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Part 2

The Fish in a hat

Another burst of cyber-space activity jostles Inspector Thumb as he hangs by his belt in the infinite black space. He tenses as he feels another strand of fibre rip. What might happen when his belt finally tears in two? Will he float freely? Plunge in an endless free-fall? Or will the parting of his only connection with reality finally extinguish him? He is, after all, a fictional character, abandoned by his author in a not entirely successful attempt to erase him altogether. He must remain calm, concentrate his thoughts, and try and keep still, reducing the strain on his belt, the corner of which is still trapped in the refresh key of the computer which created him.

Back in the Yukon, the half-mountain, half-mountie figure of Fergie strums his computer keyboard. He hasn't seen a human being in four months. The cold season has set in, but he has a mission. Huge amounts of data are steaming onto his screen. He has found a mysterious source which first told him of a three-armed man, then a camel-boy, then a fish in a hat. These jarring images have set in train an urgent quest to find the origin and meaning of this information. Now more pages light up the screen. They are bizarre stories of murder, mayhem and model car racing. But they make no sense at all. The Canadian has never heard of a place called West Hamley before, and has no experience of his own that makes the existence of such a place seem likely. People meet there, race cars, and die horribly. Here in the Yukon, people race model cars and run away from polar bears. Horrible death occurs only if you get more than adequately drunk and out of confusion run away from the model cars and attempt to wedge a polar bear's snout in the slot on blue lane. It has happened.

And in a putrid and illumination-free flat in Eltham, an almost translucently pale teenager wrestles with a similar surfeit of software overload on his Apple Mac. But the information it carries makes almost perfect sense to a boy raised on science-fiction novels, computer games and heavy metal music. The three-armed man, the camel boy and the fish in a hat are already the close companions of his imagination. The distant days of his childhood are somehow also involved in the images of toy cars rushing across silver lined tacks. His mission is the same, to find who or what is the source of these ideas, and make a connection. On what part of this planet- or beyond- can all these things come into a meaningful conjunction, and how can he be a part of it all?

Inspector Thumb no longer has any real idea of the passage of time. He stopped measuring it after he had mentally calculated the number of stitches there might be in his belt, and started counting the tiny jerks as each one parted. There could not be many left, and it was foolish to count any further. He concentrated his mind instead on his last great race winning idea- the one that would never come to fruition now. For the finals of the Cat Ass Trophy at West Hamley, the annual race sponsored by the local vetinary surgeon, he had devised an unbeatable chassis. He mentally composed it once more, hoping that he would meet oblivion with at least that one happy thought in his head of cruising to victory- on his revolutionary friction free slot-guide. He had long realised that drag, or rolling resistance was the only thing left to overcome. His cars had the best motors, the best handling chassis, the best gripping tyres- but then so did everyone else. The only way to get a race-winning advantage was a technical leap. And it lay in the guide, the only point of contact between car and track that remained a source of drag. He'd eliminated it from the axles by means of ball-bearings, so why not install bearings in the guide, to minimise friction from the track and slots? He'd had the designs worked up by tiny-fingered engineers in Korea. Not only did his revolutionary guide have a row of miniscule roller-bearings on each side of the flag, neatly recessed into the nylon material to ride against the sides of the slot, but the braids themselves were replaced by two rows of roller bearings which themselves constituted the electrical contact and would roll smoothly over the track surface. A frictionless guide flag. The car would roll on it's tiny bearings, and gain yards of speed on it's dragging rivals. A wonderful thought, but doomed to remain just that- a thought- an image made up of the firing of mental neurons. And in this case, neurons that were tangled in the web of cyber-space.

The image of the friction-free slot guide arrived simultaneously in the computer portals in Yukon and Eltham. The two men knew immediately that here was a secret worth the winning. Impulses flashed back and forth from the Yukon to South East London as the two tried to trace each other, to block further information leaks, and to claim this revolutionary technology for their own. And in the path of these barrages of electronic impulses lay the slowly spinning body of Inspector Thumb.

His thoughts were hitching rides on these internet connections, sending unconscious messages to the only two people in the world who could help him- but at the same time could also destroy him. With each stroke of their keyboards they were sending pulses of energy powerful enough to tear through the thin fabric of the belt that anchored Thumb in reality, and could end his existence just as they found him. It was a fine balance.

The Three-armed man saw it all, as he had from the beginning. Alongside him his faithful companion, the Camel-boy, with his enormous ability to survive without refreshment, drew on a curiously shaped cigarette. And the fish in a hat waited for rain.

The Three-armed man rattled three keyboards simultaneously, at an astonishing rate, homing in on the three co-ordinates, as only he could. Time was running out. Slowly, the image of Inspector Thumb formed on his screen, and the encrypted web address revealed itself. It was just like tracing a phone line- you needed to triangulate on your target. Two widely separated locations- one in Canada and one in London would do nicely. Now, thanks to the mountie and the nerd, he had found the Inspector, just as he was about to spill the secret of his friction-free guide flag. He printed out the co-ordinates for Camel-boy, and slipped the fish in a hat some dried ants.

Thumb spun. Slowly and helplessly. He couldn't see it, but a single thread of waxed cotton remained in his belt. Electron pulses were heading toward him from three directions. As they hit, Thumb's body jerked again and the thread stretched minutely, testing it's elastic limit. It stretched toward its breaking point. And snapped. Back. The pull was upwards, back towards the refresh key that held him. It was Camel-boy, for whom refreshment meant so little. Armed with the Three-armed man's co-ordinates he had located Thumb, over-ridden the refresh key without harm, and was now pulling him resolutely back to the real world. Or whatever was real to Inspector Thumb.
 

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The three-armed man smiled quietly at the successful conclusion of another mission. He shook hands with camel-boy three times, and tossed his pullover to the fish in a hat- it would need dry cleaning again, and for that he must return to his desert home in the fastness of Araby. But first he rattled off a few messages, one to the Yukon, one to Eltham; it gave them the answer they sought. There was only one place in cyber-space where all of this could make sense, only one site that embraced such disparate and yet somehow connected mayhem- Slot Forum.

Then he mailed Scotland Yard. 'We have you back,' he typed into his keyboard. 'You are free one more to roam the fictional world of slotracing, Inspector Thumb, fighting crime and unmasking cheats on the race track. But there is a price to pay. The secret of your race winning frictionless slot guide is now out. The cold season is coming to an end in the Yukon, and it will only take a few more weeks for the computer nerd to find his way out of his flat in Eltham. I suggest you use what little time remains to press home your advantage on the track at West Hamley before the Mountie and the Nerd arrive with their own roller bearing flags. Win while you can. Camel boy, fish in a hat and I must return to the desert, there to watch over the world of slotracing from my computer command post.'

But the message sat unread in the Thumb's computer. Thumb himself could not open an email message any more than he could knit a three-armed sweater. He sat at his desk at Scotland Yard's Slot Car Division staring blankly at the screen which flashed the message 'you have mail'. Without thinking, purely out of habit he banged on the office wall and yelled. 'Get in here Argent, and open this blooming computer thingie for me. It might be important. Probably another homicide at West Hamley.'

It was only when Argent's familiar, yet now somehow altered face appeared round the door that he remembered.
'Keep away from this computer you murdering swine.......!'

To be continued....possibly.
 

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Brian Ferguson
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Yes! Continue!


I feel a strange need to know what Fergie might do with the information, assuming of course that he doesn't attempt to wedge a polar bear's snout in the slot on blue lane, since, yes, that has actually happened. Hmmm....how is it that I know that for fact?
 

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QUOTE (Rail Racer @ 8 Apr 2004, 13:23)Horrible death occurs only if you get more than adequately drunk and out of confusion run away from the model cars and attempt to wedge a polar bear's snout in the slot on blue lane. It has happened.
What can possibly follow a statement such as that? Yet another classic from the annals of slot forum.


I nearly wet myself!!

Mark.
 
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