Interview with a Vampire
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Susan and Adric rematerialized amidst Death’s field of golden wheat. There was now a clearing in the middle of all the gently waving stalks, and Susan looked down to see trampled plants underfoot. Uh oh, she thought to herself, wondering what new incursion had caused the damage before remembering that what she really should do was wait and feel sorry for it once Death found out about the situation.
BACK SO SOON? her grandfather’s voice echoed. She jumped, realizing that there was more to the clearing behind her. Turning around, she saw a group of figures dressed in tight-fitting black-and-white-striped outfits doing yoga. They had on black silk top hats with a rose sticking out the side. Her first thought had been, Mimes! Get the poker! but they lacked the characteristic powdered make-up. Besides, Death--who remained in his usual robes--was imitating their movements with astonishing grace for a skeleton.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
THIS IS SURPRISINGLY RELAXING. MY ONLY PREVIOUS EXPERIENCE WITH YOGA WAS THAT TIME I PICKED UP THE POOR FELLOW WITH THE BROKEN BACK. I HAD THOUGHT IT WAS A FORM OF TORTURE.
“Yes, grandfather, but why are they here?”
The group got onto their backs and flipped into the plow posture. Adric shuffled aside to avoid getting kicked. Susan decided to get to the point; past experience told her that there wasn’t much she could do about Death’s quirks. “We need the time die.”
THAT WOULD BE DANGEROUS.
“We found the location of a pivotal event, but we were too late to see what happened. We need to go to the right time to find out what threat we face.”
Death considered for only a moment. After all, given the enormity of the situation, he didn’t have much of a choice. He reached into his robes and dropped the other sphere into her palm.
Ula Schneider skipped along the bank of the Rhine, singing a nursery song about pillaging mermaids. For those disposed to a more vivid imagination, one should clarify that the song is not about mermaids getting pillaged since mermaids rarely have much of value on their persons and, additionally, such acts are illegal (except in the Netherlands and a few other less scrupulous parts of the world) and frowned upon in higher society. Rather, the song was about mermaids waylaying unwary travelers of the Rhine, beating them senseless, and stealing their gold in hopes of attracting dwarves. The dwarves then pillaged the mermaids, but that part isn’t in the song.
As a young adult, Ula knew she shouldn’t be given to fancies, but she’d always loved the tale of Lorelei the mermaid, partly because she had a rock named after her and usually only men got to have pieces of scenery named after them, and partly because she got a lot of people dead in really gruesome ways. It was too bad she only got to be awesome after killing herself over a man, but that couldn’t be helped.
When she was six and didn’t know any better, she tried to emulate her hero by telling her mother she was going to jump off a cliff because she was hopelessly in love with her younger brother. Her mother fainted, and when she woke, pretended the incident had never happened, which meant that Ula must have done something very bad. Being the curious girl that she was, she asked her father which part of the story had offended. Her father was named Raoul, which meant he had to be awesome, so he explained that it was considered improper to be in love with a family member closer than a cousin. It was quite all right for young women to jump off cliffs, but she shouldn’t because all the time her parents had spent educating her would go to waste.
Satisfied, she took the extra initiative of informing her brother that she didn’t love him, and he wasn’t allowed to love her either. It was improper. She didn’t know that Gauthier ran to his room afterwards, cried all night, and vowed to fight against all that was good and proper for the rest of his life. She just assumed her parents had saved him from a wolf clan when he was little and thus he wasn’t actually born an aristocrat and couldn’t be blamed for always doing the improper thing. Every time he used the wrong spoon at dinner or spent leisure time with the servants, she ignored the mistake and chalked it up to inferior blood.
Ula Schneider skipped because the action came naturally to children but was hopelessly complicated for adults to recall. Skipping was like the anti-riding-of-a-bicycle (Ula was fond of the practice of using words-that-combine-to-describe-something-e
Thankfully, the chain reaction had stopped there because Ula’s grandfather was five years dead, and corpses hadn’t found a way to express their desire for a duel yet. Nevertheless, there might be a lot more corpses soon because the Schneiders and Lahnsteins had been feuding for generations, and while the worst that came out of their duels was usually an eye poked out or a bird in the wrong place at the wrong time getting shot, no one had actually died in twenty-two years, which meant an epic-tragedy-of-many-deaths-and-misunder
There was also the fact that duels were considered a proper thing to do, which meant Gauthier would either not show up at the appointed time, leading to more duels, or he’d bring that awful weapon he was working on which he’d--being a man--tried to name after himself. A Gatling gun, he called it, or something like that.
On second thought, she really shouldn’t be skipping along the Rhine. She was conducting an illicit love affair with Baron, and that’d be a lot harder to do if he was riddled with bullets.
Ula Schneider ran along the Rhine in the opposite direction. It took her just as long to return to the castle as it had taken her to skip away, because real ladies don’t run any faster than they can skip.
Gauthier was in his room with the standard one-shot pistol when Ula walked in. “You’re using those?”
Gauthier smiled. “At this point, everyone expects me to do something improper, but the most improper thing of all is to defy expectations. Proper hates surprises. So, of course, I will duel like a normal gentleman.”
“You could not show up.”
“That would be even more predictable than the Gatling.”
A new scenario presented itself, one which Ula had not even considered. Terrifyingly unexpected, it was an unpleasant shock, and Ula finally understood why proper society hated surprises. Her brain tried to take in the new factors and figure out a course of action, but Gauthier was ready for the duel, and the appointed time was less than fifteen minutes away, just long enough to walk to the border between their lands. She had no time to think, which meant there was only one possible course of action.
“Oh Gauthier, I feel ill!” she cried and fainted.
When she woke, she realized her mistake. Rather than call for help, Gauthier must have thrown her in a wheelbarrow and carted her to the dueling grounds. This would have been a wild and complicated deduction if she’d woken on a lawn chair under an umbrella in the viewing area of the dueling grounds, and she thought this scenario would have been vastly preferable. Instead, she was jostling up and down in a wheelbarrow on the path to the dueling grounds, and her surroundings told her they had less than two minutes of travel remaining.
“Let me out!” she screamed. “This is indecent. No one carts an unconscious lady around!”
“I do,” Gauthier said.
“I’d think that even if you have no sense of decency for yourself, you’d care about your sister enough to keep her out of ill repute!”
At that moment, something strange enough to distract even Ula occurred. There was a light pop and sizzling sound, accompanied by a flash of blue light and the smell of burnt toast. Right before their eyes, two figures appeared out of thin air, right in the middle of the path ahead. Gauthier’s mouth dropped open, while Ula scrambled out of the wheelbarrow to appear presentable. It was all for her own benefit, no doubt, because these two new arrivals would not appreciate her sense of propriety. After all, what sort of decent person just appears out of nowhere on a deserted forest road? Only highwaymen, that was who, and... “Oh my goodness, they’re going to rob us!” Ula screamed.
Gauthier kicked the back of her leg. “Shut up.”
The two strangers were absorbed in an argument in some language she’d never heard before, oblivious to the presence of Ula and her brother. One was a tall woman all in black, regal enough to be nobility except for a head of white hair that was scandalously wild, seeming to move of its own accord and containing a single streak of black through it. The other was a boy in yellow and green nightclothes, which wasn’t presentable either. The woman held out a silver tray and kept dropping two marbles on it, her voice getting higher and higher every time she let them roll.
“I think they’re crazy,” Ula whispered, backing up to put Gauthier between her and the newcomers.
“Don’t be silly. They must be sorcerers to appear out of nowhere!”
“Maybe you were busy hauling your sister around in a wheelbarrow and didn’t notice their arrival!”
Then, the woman picked up the two spheres, carefully rotated them halfway around, and set them on the tray. The two blinked out of existence...
...and reappeared in the wheelbarrow, which promptly overbalanced and sent them sprawling into the dirt. Ula let out a little shriek as dust got on her dress, and she ran to the edge of the road. Gauthier, on the other hand, stepped forward and offered the woman a hand. How totally stupid and characteristic of him.
The woman accepted his help but forgot about him once she was on her feet. Turning to the boy, she said something and then stuffed the tray and marbles into a bag of some sort. At that point, the boy pointed at Gauthier and, once she nodded, extended a hand to him.
“Hi, my name’s Adric,” he said.
“Nice to meet you, Adric. Do you have a family name?”
“No, but we’re kind of lost.”
“I guessed that with the...” Gauthier thought a moment, then made an expansive gesture with his arms, “poof and all.”
“Oh, you’re not going to pretend that didn’t happen?”
“Should I? Why?”
“Because it’s improper!” Ula felt this was an appropriate time to jump into the conversation as the moment to flee had passed.
The woman jabbered something. Adric replied in the same language, and she said something else. “Susan--this is Susan, by the way--told me that’s the more common reaction.”
Ula Schneider was common? She would have to teach that boy a lesson about aristocracy. Why, this was the eighteenth century of our Lord, and no one was savage enough to confuse nobility with peasantry anymore.
“Well, my sister can be rather common at times.” Gauthier sounded apologetic. She stalked forward, ready to give him a good rap on the head, when a thought occurred to her.
“You said you were lost. Are you not able to, mmm...” For lack of a better description, she copied Gauthier’s gesture, “Are you not able to poof away?”
“No, we’re apparently not.”
“I think I can help you.” The look on Gauthier’s face alone was worth it, but shocking Gauthier was not her priority at the moment. “And how rude of me not to introduce myself. My name is Ula Schneider. You can see the castle I live in once we’re out of the woods. This here is my brother, Gauthier.”
“Nice to meet you.” Adric looked just as confused as her brother, while Susan was eyeing Ula suspiciously. Women did always catch on faster than men.
“You need a place to stay.”
“Fantastic! You and Susan will be distant cousins who are visiting from Bavaria--that’s to cover up any problems with manners you might have--because your parents died and your uncles cheated you out of your inheritance. You found out about us and came for help. Susan is your older sister who’s not right in the head, and you’re caring for her. On your way here, you got robbed by highwaymen, which is why you have no wagon or luggage and are wearing your nightclothes.”
“There’s nothing wrong with Susan!”
“Of course there isn’t, dear,” Ula said, her own story already solidifying into fact in her own head. “Does she speak any German?”
“Oh.” Adric glanced at Susan. “No.”
“Well that is no fault of yours. You do try so hard to take excellent care of her, and we have servants who can see to her every need. Now if you don’t mind, we have a duel to interrupt.”
“Interrupt?” Gauthier said. “It hasn’t started yet. And...”
“There are clear rules in the Schneider-Lahnstein code duello that require the families to forgive all offenses in the event of the arrival of new family members or distant relations in order to celebrate the enlargement of our feud.”
“So all the duels get cancelled?”
“Exactly!” Ula smiled primly.
Gauthier took in her look of satisfaction and Adric’s look of confusion and shrugged. “I suppose that’ll piss off everyone involved. Good by me. Come along, cousin Adric, cousin Susan. Welcome to the family.”
The TARDIS drifted in the time vortex. Spinning slowly amidst the swirls of red and blue, it waited on silent running, sensors listening for the slightest sign of danger. Deep in its heart, memories of the Time War pulsed like a suppressed infection biding its time in the blood.
Run, flee, protect the Doctor... The TARDIS remembered, and something terrible had shown its face in Singapore. Darkness drawing closer, madness infecting everyone around.
The time vortex wasn’t safe either. Daleks knew how to hijack a TARDIS even in the time vortex, and they weren't the only ones, but for now, there was no sign of pursuit. For now, the TARDIS could wait and hope the Doctor got better. Once the Doctor was awake, he’d know what to do, and for now... hide.
Susan was upset but not for the reasons Adric had expected. Jamie would have been livid if Adric had tried to claim he was “not right in the head” but Susan had taken it in stride, saying that the language sounded like a dialect from Überwald but wasn’t similar enough for her to pick up immediately. Besides, people talked more freely around someone they thought was a fool, so the role suited her fine. On the other hand, she was still ranting about the fact that she had tried to cheat the dice and failed.
“How on earth is it logical to put two nearly identical coordinates on opposite sides of each other?” she demanded. “It isn’t right!”
“First, with an infinite number of points, there’s no--pardon the pun--point in trying to guess at the system in which the coordinates are organized, if there even is one,” Adric explained. “Second, a progressive system is not necessarily the best way to organize a set of coordinates, especially on a sphere, because you’ll have discontinuities unless you assume space curves back around on itself, which even if it does, time probably does not.”
“That isn’t remotely sensible! Common sense dictates that if you want to cheat at dice, that’s how you do it!”
“Common sense applies to common mortals. Those dice belong to Death.”
Susan continued to look disgruntled, which was a problem because her hair was on the verge of irrevocably knotting itself.
“Look, we’re not in the clear yet, so can you be quiet and let me concentrate?”
Susan was silently disgruntled, which Adric supposed would have to do. Ula and Gauthier had led them out of the forest about half an hour ago onto a flat, cleanly cut field of grass where an assortment of fancily dressed aristocrats awaited them. They had set up two rows of gleaming white lawn chairs on the two longer sides of the dueling grounds, complete with massive umbrella sunshades and tables set with refreshments. Servants bustled around with trays of drinks and little snacks while also tidying the grounds and trimming the trees that were growing too close. On the field itself, each pace was chalked out and numbered, and miniature blue cones indicated boundaries that the opponents couldn’t cross.
For some reason, Ula skipped her way across the last few meters of forest before shouting breathily, “Stop the duel! The duel must stop!” and fainting. Adric found this melodramatic but Susan explained that in high society, it was the proper thing to do.
Everything that followed was a blur as the servants brought an assortment of smelling salts over while the rest of the people started speaking in stern tones at each other, though none of them reached the point of yelling. Nevertheless, with over twenty people present, the noise rose to a level where no one could hear what anyone else was saying, but they kept talking anyway.
Some time in the midst of all this, Gauthier managed to get Ula’s absurd story across, and from the resulting responses (“They can’t be Schneiders! They don’t have black hair!” “But he has Friedrich’s chin!” “She looks exactly like Sascha--the vacant eyes and terrible hair!” and other sentences ending with an exclamation mark) few were questioning their claim to be Schneiders. Rather, they were debating whether to press on with the duels anyway.
Ula had woken up the moment a servant approached, later confiding to Adric that she hated smelling salts. The three of them were now lounging in lawn chairs holding glasses of iced water, and from Ula’s satisfied look, she knew the families would set aside the duels. It was tradition. However, none of his observations answered the question of why he and Susan were here. The dice had been adamant about them staying, so Susan couldn’t teleport them back to Discworld. Or rather, she could, but the next time they rolled the dice, they’d be right back here again. Yet Ula had given him the date, and they were over a hundred and fifty years too early and on the wrong continent for whatever had happened in Washington DC, though at least they were on the right planet.
The hubbub was dying down, so Adric put his thoughts aside and watched. The Lahnsteins had withdrawn to their side of the field, save for one. “Baron von Lahnstein,” Ula named him with a quaver in her voice.
“This is a travesty!” Baron declared. Adric got from him the impression of a well-fed wolf, proud and threatening, killing not because he was driven to it but because he wanted to hunt. He stood a hand taller than most of the men present and was more muscular than an aristocrat probably ought to be, though he remained lean and moved with a grace that suggested he had acquired his strength from practical use rather than for vanity. His looks continued to differentiate him from his family in that his hair was dark brown, rolling and luxuriant as a mane, while the rest of the Lahnsteins were so stubbornly blonde they almost reached platinum. “What would our ancestors think, who laid down their lives for our honor? Would you disgrace the memory of your uncle, father? He died fighting a Schneider, and you didn’t even have the guts to avenge him, letting a chicken do your duty for you!”
“A chicken?” Adric looked at Ula for help. Now was not the time for the TARDIS translation to start malfunctioning.
Ula nodded. “Yeah, you know, bawk-bawk, lays eggs, runs around with its head cut off. Grandfather Friedrich choked on a chicken bone at dinner.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, that was five years ago. Mourning periods only extend one year past burial, and that’s if you really liked the person. I put off the black for grandmother Franziska only two months after she died because she smelled like paprika and I hate paprika, not that it really helped, because there was more black underneath for mourning Friedrich-- they died the same night--but still, it was a lot cooler in the summertime not having to wear two layers of black.”
“Wouldn’t it make more sense just to wear one black outfit the whole time for both people?”
“You’re from Bavaria, dear, you wouldn’t understand.”
Baron’s father took a step forward and coughed politely into his fist. He was bulky, wrapped tightly in his suit like a water balloon about to pop. His other hand leaned against a cane, though given how thin it was, the support it offered was more mental than physical. Indeed, Baron’s father’s entire appearance conveyed the sense of one long oppressed, his hair prematurely grey with only faint streaks of brown above the ears, and as soon as he was about to speak, a severe-looking woman pulled him back into the line and took his place.
“You speak inappropriately, Baron, though I trust your father forgives you in light of the zeal with which you pursue our cause. Bernard, God rest his soul, died in a duel against Friedrich. We do not avenge deaths in the field of honor or risk sullying the memory of those who remembered that we are civilized people.”
“Nevertheless, this was a multi-duel! The code duello does not specifically address our situation!”
“What are you suggesting, Baron?” one of the Schneiders asked (“My father, Raoul,” Ula commented). “Your father has already given up his duel with my son, and as a result, I renounce my challenge as well.”
Baron inclined his head in a bow to Raoul. “And as the original challenger, I forgive Gauthier his offenses to me in honor of Adric and Susan. But Huey has not relinquished his claim on me and is not required to do so, considering the new relations are an addition to his family and not mine.”
“Indeed!” cried a young man whom Ula identified as Huey. If Baron was a wolf, Huey was one too, but more the sort that climbed onto hills and howled at the moon than the type that ate all your sheep. He was slimmer than Baron, and his features were softer, but rather than make him seem less dangerous, the comparison just made him appear more cunning, his threats concealed beneath the surface. In keeping with that impression, most of his face was hidden by a layer of coal-black stubble which served to offset and sharpen his emerald eyes, currently shooting daggers at Baron. “I do not forgive him the offense of trespassing!”
“I wish to clear myself of his false charges and teach this Schneider a lesson he won’t forget! I choose swords!”
With a wail, Ula leapt to her feet. “You forget yourselves! Brother, aren’t you concerned for Susan? She is frail and a duel could send her into fits.” She jabbed Adric’s shin with her foot. “Can you set her off?” she whispered.
Adric rolled his eyes. “Susan, she wants you to flail around and moan so everyone will force those two idiots to stop fighting.”
“Could I just slap them?”
“I don’t think that would be appropriate.”
“Oh fine, sister,” Huey said. “Just this once I’ll go easy on the Lahnstein dog. I shall set the combat rules as first blood.”
Ula snatched Adric’s glass of water from his hand, walked across the field, and threw the contents into her brother’s face. For good measure, she dropped the single remaining ice cube into Baron’s hair, causing him to shake it off like a wet dog. “You are both fools with heads full of steam. Just once, you men could do something nice for a lady and allow her to start preparing the welcome feast for our cousins rather than waste time watching you play with your swords.”
Huey and Baron stared at her as though they couldn’t believe their eyes. She looked down, hoping she’d grown a tail and turned into a mermaid like Lorelei, but then Baron unsheathed his sword and declared, “First blood it is! But for the sake of your sister, we’ll hurry up. I declare double-time!”
Ula stomped back and dropped onto her lawn chair with arms crossed. “That’s the trouble with brothers and lovers,” she muttered. “They take you for granted.”
“See, I don’t understand what you like about them,” Gauthier said. “That’s what proper gets you: nothing.”
“That’s not proper! I don’t understand what’s gotten into them. They almost used to get along. Then Huey disappears for a day, comes back with a broken arm and his face all bruised, and they’re both challenging people to duels every chance they get.”
“I’d be angry if Baron beat me up in the forest too. But I wouldn’t get all proper and drag everyone else into my problems. I’d just shoot him in his sleep. I imagine it should be scandalous to follow up by dragging his body around the castle with a carriage, but since Achilles did that, everyone thinks it’s all right. Bloody Greeks.”
“I know what’ll make Ula happy! Hey, Ula!” Huey called. The Schneiders were clearing the field and settling into their chairs in preparation for the duel. “You want to honor our cousins, right? I choose Adric as mediator!”
“What?” Adric sat up. Mediating between two men with swords did not sound good at all.
Ula put a hand on his arm. “Don’t worry, it’s easy. You just have to give the countdown, call foul if either of them steps off the dueling ground, and declare a winner once first blood is shed.”
“Can I call a winner before then?”
“Not unless you want the winner to duel you.”
“Well, you falsely gave him the win. It looks like you think he’s too weak to win for himself.”
“Don’t worry, first blood means they’re aiming to cut each other, usually across the arm. And they’re both excellent with the blade, so there won’t be any body parts flying or gooey things spilling out of them.”
“It would be if they weren’t both idiots.”
Baron and Huey stood facing each other, blades drawn in typical fencing fashion. “You may proceed, Adric,” Baron announced. “A count of ten is standard here.”
“Ok. Er, ten, nine, eight...”
Huey sighed. “No, no, no. Baron declared double-time. That means you have to count twice as fast.”
“No, start over!” Baron snapped. “Who speeds up in the middle of a count?”
“Too fast!” Baron’s father yelled from across the field. “Hee hee, this is fun.”
Adric felt ready to challenge someone to a duel himself. “Ten-nine-eight-seven-six-five-four-thre
“It does if the mediator knows what he’s doing.”
Huey and Baron lunged at each other, swords moving so quickly they were nothing more than silver blurs. Clink-clink-clink, the blades met and parted in rapid succession, the opponents circling as they fought. Then all of a sudden, Huey fell with a yelp, his foot arcing into the air as he landed on his back. The sun glinted off a single ice cube as it soared up and away. Huey’s hand hit the earth and lost its grip on his sword, letting it fly off in the opposite direction, landing beyond the nearest blue marker.
“Ula!” Huey screamed. “DAMN YOU!” But he had nothing to worry about. Baron just stood over him, looking confused and not particularly inclined to take his victory. Then he took a step forward and also slipped.
“Aaarrgh!” he cried, the sword leaving his hand before he’d even finished falling. It spun several times before cutting through an umbrella and landing point down a centimeter from the groin of an elderly woman on the Lahnstein side.
She stared at the blade, swinging back and forth like a pendulum from the spot where it’d lodged into the ground. Putting a hand over her mouth, she tittered like a high-pitched goat: “Heee-aaaaaahhh!” she said. “It’s a good thing I’m not a man, hmm?”
“Do I declare a draw?” Adric asked Ula.
“Yes!” she nodded so violently her dress bounced up and down.
He raised his voice. “Both participants have lost their weapon of choice. I declare a draw!”
“Bravo! Bravo! Excellent show!” Baron’s father clapped, so everyone else felt obligated to clap as well. Everyone except Baron and Huey. They evidently thought it was more appropriate to continue with a fist fight.
Gauthier grinned at Ula. “Oh my! How improper!” He cupped his hands over his mouth and yelled as loudly as he could: “Break his nose!”
“I’ve had enough of this,” Susan announced as the two men crashed into a table on the Schneider side. She waited until Huey threw Baron in front of her and swept them both up by their ears. “While I am in no way looking forward to a welcome feast or any other silly pleasantries, I am tired of this duel business and think it would be best to set everyone straight right now. Even though neither of you understand me, I am sure my actions speak louder than words, so you will behave yourselves!” As she spoke, she dragged them into the woods, whereupon she found a little stream at the bottom of a hill and threw them into it. The Schneiders and Lahnsteins burst into applause yet again, having followed her to see what she would do.
An old Lahnstein woman in a wheelchair remarked, “I wish my idiot brother was half as interesting as her, but he’d just have dribbled on them.”
The Doctor woke to silence, and that wasn’t a good sign. Having nine fellow travelers with him, especially when they were human, meant one of them should be making trouble at all times. And if they were in the TARDIS, he should hear the TARDIS’ soothing hum whispering the ship’s status to him.
Of course, they weren’t in the TARDIS. They were in Singapore. He liked old Singapore, before they got all hung up about rules and punishments. Singapore was earthy and watery at the same time, and it had great food.
Singapore was... the TARDIS?
He was in the TARDIS!
“Jack?” he called. He was sprawled on the ground, his body hurt all over, and everyone was hiding from him: Jack had to be responsible. But how had Jack shut down the TARDIS? Jack wouldn’t shut down the TARDIS, Jack loved the TARDIS.
His head pounded, but he had to think. He took hold of the console and dragged himself to his feet. “Let’s see,” he said out loud. The sound of his voice helped him think. “I was in a pub. Yes, that’s consistent with Jack. And there was coffee and... ooooh, that waitress with no clothes. Well, she had some clothes, but it might as well not have been there for all practical purposes.” He should stop talking about naked waitresses since that would amuse Jack and encourage him to continue his game. “And they were getting violent--not the naked waitresses but everyone else--and I got knocked out! Yes. Because Jack started a bar fight.”
He stared at the dimmed column in the middle of the TARDIS. “But why am I in the TARDIS and why is it on silent running?” His eyes widened. “Silent running?” Checking the displays, they all read the same thing. “Emergency protocols! Automatically activated! That’s not good... what happened?”
A giant lever activated a video recording of what had happened around the TARDIS before it fled into the time vortex. There was a lot of screaming, a lot of people he recognized, a lot of people he didn’t recognize, and a giant stone statue destroying the island. “Not Jack’s fault then,” he concluded. “Probably.”
His mind already had several possibilities as to what the stone statue was and why it attacked Singapore. After all, there wasn’t much that could send the TARDIS running. “And without letting anyone else in,” the Doctor admonished the ship. He could track them down using the keys he’d given them, which meant his more pressing concern was to find the invaders so that he knew how to counter them when he went to rescue everyone.
“Aha!” A lock on the same energy signature emanating from the statue. Tying the travel coordinates to the scanner, he put the TARDIS back into full operation. “Here we go!” The ship roared to life, rocking and lurching as it followed the signal out of the vortex.
He was out the door as soon as the ship stopped moving, but he skidded to a halt when he found himself in a sparsely decorated room with stone walls and wooden floors littered with loose pieces of paper and pamphlets bound by string. There was a king-sized bed at one end and an antique writing desk at the other. Outside the window, a river swept its way through rolling green hills and dark forests.
“This isn’t Singapore,” he said.
“No, it’s not,” a voice came from behind him. “And that blue box wasn’t here when I left, though for that matter, neither were you.”
The matter-of-fact tone of the young man in the doorway impressed the Doctor. A little over 170 centimeters tall with unkempt blonde hair and blue eyes still as a glacier and framed by golden oval spectacles, he wore a maroon sweater and scuffed leather pants, good clothing for wandering the woods in a colder climate. A simple description of him would have been bookish, as his arms were wrapped around a rumpled stack of notes and literature, but there was so much more to him because his posture gave nothing away, not his habits and not his thoughts. He just stood and analyzed. Yet when he broke into a smile, it was like finding a sunlit clearing in the darkest heart of a wild forest. “Is that what I think it is behind you?” He leaned forward, his neutral stance shifting into one of excitement and delight.
“I really don’t think so,” the Doctor replied, moving to close the TARDIS door.
“Yes, yes it is!” He bounded past before the Doctor could stop him and entered the TARDIS. “It’s bigger on the inside! Oh, this is brilliant.”
“What?” The Doctor checked his chronometer. He was in the mid-1700s and talking to someone who expected to find a box that was bigger on the inside. Several regenerations ago, he would’ve been ecstatic, but now his interest was tempered by a touch of wariness.
The man pushed his stack of papers into the Doctor’s arms and went to investigate the console. “We’ve been arguing about the mathematical validity of folding space to contain a greater volume within an object than its dimensions would allow. The sticking point has been the possibility of extra dimensions beyond the four we physically experience!”
“Excuse me, who’s ‘we’?”
“Some friends from the university. We keep in contact. You have some of their letters.”
The Doctor staggered over to the desk and dropped the collection onto its surface. He skimmed through the top few letters. “You argue complex mathematical proofs of n-space in casual correspondence?”
To the Doctor’s relief, the young man exited the TARDIS and even closed the door behind him. “My name’s Rainart. Rainart von Lahnstein. You’re in the Holy Roman Empire, and that river out there is the Rhine. By the fact that you were checking your watch, you don’t just travel through space but through time as well, but you probably now know when you are.”
“Very good. I’m the Doctor, and I like you. You’re perceptive and you’re clever. Bit too clever, really, but so am I.”
“I assure you, I’m just a humble German citizen.”
“Really? Looks like you’re nobility to me.”
“What are titles but empty webs we spin, brushed aside by winds of change in the blink of an eye.”
“Sounds like you’re preparing for a revolution.”
“We look to the future, Doctor, not the past. The question is, based on your advanced technology, why are you wandering the past?”
“Oh that’s-- I’m just a little bit lost. I was expecting to find something that...” He hesitated. “That... I’m not even sure what I was looking for, but hey, you’re clever, maybe you can help me. Have you seen anything, I don’t know, strange, recently?”
“Even my siblings seem like strangers sometimes.”
“Not what I meant. I was tracking an energy signature of something that can distort space. Rather fearsome technology, doesn’t belong in this era. It would manifest in a form that would be called magic.”
Rainart pondered this description but at last shook his head. “Mind, I don’t pay much attention to stories like that. I dismiss them as superstitious. A little narrow-minded of me, I’ll admit, but with some of the tales that villagers have, it’s much too difficult to sift fact from fiction. I can introduce you to the family, though, and they might be more helpful.”
“I’d love to meet your family, Rainart.”
He gave him a wry smile. “The rest of my family is not like me.”
“Oh, give them some credit. They did raise you.”
“But the mind--our library raised my mind, and the university matured it.”
The Doctor followed Rainart out of his room. “And how will you introduce me? Could I be a distant cousin; I always like being a distant cousin of someone.”
“I’m afraid you’re too much like me to be a Lahnstein. I’d have a much harder time passing you off than Ula did with those strange peasants.”
“It’s beneath you to speak poorly of the lower class. And did you say strange? Strange in what way?”
Rainart paused in the middle of the hallway, nearly causing the Doctor to run into him. “I had the strangest sensation when I saw you. Almost like déjà vu but not. Now I know why. It’s the look in your eyes. That woman had the same look. It was... well, maybe I should start from the beginning. You see, there were a series of duels scheduled between my family and the Schneiders, who are feuding with us, earlier this afternoon, but one of the daughters, Ula Schneider, broke them up by bringing in two strangely dressed people and claiming them as distant cousins. What were their names, what were their names? Oh, I can’t remember. Susan! That was it. The woman was Susan and the boy...”
An insistent chiming started up, like someone ringing a bell much too hard. “Afternoon tea!” a woman cried, her voice pitched at just the frequency to feel like a piece of iron being driven through your head. “Afternoon teeeeea everyone!”
“It is not the right time for afternoon tea,” the Doctor remarked. “And I didn’t know the Germans did afternoon tea.”
“We don’t,” Rainart said, sounding for all the world like Marvin the terminally depressed robot. “That’s my sister, Elise. She dropped out of university in Britain but picked up their damned customs. And afternoon tea got delayed because of the duels, so mother pushed dinner back by three hours to accommodate.”
“Your parents sent your sister through higher education? That’s progressive of them.”
“It was mother. She wanted her daughters to get the same education as her sons, but they disowned Edwynna when she married a cowherder at sixteen, so everything came down to Elise. That’s why, even though she dropped out, she still gets coddled.”
“That wasn’t very nice, disowning your sister.”
“I argued against it, but she still comes and goes as she pleases, and it’s only mother who won’t talk to her, which to be honest, is a blessing.”
“TEA, RAINART! WHERE ARE YOU?”
Rainart flinched. “On the other hand, there’s something to be said about silencing Elise as well.”
“Shouldn’t keep them waiting. I like tea, anyway, what do you have against tea?”
“It gets boring.”
“How do sandwiches get boring?”
“Uh oh.” Rainart ducked behind the Doctor, which was an ineffective move considering how thin the Time Lord was. A woman the Doctor assumed to be Elise came marching up the staircase at the end of the hall, a wonder in a sky blue dress with white frills, the sort of color combination that conjured the image of an avalanche coming at you. Yet other than the terrifying prospect of tea, Elise seemed an enjoyable presence. She had a smile despite seeming annoyed and tended toward a plumpness that helped enhance her natural looks. He could picture her as a shepherd in the Swiss Alps forcing all the sheep to have tea parties.
“Tea missionaries,” the Doctor said as she approached. “That’d be a brilliant idea, tea missionaries.”
“I wrote a thesis about that, but the teacher failed me because the assignment was about the Medici family.”
“Ironic, as the Medici family was quite interested in the development of new ideas and the building of wealth.”
“Oooh, I like you professor.” Elise blushed.
“Who told you I was a professor?”
“You’re with Rainart, and you don’t look silly enough to be a student.”
“I told you I couldn’t pass you off as a cousin,” Rainart said.
“You!” Elise pointed at Rainart. “You! I will forgive you for being late this time, but I’m mad at you for concealing such a wonderful, learned man from us.”
“I didn’t hide him; he just arrived!”
“Nonsense. How come none of us heard him arrive?”
“The servants let him into my room during the duel.”
“Yes, the help is wonderful here.” The Doctor hoped they could move on soon, as he sensed an argument building.
“Servants are not supposed to take initiative,” Elise replied.
“Yeah, Rainart left explicit instruction. Incredibly explicit instructions. So, tea?”
Elise brightened. “Of course, the tea! How could I forget? Come on, then, Rainart, and uh...”
“The Doctor.” He performed an elaborate bow, figuring that was the best course of action. “Just call me the Doctor.”
“It’s quite lucky our family averaged ten children per generation when they built the castle,” Ula explained to Adric, “because we have all these bedrooms free. I only have five brothers and sisters, see. It goes Huey, me, Gauthier, Hildegard and Karin--they’re twins--and Louie. Louie’s only nine, and to be honest, I think he was a bit of an accident, but that’d be impolite to say to anyone else, so it’ll be our little secret.”
“If you see Louie coming, run. He’s a right little terror with his slingshot.”
They were halfway down the hall when she threw open a door and led them into a pink room. It was pink. That was really the only way to describe it. The floor, the walls, the ceiling, the drapes, the bed, the wardrobe, the rugs, the tapestries, the desk, the lamps, the teddy bears big and small, the finger paintings hung over the pink fireplace, all of it was pink.
“Er,” Adric said.
“This,” Susan said, “had better be your room.”
“Hildegard and Karin used to have adjoining rooms,” Ula told him. “We thought that would be good for you and Susan. This room was Hildegard’s; it’ll make sense once you meet her.”
“What’s the other room look like?” Adric asked. “And I hope we didn’t kick anyone out.”
“No, the twins don’t get along that well, so they moved into new rooms years ago.” Ula pulled back one of the wall hangings to reveal a door. The next room continued to prove that the resemblance between Hildegard and Karin was only skin deep.
Painted brown and green, the room contained a matching set of painstakingly-carved mahogany furniture that looked like they were built around live trees. The sheets and curtains were layered and embroidered to resemble leaves, and the tapestries were all set deep in the forest with paintings from fairy tales like little red riding hood and the wolf or Goldilocks and the bears. At first, Adric thought they were chosen because they were fairy tales, but then he realized the tapestries all had one other thing in common: they all contained depictions of wild animals.
“The true heart of a child,” Susan murmured.
“Does that mean, since you’re older than me, I get this room?”
“Not a chance in hell.”
“I’ll let you work out who gets which room,” Ula said. “Though I’ll be honest, it looks like she’s taken a liking to this one. Tough luck for you. But I need to help prepare your welcome dinner.”
“No chicken I hope.”
She frowned. “I do not find that funny, cousin.”
“I’d thought it was clever,” Adric said once she’d left. “I mean-- urmph!”
Susan slammed her hand over his mouth, pulling him after her until they stood between the bed and the fireplace in the one portion of the room that was a clear, open space. She took two steps to the mantel to pick up a poker and returned to his side.
“What’s going on?” he asked, his heart pounding wildly.
“Show yourself,” Susan demanded in German as she paced circles around him. He wondered when she’d picked up the phrase.
There was a span of five endless seconds in which nothing happened, and then Susan repeated her words, but this time, he didn’t hear them so much as feel them: SHOW YOURSELF.
A soft cackle filled the room, and a robed figure emerged from behind a Turkish tapestry of a nightingale singing beside a rose. Drawing closer, the newcomer’s presence seemed to expand, trying to fill the room and being countered by Susan’s stubborn refusal to fear anything, supernatural or ordinary.
“There shall be a feast soon,” the figure announced in an androgynous pitch, slightly raspy and echoing around the room. Adric noticed the person was shorter than himself, though he seemed to walk with back slightly hunched. A hood hid the figure’s face and identity.
“Is that a threat?” Adric asked.
The figure pointed at Susan. Adric had hoped to get a hint of his identity based on the appearance of his hand, but he wore black leather gloves. “They were fools to believe you a fool. You are more right in the head than the entire household combined, and you are more real than those who mock and pity you.”
THEN LET’S NOT PLAY GAMES. YOU CAN UNDERSTAND ME WHEN I SPEAK LIKE THIS.
“Of course, though that voice doesn’t work on me.”
YOU CAME OUT READILY ENOUGH.
“I was intrigued. Go on, tell me to dance a jig, and I’ll show you how readily I obey commands.”
TELL ME WHO YOU ARE.
“No. In my own time. See? Perhaps I should ask who you are, one who does not speak our tongue but knows a language much more primeval.”
TELL ME WHO YOU ARE.
“A one-hit wonder, aren’t you? You can call me... vampire.” The figure cackled again, drawing closer.
“‘There shall be a feast soon,’” Adric quoted. “That was a threat! You’re going to eat us!”
YOU’RE NOT A REAL VAMPIRE. I’VE MET VAMPIRES, AND THEY DON’T SMELL LIKE YOU.
A soft giggle answered them. “But I’m a vampire of sorts, feeding on the vitality of youth, swept along by time.”
“What do you want? No, wait, you know about Susan. That means you were at the duel!”
“I witnessed the duel, yes. Was I present amongst the Lahnsteins and Schneiders? You don’t think I’m dull enough to answer such an obvious trap, do you? As for what I want, I wish to speak with you.”
The vampire was within striking distance now, but Susan raised her poker. The tip vanished into the darkness beneath the hood. He stopped his advance but didn’t otherwise show any signs of concern.
I COULD PUSH YOUR HOOD BACK.
“But you won’t. Look deep down into me--you’re real enough to do that. I’m not evil.”
EVIL IS SUBJECTIVE, BUT THERE IS THE TOUCH OF ANOTHER WORLD UPON YOU.
“Which is just a fact. What are facts but the tools with which people build great lies?”
LIKE YOURSELF. IT’S TAKEN A LOT OF SLEEPLESS NIGHTS TO CONVINCE YOURSELF YOU’RE A VAMPIRE.
“Think of it as a metaphor. A metaphor more telling and useful than most. Besides, when you’ve seen what I have, sleep is overrated. Now, I don’t know who you really are--though I don’t think you’re hapless cousins from Bavaria--but I’m warning you that I intend to end this feud between Schneider and Lahnstein. Your presence serves my ends, but if you try to make the situation worse, I will... take you out of the equation.”
“Why would we want to help this silliness continue? This feud’s the stupidest thing I’ve seen, and I’ve seen people do a lot of stupid things.”
“Good. We must cooperate or perish. The fate of the world depends upon it. Think on that. I have seen the storm that approaches, though the sky may look clear now. Think on that and decide whether you will help.”
Susan lowered the poker. NO, THINK ON THIS: THE FATE OF EVERY WORLD DEPENDS UPON THIS. IF WE FAIL, THE UNIVERSE DIES.
The vampire contemplated them for a moment before shrugging. “And what’s the universe to me? I haven’t seen the universe. The universe has never done anything for me. No, it’s this world I care about, and it’s this world I intend to save.”
THAT’S RATHER SELFISH OF YOU.
“Well, vampires aren’t exactly known for charity, are they?” He let out that echoing cackle one last time and swept away, disappearing behind the tapestry and leaving no hint of his existence except for a few dying ripples of cloth.
Susan dropped the poker and ran over to throw back the tapestry, but the wall behind was solid stone, and the vampire was nowhere to be found. “We’ll have to be on the lookout for secret passages,” Susan said.
“Why would the fate of the universe depend on these two families?”
Susan patted down her hair. “I don’t know, but if you want to hide a secret, the best place is with family. That’s true for anyone, but with nobility, well, you could find a thousand secrets and still not be sure you’ve uncovered the one you need.”
To Chapter 21: In Which the Doctor Medicates Many People
Back to Chapter 19: Fairy Tails
Summary: Fate drops Susan, Adric, and Ten in the middle of a feud between two aristocratic German families in the 18th century because, let's face it, fate's a bit of a bugger.