The Search for Chula
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Samuel Vimes awoke suddenly as if from a bad dream, though he couldn't remember what the dream might have been about. He rubbed the back of his head, feeling the sort of headache coming on that came from too little sleep. It was the sort of headache he was well used to, and so he ignored it.
It was morning already so he got dressed and shaved quickly, then went downstairs where Sybil was already cooking breakfast. She smiled and put a plate of extremely blackened bacon in front of him, which he ate with relish. She didn't say anything about his late return home the night before, for which he was grateful.
"Will you be home for dinner, dear?" Sybil asked him as he fastened his armor. He suspected she already knew the answer, but he still told her he'd try. He would try, he just knew it wouldn't happen.
Not right now.
Not with everything that was happening.
It was still early. The sun was in the sky, but it hadn't yet been there long enough to dry up the dew on the grass. Vimes kissed his son goodbye and left, making his way to Pseudopolis Yard, taking as much time as he could while still being able to say he hurried. He wasn't anxious to get back to the chaos and nervous tension of the Watch House.
He let his feet do the walking, so used to the route and the city that he didn't even have to think about where he was going. Instead, his mind whirled with thoughts about the case. He had already examined it from every angle and come up with nothing, but today was a brand new day, and you never knew what they might hold, though experience told him it was usually nothing good.
Sam Vimes preferred the night.
Sam Vimes may prefer the night, but His Grace, Sir Samuel Vimes, Duke of Ankh and Commander of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch had to work during the day. It was part of the job description.
The Watch House at Pseudopolis Yard wasn't actually far from the Ramkin Estate, so it wasn't long before he got there. Captain Carrot was waiting for him outside the doors. He saluted sharply as Vimes approached.
"What have you got for me?" said Vimes.
"Forensics has turned up no new evidence regarding the Patrician's Palace," Carrot began. The forensics team had once consisted of only one member, but had recently grown to a small group of people of varying shapes and sizes, lead by Sergeant Cheery Littlebottom.
"No surprise there," Vimes said. The room in question had been quite thoroughly ransacked by the incompetent palace guards before Vimes had gotten there, and there were any number of passages the would-be murderer might have taken to get out.
"Angua has something for you, though. I don't know what it is yet, she only just got in."
"Good. What about Lance-Constable Sally? Is she back yet?"
"Er, I haven't seen her yet, sir. I expect she will be soon, though."
"Fine. Anything else?" They made their way up the stairs and into Vimes' office. Carrot had the look that said to Vimes he wasn't going to like what else Carrot had to say. He thought he probably already knew what it was.
"Eight more people have presented with symptoms overnight. Five more in Dolly Sisters, two on Esoteric Street, and, um, one on Cockbill Street," he said.
"Cockbill? What? In the Shades? That's nowhere near the others! How could it have spread that far?" Vimes was aghast. As if he didn't have enough to deal with!
"Well, sir," said Carrot sheepishly. "We don't actually know that it's the first. We hardly patrol the Shades at all and the citizens there aren't too likely to come to us with their problems." This was said with a shade of reproach. "There could be many more cases, and this is just the first we've learned about it. I have Sergeant Detritus leading a small squad in a search down there right now."
"Great," said Vimes. "And you've had them all transferred to the quarantined area, right?"
"Er, well, yes," Carrot said, looking uncomfortable. He shifted his balance a couple times. Vimes arched an eyebrow at him and said nothing. Carrot was a terrible liar, probably one of the worst the Disc had ever seen. "All right, one of them was just a toddler! I couldn't take her away from her mother!"
Vimes sighed heavily. So it was affecting children now? Until now, the mystery disease had only hit adults. Nearly fifty humans and dwarfs had contracted the illness, and though none had died so far it was clearly only a matter of time.
Carrot was a great Captain, the best he could hope for, but even after years in the city he was still a little naive.
"If the mother wants to go with her daughter, I'll allow it under the circumstances. But our only hope right now is the quarantine. We can't have any affected outside or else it's useless. Send someone to tell her."
Carrot looked stiff, but he wouldn't disobey a direct order. "I'll go tell her myself, sir," he said. Vimes nodded to him.
"Will you find Constable Downspout and send him in before you go? I need to speak with him."
Carrot nodded and left. Vimes busied himself with meaningless paperwork, the stack of them that needed signing from him in particular. His paperwork load had dramatically decreased since he'd employed Mr. A.E. Pessimal, but it hadn't gone away completely.
It was mindless, though, so he thought while he did it.
Someone had broken into the Patrician's Palace in the dead of night two days ago. That in itself was quite an accomplishment. There weren't so many guards that they wouldn't be easy to avoid, but the Palace itself was riddled with traps and fake passages so that it was nigh impossible to get anywhere meaningful. And then there was the Patrician himself, a man who always knew what was going on in his city. It was a strange thing to think he hadn't been able to foresee this.
But then, Vetinari was getting old....
No. The man only got sharper in his old age. Vetinari going senile? Vimes couldn't see it. The more likely possibility was that the man knew something and just wasn't telling him.
All the evidence pointed to the killer having been going after the head cook, but Vimes had learned not to put much stock in evidence long ago.
Not that there wasn't plenty of reason for someone to want to kill the head cook, apparently. It turned out he was a bit of a womanizer, and it was easy to imagine that the prospective killer was a jilted lover, or at least someone hired by a jilted lover.
It didn't quite add up, though. The person who'd broken in had some serious skill and hadn't left behind much in the way of clues at all. Vimes found it hard to believe he or she was some kitchen wench or laundry maid. He could have been hired, but the Assassins had made it clear that no contract had been taken out for the cook's head and that if there were any mercenaries in town, they'd have been found out and hunted down a long time ago. The Assassin's Guild was very good at being the only trained killers in the city, and besides, mercenaries had no style.
Why would an extremely skilled, well-trained killer break into the Patrician's Palace, of all places, leave no evidence behind except a couple unexpected eyewitnesses and just enough clues to point towards an assassination attempt, but fail in the actual assassination despite not being interrupted?
One of the unexpected eyewitnesses rapped on his window and he opened it to let Constable Downspout in.
"Anything?" Vimes asked him, knowing not to expect much. The gargoyle said something which translated, after a bit of thought, into "No, sir. Myself and Sediment were the only two who saw him leaving the Palace."
There was a short conversation that amounted to nothing, and Vimes dismissed him.
Then there was this disease. They weren't linked in any way, and while that normally wasn't enough to convince Vimes, his gut told him they were completely separate. The first victims had turned up a week before the Palace incident, and it hadn't stopped. Even Igor hadn't been able to figure out what it was, though his specialty was admittedly not illness, but surgery.
Now a toddler was affected. That hit home for him far more than anything else on this case had so far. What would he do if Sybil or Young Sam caught this disease? It wasn't something he could fight, there was nothing he could do against it except try to contain it. The best he could do for them was to keep them away from it. He wasn't even sure about coming home after having been in contact with the illness, however brief, but Sybil made sure he did, and what could he do?
A quarantine area had been set up just outside the city and it was supplied as best he could provide, but he knew it wasn't good enough. It could never be. Too many people thought those inside were doomed anyway. A cure seemed too far off. People on the streets were calling it the Poor Man's Poison.
Vimes stood and left the office. There was work to do.
On the way out he was intercepted by Constable Visit.
"Sally's back, sir!" he said excitedly.
"Good," said Vimes gruffly.
"She's downstairs, said she'd be up in a minute."
"I'll go down to her," Vimes said, not wanting to spend any longer cooped up in his office.
Sally was in the main area and Vimes ushered her to a corner so they wouldn't be overheard by everyone in the room. Not that what she had to say would be confidential, but it was better not to spread these things around.
"Well?" he asked.
"I think your theory has gained more ground, sir," Sally said. "Angua picked the scent up again by the river. It disappeared again outside the city, but we can definitely conclude that the perpetrator is at least staying outside the city. He didn't smell like city folk, and the scent bomb he used definitely had some Klatchian spices."
"Things are very rarely what they seem. We could just have a smart one," said Vimes.
"Perhaps," Sally said doubtfully. She was a good Watchman definitely, but she was still new and had a lot of learning to do.
Vimes dismissed her. He knew he was right. It didn't add up otherwise.
The offender hadn't been there to kill anyone. That was a decoy if he ever saw one. So if he wasn't there to kill someone, what had he been there to do?
Steal something? Or maybe leave something behind....
Vimes informed Carrot he was going out and left the Watch House.
He'd find out. He always did, in the end. That's what they said about him, that he wasn't the brightest but he was stubborn and he didn't give up. It was true.
He turned a corner and kept walking.
He'd find the fake murderer, bring him to justice, and he'd find out what was causing a sudden outbreak of a new disease, and he'd stop it all.
He had to.
A crossbow bolt shot past his face.
The light of your life has extinguished, the fortune teller whispered to her in Singapore. And in its absence, dark days and dark nights passed in rapid succession, all alike and rushing away like sand in the surf. She was no longer able to mark the difference; time had cast her adrift and marooned her, unable to live or die.
A week ago, her moon blood had come, and she knew there would be no child from that union they’d placed their hopes on. If she could not have Will, they had thought, she could at least have his child, but now it was too late. By the time they met again, she would be too old, and with no child’s demands to excuse her from piracy, it would become her life and consume her. Elizabeth Turner found she did not care.
If we sail long enough, perhaps we will find him, she found herself thinking, but she knew what that would mean. She knew the reunion would be short-lived, and bitter. Will was no Davy Jones, but no bargain with the guide of the dead could last forever, and then she would leave his side, much sooner than if she did not seek death. It was funny; she had been beyond the end of the world, but she still had no idea what truly lay beyond. There was no need to seek it out before her time, and yet the separation was painful. It tugged at her, drawing her, rushing like a current toward an infinite abyss.
He sails amongst the drowned and shall not return so long as you dare not burn the wick.
“Hoist sails!” she cried, watching her crew leap at her orders. The great warship rocked as the wind caught the canvas, and the Empress soared forward. Already, Singapore lay small on the horizon, but within the hour, it would vanish completely. There would be no outrunning her fortune, though. And prophecy.
“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me...” All through her childhood, that wish had never been granted, yet now that she was a pirate lord, king of the Brethren Court, there was nothing Elizabeth wanted more than to be a woman on land again. An ordinary woman, living an ordinary life with an ordinary blacksmith.
“Are you all right, Captain?” Tai Huang, her first mate, asked. “You appear troubled.”
Elizabeth touched the hilt of her sword, seeking the reassurance of its presence. “We have lost control of Calypso, and she still remembers her imprisonment. If we are not troubled when the seas are, then we are already dead.”
Her words were true and no less than her mate expected, but he still retreated the moment he had an excuse. Gloom brought ill fortune, but that plagued everyone these days. The world was changing. Elizabeth closed her eyes and felt the salt breeze against her face. Somewhere, the Flying Dutchman sailed the ocean, and the wind might yet bring the spray of her passage to her.
“The life line,” the fortune teller said, tracing a wrinkled finger down her palm. The smell of incense overwhelmed even the stink of the streets, but it was the only line to reality in the darkness of the stall, secluded in a corner of an alley where even the moonlight did not reach. Elizabeth enjoyed the seedier parts of the port. She wanted to see if anyone did not recognize her and dared to attack her. Thus far, she had been disappointed; she supposed her bodyguards were better at disobeying her orders and following her than she expected.
One lone candle burned, half an inch of wax remaining, the flame hovering just above Elizabeth’s upturned hand. She listened for want of anything else to do. The old woman’s finger paused as she approached the end of the line. “A life interrupted,” she said. “See here. It breaks. There is a gap in your life.” She did not say when. They both knew.
What did catch Elizabeth’s attention was the fact that there was little left on the other side of the break. She did some quick calculations and said, “If that is my life so far, I have about three years left.”
The fortune teller shook her head and patted her hand, making the flame flicker. “The line of a long life can be shorted if it is wasted. Much can be read from a palm, but only the most important events are written.”
“So you’re saying I might have longer to live, but I might not.”
“And sometimes, when fate twists around a person to write the world with their blood, a line appears longer than it should.”
“Captain!” Tai Huang bounded back to her side. “We are being hailed.”
“By who?” Elizabeth looked around, but the port was smaller than the smallest cloud in the sky. The sea was roiling but devoid of other vessels.
Tai pointed. Right at the horizon’s edge, a black dot grew larger. She nodded. There was no need to guess which ship would spot and hail them from such a distance. It was the only one that could be here before anyone would tire of waiting for them, the fastest ship in the world.
“What does Jack want now?” She wasn’t sure she wanted to see him again. Not yet, but she supposed the decision was out of her hands.
When the two ships pulled up alongside each other, Barbossa was the one waiting for her on the starboard side of the Black Pearl. “Greetings, Elizabeth.”
“And what have I done that Jack does not come to greet me in person?”
“Jack is not on board. He has stolen my map.”
“You mean my map? Sao Feng loaned it to you, so by rights it is mine.”
“Then perhaps you would be willing to help me recover it.”
“Looks like Jack stole the map, but you stole his ship. Again.”
Barbossa polished an apple on his sleeve and bit into it. “So distrustful, Elizabeth. Well, perhaps I can offer you something that makes my proposal more appealing.” He removed a leather-bound tube strapped to his back and tossed it between the two ships. Elizabeth caught it.
“I thought you said Jack stole it,” she said, removing the lid. There might be a trap inside, but she doubted it. When she removed the contents, she found herself still looking at Barbossa, even with the map unfurled before her. A circle in the center was missing. “Oh.” Then she realized what belonged there. “Oh.”
Barbossa tossed the apple pit into the ocean. “So you see, the goal is of mutual interest. And if, indeed, it is a fountain, we can even share. There’s nothing I’d like more than an eternity of sniping between the three of us.”
Elizabeth turned away, stuffing the map back into its container. “I’ll meet you in the bathhouse in Singapore.”
“Do you think it’s wise discussing this in the city? I mean, I have absolute confidence in both our crews, but...”
“My terms or no terms,” Elizabeth said. “Besides, all we have are stories. Jack has the only object of value.” She wondered if Barbossa would bite. Unless he believed she had a second copy of the map somewhere--which she did not and which she doubted he was stupid enough to think--she was of no more aid to him than any other pirate captain in the world. Yet somehow, he came to her, and it was not for her company. What did he want?
“Very well. It will be good to restock. You are, as always, as intelligent as you are beautiful.”
It was a day later before they met again. Elizabeth had insisted, through her servants, that Barbossa settle his crew in, since planning would take a while. Any unpleasant flashbacks to her dealings with Sao Feng had long since been dealt with in the month she had spent here with her crew after the battle. She hoped the same was not true for Barbossa.
She was surprised that Barbossa agreed without protest. If he had any misgivings to leaving his crew and himself at her mercy, he did not show it. For her part, she did not intend them any ill-will but preferred to keep them under her nose. She used the day to search through Sao Feng’s extensive collection of artifacts, hoping for other accounts of the fountain of youth. She found nothing. That night, as she slept, she dreamt of Will calling to her.
“Do you at least have the compass?” she asked, when they met again.
“Jack has both.”
“Notes from studying the map? Recollections of details?”
“We only began discussing the fountain before I marooned him. I had no chance to look it over.”
“Smart of you. So what do you want me to do?”
Barbossa smiled. “There is one whose powers over the water extends even beyond the seas, though certainly her influence there has been distracting lately. What is it, fifty ships sunk by storms in the last month alone?”
“You have an unhealthy obsession with that goddess, Barbossa. Keep Davy Jones in your mind, if you cannot keep her out. She did not help you last time.”
“But she will help you.”
Elizabeth stared and wondered if the steam had not gone to the pirate’s head. “Why should she help me?”
“When the first Brethren Court bound Calypso, they knew that even if we freed her one day, there would still be a need to keep her in check. There is one spell we did not and cannot undo: she must answer the Pirate King. Not obey, mind, but she cannot harm you or those who serve you, and a summoning will always succeed.”
“That sounds like a poor check, especially since there is rarely a Pirate King.”
“But that is the point. When there is no king, everyone is a potential candidate, and a weakened form of the protection extends across the world. In times of dire need, a King can be elected and provide immunity until such time as we accomplish our goals.”
“What you want is knowledge, not immunity. What if she answers my summons and not my questions.”
“She will answer you.”
Elizabeth leaned forward. “How do you know?”
Barbossa chewed his apple and grinned. “I just do. Call me when you are ready. You know where I sleep.” He stood and walked out.
She remained at the table for some time afterward. She decided to take a nap.
When she woke, it was dusk. The sound of shutters opening and closing, of some stalls closing for the night and others just opening, drifted through the window. Will had appeared in her dreams again, and she went out to watch the sun set. There was a beach not far from the harbor, and at this time of night, it was almost empty.
She whirled around, drawing her sword, but no one was there. The voice had been a whisper, almost like the sound of the surf. She listened.
She followed the voice, walking and running the line between the dry sand and the incoming tide. She thought the voice became louder, but in truth, she wasn’t sure. She did know it was closer, the way a blind woman might feel her way closer to a fire.
The beach began sloping upward, and before long, was a path worn into rock some fifteen feet above the ocean’s surface. A sheer drop marked the end of land, and she couldn’t help but walk to the edge and look down, praying against hope to see a ship where it would be impossible to sail. Jagged rocks caused the ocean to crash and boom in the depths below, but there was no ship. And no Will.
“Hello, Elizabeth.” This time, she heard footsteps, and the voice was familiar to her.
“Barbossa,” she said. “Was that you? How did you do that?”
“Do what? Sneak up on you?” Barbossa laughed as he closed the remaining distance between them, implying that calling someone from over twenty feet away could not be considered sneaking. “Your guards let me through a ways back. They know I’m harmless.”
“How did you make that voice?”
Barbossa cocked his head. “What voice?”
“That voice!” But Barbossa looked as confused as Elizabeth felt, and his lips had not moved. Behind her, the sun vanished, and she thought she saw a spark of green in the edge of her vision.
Barbossa stepped past her to gaze down at the churning waters below. “The ocean speaks to those who would listen.”
Waves whispered in her ears in a language she didn’t understand. The words were urgent, though. Again, the tugging pulled at her heart, and step by step she drew closer to the edge. An arm blocked her, but she pushed it aside. She thought she heard Barbossa protesting, but it didn’t matter.
“Elizabeth!” Barbossa roared.
The sound of her name burst through the haze. The sensation drained from her, as though she had been part of the sea but now it was stranding her. She looked at Barbossa, whose face was white.
“What do you think you were doing?”
Elizabeth touched her forehead and felt sweat. Putting her fingers to her lips, it tasted salty. “Do you know how to summon Calypso, Barbossa?”
Barbossa frowned. “Don’t change the subject, Elizabeth.”
“I’m not.” She smiled. “Answer the question.”
“No, not exactly. It says the King will inherit the way. I assume we have to sail to Shipwreck Island to look for chronicles.”
Everything was clear. The tugging was still there, but now it felt like a lifeline. She felt like laughing, but Barbossa would think her mad.
“Why do we tolerate kings, Barbossa? The Brethren Court elects a king and then she takes away their power to vote for as long as she lives. Why?”
“I do not know.”
Elizabeth reached over and removed an apple from the sack he kept with him at all times. She took one bite, savoring the sweet juice and the crackle of its flesh. Apples had a taste like nothing else. No wonder Barbossa liked them. She handed the rest of the fruit back and gave him his answer.
“Because the king lives to serve. And when the time is right, the king dies for the same purpose.”
Before he could react, she took the final step off the edge and plunged into the ocean’s waiting embrace.
Heartbeats. Two heartbeats, echoing back and forth through time. Both are lost to this universe now, one trapped in another, the other wiped from existence. The echoes still remain, and one who has spent lives listening to invisible sounds has heard. Through the time vortex, a TARDIS spins and draws closer. Ever closer.
Meanwhile, on Earth, Donna Noble was getting irritated.
“Now you listen to me, scarf boy! I don’t know what you’re playing at, running around the store waving a little stick around screaming about escaped convicts, but quite frankly, I think I know who’s escaped. You, from a mental institution. You’re a nutter!”
The young man ran a hand across his bangs, revealing a jagged scar on his forehead, which only reinforced Donna’s opinion of him. Either he enjoyed cutting himself or it was a gang symbol. He was also wearing big, black robes that looked like an idiot in Paris had accidentally sent somebody onto the runway in a garbage bag.
“Listen, please, you’re in danger,” he said.
“From a scrawny thing like you? I don’t think so! Now get out of here before you knock something over and the manager decides to deduct it from my wages because you’ve been dragged away by people in white coats before you can pay!”
A second madman burst into the coffeehouse, dressed the same as the first but with a shock of red hair standing on end as though he’d just run through a field of balloons. “What are you doing, Harry? We can get coffee later!”
“He’s in the washroom, Ron. I saw him go in, but then this nice lady here started yelling at me because I knocked over a table.”
“Oy! Don’t talk down to me! If anyone’s bursting in on men in the toilet, it’ll be me!”
The one named Ron took several steps back and muttered, “She reminds of McGonagall, only totally off her rocker.”
Donna put a pound in the cash register, ran up a sale, picked up her allocation of donuts and chucked one at him. It was jelly-filled and splattered nicely.
Harry put up both his hands and said slowly, “I’m going to show you my ID, all right? Just going to reach into my pocket and not get any baked goods thrown at me.” When no insults were forthcoming, he reached into his robes and withdrew a wallet. He dropped it on the counter and stepped back before she could interpret it as a threatening move. “We’re police. We’re wearing ponchos because it’s raining outside.”
“It is not.” In fact, it was so sunny the glare off the windows blinded a pigeon and caused it to slam into the sign above the shop. A “B” clattered onto the pavement.
“Down the street,” Harry said. A second glance showed there was indeed water on his clothes, though it didn’t seem enough to merit a poncho. And it still looked like robes made of cloth to her, but she thought grabbing him might give him the wrong idea. His wallet had contained a badge that looked legitimate enough, so she headed for the door. As she went, Ron made a jerky motion with his stick and muttered under his breath. How rude.
Pitch black thunderclouds were pouring waterfalls onto the next street over. A car drifted past.
“That’s odd.” Donna said. “So what’s the man in the toilet done?” A thought occurred to her, and she started yelling again. “DON’T YOU DARE HAVE A SHOOT OUT IN THE SHOP!”
Harry and Ron made desperate shushing noises. “He’d have to be deaf not to know we’re here. If you want us to get him out nice and quiet, just cooperate!”
“But he doesn’t have a gun, does he?” Donna asked in a dramatic whisper that somehow managed to be as loud as yelling.
“No.” Harry fidgeted in the manner of someone telling the truth but leaving something important out on purpose. There was nothing to do but help him, though. Nutter or not, he was police.
Ron leaned over and said, “I still don’t see why we can’t just--”
“Secrecy. Muggles. Shut up, Ron.”
First a criminal in her bathroom and now men in uniform--she assumed they had uniforms on under their “ponchos”--were hissing at each other in police code. She wasn’t sure whether the day was going great or not.
The key they needed was one of several on the keychain on Donna’s belt, but she found the right one and handed it over after Harry shot down her plan of going first. She took the second best option, which was to tiptoe so close behind Ron that she kept stepping on his heels. He glared at her, but she would just go: “Oops, sorry. This is kind of exciting, isn’t it?” and step on him again.
When they reached the door, Harry turned the key and kicked the door open. There was no one inside.
“I saw him go in! He can’t have teleported,” Donna said, using the most absurd possibility she could think of.
“No, he can’t. We set up an anti-apparition barrier,” Ron replied with perfect sincerity. He rubbed the remaining jelly off his face and licked his fingers clean. “This is really good, you know that?”
The situation regained their attention when they heard a clanging in the ventilation.
“He’s transfigured!” Harry exclaimed. “Stupefy!”
The stick he’d been carrying let out a streak of red sparks and the wall exploded. Jets of water knocked them flat on their backs as pipes ruptured and a swarm of mice fell out of hole he’d blasted.
“Which one? Which one is he?” Ron screamed. “Bloody hell, it’s like Pettigrew all over ag-- one’s crawling up my leg!”
Donna grabbed the plunger and started beating Harry with it. “You lying psychopath! Police sure as hell don’t carry sticks of dynamite with them. Get out! Get out now!”
“Stop it!” Harry groped around the floor amongst the squeaking rodents as his glasses went flying. “Aha! Got him!”
There was a flash of light and the mouse in Harry’s hand floated into mid-air, twisting and shrieking, before suddenly growing into the outline of a man and falling back to the floor.
“Oh my god! He’s a naked weremouse!” Donna switched targets and started swinging at the newcomer instead, especially when she saw he also had a stick of dynamite. The man flailed, unable to gain his footing on the wet tile floor, but at last, a random kick of his leg found the base of the sink and he went sliding out into dining area.
He scrambled onto his feet and went for the door, but Donna was right behind him, even as the two worthless police officers were still disentangling themselves from their ponchos. Realizing she wouldn’t be able to outrun him, Donna threw the plunger and knocked him off his feet. He fell forward into Donna’s box of donuts, then collapsed to the floor, a five centimeter thick layer of jelly and flour products plastered over his face.
“Help me!” Donna yelled, tearing chunks off of him and stuffing them into her mouth. “He’s going to suffocate on donuts, and I can’t eat them fast enough!” That last sentence came out more “Erm umph affum yum yum” but she assumed she got her point across, because Ron and Harry were soon beside her, and the man didn’t die, though he probably wished he had.
“What do you think you are doing?” Donna screamed into his ear. “Do you think I don’t have enough trouble as it is? First I get fired from my job, then I have to become a telemarketer, then that job gets outsourced to India, and now I’m a bloody cashier in a bloody bakery and you have to come in with these dimwits on your tail and blow up half the building because you didn’t have the sense to stay in jail? What did you want here, anyway? Is it donuts? I can give you more donuts!” She grabbed another box and started stuffing them into his mouth. “That’s not good? Maybe you need a drink.” She got a thermos of day-old coffee and poured the cold remains onto him. “How’s that? Is that enough for you? Oy, idiots! Next time he tries to escape, you let me know and I’ll beat some sense into him, okay? Just don’t let any more of your prisoners get near my place of employment! Now get out of here and fill out some paperwork to compensate me for damages and emotional trauma!”
“You have emotional trauma?” Ron mumbled, dragging the terrified fugitive away from her. “What about us?”
Harry grabbed her before she could charge at him. “Technically speaking, you saw some things you weren’t supposed to see. I’m, uh, supposed to wipe your memory.”
“Oh yeah? How are you going to do that? You have one of those blue clicker things that you flash in my eyes and make me think it was all swamp gas?”
“Actually, I use my wand.”
Donna took his wand and snapped it in half. “Get me my compensation, Merlin, or I’ll trap you back under your rock!”
Once Harry had left her a note promising full repayment of all damages--she was not going to get fired for this debacle--and restored the sign outside to its pre-pigeon state, Donna went back to the cash register and rang up another donut. She wondered what her gramps would say about all this. They were always looking at the stars, Donna reassuring him that aliens were definitely out there, and now some psycho was claiming everything ran on magic instead? Rubbish.
Ding. She looked down at the cash register, which, instead of the price of the donut, now scrolled: “Hello, Donna Noble. I’ve been looking for you.”
“Now what?” she said. The register replied by opening the cash drawer. A hand reached out and pulled her inside.
It was bigger on the inside.
A man was inside, dressed like Count Dracula at a disco ball. He had a goatee, though the beard was a tad long and half-shaved off, as though he’d had some sort of industrial accident where it got caught in machinery.
“Donna Noble?” he said.
“Yeah, and who are you? Are you the reason cash keeps disappearing?”
“No, that would be Penny, your co-worker.”
“Ah! I always knew she was a treacherous bimbo, but would anyone listen? No. ‘She’s just a bimbo,’ Mr. Rogers always says.”
“I am not here to gossip with you.”
“So what are you here for? You want to suck my blood or something?”
“No, I am kidnapping you to trap the Doctor. At last, I have found a proper companion!”
“What? What doctor? Why would you have a grudge against a doctor? Are you American?”
The man pulled at his beard. “As if. I am the Master.”
“Of what, those stacks of coins that you have to beat against the counter to open?”
“No, just the Master. And my arch-enemy is the Doctor!”
“Stuck-up lot, aren’t you? Aristocracy?”
She staggered. Gallifrey.
Gallifrey, he’d said, as flames roared about them and the Thames came flooding in. The screams of a mother and villainess, both at the same time, and Donna had asked him to stop. He needed someone to stop him. Stop him from what? Stop who? Maybe more importantly, when.
“Stop it!” she yelled, but this time there was no authority in her voice. “Stop it,” she said again, this time quietly. “I don’t know what you’re doing to me, but stop. Please.” Her head pounded, stretched to its limits like a balloon about to pop and yet still inflating. “Stop it!”
“I can’t,” the Master said. “It’s too late for that. You’re remembering, and now you must come with me or die.”
Donna followed, and she felt scared. Images swirled about her, accompanied by strange names. Ood, Messaline, TARDIS, adipose, Spartacus, Medusa Cascade.
“Daleks!” she gasped. She was on the floor clutching her head, the central pillar of the TARDIS looming above her like an idol casting judgment. She remembered the Doctor’s console in that little blue box, his manic smile as he ran about hammering and pulling things and pushing a bunch of buttons that probably didn’t do anything but made him look cool and knowledgeable.
She remembered the brief hour in which all of time and space had opened up to her. An hour that had spanned eternity. Half-human, half-Time Lord, something new and something terribly old. The Doctor-Donna, whose existence had sent shockwaves back and forth through all of reality and all the realities.
But more importantly, she remembered the joy of setting foot onto a new world, unsure of what to expect but knowing it’d be brilliant, even if there was lots of running involved. She remembered running with the Doctor’s daughter, and the look in his eyes when she died. She remembered the look in his eyes when she died, when all the knowledge inside Donna’s head had been too much and he realized he had to take her memories, had to take everything that was her. Had to kill her. And he’d done it to save her life. She didn’t have to live with the consequences of his actions, but he did.
And now it was for nothing. She was going to die, and all so the Doctor’s enemy could break his heart into even more pieces.
The Master put something silver on her forehead, and she wanted to hit it away, only she couldn’t figure out which way was up. “What are you doing? Go away...”
“You’re no use to me dead.”
Somehow, that was comforting. Donna stopped struggling.
“I’m more brilliant than the Doctor, you know.”
“Not possible. Can be smarter... but not more brilliant. Don’t tell him I said that...”
The Master scowled. “Smartasses, all of you. Is that the only quality he looks for?”
“I found him,” Donna said, feeling drunk. “Who chopped off your beard?”
“Your predecessor.” The Master snatched the silvery thing away. “You can get up now. All better. See? More brilliant. I saved your life.”
“You put it in danger in the first place!”
The Master tossed the object up and down. “Would you really want to live the rest of your life never remembering?”
Evil or not, he had a point. She rummaged through her memories, trying to remember if they were all there. It was a kind of silly endeavor, she admitted, but she figured she had the right. “Hey! I still remember it all! Well... most of it...”
“Isn’t that what I just said?”
“No, I mean, all the Time Lord stuff. It’s still there.”
“Most of it will soon fade as the Time Lord component of your brain has been partitioned off. Focus on the things you want to remember because the rest will go. Certainly, your behavior will no longer resemble the Doctor’s in any way.”
“So that’s why it’s all misty. I definitely don’t feel the turn of the universe anymore, but that was just vertigo anyway. You should genetically engineer it out. I’ll show you how before I forget.”
“Masters of space and time, and now we’re being made fun of by humans. What’s the universe come to?”
“Tell me, the Master, do you know where the Doctor is?”
“No. I shall have to find him.”
“Does that mean we get to have adventures together?”
“No. I will gag you and tie you up, and I shall have adventures by myself.”
“The Master’s a terrible name. Can I call you beardie?”
“No! It makes you sound like a Scottish duck hunter.”
“How about goatee? Or, ooh, even better yet, Billy Goat! Yes, I shall call you Billy.”
“The gag is becoming a better and better idea by the moment.”
Donna leaned against the console in perfect imitation of the Doctor. The Master growled. “Tell me,” she said. “What did you do?”
“Ah,” he said, steepling his fingers. “Now you shall be in awe of my brilliance. I used a chameleon arch to separate the Time Lord part of your mind and store it into this fob watch. It’s a commonly used device by Time Lords when they need to conceal their identity. For us, it rewrites our DNA and makes us human, removing our memories completely. That process was not necessary for you, of course, so I had to reprogram it. Took me months to perfect, but now it works! So long as you do not open the fob watch, you need not fear a resurgence of the Time Lord part of your makeup.”
“What if someone else opens it?”
“Oh good. I suppose I shall leave it in your care then. Tell me, where are we now?”
“That is unimportant.”
The Master swooped past her and started fiddling with the controls. “If you must know, we are still in your little café posing as a cash register. However, since you want to go sightseeing, I might as well impress you. How about the triplet moons of Hashas?”
“Boring, boring and a giant advertisement for Mentos. As for Hashas itself, it’s a little bit blue, if you get my double entendre.”
“Stop with the French! I hate it when non-French use French!”
“Now, you know where would really impress me. Allons-y!” She shoved him out of the way and entered coordinates faster than he could follow. The console blinked and then they were there. “See? Not that far. Either that, or we took a shortcut because your TARDIS likes me better.” She patted the lever she’d been holding, though she made a mental note never to do the same thing with any part of her face.
“Where are we?” He tried resisting her, but she pushed him through the door, and the sounds of cheering hit them like a wave.
Flashing lights turned the place into a rainbow as a man on the stage sang his heart out: “I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles, oh yeah!”
“We’re at a The Who concert?” the Master yelled over the crowd noise.
“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you! You’re looking for a Doctor Who?”
Well, here’s a poke at you
You’re gonna choke on it too
“Billy, I have to admit, you’re very, very smart. And just a little bit sweet, too.”
The Master gaped, failing to notice the crowd was pushing him further and further from the TARDIS.
“But you know what?” Donna took a few steps back and silence enveloped her. “You are definitely not brilliant.” She slammed the door of the TARDIS on him.
Thirty seconds passed before the Master made it back to the door. She could hear him pounding on it, but the TARDIS refused to let him in. She stroked the door frame. “Good boy. We’re going to have some fun times together, aren’t we?”
Striding back to the console, she watched the panels light up before she arrived, preparing everything for her command. All right, so she definitely felt an urge to give it a little kiss right now, but it would be a different kiss from the sort the Doctor tended to give. Absolutely, completely different.
“But first,” she told the room, “we need to find the Doctor before he drowns any more spiders.”
To Chapter 14: What Happened Next
Back to Chapter 13: Part 3
Summary: Three stories that will rock your world and then steal your lunch money.