Pipes of War
Chad zipped up his flies and did his usual little post-wee whistle. He was a young, handsome guy, dressed in trendy clothes. A hipster type that was too cool to call himself a hipster.
‘See you out there,’ he said to his friend, who was still in the middle of relieving himself at the urinal. Chad made his way towards the door, heading back out into the crowded shopping centre to continue buying things he didn’t need but could afford. He eyed himself up in the mirror as he passed, admiring his reflection with a self-assured grin. However, as he turned to grab the door handle, a hand suddenly reached out and slammed against the door, pushing it shut. Slowly and silently, the hand reached down and turned the lock, trapping the three of them inside.
Chad stumbled back in surprise and watched as the mysterious doorman stepped out of the shadows. He was a tall, well-built man dressed in a blue shirt and jeans, along with a pair of marigold gloves and a matching yellow bed tied around his neck. But most surprising was his face, or rather the lack of one. His head was completely concealed in toilet paper, wrapped around like a modern-day mummy, with only a small gap showing his dark eyes, staring menacingly at Chad.
‘Yurph durphum rursh yurh hurph,’ mumbled the man.
‘Wh-what?’ asked Chad, a slight quiver in his voice.
‘Yuph durph… hurph urmph,’ he raised a gloved hand and pulled a bit of the toilet roll away from his face to reveal his mouth. ‘You didn’t wash your hands,’ he said in a deep, gruff voice.
Chad stood up a bit more, some of his confidence returning after hearing the less than threatening accusation. ‘Yeah, so what?’
‘Don’t you know there’s a virus going around,’ said the man. ‘You’re spreading your germs with all those people out there.’
‘Who cares? I ain’t got no virus,’ said Chad, moving forward to try and push past the crazy man.
However, the crazy man stopped him and pushed him back with a surprisingly strong shove.
‘You might have it and not know it!’ he shouted angrily. ‘You could pass it on to anyone! And even if you don’t, you’ll still be spreading around your germs! Now wash your hands!’
‘Hey, leave him alone freak!’ came a voice from behind. Chad’s friend – who had been struggling to finish at the urinal while all this was going on – ran forward and took a swung at the man. Little did he know, the masked man was actually an expert in several martial arts. He dodged the swinging arm and threw his own punch in the kid’s face, knocking him back down onto to the floor.
‘Now wash your hands!’ he repeated to Chad.
‘Or what?’ said Chad, still not deterred by the sight of his friend lying on the floor with blood gushing from his nose.
‘Or I’ll…’ but the man was interrupted by the sound of ringing. It was coming from his pocket. ‘Aww man, not now.’
He reached into pocket and pulled out a pair of handcuffs. In a swift movement, he grabbed Chad and cuffed him to the tap. From his other pocket, he pulled out his phone and answered it.
‘Hello… oh hi mum… my voice? … oh, uh, I have a sore throat … yeah, I will… okay, I’ll pick some up and drop them off later … okay, mum I’ve got to go now … no, I don’t care about the woman next door, look I’ve got to go … okay, bye mum … yes, I love you too … bye.’
The man pocketed his phone and turned back to Chad, who just looked on in bemusement.
‘Okay, so where were we?’ the man asked.
‘Well, you’d just punched my friend and then you cuffed me to this tap,’ said a scared Chad.
‘Oh yeah. Right, now are you going to wash your hands, or are we going to have to do this the hard way?’
Chad gulped. ‘What’s the hard way?’
‘I cut off your hands and wash them myself.’
‘Ha, with what?’
Cap pulled back his cape to reveal what was clipped to the left side of his belt.
‘A pack of wet wipes?’ asked a confused Chad.
‘Huh? Oh, sorry. New belt,’ said Cap. He pulled back the cape on the other side to reveal a large pair of secateurs attached to his belt.
Chad let out a little squeal. ‘I’ll wash them, I’ll wash them!’
He fumbled around and managed to turn on the tap that his wrist was still cuffed to. He rinsed his hands under the water, smiling nervously at the man, looking desperately for approval.
‘With soap,’ said the masked man sternly. ‘All over.’
Chad nodded frantically. ‘Of course,’ he said, as he covered his hands in a ridiculous amount of soap and washed them as thoroughly as he could.
‘Good. Now make sure you do that every time you finish in the toilet,’ he said, talking as if Chad were a little schoolboy learning for the first time.
‘I will, I promise,’ said Chad. ‘C-can I go now?’
The toilet roll-covered stranger nodded his toilet paper-covered head and uncuffed Chad, who promptly ran out of the toilets. The masked man heard a groan and looked down at the floor, where the young teen was still lying clutching his nose.
‘Hey! You forgot your…’ he called after Chad. ‘Ah forget it.’
He pulled the toilet paper back over his mouth and headed to the door. As he was leaving, the kid on the floor sat up.
‘Uh mister… who are you?’ the boy asked.
‘Irf cupfhuhn cruuhm,’ mumbled the man.
‘Huh?’ he replied.
He pulled the toilet roll away from his mouth and repeated, ‘I’m Captain Clean.’
* * *
An unspecified number of years later…
It was early and so was he. Martin Daley paced the corridor, running through his presentation one last time. Today was the day he finally gave his pitch to the head of product development at LoTech, Filtham’s largest technology company – “why settle for high tech when you can have LoTech” as their advert proudly boasted.
Martin had been working on his presentation for weeks and he knew that if he pulled it off, he would get the promotion he so desperately wanted and felt he deserved. He checked his watch. 8:54am. He still had 6 minutes until the meeting. As he leaned against the wall and rehearsed his pitch for the 17th time that morning, a familiar face came around the corner. Victor Timm, his colleague and arch-nemesis. Victor had joined the company at the same time as him and it hadn’t been long before a rivalry was born. He was the sort that did very little and showed no respect, but somehow managed to succeed at everything. He won all his pitches, got all the bonuses and copped off with all the new girls at the Christmas party. And now he was trying to take Martin’s promotion from him too.
‘Oh, you’re going for the job too?’ said Victor, pretending he hadn’t found out a week before from Janet from HR while they were making out in the stationery cupboard.
‘Yes,’ said Martin, clutching his folder a little tighter but still trying to appear unfazed.
‘Well, good luck I guess,’ he said with a smirk. ‘You’re gonna need it.’
‘Damn straight I am!’ said Martin in a strangely confident tone.
Victor was interviewing after Martin, so he went into the toilet to relieve himself first. After he’d done his business, he sauntered over to the taps. Rather than wash his hands, he checked himself out in the mirror and adjusted some individual strands of hairs that were covered in a thick layer of gel. Had he not been so focussed on admiring his perfectly combed hair, he would’ve heard the faint crackle as a flaky crust started to grow at a rapid pace around the taps.
The counter began to shake a little and cracks started forming, gradually growing out from the sink along the worktop. Victor continued to be oblivious to what was going on below him, far too interested in his own reflection. He smiled at himself in the mirror and gave a cheeky wink. At the precise moment the mirror caught his wink, the sink below him suddenly gave way, collapsing in on itself and pulling the taps down with it into the hole below.
Victor jumped back and let out a high-pitched scream. He panicked and made a run for the door, but the collapsing ground around him pulled him down and he felt a sharp set of claws rise up and grab his leg. He screamed and shouted, crying out for help.
Outside, Martin became alerted to the tumultuous fracas coming from inside the toilets. He wasn’t usually one to put himself in any kind of danger, but knowing who was inside, he felt he had to at least check it out. He tried to open the door, but something was jamming it from the inside. He pushed and kicked it with all his strength – which wasn’t much – and eventually the door gave way, pushing aside the rubble that was blocking its path.
Martin peered in just in time to see the grotesque, grainy claw pull Victor down into the hole where the sink was. He stood aghast as Victor’s screams slowly faded away. Martin stumbled backwards out of the toilets and fell into the corridor. He was terrified by what he’d seen and didn’t know what to do.
At that moment, the meeting room door opened and one of the senior members of staff came out to get him.
‘We’re ready for you Martin,’ said the interviewer.
‘Wh… but… in the… Vic… and the…’ he stuttered, still in shock.
‘It’s okay, there’s nothing to worry about,’ the man said, taking Martin’s arm and guiding him into the boardroom. ‘Everyone gets nervous before an interview.’
He led Martin inside and closed the door behind them.
In a secret base on the second floor of the Filtham community centre, Clifford Cane was sat at his desk, reading a book that offered ’31 new ways to use a broom’. Suddenly, a knock on the door disturbed the silence. A woman poked her head around the door. She was dressed smartly, in a white top and purple skirt, and had long brown hair.
‘We’ve got another one Cliff,’ she said.
Clifford looked up excitedly, happy for some action after a boring few days. ‘Where?’ he asked.
‘The LoTech building,’ she told him. ‘The police report says he witnessed a man disappear down a sink.’
‘Is he still there?’
‘No, he disappeared down a sink.’
‘I mean the witness.’
‘No, the police sent him home and passed his number on to a local psychiatrist.’
‘Great, I’ll pay him a visit.’
‘No, the sink man,’ he grumbled.
‘Ah, shame,’ she muttered to herself.
Clifford walked over to a machine on the wall. He pushed a button and a roll of what looked like toilet paper popped out. He took the roll and started wrapping the paper around the top half of his head.
You see, Clifford was better known as Captain Clean – or Cap to his friends – the leader of the Sanitary Squad. The squad was a group of ‘grime fighting heroes’, set up and funded by the council, that dealt mainly with sanitation themed crimes. For some reason, there seemed to be a lot of sanitation themed crimes going on in the city. People suspected it may have been in direct response to the Sanitary Squad forming, but nobody really said anything, as very little else happened in the city and it was something exciting to watch on the news instead of annoying celebrities cheating on each other with even more annoying celebrities.
The woman was Dr Jean Wilkes – known professionally as HyJean – and she was the brains behind the squad. She was gifted when it came to technology, science and pretty much anything that she put her brilliant mind to. With several degrees and a wealth of experience working at some of the top scientific researchers, she was arguably overqualified for the squad, but that didn’t stop her. Since she’d mentioned in her interview that she owned a computer, she was put in charge of monitoring the criminal activity in the city using a series of computers that lined one of the walls in the base.
Like most of the squad’s equipment, HyJean had developed the captain’s toilet paper mask, making it out of a special material so that it was extra durable and waterproof. She’d also advised him to remove the bottom so that he could be heard more clearly – a decision which she later came to regret.
The captain was dressed in his usual blue shirt with blue jeans and yellow boots. He would’ve liked a professional uniform for his squad, but their budget from the council only allowed them the luxury of a few accessories to spice up their everyday clothes. His included a yellow cape made of a special stain-resistant micro-fibre cloth, leather marigold gloves and a belt that had a buckle with a water droplet insignia on. This was the squad’s logo, although the design was less by choice and more because he’d seen the belt buckles going cheap at a car boot sale.
He then moved over to a row of sticks that were hung on the wall. Each had a different appendage on the end, including a toilet brush, a pair of plungers and a short mop. They looked like ordinary cleaning tools, but again, HyJean had modified them to make them more useful. The toilet brush had metal bristles that were very painful when smashed against your face – as the captain had accidentally found out the first time he used it – the plungers had enough suction for someone to easily climb a wall, and the mop could spin at an alarming speed that was enough to lift someone a few inches off the floor. Today, Captain Clean opted for the toilet brush, which he retracted and clipped to his belt. He probably wouldn’t need it, but it made him feel safe and he though it made him look cool.
‘You got the address?’ he asked HyJean.
‘Sort of,’ she replied, handing him a small note. ‘I’ve found out what street he lives on, but not which number. I’m afraid you’ll have to do this one the old-fashioned way.’
‘Thanks,’ the captain sighed. ‘While I’m out, see what else you can find in the media that might be of some use.’
On the way out, the captain passed a small office with an older, grey-haired woman sat inside, tapping at a computer. Her desk piled high with papers, hiding the small plant that was so desperately craving sunlight. The woman was Mary Goldman, the squad’s secretary in charge of admin. Being a council-funded operation, there was often a lot of paperwork (invoices for damages, purchase orders for new equipment, expenses, etc.) so Clifford had hired Mary to take care of it all.
‘Can you cancel my 1 o’clock lunch appointment please Mary, I’m going out.’
‘You haven’t got a 1 o’clock lunch appointment,’ she replied.
‘Really?’ asked a bemused captain, ‘Why not?’
‘I cancelled it when I saw Jean going into your office.’
‘You’re far too good Mary.’
‘I know,’ Mary smiled as the captain left.
Captain Clean stood at the top of New Old Road and wondered which side to start on. The police would have already visited Mr Daley, because they knew where everyone lived – they were nosey like that. The captain had asked for access to their databases before, but apparently giving out personal data to strange people who run around in silly outfits wasn’t something the chief of police was very keen to do. HyJean had suggested trying to hack their system to get the data, but the captain was insistent that they shouldn’t do that as it was “probably illegal”.
‘Might as well start with number one,’ Captain Clean said. He marched up to the first door on the left side of the road and knocked on it. While he waited, the captain noticed that the door knocker was quite dirty, so he pulled a cloth out from a pocket on his belt and gave it a quick wipe. After a short wait, the door opened to reveal a rather jittery man who appeared to be 50 years old, although he’d actually been wearing the 50th birthday badge for over 2 years now.
The resident of the house was surprised to find a strange-looking man polishing his door knocker.
‘Oh, hello,’ said Captain Clean, suddenly spotting the man at the door and hiding his cloth. ‘Are you Martin?’
‘No, I’m Brian,’ replied Brian in a nervous tremor. ‘Why? Who sent you? Is this to do with the courgettes again?’
‘No, no. I’m with the council. I’m looking for a Mr Martin Daley. I don’t suppose you know where he lives do you?’
‘I don’t know anything!’ shouted the nervous Brian before slamming the door in the captain’s face.
Cap made a little note in his notebook: 1 New Old Road – suspicious nutter.
He carried on down to 3 New Old Road and once again knocked on the door. This time a little girl, no more than 6 years old, opened the door.
‘Hello little girl, does anybody called Martin live here?’ he asked.
‘I’m not supposed to talk to strangers,’ she replied.
‘I’m not a stranger,’ he said. ‘I’m Captain Clean and I’m –’
‘Your outfit is pretty strange,’ she interrupted.
‘No it’s not, I’m a superhero.’
‘Really? Can you fly?’
‘Well… not per se.’
‘What does that mean?’
‘It’s a fancy way of saying no.’
‘Oh. Can you shoot lasers from your eyes?’
‘Can you run faster than a speeding bullet?’
‘I don’t think so, but I’ve never really tried.’
‘So, what powers do you have?’
‘Um… a thirst for justice and a brown belt in karate, ju jitsu and kick boxing.’
‘My brother’s got a black belt in karate.’
‘Alright love, it’s not a competition.’
At this point, the girl’s mother came to the door to see who her daughter had been talking to. She was not exactly pleased to see it was a man whose face was wrapped in toilet paper.
‘Ah, hello madam,’ said Captain Clean, ‘I was just speaking to your daughter.’
‘About what?’ asked the worried mother, ‘Who are you?’
‘It’s alright mum, I’ve got it,’ said the girl. ‘We don’t know anyone called Martin, now clear off you dirty old perv!’
And with that the girl slammed the door in his face.
Captain Clean had to admit that he wasn’t off to a great start, and his next few attempts didn’t go too well either. But eventually, after knocking on 32 doors on the left side of the street, he did find someone who knew where Martin lived. As it transpired, Martin lived at number 2 New Old Road – the first house on the right side of the street. Oh, how the captain cursed when he found that out.
* * *
Martin was surprised to see a man who looked like he’d just come from a fancy-dress party standing on his doorstep.
‘Can I help you?’ he asked.
‘Are you Martin Daley?’ asked Captain Clean.
‘Yes,’ Martin replied.
‘Thank god for that,’ he sighed. ‘I’m here to talk about your hand.’
‘My hand?’ Martin asked with a bemused look, instinctively feeling his left hand with his right as if it were about to fall off.
‘Yes, the hand you saw snatch Mr Timm,’ the captain explained. ‘May I come in?’
Martin invited the captain into his living room and went off to make him a cup of tea. The costumed hero sat on the sofa, looking somewhat out of place in a council house living room trying to avoid the small dog that was sniffing his gloves. He’d always held the view that pets – and animals in general – were highly unsanitary and not to be trusted. After a few minutes, Martin returned with the tea and a plate of biscuits. The captain would neither drink the tea nor eat the biscuits, as he could not be certain how clean Martin’s kitchen was.
‘Get off the sofa, you daft bugger,’ Martin said as he entered the room.
‘Oh, sorry’ said the captain, standing up.
‘Not you, the dog,’ Martin clarified.
Martin moved the dog away from the captain and sent him off to play in the garden. The captain sat back down and began his investigation.
‘How are you feeling, Mr Daley?’ he asked.
‘I’m fine thanks,’ Martin said cheerily. ‘How are you?’
‘I’m hungry Mr Daley.’
‘Oh, would you like some biscuits?’
‘No, Mr Daley,’ Cap said, now leaning in more seriously. ‘I’m hungry for the truth.’
‘Oooh,’ said Martin, who had been drawn into the theatrical nature of the costumed man’s demeanour. ‘If you don’t mind me asking, who are you exactly? You’re not a Jehovah’s Witness are you?’
‘My name is Captain Clean. I’m a grime fighter with a group called the Sanitary Squad – we investigate this sort of phemon… pheromemom… phe… strange goings on,’ he explained. So, tell me about what happened to the man, Mr Timm, who went into the toilets.’
‘Well he went in to go for a slash and it was quite normal for about a minute, just the usual sounds you know.’
Martin paused and raised his eyebrows. The captain nodded to show that he knew what sounds men usually make when they go to the toilet.
‘Did he wash his hands while he was in there?’ asked Cap.
‘I don’t think so, I didn’t hear the tap. I just heard this crashing and screaming,’ Martin continued, ‘I went inside to have a look and the sinks had been destroyed and he was being pulled down into the hole.’
‘Was there anyone in the toilets before your colleague entered?’
‘Not that I know of.’
‘Did you see what the hand looked like?’
‘… Would you care to tell me?’
‘Oh, sorry. Well, it was horrible. There were four fingers and a thumb, like a human hand, but they were long and thin, like talons they were. And the skin was a dirty grey, all flaky and patchy. It was like something out of them alien films.’
‘I doubt this is an alien invasion.’
‘But that’s what they always say, in the films, right before an alien invasion.’
‘This isn’t a film Mr Daley, it’s real life.’
‘They say that as well,’ said Martin, getting more and more worked up.
‘Mr Daley, there’s nothing to worry about.’
‘That’s always their last words right before they’re killed!’ He stood up and started pacing around, jittery at the thought of an impending alien invasion.
The captain picked up his cup of tea and flung its contents in Martin’s face.
‘Mr Daley, calm down!’
‘Sorry, I’m a bit nervy when it comes to aliens,’ he explained as he sat down. He wiped his tea-soaked face with a biscuit and then ate it. ‘I was attacked by someone in an ET costume when I was young. Never liked them since.’
The captain continued to ask a few more questions and then sat in thought for a moment. Martin drummed his fingers on the chair, a little unsure what was happening and whether to interrupt the captain’s musings to offer him more tea.
‘One last question Mr Daley, has there been any other unusual activity in the building recently?’
‘I don’t think so. I mean, the printer kept jamming last Tuesday, but I don’t think that’s got anything to do with it.’
‘No, it doesn’t,’ The captain said as he stood up to leave. ‘Thank you, that’s all for now.’
‘Are you sure you wouldn’t like a biscuit?’ asked Martin.
‘Give mine to the dog,’ the captain replied.
‘But he doesn’t like rich tea.’
‘Then he will enjoy it just as much as I would.’
When Captain Clean arrived back at the base, he was greeted by Sergeant Suds; a man several years older than the captain, but much more muscular. Mick Goldman, as he was known outside of work, was married to Mary, but had joined the squad a few months before her. He had originally signed up to the army, but a mistake on his form meant he’d signed up to be a cleaner rather than a soldier. He spent a few years there, cleaning the barracks and longing for more action. This was also where he’d earned the name Sergeant Suds from the soldiers who he’d become friends with. When he left the army, he joined the squad and used the skills he’d learned in the army to help fight grime.
Suds had been out in the morning on the patrol, walking the streets and keeping an eye out for any trouble. There hadn’t been any trouble today though. There never was on a Tuesday, which the captain suspected was why Suds had picked that day to do his shift.
‘Any trouble Mick?’ asked Captain Clean.
‘Not today,’ he replied as he removed his fake grey goatee beard, which he wore partly as a disguise and partly because he’d never been able to grow an actual beard and liked how he looked with the fake facial hair.
‘I’m sure we can fix that,’ the captain said, with what almost appeared to be a smile. Captain Clean was always very serious about what he did and rarely had time for fun, but he had known Suds for several years and was the nearest thing he had to a friend, so occasionally he would allow a glimpse of dry humour to sneak through.
The captain headed over to the furthest wall of the base where HyJean was sat at the row of computers. She had clearly had a busy afternoon, as there were several mugs of coffee on her desk. People were able to measure how busy or stressed HyJean was by how many mugs were on her desk and how neatly or randomly they were arranged. A couple of mugs in a neat row was a fairly quiet morning, but half a dozen mugs spread around the desk was a hectic one.
‘What did he say?’ HyJean asked the captain without even looking around.
‘Not a lot, pretty much what was in the report,’ he replied.
‘Good job I stayed here then,’ she smirked. ‘I’ve got a few things to show you.’
The captain and Suds stood before HyJean as she rolled around on her swivel chair presenting her findings.
‘There’s been a few reports of toilets being trashed and they all correlate with people going missing. The victims are generally people in high powered jobs in specific industries, such as engineering and mechanics, so my guess is this person’s building something and is kidnapping people with expertise.’
She rolled the chair over to the next computer and continued.
‘This isn’t the first time it’s happened at LoTech, but the first time it was kept hush, with the police writing it off as an act of vandalism.’
She rolled over to another computer at the other end of the desk.
‘There have also been several tweets with people complaining about strange noises coming from underground, but the council have checked the sewers and there’s nothing odd down there.’
‘Interesting,’ said the captain. ‘Jean, I think we should start by checking out the LoTech building, see what we can find.’
‘Okay, but can we go after lunch? I’m starving,’ asked HyJean.
The captain agreed. He’d not eaten either and was even regretting not taking one of Martin Daley’s biscuits, so he sent Mary to the local café to get some sandwiches for the rest of the team while he had one he’d prepared at home. Captain Clean rarely ate food he hadn’t prepared himself, as he didn’t trust the hygiene levels of kitchens he couldn’t see, and it had become embarrassing being repeatedly thrown out of restaurants for insisting on inspecting the kitchens.
* * *
With their bellies full, Captain Clean and HyJean now stood outside the LoTech building. The entrance was blocked off, with police cars, policemen and intrigued people who were not affiliated with the police all looking on at the crime scene through mobile phones, hoping to catch a bit of gossip to tell their friends later.
‘How are we going to get in?’ asked HyJean.
‘Is there a back entrance?’ asked Cap.
‘I don’t know, I’ve never been here before.’
‘Didn’t you check before we came out?’
‘Of course not. I didn’t know it was going to be cornered off, did I?’
‘Fine, then I’ll need you to create some sort of distraction so I can sneak in.’
‘Hold on, why are you going in?’
‘No offence, but as the resident scientist, I think I’d be better off going in. I can analyse the wreckage and take any samples I might need.’
‘Offence taken, and I’m still going in,’ said Cap firmly. ‘Now help me create a distraction.’
HyJean thought for a moment and then had an idea.
‘Okay, take your mask and cape off and go into the crowd. Make out like you’ve spotted something and start shouting to get people’s attention. Then I’ll jump out and pretend to fight it off, while you slip into the building.’
‘Good idea,’ said Cap, taking off his cape and mask sticking them under his shirt, making it look like he had a large pot belly. ‘I think I can do that.’
Cap slipped into the crowd and began his theatrics. He pointed in the opposite direction down the road and started shouting. ‘Oh my god, look! There’s a giant robot heading this way! Somebody stop it!’
As he’d hoped, everybody turned to see where the imaginary giant robot was. Not-as-he’d-hoped, HyJean then snuck inside the building, leaving a desperate Cap to try and explain to annoyed onlookers why there was no giant robot down the street.
‘Idiot,’ HyJean muttered as she entered the building and made her way up to the 6th floor, where she’d read the creature had appeared. Rather than try to sneak around and keep hidden, she just confidently walked straight to the toilets, where she saw a familiar face. At the door was a short, portly police officer with a scraggly beard.
‘Officer Down!’ called out HyJean.
‘What? No! Where?’ the police officer cried, jumping to the floor and pulling out his gun.
‘Put the gun down, Sid, I’m talking to you,’ HyJean said with a roll of her eyes. ‘Come on, get up.’
‘Oh, sorry,’ said Officer Down. He chuckled as he stood back up and put his gun away. ‘Easy mistake. Still, I’m sure I’ll get used to it once I’ve been in the job a while.’
‘You’ve been saying that for the past 2 years.’
‘Oh? Has it been that long. Well, doesn’t time cry… uh, fly.’
‘Hm, yes. Anyway, I’m here to inspect the crime scene.’
‘But you can’t, nobody’s allowed in. Chief’s orders.’
‘He’s given me clearance, that’s why I’m up here. Ask him yourself if you don’t believe me.’
‘Okay. Sorry, nothing personal, just more than my job’s worth,’ he said as he pulled out a pair of handcuffs and put them to his ear. ‘Oops, wrong socket… uh, pocket.’
He pulled out his walkie talkie from the other pocket, but as he switched it on, a prepared HyJean swiftly flipped a switch on a nifty little device in her pocket that scrambled the signal to his walkie talkie.
‘I can’t get hold of him, I’ll have to go down and ask him,’ said the policeman. ‘Just wait here until I get back. And don’t touch any elephants… uh, evidence.’
Officer Sidney Down wasn’t the best that Filtham City Police Department had to offer – ranking somewhere just above the water cooler – but somehow he’d managed to keep his job on the force long enough to be in charge of a walkie talkie. He was a nervous man and was often prone to getting his words mixed up, much to the amusement of the other officers. Once he’d left to find his boss, HyJean, ignoring his orders, continued into the toilets. Her footsteps squelched and crunch as she made her way across the water and rubble that covered the floor.
‘Thanks officer, she said as she entered the room, fooling the policemen inside into thinking she’d been given permission. ‘Alright then lads, let’s take a look.’
Unsure what to do in the presence of a costumed lady, one of the policemen saluted, but the other one nudged him and told him to put his hand down. HyJean crouched down and inspected the great hole. She noted that, unusually, there were two sets of pipes leading up, one small pipe and another that was considerably wider than the other – almost big enough to fit a small human. She shone her light down and took a closer look at the larger pipe, which was lined with the remnants of a white, crusty substance.
‘That looks like limescale,’ she muttered to herself as she out a small scalpel and chipped off a bit into a little plastic bag. ‘I wonder how that got there.’
‘The plumber was surprised by that too,’ said one of the policemen.
‘Hm?’ asked HyJean.
‘They had a plumber out here to take a look,’ he explained. ‘And he said there shouldn’t be any limescale in the pipes because they’re not connected to the main water supply.’
‘He didn’t know what it was connected to,’ added his colleague. ‘We reckon there’s a monster in the sewers.’
‘Like a mutant snake, coming up to grab people.’
‘If it was connected to the sewers, it’d be part of the sewage pipework, by the toilets,’ HyJean pointed out. ‘So why build extra pipes next to the water supply pipes?’
As the two men contemplated their theory with this new information, HyJean heard a faint but familiar voice coming down the corridor.
‘I think that’s enough for now,’ she said, gathering her things and quickly exiting the toilets, running around the corner at the opposite end of the corridor to avoid being seen by the approaching policeman, who had now learnt that she didn’t have permission to enter the scene at all. She found a second set of stairs and swiftly left the building to rendezvous with the captain and return to the base.
‘Where is she?’ asked Officer Down.
‘Who?’ asked one of the policemen in the toilets.
‘The Sanitary Squad woman who was just in here.’
‘Oh, she’s gone.’
‘I think she got everything she needed though,’ added the other policeman.
‘You idiots, she wasn’t supposed to be in here,’ explained Officer Down.
‘Really? But she seemed so nice.’
‘Look, none of you mention this to the beef… uh, the chief,’ said Officer Down. ‘If he asks, we got rid of her straight away. Okay?’
The two policemen agreed to keep it quiet and went back to staring at the hole, pretending they knew what they were doing, when in actuality they were just passing time until they could go back down and declare their findings to be inconclusive.
* * *
As HyJean and Captain Clean arrived back at the base, they were greeted by Mary.
‘Cap, I’m glad you’re back. I’ve just had a call from a Dr Scope at the hospital,’ she informed them. ‘She’s asked if you can go see her urgently. They’ve had a patient in with some very unusual symptoms that she thinks you might be able to advise on.’
‘Okay,’ said the captain. ‘Jean, you’d best come too. You’re much better at this sort of stuff.’
‘What, talking to women?’ came a voice from behind.
The voice belonged to Will Armitage, better known as Flush. He’s the final member of the Sanitary Squad and has not featured until now because he was busy – not with fighting grime, but instead fighting profit margins. You see, Flush was only a part time hero, as he also had a part-time job in marketing at a local business. Flush saw himself as the cool one of the group, with a turtle-neck top and a spiky blonde wig that covered his naturally brown hair. His weapon of choice was an extendable whip that had been fashioned to look like an old toilet chain.
‘Ah Will, just in time,’ said the captain. ‘We’ve got a little trip we need you to go on.’
‘Ooh nice, where am I going today?’ he said, rubbing his hands together with an excited smile.
‘The library,’ grinned the captain.
Flush’s face fell. ‘The library?’
‘Yes, it’s a place where they store books,’ said HyJean.
‘I know what a library is!’ he groaned. ‘I checked a book out a few weeks ago as it happens.’
‘How’s that going by the way?’ asked Suds. ‘Have you found Wally yet?’
‘Shut up! I read proper books I do. Christopher Dickens, T.S. Lewis.’
‘A.A. Milne?’ suggested HyJean.
‘Ah no, that’s a trick one!’ said Flush. ‘He’s not an author. He’s the guy who invented the car breakdown service.’
‘Anyway!’ interrupted the captain. ‘I need you to go to the library and find the original plans for the LoTech building. HyJean found out they have two sets of pipework and nobody there seems to know why. If we can find out what the second pipe is doing there and where it leads, we might have a clue as to where to find our kidnapper.’
‘Mick, you’d better go with him,’ said HyJean, adding with a grin, ‘in case there’s any long words to read.’
Suds chuckled, while rolled his eyes. They gathered their things and promptly left for the library. Meanwhile, Captain Clean put his costume back on and HyJean set up a script on her computer to alert her of any mentions of sewers or toilet-related disappearances on social media.
‘Right,’ said the captain when he was ready, ‘if you’re ready to go I’ll give The Driver a call.’
As grime fighting heroes, the squad often had to travel across the city to investigate various incidents. Since they couldn’t afford their own car and the council were not willing to fund transport, they relied heavily on public transport or walking to grime scenes. For the longer trips, they used a regular taxi driver, although he wasn’t a “regular” regular taxi driver. He was more of an irregular taxi driver.
The Driver, as he was simply known, was a young Indian man who had modified his car to drive at incredible speeds, faster than any formula one car. Despite his laid-back attitude, he was also an expert driver, so he could dodge traffic perfectly and had a remote control that his hacker brother had made to change the traffic lights at his will. The council had given him permission to use his extraordinary driving abilities to chauffeur the Sanitary Squad around the city, as long as he drove normally at all other times. Which he did. Mostly.
‘Hi, yeah, we need a lift,’ said Captain Clean down the phone as they stood outside the community centre.
‘I’ll be there before you can say kaleidoscope,’ said The Driver.
‘Kaleidoscope?’ the captain said in a puzzled tone.
As soon as he had finished saying the word, a car whooshed into the car park and pulled up with a loud screech. A window rolled down and The Driver said, ‘Sorry I’m late.’
Captain Clean and HyJean set off in the taxi for the hospital, leaving Mary alone in her little office. Mary liked that she got to stay in the base on her own, because it meant she could play her music over the speakers. Today she opted for a bit of Black Sabbath.
‘Steffi, good to see you,’ said Captain Clean as he entered the patient’s room, heading straight for the antibacterial gel on the wall. He’d used every single gel dispenser on the way in, partly to keep his hands clean, but mainly to check they were all working properly after his complaints following his previous visit.
‘Thanks for coming, Captain, I’ve never seen anything like this before,’ Steffi said as she closed the door behind them and drew back the curtain, revealing the patient lying sedated on the bed. He was a young man whose entire body seemed to be leaking. There were several buckets around his bed catching the water, and more around the room that were full.
‘His name is Nelson Gush,’ Doctor Scope explained. ‘He was brought in a few days ago. We’ve not got much info on him as he can’t speak much and doesn’t remember anything, but he’s got an American accent, so we’re guessing he’s probably American. As for his condition, his body is secreting impossible amounts of water. At first we thought it was sweat, but the tests all say it’s just pure H2O. We tried to draw bloods, but every time we did, the only thing that came out was water. We’ve done all kinds of scans, but this is beyond anything I learnt at medical school. I thought, since you and your team deal with a lot of… weird things, you might be able to help.’
The captain looked at HyJean who was staring at the patient with a mixture of awe and bemusement. After a minute alone to discuss it, HyJean told the doctor that they would take the case, but they would need to take the patient back to their base where they had more suitable equipment and facilities. The doctor was unsure, but she eventually relented, and once the patient was awake, he agreed with a gargled groan.
They took Nelson back to their base, transporting him in a metal bathtub in the ambulance to contain the water. As they carried the bathtub through the ground floor of the community centre, the receptionist leaned over her desk to get a closer look. The weird world of the squad would often pass through the community centre reception – a lot of which could have gotten them kicked out – but fortunately the staff were quite naïve and would believe any old excuse, and HyJean was now an expert at excuses.
‘What’s up with him?’ the receptionist asked.
‘Uh, it’s a charity thing,’ HyJean lied. ‘He’s doing a sponsored tour of the city in a bathtub.’
‘Ooh, well do let us know the details and I’ll get the girls to do a whip round.’
‘Will do. Thanks, Carol.’
In the base, a now awake Nelson lay on a table in the shower room, where the water could run into the drains. It wasn’t the most ideal place for a medical examination, but it was practical and – like every inch of the base – it was clean. However, as Jean turned to prepare her equipment, he slowly slid down the table and landed on the floor with a thud.
Jean span around with a start. She offered to help Nelson up onto the table, but he insisted on doing it himself. He wearily dragged himself up and climbed on to the table as Jean continued to gather her equipment. However, before he could settle on the table, Nelson once again slid down the table and returned to the floor.
‘Yeah, I might need some help actually,’ he admitted.
After a few attempts, Jean eventually tied him down to keep him on the table. Nelson didn’t say much about it, as his mouth too was still drooling with water and he was already in pain. When Jean started her tests, he said even less, because he was once again sedated. After hours of tests and experiments, Jean explained the situation to the captain and then woke Nelson to explain it to him.
‘Okay, so based on the test results, you originally suffered from hyperhidrosis, which meant you sweated a lot anyway, but somehow it has been accelerated to an incredible rate. There were also a lot of unknown chemicals in your body which have diluted your blood to pure water. However, there are modified versions of the cells and minerals that blood usually contains, so your heart thinks this is normal and it’s managing to pump the water around your body as if it were blood and it’s performing all the same functions. Because there is no blood flow to your arms, you’re now getting transient paraesthesia – also known as pins and needles – but your body is getting confused and sending a signal to your brain that the body is overheating. The brain is then telling the body to sweat even more. However, your body can only produce water and since it cannot produce enough water on its own, it’s reacting with the elements in the air and you’re somehow able to produce extremely high volumes of water.’
‘Right, I didn’t understand any of that,’ admitted Nelson. ‘But just tell me one thing… can you help me?’
‘I think so, yes. I’ve also been drafting some plans and I may be able to build a device that can counteract the signal to the brain and stop you sweating water,’ HyJean explained. After a little pause, she added, “In fact, we may even be able to control it to produce water at will.’
‘Why would I want to do that?’ he asked.
‘Well, that’s what we wanted to talk to you about,’ said the captain as he pulled up a wet chair and sat down beside the table with a squelch. He’d removed his mask so as not to intimidate the patient. ‘From what Jean has told me, this cannot be fixed, but it can be controlled. If it is, you may be able to use it to your advantage.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well Nelson… we’d like you to join our squad.’
‘What, are you guys like a pop group or something?’
‘No, we fight sanitation themed crime and ensure the city is safe and clean. There is evil out there, Nelson; criminals and psychopaths who want to bring down this city, creating chemical weapons and spreading viruses to wreak havoc.’
‘Wait, what? How come none of this is in the news?’ asked a startled Nelson.
‘We try to keep a low profile,’ the captain explained.
‘Ha!’ came a laugh from the other side of the base. It was laughed by Mary, who was currently typing up the seventh invoice that month for repairs to broken windows caused by the team.
‘But we could really use someone like you on the team. Sure, we’ve got technology and enthusiasm, but you’ve got actual super-powers. Jean reckons she can create something that will enable you to increase the volume of water and fire it like a jet. This doesn’t have to be a burden, Nelson, you could do some real good.’
‘Wait, so what you’re saying is, you want me to become a superhero?’
‘Well… yes,’ said HyJean. ‘But it’s your decision and I want you to think about it, as there’s a lot of danger and responsibility involved in –’
‘Hell yeah!’ Nelson cheered. ‘Of course I’ll do it.’
‘Really?’ asked a surprised HyJean.
‘Lady, you had me at hyperhidrosis.’
‘Excellent,’ said Cap.
‘Wait,’ said Nelson as a thought suddenly occurred to him. “I don’t have to wear toilet roll on my head, do I?’
‘No, that’s my thing’ said Cap with a smirk. ‘Although you will have to have a shave; beards are terribly unhygienic.’
* * *
Meanwhile, in the public library, Flush and Suds – or Will and Mick, since they were dressed in their everyday attire so as not to attract any attention – waited at the reception desk for the librarian to return.
‘I just don’t like libraries,’ whispered Will. ‘They creep me out.’
‘Really?’ asked a surprised Mick. ‘I know people don’t like hospitals and cemeteries, but libraries?’
‘Everyone’s got to be so quiet here and it’s all dark and dusty. And they’re letting you borrow books for free, what’s that all about? Nobody gives you stuff for free these days. And did you see that librarian?’
‘What about her?’
‘She was so polite and happy, she’s got to be hiding something.’
‘Oh come on, she’s just being friendly.’
‘No she’s not, she’s –’
‘Shh, here she comes.’
The librarian reappeared behind the desk wearing a smile that made Will furrow his brow in suspicion. She was a young woman, dressed smartly with glasses that made her look as intelligent as she was, and blonde hair that she wore in a bun. A name badge on her jumper – which she had seemingly made herself in an effort to make her appear less formal, decorated with drawings of hearts and flowers – identified her as Lily. She proudly presented two books; one quite old looking and the other much newer.
‘Here you go sirs, The LoTech Story and An Architectural History of Filtham City. Are you going to check them out or would you like me to find you a table where you can read them?’
‘We’d like to check them out please,’ replied Mick.
‘Certainly sir. Do you have your library card?’
‘Oh, um…’ Mick fumbled around, checking his pockets for his wallet, but to no avail. He turned to Will. ‘Have you got yours?’
‘Mick, I hate libraries. Why would I have a library card?’
‘I’m afraid I can’t let you take the books without a card,’ said the librarian.
‘Damnit, we’ll have to go and come back,’ Will sighed.
‘Is there anything you can do?’ asked Mick. ‘Our colleagues need to see these urgently and we don’t have time to go and come back. Please?’
Mick’s polite plea seemed to trigger something in the librarian. She gestured for them to lean in close. ‘I probably shouldn’t do this, but if you can bring them back by the end of the day, I’ll let you take them without scanning them.’
‘Yes! That’s bostin, thanks love,’ said Will.
‘You’re a lifesaver,’ said Mick, adding, ‘Possibly quite literally.’
The woman glanced around the room handed them the books. She only hoped they’d bring them back.
* * *
Back in the base, HyJean and Mick studied the two books, looking for any clues that might lead them toward some answers. Meanwhile, Flush had noticed some water trickling out from the door to the shower room and wandered over. He inched the door open and peered inside.
‘Uh guys, there’s a man in here and I think he’s really upset about something.’
‘Oh, no, that’s Nelson,’ said HyJean. ‘Don’t go in there, he’s sleeping.’
‘Well, it looks like he’s having a wet dream,’ he said with a smirk.
Captain Clean explained to his colleagues about their trip to the hospital and the prospect of Nelson joining the squad.
‘But who is he?’ asked Suds.
‘He’s uh…’ the captain started, suddenly realising that they knew very little about the American stranger that was currently lying in their shower room. ‘We don’t know. But he seems like a nice guy.’
‘Well, at least now Mick won’t be the biggest drip on the team,’ joked Flush.
But before Suds could respond, HyJean cried out, ‘I’ve got it!’
The squad all gathered around her as she showed them a page she’d found in An Architectural History of Filtham City.
‘There’s an old reservoir right under the LoTech building. It was damaged during the war, so they drained it and built a new reservoir a few miles away. This one was abandoned, but the LoTech building was built decades later, so whoever built it must’ve known about the old reservoir. But why connect the building to the reservoir if it’s out of use?’
‘I think I can answer that,’ explained Suds. ‘The architect of the LoTech building was one Jeremy Stains.’
‘I don’t like him already,’ Captain Clean muttered.
‘You’re right not to,’ said Suds. ‘I looked him up and he made the news. Not long after the building was built, there were reports of technology going missing. Turns out a group of them were smuggling things out and selling them to competitors, and Stains was involved from the start. He added in the pipes so that they could send stuff down the pipes to a secret underground location – I’m guessing the reservoir – to avoid being caught.’
‘How did they catch them?’ asked the captain.
‘One of them put it down the wrong pipe and when the plumbers came out, they found the other pipes.’
‘Well that explains it then,’ said Flush. ‘Someone’s found the reservoir and is using the pipes to kidnap people.’
‘But Cap said the guy saw a hand,’ Suds pointed out. ‘How would someone get up the pipes and be strong enough to drag someone else down?’
‘That’s a good question,’ said the captain. ‘And one which we’re going to find the answer to. Jean, is there an entrance to the reservoir?’
‘Um…’ she said, flicking through the pages. ‘Yes, there’s two, one either end. The nearest one is Snicket Street.’
‘Great, I suggest you take that one then,’ the captain told Suds.
‘Me?’ he protested.
‘Yes, we need to investigate the reservoir, but Jean and I have to look after our new friend.’
‘Actually, I’m alright on my own if you want to go,’ said HyJean.
‘No, no. I need to stay and oversee his progress,’ said the captain quickly. ‘You can take Will with you though.’
‘Oh bostin,’ said Flush. ‘I’ll get my wellies then, shall I?’
* * *
Underneath the streets of Filtham, Flush and Sergeant Suds made their way along the dark, dank tunnels of the secret underground reservoir. Their boots sloshed and squelched as they waded through the puddles of water that had dripped in through the cracks above. Rats scuttled by to check out the trespassers, eyeing them up for any valuables or cheesy comestibles. It was difficult to see much down there, but luckily Flush had brought a flashlight. He aimed it straight ahead and the light bounced off the curved walls and glistened on the dirty green water.
‘Jeez, it smells like my Nan’s armpits down here,’ said Flush.
‘Did you smell her armpits often?’ asked Suds.
‘Well, she used to get us in headlocks all the time. She was a tough old bird, big wrestling fan.’
As they turned a corner, Flush’s light caught a rat that stared up at them. A surprised Suds quickly aimed his gun and fired it at the poor creature, soaking it in a big blob of pink goo.
‘Dude, it’s just a rat!’ Flush pointed out.
‘Oh, well… can never be too careful,’ Suds said as he reached down and wiped some of the goo away to free the startled rat.
They continued down the dirty path and as they made their way around a bend, they suddenly saw something that shocked them. A man dressed in a white lab coat lay slumped against the wall, battered and bruised, showing no signs of life.
‘That’s an odd place to take a nap,’ said Flush.
‘I don’t think he’s sleeping,’ said Suds as he took a closer look. ‘I think he’s dead.’
‘Oh bugger, I hope not,’ Flush replied. ‘I’ll check his pulse.’
Flush knelt down and felt the man’s wrist.
‘Nothing,’ he said.
‘Are you sure,’ asked Suds.
‘Hang on, you hold this arm and I’ll try the other one,’ he said, handing Suds the detached limb he’d just been feeling. Suds looked at the severed arm with a mix of surprise and disgust.
‘We’ve got a pulse!’ cried Flush as he felt the man’s other arm. ‘He’s still alive!’
‘Phew. Quick, try and wake him up.’
‘Hello! Mister, can you hear me?’ asked Flush, tapping his cheek and shaking him roughly.
The man still lay motionless.
‘Wait a minute, he’s a science guy,’ said Flush, before shouting, ‘The theory of evolution has just been proven wrong!’
The man suddenly shot up with a startled gasp. He looked up at the two heroes that stood before him and muttered something in a panicked mumble.
‘Calm down sir, we’re here to help,’ said Suds.
The man continued to mumble and stutter, scuttling about where he lay.
‘Jeez, for a scientist he’s not very literate is he,’ said Flush.
The man suddenly started cowering as a shadow cast over them. He pointed up toward them.
‘Alright,’ said Flush, ‘I know Suds is ugly but he’s not that bad.’
‘N… n… no!’ he stuttered and gestured to behind where they were standing. ‘It’s him!’
Flush and Suds turned around and to their surprise, they saw a giant creature – definitely humanoid in shape, but at least ten feet tall and skinnier than any fashion model. His bare, grey skin was rough and had little patches of green and white in places. His face was grotesquely disformed, with a toothy sneer that made his face look like it was melting.
In a state of panic, Sgt Suds held up the man’s detached arm, mistaking it for his gun.
‘Stay back,’ he shouted, ‘I’m armed!’
The creature lifted one of his own skinny arms, with long bony fingers that looked more like talons, and in one foul swoop, he sent the two heroes flying, bouncing off the wall and down into the murky waters. They lay motionless, just as the lab coated man had mere minutes ago.
* * *
Back in the base, HyJean was busy working away, still running tests on her patient. As she took samples of Nelson’s ‘blood’ and analysed it on the computer, she smiled to herself. It wasn’t often she had an unconscious but handsome, naked man lying on a table for her. Although she was married, she still couldn’t help but engage in a bit of fun flirting with her unconscious, undeniably good looking patient.
‘Well Mr Gush, there’s nothing wrong with your abs I see,’ she giggled.
‘Thanks doc,’ Nelson said with a smile without opening his eyes.
HyJean jumped and let out a little scream. She stumbled back away from the table and ran out of the room. Nelson chuckled to himself as he lay on the table.
* * *
‘Morning cocker,’ said a cheery Flush, who’d clearly been awake for a while.
‘Hm? What? Where are we?’ asked a dazed Suds, looking around.
They were in a little alcove in a different part of the reservoir, both sat on chairs and tied to a large pipe that ran along the wall. It was better lit, and they could see there were computers dotted around the room outside, with people in dirty white lab coats and tattered suits operating them. The people didn’t look like they were there willingly. In the middle of the room was a giant square machine, with a few more people gathered around working on it.
‘Stretch Armstrong over there captured us and tied us up,’ Flush explained. ‘He’s not very good at tying knots though. I wriggled free of mine a while ago, but I didn’t want to leave you.’
‘Thanks,’ Suds said as he shuffled his hands and wriggled free of his own rope.
‘Right, shall we run?’ asked Flush.
‘No, wait. Let’s see if we can get him talking first, find out what he’s up to.’
‘Good idea, leave this to me. I’ve got a way with people.’
‘He doesn’t look like people,’ Suds said wearily.
Flush turned his attention to the creature who was fiddling with the big machine.
‘Excuse me mate!’ Flush called, attracting the creature’s attention. ‘Alright mucker, how you doing? Looking very smart today, you’re putting me to shame.’
The creature turned his head to them. He looked confused and angry at being interrupted.
‘Cut the flannel,’ whispered Suds.
‘Right,’ said Flush. ‘So, my friend Suds and I – this is Suds here, say hello Suds.’
‘Hello,’ said Suds with a little wave, before suddenly realising he’d shown his untied hand and quickly whipping it behind his back in the hopes that the creature hadn’t noticed.
‘Ahem, so uh… my friend and I were wondering – we’ve got a little bet on whether you’re human. I think you are, but he reckons you’re an alien. You’re not alien, are you?’
The creature slowly walked over to them, with long, heavy strides.
‘I was once human,’ he said. ‘They experimented on me in a lab and made me into this. But I will have my revenge.’
‘Right, I see, interesting,’ said Flush. ‘And how exactly will you get your revenge, if you don’t mind me asking?’
The creature looked Flush straight in the eyes and its face contorted in an attempt to portray a sinister grin.
‘They brought me down here and abandoned me when their experiment failed. But I have been gathering people to construct this,’ he said, pointing to the large machine in the middle of the room.
‘Oh yes, that’s a lovely bit of kit that,’ said Flush.
‘Very nice,’ added Suds. ‘But what does it do?’
‘You will see soon enough. That is if you don’t drown with the rest of the city.’
‘Oh dear,’ said Flush.
‘That doesn’t sound too good,’ said Suds.
The creature gave a little sinister cackle.
‘Now silence, I must continue my work,’ he said, turning to one of his workers. ‘Sedate them.’
One of the white coated men came over and with an apologetic shrug he sprayed something in their eyes which made them suddenly very drowsy.
* * *
Suds groggily opened his eyes, his head aching and his vision blurry. As the room came into focus, he turned to address his fellow grime fighter. However, to his surprise, he found himself quite alone. At first he panicked, thinking Limescale had taken Flush, but then he spotted a note stuck to the chair next to him, which he opened and read.
Meanwhile, back in the base, Flush was busy telling Captain Clean and HyJean what had happened over a bowl of cereal, which he had felt necessary to eat since he hadn’t eaten in a while.
‘So let me get this straight. This creature is capturing scientists to build some sort of machine and Mick is still trapped inside the reservoir?’ asked Captain Clean.
‘Yep,’ said Flush. ‘That’s about the size of it.’
‘What did he look like?’ asked HyJean.
‘He was a bit dazed, but I think he’s alright,’ Flush said as he munched on his cereal.
‘Not Suds! The monster man,’ the captain groaned.
‘Oh! Sorry. He was like… a giant stick insect that had mated with an out-of-date Twiglet. Actually, I got a photo of him on the way out for Instagram, look,’ said Flush, pulling up the photo on the phone to show the others.
‘Lovely,’ said HyJean with a grimace.
‘You put a photo of the creature on your Instagram?!’ asked the captain.
‘Of course not,’ said Flush, with a slight pause before adding. ‘I put it on the squad’s Instagram.’
‘We have an Instagram account?’ the captain asked Jean.
‘Apparently,’ she shrugged.
‘Anyway,’ continued Flush, ‘our followers chose the name Limescale as their favourite, so I think we should start calling him that.’
‘What do you mean, chose?’ asked the captain.
‘Well, while I was on the bus coming back, I put a few suggestions on there. Sink Smasher, The Piper and Limescale. Y’know, ‘cause Jean found all that limescale in the pipes.’
‘I think they might be onto something,’ said HyJean, who had been studying the photo closely. ‘It was definitely limescale in the pipes, and it looks like he’s covered in the same stuff.’
‘Maybe that’s how he’s getting up through the pipes,’ suggested the captain, as he started to piece together the parts of the puzzle in his head. ‘Controlling the limescale and using it to pull people down.’
‘That seems a bit farfetched,’ said Flush.
‘Yes, but Martin Daley said that the victim didn’t wash his hands before he was taken,’ said the captain, with a sudden burst of energy at the emerging realisation. ‘It all makes sense now.’
‘Does it?’ asked HyJean.’
‘Yes, this… Limescale,’ he said, making sure to do air quotes when he said the name to show he thought it was a silly idea to name the villain, ‘He’s been coming up the pipes in various places and taking people. The limescale – the stuff, not the creature – can grow up the pipe and snatch people; another perfect example why you should always wash your hands. If this man had washed his hands, the cold water would’ve repelled the limescale and he might still be alive.’
‘He is still alive,’ Flush pointed out. ‘Limescale’s got him working down in the reservoir.’
‘Right, yes, of course,’ said the captain, now pacing around overexcitedly. ‘So, what is Limescale planning?’
‘I don’t really know, he didn’t tell us much,’ admitted Flush.
‘Well what did he say?’ HyJean pressed.
‘He did say he was going to use this machine of his to flood the city.’
‘I think that’s pretty helpful information,’ HyJean said, a little frustrated.
‘This is serious, we have to stop him,’ said Cap.
‘And rescue Suds and the kidnapped people,’ added Flush.
‘Right,’ agreed the captain. ‘I’ll go down on the north side and try to distract him, while you two go down on the south side and rescue Suds and the others.’
‘What about the drip?’ Flush said, gesturing towards the shower room.
‘He’ll be okay for a few hours,’ said HyJean.
‘Okay, cool. I’ll just finish this and then get ready,’ Flush said, gesturing to his half-full bowl of cereal.
Captain Clean grabbed the bowl and threw it in a nearby bin. Flush sat shocked and pouted a little like a spoilt child who’d just had his favourite toy taken away.
‘There, you’re finished,’ the captain said. ‘Now come on.’
* * *
‘Urgh, it’s filthy down here. Someone should really come down and clean this place up,’ said Captain Clean as he made his way through the dark, murky tunnels. He winced as he took each step, wading through a stream of dirty water. He shone his torch ahead, the light bouncing off the curved walls and illuminating the endless damp corridor. As the captain moved further down, the light caught one of the reservoir rats, which looked startled and scuttled away, like it was escaping from a prison. Cap let out a little squeal at the sight of the rat and was glad that nobody was around to witness it.
Meanwhile, HyJean and Flush were making their way through their own tunnels, Flush leading the way as he confidently lied about remembering which way he’d come when he had escaped. Eventually they passed a wall that he recognised, which was surprising given how similar everywhere looked.
‘Right, it’s just down there,’ Flush said, pointing to a corner where flickering lights reflected off the walls. As they crept closer, they heard the noises of people working.
‘Okay, let’s wait here. Cap said he’ll text me when he’s in position,’ HyJean said. They waited for a while, and sure enough, less than a minute later, her phone vibrated with a text message from the Captain. There were no words, just one worried looking emoji.
‘Is that the signal?’ asked Flush.
‘Must be. Let’s go.’
They cautiously poked their heads around the corner and scanned the room. There was no sign of Limescale, just several dishevelled people nervously working at the computers. Captain Clean must have drawn him out, they thought. HyJean gave a nod and Flush quickly and quietly made his way over to where Suds was being held, while she headed to the nearest person working at a computer – who just so happened to be Victor Timm.
‘Shh, we’re here to help,’ whispered HyJean.
‘Oh, thank god,’ whispered Victor nervously. ‘I haven’t a clue what I’m doing with this, I’m just tapping away and hoping he doesn’t notice.’
‘It’s okay, Captain Clean is distracting Limescale while we help everyone escape,’ she explained. ‘You go and I’ll get the others.’
Victor Timm thanked her and joyously left his cold, damp prison. On the other side of the room, Flush was busy untying his friend.
‘Why did you go without me?’ asked a disgruntled Sergeant Suds.
‘Well, you were sleeping and you looked comfy, so I didn’t want to wake you,’ said Flush. ‘Anyway, how’ve you been?’
‘Oh, just fine thanks,’ said Suds sarcastically. ‘Aside from the freezing cold draft, the starvation and the constant threat of being killed by a giant raging monster, it’s been just spiffing.’
‘Alright, I said I was sorry.’
‘No you didn’t!’
‘Okay, well I’m sorry. Now keep your voice down.’
As Flush undid the final knot, there came a tumultuous grumble that echoed around the reservoir.
‘Blimey, you really are hungry,’ said Flush.
‘You!’ bellowed the familiar booming voice of Limescale, whose shadow now loomed over Flush, who gulped at the sudden realisation.
‘You are trying to escape,’ Limescale continued.
Flush turned around and, despite being terrified, tried not to be intimidated by the towering, spindly figure. ‘Actually, I’ve already gone and come back, mate. Did you not miss me?’
Evidently, Limescale did not take kindly to being taunted, and once again his large, tree-trunk of an arm swooped down on them. Flush dived out of the way and Suds’ chair was knocked over, with Suds still tied to it. Flush grabbed the chair that he had once been tied to and swung it at the rampaging monster, adding a cry of ‘Take a seat!’
It was not quite as good a weapon as he had hoped. The chair smashed into pieces and barely had any effect on Limescale.
‘Well that worked,’ groaned Suds, lying on sideways on the floor.
Back in the main part of the reservoir, HyJean was alerted to the noise coming from across the room. Hoping the boys could keep Limescale distracted for a while, she looked around to find the captain, who she assumed must have been helping the kidnapped victims or sabotaging the machine. However, she quickly learnt that Captain Clean was actually nowhere to be seen. She tried calling him on the phone, but there was no signal.
‘Typical,’ she muttered to herself, before heading over to join in the fight.
By the time she got there, Suds had gotten free of his restraints and had recovered his soap gun, which Limescale had carelessly left nearby. Flicking it to the highest setting, Suds fired it at Limescale’s grotesque face. The bubbling, sticky goo sizzled, and he cried out in frustration.
This momentary lapse gave the others time to attack in unison. Flush whipped out his whip and expertly tied up Limescale’s legs; Suds took a running jump and tackled him down onto the floor; and HyJean stabbed him with a sedative she’d prepared. They pinned the creature down and watched as he wriggled and writhed, splashing about in the small puddles of dirty water like a fish at a rave, and then gradually relaxed until he lay still.
‘That wasn’t actually too difficult,’ said Flush with a smile as he stood up and wiped his hands.
‘I know,’ agreed Suds. ‘We must be getting better.’
As if on cue, there came the sound of splashing footsteps and Captain Clean ran into the room, panting as if he’d just finished running a marathon. With his adrenaline levels already high, Suds reacted instinctively and span around, throwing a punch at the captain’s face and knocking him to the ground with a splash.
‘Oh crap,’ Suds said when he realised who it was he’d punched. He reached down and helped the captain up. ‘Sorry Cap, didn’t realise it was you.’
‘No worries,’ he said, shaking his cape to try and get some of the dirty water off, with very little success. He gestured down at Limescale. ‘You stopped him then?’
‘We sure did,’ said Flush proudly.
‘And where have you been exactly?’ asked HyJean.
‘I uh… I got lost,’ the Captain replied between pants, a little embarrassed.
‘Why are you so dirty?’ asked Suds.
‘I was… in the sewers,’ he mumbled.
‘I was in the sewers, okay!’ he shouted. ‘I went down the wrong hole and ended up in wandering about in the sewers.’
‘Didn’t you have your tracker app on?’ asked HyJean.
‘I thought I could navigate myself. Look, it doesn’t matter, I’m here now. What’s the situation?’
‘We nearly got killed because you cocked up the plan,’ said Flush.
‘Very helpful, thank you Flush,’ the captain replied.
‘We’ve sedated Limescale, but we’ve no idea what this machine does,’ explained HyJean, pointing to the big machine in the middle of the room, which had suddenly sprung to life, with lights flashing and gears grinding. The computer monitors were also in a frenzy, with graphs and text flashing all over the screen.
While the others checked out the machine, Suds wandered over to one of the computers. It didn’t make much sense to him, but suddenly the screen changed and several elements on it turned green,
‘complete’ notices indicating that the machine was now fully functioning and ready to do immeasurable damage.
‘Um, guys. This doesn’t look good,’ Suds said, calling them over.
‘Oh bugger,’ said Flash. ‘What’s it doing?’
‘I’ve got no idea, I’ve never seen anything like this before,’ said HyJean. ‘But I’m guessing it’s activated and ready to flood the city.’
‘Yeah, that’s definitely in the not good category,’ said Flush.
‘Right, let’s figure this out,’ said Captain Clean. ‘HyJean, take a look at the computers, see if you can shut it down. Flush, try and wake Limescale, see if we can get some answers out of him. Suds, help get those last couple of guys out. I’ll see if I can turn this thing off.’
HyJean rushed over to the row of computers, tapping at the keys, but after being abandoned for a while, the computers had gone into standby mode and required a password to get back in. HyJean typed LIMESCALE and hit enter. Nothing. LIMESCALE2. Nothing. LIMESCALE3. After a few more attempts at increasing numbered intervals, she suddenly had an idea. PASSWORD. It worked! She was in.
‘When will they learn?’ she muttered. She skimmed through everything on the screens and frantically began tapping and clicking to try and stop the process.
Meanwhile, Flush was busy slapping Limescale on the cheeks. ‘Helloooo! This is your morning wake up call! Come on you stupid twig, wake up!’ He leaned down and shouted into his ear, ‘WAKE UP! WE NEED YOUR HELP! WAKE UP DAMN YOU!’
Due to his size and abilities, HyJean had used her extra strong tranquiliser, which was proving very effective, as Limescale lay perfectly still, not even flinching. While his colleagues were trying their best to find answers and get people to safety, Captain Clean was pacing around next to the machine. Back and forth, muttering to himself.
‘What do I do? What do I do?’ he asked himself repeatedly. In a moment of frustration, he kicked the machine.
It clanked and whirred loudly and then… it stopped.
The lights flickered off. The dials slumped down to zero. The whole machine fell silent, and the computers turned red and stated the machine was inactive.
‘It’s stopped,’ said a bemused HyJean. ‘But… how?’
‘I found a way to uh… reroute the circuits to reverse the polarity of the…’ the captain began.
‘You kicked it didn’t you?’ she said with a frown.
‘… yes,’ he said with an embarrassed nod.
They had done it. They’d stopped the machine and saved the city from being flooded, as well as capturing the monster behind the evil plan.
‘Nice work,’ said Suds, as he joined them by the machine.
At which point Flush’s efforts suddenly paid off and Limescale burst to life, roaring and screaming. Flush flew off him and fell off him onto the floor with a thud. The three remaining grime fighters managed to run over and HyJean quickly sedated Limescale again. Cap managed to get a signal – which Limescale’s computers had been blocking to avoid his victims contacting anyone on the outside – and contacted the authorities to come and arrest Limescale and sort out dismantling his machinery.
* * *
A couple of days later, the male members of the squad, along with Mary, were gathered in the base discussing their new recruit.
‘Have you found out what happened to him?’ asked Suds, gesturing to the room where Nelson had been kept.
‘He said he was a volunteer test subject at some lab, but he can’t remember much,’ said Cap. ‘Whatever they did to him, it seems to have affected his memory.’
‘Wait, Limescale said some guys in a laboratory made him all crazy looking,’ said Flush. ‘Maybe it’s the same lab?’
‘Maybe, I’ll look into it,’ said the captain.
Before they could discuss it further, HyJean entered and gestured for them to be quiet.
‘He’s ready,’ she said.
The squad all turned their attention to her direction, and she beckoned for Nelson to come into the room. As he entered, the squad were surprised to see that he was no longer leaking. Dressed in just a pair of trunks with a pair of metal gauntlets on his wrist and a nervous smile on his face. The rest of the squad gave a little cheer.
Captain Clean stood up and shook Nelson’s hand, ‘Good to see you so dry.’
‘Yo Nelson, you look bostin mate,’ said Flush.
‘Thanks,’ said Nelson.
‘How do you feel?’ asked Suds.
‘Much better, thanks,’ Nelson smiled.
‘Now all he needs is an alias,’ said Catain clean, sitting back down at the table.
‘Why does he need a book of maps?’ asked Flush.
‘No, an alias,’ said the captain. ‘A hero name.’
‘He’s got a name, he’s The Drip,’ said Flush.
‘We’re not calling him The Drip!’ said the captain.
‘What about Moist Man?’ suggested Mary.
Flush burst out laughing at this suggestion, but Suds gently patted his wife’s arm and said, ‘No love, that sounds wrong.’
‘What about when you were in the lab, did you have a codename or anything?’ asked HyJean.
‘Yeah, I think… I think they referred to me as Project Tap,’ said Nelson. ‘I think the idea was that I would be able to turn it on and off at whim, but they never figured out how to turn it off.’
‘Hm, The Tap doesn’t sound very authoritative,’ said the captain.
‘Well in America, we don’t call them taps, we call them faucets,’ said Nelson.
‘Faucet huh?’ said the captain thoughtfully.
The squad all looked at each other and each of them smiled.
‘What, is that a rude word over here?’ asked Nelson, confused by their reaction to the name.
‘No. No, it’s not’ said HyJean.
‘But it sounds like a perfect name for a superhero,’ said Captain Clean.
‘Really? You like it?’ asked Nelson.
They all nodded in unison.
‘Awesome,’ he smiled. He punched the palm of his hand with his fist and in the coolest voice he could muster said, ‘Well in that case… Hi, I’m Faucet!’