Chapter Fourteen

Margot Mallard looked out over the snowy scene as the first hint of daylight showed a huge slab split down the middle and pivoting up at the ends to reveal a circular pit ten yards across, from where loud mechanical whirring and clanking sounds were coming. "Plucky. That big concrete slab there. Are you sure it's really a tennis court?" She asked dryly.

"Why, sure. Look – you can see the posts for the tennis net. You'd see the court markings, if there wasn't so much snow…" Plucky broke off, fascinated as a familiar shape rose majestically out of the pit on its authentic American Machine Foundries ™ elevator, wreathed in cold vapour. "Heh. You know, if I didn't know better, I'd say that was a fully working Titan One ballistic missile. But there aren't any of those left, even in museums." He paused. "So it can't be."

Margot rolled her eyes slightly. She kneeled down by her daughters. "Brandi. Candi. Is this your 'big friend in the ground'?"

Candi nodded proudly. "Yes, Momma. We found him. We helped him."

"He'd been left all alone in the dark for so very long," Brandi added. "He was made to fly. Daddy said none of them ever did, properly. So we put it right."

"Ah." Margot nodded, assessing the situation. She turned to Plucky. "I thought those things were meant to be hard to launch? Codes and keys and everything?"

"Sure!" Plucky said proudly. "All sorts of security stuff in the crew area. But on the missile end, it's all down to one signal from the command centre that says all that's done."

"Wonderful." At Perfecto Margot had attended some very unofficial lessons as part of the Asset Acquisitions course, and recalled a demonstration on how to hot-wire a car. How complicated the ignition key was hardly mattered, if you could just short-circuit that wire from the lock to the ignition coil. "So you just have to close that circuit a hundred yards from the code pads, and you've got around all the safety devices."

"Our friend told us what he wanted," Candi said. "So we fix it."

"And there's someone standing right next to it, on the platform," Margot noted.

"Say! I know him. Met him here yesterday. That's Mister Levator, the utilities repair guy from ACME," Plucky squinted at the distant wolf, and waved cheerfully. "He must be earning crazy overtime, getting here to work this early on a weekend. He said he'd been getting the utilities sorted out."

"Levator?" Margot's quick wits made a connection. "His first name wasn't Otis, by any chance?"

"Sure! Do you know him? Otis E. Levator, his ID badge said." Plucky stopped, then suddenly chuckled. "Hey – I just got it. That's some funny, punny name. Do you think anyone's ever pointed it out to him?"

"I imagine he knows, yes" Margot said heavily. "For 'utilities' – do Babs and Buster have mains household Ballistic Missile on tap?"

Plucky frowned, and scratched his head. "Hey, not that they ever got around to telling me, their best and oldest friend." He paused. "And they know I'm into that. You know, that'd be just like those two!"

Up on the plateau, Unit Four Plus Two and the Other, Other Agency were looking on.

"Not to coin a phrase, but – oh dear." Colonel Fenix looked down at the scene. "This is a problem. What's the betting we can't get into there before the missile fires?" He exerted his will, focussing it on the glowing dome of energy. "I'd say that's a one-directional screen. Things can get out all right."

"But… the two things don't fit," Sergeant Gander complained. "You might want to launch that missile – you wouldn't want to be standing underneath it when it happens, like that mage would be."

Shirley winced, forcing herself to remember Plucky's inharmonious game. "Like, that guy so needs the elevator for his spell. That's all he needs. Just 'cause there happens to be some uncool missile sitting on it… well, so maybe he can't help that, he doesn't want it but he's working around it."

"Uncool? It's full of liquid oxygen. Looks cool enough for me," Calgari winked, enjoying the view.

"I wonder, does he even know it's getting ready to launch?" Colonel Fenix mused. "I'm not familiar with the system… maybe it's an automatic sequence, the elevator can only be raised when the rocket's ready?"

Down the wind, the sound of eerie chanting reached them as the violently gesturing wolf mage began a frenzied incantation;

"Per adonai eloim, adonai jehova, adonai sabaoth,

Metraton on agla mathon, verbum pythonicum,

Mysterium salamandrae, conventus Kawaiius,

Antra gnomorum, daemonia coeli gad, Sanrio,

Gibor, jehosua, evam, zariatnatmik,

Salve, Felis! Felis, salve!

Veni, veni, veni!"

"I didn't know you could filk classic high-power spells, hack them about like that and still have them work," Angelina said brightly.

"Yes. It's a complete mish-mash of Latin, Hebrew and a couple of other languages that guy probably doesn't even understand, unless I miss my guess," Calgari commented, the raven's head cocked to one side critically. "He'd get laughed right out of our Abominations Practical class, trying to just pinch that old incantation straight out of H.P. Lovecraft and mangling it like that."

"True, true… but you have to admit, he's putting a lot of faith and sincerity into it," Angelina nodded. "A lot of power, too. In other words, just the kind of thing that's likely to work despite the odds." She pointed significantly at a strange glow of unnameable pastel colour began to fill the air above the summoning site. "We can't just see into that world – I think… they can see us, now."

"Salve Felis", Tlalocopa contemplated. "Maybe that muy bad Latin for Hello…"

"Don't say her name!" Shirley cut in urgently. "That could like, give her a focus right here. She could materialise outside the warding."

"Which would be bad," Calgari nodded slowly. "Angelina? Tlalocopa? This isn't someone we want here. Sure as my name's Theophobe Calgari."

"Which it sure is." Angelina said. "Theophobe, we agree."

"Protective shields up and suits on, people," Colonel Fenix said grimly. "It's show-time."

Shirley helped Ida into her newly issued NBCC suit *. "These things are so tacky. But it'll protect you - the rest of us have spirit shields and junk, against that level of radiant Cute. You pull the cord here…" Shirley pulled the toggle releasing the gas cylinder inside the suit, and the swan's shape suddenly bristled like a puffer fish with inflated black spiky bits. "Eww. Mondo tacky – but it works."

*( Nuclear, Biological, Chemical and Cuteness warfare resistant, naturally.)

"I think they look pretty cool. I wear mine to Gothick parties." Angelica smiled. "The first models only protected against biological threats, like boring old smallpox and that neat-o designer Absolutely_Massive_Pox. Newer models keep out bi-ological and tri-ological, too!"

Ida blinked, looking around at the landscape through the special filters on the helmet. "Everything looks so… grungy," she complained. "The whole world looks like something out of a decaying Eastern Bloc country where nothing ever gets painted." She blinked, looking at her team. "You all look like you're real shabby, haven't washed in weeks, with awful fur and skin diseases."

"Those filters might just save your sanity," Sergeant Gander said grimly. "They're the electronic opposite of 'rose-coloured spectacles'. They stop the most usual wavelengths of weaponised Kawaiionising radiation." He paused. "Just don't look at the GRAVVS METALLICVS, wearing them. It would be… overload."

"And in the thigh pocket, there's four what look like biros," Shirley added. "You want the pink one for this. They're spring-loaded with insulin needles. If you totally have to, just take off the tip and jab it into your thigh, right through the suit."

"I'm not diabetic," Ida said, blinking curiously. "What do I need that for?"

Shirley winced. "If something from that world comes through into our space, it'll be so cute you'll get mondo sugar-shock. You'd keel over inside a minute."

"Well, now we're all fashionably dressed for the party, there's a few more options to put on the table," Angelina smiled. She rummaged in her Hammerspace pocket and pulled out what looked like a pint-sized can with a ring pull. "That mage might be proof against incoming spells – but he's got to breathe in there. If air can get in, a cloud of something spicier blowing on the wind might too."

Colonel Fenix raised an eyebrow. "What, exactly? I've told you before about using Dip on people."

"Not Dip – I promise I don't use it any more, especially the catalytic stuff. Not since last time in Japan," Angelina attempted to look contrite. "Well, it wasn't a very nice shopping mall anyway. And the town was way too crowded."

"Statistically, some of the people are sure to have been villains, too," Calgari murmured. "So what with one thing and another – it all balances out."

"If it's not Dip, is that – highly enriched, weapons grade Phall curry?" Sergeant Gander asked. "There's an international test ban treaty on that, too. That stuff can burn holes in EinsToonian Spacetime."

The magpie flashed her most winning smile. "Oh… oh no, Sir, it's nothing like that. Honestly. Just a little herbal extract, something like Shirley's endless tisanes. If a little more concentrated."

Shirley's aura gingerly sniffed the tin, spotting its Kirlian field. She stepped back in horror. Herbal? It's herbal, fer sure - the pure active ingredients of Poison Ivy and Poison Sumac! A Toon hit by that crud would turn into one big blister!

"Yes, I thought it might put him off his chanting a little. Having blisters on blisters would do that," Angelina nodded happily. "And all natural, eco-friendly too!"

"Hmm. Compared with what's likely to be summoned – go for it." Colonel Fenix nodded, ignoring a loon's horrified expression.

Angelina gratefully hopped round through the snow to the upwind side of the warding field, wound up and hurled the can. It burst on the surface of an unseen barrier, then slowly ran down to the snow-covered grass beneath, that writhed and bubbled.

"Bah. Looks like a boosted 'protect from hostile intent' extra shield," Calgari commented. "He's thought of that one."

Colonel Fenix nodded thoughtfully. "Let's see if friendly intent can do the job, then. Corporal Kaolin! There's someone who might want to see some of your unique artwork. Why not let him have a look?"

"Uh… yessir." The vulture eagerly stepped forwards, ever hopeful that someone might appreciate his work someday. He rummaged in a webbing pouch; everyone closed their eyes and turned away as a whittled carving of exquisite horror was lobbed through the air, piercing every warding shield, and landed on the elevator platform at the wolf's feet.

The elevator mage paused for a second, bent down and picked the item up, inspecting it closely. He giggled, smiled appreciatively, put it in his pocket and resumed chanting.

"He really is insane," Angelina nodded, impressed. "I respect that deeply."

"This worries me." Colonel Fenix stared at the magical shield intently.

Margot Mallard stood on the second elevator, at the top of the shaft leading down to what was Babs' and Busters' burrow, contemplating what was going on at its unreconstructed neighbour. Evidently the Agents trying to press through the mysterious barrier were not getting anywhere, and other threats were nearer at hand.

"We didn't take classes anything like that directly at Perfecto," she said, watching the wolf mage cast highly visible sorcerous energies on the platform he stood on. "But our founder was Witch Hazel. She left some rather interesting books in the school library. Locked away securely of course - but that just made getting in to read them more challenging. I've not got magical talent, but I know the theory."

Plucky frowned. Whenever Shirley had tried to explain sorcerous theory, he had done his level best not to listen. "Do you know what he's doing?"

"Not exactly. But… if I read it right, he's trying to Summon something world-changing." She looked over at her mate and her children. "I think right now, I like my world the way it is. We should stop him." She glanced down at her bow.

"We help, momma," Brandi said. "We get our big friend ready. Wolf shaman, just think he in the way."

"Our metal friend drink plenty of cold stuff, he want to go fly now," Candi added.

"Is there any of the cold stuff left? Did your friend need to drink it all?" Margot asked, an idea coming to mind.

"There's some," Candi said promptly. "It was meant for his friends to drink. They were all taken away years and years ago."

"Then he was all alone," Brandi added sadly. "Till we found him."

Margot looked at the capering figure inside the inscribed circle. She thought hard, running through possibilities till she found one she liked. She smiled, her eyes narrowing, then looked down to her children. "There's something I'd like you to do, sweetie."

From outside the warding field, Unit Four Plus Two saw what looked like a waterfall of fuming liquid suddenly spew from an upper fuel tank and engulf the wolf mage below – who abruptly stopped chanting, and stood locked rigid.

"Well, well. Looks like someone made a bit of a boo-boo with the refuelling. What bad luck! To be standing right under the fuel hoses. Just when someone re-started the pumps and tried to squeeze another hundred gallons of liquid oxygen into a full tank. Of course it wouldn't fit," Calgari exclaimed. "I don't think he'll do that again."

"Someone's muy chilled out now," Tlalociope confirmed.

Sergeant Gander's telescope focussed on what now seemed to be an icicle-draped frozen statue of a wolf in sorcerer's robes. "That won't stop him for long. He's a Toon, he'll soon thaw out." Suddenly he smiled, looking around at the snowy landscape. "Or he might, if it wasn't ten below freezing out here."

"Yes. But I really don't like the look of that pentacle," Colonel Fenix's feathers were fluffed out in more than the cold. "I think that laptop's still running the spell without him. And the shielding around it is still up – we can't get in there to shut it down."

"Well, well." Calgari looked on, impressed as a second shower of liquid cascaded down the Titan's flanks onto the immobilized mage. "It's not just the liquid oxygen that overflowed. Who'd have thought rocket fuel stored fifty years in rusty metal piping chemically degrades to Dip? Erased, one wolf."

"Result!" Angelina grinned, punching a feather-fist in the air as she put away her camera. "Like, take one fuelling hose – and get one shopper totally hosed. That's going out online tonight to Dark ToonTube."

"Way brutal," Shirley shivered. "But that was like, his grody karma to blame. Bet he comes back as a battery broiler chicken."

And again, and again, and again, her Aura confirmed grimly. Reincarnated just for Weenie-burger's benefit every time. She shuddered at the memory of Plucky eating chicken-burgers at the garish diner.

"The spells are still up, even without him. We've still got an expanding Pastel Hole spreading into our reality," Colonel Fenix noted, pointing. His eyes widened. "Uh-oh. Something's starting to come through it – from the other side. Deaf Mettle Foundry are en route, but we can't wait - we've got to break that warding field. Quick."

"Like, we could use another Electric Pentacle – same way we got Ida back," Shirley gasped. She looked around. "But there's nothing here to make one from." She paused, remembering some of her mother's magic reference books. "Unless – five of us, we take position round it and… BE the shape."

"She's breaking through!" Colonel Felix pointed to the vast glowing feline shape that was getting clearer every second. "Once she gets to Earth, she'll be able to take her reality and her physical form anywhere her icon has ever been."

"Which is just about everywhere," Sergeant Gander said. "I think her image is even on the Space Station."

"Way bogus," Shirley blinked. "She'll, like, bring her own reality with her. Nothing we can do from inside ours would even touch her."

"Fire from Earth can't harm it nohow," Calgari quoted the New England philosopher Z. Whateley of Dunwich.

"We've no time to get Corporal Barnes here to disbelieve in her," Sergeant Gander gasped. "Anyway. That might not even work. Her image is everywhere. She's hard to disbelieve in."

"Dire Phrase 47, Japanese supplement" Colonel Fenix murmured, referring to his manual. "Try forming that pentagram, McLoon – the rest of you, help out. I'll try and break into it directly."

Shirley, her aura and the Addams Academy Toons took off at a run. Surrounding the glowing veils of force, the five of them spaced themselves out equally. Just then, Shirley felt a high-powered presence in the Farce behind her. Turning, she saw Ida had followed her.

"You might need me," Ida said, trying not to look at the vast presence taking shape in front of them. "I've got energy, and you can use it."

"Fer sure." Shirley nodded, relieved. She closed her eyes, her psychic abilities seeing the swan as the equivalent of a large external fuel tank that she eagerly tapped into. From a little distance off she felt the contemptuous psychic sniff of her aura.

Ready? She felt the dark touch of Calgari's mind against hers.

Ready as we'll ever be. Shirley cast the Spirit Tap spell on Ida, shivering as she realised the Dark Side spell was much easier the second time round. The swan's energies filled her, and waves of possibilities swam before her.

Around the expanding pastel circle, five points of sorcerous light sprang into being. Two fields of energy strove for mastery; the pastel glow that was eating at EinsToon-Warner space, and that space's most powerful reply. Shirley steeled herself, and drew heavily on Ida's power – like a tug-of-war contest, slowly one side began to give ground. Five points of sorcerous power, the "hills" of the pentacle, gradually closed in.

And there they met a check. The warding field was still up; everything inside it was protected. The two loons and the Addams Academy trio driving their own warding could press it no further in.

Colonel Fenix looked on, grimly. "Deadlock." He said. Just then, a sound of distant diesel engines split the pre-dawn quiet.

"Here come the armoured cavalry," the phoenix nodded, recognising the sound. The GRAVVS METALLICVS had arrived. Riding on the engine deck and holding tight could be seen the very recognisable figure of Jaggi DiSpeckle, complete with video camera. Oddly enough, of Mary Melody there was no sign.

As the aggressively spiky vehicle ground to a halt, Jaggi jumped down into the snow while Colonel Fenix picked up the external phone on the rear plate and talked urgently with the crew.

Jaggi cast a glance at the missile. "Whoa!" He said, eyes wide. "They didn't cover that sort of prop in Props and Gags 701 at Acme Loo!"

"Like, we can't get to it," Shirley said. She looked around. "You're on your own? No Mary?"

"Just me," Jaggi nodded, unpacking his camera. "I'll tell you later."

Just that minute, a sound reached them from below and he suddenly found something definitely photogenic to film.

Down on the lower ground, Margot looked at the surprisingly bright and untarnished missile that sat wreathed in frigid vapours a hundred yards away, and she frowned. "That thing looks ready to fire. I think we're standing a bit close for comfort." She tapped the elevator remote control. "Time to get underground again."

"Aww, don't worry," Plucky reassured her. "Hey! I didn't take a class in film tropes and memes for five years for nothing, you know. The bad guys never get to actually launch the missile. Not possible. Can't be done. Somebody always cuts the red wire at the last second."

The distinctive sound (faithfully reproduced on his Numbmindo console on many a game of Retro Rocket Rumble) of an early model Aerojet L-series turbo-pump starting up echoed through the starlit clearing. Umbilical cables and connectors detached and fell away from the rocket's body, and chunks of ice shook loose from its frosted metal skin with vibration as the main engines lit with a thunderous roar, the flame deflector fortunately pointing the blast away from them.

"Of course…." Plucky belatedly remembered his barely passing final grade in that class "there's always those sneaky plotlines where it's 'cut anything Except the red wire'…."

"Go fly." Brandi's voice was quiet, but her mental command reached the ancient metal Manitou. Deep in a dusty room below her, the final light in the sequence turned to green. Engines Fire, the dusty glass indicator read. Docking clamps unlocked, and the aged rocket began to rise.

"He's flying nice," Candi agreed. She mentally waved goodbye to the manitou of the metal bird. It knew that it had only one flight; that it would empty and fall to pieces on the way to its target, but that was fitting and proper; the destiny it knew had been made for. Brandi and Candi had watched the manitous of hatching mayflies; they too understood they only had one flight destined for them, but their tiny spirits looked forward to it eagerly nevertheless.

"Such sweet thunder…" Plucky stood transfixed in awe at the sight and sound as the clearing lit up and the Titan slowly cleared the pad. "Whoo-hoo! Go, bird, go!" He pointed up at the rising missile. "This is educational, kiddies. Look – they're twin Aerojet LR-87-3 engines, burning RP1 fuel and liquid oxygen. They don't teach you that in kindergarten."

"I imagine not," Margot said dryly. "I blame the anti-Armageddon PTA lobbyists, personally."

"It's so beautiful." Plucky lay flat on his back in the snow, staring up at the fading twin star of the booster's engines as the Titan began to 'turn over' on course Northwards over the pole, the big radio dish at the edge of the clearing pointing the way. "The very last one of its kind in all the world… after all these years, really got to fly the way it oughta. Not stuck in some crummy museum gathering rust and dust. How cool is that?"

Margot snickered as she switched off the camera on her T-pad and securely pocketed it. She was sure that fairly soon Plucky would say something like 'but I'd be famous forever if I'd got film of it I could upload to ToonTube with my name on it.' Christmas was close now, and she had a high-definition present for him. If he was still on a world where they got ToonTube reception by then, might be another story.

"What a revoltin' development this is," Standing up on the plateau, Babs put on her best Jimmy Durante voice, her ears drooping as she and Buster looked up at the ancient missile heading skywards.

"It's bad news for somebody. Generally speaking, those things do more harm than good," Buster agreed.

"Don't think of it like that," Calgari shaded his eyes with a feather-hand. "Think of it as maybe… lending some far land a hand with urban renewal, at no charge. Slum clearance, even. Aren't we generous?"

Babs cast him a look of dagger visual tropes that bounced and splintered on the avian psyker's Dark-side shielding.

"Does that rocket really know where it's going? It won't, if it gets wrong where it's starting from. According to the notes Acme gave us, the silo was originally in South Dakota," Buster mused as the rising star faded in the dawn sky. "If it expected to start from several states away… it might not realise… it's not in Kansas anymore."

"Or even South Dakota," Babs finished. She looked at the radio bowl that was still tracking the distant Titan, now little more of it visible than a glowing cone of exhaust gasses at the top of the atmosphere. "Depends on what Plucky's Numbmindo console's telling it." That the egotistical green duck had somehow been responsible, Babs was certain. She knew Plucky of old. "I bet this wouldn't have happened if he'd been into online poker instead."

"Look on the bright side," Calgari urged. "That mage was flash-frozen, then dissolved in Dip. That's quite a decisive solution for any Toon. Then the… Toon solution was torched and blown away by a rocket exhaust. I think we can safely say he won't be bothering us again. Not in this incarnation."

"Score! And so perish all enemies of our dear Secret Government," Angelina enthused.

"That mage might not bother us again. But whichever nation that that missile hits just might object," Sergeant Gander reminded the raven. "And we've no idea where that's going to be. WashingToon won't be happy, wherever it is."

"Yes Sir, we do need to put a cover story out," Calgari conceded. "Good thing we have a film crew handy."

Angelina looked critically at the zebra. "Say, does that camera have 'red eye reduction' features on it?"

Jaggi nodded, filming the unexpected launch. "It's state of the art. And the science too."

"Don't you think that's a clear bigotry and discrimination against albinos?" Angelina stepped back, eyes wide in mock horror.

Colonel Fenix waved Shirley forward. "If Ms Melody isn't here as our AnchorToon, you'll have to do it. We need a cover story right now, going out live, and you're our only qualified Actress. Someone will probably notice that rocket." He looked up to the rising contrail glowing in the first light of dawn, the landscape around Acme Acres below it still in shadow.

"Gee, you really think so?" Buster asked innocently. "We could say it was just something left over from Fourth of July."

Shirley cast her friend a tight smile. "I've a better idea. Like, Jaggi, is that camera ready for close-ups?"

Jaggi DiSpeckle nodded. "Ready to go out live, to the satellite," he hefted the big TV camera, checking the uplink light was on standby.

"Coolest. So, count down on ten, and let's get this show on air." Shirley stepped forwards, smoothing her head-feathers. She took a deep breath, thought hard and prepared to give the Improvised Drama performance of her life.

Jaggi counted down, and gave a thumbs-up sign as he focussed in. Behind Shirley the giant elevator still glowed and steamed with heat, the cabalistic markings mercifully scoured off it by the rocket blast.

"So, like, we're here today to witness the triumph of Acme Acres' Historical Re-enactment society," Shirley ad-libbed, looking into Jaggi's camera. "We have a totally authentic 1:1 scale model Titan One being put through its paces, or some junk. It's way successful."

"There are some Toons who might think this is just a Toony bit risky – especially the ones on the receiving end," Calgari said as he stepped into shot, well qualified for and enjoying a role as Devil's Advocate. "What does the re-enactment society say about that?"

Shirley winced inwardly, but steeled herself to reply. "There's a Japanese re-enactment group just like them, earned way major film awards for their re-staging of Pearl Harbour last year," she said, keeping her voice breezy. "Sure, there were some folk on Hawaii who complained – but telling the residents it was going to happen, that would have totally spoiled the authenticity."

"As would using fake weapons, yes," Calgari conceded the point. "Do you have any advice for concerned citizens in KazaksToon at this point?"

Shirley gave a strained smile. "Just say, 'duck and cover'?"

Calgari took the microphone, and looked keenly into the camera. "In other breaking news, official sports scientists studying the cool modern sport of urban free-running have confirmed that even amateurs can in fact safely jump between skyscrapers up to three times the distance they could possibly manage when practicing on the ground. So have a go, kids, it's safer than you thought! And if you need to take a cab to the city centre, remember – flagging down unlicensed ones on the street saves you valuable money. And the drivers aren't absolutely all murderous psychopaths." He paused. "After the break, we'll show you a radically new and exciting way to prepare delicious Japanese Fugu fish that you can try in your own kitchen."

"And in other news," Angelina stepped up to the microphone "still other scientists have demonstrated that if you stand on the tracks in front of a fast-moving train, it pushes a soft 'air cushion' of compressed air in front on it – it'll brush you aside and can't actually hit you! So pull out your selfie sticks and be the first to get those cool selfies with an oncoming bullet-train – be the envy of all your friends!"

"You're wasting your breath; Jaggi didn't transmit those grody bits," Shirley said in a bored tone. "He's pretty fast on the 'off' switch when he's live on air."

"Always worth a try," Calgari shrugged, unfazed.

Jaggi put away the camera, looking worried.

"You're on your own?" Shirley queried. "Where's Mary?"

The zebra shook his head. "She got the call when I did. I phoned her and got her Mother. She said Mary was at home and – unavailable. She didn't say how or why."

"Way strange. Mary's like the most reliable of all of us," Shirley frowned. "No way would she miss an official call-out like that, unless she's real sick. And then she'd call in and tell us, fer sure."

"I hope she's not ill. But her Mother's a head nurse, and her Father's a doctor. They'd have said." Jaggi's ears dipped.

"I'm sure she's in way safe hands," Shirley reassured him. "I've been mondo watching over her with my powers. I didn't like to worry her about it." She smiled. "Like, that's what my Powers are for."

Meanwhile, Colonel Fenix was still looking unhappy. Possibly it was something to do with the missile being on its way, the shielding spells still being up despite the laptop being certainly blown away by the launching and an invading Universe still poised to give his world a drastic makeover. Suddenly his feathery antennae went up. "We saw Miss Mallard down there on the phone just now, so it looks like calls can get in. Does anyone have her number?"

"I have," Babs said brightly, offering her pink phone. "Got it from Rhubella." Babs collected phone numbers like Plucky had collected celebrity autographs.

"She has that rather over-boosted arrow ready still," Colonel Fenix said. "We're rather stalled here. We can't break the shield spell from the outside, but – possibly she could from within. Those markers there, look like they're holding it." He pointed to one of a ring of harmless-looking white rocks that were just inside the spell's boundary, visible only to Mage-sight as focussing runes.

"I can ask her." Babs said, and speed-dialled. "Hey, Margot! Babs here. Do you take requests?" She listened to the reply, then turned to Colonel Fenix. "She's willing – IF you can guarantee you can keep those Toons In Black off her."

The ranking officers of three respectable ultra-black Agencies bickered childishly for several minutes. At last Colonel Fenix turned to Babs. "These good folk have lost interest in anyone without a Theory of Everything. And there's no reason to think the avian family there have one."

"Oh, I'm sure the Theory isn't down there," Babs said innocently. "No matter where else it might be." Her eyebrows wiggled intriguingly, as she looked towards Shirley. She spin-changed into a comic bell-ringer of Notre Dame, complete with bell-rope. "Trust me, I got a hunch."

"Why just break the force field, when we might hit the real problem?" Calgari urged. "You said it, Sir – that black arrow has a charge that'd take out a deity with no saving throw." His eyes gleamed. "Why not try it? Save the world with one round? How neat is that?"

Don't do it! Calamity's sign urged, as he looked at the low-resolution feline whose Franchise was getting ever closer. She isn't… invading because she wants to. That mage made the hole into her reality and she's just – coming through, like water through a leaky roof – it just happens. Not her fault.

"No more than what happens if you walked through one of the nitrogen-ice cities on the far side of Pluto," Marcia said. "Your body heat would set buildings alight as you walked down the street. If you stopped moving you would melt a hole in the roadway. But that would not be because you wanted to damage it."

"Oh, go on, Sir," Angelina urged. "Goodbye Kitty! Kitty wipeout time! You'd probably turn into a magic canary or something inside her world. Hateful, eh?"

The other world looks a pretty nice place – it's not what we want, but the Toons over there are happy with it. And without their franchise leader… how would they manage? Calamity's sign pleaded.

"True, by all accounts." Colonel Fenix mused. He accepted the phone Babs offered, and made the call.

On the far side of the force field a minute later, Margot put her phone away, and looked at Plucky. "We've been offered a deal. If I can shoot out this energy field, we're off the hook with those suits." She nodded over towards the black-suited Toons. "Do we take it?"

Plucky winced; he had been a devout believer in Conspiracy Theories, and had heard little good came in trusting to deals with Mysterious Government Agencies ®. "If we take down the energy field, they can get at us."

"True. But if we don't – where are we going to go? Except back to the wilds." Margot remembered her Realpolitik classes at Perfecto. "And I don't like the idea of that pastel glow in here with us. Looks unwholesome, somehow."

Plucky nodded. "Go for it."

Margot drew her bow tense with two hundred pounds of force, aimed at the nearest white rock, and let fly.

The black-glowing arrowhead left the bow with a whistling shriek, and hit the sorcery-charged rock. Where an unaltered arrow would have broken or bounced off, with the dark energy charging it, Margot's shot hit hard. The entire force dome quivered – glowed white-hot for a second – then broke, in a psychic crash that briefly knocked the psychic Talents in Shirley's team flat on their tails. The buzzards just looked on, marvelling at the pretty lights.

"Of course – taking that shield down means it's not just the Toons In Black can get at us now, if they want to." Margot looked up at the clear dawn skies. "You'd better keep that grab bag open, Plucky." She paused. "And it's not just them to worry about. Whoever that old rocket landed on might object, and send a few thousand Ferrotonnes of payback heading this way. We should have time to grab the crystals and bail out of this timeline when we see it hit atmosphere."

"Good thing there's no clouds today," Plucky gulped, scanning the skies. No white-hot trails of ballistic anvils slanting in from space were currently visible.

"We really don't want to see that," Margot agreed.

"I hope we don't. And there's something else I didn't want to see." Plucky looked out over the snowfields. His feathers drooped. "There's Shirley, with her top-secret crew. I've seen their rock videos. I bet they've got black helicopters to ride in for even trivial missions. Afterburning jet dragster racers to commute into work. Looted UFO-tech. Trained combat sharks, with lasers! They've got all the cool kit in the world. And I should have been doing all of that. Car-surfing on super-cars into prime-time all-action showdowns while she sat on the nest."

Margot smiled. She well remembered Plucky stuck brooding on that nest; she was the one who had anonymously sent him the standard issue Domesticated Male pack of carpet-slippers, pipe and economy golf bag just to rub the point in. "If she had, we wouldn't be strolling together down the aisle today." She paused. "If you still want to?"

Plucky stood as frozen for a second as the elevator mage had been, his mind spinning. If I'd not sat on that nest, I wouldn't be here – with Margot. His fervid imagination flashed back to the day something supernatural had turned up, triggering the protective wards Shirley had put around the nest site, throwing him, the eggs and Margot several time-streams away. He had glimpsed the thing that was Resorbius – and imagined victoriously tackling it himself in his super-guise as the Toxic Revenger while all of Acme Acres cheered. For the first time ever, his ever-optimistic imagination let him down.

Plucky held Margot close. "I want to. More than anything in the world."

Brandi looked at the bag with the crystals and survival gear, her expression troubled. "We go home now? You said."

Plucky blinked, suddenly caught in a dilemma like the steel jaws of an ACME bear-trap. Margot watched him carefully.

The green mallard kneeled down in the snow next to his daughters, choosing his words. "Sweetie… I promised. And you will go back, if you want. Maybe it'll be real soon…" he cast an anxious eye at the still empty skies above them "but… maybe it'll be later. After your little brother or sister arrives, and Mother can properly hunt again. Hey, some ways it's a perfect holiday place – a week away from here gets you three months over there!"

"And I thought the exchange rate with the Eastern Molvanian lead zloty was good…" Margot murmured, recalling Perfecto's twin town in Central Europe.

"Not wait too long. Or Running Bare be old," Candi objected. "He teach us."

"Maybe after you finish this film, Plucky, you could use a break" Margot suggested. "And by then there'll be five of us. Or more." She ran her hand over the swell of her belly; although she had had full medical scans, she had asked not to be told the details, preferring the thrill of surprise in early February. An eyebrow rose. "At Perfecto, so maybe we're famous for cheating. But we learn a lot about… contractual obligations, too. And that's one we're not going to break."

"That rift in our reality's still there, people. But now – we can get close enough to it. All advance!" Colonel Fenix motioned his Unit forwards, and soon the five-fold lights of the Electric Pentacle constrained the pastel edge of the rift.

This is getting harder – it's like a balloon gives way at first… getting it to pop is another story, Shirley's aura panted, pressing onward through stiffening resistance.

Just then, the revving of the GRAVVS METALLICVS' engines drowned out any non-telepathic replies. The extra-black, extra-spiky vehicle ground forwards to contact the pastel rift – and pushed.

"Way savage." Shirley's ears rang with the sound as the reactive runic armour on the front plate detonated at the proximity to overwhelming Cuteness. She spared a glance over at the vehicle pushing in like a needle into a tough balloon – and gasped.

Unwillingly, she again recalled Plucky's favourite game, and the hours her drake would run it in slow-motion, enthusing over the airflow and heat loads of a white-hot re-entry vehicle slamming into the atmosphere. The front of the GRAVVS METALLICVS was doing the same – penetrating the alien reality. The ablative runes were burning off the glacis plate, molten tungsten and platinum running down like hot wax with the energies generated, its turret front and glacis plate taking the re-entry load on their dark and sinister runic skin. Any second now the crew would have only the High Dourness steel of the front plate protecting them, plus the oily and un-cute bulk of the front-mounted engine block and transmission system.

Suddenly, the world seemed to shiver… as finally the concerted powers of EinsToon-Warner Spacetime gained the upper hand. The pastel rift began to contract; pushed past a certain point it started to shrink of its own accord.

As if seen from the bottom of a deepening well, something cheerful and feline waved a stubby paw as if in farewell. Only the buzzards on the team waved back.

"It's shrinking! It's going back!" Babs cheered, up on the plateau, as the drama below faded.

Buster gave a sigh of relief – which was short-lived as he looked round, and saw for the first time the power of the Theory of Everything in action. Patient X had regained consciousness – his lips worked silently as he ran through the relevant part of the theory. Suddenly, the strait-jacket binding him to the stretcher was undone – not by any escapologist trick, but by stepping sideways onto a plotline where they had never been fastened.

"He's getting away!" Buster yelled, making a diving tackle. Despite all his Quarterback prowess at Acme Loo, somehow the expert rabbit athlete missed – as the target was suddenly several yards away, shifting to a plotline where he had been there all along.

Agent Peoria made a mathematical leap of her own, and put two and two together. She pointed. "That's the behaviour predicted by the Theory – that guy is IT!" Both Agencies turned and ran towards the spot.

Patient X closed his eyes, calculating a bigger probability shift that would put him miles away. He did not hear the faint sound of very softly padded feet coming up behind him through the powder-snow.

Babs lined up the cutest toes in Acme Acres and took a mighty swing with a Toon sized bunny foot – before he could flee Patient X was booted up into a high arc, clearing the fuming bulk of the GRAVVS METALLICVS – and vanished into the pinkly glowing rift.

"Follow that rogue scientist!" Agent Houston yelled. "He's got the only working copy of the theory, in his head!"

"Follow that rogue Agency!" Agent Lilac-chartreuse-graphite signalled the Other Agency. "We have to stop that theory getting out!"

Both Agencies charged, one after the other, into the shrinking bubble of the invading franchise a second before the gateway to the bubble universe shut.

"How convenient," Babs nodded appreciatively, brushing her toes clean. "Those martial arts classes in Tae-Kwon-Doe paid off."

"A fine kick. Touchdown, and conversion!" Buster cheered, briefly spinning into a male cheerleader form (the original 1920's style with long coat and megaphone as immortalised in the earliest Fleischer Bros. cartoons). "Those toes of yours are pretty practical, as well as adorably pretty." He hugged his pink wife. "I'll Take-One-Doe any time she wants, as long as it's you."

Babs squeezed her husband's cottontail lovingly.

Wasn't that was a bit… uncalled-for? Calamity's sign protested. Booting him clear into another Universe?

"Oh, no boots were involved, in the slightest." Buster deadpanned. "Pure paw-work from a very pure paw."

Babs panted for breath, and looked down proudly at her lucky rabbit's right foot. "We're the ones with the biggest ears round here, and I heard it called for pretty loud and clear," she said, raising an eyebrow to Calamity. "Anyway – you said yourself, it's a nice place over there. He might even like it."

He might not be insane, in that reality, true, Calamity signed.

"And if all the laws of Physics are different there... he can shout out the Theory that he worked out over here all day long and nothing'll happen," Babs grinned. "Because over there – it just won't be true. They'll have a different one. Problem solved." She spun into her Crimson Crockpot Soupy-heroine costume. "A Domestic goddess always knows how to avoid waste. And there was a rift to another Universe right there in our backyard. Couldn't waste all that plot potential, could I?"

True, Calamity's sign indicated thoughtfully. Usually – there's never a spare Universe around when you need one.

"I'm not sure what two rival Agencies will … translate into, over there," Colonel Fenix mused. "But I doubt it'll be dull."

"Maybe they'll translate into their nearest equivalents over there," Babs said. "Like Harriet does style makeovers for a living these days." Her friend Harriet Harrier was starting a career as an inner-city Social worker, re-moulding vicious street gangs into cheerful basketball teams and visa-versa.

"Our big problem is working out just how that, over there, could possibly turn out to be funny." Buster's ears were down as he gestured towards the empty platform the missile had launched from. "A few MegaToons detonating on someone isn't most folk's idea of a laugh." He paused. "Except Plucky, of course."

"We've seen that gag style done," Babs reminisced. "Remember our third year Outdoor Practical out in the desert, on the old 'Glowindark Flats High-energy gag testing range'? When Professor Bugs set up Professor Sam to personally demonstrate that 1950's "Davy Crockett" nuclear bazooka?"

"The one with the blockbuster-sized bang and the very, very, embarrassingly short range, yes." Buster nodded. "But that kind of plot, it's more Jaggi's style – he does the gritty action dramas, with titles like 'The Damocles Agenda'. Not our sort of gig."

"Unless… by a staggering coincidence… using another 1950's piece of classic Americana…" Babs' caffeinated brain thought fast, putting the pieces together. Toon Improbability theory used subtractive odds against one-in-a billion chances, as Calamity had reminded her. She took a deep breath, calling on all her innate plot warping gifts. "Unless it hit a remote desert city in KazakhsToon that'd already been overrun by a Class Three Zombie Apocalypse… its only inhabitants now the shambling Undead in the streets… but their Government hadn't dared let on the country was about to overflow with zombies."

"Being Election Year over there, and all, they wouldn't like to pass on bad news" Buster picked up the thread, adding his own power. "And they wouldn't have asked for help till it had spread too far, and was tragically too late for the world, the full Class Four Zombie Apocalypse…"

"And what good luck it was that a straying piece of Historical Re-Enactment happened to score a direct hit!" Babs enthused. Her ears dipped in concentration, as she mentally searched for loose threads. "Wipeout! Even the few zombies that had already escaped out of range into the desert…."

"Found to their cost it was a genuine, original 1950's Atom Bomb," Buster stepped in smoothly. "We've seen the films; they worked different in those days. When we had 'new, fashionable, space-age 1950's radiation' you got giant mutant insects showing up right away. And what would relentlessly hunt down and devour the last fleeing zombie but…" he paused, thinking hard.

"Giant desert carrion beetles!" Babs finished triumphantly. "Kind of icky, but hey, if that's what the plot takes."

"And it's all organic recycling. Shirley would like that bit of it," Buster agreed.

Colonel Fenix strode over to them, an intrigued expression on his beak. "I've just heard from our sources in KazakhsToon." He paused, looking the bunnies up and down. "All right. Just how did you know?"

Babs shrugged, a broad grin on her adorable features. "It's what we do."

"Explains Melicent McLoon's prediction. Casualties, but no casualties, if they were all zombies there already," Colonel Fenix nodded, impressed. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to sign on with us for a tour? I know you're showbiz, but we already work very well with Deaf Mettle Foundry. And joining up didn't do Elvis Presley's music career any harm."

"Eehh... I think we'll pass on that one," Buster said, after a quick consultation with Babs. "Army isn't really our thing. The green outfits don't harmonise well with Babs' fur colour."

"If anything, we're more Hare Force material," Babs quipped. "Blue-boy here already has their colour scheme, even in the shower." From somewhere off camera a choir burst out into a spirited rendition of the recently re-adopted official Air Force song, 'Up In The air, Junior Birdman!' *

(Editor's note: it had briefly been the official song in the 1950's, as recorded by their official military historian Tomas Lehrer)

"Ah well, maybe someday," Colonel Fenix said pleasantly. "Your friend Miss McLoon would be glad to have a few of her friends along, I expect."

Buster cocked his head to one side. "You know, the two most important people today, we never really met. That wolf mage, and Patient X. Even Calamity didn't know his real name."

"At a wild guess, it was probably McGuffin," Babs suggested.

"I was sure we would get to understand them," Marcia frowned invisibly. "Several chapter's worth of your Earth style social-comment."

"That's so," Babs agreed. "There's probably a deep and insightful book you could write about both of them, showing they were real people with depth, character and ambitions of their own, the hardships they faced and the bad life choices they made that brought them to our doorstep today." She paused. "You're the scriptwriter round here, blue-boy. Do you think you could write a good tale we could star in, that'd do them justice? Something that'd leave the reader shaken to the core with a frank look at the depths of Toon personalities?"

Buster thought for a minute. "Probably not," he decided. "We're better at comedy."

Babs hugged him. "Hoped you'd say that," she said. "Come on, I'm hungry. Let's see if Plucky's left us anything in our fridge."

"He's a great under-appreciator of carrot cuisine," Buster said "so we might just be lucky."

As Babs and Buster approached their burrow with Calamity, Marcia and the warders in tow, a Most-Terrain vehicle pulled up and Babs waved cheerfully at the sight of Mary Melody getting out. "Better late than never! We just saw off something you wouldn't have wanted to interview anyway." She paused, looking at Mary's shocked and worried expression. "Mary? What's happened?"

Mary Melody's toon blush started to melt the snow around her. "Babs. You know I'm becoming a… humanmare? I was due to go into season?"

"Sure! That's going to be quite some experience." Babs winked.

"Um. Babs, it's been and gone. It's already starting to fade. That happens when it's… done what Nature intended." Mary's eyes were downcast. "If Dramatic is what it takes – I'll be expecting the clatter of little hooves twelve months from now."

"O-ho!" Babs' ears twitched with glee. "So, you're joining the club at last? I know it's what you've been trying for. Fifi. Shirley. Margot, Rhubella and those two duck girls from the swamp all beat me to it, and I'm the rabbit around here! Colour me jealous. If Elmyra beats me as well it'll be too, too much." She hugged her friend happily. "I'm so glad for you – and I'lI bet Jaggi's pleased as anything."

Mary's blush increased till it looked like a bonfire. "He doesn't know yet. Because… it wasn't him."

Babs froze into a 'statue' Wild Take for a second, before cracking out of an eggshell-thin stone shell and stepping back in shock. "Mary? How?"

Mary's eyes went wide. "I didn't mean to. When I got home last night, Mother had the camp bed set out, for a guest. She'd just finished her shift at the hospital half an hour before. Just outside our apartment she saw an equine guy just… keel over in the street like he'd been hit with your favourite sock full of marbles." Mary whispered. "Mother recognised him – Jack Kwinus, she knows his family." Mary's mother had been a community nurse for decades, and knew half the neighbourhood.

"Why didn't she just take him to the hospital?" Babs blinked, confused.

"She'd just been there eighteen straight hours… she knew Casualty ward was packed out last night, Toons were queuing up right out the door. It'd take him all night to even get seen by a doctor. But Father was home. They took him in; getting him out of the snow was the first thing. Couldn't see anything wrong with him… it looked like he'd fainted, just had to sleep it off." Mary said. She was silent for a few seconds. "When I got back – I volunteered to look after him. My folks were worn out after their shifts, they needed sleep. And then when I got close and scented him my season… hit me. Just before he woke up. The scent… it's something equines go for, twenty times more so than humans. And I'm a humanmare now." She paused, breathing deeply. "It just – happened."

"Oh my." Babs was too shocked to spin-change into a comic form. Suddenly her ears went down, and she frowned. "Hold it. That couldn't possibly just 'happen'. Classical Toon Physics, remember? Isaac NewToon's Second Law, Conservation of Plot Momentum. Once moving, plotlines continue in a straight line unless another force interferes. And you and Jaggi have been together since Spring … that's a huge plot momentum, it can't just shift like that!" It was like looking at the orbit of an asteroid gracefully circling round the sun, Babs reflected – and seeing it take an unexpected right-angled turn in the middle of empty space.

"It just did." Mary blinked. "Jack's a handsome male. He's really nice. At the time, I wanted him so badly, and wanted everything I got…" Her blush deepened. "I was his first girl. That's Dramatic enough, I think. I doubt it'll be a striped foal for me next year now. One grey-furred stripe down the back, maybe."

"You don't have to. Rhubella said Margot refused a stork feather, once" Babs whispered. "Maybe that's why… she doesn't get a feather offered to her anymore."

"Umm… I wouldn't ever want to do that. Even though I don't know if I've got one boyfriend now, or two… or none, any more. But this isn't even going by the stork route." Mary said, her eyes wide. "So… I don't get that chance to turn down the offer."

"That's some plot device. Falling on you like an anvil from space – or someone grabbing the steering wheel and wrenching you right off course. The only thing like it I've ever seen is…" Babs thought back, remembering the events of late Spring. Suddenly a thought occurred to her, and her eyes went wide. "Say… you remember when Shirley grabbed Plucky off Maria Mandarin, just when all the plot momentum was bringing them together? That seems awfully familiar. Stay here." Squaring her shoulders, Babs marched resolutely towards where Unit Four Plus Two were standing. "Shirley! I want a word with you!"

"Like hi, Babs! What's with all the bummer vibes?" Shirley smiled, relieved to be at least talking with her old friend again. Babs' furious aura could probably be seen from space, she noted.

"Shirley," Babs whispered urgently. "Please, please tell me you haven't been messing with Mary's destiny."

"Fer sure, Babs," Shirley nodded. "Fact is, it's like the total opposite - I managed to save it. That grody Margot Mallard had way dark-side plans for her and this equine guy. I spotted that, and dropped an anvil on that plan, psychic style. She'll never even have to know about it!"

"It wouldn't involve an equine guy who just happens to be called Jack, would it?" Babs' voice was surprisingly calm and level.

"That's a mondo affirmative, Babs! I took him right out of the picture before Margot could use him." Shirley said. "Like I know she was planning to."

In a few well-chosen sentences Babs filled the loon in on just what had happened thanks to her 'saving' that situation. As Shirley stood transfixed in horror, Babs marched across the clearing and returned with Margot in tow.

"I trust Shirley's lie-detection skill, even if nothing else about her right now," Babs snapped. "Margot. Did you, or did you not, have plans for our friend Mary and that equine Jack E. Kwinus?"

Margot looked at Shirley for a second, a puzzled expression on her bill. Then, much to Shirley's discomfort, she laughed aloud.

"My dear loopy loon. If that's the guy's name, I certainly had that delicious idea a few days ago. I have a dozen like it every day. Doesn't mean I invest any time and energy in most of them. You've been hanging around professional paranoids for too long already." Her eyes narrowed. "Plucky's filled me in on what you can do. Take a look, see for yourself. My mind's unlocked for you." She smiled, her tongue licking her bill as she stepped into Shirley's personal space. "Come on in, I'm ready for you - as I said to Gladys and Gracie."

Shirley's aura stepped forward with the disgusted expression of a Toon contemplating wading through a stinking swamp of uncertain depth. She peered into Margot's proud psyche, then recoiled in surprise at what she read in there. You're not going to believe this. She's telling the truth.

"And now, if you don't mind, Plucky and I have a little date with the Cathedral. It should be fun. Shame you can't make it." Margot and Babs walked off, leaving Shirley and her aura staring after them dumbstruck.

As Babs' party headed into the burrow and hopefully breakfast, Shirley suddenly thought of something. "So, why were you so useful all of a sudden?" Shirley asked the Addams Academy trio suspiciously. "Like you care about the world now, or some junk?"

Calgari spread his feather-hands in supplication. "You noticed. Well – imagine the sort of world it'd be, if her franchise took over. Chaos, doom and black spiky bits wouldn't even be a thing of the past… they couldn't even exist. Or ever have existed. Everything would be so cute, you'd want to puke. But you couldn't even do that. Too un-cute."

"Gloomth would perish from the world." Angelina shuddered.

Gloomth? Shirley's aura queried. That's not even a real word!

"It's in the dictionary, look it up," Angelina insisted. "What DID they teach you at that Looniversity place? Anything?"

"She not even into Grimdark Futures, with extra side orders of Grimdark," Tlalocopa shook her head sadly. "What she learn in school?"

"I can imagine it. And here we have Miss Shirley McLoon, honours graduate in applied scatology…" Calgari mused. "Voted 'Skankiest skank in skool' for three years running."

"Three years running, a year's jogging and then a couple of years barely staggering along," Angelina said brightly.

"Skool? Spelled so?" Tlalocopa queried.

Calgari cast the chupacabra a tight smile. "I expect so. Seems she didn't learn any proper English there, that's 'like, totally and fer sure'."

A loon ignored him pointedly, turning to her aura. "Like, if something's warm, it's got warmth. True things have truth. Gloom has… gloomth. I suppose," Shirley reasoned,

Oh. It's some grody 'Gothick thing', her aura sniffed dismissively.

"Yes, it's a 'Gothick thing'", Calgari nodded seriously. "We care about it, even if you don't."

"Si! Say, Shirley? That Evil Temple complex under Santa Monica is having a party tonight, celebrate it now consecrated and open for business." Tlalocopa winked. "Dark Solstice. Today is day for it. We go after work, if we can. Is officially certified 24/7/365 Vampire Friendly." Evidently some other venues had suffered from plot loopholes such as a single ray of sunshine piercing to the very depths of the complex at dawn on the longest day of Summer, and suchlike inconveniences.

Angelina shook her head. "We should start an ironic, but amusing, Human Rights campaign to stop people using that bigoted old term 'Evil', you know. It has so many automatic bad associations. It's so… judgemental."

"Alignmentist, si," Tlalocopa agreed. "Like there always something wrong with it."

"Anyway, it should be quite some party. My Master has all the best tunes, everyone says so. There's live music and Undead dancers featured," Calgari added. "What's not to like?"

"You should come along with us," Angelina urged Shirley. "We'll find you a handsome, sexy vampire or two. Medically donating blood's a good thing, isn't it? Think of it as donating blood with the more personal touch. Help break your grody prejudices a little. The trouble is, you've never had any positive Undead role-models around."

"Every workplace should have one officially designated," Calgari smiled. "That goes double for schools."

"Total gross-ville. I am so out of here." With a shiver, Shirley swept out, her aura leading the way.

The Addams Academy toons watched her go, amused. "She maybe join Dark Side now, and not even know it," Tlalocopa suggested.

"Always fun when that happens," Calgari agreed. "And, you know the best bit? She's one of those persistent souls who always get reincarnated. She's been doing it for thousands of years now, same as us. I stay exempt just as long as I keep… putting food on my Master's table. If she has bad Karma in some cycle, she just gets reborn in Pittsburgh or something and pays for it that way."

"Reincarnation means she's out of your Master's jurisdiction?" Angelina queried.

"Yes. And he hates that. But if she joins the Dark Side…." Calgari's eyes went wide. "She stops being exempt. No more cheating reincarnation; time to pay the final bill. And after all this time, what a bill! We're talking about really vintage wine for my Master's gourmet tastes here. Equivalent quality of a well-aged Pharisee, even. I think I'll be rewarded rather well."

"There was that Army pamphlet that came round last week from Health and Welfare," Angelina said. "A much nicer idea, yours – Wealth and Hell-fare."

"Come on, people," Colonel Fenix gathered his team. "That seems to take care of that. Back to base, breakfast all round."

As Babs and Buster sat down to what was either an early breakfast or a very late supper, in a similar (if less mil-tech styled) rabbit burrow not so far away, Fifi and Rhubella were waking up together.

"Mmmm…" Rhubella smiled drowsily, lying propped on one elbow as she looked at her purple and white bride, fur still tousled from sleep and loving. "Now there's a sight I never get tired of."

Fifi lay on her back, almost purring as Rhubella stroked her cheek ruffs. Suddenly she frowned. "Ruby. Last night, when you were with Margot… your sister, she made a pass at moi."

"So – how was she? I hope you had fun." Rhubella said. For a second she enjoyed Fifi's look of outrage, then kissed her soundly on the nose. "Relax, Fifi. I'm sure you told her where to go. But I'm not at all surprised she tried."

"But why?" Fifi blinked.

Rhubella gave an embarrassed grin. "Last week, when we were arranging for her to stay here… I set her a challenge. To find out the 'real reason' I married you, not some property tycoon I could make a fortune off even before the divorce – and still have fun cheating on with the chauffeur or the houseboy."

Fifi snorted. "Ah, she was so much with ze 'unting ze secret conspiracies, Perfecto style."

"Well, she is a Perfecto girl – and hopes to be a Perfecto graduate someday. Over there, that's just the way it goes." Rhubella shrugged. "She's trying to find out what could you possibly have that I'd choose you rather than an extra fortune? Of course she'd want to find out, the direct way." She snickered, one finger caressing the tip of Fifi's ear. "I've managed to find you a 'skunk-hunk' or two… if you want to diversify, that's OK with me."

Fifi shook her head firmly. "She does nothing for moi. Ruby, you are ze only lady ze tail of Fifi fumes for."

"Glad to hear it." Rhubella slid out of bed, picking up her clothes from the rack and dressing. She turned, a mischievous expression on her face. "But you could really ruin her for Perfecto dates – there's always that idea."

The thump of a heavy pillow against the wall that a laughing Rhubella nimbly ducked, showed what Fifi thought of it.

Ten minutes later they were washed, fur-combed and headed into the main rabbit burrow; evidently Variola had risen earlier and gone ahead.

Fifi sniffed the air appreciatively. "Eh, l'aroma de doe competition. But – less so than last night." She paused. "Tres strange."

"Maybe now they're using Hare freshener," Rhubella deadpanned.

"Mon Ruby is picking up ze Acme Loo education," Fifi nodded, smiling. "What else can you scent?"

Standing outside the large dining room, Rhubella closed her eyes and sniffed delicately, her coffee-bean nose twitching. Above the background of rabbit musk and carrot-flakes cereal there was an unfamiliar scent, something sharp and citrus. "Maybe… apple juice? With vinegar? Grapefruit juice, maybe?"

Fifi opened the door. The long table was much as they had seen it, crowded with Babs' five lots of junior siblings ranked in order of seniority. One thing had changed. At the top of the table next to Mrs Bathsheba Zoe Bunny and her husband, Bonnie Clarice Bunny had moved up two seats, sitting opposite the handsome skunk Henri D'Aromar. It was probably 'A Bunny Thing', Fifi thought.

Fifi's eyes went wide. "Oooh, la, la," she breathed. "Eet eez not only ze special day for Plucky and Margot. We 'ave ze congratulations for chere Bonnie, aussi". She had spotted the heavy, antique silver engagement ring on Bonnie's finger, obviously a family heirloom brought over specially.

Rhubella grinned, looking at the special-effects fumes rising from the seductively clad Katy and Jenny Bunny, evidently temporarily 'bumped' down the social ranks by their younger sister's change in status. It was not the same pecking-order system Perfecto used, but she recognised the look of crushingly defeated rivals, as well as the sound of grinding teeth. "Now I recognise that smell. Definitely sour grapes."

Leaving the rabbit and avian Toons to breakfast and catch up on things at their burrow, Unit Four Plus Two and their allies returned through the woods to their field headquarters outside Shirley's family home. Frank Sikosis and the rest of Deaf Mettle Foundry had survived with only mild sugar-shock; their vehicle's protective systems had saturated the crew compartment with metal tracks by Rammstein and Sabaton played loud, which had helped to counteract what Cuteness penetrated the shielding.

Mary Melody arrived from Babs' half an hour later, took Jaggi aside a little way up a forest trail, and confessed what had happened to her that night. She looked up at the tall zebra, eyes wide. "I'm sorry, Jaggi. I can understand it if you… wanted to break it off with me now."

Jaggi kissed her. "Things 'happen' to species types who have strong Seasons, otherwise there wouldn't be much point in having them," he said, squaring his shoulders. "I'm the one who made those seasons happen to you - with my biology, my chemistry. The responsibility's mine."

"You still want me?" Mary looked up at him, her heart in her mouth.

"Mary. In any way, shape or form - you're worth everything I have to give, and more." Jaggi paused. He shrugged, giving a toothy equine grin. "So, traditionally a Stallion in the wild gathers a herd of mares. I've never heard that the mares used to complain about that. You've just put things the other way round, is all. Hey, it is the twenty-first century!"

"I am not planning a herd!" Mary blushed furiously, but smiled at the zebra, stepping to his side. "But… if you're OK with it… I hope we can all work something out." They walked away towards the Most_Terrain_Vehicle, ready to make a start on that.

Standing outside her trailer fifty yards away, Shirley watched them go, dumbfounded. ""I'm totally glad they seem to have, kinda made it up. Even that. But how could things go so wrong? Everything Margot planned came true, despite everything I did."

"How so wrong? Well, you were involved. Say no more." Angelina stepped up behind her. Shirley ignored her.

"But – for real, how could this happen?" Shirley blinked. "I used that high-powered artefact, the Mirror of Nicrotis to try and stop her, it's the best focussing tool I've ever used!"

Colonel Fenix stood for a minute, deep in thought. Then he tapped his green waterproof Manual, FM-1705, Memes and Tropes. "Relying on high-powered props from the lost warehouse rather than proper planning, always has its problems. There might be a reason why whoever last used it in the 1930's, dumped it right back on the shelf."

The incomplete notes we found with it said 'works very well, but…' Shirley's aura said in a shocked telepathic tone. Maybe we've found the 'but…' part.

"Trope 57, The Monkey's Paw?" Calgari asked hopefully. "Artefact that always does literally what you asked for but in the worst possible way?"

"Close. I was thinking Trope 159, the Galadriel's Mirror Paradox," Colonel Fenix said. "Seeing a potential plotline you don't want to happen, and adding energy to its potential by trying to avert it. You end up feeding that virtual future instead. Making it happen."

Shirley stood, transfixed in horror. "You've like, totally ruined the plot of Mary's lifetime," she stared at her aura.

Me?I was just about to say that – to you. Her aura replied, bill raised haughtily. So, tell me again - just who used the mirror to blast that guy, after I told you it was a way uncool and dark-side thing to do?

"We did. I did." Shirley bowed her head. "But everything I did was for the right reasons!"

Self-righteous, yes, her aura scoffed. We'd better not try fixing it. Our fixes don't turn out so well. Look at Brandi and Candi.

The material loon shivered. She had taken a clearer look than was comfortable at the minds of… what were now forever Margot's daughters, she realised with sudden brutal clarity. "Babs was like, totally correct-o-mundo. They were meant to get everything a really harmonious, balanced world-class astral talent needs… from Plucky. Way unlikely that seemed. But thanks to us they got something worse instead."

We really are talking like Junior Dark Lord Club here, aren't we? Her aura needled her. And I think we owe Margot and Plucky a mondo apology.

Shirley stood for a few seconds, head bowed. She checked the time. Then she turned to Sergeant Gander, who stood nearby. "Like, you've still got your Travel shtick working, or some junk?" At the tall goose's silent nod, she sighed, and pulled herself up straight. "Then, please… like the old song goes – 'get me to the church on time!'"

"Well, how about that," Outside the Acme Metropolis Cathedral waiting to go in, Babs turned round at the sound of distant thundering engines that abruptly cut out as the vehicle came into view. "Plucky was right. Shirley's bunch, they do drive around in afterburning jet dragsters."

"That's style," Buster nodded, watching as a long, low vehicle popped its drag chute and pulled up just outside the Cathedral, coasting the final mile. He had seen Shirley's videos, and although the one of her Unit car-surfing into urban combat had been cool, this was better still. "Never knew they made dragsters with passenger seats. How about that, squared."

Shirley McLoon, wearing her best (and indeed only) formal Park Ranger dress uniform, stepped out of the fighter-pilot style seat behind the pilot. "That was like the most totally uncool, eco-unfriendly ride in the world. That borane zip fuel is the absolute worst." She grimaced. "But, mondo thanks for getting me here."

"My pleasure," Sergeant Gander nodded, unstrapping his helmet. "Always wondered how fast one of these things would go if you held the throttle wide open for two minutes."

"It's easily twelve miles from Shirley's house," Buster strolled down, extending a friendly paw. "I thought those babies only carried fuel for a quarter mile sprint on afterburner. How did you do it?"

"Same way I got through Saturday morning traffic, pushing Mach One in a jet dragster that doesn't brake on the wheels or even steer much," the tall goose winked at him, shaking hands. "Getting round Deadman's Curve on the way was harder. Took a lot of G force straight sideways to do it, but on this model… engine thrust vectoring is your friend."

"Travel shtick?" Buster's eyes went wide open, recalling a professional-level trope they had only covered in theory in class. Evidently Unit Four Plus Two had a far better special-effects budget than Acme Looniversity.

"Travel shtick," Sergeant Gander confirmed, smiling.

Meanwhile, Babs and Shirley were talking in rapid, low tones. Babs nodded significantly as a white wedding-ribbon decorated limousine rolled up, and Margot stepped out of it in her golden dress, assisted by Rhubella and Fifi. She looked radiant – several million watts of klieg lighting's worth.

Shirley took a deep breath, and walked towards the bridal party. In her feather-hand she carried the invitation Margot had sent her the week before. "Like, Margot? I'm totally sorry, and junk. For everything. I was mondo wrong about you. Is it too late… to be a bridesmaid, like you asked?" She bowed her head.

Margot stared her for a few seconds, while psychic tensions built up around like a massing thunderstorm. Suddenly she grabbed Shirley and planted a passionate kiss on the loon's bill, tongues interlocking deeply, regardless of her muffled squawks of protest.

Grinning, Margot pulled away, looking Shirley up and down. "I just wanted to compete my local waterfowl collection. Plucky's told me how much you hate getting that from any female." She winked. "It's true, you know, revenge really is sweet. So. Fall in behind, bridesmaid. Welcome to the party."

From a distance, five standing figures watched the scene. Three of them were in filthy tempers.

"Redeemed by true repentance, humility and forgiveness. There's always redemption available, even at the last minute. Oh, how I really, really hate that, it's so unfair," Calgari muttered, shaking his head. "She was so heading for the Dark Side, too."

"Your Master's not getting any roast loon for eternal supper, the way things are going", Angelina frowned.

"That's going to hurt his pride. And he's the original overachiever that way – he's got so much of it to hurt." Calgari moodily clawed at the ice with his sharp talons.

"He no like eating crow. Maybe now want raven instead," Tlalocopa whispered.

Calgari winced, as if he could feel his feathers scorching already.

"Quite so." Colonel Fenix said, standing next to Melicent McLoon, who lovingly cradled a blanket containing a just-hatched chick that combined loon and phoenix features. "Now. If you three stand around here much longer you'll get second-degree spiritual burns off that holy cathedral. You've got one of your own unholy sort to go to. Do so."

"Yes, Sir!" With a crisp salute Calgari turned and headed for transport to the new Santa Monica Forbidden Tomb/Dungeon/Evil Temple/Mall complex, now open for coach parties and tour groups. Angelina and Tlalocopa followed him, feathers (and whatever the unknowable Chupacabra had) drooping in dejection.

"Well. Now my daughter seems to have connected with Brandi and Candi, I think I'll do the same," Melicent mused. "I think they could use a teacher, and I am their grandmother after all. If you want, I'll take Ida off your hands, while I'm at it. Until she's a bit less of a liability."

"I'd be grateful," Hal Fenix nodded. "Does Plucky realise what his daughters really are?"

Melicent gave a wry smile. "I hinted at it. He just laughed, and said 'What? Like Spidey-spidey, the humble garden arachnid who got amazing powers when he got bitten by a radioactive super-hero?' So I think the answer's no. But Margot does."

The sound of organ music was just starting in the Cathedral, as Buster straightened his tie and awaited Babs finishing powdering her nose (and not nosing powders, unlike many Hollywood stars.) He noticed Colonel Fenix, and strolled over to him. Calamity followed, similarly awaiting Marcia (who insisted on taking twelve percent longer than even Earth girls; it was something to do with longer Martian years.)

"It's a fine day for a wedding, and you've just seen off another threat to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of our particular brand of happiness," Buster greeted the tall bird colonel again. "So why the long face?"

"Mister Hitcher's party just won the legal appeal they were pressing for. Because no practicing axe-murderer has ever been President… under the new Affirmative Action clauses… by law, the next President has to be one, to compensate" Colonel Fenix sighed. "Looks like we're in for interesting times, whichever side gets a candidate in."

Calamity's ears went up. I didn't forget everything I learned from the Theory of Everything… I'm getting flashbacks and insights into all kinds of things his sign-board said. There's a previously unknown piece of history that might help derail him.

"Which is?" Colonel Fenix asked, intrigued.

Our first president, George WashingToon… he was famous for owning up to cutting down a certain 'cherry tree' with an axe, Calamity signed in an eighteenth-century font.

"Yes… but a bit of overenthusiastic orchard pruning hardly puts him in Mister Hitcher's league," the phoenix mused. "How does that help?"

Well… history records his next-door neighbour was a Miss Cherry Treye, who apparently he really didn't like… she's not in the history books for anything else because she just vanished without trace one day, Calamity signed. But I know what happened to her. The coyote shivered. And what the President with the axe was really owning up to.

"Which would cut our Mister Hitcher's legal support right from under him, if he's not the first after all!" Colonel Fenix mused. His gaze locked on Calamity. "And neither will the other side have to field one like him. In the next few days, I'd like you to come to WashingToon and talk to some people about that. It'll make a mess of established History, but – I've always thought History's big enough and old enough these days to look after itself."

"See you in the history pages!" Buster nodded, impressed. He checked his T-pad as he walked towards the cathedral door where Babs and the rest awaited; the wedding was about to start, and everything was arranged. At Margot's request he had arranged Fowlmouth's band as a surprise treat for Plucky at the reception; the hotel had specially reinforced the rooms to survive an Extratone rendition of the classic wedding dance numbers. "And the Amazing Three are back together? I saw you, Fifi and Shirley laughing together just now."

"Yes, and I'm glad." Babs nodded appreciatively, spotting the band's stretch limo pulling up. "And today Plucky finally gets the chance to play keyboards with the band; Mitzi Avery tells me she's sitting this one out. Dizzy's found quite a girl there – he's lucky."

"She's a stunning beauty, all right. Really stunning. Last concert of theirs, I heard the fans in the front two rows were knocked unconscious for the final two tracks," Buster nodded.

"I wonder what they'll play – maybe an Extratone rendition of 'duelling banjos'?" Babs mused.

"At 1100 BPM?" Buster said wryly, "Hardly duelling banjos. More like 'duelling burp guns.'"

Babs looked around. For the shortest day of the year, the weather was fine, with clear blue skies and the low morning sun making the (surprisingly, given its latitude) frost-sparkling Acme Acres resemble a giant iced wedding-cake ready for the couple arriving at the cathedral. She had remembered to phone Elmyra and tell her and George to stand down – they would not be needed on this mission after all. No change there, Babs thought, for so many years none of us had any use for Elmyra…

"Buster," she said quietly. "Remember when we finished the last of our class films? Before we got taken up on our own account?"

"I do. A worrying time," Buster nodded. "I wasn't sure we'd make it. Though I was always sure you would."

His pink-furred love smiled. "I wasn't. I had a dream, Buster. It was like… being on a desert island, just a strip of sand above the waves, and all those years we did our class films… they were parts of the island. The first bits were solid, our three series. Then… just shoals of sand, our Specials, and I was standing on the last Warner Brothers one we made, our Christmas Special. And in front of it – there was just the empty ocean, with nowhere to go, and as the years went by the waves already eating at the sand."

Buster squeezed his wife's paw, taking in her words.

Babs put her thumb in her mouth and blew, Toonishly inflating her shape to more magisterial size, her dress somehow accommodating. Pulling a chocolate cigar out of the Hammerspace pocket that her dress still included, she spoke in a gruff, confident tone:

"We shall go on, to the end. We will be Toons in Hollywood. We will be Toons in Acme Acres. On the seas, and oceans. In growing confidence, on the airwaves. We shall defend our franchise, whatever the cost. We shall film on the beaches, on aliens' landing grounds, we shall film in the fields and in the streets, we shall film in the hills, we shall never surrender."

Buster kissed his wife as she deflated to her default form and they strolled arm-in-arm into the cathedral. "You know what, Babs? You are one very scary Bunny."


While some Toons allegedly in Historical Re-enactment Societies fired suspiciously authentic rockets around the planet, not everyone had that kind of budget to spend on their hobby. In a freshly dug trench system on the outskirts of Acme Forest, as evening fell a lower-key group of more classical re-enactors sat huddled around a coke-burning brazier.

All of the bit-part characters not otherwise mentioned were there including Arnold the Pit-bull, the Germanic hound (presumably over from the opposite trench on a Christmas Truce deal) wearing an authentic Pickelhaube helmet and sharing his rations of authentic pickle / wurst sandwiches with his beloved Arnolda. Although she was his matching breed, any Toon referring to a lady Pit-bull as a Pit-cow or a Pit-bitch would rapidly find their broken construction lines spread all over the landscape, probably landing in a freshly dug shell-Pit. (Shell-hole, for the purists, who were liable to be joining them shortly.)

From out past the barbed wire in the darkness of No-Toons-Land, could just be heard the plaintive whining and threats to call his lawyers as the mega-rich mega-brat Montana Max sank slowly into the bottomless freezing ooze of one of those authentic flooded shell holes, in the traditional style. Both sides roundly ignored him, as he mega-richly deserved.

Sneezer pulled out a harmonium from his Pouch, Webbing, Hammerspace, M1916, and the young mouse (now athletically handsome and wearing pants rather than diapers) struck up a plaintive trench era tune on it. Banjo the Opossum un-holstered a genuine Ukulele, M1918 Block 2 Assault Pattern, and supported the auditory attack. And, sitting round the brazier with the firelight casting reddish glows on their faces, they all sang:

"Now this four-part saga's over,

No more Toony Tales for me

Farewell now to Acme Acres

Oh how happy I shall be

No more anvils for a punchline

No more physics foolery

I shall shred my ACME charge card

How they'll miss me, how they'll grieve…"

The End.

(And, just to add insult to injury)….

Calgari, Angelina and Tlalacopa looked up in annoyance as the film credits rolled. "That was a rubbish ending," the Raven objected, as they strolled towards the grim-looking portal of the Evil Temple Complex. "There was so much about us they left out! Like our important work for charities. I contribute to the party prizes every year for the Unwanted Orphan's Lucky Dip bran tub. And towards their petting zoo trips."

"Lucky dip. Petting zoo. I'm thinking… puff adders, maybe?" Angelina asked brightly.

"Oh no. Nothing like that." Calgari paused, considering. "Maybe Camel scorpions, though..."

"And they never even say I had this." Tlalocopa reached for her belt and pulled out a Dark Sabre, crafted from the high-grade darkness that was pumped up from the deep abandoned mineshafts under Addams Academy to delight the Disturbed and Sinister Artists and Gothick Poets who flocked there for nightmarish inspiration. "Or that it bring Shirley's Aura out in astral plane sunburn when I use it."

"Yes, that loon got off MUCH too lightly." Angelina frowned. Suddenly her beak spilt in a savage grin, as she summoned the greasy black monster clawed hand that was currently acting as a well-armed mitten. "Still. She hasn't yet found out about you, has she? Any day now though. She'll wake up and … that will be fun. They'll hear the scream a mile away."

"And her realising where so much of her fun was coming from, recently… after she'd thought it was just natural and harmonious… that only makes things better," Calgari mused. "She'll have to either give it all up… or not. You never know."

"It's not over till it's over," Angelina said hopefully. "We can keep working on her prejudices against… how about 'the beatifically challenged'? Or 'Benevolence handicapped persons'. Or maybe… 'persons of alternative virtue'?"

"'Evil' is mucho old-fashioned word," Tlalocopa agreed. "Time to say adios. Get new word."

"Yes – like my Master calls himself the 'First Spin Doctor', these days," Calgari laughed. "'Father of lies' has such negative associations."

They walked on through their favourite part of town, past the self-drive rickshaw franchise, the new 'While-U-wait dentists' and the drive-in funeral parlour (brightly advertising '24 hour discreet service! No embarrassing questions asked! Cash only please.') until they came to the E.T.C.'s darkling door, brilliantly lit in retro-chic black light.

The three stopped, and looked out over the cheerfully festive Christmas lights of Acme Acres. Tlalocopa shivered at the sight of all the peace and goodwill to all Toons. "Way hateful."

"Yes it is, isn't it?" Angelina sympathised. "And in Spring, I'm told they have an 'Acme Acres in Bloom' contest, with all the Spring flowers. That's nearly as bad." She thought for a few seconds. "Now, an 'Acme Acres in Flames' contest… that'd be a sight worth seeing."

"We should work on that." Calgari looked up at the clear blackness of the starlit skies. "So many people look up to the Heavens at this time of year. Seeking inspiration."

"I'm a big believer in Malevolent Design," Angelina said. "You know, when Toon scientists point their telescopes back into the furthest parts of Time and Space, looking at background noise in the film grain of the Universe? There's a background signal, from the first few seconds after Plank Time. Properly translated, I bet it'd come out as a deliciously cruel chuckle, echoing 'Just you wait, suckers…'"

"Maybe." Calgari nodded thoughtfully. "I've always thought of it as a stark and uncaring void, stretching through boundless gulfs of horror whose yawning immensities would shatter the too-curious mind. Silent except for the dark laughter of thirsting gods."

"That's so beautiful," Angelina whispered, eyes gleaming in the starlight as she pressed her two-tone feathers against the raven's midnight plumage.

"There are no answers in the heavens," Tlalocopa pronounced darkly. Her comrades agreed.

"And now, off to party!" Calgari's wing waved expansively at the Evil Temple and Mall Complex. "Our favourite drinkies and nibbles await us."

"Highballs! And Eyeballs!" Tlalocopa enthused.

"It's mostly a Corvid thing," Angelina nodded sagely. "Japan was fun last month, but I was starving hungry all the time, looking at all those Anime folks walking around everywhere with four-inch eyeballs."

"Yes," Calgari nodded sympathetically. "And not a thing Colonel Fenix let us do about it. It's like 'water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink.' Though I do look up to him."

Had he looked up at that instant, high above them what looked like one of those stars was beginning to rapidly brighten as if the Heavens were about to disagree. It was surprising just where around the world all the players of Retro Rocket Rumble could be found, and just how deep the Toon laws of comedic balance were engrained in the film script of the Universe, and always worked themselves out in the end. None of the Addams Academy Toons was watching the skies just then, though – or even suspected two hundred ferrotonnes of intercontinental ballistic anvil, its striking face chalked with Cyrillic script translating as 'Returning the complement! 1 good pest control job deserves another. From; Historical re-enactment club, Ivanograd Institute, People's Republic of KazahksToon' was converging on them at a rate of several miles a second. But it was.

"You know, it's strange how few people ever suspect a thing like that," Babs Bunny said cheerfully, watching the fireworks from several miles away, where she and Buster had stepped out on the hotel balcony for some fresh air as the rest of the wedding reception partied loudly behind them.

"I didn't expect lots of things," Buster admitted. He had just seen Babs' oldest brother Mortimer dancing with a giant mollusc, as far as Shelley's biology would permit. "Today's a day for surprises."

"Mary's going to have a busy time. If she wants to marry them both – that'll take some doing. But she always finds a way." Babs suddenly pressed close to her husband. "Thinking of little surprises… I'm glad I didn't have quite the same Drama Mary did… but we've had Drama. In Six-Dimensions, even!"

Buster noticed then that Babs was drinking carrot-juice, rather than the sparkling carrot wine he would have expected her to choose at such a party. His eyes went wide. "Dramatic… enough?"

Babs hugged her buck tightly. "Just conceivably. Remember that film script you wrote for me, 'Ain't she Swell?' You'd better take it off the shelf, Blue-boy. We're going to need it."

The Actual End!