Nyssa tapped her fingers again.
Then she looked at her watch.
Sighed, looked at the watch again, and looked around wistfully.
Where _was_ the little swamp rat?
She'd only killed him three days ago. He should be _back_ by now...
'Sorry about this, sir...' the receptionist said. 'We've had to get in an outside technician.'
Ever since the afterlife's computers had crashed earlier that morning, Adric had been getting steadily more and _more_ and _MORE_ irritated...
And this latest piece of news wasn't helping one bit.
It wasn't the waiting that bothered him; at least it meant getting away from that psycho for a few hours.
Nor was it his surroundings, even though the lights were dim and buzzing, the only magazines available were copies of 'Lint Collecting Monthly', and his chair felt as if it'd been stuffed with rocks..
No, what was _really_ getting on his nerves...
...was the damned *muzak*.
Another hundred repetitions of 'Live and Let Die', he thought, and I am going to go _postal_.
That'd be fun. Having _two_ psychos on the loose in the 'Round...
His (runaway) train of thought was derailed by a sigh of relief from the receptionist, signifying the arrival of one who's finally going to deal with the problem and make all these moaning clients go _away_....
Adric craned to see who the 'outside technician' was. Mel, perhaps? Zoe? Wesley?
When he _did_ see who the technician was, he splurted his tea all over the carpet. And the desk.
And the receptionist.
Adric blushed in embarrassment. 'Oops. Sorry...'
'Fitz... it was funny the first time. The 252nd time, on the other hand...'
'Hey, why change what works?'
'Like that _does?_ ...I've been thinking. Why don't we move out?'
Fitz blinked. 'Move *out?* Out of the _'Round_?'
'That _was_ what I had in mind, yes...' Anji said sardonically.
'I believe it's called "I want some personal _space_, dammit!! Preferably _without_ the risk of being blown to Kingdom Come!" That okay?' Anji raised an eyebrow.
Fitz thought about this. Then he looked at Nyssa, at the well-armed members of the ADF, at the various evil deities who were enjoying a quiet drink...
And they looked back at him.
Fitz swallowed, and turned back to Anji. 'You're on.'
Meanwhile, at the video store...
'I-I-I'm very sorry, madam, but-'
'I'll madam *you*...'
'Hold her! Hold her!' Sam screamed.
'What's it _look_ like I'm doing?! The watusi?!' Izzy shrieked.
The raging mass of incoherent, foaming fury struggled in their grip.
'I can't _hold_ her...*Do* something!' Izzy screeched.
'Umm... Yeah. I was wondering,' Sam said to the man behind the counter. 'Would you reserve "Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla" for us when it comes in again? That's for Charlotte Pollard. P O L L A R D.'
'Y-Yes...' the man said, hurriedly punching the reservation into the computer.
'Charley? Charley, the video's on reservation...' Sam said soothingly.
'Reser...' Charley said.
'That's right. Reserved. Just for you. And when it comes in...'
'I _knew_ I shouldn't have loaned her my video collection...' Izzy muttered under her breath.
'...You'll be able to get it first. Okay?'
'First...' Charley said. 'Godzilla.... MechaGodzilla...'
'That's right...' Sam said. 'A Godzilla tape ready and waiting for you...'
Charley was silent as they left the store.
Izzy and Sam _knew_ what was coming next.
'Oh, please. Pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease...'
'Charley, _no_. We are _not_ having another Godzilla crossover, and that's _final_.'
'Ever had to clear up radioactive lizard poo?'
'Look, how about some ice cream? I think I saw an ice cream van over-'
Which, in accordance with the laws of dramatic irony and slapstick, was when a very, *very* large glob of Walls' 99 ice cream landed on them.
There was a brief silence.
Izzy dipped her finger in the ice cream. 'Mmm. Chocolate... Hold on. Walls' 99 doesn't come in chocolate...'
Charley looked around, slightly stunned. 'Wha' happened?'
'We got hit by a falling glob of ice cream. Not even _existing_ ice cream, at that.' Izzy said grumpily.
'Oh. So that's it...' Charley said vaguely. 'Hey, this bit over here looks like a hand...'
Sam looked over. 'It _is_ a hand... Izzy, Charley, gimme a hand with this...'
Izzy and Sam scraped away the chocolate (Charley was too busy singing "Ten Green Bottles") to reveal...
...'Adric?!' Sam gawped. 'How...'
'Bit concussed,' Izzy diagnosed. 'Here, lemme have a go...'
She bent down and said 'Oh, Adric...'
'Oooohhh... Solve that differential _again_, Nyssa...'
Sam and Izzy exchanged Looks.
Sam bent down with a terrifyingly sweet expression on her face and the coyest tone of voice she could muster. 'Psycho Nyssa's standing behind you with a grenade launcher...'
Ever seen one of those cartoons where the hero suddenly jerks up in bed, with bulging eyes, a terrified expression and really, *really*, spiky hair?
Good. Now multiply it by 10.
You're not even _close_ to describing how Adric looked.
He slumped (well, squelched) back into the ice cream.
'Just out cold, I think...' Sam said, after checking his pulse.
'Oooh. That _hurt_... That was _delicious_...'
'Well, she's _coherent_...'
Back at This Time Round...
Fitz boggled. '_That's_ how much a house costs?'
Anji shrugged. 'Well, yes, if we wanted to live close to the Round... Where _do_ we get money from, anyway? I manage the stocks and shares, and I still have no clue where you get it all...'
'We get a fee from the Author Mafia. They feel obliged to pay us for each appearance, for some reason... Then there are the fanfics, the pictures, the public appearances, opening supermarkets... and there's the lives insurance, the danger pay, the shares...'
'What's that all total to?' Anji asked curiously.
Fitz told her.
'And _that's_ nothing. You should see Benny's portfolio...' Fitz said as an aside.
'I did. I had nightmares for weeks afterwards...'
Fitz and Anji looked up.
And started giggling.
'Yeah, yeah, we're covered in chocolate ice cream. We _had_ noticed, thank you _so_ much...' Izzy grumbled.
'What happened? You get into a fight with Ben and Jerry?' Fitz said.
'You _wouldn't_ believe it...'
Sam told them.
Fitz boggled again. 'I do not _believe_ it...'
'Anji, would you mind?'
'I take it this _isn't_ a normal state of affairs for This Time Round... Then again, I didn't think it _had_ a normal state of affairs...' Anji commented.
The others paused. Then they looked at each other, slapped their foreheads and chorused 'D'oh!'
'Right now, all I want is a _bath_...' Sam said. 'But... yeah, this _isn't_ normal...'
'Have the bath,' Anji said. 'Then, I think we're going to have to look into this.'
'Why us?' Fitz asked.
'Ice cream. Smeared over people. Do I have to spell it out?' Sam gave Fitz another Look.
Fitz thought about this. Then he started grinning. 'Oh...'
'Can I do the honours this time, Sam?'
'Be my guest, Anj.'
'I still don't get it...' Charley said, a baffled frown on her face.
'Uh-oh...' Izzy said.
Back in town again...
Anji stood in the middle of the road. 'This is where it happened?'
'Yep.' Izzy said.
'So... where's the ice cream?' Fitz said.
They looked around.
There was absolutely no ice cream in sight, or any other related dairy products.
'_Something_ hit us...' Sam said. 'And a mound of ice cream like _that_ doesn't just get up and walk away...' She trailed off.
The others thought about this. Then, as one, they shuddered.
'What's that noise?' Charley said. 'It sounds like... an elephant?'
'Right. An ice-cream loving elephant happened to pass by and suck it all up...' Fitz scoffed. Then he paused. 'Hold on, I can hear it too... Sounds like... a _vacuum cleaner?_'
'A vacuum cleaner?' Izzy repeated.
'DUCK!!!' Anji screamed.
'No, it sounds like a vacuum cleaner...' Fitz said.
'No, I mean get _down_, you literal-minded twonk...'
They dived for the nearest corner.
Then, cautiously, Izzy stuck her head out.
Charley took a peep. Her jaw dropped. 'Wha-?'
Trundling down the street was a vacuum cleaner.
Or, more precisely, what a vacuum cleaner would look like if it mated with an oil tanker.
Sam tried to push the image out of her head, but it kept coming back.
At the front, underneath the driver's seat, was a truly *massive* nozzle.Behind the driver, mounted on a set of artiulated wheels, was a large, clear plastic container.
Well... it _wasn't_ clear. It was filled to the brim with ice cream. Chocolate Walls' 99, to be precise.
And sitting in the driver's seat was...
'Who _is_ that?' Sam asked no-one in particular.
Izzy shrugged. 'Got me...'
Anji looked around. 'Where's Fitz?'
Charley nodded towards the 'cleaner'. 'Fitzgerald went over there.'
' 'Ello, 'ello, 'ello... Little young to be driving this, aren't we?'
The small girl in the driver's seat looked up at Fitz. 'No.'
Fitz raised an eyebrow. 'Could I see your licence, please, miss?'
The girl reached inside her shirt, and handed him a piece of card.
'Goddess Licence,' Fitz read. 'The bearer of this licence has been registered as a Goddess Second Class with the Powers That Be...' He read down the licence. 'Name: Skuld... Goddess of the Future... Licence Type... Age...' His gaze went down until he saw the signature at the bottom. His eyes bugged out. 'Oh... my...'
Fitz tried to regain his composure. 'Well, that seems to be in order, Miss... Skuld. Umm... is there any particular _reason_ you happened to be driving this ...ice cream collector... along a street recently covered in ice cream?'
The girl bristled. 'It's _not_ an ice cream collector. It's the Mark Two Super Articulated Syphon... aren't you, Mr. Sypho?
'Mr. _Sypho_?' Fitz repeated.
'Do you have a _problem_ with that?'
'Umm... no, not really... So... why _were_ you driving...' Fitz swallowed nervously. '...Mr. Sypho along the street?'
'It was covered in ice cream,' Skuld said, as if explaining to an idiot.
'Ah. Well, that makes sense...'
Fitz wandered back, rather dazed, Skuld looking after him with an expression of bafflement remarkably similar to Charley's.
'What happened?' Izzy asked.
'Well, her licence's in order...'
'Who _is_ she?'
Fitz swallowed. Sam angry was something that scared him more than anything bar possibly Lawrence Miles. 'Um... Skuld. She's... um... a goddess...'
'Doesn't look like one...' Anji said critically.
'No, I mean _really_ a goddess. With a licence and everything...' Fitz stuttered.
'So what's she _doing?_'
'Siphoning ice cream.'
Fitz shrugged. 'That's what she said. _I'm_ not arguing with a goddess...'
'So *what about the ice cream?!*' Sam nearly shrieked.
'Didn't have a clue. Her satellite spotted it from above, she whipped up Mr Sypho-'
'Mr. Sypho? Satellite?' Charley gawped.
'Don't ask... Anyway, she whipped up Mr. Sypho, came over, and started collecting...'
Anji's mind fixed on one point. 'What does a _goddess_ want with ice cream?'
'She eats it.' Fitz gave her a funny look. 'Anyway, she _did_ tell me that the ice cream appeared out of thin air...'
Assimilating. Ice cream appears out of thin air. Adric apparently arrives with it. Adric was last seen being messily killed by Nyssa.
Interpolation: Adric has a 'mortality deferment card' allowing him to return from the dead.
Interpolation: Nyssa _had_ been looking fidgety for the last couple of days...
Tentative conclusion: Adric was returned from the afterlife in a glob of ice cream.
Corollary: This is not normal, even for Adric.
'...Something's up in the afterlife.'
Interpolation: We left Adric in This Time Round. With a fidgety Nyssa.
Conclusion: Oh, *shit*.
'Not again...' Skuld muttered. 'Come on!' she yelled.
They clambered onto Mr Sypho.
Charley wriggled uncomfortably on her seat. 'Are you _sure_ this is safe?'
'Of _course_ it is. Are you _criticising_ my work?.' Skuld's expression brooked no argument.
The others adopted an expression of imminent doom.
'So... why...' Anji began
' 'Cause if something's up in the afterlife, _that_ probably means Yggdrasil's playing up again...'
'What's Yggdra-' Sam began.
'Tell you on the way.' Skuld started Mr. Sypho.
Then she looked at her (increasingly uncomfortable) passengers. 'Umm... where are we going?'
Fitz facepalmed. 'Oy vey...'
Izzy poked her head around This Time Round's front door. 'Polly's not here. Come on...'
The others sidled in.
Fitz peered around. 'Mm. Don't see- Oh no...'
Nyssa was walking towards Adric, a kitchen knife hidden behind her back.
'Bit unimaginative...' Fitz commented.
'Not if she sticks it where I _think_ she's going to stick it...' Sam said.
'Lemme handle it... SKULD BOMB AWAAAAYYYYY!!'
A little ball with little switches rolled in front of Nyssa.
Nyssa looked down. 'Wha-?'
Izzy winced. 'Ow. She's _not_ gonna be happy 'bout that...'
'Where the _hell_ did you get that?!' Fitz gasped, after he stopped laughing.
'I-' Skuld started.
'Hide her!' Charley hissed. 'Polly's coming this way...'
'What's the problem?'
'Can _you_ remember an "Ah! My Goddess!" crossover?'
'Ah. _That_ might be a problem- No, Skuld, we're _not_ going to blow her up. She gets really _upset_ if crossover characters try blowing her up...'
Skuld looked around, leaped-
'Where did she go?' Charley wondered.
'Where did who go?' Polly asked as she came over, clipboard and pen in hand.
'We... We were just wondering where Compassion went on her holidays...' Sam said. Inwardly, she winced. That sounded so _fake_...
Polly ohhed. 'Did you get any postcards yet?'
'Yep. Nice one of the Vortex, saying "Wish you were here...".' Fitz quickly stuck in. He frowned. 'Not sure whether that was a joke or not...'
'Oh.' Polly said. 'Nice to know she's having a good time...'
'Hey, isn't that Peter Davison over there?' Izzy hurriedly pointed to a vague point somewhere in the distance..
Polly bustled over, ready to ask whether he'd appeared in any fics.
Anji sighed. '_That_ was close... Okay, you can come out now...'
She looked around. 'Skuld? Skuld?'
Number One had taken to carrying a thermos.
Had any of the WANKERs been around, they might have wondered why.
Then again, in Number One's opinion, those idiots wouldn't even see the patently obvious if it stripped naked, jumped up and down on their heads, and started shouting "I'M THE PATENTLY OBVIOUS!!"
As for why he carried one... well, there'd been that little matter of that curse which kept turning him into a shorter, red-haired girl whenever cold water was splashed on him.
So he needed hot water to turn him back.
So he'd started carrying a thermos.
Unfortunately, the only one he'd been able to find had had a picture of Adric on it.
In Number One's carefully considered opinion, it was smirking at him.
There was a tapping sound.
Number One looked around. There was no-one nearby.
Cautiously, he tapped back.
There was a receiving tap.
'If this is gonna turn into a seance,' Number One muttered, 'they'd better pray they're already dead... Okay, where are y'all?'
It seemed to be coming from the thermos.
'In the flask?'
Number One started getting worried. _Then again,_ his inner voice said, _how big can they be?_
_Yeah. Yeah. I can handle them..._
He took a tight grip, untwisted, lifted the lid, and-
A small girl with long black hair, a mallet strapped across her back, and a circle mark on her forehead jumped out of the flask.
Unfortunately, being about five feet tall, she'd been a little _too_ big for the flask.
'Oops. Sorry about that...' Skuld said. And ran away. Very fast.
Also very unfortunately, Skuld's teleportation jump to the flask had meant _she'd_ absorbed the water's heat. Which meant the flask now contained cold water.
Which had splashed on Number One.
With, as they say, Hilarious Results.
'I'm gonna find out who y'all are...' the now dripping-wet redhead said. 'and I'm gonna seriously _maim_ you...'
'So what happened, Adric?' Charley had bent down by the Alzarian, using her most comforting manner.
'Let's see...Wake up, yadda yadda, have breakfast, yadda yadda, do accounts, yadda yadda, get killed by Nyssa...' Adric slowed. 'Then... I was just going to get my affadivit from Death punched. The computers went down... and they called in an outside technician.'
Izzy started to get _another_ of those sinking feelings. 'And the outside tech was...?'
Adric told them.
'Who?' Charley said.
'Wait wait wait... I know that name...' Izzy said.
Skuld boggled. 'They actually let _him_ repair it?'
'You know him?' Fitz said.
'Oh yeah. I know him, all right... ' She smiled sweetly. 'And we're going to have a nice long chat about the morality of infecting the universe's OS with a computer virus...'
'Will this "chat" involve big explosions, people running in terror, and his smoking body in a heap on the ground?' Adric asked.
Skuld considered. Eventually, she replied 'Yep'.
Fitz raised an eyebrow. 'And just how are we gonna _get_ to the afterlife?'
Skuld's smile got bigger. 'I have just the thing...' She pulled a roll of paper out of her shirt.
'How do you _do_ that?!' Sam asked.
'Trade secret. Now, lemme see...'
Charley looked at the plans. 'Oh, _waow!!_'
Sam and Izzy looked at each other. 'Oh, crap.'
Sherriff Lucas Buck sat back in his chair, and slowly revealed his most demonic smile.
After all, the chance to wreak havoc on the Other Side wasn't one most of his kind would pass up. Especially with something so subtle as a computer virus.
And the best part of it was, they wouldn't realise what'd happened until he was long gone. They wouldn't even know _who_ until that pathetic Alzarian boy returned.
Not one of his most subtle plans, but everyone needs a break, right?
Ah well, time to make his goodbyes...
There was a low, rumbling sound.
Lucas looked around. What the-?
The rumbling grew louder.
Earthquake? Maybe in the areas _ he_ knew, but at the Mortality Deferment Office?
He started to get a very, very bad feeling in the pit of his stomach.
Time to leave. Now.
He headed for the back door, turned the handle, opened it-
-only to be halted by a reptilian toe.
The toe was attached to a foot, which in turn was attached to a leg, which in turn...
He looked up. And up, and up, and up...
The gigantic, primal reptile loomed over him.
'Hey, Lucas!!' came a voice from the very top of the reptile. 'Let's talk 'bout proper computer care, shall we?'
Sherriff Lucas Buck suddenly felt the very, very urgent need to go to the toilet.
'There, that should do it...'
Sam shot Skuld a suspicious look. 'Should it?'
'Of course it should... Whosa good computer, then? You are, yes you are...'
'Where's Charley?' Anji asked.
'Taking MechaGodzilla for a walk...' Sam said.
Anji ahhed. 'I _wondered_ what the screaming was...'
'Yeah. Are _you_ gonna stop a fifty-foot reptile going anywhere he wants?' Adric said, smirking.
'What _I_ don't get is why the virus made such an obvious glitch...' Izzy pouted. She'd wanted to go on MechaGodzilla too, and was still sulking.
Skuld stopped patting Yggdrasil - a.k.a the computer that ran everything - or at least its terminal in the Mortality Deferment Office, and shuffled in embarrassment. 'Ah...'
Adric facepalmed. 'I have a bad feeling about this...'
'It's just that... well, my big sister likes tinkering with things. Computer programs, medications, relationships... And umm...'
'She got her hands on it first...' Adric completed gloomily.
'Yep. It's got one of her trademarks, look...' Skuld turned back to the terminal.
'I couldn't let my little sister have all the fun, could I?'
'How about... _yes?_'
Fitz peered at the platinum blonde on the screen. '_That's_ your sister?!'
'Observant, isn't he...' the screen said. 'Hiya. I'm Urd, that little brat's big sister and Goddess First Class...'
She was interrupted by a furious Skuld. '_First_ Class?! *First Class?!* For the Almighty's sake, Urd, _everyone_ knows you're a Goddess Second Class!!'
'_I_ didn't,' Fitz said to nobody in particular.
'Oh yeah, brat?! We'll see about that!'
As the sibling rivalry raged in the background, Anji sank her head on her hands. 'I wonder if the Almighty would mind us asking about planning permission...'
Adric swallowed. 'I think it just got granted...'
'Has it occured to anyone,' Sam said to nobody in particular, 'that we're on first name terms with _far_ too many deities...?'
'That's okay, then....' Fitz said, with the mad grin of someone trying _not_ to think too deeply about what's just happened.
_That_ was when one of Urd's stray lightning bolts hit him.
When the smoke cleared, Fitz was still standing, albeit somewhat... singed.
'Oops.' Urd said, mock-shamefully.
Izzy looked over. 'Umm... Fitz? You have the words "Want a date?" painted on your forehead...'
'Oh. Thass nice. I thin'... I'm gonna haveta say "Yes".'
Then he fell over.
Are they ever going to get Charley off MechaGodzilla?
Why _has_ Urd asked Fitz out on a date? And just how many more lightning bolts can the poor guy take?
Will Nyssa and Number One ever manage to get their revenge?
Just _what_ has Anji agreed to?
Will Polly find out about that little 'unauthorised crossover'?
Are there any more stupid questions I can ask in order to drum up the illusion of suspense?
All will be revealed... if a sequel ever actually comes along, that is...
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat