Teledildonics, Inc.
Copyright Carolyn Horn 1994
All Rights Reserved
Chapter 24.

         In a well-worn Shearweird Forest clearing that night, further events were taking shape. Most of those events centred around an almost comatose Gerald, who was being dosed with as much Dutch Courage as he could hold. One complaint he couldn't make was that of loneliness - not with a hundred or so Travellers, a manic circus, and three gods helpfully showing him how to take the medicine. Some of them had been so enthusiastic about it that they now lay in various inelegant poses, snoring among the trees.
         Gerald squinted around. "I say, can't we leave all this until after tomorrow - break down the doors of the place, or something? It'll be much easier to face Linsey when I'm safely married."
         "What?" Holly whirled around to glare at him. "You mean you still haven't told her, Toff? It's not that bloody difficult."
         "You don't know Linsey. I say, you fellows - I'm not going over there without my ol' buddy," Gerald said, grabbing hold of Leo and hugging as much of the lion's mane as he could.
         Leo huffed, and continued to demonstrate his booze-lapping abilities.
         Holly put her head on one side and examined her man critically. She shuddered and took another suck at Ceredwen's bagpipes. "You don't think those Toffs will guess that he's a lion?"
         "What if they do?" Gerald stumbled to his feet, and began to rotate his hands in a Gerbil motion. "Should we allow a bunch of unenlightened bigots to dictate our actions? This discrimination against our noble cousins must stop! I put it to you- "
         "Well, pal - I put it to you that these Toffs are in charge of Teledildonics' keys." Holly passed the bagpipes on, and became brisk. "Okay, gang - let's disguise our Leo. I think the way he walks would be a dead giveaway, so we'd better get him some wheels. Beauty? We'll have to use yours."
         The tigress looked up from the task of washing her cub's ears, and growled gently, as if to say You and whose army?. She was a tense bundle of muscle and claw; she was a killing-machine of a cat.
         She was, however, no match for Holly.
         Leo squidged his rear end into her harness and rocked back on the wheels, front paws waving in the air, trying to look as much like a distinguished old man in a wheelchair as possible. The harness creaked in protest.
         Holly shook her head. "Something's missing," she said, tapping her teeth with a thumbnail. "I know!" She produced a pair of spectacles - the type that came free with the scratch-and-feel magazines (guaranteed to save your eyesight) - and placed them on the lion's nose.
         He peered through them hopefully. His audience made stifled noises.
         "Ah, not bad," said Doug Marrow at last. "Ten out of ten for effort. The general decay is superb. In terms of short-sightedness and decrepitude, you're onto a winner. Where the effect falls down - and I must confess that it falls down badly here - is in the matter of fur and genitals. He's got too much of both."
         "Oh, right," said Holly brightly, snapping her fingers, "shears, that'll do the trick- "
         Leo shook his mane and roared.
         "No no," Drew broke in, "you could pass off the mane as a mark of - of - well, you'll think of something. As for the genitals- "
         Leo rumbled ominously.
         "- how about a kilt? That would cover quite a few complications."
         Thus it was that, as the moon rose over Uptonburgh, a series of strange shadows slunk past the Square and round the back of Teledildonics' building, carrying with them a black box, a supply of booze (for medicinal purposes), and a lion with a mobility problem.
         Several hours had been spent in demonstrating to Gerald how to build up courage. It had worked a treat - everyone who wasn't flat on their backs and snoring simply oozed courage. Everyone except for Gerald.
         They thrust the unwilling Toff to the fore.
         "Go on, pal," Holly hissed, "get that back-door open."
         "Oh I say, do I really have to? You know Linsey'll think- "
         "Look, is your love-life more important than all those trapped people?"
         "Erm - yes?" Gerald realised at once that this was not the required response; his Holly aimed an informative - and painful - kick at his shins.
         "Well, you won't have any love-life at all if you don't get in there."
         Gerald got in there. To be precise, he staggered around the building and up to the front door, half-supporting a drunken lion in a wheelchair.
         The magnificent Personage in the doorway blinked. "No animals, sir," he said.
         "Animals? Oh, I say, this isn't an animal - this is Leo!"
         The Personage recovered his sang-froid. "Indeed, sir? I don't believe the gentleman is on my list- "
         Linsey peered through the doorway. "Gerald, darling! I knew you couldn't resist- " she broke off and held a wisp of lace to her nose. "Ugh! Whatever have you brought that nasty, smelly beast for?"
         "How dare you speak about my good friend like that?"
         "Gerald - your good friend is an animal."
         "Linsey, you shouldn't comment like that on a fellow's personal life. Anyway, how do you know what he's like? Have you been canoodling with him?" Gerald pulled himself up to his full height, which was a mistake as that removed him from his support. He swayed dangerously.
         "No, of course I haven't. Really, Gerald; do have some sense. I've never seen him before in my life."
         "Then don't presume to comment on his morals!"
         The doorman looked impassively from one to the other, and cleared his throat. "Sir - may I have your friend's name? I must point out that this is not a fancy-dress party..."
         Gerald waved a hand expansively. "Meet Sir Leonard Heatherington- Ponsabout, special ambassador to Umblaggaland. He always wears his lion-skin to offi - offi - posh do's; can't persuade him not to. It's a high honour. The price of genius, you know."
         The doorman was impressed. "Heatherington-Ponsabout... Not on the list, I'm afraid. But I'm sure we can make an exception in the case of such a distinguished guest; an oversight, I daresay."
         Leo yawned at him, and he recoiled. Gerald wasn't surprised. Leo's breath wasn't quite so bad since the Beltane Smoke purging, but it still packed quite a wallop. Probably something to do with his preference for decaying turbot.
         Linsey grabbed Gerald's arm and propelled him over to a table, around which a select group of Drongans stood. Aggie stood beside them, flushed of cheek and sparkling of eye.
         "Gerald darling," said Linsey, "I'm in the middle of some important negotiations. I just had the most tremendous idea; I'm going to buy the franchise for making and selling the Drongans' delightful jewellery here. Don't you think that's simply too marvellous?"
         "Uh-huh," said Gerald, dragging Leo along behind and wondering how to slip away. He winced, as always, at the bile-yellow walls. At least the statues which dotted the room were a more natural flesh-colour - more natural than most of the guests tonight, actually. The Member for West Sleasford obviously thought so; glass in hand, and nose shining like a beacon, he had struck up a rather one-sided conversation with a pink marble Venus.
         The Drongan interpreter bowed to Linsey and presented her with a pen. He said: "It is that Madame is a great business woman, isn't it? We are honoured that she would join our humble group. If she would sign here - and here? Ah - thank you." He folded the finished contract with a flourish, and slipped it into his pocket. "Now, it is necessary that Madame remembers to keep a close eye on the quality of the sewage- "
         "Sewage?" Linsey reeled backward, as gobsmacked as a victim of a wet-fish attack.
         "Of course. It is that the texture, it must be of a smoothness so great - the so-beautiful lustre, it only creates when these humble items are made from sludge of a great speciality."
         Linsey gagged, flung her earrings to the ground, and turned that special colour of bile the morning after a whisky overdose. Gerald had to hand it to her; she matched the decor perfectly.
         Aggie bent down to retrieve the jewellery. "Oh but," she said, "you'll damage them. They are so beautiful; surely sewage is part of God's design? -gasp- It is a sin to revile the Lord's works." She stroked the glowing ornaments against her cheek.
         Linsey took one look at her, and headed straight for the exit marked "powder-room."
         Gerald wondered vaguely what she intended to powder; then the thought plopped into his brain - this was the chance he was looking for! It took a few moments for the idea to trickle down to his feet, but once there it galvanised them into frantic activity. He was out of the room and zooming toward the back door to open it before Linsey had regurgitated her first mouthful of Coq au Vin with Sprouts.

         Angus would willingly have swapped places with Linsey's Coq au Vin; at least it was getting liberated. He, on the other hand, was zipping around the computer's central node; his icon crackled with the strange new electrical charge, and a couple of slavering Suicide Subliminals gibbered after him.
         "Where the hell has Farrell got to?" he yelled, as he plunged into the thin gap between a couple of golden threads.
         He peeped out; these new Subliminals weren't very bright. If he could keep quiet and out of sight, they lost interest. The trouble was that it wasn't very easy to keep a low profile right now, not when it was so important to keep in contact with each other and the outside world.
         Above him, Cryssie's body was quite definitely changing. Its facets glinted with amber light as its bulk whirled around a little slower. "Yeah man," its voice boomed out, "I'm going to be born. Is that groovy or what?"
         A sudden scuffle sounded outside Angus' hiding place, and Bertha's octopus flattened itself and slid in beside him.
         "Oof! What a squeeze," she said. "Look, it must be time soon. Let's listen in."
         They stretched their psyches, feeling their way blindly through the computer walls; in the distance they could sense the rumbling of many brains thinking about almost nothing. Ah, a party, thought Angus.
         Two sudden, clear minds rang out above the rest; the first was a waft of excitement from Gerald, but he was almost swamped by an emotional thought-pattern which came from the nearby toilets:
         Oogh, how could they do that to me - jewels made from - from - ugh... Linsey's thoughts went into chaos as she wiped her mouth. Well, I suppose I don't have to tell anyone what they are; dear Liam is right. Ah, but I do wish he hadn't gone and had sex with that stupid Bustleman body before I had a chance to try one myself. Or at least, I wish he hadn't killed it. Oh well, maybe I'll get something good at the Hunt...
         "Bustleman?" Bertha's psyche crashed back into her essence.
         Angus followed her and watched helplessly as her octopus shivered with shock. He wrapped his icon around her and rocked her; but, he thought, what can you say to someone who's just heard that they're dead?
         "It wasn't much of a body," she said at last, "but it's all I had. Well, not to worry; chin up, eh?" She flicked away from him.
         "Yeah, sure," said Angus. He wasn't fooled; her voice had a wobble to it. It was at this moment that one of the familiar old Addiction Subliminals, in search of company, found them and tried to snuggle up.
         "Ugh, go away!" said Angus.
         "No, the poor thing is sad," said Bertha. She gave her icon a shake. "Look, Gerald was out there, wasn't he? Right, so it's going to start soon. Come on, get organised. You get everyone together; I'll draw the Subliminals away, lose them."
         "But, Bertha- " Angus spoke to nothingness; Bertha had zoomed off in a flurry of tentacles. He peeped out in awe. Bertha was barrelling around the place, swirling tantalisingly in front of the most gruesome of the Subliminals and jeering at them.
         Then she arrowed out of the room, a trail of Subliminals after her. They looked pretty infuriated; Angus wasn't surprised. Even he had been revolted when she'd grown a long floppy tongue and blown a juicy, custard-splattered "bleurgh" at them.

         Deep down, beneath Teledildonics Inc's building - and everywhere else, for that matter - Gaia reached into her mind and flexed it; yes, there they were, the pinpoints of light, the poor separated nodules that were at the core of her developing embryo. She was puzzled. The worried chimes on the World Filigree had grown urgent, full of concern for her; Aldebaran-4's timbre had developed a most gratifying roughness. Perhaps she would allow him to father her next brood. But for now, she had greater concerns; her babies, her egg-fragments, were split - some would go back to sleep with her to await their proper term, but some of them were fully developed and needed her right now.
         So, right now she was having to teach them how to come together again, how to coalesce, how to gather into the whole which would then spread out into so much more. Bloody difficult, since none of them seemed to be in her womb any more.
         Right now she could do with a galactic midwife.

         Far above Gaia's crawling magma, in blissful ignorance of her preoccupations, Gerald lurked in a corridor with a bottle of whisky and a sense of achievement. All he had to do now was make sure nobody surprised the rescue party as they worked. At least this place was a more gentle magnolia colour; statues and niches still lined the walls, but they weren't too bad.
         A haunting pan-pipe melody swelled briefly as Holly opened and shut the computer room door. She winked at him as she slipped into a room marked "No entry to unauthorised personnel. Copying Room."
         He took an absent-minded gulp of whisky as he wondered vaguely what she was doing there; however, he wasn't left for long to ruminate on the matter. Linsey, slightly the worse for alcohol on an emptied stomach, crashed out of the main room and grabbed hold of him. "Gerald!" she said throatily, " At last I've got you; now ravish me!"
         He put his arms around her and cleared his throat. "I say, Linsey," he said as she pressed him against the wall and seemed to crawl all over him, "There's something you ought to know- "
         Suddenly Linsey was wrenched from his arms; Holly stood there, holding a couple of severed electrical cables and snarling. "Right," she said, and spludged the cables onto Linsey's head.
         Linsey sat down heavily. "Gerald," she said, "I'm being murdered. Are you a man?" She grabbed at Holly's skirt and tore it.
         "No," said Holly, swinging the soggy cables with relish, "he's a mouse. A drunken sod of a mouse."
         At this point, the two women fell to the agreeable task of tearing as much of each other's clothes off as they could manage. It was difficult to tell who would win.
         Gerald washed his hands of the affair. He went further. Not only did he wash his hands of it, but he tried to drink it out of existence. He wasn't entirely successful, but by the time he had finished his bottle and had begun an earnest crawl toward the computer room, he wasn't so bothered by the rapidly developing nudity behind him.

         The party for the Drongans continued to swing along its genteel path. The Member for West Sleasford was finally convinced by a well-meaning waiter that his chosen partner wasn't simply conversationally challenged - she was, in fact, a marble statue.
         "See, sir, if you touch her you can feel she's just marble," the young man had said, and by golly, he'd been right! Well, the Member wasn't a Minister for nothing; you wouldn't catch him like that again. From now on, he'd feel 'em all first.
         He ambled through the door into the corridor and was pleasantly surprised to find another couple of young women, frozen in particularly attractive - and nearly naked - poses. he wandered around them. Remarkably life-like, by Jove; he could swear that the dark-haired one's eyes were following him around. But of course she was just a statue. See? He jabbed her with a forefinger, and was completely stunned when she gave a squeal, jerked upright and sprinted for the door, closely followed by the other statue.
         The Member for West Sleasford stood in the corridor, examining his finger closely. Good heavens, perhaps he had the gift of life and he never knew it. He hardly noticed all the subsequent rushings to and fro; he was far too busy wrestling with his philosophy.

         The new-born Sir Leonard Heatherington-Ponsabout, not being a great socialite, was feeling a bit left out of things. He sat on his wheels and yawned; the wisps of alcoholic fug were beginning to clear from his brain. Where was the food - or, more importantly, where was the drink? He leaned forward until his forefeet hit the ground, and padded off to explore.
         "Oh dear -gasp- have you been deserted, Sir Leonard?" Aggie stood before him, looking a little flustered. "They shouldn't have left you to drag yourself around, I'm sure they shouldn't."
         "Indeed, it is an unaccountable oversight from our so wonderful hosts, isn't it?" The Drongan Interpreter helped Aggie to pull Sir Leonard upright. There was a disquieting gleam in the man's eye; Leo couldn't help wondering if he'd been rumbled. Well, no matter. Food and drink - especially drink, that was what mattered.
         Aggie wheeled him over to a group of languid Toffs, and cleared her throat. "Excuse me - I thought you'd like to meet - This is the Ambassador to Umblaggaland."
         "Hrr-aowrrr," said Leo in a conversational tone.
         "How sweet," said one woman, who promptly turned back to her discussion on the absolute necessity for decorating one's salon with pink Glacier pom-poms. "The Drongan type, of course," she said, bowing to the Interpreter.
         The Drongan, who had been eyeing Leo's thirsty expression with understanding, bowed back. "It is that you do my little country a great honour, Madame," he said, grabbing a tray of drinks from a passing waiter. "Madame wishes for a refill? No? Sir Leonard, perhaps, would wish- "
         Sir Leonard certainly would. Yum, he thought as he licked his way to the bottom of the fourth glass, tasty. Then he squinted up at the woman nearest to him and repeated the thought with variations: Tasty? Hmm.
         Leo grabbed her by the waist. With a little squeal, she plopped down onto his kilt and began to giggle as he gave her face an experimental lick. "Why, Sir Leonard, really!" she said. "Your tongue is so rough. Is this what they do in Umblaggaland?"
         "Rrrrowr," said Leo in disgust, and let go of her. She was definitely not haute cuisine; there was a horrible chalky-tasting, sharp-scented deposit all over her face.
         The woman was about to protest with vigour when Holly, tastefully but incorrectly attired in a set of scanty underwear and waving some snake-like cables at arm's length, flashed into the room. This vision was met by a series of gasps. A loud squeal came after her, closely followed by a dishevelled Linsey.
         Holly gave a startled glance around at the roomful of dropped jaws. "Oh shit," she said with elegance, and sprinted over to Leo, throwing caution and her writhing cables to the winds.
         They landed on a Toff's shoulder. He froze. "What are they?" he hissed at a less than sober Aggie.
         She squinted up at the cables, which flopped at her. "Dunno," she said, and shivered. "But I wouldn't frighten them if I were you."
         Holly grabbed Leo's kilt and tugged. "My need is greater than yours, pal," she panted, wrapping it around herself.
         Leo rolled forward and stood before them in all his glory - an unmistakable lion on wheels. The guests clambered over each other to get away from him. The room became a sea of briskly shoving arms and legs.
         "I don't care if that thing on my shoulder is poisonous," gasped the cable-threatened Toff as he threw a lifetime's anti-equality principles to the winds and clambered indiscriminately over everyone, "But I can't bear to stand and look at that."
         "I sat on that," said Leo's busily departing lady friend, her voice vibrant with horror.
         "No!" Linsey said.
         "I'm telling you, he even licked me - he put his big paws on my- "
         "How terrible for you, darling. Just think, he could have - oooh!" Envy oozed from Linsey's voice.
         The Ambassador to Umblaggaland sauntered over to the deserted buffet and polished it off as the room quickly emptied. Oh well, better see what's going on out there, he thought, and followed the screams.

         Farrell's playing rippled and rolled through the computer room, ricocheting off the gleaming console and zooming in through the walls.
         Deep within the central nodule, Vinia counted her companions' icons as the vibrations made themselves felt in the optimum area. Yes, everyone except- "Bertha!" she said. "Hey, has anyone seen her?"
         Angus whirled around. "Damn! She was chasing off those Subliminals; I thought she meant to come back- Look, she had a shock. I'm going to have to look for her - I don't know what we can do to help, but we can't let her stay here. She'd die for sure when Cryssie- " Angus flipped away.
         "Angus!" Vinia called after him. "Come back - you won't know where to look... Oh shit." She felt the tug at her essence, the pull toward that tube of a cable; gasping, she struggled to pull back, to go after Angus, but the force was too strong. She was being sucked... Sucked... "Try the roof," she yelled, "Bertha always loved it up there!"

         Farrell was still playing, his eye on the box's gradually dimming indicator, as a cascade of howling, screaming Toffs burst through the room.
         He felt himself pulled along; he gave one last, long note before his playing faltered. "Drew! Megan!" he called out. "The box - for heaven's sake, don't leave it!" God, I hope we got everyone, he thought as the human landslide piled out of the building, followed by a lion on wheels, and the door slammed shut.
         The back street was a rapidly diminishing echo of earnestly pounding feet and the moonlit shapes of little crumpled humps.
         "Well," said one of these - Megan - as she climbed to her feet and examined herself carefully, "I've been bounced out of some places in my time, but that one takes some beating."

         Aggie's world was full of love, as she floated home with her Drongan escort in his silky-smooth limousine. Perhaps she wouldn't go to hell for ever if she worked harder at being good after this... But was it truly sinful to feel this way - to love the moon and the stars and the glowing air and this man's smooth-skinned hand?
         She put her own hand up, a half-gesture of brushing the window-glass aside; he seemed to understand, and the limo slid to a halt.
         "Come," he said, and helped her out. She looked up at the moon, and it held her, spell-bound. Together they stood, her bare shoulder touching his warmth, and gazed up. The night was all magic and silver, and it was so right when he turned her toward him and bent to rub her nose gently with his. She tingled right down to her toes.
         "It is pledge," he said, "In Drongo, it is that we make pledge with the nose; thus, and thus- "
         "Wow," murmured Aggie, blushing, "now I know that must be a sin." For a moment she gave herself up to his nasal explorations - then a little spark of fear shot through her; what am I doing? She scrabbled her hands against him and pushed.
         He let go of her instantly, and the panic fell away with his touch.
         "My apologies," he said as he walked her to the GODLY compound. "It is against your custom? It is that I would make - you would say, a date. I would see you again. It can be arranged? The beautiful lady can come to Drongo? If she would like, perhaps she would also pledge?"
         The beautiful lady damn well would like. She melted into a farewell clinch; at last the moon had found a pair of lovers worthy of her light.
         "Aggie!" Mr. Dimbly's voice shattered the night. "Lust!"

         The rescuers met in Jeston's late next day - after they had slept off the night's potations and been dosed with Drew's hangover cure. Unfortunately for Gerald, whisky was apparently resistant to the cure; he kept clutching his head and jumping at sudden noises. But he was blissfully happy; he kept murmuring: "Tonight! Ouch - she's going to marry me tonight. Yippee - ouch!"
         Vinia's body sat, vacantly drooling, next to Drew's box. "Aga!" she said expressively, and stroked it.
         Farrell took up his pipes in hands that shook - either because of fear or because of too much Special, he thought. On balance he hoped it was fear.
         He'd been hallucinating far too much, recently - even now, he could see his ephemeral Vinny sulking over there by the wall, as well as this solid body before him. Well, maybe the "ghost" Vinny would be exorcised after today. He felt a little pang at the thought. Ridiculous.
         God, he hoped that they'd worked this thing out right. And he hoped that Vinny's essence was in that box. He took a deep breath and began to play. It was a throaty, deep, mournful sound, full of the wind's moan as it thunders through huge underground caverns.
         Vinny clapped her hands and gurgled. "Goo!" she said.
         Farrell played on desperately. Was it his imagination, or did the top of the box start to glow slightly? A small cloud of grey-silver threads seemed to rise from the computer; the threads shimmered and twisted uncertainly, falling back toward it. He blinked, trying to clear sweat from his eyes. A couple of the silvery strands twisted at the edge of his sight, flickering around the room as his gaze tried to catch them. Oh no! Now the cloud was sinking into the box again...
         He gave the deepest, longest note of despair, and stopped. He hunched in his chair. "No use," he said. "Not the blindest bit of damn use; I can't sustain it. Kerr - can you get a low enough note on your- "
         At that moment he caught a movement out of the corner of his eye; he turned, to see Vinny stirring. She straightened slowly, raising her hands to her face and gazing at them in wonder. Her fingers touched her face, then she ran them over her hair. She stretched and looked around. "Oh, this is me at last, it really is," she said. A new brightness flashed in her eyes as her glance fell on Megan. "Oh - Mother!" she said, grabbing the other's hand and laughing.
         A great cheer nearly lifted Jeston's roof up; "Yay! It works..." Farrell nearly disappeared under an avalanche of friends.
         He was bubbling with laughter by the time he had clawed his way through the melee and was able to take a good look at his Vinny. There she was, full of life and hugging her parents, her face flushed with joy. God, she was beautiful.
         "Vinny! Oh Vinny - hi!" His face was out of control, he could feel it grinning away as he dashed across and put his arms around her shoulders.
         "Who the hell are you?" Those blue eyes flashed indignantly as she pushed him away.
         "But I'm Farrell- Vinny, you know who I am!"
         She gasped, and slapped him. "Oh, sure; you're the Teledildonics pervert- "
         The crackle of softening stone interrupted her; everyone whirled to look at Jeston's unsolicited statue. Massive and heavy, it had begun to move. To be precise, it yawned, and raised a genteel hand to its mouth.
         "Chin up," it said, "looks like I got a body after all. Come on, everyone, let's get organised." Then it looked down at its open-mouthed audience. "Oh wow," it said, "all of you people, you look so cute, I could just- " The five snakes at its genital area began to spin.
         "Great," muttered Ceredwen, "now, when we least need it, a randy SIKker."
         "Oh, I don't know," said Kernunnos, looking from the statue to Theola and back again, "mayhap there'd be some right interesting..." He coughed as Theola gave him a cold stare.
         "Bertha?" said Vinny, examining the statue critically, "What are you doing in that?"
         The statue shrugged. "Well, it was a body; just lying around. I needed one, you know - my own is dead. Didn't Angus tell you?"
         "No, he - Angus! Oh my god, where is he? He went to look for you..."
         "Oh hell." Bertha looked as anxious as only a granite statue can. "Look, Vinia, I got drawn out. Maybe he did too? He can't have got too far from the nucleus, could he? Come on, chin up, he's probably with the rest in there. Let's have a drink."
         Jeston sprang into action, drawing and presenting a pint of Special to his uninvited statue as if he'd been doing stranger things all his life. Come to think of it, thought Farrell, he probably had.
         Vinny squeezed her eyes shut. "Oh my god, Angus must have got out, I couldn't bear it if- " She shook herself. "But look, everyone. We can't hang about here. Something terrible is about to happen; the crystals are changing, and we don't know how soon they'll break out. We've got to get everyone out, now. And Angus, oh, Angus - if only he hadn't gone off like that..."
         Farrell felt as if someone had kicked him in the guts. "Look," he said, "surely you could see who was with you in that box?"
         She glanced at him and shook her head. "It's chaos in there. You used this?" She poked at the sagging computer box with a vague horror.
         "Humph," said Megan, "I'd like to see you do better with the materials we had, my girl!"
         Vinny grinned at her. "It worked a treat, mother." Her smile slipped. "Just so long as we got everyone."
         Farrell turned back to his table and stared moodily into his beer. "Even if we have got everyone," he muttered, "Teledildonics are still going to go on trapping more people until the crystals stop working- "
         Holly coughed and looked sheepish. "Well, pal," she said, "not for a while, anyway. I kind of got into their copying room and made a bit of a mess."
         Farrell blinked at her. "Um. Right. But what about those Suicide discs which are just going on the market? And, if the machines stop working, there'll be plenty of addicts who might just as well be dead." He shivered. "Those subliminals speak straight to the brain, and withdrawal really hurts. I haven't a clue why I lost my addiction- "
         Jeston put down the glass he was polishing, and cleared his throat. "Excuse me," he said, but I think I might have the answer. I believe that Sir lost his addiction after a couple of glasses of my Special?"
         Farrell inspected his pint. "It's just beer, right? Brilliant beer, of course," he added hurriedly, "but surely- "
         "No no, Sir is mistaken - this Special is most unusual. Mr. Marrow has been supplying me with the secret ingredient for years; he grows it up in his special -ahem- plot." Jeston glanced briefly at Theola. "If I might suggest - I have several barrels; we could pour some of it into the water supply."
         Megan crouched over her psi-tuned wireless, fiddling with the knobs and concentrating her attention onto the boxful of essences.
         Vinny watched her hopefully. "Are you getting anything?"
         Megan shook her head. "There's nothing but a babble - but you're right - Gaia is about to cock things up with those crystals. We're just going to have to go over to Sleasford this evening, and at least get everyone out of this box."
         Gerald made a strangled noise. "I say, what about the wedding tonight?"
         At that moment, a thoughtful expression crossed Vinny's face. "Hey, what the hell have I been eating? Hang on- " She dashed toward the ladies, and busy explosions ensued.
         "Told you so," Megan said to Sloshforth, "too many beans."

         Linsey's sleek-mobile purred to a halt outside Jeston's. She stepped elegantly out of it, and wrinkled her nose at the beery fumes which drifted out of the pub. She was determined to give Gerald a piece of her mind; what did he mean by embarrassing her like that? Well, this was the end. She wasn't going to marry a man with so little social nous; he would just have to accept that.
         She strode forward, and laid a hand on the door, when Gerald's voice drifted out to her: "You fellows won't all go and forget, will you? I mean, of course we'll save those sleas-house bodies right away, but we'll go straight on to the church, won't we?"
         Linsey ignored the following chorus of assent. She was faintly surprised; she hadn't realised that Gerald was so keen on religion. Not that it mattered. What was all that about "saving" the bodies - her bodies? Not ruddy well likely - not now that she had to pay for that horrid franchise.
         She tip-toed back to the car. Her split with Gerald would have to wait. Right now she had to get dear Liam to put the Guardian Officers on special alert around the Sleas-house.

Go on to Chapter 25
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Copyright Carolyn Horn 1994
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