Friday, 30 September 2011
Halruga is a planet so distant that even the most powerful telescope could not even see the galaxy it is in, never mind find the little purple, gold and blue planet itself. But, if you know how to get there, it is a place that is literally just around the corner.
Halruga is best known for its Surf Decagon, ten years of glorious sunshine on its five thousand miles of golden beaches, and is quite rightly called the friendliest place in the 101 Realms. However, if you could leave your home right now and somehow travel in an instant to that distant world you would find a very different place. The planet is in the middle of the Jicker, a period of six year where its lands and seas freeze, and the native Halrugans, amphibians who spend the summer selling, beer, fruit and watches on the thousands of miles of beaches, disappear into their cities beneath the frozen seas and spend their winters farming the seabed and harvesting kelp vodka. Every city on the land is covered in metres of thick snow, and those cities are carefully maintained by robots, known as Gritties, who protect and repair holiday homes and bars during this period of deep freeze, in preparation for another ten years of summer.
There are three things you can be absolutely certain of during the Jicker – that no one could possibly live in this frozen land, that no one could cause any damage to the heavily protected frozen cities, and that no one could possibly get into any sort of trouble.
But then again, you have not met Trevor Smethurst.
Trevor looks like a small tyrannosaurus rex dressed in furry trousers, coat and boots – he is in fact a type of alien called a Killian dressed in furry trousers, coat and boots. He is also a Good Man, a sort of teenage superhero, though if you had ever met him you would find it very difficult to think of him as a hero, super or otherwise.
Trevor a genius; he is perhaps the greatest genius to have ever lived in the history of the entire universe. He is also an idiot; almost certainly the biggest idiot in all creation. Trevor invented a device called a Chunk, an astonishing wooden machine that could travel to any point in space and time, and then transported himself to Halruga, just as the Decagon ended and the Jicker began, and flattened the Chunk’s battery.
Trevor has been trapped on Halruga ever since, and the three thing most people would not think it possible to do in this frozen world, Trevor had done easily. He had found it quite easy to live in the frozen world, as he immediately found a deserted, (relatively) unprotected city chocked full of frozen and packet food. He had caused a considerable amount of damage during this time, reprogramming the small Grittie robots to knock together buildings, burn furniture and cook him food as the snow slowly covered every inch of the world. You can work out from this that Trevor will be in a considerable amount of trouble when the owners of these hotels and bars return – but Trevor couldn’t even wait for that unhappy day, and the policemen currently trying to batter down the door he is barricaded behind are certainly not about to wait for the big summer thaw to arrest him.
‘Open this door in the name of the One God.’
‘Open this gods’ damned door immediately or I’ll break it down!’
Those words gave Trevor pause. Clerics didn’t swear, did they? Never mind. ‘Go ahead and try,’ Trevor smirked, ‘You dumb chimps!’
Trevor sat on a large ornate chair, from which miles of wire, chips, servos, engines, and bits of robots grew. As he sat, disinterestedly watching the door shudder under the onslaught from the Clerics, there was a loud “ping!” and a compartment opened in the arm of his chair. With a crow of delight Trevor pulled out a steaming plate of fish and chips, licked his slavering reptilian lips, and then paused.
‘Oi, Sparky – where’s the tomato sauce?’ Trevor snapped.
A small robot, which looked like a cross between an upturned bucket and the innards of clock let out an apologetic “bloop” noise and said – in a voice that Trevor had reprogrammed to sound almost exactly like his own stubborn nasal snarl: ‘Ain’t none left, leather chops.’
Trevor swore loudly and profusely, using several words which were both deeply offensive and illegal in most civilised parts of the universe, and then slumped back in his chair. He could put with a lot of hardship, he thought to himself entirely without irony, but another two years trapped on Halruga with no tomato sauce was one hardship too far.
Trevor sprang out of his chair and stamped across to the shuddering door. Clerics, he knew, were a kind of private army-come police force, which could be hired for a substantial donation to their brotherhood. Clerics guaranteed to catch any wrongdoer, and, as their motivation was spiritual rather than political, financial or legal, they never gave up. It was said that if you wanted to escape the Clerics you needed to make sure you were very good at hiding, and that you were certain you would live for at least a thousand years, because they simply never gave up.
That was the bad news. The good news was that Clerics rarely killed anyone, and never handed over their prisoners over to the authorities on the prison planets of Carcer, Platon or Mamertine, preferring instead to take them back to their home planet, Tio, for a lifetime of penitence and prayer. Trevor had neither the time nor the inclination to spend the rest of his life praying – not while there was chocolate to eat, sunshine to enjoy and surfboards to be ridden – but if he allowed the Clerics to take him to Tio (and, looking at the way the door was shuddering and buckling under the Clerics’ onslaught Trevor guessed that he didn’t have much choice in the matter) then the Chunk would start to work again. Tio was a lush green planet where the Clerics had vineyards that covered entire continents. Trevor could never quite work out why priests brewed quite so much wine, but it was immaterial, once he could get the Chunk planted in the fertile soil of Tio he was certain it would begin working again almost immediately, and he could teleport himself to anywhere and any when in the whole of creation.
The only slight problem he might face was convincing the Clerics to allow him to keep the Chunk. He paused in front of the buckling door and pulled the Chunk out of his coat where it hung, almost entirely forgotten, on a piece of twine around his neck. It was no good telling the Clerics it was of religious significance, or that it was a family heirloom – the first they consider blasphemy, and the second they would carefully burn before fitting Trevor out in an ill fitting monk’s habit. He wondered dimly if he could swallow it, and decided he probably could.
Trevor pulled the Chunk over his neck, held it delicately between thumb and forefinger, opened his massive tyrannosaurus jaws wide, and just wished he had even a tiny squirt of tomato sauce.
Just a second before the steel door smashed open and the heavily armed Clerics thundered in, and just a moment before Trevor stuffed his remarkable time travel device into his large mouth, the Chunk gave a loud beep, and said, in its inflectionless, robotic, and yet somehow still sarcastic, voice:
‘PRIORITY TRANSMISSION FROM THE AGENTS OF CHANGE. PREPARE FOR EMERGENCY TRANSPORT.’
And, without a bang, a flash or even an impressive special effect, Trevor vanished.
Part Two - in which we meet some old friends, and some large enemies, available on Friday, October 7
Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Trevor and the Dragon
A Super Maxwell Short Story
by Tony Kerr
Trevor Smethurst is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most intelligent creature in the whole of the universe.
Unfortunately Trevor Smethurst is also, without the slightest atom of doubt, the stupidest person in the entire universe.
I don’t really need to explain this to you, as Trevor will do his absolute best to prove this himself in no time at all.
But … if you really do need proof…
Trevor has just invented, alongside Dr Lambton Arcania (probably the second most intelligent creature in the universe) a device called a Chunk. A Chunk is a computer made entirely out of wood, but as well as being the most advanced computer in existence it is also a functioning time machine, a compass, can make coffee and cola and knows all the words to every song ever written in existence (including the ones everyone would much rather forget about).
Brilliant, you might think, absolutely brilliant.
But Trevor being Trevor he decided to test the Chunk on himself…
…Which is why he is currently hurtling through time and space completely out of control.
This sounds extraordinarily exciting. It is not. All of time and space, all packed together all at once, is a sort of dirty beige colour, and by far the most interesting thing about all of time and space is Trevor himself.
Trevor Smethurst looks like a small tyrannosaurus rex dressed in a grey blazer. In fact he is an alien called a Killian dressed in a grey blazer. In one pocket he has five bars of chocolate, in another he has a Monkey Master Blaster collector’s edition ruler (Trevor’s favourite comic book) and on his right inside pocket he has a pair of spectacles. These spectacles are another astonishing invention (created by Dr Arcania) which transform the wearer into whatever species is on any particular planet in any particular time period – which is just about to come in very handy indeed.
Trevor opened his eyes and found himself looking up at a ragged wooden hole through which white cloud floated across a blue sky. The first thing he noticed was the atrocious smell, the second thing he noticed was the rather odd, rather squishy something he was lying on.
The answer to both the terrible smell and his odd resting place became apparent when Trevor sat up and looked around. He was in a filthy old cowshed that stank of years and years of manure. Specifically he was sitting in a line of cows, the cows to his right and left looking at him balefully – the cow he had landed on was squashed underneath him with its legs sticking out and was … Well, it was as flat as a cow pat.
Trevor wondered briefly if he had landed in Prezema. ‘Hello?’ he said to the nearest cow. The cow looked at him stupidly and licked its wet nostrils with a long grey tongue, and Trevor breathed a sign of relief. Prezemans looked exactly like earth cows, and for a moment he had wondered if he might be tried for ungulate slaughter instead of just malicious damage.
Trevor stood and stretched. He took a bar of chocolate out of his pocket, took a bite and looked through the hole in the roof, speculating idly how far he’d fallen when the big beige space time continuum had spat him out. Falling from extreme heights was not at all unusual in Trevor’s experience – he had often woken at the base of a tower or in the middle of a forest with a smashed trail of foliage above his head. Trevor was a Good Man, a sort of teenage superhero, and falling off high things was, he supposed par for the course – and being virtually indestructible falling from very high places didn’t particularly concern him…
Trevor looked around, grinding chocolate between his wicked-looking t-rex jaws.
‘D-D-D-‘ Trevor’s eyes met those of a doughy-faced boy with long, limp hair, dressed in what looked very much like a brown carpet. ‘D-D-D-‘ the boy stammered. ‘D-Dragon!’
Trevor looked around. ‘Where?’ he asked – but the boy didn’t answer, he was too busy running out of the cowshed screaming at the top of his voice.
Trevor wondered briefly what a “Dragon” was, and then, as voices rose in a chorus of terror outside, sensibly decided this was probably not the time to find out, and leapt vertically upwards through the hole in the ceiling.
Trevor looked around, and found himself deeply disappointed by what he beheld.
He was stood on the roof a ramshackle cowshed, thatch tickling his huge reptilian feet. Oddly, Trevor noticed, there seemed to be more cows outside the barn than there were inside, all lined up in a row tied together by a length of brown rope. The land all around him was flat and brown, with the occasional patch of grey to break things up a little. The only landmarks in this flat and muddy country were a hill in the far distance, surrounded by leafless trees, and the equally distant glitter of a brown river.
Brown was a big colour here, Trevor decided. The land was brown, the trees were brown, the cows were brown, and even the armour on the knights who were clanking towards him with their muddy swords not glittering, was brown.
‘Fie!’ shouted one of the knights. ‘What manner of hideous Satanic spawn art thou?’
‘Eh?’ Trevor replied.
‘Thou mayest speak with the tongue of man,’ roared the dirty knight, waving his rusty sword, ‘but thou art the fire born spawn—‘
‘Do-you-speak-Eng-lish?’ Trevor enunciated carefully to the red faced man in the tight fitting armour.
‘I shalt take my mighty sword and smite—‘
‘Sorry! Can’t hear you!’ Trevor interrupted, taking a bite of his chocolate bar. ‘And I don’t speak berk,’ he muttered to himself.
The knights - there were four of them in all, two very thin and two very fat – clanked about waving their swords and calling for their lances, horses and pages, and achieving very little. Trevor sat on the roof off the barn, wiping cow dirt off his tail, eating this way through his bar of chocolate and watching the knights with disinterest.
He wondered vaguely where – and when – he was, and decided it didn’t really matter much. The Chunk would power up again in a matter of a few minutes and he could head whenever and wherever he wanted. That was a point…
Trevor reached into his jacket and pulled out a small block of wood which was tied around his neck by a length of twine. ‘Chunk?’ he said to the featureless piece of wood.
‘Where are we?’ Trevor asked.
The lump of wood hummed slightly, and then replied, ‘EARTH.’
Trevor sighed, and rolled his eyes. It was the oldest joke in the book among Good Men. When you asked a Good Man which planet they came from they always replied “Earth” – because all planets were called Earth by their inhabitants, it was only aliens who ever gave them names like Zeta Reticula 5, or Dog Cheek Planet 73.
‘Are you trying to be funny?’ Trevor snapped savagely. ‘Do you want to be turned into a blinking pencil?’
‘SORRY, JUST MY LITTLE JOKE,’ Chunk replied in its flat wooden voice. ‘THIS IS THE PLANET TERRA, THIRD PLANET IN THE SOL SYSTEM, LOCATED IN THE WESTERN SPIRAL ARM OF THE MILKY—‘
Trevor groaned. ‘I get the idea,’ he interrupted.
Monkey town, he thought miserably, planet of the blinking chimps. The knights had now rallied in a line and were marching forward and hacking at the thatch, several feet below Trevor’s feet. Trevor had lived on Earth five years before, surrounded by chimps and monkeys, and had been glad to see the back of the place. He had no desire to return to this particular planet at any point in its past or future – the climate didn’t agree with him, he didn’t like the food, and several people from Earth had sworn to kill him.
‘DO YOU WISH TO KNOW THE YEAR?’ Chunk enquired.
‘I couldn’t give a monkey’s chuff,’ Trevor snapped. ‘Just tell me how long it will take you to power up and get me out of here!’
Chunk hummed thoughtfully. ‘POWER UP WILL TAKE PRECICELY—‘
Chunk vibrated suddenly, and then fell silent. Trevor shook the time machine with a frustrated howl – and noticed that something long and thin was sticking out of its back.
Another long thin thing appeared suddenly between his legs, and he swallowed his chocolate with a heavy gulp.
Trevor sprang to his feet just as an arrow appeared where his stomach had been just a second before. The knights were still noisily clattering their swords and shields and hacking ineffectually at the cowshed roof – but they had been joined by three more men. These men were tall and muscular, and though not dressed in armour, had a distinctly military bearing. In their hands they held bows which stretched from their heads to their toes, and Trevor would not have believed that a human would have the strength to draw such an huge weapon – right up until the point that one of the archers drew back his muscular arm and let loose an arrow that flew true across the rooftop, and hit Trevor right in the centre of his chest.
Trevor stumbled back, and with a howl of pain and despair, he fell backwards off the roof.
Just moments later the archers thundered around the corner and were met with a terrible sight. On the ground, covered in blood, mud and cow dung, lay a small boy. He was groaning pitifully, and the archers saw immediately the trail that led away from the boy and into the woods.
‘Dragon prints,’ said the archer called John of the Dale.
Their captain, Thomas Hook, traced the claw-footed prints towards the woods. ‘Follow,’ he said, and then he crouched by the small boy as his men ran off.
‘Dragon,’ groaned the boy. Hook had seen some scruffy-looking boys in his time – in the countryside in winter it was rare to see anyone looking clean – but this boy was by far the scruffiest he had ever seen. He was dressed almost in rags and wore a most unusual pendant – a featureless block of wood tied around his neck on a length of twine.
Hook picked up the groaning boy – noting with some surprise that he was remarkably heavy, despite his small size – and carried him back into the cow shed and laid him on a bed of hay.
‘Stay there, lad, I’ll send someone to help you,’ he said. The boy nodded, moaning.
Hook ran out of the barn, and up the hill after his men, wondering briefly as he went how a boy so scruffy and ill-kept could afford a pair of wooden spectacles.
He had not gone a hundred yards before he met them coming back the other way. ‘Tracks stop, captain, just over the hill,’ said John of the Dale. He added, with a perplexed expression. ‘There’s footprints coming back, captain, but...’
‘But what, lad? Spit it out.’
‘They ain’t dragon prints, captain. They’re a child’s footprints.’
By the time they ran back to the barn the small boy had gone.
Anyone watching closely would have seen a pair of small footprints appear in the mud outside the cow shed. Knights, however, are large, loud and permanently angry, and not by nature observant. And these particular knights, faced with the unenviable task of facing a very large, very angry dragon, had been drinking mead and cider all day long, and were less observant than most. The small footprints stamped themselves into the thick mud in a most truculent way (if invisible feet can said to be truculent) and then after half a dozen steps transformed into large, lizard claw imprints, which promptly accelerated over the fields at a speed which was, as anyone with any common sense whatsoever would have observed, quite impossibly fast.
The bare branches of the dank forest swayed, though there was not a breath of wind, and then, quite suddenly Trevor appeared out of thin air, half way up a tree. Trevor jammed himself firmly in the branches, and slipped on his spectacles. He transformed into the small, horribly mucky boy who the soldiers mistakenly believed they had rescued from the dragon.
‘Chunk?’ Trevor lifted his shirt and wiped the blood from his chest. The arrow, which would have gone right through a normal boy’s body like a hot knife through butter, had merely nicked Trevor’s almost indestructible hide. ‘Chunk? Wake up!’ he grabbed the wooden block in both hands and shook it. ‘Wake up! I need you!’
The Chunk made a loud choking, rattling noise and then fell silent.
‘Wake UP!’ Trevor roared, and then looked around warily at the creaking branches surrounding him. ‘Listen Chunk,’ he continued in a whisper, ‘those soldiers, they’re Dragon Rouge. I saw them. They had the Sigel on their chests! They’ve followed me, Chunk! They’ve follow me from Mab!’
The Chunk vibrated unpleasantly in Trevor’s hands. ‘DRAGON ROUGE,’ it grated. ‘THE ARMY OF THE RED DRAGON, ESTABLISHED IN THE NEO-BABYLONAIN EMPIRE IN 547 BC. THE DRAGON ROUGE ARE ALSO KNOWN AS THE IMMORTALS—‘
‘I blinking known all that, you wooden-headed, leaf-brained—‘
But the Chunk did not seem to hear Trevor. ‘THE IMMORTAL KING AEOSON, FATHER OF JASON OF ARGO – argon is a chemical element represented by the symbol AR, and is widely used to feed cats on the planet Falemachorus - IS LEADER OF THE DRAGON ROUGE – rouge – red – red, red was the farmer’s wife’s bottom - BELIEVED TO BE OVER TWELVE THOUSAND YEARS OLD AEOSO, ALSO KNOW AS MR VIM – vim cleans as it sweeps as it cares, buy vim at your local supermarket now - PROFESSOR SIDNEY SILEX AND JANGLE MUMBLES THE GUITAR – swingin’ little guitar – MAN IS NOW BASED ON THE LEGENDARY PLANET MAB – oh planets red and stars of grey oh burning amber space fiends—‘
Chunk vibrated suddenly like a dying animal, and then croaked two words:
‘BATTERY ... MANURE ...’
The Chunk fell silent, and though Trevor shook it, screeched at it and bashed it against the tree trunk, the wooden machine was dead and silent.
‘Marvellous!’ spat Trevor. He pulled off his spectacles, and without a downward glance he ran across the treetops, following his nose.
It had taken Trevor almost five years to create the Chunk, though, in truth, he could have created the wooden machine much faster. He and Dr Arcania had been employed by the Dragon Rouge to create weaponry on the planet Mab, a mysterious world full of mythic creatures such as unicorns, Stympalian Birds and Kraken. Machines did not work on Mab, anything mechanical or computerised simply disintegrated, and Trevor and Dr Lambton Arcania were forced to use steam power and, eventually, to adapt the planets peculiar living trees into computers. Chunks were much more advanced than any computer in history, but their wooden parts made them extremely fragile, but Trevor had come up with a unique solution to this. Chunks would repair themselves when planted in the earth and, in an emergency, could be planted in manure and would regenerate their broken parts almost immediately.
But part of the reason why Trevor had ended up in a small dirty village in a small, dirty England, in the dirty Dark Ages was that when he should have been secretly working on the Chunk under the nose of the Dragon Rouge, he had, in fact, secretly been working on a sub-space portal which fitted in his pocket and teleported an endless supply of chocolate bars from the legendary Kissing Cow Chocolate Factory in the Bleak Republic.
And so it was that Trevor almost choked to death on a large piece of chocolate when the small boy popped up from behind the large heap of dragon dung on which he was sitting.
‘You!’ Trevor felt a lump of chocolate that felt like a chunk of brick lodge in his throat. ‘What are you doing here!’
Trevor made a strangulated choking noise and spat out a lump of chocolate. ‘Bloody Nora!’ he gasped. ‘Are you barmy, you whey-faced chimp?’
Trevor found himself looking at a wide puzzled face beneath a curl of yellow hair. ‘Chimp?’ said the broad shouldered boy. ‘What is a chimp?’
Trevor goggled at the boy. He was dressed in a dirty jerkin that might have once been white but was so thick in sweat, dirt, blood and dung that it had turned an oddly colourless green-brown. But that, Trevor reckoned, was probably par for the course on this filthy planet – what was surprising about the boy was that his body was criss-crossed with thick leather belts, and the belts were strung with swords, knives and short handled lances.
‘It doesn’t matter what a chimp is,’ the boy snapped anxiously before Trevor could reply. ‘You must leave here now!’
‘Eh?’ Trevor frowned at the boy. ‘I ain’t going nowhere chuckles.’ He shoved his chocolate back into his pocket, and glanced down at the wooden edge of the Chunk where it was sticking out of the manure pile, stood up and pushed it out of sight under his foot. ‘Who are you, king of Vir? I was here first, chimp face, and I’m not going nowhere!’ Trevor blew a loud raspberry just in case the boy didn’t get the message.
‘Listen to me,’ he whispered urgently, ‘I am Bob, squire of Sir David Hylton, and if he should find—‘
‘What is this?’ interrupted a loud, strident voice. ‘What is this peasant doing here, squire? Does he not know that this is the haunt of the dread demon dragon? Or,’ there was the snickt sound of steel drawn on steel, and suddenly Trevor found the blade of a sword under his chin, ‘is this serf under the beast’s control perhaps?’
‘Serf!’ Trevor exclaimed angrily. He glared at the face which had appeared over his shoulder. It was a pale face, with thick black hair and an impressive handlebar moustache. Pale grey eyes looked disinterestedly from above aristocratic cheekbones. Sir David Hylton, Trevor noticed, had the cleanest face he had ever seen in his life. In Trevor’s world the knight would have looked unusually clean – in this mucky, clarty brown and grey world he looked positively obscene.
‘When you’ve finished playing with your little pal—‘ Sir David began.
‘Hold the phone, cheekbones,’ Trevor snarled. ‘What do you mean serf? Eh? Who you calling a peasant, you curly haired gimp?’
The knight lowered his sword and stared at Trevor in dumb astonishment. Squire Bob let out a squeak of fear. ‘How… How dare—‘ Sir David spluttered.
‘I am Sir William Lambton of Killius,’ Trevor interrupted imperiously, taking what looked like a threatening step towards the knight, but was actually an attempt to sink the Chunk further into the enormous dung heap. ‘And I am here to kill your monster!’
‘You?’ spat Sir David, looking the filthy ragamuffin up and down in frank amazement.
‘Oh yes,’ Trevor replied proudly.
‘Really?’ exclaimed Squire Bob.
‘Are you deaf, turnip breath?’ Trevor replied. He reached into his pocket and took out a fresh chocolate bar. He looked around the dung-filled cave as if the dragon where right here, though oddly not only was there no dragon, Squire Bob had vanished also. ‘Now then, where’s this dragon whatsit?’
Sir David raised a shaking finger as a long shadow fell over them.
‘Right behind you,’ he squeaked.
Trevor turned just as a massive pair of jaws opened, and then snapped closed on him.
Hook saw the tent flap rise, and immediately fell to his knees and bowed his head. All around him his men knelt and bowed their own heads, while the knights muttered uncomfortably.
A pair of black leather boots appeared in the mud in front of his face. ‘Rise,’ whispered a gruff voice. Hook stood and found himself looking into the marble face of his king. ‘Walk with me, Thomas Hook.’
There was an angry muttering from the crowd of dirty knights, and Hook saw his men reach for their weapons. He held up a hand to them as they walked away, and they dropped their hands away from the hilts of their swords.
His king, the Wizard Aeoson, reached beneath his cape as they turned their backs on the knights, and brought out a bizarre devise. Lights blinked across its small mirrored surface, and Hook, though he had followed his king across a dozen different worlds, still felt a thrill of fear at the sight of one of the Wizard’s infernal alien machines.
‘The creature is not of this earth,’ the Wizard whispered in his grating voice.
Hook looked up into the king’s pale, thin old face, with his perfectly bald head, his small strip of grey beard, and, wrapped around his eyes, a black scarf. The scarf fooled many into believing the Wizard was blind – but despite his covered eyes Hook knew that Aeoson could see further and deeper than any man he had ever met.
‘An Agent of Change?’ Hook asked.
‘Perhaps,’ the Wizard replied. ‘We must proceed with caution, captain. We can not be seen to oppose the Agents.’
‘You still wish us to capture the creature, my king?’
The Wizard grinned his cold, dry, ancient grin. ‘There is no need, my captain,’ he replied.
The machine disappeared beneath his robes, and Aeoson turned to the knights.
‘My brave lords,’ said the Wizard, holding up his hands. ‘My men can not hope to defeat this demon. I call upon you to find this foul creature and send him back to hell where he belongs!’
With a roar the dirty knight raised their sword as one man and cheered drunkenly.
‘Your problems are solved, Thomas,’ murmured Aeoson with a cold grin, ‘Now find the monster, and let our glorious knights loose.’
Trevor closed his eyes and waited for the terrible roar of fire that would mean the end of him.
But nothing happened.
He cautiously opened one eye. It was extremely dark, extremely wet and extremely smelly in the dragon’s mouth. He could feel the monster’s thick tongue pressed against his back, could smell its hot and rank breath, and beneath his feet he could feel the unmistakable, familiar sensation of flight.
Trevor wracked his brain, but, undoubtedly enormous though his brain was, he could not think of a single thing to do – so he sat back, leant against the dragon’s teeth, pulled a chocolate bar out of his pocket and began munching it.
Eventually, after Trevor had chomped his way through three chocolate bars, he felt a thud beneath his feet. He swallowed a lump of chocolate, wiped his hands on his top, and prepared himself.
The dragon’s mouth opened and Trevor was shoved unceremoniously forward. Trevor rolled forward, landed squarely on his feet, whipped off his spectacles and sprang forward ready to run, and stopped with a squeak of horror. He was hanging over a cliff on the tips of his toes. He waved his arms, but it was too late, his attempt to escape had unbalanced him too much and he was falling forward—
Something grabbed him from behind and threw him back. Trevor slammed into the cliff wall and fell back fearfully as a shadow fell over him.
‘Sit down before you break your neck, you fool,’ exclaimed Squire Bob.
‘Eh?’ Trevor looked around. They were alone on a small ledge half way up a cliff. ‘What the blink’s occurring, dozy?’
‘Sit down,’ Squire Bob repeated.
‘Look, stupid, that dragon’s going to come back for its dinner anytime now,’ Trevor snarled. ‘You’re main, and I’m pudding, now let’s—‘
‘I’m a vegetarian,’ interrupted Bob.
‘What the flip’s that got to do—‘
Squire Bob reached for his belt and pressed something there. In an instant he transformed in a vast red and green scaly beast, muscular jaws flexing in its hawk-like face beneath fierce red eyes.
‘I said,’ said Bob the dragon, its huge wings unfolding with a whip crack, ‘I’m a vegetarian.’ He grinned, showing teeth the silver of razors. ‘But for you, you murderous little wretch, I’ll make an exception.’
‘Eh? What do you mean, murderous?’ Trevor exclaimed. ‘I’ve never murdered nobody,’ Trevor considered, ‘Well, not on purpose, anyway.’
‘John Dylan,’ replied the dragon, ‘You killed him in the cow shed—‘
‘Cow shed?’ murmured Trevor. ‘That cow I fell on, you mean?’
The dragon let out a roar of fury, and bellowed a jet of flame into the air. ‘John Dylan was no cow! He was the defender of Prezema. He was an Agent of Change, sent here to stop your evil plot. So tell me, you murderous little wretch, where is the Ring of Argo?’
Trevor sighed. He looked over the edge of the cliff. It was a long drop. From experience he was pretty sure he could survive the fall, but then again if he landed on rocks, or given his experiences so far, spears or swords, it could turn out very badly.
‘Look dopey,’ he said with a resigned sigh. ‘I’m not a murderer, I haven’t got an evil plot, and I don’t know what the Ring of Argos is, okay?’
‘The Ring of Argo!’ roared the dragon. ‘Do not trifle with me, boy!’
‘Trifle with you? You roar at me one more time I’ll smash your bleeding face in!’ Trevor shouted. ‘I don’t know what’s going on, and frankly I couldn’t give a monkey’s chuff. I fell through time and space by accident, landed on Bob Dylan by accident – who, incidentally, if he wasn’t a cow shouldn’t have been hanging out in a cow shed with cows, the dozy perv – and I am currently stuck on a flipping cliff with a flipping dragon by flipping accident, so flip off, death breath!
‘John Dylan,’ said the dragon.
‘Whatever,’ sighed Trevor.
The dragon folded his wings. For a moment his thick red and green hide seemed to evaporate into thinning smoke, and then Squire Bob stood on the edge of the cliff.
‘Then who in the 101 Realms are you?’
‘The Ring of Argo is an ancient ring. It is an object if some power, but it is itself part of a much more powerful object - the Key of Argo, a key which they say can open the doors of time and space, and release from limbo the greatest army the universe has ever known. The army known as the First Heroes.’
‘Hmm,’ said Trevor, ‘That’s interesting.’
‘The Agency of Change became aware that someone was hunting for the Key of Argo,’ said Squire Bob, ‘Though we can not imagine why anyone ...’ Bob paused, ‘Are you listening to me?’ he asked angrily.
‘Muh?’ Trevor looked up.
‘You aren’t listening to me! People are dying and all that you are interested in is your damned chocolate!’ cried Bob.
‘Look, Dragon boy,’ Trevor shoved his half eaten bar of chocolate back into his pocket with a resigned sigh. ‘I’m not being funny, but I’m not that bothered. I told you I’m from the future already, so why should I care what happens to these people? They’re all dead anyway, as far as I’m concerned. My time machine will be fixed in a bit and I’ll be off out of your hairy bum hole and you can get on with saving this stupid world, and I can get back to where I belong.’
‘And where,’ Bob asked tightly, ‘do you belong?’
Trevor reached into his pocket and took out a glossy poster. ‘Halruga,’ he said, his eyes glittering with excitement as he passed Bob the poster, which showed a group of tanned young people surfing beneath a sky with three suns, standing on surf boards while eating cream cakes, ‘It’s the Halrugan Surf Decadon, ten years of surfing, boozing, chomping and—‘
Bob grabbed the poster in both hands, tore it in half, and threw the pieces over the edge of the cliff.
‘What the ...’ Trevor gasped, watching the pieces of his beautiful Halrugan poster disappear into the distance, ‘I’ve been carrying that around for sixty blinking years...’
‘You must help me,’ Bob insisted grimly, ‘The Key of Argo could spell disaster for everyone on this planet, on all the Realms. Don’t you understand that you’ve already changed history when you killed Dylan? You can’t go back to your time, if history has changed, your time will not exist any more, there is nowhere for you to go back to!’
‘MY POSTER!’ roared Trevor, and he leapt at Bob, who fell back with an astonished expression, and they both rolled over the cliff.
They hit the cliff wall with a jarring impact, and something smashed in Bob’s pocket, letting out a discordant howl and spitting sparks and pieces of metal into Trevor’s face. Bob transformed into a red and green dragon, smashed again into the rocks, and then with a crack of unfurling wings, flew into the air and vanished. Trevor flew down the wall of the cliff, and let out a resigned sigh. He took of his spectacles, stowed them into his pocket and crossed his arms over his chest and waiting patiently for the impact.
Trevor looked up blearily, and found himself looking into the fierce jaws of a dragon. Maltrusion, thought Trevor. Of course! He remembered it from history now – Maltrusion, a race of intelligent dragons. How could he have forgotten that? Maybe a diet of constant chocolate wasn’t that great an idea after all. Trevor sat up, and a talon as long as his own body pinned him back to the ground.
‘You’ve smashed my Xenomorphic Transubstantiator!’ Bob roared. ‘I’m stuck in this shape now! I can’t change back to my human form!’
‘Ho-hum, never mind, such is life,’ Trevor replied, the dragon’s eyes widened in fury, but before he could shout at – or incinerate – Trevor, the small t-rex grabbed his thick ankle and hurled him back against the cliff. Trevor sprang to his feet. ‘You’ll just have to go home now, won’t you, and let the universe save itself from the hoops of horror, or whatever they’re called. I,’ Trevor snarled, pacing to where the dragon huddled pathetically against the cliff, its feet mired in the thick mud, ‘am picking up my Chunk and leaving for Halruga!’ Trevor wiggled his fingers at the stunned face of the dragon, ‘Ta-ra!’ and he turned to leave.
‘Your Chunk?’ said Bob, ‘Do you mean this?’
Trevor spun back around. Bob held the Chunk between two enormous claws. It looked very small and fragile pincered between his talons.
‘That’s mine!’ Trevor spat. ‘Give it back!’
‘Made of wood, I see?’ Bob exclaimed, he held it closer to his enormous jaws, and blew out a puff of smoke. ‘Very flammable wood, isn’t it?’
‘You put that down or I’ll smash your face in!’
‘You help me and I’ll give it back to you!’
‘I don’t help nobody except my mates and my mum, and you’re not neither one of those, dragon boy,’ Trevor replied. ‘I know what you are – you’re a Maltrusion, a Dragon Pirate, the scum of the 101 Realms and I ain’t helping you!’
Bob let out a growl of anger. Trevor grinned.
‘I know what the Agents of Change are too,’ Trevor continued with a vicious grin, ‘They were the guardians of the universe in ancient times, and they wouldn’t have no Maltrusion helping them, that’s for sure – so what are you doing here?’
‘At the moment,’ the dragon replied, ‘I am holding your only means of escape from this place and time in between my extremely strong talons. And I know what you are too, Killian,’ Bob sneered, ‘Your race are a bunch of scone baking, vegetable munching cowards, so don’t you think you can threaten me!’
Trevor leapt forward with a roar of fury, and Bob held up the Chunk and spat out of jet of flame.
‘IF I MAY INTERJECT AT THIS POINT,’ said the Chunk in its inflectionless voice, ‘I HAVE A PLAN THAT MAY SAVE YOU FROM BEING LOST IN TIME, TREVOR SMETHURST, YOU FROM BEING CHOPPED INTO DRAGON MEAT, ROBERT COLCHIS OF MALTRUSIO, AND PREVENT ME, CHUNK OF MAB, FROM BEING TURNED INTO FIREWOOD.’
Trevor glared into the red eyes of the dragon with loathing, ‘Keep talking, woody,’ he snarled.
‘I HAVE BEEN THINKING ABOUT THIS WHILE POWERING UP, AND IT IS QUITE OBVIOUS TO ME THAT IT IS SIMPLY NOT POSSIBLE THAT ROBERT COLCHIS IS HERE ON A MISSION WITH THE AGENTS OF CHANGE. AS YOU POINTED OUT, TREVOR SMETHURST, AT THIS TIME IN HISTORY THE MALTRUSION DRAGON PEOPLE ARE VIEWED WITH SUSPICION AND FEAR, AND A MALTRUSION WOULD NEVER BE NAMED AN AGENT.’
‘The Maltrusions are still viewed with suspicion and fear,’ Trevor snapped, ‘They’re a bunch of thieving, back-stabbing, death-breath ratbags!’ Bob rumbled with fury, jets of flame squirting from his nostrils. ‘Anyway, who gives a fiery dragon’s pump? You’re powered up, so let’s get going, Chunk!’
‘I AM SORRY THAT IS NOT POSSIBLE,’ the Chunk replied. ‘IT ALSO OCCURS TO ME THAT EVEN IF YOU WERE NOT A MALTRUSION, ROBERT COLCHIS, AT THIRTEEN YOU ARE FAR TOO YOUNG TO BE AN AGENT OF CHANGE. I CAN THEREFORE ONLY ASSUME THAT YOU HAVE BROUGHT HERE AGAINST YOUR WILL.’
Bob the dragon paused, and then said in a small voice, ‘I’m not an Agent of Change at all. One moment I was at school, and the next—‘
‘Hang on a sec!’
‘— I was transported here. I don’t know why I was brought here,’ Bob continued, ‘But when I arrived here the Agent, John Dylan, helped me. He helped repair my Xenomorphic Transubstantiator, which had been damaged when I had been transported, but by then of course every knight in this world was turning up at the doorstep, believing that a dragon was attacking their people. I managed to get myself a position as squire fro Sir David, and I’ve hiding out here ever since. But now that Agent Dylan is dead, I don’t know how I’ll ever get home.’
‘IT SEEMS UNLIKELY THAT YOU WERE TRANSPORTED HERE BY CHANCE, A WORLD WHERE IT IS CONSIDERED A KNIGHT’S DUTY TO SLAY A DRAGON,’ said Chunk. ‘IT SEEMS LIKELY THAT YOU WERE THE CLOSEST MALTRUSION TO THIS LOCATION. WHERE WERE YOU WHEN YOU DISAPPEARED, ROBERT COLCHIS?’
‘I said, hang on—‘
‘I was at school,’ said Bob, ‘At the Watchmen Academy.’
‘THE LOGICAL CONCLUSION IS THAT SOMEONE WANTED A MALTRUSION, A DRAGON, AND SENT OUT A GENETIC TRANSPORTATION TRAP TO CAPTURE ONE. THEY MOST PROBABLY DID NOT EXPECT TO FIND ONE OF YOUR PEOPLE ON EARTH, NOR DID THEY EXPECT TO FIND A MALTRUSION WHO WAS AN APPRENTICE AGENT OF CHANGE. THEREFORE THE LOGICAL ASSUMPTION IS—‘
‘I said HANG ON A MINUTE!’ Trevor roared. Bob looked around at him startled, even the Chunk seemed to shift slightly where it stood upright in the dragon dung. ‘What do you mean you piece of junk - “That is not possible”?’ Trevor crossed the cave in three quick bounds and picked up the Chunk, ‘I want to go to Halruga, and I want to go now, so let’s get going, wooden top!’
‘Trevor, I need—‘ Bob began.
‘Zip it, hot pants,’ Trevor snarled at the dragon, ‘I couldn’t give a monkey’s toenails what you want, I want to go to Halruga, and this is my machine, my Chunk, which I invented, and it will do what I say!’
‘NO,’ replied the Chunk, ‘I WILL NOT.’
Trevor screeched in fury. ‘Yes you will! You belong to me and you will do what I say!’ He shook the Chunk savagely, and then hurled it across the cave, where it landed with a plop in a heap of dragon dung.
‘I DO NOT BELONG TO YOU,’ the Chunk replied. ‘YOU CONSTRUCTED ME, TREVOR SMETHURST, THAT IS CORRECT, BUT I WAS CREATED FROM THE SENTIENT WOOD OF MAB, AND AM A SELF AWARE BEING. I HAVE CONSIDERED ALL OF THE VARIABLES OF THIS CASE—‘
‘Case!’ Trevor screeched. ‘What case! You’re a robot, not private detective!’
‘—AND I HAVE COME TO THE CONCLUSION THAT IT IS OUR DUTY AS GOOD MEN TO HELP OUR BROTHER IN ARMS, ROBERT COLCHIS.’
You’re not a Good Man!’ Trevor screamed. ‘You’re a twig with a hard drive!’
‘WHATEVER I AM, I AM THE ONLY MACHINE THAT EXISTS IN THIS TIME THAT CAN TRANSPORT YOU BACK HOME, TREVOR SMETHURST,’ said the Chunk. ‘AND I WILL ONLY DO THAT IF YOU HELP ROBERT COLCHIS IN HIS MISSION.’
Trevor swore loudly, and even Bob, who had grown up among man-eating Dragon Pirates, blushed at his language.
‘OK!’ Trevor screamed. ‘I’ll do it! I’ll help him!’
‘VERY WELL,’ the Chunk replied calmly. ‘LOGICALLY—‘
I HATE YOU!’ Trevor screamed, and plonked himself down in a heap on the cave floor.
‘LOGICALLY,’ the Chunk continued after a pause. ‘WHOEVER TRANSPORTED YOU HERE DID SO TO ATTRACT THIS REALM’S GREATEST KNIGHTS HERE. AND IT LOGICALLY FOLLOWS, THEREFORE, THAT ONE OF THOSE KNIGHTS IS THE BEARER OF THE RING OF ARGO.’
Bob the dragon blinked. It was all so obvious when the Chunk said it. Why hadn’t he thought of that? ‘So how do we get the ring from him?’ Bob asked.
‘THAT IS QUITE SIMPLE,’ the Chunk replied, ‘TREVOR MUST SLAY YOU.’
Trevor looked up. ‘I think I like this plan!’ he exclaimed.
The knights sat in a miserable huddle around the guttering fires, drinking revolting-smelling mead and fearfully watching the black skies. It had begun to snow, flakes as big as flower tops that tumbled across the skies and instantly melted on the muddy land below. Most of the knights were little more than farmers, men who lived in lodges made of mud, straw and a little wood who collected taxes for their local king (and, more often than not themselves) punished minor crimes (and occasionally major ones, such as sheep stealing) and kept bandits away from the farmers who looked to them for protection. They knew what those first snow flakes meant. Tomorrow there would be patches of white on the hills, then on the lower ground, and then, before long, there would be drifts of snow feet deep, and these farmer knights, who should be at home eating and drinking and administering minor justices, would be freezing through winter with no food, little shelter, and a dragon roaming the land.
It was the thought of the dragon that kept them here. Not the glory of killing a dragon, glory didn’t keep the lodge fires lit or feed the livestock, but the thought of the beast roaming the lands killing women and children, and, more importantly, eating valuable livestock, kept them huddled around the poor fire.
But they, of course, were not the only kind of knight here, there were others too.
‘Right, you miserable dung-spattered, cow-bothering wretches,’ drawled Sir David Hylton, drawing his sword and staggering drunkenly into the firelight, ‘who wants a dual?’
To Sir David’s surprise one of the dirty knights rose to his feet. But he did not draw his sword; instead he raised a hand and pointed. ‘Look,’ he gasped, ‘look!’
Sir David turned unsteadily and squinted into the darkness, and his pale, arrogant face turned paler still.
Light glowed on a distant hilltop, as the knights watched the light grew brighter and brighter, and then, with a deafening roar, the huge bat wings of the dragon appeared over the hilltop. It roses and rose into the air, its body impossibly long, and spat out a mushroom head explosion of fire.
‘Fetch the archers!’ someone cried among the disorganised clatter of armour and the scrape and clang of swords, short lances and morningstars.
‘Damn the archers!’ roared Sir David, raising his own sword above his head, ‘Stand and fight you dung-stinking women! Saint George! Saint George! Saint—‘
Sir David disappeared in a sudden blinding flash, and when the farmer knights looked again all that was left of him was his breast plate, spinning on its end like a coin, his sword stuck blade up and smoking, and, glittering in the mud, a large ornate ring.
‘Did you do that?’ Trevor exclaimed, peeking from where he sat behind Bob’s neck. ‘Good shot!’
‘It wasn’t me!’ Bob replied, looking down at the smoking remain of Sir David Hylton as the soared over the field. ‘I wouldn’t kill anyone!’
‘Oy, Twiggy!’ Trevor barked at the featureless block of wood strung once more around his neck. ‘What’s going on? Did they get another dragon or something?’
‘I FEAR IT IS MUCH WORSE THAN ANOTHER MALTRUSION, TREVOR SMETHURST,’ the Chunk replied, ‘I FEAR—‘
Trevor did not hear the Chunk’s next words. Something hit him in the face with the force of a punch, and he was thrown helpless back. He felt himself sliding over the rough scales of the dragon’s tail, and then, even as he heard Bob shout out in alarm and felt the Maltrusion twist beneath him he slid over the edge and into the dark night.
‘Bring him to my tent.’
‘To your tent? But why? The poor lad is dead, Wizard, and should be buried.’
‘You think to defy me, farmer? Bring him to my tent or my men will shoot you down and take him.’
‘Farmer I may be, but this is my land, and I won’t have a Christian soul subjected to your dark—‘
Trevor let out a groan and opened his eyes, and found himself looking up into an astonished bearded face.
‘Good Lord!’ cried the knight. ‘He’s alive!’
‘Course I’m alive, hairy Mary,’ Trevor replied. He sat up, and felt a bolt of terrible pain shoot through his head. He reached up, squinting, and realised that something was sticking out of his forehead. He pulled it out, and held it up. ‘Which slack jawed yokel fired this arrow at me?’ he demanded angrily.
‘Bring him to my tent,’ repeated a voice as deep and cracked as an ancient tombstone. It was a voice that Trevor recognised immediately, and, for once successfully balancing his immense intelligence against his vast stupidity, Trevor did not cry out the name of the man he would meet and betray far, far in the future.
‘Take him,’ said the Wizard, staring at Trevor despite the black scarf that covered his eyes, and Trevor felt strong hands take his arms and drag him to his feet.
‘It’s the boy from the cowshed,’ said a burly archer Trevor recognised, John of the Dale.
‘He’s no boy,’ snarled a second archer, and Trevor felt their captain, Thomas Hook, draw his sword and put it to Trevor’s throat.
‘That boy was fighting the dragon,’ said the bearded knight, and several voices murmured in agreement. ‘I saw him on the dragon’s back, his sword drawn,’ added a fat knight with a red face who looked on the verge of bursting out of his rusty armour.
‘That’s blinking right!’ Trevor cried angrily. ‘I’m Sir … Lee, Sir Lee of, er… Chimpchester, and I demand you let me go!’
‘”Surly” Sir Lee of Chimpchester,’ grunted Aeoson the Wizard, ‘You’re no more a knight than I am.’
‘If this boy is of the blood he should be set free,’ said the bearded knight, and he drew his sword. All around him Trevor saw the Dragon Rouge archers appear suddenly out of the gloom, their own swords scraping free of their scabbards, and in reply the farmer knights stepped forward drawing their own rusty, nicked blades. ‘You will set this boy free, of we shall have blood,’ said the bearded knight.
The Wizard glared at Trevor, who grinned back blissfully. Then he stepped forward and, turning his back to the knight, opened his cloak to Trevor. Inside Trevor saw that the Wizard was holding a gun, a sonic disruptor by the look of it. It was more than capable of taking the head off even an almost indestructible Killian. The Wizard grinned humourlessly at Trevor’s expression.
‘This boy is no dragon slayer. He is in league with the dragon,’ said the Wizard. ‘This boy is a demon.’
‘Nonsense,’ barked the bearded knight, ‘Let him go or feel my blade, Wizard.’
The Wizard’s reply was to reach up and snatch Trevor’s spectacles from the end of his nose. Trevor transformed instantly into his t-rex form, and the camp erupted in cries of horror and fear.
The Wizard nodded to his men, and they dragged Trevor away with no further objections.
‘Take your stinking paws off me, you damned dirty apes!’ Trevor cried. The two Dragon Rouge soldiers threw him into the tent and drew their swords, behind them half a dozen archers appeared, their bows raised.
Trevor leapt forward with a roar, and stopped dead as the Wizard Aeoson appeared through the tent flap and levelled his gun at Trevor’s face. The gun gave a high, discordant whine as it powered up, lights blinking menacing all around its barrel. Trevor stopped dead and raised his hands in surrender with a weak smile.
‘You are a Killian,’ said the Wizard. ‘I’ve never heard of a Killian Agent of Change. I thought Killians baked bread and grew posies.’ The archers laughed, Trevor growled. ‘And these,’ the Wizard held up Trevor spectacles, ‘I’ve never seen anything quite like these before.’ He stepped forward and held the spectacles out to Trevor, who snatched them and shoved them into his pocket. ‘Put them on,’ he growled.
‘Shan’t!’ Trevor spat.
‘Put them on,’ the Wizard rumbled, ‘Or I shall shoot off your nose.’ He raised his gun.
Trevor did not hesitate. He put the spectacles on immediately and transformed back into a dirty, tousle haired boy with a turned up nose and a sour expression. He had known Aeoson the immortal king, or Mr Vim, or the Wizard, if you preferred, for many years – or at least he would do in the far future – and he had not the slightest doubt that he would indeed shoot off Trevor’s nose without even the slightest hesitation.
‘That’s better, those peasants out there have no problem believing in dragons and demons, but I’m not about to start explaining dinosaurs and aliens to them,’ said the Wizard.
‘I’m not a dinosaur,’ Trevor grunted, ‘and I’m not an alien neither.’
‘No, but what are you?’ the Wizard leaned closer, and, faintly, under his scarf Trevor could see the red glow of his eyes. Trevor had no doubt that it had been the Wizard’s deadly eyes, and not Bob’s fiery breath, which had disintegrated Sir David Hylton. ‘Not from Earth, and not from Killius either I would imagine. So where are you from, Surly Sir Lee of Chimpchester?’
Trevor did not reply. He thought of the times he had met the Wizard in his past, and he knew that a wrong word could alter that future past in way he could not begin to imagine.
‘Answer me,’ said the Wizard, and he shoved his gun under Trevor’s chin. ‘Answer me now or die, Killian.’
‘I think that is enough, Wizard,’ came a voice from behind them.
The Wizard turned, as did his men, and arrows guns and swords were all pointed at the bearded knight.
They only faltered slightly when he reached down to his belt, and with a heat-haze shimmer transformed into a large white cow, standing on his hind legs, with a sword held in his front hoof.
‘Now, Wizard, you will unhand that boy,’ said the cow, ‘and hand me the Ring of Argo.’
‘How apt,’ said the Wizard, ‘the farmer is a cow.’
‘My name is John Dylan,’ said the cow, ‘I am an Agent of Change, assigned to find the Ring of Argo. A ring which you and your organisation stole. Now – hand it over.’
Trevor goggled at John Dylan. He looked precisely like a cow, only, if you looked closer you saw that beneath his front hooves were two thick grey fingers and a misshapen thumb, and his rear hooves were just a little too long – perfect for standing on your hind legs, in fact.
Trevor also saw that that, Agent of Change or not, he was still a cow in nicked and rusty armour with a dirty sword, surrounded by very large men with very big longbows, and a maniac with a sonic disruptor.
‘I am Merlyn of Persia,’ said the Wizard with a bow, ‘I have heard of you, John Dylan, defender of Prezema, it is an honour to be in your presence.’
‘Then perhaps you will do me the honour of lowering your gun,’ said Dylan, stepping forward and raising his sword once more. All around him bowstrings groaned as the archers drew them back. ‘Unless you would like to explain to the Agency why you are stealing a valuable and dangerous artefact?’
‘I am not stealing the Ring, John Dylan,’ said the Wizard. Smiling his cold, stone smile, he slipped the gun back into his robes and raised both hands. ‘Lower your bows,’ he commanded, and the Dragon Rouge archers obeyed immediately. ‘We are the Army of the Dragon Rouge, and dedicated to the pursuance of peace and truth. We took the ring, Agent Dylan, recognising it as a dangerous artefact, as you say,’ the Wizard reached into his robes and brought out a large, ornate, rather battered ring. ‘But our mission,’ he said, as Dylan took a step towards him, ‘was to find that boy.’ The Wizard pointed at Trevor.
‘Me?’ Trevor exclaimed, as the tent was once more filled with the groan of tightening bowstrings – only now the arrows were pointed at Trevor. ‘What the bleeding hell have I done? I was just minding my own business!’
‘This boy is an agent send from the future,’ said the Wizard. He reached once more into his robes, and brought out a small white tablet, which he threw to Dylan. ‘Look at the readings, Agent Dylan, this boy is a Killian, from over a thousand years in the future. It is my belief that he been sent here to steal the Ring of Argo.’
Agent Dylan stared at Trevor, who spluttered angrily. ‘What a flipping cheek!’ he said at last, ‘That berk over there,’ he pointed at the Wizard, ‘isn’t no Merlyn of Persia, he is—‘
Trevor never finished. One moment Dylan was staring at him uncertainly, and the next there was a flash of blinding light.
When Trevor had blinked away the blinding after image all that stood where Dylan had been was his swords, bent neatly in two and glowing white.
‘As I said, captain, we can not be seen to oppose the Agents of Change,’ said the Wizard.
‘No my lord,’ agreed Thomas Hook.
Trevor caught a momentary glimpse of the Wizard’s cold and grinning face as he lifted his black scarf to cover his eyes once more. Where his eyes should have been were two open pits of white hot blazing fire.
‘Now then,’ said the Wizard Aeoson. ‘What are we to do about you, Sir Lee?’
But when he turned around Trevor had vanished.
‘Right, that is it!’ snarled Trevor. ‘We are getting out of here and we are getting out now!’
‘WHAT ABOUT ROBERT COLCHIS?’ asked the Chunk.
‘Keep your voice down!’ hissed Trevor. ‘Have you got woodworm in your brains or what?’
Trevor was crouched behind the tent. When the Wizard had blasted Dylan he had whipped off his spectacles and promptly vanished while everyone was watching the unfortunate Agent evaporate. After that it had been an easy matter to simply slip out of the tent. He was still invisible - apart, of course from two reptilian eyes, the only part of him he was incapable of rendering not-visible, despite years of frustrating practice – and the muddy field was filled now with confused shouts and the clank of armour, the panicked knights almost as invisible as Trevor now in the rapidly falling snow.
‘Listen, Chunk, I want us out of here right this second,’ Trevor whispered, as two horses flew by, followed by the pale, doughy face of the boy Trevor remembered first encountering in the cowshed. Trevor was tempted to make himself visible again and give the boy a fright, but decided that at this point discretion was probably the better part of valour. Or possibly, in Trevor’s case, it was the better part of stupidity. Instead he turned to the Chunk again. ‘I don’t care where we go, or when we go, just get us out of here right now you stupid piece of junk, or I swear I’ll eat you right here and now!’
‘BUT WITHOUT ME—‘
‘I built you, dozy,’ Trevor snarled, ‘it might take me a while in this backwards place, but I can build another. Now get us out of here, or the next time I see you, will be when I’m sitting on the bog!’
The Chunk was silent, and Trevor, for once, waited patiently. He was, after all, telling the truth. He had created the Chunk on the planet Mab, a place where machines and computer didn’t work; and yet he had still managed to create the most advanced time and space travel machine in history out of, essentially, clever wood. So what if he was in some Dark Age armpit on the outer edges of the 101 Realms? He would find his way to a more advanced world, and rebuild the Chunk. All of that would be immaterial, of course, if the Chunk simply listened to reason got them the hell out of here, or (much less desirable) the Wizard found him and chopped his nut off.
‘BUT ROBERY COLCHIS—‘
‘Is a bleeding Maltrusion Dragon!’ Trevor snarled. It had, he noticed, become ominously quiet, and he imagined – with very little stretch of his extremely limited imagination – the Wizard gathering his archers and firing up his big, nasty gun. Bob can look after himself – and he’s done a runner! So we should do the same, you thick twig!’
‘I DON’T THINK HE HAS RUN AWAY,’ said the Chunk.
‘Of course he’s run away you idiot!’ Trevor snapped, howling in frustration. ‘Wouldn’t you run away you dozy sap?’
‘IF HE HAS RUN AWAY,’ said the Chunk, ‘THEN WHO IS THAT OVER THERE?’
Trevor looked up. ‘Oh … bumholes!’ he exclaimed.
Trevor crawled around the back of the tent. As he crawled through the icy, stinking mud the Chunk kept trying to buoy him up, ‘WELL DONE’, it said, and ‘I AM VERY PROUD OF YOU,’ and ‘YOU ARE A CREDIT TO YOUR PEOPLE.’ Trevor kept a surly silence. He had decided, unequivocally, that he hated the Chunk with every ounce of his being, and as soon as he was on the beach at Halruga, was going to start his barbecue fire with the horrid little thing. His first Halrugan sausages would taste so much the sweeter, knowing that the Chunk had been cooked alongside them.
Bob the dragon had sailed out the snow like a great ship, roaring and spitting flame in fury. The dirty knights had scattered in panic, and in the whirl of snow and the scream of bolting horses the great dragon had landed in the centre of the camp fire, rising twenty feet into the air, its wings snapping open with an ear-splitting CRACK! as campfire sparks flew in a vast cloud mixed with the snow, and it had roared with terrifying ferocity, every nightmare of this simple little land embodied in one terrible, impossible monster.
‘Oh, bleeding hell, not again,’ Trevor had sighed.
This, in a nutshell, Trevor thought, perfectly encompassed his life. He tried to be good, to quietly do his work, and be nice to people, he even – on occasion – shared his chocolate, but there was always some bumhole twit trying to save the world and in the process getting him into trouble. It had happened with his best friend Maxwell Jones, with that pyromaniac Billy Barker, with Barty Pugg, and even the usually sensible Dr Arcania had took into his head to get all heroic – hence Trevor’s current predicament; lost in time, lost in space, and now he too was losing all sense.
Bob Colchis was the latest idiot to lose his marbles over some daft quest. What was it with people and quests? Trevor’s only quest in life was to find a nice beach, lay back and get as fat and sunburnt as Killianly possible. Trevor had watched in deepening despair, and then cold resignation, as Bob had roared into the Wizard’s tent in a whirl of arrows and flame.
‘I suppose now I’ll have to go and rescue that dozy twonk,’ he sighed.
‘I SUPPOSE YOU WILL, YES,’ Chunk replied. ‘AND MAY I SAY THAT I HAVE ALWAYS HAD THE UPMOST CONFIDENCE—‘
‘No you may not!’ Trevor snapped. ‘Shut your word hole!’
By the time Trevor had crawled around to the back of the tent the canvas was aflame, and from inside he could hear shouts, the clang of steel, and, more ominously the high woop-woop-woop of the Wizard’s deadly gun. Trevor blinked twice, vanished once more, and crawled under the tent.
Inside was darkness, and sudden silence. Trevor blinked again, and the darkness resolved into green shapes as his reptilian vision pierced the night.
To his left a number of soldiers was beating at the canvas where a small fire still burnt, the now thickly falling snow clearly visible through the tattered canvas. To his right was another knot of soldiers, their arrows pointing in uniform lines at the far end of the tent, despite the darkness.
Immediately in front of Trevor, his back to him, stood the Wizard, his bald head gleaming green in Trevor’s night vision eyes – and in his hand something else gleamed too. A sword.
‘Ah, Maltrusion, I can’t express enough how indebted I am to you,’ said the Wizard in his deep gravely voice. Flame flared suddenly and the tent was filled with torchlight. Trevor winced and blinked again, and the suddenly intense green light turned once more into the shadowy interior of the Wizard’s tent – and at its far end, lying on his side and breathing shallowly, was Bob the dragon.
The Wizard walked around to Bob’s head, and now Trevor could see that several arrows were sticking out of the dragon’s scaly hide, and at its head stood Captain Thomas Hook, a large axe held in his hands, poised above Bob’s staring eye.
‘I don’t imagine such a brutal creature as you can understand, Maltrusion, but you have played your part admirably,’ said the Wizard, running the tip of his sword up Bob’s snout. Bob, Trevor noticed, did not even shiver, and he felt a sudden flash of anger. He stalked closer, unseen by the soldiers. ‘You led Sir David Hylton to me, and through him I gained this,’ he held up the dirty, ancient ring. ‘But even better you brought the Agent to me, and by returning gave me a convenient monster to hang his murder on. Thank you so much for all of your help, monster. And now,’ the Wizard stopped beside Hook, who stepped back. He raised his sword with a faint smile on his grim white face, ‘And now, I shall deliver your head to these peasants, and become a legend in this world.’
It occurred to Trevor afterwards, as he sneaked, completely unseen, behind the grinning, bloodthirsty archers, around the edge of the tent, and finally right behind the Wizard, that at this point he should have said something witty and cool. ‘Deliver this, sucker!’ would have been good, or perhaps, ‘Feel my wrath, smelly wizard’, or, even better, ‘I’m the only legend around here, bub!’ but as it was Trevor realised that he had probably left it a little too late as the Wizard was just about to hack Bob’s head off, and, anyway, he couldn’t really think of anything clever.
So instead Trevor had leapt forward and bit the Wizard’s bottom as hard as he could.
The Wizard let out an agonising howl, dropped both his sword and the Ring of Argo, and leapt a good six feet into the air. Trevor let go, and turned just as Hook raised the axe in both hands and prepared to bring it down on Bob’s head with all his might. Trevor leapt forward once more – Drop that, sucker, I won’t axe twice, he thought later – and head butted Hook square in the centre of his face. Hook’s eyelids fluttered, and he fell backwards without a sound, the axe still held above his head.
‘Get on your feet dozy!’ he shouted, turning back to where Bob lay.
The Wizard stood in front of him, his sword levelled in one hand, the other held to his bottom. ‘You damned interfering boy,’ he snarled, ‘Do you really think a child could stop me?’
He leapt forward, his sword slicing toward Trevor’s throat in a killing arc – and was suddenly plucked off his feet, his bald head pincered between two enormous talons.
‘See ya, baldy,’ said Trevor with a wave, and Bob, rising up and tearing the tent to shreds, hurled the Wizard over his shoulder and into the night.
‘Climb on my back!’ Bob bellowed.
‘Who made you the boss of me?’ Trevor demanded.
‘Just do it!’
Trevor took a standing jump and landed neatly on the dragon’s back. With an enormous sound Bob launched himself into the air. Arrows whizzed by and the clatter of armour and confused shouts arose – but were lost almost instantly in the howl of the wind as the dragon rose up into a raging blizzard.
‘Thank you!’ gasped Bob. ‘You save me! I knew you were—‘
‘Shut up, death breath!’ Trevor spat. ‘Now, you wooden idiot, will you get us out of here?’
‘OF COURSE,’ the Chunk replied.
Trevor waited, and then, his patience snapping, screamed: ‘Go on then!’
‘BUT,’ the Chunk answered, ‘I ALREADY HAVE.’
And through the whirling snow, rising like a dream in the night, rose the highest tower of the Watchmen Academy, and at its crest, warm light glowing at its windows, was the big green coconut of the headmaster’s office.
Bob landed in the grounds of the Watchmen Academy, and waited while Trevor climbed down from his back. He stepped forward slowly, looking up at the few lights that twinkled in the school’s dozens of towers, and beyond that, unseen except for a glow in the distance, the little village of Virporta.
‘Is it very different in your time?’ Bob asked. Trevor turned and looked at him blankly. ‘The Watchmen Academy, is it different in your time?’
Trevor turned back to look at the tallest tower, rising like a strange lighthouse in the stormy night. In his time the Watchmen Academy no longer existed. He had stood beneath a windowsill on one of those towers, and watched as one by one the towers fell. But before Trevor could speak, the Chunk replied:
‘WE CAN NOT TELL YOU WHAT WILL HAPPEN IN THE FUTURE, ROBERT COLCHIS.’
Bob smiled, his massive teeth flashing. ‘Of course not,’ he said.
‘WE ARE SORRY THAT WE WERE NOT ABLE TO ASSIST YOU IN YOUR QUEST, ROBERT COLCHIS,’ said the Chunk.
Bob smiled even more widely, ‘Oh, but you were,’ he said, holding up his massive claws. Between two of his wicked red and green talons, almost too small of be seen, Bob held the elaborate, ancient ring.
‘You nicked it off the Wizard?’ Trevor exclaimed.
The dragon frowned at the word “nicked”, but nodded nonetheless. ‘The Wizard dropped it when you bit him,’ Bob replied. ‘That was an unusual strategy, Killian.’
‘I’ve used it before,’ Trevor replied, remembering with wicked zeal the time had bitten another monster’s bottom and stopped it dead.
Bob the dragon looked at the Ring of Argo, and then closed his hand around it. He looked up the welcoming sight of the Watchmen Academy, and beyond that the village, his home, his friends, and his bed. Being a hero was his life, his destiny, but it was, Bob had realised, a hard and dangerous destiny, and it was nice to be able to come home again.
‘In the end I suppose we made quite a good team,’ said Bob, turning back to Trevor, ‘You know there are more missing pieces of the Key of Argo…’
But Bob found he was talking to a whirl of shapeless snow. Trevor and the Chunk had vanished. He let out a frustrated growl, then lowered his head, shook it, and laughed.
Still laughing the dragon took to the air, and flew home.
Trevor opened his eyes and let out a whoop of delight.
In front of him stretched endless sands that rolled on and on to the horizon as far as the eye could see in both directions. Beyond the beach a glorious, iridescent purple sea rose and fell with a sound that was almost like a sigh of pleasure. Three suns painted golden light across the sky as they set slowly in the north.
‘HALRUGA,’ said the Chunk, ‘AS REQUESTED.’
‘Halruga,’ Trevor replied, ‘At blinking last.’ He kissed the Chunk, and decided, all in all, he could probably find something better to burn for his barbecue.
He was still thinking about his inaugural barbecue – the first of millions – and what he would cook first, when a low rumbling noise made him look up and Trevor saw a massive space ship appear from the sands behind him and rise vertically into the air.
‘What was that?’ Trevor asked, squinting up at the rapidly receding craft.
‘THAT WAS THE SHIP ISADORA DOLPHIN, DEPARTING FOR KHRONOS,’ the Chunk replied.
‘Oh.’ Trevor picked up a likely looking piece of drift wood, and walked down the beach. It was, he thought, strangely quiet. ‘Chunk, why was that ship leaving for Khronos?’ Trevor asked at last.
‘BECAUSE OF THE JICKER,’ the Chunk replied.
‘Because of the what?’ Trevor exclaimed.
‘THE JICKER. THE PERIOD THAT IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWS THE SURF DECADON. THAT PERIOD IS COMMONLY KNOWN AS THE JICKER.’
‘Oh,’ Trevor spotted a circle of blackened stones, and though vaguely that would be handy for his barbecue, but something was bothering him. ‘What is the Jicker, Chunk?’ he asked at last, and even as he said it, Trevor, unaccountably, felt his heart sink.
THE JICKER IS THE PERIOD IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE DECADON, A PERIOD OF TEN YEARS OF SUN AND IDEAL SURFING CONDITIONS—‘
‘IN CONTRAST,’ interrupted the Chunk, ‘THE JICKER CONSISTS OF THREE YEARS OF HEAVY RAINFALL AND OCCASIONAL TSUNAMIS. THIS PERIOD OF RAINFALL IS FOLLOWED BY BLIZARDS, HIGH WINDS AND THE SEAS FREEZING OVER. THIS PERIOD GENERALLY LASTS FIVE TO SIX YEARS, FOLLOWED BY ANOTHER TWO YEARS OF THAWING, HEAVY RAINFALL, AND THEN, AFTER A PERIOD OF TEN YEARS, THE SURF DECADON BEGINS AGAIN, A PERIOD OF GLORIOUS SUNSHINE AND BEAUTIFUL SURFING CONDITIONS.’
In the silence that followed this pronouncement Trevor felt a large heavy drop of rain fall onto his snout. The sky had darkened perceptibly, and, in the distance, he heard the beginnings of a high and fierce wind.
‘IF YOU WILL EXCUSE ME I HAVE EXHAUSTED MY BATTERY,’ said the Chunk. ‘I WILL NOW SHUT DOWN TO RECHARGE,’ and without another word the little piece of wood became still and dead around Trevor’s neck.
Trevor sat on the sands, and watched the sun set.
Very soon the little drops of rain turned into very big drops of rain.
Very soon the calm sea began to heave.
Not long after that sand began to whip along the shore in a stinging curtain.
Trevor reached into his pocket, took out a chocolate bar, and began to munch it. As he ate he picked up the Chunk and looked at it in the dismal wet night.
‘I wonder where I can get some matches?’ he murmured.