In this fabulous 4th book of the Hamster-Sapiens series, we join the members of a school trip that have been abducted by submarine rodents who want them to unify a crumbling underwater civilization. It’s all rather rude and exciting…
Chapter Eleven: Empty Echoes
“Behold,” Cringe announced proudly, after everyone had crowded around the lounge television set to watch as the S.S Bargebutt docked with the Federation Council City of the Crustacean Collective, “Perineum!”
Naturally most of the terrestrial guests tittered into their paws at this announcement.
Cringe was somewhat taken aback at this behaviour. He looked more closely at the screen. Did the mighty edifice look stupid, or something?
All appeared in order: The succession of steel-like domes, with inter-connecting transparent access tubes, appeared just as they had in previous times. And navigation lights still winked invitingly to a home-sick sailor. Of course now that he was aware that the entire establishment rested beside a volcanic vent, the great storm of bubbles that erupted in the distance did raise a little concern in the more primitive parts of his rodent brain; but all in all, he concluded, home looked just as home should.
‘So why do they titter so?’ He asked himself.
“Oh Ambassador Cringe.” Sally regained some decorum, and managed to wipe clean her smile, “You do jest, of course?”
Cringe was at an absolute loss. “Jest?” He managed. “Does something about Perineum amuse you?”
Amy squealed into Roman’s shoulder; and the police officer only stifled a vast guffaw by ramming his free paw into his mouth.
Cringe was not alone in his consternation: Ho didn’t have a clue what was going on either.
“Hey, what this perineum shit?” He said in a slightly cross tone.
It was Wetpatch who replied to this simple, if slightly offensive, question. “It’s the name of a slightly rude body part.” He giggled, “It’s the bit of skin between your doo-dah hole and your…”
But he got no further, because Ho burst into peals of laughter. “Oh them lobsters been making real fools of dim-shit rodents.” He cried with glee, “Perineum: What great joke.”
Cringe’s paws fell to his side, and his nose drooped in evident inner-shame. “The bit of skin between my anus, and my private parts.” He said slowly, as though these were the most difficult words that he had ever pronounced in his long life. “They told us that Perineum meant ‘City of Brave Drones’ in the language of the prawn. We had no idea that they were taking the piss out of us.”
“I feel such an utter twat.” Bootle wailed from somewhere inside Cringe’s huge dress uniform. “It’s not enough that they keep us as slaves: Now they belittle us behind our backs.”
“The bastards!” Cringe all but blew his top. “The absolute bastards!”
Then he did something that shook Bootle to the core of his being. He grabbed Roman’s police radio, and snarled into it, “Blur – are you still controlling the captain?”
Blur’s muffled voice came back immediately. “Todger twat.” It seemed to say.
“Roger that.” Roman explained to those unversed in the vagaries of police radio usage. “Breathing apparatus can do strange things to a rodent’s larynx.”
“Good.” Cringe growled menacingly into the radio, “Hop off for a moment, would you dear – and see if you can find something analogous to testicles. When you do – give them a good kick. Would you do that for me? I’d be ever so grateful.”
Naturally Blur could ‘todger twat’, and so Cringe relaxed, and resumed his more peaceful countenance. “The ship docks automatically. There’s no need for the captain to be sentient.” He informed the impressed audience. “Shall we adjourn to the air lock?”
Sally had been impressed by Cringe’s outburst, and for quite some while she watched him with something resembling awe as he stood in preparedness at the air-lock. But as the minutes dragged on, and no one came knocking, her hero worship soon gave way to boredom.
“A little tardy, aren’t they!” She snapped quite uncharacteristically. “I would have thought they’d be falling over themselves to welcome us. Someone needs a good slapping around the cheek pouches – that’s what I say.”
Then she recognised the reason for her waspishness: She was nervous. She’d never been an ambassador before – especially one whose primary task requires her to unify a submarine nation.
Cringe agreed, and was about to say something very rude into the nearby speaking tube – when he was interrupted by Branston as the diminutive rodent came scurrying around the corner as quickly as his arboreal dormouse feet could carry him.
“Ambassador Cringe.” He uttered as he bowed deeply to his superior, “I have important information. Perineum isn’t responding to radio communication. Worst still – I’ve been able to remotely access their security camera network.”
As he paused for breath, Cringe leaned forward with all the urgency he could muster, which was quite a lot. “Yes?” He inquired.
“I can’t find anyone!” Branston wailed in response. “Either they’re all hiding with an extraordinary talent for it; or the place is deserted!”
This was not news that any returning ambassador was used to receiving. But to his credit, Cringe’s eyes only boggled in confusion for a few seconds before he recovered, and subsequently ordered the air lock door to be opened from inside.
Branston, glad to have something useful to do (beside being the bearer of bad news) duly flicked a switch upon a nearby wall panel, and the huge door swung open upon well-oiled hinges.
Cringe was about to disembark into the dimly lit corridor beyond the air lock, when Roman held out a restraining paw.
“Is it wise to go marching into an unknown situation?” He asked in a manner that clearly suggested that he questioned Cringe’s leadership qualities.
Cringe decided to overlook this unintended insult. “I dunno.” He replied, “Is it?”
“Well…no.” The surprised police officer replied in turn. “It might be a trap.”
“What do you suggest?” Cringe made an inquiry of his own.
Roman had never experienced danger until being abducted from the cruise around Chunderland Harbour. He’d never had the opportunity to test his mettle in unknown situations before: Perhaps this would be his only chance.
“I’ll go alone.” He said bravely. “If I don’t return soon – send a rescue party – all armed to the teeth and with a stupendously gung-ho attitude.”
Well despite protestations from Amy that if he were to get himself killed it would mean that she would have to grow old alone – never having consummated her proto-sexual relationship with him – Roman quickly made his farewells, and leapt toward the murky light of Perineum – into which he disappeared instantly.
“Oh Roman.” Amy cried out in despair, “Please don’t get yourself horribly eaten: I want to have your litter!”
Police Constable Roman Chest had been exploring the empty corridors of Perineum for longer than he felt comfortable with before he discovered the wit to make a report upon his Police radio.
“Police Constable Chest to Bargebutt.” He said experimentally. “Come in Bargebutt.”
To his surprise it was Cringe who replied. “Have you been eaten by a terrible monster yet?” The huge hamster said in his most concerned tone.
Chest was happy to report that he’d encountered neither vicious entities nor Perineum personnel. That he was, in fact, exploring an underwater ghost town.
Amy became immediately fearful at this report: Everyone who knew anything about the spirits of the dead could have told the police constable that he was walking upon dangerous ground.
“Oh Roman,” she called over Cringe’s massive shoulder, “take utmost care. If a ghostly apparition should happen to appear before you, be certain to avoid soiling yourself: The mortification might be more than your gentle ego could endure.”
But of course Roman hadn’t meant that Perineum was inhabited by spirits at all: It was just a turn of phrase. So he sighed and said, “Yes dear.”
Cringe then suggested that he visit the Emergency Victuals Store. He theorised that if the Federation Council members had, for some unknown reason, decided to evacuate Perineum, it was pretty certain that they would have taken their emergency food supply with them. It was only common sense. So with a goal presented to him, the police constable set about his task with renewed vigour.
It had taken the police hamster considerably longer than he’d expected before he eventually stumbled upon the Emergency Victuals Store. He hadn’t been aided by the series of maps that had been conveniently nailed upon the wall at every intersection either: When he’d radioed Cringe to learn the reason for the Emergency Victuals Store’s absence from the index, he’d been informed that its whereabouts was known only to a chosen few – presumably because the store also contained crustacean rations, which could be deliberately poisoned or contaminated with deadly bacteria by a disgruntled rodent. Even Cringe didn’t know where to suggest he look.
Fortunately Ho’s experience when writing a very popular cook book entitled Larders of the World, did. “Try looking back of shelf in kitchen larder.” He suggested. “Find hidden door behind boxes of stuff what people don’t like very much, and are out of date, or been pissed on by cockroaches.”
It was a brilliant idea, and so having made his way to the main kitchen, Roman set about wrenching open the heavy metal larder door. To his astonishment he found the larder in total disarray. Clearly the majority of food stuffs had been removed; but where he’d expected to find the foul and disgusting victuals that Ho had mentioned, all that remained were burnt and blackened packaging. He was at a loss. He could understand that the really nasty food that nobody liked might have been overlooked or ignored during an evacuation: But to wilfully destroy it seemed like overkill to him. Then he noticed the huge hole that had been blasted in the rear of the larder, and realised that the ruined foodstuffs were mere collateral damage. Someone had really wanted to get to the emergency store, and weren’t above using directed energy weapons very similar to those used by the pirates to get to it. He gulped nervously. He then started in consternation as, if by magic, Blur and Sprightly appeared beside him. “Have you two been here all the time?” He hissed in his most annoyed tone.
Being spoken to in such rough terms left Sprightly looking rather hurt. “We were watching your back.” She sniffed.
“You ungrateful bastard.” Blur added on behalf of her twin.
Under normal circumstances it might have been expected that the young police constable would respond with some whining remark – complaining that he’d volunteered to go alone so that he might impress Amy, and bolster his self-confidence: But these were far from normal circumstances…
“Get behind me.” He said as he eyed the huge blast-hole, “I think we’re not alone.”
So, a mere heart-beat later, with the egg-sisters pressed close behind him, Roman dared step over the seared metal step of the Emergency Victuals Store, and enter the blackened hole. And what he heard shook him to his foundations.
“That slurping sound.” He gasped as he pulled up short, “Surely it can’t be!”
“Can’t be what?” Sprightly asked reasonably enough as she bumped into his scrawny rear end.
“The devils.” Roman growled – his dander clearly in the ascension. “How could they bring themselves to do such a horrible thing? And something that’s illegal under Hamster British law too!”
Recognizing that neither female understood a fluffing thing that he was saying, Roman explained…
“Obviously someone in the Federation Council kept a pet caterpillar: You can tell by the loud slurping noise. I know this to be true because I once met Horatio Horseblanket’s pet caterpillar, Cruncher: He sounded exactly like that slurping sound that echoes off the larder walls, like those we’re hearing now, when he was eating – which was most of the time: It doesn’t take a Chief Inspector of Hamster Detectives to surmise that some poor creature has been left behind in some hurried evacuation, and has broken into the onlysource of sustenance available to it.”
“Such thoughtlessness.” Sprightly agreed.
“The fluffing bastards.” Blur was slightly more outspoken. “I love caterpillars: I had three when I was younger. But unfortunately they metamorphosed into enormous months that tried to take control of the council chamber, and they had to be shot down with flame throwers and beaten into submission with sharp outcrops of dead coral. It was so sad.
Roman might have taken a moment to express surprise at this unexpected tale; but all the while that they’d been speaking, they had also been walking, and now they found themselves confronted by a sight that very nearly shocked and awed them.
“Ah…” Sprightly whispered as she eyed the mountainous girth of the vast European hamster that wallowed gleefully in a family-sized paella, whilst slurping merrily upon a half-frozen cream bun, “…that would explain the use of a directed energy weapon. I did wonder if a caterpillar was capable of holding such a device with his multitude of feet, whilst aiming straight enough not to take off his own head with the first blast.”
“Yeah.” Roman managed, despite the fact that he was almost overwhelmed by the physical similarities between the manifestation before him, and Ludwig Flatchmeister.
“Egg-brothers?” Blur spoke over his shoulder.
This simple utterance made him jump with surprise, which in turn attracted the attention of the huge hamster.
“Arrrgh!” It bellowed whilst scrabbling to find its weapon amongst the mounds of yellow rice, colourful peppers, and over-cooked peas.
But his efforts were all in vain: like the athlete that she was, Sprightly leapt across the intervening distance; whipped the gun from the end of his chubby fingers; slapped him about the cheek pouches; and then sprang back, and passed the weapon into the feeble grasp of the Hamster-British Police Constable.
For a moment Roman stared at the weapon in his paw. He could almost feel its latent power coursing through the paw-grip. Then his professionalism asserted itself. He whipped a pair of paw-cuffs from his utility belt; faced the fearful monster as he licked his lips free of residual cream bun; and said, “Ludwig Flatchmeister, I arrest you in the name of the law. Are you going to come quietly, or will I have to wrestle you to the floor, and place a knee in your groin in order to restrain you?”
The huge hamster’s eyes boggled like no hamster’s eyes had done before. “Ludwig?” he said in an accent that Roman couldn’t quite place. “You think that I am that magnificent rock-tenor – Ludwig Flatchmeister? No-no-no – I am Droop Van Dong – the once-famous athlete, botanist, and Dutch impressionist painter.”
He then began fumbling with the buttons on the front of his blouse. “Let me reveal my famous painted nipples. One of them is a representation of Chunderland International Airport as seen from the gondola of an approaching dirigible: The other conveys the moment of my ejection from my mother’s cervix. They are both really quite famous, and well-documented. You must have heard of them?”
If it was possible for Roman to feel more shocked and insulted, it wasn’t by very much.
“You keep your disgusting nipples covered.” He roared in a genuinely angry voice. “I’ll have no truck with purveyors of female anatomy. And as regards the birds-eye view of Chunderland airport – well let me tell you this: It would make me gag: I suffer from vertigo, you see.”
But Blur and Sprightly were less dismissive. “I have a cervix.” Sprightly said to Droop as she gently eased Roman’s grip upon his paw-cuffs.
“Your mother’s must have been enormous. Can I take a look?”
Well after that it all went swimmingly. Droop duly exposed his body art; the girls ‘ooh’d’ and ‘aah’d’ in fascination; and even Roman learnt to relax in the company of the charming, if somewhat obese, rodent. In fact so relaxed was he that he waited until they had all finished off the paella and made a serious dent in the cream bun supply before making his report upon the police radio.
Sally, Cringe, and just about everyone above the rank of Incumbent Arse-wiper (Z- grade), stood at the airlock and awaited the arrival of their latest guest.
When, after having waited an eternity for PC Chest and the egg-sisters to retrace their steps, the moment arrived. Several members of the party swooned at the sight of the gargantuan belly of the beast known as Droop Van Dong.
“Ah, Ambassador Sally.” Droop called out as he dabbed at his lips with a lacy handkerchief, “It is my honour to meet you.”
With that he attempted a bow and a quick peck at the back of the former catering assistant’s paw; but having been recently overburdened in the abdominal region, he fell forward – scattering the welcoming committee to the wind’s twelve quarters – and pinning Ho’s object of desire against the bulkhead.
“Hey!” the aggrieved Chinese hamster yelled, “get useless carcass off my lovely Sally!”
Droop would have done as he was bid, but his indulgence in seaweed-based dairy products was having an adverse effect upon his metabolism, and all he could do was groan, and hug his stomach.
“My deepest apologies.” He cried out in dismay as the crew of the Bargebutt rolled him into the nearest corner, which allowed Sally to breathe once more, “This is hardly the impression that I wished to make upon our first meeting. But I pray that you will forgive my obesity: It is not my fault. It is the horrible side-effect of being a clone.”
“I’m not sure that I should.” Sally replied sternly as she tried desperately to adjust her crushed breasts into something resembling their normal globe-like appearance. “Now who are you? And what have you done with the Federation Council?”
Droop’s mouth worked for several unproductive seconds before he stammered, “Fuh, fuh, fuh Federation Council? This place is the hub of the Crustacean Collective? Poor Droop can hardly believe what his huge furry ears are telling him!”
Amy stepped forward. “You say that you’re a clone, and that you don’t know where you are? Are you some sort of imbecilic moron? Or are you suffering genetic decay?”
Then Professor Desmond Squealch added his two Rodento’s worth. “How interesting: You are like a glutinous version of that Germanic oaf – Ludwig Flatchmeister: Most remarkable. From whom were you cloned?”
And Cringe also inquired. “You have stumbled upon Perineum by accident? That seems highly unlikely upon at least seventeen levels of logic. How is this possible?”
“Yeah, how is it possible?” Bootle added from behind Cringe’s epaulet. “Speak up quickly – or die slowly!”
Well if there was anything more likely to induce verbal diarrhoea more efficiently than the promise of a protracted death, few had previously discovered it. In a series of staccato verbal outbursts, interspersed with the nervous breaking of considerable wind, Droop Van Dong told his tale…
“Ludwig Flatchmeister is my clone-brother.” Droop Van Dong explained later over a cup of tea and a slice of cheesecake in the lounge, “But whereas he became a rock-legend, then a pirate – I spent my youth in the pursuit of variegated pansies and pole vaulting. Later, when my youth deserted me, I became a journalist for one of Hamster Holland’s most popular over-eating magazines, and painted the occasional nude for beer money.”
This was all fascinating stuff, but it didn’t quite meet Bootle’s interrogatory criteria.
“I’m sorry.” The diminutive rodent sighed as he used all four paws to level Droop Van Dong’s own blaster upon the rotund captive, “This is all fascinating stuff, but it doesn’t quite meet my interrogatory criteria. How did you get here, and why did you come? Did you seek to inspire insurrection, or to plant germs in certain orifices – or any of that sort of thing?”
Droop shook his head vigorously. “Nee, nee.” He broke into his native language for a moment, “I came in search of Ludwig. He has a wonderful voice you know; and I have finally mastered the Euphonium. I have a black belt in recessive chords to prove it. Together I planned for us to make an attack upon the top spot on the Hamster Hit Parade, and bring international pop glory to our family name. I visited taverns and cake shops along the entire eastern coast in search of my clone-brother: Everyone told me the same story: That he had become a great pirate and that he cruised these waters in a rusty old tub called the Disemboweller. So I set my autopilot for this quadrant – and it’s heat sensors brought me to this place.”
“You have a vessel?” Cringe was astounded.
“Complete with heat sensors as part of the specifications?” Bootle added incredulously.
“Of course.” Droop finally showed some spirit. “Did you think I swam here, and used the sensitive tip of my wayward winkle to detect warm water? Yes, I bought a small private submarine from…”
Droop’s sausage-like finger traversed the room until it alighted upon the suddenly discomforted visage of Tutu.
“…Him.” Droop finished. Or rather he didn’t. “It was very nice inside.” He added, “Very comfortable, with lots of padding. He even threw in a week’s supply of courgettes free-of-charge.”
All eyes turned to Desmond and Tutu. Despite their best efforts no one could read Professor Desmond’s expression as he regarded his manservant.
Finally the multi-bespectacled genius said, “You sold The Marigold? How could you? You beast!”
Tutu nodded. “I believe that it was mine to do with as I wished.” He stated.
Desmond looked disappointed. “But that was to be your love-boat. I built it especially for the day when you finally decided to settle down with a good little female rodent, and sail the seven seas until you were too old and decrepit to continue, or until such time that you developed an immunity to the motion-sickness patches that Doctor Growbag always prescribes, and was forced to return to shore.”
“I changed my mind, sir.” Tutu responded coolly. “I believed that was my prerogative also. Perhaps I should explain. My Aunt Gertrude had a bladder infection, and needed some antibiotics. It was the only way…”
Suddenly any anger in Desmond’s reed-like frame leaked away like the all-enveloping juice of a moldy raspberry. “Oh Tutu, you’re so selfless: Of course you would sell your private submarine to help a member of your family. Most admirable. Most admirable indeed. Tutu – I promise you this: If we ever return to Hamster Heath, I will expend vast oceans of brain power to invent a huge space rocket, and fire you at the moon in it. Once there you will be able to spend your days concerned only for your survival upon an airless planetoid, and no longer feel the need to fret about those nearest and dearest to you. Would you like me to do that for you, my friend?”
This was an offer that Tutu couldn’t have imagined being offered in a zillion yonks. He grasped it with all four paws, his mighty incisors and stubby tail, and even his remarkably prehensile willy. “Oh Professor.” He came close to gushing, and almost turned red beneath his close-cropped mantle of facial fur, “It would be the greatest gift that a master could ever bestow upon his employee. Thank you, sir – from the depths of my soul and the inner workings of my large digestive tract.”
Naturally, with such an out-pouring of bonhomie, spirits were uplifted, and the threat of execution waned considerably. So much so that Droop Van Dong relaxed enough to tell the tale of his arrival at Perineum. But, unusually, he did in the third person…
The tiny submarine approached the docking bay of Perineum at a steady pace – guided with utter accuracy by the on-board computer. Sliding neatly into its berth, the vessel received a docking umbilical tube, and Droop Van Dong was able to let himself into the vast edifice via the secondary airlock.
Within seconds of his arrival, it became clear to Droop that he was alone. No one responded to his incessant calling, and even a daring ‘flash’ at a security camera elicited no response. So with no other option available to him, he went in search of an answer to the puzzle, and duly visited the nearest bathroom.
The bathroom aboard his private submarine had been cramped and, at times, unsavoury. So naturally he immersed his bulk in a huge hot tub, and luxuriated in the steamy atmosphere until the water cooled sufficiently for his teeth to start chattering; his downy buttocks to become as dimpled as the surface of a blackberry; and his private parts to shrink frighteningly. Clearly, he reasoned, as he tried mightily to catch a glimpse of his wanger over the mound of his distended stomach, it was time for something to eat.
As time passed, and weariness set into both his body and mind, Droop Van Dong began to feel the sort of loneliness that most hamsters couldn’t begin to imagine.
Whereas his submarine had been fitted with a talking computer that had kept him company throughout his long voyage, now all that the gigantic rodent could hear were his own footfalls. To a gregarious character such as Droop, these were nothing short of an anathema – and all too quickly panic set in. Within moments Droop found himself being hurled along half-darkened corridors upon legs that, quite frankly, he would never have imagined could be sturdy enough. And because of the panic that now flooded his brain, he was incapable of reason, and understandably completely forgot about adrenalin and what it could do during periods of extreme distress. But adrenalin can only do so much, and within a short while Droop discovered that laboured breathing and overburdened muscles are apt to slow a skittish rodent to the point of immobility. So it came to pass that Droop Van Dong finally ran out of ‘Go’ juice whilst immediately outside the kitchen that serviced the domiciles of the higher ranked rodents of Perineum, and he staggered to a gasping halt.
Droop had no idea how long he stood there, bent double – his muscles and brain desperate for oxygen: But when sentience returned he discovered that he held his prized directed energy weapon – a gift from Ludwig that had arrived in the mail just two years previous – and that in an unintentional spasm he’d blasted a vast hole in the rear of the open larder: And to his utter delight he also discovered that he’d half-melted some frozen cream buns, and cooked a large tin-foil tray of paella in the process. He also noticed that he’d destroyed a notice upon the wall that began…
IMPORTANT NOTICE: IF YOU HAVE ARRIVED AFTER THE EVACUATION OF PERINEUM – OUR NEW ADDRESS IS…
But of the remainder of the notice there was nothing but black ash and a length of curled up sticky tape.
“Arse holes!” Droop said in his best Hamster-Dutch.
Naturally everyone in the lounge had been intrigued by Droop’s tale; but it had been all too sickeningly brief to keep them entertained beyond his finals words, which were…
“And then you lot arrived, and scared the shit out of poor Droop.”
“Tell me,” Desmond leaned forward urgently, “of your origins. You are a clone. From whom are you cloned?”
“Yes.” Bootle ground out from between gnashing incisors, “Tell us how you come to be related to that evil pirate. Speak now, or suffer the same fate as that vastly important notice (that I would very much have liked to read) if you hadn’t blown it to smithereens, you dopey git.”
So once more feeling palpable duress Droop removed a fresh cup of tea from his lips, picked a length of lemon rind from between his teeth, and began a tale from earlier times…
Gerard Anussen, King of the Five Polders of Dong, sat at the head of the huge dining table that graced his royal Great Hall. Along both sides sat his war chiefs; doctors and physicians; and wise-hamsters. They awaited the arrival of lunch. But also they awaited something of far greater importance to the kingdom…
“Where is my new-born son?” King Gerard demanded in a booming voice that shook the rafters, and caused dust to settle upon the cooling feast. “I want my dinner!”
This made the Principal War Chief rattle his sabre menacingly within its sheath, and the Head Physician to blanch openly.
“Moments more, sire.” He tried to bow obsequiously in his chair, but only managed to catch his snout upon a flagon of foul ale that sat upon the roughly hewn table before Anussen.
“Hark, I hear footsteps approach.” The Principal War Chief bellowed as he cocked a ragged ear.
Moments later the huge double doors at the opposite end of the Great Hall opened to a mismatched fanfare of poorly played horns and an interesting tympanic accompaniment.
“King Gerard Anussen.” A huge female, dressed in what could only have been a nurse’s uniform, announced very loudly indeed, “May I proudly present your first off-spring.”
Then, with a flourish that wouldn’t have disappointed an Italian waiter, the nurse whipped the cover from a mewing cub as it wriggled its four limbs in the air above it like an inverted woodlouse.
A huge ‘Aaah’ escaped the lips of the assembled leadership as they regarded the tiny hamster’s bulging, if myopic, eyes.
But Anussen wasn’t looking at the youngster’s eyes. His own searched elsewhere. “What’s happened to his willy?” He roared in consternation.
The nurse was slightly taken aback by this question. “Sire?” She said falteringly.
“You’ve gone and lost his personal protuberance.” Anussen grew more furious with each passing nanosecond. “I mean – what good is a future king if he can’t find his meaty dangler?”
It took a few moments for the nurse to realise just how incredibly stupid her ruler really was. “But this is a female.” She replied haltingly, “She doesn’t have a winkle: She has a minge. Have you been looking the other way whilst procreating?”
Of course the truth was that Anussen had indeed been looking the other way. In fact, because he so enjoyed the sight of his muscled buttocks, he’d been watching himself in a pair of huge mirrors, and so had no real idea of what was going on with his partner. Worse still – he hadn’t cared either. He didn’t know what went where, and just trusted to luck. Now his lack of attention was coming back to haunt him…
“I’m sorry.” He flustered, “But I forgot to visit the optician: I probably need spectacles. But that’s neither here nor there. I can’t have a female as the next king. Take her away, and sell her to some barren aristocrat. Then somebody please think of an answer to my terrible problem of producing an heir: I’m the king – I command you!”
Well it just so happened that the Chief Scientist had been visiting one of the many state laboratories that morning, and he believed that what he’d seen there might just fit the bill.
“Sire.” He said, as he tugged upon the royal sleeve, “Have you ever heard of cloning?”
It was several months later, and the leading hierarchy were once more convened in the royal hall. Again they found themselves seated before an anticipatory feast.
Gerard Anussen, King of the Five Polders of Dong, once more called the assembled dignitaries to order. “Ladies and gentlehamsters,” he bellowed as he stood upon his chair, “may I present my heir – Prince…er…what’s-his-name. I’ll bestow a moniker when I see the merchandise.”
With that as an obvious cue, the huge doors opened to a drum roll, and the same nurse wheeled in a perambulator in which an infant squirmed endearingly. As she drew to a halt before the king’s table she threw back the fur skin that covered the youngster, and exposed it to the royal sight.
At first Anussen appeared overjoyed; but then, as he adjusted his new spectacles, the tell-tale lines of doubt appeared through the downy fur upon his hamstery forehead.
“Excuse me,” he boomed in an exaggerated manner designed to intimidate, “but do my eyes deceive me? Is that a ten degree list to starboard I see in my clone’s personal protuberance department?”
The nurse wasn’t in the least intimidated. She sighed openly before answering. “Actually it’s a seven degree list, with an eighth twist to port. No, his willy will never dangle entirely perpendicularly – but does that matter? In any case – he’s an exact replica of you: Doesn’t yours point in several directions – depending upon the time of the day, and climatic conditions?”
The Head Physician was out of his chair like a startled Peewit. “The royal dick has a mere five degree list, I’ll have you know.” He roared indignantly, “With a barely perceptible twist that could only be measured with a micrometer. I know this to be true because I’ve measured it myself!”
Anussen was slightly taken aback by this revelation. In fact he was mightily taken aback. So taken aback was he in fact that he slumped into his roughly-hewn throne.
“You have?” He bellowed with consternation, “When?”
“When you were younger, sire.” The Head Physician suddenly realised his mistake. “And totally rat-arsed drunk. Your father instructed me to: He was a little concerned that you showed such little interest in whipping down unsuspecting girl’s knickers in the school playground, and filling them with elvers or frog spawn. I just wondered if there might be a problem…”
It was immediately clear to everyone that Anussen wished nothing more than to draw a veil over the events of the day – both current, and of those in his childhood. So after ‘harrumphing’ unintelligibly several times, he instructed the nurse to feed the offspring to the royal tadpoles. He then returned to the feast, and bit into the largest piece of frog that he could find.
But unseen by any of the assembled hamsters, the nurse slunk from the Great Hall; found an itinerant worker in the castle kitchens; and instructed her to take the infant to a place of safety, and raise the child as her own.
“Well that explains your arrival in the world,” Professor Desmond Squealch sounded only half satisfied, “But what about Ludwig?”
No one could read Droop’s initial expression to this question. Only his words gave a clue.
“Ludwig – the lucky bastard? Let me tell you all about my clone-brother, Ludwig…”
So for a third time the leaders of the Five Polders of Dong massed in the Great Hall to welcome the new prince. And once more the nurse wheeled in the new-born.
“He appears to be much older than my first clone.” Anussen observed.
“Clones grow very quickly.” The nurse explained. “It’s been a week since they dragged him kicking and screaming from the gestation tank. His pubic fur started appearing yesterday at breakfast. He’ll be an adult by the time that they show the late night news on television tonight.”
“Is he, you know, fully-formed, and all that?” The king asked nervously.
“Of course.” The nurse spoke most haughtily – insulted that anyone should question her ability to care and administer for the royal heir. “He can walk, talk, perform rudimentary mathematical calculations, sing the opening lines to the national anthem, leer alarmingly, and I can honestly assure you that this time his personal protuberance conforms to normal parameters.”
Anussen nodded sagely. He then demanded proof of the nurse’s assertions. So the recently created being (later to be known as Ludwig Flatchmeister) skipped about the room; orated loudly upon the national tendency to obesity; scribbled the five times table upon the back of the nurse’s hat; burst into song using a most charming rock-tenor voice with falsetto overtones; openly ogled a passing servant’s bosom; and finally exposed himself to an appreciative audience.
“What are those marks upon the potential prince’s personal protuberance?” The Head Physician inquired as he placed a small telescope to his eye and peered for all he was worth. “Are they the tell-tale marks left by a splint? Has the young hamster been undergoing willy-straightening surgery?”
For a moment the nurse’s eyes boggled: She’d clearly underestimated the Head Physician’s expertise. Then she gulped so loudly that some thought that the outside lavatory had magically unblocked itself.
“No–no – not at all.” She began, but then quickly ran out of inspiration.
But it was Ludwig himself who saved the day. “Nein,” he assured everyone in a voice that would later make him a pop star; “I am catching mien villy in the underpants drawer this morning. I am most grateful that it is not being all bruised and swollen. I would hate to be having to show a dreadfully disfigured villy to my future subjects, when in fact, under normal circumstances, it is being almost perfect.”
They were the words of a genius, and an accomplished liar – and they fooled everyone present completely. Well almost…
“Hey, why’s the kid talking like he’s some sort of Germanic barbarian?” The Principal War Chief inquired.
It was a good question, and no one had a ready answer for it. No one except Ludwig of course…
“Do not be concerning yourself.” He quipped – a ready sneer appearing upon his reasonably handsome face. “I’m just practising for when the Kingdom of the Five Polders overruns the Germanic Empire, and I become their king too! Pretty good,
It was more than ‘pretty good’: It was the improvised verbal stuff of legend; and in response he drew a respectful round of applause – before being invited to seat himself beside Anussen, and drink himself stupid from the royal goblet.
“Oh.” Sally said, rather sadly, “So whilst you became the son of an itinerant kitchen worker, Ludwig Flatchmeister became the crown prince. That doesn’t seem fair.”
Droop smiled at this. “Don’t feel sorry for me.” He said. “I had a most comfortable upbringing. But it wasn’t so easy for Ludwig: The Union of European Hamsters soon annexed the Five Polders, and its leadership were sent to prison for crimes against amphibians. Naturally Ludwig managed to elude capture, and moved to Baden Beergut – where he cut his first disc under the tutelage of the legendary music producer, Dick Von Dork. It went to the number one on the Alpine Marmot Hit Parade, and his amazing recording career was launched. I, myself, became an expert bun filler, which until recently was a profession that brought me great pleasure. But since taking up the Euphonium I have been cursed with a desire to emulate the success of my clone brother – so now I seek him.”
“Do you really think that there’s room at the top of the charts for a fat bastard like you?” Blur asked reasonably enough.
Droop had obviously encountered this line of argument many times previous, and had developed a calmness that was almost too scary to bear, “Every so often a novelty record makes it to the top.” He replied, “I have analysed every facet of the One Hit Wonder, and I will merely duplicate that success many times over.”
Droop’s logic was pretty irrefutable, and his expectations of success quite reasonable. Blur was forced to take a backward step because it was also clear that the fat Dutch hamster’s resolve was utter.
“Chunderland.” Wetpatch piped up. “He’s on his way to Chunderland, where he’ll be incarcerated by the harbour master there. If you hurry you might be able to intercept him, and your career will be allowed to blossom.”
The others were astonished that the school-hamster should divulge such classified information. Roman particularly so.
“Wetpatch.” He cried with dismay, “If he intercepts the Disemboweller, he’ll set the pirates free to wreak havoc upon the seas off Hamster-Britain. The cross-channel rafts to Amstair Fronce will be thrown into a panic. The country could lose millions of Rodentos in trade with mainland Rodent Europe. Holidays could be ruined!”
“Bollocks, I hadn’t thought of that.” Wetpatch mentally kicked himself in the groin.
“Sorry, Droop,” Sally spoke sadly to the fat hamster, “but I’m afraid that we can’t allow you to leave: From this moment onwards you must consider yourself a prisoner of the Crustacean Collective. Henceforth all of your efforts must be centred upon helping us with our quest to reunite the aforementioned. Your Euphonium must be ejected into the deepest submarine trench, and any ideas of stardom placed upon the back burner until such times that we consider our task complete. Do you understand?”
Droop understood only too well. But instead of complaining, or bursting into tears, he chose to be utterly practical. “Right then.” He said resolutely, “If that’s the situation, we’d better be getting started, hadn’t we? Now if we can gather up all the burnt portions of that notice that I destroyed? Maybe we can get some kind of impression from them.”
©Paul Trevor Nolan
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