The blackboard where Sebastian and Archibald now stood in front of was less of a blackboard, par se, and more of a blackwall; it was fully seven-foot in height and ran across two-thirds of the longest wall in the basement, a massive thing that was framed on either side by two hefty slabs of pitted, age-stained mahogany, and which was at this present point in time covered in a vast array of random numerals, jumbled letters from at least six different alphabets and a handful of symbols that had seemingly managed to creep onto the board without either of the two scientists initially noticing. After a lengthy discussion neither of them knew what the foggiest they were supposed to mean or why they were even there at all.
The equations and mathematical ponderings at the top of the board (which had required the assistance of a rickety old step-ladder to reach) were inscribed in a neat, flowing hand, but as plausible ideas were explored, rebuked and made redundant by newer lines of thought, the math made it's way down to the ground in increasingly smaller, more frenetic bursts from what was obviously an increasingly agitated hand; Indeed, at head-height many of the equations were left half-finished as the discussion became more and more heated, the characters being less written, and more scratched into the well-worn surface. At the very bottom there was evidence to suggest that the hand had Officially Totally Lost It: a hugely over-stated sum was finished with a line of question marks that traced a crazy path towards the far right-hand end of the blackboard. The dot of the very last one of these was not made from any civilized writing, but from the hole made by the tip of a very worn-out piece of chalk being pressed into the board far, far too hard. Situated some way back from this was Archibald, who was standing very still. Mere inches away from the last question mark and in front of him was Sebastian. Who was trembling slightly. In his hands he was manically grinding down the remains of the writing chalk into a fine powder, and as he shook it covered him in a fine layer of ghostly white from the waist down.
“Well, blast it, Archibald! Why are we even going through with this if you're not going to tell me how that infernal monstrosity was supposed to function?!"
Sebastian threw his hands up in the air in exasperation, making a cloud of powder burst outwards from around him and cover the rest of him completely in white, and he glared at the blackboard, his brow furrowed so harshly that Archibald could barely make out his feline eyes. The light emanating from the gas-lamps that hung from the wall either side of them had caught them fully just once, and they smouldered a crimson hue. Without realising, he had taken a step backwards, and his voice was stuttering somewhat, the words too cautious to leave the safety of his throat without an extra, nervy push.
“You wouldn't believe me if I told you, Seb. And if I did tell you, you certainly wouldn't like it. Not in the slightest. Before, I wouldn't have minded so much, but you've got claws now, for goodness' sake! And these threads of mine are delicate, you know! And so am I, for that matter.”
Sebastian pivoted slowly, about-face, and cocked his head slightly to one side as he held his old friend fast in a gaze of barely-concealed contempt. His voice was now even, but low, and the syllables were clipped and wound tight with menace; the civility in his mannerisms doing little to mask his developing feral, beastly nature.
“I can appreciate that you are worried about my reaction to whatever traumas you have had to inflict upon Common Science in order to fuel your mad fantasies-or “theories”, as you like to term them-but quite frankly the sudden change in my disposition to yourself and any loss of fabric, blood and-or DIGNITY that may happen as a result of such changes are the LEAST of your worries right now, Archibald Fritters! Your pods have transformed us into tea-abhorring cats, for heavens' sake! Our very genetic make-up has been pulled apart like it were a ball of yarn tossed to an overly-excitable kitten, and Newton knows what else might happen if we can't get to the bottom of this! I don't care if those machines were fuelled by mice tutored in the Dark Arts that you had to supplicate with cheese gathered from the MOON, Archibald! I need to know everything. Now. Because...”
Archie pushed his hands into his cheeks and gasped.
“But Sebastian! That breaks Rule Number One! You know I-”
Claws slid gently out from under Sebastian's fingertips and reached for the blackboard.
“....I am getting....”
“-can't. I can't! It's the very basis of our working rela-”
They made contact with its hard, flinty surface, and dug into it with a small, ominous 'crick'.
“-tionship! You will positively go monkey-”
And the hand glided down, and the claws gouged out a piercing shriek of a sound as they bit deep and raked the surface of the blackboard. Archie's mewling was instantly, utterly obliterated.
After an eternity, Sebastian's claws ran out of board to defecate and the screeching abruptly stopped, leaving both of them in stunned silence. Seb shook his head a little and blinked, as though he was awaking from an unintended nap, and he dropped his jaw slightly when he saw the look of total horror in Archie's face. His hands were still pushing hard into his cheeks, as if to keep a scream or two from escaping his throat, which had run dry and become prickly. Seb reached out to touch his shoulder as the shock subsided and the guilt came crashing in, and he saw the slight flinch away in Archie's reaction, and he knew in his gut that he had never felt sadder and more ashamed of himself than this.
“Sweet Spinoza, what has become of me? Archie...I'm...I'm....”
Archie shook his head and stepped forward, relaxing a little as he smiled wearily, realisation of the gravity of there situation having finally sunk in. .
“No, no, it's not your fault, old friend. Not your fault. You acted out of character, and all things considered, we should not be so surprised. We are different creatures now entirely, what ho? It's going to make us funny in the brain-cupboard, without a doubt. All is forgiven, good fellow.”
Seb looked down at his shoes and ran his hand through his hair, letting it rest on the back of his neck as he gave out a heavy sigh and hunched forward. He wasn't frustrated. He was exhausted.
“Thank you. Now, listen; about that whole thing about my demanding to know absolutely everything...that was a thesis too far, as they say, and I want you to completely disregard it for the sake of our friends-”
Archie grasped Seb with both hands at the elbows and nudged them upwards slightly before releasing his grip. Seb straightened up and looked at him in acknowledgement, still slightly sheepish. Archie smiled back sympathetically as he spoke.
“Sit down and pour the pair of us sometea au natural whilst I gather myself, would you?”
Sebastian raised a querying eyebrow, curiosity now bubbling away inside him.
Archibald, as if waiting for that very cue, took a single swift step backwards away from him and threw out his arms in a gloriously dramatic gesture towards the air above them that only he could do, and he bellowed like the truest of Thespians announcing the pivotal scene of the final act of the greatest play. Ever.
“So that I, Archibald Fritters, Daring Discoverer of the Inexplicable, can regale unto you the darkest secrets of my greatest inventions-that-have-yet-to-succeed-fully-as-intended-but-thankfully-didn't-set-anything-on-fire...”
He breathed back in at this point.
“...the REFLECTO-FLIPPING FLUX CAPACITOR!!!”
Sebastian was agog. Archie, suitably impressed with the sound of his own invention for the second time that week, leaned forward a little, paused, and then murmured;
“And then, perhaps, just perhaps, we can get ourselves off of this rum poop-deck.”