They left Mayor Pinch’s office in silence, Biz deep in thought and Fake Phil looking as concerned as was possible for a machine with only half a facial display unit.
“What are we going to do, Miss Biz? The Uptodatium is already days out of date. If we don’t get some serious funding soon, they’ll repossess the laser furnace and then we’ll have to leave our out of date technology on the kerb for the council to take away at a small fee. Like people,” fretted Fake Phil.
“Don’t worry Phil, I’d got a plan” Biz said, reassuringly.
That’s what Fake Phil loved about Miss Biz; she could always think quickly to solve their problems, and more often than not she was carrying at least one mobile charging device. If he was honest with himself, it was really the latter thing he loved the most.
“Is it a cunning plan? As cunning as a fox who just graduated first in his cunningness class at Cunning University?”
“No, Phil, it’s a very simple plan. Like all the best plans should be. What kind of terrible university only lets you study one thing that it's named for? Plus foxes don’t have opposable thumbs, they’d be terrible students.”
“I haven’t got opposable thumbs, Miss Biz, just two horrifying claw-like appendages that spin both uncontrollably and unnecessarily!”
Biz grimaced and discreetly stepped back from the whirring metal as Fake Phil showed her her own handiwork.
“I keep meaning to update your grappling hands, Phil. Sorry. Once we have money coming in again, we’ll put that to the top of the list of Things To Do. Make a note of that.”
“I would, but I don’t have thumbs!”
“Oh yeah, well, holo-dictate it to my thunkpad.”
“Done! So what is your not-cunning-but-I’m-sure-completely-brilliant plan, Miss Biz?”
“We need money, right?”
“Who in this town knows the most about forcing people to five you money so you’ll go away and leave them alone?”
Fake Phil threw up his claws in triumph, as he cried: “Trampy Steve! Who lives by the bins! Lucky Steve, there’s so much food there, and there are always puddles around him in the morning, so I can only assume he has plenty to drink!”
Biz sighed. Fake Phil’s child-like optimism had not been diminished over the past few months, despite all the hardships; near-furnace experiences, and cruel incredibly recent back switchings he had been subject too.
“No, Phil. Who knows all about trying to keep museums open against all odds? Even against the public's wishes? Even if they are shit museums that, by all sensible measures of entertainment, should definitely be shut down anyway?”
“Oh no, Miss Biz, not… not…”
“That’s right, Phil my old friend. We’re going Back to the Future place that we will have been in the- oh balls to it, we’re going to the Obsoleteum.”
“Nooooo” cried Fake Phil, who would have fallen to his knees in despair, if he indeed had knees.
“Please Miss Biz, anything but that, I couldn’t face the horror of-“
“We’re here, Phil,” interrupted Biz, “it’s really not that far from the Mayor’s office.”
In fact, they’d been standing outside it for most of their conversation. The town really is very small.
"Oh." Fake Phil was most disappointed by both the situation and the view. The dilapidated Obsoleteum had been recently repainted a nauseating hodge-podge of colours, clearly gathered from old tins of pain Hector had lying around. (Well, they'd hardly be new tins, would they?)
They had tried to conceal the gigantic swastika Hector had emblazoned on the wall to attract new clientele. Unfortunately, the effect of the George’s paint job had simply created a taupe and beige swastika on the sandstone building, giving the whole place the look of an old timey fascist optical illusion.
Biz automatically looked for a doorbell, then remember where she was and stopped. Instead she lifted the heavy brass knocker and let it fall with a loud, resonating boom. There was no answer, so she raised her fist and pounded on the wooden door.
“Hello? Hello!? Hel-ow, this is really sore.” She stopped pounding, rubbing her hand. “I don’t think I’ve ever hit something… or touched actual wood… in my life.”
Stepping away, she nodded to the door. “Phil, hit this door ‘til someone answers”.
“Right away Miss Biz!” Fake Phil lifted his claw hands and gave the door a hefty thwack, causing it to splinter and collapse inward.
“Shall I stop hitting the door?” asked Fake Phil, quietly.
“Yeah, Phil, I think you might as well.” Biz stepped over the ruined door into the hallway.
“Hello? Mr… Obsoleteum? Hello? Phil, I don’t think anyone is home.”
“I’m reading one life form upstairs, Miss Biz, that might be worth investigation!”
“What do you mean, you’re reading one life form? You don’t have heatscanners, or bioscanners, or any other kind of scanner.”
“I have a barcode scanner for inventory use!” Fake Phil announced, indignantly.
“That’s as may be, Phil” said Biz, softly, “but how can you use that to tell me there are life forms upstairs?”
“Fine, I can’t do that, but I can make wild guesses and I think that given the fact you TURNED ME OFF you could at least do me the courtesy of pretending that I have bio-scanners ONE TIME!”
“Oh for God’s sake, Phile. That’s it. No-more references to how I just betrayed you entirely. In my defence, I turned you back on. I didn’t have to do that! I could have let Alfie wipe your memory, or throw you in the furnace. I didn’t do either of those things. So yes; I was bad, and I am sorry, and you have to get over this, because it is INCREDIBLY TEDIOUS THAT YOU KEEP BRINGING IT UP.”
There was a silence, broken only by the continuous distant ringing of a telephone.
“Ooookay!” Fake Phil’s voice was tremulous. “I promise I won’t mention how you betrayed me entirely ever again, assuming you don’t do it again, and you will promise to follow my wild hunches and upgrade me with a bioscanner as soon as possible.”
“Done. Let’s shake- oh god, no, keep them away. We will shake soon. Promise Phil.”
“Thanks, Miss Biz”
“Now where the hell is that ringing coming from? It sounds like a phone, but an old, terrible, rusty version of a phone. Let’s find it and fix it. It is literally the least we can do to improve this dump.”
They wandered through the Obsoleteum, following the ringing ‘til they came to a door with a wooden plaque (were those wooden screws holding it to the door?) engraved “Private: Keep Out. This Means You, George.” But the George was scratched out, and underneath someone had wonkily engraved “Dad”.
Biz softly knocked on the door, “Hello? Is anyone in there naked?”
“Miss Biz!?” Fake Phil was scandalized.
“It is infinitely better to ask that than to walk in unsure. Particularly when you’re dealing with old men who may be hard of hearing and missing of trouser in the afternoon.”
There was no answer, so Biz turned the handle and pushed open the office door. The phone stopped ringing, but there was a weird buzzing in the air. An afterring, of sorts. It felt old, and Biz immediately wished she could take a shower.
“Miss Biz, look!” Fake Phil was pointing at an armchair in the corner of the room, where sat an old man who appeared to be asleep. There was a key sticking out of his chest, where his clockwork pacemaker sat in his chest. The room was eerily quiet in the aftermath of the ringing phone.
“Why is it so quiet?” mused Biz aloud. “If he’s got a clockwork pacemaker, it should be making a very offputting background noise at all times. Oh god Phil, he’s wound down!”
In two strides Biz was across the room and winding Hector’s pacemaker.
“Thrrrrkkkk…. Thrrrrkkkkk…. Thrkkkk”
“Bloody hell,” thought Biz, “this is exhausting. I am horribly unfit, and this man might be dead. I should get a personal trainer app.”
Suddenly the pacemaker caught, and Hector awoke with a start.
“Bloody hell, George, I told you- wait a minute… Red hair, no beard, small breasts… you’re not George! Unless… how long have I been out? What year is it? ARE YOU SOMEHOW GEORGE? GEORGE!?!”
“Settle down, mister, I’m not George. I’m Biz, and this is Phil…” Biz indicated Fake Phil and Hector screamed in horror.
“YOU?! That metal monstrosity from the Uptodateum!? Get over here and let me rip your insides out and wear them as NOTHING because you are USELESS you bucket of shitty bolts!!”
Biz jumped between the cowering Fake Phil and the blustering walrus man.
“Woah, woah, woah! Calm down, we’re here for your help...”
“See, Miss Biz” warbled Phil from the far corner, “this was a terrible idea. He’s going to take my hearts again!”
“I will EAT YOUR HEARTS AND SHIT THEM OUT! I would have got the funding if it wasn’t for you stealing it from underneath me!” Hector bellowed.
“We didn’t steal your funding!” Biz bellowed back. Hector looked at her in consternation, and she continued, “We don’t have any funding at all. That’s what we’re here for. I wanted to ask you how you’ve been able to keep this old place from closing for so long.”
Hector laughed bitterly. “Oh that’s a bloody good joke. Keep this old place from closing? Hahaha. Hahah. Aha. Ha.”
Biz threw Fake Phil a worried glance. This old man was clearly insane.
“I tried to keep it afloat, I did. I had all number of brilliant schemes and plans… oh the plans… they were so very cunning. Then something happened that I hadn’t planned for,” the telephone began to ring again, making Biz jump out her skin, “I fell in love. Oh yes, I had set out just to scam Mayor Pinch and steal the funding… but she was so beautifully cruel and unusually dry in so many ways… what could I do but FOR GOD’S SAKE ANSWER THE PHONE, GEORGE!”
They stared at the door. No George.
“I have to do EVERYTHING myself, don’t I? What is the POINT of having a young single father around the house if he won’t be here to answer to my every beck and call and WHAT THE HELL DO YOU WANT?” These last words were directed into the phone.
Biz couldn’t hear what was happening at the other end of the line, but she could see what was happening to Hector’s face. It went from puce with rage, to chartreuse with delight. His not-inconsiderable eyebrows shot up to where his hairline may once have been and his eyes darkened as he gasped into the phone, “Darling…. Oh, my venomous, vicious, viscus darling…”
“Phil”, whispered Biz, “let’s get the heckings out of here.”
He did not need to be asked twice, particularly when the unnecessarily sloppy phone kissing began.
“Bleugh” shuddered Biz, as they walked down the stairs. “That was … indelible.”
“And quite unhelpful, Miss Biz. He didn’t give us any advice at all.”
“No. No he didn’t. Bui I get the feeling that he wasn’t necessarily the one keeping this place going. We need to find this George fellow, Phil. And soon.”
Fake Phil nodded enthusiastically.
“But, where is this George fellow?” He wondered aloud.