Chapter 13: Rock
When they got back to the flat, Michel Furcoat was sitting merrily atop the usual pile of bills and letters imploring them to take adult responsibility for things, soaking the whole lot in liberal streams of piss.
‘Thanks, kitty,’ Veggie told the cat proudly, nudging the damp mound out of the way with his foot. Michel Furcoat wandered off, a satisfied swish in his tail.
TM’s phone beeped.
‘Bah-wha?’ Ziggy spluttered, spinning around. ‘What was that?’
TM took his phone out of his pocket and unlocked it. ‘Derrida emailed me,’ he noticed; Ziggy’s head bobbed back and forth in a perfect double-take.
‘Derrida’s in that thing?!’
‘Yes,’ Veggie said, deadpan. ‘TM keeps Derrida’s soul in a beepy thing in his pocket.’
‘What’s he want?’
TM read it out:
Remember how I said I got a quote off Al Tyer for a story the paper wanted me to write? Can you give it a quick once-over before I send it off, hook me up with some feedback and that? I mean, you can’t reply to this before I send it, so I’ll just take that as a yes. Cool, thanks, appreciate it.
‘What a dork,’ TM said.
‘So he really was writing a story for the paper,’ Veggie mused.
‘Well, yeah-huh,’ Ziggy said. ‘What did you think him and Dominika were doing off on their own where nobody could – oh.’
‘Those two?’ TM scoffed. ‘You think?’
‘Stranger things have happened,’ Veggie answered, shrugging.
TM shook his head. ‘Anyway. STAR GONE MISSING, he’s called it.’
Veggie kicked the pile of wet post dismissively. ‘There’s always some celebrity just up and leaving these days,’ he said, with something between sadness and total disaffection.
‘I don’t think it’s about that kind of star,’ TM said curiously, reading on.
Astronomers the world over are baffled by the complete and unexplained disappearance of one of the stars in the Aquila constellation. Theta Aquilae, a binary star which is – or was – the fourth brightest in its constellation, has entirely vanished. The scientific community is calling this event ‘unexpected and super worrying, but also kind of really cool.’
‘He’s made that quote up,’ TM said.
This reporter ingeniously managed to gain a much sought-after audience with local weatherman and resident minor celebrity Al Tyer, who had this to say:
‘The effects of a star simply ceasing to be there are unknown. There is no evidence of its death, destruction, or implosion, no supernova or black hole, nothing even to suggest that our view has simply been obscured by some enormous object in space. Assuming that it is truly gone, there must be inevitable concerns about the resultant effects on nearby orbital patterns. What will be the consequence of this shift in gravity? None can say. We must all simply hope that she will come home soon.’
With those wise words, Tyer departed this reporter’s company to announce the winner of the local raffle, as this reporter had only really managed to corner him during an unrelated public appearance. This reporter also remains unsure of how qualified a weatherman actually is to comment on astrological matters, but he certainly seemed to know what he was talking about.
‘Pah,’ said Veggie. ’He’s barely even a minor local celebrity. They didn’t even ask him to turn on the Christmas lights.’
The cosmic science community remains baffled, concerned and more than a little excited, as this latest heavenly event is actually making people interested in studying their field for once. It comes as the latest in a bizarre string of star-related news stories attracting comments such as ‘the harbinger of the apocalypse’, ‘uniquely important in the history, theory and practice of astronomy’, and ‘nothing major really’. We’ll keep you updated, fair city. Turn to page 27 for our horoscopes, in which astrologer Simon Myst will attempt to claim that this all means something that actually applies to your daily life.
‘Terrible article,’ said Veggie. ‘He’s such an obnoxious writer.’
TM glanced up at Ziggy, then down at his phone, then back up at Ziggy. ‘Is this you?’ he asked quietly.
She nodded, maintaining a determined stare at her own feet.
‘You weren’t kidding,’ TM whispered, then realised how stupid that sounded. ‘I mean, obviously we knew you weren’t kidding, but… it’s just weird seeing it written out like this. You’re literally a star, from the sky.’
‘I’m literally a star, from the sky,’ Ziggy agreed.
‘Get with the times, TM,’ Veggie said, dragging an enormous bag of the cheapest cat food money could buy in through the door and pouring two streams of nuggets into bowls clearly labelled ‘Historian of Idea’ and ‘Phenomenological Philosopher’. ‘They know which one’s for which of them,’ he told Ziggy proudly. ‘Anyway, we’re in the twenty-first century. We’re all modern and progressive and shit. It doesn’t matter what race or religion or sexuality you are, and being a literal star probably falls under one of those somewhere.’
‘I’m not saying it matters,’ TM said. ‘I’m just saying it’s slightly non-standard.’
‘Brilliant!’ Veggie barked, throwing his hands in the air. ‘The different-er, the better. If everyone was the same as me, society could never survive. I mean, we’d all constantly be having tons of sex. But also, you know, it takes two to tango, and three to make a carrier bag repair kit, and a few billion to make a society that can come up with stuff like lasagne and Windows Vista without murdering each other.’
‘I’m not sure whether that was incredibly insightful or the most meaningless thing you’ve ever said,’ TM said, thinking about it.
‘I liked it,’ Ziggy said, looking up with a small smile.
Veggie beamed back at her, exposing as many teeth as he could, and Ziggy laughed. Michel Furcoat reappeared from nowhere and settled atop her head, pawing ineffectually at her scalp with his purple-sheathed claws; she reached up and took him down into her arms, pressing her nose against his soft head. ‘He’s adorable,’ she said happily, and TM felt able to stop worrying about her.
‘Right,’ said Veggie eagerly, taking his seat at the table and raising his crayon with glee. ‘Ideas!’
Ziggy giggled at him, setting Michel Furcoat down on the sofa. He slipped off, his plastic-covered claws offering no grip whatsoever, and wandered over to the bowls of food. He flopped his tail about for a moment, craning his neck to peer down at the one marked ‘Phenomenological Philosopher’, then shook his head and tucked into the food in the ‘Historian of Ideas’ bowl.
‘Good cat,’ said Veggie. Michel Furcoat farted gently.
Ziggy dropped into the seat next to Veggie, TM settling in on her other side. She rested her head in her palms, elbows firmly planted on the Bedsheet-Tablecloth-Whiteboard. ‘You do remember,’ she said, ‘that the last time we did this, we came up with absolutely nothing whatsoever?’
‘Enchi-Ladder,’ TM pointed out.
‘Absolutely nothing whatsoever,’ Ziggy repeated. ‘We do better when we just… get out, go for a walk, hang out and let the creativity do its own thing.’
‘So that involves… no preparation, no planning, no strategy whatsoever,’ said Veggie. ‘I love it.’
‘Besides,’ said Ziggy, ‘I kind of wanted to just hang out for a bit. Watch TV, play games, whatever. Just the three of us epic business partners.’
‘That,’ said Veggie, ‘is such a good plan I can’t even.’
Ziggy stood up and high-fived him over the table. ‘I want ice cream,’ she said, ‘and a movie. And then I wanna have a nap until Friday, and then I wanna go to that thing Riegel O’Ryan’s gonna be at.’
She danced over to the door, holding it open invitingly.
‘I gotta poop,’ TM said.
‘Ugh,’ said Ziggy. ‘Fine. But then ice cream and a movie.’
‘Deal,’ agreed TM, trotting over to the filing cabinet behind which lay the toilet.
‘I think we’re, like, triple soulmates,’ Veggie said dreamily. ‘Three-way besties for ever.’
‘That’s nice,’ said TM, pulling the filing cabinet across.
‘Three-way besties,’ Veggie said, and TM thought he heard him bump fists with Ziggy. ‘We should totally have an actual three-way.’
‘No, we shouldn’t,’ TM said loudly.
‘I appreciate the offer,’ Ziggy said, ‘but I think that if I’ve learned anything, it’s that we’re all about a better connection than simple… three-ways.’
Veggie sounded as if he were mulling it over. ‘Respect,’ he said after a moment.
‘I also appreciate this tender moment,’ TM chimed in.
‘Three-way besties!’ Ziggy chirped.
Following a large tub of cookie dough ice cream – each – and a twelve-hour screening of what claimed to be ‘the best indie movie compilation ever’ at the cinema down the road, TM embarked on the longest nap of his life with his flatmates-cum-business partners. When he awoke, feeling better than he could ever remember feeling in his entire life ever, Ziggy was sitting cross-legged on the table, wearing a thick jumper and staring out of the little window.
‘Alright?’ he asked, rolling his neck around to work out the kinks.
Ziggy glanced around, smiling when she saw him awake. ‘Hey,’ she said. ‘That was a fucking awesome nap.’
‘Too right,’ said TM. ‘Where’s – ’
Ziggy pointed to a pile of cushions and blankets, topped off with the Bedsheet-Tablecloth-Whiteboard, atop which sat Michel Furcoat. The whole pile seemed to be slowly inflating and deflating; TM slid over and poked it, shifting the mountain of fabric aside and revealing Veggie’s sleeping face. Michel Furcoat hopped down at the disturbance, yawning widely to reveal his tiny pink tongue.
‘Morning,’ said TM loudly; Ziggy slid off the table and scooted over, giving Veggie a poke in the nose.
‘Wha,’ said Veggie, blinking awake. His stack of hibernation accessories slid off as he moved, like a hatchling turtle emerging from the sand. ‘Is over?’
Ziggy nodded down at him.
‘Aaaaaaaa,’ said Veggie, gurgling languidly. ‘That was the best.’
TM nodded, digging out a fresh T-shirt and a chunky sweater from a beaten-up chest of drawers. ‘Best ever,’ he said with relish.
‘Okay,’ Ziggy chirruped, checking the time. ‘We need to get down to the museum quickety-split, or we won’t get a good spot to see Riegel O’Ryan.’
‘That will not do!’ declared Veggie, stripping all his clothes off. Ziggy looked him up and down with mild interest; TM hummed. Veggie pulled on a reasonably clean pair of jeans and a homemade T-shirt emblazoned with the names of their Hero’s Adventure characters in lurid lettering. ‘Let’s go harass a celebrity!’
‘Woooo!’ Ziggy concurred, leaping into the air and punching the sky.
‘You were expecting to do, like, a freeze-frame jump-in-the-air pose thing, weren’t you?’ TM said.
‘Maybe,’ Ziggy admitted.
‘Wait, wait, wait,’ Veggie stuttered, waddling over and struggling with the zip on his jeans. ‘Let’s, let’s – ’ he positioned TM and Veggie on either side of himself and bent his knees, poised to spring up, ‘three-two-one, YEAH!’
Veggie leapt in to the air, an enormous grin plastered on his face, and pumped his fist with a whoop. Ziggy and TM looked on apathetically as he boinged back down, looking crestfallen. ‘You didn’t jump,’ he said brokenheartedly.
‘Sorry,’ said TM. ‘Again?’
‘Don’t wanna now,’ Veggie said, sticking out his bottom lip and heading for the door.
TM exchanged a look with Ziggy, who gave a wicked grin.
‘I’m off,’ Veggie announced, and opened the door. TM and Ziggy darted past him as he made to leave, jumping and striking dual midair poses with a happy ‘woo’. ‘Oh, you guys are the worst,’ said Veggie, closing the door behind them.
‘Three-way besties forever,’ Ziggy chirped, and Veggie laughed despite himself.
‘Fine,’ he said. ‘But next time I want a midair freeze-frame pose moment, y’all better have my back.’
‘Promise,’ said Ziggy.
‘It’s fucking cold,’ Veggie observed as they approached the museum.
‘Well, yeah,’ said TM. ‘It’s January.’
Veggie pondered this. ‘That’s kind of weird that we have a fair in January.’
Ziggy pulled off her woolly jumper, revealing a layer of knitted cardigan underneath.
‘You came prepared,’ said Veggie, taking the jumper with a grateful nod and squeezing it on over his T-shirt. He was significantly broader than she was, but it seemed to work.
‘Obviously,’ Ziggy scoffed. ‘Oh, hey, lookie.’
In front of the museum, a tall building that stuck out from the rest – it was almost insistently old-fashioned-looking, as well as having a high roof topped with an angel statue – a thick red rope had been put up. Behind it, up the steps and in front of the doors, stood a pedestal covered by a black cloth. A few people were milling about, but Ziggy barged her way right up to the rope and leaned over curiously. Veggie and TM followed in her wake.
‘Space rock,’ Ziggy breathed in awe.
‘Screw that,’ said Veggie, standing on tiptoes to peer up the steps at the object. ‘Where’s Riegel O’Ryan?’
‘And Al Tyer, man!’ interjected a bleary-eyed bystander with an impressive neck beard. ‘He’s my hero!’ He pulled open his anorak to reveal a T-shirt printed with Tyer’s face and the legendary words ‘Al Is My Guide To The Universe.’
‘You’re actually here for that guy?’ Veggie asked in confusion.
‘Fuck, yeah!’ He’s the most inspiring person in the world, man! I listen to his audiobook every day! Every day!’
‘Good for you,’ said Veggie, and gently shoved Ziggy and TM towards the other end of the rope.
‘I want an audiobook,’ said Ziggy absently, trundling away from Al Tyer’s only diehard fan in the universe. (‘I made this shirt myself!’ he called after them. ‘I call it Tyer-dye, geddit?’)
‘As in… you want to listen to one, or you want to make on?’ TM asked.
‘Yes,’ Ziggy clarified.
A buzz of excitement filled the air as they slid along to the furthest reaches of the red rope, spreading from those loitering at the back of the audience towards the front, and as the people around TM started to whoop and applaud, the crowd parted and Riegel O’Ryan came into view. She strode right through the middle of the congregation, Keelut hot on her heels. She raised both fists in the air and the assembly cheered like they were at a rock concert; she ducked under the rope, then held it up to allow her enormous dog to pass. A slightly less enthusiastic cheer rose up as Al Tyer made his way up to the steps – although his one-man fan club let out an ecstatic bellow as he passed. Tyer raised a hand in acknowledgement, which caused the fanboy to pass out from the sheer excitement of it all.
‘Hiiiiii,’ trilled O’Ryan, voice imbued with a hefty vibrato. The little crowd yelled its approval; she bent backwards sharply, her hair fanning out behind her, then rocketed back up with both hands in the air and her hair flipping over to cover her face.
‘She’s so rock and roll,’ said Veggie dreamily.
TM glanced at Ziggy. Her eyes were fixed on O’Ryan, but her stare was less blank than it had been at their last encounter.
‘You okay?’ he said to her quietly. They stood still, a rock holding firm in the crashing sea as the crowd around them bounced with raised hands and loud cries. She nodded, her eyes leaving O’Ryan for a moment to give him a reassuring glance.
‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ began Tyer, thus instantly deflating the entire audience, ‘thank you for coming to attend today’s unveiling of this, the museum’s latest acquisition. Perhaps its most fascinating to date.’
‘Yeah!’ called the Tyer fan from the ground, apparently regaining consciousness.
‘This piece of material from outer space,’ Tyer continued, sounding utterly disaffected, ‘is, as of this moment, an unknown quantity. What precisely it is? Nobody is quite certain. I, however, am entirely certain, that it will prove to be astonishing.’
There was an extremely subdued round of applause.
‘Everybody!’ O’Ryan said, taking over. A shiver flitted around the audience as its collective attention was recaptured. ‘This piece of space rock might hold all sorts of secrets. Maybe it could tell us something we never knew before.’ She looked around for effect, her stare seeming to meet every individual’s eye. TM felt Ziggy shrinking back beside him as O’Ryan’s gaze passed over them. ‘Or maybe not,’ she continued with a shrug. ‘But hey, there’s potential, and even if it turns out to be absolutely worthless to science, it’s still gonna look pretty nice in its brand new exhibit.’
A more enthusiastic round of clapping followed her words.
‘Shall we?’ said O’Ryan, taking hold of a corner of the cloth.
Tyer nodded, gripping another corner, and the two looked at each other. O’Ryan gave a sharp nod once, twice, a third time, and then they raised their arms and the cloth swooped up between them and fluttered against the sky. Ziggy inhaled as the space rock was revealed: the size of a muscular torso, shaped somewhere between a sphere and a pyramid, it sat in a glass case, glittering as the sunlight ran through the many facets of its surface. It shone with half-transparency, an oil-like shimmer playing over it. O’Ryan balled up the cloth and threw it into the crowd, where a scuffle over who had caught it first immediately started up, then picked up a control box hooked up to a cable running into the museum doors and pressed a button.
‘Yeeeeaaaaaaaaaaahhh!’ she sang as the hum of powerful bulbs set up around them kicked in, lights powering up.
Appreciative ’ooh’ing and ’aah’ing ensued: thick beams of white light shone through the crystalline space rock, sending rivers of light every colour of the rainbow shimmering out from it. TM looked at Veggie and Ziggy beside him, glimmering spectra lighting up their faces.
’Oh, hell yeah,’ O’Ryan exclaimed, exhaling in exhilaration as the light danced all around her. ‘Okay, guys, this little piece of the cosmos is gonna be out here lookin’ pretty for a little bit, and then our pals who actually work here are gonna take it in and set it up, all that shebang. Thanks for coming, watch my show, and I’ll see y’all again. Much sooner than you think.’
Her gaze passed over the crowd one last time, then she held the door open for Tyer. He entered with barely a further glance at the crowd; she followed him inside with a merry wave. Keelut stalked in behind O’Ryan’s heels, the last hairs of her tail barely making it inside before the door closed on her.
The crowd looked around at each other, realised that was it, then dispersed without further ado.
‘We have to steal that rock,’ Ziggy said.
TM and Veggie gave her the exact same incredulous look as one.
‘I’m serious,’ she told them. ‘We need to steal it.’
‘Um,’ said TM.
‘Yeah, okay,’ said Veggie with a nod. ‘It’ll be good to have a project.’
‘I – what?’ TM looked at the two of them with astonishment. ‘For real?’
Ziggy nodded firmly, eyes fixed on the lump of rock. ‘I need it.’
She raised her hand to her mouth and clipped one of her nails with her teeth. ‘I don’t know. I just feel like… if I have that rock, everything will be alright. Same sort of thing as how I get this compulsion to be around those two –’ she gestured at the museum door, behind which O’Ryan and Tyer had vanished ‘– it just feels like gravity. Attracting forces, in the most literal sense. I spent thousands of years in a web of orbits, I know what gravity feels like. I need that rock.’
‘Fine,’ said TM. ‘If you feel that way, I’m in. Let’s just grab it and go.’
He glances about, making sure there were no stragglers, and made to climb under the rope, but Veggie grabbed him by the upper arm.
‘No, man!’ he urged.
‘You can’t just waltz up there and grab the space rock in full view of, like, the entire world,’ Veggie insisted. ‘That’s firstly stupid and risky, and secondly not cool enough at all!’
TM considered this. ‘I accept your first point. Second, not so much.’
‘Aw, c’mon,’ said Veggie. ’You can’t be satisfied with just yoinking the rock off its pedestal and humping it home. If we’re gonna steal this, we’ve gotta do it the right way!’
‘I think I’m getting some idea of what that might be.’
’We need to pull off a heist.’
‘You know, somehow I knew that was going to be it.’
Veggie’s eyes widened, a dreamy look of pure joy starting in his eyebrows and spreading through his entire body until he couldn’t resist fully waving his arms around in the air with exhilaration. ‘We’re going to pull off the greatest heist of all time!’ he wailed, choking up with the utter emotion of how awesome such a thing would be.
TM sighed, turning to Ziggy. ‘Are you hearing this?’
She nodded, bouncing with zeal. ’This sounds like the best idea ever,’ she chirped.
‘I thought you wanted the rock?’ TM asked in confusion. ‘Surely this’ll take time, preparation – you’re not going to get the rock for a while, wouldn’t you rather just take it now?’
‘Hell no,’ said Ziggy. ’I want the rock, yeah, but I have to earn it.’
TM clicked his tongue. ‘And the best way to do that is –’
‘A fucking awesome heist,’ Ziggy answered, eyes lit up.
‘Well,’ said TM. ‘Alright, then.’