Chapter 11

 

Operation ‘Hamsterstorm’

 

When the Enterprise-crew including hamsters, humans, and gerbils had raced through space for quite some time towards 7-2-4-1, boredom came up on the bridge. Class M-planet close to Vega still was not in sight. Even the replicator had lost its charm because the hamsters were convinced that replicated sunflower seed did not taste like real sunflower seed. The question of a special committee to found a control body for checking the right taste had been blackballed as ‘too exhausting’ and ‘pointless’. A vote on the further proceeding had been adjourned unanimously. Only chief Botchy found some occupation. He had removed the empty batteries from the Borg-gerbils’ head units and fumbled with them. After some time he went to Engineering and had not been seen again.

The rest of the group had fallen into a kind of space lethargy and a real Captain would have been necessary to get morals and spirits of the crew going again. Such a Captain was unfortunately far, far away on Earth finishing his supper, and what was sitting in Kirk’s chair right now had neither the class nor the quality of a good starship commander. What was sitting in Kirk’s chair, that is the mayor-commander, feverishly considered the means of cheering up his sluggish little troop. His store of witty speeches was used up and he was quite sure that even another speech would not be helpful.

“Erm”, he muttered and thought on. Some heads languidly turned into his direction but when no further muttering followed, the heads turned back to their original position. Laziness and boredom were the order of the hour. Desperately, the mayor-commander clapped his paws to get attention and shouted: “Dear hamsters, everything is going according to plan and we all should be happy and merry. How about a little party?”

Except a yawn here and there, he got no reply.

“Well, erm, we also might play games or the like… Please make proposals.”

Scattered yawns again and some peculiar noise.

“Yes, Goldi?”

“Nothing, Mayor, I just farted.”

While Flecki held her delicate little nose with a paw and changed to the opposite side of the room, the mayor-commander disappointedly turned back to the main screen. Within the last hours the sight had changed. After they had passed a star cluster, only few light spots could be made out and even looking into space caused nothing but a yawn. The situation was all but rosy.

“We might play laying out matches”, Tuffy proposed.

“Too stressy”, Goldi yawned and in a bored fashion looked at some sunflower seed which was lying unreachable for him a few centimetres from his nose.

“Come on”, the little repair hamster insisted, “it’s fun.”

“Is it easy?” Dodo now asked who had followed the discussion with moderate interest. “Or would I have to do a lot of thinking?”

“It’s most easy, Dodo, you have to shove the matches from one side to the other with as few moves as possible. Who touches the fewest matches is the winner.”

“From left to right?”

“No matter, Dodo.”

“One match or two?”

“As much as possible, Dodo. I’ll begin!”

As it was no very clever game, even the big hamster soon had got the rules and played with cautious delight. The gerbils shyly came closer and watched to going-ons. As every match ended in a draw, there was not much fun in it. Tuffy and Dodo just wanted to finish the game, but the little repair hamster asked the Borg-gerbil leader: “Would you like to play, too?”

Pleased, the leader joined the hamsters and waited for Tuffy’s move. Then he thought for quite some time and finally asked in a shy voice: “May I also make the moves without hands?”

All of a sudden all hamsters on the Enterprise – except Botchy of course, who till was in Engineering – turned their attention to the gerbil.

“W-without hands?” Dodo breathed. “Isn’t that most dangerous?”

“I don’t think so”, the gerbil whispered. “Some time we learned that we can do it. No idea, why.”

“What can you do?” the mayor now asked and stopped fondling the pot plant beside him. “Report.”

Very obviously the leader of the Borg-gerbils did not like all that attention for all eyes were on him. He glanced at his colleagues who anxiously kept in the background and were no help. Shyly he looked up to the mayor-commander and whispered: “We have telepathic powers.”

All at once the murmuring on the bridge ceased. If Lt. Uhura up to now had only listened with one ear, she straightened up now and listened spellbound. Even Ensign Chekov interrupted his 327th game and turned to the actual events. Boredom was gone at this sentence. Even Goldi’s energy was back and he gripped the sunflower seed greedily. After the leader of the Borg-gerbils once more had embarrasssedly turned to his comrades, he now concentrated his glance at the tiny matches lying beside a tiny match box with the inscription ‘HMM – Hamsterton Match Manufacturing’. Suddenly it happened: one of the matches moved like by ghost hands. An outcry filled the room, loud hissing and grumbling from all sides while the match wandered from left to right. Suddenly the gerbil stood up, shook his head and in an exhausted voice said: “I need a rest now!”

The hamsters were dumfounded and also the two humans stood open-mouthed. Certainly Lt. Uhura and Ensign Chekov had seen a lot. They were acquainted to many aliens and strange cultures – but a telepathic gerbil? Certainly, on their voyages they had met creatures with supernatural abilities and superhuman strength but every time this had been explained away with technical tricks. With a shudder Uhura remembered the planet of Sha Ka Ree behind the galaxy’s great barrier. They had met some being there naming itself God. Only after Commander Kirk had put the justified question to that false god why God needed a space ship, the fake had blown up. What kind of god needed a space ship after all? The present situation was by no means comparable with the adventure on Sha Ka Ree however as these were only some harmless and shy gerbils. Flecki was the first one to find her tongue again.

“If you’ve got such power, why can’t you manage the Klingon hamsters? A little training and you just sweep them away.”

“We don’t have matches…”

“Bollocks!” Flecki cried. “’course you’ll not use matches. Train your power and with telepathy you send the Klingons back were they belong.”

After the other hamsters and the two humans had nodded in agreement, the leader of the Borg-gerbils plucked up a little courage and asked: “Could you teach us?”

At last the hamsters became lively again and at once decided to start the telepathic training. Taty and Tealeafy pushed one, then two and finally three matches onto the field. Each gerbil stepped forward and by mental power moved first one, then two and finally three matches. Hours were flying and it was impressing to see how the Borg-gerbils increased their power by the minute. Now it no longer was a problem to have the matchbox flying through the room – very much to the hamsters’ delight. Next the gerbils let Dodo rise upwards and everybody on the bridge was rollicking.

With relief the mayor-commander saw his crew at a merry party and was not really sorry that nobody invited him. Suddenly chief Botchy bolted right into this harmonic setup. No one had missed him during the last hours. Tucked under his short arms were the batteries of the Borg-gerbils. It had cost him some of tinkering and many electric shocks to reload these batteries. Now the chief engineer was hot on showing everybody what a smart guy he was.

“Hey, people”, he boasted, “guess what your apt chief had done while you were lazy and feasting?”

“Apt chief? We’ve got an apt chief? Where did he spring from? Have we got some new chief engineer?” it came from the hamster group.

Chief Botchy faked not hearing such remarks but with stern glances tried to find out the origin. Unfortunately all hamsters looked most virtous and most most virtous those whom Botchy suspected. He wanted to wave this off angrily but remembered that his paws were full of batteries. With a pinched smile he walked over to the Borg-gerbils, saying:

“Your head-display-sets are working again. No, no, you need not thank me, I just loved to be of assistance!”

“Y-you mean our Borg-lamps?”

“Your Borg-lamp, that’s it”, the chief purred. “They’re working right swell – pumped with energy – so that you need not fill them up for quite some time.”

With a patronizing air Botchy handed the batteries to the Borg-gerbils, again and again heard a shy “Thank you!” and bathed in all the attention which usually he only received following disasters. By and by the gerbils inserted the batteries into the head units and indeed: one lamp after the other began to give light. After another minute the visitors were lined up and flashed at the hamsters.

“Why, is it Xmas or what?” Goldi jeered. “All you need is some tinsel now.”

“Xmas is irrelevant – tinsel is irrelevant!”

Lt. Uhura screamed with delight and the hamsters cackled merrily on this – as they thought – witty remark of their new friends. The mayor who had been wondering for some minutes if it would not be fitting to say something fitting, saw his chance. He straightened on his seat and shouted:

“Dear friends and gerbils, dear hamsters! Once more we have shown that we are so to say are smeared – erm – geared up for all dingusations…”

“Dingusations are irrelevant – we are Borg – we will assimilate you.”

“Certainly, my dear asians – er – aliens, we always welcome some fun…”

“Fun is irrelevant – submit!”

“Er, Mayor-commander”, Flecki remarked, “might something have gone awry there? The Borg-gerbils have such peculiar looks…”

Indeed the up to now very shy gerbils looked around in an evil way. Their pose expressed decisiveness which before had not been there. The whole matter began to become sinister. It was now like in the beginning. On one side of the bridge the threatening looking Borg-gerbils were standing, on the other side the anxious looking hamsters. Mayor-commander since long had given up to hold any speeches. He was hiding behind the leaves of the ruined pot plant and faked not being at home.

“Don’t you start nagging or I’ll collect the batteries again”, the chief grumbled and approached the Borg. “Hey, you freaks, any problems – or what?”

Now all light beams of the Borg-gerbils were directed to the chief and it was quite obvious that he started to sweat. The matter seemed to get out of control and the chief engineer took a step back.

“Erm, lads, we might talk about it, mightn’t we?”

“Talk is irrelevant – you will be assimilated now.”

“Dodo”, Goldi shouted at this moment, “be kind enough to help our visitors out of their coats.”

The big hamster who did not really grip what was going on, did as bidden and approached the gerbils. This time, however, they did not retreat but only looked at Dodo. Followed terrified shrieks, the hamsters panicked. Like by a ghost’s hand Dodo was lifted and hurled to the other end of the bridge. The Borg-gerbils had used their telepathic powers! The hamsters felt stunned and only now realized what kind of mental strength the up to now so weak gerbils had. No way to defend! As if the Borg knew their thoughts, they now chorused: “Resistance is futile – submit!”

While chief Botchy was rooted in shock, only Goldi doubled his fists and made to go for the Borg. At the very last moment Flecki held him and whispered that it was cleverer to give in.

“If the cleverest always give in, only all the stupid things happen”, he growled but restrained himself.

“W-w-what do you w-w-wish us to do?” it whispered from behind the remains of the pot plant. The Borg-gerbils turned to the commander seat and seemed to think for a moment. Then they spoke in a peculiar, almost singing style which made the hamsters absolutely freeze.

“Resistance is futile – we take command – we go for the home planet of the mighty Borg – you are our prisoners.”

“Certainly, dear Borg, we dingus – er – submit so to say”, came a coward voice from behind the pot plant.

“Impressing, the courage of our commander”, Flecki jeered and Goldi nodded.

The Borg leader slowly looked about him, at every single being on the bridge, including Lt. Uhura and Ensign Chekov. Nobody knew what kind of surprise these little gangsters had in mind so that for the moment it seemed to be better to wait. After looking at all Enterprise members, the leader gave the next instructions.

“Resistance is futile – we are Borg – we will imprison you – you will be the present of honour to the great Borg.”

Looking for assistance the Borg looked about them. As they did not know what was what on the ship they had no real idea where to imprison hamsters and humans. Flecki and Goldi at once realized what the Borg were looking for and saw their chance.

“Best would be the recreation room in the rear of the ship.”

“Recreation room?” Uhura giggled. “Honey, you sure? There’s …”

“We know that it isn’t clean there because the polishing machine is defect”, Flecki hastily interrupted and wildling winked at her. “But it’s the only vacant room on the ship!”

Lt. Uhura had to grin. Not bad, the ideas of these little hamsters. If only they were in Engineering and the Borg had no idea about this, they perhaps could do something.

“Polishing machine is irrelevant – resistance is futile – you now all go to the recreation room or we will assimilate you.”

Now the time had come. In two groups they rode with the lift two decks down. When all were assembled there, they walked on to Engineering. There the door opened and the prisoners entered. A few steps behind them the Borg followed. Surprised, they looked at the blue glimmer of the warp core and looked at on another, bewildered.

“Blue light is irrelevant – what is it?”

“O well, we call it party light”, Taty cried and all hamsters around her nodded eagerly. “That’s real fun – when dancing.”

“When dancing is irrelevant – you are our prisoners – resistance is futile.”

“We understand, o mighty Borg. We will surrender.”

The Bord leader looked at Lt. Uhura who had said this and nodded to her. Then he and his colleagues turned and walked out. The door closed with a loud hiss, then there was some clicking: obviously the door was locked. They were imprisoned but they were in Engineering – strategically important.

“What about playing on with the matches?” Dodo proposed.

Nobody answered, all eyes were on Lt. Uhura. The permanent grin had left her face, she suddenly appeared serious and determined. Also Ensign Chekov had stopped grinning and instead looked worried. Uhura and Chekov exchanged glances, the ensign got a tricorder from his pocket, computed something and shook his head.

“No abnormalities, no rays, nothing.”

“Curious, Chekov”, Lt. Uhura replied, “I somehow had the idea I fell asleep here, dreamed to be threatened by some tiny Borg and woke up again.”

“Well, dear lady”, the mayor said, “Rest your mind, you did not dream. Much more disquieting is the fact that our Veganian friend of the Beta-Geranium-System is now in the shower – er – the power of the bloodthirsty Borg. This should be our main concern so to say, if you know what I’m talking about.”

“The only thing I know is the peculiar fact that Ensign Chekov and I are only behaving normal in Engineering. By the way, Flecki and Goldi, that was a first rate idea of you. But do you have an inkling what’s the matter with us? Every time we are in Engineering, Ensign Chekov and I are able to think clearly. Outside Engineering we are – how shall I put it…?”

“Quite funny”, Tuffy remarked.

“And you always have wet eyes”, Tealeafy added.

“Wet, watery eyes? Oh, if Dr. McCoy were here”, Chekov sighed. “You don’t get watery eyes without reason. Perhaps I can find something in the medical database.”

“Recently Trample had watery eyes, too”, Taty cried.

“Yes, ‘cause Goldi sold him a car which was wanted by the police”, Flecki angrily growled.

“No, that’s not what I mean. When he had forgotten his food on the stove, his eyes were watery from the smoke. Right tear-stained he looked.”

Lt. Uhura threw Chekov a suspicious glance and at once all eyes were on the ensign. His eyes were puffy indeed like those of Uhura. Hers however were not that puffy – she had not filled her belly with wodka, after all. Tear-stained, puffy eyes, that was all their cue. Something was in the air outside Engineering, that much was certain.

“People, we’ve got to get out here to show them fellows what’s what”, chief Botchy said. “Best would be to turn off power, then this ship stops and then – hum…”

“Then what?” Lt. Uhura jeered. “Then we’re drifting in space and those cuckoo Borg-spare parts know that this is no recreation room but Engineering. Nope, that’s a daft idea. But tell me, Ensign, had there not once been a mission when the Klingons captured our ship? That time the Captain had transferred the access of helm’s control to Engineering…”

“Unfortunately we don’t have the access codes”, Chekov reminded her. “That’s priority secret and only Captain Kirk and First Officer Spock have them.”

“And if we cut the cables?” chief Botchy wanted to know. “That will do it, won’t it?”

“Then helm’s control would automatically switch to stand-by control…”, Chekov slowly said.

“And where is stand-by control?”

Pavel Chekov looked at Botchy with big eyes and uttered: “Well, here in Engineering.”

“So, what would you need them daft secret codes for? Cable cutting and that’s it! Then helm’s control no longer is on the bridge but here. Und then, well, then – hum…”

“Then we should make the Borg to be notice nothing at first”, Lt. Uhura proposed.

“Exactly”, Flecki cried. “They shall think that everything is okay.”

“That’s it”, the mayor cheered. “As I always think I use to say – erm – victims should be pulled – er – lulled… Ha, like the last election in Hamstert…”

Appalled, the mayor looked around. All about him hamsters were standing and sitting, whose faces were not very friendly but rather fierce.

“Ha ha, dear hamsters, so to say a little joke in a way so to say – er – well – a silly joke, dear hamsters”, he tried to be witty, making a silly face when the chief engineer stepped up to him.

“Do you want to tell me, you clown, that I only got the building order for the new super market so that I assist your silly reelection? Had I to put up those daft posters with your daft face on my building site for weeks because of that? And who was to clear away the garbage? Me of course!”

The chief ignored the loud throat-clearing of Tuffy and Trample and wanted to start another nagging orgy when he was lifted big a giant hand. Next moment he was facing Lt. Uhura’s face.

“Now, you little, nervy dumpling, that’s it now. If all this is over here, you can spank each other’s hamster bums as much as you like. Now, however, we’ll think about a way to get out of this mess. Got me?”

Chief Botchy nodded numbly while in the background Flecki and Tuffy were merrily cackling. In the meantime Ensign Chekov had not been idle and looked about in the room. He tried to recall Scotty’s reports and had an idea.

“Lieutenant Uhura, what about the Jeffreys tubes? By that system you can reach almost every spot on board.”

“Good idea. Won’t we by chance pass the energy relais?”

“We do. Lieutenant – we might cut the power of the nervy gerbils. So for the time being they can’t do much damage.”

“Fine, Ensign, you’ll stay here, in case anything goes wrong. I’ll crawl through the Jeffreys tubes and chase the Mini-Borg from the bridge.”

“Uhura?”

“Yes, Flecki?” The officer stopped on her way to the Jeffreys tube.

“And what if you again get a laughing fit and forget what to do? It’s better for us hamsters to manage that.”

Baffled, Uhura and Chekov looked at each other. The hamster girl was right. After a short discussion both officers decided to stay in Engineering and direct the campaign from this place. It was essential to keep in contact. Among Scott’s manifold tools there was just the right unit, a tiny communication device. Asked who was to take over communication, the mayor-commander, chief Botchy and Goldi answered at once. Lt. Uhura regarded the three hamsters ponderingly and shook her head.

“Our mayor darling is only able to communicate intelligently with withered vegetables, the chief snaps too quickly, and you, my dear Goldi, tend to fumble dangerous tools a little bit too freely. Better have Flecki take over communication.”

“Sure”, Goldi grumbled, “if anything, she can handle that!”

Now they were ready. The officers placed the hamsters into the entrance of the Jeffreys tube. ‘Operation Hamsterstorm’ – as Goldi cheerfully named it – could start.

 

 


Chapter 12

 

 

6. Showdown

 

The four Enterprise-officers in Fort William had left nothing back in their rooms and no reason to go there after dinner. So they could not discover that no hamster was in any of their rooms. Quite in the contrary they hoped to have outwitted the two clever rodents.

On their way to Prof. McTinker they at last had a chance to discuss their mission without always having to explain to two hamsters why they were doing what. Already in Fort William in the afternoon they had realized the aims of the professor's tests.

"Let's come to the point", Kirk said, "and don't let's ask what our history books write about it. If this works, Fergus provides Earth with a completely new and exceptional form of energy. Is it really right to stop him?"

"A question of theory and praxis", the Vulcan said and Scott nodded.

"Right. As a theory it’s exceptional enough tha’ yer head might get dizzy. But in praxis it's so dangerous…"

"… that your head also might get dizzy", Dr. McCoy interrupted. "Ey, look about you, Jim. There's no better kind of ignition power like warp for the Enterprise, we need to have an energy like that. Tell me what you will power with it in this time? And where are the people who are able to handle it?"

"Ay, with that ye can make the whole planet explode. Nay, Captain, tha's nae t’ right time fer it."

By now they had passed the funfair stands which were closed at this late hour. The street to the house of Prof. McTinker was only dimly lit, but over there light shone in most of the windows. When Captain Kirk used the knocker he still did not know if they really did the right thing.

Anyhow, whatever they were going to do, they absolutely had to know what kind of tests Prof. McTinker made and how promising they looked. There was no reason to destroy his work if it was good for nothing.

Old Brigg opened the door and warily scrutinized the men who had got up her nose this morning already. In the meantime she had no better opinion of them.

"Perhaps you remember that we have been here earlier today?" Kirk again tried it with all his charme.

"Yes", she sourly replied because these gents better should not think her daft enough to forget everything from morning to evening.

"We now have a date with Professor McTinker and would like to come in."

"Yes", she said and shocked them all by talking on: "Wipe your shoes!"

"Bridget, are that my colleagues?" a voice called. "Don't let them stand at the door. They are welcome to me and shall come in and feel comfortable."

"Yes!" she yelled back and the 'colleagues' had some difficulties imagining how to feel comfortable here.

Obviously Brigg felt responsible for nothing outside the house and everything inside the house. As scrubby as it might look outside, in here it was spotless. The officers had hardly entered when Brigg already had the scrubber in hand and wiped up behind them.

"Welcome, welcome!" Fergus McTinker cried and beckoned them to come into the living room. "Bridget! – Analysis: As soon as guests are in the house it is right and well to offer a little snack at the least. Question: Is there something in the kitchen to prepare a little snack? Answer: It is Bridget's duty to clarify this. Question: Has Bridget been forewarned to prepare a snack? Answer: She was asked to make the corresponding shopping. Question: Has Bridget been rung up from Fort William to this respect?"

"No", said Bridget, before the professor again could answer his own question and he was baffled:

"Oh! – Not?"

"No."

"You are sure?"

"Yes."

"I failed to inform you that I now wish to provide some colleagues of mine from America with nourishment?"

"Yes."

"But that really does not matter", Kirk said. "We've just dined at the hotel.”

"Ha!" Brigg ejaculated for a change.

"And we dinnae come here tae get a meal", Lt. Scott added.

"Great!" Brigg said and they all looked at her shocked for this bordered on being chatty.

"Fergus", Lt. Scott said, "you offered to show us your test lines. We read all your papers but it is – difficult to conceive the practical procedure."

"Right, right", Prof. McTinker nodded. "And John is already in the work shed. He breaks up the slates, you see?"

"Not really", Kirk replied who had not the faintest idea what slates had to do with warp drive.

"Analysis", Fergus began once more and Dr. McCoy rolled his eyes. "In my papers I'm writing about the possibilities of controlled mixing of matter and antimatter. For reasons of secrecy I don't explain the test procedure. Question: Is it possible that from my papers anyone realizes in which way I'm working? Answer: Rather improbable. Question: Might anyone assume which means I use for which reason? Answer: No physicists who is not from Ballachulish. – Let us go to John McGofer."

Now the officers were completely dazzled. Beside the simple fact it rather shirted them that the way Fergus distributed his thoughts in loud questions and answers to mankind … Suddenly he sounded as if for his tests it was essential to be living in Ballachulish. That made no sense at all.

By now they really hoped that today's scientists were right and McTinker was nothing but an oddball. If the things he did were just cranky, they might well let him work on and be gone. At the moment it sounded very cranky. However, they followed him through the back door to one of the sheds which was brightly lit. When the professor opened the door they heard hammering, crunching, and peculiar cracking.

All this time Hamstilidamst had shown that in many aspects he was really clever. He remembered for instance that there must be something funny about this universal translator whether the humans could understand him or not. When they had been sitting in the car with Hercules, he had not understood the hamster at all, but the officers had.

Perhaps the reason was that one had to carry such a unit on his person, perhaps it only had a certain range. He really did not know which but he had beseeched his fellow hamsters only to whisper.

Had the Enterprise-officers but known it! Quite some time before they entered the shed, Hamstilidamst with Daby, Bummy and Balla had hidden here. Daby had made the awful discovery that the two hamsters at the professor's were really too daft to know what was passing here. In vain Hamstilidamst and she had organized sunflower seed, biscuits, and cheese in the hotel kitchen to bribe them.

Regarding Bummy and Balla there was only one advantage: They had a first rate knowledge of the grounds and knew how to enter each building. Only for one building no bribing helped: They never, never, never would enter the lab. For two rather silly and anyhow very lazy hamsters the things happening there must be the shock of their life. Nothing but what Hooty already had told them was to get out of them: The professor made earthquakes!

However, they had taken Hamstilidamst and Daby to the work shed, were now sitting in a corner and watched John McGofer working. It was extremely boring and they were relieved when the Enterprise-officers and Fergus showed up.

"Gosh, something's happening at last", Hamstilidamst whispered.

"Shall we try to get closer?" Daby whispered excitedly.

"No way", Bummy grumbled and Balla nodded:

"Too damned clean."

He was right. Though John worked here regularly, the shed was terribly clean, nothing stood about, there was no cover over the distance to the working table.

"Um", Balla said.

"Well", Bummy admitted.

"What is it?" Daby hissed.

"I won't go", Balla said decidedly.

"Dammit!!" Hamstilidamst growled. "What and where?"

"There. – Beams."

Bummy’s head pointed upwards. A row of beams carried the roof of the shed. That way they could get directly beyond the table without being noticed. Hamstilidamst and Daby left the two lazybones behind and climbed up. When they were almost above the table at which all the humans were standing, Hamstilidamst took Daby's forepaw.

"And not a sound!" he whispered so that she hardly could hear him.

She nodded, followed him over a beam and they craned their necks to see and hear what all this was about.

John McGofer had a pile of slate shingles in front of him. Laboriously he separated one thin slate layer from the next. Every time he lightly chipped the piece with the hammer, shoved a chisel between the layers and took them off. This were the noises the officers had heard when they entered the shed.

"You see?" Prof. McTinker asked, took one thin slate layers cautiously and held it to the light. "You see it?"

"The slate is porous", Kirk proposed, uncomprehending.

"Nononono", John McGofer objected, shaking his head. "It's got holes."

Kirk, Scott, and McCoy looked at each other, looked at John, then they nodded several times. They did not see the difference. Only Spock said:

"Permit me, Fergus", and took the slate layer from him.

He looked and looked, then suddenly looked up to the ceiling. There had been a tiny noise from the beam over him. Slowly he cast down his eyes and pursed his mouth a little: the hamsters were here! They had not been outwitted - they had outwitted the officers. Clever little rodents!

Up on the beam Daby had impulsively started to say: "That are…" and then an elbow had been dug into her ribs.

She shut up quickly but Spock's reaction showed her that he had heard her anyway. But that was all right, he would not betray her. In spite of that she was absolutely sure that the tiles down there looked exactly like the shingles on the hotel roof. To her opinion that was no science, that even was no secret, that simply was gaga.

"A microscope should show it clearly", Spock down there just said. "These are not holes in stone in the original sense of the word. It looks like…"

"Yes? Yes?!" Prof. McTinker excitedly asked.

Before he could start again with analysis, question, and answer, the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise grabbed the slate layer, held it under the light and said:

"Rusted."

"Ayayayay!" John McGofer cried happily.

"O my God!" Lt. Scott exclaimed. "I read ’bout it. O’ course! Ballachulish was a centre o’ slate winning. But it couldnae be used everywhere. It had iron enclosures."

"I see", Spock slowly said. "If this slate as it was – er – is customary used as roofing and the slate is exposed to moisture over a longer period…"

"…the iron particles simply corrode", Kirk finished the sentence, impressed. "That’s unbelievable!"

"Yea, but…", Dr. McCoy said, bewildered. "What I mean… Er, do you need the iron or the rust for your tests?!"

"The holes!" Fergus said triumphantly.

"Oh!" Captain Kirk said in an undertone.

Now he was quite certain that Prof. Fergus McTinker really was nuts.

Whether the professor was nuts or not, they wanted to take a look at his lab. John McGofer took the opportunity to carry a box with slate layers over. The Vulcan said:

"Please allow me to have another look at it. I will follow in a few moments."

Fergus and John nodded and walked ahead of the three officers. Spock however, did not throw a look at anything. He stretched his arm toward the beam and said in a low voice:

"Come down."

"That's all your fault", Hamstilidamst snapped at Daby. "Need you jabber?!"

"If Daby had not  - jabbered as you word it most inelegantly, Hamstilidamst, you would not now learn the last secrets. – Come down."

He had not finished the sentence and the secret addicted Daby was on his shoulder. Also Hamstilidamst climbed down his arm. Spock took over the Captain's trick and let the two of them slip into his sleeves.

"We can't see anything in here!" Hamstilidamst nagged.

"Listen to me", Spock said and sounded very serious. "With my tricorder I discovered that beneath this area is a large underground unit. I strongly assume that it the place nobody but the professor was permitted to enter until now. I further assume that we now will be permitted to enter it. If you want to get in there, I expect and require of you that you are absolutely quiet. When we are in, I'll let you free."

"That's okay", Daby quickly said. "Mum's the word."

"Fffft, you said that before", Hamstilidamst's voice came from the other sleeve.

"This time she will stick to it", Spock said confidentially. "It really is a big secret. – When we are to leave, I will not have the chance to search for you. So keep in sight. I am sure that you will find a way to join me."

Daby felt flattered. The very clever Vulcan assumed that she, too, was very clever. She was of course, but it was nice to be told. Hamstilidamst on the other hand planned to be on the safe side in that underground unit. For sure there would be some way out in case they did not succeed to hide with Spock unobtrusively.

A moment later they felt the cool night air and heard a door banging. With long strides Spock walked over to the long building he had identified as the lab this morning. The others had adapted to McGofer’s speed who carried the heavy box with the slate layers. So they just had reached the heavy door to the laboratory when the Vulcan joined them.

As soon as the professor opened the door, the inner lights were automatically switched on in the whole building. On a first glance they saw that this was a row of not very large rooms, separated by glass walls. On the second glance they saw that the scrubby outside look had deceived them. In here it was spotlessly clean.

"Analysis", Fergus said. "Bridget is a neat freak. Question: Does this quality make her to be the right person to clean a lab? Answer: Decidedly, absolutely decidedly!"

Kirk laughed and Fergus merrily grinned at him. Spock said:

"Mr. McGofer, this morning I learned that nobody is to enter the lab."

"Ayayay, except the professor."

"Well, and what are you doing here now?" McCoy asked.

"Oh! O nononono. This isn't the lab. That there is the beginning of the lab", John said and pointed to the next room.

"Right, right", McTinker nodded. "My experiments are too… O well! Bridget sees to it that this room is sterile."

"Ay, like t’ house", Scott darkly said.

"Ay, wiping is her life", Fergus replied as darkly. "She's a horrible cook, she isn't very polite, but… I can't pay much to anybody, and I need someone to keep the anteroom of this lab clean enough that no dirt is carried into the next rooms."

"So we should wear overalls", the Doctor said. "We'd carried in quite a bit."

"Indeed", Spock said with meaning and carefully gripped his forearms.

Without question they had to wear overalls in such a lab but he did not know how he then was to free the hamsters.

"Did Bridget clean my overalls, John?" McTinker asked.

"O ayayay. Cleaned and disinfected. Ten of them. She was quite happy", McGofer beamed.

Now the professor thanked McGofer for the new load of slates and sent him away. He guided his visitors into the next room. Good old Brigg had shoved a pile of overalls through a flap. They all were McTinker-size and Lt. Scott was the only one whom they more or less fitted. For the others the trouser legs and the sleeves were decidedly too short.

But that could not be helped now. Spock after all had succeeded to turn away from the others when scrambling into this ridiculous garment and to stuff the two hamsters from his shirt-sleeves into two overall-pockets. Doing so, he had turned his head towards the others to see if they watched him and had not seen that two pairs of dark eyes had looked at him with a mixture of delight, gratitude and a little fright. All their adventures and secrets were to start now!

Now – that was the understatement of the year. They really had believed it would become thrilling any moment. When the men had put on those overalls it somehow had looked most important.

The meanest thing was that they still had to be absolutely quiet. Hamstilidamst once dared to scratch himself but immediately a hand was put over the pocket. He stopped scratching and for a terribly long time could think of nothing but that itching in his fur. It was a hard test indeed.

Daby pushed up herself. With every new room the men entered, she right trembled with excitement. Any moment now she would learn about the big secret. But what she learned in these rooms was a squeaking bore. A pity the men did not regard it likewise. They stayed terribly long in each room and Daby would have loved to bite someone.

"Gentlemen, you have seen how careful my preparations are", Prof. McTinker said after they had been standing in the fifth room forever babbling.

"With the means you have at your disposal…" Kirk admitted. "You really solved the problems well."

The professor was happy to have some intelligent audience who was interested in his work and did not tell him with every second sentence that nothing would function. So happy was he that he completely forgot to phrase each of his sentences in analysis, question and answer.

While McTinker chatted with Lt. Scott and walked towards a heavy metal door, the Captain turned round and threw a look over all the lab rooms they just had passed. A low voice beside him said:

"And do you have an idea now, Jim?"

"No, Bones, none."

"Whatever he plans to do with that porous slates, they’re clean now."

"Hum", Kirk grunted.

The entire lab, each single room of it only served to clean the slates. They were laid in acid, in lye, in water, were cleaned with high pressure and taken to a drying unit. Here in the last lab was a kind of packing machine which gripped the thin layers and sorted them into a container with countless narrow slits.

No great technique was involved and this absolutely looked like somebody who did not have much money and made the best of it. Spock however was standing in front of the container with the slate layers and stared at it with a fascinated expression.

"I think Pointear knows something", Dr. McCoy guessed.

They both walked over to him and Kirk said:

"Well, do you know something?"

"Jim?!" The Vulcan was irritated. "You may be assured that I know a great many things."

"Grrr", McCoy gnarled. "If there's one thing I can't stand with you, it's taking everything that literally. – Do you know something about this?"

"I think I know what the package contained which Professor McTinker fetched from Fort William today. – To be precise…"

"Yes?!" Kirk asked in an excited tone.

"… which he fetched from Fort William yesterday. We are past midnight, it's a new day."

"That was exactly what we wanted to know", the Doctor sourly retorted.

"My dear colleagues!" Fergus shouted before the two of them could slay the Vulcan.

They walked over to McTinker and with a bit silly faces watched what he was doing. The door at which he was standing had no less than ten locks and for each lock he had to fumble for a separate key.

Very cautiously Daby had pulled down the edge of the pocket in which she was sitting. She knew well enough what had to be done so that a secret really looked a secret. A door with countless locks so that nobody could get in certainly belonged. Suddenly she felt a finger on her head. It pressed lightly and she dived back into the pocket.

Finally the door swung open. It was thick as a safe and Captain Kirk could not help taking a deep breath. If anything was to be learned here, they would learn it now! – But for him, too, now by no means meant now. Fergus pressed a switch, a gloomy lamp went on and lit a narrow staircase. Down at its foot they could make out another thick door. Dr. McCoy gave a soft sigh…

"We'll be in the test rooms in a moment", McTinker said, hearing the sound. "You're wondering that we're going into a cellar?"

"Er, ay, sure", Lt. Scott quickly reassured him because the professor need not know that Spock with his tricorder had discovered this underground area since long.

"This was a bunker during the war."

"The war", McCoy tonelessly repeated and Fergus turned round to him.

"Second World War!" He sounded surprised and Kirk quickly nodded.

"Of course, what else. You see, but Leonard is such a pacifist he knows almost nothing about wars."

"I see, I see – that's good in a way, isn't it."

"It is", Kirk nodded and pushed the goggling McCoy forward.

Luckily the professor had been satisfied with two locks at the next door. Here, too, the light went on automatically, when the door opened. It was extremely bright light and their eyes had to become used to it.

With a quite natural looking movement Spock put his hands into his overall-pockets, took one hamster with each and waited for the moment to let them free. For Hamstilidamst and Daby this was most uncomfortable, especially when both hands suddenly tightened around them.

What the Vulcan was facing now had nothing to do with the cheap makeshift labs on the floor above. It was without any doubt that the professor had put his last penny into this unit. The others proceeded slowly and marvelled, while he stayed and took a look at the total unit.

Suddenly he started. Something had bitten his hand and his logic mind told that it had been hamster teeth. Now he noticed that he had been so baffled that he gripped the little animals much too tight. He looked around whether somebody was watching, then took the two of them out of his pockets, sat them down on a nearby cupboard and went to join the others.

Spock had placed Hamstilidamst and Daby so that they could overlook the whole room. They blinked a little as it was so very bright out here after the dark pockets. Then they sat up and looked around.

"Hum", Hamstilidamst said disappointedly. "Can't see anything special."

"We have to get closer", Daby nodded. "This is the place of the secret. If we do not understand what we see, we will listen."

Hamstilidamst made a face for she sounded like some teacher. The worst with teachers was that mostly they were right. So they looked where the men were standing just now and started to climb down from the cupboard. They better did not get too close and consequently climbed onto a table which was in some distance from the giant container in the centre of the room.

From here they could hear all talk, could see what the professor was showing to the humans – and made a discovery.

"Look at", Hamstilidamst whispered. "That thing there is filled with the slate layers."

"Humhum", Daby retorted.

The transparent container was really packed with the thin slate layers. And they had not been thrown in wildly but neatly arranged so that they formed long, shifting rows. That had an enormous length, not only for hamster minds.

"This", Prof. McTinker was just saying, "is the core and the main problem. This is to be the stock chamber."

"You heard that?!" Hamstilidamst hissed. "Heard it?! It's a stock chamber. Wow, that's swell!"

"Shut – up!" Daby said in a low, but very distinct and very angry voice.

"Stock chamber?" also Lt. Scott asked and Hamstilidamst made a face at Daby – the Scotsman knew the value of a stock chamber!

"Well, the energy has to be stocked for supply", McTinker said in a tone as if every other solution would be completely daft. "Like oil."

"In mixed state?" Spock asked.

"How else?"

The Vulcan lowered his chin and folded his hands at his back. For him the discussion was finished because a mixture of matter/antimatter even they in their time could not be held on stock. It would have been ideal for many situations, but physics did not agree with it.

"Tell me, Fergus", Scotty took the word again, "did ye e’er succeed wi' controlled minglin’."

"We-ell", the professor winced. "It's like this: I know all conditions and I created all conditions. Analysis: If particles of matter and antimatter collide, they neutralize each other, thus releasing energy. Question: Can such energy be bundled and used? Answer: Principally yes."

"Fergus", Kirk said, completely unnerved, "I think we all would like to understand what the holes in the cheese… Sorry! …what the holes in the slates have to do with it."

The professor beamed at them and walked with hopping steps to a cupboard. Spock quickly turned his head because the direction was the cupboard where he had left the hamsters. With relief he saw that they were no longer there. Unobtrusively he glanced around until he saw a hamster head peeping from behind some measuring device. It was Hamstilidamst who waved to Spock. The Vulcan closed his eyes for a moment and nodded briefly. Nobody had noticed anything.

In fact the cupboard McTinker opened now was a freeze and he took out the parcel he had fetched from Fort William yesterday.

"I would ask you to assist me if I could believe that you have an idea about my test procedures. But I don't believe that."

"By t’ by, wha’s in tha’ parcel?" Dr. McCoy asked and Fergus beamed again.

"Positrons."

"What is in it?" the Doctor squeaked.

“Holy cow!" Scotty exclaimed. "If I think tha’ ye more or less transported our hamsters on a bomb! – What was that?"

"Nothing", Spock quickly said. "I cleared my throat."

But he had not cleared his throat. Behind the measuring device on the table Daby had fainted. Hamstilidamst found it terribly thrilling that the professor had placed them right onto a bomb yesterday. He silently danced of joy until suddenly he saw that Daby was lying on her back with all four paws stretched out.

Hamstilidamst looked bewildered and a little helpless. Normally only the mayor fainted if something hit his bonce and afterwards he drivelled nothing but rubbish. Another kind of fainting Hamstilidamst did not know so that he looked about him what might have hit Daby. He found nothing. Then he thought about what he had learned in the HAC, the Hamster-Aid-Course. He did not remember anything and so simply pinched Daby's nose hard. Happily he noticed that he must have learned something like that at some time, for Daby jumped up on the double.

"Where am I?" she bewilderedly squeaked and he made:

"Sh-sh-sh! In Fergus's lab."

"The b… the bo… the bomb!" she stammered.

In some distance above them they suddenly heard some coughing. It was Spock who feigned a cough and in between mumbled:

"You can be heard."

"Okay", Hamstilidamst whispered back. "See that Fergus stops babbling about bombs or Daby keels over.”

Spock coughed once more, nodded and returned to the container in the middle of the room.

Prof. Fergus McTinker started to hold a speech. The four officers who most of their everyday life managed with warp-energy had no difficulty understanding him. However, two hamsters who only had very vague ideas what an atom might be, did not understand him at all. Daby at least faked it, making an intelligent face. Hamstilidamst made wild whispering comments.

"Your hear that? If you cool down the posyphone parts they get lazy. – I bet Bummy and Balla have been sitting in the fridge too long."

"I'm now setting the thermal bowl with the positrons into the container, close it tightly and evacuate the oxygen from the container", the professor explained.

"Look, that's no bomb at all", Hamstilidamst whispered. "That's a thermos flask. Might be porridge in it. Aren't you hungry, Daby?"

"Yes", she hissed, "but there are more important things."

"Are there?" Hamstilidamst wondered.

According to Fergus' explanation, a mechanism automatically opened the thermal bowl if the container had vacuum. Now the positrons could flow out. At the same time a measuring device was switched on, scanning the route of the particles.

"Of course you realize", the professor said, "that speed is relative. A positron with normal temperature goes through thick lead plates and a thin slate layer is no barrier if it slows down."

"T’ slate container also has vacuum o’ course", Scott said.

"Yes, certainly. – Now please watch the particle movement. Over here."

"Off!" Hamstilidamst whispered, gripped Daby's fore paw and together with her jumped from the table surface into the abyss.

A few seconds later the professor was standing at exactly the measuring device behind which the hamsters had been hiding. They flitted under a cupboard and looked about. Where could they go to follow up what was happening? It must be absolutely terribly interesting for Scotty whistled and the Vulcan said: "Fascinating!"

Beside the cupboard was a power cable to a strip light. Hamstilidamst pointed at it and Daby quickly nodded. Hastily they climbed up. The cupboard they had been sitting under and also the one beside it were quite high. They could not see anything definite from there. But with a daring jump they hopped from the cable to the cupboard top. Daby pointed down the line of cupboards.

"That one is low enough", she said.

Chance would have it that the men now took the same direction. Humans and hamsters arrived at the cupboard at the same time, but obviously during their flight the hamsters had missed something.

"So now the slowed down positrons and the unchecked ones have a different temperature, speed and position", McTinker explained. "This is the situation when I let them into this chamber where they meet neutrinos which are cooled down as well."

"What was that?" Hamstilidamst whispered. "Some sort of animal? Sound like nutria."

"Nonsense", Daby whispered back, who did not know either. "That are the albinos of the particle doctrine."

"All dinos - what?"

"Without colour."

"Right ho, I can't see anything there", Hamstilidamst admitted. "But neither can I see any postillons."

"Well, the ones are matter-albinos and the others antimatter-albinos."

"Oh!" said Hamstilidamst and looked awed.

He would not have thought her to know about such things but what she said sounded tremendously intelligent. And it all fitted together just great. Daby also thought that it all fitted together just great. Therefore she thought what she had said might well be right.

"I am and always will be convinced that the different state of the positrons is decisive for a successful mingling…"

Further the professor did not get because there was quite a bang now. Here and there in the last chamber positrons and neutrinos had collided and eliminated each other, as was their way, by an explosion.

"Wow!" That was Hamstilidamst.

The Enterprise-officers had retreated hastily but Fergus who knew this result better than anybody else, pressed a button which sealed the neutrino-chamber. Hamstilidamst, delighted about that lovely explosion wanted to share his joy with Daby, but Daby was sitting there, glared down and appeared to have something like a fit.

"What's the solution?!" the professor lamented. "What's the solution?! What's the solution?!"

"You have to transform the explosive energy into ignition energy immediately", Lt. Spock said.

"But that makes no sense. Every household would have to have a particle accelerator unit! That makes no sense. Nobody can pay that. It must be possible to store the energy, otherwise all this makes no sense."

"Fergus, if ye bring matter an’ antimatter together in a mix chamber ye at once hae t’ power ye want", Scott urgently said.

"But that would be a giant unit. – And it would be dangerous…"

The voices departed slowly towards the door, Hamstilidamst was sitting there watching Daby worriedly who had not moved for two minutes. He thought about apoplexies and other horrible things – then the light went out.

"Ey!" he barked.

Fergus and the officers had left and Spock had simply forgotten them!

 

  


Chapter 13

 

 

Scottish Reunion

 

“Goldi, would you mind to walk behind me, I’ll faint in a moment!”

Shrugging, Goldi dropped back, yielding to Flecki who refrained from comments about hamsters who delivered certain gases after lavish nourishment. For more than an hour the hamsters had been wandering through the widely branched net of the ship’s tubes. They had no idea where they were, they had no idea how to find their destination, and they had no idea what to do if against all expectation they were going to reach their destination. In other words: This was quite a normal hamster mission. Com connection to Lt. Uhura had not been very helpful. First the screened Jeffreys tubes made communication difficult, second it was not easy to give directions if one tube looked exactly like the other. Finally the hamsters paused in front of a bulkhead. Something had to happen and chief Botchy nodded at Dodo. The big hamster made no bones about the matter – or he did as again and again he ran against the bulkhead with all his weight. After several bruises, Flecki had the idea to ask Lt. Uhura.

“Beside the door there is a code pad. Enter authorization code 7-7-2-1 and the door opens.”

After these words of the com officer chief Botchy looked conscience-stricken at bruised, wailing Dodo. “Sorry, Dodo, won’t do it again!”

Quickly Goldi had typed in the numbers and with a soft hiss the bulkhead opened. A passage! Obviously they were back in a normal passage possibly leading to the bridge. The mayor-commander would have liked to utter some praise about the ingenuity and effectiveness of ‘Operation Hamsterstorm’ but as they still had no inkling where they were, he refrained from giving praise.

Cautiously the hamster troop slinked along the passage. Their delicate ears listened carefully for any strange noises which might come from the Borg-gerbils. After conferring with Lt. Uhura who only had recommended them to follow this route, it happened. Hissing, a door opened in the passage they were just crossing and they panicked. Like always in similar situations the hamsters followed a well proved tactic: Crying “Pleh!” loudly, they ran in circles while Goldi was standing a little apart, looking sheepish. The first to leave the running circle was Flecki. She looked at Goldi sharply.

“I only tried if the code also works for this door”, he meekly said, while this time it was Flecki who angrily tapped the floor. “Perhaps it’s a short cut?”

“As I often think to have said”, the mayor-commander said, “there isn’t just one way to Hamsterton. Perhaps Goldi’s thoughtless acting offers a new possidingus – er – bility…”

“So let’s go in”, chief Botchy panted. “The earlier we have done with.”

Slowy, one after the other, the hamsters entered the room. Not only for a hamster this room was huge sized. It was about the size of Engineering, just much, much emptier. To be exact, nothing was in here except some switchboards at the walls. Marvelling, the hamsters look around.

“If my judgement is correct”, chief Botchy said, holding his head askew, “this room has no obvious function.”

“That’s what he always says if he doesn’t get the picture”, a voice chirped and the chief angrily looked around for the source of these words.

“Goldi!” Flecki screeched at this moment and immediately all eyes were on Goldi who was doing something at one of the switchboards. “Do at once stop fumbling these things, you’ll…”

“Please state your wishes”, a friendly computer voice said.

Anxiously, the hamsters looked at one another. Would this be some wishing room where wishes were fulfilled? Cautiously they approached the switchboard. Blinking lamps, a few symbols telling them nothing – that was all.

“Please state your wishes”, the friendly computer voice repeated.

“Well, erm, what are we wishing for?” the mayor wondered and as usual tapped the floor with his paw.

“I’d like something to eat”, Goldi cried. “That last food orgy is quite some time back and all the running is tiring.”

“Goldi life size”, Flecki snarled. “Just munching and munching. And if it isn’t munching, it’s sleeping, isn’t it? We better wish for a more pleasant place than this one. It’s bare and cold and uncosy!”

“Please specify your wish! Please specify ‘more pleasant place’”, the friendly computer voice said.

“O well”, Trample shouted, “Scotland is very pleasant. Especially the north!”

“Please state coordinates of place and feasible persons.”

The hamsters stared at the switchboard thunderstruck although the voice was coming from somewhere else. What did all this mean? They really could not state any coordinates but if there was one person they would have liked to meet again, it was…

“McClown”, Taty cried excitedly, “Frido McClown – he’s really nice!”

The computer voice answered something which none of the hamsters did really understand. Then hell seemed to break loose: there was lightning and thunder, the up to now solid floor suddenly became wet and muddy, it was cold, between the flashes there was complete darkness. They panicked again, cluttered with shrieks, now and then the plopping of falling hamsters could be heard and over and over again lightning and thunder which became unbearable by the hard drumming of the rain.

“A-a-a-ah, my pretty fur”, Flecki’s voice screeched through the howling storm. “Help me up, Trample, I fell into the mud.”

“Can’t”, came the immediate answer. “Got stuck myself.”

Chief Botchy and Dodo had been lucky enough to have landed on a solid spot. Together they helped their friends to get off the muddy ground. There were some problems with Trample who was stuck to the neck in the bog and could be dragged out with combined help only. The hamsters fled to a dry mound and held council.

“We’ve seen these plants before”, Tealeafy cried. “Isn’t that heather?”

“And grass”, Sasy added. “Are we really in Scotland?”

“Looking at Trample, we should be”, Goldi laughed. “Last time he was green, now he’s black.”

Flecki very much would have liked to console sobbing Trample by patting his back but she really did not want to touch anything that muddy. So she left it with a dagger look toward Goldi.

“Well, erm, but how could that happen? How in the world could this happen?” the mayor panted and tore at his left paw which had got stuck during tapping the mud.

“Why are we here?” chief Botchy yelled into the howling storm. “Which dunderhead has sent us here?”

“Trample said he wanted to go to Scotland”, Tuffy squeaked.

“So what?” Flecki remarked. “I’ve said so often enough and it never happened. That silly computer must have done it.”

“Transporter”, Botchy thought aloud, “we came here by transporter. That Yoohoo talked about it, didn’t she?”

“I’m sure the Borg are behind that”, Dodo lamented. “We’ll never get home again!”

“Well, erm, looked at that way we are so to say closer to home than before. But now the universe is in great dingus – danger so to say. Our Veganian friend is all alone in his battle against the Borg while we…”

“At the worst they will eat him”, Goldi interrupted the mayor.

“That’s it and for my sake they may. My fur I wet through and through and we urgently need some shelter. Look, isn’t that some building over there?”

All hamster heads immediately turned to the direction the chief engineer had indicated. Indeed: where the sky was darkest, a spire could be made out. The troop set out at once. Of course they proceeded slowly on the muddy ground and more than once the one or the other had to be rescued out of a mud pool. Mostly it was Trample who by now hardly resembled a hamster any longer. Each step was arduous, the rain still was pouring down on the poor animals without mercy. The hope for a dry, warm shelter however pushed them on, not to forget the hope for food. The closer they came, the more details they could make out.

There were several spires, a castle, to be exact, in the lonely moor. Who could be daft enough to build a castle in this area? Well, the hamsters were much too weak and exhausted to wonder much. They just wanted to survive. They felt like having walked for hours until they finally faced a high castle wall. There was no bell of course and if there had been, they would not be able to reach it. After surrounding the castle several times and still finding no entrance, they sat down under a projection in the wall. At least they were sheltered from the rain here.

“Useless”, chief Botchy grumbled, “we can’t get in!”

“Perhaps Dodo could try…”

“No!” Dodo interrupted, wailing, and moved over, pushing Trample into the rain by accident.

So ‘Operation Hamsterstorm’ was huddling together in the most Scottish of Scottish weathers and waited for things to happen. They happened by way of a new morning, bathing the landscape in bright light. By and by the fog lifted, and the half frozen animals marvelled at the majestic scenery. The night they had spent at the southern wall of the castle and were now looking at a mountain, not knowing that this was Ben Klibreck. Klibreck Burn rose there, a creek of which last night’s rain had made a raging stream. Shuddering, some of the hamsters wondered how it would have been to fall into that river. The answer was easy: They would have been taken down to Loch Naver to which the creek was flowing. It was quite another matter in what sort of condition they would have reached the Loch. Close to the said Loch was the castle they had discovered and where they had spent the night. To the small animals it appeared big and creepy. They could see a tall and a smaller spire. The big wooden entrance was on the west side as the hamsters had already seen at night, but also in the light of day this door offered no way of entering for them.

“Hey, people, come over here”, Taty and Tealeafy shouted and the tired hamster troop got moving at once. “Here, there’s a bush. If we climb it, we can scramble through one of the windows.”

So they did and were lucky at last. The window was a simple opening in the stone wall, there was no glass or grille. After having climbed up the bush and onto the window sill, they could look into the castle. There was not much to be seen except a spiral staircase of stone.

“Upwards or downwards?” chief Botchy asked when they all sat on the cold stairs.

“O no, not upwards again”, Flecki groaned and thus the cautious descent into the lower parts of the castle started.

When they reached the lower floor and so the entrance area of the castle, they looked about them curiously. There was a fireplace on the right side, the remains of some fire giving clouds of smoke. At the opposite side was another spiral staircase. Nobody was in sight and the hamsters flitted to the warming fire. It felt good to warm up after the cold, unpleasant night. For quite a while the hamsters lay dozing until they heard someone coming down the stairs. Panicked, the hamsters looked about but there was no hiding place except the fireplace.

“Up the other stairs!” chief Botchy shouted and flitted to the staircase while the steps came closer in a threatening way.

Panting, the hamsters climbed up one step after the other while their panic was growing in case someone might come down this staircase. However, this did not happen and they reached a long passage, the floor of it covered with a dark red carpet. To their left and right there were doors but none of them was open so the hamsters hastened on to the end of the passage. Here a cosy looking room was waiting for them, the high windows hung with heavy green curtains. An equally green carpet invited them and in the middle of the room was a big, round table of mahogany. Four comfortable armchairs were arranged around the table. Under one of them the hamsters made themselves comfortable and took a rest from all the exhaustions. In this room, too, there was a fireplace and the fire must have been lit a short time ago only as the flames burnt high and spread comfortable warmth. It did not take the hamsters long to fall asleep collectively.

“Stupid, lazy, cheeky and what is more – daft!”

The refreshing sleep of the hamsters was disturbed by loud shouting. Anxiously the animals huddled together and looked at a pair of feet standing in the middle of the room. Without doubt these feet belonged to the person who had disturbed their sleep.

“Talking about us?” Goldi asked, doubling his fists.

“Might be talking about any of us, there’s no difference”, chief Botchy gnarled.

“Well, certainly not me”, Dodo remarked. “I’m never cheeky!”

Cautiously the hamsters crept out of their hiding place to get a better look. A second pair of feet now appeared at the door and seemed to wait there undecidedly.

“Money-grabbing rabbles”, the voice now nagged on. “Should all be drowned in Loch Naver! Where is my tea?”

“At once, Sir”, the person at the door said. The feet belonging to that person disappeared. Spellbound the hamster-eyes followed the second pair of feet approaching their armchair. Just before they reached the frightened animals, they suddenly turned into the opposite direction and with a loud moan someone sank into the armchair above the hamsters.

“Say”, Flecki wondered, “don’t you somehow recognize that voice?”

“Well, it’s no Borg”, Dodo pondered, “or he wouldn’t drown them in some Loch but asymetre them.”

“Sure, Dodo”, Goldi grinned, “and the Borg don’t drink tea. But perhaps you’ve noticed that perhaps we’re no longer in space.”

“Yes, I thought so when it rained that badly yesterday, because there is no rain in space because there is no air…”

“Shut up, Dodo”, Flecki hissed and with her paw pointed to the feet entering now. Curiously, the hamsters crept forward, taking care not to get too close to the feet in front of them. The peculiar drumming they had heard up to now, suddenly stopped. Obviously the person on the armchair above them had drummed his fingers on the table.

“Your tea, Sir.”

“About time, McClown. I hope it won’t taste as detestable as before.”

The hamsters under the armchair gave jerks, partly of joy, partly of surprise on what they just heard. They were in Scotland, that much was certain but with the best of wills they could not explain why. One thing was dead sure: The Borg-gerbils had lured the hamsters into a trap and beamed them to Scotland by way of transporter when Trample had said something about Scotland. In all, the hamsters were glad that nobody had said anything about north or south pole. This cried for revenge!

But first of all they had to find out what was going on here, how they could get food and how they might return to the ship. The easiest way would have been to ask McClown to take them home to Hamsterton but the mayor probably would object against this plan. Now they had to be all ears to learn what was going on in front of them.

“Well, Sir, it’s the same tea like yesterday, if I may mention it. The cheapest sort I could find in the Thurso market. The water comes fresh from Loch Naver because, as Your Lordship knows and perhaps even noticed, the water pipes are not connected up to now.”

“I see, so I have to drink water where naked fishes and probably dirty tourists enjoy themselves, McClown? Are these the facts you want to mention?”

“Well, Sir, it isn’t my fault that all workers have left the working area yesterday, if this remark is permitted.”

“It isn’t, McClown! After all I’m not paying these rascals for laziness but for working! As principle it is my good right to find fault with that!”

“Certainly it’s your good right, Sir. However, the workers only made a short break after 12 hours’ work, when you, Sir, just had finished your after-lunch nap and went out for a walk. The workers just wanted to finish the five-minutes’ break you agreed upon when you ‘caught’ them at being lazy, these ‘wretched rascals’ as you named them, Sir.”

“Agreed upon, fiddlesticks, McClown. Nobody needs a break who’s working that slowly!”

There was a moment of silence. Although the hamsters could not see the butler’s face they could easily imagine that it reddened. Frido McClown was indeed close to bursting. This was not the first clanger of the lord lately. It had started a few months ago when they had been forced to leave the ruinous Dunollie Castle at Scotland’s west coast. Because of the climate the lord wanted to live at the northern coast this time and for this purpose he had chosen beautifully situated Caisteal Bharraich, also called Castle Varrich. This castle was built on a mountain at Tongue Bay and offered a majestic view to the Atlantic Ocean. Unfortunately the matter had a rub in it: For generations this castle had been in the possession of the regional bishop, the bishop of Caithness.

The present bishop was a good-natured elderly gentleman who quite realized that Castle Varrich had come down in the course of years, but there was no money. However, the old gentleman loved the castle and had willingly agreed to meeting Lord McShredder. As matter of fact he hoped that some ‘Lord of Killichonan, former owner of Dunollie Castle and keeper of the Loch Ness treasure’ would be able to help him with a small donation to repair Castle Varrich. This was a terrible error and the meeting ended in disaster.

When the lord had emptied his pipe onto the bishop’s patched carpet and said to his face that he ‘might be glad to get a handshake and an uncovered cheque for that condemned cattle barn’ the matter got out of control. The normally peaceful bishop took the swearing lord and threw him down the stairs. Without any pleasure Frido McClown remembered the following polemics. The peak were McShredder’s words: “Right close I will build up a new, posh castle, you foul parson. Better buy some tarpaulin so that I won’t need to see your lousy ruin in my neighbourhood!”

Frido McClown sighed, thinking of the things to follow. Most embarrassing negotiations with several neighbouring landowners, vile abuses, hours of money haggling – new hostilities were founded, old ones deepened. It soon became obvious that the Lord of Killichonan would splendidly adapt to the area of Southerland and Caithness and soon get along with all new neighbours at his best. Followed the day when McClown was pushed from the highest peak of bliss into the deepest glen of depression. It happened the day when Lord McShredder wanted to leave after vain attempts to buy some vacant land for a song.

A sheep farmer, boozy MacLeary, had just sold his last sheep and gone bust. That was the moment McShredder made a hit and bought some of MacLeary’s land for the value of a bottle of whisky. While the lord now made a song and dance how smart and clever he was and how patient and skilled one had to be in such matters, it became even worse for poor McClown. The building area was by Loch Naver, so to say at the delta of Klibreck Burn. Contrary to the vicinity, the ground was, due to the river’s closeness, a little muddy. As the lord did not hold with modish scrap like drainage, it was Frido’s business to see to the building of the new castle and stopping it from bogging by and by.

Followed a time which the butler remembered with horror. Together with George and Liza they carted tons of sand to make the ground halfway solid. Many weeks later the building of the castle could begin. Hours of debates convinced the lord that the building by no means could reach the height of Westminster Cathedral, and then the first sod cut be cut. The following months until summer time were months of hard labour.

Liza returned to King’s House Hotel to assist her parents during the tourist season. George who had taken her there, unfortunately had a car accident near Laird when he wanted to avoid some deer and landed in the ditch. Nothing was wrong with the car except a few bumps but George’s leg was broken. Much to his regret he had to spend the next week at Loch Rannoch for regeneration after a short stay in hospital while Frido McClown had to take care of everything concerning the castle.

After his butler had several times collapsed of weakness, the lord realized that obviously McClown was not able to work for fiddling 18 hours per day although as compensation he had to work only 10 hours on Sundays. Only when Frido’s condition of nerves and body became critical and there had been several very ugly scenes, the lord had agreed to engage some helpers from Tongue, Wick, and Thurso. Exactly these helpers had downed the tools yesterday after loud discussion and many unkind words of Lord McShredder and they had disappeared, rageing and swearing.

“And how shall we go on, Sir?”

The lord propped his elbows on the arm rest, sucked at the unavoidable pipe he just had lit, and thought. Matters were tight, that much was obvious. Liza and George would not be available for the next weeks, McClown was more or less knocked out. McShredder could not afford his last slave to vanish. Anyhow, the castle was quite finished. Some minor things were missing like power and water, a few doors and window in the upper storeys, he cellar had been flooded for weeks and the water should be pumped out and so on and so on. Small failings, not urgent and immediately necessary. They had all they needed to make a living, except…

“Well, McClown”, the lord said, sucked at his pipe, blew smoke through the room, and looked at his butler in a jovial way, “in my boundless goodness I decided to grant you a week of holiday.”

“Sir?!”

“Yes, you heard correctly, McClown. Of course you’ll have free living in this house, you only have to care for your own meals. And when you are doing so, you’ll of course cook something for me, too, beside your little butler job. Oh, McClown, you’ll have to buy some supplies. It’s not far to Altnaharra after all.”

“Sir, nobody in Altnaharra will sell us anything after you…”

“Then you walk the short distance to Tongue, McClown, that can’t be that difficult!”

“Sir, in Tongue many of the workers are living whom you handled so…”

“So avoid the town or walk at night!”

“Well, Sir, at night the shops are usually closed.”

“So you’ll sleep in the open until they open, McClown, where’s the problem? Now see that you are off, we don’t have anything to eat. Take the small handcart these lazy workers have left, you can transport the supplies easily with it. But do wash before you leave, McClown, you’re looking like a tramp. Isn’t it kind of me that I always do your thinking?”

The butler reddened but did not answer. He nodded instead and left the room. The delicate ears of the hamsters heard his swearing well enough while Lord McShredder put his pipe aside and soon began to snore.

“We’re done, did you hear that? Nothing to eat in the whole castle.”

“I’m not deaf, Goldi”, chief Botchy grumbled. “So we’ve got to go to Tongue, too.”

“So to say as an escort if I may express it that way”, the mayor-commander unnecessarily added.

“What are we waiting for?” Flecki cried. “We’ve got to find that handcart.”

So off they went as long as they had the chance. The hamster troop took the way out of the castle they a short time ago had taken into the castle. They absolutely had to reach the handcart before Frido did. All went well, only Dodo slipped from the bush but fell softly onto Trample. Now they only had to find the spot and after the hamsters had once raced around the castle in panic, they found it right in front of the main entrance.

One after the other scrambled into the handcart and to their delight found a rug which one of the workers had left. Quickly they huddled under the rug and waited. It took some time until Frido McClown came along. In the meantime, the hamsters could not know this, there had been another loud debate between lord and butler and it had taken a long time until misery McShredder coughed up enough money to buy supplies.

Annoyed, the butler threw the shopping bag into the cart and just missed the rug with the hamsters. Then he made a silent calculation how long it would take him: 2 miles to Altnaharra, 10 miles to Loch Loyal and from there another 5 miles to Tongue. It would take him some hours, that much was certain. However, it also was certain that in the town of Tongue nobody would dislike him, equally it was certain that he was the butler of the old miser and sweater McShredder. For this reason nobody would sell any food to him, at least not if they recognized him as butler of the lord.

Cautiously McClown approached a farmstead named Clebrig and was glad not to meet anybody. Then he walked on into the direction of Altnaharra and decided not to worry if someone would sell him something or not. Scotland is big, he thought, and I’ve got enough money with me.

 


Chapter 14

 

 

The Bone-Grinder and Other Encounters

 

Neither Hamstilidamst nor the officers had the faintest idea what incredible kind of things were just happening to the Enterprise-hamsters. In Ballachulish the topics were quite different. The Vulcan knew that the solution Prof. McTinker had in mind was impossible. However, Fergus's ideas and the way he conducted his experiments were really interesting. To someone from the 23rd century it had to be absolutely primitive but that did not matter because the basic idea showed genius.

Also the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise was enthusiastic. For Scotty the engineering section of the Enterprise was his living room, the machines were his babies, and in all Starfleet there was hardly anybody except him who could adjust the warp-chamber without computer. He was much impressed of Fergus's ideas.

Captain Kirk first of all had his mission in mind. He had no more but the basic knowledge of his time's physics and could by no means be as enthusiastic as Scott or Spock – in case that man could be enthusiastic. But also Kirk knew that Fergus could go on working this way until he was 120 years old without getting a breakthrough.

"Well, that was something", Dr. McCoy said who as a doctor felt even less at home in the whole matter.

They had said good-bye to McTinker, leaving him behind unhappy but not hopeless. Now they walked through the cool night air back to their hotel. McCoy walked beside Kirk, behind them Spock and Scott discussed what they just had seen.

"I guess", Kirk said and turned round, "we all thought Fergus a bit tight with his slate layers."

"Ay, an’ ’t were t’ slate layers nae bein’ tight. - Honestly, I thought he's bonkers when he came out wi’ ’t tha’ only a Ballachulish physicist is able tae understand that."

"Zefram Cochrane had quite different technical conditions", Lt. Spock said, referring to the official founder of warp-technique. "They were considerably better than in this time."

"Spock, you're stating the obvious", McCoy said over the shoulder.

"Quite right, Doctor, you interrupted me as usual. I'll proceed if you permit. Had Fergus McTinker lived in the times of Zefram Cochrane and their technical possibilities, he would have succeeded faster and scientifically more exact basing on the ideas he demonstrated to us."

"Erm, the sentence finished now?"

"Yes, Doctor, now the sentence is finished."

"A beautiful sentence."

"And there's t’ hotel", Lt. Scott said. “Economical nicht light."

"We're in Scotland", Kirk grinned.

"Och, Sir, I dinnae hear that. – Ay, I'm lookin’ forward t’ me bed. How might our wee gluttons hae spent their time?"

All what was spoken afterwards Spock did not really hear. He had forgotten the hamsters in the lab! It never before had happened that he forgot something – Vulcans did not forget anything. It was no excuse that the lab experiments finally had absolutely fascinated him. Worst of all was that he had taken them in clandestinely and his colleagues knew nothing about it and were not to know anything about it. When the Captain was asleep he had to go back to fetch the hamsters. But how was he to free two hamsters sitting behind two doors with twelve locks?! Silent and helpless, the Vulcan walked beside Kirk. Suddenly he realized something far more terrible: There was nothing to eat in the lab. Spock worried, worried very much. And then he worried about himself because Vulcans simply did not worry.

First he as a Vulcan forgot something, then he felt an emotion… Spock was close to asking Dr. McCoy for a check-up. His behaviour permitted only one explanation: He was ill.

Back in the hotel rooms the officers prepared for bed, were quickly under their covers and glad that the day was over. As McCoy and Scott did not find the hamsters in their room, they assumed that the two little munchers made a tour through the hotel kitchen. The Captain assumed nothing at all but started snoring soon.

Cautiously Spock got up again, dressed in the darkness, took his tricorder and crept out of the room. On his way he wondered how he might get into the lab. If the room where Hamstilidamst and Daby were staying had not been an old underground bunker, there certainly had been possibilities but as it was…

Terrible scenes had taken place in the lab in the meantime. Hamstilidamst who had shown a lot of courage during this journey, panicked completely. It was pitch dark, not even a nocturnal animal could make out anything for orientation. Daby still had a fit of immobility and he felt horribly lonely.

"I wanna get out!" he wailed. "We're sta-a-a-a-arving! Pleh! Pleh! Efas su! A-a-a-ah!"

With that he fell from the cupboard into the darkness. Down there he wandered around, rammed his head at the leg of a table, stumbled back, got entangled in some thin wires and yelled:

"Daby! Da-a-a-a-aby-y-y-y!!"

"Sh!"

A short, hissing sound but it came from the direction where the hamster girl was still sitting motionless. Somehow Hamstilidamst now was not only frightened but also furious. He drudged around here, did everything to rescue them and she sat there making "Sh!"

"Ey!" he shrieked. "Do something, you muppet. Dark, no food, nobody here. And what are you doing?"

Infuriated he tore at the cable salad which had caught him. Something ripped loose and suddenly he was free again. A moment later peculiar things happened. Above him it became bright, there was lightning, fireworks seemed to start off.

Hamstilidamst did not know it but when ripping off the thin wires he had opened the seal between the test chambers. Slowly oxygen streamed in. Positrons still drifting in the slate container from McTinker’s experiment now met the oxygen and went off in a thunderstorm of lightning.

He at least could now see something again and saw that up there Daby's nose tip showed over the top of the cupboard, she wobbled to and fro several times and jumped down.

"I've got the solution!" she triumphantly said.

Then the whole test unit exploded, the shock wave hurled the two hamsters against a wall and they lay consciousless. Hamstilidamst's last clear thought was: 'He really makes earthquakes!' Then it was dark in his head.

As the explosion had also been audible in the professor's house, it did not take long until Fergus showed up, opened the door with ten locks and the door with two locks and faced a scene of destruction. More than once something like this had happened to him, but usually he had known the reason.

Miserably he crept around the heap of debris and sobbed:

"Analysis… Analysis… Oh! Oh! But I must not give up. What if my colleagues are right? No, they must not be right, I do not want them to be. Analysis: I'll start again tomorrow."

With trudging steps he left the lab, carefully locked the door behind him and was just plodding up the stairs when Hamstilidamst and Daby came to. Both felt completely dizzy, had no real idea where they were or what had happened. They only knew that it was dark and they were hungry.

When they cautiously left the corner to which they had been hurled, they stepped into glass splinters.

"Ou!" Daby said and

"Outch!" said Hamstilidamst.

"Oh, is someone there?" Daby asked into the darkness. "Permit me to introduce myself: My name is Daby."

"Enchanted", he replied politely. "My name is Hamstilidamst. Where might we be here?"

"At a dark, painful place, that is without doubt."

"Certainly, Madam, you are quite right. – I feel an emotion of appetite."

"I am feeling quite the same, dear Sir. And I am overwhelmed by fatigue."

"So it is with me", Hamstilidamst replied. "The place at which we just have been staying, seems to be void of painful material."

"Indeed, we should venture to return there."

But instead of returning there, they groped their way into another direction and heftily banged against something. Above them there was a peculiar scrunch and they got a slate plate onto their heads. As it was a very thing slate plate it burst into thousand pieces but the hamsters were soundly bruised anyway.

Bewildered, the hamsters were quiet, groped for the bumps which now grew on their heads, then came a very thin voice:

"Hamstilidamst?"

"Eh? What's on?" he said.

"I think we just had something which is called blackout."

"Helpful to know that! I'm aching all over, nothing but splinters in here, and I'm darned hungry."

"And it is dark. If we could find some light at least."

"Ey, do you know conjuring tricks?!" Hamstilidamst uttered for she hardly had said it when in a far off corner some dim bulb lit.

For hamster-orientation this was good enough.

"Look at that!" Hamstilidamst said in an awed tone. "Who managed that?"

"You", said Daby.

"That true? – Sure, when we were all together, we blew up whole castles."

"Just so", she retorted. "That bit of lab would be no problem for you alone. What does that light there light?"

"No idea, but it better would be an exit."

"But a second exit from this lab, that would be the end of all secrets!" Daby was shocked.

"I'll tell you what: I don’t give a damn on your secrets. I wanna get out and some food. That's why we take a look at it. And don't tramp into the splinters."

"Oh, as you like it!" she iffily squeaked but followed him cautiously.

The underground building, i.e. the bunker, extended considerably beyond the borders of Prof. McTinker’s grounds. Lt. Spock could make that out on his tricorder. Over there was a parking space, behind it the mountains began. The Vulcan marched over the parking space towards the hills, eyes on his readings. Suddenly he lifted his head.

There was a small building on the slope. He remembered to have seen it in the morning. Grey, tower-like, and ugly it was and ruined the landscape. Had it not been that ugly, he probably would not have noticed it. But now he saw from his readings that it continued deep into the ground and was connected with the underground bunker.

So this was the above-ground entrance he had looked for. Now he only needed a door. The moment he thought so he felt a slight trembling under his feet and his sensitive Vulcan ears heard a dull bang. A look at the tricorder: This had been an explosion and it came exactly from the direction of the underground laboratory.

This sped Spock up. However, he did not run to the professor's house because it was impossible to tell him that he wanted to rescue some hamsters. He raced up the slope, found a path, stumbled a few times and reached the building. The same did not only have a comfortable door, he could also open it without effort.

So he opened it – und had a fist right in his face. Well, nothing knocked out a Vulcan very easily but he was a little surprised that somebody was living here and gave him such a welcome. Somebody was a big guy with long, greasy hair and dented nose. Now he gripped Spock and said threateningly:

"What d'ye wanna here, ye naught to me fists, eh? I'm Picklock-Billy an' ye better dinnae cross me path, got me?"

"I need access to the bunker", Spock began, then he was otherwise occupied.

The big fist came back towards him and this alienated Spock. Vulcans were principally against violence, but if need be they were stronger than any human. Of course Spock did not start a vulgar brawl but caught the big fist with his open hand, closed his fingers around it and pressed.

Picklock-Billy who always could rely on his hard fists, got big eyes. This long, thin guy had fingers like steel clamps. That hurt, really hurt and now this…

"Ao-o-o!" Billy said and went to his knees.

"I could make mush of your fist", Spock politely explained. "Would you wish for that?"

"Na-a-ao-o-o!"

"Very good. Let's begin once more. I need access to the bunker. Do you have it?"

"What'yer wanna there?"

"I don't see that this should be of any interest to you. Is there a passage to the part of the bunker lying underneath the house over there?"

"Sure. Some damn lab or such. Damn bore."

"You are able to get in there?"

"I'm Picklock-Billy. Nay lockydoors fer me."

"Lockydoors", Spock repeated. "Ah! Locked. Very good, so do guide me there and open the door leading into the lab."

"Ey, Poppinjay, who d'ye thing y'are?"

Spock stepped right in front of Picklock-Billy, made his lips tight and said in a low, dangerous voice:

"I am Walt the Bonegrinder and not used to objections."

"Okay", Billy trembled. "Okay, okay, okay. Just come. I go first, do I?"

"You may be sure that you go first. And stop repeating yourself. I do not like that."

"Okay, okay. Sorry!! 't's a wee bit untidy down there. Sorry."

"Your ideas of tidiness do not interest me", hissed Spock.

Behind Billy he stepped down a stair which was picturesquely decorated with rubbish. – In his life as First Officer beside Captain Kirk there had been more than one occasion for him to adapt to a situation which was most unvulcanic. Kirk was perfect in such games. Again Spock remembered that gangster planet were Kirk had adapted surprisingly well.

Downstairs Billy quickly passed a dirty passage, opened a squealing door into a room and made to pass this as quickly.

"Light!" Spock gnarled.

"A-hay. – Haha, my effects. Ye've gotta live, haha!"

Billy stared at him with frightened eyes and Spock made his to slits – just for safety. Very obviously Billy was a burglar, storing his loot in this room. As matter of fact Spock should have gone to the police but the situation of the Enterprise-officers was not one to draw attention.

The burglar had gone ahead but always with his chin on the shoulder not to loose that guy out of the eyes. Now the Bonegrinder was abstracted by his glance at the loot. Now he quickly could draw the flick knife he carried in a special pocket at the inside of his jacket. Billy had no idea what that guy wanted but anyhow he was not going to allow it because these were his secret living quarters. Down here nobody would…

"Hch-ch-ch-ch-ch!" he hissed and could not longer think.

His knife hand had got into the finger-vice, the knife chinked to the ground. As the Vulcan now really was a little angry about such behaviour, he pressed until he felt one of the metacarpals crack.

"Now listen", Spock said. "I want to get into the lab and nothing else. It is of no interest to me what you are doing if you are here and what you are doing if you are not here. What you do to me, however, is of interest to me – to you, too, I guess."

Billy's face was wet with sweat. He knew well enough that the Bonegrinder could have pressed harder still. That one was far beyond his range. Almost staggering, he left the room by a second door, turned a switch and a dim bulb in an old ceramic holder badly lit a long passage.

Turning on the old switch not only here a bulb was lit but also above the door of the next room. Up to now Spock did not know this but when they had walked down the long passage and were standing in front of the door, he saw that it had no handle.

"What nonsense is this?" he curtly asked und Billy bared his teeth in a frightened grin.

"No problem, I open it. I'll do, no problem."

"Hum", Spock said and invitingly jerked his had.

Billy fetched a bunch of picklocks out of his trouser pocket. He did not need to fumble with it but knew exactly which one fitted this lock. Billy also knew that the door had to be fastened when it had been passed. On the other side was no handle either and the lock was pasted over. This was his chance to get rid of this brute. He simply would invite him to enter the lab first and then quickly close the door. Then this guy would be locked in on the other side. That's what he would do!

"Naught", Hamstilidamst on the other side said. "Looks like a door and isn't."

"Is it wood?" Daby asked.

"Gnaw it?" he retorted and put a paw against it. "Naw, 't is metal. What … You hear that?"

"Yes", Daby squealed. "There's someone at the other side. We'll shout."

"Olleh! Olleh! Pleh! Pleh!" Hamstilidamst yelled at the top of his voice and Daby shrieked with him.

Then the miracle happened and slowly the door was pushed open. A voice said:

"That's it. In ye go."

"Spock! Spo-o-o-ock!" Daby yelled in the highest hamster voice and he quickly knelt down.

The next moment a second man with much dash fell over the Vulcan. Billy had wanted to push Spock, put in all his strength – and hit into nothing as Spock at this moment bent down to the hamsters.

There was a wrangling between the two men. Hamstilidamst quickly grasped that the stranger was attacking Spock. So he jumped onto the stranger's head and powerfully bit his ear. Daby followed immediately to pull at his hairs with all her strength.

Spock had rolled from under Picklock-Billy, turned and saw what was happening. Shaking his head, he stretched out his hand, used the Vulcan stunning grip and Billy collapsed.

"It's – all – right", Spock painfully said.

Somewhere in the area of his stomach something was curiously tense. The picture was incredible: prone Billy with two hamsters on this head attacking him wildly. The tension about his stomach started to twitch. Then something happened which never in his life had happened to him when he was healthy and sane. He almost split with laughter.

However, he quickly realised that this was not fitting for a Vulcan and was soon able to control himself. The hamsters were sitting on Billy's head, watched him and Hamstilidamst reproachfully said:

"You forgot us here!"

"I really beg your pardon", the Vulcan replied.

"You forgot us in a room without food!" This was yet more reproachful.

"But he saved us with personal effort of his whole life", Daby made him consider.

"We blew up the lab in the meantime."

"I was afraid you did", Spock said. "On my way I felt the quake. Come, I'll take you up. I want to take a look at the lab."

"You can't. Too dark for you. Only nocturnals can see with so little light."

"You are wrong, Hamstilidamst, also Vulcans have got night eyes. So let's see what damage you did."

The damage they had done had been very thorough indeed. Perhaps after this Fergus McTinker stopped his experiments but Spock did not really believe it. Suddenly he had an idea.

"Listen", he said. "This is a burglar. His loot is further along there in a room. I want to take some of it here."

"Why?" Daby asked and Hamstilidamst wanted to know:

"Has he got something to eat?"

"I'm quite certain. – Daby, this man should be reported to the police. Coming from the future, we better should not do so. If McTinker finds him and his loot here, he may do it. Moreover…"

"Could you explain that on our way to the food?" Hamstilidamst impatiently interrupted him. "We're almost starved."

Daby nodded eagerly, and Spock refrained from further explanations. He was not even sure whether the professor would take the police to his secret lab. However, this lab was spotlessly clean and it would no longer be if part of the dirt and rubbish Billy had would be in here. Perhaps Fergus one day would continue his experiments but it would take quite some time to re-establish the original state of the lab.

"Repus!" Hamstilidamst bawled when they entered the stuffed room.

"Thank you, Spock, thank you", Daby sweetly said.

They both did not take much notice of the dirty room. The only thing they did take notice of was an open box with shortbread, a few spilled cornflakes and two apples. Spock had time enough to take some trash into the lab and distribute it there. When he had finished this, the air would be full of germs.

Finally he rolled Billy into the lab who probably was the biggest mug-slinger of all. Then with the help of the picklock he locked the door behind him, collected the hamsters and set out for the hotel. When he crossed the parking space he saw someone coming down the street. He stopped and wondered how to explain all what had happened here to his Captain.

Captain Kirk had been sleeping soundly in his hotel bed. Some time he had had a funny dream. A hamster was sitting on his chest, looked at him pleadingly and again and again said: "Excuse me! Excuse me!"

He woke up and saw that a hamster was sitting on his chest, looked at him pleadingly and again and again said: "Excuse me! Excuse me!"

"E-e-eh?" he said dizzily.

"Excuse me, my name is Hooty. I'm the cousin of Daby. She told me that you understand us, that we may speak with you."

"Ye-e-es?" he sleepily said.

"Oh, how nice, I'm very glad. I am Hooty and Daby is my cousin. She spends her holiday with me while her boss is flying astray in far off countries. What I mean is, he is no flying bird but he entered a plane and has gone astray. So Daby pays me a visit oot oot."

"Arum", Kirk said.

"Oh, how nice that you understand that. Here she met Hamstilidamst, I think he is an old acquaintance of her. First he saved my life for I was stuck in a ventilation and fetched a terrible cold."

"Um!"

"Oh, thank you so much for your compassion. I'm already feeling much better. A little soft cheese, a bowl of porridge, some tea and honey does wonders.”

"Erm!"

"Oh, how nice that you share my opinion! Later on Hamstilidamst has been very, very uncivil to me and I do not want to meet him any more. He right shook me through!"

"Oh!" Kirk said, feeling more in accordance with Hamstilidamst than with this talkative hamster-girl.

"Because I did not tell him fast enough that Bummy and Balla have to be bribed with dainties so that they tell what Fergus uses to do in his lab. And after I explained it they both went there to bribe Bummy and Balla. And until now Daby is not back. She certainly would have informed me, even if she had not come to my penthouse for the night. Now I don't know where she is and I’m terribly worried oot oot."

This last tirade had finally made the Captain wide awake. Indeed, Daby had told them that she was visiting her cousin and the cousin certainly knew all the hamsters hereabouts. After all, there wouldn’t be so many wild hamsters in Scotland. So she surely knew the two ones at the professor's.

First morning light came into the room. Kirk turned his head to wake Spock. Then he jumped out of the bed so that Hooty was hurtled through the room. Spock's bed was empty!

"I'm sorry", he said. "I'm really sorry, Hooty. I think I know what has happened."

"Oh! Indeed?" Hooty snapped who did not really know whether to be insulted or relieved.

"I think so. Do go home. I'll take care of the matter."

"Oh, I am really grateful. And will you please tell Daby to contact me? She's my guest, after all and…"

"Yes, I will. Now do go home."

A little piqued, Hooty slipped out of the window while Kirk dressed in no time at all.

There had been a point during the evening visit to McTinker from which on Spock had behaved absentmindedly. And all was explained if he had discovered Hamstilidamst and Daby there and taken them along to the lab. And on their way home he some time had gone completely numb – and now he was gone. Normally it did not happen that a Vulcan forgot anything but probably he had forgotten the hamsters in the lab and set out to get them back. Heaven knew how he was going to explain that to McTinker.

All the time the Captain did not get rid of the idea that Spock did not really take their mission serious. If he only looked at the curious sympathy for the hamsters! That was not at all like him. If in all he had not behaved like a Vulcan, Kirk would have thought that Spock had got some damage by the laughing gas. But there were only some certain aspects in which he behaved quite strange.

While pondering this, Kirk had left the hotel and walked towards the village. Now he reached the street to McTinker, almost started running but slowed down again. He, too, had no idea how to explain to the professor this invasion in the small hours. Hamsters better should not be mentioned.

And then he saw Spock. He did not come from the professor's grounds but strode over the big parking space opposite to it. Now Spock saw him, too, and paused. When Kirk came closer, he had some difficulty to keep serious. On each of Spock's shoulders a hamster was sitting, each hamster elegantly held a piece of apple between the paws. In between was Spock's face and the face said that the Vulcan had no idea how to explain his behaviour.

Kirk thrust both hands into his trouser pockets and said:

"Well, little walk in the morning air?"

"Captain… Sir… Jim…", Spock stammered.

"He rescued us", Daby announced. "From certain starvation."

"Don't tell me."

"That was cool", Hamstilidamst cheerfully said. "First we blew up the lab, then Spock knocked out the burglar and then we at last got something to eat. It would have been certain starvation", he added because he found Daby's phrasing swell.

"Spock?" Kirk asked with a grim face.

"Sir, I'm taking full responsibility", his First Officer replied in an official tone.

"Come on, you can't", Hamstilidamst objected. "I blew up the lab, didn't I. Don't you get ideas. You only dragged in the burglar and all his rubbish."

"I think I want to have a full report from you, Mr. Spock, and when I say full report, I mean full report."

"Okay", Hamstilidamst said. "Well, you've prattled along with Fergus. And every time we thought to have got a good hiding place that was exactly were he came."

"We always were fleeing", Daby nodded.

"That's it. And then we were on some cupboard. Und Fergus did something that it banged behind them slates. But that wasn't half as good as my explosion. And then…"

"Hamstilidamst!" Kirk sternly interrupted. "I wanted Spock to report, not you."

"But he doesn't know what happened to us, we'd been all alone in the lab", Daby objected. "Only we know what happened there."

"Oh, you sure?" Hamstilidamst hissed. "You've been sitting there all time long making a mega-daft face and didn't move."

"Excuse me, I was thinking!" Daby was indignated.

"So what? Need you make a daft face and get the cramps when thinking? I don't either."

"You're not thinking half as much as I do. I found the solution."

"Quiet!" the Captain said and two resentful pairs of eyes looked at him. "Stop that nonsense. You don't quarrel and I want to hear what has happened there."

"Gosh, I'm just explaining it!"

"I decide who explains what to me, my pet."

"Grrr", said Hamstilidamst.

And then a police siren became audible.

It was correct that Prof. McTinker worked alone in his underground lab but the lab was no secret. The measuring instruments had been made available to him by an institute in Glasgow and Glasgow University paid him a small salary for his work.

He had no reason at all to make a secret of it. When after some sleepless hours he early in the morning came back into the underground part of his lab, the room was in a much more shocking state than last time. Moreover a greasy looking man was lying about there and was just regaining consciousness. Fergus had immediately called in the police.

"Jim, I think it is time to return to the hotel", Spock urged.

"O no, my good chap. I'm very curious what happened here", Kirk replied maliciously.

"Ah, good morning, gentlemen", they were hailed.

It was the policeman they had already met yesterday morning. The Captain nodded at him with a smile and now the Vulcan could not do anything but join in.

"Good morning, Sir", he politely said.

"Something wrong at the professor's? He didn't meet with an accident, did he?" Kirk asked and made a worried face. "Yesterday evening we left him safe and sound."

"Ha!" the policeman shouted. "That's one of these statements! Have you been safe and sound or has he been safe and sound?"

"We all were safe and sound", Spock answered.

"Ha!" the policeman said once more. "Good reply. – Oh, I've seen those pets with you already yesterday. Charming, quite charming. – No, the professor's lab has been ravaged last night and he caught the burglar in the act. "

"The lab ravaged?!" The Captain faked big shock. "But that's terrible. What a loss for science!"

"Well, I don't know about that. – Ah, there he is."

Prof. McTinker seemed almost to roll towards them in his haste. The policeman, too, set moving, got out his notebook and looked official.

"Pity, Pity, you are here. Oh, how horrible, Pity!"

For a moment the Captain wondered whether Fergus had gone bonkers. Then he felt something on his shoulder. Daby had changed to him, straightened herself up and whispered to him:

"Pity is his name, Kirk. Ted Pity."

"A-ha-a-a", Kirk said. "Thanks, Daby. – Let's take a look, shall we?"

The policeman with the exceptional name hurried after the professor. The professor narrated with big gestures what had happened. Suddenly he turned round.

"O my goodness, my goodness, my colleagues! Dear colleagues, something terrible happened. I cannot understand it at all. The labour of years destroyed, my laboratory ravaged. The labour of years!"

Now the policemen took his arm and led him to the above-ground part of the lab. The two officers stayed back and Kirk looked inquiringly at his First Officer.

"Am I wrong or is there a second entrance?"

"You are not wrong", the Vulcan replied, turned and looked at the ugly little tower in the hillside.

"Hum."

What was he to do with his First Officer? Their Starfleet-order had been to stop the earliest warp-experiments of Prof. Fergus McTinker in Ballachulish, Scotland. Obviously that was exactly what Spock and the hamsters had done. Mission fulfilled! He could not really read a lecture to his First Officer for this.

"There is something about which until now no one has thought", Spock now said but for the time being nobody was to learn what that was.

Ted Pity led the still dizzy Picklock-Billy out into the crisp morning air and Billy's eyes fell on Spock.

"A-a-a-argh!" he shrieked. "Tha's t’ one!"

"Now do be quiet", Pity said.

"Tha's him, Walt t’ Bonegrinder, right a brute. He did this tae me. Look ’t me fives!" He held up his badly swollen hand. "Tha's been t’ Bonegrinder. Right a gangster, big number. And them two monsters, they fell upon me."

"I said, be quiet", Pity sternly said and looked over to the officers.

There was Spock, straight, calm and almost thin. His long, slim fingers with the best of will did not look as if they might harm anybody. And the two hamsters huddling to their humans just looked absolutely dear. Ted Pity shook his head and shoved Billy into the police car. Fergus who had followed them, was shocked:

"That is an exceptional cheek! My highly estimated colleagues… How dare you?! O Pity, these are Professor Spock and Dr. Kirk from America. They…"

"Professor, you do not think I believe that gibberish", the policeman cordially interrupted. "Moreover I know since yesterday morning that the gentlemen are scientists visiting you. Well… Just for forms sake, gentlemen, do you by chance have your identifications on you?"

The Captain sent a silent prayer of thanks to heaven that Dr. McCoy was not with them now who had no papers at all for this time. He and Spock could make patient faces because Constable Pity only did his duty. When he saw their passports and furthermore two official credentials he almost stood to attention but refrained from doing so. Politely he touched his cap and could not stop his voice to sound immensely respectful.

"You're NASA-members! Doctor! Professor! I'm sorry to have bothered you."

"You are in your rights. It is no bother", Spock replied.

"So have a nice day. I'll be back, when I turned in this guy, Professor."

"Pity, I thank you", Fergus called behind the departing car.

"Sounds rather remarkable", it whispered into Kirk's ear, and on Spock's shoulder it murmured:

"Rather remarkable? Completely balmy it sounds. – Pity I thank you!"

"Sh!" made the Captain, then they followed the unhappy professor into his lab.

Kirk's jaw had dropped when Fergus had shown his laboratory to them. The hamsters and Spock had done quite a job here! The Captain expressed his heartfelt pity and it wasn't a lie because he really pitied Fergus.

But they could and would not help. Later in the day they were all going to meet once more and talk things over. Now the officers walked back to the hotel. Both were silent for a while but now and then Kirk threw Spock a glance. Finally he nodded in an awed way:

"So – Walt the Bongrinder."

"Well…", began Spock and caught up Hamstilidamst who fell from Spock's shoulder of laughter. "I recalled something."

"What? A butchery?"

"No, Sir, our enterprises on the gangster-planet Iota."

"O yea", Kirk ejaculated and grinned. "You want to say you learned all that there?"

"I learned from you, Jim. – That always is my desire", the Vulcan replied virtously.

"Don't tell me", the Captain retorted in a miffed tone.

"There are Dr. McCoy and Lieutenant Scott."

"Shall we get breakfast now?" Hamstilidamst asked, nestling tiredly into Spock's hand.

"Sure", Kirk said. "Oh, Daby, I wouldn't have come at all had your cousin Hooty not sent me. She worries very much where you are. Do report to her when you're back."

"Yes, I will. I neglected Hooty a little, I'm afraid."

After this adventure also Daby was tired and did not mind to sleep a while in Hooty's penthouse. Now the officers met and Dr. McCoy asked:

"And where have you been laying about?"

"Oh, we fulfilled our mission in the meantime."

"Liar", came the sleepy voice of Hamstilidamst and the Captain laughed.

"All right, these three fulfilled the mission, I only joined them later on. Come on, breakfast for all, my stomach’s rumbling. - Oh, Bones! Do you know the man at my side?"

"Something wrong in your attic, Jim? I know Spock longer than I like."

"I have the idea tonight you would not have recognized him. He's Walt the Bonegrinder."

"If it were noon I would say you've got a sunstroke!"

"Eh, Mr. Spock, what are ye saying?" Scotty asked.

"Well… That's how I introduced myself to Picklock-Billy."

"Spock", the Doctor cautiously said, "I know your last routine isn't that long back but… Are you quite sure that you're all right?"

The Vulcan who had already put the same question to himself, was not willing to give a clear answer to this but he sounded very patient.

"Doctor, you have asked me this for the second time now."

With this they entered the hotel, went to the dining room and left it to the two hamsters to find a sleeping place. Kirk felt quite knocked out but he did not want to miss the report of his First Officer. By this the group drew much attention in the dining room because it was not usual here that during breakfast some of the guests roared with laughter.

The Captain made for his bed afterwards and also Spock decided that it was better to be rested in case the day presented itself again with such a number of surprises. Now the chambermaid was angry because a chambermaid should rely on it that guests left their rooms after breakfast so that she could tidy up.

More in her favour were Lt. Scott and Dr. McCoy as they left the hotel for a walk like good tourists. Scotty anyway had the idea to be on holiday with some duty interruptions. Now he wanted to look for some corners which already now looked like the still looked in his time.

The bridge of course was there in both time phases. It was a memorial in his days and the Chief Engineer was keen on making some stress-measurements. In his time there was almost no traffic over this bridge and he always had thought it never had been very much used. But it was decidedly frequented as a main road.

"Mr. Scott, how about just enjoying the view?" McCoy impatiently asked.

"The… Och ay, t’ view. I've enjoyed it already. Do tak’ a look ’t them bearings."

"I'm a doctor, not a bridge builder", Bones retorted.

"Nae reason not tae tak’ a look. Here fer instance…"

Never in his life McCoy was to know what there fer instance was. Over one of the steel beams carrying the bridge came a hamster, slowly and staggering. This was more in McCoy's line because the little animal seemed to be ill. Scotty said:

"Wouldnae believe ‘t how Scotland's swarming o’ hamsters. I'd ne'er thought so!"

"Do get him off that iron matter, Mr. Scott. He doesn't seem to be well."

"Pleasure, but that isnae iron matter, it's a T-beam."

"For my sake it's an S-beam."

"Sure not, than it wouldnae be here. – Och, me wee thing, ye look right knocked up. Wheretae are ye bound?"

"Incredible!" the hamster moaned. “Iniquitous! Insolent! In… in… inhuman! My head is whirling. Unspeakable what I suffered. And now these bipeds! Me feet are aching, I'm close to a collapse…"

"Why, good gracious, what happened to you?" Dr. McCoy asked.

"And now they talk like talking to me. This it most unsettling. I want to continue my journey."

"So ye shall. If ye tell us where tae, we might carry ye o’er a distance – if yer feet are aching", Scotty proposed.

No answer. The hamster sat numb and motionless in Dr. McCoy's hand. At last he cautiously lifted his head.

"I'm to tell you where I want to go to?"

"Yes, do."

Silence again. For quite some time the hamster thought very quietly to himself. Then:

"You understand me?"

"Yes, we understand you."

"Ah! – This changes the circumstances considerably."

"Do you also have the impression that his phrasing reminds a little of Daby?" McCoy asked and in his hand it twitched.

"Of whom?"

"A hamster-girl we met here. She's named Daby."

"Thanks to all hamster-gods", the hamster puffed. "That's the hamster-girl I'm looking for. She is my assistant. I have been…"

"Balthasar!" McCoy and Scott shouted simultaneously.

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Chapter 15

 

 

Trouble with the Police again

 

As if there never had been any thunderstorm, the sun was shining bright at Loch Naver, Scotland where another group of hamsters was staying, still not really certain what had happened to them. As it was, they were sitting in Frido McClown’s handcart and were taken some place where hopefully was some food.

The morning was still a little misty and nowhere a cloud was to be seen. Frido McClown made a little detour along Altnaharra Lodge as he was not keen on running through the village. Two weeks ago Lord McShredder had had a business meeting with some villagers at Altnaharra House, a beautifully situated hotel with white walls and stiff prices. It was the usual ‘McShredder-cut-corners’-show which ended with the sad fact that none of the villagers was inclined to sell him as much as a crumb for building his castle. When finally the landlord brought the bill, there was quite a scandal. The upshot was that the swearing and struggling lord was thrown out of the hotel.

By now the butler had left the lawn and reached the bridge over river Naver. He sighed with relief. Of course he need not dread the villagers and he quite realized that nobody would find fault with him. It was just for safety. After a few miles on the single track northwards he passed some rape bushes and knew that he was close to Loch Loyal. Time for a rest, he thought, as by now the sun was going towards noon and it was an unusually hot day. Behind Inchkinloch he could see Loch Loyal glittering in the sun and soon McClown dragged the handcart to the roadside. At a short, stony beach he paused and looked over the water.

His thoughts wandered to Liza and they wandered to George. It would be some time until Liza returned from King’s House Hotel. And George, if he was clever, would stay at Loch Rannoch for a good while. What would be his own future? Should he stay for the rest of his life with the cranky lord? A butler of his class never would abandon his master if not the lord dismissed him with a handsome compensation. Then he could live his life with Liza and look for some nice home. He was sad when he thought of a discussion he had with Lord McShredder some time ago. “That idea you may stuff where the sun never shines, McClown! Only if the sky comes down on my head I’ll let you go!”

McClown sighed, took up a stone and threw it into the water. Sullenly he watched the rings of water until they slowly reached the stony beach. His stomach was grumbling and he glanced at the handcart, knowing well enough that nothing interesting was in it beside the woollen rug. I’ll take that rug as underlay at least and then I’ll sort out what I have to buy. Sadly he walked to the cart and took up the rug. As sad and sullen as he just had been as happy and surprised he was the next moment. Hamsters? Why hamsters? Yes, he recognized them the instance. These were his hamsters! Overjoyed he took the next one and danced with him down the single track. When he cautiously had put back the little pet, he took up several stones and jauntily threw them into Loch Loyal, making hilarious noises.

“Why always me?” Flecki nagged and straightened her fur. “Can’t that fool fling about somebody else for a change? Now I’m not only hungry, I also feel sick.”

A moment later the butler’s head reappeared above the hamsters: “All will be well now, my little friends, I know it!” he cried, then he paused. Eleven sad, hungry pairs of eyes looked at him full of expectation and his delight was dampened. Indeed, he had no food with him, none at all, and these little animals were as hungry as usual. Very hungry as it was and as one of them tried to explain by pointing at his little belly again and again. “All right”, the butler calmed down the hamsters, “all right. I’ll take you to Tongue now and there will be food in abundance.”

Carefully he rearranged the rug around the hamsters and looked that they all were well covered. Then he took the shaft, dragged the handcart back to the street and waited a moment as a big truck was just passing. Afterwards he had the road to himself and reached Lettermore, a tiny settlement half way down Loch Loyal. He once more looked back and was satisfied that nothing was moving under the rug in the cart. He just wanted to start whistling a merry tune when something came to his mind: Why had the hamsters shown up, where had they sprung from? He had no inkling but one thing was certain: Something important was going to happen! Every time these pets showed up, something important had happened.

His thoughts wandered back to the time when the old lord had ordered him to kidnap the hamsters. Hamster fur is good for rheumatism – McClown still could hear the voice. He grinned when he remembered the trick by which he had caught the unsuspecting little pets in the centre of Hamsterton. A simple cardboard box it had been which he had placed into the market square of their town. With a marker he had written ‘Cinema – Free entrance’ on it and simply waited. It had worked indeed and one hamster after the other had walked into the entrance he had cut into the box. After a while the box had been filled with curious hamsters who impatiently had been waiting for the movie to start. The rest had been easy. He only had to turn round the box and that had been that.

It had been their first encounter which had ended with the lord and himself moving to Spain. During the second encounter he had met Liza and they had found a treasure. In the wake of the third encounter Dunollie Castle had been destroyed. Liza, George, and himself finally had been able to convince old McShredder to leave the decrepit old shed. And the lord’s entrance as McShredder Monster at the ghost train of the Hamsterton fun fair was quite unforgettable. Yes, every time these animals appeared, the old crack was in for it. Hopefully so he will be this time, Frido McClown thought when they passed Loch Craggie.

After another five miles and another three hours the butler pantingly reached Tongue Bay. Although his feet were hurting, he enjoyed the view. For a few minutes his glance rested on far off Varrich Castle and his thoughts wandered to Klibreck where the lord was impatiently waiting for him. So what, he thought, the old crack can get stuffed, the hamsters are more important. We’ll fill our bellies and take a rest. So they reached Tongue and McClown followed the widening street to the right. A few minutes later he left the hand cart in front of a super market and disappeared.

“If I get it, this means food”, Goldi excitedly cried and worked himself out of the rug.

“Don’t be an ass, we’ve no idea where we are and you better stay under the rug.”

“Well, erm, I also can only recommend to follow the dingus – er – recommendation of Flecki. My hamster senses tell me that something is all wrong and…”

“Well, than it’s all right, isn’t it?” Goldi grumbled and hid under the rug again.

It did not take long until a very downcast butler returned.

“Here, my friends, an old bun, that’s all I got!”

He threw the bun into the cart and saw one hamster after the other sniffing at the old bun. Followed eleven reproachful looks.

“It isn’t my fault”, he stammered. “The bishop of Caithness is well liked here and McShredder…”

Eleven reproachful glances continued to stab him.

“All right, all right”, the butler cried, not minding the baffled looks of some passers-by. “I promise to find you something better – I’m hurrying!”

McClown saw that he was off while behind him heads were shaken. From the murmur the butler thought to hear the words: “Anybody working for that crack would go bonkers.” So what, he thought, the people are right. He threw a look at the hand cart. Everything seemed to be quiet there. “Ha!” he cried. “All will get better. Now you are back, my little pets and all will get better!” And under the laughter of the locals the butler left the little town of Tongue.

He turned westwards which was the only possible direction. Had he turned into the street to the right, he soon would have reached beautiful Bettyhill but there, too, the lord’s bad name would have caught him. A few miles further there would have been Thurso but first the hamsters would have starved up to that place and second he would have come up to closed doors there as well. The fresh wind around his head when he crossed the bridge over the vast Kyle of Tongue did him well.

By now the hamsters had scrambled from under the rug and tried to glimpse at their surroundings. Unfortunately from their place nothing but the blue sky and a bit of the bridge railing was to be seen. Frido McClown stopped in front of a sign with a vicinity map. When he had seen what was to be seen there, he tore at his hairs and desperately looked at the hungry hamsters in his cart. He had made a mistake, that much was certain. The road went along a lonely landscape to lonely Loch Eribol and further along the equally lonely western coast to disappear in some wilderness.

Close by was a parking place. Frido McClown walked over and sat down on a bench broodingly. His glance wandered over the endless Atlantic Ocean and he felt downcast again. When his glance came back to the parking place it came to a rest at a wastepaper basket. By now the grumbling of his stomach was a loud one and the hungry squeaking of the hamsters, too. Somewhere in the distance he could hear a car when with a coarse cry he fell on the wastepaper basket. A few dried fries, half an apple, half a scone – no bad pickings for a first dive. He rummaged on and threw everything to the ground which hindered his search. Finally he found a squished orange and half a bun and while he still imagined how he was going to decorate the whole for the hamsters to please their eyes, something touched his shoulder.

“Made nice loot, Sir?”

McClown, his upper half in the wastepaper basket, scrambled out with a grown and turned into the direction of the voice.

“Er, well, yes, in a way…”, he stammered, looked beseechingly at the policemen facing him. “It’s not really for me, it’s… er...” He broke of, deciding better to say nothing about the hamsters.

“Of course not. I guess, Lord Miser send you shopping without money. Just like him!”

“Erm, yes, he did. I want to go shopping.”

“This being the best special offer?” the policeman asked with a sour face.

“But I cannot help it”, the butler lamented and wiped the remains of a banana and some fags from his shirt. “I’ve got money with me this time and if they had sold anything to us in Tongue…”

“To us?” the policemen suspiciously interrupted and Frido McClown saw that he made another mistake. What now? His brain worked rapidly. Then his face relaxed for he had a brilliant idea. Sadly he pointed at the handcart.

“Yes, to us. In that cart there are some very cute little hamsters. Lord McShredder does not like hamsters, so I fled with them. If don’t find anything to eat for them soon…”

Curiously the officer approached the cart and looked in. Eleven fury little animals with big, pleading eyes looked at him expectantly, then there was a “Just a moment!” and the policeman hurried to his car.

Soon he was back, handing the butler a small package, saying: “My lunch. If you want to hear my advice, Sir, cross the bridge and then turn right. Take the northern road along the coast. After five miles you’ll find a small grocery. I guess nobody there has ever heard of Lord Lousy. Good bye!”

A moment later a motor was started and the policeman was on his way to Tongue. McClown sighed with relief and ran to the hamsters. “Well done, chaps!” he shouted. “Now food is the word!”

He distributed the officer’s lunch – sandwich and fruit – to the hamsters while he gulped down some dried fries and the remains of an apple. Frido shook with disgust and enviously watched the hamsters who enjoyed their fresh lunch. He lifted the shaft and pulled the hand cart across the bridge. The sight was overwhelming and in the distance he made out Rabbit Island. Half an hour later he reached the end of the bridge and found a narrow path to the right and down the coast. It was a beautiful area. Again and again the butler threw yearning glances to the inviting beaches of the vacant region. The sun still was shining bright from a blue sky and he could not remember to have felt that relaxed in months.

One hour later the small travel group approached a settlement. To their left a loch could be seen in the distance, to their right were the tidelands. Obviously ebb tide, Frido McClown thought and kept looking for the grocery. The road left the beach and went up to a bumpy path. However, when the butler to his delight could see the grocery, they were back close to the beach. Now Rabbit Island was close by; an old wrecked boat was lying at the beach and McClown decided to go down to the beach with the hamsters after his shopping.

They were there at last. For a moment the butler hesitated when he saw a big ‘Post Office’ sign. He wondered if he would get any food there, but then he smiled. Like in so many small Scottish groceries it was not unusual that they took over the mailing business as well. A rich choice of fruit and vegetables in the shop window showed him that this was the right spot. A smiling old lady welcomed him and asked after his wishes. It did not take long until Frido was on his way down to the beach, ice cream in hand, to take a rest there. Not so easy to pull the now heavily loaded hand cart through the fine sand to the water.

Panting, he fell onto the sand and marvelled at a tiny island about two hundred metres from the beach. Some distance behind it was the second, bigger island he had already seen from the Tongue bridge. McClown felt like paradise, lying in the warm sand at a dream beach on a sunny day and licking ice cream. Nowhere any lord, his beloved hamsters at his side, sniffing the shoppings. After finishing his ice cream, he made himself comfortable and closed his eyes for a little while. Soon he was soundly asleep.

“Why don’t we get ice cream?”

“Goldi, you glutton”, Flecki replied, chewing, “we’ve got all we need here!”

“Well, erm, and sommer, sun, and beach as I always use to say”, the mayor added.

Now the hamsters had no difficulty to leave the cart as it was stuffed to the top with supplies.

“Best we throw down some scoff and have some fun at the beach”, chief Botchy proposed. “Dodo and Trample, stand by the cart and catch what we’re throwing down.”

Grumbling, Dodo and Trample lined up at the side of the cart and prepared to catch the thrown supplies. It was an unrewarding job and already after a few minutes Dodo’s head was decorated with a fat bruise, thanks to Goldi. His well aimed throw of an apple had left Dodo no chance to lift his arms in time. Botchy looked at Goldi reproachfully but the next moment the chief engineer saw disaster coming and yelled: “Taty, Tealeafy – DON’T!” Too late, the big package of flower landed on Trample. Wailing was to be heard, accompanied by a sound like “puff”, then all was silent. Shocked, the hamsters looked down from the cart to the two hamsters beside it. The flower package had burst, of course, and Dodo looked like a snowman. Very, very slowly something began to move in the flour mound between sand and torn paper. A pair of hamster ears became visible, slowly followed by the belonging head.

“Your dark black eyes make the prettiest contrast to your fur”, Flecki tried to console unhappy Trample whose fur was white all over. “That’s all ‘in’ and the latest fashion.”

“Green, black, white – what next?” Goldi giggled. “That’s no hamster, that’s a chameleon.”

“Is it Xmass already?” Dodo wondered and glanced at Trample who dragged himself out of the flower, moaning.

“Snowball fight”, Goldi bawled and from the edge of the cart jumped into the flower pile. The rest followed with loud cries of “Yarooh!” In a trice all hamsters were white and had lots of fun. Some time however they felt bored again. The animals turned to the old shipwreck which rotted away at the beach. Chief Botchy tested the planks and decided that in principle it should be possible to build a new, intact ship from the remains of the wreck.

“We could go treasure hunting”, Goldi delightedly cried. “Over there is an island!”

“Why should just we find some treasure which for certain has been found since long by somebody else?” Flecki grumbled but Goldi did not give up that easily.

“Because it just is like that. Can see it in every adventure movie – somebody coming and just picking up the treasure. We should try to get over there. We need a boat. Come on, people, perhaps we’ll find some spare parts in the wreck!”

Curiously the hamsters scrambled into the wreck and looked around. Chief Botchy ordered Dodo and Tuffy to assist him with carrying some usable pieces. By now several hours had passed, the hamsters had built something like a raft and now exhaustedly rested in the old shipwreck as the sun was still burning down from the sky. By and by Frido McClown slowly woke up and opened his eyes. He felt a little dizzy – after all nobody should take a nap in the blazing sun without covering his head. He got up slowly and took a few cautious steps toward the water. Then he turned round to the handcart which still was where he had left it. Far and wide no hamsters!

Terrified, he looked at the water and the island ahead. Where were the hamsters? Had they gone into the water, trying to reach the island? Frido McClown panicked, running up and down the beach and yelling at the height of his voice: “Where are you? Hello-o-o-o!” After several minutes of running and yelling, some locals took notice of his peculiar behaviour. He did not notice it and if so it would not have mattered to him. Where in the world were the hamsters? He felt guilty on their death and sat down on the shipwreck, sobbing. Of course the hamsters had registrated the butler’s yelling but only when he sat down on the wreck and thus shook their sleeping place, they bothered to get up. One animal after the other came creeping out and sneaked to the sobbing man who had covered his face with his hands.

“Olleh!”

The sobbing died down and a terrified pair of eyes glared at the hamsters. They were white ghosts! All this was his fault, he had killed them and now the ghosts were going to take revenge on him!

Shrieking, McClown jumped up and ran as fast as he could. There was a loud noise when he clopped into the cart, but he was up again quickly and sped on, limping and yelling. After a few more paces two policemen waited for him who had been alerted by the locals.

“You better accompany us, Sir, and stop shouting!”

“Their ghosts are emerging, I killed them!” the butler stammered and wanted to point at the wreck but couldn’t as his arms were held.

“Calm down”, the younger one of the two officers soothed him, “and get out of the sun. Don’t you know that you should not sleep at the beach bareheaded?”

“And now come along and make no fuss”, the older one said. “As it is, we’ve got some questions to put to you…”

Frido McClown was guided to a police car. They all got in and drove to the next police station in Wick.

“You can’t leave that guy alone for five minutes”, Flecki hissed.

“Excactly”, Sasy grumbled. “If we’re gone for a few minutes, he goes bonkers!”

“Hey, people”, a voice came from the beach, “come here, our ferry is finished!”

Flecki and Sasy hurried to Goldi and took a look at the watercraft. Chief Botchy was standing beside it, looking proud.

“All of the finest”, he boasted, “I reworked the design completely.”

“O well”, Trample shrugged who by now had recovered from the flour package. “It’s a plank.”

“That’s not just a plank”, Botchy puffed angrily, “it is innovative, aerodynamic and flat. You could say it’s the best you can get for water like this.”

“You mean it will survive one hundred metres? Really survive like any other plank?”

Chief Botchy decided to ignore Flecki’s pert question and beckoned Dodo. “Help me to push the boat into the water.”

Dodo nodded and a moment later the plank was in the water.

“Not that far, you dummy!” chief Botchy wailed and sadly his eyes followed his work of art. Dodo shrugged and did not exactly know what the chief engineer wanted. Together the hamsters were sitting at the beach and watched the plank which bobbed up and down and was slowly carried back to the beach by every wave. “There we are!” Botchy cried happily when the plank was back to the beach a few minutes later. “That’s what I call a boat! That’s tough stuff!” Quickly they carried some supplies from the cart and stowed them on the plank. Now the mayor saw the chance to deliver some nice sentences to the crowd.

“Dear hamsters, courage is the beginning of every adventure, so let us ascend with a squint – er – get up with a pup – er – whatsoever. We’re putting to dingus – er – sea!”

In a trice they all were on board and by the dash the boat fared off shore for some distance. Ten minutes later they were back at the beach.

“And what are we doing…”

“Shut up, Dodo, I’ve got to think”, the chief gnarled and tried to kick Tuffy who was sniggering. Then he cried: “Got it! We use sticks as paddles.”

“What an innovative, indicatory idea. This expert will help you out”, Flecki cackled. “Pure Botchy design! Come in and cry out!”

Redheaded, the chief darted back to the wreck and returned moments later with two wooden sticks.

“Take it”, he barked at Dodo and handed him one of the sticks.

“Will I have to carry it all the way?” Dodo put a question the chief had not expected and which made the hamster troop howl with joy.

“That’s for paddling, you bimbo”, Botchy snarled. “You dip that into the water and…”

The chief engineer paused and looked at Dodo thoughtfully. Suddenly he wondered whether the big hamster was completely overchallenged by such explanations.

“Dip into the water? Only dip it into the water. I surely can do that. Shall I…”

“We’ve only got two paddles, you have to be careful, with feeling…”

“I can, I can!”

“With much feeling.”

“I can, I can!”

“Dipping in clean, without splashes…”

“I can, I can!”

“Without hectic, nice and even…”

“I can, I can!”

“And don’t damage the paddle…”

“I can, I can – er – what I mean is, I won’t!”

With a sigh Botchy handed the paddle to excited Dodo and behind him boarded the boat. He pushed Trample a little aside and sat down. Then Botchy started to paddle but stopped at once when the boat moved in a circle.

“Dodo, are you paddling now or not?” he bellowed and looked to the other side. Terrified he saw Dodo sitting without paddle and watching the water.

“I did it, chief!” the big hamster proudly said and pointed at the water. “Dipped it in clean and even, without splashes. You can see it sticking in the ground!”

Raving Botchy took some time to calm down. When he tried to slay Dodo with the remaining paddle, he lost it as well and as now unfortunately there were no paddles at all, Botchy for better or worse had to wade back to the shore to get two other usable pieces of wood.

One of them he this time handed to Trample and first of all demonstrated what perfect paddling looked like. Three times he lost the paddle and had to fish it out of the water, then under the laughter and cackle of the happy hamsters they finally set out.

 

 


Chapter 16

 

 

Mission fulfilled – Where is the Enterprise?

 

At about the same time the Captain rolled out of his bed, slouched into the bathroom and turned up the cold shower. He could work 48 hours at a piece without minding. But when he was torn out of his sleep, had to do something and could go back to sleep after action, he felt just knackered when he woke up again.

The cold shower helped and when he came out of the bathroom, also Spock was awake. While the Vulcan waited to get into the bath, too, he occupied himself with checking his tricorder-readings. Now Hamstilidamst woke up and made quite a stretching-show. Spock just got up to go into the bathroom when it knocked at the door.

"Hey, guess what we have", Dr. McCoy came in, followed by Lt. Scott.

"The Loch Ness Monster", Kirk proposed.

"Ay, Sir, tha’ was what stomped up t’ stairs just now", Scott grinned. "No, we were out fer a little walk an’ met Balthasar."

"Who?" Kirk asked.

Hamstilidamst jumped into the air and Spock turned round.

"Balthasar, Sir, President of BANTACH – Daby's boss."

"I'm going nuts!" the Captain ejaculated.

"There is no reason to do so", came a voice out of Dr. McCoy's T-shirt and a moment later a furry head worked out of the shirt’s neckline.

"Hamsterlike!" Hamstilidamst cheered. "Hello Balthasar. Daby says you flew astray. How did you get back? Where have you been after all? Did you have adventures…"

"Stop!" Kirk interrupted the excited squeaking. "How about informing Daby first?"

"Yep, am off."

He raced to the window, climbed up and was indeed off. Spock who by now had learned what a hamster really needed, put some peanuts and sunflower seed onto the plate.

"I guess you are hungry?"

"That is most considerate. I do not know who you are but you think well. Obviously you are used to organise a big organisation."

"We are indeed", Kirk grinned. "But pluck yourself up first. When Daby is here you certainly want to tell her what happened to you and what brings you here, Balthasar."

"That is the chronological order", Balthasar replied. "But you are in the advantage."

"Oh? How?" Dr. McCoy asked.

"You know my name."

Kirk apologized and introduced himself and his colleagues. The president nodded politely to each of them and then began to stuff himself with sunflower seed. As the Vulcan assumed that Balthasar would busy himself with this for some time he at last took his shower. He remembered Daby reporting that her boss had booked a flight to Papua New Guinea. He was interested how that might have happened and what had been the outcome.

When he came back into the room, he paused and forgot his Vulcan control insofar as he blinked several times. Luckily nobody noticed it. His three colleagues were sitting crammed on Kirk's bed. Daby had taken over.

The table with the water kettle had been changed into a dining room. The bowl normally containing the ingredients for making tea or coffee had been turned round, covered with a kleenex and served as table. From Hooty's household Daby had brought dishes fitting a hamster-president. Hooty she had not brought, that one had come along voluntarily and very curious. Daby poured tea and made small talk.

The officers watched all this with rather silly faces. With a dainty paw Balthasar lifted a cup, prepared for drinking and let it fall.

"A-a-a-ah!!" he shrieked.

"What has happened?" Daby asked in a worried voice.

"That human there!" he pointed at Spock. "He came in with those ears!"

"Well now, he hardly could leave them behind", she objected and Spock nodded for this was a very logical remark.

She quickly explained that Spock was an alien, that all these bipeds had been coming by space ship from the future. This was the best bridge to the question:

"And how did you, Mr. President, get to Papua New Guinea?"

"That incapable person at the travel department! After I returned from Hamsterton I planned to visit our projects."

"Certainly, so it was scheduled in your agenda."

"Indeed, Miss Daby, indeed. And I informed that person clearly that I needed a ship to Pabbay and Berneray. Has she never heard about that?"

"Certainly not", Daby severely said. "Those two projects have the highest grade of secrecy."

"I do not understand! I have often visited there."

Daby made an expressive paw gesture. She had her own methods to book travels for her boss. Names of secret projects were never mentioned. Nevertheless he always got where he was scheduled.

Everybody listened attentively. Even Lt. Scott had never heard about Pabbay and Berneray. Dr. McCoy thought that it was not really his business but Balthasar should better get rid of his adenoids. When he pronounced the word Pabbay one could easily understand it as Papua, and Berneray…

"Er, have you also been to Borneo?" he asked.

"Indeed! Incredible, simply incredible. That person!"

"Excuse me", Spock remarked, "you would have gone there by ship. You went, however, by plane?"

"Indeed! Incredible! That person! Books a plane!"

"But you must have noticed that it was no ship", the Vulcan said and Balthasar goggled at him in a bugged way.

"What else am I to care about?! I walked over a staircase into a vehicle. Am I  to mind what sort of vehicle it was? That should be the business of the travel department!"

"Balthasar is the brother of our mayor", Hamstilidamst proclaimed.

"Oh! I see", said the Captain.

He remembered that little, puffed-up twat who obviously was not been taken seriously by his hamsters. The mayor might differ but somehow the two brothers resembled each other.

Later on the officers set off to meet Prof. McTinker. As an exception none of the hamsters was with them. They all had assembled around President Balthasar and wanted to hear about his adventures. Even the officers talked about it when they left the hotel.

"What would Balthasar say? Incredible! One day on Papua before he grasps that perhaps it is not Scotland."

"And then walks to the ticket counter and wants Berneray", Dr. McCoy laughed. "As he pronounces that, they just looked at his ticket and sent him right to Borneo as booked. Did you ever meet anything that mad?"

"Well, a hamster boarding any plane is something we, I think, never met, Doctor", Spock said. "A president somewhat living in the clouds."

"Literally! An’ if ye think God knows wha’ sort o’ things he meets", Scotty said. "Nay, off-time. He takes the next plane ter Glasgow and there he gets into a mess."

At the Hamster Airlines outpost the weekly plane just had left and the president had to see how he got home now. So he planned a journey over land and smuggled himself into a bus. On the way he remembered that his assistant always spent her holiday with her cousin in Ballachulish if he was not in the office. So he wanted to get off in Ballachulish but fell asleep and only woke up in Fort William.

He could have got home from there by several bus lines but by now he had the idea that he liefer would not go by any means of transport if Daby did not manage it for him. So he had walked for days from Fort William to Ballachulish. His ears had drummed from the roaring traffic, he had been almost hunted down by a dog and had collided with a hedgehog. On the bridge from North to South Ballachulish his moral had been absolutely plummeted.

"He'll like to be cosseted by Daby", McCoy said. "One might really pity the poor chap."

"So one might Professor McTinker ", Spock tossed in, changing the subject. "Captain, nobody wondered what will happen to the professor if he really cannot continue his experiments. And it looks like that at the moment."

"Ay", Scotty nodded. "However, Scots are obstinate, Mr. Spock. That lab might be alive again in half a year."

"So we have to convince him", Kirk said. "He must understand that it makes no sense."

"If it makes no sense, he might as well go on, mightn't he?" the Doctor asked.

"He doesn't", Spock replied. "Following our visit there will be not one further publication on this subject by Fergus McTinker."

Before he could explain further, they arrived at McTinker’s. Nobody opened to the rattattatt of the knocker. The Captain guessed that all inmates were busy tidying up the lab. That was the case because this time the disaster was not like other times when some experiment of the professor had blown up. This time the lab was dirty and full of rubbish. Brigg and her cleaning mania were wanted.

Also John McGofer was busy with a broom while the professor occupied himself with countless analyses, questions, and answers to find an explanation for what happened. He did not notice the Enterprise-officers when they came in.

"Analysis: This is a bunker-system with only one entrance outside this area. Question: Who had known about this one and only entrance? Answer: No one. No one!"

"Obviously the burglar had", the Captain commented.

"My colleagues!" McTinker deligthedly shouted and rolled towards them. "We had a date and I was not in the house. You guessed that I am in the lab."

"Indeed, and tha's where ye are", Lt. Scott retorted.

"Look at this. Isn't it horrible?!"

"Reckon we should talk abaht this under four eyes", Scott proposed.

"Four?!" the Vulcan asked and seemed to count.

"Haha, that's funny!" McTinker laughed. "Question: How may five persons talk under four eyes? Hahaha!"

While five persons talked under four eyes, in Hooty's penthouse a conference was held. During the last days Balthasar had understood that he was completely stranded without his assistant. From now on she was to accompany him wherever he went.

Not one step he wanted to do without Daby and so the voyage to Pebbay and Berneray was scheduled. He had to visit these projects because they were written down in his agenda. An agenda was sacrosanct for all presidents of the world.

Daby on the other hand had found much pleasure in her Ballachulish-adventures and would have liked to stay with Hooty for a longer time. Moreover she had always enjoyed the absence of her boss when he was travelling – all assistants of the world enjoyed that. How to reconcile her wishes and the president's she did not know up to now.

"Oh, Mr. President, after all these horrible events you must be exhausted", Hooty said, sincerely worried. "How can you plunge to your work so soon? It will completely enfeeble you."

"That's being president", Balthasar said with much self-pity and got the idea that he was really completely exhausted.

"A few quiet days in Ballachulish would certainly do you good, Mr. President. Afterwards my cousin Daby can accompany and assist you on all your journeys."

"Might get president yourself then."

That was Hamstilidamst. While Daby humbly bent her head and only squinted a tiny bit, Balthasar's head went up.

"Young friend, you have no idea about the responsibility of such an office. One has to be predefined… er, presidined… er, able."

"So what? Daby is. Aren't you, Daby?"

"O no, to carry the burden of final decision, such a great responsibility… You see, Hamstilidamst, a president is like a captain on a ship. His responsibility is for every member of the crew."

"By all corncobs!" Hamstilidamst was really shocked. "The mayor on the Enterprise! – Ahem, what I mean is … that's rather a responsibility, isn't it?"

"Indee-eed!" Daby cried, quite overdoing it.

Hamstilidamst gave her a suspicious glance. Why did he have the idea that the things were quite the other way round? Sure, Balthasar had all the responsibility, but he wasn't even able – talking of able – to get a ship to some Scottish island. What if in truth Daby ruled this funny organisation and the president did not even notice that he got nothing straight? That was right brill!

"Mr. President, will you allow me to make a proposal?" Daby now asked and Balthasar gracefully bent his head. "Personally, I would only next week have the chance to return to BANTACH. From Fort William, however, it would be no big matter to organize the trip to our projects."

"Dear Miss Daby, I'm just coming from Fort William."

"Oh, I do realize that, Mr. President, and the horrible circumstances! The humans, with whom Hamstilidamst is travelling, owe us the fulfilment of a most important and secret mission. Their means to get to Fort William are much better. We certainly could convince them to take us with them. In a very comfortable style."

Everything sounding like comfortable style was music to Balthasar's ears. So he kept listening gracefully. Daby proposed to wait for a suitable chance to talk about this subject with the bipeds. Until that moment the president might well relax from his total exhaustion.

"Oh, and I would be so honoured if you were my guest", Hooty purred. "Mr. President, you really should not jeopardize your health by a rash departure."

"My cousin is right, Mr. President. Do not forget that you are irreplaceable.”

Following this sentence Hamstilidamst was out of the door as quick as lightning. He sat down at the next chimney, looked into the Scottish air and thought that Daby was the falsest hamster he ever met.

Moreover he discovered that from up here the view was super-duper. Over there he could see the house of Fergus. Someone was moving there. Four people walked down the street to the town centre and he recognized Spock's black cap.

"Okay", said a voice beside him.

"Ey, Daby! What's on?"

"Balthasar stays until the officers go to Fort William."

"Whenever that will be."

"Hum, I think they have a problem. Is there any guarantee that their space ship picks them up?"

"Nope, but does that matter?"

"They told everybody that they leave today. So they will have to leave."

"And whereto?"

"That is the question", Daby mystically said.

"Look, they're coming down the road. Join them?"

"Well now, the president is most comfortable with Hooty."

That was correct because Hooty felt deep respect against a real president. She would have been happy to care for him for weeks, to give him the best sleeping place and the finest dainties. Only too soon this happy period was to end.

After Fergus McTinker had lamented long enough over the ghastly state of his lab, he had continued by lamenting over all the experiments he could no longer make. It had cost a lot of time to convince him that with today's technique nothing and nobody could be supplied with matter/antimatter energy.

So naturally the question came after which all eyes turned to Spock.

"And what am I to do now?!"

Nobody had thought about that. The point had only been that McTinker did not continue these experiments. No one had been interested in what he was doing instead of that in future – except the Vulcan. And after he several times had started to say something in that line, he now got every chance to speak out. His colleagues did not have the faintest idea what he was going to say, but whatever he said, they had to play up.

"You can well imagine that the NASA is always interested in technical innovations for space travel", Spock began and the Captain almost froze.

If somebody had asked him, he perhaps would have proposed that Fergus sold his slates to tourists. Spock must be raving mad.

"Tha's why we visited ye ’cause ’t might hae been important development fer our ignitions", Scotty nodded and spread his hands. "But unfortunately it does nae work."

"Your slate-chamber-system could, however, open another possibility for space travel."

"O yea, by all means", Dr. McCoy said and desperately stared at Kirk.

"A possibility for space travel?!" Fergus excitedly asked. "Analysis: Experiments not useful for the every day life make sense in space. Question…" He paused for a long time, then: "Which one?"

"A multi-chamber-system with variable electron-feeding for high magnetising."

"Oh!" the Captain numbly said.

"O yea!" Dr. McCoy again said and continued to stare at Kirk desperately.

Opposite them two men were sitting, thinking full speed. One of them was Chief Engineer of the Enterprise. To him this sounded less daft than one might have assumed but he still tried to get sense into the matter. He cautiously squinted at Spock who just folded his arms and leant back. He had said what he had to say!

"A magnet…", Fergus mumbled without special analysis. "No usual magnet, but…"

"Mairidh sing u bràch", Scotty whispered. "F. McTinker!"

"Pardon?" Fergus was bewildered. "'That will last forever.' What do you mean?"

"Oh, erm, ye do speak Gaelic", Lt. Scott retorted, embarrassed. "Sorry. Wha’ I mean? Er, ay, if tha’ works ’t will be fer eternity."

"But what? – Oh!" Fergus shrieked, jumped up and almost left the ground. "Oh! Oh! A multi-chamber-system with variable electron-feeding for high magnetising. Yes, yes! What a triumph!"

"Fer sure", the Chief Engineer grinned. "An’ nothin’ will explode any longer. Do it, Fergus. An’ apply fer a patent."

One satisfied, one excited, and two a little silly looking officers said good-bye to a completely happy Prof. McTinker. Only between the professor's house and the first houses of the village Captain Kirk said in a grim tone:

"Mr. Spock, I expect you to explain on the double what that was just now."

"Frae t’ very first moment I dinnae get rid o’ t’ feelin’ tha’ I somewhere met tha’ name an’…"

"Lieutenant Scott", Kirk sternly interrupted his Chief Engineer, "will this be the second time today that I do get a report not from Lieutenant Spock? – Well, Spock?"

"Artificial gravitation, Sir", Spock calmly said.

"So what?"

"In this time every astronaut moves in zero gravity because earth's gravitation is missing. We have grav-stabilizers."

"So what?"

"Captain, Sir", Scotty blurted again. "In twenty years frae now space ships’ll hae artificial gravitation. And wi’ t’ very first development team was one F. McTinker. P'rhaps ye know how large that team was and mayhap I read tha’ name a hundred times. Somehow it stuck, ay. As I learned we're t’ visit Professor Fergus McTinker, somethin’ tinkled but I dinnae really know. And…"

"Stop, stop, stop!" Kirk cried. "I still want the report from Spock."

"Lieutenant Scott is right", the Vulcan simply said and McCoy rolled his eyes.

"I heard more detailed reports from you before."

"Doctor, usually you say that my reports are too detailed. It is not easy to please you. – Jim, McTinker is a specialist, a genius in some way. But he was  - let us say, stuck in his warp-idea. He needed nothing but a prompting to reconsider."

"And you just gave him the prompting?"

"I checked. I, too, did not know why somebody dealing with matter/antimatter shows up in the development of artificial gravitation. Until I saw his slate layers’ arrangement. Then I realised that the first chamber systems for artificial gravitation resembled them in a – baffling way."

"He wouldn't have hit on it without us, would he?" McCoy asked, no longer that desperately.

"No. Same as a warp-ignition would do more damage than good in this time, we in our time could not rely so absolutely on artificial gravitation in our space ships, had the first experiments not taken place today."

"My friend Spock", Kirk said, "this sentence some time I need in all sequences to understand it. But not now. I've got to stomach that."

"Well, all's well that ends well", Scott said. "We could mak fer home now."

"And how, you wit? The Enterprise and a bunch of hamsters is God knows where. I now and then try to communicate. Nothing. It must be sheer horror. We can't go home."

"Yes, but… Jim, how are we to go on here?" McCoy asked, a bit more desperate again.

"I don't know, my dears. But one thing I do know: We’re running out of money. We've got to get jobs. And not here because here we are visiting for three days as scientists. Tomorrow morning we'll leave for America. – So I ask for proposals."

Nobody had proposals. The situation was decidedly difficult for the officers. They all went into the room of Kirk and Spock, where Hamstilidamst and Daby were expecting them.

"Hey, how's Fergus?" Hamstilidamst hailed them. "We would have come along, but we had an important meeting."

"I bet you'd been bored", McCoy said.

"Fer sure. Nothin’ exploded", Scotty nodded.

"Well, perhaps if we had been along", Hamstilidamst proposed and Kirk laughed.

"Maybe. However, now we do not want anything to explode. Fergus will not do anything with explosion."

"Gosh!" Hamstilidamst groused. "Whatever will he do?"

"He'll take care that later on there will be artificial gravitation in space ships", Spock informed him and Hamstilidamst glanced at him with big eyes.

"Ey, but that's hamstercool. So if we launch again with the turbo-pegtop we don't crash to the ceiling any longer?"

"That is most correct", Spock nodded. "But it will take a very long time to succeed with that."

"So better think twice before you launch again with your turbo-pegtop into space", Captain Kirk said. "Daby, you're quite quiet. Everything all right with Balthasar?"

"O yes", she said carelessly. "I think it's a pity that Fergus makes no further tests after I found the solution."

"Now listen, you tell that for the hundredth time", Hamstilidamst complained. "You mither us."

"Och, if ye find a solution an’ cannae talk about it, tha's mithering, too", Scotty sympathetically said. "Whatfer d’ye hae t’ solution?"

Daby smoothed her fur, folded the kleenex which had been the table cloth for the president's tea table and was busy. As matter of fact she did not know whether she was able to explain the solution she had found. Perhaps nobody would understand her.

"Okay, so shoot", Hamstilidamst invited her.

"It's like this… If you want to go through a wall, it is more difficult than going through an open door."

"You gone bananas? Who wants to go through walls?!"

"Just a moment", Spock said.

He took Daby up and set her down again so that she was on eye level with the officers who were sitting on the two beds. The Captain's eyebrows went up in surprise. He did not know what the hamster-girl was getting at but Spock's action was interesting. He placed Daby so that the bipeds did not look down to her and she had not to look up to them. He made her an equal in discussion and that was more than astonishing.

Hamstilidamst scrambled to Scott's shoulder, this still being his favourite place. As hamster with human-experience he absolutely knew what it meant to look up to somebody or to be on eye level. Anyhow, he thought Daby was talking nothing but scrap. Now the Vulcan said:

"Perhaps it is not the best example."

"No, but I know another one. May I slap you?"

"Come on, Daby, you're talking to my First Officer!" The Captain sounded shocked.

"I think that Daby wants do demonstrate something."

"I'm all for slapping him", Dr. McCoy invited her. He always had thought it a pity that one officer was not allowed to slap another.

"Well now", Daby said, "if I just hit into the air (she did), my hand is much faster as if I hit your face."

She did so and hit his chin.

"Why, of course, the face is a resistance", Kirk said with a shrug and then Lt. Scott let out a whistle.

"Wow, tha’s a stunner! – Neutrons, positrons, Captain… Quick enough tae go threw them lead plates an’ everything."

"Anyhow they become – slower when they have to pass so many slate layers", Daby said.

"You really have the solution", Spock said and did not seem to be very surprised. "That was the idea of Professor McTinker, Captain. The positrons passing the holes in the slate layers were not hindered. For the others the delay was minimal but it was there. So the distribution of the positrons in the chamber variated. When they hit the neutrinos, it was not a collision of mass on mass but a number of single energy explosions."

"And tha’s exactly t’ reading we got", Scotty nodded. "Why, Daby, ye should be a scientist."

"And someone like that", Hamstilidamst said, impressed and convinced, "fritters away at some Balthasar." He looked at Spock and suddenly craned his neck. "What's that at your chin?"

Dr. McCoy was up in a trice. The hamster looked exactly at the spot Daby had hit before. Regarding medicines McCoy had not been too gas spacy when they had left the Enterprise. Taking along his med-kit was too much his second nature.

No plaster for the tiny wound at Spock's chin. By no means a plaster on which later on someone might discover the spot of blood. McCoy sprayed a cooling seal and the Vulcan nodded shortly.

"Thanks, Doctor."

"We would need that", McCoy retorted.

"I'm sorry, did I scratch you?" Daby contritely asked.

"It did not hurt and is repaired", the Vulcan calmed her.

But Hamstilidamst would not be calmed. He had seen what he had seen!

"Gosh!" he said, shocked. "Gosh, that was green!"

"Correct, Hamstilidamst. Your blood is red, it builds on iron. Mine is green, it builds on copper."

"No guess what you mean, Spock, but it darned looks like you’ve got spinach in your veins."

It was hard labour to calm Hamstilidamst down. And calm down meant calm down for he made a terrible rumpus. With the pointed Vulcan ears he could live and they most time were covered by that cap. But green blood, that was too much – it simply was too much! He had no mind to listen to all the explanations how this came about. It would be outrageous if he was to have iron in his blood. Probably he had no veins at all but wires, or what?

"Now will you listen!" Dr. McCoy interrupted the nagging.

"No!"

"You will, my pet. What did we tell you about matter?"

"That has nothing to do with this."

"That has everything to do with this!" the Doctor bawled at him and Hamstilidamst instinctively ducked away. “Abominable! Once again! You are matter, your fur is matter, your skin is matter, your blood is matter. Got that?"

"Yea", Hamstilidamst grumbled.

"Matter is a combination of tiny particles – we had that before, hadn't we?"

"Yea!"

"All kinds of tiny particles, and in blood are tiny particles of iron."

"Ha!" Hamstilidamst defiantly said.

"Hae ye e'er seen rusty iron?" Lt. Scott butt in.

"Sure."

"Swell. And wha's t’ colour o’ rusty iron?"

"Ey, don't you tell me I've got rusty iron in my veins. I won't believe it."

"There I agree with Hamstilidamst", Daby piped up. "Iron rusts and copper becomes verdigris. That would mean Spock has verdigris in his veins."

Dr. McCoy yodled and the Vulcan made a patient face. He knew what that meant. For years the Doctor tried to really insult him. Now McCoy had got the catchword he never in his life would forget: The Vulcan had verdigris in his veins. Well, silently the Vulcan had to admit that he did not like this comparison overmuch. So he made the best of it and said:

"You can put it like that, Daby. If certain metals get wet, they change consistence and colour – rust or verdigris for example. You might say Dr. McCoy has rust in his veins and I verdigris. We are nothing the worse for it. However, we would feel much worse if it were not so."

"No, would you?" Hamstilidamst was flabberghasted. "I'd feel worse if had had no rust?"

"If you loose the iron in your blood, you get very ill. That's a law of nature."

"And may we change the subject now?" Kirk asked. "We've got to discuss something with you."

"That's new. Up to now you just did the things and we could see how to get along with it."

"I absolutely agree, Hamstilidamst, we are not easy to manage", Kirk admitted. "Well, it's this way: Our mission here is fulfilled but the Enterprise will not pick us up until some normal people are sitting at the control desk."

"There are many very normal hamster on board", Hamstilidamst snapped.

"It's the many very normal hamsters which give me trouble", Kirk said. "But we cannot do anything about it. We are stuck here. Moreover we soon will have no money left and have to look for jobs. However, around here they know us as scientists visiting Fergus. So we have to leave Ballachulish."

"Oh!" Daby cried. "When will you have to leave?"

"Tomorrow morning."

"And you can't stay longer?"

"No, because we cannot pay the rooms any longer."

"But that's easy!" Hamstilidamst shouted and was nudged by Daby.

"It is like this", she cautiously said. "The president requires my company to our projects."

"Pabbay ’n Berneray", Lt. Scott grinned and she nodded.

"Of course I have to do what the president tells me to do."

"Of course", Captain Kirk nodded who for some time had the suspicion that in truth the president did what Daby told him to do.

"We have an outpost in Fort William but I'm not permitted to talk about its location. From there I will manage to get us a special ship to the projects."

"But poo-oor Balthasar is comple-e-e-etely exhausted", Hamstilidamst jeered. "He can't do the way twice."

"Where is the problem?" Spock asked.

"Well, perhaps you have none", Hamstilidamst snapped. "But be a hamster and walk from here to Fort William and you've got one."

"Well now", Daby said, angry because Hamstilidamst had undermined her diplomatic mission. "I had the idea that perhaps you might take us with you if some time you take the bus to Fort William."

"Hum", Kirk grunted. "No matter, sure we do. But… Fort William should be our starting point, too. The town's large enough, nobody knows us there…"

"Could nae we come along t’ yer projects?" Lt. Scott asked.

"O no, they are secret projects. Nobody is to know anything about them!" Dabv cried, terrified.

"An’ if ye mind them projects an’ we go sightseeing on t’ islands?"

"We cannot take you."

"Come on, Daby, let's be serious", the Captain said who was quite fed up with all these secrets. "Whom should we tell if we get home?"

"That is correct", she admitted. "But anyhow we cannot take you. For – for technical reasons."

"We are too many?"

"No!" she cried and rolled her eyes. "You are too tall!"

"Ehm, what kind o’ ship is that?" Scotty cautiously asked.

"Well now… Why … Well, it's the HAMSUB I."

"What's that?" the others chorused.

"It's a Hamster-submarine. – We can't take you."

 


Chapter 17

 

 

The Inspector

 

“So you committed murder?”

McClown blinked into the light of the desk lamp and tried to see the face he was facing. It was not for the first time within the last 45 minutes that Inspector MacSteel put this question to him. They were sitting in a small, stifling office in the first floor of a white building in Bridge Street. McClown tried to remember when he last had been in this town. To be exact he was not certain if he ever had been in Thurso but he was absolutely certain that he never had committed murder. So why was the question put to him? The butler tried to remain calm.

“I – er – no, of course not…”

“Did you act on Lord McShredder’s orders?”

“Yes, that is, no, I…”

“This is not easy for me, McClown. Why have you been north to Tongue Bay? Whom did you want to kill?”

“Nobody, it only was a misunderstanding…”

“A misunderstanding?” Inspector Rufus MacSteel sucked as his thick cigar and blew the smoke at his opponent. Peculiar offender that was, that much was certain. But every offender was peculiar or he would not be an offender – that was Rufus MacSteel’s motto. This McClown did not really give the impression of a merciless killer but the inspector had had business with lots of freaks. “The murder was a misunderstanding? I do not really get you, McClown? Did you confuse your victim with somebody else?”

“No, it wasn’t a misunderstanding, the murder I mean. That was no misunderstanding. There was nothing.”

“So you killed for nothing, McClown?”

“I never should kill for nothing, Inspector!” McClown was outraged and the moment saw that once more he said the wrong thing.

“Certainly a man like you never would kill for nothing, McClown, I quite understand. There is of course every time a very special reason for murder. You know that, and I know that, don’t we? All I say is contract killing, McClown, that is killing on order. To kill someone deliberately is a most sneaky and bad delict, don’t you agree, McClown?”

The butler nodded nervously and Inspector MacSteel continued: “Good of you to agree to this at least, McClown.” And again he sucked at his cigar and blew the smoke into the smoky air. He had all the time of the world, that much he knew. It was not for the first time that he had boiled a hardened rascal. This McClown, however, was a special case, he thought and pointed at him with his cigar: “You had a lot of money in your pocket, will you admit that?”

Frido McClown nodded again and wanted to reply, explain that he only had that much money on him to buy supplies but the inspector left him no chance to speak.

“Earlier you bought supplies in a big style – where nobody knows you. That’s curious, McClown, and gives me a headache. Why does someone buy supplies that far away from home? Why does someone carry such a lot of money and everybody knows that his employer never hands any money to him – not to talk about big money? But do believe me, McClown, I’m not stupid and I think I know what your plans were.”

Rufus MacSteel blew another could towards the desk lamp and pointed with his cigar to the coughing butler: “Since when have you been working for this McShredder?”

“For many years, Sir, about…”

“And don’t you think it peculiar that…” Inspector MacSteel slowly leaved through several notes on his desk, “… that Killichonan Castle as well as Dunollie Castle – where you and McShredder have been living before – have been wiped out by some mysterious explosion?”

“Accidents, Sir, regrettable accidents! You see, Inspector…”

“Accidents, McClown? How many castles are exploding per year? Tell me, McClown!”

The butler shrugged. Why should he answer if the inspector would give the answer anyway?

“How many castles in bonny Scotland did explode within the last ten years?”

Once more the butler shrugged sulkily.

“I’ll tell you, McClown. Within the last decades two castles in all exploded. Each time you have been present! Curious, isn’t it? You know what I think, McClown? I think there is more behind it. You and McShredder are doing something really big and put somebody’s nose out of joint.” He bent over his desk and looked the butler straight in the eyes. “Those explosions were no accidents but warnings or acts of revenge – or am I wrong, McClown?”

The so addressed did not answer and only looked at the inspector big-eyed.

“Nothing in your mind, McClown? Well, perhaps I can assist you for I think by and by everything fits in. There’s something else drawing my attention and I ask for your cooperation. Perhaps you can tell me why you have been on the Continent several times within the last years? You’ve been to Germany and the Netherlands – what have you been doing there?”

“Holiday, Sir, I – er – visited acquaintances.”

“We can check that as you know but let be for the moment because of course you visited acquaintances. One is acquainted with one’s contact persons. Certainly not your aunt or other family? There are other curious matters, thinking of the peculiar big truck which has been seen at Dunollie Castle for several days. We know that he comes from the Netherlands. Since when does the lord deal with drugs?”

“Erm – I don’t know anything about that…”

“You don’t know that he deals with drugs, McClown. “Did he never let you in?”

“No, Sir, he didn’t”, the butler retorted and realized that once more he had said the wrong thing.

“Did he order you to kill his rival, McClown?”

“No, he gave me no order, Sir”, Frido protested and wanted to get up from his chair but the inspector beckoned him to keep sitting. The butler sighed and sat down again meekly. Obviously he again had said the wrong thing. Indeed, Inspector MacSteel continued without mercy:

“Let me summarize what you were going to tell me, McClown. You did not know – or did not want to know – that McShredder makes big money with drugs from the Netherlands. The attacks on Killichonan and Dunollie were probably controlled by the drug mafia. You, McClown wanted to meet the boss of the opposition. Today you did and murdered him – coldblooded.”

The poor butler’s head was in a turmoil. All this could not be real, no, this could not be happening. Or had he really dealed drugs? Had Vim van der Slampe been a drug courier? However, one thing was certain: He was no killer, he only had thought that the hamsters’ death had been his fault. Of course it was an easy game for that inspector because the things he said were most strange. Frido felt somewhat weak which could not only be the result of a sunstroke at the beach.

No, matters were far more complicated. The sudden appearance of the hamsters was no accident. The curious pets had really entered the so called holodeck of the Enterprise where realistic simulations could be initiated. Realistic it was – not real. This here however was real, it was reality and something which never should have happened.

Far away in the galaxy, in the Lyra constellation, it had started. The unexplainable whim of genesis had made a giant star spit out singularities. Probably this related to the fact that this star had an unusually high rotation. This was Vega, a planet in a distance of 25 light years from Earth, with a temperature of 9,000° Kelvin and one of the brightest stars in the nightly sky. This planet had changed into a highly energetic structure hurtling space-foams, i.e. tiny black holes into the space. Space answered this with a change of structure. Up to now there had been flat and curved Einstein-spaces and in the curved spaces there was gravity and so a changed time relation. Now large parts of the flat Einstein-spaces became a porous mass by the bombardment with tiny singularities and time only existed in the form of so called Einstein-waves. A space ship trying to cross this ‘spongy space’ would have no chance of proceeding due to its driving energy.

The only means to overcome such an area would have been to surf on the Einstein-waves by the super-string-theory – but that is another story. As matter of fact the temporary change had already happened and this was the enormous danger for all life in universe. The extensions of the gravitation effects had already reached the Sagittarius-arm in the depth of which humans were living – having no inkling about the disaster. The moment the temporary band was to reach Earth, the catastrophe would be there: the stopping of time.

Frido McClown naturally did not know anything about this and neither did the hamsters. Even Inspector MacSteel did not know it and if so he would have known where to lay the blame.

“McClown, have you ever been found guilty of a crime?”

“No, Sir, never”, the butler replied in a shocked voice and immediately realized that once more this had been the wrong answer. He should have said, of course, that he never had been found guilty of a crime because he never had committed one. There were, after all, enough criminals who committed a crime but never had got caught.

“I see”, the inspector retorted with a weird smile which Frido McClown could not see because of the desk lamp light in his face. “You never have got caught.”

“No, Sir.” The butler bit his lips for this was going badly indeed. It sounded like he never had been caught in an act. He started to sweat and did not like to situation at all.

“Let’s come back to the murder… You’re sweating, McClown. Feeling hot?”

“There was no murder and yes, I’m sweating because your silly questions are bugging me. I never killed anyone and never dealed drugs. All this is a misunderstanding!”

The inspector looked at McClown for a long time, slowly lit a new cigar and spoke in a low, urging voice. “I have a heart, Mister, and one thing I’ll tell you right now: The cards are stacked against you. Every judge would put you away for a long time. I may help you.”

The butler looked at the inspector who had turned aside the desk lamp so that Frido could see his face at last.

“Prison is not nice, McClown. You’ll be an old man when you get out of it – if you get out of it. I may help you. Tell me the truth and I’ll see what I can do for you.”

In the meantime the hamsters were facing some problems of their own. Shortly before reaching the small island the boat which chief Botchy had constructed was dissolving. Well, hamsters are no big swimmers and water is not their element, their situation was peculiar. With difficulty they reached the muddy beach of the small island. A single paddle was all that was left of the boat.

“And now, what shall we do now?”

“Shut up, Dodo, I’ve got to think!”

Chief Botchy thought for quite some time but got no idea. The mayor would have loved to give some soothing speech to the hamster people but except “Erm!” he had no idea either. The pets were facing their familiar problem: No idea where they were, no idea how to go on, no food – quite normal in all. This time however there was a further problem: when it got dark, they needed some shelter or other and nowhere around there was any. Rocks and stones was all they had.

“Whose daft idea was that, by the way?” Flecki gnarled and from the hamster group came a squeaky “Chief Botchy absolutely wanted to build a boat…”

“Doesn’t matter!” Goldi shouted. “Let’s go treasure hunting. As to all else: Let’s wait and see.”

In the meantime the sun had dried the wet hamster furs and they set out delightfully, expecting to discover something wonderful any moment. Unfortunately there was nothing but the afore mentioned rocks and many very boring stones. To be exact: There was nothing exciting except themselves.

“And now, how will we get…”

“Shut up, Dodo, we don’t know how we get away from here”, the chief engineer hissed.

“Well, erm, my dear hamsters, I’m expecting your proposals”, the mayor grunted and hopefully looked around but nobody gave the impression to be addressed. “It is so to say of galactical importance to get back at once to whatitsname – er – Centerprice.”

“Perhaps we could dig a tunnel to the mainland”, Tuffy proposed.

“Let’s send Botchy over to build a new boat”, Goldi proposed.

So the hamsters spent their time with proposals and ideas. Unfortunately none of them was worth anything to solve their problem and the hamsters were sitting with collywobbles and wistfully looked to the opposite shore. In the distance they could make out the handcart filled with supplies. Things becamce critical as the sun was travelling towards the horizon and could not be stopped.

At the same time and about 50 miles to the east, two men were sitting in a dimly lit room. Both showed the signs of the past hours. One of them just put the butt of his cigar into he ash tray and looked into the reddened eyes of his opponent.

“You want to tell me that a Syrian terror gang is behind this?”

Groaning, Frido McClown shook his head. Why did he never succeed to explain matters in a way that the inspector did not understand it as some trash?

“Syrian hamsters, Sir, from Syria. Also called mesocricetus auratus“

“I don’t know that gang, McClown. Why do they call themselves hamsters, who is their leader? McClown, I need names.”

“Their leader is the mayor, Sir, but mostly it’s the chief engineer…”

“…responsible for the assaults on Killichonan and Dunollie Castle? You do realize that ‘chief engineer’ is a code name for the explosives expert, don’t you?”

The butler wondered whether to agree as the description fitted Botchy well enough. However, he thought it better not to further confuse the inspector as the whole questioning was nothing but a muddle. After the inspector assumed a big style plot of the international drug mafia, Frido had decided to tell him everything about the hamsters. Soon the butler realized that it had been a mistake to talk about ‘Syrian hamsters’ instead just of normal hamsters. He tried once more:

“Sir, these hamsters are not able of terror assaults because…”

“Because, McClown?” Inspector Rufus MacSteel stared right into the butler’s eyes, beside him in the ash tray the 23rd cigar of today was smoking.

“Because the paws are much too short, Sir.”

“Your paws you too short, McClown?”

“Not mine, Sir, but the hamsters’.”

“A-and what about the backers of the hamsters, for whom do they work?” MacSteel continued in an uncertain voice.

“For nobody, Sir. They are small, woolly animals with nothing but nonsense in their heads.”

“Small, woolly animals, McClown?”

“Small, woolly animals, Inspector!”

Rufus MacSteel did not feel quite the thing.

“Coffee, Mr. McClown?”

“Thank you, Sir!”

The officer got up and walked to the coffee machine at the wall behind him. Laboriously he filled some coffee into a cup and handed it to the butler.

“Sugar, milk?”

“No, Sir, thank you.”

“And the explosions?”

“Certainly the old lord forgot to turn off the gas, Sir. Sometimes he’s a little forgetful.”

Rufus MacSteel nodded and helplessly looked at his overfull ashtray. Then his face brightened, he took the coffee cup from the butler and turned the desk lamp so that the light fell right into the butler’s face.

“And whom did you kill north of Tongue Bay, McClown?”

“The hamsters, Sir. I’m afraid they drowned and it’s all my fault.”

Slowly Inspector MacSteel turned the desk lamp away from Frido and put the coffee cup down in front of him again.

“Drowned?”

“The hamsters, Sir, yes, I’m afraid so.”

“Do you have witnesses, did you find their bodies?”

“The bodies of the witnesses, Sir?”

“No, McClown, the bodies of the poor little pets!”

“Not really, Sir, but…”

“But – McClown?”

For a moment there was absolute silence in the room and you could have heard a pin fall down. Somewhere in the distance sounded the sea, it could, however, also be the flushing of a loo, the butler was not quite certain. Then he whispered:

“I’ve seen their ghosts!”

“Can you describe those ghosts, McClown?”

“White, Sir, they were white and called for me.”

The inspector pondered. McClown had explained in a plausible fashion and several times that he took no drugs. Rufus MacSteel shuddered if he thought of the report he some time had to write about this. Certainly it was not going to be one of his clever reports. However, he had to take the matter to an end now.

“McClown, I don’t believe a word. Ghosts do not exist, even if we are in Scotland. There’s an explanation for everything.”

“Certainly, Sir, but when I woke up at the beach, the hamsters were gone. I’ve looked for them everywhere and when I wanted to give up, they suddenly faced me. White like snow they were and talked to me…”

“And then you went bonkers and right bumped into my colleagues?”

“Indeed, Sir.”

Silently the two men were sitting in the room. None of then knew what to say and nothing but McClown’s slurping was audible when he tried the coffee. The inspector wondered whether he should smoke another cigar, but changed his mind and said:

“Are you willing to accompany me to the scene of the crime? I want to see those ghosts or whatever they are.”

The butler nodded and MacSteel beckoned him to follow him. The two men left the dark, stuffy office. There was a parking lot right behind the building. Beside three police cars there also was an old blue Bentley. Inspector MacSteel walked towards it at signed McClown to wait at the passenger door. Then he opened the door at the driver’s side, unlocked the passenger door and started the motor. Soon they turned into Thurso Road and followed it. A short distance after Loch Watten they met the A9 and followed it up to Thurso. Behind Thurso the A9 ended after the road had crossed all the country from Stirling to this spot.

Now the Bentley went along the coastal road at the Atlantic, one of the most beautiful routes of Scotland. They passed Dounreay, where on the remains of a once proud castle a recycling unit for nuclear fuel rods is erected, proceeded through the pretty town of Melvich and reached Strathy. Strathy Point, McClown remembered. Here he had landed with the hamsters after he had fled from Iceland with a hot-air balloon. On they went through Armadale, passed Kirtomy and when they reached Bettyhill, they had only a few miles to go to the bridge of Tongue Bay.

During the whole trip not one of the two men uttered a word. The inspector didn’t because he seriously wondered what to write into the report about today’s questioning and its open end and McClown because he all the time looked out to the majestic landscape and remembered all the adventures he had had with his hamster friends here. Tears came to his eyes when he thought of these hamsters appearing to him as ghosts. The inspector’s words had given him a little hope and by and by he doubted that they really were ghosts. Secretly wiping the tears from his face he thought: Well, neither the old crack nor I have ever seen any ghosts in spite of living in old castles.

Now they crossed Tongue Bay bridge and Frido directed the inspector to the next turn-off to the right. The road was single track again and the inspector adjusted his Bentley’s speed accordingly. The closer they came to the spot were the policemen had arrested him and he had seen the hamsters for the last time, the more he fidgeted. MacSteel stepped onto the brake and switched off the motor. Five minutes later they were at the spot of Frido’s awaking in the sand and seeing the ghost-hamsters.

“That your trolley?” the inspector asked, pointing at the hand cart which was standing lonely a few paces from the water line. After the butler had nodded an affirmative, he examined the cart. “You tried to bake a cake, McClown?”

“A cake, Sir? Why that?”

“Flour all around, obviously a paper bag bursted. There, McClown, look at, there are small pawprints in the flour.”

“Sm-mall paw prints? But why…?”

“The hamsters, McClown. You told the truth.”

The inspector was still kneeling by the spilled flour, then pointed the old ship wreck.

“You see, McClown, the footprints are leading to the wreck. Let’s take a look if we find anything there.”

Patiently, Inspector MacSteel examined the wreck, turned round some planks and seemed to think. Then he took another few steps to the water line and called out: “Do come here, McClown. I think your hamsters are on a little trip!”

The butler darted to the water and stared at the things at the inspector’s feet. Some pieces of wood and some pawprints were in the sand.

“The matter is clear, McClown. Your hamsters are no ghosts and played around with the flour. You, McClown, had a sunstroke and cracked up when you saw the flour-hamsters.”

“B-but the hamsters, Inspector, where are the hamsters now?”

“See the small island over there? I’m sure they floated there, dead or alive but floated they were. It’s your chance, McClown, ebb tide. Go and take a look. I’ll wait for you.”

Inspector Rufus MacSteel sat down on the wreck and with a mumbled curse got out a cigar. This was a day he would not love to remember. Searching for his lighter, he watched the butler running down the tideland, shouting “Hamsters, my dear little hamsters!” every step accompanied by loud splashing. After the inspector succeeded in lighting his cigar and puffing the smoke into the clear air, he heard some screeching and laughing. Pets are still alive, he thought miffed but somewhat relieved. Then he saw laughing, cheering McClown running in the tideland and carrying something in his arms.

“See here, they’re alive, alive! Many, many thanks, Inspector, you solved this case!”

After dancing several times around  the wreck where the inspector was sitting and after he had introduced all the hamsters to the officer, the patience of Rufus MacSteel was spent for today. He gave the Atlantic and the small island one last glance, decided to say farewell to the lovely view and return to his stuffy office.

“McClown, I’m driving back now, shall I take you along?”

After the two men had with difficulties stuffed the heavy cart into the Bentley, they drove back to the bridge. A short time later at a bend behind the town the inspector stopped the car. When McClown plus hand cart and hamsters were standing on the road towards Altnaharra again, the two men said good-bye, sincerely hoping never to meet again. Inspector MacSteel continued his way to Wick, thinking about the report he had to write, while Frido the butler set off on the single-track towards home, whistling merrily.

 

 


Chapter 18

 

 

Travellers and Runaways

 

President Balthasar knew that to do a good job one had to be well rested. Therefore he thought it most important to sleep at every opportunity which offered itself. Unfortunately he was often disturbed by his staff. Here with Hooty he could do all the most important things to do a good job.

His assistant's cousin was quite right: After all the horrible events he had lived through he must gather his strength again. He always thought about this when he now and then woke up. For the duties lying ahead of him he would have to gather strength for days, even for weeks.

However, he could not blame his assistant for convincing the bipeds so quickly to travel to Fort William. So, like all the others, he was to be found in Kirk's room next morning.

He expected a committee to be founded to discuss the proceedings. So it was with BANTACH and it was the right thing to do! Consequently he was rather miffed that obviously there was no committee at all but only a departure.

Daby, knowing him better than anybody else, had anticipated this and pondered for a long time how to hinder the president being miffed. He had already retreated grumpily into a corner. So she crept to him in a clandestine style which was noticed by everybody.

"Mr. President", she said in a low voice, "before their departure the bipeds have not founded a committee. You might well imagine that now things are not like they should be."

"It is most unpleasant to be dependent on someone during a journey."

"O yes, it is indeed", Daby sighed.

She saw that Captain Kirk sat down close by on a bed to listen. Balthasar noticed this, too, and hoped that the humans would take a lesson from his methods. So he said:

"There is nothing more important than a committee. In a committee those individuals can confer who have the intelligence and the decision. More often than not in a committee matters are discussed which nobody ever would talk about."

Kirk got the impression to have some administration blockhead in front of him. Some things never seemed to change, neither with humans nor with hamsters.

"You are absolutely right, Mr. President!" Daby cried and applauded him. "You might well imagine that without such a committee there is a problem, an unpleasantness. I have to ask you if you are able to endure this unpleasantness."

The president felt a shock. If she now told him that he again had to walk to Fort William, then… then… Then he would not know what then! So he straightened in a presidential manner and said:

"A president is used to hardships, Miss Daby. Who knows this better than you."

"Indeed I know all the hardships you have to fight daily."

Kirk hid his mouth behind his folded hands and closed his eyes. Nobody could see how he stifled a laugh. Daby was a shrewd little bitch!

"How have I to burden myself now?" Balthasar moaned.

"For the journey to Fort William the bipeds place a First Class Rocking-Travel-Transport-Unit at our disposal. There are only window seats, a dining compartment and covered soft-lying-places."

"That is adequate", Balthasar commented and straightened even more presidentially.

"Mr. President, that should be a matter of course if you are travelling", Daby said with dignity. "It's like this now…"

"Yes, dear Miss Daby?"

"Well now… I wonder whether Hamstilidamst from Hamsterton may join us in the Rocking-Travel-Transport-Unit. Perhaps you would feel disturbed."

"It certainly will be an unpleasantness", he answered levelly. "But in my years of duty I lived with greater unpleasantnesses. The young man may join us."

"Mr. President, you are so generous, so good…"

Daby's voice failed, she turned to hide some non-existent tears. Now Balthasar knew that he had taken the right decision. It was a good feeling to be good and generous!

Also Dr. McCoy had listened and needed a while to understand that this absolutely overwhelming Rocking-Travel-Transport-Unit was the straw-filled box with air holes they got for the hamsters from Fergus. Never in his life he would have described that box with such flowery words. However, he was not the assistant of a president who obviously had to be humoured.

Concerning the journey, Hamstilidamst had some private plans. Therefore he had held back this morning and not nagged when Daby ordered him to prepare the box. After all, he also wanted to sit in it so that he did not mind to spread some kleenex over the straw and stow a choice of food in one corner. Lt. Scott put the three hamsters into the Rocking-Travel-Transport-Unit, closed the lid and the travel to Fort William could start.

Lt. Spock again had asked the historical file about looking for jobs in this time. He had found a large file about unemployment. If all that was written there was true, the prospects for four men having no special abilities in this time to find work in a small town were far from good.

However, the Captain did not see that black. He remembered that during their first visit to Fort William they had passed shops and restaurants with notes in the windows looking for temps. Of course they could not work in their professions, of course they were no specialists in this time. But he did not give up hope that the Enterprise would pick them up soon. Until then they did not need more money than to live from day to day.

When they got out of the bus they released Hamstilidamst and Daby from the box. Both sat on the shoulders of McCoy and Scotty. Balthasar was happily asleep, gathering strength for oncoming duties.

"Would you please go over there to the left?" Daby politely begged. "I'll tell you where to let us down."

"And so it's good-bye?" Kirk asked, fondled Daby and felt a little sad.

"I'm sorry, too", she honestly said. "But I have a duty and I have a president. – Here it is."

The officers paused. None of them saw anything special here and there wasn't. It just was the spot from which Daby wanted to walk to book the HAMSUB I.

Balthasar, well rested in the most comfortable First Class Rocking-Travel-Transport-Unit was now ready to take over duties and responsibility and to say good-bye to the bipeds. In all that bustle nobody noticed that Hamstilidamst climbed down from Dr. McCoy's shoulder. He entrenched behind a wastebasket and watched what happened.

Daby waved, Balthasar bowed presidentially and both waited until the officers were gone. Then they flitted to a manhole cover which seemed to have a broken edge. That, however, was not the case for it was the entrance to the BANTACH-outpost of Fort William. Hamstilidamst followed them.

Always under cover, he anyhow reached the gully entrance shortly after Daby and Balthasar. He slipped in. Right beside the entrance was a long hamster-ladder leading down to the canalisation. Hamstilidamst hang at a rung and cautiously clawed his way behind the president and his assistant. Now and then he peeped down and suddenly he almost fell down from the ladder in shock.

A fat canal rat was sitting down there. Daby and Balthasar moved directly towards her! He already took breath to shout a warning to them when the rat said in Hamstish:

"Drowssap?"

"Password: Down with the gerbils", Daby replied.

"And who are you? Where do you want to go to?" the rat suspiciously asked.

"I say! Who do you think you are?!" Balthasar fled up and Daby reassuringly put a paw on his arm.

"This is Mindrat, he only does his duty, Mr. President." Towards the rats she hissed: "This is the president of the organisation. We are here in secret mission. And that was the last question you asked. You got me?"

"Now, now", Balthasar mumbled. "He only does his duty as we all do, Miss Daby. Now take us to the local administrator, Mindrat."

"Ay, Sir! But I…"

"Did I not make myself clear?" Balthasar sternly interrupted.

"No, Sir. Of course not, Sir. Please follow me, Sir."

Good luck that Balthasar just now was playing president, Hamstilidamst thought. He could not have passed that fat rat, he wouldn't have dared to try. Now however he clawed down the rest of the ladder and followed them through the tunnels of the canalisation.

Like Captain Kirk, he was quite fed up with Daby's endless secrets. He wanted to know what kind of organisation BANTACH was and he was going to find it out. Somehow he would find a way to get on board the submarine as stowaway when Daby and the president visited their secret projects.

In the meantime Lt. Scott's arms tired. He nudged Dr. McCoy.

"Doctor, would you carry the First Class Rocking-Travel-Transport-Unit for a while? I'm getting a cramp in my hands."

"For sure. Why didn't you say anything?"

"I'm surprised he isn't sitting on your shoulder, Scotty", the Captain said.

"Hamsters are nocturnal", Lt. Spock explained. "Hamstilidamst spent two lively days and nights."

"Well, he'll give us a shout if he's hungry", Kirk grinned. "Look here. Wanted…"

"That's t’ way arrest-warrants begin, ain't it? At least ‘t was in t’ ancient Wild West", Lt. Scott knew.

"No bank robber is wanted here but a waiter for the season. Wouldn't that be something for you, Bones?"

"I'm a doctor, not a waiter. But perhaps that's all we can do."

"An' we've gotta look fer a hotel", Scotty said and they all paused.

This had not been one of Lt. Scott's intelligent remarks. They had after all left Ballachulish because they no longer could pay the rooms for four persons. With that the question arose where they were to sleep.

"So what we need is a flat", the Captain stated. "Spock, go a little aside and ask your answering machine what it knows about flats."

"Jim, I also know what a flat is", the Vulcan replied, slightly baffled.

"Yes, clever Dick, we all know what a flat is", McCoy angrily said. "But how are we to pay, how much is it? Do you know that, too?"

Spock did not answer but retreated a little to ask the tricorder. It was not for the first time that he found the historical data insufficient for the everyday life they had to live here. He only read that there were contracts for flats and that for such flats there had to be advance payments of several months.

"We certainly do not have enough money for that", the Captain stated.

"Would you think that Professor McTinker lets have us his flat for a while?" Spock asked.

"Gosh! Tha's it!" Scotty ejaculated. "Who goes back tae ask him?"

"Mr. Scott, McTinker thinks us on our way to Glasgow Airport", Spock reminded him. "None of us can go back to Ballachulish."

"Ay, tha's so. – Well, why d'ye pop up wi’ that idea if we cannae do it?"

"I think we can do it", the Vulcan replied.

They had been walking in the direction of the bridge. Now they followed the Vulcan who sped ahead. Kirk made a few running steps to close up to his First Officer and they whispered. On something Spock said the Captain froze in the middle of the street and goggled after him.

"What's on, Jim?" Dr. McCoy asked.

"I… Er… I think we let Spock walk ahead – alone."

"Whatfor? What is it?"

"Er… I think we do not really want to know it."

When Spock had locked Billy the burglar in the professor's lab he had put the picklocks into his trouser pocket and forgot about them. Now he remembered them. However, the Captain preferred not to know anything about his First Officer becoming a housebreaker. And he did not want the others to see it.

Spock however thought it to be an easy game. The sensors of his tricorder showed him the lock-system. He compared the choice of picklocks with the data of entrance and flat door were opened in no time. The Vulcan was already taking a look at the rooms when the others entered.

Living room, sleeping room, kitchen, bath – all more on the mini side. The seats of the sofa could be folded back to a double bed. There was only a narrow bed in the sleeping room but perhaps there was enough money for something like a folding bed.

Again Spock was busy checking the tricorder data when he heard a shocked outcry from the kitchen.

"The hamster is gone!"

The Vulcan switched off the display and hurried to the kitchen. The two others were already with McCoy.

"I thought I should look whether Hamstilidamst needs anything to eat, opened the box…"

"But he still was in 't when we said farewell tae t’ others", Scotty desperately said. "Or wasnae he?"

"I did not pay attention", Spock admitted.

"He's been suspiciously silent all the time", the Captain pondered. "I did not notice him much today."

"I should not wonder if 'suspiciously' is the correct expression", Spock thoughtfully said.

"Wha’ d'ye mean?" Scotty asked.

"It hurts me to say so", McCoy grinned, "but I have to agree with Spock. Since we met these hamsters you can with the best will of world not say that one of them had not drawn attention. And Hamstilidamst always had comments. But what is he now up to?"

"Mayhap he joined t’ two others", Scotty proposed. "Mayhap he felt bored wi’ us. Mayhap he just fergot tae tell us."

"Jim?" McCoy asked in a worried tone for the Captain definitely tore his hairs.

"I bet he joined the others", Kirk groaned. "But not to their knowledge."

"The secret projects!" the Vulcan ejaculated.

"Daby's secret-mongering. I was fed up with it and so was Hamstilidamst.”

"But… Well, Jim, if he decided that way, it was his decision", objected the Doctor.

"You may be sure it was his decision but he's travelling with us. Whenever we meet his people again, they rely on it that we took care of him."

"Or he of us", Bones smirked.

"It doesn't matter how the hamsters see it. I only see that I'm responsible for Hamstilidamst. Pabbay and Berneray."

"You don't wanna go there?"

"O yes, I will, Bones! And I'll find a way. Lieutenant Spock, you've got command here. Give me your tricorder. – Take care that you all do not draw attention here. Look for some kind of job or something to lay your hands on money. I can't leave much for you, I need it for the trip."

With that he threw some notes on the kitchen table and a moment later the door of the flat fell into the lock. The remaining officers slowly turned their heads towards the door, then towards each other. The First Officer took a deep breath and said in his most official voice:

"I'm taking over command of the landing party at – 10.25 local."

"That clock is slow", was Dr. McCoy's only comment.

 

 


Chapter 19

 

 

Back on Board the Enterprise

 

At Loch Loyal Frido McClown permitted himself a short rest. It had cooled down considerably and so he wondered what to do with the hamsters. Was he to take them to the castle without informing his old crack? Experience told him that the pets would take good care of being noticed by the lord. Moreover there were dangerous tools all over the castle as in many parts of the place the work had stopped. Certainly one day the workers would come back under the condition that Lord McShredder made some concessions.

At the moment this was out of question and the butler shuddered when imagining what some Botchy or some Goldi would begin with a steamhammer or some drilling machines. No, this time he could not smuggle them into the castle, at least not for the time being. He looked at the hamsters sadly and wondered were in the world they had sprung from that suddenly. Even more interesting was the question why they had appeared in this area. He sighed deeply.

Suddenly his eyes widened and he looked at the corner of the hand cart where the hamsters were lying snugly on the supplies and slept. What had he heard there? He bent over the cart and listened carefully. The hamsters, too, seemed to have heard something for some of them woke up and looked around dizzily. Spellbound, Frido McClown watched how one of the hamsters took some silver coloured device into his paws which was fastened to some red belt around his waist.

“… come in, Flecki, can you hear me? Please come in!”

“Uhura?”

“At last! That you, Flecki?”

“Er, yes.”

“Now listen carefully, Flecki, my colleague Chekov succeeded to increase the power of our com. Now we should reach you everywhere in the ship. Are you in a Jeffreys tube again?”

“Well, Uhura, somehow we aren’t.”

“Could you specify that a little bit?”

Even McClown, listening open-mouthed, noticed that the voice sounded a little angry. Flecky straightened and looked over to Loch Loyal.

“We are at some very beautiful lake…”

For a moment the connection seemed to be interrupted but then the voice of Lt. Uhura was back, sounding a little helpless.

“Flecki, could you help me further?”

“Sure, it’s Loch Loyal in Scotland. By the way, Frido is here, too.”

“Frido?”

“The butler of that nagging McShredder, you know.”

Another silence from the other side, then Uhura’s voice again, more smoothly this time.

“Fine, darling, let’s begin at the beginning: You ran through the Jeffreys tubes and put in the authorisation code at one of he exits. Then you were back in a passage. After that we did no longer get you until we increased the power of communication.”

“Well, we reached a room and there we were asked what we wished for.”

No question or other sound from the com, so Flecki continued.

“Well, then Trample said that northern Scotland is pretty. Suddenly we were in Scotland and my fur got wet through and through ‘cause of the lousy weather!”

Silence! The hamsters looked at each other awkwardly while McClown did not understand one word. Dazzled, the butler watched how the hamster with the communication device kicked the bum of another hamster just waking up and going for the supplies. Then hamsters and butler started up when loud laughter came from the com and it was not only the laughter of Uhura but clearly also that of Pavel Chekov. For a moment the hamsters looked rather helpless but Flecki collected herself soon.

“Will you please tell me what is so ridiculous at my fur getting wet? I well might have kicked the bucket!”

“O Flecki”, Lt. Uhura’s voice cackled, “you are not in Scotland, you are on the holo deck.”

This time the hamsters were silent. Helplessly McClown and the hamsters looked at one another.

“Holo deck? What’s that?”

“A simulation, Flecki. It all looks very real but it isn’t. You’d better come back now.”

“But how? And what about Frido, may he come along?”

A short silence, then Lt. Uhura firmly said: “Now listen, Flecki, hold the com device close to the ear of that Frido so that he hears me, okay?”

“Right, I did”, Flecki said after a moment, “he can hear you!”

“Fine”, came the voice and McClown’s eyes seemed to pop out when she continued: “Well, Mr. Frido, or whatever your name is. I’ve no idea how you got in there but remember one thing: Not a word to a soul, it’s better that way. Did you understand me?”

“F-fine”, the butler stammered, “but take good care of the dear little hamsters.”

“I will, Mr. Frido”, Lt. Uhura replied. “Now, Flecki and the others, see that you get out of the holo deck. We trifled away enough time.”

“Erm, well, how are we to do that, Yoohoo? If I may draw your attention to the fact that there is no kind of door…”

“That’s really easy”, the Enterprise officer interrupted the mayor. “Just shout ‘Computer – exit’.”

The hamsters looked bewildered. Frido McClown by now succeeded to close his mouth. He swallowed and whispered: “Take care, my little ones!” while Flecki scrambled onto a sack of potatoes, cleared her throat and shouted: “Computer – exit!”

Around the hamsters there was some shimmering, everything got blurred and was suddenly replaced by the walls of the room where they had started. Even the background noises vanished and it felt like waking up from a long sleep. Shyly the animals looked around whether there were any remains of any Scottish landscape. Finally chief Botchy remarked: “Well, I think the outing is over.”

“Dammit”, Goldi’s voice said, “we’ve got to get back immediately! Computer…”

He did not get further because Flecki jumped at him and held his mouth with her paw.

“You going to throw us into the mud again?” she hissed. “What ails you now?”

“The food, the supplies”, Goldi wailed, “we all left them behind. We’ve got to go back!”

“First”, Flecki grumped, “the supplies belonged to Frido, second we’ve got a mission!”

“Indeed”, the mayor-commander roared, “a mission to be fulfilled. As I always used to say…”

“Flecki?” Uhura’s voice from the com. “Flecki, are you all right?”

“Yes, we’re all right”, the hamster answered, “but tell me, Uhura, if that was not real, why could we talk to Frido and why could we eat in Scotland and why did I get wet and why…”

“Stop, Flecki, stop!” the officer laughed and added in a more serious voice: “To tell the truth, you’ve got to explain that to me in more detail. Something peculiar seems to have happened. Sorry, but I don’t have an explanation. However, now you should try to drive those mad gerbils off the bridge.”

Silence from the hamsters this time. A “Hello, you hear me?” woke them from the bewilderment and it was the mayor who waddled towards the passage and shouted: “Well, yes, erm, let’s go – isn’t it?”

“Just so!” Tuffy cried. “Time for action!”

“They’ll get the biggest bang of all big bangs!” Goldi brawled while Sasy and Dasy tried some karate chops at the air.

“Operation Hamsterstorm will wipe them from the face of the earth, comrades”, chief Botchy yelled and banged Trample’s shoulder until he started wailing.

While Taty and Tealefy danced around, Trample, Flecki took the com device and breathed: “All right, Uhura, we’re on the way.”

“Up, up, people”, chief Botchy yelled, ran to the door and out into the passage. “Attack!”

A few moments later all hamsters were assembled in the passage.

“Er, left or right?” Dodo wondered.

“We came from there, so we’ve to go there”, Tuffy cried and with a loud “Yarooh!” they ran on until they reached another passage.

“Er, left or right?”

“Well, pals, we’ve got to check that thoroughly”, Botchy declared and looked at an arrow pointing to the left with ‘Bridge’ written on it.

“Perhaps we should look in the opposite direction”, Dodo proposed.

“Just so, might be a trap”, Tealeafy added.

“Well, if I may summarize a statement, we got quite far. Now things should not be brushed – er – rushed and just for safety we should take the right passage to be in a way in the position to check matters.”

Bawling and with doubled fists they hastened on to the right where the passage ended after twenty metres.

“Transporter room”, Taty read aloud and the hamsters looked at each other.

“Well, erm, what are we to transpire?” Dodo wondered while chief Botchy was cautiously approaching the door. To his delight it opened and the hamsters entered. A control desk of giant size – for a hamster – was to be seen. In the background there was a round platform.

“This a tanning shop?” Botchy grumbled. “Looks somehow familiar.”

“Erm, I propose to contact this dingus, er, Yoohoo, to get information.”

“One of your better proposals, Mayor”, Flecki grinned and took the com device from her belt. “Anyhow, don’t you think she will think we don’t get anything done? Whenever we don’t know our way, we’re calling her. By now she’ll think she’s our nanny. Makes me rather cringe.”

“We need a battle plan”, Goldi stated and Dodo craned his neck.

“A batter plan?”

“Battle plan, Dodo. A batter plan, too, of course.”

“Erm”, the mayor mumbled and tapped the platform with his paw, “what are we do now? How shall we proceed?”

“No problem, Mayor. Go in and beat up.”

“Could you be more precise, Goldi?” Flecki nagged. “We need a well organized way of proceeding. What are your details?”

“Well, some thrashing perhaps…”

“Nice idea”, Flecki mocked. “Thought out to the last detail.”

“We’ve got to take them by surprise!” Trample shouted.

“Yea, just so. We distract them, coming from two sides. Then they are surprised enough to freeze. Dodo and me will take off their helmets and that’s it.”

“Before or after thrashing them, Boss?”

“Better before, Dodo, then there’s no need for thrashing. Without their tele-thing-helmets those ones are helpless.”

Chief Botchy looked around triumphantly. From all sides the members of ‘Hamsterstorm’ nodded their agreement to him. Now they only had to discuss the details. The mayor proposed for fine tuning and consolidation of the capacities to build teams with clearly defined duties. After a short debate this was accepted and the hamsters retreated in small groups for internal counsel. While the groups of Sasy, Dasy, Trample, and Tealeafy as well as of Dodo, Taty, Tuffy, and the mayor reacted rather silent and helpless, there was much lifely discussion within the group of Goldi, Flecki, and Botchy.

“That’s right daft, Goldi! Even if we blow up the door – what then?” Flecki was beside herself with rage and also chief Botchy had his doubts about Goldi’s ‘plan of surprise’ as he called it. “Maybe we’d blow up the whole space ship.”

The hamsters were sitting on the transporter platform, wondering how to realize a surprise attack to the bridge. They had to be quick – that was most important. There must be no mishap – that was the biggest problem. Blowing up the door was dangerous, even Goldi had to admit it grudgingly. Dodo’s proposal to drill a hole into the ceiling would not be practicable. There seemed to be no other ways.

“What about this transporter?” chief Botchy suddenly grunted excitedly. “Say, we did arrive here and the officers were transported away from here. Sure, you can transport with this unit.”

“Yes, and that was what Uhura told us, too”, Flecki added.

Goldi looked sharply at Flecki after these words and retorted:

“Bombs, too?”

“Probably… Hey, just a minute, you don’t want to send a bomb to the bridge and blow up the poor gerbils?” Flecki was shocked.

“Well, but it would be possible, wouldn’t it?”

“It need not be a bomb, Goldi”, Tealeafy now said. “We as well might send a letter announcing a bomb if they don’t surrender.”

“Or teargas!”

“Or a bucket full of water!”

“Or a smoke-bomb!”

“Or itching powder!”

“Or a TV with infomercial!”

“Or the mayor!”

All this cross shouting made any sensible discussion impossible. After a while the mayor succeeded to get some control over the counsel by a very long speech the contents of which are of no consequence here. At least they agreed on one item: The Borg-gerbils could only be defeated by intelligence – something quite new to the hamsters.

While chief Botchy and Tuffy tried to get acquainted with the transporter technique, Flecki had contacted Lt. Uhura to get a few instructions. The hamster girl did not miss the fact that Lt. Uhura did not like the matter very much because after all she had seen up to now of these hamsters, they well might beam themselves out into space. So Uhura did not get tired of to notify especially the chief engineer on the dangers and tricks of the transporter. It would depend on his precision and care that the event did not become a disaster. She deliberately did not hear Goldi’s remark that this would be a completely knew, unknown working fashion for the chief. With a deep sigh she put aside the com unit and turned to Pavel Chekov.

“How is it, did you discover anything by now?”

Chekov shook his head and studied the monitor with its jumble of numbers and symbols. For hours he had busied himself with computing the few facts he and Uhura had to go on. It would have been a great help to have Dr. McCoy or even Spock on board. Without their medical knowledge and without their ability to draw conclusions from little data Chekov found it most difficult to discover why he and Lt. Uhura outside Engineering behaved like two drunken hamsters.

“That much is certain, Uhura, it’s not due to any space rays. Pooh, but I’m glad there is no camera monitoring all this. I can well do without Captain’s comments.”

Lt. Uhura grinned broadly.

“Don’t tell me. And I really have no desire for Spock to see anything the like. Chekov, imagine what he would say if I fondle a fat hamster, calling him ‘woolly’.”

Now also Chekov grinned and retorted:

“’Fascinating!’ That’s what he would say.”

A few decks up at the same time the hamsters’ mood was all but fascinating. Chief Botchy was close to losing his nerves because repair hamster Tuffy had corrected him several times at computing the transporter data. The rest of them were desperately trying to develop a sensible battle plan. The transporter was decisive – that much at least was certain. Furthermore it was certain that the ‘Hamsterstorm’ group had to beam to the bridge. Far less certain it was what to do then. Surely the Borg would use their disastrous telepathy-weapon and that would be that for the attackers. But how in the world were the hamsters to switch off the telepathics of their opponents or limit it at least? It was Flecki who suddenly cried:

“Hey, Goldi, you’re always playing that song at which my ears fly off. Nobody’s able to think with that – what’s that song called?”

“Country Roads”, Goldi angrily gnarled, “but I haven’t got it here.”

“Naw, I know that, but perhaps the computer…” Flecki took the com and after a short discussion with a very bewildered Uhura they had the solution.

“Okay, people”, the chief now bawled, “we’ll beam in. Then Goldi shouts ‘Computer, play off Country Roads full power’ and you can knock down those Borg-imitations with a feather. But keep polite, pals, it ain’t their fault after all.”

“Shall I help them out of their coats again, Boss?”

“Good idea, Dodo. You’ll help the Borg-gerbils out of their coats and the others take their hats from them.”

“But who will operate the transporter?” Flecki wondered. “It won’t beam us to the bridge automatically…”

After several minutes of silence and following loud discussions they decided that Tuffy remained to do it. She after all (said Goldi) was the softy to hide in some corner at the next best brawl. Moreover she had assisted Botchy in adjusting the transporter. It was out of question for Botchy not to go with the others because he had to help deactivating the units of the Borg. So all necessary decisions had been made and the ‘Battle for the Star Ship’ as the mayor had called it in another unwonted speech had started.

With trembling legs ten hamsters were standing on the transporter platform waiting for the beaming. However, Tuffy was much more excited than her friends because she realized, of course, that she would be all alone here if she muddled this. She could not bear thinking of beaming the hamster group into the cold, lifeless vacuum.

Slowly her paw drew closer to the control which initiated the transporter. One last glance at her friends: Sasy, Taty, Tealeafy, and Dasy had tightly screwed up their eyes while the others gawked at her expectantly. Tuffy would have loved to shriek and run away but this time she wanted to prove to all of them that she was no softy. Then she threw the switch and closed her eyes, too.

The room was filled with some buzzing sound familiar from science fiction movies. But this was reality, Tuffy thought and cautiously opened her right eye. On the transporter platform light beams seemed to dance up and down from the ceiling to the floor and back. Fascinated, the little repair hamsters saw her colleagues getting transparent and vanishing slowly. Then there was silence in the transporter room and Tuffy was all alone. She felt dizzy with excitement and faded out. There was a bump and Tuffy was lying on the floor.

So while all was quiet in the transporter room, on the bridge the two parties faced each other. Borg-gerbils were familiar with beaming but this had taken them completely by surprise. All of a sudden ten hamsters were opposing them, six of them looking very grim, the others had their eyes closed. Came Goldi’s voice:

“Computer: Play off Country Roads – full power!”

“Original version or disco?” retorted the friendly computer voice.

“Well, disco of course!” Goldi shouted, watching the gerbils who had recovered from their shock and now formed for attack.

“I have to draw your attention the fact that listening to full power music causes disturbances in the vegetative body regions…”

While the friendly computer voice indicated risks and side effects of loud music, the gerbils approached threateningly. The red light beams of their eye units pointed at the hamsters.

“Don’t give a damn!” chief Botchy yelled, one second before Goldi did. “Play off the racket and stop jabbering!”

The next moment acoustic hell broke lose and Flecki was not the only one regretting not to have brought earplugs. Loud guitars, mixed with violins and percussion, blasted through the room. Then the choir began to roar while hamsters and gerbils were lying on the floor, holding their ears and learning everything about the beauty of West-Virginia.

“Bit noisy”, chief Botchy yelled at Dodo beside him. “Now let’s get up quickly and take them lamps from our visitors.”

Also Goldi had risen and together with Dodo ran after the Borg-gerbils who desperately tried to escape the noise. Two of them tried to find shelter under a control desk but Dodo politely yelled at them to hand over their lamps. At the same time Goldi stepped onto the tail of a fleeing gerbil and after the tail had been stretched to pain limit, he let it go. Only the open gerbil mouth showed the scream of pain when it crashed full power against the steel leg of a chair. In the meantime the others had not been lazy. As in all this deafening noise the gerbils had no chance to concentrate on their telepathic powers, the battle was over quickly.

All weapons were taken from all gerbils and everybody longed for the music to stop. Desperately Goldi held his ears, again and again yelling “Computer – stop!” Without success. 'Dark and dusty, painted on the sky' the loudspeaker roared and hamsters and gerbils desperately held their ears. It did not help much as the blast waves seemed to turn the inside out of the poor animals. Furiously and by now with a croaking voice chief Botchy ordered the computer to stop but 'Mountain Momma, take me home' made him wail in pain.

Crooked and hopeless they all were lying on the floor of the bridge and waited for the merciful end of their anyhow short lives. The hamsters had since long given up to tell the computer to finish the infernal noise. It made no sense, the computer did not get them. Like always the situation was hopeless and with faces twisted in pain they waited when the unexpected happened: the music died down, the refrain of 'Take me home, Country Roads' ebbed off. Silence on the bridge except some horrible whistling in everybody’s ears and the friendly computer voice said:

“The song is finished – do you wish it to be repeated?”

 

 


Chapter 20

 

 

Travels and Rescues

 

HAMSUB I, the pride of BANTACH, shimmered darkly in an abandoned canal conduit. Captain Hanoi-Casablanca ceremoniously welcomed the organisation's president. Two trained seamen were to row the group to the HAMSUB I.

"A wonderful ship", Balthasar proudly said.

"Ay, Mr. President, so 't is", Hanoi-Casablanca replied and Daby had to blink away a tear for he sounded very much like Lt. Scott.

"We can be proud on it!" Balthasar trumpeted.

"Ay, Sir, so we can!"

"What a jewel in the cycle of the crown!"

"Er… - Ay, Sir, what a cycle!"

"The eye glistens!"

"Ay, Sir, that glistens!"

"Excuse me, Mr. President, you are under time pressure", Daby whispered, who was a teensy bit pissed off by this rubbish.

"The time pressure!" Balthasar shouted at the top of his voice because he knew that such whispering of his assistant meant he had forgotten something in his speech and quickly had to add it.

Luckily the captain did not know this and held out his paw to help the president into the rowing boat at last. Earlier two dockers had loaded a barrel of drinking water. Even if the HAMSUB I was a turbo-submarine it would be a long journey. If the president was on board, he should miss no comforts.

And luckily Daby had told the Enterprise-officers the name of the ship. Hamstilidamst had followed the two of them through long tunnels until they had reached the administration office which was housed in a former generator box. It belonged to an abandoned part of the canalisation system and the harbour was close by.

Finally he had heard the orders given before the HAMSUB I was to leave. When two dockers were ordered to load a barrel of water, Hamstilidamst had just been there, lent a hand and said:

"Okay, I'll just fasten it."

"Ye're a true pal", the two others had said and gone back to their interrupted meal.

However, Hamstilidamst did not go back but hid behind the big barrel. It was tremendously uncomfortable but after he had decided do discover Daby's secret, he was willing to endure everything.

On Balthasar's marvelling he had some difficulties to suppress a laughing fit. The longer he knew that president, the more he realized that Balthasar and the mayor absolutely had to be brothers. He did not know how Daby endured that but he also did not know how Hamsterton did endure that.

"AttenSHUN!"

Hamstilidamst jerked. He could not see that now the HAMSUB I was directly ahead of them. On the ship's body the crew had lined up to welcome the BANTACH-President. In honour of the president they now began to sing the BANTACH-hymn: (on the tune of "Rule Britannia")

Hooray BANTACH!

To President hooray!

We carry, carry through the oceans

And most part don’t know the way.

The boat passengers – except Hamstilidamt – had risen. Balthasar war frightfully moved.

"Seamen!" he shouted. "We are at sea again. Hooray to our duties! Hooray to our work! Hooray to our ship!"

"'ray! 'ray! 'ray!" came the echo from the HAMSUB I.

Then there were many helping paws. For Hamstilidamst it was easy. He began to unfasten the rope around the barrel. The next moment one of the seamen on board assisted. Hamstilidamst took pains always to keep out of sight of Daby or Balthasar. That was no problem as both boarded before him. So he helped to take the barrel to the water storage, then he skived off.

Now it was important to find the stores and a quiet sleeping place. Hamstilidamst had not the faintest idea were these two islands were located but as long as he could peacefully eat and sleep he did not mind the length of the journey.

Neither did Captain Kirk know where Pabbay and Berneray were located. He assumed that the two islands were close to each other or the president would not have made it one trip.

However, at the tourist office of Fort William he got all information he needed. And he was rather shocked when he saw the islands on a map. With his financial means he could not think of 'urgent'.

A young girl in kilt and white blouse with wisps of white-blue Scotland in her hair, advised him. She had a button at her blouse, saying: Gwendolyn answers all your questions.

"Berneray's no problem", Gwendolyn said, "but Pabbay… Best ye ask somebody there tae row you over."

"And how will I get to Berneray?"

"Island hopping", Gwendolyn said and did not appear to think that funny.

"Island – what?!" Kirk asked, bewildered.

"O sorry, ye're not from hereabouts, are ye?"

"Not very", he admitted. "America."

"Wow! – Well", she continued, giving her voice a drawl she probably thought American, "ye'd go by ship ter one o’ the Hebredies, on by bus or car along the isle, by ship to the next isle… Hopping from island ter island, okay?"

"Hum… Listen, I do not want to hop from island to island, I simply want to go to Berneray."

"And for no money?" she retorted and he nodded miserably. "And ye’re in a hurry?" He nodded again. "Wow! Ye're a real challenge."

Captain Kirk was on tenter hooks and dreamed about beaming already being invented. As it was, he had to go by ship and that would probably take ages! Suddenly Kirk bent his head and thought. If for him on a big ship it would take a long time, what sort of long time would it take for a hamster-submarine?

In the meantime Gwendolyn had rummaged a pile of papers. With a shriek she plucked out a sheat of paper, turned to her PC and wildly worked the keyboard.

"D'ye hae any specialties?" she asked with an impish grin.

"And what would you mean by that?" he cautiously asked. He had a lot of specialities but they all did not fit this century.

"Singing, step dance, telling jokes, acrobatics, magic."

"Eh?"

"Okay, I'll explain. The Primrose Breeding Club o’ Fort William will island hop. For their group they're looking for somebody t’ while away their time."

"By conjuring tricks?!"

"Not all the time, okay? In the evenings aboard or in the hotel. They also want to pay near to nothing, so that would be okay."

"Oh", said Captain Kirk.

He desperately thought what special abilities he had. Nothing of what Gwendolyn had listed, anyhow. Suddenly he grinned.

"I'm quite good at closecombat", he said and she giggled.

"Beating primrose breeders? Okay, won't do. But… Ey, wait a minute! Can you do Kung Fu and suchlike – the technique? That looks really phat… Er, what I mean is: It looks really impressing."

"I can do that."

"Ye get meals and lodging, no payment. Okay?"

"Okay", he grinned back and Gwendolyn reached for the receiver.

A few minutes later everything was settled. The president of the Primrose Breeding Club was quite pleased about the idea because this was something really new. Moreover Gwendolyn had saved him last minute.

"Now ye're fer Oban. That okay for you?"

"For open? Open air – or what?" Kirk asked, irritated.

"For Oban – the town."

"Open which town?!"

"Come on, Oban is the name of the town."

"Don't tell me!" he retorted, perplexed.

"So fer Oban. Ye take a taxi, t’ primrose breeders pay for it. Go tae t’ harbour, there lies the Seamaiden. Go aboard an’ ask for Montgomery Scott. That…"

"For whom?!" Kirk ejaculated.

"Tha's the primrose president, okay? Ey, what in the world did I say wrong?!"

"N-nothing in – the world, Gwen", Kirk guffawed, parted from a pound coin as tip and left, still laughing, the tourist office.

The idea that the Chief Engineer of the Enterprise busied himself as primrose breeder as side job was so splendid that he still laughed when he got into the taxi to Oban.

However, when he reached Oban and the Seamaiden and learned to know this Montgomery Scott he saw that there was no likeness safe the name. The primrose president was incredibly long and wispy, had thin blond hair and a mouth full of badly worked dental crowns which he showed off in a steady smile.

The Captain at first sight did not like him and this did not change during the whole trip. In the evening aboard the ship he decidedly had the impression to make a fool of himself with his show of close combat exercises. However, the Primrose Breeder Club was cheering him.

They shortly stopped in Castlebay on Barra Island and in the evening reached Lochboisdale on Uist. There they stayed overnight and continued their tour next morning by coach.

Beautiful landscape but the group was so boring he could have cried. – The same feeling applied for Hamstilidamst, sitting deep in the HAMSUB I. He had no landscape and no group, he just was alone, it was pitch dark, he felt lonely and homesick.

"I want Flecki", he grumbled. "I want to be with Goldi. I want to see the mayor. – No, it isn't that bad after all."

"Somebody there?" a voice asked out of the dark.

Hamstilidamst shrank, for he wasn't Somebody and not there. He was a blind passenger. It really was so dark that he as well might have been blind.

"Silly secret mongering", he grumbled on when he thought he was alone again. "What for does Daby make a secret of all that jazz? Needn't wonder if everybody gets curious. It's all her fault!"

So two very dissatisfied folks were on their way along the Outer Hebredies. The HAMSUB I did not stop at any port but was much slower than the Seamaiden. At last however Hamstilidamst felt that the sound of the ship's motors changed. The HAMSUB I changed direction – they cut surface!

"Grrr!" he growled when suddenly it came to his mind that he did not know how to get from board.

But he was lucky again. The submarine had not only transported the president as guest of honour but also any kind of tools for the project work. Hamstilidamst crept out of his hiding place and came into a passage where several seamen were carrying containers. He simply lent a hand.

And suddenly there was daylight again, bright sunshine, close by a wonderfully green island with a marvellous white beach and…

"AttenSHUN!" it bawled directly beside him. "To our president three times Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!"

"'ray! 'ray! 'ray!" all seamen around Hamstilidamst shouted and he shouted with them full scale.

"Thank you, seamen!"

Balthasar's voice, luckily not too close. Hamstilidamst could not see anything because the container on his shoulder prevented it but it also prevented his being seen.

"As always it was a pleasure to proud our fleet… with the pride of the sea in the fleet … An honour!" shouted Balthasar for he had mingled his sentence too much by now.

Hamstilidamst heaved the container into the rowing boat which waited for guests and tools. Once more he tried the trick of tying the rope and again it worked. He crept behind the container and nobody noticed him.

"Sea-seamen!" Balthasar shouted while boarding the swaying boat. "Be sure of BANTACH's thanks. In two days I will be with you again. We will journey t'wards Berneray to visit our projects. Our duties are waiting."

"'ray!" the seamen bawled.

Bit blockheaded and easily tricked, Hamstilidamst behind his container thought. Then he felt sick because the boat was taken by a wave. But it was not too bad. However not as bad as…

"Mr. President, I beg you, do lean over the edge of the boat. It would be very unpleasant…"

Daby's voice and very close! Then there were only vomiting noises from Balthasar. Daby tried to drown these noises and loudly talked about the beauty of the island, the wonderful beach, the blue sea… On the blue sea the remains of some former meal just swam by. She turned away and was silent because she did not have to endure everything.

Finally the hull scrunched on the white beach. Some BANTACH-members were there to help with unloading. Again the president and his assistant got out first and Hamstilidamst was certain that nothing could happen to him now. Once more lending a hand with the container and he at last could – in the best of all spirits – discover the secrets of the organisation.

The container-matter worked out. When the seamen returned to their rowing boat, Hamstilidamst wanted to hide behind some shrubs. The problem was that there were no shrubs, only a long, wonderful beach. Then he had to…

"Stop!"

He did not know where the voice came from and to whom it belonged but he ran. Off the beach, somewhere to… He was jumped at from behind and thrown down.

At the same time Captain Kirk was standing at the dream beach of Berneray island and looked over the sea to Pebbay island. He had proceeded better than to be hoped for but the two shows by which he made a monkey of himself in front of the Primrose Breeder Club still rankled. However, this way he had reached Lochmaddy on North-Uist without spending money. From there a kind truck driver had taken him along. Shortly past noon they had crossed the long bridge from Uist to Berneray. At the few houses which made up Backhill, he had got off.

The Backhill was the only, very modest mound of the small island. Such a mound was just what the Captain needed. He climbed up, looked about him whether he was being watched and took out the tricorder. With the dimension of the island he could scan the whole place from this spot. He called up the data Spock had taken from Hamstilidamst and searched for them.

Two times the display blinked and registered hamsters but the data of Hamstilidamst were not among them. BANTACH-members probably but without Hamstilidamst they were of little interest to him. From the mound he had a fine view on Pabbay. Also there he saw a dream beach. But it looked deserted while here some tourists amused themselves.

"Hi", he heard a voice and turned his head.

A boy was standing there, watching him keenly and grinning.

"Hi", said the Captain.

"Có ás a tha thu?"

"Oh… Erm, I'm sorry but I don't speak Gaelic."

"Swell, wasn't it? I learned it here."

"Ey, right swell. I thought you were a local."

While the boy's grin broadened, Kirk casually switched off the tricorder. If this was a boy as he imagined boys to be, he certainly could give him one information. He stretched out his arm toward the other island.

"I want to go there. You think there's a boat to row me over?"

"Ey, not now!" the boy said indignantly

"Why not now?"

"'cause all boats are out with tourists now. – Why don't you swim? I know someone who does. – Over there and back!"

"Wow!" Kirk said and studied the distance.

Then he studied the coastal line and noticed that here and there some land was reaching further into the sea. The water was calm. Perhaps he really would be able to swim.

"Whatcha want there?"

"Looking for a hamster."

That had slipped out before Kirk could think. But the boy made nothing of it. He nodded intelligently and thoughtfully and said:

"You can't swim back with him."

"Ey, clever! What's your name?"

"You first!"

"I'm Jim."

"I'm Allan. – Here are hamsters, too. Gotta search for them quite a time."

"Probably they belong to some secret organisation."

"I'm absolutely sure", Allan replied. "They do rather funny things."

"For instance?"

"Running with their noses at the ground or waving with sticks."

"That absolutely sounds like a secret organisation."

"They surely have kidnapped your hamster."

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of. So I've got to rescue him."

"Why don't you order a helicopter?"

"Allan, that would be just what I need", Kirk honestly admitted. "But I don't have the money."

"Or a speedboat."

"I also don't have a speedboat."

"In fact, you don't have anything."

The Captain sighed and it was only half faked. Allan appeared suddenly very disappointed on a hero who did not, like MacGyver, find fantastic solutions out of nothing. Without a word he ran away and the Captain climbed down the mound again.

Soon he was at the spot which projected a little further into the sea. From here Pabbay looked a damned distance away. The tricorder could not indicate life signs but it could indicate the distance, which was three kilometres. The sea still was smooth like a mirror.

"Well", the Captain mumbled, "I think I have to. And help you God, Hamstilidamst, if you are not over there."

Hamstilidamst was not only "over there", he also was scared to death. Something he assumed to be at least a gorilla had pressed him flat onto the sand. Mouth, nose, eyes, everything was filled with sand. He was dragged up roughly, his paws were bound on his back. He still had the face full of sand and could hazily see that this was not gorilla after all but a really big, muscular hamster.

"Getcha movin'!" he gnarled. "Ye're a spy!"

Hamstilidamst snorted, spit, sneezed and blinked. Slowly he could see again what happened around him. Several hamsters were assembled, some of them in weapons. This was the BANTACH-safety team. His special safety-hamster would very much have liked to advance to safety chief and today he saw his best chance.

"Get the president", he said to one of his colleagues. If he presented to the president a spy whom he himself had caught, he certainly would advance.

Of course the message hamster did not get to the president because assistants were in the world to hinder everybody talking willy nilly to a president. So his errand ended at Daby's and she received him with her standard phrase:

"Mr. President is most busy. May I be of assistance?"

"So go an’ tell yer president, we've caught a spy. Must've been aboard with you."

"Indeed! What does he look like?"

"Sandy."

"Yes", she patiently replied and rolled her eyes. "I can easily picture this. Is there any other manner he looks like?"

Of course the safety team was trained to give exact hamster descriptions. When Daby listened to the description of this spy, she took a deep breath. In her head a lot of puzzle pieces fell into place. Hamstilidamst who at Fort William had suddenly vanished when they said good-bye. If he had followed her and Balthasar to the outpost, he certainly had also found a way to get onto the ship.

But she had stressed again and again that the BANTACH-projects were secret and no one must know about them! How could he, how could he?! Outwardly calm, she nodded to the safety hamster.

"The president must not be disturbed at the moment. Who caught the spy? Take me there."

In his short life Hamstilidamst had seen many terrifying moments but never he had felt as rotten as now when he saw Daby coming towards him. He wanted to explain everything at once, but she gave him a look like a dagger and faked not knowing him. He did not know why but somehow that made him feel better.

Making a very official face, she turned to the safety hamster.

"You caught this spy?"

"I did, and I'll tell the president…"

"The president has more important things to do." Her voice was icy. "What is your name?"

"I'm safety hamster Wideawake."

"Safety hamster Wideawake, I will commend you to the president."

"Thank you, Madam", he snapped, standing attention.

"Now hand over the spy to me, I will question him – alone."

"Ay, Madam. And ye'll tell the president…"

"My good man, you may be sure of advancemet", Daby impatiently said and waved him off.

Daby took Hamstilidamst's arm and guided him to the beach. Only when she was really out of ear's reach, she turned to him. Anger and sorrow were in her glance.

"Have you lost your senses, Hamstilidamst?"

"Oh, now get down!"

"No, you get down and be very little. Do you have any idea what happens if anyone knows what we are doing at BANTACH?!"

“Nope.”

"It would be disaster, international implications, probably war. The universe would be in danger - and I would be very angry."

"I didn't know", Hamstilidamst meekly said. "And I didn't want that. And I don't want you to be angry and the universe in danger. But…"

"But?" she asked relentlessly.

"Why don't you just say you're working in administration? That sounds boring, nobody would ask. But you always told us what a secret all this is and nobody must know anything… Naturally one wants to know then."

Daby was thoughtfully silent. It would have been terrible to tell someone that she worked in a boring office which was in no way secret - only to keep anybody from asking. But she now realized that for some people she had gone too far with all her secretmongery.

"How did they know that I don't belong?"

"Oh, that's… Well, it's secret, but I better tell you. Everyone entering the safety zone gets a sensor bracelet. Here – you see?"

She lifted her paw and he saw that she indeed wore a blinking bracelet.

"And then?"

"The safety zone is equipped with hamster motion detectors. Everybody is filed but those carrying a bracelet are permitted to be here. Those who don't…"

"Hum", he nodded and asked: "And what will you now do with me?"

"Balthasar must see you by no means. He would immediately betray you."

"Is he that mean?"

"No, that stupid!"

"It's you who call the tune, isn’t it?”

She shook her head and he looked doubtful. But she really did not call the tune and neither did the president. There was the Big Boss who was sitting in Uruguay as far as she knew. That was all she knew and did not ask for more because the Big Boss was really a big shot in the hamster business world.

Neither would she admit ever again so honestly that Balthasar was stupid, lazy and vain. Visiting his projects – ha ha! Just now he was sitting in admin filling his belly. As she was here he had given her the annual report to read so that he could take a good nap after the good meal. However, this way there was no great danger that he came to see Hamstilidamst if she only left him out here.

"Did you ever think of our friends, the officers?" she asked sadly. "They will miss you and look for you. And they so often needed your help to get along in this time."

"They get along well enough", he said half-heartedly.

He really had not thought of the astronauts but now Daby appealed to his conscience. He remembered how Spock tangled with Billy the Picklock only to get Daby and him out of the lab. Daby, too, remembered and said:

"They will do everything to find you."

"D'you think they take a rescue helicopter?" he asked, cheering up a little.

"I shouldn't wonder. But how are they to find you? They haven't the faintest idea where to look for you?"

They on the other hand hadn’t the faintest idea that at the same moment someone was ploughing the sea with strong crawls to reach this beach.

Daby promised to keep him away from everybody. Tomorrow she was going to smuggle him back onto the submarine and he was to hide there. It was not necessary that the president was in bad temper, he only needed to get a fit of importance and that really might finish Hamstilidamst as a caught spy.

"At least take off the fetters", Hamstilidamst begged.

"No. We are watched by the safety team. – You can't escape to any place here. There are no hamsters except BANTACH. So you better wait until I take you to the ship. Just stay here."

She walked away and he saw her talking to one of the safety staff. A moment later she disappeared to somewhere. Hamstilidamst felt hot, hungry, thirsty, and badly treated. Well, no, he was grateful that Daby got him out of this mess but she might have left him more comfortable.

Not much time passed until one of the safety staff came towards him. In his paw he carried a terribly dangerous looking pike. Hamstilidamst ducked away and the safety guy jeered:

"Personal president's prisoner, are ye? President to get ye in good shape? Got something to look forward, rascal."

With that he rammed the dangerous pike into the ground, tore at a cord and a sunshade opened. Hamstilidamst said nothing but was glad to get some shadow. It would still be better to get something to eat.

"Oh!" the safety hamster said before he walked away.

Then he took a bag from his shoulder, scattered some dry biscuits into the sand and kicked them to all sides.

"See that ye're in good shape for the president, spy!"

Hamstilidamst still said nothing, because that really was a lousy guy. But when the guy was gone, he crept around in the sand, took the first biscuit with his teeth and carried it to the sunshade. There he used his hind paws for the meal because his fore paws were still bound on his back and it was very uncomfortable.

The heat was barely bearable. All biscuits were outside the shade, each single one he had to fetch. Some time Hamstilidamst was more or less fed, thought about escape and fell asleep.

When he woke up again, there was some ado. Over there where the safety zone began, a lot of hamsters were busy, but with his best will Hamstilidamst could not have said what they were doing. Some slid about on their bellies with their noses almost in the sand. Others pushed funny tools and others ran about taking notes. Neither Balthasar nor Daby were to be seen.

It was late afternoon, a breeze had come up. From somewhere a sheet of paper landed at Hamstilidamst's feet. He read:

UT5

1.06 H3J

POTO

This he studied for a long time but could not make anything of it. Broodingly he looked out to the sea. Somewhere out there the head of a seal was visible. The seal made quite funny swimming movements. However, Hamstilidamst was not certain if he knew much about seals.

In the far distance a boat came racing, a white speedboat just lying in a fantastic curve. Looked swell! – Suddenly he heard a loud whistle. Hamstilidamst turned and saw that all hamsters from the beach ran inland. After a few moments they were gone and he was sitting here all alone. He still was bound. He would starve, die of thirst, freeze. Probably he would get the pest. His nose already began to itch!

He felt terribly lonely and immediately got homesick. How nice would it be to see Trample now in one of his scrapes. Or Botchy who was not always such a genius as he thought himself to be. Or…

"Hamstilidamst! Hamstilida-a-a-amst!"

"Eh?" he ejaculated.

He wanted to jump up but had such a cramp in his paws that he simply tumbled over.

"Hamstilidamst! Hamstilidamst!"

The voice came closer. He bobbed up and could not believe his eyes. Dripping wet, completely exhausted, Kirk came staggering along the beach. By all… So Kirk had been the seal he had seen! He had swum here, he looked for him, he had risked his life to rescue him.

"Hamstilidamst!"

"Hee-here! Cooe! Kirk! Ji-i-im!"

"O gosh!" Kirk groaned.

He had reached Hamstilidamst, collapsed onto the sand and panted.

"Will you take off the fetters?"

"The – what?"

"The fetters", Hamstilidamst repeated and turned round.

"O my", the Captain said and looked at the tiny, thin threads.

He had no idea how to open the knots but the hamster had to be freed. So he took him up and cautiously began to gnaw the thread. Luckily Hamstilidamst kept still and when he at last could move his fore paws again he quickly stroke Kirk's hand twice. The Captain raised him to eye level and grinned at him with a tired face.

"And what did you think when you started that, my pet?"

"Perhaps to make you a hero?" Hamstilidamst proposed.

And the Captain fell back on the sand and laughed. On his way he had thought of a long severe lecture for Hamstilidamst but he simply could not bring himself to do it. For the moment Kirk only knew that he had his hamster back and that he would have to spend the night at this beach. To swim back would be too much for him.

So there would be lots of time to listen to Hamstilidamst's story. The hamster went as far as offering the last sandy biscuit he had to the Captain. Kirk knew what an offer that was. As matter of fact he was so tired that he would have liked to sleep without hearing the story.

"Look at! They're heading here!"

With half an ear the Captain always had heard the sound of a motor. When Hamstilidamst tucked at his wet shirt, he turned round. A boat came towards the beach, exactly to this spot. The Captain had no idea what kind of boat it was but he thought it looked terribly smart.

And then he blinked into the dusk. A man was standing at the wheel, beside him a boy who waved like mad.

"Allan!" he cried.

"Who's Allan?" asked Hamstilidamst.

"A boy I met on Berneray. – Hamstilidamst, do you know if that's a speedboat?"

"It absolutely looks like one."

"That's my idea, too", Kirk nodded and got up. "What are the odds that our return is secured?"

"Daby wanted to smuggle me back into the submarine. – Tomorrow."

"Now, come on! – Well, is that what you want?"

"Nope, speedboat's much better. But I'd like to tell Daby that I'm off with you."

"Want to go to her? I'm certain I can hold up those two."

"No-o-o-o!" Hamstilidamst squeaked, terrified. "If I get into the safety zone, that gorilla knocks me down again."

"Hum?"

"Got something to write?"

"To write?!"

"Yea, to write", Hamistilidamst gnarled for these permanent queries shirted him.

"You can write?!"

"Yes. – Can't you?"

"Me?! – Nuts, 'course I can. There’s a pen at the tricorder, but…"

"I've got a sheet of paper."

He had indeed and some curious numbers were written on it. The pen was much too long for Hamstilidamst. The racing boat was almost on the beach. If somebody asked Kirk, Hamstilidamst was to be a normal hamster within the next two minutes not being able to read and write and not travelling in submarines.

Suddenly a shrill whistle. Their heads went up. Within the safety zone, in some distance they could make out Daby. She waved with both paws and shouted:

"Good luck!"

Both waved back and Daby hastily disappeared in the dusk. Now Kirk took the pen from Hamstilidamst and with the smallest letters wrote "THANKS!" on the sheet of paper. He weighed down the paper with a flat pebble, placed Hamstilidamst on his shoulder and walked towards the speedboat.

In his life Captain Kirk had more important things to do than to care for fashion so that he knew nothing about it. But if he guessed correctly, the man who now came towards him was dressed expensively. He was about Kirk's own age, slim, athletic, tanned. He looked – expensive. He looked like owning a speed boat.

"It's true", he said as hailing. "I thought it was one of Allan's stories."

"So? Did I lie? He swam over to rescue his hamster. Look at!"

"I do see it, Allan. – Do you need means of transport?"

"I would be most grateful indeed. Allan had the idea that I could not swim back with the hamster. – James T. Kirk", he introduced himself.

"Miles Twix", the man answered and stared hard at Kirk.

As the Captain did not know that in this time a candy bar was such named, he just shook Mr. Twix's hand and did not come along with the silly saying to which the poor chap usually had to listen.

"Perhaps you'd like to put on something dry?" Mr. Twix said as the Captain by now trembled in his wet clothes.

"I would be grateful, but how have I earned all this?"

"Ey, you're a hero!" Allan trumpeted.

"By and by I feel like one", the Captain grinned.

Mr. Twix laughed and went to the shallow water where the speed boat was.

Dressed in a warm bathrobe, Kirk soon sat in the boat, warmed his hands at a mug of coffee and watched Hamstilidamst stuffing himself with shortbread. The boat proceeded rather comfortably and when they were in open water, Twix switched off the motor and sat down beside Kirk.

"Allan told me you hitchhiked to Berneray. Where are you bound?"

"To Fort William."

"Would it be all right if I take you there tomorrow?"

"Now listen, it would be quite all right if you set me down on Berneray."

"Oh, I don't mind some more of your gratefulness, Jim. We only spent the weekend here. On Berneray we'll now take up my wife and sister and make for Boreraig. That's were I'm living. Spend the night with us."

"And may I take the hamster to my room overnight?" Allan inquired.

"Well, Hamstilidamst, what do you say?" Kirk asked as if jesting and took up the hamster. "Shall we accept the invitation and would you like to sleep in Allan's room?"

"If he doesn't want to huddle me, it's okay", Hamstilidamst squeaked.

"Sounds like he's answering you", Mr. Twix laughed.

"But – he does", Allan said, surprised. "I don't get it. Sounds funny. But he answers."

"Allan, now your imagination runs riot. Take him with you, but don't tease him."

"Oh, I think…"

The Captain did not finish the sentence, but he had an idea that it was the hamster who would tease the boy and not the other way round.

Soon they moored in Berneray. Mrs. Twix, a most elegant woman, boarded, followed by Mrs. Stately, Allan's mother. Both ladies were full of admiration for James Kirk, the hero who swam from Berneray to Pabbay to rescue a hamster.

The twittering extolment quite shirted all the men. So Mr. Twix sped up so that the roar of the motor drowned all voices. Apart from the silly women, the Captain decidedly liked the trip. He began to feel really good in this time.

"Yi-iep!" said Hamstilidamst when after a good while the boat slowed down, and the Captain had almost made some similar sound.

They entered a private port. From the port they crossed a strip of beach and over several terraces a path led up to a castle. Hamstilidamst knew Lord McShredder's castle but somehow that had been quite a different kind of castle. Blowing up McShredder's castle did not do much damage really. This one was very different.

"Welcome to Slaint", the host grinned and Kirk was embarrassed and bewildered.

"Excuse me… You are not simply Mr. Twix, are you?"

"No, I'm the Count of Twix and Dunvengan but that's quite a mouthful. Moreover it's fun to play the snob if people react on Twix."

"Oh", the Captain said, quite at sea.

He did not say much more for now they entered the house and in his bathrobe the Captain felt like a complete fool. Here somebody was living who had really big money.