TO DIE FOR: THE FEMININE MISTAKE
PART 2: IN NO SENSE A BROAD
For every force in the Quasiverse, there exists an opposite force.
Light and dark. Good and Evil. Male and female. Yin and yang.
Abbot and Costello. Captain and Tenneille. You get the idea.
Consider, then, the concept of 'personal magnetism'. No, not
the sort of thing where spoons stick to your head, but rather
that indefineable quality that certain people possess that draws
other people to them. That odd spark within that causes ordin-
ary people to gravitate to them for friendship or sex or whatever.
Again, you get the idea.
It is not nearly so commonly written of, but there is an opposite
quality to this that certain people possess. It is a quality that
causes others to avoid them at any cost. And, no, it doesn't have
anything to do with appearance or hygiene. It is just an aura
about those people that causes some buried instinct in the human
brain to say, 'Whoa! Leave that guy alone!'
Note that many of the more villainously-inclined sorts of people
have this quality about them. One might speculate that the
mind somehow responds to subtle signals of evil intent that
radiate from these people, causing the aforementioned reaction.
Or, one could just as easily say that perhaps these people were
normal to begin with, but became evil due to constantly being
shunned by those around them. This would be the more polit-
icaly-correct way of viewing it.
Regardless, certain people possess this quality in abundance.
The Master, for instance, has an easy time getting through
crowds by turning his 'Leave me alone!' powers up a notch or
two. Number One, when male and sober, also had a fairly
strong 'Leave me alone!' aura, which he augmented by having
an abrasive personality and thuggish appearance. So, too, a
certain man drinking coffee in an outdoor cafe a few miles from
This Time Round had this quality in spades.
The waiters were terrified of him without knowing why. There
was nothing overtly threatening about the man, who was tall,
handsome, and about thirty-five. He wore a long, dark coat,
with a finely-tailored vest and shirt underneath, and black jeans.
When he ordered, he was soft-spoken, polite, and had a faint
South Carolina drawl. And, yet...
It was when he looked at you that you first got the hint that
there might be some reason behind your desire to stay away
from this man. There was something in his eyes, something
feral. When he looked at a person, it was with a similar look to
the one a jackal might give a straggling lamb. When he looked
at you, he looked like he was thinking of eating you alive.
Much to the relief of the waiters at the Nation Street Cafe, the
man was not currently looking at any of them. As a matter of
fact, his eyes were closed, which suited them just fine. His face
bore a look of mild concentration, like a man trying to remem-
ber his grocery list, and every so often he would get a nasty,
All in all, an odd way to behave in an outdoor cafe. However,
no one was brave enough to ask him about it.
That was a fortunate thing for them.
A few miles away, Number One was having yet another in a
long string of bad days.
It was the sort of bad day lots of people might have. First, there
was the astounding hangover he had awakened to. If memory
served (and memory was a particularly surly servant at this time),
he had gotten quite thoroughly drunk at the 'Round, passed out
at some point, awakened with a hangover at some other point,
then somehow made it back to his rented room and gotten drunk
all over again to blot out the hangover. This meant that he now
had to deal not only with the second hangover, but also what
was left of the first one. Not good. Especially after the aspirin
bottle proved to be not only childproof, but also hungover-adult-
proof as well.
Deciding to get some breakfast to help settle his stomach, he
had taken a walk to a downtown restaurant, where a squad of
ADF troops were also enjoying a morning meal. The ensuing
firefight resulted in:
- the expenditure of 416 rounds of 9mm ammunition on the part
of the Adric Defense Force
- the expenditure of 24 rounds of .357 ammunition on the part
of Number One
- $245,786.24 in property damage to the restaurant and surround-
ing buildings, vehicles, and furnishings
- one minor casualty, a new ADF recruit named Jason who was
knocked unconscious when Number One threw a coffee pot at
him after running out of ammunition
- a declaration of "overwhelming tactical victory over the Forces
of Darkness" by the ADF High Command
- the awarding of a Blue Star of Valor to Patrol Leader Diane
for "...courageous leadership in the face of heavy enemy fire
and thrown crockery..."
- no breakfast for Number One, as he had to set the kitchen on
fire to cover his retreat
Now, it was almost lunchtime. Number One was tired, hungry,
slightly singed, and had the Mother of All Headaches. It was a
_really_ bad time to ask him for money.
"Y'all need _how_ much?!"
Darren grinned in an attempt to keep the situation on a calm
and happy level. Sometimes, he hated being the spokesman for
his little group. Said group was currently standing a short ways
off, safely away from what they had taken to calling 'the Pickup
Truck of Doom'. "I think a mere five thousand or so would
cover things... URK!"
"Several points, Shit-for-brains," Number One growled as he
yanked the WANKER chief down by the throat. "Point one:
_never_ say 'mere' and 'five thousand dollars' in the same sen-
tence unless you're talking to a defense contractor or a Colom-
bian drug lord. Point two: there's no way in Hell that ugly-ass
car of y'all's was worth five grand. Point three: I am _not_ a
damn insurance company. You want the car replaced, call
Mutual of Idaho, or whoever was dumb enough to insure that
piece of shit." He released Darren with a contemptuous shove
and lit up a Marlboro.
Darren coughed and rubbed at his neck. He would've liked to
give the arrogant redneck a dirty look, but he didn't have nearly
enough spine. Besides, with the mood his supposed boss was
in, he could probably consider himself lucky not to have been
strangled. Instead, he decided a bit of grovelling might be in
"Oh, I understand, boss. You bet. All the way. It's just that
David didn't have any insurance--"
"Not my problem." Number One blew a smoke ring into the
"Well, no. I guess it isn't, really. It's just that, I guess you'll
have to drive us to wherever you need us from now on..."
Number One winced and rubbed at his temples. "Good point,
Shit-for-brains. Crap..." He looked down for a long moment,
lost in thought, while Darren fidgetted uncertainly. With a
deep sigh, the Cigarette-Smoking Bastard dug a piece of paper
out of his pocket and wrote out a brief note, then pulled a metal
box from under the truck seat and rummaged through it for a
while. Finally, he turned his attention back to Darren.
"Now, pay attention to me, Shit-for-brains, 'cause I'm not much
in the mood to repeat myself just now. First, take this." He
handed the WANKER a small remote control. "That will open
a PLOT hole for you that leads to a used-car dealership just out-
side of Russellville, Alabama. When you get there, ask for
Greg. When you find him, give him this." He passed Darren
the folded-up note. "You got me so far?"
"PLOT hole. Car lot. Ask for Greg. Give him the note."
"Wow," Number One muttered without a trace of sarcasm. "On
the first try, too." He handed over a bulky envelope. "In here is
$3,500 cash. Now listen close." His cigarette stabbed at the air
to punctuate his words. "You are to use this money to buy a
good used car. You are to pick a vehicle based on reliability
and practicality. Greg will help you. He owes me a big favor,
and should be able to get y'all something fair for around three
grand. Use the remaining money to insure the thing. Greg will
help you on that, too. Don't worry about a tag--"
"Why would we worry about that?"
"Right. Anyway, get the car, get the insurance, then come back
here and give me the receipts and whatever money is left. Now,
repeat that back to me."
"Uh... Greg helps us pick a car, we buy some insurance, then
give you whatever's left."
"And the receipts," Number One prodded.
"Oh, yeah! That, too."
"Close enough. Now scoot. I'm in the mood to kill something,
and I ain't seen Adric yet..."
Number One sighed and shook his head. "Why do I feel like I
just made a grave tactical error?"
In a nearby tree, a large crow watched, silent and unnoticed.
Had anyone taken a good look at it, they would have sworn the
bird was grinning.
Meanwhile, back at the Nation Street Cafe...
"Good morning, Brother Lucas," a low voice purred.
The man set down his coffee and opened his eyes. "Good morn-
ing yourself, Brother Catbert."
Across the table, a pudgy orange cat nodded pleasantly, sunlight
glinting from its glasses. "I hope you haven't been waiting long?"
"Not at all. I've just been looking in on our 'friend'. Seems he's
not a very happy camper today."
The cat smiled a sadistic, catty smirk. "Well, then. A visit from
his old pals should be just the thing to cheer him up."
Lucas chuckled and shook his head. "I've got a funny feeling
that he won't be near as happy to see us as we'll be to see him..."
Number One hummed pleasantly to himself as he unpacked his
newest toy, a German Mauser Gewehr 98 bolt-action rifle. It
was a fierce, but elegant-looking weapon from before the First
World War, designed to stop a cavalry charge by killing a
horse with a single shot. Its 8mm slugs should do a similarly
destructive job on Alzarian math nerds. He slung the weapon
on his back and set off through the woods to find a good firing
The crow watched him without commenting.
"You know, it really creeps me out when you do that," Catbert
said from the passenger seat. He and Lucas were currently
speeding down the road in Lucas's Ford Crown Victoria. Lucas
was driving, naturally, but rather unnaturally had his eyes
"Just keeping an eye on our little friend," Lucas drawled as
he turned at an intersection. "He's about to have some fun,
but I'm going to see if I can't liven things up a little..."
"Gamma Three to Base. Nothing to report in sector 88-14.
"Roger that, Gamma Three. Continue patrol. Base out."
Gamma Three, better known as ADF Trooper First Class Terry
Wayne, stuck his radio back in his belt with a bored sigh. He'd
been called in as reinforcement several days previously, and
hadn't seen the first bit of action. He would've given _anything_
to have been in the fight at the Red Rock Restaurant that morn-
ing. Instead, he'd been stuck on security detail along the road
to This Time Round since before sunrise.
He grunted and settled his Uzi into a more comfortable position
as he pushed through the underbrush. He was confident nothing
would happen today. Surely getting whipped in the morning
gun battle would have given the enemy, the one they called 'the
Cigarette-Smoking Bastard' (or just 'Bastard' for short), his fill
of action for the day. Plus, Psycho-Bitch was off somewhere
with the Doctor, so there would be no threats from that quarter.
He seriously considered taking a nap.
Ducking under a low-hanging limb, he found himself in a small
clearing. He took advantage of the open space to stretch a little.
If he decided to take that nap, this would be a good spot...
There was a noise to his right. He spun suddenly, only to find
a large crow regarding him with a rather intense expression.
"How they hanging, Mr. Crow?" he said with a chuckle. The
bird made no reply.
"If you don't care, I believe I'm gonna take a little siesta here.
Is that alright with you, Mr. Crow?" He almost yelped when the
bird solemnly shook its head.
"Weird," Terry muttered. "Way weird. Umm, is there some
reason why I _shouldn't_ rest here?" He felt kind of stupid talk-
ing to a bird, but what the Hell? Nobody else was around.
The crow looked at him for a moment, then jerked its head
toward a small hill a short distance away. The bird did this
several times, fluttering its wings slightly.
"Are you telling me to, uh, go that way?" Terry's weirdness
meter was just about pegged at this point.
The bird nodded.
Terry paused, considering. Okay, this was mondo bizarr-o. He
thought about radioing in, but discarded the idea. HQ would
laugh at a story like this, and he'd never hear the end of it. On
the other hand, if the crow _was_ leading him to something, it
might mean some action at last. Maybe even a chance to earn
He looked back to the bird, but it had flown away. He took the
safety off his Uzi and set off in the direction the bird had indi-
Lucas snickered. "This is gonna be good."
"I really wish you'd open your eyes while you drive," Catbert
Number One crouched behind a fallen oak, rifle pointed at the
road. Adric should be coming this way just any time now, and
the Bastard was keen to try out the Mauser on him. He knew,
of course, that getting blown away would be not much more
than a painful annoyance for the boy, but there was principle to
be considered, especially seeing as how Her Ladyship was un-
available for Adricide at the moment. And there was the fact
that he just _really_ needed to kill something today. Otherwise,
he'd go to sleep mad and be all tense and cranky the next day.
While he waited, he softly hummed a catchy song that had
gotten stuck in his head, Warren Tyler's 'Her Big Ass Is In
Love, Thank God It Ain't With Me'.
At this point, Number One made another in a series of grave
tactical errors that day. His headache was back full force, and
knowing that the Mauser was a ferociously loud rifle, he put on
a set of shooter's earmuffs to dampen the noise. This was some-
thing he never, _ever_ did when in the field, because it meant
that he couldn't hear, for instance, a bored ADF soldier climb-
ing up a hill following the directions a crow had given him. It
was just that his head hurt _so_ damn much, and besides, the
ADF was surely off its guard now that they'd had their great
victory in the Battle of the Red Rock Restaurant. Right?
Enter now the fourth ingredient in this bowl of chaos soup...
Adric strolled leisurely down the road, a slightly vacant express-
ion on his face.
"One of these days, I have _got_ to get a driver's license," he
thought. "I could get to work quicker if I had a car, and could
do more things and go places and impress girls and stuff."
He had a sudden vision of himself behind the wheel of a '68
GTO convertible, ultra-cool sunglasses making him look like a
young Roy Orbison. He smiled as he squinted into the distance
at the miles of open highway before him, then turned to look
fondly at the bikini-clad girl in the passenger seat, her brown
curls flying in the breeze--
Whoa! Scratch that. No way. Not _her_. Never happen. How
about, umm... Oh, yeah!
He smiled as he squinted into the distance at the miles of open
highway before him, then turned to look fondly at the bikini-
clad girl in the passenger seat, her short red hair ruffled by the
"Where to, Red?" he asked, his voice suave, a little dangerous-
sounding, and oh-so-smooth.
"I hear there's a nice nude beach south of here," the girl replied.
"Say your prayers, varmint," Number One muttered, unaware of
just how much he sounded like Yosemite Sam.
The Bastard squinted down the Mauser's barrel, taking care to
lead his target ever-so-slightly. The boy was just poking along
and seemed totally unaware of anything around him, making
him the perfect sitting Alzarian duck. His finger curled around
the trigger and--
Stopped. For some reason, something felt vaguely wrong about
this. He tried focussing through the pounding headache, analy-
zing this sudden strange reluctance to do his duty.
'Nude Beach, 20km' read the sign that the GTO blew past.
Adric, having decided to do his daydreaming properly, was now
navigating his imaginary ragtop at ludicrously unsafe speed as
he listened to the excited female chatter from the back seat. In
addition to the red-haired mystery girl, he had also picked up
Peri, the first Romana, Ryoko, and (for some strange reason
buried deep within his psyche) talk-show hostess Kathie Lee
Even within his own daydreams, he didn't feel completely safe,
and the dream-Adric kept surreptitiously scanning the skies for
signs of a Traken-piloted attack chopper and checking the
mirrors lest a curly-haired maniac in a semi overtake them.
"I should really have more control over my own daydreams," he
"Don't sweat it," Red replied, handing him a small piece of river-
fruit she was peeling. "Considering how insecure you are in
reality, I think you're doing quite well. Except... Kathie Lee
The dream-Adric shrugged sheepishly.
Up ahead, a lone figure stood at the side of the road, thumb held
out in the traditional hitchhiker's request. As they got closer, he
could make out the long chestnut curls blowing out from the pet-
"Nyssa," dream-Adric sighed.
Red snorted. "At least it's not Oprah Winfrey."
"I knew she'd show up eventually. I really _should_ be able to
control this better." He pressed down hard on the imaginary gas
pedal, and the GTO leapt ahead. In the back, the four women
whooped in delight.
They passed the solitary Trakenite doing almost 200 kph. Adric,
far more debonair than he could be in real life, gave her a smile
and a cheery wave as they flashed by. He just knew that she'd
take him out now, that this had gone on long enough, and just
wanted to appear as nonchalant as possible when doom struck.
The five women with him waved as well.
There was no trap, no ambush. As they whizzed by, Adric
caught the briefest glimpse of her face. He'd never seen such a
look of utter heartbreak on anyone's face before.
The real-world Adric shook his head.
"Why the Hell did I think up _that_? What's wrong with me?"
"What's wrong with me?" Number One snarled at himself. "Why
do I feel like I shouldn't be doing this?"
He was intensely annoyed at himself just now. Every time he
took aim at the little weasel-boy, a tiny voice in the back of his
mind urged him to stop. It felt almost like he was indebted to
the little geek for something. He wracked his brain, trying to
recall if the kid had done him any good turns lately.
"He ain't done nothing but get in my way and annoy legions of
fans around the world. I don't owe him a damn thing except a
world of hurt. Plus, there's my sacred duty, and all."
With a quick motion, he lined up the rifle, aimed, and fired before
the doubting voice could start up again.
Adric was still pondering the meaning of his daydream when the
170-grain bullet plowed into his chest. The heavy slug ripped
through his lungs and heart, was deflected by a rib, then severed
some major blood vessels on its way out. The force of impact
flung him into the roadside ditch. As his sight faded, he thought,
"They said she was gone..."
Number One watched in grim satisfaction as the boy flopped
over into the ditch. It was a good shot, and one Grandpa would
have been proud of.
But, for some strange reason, he kept hearing Adric saying,
"Pleasant dreams, Red" in his mind.
No time to worry about that, though. He swept off the earmuffs
and stood up. It was time to get moving before--
The Bastard dove aside as a hail of submachinegun bullets tore
past him. One struck the rifle and sent it spinning from his grasp,
then a searing pain gouged into his side. He landed awkwardly
in the brush, a warm stain spreading down the side of his shirt.
"I'm hit," he thought, oddly calm. "Not too badly, 'cause I can
still move." He began trying to crawl away.
"Hold it right there, you!" Terry Wayne shouted. "I've got you
Number One looked up to see a nervous-looking man in ADF
uniform pointing an Uzi at him from a few feet away.
"Shit. Okay, you got me," Number One groaned. Between the
pain in his side and the pulsating headache, it was all he could
do to speak. He very carefully sat up and raised his hands.
Overhead, a crow cawed excitedly.
"Now what?" asked Catbert as the black Ford eased to a stop
alongside a parked pickup truck.
"Now we wait," Lucas replied. "Things should reach a climax in
a few minutes..."
"On your feet, you! Keep those hands up!" Terry emphasized
his words with an upward jerk of the Uzi's muzzle. He tried to
sound tough and commanding, but the truth was that he felt like
he could faint from nervousness. He'd never actually faced a real
live enemy before, and the fact that he'd actually _shot_ someone
had his head spinning.
The man in front of him climbed unsteadily to his feet, grimacing
in pain as the bloodstain on his side slowly spread. "I did that,"
Terry thought as he tried to figure out what to do next.
He took a closer look at his prisoner. At first glance, he'd taken
the man for a teenager because of his height, which couldn't have
been over five-and-a-half feet, but now he saw that he was mis-
taken. The man was at least ten years older than that. He was
dressed in black jeans and a sleeveless gray shirt, while a pair
of mirrored sunglasses, slightly askew, concealed his eyes.
Recognition suddenly dawned.
"Hey! You're that guy! The one they call the Cigarette-Smoking
Bastard!" The prisoner's brows darkened, and he silently mouthed
the name to himself.
"I can't believe I caught the guy that's had everyone in such an
uproar," Terry went on. "Man, from the stories they tell, I had
you pictured as some kind of super-badass, not some short little
thug..." There was an audible creaking noise as Number One's
teeth began to grind together.
It occurred to Terry that he needed to do something other than
stand there talking. "Okay, now, put your hands behind your
head and don't make a move. I'm gonna call in for backup..."
"_Cigarette-Smoking_Bastard_? Cigarette-Smoking BASTARD?
It's not enough he shoots me, he's got to insult me, too? Grrr..."
Number One had discovered a wonderful thing: that when you
get angry enough, things like headaches and shallow bullet
wounds lose much of their power to incapacitate.
He slipped his hands behind his head at the ADF man's order,
growling deep in his chest as he did. He watched as the soldier
reached for his walkie-talkie, hoping and praying to whatever
gods aside from Nyssa Herself watch over the affairs of homicid-
al fanatics that the stupid jerk would make that one, tiny error...
Number One must have been in good standing with at least one
psycho divinity. When the ADFer unclipped his radio, he fum-
bled slightly, and for less than a second, his attention was on that
instead of the man he was supposedly guarding. That moment
was all it took.
With a single fluid motion, Number One snapped his arm forward,
the dagger that he kept hidden down the back of his shirt streak-
ing through the air like a bolt of black lightning. Trooper Terry
had just enough time to realize what had happened before it
struck. The ADFer went down in a heap.
Then again, perhaps Number One wasn't the only one in good
standing with the gods. As he stepped over to his fallen enemy,
hand clutched to his still-bleeding side, he saw that his throw
hadn't gone as intended. He had aimed for the man's chest, but
the dagger had gone high and a bit wild, and instead struck the
man between the eyes, hilt-first, knocking him out cold.
"Call _me_ a bastard," he grunted as he picked up the man's Uzi.
He thought briefly about shooting the unconscious man, but his
sense of honor (a warped one, but still there) rebelled at the
thought. It was one thing to kill a man in open combat, or even
from a sniping ambush, but dispatching a helpless foe was just
a little over the line. Surprisingly, his sense of meanness agreed
with his sense of honor. "Killing's too good for him," it muttered.
Number One speculatively eyed the man for a moment, then
looked at the underbrush nearby. He really needed to leave be-
fore someone showed up and get his wound attended to, but
this just couldn't be put off.
At last, he found what he wanted. He dug out a crumpled Marl-
boro and lit it as he bent to drag the man into the brush. "Cigar-
ette-Smoking Bastard, huh...?"
By the roadside, Death scooped up Adric's mortal remains with a
sigh. This was _so_ untidy, leaving bodies lying all around like
this. Couldn't these people have a little class about their murders?
Ah, well. In this line of work, you just dealt with things as they
happened. At least he didn't have to go off into the woods look-
ing for more. For just a moment, it had felt like there'd be a sec-
ond, or possibly two more, but the feeling had passed. Whatever
was going on out there must have just resulted in non-fatal casu-
Death shrugged. If there weren't corpses, it wasn't his concern.
"I WONDER WHAT'S ON 'A AND E MYSTERIES' TONIGHT?"
he wondered as he rode away.
Number One kept muttering "Cigarette-Smoking Bastard" under
his breath as he put the finishing touches on his handiwork. ADF
Trooper Terry Wayne, still out cold, was currently dressed in
only his standard-issue Adric Defense Force boxer shorts (yellow,
with blue stars) and was sitting with his back to a small tree. His
arms had been tied securely behind him with his own shirt, and
his socks made a serviceable gag. It should also be pointed out
that he was in the middle of a patch of stinging nettles, to which
his skin was already beginning to react.
Number One made the last adjustment, shifting the man's legs
just to either side of the large anthill that was mere inches from
his official ADF boxers. The Bastard smiled wickedly, then dug
his booted foot into the anthill several times, watching in satis-
faction as the insects swarmed over the nearest target. He flicked
a bit of ash contemptuously onto the luckless ADFer before wal-
"Cigarette-Smoking Bastard? Heh. Eponymous, that's me..."
"Ah," Lucas said. "Here comes the Happy Hermaphrodite now."
Number One balked when he saw the car parked alongside his
truck, debating whether to show himself, then sighed in quiet
exasperation as he realized who it was.
"Hey there, Cancer Kid!" Lucas called happily, waving. "You
look like shit!"
"Well, if it ain't that Andy Griffith-wannabe, Sherriff Lucas Buck,"
Number One hissed to no one in particular. "What the Hell do
Lucas merely gave a wounded smile in reply. "Hey, now. Is that
any way to talk to an old friend?"
"No. It's a piss-poor way to talk to a _friend_. But, what does
that have to do with _you_?"
Lucas shook his head sadly. "You wound me..."
"I'd like to." Number One looked around. "And where's that
four-eyed little furball you always associate with? Where there's
shit, there's stink, and where there's Number Six, Number Five
can't be far off."
"Oh, I'm here," Catbert said from the Ford's window. "And, I
must say, your attitude leaves something to be desired today."
Number One was gingerly examining his wound. It turned out
to be a long, but shallow gouge along his left side. Ugly and
painful, but far from dangerous. Still, a wound was a wound,
and that, coupled with his headache and the generally sorry way
his day had gone thus far served to make him even more foul-
tempered than usual.
"Don't like my attitude? Tough shit. You ain't the boss of me."
"Oh, but we _are_, now," Catbert purred as Lucas held out an
"...mmmph... ...mmph... mmmmph...," Terry Wayne moaned
around a mouthful of sock. His mind was still mostly unconsci-
ous, but was regaining its faculties bit by bit.
"...ugghmmph...," he said as he became aware of the dry, almost
cottony feel of his mouth. A few tests by his nervous system
revealed that this was apparently due to the presence of a mouth-
ful of cotton. One mystery explained.
He tried moving an arm to remove whatever it was in there, only
to discover that his arms appeared to be bound in some way. This
bit of info brought a querulous "mmmph" from him.
Other senses began reporting in. His skin announced that it
was suffering from a terrible all-over burning sting. "Mmmph!"
As he was processing this news, a new sensation made itself
known: a curious, crawly tingle from the area of his groin. At
this point, his eyes decided they were back online, so he slowly
opened them and looked down.
Oh, that would explain it. His yellow-with-blue-stars ADF boxer
shorts were covered with ants...
"MMMPPHH!! MMMMMPPPPHH!!! MMMPPPHHMMPH!!!"
It was a true shame that no one was watching Number One via
thermal imaging scope as he read the letter from He-Who-Is-
At-This-Point. The ADF had such equipment, but the only one
of their agents anywhere nearby was... otherwise occupied. It
really was a shame, though, because the brilliant orange and yel-
low heat flares that could be seen emanating from the Bastard's
person through such equipment were really a sight to behold.
However, as has been stated, no one saw them. Such is the
tragedy of art.
The letter read:
My dear and most loyal Brother,
Due to the unfortunate nature of recent events in your district,
I have decided to take a personal hand in managing the situat-
ion there. I have formulated a plan whereby events may be
brought back under our control, and have briefed Numbers Five
and Six in all its particulars. They are to assume control of all
operations in your area until further notice, and you are to co-
operate with them to the best of your abilities. They are backed
by my full authority, and any orders they may give are to be tak-
en as if issued by me personally.
Brothers Five and Six will brief you on the planned operation,
codenamed 'Cupid's Arrow'. Your obedience and cooperation
in this matter are essential.
Number One crumpled the letter and looked at his two new bosses.
"I'm in Hell now, ain't I?" he asked in a dull voice.
Wearing identical grins, the man and cat nodded together.
"Excuse me. Could you tell me where we could find Greg?"
"That'd be me," Greg McCaslin replied without looking up from
the carburetor he was re-assembling. Ordinarily, he was more
polite than that to potential customers at F and M Auto Sales, but
whoever this person was sounded like a Yankee, and he wasn't
the sort of man to concern himself about being polite to Yankees.
It wasn't as if they deserved it, or would even recognize it, or
"Umm, we were wondering if--"
"Be with you in a minute," Greg growled, still not looking at
"A minute, I said. Can't y'all see I'm in the middle of somethin'?"
Damn Yankees. Come in here like they own the damn place.
Ought to just toss 'em out on their asses. He didn't need their
kind's business, anyway. Let 'em go back to New York, or Sas-
katchewan, or wherever it was Yankees came from. They didn't
belong here in Alabama anyway...
"I hope Number One isn't waiting up for us," a different Yankee
said. Greg felt his guts turn to icewater at the mention of That
Certain Person, and he dropped his tools so fast that they bounced
off the workbench and onto the floor. He was too nervous now to
"Did you... say 'Number One'?" he asked in a small voice.
Greg swallowed loudly as sweat began to bead up on his forehead.
"Short guy?" he asked, still not looking up. "Chain-smokes and
insults people all the time?"
"Yep," a third, young-sounding voice said. "He's our boss!"
Greg turned to face them, putting on his best used-car-salesman
smile. There were four of them, he saw: a big, bearded goon; a
short, fat kid with a bad haircut; a dopey-looking guy with long
hair; and a tall, starved-looking guy.
"I, ah, apologize for bein' so rude just now," he said as he wiped
his hands on a rag. "I thought y'all was just... uh, never mind.
I'm Greg McCaslin, owner of F and M Auto Sales. What can I
help you fine gentlemen with?"
Without being invited to, Catbert and Lucas Buck made them-
selves at home in Number One's tiny apartment. Number One
hadn't really done much to personalize the place. The only dis-
tinctive items that marked the room as his were a small stack of
books (including Clausewitz's _On War_, Musashi's _Book of
Five Rings_, a biography of George Washington, a 'Galaxy Ex-
press 999' manga, _The 1997 International Guide to Small Arms_,
and the Target novelization of 'Arc of Infinity') and a pair of
small framed portraits depicting the Bastard's two patron saints:
Nyssa of Traken and General Nathan Bedford Forrest.
"Make yourselves comfortable," Number One said sourly, noting
that they already had, "while I get this bullet furrow tended to."
Lucas gave the bloody streak an appraising look as Number One
opened his shirt. "You know," he said, "I can fix that for you,
and you can pay me back later..."
Number One barked a short, ugly laugh. "No thanks. I saw
'Damned If You Don't'. I know how you go about collecting on
The Sherriff's face fell slightly. "Wash Sutpen deserved to get
a little payback for what happened. And, besides, those were
people who reneged on their deals," he said. "I know I won't
have that problem with you."
Number One was already swiping gingerly at his gouged side
with a wet cloth. "Damn right you won't, 'cause I ain't getting
myself indebted to you. I'd sooner bleed to death."
Lucas scowled slightly, then resumed his habitual mocking smile.
"A freebie, then. But only because your girl half is so adorable."
He closed his eyes for a moment, and when they opened again,
the pain in Number One's side was gone, and the headache, too.
When he swiped the dried blood away from the bullet wound,
there was only a faint scar, as if he'd been shot years ago instead
of a mere hour. Yet, at the same time, there was a feeling that
could only be described as 'dirty'. He found himself faintly revol-
ted, and avoided touching the healed wound.
"A freebie?" Number One asked skeptically.
From somewhere, Lucas produced a small water pistol. Before
Number One could react, the Sherriff squirted him in the face,
the cold water instantly triggering his curse and turning him into
a pretty, buxom girl with coppery red hair.
"Sure, it's a freebie," Lucas replied to the sputtering girl. "After
all, we need you looking your best for Operation Cupid's Arrow.
Nice tits, by the way," he added, gesturing at her open shirt.
"What do you mean by that?" she asked suspiciously as she hur-
riedly buttoned the ruined garment.
"I mean they're really round and perky-looking--"
"Not _that_, you perverted son-of-a-bitch!" Number One shouted.
"I meant the first part! What's this 'Cupid's Arrow' business, any-
way, and why do I feel like I'm going to regret asking?"
"She _blushed_," Lucas thought. "Oh, this is just _too_ good!"
Aloud, though, he just said, "Hold on a minute." He pulled out
a coin and flipped it into the air, then caught it and covered it on
his wrist without looking at it.
"Tails," Catbert said.
Lucas uncovered the coin, glanced at it, and bowed deferentially
to the cat, who returned the gesture graciously before leaping on-
to the bed.
"Operation Cupid's Arrow," began the feline, "is a plan aimed at
striking for the very heart -- if you will excuse the pun -- of our
difficulties with Adric and his followers. Its premise is simple:
the best way to prevent Adric's attentions from being focussed
on Our Lady is to focus them somewhere else. Ideally, on
someone who is in our control. That is where you come in..."
"I _so_ don't like where this is heading," Number One muttered
"We get Adric's attentions fixated on your girl-form, to the ends
that: one, there is less likelihood of of an attempted liaison with
Our Lady; two, an obstacle will be in place to foil any such
attempts that may be made; three, we will have an ear in the
enemy camp; four, hopefully we can increase the friction be-
tween Adric and Our Lady."
"'Fixate Adric's attentions,' you say. What, exactly, do you mean
by that?" the redhead asked.
"Simply put, you seduce him," Lucas said, not even trying to
keep the devilish smile off his face.
"Ah," she replied evenly. "I thought that's what you meant. Ex-
cuse me for a minute, would you?" Number One stepped into
the bathroom and shut the door. For the next several minutes,
the sounds of copious vomiting could be heard from within.
Catbert glanced at Lucas. "She took that better than I expected,"
Greg read the note the Yankees had given him and actually felt a
sense of relief wash over him. Sure, it was from the one person
he never, ever wanted to hear from. And, sure, it meant having
to do some favors and perhaps lose some money. And, sure, it
even meant having to be civil to 'people of Northern birth'. But,
things could have been so much worse. The little maniac could
have turned up in person, a thought that featured in the night-
mares of a sizeable fraction of the Tri-County area's population.
(A visit from Number One was considered by most locals as the
Third Worst Possible Event of any given year, being narrowly
beaten out by 'Multiple F-5 Tornado Storm Devastates Area' and
'Auburn Wins the Iron Bowl by Twenty-Point Margin'.) Or, he
might have been asking for (demanding) something illegal or
But, all he had to do was sell these boys a car. Specifically, it
had to be a large, reliable, practical, and reasonably inconspicu-
ous car, and it had to cost less than $3000. There were several
suitable cars on the lot, albeit priced rather higher than that.
This, however, would not be a problem. Greg was willing to
take virtually any loss on the deal if it meant keeping You-Know-
Who from coming around.
"Well, boys," he said, "let's see what we can come up with."
He led the four out onto the lot, scanning over his inventory.
"Let's see... he says to fix y'all up with something big and reliable.
I know! How about this one here?" Greg gestured at a white
Toyota he'd recently gotten in. "It's only about eight years old,
and in good shape..."
The four looked at one another, and the long-haired one, who'd
introduced himself as Darren, shook his head. "I dunno... It just
"Well... okay, then. How about this nice '88 Crown Victoria. It's
only had one owner, got a nice stereo..."
Darren shook his head again. "No, thanks. It's nice, but it's...
"Gonna be a _long_ day," Greg sighed inwardly as he led them
to another car.
With some effort, Number One was convinced to come out of the
"No. No. No. No," she kept muttering.
"Please try to see reason," Catbert purred. "Cupid's Arrow is our
best chance of success."
"No. No. No..."
"Relax, Catbert," Lucas interrupted. He gave the redhead a sym-
pathetic-looking glance that instantly put her on her guard. "If
he/she doesn't want to, he/she doesn't have to do it."
Number One bristled at the 'he/she' part, but her 'No's lost a bit
of their force.
"Number One has the right to refuse an assignment, if that's
what he/she wants to do," Lucas continued. "Of course, that
will cause him/her to lose all titles and position within the Broth-
erhood, and be considered a coward and traitor for ever after..."
Number One looked thoughtful.
"And, of course, he/she would be banished from all realms where
we have a presence, on pain of Death by Shatner Movie if he/she
She appeared to be contemplating the fugitive's life.
Lucas smiled, knowing he was getting close. "And, it goes
without saying that he/she would lose his/her 401k account and
retirement package along with the dental insurance, Christmas
bonus, and complementary Brethren of Nyssa tote bag..."
Not much further, now, by the way her fists were clenching and
unclenching at her sides. Lucas decided to toss out his trump
card. "All that is, of course, insignificant next to the way he/she
would be betraying poor Nyssa. Here She is, placing Her trust in
us, Her servants, only to be sold out just because Number One is
too _weak_ to do this one, simple task. But, then, I always knew
that he/she wasn't _man_ enough to hold the sort of rank he/she
holds. I mean, _held_." Lucas let the words hang as Catbert
gave a catty sneer.
"Fine!" the part-time girl shouted. "I'll do it, all right? Just
knock it off with the guilt-trip. And cut that 'he/she' crap while
you're at it. I'm a _guy_!"
Lucas arched an eyebrow. "Are you? Well, tell me then. Is it
hanging to the right or left at the moment?" He ducked as a
dainty fist swished just past his face.
Number One snatched up her keys with a snarled curse. "I'll go
down there right now and find the geek and put the moves on
"No," Catbert said simply.
"...but don't be surprised if he doesn't... Huh? What do you
"I mean, no, you aren't going out there like that."
"What are you? My Dad?"
The cat sighed. "Take a look at yourself."
Number One looked into a convenient mirror. "Okay, so I need
to comb my hair..."
"You're a bloody, muddy, ragged mess," the cat said with a cer-
tain pleasure. "There are leaves stuck to you, and you're dressed
like a flood victim."
"He means you look like shit," Lucas added helpfully.
"Okay, I'll take a bath and change clothes..."
"You'll do more than that," Catbert insisted. "After you get
cleaned up, we're going downtown to get you some proper attire,
and then back here for your lessons."
"Attire? Lessons?" Number One asked bleakly.
"Yup," nodded Lucas. "You're going to learn how to look and
act like a real girl."
"Mmm... No. Sorry, but it's just not the right car for us."
Greg McCaslin was an increasingly miserable man. He had
shown the WANKERs nearly every car on the lot, and he'd had
them turn down each one. The exasperating part was that they
couldn't say what it was they found unsuitable about each one,
beyond telling him that the cars were just 'not right'.
"Well, all I have left are some mini-vans I could show you..."
"Hey! Guys! I think I've found it!" Eric ran over to the group,
almost giddy with excitement. "I've found our car!"
They followed him around behind the office, to where Greg kept
the cars that he didn't want seen on his lot. Eric proudly pointed
out one particular vehicle.
"Huh?" Greg asked. "You mean that '82 Oldsmobile?"
"It's perfect!" Darren exclaimed, eyes alight.
"I'm in love!" was Tyson's comment.
Greg was more confused than ever. "What makes that one so
much better than all those others?"
"It's an 'Omega'," Darren said, as if talking to an idiot child.
"You know. Omega. As in, 'Three Doctors' and 'Arc of Infinity'."
Greg looked at him as if he were speaking in tongues.
"Never mind," Darren said with a dismissive wave. "We'll take
"But, it's not for sale," Greg said, which was true. The car was
unsellable, being that it was missing a hood (a piece of plywood
held on by tie-down straps served in its place), had four doors
in four different colors (faded green, splotchy white, rust, and
primer gray), was missing its taillights, had a pair of pliers for a
gear-shift, was running on approximately three of its eight cyl-
inders, and had a possum skeleton irrevocably wedged in the
front grille. Greg had given its previous owner $30 in trade-in
value on it, which was its approximate worth as scrap metal plus
the value of the loose change and old 'Penthouse' magazines
under the seats. Of course, even in mint condition, an '82
Omega could be charitably called 'aesthetically challenged', or
"Ah, come on, now," Darren said slyly. "Everything has its
price. Even something you're this attached to. Would you
take thirty-five for it?"
"Thirty-five dollars?" Greg asked.
"Thirty-five hundred," Darren replied. "I'm sorry, but that's as
high as we can go."
"Welcome to A Passion for Fashion! What can I-- Hey, you're
the girl who caught that panty thief!" Julia the saleslady smiled
as she remembered what they had done to that shrivelled old
pervert. "What can I help you with today?"
The redhead twisted her toes nervously. "I need... ah... that is..."
"She needs a whole new wardrobe," Lucas interjected smoothly.
"She has a hot date tonight and needs to look her best." Number
One shot him a look that could have withered a Wolf-weed.
"I see," Julia said knowingly. "And you must be her father, then."
Lucas made a strangled noise, but Number One cut in before he
could say anything.
"That's right," she said in a sickeningly sweet and girly voice.
"Isn't Daddy just so totally _great_ to take me shopping like this?"
She latched onto Lucas's arm, at the same time managing to give
it a painful twist.
Lucas's eyes widened in pain, but he managed a slightly forced
smile. He disengaged from the redhead and pulled her into a
fatherly hug, at the same time stomping on her toes. "Only the
best for my little girl!" he hissed through gritted teeth.
The two glared at one another over predatory smiles.
"Can't you just feel the love?" Catbert deadpanned to the sales-
lady, but she was already sorting through a rack of dresses.
"Here we go!" she called out. "How about you try this one first?"
She held out something which could be described only by lots of
synonyms for 'frilly' and 'pink'.
Number One went pale and tried to step back, but Lucas shoved
her in the woman's direction. "I turn her over to your obviously
capable hands," the Sherriff said with a flourish. "Make her look
like a real girl should. Money is no object, either." He held out
a small plastic card that said, 'American Express Neutronium
Card', prompting a delighted squeal from Saleslady Julia. In a
flurry of rapid motion that would have done Jackie Chan proud,
the woman snatched an armload of clothes off the racks with one
hand, grabbed the horrified redhead with the other, and hauled
both off toward the dressing rooms.
On an unlikely battlefield, a terrible struggle was being waged.
Its outcome could well determine the destiny of... well... of Greg
All through his mind, the car-dealer's sense of avarice warred
with his sense of self-preservation, wreaking untold havoc on his
"These idiots are offering me a hundred times what this car is
worth! Cash money that the government will never have to
know about! This is a car-dealer's dream come true!" Thus
Self-preservation replied: "So? You read You-Know-Who's
explicit instructions. If you rip these dorks off, there's no telling
what he might do. If we're lucky, he might merely tell all the
dirty little secrets he knows about, and we'll just end up divorced,
broke, and in jail. If we're unlucky, we might end up as fertilizer."
Avarice: "But, I'm not really ripping anybody off. I've offered
them every car on the lot, and that's the one they want. The cus-
tomer is always right."
Self-preservation: "And just how likely is it that _he_ will see
things that way?"
Avarice: "Que sera sera. We're talking about an 11,500% tax-
free profit margin..."
And so on.
Eventually, though, Greg's avarice won out. He _was_ a used-
car dealer, after all. However, he did do something to give him-
self a measure of protection.
"Sign here, Mr. Ullman."
The hastily-typed paper basically stated that, in exchange for
$3,500 cash, these four could take any vehicle off the lot that
they chose, regardless of price. So, theoretically, they could
have changed their minds and made off with the $22,000 Chevy
Suburban that was the pride of the lot. But, by now, Greg
understood what he was dealing with.
More papers were signed, a dog-eared title changed hands, and
keys were located.
By the time all was said and done, Greg felt so good about the
whole deal that he even helped the foursome push the car to get
"Sounds a little rough, don't you think?" David asked as he
waved greasy smoke out of his face. Actually, the engine sound-
ed like someone vigorously shaking a garbage can with several
pieces of broken concrete, a horseshoe, and a large, angry rodent
"Ah, all these old muscle cars have a hit to their engines,"
Darren said nonchalantly from the driver's seat. "You can't
worry about stuff like that." He grabbed the pliers, shifted
into Drive, and the car wheezed arthritically forward. "Yes!"
he shouted, waving a fist. "We are the Road Warriors!"
Greg watched the Road Warriors depart, then locked up, put out
the 'CLOSED' sign, and headed for home lest his dream come to
an abrupt end.
"Okay! Time to see your little Princess!" Julia flashed Lucas
and Catbert a 1000-Watt smile and flung open the dressing-room
No one came out.
With a sigh, Julia marched back in and the sounds of much
pushing and tugging could be heard. Directly, she came back
out, this time dragging Number One by the wrist.
"Well, what do you think?" the saleslady asked. "You said to
make her look like a real girl should, so..."
There was a moment of stunned silence, followed by gales of
hysterical laughter. Catbert simply fell over and lay helplessly
giggling on his stomach, while Lucas, teary-eyed, leaned on the
counter and banged his fist over and over.
It was... a new look for Number One. The dress was nightmar-
ishly pink, had ruffles on top of frills on top of ruffles, and had
the look of something one might put on a three-year old for her
birthday party. A big, pink bow was tied into her hair, and she
tottered unsteadily atop three-inch heels, which were equally
pink. The only thing not pink was her face, which was as red as
"Someone, please take my life," she murmurred to the ceiling.
"Oh, my daughter! Heehee... Don't you... hahahaha... Don't
y-you... whahahahaha... look ado--heeheehee--dorable? WHA
HAHAHA!!" Number One just glared at him.
Catbert snorted back his laughter long enough to point and cry
out, "Shirley Temple has risen from the grave!" which sent
Lucas back over the edge again.
"That's it," Number One growled. "Now, you die." With a fear-
some scowl, she stalked toward the helplessly laughing pair to
inflict some grievous bodily harm. Or rather, she intended to.
What actually happened, though, was that she managed two
wobbly steps in the high heels, lost her balance, and fell uncere-
moniously on her backside.
Lucas took one look and fell to the floor as well, holding his
stomach and practically screaming out laughter, while Catbert
appeared to have gone into convulsions of some sort.
Julia sniffed. "Not _quite_ the reaction I was hoping for. Well,
then. Let's try something different." She grabbed the redhead
again, who this time needed no prodding to scramble back into
the dressing room.
The cat looked at Lucas and weakly muttered, "I think I wet my-
Astonishingly enough, the car that the WANKERs had dubbed
'Lord Omega' managed to run the entire three miles to the PLOT
hole activation point. Although, 'run' wasn't the right word for
it. If 'running' is what an ordinary car does, then what Lord
Omega did would more accurately be depicted by the image of
an asthmatic, one-legged octogenarian crawling through a hedge
while suffering repeated epileptic seizures in the aftermath of
having sniffed a large quantity of airplane glue. It was that path-
"What a cool car!" Eric exclaimed as he dug yet another issue of
'Penthouse' from under the seat.
"It's not my TAURDUS," David sniffed, "but it'll do."
Darren braked to a jerky halt so that Tyson could open the PLOT
hole, and a horrendous screeching of bare brake pads filled the
"Wow!" shouted Darren. "It even _sounds_ like a TARDIS!"
"Still," Tyson muttered uncertainly, "as cool as this car is, I can't
help but feel like we've neglected something."
"No sweat," Darren replied. "I know just what you're talking
about, and I'm already planning on taking care of it..."
Nietzsche once said: "The thought of suicide is a great source
of comfort: with it a calm passage is to be made across many a
bad night." It also eased the passage across an afternoon spent
trying on dresses in a women's boutique.
"A quick, honorable end," Number One thought to herself as
Julia shoved her into outfit after outfit. "A warrior's death. A
fast and merciful bullet or knife. I don't even have to do it my-
self. I could make a one-man attack on the ADF command post,
or challenge Francois to a duel, or go with the WANKERs to
Julia stepped back to eye the white sundress she currently had
the redhead in. She gave it a critical look, then began shaking
her head as she unfastened it again. "Dash it all! That's not
right, either. But, I'm not giving up! Somewhere, there is an
outfit that will do the job!"
Apparently, Julia had been as upset as Number One about Lucas
and Catbert's reactions to her first attempt, and was taking it as a
personal challenge to put the girl in something that would 'blow
them away'. So far, she had stuck her in dresses, pantsuits, cul-
ottes, skirts, and a sailor fuku, each of which had been examined
and then promptly removed by the increasingly determined sales-
lady. They hadn't left the dressing-room at all since the first
For now, Julia paused and rubbed at her chin thoughtfully.
"Odd," she half-mumbled. "The clothes look fine, and you look
fine, but, for some reason the clothes look wrong _on_ you...
Hmmm... I think it's because you don't feel at ease in them..."
Number One left off her thoughts of a glorious death long en-
ough to think, "You got _that_ right, sister," before lapsing back
into her daydreams of dignified self-destruction.
"We need to suit the clothes to your specific personality in order
to bring this off," the saleslady continued thoughtfully. "Tell me.
What sorts of things do you enjoy?"
Aheh heh. "Well..."
"Okay, we're ready now!"
"Took you long enough," Lucas growled to the unfazed sales-
lady, who, like all women, was immune to male irritation over
time spent in a boutique. Julia stepped away from the door, and
with a flourish motioned out the somewhat spaced-out redhead.
There was a moment of stunned silence...
...which led to another moment of stunned silence.
"This _must_ be awful, if they can't even get enough wind to
laugh yet," Number One thought. She looked up at them.
Catbert was swiping a paw at his glasses, which had fogged
over for some mysterious reason. His tail stood out stiff behind
him, a furry exclamation-point. Lucas stood rock-still, mouth
hanging open and eyes opened so wide it looked as if he'd just
shot up a mixture of amphetamines and coffee dissolved in Jolt
cola. Very slowly, he brought up one hand and began tugging at
The silence was deafening.
"Now, _that_," said Julia, "is the sort of reaction I wanted."
Number One had been in her own bloodstained little world for
most of the last hour, and had long since stopped paying any
attention to the outfits (how humiliating!) the woman had been
sticking her in. Now, that changed as she turned to look at her-
self in the mirror.
"Damn," she whispered.
Being stuck with a curse that meant growing a uterus every time
it rained was no joy, especially for someone who was as much a
testosterone-gushing, double-Y-chromosome, sexist, Neanderthal,
good-ol'-boy roughneck as Number One. On the other hand, if
he _had_ to have a female body half the time...
"Damn," she whispered again. "I'm... a _babe_."
And she was, too. The simple black dress clung in all the right
places and swirled where it needed to. The neckline plunged
down in a long, rounded swoop that showed off quite an expanse
of C-cup cleavage, while the hem showed most of her smooth
calves. A loose belt of metal rings circled her waist, adding a
flash of contrast, while a pair of low-heeled slouch boots comp-
leted the picture. Up until now, Number One hadn't paid much
attention to how his female side looked, although he'd been
aware in a detached sort of way that the face and body were att-
ractive. But the sight in the mirror now really slammed home
just _how_ pretty she was.
"Wow," she thought. "I look exactly like the kind of girls I usu-
ally make passes at..." She did a little twirl, appreciating the
Lucas apparently did, too, judging by the thin string of drool that
trailed, unnoticed, from his chin. Catbert found his voice, and
said shakily to Julia, "I think you may be onto something."
Number One kept glancing at herself in the mirror as the saleslady
began picking out other items: a fringed leather jacket; a sleeve-
less midriff shirt; some denim skirts. As she was marched back
into the dressing room, a thought occurred to her...
"I wonder if lusting after your own female half would be consid-
ered incest or Narcissism?"
"Now Lord Omega is ready for action!"
Darren stepped away from the car and gestured at it with an im-
perious sweep of his arm. A few other people in the gas station's
parking lot turned to see what the fuss was about, many pointing
and snickering at the pathetically wheezing Oldsmobile.
"Yep. That'll do it."
The four nodded in solemn affirmation of the moment, which
was, to them, akin to the christening of a navy ship. Lord Om-
ega had its name, and now this was the equivalent of breaking
the champagne bottle on the bow. With proud eyes, they gazed
upon the emblem firmly affixed to the back bumper: 'MY OTHER
CAR IS A TARDIS'.
It was perhaps Eric who best summed up that moment in
WANKER history with the immortal words he uttered at that
"Damn, it's cool to be us!"
There had actually been times in Number One's life when she felt
weirder than she did while hanging up a closet full of dresses and
skirts and... ahem... dainties. As oddly warped as that felt, it
really couldn't compare with the henhouse incident, or some of
the events during the Brethren's Holy Spam Jihad. But those are
stories for another time.
"All right. What's next on the agenda?" she asked as she put
away the last of the clothes and fired up a cigarette. Seconds lat-
er, the Marlboro was snatched out of her mouth.
"Uh-uh," Lucas chided, crushing out the cigarette. "Ladies don't
smoke. It's unattractive."
"So?" Number One snarled back. "I ain't no lady." She sat down
"That's what we're going to remedy," said Catbert. "We are go-
ing to teach you to act like a proper woman, even if it kills you."
Lucas nodded. "And the first lesson is: don't sit like that. I
mean, sure, it's a nice view with that short dress and all, but..."
With a small 'eek', Number One snapped her legs shut and sat
"Damn it!" she thought. "Did I really just go 'eek'? This damn
body is startin' to get to me." Pondering this, she was too dist-
racted to notice Catbert snapping a small cuff onto her left wrist.
"Huh? What the Hell's this?" she asked. The device consisted
of a narrow metal band on her wrist with two wires leading to a
box with a vaguely sinister red button on it. Catbert held the box
in one paw, with the other poised over the button.
"What we're going to do," the cat explained, "is use a little sci-
ence to speed up the learning process. We will walk you through
various scenarios, and every time you do something unladylike,
I'll press this button. Just consider it a training aid." He chuck-
led in a way that made Number One's skin crawl like a snake on
Lucas stepped in front of her, his hands hidden behind his back.
"Okay, Missy," he said, prompting a growl from the half-girl,
"this will be your first test--" With a sudden motion, he whipped
his hands from behind his back, a photo of Adric held up to her
Lucas watched the picture fly into the wall, propelled there by
the redhead's fist. He shook his head in mock sadness. "Ooh.
Improper reaction, I'm afraid. If you would, please, Brother Cat-
bert?" The cat nodded and pressed the button.
Number One grunted in pain as the voltage hit, sending her arm
muscles into spasms. She thrashed there for a moment, until the
cat at last let off the button.
"Damn you, you flea-bitten sack of shit--"
Lucas 'tsked' and waggled his finger at her. "Such language!
Most unladylike, eh Catbert?"
"Aaargh! Damn it--"
And so on...
"Well, we know for sure who shot you now," Doug said as he sat
down at the bar.
Adric set out two pints for Doug and Diane and went back to
wiping glasses as he talked. "You mean it wasn't Nyssa?"
Doug downed most of his pint in one long gulp before replying.
"No, not her. She's supposed to be gone, anyway. No, it was
that guy we were telling you about..."
"The one you call 'the Bastard'?"
"That's him," Diane nodded. "We found one of our guys stripped,
covered with ants, and tied to a tree in a patch of nettles not too
far from where you were shot." The two ADF troopers shuddered
at the memory of finding poor Terry Wayne. At least the ADF's
excellent insurance would take care of him, and he'd even receive
his pay during his stay at Dr. Wahnwitzkopf's Home for the Ex-
ceedingly Twitchy, a stay that would likely be fairly long. "Once
he was sort of coherent again, he told us he ran into the Bastard
right after you were shot, and almost caught him for us." She
shrugged. "We'll get him next time, though."
"Riiiight," Adric sighed. This was all starting to get so old. He
knew that the ADF meant well, and he knew that Ryoko and the
guys did, too. But they only seemed to make a bad situation
worse, dragging him into things he had no business in. He
sometimes wondered if he would have a fraction of these prob-
lems if he were on his own. "Their intentions are good," he kept
reminding himself, but he also knew what the road to Hell was
paved with, or at least, what the road to the Mortality Deferment
Office was paved with. His thoughts were suddenly interrupted
by a very unexpected arrival.
"Screwdriver, Adric. No, make that two, and make 'em quick."
"Tegan?" he asked as he began mixing. "But, I thought you
were gone off with the Doctor and Ny-- the Loony?"
"Yeah, well, I'm not now. Didn't I say to hurry?"
Adric's jaw tightened, and he mixed up the drinks in silence,
then wordlessly set them in front of her. She snatched up one
and downed a significant part of it in a single gulp. This seemed
to settle her down a bit. She took a deep breath and then, to
Adric's surprise, apologized.
"Look, Adric, I'm sorry I was so snappy just now. I'm just...
keyed-up, is all." He took a closer look, and realized that Tegan
looked more nervous than he had ever seen her.
"That's okay," he said, leaning on the bar. "What's the matter?"
Ordinarily, Adric ws probably the last person in the Quasiverse
Tegan would even dream of sharing her problems with. But
right now, all she really needed was an ear to listen, any ear.
"It's... it's this damn fanfic adventure we're doing!"
"What about it?"
Tegan looked down at the bartop for a long moment before an-
swering. When she finally spoke, it was in a small, frightened
voice. "I'm scared," she said at last. "I'm afraid of what might
Adric was taken aback by this admission, as were Doug and Di,
who were listening in. This was not at all like the brash, confid-
ent woman Tegan usually was. Something must be very wrong
to have put her in such a state that she would admit to her fear
in front of others.
It was an awkward moment. Tegan seemed like she could either
burst into tears or shouting at any moment. It was obvious, even
to someone as famously obtuse as Adric, that something needed
to be done right now. He even knew what it was that needed do-
ing. But, that wasn't the sort of thing he did. It wasn't supposed
to be in his personality to do that sort of thing. Someone else
should do it. Someone good at that sort of thing, like the Doctor
or even Harry...
But no one did it.
"Blast!" he thought. "Where are they when you need them? I
can't do this. Diane should, then. But, she isn't going to. Damn.
I'm no good at this. I'm just the awkward, self-absorbed math
nerd. And, even if I do it, she won't like it coming from me.
She'll probably swat me into the wall or something. Best not to
get involved." He took another look at the Australian woman,
and saw how pale she looked, and how her breath was coming
in uneven hitches that denoted an outburst not far away. With
an inward sigh, he reversed his decision and did what he knew
was the right thing.
Carefully, he reached out and took her hands in his, patting them
slightly. "There, there, Tegan," he said in a voice that was far
gentler than he thought he could manage. "It'll be okay. Why
don't you tell me about it and get it off your chest?" She jerked
a little at his touch, and he thought, "Well, here comes the explo-
sion. At least being mad at me will take her mind off things."
The explosion didn't come. Instead, she squeezed his hands
tightly for a long moment until their shaking stopped, then gen-
tly disengaged and smoothed out her skirt. When she looked
back up, she gave him a slightly shaky smile. She took a deep
breath to gather herself, then said something he'd never heard
her say before. "Thank you, Adric."
Somewhat startled by her atypical reaction, Adric fumbled a little
before managing to say, "No problem, Tegan. If... you need to
talk about it, I'm right here and willing to listen."
Doug and Di exchanged an odd look, which Adric ignored.
"I mean, I heard that this adventure of yours was supposed to
be dangerous, but this isn't like you," he said.
"It _is_ dangerous," Tegan replied. "We've just been doing the
preliminary setup scenes in the TARDIS. Slice-of-life, backstory
kind of thing. In a couple of hours, we get on with the real thing."
She paused to gulp down the remains of her Screwdriver and
start on the other. "I had a look at the plot outline. It's something
to do with gunrunners and revolutionaries and all kinds of spy
stuff. Lots of bad guys. Lots of... killing and stuff."
Adric nodded, and tried to put a good spin on it. "Well, at least
you know you'll make it through okay," he said with a cheerfull-
ness he didn't feel. "After all, you and... her have to be in shape
for 'Mawdryn Undead', right? You already know how it'll turn
"Two words for you, Adric," Tegan said bitterly. "'Alternate
Adric frowned, as did Ace who was sitting a few seats down the
bar. She in particular knew how bad alternate timeline stories
could get. Ordinarily, appearing in a fanfic was no big sweat.
The stories fit into continuity, so you knew roughly how things
would end up. After all, you had to be intact for the following
stories. But, with an alternate timeline, all bets were off. Any-
thing at all could happen, good or bad. Torture, maiming, and
death were all distinct possibilities. Even though, with the Mor-
tality Deferment Office, death wouldn't be permanent, it was still
_death_, as Adric could so-readily attest.
Adric had a sudden mental image of Nyssa being shot down
and dying in the street. "Poetic justice," he tried to tell himself,
but a hard, cold knot formed in his stomach.
Tegan polished off the second Screwdriver and continued. "Ac-
cording to the backstory we did, this timeline started when --
don't ask why, 'cause I don't know -- Turlough stayed behind on
Terminus instead of Nyssa. This one we're doing now is sup-
posed to be between 'Terminus' and 'Enlightenment'." She shook
her head wearily.
"The things people come up with," Adric said wonderingly.
"I've got a bad feeling about this one," Tegan sighed. "A bad,
bad feeling. Like a premonition..."
Before Adric could respond, the door was opened and a familiar,
scowling figure walked in. Doug and Di reflexively reached for
their guns as Nyssa walked up to the bar, but stopped at a gesture
from Adric. The Traken girl regarded them all with an imperious
sneer that somehow seemed a bit less forceful than normal.
"Tegan," she said, "the Doctor says it's time to go now."
"Right," the Aussie replied, trying to sound braver than she felt,
"Let me just pay up, here..."
Adric shook his head. "Don't worry about it. It's on the house."
Tegan gave him a strange look, but gave him a quick smile and
thumb's-up. "Thanks, Adric. For everything." She gathered up
her purse and strode purposefully for the door.
Nyssa scowled at him for a moment longer, a look he returned
impassively. With a final sneer, she turned on her heel to follow
"Nyssa," Adric called after her.
She turned, a look of supreme annoyance on her lovely face, and
raised a single eyebrow in query.
"Be careful," he said softly.
She held his gaze for a few seconds, then gave a single, quick
nod before making her exit.
Nyssa and Tegan walked through the darkened parking lot, each
lost in their own thoughts. As they made for their Doctor's
TARDIS, a flash of light from Nyssa's arm caught Tegan's eye.
"What's that?" she asked.
"On your wrist."
Nyssa held up her hand, and the lights of the pub reflected off of
a small golden charm bracelet. "This?" she asked. "This is...
just for luck, you might say."
"I thought Trakens didn't believe in luck."
Nyssa shrugged, and might have smiled, but it was too dark to be
certain. "Perhaps. But, it doesn't hurt to hedge one's bets."
"Well, whatever else today's been, it's been weird," thought Adric
as he worked the bar. First, there was that strange daydream,
then being shot by someone he didn't even know, then suddenly
having to get all touchy-feely with Tegan and her actually appre-
ciating it. The only thing that would make it any weirder would
be if some hot girl showed up swooning over him. He laughed at
the very thought.
The door opened, and he looked up to greet whoever it was.
"Well, here goes nothing," Number One thought as she walked
into the pub. "I can't believe I'm actually doing this. I have to
just think of it as another mission. Getting Ultra-geek interested
in me is just a tactical problem, like any other. I just have to
tackle it the same way General Forrest would..."
She had a sudden vision of the huge, black-bearded cavalry gen-
eral wearing a pink sundress and poncing about in front of Adric.
It left her feeling queasy.
"Okay," she thought, "forget Forrest. Just concentrate on my
orders, and not on how much I need a cigarette right now. I
have to do this, for Nyssa's sake. I can't let my personal feelings
interfere. That wouldn't be professional. And, I don't want to
lose my retirement. And, I need a cigarette. No! _Don't_ think
"Whoa!" Doug remarked. "Who's the redheaded cutie in the
Diane whapped him lightly on the head. "You've got a wife,
Doug," she said frostily.
"I know her, kind of," Adric said.
Chris, a few seats from Doug, snorted a short laugh. "_You_
know _her_, Adric? No way! She's obviously here looking for
my own studly self!"
"I don't want a cigarette. I don't want a cigarette." Number One
kept silently repeating the mantra to herself as she walked to the
bar. She managed what she hoped was a genial smile as she
took a seat between Doug and Chris.
Adric came over and said cheerily, "Oh! It's you!"
Huh? Number One wracked her brain trying to think of where
and when the boy might have met her before, but drew only a
blank. She decided to brazen it out.
"Ah... you know who I am?" Down the bar, Chris giggled.
"Sort of," the Alzarian replied, looking a little sheepish. "You
were in here last night on my shift, but you were, umm..."
Last night? "You mean, I was passed-out drunk?"
Oh, great. _That_ would be a Hell of a first impression. There
had to be a good way to salvage that. "That's too bad," she said,
"because you were the reason I came here." Chris choked on his
Adric was in what could only be described as a state of shock.
This was _exactly_ the sort of thing that never happened to him,
was never _supposed_ to happen to him, and seemingly would
never be allowed to happen to him. Apparently, whatever forces
controlled the workings of the Universe had a sudden mood
swing, and he was the beneficiary.
Not only was the girl he'd been thinking about earlier sitting in
front of him. Not only was she far prettier than he had realized
from her admittedly rough condition last night. Not only was
she built like a brick TARDIS. Not only did she have one of the
sexiest voices he'd ever heard. But, she was actually _interest-
ed_ in him.
Quite likely this was just some sick and ironic cosmic joke, and
she'd turn out to be after him for tax evasion or something. But,
what the Hell? "Nothing to it but to do it," a little voice whisp-
"You came here for _me_?" Adric asked a bit squeakily.
"He's buying it!" Number One thought exultantly. "I'm actually
pulling this off! Damn, I'm good. Damn, I want a smoke." But,
aloud, she said, "Oh yes, Adric. I'm a huge fan of yours, you see.
I was just over here on business, and when I heard you were
around, well, I just _had_ to come and see you."
Down the bar, Chris was beating his head softly on the bartop.
Number One decided to lay it on with a trowel. "I just wanted to
see if you were as cute in person as you were on TV." Adric
turned beet red. "I'd have to say, though, that you aren't. You're
_much_ cuter in person."
As Adric hemmed and hawed at the compliment, Number One
thought to herself, "Bleeaah. I'd better back off before I make
myself barf. And I really need a cigarette..."
"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Miss...?"
"It's Number--" the redhead stopped herself from givimg the
automatic response as she suddenly realized the one thing they'd
overlooked in concocting her cover story: a name. Damn, what
a snafu! Damn, she wanted a smoke!
"I'm sorry, I didn't catch that," Adric said.
The redhead fumbled for a minute, and spat out the first thing
that came to mind. "I said... Ember. Ember Ashe."