Here it is... one of the ones you've been clamouring for. At last I've got my mojo back! I spent a day or two re-reading and evaluating "Slipping", if only to catch up with the story so far. Even though I picked up a depressingly large number of typos and a couple of scenes that need a slight rewrite for various reasons, my reaction was "My God, this is good!" - so I could not abandon it and leave it only two-thirds finished. I intended to cover a lot more ground than this in this chapter. But it got to almost 7,000 words, which in my opinion is long enough for one chapter. More will come, especially concerning Estrella Partleigh and Doreen Winkling taking on Seven Platoon!
Slipping between Worlds (48) – Sensitivity Training Class.
"Kindly wake UP, Mr Holtack!" the strident female voice demanded. Philip Holtack jerked his head up and shook himself awake. It was a chore to stay attentive in the hot stuffy room; part of him wondered if this was deliberate, as he remembered, several years ago in what was literally a different world, having to take his written aptitude and intelligence tests in just such an overheated airless room, at the end of a long day of physical training exercises, and a night before with not enough sleep. He suspected the British Army had deliberately done it that way, as an extra obstacle to overcome, and a method of weeding out borderline or weak candidates. Fighting the urge to rest his head on the desk just for a few seconds, Holtack had seen one of his fellow officer candidates give into it. Incredibly, the hapless soul had actually started snoring. The extra spur to stay awake had come from observing two of the Directing Staff march up to the snorer, gently wake him up, and tell him to fall out. That officer candidate had then disappeared, never to be seen again, and his bed space had been empty that night.
He heard what sounded like a Seven Platoon snigger - probably Fusilier Powell – and reflected that he wasn't setting a good example. Holtack pulled himself up straight and focused on the rickety uncomfortable wooden chair that was biting into the back of his thigh. Anything but let his attention drift.
Perhaps fifteen people, mainly male and human – he reflected you had to add that second filter in this place – were gathered in an upstairs meeting room above the Omnian chapel, or meeting-house, or Citadel, or whatever the Hell it was. All had transgressed what this country had in place of race relations laws. More like species relations laws, he thought, glumly. They had to submit to being re-educated - or in the case of the Welsh soldiers, simply educated - in what this place expected of them in terms of civics and being good citizens.
"Just look upon it like an Orientation." Holtack had advised his soldiers. "Only this time I'm not leading it."
"Oh, so we can fall asleep in the back row and just tune it out, sir?" young Hughes had asked. This had earned him a scarifying rebuke from Sergeant Williams, and Holtack had felt better about that. Having his platoon sergeant here was a definite Asset. Holtack had advised them to try to listen and to learn. Every bit of information about this city was valuable. Then he had yawned again. Even Sergeant Williams suppressed a grin.
"Short of sleep last night, sir?" Fusilier "Head-Butt" Powell had asked, with seeming innocence. The look of cherubic innocence would have fooled nobody.
"Be fair, Powell mun." Williams J.J. had counselled him. "Our officer was doing his field research about vampires, wasn't he? And you can only do that at nights with your lady vampire".
"No puncture marks in his neck, mind. He must have been doing something right."
"And she cannot have made him a vampire himself as he's here in daylight!"
Holtack winced. He had eventually woken up in his own bed at Ramkin Manor with no clear idea about how he'd got there. Although he had some remarkably clear memories, largely concerning teeth at first, although on getting past the impossible mouth and the very sharp teeth, some far nicer memories of the night with Sally had emerged. But he found himself lying fully-clothed, more or less, on the bed, feeling a breeze, smelling the distant tang of the River Ankh, and looking at a grey overcast sky through a wide-open window with the shutters thrown back. Vampires can fly, can't they... and she was strong enough to carry me home. Wish I could remember that bit. He carefully checked both sides of his neck for punctures. Nothing there, although he recalled Anne Rice; her fictional vampires had the power to close the wound after them, didn't they, leaving no trace and no apparent reason for sudden anaemia.
Willikins had knocked on the door to advise him the bath was run, sir, and breakfast will be at eight. "His Grace desires me to remind you of the mandatory training course in species awareness at the Omnian Legion of Salvation Citadel, which commences at nine.."
"How did I get home last night?"
"I understand the Honourable Fraulein von Humperdinck was kind enough to return you, using resources of her own, sir." the butler said, smoothly. His eyes flickered to the open window. "Bath and breakfast await, sir."
There was even a Salvation Army on this planet, although belonging to an entirely different religion. As far as Holtack could make out, this was the modern-day survival of what had once been a horribly beweaponed Legion seeking to expound the gospel of the Great God Om by force. It had been forced to become somewhat less martial in order to survive a religious reformation, and now concentrated on band practice and leading hymn services.
"Present... wait for it, wait for it! - tambourines!" bellowed a voice that had Drill Sergeant written all over it. Forty or so tambourines rattled at the word of command. Sergeant Willliams smiled a benign smile as the sound of drilling Legionnaires on the parade-ground floated in.
"For inspection, port... tambourines!" (another rattle) (1)
"That reminds me, lovely boys. We still has weapons to clean. Commander Vimes is to make them available to us!" Sergeant Williams said, deftly changing the subject. The Fusiliers groaned.
The other people in the room watched the Fusiliers with some interest. A small troll, with some lichen crusted in its folds and creases, sat as far away as he could get from an axe-carrying Dwarf in full chainmail and helmet. Several recognisable humans of both sexes. And, hoving into view...
One was small and plump. Her plumpness was emphasised by serious corseting. In fact, as Fusilier Powell later put it, he'd taken her species to be a Quasimodo, like, only this one was a Hunch-front. She had jet-black hair, although grey was appearing at the roots. Her eye makeup was black and would have been more suited to a Gothic teenager, a state Holtack guessed she had last seen up to forty years beforehand. To all intents and purposes, she was a Vampire, but stand her next to Sally and the comparison would have been, well, grotesque. And something was wrong, something he couldn't quite work out...
The other was taller. Perhaps twenty years younger and angular – her body appeared to be made up of angles - she had a severe face and a strange hairstyle, where her dark hair had bean teased, forced or perhaps intimidated to the top of her head and secured with a scrunchie or other elastic band. Had it been longer, it would have classed as a Psyche knot; but the three or four inches of growth looked sadly shorn, like the top-knot of a disgraced Samurai, or perhaps the growth at the top of a pomegranate. Her clothes were equally strict and functional, a long plain sexless skirt with a bib-front over a baggy tunic-blouse. In contrast to the hunchfront, she revealed no cleavage and wore no makeup – the smaller woman was sporting enough for both. Her face was a perma-frowning scowl. Holtack frowned. Dennie had a name for women like that...
"Bloody hell." said a Welsh voice. "That's a Greenham Common stormtrooper if ever I saw one!"(2)
Ah. That's what Dennie calls them too. Fortunately my sister had the common sense not to get involved. But that's not for lack of sympathy. She just believes beds and hotels were created for a reason and she's buggered if she's sleeping rough in a commune. She resolves any guilt feelings about letting down the sisterhood by bunging a tenner in the collection hat when it comes round to her.
"Good mornink!" said the small fat dumpy one, with a smile. "Mein name ist the Countess Vinkling. As you may see from my mode of dress, I am a vampire."
"No kidding?" a Welsh voice breathed. They'd all seen or met Sally. The Countess Winkling just looked... as if somebody had hit Morticia Addams repeatedly with a large heavy object. There was no comparison. And she sounded like somebody putting on a very bad German accent.
"And I vill be leading this discussion group on behalf of Ankh-Morpork's many Undead citizens. I vill be seeking to correct some... misperceptions you have expressed concerning we vampires unt other nosferatus."
"And I am Estrella Partleigh. That is, Ms Estrella Partleigh, of the Campaign for Equal Heights..."
" The Campaign for Equal what?" said an incredulous Welsh voice. Ms Partleigh glared at the speaker. Holtack wondered if he should intervene, and thought better of it.
"Equal Heights! Mr..." The officious-looking woman glanced down at the clipboard she was carrying. "Mr Powell."
She looked at Head-Butt Powell with the sort of look normally reserved for something distasteful on the pavement. Powell looked back at her with his most innocent and earnest face, the one that made officers dread and sergeants get suspicious.
"I – We – at the C.E.H. Are the advocates, speaking for and defending the rights of the Dwarf population of Ankh-Morpork and ensuring that ignorant bigotry and discrimination are eliminated! That Dwarfs may take no more and no less than their rightful place in our society!"
Powell looked back, nodding sagely.
"Aye, I can see that could be a problem." he said, nodding. "You don't want the little buggers getting ideas above their station, now."
"Getting in over their heads, like." J.J. Williams added, picking up the baton. He looked every bit as innocent and eager to please as Powell.
"Lying about their height, so as to get into the Army and stuff." added Boy Hughes.
Holtack smiled a little smile. He noted Ms Partleigh appeared fit to burst. But then, he was perfectly aware from past Orientations exactly what Seven Platoon were capable of. They had not even begun yet. And this time around he was in the audience, watching maestros at work. He could afford to sit back and watch...
Denise Holtack sat on the end of the bed and her shoulders slumped slightly. She and Alice Band had driven from London to North Wales for the grim duty of attending her brother's funeral. It had been a long, sad, largely silent drive. Denise felt a burden sinking onto her shoulders with every mile nearer to the border. Her brother was dead. Gone. She'd never see him again. Her parents... her parents. She was now an only child. All the investment in her brother was gone now, not wasted, but gone, leaving a Phil-shaped space. The family expectations, for marriage and grandchildren, now all devolved on her. As well as the immediate need to support and console, her parents would expect Denise to make a good marriage and provide grandchildren., It was practically bloody mandatory.
They had put off the awful moment by stopping for afternoon tea in Chester, finding a pleasant coffee-shop in the Backs, the late mediaeval shopping streets. They sat in the upstairs gallery, looking out over Frodsham Street and savouring the incongruity of modern shop-fronts in five hundred year old buildings, of modern people in 1985 in modern dress walking up and down the mediaeval street. Denise wondered if she were just finding reasons to keep putting off the awful moment when she returned to Wales. The border was only two miles away from here, England's last outpost, what had once been a garrison town against incursions from the terrible raiding Welsh. Denise sighed, and pillaged another cup of English coffee. We're going to have to face it, sooner or later... and how do I tell them about me and Alice?
Alice Band had sipped her tea. She still looked as if the sky had fallen in on her, but she was quiet, calm, stern, at the need to face a very unpleasant duty. Denise envied her calm, but sensed what it must be costing her.
"I could settle down here." she said, speculatively.
"Too near my parents, hun!" she said, with a slight shudder.
Alice gave her a long steady stare tinged with affection.
"They'll have to know about us sooner or later. Is it the grandchildren thing that's worrying you?"
"Phil's gone. There's only me now." Denise said, letting the hateful words form. Just for an instant, she had a sudden, clear, impression of her brother, walking through a similar archaic-looking shopping arcade. He was dressed in Edwardian clothing and was accompanied by a woman in black, petite, with short neat black hair. Denise blinked, and the image passed. She shook her head, putting it down to stress or fatigue, or possibly even...
"And I can't see where the grandchildren are going to come from." Denise added. "I mean, turkey-basters..." She shuddered in horror. Alice took her hand.
"We can always adopt. Or foster. That might reassure your parents?"
Denise smiled at her. Alice smiled back. Things might not be so bleak after all.
And now they were in what had been Denise's childhood bedroom. Oh, her parents had redecorated it since, and installed twin single beds, but her mother had asked them if they didn't mind sharing, as a lot of people will be here tomorrow for... and her mother had not been able to get any further.
Alice had comforted her. She had added a recollection of Phil and said something heartfelt about missing him. That was a nice touch.
And the next day, the Colonel and his wife would be here for the funeral, and Sergeant Greenberg would be coming up from Chepstow with a honour guard and firing party.
Denise sat on the end of the bed, emotionally spent. She was aware of Alice padding around in bare feet, towel-wrapped after taking a shower.
One of her uniforms was laid out on the other bed; she had only picked up a few changes of underwear from her family home. It was Army uniform or nothing. Alice got dressed, unhurriedly. Denise watched her lover, wondering how she had ever struck it so lucky. As Alice moved to the mirror to check herself, Denise moved in from behind to wrap her arms about her waist and nuzzle her neck.
Alice Band arranged for her morning lesson to be covered by a colleague. It was a fairly routine first-year class in Edificeering, anyway: any of a dozen other members of staff were qualified to cover it. After all the business at the weekend, that had raised more questions than it had answered, she had business at the University.
Hopefully it would answer one of the questions it had raised for her. Maybe more.
She walked briskly along in the direction of the University. People stood aside for her: even though she carried no visibly apparent personal weaponry, the black clothing and the purple sash combined with a general sort of no-nonsense demeanour allowed her to walk unmolested on the streets of Ankh-Morpork.
Recognising her, the duty Bledlow at the University gate saluted and allowed her to pass. She walked on. Reflecting that here among all the robed and cowled Wizards and university students, an obvious Assassin stood out a mile, she tried to communicate the idea that she wasn't there to inhume anyone. She was here as a University guest, after all.
Security was tighter at the High Energy Magic Building. Here, the Bledlow politely asked for proof of identity and checked her against a list of affiliated researchers on the Roundworld project. Alice, understanding, patiently submitted. Finally she was allowed in to find Ponder Stibbons, who welcomed her warmly.
"We'll get this wrapped up quickly, Miss Band, as I'm required at the Zoo later today. I'm absolutely sure you have an identifiable double self on the Roundworld. This series of tests should confirm it beyond any doubt. As you can see..." Ponder reddened, remembering a time... "we have now got a dedicated Ladies Changing Room, which should save any embarrassment. If you'd care to go in, Hex will provide you with a here-but-not-here suit?"
Remembering the time she and Johanna had embarrassed a room full of Wizards by undressing in a public place, Alice smiled. She had learnt not to regard Wizards as desexualised men in dresses after that. Johanna should have known better, given her relationship with Ponder, but perhaps she just liked teasing Wizards.
Alice quickly undressed, knowing that Hex was only nominally a "he". She exchanged pleasantries with the thinking machine, accepted that she ought to leave her weapons behind as they would be of no use where she was going, and stood in the appointed place while a magical radiance, white and octarine, wove a closely-fitting bodysuit around her. It was sufficiently opaque to preserve modesty, but Ponder still winced: it was so skin-tight as to leave nothing to the imagination. And Alice Band was tall and lean with a very well-honed physique.
Ponder had cleared the HEM of all but essential personnel for this one, but there were still a suspiciously high count of Wizards and senior students who considered themselves essential.
"You are aware of the doppelganger theory, miss Band?" Ponder asked, politely. "Past experience with the Roundworld Project has taught us that it is highly probable that everyone on the Discworld – at least, every human – has a double, an alternate self, who has lived, is living, or who will live, on the Roundworld. We were initially alerted to this possibility by the experience of Professor Rincewind, when we discovered there was a long period of Roundworld time during which it was impossible to insert him into the Project. Experimentation and investigation revealed the existance of a Professor Rinjnswand on the Roundworld who not only looked identical to Rincewind but shared a lot of character traits with him. We discovered that the time period in which the Roundworld was closed to Rincewind was the exact duration of his double's life. And Rincewind was only the first. Since then we have discovered twenty-three others. You will be the twenty-fifth. Are you ready for the experiment, Miss Band?"
"Ready!" said Alice, and composed herself.
Hex, the starting point is the consensus date on Roundworld of August 30th, 1954. The place is Wimbledon, London, England. Go!"
Alice felt herself flickering in and out of existence in the HEM. She knew what it was: she had been instructed in the magical concept of thlabber, the existential uncertainty that happens whenever you are at the epicentre of a magical spell. In bad cases, it could lead to a sort of travel-sickness, but Alice prided herself on having a strong stomach.
She could hear Hex intoning the years:
HEX got as far as 1985, and paused. Alice felt herself coming to rest in the Discworld and not in a putative somewhere else.
"Is there as problem, Hex?" Ponder asked.
+In this year, an instability occurs.+ The Roundworld timeline branches off into at least three directions.+ A result of that nexus of instability, which occurred in the north of Ireland, is with us today.+ I believe this was the event that caused Philip Holtack and seven others to leave Roundworld and cross to here.+ As a result I cannot now give a precise year of demise for the Alice Geraldine Band of the Roundworld.+ Her birth year is 1954+ This remains constant and she is thirty-one years old in 1985. +Her year of demise is, variably, 2028, 2032, or 2036.+
Alice did some fast mental arithmetic.
"Which means my duplicate is seventy-four, seventy-eight or even eighty-two when she dies. That's heartening!"
+It would be over-confident to extrapolate from the lifespan of your duplicate, miss Band.+ Hex advised her. +You are, after all, in a very high-risk occupation.+
Alice winced: being accused of over-confidence, the prime Assassin failing, by a thinking engine... stung.
Ponder shook his head.
"I'm satisfied Miss Band has a doppelganger on the Roundworld." he said. "Would you like to see her, even if you can't meet her?"
Alice nodded. She felt an uncharacteristic butterfly sensation in her stomach. Ponder gently took her arm and led her to a work-station. It was a small, self-contained study carrel with desk, chair, large mirror and an omniscope fragment angled so that it reflected into the mirror. Ponder closed the door behind them.
"Do you wish to be alone with Hex, Miss Band?" Ponder asked.
"No. Please stay." she said, knowing she could trust him. She had a feeling she would need him.
+Hello, Alice.+ said the voice of Hex. +I am now going to show you some of the key moments in the life of your double on the Roundworld.+ I will advise you that these will not incorporate any of her most private and personal moments. +What you will see is in the public domain, as it were.+ If you show signs of distress I will end the session. + You may pause at any time to ask questions. Shall we begin? +
Alice braced herself. The image in the mirror swirled and churned as Hex locked onto the correct timeline and personal history. Then the images started. She leapt, seeing a priest, in black shirtfront and white dog-collar, playing with a serious and intent little girl riding some sort of wheeled machine.
But that isn't my father. Alice, this is not your dad. He's different.
The family, her mother wearing some sort of light summer dress that exposed all her arms and left her legs bare below the knee. Her mother's hair done in a style that looked ridiculously over-fussy. The priest again. The little girl, still unsmiling and intense, but older and recognisably herself. Alice looked hard. The two people masquerading as her parents... no, the parents of this other Alice... had recognisable aspects of her own parents, but were different. And what on earth was that machine they were getting into, like a metal box on wheels, with seats inside... Didn't Philip Holtack mention something like this on his world? Horseless carriages?
The other Alice, older still, in a changed scene. Thirteen? Fourteen? In an indecently short white dress, legs bared well up the thigh. She was playing a game... it involved sending a ball back-and-forth across a central net standing about three feet high. Watching, Discworld Alice soon worked out the rules, if not the scoring system. You had to keep directing the ball over the net while keeping it inside the white lines. If you could not get to the ball to send it back, you lost points. If you hit the net or directed the ball to the wrong side of the lines, you lost points. It looked like good fun and Alice was appreciative of the way her Roundworld self was making easy meat of her opponent, a girl of about the same age who also wore an indecently short knicker-revealing skirt. It was high summer in the mirror, and something about the regular poc-poc-poc of the ball shuttling back and forth, and a disembodied voice, presumably a referee, calling "Out!" at intervals, was oddly relaxing and somehow right.
"What is this game. Hex?" she asked, intrigued.
+Tennis, miss Band.+ It is very popular on the Roundworld.+ If you wish, I can furnish further information.+
Hex changed the scene again. Alice noted her opposite was now at boarding school. It had something in common with the Quirm College for Young Ladies, which Alice had attended. She squinted to make out the name on the school hoarding. St. Audrey's Preparatory and High School for Young Ladies of Good Family, she read. Apparently it was in a place called Taunton, Somerset, which meant nothing to Alice. (3)
+Taunton is rather like Quirmbridge or Hangnails in the Shires, Miss Band.+ Hex said, helpfully. Alice winced: bucolic, inbred and full of yokels. Ugggh.
She noticed her Roundworld self seemed miserable and tight-lipped, as if her schooldays very categorically were not the happiest days of her life and she could not wait for them to end. You and me both, sister, thought Alice. Further observation revealed something of why: the teenage Alice was ferociously intelligent, thought other people were idiots, thought most of her teachers were idiots. She was outstanding at this tennis, which redeemed her in the eyes of her teachers. And her school believed in healthy outside exercise for its pupils, which meant Outward Bound courses in the hills. Again, Alice was appreciative of her double's mountaineering and abseiling ability. She also noted her double and her tentmate were very keen on buddying up together and sharing bodily warmth...
"Hey!" she protested, as Hex faded out the picture.
+I'm sorry, Miss Band.+ We were beginning to intrude on your double's personal privacy and on things which are not in the public domain.+
+Miss Band, how would you feel if an observer on another world were to eavesdrop on your most personal moments?+
"Ah." Ponder Stibbons said, embarrassedly. He was belatedly realising that some of the stories whispered about Alice might well be true and not just idle gossip. And hadn't Johanna hinted...
Alice smiled at him. "I trust you completely, Professor Stibbons. I remember that night in the blizzard."(4)
But then Hex changed the picture again. Alice Band joining the Army to prove herself. Her parents' disapproval of her career choice. Training at a place called Camberley with other women recruits. Put through Hell, or at least Purgatory, by the depot staff. Exerting her leadership abilities over some of the other women being trained. Discworld Alice remembered her own Assassin training, and shuddered as she watched something that looked infinitely more horrible and demeaning. But if this is anything like the training Philip Holtack received, it's vital to keep a clear head so I can report back to the Guild. Is there anything here we can usefully apply to Assassin training?
Alice shuddered through a sequence in which her Roundworld opposite had to crawl through very deep mud. Maybe one of these "assault courses" would be fun. For us, if not for the pupils.
And then she was sharing her opposite's fuming anger at being patronised by male instructors on a firearms course.
"Am I allowed to witness this?" Alice asked.
+Strictly speaking, not.+ But this will be informative concerning your alternate's personality."+
Alice noted Hex skipped through the actual training, showing her only those moments where Alice and her co-trainees were being belittled and humiliated by a male training instructor who frequently expressed the opinion that women were incapable of shooting straight and were frightened by loud bangs. Good; Discworld Alice had intuited a couple of valid principles, but was still largely in the dark concerning gonnes. She really did not want the complication of knowing.
And then Roundworld Alice Band channelled her anger, and got near-perfect scores on both the SLR and the Browning pistol. She handed the empty pistol back to the sarcastic instructor with a glare and a nod. Discworld Alice Band pumped her fist and cheered.
And now it skipped through her passing-out, near but not quite with the Sword of Honour. Alice celebrated her passing out by booking into a discreet hotel with a fellow officer, called Caroline. Hex again cut the transmission just as, in Alice Band's opinion, it was getting to the best bits.
My first lover was called Caroline too...
A posting to a gorgeous sunny island called Cyprus came next. Discworld Alice strongly suspected Roundworld Alice, in this gorgeously warm sunny paradise, had at least one other very discreet affair, conducted off-base with a woman who was not a fellow soldier. Discworld Alice felt glad for her alternate. She also felt slightly shocked by the minimal bathing costumes Roundworld women wore. No wonder Philip Holtack knew about the birthmarks on my left thigh, she thought.
And then she was posted back to Great Britain to take up an appointment with a Welsh regiment. Discworld Alice watched as Roundworld Alice learnt to deal with the many irritations of life, including Philip Holtack and his highly suspicious sense of humour. Discworld Alice also noted, with approval, that Roundworld Alice could out-shoot almost every male officer in the regiment. She had also picked up some unarmed combat skills; Alice watched her alternate practice her moves in a gymnasium, clad in a white pyjama-like gi, with a brown belt denoting her status.
And then Hex displayed images from the fated Mess Ladies' Night, where Roundworld Alice met the woman who would become her exclusive lover. Discworld Alice let out an involuntary "oh, wow!". The boyish-looking girl, the cute one with the short-cut black hair and the nice figure... ow wow, I want to see her in leather! Alice looked at Denise Holtack aznd completely approved of her alternate['s taste in girlfriends.
+We have almost reached the point in 1985 where the instability happened that brought our Visitors here.+ said Hex, breaking into her thoughts. +After this point, Alice Geraldine Band's timeline becomes indistinct and contains multiple possibilities.+ I can reveal that in the three most likely scenarios, she leaves the Army, retrains as a teacher, and enters the educational process.+ She also becomes a mother of children who are raised by herself and her lover.+
"How, exactly, Hex?" Alice asked. "If she is gay, like me..."
She suspected the thinking machine made a noncomittal shrug.
+Something called a turkey baster may be involved at some point.+ But in two of the timelines I can indistinctly see, it is possible they have a son who they choose to call Philip in memory of his uncle.+The identity of Philip's mother is unclear, however.+It could be either Alice or Denise+
"Moving swiftly along, Hex." Alice said, hurriedly. She hadn't liked the comment about turkey basters very much. And she wanted to put the slightly disgusting thought out of her active imagination.
+I can permit you to view one last scene in your alternate's life.+Insofar as time on the Roundworld is contingent with time here, I can show you the exact moment in her life corresponding to this moment on the Disc. +This is five days and eighteen hours on from the instability event which threw Pohilip Holtack and the others into our world.+ On Roundworld, they are presumed dead.+ Family and friends are gathering for the funeral which will take place in fifteen hours time.+ Your viewpoint will be through the mirror in Denise Holtack's bedroom.+ Observe now, in real time.+
Alice Band looked into the mirror. She saw a well-kept bedroom in an familiar sort of house, one which had oak beams spanning the ceiling. The absolutely gorgeous dark-haired girl was sitting on the end of a bed. Every so often, Alice Band – herself – walked into view, at first naked except for a towel, then walking out of view again, then re-appearing in the impossibly skimpy but incredibly attractive underwear women wore on the Roundworld. Alice coveted clothes like that. She could see, for goodness sake, how well they fitted and how good they looked. After all, it was Alice Band who was wearing them. She passed out of sight again. Presumably she was completing dressing.
Then Roundworld Alice came up to the mirror, frowning, to straighten her uniform tie. The deliciously dark Denise came up behind her to hug her and kiss her neck. And then...
Alice Band looked into the mirror and jumped. Denise felt her tenseness.
"What's wrong, hun?" she asked, snuggling her lover.
"Now I know I'm overworking." she said, faintly. "Dennie, what do you see?"
"Your reflection?.. Oh, my God..."
Denise was looking, for just long enough, at her lover Alice Band. But an Alice dressed in some sort of Edwardian widow's weeds, with a high-stocked collar trimmed in a little dark lace. The reflection of Alice was doing all it should do and moving with Alice and reflecting some of her consternation. It was just dressed differently, in a kind of Gothic style.
Denise blinked. Then when she opened her eyes again, the reflection was of a Captain in the British Army, wearing a khaki-green shirt and issue tie.
She and Alice looked at each other.
"I see myself like that in dreams sometimes." Alice said. "I get a recurring one where I'm running in the dark across the rooftops. It scared me to death, until I started to realise that the me in the dream seems to know exactly what she's doing. And the city's wrong. It's like London, but at the time of the Great Fire and the plague, you know?"
Dennie hugged her lover. Family lore said the house was haunted and odd things could happen. But still...
"Hex." said Alice Band. "She saw me. How could that happen, if we aren't meant to meet?"
+She is under great psychic stress at the moment.+ Meetings of alternates happen when the walls between worlds are thinner because of psychic stress, worry, or instability.+ At these times, things slip between worlds.+ And I used mirror magic, so that you could see your alternate in real time. +I used this magic for expediency, and failed to take into account the witch-lore that warns that a mirror is a two-way device.+ You may yet see more of your alternate now the link is established, Miss Band. +And she may see more of you.+
"I'm an Assassin. I can't stay away from mirrors. They are everywhere at the Guild!"
+May I stress that you are not physically meeting each other?+ The advantage of employing mirror-magic is that each of you remains firmly in her own world.+ The mirror opens up a window allowing you to observe each other and for the person observed, if she becomes aware, to observe back.+ As witches know, it helps if there is a connection.+ There was a case where a witch in Genua was able to covertly observe the doings of witches in the Ramtops, one of whom was her own sister.+ (5) I have simply adapted mirror technomancy to the Roundworld project.+ Thus no physical constraint was involved nor no law violated.+
Ponder Stibbons coughed, discreetly.
"Er... we both have an appointment at the Zoo, Miss Band. The Patrician has convened a meeting of minds to work out how to safely dispose of the Hive Queen. He wants Assassins there as well as Wizards."
"OK. Give me time to get back into my day clothes. I'm technically nude here." Ponder gulped and went slightly red. She smiled.
"Just so long as you're discreet about my being gay." she said. "Or Johanna and I might be forced, with great reluctance of course, to put a contract on you!"
A thought occurred to her.
"Would the Roundworld me have seen me naked? Not that it matters, she's me, but..."
+She would have seen you as you normally present yourself on the Disc, miss Band. + said Hex, helpfully.
Alice nodded. "This just wraps it up here, then. Thank you both for your help. And Ponder – I know you're a true friend. Maybe I should have said it to you before. But thank you!"
And elsewhere, the consciousness-raising session concerning dwarfs and vampires went on...
1 I know. Tim Brooke-Taylor devised foot and tambourine drill for the Sally Ann as an extended visual sketch on The Goodies. In which he played a fearsome Salvation Army Drill-Sergeant. Worth using, though.
2 Some translation. For those not around in 1985, another issue revolved around American military bases in Britain where fully armed nuclear missiles were kept in an operative state. It was argued that the only country these actually defended was the USA, and the USA was effectively defending its own turf by firing the nukes form Europe, ensuring any retaliatory Russian strike would nuke us and leave America unscathed. USAF Greenham Common was therefore continually picketed by a "Women's Peace Camp" consisting of determined ladies of a certain feminist bent. They would follow and commentate on any mobile nuclear units leaving the camp to actively deploy in Britain and popularise their whereabouts, making a nonsense of any claim to stealth and secrecy. British policy was to get British police and Army units in between the demonstrating women and the Yanks and defend their right to protest whilst keeping them as far away from the Americans as possible. Putting at least two layers of British security in between the Yanks and the protesters also reduced thel ikelihood of some disgruntled trigger-happy American loosing rounds and killing a protester - bad press, for one thing, as well as giving the peace protesters a martyr. While never having been there during his service, your author heard from men who had ,and who described it as a massive fucking shambles and a bad-joke circus, with the armed American grunts protecting the missiles and missile base described as one step away from doing something ill-advised that would strain the Special Relationship. (Or, as a Tom put it, "point that fucking rifle somewhere else, Yank, or I'm belting you one!")
3 St Audrey's of Taunton really did exist. I met a couple of girls at uni who'd been there. To a woman they called it "Tawdry's". Apparently the school, set up to educate the daughters of service personnel, is no longer in existence.
4 See my Hogswatch story Pere Porcher, in which Ponder and the lady Assassins defend each other from trouble.
5 Refer to Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett. in which mirror magic is used to cover distances asnd for covert surveillance.