Authors: Paul Gamble
“We're both in,” said Trudy.
“Wonderful,” said Grey. “Jack, I think you'll find Trudy a very useful partner.”
Jack decided that it would be a good idea to butter Trudy up; after all, if she liked him, maybe she'd punch his arm slightly less often. “I know Trudy will be a great partner. She can do all that cool gymnastics stuff, can't she? That's bound to come in handy.”
Grey laughed. “You don't know the half of it, Jack. Trudy, perhaps we should show your partner what you've been working on.”
Grey and Trudy strode off down the corridor. Both clearly knew where they were going, and Jack had no choice but to follow. After a brief walk they arrived at a door marked “Practice RoomâDANGERâDO NOT OPEN.”
It was exactly the kind of sign that made you really, really want to open a door.
“Now stand behind me,” Trudy said to Jack, “and try not to get hurt.”
It was a ridiculous thing to say. Jack never
to get hurt. He doubted if anyone ever did. Trudy swung open the door.
VIOLENCE NOT SOLVING ANYTHING
Clothing choices are absolutely essential in life. If you wear all black, then you are probably a ninja (please see the section
Ninjas: Clothing Choices
for further detail). If you wear a football top, it tells people what team you support. If you wear a bow tie, it tells people that you are less interesting than you think you are.
Generally, when invading countries, armies tend to dress up in dark black and gray uniforms. Many uniforms make soldiers look like traffic wardens. This was certainly the case when the Germans arrived in Warsaw during the second world war. It was also a crucial mistake.
Warsaw is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. When it was invaded by thousands of people who resembled traffic wardens, naturally the world took notice and a considerable amount of fighting broke out.
However, every year Warsaw is invaded by hordes of tourists and no one says anything. The lesson in all this is simple. Armies don't need to wear camouflage to hide themselves. What they need is to adopt a uniform consisting of shorts and Hawaiian shirts.
And instead of shooting things with guns, they should shoot things with cameras. If only they did this, the world would be a much happier place.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
What you wear is almost as important as what you hold in your hands. If you wish to learn more about this, please read the section
Power of Imagination: Efficacy of Clipboards
Jack looked inside the room and was shocked to find it full ofÂ â¦ ofÂ â¦ ofÂ â¦
Here was a problem. He didn't know what he was actually looking at.
There was a series of black shapes, each about the size of a large dog, but that was where their similarity to a canine ended. They had thick, wide bodies and their legs were only twelve inches long. Their bodies were covered in a series of quill-like spines, each as thick as a finger at the base but tapering to a pin-sharp point at the end. Their faces were like the snout of a badger and their mouths contained row upon row of razor-sharp teeth. Most bizarre of all was that just in front of their forelegs was a set of two black claws covered in rough, black, scarred armor plates.
The creatures ran round the room snorting, sniffing, and nipping each other with their claws. Suddenly one of their snouts looked up and noticed the humans standing at the door. It hurled itself at them. Jack tried to take a step backward but stumbled and fell flat on the ground.
He was filled with fear and a certain amount of disappointment. He'd just started on an amazing adventure and now he was going to be killed by aÂ â¦ killed by aÂ â¦ That was disappointing as well. He didn't even know the name of the thing that was about to kill him.
Trudy and Grey hadn't moved. In fact, they didn't even look worried. Jack sat up and saw that the creature had smacked against a solid plate of glass that was in place across the doorway. Grey looked amused and reached out to rap the glass with his knuckle. “Safety glass,” he said to Jack. “Keeps us safe from the Porcupods.”
Jack stood up and touched the glass with his hand. It covered the entire door opening and was hinged on one side. Emboldened by the thick layer of safety glass, Jack gazed at the scurrying Porcupods. “So what is a Porcupod, then?”
“That,” Grey said, pointing through the window. “That is a Porcupod. You really must start paying attention, Jack.”
“WellÂ â¦ butÂ â¦ okay, another question. Why are they called Porcupods?”
“Because they look like Porcupods.”
Jack watched them through the window. The creatures did indeed look like Porcupods. There was something “Porcupod-ish” about them.
“If you want a more detailed answer, it's because they look like a cross between a porcupine and a lobster. And lobsters are from the group of animals scientists call the Arthropoda.”
Jack was still peering at the creatures, fascinated. “They also look like they have a bit of hedgehog in there as well.”
Trudy nodded. “The snout is a bit hedgehog-ish.”
Grey agreed that was true. “Yes, but it would have been stupid to call them Porcuhogs.”
Jack shrugged. “You could always have called them Hedge-pines.”
“Possibly,” said Grey, “but then they would have sounded like they were an air freshener.”
“Where do they come from?” asked Jack. “Are they some kind of experiment by a mad scientist?”
“Mad scientists don't make hybrid creatures, Jack,” said Grey. “They try and invent bananas.”
“But you don't need to invent bananas. They already exist.”
“Well, yes, but what you have to remember about mad scientists is that they're mad, Jack. Mad! They do crazy things. Rational scientists invent things. The mad ones try and invent things that already exist. And occasionally they fling their poo at you.”
Jack nodded. “Maybe I was thinking of evil scientists.”
Grey continued. “Either way, the answer to your question is no. The Porcupod is a perfectly ordinary creature that just happened to evolve.”
The Porcupod didn't look like a perfectly ordinary creature. Jack suspected that Grey was making fun of him.
“Think about this, Jack: If the conditions exist for a porcupine to evolve, and the conditions exist for a lobster to evolve, then it stands to reason that the conditions must exist for a Porcupod to evolve.”
Jack couldn't fault Grey's logic. He wanted to. But he couldn't.
“How come I've never seen a Porcupod before?”
“They're one of the things that the Ministry keeps covered up. They're one of those odd animals, one of the animals that make people nervous. We round them up and keep them locked safely away from the rest of the human race. Generally people only stop believing in creatures if they're really unpleasant or evil and serve no useful purpose. Like the Porcupod or the unicorn.”
“Unicorns are evil?” Jack had never really thought of unicorns as evil. He thought of them as sickeningly sweet and all too often pink.
“Of course they're evil!” said Grey. “What kind of nice animal would wander around with an enormous horn in the middle of its head?”
“Well, maybe they use it to hunt,” said Trudy. “I mean, unicorns have to eat, don't they?”
“They do use it to hunt. They use it to skewer bunny rabbits. But don't forget, the horn is right in the middle of their foreheads. So they don't hunt to eat. You can't eat a dead bunny rabbit that's stuck to a horn in the middle of your forehead. Unicorns just like killing things. They can't even get the bunny rabbits off their foreheads. So they just leave them there to rot and decompose. That's another thing I hate about unicorns. The stench of dead bunny. Makes me want to retch just thinking about it.”
Trudy shook her head. “Look, I've seen lots of pictures of unicorns and they
have dead bunnies impaled on their horns.”
“Where have you seen these pictures?” asked Grey.
Trudy looked embarrassed; talking about unicorns clearly didn't fit with the hard-girl image she presented to the world. “â¦ I have one on my duvet cover.”
“And you believe everything that you see on a duvet cover, do you, Trudy?”
“Well, no, butâ¦”
“Because you're going to end up with a pretty strange worldview if you believe everything that you see on an eiderdown. Next thing you'll be telling me that you believe in Thomas the Tank Engine and superheroes.”
Trudy fumed silently. Jack couldn't help enjoying this a little. It was nice to see it happening to someone else for a change.
“And tell me this, Trudy, is it just duvet covers you believe? Or is it any item of bedding, generally? I mean, is your pillow well-informed about the world? If a blanket told you that the world was flat, would you believe it?”
“Have you finished?” Trudy asked through pursed lips.
“Not quite,” said Grey. “I also wanted to point out that the people who make duvet covers aren't in the business of being purveyors of truth. They're in the business of selling duvet covers. How many parents would buy their beautiful daughter a duvet cover that had a picture of a unicorn with a dozen dead bunnies impaled on its horn? With little bunny intestines falling out and bunny blood drip-drip-dripping on the ground?”
“So the Ministry keeps all the odd creatures here?” said Jack, deciding to try and change the subject as Trudy seemed to have had enough.
“Well, most of them, but occasionally we don't manage to round them all up.”
“What happens then?”
“You'll see them running about. Odd creatures that really don't seem to fit in.”
Jack racked his brains and a few examples sprang to mind. “Duck-billed platypus?”
“Kangaroo?” Jack suggested.
“Clever boy!” exclaimed Grey. “A lot of the strange creatures live in Australia because the Ministry didn't have an office there until 1973.”
Trudy cleared her throat. “Perhaps we can get on with the reason we came here?”
Grey pointed at her. “Good idea. Are you ready, Trudy?”
Trudy took her blazer off and handed it to Grey. “Ready.”
“Wait a minute,” said Jack. “What's going on?”
“Ohh, not much. Trudy's just going to demonstrate to you what she's learned since she joined the Ministry.”
Grey leaned out and pushed the glass door open with the palm of his hand. There was now no longer anything to protect them from the Porcupods.
Many people have wondered why the Ministry of SUITs has not hidden kangaroos away from people in the same way they did with dinosaurs. The reason for this is simple. Kangaroos need to be allowed to roam free across the outback in order to manufacture duvets.
Have you ever noticed how over a few days your belly button will build up a small ball of fluff? A kangaroo's pouch is much larger than a belly button and therefore generates much more fluff than a belly button. Their constant jumping and leaping across the vast desert outback of Australia creates pouch friction and therefore speeds up the fluff-creating process immeasurably.
This fluff is then harvested and used to stuff duvets.
Next time you find some belly button fluff, roll it between your two fingers and feel the texture. You will realize that it feels almost identical to a very thin duvet.
Jack watched as the Porcupods realized the door was open and began to scuttle toward them. Trudy walked inside the room and Grey closed the glass door behind her.
“You can't do that!” cried Jack. “They'll rip her apart.”
Grey leaned against the wall. “Just watch.”
There were four Porcupods in the room but their rapid movement made it seem like many more. A Porcupod lunged, snapping at Trudy. But Trudy wasn't in the space where she had been a few seconds before. She had neatly somersaulted over the Porcupod and landed on one knee behind it.
Two other Porcupods dashed at Trudy from opposite directions. Their open mouths were filled with rows of tiny, sharp teeth glazed in a bubbling foam of saliva. Trudy's head rotated from side to side, her eyes seeing both attackers. The Porcupods were almost on top of her as she took off running like a sprinter. She seemed to be moving impossibly fast, almost blurred.
The Porcupods were shocked by Trudy's speed and didn't have time to stop. They smashed into each other head-on, their muzzles making a satisfying
“Go, Trudy!” Jack shouted. Then he noticed Grey was looking at him and shaking his head.
“Sorry,” said Jack. “I got slightly overexcited.”
Trudy sprinted across the room. The Porcupods had recovered from their cranial collision and were scuttling after her.
Trudy didn't seem to be slowing as she reached the corner of the room. She was sure to run smack into the wall, and with the two Porcupods behind her, that would be the end of Trudy.
Jack tensed up his face and got ready for a crunch. The crunch never came. To Jack's astonishment, when she got to the corner she started running straight up the wall.
Jack turned to Grey. “That's impossible.”