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666 Great Junction Street

Part 23

'Tendrils, you say?' said Sergeant Sturgeon.

'Yes. Tendrils, I say,' said Sylvester Rambling.

'Could you describe the nature of these tendrils, sir?'

'I could. But I should warn you, the portrayal may alarm those of a nervous disposition. I trust you have a strong constitution, officer?'

'Like an ox,' affirmed the sarge. He envisioned the noble beast ambling nonchalantly through a crowd of bemused humans, tossing them carelessly aside in its wake.

Now the crowd's attention wavered between the sergeant's desk of dreams and Sylvester and Seraphema. Ryan, still unable to utter a syllable, stood open-mouthed, a string of spittle slowly forming icicle-like on his bottom lip. He raised his arm, as if to say something. It flopped down again as his eyes glazed over.

Sergeant Sturgeon noticed the gesture. 'Have you remembered your point yet, sir?' he asked.

No reply. The elastic icicle continued to elongate.

Sturgeon turned again to Sylvester. 'Can I have your name, please sir?'

Sylvester faltered. He had geared himself up for a gloriously gory exposition. 'My name? Is that important? I was about to detail the tendrils.'

'It's merely procedure, sir. We shall come to the tendrils in question in due course.'

Sylvester's shoulders and voice dropped. 'Very well. The name's Rambling. Sylvester Rambling. And this,' he said with a flourish of his right arm, as if introducing her to the stage alongside himself as a magician, 'is my assistant, Seraphema Fox-Mangler.'

'Assistant, sir?'

Seraphema squeaked.

'I'm sorry. Did I say assistant? I meant accomplice, er, no, er, neighbour.' Sylvester hurriedly composed himself. 'It's these surroundings you know. I've come over all policespeak if you will.'

'I'm sure I don't know what you mean,' sighed the sarge. 'May I offer you this semtex tablet to chew on?' The sergeant, whose powers of composure didn't quite match those of the legendary bard before him, realised that he'd actually said these words out loud. Luckily, the pronouncement went largely unheard, and his embarrassment assuaged, by Ryan whirring into life.

'I have vital evidence concerning the black hole information paradox,' he said.

No-one was more aghast than Whitney who eyed her man with a mixture of confusion, apprehension and a bit more confusion. Even Shadney ceased sniveling.

'What ye on aboot, Ryan? Get stuck intae them,' pleaded Whitney.

Ryan, standing rigid, eyes fixed dead ahead, continued mantra-like: 'I have vital evidence concerning the black hole information paradox.'

'What is this shite? What's going on?' Whitney was beginning to feel disorientated.

The rest of the assembled onlookers seemed similarly perplexed. A murmur grew, as sundry speculations and theories quickly circulated, most to the effect that this was some kind of publicity stunt or robotic street theatre. The scene resembled that of those half indifferent, half excitable mobs who gather to ogle the wacky escapologists and jugglers on the Mound come festival time in Edinburgh. But without the flaming torches or unicycles.

Suddenly, a voice piped up from within the swarm of sightseers: 'Let me through. I'm a scientist.'

Next week: SCIENCE!



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