They Think it's All Over: Part Two
The mutant Buzz collided with an arm in mid flight as he sped towards the rainbow Ogrin. The sudden jolt to his jaw sent the Buzz flying backwards to the floor, and it didn’t have time to recover before it found a red Kougra on top of him, attempting to hold him down.
“Hello there.” The Kougra smiled. “You don’t know me, I’m Johnny Twobit, but we’re going to get real familiar with each other. You don’t have Mr. Jennings’s permission to be thieving on these streets.”
With strength that surprised even the Kougra, the Buzz head butted upwards, freeing him from his position. At once the creature scrambled back towards the Ogrin, who was now pinned against the wall in fear. The Buzz’s eyes were still fixed on its prize, the bag of Neopoints.
“Lads!” the Kougra called from the floor.
From either side, a Gelert and a Lupe tackled the Buzz to the floor. With difficulty, they held the Buzz there as it struggled and thrashed against them.
The Kougra reclaimed himself from the cobbles, holding his head.
“He’s determined, I’ll give him that,” he muttered, stumbling over to his two helpers. “Bring him with us; he’s got questions to answer.”
With difficulty, the two Neopets brought the third to his feet.
“Thank you, mister!” the Ogrin called out.
“Not so fast, kid,” the Kougra said, catching him by the shoulder. “You’re coming too.”
“What?” the Ogrin protested. “But I don’t even know that guy! I’m going to the port to buy fish!”
“Or you’re an accomplice,” the Kougra countered.
“Well then, you’ve got nothing to fear if you come with us,” the Kougra replied, increasing the pressure of his hand on the youth’s shoulder.
Jennings, Black, and Judge Hog were led across the city by the old Professor. Bungle had thankfully consented to going by carriage – it might have taken days to reach the Museum if they had gone at the Professor’s walking pace.
The old Techo led them down into the depths of the National Neopian Museum’s lower levels, where cobwebs seemed more a construction material than stone.
“What exactly is it you need us for, Professor?” Jennings asked as they proceeded further into the Magical Research department.
“We thought we needed to tell someone,” Bungle replied. “It was simply too big to keep to ourselves and the receptionist on the ground floor said that you two were the people in charge.”
“But what is it that is too big?” Jennings pressed.
“We’ve solved it,” Bungle attempted to explain.
“Solved what?” the Judge asked.
“It!” Bungle repeated. “The reason why the Museum is here! Don’t you young people know your history?”
“Enlighten us,” Jennings suggested.
Bungle stopped outside a door. The cobwebs that adorned most of the ones they had passed had been wiped clean, as if the room was getting a lot of attention all of a sudden. Bungle opened the door, and revealed its contents.
It was a pillar, roughly ten feet high, crafted out of a dark, almost black rock. Symbols were carved into the rock, forming segments, almost like a totem. As Jennings watched, one of the segments rotated, revealing a different symbol that had previously been on the side.
“It’s been doing that for five hundred years,” Bungle explained. “Since we found it. The Magical Research Department, as it is now, was founded to study the thing, and find out what it does. The rest of the Museum sort of just grew up around us. Of course, it’s been doing it at erratic intervals, so eventually we just sort of gave up trying to figure out what it did – we started giving it as an assignment to the junior researchers, as a sort of right of passage. This room’s been practically empty for over a century.”
Now, it most evidently wasn’t. More than a dozen geriatric researchers were now flitting, as best they could, between the pillar and various devices, chalkboards, and desks.
“Here’s the young man who figured it all out,” Bungle said, presenting a Blumaroo who could never be considered anything but old. “This is Jenkins.”
Jenkins was allowed a brief smile to the three guests before being glared at by the Professor until he returned to his work.
“You see, it is rotating at fixed intervals, not erratic as we first thought,” Bungle explained. “Except, the dimensions it’s rotating through aren’t limited to length, breadth, and depth. There’s a whole set of extra dimensions it’s using which we didn’t even know existed until a few days ago.”
“A startling discovery, to be sure,” Jennings replied politely. “But what actually is it?”
“A clock,” Bungle said proudly. “Possibly the first magically powered clock in existence; we date it at roughly a thousand years old, give or take.”
“How charming,” Jennings responded, giving the Judge a knowing look. “Though I don’t see how that is a matter of life or death.”
“It’s not counting upwards, Mr. Jennings,” Bungle replied. “It’s counting down.”
Jennings exchanged a significantly more worried look with the Judge.
“Counting down to what?” the Moehog asked.
“That, we don’t know,” Bungle admitted. “We’ve looked through the calendars, and there doesn’t seem to be any event of either celestial or cultural significance due on the date it will stop. However... we could think of only one thing that someone would bother counting down to for over a thousand years.”
“The end of the world,” the Judge grunted.
“Exactly,” Bungle agreed. “Though there don’t appear to be any comets on an incoming trajectory, nor are there any visible signs of natural disasters building up. However, it is hollow, sir, which has led us to believe that it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, so to speak.”
“How do you mean?” the Judge asked.
“To put it crudely, an alarm clock with a bomb inside,” Bungle explained. “As our ill luck would have it, it’s made out of a peculiar strain of rock found in the Haunted Woods which is immune to our scanning efforts, and attempting to open it has proved completely fruitless.”
“Ah,” Jennings said, taking in the pillar. “A big bomb, would you say?”
Bungle nodded, “Judging from the magical power needed to keep this running for so long, and the size of the compartment inside, it would be enough to completely vaporise the entire city, Roo Island, Kiko Lake, Brightvale, parts of Meridell, a good chunk of the Endless Plains, and the southwest face of Terror Mountain.”
“Quite big then,” Jennings agreed. “Perhaps we should consider moving it?”
“It wouldn’t make much difference, sir,” Bungle explained. “That level of explosion would have consequences for the rest of the planet; it would be an extinction level event, no matter where you were on the planet. We calculate that even Moltara would cave in. And, before you suggest it, sirs, jettisoning it into space is also not an option. Removing it from Neopia’s magical field would cause it to detonate in the upper atmosphere, again causing significant destruction.”
“What you are saying, Professor, is that this pillar is going to cause the end of the world and there appears to be nothing we can do to stop it?” Jennings asked.
Bungle nodded. “In a nutshell.”
“When’s the due date, as it were?” Jennings asked.
“Unfortunately, just under one month,” Bungle informed them.
The same thought occurred to Jennings and the Judge at the same time.
“Who else knows?” Jennings asked.
“No one outside the Museum, I don’t think,” Bungle replied. “Save yourselves, of course.”
“Then I suggest, for now, you should try to keep this under wraps, Professor,” Jennings said. “Leave this in our capable hands.”
Bungle nodded, “Not a word shall leave the department.”
The three guests excused themselves and made their way back up to the ground level of the Museum. It was Mr. Black who broke the silence.
“Do you have a plan, sir?” he asked.
“Me?” Jennings remarked. “Certainly not. There are many things I can overcome, Mr. Black, but the end of the world is not one of them. How about you, Judge?”
“I’ve got nothing,” the Judge admitted. “I suppose we could try moving the thing to the bottom of the ocean, and hope the water cushions the blow... but that would move it closer to the planet’s core. We’ll keep this away from the public, of course, but I shall be contacting world leaders immediately. They deserve to know the situation, and if nothing else, they may consent to lend us their magical scholars. Many heads are better than one, as they say.”
They emerged back out into the air of Neopia Central.
“It’s sad to think that by next month, none of this will be here,” the Judge considered. “It puts things in perspective.”
Jennings nodded grimly, and they parted company.
The shop bell rang as the royal Eyrie entered, instantly turning his nose up at the location.
“I do so loathe coming to Little Shenkuu, but needs must,” he muttered to himself.
He approached the counter and banged on the wood, “Shopkeeper! Shopkeeper! I say, Shopkeeper!”
A Scorchio poked his head around the bead curtain that led to the back room.
“Can I help you, sir?” he asked.
“Yes, my man,” the Eyrie stated, taking in the shopkeeper’s Shenkuu clothing. “You are a tailor, correct? Viscount Hatterly recommended you as being quite good.”
“We pride ourselves on our quality of work, sir,” the Scorchio answered.
“I’m sure you do,” the Eyrie answered. “I play cricket, star bowler among the youths of the Hills, I’ll have you know, and had the great misfortune of ripping a pair of trousers yesterday.”
The Eyrie placed a pair of white trousers on the counter, “I will need them repaired in two days' time.”
“I can have them done by tomorrow,” the Scorchio answered. “Hoshi!”
A white Xweetok emerged from behind the curtain; she was small, clearly an apprentice.
“Trousers for mending, Hoshi,” the Scorchio stated.
“Yes, Father,” the girl replied.
The Scorchio moved to pass her the trousers, but his wings knocked a box off the shelf behind him. The Xweetok darted forwards with impressive reflexes, catching the box before it hit the floor.
“Nice catch,” the Eyrie remarked.
“It was nothing,” Hoshi replied, blushing slightly.
She handed the box back to her master and disappeared back behind the curtain with the trousers.
“I will return tomorrow and pay you then,” the Eyrie announced, before sweeping regally out of the shop.
To be continued...