The In-Between Place

Doctor Liz awoke suddenly in a white elevator-like room. "Huh? What? Huh?" She gazed about at the white fuzziness as her eyes attempted to come into focus. Wobbling to her feet, she stumbled against the wall. "Margaret? Britney? Annie?" Her voice felt muffled within the tiny room. "Where are you?"

The wall, which was actually a door, suddenly gave way, and Doctor Liz tumbled to the floor again.

"Hey there, mate!" Two hands helped her up, and she looked into a pair of green eyes and an unfamiliar face surrounded by strawberry blonde ringlets. "You've been chosen, mate!" the doll exclaimed. "You're a contestant! You're in the house!"

"House? What house? I was..." She tried to think back. "I was traveling with..." Doctor Liz shook her head, but couldn't clear it. "The girls. The birthday party. I was taking Britney and Annie home. I..." She blinked and looked again at the doll who had helped at her. Much taller than Doctor Liz and with a more voluptuous figure, the strawberry blonde doll smiled. "Who are you?" asked Doctor Liz.

"I'm Lynda! Lynda with a y, not an i. Lost her voice last week, don't ja know. Don't ja watch the show, mate?"

"I'm not sure."

"Hoia! Those transmat beams scramble your brain right, don't they? Give it a minute, mate. It'll come to you."

Doctor Liz sank into a chair. "I suppose so. All right. Which house are we in, then, Lynda?"

"Team House Four. We're a team! You and me and--"

"Squeaky!" A small red plushie bounded up to Doctor Liz.

"Fred?" exclaimed Doctor Liz. "How did you get here?"

---

Margaret opened her eyes and rolled onto her back. She was lying on a dark, wooden, stage-ish thing. The light was dark. It looked like her room when Mommy forgot to turn her nightlight on.

A coffee-skinned hand grabbed Margaret's and pulled her to a sitting position. Margaret shook her head, shaking her red curls. She looked at the doll kneeling next to her.

" 'Leeshie! Oh, I'm so glad you're here 'cause I don't know where I am, and when you don't know where you am you aren't where you think, and I think it's my bedroom 'cause it's dark but it might be my closet so maybe I should change my dress..."

Alicia helped Margaret to her feet.

"But if I do, I want to turn the light on 'cause if I don't I might wear Lizzy's clothes and that would be silly 'cause they don't fit and neither does my nightgown I like nightgowns they're soft and snuggly and I like to wear them..."

Alicia gently placed a hand over Margaret's mouth. "Shhh. You're competing against me in a Game. Here." She guided Margaret to a chair, with her hand still over Margaret's mouth."You sit here. Now, when the buzzer goes off, start talking." She removed her hand.

"Okay! I'm good at talking, Mommy says so, so I know it, and I like to talk! It's fun, and I do it every day, and I hop every day too!" She got off her chair and started to hop around. "Hop, hop, hop! I like to hop! I hopped with my Dalek fri--"

Alicia covered Margaret's mouth again. "Don't say that word! Now shhh."

"Oh, I'm very good at shhhing! Shh, shh, shh! This is fun! I like this, and you want to shhh with me, 'Leeshie? Shh, shh, shh..."

Spotlights suddenly turned on above them and rolled slowly around in circles. Drums beat, building up tension. Faster and faster...

"Welcome to Talk Circles Around Your Opponent!" A dark shape holding a microphone announced from the corner. It wheeled forward, revealing that it was a robot.

Margaret gasped. "Ooh, another robot friend! I like robot friends!"

---

Annie rubbed her eyes. This was strange. One moment she was doing one thing, and the next, she was sitting in a salon chair. Several robot-girls were rolling back and forth busily.

"Now sit back, Dearie," said a robot, whose nametag read, Chief Beautician.

"This won't hurt a bit. We'll just fix your hair and let's see if you don't win that trophy!" another chimed in.

Chief Beautician leaned forward confidently, than suddenly straightened. She murmured something to a robot-girl beside her, who zipped to hold conference with another.

"Who are you, where am I, why am I here and what’s wrong?" Annie piped.

"You are Annie Margaret Kristy Rose Smith," the Chief Beautician explained. "We read it on your jacket." Before Annie could point out only her first name was on her jacket, and her other names were not Margaret Kristy Rose Smith, the robot continued. "You are in...the Games!" the robot paused, as if those words had significance, which they did not to Annie.

After ten minutes of silence, Annie answered with a smart reply. "I like games."

"Good. You'll really like this one. You'll most likely win. That is probably why you're here." The robot lowered her voice. "You must have been preparing for weeks!"

"Preparing what for weeks?"

"Your hair. Why, don't you know? You're in the Messy Hair Competition! It's being broadcasted all over the station, as well as Mars, Jupiter and Floopety-doo. Oh yes, and Earth."

"You mean I'm on TV?" Annie asked excitedly. "I like TV."

"You will be. Now, as for what's wrong..."

"What's wrong?"

"If we even touch your hair...we couldn't make it look any messier."

A dong sounded by the doorway.

"Oops!" The robot pulled Annie out of the chair. "You're on!"

Before she knew what was happening, Annie found herself pushed onto a stage in front of about twenty cameras and a huge audience.

"Our first contestant, Annie Margaret Kristy Rose Smith!"

Claps and cheers sounded all over the room.

"Her hobbies are stamp collecting, modeling, and skydiving. She so far owns three limousines and is soon to get a fourth."

"But I'm not old enough to drive!"

The announcer ignored her. "When asked, she privately confided to our reporters she has entered the Game to achieve even more fame and glory. For you few viewers who haven't heard of her, you will soon!"

Each member of the audience nodded to someone next to them and, not wanting to admit their ignorance, complemented what a fine model Annie was.

---

Britney blinked her eyes and looked around. She was in a room that almost seemed it was from a dream. In fact, it was from a dream. All three of the five-year-old dolls' dreams. Stacks and stacks of boxes were piled in the room, shaped so they resembled a castle. Up on the ceiling were the flashing neon pink words: Princess in the Castle.

"Princess in the Castle! Ooh, I love playing Princess in the Castle!"

Before she could do anything else, a robot came up to her and gently grabbed her arm.

"Come on, you don't want to be late." The robot guided Britney toward the castle. The robot glanced at her watch and gasped. "We're already one second late!"

"Yay! I get to play Princess in the Castle! But I need a pretty princess dress, and a big shiny crown, and a prince, and..." Britney began, but the robot cut her off.

"That's what you're going to do. See those three doors over there?"

Britney looked at the doors. "Doors! Three doors! I can count to three! One, two, three!"

"Well, behind each of those doors is somebody. Two of the doors have the big, bad wolves behind them. You don't want to open those doors. And the other one has the Handsome Prince. That's the door you do want to open. Now you need to figure out which are the wolves, and which is the Handsome Prince. You can ask them questions. Sorry, you can't wear the special princess dress, we're already ten seconds late! Now, go, quickly!"

Britney walked to one of the doors, talking the whole time.

"Are you the Handsome Prince?" she called.

---

"Fred? That your name? Fred?" asked the strawberry blonde Lynda doll.

"Squeaky!"

"I think you got the wrong plushie, mate. This plushie's name is Squeaky. Leastwise, that's all it ever says. No matter. It's part of the team, and we're out to win."

"What exactly kind of team are we?" asked Doctor Liz.

"Singing team," said Lynda. "Don't ja watch Crack the Mirror? First team to crack the mirror wins."

Doctor Liz gave Lynda and Squeaky a wide grin. "Looks like we're out to win then. Have you selected our music?"

"Squeaky!"

"We were, uh," said Lynda, looking from the plushie to Doctor Liz, "kind of waiting for you to choose."

"Squeaky!"

"Well, my Plushie-ish is a little rusty, but I think Squeeks here would like us to sing the Plushie National Anthem."

"Squeaky!"

"Do ya know it?" asked Lynda.

"As a matter of fact, I do. I can sing the translation for you."

She cleared her throat and began,
"Oh say can you squeak
all ye plushies so light
what so proudly we squeaked at
with lots lots more squeaking

"Whose broad, bright, button eyes
and professional squeak
o'er the ramparts we stared
because plushies don't blink

"And the spotlight's red glare
stuffing flying through air
gave..."

"Squeaky!" added Squeeks.

"...through the night
that our store was still there.

"Oh say does that wonderful
squeaky sound yet wave
o'er the land of the free
and the home of the free plushies!
Just $9.95!"

"That's quite a... er... quite a song," said Lynda. She pointed to something behind them. "Look."

Doctor Liz and Squeeks turned around to see the mirror on the wall had a huge crack down the middle.

"Looks like we found our song," said Doctor Liz.

"Squeaky!"

A bell began to chime, followed by a mechanical, disembodied female voice, "House Team Four. House Team Four has qualified."

The bell chimed again to signal the message's end, and Lynda began to jump up and down.

"We've qualified, mates! We're onto the next level!"

---

Annie blinked as a camera's flash went off in her eyes.

"And, her opponent!" the robot-girl cried excitedly. "Ms. Marcie Daw Berrymore-DeSmet of Hevytun of New New York!"

A smiling, slender lady stepped onstage. Annie idly wondered what the girl had done to her hair to make it stand straight up.

"Thank you, thank you!" Marcie called. She posed for several pictures and continued. "I am simply honored to be a part of this!"

"Marcie's hobbies are makeup, hairdressing and stunt riding. She works for the Dover's Honey Factory, which recently bought out Chevrolet. She is currently working hard to save for high-class hotel room. By the time she has the money, she plans to retire."

"Too true, too true!" Marcie crooned.

"Take your poses, ladies!"

Marcie twisted her body to the side, with her head still facing the cameras. She placed one hand on her hip, the other behind her neck. She lowered her eyelashes dreamily and gave the cameras a brilliant smile.

After a moment's hesitation, Annie clasped her hands under her chin and smiled wide.

The judges conferred. The green one mentioned something about Marcie having an illegal advantage, working in a honey factory, but the others pointed out that doing something against the rules was not cheating.

The robot took her signal and raised the microphone to her lips. "And the winner of the Messy Hair competition is Miss..."

"Oh thank you, thank you!" Marcie blew kisses to the crowd.

The robot paid no attention. "... Annie Margaret Kristy Rose Smith!"

Marcie dropped to her knees with a thud. "What!?"

"Miss Annie, step right up!"

"No, you don't understand!" Marcie was frantic. "I won! It said, right in the rules, the one with the craziest, wildest, messiest hairstyle wins! And I had that hairstyle!"

"Marcie, you are not the messiest contestant. You must be removed."

"No, I won! I won, and nothing you say can..."

The robot blasted Marcie with a flash of light and the losing contestant disappeared.

"Miss Annie, go to the Reward Room immediately."

"But wait! What happened to the lady with the funny hair?"

"Miss Annie, go to the Reward Room immediately," the robot repeated.

The Chief beautician escorted Annie to the door. "Just this way. See, we told you you'd win!"


---

"She looks like a nice robot friend, just like you, Alicia, except you're not a robot, but that's okay because I like you the way you are, just like..."

"Contestants!" boomed the robot into the microphone. "On my mark. Five..."

"Five, five, five, five! That's my favorite number, five, because I'm five-years-old and..."

"...four...three...two...one...GO!"

Alicia, who had been silent all this time, suddenly turned to look Margaret in the eye. "Margaret!"

Margaret paused her steady stream of words. "Yes, 'Leeshie?"

"Did you know that astronomers report stars may have an upper limit to their weight?"

"Stars! Oh, I love stars! My favorite song is about stars! Twinkle, twinkle, little star, how I wonder...

"Surveying the Arches cluster," continued Alicia, "which is the densest known grouping of stars in the Milky Way..."

"Mommy gives me milk every morning on my cereal!" said Margaret, interrupting her singing. "Do you like milk, Alicia?"

"Yes, I do," answered Alicia, "but researchers have found no evidence of stars weighing more than one hundred thirty solar masses, though in theory..."

"I like chocolate milk and strawberry milk and purple milk and green milk, but I didn't have any milk this morning because I had birthday cake, but it wasn't my birthday because my birthday is in October and I don't know when this is, but that's okay because I'm having lots of fun with..."

"...the cluster is large enough that stars tipping the scales at up to one thousand solar masses should..."

"Oh, I won't go on the scale, it's too scary because every time Mommy steps on it, she screams, and I don't want to scream and be scared so I won't step on it, but that's okay because Mommy gave me an ice-cream cone for my birthday, which isn't until October, and I had lots and lots of fun with my sisters eating cake and singing songs, and I like to sing, but I'm not going to sing right now because Mommy says it's rude to sing when someone is talking or on the phone, but you're not on the phone because..."

"...Their findings are consistent," Alicia said, her voice cracking a little, "with observations of a massive cluster in the Large Magellanic Cloud, whose heaviest stars weighed in at no more than one hundred fifty solar masses." Her voice gave out and she paused to clear her throat.

"I've never seen a large magnetic cloud, but that's okay, because I like clouds, especially when they look like ducks and bunnies. I love ducks! Ducks swim in the water and say, 'Quack! Quack!' and--"

A loud buzzer sounded. "Margaret has talked circles around her opponent!" exclaimed the robot as it again rolled into the spotlight. "Margaret, you are our new loquacious champion!"

"Oh! I like lotion!" said Margaret. "Mommy has some pretty strawberry lotion..."

Alicia jumped to her feet. "I just had a bit of phlegm in my throat. That's all! I wasn't done! Honest!"

The robot turned to Alicia. "You have lost. You must be removed." It raised its right arm and pointed it at Alicia.

"Oh, don't go, 'Leeshie!" Margaret jumped up and threw her arms around Alicia. "You're my friend!"

She never saw the beam of light that shot from the robot's hand to engulf her and Alicia...

---

"I said," repeated Britney when she didn't get any response the first time, "are you the handsome prince?"

"You can't ask that," came the answer from behind Door #1.

"Why not?" asked Britney.

"Because I'm not allowed to tell you."

"Oh!" Britney looked at the three doors again. The first door was red with a big #1 on it, the second was yellow with a big #2, and the third had a big #3 and was green. "Are you the wolf, then?" she asked.

"I can't tell you that either."

Britney tried to think of another question. "Do you like marshmallows?"

"No," answered Door #1.

"I like marshmallows," said Britney. "I like to toast them over a campfire. Do you like campfires?"

"Yes."

"Oh, goody! But I'd better talk to the other two doors."

She walked up to the second door. "Do you like marshmallows?"

"What does that have to do with anything?" came the quick reply.

"Never mind," said Britney.

She went on to Door #3. "Do you like marshmallows?"

"I hate marshmallows!"

"Why?"

"Because they..." There was a pause. "Now, now, dearie." The voice had changed from a grumpy hiss to a sweet high-pitched one. "I'm so sorry about saying I hate marshmallows. You caught me without my teeth in my mouth. I love marshmallows. And campfires. And chocolate."

"I like chocolate, too! Are you the handsome prince?"

"Oh, no, no, my dear. I'm your sweet little grandmother and I've just baked a nice plate of cookies for you. Would you like some?"

"Cookies! Oh, yes!" Britney grabbed the doorknob and flung the door wide. "Grandma!"

But it wasn't her grandmother. It was a big green thing with four legs and glowing rainbow eyes.

"You're not Grandma!" cried Britney. "And you don't have any cookies!"

"No, I'm the Big Bad Wolf!" said the Big Green Thing with Four Legs and Glowing Rainbow Eyes. "And I'm going to eat you!"

The robot who had spoken to her before rolled up.

"Wasn't that good?" asked the Big Green Thing with Four Legs and Glowing Rainbow Eyes. "I made her open the door!"

"Britney," said the robot. "You have chosen the bad wolf instead of the handsome prince. "That makes tonight's winner... Bad Wolf #2!"

"What!" shrieked the Big Green Thing with Four Legs and Glowing Rainbow Eyes. "But I made her open the door! I should be the winner!"

The robot shook its head. "The Bad Wolf cannot pretend to be Grandmother. It's in the rules."

"But, but, that's how he did it in the story!" The Big Green Thing with Four Legs and Glowing Rainbow Eyes seemed desperate. Britney wondered why winning the game meant so much to him.

"Britney," said the robot. "You have lost and the bad wolf cheated. You must both be removed."

Britney watched as the robot raised its hand and pointed at her and the Big Green Thing with Four Legs and Glowing Rainbow Eyes. Then, a light flashed in her eyes and everything went dark.

---

"Okay, so we've qualified," said Doctor Liz. "Now what do we do?"

Lynda and the plushie stopped jumping. "Anything we want!" said Lynda. "Everything in the House is televised."

"How about another song? An old Earth song this time. A Christmas carol."

"Squeaky?!"

"No, I was thinking of Angels We Have Heard On High. Do you know it?"

"Squeaky! Squeaky!"

But Lynda shook her head. "'Fraid not, mate."

"It's easy. Squeeks and I will sing the verses. You come in after you've pick up the chorus. Okay? Ahem--

"Angels we have heard on high!"
Squeaky!
"Sweetly singing over the plains!"
Squeaky!
"And the mountains in reply!"
Squeaky!
"Echoing their joyous strains!"
Squeaky!

"Here's the chorus now--!

"Glor-o-o-o-o-o!"
Squeaky!
"O-o-o-o-o!"
Squeaky!
"O-o-o-o-o-i-a!"
Squeaky!
"In Excelsis Day-O!"
Squeaky!

"Got it, mate!" said Lynda and joined in with her high soprano wail as they repeated:

"Glor-o-o-o-o-o!"
Squeaky!
"O-o-o-o-o!"
Squeaky!
"O-o-o-o-or-i-a!"
Squeaky!
"In Excelsis Day-ay-O!"
Squeaky!

CRACK!

Everyone stopped singing.

"What was that?" asked Doctor Liz.

They looked at the mirror. The single crack that had been before was now a spider web of splinters.

Squeeks started bouncing. "Squeaky!"

"Lynda, I think your singing put us over the edge. Look!" exclaimed Doctor Liz. "There!"

"And there!" said Lynda.

Every piece of glass in the House had cracked, from the television screen, to the window, to the glasses on the table.

A bell began to chime again, followed by the same mechanical, disembodied female voice, "House Team Four. House Team Four. Proceed to the Reward Room immediately."

Doctor Liz, Lynda, and Squeaks began jumping and bouncing. "Yes! We won! We won! Squeaky!"

"Let's go!" said Lynda. With a confident stride, she led them to the little closet Doctor Liz had found herself in when she woke up. The door slid open, while a panel at the back did the same. Doctor Liz realized it was an elevator. What really convinced her was when Lynda pushed Squeeks and Doctor Liz in, got in herself, shut the door and pushed the button that read, "Reward Room."

"Only the best of the worst go to the reward room, mate!" Lynda cried joyfully. "This is a lucky day!"

The elevator shot upwards. Doctor Liz felt as though she was being pressed to the floor, and fell over when the elevator suddenly halted.

"We're here!" Lynda helped Doctor Liz to her feet and opened the door. They stepped out into a red-carpeted room. A stage was in the center, surrounded by cameras on every side. Many tempting prizes hung on the back wall.

"Right up here, mate!" Lynda marched up the carpet. "You would have thought I've been doing this all my life!"

Doctor Liz, Squeeks, and Lynda waved to the cameras as they climbed the carpeted steps, followed by other triumphant winners.

"Annie!" Doctor Liz called, seeing a familiar face. "What happened to your hair? It looks...normal."

"I won a prize," said Annie.

"Annie Margaret Kristy Rose Smith!" a voice boomed from nowhere. "You won the Messy Hair Competition! Your prize is...a real golden medal! Very rare, very real."

A robot rolled up to Annie and started to put it over her head. It stopped halfway. The robot struggled to first put it on, then take it off. Finally, it called, "Assistance! Assistance! It's stuck in her hair!"

While three robots went to work with brushes, combs and scissors, the robot turned to Doctor Liz and sighed. "Happens every time. But look on the bright side! She gets a free haircut!"

The robots succeeded in getting the medal on and left.

"Doctor Liz, Lynda May, and Squeeks! Your prize is...a brand new mirror!"

Three robots rolled forward pushing along three floor mirrors. Doctor Liz admired the imitation oak frames and plastic wheels. "Lovely," she said.

While the robot continued giving out prizes to the other winners, Doctor Liz squeezed Annie's shoulders. "I was worried about you."

"Me, too," said Annie.

"Have you seen Margaret and Britney?"

"No."

"And now for all of you," announced the robot importantly, "we have a super special prize. A tour of the entire station, including a coveted visit to Floor 500!"

Lynda gasped. Annie, not sure whether to be excited or afraid, hugged Doctor Liz.

"Floor five hundred, Mate! The best of the best!"

"What's floor five hundred?" asked Annie as the robot led them out of the Reward Room to begin their tour.

"It's said the floor, the ceiling, and the walls are all covered in gold! Pink glitter coats the gold and prisms hang from the ceiling creating a dazzling rainbow effect. White horses with sparkling manes prance up and down the ruby streets, pulling carriages made of sapphires and diamonds. You wear the finest clothes, eat all the chocolate you want, and best of all, leave with a lifetime supply of dog shampoo!"

"Sounds like a dream," said Doctor Liz.

"It sounds like Princess in the Castle to me," said Annie.

---

Far away in an undisclosed location...

"Umph!" Alicia hit the ground hard.

Margaret still clung to her, eyes squinted shut. "Where are we, 'Leeshie?"

"I don't know. It's so dark in here, but I see..."

Margaret held tighter. "What?"

"I see...lights. Blinking lights, but they look so far away. This place must be huge."

Margaret opened her eyes and peeked over Alicia's shoulder. Her eyes widened. "Ooooohhhh...."

---

"And this studio here," continue the robot tour guide, "is the home of that two-hundred-thousand-year-old science fiction series, Doc-"

"This tour is too long," complained Annie. "My feet hurt."

"Shush," said Lynda, with a wave of her hand. Her mouth dropped slightly and she stood on tiptoe for a better look, though she was already a head above anyone in the group.

Doctor Liz pulled Annie to the rear. "It's nearly over," she whispered.

The robot guide was answering a question from one of their fellow winners.

"Floor five hundred," Doctor Liz quietly reminded her dark-haired five-year-old companion. "We have to find out what's happened to Margaret and Britney, and I'm sure the answer is on floor five hundred."

"Do you think they're all right?"

"I hope so, Annie."

"When I won the Messy Hair Competition, the robot made Marcie disappear."

The news alarmed Doctor Liz, but she didn't show it. "What do you mean?"

"Marcie Daw Berrymore-DeSmet. She worked in the honey factory, but she lost and the robot made her disappear in a flash of light."

"If you'll follow me," said the robot guide before Doctor Liz could reply, "we will now complete our tour with a quick trip to Floor 500."

A murmur of anticipation ran through the group. Doctor Liz kept Annie to the rear to avoid her being trampled. Squeeks hopped along beside them, but Lynda was at the front, eagerly pushing her way to the lift.

"This is so exciting," Doctor Liz could hear Lynda say, and someone up front agreed with her.

"Imagine," said a tall man with long black hair and a parrot on his shoulder. "Walls made of gold! Aye!"

"Squawk!" said the parrot as they stepped into the lift. "Walls of gold! Walls of gold!"

"I highly doubt that," murmured Doctor Liz to herself.

The excitement built as the group watched the floor numbers rise. Then, the door opened and--

"Ooooohhhh...." exclaimed the group in unison.

---

"EEEEEEEEK! HELP! HELP! OH, HELP!"

Bump! The big green thing with four legs and glowing rainbow eyes dropped to the ground.

"Ouch!" came a small cry from under him.

"Ye-oow!" With a screech of surprise, the big green thing with four legs and glowing rainbow eyes jumped into the air.

Britney rolled out of the way to avoid being landed on again. She sat up. "Are you okay, Mr. Bad Wolf?"

The big green thing with four legs and glowing rainbow eyes stood trembling in the semi-darkness. Only their immediate area was lit, as if someone were watching them and didn't want them to know what was happening around them. Far in the distance, they could see pairs of blinking lights, like eyes in the dark.

Britney moved closer to the big green thing with four legs and glowing rainbow eyes. "What do you think those lights are?"

The big green thing with four legs and glowing rainbow eyes didn't answer.

"Mr. Bad Wolf?"

Suddenly, he began to swoon. Britney moved aside to avoid being crushed as the big green thing with four legs and glowing rainbow eyes collapsed into an unconscious heap.

---

The elevator doors opened. "Ooooohhhh...." exclaimed the group in unison.

"Ooooooohhhh!" said Annie. "Lynda was right!"

A huge disco ball showered the room with sparkles of light that danced off the gold-covered walls. In the middle of the room spun a beautiful carousel with real horses. Ice-skaters danced to the music of the carousel and Christmas shoppers laughed as snowmen tossed snowballs at them. White doves circled above, chirping in time to the carousel music, and a dog ran back and forth barking.

"Ooo!" said Annie. "A puppy!" She darted into the room, but didn't see the cable concealed beneath the snow and tripped.

Instantly, the music stopped and the room went dark.

"That's all there is to see," said the robot tour guide. "Everyone back in the lift!"

"Awwww!" said the group as they headed back into the elevator.

But Doctor Liz pushed past them to check on Annie. As she bent over her little friend, the room lights came back on and the music started up again. Doctor Liz looked up quickly to see a Vahki in the corner of the room, plugging back in the projector cord before slipping behind a curtain.

"Something's not right here."

Annie sat up and brushed flakes of Styrofoam® off her clothes. "Hey! This isn't real snow! And those skaters are cardboard cut-outs!"

"So is everything else," said the Doctor. "Come on. Let's see where that Vahki went."

---

Margaret's big blue eyes reflected the twinkling lights. "What are they, 'Leeshie?"

"I don't know," whispered Alicia. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?" asked Margaret.

"Keep your voice down. It's coming from over there."

It was hard to see where "over there" was because the light glaring down on them obscured everything except themselves and the distant blinking lights, which, Alicia surmised, must have been quite bright...or much nearer than they thought.

"Come on," whispered Alicia. "I want to follow that sound." She got onto her hands and knees, and Margaret crawled beside her. The spotlight followed them, as if someone were curious to know where they were headed. Alicia was about to congratulate Margaret for her unusual quietness, when she noticed Margaret was no longer with her.

Alicia stopped. "Margaret?" she whispered.

"Oh look, 'Leeshie! Look!"

The overhead spotlight enlarged to reveal Margaret jumping up and down a few feet away. Before Alicia could respond, the entire room lit up, and with a cry of joy, Margaret darted forward. "It's my Dalek friend!"

Alicia jumped to her feet.

And so it was Margaret's Dalek friend. Actually, by Alicia's estimation, it was more like ten thousand plus of Margaret's Dalek friends. And as Margaret jumped on the nearest Dalek to give it a big hug, they all began to chant in unison:

"EXTERMINATE! EXTERMINATE!"

----

"Boo-hoo-hoo-waaaaaahhhhhhh!"

The Daleks' chanting stopped and all eyes turned to the source of the wailing.

"Make them go away! Make them go away!"

A few yards away, Britney was on her knees...trying to comfort a desperate green spider with very wet rainbow eyes.

"It's okay, Mr. Bad Wolf," said Britney. "I'm here. I'll protect you."

"But I don't like them!" he bawled.

"Britney!" yelled Margaret when she saw her sister. She jumped off the Dalek and ran to Britney.

"HALT!" commanded the Dalek. "OR YOU WILL BE--"

"STOP! HALT! DESIST!" came the command of another Dalek. "DO NOT EXTERMINATE THE SMALL, RED-HAIRED FIVE-YEAR-OLD UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCE."

"WHY NOT?" asked the Dalek who had been nearly smothered.

"OUR SENSORS INDICATE THE PRESENCE OF AN ALIEN ORGANISM WITHIN HER PHYSIOLOGY WHICH MAY BE INSIDIOUS TO DALEKS. EXTERMINATING HER MAY MAKE THE ORGANISM AIRBORNE. WE ARE ANALYZING."

"WE MUST ISOLATE HER," chimed in another Dalek.

"DO NOT TOUCH HER," said the first Dalek. "PRELIMINARY ANALYSIS INDICATES THE ORGANISM CONTAGION SPREADS VIA CONTACT. ANY DALEK WHO TOUCHES HER MUST BE ISOLATED FOR FURTHER ANALYSIS."

The Dalek whom Margaret had hugged looked from left to right. Then it said, "I OBEY," and wandered off, presumably to put itself into isolation for further analysis.

"Boy," thought Alicia. "These Daleks sure like to analyze stuff."

---

Doctor Liz and Annie dashed across the fake ice, dodging the cardboard ice-skaters which spun on partially concealed turntables. Doctor Liz hopped nimbly over the dog as it moved back and forth on its track. Annie waited until the dog passed and hurried along behind. She came to a breathless stop to see Doctor Liz peeking through a small opening in the curtain.

"The Vahki went back here," murmured the Doctor. "But I don't see it now."

"What's a Vahki?" asked Annie.

"You weren't there, were you? A Vahki is a mechanical guard, normally associated with the Bionicle world."

"Bionicle?"

"A crossover. Wait, I see... Hello!" On the Hello, Doctor Liz unexpectedly pulled back the curtain and jumped into full view of whatever was back there. "I hadn't expected to see you here!"

---

"ANALYSIS INDICATES THE BIG GREEN THING WITH FOUR LEGS AND GLOWING RAINBOW EYES IS FREE OF THE CONTAGION AND CAN BE EXTERMINATED."

Seeing his ruse wasn't working, the big green thing with four legs and glowing rainbow eyes jumped to his feet. "What? You can't exterminate me! I'm Nidhiki, Dark Hunter Extraordinaire, Commander of the Vahki Legions, Undisclosed Collaborator to Visorak King Sidorak and Viceroy Roodaka, Makuta's Most Trusted Advisor..."

"THESE NAMES MEAN NOTHING TO US," said a very unimpressed Dalek.

"Then see if this means anything to you," said Nikhiki. "That little red-haired doll is the personal companion of your archest of arch enemies: Doctor Liz!"

"DOCTOR LIZ!" The Daleks began to chant in unison, "EXTERMINATE THE DOCTOR! EXTERMINATE DOCTOR LIZ!"

"Yes, and I can help you!" said Nidhiki. "I know where she is! She's back on--"

Britney shook her finger at Nidhiki. "You really are a bad wolf, aren't you? You have no reason to exterminate anyone."

"No reason?" exclaimed Nidhiki. He pointed a claw at Margaret. "That little doll ate my chocolate, waterlogged by plushie collection, and wasted half my dog shampoo!"

"I like bubble baths!" said Margaret.

"NIDHIKI HAS HELPED US," said one of the Daleks. "HE WILL NOT BE DESTROYED AT THIS TIME."

The Dalek turned to another Dalek. "CONTACT DOCTOR LIZ ON THE BAD WOLF TELEVISION STATION. TELL HER, IF SHE DOES NOT SURRENDER HERSELF AT ONCE, HER COMPANIONS WILL BE EXTERMINATED!"

Margaret darted between the two Daleks, caught hold of their plunger arms, and began to swing back and forth on them. "Oh! Doctor Liz! Doctor Liz! Can I talk to Doctor Liz, too? Because I like Doctor Liz! We have so much fun together meeting aliens! But my favorite are the Daleks because they're my friends! We can play Princess in the Castle together!"

Britney joined in. "Yes! Princess in the Castle! Princess in the Castle! That's our favorite game! You can be the handsome princes and Nidhiki can be the Big Bad Wolf!"

The two Daleks backed away from the hopping five-year-olds. "DALEKS DO NOT PLAY GAMES. WE WILL CONTACT DOCTOR LIZ."

"WE HAVE BEEN TOUCHED BY THE RED-HEADED CONTAGION," the second Dalek pointed out.

"WE WILL PLACE THE FIVE-YEAR-OLDS INTO AN ISOLATION ROOM TO AVOID FURTHER CONTAMINATION," the first Dalek decided. "THEN WE WILL ISOLATE OURSELVES AFTER WE HAVE CONTACTED THE DOCTOR."

The second Dalek looked from left to right. "I OBEY," it said, and wandered off, presumably to contact Doctor Liz and place itself into isolation.

But Alicia, who was very astute, thought she detected a hesitancy in the Daleks, "I OBEY"...as if placing itself into isolation was the last thing that Dalek wanted to do...

"YOU WILL COME WITH ME," said the first Dalek to Alicia, Margaret, and Britney.

Alicia, who was sitting on the floor, stood up and took the hands of her little friends. The Dalek led them through what was turning out to be a very large spaceship. Alicia guessed that her first estimation of ten thousand plus Daleks had been too low. It looked more like half-a-million, and they all seemed to be busy flying around on their built-in turbo engines. She couldn't be sure what they were doing, but her best guess--from the formation they kept--was that they were training for battle.

The Dalek prodded them on and on, and then Alicia realized that despite the size of the spaceship, she was starting the recognize certain features. "Either all these corridors look alike," she whispered to Margaret and Britney, "or this Dalek is leading us around in circles."

Indeed, it seemed the Dalek was leading them around in circles because it suddenly stopped and looked around and around, like it was lost.

"Is anything wrong, Mr. Dalek?" asked Britney.

"SOMEONE HAS HIDDEN THE ISOLATION CHAMBER."

"Ohhh! Hide 'n Seek! I love Hide 'n Seek!" said Margaret.

"DALEKS DO NOT PLAY GAMES," said the Dalek. It rolled up to another Dalek. Alicia could see its headlights blinking--meaning it was talking--but she couldn't hear what it said.

A moment later, the Dalek returned. "THIS WAY."

It took them down a different corridor and stopped at a door. "IN HERE." It opened the door...and stopped in dismay.

"What's wrong?" asked Alicia.

"THE ISOLATION CHAMBER IS EMPTY."

"What does that mean?" wondered Margaret aloud as the Dalek beckoned them inside and closed the door behind them.

They followed the Dalek into the Isolation Chamber and sat on the floor. The Dalek rolled around them. Round and round it went. Its rolling gave Britney an idea.

"Do you want to play Duck, Duck, Goose, Mr. Dalek?"

The Dalek stopped. "HOW DO YOU PLAY?"

"You roll around us like you were, but this time you tap each of us on the head with your plunger and say 'Duck.' When you get tired of saying, 'Duck,' you tap someone and say, 'Goose!' And then they try to tag you, but if you get back to their spot before they do, they have to do the 'Duck, Duck, Goosing!'"

The Dalek seemed to think for a moment. Then it nodded its eyepiece. "I WILL BE IT."

The girls sat down and the Dalek began to roll around and tap them with its plunger arm. "DUCK. DUCK. DUCK. DUCK..."

---

Doctor Liz pulled back the curtain and jumped into full view. "I hadn't expected to see you here!"

A team of Vahki turned to stare at Doctor Liz. "Beep, beep, beep, boop!" one answered.

Fortunately, Doctor Liz kept a Bionicle Rau Mask of Translation in her pocket, for moments such as this, when the TARDIS's translation system failed her. She plopped it over her face and the Vahki's meaningless gibberish became suddenly meaningful.

"What do you mean, what are we doing here? We work here! Now get back to work yourself, or we'll feed you to the Rahi Nui!"

"Tetchy, tecthy," said Doctor Liz, though Annie only heard, "Beep, Beep!"

"We're here to fix all your problems and make everything right," said Doctor Liz, pulling out another mask and plopping it over the first. "You see, I have in my other pocket the Great Adora Mask of Love! I know you've always had a secret crush on Nokama, and now I'm here to wave my magic wand and make all your dreams come true..."

Annie tapped her arm and whispered, "What are you talking about, Doctor Liz?" (In case you're wondering how Annie knew what Doctor Liz was saying, it's because the Adora Mask of Love operated in the Universal Language of Love.)

"Wrong story. Forget it. It's these Bionicle masks. Confuses all my universes. Okay, never mind. I'm here to repair the broken...um...er...snorkelgurgleambulator. Very bad to have a broken snorkelgurgleambulator on a space station of this size."

"Very well," answered the Vahki. "Just keep out of our way."

Doctor Liz pulled her sonic screwdriver from her inside coat pocket. Annie followed her to a panel under an enormous scanner at the front of the room. "We have to find Margaret and Britney," she said quietly to Annie. "Keep an eye on the Vahki while I try to work out the correct frequency."

Annie glanced over her shoulder. The Vahki were all busy, not paying them any attention. She turned back and gave a cry of surprise. On the screen, was the image of a Dalek!

In case you're wondering how Annie, who'd never seen a Dalek before knew it was a Dalek, it's because the Dalek said, "BY ORDER OF THE DALEKS, I DEMAND TO SPEAK TO DOCTOR LIZ!"

"Wow, Doctor Liz!" she said. "You found that fast!"

"What do you want?" asked Doctor Liz, tucking away her sonic screwdriver.

"WE HAVE YOUR LITTLE FRIENDS. IF YOU WANT TO SEE THEM AGAIN, YOU WILL COME AT ONCE TO THESE COORDINATES." A series of numbers and letters blinked across the bottom of the screen.

"Okay! See you in a few, Daleks!" The screen went blank, and Doctor Liz turned to the Vahki workers. "I don't suppose any of you have seen my TARDIS?"

---

"We know where your TARDIS is, Time Lord!" exclaimed the lead Vahki with a evil maniacal mechanical laugh. "But you will have to work for it! First, you must get through the Evil Corridor of Slimy Banana Peels! Then, you must fight the Malevolent Master of Muffins! And if you should get to your TARDIS, you will find the coordinates fixed on Metru Nui, from where you must kidnap the Beautiful Nokama, Toa of Water, make her fall in love with the Vahki King, and reign with him a thousand years in the Land of Enchanted Lollipops!"

"That's a tall order," said Doctor Liz.

"I'm not finished yet! Then you must..."

Doctor Liz pulled up a chair and sat down. She could see this would be a long night.

---

"And, after you have fed the Enchanted Inevitable Seaweed from the planet Phosphurous to the Benevolent Cow, you need to gather the Delectable Roses from the place where the cow had been sitting and take it to the Alternate Universe, Schwanufferinushuhreesuscup! And then you can go."

Doctor Liz was gazing steadily at the Vahki. From her face, you would have thought she was not only not listening, but sleeping with her eyes open.

The Vahki coughed loudly. "I'm finished now." He waited for a reaction.

Doctor Liz stirred. "Eh? Erm? Uh?"

"I'm done!"

"Well, old fellow, your plan is very interesting, but I have a better idea! Why don't I just get up and open that door over there, on which is a sign reading, 'Keep out! TARDIS inside!' " She did so as she spoke. "Come along, Annie!"

---

Doctor Liz opened the door to the room marked: Keep out! TARDIS inside!

The lead Vahki shrugged the equivilant of his Vahki shoulders and returned to work, muttering, "Well, I tried."

"Hold onto something, Margaret," said Doctor Liz as she started up the TARDIS. "You know what happened the last time we tried to break free from a coded magnetizer laser."

"What's that?" asked Annie.

Doctor Liz paused. "No, wait. That's a different story, isn't it? And you're not Margaret, are you?" She shook her head. "Never mind, forget I said that." She pressed a button and the TARDIS dematerialized with its peculiar grating noise. "Here we go. Better hide behind the console, okay?" Annie ducked behind the console, and a moment later, the TARDIS materialized around a circle of Daleks and dolls.

"Goose!" yelled an auburn-haired fifteen-inch doll as she tagged one of the Daleks. She turned to run, but suddenly realized she was in the TARDIS and ran up to hug the Doctor. "Doctor Liz! Doctor Liz! I'm so glad I found you because we were playing Duck, Duck, Goose and I was winning and this is my new Dalek friend and he has some friends too, and the Daleks want to exterminate me but they won't because they say I'm too dangerous and I'm not sure what I'm talking about, but I'm really happy to see you and..."

"I'm happy to see you, too, Margaret," said Doctor Liz as she stared down the eye-stalks of three Daleks. She cleared her throat. "I'm here."

---

"THAT'S VERY NICE," the Daleks answered. "HELLO, DOCTOR."

"Errr... I don't think you understand. I received an urgent message saying if I didn't come here at once, I'd never see my friends again. I'm here to save them."

The three Daleks looked at each other.

"OH," said one.

"WE KNOW NOTHING OF THIS," said another.

"WE ARE IN ISOLATION, TO BE USED FOR EXPERIMENTAL PURPOSES, UNTIL A CURE CAN BE FOUND FOR THE MARGARET CONTAGION."

"Margaret Contagion?"

"That's me! I'm Margaret! And I'm a contagion!" The little red-haired fifteen-inch doll began jumping up and down. "I'm a contagion! A contagion!" She stopped. "Uh...What's a contagion?"

"It's an illness, Margaret," said Alicia. "Like when you have a cold."

"Oh! I'm a cold! I'm a cold! Wait...I'm not cold."

"Is there something I can do to help?" Doctor Liz asked the Daleks.

"YOU MUST SEE THE EMPORER DALEK. HE WILL EXTERMINATE YOU AND EXTRACT THE CURE FROM YOUR TIME LORD BRAIN BY USE OF A POSTMORTEM MIND PROBE AND USE YOUR BODY TO CREATE A NEW RACE OF SUPER-DALEKS TO DEFEAT THE FINAL RESISTANCE OF TIME LORDS HIDING IN--"

"STOP!" interrupted one of the other Daleks. "THAT IS TOO MUCH INFORMATION FOR THIS STORY."

"It's quite alright," said Doctor Liz, who thought she was alone in the universe and very much wanted to know where the final resistance of Time Lords was hiding.

But the Dalek only shook itself from side-to-side and said, "WE WILL TAKE YOU TO THE EMPEROR DALEK."

---

Doctor Liz stood before the Emporer Dalek with quivering legs.

"Why's the Emporer Dalek so nervous?" wondered Doctor Liz.

"Eek! It's a Time Lord!" screeched the ED as he gathered up his skirts and jumped onto a stool. "Someone call the Exterminator!"

"BUT SIR," a Dalek pointed out, "THE EXTERMINATOR ISN'T GOING TO ARRIVE UNTIL TUESDAY."

"WHAT???" cried the Emporer Dalek. "A whole fleet of Daleks and not a single Exterminator???"

"AAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!" screamed Doctor Liz as she beat her head against the wall and pounded the floor with her fists.

"Wow!" said Annie. "Time Lords are sure coordinated!"

"Yeah!" put in Britney. "And little fifteen-inch dolls have an unbelievably comprehensive vocabulary."

"What do we do now?" asked an unusually-speechless Margaret.

"Looks like Lizzy's lost it completely," said Alicia.

Doctor Liz stopped pounding her various body parts against the bulkhead. She took a deep breath. "I'm okay now. Just a silliness overload-- What's that button over there?" she asked the Emperor Dalek.

The Emperor Dalek extended a tentacle, attempting to hide the big, red button marked: Story Self-Destruct.

"Sorry, you can't use that," he said. "Too easy."

"Bummer," said Doctor Liz. "Okay, then I guess I'll do this then. Give me all of your infected Daleks and we'll leave this story quietly. You can go on with whatever you were doing before, no questions asked."

The Emperor Dalek thought this over. "All right." He cleared his throat and spoke into the fleet-wide public announcement system. "A-hem. Would every Dalek who's been exposed to the Margaret Contagion please raise a plunger?"

Responses came in from all over the fleet.

The Emperor Dalek's jaw dropped.

"What's wrong?" asked Doctor Liz.

"It looks like this virus is so contagious, the only one who hasn't been exposed to it is me! And I'm getting the strangest urge to play..."

"DUCK, DUCK, GOOSE?" asked a Dalek.

"PRINCESS IN THE CASTLE?" asked another.

"No," said the Emperor Dalek. "I want to play Bubble Bath! Where's that Dark Hunter with his secret supply of dog shampoo?"

"Ah, well," said Doctor Liz as she headed back to her TARDIS. "Looks like our job in done here. Come along, Margaret, Britney, Annie, and Alicia."

The other dolls trailed along after her.

"Don't we get to play Bubble Bath?" asked Margaret.

"But, Doctor Liz," said Annie. "Aren't you suppose to drop all the nice Daleks off with Fred so he can create his Funland Amusement Park?"

"No, we are done. Let Fred get his own Daleks! Trust me," added Doctor Liz when the others just stared at her, "he will!"


The End


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