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The Machine is Turned On Episode 11

The Machine is Turned On

Patchee meets up with the hamsters, and Molly makes her way, with Roscoe and Bailey, to the workshop.

· 23:58


Hello again. This is part eleven of Molly Whiskers and the Blue Tentacle, and things are starting to get serious. Serious faces, serious voices, serious music, serious microphone, serious cup of tea next to serious script on very serious paper.

We left Molly as she, Roscoe and Bailey were headed to the abandoned workshop in Handsome Gardens, hoping to meet and rescue Patchee, who is as we speak being marched behind a squadron of kidnapped hamsters, to who-knows-where.

I told you it was serious. Music, please!

“Keep the change”, says Roscoe, as he hauls himself out of the carriage. They’ve been dropped outside a tall stone building, the lettering above the single blue-grey door now warn away with age and bleached by the sun. The three of them can just barely make out the words “HANDSOME STUDIOS”.

“Thanks, boss”, says the horse. “Don’t forget to leave a review!”

Ignoring this, Roscoe turns to his partner and the rabbit. “So this is where they’re holding the hamsters, you reckon?”

“And where they took my assistant after they found him snooping around the warehouse”, adds Molly.

“So, assuming you’re right, which, for the record, I don’t”, continues Roscoe, “what’s your plan? If we bust our way into the building, we’ll lose any chance we have of catching them doing… whatever it is we assume they’re doing.”

“Do you think I care?” demands the rabbit, her voice raised and her arms waving. “Right now there’s nearly a full squad of footballing hamsters, not to mention my assistant, surrounded by a pack of greedy dogs!”

“You’re not suggesting…” begins Bailey, doubtfully.

“What? That they’ll eat them? Of course not! I’m saying they’re greedy for money”. The rabbit makes a gesture with her right paw that is known everywhere, for some reason, to mean “money”. (Maybe it’s got something to do with how coins rub together.) “And being greedy means they’ll do just about anything to get more of what they want.”

“So, what do you suggest we do?” asks Roscoe, folding his arms.

“Just… just let me think.” With this, Molly sits on the floor with a thud, putting her arms out on either side.

A long, long minute passes, in which no-one speaks. And then, Molly begins to feel a tickling sensation in the skin and hairs on her left arm. Seeing the spider crawling up her shoulder, she’s about to politely ask it to go elsewhere when suddenly, she recognises a familiar face.

“Simon! How did you get all the way out here?”

“Hitched a ride”, signs the spider. (Incidentally, it’s worth pointing out that spiders can speak, but only really to insects and other spiders, since they’re so very small that only animals of the same size can hear them. But as Fogsworth is home to animals of all sizes, everyone shares a universal sign language… however, the spider dialect is very hard to master, as most people simply don’t have enough legs.)

“Well look”, says the rabbit, perking up, “I could really use a favour.”

In a section of the workshop we haven’t yet seen, nine glass balls, like fish bowls, sit atop nine shiny metal platforms. They’re arranged in two columns of four, with one ball at the very end, on a raised platform between the columns, like a headteacher addressing a class. Each glass ball has a small, circular door, and inside each is a set of straps, and two small pedals. At the very top of each glass ball is a tiny hole.

Milling about this section of the workshop are four iguanas in white lab coats. As the hamsters are led in, the iguanas pick a hamster from the queue, open one of the empty glass balls, indicate for the hamster to climb inside, and then adjust the straps until the prisoner is fixed in place, balancing awkwardly on the pedals.

One by one the hamsters are picked off and strapped in to one of the balls in the lower section, except for Mrs Toggle, who is led up to the raised platform and strapped in to the ball at the end.

At the base of each of the lower eight balls is a long, thick, snaking cable that runs to Mrs Toggle’s platform at the end. From the back of her platform, a much thicker cable runs up the wall, and connects to an enormous glass bowl, filled with a green liquid that looks like, if you were to drink it, it might make all your inside bits suddenly want to be on your outside. Dipped in the liquid are lots of tiny wires which connect to a network of small bulbs, dotted around the walls and ceiling.

The pitch is ready, and now all that’s needed is for the players to emerge.

Simon is a spider on a mission. He can’t remember the last time he felt this good, this ready for action! All he needs to do now is figure out what he can actually do.

He skitters along the wooden beams that hang just beneath the ceiling of the workshop. He’s seen the hamsters being led away from their cage into another part of the workshop. He’s seen the big black dog take the key for the cage and lead the rabbit away, so now, timing is everything.

Tick, tock.

Bringing up the rear of the hamster queue is Norman the bloodhound, who whistles admiringly through his teeth, at the arrangement of glass balls and cables. Seeing the wonder on his partner’s face, the rottweiler called Twitch pipes up.

“I mean… just goes to show, doesn’t it? Cor. What will they ever think of next, eh? Blimey. Wonders will never cease.”

“Indeed”, coos the bloodhound, “but do you know what it does?”

The last to enter this section of the room is a young rabbit with a horrified look on his little face. His small ears are pressed low to his head, but he’s doing his best to pay attention, so he can tell Molly and the police exactly what’s been going on here.

“Well of course, it’s your standard hamster ball based machine, isn’t it?” bluffs the rottweiler.

While the labrador is distracted, speaking to one of the iguanas in white coats, Patchee slips from under his grip and wanders over to the two guard dogs, staying just out of sight behind Mr Nibbs’ glass ball. “Ten a penny really, nothing new under the sun if you ask me”, continues Twitch, in his best know-it-all voice. “You strap your average hamster in like so, right, and then boom, out comes your product. Of course, I’m dumbing it down for the layman, like.”

“Mmmm”, grumbles Norman, who also has absolutely no idea how this machine works, but has no intention of admitting it to his partner.

One of the many advantages of being a spider is having eight eyes. This makes it easy to get a good view of what’s going on, not just in front of you, but to the sides, too.

Balancing from a thin strand of silk so he can get a better view, Simon is listening intently to the conversation the rottweiler and the bloodhound are having. Out of the corner of one eye he sees the little rabbit — he remembers him from Molly’s flat — sneaking away from the labrador. Out of the corner of another, he sees a fox and a small, wide-eyed creature with a clipboard, enter from a large, round door set somewhere in a dark wall. And out of the corner of another eye, he sees the labrador.

Climbing back up his silk rope and skittering across a junction to another beam, he begins to lower himself again, very, very slowly, to where the labrador is standing, his attention focused on a series of levers and buttons.

This next bit, thinks the spider, is going to be tricky.

“It’s all quite simple, really”, says one of the iguanas, as she walks over to join the two guard dogs. Like many scientists, she enjoys explaining her work to people who take an interest, no matter how much or how little they know. “The hamsters run in place within each ball, generating energy which flows through the cables to the platform at the end.”

“I get that”, lies the rottweiler, “but what about your hamster at the end there? What’s she doing?”

“Grounding”, suggests the bloodhound.

“That’s right”, says the iguana, impressed. “That one’s there to prevent the system from overloading and causing an electric shock.”

Patchee, who has been listening intently all this time, and hiding behind Mr Nibbs’ glass ball, hears a hissing voice by his right ear. “’That one’? She’s got a name, you ignorant bogsniffer.” It’s Mr Nibbs, and unsurprisingly, he’s not a happy hamster. Patchee looks sympathetically at the imprisoned rodent, but knows there’s nothing he can do without drawing attention to himself, so he continues to listen to the dogs’ conversation.

“Electric?” asks the rottweiler, this word apparently new to him.

“That’s right” says the iguana. “This whole system generates electricity, a quite remarkable new form of power. We store that power in the giant bowl up there”, she gestures to the bowl above Mrs Toggle’s platform, with its green liquid, “which for our demonstration will power all the light bulbs you see above your head.”

The guard dogs take a moment to let this sink in. The little rabbit holds his breath, terrified he might be caught eavesdropping. The hamsters wait, trembling silently in their tiny spherical prisons.

Easy does it now, Simon, thinks the spider, as he lowers himself just a little bit further. He’s now at just the right position, so climbing back up his silk rope a little, he prepares to spin some more.

Very slowly, very, very slowly, a thin strand of silk begins to make its way downwards, from the spider’s belly. Millimetre by slow millimetre, it makes its way downwards.

Stay exactly where you are, says the spider, silently to the labrador. If his maths are off by a fraction, or if the dog moves now, his whole plan will be discovered, and he could be in very serious danger.

Nice and easy, lad.

With just enough silk to reach the breast pocket of the labrador’s jacket, Simon gives the line the tiniest of taps. The vibration makes its way from his spindly little finger all the way to the base of the silk strand, causing it to curl at the end and wrap itself around the hole in the key, poking out of the pocket.

All keys have little holes in them, so you can hang them on a keyring. Had this key been on a ring, Simon wouldn’t have had the strength to pick it up, but fortunately he has just enough strength to very slowly and very carefully — so as not to alert the key’s owner — inch the key out of the pocket.

Simon does this by gathering up the silk he’s spun, taking care not to swing the strand too far this way or that. Finally, he has the key, wrapped in silk, which he ties to his back, as he makes his way, silently, to safety.

Had he moved the key just a fraction of a second later, he would have been caught, as at that very moment, the labrador seems to spy something to his right, and his face lights up in excitement.

Out of the corner of his seventh eye, Simon sees a fox silently sidle up to the bloodhound and the rottweiler, joined by a small creature with large eyes and a clipboard in one tiny hand.

“But, like, I mean, in so far as you’re comfortable saying”, asks the rottweiler after a brief pause (Twitch is a firm believer that any silence should be filled immediately, ideally by him), “like, at the end of the day, what does it, you know, do?”

“Just about anything you can think of, my rottie friend!” booms a charmingly happy voice. This voice belongs to a fox, who seemingly has suddenly appeared out of nowhere, with a small, wide-eyed brown creature next to him, with a clipboard in one tiny hand.

“Professor, how marvellous to see you”, says the labrador, bounding over to meet the little group. “Everything’s ready for the demonstration, as per your instructions.”

“Wonderful”, replies the cheery fox, “and please, call me Fritz.”

“This is getting ridiculous”, says a grumpy Roscoe. “Every second we waste here is time we could be spending finding the real kidnappers.”

“Oh for crying out loud”, shouts a furious Bailey, “have you not got it yet, Roscoe? These are the kidnappers, and whether it’s the fox who is in charge —”

“— which it is”, interrupts Molly.

“— or if it’s someone else”, continues Bailey, “there are nine terrified hamsters in there, along with a young rabbit and a pack of snarling dogs.”

“Well”, scoffs the big black cat, “at least she’s sent a spider in there. I’m sure he’ll save the day.”

Four narrow eyes turn their attention to Roscoe, who sits smartly on the floor. “I’ll be quiet, then”, he says, quietly, in his special voice he uses for being quiet.

“I think that’s for the best”, sighs Bailey.

“Would you like to press the button, sir?” asks the labrador, in a voice that can be best described as simpering, which is somewhere between sucking up and snivelling.

“That’s very kind”, says the fox. Seeming to have an idea, he passes the small box with a single red button, to his assistant. “Sam, would you care to do the honours?”

“Oh, w-wow. Tha..ank you, sir”, says the slow loris. This whole affair has been making Sam a little nervous, and it’s beginning to show.

“In three, two, one”, the labrador counts, rhythmically, “now.”

And on “now”, Sam presses the button, and suddenly the hamsters jerk to life inside their balls.

“It’s quite a clever little system”, explains the fox to his assistant. “A small jet of steam bubbles up under each hamster ball, which causes the pedals to twitch. This sets the hamsters off into a running motion. Hamsters are naturally good runners, so we take the movement they generate and convert it into energy which flows through the cables and into that big bowl of acid. The acid stores the energy which can then be used by”, and at this point the fox pauses for effect, which is just enough time for the walls and ceiling to begin glowing with lots of tiny points of light, “these lightbulbs”.

The fox spins slowly around the room with his arms aloft, as if he were conducting an orchestra made out of light.

“Completely renewable energy”, continues the fox, “and all it takes is eight little hamsters, and one big fat one.”

“Why are they s-still ped…dalling?” asks the slow loris, curious as to why the hamsters haven’t just stopped running on the spot.

“We use a small amount of the energy to keep the steam pumps going, so every few seconds they get a nice big kick up the bottom, and they keep going.”

“But”, asks Sam, who’s starting to feel very anxious at this point, “what ha…appens when they run-n-nout of eh-energy?”

“Quite simple really, we pause the system, replace the hamster and boot everything back up again.” Seeing the mounting concern on his little assistant’s face, Fritz continues, “Oh it’s quite safe; the acid stores the energy for up to a day, so there’s plenty of time to find a replacement.”

“Rep…lacement?” asks Sam, almost too afraid to find out the answer.

“But of course, Sam”, explains the fox, kindly. “The energy is renewable, but each one of these hamsters only has so much puff in them. They can recharge after a day or so, but still, they’ve only so many times we can use them, and then, well”. The fox makes a motion indicating something being thrown, casually away.

“Looks like that one’s going to need replacing sooner than the others”, says the labrador, pointing to the plump hamster on the raised platform. As all eyes turn to Mrs Toggle, blue tentacles start to snake out from the cables connected to the other hamster balls, and make their way up to the liquid, through the tiny wires and into some of the light bulbs, which begin to shatter into tiny glass fragments.

Uh oh. And as if that weren’t bad enough, that’s all the time we can spare for this episode. We’ll be back again next week, which should give us just enough time for Molly to think up a daring rescue. Fingers crossed.

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