Death’s robes itched. Susan supposed that, as a skeleton, didn’t bother him too much, but she was certainly not an anthropomorphic personification of something more concerned with appearance than comfort, and she made a mental note to tell her grandfather to get some better ones. After all, she never knew when she would need to use them again.
On the other hand, there were other problems with the outfit as well, apart from the fact that they were simply silly-looking and unpractical. After all, if you were going to run around with a giant scythe, big baggy robes would only hinder your arm movement and catch on the ground. Death might not have to worry about chasing someone down--everyone came to him eventually--but there were times when she had been Death that she definitely needed to run. In any case, the robes were far too big for her, and the sleeves extended a foot past her hands. The hood fell over her face, though that worked out fine; it was a hassle when people didn’t recognize her as Death. Even when she explained it and they took her word, the old men always asked for a last kiss, which was stupid. Susan had no desire to be known for having a kiss of death.
The hourglass room was just as noisy as it normally was, but she heard the Death of Rats’ protest comment loud and clear.
SQUEAK, it said, the words resonating in her mind.
Well, two could play at that game. Death had gone on vacation, and she was two days into the week she’d promised to cover. The old habits were well-rehearsed at this point, so she glared at the skeletal rodent and replied in Death’s voice of command: SIT.
The bony skull rattled as the rat plonked down on the shelf.
“One more word out of you and I’ll have you doing tricks like a dog.”
It was after she uttered the words that she realized her mistake. The Death of Rats fell on its side and tumbled to its right straight into an hourglass. She whipped her hand forward to catch it before the entire shelf turned into a giant game of dominos. The sand inside rocked back and forth as she caught the upper end, stopping its momentum a finger’s breadth from disaster.
She breathed a sigh of relief. Sensible as she normally was, she should never have given into temptation, but this night’s errand had her on tenterhooks.
SQUEAK SQUEAK SQUEE-SQUEEEAK!
“Poo,” she cursed. The tinkling sound of glass upon glass grew louder as she looked down and saw that her sleeve had swept across the row below, triggering a chain reaction to the right. Seven hourglasses had already fallen over, and she dashed after the eighth only to find herself stepping on the hem of the robe and falling over. Her hand went wide and missed her target, and she went rolling down the aisle. “Get to the end of the row before I make an owl pellet out of you!” she yelled at the Death of Rats.
SQUEAK, it told her reproachfully, and she saw it was already scampering after the cascade. Luckily, Death had possessed the presence of mind to make most of the bases in the form of squares, or at least something angular, and the glasses that had been knocked over simply lay where they fell rather than roll off the shelf and shatter. There’d have been a lot of explaining to do if ten thousand Discworld residents all dropped dead within five seconds of each other. Well, she supposed she could claim one of the elephants had passed gas, but that would set a bad moral example.
When she arrived at the end of the shelf, one hourglass was missing. She found it on the ground, but luckily, it remained intact. A ragged piece of black cloth fluttered from underneath it, and when she picked the hourglass up, she found the Death of Rats sprawled underneath.
“Well, you did a great job, didn’t you?” she told it.
She rolled her eyes. “You did not cushion the fall. You’re made of bones! If anything, you probably made it worse.…” Her voice trailed off as she noticed the name inscribed on the base. Well, the universe worked in strange ways, but maybe this fiasco wasn’t as bad as she’d thought. “Just who I was looking for,” she said. Focusing on the hourglass, she received an image of the person’s whereabouts, and then she dashed out of the hall.
For something without eyeballs, the Death of Rats did a pretty good job at rolling its eyes.
Ronald T. Daniels did not consider himself a particularly old person, and he prided himself on being, if not physically fit, at least not obese. Of late, his housekeeper had taken to sneaking small quantities of wheat grass juice into his morning milk. The fact that the housekeeper was color-blind did not aid the attempt at subterfuge. Nevertheless, Daniels took the hint and wrote “exercise” in big, red letters in his daily planner on a page some thirty weeks in the future. He was a busy man.
Today, however, things had not gone as planned. It was a holiday, of course, which in Ankh-Morpork simply meant more people got mugged than usual. This was not because the Thieves’ Guild upped their quota on holidays; on the contrary, thieves deserved breaks too. However, the lack of Guild activity resulted in a distinct lack of enforcement as well, which meant free-lancers could have their way without fear of nasty things happening to them shortly thereafter, ‘shortly thereafter’ being defined as within twenty-four hours, as opposed to more than twenty-four hours, which was when the holiday ended and everyone worked overtime to break fingers.
Normally, this did not bother Mr. Daniels. Art, he liked to declare, waits for no one, except dwarves (it used to be “Art waits for no man, or woman, or child, or zombie, vampire, banshee and other wee beasties, etc. etc.” but the list grew too long). It also tends to wait for the Patrician, but Daniels preferred to leave Vetinari out of the equation altogether. However, his secretary had gotten drunk and broken his foot the previous night, and then the theatre caught on fire when one of Mrs. Vimes’ dragons escaped. As a result, there was nothing left to do except enjoy his well-deserved holiday. He wasn’t too upset--the theatre did not suffer major damage and rehearsals would continue tomorrow--except for the fact that no dwarves had been involved in the work stoppage whatsoever. That just made him look bad.
The day had gone well. He’d rescued several kittens, danced on the roof and lied through his teeth to the Ankh-Morpork Times reporter about his upcoming production. All in all, a splendid vacation. Now, he was tucked into bed with a nice warm cup of milk (pure white, entirely lacking in any shades of green) and thinking things were looking so up they were probably looking down.
Which was why he was upset but not entirely surprised (just extremely shocked, considering he was neither particularly old nor obese) when Death came visiting.
He/it walked through the wall beside the window. Daniels considered this showing off because the window was open. On the other hand, he was duly impressed because his room was five stories above the ground with no significant ledges nearby and a storm drain that had been covered with Assassins’ Guild certified grease (the price on his head had gone up a significant amount after his previous production, “Last of the Temporal Nobles,” premiered).
Death drew closer, the handle of the scythe dragging across the wooden floor, generating an ominous rumbling that grew louder and louder with his/its approach. Daniels decided that if he was going to voice his protest about this development, it was now or never. “Excuse me, um, O Destroyer of Life. Are you sure you don’t have the wrong person?”
ARE YOU MISTER RONALD TUTANKHAMEN DANIELS? Death asked with a tilt of his/its head that was visible only by the rippling of his/its hood.
“I’m sure there are lots of people named that in Ankh-Morpork alone.”
YOUR MIDDLE NAME IS QUITE SINGULAR UPON THE ENTIRE DISC.
Daniels made a mental note to fire his psychiatrist; this was completely his mother’s fault.
ARE YOU VERY SCARED MISTER DANIELS?
“Just a tad bit.”
YOU ARE A TAD BIT VERY SCARED? THAT IS A LOGICAL FALLACY.
“Sorry, but I don’t want a debate about semantics to be the last thing I ever do.”
YOU ARE NOT ABOUT TO DIE. PER SE.
“Just stopped in for a chat, then?” Daniels was beginning to wonder if his housekeeper hadn’t slipped something else into his milk.
Death lowered his/its hood and Daniels discovered that Death had, in fact, lowered her hood. Her hair and voice dissuaded any thoughts that this might be a practical joke.
MY NAME IS, OH BLAST... She cleared her throat, then continued in a human voice. “My name is Susan. I’m Death’s granddaughter, but I’m filling in for him right now.”
“Is he on vacation?” Daniels laughed shrilly.
“Actually,” Susan replied with complete sincerity, “he is. Luckily for you, I might add, because it is not your time to die and as Death, rather than as Susan, I cannot kill you before your time.”
“Why would you want to do that?”
“I’m an avid follower of your series.”
“Oh. You’re one of those people.” He would have to ask the Assassins’ Guild if they had supernatural wards. “I don’t see the point of getting up in arms about ‘Last of the Temporal Nobles.’”
“That,” Susan said with distaste, “was immensely disturbing, but forgivable. I am here to inquire about your other production series, Firetree.”
“Let me guess, you didn’t like the goat monster.”
“Actually, I thought it was rather brilliant how its shadow ate everybody’s clothes. Incredible special effects work for the stage, even if you did cheat a little with magic at the end.”
“Thank you. Then what’s the problem?”
“There have been rumors going around the city.”
“Of what, pray tell?” Daniels was fairly certain he knew what.
“I am very fond of Posh and Oven.”
“So imagine my consternation when I heard they were going to be killed off.”
“That’s rubbish. Completely false information. They’re going to get married and have seven kids, one of which will be a flesh-eating alien parasite, and then they’ll live happily ever--”
DO NOT LIE TO ME, RONALD!
Daniels flailed, causing his cup to slip from his hand and fly across the invisible blade of Susan’s scythe, whereupon it parted in half as smoothly as sliced ham (which was to say it jerked a little but gave way in the end). The milk splattered across the wall but miraculously managed to miss Susan.
“Are they going to die or not?”
“Even if they were, the decision’s been made. Opening night is in a week. There is no time to make changes.”
“You’re ruining the team dynamic just after everyone’s started working together properly!”
“Their story arcs have reached a natural conclusion.”
“What are you talking about! Posh has done nothing but mope after Oven and gain a reputation as being the Black Widow of Vehicular-Upper-Case-Delta!”
“That is her character arc.”
“What about her father? And her time with the Uberwaldian Intelligence Task Force? Not to mention the fact that she’s a complete genius and you’ve underutilized her talents in favor of Glen, which is totally not a female name.”
“Don’t you think you’re getting yourself a bit worked up over a fictional production?”
One moment, Susan was standing halfway across the room, and the next moment, she was leaning over him and a clump of his nightshirt was in her clenched fist. She shook him as she growled, “Do not kill Posh or Oven, or you will be receiving frequent visits from me for the rest of your life. Understand?”
Daniels made some choking sound which Susan appeared to take as assent, because a second later, she was gone.
A cool night breeze swept through the window, making the curtains dance. He shut the window. When he turned around, his cup of milk had reconstituted on the nightstand and was just the right temperature. He shrugged and drank it and went to sleep, dismissing the entire incident from his mind.
The next morning, he woke up early, ran to the theatre and announced there was a slight change of plans for the ending of the next production of Firetree.
Susan shrugged the robes off as though they were on fire and flung them into a corner. Now that she had accomplished her mission, she felt somewhat guilty. Intimidating a man over a stage production was not a sensible thing to do. “Maybe you were right,” she said.
The smug “SQUEAK” she expected from the Death of Rats did not come. Frowning, she looked around and realized that, instead of the purplish-black walls of Death’s house, she was simply surrounded with pitch black. A lone sign floating in thin air stood in front her, illuminated by an invisible spotlight.
YOU HAVE BEEN DIVERTED, it read.
“And here I was thinking I’d taken a wrong turn by the elephant’s tail,” Susan muttered. The information did help, though. There were only so many things that could divert Death. She suspected she knew which one it was, and indeed, three gray shapes were materializing before her.
“Auditors,” she said. Auditors of reality, infinite in number and almost as patient, they watched the universe spin and made sure every atom behaved as it should. Only sometimes they got antsy, because the universe itself had been such a cold and physical thing, behaving like clockwork, until something messy came about. Something unquantifiable. Life, and consciousness, and with it, all the emotions and imagination of countless beings, every one of them behaving in unexpected ways. Every once in a while, the Auditors decided the universe would be simpler without life and engaged in some complicated plan to remove it without breaking any laws. It usually did not work. Usually, Death intervened, dragging Susan kicking and screaming along for the ride. Today, Death was not here, and Susan had no one to drag kicking and screaming behind her. That was a little problematic.
The empty cloaks floated closer.
One said, Do not be alarmed. We are not here to harm you.
“I’m not sure you could harm me if you wanted to.”
One said, We are also not here to harm your interests.
“You’re just here for a chat, then. On vacation?” The irony of the situation was not lost on Susan. She supposed it was karma, which every once in a while managed to impose its will on even people who refused to acknowledge its existence, not unlike door-to-door religious proselytizers.
One might say we are here to engage your services.
“You couldn’t pay me enough.”
We are counting on your sense of justice. And the desire for survival.
Susan paused. Was that a hint of fear in the Auditors’ voices? True, the things weren’t supposed to feel anything, but they all acted oddly ever since that battle over the clock in which some had taken physical form and found it more than they bargained for.
One said, A darkness is coming, sweeping across the universe. Soon it shall reach the Discworld, which for all its quirks and psychological defenses will not survive the onslaught.
“Darkness? What darkness?”
The darkness of the mind. The madness of life which is incomprehensible and terrible. It is coming. We cannot interfere, but we may contact agents who can. You must go forth and fight.
“Why do you want to preserve the disc? We’ve given you no end of trouble.”
Because what is coming is worse. Life is short and finite and will one day end. Then we can continue our jobs in peace. But if this comes, life will be swept away to be replaced by something worse. The entire universe, every rock and atom and quark, will be supplanted by complete illogic. All natural laws will cease. Even we will cease, for there will be no place for us. But life shall be extinguished long before we are gone, so hurry. Hurry fast.
The auditors faded, and Susan found herself standing in the antechamber. Death’s robes still lay in a pile in the corner. Cursing, she threw the scythe into its place and yelled, “Grandfather!”
The cry was pure frustration, and she expected nothing to come of it as Death still had two days before his vacation ended, but there was a clatter like a falling bag of skittles, and Death stood before her, his dice rolling to a halt on his tray. WELL, THAT’S A COINCIDENCE.
Susan rolled her eyes. “Tell me about it.” But she didn’t give him the chance. Instead, she told him what the Auditors had said, and there was a second clatter, this time of the tray and dice falling to the ground.
“Hey Adric, look at this!”
Adric put his book down and saw Jamie waving at him from the TARDIS console. “What is it?”
“Just c’mere, will ye? This is incredible!” Jamie was bouncing up and down like that time they bought caffeine-flavored gum in Japan and it had turned out to contain copious amounts of real caffeine. Adric hurried over, because if this new discovery was anything like that, he needed to confiscate it and call the Doctor immediately. He was disappointed to find that Jamie was looking at nothing more than a stationary picture with lots of text on one of the TARDIS monitors.
“Yahoo?” Adric read. “I don’t get it.”
“Well, ye told me going through the Doctor’s files would help me learn more about tech-no-lo-gy. This wee mad thing is called the Internet.”
Jamie showed him the Doctor’s comments. “The Internet,” Adric read, “gained widespread use on Earth in the 1990s, reminder: do NOT accidentally mention this to UNIT, is an information systems technology that delivers fast access to all data stored in world-wide servers. Information is frequently presented in the form of websites. For most people, the Internet was primarily used to communicate and access porn-o-graphy. What’s pornography, Jamie?”
“Uh,” Jamie said, batting away Adric’s attempt to type on the keyboard, “that’s an entry ye probably shouldnae look at.”
“The Internet sounds neat. So we can use it to talk to anyone on Earth?”
“After the 1990s, I guess so.”
“How does it work then?”
“I think we’re supposed to enter something called an address in this space here.”
Adric flipped through the Doctor’s notes some more. “Oh, an IP address, it’s a combination of numbers that tells the computers what to access. Let’s just type something in and see what we get.”
Jamie shrugged. “That sounds good.” He punched in a string of numbers according to the format Adric indicated and hit ‘Enter.’ “It says, message board.”
Adric keyed in a search. “Message board, or forum: a place where people leave messages to each other under subject headings in a series known as threads. Hey, all we have to do is create an account. Click that there.”
“It’s asking for a username and password.”
“Hmm, let’s use ‘TARDIS’ as the username. I bet no one else uses that. And a password should be strong, so let’s use the initials of our names along with, say, the 45th through 47th entries of a Lucas number series, that should be good enough.”
“Oh give it over.” Adric grabbed the keyboard. “There, account created. Let’s see what 20th century Earth people talk about.”
“Hey, look at that!” Jamie exclaimed. “There’s a subject that’s asking for help. And it’s got a lot of replies.”
“Hmm.” Adric read the first post. “‘I need help accessing the CIA mainframe...’”
There was a lot of information there, and the following posts seemed to be several hundred people discussing various attempts to get into a part of the Internet. “Wow, Earth people are so nice to each other,” Adric said.
“That’s terrible,” Jamie said. “It’s like the, what do you call it? Oh, right, the OP got locked out of his house and forgot his key. Come on, Adric, you’re smart, we’ve got to help him!”
“I don’t know, it sounds like the CIA, whatever it is, is a bit off-limits.”
“But the Doctor’s notes say the Internet is about the free flow of information. No part of the Internet is supposed to be off-limits!”
Adric nodded. “You have a point.” It wasn’t often Jamie got so excited about something that fell into Adric’s area of expertise. Besides, he liked it when the older boy looked up to him; it made him feel like he was an important member of the team, which wasn’t something that happened often when most of their adventures involved running and rescuing people out of traps, something that was far more Jamie's forte than his.
Several hours later, they’d worked it out with Adric doing most of the typing and Jamie looking up whatever obscure Internet lingo they needed from the Doctor’s notes, of which there seemed to be a lot. The thread was gaining replies at a rate of four point seven three nine posts per second. “Look at that!” Jamie said. “They think you’re a hero! Hit ‘refresh’ again.”
At that moment, the Doctor walked in, yawning and stretching. “Hello boys, what’s all the excitement about. Oh dear, we haven’t materialized in a sun again, have we?”
“No, no, look at this!” Jamie rushed over and pushed the Doctor to the console. “We discovered an Internet forum and Adric’s a hero on it!”
“He is? Oh my.” The Doctor bent over to read the board. “Oh my,” he said again, but this time he didn’t sound so thrilled.
“What’s wrong?” Jamie asked.
Adric looked up from the latest reply. “Nuclear proliferation,” he said, “that’s like mitosis, right?”
“Bloody hell!” Ronald T. Daniels screamed as the curtains of his bathtub flew open of their own accord to reveal a hooded, robed figure. There was no scythe in sight, but that didn’t change his feelings one bit. He splashed around a bit and gathered the bubbles in his bath to more strategic positions. “I changed the ending! I swear!”
The figure lifted bony fingers to his hood and removed it to reveal a grinning skull with eyes glowing with the blue of distant stars. Daniels screamed again before Susan appeared behind the figure and put a hand on its shoulder.
“Really, I told you this was a bad idea.”
“What do you want!” he demanded.
I ASSURE YOU, HE IS THE ONLY CANDIDATE.
“Why?” Susan asked, and if Daniels wasn’t mistaken, she sounded as annoyed as he felt.
“Candidate for what? Stop stalking me, both of you!”
Death put his hands in his pockets again and withdrew a glowing sphere, pulsating red and orange. THIS IS A PIECE OF THE SUN. I AM TOLD IT IS NOT WISE TO LOOK DIRECTLY AT IT ALTHOUGH, OF COURSE, I WOULD NOT KNOW.
“Then take a step back! The water’s hot enough as it is.”
Death obliged, then looked at Susan. She sighed. “Would you please summon your housekeeper?” she asked. “She can’t see us.”
“Why the bloody hell not?”
BECAUSE SHE IS NOT ABOUT TO DIE.
“And neither are you,” Susan added hurriedly. “The thing is, whatever gripes I have with some of your creations, you have a quite singular and powerful mind that allows you to see things most normal people cannot. Death and I cannot possibly be standing in your bathroom, or so most people would think, so their minds ignore us and we might as well be invisible.”
“That sounds like a load of crockery to me.”
Susan shrugged. “Nevertheless, it’s true. You see us, and more to the point, you have a creative and powerful mind. So please, call your housekeeper.”
“Pull the rope by the door,” he said. Susan gripped it and jerked. A bell chimed somewhere in the house, then crashed to the ground.
NOW, PRETEND THIS IS AN APPLE. Death began holding out the piece of sun and Daniels waved frantically for him to keep it away. Droplets of water splashed against the surface and vaporized beyond steam, vanishing instantly. Death looked at him again. I WILL KEEP IT AWAY FROM YOU, BUT PLEASE IMAGINE IT TO BE AN APPLE.
His housekeeper bustled into the room and walked straight through Susan, who glared and said, “She can see what Death is holding. Ask her if it’s an apple or a piece of the sun.”
Daniels scratched his head. “Er, is that object floating in front of you an apple or a piece of the sun.”
“Blimey, how’d you get a piece of the sun into the house, Mr. Daniels! Why, I bet it’s awfully warm, if I could touch it AAAAAGH OH MY [the rest of this sentence has been censored by Ofcom and the FCC]”
Once the housekeeper was gone, Death and Susan shared a long look. “You sure you were trying really hard to imagine it was an apple?” Susan said. He could only nod in reply. The two of them vanished.
Daniels splashed for a few minutes after that, waiting to see if they would reappear. They didn’t, and now his bath was not the proper temperature any longer. “You’re welcome!” he yelled before yanking the curtains shut. He pulled a little too hard, and the frame collapsed on top of him.
“This is why I hate holidays,” he gurgled.
Susan folded her arms and tried to look proper. You could get a long way just by looking proper. “I do not consider that adequate proof.”
THE DISC HAS A STRONG BELIEF FIELD ASSOCIATED WITH IT, AND DANIELS IS BY FAR THE MOST SUCCESSFUL ARTIST ON THE DISC. HIS MIND IS COMPLETELY IN TUNE WITH THE FIELD. IF HE CANNOT MASK THE IDENTITY OF AN OBJECT, THEN THE BELIEF OF DISCWORLD IS BEING SUPPRESSED.
“By an outside force.”
CORRECT. THAT IS WHY I, AS A BEING BOUND TO THE DISC, CANNOT INTERVENE. THIS TEST CONFIRMS WHAT THE AUDITORS HAVE SAID. YOU MUST GO.
“Off of the disc. Into outer space.” Susan doubted proper encompassed such a possibility.
ALL YOUR POWERS WILL WORK ON OTHER PLANETS FOR AS LONG AS THE DISCWORLD EXISTS.
“You mean the Discworld might cease to exist?”
THE DISCWORLD IS ONE OF THE STRONGEST BASTIONS OF BELIEF IN THE UNIVERSE. IT WILL BE HIGH ON THE TARGET LIST OF ANY SIMILARLY OPPOSING FORCE.
“Grandfather,” she said, trying her best stern voice. “You’ve seen more of space than I have. I would be lost out there. It’s a ridiculous notion.”
I CAN FIND YOU A COMPANION.
“I don’t need a companion! I need an assistant!” Oops. Susan realized she just admitted she would go. Damn he was good at this.
COMPANION, ASSISTANT. THEY ARE THE SAME THING.
I WILL BE RIGHT BACK.
“No! You are staying right here until I am convinced that this is necessary!”
No one was listening. Susan stomped her foot at the futility of it all, but it didn't help.
It took two days and seven trips to Earth to sort out the CIA incident. In the end, UNIT asked Adric to write a virus that they released hours prior to the time the database was hacked which put up an extra firewall and sent out false designs for a suitcase fission device. The Doctor explained to the boys that the Internet was a dangerous place, and when Adric asked about pornography, he grudgingly explained that it was introduced onto the Internet by some man named James Harker or something similar (he wasn’t sure because when the man found out he was the Doctor, he slipped something into his drink) to keep hackers distracted and protect the integrity of the system, and no, they were not allowed to see for themselves what it was.
Despite the frustration generated by their most recent adventure, the departure from Earth was quite warm. Adric made a surprising number of friends during his time there, while Jamie miraculously avoided getting shot despite drawing his knife on anyone near the Doctor or Adric with a gun in hand or holster.
“So where shall we go next?” the Doctor asked. “If you’re still interested in technology, Jamie, I’d suggest Aiur. There’s a telepathic race called the Protoss there, and they’re famous for fried foods because all they have to do is think about it. Or Adric, you like math, how about a visit to Logopolis?”
“No!” Adric yelled. Jamie and the Doctor started, and he fidgeted under their gaze. “Uh, trust me, Doctor, that’s not a good idea for now. Or, ever, really, but I guess that’s beside the point...”
The Doctor recognized the fear of crossing timelines when he saw it, so he moved on, shushing Jamie when he tried to inquire further. “All right, then what about Endor? If I remember correctly, it’s populated by giant teddy bears.”
“Actually, Doctor,” Jamie said, “before I found out about the Internet, I read that there were people living on the moons of Saturn some time in the future, and there’s this accident involving a ship called Red Dwarf. It was really sad and I was wondering if we could help out the survivors.”
“Don’t worry, Jamie, that’s a complete work of fiction, not real at all. I just liked the TV show.”
“Oh. So Mr. Flibble doesnae exist?”
“I’m afraid not, Jamie.” The Doctor patted him on the back.
YOU CAN, HOWEVER, BUY ONE OFF EBAY. LOOK. The robed skeleton that appeared on top of the TARDIS console two seconds earlier withdrew a hand from his pocket to reveal a penguin hand puppet. It waved at them, its pupils dancing a jig.
“Death!” Adric exclaimed, jumping to his feet.
The Doctor’s eyes widened. “You’ve met before?”
“Yeah, right before you rescued me from the burning ship.”
“What are you doing here?” Jamie growled.
Death pointed his finger at Adric. I HAVE COME FOR HIM.
“Oh no ye don’t!” Jamie cried, pulling out his knife. “Creag en tuire!”
“Wait!” Adric rushed forward and grabbed him before he had the chance to climb onto the console and step on something that shouldn’t be pressed. “He’s not here to kill me!”
“How do you know?” Jamie asked, still struggling.
TECHNICALLY SPEAKING, I DO NOT KILL ANYONE, Death said reproachfully.
“That’s not helping!” Adric snapped.
Death stepped off the console, putting it between himself and the angry Scot. THE BOY IS CORRECT. I AM THE DEATH OF ANOTHER WORLD. I HAVE NO JURISDICTION OVER HIM. I AM HERE TO ASK FOR HIS HELP.
“His help?” The Doctor wrung his hands. “Whatever would you need his help for?”
Death reached a skeletal hand out toward one of the monitors and when it made contact, it just kept going until half his arm was submerged. Blue arcs of electricity fizzled about the screen, and then he withdrew his hand. YOU OPERATE ON A DIFFERENT PLANE OF EXISTENCE THAN MOST BEINGS.
“That’s right, I’m the Doctor. I’m a Time Lord.”
THE MATTER AT HAND WILL COME TO YOUR KNOWLEDGE SOON. THE FATE OF THE UNIVERSE IS AT STAKE. WE MUST EACH DO OUR PART.
“It’d be easier for the Doctor to do his if you told him what was happening,” Jamie protested.
The Doctor shook his head. “How did you find us? The TARDIS is in transit. It should be untraceable.”
I HAD NEED.
I TRAVEL BY PROBABILITY.
“Oh dear. How many trips did it take you to get here by chance?”
ONE. IT WAS A MILLION-TO-ONE CHANCE, AFTER ALL.
“I see. And you’ve met Adric before. By chance?”
ADRIC. Death considered the name. It was a good name. YES.
“I think I begin to understand the nature of your concern, even without the details.”
I HAD HOPED YOU WOULD.
“So what do you want with Adric?” Jamie asked.
MY GRANDDAUGHTER HAS AGREED TO TRAVEL TIME AND SPACE TO INVESTIGATE THE MATTER, BUT SHE HAS NEVER LEFT THE DISC BEFORE. SHE REQUIRES A COMPANION SLASH ASSISTANT.
“You have a granddaughter?” Jamie’s jaw dropped.
Death addressed Adric: SHE IS NOT AS BONEY AS I AM. I THINK YOU WILL LIKE HER, THOUGH YOU MAY FIND HER MORE DIFFICULT TO DEBATE.
Adric frowned. “It doesn’t sound much different than traveling with the Doctor, to be honest. But why do you need me?”
Adric turned to the Doctor, who nodded. “Even if the Time Lords ceased to exist,” he explained, “the universe as a whole has a temporal momentum that self-corrects any deviations from the most probable timeline. There would be many more problems without the Time Lords, but the universe would not end. Ironically, the correction mechanism tends to manifest in the form of highly improbable events, such as Death finding you twice, in the right order of your own timeline, out of the infinite points in space and time that he could travel by chance. For whatever reason, you and Death’s granddaughter are the best combination to face whatever force is pushing the universe off the proper time track.”
“But what about us?” Jamie said. “You said yourself the Time Lords are supposed to monitor the universe.”
“If I understand Death correctly, he is saying we do have our part to play, but it is not the right time for us to enter the equation.”
THAT IS WHAT YOUR VESSEL TELLS ME.
“I’ll go,” Adric said. “No, listen Jamie, if you’re getting involved too, that means we’ll meet again. Sometime in the future. So it isn’t really goodbye, and even if it was, I have to go anyway.” He glanced at the Doctor. “I wouldn’t be worthy of being in the TARDIS if I didn’t take some responsibility for the universe. I mean, that’s what the Doctor does, that’s what all of us who travel with the Doctor agree to do, whether we know it or not.”
“Now, I wouldn’t put it that way,” the Doctor said.
Jamie considered this. “But it’s true, aye?”
The Doctor sighed. “Why yes, Jamie, I suppose it is, in a way.”
THEN TAKE MY HAND, Death said. His eyes dimmed for a moment as he recalled the last time he had gotten involved with a mortal child. It occurred to him that this was what gods did, interfering with affairs and lives, but then, he wasn’t a god, and neither was this Doctor, and he’d never seen an actual god do much work anyway. He was just doing what he could while the universe continued on, oblivious in its calculations of probabilities. Maybe that was why the Auditors always lost; they could afford to, because they knew they won in the long run.
Until now. For a moment, Death contemplated a world in which the Auditors lost for good and wondered if it would not be better. But only for a moment.
Adric took his hand, and the two of them vanished in a blue flash of light.
To Chapter 12: Words Fly Up
Back to Chapter 11: The Highly Unlikely But Otherwise Excellent Adventures of Gregory House and Friends
Summary: Susan stalks RTD while Death stalks Adric. Jamie discovers the Internet.