Into the Fire
(Part 1 of 2)
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A pause followed Lisa Cuddy’s declaration about her need for dental hygiene, during which the Doctor gaped, Jack glowered and the four newcomers just generally stared. Then Jack snapped “Shut up!” at no one in particular. When he realized he was the new center of attention he shifted his feet before explaining: “House” and tapping his ear.
“Okay, first things first,” Cameron said. “Who are they?” She made a sweeping gesture that included Chase and Joey but none of the four people she meant to indicate.
“Germans,” the Doctor replied, and Cuddy wondered if he ever spoke at length about something helpful. Just once, she’d like to see him say something relevant rather than being obtuse right when a few extra words would be nice. Then again, at least he didn’t use strange metaphors like House did.
“So you just kidnap the indigenous population wherever you go?” Chase said.
“What are you, an anthropologist? They’re from the same time period as you. Actually, they’re from your future. Maybe they should call you an awkward primitive.”
“Okay, okay, fine. I get it. Let’s make introductions.” He waved at the woman with the crowbar, took a deep breath and said: “Wij zijn goddelijke gelukkige papavergebakjes.” He beamed after getting through that mouthful. “I learned that greeting in college.”
The German covered in Cameron’s perfume arched one eyebrow, and she thought he could give Ianto a run for his money. That wasn’t her immediate concern, though. “They speak English,” Cuddy said. “In case you weren’t paying attention earlier.”
“Actually,” the Doctor said, drawing himself up as he prepared to launch into another speech, “they were speaking German, but the TARDIS automatically translates any language she knows--which is almost everything in the universe, going back billions and billions of years--both written and spoken. Except names. Sometimes there’s a hard time with names and what language to present them in and whether just to make it up. Limbo-didactism. Tends to happen when you’re far away from us. Likewise, translates anything you write or say to anyone you encounter, as long as you’re still traveling with me and both the TARDIS and myself are physically and mentally healthy, which, don’t worry, is true most of the time. Well, like, all of the time, except a few minor incidents such as when a regeneration goes wrong, but that shouldn’t be happening any time soon, at least I hope not. I mean, I’m a Time Lord, but that doesn’t mean I can see the future. My own future. Everyone else’s future, I sort of can see, except when we’re part of my time line, as would be the case now with everyone present.”
He turned to Chase. “And you just told them we were all divine heroin muffins. In Dutch.”
“I’m Lisa Cuddy,” she said, realizing the Doctor wouldn’t be making introductions any time soon. “I’m a doctor from the United States. These are my colleagues, Robert Chase and Allison Cameron.” She ignored Joey, who was purring and rubbing against the console, figuring the explanation would be more trouble than it was worth. “That’s Ianto Jones and Captain Jack Harkness, from Wales where they run an alien-tracking organization called Torchwood, and the Doctor, who’s an alien even if he doesn’t look it. And yes, that’s really the name he uses.”
“An alien,” orange shirt repeated.
The woman sighed. “And what did you think those things attacking us were?” He glowered at her, but she seemed used to that. “Anyway, I’m Olivia Schneider. The one without any social graces is Christian Mann,”--that would be orange shirt, who looked quite nice wet--“the nice one is my cousin, Oliver Sabel, but you can call him Olli,”--she indicated the one who was probably Christian’s boyfriend, given how close they were earlier--“and the handsome one is Christian’s brother, Gregor.” With that, she gave Christian a pointed look, and Cuddy guessed the drama quotient in the TARDIS was only going to get higher.
“I think the real question is where are we and how are we getting home?” said Gregor.
“None of you have any sense of adventure.”
“You’re aboard the TARDIS,” the Doctor explained.
“It’s a spaceship and time machine,” Ianto cut in.
Joey scurried back to Chase’s side. He bent over, as though reading something on the tiger’s head, and announced, “We’re in Singapore. In the mid-1700s.”
“Thanks,” the Doctor said, “ruin the surprise.”
Joey put her ears back and growled at him.
Olli pointed. “Since no one’s going to ask, why’s there a tiger?”
“Her name’s Joey.” Chase beamed. “She’s actually a large spider-like robot that projects hallucinations into your mind.”
“So, still want to go home?” The Doctor leaned against one of the large, squiggly columns and grinned, as though having a mind-altering spider robot on board was the best recommendation one could give. “Or you could stay and see the universe. Like I said, Earth will be fine, and I can drop you off just an hour after you left whenever you want.”
“You’re encouraging them to stay?” asked Jack.
“They’re clever. Killed two Daleks. You only ever killed two Daleks.”
“Yeah, by myself.”
“You’re being immature, Jack,” Ianto said.
“I am not.”
“Just because you want the Doctor to yourself--”
The Doctor spluttered.
Jack threw up his hands. “They can stay! I don’t object. German, clever, and hot, perfect combination.” He winked at Olivia.
“Does anyone have a change of clothing I could borrow?” Christian asked.
Chase pointed in the direction of the living quarters. “There are a bunch of extra rooms further down the hall. Just pick one. They all have bathrooms.”
Ianto headed over. “You look about my size. I’ll try to find something.”
“I’ll help!” Olli said, jogging after them. Definitely dating.
“You mean you actually wear something other than suits?” Chase called after Ianto as they disappeared through the doorway.
Gregor exchanged looks with Olivia. His gaze slid down to her crowbar, and he shrugged. “We’ll stay. It could be fun.”
“We’ll need clothes,” Olivia announced. “I say we go shopping.”
“In eighteenth century Singapore?”
“I’ve always wanted to see Christian in a kimono.”
“Hold on,” Cuddy said, “how am I supposed to get a toothbrush in eighteenth century Singapore?”
“What is with you people and the past?” the Doctor replied. “You think people only became civilized when you were born?”
Jack rolled his eyes, but Cameron replied, “Admit it, civilization is defined by the existence of automatic toilets.”
“Actually, on Gallifrey, we--”
“Whoa, whoa.” Gregor held up a hand. “Too much information.”
“We don’t have money,” Chase noted.
“Oh please, you think I don’t have gold on board?” The Doctor bounded off into another hallway. “This way, come on, metal is heavy, you know.”
“Gold?” Olivia squealed. “How much do you think he has?”
“Don’t even think about it,” Cameron said as she wheeled past. Olivia stuck her tongue out at her and muttered something about cheap perfume and prostitutes.
The passageway twisted and wound, so that they followed the Doctor more by the sound of his footsteps than by sight. The Doctor clearly believed in consistency, because the console room wasn’t the only place that resembled the interior of a tree. In fact, everything had an organic appearance, with some of the walls possessing folds and knots, while the ground felt like it angled up, letting them climb in circles so that any moment, Cuddy expected to see the sun break through a canopy of leaves.
Jack tapped her arm and pointed at a doorway. Inscribed in maybe size eight font along the right side of the frame was the marking ‘7A3.’ The door they’d passed was 7A2 and the next one over was 7A5, which implied Ianto’s “kinky” room probably connected the two.
The procession ground to an immediate halt as the Doctor yelled, “Don’t you dare, Jack!”
“We’ll check it out later,” Jack whispered, grinning.
If anybody had hoped for a large treasure stash, they were disappointed. “The problem is, every once in a while, I’ve had to jettison rooms from the TARDIS--well just once, actually, but if it happened once, it could happen again--so it’s best to spread valuables around,” the Doctor explained as he fumbled through a box of hammers and extracted four worn coins from the bottom. Then they moved on to the next room, where he found a bar of gold and two silver blobs in a stocking.
“Have you ever lost a bedroom?” Chase asked.
“Well, yes, oh look, necklaces!” The Doctor threw four shell necklaces behind him as he continued rummaging through a locker. They hit Jack square in the face. “These are worth a lot, actually. Good for bartering.”
“We were talking about bedrooms,” Chase pressed on.
“Don’t worry, I moved the ones you have close to the control room. They’re within a buffer zone that never gets ejected. Honestly, it’s not a common occurrence.”
“Who wants these?” Jack jangled the necklaces as though tempting a cat.
Olivia contemplated them. “How much are they worth?”
“Tons,” the Doctor insisted. “And more portable than gold. What humans don’t know is that there’s a planet, Kelpax, that’s littered with those shells. They spontaneously materialize--it’s a phenomenon I want to investigate some day. They pay tourists to take them away because otherwise the planet would begin fusion processes within a decade.”
Jack suddenly found himself empty-handed. Olivia had three and was disputing possession of the fourth in a tug-of-war match with Cameron.
“You don’t need that many,” Cameron snapped. “What do you want to do, buy the whole island?”
“You’re stealing from the handicapped!”
Gregor hefted the gold bar. “Let go or I’ll tell Olli.”
Cameron’s wheelchair tipped as she suddenly won the match, but she regained her balance just before capsizing. Olivia stuffed the remaining three into her purse. “That one looks better on you anyway. It matches your face.”
Chase made a face. “They look like shriveled mushrooms.”
“Exactly.” Olivia sauntered out of the room and thus missed the Doctor’s discovery of an extremely large diamond.
Three rooms later, they’d amassed enough wealth to buy a meal at an airport, so they headed out.
A heavy mist lay on the North Sea such that Sir Patrick Spens could barely make out the bow of the ship from his position beside the wheel. Luckily, the chances that they would hit floating ice was minimal, as they were barely moving. Whether something would hit them was another matter.
It was cold, the night showing no signs of spring, though he admitted they were still closer to winter than summer. Nevertheless, a few more hours would bring the sun, which should burn off the fog and allow them to proceed, even if it was with rowers.
“‘Tis a bad night to be out of your cabin, cap’n,” Unlucky Rocky, his first mate, said. “You should be in bed.”
“Superstition,” replied Sir Patrick. After all, his first mate’s nickname had come about merely because he was unfortunate enough to be born on a Friday the Thirteenth with a poorly chosen name. As for himself, Sir Patrick’s own family had begged him not to go on this expedition, reminding him of the ballad he’d spent a childhood learning to ignore. He’d pointed out that if his father hadn’t been stupid enough to give him that first name, they wouldn’t be having this discussion. It wasn’t like they were the only trading vessel on the North Sea at this time of year.
“Oooh, under the sea...”
Despite himself, he whirled around to face Rocky, who had turned so pale his face blended in with the fog. They’d heard singing--ethereal voices. It couldn’t be the crew--though he’d heard some of them pursued unusual activities during shore leave, which might explain the corsets he’d found on board a week ago.
“Darling it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me!”
Rocky pointed a trembling finger at the darkness beyond the railing. “It’s coming from over there.”
“Nonsense. I don’t hear any singing at all.”
“Then how do you know I’m talking about singing?”
They heard a sound like an arrow hissing through the air, followed by a clank as a grappling hook locked onto the railing. Sir Patrick unsheathed his sword and charged, screaming: “Pirates! All hands on deck! Pirates!”
He brought his blade down upon the rope so hard it dug into the wood beneath. The length tumbled into the white abyss below, but he heard neither the splash of a human body hitting water nor the thud of the rope hitting a boat.
From beside the foremast, a dark, glistening form rose up from the deck. His mind jumped to the image of a ghost rising from the grave, and it didn’t help that as far as he could tell, the figure’s hair covered its face, falling all the way to the waist. He forced himself to step closer even as Rocky backed away, falling down a flight of stairs.
Water dripped down the creature’s hair, puddling around what looked to be the outline of a dress. At that moment, the mist cleared enough to let a few rays of moonlight through, and he saw scales flash. He froze, feeling his lungs seize as he saw fins.
Delicate hands that wouldn’t have looked out of place on a princess pushed the hair back, revealing the most beautiful female face he’d ever seen, like a lady at King Arthur’s court, or like the Lady of the Lake, newly risen from her domain. Against all instinct, he forced himself to look down at her waist, seeing where bare human flesh melded into the body of a fish. He had to remind himself she was a monster, or he’d lose himself in her eyes, her tender skin, her breasts. Oh god, her breasts... No, look away, look away! Too late... did she have no modesty at all? Not even a seashell or a starfish...
“What is your name, good captain?” And her voice. The voice of an angel. Why was the world so cruel? He stammered something along the lines of “Wibba-wah-wooo” and she smiled like a mother caressing her newborn babe. “I am Ariel,” she said calmly. “Queen of the mermaids.”
“Aren’t you supposed to...” he gulped, “...to be swimming alongside or something?” There was nothing in the legends about grappling hooks and acrobatics.
“It’s cold in the water,” she said, running her hands along her neck and shoulders as though to warm them. “You wouldn’t want us to freeze, would you?” The hands moved lower. Lower. Now they were upon her breasts. “You wouldn’t want us to get stiff, would you?”
“Us?” he asked, his voice several pitches above normal.
Several more clanks, and this time he saw the forms soaring up and up, then tumbling down toward the deck. All women, their perfect bodies glowing under the moon, their fins swaying in the wind of their descent.
SPLAT SPLAT SPLAT!
He winced as they crashed onto the hard wood surface, flopping like dying fish before pushing themselves upright and giving him winning smiles. Part of him was repulsed, but that was mostly just the civilized part of his brain, which accounted for a very, very, extremely teeny-weeny, tiny, small part of his total body mass. The rest of him was drawn to them like a moth to a flame. And like the moth, he felt the heat... it was unbearable, but something told him he could quench it in their sticky, wet embrace.
CRASH! He had enough time to register a large form drop from the sky before he had to duck to avoid the storm of wooden debris that erupted from the newcomer’s landing.
Ariel sighed and dragged herself over to the hole in his deck, pulling, grunting and wriggling her way over the ground like an injured horse being set upon by hounds. Somehow, when she reached her destination, she became all poise and grace once more, so that his mind rebelled against the thought of her looking silly in any way. “Oh Toots, I thought I told you to wait down there.” In his mind, this translated to: “Oh Sir Patrick I want you to ravish me as roughly as the sea swells pound and for as long as the arctic winter nights last!”
“That is not, errmph, fair, aaaaghhk, at all, OOMPH,” said the mermaid called Toots as she dragged herself out of his cargo hold. Describing her as large had been an understatement of extreme magnitudes. She was larger than any opera singer who had ever worn a horned Viking hat, and the bottom half of her put him more in mind of a whale than a fish. He judged her weight at over four hundred pounds, and every bit of that was jiggling as she dragged herself over to him. He had thought Ariel was beautiful, yet Toots managed to make her look like Unlucky Rocky in a corset. If he wasn’t still holding his breath from terror, her beauty would’ve taken his breath away.
“Why hello there, gorgeous,” she said when she was just inches from his feet. Pushing herself into a sitting position--which placed her head at the right height for a certain activity that this was not the right time for. “What’s your name?”
“Sir, sir, sir--” He shook himself. “Sir Patrick Spens,” he said as gruffly as he could. His voice was still an octave too high.
Toots’ eyes widened, and she trembled as she let out hoots of laughter at just the right frequency to set the ship resonating, so that the wood seemed to laugh with her. Then she gave him a good-humored slap, but unfortunately, she was at the right height for that slap to be extremely painful. The other mermaids joined in the merriment as he doubled over.
“Well, that makes me feel a lot better,” said one of the other mermaids in response to his name.
“Yes, Anastasia, it’d be terrible if we met a sailor who wasn’t prepared for us!” exclaimed a fourth mermaid.
Ariel held up a hand and everyone fell silent. “That’s enough. I speak for us, remember?” The silence continued, but there was no mistaking it for anything but assent. “Good. Then Sir Patrick, I must tell you something.”
He straightened up, though his right leg kept twitching. “All right...”
“You are near shooooooore, Sir Patrick!” Ariel said in as dramatic and exaggerated a voice as possible, waving her hands about. “But I feeeear you shall neeeeeeee’er spy laaaaand!” All the mermaids broke down into hysterical cackles again.
This struck a chord, and anger welled up, overwhelming all other emotions. “That’s enough!” he snapped, raising his blade. “Why are you here, and if it is for mischief, then you have chosen the wrong vessel!”
Once again, the laughter stopped as though cut off by a knife, but this time, the air was rife with tension, and Sir Patrick felt his heart beat faster. Ariel slithered over, reminding him of a poisonous slug, and she raised herself up to meet his eyes, balancing on her fins. She caressed his face and drew closer so that their breath mingled and their lips almost touched.
“Do you know the nightingale?” she asked.
“We seek the nightingale. Do you know her?”
He had a few seconds to contemplate whether this was a code or whether he had indeed ever heard of a woman called nightingale. Patience seeped out of Ariel’s expression like sand from an hourglass, replaced by a vindictiveness that almost overwhelmed her beauty. “No,” he replied. “No, I don’t.”
“Oh.” She sank to the floor. “That’s too bad.” A snap of her fingers sent the mermaids scurrying. There was a clatter like beads clacking together, and he saw a troupe of crabs climb on board. “Sebastian!”
One of the crabs broke off from the rest to join Ariel. He clacked his pincers in time as Ariel counted, “One, two, three, four.”
“Hakuna matataaaa!” the crab bellowed. “What a wonderful-- erp.”
The look Ariel gave Sebastian was enough to freeze water in the Caribbean. Sir Patrick was so busy feeling glad it wasn’t directed at him that he didn’t wonder why a crab could sing. There was some uncomfortable shifting amongst the remaining crabs, who had formed elegant chorus lines.
“No! No!” Sebastian said. “Please mistress, let me try again!” He began howling when Ariel picked him up. “Please! I don’t wanna--” CRUNCH.
Sir Patrick gaped as Ariel tore the crab in half and began chewing on the dripping remains. “Mmm, talent tastes so good,” Ariel said, unaware of the tradition of eating with your mouth shut. She pointed seemingly at random, but from the way all the crabs were looking at her target, he guessed appearances were deceiving. “You, new Sebastian, go.”
The crab moved so fast he had to slide into position rather than slow down and began singing immediately. “The seaweed is always greener, In somebody else’s lake!”
“You dream about going up there,” the crustacean chorus joined in, “But that is a big mistake.”
The mermaids began swaying. “Just look at the world around you, Down there on the ocean floor.”
“Such tasty morsels surround you,” Ariel continued, also oblivious about the rule regarding not singing while eating. “What more is you lookin’ for?” She offered him a claw, adding, “It’s the meatiest part.”
He shook his head, suppressing the urge to throw up, only to be swept into Toots’ arms as she started flopping around in an extremely vague imitation of human dance.
Under the sea, under the sea. Darling it’s better down where it’s wetter, take it from me! Up on the shore they work all day, out in the sun they slave away, while we devotin’ full time to floatin’, under the sea!
Sir Patrick was too busy trying not to get crushed by Toots to notice that as they sang, large barrels were being flung on board by, presumably, the mermaids still in the sea. By the time the chorus finished, the mermaids had some forty containers lined up from stern to bow, having been working as they sang, in true musical tradition.
Finally, Toots let him go and he lay beside the wheel, feeling as though he’d run a hundred miles. Ariel rolled to his side and lay a wet kiss upon his lips. “So how would you like to join us under the sea?”
“I, uh, I don’t think so,” he said, mind spinning. “Like you said, it’s a bit cold down there.”
“Oh don’t worry. You’ll be burning hot soon enough.”
As suddenly as she arrived, Ariel disappeared. He heard soft splashes accompanied by giggling, and when he looked up, he was alone again. Breathing a sigh of relief that he’d gotten off so easily, he sat up.
That was when he heard the hissing.
Looking over, he noticed the barrels for the first time. Under the moonlight, he could see faint specks of black powder from where one was leaking. And further away, tiny flames sparked as they drew closer and closer to the nearest container.
“Bollocks!” he screamed, and hopefully, he enjoyed his choice of words, because it was the last thing he ever said.
Ianto showed Olli his wardrobe while Christian showered, and Ianto knew something was wrong when he felt awkward about the fact that they weren’t going through a closet of suits. Maybe he should take more vacation time. One of the shirts they found still had the price tag attached.
“Let me guess,” Olli said, “you’re a workaholic.”
“We monitor a rift in space and time. You don’t ever really switch off from something like that.” That wasn’t strictly true. Gwen seemed to manage, going so far as showing up late every once in a while. But then again, that was, in a way, part of her job description.
“That’s the only reason?”
“Isn’t that enough?”
“So it has nothing to do with the looks you keep giving the captain?”
“It did.” He flung the black t-shirt across the room in disgust. “I can’t believe I used to wear anything this tight. Nothing will fit him.”
Olli grinned. “I know that. How do you?”
“My father was a tailor. You learn to size people up.”
“Good, or I might have to start getting jealous.” He laughed.
The door slid open and Christian emerged in a towel. “You’re not fighting over me already?”
“Yes, Mr. Macho. Everybody wants you.”
“So did you find anything or were you too busy comparing notes?”
Olli tossed him some boxers. “You can try the other stuff on, but you’d better not plan on moving.”
“Or breathing,” Ianto added. “Let’s check out the Doctor’s dressing room.”
“The Doctor?” Both men asked incredulously. The only thing skinnier than the Doctor was a scarecrow.
“He can change forms, so I’m guessing he wasn’t always that thin. Anyway, he has all sorts of clothes, so he probably plans for his companions too. I mean, we could try some of Jack’s things, but that opens a whole other can of worms.”
Christian shrugged. “Whatever you think is best.”
Ianto hesitated a moment, suppressing the urge to put everything back in place, before he guided them out. “We should all change, actually,” he said, his mind racing ahead. “It’s probably better to blend in with the local culture.”
“And what is the local culture?” Olli asked.
“Chinese, Indian and Malay are the predominant ethnic groups.” It didn’t take long to reach seven alpha three, and the door opened as though anticipating their presence. When he noticed Christian looking around for a motion sensor, he explained, “The TARDIS is sort of alive. I don’t know the details, but if it--uh, she, according to the Doctor--likes you, you’ll find life a lot smoother. I think the rooms sometimes shuffle around, so if you’re looking for something, keep an eye on the numberings on the doors, because you might find the one you want much sooner than you think.”
“What if she doesn’t like you?” Christian asked.
Olli gave him a small peck on the cheek before disappearing behind a rack. “Who could resist you?”
Ianto glanced at a board with rows of dried celery pinned to it and wondered whether he should throw it out. “If the Doctor lets you on board, I’m guessing the worst she’ll be is ambivalent, in which case you’ll have to walk a bit more and open your own doors.” The celery was definitely molding, which was something he’d never been able to notice on celery before, but on the other hand, maybe Time Lords had strange ideas about collectible items.
Christian approached the nearest door and gave it a cautious look. It swung open, and he grinned like a kid on Christmas morning. Then he froze and shot Ianto a confused look. “Is there something we should know about the Doctor?”
“Oh.” Seven alpha four. Right. The four meter square room with handcuffs lining the walls. “I asked him about that. He dodged the question, but I can tell you they’re not for arrests.”
Olli reappeared carrying three sets of robes and studded leather. “Have you seen his collection of scarves? It's amazing!” Ianto mentally dressed himself in one of the outfits and discovered he looked like a terra cotta warrior come to life. He wondered what Jack would say.
Before he could continue or terminate that thought process, rapid footsteps echoed down the hall, and the Doctor yelled, “Jack! I told you not to sneak back here!” He slid into view, hair standing up even more than usual, and caught sight of Ianto and realized his mistake. “Oh,” he said, instantly calming down. Then he caught sight of Christian. “Oh.”
Ianto grabbed a green set of robes and began undressing. He wasn’t sure why he felt such an urgent need to change in front of the Doctor, but he couldn’t stop now that he’d begun or it’d become even more awkward. “Personally, I expected you to lock that room the moment I mentioned it,” he said.
The Doctor blinked and turned away. “Yes, well, I did. The TARDIS must really like someone.” Christian beamed. “Incidentally, the rest of your friends are wandering around the flea market in shorts and t-shirts. Except for Jack, who’s still wearing that ridiculous greatcoat.”
“You wear a coat too,” Ianto pointed out. “Anyway, it’s a little cold outside.”
“It’s never cold in Singapore. And how do you know it’s cold?”
“Weather readings in my room. Twenty degrees. Below average, I’ll admit, but I can’t imagine the TARDIS being wrong. So mind explaining the handcuffs?”
“They’re sonic. And don’t you dare tell Jack. You should’ve heard what he said about my screwdriver.”
“How do they work?” Ianto couldn’t resist. Few sonic artifacts came through the Rift, but he’d heard stories from Jack. They were quite advanced technology, which explained the rarity. He took one pair off the wall, causing the Doctor to dash forward.
“That’s not a good idea!” he yelled.
His fingers found a release along the insides, and with a click, the outer band of metal came loose. He spun it and instantly heard a shrill squeal.
“Duck!” the Doctor yelled, tackling Christian and Olli as a shockwave of blue light burst forth. When the dust cleared, Ianto found himself lying in the far corner of the room, covered by manacles, which had all flown at him as though magnetically attracted. None had fallen anywhere else.
In the dressing room, a hurricane had blown through, knocking everything out of place and creating a carpet of fabric half a meter thick by stripping the racks clean. The Doctor appeared to have experienced the same problem with object magnetism, though in his case, the objects were the pieces of celery pinned to the board. He plucked one out of his hair and nibbled the end, eliciting several groans of disgust from the others, Ianto included.
“Hmm,” he said, “brings back good memories.”
Ianto thumbed the safety latch back into place and set the handcuffs aside. “Now I know why you said they were dangerous.”
“You know, sometimes you’re as bad as Jack.”
“I blame it on the work environment.”
“Right. So if we’re done playing with my toys, get dressed and head out. There’s a bargain on fresh fruit and coffee beans. That’s always been a problem--never have enough fresh fruit. I should just plant some apple trees in the cloister room.”
The smell of incense was a little overwhelming as Chase perused the little shop. Wicker cages hung from the ceiling, each containing several little yellow birds, chirping and fluttering about. Joey’s tail lashed as she surveyed the creatures, which she informed him were parakeets, seeming a little annoyed that he couldn’t identify them on sight. The shopkeeper eyed her nervously, but Chase didn’t want to tell her to wait outside. Red curtains covered the windows and doorways so that the primary source of light was several braziers placed around the room, making the atmosphere hot and stuffy. In the backroom, he caught sight of several scantily clad woman moving around, visible by the glimmer of their jewels, and he had the vague suspicion that if Joey left, someone would either rob him or persuade him into joining them in some form of obscene behavior.
He really liked the birds though, even if Cuddy had warned him against bringing aboard any more pets.
The curtain over the doorway parted and Jack Harkness burst in like a bulldozer through foliage. “Did your parents not let you have a dog when you were a kid or something?” He grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him out.
Chase waved happily at the shopkeeper. “Maybe I’ll see you later!” She looked pleased to see him go, which was disappointing. He turned back to Jack. “What’s the hurry?”
“That was an opium den.”
“Oh.” So maybe the birds weren’t for sale. That would explain a lot.
They took several turns to emerge out of an alleyway into a bustling market. Several chickens squawked at their appearance, flapping against the confines of their cage. “Look!” Chase pointed at a stall further down. “Ducks!”
“Yes. They like their poultry fresh.”
Chase gaped. “What? They eat the ducks?” He made a beeline for the vendor but Jack grabbed the back of his shirt. After a brief struggle, the captain was victorious. “Let me go!”
“You can’t buy the ducks!”
“Because lots of ducks get eaten every day. And also, the others would kill both of us.”
“You’re not my appointed guardian.”
Jack waved a leather pouch in front of his face. “You gave all your coins to Cuddy, remember?”
The pouch vanished into his pocket when Chase made a snatch for it. “I’ll barter then.” He began turning around but Jack grabbed his arms and forced him to hold still.
“You don’t want to turn around right now.”
“Why not?” Chase tried to turn his head but realized that, since both of Jack’s hands were occupied, he’d probably get kissed if he tried. He held still, and at that moment, heard quacking cut off by a thunk. This was followed by a soft whimper that he realized came from his own throat. Shaking Jack loose, he dashed away in the opposite direction and ran straight into a gruff-looking man with enough weapons on him to run his own arms dealership.
Realizing his mistake, Chase backed away until he felt the reassuring pressure of Joey behind him. “Uh, terribly sorry.”
The man took in his appearance and his scowl became replaced by a predatory smile. “That’s quite fine. Apple?”
“No, my name is Chase. Oh.” The man was offering an apple. “Uh, sure. Thanks.”
“I am Hector Barbossa. You look new to these parts.”
“Well, yeah, just a little...”
Jack barged into the conversation, and Chase breathed a sigh of relief. “Captain Jack Harkness. Nice to meet you.”
“Aye? A captain. Which vessel in the harbor is yours?”
“I don’t know if I should tell you that,” replied Jack, crossing his arms. “You look like a rogue pirate to me.”
“I wouldn’t call myself a rogue. Much too old for that.”
Chase’s jaw dropped. “You’re a pirate?” Joey circled around to sit in front of him and bared her teeth at Barbossa.
“Relax.” Jack patted him on the shoulder. “It’s the 1700s. Everyone’s a pirate.”
“You know that from personal experience, do you?”
“No. I was a century late. But, you know, you hear things.”
“A century late?” Barbossa didn’t seem fazed by their discussion, but Chase felt it was best if they left as soon as possible. He noticed Cuddy at that moment, standing right behind Barbossa.
“Do you have any toothbrushes?” she asked the vendor. “People tell me you’re the only one who makes any worth buying.”
The old man nodded. “Ah, you are just in time. Our products are very high quality, and I have one brush remaining. I will get it.”
“What?” Barbossa roared. “No!” He turned around and lunged at the stall. “I was here first!” So that solved the problem of how to distract Barbossa, but now Cuddy had him by the collar, foiling their perfect opening for an escape.
“No, no, no!” the seller yelled. “No fighting allowed between my customers!”
“The customer is always right,” Barbossa growled, hand on the hilt of his sword.
Cuddy let him go. “Fine. But I was here first.”
Barbossa removed a handful of silver pennies. “I’ll pay twice the price, whatever it is.”
“I’ll double anything he offers!” Cuddy dropped a gold coin. The shopkeeper’s eyes went wide. Then he scurried off and brought back a single toothbrush which, while not shabby, didn’t hold a candle to anything sold at, say, K-Mart, except for that fact that it lay on a velvet cushion. Chase wondered if the padding felt as soft as it looked.
Barbossa added four gold coins to his pile of silver. Cuddy put down everything Chase had given her. The pirate was glaring at her, and Chase decided that, Rambo or not, Cuddy couldn’t defeat him unarmed.
“Uh, maybe we can just pick up a toothbrush somewhere else,” he said, tapping her shoulder. Cuddy gave him one glance, then looked over to Jack.
“Oh good. Give me your money, Jack.”
The captain sighed but handed over his pouch.
“Shouldn’t we be getting away?” Chase asked.
Jack’s eyes grew distant as he stared at Cuddy’s heaving bosom. “I love an assertive woman.”
“There are thousands of pharmacies! Can’t we just go to one of those? Stop bidding against a pirate--this isn’t eBay!”
Cuddy paused long enough to snap, “We’ve been bouncing around like pinballs for the last three hours! Do you really trust him to find us a drug store? Here, I don’t know how much this is worth, but I’m sure it’s more than the lecherous old swordsman has.”
“Actually, I have another bag.” Barbossa cackled. “And if you permit me to go back to my ship, I can give three times anything she has.”
“No, no, I wouldn’t trouble you to do that,” the shopkeeper said, clearly doubting Barbossa would ever return if he got his hands on the toothbrush. “What is present is sufficient to complete the deal.”
“Excellent.” Barbossa poured out a pile of gold bracelets that stacked higher than both their previous amounts combined. Chase decided not to point out that, technically, the highest bidder won; you didn’t have to blow the other person out of the water.
Cuddy looked crestfallen. Everything the Doctor had scrounged up didn’t equal a quarter of what Barbossa just produced, and thanks to the pirate’s earlier offer, they couldn’t go back to the TARDIS and look under the mattresses for more. Barbossa winked at her, recognizing her expression as one of defeat. Then Cuddy looked up and said, “I’ll trade you Jack!”
“Okay, now it’s time to go,” Jack said, snapping to attention and pushing Chase in the direction of the TARDIS. Cuddy grabbed him and forced his arm behind his back so that he couldn’t move without dislocating his shoulder. “Ow! When’d you learn to do that?”
“Self-defense classes at the university.” She turned back to the shopkeeper. “So what do you say? Strong and handsome shop assistant, extremely hardy.”
“Hey look!” Chase said. “Isn’t that Olivia?” Maybe Cuddy would get in a fight with her and forget about the toothbrush. Both women looked annoyed enough.
The three necklaces swung in Olivia’s hand as she stormed up to them. “The Doctor lied to me! These are worthless!”
“Really?” Jack was rather calm for a man with his arm twisted behind him. “I know for a fact he was telling the truth.”
“Yeah? Try telling that to Angela Merkel on steroids back there!” She switched to an exaggerated Asian accent: “I sell master work, not silly shell on string. Come back when girl move up from whoring in fish market.”
Jack choked down a snort of laughter. Olivia threw the necklaces at Cuddy in disgust, and the shopkeeper looked up from counting money to investigate the new source of commotion. His face lit up as he caught sight of the shells.
“Why didn’t you tell me you had those?” he exclaimed. Then, as though terrified, he bowed before her. “But of course, you must be a noble woman to possess so many. Perhaps someone visiting Lady Elizabeth? Of course, it is not my place to ask, and one would never part with something so precious for a mere toothbrush. Forgive me.”
Olivia looked awfully like a fish at that moment. “You mean these?” Cuddy asked, shoving the necklaces at the little man. He cringed back, afraid to touch them.
“Yes, of course. More precious than gemstones.”
“I’ll give you all three for the toothbrush,” Cuddy said. Olivia opened her mouth to protest, but Jack took the opportunity to twist away from Cuddy and ended up falling into her. They went down in a heap. Cuddy ignored them.
The shopkeeper reached for one, fingers trembling as though suspecting a trick. He tapped a single shell, then jerked back as the string swung like a pendulum. “No, I cannot accept them. They are too valuable. But... perhaps... my lady would be willing to part with one?”
“Of course.” She smiled as Barbossa growled at her.
The toothbrush entered her possession with a lot of bowing, and the shopkeeper retreated with his precious find. “Please, you are welcome to your coins,” he said before departing with all his wares. Chase wondered whether he’d come back or if that necklace could buy him a house from Lady Elizabeth, whoever that was. Probably the governor’s wife.
“I hope there are no ill feelings,” Cuddy told Barbossa as they swept their money back into bags. She tossed the remaining necklaces at Olivia as she tucked the toothbrush into her bra. As she looked around for a place to discard the box, Chase pounced and relieved her of the burden. It was, indeed, every bit as soft as he’d imagined. He let Joey sniff it before securing it in his backpack, which he’d liberated from the hospital shop before departing. It had Powerpuff Girls on it, but one couldn’t be picky in a ravaged, burnt-out store.
“Absolutely not. It was fate.” Barbossa offered a hand and Cuddy shook it. “But if you are feeling gracious in victory, perhaps you could show me where you are staying. I don’t meet travelers like you every day, wealthy and dressed so strangely.”
Chase shook his head. “He’s a pirate!”
“And you’re a coward, but I don’t hold that against you.”
“I’m not a coward!”
“I’m afraid I can’t,” said Cuddy. “But I’ll buy you a drink to make up for it.”
“That’s a deal, lass.”
Joey gave him a confused look as Cuddy and Barbossa departed amiably. Chase shrugged. “People are weird sometimes. Just... if you ever have to ask for an explanation, don’t ask House.”
“House heard that,” Jack reminded him.
“Anyway, it’s not that I trust Barbossa, and I don’t think Cuddy does either, but when you’re traveling with the Doctor, you have to take a laid back approach to things or drive yourself crazy. Thirty bucks Barbossa tries to steal the toothbrush.”
Chase had a few mental images he’d rather not have imagined, considering where Cuddy had placed her prize. Jack got that distant look again. “No bet,” Chase replied. “Fifty that Cuddy beats him up for trying, though.”
“Arm hold or strangulation?”
That was easy. “Arm hold. Barbossa has knives.”
“I don’t know how much experience you have with gambling, but higher-valued bets are placed on less-likely events.”
“When you work with House, you take what you can get. So... deal?”
“Deal.” They jogged after Cuddy and Barbossa, but pursuing them wasn’t hard as their clothing stood out in the crowd. Several minutes later, Jack added, “You owe me if Barbossa doesn’t make a move, right?”
“Good. Because I don’t think he’s interested in the toothbrush anymore.”
“How do you know?” Why did he always go against people who could outwit him?
“He’s been following us ever since we left the TARDIS.”
To Chapter 17: Part 2
Back to Chapter 16: The Universe
Summary: It’s all a bit domestic until rock golems burn down Singapore. Two of our heroes get kidnapped, Cuddy bids against Barbossa for a toothbrush, Gregor and Ianto bond over magic coffee, and sociopathic mermaids attack a ship.