A Trouble Shared Is A Trouble Cubed > Catastrophe > Trust Me, I Know What I'm Doing

Biggles considered what the Doctor might do.

Picking a couple of the scrolls up at random, reading them, and hitting immediately by lucky chance on the Shocking Truth appeared to be pushing it a bit.

Dilly-dallying, getting captured by the opposition, and learning the critical truth as their prisoner, before a daring and improbable escape—well, he really doubted that either information or escape were conveniently to be had from where Hatsheput or anything like her would be fain to confine him. No, there was little good enough in that either.

Opening the door with the Sonic Screwdriver—pointless and unavailable.

Finding a dead miniaturised body in one of the pigeon-holes? Well, that had some attractions, but…

Chittering the chat of the much put-upon, Biggles scurried over to the one of the lowest pigeon-holes, applied teeth and front paws to its relatively clean scroll, and proceeded to back it out. About his own length counting his tail, the rolled scroll was sealed with red wax stamped with a rampant lion-thing of disgusting aspect, its face a distorted parody of the human male with vastly disproportionate jaws, its erect tail that of a giant scorpion. If possible, it appealed to Biggles’s rodentine aesthetic even less than did Hatsheput’s self. The locals, Biggles considered, had entirely too much of a fixation with miscegenated moggies.

Now, to break the seal or not to break the seal? On the one paw, reading the scroll would be excessively difficult without so doing—unless he were to carry it back to his human companions, which also appeared a bit problematic at present. On the other paw, the D&D-like setting suggested all sorts of unpleasantly cliched fates awaiting those so rash as to do such a thing. On the other paw—

There was no other paw! Both of the other paws were already having at the seal on pure instinct, and the waxen lion-thing was slain already. Insinuating himself into the loosened roll at the top, and backing down it against its natural tendency to recurl, Biggles read:

SKIN ID:      7334-E-35
PNAME:        Rachel Stout
INSERTION:    Sugar Rae Goodhart
CLASS:        Mary Sue
STATUS:       378389

[this in a nasty, maroonish-coloured ink with ugly black flecks, curiously scentless to Biggles’s twitching whiskers:]

"Princess Stalingradsky raked Jim Sledge's back with convulsive passion
in the throes of her ecstasy.  Coolly, Jim shot over her shoulder,
mowing down the thronging minions of BLOWFLY as they stormed
terrifyingly through the door.  But they were too many, he realised as
he paused an instant to reload his raging machine-gun -- his number was
up!  'Well, old thing,' he quipped ruefully as he shot a man down from
the chandeliers, 'it looks like our number's up!  But there's just one
thing -- '

"Suddenly a fighting kicking Fury dropped through the skylight, blazing
a furious path through their attackers!  They were caught by surprise,
they had no chance for a moment.  'Sugar!' expostulated Jim Sledge,
raising an immaculate eyebrow.

"'Time we were leaving.'  Said Sugar lackadaisically.  'Grab hold of
this rope, Jim, its getting too darn hot in here!'  'Oh, James!' cried
the princess, 'I didn't -- !'

"Sugar spurned the aristocratic triple-agent out the corner of her eye.
The eloquently hangdog yet irrepressibly roguish expression on Sledge's
chiselled face said everything.  'Never mind that,' Sugar added, 'time
to fly!'  Her hands joined his on the fast-made silken rope, their free
arms clung tightly round each others waists, and then they leapt
backwards out the window instants before the flying BLOWFLY bullets
shattered the glass and the air where they had been into shattered
fragments.  Despite herself, her pounding bosom raced against his as
they flew through the air to a perilous freedom."


And below all this, an indecipherable rune of curious and somehow disturbingly angular aspect, written in a silver-flecked fugilin ink and conveying an ineffable sense of corresponding to a large red button.

Biggles crawled out of the scroll disgustedly. There was no way he could get this little lot downstairs, let alone past the watch-cat at Reception. His options now appeared to be:

i) Memorise the putrid prose, describe the scroll and its having a rune on it, and hope that this would provide the Doctor with enough data to clarify the situation rather than muddying it even further.

ii) Describe the prose only generically—easily accomplished in two words, or indeed in none at all by any of various non-verbal means—and chew the rune off like billy-oh for purposes of carrying it down to the Doctor, hoping that it would be useful in isolation and that humorously fatal monkey-business would not attend the procedure.

From far below, there came the rather distinctive sound of Hatsheput charging up the staircase in miffed mode, making remarks as she came.

Biggles, noting that he was already half-way through chewing off the rune and had not yet been struck by lightning, turned into a human or cursed with an unslakeable addiction to Tom Clancy, added some oomph to the existing billy-oh and liberated the rune in record time. Biting securely down on it, he sprinted for his entrance-hole, and began descending the rat-ladder, so that Hatsheput unwittingly passed him on the stair side of the wall on her way up.

And it seems to be going so well so far, doesn’t it?

“Do we gloriously overcome yon great o’er-bearing o’er-mammalling Gyptian death-mouser,” said Fastolf briskly, or as briskly as Logic would allow, “as had better marched with our valour i’first place, then—”

“Go fie yourself, snake-hips!” huffed Candy. “You leave my nice lap-cat alone!”

“Biggles is of our company, Hatsheput isn’t,” said Magnus loudly, not before Jonah’s face had pucened most ominously. “Unless she has Potent protection, which seems unlikely, I agree that we would be better taking her out of action. Her exit riddle will be the sting in the tail, best by far to pre-empt her on our own—”

“Pre-empt?!” The Trader grimaced.

“We mustn’t,” said Carrie, urgently. “Think, Gray: seven floors, and ‘one in eight’…”

“Hot dog ice-a-cream!” her Author swore blasphemously. “If that means…!”

Imran facefaulted, getting it or something at any rate. “Not…!”

“But…?” inquired Trella archly, not to be left out.

Candy, paying no attention to this exchange, was assuring Jonah, “No problem, short stuff. Moment he gets back, you hide him and stay in the middle of this mob: that should cross her geases long enough for me to work my line.”

“But he isn’t here now,” cried Jonah, in tones apparently designed to blast blockheads from the Earth, “and she’s too fast—!” And before anyone could react, the dwarf had bolted—not upstairs after rat and sphinx, which everyone was already more or less braced for—but back out the front door.

“Oh, no!” exclaimed Fifth, horrified. He and Nyssa rushed out after her.

“Dumb brat,” Candy shrugged. “Like something Hattie’s size is going to catch a rat that quick, anyway…”

“…we need an edge.” The Trader was holding forth even as he ransacked his many pockets. “If we’re going to, ah, so to speak, impose our own interpretation, we need to be able to stop Hatsheput taking it out of our hands prematurely.” Out they came: a dice-bag marked with the mystical runes FULHAM F.C.; a pouch of gold pieces in a similar livery proper to BIRMINGHAM; a vial of pink Medicinal Compound; a genuine philosopher’s stone, achieved against all odds by unspeakable and nameless arts of the inscrutable Orient1; a precious little ormolu reliquary—

Carrie frowned. “Gray, why do we have ‘the big toe of St Robert E. Lee at the age of eleven and three-quarters’?”

“Carrie, these are not what I ruddy well came in with!” The Trader flicked his agitated way through a mixed sheaf of nine-bob notes and blank plenary indulgences. “Dark Elder Gods of Doom or the moral equivalent thereof have substituted my equipment—fearing, as how could they not, that I had otherwise saved us in the nick of time by good preparation; and that, in fine—”

Adric cleared his throat. “Trader,” he said then, “there’s something you ought to know…”

We will leave this painful scene at this point: not out of cowardice or anything else smacking of narratorial negligence; but, rather, because the unparryable explanation by Adric, to the Trader, that the latter has been casually translated as a Charlatan is—rather like kinky commerce with a tutu-clad shoggoth whilst eating a British railway sandwich to the celestial strains2 of Oops I Did It Again—a thing better evoked by stark factual summary rather than explained in all its lamentable detail.

Besides, more… interesting… times were about to commence.

Doctor Whozonfirst was only whistling his 86th chorus of the ‘Bridge Over the River Kwai’ theme when the portcullis/fire curtain went up. He was the last person out through it, and only the utter lack of receptive telepathy on ALF’s part prevented it going down again before Doctor Whozonfirst got out.

“All right,” said Benny, when the gang was reunited on the outside of the moat, “how do we join up with that other crew?”

“Do we even know where they are?” Ace wondered.

“Well,” Daibhid started, “Schroedy said—”

“We’ve got trouble,” said Ian. Everyone immediately turned to him, as he had continued with his observations of the cube as a distraction from the whistling, and still had possession. It was hissing and popping, and steam was shooting from it, and as everyone turned he dropped it in the manner of someone holding something that has become very warm.

“I knew it,” said Florestan, as Seventh crouched over the cube while motioning everyone else back. “We need to get it to—”

Hominum transporto ad felis!” First shouted. Everyone turned to him, but if anyone was expecting him, in his D&D guise, to be casting a statis spell on the cube, they were surprised to find his flailing fingers pointing at Daibhid. Still, no one was more surprised than Daibhid when Daibhid began receding into the distance at a velocity well in excess of any such as a humanoid may achieve under its own power.

“Quickly!” First bellowed at Seventh. “Place it in the—” But Seventh had already picked up the cube, protecting his hand with a kerchief. He strode quickly to the Luggage, rapped sharply on top of it twice saying, “Open up, it’s me,” and dropped the cube inside. Just in time, too, for as soon as he had done so the Luggage began scooting after Daibhid, though at considerably less speed.

“A spell to send Daibhid where Schroedy is?” Florestan deduced, not without admiration in his tone.

“Yes,” said First. “Quickly, after the Luggage! It’s our best guide to the others!”

As the party began jogging after the Luggage, Susan caught up with First and Seventh. “But, Grandfather, when all these mystical trappings are illusory analogies of what’s really around us, how could you genuinely cast a spell?”

“I’ll explain later,” said First and Seventh together.

Pay attention, I will explain zis only woence. Though not, as it falls, all at woence, because this piece of daring reportage is hitting your servers hot off the presses, ere mere mortal hearts brast like great big brasty things at the unbearable suspense; and the recounting of the next couple of minutes is a somewhat longer affair than their actual and explosive unwinding.

This is how it happened:

Magnus, Varne, and Fastolf exchanged a look of rare complete accord, and started forward, to the inspiringly-strummed strains of that old Renaissance favourite ‘Ding dong bell, Pussy’s in the (Stair)Well’.

Candy yawned and stretched, an event unpostable in detail. “Don’t come crying to Momma, that’s all,” she told them, striking a pose calculated grossly to emphasize her more salient qualifications for that particular role. In which pose she froze with practised precision, scrutinising the stair with the implacable attention of an exceptionally cold-eyed caryatid, always supposing said caryatid to be sufficiently sentient to possess a definable psychic ocular temperature.

“Quick!” Sixth exclaimed, puffing himself up and gesturing urgently to the remaining idle members of the party. “Someone with sense had better be present…!”

“That’s true,” chorused Peri, Mel, and Tegan, each instantly convinced by the Time Lord’s masterly eloquence that her presence and hers alone must therefore be a sine qua non for success, mutandis bloody well changed into honest American|English|Australian, all right? All hastened to join the Gallifreyan Grampus in catching up the Mayhem Mob, and were with them before the narrator had even got to the end of the caryatid padding, not to imply that this particular honorary caryatid by any means needed any—

Somewhere, a fwap was heard. We shall be good now.

“I’ll guard the rear,” Turlough volunteered hastily.

“Don’t you always?” Tegan called back over her shoulder.

“Yes, well,” sneered Turlough, straightening his Old School Tie. “If you’d had an English public-school education, Miss Billabong, you’d be world-class at certain skills too…”

Not that our characters are exactly helping!

The advance party disappeared round the first turn of the stair.

Imran, Trella, and the others remained glued to the remarkable spectacle of the Trader’s local Charlatanhood being explained to him with that tact for which Adric is so justly renowned. The Trader was taking the bad news with the suave poise and pithy wit for which he in turn was known; indeed, so pithy was his response that he had yet to waste a single word of intelligible English on it, although several phrases of Biznish, Mirandese, and Abyssal Low Plooran were vouchsafed his companions by way, one presumes, of simple courtesy.

But let it not be thought for one moment that mere vulgar goggling at the Trader’s supposed discomfiture motivated our heroes at such a critical juncture! For sure each would have turned their minds to other aspects of the Greater Good, were it not in each case for a momentary and private double-take at something that could not possibly have happened.

Carrie, no longer a hologram, was by no means in any position to flicker.

You, O Gentle Reader, who have waited with mounting disbelief for this latest instalment of a really extremely brief sequence of events to be described, might well say leerily, “Oh, yeah?” And you would be right to do so. Indeed, from the position of the last inter-post break, you could no doubt make a pretty fair stab at placing the exact instant of the flicker’s occurrence.

But since it was impossible and had the potential to be a rather sensitive subject—and since the cool and collected response of the Trader to any hare started along those lines could well be imagined by those present at the fateful Third Hoedown—no-one said a dicky-bird, because after all it couldn’t possibly have happened, and had manifestly not been registered by anyone else present.

The front door burst violently open.

The Trader eyed the bottle of snake oil he had just fished from his pocket with unmistakable loathing. “Carrie,” he complained, “what kind of—?”

This time everyone saw Carrie flic

:::Daibhid!::: cried Schroedinger, forgetting to be aloof. :::You’re safe!:::

“Am I? Oh, good.” Daibhid looked around blearily. “Does anyone mind if I sit down? I’m a bit dizzy.” He sat down and took a deep breath. Then he suddenly sat up, and looked round less blearily. “Wow! Look at all this stuff! It’s just… cool.” The colour came back into his face and was joined by his enthusiastic-kid grin.

Schroedy turned sharply to Amber. :::Don’t let him touch anything!:::

“Actually, I’m ahead of you there,” said Amber.

Daibhid shook his head. “Wait a minute. When my vision was blurry, I thought this looked like an alchemy lab, but now it’s a science lab. But I’m not looking out of the corner of my eye!”

“The shock of the transport must have focussed you onto reality,” speculated Third.

Daibhid looked down at himself. He was wearing the Ceanaideach crest sweatshirt and jeans again. “Oh well, it was nice while it lasted.” He looked round at the others, seeing them all the way they’d been before GlitchBob opened his mouth. Then he noticed the hole in the floor. “You know what?”

“The cube you found would fit perfectly into that hole,” Q retorted. “Yes, we’d actually managed to get that far.”

“Okay, I wasn’t sure Schroedy had told you it was a cube. I’m afraid I don’t have it with me. It was about to explode, I think.”

“Eh? If yon cube’s exploded then whit dae we dae noo?” asked Jamie. “An’ are the ithers all richt?”

“Dunno,” said Daibhid, looking miserable. “On both counts. Sorry.” He perked up a bit. “First sent me here, he must have had a reason. Shame he didn’t have time to tell me.”


The Trader gave a great bellow of something passionate or other. He tossed the despicable bottle over his shoulder, and threw his arms and swirling cloak about Carrie. She seemed to wake, as from a study, and returned his embrace with equal and silent vehemence.

“No,” said the Trader thickly. “Never again. Both of us, or neither…”

“We ought to set a rendezvous,” said Carrie. But she showed no sign of letting go.

“Klovia, Ultra Prime, if it’s public.”

“Corydon, Plain Pike’s, if it’s our own.”

“But we shouldn’t need one, cara mia…”

“We shouldn’t.”

The others, who might ordinarily have overcome the pressing forces of ‘Whaaa?’ to attend to these alarums, were busy being distracted by others. Did we mention that front door’s bursting violently open, now?

With someone loud coming through it?

“Jonah,” the lovely young Elf in the brown velvet was saying urgently, “it really isn’t a—”

“HAT-SHE-PUT!” the red-faced Dwarf bellowed. “Sphinx! Customers! You’d better come and ask your RIDDLE, right NOW!!!”

“I’ll take this one,” Fifth promised. “What’s—?”

Suddenly, a rat shot out.

Biggles attained the last flight of stairs with that alacrity peculiar to persons of the ratty persuasion who have done the cornered bit in their time and have been moved to provident action to avoid the future necessity. In point of fact and in two more words, he was having it away on his toeses like a good ‘un.

He just noticed the vile glittering on the lower stairs in time. Leaping in a single bound the spreading pool of thin liquid and evilly glittering glass where the Trader’s snake oil—violently discarded upon Carrie’s first sinister flicker—had landed, he hit the ground running, suffering no worse effects than a slight jarring and the crunching of wax under his teeth.

Biggles!” went Jonah.

Under the onslaught of sensory input, only a fraction of our heroes’ attention (which may be taken as a fraction of the heroes, or a fraction of the attention, or both, as the reader or, more practically, the immediately subsequent author, desires) was spared for the entrance via the front door of the tower of the newcomers, who numbered three; though whoever did so have their attention spared were instantly sympathetic to Jonah’s desire to divert their monstrously quasi-feline hostess’ monstrous hospitality from themselves to these same three newcomers, whose appearance here despite a certain lack of continuity with their most recent cliffhanger was not going to be particularly welcome to anyone in the immediate, or any other kind of, vicinity.

“I was right, Ha-chan!” screamed Excel. “They’re all in on it! Whatever it is!”

And as below, so above: sounds of commotion descended the stairwell, other things hot on their heels.

Hatsheput the Security Sphinx reached the top floor at a good lick, found no rodently traces, and proceeded to sniff suspiciously about. Here there was nothing at all: she backtracked down a floor; had no luck there either; began to feel that something funny was going on but not for much longer if she had anything to do with it, Sunny Djoser!; and just then felt a musical enchantment plink pathetically off her magic resistance.

A summoning back onto the stairwell, if the approaching lyrics:

Ding dong bell.
Pussy’s in the (stair)well.
Who’ll do her in?
We ourselves, I ween.
Who’ll take her out?
No mangy rabble rout
But we—

were to be at all relied upon. Hatsheput, with only the briefest sniff of frustration that she would perforce give them the impression of being, well, magically impressed, whomped down to meet them midway, as a courteous and above all hungry hostess perforce must.

—heroes all,
So Hatsheput I call—

As she hit the fifth flight, where the mangy rabble rout lurked (including the fat riddle-basher), she made a great spring down onto the very steps in front of them, and grinned hugely in their faces.

“Call me what you like,” Hatsheput invited, “just don’t call me late for dinner…”

“No rat salad for you today, Lady,” Magnus informed, “he is one of our company, and you cannot pass without defeating us, which is a chance I would not take were I on your paws.” He drew himself up with great omen.

Hatsheput did a double-take. “Hey! You’re—”

“Silence!” Magnus hissed. “If you are one who can know that much, you know it is best not to speak it!”

“—a cheeky long streak of piss,” she concluded. “Still an improvement, I suppose. But whatever your shady past, if you think you’re up to a fight, then bring on your dogs.” She flexed her claws lazily, bunched up her hindquarters, and brought up her tail in a taunting fashion.

“Fight? Fight? FIGHT?!?” Sixth began, and everyone in chorus finished, demanding. “I don’t think so…”

Hatsheput, never a lover of smartarses, was beginning to find the fat sage to be seriously getting on her Nefertitis. “Really?”

“Really?” Varne added.

“Pox!” Fastolf concluded.

“Absolutely,” the Doctor smirked. “Don’t any of you let her provoke you, and we’ll all be safe. Because we’re still all protected by the riddle-geas, aren’t we? And we won’t stand aside from the stair until you swear Biggles a safe-conduct, so you must know you can’t get him under any circumstances.” He tutted impudently. “Much more civilised to acknowledge the realities, don’t you think?”

“You assume,” said Hatsheput, grateful for her many centuries’ experience at Tarot Poker, “that he’s on the other side of you; which I hardly see how he can be. I’ll swear no such thing, and your accursed purpose shall be stuffed with added sage and onion.”

“Is that why you were bouncing downstairs so hard?” Peri inquired sweetly.

“Tush!” said Fastolf. “’Twas the ineluctable charm of my—”

A loud and bumptious summons came from downstairs, immediately succeeded by the crashing shut of the front door. Hatsheput sighed exasperatedly.

“The old leave-and-come-back-in again ploy, I see3. No doubt the rat’s with her. I hate to break it to you, but that doesn’t work the way you think it does either.”

“We know,” said Varne, “which is why you are still not passing.”

Biggles!” came a dwarvish squeal of mingled relief and fury from downstairs.

“I see,” said Hatsheput, switching her tail. “What lengths you nutters would go to for a kitten, I don’t like to guess. But I wonder if you’ve considered one—”

“Lord!” exclaimed Varne, blurring into action. “She’s going to—”

But Hatsheput was already gathered to spring, and nary a reaction in the party was quick enough to intercept what happened on the word,


Being geas-bound, of course, she could not assail the party.

There was, however, nothing in the riddle-geas about not springing mightily down to the next landing, and thence the rest of the way for a nice bit of rat scratchings.

There was also nothing there, as the entire party were now discovering with much rolling, cursing, and traditional unpronounceable female screaming, about not incidentally knocking the whole crowd of them down like a bunch of skittles if they inexplicably insisted upon standing in her flight-path.

With one bound, Hatsheput was free. She struck the landing cat-light, and proceeded down the remaining stairs at the double, whilst the rat’s would-be defenders were still picking themselves up, whingeing, and speaking of terrible vengeances, these variously divided among herself and certain party know-alls who shall remain nameless, at least to any reader whose perspicacity very closely approximates that of your average sea-gooseberry.

One might think that a big cat descending, unopposed, a broad flight of stairs, is really too simple and certain a procedure to require further description, in order to predict its inevitable consequence.

But since one has already had extensive notice of the fast-approaching scandalous, spectacular, and altogether super-saver extra-value catastrophe which lies ahead, it is surely too insulting to assume that any of our Gentle Readers has indeed been such a great big ctenophorocephalic plonker!

Downstairs, stuff had continued to happen…

Imran had not been best pleased at Carrie’s flickering. Whether it imported danger only for that good old^H^H^Hyes, dear^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Muse herself, or was a harbinger of a more general tendency among the party to disappear up their own fictions, was now the question on every thinking pointy-hatted one’s lips; not that either potential answer was exactly encouraging.

The question left the th.p-h.o’s lips and winged its way to Carrie’s shell-like. Far far away, the artist formerly known as Plum rotated in his grave like the business end of an electric blender; but the consequences of this, though spectacular and a truly epic story in their own right, are not to be rehearsed here.5

“It’s all right,” Carrie said tensely. “I think. I’m… more vulnerable than the rest of you to this place, just now. I’ve been spending rather too much time at least half in my own world.” Much to Imran’s surprise, she handed him her half-moon glasses. “Strictly VR, for when Daea8 beckons. But I think I’d better not, until we’re out of this place again. Carry my temptation awhile, if you would…”

“Ahem,” said the Trader, with considerably more freight than is generally allocated to that particular utterance.

We can get around each other,” Carrie reminded him.

“Aha. Just so.”

“So,” said Trella. “You’re sure you’ve got it under control—or are you?”

Carrie raised her fine eyebrows. “What’s security? After the triffid episode, I’m the last person to boast about that… No: forewarned is forearmed; and short of a major reality disruption, I don’t think this place can take me.”

There was this rat. There was this crunch.

A bunch of exceptionally silly anime characters appeared, by reason of—by—by—there was no reason! Out of a reality disruption, then, one presumes.

FLICKER, went Carrie.

“Bugger!” went the Trader, Imran, and Trella.

Biggles!” went Jonah.

WHOMPETY, went Hatsheput, on a staircase all too proximate under the circs.

RHUBARB RHUBARB RHUBARB, went absolutely everybody within roobing range, as well they might. The shape of the looming catastrophe lit up in screaming strobing xenon in everyone’s mind whatsoever.

Yeah, right. As if! In their dreams, laddies and lassies! Call that a catastrophe?

No: this is a catastrophe—

Biggles was agitatedly whiffling the mystically-sealed parchment scrap up in the general direction of Jonah’s face. She snatched at it. He dived down into the relative safety of her dwarf-forged byrnie.

“That was close!” said Carrie, fading shakenly back into exist—

“All right!” screamed Excel. “All of you—!”

“Hackety pht’hiss!” Hyatt warned her, anent the staircase. Excel was the only one who needed such hints, but was too busy ranting to pay attention.

“Prepare to meet thy doom, impious rodent!” cried Hatsheput cheerfully, descending the stairs like an avalanche.

Jonah’s hand clenched convulsively about the fragment Biggles had given her, trashing its the already-abused seal irrevocably.


“No!” cried Fifth, appearing on the upper landing with his crew, all looking much like persons recently dragged through a hedge backwards. And then let fall into the deep ditch on the other side. Except drier. So far. “There should be another way!”

This inspired Sixth to toss a would-be-appeasing Treble McChucker with Extra Velveeta, with the expertise of that 3rd Dan Farisubii Master which he seldom liked to boast of being—so that the portentous pattie sailed down neatly in front of the rampaging sphinx’s eyes. Alas, despite its status as a better Rat-inna-Bun counterfeit than any less mirabile character than the Doctor could possibly have hoped to pull out of his hat, sleeve, pocket, or other personal receptacle, the divine Hatsheput’s anger and Biggleward appetite failed to miraculously subside, if one is to judge by her bellow which, in its nearest possible rendering in merely human script, we might represent as “EWWWWESES!”.

With the sundering of the waxen seal, the very air shattered like a sheet of bullet-shattered glass. “Yee-hah!” Screamed Sugar Rae Goodhart. Swinging with Jim Sledge on their silken rope, her rounded limbs clasped in passionate embrace round the roguish agent! He raised a masculinely sophisticated eyebrow. “My dear,” he gasped knowingly, “I don’t know that this is the time—!”

Bring them on! Excel will clean up this nest of…”

“WAAAAAHHH!” roared Hatsheput majestically, having in her distraction at the burger failed to note the pool of snake oil on that lower stair. ‘Snake oil’ which, to judge by its immediate effect, was after all a genuine magical AD&D anointy stuff, rather than (say) that with which a certain outraged Charlatan had deemed he was being baited.

“…naughty surrealist rebel thingy…”

Oil of Slipperiness, even.

The cracks in the air shot out extensions towards our still-flickering Carrie. The preposterous scene from the private world of Rachel Stout/“Sugar Rae Goodhart” kaleidoscoped out, and bloody good riddance. Its escapees, however, were through and remained so. Boo! Carrie and the Trader clung to each other like drowners.

Many, many kilos of out-of-control sphinx now slid violently into the front ranks of the downstairs party.

“Charge!” cried Fastolf; which he and the others upstairs were already doing (heroic rescue, for the purpose of), having mistaken Hatsheput’s sudden acceleration entirely.

The silk rope was now cut off from its inner-worldly point of anchorage, said world being rapidly replaced within the reality-fracture by a vast and forbidding military-spaceport scene. The teardrop-shaped battleships, planted by the pointy ends in massive subterranean docks; the massive concrete-and-steel structures; the ultra-cloudy skies themselves: everything about the scene was a ferocious grey, saving only the black-and-silver uniforms worn by all those persons present who were not clad in natty grey leather. Setting aside the colour scheme, this brutalist vision of the military-industrial complex in sheerly monstrous overdrive by no means resembled any predictable private world of such as the Trader, let alone his subtle and pacific Muse!

“Klovia!” exclaimed the Trader, sounding not altogether displeased.

Hell and damnation!
Lord, we are not wanted for anything here.
Twenty possible employers, none of whom are prepared to take no for an answer, and none of them who can meet our prices.
[Varne pointed at the sphinx who was trying to sort herself out.]
That should serve as a distraction, Lord.
True, especially if you do not call me Lord, or Magnus for that matter.
[Magnus fingered the fobs on his chain, trying to work out what he could do to get them back to where the party had come from.]

The entwined super agents, still trailing the useless silk rope, were carried on by the momentum of their swing in a rapidly ceilingward direction, Jim Sledge continuing to make unfeasible and inapposite quips. Their antics continued to be as incompetently and semi-literately narrated as before, but we are now drawing a kindly editorial curtain over that aspect of it.

Oh, yes we are!

“Imran!” said Carrie rapidly, over her Author’s shoulder. “Don’t try to follow. In same boat, use fanpower—!”

…in the name of ultrapotent Lord Ilpalazzo, I…!




BANG! 12

WALLOP!!! 13


“I’m quite annoyed now,” noted Hatsheput dazedly, from under a slimy and unpleasant mass of Quadrillers.

“Life is tough,” Magnus pointed out, “and if this is really Klovia, I think you being annoyed is the least of our problems.”

“I’m shaken and stirred,” quipped Jim Sledge urbanely, immediately before being expelled by a co-operative public spasm in the general direction of the hole in reality.

But the reality-fracture was already closing behind Carrie and the Trader—so quickly that the bipartite bolus of Stoutian fanwank which now sped towards it hit the wall instead, with a great THUD needing no 15, although from at least two points of view this was an improvement on its hitting Carrie and the Trader.

“I think the feeling was mutual, Lord Magnus,” muttered Varne. And lo, the last glimpse of Klovia was gone like the Queens Park Rangers triumphs of yesteryear, taking Carrie and the Trader with it.

The mass quivered, and whinged, and began to break up.

If mayhem hung not heavy on the very air, it was only because it knew perfectly well it would have been an anticlimax.

And we think we bloody well hope that was the catastrophe!

1 Specifically, Taiwan, if we are to judge by the inscription.

2 Celestial, in that they have been reported by several trustworthy and independent witnesses as being very much on the current playlist for the insanely fluting abominations that circle eternally the accursed seat of Azathoth, the idiot daemon-sultan that bubbles at the rotten heart of transcosmical Infinity!

3 Here Hatsheput stretches the meaning of the word ‘old’ a bit, since she had previously encountered such poncing about only once. On this occasion, an exceptionally hubristic and crossword-addicted hero-sage had taken umbrage at the excessive ease of her initial question, and insisted that she try again with something better apt to bring him glory and minstrelly immortality.4

4 The second riddle on this occasion was “You know, Mr Smartarse, that really wasn’t very clever of you, was it?”, and was answered with terminal incorrectitude.

5 But look out6 for Griselda Chastelaine-Foster’s new bookshelf-bustin’ epic The Annelid, whose stupefying first volume The Lost Helm of Ilkeley will be hitting remainder stacks near YOU in early 2004! Here these matters and many others will be made clear, as the helter-skelter roller-coaster plot literally wends its way through two thousand thrill-a-ream pages of exciting exposition by talking worms with names like Wanda Winona Wigglesworth!

6 Alright, don’t then. See if we care!7

7 <SULK>

8 Carrie’s and the Trader’s original-fiction setting, in case someone or other has unaccountably forgotten in the last few heartbeats!

9 The sound of a large and bouncy sphinx skidding to a halt through the party, and knocking everyone every which way like skittly things.

10 The sound of two extremely dire secret agents falling on a sphinx from a height.

11 The sound of the upstairs party hitting the snake oil at unawares, and catching up with a sphinx’s tail-end with rather greater and less orderly alacrity than had been quite intended.

12 The sound of Excel shooting the ceiling for high treason, as the Evil Conspiracy caused her to fall over backwards. Actually, this involved a few more BANGs than that…

13 The sound of Turlough attempting under cover of the various alarums and excursions to grope Hyatt; or, more precisely, the sound of Tegan declining to believe that his hands landed just there in the sphinxocentric scrum by pure and innocent accident.

14 The sound of the Trader expounding the final clue that will surely prove the key to setting everything right. As it sounded to the party, he and Carrie having been knocked backwards, through the reality-fault into the grey spaceport world, by sundry other human skittles.

15 Unnecessary; vide supra.

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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.