'Things've been quiet 'round here, haven't they?' baby Death, this version a little girl in a black dress, said.
'Mm-hmm.' the baby Eighth Doctor said, lining up his shot. 'Well, quiet for us...'
'Yeah.' Death grinned. 'Doesn't look like the Adults have, though.'
'They never do, for some reason...' Doc rolled the marble. 'Oh.'
'My turn!' Death announced.
'Don't you get bored, knowing you're always going to win?'
'I don't.' Death said. 'Always win, that is.'
'You don't?' Doc said.
'Where'd the fun be in that? It'd be dull an' stuff, always knowing I'd win. So I don't.'
'But on the flipside, you'd always win.' Doc pointed out, as Death rolled her marble.
'Yes! Got your marble!' she yelled. '...Yeah, so? Don't /wanna/ win. Wanna enjoy just playing the game. Winning's a bonus. 'Sides, it's not about winning or losing.'
'What is it about?'
'Living. And dying.'
'Thanks so much for the philosophy.' Doc said dryly, lining up his next marble.
'Who said anything about philosophy?'
'Mm.' Doc said.
'Lot of newbies around,' Death observed.
'Yeah,' Doc said, considering. 'Hmm... I think the Supervisor did it just to irritate the demonic duo.'
'The demonic duo?'
'Mara and Kiyone.' Doc threw his marble. 'Oh.'
Death grinned. 'Yeah, it /does/ suit them, doesn't it... How's the TV station going?'
'The Adults are freaking,' Doc said. 'Then again, when are they /not/? Honestly, what's wrong with us running a TV station?'
'Got me there...' Death said. 'I dunno... /Adults/.'
'You'd think they'd want us to have fun. And when we do...' Doc shook his head at the sheer intransigance of all Adults. 'They freak.'
'You think we're ever gonna get like that?'
'Yes, I'd overlooked that for some reason...' Death observed.
'That's sort of the point,' Doc said. 'We /are/ toddlers. /They're/ the Adults. We can't be like them, 'cause they're already around.'
'Ah,' Death said, rolling her marble. 'Gotcha. An' they're always gonna /be/ around...'
'Well, you would know.'
'Anyway, tv's not got boring yet...' Doc said. 'so we're sticking with it. That, and Ryo threw a tantrum when someone threatened to take her station away.'
'The pirate ship,' Doc elaborated. 'She /likes/ her station...'
'And the offers for baby calendars,' Death commented.
'Ryoko gets /what?!/'
'Offers for baby calendars. I thought you knew.'
'Yes! At last!' Doc said. 'So what did Washu say to that?'
"It'd be so *cute*, Ryo-sama..."
'That was very good.' Doc complimented.
Death did a little bow. 'Thank you.'
'Heh. Somehow, I /don't/ think she'll be accepting the offer.'
Death looked innocent. 'Can't think why.'
'Me neither. Isn't that odd?' Doc returned the innocent look. 'Your go.'
He blinked. 'What /is/ Catbert doing with /that/?'
'I do /not/ have a crush on him.' baby Dawn Summers pouted. 'Jus' cause /he's/ the hero, an' I get to be the princess... It's only a play!'
'You don't?' baby Skuld asked curiously. 'Then why are you turning that interesting colour?'
'I do that, turning interesting colours!' Dawn huffed. 'Nothin' to do with wantin' any sort of cooties from /him/!'
'Oh. Isn't that what Nyssa said?'
'Right before she gave Adric the wedgie of a lifetime,' Dawn pointed out. '/She/ don't want any cooties...'
'Uh-huh...' Skuld said. 'That's what /she/ said.'
'Don't give me that look!'
'That look that says "you /do/ want cooties from him, only you're gonna give him a massive wedgie rather than admit it"!' Dawn crossed her arms. ' 'Sides, /Buffy/ was the one with that, not me!'
'Right,' Skuld said. 'So why /were/ you turning that interesting colour?'
'Why'd /you/ turn that interesting colour whenever that Wesley looks at you?'
'It's a... It's a baby Megami thing!' Skuld protested.
'A baby Megami thing that kicks in whenever you try to talk to that Sentaro, too.' Dawn observed. 'An' it's only /them/, no-one else...'
'It's... umm... It's inefabel!'
Dawn blinked. 'It's what?'
' 'S an Adult word for "It's a baby Megami thing!".'
'Uh-huh.' Dawn said. 'Still doesn't answer the question, though.'
'An' what about that Kevin?' Skuld threw back. 'Seen you turn an interestin' colour round him...'
Dawn drew herself up to her full height in wounded pride. '/That/ was an entirely different interesting colour, also in no way connected with cooties.'
'So why'd you bring them up?'
'You were the one who started it,' Dawn pointed out. 'Just 'cause I turn an interesting colour when we talk 'bout Spike!'
'So do most people,' Skuld said, indicating the bleached blond baby vampire, currently sucking a bottle of blood in front of the TV. 'Only, they turn /gween/...'
'Hey, he's not /that/ bad!' Dawn protested. 'Jus' cause he dropped spikes down other babies' nappies! He doesn't do that any more! 'Sides, when he talks 'bout it, it's /kewl/.'
Skuld gave her the Cynical Toddler Eyebrow.
'Well, it /is/...!'
'How can you be so /calm/!' Mara said, through gritted teeth. 'There's a seething /horde/ of the things waiting for us in there, how in the Hells can you be so calm?!'
Kiyone closed her locker. 'By thinking of them as a horde of mini-Mihoshis.'
'And that makes it better, does it?' Mara said sarcastically.
'Not really, but I can at least pretend.' Kiyone murmured.
'I pretend too. I pretend I don't have to do this.' Mara muttered. 'And then I wake up.'
'You do have to do this,' Kiyone said.
'I /know!/' Mara muttered. 'And thanks to /your/ stupid wish, I'm /stuck/ doing this-'
Kiyone rolled her eyes. Yep. Time for another Mara Rant...
'There you are,' the Supervisor said.
'Yeah? And where'd you think we'd be? On a beach in the Bahamas?'
'Actually, no, I didn't.' the Supervisor said calmly.
'/You're/ calm for a man who's gotta give a horde of screaming toddlers Story Time...' Mara said. 'Why? /You/ thinking of going to the Bahamas instead?'
'No. I'm just gonna sit back and go with the flow,' the Supervisor said. 'Besides, /you/ get the Story Time after mine.'
'/Don't/ remind me.'
Kiyone hid her smirk.
'And the kids want /you/ for a play this afternoon.' the Supervisor told her.
'How can /you/ be so calm?!' Kiyone demanded, frustrated.
'Que sera sera.' the Supervisor said.
'Whatever will be, will be.' the Supervisor translated.
'Right. So you get fatalistic about the whole deal,' Mara said.
'No. Sit back, relax, and let things take care of themselves. Which they usually do, for some reason. When they don't - well, that's when I step in.' The Supervisor shook his head. 'Management gets antsy about that, for some reason.'
'I wonder why,' Kiyone murmured.
'So, nappies need changing, food needs serving, occasional fight needs breaking up, putting them to bed...'
'If it's so easy, why'd you need us?!'
' 'Cause usually, it's not that easy. And because, these days, there are too many of them for one person to deal with.'
'Yeah? You'd have to be a god to deal with even /one/ of those squalling brats.' Mara murmured.
'It's not /that/ hard.' the Supervisor said. ' 'Sides, you two are handling this just fine.'
'We... we /are/?'
'Yeah. Might even consider giving you permanent part-time positions, the way you're going.'
Mara and Kiyone's jaws dropped.
'Which was why I was looking for you. The Management's giving some /serious/ thought to the idea,' the Supervisor said. 'so I decided to give you a headsup. Let you know so you can decide what you wanna do.'
He opened the door which led to the day care centre, and went in.
'That man...' Mara murmured.
'That man would have made an /excellent/ demon.'
Kiyone nodded. 'Mm-hmm.'
Somewhere dark, damp, and altogether unpleasant...
The High Priestess shook her head. /Honestly/.
Was it too much to ask that they at least move /out/ of their secret underground temple? Or make /some/ move towards their return to the Outside Dimensions?
One. One attempted strike, on that damn redneck One - or Number One, or whatever that hillbilly calls himself - and /someone/ steps in and eliminates Brother Phi and his pack of Spamites. Then again, Phi had never been the brightest... And /then/ proceeds to leave a taunting Etch-A-Sketch.
Who, by the Ultimate Post, leaves a taunting /Etch-A-Sketch/?!
And they were /still/ no closer to finding out who'd done it than they'd been a year ago. Someone Outside - a portal had started forming to /somewhere/ Outside - but /where/?!
And this was what the Order of the Cross-Post had been left doing in the meantime. Twiddling their thumbs, feeding the Spamites, and playing...
The High Priestess reached for a card.
The Ten of Diamonds.
Then it rewrote itself into-
>We need to talk<
The High Priestess sighed, and excused herself.
'That was a new look for you, wasn't it?' she observed. 'Usually, it's the eerie voice in the head. What happened? Voicemail starting to get too expensive?'
>We - or you - are not here to talk about my communication facilities<
'No? I thought you loved hearing yourself talk.'
'What happened to that masterplan of yours, hmm? You remember? The one where we actually got to /win/, because we managed to avoid falling into the recurring villain trap? Or did you get too caught up in torturing your unfortunate minions?'
>It went on hiatus<
The High Priestess raised an eyebrow. 'I've heard /that/ one somewhere before...'
>Nevertheless, it did< the nameless voice said.
'Mm-hmm. Which is why we've been skulking around here for the last year or so, ever since your /first/ plan went bellyup, while you went to work on a new one.'
>I'm eternal. What can I say?<
'So what's your great plan this time?'
'We improvise. You spend a year thinking, and the plan is "We improvise".' the High Priestess repeated.
>I've been under audit. /You/ try to come up with a better idea when you're being audited<
The High Priestess raised her eyebrow. 'Somehow, it doesn't surprise me that even eternal nameless evils get audited...'
>No. This wasn't a /mortal/ auditor. These were the /Auditors/< The nameless voice trembled, just a little.
'I thought you were supposed to be the nameless evil around here...'
>I am. The Auditors aren't evil... just very, very orderly. Order in the sense "the very existence of life is messy, and should be cleaned away". You're always left feeling like you survived by the skin of your teeth<
'You actually have teeth?'
>That was a metaphor< the nameless voice said. >But yes, that is the plan. We improvise. Adapt to the ever-changing chaos of the Outside Dimensions - because whatever we plan, it will explode in our faces<
'And it won't if we improvise?'
>True< the voice admitted. >But we can at least turn the chaos to our advantage<
The High Priestess kept her eyebrow raised. 'Mm. We'll see.'
>Oh, we will. We will<
Baby Adric paused. 'Okay. Not Nyssa. Ow. Nyssa /not/ giving. Ow. me a wedgie. Ow. Or slinging. Ow. slobber in my. Ow. direction. Or. Ow. shooting water pistols. Ow. at me. Or... No, don' wanna go there. Still, not Nyssa. Um... Ukyou, why're you whacking me- OWWW!!!'
'Huh?' baby Ukyou said blankly. 'Oh. Oh! Adric-san, didn't see you there...'
'Really? I didn't guess.'
Ukyou stared at her plastic spatula as if she'd never seen it before. 'Why /was/ I whacking you over the head?'
'Why not? Everyone else does...'
'Everybody tries to beat up Ranchan,' Ukyou said. 'Doesn't mean they don't like him.'
'He can fight back.' Adric pointed out. 'Me, I'm just a target.'
Ukyou paused. 'Why is that?'
Adric blinked. 'Why?'
'Mm-hmm. Why? Even Kuno doesn't get what you get. I mean, you came in here - a year ago, wasn't it? And-'
'And Nyssa's been pounding on me ever since she met me.'
'You're not /that/ bad.'
'I /think/ I'll take that as praise...' Adric said doubtfully. 'You've got a point. Why?'
'Why don't we ask?' Ukyou suggested.
'ARE YOU CRAZY?!!'
'Why not? She knows why she doesn't like you.' Ukyou said. 'So why not ask?'
'Because that lunatic toddler's probably got a toy laser she wants to try out. On me.' Adric muttered.
'Mm. You might have a point.'
'BAKA!!!' Akane screamed, chasing past after Ranma with a rubber mallet. 'Giving my food to that ball of slime!'
'Not like I was gonna eat somethin' /you'd/ tried to make!' Ranma yelled.
A small grey ball of goop trailed after them, hoping for more food.
Anji crawled after it in hot pursuit. 'Hey! You're supposed to be /my/ pet!'
The duo watched this procession crawl past.
'You /do/ have a point.' Ukyou observed.
'You're not chasing after him?' Adric asked.
Ukyou blinked. 'Akane /did/ try to make Ranchan ill with her ... no, I can't even call it /food/... Now, if he'd asked /me/ to make something for him... 'Cuse me...'
She threw a tiny plastic throwing spatula directly in front of Ranma.
Who ran right into it.
Shortly afterwards, Akane ran right into him.
'Why were /you/ beating on me? Not that I'm not /used/ to it, but I usually get a bit more reason...'
Ukyou frowned. 'Do you know, I have no idea? I think I was nap-beating...'
'Sorry... You were whacking me with a spatula in your /sleep/?' Adric said incredulously.
'Well, I remember trying to make okonomiyaki... Still got a way to go with that,' Ukyou admitted.
Adric noted the batter spattered across her, and decided not to comment.
'-Next thing I know, I've started beating on-' Ukyou paused. 'What? What is it?'
'It's a remote control.' Adric said. 'Stuck to your back.'
'A... remote control? Someone /made/ me beat on you?'
Adric stepped back.
'I'm going to find the baka baby who did this,' Ukyou vowed. 'and I'm going to smack him so hard he won't be able to sit down for a /month/!'
Baby Catbert purred happily.
Technically, he should be known as Kittenbert, but that didn't exactly sound like someone who delighted in messing with others' minds, did it now?
Now, that /had/ been fun.
'Umm... excuse me?'
Baby Catbert turned around. 'Yes? How might I help you?', the tone of his voice suggesting that whatever the questioner suggested, he would most /definitely/ not help them.
'Catbert-chan?' Public Enemy Number One (aka Adric) said.
'Yes?' Ooh, this was going to be fun.
'A friend of mine would like to speak with you.' Adric said.
'Oh? They'll have to see me themselves - assuming you didn't just imagine them.' Catbert purred.
A finger tapped him on the neck. 'I /can/ see you.'
Catbert turned around.
To face a smiling baby Ukyou Kuonji.
A few minutes later...
'Scribble to self: This is why I need to be more subtle...'
'I am /never/ going to live this down...' baby Spike muttered, toddling up in what might have been taken for a suit of armour, if a toddler goddess with a mecha-fixation had been allowed to design it. (Skuld /had/, as a matter of fact.)
He took a deep breath. 'Ho there! I and my loyal companion have come to rescue the Princess Dawn from dur.. dura... well, from really bad things, okay?!'
'Fee fi fo fum!' Kiyone announced, stomping onto the scene. 'I smell the blood of an English vampire! ...Mention word /one/ of this, demoness...' she threatened.
'Who, me?' Mara said, grinning the kind of evil smile that says "I'm gonna rush out afterwards and tell everyone you ever met about this. With photographs!".
Spike's features went into baby vamp face (which somehow managed to be even /more/ terrifying than the adult version...).
'Okay, that was /not/ in Jack and the Beanstalk...'
'Neither was the princess.'
Spike shot a dark look at Adric and Ukyou, who were carefully keeping their faces impassive (an impressive trick for a toddler).
'Never. Say. A. Word. Of. This.'
'Loyal companion?' Adric asked.
'BABY SKULD BOMB AWAY!!!'
A minature bomb came to rest at Kiyone's feet.
'They're not paying me enough for this...'
Paint spattered her trousers.
'Needs more explosive...' Skuld muttered.
'Now, you gonna let the kid go, or am I gonna get nasty on your ankle?'
'I am /not/ a kid!' came Dawn's voice.
'That's *my* line!' Skuld huffed.
In the audience, the baby Eighth Doctor sat back.
'Just another normal day in the playgroup.' baby Death said, grinning happily.
'Just?' Doc said.
Then he grinned back.
'Yes, I suppose it is...'
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat