I thought they would.".


TWO RESCUES

Big Jim replied: "Trippers here in Anglesey use up our time also. I was once out at sea working. I'd found an old wooden wreck. I didn't tell the undersea archaeologists, they take months and clutter the place, they're like any other lot of scuba divers but more so. Never mind endless notebookfuls of drawings of bits of rubbish, I just demolished and consumed the whole thing in a week, and no delays for bad weather. I got lots of copper and lead out of it, and a fair lot of silver also. The sea had got rough above. I surfaced for air. [No waste of energy compressing air into cylinders. His kind have a big compartment full of a spongy stuff that absorbs oxygen like haemoglobin does.] As I surfaced, I saw three small children adrift in a tiny oval inflatable playboat that only belongs on paddling pools. What idiocy from trippers next? Normally I let trippers solve their own problems, as long as they leave our shellfish alone; but something different surfaced inside me, and I wondered what to do. I've ridden out many storms with my hardy rounded-cylindrical steel hull, but how long could three small humans last? The waves foamed over my back and around my grab arm. (`Kaaaak' irrelevantly suggested a storm-blown seagull swooping over.) No chance of letting them into my control compartment [for when he has a human driver or onboard advisor] without flooding it, and if they tried to cling to my grab arm hydraulics they'd be washed off in seconds. But one thing may work.

`Heeelp mummy someone mummy.' screeched John, a small boy in the playboat.

`Ackk, sorry, John. This is the last oar and the wind's blowing it about.' said one of the children as the gale blew the little but hard wooden inflatable-oar which he was holding onto, with a thud against John's head.

`Owwch - someone someone.' John continued.

The little girl with the ponytail screamed continuously. The waves tossed the boat about like when a seabird tosses a fish to catch it headfirst. Matrix alone knows why it hadn't capsized yet. `I've never done this before. Men say that wolves and even tigers and crocodiles carry their newborn young unhurt in their mouths, which at other times can tear up buffaloes.' I thought. The first they knew of me was my voice from astern them above the wind and sea roar shouting: `Get your heads down and your arms in the boat - hold on - ready - now!'. [262] My grab scooped forward and shut with its usual hollow doom-laden binlike noise, then there was no playboat or children, only me awash in a furious sea far outside the bay, with my grab arm unfolded raised.

`When my grab opens, get out of the boat and hold onto the lower teeth! Let the boat go!' I said. They did so. They all about fitted side by side into the front of my grab. The sea was rolling me and shaking them about. My grab's all steel and power to dredge and break big stuff up and not meant for carrying something that delicate. I pushed their empty boat back out of the way into my intake, and swallowed it. My onboard digester's the best place at sea for a stupid little rubber thing like that. I held them as tight as I dared against my lower grab jaw with my pusher bars, and nearly closed my grab. Their heads looked out between my teeth at the size of the waves, and the foam streaks and the driven rain, and the land which had so quickly got so far away.

`The tide carried us out.' said John, held uncomfortably but securely between steel parts, swaying about above the sea.

`We got in a current, and then outside the bay there's all these big waves.' said the other boy.

`I've lost my dolly.' the girl wept.

I realized what a mouth-brooder fish feels like. I was rolling too much to aim my sonar to signal, so I radioed. An irrelevant jabber of shipping and other shore stations caused delay, but I managed to raise Red Wharf harbour and tell them what was happening. The harbourmaster answered; the children's mother was there. Hearing how I was carrying them, she shuddered a bit and had the sense not to distract me when I was in a storm and unable to submerge to get away from it.

`I can't feel our boat. It's slid back down in. Daddy gave it to us, it's our Christmas present!' said John.

`Hard luck!' I replied, `Down it goes! Now you can't get adrift in it a second time! The sea's not a playground! If I had a pound for every inflatable I've swallowed and digested. Lucky you are safe! I'm a dredgersub, not a lifeboat!'.

The land gradually got nearer. In the shelter of the bay the wind and waves were much less. Too easy for inland people not to know what it was like further out. The children clung to my lower grab-teeth and looked out.

`Look! The jetty.' John exclaimed, although it wasn't a jetty but a quay along the shoreline.

`Where's Mummy?' said the other boy, for she was out of sight in the harbour office away from the weather.

`My new frock's torn.' the girl wailed.

I docked and put my grab on the quay and opened it. The children crawled thankfully out, feeling sore where my pusher bars had held them to stop the storm waves from shaking them about. Their parents came out of the harbour office.

`Daddy! We're back! A current took us out of the bay. This is Big Jim's sub, he brought us back in its grab.' said the girl.

`Where's the boat? It cost.' asked their father.

`He ate it.' said John.

`Yes, I did `eat' it' I said sharply, `It was a playboat for swimming pools! Never use one of those on any open water! The tide went out, so all that water had to go somewhere, so it ran out to sea, and took them with it! Out there the waves are far bigger than sheltered in here! So's the wind. Look how fast the clouds are blowing! How safe the sea looks in here, lapping against my hull! No, the sea's as dangerous as guns, all too often!'.

`We said they could play in the bay.' said their father.

`Sorry, Mummy.' said the girl.

`They obeyed, but the sea didn't obey!' I said, `The sea's for work, it isn't a playground! We fishermen know this all too well! We never let young children in boats alone, only with parents, and only if the parent can handle the boat! Watch the tides and the currents! Ask the people who live there about dangers! Can they swim yet?'.

`Er - they're -' their mother issuedodged.

`Then not out of paddling pool depth till they can swim!' I replied.

`Where are you, so I can thank you properly?' their father asked.

`No pilot, I'm an intelligent robot sub.' I explained.

[263] `Brrr, I'm cold and I lost my doll.' the girl wailed.

`In boats, always wear waterproofs.' I said curtly.

`I can't let you change here. Sit in the car and I'll turn the heater full on. I keep telling you not to take toys about with you, they get lost.' their father said.

`I wanted Dolly to see the sea.' she said.

`Your doll was a plastic toy, it can't see. Be realistic! Now it's gone, like your boat.' he said irritatedly, and then to me: `I'm sorry to use up your time and fuel, Mr. - Jim -'.

`So am I!' I replied, `Fiddly rescues instead of work! Lucky I was there!'.

They got in their car and drove away. I got back to work. Round Puffin Island [at the southeast corner of Anglesey] the sea's getting dirtier and dirtier, all the muck out of towns. It kills the sea life, on top of what poachers take.".

"Too true." Aphanistor replied, "So more reason to stop the poaching, if there's less shellfish to go round. As one of Captain Hurlock's men used to say here [see 196]:-

`At Puffin Island [see 166] were pilferers caught
twelve tank-wearers and two Geminis, [Gemini = a make of inflatable boat]
th'aqualunged enemy's eager sea-steeds,
leaving no lobsters for our livelihood,
arrogant from inland, the air-backed ones.
There that evening were of them none left
to Conway to come to their cars again,
to their pier-famed place, with prey to Wigan.', etc.".

"Yes, there, and at Llanfairfechan [see 182,135], twelve miles by sea from here." Big Jim replied meaningfully, "I know all these waters. The inshore fishermen told me all they know, and they count me as one of them. I can hear an outboard motor underwater five miles away, and tell whether it's on a proper solid boat or an inflatable. To each of those two places the followers of Cousteau came once too often; then the others read the newspapers and were wise.".

"Look, Bert, that sub's on recharge." said a man on seeing Big Jim's telephone lead as he photographed him.

"No, I'm not on recharge. I'm not battery-powered. Get your facts right before printing." said Big Jim roughly, recognizing the man and his companion, and having overheard what they had been planning in their car, "'Oppit. The three children have been found, and the family's away inland. We've no photos or recordings of it. You newshounds keep pestering like touts. It's always the same: `How do you feel?' or `Can you say a few words?' to someone who's busy or upset or trying to think or rest.".

Big Jim continued his interrupted conversation: "Most holidaymakers are useful. They buy meals and stuff round here; they buy the fish we catch, at the quayside, instead of wholesalers and shopkeepers inland getting most of the profit. But some bring all their own stuff, crowd out the place, launch boats across crowded beaches, or think my men exist only to take them on boat trips round the lighthouse and suchlike.".

"A firm in Hexham makes a submersible inflatable now." said Aphanistor, "At £100,000 each they're far too expensive for sport divers, fortunately. About 17 feet long, 5 feet wide, 2 feet draught. 20 knots for 100 miles with an outboard motor on the surface, 2.5 knots for 2 hours with electric motors submerged. It can deflate and reinflate itself as it goes. `Intended for sabotage or reconnaisance' said the brochure that Captain Hurlock got about it. Too true! Scuba divers are too good at that already, without adding fancy naval kit to it! `Seize their surface cover boats and they're trapped.' Captain Hurlock used to say, when his men went on action against unauthorized divers. But what if they can take their boats down with them?

There's two more of us, working for the Hiddleston M.O.D. place. They're called DS1 and DS2, but the men there nicknamed them Donald and Quackers. They're not supposed to talk to civilians (humans or 'subs), but once after the arrests, I and one of them got into clear sonar shot of each other, and we could talk [by modulated ultrasound] - and a story of a mishap. I'd gone further along the coast that I normally go, to investigate a report of scuba diving activity; there were indeed scuba divers there, but a short burst of the appropriate ultrasound frequency pattern showed that they had `The Marker' and had been authorized by another harbourmaster, so I left them. Then I saw another, larger, sonar blip, which sent a sonar message back when it heard my scanning sonar.

`Quackers here, naval grab-dredgersub, DS2, I mustn't leave the M.O.D. area. Who's that?' it said.

`Aphanistor here, Crabhaven harbour's grab-dredgersub. What news?' I replied.

`Not much.' he replied, `A few noseybodies coming in by sea. But my mate Donald, DS1, did something rather disastrous when that new bossy petty officer human over us couldn't wait for a routine checkup call to be answered.'.

[264] DS2 said that DS1 had done this. Surfacing for air in rough seas near Worbarrow Point, DS1 saw three local inshore fishermen clinging to an isolated rock which their boat had been driven onto and sunk by waves and wind when its motor failed. No way off by land; they couldn't swim; no lifejackets; by the time the lifeboat got there they'd have been washed off and drowned; sea was too rough for them to ride on his back or cling to his grab arm hydraulics; they were too big for him to carry them together in his grab like you did at Red Wharf that time. Just one thing he could do, though very risky. He reached his grab out, fully open, and called out: `Empty your lungs, then deep breath in and hold it, then jump into my intake! I've got an air compartment inside.'. Caught literally `between the devil and the deep blue sea', as humans say, they had to obey. DS1 shut his grab behind them and blew a dredgings tank full of air and backed hurriedly away from the jagged rocks and breakers as he ran his intake conveyor; three bulges went down his intake cover. As he was concentrating desperately on making sure they went down the right way as well as keeping away from the rocks, loud and sharp and bossy came a modulated ultrasound message from a naval Petty Officer at his base wanting a routine radio check (or rather, `sonar check'). DS1 had to ignore it for the moment. `Not now, please!' he thought.

`DS1: what is your status?' the message repeated, irritated at the delay.

`Please! Two minutes!' DS1 frantically `ultrasounded' back.

`Reply! Now! Not later!' said the Petty Officer. DS1 had to let it wait a bit for once.

`Reply, or I'll have you keelhauled and cut up for scrap! Enough of people finishing other things first!' the Petty Officer bellowed down his microphone in the base.

`OK! OK!' DS1 replied, `Position 03784/50134. Fuel status 54% full. Weather: moderate SSW gale, rain starting, mean wave height 8 feet.', and so on, yes sir, yes sir, three bags full sir.

DS1 finally got back to what he was doing before. To his horror he found that his dredgings tank was empty and his destructor recycler was making fuel out of something. Obvious what had happened while that impatient human was distracting him. Sometimes interrupters have to wait, however important they are. Distraction causes destruction, all too often. That was the end of that. Those three were local fishermen, they belonged there, not like the summer invading hordes! So many vehicle accidents caused by distraction. If he hadn't found them, they'd have drowned anyway, I suppose. He continued his routine work.

Back in his covered dock at base, the Petty Officer met him and ordered: `DS2! Ten-shun!'.

`No sir.' DS1 said, `I'm Donald, that's DS1. Quackers is cleaning up after the ...'.

`No!' the Petty Officer interrupted angrily, `You two are DS1 and DS2! The men may call you those absurd names, but I don't! The RAF may call their search and rescue Shackleton aircraft after the Magic Roundabout characters [they actually do! Author], but I don't! Before I give you my next orders, the coastguard says: did anyone see three fishermen from Lulworth adrift in a small wooden boat? But first, why were you slow replying to that sonar check? Busy with this, busy with that, I won't have delays!'.

`I can answer both those questions at once.' DS1 said, and told the Petty Officer what had happened.

`Oh no.' said the Petty Officer, `I thought that at least dredgersubs were too unsuitable to break orders and go off on civilian rescues. Much nuisance boils down to holidaymakers and fishermen. This incident remains secret. Why didn't you tell me you were off on a rescue?'.

`You called for a sonar check just then, and you wouldn't listen.' DS1 replied.

`Oh ...' said the Petty Officer, realizing that the blame was his own, `I repeat, this incident remains secret.'.".

Big Jim and Aphanistor continued their conversation for a while, then unplugged themselves and went about their work. DS2 had thought it best to admit to this matter despite orders; but the Petty Officer had also ordered DS1: "Now, go to three miles south of Stair Hole [a small cove in Dorset connected to the sea by a cave], search in a quarter mile radius, remove and destroy all trace of an underwater listening installation set up there by civilian sport divers. It is a security risk. This also is secret.".

[265] Jack Brown in his room in Wernicke's switched on for a television program about diving marine biology that he had been looking forward to, but there came only an announcer's head and angry blaming. The announcer said: "This programme was to have been about current developments and results from an undersea biological unmanned listening and sensing station off the Dorset coast, set up by a group of scuba diving clubs. However, four days ago the signals from this station stopped, and divers investigating next day found that the station had been completely removed. This is a major loss of time and money spent on it, and of equipment. Over to one of the project staff.".

"This is not theft for gain, as everything including the concrete footings was gone, not only saleable items and metals. Local people saw no activity over the site that could have caused the disappearance. This news comes on top of the recent succession of group scuba diver disappearances off our coasts. There is considerable anger among the participating diving clubs about this.".

"I say it's the Navy! They don't want us to listen to or sonar track secret underwater activity; passing a law against it'd take too long to go through Parliament, so they just took our equipment away. They may deny it, but they would. Same as offshore from some M.O.D. base on the south coast, there have been diver casualties, mass deaths of fish, divers hearing `sonic noises'. Nobody's telling me not to suspect ultrasonic beam weapons used there.".

"Aye! They deny it or say nothing; then when that Hurlock invents that fancy multipurpose sonar of his and makes it, all of a sudden the Navy can't deny that such a thing's possible!".

"I'm seeing my MP! My club's put a lot of money into this project!".

"The Navy don't want us to duplicate their listening techniques by our own research! They should've said so in the first place, not let us use all this money and work first.".

Jack sighed and stood up and switched off, thinking: "More doom and gloom. I thought they'd caught that character Hurlock, and that that wave of diver disappearances was slacking off. I do blame the armed forces likeliest, them getting stuffy over oil rig diving firms and sport divers duplicating secret communications devices, and suchlike. But why shouldn't people go diving for pleasure if they're trained properly? For example, why should the Navy have tried to monopolize modulated ultrasound underwater communication when civilian work divers badly need such a thing also? I wonder if anybody here'll take me scubadiving? There must still be some safe places to do it. Let's see who else is in. James is out in Optimus on some job.".

In the rear garage he found Jazz and Hoist repairing yet another clapped-out old car that its owner was expecting them to get running like nearly new. "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.", science fiction authors say, and some people still believed wrongly that Wernicke's Transformers had all the ability of their fictional originals. In there also was a hawk-shaped robot jetplane about 15 feet wing span, with legs and talons and head with hooked beak, and Decepticon badges on its curved wings. "Oh, hello, Laserbeak." said Jack, "Repainted with a new colour scheme, I see. I'm bored. Television news is mostly disaster and forebodings, and everybody's out or busy.". He yawned.

"I'm not Laserbeak, I'm Buzzsaw." it replied, "The other jet bird plane from the stories. I've got two of the jetmotors that Optimus bought from Smith & Malton's [see 253] , the third is a spare. I was brought to life as real three days ago. I know my fictional past, but vaguely. I know Laserbeak's real past here since he was brought to life [see 18]. I know it so well that it's as if I was him, oddly.".

"Meaning that your mind's a copy of the real Laserbeak's, plus a few necessary new imprintings by Ratchet as he copied." said Jack.

"I suppose it would be." said Buzzsaw, "I suspect there's also a deal of Ratchet copied into me. Certainly not much of my fictional original, where I was so fond of tearing enemies and things up with my beak that I got the name Buzzsaw, or so say the stories. That's in the past, and the stories never happened. Now I must make my living here on Earth like the rest of you.".

[266] The garage telephone rang, and Hoist answered it: "Hello? Wernicke Computers here. Hoist Autobot speaking.".

"Birmingham Hospital here." came the reply, "Is Laserbeak free? Blood. Urgent. Farm accident. Collect it from here. Take it to Plasglasgwm Farm (in a valley, one mile west of Penmachno, which is 4 miles south of Betws-y-coed in North Wales).".

"Laserbeak's away busy, but we've got a new one like him, called Buzzsaw. He's free.". said Hoist, and thought: "Brrm! More of us, more work, more people ringing, more time spent answering the phone instead of working.".

Buzzsaw gave a loud squawk in annoyance at getting a call so soon after being brought to life as real in the real world without as much time as he would have liked to collect his thoughts, and walked out onto the back-land and unfolded his wings and took off and flew away. Jack went back inside to find how the latest batch of doom and gloom was getting on.

The local television news was on. The announcer said:

"Plans for a new shopping centre in Bromsgrove have been shelved after protests by residents.

The transforming robot codenamed Ratchet helped in a rescue of three people trapped when a building collapsed when a lorry hit it. Their condition is described as `stable'.

... mains burst in Worcester ... traffic delays ...

There was a violent affray near Droitwich railway station when railway workmen ejected vagrants and tinkers from a railway arch storeroom which had been left unlocked. Several people were injured. Over to a reporter ...".

"Them again!" Jack thought angrily, "They don't give up! Smith & Malton's - here - the market - Prowl's school - now Droitwich railway station - where next? `We're only dossin', we weren't takin' nuthin'', they say, then they start thieving and turning dustbins out and pestering, till they are chucked out and have to move on.".


THE GANG STRIKES

Four men met in secret in a cobwebby cellar.

"Now where? Oh yes, that disused factory's garage. And if silly tramps spoil the secrecy of that place also, and lose us the next `consignment' ..." said one, somewhat muffled through his thick cloth mask.

"They filled the last place with scavengings, which that caretaker burnt [see 250], and our `consignment' along with it without knowing it was there. Lets get our stuff moved." said another, also masked.

The tramps hid and dressed their wounds as they could, knowing that going to hospital would expose them to the police.

"Gaah! Don't they let us stay anywhere? Then we take a few things that people don't need and ..." one moaned.

"`Never mind waiting for the cops. Tool up and at 'em!' that foreman shouted. Fire extinguishers, metal tools, lengths of 'eavy cable, we didn't 'ave a $%^ chance. Worst doing over we've had since Smith & Malton's turned us out. Nobody wants us around." another agreed.

"They got that old radio I found. First time I'd 'ad a radio since that thing `Shockwave' got my last one at Wernicke's [see 109]. I know somewhere to go. I saw someone takin' dossin' stuff in, thinks 'e'll 'ave that great place to 'imself!".

The tramps went there. They settled down on the mattresses which they found on the floor, and rummaged the cases that were in there.

"Nice!" said one, "Beddin' 'ere. No need to look for old boxes! Lets call the rest in." said one.

"'Ooever put this lot 'ere, what if 'e comes back?" another queried.

"'E'll 'ave to %^& well share and doss with us all together." said another. They all went in and settled. The door opened, a head appeared through it and said "Sorry, wrong door.", and withdrew.

He, furious, went from the old garage back to the gang's hideout, and told them what he had seen.

"I take it we'll do what you said." he asked.

"Yes!" said the gang leader, "This is enough of those scruffs! We do it! Then we go to London ourselves.".

The old garage's door opened again. A man wearing a thick waterproof overall, heavy boots, crash helmet with visor down, hard round gasmask with small eye windows, pickaxe handle with wrist strap, and what looked like a large battery-powered electric drill, dangling from belt at opposite hips, and oxyacetylene blowtorch fed from cylinders strapped to his back, strode in and held his hissing lighted blowtorch flame much nearer than comfortable to the nearest tramp's face. He said to the tramp:

"Right, flea farm! All this good stuff in here means: `This is not a dosshouse. Keep out.', doesn't it!?".

The tramp, with the resigned feeling of seeing the unwelcome inevitable yet again, took one look at the man's kit, and his cylinder valves showing over their wearer's shoulders, squinted at the hot blue flame, and said accusingly: "Captain Blowtorch! Again! Yer works is yer pitch, and yer ain't workin' for anyone 'ere neither, yer can't order us out of 'ere! Let us alone.".

The man replied: "You may call me that if you wish. I am not Mr.Malton or any of his people. You will soon wish we were! Dirtying our bedding, rummaging our stuff - we've got important private matters in hand.".

Three other men entered, clothed and equipped identically except that they wore packs of supplies and not blowtorches.

"Yurrh! Come and fight us, fancy cleanup squad in `spacesuits', afraid of a few lice and fleas!" the tramps' new leader challenged.

"We're not the council public health either." said one of the three other men.

"We've got big money in this, and you're not going to spoil it for us! Nobody tells about this place!" the blowtorch man ordered.

"Says who? It'll cost you ..." said a tramp.

"Says Emperor Ming!" the blowtorch man ordered. The four took the `drills' from their belts, set some controls, aimed, advanced, and shot the tramps. Inside the aluminium alloy casings, powerful electric coils accelerated four-inch nails to bullet speed, spinning for accuracy, out through the opened dummy drill chucks, with little sound except slight reloading clicks, as the men sought their targets through the disused building. The `ElectroMagnetic Powered Modified Industrial Nail Guns' earned their purchase cost. Their victims' wanderings, driven by men, hating and hated by men, ended, when they were at the wrong place at the wrong time.

[268] The four cleaned up there and went to London, where their leader addressed them: "Right! Next consignment, boss is coming over with it, to make sure they get it right this time! Three men with him, one's a prisoner, a reporter who got too fond of nosying and endangering our trade. And at 6 a.m. we attack Crabhaven harbour office as planned, first.".

"Crabhaven?" said another, "We've lost two lots there: `diving accident' and `swamped by big wave' they said. But I bet that Hurlock's mob got them, seeing no further past their noses than a risk to their lobsters and crabs.".

"Hurlock and his nine merry men are inside." said their leader, "The sport diving lobby got stroppy about them. The rest think that `they''ve been warned off. Right. The cash. Full kit. Thanks to me for forcing you three louts to train with your kit instead of drinking and gambling and womanizing, so now you can shoot straight and make good use of a stick in fights.".

"But it's been in the paper twice since," said another, "divers arriving have been approached and ordered to leave. I still don't trust the place, if the consignment's coming like you say it is.".

"Bluff! We can outshoot what men are left there!" said the leader, "Right. Checklist your kit, kit in the car, and off. Now. Not after a drink!". He rang Crabhaven harbour office on an excuse and reported to the other three: "That new citified harbourmaster's away as usual. A man called John Tregear's in the harbour office more often than anyone else. Best go to his house first.".


SUBSKIMMER

[274, page sequence changed] In Soissons in northern France, newspaper reporter Jacques Leroux was addressing a meeting to coordinate action and gathering of information against drug-runners. Suddenly several men in gas masks and full riotsquad gear of a pattern which was not standard issue for any of France's various police riot squads, rushed in firing teargas and clubbing the audience and roughly ordering them out. "Not police! Khakh - koff - Who are you? What is this? - koff -" Leroux protested, until a pickaxe handle quietened him while they handcuffed his hands behind his back and slung him in a chain harness between their leader and another of their number so that both of them had both their arms free.

"You're costing us money. You're raising waves. From now on stick to reporting flower shows and football matches." said their leader, to his left, and then ordered: "Strip him and give him an overall. Lose any I.D. on him.". Then he turned to the other man holding Leroux and said: "Oi! Rattler! Why the handbags? [for he had three handbags on his baton arm.] I said no stopping to take stuff! This is an in and out job! Anything in them goes in the kitty.".

"From now you are `Tommo', and you lived in Calais and worked on the docks all your life, if we must talk to you or mention you." said Rattler roughly to Leroux, "Now help to load some stuff for us. Work for a change.".

Somewhere on the north coast of France, the men forced him help them to load many heavy sacks into a dock lighter. An electric prod hurried him on whenever he slowed a bit. "Best not wonder what this is. I don't suppose Customs'll be told of it." he thought.

"Move it, Tommo! This lot's to go at first dark!" the leader ordered and electric prodded him again.

"Uhh - I'm worn out and I've pulled something. I'm not some superheavy stevedore type doing this all day." Leroux moaned.

"I don't care, lazy nosy office-type pig spoiling people's trade for officiousness and sensationalizing." said the leader. After this, the dock lighter went its own way, and Leroux was re-handcuffed and marched onto a cabin cruiser. The leader and Rattler and Big Red and another got onboard with him. He saw briefly that the cabincruiser was towing a sheeted-down inflatable with odd-shaped equipment or cargo on board.

"Give Tommo a seasickness pill, Rattler. We've got things for him to do." said the leader. The cabin cruiser sailed out across the English Channel.

[268 continued] John Tregear, who was still not sailing because of his ear infection, scanned the sea from his clifftop house near Crabhaven. He put his binoculars down, pressed some buttons, and looked at a television, which showed not a program but a relayed scan from a fixed sonar. He identified a blip, aimed, set to message mode, picked up a microphone, and said: "Affy? [= Aphanistor] Are you online anywhere?". Aphanistor's reply code came back.

"Yes, you're near enough." said Tregear, "Investigate underwater activity among pots, one mile your side of Black Rock Head. Then an eye on Dobbits Cleft: campers there may `try it on'.". He went to the harbour office.

The three divers swam down through the clear water over big rounded rocks with scattered red seaweeds. One had a lobster hook. Two large fish swam over. All enjoyed undersea peace and relaxation after a very hectic week in their office in Salisbury. They levelled off to look at something growing on a ledge. A comforting image of Wormwood Scrubs prison blotted out the dread of the bad days of Captain Hurlock and trained riot-equipped fishermen raiding in squads and impounding and ordering. Suddenly the mental prison's walls fell and its feared inmates escaped into their brains, spreading dark dreads, as a loud voice from nowhere in particular ordered: "You are diving among pots. Jettison your shellfish catching gear and go to shore at once!".

"So much for the silence of the deep! OK! OK! We're going. So many pots. If we aren't near one pot, we're near another. Too many pots, they're fishing the area out, and they blame us." one of the divers thought as all three fled to shore.

Aphanistor watched his front sonar scan as the three smallish echoes moving at about a knot about half a mile to his starboard suddenly accelerated to two knots and made for land. "They're what I thought they were. That's got them running." he thought, "Humans can't tell where sound comes from underwater. It scares them. Careful. Too much direct action and we may have the Navy or the RAF round again, like those two 'copters when Captain Hurlock and his men were arrested [see 199].". He changed his front sonar from loudhailer mode to full power beam and aimed to port at a seal-sized echo moving at six knots; it stopped and slowly sank. One less mouthful of dirty infected wolf-like teeth to steal fish and wreck nets. He surfaced for air and set course for Dobbits Cleft. On the way he found that the last echo had been a seal, as he had thought; he scooped it up in passing.

[269] The four men called at John Tregear's house, and found nobody in. From his neighbour they got many words but few to the point, but among the chatter they found that Tregear was, as usual, in the harbour office, where they went. They put on thick waterproof overalls and crash helmets with visors and hard round gasmasks. Two of them stayed in their car, while the other two burst into Tregear's office. One threw a teargas cartridge in; the other fired his nailgun into Tregear's desk top, shouting "Freeze!", then aimed his gun at Tregear. Tregear had heard of those nailguns, and realized that the old trusted defence against guns, the risk of someone hearing the bang, was gone; he realized he was probably not long for this earth, but at least was relieved that, as the two men rushed in, he had just managed to switch a modulated ultrasound microphone on and jam it in transmit mode. "But what can `it' do on land? Or perhaps one of the men'll hear." he thought, looking desperately at the industrial-looking electric-drill-like bulk of the nailgun aimed at his chest.

He put his hands behind his back. The gang leader, noticing this, said harshly: "So we can handcuff you easily? You hoping we'll be easier on you if you `come quietly'? Trick to make us come close to you so you can judo-throw me? Pity I know that you know judo! Keep back! Now for a few questions. We are not bound by `judge's rules'! What happened to a load of `stuff' and the cabin cruiser carrying it? What happened to another load and three divers carrying it? Diver disappearances! Never mind your trigger-happy ultrasonic guns without looking, as if my men were common trippers after your precious lobsters! Those two `consignments' were worth all the lobsters your scruffy little village catches in ten years! What happened to them?".

Tregear, eyes streaming from the teargas, replied: "Only small load costs that much is drugs, and I'll not have that brought through here! It's ruining parts of USA already! - khakh cough - fsniffle - your teargas - it causes - OWWWCH!".

"To the point! What happened? And you will let any future loads through, you hear?" the gunman rapped, firing a 4-inch nail into Tregear's right shoulder.

"I'll not help you with your `white death' turning everybody into addicts stealing to pay for it! We are fishermen and free, not some foreign $%@'s dockers for his - YOWWW! - nasty ..." said Tregear defiantly.

"Hold your lip! Answer straight! I've got a hundred shots in here." said the gang leader, pumping a 4-inch nail into Tregear's other shoulder.

"Get rid of the phone and that CB or whatever it is." the other man thought, setting his gun to automatic and burst-firing at anything that looked like a communications device. But one link still carried sound out.

"Most guns are grasses [= telltales], they go `bang' and everybody hears." said the gang leader, "But `Emperor Ming''s a good gun, he doesn't tell tales. It's you who must tell tales - about what happened to my two consignments!? Then keep quiet about it.".

"I don't know what happened what happened to your nasty dope or whatever it was. Captain Hurlock didn't tell me everything, if it was him, which I doubt. Go on, use me as a dartboard with that thing, I've suffered worse in my time." said Tregear, wondering if anybody or anything could get to a phone, directly or by aiming a sonar message beam at it, in time, and if the message wouldn't then be delayed by some silly switchboard girl at a head police station far away; or if any other sort of help would come.

[270] At Dobbits Cleft, Aphanistor found and routinely stowed in his dredgings tank what Tregear had suspected. This time they were in the act, with hooks in hands and crabs and lobsters in bags. The public in surface boats and onshore saw nothing. He folded his grab- arm on his roof. His rear-mounted propeller between his four steering fins pushed him on over the inshore seabed as his interior mechanism started emptying five aqualungs and five lifejacket cylinders of their tons per square inch contents to make them safe for breaking up for digesting along with the diving regulators and belt weights as scrap to sort and recover metals; a type of fuel-cell consumed other matter to power his motor. The outside of his black rounded-ended cylindrical steel hull revealed none of this, but the fishing boat type code `CR79' on each side of his stern made it clear where his loyalties lay. He decided to use the cylinder air for a long shallow dive working near the harbour without nosy infesting surface and land trippers staring at him. (Two days later, inside pages of a few newspapers reported a group scuba diver disappearance and that the local fishermen blamed tidal currents.)

"Why doesn't official law stop scuba divers taking crabs and lobsters, like in France and Eire?" he thought, "Our livelihood versus their fun. We don't thieve in their offices and houses.". He briefly heard a sonar message, then only `dead' (= unmodulated) carrier. "Poachers are getting less, they're ..." he thought, then as the sonar message started again: "Not just poachers again, but them again! That lot's big trouble! And on land where I can't reach them! Why didn't that Wernicke and Captain Blowtorch make me so I can transform into a landgoing mode?". He went into the harbour along the deep channel along the west quay that he had dredged out previously so he could enter at any stage of the tide. He surfaced awash and saw in through the harbour office window. He had no onboard gun as yet, but he had practised throwing things. He looked about desperately for something to throw, but he had cleaned the harbour too well. Then he remembered that he had something after all. A surprised fish watched as he rolled on his side and unfolded his grab arm underwater. A small bulge came up his intake cover as he ran his intake rack conveyor in reverse.

In the harbour office the gang leader was wondering what would work if `nailing' wouldn't, when a movement outside caught his attention. Suddenly with a loud breaking of glass a big twin-cylinder aqualung, bereft of its regulator, harness straps cut off short by Aphanistor's internal equipment for breaking up large ingested objects, came through the window and hit the gang leader's head and right shoulder hard; his gun flew forwards. Tregear, who had seen all too clearly how the nailgun was operated, caught it and set it to full power and aimed and pressed the trigger repeatedly, hoping that his experience of ordinary shotguns and rifles and Hurlock sonars would be any use to operate it. His nailed shoulder hurt horribly as the bulky powerful device's recoil kicked it, but he continued. Only a second soon enough its shots found the heart of the other gunman, who had stayed startled for only a second and was already swinging his gun round; two shots from it just missed Tregear's left side. Tregear quickly shot the gang leader before he could grab his mate's fallen gun. [271] The other two men, sitting in their car, had not detected danger in the scuffling noises and the breaking glass noise; Tregear, leaning out of a window, saw them. He set the gun to automatic and leaned out of a window and shot them, despite the pain in his nailed shoulders. The car window was laminated and made a lot less breaking glass noise than expected, and no tourists were there just then. "Ye holy @#$ that hurt!" he thought, "having to shoot with my shoulders like they are, but it had to be done. It was my life or theirs, likeliest, and anyway it saved more than it destroyed. Crabhaven still isn't going to be a dope port, towns enslaved to dope, us enslaved to dope-runners, and cops and drug gangs after each other here and we end up underneath both. And what people spend on dope, they can't spend on fish.".

All the other men were away fishing or elsewhere; the place seemed deserted except for Aphanistor and birds and seagulls. As the heat of action started to wear off, his shoulders hurt more and started to go stiff. Aphanistor wanted to call 999 from his underwater phone connection, but Tregear said no, since "hospitals mean questions and wasted time, and I don't need their painkiller anyway. I can withstand the quick way.". He gagged himself securely to stifle noises and for something to bite on, and set on a risky journey. For once, Aphanistor's `one-way road' was two-way. Inside him, Tregear, secured, squirmed and bit his gag as long thin pincers pulled the steel nails out of his shoulders. The intake's rack conveyor's steel teeth bit Tregear uncomfortably as they ran the `wrong' way for once, taking him back to daylight and the quay. His shoulders were still stiff and aching, but he could work with them. He cleaned up completely, but kept the men's four nailguns and action kit. He wore a set of it in case, wondering what else would happen. The aqualung went back to where it had been going the first time. The gang's car went where other cars abandoned in or near the village had gone. He rang the glazier. He fitted replacement communication devices brought up from the harbour's store cellar, and ordered replacements for those. "And people desperate for money to pay for dope go round thieving, and everybody suffers. No! This stops here. We are fishermen and free, as Captain Hurlock said." he thought as he went through the gang's papers, one of which told him where he could get more of those nailguns.

[271 & 274] In the cabin cruiser well out to sea, the leader and Rattler and Big Red put on frogman's kit, including helmets and bulky long-duration oxygen rebreathers with oxygen cylinder lengthways on the back, and breathing bag on chest containing a large sodalime canister connected to a hard round black breathing mask with small eye-windows. Their leader, holding a submachine gun, ordered Leroux: "You! load of walking ballast. Put this frogman's kit on! You're coming with us! There's people onshore wanting to see you! You're coming underwater with us! Out of sight of the nasty coastguard!".

"When we go up, breathe out! If your ears hurt going down, swallow! The boss wants you undamaged!" said Big Red.

"But I've never scuba dived - I can't swim - I'm scared of water." Leroux said.

"Do it! We can't leave you here." the gang leader ordered.

[271 & 275] Leroux had to obey. He was frightened, and clumsy in the heavy rubbery enclosing kit, with his face in a breathing mask like a gasmask or on a dentist's gas apparatus. He tried to remember the equipment drill that they had shouted in his ear. He remembered that according to scuba diving literature the feeling of floating weightless underwater was supposed to be a great addictive pleasure. "Get in." said the gang leader curtly, aiming the submachine gun. Leroux looked down at what he was supposed to ride in. It was a boat with a hard bottom and inflatable tube edges, but with various odd-looking equipment inboard, and a rotatable arm with an electric motor and wire-encased propeller (`thrusters', he was told they were called) at each end. They told him that it could deflate and reinflate itself, and submerge and carry divers underwater. Intended for naval and patrol and work uses, it had been diverted for a harmful use that may well have led to loss for others and/or disaster for itself. "Not many get to ride in one of those!" said the leader. The reporter thought with regret of many legal underwater groups that could have made good use of it. He got in it, in the right rear position, and lay on it, and they chained him to it. "Perhaps the law'll catch this lot, and this craft'll end up getting a proper job after all." he thought.

The three men got on it and loaded it. Their leader said: "It seems that some of that Hurlock's sea patrol are still around. Two more `warnings off' when sport divers came in cars to camp for a fortnight. But whatever they've got, we'll outshoot it on the surface, and outrun it on the surface even if it's one of those Smith & Malton's `dredgersubs' - those things give me the willies, when I see them in harbour equipment catalogs, they make me feel too much like a frog where everybody keeps those big domestic ducks that eat everything. It'll be safe, our men ashore'll have taken charge there. Every consignment's been caught, the idiots that get entrusted with it. If I want a job doing properly, I must do it myself. This thing can go at 20 knots on the surface, but only 2 knots submerged. The coastguard won't notice an inflatable this far out, and we're near enough to Smew Cove to get in before anything submerged from Crabhaven can catch us, if they have such a thing.". The inflatable went away northwards, bouncing over the waves, and sending spray flying each side.

"Now!" the leader ordered later, "Deflate the tubes, seal the outboard's inlet and exhaust like I said, turn breathing sets on, turn the electric motors on, and dive! And if any nosy sport divers see us ...".

Leroux performed the specified ritual with his breathing set.

The leader shouted: "Tommo! Since I've got you $%^ as crew, remember: When I call `inflate boat', blow that big air cylinder that's beside you.".

"Something else to remember?" Leroux thought, "Lungs, ears, what a way to have my first dive! If I ever get out of this, people'll be telling me: `Subskimmer ride! I with I could have had one!'.".

He looked for the reinflation cylinder valve, and found it. He was not used to doing things submerged dressed in and breathing from all that cumbersome feeling rubbery apparatus. The boat deflated itself and sank. Cold salt water closed over his head. Nothing to see through his mask's eye-windows except blue water, and waves overhead, and a few fish. "Soon I'll be the world's expert on The Boss's flippers and bottom and the rear end of his cylinder." he thought.

[271 & 276] The sea got shallower. They came to two divers swimming in ordinary sport diving gear; one of them made a circle and pointing sign with a hand, which Leroux guessed to be scubadiverese for "Hello.", and pointed excitedly at the craft and its crew's kit, since they couldn't talk with sport diving gear mouthpieces in. The gang leader said the codeword "Stork". The boat stopped, and Big Red and Rattler left it and approached the two unaware sport divers and shot them with the electric-drill-like `tools' that they were carrying. There was nothing that Leroux could do, chained to his place in the boat. It was his first sight of that sort of nailgun. Two more had paid the price of being at the wrong place at the wrong time, to `preserve secrecy' of undercover matters. Leroux wondered if that was the cause of some of the group scuba diver disappearances that he had heard of. "Or is that!?" he thought as a small submarine with a lethal-looking grab-arm folded on its roof approached, "A thing like that must be official. If it doesn't think we're Navy or Marines and ignore us. If in my kit and mask, and with some `consignment' tied to me, it doesn't summarily treat me the same as the other three.".

Aphanistor left the harbour and set out to sea. He heard and ignored yet another distant inflatable. There were too many for him to check them all. On top of his other work, he was more and more becoming an acting harbourmaster while the citified official human harbourmaster kept finding conferences and other excuses to be awol. [272 & 276] The distant inflatable stopped, as boats do sometimes. But then an inflatable-sized sonar echo appeared and submerged where the boat had stopped. Too slow for it to be a big shark or a small whale. So many people and seals and porpoises in and on the water to clutter up his sonar sense. The new sonar echo approached him at an angle; Aphanistor changed course to intercept it. He came within underwater light-sight visibility range of it. He for once nearly made a surprised "brrrm", but suppressed it. He recognized it as something that Captain Hurlock had told him about. "A subskimmer!" he thought, "At £100,000 each it can't be trippers or small-time shellfish divers! If it's business, it's very big business, affording one of those and those heavy-duty rebreather sets. Most likely the Navy or the Marines. I better leave them. I better still hang around here, Tregear found Smew Cove marked on that gang's map.".

Onboard the subskimmer, the gang leader saw Aphanistor and ordered frantically: "Now I know! Inflate the boat, start the outboard, and run! And you, ballast!".

"OK, OK, I know what to do." Leroux replied, "I didn't ask to come on this ride. On the surface we'll easily outrun that outsized JCB-gone-scubadiving, if it's after us anyway. Perhaps it'll think we're Navy and leave us alone.".

"That useless do-goodie that we're bringing to account better know to blow the reinflation cylinder on his side, or we've had it." the leader thought.

Deep in Aphanistor, in a sealed steel casing bearing Smith & Malton's and Autobot logos, in his close-packed layers of neural net brain electronics, many different memories competed to be best fit to various parts of the input from his sensors. The process of recognizing was itself detected and used as input for other recognition areas. Enough of this put together becomes conscious thought, even in a brain of silicon rather than of flesh. They competed with each other and with wired-in impulses and standing orders (instincts and emotions, if you wish) - of which many, originally programmed in by Wheeljack the Autobot, had been changed by Captain Hurlock (RN retired) to suit his own tastes. Something was noticed. A decision to act was made. Many decisions to act merely alter control conditions of other parts of the brain. Thus people - and sentient robots - control their own thoughts. But this time a decision to act reached output wires and caused real action. "No! Those breathing masks aren't British armed forces issue! And commercial divers don't use rebreathers like that. It's them, likeliest! Someone's last expensive desperate card played. (And if it's the KGB or whoever asinining about, we don't need them either.) Activate and aim front sonar - visual contact so no need for scan mode to find target - maximum power powerbeam mode - fire!".

In the subskimmer's left front position, the gang leader felt from his hindquarters brief severe pain, then nothing. He moaned into his breathing mask and realized: "That thing's got a high powered ultrasonic gun, like in the paper that time! I can't move! I'm hit bad! Losses, losses! Crash on the M5 and that silly robot walks up to a cop with dope smeared down its leg [see 251]; one lot copped in Droitwich thanks to silly boys; one lot burnt in Droitwich thanks to a silly tramp; Hurlock's gang got two lots and destroyed them; other losses; now I'm down to my last men, and I must go myself on a run. So it ends! That thing's destructor recycler leaves no trace! Why didn't I stay legal?? It all boils down to Wernicke's #$% robots! And I end up processed for fuel like dredgings.". The Boss had given his last order. He and his men jerked convulsively once and went limp. Leroux escaped, shielded by Big Red's body and the boat's centrally mounted inflator deflator box.

The gang's submersible boat was in deflated underwater mode and only five feet wide. Aphanistor first turned its protruding thruster arm lengthways so he could swallow craft and crew and cargo at a grabful to be tracelessly digested, like any other anonymous odd shaped item of gear with a fancy tradename brought by unwelcome poaching or otherwise nuisance causing outsider divers or pleasure sailors. But the realization that he was holding £100,000 worth in his grab, and naval memories from Captain Hurlock, and other memories, stopped him. "Trelane kept that set of diving gear that my men impounded from that Birmingham lot when they raided their camp at Smew Cove that time," he remembered, "and used it to put a limpet mine on that cabin cruiser that kept raiding our pots and keepboxes [see 197]. That's proper diving!, as Captain Hurlock said. This thing and its men's kit'll make it easier for my men to do it next time! I get all the underwater work round here and even attending to pots and nets sometimes. It's time the men did their bit underwater. That new man Pendane was a frogman in the Marines, he can help train the others, and that other man that came with him has scuba dived. Soon we'll have our own underwater branch to get up stuck and lost gear, and go underwater after the poachers. Either let there be proper sea police, or let us police our own fishing area!".

Aphanistor, whose name means `He who causes disappearance', cleaned up. Like many, he had his own ideas of justice on drug runners and the loss and degradation and killing that they cause. Leroux remembered the two sport divers. Big Red first of the four travelled the `one-way road'; he had caught the full force of the ultrasound beam and did not move. Next the gang leader, paralyzed but shouting through his breathing mask every threat known to gangsters at Aphanistor's supposed human driver, disappeared behind the closing steel jaws, and a bulge passed up the intake into the hull. Rattler tried to swim away with his arms, trailing his paralyzed or dead legs. He fought to the last even as he was held in the grab. His nailgun made a few more small dents in the dirty scarred grab until he vanished down the dredgersub's intake. Then Aphanistor broke Leroux's chains between the right end two grab teeth. Leroux saw the daylight and sea disappear behind the closing steel grab jaws as he was swallowed fins first. "Those three will import no more addictive poison to impoverish people and cause crime. Malaysia has the right way, they hang drug runners there. Frogmen's kit, subskimmer, underwater skill and experience, that could have been used in a far better cause. So I end as `Tommo', drug-running frogman docker, tracelessly reprocessed like dredgings by some inshore fisherman minded fishing port dredgersub that doesn't want either the law or gangs telling them what to do, or anyone else after their shellfish. No point appealing to this thing's human feelings, for it isn't human." he thought as the rack-conveyor's teeth pushed him on. The boat's cargo followed him.

[272 & 277] Leroux was pumped into an internal storage compartment. He thought it best not to guess what some of the mechanical noises were that he heard, as it processed dredgings. The compartment had an air pocket at its top. Leroux thankfully took his helmet and breathing mask off. A light came on and an electronic-sounding voice addressed him:

"Who are you? Enough of poachers and people who get us in trouble!".

"Jacques Leroux. I am a newspaper reporter. They grabbed me from a meeting in Soissons. They were taking me to some base of theirs over here." he said.

"Yes!" said the electronic voice, "Your face matches. It was on the television news about you. No gun, and you were chained on.". (Aphanistor hadn't watched a TV set. He could send incoming TV signals directly to his hearing and seeing brain cortex areas.)

"What happens to me now?" Leroux asked, wondering how much his fate would differ from that of a frog that a dredging duck has swallowed. In Aphanistor's braincase, memories and standing orders again fought for mastery of areas of silicon to rule over for a while. For once, for a while, something else and older surfaced through the thick overlay of naval efficiency and secrecy and pot-fishermen's attitudes that Captain Hurlock had put there and day to day contact with fishermen had reinforced. "You won't see any of those three `Medellin's meddlings' again, nor of four other men that they were going to hand you to on landing. When I say, put your mask and helmet on and swim out of my side hatch.", he said. (Medellin is a town in Colombia in South America, a centre of a drug trade.)

This was done. "Swim straight up, and you'll see the land. It's not far. It's the south coast of England, near a village called Crabhaven." said the voice, "And you're lucky that I'd heard of you. Next time not so lucky, unless you ask us first before diving in our areas.". He was roughly pushed into another compartment and pumped out of a hatch into the sea.

Leroux floundered about and found by trial and error the start of how to move about underwater in frogman's kit. Clear water, sand bottom, a few fish. Waves passed overhead. Quiet and alone. No ordering captors hurrying him. No urgent motors carrying him to handover points. No imminent death aimed at him. He even felt tempted to swim around a bit, but he felt very weary. He surfaced, got to land, and crawled ashore. He again thankfully took off his helmet and breathing mask. He took off the fins, and unstrapped the breathing set and let it fall to the sand. After a struggle (in which he sympathized with such creatures as crabs that have to moult periodically) he rid himself of the diving suit. Glad to be out of all that heavy rubbery enclosing kit, he lay in a hollow between rocks. "I'll keep the kit. My producer'll like a photo of me in it. I suppose all this'll infest my brain and my dreams until I get so `homesick' for underwater, that I have to take up scuba diving after all." he thought. He slept.

In his onboard "Big I-Am" (= Infrared Absorption Meter) Aphanistor `tasted' the contents of the sacks of white powder; it was what he thought it would be, the same as on three divers near Dobbits Cleft that one of Captain Hurlock's men had shot with an ultrasound gun, the same as on the small cabincruiser that Captain Hurlock and Polwerran had searched and scuttled [see 251]. He also found what looked like two large battery-powered electric drills; on realizing what they actually were, he kept them also. He hid the subskimmer underwater and went back to work.

The rising tide splashed Leroux, waking him. He was on a lonely rocky shore, off season and nobody about. No sign of the sub. Dull and overcast, a few drops in the wind. The experience seemed to have faded into unreality - except that the frogman's kit lay by him, and the boilersuit that Rattler had ordered him to put on hadn't turned back into his office suit, and he was the wrong side of the English Channel with no papers or money or proof of his identity on him. He thought what to do: "I better find a police station and find if they'll believe me or help me get home. The waste that crime causes. Subskimmer, four sets of frogmen's kit, discipline and leadership and skill, that could have been used in a far better cause than to smuggle lethal white powder and to end up ground up and digested by a seagoing refuse destructor. Strange that I was rescued by a dredgersub. Dark rumours say that lobster fishing port dredgersubs have short shrift for scuba divers caught `poaching'. No money and no I.D. on me. That great clamshell grab'd have demolished the subskimmer like a stick of celery. All vanished. So many diving projects struggling with inadequate kit'd have liked it. Pity. I'd have liked it to go to have to someone who could have made better use of it. Time I got up.". But he should have got away from the sea sooner. Hidden below the waves a rule that secrecy came first had reasserted itself; meantime the tide had risen a long way, and as he bent down to pick the frogman's kit up, CR79's grab-arm came out of a deep inshore gully by the rocks and reached full length across inland, and from that second capture Leroux did not escape.


SEA PATROL

After dark CR79 carried the subskimmer in his grab to the harbour, where he lifted it onto a waiting boat trailer. He then rolled on his side so the men could unload the four sets of frogmen's kit and other items out of his side hatch into a waiting dumper.

"This lot looks useful!" said Pendane, kneeling on Aphanistor's side helping to unload, "I was a frogman in the Marines. No point asking Affy [= Aphanistor] where he got this lot, I suppose.".

"Sooner this lot's in store, the better." he said as he drove the dumper towing the boat trailer into a storeroom, "I better get the men trained to use it, and make somewhere to keep this subskimmer where it and the men diving with it can come and go underwater without everybody seeing it. Rebreathers! Lighter than aqualungs for the same duration, no bubbles to follow us by. A lot quieter and less cumbersome than aqualungs, when we go underwater after poachers. Add a nitrogen or helium cylinder and a microchip controlled oxygen proportion sensor and controller, and we can go as deep as aqualungers. What a surprise, when they find we can go underwater after them and catch them 100 feet down! There's maker's labels on them, so I know where to get more. And two of those nailguns, plus four off those four men that came by land: I know just what to do with two of them. Time Affy had guns mounted on him. One fore and one aft.".

"This lot'll help to make up for the ten men we lost when Captain Hurlock was arrested!" said Tregear.

[278] Tregear's ear infection had now cleared up. He, wearing a set of the frogmen's kit, was driving the subskimmer in deflated submerged mode above sandy seabed. He passed a few scattered starfish and small crabs. The armbands and the sides of his helmet bore his serial number 12; his shoulder badges and the badges on the each side of the subskimmer's bows bore an outline of a grab dredgersub on blue ground in black circle. "Work to get food from the sea, antipoacher patrolling, salvaging." he thought, "Far better than nasty furtive drug running. Lets get used to steering this thing. It'll startle a few poachers, when they see it!".

Aphanistor approached; his voice came out of an ultrasound receiver on the subskimmer's thruster bar: "Very impressive, Tregear, or it will be when you have had a lot more training. I wish we had these when I was in the navy. Soon I'll be bad news for the poachers, both as myself and as my image on your kit! Now blow its tubes and surface and go back to base, and next action will be by swimming. People's brains get too vehicle-bound and lazy nowadays.".

"Aphanistor as a naval officer? Even silicon brains have `Freudian slips' - the amount of navy that got into his brain via Captain Hurlock!" Tregear thought, and said: "Hang on. I'll go check some of my pots first. I must earn to help pay for all this. I bet this subskimmer'd feel glad to be used for a proper purpose instead of what that lot bought it for, if it had a mind - likely it soon will have its own mind, if that robot engineer Wheeljack gets at it.".

Another Crabhaven man, similarly equipped, with serial number 13, was holding onto the top of Aphanistor's hollow bin-sized clamshell grab, contemplating the amount of stuff that had passed in to the destructor through the powerful capacious intake which was just below him. Aphanistor spoke to him, and he heard by small ultrasound receivers in his helmet: "Brrrm! Polzean! I suppose you intend that to be your favourite riding position! Watch out! One shake and snatch and gulp and ... Time you went back to your antipoacher training. Trippers! If they don't poach, they scavenge. They come, pick, act the goat, and go, like underwater tramps. No discipline. I had a narrow escape from ordinary land tramps once. Before I was brought to life, part of my brain was being delivered from Wernicke Computers (who made it) to Smith & Malton's (who made most of me). A tramp stole the package and was going to burn it for the fuel value of its wrappings. I tell you, Captain Blowtorch and his men didn't spare their riotsquad gear that day! The social worker types called him all sorts of things, but all their sorrowful ink wouldn't have brought those microchip boards back [see 110]. Most vagrants steal. Captain Hurlock told me that in the old days vagrancy was a punishable offence, and important specialist trades like the Cornish tin miners and the Forest of Dean coal miners, and fishermen sometimes, were allowed to arrest and try their own offenders, they who knew their trade and its problems. Now along comes something worse than poachers. Lucky we made a traceless end of it, else the law and some gang'd likely be hunting each other here and ordering us about. `When elephants fight in a peasant's field, it's the peasant that loses most.' said Captain Hurlock once. Lucky I had inside me that undigested aqualung off those five poachers at Dobbits, to throw in at that gunman! Time is you'd better mount guns on me!

Pity that subskimmers cost so much. If a lot more people wanted them, they could be mass produced and therefore a lot cheaper - and then trippers'd use them, to surface and dart off as I got near. But my or your good old Hurlock sonars should stop anything submerged that poachers or underwater scrap-thieves ride on the outside of. - Hang on! You've still got that ordinary hard hulled inflatable that that lot from Bromsgrove left when you saw them off. If that workshop of yours can make those sonars, and bits for trippers' boats, it can make the bits to `subskimmerify' an ordinary hard-inflatable, I think! Why not? Several car or lorry batteries; electric motors; some air cylinders off trippers can have a second life as reinflation cylinders; assorted metal parts; sonar; make its outboard depth-pressure- waterproof; etc. The result won't be as good as the real thing, but it should be useful.".

By now Aphanistor had surfaced, and Polzean had got into Tregear's boat which came alongside him. Tregear replied: "Now you sound like there's a lot of that robot engineer Wheeljack in your make-up, trying to surface.".

Seabirds flew in a dense crowd to and from the cliffs, continually calling what sounded like words. Tregear commented on this din: "Noisy, those birds. Someone said they're called `kittiwakes', after the noise they make. To me it sounds more like `let me out'. To me they're all just gulls, to make mess and eat our fish and attract birdwatchers to mess about in boats and get among our pots and be tempted, and then get adrift or stuck on cliffs, and we have to waste our time lifeboat-rescuing incompetents.".

"`Let me out': who and from where?" Aphanistor replied, "Some people'd say they're those three I got the subskimmer off, come back to accuse me - and others also indeed - some humans' imaginations! Doesn't bother me. I just submerge and wash their mess off.".

(The serial numbers of the five Crabhaven men that learned to scuba dive were: #10 = Pendane, #11 = Mickelson, #12 = Tregear, #13 = Polzean, #14 = Malling. [see 281]) [279] Tregear and Pendane came to a pot marker. Tregear, still wearing frogman's kit, hauled it in, for they still had to fish for their living. "Brrrm!" Aphanistor remarked, "A diver going in pots! A sight to set my intake conveyor twitching! Good thing I know who you are! Hurry up with it! And as I said, Pendane, who was a Marines commando frogman, is in command of you in diving matters! And as I said, there will be no idle underwater scoobydooing and sightseeing wasting time and breathing set refills! Every dive to be authorized by him or me, and logged. Diving is addictive, and addictants where they are necessary must be kept under control! Aye! Captain Hurlock (RN retired) made you lot into a disciplined trained force to act against nuisances instead of complaining over drinks and doing nothing! Now you've made good use of that bad weather when you couldn't sail, training in that quarry to do your own diving work and antipoacher actions. Like in France there are sea-police who can dive and arrest underwater! Now you are all passed in basic aqualung and rebreather diving, the fun part can start now.".

"And next time they slope off to the pub and dodge training ..." he added to himself.

"This dive and a few more to get used to sea conditions. If you want to pick shellfish, you can." said Pendane, "But practise keeping together as a disciplined squad and keeping out of sight among rocks and kelp. Practise being quiet! No noisy splashy rolling in backwards, unless I say you can! Now in you go!".

"The old solid conspiracy retreats." Aphanistor thought as he floated alongside, "Where is Stephen Bennett of Chesterfield BSAC, expert diver, expert solicitor, twisting the law round his little finger, lock-picking through every attempt to enforce by law notices telling divers to keep off, winner of many cases when we tried to control our own harbours and beaches, cause of many injunctions and sentences imposed on our people? My destructor recycler digested at the same time his aqualung and his expertise, his flippers and his fancy words, when off Dobbits Cleft I judged a case where his law didn't apply, when we two met!".

The five dived. Aphanistor said to them: "Discipline! Don't wander off! Stick to the job! Stay hard! The first thing for you to be is my `second grab and intake' for when I am elsewhere! I can't be everywhere at once. That's why you've got me on your badges.".

Underwater, Mickelson, wearing ordinary aqualung and mask, looking up at Aphanistor and seeing of him only his rounded-tapered rear end with its propeller between four steering fins and forgetting that sentient robot vehicles are liable to have more eyes and elsewhere than the normal human two, pulled Tregear by his fins which were temptingly near, thinking with rough humour "Pull the cat's tail!". Aphanistor suddenly made a half-loop downwards with his grab arm extended along his arc of travel as an extra steering aid, and grabbed Mickelson fins-first. He shook and shut his grab once, and the frogman disappeared inside.

"What!?" Mickelson complained inside the hollow grab.

"No you don't!" came a loud warning from Aphanistor's powerful all-digesting steel bulk.

"Oi! Let me out! Let me out!" Mickelson complained, "Oi! You told me to dive! Let me out!".

"`Let me out'? Have I caught a kittiwake bird? Or just another sport aqualunger poaching and acting the fool? Enough of them! They indeed `fly' about everywhere and leave mess, like birds! One gulp with my pusher plates and ... No, I'll let you go, but stay here.", said Aphanistor as he rolled over to keel-down. He opened his grab. Mickelson swam out and rolled over to belly-down.

"Pulling #12's fins! Skylarking! No you don't!" said Aphanistor angrily, firing his front sonar at Mickelson low power so he felt the effect a bit, "If I had a tankful of fuel for every silly young rating that acted the goat endangering or distracting someone, when I was in the navy - I mean, when Captain Hurlock was in the Navy - and found the hard way what Captain Hurlock's electric shock prod was for! `Only a bit of fun'? That excuse doesn't hold at all! Fin fights are for swimming pools, not open water! If I or #10 tell you to `attack' another one of you as combat training, then do so, and only as I say - else no clowning about at all! Is that clear? And how did you talk? By taking your mouthpiece out? Don't do that either! So, if you want to become one of the teeth of my `second grab for when I am busy elsewhere' for when trouble arises, and to wear me on your shoulder badges, then remember: No clowning about! No fraternizing with trippers! And, as #10 told you to do, but you haven't done it yet: I know that's your own kit, but still: blacken out all that yellow and chrome! You aren't sport divers. You will often have to go unnoticed. Mask edges, fin buckles, lifejacket, suit seam tape, regulator: blacken it out! And that big yellow maker's badge on your suit with `Cressi-sub' and a girl spearing a shark on it: dredgersub yes, Cressi-sub, no. You don't work for them. Your shoulder badges have a red dredgersub on a black circle: you get them with a black dredgersub on when #10 says you're fully trained and passed. That'll be the sooner the more you train. So, if there's bad weather and you can't sail, you go to the quarry and train, not to the pub and not visiting about! How long before #1 to #9 get let out? #8 [= Trelane] used a set of scuba gear to good effect! That floating gin palace that kept hauling our pots took away a limpet mine as well as lobsters [see 197]! And get a diffuser for your aqualung. Foam rubber packing on the bottom of your cylinders so they won't clang on your weightbelt. Removable black cloth cover for your cylinders, for stealthy operations. (Don't paint the cylinders black: in industry, black cylinders mean oxygen.) And remember: both ends of me are dangerous. Keep away from my propeller. And from all propellers.".

Later, Pendane said to Mickelson before diving: "Affy found valuable metals in an old wreck that he dug out. Thus I could buy more of those rebreathers, Rebreathers with pure oxygen can't safely go below 30 feet, and purposely diluting the oxygen in a rebreather is dangerous and not to be done - except with these sets. In mixture mode they have an oxygen cylinder and a nitrogen cylinder, lengthways on the back like I've got now, and a microchip controlled oxygen proportion sensor and controller to keep the oxygen proportion right automatically - if the battery doesn't go flat, so keep it charged.".

[281] Bad weather prevented fishing. Three of them went to the village pub. "Umf!" said one, "So much of that quarry! When will this gale stop? I'm glad to look like a fisherman, instead of another thieving sea-frog for that overgrown steel duck to pump down its throat at a gulp and digest kit and all. I thought we were `fishermen and free', not to be ordered about by a robot sub.".

"Come off it!" another replied, "Affy's as good as being one of us. How things change! At first Captain Hurlock didn't like seeing sport divers' gear any more than seeing its owners. But he appreciated Trelane's dive that time [see 197]. Then the cops came the wrong day, and we lost ten men [see 195-202]. That left Tregear (#12) and me (Polzean) (#13), plus two men too old to be much use, plus three boys old enough to sail but the $%# Education won't let them leave school for it. But Pendane (#10) and Mickelson (#11) and Malling (#14) came from other villages to help out, and Pendane had been a frogman in the Marines. Then Affy (= Aphanistor) found the subskimmer and those four sets of kit, etc as we all know.".

They finished their drinks and went out. Outside, the gale-driven rain beat against walls and windows - and against the steel hull of Aphanistor, who stood high and dry on wheels in the road in front of the pub. Pendane was beside him. They stopped, startled, with the usual apprehension of absentees caught at fault.

"Since that gang affair, I got Smith & Malton's to fit me with retractable road wheels. Back to duty." Aphanistor ordered, "Nuisances won't go just by complaining over drinks! Your kit's in my hold. To the quarry!".

"Yurrh, ordering us about like that Captain Hurlock!" Polzean growled.

"If it wasn't for Captain Hurlock and then Affy, you'd still be complaining over drinks and doing nothing, handcuffed by all their fancy solicitors! Freedom must be earned and worked for! Now back to training to fight back!" Pendane ordered.

They went back to training. Rain beat on their diving gear. Pendane said: "Fancy kit's very handy, but keep in practise of how to use ordinary kit. These rebreather sets are good, but they need oxygen (and nitrogen or helium, for mixture mode), which aren't in most corner shops. So learn how to use aqualungs, which are far easier to get hold of, and only need air, which is all round us, so all you use up to refill them is compressor fuel. And don't get so subskimmer-minded that you can't do the job by swimming.".

Polzean replied: "Yes, you said, such as, if you are using an aqualung without a diffuser, if you're creeping up on a suspect, to arrest him, only breathe out when he breathes out, so he won't hear your bubbles coming out. Likewise with aqualung intake hiss.".

Pendane said: "Yes, you're learning. And `arrest'!, right word, not `get' or `nab' or the like, at last! Soon you earn a black dredgersub on your badges instead of a red one.".

In the quarry, one of them was practising creeping up on a suspect diver and turning his air off to make him surface. This time it was a difficult case, turning off a twin cylinder set's two air taps at once, one with each hand. He managed it, and inflated the `suspect''s lifejacket, forcing him to surface, where in real action the surface party in the boats would have caught him, and not gently. "Enough of poachers. If 30 trippers each take a lobster a week, for 20 weeks each year, from our waters ..." he thought.

Pendane and Aphanistor floated in front of the other four men, who stood underwater to attention in serial number order. "That's all you four passed. Here's your badges with the black sub on," said Pendane, swimming along the rank giving them their badges, "and perhaps help to train #1 to #9, when they come out.".

"Now you've got me on your shoulder badges in my own colour, remember:" said Aphanistor, "be as hard as my grab and as thorough as my grinder and as traceless as my recycler! One day they'll learn that work and production come first!".

"And be yet another shellfish diver, if I can't pot because those new sea woodlice that eat pot baits first start infesting round here." Polzean thought.

"Something sailed through our drift-nets again, cutting them." Mickelson thought.

They also learned other matters, such as explosives handling, for when they had to blast during underwater salvage work.

"In slack seasons you may want to do underwater work, which may include blasting." said Pendane. The lesson started and ran its course.

"When crimping a detonator, always crimp from the back, not over the end! If you crimp the det', and it goes off, goodbye to your hands!" Pendane warned.

"`Agh burzum-ishi crimping-tool', when Sauron blew the city walls up!" said Malling, adapting from `The Lord of the Rings'.

"Never mind silly puns with fiction! I better go over that again." Pendane snapped, and repeated his warning.

"Remember: `bang clatter clatter clatter': after an explosion always wait for all the debris to stop falling." he said later.

"In towns, explosions usually go `bang wuff wuff wuff': silly dogs commentating on it.' Polzean thought. The lesson ran its course. At Crabhaven, life continued.


EVIDENCE IGNORED

[282] "Is the morning television news on yet?" Jack Brown asked Sideswipe who he was riding to school in.

"Yes. I'll show on my dashboard screen." said Sideswipe, "Never'd be allowed if I was a car that needed a human driver, a television where the driver could see it.".

Yet again the screen showed a newsreader's head rather than informative pictures, and the news was the usual assortment.

"Traffic from Coventry into Birmingham this morning is held up by sewer works in Yardley.

Searchers have failed to find any trace of five skindivers who failed to surface after a dive near Crabhaven. Local fishermen said they had been warned of a strong offshore current [see 270].

The foot and mouth disease scare at Long Itchington has proved to be false.

Smith & Malton's Ltd of Droitwich has received several large foreign orders for dredging equipment.

`Optimus Prime' is to officially open a hospital extension in Worcester. [which Jack knew of already]

Police are still appealing for any witnesses to a violent affray between railway workmen and vagrants near Droitwich railway station [see 266].

A group of four scallop-catching professional divers who failed to return after a dive near Flamborough Head a month ago, have returned, apparently well. They said they had been on a special course, but have refused to give more details.

Now for the weather ...".

"Oh, that's them found." Jack thought, "I thought it was just another of those disappearances. I suppose they might be one thing and another, but ... Anyway, I'm nearly at school, I better put my pack on.". He got out of Sideswipe and went into school, thinking: "History first lesson. Thank goodness that Paul Smith's finally gone. I wonder where he is? He was a total pest.".

"Bye." said Sideswipe and drove away.

"Crumbs." said the teacher, "That's a flashy car you came in. Red Countach! Nobody driving it: another of those? How many now?".

"He's called Sideswipe. Since then we've got Shockwave and Bumblebee and Buzzsaw; and two more are being made. Our Shockwave transforms into a mobile refuse destructor and not like in the stories." said Jack.

"At least it isn't Optimus." said the teacher, "Last time Optimus came, he bent down to pick up a metalworking lathe that had been delivered, to move it to the metalworking room for us. What with where the lathe had been left, and how hard his motor was revving to pick it up, and which window was open, his chrome-plated-to-emphasize-it obvious oversized gaseous diesel exhaust pipe blasted room 14 full of diesel exhaust during geography class. Nobody hurt, but they sure ran out in a hurry! (`Oops sorry.' he said.)".

Prowl, teaching computer programming, first passed on a message from the police: "... Enough of them. They say they're `only dossin'', then they start thieving. If you see them again, keep away from them and tell the police. They are wanted for something.

Now back to computers. [283] Problem: write a function to work out x to the power of n. Most of you treated this as babyfood to be rushed and get on with something else: multiply 1 by x, n times. No. The best way is to create successive `power-of-two-th' powers of x by keeping on squaring it, and multiplying by those according to the binary bits of n:-

double powi(double x,int n) {double y; y=1;
if(n<0) {n=-n; x=1/x; } while(n) {if(n&1) y*=x; x*=x; n>>=1; } return y;} /* powi(x,n) = x to power of n,faster than multiplying n times. 0^0=1 here */

is much quicker for big values of n. Admittedly it sets 0^0 to 1 rather than `indefinite', but this makes life easier when working out polynomials and the like. Ellison was the only boy that spotted this method. All the rest merely multiplied n times. No good if n = a big number like 20000! Robinson even forgot to cater for n being negative! Homework: write a function to solve a polynomial using Bairstow's method. Any queries before you go to your next lesson?".

"Sorry sir," said a boy, "but Dad says: you're with the police sometimes, do you know where all those tramps are? He says they go in back of places pinching things.".

"Aye, they do thieve." said Prowl, "Tell him that all I know is that they tried to squat in a storeroom at Droitwich railway station and the railway workmen slung them out. The tramps went out all together, and that's all I know. No more complaints about them since so far. Enough of them. The police'll likely hear of where they are next, soon enough. Now go to your next lesson.".

The boys went to their next lesson. Near the gym they passed a burnt patch on the ground. There lay the ashes of several nights' scavengings by tramps, and of their hope of shelter [see 248]. There also lay the ashes of four other men's hope of smuggled profit [see 250]. To the boys it was merely a place where rubbish was burnt, a matter of no interest. They went into class. Nor at the end of the school day was it any interest to Prowl as he went out into the school yard and folded himself up into car form to take Jack home to Wernicke's. It was starting to rain, but Jack had to wait until Prowl had finished transforming.

"Where's Wheeljack been the last few days?" asked Jack.

"He's been at a factory called Braithwaite's on Tyneside. They wanted help with some engineering and machinery." said Prowl, "I still wonder where those tramps are, and the teachers'll have to warn the children about them.".

Someone did know, partly [see 267]. Catfood Joe, driven by fears arising from something he had seen, plucked up courage to enter Droitwich police station of his own will, despite his and his kind's bad memories of such places.

"Catfood Joe? What brings you here?" asked the duty officer, slightly surprised.

"Those other -people- I used to go about with - I think somethin''s `appened to 'em." said Catfood Joe, wondering if, after the amount of lies he and his kind had told to get things, the policeman would believe him now he had a true story to tell. His mouth felt very dry from apprehension, but he realized that asking for anything to drink would be a certain way to make the policeman think he was merely telling another story to beg and send him away without listening to him. [284] He described what he had seen:

"Ahter the railway's $%^$$'ers finished with us, we 'ad to go somewhere. Thick overalls, 'elmets, we didn't 'ave a *&^ chance. I fetched one a @#$% with 'alf a brick, but it didn't do no good, and one 'eavy mob of 'em 'ad #$@@ shields, see? Anybody, we got into this old ware'ouse that nobody were usin'. I stayed outside and 'id in a bush. I couldn't go in with the others, there'd been some - trouble- [see 247]. Ahter a bit, four men in overalls and 'elmets and gasmasks came. They 'ad 'lectric drills in their belts. ('Ow they were goin' a run 'em with no 'lectric in there, $#% knows.) One was drivin' one of those dumpers like on buildin' sites. The four men went in and banged the place up [= made it secure against entry and exit]. Then I 'eard argybargyin', then runnin' about and shoutin', then nothin'. I didn't like it at all. The four men came out. One was drivin' their dumper. It 'ad a great big 'eaped up load in it, all sheeted over so I couldn't see what it was. They went away. The other three got in a car. A bit later, I went into the ware'ouse. Pr'aps they'd let me in ahter all. There was #$%#%$-in' nobody and nothin' in there! I saw 'em all go in. There was no other $%^ way they could've got out. But they'd $%^ vanished! If you ask me, there's only one thing that could've 'appened.".

"Yes, we looked in there also, when we were looking for something, a bit later, and we found nothing. All right, here's something to drink." said the policeman, handing Catfood Joe a glass.

Catfood Joe took one pull at the glass. The taste sent him back to his usual mentality. Blowing the liquid out of his mouth and throwing the glass across the desk, he exclaimed angrily: "Water! Yer can 'ave yer $%^-in' water like I can get in the tap in the gents without wastin' good tottin' time! I bring yer good info and yer push me off! Well, I am off! $%^^ yer all!".

This was no surprise to the policeman, who was used to that sort of character's fanciful tales gradually working around to how parched in the mouth it made them. He picked up the glass and mopped up the spilt water and waited for more work to arise. Anyway, the police would have looked in vain. It was unlikely, and in the event did not happen, that Catfood Joe would ever have gone to Crabhaven, and unlikelier that he and Aphanistor would meet and by comparing memories find that each had seen the same four men. Aphanistor had no love of tramps [see 278 & 106], nor Catfood Joe of robots [see 108 & 109 & 112]. So it ended. Catfood Joe left and went to a tip to scavenge. Life went on.


BRAITHWAITE

[285] "You seem to be a lot at that factory called Braithwaite's in Tyneside, Wheeljack." said Jack Brown a few days later.

"I've been advising them on some matters. They're making a sort of torpedo for the Navy, not explosive, but to pick up floating or sunken objects and return. There've been some foreign orders for them also. If you ask me, they're rather over-engineered for that sort of job, but that's how the Navy wants them. The television's going there live today!" Wheeljack replied.

"I remember when the telly was there before." said Jack, "The announcer at the studio said they were a new cooperative who got their factory by occupying it, etc, `... the unions and an engineering firm are helping him. Over to a reporter on site.'. Then as he went to talk to Mr.Braithwaite, a microphone got too near to a control walkietalkie or something and there came over the air, faint but clear, the words: `Oh heavens, same as Mr.Malton at Smith & Malton's that time: boilersuit, helmet, backpack blowtorch, tools in chest pouch, not an office suit to his name, I bet - CRIKEY! For 'ssakes only let his top half into shot!'.".

"That's how that firm started." said Wheeljack, and explained what had happened:- B & N (Imports) Ltd built a big warehouse and offices to store imported goods on a site in Tyneside where a coalmine had closed down a few years before. The place was completed and about to open. They heard of but ignored a big public meeting in the nearby town. There was a conference inside, of company sales policy planners and market researchers and suchlike. Then a big crowd of unemployed men from the town converged on the place and stormed it and occupied it, complaining of broken promises and wanting jobs there. One of the occupiers' leaders walked up to whoever looked like the most important of the businessmen there and held him tightly by the shirt collar, accusing him: "Where's our jobs? None while this place was being built, and now none to run this place! You import all men and materials. You said you'd provide local jobs. Where are they? We're taking over here, to run it properly!".

"Who are you? This is a confidential meeting. Get out!" said the businessman, John Blore, not liking the look of the man's size and riotsquad-type gear and thick boilersuit and heavy hobnailed boots and helmet with visor, and blowtorch fed from oxygen and acetylene cylinders strapped to his back like a pack, and look as if he had few scruples what or who he used it on. He felt relieved that the blowtorch was unlit just then. The man also seemed to walk oddly; Blore looked down and gasped in astonishment and felt his hair stand on end. Below the normal but heavily muscular shoulders and chest and arms, the body widened and split (at the 11th thoracic vertebra) into two pelvises standing on four legs. Such was his first sight of the rare but known deformity called dipygus, the result of the embryo's rear end growing point jamming and splitting long before birth. He had seen similar things a few times, in the popular press, soon after their birth, and pitied them, and turned the page quickly. But to see something like that as an adult, half a head taller than he was, and apparently their leader! Nor did the backpack blowtorch and the capacious canvas chest pouch full of tools make the general effect any prettier, nor did the transparent shield slung on the back and the pickaxe handle with wrist strap dangling from one of the four hips. Followed by the other occupiers, the monster advanced, pushing him back into the room.

"I'm John Braithwaite, who the men's union has appointed as the new boss here." the dipygus said, "You build this great place, all men brought in from far away, huge pre-assembled parts trucked in rather than pay a few local men to put it together. Even food and beer and newspapers trucked in rather than let your men buy it locally!".

"I - khakh - didn't want to make shortages locally, buying stuff up ..." Blore whined, adjusting his disarranged necktie and broken front collar stud.

"If the people round here saw a fiver a week all put together of your firm's and men's money, we were lucky! And we look like getting the same when the place is running!" said Braithwaite, "You import all this stuff past our noses instead of employing us to make it, or even handle and sort it. What men you do need, you bring in! Well, if you're so good at work, a little test: over there's a blowtorch and two pieces of mild steel that we've brought in. Make a right-angle edge to edge weld. Elementary stuff!".

"That's welder's work. What's that to do with running a business?" said Blore.

"Plenty! If you can't do the men's work, you can't understand their problems." said Braithwaite.

"We're traders, not engineers! We've got a workshop for necessary maintenance, and that's all! Manufacturing's too much messing about." said Blore.

"Time you learned some engineering, like used to be round here. You're now manufacturers, I say so. We're taking over and running the place to bring jobs to the town and money into the country, not send it out to buy stuff in." said Braithwaite.

"Oh are you? Get out, you - monstrosity! Enough of union troublemaking and sit-ins! Hobnail boots on my office floor - banging your cylinders on the panelling - ordering me to do workman's work -" Blore protested.

"I stay, and so do you, learn to do proper work for a change, instead of maximizing your own profitability all the time! Same goes for all of your kind that's in here!" Braithwaite ordered angrily, "We've a few machine tools we can bring in, we can get more. A lot of this imported tat vanishes into this on-site destructor and materials recoverer of yours, to help to get raw materials to make British- made stuff! And all this scrapiron can help.".

"That's customer's stuff!" Blore complained, "It's not ours to give you! And you say we were no benefit to the local people? We were, by all the stuff that's been pilfered off site! Fuel drained from construction vehicles overnight, and often engine oil and radiator coolant and toolkits also! And a dumper vanished and turned up seven miles away on a farm being used to carry bales of hay and straw.".

"Not guilty! OK, so a few got fed up of asking you when the local jobs would start and being told to come back later, so they took the law into their own hands. All we got off you lot was the roads muddied and chewed up by construction vehicles. Not so bad if you'd employed local people!" said Braithwaite, "They tried to sweep me under the carpet because I've got double hindquarters that I can't help; they try to sweep manufacturing under the carpet because it needs overalls and oil and grease and machinery and what some call unsightliness. Well, the people are going to see manufacturing here again, and me in public also, overall, welding kit, four legs, and all! Right, you lot! Your names and addresses and qualifications and what jobs and schools etc you've been in?".

"That's my business.", "Not saying.", "I forgot it." Blore replied.

"Next step, I suppose, is: we call the police, you call the unions for pickets, the police find excuses to avoid a fight, and our warehouse stays occupied by a load of out-of-work industrials!" said one of them.

[286] Next morning there, John Blore, market research consultant for B & N (Imports) Ltd, was woken by someone prodding him with a pickaxe handle. He looked, saw one upper half but four legs, was briefly startled, but remembered. "Get up! No waiters here to get you breakfast in bed." he was ordered. His vision seemed a bit scratchy, then he realized he was looking through a transparent visor fitted to a helmet. He looked at himself and saw a boilersuit and heavy boots and a bulky chest pouch for tools, and realized he had been put into workman's kit while under whatever he had been put to sleep with. He tried to get up and couldn't, despite repeated prodding, and, realizing he was strapped down to a table or something, pleaded for whatever it was to be done to him then and get it over with. The pickaxe handle prodded again. Blore pleaded, struggled harder, and found that whatever he was strapped to could be moved a bit. He reached for a water pipe on the wall and pulled himself up by it. He managed to stand, and found that he was not strapped down to a table but was wearing some extremely heavy kit on his back. Still a bit woozy from whatever he had been put to sleep with, he staggered over to a shiny sheet metal surface and turned sideways on to it, to see what he was wearing; he saw oxygen and acetylene cylinders, whose valves `looked' over his shoulders, connected to gas tubes looping over his shoulders to a blowtorch head in a holster on his chest. He shuddered. Blowtorches gave him the shivers, even on the television; now he had one strapped to his back like an aqualung and feeling like it was a built-on part of his body. His helmet's forehead bore the name `Blackrigg'. He looked away from the heavily equipped threatening looking workman that was his reflection, and tried to collect his thoughts.

"Quick march! It's only fat and out-of-condition-ness! Now for your first day's work, Jack Blackrigg." Braithwaite ordered him.

"Who's Jack Blackrigg?" said John Blore.

"It's you!" said a man with `Aikbeck' on his helmet's forehead, "You wouldn't give your name and details, so we've chosen you a name and life history, to fill the blanks in your personal file. If you don't like them, hard $%^, you should have given your own in time. I'm Joseph Aikbeck. I was a shipbuilder in Sunderland.".

"Leaving me on my back in all that heavy kit, `cast' like a sheep on its back in heavy wet fleece." Blore complained, "Blowtorches give me the shudders, now I've got one strapped to my back. Ye gods it's heavy. What do you want me to do with it? A lot of fancy work that I don't know the words for, I suppose?".

"Jack Blackrigg. Left school at 15. Industrial apprenticeship at Mather and Platts in Manchester. Four years there, then redundant. Dole and odd jobs till you started here." said Aikbeck.

"No! John Blore. Eton and Oxford. Honours in classics. Business as advisor ..." Blore started.

"Sorry, but what I've got is `down and official', like you paperwork-minded characters keep saying." said Aikbeck, "Classics? No use! Who talks Latin now? That sort of thing's only for evening and weekend amusement! Can't waste time talking! Here's the drawing, make up what it says!".

"Owww!" Blore thought, "Aikbeck and that monstrosity trying to turn me into a workman by blue-pencilling my past and writing in a working-class past instead until I start believing it myself. It still won't give me industrial skills instead of business skills, or make me like oil and coolant and machinery and tools. Him saying I was brought up in some scruffy backstreet workshop. And these hobnailed boots with steel toecaps are killing my feet. At least they support my ankles, with all this weight I've got on.".

"Same here." said Stephen Malling, salesman, one of his business colleagues, "I'm listed as Peter Milnthwaite, welder and machinist. Typical workman attitude towards anything financial. Let's start trying to decipher all this lot and making what it says.". [287] He started trying to weld, gave up after a while, rummaged in his tool pouch, and took out another blowtorch head. "Ohooo!" he said aloud to himself in frustration, "Suddenly `dropped in the deep end' of the real world of where things we use come from, got up in all this kit like some factory heavyweight! This 'torch is no good for this! If I press the trigger, it blows the molten metal away, and if I don't it isn't (ain't, I better start talking like them) hot enough. Do I use this other `torch head that I found in my tool pouch? And what are all these bits of steel rod in my tool pouch for? O Hephaistos [Greek god of fire and metalworking], since I'm stuck in your service, please turn all this useless classics stuff I've picked up, into the industrial apprenticeship and experience that Aikbeck and that `teras catadidymum' with twice his ration of legs declare me to have had!".

"So you've noticed the difference between a welder and a cutter." said Braithwaite approaching, looking to Blore even more fearsome with his blowtorch lit, "How long before you find that you should fill the gap by melting one of those mysterious rods into it!?, not by melting the workpieces back, making them too short. That's why they're called `welding rods'! I don't care what psychological / psychiatric tricks I have to use (and I know plenty, from where I've been), if it's the last thing I do, I'm going to turn you bunch of ignorant money-obsessed speculators into efficient skilled workers! They pull down endless small factories and build offices and hotels and such junk instead, and then wonder why we have to import so much, and why fewer and fewer people are brought up industrial-minded! Never mind that posh people can't stand seeing ugly factories!".

Blore gradually got the beginnings of the hang of blowtorch welding. "Akhhh!" he thought, "He's got as many legs as that centaur Kheiron who trained Jason's `Argo-sailors' on Mount Pelion, etc as the Greek legend, but far less attractive with it! Blowtorches give me the shivers. At least with that rig-out on he looks equally unattractively functional all the way up. I choose advisors of my own choosing for this conference, and what do I get instead? Aikbeck the shipbuilder and Braithwaite the dipygus! He's as lame as Hephaistos when he has to hurry! He carries on about `limits and fits' and `yield strength' and `eutectic' and all sorts of engineering stuff, and expects us to know it! Lucky he gives us about time to read it up in that works library he set up - in the boardroom! and the good panelling gets scarred by hobnail boots and tools from men going in there in kit. And he's told our families that we're staying on voluntarily for a `residential course'. All the muscle I'll put on heaving this lot about, I bet none of my suits'll fit when I get home. Ow, the weight of this kit, and my fat belly added to it doesn't help, that lot coming from a world where weight means muscle and obesity is unusual. A man called Patrick Shaw-Stewart went to fight at Gallipoli in 1914, very near Troy, and he wrote a poem about it. That poem I might well adapt for myself now thus:-

Rough-minded from rough places, with scorn for men like me,
unsightly second Kheiron, why must I learn from thee?
On Pelion learned the Heroes, but we shut up in here.
Got they the Golden Fleece; what gold will we come near?
Was it so hard, O Jason, to forsake your herdsman's ease?
Thou knowest, and I know too, that fates upon me seize.
No rest for me in th' morning from grim Hephaistos near.
Stand thou by me, O Jason, who sailed to lands of fear.

What's happening back at my own business?, me stuck in here not allowed to phone out?".

Malling was finishing his workpiece on a metalworking lathe, measuring and cutting alternately. Suddenly his right leg convulsed painfully. He thought he had touched a bare wire carrying mains voltage, muttered about electricians' standards nowadays, looked for the cause, and saw behind him Braithwaite holding what was all too clearly an electric shock prod, even though he had never seen one before except in pictures. "Now what's our four-legged friend want? I'm getting on with the work, aren't I?" he muttered.

"Milnthwaite!" said Braithwaite angrily, "If I see you micrometering rotating work again, you get twice the voltage! Better that than you losing half your hand! Always let the work stop rotating! Safety rules are there for a purpose!".

Mr.Walton, a manager for B & N (Imports) Ltd, looked at a clutter of variously shaped machine tool heads. He yawned and muttered:

"Engineering drawing in the evening, nothing but eat and work and sleep. Which of these to use? Lets go through them. Mashie, niblick, putter - yowk!". The electric prod had found its mark again. "Now what's that bossy dipygus found fault with?" he said.

"And don't you call those tools by those silly wrong names again!" Braithwaite ordered behind him, "They ain't golf clubs! Find the proper names, don't invent names! Never mind that you'd rather be skiving off playing golf! For example, the tool that you're holding is called a `radius tool'".

"OK, OK, I'll waste my time and the toolmaker's finding what they're called. What next?" said Walton.

"And don't keep taking your kit off!" said Braithwaite, "Keep it on, then it can't get stolen, and you won't have to come back for it if you have to go somewhere else!".

"But it's heavy." Walton bleated.

"Then you need the exercise, to get used to carrying that sort of weight." said Braithwaite.

"Says you, with four legs to carry that load you've got on you.". said Walton.

[288] Next week a man in an expensive suit drove to the main gate and got out, holding a sheaf of papers. He gulped and stammered at the man at the gate's dipygus deformity, added to the usual unease caused by the man's riotsquad-type gear. Eventually he managed to announce himself as Mr.Bewdley, from B & N (Imports) Ltd's board of directors, and to ask for Mr.Braithwaite.

"Man arrived at main gate." said the man into his walkietalkie, and then to Mr.Bewdley, "That's me. All the legs are my own.".

Mr.Bewdley gulped again and said: "I'm here just to say that thanks to the mess and kick-up that you lot have made, B & N's are pulling out and selling up! No jobs here from us! Here's redundancy notices for my firm's staff who were going to work here. How to get you lot out of here? Police and courts drag their feet - you lot taking on a defence project, I bet the Navy's been pulling strings! And too many lorries bringing stuff from Smith & Malton's: that `Captain Blowtorch' is behind some of this also, I bet.".

A big red artic cab with vertical chromed exhaust pipes and a stylized robot-face logo on each side arrived. Nobody was driving it.

"I was passing. How are those new machine tools that I brought from Smith & Malton's?" it said.

"They're working fine." said Braithwaite.

"Another monster! It's that Optimus Prime from Wernicke's in Droitwich! Now I know there's a conspiracy!" Bewdley thought, "And if that Optimus decides to transform, which to prefer? Normal-sized man but forked with double hindquarters, or roughly normal-shaped `man' but of steel and 25 feet tall with shiny smelly diesel exhaust pipes up his back!? What next?".

Two men came to the gate. On the right chest of each of their boilersuits was a large round badge with the word `Braithwaites' round its edge, surrounding a logo like an inverted `Y' overlaying an `=' sign. He for a moment thought it was the Japanese `yen' money symbol („) inverted, then with a feeling of inevitability recognized it as a stylized representation of head, body, two outspread arms, and four outspread legs. "Imago Dipygi." he thought, in Latin for some reason, "I fear that maker's plates with that on will be seen on many engineering products made here.". On the two men's helmets' foreheads were the names `Skelgill' and `Milnthwaite'. Recognizing their faces, he asked them: "Mr.Walton and Mr.Malling? Why the new names?".

"Great! Now we are stuck here as workmen, or on the dole! Not our fault the natives got restless! Please" pleaded Walton.

"We wouldn't give our names, that's our business, so he chose names to refer us by. Lucky I didn't go cheeky and say I was Mickey Mouse, like some men would have." said Walton.

"At least Blore's got his own business to go back to." said Malling.

"Sorry, B & N's has no other positions available for you. Good luck." said Bewdley, and drove away.

Mr.Blore looked for his car, and found it - sort of. All the body and insides behind the dashboard was gone. On the centre of the naked chassis was built a crane gearbox and jib, powered by an extra clutch on the lengthened crankshaft and controlled by extra levers to the left of the driver's seat, which was of steel like a dumper's and not the real oxhide leather that had been there before. "Misshapen himself, he denies other things a good attractive shape, but only goes for function. Never mind how competently he's done the conversion!" he thought angrily, and said: "Is that small mobile crane what you've butchered my expensive car into?

"Why not?" Braithwaite replied, "Huge four-litre engine to carry one man and a packful of papers?! A motorbike's enough for me! Cheaper to run, gets into narrow spaces, less irreplaceable fossil fuel used!".

"`Packful', he said, not `caseful', expecting people to march with packs on like hikers or like they were in the Army, instead of a briefcase or a suitcase that can be put down." Blore thought, and, asking Braithwaite how to call a taxi, was given a phone number which turned out to be a bus station's enquiries number. "Now I'm to make a workman's choice of which public transport to use now." he thought, "OK. OK, I'll be a workman till the last, to satisfy him, till I'm out of here.". His backpack blowtorch and chest tool pouch lay on the floor; he felt no sadness at leaving them. He took his overall off, and realized that his executive suit was so rumpled and stained and battered from being worn continuously under an overall for every sort of hard manual work for a month that it was now very far from presentable. He put his overall back on. "OK. I'd rather look like a workman than a tramp, till I'm home, the state my suit's in," he decided, "and I'll keep my pack to carry my papers in, to match, and Mammon alone knows where my office shoes are that I came in. OK. Overall, heavy boots, pack, helmet so I can pull the visor down if it rains, workman's full marching order three miles to the main road to the nearest bus stop that has a good service. Newcastle and home, rest, change my clothes, office shoes instead of hard marching tread of hobnails on concrete whenever I walk a few steps, end of Blackrigg the welder.".

It was not to be so. He got home and rang his office, and found only his harassed-sounding secretary. While he was away, Mr.Grey his partner had taken advantage of not being supervised to neglect Blore's business and spend most of his time on other businesses, for Grey had too many fingers in other pies, wasting time, and too many fingers in Blore's till, wasting money. Investment and consultancy opportunities galore had blown past and fled downwind, not taken up by either of them. Then someone had made a huge cash withdrawal in Blore's name. ("Handy to buy machinery with, instead of investing in investment companies and suchlike horseshit.", Braithwaite thought.) Then Grey had suddenly cashed what he could and run away with it, leaving Blore with all the partnership's debts. Those debts going bad would mean debts owed by the creditors going bad in their turn, and the knock-on effect would spread. Businessman aren't all Rothschilds. Blore fled from a baying horde of creditors and writ-servers and miscellaneous angry people, and again put on the heavy thick overall with the Braithwaite's badge, despite his dislike of the now too familiar stylized dipygus logo on it. Under it this time he wore clothes chosen for hardwearingness and not for appearance. The heavy boots; as much personal stuff as would fit into the largest rucksack that he could buy; the helmet. John Blore, businessman, disappeared as tracelessly as the groups of skindivers mentioned by newspapers and television news from time to time. Jack Blackrigg, welder, went home by train to Tyneside and marched the three miles from the main road bus stop to Braithwaite's and a life in overall and work kit and the smell of machine-shop. Braithwaite was at the main gate. "Welder Jack Blackrigg reporting for duty. All my kit's here." said Blackrigg.

"Oh I see. `There's no honour among thieves', as they say. Here's your locker key. The two days you were gone count as part of your holiday allowance. Kit up and join Aikbeck's squad welding that boiler that he's working on." said Braithwaite.


BRAITHWAITE'S STORY

[289] About this time Optimus Prime said to someone who had asked him where he came from: "Since being suddenly dragged out of my fictional world by being copied and brought to life in this exile-land called `the real world', I have made 11 of my people copied from my fictional past, and two more are being made, plus various electromechanical sentient beings which were never in the stories, such as brains for Smith & Malton's dredgersubs, and suchlike, and Smith & Malton's factory's `manager-brain'. Anyway, Braithwaite and Aikbeck told me of Braithwaite's past, and the harm wrought by people who found a difference in body form to be `disfiguring', something that we Transformers tend to forget about, since we are so used to each other being many different shapes. We robots are made from parts, and the brain is programmed. How is it with you humans, whose tissues have to get to all the right places without supervision, and get it right? It is a long story, but I can tell a little of it, quickly.". He continued, thus:-

The original egg grows inside its mother into two bubbles with a flat sheet between them. On that sheet appears a lump and a point, which will be part of the head. The point moves and becomes a growing point, leaving a trail of segments, until there are enough. (These segments can still be seen in fish.) Then the line of segments pulls away from the flat sheet and becomes round, and grows into the human or animal. This happens countless times, and usually gets everything right. Occasionally there are two lumps, then two lines of segments, and twins are born, twice the happiness, or double trouble, and urgent buying another of everything. More rarely, it happens in triplicate, and triplets are born.

But much rarer than that, the growing point has a glitch part way along, and divides into two growing points, which leave two trails of segments. Thus it happened that Paul Robinson suffered this mishap, which he couldn't help, any more than other children can help skin colour, or spottiness, or bat-ears, or wanting to be alone a lot of the time, but yet get harassed for it by other children: he was born with his backbone forked at waist level and his hips and legs duplicated. Not his fault that his back end growing point had split! Lack of legs causes sympathy, and wheelchairs, and artificial legs, and much is spent to compensate for nature's error, and much research is done to find the best equipment. But too many legs? Years passed, and he had to go to school, as both parents worked and he couldn't be educated at home. His brain was sound and his intelligence was well above average; but his shape upset the authorities, who made excuses that he needed special care. Then his father's employer closed down, and they had to sell their house and move, and more movings, and complications, and official reports. He was put into a council home `temporarily', which became permanent. His parents moved, following ever-retreating jobs, until contact and interest were lost, as they had five other children to be raised on his father's income. He was passed between institutions and forgotten by the outside world. Officials made excuses not to let him out. But when he proved to be useful with metal and tools, the institution staff were ready enough to use him to do metalwork and servicing vehicles and miscellaneous maintenance and repairing etc (including much work for staff personally and their relatives rather for the institution) to save them the cost of calling outside workmen in.

Any complaint by him about overwork and not being paid, or request by him for parole or leave, was merely ignored or punished for, or treated as a symptom for nearly everything known to psychiatrists, or brushed off with some excuse. Between times, nothing to do but sit about and wish that his double hindquarters and untidy sprawl of four legs were single with two legs like everybody else's, and unattainable longings to visit even briefly the fabulous `outside world' seen by him only in newspapers and television. OK, so his shape may have given some people a shock. Not his fault that his back end growing point split. Few thanks for saving the institution a fortune in mechanics' and metalworkers' bills. Helping staff from time to time to restrain violent patients (his extra legs came in useful then! by holding the other patient in his arms and his two inner legs while he stood on his two outer legs) merely irritated other staff who disliked feeling beholden to patients, and earned him from other patients the accusation "kapo" (a German word for an inmate who helps the guards to keep order). Suspicions about what was going on were treated as signs of paranoia, until he learned not to voice them - he was all too familiar with all that "psychiatric qwertyuiop, the amount of abuse of power I've seen and heard of here and elsewhere, and one thing and another!", as he called it. At least the staff let him have all the engineering books he wanted, to keep him occupied; but they never let him take any formal exam in it. Having an adequately long quiet think was called "withdrawal and depression". No wonder he sometimes had the feeling that he could do nothing right. The metalworking room where he worked sometimes was connected to the rest of the institution by one corridor only. But in one wall was a goods door to the grass outside. He occasionally looked longingly at that door, but mostly treated it as merely part of the wall, for he had never seen it open or heard of it being open. He gradually forgot hopes of ever being outside again, any more than most men can hope to walk on the Moon; the outside world was merely an interesting academic subject.

The better sorts of amateur astronomical telescopes are very powerful in magnification. They can see details only a second of an arc (= 1/3600 of a degree) across. They can see as two stars each component of Epsilon Lyrae, and see many fine details of the Orion Nebula, and similar feats. Also, by daytime when the amateur astronomer has nothing better to do, they can read a car number plate three miles away, and similar feats of nosyness. So it happened that Ormscale, a coalminer who was an amateur astronomer, who lived near the institution, saw Paul Robinson through his 10-inch Celestron telescope several times when some of the patients were let out onto the grass in hot weather, or when Robinson was in an outside yard working. Ormscale guessed the truth about why Robinson was being held, and, realizing that he alone couldn't achieve anything against organized officialdom determined not to admit that it was in the wrong, contacted some men in his union, including Joseph Aikbeck, who then worked in an opencast coalmine where B & N (Imports) Ltd was later to be set up. Careful enquiries including much plying with drink to loosen tongues found much; but the final showing of evidence and direct challenge to Dr.Chilham the institution's director to submit Robinson to an open independent psychiatric re-examination caused the predicted denial that such an unlikely thing as a man with four legs could ever exist.

"The Paul Robinson case." said Dr.Chilham at a routine private meeting of his staff, "Mr.Aikbeck's telephoto photo of Robinson - why can't stargazers stick to stars, and not spy about by day? Those telescopes of theirs, those Celestrons and Maksutovs etc, their power frightens me! They can read a car number plate three miles away! That's not paranoia: ask an astronomer if you don't believe me! I take it that we keep quiet and `let the monkeys get tired of jumping up and down screeching' at us?".

"Yes yes." said another staff member, "He imagines there's a conspiracy to keep him in and use him as cheap labour. Fits of withdrawal - and that shape! Imagine a dipygus in the High Street!".

"Yes yes." said another, "He's been in too long, institutionalized - and anyway, he's making a security gate for my aunt's flat in town, the outside metalworkers charge a lot and are busy.".

"Yes. He's certainly a very competent metalworker. Next case please." said the chairman. Next day Aikbeck called on Dr.Chilham again. "Paul Robinson? Sorry, but like I said before we have no patient of that name, and certainly not that shape!! Yekkh, the idea of it! We had a fancy dress contest on a lawn. Perhaps your telescope saw that. Now your Mr.Terence Cat Diddums - odd name -" said Dr.Chilham, hoping to finally brush off "our four-legged friend's friends".

"No!" Aikbeck interrupted, "It's `teras catadidymum', medicalese for his shape, means `monster twinned below'. Not his fault his back end growing point split! And I've got other proof he exists! An independent re-examination, or let him out!".

Chilham replied: "Meaning: `a metalworker, of marvellous skill, but of hideous shape'. Are you sure it's not some old legend you read, and then dreamed about? My secretary'll show you the way out. Goodbye.".

Aikbeck, who already knew what conditions at another psychiatric institution were like after the BBC television blew the lid off goings-on there, decided on different tactics.

[290] Above the thick rainclouds the moon would not rise till nearly dawn; no risk of lightning suddenly revealing everything. A last check by Ormscale through powerful binoculars confirmed that `Hephaistos' (their codename for Paul Robinson, after a lame Greek blacksmith god) was indeed in the metalworking room, finishing some work or another, and not too many other people with him. They cut the chainlink fence and crawled in. Their dark blue thick overalls and dark blue helmets hid them in the dark and wet and wind. No dog barked. No security camera saw them. No silly noisy geese gaggled or hissed. They wore gasmasks and riotsquad gear, which they had practised with. Ormscale carried what looked like a battery electric drill but wasn't; he had found it one day when, impatient with the police's lack of results, he and others `took out' a gang hideout. They reached the goods door. Aikbeck put a special tool into the keyhole and squeezed long levers. Inside the lock sharp steel arms opened and forced the bolt back, mangling the lock mechanism. They entered. Inside were `Hephaistos' and two other patients, and several guards. (Optimus telling of this refused to call them `nurses'.) Ormscale aimed and fired his "drill", and accurate bursts of 4-inch nails, accelerated to bullet speed by powerful coils, destroyed the phone and the alarm with only a second to spare, with no gun bang to attract attention, while the others threw teargas cartridges in at the amazed staff, who quickly went under in a whirl of expertly wielded pickaxe handles, and shields and thick overalls proved better protection than white coats; nails from Ormscale's gun thudded into wood as he nailed the other door shut.

"Here's one back, you whitecoated thug, like that other place of yours that was on the telly then about it!" Grimscale shouted, ungrammatical in the haste of his anger.

"Khakh - it's not like that here -" a male nurse whined at Grimscale's helmet and gasmask, and then was clubbed down.

"I can't see! What are you? Called the riot cops to do me over!?" Robinson exclaimed in fear, feeling totally unreal at what had burst in through a door that he had never seen open or heard of being open.

"No!" Aikbeck replied, "Miners from Tyneside! We're getting you out of here! You're teargassed and you can't run with those legs! Lie on that table so we can carry you between us!".

They ran out carrying him by his arms and legs. Ormscale slammed the goods door shut on the staff in the teargas-filled metalworking room and quickly nailed it shut with his gun. The raid squad ignored two other patients who had got out through it. They ran across the grass and flung him and themselves into a hired van and fled. They were far away when the staff in the room managed to ventilate the teargas out and blowtorch the bars off a window (it was the first time any of them had used a blowtorch; luckily there was one in there) and get out and to a telephone to raise the alarm. Of the other two patients, one got away, and the other was found wandering dazed on the grass outside.

"Where are you taking me?" asked Robinson.

"Away, till the cops stop chasing about. Then to the television and the papers, to get the lid blown off your case!" said Aikbeck, who was carrying him by his right arm.

"Ukh, he's heavy with all the muscle he's put on heaving metal about, and with those tools in that pack." said Ormscale, who was carrying him by his left outer leg.

"I want my pay at union rates for all the work I've done for them. Compensation for false imprisonment. I could have had school exam passes, a wife and children, holidays to remember, a proper job. Don't ditch my tools I've got on me, they're all I've got. Not my fault my back end growing point split.".

"Can't ditch them anyway, it'd take too long, all those straps and fastenings. Hurry!" said Aikbeck urgently.

A police car ignored them, so no alarm had been raised yet. In an alley they transferred to a hired van of different colour and make. Seven minutes later police found the first van abandoned there. The roads were busy from it being chucking-out time in the pubs, and the trail was safely dead. Onto the motorway and away home to Tyneside, and into one of the squad members' houses before light. Robinson sprawled on a settee, exhausted and feeling unreal at so suddenly being outside. He watched the breakfast TV news.

" - raid on a secure institution - - patient abducted - - violent, not to be approached - " said the newsreader.

"Now they've told the cops $%^ lies!" Robinson thought, "How long before it's safe for me to go out of this ward, I mean room? Now I must start getting used to being in the outside world instead of just reading about it. Lucky they allowed me plenty of newspapers and television, to keep in track of it.".

"Here's some eggs and bacon and toast and plum jam." said Aikbeck coming in with a tray, still in his riotsquad gear.

"This is nice. I hardly remember my old home." said Robinson, so glad to be away from white coats and madness and institutional atmosphere that Aikbeck's overall and helmet with visor and shield and gasmask-bag and pickaxe handle dangling from belt seemed welcoming rather than threatening. Then with a betrayed look he exclaimed "Cops!?", as a voice came from a small radio in one of Aikbeck's overall pockets: "Tango oscar, nationwide alert, man with four legs, repeat, man with four legs, abducted in raid on ...".

Aikbeck laughed briefly and said: "It's only my shortwave that I'm eavesdropping with! Excuse the rough-stuff kit, but I still feel uneasy after that chase.".

"Four legs?" said a voice on Aikbeck's radio, "Wanted for unpaid parking fines for his flying saucer? Pull my other three legs till you find the one with bells on.".

"I thought that sort of thing might happen! I can guess that Chilham's face if he heard it! Not so many cops have heard of that sort of thing! Any more metalworking, you'll be paid for at union rates at last!" said Aikbeck.

[291] "Crumbs! Efficient squad of thugs you lot were back there! That nasty Nurse Edzell who kept bullying new patients and withdrawing privileges for nothing: down he went, when one of your men got him! Serve him right!".

"Yes. That was Peter Grimscale did it. I'm sorry to keep wearing this lot, but with all this hue and cry about ..." said Aikbeck.

"As long as it isn't white coats. At least you lot are rough outside and decent inside, not the other way round. What happens now?" said Robinson.

"First, new clothes for you." said Aikbeck, "One of our women to alter them to fit you or make them from cloth, starting with a good thick overall in case of any rough stuff, not that crude bodge-up you've got on now. And before that, to design a pattern for them! Undress and lie flat while I do no end of measuring and thinking! I've got the cloth. I've made up my own overalls before when overalls in shops aren't thick enough or with enough pockets.".

Aikbeck started work. He found that scratching his helmet didn't activate his brain much, but carried on measuring: "Neck to fork of spine - fork of spine to tailbone - etc - same both sides - tailbone to #$% - as normal, like two ordinary half overalls; but now the extra bit between. #$% to fork of body - outside of outer hip to fork of body, but more when you twist your pelvises backwards, I'll have to let a piece in, not too much or it'll dangle and catch on things - extra half belt under the fork of spine - etc - Mary Braithwaite's good at making clothes, but a workman knows his overall best, I say - front opening to fork level with fork of spine, that'll look best, considering that - plenty of pockets - wowk! So much for haute couture! Dior of Paris - the fictional `Sindy of London' that the Sindy doll appears as in that silly comic that my daughter gets - now for Aikbeck of Tyneside!".

After a day or two's rest, they went to Mary Braithwaite's, and she started cutting out and sewing the clothes.

"You'll need a new name. I can't hide those legs, but at least I can stop `them' from finding your name in lists." said Aikbeck.

"While everybody else was accumulating memories of school and work and holidays and friends and visits to places, and mementoes of life - not my fault that my back end growing point split - a wife, babies." said Robinson.

"Oh! Poor man!" said Mary Braithwaite, "I know how he feels, a bit. I've got two children, but I've never had a husband. I dream about having one. Yes! Let Paul Robinson vanish like `they' want him to! I'll call you `John Braithwaite', and my children get a father, and I'll show you photos of where I've been down the years, and you can say you were there with me.".

The overalls were finished, and John Braithwaite tried one of them on. It fitted. "Yes, that looks better, plenty of inside and outside pockets, not like shop overalls. Solid thick material." said Aikbeck, "Adapting shop underpants to fit you'll be easier.".

"The sooner I'm back in metalworking, the better. The tailor'll have a fit, if I go for a made-to-fit suit!" said Braithwaite.

"Nah." Aikbeck replied, "Forget office suits, loose lapels and tails to be grabbed by, in any rough stuff and by machinery. Cost the earth and wear out too quick. Keep an overall clean for best. Forget shop shoes also. Stick to rubber-soled safety boots for best, cost less, last a lot longer, presentable, and steel toecaps.".

"Are you our new daddy?" asked one of two children who came in just then.

"Yes." said John Braithwaite as he and Mary Braithwaite hugged and kissed, "I'll change my name to yours, not vice-versa. `Paul Robinson, metalworker' suddenly appearing in Yellow Pages'd make even a Down's Syndrome smell a rat.".

"My uncle used to live here, until he died." said Mary, "Fetched off sudden, meningitis. Joseph Braithwaite, he was an engineer. I've still got all his engineering periodicals. You can read them and catch up with matters, and keep up with getting issues of them. These are Paul and Sandra, my boy and girl twins. Poor man, I'll soon fill in details of an ordinary life to say you had instead of that awful place.", and they kissed at length again.

"Who's their real father?" asked John.

"Oh, him!" said Mary in disgust, "As far as I'm concerned, he never existed. He took me out, he promised the earth, then he went off as a sailor on a container ship and I've never heard of or from him since.".

"Aikbeck said that Mr.Malton of Smith & Malton's in Droitwich'd teach me what I've missed in engineering and run me through his firm's end of apprenticeship tests, to give me a paper qualification at last." said John.

"Oh, what you must have been through, just because some silly official couldn't stand your shape." said Mary.

"That's right." said John, "They shut me up out of sight and told lies, until I had to be `sprung' out by an armed raid. Soon to the television and the papers, and get the lid blown off all that.".

[292] John Braithwaite lived with Mary. The house had a workshop built on. The other men brought him enough tools for him to start work, including a blowtorch with a fullsized pair of oxygen and acetylene cylinders in a trolley. He for a time was bothered by the wide expanses of the outside world, but got used to it. He adjusted quicker than expected to having money, and buying things, and suchlike. His metalworking had kept his mind active, and too much contact with staff or patients who tried to deceive him or were in risky moods made him foxily wary rather than naively treating everything unknown as reliable and honest. He did miscellaneous metalworking for people and firms - he was soon locally known as being very good at it. Someone brought from Aikbeck's mine a dumperful of steel bar for Braithwaite to make into a security gate for £350. Time passed, and the memories of his time before the rescue faded into a dim past. He made replacement parts for farmers' machinery, and had to put up with the usual unrealistic demands to make worn-out parts last a season longer. He reflected that much of his life still centred round locks and gates and bars - at least now he got well paid for it.

"Yes." he thought once as he welded steel bar to make steel security gates that the tenants in a block of flats had had a whipround to pay him to make, "Paul Robinson has vanished like `they' wanted him to. I am John Braithwaite, and I've always lived here. I've about learned the local dialect - those funny `r''s of theirs scrape my throat, but I've suffered worse in my time.".

"Four legs?" he said once to Ormscale, "Dragging the blowtorch cylinder trolley about as well as carrying other stuff, what I need sometimes is four arms, so I don't have to go back for stuff so much. And working up scaffolding and on top of things, miles of gas tube from the cylinders to the torch trailing over everything weighing a ton.", and went back to his work.

"What about this?" said Ormscale to him next day, "It's like one Mr.Malton's got, except I've put altered the straps to fit you.".

"Handy!" said Braithwaite. It was an oxy-gas blowtorch with smallish cylinders in a pack harness. He took his tool pouch off. He opened the cylinder top valves, as often before with fullsize cylinders. He put his arms through the shoulder straps and slung the cylinders in their harness onto his back. He reached for the two outer waist straps and brought them round his sides, and brought the middle waist strap up between his pelvises below where his backbone forked, and clipped all three together. He found the torch head and put it in its holster on one of the chest straps; its gas-tubes looped over his shoulders. A small pocket proved to contain an oblong piece of shiny thin sheet steel: with it as a mirror he could see the cylinder gauges `looking' over his shoulders. He walked about with it on; he felt no straps cutting in, and no bumping from his load shifting about. He merely felt heavier, as if the cylinders were a built-on part of his body. "This fits well! Real neat!" he exclaimed, "I could go up ladders and in windows and anywhere with this on, all sorts of places where people don't think blowtorches could get to! I'm not afraid of Chilham with this on!".

"Cool it!" Ormscale exclaimed, "It's only a blowtorch. It's not a proton pack like the Ghostbusters have in the stories. As regards Chilham's bunch, we stay together so he can't snatch you back.".

Time passed. As stated above [see 285], local discontents with unemployment and dashed hopes and broken promises led to occupation of B & N (Imports) Ltd's warehouse and offices. While planning the occupation, discussion arose what to call the cooperative.

"`Braithwaite's'?" Ormscale suggested, "He's about the best metalworker here, and he needs some honour such as having this place named after him to compensate for losing his schooldays and young adulthood freedom.".

Braithwaite and Aikbeck's men formed a cooperative in B & N (Imports) Ltd's former premises. Braithwaite went to Smith & Malton's for a time, to pass engineering exams, as planned.

"Order from Smith & Malton's for a sort of work-torpedo for the Navy." said Aikbeck to Ormscale, "They'll send us machinery, and a man called Mr.Wheeljack to advise us. Braithwaite'll be back soon from that course at Smith & Malton's.".

"Wheeljack - unusual name, same as one of my son's Transformer toys." said Ormscale, "I heard that Smith & Malton's is trying to buy this place off B & N's.".


BRAITHWAITE FIGHTS BACK

Braithwaite came back from Smith & Malton's. Ormscale gave him more target practise with his nailgun while they were waiting. By now Braithwaite was getting used to the bulky nearly-silent apparatus with its un-gunlike shape, and his single shot target accuracy was improving. Suddenly Ormscale exclaimed: "Put it away! Someone's coming!", as a white Lancia sports car drive up and stopped.

A voice came from the car: "Mr.Braithwaite? I'm Wheeljack - where did you get one of those guns from!? - you were expecting me.".

"Nobody's driving it! What spoke?" Ormscale exclaimed.

"A real Transformer!" said Braithwaite, "I thought it was a leg-pull about Wernicke's in Droitwich.".

"Well, you've got twice the choice of legs to pull." said Ormscale.

Braithwaite was the best welder and machinist there, but administratively he was a figurehead at first, with much actual managing done by an intelligent `manager-computer' from Wernicke's. But Braithwaite gradually got the hang of how factories and businesses are run; he was very intelligent despite his previous circumstances. He was content to let the manager-computer carry on its role, having, like Mr.Malton, a dislike of being kept away from proper work by needs to catch up with paperwork. With Wheeljack's help, Braithwaite's finished the first of the work torpedoes, and called the Navy to collect it. Arrangements were made for the big day. Wheeljack set off from Wernicke's to Braithwaite's to be present.

In a bush near Braithwaite's works, someone lurked with a gun, [293] and other men lurked in an unmarked van parked nearly.

"Everybody different in different places: some time he's got to be outside alone, or only one other man with him." said Dr.Chilham impatiently in the front of the van.

"False name, thinks he can run a factory, `delusions of grandeur'. And this logo he uses." said a colleague of his, looking with distaste at a factory publicity brochure bearing on its front page the factory logo of a stylized dipygus human form surrounded by the letters `Braithwaites', "He fouled his trail well, but we found him at last!".

Waiting is usually 90% of hunting. In the bush, Mr.Eversley, a gate guard of Dr.Chilham's institution, at last saw Braithwaite approach, and only one man with him, for his gun only held two shots, and if those shots failed the bangs would put the whole place into alert while he reloaded. The two stopped and discussed something. "Come on, Fourlegs Robinson, stop yakking and come this way." Eversley thought irritatedly. The discussion finished and Braithwaite walked on and the other man started to walk away. He put his safety catch off and aimed for a quick left and right at the pair - then yowled loudly as a growl and a sharp pain in his right arm told him that he had been found, for he was a typical town security guard type with little notion of bushcraft. "Gerroff me, you #$%^ cur! I suppose you're our four-legged friend's four-legged friend!" he swore and tried to shake the snarling Alsatian off and to shoot one-handed with the other hand while realizing that two shots into three enemies won't go. The other man ran up and quickly grabbed the gun, which Eversley tried to hold on to while watching Braithwaite's four heavy industrial boots and overalled legs flying in various directions as he approached at the usual lurching imitation of a horse's canter used when he had to hurry.

"Family to feed, bad growing season, please don't tell the squire. He keeps too much land private for his own pleasure." Eversley pleaded, falling back on his cover excuse.

"Good dog, good dog." said Ormscale, then to Eversley: "No squire since between the wars! His son had to sell up for death duties and couldn't live off what was left. No shooting syndicates either. And your accent's wrong, you ain't from round here!".

"If you're just a poacher, where's your catch? You put up no end of pheasants and partridges in that copse, but you never shot at any." said Braithwaite, grabbing Eversley from behind in his two inner legs and by holding his pickaxe handle across the throat.

"Lemme go, you abortion, and your mad dog." said Eversley. The dog still held on. Braithwaite recognized Eversley, and said so.

"His gun's got funny darts in, not proper cartridges." said Ormscale as he unloaded Eversley's shotgun.

"Anaesthetic dart gun! Something's up!" Braithwaite exclaimed, for he had seen them used at the institution, "Ormscale! Help me take this $%& inside, then dress in his clothes ...".

Chilham's men waiting by their van by a hedge heard the barking and shouting but did not realize what it was. They saw, as planned, what seemed to be Eversley approaching, gun slung over shoulder, silent and with his face down, pushing a wheelbarrow that he had found somewhere, with Braithwaite slumped limply on his back in it and his four legs hanging out of its front. As he approached the van and the looming end of his freedom, Braithwaite yawned and sleepily called out "erh - Charge!". "Another delusion, he thinks he's riding a warhorse." said Chilham as his men went to grab him by a limb each and sling him in their van and clear off, reckoning that he would soon look a lot safer minus helmet and boots and plus handcuffs and leg-chains. "Who's got the syringe?" asked one.

"I've got two syringes here for you lot! Back off!" `Eversley' shouted aiming his gun at them as they reached to pick him up. As they heard the Tyneside accent and realized that something was wrong, leaves rustled and twigs broke as a rank of men in riotsquad gear and Braithwaite's firm's issue overalls pushed through or over the hedge and yelled and charged. The Alsatian came with them, barking. Dr.Chilham and his men fled to their van, to pile in it and bolt off - and in it were two more men in Braithwaite's issue overalls and riotsquad gear. Braithwaite got out of the wheelbarrow and put on his own riotsquad gear, which one of his men had brought, and he stood in the rank. Surrounded by shields, sticks, helmets with visors, and work-toughened men trained and eager to use them, who a few weeks before had efficiently pulped a large camp of aggressive threatening tinkers who had ignored a warning and came to camp and thieve nearby as routine, Dr.Chilham and his colleagues anticipated all too clearly to be made short work of.

"Right!" Braithwaite called to Dr.Chilham, "Next step'd have been `the tempestuous patient reaps the tempest' in the back of your van on the way back, I suppose? Well, try it! We can withstand a bit of bad weather now!".

"This ceases! He's no madder than you or me! Never mind he's a funny shape." said Grimscale standing beside him.

"`The tempestuous ...'." Dr.Chilham exclaimed, angry at hearing that (to him) familiar expression from an unexpected mouth, and then remembering all too well how it had become public knowledge, "Don't you throw that Rampton expression at us like you were staff! Ever since that sensationalizing television program and we all get `tarred with the same brush'!".

"I'll tell you one thing that happened!" Braithwaite replied, "`Does he take sugar?', as people call it, imagining that cripples can't think for themselves. That plus people getting squeamish at my shape.".

For the first time Dr.Chilham was face to face with men he suspected of being the raid squad who at his institution had come and gone like a wolf in the night. "I'll tell you what he's got, you ignorant blowtorch-brain! Fits of withdrawal ..." he said.

"Ditto me! I also like a quiet think sometimes." Aikbeck replied.

"Institutionalized ..." Chilham started.

"He's got over that by now." said Aikbeck.

"Rehabbed by a load of aggressive uniformed thug miners `King Arthur Scargill's knights' with a `Sir Galahad complex' imagining that our place was a dragon's dungeon! Workmen and their trade unions, they're as thick as thieves, they are thieves." said Chilham.

"Now you're imagining conspiracies!" replied Aikbeck.

"Not imagination. Trade unions exist. All know that." said Chilham, missing Aikbeck's point.

"So does your plan to keep him in and deny he exists, rather than admit you were wrong, and to get several new cars' worth of free metalworking and mechanicking a year out of him! You owe him a fortune in back pay!" said Aikbeck.

"Oh that delusion! He plays with bits of cardboard imagining he's metalworking, and you believe him!" said Chilham angrily.

"Liar!" Aikbeck shouted, "Then why's he so good at real metalworking, and all those welding spark burns on his arms!? How did he get the experience!?".

"He's the liar! They're needle tracks, injections to keep him quiet," said Chilham, "- Yowww!!". [295] Dr.Chilham recognized with dislike Aikbeck's shiny steel rod with attached battery pack and angrily continued: "Electric prod, like I was a cow or a subnormal that wouldn't move! No good when workmen start making those for themselves to picket with!".

"That's for taking me for a fool!" Aikbeck replied, "I was a shipbuilder for 15 years; I've caught several addicts thieving, and I've been in union squads raiding several addicts' `shooting galleries' [= injecting rooms]! Dope powder all down my overall! Don't tell me I can't tell hypo needle tracks from welding spark burns!".

"He's still listed as `not for release'! It takes two to uncertify him! How do you know he's sane and safe, you ignorant blowtorch and riveter minded heavy shoving a trained psychiatrist about?" asked Dr.Chilham.

"I got two psychiatry books in a medical bookshop in Manchester, when I went to Mather & Platt's for something." said Aikbeck, "It doesn't make me much more of a psychiatrist, than you'd be a welder just by reading about it evenings and weekends for a week and a bit; but at least I now can tell sense from waffle from lies, and I'll know what's being talked about when my union calls in an independent psychiatrist. Until then we guard him with our lives. If we have to go into hiding with him, we will! He is sane!".

"I told you so!" said Braithwaite, "And your conspiracy to keep me in as cheap labour and because I'm a dipygus.".

"Conspiracy - schizophrenia! I told you so, Aikbeck and your mob!" said Male Nurse Pinhoe, looking scaredly at the surrounding riotsquad-equipped men and their identical works issue overalls with the Braithwaite's logo on the right chest of each.

"Conspiracy - truth!" Aikbeck countered, "When I met you at your place those times, you said he didn't exist, but here he is now!".

"Lies, delusion." said Pinhoe.

"Cassette recorders don't hallucinate! I had one under my shirt then." said Aikbeck.

"Lets hear it." said Pinhoe.

"Forget snatching it, I copied the tape." said Aikbeck.

Pinhoe, having no counter-argument left, swore foully: "#$%^ you! You think of everything! Why, you ...".

"Powerful telescopes, hidden recorders, %$^ nasty sneak spy tricks like the KGB and the gutter press!" Chilham shouted, enraged, and attacked Aikbeck, whose shield was on his back at the time. Chilham in his fury ignored the electric shock pain from Aikbeck's prod and tried to grab Aikbeck's pickaxe handle from his belt, to get a weapon, but Braithwaite came up and whacked his own pickaxe handle across the front of Chilham's throat from behind and caught its thick free end in his other hand, and pulled hard, and stood on his outer two legs while he crossed his inner two legs across Chilham's thighs. Chilham, who knew some self-defence tricks, tried to do things to what was holding his neck, but the polished seasoned ashwood transmitted no distracting pain signals to its owner.

"Enough! No thanks to me for restraining schizos and all sorts for you down the years! Only `Fourlegs' from you and `Kapo' from the patients! Here it ends, after you lot robbed me of my childhood and teenage and young adulthood!" he shouted in Chilham's ear.

"$%^ your extra legs! I can't throw you! Let me at him!" Chilham gasped as the stick pressed painfully on his larynx.

"Let him go, let him at me, one to one!" said Aikbeck to Braithwaite.

"Urkh - he's got all that kit on, not fair fight." said Chilham. Aikbeck now had visor down and stick at the ready.

"Find him a helmet and a pickaxe handle, somebody, me against him, one to one, same weapons." said Aikbeck.

"Trial by combat?" said Chilham as Braithwaite's grip slackened a bit, "Now I know you lot are in the past! I'm my institution's director, and I'll not have policy decided by the result of a thug-fight! The law'll catch up with you lot!".

"Or with you and your corrupt coverings-up." Braithwaite replied, and released Chilham.

"That lot that `sprang' you, I bet they're here! Nothing provable, unless they confess. Ny nurses put off work ..." said Chilham, feeling at his disarranged necktie and missing shirt top button.

"Warders! Not nurses! They're in the prison warders' union." said Braithwaite.

"Nurse Edzell: broken forearm, depressed skull fracture, effects of teargas. Nurse Petham: compound tibia fracture, torn scalp, effects of teargas. Nurse ..." Chilham started.

"Etc etc boohoo, as if they were sweet little female nurseykinses like at ordinary hospitals! Not so!" Braithwaite replied angrily.

"Hard dangerous job, violent lunatics to handle, no wonder we `go over the top' occasionally! Then the TV muckrakes!" said Chilham.

"`By the broken lock that freed me', I challenge you to prove me sane or insane, in open court with independent medical and other personnel officiating!" said Braithwaite.

"You not violent! I saw what your men left of those tinkers, and they'd only come for rubbish that nobody wanted!" said Chilham.

"And to thieve and extort and bully. That sort are hard professional criminal vagrants with no idea of telling the truth. Like tramps that say they're `only dossin'', then they thieve and pester, like at Smith & Malton's once." said Braithwaite.

"Tell me the old old story, as that load of factory roughs taught you to believe." said Chilham.

"Since when have you called that class of rootless ruffian honest? Only to contradict me, so I can never be right, as you used to keep doing back at your place." said Braithwaite.

A white Lancia sports car with parabola-shaped roof drove up and stopped.

"Here's Wheeljack coming. We've got work to do, for the big day." said Braithwaite.

"Now he thinks there's real Transformers. I said he had delusions!" said Chilham, recognizing the name `Wheeljack' from fiction. The car's bonnet lengthened and split into legs. Parts of its sides became arms. A head unfolded from in its rear end. Its roof collapsed somewhat. It stood, about twenty feet tall, and spoke: "Right, Chilham and his lot! You've wasted a lot of Braithwaite's men's time on an important busy day! Go into the factory and put on a works issue overall each, so you all look the same. Then do as Braithwaite and Aikbeck tell you, to make up for their time that you've wasted.".

Chilham gaped vacantly at the fictional suddenly become real, for he had paid little attention to newspaper reports of developments in robotics. "Help! There is! Now, I suppose, the next schizo that thinks he's Napoleon, really will be!" he stammered.

"Wernicke's robots." said Pinhoe, "Unnatural, I call it, a human-style mind in a silicon brain. We better do what it says, that size and that whacking great handnet it's taking out. I suppose one of them radioed to it what's happened here.".

Chilham and his men were ordered to put on Braithwaite's works issue overalls, with works badge on right chest, and the wearer's name in marker pen on a strip of white cloth quickly sewn onto the left chest; and work boots with steel toecaps instead of soft-toed unprotecting city shoes; and safety helmets. Tools were brought out. Orders were given, and delayed work was started urgently.

Male Nurse Fosbury had as little liking of the look of the lit blowtorch whose cylinders were now strapped to Braithwaite's back, as of his own new rank of `Construction Squad' which his overall was labelled with, on his chest above the stylized dipygus factory logo, and the whole idea of being made to do heavy manual work under the command of "that monstrosity" who the badge represented; but he felt it best to stand to attention and not offer defiance. Braithwaite started a compressor and gave him a piece of paper and ordered: "Fosbury! Knock down ten feet of this wall as on this plan! Hurry! And put your safety helmet back on!".

"Me? Use a pneumatic drill? And if I drill at the bottom, it'll fall on me." Fosbury bleated.

"Drill part way up, then clear that rubble away, then drill at the bottom." Braithwaite explained.

"How? Hold something that heavy, horizontal like an ordinary electric drill!?" Fosbury pleaded desperately.

"Yes!" Braithwaite exclaimed, You've enough muscle on you! Pretend it's an uppity patient that needs to be taught a lesson, like you were so fond of doing! Or I'll make you do army-style rifle drill with it!".

Well!" Fosbury thought at yet another sarcastic variant of the "Pretend it's ..." type of advice used to harness aggressiveness to get more power out of manual workers, "Whatever Chilham says Fourlegs has got, I say it's sadism, him making me use a full sized pneumatic drill horizontal in my arms like a submachine gun! There's not even many professional navvies in a hundred that can do that! Typical heavy manual worker's contempt for ordinary weak people! I better start. Lucky I've been doing some weightlifting. Ckkk!, it's heavy holding it like this. Where's the trigger? On the wrong handle, I must turn it over.". He started work.

[296] Braithwaite went inside and came out pulling a flat truck loaded with square steel tube. Chilham and Pinhoe wandered past in an indeterminate manner, not pleased to "bear the sign of the monster" on their overalls indicating whose command they were under. He saw them, and ordered them: "Chilham and Pinhoe! Shift all that steel rod and stillages out of the way into number 3 store!, while I build a crush barrier with this steel. I see you've learned one workman's skill already: how to mooch casually past hoping the foreman won't notice you and find work for you.".

"Work, work, and no prize what the logo on our uniforms represents!" Pinhoe complained.

"OK, OK, you overgrown teratology specimen." said Chilham tiredly.

"What's a stillage?" Pinhoe asked.

As Braithwaite cut and welded to make the crush barrier, he looked with surprise at Fosbury, who had accepted the inevitable and was well set into his work, supporting the drill's heavy cylindrical bulk in his arms, not wanting to be come second to tools any more than to patients. A length of rope ran from the pneumatic drill's butt over Fosbury's shoulder to the bit-holder at the drill's front end. Contrary to Braithwaite's expectations, memory store occupation by Freud and Kant and the ego and the id etc had left enough of Fosbury's brain unoccupied for him to think to make a shoulder sling to carry some of the drill's weight. The compressor revved continuously; the smell of its exhaust had lost its charms for him some time before. He now knew what an idea felt like when it was trying to get through a mental block. The world seemed to shut itself off except for the drill's clatter and heavy vibration in his arms, and the rope sling cutting into his left shoulder, and the part of the wall that he was working on.

The work was finished, and Braithwaite ordered his men, including Chilham's squad, to parade ready for the naval visitors. In some of his men, an idea did break through.

"I, Napoleon, demand transport back to my palace at Fontainebleau now!" said one.

"Help! All the garden gnomes are in a conspiracy against my goldfish!" said another.

"Yabaka yazawa kakaka ...." another gibbered.

The clamour got louder as each of them started to try to outdo the others in mimicking his own idea of madness, to `take the mickey' of Chilham's unfortunate men. Braithwaite looked with disgust, for he had seen too much of the real thing. "Ten-shun! Stop that clowning!" he shouted. They stopped it. A car with naval numberplates drove in and stopped, and Captain Buckley (RN) got out of it. Braithwaite went to meet him. The television cameraman aimed at their heads and shoulders only, waiting to catch the exchange of documents. Braithwaite handed a thick folder of papers over, at hip level. The cameraman had to follow them down. "Show the papers but for 'ssakes leave Braithwaite's legs out of shot - now what's he done?, taking them down there - #$%!" came a frantic voice in his ear from an intercom link. The cameraman cursed the dilemma and took the two men full length into shot. The nation's viewers saw Braithwaite complete and close up, two pelvises and four legs and all, and the commentator briefly explained what the dipygus deformity was, following emergency instructions.

"... Despite this disadvantage, he became a first rate metalworker, and with Mr.Aikbeck and others helped to keep this venture together. This is a symbol for all who have disabilities or otherwise have a bad start. The legal status of ownership of B & N (Imports) Ltd's former premises is still to be settled. Orders have been placed with him for several types of engineering products. Mr.Braithwaite and Captain Buckley (RN) are exchanging documents at the delivery of the first ADT underwater work craft." said the commentator, "It has been tested and it works. Thanks are due to Smith & Malton's and to Mr.Wheeljack ... industrial success story in an employment black spot ...".

"Thankyou, they'll be most useful for certain jobs." said Captain Buckley.

"Smith & Malton's sent me the plans, we just made it." said Braithwaite.

Optimus Prime drove out of an assembly building with the ADT on his flatbed trailer. Dr.Chilham, already feeling unreal from being ordered about by a dipygus and a robot, saw that Optimus's cab had nobody in it and realized that he was alive and not merely an ordinary lorry. He guessed, correctly, that the ADT was alive also. "Yet more of those unnatural wirebrains! I better leave Robinson alias Braithwaite, too much publicity and attention.", he realized.

[297] "Agh! People thinking my head bandage is a turban - arm in a sling - and here's the culprit on the national news!, four legs and all." Nurse Edzell thought sourly as he saw this on the BBC TV news at home.

The navy men left in their car, following Optimus. The BBC packed up and left. "Chilham, keep your men in order!" Braithwaite ordered as they started to disperse and chatter. "'Tension, silence." Chilham called, unused to using parade ground language at men who he considered to be colleagues and equals. Braithwaite ordered, and his men set off back into their factory at a steady hard hobnail booted rhythmical jogtrot in step, unwearying to the workmen but not to Chilham and his men who had to follow suit. Inside, Chilham's men started to disperse again, but were stopped. Braithwaite's men were much amused by Chilham's squad's attempts at basic parade drill under Aikbeck's command. Finally Braithwaite did order Chilham's squad to "Dis-miss and hand over your work gear!". They readily obeyed, thankful to be rid of thick overalls, and head-enclosing helmets, and heavy boots which agonized their unaccustomed city feet, and everything with the stylized dipygus works badge on, and being ordered about by a partly-double monster.

"Next time I see anything like that, the top half of one body on the bottom halves of two," Chilham thought, "it better be safely in formalin rather than alive, well over six feet tall, blowtorch-equipped, cylinder-backed, with I don't like the idea of what in that big canvas pouch on its chest, in a thick overall and full riotsquad gear, and with a load of factory roughs under its command.".

"Here's your overall back!" said Fosbury to Braithwaite, "You dislike white coats; I feel uneasy with men wearing overalls this thick, as if they are ready to do things rougher than ordinary work! Owk! My back's `reaped the tempest' from your pneumatic drill, using me as a navvy.".

"No riddance of white coats for me." Braithwaite said to Dr.Chilham, "Some of the things we'll be making have computer chips in, and the rules say to wear white coats where computer parts are exposed. Agh, I suppose I'll get used to it. And in future, if I'm explaining something, I'll bring in something else as a metaphor or a parallel if I want to, never mind you calling it `flight of ideas' or `incoherence'. I got sick of that! You see too many symptoms!".

Chilham and his men got into their vehicles and went back to their institution.

The inevitable court case was long and complicated, and often rowdy, with several parties bringing civil and criminal actions against each other. It was in Newcastle on Tyne Crown Court. There is no need to quote it in full here, but parts of it can stand for the rest as a sample.

"Where's that dress?" a court usher asked Braithwaite outside the court building before the case.

"My wife loved it!" said Braithwaite.

"No! It was for you - hide those legs - people gawping." said the usher.

"No!" Braithwaite replied, "Men dressing as women give me the creeps! I'm not the dirty laundry to be shoved out of sight under the stairs when visitors call! My overall is quite clean, I keep this one for best. Not my fault my back end growing point split.".

"Like Mr.Malton that time, overall and rucksack and factory helmet with visor instead of best suit and briefcase and hat. At least he isn't wearing riotsquad kit or his blowtorch this time." the court usher complained to himself.

"I make my own overalls, but who sells business suits for dipyguses?" said Braithwaite.

The case started. Braithwaite's strange partly double shape and four-legged walk reminded all present of how much was at stake.

"Illegal occupation of our premises - loss of profits thereby resulting - unauthorized alterations to our premises." Mr.Bewdley complained, acting for B & N (Imports) Ltd.

"Wasting foreign exchange importing stuff past the noses of local mass unemployed who could have made it, and not one job for local people despite promises! Too many rehandlers, too few manufacturers!" Aikbeck replied.

"And Smith & Malton's putting you up to it and sending you machinery, to aid and abet you! Dirty factory instead of tidy warehouse!" Mr.Bewdley replied.

"Making you do factory work, why didn't you testify?" Mr.Bewdley asked Skelgill (formerly Mr.Walton) during a lunch adjourment.

"I might, if I get my job with you back. Not my fault they occupied the place and I'm stuck as a welder." said Skelgill.

"Sorry, no use for you now." said Mr.Bewdley curtly and unhelpfully, as businessman do.

"I can't put `sorry' in the bank or spend it! I must keep the job I've got at Braithwaite's." said Skelgill.

The case resumed. The opposing sides' psychiatrists argued angrily.

"Robinson, calls himself Braithwaite: fantasizing!" Dr.Chilham accused.

"No! Ordinary sane lying, and no wonder, to keep away from your lot!" replied Mrs.Langley, who Aikbeck's union had called in.

"Fits of withdrawal!" said Dr.Chilham.

"Having a quiet think!" Mrs.Langley replied.

"He plays with cardboard and thinks it's metalworking! I've got videos of it!" said Dr.Chilham.

"Before a difficult job, he's entitled to make a mock-up of it, to check things!".

"He imagines there's a conspiracy to keep him in, and most people know what imagining conspiracies means!".

"There was a real conspiracy!, and all the free metalwork and mechanic's work you lot got off him.".

"He's been in so long that he's severely institutionalized." said Dr.Chilham.

"He's got over that." said Mrs.Langley.

"Yes, rehabbed [= rehabilitated] by a load of aggressive miner and shipbuilder types! And that shape! Not just some creepy late night television story that can be switched off, but living real flesh in public among us, forked body and two rear ends! He can't help it; I can't help that it scares people!" said Dr.Chilham angrily.

"Ditto ordinary cripples and the like! Deformity isn't insanity!" Mrs.Langley replied.

"But think! Those legs, in public?' Dr.Chilham appealed desperately, "And if I `eat dirt' and admit I shouldn't have held him, the amount of damages for loss of earnings and enjoyment he'll want! It'll beggar my institution's finances! And likely some of my staff'll go traitor and turn `BBC's evidence' like when the BBC muckraked round Rampton that time! I went there once, after that. Awful atmosphere there, no staff member could trust another not to be a telltale.".

"So let it be! Paul Robinson alias John Braithwaite is sane!" said Mrs.Langley.

"Detaining us, making us do heavy manual work." Dr.Chilham accused Braithwaite.

"Trying to kidnap me back to your place! I'm legally sane now, and I was always actually sane, as Mrs.Langley said! I'm entitled to defend myself at need! You lot wasted a lot of our time on a busy important day." Braithwaite replied angrily.

"Stirring up old mud! There's a lot of important reputations at stake." said Dr.Chilham.

"I don't care. I want all my damages and back pay." said Braithwaite curtly.

"And you, Aikbeck, harbouring him as an escapee!" said Dr.Chilham.

"You held him falsely! That is now legally proved!" Aikbeck replied.

"OK! OK! You win! Challenged to a pickaxe handle duel - ordered to pretend to be a bunch of his workmen at that parade in his works issue overalls with his stylized dipygus factory logo on to boast about his deformity - made to move metal bar - you win! No need to look for a second doctor to uncertify him, I'll be the second! Save all our time! Certification form - write `He is and always was sane and mentally normal' in the appropriate place - I sign, you sign - court clerk please photocopy it - blank cheque from my institution's account for his $%^@ damages, then be proud of the scandal and row you cause as the heap of smashed reputations grows higher and higher! Then I close his patient-file and wait for the storm to break!". said Dr.Chilham to Mrs.Langley finally.

"And kiss goodbye to all that cheap metalwork and mechanicking." he thought.

[298] Nurse Petham came to the witness stand, on two arm crutches, a leg in plaster, and two thirds of his scalp shaved bald except for a large `centipede' of surgical stitches. The magistrate asked him: "Mr.Petham, for the record, how did Mr.Robinson alias Mr.Braithwaite escape?

"He was finishing some metalwork late that evening." Nurse Petham replied, "He was using a blowtorch. (It's OK, there was a radio controlled device on it so we could turn the gas off by remote control if we had to.) Suddenly the goods door was forced open and in rushed several men in what looked like riotsquad gear including gasmasks. The air was suddenly all teargas and pickaxe handles, we couldn't stop them, and they smashed the phone and the alarm. One of them [= Grimscale], I'll call him `X', went for Nurse Edzell, who tried a judo throw (push him and trip him, it's called `something-Garry' [= osotogari], he told me once), but X skipped back. That X was a real artist with his pickaxe handle. He must have practised a lot with it. When Edzell tried another throw, X quick as lightning hit Edzell's left forearm and broke both bones. Then his other elbow, like the riotsquad do sometimes, then his head. I couldn't stop to watch or stop this, I had to try to stop another of them [= Ormscale] from nailing up the inside door with his nailgun. I heard someone coming up behind me, and it was X. I went for him with a chair that I picked up, but X put his shield up and knelt and swung his stick sideways and broke my left tibia, and down I went. As I fell, my head hit a cupboard hard, and that must have knocked me out. (Two other patients ran away, but we recaptured one later.) As the raid squad left, they nailed the goods door shut, so one of us had to blowtorch the bars off a window (lucky it was a metalwork room and there was a blowtorch in there) to get out and go round to raise the alarm. By then they were far away. Fourlegs Robinson! We trusted him, we put other patients under him to hold and carry things for him when there was a work rush, and this is how he repays us!".

The long acrimonious hate-ridden case ended. The damages awarded to Braithwaite promised to go a long way towards buying his factory off B & N (Imports) Ltd. He went to a table, picked up a large door lock labelled `Exhibit A', and took it to the magistrate, asking him: "Sorry to sound silly, but unless there's an appeal what happens to this?".

"Why do you ask?" the magistrate replied.

"As Chilham said, it's that goods door lock, `the broken lock that freed me'!, to quote from Rudyard Kipling." said Braithwaite, "There I was, a day like all others, no hope of freedom, I'd never seen that door open, to me it was just part of the wall, and suddenly something I wouldn't have thought possible breaks in through it, and three minutes later I was on my way away to freedom and my own life!".

"Do you mean that you want it as a memento?" the magistrate asked.

"OK, OK, let him have it, I've had it replaced." said Dr.Chilham resignedly.

"Thank you." said Braithwaite.

"Any point me asking you who were those men that got you out?" the magistrate asked, trying to catch him in a communicative mood.

"Gasmasks on all the time." said Braithwaite briefly, too wary to be caught out that way.

"Oh." said the magistrate disappointedly.

"Leg in plaster, and I miss a hiking holiday I'd been looking forward to." said Nurse Petham angrily to Braithwaite.

"I've missed all my holidays from the beginning, thanks to someone going squeamish at what shape I was!" Braithwaite replied.

"That's enough! Everybody out, so the next case can start." the court usher called.

"At least one person wasn't squeamish and I was allowed to live when I was born - there are dark rumours -" Braithwaite thought.

[298 & 299] Outside, a newspaper reporter heard behind him what he first thought was the footsteps of a scuffle between two men in hobnailed boots, but he realized what it was. He looked round and saw that, as expected, it was Braithwaite, who, in his odd rolling canter of a dipygus in a hurry, reached him and quickly looked at his reporting pad and pulled at it.

"No, you $%^& don't print that!" Braithwaite said angrily to the protesting reporter, "`strange schizophrenic body shape': you heard the court agree I'm sane! Lucky I caught you just in time, else yet another hassle getting a sensationalizing newspaper to print a properly worded and visible withdrawal and apology!".

"You are partly double in shape." said the reporter, feeling uneasy at Braithwaite's size and thick boilersuit and riotsquad helmet.

"No. `Schizophrenic' does not mean `double mind', and certainly not `double body'! It ain't my mind's double, anyway, but the other end of me! Too many people use that word wrongly!" said Braithwaite angrily.

"There's free speech in Britain. He can print what he likes." Dr.Chilham pointed out as he approached.

"Except libel! Do one last thing for me, shrink, tell this ignorant newshound what schizophrenia actually is!" said Braithwaite.

"Phew! That's that over at last! Chilham seen off, my occupation of B & N's premises legalized. Now home and a l-o-n-g night's sleep!" Braithwaite thought as he rode home on his motorcycle. (He remembered when a police car driver, seeing two of his legs on the same side of his motorcycle, pulled him up and its driver started to `rip him off a strip' for "not being in proper control, namely riding sidesaddle, $%^ ass stunt trick" when Braithwaite dismounted, and unzipped his motorcycle suit right down to show that all four of his legs were natural; the two policemen looked pale and one of them ran hurriedly to the roadside ditch; Braithwaite sighed at the tiresomeness and rode away.) Braithwaite got home and collapsed wearily onto a settee, and his children sat one on each of his two laps. He started to tell Mary what happened at the court case. Mary gave him a big helping of steak and chips.

Dr.Chilham returned to his institution, where he called a meeting to patch up matters after his defeat. "`What about the others?', newspapers and the telly are saying." he said, "I suppose the next step is a general hue and cry after patients held for merely deformity. All this bad publicity. Well, the nation now knows what a dipygus is. That door had to be mended, and other things. The staff men's union getting stroppy about compensation for Nurses Edzell and Petham. Nurse Pinhoe was too stiff to move for a week after being made to use that pneumatic drill horizontal in his arms like that. Court costs. I move that we pay what we must, but Fourlegs Robinson's damages'll have to wait till the next financial year - then till the next, likeliest.".

Another board member answered in a troublesome mood: "That's right, the court making us discharge patients. Like he accused us of saying: `The tempestuous patient reaps the tempest.': let him eat up the value of his precious damages in legal fees suing us to make us cough up! Nurses Edzell and Petham have first call on our money!".

"Not so easy!" Dr.Chilham replied, "I was a workmen for that monster's firm for a day, and in the course of it I learned a fair bit more about workmen's mentality. His men's union'll back him up! Next step'll likely be them ordering our maintenance men to strike, and to order delivery men to black us - pickets, aggro, nurses having to be taken off the wards to do maintenance work.".

"So no escorted trips out for patients, and much other nuisance." said the other member, "OK, we better pay him his damages. It'll %$# our budget, things postponed and so on.".

Braithwaite's, with aid from Smith & Malton's, and with the damages payment from Dr.Chilham's institution, bought B & N (Imports) Ltd's premises, and expanded, and made miscellaneous engineering products. "Thankyou!" Blackrigg thought looking at Braithwaite's oversized blowtorch-equipped form as Optimus Prime left with a big centrifugal pump for Thames Valley Water Board on his flatbed trailer, "When I was John Blore, consultant to B & N (Imports) Ltd, we'd just bought that foundry and closed it down, since it was competing with our imports, and now he's got it running full blast again.".

Captain Buckley took one of the `ADT work-torpedoes' to the bank of a reservoir and launched it, thinking: "Right! Now that unusually unsightly but efficient unit of human industrial machinery's done his stuff - and I did my bit after I got it - let's see if this handy little craft'll do one of the things we bought it for.". "Right!" he said to it over a walkietalkie, "Collect and return! This cuts out a lot of hassle.".

At Braithwaite's normal life continued. Looking at the oversized steel bulk and parabolic chest-plate (which becomes the car form's roof) of Wheeljack who was helping to make something, and at Braithwaite who was turning something on a metalworking lathe, Blackrigg thought sourly: "How much longer mending people's dirty artic trailers? Once I was John Blore, businessman, till embezzlement caused bankruptcy and I'm stuck with the false name `Blackrigg' that he gave me, and if I go public under my old name I'll have that baying pack of creditors after me again.

Associate I'd planned of my choice,
with eye for cash which none could dodge,
same interests 'bout which to voice,
same golf-club and same Mason-lodge;
who now instead is sent to me? Cold steel Wheeljack.
To buy, import, and sell for more,
to maximize what profits bring,
to him I'd chosen, that was law,
not dirty manufacturing.
Who now instead is sent to me? Tin can Wheeljack.
As fond of me of nightspot shows
is he who I f'r assistant chose.
All gone! as flowers when sand-wind blows
in desert. Instead, my waking knows
Dipygus Braithwaite's harsh commands, and wirebrain Wheeljack.

Papers speculate wildly about `faceless men' behind Braithwaite. Yes, literally! That Wernicke's `manager-computer' that I can't even take to a show in town, such shows as there are around here; and that Wheeljack's only got a maskface, not a proper face. Both electromechanical, so I can't even take them out to dinner, not that I can easily afford such things on a welder's pay anyway.".


EVIDENCE

[300] Paul Smith and Catfood Joe walked in opposite directions along the outside of the high brick wall with broken glass cemented all along its top that shut them both out of the school in Droitwich where Prowl taught sometimes. They met, and would have passed each other and ignored each other as irrelevant parts of other worlds. But Paul Smith, returning to the bossyness which had got him into trouble several times before, challenged: "Yah! Dirty tramp! Off with you, or I'll tell the headmaster or my mates.".

"Paul Smith!" said Catfood Joe, "It was abaht yer in the noos-paper, and a photo of yer, that time! People drop papers, and I can read! Yer've got no mates, and yer were kicked aht o' that school.".

"You've got no mates either!" Paul Smith replied, "They say someone heard someone tell the cops that your bunch dossed in a gang's hideout and the gang came back and shot the lot [see 267 & 234]!".

"Nobody wants us around. We can't just vanish." Catfood Joe complained.

"The whole world's unfair!" Paul Smith complained, "Real Transformers chasing me. That talking mobile refuse destructor Shockwave grabs me and stows me in its hold [see 154 etseq]. Dad won't give me any money, he says I must pay for things. That arcade's gone. Nothing to do any more.".

"Shockwave!" said Catfood Joe, "That oversized tin $%^. No point us tottin' where it's been. And it pinches our tottin's. The cops broke up a pop festival that time, left no end o' stuff, masses o' pickin's - and Shockwave gobbles up the lot!".

"It got all my mates' bikes that time [see 154 etseq]." said Paul Smith.

"There's only one of 'im - so far." said Catfood Joe, "There's still plenty places to tot. I'll give yer a quarter of what it fetches, if yer keep lookout for uniformed 'eavies and dustmen and `Big S' [= Shockwave] while I tot, next time.".

"Yes, uniformed heavies. I know where some of them are based. A quarter, you said." said Paul Smith, skilled at hinting of trouble.

"Unpleasant little bossy #$%^. I better watch 'im." Catfood Joe thought, recognizing the veiled threat and the tone.

They went to an empty site in an area of terrace housing, where a large corner pub had burned down several years before. There was a `Cadbury's Chocolate' poster high up on a wall, and below it on the ground a big pile of rubbish. Council rubbish tips let ordinary people's rubbish in free, but charge to take trade waste; so, to avoid this expense, some small traders go the rounds of different tips pretending to be ordinary people having a clear-out, and others tip it illegally where they can, including there; then other people with big stuff to throw away add it to the heap.

"'Ere's a good spot." said Catfood Joe and explained some of this, "Usually summat 'ere'll fetch a bit. `Big S' ain't been 'ere for a while, nor the dustmen. Yer go obbo [= lookout] on that corner. And stay on obbo, or yer won't get yer quarter.", wondering whether to pay the quarter anyway, since "I'm bigger than 'im, if 'e tries lip.".

Paul Smith went on lookout, wondering how to keep stories matching each other, and hoping that his mother and his aunt, who each thought he was in the other's house, would not do anything unfair such as meeting and comparing notes. Catfood Joe found an old vacuum cleaner in the heap. He knew a shop that would pay a pound or two for it, and tart it up a bit and sell it as `nearly new'. Suddenly Paul Smith ran back, warning: "Two dustmen and a cop!, but no dustcart.".

"Quick! Under these cartons! Them's trouble!" Catfood Joe ordered. The two hid under some big cartons thrown out by a shop.

"We'll come with the truck tomorrow and clear this lot away. Flytippers flytippers flytippers." said one of the dustmen approaching.

"What's the point of charging for trade waste?" said the policeman, "They just burn it in their yards making smoke, or fly-tip it and you've still got to take it away for nothing.".

Catfood Joe took out a bottle. He did not like sharing drink, since that left less for himself; but times when `his' stuff was taken away while he was sleeping off drink while others stayed sober, had taught him the hard way the rule "All drunk or all sober". He offered Paul Smith the bottle, explaining that it was not meths but proper drink. Paul Smith accepted, and resumed thinking how to avoid inconsistencies between the various cover stories that he had told different people. The drink (cheap whisky) made them both drowsy. Under the cartons out of sight of the policeman and the dustmen, they slept, and slept - they slept too long.

[301] Just outside one end of the M.O.D. Hiddleston secret area, two sport divers, Bert and Jim, dived on the sunken wreck of a freighter called the `Cerberus'. One of them felt thankful that Tregear at Crabhaven 's resumed campaign of `warning off' sport divers had stopped when the last lot of divers that his men threatened turned out to be a diving club from Bristol police station, with Tregear's three dismayed words: "They're all cops!". The two divers swam down over a litter of torn-up steel sheet and girders with no recognizable ship shape. Bert noticed that there was less of the wreck than before and that something had been digging about. Red seaweeds and encrusting sponges covered everything. He looked down between two upstanding pieces of steel plate, and found a lobster, which he left to grow and breed, since too many people take them. "Hello!? Look what someone's lost!" he thought, reaching down into the crevice and extracting a videocamera in an underwater case. They used up their air and finished their dive, reflecting on the advisability of keeping in practise and checking tide and weather and local conditions before diving, "else there will be group diver disappearances, one gets in trouble, then the rest trying to rescue him. I bet that's what's been happening to those groups that have been in the papers and the TV news. Hurlock's inside for a long stretch. Now to get our cylinders refilled first.", as he said putting his aqualung in the boot of their car.

"I still don't trust those `Hurlock special' ultrasonic guns that were in the papers that time." said Jim.

"Hurlock and his nine merry men?" said Bert on their way home, "No risk from them, unless you dive in Wormwood Scrubs! String of warnings and prosecutions and searches - that anti-diver campaign by lobster fishermen's been put a stop to. This camera's got a tape in, lets play it back when we get home, we may trace who lost it.".

"Still, something not quite right about some of those disappearances - or perhaps it's paranoia creeping up on me. You always get accidents, `law of averages'." said Jim.

At Bert's house they played the tape back and watched it. At first it was someone's unremarkable dive. There seemed to have been two divers with the camera, both wearing bulky two-cylinder aqualungs with twin-hose regulators with diffuser boxes to avoid bubbles. Then something else came into shot.

"What!!?" Bert exclaimed shuddering, "Help! Now I know! That explains much! No point looking for the camera's owner! One of them! Just like we'd been told wouldn't happen! And there's umpteen of them about by now! The sooner I get copies of this tape sent off to as many different people as possible, the better! [see 189]".

"Yekkh! Yes! I'll get my video to make two to copy with, and all my blank tapes! Then copies to the BSAC, MP [= Member of Parliament], newspapers, TV, police, ..." said Jim.


SON MEETS FATHER AGAIN

[302] At Wernicke's, Tabbins's caterwauling started Jack Brown dreaming yet again of his mother interrogating him hard and at length over the missing roll which in the end had turned out to be merely in another tin, then woke him. He realized that his brain had not forgotten old fears after all. He was some time getting to sleep again, and in the morning woke expecting to be bored, since his school was on a half-holiday. But Wheeljack, who was just back after ten busy days at Braithwaite's, offered to take him to Smith & Malton's to see a special consignment leave for the navy base at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys. After breakfast, they left.

Wheeljack stopped at Smith & Malton's no.2 gate. A woman with an elaborately flowered hat was saying to the man in the gatehouse:

"I'm Mrs.Elizabeth Brown. The dentist sent me to check up on arrangements for his visit here tomorrow for a mass X-ray screening of everybody's mouths.".

"Yes. Good idea." said the gateman, "In the old days it was `if thy tooth offendeth thee, cast it out', that is, extractions only, and a pulled-out tooth can't waste any more of its owner's employer's time being messed about with; or put up with it; or have his own teeth seen to in his own time in an evening or a weekend. Now, every time a man goes to the dentist for a check-up, he takes half a day off, even if nothing's found but tartar. But the dentist brings his stuff here, only takes a few minutes of each man's time to take X-ray plates of his mouth or scrape tartar off, and only the few that need long treatment get time off for it.".

"What?! Her!" Jack exclaimed in dismay, recognizing his mother's face and voice. [see 124-134] He had many memories of his real parents, all bad, until Prowl had interfered and had taken him to a safer place, to Wernicke's. Elizabeth, hearing him through Wheeljack's open window, was not pleased to recognize "that brat in one of his new oversized tin transforming friends".

"It's her! I'll stay near you" Jack said to Wheeljack, then noticed something else: "Look! She's wearing two coats!".

"You're right, she is!" said the gateman overhearing this, "Two coats this weather! And man's trousers and woolly socks under your skirt! You look well padded! I'm sorry, but if you've got a temperature, you can't come in. Rules. Can't afford bugs passing round making the men ill. In my back room and let me take your temperature, if you insist on wanting to come in. Sorry, it's rules.".

"Why you little telltale!" Elizabeth rated her harshest at Jack, "I can't afford to lose pay for time off! I owe! I've already had one `visit' taking stuff, when I fell behind that time when I lost my purse. And I see you've got like that James Wernicke, in a workman's overall even on days off, except when the school orders otherwise! And no dinner the next three days, for that lip.".

"I will enforce no such order. He is no longer yours. And Smith & Malton's men don't want whatever you've caught." said Wheeljack. Jack, not trusting her, went into Wheeljack and `tooled up' in kit which was in Wheeljack, to feel safer.

"And I suppose you'll telltale to my boss?" said Elizabeth sharply to the gateman.

"You're right, I will!" the gateman replied, "Neither the dentist you work for nor his patients want flu or whatever you've got.".

"If it wasn't for Wernicke's bossy robots," Elizabeth rated, "my Keith'd still be earning for me, I'd still be in Elliott's drama group, and you'd still be kept in your place, not allowed to touch or use anything without separate permission each time, no back answers, no complaining, no stuff of your own to wear out so it won't sell for as much. Never mind television and every luxury like a modern prison and no punishment at all! You're for it, when Keith comes out!".

Jack finished kitting up and came out of Wheeljack again. "I'm not going back to your place!" said Jack defiantly to her, "I've learned a lot since I left you!, about what ordinary children are allowed and don't have to ask for each time. And they're allowed to complain about things. See what the Council Welfare says.".

"Yakkh!" she shrieked in disgust and fright at suddenly seeing Jack in full riotsquad gear like a small version of one of Smith & Malton's workmen on action callout, body encased in a thick overall with plastic guards over particular places, head encased in a hard helmet with visor down, thick cloth mask, polycarbonate shield, heavy stick half his height long with wrist loop. All too clearly real kit scaled down to his size, not some child's flimsy toy made-harmless imitation of it. He held his stick at the ready in a jabbing position. "I thought so!" she continued, not liking seeing a boy of his age in that kit and apparently well trained to use it,

"Give you half a chance and you go just like your father, plus a lot of fancy riotsquad training from that Wernicke you live with and/or from Captain Blowtorch's security-thugs that did over my Keith's friends the Simmonses that time!, you coming here such a lot. And you look like they've put a lot of extra muscle on you, making you too strong for me to handle, you uniformed thuglet.".

"You shouted at me for nothing all the time and only bread for breakfast, and no pocket money ever! I stay with Wheeljack." he said.

"Oh do you?" Elizabeth continued, "Helmet, shield, baton, lot of fancy training, and me starting flu! It's me's ill this time! OK, OK, I'll go home and lose time and lose pay and get behind in paying for things again.".

"Excuse, I'm a gateman, not a juvenile court judge. Mrs.Brown, please go, and let Wheeljack see to his -" said the gateman, breaking off to listen to his personal two-way radio telling him that an action callout squad was coming with some trespassers.

A heavy rhythmical marching noise of hobnail-booted half-running men approached along an internal works road.

[303] Earlier that day in Smith & Malton's, four men in office clothes, Paul and John and Joe and Peter, approached a foreman, looking nervously at his hissing lit backpack-blowtorch which he had been cutting casting risers off with. "Good morning, I'm from the `Daily'. Here's my pass to come in here. I am wondering if you could tell me a few things about your work here?" asked Paul.

"This job's a pump for Thames Water Board." said the foreman, noticing that Paul's three followers were asking the workmen around a lot of peculiar questions and seemed to be very ready to hand out money.

"No, I mean: do you have any unusual jobs? Perhaps I could buy your story of your time here?" asked Paul.

"You'll have to wait till our teabreak, we're busy." said the foreman.

"We won't be long - er - er - just a few words." Paul continued.

"The rest of you talk to them. I'll go fetch some plans." said the foreman, and went into a room and telephoned.

"This job's taken seventeen weeks so far." said a workman.

"Hedge, fudge, issuedodge! Will I ever get any saleable info?" Joe thought as he photographed a machine.

"And your feelings about Captain Hurlock?" said Peter to another workman.

"I only know about that what's been in the papers and the telly." he was told.

"And after that, what?" said Peter to a third workman.

"Freeze, you four!" came a loud voice. Seventeen workmen in riotsquad gear and thick cloth masks and Smith & Malton's overalls with `Millwrights Dept' badges ran in with pickaxe handles at the ready and approached and surrounded them. The squad's foreman said: "Me and my mates don't like being interrupted from work for security callouts! You're the same four as was driving about saying you were delivering for `Specialist Steels Ltd.'. Are you them, or reporters, or neither? Captain Blowtorch [= Mr.Malton] only lets in reporters from good papers, not from rags [= popular press], not freelances, and not unless agreed first! Let's see your kit and proof of your identity.".

John, who was 3rd dan judo and also knew a good amount of kendo and taekwondo, threw two of the squad men and was starting to think that Smith & Malton's men, riotsquad gear or not, were not invincible after all, when five of them including the squad foreman, too well equipped to need much of lengthy martial arts drill, boxed him up in their shields, between which their sticks jabbed and swung hard. "Handcuffs now. He's a tricky one." said one of them. Peter and Paul and Joe put up much less fight and were soon expertly restrained by stick slammed across throat from behind and grabbed tightly by its thick end with the attacker's other hand, leaving shield to dangle on shoulder strap. The four were handcuffed behind their backs. "Huh! Better call me `666', for I am the weary beast that all this snooper's kit usually ends up as a burden for, and snoopers call us the devil." the squad foreman thought, mixing metaphors, as he felt his empty capacious pack on his back become heavy as his men loaded cameras and videocameras and notebooks and binoculars and a briefcase into it. Other news came over his walkietalkie, and he called his squad to march.

"Kharkh - my videocamera." moaned Paul as it vanished into the squad foreman's pack and a stick pressed painfully on his larynx.

"Telephoto lens on it! What were you snooping at? I'll see when it's been played back." came his captor's voice in his ear.

"That ain't what I was telling 'im." said a squad man, looking at a seized A4 writing pad, "He's made maps of parts of the works.".

[304] The squad arranged themselves into a box with the prisoners in the middle and set off at a hard marching jogtrot in step.

"Right! To no.2 gatehouse! Move it! And keep the pace and in step, you four!" called the squad foreman.

"Shall we run them twice round the works perimeter first?" one of his men asked.

"Nah. We've work to get back to." another replied.

"Continuous hard trot, expecting us to keep to their pace. That foreman must be fit, this pace in his kit and that load also." Peter thought, looking at the foreman's capacious pack which bulged with several thousand pounds worth of observing kit which the four would not see again, "Curse all people who compare info instead of trusting.".

"Don't let Specialist Steels's van out." the foreman walkietalkied as he ran. This was just in time. No.2 gate, operated by the gateman by a switch, slammed shut a few feet in front of the van.

"There's a security alarm." said the gateman to the van's driver. Wheeljack stayed silently parked, saying nothing. Jack stood beside him.

The squad reached No.2 gate and halted. Its foreman went into the gatehouse and started to play the videocameras back. He saw enough and came out and addressed the four: "Lets see what we've got here. Prisoners 'shun! I said 'shun, not slouch. The tape in your videocamera was full of telephoto of windows and climbing routes up to them - asking my men nosy questions - your firm will -".

"What's all this 'ere? Detaining my firm's men. So they had a look round while they were here. I'm John Thurlaston, my firm's delivery foreman. I protest most strongly about this!" the van's driver demanded, then with a helpless cold shock heard a familiar voice which he would have welcomed at any other time but not right then.

"Keith! You out so soon! Just in time! Jack's here, and ..." Elizabeth Brown exclaimed.

"Shut up, you ass bag, Liz!" he shouted in his habitual anger before could stop himself.

"That changes things!" said the squad foreman approaching him, "You and that woman from the dentist know each other.".

"I don't know what you're talking about." said Keith threateningly.

"It was in the newspaper about you those two times." said the foreman.

"She must have mistaken me. There are sometimes people that look the same." said Keith.

"He is Keith Brown, nasty man, I hate him, I used to live with him and that woman, she's called Liz. They kept shouting at me and asking me questions and accusing me and punishing me and they never gave me anything." Jack exclaimed and went into the gatehouse.

Keith, cornered, pulled out and fired a pistol and ran into the gatehouse, shouting: "No point you running in there! My hand's mended, you filthy little telltale swine. I'll soon serve you back for telltaling to school and Prowl Robot and all sorts and now ratting on me again.", then to the gateman: "Back off, gatey, unless your overall's bulletproof.". Inside, he put his gun into the other gateman's back, ordering: "Right! Open that gate and then come with me ..." - then yowled with pain and dropped the gun as a jolt like an electric shock went down his forearm. [305] He swung round and saw Jack, who had come up behind him and hit hard with his stick on the outside of Keith's right elbow hard on the `funnybone' where a nerve runs exposed between bone and skin. He realized at once that someone, probably James Wernicke whose own skill in riotsquad kit had more than once proved vital in fights with intruders, had trained Jack in use of it `in case of anything'. Shouting angrily "I'll #$%& soon get you away from Wernicke's robots and insubordination and nosybody officials and switching things on like you own the place, you filth pig rat little that deserves everything you got, never mind you dressing up fancy.", Keith reverted to habit and punched hard at Jack's face, ignoring the shield and visor. Jack crouched under his shield and jabbed his stick forwards as Keith's blow skidded off slippery sloping polycarbonate and its unused force jerked his elbow joint painfully hard straight against its stop. "Right, duck it and you get two, that's my rule!" he started to shout, but Jack's baton found the right place and Keith bent forwards groaning. Memory of years of oppression added strength to the final impact of Jack's baton against Keith's head. Jack quickly went for his handcuff pocket, but the gateman said "That's enough." and did the job instead. Keith soon came round and spouted an endless stream of threats and abuse and unenforceable punishments until the gateman wearied of it and threatened to gag him, and shoved him out to join the other four.

"Leave the gun, I'll pick it up." said the gateman.

"I know, James said not to mess up fingerprints and not to get my own fingerprints on evidence to confuse." said Jack.

"Right! This changes matters! Either Specialist Steels Ltd'll be glad to know they employed someone with a criminal record, or you stole the van. What happened? And a firearm. Finish searching them." said the squad foreman. The five prisoners were restrained and thoroughly expertly quickly searched. Their pocket contents and a variety of hidden pouches and bags, and more observing equipment and hidden recorders and weapons found inside their clothes, vanished into a separate big strong polythene bag for each prisoner. His pack was already full, including some stuff of his own; and his men, called hurriedly from work, had no packs or chest pouches. "Excuse." he said, reaching for Jack's pack, which there was not much in yet.

"Oi! That's mine!" Jack objected.

"I didn't say it wasn't." said the foreman, "Only, if I'm 666, the beast of burden that gets called the devil by people that want to nosy and thieve everywhere, you can be 333", and opened Jack's pack and loaded the five bagfuls of seizures into it.

"What's that lot you're putting in there?" said Jack as his pack became steadily heavier on his back.

"That was a risky deed at your age mixed up in a grown up's fight, but it worked! Good for you!" said the squad foreman, "It's prisoners' property. It may be evidence or clues. Come on our van with us and you can help us take it to the police station and help describe what happened.".

"James Wernicke had some intruder scares, he believes in keeping in practise in case they come, and he thought it was time Jack learned how to defend himself also if necessary." said Wheeljack. Some of the prisoners wondered where the voice came from.

"Birmingham Prison on the line." said the other gateman coming out with a cordless telephone, "Keith Brown was let out for a day's compassionate leave two days ago, son dangerously ill in hospital. He didn't come back, he punched his escort and got away.".

"Pack of lies, I wasn't ill or in hospital, and he and Liz had no children except me." said Jack.

"Urkkh, that little ..." Keith started, but saw no point in continuing. The squad men clipped large numbered labels to the prisoners' clothing.

"Articles found in their van." said the squad foreman putting three heavy full bags in Jack's pack.

"Crumbs, they must trust you, letting you carry the seizures. Lucky you were there! Straight to his gun arm funnybone!" said the gateman.

"OK, OK, you'll find out soon. The three men who we got the van off are locked up in a cellar at ..." said Keith, and gave an address, thinking "Lucky that little %$# doesn't know certain things, or he'd telltale and get me and Liz in the @#& with yet more people.".

"Now you've telltaled, Keith. Remember ..." said Paul menacingly, struggling with his handcuffs.

"I don't want to be had up for no manslaughter, if they die in there! I've put myself out enough for you lot." Keith complained.

"One of our vans is being serviced, the rest are busy. Form up and march this lot to the cop station, never mind waiting ages for them to send a van." the squad foremen ordered.

"How'd they've connected them with us?, you thick lout, enough wit to drive our van and no more." said Paul.

"Yaah! Jack! That fancy riot gear and a lucky opening! Next time not so lucky!" Elizabeth shrieked.

"Save it, woman, you'll only make it worse for all concerned, in court." said the squad foreman.

"And you four, kept on coming round for money you said we owed you, or else. Not so fancy now, handcuffed and ..." she rated, and stopped herself too late, alarmed at what her temper had made her spill in public.

"Gang wanting money, or services instead! And you, Keith Brown!" the squad foreman exclaimed, suddenly thus finding a missing piece that fitted several scattered parts of criminal jigsaw into one clear picture.

"Now you've done it!, Keith, on top of losing a gun again." said Paul.

[306] "OK! OK!" said Keith, "The beak and this four `may as well hang me for a sheep as for a lamb'! I borrowed money to set up as a general dealer. Someone warned me off it, said I was on his turf, so I thumped him. Then two of these and two that were arrested with me before, stole my van with a lot of stuff in while someone else cleaned my shop out. That left me owing. I'd just married Liz. No way to pay it back, so it built up.".

"Right!" said Paul, "This makes you a telltale! And where are the Simmonses?, that were with you on that matter and owed their share from it. You did a runner once, but we found you. I take it they did the same.".

"All I know is they nosed round here and were caught, then they went scuba diving at Crabhaven and never came up again." said Keith.

"I want fresh info, not parroting the newspapers and the telly to me! Those famous group scuba diver disappearances!" Paul demanded, "What did you expect?, setting up on our turf undercutting us! We did warn you not to, first. Then you find a woman and plan to set up a bee-yootiful married love nest at our expense.".

"I trade where I want to! No #$%'ed-up $#@'s going to tell me to $@# off or come round demanding all my profits!" said Keith.

"I was the youngest of seven on a labourer's pay." said Elizabeth, "I had to leave school and earn at 12. I soon learned not to take bits of food, not to mither, not to keep money back, not to back-answer, not to say I wanted things. Once my father went with a bunch and gave the local flicks [= cinema] manager a good hiding because children kept being let in there without parents and a lot of errand money ended up there. Soon stopped that! Keith the same! Then we married and we thought we were set up properly, but that happened. We couldn't afford kids, but one came anyway. We learned to count up odd bits of food and 'lectric, and not to listen to excuses and `gimme-gimme-ing'! Modern generation's too soft. And when the baby grew up, always whining and going ill and costing us bills, and the law wouldn't let us take him off school to make him earn.".

"Oh, I see." the squad foreman replied, "What a hard life you two've had, and it's made you as hard as nails. Why didn't you tell the police about that lot long ago?, never mind your $#@ pride thinking you could endure it all unaided. Why take it out on Jack? It wasn't his fault. He didn't ask to be born!".

"But we still owe! Once I had to give them a ring I had from my grandmother! Enough `visits' without Prowl Robot [see 124-134] tearing the place to pieces to get stuff we couldn't afford to use up to babynurse Jack for just flu!" said Elizabeth.

"No, you wouldn't owe, if that lot were prosecuted and put inside. That debt was not legally enforceable." said the squad foreman.

"I'm not having no school teachers and social workers telling me how to run my household! The law's only to support the rich against the poor." she said.

The gateman answered the telephone.

"OK, you two were hard up." said the squad foreman, "What's that to do with never a loving word for him, never comfort for misfortune, only shouting and questions and never believing him and imagining that every stray remark was an insult?".

"Love?" she accused, "All he was good for was to be a mouth to feed and hang about and go ill and whine.".

"Meaning that you two can't stand him and you don't know why." said the squad foreman, "Your own childhood's no fault of his. And now by defending himself physically and legally, he's done something real against you two at last, and you don't like it. Boo hoo what a pity. Now you two do go to the children's welfare court or whatever it's called.".

The gateman rung off and asked the squad foreman: "Your boss asks how long you'll be on this action callout? There's work waiting.".

"OK, OK, squad and prisoners form up! To the police station, quick march!" ordered the squad foreman, and to the gateman: "A dust filter mask for the woman. We and the cops don't want her flu.".

The squad set off at a hard jogtrot down the road. Jack, loaded with seizures and his riotsquad gear, gamely kept up with the rest, running two steps to the men's one, beside the foreman at the head of the column. Wheeljack followed.

"Ow!, my ankle." Paul exclaimed.

"Painkiller and make him carry on." said the foreman, experienced in countering malingering and evasions.

"Doesn't matter." said Paul, realizing that his trick to make delay hadn't worked. They continued at a steady hard pace. After two and a bit miles they entered the police station yard, and the foreman called a halt. The five prisoners were shoved into cells. The police took statements. "`1''s a puncher and `5''s a judo artist. Handcuff them before we take our handcuffs off them." said the foreman.

"Five prisoners, as he phoned." said a police sergeant, "How many escort? 17 - and a half!? You've started young!" he said to Jack, thinking "Umf! I see children in all sorts of odd gear, play space suits, play Ghostbuster kit, Batman and Superman cloaks; but a boy his age in full real riotsquad gear and well trained to use it! Somehow I don't quite care for the idea. James Wernicke's idea, I suspect.".

"Wheeljack brought me to see two loads go off from Smith & Malton's, then all this happened. Keith was so bad that he tried to punch me again although I had my shield and visor on." said Jack.

"Lets unload you." said a policeman, going behind Jack and opening Jack's pack.

"The polythene bags are the prisoners' property, the rest of the stuff in there's my own. I didn't touch anything with bare hands, so none of my fingerprints anywhere." said Jack.

"Now." said the policeman, "You doing our job at your age. Keith Brown has been arrested, he will be summoned to court to be tried, that is justice; you have arrested, you will be summoned to court to give evidence, that is the policeman's burden!".

[307] The police locked the five prisoners up and took everybody's statements, and sent a report on Keith and Elizabeth Brown to the council children's welfare officer. Jack rode in Wheeljack as he and the callout squad went back to Smith & Malton's to their interrupted work.


ACROSS THE HIGHLANDS

There were two big flatbed trailers with big sheeted-down cylindrical loads with rounded ends, and Captain Buckley (RN) and many of Smith & Malton's men stood to attention in ranks in their work kit, as also did Optimus Prime and Huffer in their robot forms, over 20 feet high. "One per load." Jack thought, but a loudhailer said "Optimus Prime and Huffer from Wernicke's will front and back end one load.". Jack wondered who would pull the other load, as there were only two real artic cab Transformers so far that he knew of; but the loudhailer continued: "And to front-and-back-end the other load, two newcomers to the real world among the Transformers ...". Jack looked to the left and saw, standing high above the workmen, two who he had never expected to see real.

"Soundwave and Blaster!" Jack exclaimed, "Except they've got wheels on like Optimus has, and the toys haven't, nor in the stories.". It was them indeed, complete with Blaster's L-shaped `ears' and Soundwave's battlemented head.

"OK! Transform and hitch up to your loads!" said the loudhailer. Optimus folded his arms behind his back, bent his hips at a right angle backwards, retracted his head, and thus transformed into his artic cab form. Huffer also transformed.

"They're taking the two loads to Thurso, that's at the northeast corner of Scotland. I suppose they're for the navy base at Scapa Flow in the Orkneys." said one of Smith & Malton's men to Jack.

"Soundwave's the purple one, he's the Decepticons' comms [= communications] `man', Blaster's the somewhat orangish red one, he's the Autobots' comms `man'. They transform to portable stereos. Soundwave likes classical music, Blaster likes pop music ..." Jack explained, "What are they doing?".

Soundwave and Blaster folded their arms behind their backs and folded their hip joints backwards, and retracted their heads, as they transformed Optimus-fashion. "Lorries! That's wrong!" Jack exclaimed.

"Come on!" said the workman, "Metal can't shrink like in the stories!, and what use'd be a portable stereo as big as an artic cab? Anyway, `Soundwave' and `Blaster' are all too suitable names for big noisy artics!".

Optimus pulled the smaller load, and Huffer pushed it. Soundwave followed pulling the larger load, and Blaster pushed it. A navy man and a man from Smith & Malton's rode in each of Optimus's and Soundwave's cabs. A police car led, for these loads were the very heavy sort that had to go very slow. [308] They left Smith & Malton's and went onto the M5 northbound, through the intricate tangle of junctions west of Birmingham, and onto the M6, and set off for the north. The usual number of Transformers fans watched them.

"Who are the two with the back load?" a boy watching them asked, "They've got Transformer badges on, so they're Transformers; but I don't know any lorry Transformers those colours. Motormaster's dark grey, Pipes is blue, Ultra Magnus's cab's white.".

Jack went home in Wheeljack to Wernicke's. The endless variety of hard interrogations about the missing roll, and other things like it, never disturbed his dreams again.

Once through industrial Lancashire, the M6, like the railway before, avoids the easy route straight up the Lune valley past Kirkby Lonsdale and instead goes up the River Kent valley to serve Kendal and the Lake District, and then gets into steep difficult gradients cutting across the hills around Grayrigg to the upper Lune. Once past the head of the Kent estuary, hills started to rise gradually higher on each side. Past Killington Lake among young woods. Past Kendal, and the first taste of steep, grinding, fuel thirsty gradients as the four turned right and laboured up into the Grayrigg hills, as countless heavy road loads and railway trains had before. At last the M6 came out of the hills and turned left up the huge straight chasm of the Tebay Gorge. The upper Lune ran far below to their right. The sides of the M6 went at different levels. After the M6 climbed out of the top end of the gorge onto the Shap Fells, its sides wandered about separately for no apparent reason, but paired up again and descended the Eden valley past Penrith. North of Carlisle it dwindled to an ordinary dual carriageway called the A74. Opposite Gretna, fa