Begin at the beginning… > Quack Experimental Fanfic Excel Saga > The Odd Trio — Irregular Again!

When it comes to hairstyles, there are Afros, and then there are by-God, sho-’nuff absofreakinlutely we-mean-it Afros. The coiffure sported by the man sitting at the computer desk fell quite definitively into the latter category. If it wasn’t the absolute Mother of All Afros, I don’t know whose would be.

Okay, that one chick on ‘Good Times’, maybe…

Or Don Henley back in the early ’70s…

Anyway, it was one Hell of a bitchin’ Afro, and its owner knew it. It was what propelled him from being merely an irresistibly cool and sexy action hero-type guy to being the veritable God of Cool, the Earthly incarnation of all that is bodacious.

His name was Nabeshin, and he was an anime director, occasional savior of the Universe, and part-time plot device. And he was checking his e-mail.

“Spam. Delete that. More spam. Delete that. Hot naked paleontologists? Save that for later. And what’s this?” The subject header just said, ‘Open this, Nabeshin’, but the sender was blanked out. With a studly shrug, he clicked on the message, then began swearing as a hidden execute file began running.

“Crap! A virus!” Frantically, he hammered at the keyboard, trying to bring up his Nabesoft Anti-virus program, but it was too late. His monitor strobe-flashed twice, then a message appeared in big block lettering:


Nabeshin blinked at the message, then sat back in his chair, a look of obvious concern on his girl-meltingly unshaven face.

“Internet fan-fiction?” he muttered. “Does that mean I won’t be appearing in this one?”

He froze as a demented cackle sounded from just behind him. “That’s right, Afro-boy,” the voice tittered. “No need for pointlessly intrusive directors with wasteful Afros and nihilistic ulterior motives in today’s script. So, you know what that means…”

Nabeshin had just enough time to catch a glimpse of blonde hair and huge shoulder pads as an implement that looked like it came straight from the British Museum’s collection of Pointy Things of the Middle Ages came swinging down at him…

<cue theme song: “Love (Loyalty)”, as sung by the Excel Girls>

(sung in Japanese, punctuated by nasty tubercular coughing from one of the singers)

That isn’t love.
Love isn’t that.
I am in love, but I am not loved.

Definitely isn’t love.
Derriere isn’t love.
I want to be loved, but I never seek it out.

I offer myself and throw my life away.
Looking neither left nor right, I will just earnestly
Cheat, wheedle, interfere
And trample down and kick strangers.

And we get the Hell out!
(And we get the Hell out.)
And we get the Hell out!
(And we get the Hell out.)
And we get the Hell out!
(And we get the Hell out.)
And we get the Hell out!

Even if I slip on a banana peel
It is all for his sake anyway.
If anything, that is probably
A kind of loyalty called love!

“Hail, Ilpalazzo!” The shout reverberated through the throne room of the secret underground base, setting the air a-tremor by the very vibrancy of its mindless enthusiasm.

“—zzo,” echoed another voice, little more than a whisper and ending in a rattling cough.

The man on the throne basked in the shouted praise of his minions, putting a hand to his devilishly handsome face and pushing his tiny amber glasses a bit further up so that he could survey the assemblage with his icy-cold, vaguely cat-like, elegantly narrow, stony, not-at-all-resembling-those-of-a-lemur-or-one-of-those-little-fish-with-the-two-long-thingies-on-front-you-know-the-pink-ones, eyes.

The assemblage numbered two people.

The one to his left was a thin blonde girl of about nineteen, her long hair bound into a thick plait that fell almost to her waist. She fidgeted uneasily under her master’s imperious gaze, hyperactive green eyes darting this way and that as she shuffled her feet and picked at the fabric of her shorts and low-necked t-shirt, over which rode a short jacket with ridiculously large shoulderpads sewn in.

To his right was the blonde’s polar opposite, a pale, raven-haired girl of almost unearthly beauty, who filled out her tight and fan-servicey uniform in ways that the blonde—and most male fans—could only dream about. She stood quietly, serene and almost regally composed, drooling a trickle of blood from the corner of her mouth.

The dark lord (for such he was), turned his gaze to the blonde. “Agent Excel,” he purred, “you will explain to me why you were late for this meeting, and you will do so coherently.”

“Yes, yes, dearest Lord Ilpalazzo!” the girl burbled. “Your loyal Excel was unfortunately delayed due to taking care of a bit of last-minute plot-related business.” She pulled a long, fork-bladed scimitar from behind her back and tossed it aside, red splatters still staining the tip.

A tasseled cord had lowered itself from the ceiling to dangle near Lord Ilpalazzo’s hand, but he stopped in mid-reach. “Well done, Excel,” he said, sounding just the tiniest bit surprised. “Since your explanation is both acceptable and concise, I shall not punish you.”

Excel squealed in delight. “AH! Praise! Praise from the lips of my beloved Lord Ilpalazzo, that most studly hunk of man-meat! Oh my!” She began running in little circles, waving her arms as if she were covered in flesh-eating gerbils. “Excel’s little heart is going to burst from pride! She’s been praised by Lord Ilpalazzo! Could anything other than sweet love in his boudoir or a really big Mexican dinner be more wonderful?! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Halle Berry! Holly Hunter!”

The other girl eased a few steps away as an annoyed look crossed Ilpalazzo’s normally impassive face. “Excel,” he said softly.

“Yes?” Excel answered meekly, freezing in mid-spasm.

“You’re being nerve-wracking again.” And he pulled the cord.

A trapdoor opened under Excel’s feet, sending her plunging down through the floor.

“And I’ve been dumped down into the pit like yesterday’s lima beans yet again!” Excel’s voice, fading with distance, drifted up out of the pit as she fell. “And yet, Excel can’t help but draw a certain amount of satisfaction from at least getting Lord Ilpalazzo to notice her in this way, which says volumes about my self-esteem and mental state, I suppose! Still, Excel’s loyalty is such that even the fiercest rejection and abuse by Lord Ilpalazzo is received as if it were the kindest caress and, oh, there’s the bottom finally! Aah!”

There was a tiny, distance-muted splash.

“Agent Hyatt,” Ilpalazzo pronounced, turning to the remaining half of his loyal throng, “you will brief agent Excel when she returns from being disciplined.”

“As you command, sir,” the brunette agreed submissively.

“Actually, Excel is back already!” Both turned to see a headful of damp blonde hair easing up over the rim of the pit. “Your ever-resourceful Excel has, through constant repetition and diligence, become a master at the art of pit escapes, a useful skill which she will tirelessly employ for the furtherance of our ideological goals!”

“In other words,” whispered Hyatt, “you have been dumped into the pit so many times that you have learned the quick way out, yes?”

Excel swallowed hard and offered both her cohorts a sickly grin as she clambered to her feet, taking a moment to pick two or three still-gnawing piranhas off her body and to shake loose the koala bear that had somehow fastened to her leg as if it were the last eucalyptus tree on Earth.

“Be that as it may,” Ilpalazzo boomed, rising dramatically to his feet, “our organization faces a new ideological foe in its plan to conquer first F City and then the entire world!”

“Oh, gasp!” wailed Excel. “Who could these misguided fools be? The secret ideological organization ACROSS will crush them like headlice in a waffle iron!”

A large screen descended against the wall, on which was the image of a short, greenish being with a long nose and a party hat on its head. “This,” sneered Ilpalazzo, “is a so-called ‘Joyful Troll’. Her name is Eloise and she has organized a group of like-minded individuals to gather for what they are calling a ‘quadrille’. The brave new world that we at ACROSS shall build will have no need of such wasteful and seditious assemblies by the ignorant masses. It was therefore my intention to send my two top agents to infiltrate this gathering and report on its activities.” He paused, eyes narrowing slightly. “However, I seem unable to locate the wooden underling puppet, therefore I shall have to assign agent Excel to accompany you instead, agent Hyatt.”

“Excel ranks below the wooden underling puppet now?” Excel wondered to herself.

“Roger, sir. We shall accomplish our mission and repaaghk—” Hyatt’s words trailed off into a coughing fit as her eyes rolled back in her head and she collapsed to the floor, blood pouring from her open mouth.

“Aah! Ha-chan! The red stuff’s coming out again!” Excel dashed over, felt of her partner’s pulse, then began hammering on her chest. “Come on, Ha-chan! Hang in there! Think life!”

“I shall look forward to your report in three days,” Ilpalazzo coldly declared as he haughtily swung an arm toward the exit.

“Boy, you sure die easily these days, Ha-chan.”

“I’m sorry, senior, but that is because I hardly died at all last week. My whole rhythm will be thrown off until I get caught up.”

The two girls walked down the short suburban street, carrying a thick bundle between them. Actually, Excel was carrying her half, while Hyatt just kept a hand on her side and sort of weakly nudged it along.

“Well,” Excel enthused philosophically (which sounds odd, but you really can do), “let’s never mind about that now, because we’re now in America and have our objective right here in front of us!”

“Indeed, senior. Isn’t it wonderful that we have access to a transportation system so efficient that it is easily mistaken for a plot device to get us here?”

“You hit the nail right on the point there, Ha-chan, even if that gag was stolen from a Bjorn Christianson fanfic. And look, there’s the place just up ahead!”

“Your navigational sense, when assisted by a sympathetic author, is truly amazing, senior,” Hyatt agreed as heartily as she was able in her frail state, which is to say, not very. “So, what do we do now?”

“Now, we infiltrate!” Excel started dancing a happy jig around Hyatt, singing (badly off-key):

To get some information!
And mark for liquidation!
This or-gan-i-zation!
We’ll do assassination!
And total subjugation!
And then take a vacation!
Avoiding constipation!
And Ilpalazzo’s vituperation!
Maybe eat some C-Ration!
Which leads to defec—

“But… but senior,” Hyatt interrupted, “what are we actually going to do to accomplish our mission?”

“Aha ha ha Ha-chan! Your senior co-worker has prepared for all contingencies and laid out a sure-fire plan of campaign that would rival those of Custer, himself! Not for nothing, but for something have we carried this burdensome bundle all the way from Japan. Help me to unroll it, and then, into the lobster suit! You get to be the tail…”

Rabia made her way nervously up the steps where the party was being held. At the top she straightened her dress and tried to make herself look presentable. A large black raven landed at her feet.

“Stop fussing and come along. We’re late anyway.”

“Easy for you to say,” she replied, “you don’t have to bother with clothes.”

The raven looked indignant. “Well ex-cuse me. Do you realise how difficult preening is?”

Rabia sighed and decided not to answer. She moved elegantly toward the doors and ruined the effect by tripping over her dress.

“Well, that was graceful.”

“Oh, shut up.”

“Sorry to ask,” said the raven, “But why are you dressed like that anyway?” He eyed the sweeping, indigo velvet dress, trimmed with lace.

“Well, that’s the dress code. Nineteenth century clothing.”

“Oh, well you look very nice.” The raven looked about as awkward as a bird can.


“Not at all. What are muses for anyway. Umm, are you actually allowed those?”

He nodded to the pair of weighted throwing knives, not quite concealed by her light-blue shawl, hanging at the writer’s waist.

“I don’t know, I don’t think the rules mentioned it. Anyway, at this sort of thing you can’t be too careful. Come on, let’s go in. If anyone says anything I can leave them in the cloakroom.”

“Suurrre you will.”

The pair moved aside as two people in a lobster costume walked past them and into the building. The raven looked up at his writer.

“You’re sure about the dress code?”

“Of course I am. I think. Look, let’s go in before the thing finishes.”

And with that, the writer and muse made their way through the doors and over to the bar.

Florestan was all ready to receive the next group of guests, and shake their hands, when he realized, with a start, that the pair coming toward them were actually within a large, red, and rather ill-fitting lobster costume, and had no hands free.

Neither it seemed, could they see very well, for they came through the door with a gait very much like that of a drunken bull, and it was all he and Eloise could to get out of the way to avoid their toes getting stepped on.

He quickly recovered his balance, however, and reached out his hand to the person who had been unfortunate enough to be caught in the “lobster’s” wake: a young woman with infinitely better dress sense (a long, blue velvet gown), and a raven on her shoulder.

In spite of that, however, she seemed just as awkward and ill-at-ease as the unfortunate pantomimers, and tripped as she came across the threshold. He instinctively moved to steady her, but she shyly ducked her face away as she recovered, and hurried past him to the bar.

“Well!” he said (sotto voce) to Eloise, “What do you make of that?”

“A lurker,” Eloise said simply. “They’re always a little shy at first, but once they warm up and make a few friends, they often bring much fun to the party.”

“And our ‘lobster’ friend?”

Eloise crinkled up her nose. “Phah! I hate to say it, but I really don’t think those two came as ‘friends’. The one in front smelled of … rotten lima beans. And the one in back…” She shook her head in bewilderment. “The one in back smelled like death.”

“A zombie, you mean?” Florestan asked.

“No, not a zombie… It’s like—I can’t explain—”

But at that point, their conversation was interupted by the approach of Igor, one of Gordon’s party.

“Excuse me, miss,” Igor said to Maid TARDIS, “but I couldn’t help but notice that wonderful box you have,” indicating the terminal she was using upload the Godly powers to the cloakroom.

Maid TARDIS eyed him warily. “Thank you,” she said.

“It’s got nice, shiny buttons,” Igor went on.


“May I see it?”

“No,” Maid TARDIS said, in that voice, that let all within hearing that the subject was closed.

Igor didn’t press the matter. He shrugged, and wandered off—but not far. He couldn’t help hovering around, like an overly tame squirrel at the city park, waiting for someone to hand him a bit of hot dog bun, or potato chip.

“Not a zombie?” Florestan asked Eloise, returning to their earlier subject.

“No. She doesn’t smell anything like the undead,” the troll explained, “but as though she has a habit of dying.”

Florestan’s eyebrow half-raised at this, and the corners of his mouth twitched.

“I told you I couldn’t explain it,” Eloise said, with quiet exasperation. She sighed heavily. “I really, really hope this does not mean we’ll be facing a battle against ‘the forces of anti-fun’ again this year. I so want this party to be different from the rest.”

Igor, who had clearly been eavesdropping, appeared at her shoulder. “We could always fling it out to sea as far as we can,” he suggested, “when we get around to that part of the dance.”

Eloise couldn’t help smiling. Truth be told, it’s not like the idea hadn’t already occurred to her. But in the end, she shook her head. “That would hardly be sporting,” she said. “After all, the sign does say ‘All Welcome’. And besides, we don’t have any sea handy.” (Still, she thought to herself, those two were probably used to such things.) “Maybe nothing will come of it,” she aloud, “except that they learn something good to take away with them.”

“That was rude. Didn’t you see him?” The raven snapped irritably on her shoulder.


“Obviously not. Him,” he nodded at Florestan, who was looking rather surprised.

“Oh. No, I didn’t. Great. I just scream newbie.” Rabia looked suitably embarrassed. She felt a tap on her elbow and looked down to see a troll offering her a silver tray.


Rabia smiled, in spite of her embarrassment, and took two, offering one to her muse. He chewed it thoughtfully and pecked her ear, a sign for her to get on with it.


She sat down at the bar and managed a smile for the slim grey-eyed woman serving the drinks.

“I’d like water a please, the bird can have what ever he wants. Preferably something poisonous.”

“Oh, ha ha. I’ll have a Manhattan, thanks.”

The woman smiled and left.

Rabia glanced round the room. Apart from the lobster she had met earlier there were what looked like all the incarnations of Dr. Who, trolls, one of whom was singing, a figure covered in shaggy fur, a small flying elephant…

“Well, it doesn’t get dull around here,” she noted. Her raven/muse was busy sipping his drink and trying to surreptitiously keep an eye on the pretty black cat that had hopped onto the bar.

“Mmm…” he said, his eyes not moving.

“Oh, for goodness sake, leave the cat alone, she hasn’t even looked at you. Paranoid.”


“Don’t go on. I didn’t see him and I feel terrible enough without your voice in my ear.”

She drained her glass and got up.

“Right. I’m off to apologise. Keep the sarcasm under control while I’m gone, ok?” She got up and made her way towards the door, where Florestan and Eloise were greeting arrivals.

Dominic had returned from his conversation with Amber, and retaken his place on the barstool.

“Everything okay, Dad?” Allie said.

Dominic nodded. “Mm. Amber confirmed a few of my thoughts about things, made a few suggestions… For now, I think it would be best if you kept interaction with Bob to the barest minimum, if at all possible.”

Allie frowned. Dad’s reaction to Bob was… odd.

Normally, he had a very liberal attitude towards people, preferring not to take them on face value if at all possible. But even Dad had his lines—the Things Beyond, anyone who hurt Allie or her sisters, telemarketers…

But… warning them to interact with Bob as little as possible? If Dad was careful about dealing with Bob…

She glanced again at her father, then at Bob—

And blinked as she caught sight of what’d just come through the door.

“Imran…” she said quietly, “take a look over by the door, and tell me what you see.”

Imran looked. “Er… two people in a lobster suit?”

“Me too,” Daibhid put in.

Dominic nodded. “I see them.”

Allie breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank the gods for that. I thought I’d inhaled the fumes from the scumble…”

“…You have scumble?!” Daibhid said.

“In secure containment,” Allie said. “Looks like someone got the wrong end of the stick about the ‘Quadrille’…”

Daibhid blinked. “You mean like Lewis Carroll’s ‘Lobster Quadrille’? I mean, I know that’s what I was thinking of…”

“Exactly,” Allie said. “But who’d actually come dressed as a lobster?”

“A complete lunatic?” Imran suggested.

“Well, that limits the field…” Sandra observed.

The shy woman in the sapphire ball gown appeared again at Florestan’s side.

“I-I’m terribly sorry,” she said, blushing deeply, “I didn’t mean to—I mean, um…” she ducked her head again, took a deep breath, and started over. “Hello,” she said, putting out her hand in a determined way, “I’m Rabia, and I’m so pleased to meet you, and to get a chance to join the festivities.” She sighed with relief, as if she had just accoplished a difficult task.

Florestan felt a smile tug at the corners of his mouth, though he kept it under tight reign, lest she think he was smiling at her discomfiture. After all, he, himself, was not entirely at ease, having spent nearly all of his past regenerations—and much of this one—as a scholar and a hermit. But the world needed diplomacy as much as it needed scholarship, and though he was new to this idea of a “pro-fun” gathering, he knew, first hand, the powerful good it could do in the world, if and when the need arose. And so he was determined, in spite, of his own discomfort, to lend a hand to its success.

He took her hand and gave it a firm, but brief, shake. “I am called ‘Florestan,’” he said, pronouncing it in two syllables, “and I am delighted to make your acquaintance. I trust that you and your muse—” he nodded toward the raven at the bar “—will find much good inspiration here.”

Rabia glanced from Florestan back to her muse. “How did you know—?” she asked.

Florestan let his smile broaden. “He’s eyeing you in the way only muses can,” he said. “They can be hard task-masters, no?”

Rabia smiled back and nodded.

“You’d better get back to him,” Florestan said to her. “It looks like he wants to give you an earful.”

Eloise was used to unorthodox appearances by now, but this one was slightly more, well, colourful than she was used to. Dangerously colourful, perhaps; in a way that rivalled the Sixth Doctor’s coat.

She’d materialised very efficiently by the punch bowl, looking somewhat bewildered, but subsequently utterly enthralled by the goings-on. She looked to be no more than 16 years old at most, her wildly coloured hair shaven on one side of her head, while the rest flowed in an unruly mass of green, pink, yellow and blue. She wore a tattered denim jacket and shorts, and black fishnet seemed to cover just about every other part of her body. She was accompanied by a rather more ordinary-looking dog, who seemed to be somewhat relieved to be here.

Eloise jumped, reflexively, then relaxed. “Well, hello!” she said, catching the new arrival’s gaze. “Welcome to the Joyful Quadrille! I’m one of the hosts, Eloise. It’s a pleasure to meet you! May I ask your name?”

The girl tipped her head to one side, as if deep in thought, her eyes changing from green and purple to orange and blue.

“I think I was fishies, once,” she began. Her very words seemed to be different colours, tinting the air as she spoke, leaving a faint whiff of yellow. “And then I became all butterflies. But my big brother told me I was too…” she paused, searching for the words. A brightly-hued umbrella popped into existence near her head, and floated there, open. She seemed to forget what she was saying, but continued on, “My sister sent me.”

“Your sister?”

“She hugs me, sometimes. She’s outside… she’s very nice to me, even when I’m skipping. I don’t think she speaks enough colours, though.”

Eloise looked stumped for a moment.

“She has that effect on most people.”

Eloise’s eyes looked down at the dog. “I’m Barnabas, and this is Delirium.”

“Well, I’m glad she brought you as interpreter!” Eloise grinned. “It’s very nice to meet you both. Now, what’s this about a sister?”

Delirium answered softly from her sitting position on the wall: “Cars don’t like flying. I tried to get my fishies to bring it here, but they don’t like it.”

“She means that the car her sister and our other friends were coming in has broken down, about five miles back down the road. We got sent ahead to ask for help.”

“Oh my! Who’s with you?”

“Alryssa, Death, and a guy named GlitchBob.” He made as best a shrug he could with dog shoulders. “I can’t say I know them that well, but they’re in a real pickle. Frankly, I’m surprised the hovercar made it this far.”

Eloise smiled. “Time to fetch the cavalry,” she replied. “What does it look like?”

“You can’t miss it,” he said. “It’s a big red classic hovercar with smoke signals you could see from my universe coming out of the bonnet.”

“Right. You and Delirium help yourselves to—” Eloise stepped back, as a rainbow-coloured fish swam lazily past her ear—“Um, whatever you want. I shall be back in a flash!”

Eloise promptly went to find some volunteers to rescue the stranded party.

Rabia was relieved after her apology and made her way back to the raven’s side, feeling more confident and a lot happier.

“I don’t know what you’re so delighted about. That apology looked about as smooth as swallowing a brick.”

“Shut up. You’re still snarky because I mentioned the cat.”

“Cat?” said the bird innocently. “What cat?”

Rabia grinned and, on an impulse, gave her muse a quick hug. The raven gave a caw of surprise, a mixture of indignation, amusement and embarrassment in his voice.

“Ok, ok. That’s enough of the touchy-feely stuff. I’m trying to look muse-like.”

“Fine, but stop telling me off. I’m awkward enough as it is.” She looked back around the room, packed full of people and… things.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m confused. I miss one day on the internet and already I don’t know who half these people are.”

“You’ll get the hang of it,” replied the raven. “Just as soon as you master coherent speech.” Rabia shot her muse a warning look.

“I’ve got the gist of it and the rest is in bits and pieces. No big problem, it is a round robin after all. Anyway, there was talk of a dance at some point—I don’t know what’s happening with that.” She turned from her place at the bar and watched with amusement as Delirium tried to engage Spike in a conversation. She might be a lurker, but she had a great view of the action.

“Um… Doctor, do you know how to fix a hovercar?”

Seventh chuckled. “I used to. I’m a little rusty as this me, though. Why?”

Eloise quickly laid out Alryssa’s predicament.

“Hmm…” Seventh said. “Chris?” He waved to a big, blond, blue-eyed man, who made his apologies and hurried over to them.

“What’s the problem, Doctor?”

“Do you know how to fix a hovercar? Or at least juryrig it enough to get it here in one piece?”

Chris considered. “I’ll have to take a look at it first. We should still have those toolkits in the TARDIS…”

“Good.” Seventh adjusted his hat. “We’ve got a rescue mission.”

“Right behind you.”

“Thanks, guys!” Eloise said.

“No problem,” Chris said.

“A pleasure.” Seventh tipped his hat. “We’ll be right back.”

Eloise waved as the two of them hurried out of the Quadrille.

Soon after, the familiar sound of a TARDIS’s dematerialisation signalled Seventh and Chris’s departure.

Eloise breathed a sigh of relief. Hopefully, Seventh and Chris should be able to get Alryssa’s car fixed—and failing that, get Alryssa and her friends here in Seventh’s TARDIS.

“This is what you get for being fashionably late,” Rhiannon said haughtily, gesturing with her paw toward the rows and rows of parked… um… travel-enabling items around them.

Molly glared at the black cat sitting in the passenger seat as she threw the beat-up Volvo’s gear shift into reverse and tried again at a non-parking space. “I can 0WNz j00R ass, cat; just remember that.”

“Yeah, yeah; whatev— Ooh! Over there!” Rhiannon cried, jumping up on the dashboard and pointing into the distance.


“There! A TARDIS just left!”

Molly floored the accelerator (she wasn’t about to let anyone else get that spot), but instead of shooting forward to reach the vacated spot, the Volvo sputtered and died where it was, groaning with the exertion of, well, having to drive anymore. Frankly, the Volvo was damn tired of carting everyone around and wanted a vacation. And not one of those achingly-long drives that the Owners considered a vacation; a real, honest-to-God vacation with lots of hunky mechanics fawning over it and an open gasoline bar. Its list of demands was in the glove box; the Owners could get back to it whenever they were ready.

“So, this is where we’re gonna park,” mused Rhiannon.

“Yup,” Molly replied. She ran a hand through her faded red curly hair, pulled her burgundy corduroy trench coat on, and got out of the car.

There was a huge fireplace with a roaring fire in the center of one of the walls of the ballroom. Q found himself gravitating there often; human bodies are so inconveniently vulnerable to their environment. To his distress the company he found there most often was that dichotomously altruistic monster, Spike the Slayer vampire. Yet Q couldn’t help but find common ground with someone who looked on humans as food animals.

“I have to leave my godhead at the door, yet the likes of them are allowed in with all their faculties intact,” Q complained, motioning at the pair in the lobster suit. “Such as they are.”

“Perhaps next year, Sweetheart ought to filter for not just omnipotence but stupidity,” suggested Spike.

“Now now,” said Q, patting Spike on the cheek as he departed to again seek out his inamour, “we love you just as you are.”

[Elph had finished his drink and between stealing nuts was amusing himself by dive bombing guests. He was giving the Lobster suit special attention.]
[Magnus moved over to Q.]
I keep telling you, Q, you need something to fall back on. Being omnipotent works fine until you are not.
[Varne had found Ace and had restarted their old argument about the best way to blow up the bad guys.]

Walking warily around the two idiots in the lobster costume, Molly started looking around for anyone she might know. Anyone. The room was packed with unfamiliar faces, only given names thanks to insightful commentary by Rhiannon. “Just when do you find the time to get to know all of these people? You know, in between being my muse and refusing to be my muse.”

“It’s a cat/muse thing. You wouldn’t understand,” the cat replied, trotting along at a fast pace to keep up with her charge. “OOH! FRIENDS!” Rhiannon exclaimed and ran off. Molly watched with some amusement as the little black cat joyfully jumped up on the bar and began chatting away. But now the complete lack of even someone who knows someone in the room was sinking in, creating a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.

“Alone at a Quadrille? Tsk tsk tsk. We can’t have that, now can we?”

Molly turned around to face the fair-haired man with a penchant for celery on his lapel who had just spoken to her. “Doctor! Long time, no see!”

“So what do you think of them?” Q said to Amy, who was observing the pantomime lobster.

“I think this is an extremely misguided attempt at infiltration,” said Amy. “Now why don’t we go and get some drinks?”

“Um… okay.”

As they walked, Amy said, “I don’t have to be empathic to tell that you’re scared. You don’t have to be; this isn’t like the last time you had your powers taken away. Consider: Last time, you were in disgrace from your own people and had to seek refuge with a group of people who don’t like you and were sure you were doing something untrustworthy. Now, consider where you are now. You’re at a party, and the hosts have gone to great lengths to make this a ‘Pro-Fun’ party, which means that everyone’s just here to relax and enjoy themselves. So stop worrying about the perils of being human and just go with it.”

“I understand, I think,” said Q.

Suddenly, Amy noticed an unhappy-looking Spike approaching them. “Someone you know?” she asked.

“We’ve met,” said Q.

“Oh, no,” said Amy, realizing what was going on. “Barely five minutes in a new situation and already you’ve made an enemy! How typical.”

“Say, mate,” Spike accosted Q, “I wonder if I could get a clarification on that last remark of yours.”

“Certainly,” said Q. “Which of the single-syllable words I used didn’t you understand?”

“I was wanting to know,” said Spike, with his most menacing charm—or most charming menace—“what your grounds are for poking at my intelligence.”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Q chortled. “Wait—forgot who I was speaking to. I shall deign to explain.

“Look at the last four years of your screen history! You were the baddest bloodsucker in your universe—given the abdication of your sire, or grandsire, or whatever Joss said last time he brought it up—and you threw it all away. You castrated yourself, giving up what made you superior for your unrequited love of a simple human girl.”

Spike looked from Q, to Amy, and back to Q; then wordlessly turned and retreated back to the hearth.

“That dratted cloakroom gadget has taken even my monopoly on getting the last word,” complained Q. But his tone wasn’t without humor; he was getting into the spirit of the party.

Daibhid slipped off his barstool to have a word with Bob the Muse. Whatever was going on, it was clear Dominic didn’t want to discuss it, and Daibhid didn’t know him well enough to press him. Bob, on the other hand, was his muse, and if there was anything weird about him he thought he had a right to know.

Unfortunately, the two idiots in the lobster cozzie were between him and the food table. As he edged round he raised his baseball cap. “’Evening,” he said. “Nice night for it.”

“Er, nice night for what? We are not doing anything suspicious, honestly. We are merely here to enjoy the quadrille, which, we understand, has something to do with lobsters. If this was what you meant to suggest it was a nice night for, then we agree. It is.”

Daibhid opened his mouth, then shut it again. This situation clearly needed pursuing, but he had his own business to take care of first. Making his way past the lobster’s tail, he noticed it was (they were?) now talking to Delirium. He wasn’t sure who was going to get the least out of that conversation.

“Bob,” he said, tapping the large Muse on the shoulder. “I don’t suppose you know why Dominic seems to be creeped out by you?”

“Dominic? The history Muse? Can’t imagine. Here, do you know they’ve got scumble here?”

“Don’t change the subject. He looked really worried. I mean, I know you look like a worrying sort of person, but I don’t think that was it.”

Bob the Muse sighed the sigh of someone who has never really got the hang of explaining himself. “Look, if it makes you feel better, I don’t think he’s really worried about me as a person. Just as… an influence. I’d rather not say any more.”

“If you don’t feel comfortable discussing it…”

“I’m fine discussing it. I don’t think you’d be comfortable discussing it.”

Daibhid was about to question this when the Sixth Doctor caught his arm. “Excuse me, but isn’t that your ambulatory haversack being experimentally prodded by the lady Dementia?”

“Delirium, and yes it is… ’Scuse me, Bob. But we’ll get back to this.”

[The doorbell rang and when a troll answered it he found an unidentified delivery person.]
Special delivery for a Florestan could somebody sign please.
[The troll signed and ended up with a letter and a small box, which he delivered to Florestan.]
Thanks for last year, sorry I can not attend and you might find this useful, Nin-Adad.
[Florestan looked at the box; it was labelled Snark detector Mk I. He pulled out the instruction manual and read the bright red 4-inch-high lettered warning on the cover.]
The manufacturers take no responsibility for distinguishing between Snarks and Boojums.

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Story copyright © 2003 the original authors; this compilation copyright © 2003–2005 Igenlode Wordsmith and Paul Andinach; HTML modified by Imran Inayat.