'Umm... Excuse me. Anyone seen my Muse?'
Anji stared at the newcomer. 'Hold on, I know that face...'
'Yeah... That nasal polyp's a little hard to disguise too...' Fitz said.
'Like the offset eye...'
The pair looked at each other. Then, simultaneously, they leaped for him.
'Hey! Gerroff me!'
'Fat chance,' Anji said flatly. 'Right. We want a word with you...'
The author's eyes started looking for a way out.
'You're the one who infested us with toddlers. You're the one who stuck us with superpowers... which, might I add, you haven't done anything on in ages! And you are the one who keeps inflicting embarrassing changes on us for no other reason than your own sick, twisted whims!'
'Hey!' Imran protested. 'People like those!'
'Oh, really? You're pushing Izzy towards a nervous breakdown, Sam never wants to hear another Spock joke in her life, and as for what you've done to me...' Anji paused for breath.
'And just who does most of your stories anyway? I don't exactly see Gadzikowski rushing to write stories for you... And when did you last appear in a BKWillis production? Or one of Killings' lunchtime fics?' Imran shouted back. 'Face it. I'm the only one who'll take you on! Where'd you be without me, huh?!'
'This, from a man who can't even find his own Muse!' Anji retorted. 'What'd you do, turn her into a cucumber?'
'She went out for a drink! Not that it's your business...'
'Oh yeah?' Fitz said, smirking. 'Heard some interesting things about your Muse... what's her name again? Arfie... Allie. Allie. Quiet little Allie. Poor girl has to keep on wading through that rubbish tip you call a mind for weeks, just to find an idea... And when she does find one... guess who manages to muff it? Mr. Talented here...'
'That's it, Kreiner!' Imran shouted. 'For that, you're getting a starring role in the next fic!'
'Oooh, I'm so scared...' Fitz stared into the outraged author's face. 'What you gonna do? Make me a one-eyed alien chick?'
Imran's eyes unfocused. 'Hmm...'
'Oh smeg. Here we go again...' a voice muttered. 'Thanks a lot, guys...'
Fitz and Anji turned to see a small girl, about five feet high, her brown hair shaved right down to the skull, in a denim jacket and jeans.
'ALLIE?!' Imran gaped, hiis train of thought derailed.
'Yeah. Who'd you think it was, the Tooth Fairy?' Allie shot back. 'Right... Lessee what we can find for this story...'
'You're Allie?!' Anji boggled.
'Yeah. Oh. Sorry. Lemme start again.' Allie stuck out her hand. 'Hi. I'm Allie, sometime Muse to Mr. "Ego? What Ego?" over there...'
'Anji...' Anji said. 'This is Fitz...'
'Mm-hmm.' Allie winced momentarily. 'Sorry. Thanks to him and his anal-retentive memory, I know most everyone here...'
'You're welcome...' Imran muttered.
'Thank you... Yeah. So, anyway, when the College of Muses said there was an opening for a new Muse...'
'You took it?' Fitz guessed.
'Nope. It went something like this...'
This is the Collegium Imaginarium, located somewhere in Subreality (twinned with the Outside Zones since 1997).
And these are the chambers of the head Muse, Calliope.
Sitting across the desk from Calliope is a tiny little Muse, doing her best to look anywhere but at her superior. She has long brown hair and a flowing white robe, but it's still, recognisably, Allie.
Calliope looks through a folder. 'Let's see... Failed the "Inspiring Original Ideas" module, the "Tight Plotting: Keep Your Author On A Single Track" module, the "Describing for Beginners: Reminding Your Author' module, managed to just scrape through on 'Basic Characterisation'...' She peers over the top of the folder.'To put it simply, Allie, you are about to flunk. And flunk badly, at that.'
'Do you have an explanation?'
' "One of the brightest Muses I've ever taught," ' Calliope reads. ' "but shows a disturbing inability to apply herself to her work, and an almost dismissive attitude towards coursework and revision. When she even turns up." Does that sound familiar, Allie?'
'It should. It's what your personal tutor told you he would put in his report on your progress.' Calliope steeples her fingers. 'Given that, I see no reason why I should not dismiss you from the course.'
Allie looks simultaneously scared and ecstatic.
Calliope's chair swivels around. 'For a while, now, the Collegium has been receiving repeated requests for new Muses from Outside.'
'The Doctor Who regions.' Calliope clarifies. 'They have, shall we say, a need for dedicated Muses. Muses prepared to inspire their Authors, to encourage them with any ideas that may arise, no matter how crazed or insane they may seem, and let the Author run with them.'
'However... Remember, there is a difference between an idea that seems insane, and an author who is insane...'
'Yes ma'am. "Basic Musing".'
'You remember. Good.' Calliope looks at Allie. 'Allie, I'm letting you go.'
'You need to learn,' Calliope explains. 'However... it seems that the Collegium is... not the place in which you are best-suited to learn.'
'So... I have decided to make you a "work experience" student. You shall work with your Author, be his inspiration... Effectively, you will learn on the job.' Calliope leans forward. 'In a year, you will return to the Collegium for a review of your progress. This will continue annually, until such time as you fail him permanently, or I judge you are ready to become a full Muse.'
'However... the only openings available at the moment are in the Outside Zones.' Calliope looks at Allie again. 'You can wait for an opening here in Subreality, which may take weeks. Or...'
'I'll take it. Ma'am.'
Calliope smiles. A tight smile, with little humour. 'Good. Now, let us see... Ah. This one.' She pushes a folder with "Imran Inayat" on the cover across. 'He will be your Author. I believe you will get along well with him...'
'After all,' she adds. 'You and he have so much in common...'
'So let me get this straight,' Fitz said. 'A Muse on work experience, appointed to an Author who virtually defines the words 'emotional screw-up'.' He shook his head. 'You got screwed but good...'
Then he slapped his hand against his head. 'D'oh ! We get screwed but good...'
'Fitz...' Allie said. 'Me and him... ' She paused. 'It's... hard to explain. Watch.'
And she dissolved....
...into a small, silver-grey cat.
Who looked up at Fitz. 'Listen. He hasn't defined me. Hasn't set down what I can and cannot do. He's given me the potential for unlimited power over what he writes.'
'But?' Anji said quietly.
'But...' The Allie-cat looked down.
' "He tries to do good by the characters. Tries never to be cruel, though he sometimes runs from them. Tries to support them through the darkest times. He will never give up on them".' Imran murmured. 'I heard that once...'
Allie was silent.
Imran looked down, then back up. 'Listen. I'm sorry. I think... I just need to sit down somewhere and... think... You don't need all this. Especially not our messed-up attempts to try and explain ourselves.'
'Yeah,' Allie said sadly. 'Sorry 'bout this. 'Bye, guys.' She turned, and leaped at Imran.
The author grimaced. And breathed out. He looked as if he were about to say something.
Then he, too, disappeared.
Fitz sat down. 'Bugger.'
Anji sat in thought. 'No... I think... Fundamentally, he likes us. Wants to write about us. So he does. But he's insecure about what he does to us. About whether or not it comes across well. Whether his writing's up to scratch when he tries to explore something.' She looked up. 'Which is why he identifies so much with you.'
'Me?' Fitz protested.
'You.' Anji repeated. 'After all... even the authors need someone who understands. Even if they are fictional.'
'Doesn't he have anyone... out there... who could do it?'
'Yeah. But sometimes, all you can do is write it out...'
Somewhere, a Muse nods.
And goes back to work.
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat