A pause in the non-stop roller-coaster action again ensued. Ere it waxed
embarrassingly long, the Disposable Heroes of Hippocrasy squirmed finnily onto
the stage, responding fitly to the tacitly massed cries of 'Entertain us!' with
a rousing rendition of their signature number, _You're Gonna Get Me Sucker!_.
Toilet breaks, impromptu book club meetings, and unwonted attention for
rambling pointless anecdotes about how the Doctor once met Catherine the Great
and she said 'Goshch!', ensued also. At last the rapping remorae were eased
ballistically from the stage by the subtle diplomacy of TV's François, and the
stage was left clear for the pomp and circumstance of the next award

Suddenly the Magical Mechanical Musical Box blared forth the _Star Wars_ march
at wall-shaking volume! Onto the boards stepped Candy, in and out of the
legendary 'Princess Leia in Chains' outfit! Followed ponderously by a
heavy-breather tallish and broad, his mystery identity wholly obscured from
nine out of ten whelks by a greyed-out version of that attire favoured by the
inadequately late Anakin Skywalker during his celebrated Black Period!

"Hip hip hoowoooargh!" cried the substantial fraction of the Audience whose
libidos yet exceeded their impatience.

"Thank you -- love you -- ooooooh ever so much!" returned Candy, blowing hot
kisses to all and sundry from a modified hand-held flamethrower. "And now it's
time for the highlight of the evening. We all know that the genesis of real
live independent characters like she to whom girlish modesty, la, forbids me
from alluring, is the highest most awesomely Godlike pitch of the maker's art
(evidence available on reasonable terms)! So I like to think of this as the
super-special award that casts all others into a deserved and _trés_ agreeable
shade. Yes, possums penguins ortolans and other scrumptious cutie-critters,
it's time to present the Best Original or Crossover Character Adric Award!"

"Applause!" provided the MMMusical Box, as Marchie furiously shovelled
chocolate sovereigns into its insatiate slot.

"And here to help me, after the disgraceful exposure of that rigging rascal
rapscallion Captain Leader (fie, messires and mesdames, was ever woman's trust
so vilely betrayed?) -- your pal and mine, stepping in at a moment's notice in
order that the show shall go on -- let's have a big hand, please, for that
Prince of Faded Darkness, Adept of the Nasty Side of the Farce, the Sith with
the Big Stick himself -- DAAARTH EPT!"

"DAH DAH DAH, da da DAH, da da DUUUUUUURGH!" went the Box of M&MoreM's, choking
on chocolate.

"Whoosh! Swish! Hhhhurgh!" went Darth Ept, swishing his cloak and slaughtering
innocent air-currents with great big sizzling swishes of a lightsaber in
suspiciously mottled pink. And if few of the so-recently misused Audience were
yet in the mood to donate the full hand requested by their lusty Mistress of
Ceremonies, still many found themselves so far swayed by her eloquence as to be
unable to resist donating a finger. Or two, even!

"And the candidates are -- !" Candy reached under the folds of Darth Ept's
voluminous cape, brought forth a slim package wrapped in brown paper, and
shredded its protection with razor-sharp fingernails. "_Big Stamened Orchids_,
Summer Bumper Edition???"

Darth Ept snatched back this horticultural treasury with the possessive vim of
a jealous godling in the act of discovering that his nubile virgin priestess
has taken *definitively* up with Conan the Barbarian, and is just now hooking
off with the temple's treasured pewter altar service. "Hhhhhhhhurrrrrr!" he
explained, slapping Candy accidentally in the face with a second and
considerably more battered brown paper package.

"Hit me baby one more time?" she proposed with an evil grin, causing Darth Ept
to fall to his knees and gibber in horror and woe, and we don't think he was
the only one either. Further slappings, however freshly and richly deserved,
not being forthcoming, she opened the second package and gasped a gasp of such
tremendous emotion as has seldom or never been seen outside the hallowed
precincts of Mr Porky Scratchings' Stage School & Smokehouse of Outer Herod
Road, West Ham. Her complexion turned a brilliant blush red. And then she
dropped her make-up case, and fell as one pole-axed to the floor.

"What a turn-up, strike me right, oh my, what sodding thingy could be going on
now?" recited Darth Ept in tones of unutterable boredom.

"Alas, alack, I faint!" came from the fallen woman below.

Kinki bounced back onto the stage, seized up the papers from the package, and

"Candy Harcourt -- "

"Because I'm very very surprised!" the fallen, yea even the professionally
fallen, woman elaborated. "La!" she added, and subsided again.

" -- in the Joyful Quadrille by Graham Woodland."


"Oedipoi to that!" said the security sphinx, sitting up very straight. "This is
_my_ riddle: ---

My darling is Death, and my harlot is Hope.
I've gobbled down gods, and had many a pope.
Your loyallest lover will come when I call,
And leave you for aye, at a run or a crawl.
I may dawdle along, I may freeze, I may fly,
But nobody stands unmoved as I go by.
Who am I?

"Oh, and just for the form of it," as the party began to stir, "and so I know
whose answer to take: I'll hear that answer only from one standing under my
paw. It'll relieve the rest of you of an unpleasant dilemma, if it comes to
that." She licked her lips again.

"Not so fast --- !" Sixth began; and,

"_Candy_!" Carrie protested; for that very lady had bounced with enormous
readiness straight into Hatsheput's Junoesque shadow.

"Mememe!" Mrs Harcourt explained, and a paw duly went up over her.

"Your answer will be heard," the sphinx announced.

"I told you, already, Pussy Galore!" Candy said impatiently. "The answer's me.
Every delectable inch of me; every specified detail."

Hatsheput smiled. "Wrong," she said, and her paw flashed down faster than

To stop a hairsbreadth above the lubricious Muse's fair head.

"Oi," said Hatsheput then. "That was not the answer, and cheats never prosper.
Drop the enchantment!"

Candy leered up at her beatifically. "What enchantment.?"


Darth Ept was now hunched anxiously over Candy, waving what honest guvnor we
thought were smelling salts under her avidly snuffling nostrils.

"Next up," stated Kinki, "we have Kane in _Maskirovka_ by Helen Fayle...!"


Kane sighed and went on. "I don't get involved with politics _anymore_.' He
nodded at Kastchei, who studiously ignored him. 'Unlike this juvenile
delinquent here, who never seems to learn that it's more trouble than it's
worth. Last time he decided to get _involved_ sixteen planets and over eight
billion people were burned to ash by the Sunkiller. Kit, you bring death and
destruction with you even when you're on the side of the angels - compared to
that, I'll take a rebel Lord Commander and half the fleet any day.'

He stood up. 'I'll have your baggage transferred to quarters on level six. It's
quiet, prestigious, and the only person you'll have to worry about listening in
is me. The devil ya know, an 'all.' He offered his hand to Vivienne, who took
it warily. He smiled - not a reassuring sight, the way the old scar twisted
across his cheek when he did. But his handshake - his hand completely buried
hers - was firm but gentle. 'If your boy there's ever open to reason on the
subject, ask him if he can think of any other way Morgaine could have been
stopped from destroying world after world just to get to _him_. Then ask him
what he'd have done in the same circumstances.'

'The end always justifies the means, is that still your mantra, Kane?' Kastchei
asked, standing up. Even at his full height, Kane towered over him by a good
six inches, and must have massed at least a third more. The scene reminded
Vivienne of a cat standing up to a mastiff.

'Do you still keep that statue behind your desk?' Kastchei asked, innocently.
'Ah. I take it that tight-lipped stare means "yes". You half-blind old
masochist - didn't anyone ever teach you that picking at scabs means the wounds
never heal?'

Kane stared down at him scornfully. 'Is that the best you can do?'

A moment later he reeled backwards, blood dripping from his nose. Kastchei
rubbed his knuckles

'No, but it'll do on account.'

'Worst case of testosterone poisoning I've seen in years,' Vivienne muttered

Locke sniggered. Kane straightened, touched a hand to his bleeding nose, and
just smiled grimly at Kastchei.

'You still hit like a girl,' he said.


"(.chance'd be a fine thing!). Next, it's Katie Hunter in _Chains_, by. Katie
Hunter _from_ Chains, temperance take it. by Imran Inayat!"


"...You want me to manifest?" Katie repeated.

Natalie nodded.

"...All right." Katie said finally. "Stand back."

The sudden chill set Natalie's teeth on edge, a cloud of mist forming in front
of her.

From the mist, a translucent image began to form - a plump figure in the
girls' uniform of H. G. Wells, with lank black hair that fell down her back,
adorned only by a hairband, and weak blue eyes behind thick glasses, set in a
pimply, chubby face.

"Happy?" Katie said, not without some bitterness. "This is what I look like.
_This_ is the way I have to look for the rest of time. A spotty, pimply,
overweight girl."

"I thought so ..." Natalie murmured.

"I _beg_ your pardon?" Katie demanded.

"Your photograph in the 'Register'." Natalie explained. "I looked in the
archive to see who'd died in the library. You were the only one."

"Yeah." Katie muttered. "Squashed by a bookcase."

"I'm sorry." Natalie said quietly.

"No you aren't." Katie said.


"Because." Katie snapped, with no small amount of venom, "I'm the stupid fat
cow who got squashed under the bookcase! _No-one_ was sorry about that!"

"I am." Natalie said softly. "It couldn't be an easy way to die."

Katie's mouth twisted. "Oh, sure. Like what _you_ say means something."

"It means something to me." Natalie said. "Everyone has something like that."

"Except _yours_ are-" The next part of the sentence choked in Katie's throat,
unable to finish the jibe.

"...Are you okay?" Natalie asked, the concern evident in her face.

"_Yes._" Katie snarled. "I'm fine! I'm fat, stupid, and dead, but apart from
that I'm just _peachy!_"

"Getting squashed under a bookcase isn't stupid." Natalie pointed out.
"Horrible, yes, but not stupid."

"_You_ weren't there." Katie retorted.

"No," Natalie acknowledged. "No, I wasn't. What _is_ stupid about getting
crushed by a bookcase?"

"It-" Katie opened her mouth, trying to come up with the words.

Finally, she said "It- It's a stupid way to die."


Kinki sniffled audibly, and when a black panther is sniffling audibly in the
vicinity of a microphone, oy, does one know one's been sniffled at! A recovered
Candy was crawling around on hands and knees, hoping vainly to be the subject
of some salacious description whilst sorting e-ballots into rival piles.
"Aaaaa.. And next, we're looking at Shamba in _A Daughter of the Long Pine_, by
Clive May!"


She made her way via the library tunnels, in hopes of seeing either Sheeba or
Angelica. Shamba wanted to tell them about her short journey, and to make a
proper farewell to her Tribe. She did not encounter either girl. Those few
people she met grew suddenly nervous on meeting her. Their eyes would light
upon the message tube. Instantly, their gaze would slide away, excuses to be
elsewhere on their lips. Shamba hung about in the tunnels near the library for
several minutes, undecided on what to do, before she determined to get on with
the duty San had forced upon her. Reluctantly, she bent her steps towards the

It was then, as she was turning away, that she noticed something gleaming in a
dark corner. Moving to retrieve the object, she smelt blood of the people,
faint, but fresh. She picked up the West River Totem. At the same moment that
Shamba realised the dark stains spotting the piece of twisted bronze were the
blood she could smell, she'd realised that they bore Sheeba's personal scent

She'd almost broken her solemn word right there and then, to go in search of
San; but where the High Dalers had their pride, the Long Pine had their sense
of honour. Although Shamba was very much afraid that some grim fate had
overtaken the Tribe of Bok, she could not see what might be done about it just
then, without incurring a loss of honour.

She took up the spear, settled the pack more comfortably, and turned to the
south road. She would seek them out again when she returned from the journey;
and if they had come to any harm, then there would be an accounting in a manner
acceptable to the Long Pine sense of honour.

She got a half mile down the South Road before indecision halted her steps. She
turned to face back up the road. Taking out the West River Totem, she clutched
it fiercely. It occurred to her forcefully, that Sheeba would not have
willingly been parted from this while she lived. She lingered a long time,
trying to think what was best to do; but no honorable course of action
suggested itself. The heat of the sun made her aware that the day was wasting.

At last she sighed, tucked the West River Totem into her cloak, and turned with
resolution back to the way.


"Respect is *due*! And finally, it's Uchiki little minx, come here and. 'hem,
sorry, old combat reflexes cutting in there. flashbacks. whew, the Flash.
A-_hem_." Kinki pulled herself together with a heartfelt shudder, or at any
rate shiver, and continued, "Uchiki, from _Spring Surprise_ by BK Willis!"


"Why are you trying to steal an airship anyway?" Uchiki demanded as she and
Han-Tao-El duelled across the landing pad.

"Why you wear bag on head?" he shot back. That had been bothering him and it
seeemed like as good a time as any to ask.

She aimed a ferocious blow at his head, which he parried.

"How about this?" he smirked. "Loser of fight answer winner's question."

She considered. "All right..."

"Han-Tao-El swear on his sacred musician's honor. Shake on it?" He stuck out a

When Uchiki did likewise, he used the opening to clobber her with his guitar.


The drabble ended crisply. Kinki, who had whiled it away by lipsticking crude
features onto the discarded paper bag(ish) which had previously enveloped the
kaolin-silky pulchritude of _Big Stamened Orchids_ and practising sure-fire
Animese chat-up lines thereto, was so engrossed in her self-improvement that
she failed to notice.

Darth Ept made a flamboyant gesture at the audience, took a running jump, and
drop-kicked the perverted pantheress right into the third row.

The fact that his remaining momentum carried him over the edge of the stage and
head-first onto the besawdusted boards below was a mere incident to this fête
galante, and it hardly becomes us even to mention it.

Candy bounded to her feet as if suddenly infused by all the vital energy in the
world if not the Local Group. "And the wondrous super-nonpareil vixen victrix
before whom we must all bow down in shiveringly expectant adoration

She regarded the largest of the ballot-piles with dawning suspicion and horror.

".Hang on, that can't be right.."

"RECOUNT!!!!" boomed Darth Ept in a fine frenzy of rage, jumping up and down in
an ineffective attempt to leap back up onto the stage in his
depleted-uranium-heeled jackboots. "LURO LUPO VIR VOARCHADUMIA!!!!"

And obedient to that fell nygromantic invocation, the Voarchadumians came.
Every window in the 'Round slammed open, and a cold foul wind blew in dust and
empty crisp-packets from the uttermost abyss. Pale inhuman heads rose above the
sills, and vile mucous megalorhinic appendages protruded into the once-jovial
bar, wherein the cheerful clinking of glasses was swiftly replaced by the
piercing screams of women!

"Get that schnozz out of my quart!" screamed Benny. Her baleful red-eyed glare
lifted Authorwards. "And find a new joke, while you're at it!"

"Perfessor!" yelled Ace, as Seventh began hastily to pull his Merlin costume
out of his hat. "They're -- !"

"Voarchadumians, yes Ace. Lurkers on the threshold, destroyers of democracy,
demons of the lower lawyers of the Abyss!"

"WOT NO PGP SIGNATURE?" boomed a Voarchadumian, inhaling a ballot from the top

"They're _chads!_"

"Go go go!" cheered Candy, as all the piles but one shrank remarkably. "Riot
riot riot!" opined the Audience at large, kept back from the stage only by the
slashing pink brand of Darth Ept and the 'WOT NO PERSONAL FORCE-FIELD?' of
honking big Voarchadumian snottroopers. "Why me?" trumpeted Marchie
Marchant-Ivory, as he and his ladies were beset by bunches of bigoted barflies
to whom the proportions of his proboscis were all the evidence they needed.

"TRIPSARECOPSEM!" intoned Eighth in an awful voice. All the lights flickered
and went dark; a mephitic blast of brimstone-and-treacle blew through the
suddenly-hushed room; and when Dame Fluorescent Light dared once again to blink
open her helikoblepharous optics, there the demons were, gone!

".and *stay* gone!" Candy concluded, with enough brass to fit a fair-sized

"Yes, why don't they?" Ninth seconded cheerfully, straightening up from one of
the piles. "The ballots they ate fell back to the floor when he (me!) banished
them back to their primal nothingness. Handy that, isn't it?"

"Errrr." Candy said, facefaulting.

"Yes, it is." He clapped her cheerfully on the shoulder. "So, it's Candy
Harcourt in the Joyful Quadrille."


".whose wholly bogus victory is now annulled, and. it's. Katie Hunter from
_Chains_ by Imran Inayat who wins and carries all before her! Let's have a big
hand for Katie, ladies and gentlemen!" And by the living Jingo, sir, he got
one! "Hard luck, Mrs Harcourt! Tatty-bye, then!" Wiggling an annoying hand
about two inches from the stunned supernymph's desolated eyes, he flashed her
his trademark even-more-annoying smile(TM) before trotting down off the stage
flashing victory-signs, mouthing, 'Yes! Yes!' and modestly accepting the
tributes of an adoring public, excepting of course those which took the form of
ballistic bar-stools.

Candy remained stricken on the stage, alone with the ruins of her really
rubbish plot, even Kinki having now deserted her in favour of a long and
meaningful colloquy with a previously-mentioned paper bag.

"Betrayed!" wailed Candy, ritualistically tearing her hair and rather more
earnestly tearing at her clothes such as they were. "Haro! messires et mes les
girls, my soul feels the pangs of shame and death, and yet I must live! Out
upon that false Dark Knight, who in the very hour of my glory got mine ass
disqualificated by his dirty demonic doings in which at least 200% of my votes
seem to have inexplicably vanished *never to reappear*! What's a girl to do but
wish Miss Katie the best with her outrageous fortune; and turn to my betrayer
with sad and sober countenance, reproving him, la, thus: -- "

Out of thin air came the buzzing chainsaw of old time, and above its terror
whine soared the eldritch scream of a Muse in her righteous wrath:

" -- *Vengeance is mine, saith Charles Bronson! Die, Mysterious Mr

With which she leapt down from the stage, and would have bisected him with a
single deadly sweep, had Darth Ept not long since had it surreptititously away
out of the bar, at some stage during Eighth Doc's black-magic blackout.

"Why, _ouatchère coq_, the caitiff Sith hath fled," complained Mrs Harcourt;
whereupon she smiled with brilliant and brittle sunniness. "And I.am left.
alone. bereft.!"

A dashing and smugly handsome young fellow of military bearing left off his
bogo-scientific repairs of the Musical Box and strode gallantly over to this
achingly innocent victim of men's being deceivers ever. He bowed with a
becoming flourish. "Captain Jack Harkness at your service, ma'am!"

"Captain Jack will take you high tonight!" the incorrigible Box encouraged; in
which it was a trifle behind the times, for a clinging cooing bundle of spammy
goodness had already leapt bodily into the dashing one's arms and was even now
being carried off to the TARDIS for a thorough debriefing.

"On recent events, I hope and trust!" Third warned.

"Yeah, right!" Ninth and the Author mouthed in chorus behind his back. OW!

"I shan't warn you again, sir!"

<sigh> Yeah. On recent events. Right so. No, really.

But during all these shenanigans, which took less time to indulge in than to
tell of, it had finally been made clear to Miss Katie Hunter that she had won
the award. *Won the award.* Yes, really!

Miss Hunter's reaction to this happy news was rather interesting.


Katie sat motionless in her chair, staring blankly at the stage.

Megan waved a hand in front of her. "Katie?"


"Katie?" Megan said again. "Are you all right?"

Katie opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again.

Then she started to cry, big ectoplasmic tears rolling down her face and
through the floor.

Natalie and Megan shared a look, Natalie's concerned, Megan's worried.

"Katie?" Natalie said.

"Just my luck, isn't it?" Katie managed to say, through her tears. "The first
time I ever win anything, and I can't even touch it!"

The other two girls shared another look.


Amber stood at the podium, hands on the award.

"Katie? Could you come up here?"

"...You're not Miss Maclay..." Katie managed.

"No," Amber said. "My name's Amber. I'm a Muse."

"Yeah?" Katie said. "And what's /your/ brilliant idea?"

"My idea?" Amber said. "My idea is to give you the award, and a place to put

"How?" Katie snarked. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm not exactly able to
carry it around with me."

"Come on up." Amber said calmly. "I'll show you."

"Do it." Megan whispered.

Katie blinked. "Huh?"

"Do it." Megan repeated. "I know Lady Amber. If she says she can do it, she

Katie glanced sideways at Megan, then dissolved.

She recoalesced on the stage.

"All right." she said. "Show me."

"Rest your hands against the base." Amber said.

Katie did so.

The expression on her face was wondering, almost childlike.

"I can-" Her voice was barely a whisper. "I can touch it..."

"Pick it up," Amber suggested.

Again, Katie did as requested, manoevering her hands into position.

Then she lifted the award off the podium.

"It's attuned to you," Amber said quietly from behind her. "As solid to you as
your own body. You can touch it, feel it, move it, lift it... whatever you
want. As far as you're concerned, it is solid.

"Now... I want you to pretend you're putting it somewhere safe. That you're
putting it on a mantelpiece, or putting it back in its display case. Lifting it
up, and putting it away."

Katie lifted up the award, and moved to put it away.

The award disappeared.

"Now," Amber said, "imagine you're lifting it up again."

The award reappeared.

Katie blinked.

"Storage space," Amber said. "You can store it there when you don't want to
carry it around."

"...thank you," Katie whispered, voice small.

"You needed it." Amber said, voice soft.

Clutching the award, Katie drifted back to her table.

Prelude - Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Part 7 - Part 8 - Epilogue - Summary

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