A few authors having a drink in This Time Round.
That was the way they liked it.
Had anyone there realised who they really were, they would have been hunted down
and cast into the Outer Darkness, where the cacodemons would take great pleasure
in devouring them layer by layer.
And it wasn't just because they were authors, either.
It wasn't even because they were a secret conspiracy - of _course_ they were a
secret conspiracy, but what was the point if you had a secret lair with secret
meetings, secret plans, and hooded robes? _Everyone_ knew that was how
conspiracies did things these days. Honestly, some people just never seemed to
get the hang of things. Look at the Brethren of Nyssa. What the hell were they
No, it was because they were the hosting committee for the adwc Adric Awards,
the ones who decided which victi- er, which sucker- which author would be chosen
to organise and host the Awards this year.
Sounds pretty harmless, doesn't it?
Tell that to the authors. And the characters. And the Muses. And... well, you
get the point.
So here they were, just a few acquaintances, gathered together for a drinking
"How're things coming?" one said.
No, of _course_ I'm not going to give you names and descriptions. What do you
think I am, completely insane? I'm just the Narrator here.
No, not an author, the Narrator.
Look. There are some things the Boss Lady can't trust to an author - or the
Author Mafia. Things she doesn't want leaked out - or that she knows others
don't want leaked out, things she knows certain people'd be less than happy
about if they're released into general circulation. So she created me, your
friendly local Narrator, to take care of that. To narrate stories about those
topics for general release.
So... names and genders have been changed to protect the guilty.
Right. Now that's out of the way...
"How're things coming?" A said.
"Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zero. No go. Nothing." B said.
"_None_ of them?" A said.
"What about Danel? He seemed promising." A said.
"Ah. We, ah, had a run-in with a certain green-eyed Muse who seemed very
insistent that Danel was, and I quote, 'busy'." C said. "If we pressed the
point, there were certain Harry Potter spells she said she'd be more than happy
to demonstrate to us."
"Ah." A fell silent. "What about Imran?"
"Dragon-Allie." B said.
"Ah." A looked hopefully at them. "Um, Eloise?"
"Apparently, Sweetheart has a most efficient mail-filter." C said.
"Mr Wade?" A said desperately.
"Verity was kind enough to point out that even though Mr Wade _is_ a tabloid
reporter, he _does_ have limits. And organising something like this was most
_definitely_ outside those limits." C regarded A over his folded hands.
A sank down in his chair. "Oh... _wonderful_."
"In short," C said, "while we have no shortage of potential _presenters_, there
is a marked absence of potential _organisers_.
"Or of any organisers. At all."
"Just crukking wonderful." A muttered. "Like we weren't up the creek before...
"Of course, you know what this is about."
The others nodded. They did indeed know.
"_Willis_." A's voice dripped venom, such as might be used in speaking of
entities of the utmost darkness, such as the Dukes of Telesales or the Olsen
Twins. "That damn cheapskate redneck. Oh no, he couldn't actually _give_ Adric
any money, could he? Oh no, our favourite murder victim has to organise the
ceremony on a budget of... what was it again?"
"Nine dollars." B supplied.
"Nine dollars." A finished. "Look at the locations. This Time Round. Verity
Lambert Public High School. They had to supply the heating by burning books in
"It _was_ 'Who Killed Kennedy'," C felt obliged to point out.
"That's not the point." A said. "And it should have been 'The Pit', anyway." He
settled himself in his chair before continuing. "It wasn't just that, though -
half the audience couldn't even get inside! And then, when we actually _got_ to
"Alright, some of them had to be taped elsewhere - that's fine, that's normal
practice. But thanks to budgetary restraints, most of them - even the ones who
didn't tape elsewhere - paid to make their presentation out of their own
"Or the Author Mafia's." C said.
"Or them," A said, twitching. "And then, when the tapes are finally shown, it's
on bloody _Betamax!_ And if that weren't bad enough... did you _hear_ those
"I quite liked them." D piped up.
A, B and C glared at D, who cowered back in her chair.
"And as for that fiasco with the Steward and the Datemaker..." A went on,
visibly shuddering. "Summoning _Shub-Barneyrath?_ Almost killing _Bagpuss?_
We're just lucky every last backup of the damn thing got trashed!
"No _wonder_ none of the Authors want the bloody job. Who could bloody blame
them?!" A paused, bringing his breathing back under control, before he
continued. "And what did Willis say when we asked him why he'd taken it on? Can
anyone remind me?"
"Because it sounded like a cheap laugh." C said.
"Because it sounded like a cheap laugh," A repeated, his calm, quiet tone
conveying seething, maniacal hatred of the author in question.
Somewhere in Alabama, B. K. Willis shuddered, but put it down to the
refrigeration unit he'd just finished working on.
"But that wasn't the worst of it, oh no." A turned to B. "How big was our
mailbag, the day afterwards? Remind me."
"One thousand, three hundred and ninety-four emails and letters." B said,
without blinking an eyelid.
"Mm-hmm. And what did _each_ and _every_ one of them happen to mention?"
"The corporate sponsorship." B said.
"The corporate sponsorship." A repeated. "And those one thousand, three hundred
and ninety-four were just the tip of the iceberg. We've been _swamped_ with
complaints about NorInCo's corporate bloody sponsorship - never mind that we
weren't the ones who asked them to do it, never mind it wouldn't have happened
if Willis had actually _given Adric some money_ - oh no. Somehow, in some
strange way, it's _our_ fault."
"It's not, is it?" D said.
A glared at her. "_No_. It's not."
"Oh." D said.
A scowled. "Which is why, this time, we have to make sure there's absolutely
_no_ trace of corporate sponsorship. Which means our best choice is a charity
telethon - with no corporate influence. No corporate money whatsoever. Which
means, with no authors, we are _screwed_."
"So what we need..." D said slowly, "is an independently wealthy organiser
willing to take it on."
"Finally..." C muttered.
"Exactly." B said. "But where are we going to find someone like that _now?_
Crazy enough to take on the job, rich enough they don't care about losing money,
and soft enough to let the money go to charity?" She looked around at the
others. "With the Authors out of the way, the only person likely to take the job
is the Doctor - and you know what _that_ means..."
A, C and D nodded. They _did_ know.
It was at that point that A's pocket decided to ring.
"If this is another bloody Duke of Telesales..." he muttered, pulling out the
His eyes widened. "Um... no, no, it's no trouble at all. Oh, our secretary? No,
no, it's no problem, we were just finishing our meeting."
The others nodded. They might have a public office, but they weren't stupid
enough to actually _go_ there, not with hordes of rabid lunatics after their
"You did?" A said. "You did? Well... that's very good of you, but really...
Oh... oh, it was no trouble. This year's? You'd like to help? No... no, it'd be
no trouble at all. How would you feel about being our organiser? Really? Okay,
we just need to ask a few questions, first... how would you feel about staging
it as a charity telethon, taking no personal fees...You would? And how much...?"
His eyes widened even further. "Erm, you wouldn't mind sending us official
confirmation of your balance? Only we've been... thank you. Did you have a
particular cause in mind, only we're looking for something the public at large
can empathise- that sounds perfect. Absolutely. We'll just do our own check...
if you could... Look Who's Talking? We'll get right on it."
As A continued, C had already begun to take notes.
"Oh, that reminds me, where were you planning to hold - you were? ...No, no
problems at all. Yes, we'll be sending someone around to check on it... It does
have heating and lighting, right? ...Of course. No problem. Um, you wouldn't
mind... of course, thank you very much, sorry to put you to all this
inconvenience... only, we've been... yes, yes, that's it absolutely. ...um, when
we said 'staging', you did mean... professional broadcast facilities... food,
refreshments, sanitation, safety... thank you... and, um, how are you about
driving off any alien, temporal, dimensional or Cthulhoid incursions... you'll
take care of it, thank you...
The others listened, boggle-eyed, as he went on. "You weren't planning to hire,
erm... 'Righteous Indignation', the Brethren of Nyssa Chorus, or the Verity
Lambert High School Marching Band, by any chance, were you? No? You're sure?
Thank you... Oh, one last question - you don't receive sponsorship from any
known corporation, anyone affiliated with a criminal organisation, or anyone
associated with certain establishments, or if you are, can conceal it from any-
you don't. Thank you.
"...Yes, of course you can, this is _your_ show... No, no, a pleasure talking to
you. Oh no, no trouble at all. Again, thank you. Uh-huh. Mm-hmm. Of course,
later, no problem. Thank you. Thank you. Look forward to speaking to you again.
Once more, thank you."
A put the phone down on the table, staring at it as if it might disappear at any
The others were staring at A, open-mouthed.
"Did you just..." B began.
"Did they just..." D began.
"They _actually_..." C began.
"Yes," A said in a distant, far-away voice. "Agreed. To everything. No
conditions. Named cause. Effectively unlimited budget. Providing all facilities.
Will take care of everything. _Everything_. Sending confirmation over as soon as
"Um..." D nodded at the table, eyes wide.
The others stared.
A large brown envelope had appeared in the middle of the table, where it hadn't
been a few seconds ago.
"Wha..." B finally managed to rediscover the art of speech. "What the Hell? Who
"Hell?" A said. "No no no... not Hell at all. Not by a long shot."
"Then..." C stared at A. "It wasn't Who, was it?"
"No... No, it wasn't the Doctor." A took a deep breath. "It was... she _said_
she was..." A took another deep breath. "She said her name was Amber, and she
said she was..."
"What?" B prompted. "She said she was what?"
"She said she was a goddess." A said finally.
The four of them stared at the envelope as if it might explain the last few
Unfortunately, it couldn't.
The Supervisor answered as soon as the phone rang.
Tall, lanky guy, the Super, with a shock of grey hair. He's got this really
weird offset eye which looks like it's always moving - just when you think it's
focused, it's off again. Looks like he saw one too many Johnny Cash gigs - black
shirt, belt, and trousers, topped off with a wide-brimmed hat.
He's even got a guitar.
"Hey, Amber! How'd it go? ...They agreed? That's great. I'll get on to Kiyone
and Mara, tell them the good news." The Supervisor allowed himself a smile. "The
kids're gonna be pleased about this. They've really been looking forward to it.
Mm-hm. Mm-hmm. Uh-huh. Everything gonna be okay for PTTV's camera crew? Yeah,
yeah, but toddlers... Yeah, exactly. ...Baby Eighth, Fitz and Ayeka, I think...
Mara's going as chaperone - well, you know what she'd do if she saw you on TV.
This way, I can warn her first. Uh-huh. Okay. Uh-huh. Yeah. We'll go over them
later, no problem. Yeah. Okay. I'll just go tell Kiyone and Mara, let them know
what we're getting in for. Yeah, should be interesting.
"Oh, and Amber?
"Yeah, you too.
"Yeah, talk to you soon."
The Supervisor beeped the phone off, smiled, and went to tell his reluctant
employees the good news.
The phone rang in the middle of Tara's meditation.
Some people say she's chubby. Me, I think she looks gorgeous as she is.
She looks to be in her early twenties, with straight brown hair that falls to
her shoulders, sleepy eyes, and a full, pouting mouth. She's got curves in all
the right places - and I _mean_ all the right places. Tends to dress like she
just escaped from a New Age clothes shop - tie-dyed dresses, peasant-style
skirts and blouses... although _some_ of her dresses...
Where was I? Oh yeah.
She answered on the third ring.
"Um... hello? Who is this? ...Amber? Is this another of Andrew's stupid jokes,
because if it is- Oh. Oh, sorry. No, no... it's just, um, Amber's the name of
the actress who played me, and, um, well... um... Um, how did you get this- oh,
right. Uh-huh, okay. Uh-huh... uh-huh... Adrics Awards... well, um, I _think_
the guys will be going, once we know more... um, if you don't mind, who-
"*Oh.* You do?
"Um... okay, it's just... well, we _do_ get evil doubles, robots, shapeshifting
primal evils... You're sure? Really? I mean... okay. Okay, I'll... I'll get in
touch with the Doctor - Buffy should have his number. Thank you. Sorry to put
you through all this, but... Thank you. Yes, that's... mm-hmm. Okay. I can,
um... I'll get in touch with the Doctor, and, um... well... I'm sorry about
this... Thank you. If it'd been me... Uh-huh... um, well, I suppose I'll see you
there. Mm-hmm. ...It was good talking to you, too. Mm-hmm. See you, then."
She put the phone down.
And sat down on her bed with a 'whump'.
What... what had just happened?
In case you were wondering, Amber _is_ a goddess - the Muse of metafiction and
folktale, to be exact.
Me, I usually call her the Boss - that's what she is, after all.
Her current form's based on Tara's: the only thing that marks her as different
are her eyes - they're a warm yellow, the colour of amber - and most people
think _those_ are contact lenses.
The body wasn't exactly her own choice, so she says.
Could have fooled me.
Wish she'd show herself off a bit more often, though - looks like she got Tara's
dress sense into the bargain.
She says she likes it - quite frankly, after a couple of million years having to
be painfully formal, it's a _relief_ to get into something comfortable and
Still haven't given up, though.
Oh, right. Where was I?
Right, the Boss thought, as she set the phone down. That's _almost_ everything
sorted out... taken care of the setup... confirmed it with the committee and the
Supervisor... managed to get my personal guest... just need to get the
Now who can I get...?