The fanfic writer read carefully once more through her latest story. “Oh dear,” she murmured with a grin. “Poor Paulie. I do like to put him through the wringer, don’t I?”
She still had no idea how to finish it, but another online chat would probably help her get that sorted out. She finished her glass of wine and shut the computer down for the night.
The writer woke up suddenly, and stared into the near-darkness of her bedroom, trying to identify what had disturbed her. She listened attentively to the small sounds of the night: the ever-present murmur of traffic from the nearby motorway, punctuated by a police-car’s siren; the rattle of the motor of her elderly fridge; the ticking of the clock in the entrance hall; the beep of her computer in the sitting room… She groaned and pushed the duvet aside. That bloody cat’s on the keyboard again, she thought.
She squinted at the green glow of the numbers on her alarm clock. 03.00… and in that faint light, she saw her cat, stretched out across the bottom of the bed, paws twitching slightly in a dream of disembowelling one of the big magpies that tormented her from the trees opposite the flat.
The computer beeped again. Sleep now vanished in a flood of apprehension as she recalled closing the machine down before she went to bed. Heart pounding, she wrapped herself in her dressing gown, and crept silently to the door of the sitting room.
The room was faintly illuminated by the glow from the computer monitor, and sitting at the desk, his back to the door, was a man. He seemed to be reading a screenful of text on the monitor, but she didn’t waste time trying to see what he was reading. The writer backed away from the sitting room, heading for her bedroom and the mobile phone that lay on her bedside table…
“Don’t bother, it won’t do you any good.”
The man’s voice was shockingly loud in the silence. The writer froze. How did he know I was there? she wondered frantically.
“How do you THINK I know?” This time, the man sounded amused. “Oh, come in and sit down. I’m not going to hurt you.”
That voice sounds awfully familiar, she thought. Her hand closed on a metal figurine of a heron that stood by the hall cupboard; she raised it like a club as she approached the sitting room again. She peered into the room – and a strong hand snatched the heron away and put it down. “You could hurt yourself with that,” the second man chided.
The writer clapped both hands across her mouth, staring wide-eyed at the two intruders, emitting frightened little squeaks. The man at the computer now turned to face her, with a friendly smile on his face. “That’s how I knew you were there.” He now addressed the man standing by the door. “Thanks, Adam.”
Captain Blue nodded towards the writer. “I think you’d better sit down before you fall down,” he advised. Almost too scared to comply, she scuttled across the floor to the sofa and perched on the edge, hugging a cushion for protection.
Captain Scarlet sighed. “Come on, why so scared? I promised we wouldn’t hurt you.”
The writer finally managed to get her words out: “You – you’re – you’re REAL!”
Scarlet frowned. “I think ‘real’ is a bit of an overstatement. What was that word you came up with just now, Adam?”
“Incarnated.” The tall blond man considered for a moment. “If a word including the Latin for ‘flesh’ can be applied to wood and resin.” He wandered across to a bookshelf beside the television, and started peering at the titles. He looked up after a moment. “Can we have the light on, now that she’s awake and here?” he asked.
“Sure.” Scarlet reached over to a standard lamp that stood behind the sofa, and switched it on. In its light, the writer covertly studied her ‘guests’.
As a lifelong fan of Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, the writer had often reflected on how lifelike the puppets looked. It was astonishing how much difference it made to suddenly see them life-sized, wandering around your flat and poking around your computer and bookshelves… they didn’t look particularly lifelike at all. They looked like what they were – puppets. Six-foot-tall, self-propelling, puppets.
Scary. Really, very very scary.
“What are you doing here?” she squeaked.
Captain Blue sat down on the sofa, a couple of her Supermarionation reference books in his hands. She shuffled as far away from him as she could, only to realise that that put her almost next to Captain Scarlet. She huddled into the corner of the sofa, and whimpered.
“Spectrum R&D recently discovered that someone, or something, has been interfering with the course of the War of Nerves,” Scarlet said. “Please don’t ask me how they found out – it all goes right over my head – but: have you ever heard of L-Space?”
The writer gaped in astonishment, surprise driving out fear. “You’ve heard of Terry Pratchett?”
Blue nodded. “Very far-seeing man,” he said, with the merest ghost of a smile.
“What’s he got to do with you? I mean, the fandoms are completely separate…” Her voice trailed off. Ah. Perhaps not completely separate… Scarlet had been reading something when she’d first peered through the open door of the sitting room and seen him. Oh, no…
“All that fan-fiction about us,” Blue said. “It creates ripples, and those ripples have now reached all the way over to our dimension. Scarlet’s particularly pissed about it. You guys really do have it in for him, don’t you?”
The writer squirmed, wondering how many of her stories they’d looked at. She really hoped that Scarlet hadn’t read her future-fic. She risked a glance at him, and a little twist of his mouth and twitch of an eyebrow told her the bad news. He had. Please, God, let the ground open up and swallow me…
“Look, I’m really sorry, but how were we supposed to know? I mean, you’re fiction, and that’s what fans do – they expand on the books, or films, or programmes, or whatever. We like to pretend you’re real…”
“So we’ve noticed,” Scarlet said dryly.
“Anyway,” Blue continued, “there was one particular story that not only added to those ripples, but also apparently opened a connection to L-Space because of the Pratchett Singularity. That told R&D where the ripples were coming from. We followed the L-Space wormholes and came out here.”
“You’re writing a cross-over with Discworld, aren’t you?” Scarlet said, moving slightly away from the desk so that she could see which file was open. Her heart sank. There wasn’t much of the story – a couple of possible openings, and a few notes about how she intended to continue, and then it had stalled, victim to her perennial Writer’s Block. “I like the title,” Scarlet continued, encouragingly. “‘Death and the Captain’ – very snappy. A nice cosy chat with Death, sharing my hip-flask… very imaginative. Is it for Halloween?”
Unable to quite believe how this conversation was going, the writer shook her head. “Christmas,” she explained. “It’s New Year’s Eve in the story…”
“Fine by me. Are you ever going to finish it?”
She stared at him. “Finish it? You actually want me to finish it?”
“Sure,” Blue chimed in. “Why wouldn’t we?”
She spread her hands in a gesture of helplessness. “I thought – well, that you were… angry. About the stories, I mean.”
“Ah, because I said Scarlet was annoyed?” Blue shook his head. “He can cope with it. No, we want to you to finish your stories. All of them.”
The writer was now thoroughly confused. Why on Earth would Spectrum’s premier team of agents visit across the dimensions just to tell a fan-fiction writer to get on with it?
“Because,” Scarlet explained patiently, “all those unfinished stories are what’s causing the ripples. And the ripples are bloody uncomfortable. It’s like having little earthquakes all the time. Mars-quakes, too, Captain Black tells me.”
“I’ll do my best,” she promised, weakly.
Scarlet grinned at her. “Good girl.” He leaned forward and tousled her hair, coming close enough to whisper in her ear:
“And that story set in the future? I’d REALLY like to see that one completed…”
He gave her a lascivious wink.
I’m not making any profit from my unauthorised use of Captain Scarlet or Discworld™.
My thanks, as always, to Marion Woods for beta-reading and for “things that go ‘beep’ in the night…”
L-Space is the creation of Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld™ series of fantasy novels, and is referenced here without permission. For an explanation of L-Space, please see: http://www.lspace.org/about/whatis-lspace.html . That site also contains information about the novels, which I cannot recommend too highly.
The two fanfics mentioned in this story (Death and the Captain, which really is a cross-over with Discworld™, and the untitled future-fic, which is a bit – naughty…) are mine, and are genuinely mired in writer’s block.
My cat really did once wake me up one night by walking on the keyboard of my computer. Scared the life out of me. I’d accidentally left it switched on, though; there weren’t any Spectrum agents reading my stories, alas, incarnated (inresinated?) or otherwise. Ah well… Better luck next time.
Hazel Köhler, September 2008
You heard the guys, Hazel? Do as they say!
Chris Bishop, September 2008