The almost sorta kinda continuation of the now defunct A Strong Tower

By Jo

PART ONE: Can Unknown Plots Actually...Thicken?

It had been night...and raining...and he'd been crouched under a rhododendron. Himself was

almost sure he was correct about that. But, then, he was in Pittsburgh and in its borders it

was hard to be sure about anything. He was almost sure about that, too. Almost.


There had been oleoresin capsicum filling the air, filling it at the same time the riot police

were blasting the Long Range Acoustic Devices. He and most of the others had dived under

the rhododendrons around the tall Cathedral of Learning on the Pitt campus to avoid arrest.

Night had fallen, along with the rain...and the screams...and the sirens.


Now it was quiet. Absolutely perfectly quiet. And he was not wet, well, except inside his lower

eyelids where he thought he might have been crying a little.  That would be from either the

tear gas or the events of chapter 12.  Or both. The thought made him wonder where Joimus



Despite the quiet, which was rather nice for a change, his lack of awareness of location made

him whisper, "This IS chapter 12 still, isn't it?"


Joimus replied from nearby. "No."


So, he was not alone. At least he now knew that much.  He needed to know more. "No?"


"I," she hissed in the blackness. "Now, for Pete's sake, be quiet, will you?"


"What happened to A Strong Tower?" A man should at least know the title of the place where

he was. A man had that much right.




"What happened to it?" he insisted, his seagreens narrowing, no matter that it was so dark

no one could tell they were narrowing, much less seagreen.


"It's gone! Now be quiet!"


"What about the plot? What about the G-20's meeting?"


"There is no plot. You've known that for years."


"There was a plot!" His voice was growing louder. "I was in Pittsburgh to film The Next Three

Days and...and...the G-20 had just started and the riot police were...."


"That was all a plot device. There is no actual plot. Get over it!"




"Shhhhhhhhhh! Or you'll be...."


"I'll be WHAT?" he fairly shouted.


It was too late. The damage his voice had done had been done. Truth be told, it was most often

female hearts that were damaged by his voice, changed forever, addicted...but in this case, it

was worse, much, much worse. Something small, furry, but very strong whapped him across

his nose, sending it twanging side to side, causing more tears to join those already inside his

lower lids.




"Did Himself 'ow'?" someone asked.


The voice was female, different, and his heart flipflopped almost as painfully as his nose had just done. A new voice, and in great darkness, too. It could mean only one thing. Well, possibly two,

but only one came to his experienced mind. The cast. It had been messed with again.


"Buck up!" That came definitely from Biebe. "It's only epipain." Biebe knew whereof he spoke,

having spent month after month with his leg trapped in some horrid blow hole near the southern

coast of Australia. He'd been left that way endlessly and still hobbled a bit from it. Several folk

hobbled in epis these days. It was the new fashion.


"Damn!" Bud suddenly exploded. "It's too black in here."


"Looks perfectly normal to me," Marshall observed.


"Where the %$#@%$ ARE we?" Himself bellowed in that adorable way he had when he lost

his cool.


Joimus sighed. "You really want to know?"


"Would I have %^$#@ ASKED if I ^%$#@* didn't WANT to know?" he adorably continued.




"I knew that. Where in Pittsburgh?" He was controlling himself with the masterfully commanding effort he'd developed as Jack.


"You couldn't have been sure of that. You know you couldn't."


He blew out a long, long breath. She was right. He hated it, loathed it even, when she was right.

"Where in Pittsburgh?" he repeated, his voice low, menacing.


"That you, Hando?" Jeffrey asked, actually hoping it wasn't.


"It's me," Himself muttered.


"Sure sounded like Hando," Arthur observed.


Himself let out an actual growl. It was responded to by an even deeper one. "Quiet, Wadsworth," Marshall soothed. "It's just Himself."  Everyone, of course, knew Himself

growled more often and with greater menace than the good-hearted guide dog.


"Where?" Himself repeated, his lip curling, though the effect of it was quite lost in the darkness.


"Squirrel Hill."


Himself brightened a little. Squirrel Hill? That was just past Oakland if one were heading

east. If one were heading west, however, it wasn't. Oakland. That was where they'd been

chased by the riot police. He let out a little sigh of relief. Not only had they not been taken

out of Pittsburgh, but were within walking distance, even for Biebe, of where they'd been

at the end of chapter 12.


But...why? Why had they been left in Pittsburgh if A Strong Tower was done for, um, over

with? His seagreens narrowed again. This was suspicious. She was a Pittsburgher. He'd

known that since the spring of 2002...and look where it had gotten him.


"This is not chapter 13?" His voice dripped dread.


"Nope. Chapter 1."


"What happened to 13?"


"Can't do 13. Unlucky number. Hadda start over with 1."


"There have been a LOT of chapter 13's!" He was bellowing again.




"You never learn, do you?" Joimus sighed. She'd heard the repeat of the sharp whapping



He pressed the fingers of both hands to either side of his nose. "It'll probably swell," he



"You'll just look more like me then," a male voice commented.


"And who are YOU?"


"John," the voice replied.


"My nose looks perfectly like your nose, Biebe! You know that!"


"I didn't say a thing," Biebe spoke up.


"Me, neither." That was Nash.


"Brennan," the voice said informatively. "I'm why you've come. And I get beat up a lot.

Hence the nose comment."


"You're here, too? Wherever we are. Where ARE we? Why the &%$# is it so dark?"


"It's usually quite dark in the hollow of large oak trees, Himself," Joimus explained patiently.


"OAK tree? I'm in an OAK TREE?"


"Is this Sherwood?"


"No, Robin," Meggie said. "I think it's Pennsylvania."


"Is there an Irishman in here?" John Brennan asked innocently.


"That was Robin," Himself hissed, "and he's %$#@% NOT Irish!"


"I'm Irish."


"You're from Joisey, Jim," Marilyn laughed. "Robin's the one with the Irish accent, not you."




Joimus was happy where she was, busily fingering Maximus' moustache as she also busily thought that if the cast just stayed right here in this pitch blackness then there wouldn't

have to be all those dratted file searches for illustrations. Such thoughts were just too happy

to continue long in an epi, especially when one was the General's woman, er, lady.


A sudden burst of light came from a retractable oak branch and, as one, they gasped at what

they saw looking back at them.



Just as suddenly from the far side of the tree where Aubrey, of course, was, a second branch

retracted and there, too, appeared...



This continued with branch after branch until, finally, directly in front of Himself's face, a

branch did its thing and, much to his surprise, Himself was...photographed!



Nash fainted into Franki's arms, never having quite recovered from the photo the seagull in

Toronto had taken of him there just outside the swoopy building when he knew they knew he

knew. It had all been too horrible. (See Toronto Tribulations)


"WHY?" Himself cried, curling his fingers tightly into his palms and locking his thumbs over

them in an effort to resist seeking out Joimus' neck. "Why...squirrels?"


"It's an oak tree," she explained reasonably. "You expect pythons?"


"That's not an answer," he growled.


"Shh, Wadsworth."


"YOU!" Himself turned his attention for the moment, not to Lachlan but to Marshall. "You're

a Pittsburgher, TOO!" He made it sound very like an epithet.


"Is something inherently wrong about that?"


"Who said that?" Himself was losing what little remained of his cool despite the fact that cool

was a word he had some innate fondness for.


"I did. Captain, Captain Stuart."


"Who invited you to my tree?"


"Oh, so it's your tree now, is it?" Brennan asked.


"I live not far from here," Captain continued. "I have as much right to be trapped inside an

oak tree in Squirrel Hill as you do...if not being a diplodican and all."


"Antipodean," Terry supplied.


"There's another captain in here?" Jack twisted his cramped position, trying to find where

Himself was. "You made a second captain and never told me?" he accused.


"I'm not a captain captain," Captain sighed. "It's just my name."


"Cruel parents, eh?" Aubrey said.


"Not in the end." His voice faded. "No, not in the end."


Maximus whispered in Joimus' ear, "You really expect everyone to have read The Waters?"


She shrugged. "Yes."


"Just LOOK at that!" Atonia huffed. "She went and made the title a LINK!"


"She's like that," Stacey spoke up. "You should know that by now."


"WAIT!" It was Sid. "Did the non-captain just say we were 'trapped inside an oak tree'? Did

he just say that?"


"Good point," Zack agreed. "You did just say that, didn't you, non-Captain?"


"I am NOT a non-Captain! I am Captain, by name if not by rank. That counts."


"Well, whoever you are, did you just say that?" Zack persevered.


"I did just say that, yes."


"Why did you say that?" several very similar male voices asked at once.


"Because...well, because it seems to be the case, does it not?" He was an attorney, after all. He

knew about cases.


"SHE said it, too!" Himself snapped.


"I didn't use the word 'trapped', you may have noted," Joimus defended. "I simply said we

were inside one."


"And HOW did we get inside one and why don't we remember it?" Himself was biting his lip.


"It happened in between 12 and 1. How am I supposed to know how it happened? It would

require something, well, a...a...plot to know that."


"Then," himself gritted his teeth, "would you please tell me what the name of this current epi...



There was a little sound of lip licking. "Well, it'''s, um, The Unknown Plot. That's

what it is."


Himself would have sunk to his buns had there been room to bunsink, but they were stuffed

inside an oak tree, all of them, and there simply was not sufficient space. He went very silent,

though, after a single, soft %$#@&, that is.