Going Down > Clubbing > Questions and Arrogance

As they stepped out of the lift Daibhid couldn’t help tugging at the stupid bit of lace around his throat. And who the heck had designed these shoes? Someone who never walked anywhere, clearly. It occured to him that his nice, comfortable denims and a sensible pair of trainers were in the Rucksack, but it was probably more hassle to find somewhere to get changed than it would be to keep going in this getup. Anyway, most of the other guests were dressed much the same, and were they complaining?

With this litany going through his head, he barely noticed their arrival at the Queen of Clubs’ Club. He briefly glanced up at the fluorescent black sign, then went back to thinking about his shoes and the way they…

The what?

The others had noticed it too. Many of them were blinking, rubbing their eyes and otherwise reacting in a way that suggested, quite understandably, that glowing black Just Didn’t Happen. Del was quite comfortable with it, of course, as were some of the Muses. Q made a big show of unconcern, but kept squinting at it sideways.

“Let’s just move on,” said Magnus. “We can worry about the physics later, if you really think it’s wise to do so.” And so, with a shrug, they entered the Club.

“It could easily be that physics aren’t the last word in the first place,” Eighth speculated to Eloise and Florestan as they passed through the entrance. “After all, Wonderland was introduced to us by Carroll as a dream world. We don’t know how it came to him—but what if he dreamt it? What kind of psychic power does that imply? Is it controlled by someone, or is it some sort of nonpersonified force?”

“We didn’t all see the same landscape from the roof,” Florestan observed.

Eighth nodded. “We may not all have seen the same thing over the club door.”

“But we all saw something we thought was at least odd,” Eloise contributed.

Eighth grinned at her. “Which would mean we’re all like-minded enough to work effectively as a team even in this environment. Still, such perceptive divergence would only increase as we go along. Tread softly and keep your wits.”

Lyssie glanced about the club as she stepped out of the elevator.

“This sort of has a ‘been there, done that’ kind of feel to it,” she muttered, and wished she had remembered to grab her drink on the way down.

Alryssa shivered, despite the large, elaborate and somewhat cumbersome dress she was now wearing. Then, a frown.

“Something doesn’t feel right. Just… I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it…”

“Maybe because you haven’t had a drink for five minutes?” Bob suggested. He hadn’t, unfortunately, learned yet to move out of arm’s length before making quips like that, and earned himself a sound punch in the arm.


Gordon sniggered.

Delirium walked her fishie out into the club. “This place has silly colours,” she decided. “The walls are saying they’re sad.”

“They’re not the only ones,” Eloise sighed.

The Club was dark, with lights in odd places. The clientele were an eclectic mix of playing cards, chess pieces, anthropomorphic animals and even weirder things, including the occasional being that might pass for human in a dim light. Except that this was a dim light, and they still only looked like they might pass for human in a dimmer one. To the vague satisfaction of some of the Quadrillers, there were several lobsters. Blaring out of speakers was a popular tune that everyone thought they recognised, but no-one could quite identify.

Across the back wall was a bar, to which several Quadrillers naturally gravitated.

“What’ll it be?” asked the young sheep (with a rather scandalous pattern of shearings) behind the bar.

“Don’t suppose you’ve got scumble in this place?” asked Bob the Muse.

“Sorry,” the Sheep replied. “We only get a delivery every other day.”

“Of course you do. And today isn’t any other day, right?”

“That’s it. You could try this,” She decanted an odd, grey liquid from the tap on the bar. “It’s our speciality. Made from distilled bricks and mortar, and fermented roof tiles.”

Bob the Muse looked at the logo on the tap: “Queen of Clubs’ Home Brew”. Before he could comment, Daibhid noticed the food menu.

“Today’s special: Mock Mock Turtle Soup?” he exclaimed. “What the heck is Mock Mock Turtle Soup?”

“You don’t know that?” exclaimed the Sheep. “Back in the Cardiac Age…”

“The what?”

The Sheep gave a long sigh of frustration at this willful stupidity. “The Cardiac Age. When the Hearts family were the rulers of Wonderland. Anyway, back oh, a hundred and fifty years or so, Mock Turtle Soup was a real delicacy. Beautiful Soup, so rich and green…”

“Yeah, yeah. And?”

“Well, all the Mock Turtles were killed for soup. Except one, and he died of a broken heart, with only a Gryphon for company. So no more Mock Turtle Soup. But the soup was so scrumlicious, that the greatest cooks in the land created a substitute.”

“I… see,” said Daibhid. “So what is Mock Mock Turtle Soup actually made of then?”

Now the Sheep really did look at him as though he was mad. “Mock Mock Turtles, of course.”

“Of course it is.”

Q stood apart from the group, warily surveying the bar. Amy was regarding him from a distance of a few feet, considering how to proceed, when the Fifth Doctor asked her, “What exactly is his problem?”

“The last time he was in a bar,” explained Amy, “he got stabbed in the hand with a fork. Somebody wanted to prove he was human.”


Finally thinking of something to say to Q, Amy approached him. “Now would be a good time to get those drinks. It’s all right, nobody here would know you… would they?”

“No,” he said. They started to walk towards the bar.

“So… drinks,” said Q. “What do you like?”

“I am not old enough to know what I like,” said Amy, “apart from Earl Grey tea.”

This gave Q an idea. “Have you ever had raktajino?”

“No,” said Amy. “Good idea! Wonder if they’ll have it…”

Paul was so busy looking around as he walked into the Club that he also walked into one of the patrons.

“Oh! Sorry.”

He tried to make out who he had walked into, but—perhaps due to the dim lighting in the Club—he could see only an indistinct figure in front of him.

“Don’t let it bother you,” said the indistinct figure. “I’m nobody. Nobody important.”

While Paul was puzzling over the proud way in which the figure had said this, it held out a small white rectangle. Paul cautiously took the rectangle, and found that it was a calling card. Neatly printed on it were the words:


“Of the Nonesuchshire Importants,” the figure added.

Paul looked thoughtfully at the indistinct figure. “‘I only wish I had such eyes,’” he murmured. “‘To be able to see Nobody!’”

“You’ve heard of me, then?” said the figure, sounding pleased. “But of course you have,” it went on, without giving Paul a chance to reply. “I come of an Important family.”

“Are all your family important?” Paul asked.

“Pretty much. Except my brother-in-law—he’s totally insignificant.”

“Do you mean,” Paul ventured, “that his name is Totally Insignificant?”

“Not at all,” said the figure. “His name has made many valuable contributions to society. It’s only him that’s no good.”


“Well, it was nice bumping into you,” said the figure, “but now I’m off.”

“I thought you said you were Nobody Important,” said Paul, who was beginning to enjoy himself.

There was no reply, and he realised that the indistinct figure was gone.

“I wonder…” Dominic said.

“Mm?” Allie said.

“What does cursing mean to the joyful trolls? Judging from what happened back there, they don’t reject it, at least not as a culture—you saw how Eloise reacted, though.”

Allie nodded.

“No… they respect it,” Dominic continued. “The first curse looks to be a rite of passage, of sorts… A mark of maturity, perhaps?”

“Self-defence?” Allie suggested. “After all, we don’t know what it’s like—or what it was like—where they come from.”

“Possible…” Dominic frowned. “Or it could be a mark of the young troll’s magical ability—it occurs to me that I’ve never seen Eloise use any magic of her own, up until now.

“And the others thought Eloise would be happy—or at least proud—of it.”

“No chance,” Allie said firmly. “Eloise isn’t that sort of person.”

“No, she isn’t,” Dominic agreed. “…But her fellow joyful trolls took it for granted that she would be.” His frown deepened. “But they’ve known her as long—if not longer—than we have… and yet…”

“What is it?” Allie asked.

“Something’s niggling at me. Something about this… They assumed she would be proud of it—but since we aren’t a part of troll culture, we didn’t make that assumption.” Dominic shook himself. “If I knew more about troll culture, knew what it meant to them, then maybe… but I suspect it would intrude on Eloise’s personal life, and I have no desire to intrude there.


“Ahem. ID please, miss.”

It was a deep, gravelly voice coming from somewhere about three feet above Jonah’s left ear, that was stereotyped enough for its owner to have been able to sue for damages under the Bouncers’ and Strong-Arm-Men’s Novelistic Typecasting Act (Exemptions IV.17). However, he had clearly chosen instead to branch out in other directions. His burly six-foot-plus frame was entirely swathed in inflatable pink rubber, from the air-sprung Nikes on his oversize feet to the blow-up bow adorning the curly fright-wig that nestled atop his crumpled features. He looked like a man who had taken his job description in the wrong sense, and far too literally.

A large paw in what looked like a pink rubber glove had descended on Jonah’s shoulder, holding her back as the others filed inside. “You’ll have to show some ID, miss. Age restriction.”

Jonah scowled. It would have to have been a night-club they’d been invited to, wouldn’t it? No-one ever thought about her.

“What d’you mean, age restriction?” she said crossly, trying to puff out her chest in a manner more reminiscent of bosom and somewhat less of Michelin tyres.

“You’re too old, miss. House rule.”

“Too old?” The child stared up at the vision in swollen pink, totally ignoring its unlikely appearance as the even less probable nature of what he’d just said sank in. “Too old? I’m going to be twelve in April!”

“Ah. Thought as much. Too old.” The bouncer looked genuinely sorrowful. “Entrance Rule 248: no entity of more than ten years’ continuous existence admitted before one a.m.”

“Why pick on me, then?” Jonah’s voice rose. She pointed at Eloise, whose bare green troll-toes were just visible under the hem of her custom-tailored ballgown. “Why not her? She’s ever so much more grown-up than I am, she said so herself! How old do you s’pose she is?”

“Doesn’t do to guess a lady’s age.” The big man simpered, inappropriately. “But to stretch a point… a hundred and sixty-three.”

He giggled. Jonah couldn’t for the life of her work out if he was serious or not. “Well, then?” she demanded.

“Ah. But the rule doesn’t say age.” A rubbery pink grin, from toothless gums. “It says existence… and no matter how old she is, the Lady Eloise came into being at the first Annual Hoedown. That means she gets under the barrier just nicely.”

Jonah was almost lost for words at the unfairness of it all.

“Then what about him?” She jabbed a finger at the sizeable rear view of the Sixth Doctor, receding towards the bar. “He was on the BBC before I was even born!”

“But he’s not on it now, is he?” The bouncer’s grin widened in a child-like delight at scoring the point. “He’s been off the BBC for over ten years—that makes him more than minus-ten, miss, and very fine shape for his age too if I may say so…”

The Sixth, catching the tail of this remark, shot him a dirty look.

“Then what about, what about—” Jonah was almost gabbling her words—”what about him, for crying out loud?”

Her glower would have been sufficient to incite spontaneous combustion in Imran, its unfortunate recipient, if he had been a dozen yards closer. “He’s been on the Net for more than ten years—and you let him through—”

“Author avatar.” The bouncer nodded wisely. “As soon as his author gets up from the keyboard, he doesn’t exist at all.”

Jonah stamped both feet. “I don’t believe this! I don’t believe this stupid Rule of yours even exists—you just made it up this minute—”

“It’s the oldest rule in the book, miss.”

“Then it ought to be Number—” She caught herself in time. “Oh no. You don’t catch me that way…”

The big man, to give him credit, was looking profoundly uncomfortable. “Miss, it’s more than my job’s worth. Even the Looking-Glass Lady herself couldn’t get in here without ID.”

He made the sign of the Holy Hairband, and accidentally dislodged his pink bow. It fell at Jonah’s feet, who promptly put her heel through it. It burst.

“Fine.” She fished inside her dress, furious. “Fine. I’ve got ID. Here, take a look at this—”

Her hand came up, holding a flailing white body, stiff tail swinging wildly in an attempt to keep its balance, and she thrust Biggles into the bouncer’s face. Biggles, who was by this time in a thoroughly bad mood, promptly sank his teeth in and hung on like a terrier. The man yelled.

He reached up and grabbed the rat, who bit his thumb, deflating the pink glove with an audible pop. But the man took no notice. He seemed to be running sausage-like fingers down the length of Biggles’ tail, counting its dozens and dozens of flexible plates between the sparse guard-hairs as reverently as if they were the beads on a rosary.

“Wonderful.” He thrust the bewildered rat back into its owner’s hands and unexpectedly bowed to them both, with a noise like two balloon-sellers squeezing past each other in a narrow alley. “Perfect. Astonishingly accurate. Never seen anything like it…”

And as Jonah, who hadn’t the least idea what was going on but had every intention of availing herself of this apparent lunacy, made a bolt after the others into the interior of the club, she heard him mumbling in devout litany:

“Fury said to
 a mouse, That
  he met in the
      house, Let
         us both go…”

A tenth police-box TARDIS appeared in the cul-de-sac, squeezed between a classic Volkswagen bug and one of that model of spacerod that Ford Prefect characterizes as “steers like a cow”. Two people disembarked only to bring themselves up short upon seeing that the little house was gone.

“I told you you were going to make us late,” Ninth said to Emma.

“You’re a very fortunate girl, Excel,” Sister was saying.

J00 08\|i0u5LY ]<n0w n0t]-[ing @80ut |v\Y Lif3,” Excel answered glumly and almost incomprehensibly.

“I mean in a sense relating to your specific current predicament, not necessarily generally. It just so happens that the cures to both your and your friend’s difficulties are right at hand.”

Excel boggled happily (something few people other than her could do). “It i5? J00 c@n cur3 u5 80t]-[? Y@Y! \|\|00]-[00!

“Most certainly,” Sister replied, all smiles. “I’ll need your help, though. The cures are in that hardback book, the one on the shelf, under the stethoscope.” She pointed at a random jumble of medical miscellania on the wall. “You’ll have to get it, since it’s just a bit too weighty for my hard-light functions to lift.”

T]-[i5 0n3?” Excel blew the dust off the cover and blinked owlishly at it. “8ut, t]-[i5 i5—

“Don’t worry, that’s the right one,” Sister hastily reassured her. “No questions, now. Your friend needs you quickly, and frankly, even though my head is just an artificial construct of controlled light, your speech patterns are beginning to make it throb.”

They found Hyatt slinking stealthily around the wall of the little room outside the infirmary, making clumsy empty-handed stabs at imaginary evil mooks.

50, \|\|]-[@t ]>@rt 0f t]-[3 800]< ]-[@5 t]-[3 cur3?” Excel asked, flipping it open at random.

“We don’t need to open it, dear. Just hold it over her head.”

Li]<3 t]-[i5?

“A bit higher. That’s good.” Trouble was, Hyatt kept creeping along the wall, making it difficult for Excel to keep the book properly positioned. Sister’s face darkened just a bit and, in a deep masculine voice, she called, “Freeze, Yuumura! You’re surrounded!”

Hyatt froze stock-still, hands slightly raised, only her eyes casting desperately about as Excel stretched to hold the book just so over her head.

N0\|\| \|\|]-[@t?” asked Excel.

“Now this.” So saying, Sister stepped behind her and pinched her sharply on the bottom.

]-[3Y!!” Excel jumped, dropping the book and rounding on Sister. The book bounced off Hyatt’s head, sending her staggering drunkenly across the room, shaking her head. “\|\|]-[@t’]) j00 ])0 t]-[@t 4?!

Sister merely offered her a slightly smug grin as she pointed at Hyatt. The pale girl had recovered her balance and the blankly homicidal Kirika-look was gone from her eyes, replaced by Hyatt’s familiar gentle cluelessness.

“Oh my, senior. Have I been dead all this time? I hope my flaccid corpse wasn’t a burden to you.”

Excel thrust a victorious fist into the air. “@LL rig]-[t 5i5t3r! J00 t0t@LLY ]-[@><0r3]) t]-[@t! N0\|\| ])0 /v\3!

“I will, I will,” Sister sighed, rubbing at her temples. “Just, please, don’t say anything, okay?” She waited for Excel to nod, then went on, “The thing about L33t curses is t]-[@t—” She sighed. “Now you’ve got me doing it. The thing about L33t curses is that they are set to operate for a certain number of words before they wear off. In other words, you have to talk it off.” She held up a hand to stop Excel just as her mouth opened. “Not yet, please. Pick up the book.”

When Excel had done so, Sister pointed at the wall. “Good. Now go over there, face the wall, and start reading that book out loud. While you do that, I’m going to examine Miss Hyatt in the infirmary.”

Feeling a bit like a naughty schoolchild being punished—a feeling with which she was quite thoroughly familiar through first-hand experience—Excel did as she was told. Flipping to the first page, she began to read, “@Lic3 \|\|@5 83ginning 2 g3t \|3rY tir3]) 0f 5itting 8Y ]-[3r 5i5t3r 0n t]-[3 8@n]<: 0nc3 0r t\|\|ic3 5]-[3 ]-[@]) ]>33]>3]) in2 t]-[3 800]< ]-[3r 5i5t3r \|\|@5 r3@])ing...”

After the initial crush at the entrance, Florestan broke away from Eloise, and found a quiet place to stand, with his back against the wall, his height of slightly over six feet allowing him to look over nearly everybody else’s head, or at least, look them in the eye, and watch the goings-on in the whole room.

Eloise didn’t want to be left alone in the crowd, but she didn’t want to tag along after him like a puppy, either—not after she had broken his new gift like that (both the gift and the givers may be bad—but it was his, and she had broken it, and…).

Most of the guests to their quadrille were over at the bar. Ordering more drinks and food. Eloise felt uneasy about that—not just because of what happened in the Alice books, whenever she ate or drank things—but well, this was, as far as she could figure, an Otherworld, and eating otherworldly food was always dangerous… She decided she should try and get up there and warn them.

But it was hard going through the crowd, especially since she had to hold the skirt of her gown up, so she wouldn’t trip over it.

As she got closer, however, she realized that she needn’t have worried. Rhiannon was at the bar with Molly, and kept repeating, whenever anyone tried to take a sip: “Careful! Growing and shrinking in real life are not as much fun as they seem in the books!” And so everyone left their drinks undrunk, and their morsels un–snacked-upon.

“This is a very ‘Wonderland’ predicament, isn’t it?” Daibhid said, in a half-hearted attempt to bring some levity to the occasion.

Those quadrillers who were within earshot gave various signs of distrust.

Eloise was at a loss for what to do. Florestan had warned her to keep her wits about her. But even if she was as sharp eyed as a hawk, there wasn’t much to see except a sea of legs.

And then, as if for no other reason than to contradict her, the crowd parted momentarily, and Eloise saw Jonah not far away. She managed to work her way through the crowd until she was at the girl’s side. Biggles, who had come out again to sit on Jonah’s shoulder, dived into her dress again at Eloise’s approach, instinctively connecting this mysterious green being with all things that are loud, clattery, and generally unpredictable. She felt a lump come to her throat, at that.

Jonah was no longer sucking the side of her hand, but had it pulled up inside her sleeve.

“How’s your hand?” Eloise asked quickly, unable to think of anything else to break through the cloud of embarrassment in her brain.

“It’s fine!” Jonah shot back, defiantly. “I don’t need a doctor or anything—Biggles is very clean, you know!”

“I’m sure he is,” Eloise said, with a nod. “I just wanted to apologize for scaring him, earlier. I didn’t mean to… The noise was scary to me, too, and it must have been ten times as bad for him.”

Jonah’s eyes got wide. “You like rats?” she asked. “But grown-ups hate rats.”

Eloise stopped herself from asking: ‘Is that why you keep one for a pet?’

“Well, I don’t,” she assured her, instead. “There was family of wild wood rats that lived near my old home, before I found the TARDIS,” she went on, “and our paths would cross from time to time. I loved how bright their eyes were, and the tiny, perfect nails on their hands. But none of them were as handsome as Biggles.”

Eloise couldn’t tell if the look Jonah gave her was more one of contempt or admiration. “You’re weird,” she said.

Eloise nodded and sighed. “I know,” she said.

“I’m bored!” Jonah said. “Adventures are things where things are supposed to happen! And nothing’s happening.”

Eloise nodded. “I know. That’s what’s bothering me.”

The quadrillers were nearly all at the bar, or sitting at small tables talking with each other, and staring an the strange Wonderland natives all around them. All of them, like Odysseus’s sailors on Circe’s island, seemed to have forgotten why they had come. Something just didn’t feel right.

There were things she needed to ask, things she needed to figure out, and there was really only one person there whom she could ask. She braced herself against any anger he might feel toward her, and made her way over to Florestan.

“My lord,” she said, with a barely visible curtsey, as she joined him at the wall.

“Eloise,” he acknowledged with a nod.

She didn’t know how to preface her question, so she just asked: “Sir, how can we understand what everyone’s saying? Back at the dance, Sweetheart couldn’t translate the messages we were receiving, because she didn’t know the language, so how is she translating now?”

Florestan shook his head. “She’s not.”

“Everyone here really does speak English?” she asked, surprised

The corners of the Time Lord’s mouth twitched upward for a split second. “To my ear, it sounds very close to Gallifreyan. No. Whatever device is doing the translating, it is local—based somewhere in this area… probably somewhere in this building (after all, Beloved homed in on this precise spot as the source of those signals, this is probably a communication tower of some sort)—and the technology is very crude—listen—hear that buzz?”

Eloise listened. If Florestan hadn’t pointed it out to her, she wouldn’t have noticed it at all, or if she had, would have thought it the sound of the ventilation fans. But it had a rhythm—one that fluctuated with the rhythm of the rhubarb in the room—and when certain clusters of voices happened to overlap, there was a very faint clicking sound, like she sometimes heard through the phone line.

“Static!” she said.

“Hm.” He nodded in the direction of a cluster of Doctors. “Look at him—arguing with himself like that!”

Eloise almost blurted out: “You’d like him once you got to know him!” But instead she said: “He didn’t mean to cause all that trouble, with his screwdriver.”

“I’m sure he didn’t mean it,” Florestan said, in a tone that suggested he doubted the Doctor ever meant anything. “He got it wrong, you know,” he went on, indicating the eighth Doctor in particular. “Dodgson used dream in his Alice books only as a literary conceit. He, himself, was no dreamer, and this is no dream world.”

Eloise thought back to the single-paragraph biography she had read on the flyleaf of a collection of Lewis Carroll stories. “He was a mathematician, right?”

“Indeed. And do you notice anything odd?” he asked further.

Eloise glanced sideways at him. Was there anything not odd about the scene? Delirium could be counted among the more normal in the company. But she paused, and considered the question carefully. “There’s no Queen of Clubs here!” she said at last. “We were told, over and over that the Queen was waiting for us—and she’s not here!”

The corners of Florestan’s mouth twitched up again. “And I’ll lay ten to one odds,” he said, “that now that you’ve brought her up, she’ll appear—my guess is that all of these ‘natives’ are actually holograph—”

But he was interrupted by an ear-piercing blast of trumpets, and a voice from the loudspeakers near the ceiling announced: “The queen! The queen! Make way for Her Majesty, the Queen of Clubs!”

There was a bowl of cherries on the bar. The cat Rhiannon had been telling everybody off when they tried to eat them. Jonah didn’t see why she should be pushed around by some stupid fish-breath cat; but she didn’t really want to end up with one leg stuck up the chimney, or shrunk down to mouse-size—rat-size, she corrected herself staunchly.

She compromised. She picked up a bunch of cherries and dangled them over her ear, and then another pair over the other ear, swinging her head slightly to feel the glossy red beads dangle. Rhiannon had said “don’t touch”… but she hadn’t meant don’t touch, had she? Not actually.

She squinted sideways at herself in the shiny black front of the bar, judging the effect of the earrings, and scowled. They felt right, the way they bobbed and swung, just like Bob Sawyer’s Dame earrings at the panto… but they looked daft. And they made her pig-tails stick out.

Someone was talking to her, she registered; talking down to her, the way they mostly did. She cold-shouldered kind Zoe Herriot off with the same “Boring!” she’d used on Eloise, hunching into herself automatically, broadcasting ‘Go away, go away’ with every line of her truculent back. After a moment, non-plussed, Zoe did.

This whole place scared her. The night-club was pretending to be something it wasn’t—oh, she knew, even if none of the grown-ups had noticed, with their chat-chat and their kind smiles for little girls—and the city outside hadn’t looked like any kind of high-rise office blocks to her. More like great curving humps of earth with doors and windows in—like the Eurostar station at Waterloo. Not like hobbit-holes, no, of course not. And definitely not like giant cocoons…

There were words for people who saw stuff like that, out of their own minds. She’d used most of them herself, in warfare at the school-gates. She’d never let anyone throw them at her—and she wasn’t about to start now.

She didn’t like being scared. Other people tended not to like it when Jonah was scared, either.

One of the lights behind the bar was flickering worse and worse, and she stared at it, hard, willing it to go out. For a moment, it brightened and seemed to hold steady—Jonah scowled—then, with a tiny pop, it did go out. That made her feel a bit better. But not much.

Something pulled at her hair, and she yelped. Then it pulled again, and the cherries she’d forgotten about came free with a jerk and slid down her dress, lodging in one of the buttons. An underslung Spitfire-nose—she’d never been able to think of those old planes with a straight face since she’d seen her first rat in profile—whiffled into her ear.

“Oh Biggles…” Jonah turned her head suddenly, and buried her nose in his flanks, cupping him in her hand. The clean rat-fur smelt of seaweed, and beneath it his strong little body was warm and familiar and alive. The rat wriggled slightly, used to his mistress’ moods, and began to chatter his teeth in the soft staccato purr that was his sign of affection.

Rats were smart, Jonah thought fiercely, and strong, and sneaky, and loyal. And they didn’t hold grudges, even if you were mean to them when you didn’t mean to be. They just loved you back, and tried to pull open your eyes and mouth when you were lying down, to see how they worked, and climbed up onto the highest shelves to find the rat-food you’d put up there by standing on a stool, once you’d given them a single sniff…

“Oi! Biggles, watch out!” The rat had darted head-first down her front, as sure-footed as if it were a ladder, and made a grab for the dangling cherries there. In a second he’d bitten one off, dropped the rest, and jumped across onto the bar-top with his prize.

Jonah hastily snatched the other cherries out of temptation’s way and tried to recapture Biggles. But the hooded rat had neatly removed all the flesh from the cherry-stone with surgical accuracy, left the two halves lying together on the counter like a stuffed olive, and was calmly chewing away at the stone with the familiar rasping noise that had spelt doom to wainscots up and down the country. His bright black eyes were watching her with an air of impudent challenge that was almost an uncanny mirror of the expression she’d worn when she’d helped herself to the cherries in the first place.

After all, Jonah thought, smirking for the first time since they’d stepped out of the TARDIS, Rhiannon had said not to eat the food, hadn’t she? She hadn’t said anything about not gnawing on the bits you couldn’t eat…

And then an ear-piercing blast of trumpets sounded, and Biggles bolted for cover.

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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.