Chapter 20: Museum II
They made their way down the street, TM twitching nervously at every unexpected breeze, snapping twig, or drunken chorus of Like A Virgin (or, indeed, Wrestler With Dyslexia).
‘You’re jumpy,’ Ziggy observed; TM rubbed his hands together, half against the cold and half in the hopes of preventing further embarrassing tics.
‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘I guess maybe I’m starting to get a bit nervous about… you know. Heisting.’
‘Don’t wimp out on us now, TM,’ said Veggie warningly. ‘What is there to be nervous about, anyway?’
‘Ehhhhhh,’ said TM. ‘I dunno. I’ve just never done an actual robbery before.’
‘Heist,’ Veggie corrected. ‘And yeah, we may never have literally legitimately heisted -’
‘Is that a word?’
‘It doesn’t get underlined by my spell check, weirdly. Anyway, the point is, we might never have actually heisted an actual building, but now we’re trained up, man. We’ve been working like heck for the last… forty-eight hours, or something like that. Come ooooooooooooon. We got this.’
TM stopped as they drew near the corner of the street upon which the museum sat in wait, and looked at Ziggy. ‘You really think… feel like you need to do this,’ he said to her, not sure whether it was a question or a statement.
‘I do,’ she said.
TM took a deep breath. ‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Let’s do this.’
Ziggy hugged him; her face pressed into his shoulder, her hair falling onto his skin. It was nice for a second, but then he suddenly found it itchy and uncomfortable and tried to blow the strands away, with little success.
‘Thank you,’ Ziggy said, holding him tightly. ‘For everything.’
‘You’re welcome,’ said Veggie loudly, squeezing them both obnoxiously. Ziggy gave a quiet laugh; TM felt the breath leave her in his arms. ‘Right,’ said Veggie eventually. ‘Teeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaam - break!’
‘Oh, right, sorry,’ Veggie said after a moment. ‘I know I said break, and all that, but I sort of got carried away, forgot to let go. So… team break.’
They detached, albeit less basketball-team-esquely than Veggie had probably been aiming for.
‘Nice,’ said Ziggy.
‘Okay,’ Veggie said, clapping his hands together, ‘ready?’
Ziggy nodded eagerly. TM also nodded, albeit slightly less eagerly.
‘We’ll make our entrance through a vent in the roof,’ Veggie said, pointing upwards.
Ziggy and TM blinked at each other.
‘Did you see any vents on the roof?’ she said pointedly. TM shook his head.
‘Nope,’ he said. ‘Solid old fashioned stone roof.’
‘There must be some sort of opening,’ Veggie moaned.
‘Don’t think so,’ Ziggy said. Veggie wailed despairingly.
‘A chimney,’ he said, ‘a skylight, a hole for Santa, for fuck’s sake.’
‘Look,’ said TM, leaning around the street corner to peer down at the dark building. ‘See that? That is an old style, fancy-ass, impossible to get on top of piece of architecture.’
‘But… parkour,’ Veggie protested.
‘We trained for two hours, Veg,’ said TM. ‘Two hours.’
Veggie nodded, though he looked woefully put out.
‘Let’s just… try the front door,’ Ziggy suggested, to which Veggie gasped with shock and disdain.
‘Did you learn nothing from Hero’s Adventure?’ he exclaimed.
‘Eh,’ said Ziggy.
‘We can’t just go in the front door,’ Veggie opined, aghast. ‘There might be magical traps and shit.’
‘I doubt it,’ Ziggy said, leaving the safety of the corner to make her way openly down the street.
She passed down the centre of the street, weaving gentle loops around the illuminating beams from the street lamps. TM thought her hair was darkening as she proceeded; the purple tint faded to pure black, the better to evade detection. When she reached the front of the museum, duly closed to the public for the night, she put her hand on the door and pushed firmly. It swung open with a creak like a dragon with sleep apnoea; TM was vaguely aware of a dog barking somewhere nearby, perhaps startled by the loud noise.
‘Creaky,’ Ziggy said, ‘but open.’
‘No alarms?’ said Veggie warily, sounding almost disappointed.
‘Apparently not,’ Ziggy said.
‘Not surprised,’ TM mused, following her inside. ‘It kind of looked like they were pretty light on budget for security when we were last here.’
‘Yet they can afford a space rock,’ Veggie pointed out, crossing the threshold one finger at a time.
The museum was dead. Which, TM mused, was to be expected: not only was it the middle of the night, but most of the things inside had ceased to be living some centuries ago. They slinked quietly through the corridors, the stuffed animals and tribal masks that stared down at them from the walls looking far more sinister than they had in the daylight. Veggie lit the way with the torch on his phone; the beam shuddered slightly every time it passed over any exhibit that had eyes.
Almost immediately, they came to the main room.
‘There it is,’ breathed Ziggy, staring up at the rock. In the darkness it looked like any other hunk of stone, until Veggie’s illuminating beam fell upon it and the room came alight with twinkling reflections and fractured rainbows.
‘This is it, I guess,’ TM agreed. Ziggy stepped up to the crystalline space rock reverently, then hopped up onto the pedestal with it, her fingers reaching out towards the glass cube encasing it.
Then she kicked the glass.
‘Er,’ said TM, watching on as she slammed her foot hard into the glass case over and over, making an alarming amount of noise. ‘Are you sure that’s going to break?’
‘I’m - not - trying- to - break - it,’ Ziggy said between kicks. ‘Not - directly - anyway.’
‘Not… directly?’ TM barely had time to say before the rock, still encased in its transparent cube, toppled slowly off its raised platform.
There was an almighty smash as the glass case hit the floor, followed by a solid, heavy thud as the rock inside came free of its holdings and slammed down. No alarm sounded, though TM couldn’t help nervously eyeing the entrance to the room.
Ziggy hopped down, crouching next to the rock. It balanced for a few moments on one of its rounded points, then tipped onto its flat side and lay still. She reached out a cautious hand, touching the barest millimetre of a fingertip to its crystal-covered surface. Then she sighed.
‘You alright?’ TM said. She looked up at him, not quite meeting his eyes.
‘I… don’t know,’ she said.
‘Go on,’ said Veggie, apparently trying to ingest some enthusiasm into the moment. ‘This is what we came for.’
Ziggy reached out again, placed her palms fully on the sides of the rock, and lifted it. TM looked at Veggie, who mouthed at him:
‘That thing sounded really, really heavy. Like… really heavy.’
TM’s eyebrows squirmed back at him in confusion.
‘I don’t know what I was expecting,’ Ziggy said, breaking up the eyebrow conversation. She held the space rock aloft, staring into its surface.
Then she sighed, and dropped it. The rock smashed into the stone floor, leaving a hefty crack. A sliver of the crystalline layer on its surface snapped free and rolled towards Veggie; he picked it up and put it in his pocket.
‘Whatever I was looking for,’ she said, standing there and watching it vibrate, ‘I don’t think I found it here.’
‘So all this was for nothing?’ Veggie said disappointedly. Ziggy’s eyes wandered vaguely in his direction.
‘Not nothing,’ TM said. ‘We devised, planned, prepared and pulled off a really cool heist, that’s something.’ There was an extended pause. ‘Right?’
‘I guess,’ said Ziggy. Her eyes traced a path around the room, as if watching something rolling along the floor.
‘Hey,’ TM said, taking her by the shoulders. ‘I know you thought this would give you… something, but it’s okay if it didn’t. You’ve got me, and Veg, and Marty and Dominika and Derrida. And the cats.’
Ziggy met his gaze, though her eyes looked unfocused. ‘Could you take me home?’ she said, looking as if she might collapse.
TM hoisted her arm over his shoulder, and Veggie rushed in to support her from the other side.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, as they half-carried her towards the entrance.
‘For what?’ TM asked, watching her face with concern.
‘I’ve asked a lot of you,’ she said, looking unblinkingly at the floor stretching out before her.
‘Yeah,’ said Veggie, ‘maybe. But we got to pull off a fucking awesome heist, so don’t mention it. Fairly sure I speak for both of us when I say we’re happy to have been of assistance.’
’It wasn’t the most amazingly fucking awesome of heists,’ TM observed. ‘I mean, we didn’t actually have to pick a lock or sneak past any guards or climb through any vents or anything.’
‘Fuck that,’ Veggie said. ‘Doesn’t matter how we did it, we robbed a public building of a rock from space and it was the best.’
‘We didn’t actually rob it, technically,’ TM pointed out. ‘We left the rock in there.’
‘Yeah, well. We could have taken it, and isn’t that the point?’
‘Pff,’ said TM.
‘Anyway,’ Veggie continued, ’I did take a tiny bit with me.’ He patted his pocket.
‘Nothing really… means anything,’ Ziggy said, slumped between them as they turned a corner. ‘The universe doesn’t care. About anything. I’m just… one dot in the sky, and now I’m just one face in a sea of billions.’
‘You’re our one face out of all those billions,’ TM told her firmly.
‘I really thought getting that rock would do… something,’ she continued. ‘I don’t know what. Reveal some great truth, maybe, or bestow great cosmic power or something. Maybe it didn’t even matter what it did. I just really hoped for… something. Just something that could help all this mean something.’
‘How can you say this doesn’t mean anything?’ Veggie demanded, grabbing her face and forcing her to look at him. ‘Zig. We, like, literally fucking love you.’
‘I love you too,’ she said, her eyes finally focusing.
‘So don’t you say that this - your life down here, existence, reality in general, whatever - don’t say that any of that doesn’t mean anything. Cos it does.’
Ziggy laughed quietly, and TM felt her take her own weight on her feet again. He released her gently, letting her stand unsupported.
‘You’re right,’ she said, with a small smile. ‘Maybe the universe doesn’t care about anything, but… I think I do.’
‘That’s the spirit,’ said Veggie, clapping her on the back.
‘I think I might just stay with you guys forever,’ Ziggy said decisively. She took her partners’ hands, and they left the museum through the still-open front door.
In the middle of the street before them, lit by the yellow beam of a streetlight above, somebody stood with his arms behind his back staring at the door as they exited.
‘Er,’ said TM, looking down at Al Tyer.