The Odd Trio — Irregular Again! > Slings and Buffets of Outrageous Fortune > Not A-Muse-d

“Dearest Lord Ilpalazzo.

“Your most loyal agent Excel, with some assistance from Ha-chan, has successfully infiltrated this gathering of the ignorant masses entirely unsuspected by the rather disarmingly nice villains who are leading it. Much data is being archived in Excel’s steel-trap brain for later evaluation, but many questions now present themselves, such as what the so-called ‘Trolls’ hope to gain, or what the source of their power is, or exactly why I’m telling all this to a potted fern.”

A look of sudden alarm crossed Excel’s face. With a furtive look around, she dug out a tiny pocketknife and stabbed the fern right through the middle.

“Senior?” Hyatt asked worriedly.

“It knew too much,” Excel muttered, scowling. The scowl lasted all of three seconds as a look of mixed rapture and naked desire set her eyes ablaze. “Ha-chan! Do you see what I see?!”

“You mean the cowled figure with the scythe and the hourglass who keeps looking at me and impatiently tapping his foot?”

“No! The buffet!

Hyatt turned to follow Excel’s pointing finger, a task made marginally more difficult by the fact that the finger was no more capable than any other part of Excel of remaining still for any length of time. Now Hyatt’s own sleepy features lit up, lending her normally somnolent beauty a breathtaking radiance that even the trickle of blood on her lip couldn’t spoil.

“Oh, senior!” she breathed. “A full buffet! We can eat all we want! Why, it’s been almost a week since our last real meal!”

Excel was indignant. “Hey! What about the dinner I scrounged for us just three days ago?”

“Ah yes. Hyatt had almost forgotten about the toothpaste sandwiches. And look! They even have fresh fruit, and bananas—”

“No, Ha-chan.”

Hyatt blinked at the uncharacteristic firmness in her partner’s voice. “Pardon me, senior?”

“I said ‘no’. No bananas for you, Ha-chan.”

“But, senior—”

“Ha-chan, everybody who’s sat through our show’s opening credits has seen how you eat a banana. And while Excel is pretty certain that you are doing it in all innocence, I’m also pretty certain that this is supposed to be a G- or at worst PG-rated fanfic, so watching you perform what I shall euphemistically refer to as a ‘full Monica’ on a piece of fruit is almost certainly a bad idea. Comprende, compadre?”

The raven-haired girl was still all smiles. “Hyatt understands. I actually have much more of a craving for tuna fish right now, anyway.”

Excel just stared at her as she walked away toward the food tables, then shook her head (despite expectations, producing no rattling sounds). “Ooh, Excel wishes she was smart enough to figure out whether Ha-chan is intentionally making innuendoes or not. But that doesn’t matter, ’cause you gotta run what you brung, and what matters is that Excel’s little brain cells all work for Lord Ilpalazzo’s ideals, no matter how many of her neurons are actually firing at any given moment! And right now, they’re telling me that I must eat in order to build up my strength for the furtherance of ACROSS’s great agenda! Ain’t that right?!” she demanded of a passing typo gremlin.


“Exactly!” And with that, she sped off for the buffet line.

Death was just finishing her milkshake when she saw a familiar… face, if that’s the right word.

“Death!” she cried, enveloping the robed figure in a hug. “What are you doing here?”


“Thanks, big guy.” Death of the Endless grinned. “But don’t think this means you’re forgiven for getting Good Omens.”


Florestan’s breath exploded from him as something hairy and fragrant slammed into him like a rugby player.

Eloise turned in alarm at the sound, boggling at the sight of Florestan clasped tightly in the embrace of a turbaned man, incongruously clad in a salmon-coloured ball gown and red stiletto heels.

A sudden flurry of bright flashes provided a further distraction for the little troll as the partygoer loudly kissed Florestan on both cheeks and shouted “We all love you!”

Before Florestan could frame a suitable reply, the man made a rather hairy leg and flounced off, gaily telling nearby bystanders that “He was taller than I had expected and very nice looking.”

“Really, a bit of a one trick pony,” someone standing in front of Eloise said. “He’s all full of himself after that little performance at the palace last week. Still, news is news.”

Eloise tore her eyes away from the retreating back of the turbaned man and turned to face the speaker, a smiling, dark-haired man wearing an old-fashioned gray suit and a snap-brim fedora. A bulky camera hung from a cord around his neck.

“Hello, Eloise,” he said, squatting down to look her in the eyes. “So tell me… how does it feel to be facing certain death at the hands of a mad god?”

Eloise’s smile, if it were possible, doubled its breadth. “Joe!” she exclaimed. “How are you?!” Not waiting for him to answer, she barrelled on: “Still working as a newsman I see—still at the Skaro Daily Planet, or have you moved up in the cosmos? And how’s Verity? Actually, mad gods won’t be a problem this year, thanks to the ‘enhancements’ Zaquum gave Sweetheart last year. I hoping the worst we have to contend with this year is that we run out of ice,” she added in a conspiratorial tone, “but with the Doctor here in all his incarnations, I fear it is a vain hope.” She let loose a small giggle. “Frankly, I sometimes think he needs trouble like a frog needs a pond—the two are never far apart.” She sighed, finally having run out of steam. “So—how are you?” she asked again.

“It’s good to see you, too, Eloise,” Joe said, smiling warmly. “I’m doing well. I’m working freelance now. I’m glad to hear about the security precautions. It’ll be nice to not dodge angry Elder Powers this year… although that would make a great story.”

Joe’s smile faltered as he looked at the troll.

“As for Verity…” he paused, looking uncomfortable. “She’s, er, on holiday right now.”

Standing up, Joe shook Florestan’s hand. “It’s a pleasure and honor, sir,” he said. “Thanks for the invitation. Now, if you and Eloise will excuse me, I’d like to catch Magnus for a quick word or two. He still owes me an interview.”

Patting Eloise on the shoulder, Joe gave her a quick smile and hurried off.

Florestan turned back to trying to make head or tail of the Snark Detector Manual. It was evident that the Plain English Campaign had never got within a mile of it.

Oh it’s you, I remember you but you were black or was it white and now you are grey.
We all have problems, my dear. At least I am not red or blue.

“That appears to be everyone,” Florestan said when no one new had arrived for several minutes. “Shall we go in and formally start the dance?”

“I’m not certain,” said Eloise. “I’m still half-expecting—”

Her half-expectation was realized with the sounding of a bell chime. It was a church bell, muted as if by distance yet still right here, just like the sound of a TARDIS materialization. As the chiming grew in volume if not in proximity, a large wooden door with great hinges and handle of black metal gradually appeared against the near wall of the house next door. When it had solidified and the noise had ceased, the door opened on a room nowhere in that house, and four people came out.

Florestan recognized the bearded fairhaired man in the Round Table Spacefleet dress jumpsuit. “King Arthur! Welcome.”

“Thanks for having us,” said Arthur. “I’m glad you see the value in Eloise’s tradition.”

“I hope no one resents my putting my own stamp on it.”

“Of course not. Resentment isn’t joyful.” Arthur turned to Eloise, whom the rest of the arrivals had been greeting. They now turned to Florestan.

“Good evening, my friend!” Nimue looked rather like Romana Two, but for the bob. She was decked out in the formal dress of the Council of Nine of the time-traveling sorcerors of the planet Avalon, a gown of an insubstantial translucence with which Florestan wasn’t certain he was comfortable. “Let me introduce you to two friends on their first excursion outside continuity: young Alcides of the planet Greece—” Nimue lowered her voice. “—the future hero Hercules.”

“You don’t have to whisper Outside, Nimue,” said Alcides, shaking Florestan’s hand. Alcides was wearing Clark’s prom tux from the first season finale of Smallville. He was avoiding looking at Nimue.

“And,” Nimue introduced the last arrival, “Saint Pudentiana the Fairy Bane, the Chosen One of her generation, able to banish Fairie to their home otherworld permanently.”

“Hi,” said Pudentiana, dropping a passable curtsey. She was dressed in Buffy’s prom dress from the episode with Andrew’s brother’s helldogs.

“There really is a Saint Pudentiana, isn’t there?” Florestan remembered.

Nimue nodded. “One of the first martyrs.”

“You don’t have to say that every time,” Pudentiana complained.

“Won’t be much of a party,” Arthur agreed.

“Shall we all go in?”

[Elsewhere in the party.]
Impact detonators are all very well, Ace, however I do prefer fuses with an option for time detonation.
But with Nitro Nine.
Oh, there you have a point, the stuff is so unstable.
[Meanwhile, Elph was stealing scumble from a rather inebriated drinker and Magnus had found a card table.]
And what is my favourite criminal going to do?
Teach people that you can not win—Three Card Monte or Find the Lady, I think; and since our hosts would justifiably object to playing for money…
[Magnus reached a hand over the table and a pile of poker chips in various denominations appeared.]
Favourite criminal?
Stories about you are easy to sell, and I am still waiting for that full interview you promised.
[Magnus produced a pack of cards and shuffled it.]
Now if I really wanted to make money, I would have a shill and possibly an enforcer or two, but Varne seems to be enjoying herself. As for the interview, you had the chance and blew it. How is Verity, by the way?

You try the door. It is unlocked. You open the door.

What you see takes your breath away: a grand ballroom, all gilt and marble and mirrors, that would give Louis XVI’s palace a run for its money.

“Ha— wha— huh?” you stammer, but before you can get your tongue to shape the questions exploding in your brain, a strange creature, with skin the color of a birthday balloon, a nose like Pinnochio’s, and dressed in a tuxedo takes you by the hand. “Oh good! You’re not too late!” she (he? it? Is this a troll?) says, as if you, especially, were the guest of honor. “Hurry, the dance is about to start!”

You are ushered into a long line, and are faced with a partner, in the line across from you, that is very much like the one who led you in here, except its skin was like a different colored balloon.

You barely have time to say: “Hello,” when the band of trolls strikes up (playing mostly kazoos and party tooters, it sounds like). A tall man, with long auburn-grey hair pulled back into a pony tail, is doing his best to conduct them. There is a grand flourishing beginning, and then the dance begins… except no one seems to know what do. They try to do-se-so, and change partners, and back, and turn in time with the music, but it soon disintegrates into a mix of: “Oh, pardon me—is that your foot?” and: “Excuse me.” and lots of: “oopsie!”

The conductor on the stage looks just a bit distressed. But then an avocado-green troll (dressed in a fuchsia and purple ball gown, of all things, with a birthday hat of the same color perched atop her head) sings a few, trilling, warm up notes. The dancers quiet down (with much apparent relief), to listen.

While the orchestra plays on, with growing enthusiasm (if not exactly skill), the troll sings:

“Will you click on my thread title?” oh, the nasty flamer cried.
“It is full of strong invective, my wit and all my pride.
You have only got ta click your mouse, to enter the de-bate
You’ll read so many curious things that you will surely hate.

“Will you, will you? click on, Lurker, Dear?
Will you, will you?
Will you, will you? click on, Lurker, Dear?

I won’t.” The decided phrase slips from the little girl’s lips with a familiarity that suggests all too frequent usage, and several adults in the vicinity wince in automatic response. It is a peculiarly penetrating voice.

“I never listen to nasty trolls,” she informs the world at large. “They’re BORING!” Another wave of Pavlovian dread hits nearby parents at the dreaded word, and the child pops a fat pigtail into one corner of her mouth and sucks cheerfully, clearly enjoying the effect she is having.

She is a small, plump, moon-faced creature, with glossy brown hair pulled tightly into two pigtails, and her normally pink complexion is flushed to a hectic colour by the amount of energy she has been putting into the dancing—not helped by what looks like a decidedly unsuitable costume. She is wearing what was probably once a smart party frock, with a fitted bodice and rows of little round black buttons up the front, and a sprigged green skirt with a line of wavy red ribbon just above the hem, in all probability disguising a worn patch where the dress has been let down. However, it is hard to get a good look at it, because the wearer is almost enveloped in a large fleece jacket which is not only rather grimy but has to be extremely hot. Her apple-cheeks are almost as scarlet—and her figure as round—as those of the troll she has been dancing with, and her partner gives her a rather concerned look.

“Wouldn’t you like me to take your jacket? You must be absolutely boiling in there—and it’ll be quite safe in the cloakroom here, Miss…”

“Jonah,” the child says firmly. “My name’s Josie, but everybody calls me Jonah because things break down when I’m around. Last time I went on a train, one of the motors fell off when we were in a tunnel—and this boy’s PlayStation gave a hiccup just when I looked at it, and bumped him up three whole levels.”

Sounding very pleased with herself, she stares fixedly up at the chandelier above their heads, with the air of one expecting to be vindicated. But whether because it is part of a living TARDIS, or simply because the laws of statistics are having an off-day, the chandelier remains serenely alight, and Jonah looks rather taken aback.

“Oi, don’t do that!” she protests, snatching back the arm that the brick-red troll is politely easing out of its sleeve. “You’ll squash him—here, Biggles boy, c’m’ere…”

And to the troll’s astonishment, out of the grubby sleeve of her fleece appears a small brown head with round black eyes almost exactly the size and shape of the buttons on the front of her dress. The creature has long stiff whiskers, which are currently whiffling wildly in alarm.

“And did the silly troll nearly squash him, then?” the child croons to her pet, coaxing it out of the empty sleeve and onto her hand. “Come on then, you pink-nosed whiffler, you bug-eyed Biggles-rat, you…”

The rat’s sensitive nostrils are indeed pink and whiffling constantly, this appearing to be his permanent condition; but he allows himself to be soothed by the stream of nonsense, and scrambles nimbly up to sit on her shoulder, where he flattens himself caterpillar-like under her absently stroking finger, and sniffs curiously at the end of one pigtail. He is revealed as a sturdy cream-coloured animal with a brown head and shoulders, and a long brown stripe down the centre of his back that runs all the way to his agile tail, the tip of which is currently dangling lovingly down the inside of Jonah’s collar.

“This is Biggles,” the girl announces loudly to all and sundry, with especial attention to Schroedy and Nuku-Nuku, who have both raised their heads with suspiciously identical expressions of interest. “He’s a pedigree fancy rat descended from two generations of champions, and he’s off-limits—okay?”

Schroedinger draws himself up into his most dignified statue-of-Bast pose and subjects the girl to a stare designed to suggest that he is no common mouser, but a very-near-Siamese who expects his food to be served on plates. She stares right back at him, unimpressed. It’s anyone’s guess who’ll break first.

Then Daibhid reinforces Schroedy’s message, but completely destroys any sense of dignity about it, by saying, “I wouldn’t worry about Schro, here. He’s scared of rats, aren’t you?”

Schroedy redirects his glare appropriately, then casually leaps down, and saunters back into the corridors he’d been exploring, before this discussion draws the attention of the Melmacians at the buffet table.

“Well, any other cats, who aren’t scared of rats, should be scared of trying anything with this one,” the girl reiterates. Having made that point quite clear, the girl—plus rat—makes her way over to the bar, where Sandra meets her with a professional smile. “And what can I get you—? Hey!”

“I just wanted to see what would happen,” Jonah explains with a smug look, continuing to wave her hand energetically through the bar-tender’s semi-transparent body. “Did anyone ever tell you you’re all cold inside? Does that tickle?”

Sandra’s PK takes a remorseless grip on the child and deposits her firmly and none-too-gently ten feet back from the bar, with a thud that jolts her teeth in her head. “Shall we try that again?” she suggests, smiling sweetly. “What would you like to drink?”

For a moment Jonah’s lip quivers ominously, but she meets Sandra glare for glare. “Biggles likes cider,” she states with the air of one who doesn’t expect to be believed.

Sandra raises spectral brows and produces an tiny eye-dropper. “One rat-sized cider, coming right up,” she confirms. “And for you, Miss?”

Jonah eyes her briefly, and then seems to concede victory. “Orange juice, please.”

“Ah. That’s Imran’s department.” Sandra looks round. “Imran? Imran!”

“Yeah, Sandra?” Imran says.

“I think this one’s for you. She wants an orange juice.”

“…Okay,” Imran says, as Sandra floats off to the next guest. “Er… is that orange juice or orange squash?”

The little girl thinks this over. “Orange squash, please. Orange juice tastes horrible.”

“Coming right up,” Imran says.

“Excuse me,” Jonah says.


“The ghost lady. Does it tickle her when someone sticks their hand in her?”

“I wouldn’t know,” Imran says. Under his breath, he murmurs, “Largely because I’m not suicidal.”

Jonah smirks.

Nuku-Nuku’s ear-sensors popped out of her head as she neared the two strange girls at the seafood table. The blonde one was at that moment in the process of stuffing an entire plateful of sardines into her mouth, but it was the more demure dark-haired girl that caught the attention of Nuku’s scanners.

“Hello,” the android catgirl said politely. “Excuse Nuku-Nuku, but Dying-Girl-san isn’t human, is she?”

The pale girl blinked at her, then broke into a wide smile. “Why, that’s exactly right,” she replied. “I am actually a princess from a far planet. My name is H—” Hyatt caught herself in time as she remembered the alias she went by back in F City. “Ayasugi. My name is Ayasugi. And this is my senior co-worker, Miss…” She was stumped for a second as she wrestled through the list of names that Excel had been operating under of late. What was it? Not She-Ra Skeletor Jones; that was just for the tax people. And not Hanako Dosukoi, which was just for their part-time jobs. And not Celexay, which was used in a fanfic by an author much funnier than her current one. Oh, wait…

“Miss Dohnim,” she finished. “Miss Sue Dohnim.”

“Hello, Dohnim-san,” Nuku-Nuku said, amiably extending a hand to Excel.

Excel lowered the plate from her face, caught sight of who was talking to her, and immediately began screaming. “AH! It’s another Ropponmatsu robot-chick! Make it go away! Excel doesn’t want to play the part of the plucked lily again!”

“Please excuse my senior,” Hyatt explained to Nuku. “She’s had bad experiences with purple-haired cat-eared android girls in the past.”

“That’s okay,” grinned the catgirl. “Nuku-Nuku gets that a lot.”

A tall, decidedly overweight brunette wearing glasses with inch-thick lenses meandered through the parking lot and toward the front door, tugging desperately at the neckline of her rumpled burgundy gown in a futile attempt to raise it two or three inches.

“I look like a cow in this thing,” Lorrill muttered, scuffing her feet on the asphalt. “And I swore I was never gonna wear a dress again after that horror I had on for high school graduation, and… and… everybody can see my boobs!” she wailed, pulling the neckline up so high that it nearly covered her head.

The five-year-old skipping along behind her (clad in her own conception of Regency children’s clothing, in lemon-yellow) giggled. “You said a naughty wo-ord, you said a naughty wo-ord…”

“You’re my Muse, aren’t you?”


“So deal! ’Specially since you’re the one who insisted I should get all gussied up in this puppy.”

The five-year-old giggled again and shook her brick-red curls, abruptly morphing into a petite but well-stacked young woman of about twenty-five, clothed in a more “adult” version of the lemon-yellow party dress. “It’s a theme party, silly! You have to fit the theme.”

“You just said that ’cause you know you look good in this kinda thing. I could be wearing a sandwich board for all you’d care.”

“How can you possibly say that? Of course I care about you, lovie—it’s a Muse’s job to care!”

“Then how come, when it comes to my writing, you’ve got the attention span and the maturity of the five-year-old you like to pretend to be?”

The former five-year-old fished a fan out of the recesses of her gown and held it in front of her face, fluttering her eyelashes with all the coquettishness she could muster. “Ah have no ideah what y’all are talking about, sugah.”

Lorrill gave her a disgusted look. “Scarlett O’Hara you ain’t. Now drop the ‘poor li’l ol’ me’ act and answer the stupid question, already.”

“Too late!” the Muse trilled, stabbing her finger out and ringing the doorbell before Lorrill had the chance to react.

Damn you! If I weren’t stuck with you, I’d trade you for a brownie, I swear I would…”

But it was too late. The door was opening. With a frustrated sigh, Lorrill plastered her best “See, I’m not shy and unsocial, really I’m not!” smile on her face and turned to meet her potential hostess.

Much to her surprise, there was no hostess at the door, potential or otherwise, or anyone else, for that matter. “Hmm,” she muttered. “The wind must’ve blown it open, or something. Oh well, since there’s nobody here to greet us, I guess that means we can go home, right?” A genuine, relieved smile replaced the plaster one as Lorrill turned to take her unnoticed leave.

A thumb-prod from her Muse made her swing around to face the door again. “Melissa!” she yelped. “You know how much I hate it when you do that.”

“I was really looking forward to this party, and you’re not going to spoil it for the two of us. Now march your little derriere through that door and try to at least act like you’re enjoying yourself.”

Lorrill rolled her eyes theatrically. “Now why did I have to get stuck with a Muse who insists that I socialize?” she asked nobody in particular.

“Git. Now,” Melissa mock-drawled, giving Lorrill a firm shove in the general direction of the festivities.

Lorrill charged up to the bar, muttered “A grasshopper, please,” and planted herself on a barstool as if she intended to take root there.

Melissa sighed pointedly. “I don’t know why I ever bother to take you anywhere.”

“Neither do I,” Lorrill snapped, turning to see if anybody she knew was present.

There they were, just a-walkin’ down the quiet suburban cul-de-sac, singing,

Touch my tongue with honey-dew,
Tirra lirra lay.

—A tanned, dark-haired mid-thirtyish guy of mild expression and sleepy-lidded, humorous eyes, clad all in a bewildering monotony of greys: elephant-grey shoes of the finest and softest leather; slatey trousers and gunmetal shirt of no very familiar fabric; all capped by a short many-pocketed cloak of Guess Hue, which no more hid the big torchlike ray-gun at his right hip than it hampered what appeared to be an unusably slender dress-sword at his left.

They were singing their merry heynonnery as a four-part round, and there was something funny about it. All right, all right, some things! Sheesh!

Tomorrow it may drip with rue,
Hoora loora hay.

—Walking arm-in-arm alongside him, a fair lady of a slight, ethereal beauty: her flaxen hair cut somewhat short, her eyes a brilliant electric blue (fit to make her skyey ballgown look faded), looking out over a pair of gold-rimmed half-moon spectacles that was secured by a beaded chain about her neck. She looked cheerful, alert, and unflappable. Her voice was a pleasant, clear mezzo-soprano of decent amateur quality, and did not appear to be responsible for the still-unspecified auditory weirdness.

But under linden-shaded skies,
We’ll make our lovely pleasantries.

—Behind the lady, a great hulking wossname. Imagine Giant Haystacks or one of those guys, veiled from the gaze of the vulgar by a cowled robe of tentlike looseness, whose satiny material appears pearl-grey from a distance, but resolves up close into the bewildering shifty rainbow of precious opal. Even such an apparition was this, and he glided along with the grace of a dancer; sang his part in a magnificently rich bass which would easily win him the villain’s part in the major operatic production of your choice in about two minutes flat; and there is something else about that heroic voice which now causes the Recording Angel to dash away in mickle distress and confusion to said apparition’s partner.

Oh, and either there were two portable rocket-launchers in our giant’s hip pockets under all that, or he was just pleased beyond measure to see both the ladies of their little company. One could scarcely blame the lad!

The briefest pause, and then his partner took the lead-line onwards:

Hold my heart and hope to live,
Tirra lirra lay.

—Lastly but in no way leastly, we have her to speak of. At first blush, she resembled someone with whom a fashion-jaded Prince Regent might have diverted himself awhile, not wisely, but entirely too well. Short, ice-blonde, and stacked like bribes before a jobbing Hanoverian backbencher, she went in an unseasonable woollen white dress, about two centuries past such doubtful mode as it might ever have been à la. Below its hem, blue stockings were distinctly visible. Black beauty-spots and wine-dark, absurdly bee-stung lips stood out in high contrast from a face pale with entirely too much powder. Already showing signs of unladylike sweltering in the heat, our heroine had compounded with the midsummer sun by rolling up her sleeves as far as they would go, showing off to shameless advantage rather plebeianly pink and muscular arms, of which the right bore a tasteful tattoo of a barbed-wire wreath enclosing the legend BAROQUE CHICK. A pair of heavy-rimmed tortoiseshell glasses dangled on a leather thong about her sweet dividing throat, attracting the—


Ahem. Thank you, my dear. As I was attempting to say before being violently assailed with a rolled-up web site… attracting the inevitable comparison with the like fashion in her electric-eyed companion. And, now that the words ‘like fashion’ are on our lips, we notice a most curious phenomenon: that, the longer we regard those two very differently pulchritudinous fizzogs, the more we are compelled to admit that they really look suspiciously akin. The cheekbones; the noses; even a certain something about the eyes and mouth, that somehow suggests humour in the one and appetite in the other; and yet, and yet… Why, give or take the attentions of a truly tacky Hollywood surgeon, one could almost take the two for sisters!

And one would, in point of fact, be bang on, despite the fact that one’s theory is lent no support whatsoever by the Baroque Chick’s smokily passionate whisky alto.

I’ll give you all I’ve got to—

Ah, that’s what was wrong with the round: the fellow in grey was in fact merely lip-synching, his part in the piece being carried by a weird throat-singing somehow perpetrated from within the hooded one’s cowl. Could there possibly be two gentlemen in there, like some kind of bipedal pantomime horse? Whatever! The whole arrangement is clearly preposterous, and Management accepts no responsibility for the fact that not even the most sophisticated observer could reasonably have been expected to figure it out at first brush, and that consequently, as you have no doubt already observed, Management didn’t.

But soft! What new playmates come to join our joyous throng?

“Oi! Weirdo!”

The company turned their gazes, as one, to the four lollygagging youths across the street who had so hailed them. Then they looked in brief confusion at each other.

The Grey One shrugged at his elegant companion. “Ladies before gentlemen! Carrie…?”

Carrie bobbed impishly at the cowled type or types. “Age before beauty… Fastolf?”

“Love before honour…” A low, nay very low, humour rumbled in those deep bass tones. “Mistress Candy?”

“Pearls before swine, Gray!” finished Candy the Baroque Chick, applying her sensible shoe cheerfully to the original candidate’s posterior. “Get to it!”

That very gentleman made their young interlocutors a sweeping bow, as they approached. “Trader Grey’s the name, square dealing’s the game: may I help you in any way?”

The leading youth smacked his Louisville Slugger into his open palm, with the practised air of someone who does something more or less of that kind most frequently. “You can cut the prancing about miming like a pop ponce… Hey, gramps, you some kind of Commie?” He gestured at the monogram on Gray’s cloak.

“It’s a gavel-and-ploughshare,” the Trader stated stiffly, “so no: I’m a Marxist-Grouchoist…”

“Hey, this one’s funny!” another of these lads opined.

“Well, you can just turn your dopey Red ass around and get,” the leader proposed, slugger-slapping as to the manner born, “the thirty spods dressed as robots used up our weirdo quota half an hour ago. We got property values round here, see?”

The Trader started, much to his audience’s evident amusement. “Who the hell would bring thirty robots?”

“No problems, me old cock,” Candy reassured him, staring rather unnervingly into space. “My calendar shows a bunch of the S of M’s scouts playing silly buggers today: they’re setting up—”

“Oh, bother!” Carrie smote her brow in annoyance. “I forgot we were scheduled for Bad Fanfic No Biscuit of the Cybermen this summer! Well, at least we know how that one ends!”

“It’s all right,” the Trader hastened to convey to the Loutleader, “the Eighth Doctor blows them, and I use the term advisedly, all away in St Louis six hours hence, and it does not compute so they all die in a massive infodump (such as I always eschew, myself). Earth is quite safe, so we’ll just be at our, er, costume party now…”

M’lud was not amused. “Yeah, yeah: now take your queer Trekkie crap outa here.”

“Did he mention ‘now’?” an inquiring what-you-may-call-it wanted to know.

“I think I did, Mike!”

The Trader’s amiable eyes seemed to grow sleepier, and his hand strayed towards his sword. Fastolf reached out a harlequin-scaled, claw-tipped… gauntlet, surely?… from the wonderful cloak. Candy whipped out a cat-of-nine-tails from some locus perhaps best not inquired after too curiously. But Carrie put an urgent hand on the Trader’s arm.

“Er, Gray, I don’t think Eloise would appreciate our mayheming her neighbours on the way to the Joyful Quadrille…”

Fastolf cat-footed forward with a sinister chuckle, and either that or his sheer bulk gave the opposition momentary pause. “No force: shall be no neighbours to none this side the bourne, two breaths hence…”

In the merciful pause before they worked that one out and made the prediction self-fulfil, Candy called loudly, “Hello, boys…!”

And ripped open the front of her dress via a slightly out-of-period Velcro fastening, displaying herself in the charming panoply of blue stockings, lacy garters, and skimpy white silk petticoat.

BOING! went laddish jaws. Groan! went Carrie inaudibly. Forth! sallied Candy at a gait normally only achievable by Velantians, the Demisemigoddess of Cooch Dancing, and Dave ‘Snaker’ Ray or so it is said. It is even conceivable that she need not have slapped her cat quite so theatrically on the paving-stones, in order to secure their undivided attention.

“So,” she breathed, ophidianising up to the leader and sliding one strong, callused, beringed hand up his Slugger Improper Rampant, “ya want some?”


“Buh. Buh. Buh…” There seemed to be imminent danger of messy eyeball-explosion badness, yet happily the incarnate Manhood of the Suburbs rose to the occasion. “Yeah, you dirty…!”

Candy thoughtfully donated the noun, then by way of balance offered her sober judgement on what manner of men stood before her, and the proper classification of their idiom and conduct, with certain observations on prudent future courses of action. But it only took her seven words, comprising six monosyllables and one pithy gerund.



“HOLY ST NIKE, DELIVER US FROM FEARFUL EVIL!” (Actually, this one was kind of mimed.)


Shutters, not by any means for the first time in Pro-Fun history, slammed discreetly all down the little cul-de-sac. Curtains were pulled to. A few sensitive souls, responding to some ineffable primal instinct hidden within the very morphic field of adwcspace, hid behind sofas, they knew not why, and found perverse wish within them that such should be their weekly portion.

Carrie produced a comb, and set about restoring her barnet fair to somewhere near its ground state. It crackled a lot en route. She clucked at her younger sister annoyedly.

“Did you have to ionise the air quite as much as that?”

“Hey,” Candy chuckled, “I like <boom, boom!>shock tactics</boom, boom!>!”

“Boo. Geroff!” suggested everybody and his dog. Candy preened.

“Would you,” said the Trader, his voice only very slightly strained, “mind putting some clothes back on, sometime?”

“It’s too… darn… hot!”

“Basingstoke,” Carrie remarked, apropos of nothing evident.

“You’re no fun,” her sister retorted sulkily. “And you’re previous. Swan-Drake, how’s about my Bareemi calico?”

“’Tis in thy hands; its folds do already caress thy twin moons of ape’s-delight.” Ape’s-delight? The time has clearly come to mention that the late atmospheric ionisation had so charged the giant’s hood as to make it stir and float backwards, settling back over its wearer’s broad shoulders and revealing a great scaly face that was broad as a frog’s and toothy as a Komodo dragon’s, topped with gaily fluttering membranous crests. Any Dr Who fanboy/girl worth their sodium chloride (now for your added convenience with high-tech anti-caking agents one of which sounds suspiciously like Prussian blue) will surely recognise a Terileptil upon hearing this description, unless they were so unfortunate as to miss The Visitation when it came around. Hurry while stocks last, it has Nyssa in it and some classic Doc-Tegan bickering, not to mention a really cool robot!!!!

Ter’Fastolf, taktikos of that Wonder-Race at Fuji-Greathearth and Nyssa’s honorary uncle as seen in previous episodes, boogied along down with his companions to the parking-lot, and there divested himself of the iridescent tent-robe altogether, revealing himself in his people’s customary livery of jewel-bright enamelled scales. One of the apparent rocket-launchers he now operated, causing it to extrude from its side a neatly pressed and folded white dress, curiously printed with cherries and sparrows and quaint little arrow-struck hearts. Into this Candy poured or rather squirmed herself, whilst her date looked on with purely reptilian aesthetic appreciation. H’mmm!

“Well,” the Trader babbled, resolutely not watching this latter performance, “I think that’s the churlish element cleared from the path for this year, at least. There’s nothing like being a public benefactor, except maybe getting a bounty on it…”

He trailed off distractedly, as his companion reached up to kiss him firmly on the cheek. “Mmm. What was that for?”

“Just because,” Carrie informed him spiritedly, “—you goof!” An overflying pigeon instantly died of acute sugar poisoning, illustrating once again the Law of Unintended Consequences, and thereby furnishing a dreadful warning to do-gooders and bleeding hearts everywhere, or something like that.

Candy removed something from her sensible brogues, and attached it to one of the glass-heeled swive-me court-shoes for which she now exchanged them with Fastolf. Into the clothes-launcher the rejected items went, the reptile’s ‘undercover’ cloak with it.

“Mirror, in your eyes, my buck—” she began, doing a nosebleed-worthy twirl.

“Thee alone, merriest and lustiest nymph of all the several Muses,” the Renaissance Reptile assured her firmly, “and albeit thine own Author may not attend thee, yet bemused of thee must I be, on mine honour’s very authority; wherefore wilt now muse-ise that I may tend to thee indeed, and be author of thine evening’s much amusement?”

“La, Mr Fastolf,” returned Candy with great and sudden dignity, “I shall think you mean to turn my head; but I warn you I am on my guard!” She linked his bright-scaled arm, and cast her gaze demurely towards her sister.

“Shall we?” Carrie asked the Trader sunnily, taking his arm likewise.



And under… quiet suburban… skies,
We’ll rest from warlike errantries!

Trader Grey and his merry band to the Joyful Quadrille came.

previous - index - next

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