The Time-Dragglers’ Extravaganzas

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      “Whatever you proclaim as your identity here in the material realm is also your drag. You are not your religion. You are not your skin color. You are not your gender, your politics, your career, or your marital status. You are none of the superficial things that this world deems important. The real you is the energy force that created the entire universe!”

      RuPaul , Workin’ It!: RuPaul’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Style’

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      Lazuli Galore in the shape of the mandarin duck looked over his shoulder, grinning mischievously at his passengers.
      “Fasten your seat belts!” he shouted.
      “What bloody seat belts?” asked Lisa. “Hey! Steady on!”
      Lazuli the duck accelerated like a speedboat, ripping across the tops of the swelling waves and performing eye watering figure of eights, tilting the passengers first this way then that way as they held on to the feathers with all the strength they could muster, fearing for their lives, yet wildly exhilarated.
      Lazuli whooped with the exuberance of wild abandon, failing to notice that Fanella had slipped off his back into the brine, and unable to hear the cries of the others amid his own gleeful shouts and the roar of the wind rushing past.
      Fanella rolled and flailed in the backwash, eventually surfacing and gasping for breath. In vain she looked for the duck but it had disappeared from sight. The shore looked too far to swim to, but she knew she must try to reach it. Holding down the panic as best she could, she started to swim towards the mangrove trees lining the beach, barely visible in the descending fog. The striped shadows shimmered in the mist; was it an optical illusion of stripes and mists that it seemed as if a section of shadows was heading towards her? The zebra waded into the breaking waves, and calmly and purposefully swam towards the drowning girl.


        “Dear Kitty, you didn’t think I would miss your birthday for all the world.” Anna Purrna handed out with a sappy smile an awful cupcake topped with a green butter cream that looked like come out of a toothpaste tube days ago. “Happy birthday Terry.”

        She sent an icy glare at the others who took it as a cue to singing “Happy Birthday” in falsetto voices.

        “Good. Now, back to business, chop chop.”

        As soon as she was out of sight, they all looked with commiseration at Terry. Maurana even ventured a whisper “That was humiliating.” Consuela whispered too “Told you, you shouldn’t have accepted the bitch’s friend invitation on Flushbuck. Had to be a trap… Although saying no, would have meant… well, yes too, but no… Well, you get my meaning.”

        The other looked at her with blank stares, stopped in their mopping. They promptly resumed making washing noises to avoid drawing back the attention of the dwarf queen.

        “Girls.” Maurana said “Got nothing to do with being black and all, but I got to tell you this. Ain’t gonna be this bitch that’ll bring back slavery upon us AND child labor to top it. Trust Maurana on that. We got to wake up and strike back. That horrid cupcake was a declaration of war. We need a plan.”
        “Agreed.” the traumatized Terry spoke her first words since the last minutes. “I think we may have to call Sadie for help, she was always the one with those ezapper plans, no?”
        “I had some trenches and attrition warfare in mind, more like, but this plan is good as any, no?” acquiesced Consuela. “Let me make that call, I kept her emergency number next to mum’s”.


        “Look”, said Arona, “the mist is clearing. It worked.”
        “How exciting”, said Mandrake struggling with a yawn.
        “Let’s go then”, said George.
        Mandrake yawned again.
        “What’s wrong with you ?” asked Arona.
        “There seem to be a slight rise of air pressure which explains the opening”, said the robot.
        “Ah.” She had no idea what the machine was talking about but didn’t want to appear ignorant.
        “Thank you Mr R.” said Irina.
        “You’re most welcome, Madam.”

        They packed their stuff and followed the path. The increase of pressure seemed to mostly affect the cats yawning repeatedly, and Greenie who had a headache. George was helping her go forward, concern showing on his face. Jeremy was carrying Max in his arms protectively.

        When they arrived on the other side of the wall, they saw a heap of feathers, beak and legs which must have been a bird at some point. Jeremy felt Max stiffen in his arms, but he soon relaxed as it was not moving. At last, he had stopped yawning. They moved passed the pillars toward a small rotunda

        “There! That’s the way in”, announced Jeremy. Irina gave him a sidelong glance. The rotunda was build on the lake, no solid base, just water. She didn’t want to get wet.
        “The pyramid is huge”, said George.
        “My sensors indicate that what you see is only the tip of the iceberg, if I may use this comparison, the edifice is going down to the bottom of the lake.

        “Welcome to you all, this day of your time!”
        They jumped like one and turned round to see who had just talked.
        “What’s that… creature ?” asked Arona. She had seen her lot of glukenitch, grizzard and langoat on her journeys, but this time she felt at loss for words.
        “It is a sphinx”, stated Gwinie.
        “It looks like a gay zebra looking for a fix”, said Irina.
        “I’m Rene the unicorn. Are you my friends ?”
        “I think it’s broken”, added the green girl, stretching out her hand. Irina looked at the child, the girl really had a funny way to put things sometimes.
        “Machines get broken”, explained the Russian, “gay junkie zebras… are cracked or maniac.”
        “I think she means it’s the guardian of the threshold”, said Jeremy, “but I don’t know what she means by it’s broken.”
        “There doesn’t seem to be anything or anyone here”, stated Mr R. “Apart from an electromagnetic disturbance.”
        “We are your friends”, said George on an impulse.
        “They are my friends ! They are my friends !” Rene was bouncing around with glee. “Come on, follow me into the labyrinth. Another friend is awaiting us for his bird day party.” The sphinx jumped into the water. A vortex began to form under the rotunda, and soon became a tunnel plunging straight down the bottom of the lake.

        “Follow the undercurrents”, shouted Jeremy diving in the hole with Max.
        “Shouldn’t we be a bit more cautious ?”, inquired Arona. “That sphinx didn’t look quite normal.”
        “What’s normal here ?” asked George before following in the map dancer’s step with the others.
        “I think we don’t want to stay here alone”, said Mandrake. He bounced out off her arms and trotted to the rotunda hole. “There is a column of air to slow down the fall. Are you coming ?”
        Arona rolled her eyes, picked up the cat and plunged into the dark hole.


        “Fucking hell, THAT is monsoon…” a drenched Cheung Lok said to his unlikely traveling companion.
        It was days they were travelling through the bogs, following an ancient trail of signposts that the hook-legged man seemed to know about.
        The both of them were soaked to the marrow, and every step in the bog became perilous, as with each inch of raising water, there was no telling which hole in the landscape hid a shallow puddle or a deep trench.

        Cheung Lok felt like being back in China, during the rainy season, with the strange and absurd impression that having evoked the notion in the first place was the only explanation for the sudden change of weather. At least that was what the other had explained him, only succeeding in amplifying the event he meant to dissipate.

        How not to focus on rain, when rain is all there is. I bet a hygrometer would tell it’s 100% humid now…

        As soon as the thought was entertained, sure enough there was a funny-shaped hygrometer hanging by a small tree of the mangrove, telling exactly that. 100%

        – “倒霉!” Cheung Lok swore loudly, then got even more enraged when he noticed the Chinese swear word for shit happens “out of luck” meant “mouldy” and was written with the ‘rain’ 雨 radical.

        “You know what you need, a good old tiger slug to suck on your feet, pal. That’s a way to snap out of it.”

        “Well, thanks, but I’ll pass”, snickered Cheung Lok, wondering what flood gates would open if he started to peek into his repressed but genuine desires.


        Fanella was riding her new zebra friend in a big dry meadow. Something she had never seen before. There were other animals with them and it was delightful. The flight of the cranes transported her up to the clouds while the crocodiles would clap in unison in the marshes.
        The zebra had told her his name. Rene he was, and glad he’d met her before it was too late. He also said something that she didn’t quite understand. “Other friends are coming, you don’t have to worry.” Why worry when she was with Rene ? Other friends ? Lisa was coming back for her with Sanso ? “We’ll meet soon”, said Rene. Now she was having hallucinations. He was a tall man, half an ebony skin, half white and black zebra stripes. But he was already fading away.
        The return back to reality was harsh. She gagged and disgorged sea water on the beach. It felt as if she had been torn inside out.

        “There, there. Welcome back young Miss. You’re safe, now”, said a man. He was wearing a smile but she felt it was just a facade.
        “Are you okay ?” she asked. Even in the midst of drowning, her maternal instinct was stronger. Surprised showed up on the man’s face.
        “What do you mean ?”
        “You’re all yellow.”
        The man laughed. “I’m quite normal, young lady. Quite normal.” He put his jacket on her shoulders to help keep her warmth as social rules demanded. It was relatively dry, whereas he was drenched. He must have took it off before rescuing her from the sea.

        “We should have left her to the barracudas”, said another man. He wore a blue turban, casting a shadow on an already hard face. It was marked by a circular fresh scar around his nose, made by countless small sharp teeth. The flesh seemed to pulsate painfully. She shuddered when she saw his hook-leg, the hook half burried in the sand. She didn’t want to imagine what he could do with it.

        “Don’t pay attention to Berberus”, said the first man, “We have no business in hurting young beautiful ladies.”
        Something in his smile told her that it wasn’t always true. She forced herself a gracious face, as she had learned to do with the noble men back then in Versailles.
        “Thank you for rescuing me, Sir.” She pulled on the edges of the jacket as if she needed warmth. “My name is Fanetta”, she added, lowering her eyes.


          Linda was mildly flattered by Sadie’s persistence to call her for help.

          Sadie, you little demanding poppet, you remind me of a young Linda Pol she’d thought affectionately. Anyway, after all the excitement at the Merry Otter, returning to the usual boring program wasn’t looking like too much fun, and she wasn’t one to ignore the plea of a damsel in distress.

          “Bugger that Sir Ed, tell the Network I’m extending my leave for a few days.”
          On a second thought, she said “Tell them I’m sick, and if HR sends any comments, post them a picture of moi without make-up, that should get them scared enough to give me a full week to recover.”

          With that, she went off to Sadie’s apartment, thanks to the information kindly provided by the unfailing ezapper.

          It was already night when she arrived, and a light moisture was hanging in the air, gently cooling the summer heat.

          “What? She’s left?” Linda had to roll her eyes to the news that the robotler gave her “Not even a word for me?” She bit her lip.


            The ezapper buzzed in a commiserating tone.
            Sadie said to tell you she couldn’t wait for you, and invited you to join her for a trip down memory lane. A rescue mission for three queens in distress. Said you would figure this out.”


            Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity of white knuckle hair raising maniac mandarin maneuvers with no respite, not for even a second, the Lazuli duck landed on the beach at the innermost coastline of the Bay and shapeshifted back into his usual human form. As soon as Lisa could straighten out her fingers, seized into a gripping feathers position, she punched Lazuli right in the middle of his joined up long black eyebrow. Then she howled in pain as her tense knuckles met the hard bone of his forehead.
            “You fucking asshole! You jackass show off useless twat!”
            Lazuli looked mildly surprised and asked, “That wasn’t fun?”
            “Flun!! Flinking flool, flu flipped Flanella floff, and flow flea flost fleur!” Lisa was distraught, and with the additional feelings of outrage (feelings are meant to be fleeting, but this one was sticking around) at Lazuli’s reaction, was having difficulty forming words. “I flope flu flan flive with florself, flu fuckflit!!”
            In exasperation Lisa howled, beating her fists upon Lazuli’s chest, then she collapsed to her knees, weeping.
            The intensity of emotion she was projecting attracted Mirabelle and Igor, who made a spontaneous maneuver mid teleport which landed them on the sand beside Lisa.
            Mirabelle retched violently upon landing, while Igor stumbled in haste to evacuate his bowels behind a mangrove tree, both of them giddy and sickened by the abrupt change in direction and the gut wrenching intensity of the situation.
            The unexpected arrivals arrested Lisa’s sobbing mid flow. “Fliraflelle!” she exclaimed, and then added in increasing agitation, “ Oh, for flucks flake! Fly fan’t I fleak flopperly!”
            “Why don’t you just shut the fuck up for five minutes until you’ve calmed down, LisaSanso suggested calmly.
            Lisa took a deep breath and let it out with a full body shudder. “Oh Flanso…”

            “Shhhhh,” he replied gently, “Shhhhh.”


            “What are you doing Arona?” Madrake said in a distorted meowing voice. “We’re not splitting off again, are we?”

            Arona’s resolve was strengthened when she thought of her vision of the glowing Cup and the great turtle, and with great resignation, she took a turn further down inside the dark underground holevator.

            Seriously, Mandrake, why do I care for prancing poneys anyway. That deal with the Chamberlain was rigged from the start, he knew he didn’t have the Cup in his possession, but now I know it’s in my reach, so why should I wait for it?

            Mmm, maybe because I was becoming very fond of this other very flexible cat Mandrake though to itself.

            Mandrake was about to count his blessings starting with being rid of the annoying blinking Huhu parrot, but as soon as they landed, as if drawn by the thought, Huhu appeared again in a pop and walked to them bobbing its head in a disturbing manner.

            “Pst, AronaArona!” Mandrake tried to jump on the rocks out of reach, but the stones were slippery and he couldn’t get out of the parrot’s reach. “Aronaaaaa!”

            “Shoo, shoo…” she disappeared the parrot away with an annoyed flip of her hand. “What now, Mandrake. Make yourself useful will you, we have a turtle and a Cup to find.”


              Sadie had almost arrived at the Time Seam Bar when the ezapper buzzed with a note from Dr Doyle.

              It was a wild impulse that Sadie had followed asking help from the strange woman, as despite all her quirks, she had an impressive curriculum, and was known as a leading authority in her field. If anybody could help her with her invisibility condition, she had to be the closest choice.

              The message was longwinded, so she asked the ezapper to clarify. I was a tricky thing to do, as the device had the tendency to disappear with her touch, so she mostly had to rely on voice only.

              summarized message from Dr Doyle at 9:44 PM said the disincarnate voice in the night

              It is a long shot but I would surmise your condition is aggravated by a deficiency of fluorine. Knowing your aversion for incorporating the substance in your system, a safe approach would be to put yourself in contact with some crystals of fluorite, sincerely. Choanna

              It seemed harmless enough thought Sadie. What worse could happen, getting fluorescent in the night would surely be an improvement.


              Even two weeks after the escape, she still woke up in cold sweats, haunted by nightmares of being chased down narrow lanes, or driving a vehicle that would only go at a snail’s pace as soon as she tried to drive it.

              “Are you alright, dear?”

              The comforting presence of Robert helped sooth her. He brought her a tray with some lemon and cucumber water, knowing it would help with her sore throat. The artificial air of the Mars colony tended to do that.

              “Thank you Robert,… but you shouldn’t have. You’re not a robot any longer.”

              She still couldn’t believe what had happened. Maybe that was the gift of retirement the Management had in store for her all alone. Unexpected gifts, unexpected islands of solitude —even at the closest to Earth in months, Mars was still 122 million miles from her Russian homeland.

              It was still night outside. There, the days were slightly longer than Earth’s by half an hour or so, but she’d adapted to it rather quickly. It was still much better than the torpor on the island where she would loop on her days sometimes without even noticing it.

              “Anything I can do for you dear?” Robert looked appropriately sorry for her, not too much to seem condescending, not to little to seem not caring.

              “Put on some light music will you. The one from Beethoven that puts me in a meditative relaxation…”

              When the deep notes started in the background, she started to relax. Her throat felt fresh and her lungs appreciative of the oxygen produced by the greenhouse plants.
              Although she resisted slightly, inexorably she felt drawn to revisit the memories of the last day on Abalone.

              It always started with the labyrinth, and finding herself alone.


              “Mr R? Mr R?” she called. “Gweenie?”

              The labyrinth looked strangely like the laboratory white walls of the Chinese Robot Incorporated Mission Eternal where she used to work as an intern first, then as a head of research for cybernetics advancements. She was quite brilliant for her age, and the prospect of bringing a golden age to mankind was, at the time, quite appealing to her young exalted mind.

              She knew where to go. She had to relive again that day where she’d thrown away all of that for a life in hiding. The mysterious benevolent messages of the Management had started a few weeks prior, leading her to question the motives of her employer, and realizing she’d become quite attached to her creation. The prototype robot from Project R had shown never seen before reactions to stimuli, and a learning curve that was exponential. “R” was meant as Retirement: retirement of the last class of labor workers, of those delicate works that still required a human touch.
              The Management had led her to uncover that under the Corporation’s vision, the prototype would lead humanity to its doom, becoming irrelevant, a flaw in the perfect design of profit they were looking for. So she’d taken the robot, and made a run for it.
              She wouldn’t destroy it. And it seemed the Management had no intention of her to do so. With the Management’s invisible hand, she’d disguised Mr R as a common robot for elites, and led a life posing as an elite with a secret life of a for-hire spy, heist-mastermind, or ghost executioner of similarly exciting prospects.

              So there she was again. The walls stretching to infinity in an endless stream of rooms nested one into the other, the fear of being caught creeping closer and closer.

              “Stop that. Breathe.” she told herself. She was no longer that young innocent scientist. As soon as her fear dissipated, the rooms stream stopped, and everything was back to focus. She walked to the room she remembered clear as day. Mr R was there, still plugged to the mainframe, with a strange black doctor in a white surgical gown and blue mask she didn’t remember was there.

              “Interesting situation you have here.” he greeted her, snapping his gloves to extend his hand to her. “You can call me René, I’m Tahitian.”

              She could feel her lucidity fluctuating and ready to explode in a multiplicity of scenarios, but managed to maintain her focus. She refrained to punch the guy in the face too, and simply took his extended hand with caution.

              “Congratulation.” he said, beaming. “You passed the test.”

              All of a sudden, she was no longer in the same room. She was in the comfortable B&B of 2222. René was in a sofa, comfortably seated, and they were sharing a drink.

              “What have you done with Mr R?” was her first thought.

              “Oh, nothing to worry about, I borrowed it for a while, there is someone else that needed passing through my maze, and he kindly obliged to help. I will show you in a minute. We had a little conversation earlier on, while you were stranded in your past.”
              “How long was I out?” she asked.
              “Oh, time is inconsequential here, but in your terms, a day or two.”
              “Didn’t seem that long…” she mused. “Where have you done with the others?”
              “Don’t worry about them, they are on their own path. Only one should concern you now. A certain Chinese and very persistent man.”
              “Oh, fuck.” was all she said. “I should have guessed, you’re with the Corporation.”
              “Not at all my dear, you can relax. So as I said, we had a little conversation, and you can be proud of you. This robot has broken through, congratulations. You can be very proud of your work.”
              “What do you mean?”
              “He has developed a personality and a consciousness of its own. It’s still budding, but it’s very strong, and he’s quite concerned over your well-being I might add.” he said with a wink.

              Irina was perplexed at the thought, but although it made some sense at a level, her conscious brain was struggling with the implications.

              “Show me what you have to, and release us.” she said to René, getting up from the hypnotizing warmth of the sofa.

              “In a minute” he’d say, “just have a look at the screen, will you.”

              Then, she’d understood. The guy pursuing her, Cheung Lok was there, trapped in his own labyrinth, trying to catch the robot that always eluded him.

              “He would rather die than let the robot go.” she said to René “we could be here for a while”.
              “Not to worry ma chère, his timing has no impact on ours. All of this happens in the now.”
              “So how this plays out usually?”
              “It depends. In this case, all that matters is what happens when he gets the robot.”
              STOP THAT! You can’t let him take it!”
              “Calm down, the robot will be safe.”

              In the next scene, Cheung Lok was securing the robot, who was pleading with him. “Please! I don’t want to become a hairdresser, let go of me!”
              The appeal seemed to have struck a chord, and some memories of Cheung Lok flashed through the screen, and it looked like as if the robot’s struggle mirrored his own to be his own man, free from the expectations of demanding parents, society, Corporation… Their love had been nothing but control, and had put him in chains. He sobbed, wishing for a new life free of these responsibilities.


              Irina awoke from the dream again. The last memories were a bit blurry, but still fresh in her mind. René had granted Cheung Lok’s wish. He was sent back to the Island, losing some years in the process, becoming back again a young adult full of unfulfilled desires, and no memory of his previous mission. Before the process happened, he wished for those who were still alive of his platoon to be given the choice to be sent back home with only memories of the robot and himself being destroyed, or to join him on the island, with a fresh future and memories. Surprisingly, most of them chose the first option. Not everyone was ready for a brave choice of facing one’s own desires and power.

              As for her, René had been kind to offer Mr R a humanoid body before sending them through the teleportation boxes to the destination of their choices.
              Mr R had chosen Роберт (Robert) as a name for his new self (she’d been more than relieved he’d avoided René), and they’d agreed to let the boxes find the most beneficial location for them to go to. That’s how they landed in the middle of the central greenhouse of the main colony, in 2121.

              It was fifteen days ago, but still felt like yesterday.


              The layer of clouds that had been covering Abalone for so many years had cleared up in no time. So much had changed since they went through the labyrinth of time in the old temple three weeks ago. Karmalott and Gazalbion were no more. The giant beanstalk had simply disintegrated after the mass beliefs that kept it standing were reconfigured, and Karmalott had fallen on its land counterpart. It was hard to tell one from the other when they first came back to the place.

              Gwinnie looked at the giant storks nesting on the cliffs of the sea of beliefs. Her heart bloomed, she felt appreciation and gratitude over Abalone’s Nature. She had spent so many years in the bog that it had infused her with the wisdom of the island. She had been able to go unharmed through the corridors of time, because she simply knew whenre to go.

              As soon as they entered the Lion mouthed door, she had taken George’s hand and whispered : follow me and you’ll be safe. That man was so trusting in life and he had such a pure heart that he did as she said. He’d told her afterward that despite all the images and illusions, his mind was focused on the green light in his heart.

              When they arrived in the central room of the pyramid, she had changed. Her skin was still green, but she had found in the corridors the years she had lost in the bog.

              They had decided to stay and make a fresh start. The former King of Karmalott was now helping with the reconstruction of the entire island. With his natural leader talent, he’d been creating pooling teams of magi and non-magi for different tasks : clearing the ground of the fallen cities, regrouping the lost souls, soothing the injured and building the new transitional Spas. With Gwinnie’s innate knowledge of Abalone and his innate trust, they could do marvels at bending beliefs and reality.

              Actually, the transitional spa was Rene and Fanella’s idea. The two of them had been very helpful, especially since Gwinnie had repaired the sphinx. He was created to guard the temple and warn people who wanted to enter the labyrinth of time with an enigma. The corridors of time were not for the faint of heart, but to help people contact their inner knowledge to grow past their fears and blockages. What his creators had not foreseen was their own departure of the island. Rene was attached to the temple and left behind as they took no material possessions with them.

              His flaw was that he needed people, and as no one was coming anymore, with time he became obsessed with the idea of making new friends. Forgetting his other duties and his connection to the timeline of Abalone, his obsession leaked and the island was thrust through time and space, intersecting with earth reality at specific dates and places. It was becoming more and more difficult to control it and the bogs anomalies were becoming harder to contain.

              Fanella simply recognized Rene as the tall ebony man in her vision. She told them the yellow man, that had saved her from drowning, had disappeared quickly as soon as they entered the labyrinth, but the hook-legged man had seized her and they were caught in the most horrid nightmares. She was saved because his hook got stuck in a tiger slug pit. Rene swore he had nothing to do with it, although it was clear he had a soft spot for the young maid.

              A week after they got out of the labyrinth, the girl had come to Gwinnie in the Garden of El Refugio. The green woman was helping with the introduction of new species of plants to Abalone’s circle of life.
              “What is this plant ? “, asked Fanella.
              “It is an okra. I’ve found it in the memories of one of the recently disengaged person from Earth.”
              “The fruit has such an unusual shape.”
              The silence that followed lasted for a few minutes. Gwinnie was focused on establishing a fulfilling symbiotic relationship between the plant and the island ecosystem, transforming one to acclimate the other and vice versa.
              “How are your friends ?” asked the green woman.
              “My friends ? Oh! They are good. Enjoying the spa and the new attractions.”
              It was clear the young person had something in mind. Her loving glances to the sphinx during the last week had made it clear to everyone. The girl finally blurted it out.
              “You know, Rene,” Fanella blushed as she said the name, “with the recent arrivals of transitioners, he’s got a lot of work for just one sphinx.”
              “Oh! I’m sure he’s going to be just fine with that.”
              “Yes, but, you know he’s been alone for such a long time.”
              “Yes, Fanella?” Gwinnie stopped to look at the girl. She seemed frail, but she had this inner strength that helped her cross time and space before she ever came to Abalone.
              “I want you to make me a sphinx so that I can be with Rene.” She said that without blushing, but pink colored her cheeks at the mention of the name.
              If Gwinnie ever had a doubt of being in transition, it was dissipated. Her surprise almost broke the delicate connection of the okra with the island.
              Becoming a sphinx wasn’t a trivial request. They still had to discuss about it, of course, and when it was obvious it wasn’t just a passing fancy, Fanella was granted her wish.
              As a sphinx-wedding gift, George gave her his wings.
              “They are robust and will serve you well”, he told her.


              “We’re going under water, Mandrake, you’re sure you don’t need a suit?” Arona asked her cat.

              All she needed was his permission to manifest a scuba diving suit for the cat, but the cat was putting on a brave face, and refused altogether.

              “Well then, maybe you want to accompany me under a diving bell, I’m not too reassured on my on” she said with a sweet voice. Reverse psychology always worked with this one.

              In no time, they were looking at the underwater cavebed, following the directions of the sabulmantium. The dragon egg enclosing the coloured sand seemed to shield them from the strange effects of the cave, and project fleeting images around the glass bell. Derelict places full of mould and cobwebs, alien places and animals.
              Arona resisted being drawn by the images. Her years of living with dragons had taught her to navigate through illusions. That was then that she saw it.
              The graceful turtle, silently swimming in front of them, in a curved line up and down, up and down. It was big, much bigger than Mandrake, but in no hurry to get there, wherever there was.

              Arona, do you hear that?” Mandrake’s voice was distant, and the sound of alarm was faint and muffled. “Aronaaaa!”

              The impact of the rocks shattered the glass bell in millions of small pieces, that went floating like a wave of particles on the wind. Arona and Mandrake, in the big turtle’s wake were propelled through a narrow gurgling exit of the water that flushed them out of the cave into the thundering noise of a cascade.

              Struggling with the current at first, Arona managed to let go, and finally emerged with her cat held firmly by the scruff of its neck. The current sent them on the shore of the pool of crystalline blue waters. In the middle of the pool, she could see the Cup, placed on a red cushion, surrounded by the mist of the waterfall, and glowing a vivid radiant light.

              It all seems so easy… Arona was already wet, and the Cup was so close.

              “Not so feeest, milady”
              She had not seen the man emerge from the shadows of the cliffs. He was looking relatively harmless, but had a wild eye and a vagrant’s appearance.

              “Leave me alone, old man.” was all she wanted to tell him. But for someone to be here, of all places, it had to mean something, and she’d better find it out using tact and diplomacy.

              “Good day sir, may I inquire what you are doing here?”
              “Fer sure, Ey em the Fisher Count but ye can call me Reney.”
              “Mmm, I’ve heard about you. So you are real after all.”
              “Indeed Ey em, quite real, huhu.”
              DON’T!” Arona and Mandrake shouted almost at the same time… too late, as the blinking parrot reappeared, flying over them and shrieking “HU HU, FUCK FUCK, HU HU.”

              “I meant,… DON’T mind the blasted parrot, it’ll go away eventually. It must have a fleck of Sanso, I’m sure.” Arona said, matter-of-factly. “Now, what do I need to do to get to drink from the Cup, dear Sir?” she continued with the best composed smile she could.

              “Oh, et is veeely easy, vely vely easy. Ye just need to esk nicely, and as ye already did, there ye go.”

              Suspicion and doubts started to come back, as it all seemed much too easy. “What will happen when I drink from it? Will I be able to astral?”

              “Oh well, Ey don’t know fer sure, Ey think it is just a nice decoration, but if ye believe herd enough, enything es possible.”

              Mandrake,” she turned to the cat “let’s go do some astralling.”


              “Are you sure this is the right direction ?” asked Sha.
              “The young guy at the Hotel d’El Refugio said it was down South the Sea of Bee Leaf, past the mangrove and the mystic wall”, said Glo.
              “Are you sure about that ? Look, the brochure indicate the pyramid is past the misty wall”, interrupted Mavis.
              “Mystic, misty, what’s the difference anyway ?” Glo tentatively rolled her eyes, but gave up the gym. “The young lad said mystic”, she added, not wanting to let go so easily.
              “What young lad ? You mean the one at the swimming pool that tried to flog the helicoleopter trip over the underwater tunnels of Lacuna to Sha ?”
              “Oh! I recall him well”, said Sharon, “He told me his name was Jube Lee ? He’s no older than eighteen. Don’t tell me you turned cougar Glo.”
              “Bloody hell, what ? Noooo !”
              “Here it is, the fog wall looks quite thin.”
              They heard the sound of big flapping wings.
              “Oh! Are you an angel ?” asked Sha. “What a beautiful face you have, young lady. As pure as vodka.”
              “My name is Fanella”, said the sphinx with a wide smile, “Answer my question and you’ll be free to cross the corridors of time.”
              Excited by the perspective of some fun the three ladies listened carefully.
              “What’s the difference between a cat and a complex sentence ?”
              “What the f*%$k ?”
              “Is that your answer ?”
              “No, no, no. I’m just thinking aloud”, said Glo.
              “That rings a bell”, whispered Mavis to her friends, “I think that’s from one of Steven Kong’s books. It has something to do with the claws and the paws. Yes ! That’s it. I have the answer”, she announced proudly.
              “Are you sure ?” asked Glo. “What happens if she give the wrong answer ?”
              “You won’t be able to enter the pyramid for ten years.”
              “Oh ! That’s all ?” said Sha disappointed, “I thought you were going to devour us or something similar.”
              “You must have mistaken me for someone else. As you are already in transition, there isn’t much that we can do to you. So, what is the answer ?”
              “A cat has claws at the end of its paws. The sentence has a pause at the end of its clause”, Mavis articulated clearly.
              The sphinx smiled, and let them pass.
              “Just one last thing”, she added as the three ladies were entering the Lion’s mouthed gate, “As you choose to go through, only go further, don’t stop or try to turn back. You may get lost in time and never come back. If you complete your taks, you may well find a new life.”
              She disappeared, leaving only her enigmatic smile in the memory of Sha, Glo and Mavis.


              I’ll be back, muttered Lazuli Galore under his breath, although no one was near enough to hear him. Outmaneuvered by a sphinx, it was an outrage. The damn thing had bewitched the girl, there could be no other explanation. Lazuli Galore vowed to break the spell and resume his intended courtship of Fanella, no matter how long it took him.


              “It’s a fine thing Godfrey, really I am at a loss for words. One day, that’s all, just one day off, and what happens? Everything’s been rearranged or written off completely, it’s utter chaos. You just can’t get the staff these days.”
              “You could have robots, like everyone else, Elizabeth.”
              “Pah! Robots! Don’t talk to me about robots, too bloody predictable.”


                The breeze was brisk and refreshing despite the weighted heat of the sun, and there were windblown plums and oleander flower heads like dried roses scattered over the patio. Lisa turned the pump on to hose down the dog piss, and started in her customary fashion of starting at the bottom of the patio to wet it down to prepare for a smoother flow from the top near the house. A bit like whetting it’s appetite, she thought, for the stream of diluted yellow piss and detritus. When the bottom was lubricated, she dragged the hose to the top and meticulously hosed every leaf and dog hair from every nook and cranny, behind plant pots and chair legs, under the welcome mat, and the surface of it, chasing the debris with a narrow intense focus of water at times, and at other times with a broad spray, depending on which method was more efficacious in the situation. If it was very hot, sometimes she would spray the tree tops, for no reason other than to stand under the false rain and cool down. She avoided doing this in the middle of the day however, for fear of the water droplets becoming magnifying glasses and scorching the leaves. Making jungle showers was best done as the sun was sinking, when the heat of the day shimmered from every thing saturated with dense warmth.
                But it was morning, late morning, and not too hot yet as Lisa continued directing the cleansing flow. She realized that she was very meticulous about hosing the patio, minimum twice a day, and always flushed the rubbish from behind each and every obstacle, even though it was not really necessary to do it so often; merely washing away the smell of dog urine would be enough. It was like a ritual, and she noticed for the first time that she was much more conscientious about, and indeed proficient at, manipulating a hose than she ever was with a broom or a duster. In fact, Jack had once said to her that she handled a hose like a Moroccan, and that had she been working on the building site that he was working on at the time, he would have given her the job of hosing. He said not everyone could handle a hose in such an efficient manner. Lisa was not known for being adept with tools at all, preferring to get on her knees to rake leaves with her hands than struggle with a rake. But with a hose, she was good, very good.
                Lisa always checked that the bird bath was topped up with fresh water, and the water bowls for the dogs, wasps, and other creatures were replenished.
                The levels that Jack had constructed worked marvelously well, and as the hosing continued the various streams gathered speed and joined together for the last slope into the garden, and down the path to pool at the bottom, next to the well from where the water was being pumped to the top from. Back to the source, full circle, impurities filtered through layers and layers of rock until sparkling clear once more, to restore and refresh another day.
                Oh go on with you, Lisa giggled to herself, What a load of flowery nonsense.


                  “What? You don’t have a plan?” Terry, Consuela and Maurana let escape a small cry of despair.

                  It was a bit difficult to guess where Sadie was, with the invisibility and everything dark around. At least, they had found out that when she held one of Terry’s fluorite crystals, she would glow very faintly under UV light.

                  “Well, no.” Sadie said, not making an effort to lower her voice. After all, why should she, she was invisible. Or just faintly glowing. “I just wanted to check on you guys, and maybe enjoy the view a little, I guess.”

                  “That’s so unfair!” The Queens were really outraged. Sadie should have been appalled by the treatments of the Anna Purrna, and if anything, should have already planned a thousand pranks she could have easily pulled off with her invisibility cloaking.

                  “I’m sorry to break it to you guys, but I know at least one of you just turned 20, and the others are not so far behind. You’re not going to be teens for all of your life. Time for you to grow a beard, well, a real one Consuela, if you know what I mean….” Sadie was getting emotional. “Nobody else than you can fix your own problems!”

                  In the darkness, under the eerie purple pinkish black light, tears could be seen glistening faintly.


                  By the time Mirabelle and Igor had recovered from physical effects of the abrupt emotional catapult during their teleport to find Lisa, Fanella, Ivan and Sanso, they found themselves alone on the sandy beach. Bewildered, they looked around but could find no sign of the others that they had momentarily seen as they landed, before collapsing in bodily distress.
                  Weakly, Mirabelle sank down onto the sand, and looked at Igor questioningly. “What do we do now? My head is spinning still and I need a drink of water. Where are we?”
                  Igor, drained of energy and just as puzzled, straightened his back and tried to sound reassuring.
                  “Something very peculiar has happened. See these mangrove trees? They have grown at least a meter taller since a few minutes ago when we landed. And see this log here, this wasn’t here a few moments ago. It can’t have washed up while I was having a crap behind the bushes. Something has happened to time.”
                  “You mean we’ve time traveled again? I don’t think I can stand much more of this,” replied Mirabelle, starting to weep.
                  “Come now Mirabelle, sitting here sniveling won’t help. On your feet, girl, we will walk until we find some kind of civilization.” Igor pulled her to her feet, scanning the surroundings. “This way,” he said firmly, setting off along the beach. “I have a feeling there is something over there,” he said, pointing towards the east.


                  After a couple of hours trudging along the beach, their thirst and fatigue increasing with each step, Igor and Mirabelle came upon a stream trickling into the bay. They followed the stream inland, hoping to find a place far enough from the sea that would provide them with fresh water to drink. The sun was sinking, casting a pinkish glow on the water, giving it the appearance of molten coppery rose gold.
                  “Listen! Do you hear that?”
                  “The parrot?” asked Mirabelle.
                  “No, not the parrot! The waterfall! I can hear a waterfall!”
                  “I miss Huhu
                  “Never mind Huhu, come on! I thought you were thirsty.”
                  Mirabelle has stopped walking, cocking her head to one side to hear better. “Igor, wait! That parrot sounds just like Huhu!”

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