THIS TIME ROUND: HARD HELP
"I'll not work in this loony Devils-pit a single moment longer, and
that's a fact, Mr. Proprietor! I've had enough, and I'm out of here!"
Nellie yanked off her apron and flung it into the Proprietor's face
as she flounced out the door, not looking back.
As if responding to some invisible cue, the jukebox began playing
Johnny Paycheck's classic 'Take This Job and Shove It' while the
Proprietor simply stood forlornly behind the bar, the apron still
hanging on his face.
With a rumbling sigh, Francois the Ogron ambled over and plucked
the apron off his head. "Francois lose track," he said. "Is making
eight or is nine waitresses quit this week?"
"Actually, that was number eleven," the Proprietor half-sobbed, his
lips trembling. "Two of them quit within twenty minutes of being
hired. Another is in therapy and three are threatening lawsuits."
With a sudden choked cry, he turned and grabbed a double-
handful of the Ogron's vest. "What am I going to do, Francois? I
have to have more staff on to deal with all the crossover characters
coming in, but nobody worth having can stand working here! I'm--
I'm getting desperate!"
"Well," Francois mused, "Bossman could work own self..."
"I'm desperate, but not that desperate," the Proprietor snapped
back. "But there must be _someone_ out there who'd be willing to
work in here!"
"Bossman try offer more money?"
A scathing glare and a tightening of his grip on Francois's vest
were the Proprietor's only responses to that.
"Right," the Ogron sighed. "Was dumb question. Okey-dokey,
then, how about try find work-people in different place?"
"I've already _tried_ every employment agency in Outside, plus put
ads in the 'Daily Mirror'."
Francois shrugged, his massive shoulders moving like battleships
parallel-parking. "So go outside Outside."
The Ogron gestured impatiently at the door. "Is many PLOT holes
connect Outside to other places, yes? Some places have more
loony people than Outside. Is must be people in such places
needing job and used to weird things, yes? Bossman try hire such
people, maybe find person can put up with work in 'Round. Not
have thing to lose, yes?"
The publican blinked up at him, the scowl on his face slowly
clearing away. "Why... that could work!"
"Yes yes," Francois growled back. "Now, please to let go of
Francois, before Francois tie Bossman's spine into double
The Proprietor hastily complied, jumping away from Francois as
if stung, but his smile was full of genuine happiness and warmth.
"That's brilliant! I'll start making calls right now. Francois, you're a
genius!" He shouted this last over his shoulder as he ran off
toward the phone.
"Not genius," the Ogron sighed as he went back to polishing the
bar, "just looking like such compared to peer group..."
The next day, the Proprietor was interviewing the first of the new
"Mr. S. Baldrick, is that right?"
"That is correct, my Lord."
"So, what previous work experience do you have?"
The filthy, monkeylike little man across from him stopped digging
in his ear and replied, "I have been a servant, domestic, and general
dogsbody." He thought for a moment, moving his lips as he did
so, then added, "I also put in for Village Idiot once, but lost out in
the final interview."
The Proprietor had a feeling he shouldn't ask, but did anyway.
"How'd that happen?"
"I showed up. The other bloke they was lookin' at was such an
idiot, he forgot to."
"Um, yes... Well, I see you have a reference here from your
previous employer." The Proprietor unfolded the note and read,
"'Please oh please hire this fine, upstanding young lad in your
establishment. He is loyal, intelligent, hardworking and-- Oh,
screw this, even I can't lie this much. The truth is that while
Baldrick may look like a cow pat that's been granted the power of
locomotion, he actually has far less value than that. In fact, if you
were to kill him and throw him on the compost heap, I doubt that he
could even manage to biodegrade properly. Yours sincerely, Mr.
"That's Mr. Blackadder for you," Baldrick replied with a revolting
smile, although whether this pleasure was from hearing the letter or
from the wad he'd just dug out of his ear was an open question.
"Always lookin' out for me."
The Proprietor just _looked_ at him for a long and unpleasant
moment, considering. This Baldrick was an apish, moronic
dungball, but on the other hand, he was cheap. On his application,
under 'Expected Salary' he'd written 'a turnip', a price that even the
Proprietor couldn't argue with. Maybe, if nothing else, he could
put him in the kitchen or on cleanup and move someone else out
to working the floor. Yes, that seemed like a workable idea,
"Well, Mr. Baldrick," he said at last, "I may just have a position for
you, after all."
"Hurray!" Baldrick cheered. "And here Mr. Blackadder said I
couldn't get hired as main course at a buzzard banquet."
"Quite, quite. Let me just get out your paperwork, here. And by
the way, what does the 'S' in your name stand for?"
The office door banged open as a wretchedly filthy little man was
flung out into the common room to land face-first in the spittoon.
"Next!" the Proprietor bellowed.
The second applicant seemed rather more promising.
"And you are Miss Atsuko Natsume?"
"Just call me Nuku-Nuku!" the magenta-haired girl chirped, smiling
sunnily at him.
"Okay... Nuku-Nuku. Anyway, I see from your application that you
have prior waitressing experience?"
"That's right, sir. Nuku-Nuku worked for Mama-san at Akie's
Family Restaurant. Nuku-Nuku liked working there! It was lots of
"Then why did you leave there?"
The girl's big, charming smile never faltered. "It blew up again."
The Proprietor took a second to digest that. "The restaurant... blew
"Again? Meaning it had blown up before?"
The Proprietor took a few more seconds to digest _that_. "And
just how did that happen?"
The girl shrugged prettily. "Restaurants are kind of fragile. Not
like banks. Banks don't blow up like restaurants do when you play
in them. Offices blow up sometimes, but sometimes not. But
restaurants and gas stations, they go up _fast_! Nuku-Nuku's
friends Kyouko-san and Arisa-san wanted to play at work one day,
and Akie's just blew right up. At least, that's what Nuku-Nuku
thinks happened." A brief frown of confusion crossed her face.
"Somebody brought catnip and made Nuku-Nuku's head all funny,
but Nuku-Nuku thinks it was Arisa-san's machine gun that made it
blow up. A bank wouldn't have blown up like that, though. But it
was okay, because Mama-san rebuilt it and gave Nuku-Nuku her
"But then it blew up again?" the Proprietor asked in a flat tone.
"Mm-hm! But that was from Nuku-Nuku's friend Eimi-chan and her
field howitzer. Even a bank would have blown up from that."
"Erm, yes, I suppose that's true..." The Proprietor frankly didn't
know what else he could say to that.
"So, can Nuku-Nuku come to work here? I'm good at cooking and
waiting tables and cleaning and can catch mice, too! Like that
The Proprietor looked at where she was pointing just in time to see
a silvery Cybermat slipping along the baseboard toward his desk,
its fanglike poison-injectors bared and ready. "Yaaah!" he
screamed as he kicked back away from the desk.
"Don't worry, sir! Nuku-Nuku will catch the mouse for you!" She
made a quick dive for the Cybermat, hands reaching out to snatch it
"No, don't!" the Proprietor warned. "It'll bite... you..." He wound
down as the girl grabbed up the cybernetic vermin, only to have it
strike her on the arm with its poison-injectors. Which promptly
snapped clean off the Cybermat's head without even scratching the
"That's not polite, Mousie-san!" she scolded, shaking a finger at
the wriggling machine. As it tried to slip out of her grasp, she
grabbed it with her other hand and squeezed tightly, the
Cybermat's armored hide crunching inwards and spraying sparks
and mechanical parts as she crushed it completely in two. She
stopped and looked at the wreckage in wide-eyed shock. "Oh no!
Nuku-Nuku broke the mousie! I'm sorry! I didn't mean to do it!
Please don't be angry with Nuku-Nuku." Sniffling and shimmery-
eyed, Nuku-Nuku turned and bolted out the door.
It probably would've helped if she'd opened it first, though.
Looking at the shredded remnants of Cybermat and door, the
Proprietor just put his face in his hands and groaned, "Next!"
"Give me a job here, Master! I swear I will work hard and loyally
The Proprietor just arched an eyebrow at the third applicant, who
stared back at him with unnervingly intense and earnest eyes. He
couldn't have been over thirteen and was small even for that age,
being not only very short but also with the thinness that comes
from a life of wandering poverty. But there was a seriousness
about him that seemed to be at odds with his apparent youth, a
seriousness that was enhanced by the large and ornate pistol
hanging from his belt.
"And you are?" the Proprietor asked.
"Hiroshi Umino, Master," the boy replied, somehow managing to
use the word 'master' without adding even the tiniest bit of
subservience to his tone. "I am experienced at working in saloons
and will defend my employer's property with my life."
The Proprietor blinked at him for a few moments, taken aback by
the boy's forcefulness. "Aren't you kind of young to be working in
a bar, son?" he asked.
The boy's eyes blazed. "Don't treat me like a child! I'm young, but
I'm a man, seeking my destiny!"
"Right." The Proprietor sorted through some of the papers on his
desk. "Well, you do have several excellent letters of reference,
including one from..." He paused to recheck the signature on one.
"...from Emeraldas the Pirate Queen, so you certainly do have a lot
to recommend you. But you must understand, This Time Round is
an unusual place, with an unusual clientele. We have to be very
selective about who we hire." The fact that his last sentence was a
lie never entered the Proprietor's mind.
"I understand, Master. But I can handle anything. Just try me!"
"Let me just give you an example, Hiroshi. For instance, how
would you handle it if, say, a bunch of armed lunatics started
running amok in the common room?"
A wild snarl curled across the boy's face as he leaped to his feet,
pistol in hand. "Arfressians!" he growled, staring wildly about.
"I'll put a stop to them! They'll have to go through _me_ to take
this pub!" He waved his pistol in the air, shouting, "I must not
dishonor the Cosmo Dragoon! They'll have to kill me first! Where
The Proprietor just leaned back in his chair and sighed, "Next."
The fourth applicant walked in over the splintered remains of the
door, the 'Now Hiring' sign that had been on the 'Round's front
window in her hands. She tossed it lazily onto the Proprietor's desk
and sat down opposite him.
"Don't need that," she said. "I'm here now."
The Proprietor took a moment to study the young woman across
the desk. She was tall and exceedingly well-built, with shoulder-
length hair of a pale purplish color that fell in long bangs across her
eyes, completely concealing them from view. She was also already
dressed for work in a tight-fitting waitress's uniform and apron. A
small nametag on her chest read 'Luna Inverse' in flowing, vaguely
"And you are?" the Proprietor asked.
For reply, she merely pointed at her nametag.
"Right, then, Miss Inverse..." He sorted through the stack of
applications on his desk for a moment. "Um, I can't seem to find
"Didn't do one," she answered flatly.
"Oooo-kay..." Something about this taciturn lovely was creeping
him out, big time, but at the same time she seemed to almost radiate
the sort of self-confidence that would be essential to working in a
place like the 'Round. "Well, what kind of work experience do you
"Been part-time waitress for years. Knight of Ceipheed, too."
"And what's one of those?"
Luna shrugged easily. "Work for a god. Smite evil, that sorta
The Proprietor waited for her to elaborate, but when it became clear
that she wasn't going to, he decided to switch back to a more
strictly relevant question. "What about, shall we say, 'difficult'
customers? Do you have expeience at handling them?"
The waitress jerked a thumb at the broken doorway. "Like those?"
In the common room, things were turning ugly. Adric had come
dashing in, pursued by Nyssa who was wearing some sort of
powered armor-suit. This was not at all unusual, but in the course
of chasing him, Nyssa had accidentally run smack into Yrcanos,
causing the warrior King to spill most of a mug of Sirian Panther
Sweat down the front of his breastplate. While Adric took the
opportunity to slip off to safer climes, Yrcanos and Nyssa had
started a sharp-tongued argument that soon escalated to a major
Most of the staff and patrons were following Adric's example and
cowering behind whatever seemed stoutest, with Francois
occasionally putting his head above the bar and bellowing for a
cease-fire. Neither of the two combatants was paying any mind,
however, being too far gone into the joy of uninhibited mayhem.
Yrcanos had drawn a handgun that was approximately the size of
a Third Doctor companion and was pouring gunfire at Nyssa from
his position behind the jukebox. The Trakenite, meanwhile, was
using her suit's jumpjets to flit around near the fireplace, deftly
evading Yrcanos's fire and returning it shot-for-shot with her
shoulder-mounted plasma cannons.
The girl called Luna stepped out of the Proprietor's office and into
the howling maelstrom of energy blasts.
"Get down, crazy no-see-eyes girl!" Francois shouted. "Is
dangerous out here!"
Luna just ignored him, though, pausing only long enough to grab a
butter knife off the bar before stepping out into the torrent of
It was at that moment that Yrcanos managed a lucky shot that
caught Nyssa right in the shoulder-armor. Though the armor
absorbed the shot, the impact spun the hovering girl in place, just
as she was firing her cannons. The white-hot plasma bolt screamed
straight at Luna's face.
Without breaking stride, the waitress deflected the bolt away with
the butter knife.
A half-dozen paces brought her into the center of the room and the
center of the raging crossfire. Without so much as a change of
expression, Luna casually stood there batting their gunfire away
with the butter knife until the two realized that something new was
"Woman!" bellowed Yrcanos as he let off the trigger. "You would
dare interrupt glorious battle?!"
Nyssa also let of her fire and cut her jets, settling lightly to the
scorched floor. With a whoosh, the suit's faceplate opened,
revealing the Trakenite's beautiful but irritated face. "Yes!" she
shouted. "This doesn't concern you! Butt out!"
Luna turned to face her, eyes still invisible behind her bangs.
"Siddown and shut up," she said, voice perfectly level and calm.
"You too," she added to Yrcanos.
The two combatants looked at each other, looked at the waitress,
and then both clomped over to glare at her.
"We said that this isn't any of your business, serving-girl," Nyssa
snarled as Yrcanos did his level best to loom menacingly over them
"Made it mine," Luna replied, unfazed. "Now siddown and shut
"And what if we won't?" Nyssa demanded defiantly.
The waitress held up the butter knife and smiled. The smile wasn't
much, just the barest upturning at the corners of her mouth, but it
somehow made both the deranged Trakenite's and the berserk
Krontep King's blood run cold. "Make ya," Luna said, giving a
tiny shrug that seemed to indicate that one way was as acceptable
as another to her.
"You're threatening me with a butter knife?!" yelled Yrcanos, trying
not to let a quaver work its way into his voice.
Luna nodded once.
"What are you going to do with it?"
That tiny, nerve-rattling smile appeared again. "Find out," she
Nyssa and Yrcanos looked at that smile, then at the butter knife,
then at each other. Without another word, Nyssa retracted the
plasma cannons back into her armor while Yrcanos jammed the Jo-
sized gun back into its holster.
"Smart," said the waitress with a nod at them both. "Now siddown
and shut up."
"Francois changing nickname," the Ogron mumbled to his hand
puppet as he watched the proceedings, just his shaggy head
poking above the bartop. "Instead of 'crazy no-see-eyes girl', is
be 'hardass waitress girl'."
<Is so, loyal employee Francois,> he falsettoed, moving the little
cat puppet's head. <Am hearing such nickname somewhere before,
though,> the puppet 'said'.
"Is so," Francois grunted in his normal voice. "Was dear Mom's
nickname when work at Pancake Pagoda."
<Ah, yes,> the puppet sighed. <Was Francois's good old
childhood days, yes?>
"Is so. But Mom move up corporate ladder now, be 'hardass
middle-manager woman' instead."
<Not having quite same ring, though, no?>
"Mr. Moggie much perceptive and tasteful, as always."
<Much thanks, loyal Francois. Speak of which, hardass waitress
girl much stacked, yes?>
"Is so, but thinking call such girl 'nice ass waitress girl' be good
way get on wrong end of butter knife..."
As a slightly fearful peace descended on This Time Round, the
Proprietor rushed out to meet Luna and give her hand a vigorous
shake. "That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen!" he
gushed. "You were just outstanding, Miss Inverse! Out-standing
The waitress merely slipped her hand out of his and asked, "Got
the job?" And though her tone was the same half-bored drawl as
always, there was somehow the underlying message that she'd
_better_ have the job, or else.
"Of course you do, of course you do," the Proprietor hastened to
reassure her. "When can you start? I'll put you down for--"
"Part-time," she interrupted. "Still Knight of Ceipheed. Be here
when I can. Tomorrow, maybe."
"Er, right, okay. We can work around that, I suppose. At any rate,
I'm glad to have you aboard! You won't regret this, Miss Inverse!"
"I won't," Luna replied with that scary, cryptic little smile. "You
might." She turned on her heel and strode out without another
With a deep and slightly shaky sigh, the Proprietor headed back to
his desk and the stack of applications, wondering what he might
have just gotten himself into. For a long moment, he eyed the stack
of deceptively normal and innocent forms, heart skipping a little at
the thoughts of the further weirdness that lurked behind those
blandly prosaic sheets. He picked them up, feeling their heft,
hearing their shuffle, then held the entire stack over the waste
basket. One short drop, and there'd be no more weirdness to deal
with. Or rather, no _new_ weirdness. No more indestructible girls,
no more stinking medieval peasants, no more hotheaded adolescent
He looked through the broken doorway. Out in the common room,
Francois appeared to have gotten into an argument with his hand-
puppet, an author's Muse was playing rock-paper-scissors with her
ghostly twin, and Peri was slow-dancing with the Doctor, who was
cycling through all his incarnations every few seconds.
With a small smirk, he set the stack back on his desk. All things
considered, what was a little more weirdness, really? After all, he
hadn't opened a pub in Outside in expectation of a quiet life, now
had he? Be a bit of a bloody shame if he had.