1. In which Pooh meets a Strange Animal
One day Pooh was walking in the Forest when he met a Strange Animal. "Oh dear," said Pooh to himself. "I do hope it is not One of the Fiercer Animals. You can never tell with Strange Animals."
The Strange Animal was prodding something shiny in the way that Rabbit did when he was in a Organdising mood. "Lost," it said. "Stranded. Unless I can perform advanced trans-dimensional physics with a stone axe and some pine cones, I'm doomed to die here in the usual misery and soul-crushing despair."
"I wonder if he one of Eeyore's friends and relations," Pooh thought. "He sounds Gloomy."
"Of course," said the Gloomy Animal, "it is me that we're talking about. If anyone can pull off the impossible and save us from certain doom, it's me, because, well, hello? two PhDs, anyone?"
"Perhaps he is a friend of Owl's," Pooh thought, "because he sounds like an Animal of Great Brain. I wonder what a pee-aitchdee tastes like." He looked hopefully at the Strange Animal's pockets.
"But I need to be alive to do that," said the Gloomy Animal with the Great Brain. "Here I am, stuck in a forest by myself. There's bound to be monsters – there's always monsters. Things with sharp teeth. Things that like a taste of scientist. Oh! Oh no no no no no. What's that? What's that? What's that?"
"Perhaps he is a cousin of Piglet's," thought Pooh, "because Piglet is a Very Small Animal who is Easily Scared."
"And I haven't had anything to eat for a whole two hours," said the Gloomy Animal with the Great Brain who was Easily Scared.
"Perhaps he is another Pooh," thought Pooh, who hadn't looked into a looking-glass since breakfast, and thought that he might have changed. Things did that unless you made sure of them. The sun told him that it was almost eleven, and almost time for a little something.
Pooh decided to ask the Strange Animal what sort of an animal it was, because Strange Animals probably knew such things better than anybody else, except for Christopher Robin. "Hallo!" Pooh said.
"Aaagh!" said the Strange Animal, jumping in a way that made Pooh think that he might, perhaps, be another Tigger.
Pooh started to walk round the Strange Animal in circles. "I am just a Bear of Little Brain, so forgive me for asking, but I was wondering what you are? You are Gloomy so you could be an Eeyore, and you have a brain so you could be an Owl, and you are Small and Scared so you could be a Piglet and you know about that little feeling inside you that means that it is time for little something, so you could be a Pooh."
"Welcome to the complexity of my multi-faceted personality," said the Strange Animal. "Now run along like a good… uh… talking bear – and now I really have seen everything, and what was in that drink they gave us at the spring festival? - and let me get on with important things like getting the hell out of here."
"Does Christopher Robin know about you?" Pooh asked.
"Don't think so." The Strange Animal shook his head. "He's the boss round here?"
Pooh suddenly felt as if he had opened his larder to find that there were only two pots of honey left. "But Christopher Robin knows everything that happens in the Forest."
"Oh. It's one of those societies," said the Strange Animal. "Limited horizons, under the thumb of some petty dictator who's set himself up as being something akin to a god. Nothing happens without his say-so. Let me teach you some words, if your fuzzy native brain can comprehend them: freedom; revolution; thinking for yourself. Pity Sheppard's not here; he'd teach you something about disobeying orders.
Pooh suddenly felt as if he had opened his larder to find that there was no honey left at all. "Christopher Robin knows everything," he said. "Christopher Robin will always be--"
"Oh, please," sneered the Strange Animal. "Oh, and then there's the Wraith. Just wait until the Wraith come to your bucolic little Utopia to drain your life-force and leave only a furry shrivelled husk. I'm willing to bet that your precious Christopher Robin will be out of here as fast as he can, leaving just corpses, and then…"
2. Act 3, scene 1
To be or not to be: that is the question--
And who art thou who dares disturb my speech?
Nay, answer not! The words within my soul
They burn and blaze and forth will pour like flame.
And from the point at which I last had reached,
I shall resume, my words like fire, like stones.
Makes no sense.
To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer --
You gonna kill yourself? That what you mean? Why don't you just say so?
To die, to sleep, to plunge into my breast
The bodkin or the knife; to empty to the lees
The bowl of hemlock, like Socrates the wise;
Or maybe not. Perchance to live, perhaps to 'dure
The pain; the knowledge that a mother's heart --
Why d'you want to kill yourself?
My father's spirit unto me appear'd
And told a tale of murder foul and fell.
Mine uncle, brother to the murdered king –
So sweet his memory! And oh! --
So your uncle killed your father?
And then, before the corse lay in the ground,
My mother took the murderer to her bower.
Oh, traitor woman, false thy tears did fall,
And false, thrice false, thy vows of faith --
So kill your uncle, then. He sounds like the bad guy.
My father's spirit charged me to this task,
But see! my hands upon the dagger quake.
Do spirits lie? Is't all a mummer's trick,
To trap me into killing, to damn my soul?
And oftentimes at morn, I steel my strength,
And know that by the noon, the traitor falls;
But then, when evening soft and cool and fair,
Creeps in, close followed then by night --
You mean you're dithering.
And so I sleep not. Doubt has murdered sleep.
I clothe myself in motley like a fool
And madness feign --
Feign? That means pretend, right? You seem properly crazy to me.
I see thou art a stranger to this land,
Perhaps a savage from the Afric shores,
Where stars are strange and men seek truth in stones.
Pray interrupt no more, and from here go,
And let me muse and wrestle with my soul --
Hey, if you want to dither for months, don't let me stop you. I just think you'd feel better if you killed him. I killed my old task master. Didn't bring the dead back, killing him, but it made the future better to know that he was gone.
But if I kill him, if I do this deed,
I fear that all the hounds of Hell will--
Yes, or no?
Art thou Lucifer himself, to tempt me so?
And I am Faustus, drawn to sell my soul?
Hey, it's your call, but action beats talking about it.
My dagger quakes, my arm is weak, and he,
The king, false king, has wrapped himself with smiles
Of those around him, who once my father served.
I fear they'd strike me down before I struck --
Then use this. Change the setting: there. Climb up there, up to that high window. Yes, like that. Aim it – good – pull the trigger and…
3. Chapter three
The ball was duly held, but the attention of those present was much engaged by the presence of young lady with whom none of the principal people claimed acquaintance. "I do believe she is some cousin of the Miss Lucases," said Lydia.
The lady was not. The lady was called Miss Emmagen, and she had come to the Assembly Rooms entirely without introduction or escort. "Such impropriety!" Mrs Bennet exclaimed. "Such a thing might do very well in London, but it is not the thing in ____shire."
Lydia declared herself quite charmed by the Miss Emmagen's hair. "I mean to do mine just so, without ribbon or dressing."
"Who made your gown?" Kitty asked. "Is it London style? When I am married, I mean to have a whole room full of London gowns."
They questioned her at some length about such important matters, but each one privately deemed the lady's answers lacking. Lydia, who had been quite resolved to have a shocking friend, decided that the lady was supercilious. As she was moving to more agreeable friends to tell them so, the lady spoke:
"I am aware that different people have different ways, but am I to understand from your words that you spend entire days dressing hats and talking about clothes?"
Lydia sniffed, and said that the lady was quite mistaken. "We visit people and they visit us and we talk about other people and their clothes. We dine with four and twenty families."
"And why…?" said the lady. "Forgive me, but I notice that much attention is being paid towards the door. Are you anticipating attack?"
"Mr Bingley is expected," Lydia had the satisfaction of informing the lady. "He has five thousand a year."
The lady declared herself puzzled by this. "Five thousand what? Enemies he has killed? Kavil beasts he has snared?"
"Pounds," Lydia declared, "and he had no wife, so he is bound to marry one of us before the year is out."
"And it is customary on this world to measure a man's worth solely by his riches?" asked the lady, raising a shockingly unplucked brow. "And it is customary for a woman to want nothing more than to marry such a man?"
Lydia and Kitty decided that the lady, being from London, was lacking in both wit and understanding. Not to marry! Such a thought was beyond them.
"I wish to respect your beliefs," said the lady, "but you are missing so much. I am leader of my people. I have beaten many men in combat. I have killed many Wraith. I can survive in the wilderness and bring food to my people. I judge men and women by their deeds, not by their names. If the time comes to bind myself to one man, it will be by choice."
"Choice?" said Lydia.
"Combat?" said Kitty.
"I hate the see a young girl close the doors of her future," the lady said. "To be like this, this world must be free of Wraith, yet you waste a precious freedom that my people would give anything to enjoy. Use that freedom, I beg you. Let yourself grow."
Had Mr Bennet been present, he would have declared himself quite astonished at the sight of Lydia speechless. "Oh, my dear Mr Bennet," Mrs Bennet declared as the Longbourn party returned home. "Our poor Lydia and Kitty have had their heads quite filled with nonsense. There was a lady from London present, quite shocking, not married. The older Master Lucas asked her to dance, and her skirt! Oh, Mr Bennet, her skirt was quite slit up to the – no, I cannot say it! And something was said, and she hit him, right there in the ballroom, knocked him to the floor! And poor Jane, my poor Jane!"
"What did she do to Jane?" Mr Bennet asked mildly, looking up from his book. "Did she hit her, too?"
"Mr Bingley was bound to fall in love with Jane as soon as he laid eyes on her; it was all settled. But during all the unpleasantness, with that awful woman standing there with her legs showing and a billiard stick in her hand, Mr Bingley's party arrived, took one look, and left. My poor girls will never marry now!"
"I don't want to marry, anyway," said Lydia.
Kitty spoke up. "Can I take lessons in…?"
4. Book XVII, chapter III: How Sir Perceval and Sir Galahad drew nigh unto the Sangreal
And on the third day, Sir Perceval and Sir Galahad saw afore them a strange knight at the ford, and he was clothed in black but bore no shield nor any device upon his breast. "Sir," said Sir Perceval, "what manner of a knight art thou, for I know thee not, and I fear thou art here to do ill."
"Huh," said the strange knight. "I don't suppose you'll believe me if I say I come in peace?"
"Stand aside," said Sir Galahad, "for we seek the Sangreal."
"Funny," said the strange knight. "I seek a big round gate, 'bout so high. And if you've seen a big guy and a talkative scientist – uh… I guess you'd call him a wise man, but don't tell him I said that – and a woman – damsel, I guess I mean… Yeah, well, I've kind of… lost them."
And so Sir Perceval did couch his spear and rode a great wallop towards the strange knight, and the strange knight did say, "Whoa!" and skipped to one side, so that the spear missed him. "What part of coming in peace don't you understand?" quoth the strange knight.
Sir Galahad couched his own spear, and said, "For the second time I bid thee stand aside or I shall smite thee where thou stand'st."
"I don't respond well to orders, as a matter of course," the strange knight said, and he drew a thing from his girdle that was like unto a broad, dark stick. "There I was, doing no harm to anyone. Can we at least be agreed that you started this?"
Sir Perceval turned himself twice around and rode another wallop at the strange knight, but once again the strange knight did leap out of the way, and Sir Perceval was full wroth. "Stand and fight, thou coward knight," Sir Perceval cried. "If thou hast no spear, then draw thy sword and let us do battle here upon the water until but one man of us both shall live."
"Don't have a sword," said the strange knight. "Sorry. But if you charge me again, I'll shoot."
So Sir Perceval turned himself around for the third time and rode another wallop, but even afore he upon the knight a third time, there came a sound like unto a clap of thunder and a hideous flame of fire did issue from the strange knight's hand, and Sir Perceval fell dead upon the ground.
When Sir Galahad saw that Sir Perceval was dead, he made great dole, for it seemed to him that the Lord himself had struck Sir Perceval down in fire and flame, and he knew then that he was not worthy of the Sangreal, and so he tore his clothes to rags and ran like a wild man into the forest where he did endure forever more.
And so it was that afore the turning of the hour, there came three damosels to the strange knight, and they were clothed all in white samite and passing fair. "Thou hast slain Sir Perceval," said the lady at the fore, "and thou hast caused Sir Galahad to go out of his mind. Who then shall achieve the Sangreal, for all the knights of Christendom have set themselves to this task, and of all of them only these two were worthy and now they are gone."
"Lady," said the strange knight, "I'm sorry, but I was just defending myself. I did warn them."
But the lady looked wroth and the damosels tore their hair and made sorrow out of measure, for none there were left to achieve the Sangreal, and the realm of Arthur would fall before its time.
"This Sangreal thing," said the strange knight. "I'm guessing these knights of yours had the ATA gene, and I'd say what's the odds on me having it too, but something like this happened to me before. So… uh… perhaps I can do something with this magical artefact of yours. Hell, it might even help me get home…"
5. Atlantis, City of
Galactic Institute's Prize for Extreme Cleverness: the self-nomination scandal
The Genii's ten most wanted
Sateda (entry deleted in the most recent edition)
Smug, self-righteous pseudo-immortal bastards
Zelenka the Glorious, Saviour of All Mice
The giant worms of Krell
Atlantis is old. Atlantis is not old like Great-Uncle George is old, who sucks on his teeth and says how easy life is for the youth of today – which is rather unfair when one considers that the youth of today will live to see the end of the whole universe, which is pencilled in for three years next Tuesday, unless something comes up, while Great-Uncle George will die peacefully in his sleep next Thursday while dreaming of blonde nurses. No, Atlantis is quite mind-bogglingly, enormously old, almost as old as the Queen of England might seem to a mayfly.
Atlantis is currently residing on small planet on the far side of the Pegasus Galaxy. (Straight ahead at the hospital; turn left at Wallmart.) This was a peaceful planet that never said boo to a goose, and had spent an endless eternity getting on with peaceful planety things. The ocean was having long conversations with the bedrock about the existence or non-existence of deities, the breezes were wondering how cats could be simultaneously dead and alive when locked in a box, and tides were sidling up to reefs and saying, "So, are you doing anything tomorrow night?"
This peaceful existence had continued for several billion years, until a flying city crashed out of the sky, rudely interrupting many conversations, and, in one of those tragic coincidences that occur more often then they should, squashing one tiny piece of seaweed that had in that very moment realised the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.
The inhabitants of Atlantis, however, are not old. The inhabitants of Atlantis are emigrants from a mostly harmless planet who one day happened to step through a giant wormhole, much to the consternation of the giant worms, and spend their days prodding things, saying, "ooh, I wonder what happens if I do that?"
Two years ago last Monday, at three o'clock in the afternoon, four inhabitants of Atlantis returned from a big adventure and began to congratulate themselves on living to fight another day.
This was, perhaps, premature.
It is a curious fact that, while one of these four hapless adventurers considered himself extremely clever indeed, he had failed to notice that the object he was using as a paperweight was in fact the on switch of an infinite improbability drive. As he was congratulating himself on surviving another adventure, far away in the city of Atlantis, one of his colleagues bumped into the paperweight while reaching for a mug of coffee (two sugars, no milk, strong.)
The traveller who visits Atlantis today will notice four pedestals, each one supporting a bowl of petunias. He is advised not to touch them.