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Party Piece

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Lish Toos waited until she was sure the robotic deliverymen had departed before she dared to venture into the entrance gallery of her mansion. The package they had delivered was standing in the exact centre of the room, precisely aligned with the green-and-magenta floor tiles. It was big, easily three metres by three metres, and waist-high. It bore no label, other than the standard machine-readable stamp indicating its destination and safety status. No noxious chemicals, no weapons, no explosives: as far as could be determined, the contents were harmless.

Toos walked around the crate, surveying it from all angles but receiving no further information. She briefly considered summoning a specialist from the city to examine it, but dismissed the idea as needless over-caution. The package would have been checked and rechecked on its journey; a specialist could do no more.

There was a scanner plate on the top surface. She placed her palm on it, then stepped back as the box neatly unfolded itself. Inside, it was almost filled by what appeared to be a scaled-up cake, gleaming white with precisely-sprayed icing and bearing the words HAPPY NEW YEAR in centre-justified robotic faux-handwriting.

Hardly had Toos had time to read the words, than the centre of the cake swelled, bulged, split and disgorged what appeared, at first sight, to be the featureless ovoid head of a robot dancer. The upper body followed, two arms struggling for purchase against the yielding sponge. Toos, whose heart had jumped into her throat at the thought that this might be a robot, relaxed; the movements were too random, too uncoordinated, to be anything of the kind.

The figure's hands reached up to its head, wiped away some of the cake, and touched what Toos supposed was a fastening. A vertical slit appeared in the silvery ovoid, revealing a very familiar face.

"Leela!" Toos exclaimed.

Leela extricated the rest of her head from the hood and shook her hair out.

"I have come to wish you good luck, on the anniversary of landfall," she said, peeling back more of the suit. Underneath she was wearing a leather tunic, similar to the one Toos remembered, but paler in colour. "Also to dance, and to kiss you."

"I..." Toos sorted through the numerous questions that arose in her mind. "Why did you have yourself sent to me in a cake?"

"I searched in the TARDIS information bank," Leela replied. "It said that there was a custom for a woman to jump out of a cake at a party, and dance, and kiss the guest of honour." She tried to move her legs, and made a gesture of annoyance. "I cannot jump. I am trapped. This is a foolish custom."

Toos was finding it hard not to smile. "I've never heard of a custom like that. Where did you get the cake?"

"From some of the metal men in the city. I ordered them to bake me into the cake. They would not do it until I wore this" — she indicated the bodysuit — "so they would know I was not harmed."

"And then they sent you here." Toos nodded. Robotic efficiency and lack of curiosity all the way. "Why? I don't throw parties."

"You may throw one now. You are the guest of honour, and we have a cake."

"I think that's enough cake for weeks." Carefully, Toos reached forward, picked up a blob of icing between her fingers, and tasted it. "Robot-made. Conspicuous consumption at its finest."

"What is 'conspicuous consumption'?" Leela gave her a suspicious look. "It sounds like a disease."

Toos laughed. "It might as well be." She looked at Leela, and then down at herself. "You're sure you're stuck?"

Leela rocked her body back and forth, to no avail. "My legs will not move. I am at your mercy."

"Then I suppose I'll have to pull you out." Toos looked at the cake, then at the exquisitely micro-embroidered dress she was wearing. "One moment. I don't want to risk getting cake on this."

She removed her shoes, divested herself of the dress, and hung it carefully over the arm of a statue a little way down the hall. Then, clad only in her underwear, she took hold of Leela's outstretched arm and tugged. For a moment it seemed as if nothing was happening; then, abruptly, something gave way. She half-fell, half-slid, forward through layers of sponge and butter icing, ending up face-to-face with Leela in the centre of the cake. They swayed together, then lost their balance and collapsed in an untidy heap. For a moment, Toos felt the cake engulf her; then it disintegrated, leaving her lying on the marble floor, shaking with near-hysterical laughter.

"What is funny?" Leela asked. There was a slurping sound. "I still cannot move."

Toos managed to wipe some of the icing from her eyes and look in Leela's direction. The hall resembled Ground Zero of some cake-related explosion, with the two of them lying at the centre of it all. Leela, her tunic and hair now a confection of sponge, fruit and cream, was lying beside her, her legs hopelessly tangled in the bottom half of the bodysuit. Toos tried to get up, but found her own feet could gain no purchase on the smooth marble of the floor.

"Call yourself a warrior," she wheezed, tears of laughter rolling down her face. "You've— we've been defeated. By a cake."

"I shall not do this again," Leela said firmly.

Toos tried to drag herself forward, but her cake-smeared hands slipped just as her feet had. She giggled helplessly. "Does that mean I don't get a kiss?"

Leela gave her a puzzled look. "You are a very strange woman."

"Says the girl who had herself baked into a cake and sent to me."

"Listen to me." Leela clenched her fist, sending crystallised fruit flying in all directions. "If you can release me from this ridiculous suit, I can help you to escape."

Toos took Leela's hand and pulled herself closer to her. "Just at the moment," she said, "I'm in no hurry to leave."