Déjà vu of Déjà vu of Déjà vu
(Part 1 of 2)
Click here for list of characters and general info.
Tosh was pretty sure her eyes were open, but she couldn't see. She felt that sort of half-awareness, as if she were floating inside a partially remembered dream.
There were whispers of shapes around her, more felt than seen, less tangible than smoke.
What do you feel? said one.
Where do you come from? said another.
What do you love?
She opened her mouth to answer, but no sound came out. Her throat felt parched.
What do you fear?
What do you hate?
She struggled to move, but each of her limbs felt like lead. She couldn't seem to get her brain to send the right signals.
What do you hope for?
What do you regret?
What do you...
What do you want?
Vimes stood stiffly in front of Vetinari's desk, waiting for the Patrician to look up from his pile of paperwork.
"Commander," Vetinari said after about ten minutes, as if Vimes had just then walked into the room. "I have something very important to tell you, but first, I would very much like to meet this doctor you've been carting around all day." Vimes didn't bother to wonder how Vetinari knew about that. Vetinari always knew about everything that went on in his city, and Vimes had learned long ago that it was futile to try to keep secrets.
"He's in the waiting room," he said, as if Vetinari didn't already know that too. The Patrician picked up a small bell on his desk and rang it. A second later, House was being shown in by one of Vetinari's numerous clerks.
"Where can I get a clock like that?" greeted House with enthusiasm. "It's brilliant! I can sense it would be extremely useful back home. I could put one in the clinic, it might encourage people not to come. Or one in my office for the same reason, although there might be some problems if I need to hide out there. Oh, if I got a whole bunch, I could put one in each patient's room the next time my cable dies! That would be quality entertainment, might also clear out some patients."
Vetinari stared. "Fascinating."
"What the hell kind of doctor are you?" said Vimes.
"So what's up?" said House.
"Please have a seat," Vetinari said, gesturing to the two empty, uncomfortable-looking chairs in front of his desk.
"Lovely," said House as he sat heavily. "I was beginning to cramp." Vimes rolled his eyes and declined to sit, as usual.
"Sir Samuel, you need to take the utmost care in dealing with this case." The Patrician was speaking with a strange intensity. Vimes didn't need to ask which case.
"We are taking every precaution--"
"Take them all twice. This is no ordinary foe you are dealing with."
Warning bells sounded in Vimes's head. "With all due respect, sir, we are doing everything we can, and I think we've dealt with worse."
"You haven't. Tell me, Sir Samuel, what do you know about Il Diluvio?" Vetinari carefully steepled his fingers, elbows on his desk. Vimes frowned.
"I believe they are also known here as The Company."
Vimes's frown deepened. "Not a whole lot. Small gang of rogues from Uberwald, very secretive, tend to involve themselves in important matters over there, but don't often leave Uberwald."
"Correct. In the absence of a unifying government in Uberwald, they consider themselves something of a secret police force."
"Ooo, mysterious! Is that 'company' as in a business, or as in 'honey, we're having company tonight!'?" said House, grinning.
"The latter, Dr. House. Two confirmed members of The Company have been sighted inside the city by reliable sources," continued Vetinari.
Vimes sucked in a breath. "Good name," said House, clearly unaffected by the atmosphere in the room. "Simple, which is good. Too many secret evil organizations try to over-complicate their names with all sorts of acronyms and crap. They don't realize it just makes them sound camp." He was ignored.
"Joshua Law was sighted traveling with am unknown woman, and also Felix Lowell, who was alone. They were seen separately, on different days and at opposite sides of the city, but it's still cause for alarm. As you said, The Company rarely travels this far from Uberwald." Vetinari shuffled some papers around. Vimes knew it was just for show, to occupy his hands--Vetinari never forgot anything.
"Law and the unknown woman appeared to be sightseeing. My spies followed them for about half the day today without noticing anything suspicious, but lost them not long after noon, near the Opera House. Lowell was spotted just inside the gates, but vanished almost right away. I don't yet know where he went." Vetinari's expression betrayed nothing, but Vimes knew he was perturbed by this; the Patrician wasn't used to being uninformed. Next to him, House was staying uncharacteristically quiet, but he still wore that stupid grin, and it was getting wider by the minute.
Vimes searched his memory for details about the known members and came up with a young man and... it was no use, he didn't remember anything about Lowell, except one thing. "Both Law and Lowell are notorious for working on their own," he said, hoping he was remembering correctly. "It doesn't necessarily mean that the Company is getting involved with anything here."
"It doesn't hurt to be careful, Sir Samuel, and it would be quite a coincidence for two of them to end up here." Vimes got the impression he wasn't being told anything and it vexed him, though he wasn't surprised.
"So these people are pretty dangerous, huh?" House spoke up. "Fancy themselves pretty important? How many of them are there?" Vetinari fixed him with a piercing stare. House didn't even seem to notice--Vimes was grudgingly impressed, but only a little.
"Only they know, I expect," said the Patrician. "There are no less than seven or eight members, and no more than twenty."
"That's a terrible estimation."
"Since they rarely gather, it's difficult to identify who is a real member and who is an imitator, of whom there are many. Furthermore, as Sir Samuel said, they rarely travel this far from Uberwald. They have great love for their country, but not so much for the people living in it. They act how they deem is best for Uberwald, and other countries don't matter."
Vimes considered them representative of everything wrong with coppers. You couldn't operate a police force like that. It just didn't work. Coppers have to be answerable to some high power, or else they'd just become another gang. Who watches the watchmen? It always came back to that.
House was following a different train of thought. "If this crazy, secret, and highly unlikely group of supervillains only care about... Uber Waldo, isn't it safe to assume that their business here has something to do with it?"
"Indeed, Doctor House. It's a worrying thought," said Vetinari.
"If you say so." House yawned, bored again.
"What does Rhys have to say about all this?" said Vimes.
"The Low King's official statement is that he knows nothing about it, but he is looking into it."
"And his unofficial statement?"
"He really does know nothing about it, and he really is looking into it."
Vimes rubbed his temples. "So why distinguish between the two?"
"By making an official statement that he doesn't know anything, he effectively ensures that people think he really does, and knowledge is a good thing for people to think you have." Vimes looked pained so Vetinari added, "It's all politics, Sir Samuel." Vimes groaned. House was laughing quietly. "Either way, the dwarfs are not involved in this, although I have no doubt they will do their best to change that."
"So if these supervillains from Where's Waldo are so secret, how come everything and their dog seems to know about them?" House cut in.
"They are very secretive," Vetinari explained. "That's why everyone knows. Secrets have a natural tendency not to stay secrets for long. They are the subject of much speculation and many folk tales. However, although their existence is hardly a real secret, all the details of their organization are. It's almost impossible to distinguish between fact and made-up stories. No one knows how many of them there are, or what they are going to do. There are only five confirmed members, and I suspect that they are only confirmed because they let themselves be. Uberwald is plenty big enough to hide effectively in."
It occurred to Vimes that it was a little odd how much Vetinari seemed to be telling House, about whom he presumably knew nothing at all. It wasn't like him to be so accommodating. "Getting back to the point," he said crankily, "If the dwarfs aren't involved, who is? None of the other options seem pleasant." Vimes had had enough of werewolves, vampires, and various other ghouls common to Uberwald to last him a lifetime.
"I'm afraid it is impossible to say at this point," said Vetinari. "I have people in all the major circles in Uberwald, but there are countless rogue vampires and werewolves, and most other natives don't keep such comprehensive social groups, which makes them more difficult to keep track of. Uberwald is a big place, Sir Samuel."
Vimes thought about all this. "What do you expect me to do about it? This all seems very political. I'm through with political. I've had it up to here with political."
"Calm down, Sir Samuel."
Vimes thought he was being perfectly calm, but he took a deep breath anyway. "Sir," he said.
"I don't expect you to do anything. In fact, just the opposite. I merely thought you ought to know. It's not your place to investigate this, but you can at least be aware of it so you can avoid trouble."
Not my place? though Vimes. If one of those cocky bastards commits a crime in my city, we'll see about whose place it is.
Out loud, he said, "Is that all, sir?"
"Please, don't let me detain you." Vetinari waved a hand dismissively. Grimacing, House stood, and Vimes headed gratefully for the door. "Oh, one more thing, Commander," said the Patrician, as if a thought had just occurred to him. Vimes stifled a groan and stopped, but didn't bother to turn around. "You must not, under any circumstances, go looking for The Company. Do not involve yourself in this. You have enough to deal with. This is not a matter for the Watch." House watched both of them, carefully and with apparent interest. After a long moment, Vimes said, "Sir," again, and walked out.
A couple minutes after they both had gone, Vetinari's head clerk, Drumknott, entered with a fresh pile of papers, which he deposited on the Patrician's desk.
"Tell me, Drumknott," said Lord Vetinari, "do you think I've gone soft?"
"How do you mean, sir?" said Drumknott.
"It occurs to me that perhaps I rely on the Commander a bit too much."
"It can be dangerous to place too much trust in any one person."
"I think it unlikely that Commander Vimes will do anything other than what you intend, sir," said the clerk loyally.
Vetinari looked troubled. "Oh dear, I do hope that is not the case. That would ruin everything." Drumknott's brow wrinkled. After a pause, Vetinari added, "What did you think of our visitor?"
"Doctor House, sir? He was very... blunt. He told me I need to spend more time in the sun if I ever want to find a lady."
"Did he now?" Something like a smile played over the Patrician's lip.
"If you don't mind me asking, sir, why did you want him in here when you were revealing highly confidential information? We don't know anything about him."
"Two reasons, Drumknott. The first is that he and his companions arrived in the city under very mysterious circumstances. Ensuring he stays with the Commander is a way of keeping an eye on him. I sense Doctor House is probably very similar to the Commander in many ways. Second, he is a chaotic element. Sometimes when a situation is most delicate, what is actually needed is something to shake things up. Every now and then, a chaotic element is necessary."
"I do not understand, sir."
"No, Drumknott, I expect you don't."
In the cell block, Sergeant Colon gesticulated wildly. "And then I said, 'BACK, YOU EVIL FIEND!' And do you know what he did?"
"... he blew up!"
"... You two can go on patrol. We've got the situation here covered," said the sergeant on duty.
The girl, who was dressed as a boy and had earlier that day broken into the Patrician's Palace, sat in the corner of a cell and sulked.
In the darkness below ground, a shadow stirred. Then, so did two other shadows. A fourth didn't bother. In actuality, they weren't really shadows, but they would have been shadows if there had been any light to cast them.
Darkness underground is not like regular darkness. Even on a moonless night, eyes can adjust to the dark and it is possible to see outlines and shadows, but in the depths there's nothing to adjust to. A man (or a dwarf, troll, or any other creature) could sit down there for eternity and never be able to see a thing, not even vague grey shades. Even that, though, isn't the real difference between the dark with which most are familiar and the dark that hides underground.
If you get down far enough in the deeps, you find darkness that is old, older than nearly anything else on the Disc. There are thousands of caverns below the surface and the darkness there is the kind that has never been exposed to natural light. It has existed there since the creation of the Disc. The Dwarfs thrive in underground caverns and mines. They think they know the dark, they think they've mastered it, but even dwarfs will only go down so far.
And who knows what manner of creature may have evolved out of the ancient, dusty, cold, still, merciless dark that exists in the untouched underbelly of the Disc?[*]
Many scientists and bad comedians alike have speculated on what would happen if the Dwarfs were ever to dig too deep and find themselves on the underside of the Disc, especially with regards to gravity, but that has no real relevance.
Everyone knows that Ankh-Morpork is built on Ankh-Morpork. And that is also built on Ankh-Morpork, which is built on Ankh-Morpork, and so on. But eventually, just like everything else eventually is, Ankh-Morpork is built on dirt and clay and mud.
The stirring shadows were not in the real dark of the Disc's depths, which is why they were shadows at all. Instead they were sitting in some ancient cellar several layers below the surface. The dwarfs that had been digging under the city had left months ago, but no great efforts had been made to refill their tunnels, and although the ever-oozing river had done most of the work already, even temporary dwarf tunnels are sturdy and some sections, though difficult to reach, remained clear.
It wasn't silent in the buried cellar. Someone was cursing softly, and a deep, toneless humming was emanating from one corner. Someone was snoring softly, but a slight echo made it difficult to pinpoint where it was coming from. The sound of rocks being methodically hit together was coming from the same general direction as the cursing. A spark flew, and a minute later some dry sticks and leaves caught fire, dimly illuminating the area.
The four occupants of the underground room made up a strange group. The one who had lit the fire was a petite blonde man wearing a loose, dark blue sweater, glasses, and a pleasant smile. His name was Sherlock Lamport. He looked normal--a person passing him on the streets wouldn't have looked twice. The same could not be said about the others.
The man behind Sherlock was so large that he wasn't immediately noticeable. The eyes passed right over him because it was more likely he was a wall than a person, and it took the brain several long seconds to register what the input had actually been. His name was Franklin, and he was enormous. His head was twice the size of a normal man's head, and his shoulders were three times as broad. He was perhaps eight feet tall or more, hunched over due to the low ceiling and covered in poorly-healed scars. Possibly as a result of some profound mistake, he was clad in a worn three-piece suit that did not at all match his otherwise rough appearance. He was humming softly to himself.
"Hush, Franklin, you're giving me a headache," said a woman from across the room. She sat stiffly on a rock, back rigid and face set in a severe expression. She looked like she had just walked off the screen of a slightly naughty Amazonian adventure movie. She wasn't wearing much, but what she was wearing was mostly leather and fur, with a sort of utility belt and very practical, heavy boots, because although she looked like she was trying to bring back the look of Conan the Barbarian, she wasn't stupid enough to try prancing around in leather heels just to complete the look. To complete the look, she was completely bald except for a thick, high ponytail that hung down her back.
The cavern's final occupant was snoring. His name was Gideon Rosen, and he was draped across a couple rocks in a position that looked something less than comfortable, but that didn't seem to affect his ability to sleep. His legs were stretched out in front of him, the black trousers making them appear longer and slimmer than they were, and a wide-brimmed hat was tilted over his face to shield it from the minimal amount of light present.
The woman, whose name was Elvira Mondego, made an irritated noise. "They're late. Where the hell is Law?"
"They'll be here," said Sherlock, cheerfully stoking the fire. A particularly loud snore came from Gideon's general direction.
"We've been here for an hour."
"You shouldn't let him get under your skin, you know."
"He's not under my skin," Elvira snapped. "His stupid comments don't bother me, I hate how unprofessional he is. I don't understand why the boss keeps him around."
"If you say," said Sherlock agreeably.
"Where's da boss?" rumbled Franklin.
"The boss isn't coming," said a pleasant-sounding voice from the room's entrance, and as they all looked over (except for Gideon, who was still asleep), Joshua Law sauntered in, a lazy grin on his face. He was followed by Genevieve West, who led Spot, her enormous dog.
"Law, you're late. As usual," said Elvira tersely.
"Joshua. Genevieve." Sherlock inclined his head in greeting, still occupied with the fire.
"Hey kiddo!" Law sauntered over and squatted next to the blonde. "How ya been? I haven't seen you in ages. Oh, hey Franklin! It's been a long time since I saw you too. I missed ya, big guy." Franklin was humming again, but he shrugged in response.
"Genevieve," said Elvira, "can't you control him a little better? You two are an hour late!"
"How exactly am I supposed to control him? He ran off! There was nothing I could do." Genevieve sat primly on the nearest outcropping of rocks to Elvira, and Spot promptly curled up at her feet. Together, the two women made a frighteningly severe image.
"What's this about the boss, now?" said Sherlock, finally sitting back.
"Change of plans. He's not coming. He's given us instructions to pass on, though, so don't worry yourself. Mommy and Daddy took care of things!" Both Genevieve and Sherlock made identical disgusted faces.
In the corner, Gideon snorted, shifted, and resumed snoring. Genevieve shot him a concerned look. "Should we wake him up?"
Law waved a hand dismissively. "Nah, leave him be." Genevieve looked to Elvira, who rolled her eyes and nodded.
"Good to see you Genevieve," said Franklin, who was just now catching up.
Law got down to business. "Franklin, the boss wants you to meet up with Bliss, she's already here and she'll find you by tonight. Most of us are already inside the city, but the boss, he doesn't want anyone else spotted if at all possible. You two are in charge of getting everyone else in without being noticed. Here, take this." He handed over a piece of folded paper and made sure Franklin had put it safely away and was paying attention before continuing. "That has the approximate times they'll be arriving, as well as where they'll be entering. Gotta be honest with you, big guy, I seriously doubted the wisdom of putting the two of you on this job. You guys make a great team, but you're a dumbass and she's a ditz, and that's not a good combination when it comes to subterfuge, but the boss has confidence you'll manage. The Patrician is not an easy man to sneak by, so use extra caution. And by extra caution, I mean no singing. Got it?"
Franklin grunted, and Law took it as agreement. "Excellent. Kiddo!" He turned to Sherlock and ruffled his hair enthusiastically. Sherlock narrowed his eyes, but Law failed to notice. "You're on surveillance, section 7-2. Standard operations, you know what to do." Sherlock nodded.
"Oh, hey Law, 'bout fuckin' time you showed up," said Gideon, who had finally woken up and was stretching lazily.
"How would you know?" snapped Elvira. "You were already snoring away over there when I got here, and I know that means you've probably been here since yesterday without waking up once."
"Educated guess." Gideon smirked at her.
"Elvira, gorgeous, you need to relax a bit. You're too high-strung," drawled Law, still grinning broadly despite the arguing. "Sleeping Beauty, excellent timing. Now stop being a little asshole and pay attention." Gideon shrugged and adjusted his hat. "Wonderful." Law pulled two more folded pieces of paper out of his pocket. "I don't know what these are," he said.
"Uh-huh," said Gideon. "Excellent, so glad you're here."
Law cheerfully ignored him and continued. "There's a job description in each, and they each require two of us. Boss said not to look until we were paired and only to look at our own, but he didn't care how we split up. So, Genevieve, babe, since we make such a lovely team, what do you say we--"
"No," Genevieve interrupted. Law strived to look hurt.
"But, babe, I--"
"Fine." He pouted. "My other gorgeous lady will gladly partner with me, won't she?"
Elvira glared at him. "Surely you must be joking."
"Is that a yes? It's hard to tell when I am so distracted by your beauty."
"Oh, don't play hard to get, now! What would I do without my ladies?" Law lamented.
"You can partner with Gideon," said Elvira with finality. She plucked one of the papers from Law's fingers. "Genevieve and I will take this one."
"Don't do this to me! You can't leave me with him! He's mean and he hates me!" Law pleaded.
"Oh, buck up," said Gideon, then he laid back again and shut his eyes. Law stared at him with exaggerated horror.
"You're really going to do this to me, aren't you? Ladies, you break my heart!"
"You'll be all right," said Sherlock briskly. "Are we finished?"
"I suppose so."
"I have one thing to add, then. As per the boss's instructions, Felix, Genevieve, and Law have all allowed themselves to be seen, but the boss doesn't want the Patrician any more than suspicious. Aside from Law, Franklin is the only one here who's a ‘known’ member, and let's keep it that way. I'll be monitoring all your positions in case there's a problem, but at least for now, absolute secrecy is our number one priority. If you have to sacrifice something else to keep that secrecy, be it efficiency or even the completion of a job, don't hesitate."
"No worries, kiddo," said Law, and this time he sounded wistful.
"What's with that tone?" asked Genevieve suspiciously.
"Just thinkin'. It's been years since we were all in the same place, working together. If things go as planned, we should all be in the city within thirty-six hours. It'll be nice, seeing everyone together."
"Six years," added Franklin. Genevieve looked surprised he could count that high.
"Technically, we've never all been in the same place at the same time," said Sherlock. "We've had two replacements and an addition since we were last gathered." He nodded towards Genevieve as an example.
"Just a minor detail," said Law. "Now, enough nostalgia. Complete your jobs, do them well, they're just set-up for the main event but they're still important. We'll be meeting again, hopefully for a full family reunion, in approximately forty hours. Unless you're told otherwise between now and then, assume we're meeting here. Now shoo!"
Aside from Gideon snoring once again in the corner, the others filed out fairly quickly. As Franklin's lumbering bulk disappeared down the dirt corridor, Law stood, careful not to bump his head on the ceiling, and stretched. He briefly examined the elaborately folded paper in his hand, but eventually put it back in his pocket without opening it. Then he made three long strides over to the other side of the room and gave Gideon a hard kick.
"Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty," he sang cheerfully as Gideon yelped in alarm, then kicked him again for good measure.
Wilson was finally starting to have fun.
It hadn't escaped his notice that out of all his colleagues, he had been handling the whole alien invasion business with the least amount of grace. However, upon finding himself wandering around on an alien planet with no one for company except Archimedes, the actual mathematician from ancient Greece, he had finally given up.
After giving up, things had gotten a lot more pleasant. If he actively didn't worry about anything that happened, it couldn't bother him. He didn't know why he hadn't thought of this before. It wasn't like it was new to him--he'd been actively ignoring House's crazy points for years.
At the moment, Wilson and Archimedes were content to explore, and Wilson cheerfully ignored the fact that he had no idea how to get back to the TARDIS.
As they were walking down a busy street lined with thatched-roof buildings, a mouth-watering aroma caught Wilson's attention, and he suddenly realized how long it had been since he'd last eaten. The aroma in question was coming from a small pub to his left.
"Hey," he said, "you hungry?"
"Yes, but have we anything to pay with?" said Archimedes.
"We'll think of something." His stomach growled in agreement, and they went in.
The first thing they noticed was that they were the tallest people in the room by at least two feet. They also noticed that the ceiling was far too low, and the chairs too small. They hesitated, but their presence didn't seem to bother all the short, armored people already in the pub, so they went in further, enticed by the wonderful aroma of food.
"What is that amazing smell?" Wilson asked the dwarf at the bar brightly.
"Pie," he grunted.
"Pie sounds great!" said Archimedes.
"Really? It doesn't smell like pie," said Wilson.
"Pie," insisted the dwarf. Wilson shrugged.
"All right, we'll take two pies." The dwarf grunted again and ambled off.
"This place is quite unique, isn't it?" said Archimedes cheerfully.
"What, you mean this pub, or this planet?"
"Well, both, really. How are we going to get back to that amazing machine?"
"You don't remember where it was either? Well, damn."
"This city is a maze. Who knew there were such incredible things in the universe?"
"Eh," Wilson said. They sat in silence for a minute longer, and then the dwarf came back and pushed two steaming pies in front of them. "Well, they do look like pies. Whenever someone says the word pie, I think of apple, but these are clearly meat pies. Which is good really, because I was looking for dinner, not dessert."
They both dug in, but quickly realized that the pie didn't taste as good as it smelled. The meat was stringy and tough, and there were absolutely no vegetables.
"I do have to wonder what sort of meat this is," said Archimedes dubiously after the first few bites. Wilson's stomach began to protest, and he felt a little green. "Excuse me," said Archimedes to the dwarf, "what's in this pie?"
"What do you think?" said the dwarf gruffly. "Rat, 'course."
Wilson clamped his hands over his mouth to keep from vomiting, stood up, slammed his head against the ceiling, and took off out the door. He vaguely heard Archimedes apologizing profusely before following him and the dwarf shouting about payment, but that was the least of his worries. He managed to hold back the vomit until he found an alley, and threw up in a corner.
"Er, hate to interrupt, but we'd better get moving," said Archimedes behind him, sounding nervous. "That dwarf didn't look very happy."
They ended up being chased for eight blocks by an angry dwarf waving an axe.
In the end, it hadn't taken Donna that long to explain the current situation to Sally, though she had skirted around details about where she and her friends had come from and what they were doing in Ankh-Morpork.
When she heard about Donna taking over the kitchen at the barracks, Sally had explained that she was independently wealthy and lent Donna some coins. Donna had used them to purchase some broccoli, cabbage, and other vegetables that boil quickly. She also purchased a lot of salt and pepper.
A couple blocks away from the barracks, Sally stopped another passing copper to get an update on the situation at the Patrician's Palace, where Donna knew Vimes and House had been headed before she intentionally lost them.
Through a brief lull in the natural noises of the city, Donna caught a strain of music, headed by a mellow voice.
"What if his captor is cruel in his greed / and keeps both the ransom and king?"
A cart went by and drowned out the music, and by the time the cart had passed the hustle and bustle of the city made it impossible to hear again.
"Come on, let's get going," said Sally from behind her.
Donna hoisted her bag of vegetables over her shoulder and nodded.
Around the next building and across the street, a cloaked and hooded person was playing a lute and singing. With the hood it was impossible to tell the person's age, and the voice was neutral enough that even the gender wasn't obvious, but it was loud and clear and it carried a complex tune, and Donna could hear it easily now. She listened to it vaguely, as they walked by.
"When the king heard the music of the minstrel boy / he brought him into the palace to sing. / And as reward for such a beautiful song / said he'd give him anything."
The tune stayed in her mind even after they were out of earshot.
For the second time that day, the barracks loomed up in front of her, enshrouded in the fog of the city and looking almost unbearably decrepit. She steeled herself and went inside.
It was just as bad inside as she remembered it, but now at least some of the sick smell was masked by the wonderful aroma coming from the pot at the end of the room.
"Miss! Miss! We've watched it just as you told us!" said one of the young women, coming up to greet her.
"Excellent job," said Donna, giving her a wide smile. "What was your name again?"
"Cathy, Miss. My father and brother are both sick, so I came here to help them." The girl couldn't have been older than fifteen.
"That's a very brave thing, Cathy. I hope they get better, I really do. Now tell me, is there a knife in here I can use?" She pointed to her sack as an explanation.
Luckily, there was a knife, and through there wasn't a cutting board, the tiny counter was already so worn down it didn't seem to matter. Donna thoroughly wiped it and then got to work chopping her vegetables.
"I'm going back to the station," said Sally, who had followed her in. "I'll find out where your friends have gone and come back later for you."
While she was finishing up dicing the cabbage, she noticed something strange about the opposite wall. Most of it was made of the same poorly constructed wooden boards as the other three walls, but a small section, well-hidden in the shadows made by the corner, was brick. It was maybe only three square feet, and dead in the center was a small metal door. It looked almost like an old brick oven.
She dumped her shredded cabbage into the pot and went outside.
She circled the building and still almost walked right by it, but sure enough, there on the end of one of the long walls was a brick protrusion.
She went back inside and went over to examine it.
"Cathy," she called. The girl scurried over. "What's this?"
Cathy looked a little surprised to see it. "I don't know, miss. I don't think I've ever noticed it before."
"If it's an oven, that could be useful."
"Should I open it and find out?"
"That's all right, I'll do it."
"Don't touch that," someone said behind them just as Donna was reaching for the handle. They whirled around.
One of the strangely-dressed doctors had come up behind them while they were talking, and despite his strange clothing, they hadn't noticed him. He was extremely tall, and towered over them. Donna shivered.
"That's not for you to see," he said. His voice was indistinct through the makeshift gas mask, just barely understandable. It made him sound barely human.
"Why not?" demanded Donna.
"Orders," was all the doctor said, then he walked away again.
"Well, that was downright mysterious," said Donna. "I don't know about you, but I'm more curious than ever to know what's behind this."
"You should ask the Commander," said Cathy earnestly. "He had this place built after all."
"Do you suppose these supposed orders came from him, then?"
"Either him or the Patrician, must be, miss. I can't think of anyone else who would have the authority."
"All right, I guess I'll leave it alone for now. No sense in causing trouble. It'll be a couple more hours before that stew is fit to serve, I think, and I'll be staying here for a while. So in the meantime, why don't you show me what you do around here, and I'll help."
Deep within his underground palace, Dimitri DeLovely was in a rage.
"Where is Dante?" he roared.
"He's not back yet, sir!" squeaked Rothgard the butler as he dodged another projectile vase.
"Well what's taking him so long?"
"I don't know, sir! He hasn't checked in yet!"
Dimitri growled inarticulately, then, having run out things in the immediate vicinity to throw, dropped unceremoniously into his throne and sulked.
"W-what would you like me to do, sir?" asked Rothgard as he edged towards the door. Dimitri's sulks were legendary amongst his subordinates for their violence.
"Send someone out to find him. My stupid little brother should not be disobeying me!"
Rothgard squeaked a reply and shut the door behind him as quickly as he could, just as a table crashed against it with amazing force.
"Oh, hello, Rothgard. Is my brother in a mood?" said a pleasant voice behind him. He whirled around.
"Lord Dante! The Lord Dimitri requests your presence at once, sir!" Rothgard gestured frantically at the door.
"Well, well, I suppose I should go see what my dear older brother wants, hmm?" Dante looked like his brother, but he was shorter and slightly stockier, with muscles instead of a long, slender frame. His black hair was also cut short, and he had a long, jagged scar running down one cheek that marred his otherwise handsome features.
"Where have you been?" hissed Dimitri the moment he entered.
"I was doing what you asked me to do," said Dante calmly.
"What took you so long? You should have been done hours ago. The task I set for you was not that difficult."
"My apologies. I was delayed."
"Delayed by what?" The sour look on Dimitri's face intensified.
"Nothing important," Dante said evasively. "Where is Madeleine?"
Dimitri's eyes narrowed. "What? That is not what we are discussing at the moment."
"Usually she comes running to see me as soon as I get back. I just think it's a little strange, don't you?"
"I suggest you stop right there, Dante. Don't forget who gave you that scar."
Dante growled under his breath and whirled on his heels, stomping out of the hall. He slammed the door shut behind him, badly startling Rothgard. "Bit jumpy there, aren't you?"
"Sir, Madeleine was sent on a mission, sir," said Rothgard quietly, as if he were afraid that Dimitri would be able to hear him from inside the hall.
"A mission?" Dante roared. Rothgard cringed. "That was not part of the Plan! She's too young!"
"She accepted quite eagerly, sir...."
"Of course she did, she's young and naive and thinks she can help, but she can't! She's only eleven. She may be far more skilled than the average eleven-year-old, but she doesn't yet understand her limits!"
"Sir," Rothgard began. Dante cut him off.
"Where did he send her? Tell me!"
"He- he sent her to assassinate the Patrician! It's not my fault, I told him it wouldn't be wise!"
Dante stared at him, aghast. "To assassinate the Patrician? You're joking. How could he think she would be capable of that? That's a suicide mission!"
"He hardly explains his actions to me, my lord, but I don't think he actually expected her to succeed."
"Of course he didn't! That would be a folly. Do you know where she is now?"
"Yes, sir, she was caught and is being held by the City Watch."
"She's not hurt, is she?"
"Last I heard, sir, no."
Dante sagged a tiny bit. "All right. Fine. At least she's okay for now. I'll get her out of there, it won't be a problem."
"You'll do it tonight, in fact," said a new voice. Dante chuckled haltingly.
"Chastaine," he greeted the new arrival, a tall, cold-looking man. "What do you mean, tonight?"
"Lord Dimitri predicted you would stomp out on him, so he had me hang back to let you know that your new orders are to retrieve Madeleine from Pseudopolis Yard tonight." Chastaine examined his long nails primly while he said this, and Dante sighed heavily.
"We're all just pawns to him, aren't we?"
"You should have learned that by now, Lord Dante."
"Yeah, yeah. Anything else?"
Chastaine shrugged. "Just don't cause too much of a disturbance. Be in and out as quickly as possible."
"Fine," Dante agreed. "One more thing. If my dear brother knew she was going to get caught, why did he send her on such a pointless mission?"
"Isn't it obvious? Her goal was never really to assassinate the Patrician. She was just a scout." Chastaine's smile grew into a feral grin. "Now we know what to expect when the rest of us go in tonight."
[*] (click to go back)
Captain Vimes has an idea, but that was another story.
To Chapter 23: Part 2
Back to Chapter 22: Birds of a Feather
Summary: House and Vimes learn important information, but get very annoyed by Lord Vetinari. Donna gets suspicious of things. Carrot brings the Doctor, Owen, and Sarah Jane to a place they can stay, but it's not exactly what they expected. Wilson and Archimedes are lost. Also, where the hell is Tosh?