On the Odd Trio's decided weird trip through the dimensions...
'I. Am. Not. An. Irritatingly. Cute. Kid. Sidekick!'
'Mm?' the ninja secretary said.
'And. Anyone. Who. Says. So!'
'Remind me to review Tayani Industries' child care and work experience policies after our cruise.'
'On the schedule, sir.'
'Answers. To. My. Sister!'
Xeffy huffed. 'Right. Anyone else want to make any smart comments?'
'If we're quite done...' Professor Clegg said.
'Oh, sorry. Was this the part where you exposit your plan to use your irreplaceable, one-of-a-kind, unique mind control devices to take control of my mind, thereby using me as a puppet to control Tayani Industries, and through it, gain access to influence and power galaxy-wide, your first step on your path to galactic dominance?' Marin Tayani asked.
Professor Clegg looked abashed. 'Well... yes.'
'And, of course, control my mind too,' Allie interjected. 'After all, if the CEO of Tayani Industries showed up for work without his everpresent ninja secretary... people might get suspicious.'
'Excuse me!' Professor Clegg huffed.
'Oh, sorry, sorry. Didn't mean to cut in on your gloating,' Marin said.
'Right then,' Professor Clegg said. 'Oh yes, nearly forgot. Note to self. Mind control ninja secretary's-'
He caught Xeffy's glare.
'-non-irritatingly cute kid sister.'
'Thank you,' Xeffy said.
'Very well. If that's everything...'
'Then... Activate the Mind Control!'
Marin sighed. 'Honestly. I'd like to go just one month without something like this happening...'
Gordon slumped in the control chair. 'Why me? Why me?'
Yokoi patted him on the shoulder. 'There, there...'
'Once, just once, could I have my plans not royally screwed up?'
'I know...' Yokoi soothed.
'Honestly. Eating my jaffa cakes? What kind of lunatic breaks into a base and eats an evil mastermind's jaffa cakes?'
'Wright R. Blauch, his file says,' Yokoi said.
'That's a terrible pun.'
'It's a pun?'
'Wright R. Blauch. Writer's block? No?'
Yokoi face-faulted. 'Oh, bloody hell...'
She reread the file she was holding. 'Oh no.'
'He stole your Gotan toy too.'
'That's it. He's gone too far...' Gordon said through gritted teeth. 'Yokoi?'
'Igor's got the sub on standby.'
'Right. We are gonna kick Wright R. Blauch's skinny arse so hard he won't be able to sit down for a year!'
The portal glittered in front of them.
'You're too late, Senshi,' the robed cultist said.
'No...' Sailor Gallifrey whispered.
'The Old Ones will return. You've l-' He looked around. 'What's that?'
In the distance, a motorcycle engine revved.
'It couldn't be...' he whispered. 'It couldn't...'
'You don't know genre convention very well, do you?' Sailor Gallifrey commented.
A black motorcycle roared out of the night.
As it crossed the border of the ritual circle, its rider leaped into the air.
The motorcycle roared on, into the portal.
-And with an anguished howl, the portal collapsed.
The motorbike's rider landed.
'Damn. I really liked that bike...' the figure in black said. His voice was slightly muffled by the reflective black motorcycle helmet he wore.
'Mirror Knight...' the robed man whispered. 'No...'
The figure in black bowed. 'At your service.' He reached an arm into the air. 'And allow me to introduce the one who works magic as technology... or is that the one who works technology as magic?'
'I'll let you decide,' said the voice from the darkness.
The Knight chuckled. 'Okay. Allow me to introduce the Son of the Ether!'
Something - someone, rather - suddenly landed on the cultist.
Sailor Gallifrey raised an eyebrow. 'Again with the melodramatic entrances?'
The Knight shrugged. 'What can I say? I'm a sucker for a good OTT entrance.'
The Son of the Ether brushed himself off from his abrupt landing. 'Well, that was disturbingly easy...'
Outside the circle, something moved.
'Somehow, I'm guessing that's not the Tooth Fairy.'
'This isn't over,' Sailor Gallifrey said. 'Not by a long shot.'
She raised her staff.
Once together, always together
Silence for a few moments. Then, something in the pile of arms and limbs moved.
"Get your foot out of my ear!"
"That's not my foot."
"That's not my ear!"
"I don't want to know..."
"Of all the ways to arrive, this has to be the most undignified yet."
"And this is unusual for us?"
"Shut up and move. You're crushing my fuku."
Groaning, shifting, three forms distinguished themselves from the heap. Imran blinked, trying to adjust to the light.
"Woah, it's bright out here. I don't like it."
"You had to touch the staff, didn't you?"
Imran looked sheepish. "It seemed like the right thing to do!"
Gordon squinted at them both. "Will you both quit arguing and help me up?"
The two looked at him. Gordon was almost tied in a knot, arms flailing. Alryssa shook her head and disentangled him, and between her and Imran they managed to get him to his feet.
"Ooh. Better. As I was saying before Imran made us all disappear again, what is with that feather tattoo on your face?"
She stared at him. "You might live long enough to find out."
Imran gawped. "Uh-oh..."
The two others followed Imran's gaze.
"Ooer," said Gordon.
"Oh, crap," muttered Alryssa....
Meanwhile, back at the big top on Jubilganzia:
Kid Curry stirs a little, drifting for a moment towards the surface in instinctive panic; but exhaustion has the better of him. And the dreams creep back at last, shorn of their poisonous fangs.
High summer, Iowa.
A little black-haired boy crouches in the dust, tracing patterns with one forefinger. The day is still cool enough to hold a slight mist, but the sky is a brassy blue, and the sun is already high above the horizon. It will be hot again, later. The back of the child's bent neck, emerging from the collar of his nightshirt, is brown as a nut from long days in the open, and so are the small fingers paddling in the dirt.
The child is utterly absorbed in what he is doing, the dark face frowning intently in concentration. An ant runs over his foot. He doesn't even twitch.
"Harvey!" An older boy's voice, from the direction of the unseen house. The child tenses up for a moment. "Harvey?"
The small face is stubborn.
"Ma..." A schoolyard wail. "Ma, Harvey's out in the yard again..."
The child has deliberately resumed his patterns.
"Oh Henry. I told you to keep an eye on him." But their mother's voice is edged with laughter.
An infant's cry. "Hush now..." The baby wavers back into silence, only to burst out yelling again. "Hush... hush... Henry, hold Baby for a moment."
Renewed wails. "Ma!" the boy begins indignantly.
But she is already out in the yard, swooping down towards the recalcitrant three-year-old. "Harvey? Harvey Logan, you come here this minute!"
The child turns to scuttle under a bush, but his mother is faster. "Got you!" She hoists him, wriggling, onto her hip, and carries him back to the house to be dressed and scrubbed thoroughly behind the ears. Her own long hair is still in its night-time plait, tumbling over her shoulder, and she moves easily on strong bare feet.
Harvey struggles, a little, but it is a token resistance. And he is young enough to take pure pleasure in being carried. Normally a silent child, he gurgles with laughter.
His mother sighs, and stoops briefly to rub her cheek against the tousled black head.
A small green hand is wound in the dreamer's grasp. Presently, the little troll's head droops low, to rest against him. He stirs at the unaccustomed weight, half-waking; and the dream changes.
Four boys, tumbled in the back of a wagon. Earlier, tired and bored, they had been squabbling like a litter of puppies. Now they lie curled together like that same litter an hour later, scratches and bruises forgotten.
Tall Hank is snoring slightly. Harvey, the most awake of the four, kicks him until he turns over with a snort.
'I'm never gonna snore when I grow up,' Harvey promises himself with all the fervor of nine years old, giving his lanky brother a disgusted look. He tries to elbow Lonie off. But the little boy only snuggles in closer to his brothers' warmth, his heavy head nestling on Harvey's chest.
"Get off!" He pushes Lonie over towards Johnny. But a moment later the weight returns. And he knows from past experience that Lonie once asleep is almost impossible to rouse.
Johnny murmurs a sleepy protest as his older brother sits up and extracts himself from the heap of limbs, crawling out over him towards the box. "Of course we ain't there yet," Harvey hisses. "Go back to sleep, why don't you?"
The wagon lurches as he crawls out from under the cover, and he grabs at his mother's waist to save himself. She looks round, smiles, and rumples his hair -- "Don't do that, Ma!" -- before pulling him onto the seat beside her. For a while the jolts keep him awake; but there is still a long way to go, and he is soon dozing against his mother's arm.
"No --" Curry moves restlessly in his sleep, his voice blurred. "No -- no..."
But the dream will not let him go. The weight on his chest is suffocating, and the water is in his mouth, and he cannot breathe ...
"Harvey -- Ma? Ma! No -- Ma --"
Henry is screaming after them from the box of the overturned wagon, all the would-be-adult sophistication stripped off the terrified boy beneath. Harvey's head breaks the surface of the water for a moment, and he can hear Lonie's howls.
The horses are plunging, kicking out wildly in the shallow water, but under the bank it runs deep and fast, and the current has him. For a moment he catches a glimpse of Henry scrambling desperately along the wagon towards the bank; then he is pulled back under. The river tears at him, choking, blinding, clawing at his clothes with its sharp snags --
He reaches out, desperately, from the blackness before his eyes. And his fingers close and hold around something hard as iron -- a root, maybe, locked into dirt long since washed away. He clings... and finds himself breathing. And then Henry is there, face tear-slobbered, hard hands on his collar pulling him out.
Something brushes against his knee like weed, trailing. And a face, glimmering pale beneath, a bruised smear across her temple as the current for a moment slackens its hold on its prey --
"Ma!" He tries to tug free of Henry. Almost chokes. "Ma --" Her face is slipping away under the dark water, long hair trailing, eyes half closed. "Ma --"
The dreamer struggles.
He knows this dream, knows it so well; but he cannot wake up, can never wake up --
This time... this time, though, it is different.
Soft arms around him; enveloping warmth.
Harvey wriggles a little. His new black clothes fit badly, and the collar of his coat is rubbing. It has been hurting him throughout the whole long journey up to Kansas City.
"Let's have a look at you now..." A plump finger holds him at arm's-length, tips his chin up. She turns to Johnny, does the same. The boys stare back.
This aunt -- Pa's sister Betty -- is old. Short and round with gray in her hair, she has grown children of her own, bigger even than Hank. The youngest of the family is hanging back, staring at them from around a corner. Harvey returns him a black scowl.
Aunt Lee catches him at it. For a moment he thinks she is going to slap him; then her face crumples. She turns away, catches up Lonie, standing small and bewildered in front of their baggage. "Oh, you poor motherless boys..."
Harvey's own lip begins to quiver. He tries hard to think about the sore place on his neck, but somehow it doesn't seem to help any more. Beside him, Johnny chokes back a sniff manfully -- and then both of them are flinging themselves into their aunt's open arms, hard heads burrowing into her side. Even Hank comes forward, boyish-gawky, to hug and be hugged in his turn, all four of them clinging as if their hearts would break.
"Hush, now," Aunt Lee says softly, the familiar words bringing more tears. "Hush... you're home, boys. This is your home."
The dreamer sleeps easy now, harsh lines of exhaustion finally slipping from his face. Aunt Lee was not pretty, laughing Ma; never could be Ma -- but she was safe, and kind, and all the mother soon that Lonie and John could ever remember. And there was Cousin Bob to play with, and chores to do, and time to run wild, as growing boys will, and take a whipping after. And plans, to make -- always plans. Sometimes with Bob, but mostly the four of them together...
Lonie swings one foot up and parks it on the edge of the table. Crosses the other over it, and leans back with an air of satisfaction. "Curry," he announces simply, as if that settles the matter.
"What's wrong with Lee?" Hank growls, shoving Lonie's booted foot out of the way. "And get your feet off the table, kid." At twice Lonie's weight and nearly twice his age, the eldest brother is the only one he will -- sometimes -- listen to.
"What's wrong with Logan?" John says quietly, as a sulking Lonie brings both feet back to ground level. "After all, even if Bob comes along there's four of us and only one of him --"
"Three of us." Hank is firm. "Maybe two. Lonie ain't quit school yet, and you're still kind of wet behind the ears yourself, kid." He strokes his mustache with the air of one who has spent the last eight years as head of the family.
"Hell, I'm as big as Harvey already -- I can pull my weight --"
"Got a point there," Hank allows, glancing across at his other brother, who still hasn't said a word. Both Harvey's elbows are on the table, and he is staring downwards, dark eyes sullen. "Hey -- quit sulking, Harvey --"
"Ain't sulking." The response is automatic, and Hank shrugs it off, draping an arm around his brother's thin shoulders.
"Well, quit glooming then. Anyone would think you'd gone moony over some girl --"
Harvey shoves the heavy arm away, scowling. "Just quit riding me all the time, Hank! Maybe I ain't feeling too sociable --"
"What about the name, Harvey?" John, as always, the peacemaker. "For when we get a place of our own?"
"Hell, he weren't even listening," Hank growls under his breath, and Harvey's head comes up sharply, eyes tense and a little wide.
"Maybe Curry suits me just fine," he says slowly, staring down his brother. "If Lonie's got a fancy to it -- why not? Why not start out fresh all over?" Lonie's face has lit up at backing for his suggestion from this surprising quarter, and Harvey's cold gaze softens back into a hint of amusement at the kid's excitement.
"John Curry..." John tries it over on his tongue. "Lonie Curry... Harvey Curry..." He grins, looking up at his eldest brother. "Henry Curry -- what do you say to us being the Curry boys, Hank?"
Hank doesn't sound on the face of it too convinced, and Lonie's shoulders slump. "Oh Hank..."
"Oh Hank..." Harvey mimics unexpectedly, note-perfect. But his voice breaks in the middle to a sudden awkward bass, and the family meeting collapses -- literally -- as first one, then the others, breaks into helpless giggles that become a howl of laughter.
Harvey wipes tears from his eyes, grabs a hold of Lonie. "C'mon, kid. Let these two lumps stay here all day -- we got chores to do..."
But now Kid Curry slips down, at last, into the quiet still waters of dreamless sleep; and there is no more.
And at his side, the avocado troll sleeps...
Dream: the first to return after all others had been sacrificed, flowing into her mind like water bubbling up from a spring into a dry stream bed: clear, bright, and shockingly cold.
She's home: her real home -- back on Planet Radwah, nestled among the supports of her own arching bridge, where the mountain stream flows into the marshlands, slows down, and spreads itself among the cattails, the water lilies, and broad-leafed marsh grasses.
Only instead of stone, the bridge is formed from the intertwined, arching canes of wild roses, and she can't nestle in too deeply or she'd get pricked by the thorns.
But this is such a minor concern. It is so beautiful here, with the sunlight filtering through the cascades of white blossoms, the glimpses of sapphire sky beyond, and the rich, sweet fragrance everywhere.
It's so beautiful, it makes her sad. This bridge is so fragile. More fragile than stone, or even a simple pine log. And while it lasts, she knows, the thorns scare visitors away, and she is alone. What good is beauty if you can't share it with someone?
Then she knows: the bridge is in danger, not because the roses themselves are fragile, but because the Dark Giant is coming to tear it down.
The ground starts shaking under the pounding weight of his footsteps, and one by one, the petals above her head start to fall, past her eyes and into the stream, shadowed now -- dark -- and flowing too fast.
As they fall, she catches glimpses of their undersides -- something she didn't notice before -- tiny images of the Major Arcana.
The images weren't just images, though -- they were the people: the Magician, the Judge, the Fool, Fortune. And they were alive -- they were speaking, trying to tell her how to defeat the Dark Giant.
But they were too small. She couldn't hear them. Tiny as they were, as quickly as they were falling, Eloise could see their lips moving. But she couldn't hear them. And they were falling into the too-quickly moving stream, flowing away from her.
She was about to run -- no, swim -- after them, when the sword of the Dark Giant (still red-hot from the forge) sliced through her bridge, right before her eyes.
Eloise woke with a start and a gasp -- blinking and disoriented. A shaft of sunlight, red-orange with late afternoon, shone across her eyes.
Where was she? Radwah? The TARDIS? Then it came together: the big top at Jubilganzia. Imran and Alryssa and Gordon: gone. They'd been about to go after them, when she'd fallen asleep.
Then she became aware of Curry, still sleeping beside her, his chest rising and falling with his breath under her cheek. He'd have been embarrassed, maybe even to the point of hurt, if he woke to find the two of them in such an intimate position, innocent though it was. And, embarrassed for him, Eloise backed away and stood up.
Then a brief moment of panic swept over her: the others -- they hadn't left without them, did they? She glanced about the big top, her eyes readjusting to the shadows. The hoedowners were all there, and all of them were sound asleep, sprawled out across the seats, or resting against the haybales in the sidelines -- like some massive slumber party gone mad. All of them had been exhausted. All of them needed rest, and to replenish their dream stores.
She glanced down at Curry. For once, his face -- his whole body -- was relaxed. She sighed. She'd been a week without any sleep, but he'd been through one hundred years where sleep was an enemy to be fought off. Until now.
She moved off quietly, careful not to wake him.
As she moved among her guests (only the originals, now -- the other characters from other fictions had all drifted away, like all audiences to all circuses do eventually), she became aware of voices.
Not everyone was asleep. The Doctors and Sandra were in a tight huddle, discussing something.
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