The hostess watched curiously as Gordon took four shiny spheres out of his cardboard box.
"Oooh, what are they?" she asked.
"Erm....virtual projector things...I thought well, we can't really erect a stage and everything, with all the changes of scenery, so we'll use these. They'll project the scenery and stuff. We didn't have quite enough volunteers to play the red-shirted disposable guards, so it'll do some of them as well."
He carried the spheres out into the ring. Placing each at the corner of a non-existent square. As he put the last one in place, light streamed from the top of each one, coalescing to form a small woodland clearing between them.
Gordon stepped into the clearing.
"Ladies and gentleman and other peeps. The Pro-Fun Players are proud to present a performance full of adventure, fun, puns, laughter and more bad jokes than you can shake a pointy stick at. We present to you, a play what I have wrote, called...
...Crouching Nyder, Hidden Nimon."
Once upon a time, there was a land called Barnarnia...
It was your normal, average kingdom, until the day the kind of evil but devastatingly attractive Queen Krizu arrived. She stole the major villains from all eight counties, the Master, the Master, the Master, the Master, the Master, the Master, the Master and the Magistrate and locked them all up in the dungeon beneath her castle.
The land was left with only the lackeys, the henchmen, the enthusiastic amateurs. This just wasn't on, as you need to have balance and stuff, y'know.
High atop a mountain lay Castle Krizu. Shrouded in fog, covered in gargoyles and with the traditional lightning striking around the turrets.
"I'm bored," cried Queen Krizu. "Mr Claypole?"
A bearded man in a jester's outfit ran up the stairs to her throne.
"Yes Mistress Krizu?"
"Hmm, Mistress Krizu? I like the sound of that..."
From the heavy sighs she could hear, so did many members of the audience.
"Mr. Claypole, I wish to be entertained. Send one of the Masters up will you?"
"Certainly, it is as good as done..."
The jester swept down the stairs and out a side door. Krizu turned to the small cat sitting on the arm of her throne. "And what do you have to say for yourself?"
"I'm hungry." Jones complained
("Exactly how long has our cat been able to speak?" asked Saville.
"Since about ten seconds ago..." replied Gordon.)
Suddenly a large area of the floor parted, revealing a large pit. A strange noise was coming from down below...
Krizu's eyes grew wide as from the pit rose AinleyMaster, naked and playing with his enormous organ.
"Look at the size of that knob!" observed Jones, as AinleyMaster pulled it vigorously.
He began to play "Oh I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside" on the mighty Wurlitzer.
A man in a military uniform ran into the ring.
"Right, that's enough!" he shouted. "This is getting far too sill..."
A black clad figure ran up and smacked the Brigadier in the face with a custard flan.
"Have that military man picked up by the guardoliers!" ordered Krizu.
"Oh, that is going to hurt," Jones cringed.
"We can't have anyone spoiling our fun can we?"
"No, serves him right for ignoring the sign outside the castle."
Krizu looked puzzled. "What sign?"
"The one saying 'No people from secret military organisations allowed'."
"Aah. Now," Krizu looked around the room. "Where did I leave my feather duster?"
In the audience, Cardinal Zorak was confused. He looked at the stage. He looked at the seat beside him. The stage. The seat.
"But if she's onstage, how can she be sitting next to me?"
A squeaking hiss of escaping air alerted Zorak to the fact the Krizu in the seat was deflating rapidly.
"Ooh, it's terrible when an inflatable goes down on you..." said Nanny Ogg from behind.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the kingdom, two adventurers walked into a shop. One of them was Barry, a large, red-headed man with a beard. The other was Igor, a cheerful hunchback.
The shop was filled with the usual cheap swords and leather armour. Igor looked over a display of Six Demon Bags, while Barry browsed through the Castle Krizu postcards and commemorative snowglobes. He was just about to pick one up when he felt someone watching him. As his hand drew near to one of the globes, the figure who was hiding behind the counter let out a scream.
Hurried footsteps came from the back of the shop and a strange looking man with glasses appeared.
"What's all this shouting? We'll have no trouble here!"
"They were looking at the precious things!"
The bespectacled man glared at Barry and Igor.
"Are you local?" he asked.
Barry started to answer. "Well, no actually, we're fro..."
"This is a local shop for local people, there's nothing for you here!"
The man grabbed hold of Barry and Igor and forced them out of the shop.
"And take your scruffy little box with you!"
He threw a small wooden box at them, which hit Barry in the lower abdominal area.
Pausing to wipe the tears from his eyes and wait until his voice fell down from the falsetto, Barry picked up the box.
The lid opened. A small red demon with bright yellow eyes stared at him.
"Good morning Mr. Burton. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to gather up a bunch of likely rescuers and infiltrate Castle Krizu to rescue the eight Masters held captive within. Should you or any of your deranged compatriots be captured, eaten or poked repeatedly with a pointy stick, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions."
"Well, that's very magnanimous of him..."
"This demon will self-destruct in five seconds..."
The little demon's eyes boggled. "EH?!?!?!?"
Now inside the box stood a black, rather frazzled and crispy looking demon, with pathetic big white sad puppy eyes.
"So," said Igor. "We have to gather a bunch of people, raid the castle and rescue the Masters, yeah?"
"Looks like it."
"Shouldn't be too difficult."
Princess Justine sighed as she plonked herself back down on the beanbag.
Technically this was a prison cell, although it looked rather nice. There was satellite TV and a broadband connection, but it didn't make up for the fact she couldn't go out partying all night with the nymphs and dryads anymore.
"I'm sorry, but it's traditional to lock the princess up in the castle," Krizu had said. "I'm sure some handsome prince will come and rescue you or something."
She heard a noise from the window. Could it be? If so, she really hoped it was Prince Russell of Crowe, or Prince Dougray of Scott. Knowing her luck, it'd be Prince James of Saville.
The window flew open and someone swooped into the cell.
Princess Justine looked at the figure who had just flown in and found it desperately difficult to keep a straight face.
"So you're (snigger) my Fairy (chuckle) Godmother then? (guffaw)"
Swinging from a cable and wearing a sparkly pink tutu with wings, Sergeant Benton did not look chuffed. He couldn't have looked more unhappy if you'd stuck a Christmas tree up him...
"Yes." he stated matter-of-factly in a gruff voice.
"And you're here to (hehe) save me?"
"Well, not exactly."
"I was sent to give you this." He handed her a something wrapped up in bright wrapping paper.
"Ooh, what is it?"
"Well, it's big and long and expands and glows red when you stroke it."
Justine looked at Benton for several seconds before slowly shaking her head and removing the wrapping.
"The Master's tissue compression eliminator?"
"You sound disappointed."
"Well, it's not actually what I was expecting..."
"What were you expecting?"
"And now I must go, for duty calls!"
"Yes, The Pink Dragon have ordered a fairy-gram."
Benton flew out of the window with all the grace of a brick thrown by a small child.
Justine looked at the TCE. "Well, I suppose it might come in useful."
The sign outside the pub said. "Help Wanted - for daring rescue mission. Please apply inside."
Inside, Barry and Igor sat at a table. there were already a dozen or so empty flagons on the table. Things had not been going well.
So far they had two beavers, John Peel (the Radio 1 DJ, not the author) and a man who sold what he referred to as a "sausage inna bun" but Igor had suspicions.
One of the beavers was dressed in a ninja suit and was making quiet Bruce Lee-type noises when he thought nobody was looking.
"No, Norbert, I am NinjaDag!!!"
Dag promptly tried a roundhouse kick and fell on his arse.
The current applicant was large, bearded, loud, had a large pair of wings on his back and was wearing a dress...
"I'M DAME VULTAN! ME AND MY HAWKME......ERR....I'M HERE ABOUT THE JOB!"
"Yes, okay...what can you do?"
"I CAN SHOUT VERY LOUDLY!!!"
"I CAN SHOUT EXTREMELY LOUDLY!!!!!"
Igor and Barry looked at each other. Barry shrugged non-committally.
"Ok, you're in."
"THANK YOU! YOU WON'T REGRET IT YOU KNOW!!!"
"You got any paracetamol?" Barry asked Igor. Igor handed him a large tub of pills. "Help yerself."
Meanwhile, back in the dungeon...
Krizu stood over the eight Masters, who were all stripped to the waist, oiled and on racks. In one hand she held a feather duster, in the other a rubber chicken.
"I AM THE POTT AND YOU WILL OBEY ME!!!!!"
grouse jig to the tune of "Stayin' Alive" (:>)" "(<:)(:>)' (:>)= "(<:)~(:>)<>(<:)(:>)"
"Can I play with your maracas?" asked Mr. Claypole.
"You don't waste any time do you? Of course you can. Give them a good shake."
Claypole reached over to the rack and picked up a pair of maracas which he shook in time with the Bee Gees.
"Now," she said, addressing the Masters. "I want your help in capturing the fifth Doctor, because he's so cute and innocent looking. You will help me won't you?"
Eight heads shook in agreement.
"Good, because if you don't I'll have to bring out...the thingy."
A look of abject terror appeared on all eight faces at once. Crying and pleading echoed through the castle.
Barry and Igor steered the cart toward the Central Banarnian border patrol checkpoint.
"Do you really think we should have sent Vultan up ahead?" asked Barry.
"Well, he can fly, so he can have a little scout round the back..."
"He'll get arrested if he tries that."
Two border patrol guards, with ponchos, sombreros and those tacky big moustaches walked up to the cart.
"These aren't the droids you're looking for." said Igor, waving his hand in a mysterious way.
"Bugger off." said the guard.
"Oh well, it was worth a try..."
The second guard opened the lid of the cardboard to find a Nimon hidden inside.
"Do you have a licence to import this Nimon?"
"Do you realise I have an anti-Dalek fluid neutraliser aimed at your bollocks?" said a cheerful voice from behind them.
The guard shook in terror, it could only be...
"Professor Bernice Summerfield and her band of stealth archaeologists?!?!"
Barry boggled. "I didn't expect you!"
"Nobody expects the stealth archaeologists!"
Meanwhile, John Peel had managed to knock the first guard unconscious by talking about African rhythmic punk bass players for five minutes.
Benny and her band tied the two guards together and left them sitting in the checkpoint booth.
"And now," Benny said enthusiastically, "We'll take you to our secret forest base, where we can plan how to rescue the eight Masters!"
Benny slapped her thigh, because, well, it's traditional in a panto.
"Ooh, can I do that too?" asked Igor.
"If you want."
Igor slapped Benny's thigh.
Benny punched Igor in the bollocks.
The falsetto cries of anguish could be heard all around the forest as they rode off...
"HELLO PRINCESS JUSTINE!!!!!!"
"Oh, bloody hell, it's you..."
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING IN HERE?!?!"
"Krizu locked me up in here, it's traditional she said."
"A SIMPLE LOCK?!?!?! ME AND MY HAW....ERR, THAT SHOULDN'T BE TOO DIFFICULT TO BREAK!!!"
"The lock's not the problem. There's a phased tachyon pulsewall keeping me in here as well."
"It's a magic barrier."
Dame Vultan turned to the audience.
"NOW BOYS AND GIRLS!!!" whispered Dame Vultan. "HOW ARE WE GOING TO GET THE PRINCESS OUT? OH LOOOOOOOOK! HERE'S A LOVELY, SUAVE, SOPHISTICATED GENTLEMAN TO HELP US ALL OOOOOOOOOOOOOUT!!!!!"
A bald, dark-skinned man in a dark red velvet suit, with a neatly trimmed goatee and a cuban cigar in his hand walked up to the cell door and addressed the audience.
"I am the Master, and you will obey me!"
"Oh no we won't!"
"Oh yes you will!"
"OH NO WE WON'T!!!"
"Would you do it for a Scooby Snack?"
"Two Scooby Snacks?"
"Threeeeeee Scooby Snacks," he smiled.
"Oh, alright then..." said the audience.
"Now, to undo the enchantment around Princess Justine's cell, we need to harness the power of music!"
"OH I THINK WE CAN MANAGE THAAAAAAAAAT!!!" Dame Vultan said, quietly as he threw Scooby Snacks into the audience from a bucket.
"Ok," said the Master. "We'll split you into four groups. I take it you all know the words for 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat?"
"YES!!!" chorused the audience.
"Wonderful! Now, this section will start off, then after they finish the first line, the next section start and so on, alright!"
"ALRIGHT!!!" said the audience.
"1, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4!"
"Row, row, row your boat. Gently down the stream, "Row, row, row your boat. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, "Row, row, row your boat. Gently down the stream, Life is but a dream!" "Row, row, row your boat. Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream!" Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream!" Life is but a dream!"
The magic barrier flickered, then collapsed in a fountain of static.
"Whay! Now I can meet up with the girls and party!" cried Justine as she ran off.
"BUT WHAT ABOUT SAVING THE MASTERS AND RESTORING BALANCE TO THE KINGDOM?!?!?!"
"Bollocks to that!" she shouted, as she disappeared around the corner.
"Ah, now we may have a slight problem here..." said the Nth Master.
"Bwa-hah-hah! You're right there, you lovely, evil bearded man you!"
They turned round to see Krizu, standing beside a large crocodile on a leash, being held by a slightly loopy looking Australian.
"Irwin, release your croc!"
"Eh? If you insist..." said the Aussie, beginning to unzip his trousers.
"I said CROC!!!"
"Oh," said Irwin, looking very disappointed. He pressed a small button on the handle and the croc was unleashed.
"Go get them Bruce!" he shouted.
[end of act one]
"Well, that went pretty well didn't it?" said Yokoi.
"Yeah, now for the musical intermission, then act two." Gordon smiled.
[authoritorial aside - there's a tune to go with this, it's a zip file at - http://www.bhfh.fsnet.co.uk/inter.zip . It's 344K, about 6m40s long and will play on WinAmp or any other player that supports MOD/XM files.]
"Ok, time for the musical intermission, you all ready?"
Everyone checked they had their instruments, the dancing zombies were already grooving on the spot, desperate to get out there.
I took the lead and led them out through the curtains.
I felt something was wrong as soon as I walked out. I heard the bumps as the others walked straight into some invisible barrier.
I looked back and saw the concerned faces of Saville and Yokoi.
I was on my own.
The Gods had chosen the moment carefully. They knew I worked better with other people. Bouncing concepts and ideas off them, catching them as they flew back.
Not this time...
I concentrated, I visualised. I was going to pull something out of each pocket, something that would help me get through the intermission.
I took my hands out of my pockets and looked.
This wasn't going to be easy.
I looked up at the audience.
"Where did armadillos come from? There is an ancient Maya legend, concerning two minor gods. These were a pair of unruly deities, who had somehow crossed or offended the other gods in some way. The legend doesn't tell us what they did to offend the others, but it does tell of the day when the Maya Sun God, Hachakyum, ordered the two minor gods to sit down on a small bench before all the other gods. All of a sudden, the bench transformed into two armadillos, both of whom jumped up in the air, dislodging the two gods onto their arses, disgracing and humiliating them in front of the assembled group."
"All of which has absolutely nothing to do with what I'm about to do, but it gave me time to think..."
I placed the stylophones on the ground and sat down. I picked up the styluses and started playing a tune, one which was familiar to many of the people there...
The audience sat and watched in silence.
...I managed to get through it, short as it was, but I could at least hear a few clapping hands in the audience.
I could almost feel the displeasure of the Gods above me, as their power weakened slightly, I'd managed to do something. Maybe I'd distracted them enough to pull one, small trick out of my sleeve...
I closed my eyes. In my mind, the instruments in front of me were no longer mere stylophones, but something else...it only took a moment, but then I played...
...it was a variation on the previous tune redone in the style of a particularly favourite song of mine, but now the sound filled the tent. Rather than a couple of buzzy noises, a full wave of rhythm, bass and melody resounded around the circus.
I kept my eyes closed as I continued, lost in music...then I reached the end, and opened them again.
All I could see was the audience, applauding. I stood up, bowed, picked up the stylophones and walked backstage, giving a cheery little wave to the Gods as I went.
I'd made it.
Meanwhile, the others have just reached the outskirts of Vortex City...