Catastrophe > Trust Me, I Know What I'm Doing > Hoorah for Progress!

Meanwhile, the others were racing after the Luggage. As they did so they passed the tavern where the Farscape crowd were drinking. Several members of the group couldn’t resist looking out of the corner of their eyes, which was gradually getting easier, just as it had for Florestan, seeing the nightclub they’d first arrived at. However, apart from Crichton and co. it was deserted, and clearly had been for some time. Bob the Muse watched Lyssie stagger over to the bar, and fill a dusty glass with stale water from a rain-barrel.

“Do you think we should tell them?” asked Vicki.

“Probably, but we’ve got to keep up with that box,” Benny pointed out.

“Besides,” grinned Bob the Muse, “it serves ’em right for trying to get hammered while we do all the work!”

“Exactly,” Benny agreed. “But we’d better work fast before they disappear. They’re must be deep into personal reality, since that’s part of being drunk anyway.”

“Wizard’s College dead ahead!” called out Chris. The Luggage kept going.

“…Wait a minute,” Dominic said. “Daibhid, where’s your Rucksack?”

“I had it in the castle…” Daibhid said, before slapping himself on the forehead. “D’oh! Sapient pearwood! It’s going to follow me!”

Dominic allowed himself a smile. “And the others will follow it, if they can.”

“Cube, cube…” Amber muttered. “Six-fold…”

“Something we should know?” the Brigadier said.

Amber shook her head. “Maybe nothing. But six is the number of the Guardians, six are the parts of the Key to Time, six are the sides of the cube.

“And six was our number, the Six of Gallifrey. Past, Present, Future, Magnificence, Romaunce, and…” Amber frowned. “The term doesn’t translate well into English—‘woven stories’, ‘mosaic stories’, perhaps.

“Six-fold. Six-sided. Cubeoid. Cubes have a particular meaning for the Powers. Objects that represent… that represent a certain balance.”

“Yet this cube brought about precisely the opposite…” Second noted. “I wonder…”

“That’s what bothers me, too,” Amber said.

From above them came the sound of something smashing through a door.

“Making good time,” Daibhid noted.

“Good,” Third said. “But this has all been too easy… is there, or is there not, someone trying to stop us? And if so, where are they?

From above came the sound of little feet clattering down stairs, followed by what sounded to be larger and heavier feet.

“Sounds like the others made it,” Amy observed.

“And I have the nasty feeling we’re going to be forced to find out what happens when we put the cube in there,” Third said.

The Luggage crashed into the room, shortly before Sandra drifted in.

“Is everyone all right?” Third demanded.

Sandra nodded. “Coming right up behind me. Seventh’s put the cube in the Luggage—but be careful, it was looking pretty—”

The Luggage’s lid flew open, and something shot out, something that landed with a barely audible click in the hole.

“Problem, meet solution,” Seventh said from the doorway. “Solution, meet problem.”

The cube glowed gently in its socket, smoke still drifting from it.

The entire lab began to hum softly, a gentle, quiet tone.

The world seemed to shift a quarter turn around them—

—and when it stopped, they were standing in the university laboratory.

“Yay!” Nuku-Nuku cheered. “Nuku-Nuku’s an android again!”

The others rapidly checked themselves to find that, indeed, they were their ‘real world’ selves once more.

“…I just don’t like this…” the Brigadier murmured to Third. “If it was so easy, why didn’t anyone else do this?”

“Because this hasn’t answered the central problem, Brigadier,” Third replied. “To whit… where is everyone?”

“…Say what?” Daibhid said.

They’re not here,” Third emphasised. “The natives. We may have set the sabotage right, corrected whatever was afflicting this reality in the first place… but where are the natives?

“Think about it. The good Professor was trying to reverse the gates—but what he didn’t know, what we know, is that the gates are supposed to be two-way.

“Let’s think this through, shall we? If they’re two-way, that means the natives could come back—and whoever did this could cross between the worlds too.

“If it wasn’t the gates that was stopping them…”

“…they were being stopped by whatever’s on the other side,” Second finished.

“Exactly,” Third said. “And I rather think that our compatriots hold the key to that puzzle…”

Daibhid looked up from where he was checking the Rucksack once more contained the essentials1. “But we’ve done the first bit?” he asked, just to be sure. “Everything’s changed back to normal?”

“Well, not quite everything,” said Q, who was looking out the window. “The wavefront seems to be dissipating at a medium walking pace.”

They looked. It was true. Like a domed heat haze the real environment—the rather depressing-looking abandoned city—was rippling out from the university building, whilst beyond was still sword’n’sorcery country.

“Remarkable,” said the Third Doctor. “Anyway, I suggest dissipating at a medium walking pace is exactly what we should be doing.”

“There isna ony chance we could end up back in yon fantasy world?” asked Jamie, worried. The D&D setting had dressed him in the leine2 and triubhas3 of an ancient Highland warrior, and he was relieved to be back in a sensible kilt again.

“The border’s clearly visible,” Seventh pointed out. “Stay on this side and you shouldn’t have any problems.”

“So, what now?” asked Mel. “We split up and find the others, sure, but do we stay in the same teams?”

“I think the reasons we had for forming the squadr… sorry, teams we did are still valid,” said the Brigadier.

“Except I don’t have a telepathic link to Schroedy any more,” Daibhid pointed out.

“Schroedy says,” Amber paused, “Ah… basically, he’s happier sticking with a group that includes translators just now.”

“There was more to it than that, wasn’t there?”

“Do you really want to know?”

“Probably not.”

“That still leaves a question,” interrupted First. “Which of us goes after which other group, hmm?”

Meanwhile, in a part of the story only vaguely related to anything else at all…

Evan was normally quite uncomfortable with heights, but from the airship, Karkarham was too lovely a view to miss. The fabulous Martian city drifted below the humble Liftwood flyer, where he and Zoe were off on their quest through this fictional kingdom to find… well, anything good.

“Shouldn’t it at least be colder on Mars?” Zoe observed.

“Look, if you make one more observation about the implausibility of this world…”

“Sorry. The know-it-all in me, again.”

“Well, anyway, I reckon we should be drifting out of Space: 1889 territory any second now. Not sure what’s closest, though.”

The rugged Hill Martian captain bristled, looking back at them from the steering wheel. “Out… of the territory?”

“Don’t worry,” Evan responded. “It’s a gradual thing, you should still be intact. In fact I’m not sure just what’s going to happen to this place when the people actually on the quest solve everything.”

“I can handle myself. It’s just a bit of a surprise, that’s all.”

“May I try something?” Zoe asked.

“Like what?”

“Well, so far, we’ve all encountered products of your imagination. Maybe I might try to influence where we go next.”

(At this point Evan pulled Zoe out-of-character and reminded her that he was, after all, writing this section and therefore had to rely on his actual imagination. Zoe pointed out that he had also written for her at some point, and should have some idea of her imagination. Pondering this, Evan shifted the story back to normal pace.)

“That was weird,” the captain observed.

“You weren’t even there!” said Evan. “But anyway—okay, go ahead. Just, uh… try not to think of any giant marshmallow people.”

“Why not?”

“Just don’t.”

“Okay.” Zoe closed her eyes, concentrated, then opened them. She pointed to the horizon—”There!”

Evan and the Captain looked. Growing in the distance was a giant, opalescent palace, set on top of a giant hill.

“It’s not Beastman design,” said the Captain.

“A bit high-tech for the Ivory Tower, too,” observed Evan.

“It’s the Temple of the Mentoids,” said Zoe.


“From the Karkus comics. He journeyed there to find a suit of psychic armor for his battle against the Hypnotron.”

“Bees are on the what now?”

“Trust me. Whatever we want is in there.”

“Good.” Evan squinted. “These Mentoids—friendly, right?”

“More or less. But still, I doubt our quest can really be easy.”

“Fair enough.”

The flying boat sped on towards its goal. Below, lagging behind them, a swarm of hamsters followed intently…

Hatsheput surged up, flooring a few Quadrillers still groggy or up-to-no-good enough not yet to have found independent footings.

“Rats,” the Sphinx demanded, or possibly opined, succinctly.

“No,” the Doctors and many others informed her firmly; and, in Jonah’s case, also no little loudly.

The Dwarf, for once, was looking considerably smug, as if disasters such as large numbers of people falling spontaneously down stairs could be considered a not unusual or even unflattering side-effect of simply being in her vicinity. The world was clearly getting back to rights again.

“No,” clarified Magnus, which combined with his posture not to say pose could more properly be passed as ‘You shall not parse’, or some other half-cocked witticism of just such a general order.

The sphinx did what sphinxes do best, inscrutable going on smug. “You,” she acknowledged, “may be a power only tentatively ex, a mystery not lightly to be sounded, and an unscrupulous overkill-merchant who keeps cheap Wellbelovedian total-conversion bomblets in with his pocket-lint and half-sucked boiled sweets, ‘just in case’.” (Magnus looked faintly guilty, but budged no whit.) “I, Hatsheput, am doomed by great Necessity to eat up whomsoever breaks my conditions; and you know you and the whole world can’t stop me with my geas on. You but delay the inevitable, and I have had a bellyful of it. And speaking of bellys full—!”

Her paw came slowly up. So did Magnus’s mighty doodad. Varne made a claws-out gesture; other party members braced themselves to do their funky things; Fifth, in a show of extreme desperation, prepared to distract everyone with an urgent piece of patter involving celery. Even with this, matters might have gone ill, had it not been for a sudden outbreak of bully Bottoming or rather vice versa that pulled our heroes back yet again from a dreadful brink.4

“Nay,” rumbled a Hero behind her, “shalt not, as I live; if belike I may not arrest thy revenge other else bring thee to utter catastrophe, yet if thou durst it at this time, I deem not that no Necessity protects thee from shameful maims and ill-convenience: nay, thou great stinking o’er-mammalled camelophile jade, I cast my defiance where Africk sun ne’er illumined; I ban and bar this shameful coward pounce; an’ dost it, I’ll dock thy great pride; I’ll cast down thy plume; I’ll cat-ass-trophy thee in very deed!”

Trella reeled and clutched her temples: evidently the netherworlds knew no such horrors as these. And yet it was in this last howler of great Fastolf’s that his ability to rant so long unchallenged at his foemog was best explained, relating as it did to the sharp blade he had been holding throughout to the base of Hatsheput’s proud leonine tail.

The sphinx cast a new smile over her shoulder, this time about as inscrutable as a mad mwahaha offered by a machine-gun-wielding maniac.

“Well and good,” said she. “I hope you’re as good at waiting as I am. I’ve outstared Anubis and outsat kingdoms, for my part. I like contests, did I mention? …Of course, if you will compete, I’ll claim… some extra forfeit…”

“Hey!” Imran objected. “Where does it say that?”

“Am I not destiny’s kitten? Don’t I feel lucky?” Those great, awful, time-steeped eyes settled mockingly upon the wizard. “You could just give me the rat, of course.”

“No!” everyone explained.

Magnus stroked his chin. “If you are so gamesome, here is a riddle I have often been curious about. What do you get when destiny’s kitten meets the ghoul-hyena of Chao—”

“NO!” everyone elaborated, with extra rhubarb syllabub.

“We seem,” said Fifth, with that bright Doctorly cockiness we know and love so well, “to have reached a bit of an impasse, don’t we?”

“You know what?” Candy strutted over from the wings; where, having not been in the direct path of the ailurine avalanche, she had been enjoying the unusual experience of not being the one tumbling head-over-heels and writhing about covered with strange oils. “I don’t think we have at all…”

“Oh no?” Sixth appeared slightly unconvinced.

“How so?” Fifth demanded, tugging irritably at his dog-collar.

“Deep magic from the dawn of time,” said Candy, kneeling before Hatsheput’s feet, “Vicar…!”

You say no one can stop you while your Geas is in effect, that may be true but are you willing to bet your life on it? I do have an alternative, two in fact.
Get on with it I am hungry.
Two choices, ether you treat us all as new arrivals, it is in the rules, after all we have just come from Klovia, or I break your Geas.
Can you?
He is not known as “That which binds” for nothing, nobody in Chorazon knew more about bindings than he does. I am not sure it is wise though, there are likely to be back up security systems.
Since we can not get further without finding a solution to this problem I will take the chance. Now your choice Lady?

“I thought you would have learned,” Hatsheput said. “The ‘leave and come back in’ again trick doesn’t work.”

Magnus shrugged. “Then geas-breaking it will have to be.”

No-one noticed the gestures Trella was making, most eyes being on Magnus and Hatshephut’s confrontation.

Amber looked up. “Trella’s calling me.”

“How…?” Daibhid began.

“She’s a demon outside the D&D world,” Amber answered. “That means she has her own fair share of abilities.”

“We need to go after her!” Nuku-Nuku exclaimed. “Trella-san could be in trouble!”

“I can go check on them,” Sandra offered.

Most of the others turned to look at her.

Sandra rolled her eyes. “I’ve got a psychic link to Allie and Imran. I can just jump to them, then back here.”

“…Why didn’t you do that before?” Benny said.

“Because it only works with a few people—basically, my family and Imran.” And Ember Ashe, Sandra didn’t add. “Since Dad’s here now, I can jump to Allie and Imran, then back to him.”

“Do it,” Seventh said.

Sandra nodded.

And disappeared.

She reappeared in the tower.

“Oh, please. Not another one…” Hatsheput muttered.

“…Ah,” Sandra said. “So, the world-repair bit hasn’t reached this far yet?”

WHAT?!” Hatsheput screamed.

“…AI security system, I’m guessing,” Sandra said.


“…I suspect perhaps not,” Magnus said.

Candy pouted, still upset over Magnus’s upstaging.

“We’ve put this world back,” Sandra said. “The shockwave’s spreading out even now, as we speak.” Her eyes unfocused. “You’re real on both levels, aren’t you? Both here and in the baseline. I wonder… where did you come from, hm?”

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!” Hatsheput roared.

“Excuse me,” Candy said. “You still owe me something, kit cat. And this I claim:

“I claim you let the rat through, as part of our company. So then are we quit for my geas on you.”

Hatsheput’s face darkened. “You can’t—”

“You owe me,” Candy said, her voice soft. “You could not refuse me, could not let us pass… so I claim this—that you allow the rat to pass, answering both my geas on you, and your own geas.

“Are we agreed?”

Hatsheput visibly struggled with the idea.

Then her head sank down to her paws.

“Very well,” she said. “Pass.

“But tell me this, phantasm most foul—what have you done?”

Sandra ahemmed. “It seems this university’d built this kind of whatchamacallit that needed a certain cube to get working… so it was just a matter of putting the two together.”

“I see,” Hatsheput said. “Very well. Pass, for all the good it may do you.”

Finally!” Spike muttered.

Sandra scanned the room. “Er… Where’re Carrie and the Trader? And who the Hades are those two?” She pointed to Sugar Rae and Jim Sledge.

“There was this reality-fracture,” Imran said, by way of explanation. “Those two came out of it, and then it, er, latched onto Carrie and the Trader, so, er, we momentarily ended up in this place called Klovia, only, um, Carrie and the Trader actually stayed…”

“…Cruk,” Sandra said.

“Carrie said not to follow, and if we ended up in the same situation, to use fanpower. Then she, er, went.”

“…Uh-huh,” Sandra said. “What’s fanpower?”

“…I have no idea,” Imran admitted.

Sandra closed her eyes. “Great. By the way, while we’re at it, who’s that?”

She indicated Sister, who’d been following events about as much as everyone else, which is to say hardly at all.

“I’m Sister,” Sister said.

“And you’re…” Sandra prompted.

“I’m a sub-routine of a TARDIS main computer system—specifically, the psycho-medical programs and their operating system—downloaded into a light bee,” Sister explained.

Which TARDIS?” Sandra said.

“…She’s called Beloved,” Sister said.

Everyone double-took at that.

“…Say what?” Adric said.

“I’m a part of Beloved—a part separated from the whole,” Sister said. “I can only rejoin her by direct physical contact.”

“When—?” Imran began.

“Long ago,” Sister said. “There was… a terrible catastrophe, and Beloved downloaded part of herself into the light bee in an attempt to help save her pilot. However, the systemic damage Beloved had incurred cut the light bee’s connection to the main system.”

“…Oh my God,” Imran breathed. “All that time?”

Sister nodded, a hint of sadness in her eyes. “Yes. And now, only direct physical interface with Beloved will rejoin me with her.”

“I think we can do something about that,” Sandra said.

“…That probably won’t be so easy,” Sister said.

“…Why not?” Sandra said.

Sister sighed. “Because something here—the will of that which was left behind, or so it said—said that if you found it—them—it would mean their end, and enlisted our help by sealing off Beloved.”

“Bloody wonderful,” Spike announced.

“…The will of that which was left behind?” Imran said.

“Whoever did this left a cube behind—that’s how they managed to have all this weirdness happen, altering this world’s reality,” Sandra explained. “Maybe that’s what it was talking about.”

“…All of this was done by a sentient entity?” Imran gawped.

“Hm. Maybe it was the thing that tried that Jason thing on us,” Sandra speculated. “If it was… hmm… you’d expect it to have better defences then that. And it got you to help out?”

Sister nodded. “Yes.”

Sandra frowned. “Hmm…”

She disappeared.

And reappeared again in the cavern.

The natives drew back in shock, but Eloise managed to soothe them.

Eighth and Fourth were reaching the end of the reliefs.

“Nasty…” Eighth murmured. “Very nasty…”

“Sandra!” Allie said.

“Hi, guys,” Sandra said. “How’s it going?”

“Well, we’ve just got a history lesson in what’s going on here from the natives,” Eighth said, indicating the group of strangers.

“About a century and a half back,”—he indicated a point on the reliefs, showing a cube falling from the sky, “a cube appeared, apparently from nowhere. At the time, it appeared to be, so far as we can tell, indistinguishable from any other trinket in this world. A small, minor thing no-one would notice.

“Over time, somehow, things were… arranged, set up, to bring this cube here. It was stolen, was mislaid, lost, handed on, moved from hand to hand… until finally, it was brought to a power station.”

“Mental influence,” Fourth put in. “Or perhaps probability influence—it’s hard to tell.”

“Once it reached that power station… well, that was all it needed, really.” Eighth continued. “Just enough power that no-one would notice a drop in output… and with that power, it initiated an alteration in reality. Remarkably energy efficient.

“Of course, having the natives’ own minds produce the energy needed to further that alteration—and to create gates into their own personal worlds—well…” Eighth shook his head. “Remarkable economy—but twisted towards a terrible end.

“The natives disappeared into their personal realities…” Here, he frowned. “I’m not too sure what happens next—the reliefs are somewhat unclear. It appears something—or someone—had a tight grip on them. Mental, physical, or what, I don’t know. Along the way, the natives managed to pick up a general idea of what had happened—remember, the original message said they didn’t find out. Something happened—again, I’m not sure what, something involving the mysterious captor—and some of the natives were able to break free and return.

“However, while they had an idea where the cube was, they didn’t know what to do about it—how to put their world right. They travel back and forth from their own realities—correction, from a shared reality—and this one, hoping to find a way to restore their world.”

“Which is exactly what we’ve just done,” Sandra said, grinning.

“You have? That’s wonderful!” Eighth exclaimed.

“How?” Fourth inquired.

“Well, the university had managed to come up with something that’d put reality back to normal, but it needed the cube to work,” Sandra explained. “We brought the two together, and… everything started to go back to normal.”

Harry raised a hand. “Um, not to cause a fuss or anything, but, um, why isn’t everything back to normal yet?”

“The effect’s spreading out from the university at about walking pace,” Sandra said. “It’s probably going to take some time to get here.

“I also have the nasty feeling it hasn’t done anything about the gates between this world and the personal realities. The rest of the natives haven’t returned yet—assuming this isn’t all of them.”

Eloise and Eighth shared a look.

“No, they’re not,” Eighth answered. “From what you’ve just said, Second and Third—and, I’m guessing, First and Seventh—have finished their quests, correct?”

Sandra nodded.

“Fifth and Sixth?”

“They’ve, um, had one or two problems,” Sandra said. “We’ve managed to lose the Trader and Carrie in another world, and something—the will of that which was left behind—locked us out of Beloved.”

What?” Eloise exclaimed.

“Wait,” Eighth said, frowning. “How do you know you’ve been locked out?”

Sandra explained about Sister and what she’d told them.

“Oh… my… stars!” Eloise breathed. “We have to get her back to Sweetheart!”

“There’s still the matter of our own little mystery,” Fourth said. “Why all this happened. This… thing—you say it’s fighting to survive? That it believes if we find it, it will mean its end?”

Sandra nodded.

“That’s why it’s doing this now…” Fourth went on. “Although I must say, its efforts have been pretty half-hearted—I’m willing to lay bets that it doesn’t have much in the way of mental or physical power any more, perhaps because of what happened when the natives broke free.

“Or perhaps it never did. Perhaps it can only work by catalysis.

“The question is, why do all this in the first place? What was it all for?”

“That which was left behind…” Eighth speculated. “Not colonisation—incubation? Hibernation? Ensnaring the natives? I’m missing something here…

“Sandra, get back to your group, get them to go after Fifth and Sixth. We’ll deal with things here, and then we’ll set off after them, too.”

Sandra nodded, and disappeared.

Sixth Doctor
Jonah, ask Biggles where he found that seal now, while you still can.
When the repair wave gets here, you are going to lose the telepathic connection.

Jonah and Biggles duly got weaving, and thus were almost entirely oblivious to the ensuing sphinxine conversation which, despite Candy’s very special personal style of discretion being employed to the uttermost, was very probably something whose details they were in no need of hearing. Questions of propriety and taste quite aside, the recrudescence of issues concerning who was or was not to be eaten by Hatsheput could scarcely have been to either of their tastes.

Magnus and Hatsheput, in a rare moment of accord, were both giving the divine Mrs Candia Harcourt ye olde hairye eyeballe.

“What? What?”

“Did it not occur to you,” Magnus inquired, “to come out with your little geas-bypass before I was ready to break the main article? When it comes to dramatic timing, you ought to know that was cutting it dangerously fine.”

Fastolf’s hand strayed with reflexive gallantry to his sword, lest his wayward partner should require its aid. His gaze fell with near-hypnotic disgust at his massive human-form belly, and his hand fell in prompt and dejected sequel. “O, for an end to this dice-cramp’d board-strutting,” he grumbled, strumming his lute once more with feeling, “and every drake back in’s scales; can’t come too quickly, my mistress!”

“Yes,” said Hatsheput numbly, to Candy. “Not that it makes any difference, but I could have done without that, before the rest of your company hit the—”

“Fwaugh, yeah, that,” the bikini-byrnied one returned, shuffling. She stroked the sphinx’s furry forepaws placatingly. “I was trying to get the words right. It was kind of important.”

“Your words aren’t exactly going to resound down the ages, are they?” The megamog gave a small sour smile which, if not citably scrutable, was surely heavily suggestive of a certain Schadenfreude.

“Hell, no!” said Candy aggrievedly. “All you filberts rushed me. I was trying to whomp up a wording that’d rig your geas so you’d eat me instead of Biggles!”

There was one of those sudden, short, but still wholly too-long silences.

“Well,” said Fifth heartily, “I’m sure we’re all—er, almost all—glad that you found a way to slip past it altogether. Now—”

“Ods cods I did! This was my fallback plan, you—”

There was another.

“Candy, no!” said Nyssa, appalled. “We’ll get them back, Doctor, won’t—”

Candy stared silently up into Hatsheput’s great eyes.

“Please don’t confuse me any more,” complained the sphinx tragically. “You’d already bound me not to hurt you, the first time! You—you weren’t trying to pull a This-Does-Not-Compute on me, were you? Only say that there is some stupidity that hasn’t happened to me in the last ten minutes, and… and…”

A sentence broke off by means other than interruption, as Candy beckoned the guardian-beast to stoop down to her level, inasfar anyway as such was possible for any being not sharing her own highly idiosyncratic origins and tastes!

“I wasn’t planning on dying, Sophy’s darling,” the Muse husked, “except just a little, and a time or three.” She coughed significantly. Hatsheput continued to look blankly at her. “Come let me whisper it in your ear, ma’am, ‘cause I think it might be on yet…”

“A riddle, after all.” Hatsheput sighed fatalistically, and bent down. “Though I’m sure I don’t know what use it is knowing them, these days. Whisper me the answer, then…


The sphinx blushed, and there was very much of her to do so most conspicuously. “But but but…!”

Candy touched her cheek with the utmost delicacy and tenderness, in a gesture that retained more than a little of the expert cat-stroke about it. “Hey. I wasn’t born one of these meatballs, either. My sister’s even a cat, so help me Tawdry!5 Not, me kit, that in your case I wouldn’t have thought of it anyways.”

“WENCH!” Fastolf roared. “Th’art out of sense, proportion, and season; and worse obvious than a Pompey bum-bailiff with seat cut out his hose and a Senatorial standard pro—”

“Candy,” said Fifth with gentle firmness, “Basingstoke! I think Lady Hatsheput gave us our final clue a minute ago. Madam sphinx, I do believe I can venture a guess at what and where the ‘one in eight’ really is!”

Hatsheput looked sublimely uninterested; but a certain professional self-satisfaction did seem to seep back into her with these words.

“Cracked that at last, did you?” Candy jeered at him, not turning aside a whit. “See here, Daughter of Wisdom: give these clowns what they’re stumbling after before they knock the Universe off the shelf in the dark, and you and I’ll stay back and riddle each other till tongues are too tired to wag; how’s about it?”

Oh, it’s easy enough to reproduce Candy’s stream-of-concupiscence style of speech, with its endless cascade of grotesque single-entendres; but the Muse was exerting all her magnetism in that moment, and her voice rang and her eyes shone with that utterly serious and queerly innocent force which the company had heard before, during the Doctor’s attempt to hypnotise her. She looked as wise, glad, and sheerly in love as she ordinarily did ever so slightly not. For a moment, only the Doctors (by native power of mind) and Jonah (by virtue of her tender years and magnificently untender interests) were entirely unaffected.

The security sphinx was not. She rose up to her full height, and aimed an acknowledging bat of her massive paw in Candy’s direction.

“You must learn me this new lore, child of fury,” Hatsheput agreed. Gone now was her confusion, her sulk, and even a considerable part of the daze that had followed her pictographical exclamations. Here was again the glorious, terrible she-beast out of ancient time that had first pounded down the tower stairs singing plagiarised and only technically riddlesome brags! “For I see a true way by all my bindings at last, and so—so I shall try it. Then, Doctor, tell me: what is the eight in one, that is also one in eight? Why would you find it? What should you do with it?”

And the Doctor said,

“There are seven floors of this tower, great Hatsheput, and you guard them all.

“And our companion passed you at great danger with something out of that tower, and all we got out of that was a bad James Bond clone and a Mary Sue dropped on us from a height.”

(”How does he know she’s a Mary Sue?” Tegan hissed to her companions.

Turlough shrugged. “He ought to have met enough, by now…”)

“And what I would do with the one in eight, great Hatsheput, is to ask you this—!”

1 The “essentials” being the latest DWM and SFX, a few comics, a Gameboy, a couple of novels, a packet of Quorn salad sandwiches and a bottle of Irn Bru. The Rucksack also contained (amongst other things) a waterproof coat, a tent, a cellphone, a first aid kit, a compass and some emergency flares, but Daibhid didn’t consider them that important.

2 Shirt.

3 Trousers.

4 Except for Carrie and Trader Grey, of course, they having already fallen over one.

5 St Audrey, whose fair in Cornwall lent us the adjective in question from the quality of its nick-nacks, and whom Candy has therefore adopted as her personal patron for those times when secular oaths just don’t cut the mustard.

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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.