Dr Pheidippides and the Case of the Trojan Tortoise

Hewey, Lewey and Shewey stepped out of the brown ooze, removed their gas-masks and looked around them. Underfoot were damp wood-chips. To the north a huge lake of water that appeared to have a purple tinge to it. To the west a brown hill with one or two scraps of greenery scattered about. To the north-east were two brilliant yellow suns; one was so hot it seemed to be trying to burn the lake dry. The other gave out little heat but it gave out a ferocious (which means very nasty) light that seemed to want to cook you from the inside out. To the east was a huge sheer brown mountain face that looked almost impossible to climb. Good. They were in the right place.

On the other side of the mountain, Dr Pheidippides was taking a nice nap at the end of a very busy day. When General Colossus had first suggested, or rather commanded, that Andromeda should go to stay with him he had feared it would be a huge amount of work. In reality it had been much, much worse than he had expected. Persuading his humans to fetch her and build her a pen had been easy. Andromeda was friendly and would eat anything she was given which made her popular with humans. The much harder part had been increasing security enough to protect the daughter of a general.

The first step had been simply to enhance the existing security systems. All of the various traps and gadgets in the garage had been cleaned, tested and when necessary repaired. Well, all the traps except for the 'sock of death' which had simply been prodded with a stick and re-hidden. Pheidippides and his team had then moved many of the items around so that no-one but them would know the safe route through. Next Pheidippides and the team installed a security system around Andromeda's pen. Heat sensors would pick up any warm-blooded animals in the vicinity. Motion sensors around the edges would pick up cold-blood animals climbing in. Radar and trip-lasers had been installed several feet above the pen to ensure that an aerial attack would be spotted well ahead of time.

Finally, Andromeda had been given a panic button. Much like Pheidippides' 'Big Red Button' Andromeda had her own button (although she had insisted it should be pink.) When she pressed the button the smoke detectors would sound throughout the neighborhood to summon the team members and a siren would sound inside Pheidippides shell so that he could render immediate assistance. This was by far the biggest problem of all. Andromeda's view of an emergency and Dr Pheidippides' view of one differed significantly. The button had already been pushed three times that night.

The first time it was because "I can't sleep with the light on," then because "my water is a little too cool," and finally the dreaded "I'm feeling a bit peckish...." The latter project had required Cham to sneak into the house and carry out three lettuces and a bowl of strawberries. Fortunately, the human beings were sufficiently dozy, having had to replace three smoke alarm batteries in one night, that they didn't notice their groceries walking across the floor.

Hewey finished covering himself in the sticky resin (resin is a bit like a glue that comes from trees). He hated the smell and he hated feeling slimy; but there was no other way to climb a sheer, vertical, plastic mountain. He looked at his brothers; they had been in training for weeks for this - now was the time. They started the ascent. If it was just them it would take only a couple of minutes - but each one was carrying a barrel of toxins (which means poison) that weighed as much as they did. They would be doing well to get up the mountain in less than half an hour. Fortunately, both of the suns had mysteriously gone dark while they were walking to the bottom of the cliff; so at least they could climb under the cover of darkness.

The three brothers crawled to the top of the cliff and lay down getting their breath back. Technically they were only half way to their target; but climbing down a mountain was going to be much easier than climbing up. Lewey the strongest of the three got his breath back first and stood up to start his journey again; but then he froze in fear. If the two suns suddenly going out had appeared like a good omen (a good omen means a 'sign things are going well') then the suns suddenly coming on again were almost certainly a bad omen. The fact that the suns came on at exactly the moment Lewey stood up, and at the exactly the same moment that sirens went off all over the neighborhood, was a very bad omen indeed. The brothers were stealth assassins. Slipping poison into a tortoise's food while he slept they could do, facing one head on they would not survive.

Dr Pheidippides was no more enthusiastic to hear the siren than the brothers were. "What does the stupid girl need now!" he grumbled as he slowly poked his head out of his shell and ambled (which means walk casually and slowly) towards Andromeda's pen. As his mind slowly woke up a wave of shock rippled through him as if he had licked an electric socket (Winston had tried this - so he knew). That was not the panic button siren; it was the motion sensors'! Immediately the small tortoise started trotting faster and started shouting 'Perimeter, something has tripped the perimeter!' It would still take him several seconds to get to Andromeda but others in his team were much, much faster.

When he got to the wall that separated his pen from Andromeda's he was greeted by Cham and Winston who were sitting either side of Lewey, Shewey and Hewey. Snappy was just approaching looking even less happy than normal and was grumbling loudly "If that stupid, overfed, half-witted ...." "We have visitors," snapped Pheidippides. Snappy stopped grumbling and instantly looked much, much happier. "Dangerous?" asked the turtle hopefully. "They would have been deadly if we had found them after they had delivered these poison canisters," replied the tortoise. Snappy looked disappointed; but any fight was better than nothing. "You want me to deal with them?" "Yes," replied the doctor.

"More importantly," continued the team leader, "we need to find out how they made it this far into the pen. Cham, go indoors; find any route they could have sneaked in with the humans. Snappy once you have dealt with our assassins please check the garage again. Maybe there is a route for animals this small that we didn't think of. Winston, check the neighborhood. Hedges, plants, cars, trees, everything: leave no leaf un-sniffed." Suddenly Andromeda smiled broadly: "I can help too," she said, "I'll go and check out our food supplies!" She ambled off to where the team had stored a sack of berries in the hope that Andromeda would not wake them again that evening. "Fat lot of good that will do!" grumbled Snappy "she eats so fast she doesn't see what she eats! She's like a giant vacuum cleaner! I almost lost my pen-knife in there the other day!" "Enough!" said Pheidippides with some menace in his voice, "I gave you an order; do you have a problem doing what I asked?" "No, sir." said Snappy moving off.


Pheidippides lay in his bed frowning. The reports from his team had all been good. Cham had said that the house was clean and that the humans were all back asleep. Winston had reported that nothing was amiss in the neighborhood and Snappy reported that the garage was all in working order and that the three pin-worms had been dealt with. This was all very good news, except that none of it explained how three assassins had made it to within an inch of Andromeda's pen without being detected.

When the siren sounded again the team assembled very quickly; if there had been one attack there could easily be another. Of course, this time when they reached the pen they just saw Andromeda smiling up at them. "Sorry to bother you," she said, "but with all those berries I just ate my tummy is feeling a little gurgly. I was thinking that perhaps if you had a lettuce or two to spare it might settle my stomach." "Hmmmm ...." said Pheidippides, "he looked into Andromeda's pen and noticed the sticky trail that led up her wall; he looked into his own pen and his wall was clean. I think I know where our assassin's came from!"

So - where did the Assassin's come from and how did Pheidippides know?

"The mistake we made," said the Doctor, "was in assuming that the assassin's came for Andromeda. They didn't come for Andromeda, they came from Andromeda." "What!" cried Andromeda "I would never help an Assassin!" "Not deliberately," soothed the small tortoise "but a pin-worm egg is smaller than a speck of dust. Can you guarantee that no-one could have slipped one past you in a strawberry?" Andromeda looked miserable. Snappy quietly chuckled, "you could sneak an Ostrich egg past her covered in strawberry juice!" Pheidippides glared at Snappy, Snappy fell quiet again.

"Further," said Pheidippides, "the slime trails show they came out of Andromeda's pen. They were trying to kill me; not her." Andromeda looked a little happier, but not much. "So could there be more in there?" she said. "Almost certainly," said Pheidippides. "The first eggs will have hatched and then they will have formed a little community that could have been living and growing in there for weeks. There could be hundreds by now. That is why your tummy is gurgly." "So who has to go in to get them out?" squealed Andromeda. The team started backing away quickly: "no way - not a chance" muttered Cham.

Pheidippides smiled. "Fortunately, we don't have to," said Pheidippides, "all you have to do is eat a berry with a dose of this special medicine on it." Andromeda cheered up immediately. "Eat a berry! I can do that!" she said. She was much less enthusiastic as she was eating the berry. Her eyes were tightly shut, her nose was wrinkled, and she drank water between each mouthful. "This is disgusting!" she whimpered. "Sorry, it's the only way!" said the Doctor. "Now we have to get a few more doses down you; so let us know as soon as you are hungry again." As Doctor Pheidippides walked back to his bed Cham came up beside him: "according to the instructions on the box she doesn't have to have another dose for another week sir!" said the Chameleon. "I know that," grinned the tortoise, "but Andromeda doesn't. I think we should be able to get some sleep for the rest of the night!"


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