Alfred had never run so fast in his life.
Well, that wasn't quite true. He'd been a respectable enough middle distance runner in high school, oh so long ago. But he certainly hadn't run so fast recently. When had been the last time he'd run more than a few steps at a time. A school carnival, probably? Decades ago. Back in the days when he found it hard to find time for his daughters. Before they reached the age when they found it hard to make time for him.
But this particular piece of self-pity was far in the back of his mind. Most of his misery was reserved for bodily discomfort as he pushed his chubby, aging body well past its limits to keep up with the others – Christian jogging with all the careless energy of youth; Gwen short and stout and yet hammering along like nobody's business. And Delia…
It was almost a relief when Delia stumbled. In helping her, Alfred could slow to a stop without feeling bad about it.
"Arooaaariight," Alfred gasped.
"Broke a heel," Delia said.
"Brgaheeel," Alfred said. "I… huh… do heel repairs…"
"I know that, Alfred," Delia said, with impatience but without unkindness. She took her shoes off, deposited them in her handbag and took Alfred's hand in her own.
Almost at once, Alfred felt his strength returning and ran with her the rest of the way to Wellington Road. Traffic had stopped in the usually busy roadway, so most of the group was able to cross easily, weaving between immobile vehicles. As the stragglers, Alfred and Delia caught some angry beeping from drivers who probably knew that the aging pair were not the cause of the jam, but presented a convenient lightning rod for their impatience.
It wasn't hard to see why the traffic had stopped. The main traffic lights over the Wellington Road/Atlantis Street intersection was broken. The pole that held the lights was scorched and bent, leaving the lights barely above the tops of the cars. To make matters worse, all the auxiliary lights were flashing their colours randomly. A black plume of smoke arose from around the corner of the Pyramid that stood on the other side of Wellington Road.
Everywhere was chaos. Truck drivers argued with motorcyclists. A van driver was screaming into his phone, seemingly unaware that a yellowish cat in a boater hat was directing a gang of other cats, who were stealing Styrofoam boxes of fish from the back of his vehicle. An aging, dilapidated DeLorean had rear-ended a wooden car with stone wheels.
Still, Alfred and Delia ran on.
Around the corner, there was more mayhem. The black smoke seemed to be coming from a large piece of burning machinery, and a nearby gumtree had also caught ablaze. Near it, Fanaka and Karl Wintergreen were trying to fight. The sight of two of his friends trying to kill each other might have saddened Alfred. But the fact that neither man was much of a fighter and each of them was being held back by several others made the spectacle more comical than troubling.
Fanaka was shouting, sometimes in his own language and sometimes in English. "Turn it off! Damn you, turn it off!"
"The Hell I will, you Illuminati stooge!" Karl shouted back.
In spite of the seriousness of the situation, Alfred laughed out loud. There was something about the term "Illuminati stooge" that put him in mind of serious men performing secret handshakes that devolved into eye-gouges and slaps in the face. His laughing didn't last long; his second wind was already fading and his laughter came out as a choking wheeze. Delia thumped him on the back, which didn't help much, but was probably well intended.
As Alfred got his breath back, Delia strode forward. That was a good idea. Christian was holding Fanaka back, while a man Alfred barely recognised held onto Karl. Gwen was busy trying to extinguish the tree. Delia, though… Delia was a force for order. She quietened both of the combatants, mostly by glaring at them until they settled down.
"What's going on here?" Delia said once the boys were silent.
"He's trying to blow up the Pyramid!" Fanaka said.
"He's trying to stop me blowing up the Pyramid!" Karl said.
"Their stories seem consistent," Christian said.
"Shut the Hell up, Christian," said Alfred, who had been dying to say that for a very long time.
Delia glared at Karl. Karl recoiled a little, but metaphorically stood his ground.
"Start from the beginning," she said.
"In the Zeroth Age, the first Elder Kinsmen of…"
Delia turned on Fanaka. "Begin at the beginning."
Taking a deep breath, Fanaka told the story of the theft of the rocket from Mildred, Karl's theft of the rocket from Fanaka and… well, that was it, basically.
"So you destroyed Fanaka's well-intended but frankly irresponsible AA-battery in order to fire your rocket at the Pyramid?" Delia said. "None of us like this thing, young man, but don't you think that's a little reckless?"
"I didn't destroy the AA post," Karl said. "Why would I have to? It's a ballistic rocket, remember? If I wanted, I could fire it right over any anti-aircraft screen and drop it right on the Pyramid's capstone."
All eyes turned to Fanaka, who blushed deeply. "I knew that," he said. "I just didn't think he would."
"Well, I do," Karl said. "Granted, I had to look it up. But I do. Anyway, I'd given up trying to destroy the Pyramid. I was just standing here to get a view of the music shop, to blow that up. I needed to work out the number thingies."
"You mean coordinates?" Alfred said.
"It probably wasn't that huge a miscalculation to underestimate him," Alfred said to Fanaka.
"Some of those silver guys who used to work for the DIY Barn were here," Karl said, quickly restoring himself as the centre of attention. "They were the ones who blew up the AA battery."
Delia's brow was furrowed, and Alfred thought he knew what it was that confused her.
"Where are the silver men?"
"They ran away."
"Probably so as to avoid the police."
Alfred knew what was coming next.
"Alright, then," came an authoritative voice from behind here. "What's going on here?"
Alfred started laughing and couldn't stop even when they put the cuffs on him. He had never been in trouble with the law before, and there seemed something very funny about a first offense in his late fifties on a charge of criminal damage to a homemade anti-aircraft gun.
"Do you know what?" he said to Delia in the back of the police van, once he'd finally regained control of himself. "I think I'm starting to enjoy myself for a change."