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The Rats, the Bats & the Ugly: Chapter Eighteen

       Last updated: Friday, July 16, 2004 00:41 EDT



A rat’s-eye perspective of George Bernard Shaw City

    Ariel had discovered that there was a huge difference—if you were a rat, anyway—to traversing a city by car, with a human who knew where they were going, and walking it. The paratrooper's base was somewhere outside town to the north-east of the city. And the court had been somewhere to the southeast.

    There was an awful lot in between. If Ariel had been a crow, not a rat, it would have been about sixteen miles.

    As a rat, it was much further. There had even been a stupid cat or two on the way. Ariel had found that when she shouted at most dogs, they tended to become very confused. Cats usually needed to be bitten. And they were fast. But she'd noticed that in the middle of town they tended to steer around her.

    The only problem she'd had, besides a need to forage and cross streets, was that when she'd gotten to the far side of town... She'd realized that she was in suburbia, a long way to the west of where she wanted to be. This was Shareholder suburbia—which seemed to mean pretentious houses, smallish yards and an awful lot of dogs. There were Vat tenements just further west, and maybe that explained the dogs.

    It was a choice of cross a wilderness of roads and gardens—or head back into downtown, and go back to where she thought she'd gone wrong. Night was falling, and that should make keeping out of sight easier. And the sooner she got walking...

    But it was an awfully long way and her paws were soft from being human-carried so much. She snuffled a bit. After all, there was no one around to see her missing Fitz.

    "Misery me, lacadaydee. What have we here?" asked a voice from the shadow of some dustbins.

    Instinctively, Ariel dropped into a crouch, and prepared herself to either attack or flee.

    A noble ratly nose poked itself out of the heavy darkness. "Now, lass. There is no need to be so affrighted. It's not trouble I intended... Oh."

    He'd plainly caught sight of her amputated stump of tail. For a rat that was a severe lack of physical attractiveness.

    She, on the other hand, had identified him. "Gobbo! You cozening rogue! What are you doing here?"

    "Ariel?" he asked incredulously.

    "'Tis none other, Gobbo." She bowed. Gobbo had been a rat in her section during Fitz's front-line stint. He'd been one of the rats in the "glorious rearguard," who had held off the Magh' when Divisional headquarters had refused to provide reinforcements. He was a drunkard, a thief and a lecher: in other words, as good a rat as you could find. "So: you answer my question. What are you doing here?"

    "A little banditry," he said cheerfully. "A spot of conveying. Some drinking and wenching when we get the opportunity. 'Tis rich pickings on soft country."

    "How long have you been here? Fitz tried to find you when he got out of hospital."

    Gobbo nodded. "Indeed. We came to look for him. But as hayseed lads we got lost. And then, well, the living was good here in the city. We found that we hath no desire to go back to being soldiers. So: hath swapped soldieree for burglaree. 'Tis more rewarding."

    "We? How many of you are there?"

    "Well, some ten. In a manner of speaking."

    "In what manner of speaking?" asked Ariel, suspiciously.

    "Well, some of them are called Pooh-Bah," admitted Gobbo.

    Ariel understood, then. Pooh-Bah was several people. Eight, if she remembered rightly. They all just happened to live in the same ratty soft-cyber, and, usually, worked together for profit.

    "So. Where is Pooh-Bah? And who is the other one of your little band."

    "Ol' Bluefur-bigteeth. Come and see him," said Gobbo, proprietarily. "We have prog, and not just that fishy stuff Ol' Bluefur-bigteeth eats, and fine grog."

    The thought of food—and of course drink—were tempting to any rat. But Fitz came first. "Methinks I'd love to. But I need to get to the paratrooper's camp. 'Tis a weary walk."

    Gobbo stared at her with his mouth open. "Walk!" He shook his head incredulously. "Hath not heard of busses?"

    "And how would a kiss help me, Gobbo?"

    "Nay, not proper busses," explained Gobbo. "Omnibuses. Vehicles for the transporting of Vat-labor. The number 89 doth head out that way, if I have the right of it. In which case you've just missed it. There'll be another along in an hour from the Malham Street depot."

    It was Ariel's turn to look at the streetwise rat in open-mouthed amazement. "Doth catch this 'bus' to wherever you want to go?"

    Gobbo nodded. "'Tis a situation much to be desired. We city rats do not walk. Come, you can meet Ol' Bluefur-bigteeth, see the crowd that is Pooh-Bah, and find some victuals and a mouthful or two of as fine a sack as you've yet tasted. Then I shall set you upon the next 'bus with my own paws."

    It was too good an offer to be refused.



    Ol' Bluefur-bigteeth was indeed worth seeing. He would have been worth seeing even if she had not seen him before in the captured scorpiary.

    All of Pooh-Bah was delighted to see her. "Methinks you are what we chiefly need." In a slightly shifted tone of voice he said: "And all of us are agreed. There are other rats in town. Bluefur wants to organize them."

    Ariel had ideas of her own on that. She could use a squad of rats to rescue Fitz. Especially if he didn't want to be rescued. She'd been at a loss as to how to carry him, before meeting Gobbo and Pooh-Bah. "Methinks it hath merit. But why? And how many?"

    "'Tis thought twenty to fifty or so," answered Gobbo. "And Bluefur doth not say. No doubt he has his reasons. He is a capital rogue, even if he doth eat only fishy stuff."

    "Tell you what. You take me to the 1st HAR Airborne and we have a deal. Needs must I should talk to a human there."

    "Not about Ol' Bluefur-bigteeth?"

    "Nay. Fitz. He is in durance vile and I must spring him."

    "The Captain! He is still here?" asked Gobbo eagerly.

    "Aye. But a Major now. Or was. Methinks they have made him a private again."



    So Ariel had an escort on her trip in the spare tire of the number 89 bus with eight escorts. It was not everyone who had a First Lord of the Treasury, Lord Chief Justice, Commander in Chief, Great Scientist, Master of the Buckhounds, Groom of the Backstairs and the Lord Mayor to accompany them. It was a good thing that they conveniently occupied one body or they would have had to travel on the roof, which was a great deal more breezy.



    Van Klomp was fortunately still at his desk. "Where the hell have you been?" he demanded. "Fitz has been worried stiff about you."

    She leapt up onto his desk, knowing that Pooh-Bah was listening in. "Where is the strong drink then?"

    Van Klomp raised his eyebrows. "You don't care much, do you?" he said irritably. "He's in jail, due to be hanged, and all he's doing is worrying about you."

    She reached out and tweaked his nose. "Doth know where a suburb called Highbury is?"

    He blinked. "Yes. It's a fair distance away."

    "And doth know where the building used for the military court is?"

    "Naturally. I seem to spend too much of my time there. It's a good three-quarter hour's drive each way, too," answered Van Klomp.

    "Hath ever thought how far it is for a rat on foot... via Highbury?" asked Ariel.

    Van Klomp had the grace to look discomforted, and got up and fetched a beer. "Uh. Well, have some beer. I've only got beer here. I hadn't thought of that. Why Highbury?"

    "I got lost. I've never had to find my way on foot before. And beer doth go straight through me," she said grumpily, tilting the bottle and sneezing froth.

    "Fitz asked me to look after you. So you'll have transport again."

    "Doth not need it anymore. But I do need to talk with Meilin." Meilin was Van Klomp's chief factotum and general bottlewasher. She was also a particular friend of Ariel's, and figured in Ariel's ratty plans for organizing the rats and freeing Fitz. "And then I could use a lift back to the Siradolalis Center."

    "But that's in the middle of town!" protested Van Klomp. "Meilin can take care of you at my apartment."

    "I am going to stay in the middle of town. And if they try to kill Fitzy, I will deal with it," said Ariel fiercely. "And the less that you know about it the better. Now take me to see Meilin. We will need a hedge."


    "Ach. I mean fence."

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