Read Mort Online

Authors: Martin Chatterton

Mort (12 page)

With Trish and Nigel only metres behind, Mort hurtled out of control down the chute, his heels skidding uselessly on the smooth steel, his elbows and knees clanging against the walls.

Behind him, Nigel screamed, his yelps amplified inside the metal tube.

‘MUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!'

Mort flew round a bend and suddenly he could see light below. He just had time to glimpse a metal grille coming up fast, and
braced his heels to take the impact.

He hit the grille at full speed, knocking it clean off its hinges and sending him spinning on his back across the shiny laboratory floor. He slid past the astonished faces of Leonardo, Oppy and H.G. before coming to rest at the smelly feet of Genghis Khan. Behind him, Mort heard two bangs as Trish and Nigel arrived in the lab.

‘Vell, vell,' said Khan. ‘Visitors.'

Khan's great fist shot out and clamped around Mort's neck. For a worrying moment, Mort honestly thought the Mongolian was going to eat him whole.

‘Mr Khan!' Trish said. ‘Put down that child immediately!'

Khan shot out his other hand and lifted Trish clear off the ground.

‘I say, Khan!' said H.G. Wells, hotly. ‘That's no way to treat a lady!'

‘I am quite capable of speaking for myself,' croaked Trish. ‘Mr Khan,' she continued
as sternly as she could. ‘That boy is under the protection of Unk Shire Education Department! I demand you put him and me down immediately or you will be in quite serious trouble!'

Khan had never laughed in his life but he came close now. ‘And how, voman, are you going to do anyzink about anyzink?' sneered Khan. ‘I zink it iss you in zee serious trouble.'

Trish didn't answer. Instead she sprayed Khan full in the face with hairspray from a can she'd lifted from her bag. Khan screeched and clamped his hands to his eyes, dropping Trish and Mort like hot coals. He couldn't believe it! The witch had done it again!

As Khan clutched his eyes, bellowing like a wounded warthog, everyone ran for cover. While Leo, Oppy and H.G. jumped behind the laboratory benches, Mort and Trish leapt into the closest hiding place, which happened to be the
Retro
machine. Trish half-dragged Nigel up the sloping gangway by his collar.
Once inside, Mort slammed his hand down on a red button and the hatchway clanged shut.

‘I kill everyone!' Khan trumpeted, whirling around an apparently empty laboratory, tears streaming from his red-rimmed eyes. He whipped out the rocket launcher and blasted a hole in the wall, not far from where Leonardo was huddled behind some packing cases. Khan reloaded and a second rocket took out the laboratory door and a section of wall. Smoke swirled around the laboratory as flames bloomed against the ceiling.

‘Come out and fight, you sons of fleas on dung on yak's behind!' yelled Khan. ‘Or I tear place down!'

From the cockpit of
Retro
, Mort, Trish and Nigel peeked through the reinforced windscreen.

‘I WANT TO GO HOME!' wailed Nigel.

At the sound, Khan turned and smiled as he saw the three faces behind the glass. His
smile was even worse the second time.

‘Oh great,' said Mort.

Khan had just taken a step towards
Retro
when Agnetha emerged from the cloud of smoke surrounding the lab entrance and sprinted towards him at full tilt. Behind Agnetha staggered a soot-blackened Goldilocks, the smoking Tiddles dangling from one hand.

Agnetha reached Khan and hid behind his legs.

Puzzled, Khan looked down at Agnetha.

‘Vot you do?' asked Khan. ‘Don't you know who I am?' He pointed a thick finger at where his steel collar used to be. ‘And look, no collar!'

‘I'll take my chances,' said Agnetha, not taking her eyes off Goldilocks for an instant.

Khan scratched his head and looked up at Mort.

Mort shrugged. He'd never seen the little blonde girl in his life. And he certainly didn't know why Agnetha was sheltering behind the
murderous Mongolian. The little girl didn't look like trouble.

Khan took another look at Goldilocks. He waved the rocket launcher in her direction.

‘Run along and play somevhere else,' he said. ‘You might get hurt.'

Goldilocks picked a splinter from her forehead.

‘I want porridge', she growled, looking Khan straight in the eye. She pointed at Agnetha. ‘She owes me. That one's mine, understand, bumface? Or are you as stupid as you look?'

Khan wiggled a finger in his ear. There must be something wrong with his hearing. He could have sworn the little blonde girl had called him bumface.

‘There's no mistake, dirtbag,' repeated Goldilocks. ‘Now shift your chubby rear end and give me the girl.'

Khan held up the rocket launcher and aimed it at Goldilocks. ‘Insolent pup!' he thundered. ‘You die!'

‘Khan!' yelled H.G., popping up from behind a lab bench. ‘You can't shoot her! She's
just a slip of a thing!'

By way of answer Genghis Khan fired a rocket at the bench, H.G. flinging himself out of the way in the nick of time. As the lab bench exploded, Khan slid another rocket into the launcher.

‘Last chance, fungus features,' said Goldilocks.

Khan growled. The blonde girl was beginning to really annoy him. Khan had killed many small children in his time, it was no big deal. One more would make no difference. He aimed the rocket launcher at Goldilocks and fired.

As the grenade headed directly towards Goldilocks she caught it in one hand and flung it straight back at Khan. He and Agnetha leapt aside and the grenade exploded against one of the
Retro
machine's metal legs. The force of the blast sent the machine skidding towards the smoking hole where the window used to be. From the cockpit, Mort, Trish and
Nigel watched wide-eyed as they teetered on the very lip of the drop, the back end of the craft hanging out in space. For a moment
Retro
looked like it was going to fall.

‘No-one. Move. A. Muscle,' whispered Mort. Cautiously, conscious that any sudden movement would send them all plummeting two hundred metres onto the sharp rocks
below, he pressed a button and the metal exit hatchway slid back towards the laboratory, returning just enough weight to one side of the machine to settle it back.

Khan turned back to Goldilocks, his mouth open.

‘You shouldn't have done that,' said Agnetha.

Goldilocks beamed a great big toothy smile, revealing her fangs.

‘Vot is she?' he growled, looking at Agnetha. ‘Can't you do something?'

‘Now, now, Goldilocks,' said Agnetha. ‘Why don't we sit down and talk about this, like sensible people?'

‘I WANT PORRIDGE!' yelled Goldilocks. ‘I WANT PORRIDGE AND I WANT IT NOW! NOT TOO HOT! NOT TOO COLD! JUST RIGHT! IS THAT TOO MUCH TO ASK?'

Green eyes blazing, she rose up on her black wings and came in for the kill.

Khan had once fought an entire platoon of Tibetan ninjas while balanced on a rope bridge over a thousand-metre ravine armed with only a dessert spoon. He had battled three white Siberian tigers on a shrinking ice floe with one arm in a sling. In Kashmir he had escaped from the Snake Pits of Salagoon by swimming across a lake of raw sewage under a hail of flaming arrows from a crack division of the Maharajah's Palace Guards.

None of those tasks had been half as hard as the ensuing fight with Goldilocks.

Like Smiler, Khan simply didn't know what had hit him.

The little monster was everywhere. He dodged left, she went right. He sliced with his sword and found only empty air. And all the time, she nipped at him, her sharp fangs finding skin again and again, each tiny bite taking a little more out of the Mongolian.

Agnetha was now almost beneath
Retro
. She eyed the gangplank and looked up towards
the cockpit. Mort shook his head. If Agnetha set foot on the craft it could send them over the edge. She'd have to find another hiding place.

A desperate Khan threw himself into the battle with a fury and this time managed to land a glancing blow. Goldilocks fluttered to the floor, dazed.

This was his chance!

Khan whirled and stabbed down at the girl with his spear but, at the very last moment, she rolled and the blade clanged uselessly against the stone, sending a shower of sparks flying. Goldilocks, her eyes glowing with fury, landed square on Khan's neck. She opened her jaws, drew back her fangs and …

‘Would someone kindly explain what in blue blazes is going on?' a deep voice boomed through the laboratory. The voice cut through the hubbub like a chainsaw through jelly. It belonged to someone used to being listened to when he spoke.

Everyone froze.

Two tall figures, a man and a woman, strode out of the smoke at the entrance to the lab. They wore black, military-style uniforms and carried with them an air of total confidence. Behind them trotted Nemesis the cat.

‘Mama!' said Agnetha. ‘Papa!'

‘Oh no,' said Mort.

There was an awkward pause.

And then Goldilocks, her teeth bared in a snarl, dropped Khan and flew headlong at the new arrivals.

Mrs DeVere flipped open a pocket and took out a small aerosol can, barely glancing at Goldilocks as she rocketed towards her. At the very last instant Mrs DeVere somersaulted into the air and sprayed Agnetha's creation in the face as she passed below.

Goldilocks dropped to the floor instantly and Mrs DeVere landed soundlessly on her
booted toes.

‘Garlic, Mama?' asked Agnetha, looking at the aerosol.

Agnetha's mother shook her head and held up the can. ‘ZX-21.
Military-grade nerve gas,' she said. ‘Kills anything, my dear.' She looked down at Goldilocks, who was slowly dissolving into a pile of grey ash on the floor of the laboratory.

‘Vampires?' said Mama DeVere. ‘Really, Agnetha? Is that the best you can do?'

‘Everyone's into vampires, Mama. They're really popular. I just thought it might be fun …'

Agnetha's voice trailed off. Then she pointed at Mort. ‘It's all his fault!'

While Agnetha and Mama were speaking, everyone who had been hiding moved into view.

‘Leo,' said Papa DeVere. ‘Nice to see you again.'

Leonardo smiled. ‘It's about time, Mr DeVere.'

Papa DeVere nodded at H.G. and Oppenheimer. ‘I'm afraid I only know you gentlemen by reputation. Now,' he said, moving towards
Retro
, ‘Nemesis tells us that
there's been a spot of trouble.' He looked at the cat. ‘Is that right?'

Nemesis nodded. ‘Correct, Captain DeVere.'

Everyone in the room looked at Nemesis.

‘A talking cat?' said Leonardo. ‘Extraordinary!'

‘Long story,' said Papa DeVere. ‘Not important.' He glared around the room. ‘Now, would someone kindly tell us what the blue blazes has been going on while we've been away?' He pointed at Trish and Nigel through the window of
Retro
. ‘Who are those people? Is that you in there, Mortimer?'

Trish waved. ‘Mortimer is with me, Mr DeVere. I am Ms Patricia Molyneux from Unk Shire Education Department and this is my colleague …'

Genghis Khan took a step forward. ‘Hoy!' he thundered. ‘Silence! All of you!' He took out his spear and pointed it at Agnetha, grabbing her round the neck. ‘I have hostage, see?'

Mama and Papa DeVere stopped dead in their tracks, Papa DeVere's hand straying to his wrist.

‘Things not like they were before!' said Khan. He pointed at Papa DeVere's wrist and then at his own neck. ‘See? Khan iss not being pet! No more!'

‘Now then, Khan, don't be silly,' said Papa DeVere, speaking slowly. He moved a little closer, his hand now inching towards a pistol strapped to his belt.

Khan backed closer to
Retro
, dragging Agnetha until they arrived at the gangplank. Khan flung Agnetha to one side and dashed towards
Retro
's hatchway.

Papa DeVere fired at the disappearing Khan, the first bullet clanging off
Retro
, the second ripping through Khan's boot, missing his ankle by less than a millimetre.

Khan threw himself inside and hit the red ‘close' button. The hatchway closed with a solid metallic clunk and Khan turned to face Mort.

‘Take me to Mongolia!' he yelled.

Mort didn't reply. He was looking out through the windscreen, his eyes wide. With a screech of metal, the craft tilted backwards as
Retro
lost the battle with gravity.

‘Khan!' shouted Papa DeVere. ‘No!'

But it was too late.

Everyone watched helplessly as the craft slowly toppled over the edge. The last thing Mort saw before they dropped out of sight was H.G. Wells leaping despairingly towards
Retro
's laboratory control panel, and then they were gone.

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