By roger crow
Six. Fried Pink Parasites at the Whistle-stop Cafe
In the metal tent, the thudding and crackling of fried pink parasites was relentless.
Meg checked her incoming mail. Even in the desert she'd managed to get a signal thanks to the Cascade's array.
'Part radar, part weapon... Very handy for cell phones.' That's how he'd described it, back in the day, while working all night in their garage. And he was right too. Though she preferred the word 'mobile'. She hadn't quite sold out to the transatlantic, generic multinational world of 'one language suits all' yet.
Out here in the desert with a battery running low, the alarm clock was nearly back to zero, and ravenous candy floss wanting her for lunch. That was a twist.
"He got through okay. He's tracking the cupcake now in DC. Not sure when, but it's recent."
"I guess time travel is possible."
"The Pearl and the Cascade together are a powerful force. I had my doubts but he believed in it, and I guess that was enough to make it worth the trip."
Meg adjusted the camera.
"Well, that's a new one."
Kate looked at the tablet and saw the square that Aibork had drawn in the sand glowing.
"Looks like our man pre-empted the candy floss menace..."
"Incoming life forms. Small, but they're not converted by the pearl. So if we're lucky..."
The warning light on her battery started flashing.
"Looks like they're just in time."
Suddenly the sound of crackling parasites stopped, and there was a whooshing, a frantic feeding frenzy. Outside the tent was carnage as the new arrivals devoured the candy floss.
Bob Jones stared from the truck in amazement; his own vehicle had also been charged, by the car battery, but he knew Meg and Kate were running out of time.
The glass moon was slowly returning to normal, but a stray chunk of super dense cupcake which had broken off from the meteor was caught in its orbit.
And as the orbit started to decay, one thing was as obvious as an ice pick smashing into a bauble.
There would be collateral damage, and a sliver of glass moon heading to Earth was as lethal as any super dense rock converted into a sweet confection by a freak of nature.
All scientists would have said this was impossible, but it happened regardless.
"I think we should open a diner," said Kate.
"Yeah, fried pink parasites at the whistle-stop Cafe," smiled Meg.
Kate looked dejected; she'd stolen her thunder.
"Sorry," said Meg, gauging her unhappiness.
Bob stepped from the truck, all smiles.
"Intel says all the parasites are gone, and their predators."
"Well, that's something at least," remarked Meg.
"We need to get to the White House," Bob Jones ushered them to the truck.
They drove to a runway where a waiting transporter lowered its ramp. Bob gunned the engine, and drove onto the giant aircraft while it was rolling along the runway.
"I've always wanted to do that," he smiled.
Kate was ashen faced; she'd assumed he did that every day.
"Don't worry. I've done that 100 times in the simulator," he said.
"What's the password?" A security guard waiting behind a locked door asked him.
"You allow me to drive my truck on your aircraft and then you ask me?!"
"Sorry sir. The password."
Bob thought for a minute. He knew it had something to do with rock festivals.
"Err, if I had a big enough literary shovel, I'd like to bury all the Glasto references I heard on the BBC one summer weekend."
Meg and Kate looked at Bob like he was crazy, but were amazed when the guard opened the door.
"Is it me or is that the stupidest password in history?" Said Meg.
Kate didn't need to say anything.
Had they conducted a poll of stupid passwords, it would have come in top of the list.
But that was a list reserved for Aibork's designer universe for literary snobs. A place of much oak panelling, goatee beards and air quotes. In fact the universe was actually called 'Air Quotes'.
Bob Jones and the ladies secured themselves into their rocking seats as the transporter entered a sea of bad air.
"We have an ocean of this stuff to get through. I'd recommend anti-nausea aerosols," remarked a disembodied voice.
Bob produced three tubes and each of them snorted a blast of minty air. Suddenly their respective stomachs settled.
"Wow, I wish I'd had this on my flight to Florida." Meg was grinning. It may have been the mild hallucinogen in the spray which had made Kate look like a cartoon ham. To her mild embarrassment she'd started drooling a little.
Kate was also a little affected by the spray. Meg looked a little like a Rottweiler.
Bob suffered no such problems. He'd managed to filter out the nasal hallucinogen. A mixture of willpower and little sense of smell.
"What does this do?"
Bob took the device from Kate and put it back in its wall case.
"Guilt gun," he replied.
"It unleashes a wave of guilt on the victim; gives them a crippling sense of self loathing."
"No prizes for guessing who designed that," smiled Meg.
"Sounds like my ex," remarked Kate.
The sliver of glass moon scored an arc across the sky, glinting in the sunlight.
It sounded like a molten plastic bag dripping from a stick.
It flashed over Norway, melting, diminishing, becoming a shadow of itself. The final square mile of crystalline satellite ate sky like a ravenous tiger before thwacking into a soft hillside.
All of which was inconsequential. Witnessed by a few birds, and a squirrel. There was just a slight problem.
This vertical lens, 80 feet high, started focusing the sun's rays on a shed.
It was relatively small and unmanned, but crammed inside were enough explosives to level a small town.
That would have been bad enough, but at the end of this particular small town was a nuclear warhead.
Stolen by terrorists in 1986, it had been hidden during a raid by the FBI. Though there had been exhaustive efforts to find said weapon, it had been hidden in plain sight, disguised as a snowman. The nuclear core had been disengaged and to most it seemed harmless.
So, end of story then.
Oh, except there was a single, decaying cell, two inches long which was leaking precious fuel, and as fate would have it, it would only take a match to ignite it.
This random, domino effect of catastrophe would normally have been highly unlikely. But that's the thing about the pearl. It had a habit of accelerating chance.
So, as the lunar lens started to heat the shed, dry old timber started to smoke.
It was going to be an interesting few hours for a few birds, and a squirrel... and 12 million people who would be affected by the resultant chaos.
Kate was wracked with an overwhelming sense of guilt.
Meg realised she'd accidentally on purpose shot her with the weapon.
'Sorry' didn't quite seem to cover the deep feeling of personal hatred generated by Aibork's ego bruiser.
"Sorry" she said anyway.
If looks could kill, Meg would have been mortally wounded five minutes ago.
She would have been angrier if it weren't for the pressure on her chest.
"How long does this last?"
"Depends if you're Catholic or not."
Clearly humour wasn't helping the situation.
"I...I just don't know why you would do that."
"I have a kind of dark side," smiled Meg.
It was unusual for a victim to feel guiltier than their attacker.
And then, as they entered the final approach to Dulles, it all made sense.
Strolling down the runway, was an enormous lizard. Or rather it looked like a lizard.
"That's perfectly normal. The unreality pearl is known to create lizards out of thin air," said Meg.
"Now i know you're not joking," replied Kate.
The amount of damage a US government transporter would suffer against a giant lizard was minimal.
The pilot knew it. The lizard knew it. So they agreed to go their separate ways.
But before it left the runway, the giant lizard coughed a badge onto the ground.
Bob, Kate and Meg arrived at the White House. Meg knew the big cheese of old; they'd had run ins before, back in the days when Aibork had been a special consultant at the Pentagon.
They were debriefed for an hour by some more very serious looking presidential agents.
As the debriefing finished, Bob handed the President a bag.
"I want to thank you... again... for your excellent work out there."
"You're welcome sir," he smiled.
"And how is our mutual friend doing?"
"We were hoping you could tell us sir."
Frowns, and the belief that this sort of thing had happened before. The president regarded his latest gift.
"These bags. I was told never to open them."
"That's correct sir."
He smiled and scratched his greying beard.
He nodded to an aide who took the bags away.
There was a smell of ozone and the sound of popping flashbulbs.
"Paradox parcels," said Aibork.
He was in the room, and yet not. A man out of time.
Kate and Meg looked delighted at the slightly eerie figure. Not a ghost. Not a man. Somewhere between the two.
Aibork's designer universes were one thing, but inter dimension appearances were something more serious.
"Whatever happens... Don't touch the pianos," he said.
Normally such random words would have gained little traction with the most powerful man in the free world, but Aibork's warnings were never to be taken lightly.
"Pianos?!" Mouthed Meg and Kate.
"Pianos." Said Bob.
"I'm in the future and the past. Pianos. Are the. Key."
"Even in inter dimensions, he's still coming out with the gags," said Kate.
"We're going to need specialists," remarked the president.
Bob nodded. "Agreed sir."
He thumbed his bluetooth.
"Send Alpha unit to point zero."