Doctored Whom > Unfinished Business > Escape Sequence

:::Amber?::: Sweetheart said.

:::I thought you’d guess…::: Amber said.

The Firstborn chuckled.

:::Do you need any help?::: Sweetheart said.

:::No,::: Amber said. :::We’ll rejoin in our own time.:::

:::You’re sure?:::

:::Yes. This kind of fracturing… it needs a while to recover, even for a Power,::: Amber said. :::I—we—should be fine.:::

:::Very well,::: Sweetheart said.

:::What about your splinter-self?::: Amber said. :::And don’t start talking about phantasms—you know as well as I do that’s not the way your mind works.:::

:::The Sister set of programs have been reunited with my core programs,::: Sweetheart said. :::The Sister personality… the Sister personality is a subset of my own, the attributes in myself I downloaded into the bee. I believe, should I wish, that I could call up the Sister personality—or attributes of that personality—to handle things. Remember the Dragicorn and the Maiden—with Sister reconnected with the whole, I now have another persona to interact with the world.:::

Amber smiled. :::Another view on the world’s always helpful. Believe me, I should know.:::

:::So I see…::: Sweetheart noted.


Amber refocused on the outside world, on Trella and Nuku-Nuku. “I’m okay, Trella.”

Trella looked relieved. “That’s good.”

“Nuku-Nuku’s happy,” Nuku-Nuku added. “Amber-san’s back to normal.”

If only… Electra murmured.

“Not every adventure’s going to be high adventure, you know,” Amber said.

Trella jumped, startled.

“We ended up reflecting what was going on in the adventure,” Amber went on. “Just as we were conflicted with ourselves, the same went for the Whom—and for the world we were in. Trying to sort out what to do, how to do it, how to put things right. The solution was simple enough—it was getting there that was the problem.”

She chuckled. “Maybe next time we can see about a bit more focus, hmm?”

Trella chuckled ruefully. “Tell me about it.”

Something still bothers me about this…” Amber went on. “The way we started off, with the hints pointing us to the Commonwealth, and to Sylvie and Bruno… the subjective becoming objective… it didn’t turn out like that, of course, but I find myself wondering about what happened to the Whom, just how exactly it ended up there. And about just how the Whom’s powers might connect to the Commonwealth…”

Trella frowned. “Like the Trader’s ‘fanpower’.”

Amber nodded. “The way the Trader and Carrie could redirect themselves from their private world to a public world. The fact Carrie could redirect herself. The Whom could open gates into individuals’ private reality bubbles, but those gates could be redirected with fanpower.

“A species that can create links between objective reality and people’s subjective reality, that can alter objective reality to make it subjective… that comes dangerously close to encroaching on my domain.” Amber frowned. “I think I’d like to know more about the Whom’s species. It seems to me that there was much more going on than we learned.

“But that’s for later.”

“On the schedule, boss?” Trella said.

Amber nodded. “On the schedule.

“But for now, I think I owe the two of you a party.”

“Yay!” Nuku-Nuku cheered.

An expression of relief broke upon Trella’s face. “Thanks, boss.”

“No problem,” Amber said, smiling.

Daibhid, who’d been half-listening to this, turned to Bob the Muse. “Talking of loose ends…” he started, then stopped, staring at the murky red sludge in the Muse’s glass. “Do I even want to know what that is?”

“‘S a Bloody Esme. Scumble, tomato juice and a dash of Wow-Wow Sauce.”

“I was right. I didn’t,” Daibhid shuddered. He took a sip of his tea. Bob shuddered.

“Earl Grey with milk and sugar,” he muttered. “The end of civilisation as we know it. Anyway, loose ends?”

“Yeah. Are you going to tell me what’s going on with you? I mean the whole thing with Dominic, and everything. You aren’t a typical Muse, even I can tell that.”

Bob took a long drink from his Bloody Esme. “Of course I’ll tell you…” he said.

The sounds of riot broke out behind them.

“…some time. Let’s see what’s going on, and if we can help.”

In fact, by the time they made their way through the crowd it was pretty much over. A couple of Quadrillers were holding back a fuming Pudentiana while Spike, a red handprint on his cheek, stood two arms’ lengths away, grinning.

“See, luv?” he said. “Just like her an’ me!”

Bob leveled a look at Spike, and did his rising-to-his-full-height-when-you-thought-he-was-already-at-it trick. “Give it a rest, William,” he said, deceptively quietly.

“Yeah, whatever,” Spike retorted, wandering off in the manner of one trying to show he’s not really intimidated. Q smirked at the vampire’s discomfiture.

“A very good job, Bob,” he said. “It is Bob you’re calling yourself now, isn’t it?”

“Some time very soon,” muttered Daibhid. Then he shrugged and wandered off to ask Alcides if there was an Earth-1 Hercules and an Earth-2 Hercules and, if not, had there been a Crisis On Infinite Greeces?

“Mrrp,” commented Schroedinger, from his spot on the buffet table. None of the cat-speakers were within earshot, but if they had been they’d have translated the comment as “He is such a geek.”

Schroedy had decided not to let the two Melmacians alarm him unless they gave him reason to, and was watching them warily as they piled their plates on the other side of the buffet. A buffer buffet, he thought. It certainly beat hunting for the kitchens and finding…

He stopped. Dead and Dumber. What had happened to them? They weren’t still here, were they? And if so, were they still planning… whatever it was they were planning? He tried to remind himself he was a cat and, therefore, it Wasn’t His Problem, but even so, he couldn’t help looking round for someone he could voice his concerns to.

Stars wheeled and spun through the silent void, pinwheels of sparks bright against the endless blue-black of an endless sky. Cold beauty, endless and serene, where a mind might drift forever.

Except that Excel: 1) was not that patient; and 2) had been here many times before.

“Yoo-hoo!” the deranged blonde shouted. “How ya doin’, Will-chan?!”

She was floating, drifting along through the emptiness of space, with Hyatt drifting prone at her side.

“Senior?” the unhealthier of the two ACROSS agents breathed. “Are we dead? This doesn’t quite look the same as when Hyatt usually passes on.”

“Nah, we ain’t deceasified, Ha-chan. The Great Will of the Macrocosm has just yanked us out of Reality to do a reset on it. Right, Will-chan?”

There came a sudden feeling of presence in the void, a presence that resolved itself into two long, feminine arms with red-painted fingernails extending out of absolutely nothing. One of these hands stuck out a finger and shook it at Excel. “Don’t take these things for granted, Excel,” a female voice that for good reason sounded just like actress Kelly Manison’s boomed out of the airless nothing. “I’m actually not resetting the storyline this time. I’m just removing the two of you from it before something untoward happens.”

“Untoward?” Excel demanded. “Like what?! Excel is the very model of not only a modern Major-General, but of story-related propriety as well! I’m a mover and shaker, and plot-climax maker, baby!”

The Great Will of the Macrocosm didn’t reply in words, but simply created a television set from a few random atoms in the vicinity and switched it on.

On the screen, Excel had barged her way to the front of the throng of Quadrillers to confront the sphinx Hatsheput. “I’ll handle this, you ignorant masses!” the on-screen Excel cried.

“You’re annoying me,” the sphinx replied, crushing Excel to a chunky paste beneath one paw, before attacking and destroying the others present, which then led to the destruction of that entire dimension, which then collapsed into the other dimensions, annihilating all of Creation in a singularly painful and degrading fashion.

Will-chan cut off the TV and dispersed its atoms back to the hydrogen cloud they were destined to form. “So you see, Excel, the simplest thing was to just let things run their course without you. Everybody lives happily ever after and love and peace and hot, sweaty sex rule forever. Mostly.”

Excel put her hands on her hips, threw out her chest, and defiantly declared, “I can’t argue with that!”

“But what happened to Sister?” Hyatt spoke up.

“She has been returned to where she belongs, reunited with the main computer from which she was spawned.”

“Is that good?” Excel asked.

“Yes, dear.”

“Then yay!!”

“Hyatt is glad, also.”

“And what about that guy who looked like Nabeshin?” Excel added, uncharacteristically remembering something from a previous scene.

The Great Will of the Macrocosm paused, considering how best to explain the process of healing and reintegration that the Whom had undergone to Excel. “He got what he wanted,” was how she ended up phrasing it.

But Hyatt still looked glum. “Sister,” she sighed. “Hyatt only knew her for a short time and she was no doubt destined to be purged or enslaved under our great regime, but I can’t help but miss her a little bit.”

“Yeah,” agreed Excel. “Even tough old Excel can’t help but feel a little nostalgia for our smart buddy Sister, even if I didn’t understand a good half of what she was saying most of the time.” She gave Hyatt a comradely pat on the arm, which jarred the frail girl’s heart out of rhythm and necessitated a quick round of CPR. “But anyway, Ha-chan,” she went on when Hyatt was living again, “we got two out of three missions accomplished, and two out of three ain’t bad. In fact, it’s almost Paradise by the dashboard light, even if life is a lemon and I want my money back like a bat out of Hell—”

Before she could go on naming Meatloaf songs, Hyatt cut her off with, “Yes, but the one we did not accomplish was the one Lord Ilpalazzo assigned us. We will be punished, yes?”

“AAAAAAH!” Excel commented. “This is bad! Really bad! Worse than a J-Lo movie!”

“Be at ease, Excel and Hyatt,” the Kelly Manison-like voice soothed. “You two deserve some breaks for a change. Just trust me on this one.”

And as the world faded into white, they heard the Great Will say, “Right. One copy, coming up…”

“Hail Ilpalazzo!” Excel shouted at top volume, which was to say loud enough to shake the mice out of the ACROSS super-secret underground base’s walls.

“—zzo,” added Hyatt, tumbling to the floor and spitting blood.

Lord Ilpalazzo arose from his throne in stately, calmly drop-dead handsome fury and declared, “My loyal agents, this world is corrupt!”

“Hear hear!” Excel agreed. “Corrupt! Maggot-infested and grown over with that yechy greenish mold that you have to scrub and scrub to get rid of!”

“That said,” the overlord went on in a more normal tone, “I seem unable to recall what your previous mission was to entail, nor do there seem to be any records thereof. Therefore, since ACROSS is infallible and incapable of error, no such operation must have existed. Am I understood?”

“Lord Ilpalazzo’s wisdom is boundless!” the blonde endorsed, helping Hyatt to her feet and wiping blood from the other agent’s face. “Yesterday equals ix-nay!”

“I’m so glad you understand.” Ilpalazzo wrapped his cloak around him and returned to his throne. “Now, before I unveil our newest plan for the conquest of F City, I wish to introduce ACROSS’s newest field operative!”

A curtain arose at the end of the chamber, revealing a tallish, handsome brunette woman with her hair pulled into a tight bun, clad in a short nurse’s uniform with the standard bulky ACROSS shoulderpads. The woman blinked at them from behind her glasses. “Excel? Hyatt?”

“Sister!” the two agents shouted, or at least Excel shouted, Hyatt not being up to much more than a gasp just yet.

“Not… exactly,” the woman said uncertainly as she came to them. “I think… the original Sister is gone back to what she was. I’m her, but different, I think. Like a duplicate. I remember being her, but I’m not her.”

“Are you still a telegram?” Excel asked.

“You mean ‘hologram’. I—”

Ilpalazzo cleared his throat. “While touching, this apparent reunion is not on the agenda and constitutes an interruption of protocol.”

Hyatt, no fool, took three steps backwards as Ilpalazzo reached for the tasselled rope.

“Does this answer your question?!” Sister yelled as she and Excel plunged together into the pit.

“Yay! Excel almost never has company when she gets plunged into the pit! I’ll show you how to avoid the crocodiles…”

As their voices faded and the trapdoor closed, Ilpalazzo turned his gaze to Hyatt. “Agent Hyatt, you will brief agents Excel and Sister on City Conquest Plan Number 331313313 when they return. Now, this mission will entail your infiltration of a most unusual establishment called ‘This Time Round’…”

Cue Ending Theme: ‘Menchi—Bolero of Sorrow/So You’re Going to Eat Me’

[Sung in dog-barks by a small white Pomeranian (Menchi), with a translator rendering it into spoken Japanese]

I knew, ever since that day
The reason you had approached me
Tender and soft
That my body is to your taste
To your hunger-stricken eyes
How does my body seem?

If you are going to eat me, do it in one blow
So that the meat does not get hard


“So what are you going to do about Ayna and Xeffy?” Allie asked.

Dominic sighed heavily. “Talk to them, I think. Part of the problem was that I was—I am—still conflicted on this. That I’m caught between what I feel for Amber… and what I feel for your mother.”

Allie and Sandra stared at him.

“I still love her,” Dominic said quietly. “I always will.

“We were together for nine hundred years, for virtually all of our lives.

“We had two wonderful, beautiful daughters together, after years of waiting.

“She was…” Dominic hesitated. “We were together for so long I could not imagine life without her. I remembered it, remembered life before Elle… there were times I feared for her life, for her safety… but I never imagined that I would go on without her. That I would be left to go on in a world that no longer had her in it.

“And yet…” He shook his head, almost wondering. “And yet I find myself, here, now, and Elle is five years in her grave. A world without her.”

He chuckled, but there was no humour in his laugh. “I still imagine her. I still imagine listening to her, hearing her voice.

“I know she’s dead. I cannot allow myself to pretend otherwise—to lie to myself like that.

“But I still imagine her. Still remember her.

“I remember what we had, what we shared… and what we did not.

“And knowing that she is not here to share this, to be with me… to be with you… that hurts.

“Perhaps it always will.

“Would this have happened if she were here? Would I have found myself falling for Amber if she had been here?

“I hope not. Believe me, I hope not. That, I would not wish on them, or on you.

“But I wake up alone every morning, and I have to remind myself that there is no-one else there.

“Not any more.

“I feel it—I feel her absence in my life, feel the void when there should be someone there

“And I wonder how I go on.”

Dominic looked down. “But I found my answer. I found it two years ago as a storm pressed in.

“I found it in a lonely room. In the sound of silence. In the rumble of a motorbike pulling up to the front door.”

Allie gasped as the realisation sank in.

Dominic chuckled again, and this time there was a hint, an edge, of rueful humour. “I doubt Imran knows quite what it meant to me, his decision that night. Deciding to bring me here.

“But he did.

“I’d lost Xeffy, lost her I didn’t know where—

“—and it brought me alive again, alive with fear and concern, afraid for what had happened, angry at myself for not having stopped this.

“And then he came. An unlikely knight on a dark steed, a messenger with the only news that mattered there and then.

“And he wanted to bring me to you.”

Allie’s eyes were wet. “Dad…”

“I never thanked him for that,” Dominic mused. “Not really. A simple act. A single, simple act. The knowledge I needed, more than needed… and for the first time, I realised how terrible the void was, how terrible the absence was, realised what I’d let it do…

“And I found the first thing I needed to go on.”

He looked up, but the girls couldn’t meet his eyes.

“I’m afraid,” Dominic said finally. “I’m afraid of falling again. Have I locked onto Amber as a way of filling the void, or is there something more there? I don’t know. I don’t know.

“I can’t answer that.

“And even if there is… I’m betraying Elle, caught between what I feel for her, and whatever I’m feeling for Amber. Dishonouring her.

“Would she have wanted me to move on? To move on with my life, yes—I cannot believe it of her that she would have wished a living death on me. To find happiness, yes—she would not have wished otherwise.

“But what I want also matters.

“And I find myself caught between the memory of the dead and the possibility of the living. Between what was, and what might be. Torn. Conflicted.

“And I cannot find the way.”

“Oh, Dad…” Sandra whispered. “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“Because I didn’t know what to say,” Dominic said. “Because I needed to have it out with Amber first, to know what she was thinking. Because I saw Xeffy getting angrier and angrier, and I didn’t know what to say, how to explain it. Because if I told her what I was feeling for Amber, then and there, that would have been it. Conversation ended.”

“So tell her,” Allie said. “What you just told us. Tell her that. Let her know.”

“I will,” Dominic said.

There was a pause.

“It’ll be all right, Dad,” Sandra said. “Maybe she won’t listen, but at least she’ll know what’s going on.” She sighed. “The thing is, we’re all having trouble with it. It’s just been you and Mum for as long as we’ve known. And the idea you might actually feel like that about somebody else… especially after Mum died… it’s not easy, for any of us.”

“It wasn’t for me, either,” Dominic said wryly.

Sandra took a deep mental breath. “But whatever happens, we’ll be there.”

“That’s all I could ask,” Dominic said.

Allie sniffled, and burst into tears.

Dominic held her in his arms, letting her sob against his shoulder.

“Is everything okay?” Imran said, fighting his way back over to them through the crowd.

“Not everything,” Sandra answered. “Just something we needed to get in the open.”

“Allie?” Imran said. “Is everything alright?”

“It will be.” Allie sniffled, and turned to look at him, tears still running down her face. “Thanks, Imran.”

“…For what?” Imran said.

Sandra looked over at Dominic and Allie, then slowly grinned, eyes twinkling.

“She’ll explain later.”

Imran’s scream could be heard halfway across the cul-de-sac.

“Yay!!” squealed Amy. “We did it, we did it! That was so cool! It was like the jellyfish scene, but even better!”

“If you remember,” Q reminded her, “I was not pleased with that event.”

“I know—it’s a human attitude. We get really happy when we see suffering alleviated. Most of us, anyway.”

“You know… I’m happy about it, too.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful!” She kissed him again. When she looked up, she noticed that Florestan had come up to her.

“You seem to be having a good time,” he said.

“Oh, yeah!” said Amy. “This is the best party I’ve ever been to!”

“Glad to hear it. So, you were going to tell me about your friend Jean-Luc?”

“Yes. Captain Jean-Luc Picard is from Star Trek: The Next Generation, and so is Q. They first met in the very first episode of their series.”

“At the time, I judged humans to be a savage and immature race that had no business exploring the universe,” said Q.

“Based on their history,” Amy clarified.

“Yes, but Jean-Luc believed otherwise,” Q went on. “We agreed to a test to determine whether humans were presently savage and dangerous, and to my great irritation, he proved that they were not.”

“By freeing a pair of oppressed space jellyfish,” Amy finished. “It was a wonderful moment. Q went away at the end, but Jean-Luc hadn’t seen the last of him. Over the next seven years, they became friends… well, sort of. They had some adventures together, and they both learned a lot.”

“He was an incorrigible do-gooder,” said Q, “and he made the most unbelievably self-righteous moralizing speeches in the galaxy, but I liked him for it. And since Amy wants to be just like him, we’re well matched.”

“Does that mean you’re a couple now?” said Florestan.

Q looked at Amy. “Yes?”

“Yes!” Amy confirmed.

“Congratulations,” said Florestan, although that wasn’t really how he felt about this.

He was saved from the necessity of further comment by the arrival of the Sixth Doctor.

“Ah, there you are, Florestan,” said the Doctor. “Come along, Eloise and the orchestra are waiting for you.”

“What’s up?” Amy asked, as Florestan departed in the direction of the stage.

“We’re about to have another shot at the quadrille,” said Q, managing to sound as if he’d known all along and still simultaneously convey how clever he was to have deduced it from the way the other Doctors were herding the crowd.

The Doctor scowled. “I don’t know why you keep complaining about being deprived of your powers,” he said. “You’re still exactly the same without them: an infuriating know-it-all.”

“Oh, I never gave that a moment’s thought,” Q said politely. “You’re a constant reminder that it’s possible to be an infuriating know-it-all without any powers at all.”

“Q!” said Amy warningly. “Doctor, where are you in the pattern?”

The Doctor looked around. “Over that way,” he said, pointing.

“Right. In that case, Q and I are going over this way…”

After a bit more shuffling, the dance began.

And this time, they got all the way through to the end.

The celebrations were in full swing. Amy danced with Q, Trader Grey danced with Carrie, and Mel danced with far too marked a tendency to recall the sparky, blameless, and trouperly doings of Bonnie Langford in a previous generation. Ewwww! Ter’Fastolf performed faultless and tail-augmented Quadrilly evolutions in close co-operation with elegant Nyssa and game Tegan. And wherefore was that gentledrake not in courteous attendance upon his evening’s escort, the bountifully beauteous Mrs Candia Harcourt?

Why, for that she was sitting this one, like all the previous, out like a great big lipidinous1 lump!

For that his best and most inventively long-winded coaxings had elicited no more than the barest and least articulate of monosyllables!

For, in two words, that Ms Grumpy was at home to all callers, and Sister Sulk had got conspicuously out the wrong side of the bed today2!

A vision in grey leather glided gracefully over in her general direction. “Faugh off, Gray,” scintillated Candy, glaring down at her fry-me-wig pumps and reaching absently for that dread chainsaw that could not possibly be concealed anywhere amongst her typically dramatic not to say nearly daring garb, but invariably and inexplicably was.

“I feel like sitting this one out,” said the vision in grey leather, who was in fact the other such engaged in the present terpsichorean trollerie. Cam Kinnison held out a glass and a bottle of virulent-looking pink liquid. “Care to split a fayalin3 with me?”

“You split all you want,” Candy retorted ungraciously. “I don’t do charityjobs—got it, Red-Top?”

Unfazed, the young Klovian smiled faintly and sat down beside her. “Nor do I… Just to get this out of the way, I’m not going to sleep with you. But I…” She hesitated, then plunged on with a diamond glint in her grey eyes, “I caught what you were radiating when you made that crack about tentacles. Even that flash was bad—really rugged—straight out of a Delgonian clambake—and I wanted to know whether the rats were dead yet. And, if they’re not, whether you want them to be…”

That got a grin out of Candy, albeit an exceptionally evil and mirthless one. “Fie on it, sweetie. If I’d wanted that, Bray would have <unprintable here, even in a modern and realistic4 posting, for the space of two long breaths> their <triply and luridly qualified anatomical description, strictly uninterpretable by any purely three-dimensional entity>, with knobs off!”

She shook her head with a vigour that might, in one less obviously addicted to capital peroxide abuse, most readily have been interpreted as denoting the presence of a plenteous pulexic population. “They hadn’t a clue. They were just a bunch of one-handed hackers with no social skills or imagination—coding smartass code for gangs of idiot managers who thought AIs were just jumped-up answering machines.” She showed her teeth in a merry cannibal rictus. “And you got to admit, sugar: what they did was a real original solution to finding the City Carrie-less. I give ‘em some points for that…”

Cam appeared to have swallowed a slug, and not the fayalinic variety neither. “You think they were right…?”

“Nope,” said Candy tightly, “but, la, if ever I do deem it meet to seek revenge on those jolly jackweeds, I’ll be flay-me d—d if I know where that stops, short of going cacodemon on their assets. And I know cacodemons, madam, and by the living Jingo, I no wanna go there!” She coughed, and hid briefly and discreetly behind a hastily-produced fan as she regained a seemly composure. This enterprise was carried through with such ready grace, surely none but the most captious could have taken exception to the trivial oversight by which the chainsaw mentioned in the previous running joke had been accidentally substituted for any fan of a more conventional nature. “So, how I look at it, Cami-knickers, is: the conditioning’s how I got to be me, not just an empty ersatz Carrie; and I need to be hardboiled to work with Bray; so thanks for all the social concern, but, O, let’s just move on, huh?” She seized the bottle of fayalin, and with a deft and much-practised motion proceeded to bogart it like a bad ’un.

“QX—you’re the boss.” Cam didn’t bat an eyelid. “But you came here to get deconditioned—” Her hand lashed out with lightning-speed, and clamped like a vice, like Candy hadn’t enough already, around the brawnier woman’s bottle-hand. “And don’t try to glass me: I’m not ‘faughing’ with your mind, and I won’t without an invitation. You’ve practically announced it to the others more times than sufficient—as if any honest-to-goodness competent visualisation of the Cosmic All couldn’t fill in what you would be doing here, at a Joyful festival, without your Darkside Author! I see the Doctor has tried hypnotising you; but you’re a bit slippery for his morality, aren’t you?”

“Huh,” said Candy tonelessly, letting the bottle plunk dully to the floor as being of no further interest. “Whereas yours could do an honest-to-goodness competent job of reforming Little Miz Wayward, Brown Owl? Thanks, but no thanks!”

“Hypnosis—no.” Cool grey eyes met eyes of pinkest spamine. “But if we go into a telepathic wide-open two-way, I ought to be able to cut the compulsions without changing your personality otherwise. It’s crude operant conditioning, mediated incompetently via perl autoporn scripts: that isn’t exactly edge-of-chaos complexity.” Cam wrinkled her nose wryly. Candy, half-involuntarily, mirrored this with her own trademark SexChipmunk leer; the two expressions were, ironically given that the Children of the Lens are supposedly some decades shy of feeling any direct urge personally to explore the wonderful world of sex5 and that Candy frequently shows every sign of being several decades shy of the u.6 to do anything else, scarily similar. As the odour of the previous sentence wafted slowly outwards around the room, other nose-wrinkling expressions quite independent from the abovementioned proceeded to accompany it. “You’d be doing most of the work, really—that’s in the nature of the game. Do you want to try?”

“You mean I get to choose the changes?” Candy’s tone was frankly sceptical.

“Of course. Here, come and look—it’s not as if one can lie mind-to-mind, you know.”

“You want me in a ‘wide-open two-way’.” The Dark Muse spake these words flatly and with a stonefaced expression, holding off spirit messages from the Carry On Continuum with the incredible, the starkly inconceivably titanic won’tpower that made Mrs Candia Harcourt all she stunningly, shockingly, outrageously was, excepting when she wasn’t. “Dog’s blood, tickle my feet with a lionsmane if Bray’s ever gonna believe this… You mean it, huh? Well, chickabiddy, you asked for it!” She gave a high, unstable laugh. People looked away, as one does. “Open wide, babe…!”

Precisely what happened in that soul-shakingly tremendous microsecond of first contact—as space-cool, Hays-code-clean Uebermenschgeist surged shockingly and indeed shockedly within the I Love Lucy up the Khyber Passport to Pimlico-habituated noddle of ill-repute that was the very heartland and essence of the intermittently elegant Mrs Harcourt—the scandalously raunchy Candy—the hellish red-handed hardcore hardcase hellion that haunted a hoosegowload of decadent dreams as CANDIE HARDDD!—is not and cannot be definitely known, although many volumes of rather lurid fiction have been written on the subject, principally by the present author’s left hand. But to return hotfoot to the subject of the weather on Peladon, what can be told certainly and beyond imaginable dispute is this: that it was quicker to do than say.

“WAH!” was Candy’s considered summary of these events, and the ballroom rang with it.

She grabbed the young Guardian of Civilisation by her slender shoulders, and before the assembled company planted a big smackeroo on her lips with the exalted passion of a randy bonobo.

Wiser Quadrillers (and Turlough) ducked for cover, knowing the inevitable—the cruelly inexorable—the nemesissily inescapable consequence of that irredeemably ultra-nympharious act. Strong men and women and others wept unashamedly at the juggernaut of imminent tragedy that now bore irresistibly at 0.999c in their general direction. This was kinky—this was markedly bad manners—this was WAR!!!!

Carrie’s expression froze. “Quick, Gray!” she murmured urgently into his ear, clicking disapprovingly and dragging with all haste the three-dimensional ‘window’ that represented the intersection with the near-Euclidean hyperplane of Sweetheart’s ballroom with the abstract dance-space object in which they were currently engaged in the general direction of the inadvisable conjugation between Muse and metapsychic which now formed the unwilling cynosure of the company. A little way behind them, Fastolf and Antimony had finished running interference with a sudden incursion of the Style Police (Long Paragraphs Division, including a special liaison officer from the Unparseable Sentences Squad) and were just engaged in punting the intruders in a comradely and Joyful spirits through the most convenient exits, when, to recur to the original matter of our discourse, the Trader—

“Ho, bully Stibino!” boomed Fastolf gustily, “now set we to it again right lustily, for here come their reserves!” Parrying a slashing blue pencil with the butt of his blaster, and knocking aside an acid-tipped quill aimed at him with deadly intent from one of the blowhardpipes borne in place of nightsticks by the vile myrmidons of accepted taste and practical functionality, he vented a bloodcurdling whoop that illustrated beyond any possibility of peradventure that, Candy or no Candy, this was one Quadrille at which Uncle Dragon was not destined to mope in joyless idleness, nay, not even a little bit!

“I think they’re the same ones again, Ter’Fastolf,” returned Antimony politely, laying out in right scientific fashion a loud bluepencilbottle who was hollering out some warning about the Prevention of Pointless Digressions Act now being in force.

“And how so, gallant younker?”

“There aren’t any exterior exits to the ballroom, Ter’Fastolf.” BIFF! “I think they may be bouncing back off the walls.”

“D’O woe!” Fastolf smote his mighty breast, not to mention a StyleCop. Out of gentlemanliness, he elected to whop the male of his two nearest assailants, allowing that boor to monopolise the dishonour of striking the lady by reason of his subsequent trajectory.

“This is just making it worse!” Third snapped in frustration, and exchanged a rare look of complete accord with Eighth. The two Doctors rushed in where fools had not so far feared to tread, several other selves and companions not far behind. WHAP! POW! “I say, old fellow, don’t you think you might be better occupied—?” KERRANG! BAM! “Have it your way.” THUD! “Have a jelly baby, right where—” SLURP! “Slurp?” “Affirmative, Mistress!” “Chap with the lemon in his mouth, bunch of fives, rapid!” BIFF AGAIN! “Run away! Run away! RUN AWAY!!!” The Forces of Style broke and ran in panic rout from the premises. No-one was at all surprised.

There was this Trader.

There were these big dureum-inlaid heels.

He was digging them in.

“Carrie, look—!”

Carrie perforce stopped.

Camilla Kinnison—acting unpaid honorary Guardian of Civilisation, mulier superior par excellence, and long the dear object of moral, philosophical, and fanpersonally flirtatious adoration to the Pecuniary Partnership—had made her inevitable, terrible, and inexorably just retort to the indignity practised on her by the rambunctious Dark Muse that was Carrie’s beloved, intolerable, and incorrigible little sister.

She was kissing Candy back.

“Oh, Gray!” Carrie wailed near-subvocally, burying her fair head on his mightily-padded shoulder. “I don’t believe it! My sister’s corrupted a Moulder of Civilisation! I can’t look!”

A frown creased the Trader’s titanic brow, and a sudden wild something stiffened his sinews and so forth. “Wait a moment, dear heart,” he breathed heavily. “They’re—”

“And nor can you!” Carrie applied some appropriately indignant torque, to which the Trader found it wisest to submit. Beneath her facade of outward control, he could feel her faint shaking through his bones, and the angry mortification behind it through… that which, long ago, had first made them Muse and Author, and is not to be spoken of in this place, as we are already running on a bit.

Now the painful necessity falls to us to report that Carrie’s conclusions, which all the world knows have been i’ the very heart of the gold so oft before although not invariably in the right actual target, were in this case just the merest few microns off-beam.

Even more remarkably, the Trader’s were substantially closer.

They didn’t, however, cover the half of it.

1 Rather than a libidinous one, as was her commoner custom.

2 i.e. the side on which she was not, despite the lying promises of naughty dreams flown cooing enticingly through the Gate of Ivory, to be intercepted by the amorous embrace of a swingin’ nymphomaniac Constance ‘Killer’ Kinnison clad only in artistically deranged Malibu and pineapple, nor even by that lady’s more staid and actually present non-identical twin sister Camilla—with or without a side order of sizzling greasy Grey Stewite. There is a lot of back-story here, quite aside from diseased fantasy, and this reporter does not hesitate to aver that he has absolutely no wish to learn any of it, nor indeed to retain in his much-abused memory such details as he has inadvertently absorbed already. Purgative, purgative, my kingdom for a purgative!

3 According to E E ‘Doc’ Smith (Camilla’s original Author), “a stimulating but non-intoxicating beverage” distilled from some alien shrub or other. There is not a lot of intoxication of any kind in respectable circles in her home fiction, which is largely run by a sort of Interstellar Corps of Junior G-Men.

4 Yeah, right.

5 Although their lack of physical, emotional, intellectual, or psychic need for That Side of Life just yet… is something that was not entirely apparent to them, until a billion-year-old sexless fourfold space brain proved it to them by invoking pure reason. And of course history shows us that no young adult will be fain to dissent from such advice, on such a subject, when moreover backed with the full weight of truly mature experience—eh?

6 Shut it! You are not helping!

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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.