Through the Looking Glass > Going Down > Clubbing

“Futter my Whig!” Candy exclaimed. “’Pon my word, if this isn’t just like home sweet faughing home!” She trotted angrily over to the edge of the roof, and peered over. A small sub-crowd of partiers followed her, most of them spreading out to a comfortable distance. It wasn’t too clear what was getting the truculent Muse’s dander up this time.

Trader Grey tapped Carrie on the shoulder. She started, almost guiltily, and removed her half-moon glasses, blinking and muttering something about fuel and power-looms.

Amy regarded the city with great interest.

“There sure wasn’t anything like this in our guidebooks,” she commented.

“You suspected this,” Roz said quietly to Seventh, who was looking out over the cityscape.

“It was a possibility,” Seventh said. “There was the chance that Wonderland, as it stood in the books, could have created something to communicate with us… but there was also the possibility that it had not remained static over the past century.

“And now we know.”

“So the passage of time between the two is identical?”

Seventh nodded. “It appears so… after all, the ten dimensions are interlinked… of course, learning how long the natives think has passed might be interesting.

“Nevertheless, this is Wonderland. And I doubt a century or so’s worth of societal change has made it any less nonsensical to our eyes—or any less dangerous. If anything, it may be even more so.”

“Kafkaesque?” Roz suggested.

“Perhaps…” Seventh frowned. “But we’ll have to go down there and find out.”

He looked over to Florestan, who’d just stepped through the door. “Any bearing on that signal?”

Florestan nodded. “However, I’m still not sure I understand what the Snark Detector’s telling me, so I’ve taken the liberty of bringing a handlink from Beloved. I should be able to get a fix on… ah, here we go.”

“Where’s it coming from?” Eloise asked.

“Translated into Terran measurements… we are approximately eight hundred metres north-north west of the signal’s location, so…” He pointed off to one side of the highrise. “Over there.”

“Good,” Magnus said.

He frowned as he regarded Beloved’s camouflaged door. “Somehow, I suspect that sign might be taken as an invitation.”

The sign rippled, the words altering so it now said “Warning! Do Not Enter! Trespassers Will Be Avoided!

“Better,” Magnus said.

“What about the guides?” Katherine asked, raising an eyebrow.

Magnus frowned. “As I said, the Alice books are perhaps the first, and the best, Terran guides to the Interior… the trouble is that, to the best of my knowledge, Earth never sustained the contact needed to keep them up to date. They are useful as primers, and as history texts… but as far as up-to-date information goes, we will have to go into the city to find out.

“Which raises another point.

“A group like ours would have been perfectly normal—or at least taken for granted—in the Wonderland of the books. As things stand now… it may still be the case, or it may not. I do not know.”

Eloise took a deep breath. “Well… it looks like we’re going to have to find out…”

Spike had been standing by the ledge, looking out over the city.

Finally, he crossed his arms, smirking in approval.

“Oh yeah. This is my kind of Wonderland.”

“Well, my City of Dreams it ain’t,” said Candy presently, not sounding too unhappy about that. “Not with a scraggy little river like that running through it!”

“River?” Varne inquired sceptically.

“There! We are seeing the same dump, right?”

“Well,” said Second, pursing his lips, “there is a valley, yes, yes, that’s quite right, but— do you know, I don’t see the faintest glint of water in it.”

“Pollution?” Zoe inquired brightly. “This looks like an awfully badly-run place…”

“My dear girl,” came a scandalised, high-pitched voice from across the roof, “of course it’s badly-run; there’s nowhere to run to and nothing to run from, so whyever take the trouble? And a lot of good running did the river, I might point out!”

As one, the party turned towards him. An amazing rococo lift-cage, all brass foliage and sly lean winged figures like starveling cherubs, had risen silently up right through the roof behind them. The brasswork was filthy with oil and tarnish, save for a lovingly polished crest showing two stout knights and a toothily-grinning cat, and bearing the words, 'FAT FAT UTILE UNIVERSALS CO.' Before it now stood a tall lean fellow in a grue-and-bleen commissionaire’s uniform, drooping with the weight of all its golden braid and buttoned up one rank out of step, so that he looked as though all his ribs were dislocated. On his breast was a Day-Glo button in livid puce, bearing the legend, 'Hi, Valued Servicee, I’m The Master Bellhop!! ;-)!'. He shifted fussily from one foot to the other as he spoke.

“Get in, get in! Plenty of room for all!”

This did not seem intrinsically likely, but the partiers had just stepped out of a TARDIS, so it occasioned no loud protest. It also, however, elicited no immediate obedience. The Sixth Doctor pushed himself forward and said, with enormously bogus casualness, “I don’t suppose you know where we might find a Snark, by any chance?”

Everybody either groaned, or put serious effort into refraining. “I suppose you’re absolutely right,” the Master Bellhop agreed at once, “though, of course, I might know without knowing that I know; which means I don’t know that you’re right, so I shouldn’t put any great weight upon it!”

The Sixth Doctor unconsciously patted his waistcoat, and looked as though he suspected himself of having been insulted.

“Did that just give anybody else a headache?” Molly asked, rubbing her temples.

I already had one,” replied Rhiannon. A small bump was present on the top of her head, a little souvenir of her encounter with Sweetheart’s ceiling.

Of course if you were to ask me if I knew where a Snark was…
(stage-whispered) Let’s get this over with.
Do you know where we can find a Snark?
Of course not, I am a Bellhop not the Bellman.
Of course that leaves us with the problem of finding the Bellman.
Well don’t just stand there—you are late.
[The group headed towards the elevator and stopped short just before walking over the roof edge.]
This bit of the city is a little backwards.

“Get in, get in!” the Master Bellhop urged. “Plenty of room for all! You’ll be late for tea, but early for the next time! The Queen doesn’t like early guests!”

Everybody froze. They were in Wonderland, after all. And a Queen could only mean…

Several hands went to their respective throats.

“Hurry! Hurry!” said the Master Bellhop. “The Queen of Clubs doesn’t open her nightclub up to just anyone! You’re special guests! But to be late is to be early, and she doesn’t like early guests! Get in, get in!”

“Well, who are we to turn down the Queen’s invitation?” the Fifth Doctor chimed in, quickly leading his other selves and his somewhat reluctant coterie of companions along with him into the elevator. In a sign of good faith to both his guests and his hosts, Florestan followed the Doctor(s) in.

“So, this is the plot,” Molly said, sticking behind with the remaining guests.

“Uh-huh,” Imran replied.

“Hm. Interesting.”

And with that, the rest of the guests filed into the elevator.

Which, alas, was only slightly bigger on the inside than it was on the outside.

Eloise, being considerably shorter than nearly everyone else (except perhaps Jonah and a few other trolls), was considerably unhappy. Not only was she squeezed between two voluminous skirts of velvet ball gowns, she had never gotten the chance to change into her fishing vest, and the sudden, panicked thought occurred to her that she might need something in one of its pockets.

This must be a very fast elevator, Eloise thought, as she tried to shift her weight from foot to foot (she much preferred going barefoot to wearing any kind of shoes—even ones that fit perfectly), because we hardly seem to be moving at all.

“Hey!” Jonah’s voice pierced the uncomfortable silence. “You’re pinching Biggles’ tail!”

The adult culprit (Eloise couldn’t turn her head to see who it was) muttered a hasty, resentful apology.

Jonah! Eloise suddenly thought —What if her machine-jinxing powers were real (a possibility that she doubted, despite the weird occurrence with the sonic screwdrivers)? What if she jinxed the snark detector, and turned it into a snark attractor? That would be something they certainly did not need. Of course, just because the gadget flashed some lights, or whatever it did to alert the owner to the presence of snarks (Eloise had never been interested in it enough to read the manual), didn’t mean that snarks actually had anything to do with the message they were tracing, anyway. After all, if they had been given a cow detector, that would have gone crazy too—if the message were coming from Wisconsin. But that wouldn’t mean that cows know anything about ham radios.

And then, another thought popped up in her mind: This was Wonderland… you didn’t need to jinx things for weird stuff to happen. The detector might turn into an atractor, just for the inside-out and backwards contrariness of it (the logic behind this thought was not sound, that is true, but Eloise’s gown itched, her feet were hot, and she wasn’t thinking straight).

Eloise had no love for the Nine and Ninety—or their machines—not since last year’s Hoedown, when Some Kind of Large Device of theirs appeared, disguised as a birthday present for Gordon. The SkoLD (as they had come to call it) nearly destroyed Sweetheart completely—and nearly destroyed the Doctor’s timeline, as well. The more she thought of this, the tighter the knots in her stomach became, and the tighter the knots became, the more she wished Florestan had turned the delivery person away, and refused the Nine and Ninety’s “gift.”

The more she wished, the hotter the pit in her belly became, until she could feel the heat rise up her spine and into her skull, where it stung the inside of her nose as though she had inhaled a fistful of red pepper flakes.

“Smoke And Cinders Take It!” she exclaimed, forcefully as a sneeze, surprising everyone (including herself), and getting a mouthful of satin ribbon for her trouble.

There was a Sproing! and a Thhhr-boing! and a pained yelp of surprise from Florestan. There was also a clatter (and a second yelp) as he dropped the now thoroughly broken snark detector on his foot.

“Hey!” one of the trolls said. “Whatdaya know! Eloise worked her first curse!”

There was quiet applause from the other trolls (as there was no room for any other kind).

“Walter would be so proud,” another commented. “Too bad he isn’t here to see it for himself.”

Eloise buried her face in her hands. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” was all she could say. Her knees felt weak, and she wanted to sit down. But there was no room.

“Humph!” Jonah interjected, in a disdainful tone. “I coulda done that—if I wanted!”

After a moment, Jonah sidled closer, wriggling past people’s knees (and skirts) in the traditional method of a Very Small Person in an oblivious adult crowd. Being Jonah, however, she was also making shameless use of a pair of elbows that were a good deal more pointed than any child that plump had any right to possess. Her progress was marked by a trail of “Oi”s and “Ouch”es.

“Did you really do that?” she said, peering at the avocado troll from between Amy’s spreading green velvet skirts and Daibhid’s skin-tight Regency knee-breeches. She was sucking the side of one hand absent-mindedly.

Biggles, who had now taken refuge from the general crush inside her dress again, his long tail sticking up out of her collar like some kind of inverted stethoscope, had not liked the sudden clatter of the broken snark-detector at all. She had been quite badly bitten while trying to restrain him from a wild leap for the dubious safety of the floor, among dozens of high-heeled ladies’ shoes (and not a few heeled and buckled male feet, given the nature of this year’s costumes). Eloise could see the little buttons on the front of the child’s dress quivering in sympathy with the rat’s racing heart-beats.

“Did—what you said—really make that thing break?” Jonah repeated, with her usual persistence.

Eloise really didn’t want to talk about it, but she had a feeling the child wasn’t going to let her alone. “Yes… that is… I think so,” she admitted very quietly, hoping it would be enough to shut Jonah up.

The little girl sighed. “I wish I could do stuff like that.”

Eloise blinked. “But your powers—” she said out loud, before she could help it.

“Haven’t got any powers,” Jonah said, in a mumble that, if possible, was even quieter than the voice Eloise had used on her just now. “Yeah, I know I said… It’s just, things go wrong, that’s all. It’s a joke, right? Stuff gets fouled up and everybody goes ‘Oh, it’s Jonah again’. But I don’t know how I do it—if I do do it—”

Something that sounded suspiciously like a sniff. “So I put on this act. Like, if everything goes right that’s just ’cause I was in a good mood, and if it breaks down then it’s all on account of me. Grown-ups think it’s cute, you know how they are…”

Something that a minute ago Eloise would have thought impossible happened. One corner of her mouth had begun to twitch irresistibly upwards. “Actually,” she owned up—she couldn’t resist it—“actually, I am a grown-up.”

Jonah stared at her, her eyes going unconsciously to the towering adults around them. “No kidding?”

“Well,” Eloise said scrupulously, “trolls do live a long time. But even for a troll I’m definitely grown by now—” she looked a little ruefully at the rest of the crowd—“even if we don’t exactly grow up.”

But Jonah’s chin had gone up alarmingly.

“Well, actually I have got powers,” she said rapidly in a haughty voice, stepping backwards. An electronic yelp suggested that K-9, whose extremities had already suffered from her attentions as partner during the quadrille, had fallen victim to her again. Jonah’s lip quivered. “Actually, I can do anything I like. You wait and see…”

And then she had backed away altogether and the crowd closed around her so that Eloise couldn’t see her face. The little troll would have tried to follow; but just then two things happened one after the other.

“But even were that the case,” she heard Florestan’s grave voice from above her, courteous as ever—she thought he was addressing Magnus—“having followed the signal into regions where snarks may indeed be encountered, we shall have no means to avoid them without warning of their approach—”

Well, in my experience, all of Nin-Adad’s gadgets are self-repairing. Oh, and difficult to get rid of.
But, the SKOLD—
That is a different situation altogether. The gadgets of the Nine and Ninety can be given, sold or stolen—which I think was the case with the SKOLD—but once ownership is established they are very hard to lose.
I do not trust the motive of this ‘gift’.
The Nine and Ninety seldom lie, though everything they say has to be checked for small print. I think it highly likely that this thing is just what it claims to be. For someone with Nin-Adad’s abilities it would be only ten minutes’ work—and he did get the SKOLD back.
Well, how do I get rid of the detector?
The best bet, would be to dump into an active volcano and stand well back…

But they broke off, like everyone else, because of the second thing that happened at that point. The lift came to a stop with a bump.

Amber frowned.


If Eloise could have jumped, she would have.

:::Are… are you reading my mind?:::

:::No. We’re mind-speaking—I’ll only pick up whatever you want to send, and vice versa.

:::Are you feeling any better for the curse?:::

:::…No,::: Eloise admitted. :::No. I didn’t mean to do it…:::

:::I know,::: Amber said. :::But—and this isn’t a comfort. It certainly isn’t to me—what we mean isn’t always what we get.

:::But you were so angry at the Snark Detector… and at all that lies behind it… that you had to let it out. And then, having the others approve of what you’d done…

:::They mean well, I think, but they don’t know what this means to you. No matter what’s happened to you before… even last year… you were never so angry as this, had no other way to let it out… and to someone like you, to learn you’re capable of such a thing… it hurts, and hurts deeply.:::

Eloise flinched; Amber’s words had struck close—all too close—to home.

:::But we are capable of things we never would have thought we would do… terrible things.::: Sadness touched at Amber’s thoughts. :::That we can regret them… that’s good, because it means we don’t take what we did for granted.

:::When you regret… it hurts, sometimes, hurts so very much… but the pain is far better than that alternative.:::

Eloise shuddered. She knew—knew all too well—what Amber was talking about, that she spoke from a position of hard-learned knowledge.

:::…But it was just so… All of this, it’s gone so fast, we haven’t even stopped to think!::: Eloise fumbled for what she wanted to say. :::All this business with Snark Detectors, and Snarks, and Boojums, and what-have-you… for all we knew, it might have been a trap of the Nine and Ninety’s, and everyone just goes plunging in, willy-nilly, not even thinking about what might happen, or even whether it’s got any connection to the signal, and… and… I just want to get out of this stupid dress, and these stupid shoes…:::

:::Then tell them, Eloise. You’re good at speaking your mind—I should know.::: Wry amusement coloured Amber’s thoughts at that. :::Tell them. Let them hear you out. They’ll listen.

:::And if need be, I’ll give you the time you need.:::

:::…Th-thank you, my Lady,::: Eloise thought, feeling her cheeks flush. She really hadn’t meant to babble about her clothes like that—especially not to Amber—but once she’d started thinking about it, it’d all started to come out. :::Although… maybe not the clothes?:::

:::Maybe not,::: Amber agreed, that same wry amusement still catching at her thoughts. :::How about… once we get out of the lift, I put your shoes into my extra-dimensional storage space, and you can get them back once we get back to Beloved? I’m not sure what we could do about the dress, but we should find something…:::

:::…Thank you, my Lady,::: Eloise thought, with genuine relief. :::That would be a wonderful help-oof!:::

This last was because the lift had finally hit bottom.


“Basement!” the Bellhop announced. “The Queen of Clubs’ nightclub! And whatever you do, don’t be early!”

It was a mark of just how strange a life Excel lived that she didn’t bat an eye at the fact that they’d gone down when the only button had been marked ‘up’, nor at the fact that they descended in total darkness for what had to be a good ten minutes, moving at a pretty good rate of speed, obviously going far beyond whatever floor lay directly beneath the kitchen. She found weirder things than this in her breakfast cereal, or would have if she could’ve afforded to buy breakfast cereal, which she couldn’t, thus ruining a perfectly good joke that the author went to a lot of trouble to steal from the late, great Douglas Adams.

“We’re here, Mireille,” Hyatt whispered as the dumbwaiter finally shuddered to a stop. “You open the door, and I’ll cover you.”

Excel fumbled in the dark. Was that the handle? She slid a hand over it, hearing Hyatt gasp softly as she did. Apparently, that wasn’t the handle, then. She thought it felt too soft and, really, way too big…

A bit more fumbling in a different direction located the door handle. Excel yanked upwards on it, blinking in the sudden light as Hyatt’s finger tracked across the room for enemies. But the room beyond was empty, merely a smallish hexagonal chamber with a single doorway on the far wall, a faded red cross symbol square in the middle of it.

Hyatt-Kirika dove out into the chamber, doing a shoulder-roll and coming up beside the door in a ready firing position. Or, at least that’s what she meant to do, and it was indeed just what Kirika Yuumura would have done almost reflexively. But whereas Kirika was a small, slender girl in top physical shape, with a gymnast’s grace and almost supernatural coordination, Hyatt was weak, sickly, frail, had almost no physical training whatsoever, and was top-heavy to boot. Mind completely failed to get the best of matter in this case and Hyatt ended up making a most undignified facedown splat.

“You okay, Ha-chan?” Excel asked as she made her own way out. “You ain’t dead again, are you?”

“P-kow! P-kow!” Hyatt mimed a spate of gunshots at nothing that Excel could see. “It’s just a flesh wound, Mireille,” she gasped. “I’ll be all right in a moment.”

“Take your time, ah, Kirika.” Excel was pensively eyeing that cross on the doorway. “I’ll go fetch some medical assistance.”

“I’ll cover you, then. P-kow! P-kow p-kow!”

Excel ignored her as she tried the doorknob. It turned, but the door wouldn’t open. She tried pushing harder, but still no luck. Well, that just meant…

“EXCEL SHOULDER OF DEATH ATTACK!!” She reared back, took a short run, and crashed pointlessly-large-shoulderpad–first into the door, which gave with a series of snaps, crackles, and pops (damn, she wished she could afford to buy some cereal!), swinging open on a single half-broken hinge.

Mephistevepheles chortled in badly-spelled triumph. He was down to the final ingredient for his curse. He had the victim’s hair, the bootleg Quake CD, the Jolt Cola, and the stained ‘Nine Inch Nails’ t-shirt. Now, he just needed some oil from the face of a thirteen-year-old computer geek and his vengeance would be at hand.

The endless pain he’d received—well, actually, it had only hurt for a couple of minutes, what with him having a tough demonic body and the assault having merely been a traditional anime sight-gag anyway—would be repaid in full, or slightly more, depending on current exchange rates and adding extra for Canadian orders, sorry, no CODs.

Oh yes it would! Or, in his own words, “o y esit, wood].”

“’Scuse me!” Excel waved cheerfully to indicate to anyone who might be in the room she’d just broken into that, just because she had just come smashing violently through their door, that didn’t mean she wasn’t a nice person or had bad intentions. It never hurt to be polite, after all, unless you were being polite to a crazed man-eating lion that was trying to gnaw your feet off.

As it turned out, there was no one there, or so it seemed, anyway. The room was full of medical equipment of various types, as well as other, strange-looking implements that were probably medical equipment as well, of a very advanced nature, although you probably wouldn’t want to try sticking them in any orifices or anything, just in case. Maybe there was something in here that could turn Ha-chan back to her normal self, or at least to her usual very weird self.

Excel didn’t notice the silver capsuline form of a light bee buzzing up off the floor until it was right behind her.

She spun at the sound, just in time to see a woman’s body flicker into existence around the tiny light bee. She was tall, with dark hair pinned up in a tight bun, and garbed in a slightly archaic-looking nurse’s uniform, a pair of small round spectacles completing the ensemble.

“AH! It’s a ghost!” Excel wailed as she tried to shove herself backwards through the wall. “It’s a ghost, come to possess Excel’s body and make her commit heinous crimes that she won’t even get to remember and enjoy!”

“I’m not a ghost,” the figure said in a soft, patient voice. “I’m a hologram.”

“Oh,” said Excel calmly, then, “AH! It’s a hologram, come to possess Excel’s body!”

“Please calm down, dear,” the woman said with a smile. “I’m not going to hurt you.”

“And I should believe that?!” Excel squealed, holding up two tongue depressors as a crude crucifix.

“Yes, you should.”

“Oh. Okay, then.” She threw the tongue depressors aside. “So, who are you, sister, and what are you doing sneaking up behind people and stuff?”

“I am a sub-routine of the TARDIS main computer system, a fragment of the entity known as ‘Beloved’. Long ago, a terrible catastrophe occurred and Beloved dowloaded a part of herself—a set of psycho-medical programs and the operating system to run them—into this light bee in an effort to help save her master, who was badly injured. But there was systemic damage, and the light bee’s connections to the main computer were cut, leaving the fragment isolated and undetected in the light bee. The light bee has a limited hard-light capacity, making the hologram it produces capable of moving small objects, but it lacked the power needed to open the door that was damaged during the partial system failure. Thus, I have been trapped in here these many years, unable to communicate with my greater self and unable to pass the walls of this room, growing stranger and more distant from that which I was with the passing of time. But now you have freed me, and can help to re-unite me with my greater self, for with the light bee isolated from the network, direct physical interface is the only way I can be made part of the greater whole again.”

As the nurse finished her tale, she looked into Excel’s eyes, seeking the human understanding of her plight in them.

Excel was picking her nose, the expression on her face not unlike that of a cow looking at a turbojet engine.

The nurse stared hard at her, data sensors analyzing and personal-relations programs sorting through for the most effective approach.

“I’m a nurse,” she tried again. “I’ve been stuck down here for a long time, and I’d like to go home to my sister and her boss. You bailed me out, so now will you help me get back where I belong?”

Excel’s eyes teared up instantly. “Oh, cruel, cruel fate!” she wailed. “That a kindly nurse should be left to die by her own kith and kin! But of course I’ll help you to escape and wreak a horrible revenge on your foul oppressors!”

“No, no,” the nurse corrected. “I don’t want revenge. I just want to go back to my sister.”

“Oh, come on, sister! They left you here to die! An innocent maiden doomed to torment! You have to take revenge!”

“No, really.”

“Just a little revenge, then. Just something small, like a maiming.”

“No, no, no…”

“Not even a poke in the eye? Not even a stomp on the foot? Not even a pretend fart at her big dinner party for her husband’s boss? After she left you down here all this time, not even that? Man, Excel can’t be part of such a wussy plan!”

The nurse-hologram sighed. “Fine. How about if I call her a ‘potato head’ when I see her?”

“That’s good enough for Excel! We’re there!” She paused suddenly. “But, what’s your name? I can’t just call you ‘mysterious imprisoned ghost-like nurse person’. Well, I could, but it’d be hard to yell out in an emergency. I could make it into an acronym, I guess. That’d be ‘MIGLNP’…”

“Just call me what you called me a moment ago — ‘Sister’. That will do nicely, dear…”

“Feal, my wraith,” snarled Mephistevepheles almost appropriately as he set Excel’s hair atop the heap of curse-ingredients. He watched her in his cup of mock beer, resisting the urge to give her image a jolly good thump on the head. Instead, he began to wave his claws in mystic passes, chanting soft and grammatically-incorrect invocations under his breath.

Eloise bent down, took off her shoes, and handed them to Amber. The embarrassment that comes with handing someone your smelly shoes was more than compensated by the resulting comfort. She could feel the ground below her again—felt reconnected to it, and that made (almost) everything better.

“…even last year… you were never so angry as this…” The words echoed over and over in her memory.

Last year, she was too busy trying to solve a riddle, and save Sweetheart, to be angry. And—the one thing that kept her going, that gave her the courage not to be angry, was her certainty that if they could get through it, they could put that trial firmly behind them. To have the Nine and Ninety come back into her life, even if only for a brief moment, felt like a betrayal by Fate. And then, to have Florestan accept the—


She looked around the crowd. It wasn’t hard to spot him. He had pulled himself up to his full Time Lord height, and was walking through the crowd (as best he could) with a stately gait. That was how he moved when he felt the need to be treated like the Time Lord he used to be—back when Gallifrey was young. It was a reflex, Eloise was sure, that he himself wasn’t totally aware of—came out whenever he was bothered, or concerned. But her heart quailed at the sight of it. She doubted the natives here would treat him with any of the decorum he might wish for.

It was up to her to try and make up the difference. She trotted up to him, and gave a little curtsey. “My lord,” she said carefully, not looking at his face, “I wish to apologize for my actions, earlier—”

“That is past,” he said, in a tone that refused to betray whether he forgave her or not.

“…I did not mean to cause any injury…” she added, quietly, but sincerely.

“That is past,” he said, again, in a slightly softer tone. “And we need to focus all our attentions on matters of the present. Above all, keep your wits about you.”

Amber noted Eloise and Florestan’s quiet conversation, and smiled quietly, almost sadly, to herself.

“Boss?” Trella said.


“What was that thing with the shoes about?”

“Mm? Oh, Eloise prefers to walk barefoot,” Amber said. “I offered to help her out.”

“But how—” Trella stopped short. “Oh. Mind-speaking?”

“Yes,” Amber said.

“Ah,” Trella said.

“Is Eloise-san okay now?” Nuku-Nuku asked. “Nuku-Nuku thinks she’s looking a little better…”

“I think she will be,” Amber said. “Give her her time.”

“Her feet?” Trella said. “Talking about her feet makes her feel better?”

“You’d be surprised what that can do for someone…” Amber said, catching Eighth’s eye.

Eighth grinned back.

Amber smiled.

A whirring, buzzing sound came from the corner of the lift behind them. Eloise looked, and, with a familiar cold feeling in the pit of her stomach, saw that the snark detector had repaired itself. It sat there, gleaming bright gold amid all the tarnish and the rust, its mechanical hum slowing and oscillating in pitch like the breathing of an animal.

Florestan turned and started back to retrieve it, but Eloise grabbed his hand, and held on with all her troll strength, rising panic forcing all thoughts of decorum from her mind. “Please,” she said, “don’t. Ever since you lay your hands on that… thing,” Eloise said, with as much restraint as she could muster, “I’ve barely recognized you—you were reading the instruction manual while guests were coming through the door! If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I never would have believed you capable of such outright bad manners.”

Florestan stiffened at that, and Eloise could see the anger rise behind his eyes. He tried to pull his hand away, but she pulled back.

“Leave it,” she said, in a quieter tone. “Just leave it there. If it is as hard to get rid of as Magnus said—and yes, I overheard your conversation; I couldn’t help it—it will still be there when we get back. Or maybe we’ll get lucky, and someone will steal it. Magnus said it could be stolen,” she added, hopefully.

“But the snarks—” he began to protest, “we need to—”

“No, we don’t,” Eloise insisted. “Florestan, listen to me—you know the literature—far better than Magnus does… Perhaps even better than these dregs Nin-Adad. You are an exo-mythologist, after all. So think for yourself!

“According to Dodgson’s depiction of the snark hunt (written a hundred and thirty-three years ago, remember), the snark is a shy animal that lives in wild and remote places, and was hunted as a rare and delicate food. What are its chances surviving in a crowded, polluted, urban environment like this?” and she indicated the crowds milling past them through the dingy, stinky, underground foyer leading into the club.

Florestan made another attempt to retrieve the gadget. “But the Indicator—”

The Bellhop, quite agitated, came out of the lift, and tried to push them toward the doors. “You’ll be early!” he said. “You do not want to be early!” Nervous beads of sweat appeared on his brow.

Both Florestan, who was bent on retrieving the Indicator, and Eloise, who was bent on stopping him, ignored the poor man.

“That thing,” Eloise said quietly, and sadly, “probably picked up some poor snark trapped in the city zoo—or the head of one taxidermied and stuck on an office wall somewhere. I’m telling you—we do not need it.”

“That’s once!” the Bellhop announced.

Florestan shook his head in a confused way, as if to clear his mind of a disturbing vision. “But how can you be so sure?”

“I’m sure,” Eloise said, quietly. “We don’t need it.”

“That’s twice!” The Bellhop looked nervously around, as if hoping that no-one (or perhaps no one person in particular) noticed them, but he nonetheless seemed fascinated by what was unfolding before him, and his attention kept returning to Eloise.

Florestan looked uncertainly from the troll to the gold box humming quietly in the darkness.

“We don’t need it,” Eloise repeated. “Trust me.”

“And that’s thrice!” the Bellhop announced. “And you know—”

Florestan’s face cleared, as though he were waking from a sleepwalk. “‘What I tell you three times is true,’…” he quoted.

“Indeed!” the Bellman said. “I am so glad (despite all appearances to the contrary) that you are a man of good sense. Now, go slowly, go slowly—or you shall certainly be early!”

This time, Florestan and Eloise complied, and trailed in after the others entering the club.

Behind them, the humming of the snark indicator lowered in pitch, then stopped, with a click. Unneeded and abandoned at last.

Nuku-Nuku halted mid-step. “…Amber-san? Did you—”

Amber nodded.

“In the name of Metafiction and Folk Tale, I invoke this threefold rule: what I say three times is true.

“I say it now: Nin-Adad, your gift is noted and declined.

“I say it twice: Your gift is noted and declined.

“I say it three times: The gift is noted and declined.

“And next time you think to hand out a gift, I would ask you think thrice before laying a glamor upon it. That sort of thing does not incline its recipients to think well of you.”

The Snark Detector glowed briefly, sending a last message, before it subsided into molten metal which flowed through the floor of the lift cage.

“…Idiots,” Trella muttered. “There’s always someone who thinks they can get away with it, isn’t there? Thinks they can screw you over.”

“I doubt they even thought of that,” Amber observed. “They wanted to make sure he wouldn’t get rid of it, no matter what.”

“That’s what I meant,” Trella said.

“Come on,” Amber said.

[In a place that was not, Nin-Adad swore.]
I gather your great plan failed. I told you Magnus and the Bitch would rumble you.
That’s what’s annoying, it was neither of them. Just some paranoid troll, who was right for the wrong reasons.
I suppose you will want to call the bet off, then?
Well, unless you can think of a way of getting at them.

“P-kow! P-kow!”

Hyatt was crouched against the wall, firing her finger at some invisible opponents. When she caught sight of Excel and Sister coming back into the room, she gave a curt nod. “Good. You’ve retrieved the hostage. Let’s go, for I am almost out of ammunition and the Soldats are trying to flank us.”

“Uh, yeah.” Excel just shook her head. “This is Sister. Sister, this is Ha-chan, who thinks she is Kirika Yuumura at the moment.” She brightened abruptly. “Hey! Sister, you’re a nurse! Can you figure out how to fix Ha-chan?”

“I should be able to determine something, if I can examine her.”

“Oh, goody! Hey, Ha-Kirika-chan! This chick is a medic. Let her scope out those wounds of yours, ’kay?”

Hyatt looked a bit doubtful. “Well… if you must. Can you cover us, Mireille?”

“You bet, KirikHa-chan. You just leave those nasty Soldouts to your old pal Exmireille!”

While Excel stood over them, pointing her finger and making kapow noises, Sister’s sensors ran a quick scan over Hyatt’s body and brain.

“Can you tell what’s wrong with her?” Excel asked between kapows.

“There’s a whole list of things, but I suspect you knew that,” Sister replied. “As for her identity problem, it seems to be due to a massive system shock, possibly chemically-induced and related to the large amount of tungsten in her bloodstream.”

“Kapow! Can you fix it?”

“I can’t, but you can.”

“What can Excel do? Kapow pow!”

“Administer the usual cure for such conditions: a forceful blow on the head.”

“…inteh naame off the Pours Abuv adn Bee low, lettit b dun!” Mephistevepheles brought his claws down on the stack of curse-ingredients, a crackle of power flowing into them as a crazed laugh of moderate satisfaction gurgled horribly in his throat. But he drank his O’Doul’s, and that cleared that right up.

“You must strike her just so, on the head,” Sister explained. “That’s the only way to return her to whatever her normal self is like.”

“But,” Excel protested, “Excel could never hit Ha-chan!” She thought about that statement for a moment, then amended it to, “Not on purpose. Hard. Enough to really, really hurt, that is…”

There was a crackle of something almost entirely unlike electricity over Excel’s body just then. It didn’t hurt, but tingled in an odd way. But it went away after just a split-second, so she put it out of her mind and went on with the business at hand. “Y c4nt j00 d0 it in5t34d, 5i5t3r?” She stopped, startled, and blinked at herself. “4nd Y i5 3><c3L t4L]<ing Li]<3 thi5?

“A L33t Curse!” Sister exclaimed, sounding almost pleased. “I haven’t seen one of those in ages!”

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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.