Babe checks his watch. The email had said to be there at 6 o’clock sharp, and there he was, faded track pants and all. The museum was dark already, the rays of the setting sun lighting up the globe in the center of the atrium.
“Are you Edward Heffron?” a voice snaps from across the room, and Babe turns face to face with a man who’s scowl lines seem permanent.
“Yeah, that’s me. I go by Babe, usually,” he responds. ‘ Man, I know this guy reminds me of someone,’ he thinks.
“My name is Herbert Sobel. I'm the night watchman. Former night watchman, that is. Hopefully you’ll be an adequate replacement,” he sniffs, and his tone suggests that he doesn’t believe Babe will cut it.
“I'll do my best, sir,” Babe says.
Sobel glares at him before turning sharply. “Come on, I'll give you the tour.”
‘David Schwimmer!’ Babe thinks as he wanders after him. ‘ He looks exactly like David Schwimmer. God, now I can't unsee that.’
Their footsteps echo, and Babe can't help but feel like he’s disturbing something.
Sobel leads him to the main desk, and hands over the bunch of keys. The echoing halls are starting to creep him out, so he decides to swing back and forth in his chair. In theory, this should be easy money, just sitting up all night and making sure that none of the dead animals in a museum move. As for getting in, what could a thief possibly want from the Museum of Natural History?
That’s why Babe feels a deep stab of fear when he hears a creak come from the dinosaur skeleton that is positioned opposite him. He hopes that his eyes are playing tricks on him when Trigger, the Museum’s prized exhibit starts to slowly turn its skull to face him. The artificial lights of the atrium are glinting off its skull, in a way that they weren’t before. Babe is just debating the merits of ducking under the desk when all of a sudden, Trigger lurches towards him and starts running towards the night guard’s desk. Babe leaps out of his seat and is halfway down the corridor before his brain catches up with his body.
Jesus, fuck, oh my God. Babe is screaming in his head, and possibly aloud, as he sprints down the corridor, trying to escape the giant dinosaur that’s chasing him. As he dashes into the ‘Hall of Explorers’, he trips. Certain that he’s going to fall flat on his face and get eaten by a dinosaur , Babe squeaks in shock and terror when a strong pair of hands catches him.
“Easy, boy. What’s the rush?” asks- Oh. Oh Lord. It’s Carwood Lipton. He whimpers, and begins to scramble backwards. It’s weird to see such honest concern on the face of someone that he studied in high school history. Babe turns around quickly and tries to run out of the hall, but is distracted when he sees - oh, that’s Floyd Talbert, yeah okay, okay, you can do this Babe, you’re having a nightmare - he sees Floyd Talbert giving belly rubs to the dinosaur skeleton that was chasing him earlier.
Babe muttered to himself as he cautiously walked down the next corridor, “Okay, you’re dreaming, Babe, you gotta be. There’s no way this is actually happening, there’s no way- Aw, hell.” He turns the corner to see two statues standing in front of him, looking every bit as shocked as he is. One of them seems to recover himself and launches into an enthusiastic tirade about-
“Woah, woah. Uh, sir? Mr Statue-man? I already have a toothbrush.”
They both look offended, and the other cries, “Not like this you don’t! This toothbrush can also… Uh, Perco, what can it also do?”
“I don’t know, man! You’re the one who made this thing!”
Babe inches his way past the arguing statues and continues down the corridor, trying to find a safe space to curl up, and hopefully, cry.
He walks past a couple of mannequins making out messily in a corner and quickly hurries past them. He finds himself in a big room that has a lot of miniature dioramas. Immediately he’s surrounded by tiny Roman soldiers and tiny cowboys.
“Aw, man,” he says, slapping a hand over his eyes, while the miniscule statues viciously attack his ankles. “Uh, guys? Could you, like, not attack me?”
One of the Roman soldiers looks up at him suspiciously. “Not attack you? Why would we do that? You, sir, are invading our sovereign lands! I am Commander Martin, and I must protect my soldiers, and that means-” He fruitlessly sticks a spear into the top of Babe’s boot, “-defeating you!”
“Yeah!,” enthuses the cowboy standing next to him. “I’m real sorry, but we gotta defend ourselves.”
“Don’t apologise to him, Bull,” rages the legionary.
“Alright, okay, alright. If I promise to not, uh, invade your sovereign lands, will you leave me alone? I just need to make sure you’re doing alright, alright?”
They slowly agree, and he leaves them to their ‘defending’, deeply confused.
Babe is walking down the main hallway, shaking his head. “Alright Babe, this can’t get any worse. You’ve been attacked by tiny cowboys and Romans, you’ve been chased by a fucking dinosaur, you’ve met Carwood-fucking-Lipton, you’ve been harassed by confused statues. I think you can do this! You can hold on until morning, and then you’re gonna quit! That’s right, just get to the morning, and then you can-” He cuts himself off because there’s a blade pressing against his throat. He swallows nervously, and looks up into the face of Ron Speirs (oh, alright, Ron Speirs, yeah, that guy, the famous general, oh yeah, the one that band wrote a song about, yeah that guy), who silently motions for him to stay quiet. Some other soldiers come hurrying up behind him and escort him to the ‘Hall of Military Heroes’. At least, that’s what he assumes is going to happen, as that’s where they seem to be heading, but before Babe can really get his head around what’s happening, he hears the sound of horse’s hooves clattering behind him.
“Ron!” someone shouts loudly. “Please release the night guard!” Babe twists wildly to see who’s speaking, and his mind finally shuts down for good. The man who has come galloping to his rescue is none other than former President Richard Winters, and Babe’s feeble brain finally gives out. He faints.
When he wakes up, Richard Winters is crouched over him, concerned, as is Carwood Lipton, again. Babe’s not sure he can really get used to seeing such famous figures in the flesh. Or in the wax, metal, and plastic, as the case may be.
“Are you alright, my boy?”
Babe lets out an undignified squeak which he manages to shape into actual words, strangled though they are. “Hah, yeah, I’m fine! I’m just fine! This isn’t weird at all, it’s not like I’m talking to the twenty-sixth President!”
“There’s no need for concern, boy. Why don’t you let me show you around and I can help you get everything sorted out.”
“Yes, thank you, Mister President, sir!”
“Just for tonight, mind,” President Winters warned. “You might as well call me Dick, if I’m to call you Babe. There’s no need for formality.”
Babe quietly died to himself. President Richard Winters not only knew his name, but told Babe to call him Dick.
“Hall of Military Heroes. There’s many good men in here, Babe, but they need discipline. They respect their leader. I wouldn’t recommend locking the doors at night.”
“Yeah, they’d get out anyway, and then they’d kill you for tryna keep them in,” says another guy, who Babe doesn’t quite recognise, but who must be part of Lipton’s team.
“Lieb!” scolds Lipton, but he doesn’t correct the guy who is apparently Joseph Liebgott, the recorder of Lipton’s expedition team. Lipton turns to Babe and says, “Sobel was a bad night watchman, and never really allowed us any freedom. I’m hoping you won’t be the same.”
Babe was distracted from Lipton’s earnest speaking by the heavy glare on General Speirs’ face.
“Uh yeah, sure, man!” Babe managed to stutter out in the face of Speirs’ killer stare.
“These are statues of George Luz and his assistant,” begins Lipton, with Liebgott scribbling furiously in his notebook.
“Assistant? Assistant?! I have a name!” They continue on, past another set of statues, this time of a donator of the museum and his wife, still listening to the rants of the man who apparently is not Luz’s assistant. Further into the main atrium they pass a statue of a man dressed in a sharp suit, well dressed for his era, which Babe guesses is the Twenties.
“Dick! Lip! I think I’ve got a lead!”
“That’s great, Buck!” enthuses President Winters. Uh, Dick.
“What has he got a lead for?” asks Babe, confused, as they head back upstairs.
“Buck has been trying to work out why we come to life each night. He was a detective, and he still likes to crack a few mysteries.”
“Oh, alright. That’s cool, I guess. Uh, wait. I gotta ask. You do, um. You do know that this is, uh.”
“Yes, Babe, we know this is a museum,” says President Dick (look, Babe’ll get there one day) with dry amusement. He feels a rush of relief go through him at the fact that he doesn’t have to deal with delusional, and possibly murderous, statues-that-don’t-know-they’re-statues.
They reach the top floor, and Babe hears a muffled yelling noise. “And that is…?”, he asks, but neither Dick nor Lipton will meet his eye.
“Bog body,” says General Speirs, bluntly.
“Speirs, could you phrase that a little more delicately?”
“He fell in a bog, now he’s dead. Done, let’s go.”
The group leaves the room, but Babe throws another glance backwards. Something seems to be deeply wrong with just leaving the body to scream inside the case. Together they head upstairs, as Dick begins to explain further. “We have to be in our places by sunrise, otherwise we’ll freeze in the wrong place.”
Joseph Liebgott flips back through his notebook, and adds “And if anyone’s outside the museum when the sun comes up, then - poof. Dust forever, buddy.”
Upon entering the Hall of Explorers, Speirs and the other soldiers, who inform Babe that their names are Bill and Joe, peel off from the group and return to their tableau. He’s cheerfully greeted by Talbert and Grant, before being bid farewell by Lipton and Liebgott, who return and hold their pose of great surprise and determination. Babe supposes that they’re supposed to be discovering something of importance and significance, but there’s no way to really tell. He glances back to see President Winters making moony eyes at a wax model that’s walking around behind a glass screen.
“Hey, who’s that?,” he asks. The man turns to lock eyes with Dick, and they spend a while just staring at each other. “Can he hear us? I guess he can’t, with the glass and all.”
“He’s Lewis Nixon. The tracker.” Babe is hit with a sudden flood of recognition, and exclaims “Lewis Nixon! I know that guy, there’s like a nursery rhyme about him or something, ain’t there?”
Dick nods absently, now faintly smiling at Nixon. “Dude, you totally like him, don’t you?” ( Why, for the love of God why, are you asking President Winters if he has a crush on the wax model of an important figure in American history? ). “You know, if you like him, you should try and show him how cool you are. I mean you can’t talk to him, but you could show him. Like with a… cool secret handshake or something! Hell yeah, man, we can do a secret handshake, that’ll show him that you’re super cool.”
Babe’s fairly sure that ‘cool’ was not a concept while Dick Winters was alive, but he seems to be taking Babe’s advice to heart. Babe leads him through a stumbling handshake that he practiced with his buddy Ralph, and although it would make anyone born after 1960 cry with embarrassment, it seems to have worked some kind of seductive magic on Lewis Nixon, who is now eye fucking President Winters so hard that Babe feels like he’s the third wheel.
“Shouldn’t we, uh, head back? Maybe you should get back to your place, Mister Winters, before the sun comes up?”
Reluctantly, Dick turns away from the tableau in front of him and lets Babe herd him towards the main atrium, where his statue is located. He climbs back onto his horse, unsheaths his sword, and turns back to Babe. “Well done tonight, my boy. I hope to see you again tomorrow.” With that he morphs into unfeeling wax, and Babe is alone again in the huge, echoing halls of the museum.
“So!” Babe exclaims, sliding in front of Sobel. “Didn’t tell me all the exhibits come to life, didcha? Thought you’d keep that tasty tidbit to yourself! Nice surprise for the new guy, keep him on his toes! Thanks for that, buddy!” He might be a touch hysterical, but Babe feels like he deserves it. Last night was a waking nightmare, and he’s still on the fence about whether he’s going to continue with the job.
Sobel gives him a pissy look and says, “I suggest you brush up on your history. That’s how it’s always done, boy .” It doesn’t have the same fondness or warmth that it did when Lipton or Winters called him ‘boy’, and Babe bristles at the derogatory tone. Before he can open his mouth and dig himself into a hole, a member of the public approaches them and asks if he can ask a question. Babe readily agrees and goes to stand with him in front of the tableau of Lipton and Liebgott.
“So how can I help you, sir?” he asks brightly.
“Ah, I don’t actually need anything, I just thought you needed a bit of a hand before you punched that guy. And there’s no need for ‘sir’, I think we’re the same age. My name’s David Webster.” The man, Webster, sticks his hand out, and Babe shakes it awkwardly.
Webster nods thoughtfully, and says, haltingly, “I guess I could help you here. I’m somewhat of, not an expert, certainly, but somewhat of an enthusiast of Lipton and Liebgott. You know, maybe a hundred or so men were part of that expedition, but only Liebgott bothered to write anything down! The journals are fascinating to read, of course, truly unbelievable. That’s why, of course, they’re the only ones people remember from the group.”
“Hey, I know there was this guy, uh, Tip-something. But yeah, all I could tell you about this guy is my history teacher said he had a bit of a fascination with, uh, rats, was it?”
“Babe. Heffron. I only started last night. That guy,” he motions at Sobel with his head, “says I should brush up on my history, but I don’t know shit. I guess I forgot all my high school history!”
Webster’s brow scrunches, and he seems… rankled. That seems like a word that a guy like Webster would use. “Well, that’s the story, of course, and that’s the only thing that a lot of people remember him for, but you have to remember that, as you know, Liebgott was from the ‘Old World’,” he pauses for quotation marks, “and so he’d only ever encountered European mammals, so he had to relate everything he saw within the frame of what he already knew, which, for the most part, was rats.”
“I guess that makes sense. I mean-” Before Babe has the chance to finish his sentence, his new friend is carrying himself off on a wave of his own thoughts.
“Of course, half the fun of reading Liebgott’s journals is trying to work out what North American mammal he’s referring to. ‘Large, grey rat’ could be referring to any number of things. Raccoon, possum, and, of course, a rat.”
“Of course,” Babe repeats weakly.
“I’ve actually got a copy in my bag here, if you’d like to borrow it. I come to the museum almost every day to write my poetry, and I always sit right here, so you can return it any time.”
Babe finds himself making eye contact with Liebgott, even though he’s technically still just wax, and asks, “Why this statue? I mean, I get that you’re a fan-” At this, Webster snorts and shakes his head as if to protest that he’s more than a mere fan, but Babe continues “-but why this tableau? I wouldn’t say it’s particularly poetic.”
“I do sit in the Hall of Ocean Life, sometimes. Sharks, you know?”
Babe definitely does not know.
“But I just find the idea of their journey so inspiring, and of course, his dedication to writing everything that they came across, despite all the difficulties. And the, uh.” Webster coughs, and seems to be turning pink. “The statue’s not bad-looking? Anyway, take the book, give it back whenever. It’s not a bad way to start to understand this place.”
With that he hurries off, and Babe is left alone, standing in front of Lipton and Liebgott. He takes a look around, but he’s practically alone.
“Did you hear that, Joe? That funky little poetry nerd has a massive old crush on you, and he thinks you’re hot. You’re winning, man!”
On his second night, Babe decides that things are gonna go differently. He rocks up to the museum feeling confident, and feeling like he’s going to do better. First of all, he has a plan this time, and half a clue about what’s going to happen once the sun goes down. As soon as Trigger starts to move, he takes it as his cue to get started. ‘Getting started’ involves leaving the biggest dog chew he could find in front of the skeleton, and hoping that it will distract the T-rex for long enough that Babe can get on with other things.
After that’s sorted, he heads down to the Hall of Miniatures, thinking that he should stop the problems there before they start, but he’s too late already, as Bull and Martin are setting up their military defenses again. When he walks in, they begin their assault on his ankles again. “Hey, hey, guys! I’m just checking on you, you don’t need to start throwing shit at me. I promise, I’ll go away in a second, I just wanted to make sure you guys are okay for tonight. Can you please tidy up all this stuff after you’re done?”
Bull and Martin shiftily agree, which prompts Babe to ask, “Why do you even have all this stuff. I know, I know, protecting your lands and whatever, but who’s actually invaded you?”
The whole group glances around at each other, and eventually Bull volunteers, “Well, nobody.”
“Then why do you need to set all this stuff up? Wouldn’t you prefer to just, like, relax or something? Just chill, and do cowboy, Roman stuff, y’know?”
“Well, yes, actually,” says one of the legionaries. After some shifting and discussion, the miniatures agree that they’d quite like to just sit around and talk to each other, so Babe leaves them to their conversations.
Next, Babe decides to head down to the main hall, and check on Luz and Perconte. They’re squabbling like children over something that Babe doesn’t understand, so he tosses the box of Lego at them, and tells them “Go crazy,” which they promptly do. The pair sets upon the child’s toy with a ravenous curiosity, and he leaves them attempting to assemble a building, excitedly talking about what else they could make.
Great, another one ticked off his list.
After that, he heads up to the room that contains Speirs, Joe and Bill, and embarks on his next attempt to maintain some order in the museum. He has downloaded about three days worth of documentaries about the Civil War, and plans to show them to Joe and Bill. He explains how to use the device, and leaves them utterly enraptured by the screen.
After Joe and Bill have been thoroughly enthralled by the tablet, Babe sets out to visit the explorers, dogged by Speirs. As they cross the mezzanine landing that overlooks the atrium, Speirs puts a hand on Babe’s back to stop him, and silently points out a figure that is trying to sneak across the hall. The light from a high window slides across the face of the figure, and Babe gasps when he sees who it is. Webster is trying (emphasis on the trying) to sneak into the museum, and Babe calls down, “Web! What you up to?” Webster freezes, and looks up with a guilty look on his face. “Hi, uh. I don’t think I got your name actually.”
Babe grins down, “It’s Babe! What you up to, Webster?”
The guilty look comes flooding back, and he rubs at the back of his neck. “My friend Hoob kind of, uh, dared me to come here? And, you know, I told you I like it here, and I thought it wasn’t the worst thing to do. This one time, he made me mix up Fanta and ketchup, and vinegar, and then I had to chug it. I threw up everywhere , all over the restaurant-”
Speirs clears his throat pointedly, and Babe has to cut Webster off. “It’s okay, dude. It’s just, I can’t let you leave.”
Webster starts choking on his spit, which is a weird thing to see from above. “What do you mean you can’t let me leave?”, he asks, slightly hysterical.
“Sorry, dude, but the rules say nothing in, nothing out,” he says. Then he has a thought, and grins wider. “But I have someone I think you’d like to meet. Come up here, Web.” Webster does indeed hurry up to where Babe and Speirs were waiting.
Babe leads him into the Hall of Explorers, and he knows the second that Webster and Liebgott catch sight of each other, because there are twin splutters, and he spins around to see Liebgott turning violently red, while Webster has hearts dawning in his eyes. Webster takes a few steps forwards and Liebgott takes an equal step. Webster begins to speak, and considering how much he spoke when Babe met him, he was expecting more. “Oh. Wow. Oh, wow . I. It’s so-. Wow,” then he reaches into his bag, looking for something.
“Babe, do you still have my copy of the diary?”
“Oh, fuck, yeah. Here you go.” Babe hands the book back from where he had it stashed in the pocket of his fleece, and Webster starts flicking through. He points sharply to a line, and asks “Now in this line, were you referring to the size of the rat, or the colour of the rat as being unusual? And in this section, what was the nature of-”
Babe tunes out of their conversation, and decides he can probably leave them to it. Speirs is back to gazing at Lipton, so he decides that he’ll go and pay a visit to President Winters.
When Babe comes out of the room, he sees a shadow passing over a corner, and sliding away. No one in the museum moves that silently, except for Speirs, who Babe knows is currently making gooey eyes at Lipton, and vehemently denying the fact that he’s making mooney eyes at Lipton, so Babe feels like he ought to go check out what’s going on. He sneaks over to the corner, and catches sight of a guy who looks like he might be Dike hurrying down the stairs from the room that contains the bog body and tablet. Behind him is that Simon Pegg-y looking guy that Babe thinks might be a friend of Sobel’s, and following behind that guy is Sobel himself , carrying - gasp - the tablet in his hand.
Babe immediately turned around and ran back to the Hall of Explorers, where he grabbed hold of the first person he saw, who happened to be Liebgott, who didn’t seem to be pleased to be dragged away from Webster, his enthusiastic admirer. He dragged Liebgott from the room, and was quickly followed by General Speirs, suspicious. “I think Sobel is has taken the tablet. What the hell I am I gonna do?” Liebgott and Speirs exchanged a look and hurried quicker behind. The trio made it up the stairs and into the room where the body was kept, and Babe started fumbling for the key to the case.
“What the actual hell do you think you’re doing?” Joe asks frantically, as Babe hurriedly rifles through the keys on his belt.
“Bog body!” he exclaims. “Jesus Christ, who decided to put this many keys on one key ring?”
“You did,” says Speirs. He seems to be deeply concerned about releasing the bog body, which makes more and more sense the louder the screams get, but Babe has a soft heart, and he can’t bear thinking that they - whoever they are - might be in pain.
“Well yes, I did, but I’m really wishing that I hadn’t. Here, Lieb, lift this corner.” Babe’s companions hurry to lift the opposite end of the case’s lid, as he sticks the correct key in the lock. Quickly they heaved off the heavy slab of glass, and the lid of the box-looking sarcophagus that the case contains, and the screaming abruptly stops.
Babe leans over the case to see what’s inside, which is why he gets headbutted in the nose when ‘what’s inside’ sits up sharply. In later years, when retelling the story Babe will swear that Speirs let out a high-pitched screech, which, of course, the man himself will vehemently deny. Whatever happens, the thing that was contained within the case is trying to climb out, but is hindered by the fact that its face is covered in thick, yellowing bandages. It begins to claw at its face, trying to free itself from the cloying fabric. Babe instantly lurches forward to help remove them, and together he and the body are finally able to rid the thing of the dusty and brittle bandages. He winds off the last strip of fabric, and reveals-
“Oh my God.”
The bog body is hot . The bog body is supremely hot . Babe is slowly dying, because the bog body is really, really hot . He (because Babe can now tell that the body is an insanely good looking he) reaches out his arms, and Babe helps him out of the sarcophagus.
“Hi! I’m Babe, hi! What’s your name? Hi,” he says, drinking in the sight of a very attractive man looking at him with wonder. Logically, he knows that this is because Babe is the first person he’s seen since he was trapped inside the case, but it’s still nice.
“My name’s Gene.”
“My name, it’s Gene. You asked, what’s my name, and it’s, uh, Gene.”
Babe smiles. Gene. It’s a lovely name. He says as much out loud. “And I’m Babe! Well, actually, it’s Edward, but please don’t call me Edward. Anyway, we did actually have a reason for getting you out.”
Behind him, somewhere, Lieb coughs heavily and says “You had a reason, Babe.”
“Right, right. Uh, someone kinda stole your tablet thingy? I mean, I assume it’s yours, it might be-”
“It’s mine. Who stole it?”
Babe’s mind is still running behind, lagged by the extraordinary attractiveness of the guy before him. “Uh, the guy who used to be the night guard here. Sobel? Yeah, he took it. And we-”
“You,” interjects General Speirs, bluntly.
“Okay, okay, I thought you might be able to help us? Since it’s your tablet.”
Gene nods, determined. “Sure, I can help. Let’s go, Edward.”
“Babe! It’s Babe, but whatever!” he calls, as the group hurries back down the stairwell to where the rest of the exhibits are waiting.
In the main atrium, everyone is waiting. President Winters immediately rushes over to Speirs and starts laying out a battle plan, which Babe eagerly listens to.
“General, I believe you should take your men, Lipton and Liebgott, Luz and Perconte, and Buck, and defend this corridor,” he jabs at the plan of the museum that is laid out on the floor, “against any attackers. Meanwhile, Harry and Kitty, Tab and Grant, and myself shall defend the corridor to our left. Bull, Martin, Babe and, uh, your new friend, you can take this main area. The elevators are disabled, so if we do a proper job, they shouldn’t be able to get out of the museum.”
Web pouts, put out that he hasn’t been included in Winters’ battle plan. “What am I going to do then? I’m not useless, you know!”
Liebgott rolls his eyes and pulls Web into his chest. “Stick with me, okay, princess?”
Webster seems to be ready to protest this nickname, but his eye is caught by something behind the rest of the group, and he frowns. “What th-”
Babe turns to look, and sees Nixon banging angrily on the glass in front of his exhibit, gesturing to be let out. He hurries over to the exhibit, but he can’t see a way to open it.
“I’m sorry, Mister Nixon, but I don’t think there’s a way out.”
Nixon rolls his eyes, heavily, and points to an unassuming part of the printed scenery. Babe can’t make it out, but he assumes that there must be some sort of access door.
“I don’t know how to get round there, Mister Nixon. I-”
There’s a loud sound of smashing glass, and when Babe checks, General Speirs has put his fist straight through the glass that was covering the tableau.
“Alright, that’s one way to do it!,” says Lipton, seemingly forcing brightness up from some deep well.
“Well, men, and women,” says Winters, nodding to Mrs Welsh, “now is the time. Go, man your stations. Mister Nixon… Come with me.”
Babe watches the other groups file out of the hall, chattering. President Winters pulls Mister Nixon up onto his horse, and Babe nudges Gene with his elbow, while wiggling his eyebrows at Dick.
“Check it out, huh? I told him a cool handshake would work.”
“You told that man, whom I am assuming is important, to do a cool,” he frowns at, what is for him, an unusual word, “ handshake to win the affections of his sweetheart?”
There’s a lot to take away from that sentence, in Babe’s mind. Firstly, Gene does not know who President Winters (like, the best president ever) is. Secondly, he doesn’t know what the word cool is, which isn’t surprising, since Babe has had to teach the meaning of cool to essentially every resident of the museum. Thirdly, Gene calls it being ‘sweethearts’. While they watch everyone trickle away to take up their positions, Babe quietly melts into a puddle of goo. A puddle of goo that really wants to go out with the bog body. It’s not a situation he could have imagined himself in when younger. Or even last week, to be honest.
Quietly, Babe watches Bull and Martin set up tiny defenses. Martin is bossily ordering his troops to set up miniscule catapults, and frankly, it’s adorable.
“Are those really gonna work?” asks Gene, confused.
“It’s better to just leave ‘em to it, Gene. You ain’t gonna get anywhere by tryna argue with them.”
The museum is deathly silent, until Babe hears a scream that sounds like it’s coming from far away. He glances over to look at Gene, and they share a small smile. It’s quiet where they are, no action, so he decides to chance a conversation.
“So,” he says, drawing out the ‘o’. “A bog, huh?”
Gene smiles back, wanly. “A bog. They, and by they, I mean the people of my town-”
“Oh, what town?” Babe interrupts to ask.
“I doubt you’ve heard of it. It’s only small, it doesn’t matter. New Orleans?”
Babe blinks in surprise, and stifles a laugh. “I mighta heard of it.”
“Well, the people of my town, they accused me of being a boko.”
“Uh, yeah, I hate it when that happens.”
“You don’t know what it means, do you?” Gene asks, smiling.
“Not a clue.”
“A boko is someone who uses voodoo for black magic. The only cure is to kill them, by throwing them in the bayou. Anyway, they said I was a voodoo user, which is true, but it still hurt my feelings.”
Babe pauses, momentarily stunned. “Wait, wait. You are , like a voodoo priest guy?”
Gene seems exasperated. “Yes, Babe. They threw me into the bayou, how did you think I survived?”
He scratches at the back of his neck, embarrassed. “I guess that makes sense. Hey, Gene?”
“You just-” At that moment, Dike comes barreling into the museum entrance hall, some miscellaneous gold-plated artifact clutched to his chest. He smashes through the defenses set up by the miniatures, which sets Martin off into a screaming fit.
Babe is panicking, wondering what they’re going to do. He’s not very strong, and Gene doesn’t look like he is either, but together they could probably manage to hold him off until the rest of the exhibits arrive to help them. In principle, Babe (and Gene, to an extent) are fit young men, while Dike is an old man, but the tablet imbues him with magical life, and Babe is deeply unfit, while Gene has been in a box for, apparently, two hundred years. Just as Babe is beginning to run some really wild theoretical plans of attack through his mind, Gene holds out a hand, with a blue band wrapped around it. Dike comes to a jerking stop, apparently against his will. He simply waves his hand, and he somehow makes Dike sit on the floor, pouting like baby.
Babe looks up to see Winters jogging towards them, with General Speirs’ group following. “Sobel got outside. We need to catch up to him, and get the tablet back inside the museum before sunrise.”
“Where could he have gone?” asks Lipton.
“He drove off in a van, heading west, but then he had to stop”, says Nixon, looking into the distance.
“How could you possibly know that?” asked Liebgott.
Nixon points to the van, crashed heavily into a lamp post. Sobel struggles out of the van, and hurries towards the loading bay of the museum. Speirs immediately takes chase after him, skidding a halt in front of the carriage that comes screeching out of the building. Winters instantly spurs his horse into a canter, and takes off after the carriage. The rest of the group starts to chase after him too, but Babe tries to urge them back into the museum.
“I’m sorry, guys, please go inside. If you’re outside the museum when the sun comes up, you will turn to dust. Please go back inside, guys.”
Reluctantly, many people begin to shuffle back inside the building, so Babe decides to run into the park to check what's happening.
He runs through the park, and stumbles across Winters holding Sobel by the collar, a good foot off the ground.
“We all good here? Got everything under control?” Babe asks, eyeing Sobel, warily. Together they escort Sobel back to the museum.
Upon reaching the museum, Babe hands the tablet back to Gene, who happily takes it. They enter the main atrium together, and Babe stares at the destruction around him.
“I am so fired. Oh my God, I’m so fired. How the hell am I going to explain this to Mister Sink?”
Looking around, he can see himself getting fired, unfolding out ahead of him. Sink will see the detritus of the fight, see the battered mannequins, see the broken glass in front of Nixon’s tableau, and will sack him on sight.
However, Babe’s eyes catch on everyone around him. Webster and Liebgott are again chatting about something, probably Liebgott’s diary, since Webster is making frantic scribbles. Liebgott leans over and whispers something, with a smug leer plastered on his face which makes Webster blush and stumble backwards, bumping into Luz, who, with Perconte, seem to be trying to persuade Bill and Joe to take interest in some sort of invention. Webster looks up and makes eye contact with Babe, and shouts across the room, “Are they trying to say that he invented the wheel ? How could that ever be factually correct, I mean-” He’s cut off by Liebgott, but doesn’t seem too put out about it. Speirs has crossed the room to talk to Lipton, and is saying something lowly, to which Lip replies with a small smile. Damn, even Speirs is getting some. Babe catches sight of more couples talking to each other, relieved to have recovered the tablet. Even President Winters is happily talking to Mister Nixon, who places a hand on his arm. Babe comes up behind them and whispers to Winters, “Told you that handshake would work!”
Once Babe has made a lap of the room, talking to everyone, even Bull, Martin and company, who are keen to dismantle their defenses (“We’re Romans! Taking down the fortress is half the fun!”), Gene strolls up to him, and nudges Babe with his elbow. “Hey,” he said, slowly.
“You, uh. You’re not gonna put me back in the box, are you?”
“A bog body that good-looking? No way!”
Gene smiles widely. “Good-looking, huh?”