Quantum Coyote
Chronicles of the Cake Stop
Vol III No. 1
Autumn sets in;
A fight breaks out;
The adventure begins.
Sitting in the Cake Stop bar and grill, the lovely and charming Kathy Pike is explaining animatedly how she managed to foil the evil machinations of the scientist who attempted to steal some very important equipment from her laboratory. Fatty, Rigby, Groucho and scm are listening enthralled, and not just by the delights of her womanly attributes. In true Amelia Peabody style Kathy has proved a true heroine, and her eyes flash with excitement as she tells her tale.

"And then," she exclaims, "and then I picked up this big, wet, slimy branch and threw it at him and so he fell over and his face went smush! into a big toadstool. One of those red ones with the white spots on. They had already found the van he had stashed the stuff in.... er, I mean, in which he had stashed the stuff."

"It's alright," Rigby whispers conspiratorially. "She's not in today. Chuffy says she's been ill."

"Phew," says the plucky young Kathy, visibly relieved. "Anyway. And then when he got up he was all woozy and kept falling over, and he was really really cross. Told me I was a pesky meddling kid!"

"Well done you!" Fatty tells her, admiringly.

"I had to go give Rosencrantz a cuddle afterwards, though, because it was quite thrilling," she says, blushing modestly.

"Well I should think so too," scm tells her. "A lovely young gentlewomen of a youthful persuasion messing with a dreadful ruffian like that. You were ever so brave."

"I learned a lot from Captain Jack," she says, lowering her eyelids.

Clare calls out an order from behind the bar and Shen gets up to collect his fresh bacon and egg buttie. As he does so the door bangs open and Steelman comes in, one of the temple maidens hanging off his arm. They are both wet and windswept and push the door shut behind them with some effort.

"We are having the munchies," he explains. "It is very wet outside."

The few riders who have made it to the Cake Stop on this rather dreary and dreich day are well aware of what Steelman has been doing to develop a case of the munchies. The Temple Maiden, a strapping Scandinavian called Helga with a cyclist's tan and faint spots of pink still flushing her face, certainly seems to have been having a good time.

Through the window the rain can be seen pelting down, making a sound like a thousand horses galloping in shallow water. The trees are whipping backwards and forwards in what looks like a good Force 8 on the Beaufort Scale. The few leaves left by the season's transition from summer are being ripped from the thrashing branches and plastered all over the surface of the road and the bike park. The machines outside huddle miserably together and stare forlornly back into the warm interior where their masters and mistresses are safe from the storm.

"Did we not get the covered bike park in the end?" MingMong asks, frowning at the sight of his precious being drenched and pelted by orange-brown leaves.

"There just hasn't been time," Withers says apologetically, blowing on his coffee to cool it down. "What with the problems with the subscriptions, and the bike show, and the shirts, and the bike competition and actually editing the magazine as well... it's on the list, there just hasn't been time."

They look out the window at the noble steeds standing dejectedly in the rain and all agree that it's much nicer indoors where Clare has got a fire going and there is the smell of fresh baking.

FatBloke waves a pool cue with hostile intent at Microphonie and they retire to the green baize to continue their long-standing contest. Over at the bar, nursing a mug of Horlicks and a small brandy, Oldnewbiker mutters something about having to come up with something for Rigby's birthday present and maybe the League of Gentlemen Cyclists and the Intrepid Sorority should organise a whip round.

The door opens again, permitting the entry of a massive gust of wind that blows all the beer mats off the tables, turns the cosy fire into a raging inferno, and has the rack of C+ magazines all a-flutter. A few leaves turn lazy cartwheels on their way to the ground once the door has closed again. The Archaeologist shakes the dust off his jacket, makes sure his trowel is still holstered, and hangs his hat on the stand. Sheriff Ron and Muckspreader look wary, as history cannot be forgotten, and Yenrod is still not someone or something to be dismissed. The Archaeologist holds out his hands, palms upwards, in a peaceful gesture.

"I'm not here on business," he said. "The Don deals with the Temple direct now. We have no cause to bring you trouble. It's cold outside, and wet. I just want something to eat and to warm myself."

Yenrod has already hunkered down in front of the fire. Odd but evidently delighted noises emerge from his lips, the pretty pictures in the dancing flame enchanting him. Ron and Muckspreader glance at Claire, who nods that it is fine and makes a fresh pot of tea with a slice of fruit and saffron loaf she made to her mother's recipe, sets it on the bar. With a word of thanks the Archaeologist takes the tray and finds himself a seat not far from the fire where he still has a good view of the rest of the room, and surveys his surroundings.

It is quiet in the Cake Stop today. There is not yet a sign of the reformed EvilChuffy or the Adonis figure of Gunner Rodgers. Kathy is Tim-less. Hairyhippy is sitting in one corner staring out at the rain, his muddy SPD-wellies left over by the door and thus revealing somewhat baggy socks on his feet. He has a pair of secateurs in his pocket. Cuddyduck and Groucho are arguing about whether the chocolate cake or the ginger cake is nicer. Estie isn't around, nor is Macleach or Derall or Flying Monkey or Helen or Elite 5th Cat. Ravenbait isn't around, nor is Nutty or ZimZum. Of the youngsters Kitzy and Thermidore there is absolutely no trace. It is eerily, spookily quiet.

It is, however, also almost lunchtime and it isn't long before people start appearing. Chuffy arrives closely followed by Nutty, the ever charming Tim Pike and the spiritually enlightened guru that is Flying Monkey, and then there is a steady trickle of sodden, cold cyclists, all of whom require sustenance and drinks before they keel over from starvation and hypothermia. Claire is kept busy behind the bar and eventually Kathy steps in to help, feeling sorry for her.

Although there is, as yet, still no sign of Ravenbait, everything seems to be settling into its normal habit. Apart from one dissonant clash in the atmosphere.

Over by the darts board, Cuddyduck and Groucho are still arguing over the relative merits of their bits of cake, and it is not just a quiet squabble. It is becoming quite heated. The Archaeologist has, as yet, not touched his slice of fruit cake, preferring to drink his tea first, and now his attention becomes focused on this pair much more closely.

He watches in amazement as the pair of the stand up and start pushing one another.

"You wouldn't know a decent cake if it ran up and kicked you in the arse!" screams Cuddyduck.

"Well you evidently have about as much experience of good patisserie as those chaps in Camp X-Ray!" Groucho bawls back, giving another shove.

Amazed, the Archaeologist suddenly becomes aware of other arguments breaking out across the Cake Stop. Claire is reduced to standing behind the bar with jaw hanging open like a basking shark's, a tea towel clutched forgotten in one hand. Kathy is wearing a puzzled frown.

Muckspreader wades in to break up Groucho and Cuddyduck, but quickly becomes embroiled in another fight between FatBloke and Microphonie over whether the white ball tastes better than the black one when you lick it. Sheriff Ron tries to help but is bushwhacked by a couple of varmints going by the names of Oldnewbiker and LamBO, who are pulling each other's noses and furiously disagreeing about whether squid or cuttlefish make better cephalopods than octopus.

"This is very weird, " says Kathy, as more arguments are sparked by tiny matters of total inconsequentiality until the entire place is one great roar of fighting cyclists.

"There is something going on here," the Archaeologist shouts to her above the din, ducking a Sidi road shoe that has been hurled across the room and dodging out of the way of a clumsily wielded pump. "This isn't normal. We need to find out what's causing it, and we need to get it under control!"

Flying Monkey glides across the room with unruffled calm, effortlessly evading the streaking missiles and blunderingly pugilistic cyclists with all the ease of a Taoist monk in a waterfall.

"I notice that all of the fighting is between those who have had ginger and chocolate cake, respectively," he says. "While I hesitate to impugn your fine baking skills, Claire, I suspect that this might be related."

He was right; Claire could see that the fighting was confined to pairs of people, one of whom had eaten the chocolate and one of whom had eaten the ginger cake. No one else was affected, but as the ginger and chocolate cakes were the most popular, there weren't very many people left who weren't fighting. Tables were getting wrecked, pictures smashed and she was worried that someone was going to end up in the fire.

She searches the room with her gaze until she finds the corner in which Steelman has ensconced himself with Helga. She runs over, discovers them oblivious to the goings-on due to having other things on their minds, and asks Helga to go up to the Temple and bring back some temple guards and some of the sacred water. When asked for an explanation, she merely gestures grimly to the chaos around her.

"Oh ja, I go now," Helga nods.

She returns with a troop of burly guards, their Adonis-like frames hinting at the origin of the material from which they were cloned, and a collection of bike bottles filled with a mixture of sacred temple water, maltodextrin, biosalt and liver salts. The guards go through the room, holding down struggling cyclists and squirting some of this potent mixture into their mouths, making sure they swallow. Before long the fighting has tailed off and all the berserkers are now lying on the floor groaning as if they had just woken up after a night out at the Wychwood brewery.

Jimbo pokes a piece of cake.

"What's this then?" he asks. "Looks like a mushroom. Do you normally put mushrooms in your chocolate cake, Claire?"

"Well, of course not," she says, voice edgy.

Kathy has picked up some of the ginger cake. "There's some sort of mushroom here, too."

Suddenly all is clear. Someone has poisoned the Cake Stop. This is sabotage!

Hairyhippy stumbles over, scratching his head. He pulls a piece of mushroom out with grubby fingers, soil encrusted under his fingernails. "This looks familiar," he says.

"Indeed," says Chuffy, peering. "I'm sure I read somewhere that Lilly was using one of these species in his experiments on dolphin communication."

"I thought that was Leary and cephalopod communication," scm says, his eyes bloodshot and evidently still a little argumentative.

"Anyway. I think they only come from a particular volcanic archipelago in the South China Sea," Hairyhippy concludes. "They're not readily available, you know? Who would be putting them in the cakes here, and why?"

"We've had people try to cause dissension in the ranks before," Claire murmurs disconsolately [see Vol II - Ed].

"Hmmmm," Chuffy says, pulling a suspicious face. "I heard that Gonzo spends a considerable amount of time in the South China Sea. He claims he's doing entomology experiments."

"You're not suggesting that we are being poisoned by one of our own?" Muckspreader exclaims, shocked. "I can't see that happening."

"Perhaps not. But there's something fishy going on there anyway," Chuffy asserts confidently.

"That scientist I caught," Kathy interrupts, ashen-faced. "He had just come back from somewhere near China. You don't think....?"

"Gonzo and your mad scientist?" Rigby scoffs. "No, my dear lady. 'Tis mere coincidence, and nothing about which you should worry your pretty little head."

Several of the others glance at each other, very pleased that none of the more violent of the Intrepid Sorority is around to hear that comment. It would take ages to scrub all the blood and gore off the floor, and then they would have to find another part-time pony boy for FatBloke. After that incident with the Marine Mammals Defence Fund, there was no telling how long that would take.

With that the door springs open and the frame is filled with the preternatural splendour that is the demi- god Gunner Rodgers.

"What ho my fine friends!" he cries. "Here I am displaying my fine body to the world while riding the delightful Giant OCR team special, causing young maids to swoon in all directions, and here you all are lounging around looking bloodshot and bleary. What's the matter with you all?"

"They were poisoned by hallucinatory mushrooms someone had slipped into Claire's cakes," Flying Monkey says, hovering in the lotus position, a faint blue nimbus of enlightened spiritual awareness supporting him. "We think there is a plot afoot and somehow Gonzo is involved."

Sheriff Ron shakes his head. "Some four thousand people know about the Cake Stop now," he says. "It's not like the old days, when all we had to do was get Colin to discombobulate the time lines a little. Even with Lance returned to the fold there are more dangers from more sources than ever before, and it's only going to get worse. We'd better get used to this sort of thing. The Cake Stop ain't what it used to be, my friends."

"That sort of talk won't help," Gunner says, frowning disapprovingly. "Come now. We shall brave our faces and stride out just as we have always done. We shall strive and we shall succeed and we shall win fair hearts of fair maidens."

Macleach puts up his hand. "Where are we going, Gunner?"

"I'm sure we'll work it out," booms the Adonis-like babe magnet. "To your steeds, men, to your steeds!"