Dr Pheidippides stared at the entrance to the large cave; this one was going to be tough. The cave was completely hollowed out of rock; there was no way in or out other than the front entrance. Normally, of course, the entrance would have been guarded by Agency personnel and there would be more Agency on the inside. This time the cave was full of SHOP agents and the few Agency that were inside were tiny spiders being held hostage. Even if they could take the cave with a frontal assault (which means 'fighting through the front door') there was no way they could do it before the hostages were hurt. The small tortoise frowned, which is what he usually did when he was thinking particularly hard. Suddenly he grinned; he had had a bright idea. Then he frowned again; selling this idea to the Grand Council was going to be even harder than getting the hostages out of the cave.
Dr Pheidippides walked over to the five giant tortoises that were all sitting in a corner discussing their options. "Ah, Marmaduke my boy, do you have a plan?" asked Hyperion, the oldest and arguably the most senior of the tortoises. "Yes, actually I do sir," replied the small tortoise, "but to put it into operation we need to send Brownie to fetch Aristotle." "Aristotle?" replied Hyperion a little quizzically (which means asking a question and slightly confused), "I don't recognize the name." Hyperion turned to Colossus and asked: "I don't remember him; do you?" Colossus frowned a little: "Aristotle, Aris.... Aristotle! No way! Over my dead body! Never in a million years!"
Hyperion looked even more confused. "Is there some kind of problem with Aristotle?" he asked. Dr Pheidippides replied: "I think perhaps the General is still angered by a small incident some time ago involving a whoopee cushion." "A whoopee cushion," chortled (which means half-laughed, half-spoke) Theia, "Colossus dear, you cannot begrudge a young tortoise a whoopee cushion, tortoises will be tortoises!" "This particular whoopee cushion," growled Colossus, "contained five pounds of military grade high explosive." "I thought it was above military grade," said Andromeda, "hadn't Aristotle just invented...." "Shut up!" should Pheidippides and Colossus in tandem (which means both at the same time.) Neither wanted to discuss just how explosive the whoopee cushion was, although for different reasons. Pheidippides continued, "General Sir, you may remember, Aristotle did apologize for the whoopee cushion." "Actually," replied the large tortoise, "he apologized for the antique chandelier that I broke as I was blown through the ceiling."
Eos decided to try to settle the matter: "past problems not-withstanding, that still doesn't answer the question, is Aristotle Agency?" "No!" shouted Colossus, "he was thrown out of all three of our tortoise training Academies!" "Technically sir," responded Pheidippides, "he was not thrown out of the third." "Only because he had resigned before we were able to dig the principal out from under the rubble," responded Colossus. Dr Pheidippides scowled; this was not going to work.
Suddenly Andromeda spoke up: "Daddy dear, do I remember correctly that in your book, "Advanced Battlefield Tactics" chapter 1, section 1, paragraph 1 you wrote:
"The essence of military strategy is to discover what the enemy does not want you to do - and then go do it."?
"Yes dear, well remembered," replied the General. "Well daddy, if you were in a large stone cave with no escape, surrounded by two hundred of your best men, who would you not want to see at the mouth of the cave?" asked Andromeda. The General thought for a moment, frowned and the glared at Brownie: "well don't just stand there! Go fetch the stupid tortoise!" he bellowed.
As Brownie ran off Pheidippides called out: "tell him to bring Helga too!" "Helga? Who is Helga?" asked Eos. "Aristotle's wife," responded Andromeda. "They met at the academy in a Chemistry class, she was a foreign student, they fell in love, so romantic." Andromeda sighed. "Is she Agency?" asked Hyperion. "German Agency, yes." replied Pheidippides. "She got her PhD the same year I got my first one," the small tortoise continued. "What was her thesis?" (which means the huge essay you have to write to get a doctorate) asked Theia. "The toxic effect of common herbs upon various animal types", responded Andromeda. "I don't remember the graduation ceremony," said Eos. "They had to cancel it that year," said Andromeda, "as most of the class was too sick to attend."
Dr Pheidippides decided it was time to change the subject. "Now," he said, "there are some jobs we are going to have to do before they arrive. All the spiders not in the cave need to start weaving a large and very strong net. Chickens, I need you to run around all the local fields and collect any and all the herbs and berries you can find. Rabbits I need to you run to the nearest orchard and collect lemons, lots and lots of lemons. And we," he said looking at the tortoises, "we need to go to the local garbage dump and collect any and all bits of junk that we can find."
Several hours later the animals had all reassembled (which means 'got back together') outside the cave. A message came through on Pheidippides email: "Need precise landing location - Helga". Pheidippides took a small red cross and put in upon the ground. He then looked at his GPS (which means 'global positioning system' and can tell you exactly where you are) and emailed back the co-ordinates. He then grinned a little nastily and reached out with his foot and moved the red cross half an inch to the left. He called out: "they should be arriving any moment now!"
Colossus took out his field glasses and started looking into the sky: "there's one!" he shouted. Pheidippides could just see a trail of smoke in the distance as one rocket raced high, high into the sky. "There's two!" shouted Colossus. "Oh no! Must be a mis-fire, rocket is coming way, way too low. There will be no height to deploy the parachute!" the general continued sounding very worried. Dr Pheidippides grinned to himself. Whilst he was sure the General must have heard of the hinge-back paratroop regiment he apparently hadn't seen one in action; this may even put him in a better mood. They could barely hear a small phfutt as the rear of the rocket fell away and a dark object appeared in the sky and seemed to transform into the shape of an arrow-head; pointed directly at them. "Good grief," called Colossus, "it is a tortoise with fins, but she is coming in far too fast!" The arrowhead appeared to be getting larger every second, which is not surprising given it was travelling at over three hundred miles per hour.
"Quick!" shouted Eos, "the net! We have to catch her!" "No we don't," responded Pheidippides, "and if we try she will be very, very offended. We just need to wait and watch." As they watched the arrow began to change shape, the fins folded back into the shell and Helga's head and legs appeared. More amazingly the shell actually folded a little so that the tortoise's stomach was flat with the ground. Then four tubes appeared, pointing downwards, one by each leg. Suddenly, just as the tortoise was about to hit the ground, jet flames appeared from each tube. "Jet engines?" said General Colossus in amazement as the hingeback tortoise gently landed on the ground. "Yah!" said Helga "Zis much better zthan danglink around on a piece of ztring! Yah!" Then she looked down with disgust at the red cross which was just under her left leg; "two-zthirds of an inch out! Zat is ridiculous! I zmust practize much, much harder!" Pheidippides put his head inside his shell to hide a snigger.
Then Helga saw the rest of the waiting party: "Ah, my zlittle Andromeda! How zas you been? I haz brought zyou a treat! Von of my own zpecial ztrawberry pies!" "Ah, wow, er, thanks!" said Andromeda, "I'd, er, love to, really I would. Unfortunately I've just been to a party and eaten dinner, completely stuffed, couldn't eat another thing!" Helga turned to Colossus, "Zo, you must be zee famous General Colossus, authzor of the paper: 'Zee uze of zee pincer movement in modern military varfare', Yah?" "Yah! I mean Yes!" said Colossus. "My fazther loves zat paper!" continued Helga, "of course uncle Friedrich zthinks you are dumbkoff. He wrote: 'Zee Blitzkrieg counter to zee stupid pincer movement'. Mozther vill not let zem discuss it at zee dinner table any more az zey broke three good tables!" "The Blitzkreig counter ..." mumbled Colossus, "so your uncle is General Friedrich VonStampen; head of the Agency European Infantry?" "Yah!" replied Helga. "So your father must be Air Marshall Krackken; head of the paratroop regiment?" "Yah!" replied Helga. "Well," replied Colossus, and Pheidippides thought he noticed a small bow, "it is a pleasure to meet you ma'am."
Their conversation was interrupted by a loud explosion from overhead; they looked up to see a large ball of fire high up in the clouds. As the gazed they saw a small black lump tumbling out of the sky leaving a trail of smoke behind. Pheidippides received an email: "Was trying out a new rocket fuel mixture; parachute completely fried; could use quick assist - Aristotle." Helga was gazing up lovingly: "Ah, my zlittle Tottle, always playing viz hiz games. He iz a friend of yourz, yah?" "Er ... well ..." stuttered Colossus. Dr Pheidippides decided to step in: "quick! Net! Now!" The spiders spread out the net and the five giant tortoises lifted in off of the ground just in time for Aristotle to crash into it, bounce out and go tumbling across the ground leaving a trail of dust. His head emerged from his shell: "gosh! That was fun!" he said, "I don't suppose we have time for me to do that again do we?" "No," said the Doctor, "we have work to do. Now listen carefully."
The king had been a little surprised when he saw the army of tortoises appear outside the cave; he hadn't expected them to find him so quickly. He was even more surprised when he saw three of the giant tortoises pushing an upturned bath-tub so that it was just a hundred feet outside the cave. "What are you doing?" he called out to the tortoises. "Oh, nothing," called back Hyperion. Colossus then lifted one end of the bath-tub and a small yellow tortoise scurried from underneath the bath-tub over to where most of the tortoises were. A few seconds later the yellow tortoise re-appeared dragging a toaster. When he reached the bath-tub one end was lifted and the tortoise disappeared under with the toaster. "Who on earth is that and what is he doing?" demanded the King. "I have no idea; I don't recognize him," responded a large bear. "Let me have a look," said a large owl. As the bath-tub lifted again and the yellow tortoise scurried off the owl whistled: "that's bad," he said, "that is very, bad."
"What is the problem?" demanded the King. "That is Aristotle the Chemist," replied the owl. A nearby wolf growled; "I remember him, didn't he burn down a forest up north?" "Yes," said the owl, "and demolished a cliff. Not to mention that he single handedly did more damage to Agency property than the whole of SHOP, three years in a row!" "Actually," said the King, "I rather like the sound of him." "Certainly," said the Owl, "but do you like the idea of him building something outside of our cave?" The King looked nervous and glanced back at the bath-tub just in time to see Aristotle, Pheidippides and Andromeda pushing a microwave-oven with a broken door underneath.
"That was hard work!" said Andromeda. "Yes, I'm baking hot!" complained Pheidippides. "You should try some of my wife's lemonade!" said Aristotle. "Love too!" said Andromeda. Helga appeared with a large jug of lemonade and some glasses: "Here, drink up. It zis my own special recipie, lemons, sugar, Catnip, fezerfew, zpearmint and a zfew ozer herbs and spices to giz it oomph..." The tortoises drunk it happily and made lots of appreciative noises. The King licked his lips: he loved catnip. "Oy! Bring some of that over here!" he shouted. "Zer is onzly a little left!" Helga called back. "I don't care! Bring it here!" demanded the king. Helga took over a glass of lemonade which the King drank. "This is good," he said. "Bring me some more; and some for all my men. We do have hostages remember!" he said threateningly.
Helga began to ferry back and forth to the cave carrying jugs of lemonade; meanwhile Aristotle and the other tortoises took a collection of other items and hid them under the bath. Suddenly Winston darted into the mouth of the cave, swerved past the king and started to duck and weave around the SHOP soldiers. "Grab him!" screeched the king. The soldiers all tried really hard, and once or twice someone did get a hand on Winston but in the dark and in such a small space they tended to bump into each other rather than help. Finally, once they were getting very close, Winston ran out of the cave. The soldiers and the King looked out from the cave only to see Aristotle come out from under the bath carrying a long, long wire. He took the other end of the wire and trailed it away from the bath and behind a large rock. "NO!" shouted the king. "That wretched dog was a decoy to distract us! What was connected to that wire?" No-one knew.
Now all of the tortoises, big and small, were carrying things to and from the bath. But now the objects were not put under the bath; they were piled on top. Sometimes the tortoises would stop for lemonade and sometimes the King would demand that they had some too. On one occasion it was Aristotle that carried the lemonade to the King; counting his footsteps very carefully as he walked. "Why are you counting footsteps?" asked the owl glumly (which means 'unhappily'). "Just measuring the blast rad... I mean .... nothing, just habit," responded the yellow tortoise. The king looked at the owl. "Blast Radius" said the owl, "he is making a bomb." The animals watched with dismay at the growing mound of objects on top of the bath. The wolf howled when it saw bags of used diapers being piled up: "bio-chemical warfare" he wailed.
"Ok," said the King, "this has to stop; so I am going to have to get nasty." He called out to Pheidippides: "Stop what you are doing now!" The small tortoise looked up. "I know exactly what you are up to; and I know what you are going to do to get us out of here. Well you have to stop doing it now or I am going to start squishing spiders!" Charlotte and the other spiders still outside the cave gasped; but Pheidippides just smiled. "My dear King," he said, "you are greatly mistaken. We are not going to do anything to get you out of the cave. On the contrary, we have already done it; there is something you have overlooked!"
So: what had the king overlooked? How was Pheidippides going to get the SHOP agents out of the cave?
Helga turned up at the mouth of the cave again carrying another jug of iced lemonade. "Zo; is anyvon thirsty?" she asked. "Actually," replied the King, "I'm plenty cool enough thank you." He shivered. "If anything it is getting a little chilly in here." "Ah!" said Helga happily putting down the jug and extracting (which means 'taking out') a notepad and pen, "zen the reaction zis starting! Zis vill be fascinating!" "Reaction? What reaction?" demanded the King. "Zee reaction to zee herbs in zee lemonade of course!" replied Helga. "What?" screeched the owl, "you can't have poisoned the lemonade, you were all drinking it too!" "Zat iz true," replied Helga, "zee lemonade vas not poisoned; but it vas full of herbs zat stop zee body from generating heat. Of course, zis has no effect on tortoises az vee are reptiles zo vee does not generate heat anyvay." The owl's head drooped. The king looked menacingly at Helga: "what has she done?" he asked the owl. The owl shook his head slowly: reptiles cannot generate their own heat, they are cold blooded, that is why they need sun. Mammals and birds can generate their own heat - so we can stay in cold dark caves - at least we could until we drunk her lemonade!" "Yah! Zat is right!" said Helga, "and now I watch as you all freeze; it iz zery interesting! Yah!" "Perhaps everyone would like to watch as I rip you apart!" snarled the Lion. "Vell, you can," replied Helga, "but az I am zee only von zat knows zee anti-dote; you had better leave me alone. Yah?"
The animals lay shivering on the floor as Helga ran around with a thermometer, measuring temperatures and taking notes. The small spiders had all fled as the SHOP agents were now too sluggish to stop them. Once she was satisfied Helga announced: "now I tell you zee antidote - you all need to crawl out and lay in zee sun." "What? It is that easy?" said the King. Helga nodded. The shop agents all crawled out of the cave and lay in the sun getting heat back into their bodies. After a few minutes Helga called out: "Zat is good. And now I zink you zhould all run zery, zery fast." The owl looked puzzled. "Why?" he asked, "running will not help, the herbs will prevent the running from generating heat." "Zat iz correct," said Helga, "Zee sunning is to generate zee heat; zee running is because I just heard my little Tottle lighting a match." The animals turned to look at the bath and the part of the wire, near the large rock, leading towards the bath was now fizzing and hissing and sparking. "RUN!" shouted the King and all the SHOP agents sprinted as far and as fast as they could.
Helga walked over to the waiting tortoises, smiling from ear to ear. "That was brilliant!" applauded Eos. "We got them out and no-one was hurt at all!" added Theia. "I knew that your herbal Lemonade would work," Aristotle said proudly to his wife. "You know," said Colossus to Aristotle, "your fake bomb was also perfect; kept them distracted." Aristotle looked a little uncomfortable. "Fake bomb, hmm, yes, about that," said the yellow tortoise cautiously. Out of the corner of his eye Pheidippides saw the hissing and fizzing part of the wire disappear under the bath: "SHELLS" Pheidippides yelled as he tucked his own head and legs into his shell. He had a feeling this was going to hurt.