In principal, Delia liked the idea of alternate Earths. They appealed to her sense of order. After all, the idea of a multiverse is the ultimate expression of the notion of ‘a place for everything an everything in its place.’ Having entire worlds to house entire histories suited her down to the ground.
But, as with so many things, there is a gap between the abstract admiration of a principal and the genuine enjoyment of a fact. The recent damage to the space-time continuum had left a number of people from alternate worlds stranded in South Hertling. They did their best to fit in, but they would keep trying to sit on the tops of busses, or paying for Delia’s storage boxes with the currency of the Greater Albanian Empire.
“Tell me again what this fellow is up to,” she said.
She was speaking to McKinley the cat. The lazy creature spied for her in exchange for food. Usually, she gave him his instructions, but this time the cat had come to her, demanding cannelloni in exchange for a hot tip.
“His name is Ronnie,” McKinley said. The pair were talking in the tiny delivery area behind the Storage Universe. Delia squatted, unwilling to let anything besides her shoes come in contact with the noisome ground, while McKinley lounged in a display box.
“Ronald Teerexbane, all told,” the cat continued. “He’s from Nazi Dinosaur Earth.”
“Does that mean…”
“A bit of both, apparently. Anyway, he’s convinced himself that if the Pyramid should be destroyed, he could return to his own world. Who knows, maybe he’s right.”
Delia shook her head. “Too risky. We don’t have enough intelligence on the Pyramid yet. An attack could…”
McKinley sighed. “Tell it to someone who cares.”
“That person not being me,” he added.
“I think that was implied. So what have you learned about his plans?”
“He has some sort of bomb,” McKinley said. “But I don’t think he has a delivery system.”
The way the cat said it bothered Delia. If the creature was right, then there were roughly a million things that could go down badly here, and yet McKinley said the words in a sort of bored monotone.
“Do you know where he can be found?” Delia said.
The cat shrugged. At first, Delia thought this was a ‘give me more cannelloni and maybe I can be persuaded’ sort of shrug, but the look of deep and abiding indifference in McKinley’s huge, heavy-lidded eyes told her that he genuinely didn’t know.
“Thank you, McKinley,” she said. “I’ll take it from here. You’ll have your cannelloni at earliest convenience.” Delia returned to her shop before the cat could deliver one of his trademark ‘witticisms’.
A bomb. She would have liked to have discussed the matter with Ms Shan, but she dared not go down to the shelter while her shop was open. Cortina her 2IC was on duty behind the counter, but there were no customers. Delia looked up and down the neat rows of storage containers, but for once she found no inspiration there.
What to do? This changed everything. They plan had been to lay low and try to work out what the Pyramid was and what, if anything, it did. There were all sorts of theories. Maybe it was alive in some way – it certainly seemed to be watching everyone. And if it was alive, then surely it would retaliate against an attack? Surely an attack against the Pyramid was only a good idea if victory was certain.
No, however much Delia’s gut told her that she’d like to see a bomb launched right into the terrible thing, she knew that the only responsible thing to do was to put an end to Ronnie’s plan. The trouble was, she had no idea where to find the man. McKinley had his uses, but he was not strong on details. There was no knowing even how long McKinley had been holding onto this intelligence before trying to turn it into a meal ticket. The animal’s greed was matched only by his laziness.
Never mind. Think. Delivery system. Simplest thing to do would be to simply leave a timed bomb on the Pyramid. So far, the structure had shown no signs of being able to defend itself, but then again no one had actually attacked it. Perhaps Ronnie worried about being too close to his weapon when he set it. Perhaps the man meant to drop it from a plane or fire it…
Fire it with a rocket!
Delia must have gasped audibly, because Cortina spun around “Is something the matter, Miss Crispin?”
“Something is very much the matter indeed,” Delia said. “Hold down the store. I will return.”
Now it was Corina’s turn to gasp as Delia took an unscheduled break. Perhaps feeling that a gasp was not enough, Delia noted that the young woman chose to cross herself.
Delia strode through the Super Centre carpark to Stars in Their Eyes Optics.
“Mildred! Mildred!” she said, as she entered. Mildred’s daughter did not look up from her phone, but Mildred herself looked up from polishing some lenses.
“Delia! What’s the matter?”
“Mildred!” Delia said. She was out of breath. Had she really hurried so quickly? “Mildred, your rocket. Is it there?”
Mildred gave a nervous laugh. “My rocket? Last I looked it was there.”
“When was that?”
Without waiting, Delia rounded the end of the counter, pushing past Mildred’s daughter, who swore in Cantonese but otherwise did nothing. She swung open the door to the workshop and entered. There in the middle of the floor was the familiar conical form of Mildred’s prototype rocket, safely covered by a tarpaulin. Delia let out a huge sigh of relief.
“What’s the matter?” Mildred said, sweeping into the workshop behind her, her green velvet dress sweeping behind her.
“Nothing, Mildred, nothing,” Delia said. “For a horrible moment, I thought someone had taken your prototype.”
“They bloody better not,” Mildred said. “How am I going to rescue my husband if I can’t get lunar travel up and run… wait a minute!”
Mildred pointed a long-nailed finger at an oily footprint just by the rocket. Delia gasped.
“That wasn’t there before, I take it?”
Mildred shook her head. Delia advanced on the tarpaulin cone, her heart sinking. Grasping the cloth, she gave a pull. The tarpaulin fell to the floor. Standing revealed in the middle of the floor was not the gleaming rocket that Delia had hoped would be there, but a telescope tripod with a traffic cone balanced on top.
Delia was not accustomed to using bad language, so it’s probably not fair to blame her for saying, “Oh, for crapping holy testicles!” at the sight.