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The Irregulars Meet Their Match

At St Right Here's Improbable Hospital Trust (in the Bingo Hall)

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd rustles out of Matron's office, carrying a leather medical bag and a sheaf of official-looking papers.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd is wearing her outdoor cloak, today. There is a steely glint of satisfaction in her clear grey eyes, and her fearsome jaw brooks no argument.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd is a woman with a mission. And not a moment before time, either.

The Bingo Hall Paddock

Calliaphone 's Irregulars are assembled here, for a council of war. There are serious expressions on grubby faces all round. And still no sign of the Captain herself.

Consequently, Albert is in command. He looks round the rest of the army. They are a bedraggled lot. Still woefully underfed, and sniffling and snuffling through a sea of catarrh. He shakes his head.

Albert says "come od you lodh." He pauses to sneeze into his scarf. "this is dho tibe for despodedcy. we godda strategise."

There are several sneezes, a cough and a chorus of sniffs for reply, and Stinker then chimes in. "Bert's right. whad we deed is a blad. of actiod." he sneezes emphatically, and the rest of the gang murmur their approval. all except Little George , who has fallen asleep in Callia's cart, with his head inside a bucket. His congested snores echo thunderously, but do not appear to disturb his slumbers.

Albert ignores the snoring, and focuses on the matter in hand. He says, "a bladh. yes, thad's right." he frowns, applying himself to some hard thinking. the rest of the gang fall respectfully silent.

Albert looks up. He nods, blows his nose into his cuff, and announces: "whad we deed to dho is divide and codquer."

Stinker looks interested. "codquer?" he says. "i cad do thad. i'b good at codquers." several of the other Irregulars snuffle their agreement. "yeah, 'e is!" "s'true! 'e's the champ!" "woof!"

Stinker rummages in a pocket, and withdraws a beautiful, shiny brown conker, mounted on a string. a murmur of admiration goes up, punctuated by sneezes. Stinker puffs with pride, and for a moment, even Albert forgets about councils of war, and grave emergencies, and possible kidnappings, and Scotland Yard. He says "ooooh." But then duty re-asserts itself. "i bead, dho. i dod't bead like dhat."

Albert explains, "whad i bead is, we godda splidh up agaid. search broberly." and he begins outlining plans for a thorough search of the island.

Stinker looks disappointed, but only momentarily. He carefully stows the killer-conker (the champion conker, oh yes), back in his pocket. You never know when these things will come in useful.

Albert has started dividing the gang into teams when Little George wakes up, wails automatically (and for some time), and then demands breakfast.

Albert sighs. He turns to Stinker, whose team are hopping about over-excitedly, keen to get on with the search. "alright lads, you dhow the bladh. beet you at the rehdez-vous, ad dhe agreed dhime!"

Stinker doesn't need telling twice! He gives a hasty salute to Albert, and then hops over the fence into the jungle, followed by his team. At a nod from Albert, the other search parties follow suit.

Albert watches his comrades go bravely into the wilderness, and then turns to Little George. "breggfast, issid?"

Little George nods dolefully, scrubbing ineffectually at his snot-laden upper lip, with his dirt-laden shirt-cuff.

Albert nods. "alride. leds go checkout whad we cad fide at dhe big house up dhere." he sneezes, and (apparently unconcerned by Little George's snot), takes the Smallest Irregular by the hand.

Little George , quieter now in the hope of a meal, trots alongside Albert, as they head up to the Bingo Hall. And behind them, a small and extremely dirty mongrel pup utters a "yip" and scampers after.

The Bingo Hall Reception

Calliaphone's lieutenant, Albert, passes through here, tugging Little George by the hand, and followed by an extremely dirty mongrel puppy.

Albert pauses, sneezes, and looks around. He says, "last dhime i was 'ere, i saw a dea-drolley full o'sardies!"

Little George 's eyes grow wide. Whatever sardies are, he seems to think they're a Good Idea. He looks round eagerly, as if hoping that same tea-trolley will materialise now. But alas, there is no sign of it.

Little George 's face prepares to crumple. But Albert is too quick for him. He says, "dhis way LiddelGeorge, quig!" and tugs him kitchenwards. The puppy follows, pausing only to widdle on a chair-leg.

The Bingo Hall Kitchen

Albert and Little George sneak in here together, accompanied by a very small, very dirty, mongrel puppy. All three stand and boggle for a moment. So here is where all the food in the world is kept.

Albert settles Little George on a kitchen stool, and proceeds to search the pantry and refrigerator.

Little George waits, impatiently. The puppy widdles by the dishwasher.

Albert returns victorious. He shows Little George the spoils. "i godd edough 'ere for all de gag!" he says gleefully.

Little George is equally gleeful. He sets about polishing off a cornish pasty which is nearly as big as his head. Too big for him, in fact. He shares it with the puppy, while Albert feasts on fried french hen.

Little George, once he is full, is an Entirely Different Man. He utters a gargantuan sniifFFSNOorrt, and turns to Albert. "we godda fide dhe Cabtain dhow?"

Albert says, "yep!" The puppy, not to be outdone, says "YIP!" and is sick on the back door-step.

Little George glares at the pup. Waste of a good bit of pasty, that was. But Albert remains focussed on what is, not what might've been. He gathers up the remains of the feast, and grabs Little George's hand.

Albert, and Little George, and the puppy, all depart together. Optimism seems to have replaced despair, now they have all been fed. Hinc spes effulget! The Captain will be found!

The Bingo Hall Reception

Albert leads a much-more-cheerful Little George (and a just-as-dirty-as-before puppy) back from the kitchens and out into the world, to find their Captain.

Improbable Central

Jon Bishop is sitting on a bench, mumbling to himself as he stares down at a book.

It reads: "For the true philosophers, and such as are not merely made up for the occasion, appear in various forms unrecognized by the ignorance of men, and they "hover about cities. . . "

Jon Bishop 's eye twitches. "What. . ."

Stinker Stevens leads a small detachment of snotty-nosed urchins into town. Outside the pub, they confer urgently, then disperse into the backstreets, searching.

Kestrel scans the lines of text speedily over Bishop's shoulder, head tilted a few degrees to the side. "I have no clue whatsoever," she states.

Jokerbot g_rock scans the lines of text speedily over Kestrel's shoulder, head tilted a few degrees to the side. "I have no clue whatsoever," he states.

Jon Bishop flinches. Voices in his head. He knew reading was bad, he just didn't know how. Well, too late to turn back now. He turns the page.

Kestrel scans the lines of text speedily over G's shoulder, head tilted a few degrees to the side - and stops before the inevitable headache begins. "No clue whatsoever?" she asks.

"I shall only beg of you to say whether you like and are accustomed to make a long oration on a subject which you want to explain to another, or to proceed by the method of question. . . "

Kestrel 's forehead crinkles with the effort of even attempting to understand this next part. "No clue whatsoever," she echoes wonderingly.

Jon Bishop grunts. The voices in his head are worthless. They don't even tell him anything new. "Voices. . .what is oration?"

Stinker and his team can be heard, distantly. Getting into the trash-cans, by the sound of things, behind the PSK. "aaaptchooo"clatter "woof!" "pibe dowd, Rover!" rustle "yip?"

NesQuarX takes a quick peek at the book, smiles, then goes back to hovering about cities. . .

Kestrel glances back to G for his opinion, and in doing so spots the scrawny Stinker-with-urchins and the hovering Nes. To all, a grin. To Bish, "That's a speech of some kind, I reckon. A formal talk."

Stinker has been spotted! He dives for cover into a back-alley, dragging his team-mates with him. Shortly afterwards, there is a tinkle of breaking glass.

Jon Bishop strokes his chin. "I see.." He doesn't. He flips to another section of the book. PLATO NIETZCHE MARX RAND HUME. . . "Voices, which of these people were right?"

Jokerbot g_rock hrrrms "I'd say Marx and Rand were the correct ones."

Jon Bishop squints. "Rand. . .Rand. Page 157." He flips. "Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values. . . "

Kestrel has no clue whatsoever what that next bit of gibberish means, so leaves the G-voice to explain that while peering around him to the sudden tinkling sound.

Jon Bishop frowns. "Voices, I need a translation."

Jokerbot g_rock doesn't mention the fact that Marx and Rand would've had CAGE FIGHTS TO THE DEATH over their differences of opinion

Kestrel snaps attention and gaze back to Bishop and book. "Right. Yes. Difficult one, that. . . having your values achieved, what you hold firm to and, kinda, believe, makes you happy? Maybe. Um."

Jon Bishop scratches his head. "But you don't. . .do values. What the hell? This is not the answer I am looking for!"

Stinker et al suddenly emerge from behind the Hardware Store, and flee in loose formation towards the gates. They are pursued a short-distance by an irate, spanner-waving Suzie, but she soon gives up.

Lady Akitsu dashes into the Outpost, TACKLEPOUNCEs her former clannies, with cuddles and cheek kisses for each, then scampers up into a tree, giggling.

Stinker and his team vanish into the jungle, sneezing and whooping with the thrill of the chase. If they're disappointed at having failed to find their Captain, it doesn't show. They're an indomitable lot.

Jon Bishop sighs. "Books are confusing. Marx..Marx. Page 568." Flip. Flip.

"Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, have stood in constant opposition to one another. . . "

Jokerbot g_rock "whabuhHuh?"s then follws the blur into the tree "Oh, Heya, Kit!"

". . .carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary re-constitution of society at large, or in the common ruin. . . "

Jon Bishop presses the sides of his nose. ". . .Heya. . .Kit. Hey Yah Kit. I think that translation was even harder to understand, voice."

Kestrel will quite likely never get used to that. Kes sways, back-pats dazedly, then averts her gaze from the intimidating chunks of text before the headache starts again. "Hello, Kit," she murmurs.

Lady Akitsu grins a Cheshire-esque grin down at G, poking her head down through the branches. . . Where's the rest of her? Hm. Curiouser and curiouser. "Hello, cutie. How ya doin'?"

Kestrel bites back a laugh, looking sternly back to Bishop. "No, I think that was quite shockingly simple to understand.whabuhHuh, yes? You understand now, correct?"

Jon Bishop considers this. Does his voice know another language? "Wha buh huh hey yah kit." Of course the answer to life is in latin.

Lady Akitsu giggles quietly, watching them with amusement shining in her eyes.

Jon Bishop flinches. There is another voice. "Voice, you are in my head you know how I am."

Jokerbot g_rock grins and shrugs at Kithead "Bishie-poo, means that dudes what have lotsa stuff and dudes what ain't got much don't, and have never, liked eachother."

Jon Bishop turns his head. "Well, no shit. Why couldn't they just say that to begin with?"

Lady Akitsu sighs, lounging idly on her stomach, on her branch, and gazes out over the scene.

Jokerbot g_rock takes his job as a head voice very seriously. "Of course, it's because everyone's dumb but you. That's where the gasoline comes in. . ."

Jon Bishop snaps his finger, slamming the book shut. "I see now! I take gasoline to the wha buh huh hey yah kit, where I proceed to make a fire there. That way, I will do my value, and thus be happy."

Jokerbot g_rock nods happily. Today's mischief quota: 40% complete! "Just, y'know, don't burn any of the books."

Lady Akitsu yawns, propping up her chin with one hand, the other reaching out. With a flick of her wrist and a crackle of energy, a fluttering trail of glowing rose petals twirls around Bishop.

Lady Akitsu smirks, and beckons a finger. Jackets rustle, hair is ruffled, and the book is violently tugged from Bishop's hands! It snaps shut, twirls around him, mocking him, then zooms up into the branches.

Kestrel plonks herself down on the edge of the stocks, forehead creased in otherwise well-hidden confusion. Ah, well. It's them after all. They are not meant to be easily understood.

Jon Bishop turns with a grunt. "Wha?" Trees. "Hrm. Maybe the book knows where wha buh buh whatever is."

Jon Bishop thinks on this. "Flying book." This would make a lot of sense. It explains Merlin's blind devotion to them, anyway. She couldn't just be reading all of those things.

Jon Bishop peers up the tree. "Guess it's up there somewhere." He grips onto the bark, slowly clambering his way up.

Lady Akitsu smirks, arching a brow. . . Suddenly, the book starts to pelt poor Bishop with itself! You have encountered Angry Flying Philosophy Book which lunges at you with faceplant!

Jon Bishop falls back to the ground, book in face. "Argh! Ow.." He lays on his back. "Knew books were stupid.."

Earth Mage Paul Lo likes books! "I like books", he says as he strolls out of the PSK.

Lady Akitsu giggles, smiling to herself as she beckons the petals back, which twirl around her tree invitingly.

Jon Bishop pull himself to his feet, and doesn't dust off. Dirt is the reward for a fall.

In the Bingo Hall Reception

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd strides purposefully out from the direction of St Right Here's. She's wearing her outdoor cloak, and she's carrying a sheaf of official looking papers, bearing a shiny seal of dark blue wax. Matron's seal of approval, no less.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd pauses, to exchange brisk pleasantries with Lilith, and to offer her advice on personal hygiene. And then she strides out into the jungle, headed north and east, around the lake.

Kittania

Albert sidles inconspicuously into town, followed by Little George and an extremely dirty mongrel puppy. Not that Little George is all that clean himself, but he is at least not wailing, for once.

Albert is not one to take unnecessary risks, however. He turns to Little George and puts a finger to his lips. "r'beber, godda keeb quied. dhe kiddapper bight be watchig." he sniffs, for emphasis.

Little George nodnodnods, eyes wide. He turns to the puppy, and places a finger to his lips. "Hear dhat, Fido? shhhhh." The pup stares back at him, and then responds with a "YIP!" and frantic wagging.

Albert rolls his eyes and mutters something about ". . .drust a kid. . ." before grabbing Little George's hand and setting off sharpish across town.

Little George 's legs work overtime as he is hoiked away (followed by Fido). He makes the obligatory protests about "dhot beig a kidaaahtishooo" but even he's not really buying it. Anyway, Albert is back On Mission now, having produced a magnifying glass from a pocket, and Little George is too distracted by that to continue the argument. He hops about, trying to see what Albert is looking at.

Little George says, "Lebbe see? Lebbe see." Hophophop. Fido (not so interested in the magnifying glass) investigates a lamp-post. With one leg cocked.

Albert shows Little George the view through the magnifying glass. "bud whaddisit?" Albert frowns at the question, and attempts to look knowing. He says, "Well, dhat's what we godda fide out."

Little George says, "ohhhhh." He turns to where Fido has finished leaving evidence by the lamp-post, and whistles the pup over."see dhat, Fido?" he points to Albert's glass. "dhat's a glue!"

Albert adopts his Most Professional Frown, and hushes his companions while he peers through the glass at an abandoned grenade pin in the dirt. He straightens, and says "well, she bight've cub dhissaway"

Albert is about to enlarge on this theory, when a kittymorph emerges from the cafe, carrying a steak. Fido blinks. Looks again. BlinkblinkYIPSs, and rockets into action.

Little George says "FIDO! heel!" which has no effect whatsoever. The kittymorph turns, bristles, and hisssses. This ought to have an effect, but Fido is, alas, not fitted with brakes.

The kittymorph apparently decides that evasion is the better part of valour. There's a blur, a cloud of dust, and The Chase Is On: kitty heading for the gate, puppy heading for the kitty, Little George headed for the puppy, Albert headed for Little George. As he follows the others into the jungle, he stows his magnifying glass. Gotta take care of the tools of the sleuthing trade.

The sounds of pursuit vanish into the distance, punctuated by hissses "YIP"s, whoops and sneezes.

New Pittsburgh

Stinker Stevens leads a detachment of Irregulars into New Pitts, in what he would describe as close formation. To the untrained eye, however, it resembles a small swarm of urchins in brownian motion.

Stinker makes frantic hand-signals to his unit, and they spread out across town, searching. It is hard to discern what system, if any, they are using. And yet, they exude professionalism. And snot.

Stinker is busy trying to break into the back of Mike's when he notices one member of the team - a ragged eared pup of some description (canine, not human) - has found something. He goes to investigate.

Stinker crouches down to offer encouragement. "whadcha god, Rover?" the pup looks up, head on one side, then returns to scratching at the earth.

Stinker wipes his nose on his sleeve, then leeeans forward to see better. Rover continues scratching, and suddenly Stinker recoils, his face registering horror. Rover paws at what he has unearthed.

Stinker shakes his head, as if that will make it not true. "id cad't be hers" he says, over and over, as Rover tugs the greyish white bone out of the earth, and whines at it. "id jus'cad't."

Stinker finally runs out of denials. He pauses for a moment, then pats Rover on the head. Slowly, he reaches out to pick up the bone, his movements betraying great heaviness of heart. But just then, a passing zombie collars him, and begins shaking him violently, crying "BRAAAAAINS" in tones of extreme outrage.

Stinker, his teeth nearly rattling out of his head, tries to protest at first, while Rover gets a good grip round the zombie's ankle. But the zombie is much bigger than either urchin or puppy, and soon Stinker is sufficiently disoriented that he lets go of the bone he had picked up.

As soon as it clatters to the ground, the zombie drops Stinker, and turns to retrieve what has been shaken loose. Stinker sits, recovering his breath, while the zombie picks up the bone and (turning briefly to glare at Stinker) fits it neatly into position between elbow and wrist.

There's a meaty sort of a squidge, and a cartilaginous clunk, and the zombie turns once more to Stinker, with a not-quite-mollified "Braaaains" by way of . . . apology?

Stinker blinks. And then the penny drops. "it's yours?" "Braaaaaaains". "oh well you could've jus'SAID you dhow." "braaaaaains."The tone is definitely apologetic now. And the newly-restored ulna assits in rotating the zombie's hand, so that it points . . . towards Rover. who has not yet let go of the ankle. "Braaaaains?"

Stinker follows the gesture, and his eyes open wide. He sneezes, then whistles sharply to the puppy, who reluctantly lets go. Zombie and urchin then pause to shake hands affably, before the zombie shambles away in search of, well . . . better not to think about that really.

Stinker turns to Rover. "ad leasd it was'd de cabtain's, addyway. cub od boy, lessfide de gag." Rover wags agreement.

Stinker ruffles the puppy's matted fur, and together the two of them disappear into the back-streets, to find the rest of the team, and continue their search.

Pleasantville

Calliaphone's Irregulars enter town, moving in from the jungle in small and extremely grubby groups, and converging on the town-square and Albert, who has food.

Albert busies himself, between coughs and sniffs and sneezes, distributing fried french hen legs, and cornish pasties among the crowd of urchins and puppies.

Calliaphone's Irregulars tuck in. And for a short while at least, all is quiet in Pleasantville.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd strides briskly out of the jungle, her apron still dazzlingly white and crackling with starch under her blue outdoor cloak. She carries a leather medical bag, and a sheaf of official-looking papers.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd has a glint in her clear grey eyes. She surveys the town without so much as a grimace. It'll take more than a bit of slime or a few insides-turned-out to weaken a Murgatroyd's constitution.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd stands quietly, just inside the gate. She looks as close to day-dreaming as a Murgatroyd ever gets. She is, in fact, making a Mental List of Things That Need Doing. Her attention, however, is continually drawn in two directions. The first is Doctor Paprika's surgery. The second - that group of snuffling, snacking, as-yet-unsuspecting Irregulars.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd clicks her tongue, and secures her leather medical bag over her arm. Then, with a purposeful nod, she strides across the town square. She marches up to the Doctor's office, and rattatattattatts upon the door with a sturdy knuckle. After a short pause, the door opens.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd does not wait to be invited in. She sweeps in. Moments later, she sweeps back out, accompanied by an irate Dr Paprika. "..but I never agreed to this!"

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd says "Now do stop making a fuss Doctor. I've clear instructions here from Matron." She waves her sheaf of papers at the Doctor. They bear the blue wax seal of the Matron of St Right Here's. The same crest as can be seen on the silver clasp on her outdoor cloak. She continues, "The trustees have agreed it, all the funding is taken care of. I will organise everything" Oh, she will, you can be sure of that.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd adds, "It's long overdue, you surely can't disagree." she waves a hand in the direction of Calliaphone's Irregulars, who are finishing up their picnic, and have begun a bogey-flicking competition, to see whose will go the furthest.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd says, "Look at those wee bairns. Listen to their pathetic coughs, their chronic bronchial congestion. Think of their adenoids, man. . ." Her eyes gleam with an almost religious fervour, while Little George sniffFSNOoorts obligingly, to illustrate the point.

Dr Paprika winkles his nose in dismay, and tries to retreat, but Sister Murgatroyd has a firm hold on his elbow. She says "Are they not crying out for some Proper Medical Attention." Dr Paprika demurs, and tries to detach himself from her grasp, to no avail.

Calliaphone's Irregulars are not noticably crying out. They are, however, conferring. Now that the meal is properly over, they are taking it in turns to report to Albert , on the status of their current Search for The Captain.

"she's dod roud here, Bert" says Stinker Stevens, "dor id Dew PittsbaaptCHOO!" Stinker wipes his nose on the back of his hand, and wipes his hand on Rover. Rover (gleefully) rolls in a patch of slime, to complete the effect.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd 's grip digs into Dr Paprika's arm. "You see, doctor?" and the gleam in her eyes re-doubles. The doctor shudders.

Stinker, unaware of Sister Murgatroyd's attention, finishes his report with a shake of the head. "p'rabs she's beed got by alieds!"

Calliaphone's Irregulars oooh in unison. But Albert isn't convinced. He quizzes the rest of the army, but no-one can offer further enlightenment. He frowns. "Ahd be ahd LiddleGeorge checked Cedral. . ."

Albert looks up. "We got dho choice. We god dho inforb Scotlad Yard, we god a Bissig Bersod!" Eyes widen all around the gang, and Albert sneezes impressively.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd can restrain herself no longer. She has a mandate, Matron's Will Must Be Done! She swoops down upon the Irregulars, bearing Dr Paprika along with her.

Calliaphone's Irregulars detect something coming their way. A collective prickle runs around the group, a murmur like the wind, that says "here comes trouble".

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd deftly delves, with her free hand, into her medical bag. When she ceases delving, her eyes take on that steely glint that Dr Paprika has already come to fear.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd glints some more. She has a bottle in her hand. A large brown bottle, and a spoon.

Calliaphone 's Irregulars take one look at her, with her uniform, and her bottle, and then Albert gives the order. "RUD! RUD LIKE DHE WIDD!" And they do. Splitting in all directions like mercury from a dropped thermometer, they flee.

Urchins and mongrel puppies swarm out of the square, into every quarter of the town, every back-alley and side-street, or dank and shadowed doorway. There are urchins on the roof-tops, and mongrels in the refuse, and if one thing can be said about them all, it's that they will not keep still.

Dr Paprika looks momentarily relieved, but hastily hides it. Turning to Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd, he arranges his features into a careful semblance of disappointment. "There, Sister. You see? They are quite impossible to treat. Like vermin!"

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd, however, does not appear remotely disconcerted. If anything, the glint in her eye has become more steely than ever before. She turns to Dr Paprika, and says, in tones as sturdily implacable as the Forth Bridge itself, "Why Doctor, they are no such thing!" Releasing his arm, she puts her fingers to her lips, and whistles sharply.

There is a short pause, during which one or two of the bolder urchins jeer and lob small exploding squibs at Dr Paprika, from the safety of Mike's rooftop. The good doctor begins to twitch, like a man under heavy Howitzer fire. But Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd does not so much as bat an eyelid. Her eyes remain fixed on the gate. Through which, after a moment or two more, a pair of border collies come running.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd breaks into a grin that would make a Toledo swordsmith proud. "Like my grandmother always said, there's no better preparation for any of life's challenges, than a hill-farm upbringing."

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd turns to the collies, and begins issuing clipped instructions, punctuated with whistles. The dogs dip their heads, then trot towards the nearest outcropping of urchins.

Calliaphone's Irregulars retreat before the dogs. At first it is not clear who will have the upper hand. Or paw. But gradually, despite the ongoing jeers and occasional missile, a pattern emerges. And it does not favour the urchins.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd moves swiftly, but serenely, as the Irregulars are herded into a loose formation, towards Cuthbert's. They mill about, looking for exits, and Little George attempts to make a break for it. But between Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd and the collies, there's not a lot of scope. He is promptly headed off and returned to the fold, to join his comrades in their shuffling, sniffling, sneezing defeat.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd bends to pat the collies, and give them good-boy drops. Then she folds her formidable forearms, and turns her attention to the Irregulars.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd says, "Well, and a sorry state you're all in, mark my words." She is inspecting them, not ungently, as if they were livestock - tsking with professional dismay.

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd 's bottle is once more brandished, and by now, Calliaphone's Irregulars have no fight left in them. Upon her word, they meekly fall into what they would describe as a tidy line. And they open their mouths in turn.

Dose after dose is dispensed, until the bottle is empty. And then, on one more command, the entire line turns towards Dr Paprika's, and marches through the door, over which a new sign has been hung up. "Free Improbable Island Public Health Clinic. Once a month, except when it's not. All are welcome."

Sister Penelope Anne Murgatroyd turns to Dr Paprika. "Well, come along man, you've got your afternoon's work cut out." Grasping his elbow once again, she propels the unhappy fellow into the surgery, to dispense Improbable Flu jabs to the unwashed masses. And probably wash them too. And treat them for mange.

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