Not A-Muse-d > Marmalade, Tungsten, and Plot > Through the Looking Glass

Now that was odd. That was very odd.

Maid TARDIS stopped almost in mid-step, concentrating, waiting to see if it would happen again. It did.

This was wholly unprecedented, and quite puzzling in its nature. She started running all the self-diagnostic programs she could, tracing all her systems circuit by circuit and line by line to try and find the source of this disturbing new development.

Florestan sensed her sudden withdrawal into herself and swiftly strode over, face a mask of concern. “Beloved? Something is wrong, isn’t it?”

As she nodded, it happened again.

She hiccuped.

Her cheeks pinked in mild embarrassment as she explained, “There seems to be a (hic) minor glitch in one of my subroutines, but I (hic) can’t tell exactly where. The (hic) diagnostics show everything normal, and all (hic) vital systems are error-free, but the glitch (hic) remains and may cause some minor local (hic) changes until it is found and corrected.”

“Do you know the source of the glitch?”

“It appears to be (hic) external in nature, due to some form of (hic) interference wavefront on the (hic) quantum level. My tracing program is pinpointing the source (hic) now…”

Her gaze swept across the room, finally alighting on a young girl drinking orange juice at the bar, with a rat perched alertly on her shoulder.

Nipples and corncobs and sliced fishcake rings!
These are a few of my favorite things!

“Senior?” Hyatt politely interrupted. “Does it not seem as if we have been walking down this corridor for a rather long time now?”

“Saaaay, I think you’re onto something there, Ha-chan.” Excel glared at the featureless hallway around them. “You know, I thought that bit with Captain Bligh went too easy back there. Ha-chan, do you suppose we’ve been billiarded?!”

“I think the term is ‘snookered’, senior.”

“Nah, I never got into all that boring British crap.” Excel pounded a fist on the wall. “Ooh, those diabolically fiends have deceived us with their niceness like a Puchuu luring its victim and have trapped us in an endless maze where we will wander until we die, which in your case will probably be in about fifteen minutes or so! But they can’t stop us, or at least me! I’ll get out of here and when I do, I’ll wreak such a horrible vengeance that they’ll all wish I hadn’t! I’ll terrorize them and traumatize them and have pizzas delivered to their houses and steal their morning paper and say their names in a mocking tone of voice and give them tacky and useless ceramic tchotchkes for Christmas!”

“But senior, how shall we escape to wreak our horrible vengeance?”

There was a flicker in the air just then, accompanied by a noise that sounded vaguely like ‘hic’, and a door appeared just a short way down the wall from them.

Excel grinned smugly. “This way, Ha-chan!” Excel grabbed the door and flung it open.

Inside was a library; a huge, dimly-lit, wood-paneled library filled with comfortably clunky wooden shelves packed with books of every description. Hyatt skimmed a few of the titles as they walked among them: Audubon Field Guide to Crossover Villains; Dalek Love Poems; Care and Feeding of Puchuus; The Claire Bible; Unaussprechlichen Kulten.

“Nothing interesting in here,” groused Excel as she walked past a copy of How to Find Your Way Out of TARDIS Corridors. “No food and no victims to vent Excel’s wrath upon. Let’s move on.”

There was another of those weird flickers accompanied by the ‘hic’ noise, and another door appeared on the opposite wall. With a determined ‘what-the-Hell’ shrug, our intrepid heroines(?) set off through it.

Schroedy was not happy. He now had no idea what direction the kitchen lay in. As he always did on the rare occasions he got lost, he lay the blame squarely on the environment, which was obviously moving around to confuse him.

And, just this once, he was right.

Just then he noticed the two humanoids who’d been dressed as a lobster earlier, wandering the corridors. Much as altruism and heroics went against his feline nature, it occured to him that someone ought to keep an eye on them. Besides, one of them had said she was looking for food, so maybe they could find the kitchen.

He set off after them, as silent and invisible as, well, a black cat.

“Hey, Del!” Mrs Candia Harcourt carolled, bouncing up and down with childlike enthusiasm and decidedly Adult effect before that very Endless and her dog. “Spam me, it’s good to see you in the carne at last! How’s the old faulty bagnose?!”

“Hard candy,” agreed Delirium tranquilly, belly-tickling a passing acid-house–singing lamprey that had strayed into her psychedelic field from a previous running gag. “And cough drops. I saw your clambake, but the huskies spilt all the coffee and I had to spike it dead.”

“We-hell, do I hear my ears burning?” Spike demanded, sauntering up. “I think you ought to know, little girl, that I find it distractingly sexy when you talk like that; so just keep it cool, hey?” His cold eyes gave Candy a professionally quick up-and-down. “Nice shoes,” he added, with insolent ellipsis.

“Fie, Sir Spike, *@$% off and be brisk about it!”

“Oh, charming! First your bugger-in-law comes over and pollutes a perfectly good bar; then I come looking for a bit of refined company on me own level, and what do I get? Abuse!” He winked at Delirium. “She’s just jealous, you know. I forgive her totally…”

“Bloody Norah,” the little immortal intoned, with scary near-relevance. Spike’s grin broadened.

“Bloody William,” Candy added, “Del got me through the worst cycles of my life, and I love her for it dearly—”

Spike spread his hands grandly. “I have no bones with that, er, well, anyway, I’m sure I can accommodate—”

“—and should I think you were trying to hit on her, I protest, sir, I should take you into the wood and give you all the wood I could, and not in any way you would like, if you get what I Shadwell-well mean, buster boy!”

Then she made the proverbially fatal mistake of meeting a master-vampire’s gaze.

“#@$%!” Spike rolled his eyes indignantly at the ceiling. “You, my girl, are a loony!” He ducked under a vicious line of shocking pink conger eels doing the Obvious, and,

You, my dear, are well out of this!”

“But I like it,” Delirium said plaintively. “She shall have cake. And all the pretty little hagfish!”

“She means,” Barnabas the dog translated, “*@$% off, Spike, and be brisk about it!”

“I don’t think I care to associate with you people,” the peroxided one announced, with terrible insouciance. “Talk when you can talk sense, all right?” And he slouched off with the seven-league slouch of the righteous.

“Yay!” Candy punched the air so hard her left sleeve ripped all the way to her shoulder. This appeared to bother her remarkably little. “Oh, see you, Sweet, look after yourself, okay? I gotta get back to the knurd-klatsch. ‘Some are born to Etc’, ya know?” She gave Delirium a quick and passionate Eskimo kiss, such as would have imperilled Spike’s hosiery had that low-minded lyricist been looking in the relevant direction, although not for the first time he would have been about as right as a shield bearing a baton sinister being borne round a left turn up a beta-helical staircase into the Fortress of Ultimate Wrongness. And then she was orf!

“She should leverage her lancelet,” Delirium fretted, sotto voce. “The great big tiger teams will come and go snap snap turtle, and there’s an end of belle!”

“Now,” Barnabas noted, “you are, and I ought to know, just taking the mickey!”

“It’s a fair carp,” Delirium stated, with happy inconsequence. The goldfish in question did a triple-somersault-and-pepper, before hastening at the double to the nearest Masonic lodge so that it never again need fear the embarrassment of public scrutiny. Not that there was anything in any way sinister about this! In a free society, the Masons and the Free Plumbers and what-all may be as collectively Koi as they wish!!!

And, about then, milady Eloise did furnish a convenient termination for this scene by announcing the start of yer actual Quadrille.

Together, Eloise and Florestan made their way back up to the small stage, where the troll orchestra was playing quiet background music to the conversations (well, as quiet as could be expected, considering that their instruments consisted of a collection of blowout party noisemakers, kazoos, children’s xylophones and drums). Florestan tapped his baton against the podium, and signalled the band to play a fanfare.

Gradually, the murmur of conversation died down, as all eyes turned to the stage. Eloise picked up the old-fashioned voice trumpet, and announced to the crowd:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we would like to formally begin the festivities with a proper quadrille. Now, contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, this does not involve the flinging of lobsters into the sea—” (at this point, there were several groans of disappoint from those assembled),
“—however, we trust that you will find this to be an amusing diversion nonetheless.”

She paused, and watched as each of her volunteer deputies positioned themselves throughout the crowd, ready to escort those who wished to dance to their places on the floor.

“A quadrille is, basically,” Eloise continued, “a square dance for four couples, all moving through a series of five symmetrical patterns within each square. You need not worry about being a klutz, or tripping over your own feet, as you only need to walk through the moves. And you don’t need to walk fast, either, simply take your time, and perhaps even chat with your fellow dancers. Who knows? You might make some new friends.

“As the Doctors have all danced the quadrille before, each has agreed to be the lead in the first couple of each square. Do your best to follow along, don’t worry about mistakes—just have fun!”

Eloise hopped down from the stage, and went to help her deputies escort adventurous dancers to their places.

When that was done, there were ten “quads” ready to start the dance. At the head of the room, right at the foot of the stage, was Florestan and Maid TARDIS’s group, and the other nine Doctors led their own quadrilles in three rows of three, evenly spaced throughout the hall.

Eloise took Florestan’s spot at the podium, raised the baton, and signalled the start of “The Methusalem Quadrille”.

As the dancers attempted to weave their way through the Quadrille, Joe chatted with Magnus and Varne.

“So, Magnus, what about these rumours that you and Varne eloped last month and honeymooned in Majorca?”

Magnus—a trick of the light causing what appeared to be the most minute of flushes to creep across his impassive face—opened his mouth to answer.


Magnus looked down, somewhat bemused, as the trap door that had suddenly opened under the reporter’s feet snapped shut. He turned to Varne, who shrugged.

“Don’t look at me, my Lord.”

It started out remarkably well, all things considered, at first. It is true that the dances all had the symmetry of a Jackson Pollack painting, but nobody stepped on anybody else’s toes, and nobody seemed concerned about looking the fool (if Q was the exception, he did a good job of hiding it).

And then, in the middle of the second figure, Maid TARDIS knitted her brows, and rubbed her temple with her free hand. At first, she waved off concerned looks from both Florestan and Eloise, but then, just before the third figure, she signaled Eloise to stop the music.

Concerned murmurs of: “What’s wrong?” and “What happened?” sprang up among the assembled dancers.

Maid TARDIS took the stage. “I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen,” she said. But I have an announcement: Doctors, you may not be aware of this—” and here, she eyed Jonah pointedly, “but your sonic screwdrivers have all turned on. This would not be a problem, except they are creating a sonic wave feedback pattern, and I’m finding it very distracting.”

The second through Nth Doctors each reached into whichever pocket held their versions of the sonic screwdriver, and sure enough, each discovered it had turned on by itself. Each making various apologetic noises, they switched them off.

“Thank you,” Maid TARDIS said. “That’s much better. Now, shall we continue the dance?”

The Rhubarb from the crowd assured her that they should.

But just as Eloise raised her baton again, Maid TARDIS stopped her. “There it is again! But that— that’s impossible!”

“What’s impossible?” asked the rhubarb.

“Here,” Maid TARDIS said, “I can show you… I’ll use my translation circuit.” She paused, for a moment, and then a shadowy pattern of intersecting lines, hovering above the ballroom floor, and stretching from wall to wall, appeared.

Those assembled “oohed”.

“This is the pattern I first, heard,” Maid TARDIS explained— “the pattern generated by the wave interference created by the sonic screwdrivers.” She paused again, and another pattern appeared, superimposed over the first—almost identical, but not quite. “And this is what I’m hearing now.” A third pattern appeared—again, slightly different, and then a third, and a fourth.

“Are you sure all your screwdrivers are still turned off?” she asked the Doctors.

They each checked, and yes, all the screwdrivers had remained off.

“Then what’s causing it?” Ian wondered out loud.

Maid TARDIS answered him: “Someone is trying to contact us,” she said.

Florestan nodded. “Yes—I think I see. The first pattern was a fluke. But someone mistook it as deliberate communication—and is trying to respond?”

Maid TARDIS nodded.

“But—” and here, Florestan’s brows knitted in concern “—how did they pick up such a local signal through your real world interface?”

“I don’t know,” she answered, shaking her head in bemusement. “But it is not a breach—I would feel that—and I sense no hostility.”

“Well, m’boy,” First said to Florestan (Eloise noted that Florestan’s back stiffened just a hair, at that, and he took advantage of his greater height to look down his nose at the Doctor), “it seems clear that this is something that needs investigating.”

Florestan looked ready to deny him, if only on principle, but he checked himself, and turned to Maid TARDIS for the final say.

“Well,” she said, “if only to convince them it was all a misunderstanding—and then, we can return to the dance.”

“All right, then,” Florestan said.

A series of small cheers went through the crowd, and someone started chanting the children’s song-story: “We’re going on a bear hunt.”

Eloise could tell that Florestan didn’t want to have the Doctor dictating their course of action. On the other hand, there was an unmistakable twinkle in his eye at the thought of exploring something he knew nothing about.

She herself had to admit to a twinge of misgiving at the thought of yet another celebration being interupted. But at least this was entirely of their own volition—and it would give her a chance to get back into her more comfortable fishing vest.

And so it was decided.

“Florestan has a point…” Third said, rubbing his chin. “Have any of you added hyperspatial functions to your screwdrivers?”

The other Doctors shook their heads.

“Which makes it all the more bizarre that someone was able to pick up any kind of signal from within Sweetheart,” Sixth said. “Her artron energy, perhaps… but the sonic screwdriver? That kind of signal would be lost quickly.”

“Temporal/spatial portal?” Nth suggested.

“I think Sweetheart would have noticed that,” Fifth noted.

“Hm,” First said. “Has anything similar happened to any of you?”

“We’ve been tracked before…” Second said, “but never by someone locking on the sonic screwdriver.”

“Particularly not through the TARDIS’s real-world interface,” Third added.

“Then perhaps…” Eighth said, meditatively, “Perhaps it’s not science we need to be looking at, but magic. Might it be that the feedback from our screwdrivers—in that particular pattern—simulates a spell effect—a magical signal? And that someone, somewhere, somewhen, recieved that signal—and responded to it?”

First considered. “Perhaps, my boy, perhaps… spell-songs are an accepted form of magic… but whether this is a product of magic… this bears further investigation.”

“It wasn’t a Song,” Trella said.

“What do you mean, Trella-san?” Nuku-Nuku asked.

“There wasn’t… well, you heard them. There wasn’t any intent in it. You need to know what you’re doing, what you’re playing—or at least what you’re looking for. Without that, it’s not going to work.

“Besides, there wasn’t any Disturbance.”

“That’s a relief…” Amber observed. “If the chords of the Universe were that easy to discover…”

“So if it wasn’t a Song, what was it?”

“There are other ways of doing things,” Amber said. “Other paths. Some mortal magics can be performed by accident… then again, it could be an unintended side effect of the technology…”

Maid TARDIS shook her head. “It wasn’t magic,” she said, with certainty. “I know what magic feels like, and what ordinary technology feels like. This was ordinary technology. The only question is: What kind of technology… and from where…?”


:::Yes, Amber?:::

:::Have you tried responding to the signal? Let them know their message has been received?:::

:::…No,::: Beloved said apologetically. :::I’m afraid I didn’t want to get their hopes up. Whatever they may be expecting isn’t what they’re going to get, and I’d prefer not to do anything to compound the error—especially since I’m not sure what was said in the first place.:::


:::I have a lock on the signal. Currently following it back to its source.:::

:::Thank you,::: Amber said.

Maid TARDIS’s face got that far away, inward look, and she opened her mouth, as if to say more, but remained silent. Then, her eyes got wide, and she jumped a little, as if some strange creature had suddenly appeared before her.

“Hm,” she said out loud, recovering. “Interesting.”

“What is?” they all asked, more or less at once.

“It’s coming from one of the internal dimensions.”

Florestan breathed a sigh of relief. “So it’s not a breach of your real world interface, after all… but I’d always thought that the internal dimensions were incapable of supporting life.”

Maid TARDIS grinned. “News to me, too,” she said.

“Excuse me,” Charley piped up, “but could someone please tell me what an ‘internal’ dimension is? And don’t any of you say,” she added, looking around at the Doctors, “that you’ll explain it later! (because you never do)”, she added, sotto voce (the companions within earshot all nodded sympathetically).

Maid TARDIS smiled at her. “I’ll do my best,” she said. “There are ten dimensions to the universe,” she went on, “the three outer dimensions: length, width, height (the three dimensions of your everyday space), hyperspace, and time. These five dimensions hold the matter of the universe suspended in a matrix. The other five dimensions—the internal dimensions are…” she paused, searching for the right word, “‘folded’ inside the atoms of matter, itself.”

“Where the red lectroids are?” Gordon piped up.

“I doubt it,” she said, gently. She was about to add: “that was just science fiction,” but thought better of it.

“So this means…?” Charley prompted.

“Well,” Maid TARDIS said, “if we want to meet whoever is sending the message, we’re going to have to find a way to fit ourselves into whichever internal dimensions this message is coming from.”

“And that means?”

“Well, to use a literary metaphor, it means we’re going to have to go through the looking glass.”

“Yes!” said Amy, grinning happily. “The plot begins! And the best part is that I got what I wanted, which was the dance, and now you’re getting what you wanted.”

“Then why are you so excited?” said Q. “You’re heading straight into something you don’t know anything about.”

“Isn’t that what Jean-Luc does all the time?”

“Jean-Luc has an entire starship to investigate things with. At present, you have nothing, not even a Muse.”

“I have that human desire for change and progress that you admire so much. I also have faith in the hosts of this party and in the forces of Pro-Fun. We are going to get through this.”

“Forgive me if I don’t share your confidence.”

“Through the—” Allie began. “Lewis Carroll?

Dominic allowed himself a wintry smile. “Yes. When the books were first published, they had… shall we say… strange effects on Subreality. And when I say ‘strange’ in Subreality, I mean it was strange, even by Subreality’s standards.

“Whether the books have any relevance beyond the metaphorical in this case, I don’t know—but even so…”

“It couldn’t hurt to have to have them to hand,” Maid TARDIS finished.

~Already taken care of,~ Silence signed.

The library door had opened onto yet another featureless hallway. It, too, went on for some way, but the ceiling grew lower and lower, until Excel and Hyatt found themselves crawling on hands and knees.

“Senior, this is most fatiguing,” Hyatt said, who was leading the way. “Also, I flush with shame to admit it, but I’m beginning to feel somewhat poorly again.”

“Now, Ha-chan, try not to die again until we can find our way out of this endless maze to wreak our well-earned vengance upon those treacherous fools who wish to eliminate us like yesterday’s pancakes or last week’s toothpaste sandwiches,” Excel said. “And for the record, contrary to the alleged events of any apocryphal episode, I wish you to know that I do not find it distracting to be crawling inches, milimeters even, behind the hypnotic, pendulous sway of your hindquarters (so round, so firm, so fully packed—”

“Senior, there is—”

“Don’t interupt,” Excel snapped. “It’s rude. I—”

The hallway dipped suddenly down, Excel, too busy jawboning to notice her surroundings, plowed into Hyatt, who had stopped short at the edge of what appeared to be a vertical shaft.

Hyatt teetered a moment at the edge and might have saved herself if Excel had not mindlessly continued forward, intent on her monologue.

“And then I’ll pinch their little heads off, and give them paper cuts, and throw them in a swimming pool of lemon juice—yeeaaaarghhhhhh!”

Either the shaft was very deep, or Excel and Hyatt fell very slowly, for they had plenty of time to shriek and babble and attempt to climb on top of each other’s heads.

“Ah, Excel is too young to die! Never will she enjoy the glories of her nuptial night with Lord Ilpalazzo! Never will she get to fulfill her lifelong dream of winning the Kentucky Derby! Never will she—”

“Senior!” Hyatt called, her voice muffled by Excel’s feet, “Senior, look at the walls.”

Interupted in mid-panic, Excel looked at the sides of the shaft, which seemed to be filled with bookshelves and cupboards and maps and pictures. She greedily snatched a jar from one of the shelves as she passed.

“ORANGE MARMALADE,” Excel crowed in triumph. To her great disappointment, however, it was empty so she tossed it away in fury.

“Now, Excel will never again enjoy the unctuous goodness of orange marmalade! Never will she—”

The fall ended in a tremendous crash. Excel bounced off something soft and yielding and rolled to a stop against the metalwork of what appeared to be a spiral staircase. Silence descended. There was a soft click like a trapdoor sealing itself.

Climbing groggily to her feet, Excel found herself in a great hexagonal chamber. Three of the chamber’s five walls were covered in bookshelves, holding row after row of nearly identical books. A narrow hallway on another wall led out into a seeming series of identical rooms.

A strange voice from another room caused Excel to run in panicked circles.

“And Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah: these were the borogoves…”

A giant white rabbit with pink eyes, wearing a tattered waistcoat and a necklace of dirty finger bones, led a procession of strange and fantastic figures into the room. It was reading from a book clasped between its front paws. Stamped in gilt letters upon the spine of the book was the title The Revelation of St. Alice.

The rabbit looked up at Excel, pink eyes widening in shock, and then turned slowly to gaze at something behind her.

“Er, what have you done to the Oracle?” he said, shutting the book and clasping it under his arm.

“Oracle? What Oracle? Excel doesn’t know any Oracle!”

The rabbit pointed behind Excel. She turned to look. Hyatt sprawled untidily upon the floor, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth.

“Oh, that is normal for Hyatt,” Excel said, with relief. “You see, her rhythm has been much disrupted lately. She will be—”

“Not her,” the rabbit said, pointing again. “The Oracle.”

Excel turned again. Just beyond Hyatt’s battered body, a robotic figure slumped, sparks intermittently spitting from its shattered head. A broken orange marmalade jar lay nearby.

“Er, Excel is sure there is a perfectly reasonable explanation.”

“The question now, though,” Second mused, “is: how do we go ‘through the looking glass’?”

Maid TARDIS nodded. “It certainly is a tricky problem, to put it mildly. What we need to do is enter one of the dimensions inside atoms—I don’t know which dimension, and I don’t know which atoms—they may be the atoms which make up our own bodies. …Which is a prospect that boggles even my transdimensional mind,” she added, with a wry smile, “and I had thought I understood these things.”

Dominic noted the twinkle in the Maiden’s eye—the same twinkle he had seen in Florestan’s, a little while before. Her pilot’s quest, all those millennia ago, had been hers as well, he realized. And now that it was over, and there was no going back, both had been at a bit of a loss. The two of them were clearly a team, and were clearly eager for an adventure together.

The maiden cocked her head. “I need to do some investigating of my internal matrix,” she said, “but keeping my mind within this form is rather constricting, so I am going to revert to my default state. I won’t be able to speak directly with you,” she added, “but I’ll try to communicate through signs.”

“A moment,” said Florestan.

[Florestan had been fiddling with the Snark detector.]
Beloved, if I am reading this correctly it is picking up the same signal you are.
[Maid TARDIS moved over and scanned the manual through the translation circuitry.]
Well, it seems to be indicating the destination I am heading for. I wonder what Nin-Adad thought a snark was?
Magnus might know; I will go and ask him.

“Very well,” said Maid TARDIS. “And I will proceed with my investigation now, if nobody has any objections.”

She stepped up to one of the many marble columns, and then—well—some of the guests said she walked inside of it, others said she melted into it, but all agreed that she appeared to vanish.

“So…” someone asked, after a moment, “what do we do now?”

“Wait for a signal, I suppose,” someone else answered.

“If you’ll all accept my opinion,” said Nth.

The practice of Doctors had been murmuring between themselves even as they participated in the discussions about them. Their usual childish hostility in interacting with each other was dampened in proportion to the seriousness of the matter; but it was nevertheless such a novelty to be addressed by himself with sincere modesty that their conversation cut off immediately.

“I know it’s traditional at the Pro-Fun that we all hang together,” said Nth, “but it occurs to me that we might more effectively bring my talent and experience to whatever adventure awaits us this time if we split up.”

The Doctors looked to each other, and seemed to find themselves in agreement. “It makes sense,” said Seventh.

“The monkey business last year would’ve been wrapped up much more quickly and neatly had I not been pointing out the obvious to you lot in the fairyworld,” said Sixth.

“It’s settled then,” said Nth, speaking quite quickly. “I’ll go see what it is Eloise wishes to confer with Magnus about.”

“Sneak,” Second muttered as Nth scurried off.

“It was a good idea,” said Fifth, also moving away. He noted the direction in which the Grey guests lay, and went the other.

“Of course it was,” said First as the Doctor broke up, “it was ours.”

[Magnus was amusing himself and some of the other party-goers by giving them poker chips and proceeding to win them back. Even when he stopped to show people just how he was doing it, it hardly discouraged them.]
Of course, with this game I am cheating. Now, if it was something like Faro I would not need to do that.
You seem very well acquainted with gambling.
It’s a living, when nothing more interesting is available.
[Magnus smiled reminiscently.]
I once took Prinney for over a thousand guineas at piquet. Oh, hello, Eloise.

Beloved let her mind flow throughout her structure, relaxing with relief as someone would after taking off a too-tight pair of shoes.

She found the glitch that Jonah(?) had triggered in her configuration circuit, and fixed it, and turned on her safety lock against telekinesis.

She found Excel and Hyatt, and was bemused that her subconscious had turned one of her corridors into the Rabbit Hole… obviously, all the cracks about the lobster quadrille had more effect than she realized. She deposited them very gently three feet, four and one-eighth inches above a pair of chairs in the kitchen—and let gravity take over from there.

She found Joe Wade wandering in a confused state through her Wild Garden, and opened a door for him back outside.

Then she set about the real business at hand: finding the dimension whence the strange signals had come.

“Uh-huh,” said Excel as she flopped into the kitchen chair. “So, we go through a couple of magic doors, fall down a hole into a post-apocalypse version of Miyuki-chan in Wonderland, where I inadvertently commit a fairly serious breach of religious etiquette, but before Mr. Hassenpfeffer and his cronies can take a violent and disproportionately nasty revenge, we get magically whisked away to a comfortable and well-stocked kitchen.” She tapped her chin thoughtfully. “This isn’t the weirdest thing that’s happened to me, but it probably makes the top ten. For this week. Since Wednesday, anyway. What do you think, Ha-chan? HA-CHAN!”

Hyatt was lolling in the chair beside hers, limbs a-dangle like a stringless puppet’s. Her eyes were locked in a wide, dead stare and her normally alabaster skin had gone a fish-belly white.

“Oh, man! Ha-chan’s dead as a hammer again! That fall must have been harder on her than I thought!” She felt a little pang of conscience at the sight of a shoe print on her friend’s head. That probably hadn’t helped.

Frantically, Excel went through all the emergency procedures she could think of. First, some CPR. No luck. She still didn’t have a pulse. Some mouth-to-mouth, then. Still no luck. Some running around in little circles while yelling at the top of her lungs. Still nothing. She thought back to what the paramedics had done for her that time she got hit by the dump truck and spent several seconds hollering, “Hey, kid! Don’t die, okay?!” into Hyatt’s ear, but even such professional medical procedures didn’t have any effect.

But wait, Ha-chan had those pills of hers! One of those should bring her around in no time! She started to sort through the dead girl’s pockets, only to realize that not only did Hyatt’s ACROSS uniform not have any pockets, but that such pockets would have been unusable even had they existed, due to the extreme skin-tightness of the fabric. Yet, Ha-chan had carried the pill bottle on several other occasions. Where could she be hiding it?

Hmmm… If a girl was really determined, she could slip it—

Excel killed that thought before it started and just decided to decide that Hyatt’s pills were not on her.

But there was something else, some other thing that seemed to do Ha-chan a lot of good. What was it…? Excel pounded on her own head to try and make her brain work a little harder. What was that thing?

She caught sight of the trickle of red that was drying on Hyatt’s chin and it clicked. Tomato juice! Ha-chan was always drinking tomato juice to keep her strength up.

Excel dove headfirst into the nearest cupboard, slinging cans behind her like an insane blonde dachshund digging after a ferret in order to save its best friend, or, uh, something like that.

“AHA! Excel has found it!” She thrust up an arm in triumph, holding the precious juice can for all to see except that the only other person who could have seen it was kind of dead at the moment. In doing so, she struck the shelf above her, knocking off a can of lima beans onto her head and denting it severely (the can, that is; Excel didn’t even notice).

“Here ya go, Ha-chan. Bottoms up!”

She poured about a third of the can into Hyatt’s mouth. For a moment, nothing happened and a horrible, crushing dread stole over Excel. But then Hyatt’s chest hitched a little. That was all, though. Just a couple of breaths.

“Oh, blowfish! The tomato juice isn’t strong enough on its own. I know! Excel will put her mad culinary skillz to the test and add some more pep to this stuff!” A few seconds of hyperactive searching revealed an entire pantry loaded with spice and sauces, and Excel tore into them with a will.

“Let’s see… Kimchee, that’s good stuff…” A heaping dollop of the fish sauce went into the juice can. “Cayenne pepper… tobasco… shredded jalapeno… wasabi sauce… Cajun gopher sauce… some tungsten for good measure… a bit of nutmeg…” She got the can back over to Hyatt just before the bottom could melt out of it and poured the smoldering contents down her friend’s throat.

The reaction was immediate. Hyatt leaped bolt-upright, veins pounding in her temples and screaming like an air-raid siren on crack. Her feet were already moving before she was even fully standing and she took off around the kitchen, making two full laps before she even slowed down.


There was a sink set into the countertop, and Hyatt cranked the water all the way on and stuck her head under the faucet, still gasping.

Even Excel was impressed by this display of pointless energy, which was usually her own area of expertise. “Wow, Ha-chan! You sure don’t move like that very often. Are you okay now?”

Hyatt straightened, pushing back her wet hair, and fixed Excel with a gaze that was rather steelier than was normal for her. “I am fine, Mireille,” she said in a quiet but firm voice. “The assassins’ bullets barely touched me.” She held up her right hand as though it were a gun and cocked back her thumb with her left. “Let us complete our assignment and kill the remaining Soldats in this building.”

“Hssst!” Excel whispered. “Wrong character, Ha-chan.”

“Ha-chan?” Hyatt asked. “Why call me that, Mireille? My name is Kirika, as far as I know. Or have you discovered more evidence of my true past?”

Another of the cans Excel had knocked about earlier chose that moment to fall off its shelf with a loud clatter. Hyatt spun toward the noise, pointing her finger at it. “P-kow! P-kow!” she spat, making shooting motions. “We’re trapped, Mireille,” she said evenly. “We may have to shoot our way out.” A single tear tracked down her pale cheek. “I must kill, and yet, why can I feel no sorrow for the taking of life?”

Now the thing about Excel’s mind was that it functioned on a whole different level from that of more normal people, or even most abnormal people. Linear thought and logic meant little to her except as words you might see while perusing the dictionary for the definition of ‘lobotomy’, a word people tended to use often in her presence. Instead, Excel worked mainly off a sort of twisted intuition that owed nothing to any sort of rationality, but was mainly grounded in five or six obsessions, a full set of neuroses, and too much television. Most of the time, this served only to get her into trouble, but every now and then, when a situation got really bizarre, it was able to bring her to the exactly right conclusion quicker than Bill Clinton’s pants hitting the floor.

This was one of those times.

“Holy teacakes! The combined shock of dying and then being brought back to life by Excel’s Secret Recipe has caused Ha-chan to forget which role she’s playing! She thinks she’s Kirika in Noir instead of Ha-chan in Excel Saga! I’d say this moves the level of weirdness into my top ten for the month! Could things get any worsterer?!”

Yes, they could, actually. For at that moment, in a small cloakroom upstairs(?), a grammar devil named Mephistevepheles was plotting a terrible—or at least remarkably inconvenient—retribution for his sore bum. But we’ll get back to that later.

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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.