The most difficult part of the planning was to get Doan to take a bath.
Howling, scratching, biting and frothing at the mouth, the ageing ex-Apocalypse-survivor had managed to give one chambermaid a broken nose, tear a hole in another maid's dress and frighten another one into running from the room, screaming something about rats. Eventually, Marle summoned the palace guards and between them they managed to drag him into the bath. He looked quite handsome in a rugged post-apocalyptic way, like a slightly underfed Jeigan, once they had washed off all the dirt, trimmed his beard and gotten rid of the lice, removed and burned his rags and forcibly dressed him in a military-style blue tunic with silver brocade on the epaulettes.
Marle had almost had a heart attack when she saw Doan. Now that Lavos was defeated, she had assumed that the future was (Was going to be? Would be? What with having escaped from ten out of her series of twelve grammar lessons by jumping out of the window, Marle wasn't very good at using the correct tenses even when there was no time travel involved) a very different place. The planet wasn't an arid wasteland, there weren't only a handful of survivors, slowly starving to death, people didn't live in the ruins of shelter domes that hadn't worked, they weren't being hunted by machines and mutated creatures. She had kind of imagined that Doan would be the next Director, whatever a Director looked like, or maybe had inherited the throne. When she saw that Doan was still a half-feral, smelly old hobo, she assumed Lavos wasn't dead due to some kind of... what did Lucca call it when time was all screwed up?... temporal paradox.
She was relieved to discover that the future was more or less okay and Lavos was still dead. Doan was just like that. He hadn't inherited the throne – he was too far down the line of succession – and certainly wasn't Director – he had deliberately flunked the Guardia Civil Service Apprenticeship Exams. In anger, his father had managed to secure him a position as an 'Assistant Immigration Officer' at a tiny outpost in the Denadoro Mountains. The idea was that he wouldn't bother anyone in the almost completely uninhabited mountains and there would be at least one Immigration Officer on hand to make sure he wasn't accidentally allowed to leave. He had spent the rest of his life experimenting with the variety of interesting mushrooms and brightly-coloured toads that lived on the Mountain, as well as forming a jazz band with the other four inhabitants, who may or may not exist.
He was still in a foul mood when they ushered him into the meeting room, until he saw all the food.
Before anyone could stop him, he scampered across the table on all fours, grabbed a four-tier silver filigree cake tray full of delicious cupcakes and ate all the pink ones. Then he tore a leg off a large roast chicken seasoned with herbs. He was about to take a bite out of it when someone thumped him hard on the head.
"AYLA'S CHICKEN!" roared the cave girl, swinging another fist at him. He did not let go of the chicken. Bearing his teeth and making a noise like a cornered rat, he tried to pull the chicken back off her. Ayla might be twice his size and extremely scary but he was more agile, a better tactical fighter and much more desperate.
Marle sighed. She had been so glad when Ayla decided to behave in a remotely civilised way, attracted by the possibility of eating and gossiping and showing off her babies. Ayla had stayed true to her words when she said her farewells that night and Kino was now trailing after her, holding a baby in each arm and another baby wrapped in a pouch on his back. He had backed away from the table to protect himself and the infants.
"Father, can't you do somethi..."
"... and then, once the heavy cavalry take the bridge, that's when the archers fire the second volley!" yelled King Guardia, moving the salt pot closer to the pepper pot. He had arranged the condiments into some kind of battle map. Her father nodded, although he looked like he didn't really understand. Or possibly was too preoccupied with looking around for an opportunity to escape from his psychotic ancestor. Marle hadn't spotted it at the time but King Guardia was wearing some quite heavy armour under that long red velvet and Kilwala-fur cloak of his and had managed to smuggle in at least one axe. The palace guards were obviously either very unobservant or absolutely terrified of him.
"Um... this is all very nice, but I asked for advice on how to make the peace talks with Porre go smoothly!" said King Guardia XIII, a bead of sweat forming on his forehead.
"Peace talks are full of assassins! And you'll almost certainly be attacked while in a moment of weakness! You can't trust the enemy! Ever!" King Guardia banged his fist on the table, causing the pot of gravy that was apparently functioning as a shield wall to fall over.
Marle shook her head. There must be SOMEONE sane in this hall. With all the royalty gathered here, they all had very commanding personalities and were used to restoring order. But that was the problem: they ALL had commanding personalities. None of them had any more presence or authority than any of the others. None of them would bother listening to the others or be any way impressed by a show of force. Even Marle's usual tactic in emergencies – screaming orders at the top of her voice – hadn't achieved anything except starting a competition to see who could scream the loudest.
She looked around for Queen Leene. She was on the far corner of the table, daintily eating a cake, seemingly oblivious to all the chaos around her. She looked radiant in her white ballgown and perfectly styled hair, fastened with her coral pin and silver tiara.
"Um... miss... er... Your Majesty?"
"Oh, hello, Marle!" she smiled, "Are you enjoying the re-union? It was a clever idea of Crono's to bring us all here in his wonderful machine! It flies so fast! Cakes come in so many more interesting flavours in the year 1000!"
The point of the exercise had been so that the rulers of Guardia in several different time periods could meet up and plan Guardia's past, present and future, now that the threat of Lavos meant that the kingdom actually had a future. What better person to help plan than someone who already knew what was going to happen, or who could tell you the truth about events that had long since passed from the annals of history, if they were ever recorded at all?
So far, as was usually the case in the history of Guardia royalty, nothing was going to plan.
"I wondered if you could help me restore order." said Marle.
"Oh, something's wrong?" she examined her cake as if any possible discord couldn't have originated anywhere else.
"Can't you see?" she pointed at Ayla and Doan, who were playing tug-of-war with the chicken and growling at each other.
"Oh, they're just like the Head Chef and the Knight-Captain!" Queen Leene put a hand in front of her face and giggled.
"We're supposed to be having an important meeting to discuss the future of Guardia!"
"And you expected those two to join in?"
"Er... well... you have a point..." Marle blushed, "It would have been rude not to invite them! But your husband should know better. And Crono is ASLEEP!"
"Crono doesn't talk, dear." Queen Leene reminded her, "And my darling husband is being very civilised. He hasn't challenged anyone to a duel today! Not even once!"
"MY PATIENCE IS SPENT!" roared King Guardia. Marle turned to look at him. The chicken had hit him square in the face and was now lying in his soup bowl. He stood up, drew his axe and pointed it at Doan.
"It was him!" yelled Doan, pointing at Crono, who had both feet up on the table and was snoring in a manner that reminded Marle a little of Lavos' scream. The King did not look impressed.
"Oh dear." said Queen Leene, "Trust me to open my big mouth."
"Stop them before they kill each other!" pleaded Marle.
"Darling, duels to the death are not allowed inside!" said the Queen sternly.
"You heard her... outside!" roared King Guardia. Marle's father quickly left his seat to go and sit next to Kino, who, while not the most enlightening of conversation partners, was covered in babies and therefore protected by most time periods' equivalent of the Geneva Convention.
"Father! Don't just hide!" yelled Marle, "Help me sort out these reprobates!"
"Why should I help? Its you who brought them all here! You and that irresponsible time-travelling friend of yours!" her father snapped, "Look at the damage they've done! I'll never get these stains out of the carpet!"
"I had to invite them all! It'd be rude not to!" protested Marle.
Suddenly, every sound in the room was drowned out by a noise like time and space itself being torn apart. A Gate materialised in the middle of the table, neatly cutting it in half and swallowing up the much-fought-over chicken. It didn't look like an ordinary gate. For a start, it was blood red instead of the usual blue. It was also lingering. Gates usually appeared, dropped off whatever was using them to travel and then disappeared. This one just hung in mid-air, crackling violently and making some kind of rhythmic pulsing noise like a heartbeat. It was causing the hairs on the back of Marle's neck to stand on end. In fact, it was making all her hair stand on end, which was an impressive feat and looked ridiculous. She was no longer concerned that she was now being publicly humiliated in front of the people who already wouldn't do as she said. This Gate posed a larger threat. It felt... alien. Vast, unimaginable and wild. Nothing should be able to make a Gate now that Lavos was dead.
Unless Lavos really wasn't dead...
She screamed as a pair of hands emerged from the Gate. It was followed by a pair of arms and the rest of a slightly-built young man in an expensive brown business suit. He pressed a button on his wrist watch and the Gate disappeared. He stepped off the table and wiped the cake off his shoe.
"I'm sorry I'm late." he said, talking more into his speaker headphones than to her, "My time period was hit hardest and isn't quite back to normal yet. It took me a long time to secure the information about this meeting from the Computer's data banks."
"Um... who ARE you?" demanded Marle. Her father was staring in horror at the post-apocalyptic ruins of the table.
"Who am I, Ma'am? I'm the Director of the Communications Centre." he introduced himself, offering a hand to shake, "At your service, as always."
"Oh! I... er... I'm sorry I didn't invite you." said Marle, "I didn't quite know who you were. I never did get to meet you. I think you were too busy recording things in your dome, and obviously there was the whole problem of Lavos being there."
"I'm always too busy working." he shrugged, "I was going to just sit and watch everything on the Computer's webcam but I was concerned at all the trouble you were having."
At that point, Doan's head poked out from underneath the table he had been using to hide from King Guardia. He blinked, then a broad smile spread across his hairy face.
"Great Gran'pappy!" he yelled, running over and embracing the Director, who looked uncomfortable, possibly because his expensive new suit was being covered in cake icing and chicken grease, "Why'd ya never come an' visit me?"
"I'm your great GREAT grandfather actually. And I haven't visited you because humans can't live for three hundred years."
"Oh... has it really been that long?" he scratched his head, "I wus worried you was disappointed in me or somethin'. Father says I'm a disgrace to the family."
"I don't care. Do you know why I don't care?"
"'Cause it happens in three hundred years' time?"
"No, because the Director is loyal only to the Computer, not to his family! That should have been the first lesson you ever learned! Your father is a disgrace for not teaching you that properly!" the Director waved him away, "Now, its time for me to actually organise this meeting. I've taken the time to prepare some presentations. First of all, I have some forms for everyone to fill in."
"GAAH! PAPERWORK!" screamed King Guardia XIII. King Guardia ran out of the door after him, muttering some excuse about having spotted assassins in the courtyard, and even Queen Leene excused herself politely. Marle was amazed that bureaucracy had existed for such a long time.
"My father said I'm not allowed to fill any forms in or sign anything 'cause Mt. Denadoro Immigration Bureau don't have any authority whatsoever. Under any circumstances." said Doan. He looked downcast at being rejected so brusquely by his ancestor.
"Oh dear. What a shame." said the Director, "Crono is asleep and I don't think Ayla and Kino's tribe have even invented paper yet. This means you're the only one who can fill all these forms in for everyone, Marle. Don't worry, they're not difficult. Just very repetitive."
Marle's heart skipped a beat. She looked over at Ayla, who had the rest of the food for herself at last and was thoroughly enjoying the situation. Kino was too covered in babies to move and Crono was either snoring or being possessed by Giygas, it was difficult to tell from the sound he was making.
There was only one thing left to do.
"CRONOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" she yelled at the top of her voice, causing the babies to start screaming as well. She grabbed him by the hair and violently shook him until he woke up.
"..." he demanded, a confused look on his face.
"Its an emergency! We need to use the Epoch! We... er... forgot to feed the cats last week!"
"..." sighed Crono. He fumbled around on his belt to find the keys for the Epoch while they ran out of the door.
"See? The plan worked." said the Director, sipping his tea, "They're united by a common enemy – paperwork – so they won't fight any more. That's how you avert disasters. With enough bureaucracy, you can hold up any process indefinitely."
"But who's gonna fill in all these forms now?" asked Doan.
"Oh, I'm sure I can find a victim somewhere."
Suddenly, another Gate appeared in the spot where the table had been before it collapsed from the first Gate. It was an ordinary blue Gate this time and only remained in existence for the brief second it took a shadowy figure to half jump, half glide out of it, his purple cape billowing behind him.
"Did I miss the party? Marle forgot to invite me." said Magus, "I believe I have the right to attend as well, yes, being technically of the Zeal royal line?"
"See what I mean?" said the Director.
Doan didn't reply. He had spotted another chicken he liked the look of. It was on the floor and Ayla hadn't spotted it yet.