Episode 107

Galerkins Eleven

...from the Files of Hydrogen Guy

Part IV

Across many worlds and realms of existence, the Valleen are respected, feared, and even worshipped, as all-powerful Lords of Existence. In addition to a command of subtle and terrible powers over trans-dimensional space, they possess minds and bodies vastly superior to all but a handful of mortals.

But they also get hangovers.

The following morning, Hans-Raoul arrived at the "Willy Webster's Frozen Treats" warehouse in a Pitt Meadows industrial park. Lydia Fitzwallace was with him. Hans-Raoul was once again wearing his dark glasses, although not because he was trying to look like a government agent. He drove in silence. Lydia didn't mind, since she didn't have much to say to him unless it was necessary.

Hans-Raoul
Let's get it over with.

Lydia
Right.

They got out of the car and walked towards the warehouse. Lydia had a large hunting rifle slung casually over her shoulder. They met Hank Hernandes, Tony and Eggs, smoking in front of the warehouse.

Hank
Mornin', chief. Miss Fitzwallace.

Hans-Raoul
Gentlemen...

Eggs
Hey, you buyin' us all ice-cream, chief?

Hans-Raoul smiled forbearingly. He couldn't tell if Eggs was this dense, or just making a very weak joke.

Hans-Raoul
This is where we've been keeping your slime. Unofficially, ICBC shares warehouse space with many straight companies. We needed refrigeration, to keep the slime dormant.

Eggs
So no free samples, den.

Tony
See, Eggs, I told you.

Hans-Raoul unlocked the door to the warehouse without further comment and led the way inside. The thugs ground out what remained of their cigarettes and followed after him, while Lydia guarded the rear. Inside the warehouse were rows of walk-in freezers, most with Willy Webster product names on the doors. Eggs glanced at one labelled "Vanilla Fudge Swirl" out of the corner of his eye.

Hank
Don't sweat it, Eggs. The only flavour we're interested in is green and tastes bad.

Tony
You tasted it? Man, that's nasty.

Hank
It's hard to avoid when it swallows your head, Tony.

Lydia ground her teeth. Spending the morning with Galerkin and the stooges, particularly Eggs, ranked extremely low on her list of things she enjoyed doing, well below wrestling crocodiles with her arms strapped to her side, wearing an evening gown. (She'd done it once in college on a bet. It was the only croc she'd ever wrestled that hadn't ended up skinned or stuffed, although reportedly it had a phobia of brushed silk for the rest of its days.)

Today she would have much preferred to stay with Damian Leary and Adrian Room as they dug through Adrian's books of spells. Officially, Hans-Raoul had asked her along in case Hank couldn't control the slime and it got out of control. Unofficially, it was in case Hank and the thugs were planning a double cross. At least, she thought, she got to bring out her favourite large-game hunting rifle, and there was a remote possibility she might get to shoot something.

As the slime syndicate shot the breeze and Lydia fantasized about chasing Eggs in a zebra suit across the veldt, Hans-Raoul counted off the walk-in freezers. He stopped at one that lacked a label and sported a large, ancient-looking padlock.

Hans-Raoul
Here we are.

He produced a small plastic chip from his coat packet and slipped it through a seam in the padlock, which opened with a click.

Hans-Raoul
Not long after your, well, "accident", Hank, an employee at the facility where your slimy friend was held made me an offer. It was a particularly busy time for me, so when I got hold of slime I decided to keep it in cold storage.

Hank
Y'sure that didn't hurt it?

Hans-Raoul
To be honest, I don't know. The researcher who sold it to me said that it grew dormant at low temperatures but seemed to revive easily at room temperature. But it hasn't responded to anyone else the way it responded to you since it was confiscated. ICBC hasn't been able to get it to show any life at all.

Hank
If the slime's dead, the deal's off.

Hans-Raoul
That's understood.

He pulled open the freezer door and walked in. Inside, their breath steamed out around them like on a late November day. The freezer was empty except for the set-up in the centre: a large, lidless plastic bin, of the type normally used for kitchen composting, filled with a gelatinous green and brown mass. Two large sun-lamps, borrowed from ICBC's drug operations, were directed at the bin. Hans-Raoul winced and looked away from them.

Lydia squinted at the bin past the glare of the lamps. She lowered her rifle.

Lydia
What, that's it? I was expecting some kind of monster.

Eggs
Just you wait, sweedie.

Lydia
You did not just call me that.

Eggs
Uh... no, ma'am.

Hank stared at the contents of the bin. He approached and squatted down in front of it. He reached out his hand as if to touch it, then seemed to hesitate. His face bore an expression of disappointment.

Then the slime quivered. A lump formed nearest his hand, then extended into a short tentacle. It wiggled around like a worm, then retreated into the body of the slime.

Hans-Raoul
Well, well.

Hank straightened up, relieved.

Hank
Hey, you guys, help me move it outta this freezer. Tony, you grab that end, Eggs, get this other end.

Eggs and Tony did as instructed, picking up the bin and carrying it gently out of the freezer. Hank hovered over them like a nervous mother, and Lydia and Hans-Raoul followed behind. Curiosity had done quite a bit to reduce his headache.

Setting the bin down outside the door, Eggs and Tony stepped back. Although they both seemed pleased, neither felt terribly comfortable staying too close to it.

Hank had no such qualms. He stood directly over the bin, concentrating hard like a child making a wish. The slime reacted the same as before, slowly at first, then putting forth a tentative tentacle. It quickly grew more active as it absorbed the warmth outside the freezer, and the tentacle kept stretching farther out of the bin. It stretched up to Hank's height, then bent around and slung itself over the back of his neck like an affectionate snake. Hank reached up and petted the "head".

Lydia
Crikey...

Hans-Raoul
So it's not dead. Good.

Hank
Jeez, no wonder it din't do nothing. It's feelin' pretty weak. You shoulda given it some proper sunlight, and some fertiliser or something.

Hans-Raoul
How can you tell it's feeling weak?

Hank
Y'know... just feels like it. It ain't gonna be fighting any demons today, any ways.

Lydia
What is it? A plant, or an animal, or what?

Hank
I dunno... I just found it out in the swamp one day. It helped me out, so I started takin' care of it. Tony, you bring the bucket or something to carry it in?

Tony
Yeah, it's in the truck. Be right back..

Lydia
So what does it do, exactly?

Hank
Just about anything I want. Like, check this out...

The tentacle pulled more material out of the bin, then separated itself from the main body of the slime. The newly independent "snake" half crawled, half flowed down Hank's arm, forming itself into a lengthy blade attached to a gauntlet surrounding Hank's fore-arm. Hank gave it a couple practice swings for Lydia and Hans-Raoul's inspection.

Hans-Raoul
Interesting... you did that just by thinking about it?

Hank
Yeah... it forms pretty much anything I want outta itself, as long as it's got enough material to work with.

Lydia gestured at the slime-sword with the barrel of her rifle.

Lydia
Yeah, but it's just a slimy model, isn't it?

SCHWINK!

The barrel of Lydia's rifle clattered to the ground.

Lydia
OY!

Hans-Raoul
Wow...

Hank examined the edge of the blade nonchalantly.

Hank
Hey, that's a good edge...

Eggs
Uh, Hank –

Lydia
You midget rat bastard! That was one of my favourite guns! The barrel was perfect!

Hans-Raoul
Well, now it's a sawed-off.

She swung the truncated rifle towards Hans-Raoul. He flinched.

Lydia
You keep out of this!

Tony
Hey, I got the bucket. What'd I miss?

Eggs
Hank and da slime cut Lydia's gun.

Tony
Holy...

Hanks
Sorry, toots, but you asked for a demonstration –

Suddenly, he found the tip of his nose uncomfortably close to the remains of Lydia's perfect barrel.

Lydia
Call me that again, scummy, I dare ya.

Hans-Raoul
That's enough, Lydia. I'll replace the rifle.

Lydia
That isn't the bloody point, it's – AAUGH!

A series of tentacles shot out from the bin and wrapped themselves around Lydia, wrapping around her gun hand and arm, and around her mouth, neck, body and legs. The blade on Hank's arm flowed into the slime's main body and then re-emerged closer to Lydia's throat; one end remained anchored around Hank's fist, as if he had Lydia attached to a macabre, sadistic leash.

Lydia
Mmf!

Hans-Raoul
Hernandes! Call it off!

Hank
I ain't makin' it do this! It's trying to protect me!

Hans-Raoul
I don't care, call it off!

Tony and Eggs stood helpless; neither wanted to try tangling with the slime, particularly now it was offended.

Hank
I'm thinkin' at it to stop, but it doesn't wanna. I think you gotta drop the gun.

Lydia glared at him, and grimaced as the tentacles tightened their grip. Reluctantly, she let go of the truncated rifle. The A slime limb lashed out and caught it before it hit the floor. The tentacles holding Lydia abruptly released her, pouring themselves into Tony's bucket, making him jump back. The limb holding the gun deposited it in Hank's hand, then flowed into the bucket with the rest. Lydia breathed heavily, freed and unharmed, and the slime had completely transferred itself from the bin into the bucket.

Hank handed the rifle back to her. He had enough common sense to realise that he should be contrite. Especially if he wanted to live longer than five minutes once the slime wasn't around.

Hank
Sorry about that... uh, about your gun, too.

Lydia snatched the gun back, wordlessly glaring hot death into Hank's skull.

Hans-Raoul
Well... I think we've done all the damage we can do here... Hernandes, from now on, control your slime. Lydia, control your gun. Let's get out of here. The slime rides in the trunk.

He turned and started walking towards the exit.

Lydia
You first.

Lydia gestured with her gun, none too affectionately.

Hank
Eh-heh... uh, sure.

Tony leaned over to Eggs and whispered very, very quietly.

Tony
You sure you know what you're doing?

Eggs
Tony, when you're older, you'll realise - every relationship has its element of danger.

Lydia glared at them, and they quietly hurried after Hank.

 

If there was one thing that Carl Barany knew, it was how to keep people coming back to his coffee house. Coming back, and spending money there; but that second step was straight workmanship. In the first step, Carl sometimes approached artistry.

Early in his career, he'd learned that one of the keys to success was to keep the customers wanting more. Chain stores like Starbucks, the Second Cup or the Usual Coffee Shop were open regular hours, seven days a week. People did not appreciate them, but treated them like gas stations. The Django Djava, on the otehr hand, was arbitrarily closed one day a week, usually Wednesday. Sometimes Carl changed the day, to keep the customers on their toes, but Wednesday worked best. It both whetted their appetites and added to the store's carefully cultivated old world charm.

Sometimes he used Wednesday as a training day for new employees, sometimes he rented the coffee shop out to small groups for private meetings or parties. This morning, it was both.

Hydrogen Guy and Deuterium Boy sat facing two men and a women, all in business attire. They had several portfolios open in front of them, and a thin silver laptop showing a presentation of digital images. Deuterium Boy was making notes on his DDA, while Hydrogen Guy had a plain notepad.

Suit #1
So, are you ready to see our concept design for the new Tritium TekTitan?

He looked very excited. So did his companions; like Baptists about to reveal that your secret admirer's name is Jesus.

Deuterium Boy
I think we are.

Hydrogen Guy
Sure. Let's give'er.

The woman pressed a key on the laptop and swung it around to face Hydrogen Guy and Deuterium Boy. They did not explode in paroxysms of joy.

Deuterium Boy
... so... is it supposed to be some kind of ATV?

Hydrogen Guy
It looks like a pimped-out ride-on lawnmower.

Carl emerged from the back room behind the front counter where a young Indian man was showing an equally young woman with dyed red and black hair the steamed milk machine. Carl spoke in a low voice.

Carl
Siddharta, how is it going?

Sid
Hi, Carl. Um, it's going fine, I was just showing Amelia the BaristaCron 786 –

Carl
No, you goose, I mean with them.

He jerked a finger quickly at the meeting table.

Sid
You want me see if they want fresh drinks?

Carl
Ahhh, Sid!

He turned to Amelia.

Carl
Amelia, should you turn out like young Siddharta, I will be eminently pleased. He is almost the perfect barista. But so naive! Sid, I mean how is the meeting?

Sid looked shocked.

Sid
You mean... you wanted me to eavesdrop?

Carl
You speak as if it were wrong!

Sid
But... isn't it?

Carl
No! You must learn, Siddharta - and Amelia - the customers do not want a servant, they want a friend, a sibling. In some cases, almost a parent. This means you must know their business as well as they do, and respond accordingly. Only then will they see you as omnipotent and the source of all good things.

Amelia tried to stifle a snicker. Sid just looked confused.

Carl
Take our resident superheroes here.

He discreetly directed their attention to the meeting. Both sides were doing quite a bit of gesturing. The Diatomic Duo's backs were to the counter, but Deuterium Boy's posture was tense. Hydrogen Guy's hands frequently flew to his head or temples, a sure sign he was becoming exasperated. The three business suits wore expressions of confusion or anxiousness.

Carl
One can tell clearly that all is not well. Thus, even should you notice all five cups are empty, you should not approach the table at any cost. Should anyone request more drinks, however, you must be ready to fly to their side without a moment's hesitation. Amelia, do you remember what they had?

Amelia
Uh... Hydrogen Guy had Korean green tea, Deuterium Boy had a heavy water café mocha, uh... the tall guy and the woman each had a mineral water and the shorter guy had the medium dark roast.

Carl
Excellent. That is the first step on the path.

Amelia
So we should watch them to be ready to refill their drinks, right?

Carl
That is the second step on the path. However, Sid, the third step is... ?

Sid
Uh... right speech?

Carl
No, no. The third step is to know the customer. The mineral waters are very likely to repeat, but I would doubt the medium dark roast would. Hydrogen Guy will almost certainly request more tea, but after stressful encounters, Deuterium Boy frequently turns to either a stronger coffee or a coke. Hydrogen Guy in such a situation invariably requires a cookie. As do we all, metaphorically speaking.

Amelia
You actually keep track of all that?

Carl
Electronic smart cards have nothing on a nosy Rom. Knowing your customer's habits usually pleases them, as it shows you think enough of them to remember. Thus Hydrogen Guy is immensely pleased when he does not need to ask for the cookie. Deuterium Boy, on the other hand, does not like having his requests anticipated, as he enjoys the illusion of being unpredictable. Always wait for him to ask, but it is safe to prepare beforehand. Oh my...

The meeting was breaking up. Hydrogen Guy and Deuterium Boy were shaking hands with the three suits. The suits seemed subdued from their earlier enthusiasm, but still hopeful. The Diatomic Duo were being polite and friendly. Carl turned the two java serfs back to the BaristaCron 786 while he started slicing cucumbers for tomorrow's sandwiches, placing himself in the best position to exchange thanks and goodbyes with the business types as they left. As soon as they'd gone, he turned back to the baristas and whispered urgently.

Carl
Sid - green tea and chocolate chip cookie, at once!

Sid
Yes, sir!

Amelia
You want me to take Deuterium Boy's order?

Carl
No no, my dear, this is a mission I must undertake myself. Prepare as I instructed, observe, and learn.

He left the counter and glided over to the Diatomic Duo's table. They were slumped in their chairs, and Hydrogen Guy was looking wistfully at his empty tea cup.

Carl
Gentlemen... forgive my intrusion. From your long faces, I am guessing that I cannot yet congratulate you on your success.

Deuterium Boy sighed.

Deuterium Boy
No. That is an understatement.

Sid appeared with HG's tea and cookie. The Protonic Paladin immediately brightened up.

Hydrogen Guy
Ah! Thanks, Sid. You're getting as prescient as your boss.

Sid
No trouble, HG.

Carl acknowledged HG's comment with a smile and a tilt of the head.

Deuterium Boy
Carl, I could really use a coke.

Carl
At once.

He gestured to Amelia. She nodded and immediately began filling a glass.

Carl
I take it your potential vehicle sponsors could not offer satisfaction?

Hydrogen Guy
Great Feynman's Ghost, Carl, they had no idea how to design a super-vehicle. I'm surprised they didn't give us a snowmobile with a plasma gun strapped to it.

Deuterium Boy
That's practically what they did do. The Tritium TrekTastic, or whatever it was... forsooth! ... Thanks!

He accepted the coke from Amelia with an appreciative smile.

Hydrogen Guy
Carl, you couldn't put us on to something, could you? This corporate car-hunting is getting tedious.

Carl shrugged.

Carl
Alas, here, I am no help. Unless my neighbour's heavily Bondo'ed Camaro would be of interest. It is of a 1983 vintage, I believe.

Hydrogen Guy
Ask him if he'll throw in a Playboy air-freshener... DB, when's our next sponsor interview?

Deuterium Boy
Tomorrow. We're meeting with Schwinn.

Hydrogen Guy
Schwinn? The bicycle company?

Deuterium Boy
Yeah. They're trying to branch out. They've got some proposal for some kind of hovercycle that Chuck War's pretty excited about.

Hydrogen Guy
Great, I'm looking forward to it. It can't be worse than the Tritium TurfTrimmer.

Carl drifted off and they finished their recuperative beverages in silence. At last, Hydrogen Guy polished off the last of his tea and finished the rocket-powered tricycle he was doodling on his notepad.

Hydrogen Guy
The progress of science beckons, DB.

Deuterium Boy
Yup. Hey Carl, thanks again for letting us meet here.

Carl looked up from his cucumbers.

Carl
Think nothing of it. The nominal fee is thanks enough.

Hydrogen Guy
See you tomorrow night?

Carl
On the morrow, my friends.

They let themselves out. Carl put down his knife and turned to his employees.

Carl
And thus, my children, you see the advantage of knowing the customer. Even the strangely dressed customer who has lunatics trying to kill him. Sid, please finish the vegetables. Now, Amelia, it is time to learn the deeper secrets of the coffee grinder.

 

Tour Guide
Welcome to Research Bay #4, everyone. This is where our nuclear fusion group will be conducting experiments in the very near future. Down below in the bay, you can see what looks like a large tanksurrounded by three metal rings. That's our new electromagnetic plasma chamber, which was developed by scientists here at the institute. Nuclear fusion involves fusing hydrogen atoms into helium, which requires very, very high temperatures to initiate, in excess of several million degrees Celsius. Right now, our technology can't produce high enough temperatures to start a controlled fusion reaction. If we could, it would provide a clean, practically limitless source of energy. We're hoping the chamber that you see down below will bring us closer to the necessary temperatures.

On the afternoon tour of the Maple Ridge Institute of High Energy Physics - quite a popular attraction, actually, given the Institute's world-renowned reputation - three familiar figures attempted to blend with the tourists. The group stood on a catwalk overlooking the research bay. Damian Leary, dressed as he usual in predominantly black, had distanced himself from his co-conspirators, partly to prevent anyone from linking them together, and partly because Dr. Emmanuel Lewis Hawking's bright Hawaiian shirt and Sally Kettle's hat and Jackie Onassis sunglasses embarrassed him. Not to mention her affected Eliza Doolittle accent.

Tour Guide
If you see the large device at the top of the chamber, that's a very high-powered laser to convert the hydrogen gas into plasma, which is a very hot, electrically-charged gas. The plasma is controlled and kept inside the chamber by rapidly varying magnetic fields, generated by the large rings you see on the outside. Those rings are made of a special kind of nickel-steel alloy.

Hawking
Yes, yes, yes...

Sally
Oooh! Blimey! That thing must weigh a whole bloomin' lot! Don't you think it must weigh a lot, Wilfred?

Hawking winced as she poked him in the ribs.

Hawking
Yes, dear.

Sally
How much does it weigh?

Tour Guide
The plasma chamber? It weighs about five tons altogether.

Sally
Is that with the laser included?

Tour Guide
Uh... yes, I think so.

Sally
'Ow much does it weigh without the laser? Just the plasma chamber and the big magnets?

Tour Guide
Oh... well, I don't think the laser weighs that much, maybe a couple hundred pounds?

Sally
Blimey! They must've 'ad a time getting it in 'ere.

Tour Guide
Actually, the engineers built it inside the bay.

Sally
Oh! Well, still, you know, I bet it'd take a lot to get it out, wouldn't it? Probably need to knock a hole in the wall and lift it out with a crane!

Tour Guide
Uh... yes. They probably would. Are there any other questions?

Hawking
Ah, yes! The magnetic coupling, is it harmonic, or a third-order anharmonic dynamically-pulsed system? And how do they account for quantum tunnelling effects?

Tour Guide
Um... I don't know, sorry. You'd have to ask our engineers... Anyone else?

American Tourist
What's hydrogen, again?

Sally leaned over and whispered to Hawking in her normal voice.

Sally
There's no way we can steal that thing... it's just too big. What do you think, can you build one?

Hawking
Well... I think so. They may have components that I can't reproduce or steal elsewhere, however. I'll have to get in here somehow and look inside it.

Sally
Galerkin and I have worked out a way to get us in. It shouldn't be too hard. Just don't expect me to slip one of the giant magnets into my purse.

The tour guide finished off with the rest of the questions and the group moved on. The rest of the tour was of minimal interest to Sally, Hawking or Damian, but they stuck with it to avoid arousing suspicions by leaving early. Likewise, Sally continued asking inane questions about how much things weighed.

At the end of the tour, the three had an informal meeting in the gift shop, while pretending to look at the same rack of T-shirts.

Hawking
Did you get what you needed?

Leary
I think so. I made a mental list of necessary modifications, but it's as close to what we need as we're going to find... I take it Sally's concluded we can't steal it?

Hawking
Indeed. I'll have to build one of our own, which I suppose will make your modifications easier. She said she can get us inside to take a closer look. Do you want to come?

Leary
No, I trust you can explain how it works to me... I'll meet you back at Galerkin's, I'm going to use the facilities.

Hawking
All right. See you later.

 

Jim Evans did not often venture down to the lab of his collaborator, David Marcolin. It wasn't for a lack of interest – in fact, Evans found the peculiar equipment and the experiments Marcolin carried out with them utterly fascinating – but because Evans was one of those theorists whose very presence was a curse on any experimental laboratory. Things went wrong when he entered other people's labs. Equipment had the habit of just suddenly breaking or failing spectacularly when he touched it. The last experiment he himself was actually allowed to participate in was the one which had given him and Marcolin their super-powers (and, incidentally, almost killed them).

In his own defense, he knew about his limitation, and he tried to avoid his colleagues labs when possible. But sometimes he found it necessary to take matters in his own hands.

David Marcolin was too absorbed in the device he was trying to repair to look up as Evans came in. He was currently trying to perform a delicate operation requiring no fewer than two jeweller's-sized screw drivers and a pair of needle nosed pliers.

Evans
Dave?

Marcolin
Jim... what's up...

Evans approached the lab bench cautiously.

Evans
What are you doing?

Marcolin
It would take me longer to explain than it would to finish it... gimme a minute.

Evans
Sure.

Marcolin
And stand on the other side of the lab.

Evans
Okay.

He found a spot next to a bookshelf full of binders and dog-eared equipment manuals. Suddenly there was loud, electrical crack and a clatter as the two screwdrivers and the pliers dropped. Marcolin swore vigorously.

Evans
Are you all right?

Marcolin
Jeezus... I'm fine, but the cyclo-omnigram's going to need a new motivator. Dammit! This means I won't be able to finish these experiments for at least a week.

Evans
I should have waited in the hall.

Marcolin
It's all right... What's up? You look... baffled.

Evans
Baffled, with just a touch of spooked. Just now I came from the admin office, and walking through the foyer, I could have sworn I saw Damian Leary coming out of the visitor's washroom.

Deuterium Boy's alter-ego raised an eyebrow in mild surprise.

Marcolin
But he's dead, Jim.

Evans
I know. I'm starting to wonder if I should take your advice about the benefits of sleep as an anti-hallucinogenic more seriously.

Marcolin glanced up at the clock.

Marcolin
Well, the 2:30 tour just ended, right? It was probably someone on the tour. There are other goth guys with long hair who dress in black, you know. Hell, in the right light I might be mistaken for Leary.

Evans regarded his friend critically. True, both had long hair and goatees, and were about the same build... although Dave actually had some colour to his complexion... Jim nodded.

Evans
You're right, of course. But I'm positive... well, almost positive... it's a little startling, thinking you see someone you previously saw decapitated by an insane cereal mascot.

Marcolin
Naturally.

Evans
Of course, you have to be right. People don't come back from the dead.

Marcolin
Unless they're the Crustacean.

Evans
Are you still trying to be reassuring?

Marcolin
Right, sorry. It was someone else.

Evans
Exactly. Anyway, sorry to bother you...

He looked back at the equipment David had been working on.

Evans
Dave, there's no such thing as a cyclo-omnigram.

Marcolin
Yeah, you're right. But I didn't feel like actually explaining what I was trying to do, and if I did, you might've tried to help.

Evans shrugged.

Evans
Fair enough.

 

It was through his good friend Terrier Ironcore that Dr. Gabriel Philips began his relationship with ICBC; now that Ironcore was in semi-retirement, and no longer with the corporation, they still had a weekly appointment to play chess on Wednesday evenings.

Philips arrived at Ironcore's house at seven, as usual, and not long afterwards the two were seated before the fire in Ironcore's study. Ironcore lit a fire every morning and evening, all year round. In the summer and late spring Philips found it uncomfortably hot, but now in May it was just bearable, if he sat in a t-shirt. Ironcore claimed that he'd never grown used to the cold, damp climate, but Philips suspected that the habit also had something to do with how much the neighbours disliked the wood smoke. One of Ironcore's weekly narratives was his battles with the neighborhood.

This week the neighbours were less on his mind, and he was instead railing against the local constabulary.

Ironcore
Nosy meddlers, Gabriel, every one of them. It is getting so that a man cannot go about his business in this city any more without being the subject of harassment by superheroes and their police lackeys!

Philips
In all fairness, Terrier, you were trying to take over the Farmer's Market through mind control.

Ironcore disdainfully threatened Philips' bishop with his knight. He was playing black, of course.

Ironcore
Bah! They could never prove my vegetables were anything other than ordinary cauliflower. I made sure of it! But still, Hydrogen Guy and Deuterium Boy interfere. But! I had the last laugh on them, you know! I smashed their truck! Ha ha!

Philips
Oh dear. Can't they sue you for damages?

He easily saw through Ironcore's trap, sacrificing a pawn to save his bishop. Ironcore was now threatened with check in three moves. Ironcore's face fell.

Ironcore
Sue me?

Philips
Well, of course. If you destroyed their property –

Ironcore
They threatened me with arrest! And they tried to destroy my cauliflower!

Philips
But, if your cauliflower were as innocent as you say, then you wouldn't have anything to fear, would you? And you could have made them pay to replace your cauliflower.

Ironcore
My dear Gabriel, you're speaking nonsense! We don't go around suing each other for damages. That is not how the game is played!

Philips
Well, if I were to demolish my neighbour's truck for no particular reason –

Ironcore
But that is entirely different, and you know it.

Philips
But if you and Hydrogen Guy were ordinary people, rather than supervillain and superhero, that's exactly what would happen.

Ironcore
But we are not ordinary people, thank Stalin! Honestly, Gabriel, can you imagine the chaos if superheroes and villains started taking each other to court?

Philips
And surely it would happen all the time, given the sketchy evidence that most superheroes build their cases around. The legal fees alone would drive them all out of business. Suits by ordinary property owners are bad enough, I understand.

Ironcore
Not that I would be at all sorry to see that happen. But like I say, that is not how the game is played! You are having a joke at my expense, I suspect, am I right?

Philips
In a diabolical attempt to throw you off your game, of course. It seems to be working.

Ironcore frowned and studied the board. He got himself out of check, but only at the expense of a rook.

Ironcore
I've said it before, Gabriel, you chose the wrong business when you went into head-shrinking. You should have become a criminal mastermind, like me.

Philips smiled.

Philips
I think I'll retire quite comfortably as it is, thank you. And without a criminal record.

They played on in silence for several minutes. Ironcore seemed to be attempting to force a stalemate.

Ironcore
You are involved now in some project of young Galerkin's, I understand?

Philips
Yes... It promises some to have some interesting features.

Ironcore
Is he mad?

Philips
No more so than usual, I believe, although he is quite obsessed by this secretary of his. She's been possessed by a demon, and the goal of the project is to free her from its influence.

Ironcore
Restore her to his loving arms, yes? I like to hear about such things, I am an old romantic, you know.

Philips
The girl who was once the Ice Witch is also involved, did you know? As well as the American investigator who was supposedly the Cereal Killer. That's "cereal" with a "c".

Ironcore
What was his name, O'Leary? Wasn't he dead?

Philips
Apparently he got better.

Ironcore
Galerkin is paying well, is he?

Philips
Reasonably, but not extravagantly. I'm doing it mostly for interest's sake.

Ironcore
But how interesting can it be? You are to counsel the secretary after she is freed, yes? That is just usual, boring psychology for you.

Philips
Yes, but Galerkin has assembled some interesting personalities, as I alluded to. And the Ice Witch girl, Sally Kettle, she apparently has residual powers. Did you know that?

Ironcore
No! Is that so? Well! ...

Philips was studying the board, planning his next move. Ironcore was studying Philips.

Ironcore
You have something in mind, do you not? I can see it in your face! It is something with the women, yes? Both have been possessed... What are you planning, Gabriel? You are about to take my advice and make your move at last, am I right?

Philips
Yes, yes I am, Terrier...

He picked up his knight and with it, swept up Ironcore's queen. The black king was now irretrievably hemmed in on all sides.

Philips
Checkmate, my dear Ironcore.

Next Episode:

Eine kleine nachtburgling, in Part V of...

Galerkin's Eleven

Same Hydrogen Time... Same Hydrogen Website!