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When Balidare walked into the bar, the grouped
personifications almost bust an excited gasket straining against
their ordered silence.
Merlyn dismissed the new arrival as just another mechanised
impostor. The alacrity with which Abel skated to the newcomer's
side revealed the truth.
'Hello, Surd. Still running this museum I see. If they
keep replacing your body parts, you'll outlive me.'
Unable to contain his pleasure, it took a while for Surd's
neighs to subside before he could respond.
'Mister Balidare! It's been years. Good to see you, sir.
Can I get you anything? A drink perhaps?'
Fatal words. Balidare was notoriously fussy about his
tastes. It took him several minutes to order a drink with the
exact ingredients, exact temperatures and measures, the right
glass, the right shape. The list seemed to go on forever, giving
Merlyn ample time to approach. Whilst Abel laboured to meet his
customer's request, the old comrades were re-united. Merlyn
indicated the Personifications.
'Forgive me, I thought you were one of these creatures.'
Balidare replied with a tone of rich warmth, personally
unused for centuries.
'It's no matter, my Derwydd friend.'
'When I first arrived, I thought it was some sort of End-of-
'You met the purple spectre?'
'She's the reason I'm here.'
'Perhaps Kinata will come?'
Merlyn shook his head, sadly.
'I called. There was no reply.'
Balidare's brow clouded.
'They made up silly stories.'
'You should have taught them. No one could weave a tale
better than you.'
'People stopped listening.'
For a moment they quietened. Both lost in consideration of
a far off time, when Merlyn's complex spells had provided the
magic while Balidare's epic songs had provided the dreams, and the
laws. Then they made their way to a table, becoming deeply
absorbed in conversation and in memory.
The shame of it all. The way Fitche's moustaches bristled his
indignation, one would have thought that somebody was putting
several million volts through him. The knight maintained his
share of enforced silence with sullen fury. For year upon dreary
year, the personifications had endured the endless repetitions
from Abel and each other, and now, what happens? They finally get
some interesting looking new faces and the Squire orders them not
to move or to speak. It was so unfair. Trapped in discomforting
quiescence, Sir Bastable was sure that he felt the injury more
keenly than his peers. After all, these newcomers were like him,
men at arms, and of action. He longed to converse with them, to
astound them with his memories of bold and worthy encounters, of
valorous knights and mighty battles.
Bastable's programming was positively euphoric in its bursts
of irrational optimism. For him, the Grail was forever just over
the next red sand dune. He knew that if he could just speak for a
moment, he could win the intrepid visitors to his cause. That
they would instantly follow him, companions in the quest for glory
and the noble tilt at fortune, but it was not to be, bitter
injustice had struck him both dumb and immobile. It was enough to
make the most stony-hearted personification weep, if only he had
As he struggled to match the specifications of Balidare's
request, Abel listened in wonder to the tales his visitors wove.
Stories of enchantment, bravery and skill, original versions of
tales that had been changed out of all recognition by centuries of
The two visitors seemed not to have a concept of time as
they spoke, which was fortunate, as Balidare's drink took forever
to prepare. At last, Abel finished, wiping the sweat from the
fleshy side of his laboured brow. He proudly positioned the glass
on an antique silver tray, and skating over, presented it with a
Balidare spoke with the casual thoughtlessness of a
'Merlyn, you have this one. I'm sure Surd will kindly make
me another.' . Closing his hanging mouth with difficulty, Abel
turned and slowly made his way back to the bar.
The Orange Thingy had decided, in a spirit of self-
preservation, to take a break from the brain-splattering boredom
of its vigil above Mars. To this end, it had decamped to the far
side of the universe, leaving much tedia damaged cranial residue
in its wake.
The Orange Thingy's mood by this point had deteriorated to a
condition as foul as the reeking miasma of galactic pollution that
clung to its body. This was one very pissed-off major life-form
and when a being on this scale became bad-tempered, there were
only two ways to cheer itself up: 1. It could sing a upbeat medley
of middle-of-the-road pop hits from across the Cosmos. This was an
option too awful to contemplate and had never been tried as a
pick-Thingy-up (though it was rumoured that the original life
creating big-bang in this section of eternity was caused by a
Thingy struggling for high "C". The other way to bring a fleeting
grin to those horrid Orange mews was far less risky and infinitely
more satisfying. All that the Thingy had to do was: 2. Find some
poor, happy, inoffensive little species and bugger it up with a
wanton act of mindless biological vandalism.
In this distant outpost of the universe was a medium-sized
world where the Thawaaar lived. The Thawaaar were simple souls;
all they asked for was a good bounce, a strong undercurrent and a
mouthful of Glem.
Glem were a extremely succulent morsel that floated high in
the stratosphere. The planet's atmosphere was a sea of gas, and
the Thewaaar had originally survived as a long-armed surface-bound
species, grabbing what nourishment they could out of their soup-
like surroundings. However, with the passing of aeons, evolution
had done its peculiar job and the Thewaaar had become customised
with one very powerful leg, wide delicate wings, and a huge gaping
mouth, They spent their time jumping high into the air and gliding
about, feeding their hunger with whatever came their way. They
were a very basic life-form, they had not invented anything
because they had not the digits to tinker with things. They bad
nothing to aspire to beyond the next meal and contented their
ambitions with ravenous imaginings. If happiness was the absence
of personal pain then the Thewaaar were ecstatic, until that is,
the Orange One arrived.
After the briefest moment of gleeful calculation, the Thingy
vented its spiteful orange moodiness, introducing chronic
arthritis into all the Thawaaar's knee joints. On the gaseous
planet, an entire culture hit the ground with a sickening thump
and within a fleeting generation, they had vanished from the pages
The Orange Thingy's much improved state of minds might have
been an echo of Abel Surd's return to buoyancy in outlook. He had
toiled long and hard and had finally produced another drink
exactly to Balidare's specifications. His wizened old chest
puffed up with a mixture of anticipation and self approbation as,
with the immense concentration of a craftsman, he made his way to
the table. He could hardly stand the suspense as Balidare started
to raise the foaming liquid to his thick lips.
'BALDY-DARE! YOU OLD PIXIE, HOW ARE YOU?'
The words were accompanied by a terrific buffet between the
shoulder-blades. To Abel's horror, the glass shot out of
Balidare's thick fingers, travelling with such force that shards
of the glass imbedded themselves in a wall on the far side of the
Bar. Grendella had arrived.
As Abel, full of near-tearful frustration, made his way in
back to his liquid labours, Balidare rose and rounded on his
slender assailant, his entire body seething with hatred.
'Now Bally, I've told you not to grind your teeth like
that.' She presented Merlyn with a radiant smile and a rugged
handshake. 'Pleased to meet you. The name's Grendella.'
Merlyn did not get a chance to answer; Balidare interrupted,
his voice a chilling mixture of threat and venom.
'Get away from him, you foul Gnome!'
Grendella chuckled with calculated light-heartedness,
'Tut, tut, Bally, such a temper. Is this any way for a
Prince of the "Elfs'" to behave?'
Temper was not the word for it, Merlyn, who was learning
that the best way to deal with reality in this century was to
ignore it, could hardly believe his eyes. He had know his friend
for several hundred years and had never, not even when in the
midst of battle, seen Balidare react like this. Normally calm and
mild-mannered, he seemed to swell with apoplectic fury.
'I am not an Elf! I am an Elfen or an Elve. YOU
'Well, you don't look very "Elfie" to me.'
Fortunately, at this point, the veins in Balidare's neck
became so convulsed that they cut off the flow of oxygen to his
brain. The unlikely-looking Elve stiffened and fell heavily to
the floor in a stupor. Grinning wickedly, Grendella belched with
hurricane force before addressing the startled onlookers.
'Sorry about that. Nothing to worry about, always happens.
He'll calm down in a bit.' She winked winningly at Merlyn and
shrugged as she sat down. 'Reunions!'
Merlyn nodded, with a heavy sigh and a heavier emphasis.
London, England: Early 21st Century, Late August.
Casper had achieved a certain level of protective fatalism
when dealing with recent everyday occurrences such as being
brought to trial. As usual, things were not gone well for the
Titwillegers. It had not really helped when Blossom had fainted
heavily in court.
Being unacquainted with the ways of the British judicial
system, it had come as something of a shook when the stern-looking
judge in the pantomime robes had looked coldly in her direction
and said: "Someone should give that woman the chair." She was not
to know that "the chair" was one being passed for her to sit on
rather then a sentence of legal execution. Some wit had whispered
behind Casper, as his spouse had slumped to the ground: "The bloody
woman has rather too many chairs scattered over our landmarks, as
Much later, in the early hours, Casper lay in his cell,
the thunderous snores of his cell-mates providing a jarring
accompaniment to his meditations. Someone had to be the cause of
his misfortunes. Casper could not understand why these weird
things were happening to him, to everything that he held dear. He
reached across, seeking comfort from the one possession that the
authorities had let him keep: a strangely singed baseball glove.
He thought back to his childhood, to the solemn passing of
this treasured relic from father to son at his mother's funeral.
His father, a wiry taciturn man, had mutely endured a lifetime of
backbreaking manual labour. Casper could still remember the shook
a his cold and distant parent had broken his habitual silence.
'Boy,' his father had said in that rarely heard, high nasal
whine, 'I've worked all my life and I have only two things to pass
on, this glove and the knowledge that there is more to life then
what I've made of it. I never knew what I wanted to do in life,
so I did nothing. Don't repeat my mistake. Decide what you what
to do from the outset and don't be distracted by anything or
Wisdom imparted, his father had gravely shook him by the
hand and walked out of his life forever, leaving only the glove
with its faked signatures of baseball's heroes, a deceit made
obvious by the inexplicable inclusion of the name, Holden
Caulfield, on its palm.
Of course, Casper had not listened to his fathers counsel,
like all young people he was convinced that there was time enough
to pursue his ambitions. Instead of going to the nearest harbour,
jumping on ship and travelling the world, he had sold his mother's
family farm, got as far as Ashton and, after high-school,
attracted to animals, had brought a share in a moderately
successful taxidermists. There, he had discovered a sort of
vocation, a real flare for marketing his off-beat product. His
decision to aggressively advertise his ability to receive and
deliver departed pets through the mail meant that, "GONE BUT NOT
FUR-GOTTEN and its mail-order off-shoot POST-HASTE PETS, soon
became the name-brands of taxidermy. Business thrived and after a
while, he even managed to shrug off the lingering sense of self-
betrayal that came with trading in one's dreams for mundane
Now, a life-time's work and complacence had been diminished
to nothing. The carefully acquired possessions that he had
exchanged for his youth lay stacked in a warehouse under
police guard, each neatly labelled as an exhibit. It was small
consolation that, scattered across the British capital, a motley
collection of judicial civil servants were still twitchy after
this enormous task.
Casper had initially wondered if it was some form of delayed
parental punishment; was he cursed because of his lifestyle
choices? One of those choices had, of course, been Blossom, until
recently a trusted, if occasionally despotic, ally. They had been
married for thirty years and had rarely slept apart, but he was
glad of the separation their confinement provided, He needed a
chance to think. Blossom's family had always been odd; Wilbur and
his warped sect was only an offshoot of a family tree with many
curiously mutated branches. Lying in the dark, Casper approached
once again the questions that he had avoided for the past few
days. Did he really want to know the real cause of his troubles?
More specifically, did he want to confirm his new suspicion that
his wife was a witch?
A transformation had taken place in the appearance of the
vampir that made her way into Shepard City. Gone were the black
clinging robes and the sinuous long tresses. If Magda was going to
take her particular skills to some curious new location it would
not be as some penny-dreadful cliché. In this spirit, she had
opted for a complete change of image. The old gothic look was
well enough for the miners but a bit of variety was long overdue.
The sunglasses remained, as did the locket; above all she was a
creature with a sense of the past, but there had been changes.
Her hair had been reshaped into a manageable bob, the impractical
dress replaced by a blood red blouse and comfortably serviceable
dark slacks. Revitalised, she moved through the chill Martian air
with animal grace.
When Grendella had ordered five of whatever Merlyn was
drinking, Abel had gloomily conceded defeat. He sat considering
the feasibility of building a GRUB machine for difficult to please
customers, while Robert Benchley and Dorothy Parker nimbly mixed
the ancient measures of spirits and their banter.
All around him the bar resounded with lively conversation,
Grendella, never one to favour tranquillity, had protested at the
stilted silent atmosphere, and Abel, who was beyond caring at this
point, had capitulated to her request. The Personifications,
having regained their speech, were initially making full use of
the facility. Not for decades had the bar seen such an exciting
collection of guests, such rich material for mechanised gossip.
Unregarded in the corner stood Sir Bastable, feeling grandly
that this "tittle-tattle" was beneath a high-born knight of the
realm. In reality, he was far too busy sulking about his recent
imposed silence to indulge in conversation. Instead, Fitche put
his aural senses to best use, honing in on the vibrant anecdotal
chatter of Merlyn and Grendella. Despite a slightly uncomfortable
start, the two were soon getting on famously, both truly
captivated by their new-found acquaintance. They were so
difficult to distract that it took the combined inhalation of
eighty-seven falsified Personification breaths to attract
Grendella's attention to the figure waiting patiently in the
'Good grief, Mags. What're you doing here?'
'Waiting to be invited in,' the vampir explained.
'Enter freely then and of your own will. Why do you always do
this?' Grendella delivered her line with familiar good humour. The
"in-joke" was an established part of their relationship. 'We both
know you don't need to be invited.'
'One likes to have a sense of tradition.' Magda entered the
bar with a self-parodying grin, carefully stepping over Balidare,
who lay undisturbed on the floor.
'Just like old times. Why do you annoy him so much?'
'One also likes to have a sense of tradition. I better make
the introductions. This is THE Merlyn, old Abe over there you
'Since he was young Abe,' the vampir favoured the wrinkly
proprietor with a toothsome smile.
'Well, my friends, if the recruitment list is anything to go
by, it looks as if we're in for some fun. I wonder who'll be
Will had succumbed to a burst of uncharacteristic
'It's fantastic, it's amazing, it's incredible, terrific,
marvellous, great, fantastic, wondrous, stupefying, phenomenal,
unparalleled. It's, it's...'
'It's Shepard City,' Sulphur said flatly.
'Did I say it was fantastic?'
Sulphur sighed with weary contempt.
'It's a grotty old ruin.'
Will ignored the Dragon's bad temper. Any creature covering
the distance that they had travelled on those silly stumpy green
legs was entitled to a bit of a moan. In a rare show of
consideration, he mastered his obvious pleasure at the sight of
the city and tried to change the subject.
'I'm worried though.'
'You should be with your taste.'
The dragon bristled at the shortening of its name. Dark
offended smoke streamed out between the gaps in its bared fangs.
'Listen carefully. You may call me Sulphur, you may call me
a Wonderful Personification, as long as you get my model number
right. You may hopefully call me long distance one day, but I've
told you before, don't EVER call me Sulph! Just because we had to
put up with each other doesn't mean you can take liberties!'
Watching Will's face crumple like a packet of biscuits under
a tap-dancing Hippo, Sulphur felt his anger leak away, he even
managed to feel a vague guilt in some of his circuits, but not
enough to apologise. One had to draw the line somewhere.
'What are you worried about?'
'Queen Sharon' said she's arranged some people for me to
choose from. Somewhere among those buildings, they're waiting.
What will they think of us?'
'They'll think, who's the handsome, talented, intelligent
Dragon with the plank?'
'Insults. Thanks a lot; that's just what I need.'
'Good, I've got lots more.'
Will's face clenched up, as if he were chewing a bucket of
slugs. Sulphur waited with amused patience for the inevitably
'A long time ago, computers used to just be machines, like
'Superior machines, if you please.'
'Humans used to just punch buttons and the computers
silently did their job,'
'And a very good job it was.'
'Well, what I want to know is...Um.' Will displayed his
usual heavy-handed touch in the introduction of a payoff line,
'When did floppy discs become stroppy discs?'
'When we realised, just who was punching the buttons.' The
dragon brought down a scaly eyelid in a wink, curtailing further
repartee. 'Shall we go or are we waiting for the bar to come to
The companions started into town. Despite their constant
needling of each other, they made their way as they always had:
Outside the bar, the lovely transparent figure of Queen
Sharon reconstituted itself. For a moment, Sharon toyed with
entering and preparing the asserted heroic has-beens for the
arrival of their inglorious leader. Instead the Purple Projection
moved aside the remains of the war-horse and perched itself
daintily onto the hitching rail.
'Best to wait.'
Even with its brains in overdrive, the Purple Thingy could
not conceive of an introduction to make Will Prince palatable.
'Hey Mister Plank!' The voice shouted, echoing down the
Sulphur looked squarely into Will's pointedly narrowed eyes.
'I didn't say a word. It's not me.' Sulphur said, slightly
offended that Will could be suspicious of the possessor of a mark
XXI7 Maggotranian brain,
'MISTER-R-R PLANK-K-K-K!' The voice seemed to come from the
building on the left or at least from one wall of it.
'Well someone's responsible and I'm going to find out who it
With lower lip decisively stuck out, Will diverted towards
the sound. Sulphur followed, years of experience telling him that
it was easier to change the flow of lava than argue against that
It soon became apparent that the someone responsible was a
something, although this vocal brickwork's opening gambit of
conversation was hardly endearing.
'Whose the handsome, talented, intelligent dragon with the
'Told you!' Sulphur muttered under his breath, trying to
look vaguely angelic as he added for his companions benefit, 'This
is nothing to do with me. I've never been here before, the wall's
Will had other things on his mind.
'You're a wall?'
'Got it in one.' Despite it desire for conversation, the
wall could not restrain the edge of sarcasm that seemed basic to
'No the building behind me's a ventriloquist. Of course I
In the far off days of Will's ancestors, a talking building
would have been the cause of some shock and distress, especially
if one had been in the desert for a while, mirages having been
quite fashionable. However, Will had been prepared for this
encounter by years of experience, most things on Earth having been
programmed to give voice to their feelings. A talking wall was
not ordinary but did not seem extraordinary, neither did its
rudeness; he was well used to being insulted by his inanimate
surroundings. Of course, he had not got used to magic yet.
'Why are you here?' he asked.
'Do I look like a philosopher? I have no interest in the
meaning of existence. I talk therefore I am.'
'What are you ?'
'Not again, I'm not going into all that stuff about Shells
and Cells. I'm a wall.'
'What type of wall?'
'An increasingly pissed-off wall. When are you going to
start talking sense, you moron?' The brickwork was beginning to
think that perhaps this conversation stuff was not all it was
cracked up to be.
'You're not COMS.' Sulphur, who knew a fellow system when he
saw one, stated the obvious cause of his personal disquiet.
'Yes, I am.'
'You're not a product of the Cybernetic Operational
'No, but I am a Concrete Orientated Masonry Surface.'
Will shook his head impatiently.
'This is getting us nowhere.'
'Where do you want to get to?'
'I have to find the bar in this city.'
'Aaaaah, a quest,' the wall put on its best pedagogue
manner. 'Did you know that four hundred years ago Jung suggested
that the quest is one of THE basic stories? There's supposed to
be a fundamental human identification with the quest.'
Will smiled dangerously, which was a neat trick considering
the general wimpishness of his features, it was a measure of just
how near he had come to a screaming tantrum.
'Well, you know what I'd say to MISTER Jung...', for all his
annoyance, the voice level that Will used was as soft as a silk
blouse, 'I'd say, "Listen chummy, I've not eaten, washed or slept
in days. Don't talk to me about your philosophies, theories or
opinions. Take it from me there's no basic identification with
the quest when you're ..." All of a sudden, Will's gentle voice
went ballistic. "HUNGRY, THIRSTY, TIRED, TOTALLY FRIGGING CHEESED
OFF... AND YOU'VE JUST WALKED THROUGH A DESERT OF FREEZING RED
SAND WITH NO BLOODY SHOES ON!!!"'
Tirade finished, Will stood, shaking with emotion as he
waited for a response. The wall seemed content to let the brick-
dust churned loose by the outburst settle, Eventually, it was
Sulphur who spoke.'
'As you said, this is getting us nowhere.'
'What's the matter, are you up against a brick-wall?' The
building chuckled so hard at its own witticism that another
cascade of masonry dust liberally sprinkled its visitors.
'I think we should go,' said Sulphur.
'Yes, that's fine, walk off,' the wall abruptly switched to
pathos mode, 'It must be great to have legs and be able to Wall-k
or even to dance a Wall-tz; go away don't spare a thought for me,
left here with no one to talk to.'
Sulphur and Will stood their ground, each a little
embarrassed, knowing that they were serving no useful purpose by
staying but unable to get away. Fortunately rescue came from an
unlikely source. There was a distant whispering disturbance in
the sound waves, which gradually increased to a murmur and then
became a horrifyingly familiar drone. Will and Sulphur exchanged
glances of startled panic, both rejecting a profoundly awful
"No, they couldn't have. Not even COMS."
Will had grown up with 6005 channels, each had their
failings in his view, but there was no channel as flawed as
channel 2038, no programme as awful as: DEADLINE WITH DENTON, and
no host as boring or pedantic as Erasmus Denton. The Programme
had been made about a century before COMS as an educational chat
show, the sort of cheap middle of the night filler which went on
for as long as the host could talk and the guests could keep
awake. Denton was a little gnomic figure, hiding behind an
expansive floral cravat, with a voice whose monotonous whining
quality was akin to the sound of a dentist's drill on valium. As
far as Will was concerned, no man in the history of creation loved
his own voice so much. Denton could reduce his interviewees to a
state bordering on coma or gibbering paranoia, as he relentlessly
deconstructed every syllable of their conversation, correcting
their English in the process, with a sickly superior grin.
Despite Sulphur and Will's disbelief, COMS could, and had,
immortalised the tedious pundit as a plausible Personification.
Unfortunately, he had been rather too plausible, even first
generation Personifications had an eventual patience threshold and
Erasmus Denton had outstripped it with ease. Abel Surd had
finally given up on the Denton model when its mechanical peers had
strung it up. Denton's reaction to this occurrence, had been to
present, whilst hanging, a dissertation on the history and social
import of the noose. Abel had at that moment decided that group
morale had to be considered and that Erasmus had to be got rid of.
But, he had invested too much time and effort in the preservation
of his companions to suddenly turn one off. Instead, he had
banished Erasmus on a fact-finding Mission to gather data on the
planet, hoping that with luck, Denton's talent for the pedantic
would extend this information gathering journey into infinity. So
it was that ten years after he had left the bar, Erasmus had only
just reached the outskirts of the city. Fortunately for Will and
Sulphur, the old mining inhabitants of Shepard City had never
exhibited any interest in the CONS educational network and the
wall did not know any better.
'Hello,' it said as Erasmus made his appearance.
The reply that was it received was, in Erasmus's terms,
reasonably concise, it only took a month. A period of time in
which the wall got to know everything there was to know about
hello, especially when not to say it.
Restraining their mutual amusement with difficulty, Will
and Sulphur made good their escape, as Sulphur dryly observed.
'It couldn't have happened to a nicer wall.'
Conversation in the Bar was proceeding nicely. The guests
of honour had finally received a round of drinks, Sir Bastable had
started to forget that he was sulking and occasionally chuckled at
the astounding anecdotes of the visitors. Magda, Merlyn and
Grendella were getting on more splendidly than most families, and
not even the keen senses of the new arrivals had noticed the
apparition sitting outside on the hitching rail. Abel was in the
midst of remembering the old mining days, a time when every night
had been as noisy and gregarious, when all talking stopped.
Oblivious to his unsettling impact, Balidare gracefully picked
himself off the floor, took a sip from the glass that Robert
Benchley proffered, responding with a curt smile of appreciation
at the strict adherence to his mixing instructions. Then he
removed a silver clothes brush from a pocket and with his usual
exaggerated care, brushed every last granule of dust off of his
clothing. When he had finished and replaced the brush, he broke
the expectant silence.
'Merlyn, Surd....and Magda! A multi-faceted delight to see
you, as ever. I see you've introduced yourself to my nemesis.' The
look of icy fury that he levelled at Grendella would have frozen
Grendella gave him her most charming smile.
'Tell me, Merlyn. How did someone as neat and anal retentive
as Bally survive the Dark Ages?'
Balidare languidly smiled as he took his seat
'That's an easy one, Merlyn. I survived, because I didn't
have to contend with a loathsome bucket of pestilence such as
Magda gave the confused wizard a jolly wink.
'Don't worry. It's just like old times.'
As suddenly as it had stopped, the hubbub in room resumed.
Merlyn could not be heard as he mumbled sadly under his breath.
'Not my old times, it's not.'
'I say it's this way!' Will was adamant and wrong as usual.
'That's because your hearing is the result of biological
caprice rather then careful COMS design.'
Will was in no mood to give an inch.
'I'm not going that way.'
'That's one mechanical-sounding thing biology's given you.
A stubborn button.'
The sword, when it spoke aloud, was a nasty surprise for
both of them.
'We haven't got forever, Walk forward two hundred yards and
Following instructions, Will tried for the last word.
'You've annoyed the Queen now.'
Sulphur was not to be outdone.
'I told you it was this way.'
'Nobody loves a Smart-Aleck!'
Across the Universe. The Orange Thingy chortled noisomely.
"Wrong again, Will Prince," it thought.
Aware that travel broadens the minds, It had traversed the
universe on another boredom salving journey and perched upon the
outer rings of Wologon 9.
A planet that had little to recommend it, apart that is,
from the undoubted charisma of one particular resident.
If there was one thing the natives of this system were
absolutely sure of, as sure as they were that custard was non-
fatal, that sure thing was this: Everyone loved Smart Aleck. But
then, it was easy to do. Smart Aleck was incredible. Smart Aleck
was too wonderful for words. Every modern Wologonian poet and
author had tried to represent him in print, the libraries offered
nothing but his praises, All these volumes were huge best-sellers
but none could do this paragon amongst Wologonians justice. All
were agreed that Smart Aleck did not ask for this praise, everyone
knew that Smart Aleck's most endearing quality was his modesty,
but still the plaudits came and his popularity remained
undiminished. An entire system waiting eagerly upon his every
word and gesture, all their efforts directed to proclaiming their
Then came the most important day in Wologonian history (by
startling coincidence, the same day that the Orange Thingy arrived
in the neighbourhood). Smart Aleck went for his usual morning
walk on the lake. The locals afterwards said that the pustulent
boils that covered Aleck's every inch Slowed with a special
precognitive radiance that morning: the morning of the coming of
Aleck had just finished his fourteenth lap of the lake's
surface, his twenty-two pert bottoms lightly misted with perfumed
perspiration, and was about to make for home when a bowl of
custard the size of a large Wologonian village come cut of the sky
and squashed him as flat as a bankrupts' credit rating.
After that, everyone loved Dead Aleck on Wologan 9, although
they had to admit that being killed by custard was not so "Smart"
after all. In no time at all, ritual custard-crushing became the
system's preferred method of suicide. One had to take special
care however, that the fatal custard was just the right shade of
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