Escape Sequence > …go on until you reach the end, and then stop

The party was ending. Amy and Q were making their way towards the door, but before they reached it, they ran into Amber. “Goodbye,” she said.

“Goodbye,” said Q. “Always a pleasure to see old friends again. If you ever want to revisit the old days, you know how to find me.”

“Yeah,” said Amber. “See you around. And Amy… good luck.”

The way she said the latter implied that Amy’s newfound love was, in her opinion, headed for trouble. Q glared after her as she walked away.

He and Amy reached the door of the house-TARDIS. “Goodbye, Eloise!” said Amy happily. “I had an absolutely wonderful time. If you ever have another party, I’d love to come again!”

“Thank you,” said Eloise. “We’d be happy to have you.”

“What about me?” said Q.

“Oh—you helped solve part of the mystery, didn’t you? Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Q turned to Amy. “Shall we?”

“Yes,” said Amy, and they stepped through the door.

As their powers came flooding back to them, a loud, jubilant piece of mariachi music filled the air around them. Amy smiled. Q, you are so cool.

As are you, my dear, came an answering thought. Ready to go home?


“Goodbye!” Amy called out over the music to the remaining guests, waving furiously at them. Eloise waved back, and then Amy and Q vanished in a burst of white light.

Jonah had been blessedly subdued since they’d returned to the TARDIS. Judging by the wary eye she was keeping on Varne, Magnus’ threat had made an impression on her for the secret of which her brother Keith, her former teacher Mr Panil, and all the other unfortunate adults in her life would have given a good deal. She’d even allowed herself to be divested of Biggles before rejoining the quadrille.

The rat had ensconced himself on a table-top in what could best be described as a rat’s-nest of crumpled napkins, cake-cases, torn bunting and other party rubbish, and had discovered an apple-core from which he was neatly removing the seeds one by one. Holding each apple-pip between his dextrous front paws, he was proceeding to nibble it down to the base with the meditative air of a top-class gourmet.

He and Jonah had been among the happy few to remain entirely oblivious to the effect Candy Harcourt’s osculation had produced among almost the entire population of the ball-room. If Jonah had noticed that she and the little polka-dot troll she had been dancing with were crashing into an unusually large number of gawping fellow-quadrillers—even given Jonah’s usual lamentable dancing technique—for once she had managed to restrain any top-volume observations on the fact.

Now she sidled up to the table, scooping a somewhat indignant Biggles from his feast. Her pet’s tail swung in wild circles as he wriggled in her grasp. Jonah, as usual, ignored this entirely and stowed him securely inside the sleeve of the fleece which she had retrieved from the TARDIS cloakroom. She ran a loving finger down the brown stripe of his spine.

“C’mon then, you old whiffle-rat. Time to get home.”

Biggles sneezed conversationally, turned round, and disappeared up the sleeve until only the dark-flecked tip of his tail was hanging out. Jonah looked round automatically once more for Magnus, and for Varne, who was hanging on Joe Wade’s arm in a pointed manner that had the reporter looking slightly nervous, and escaped towards the door.

“Thank-you-for-having-me,” she recited in the direction of Eloise, and a second time to Florestan, who had turned out to be disconcertingly behind her. The avocado troll smiled.

“Thank you for coming, Josie,” she said in a tone so genuine that Jonah actually stopped in the doorway and looked back. One of her pigtails had crept into the corner of her mouth.

“It wasn’t boring,” she said in a muffled voice, going very pink. Florestan met Eloise’s glance and shared a smile, and Jonah went even pinker and disappeared out into the drive.

“Well, we’re off,” Paul said.

“Thank you for coming,” Eloise said. “I hope you and Donald will be able to make it again next time.” She looked around. “Where is Donald?”

“Aha!” said Paul happily. He leaned forward conspiratorially. “Hey, Eloise, want to see me pull a duck out of a hat?”

Before Eloise could reply, Paul had his top hat off and was holding it in front of him, crown downward.


“Sh!” Paul said sternly. “I’m concentrating here. Hey presto!”

He reached into the hat, and pulled out…

…a baby kangaroo.

“Aha,” Paul said again, less happily this time.

In a bar between realities, Evan and Zoe were having drinks with a Martian.

“So you think the hamsters will be happy?” asked Zoe, who had perhaps never used the word “hamsters” as often as she had in the last 24 hours.

“They should be,” replied Evan. “Their world was a bit of a rush job but they can work on it themselves.”

“Well, all’s well that ends well.” Zoe picked up a checklist. “We got everything we came for, and I think this world may do all right for itself.”

“I should hope so,” said the Martian. “I need to get back to it.”

“Well why’d you tag along?” asked Evan.

The Martian blushed—an odd effect, to say the least. “I had… a small request…”

“What’s that?”

“You never gave me a name.”

Evan flinched. He’d forgotten that. “You are Ullah,” he said.

“Thank you,” replied Ullah, for that was now his name. “I go in peace.”

Someone with much more advanced knowledge of transdimensional physics can explain how Ullah’s exiting out a back door of the bar resulted in him being deposited on his airship just outside Karkarham.

“So,” said Zoe, “I think that wraps things up.”

“I think so.” Evan was too busy finishing off his Carlsberg to notice.

“Don’t you have anything else to say?”

“Not now. In my corner of the universe these aren’t as common as I’d like.” He put the glass down. “I’m just kinda winded from the whole thing, y’know.”

“It was exhausting.”

“More than that. My brain hurts. I swear, if these parties get any more complex I’m going to… that’s it, I can’t think of a good finish to that sentence.”

“I guess we should go then.”

“I’m in no shape to translocate back to reality.”

“That’s okay, I’ll give you a ride. We’ll stop in the 21st century for a bit.”

“I live in the 21st century.”

“I mean my 21st century. Or is it the 22nd? Anyway it’s the one with the robots in it.”

“I would like to see that.”

“Hurry or we’ll miss the last TARDIS.”

With a surprisingly light crate of film negatives, signed first editions and unreleased Macintosh ports in tow, the two adventurers left the bar. As they left, a strange, echoing shout was heard…

“Next time, NO PLOT!”

“Nothing up my sleeve…”


“Hey presto!” said Paul again, and then, shortly thereafter, “Aha!”, in a knowing way that would doubtless have earned leporine approbation, had the the relevant personage been there to bestow it.

“Paul,” said Eloise, “that’s not Donald either.”

“Well, I know that,” said Paul, carefully lowering the piglet back into the hat. “But at least it isn’t a lion. Or a tiger. Or a squirrel. Believe me, you don’t want to be bitten by a squirrel that’s lost its temper after being unexpectedly pulled out of a hat.”

“I’m sure I wouldn’t. But, Paul, about Donald…”

“This time for sure!”

“Paul, he…”

“Hey presto!”

Eloise sighed, and traded a glance with the blue duck who had been watching with amusement from his perch on Paul’s head ever since Paul had taken his hat off.

Paul, meanwhile, had stuck his arm in his hat up to the shoulder, and was feeling about within its interior, muttering to himself.

“…did they even have gramophones in those—ah.”

He produced a small round object from the hat, and handed it to Eloise.

“This is for you,” he said.

Eloise examined the object. It was made of polished wood, and was the shape of an egg, if an egg was flattened at the big end so it could be stood upright. It was painted in the likeness of an avocado-green troll wearing a fishing vest and a fuchsia party hat.

“Thank you, Paul. Erm… what is it?”

“It’s a wooden nesting doll. Of you and your family. Only I don’t know anything about your family, so it’s really just you.” He shrugged, looking embarrassed.

There was a pause, broken by a loud clattering noise from the direction of the kitchen.

Paul looked around. “I have a feeling that’s the joey getting at the condensed milk,” he said. “Sorry, I should have put it straight back in the hat, and let it stretch its legs when it got home. Excuse me.” He hurried off, leaving Eloise looking thoughtfully at the ‘nesting doll’.

“Nuku-Nuku? Is something wrong?”

Nuku-Nuku continued to stare fixedly past Amber’s left shoulder. “Nuku-Nuku does not think it is wrong, Amber-san. Nuku-Nuku thinks it is very right.”

“Fine,” said Amber. “But what is ‘it’?”

“It is the biggest mouse Nuku-Nuku has ever seen.” The cat-girl began sidling around Amber.

Amber stepped sideways to put herself between Nuku-Nuku and her target. “Nuku-Nuku, what did Josie say about not chasing her rat?”

Nuku-Nuku shook her head, and kept sidling. “Nuku-Nuku knows what rats look like, Amber-san. This is too large to be a rat.”

“Still,” Amber said, turning to look, “I’m sure there’s somebody here who wouldn’t want you to—oh.”

Amber and the baby kangaroo stared at each other for a moment; then Nuku-Nuku pounced.

The baby kangaroo leaned back, resting its weight on its tail, caught the onrushing Nuku-Nuku on its large hind feet, and used her own momentum to flip her over its shoulder. She sailed through the air, coming to rest in the remains of a buffet table.

The baby kangaroo hopped over and watched with friendly interest as Nuku-Nuku pulled herself free of the wreckage.

“So,” she cried, “the mouse wants to play games with Nuku-Nuku!”

She pounced again.

By now a small crowd had gathered, and they watched with interest as the baby kangaroo, once more resting its weight on its tail, began playfully bouncing Nuku-Nuku in ever-increasing arcs between its hind feet.

“Is she all right, do you think?” said a voice beside Amber.

“I think she’s just fine,” said Amber. “In fact, she’s probably just made a new friend.”

“Oh good,” said Paul. “That’s a weight off my mind. Have you seen Dominic about?”

“Over by the bar,” said Amber, without looking away from the kangaroo, which had begun spinning Nuku-Nuku around like a catherine wheel.


“Yo, barkeep. Give me an Alligator Sandwich, and make it snappy.”

Sandra looked at Paul levelly. “Sorry. We don’t do counter lunches.”

“I know.” Paul grinned. “An Alligator Sandwich is lemon, lime and bitters, with a dash of green food colouring. ‘Snappy’ means with twice the usual proportion of lime juice.”


Paul shrugged. “Anything’s possible. As far as I know, though, I just made it up.”

Sandra passed him his drink. “Is that all?”

“No, actually.” Paul put his hat on the bar and reached into it. “I’ve got something for you and your family.” He pulled something out of the hat and put it down on the bar.

Allie, Sandra, and Dominic looked at it.

“It’s Dad,” said Allie eventually. “If Dad was shaped like a short chubby bowling pin…”

“It’s a nesting doll,” Dominic said. “Commonly known as a ‘baboushka’, from the Russian for ‘cute old woman’—or, if the subject is male, the corresponding word meaning ‘cute old man’.”

Allie and Sandra simultaneously developed innocent coughs.

“The doll is hollow,” the history muse went on, “and contains a smaller doll which is also hollow and contains a yet smaller doll, and so on.” He picked up the doll and lifted off the top half of the little Dominic.

“Another name,” he said distantly, looking at the figure thereby revealed, “is ‘matryoshka’, which means ‘little mother’.”

The next doll inside that one was of course Allie, then Sandra, Xeffy, Ayna, and finally a solid block of wood less than an inch high, intricately carved in the shape of an African Grey Parrot.

Dominic and his daughters stood silently for a moment, regarding the little wooden representations of their family lined up on the bar, then Dominic started packing them up again. As he fitted the Ayna doll into the bottom half of the Xeffy doll, a puzzled expression flitted across his face.

“Is it my imagination,” he said, “or are the Xeffy and Ayna dolls exactly the same size?”

“No, you’re quite right,” said Paul. “So are the Sandra and Allie dolls. But they all fit together just fine. Some very skilled craftsmanship went into this set.”

“Another thing,” he added, “is that if your family gets larger again—as it seems prone to doing—you’ll find that the set has another piece the next time you unpack it.” He grinned. “I didn’t want to risk the thing getting out of date before I had a chance to present it.”

“Thank you,” said Dominic. “But why?”

“Because I could,” Paul said. “Because these parties would not be at all the same without your family. Because, to be honest, I was having one made for someone else and I found myself wondering how your family would come out.”

He looked around as Donald approached, followed by the baby kangaroo, its gaze fixed on the stick of celery Donald was holding temptingly in front of its nose.

“Donald, is that what I think it is?”

“Probably. What do you think it is?”

“Right.” Paul picked up Donald and the baby kangaroo and placed them one by one in his hat. “Time we were off, I think,” he said. “Until I see you all again, fare well.”

“And if the fifth Doctor asks you if you’ve seen his celery,” added a voice from within the hat, “please say no.”

“Ooh.” Nuku-Nuku brushed herself off. “Nuku-Nuku thinks that was fun! Nuku-Nuku’s never had a mousie play with her before!”

“Glad you liked it,” Amber said, grinning.

“Nuku-Nuku wants a rematch!” the cyborg catgirl announced to the heavens. “Nuku-Nuku will not be beaten by a mouse!”

“Oh, Mother…” Trella murmured, a rueful smile playing on her lips…

“Maybe next time,” Amber said.

“Boss?” Trella said.


“Why’re you dodging Dominic?”

Amber sighed. “Honestly, Trella?”

Trella nodded.

Nuku-Nuku listened in, paying attention.

“He…” Amber took a deep breath. “He makes me uncomfortable. Not because I don’t like him, no—but because I do. Both of us have been hurt, and hurt deeply—and when we’re together, we bring the other’s wounds to the surface. Whatever there might be between us, it’s tied up with those wounds.

“So we have to tread carefully—edgily—around each other.”

“It’s like Mama-san and Papa-san.” Nuku-Nuku observed. “Not like like, but still like. They have trouble being around each other, even though they love each other.”

Amber nodded. “Close enough.” Her mouth twitched upwards, crookedly. “Fortunately, neither Dom or I are ones for the heavy artillery.”

“So what are you going to do?” Trella asked, looking at Dominic.

Amber thought a moment, before finally nodding to herself.


Then she walked up to the bar.

Imran, Allie and Sandra saw her approach, and withdrew a little way, leaving room between the two.

“Dominic?” Amber said.

Dominic turned to face her. “Yes?”

“I want to apologise.” Amber said. “For avoiding you like this, and for whatever pain I’ve caused you. You don’t deserve that.

“We bring the other’s scars to light. We hurt each other.” She met his eyes. “And because of that, whatever relationship we do have will be a painful one, a difficult one.

“Could you live with that?”

“Yes.” Dominic said quietly. “I could.

“But I would rather not we left things as they are, half-distant, half-close. I would rather we knew where we stood.”

“I want to be your friend,” Amber said. “Not ‘let’s just be friends’, no. I want to know if we can be friends—if it’s possible for us to get along without hurting each other so much.

“Could we try?”

Dominic took a deep breath. “If we try… if we try this, you’ll have to set out where you stand with the girls. Xeffy is—and always will be, I suspect—hyper-alert to anyone who even seems like they’re trying to take Elle’s place, and that doesn’t even begin to take into account what happened last year.

“And I’d be lying if I said the idea didn’t make the others uncomfortable too.”

Allie and Sandra suddenly found the floor extremely interesting.

“But the way I behave around you…” Dominic heaved a sigh. “Xeffy’s already angry with me for that. Should we try and be friends… I doubt it will improve matters.”

Amber chuckled ruefully. “So it’s a package deal, hm? ‘Befriend me, befriend my family’?

“Not necessarily befriend…” Dominic noted. “More, perhaps, ‘make peace with’. I think I’d be happy with that, at least.”

“I can try,” Amber said. “If you will.”

“I will.” Dominic said.

Amber hesitated, almost girlishly. “So, um… I’ll give you a call?”

Dominic hesitated too. “…All right.”

“Thank you,” Amber said.

“Thank you,” Dominic said.

“…I’ll see you, then,” Amber said finally.

Dominic nodded.

Then Amber turned and headed for the door, Nuku-Nuku and Trella following in her wake.

“Thank you for the party,” Amber said.

Eloise curtsied. “Thank you.”

Florestan bowed. “A pleasure, Lady Amber.”

Amber looked around at the room, and then back at her hosts. “Let’s hope things aren’t quite so conflicted next time. Something a bit more… laid-back, maybe?”

“I’d be up for that,” Eloise said fervently.

Something tugged at Florestan’s mouth. “Time will tell.”

Amber completed the refrain. “It always does.”

Her mouth crooked upwards into a beautiful grin. “Thank you again.”

“And you,” Eloise said.

“Looks like everyone’s leaving,” Doctor Whozonfirst commented.

“Yeah, there’s plenty of space at the buffet table now,” replied ALF, a chicken leg in each hand.

“I was actually suggesting we ought to be leaving. If there’s one thing Melmacians are known for, it’s not outstaying our welcome.”

From the other side of the table came the unpleasant sound of half a pint of Bloody Esme getting sucked up Bob the Muse’s nose. Doctor Whozonfirst ignored it.

Deftly tipping a plate of vol-au-vents into a pocket of his coat, he swept up his scarf and doffed his hat to Eloise and Florestan. “A delightful party,” he said. “I might be here for the next one. Gordon, will you come on?”

ALF, aka Gordon Shumway, looked wistfully at the chicken he’d taken the drumsticks from.

“Take it,” the trollish cook told him, “it’s nice to see someone who really appreciates food.”

“Hey, thanks!” replied ALF, and hurried after Doctor Whozonfirst with it tucked under one arm.

“Never get to participate much,” grumbled Arthur as the KAITAS contingent crossed the little house’s threshold on their way out.

“I thought we were very helpful,” said Pudentiana.

“Oh, yes, quite helpful,” Nimue groused, not looking at Pudentiana, “starting fistfights after the adventure was over. Can I ever show my face here again?”

“That lonely-heart bloodsucker had the gall to suggest—”

“We were helpful,” Alcides interrupted, “particularly in the other dimension when we joined with everyone else in the—oof.”

Speaking over his shoulder to Arthur, Alcides had neglected to observe that Nimue, leading their way back to the CAVE, had stopped moving. This was, in turn, because someone ahead of her was blocking her path. Eight someones, and then some. All the attending Doctors had pulled up short when coming into view of the line of TARDISes amongst the parked more-conventional-vehicles. There was one more TARDIS than had been there when the last Doctor had joined the Quadrille. As the KAITAS people watched, two people exited the new TARDIS. One was an attractive young woman in cornrows and a tank top, and the other was a tall man in a dark suit with a pouty expression, which only got worse when he saw that everyone else was leaving.

“You gits!” shouted Doctor Shalka. “Tell me you didn’t start without me!!”

When it was all over, Eloise was more exhausted than ever. She only just managed to keep her eyes open long enough to see the last of the guests off, then trundled off to bed.

She was just drifting off to sleep when she heard the familiar sound of High-Five’s doggy toenails clicking down the hallway toward her room, and before long, her face was being washed all over with doggy kisses.

“Look who I brought home,” she heard Walter Duncun say from the general direction of the door. “May I come in?”

Eloise nodded, and shifted her legs a bit as Walter sat down on the edge of her bed. “I heard you had a big night,” he said.

“I cursed a gift someone brought for Florestan,” she said, feeling the tears well suddenly behind her eyes. “Why is everyone so happy about it? We’re joyful trolls—we’re not supposed to curse!”

“Remember that an acorn sprouts its roots first.”

“That’s what Genny said, but I don’t understand.”

“Before an acorn can grow toward the light on its way to being a tree,” Walter said, “it must first reach into the darkness, from which it draws its strength. And anyone who wishes to bestow true blessings on another must first learn how to curse.”

“But curses are evil! They are what Nasty Trolls do!”

“A curse is a binding—a setting of limits. If you bind another too closely, you harm them, and that is indeed evil. But if you set no limits at all, you cannot protect what is good. That ‘gift’ you cursed—it wasn’t a gift at all, was it? It was a trap, disguised as a gift.”

“H—how did you know?”

“Because you cursed it,” Walter said, simply. “We are Joyful trolls—our hearts and minds follow joy as surely as a sunflower follows the light. If that thing had been a true gift, it would have had an aura of joy, and you would have been drawn to it, rather than repulsed by it.” He was silent for a while, and then he said: “You were a child when you ran away from the Nasty Trolls. You are a child no longer. It is time you learned of our ways—your ways… I can help you, if you like.”

“I would like that,” Eloise said.

— the end —

previous - index

Story copyright © 2003 the original authors; this compilation copyright © 2003–2005 Igenlode Wordsmith and Paul Andinach; HTML modified by Imran Inayat.