Four Armadillos and a Jelly Mould
By Thorne & Co.
Part Four

In the ice cream parlour.

Peering between the forest of legs, Juggernaut barged his way into the parlour. Having arrived, however, he was at a loss for what to do next. This problem was soon replaced by another as a furious Baby Sinister appeared through the crowd and dived at him.

"How dare you knock down someone genetically superior," yelled the mad little scientist. He held out his arm to unleash a energy bolt, but instead of the devastating ray there was a disturbing dislocation in the air and Juggernaut fell to the ground squirming, scratching and laughing, pleading -

"No, please, stop tickling, stop it - I'll - I'll try not to knock you over again." Baby Sinister looked on in amazement, disappointment and a certain glee. Baby Mystique and Victor emerged from the crowd and observed Juggernaut's display. Raven turned to Nathaniel, a look of annoyance on her face.

"What have you done now?" she asked, scathingly.

Little Sinister glared back at her defiantly. "Stop being so bossy. I'm in charge," he said, hopefully. "Besides, he deserves it. He knocked me over. It's not my fault he's being strange ... at least I don't think it is."

"Whoever did it, it's pretty cool," commented Sabretooth. They watched as Juggernaut's wrigglings gradually subsided. He sat up, breathlessly.

"What happened? Did you do that? I kinda liked it. Can you do it again?"

"Hellooooo! Ice cream," Sabretooth reminded them subtly. The four looked up at the looming counter in front of them with awe.

"Woahhhh!" breathed Juggernaut. "Somebody order."

"I'll do it," said Sinister. He rapped on the panel beneath the counter. "Excuse me! We require your best ice cream. Is anyone serving?" he called up.

A spotty, long haired face peered over the counter. "Like, where's the din coming from, man?" asked a voice from behind the face.

"Dude! There's like a bunch of weirdo kids in party costumes down here. Hey, little dudes. Like find a table! And quit with the racket already! Go on - get out of here - I'm like rushed off my in-lines." The face disappeared back over the counter leaving them to blink at each other for a few moments. The face reappeared briefly. "Hey, like, does your mom know you're here?"

Sinister was outraged at such a suggestion. He was about to protest when he was half suffocated by Mystique

"Why yes, sir.She's just outside." The little shape-shifter smiled sweetly.

"Larry, where's the double choc chip scoop, dude!?" came a bellow from behind the counter. The head withdrew quickly.

"Like, coming, man!!"

Mystique began herding the three over to a relatively uncrowded corner of the parlour. After a little trouble climbing up onto the stools, they managed to settle precariously around the table.

"You guys stay here. Don't move, don't fight and don't say anything to anybody! I'm going off to change. I expect this place to be in one piece when I get back." She jumped down from the stool and headed purposely for the rest room.

Juggernaut whispered to the others, "Where's she gone?"

Sabretooth shrugged. They turned to Sinister, who, rather than admit that he was as clueless as they were, sat there attempting to look knowing but actually hoping that she would come back soon so he wouldn't have to face the 'like' man alone. After a few minutes of clueless quiet, the three were terrified to see none other than the infamous Mrs McClooney come teetering towards them on her high heels.

"I'm sorry, you can't sit there. It's taken" said Sinister, hastily, mentally backing away.

"It's me, you dolts," Mystique hissed. "Gesh! I can't believe I'm working with such amateurs!" She hopped up onto the high stool as gracefully as her high heels would allow. "Have you decided what you all want?"

"Ice cream!" said all three, beaming.

She sighed. "But what kind? Look at the menu." They looked as the ‘like’ man came up for their order.

"Like, maaaan. Dude, Mrs Mclooney. Like, get down, dude. Long time no see!!! Heeey. Still got that outraaaageous Scottish accent, man?"

Mystique gulped and blinked rapidly. This might be a problem. A big problem. A, like, totally bogus problem, dude!

Did someone miss little Maggie? Nobody? Well, here he is anyway!

Little Eric stumbled through the crowd outside the parlour in the mall, vision blurred through welling tears. How could Juggs do that? And just as he had got all the dents out!The escapee bucket was no-where to be seen.

Right, he sniffed, resolutely. Enough was enough!! If he couldn’t get to the helmet, he’d make the helmet come to him. He reached in the direction in which the helmet had disappeared and stretched his power to attract the errant headwear.

There was a muttering all around him which grew in intensity as the people in the crowd closest to him felt strange pullings and tuggings from various parts of their clothing. Wrists with watches floated mysteriously towards the small figure, much to the consternation of their owners. Glasses twitched on noses and eased their way towards the epicentre of the effect. Metal buttons, coins, stray paper clips, pens wafted towards Baby Magneto. Metal hair pins came loose and the hair they had restrained fell invariably into disarray.

Eric realised that his powers were not working quite as he intended at the same time as the crowd began to get seriously discontented at the weird happenings and looked for someone to blame for their predicament. As they looked in the direction of the tuggings, they quickly spotted the small super-villain with his arm extended. The arm was quickly retracted and hidden with the other behind his back.

"Erm, I was just, that is, I was trying, erm, my helmet…." He waved his arm vaguely.

"It’s him!!" several voices chorused.

"Hey, he looks much bigger on TV!"

"Get him!!" As they surged forward, fortunately for little Eric, someone tripped over a stray can rolling unconcerned towards the little master of magnetism and those behind fell forward, impeding others until there was a mountain of arms, legs and bodies, mostly connected.

After a few moments, from one corner of the heap, a small figure crawled out, trying to stay as tiny as possible, hoping the rest of the crowd were too busy to notice. Clutched to his chest was a flattened, disfigured plate of metal that, for once he was not trying to straighten out. Just as he thought he was safe, a cry went up.

"Hey! There he goes. He’s getting away!"

Little Eric got to his feet and ran as if his life depended on it. He thought it might.

Salem Center mall, after disembarking from the van.

"Wow dat was easy! We acshully got here in one piece!" said Remy.

"Might I thuggetht that the betht courthe of action …?" began little Cyke.

Remy glared at him. "Let’s get one t’ing straight. I’m de oldest .. and biggest … ("And most childish," muttered little Bishop) so I get to be in charge."

"Hmmmph!!" replied little Scott.

"Right. Now we got dat sorted out we’ll …" He looked over his group of charges. The group had definitely been bigger the last time he checked. There’d been more of a female influence too. He turned back to little Scott. "Where de heck did de girls go??!"

"Oh, tho now you want my help?" Cyke asked indignantly.

"Oh, come on. Don’ be like dat," pleaded Remy

"Like what?"

"Childish?" supplied Bishop.

"You could ask me where dey went, but I don’ tink you wanna know," said little Gambit.

"Who asked you?" Scott and Remy agreed.

"Well, if you not int'rested …" said Gambit

" Why don’t you just tell us," Little Bishop stepped in before things could escalate further.

"Dey’re over in dat store," he pointed.

"What thtore?" asked little Scott.

"Dat store," pointed Gambit emphatically in the vague direction of the mall.

They peered towards the area indicated. Which included about fifteen stores.

"Erm, could you be a bit more specific?" asked Bishop.

"You know, de store wit de stuff." Little Gambit was by now hopping about and going pink.

"Is he always dis coherent?" enquired Remy.

"Sometimes more so," commented little Bishop, sarcastically. "Why don’t you just take us there?"

"Ur, do we have to go in dere. I mean can’ we jus’ wait for dem to come out?"

"What’th the big problem? Take uth there will you!" demanded an exasperated Scott.

Gambit jumped to attention. He set off with his head bowed, his pink face turning redder by the second. They soon realised the reason for his discomfort when they found themselves directly outside the women’s clothing section of a large department store.

"Dere!!" he announced. "Happy?!"

"Ahhh. Ohh. Right. I see. Hmmh," coughed the other three. They looked at each other dubiously. "So. Who’s in charge?" asked Bishop.

"Follow me!" said Remy (the man with no fear) resolutely, and went through the doors with three Little-Dudes trying unsuccessfully to hide behind his legs. They stopped abruptly as they realised they were in the lingerie department. This was daunting even for the man without nerves. They set off again to walk through the section as quickly as possible. A few minutes and "short cuts" later they were completely and abysmally lost.

"Thith must be the biggetht….thingy thection in the country," whispered Scott, in terrified awe. They felt eyes peering at them from all sides. They were in alien territory. Faces reddened. Where was the exit? They could see no way out. Ludicrously, they crouched down together in the hopes that it would all just go away.

It didn’t … and just drew even more attention than before. That is to say, none (but imagination counts for a lot when you’re six, or even twenty-six).

"What now?" asked Bishop.

"Um," contributed Scott.

"Um," agreed Remy.

Little Gambit had his eyes closed.

Remy half rose ... and crouched down again. They sat in silence for a few minutes.

"We could create a diversion - blow the place up?" offered Bishop desperately.

"Yeth!" enthused Scott," and we could be here under the pretenth of saving people!" Little Gambit nodded enthusiastically, eyes still firmly shut.

"No way!" Remy hissed. " No one needs to blow anyt’ing up, we jus’ need to get out of dis… dis…" For some reason the word lingerie seemed to get stuck in his throat in front of the little ones, not to mention that the fact that they were surrounded by it was too daunting to admit.

Gathering his courage, Remy rose determinedly. He would have set a good example of how not to be fazed by such small things as .. ladies’ underwear .. and he might have, except that his coat collar was snagged by the clasp of one of the aforementioned items. As he reached his full height the whole stand was pulled over, showering the X-Babies with the last things in the world they wanted to become entangled in.

"What de..?" Remy fought to disengage himself, turning as he tried to reach behind his head to remove the underwear still attached to his collar. In doing so the stand swung into the next which toppled onto the next … The noise was dreadful as several stands clattered onto the tiled walkway and all heads did actually turn in his direction for the first time. Remy stood there rooted to the spot, well aware of the fact that he was going bright red. Three little heads at his feet popped up and surveyed the wreckage.

"You really done it now," said little Gambit, looking as if he was wearing white earmuffs daintily trimmed with lace.

"We’re in biiig trouble," whispered Scott pulling garments from him as if they were red hot (and some of them were!).

"So much for leadership!" said Bishop, about to hide under the pile he was sitting in to avoid further embarrassment … and then deciding firmly against it.

Remy finally managed to remove the offending item and threw it down quickly as his flustered and increasingly self-conscious brain tried to get into gear and figure out what to do next. A stern looking middle aged woman in a suit was bearing down on him with the fury of a stampeding she-elephant.

"What on earth do you think you’re doing!?" she stormed. "If any of this merchandise is damaged you will have to pay for it! And what are these children doing playing amongst our delicates? You must all leave .. at once or I’ll call security!"

"Well, dat’s what we were trying to do when …" Remy tried to explain.

" No excuses! Out! Now! I’ve heard of your type!" She turned and gestured to the security guard who was heading in their direction. "Byron! This way! Immediately!"

"Listen, lady," pleaded Remy. "If you’ll just point de way … Byron? … we’ll be outta here, no problem."

"This way, sir, if you don’t mind." Byron took hold of his arm and led him to the door where they had entered. The other three followed, leaving a colourful trail of discarded garments which they managed to remove despite their tenacious grip.

"Not your motht thucthethful campaign, I think," said Scott, haughtily, once they’d been safely "removed" from the store.

"An’ we still ain’t found de girls," said little Gambit.

At that moment, ‘the girls’ emerged from the candy store, next to the door where they were standing.

"You boys having fun?" asked little Rogue. "It sounded like there was a ruckus goin’ down someplace out here." Little Gambit was trying to look very small, preferably invisible, as the other three turned on him.

With ‘big’ Scott and the gang, now outside the mall.

"This is where most people are, so we may as well start the search here," Scott squeezed his way out of the crowded jeep and turned to the large shopping center. The others piled out behind him.

"Can you smell anyone, Wolviekins?" asked Jean, staring absently at Scott. Little Wolvie frowned his disgruntlement.

"Yeah. So?" he grouched.

"Really? Who?" asked Scott enthusiastically.

"Me, Jean, you…..!" Wolvie made this last word sound like an insult.

"Wolvie, be helpful!" Jean scowled her annoyance. Wolvie sniffed around for a bit to keep her happy, but he didn’t think there was much point with so many trails coming and going.

A moment later and it didn’t need the best nose in the business. Just ordinary ears and eyes.

"You may dispense with your olfactory faculties, my small friend. Our quest can be terminated. There are our compatriots, and, I believe, yours. Let us make the utmost haste and establish contact before our paths once more diverge," said Hank. Little Hank listened in rapt devotion.

"You are indubitably correct," he said, surprising even himself. He beamed as Hank acknowledged his comment.

"Indeed," said Bishop.

Remy, Ororo and the little ones ( little Gambit looking slightly ruffled) left the mall arguing, the two Storms having decided it was a good idea to give everyone rainbow halos, something the boys weren't too happy about. They finally noticed Hank, Bishop and the rest, and the two groups converged.

Scott decided that someone needed to take charge of the situation and bring some order to what had clearly become totally chaotic in his absence. As always, reprimands and blame laying came first.

"Gambit, what one earth has been happening in my absence? I leave you alone for five minutes and look what happens! How can you be so irresponsible to put the people of Salem in such jeopardy! It’s no more than I expected from you." He turned to Storm, taking a deep breath so as not to interrupt the fluency of the next part of his monologue.

"But Ororo, I’m really surprised at you! How could you let him …." His ranting fizzled to a stop when he saw the expression on Ororo’s face. It had crinkled up severely, the rainbow over her head turned abruptly to a black rain-cloud, a storm erupted and she began to wail.

"Why are you being so nasty to me, you horrible man? I don’t like you and we’re not going to be your friend, are we?" she said the last turning to Baby Storm.

"You’ve upset my fwend, you big poopy-head" scowled little Storm, " and now you’re going to wish you hadn’t."

She gestured at Scott and he was almost instantaneously drenched as if someone had thrown a bucket of water over his head.

"Now look here," he spluttered indignantly,trying to shake the rain out of his shoes, veins bulging from his neck.

The two giggled and pointed, their rainbows reappearing. Scott was outraged at this reaction to his admonitions and his embarrassment. His face was turning a brighter shade of crimson than the X-Men had ever seen.

"Fearless leader, you really must return to tranquillity. I suggest a momentary meditation might significantly reduce your coronary pressure," soothed Hank.

Little Jean gave up trying to translate and looked into Hank’s head to make sense of the suggestion. Her eyes widened in horror as she caught a stray thought passing through the scientist’s mind.

"You really think his head will explode?"

"I appreciate that the probability tends to be infinitesimally small - however in light of the multitude of eventualities which manifest, heightened by the irregularities of the X factor and the virtual reality situation in which we are now existing (I’ll speak with you later Remy), I would have to concede that it is an possibility, though nigh unimaginably minute."

Jean’s lower lip trembled, her forehead crinkled in confusion.

"I t’ink he means yes!" Remy raised a surprised but not unhappy eyebrow.

"I mean almost certainly no!" Hank rushed to prevent another outbreak of tears.

Remy looked slightly put out at this. "Oh well, I work best when de odds ‘re stacked against me," he brightened.

Scott meanwhile had managed to curtail his ‘explosion’ for now at least and, luckily having failed to catch the latest conversation, decided to try again at getting some sort of order.

"Right!" he announced, in leader mode, "I don’t know what’s going on here but we’ll have to save the explanations for later," he glowered at Ororo who giggled and Remy, who grinned back. " At the moment we have a group of mini super-villains to catch!"

Everyone, even little Scott, much to his dismay, felt the urge to ‘follow the leader’ which they did, little, large, and variants on each alike, into the mall.

Hey! The scene with the lingerie was adapted from the English comedy series 'Father Ted', a very funny programme. Just wondering, did anyone understand the bit with the 'Armadillos' in part three? It's just that no one said they did and we don't want to carry blithely on if everyone's lost. Thanx for reading!

To be continued, still...

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