Stargirl

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Chapter 35: Museum III

TM practically vaulted off the Octobike as it screeched to a halt outside the museum, dashing straight in through the open front door. The halls were empty and dark, just as they had been the night Ziggy was taken. Dominika and Derrida followed, dashing down the corridors after him; TM skidded around corners and down rows of artifacts, heading for the main exhibition room.

‘We can’t just burst in,’ Derrida hissed as they drew closer; TM came to a stop.

‘There are balconies around the side,’ TM said, ‘about halfway up the walls. Pretty sure that vent there goes through to them.’ He pulled something out of his carrier bag.

‘What is that?’ Derrida said uncertainly.

‘It’s called the Enchi-Ladder,’ TM told him, unfolding a tiny rod of metal out into an H-shaped contraption. ‘We invented it as a side thing, to help reach Mexican food on high shelves.’ He shook it about a bit. Nothing happened. ‘Wait, shit.’

Dominika sighed, and pulled a burrito out of a pocket.

‘Why the fuck do you have a burrito?’ Derrida exclaimed in disbelief.

‘Thought it might come in handy,’ Dominika said, shrugging, and tossed it up into the vent. The Enchi-Ladder sprung to life, telescoping out into a ladder that reached up into the rafters.

‘Well, it works,’ TM said in response to Derrida’s open-mouthed outrage.

They scampered up the ladder, which folded back into a single metal rod in TM’s hand, and scrambled into the vent. Dominika picked up the burrito and stuffed it back into her pocket.

‘That’s really gross,’ Derrida said.

TM edged through the vent on his hands and knees, trying to make as little noise as possible. When they reached the metal grate covering the exit, he reached back into the bag and pulled out a tiny tub that had once held hair gel but was now marked ‘Super Grease’; he rubbed a little of the substance around the edges, and the grate slid cleanly off without a sound.

‘Okay, that is genuinely impressive,’ Derrida admitted from behind.

‘We were going for lubricant, but we ended up with incredibly corrosive… something,’ TM explained in a whisper, sliding himself into the vent.

’Real sneaky stuff feels more terrifying and less epic than Hero’s Adventure,’ Derrida said.

‘I guess reality sometimes corresponds to imagination and sometimes not,’ TM mused, shuffling on his hands and knees through the small space until he could slide out and onto the walkway.

He could see Orion below, standing over Veggie’s prone body before the space rock, which was back in a new glass cube on its pedestal. Lyra was there too, the four of them leaning against the wall.

‘Why are we here again?’ Lauren asked; TM sneaked around the upper walkway to the enormous theatre-style lights, tucking himself away behind one in an effort to conceal himself from view.

‘Because,’ Orion said impatiently, ‘I can hear them here.’

‘You can… hear them?’ Lauren said, looking doubtful.

‘Hmm. I’m not sure what it is, but… this rock. There’s something about it.’

Ziggy had thought so too, TM thought. Though the sliver of rock, which he hoped beyond hope was still around Veggie’s neck, had shown itself to have some sort of power, Ziggy had never been able to explain what it was that had attracted her to the thing. Perhaps it was some sort of… star catnip.

‘So what are they saying?’ Lauren enquired.

Orion closed her eyes for a moment, then looked down at Veggie. ‘He’ll do.’

’He’ll do?’ demanded Lauren, walking up behind Orion. ‘So it’s not him?’

‘It doesn’t matter if this is the original Vega,’ Orion told her. ‘All that matters is that he will burn brightly enough, and that he will.’

Derrida made a choked noise of distress; TM clapped a hand over his mouth, but all five of the heavenly bodies below were already staring up at them.

‘I’m actually impressed,’ Orion said, although she sounded more frustrated than TM suspected she would have liked to admit. ‘You got out?’

‘Might have done,’ TM said, trying to sound brave as he stepped out from behind the light.

‘Ugh,’ said Orion. She picked up Veggie and carried him towards the door. ‘I’m taking him up,’ she said as she passed Lauren. ‘Deal with this.’

‘You’re not taking him!’ TM yelled after her, but she was gone. He fumbled about desperately in his carrier bag, and pulled out the last two items. ‘Grab,’ he said urgently to Dominika and Derrida, who each took hold of a corner of the Bedsheet Tablecloth Whiteboard; then he leapt over the railing and the three of them descended to the ground floor, hanging under the billowing sheet like a parachute.

Lauren and the Ire came to meet them, but TM soared over their heads and the band found themselves entangled in the enormous sheet, struggling to free themselves.

‘Hope all that heavy shit took it out of you,’ TM said, kicking the flailing mass as hard as he could. Dominika and Derrida set to attacking the struggling foursome too, Dominika with undeniably more success than Derrida.

‘It’s too late!’ Lauren yelled, throwing the sheet off, and she leapt on TM. ’You can’t stop her. You shouldn’t even want to stop her! We’re trying to balance the scales here!’

‘Not with my friend,’ TM said defiantly, and punched her as hard as he could in the face. She fell backwards, a hand pressed to her cheek, and TM held a small sphere aloft. The Ire-women stared at it curiously; Derrida and Dominika took the opportunity to get behind TM.

‘What’s that?’ Lauren asked, rubbing her bruised face.

‘This is the TM Super Bomb,’ TM told her, grinning evilly.

‘Oh, that,’ Lauren said, looking fantastically unconcerned. ‘I heard about that. Just a fake, right?’

‘Oh, no,’ TM said. ‘I brought the real one this time.’

Lauren looked at his unwavering eyes, then up at the tiny device, then back at him. ‘You’re bluffing,’ she said.

‘You sure?’

Lauren narrowed her eyebrows. She started to tense, and TM knew she was about to risk it. So he turned, pushed Dominika and Derrida out of the door, and leapt after them, throwing the Super Bomb back over his shoulder.

The room exploded behind them, the walls collapsing as a spurt of flame and force brought it down. Dominika rolled halfway down the corridor nimbly; TM scrambled out of range less impressively, but Derrida, suffering from his experience with Orion in TM’s kitchen, stumbled and tripped before he was all the way out, and an entire wall’s worth of bricks and wood fell on his arm.

Derrida screamed in pain as the weight crushed him, and Dominika darted back to hold his head comfortingly, looking warily at the falling rubble. The room was completely destroyed, but the effect didn’t seem to be reaching into the corridors; TM breathed a sigh of relief as the dust came to rest and the sounds of destruction halted.

‘Derrida, I know this won’t be much comfort but you’re safe past this corridor,’ he told his friend urgently; Derrida nodded, gritting his teeth as hard as he could. ‘Well, the rest of you.’

‘You didn’t need to say that bit,’ Derrida moaned.

‘Sorry,’ TM said quickly. ‘Nika, look after him?’

She nodded, and TM dashed out of the museum.

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