Newsreel from the Rim of the Realm

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      A tiny dot of red light was peeking through the horizon line. It grew and grew until it became clear to Quentin that he would be rolled over by a giant wheel of gouda. Luckily, his cat-like reflexes allowed him to dodge that dreadful fate, and become the first showcased resident of the local newsreel of bits of odd news.

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      Barbara was glad to be done with the last guest tour. She still had the orangutans to feed before her day was done.

      “Hello darlings” she said to the caged beasts that looked eerily human. “Care for some fruits? Today’s coconut on the menu. Coconut oil is good for your hair.”

      Her intercom started to buzz. The last patient in the observation ward seemed to have failed the treatment. Another one. Her attention was needed.

      “Don’t worry, my little hairy friends. You may soon have some new friends…” She winked at the apes before closing the door.


        Sophie looked dubiously at the shampoo bottle. It was smaller than the ones she was used to in the US, and It was written kókosolía. She had no idea what it meant but the picture underneath looked vaguely like two big coconuts.

        She opened it, pressed the bottle to smell what was inside, then poured a bit of the white substance into her palm. No doubt there was coconut inside. She touched it. It was very oily. Maybe it was not shampoo after all. She looked at the other bottles. None smelled as good as the first one. She decided to give it a try.

        After her shower she felt rejuvenated. It was like the old times, with her husband Bob they used to travel a lot and stay in all kinds of hotel. She always loved that moment when she was drying her hair and Bob would sneak in behind her and take her into his arms. She sighed. Nope, that would not happen today.

        She almost jumped when she realized her hair was inflating. She had very thin hair usually and they were rather close to her head, but today it looked like they had a new life. She wondered if it would deflate as soon as she’d stop the hot hair. She hesitated but it looked almost done. She turned off the power and the hair stayed up.

        She heard a knock at the door. She wondered who that could be.

        Sophie. It’s me”, said Connie’s voice.
        “A moment said Sophie.” She put her old clothes on. She didn’t take much with her in her suitcase, she didn’t have enough room for clothes with all her apparatus. She checked her hair one last time, still up. Then she opened the door.

        They looked at each other and said at the same time : “Oh! You used the coconut shampoo too.”
        “Let’s have diner”, said Connie. “As for the hair, I bumped into other guests, and the ladies all seem to have the beehive haircut.”


        Barbara!” the Dr called her assistant early in the morning.
        “There has been a breakthrough! I have tested version 2.2.1 of my new organic substrate, and it shows promising results.”

        Barbara giggled “Well of course, Doctor. Shall we test it right away on your new patients of this morning appointment?”

        “That’s tempting. I am not usually one to push for caution when science progress is called for, but… maybe, this time, not just now. There are still a few DNA kinks to work out for the solution to be perfect. We’ll see how our last subject reacts in the next days.”


        “This Yannosh!” Quentin erupted when he saw the packed up mess in his suitcase.

        “How can this guy always muddy up the simplest things! I wonder why Tina likes him so much.” He eyed the suitcase and seeing the neatly packed shirts and trousers, he finally laughed at his outburst.
        “Yeah, that explains it!”

        He picked the first clothes out of the pile, and got out of the room to find the breakfast.

        The air was still a bit chilly in the morning, and the grounds seemed almost deserted. He wondered were the rest of the staff was. It was supposed to be a luxury resort, and beside the eccentric Barbara with her beehive hairdo, he had not yet seen many people.

        “Well, no bloody wonder it’s called the Hidden People Spa! Nobody’s up yet or what?” Quentin turned at the familiar voice.
        “You look in great spirits this morning dear” he greeted Tina “How was your night’s sleep?”
        “Can we skip the formalities Q, I’m already bored. Let’s have a tartine of rúgbrauð at the Þorramatur, shall we? I’m famished.”


          “I think I’ll just have a bit of toast, Margit, if I may,” said Idle, eyeing the dishes spread on the table with alarm.


            “Is that lamb head on the menu?” asked Connie with a grimace on her face. “I can’t believe it.”

            “It looks like it, dear”, retorted Sophie offhandedly. “Don’t look at me like that, I’ve seen and eaten worse.”

            “Ewh”, said Connie, “I don’t want to know.” She was not quite honest, her reporter blood was thirsty about good and juicy stories. But she was not here to interview the temp, and the menu was leaving her perplexed. “What’s Hrútspungar ?”

            “You don’t want to know”, said Sophie, “Trust me.”

            Connie craved some vegan food and they didn’t seem to have any vegetables in the hotel restaurant. She pouted and finally gave up. “Take whatever you want, I’ll follow.”

            “You like to live dangerously”, said Sophie.
            “Whatever”, retorted Connie with a sigh. She put a hand on her round belly. “It may be an opportunity to begin that diet.”

            Sophie snorted. She never believed in diet. She had tried them all, just for fun, but she eventually found the rules boring and just forgot about the whole diet business.

            “Nice beehive hair Ladies”, said the waiter with an appreciative look at their heads. “What will you order?” he asked opening his small notebook.

            Sophie smiled at the compliment and closed the menu. “I’ve been told you had a special”, she said.

            The man tilted his head and looked at the old woman with a hint of surprise in his eyes. He shrugged as if it wasn’t his problem after all. Connie gulped, expecting the worse.

            “Two Svið with Gellur”, he said scribbling something in his notebook. “May I suggest some Brennivín?”
            “You may”, answered Sophie. “It can help us gulp the whole thingy”, she explained to Connie.

            “The common error is to go for the head and dismiss the eyes”, said the waiter. “They may surprise you”, he added before leaving.

            Connie looked murderously at Sweet Sophie, whom she would have renamed Sour Sophie in that moment. The old woman had an air of satisfaction on her face. “Why on earth would you pick that ?” asked the reporter.

            “Oh! That was part of the instructions in the letter”, answered Sophie with a shrug that made her beehive tremble.


              “I wish you’d told me about the 60’s fancy dress party, Margit, I’d have brought an outfit with me,” said Idle.

              Margit looked at her friend quizzically. “What makes you think there’s a fancy dress party?”

              “Why, all the beehive hair do’s! It’s the only explanation I could think of. If it’s not a 60’s party, then why…..?”

              Idle noticed Margit eyeing her long grey dreadlocks distastefully. Self consciously she flung them over her shoulder, inopportunely landing the end of one of them in a plate of some foul substance the passing waiter was carrying.

              Margit jumped at the chance. “Darling, how horrid! All that rams bottom sauce all over your hair! Do try the coconut shampoo I put in your bathroom.”


                “Look,” Ricardo pointed out to Bossy, “Seems you’re worrying too much, I just got a SMS from Connie, they’re all fine.”

                “Glad they’re putting the newspaper subsides to good use…” snickered Bossy, thinking about the rather large phone bills Hilda used to put on her expenses. She could only wish that Connie would be more reasonable with overseas phone calls. “Anyway,” Bossy sighed “what is it exactly that she managed to say in less than 160 characters?”

                Ricardo fumbled over his phone’s message history “She, she just replied… hang on, here:”

                We're fine. Sophie is her usual weird, and we are following a lead to a nearby clinic.
                PS: Food's horrid, and the latest fashion is from the 60s.

                “You stupid boy!” Bossy jumped out of her chair. “Don’t you see she’s sending you a clue. Not is all fine. There’s only one explanation for that 60s fashion resurgence, and you better hope it doesn’t smell like coconut!”


                  Meanwhile, Hilda was hot on the escaped Orangutan’s trail.

                  Ricardo’s indications to lure the ape out of hiding, and coax it with fruits had been rather un-fruitful. She would have said his advice was rubbish, but he’d told that they’d come from Bossy, and if someone was to be trusted on the details of wildlife, well, that would be Bossy.

                  After some long trailing and stakeout in the parking lot at the back of the mall where she’d had that first encounter, she’d started to consider other strategies. It wasn’t really in her character to doubt about herself, nor about her instincts. Although something was clearly askew about that orange ape, she could feel the pull of a good fringe story.

                  For one, no nearby zoo had reported any loss or evasion of their animals. That was strange enough.

                  Second, she’d started to suspect that the animal was not an animal at all. It was too deft at evading her. She could have sworn she’d seen it walking around last night in a trenchcoat, hiding under a well-worn baseball cap, looking through the garbage cans at the back of the grocery store.
                  Obviously, that could only mean one thing. It was a well-educated ape, a tad self-conscious about its hairy nudity, with tastes for more palatable food than apples and carrots.

                  Hilda couldn’t wait to corner him for an exclusive interview.


                    The interview with the orangutan man would have to wait. Despite no nearby zoo reporting any lost elephants, the city of Sheffield was overrun with them. The country appeared to be in the grip of a strange psycozoonotic mania. But what were the connecting links between the incidents?


                    “Doctor, doctor, I think we’ve located our escaped test subject.” Barbara gleamed at the Doctor, showing her a bit of newspaper.

                    “Not that rag again!” he grumbled “You should know how I hate that piece of rubbish.”

                    “Well, they make for entertaining rea…” She quickly swallowed her last words, seeing the mad look in the Doctor’s eyes. “… they make for interesting findings… sometimes…” she pursued more vehemently, “such as this one! Look! The Hairy Trenchcoat Ape Sightings by our special extreme reporter in … well sorry, I can’t read that location’s name, it looks so hopelessly from the British Isles…”

                    “Well, we will soon see if this is contagious now, shan’t we?” The Doctor said with an evil glee.

                    “Be as it may,” the Doctor continued “how are our new guests doing so far on the rejuvenating cure?”

                    “Oh well, they’re curing alright.” Barbara said matter-of-factly.


                      It had been a day of full work for Ricardo, rather than his frequently dull work at the paper.
                      Connie and Hilda were crazily busy bouncing off bits of odd news to each other and it was a sort of playful banter that even had Sweet Sophie come out of her pre-lunch-post-lunch slumber that occasionally trailed until tea time.

                      News of the Rim had been scarce, there was no denying. Honestly, he wondered how Bossy M’am managed to still pay the bills and their wages, however meager those (or his) were. He giggled thinking about how she probably scared the debt collectors off their wits with her best impersonation of Johnny Depp playing Jack Sparrow playing Tootsie meets Freddy Krueger.

                      Speaking of which, he couldn’t help but eavesdrop, while pretending to clean the coffee cups and the butter knives full of vegemite and scone crumbs.

                      “Dolls! Are you daft? What about all those crop circles in France instead?”
                      “Listen, you decrepit tart, I’m telling you there’s plenty to investigate about this Findmy stuff group. Secret dolls scattered around the world, masonic occult secret symbols…”
                      “Hardly matter for an insert on 4th page, dear. While on the other hand, elongated skulls, secret underground bases in Antarctica…”
                      “We talked about this! Conspiracy theories are off limits! We only want the real stuff, the odd happenings that hits your neighbour that you wouldn’t have known about without us reporting it! But dolls! that’s something, no?”
                      “Flimsy at best…”
                      “What else then?”
                      “I don’t know, seesh, what about Hundreds attending two frogs wedding in India ?”
                      “Already covered, too mainstream…”
                      “What about the Mothman of Tchernobyl?”
                      “We stopped cryptozoology, remember, after that pathetic chase after the trenchcoat ape that got us torpedoed in the other paper rags when we reported it without checking our facts?”
                      “Facts! FACTS! Don’t you get me started about FACTS!”

                      Suddenly, they both turned simultaneously at Ricardo, seemingly realizing his presence.

                      Ric’, this cuppa isn’t going to make itself, dear.” They both said like a couple of creepily synched automatons.

                      F LoveF Love

                        It wasn’t very often that Miss Bossy Pants ran. Mostly, she just considered it undignified. But other than that, high heels and pencil tight skirts didn’t lend themselves to speed.

                        It makes one looks so desperate!

                        But today she made an exception. By the time she burst into the office, her face was almost the same shade of beetroot as her lipstick.

                        Put a lid on the doll story!” she gasped, clinging to the door frame for support.

                        “Oh dear,” said Ric. “Would you like a nice cup of tea? I’m just making one.”

                        “No time for tea, you fool! Just tell me than none of you incompetent idiots has put anything out there about THE DOLLS!

                        F LoveF Love

                          “Come on now,” said Ricardo. “Nobody has put anything out there about the dolls. Come and sit down on this nice comfy office chair and tell us what is going on. You will do yourself an injury running in those heels. Lovely shoes of course,” he added quickly.

                          Miss Bossy Pants glared at him suspiciously but allowed herself to be coaxed to the nearest office chair while Hilda and Connie raised their eyebrows and Sweet Sophie snorted.

                          “That’s right,” he said. “Just let me wipe that chair for you before you sit. Now, you tell us what’s going on while I make the tea. One sugar?”

                          Hilda and Connie made gagging noises.

                          Slimy creep, hissed Connie.

                          “No hurry then,” said Hilda. “We’ve only been waiting half an hour for tea already.”

                          Miss Bossy Pants wiped her forehead with a tea towel, too relieved to question what a tea towel was doing on the desk. She pulled her phone out and scrolled through her messages.

                          “I received this,” she said. “Read it out will you, Ric. I can’t stand to look at it again.”

                          “Put a lid on the doll story or you will be sorry. And I mean very sorry Very very sorry,” read Ric. “Hmmm rather unimaginative as threats go, don’t you think?”

                          “Scroll through to the next one.”

                          “By the way, it’s the DOCTOR sending this, in case you think for one moment this is an unimaginative idle threat.”


                            The door snapped open and made a hole on the wall. Sophie entered shaking plane tickets she brandished like a Viking trophy. She paused, looked at the wall and said :
                            “Oops! Sorry for that. I don’t know my strength since that Doctor experimented on me. I never asked for that,” she added trying to put on a sorry face, but her shining eyes betrayed her mercilessly.

                            “Well, what about those plane tickets ?” asked Miss Bossy. “I don’t recall validating the expense.” She kept her lips tight and didn’t say for you but thought it very hard.

                            “You didn’t need to, someone sent them to me. Apparently they want me to investigate the China doll production and are sending me to…” she paused and looked at the destination. Her excited look faded away so fast that Ricardo and Miss Bossy looked at each other from the corner of their eyes. It was hard to maintain, but not impossible if you practiced yoga regularly.

                            “What?” asked Ricardo, a tad irritated by the interruption.

                            “Well, I thought they were sending me to China, but apparently they are sending me to
                            Finland to investigate the Suomenlinna Toy Museum… about their china dolls… Someone can take my place if they want,” said old Sophie.

                            Miss Bossy took the letter and read it quickly as only a boss can do.

                            “They specifically ask for you. I’m sorry, dear old Sophie, but we can’t spare our resources at the moment, you’ll have to go alone,” she offered her best bossy smile face ever. Her aunt Marcella would have been proud of her.


                              “I have to say,” Miss Bossy Pants took a dramatic pause for maximum effect “that you all have been incredulously industrious.”

                              “Is she insulting us again?” Hilda hissed at Connie.
                              “Shht! There’s no tellin’ with her…” Connie replied, as baffled as the other by the impromptu award ceremony.

                              “Ahem-hem-hm!” Miss Pants melodiously hummed and cleared her voice making sure she had everyone’s attention, which was quite a challenge, if you’d asked her. Of course, she relished a challenge.
                              “As I was saying, you all have been busy, and delivered well…”

                              “Aaah, that’s what she meant!” whispered Connie
                              “She should have said so, why all the confusing pistache?”
                              “You mean panache?”
                              “No, although I’d fancy a nice beer and lemonade.”

                              Once they had finished their sideways discussion, Miss Bossy had already gone to explain the first award category : “Most Stylistic Synchronistic Article”.

                              “It’s going to take a while” Ricardo winked at them, “considering all the articles you’ve produced this week only. But I wouldn’t discard the possibility of Sophie winning one yet.”

                              Both Connie and Hilda’s faces turned woebegone.


                                The machine clicked and buzzed, a belt reeled around a pulley before it finally flushed out a purple gooey juice.

                                “Mmmm, I’ve always loved this power smoothie,” said the Doctor, “Made with five different purple berries and some other secret ingredients.” He licked his lips with such greediness, he looked like a kid he might have been once. His face was lit with the blinking lights of the other machine, the bigger one that had been his life work… so far, after his previous life work.

                                “The subjects are livable,” said the assistant. “Pulses are steady and the brains well responding to the chemical stimulations, and the symbiosis with the new synthetic bodies seem to work smoothie…” He winced. “Sorry, it works smoothly.”

                                “Good job,” said the Doctor looking at his assistant. He was trying to remember the young man’s name but it eluded him. The young man was slender and had six fingers on his left hand and the Doctor had hired him hoping it would make him work faster with computers, but it didn’t seem to have any correlation. It had only increased the chances of typoes, that in a way could be seen as computer code mutations, which could certainly give them some advantage over the competition at some point.

                                After thirty seconds, the Doctor gave up trying to remember his assistant’s name and looked back at the seven pods. Marvels of technology, they were all shiny and antibacterial, the perfect combination for his SyFy operation.

                                “Behold the rebirth of the Magpies,” he said. In his eyes the blinking lights reflected rhythmically. He slurped a mouthful of smoothie before continuing.
                                “Faithful servants to me, the Doctor! They had been discarded into History’s junkyard, but I’ve saved them from oblivion and upgraded them. With their powerful new weapons and skills they are ready for their new mission.”
                                The Doctor’s eyes opened like oysters. As nothing happened but the monotonous blinking of the machine’s lights, he said to his assistant. “Revive them now.”

                                The assistant pushed a single red button on the control board and the bigger machine clicked and buzzed, a belt reeled around a pulley and the Doctor laughed madly.

                                “Wake up, Magpies! Bring me the dolls and the dollmaker!”


                                “Do you remember when we ‘ad those beauty treatments with that nice doctor, Sha?”

                                “Oh, I do, Glor! You looked that drop dead gorgeous! You turned ‘eads.”

                                “So did you, Sha! You were a stunner!”

                                “Wot was ‘is name again? That doctor?”

                                Mavis will know. Why don’t you send ‘er one of those text thingammybobs everyone does nowadays and find out.”

                                “Good idea, Glor! Oh, you know wot!”

                                “Wot Sha? Tell me? I’m all agog. ‘Ave you ‘ad one of your bloody brainwaves?”

                                “I ‘ave! I’ve ‘ad a bloody brainwave … Let’s go for another beauty treatment with him! A touch up sort of thing!”

                                “Oh, Sha. Oh Sha! I’ve been rendered bloody speechless at your engineuity!”

                                “Wot was that girl’s name? You know, quite bossy … wot was she called again?”

                                “Oh, I know who you mean? bloody bossy tart, wasn’t she. And we tried so ‘ard to help ‘er.”

                                “We did. No bloody gratitude. Virginia, was it? Started with a ‘V’ I reckon.”

                                “Tip of my tongue, it is. I’m that excited about your bloody idea … I can’t remember my own name, let alone ‘er name!”


                                  The doctors assistant remembered a joke he’d heard about oysters.

                                  “Save money on expensive oysters by drinking sea water out of an ashtray,” he said.

                                  But the doctor was too busy hooting with laughter at his own jokes to hear him.


                                  The sixth finger on Barbara’s left hand looked quite odd, but it was a nice recent addition from the Doctor. She looked at it while the Magpies were slowly awakening. A bleak bipping sound was all there was indicating the average pulse of the seven spies.
                                  The Doctor, poor man, seemed to have had some difficulties recently to remember her name and also that she was a woman. Since a few weeks, in order not to startle him when she entered the new lab, she had had to get rid of her beehive hairdo, but she had kept it in a secret vault in her bedroom and every evening she took it out and brushed it and put it on her head to remind her.

                                  She had been quite dedicated to the Doctor and had stayed despite the last mess at the Hidden Spa. She spent an awful lot of time erasing all the links and comments that could lead to them, hence such an empty thread. It was all her doing, Barbara’s, and she could do that because of her new left pinkie in which she had an electronic key controlling all the machines and the lab’s security network. And it was connected to the Internet.

                                  The bipping sound was accelerating signalling to her that they were close to awakening. She was going to call the Doctor, he had said that he had to be there when they opened their eyes because he must be the one on whom they imprinted. Like birds you know. He would be like their mother and they would obey him. She turned on the comlink and called him.

                                  “It’s Barb, Doctor.”
                                  “Your assistant.”
                                  “Oh. Why are you disturbing me in my Jacuzzi?”
                                  “They are awakening.”
                                  “The Magpies.”
                                  “Oh. I’m coming.”

                                  But there was no more time.
                                  The pods were open and the seven Magpies were looking at her.

                                  “No! No!” said the Doctor who entered at that moment. “What have you done!?”

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