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Is This a Key I See Before Me? Episode 12

Is This a Key I See Before Me?

Patchee learns about the Professor's plan, the hamsters hatch their own, and Molly makes a new acquaintance.

· 21:58


Hello you. Ready for the next part of Molly Whiskers and the Blue Tentacle? I hope so, as we don’t have that many left.

In the last one, we uncovered the mastermind behind the hamster kidnapping: a fox called Professor Fritz, who paid some dogs to pick up the hamsters, strap them to a set of hamster wheels, and force them to generate electricity. What we don’t yet know is what Fritz plans to do with all this power, but it can’t be good.

Let’s get back into it.

We finished the last episode just as the hamster-powered machine was beginning to break down, with blue tentacles snaking all over the place and electricity surging, causing some of the lightbulbs in the ceiling to shatter.

“Shut it down, people!” yells the labrador. An iguana jogs over to the bank of levers, and pushes the largest one upwards. “Looks like the grounding is failing”, says the labrador, pointing to a sweating and panting Mrs Toggle, struggling to catch her breath even as the pedals begin to slow down.

“Not to worry”, says the fox, in his best reassuring tone. “Give her some water and we can get this back up and running shortly.” His face turns just a little darker as he adds “We only need her for a few minutes, and it’s vital that everything run smoothly for tonight’s presentation.

“This machine is the ticket to me winning tonight’s debate, so when we blow the candles out in the town hall and my device powers the lightbulbs we’ve installed there, I’ll be made mayor of Fogsworth before the moon has got out of bed.”

“Absolutely, sir… um, Fritz”, says the labrador. And then, shouting to be heard by anyone who considered them his boss, “Someone get that sweaty ball of fur a drink of water. We go again in twenty minutes.”

If you’ve ever heard phrases like “the final straw” or “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and been confused by them, here’s a good example of what they mean.

Patchee has been paying close attention to the whole scene, watching in horror as the poor hamsters are made to run on the spot until one of them is close to collapse. Each awful little thing he sees and hears is like another piece of straw being loaded onto the back of a camel. (It doesn’t have to be a camel, but for whatever reason, that’s the image we’ve all agreed on.)

Even after hearing how the fox plans to ”replace” tired hamsters, Patchee simply feels his anger growing. It’s not until the big-hearted rabbit hears how callously the labrador suggests that a short break will be enough for poor Mrs Toggle to recover, that he can take no more, and that final piece of straw is placed onto the camel’s back, forcing the camel’s legs to buckle under the weight.

“You callous, mean, heartless, bogswilling hogfarts!” yells Patchee, as he emerges from behind Mr Nibbs’ little prison, marching towards the dogs, the fox, and the slow loris. “How could you do this!? These are people, not parts of a machine!”

“But my dear Patchee”, says Fritz, comfortingly — this takes Patchee rather by surprise, as he has absolutely no idea how the fox could possibly know his name — “this is what progress looks like. You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.”

“Ooh, I like that one”, says the rottweiler, who has been blessedly silent for most of the last few minutes.

“These. Aren’t. Eggs” says the little rabbit, his ears pricking up and his whiskers standing on edge. He throws each word like a little poison-tipped paper dart. “These. Are. People. Good people. Kind people. And this will not stand.”

Patchee lets these powerful words sink in for a few seconds, after such time, the fox and the dogs erupt in laughter. Only the hamsters, the rabbit and the slow loris are not laughing.

“Oh that’s classic”, says the fox. “Get him out of here.“ He says this with a broad, friendly grin on his face, and a wave of his hand, a gesture similar to the one he made about the hamsters earlier.


Now everything goes silent again.

“I cannot allow this. Professor, Fritz, whatever your name is, I’ve stood by you for months while you kept me in the dark, scheming and p-plotting. But now that I know what you’re up to, I w…

”I w…

“I will nnn…”

“Oh, Sam”, purrs the fox, patiently and sympathetically, a hand resting on the loris’ shoulder.

“Let me finish!” Sam bursts out, shrugging off the fox’s hand. “I wi… will nnnot sit by and watch you harm another li…iving person.”

“Not a problem then”, replies the fox, his face growing just a little bit darker again, as his smile broadens. “You don’t have to watch, at all. Boomer, take Sam too; he’s obviously got himself a little flustered and just needs a moment to cool off.”

“Get your h…ands off me!” spits the loris, as the labrador takes him roughly by the arm.

“Norman, grab the bunny”, commands the tall black dog, as he marches back towards the cage.

Norman’s grip is rough on Patchee’s shoulder, as he bundles him into the cage, where he’s joined by the wide-eyed, trembling slow loris.

The bloodhound shoves Patchee in the small of the back, causing him to trip on his way into the cage. No-one speaks, and the only sound is the click as the cage door locks itself. The slow loris runs up to the door and gives it a violent tug, but it won’t budge.

“You were very brave back there”, says the rabbit, as the loris slumps to the floor in dispair. “What was your name?”

“Sss… sssss… ssaa… aam”, manages the loris. Patchee had a school friend who stammered, and knows that the hardest thing for many stammerers to say, is their own name, which is rather cruel.

“I’m Patchee. I work for —”

“Molly Whiskers, I know. I did some res…search on you and Molly for Fritz.”

Seeing the puzzled and concerned look on the rabbit’s face, Sam continues. “We were never going to put y-you in danger. I just asked an anteater friend of mine to have a ch…at with your boss after she got arr-rested.”

“And what did you find out?” asks the rabbit, gloomily.

“That you’re both very smart. And you’re ohhh-ob…viously better judges of character than I am.” The words start to feel like large bubbles of liquid forming in Sam’s throat. “I’m so sorry if I’ve p-p… put yoouuu in harm’s way.”

“You haven’t”, says Patchee. “Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for my own reasons.” Then, taking a look around this darkened section of workshop, he adds “but I don’t think it makes much of a difference now that we’re stuck here.”

At that moment, almost as if someone were waiting for just the right time to spring a surprise, a key appears to dangle directly in front of Patchee’s eyes.

“Hello there”, says the rabbit to the key in utter surprise, “what brings you here?”

The key, being a key, refuses to answer. It just bobs there. Seeing a tiny thread, smaller than the width of a hair, leading up from the hole in the key, Patchee gives it a tug. The key is definitely real, definitely in his little paw, and is definitely attached to a rather annoyed-looking spider, who uses all eight legs to demonstrate, in sign language, his annoyance at having been pulled from a beam just below the sealing.

“Sorry”, says the rabbit. The spider shrugs with its four front legs.

“Shall we…?” asks the loris, gesturing towards the door.

“Oh yeah”, says the rabbit, hurriedly, getting up from the floor and padding silently across to the cage door. “Oh, plops”, he says, discovering a problem. “The door unlocks from the outside, and my arms aren’t long enough.”

“Let me try”, says the loris, walking over to the door. Patchee stands aside for Sam, as he pops his little arm through the bars, gripping the key in his strong hand and turning it.

The click of the lock seems to echo for several seconds, booming around the workshop. The prisoners freeze as they wait for someone to investigate the noise. But no-one does.

Slowly, the loris winds his arm back in, and the rabbit, with great care, pushes the cage door open.

“How are you feeling, Mrs Toggle?” calls Ms Pickles.

“I’ve felt better, love, but thanks for asking”. The voice from the raised platform is hard to hear, as she doesn’t have the energy to shout.

“Everyone else alright?” calls Mr Nibbs. A choruses of glum voices answer.

“I’ve been thinking”, says Ms Pickles, “there might be something we can —”

“Ssh!” hisses Mr Nibbs, “they’ll hear us!”

Ms Pickles claps a small hand across her mouth, and shrinks a little. Luckily no-one is around to hear them or pay too much attention; the iguanas are busy twiddling knobs and looking at clipboards and saying things like “nominal” and “within acceptable limits”, while the fox has wandered off, presumably to practise his talking points for tonight’s debate.

“Um, Mr N, Ms P”, says one of the others. “I don’t think Old Binky’s doing too well.”

Those that can move to see from within their harnesses, swivel their heads in the old hamster’s direction. What they see is the body of a hamster, head drooped, suspended in his harness with his feet dangling, pedals moving back and forth like an empty swing.

“Help! Someone, please!” cries Mr Nibbs.

Hearing the hamster’s shouts, the tall black labrador re-enters, and, ignoring them, barks orders to the two guard dogs and the scientists, to release the hamsters from their harnesses and throw them back into the cage where they can “cool off before tonight’s big show.” It would seem the fox doesn’t want to risk another demonstration before the debate.

One by one, stiff and tired hamsters climb out of their little prisons and gather around Old Binky, who has been laid on the floor. Mr Nibbs leans down and listens to the old hamster’s chest.

“He’s still breathing”, he says, standing up.

“You’d better hope he stays that way” says the tall labrador, bending down to meet the young hamster’s face, “or you’ll all find out happens when a circuit is broken.”

The hamsters look at the dog in confusion.

“Pick. Him. Up”, orders the dog to the hamsters, his words slow and deliberate. Mr Nibbs and a few of the other hamsters hoist Old Binky onto their backs, and slowly, glumly, they all march back to the cage... which is not only unlocked, but empty, apart from one small piece of silk thread.

“Find the rabbit and that other little bag of fur”, barks the labrador to the guard dogs who were at the front of the hamster line. “I don’t care how you do it, just make sure we never hear from either of them again.”

“Yes Sarge.” The two guard dogs exchange a brief few words about which whey they should each look, before separating.

“In”, spits the labrador, holding the door wide for the hamsters and shutting it violently, the lock clicking back into place.

The sleeping body of Old Binky is laid down gently on the cold floor, and everyone tries their hardest not to cry.

“Thirty seconds and then I’m going in”, mutters Roscoe. It’s reached the point where even Molly and Bailey are having trouble arguing.

“I just don’t know what could have happened to Simon”, says Molly for the third time. “He’s usually —”

“— so careful, I know”, interrupts Bailey, a little snappily. After a moment, she shoots the rabbit an apologetic look. Everyone is tired and frustrated.

At just that moment, the door at Molly’s back opens, hitting the rabbit between the shoulder blades. Jumping up and turning around, she sees the giant eyes of a slow loris, who wriggles through the partially-open door and blinks in the sunlight.

The loris is followed by a pair of small ears, a pink nose, and then the entire face of a young rabbit.

All the wiring in Molly’s brain appears to be on fire, and all she can do is say “well, it took Simon long enough”, and offer her assistant a paw to shake. Patchee takes the paw, seemingly hoping for something else — does he now know I know about the note? she thinks — and stares at his boss for a few seconds before taking in the scene.

“Molly, officers… we could really use your help.”

“How sure are you that this will work?” asks a concerned Mr Nibbs.

“Pretty sure”, says Ms Pickles, slowly. “Like, I’m mostly sure it’ll be fine.”

“I’m not sure that’s enough certainty, considering we’re putting one of our own in danger.”

“I don’t know that we have much choice”, argues the older hamster. “We’ve already seen what’s happened to Old B—”

“That’s exactly my point”, cuts in Mr Nibbs. “What you’re talking about could kill Mrs Toggle.”

“Not if we get the timing right” insists Ms Pickles. “All we need is to cause the machine to overload again. And as long as we don’t break the circuit —”

“— You mean, as long as another one of us manages not to collapse”, interrupts Mr Nibbs, sharply.

“— then all she’ll get is a mild shock, and the whole system will shut down. She’s the only one that can do it. If anyone else tries it…”

“… we all get fried” says Mrs Toggle, walking in from the opposite side of the cage.

“How much of that did you hear?” asks the young man.

“All of it”, she replies, “and I’ll do it.”

“No, it’s too dangerous —” tries Mr Nibbs.

“Listen, Mr N, I’m not as fast as you lot, and I’ll never be as young, and although I might be tubby, I’m not soft. I’m a good goalie, and I’ll never sit idly by and watch something happen when I can help stop it. You know what we hamsters are like. We’re tough. We have to be.”

“My old missus used to say ‘you learn to be on your guard, when you’re small and fluffy’”, adds Mr Nibbs, wistfully.

“Well”, says Mrs Toggle, puffing out her chest, “with us all working together, we’ll be home to our families before the night is out.”

“Paw promise”, says Ms Pickles, holding a tiny hand in front of her. “My brother and I used to do this as kids; just go with it.”

Mr Nibbs holds out his hand and rests it on Mr Pickles’. Mrs Toggle’s hand rests on his, and then they each repeat the pattern with their free hand.

”Hamsters United”, says Ms Pickles.

“What a load of corny old bogswill” says an old voice, emerging from the corner of the cage, and walking on shaky legs.

“Mr B! You’re awake!” shouts Ms Pickles, freeing her hands from the others and hugging her grumpy old friend.

“That I am, lass. So, what’s the plan?”

The plan will have to wait, as that’s all the time we have for you. But rest assured we’ll be back before you know it.

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