Moving Along > Unexpected Company > New Discoveries

Despite the dark, and a general feel of dampness (Eloise was grateful for the lanterns they had bought), the sewers weren’t too bad, considering. But then again, after a hundred years or so, the contents of even the rankest sewer would decompose into ordinary earth.

More than anything, the air smelled of moss, and looking out the corner of her eyes, she could see it, plush as dark velvet, growing on the sides of the cylindrical walls. In places, where the concrete and steel had given way, long roots, moon-pale, broke through, reaching deep for water and nutrients.

It was as if life itself, banished from the surface by the pollution of the city, had retreated here, and was creating the world anew.

And then it hit them like a wall: the combined smells of stale and fresh urine and stools, as one would expect from a sewer still in use.

They fell into fits of coughing and gasping for breath.

The ammonia stung her eyes, and Eloise had to wipe the tears away in order to see. It was that she caught a glimpse of the man—hiding in the auxiliary tunnel off to their left—seeming as pale and thin as the roots that snaked around them, staring at them in wide-eyed horror and fascination.

Without thinking, she turned her head to get a closer look, reminding herself as she did so that it would only make him disappear. It didn’t though—at least, not in the way that the scenery disappeared. He remained in her vision. But as soon as he realized she was looking at him, he turned and ran back into the shadows even before the: “Hey!” had escaped her lips.

“What is it?” Fourth asked.

“There’s someone here,” she said, “—someone other than us,” she added.

“You sure it wasn’t a hologram?

“I’m sure—besides, holograms don’t generate this kind of smell.”

“True. But according to Sweetheart’s sensors, there was no life on this planet…”

“I know…” Eloise said. “Maybe there’s something blocking her detectors down here… I dunno.”

“Perhaps her detectors are as subject to being clouded by expectations as our senses,” Nimue suggested. “If she was expecting to find Not Life As We Know It in this dimension—well, you can’t look out the corner of a bioscanner.”

“What did he look like?” asked Donald. Eloise described the person she’d seen.

“Pale? Underground? Sounds like a vampire,” Eighth said, giving Pudentiana a nudge.

“What?” said Pudentiana. “I don’t know from vampires.”

“That’s a possibility though,” said Fourth. “Perhaps it’s something—not necessarily a vampire of course—that looks human but isn’t biological life.”

“That’d be why it didn’t show on Sweetheart’s detectors!” said Adric.

“Or it could be because her detectors are subject to the same perception distortion our senses are,” insisted Nimue, like any Doctor-analog loth to give up a hypothesis.

“There’s only one way to find out,” said Arthur.

“Very well put!” said Eighth, ushering Pudentiana forward.

“No,” said Eloise, “left. The tunnel that smells, remember I said?”

“Yuck,” said Grace.

As the troop trooped on, Alcides said to Allie, “Wow. That’s impressive.”

Allie asked, “What is?”

“If I saw something none of my friends saw, I’d have to spend half the story convincing them it was really there before they believed me.”

Allie chuckled. “I can guess…”

“Really?” Alcides said.

“Mm.” Allie gave Alcides a once-over. “Good job Xeffy isn’t here. Otherwise she’d be all over you.”

“Who’s Xeffy?” Alcides asked.

“My little sister,” Allie explained. “She goes all gooey over Smallville’s Clark Kent—and I think that’d translate over to you.”

“…It would?” Alcides said.

“Uh-huh,” Allie said.

Alcides frowned. “…Why? I mean, why gooey over me? Is it just because I become Hercules, or…?”

Allie chuckled again. “Nope. It’s because you’re a basically good-hearted kid who’s trying to do right, and trying to make sense of himself and his world.”

“Why does that make me any different from any other kid out there?” Alcides asked.

“I think it’s because it kind of gives people someone to identify with,” Allie said.

She gave him an appraising look. “That, and you are pretty good-looking…”

Alcides’s face reddened just a little.

The wizard’s guildhall turned out to be a stolid redbrick building, of plain decoration, secluded away in a clearing near the river bank.

“Och, is that it?” Jamie demanded.

“Were you expecting something different, Jamie?” Second asked.

“Och, I don’t know! Something more… dark and foreboding, y’know. Something that loomed a wee bit more. Or maybe something like a fairytale castle, or a castle in the clouds. Not this!

Victoria shuddered. “Speaking for myself, I think I rather prefer this…”

“Something wrong?” the Brigadier asked Dominic, who was frowning at the sight of the guildhall.

“Yes,” Dominic said. “I’m very much afraid I’m shaping perceptions at the moment.

“Back in the late sixteenth century, one of my Authors attended a university very much like this. He was fascinated by the capacity to uncover the mysteries of the past through divination—he dabbled in astrology, in hermetic study, in summoning and binding spirits…”

“What happened to him?” Amy asked.

“He died a peaceful death at the age of sixty-eight,” Dominic said. “Attitudes to magical studies were in a ferment during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries—my Author happened to be in a time, place, and society where people would, by and large, accept such things.”

“Oh,” Amy said.

Amber was looking more than a little discomfited by things.

“Amber-san?” Nuku-Nuku asked worriedly.

“…I’m fine, Nuku,” Amber said. “It’s just…” She sighed. “Old memories. Good memories. Bad memories. Things that happened a long time ago. Another time, another place, another world…”

She glanced over to Dominic, then away.

“I remember, Nuku. That’s the trouble. I remember… and I’m very much afraid I’m going to find those memories turning back on me. Especially here.”

“Don’t worry, Amber-san,” Nuku-Nuku said. “Whatever happens, we’ll be able to cope. After all, you managed to cope when it did happen, why wouldn’t you be able to cope now?”

“I was another person back then,” Amber said softly, “and the way I coped with things then…

“My heart froze, Nuku. Literally and metaphorically.

“But now… now, I’m someone else. And I know I can cope with whatever’s waiting for me.

“But that doesn’t stop me from being afraid.”

“That’s a good sign,” Nuku-Nuku observed. “If you were like you were before, you wouldn’t be feeling afraid. But since you are feeling afraid, that means you’re not like you were before. And that’s good.”

Amber’s mouth quirked. “Thanks, Nuku.”

“…Hm,” Third said, considering the entrance. “Are they likely to have let anyone in, or would this be a ‘restricted-access’ area? This is a wizard’s guild in-game—I doubt you want to risk normal people accidentally straying in at inopportune times… Ah, I know.” He cleared his throat. “I, the great wizard Quiquaequod, stand at your door and knock.”

The door swung open.

“Should I even ask how you did that?” the Brigadier inquired, raising an eyebrow.

“My dear Brigadier,” Third said. “A good magician never reveals his secrets.”

“He cast a ‘knock’ spell on the door,” Second whispered audibly to Amy.

Amy tried to conceal a grin.

Down the heavy stone staircase (or the freestanding metal fire-escape, but trying to keep them both in mind at the same time was giving Daibhid a headache) came a figure in a red robe.

“Welcome, travellers,” the figure said, and Daibhid suddenly realised its robes were identical to those of the Dungeon Master in the old D&D cartoon. However, instead of a short, balding old man, he was a lanky teenager with shoulder-length blond hair.

“JASON?” cried all Seventh’s companions at once. Sandra looked puzzled.

“Yes,” admitted the erstwhile Master of the Land of Fiction. “They told me I could help the people here. Use my powers to give everyone a Land of Fiction of their own. Once I realised what they really wanted, they imprisoned me here!”

“Who are ‘they’?” demanded Roz.

“I… I don’t know. I never saw their faces,” muttered Jason.

“And what were they really up to?” asked Chris.

“It’s kind of hard to explain…”

Sandra looked like she wanted to ask someone something, but the party had drifted through the huge room, and the only person nearby was Bob the Muse. Mindful of her father’s admittedly rather odd warning, she decided to leave it.

“Chris,” said Daibhid, “If you’re a Paladin, you can sense whether people are telling the truth or not.”

“In… the… game,” pointed out Bob the Muse heavily. “If this guy’s controlling things, I don’t think it applies to him.” He gave a half-grin. “He’s the DM, and he can fudge the dice rolls.”

“Oh, yeah. I keep forgetting that.” Bob rolled his eyes, but said nothing.

“I’m not sensing anything, anyway,” said Chris. “Looks like either Bob’s right or I just don’t know how to do it.”

“It doesn’t matter, anyway,” said Dodo. “The other teams are doing Who and Why. We’re looking for How, and that’s turned out to be him, hasn’t it?”

“Maybe,” muttered Seventh. “Jason, how did you avoid being detected by Sweetheart’s sensors?”

“Oh, er, this place is shielded. No energies get in or out, except through the main power conduits.”

“I see. Florestan?”

“Utter nonsense,” was Florestan’s verdict. “Nothing could shield against Beloved’s sensors without showing up as a shield.”

“Indeed,” said Seventh. He turned back to Jason. “And didn’t you lose any leftover fiction powers during that ‘Dr Who’ debacle?”

“That’s right!” said Mel.

“Er, I was, er, given new ones by… the people who took me here…” said Jason, uncertainly. “I’m… not sure how…” The Doctor cut him off.

“So, to sum up, you claim to be involved in this, but you don’t know who did it, you don’t know how they did it, you ‘can’t explain’ why they did it, and your presence here makes no logical sense! I wonder what I’d see if I looked at you through the corner of my eye?”

Sandra couldn’t contain herself any more. “Bob,” she hissed, “Who are you all talking to?” Bob the Muse stared at her. “You mean you don’t see him? Ah…”

Seventh raised his umbrella. “Or, indeed, if I did this. Shirak!” Instantly, the question-mark handle blazed with blue light. The Doctor swung it towards Jason, who disappeared.

“Did we do that?” asked Chris. “I mean, was it just another product of our minds?”

“I’m afraid not,” said Seventh. “If it had been, then it would have been the Master of the Land of Fiction, at least within the game, and my dispell wouldn’t have worked. No, this was something much more worrying. An illusion within the illusion.”

“How is that more worrying?” asked Daibhid.

“Because it was directed,” replied Florestan.

“Indeed,” confirmed First. “Someone wanted us to think we had finished our quest when, in fact, we had not. Daibhid, contact your cat and inform him that there is someone playing against us. Fortunately they seem to be using guile rather than force, at least for now, which is something we are rather more equipped to deal with.”

As Daibhid contacted Schroedy, Sandra said, “Now it’s all over, what was all that about?”

“Sandra didn’t see Jason,” said Bob the Muse. “Probably because he was an illusion.”

“Yes, in some games undead have resistance to illusions,” said Steven. “That could be handy, especially if whoever was behind that was a specialist.”

“So, as well as looking out of the corners of your eyes, ask Sandra what she sees, should anything odd appear,” said Seventh. “Now, lets see what else is here.”

“Do you think this illusionist might be responsible for the reality divergence, Grandfather?” asked Susan.

“Hmm? No, my dear. If it were, the illusions would be the reality of the game. He or she is obviously someone with an interest in delaying us, however, so is possibly in the employ of whoever caused this, but must act within whatever setting the inhabitants have created.”

They made their way to the staircase. “Congratulations!” muttered Chris. “You’ve reached Level Two.”

“Doctor,” Bob whispered to Seventh, “If you’ve dispelled the illusion, why are the lights still on? And why are they on in the power-plant at all?”

Seventh frowned. “I was wondering the very same thing…”

As the sixth Doctor led his group through the forest in the direction of the tower, Imran seemed to be thinking about something. After a while, he turned to the fifth Doctor.

“We’ve been called, under mysterious circumstances, to a realm cut off from normal space and time, we’re split up into four groups, and now we’re trying to get into a tower,” he said. “Is any of this ringing a bell?”

“‘Who to Rassilon’s tower would go, must choose: above, between, below,’” Molly quoted.

The fifth Doctor nodded. “It is a bit like the time all of me were called to the Death Zone, now that you mention it,” he said.

“That little ditty only mentions three choices,” Evelyn observed. “How did you manage with four groups? Doubled up on one route?”

“Of course not,” said the sixth Doctor, without looking up from the map. “That would have been uneven.”

“Then what did the fourth group do?”

The fifth Doctor grinned. “Went in the back way, of course…”

Eighth frowned. “Hmm. I’m not certain it’s safe thinking of this fantasy world as a hologram—or at least, not a hologram as we’d know it.”

“It’s not?” Grace said.

“I think it might be more suitable to think of it as virtual reality,” Eighth said. “Or rather, immersive reality.

“Remember when Bob first triggered this fantasy world? Even the air smelled fresh and clean. As Eloise said, you can’t simulate smell with a hologram—at least, not as we know it. But you can simulate it via a sufficiently advanced virtual reality.”

“Remember the Matrix?” Fourth said. “‘Who’ or movies will do.”

Grace ohhed in understanding.

Eighth nodded. “I think, for all intents and purposes, both the fantasy world and the default setting are equally real—at least, to us. The default setting would have been how people from our world normally perceived things—while the natives would have seen things from our world translated into their terms. And I suspect few, if any of us,”—here, he glanced at Compassion—“would have been able to comprehend those terms.” He raised his voice. “Eloise, when you said he wasn’t a hologram—you saw him both in the city and the fantasy, right?”

Eloise nodded. “Why?”

“Hmm…” Eighth said. “I don’t know. No life signs… which could mean he’s not an organic being…”

Fourth nodded. “A non-carbon based entity, perhaps. Or an energy-based lifeform.”

“We still have to find out,” Arthur reminded them.

“And that we shall,” Fourth assured him. “That we shall.”

Death of the Endless gave a fake cough, to get their attention. “Oh, there are ‘life signs’ here, all right,” she said. “I detect them, even if the TARDIS sensors did not.”

“Are you sure?” Fourth asked, skeptically.

“Am I sure—he asks! Of course I’m sure—it’s my job to tell the living from the dead, remember?” She paused. “… Of course,” she added, “most of the life here is vegetation and bacteria…”

Eloise nodded. “And since we had no reason, yet, to suspect the message we received was coming from a dead planet, we weren’t looking for all living things, just those living things we thought were trying to communicate with us.” She turned to the Doctors. “Do you remember what the sensors were set to detect?” she asked. “Was it all life—or just our kind of life?”

Nth shook his head. “All our attention was focussed on translating the message,” he said. “…I couldn’t say, at least… Sorry.”

Eloise frowned. “If Florestan were here… he’d know; but he’s not.”

She turned to Death. “You said most of the life here is vegetation and bacteria—but not all—besides us, I mean?” she asked. “Does that mean there are other animals here?”

Death nodded. “That’s right—again, mostly not like you: small invertebrates—‘worms’, ‘bugs’, that kind of thing.”

“Was that being I saw an animal—alive?”

Death looked slightly embarrassed. “I couldn’t say,” she said. “I wasn’t paying attention.”

“…maybe I did imagine it, then,” Eloise said, in a very small voice. The next thought, she did not utter: is this what it was like for the natives, when they wandered into their own universes?

Just then, a metallic clattering echoed all around them—like a small stone being kicked loose and bouncing along an old iron pipe to a new resting place.

And it wasn’t just Eloise who started, this time.

“What was that?” Charley asked.

Suddenly, all around them, faces appeared, most barely visible in the dim light, except for large round eyes that glowed orange in the light of the lamps.

“Death?” Eloise asked, in a tense whisper.

“As alive as you are,” Death answered back.

“Then why didn’t the sensors pick them up?” Eighth asked, in desperation. “They weren’t here an hour ago!”

Death shrugged. “Neither were we,” she said.

Florestan sighed. “I wish I could check Beloved’s sensors now,” he said, quietly.

“Think maybe they were malfunctioning, before?” Barbara asked.

He shook his head. “No, they weren’t malfunctioning—I checked every fault indicator. But that was at least an hour ago. Beloved’s sensors may be picking up very different readings, by now.”

Barbara shook her head. “What difference can an hour or two make?” she asked. “This universe has been empty for over a hundred years!”

“That’s one thing we’ve been assuming, but that doesn’t mean our assumptions are correct.”


“Imagine this:” Florestan explained, “you find an abandoned house—doors unlocked, windows broken, animal nests in the rafters, trees growing up through gaps in the porch steps—every sign that the place has been empty of human habitation for generations—and decide to explore—”

Barbara nodded.

“—and then, you hear footsteps coming from the floor above you—or the lights suddenly come on—what would you think is the most reasonable explanation?”

“That someone else is in the house, too…”

“Indeed. That message we received was one hundred and fifty years old, and it only told us one thing for certain: that the people seemed to wander off into their own universes…

“We’ve been assuming two things,” he said, “in a situation where it is dangerous to assume anything: first, that we were the only people to receive and interpret the beacon, and second, that when the natives turned mad, they walked out of this world through a one-way ‘valve’—what if we’re dealing with a two way ‘door,’ instead?”

Barbara paused to consider this. “…You mean,” she asked, “the natives may still be living here?”

Florestan half nodded, half shrugged. “Or at least, passing through.” A smile twitched at the corners of his mouth. “Just because a house is empty at one moment, doesn’t mean it won’t have wall-to-wall guests the next. … Believe me, I know.”

“It’s our quest to discover how ‘this’ happened,” Barbara said, slowly, “but we never really stopped to ask what ‘this’ is—did we?”

“How do you open a door out of—or into—a universe?” Florestan asked. “And more important: how do you close it again? If there are … entities … coming through these doors who wish to thwart us or do us harm, I don’t doubt they’ll be going after the others as well. For the safety of all of us, we must solve our part of the puzzle quickly.”

Behind her, Eloise could feel Glitch Bob go into full Guardian mode, his armor clanking. If she’d been certain that these were viruses or other hostile entities, that would have made her feel very safe indeed. However, these might be the very people they’d come to help—victims of the same catastrophe that devastated the civilization so long ago, and in any case, these strangers good, or bad, held clues to what was going on—whether they knew it or not. It wouldn’t do to attack first and ask questions later.

“E—Excuse me,” Eloise said quickly, before he could take matters into his own hands, “we received a message from this world, and we came to help… We don’t mean any harm.”

Several strangers glanced uncertainly at each other, and continued to stare at the questing party.

Eloise wondered what they saw; but whether they saw the intruders as they actually were, or as some illusion, the party of quadrillers must have been a strange sight.

“D—Do you understand what I am saying?” Eloise asked. And still, no one answered her.

“Doctor,” she whispered to Eighth, out of the corner of her mouth, “if the sensors were blocked, would the translator be blocked as well?”

“A block would’ve been detected.”

“Yes, yes,” Eloise said, a little impatiently, “but would the translator be blocked?”

“I’m not familiar with Florestan’s TARDIS,” the Doctor said, “but it wouldn’t surprise me.”

Eloise nodded and sighed.

Meanwhile, the natives (for that is what she had to assume they were, using Occam’s Razor as a guide), were getting restless, and a few seemed to be veering toward hostility. GlitchBob seemed to be following suit.

Then, she remembered the map, which she had clenched in her hand. She went up to the man nearest to her, and by means of gestures and what she hoped were quizzical looks, tried to make clear that they were trying to follow the map (and hoped, in the back of her mind, that the destination marked by the X was not forbidden territory).

This produced an even greater reaction than she had hoped for, for the man snatched the map from her, and passed it among his fellows. There was much chatter in a language she did not recognize (So the translator is blocked, she thought).

And the next thing she knew, someone had grabbed her by the hand, and was half leading/half dragging her at a run down one of the side tunnels.

Eloise hoped the others would be able to keep up. Then, she wondered if that would be a good idea.

As Daibhid filled Schroedy in on what had happened in the power plant, Schroedy frowned.

He had to tell the others about this.

Now, who could he tell…?

…Not Nuku-Nuku—she was a nice kid and all, but Schroedy didn’t want to risk the message getting translated through Nuku-Nuku’s own unique brand of English.

Amber, then.

It was worth a shot.

He hopped down off his perch and padded over to Amber.

Amber noticed his arrival, and crouched down.

“What’s up?”

Schroedy really, really hoped Amber could understand Cat.

Here went nothing…

:::We’ve got company.:::

Amber’s expression darkened. “Company?”

:::Uh-huh. Someone who’s got an interest in delaying us. Tried an illusion on Daibhid’s team to make them think they’d finished the quest, but they managed to see through it in time. They might try—hold on, hold on, I’m getting something else—oh cruk.:::

“Schroedy?” Amber said.

:::Hold on, hold on… this might take a bit…


“What’s he saying?” Jo asked.

“Wait,” Amber said.

:::…Okay,::: Schroedy said eventually, after a few minutes, :::Florestan suspects we’re not the only people here—that someone turned up after we did. Maybe we triggered an alarm system or something—or maybe they were coming round for another visit.

:::Anyway, Florestan suggested that people didn’t just end up disappearing into their personal universes—he suggested that the paths between universes were two-way, that someone used these people’s personal universes to enter this world too.

:::He also said we should be on the look out for whoever’s coming through—it looks like they’re trying to delay us for the moment, but they may decide to change tactics.:::

Amber relayed what Schroedy had told her to the others, her expression dark with rage.

“…Someone has been interfering,” she said finally, when she reached the end of her telling. “Someone has been interfering with this world, with these people… and with my domain.

“Someone has been using people’s stories against them, using them to trap the natives, to render this world uninhabited for over a hundred years.

“And that someone—or someone taking advantage of what they’ve done—is here. Now.

“No more.

“This ends. Now.

“Whoever is behind this will answer to me.

“And I will know exactly what they think they are doing.”

Q’s eyes narrowed. “Who are you? Who are you, that you claim a domain?

“I thought there was something familiar about you… not just the face, but the aspect, there was something about the aspect… but I couldn’t put my finger on it, not without my full power…

“Who are you, Amber? More than just a Muse, I’m willing to bet…”

“You’re right,” Amber said quietly. “I’m a Power.

“I am the Power of Folktale and Metafiction, who works to inspire Gaia’s world alongside the Nine.

“And in time past, I was the Lady Electra, first among Gallifrey’s Muses. The Elegiast, the Lifegiver, the Muse of the Past.

“I have been named She Who Is Become Mourning, Twice-Bereaved, Cold-Heart.

“I am the Firstborn of this Universe’s Powers. Not the eldest—there are those older even than I—but the first to be born, to be birthed of another.

“Remember me now?”

Electra?” Q echoed. “That was a long time ago…”

Amber’s mouth quirked. “That it was…”

“So this is what happened to you…” Q said, taking her in. “I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind this, but somehow, I doubt we have the time…”

His eyes met hers. “What of your sisters? The last I heard, you’d been banished from your homeworld…”

“We were,” Amber said quietly, almost pained. “Typhon attacked us as we left, and fell upon Anastasia and Chloe.

“Chloe he killed, but Anastasia survived—at the cost of most of her power. When she came out, she’d been reduced to human-level.

“You might have seen her at the party—the girl who looked like Dawn Summers?”

“Ah,” Q said. “And the others?”

“Do not ask, for I will not speak,” Amber said, her voice tight and strained. “But Agave, Penelope and Philomela are gone, gone and dead, these aeons past.

“And this you know, Q, know full well—a Power may kill a Power.”

Q looked down, away. “I had thought…” He shook his head. “No. It doesn’t matter now. Not now.”

He hesitated for a moment. “I am sorry.”

“I know,” Amber said softly. “I know.”

She sighed, bent down, picked up Schroedy, and placed him on her shoulder.

“Well then,” she said. “Shall we continue?”

Amy gazed at her date. “I don’t really know what you’re talking about,” she said in an awed voice, “but I’m amazed to find out that you know each other…”

“There are lots of things in my past that would amaze you,” said Q.

“How can that be, though? She’s from the Who-niverse…”

“Worrying about the Trek timeline again? These human concerns…”

“That timeline is hopeless. I’ve given up worrying about it. It’s just… I’m feeling the impact of learning that there’s something connecting the two series.”

“And where I’m from,” added Third, “we don’t worry about the timeline too much.”

“I could say exactly the same thing,” said Q.

…And Schroedy let Daibhid know how Amber took his message…

“…Whoa,” Daibhid said, as if he had just seen three-headed Cerberus being led down the street on a leash. “Amber’s really worked up,” he said. “… Says that whoever’s behind this are using people’s personal stories against them… and that’s her turf. …I’d hate to be whoever sent that illusion when she gets ahold of them.”

Florestan shook his head, confused. “She is a former Power,” he said, “so she might very well have insights that we don’t … but we’re just starting to examine how whoever ‘they’ are are getting into this world. What makes her think it’s through personal stories?”

“That was from me, I’m afraid,” Daibhid said, blushing a little. “I told Schroedy that the ‘guy’ that was just here was Jason—the last Master of the Land of Fiction,” he explained.


“One of my previous adventures,” the seventh Doctor said dismissively, “no time to go into it now. I’ll tell you about it later.”

Florestan gazed at the Doctor for a moment with growing admiration. “I’m beginning to get the feeling,” he said, “that you have a lot of interesting stories in your lives.”

The Doctor chuckled. “You could say that,” he said.

Florestan sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. “Unfortunately, Daibhid, I think this Jason character is a bit of a red herring—red robe and all. Whoever sent that illusion wanted us to think in terms of fiction and stories… they also wanted us to think our quest was over before it began.” A wry smile stretched across his lips, and those assembled did not have to look very hard to see the renegade willing to defy custom and law to go on a solitary quest. “I’m in a contrary mood,” he said. “Whatever direction of thought ‘they’ want to lead us in, I’m inclined to go in the opposite direction.”

:::Ah,::: Schroedy said.

“Ah?” Amber said.

:::They’re, er… not sure about this ‘personal story’ thing. Daibhid thinks you got the idea from him, and Florestan suspects someone’s trying to lead us into thinking in terms of fiction and stories.:::

Amber shook her head. “That wasn’t where I got the idea from.

“Remember what the original message said? The natives’ private, perceptual worlds—the worlds within their heads, the stories in their heads, and so much more—were becoming real. That’s what I meant about ‘personal stories’—someone used the natives’ personal stories, their personal worlds, against them.

“I don’t think anyone’s trying to lead us down that line of thought—or if they are, they’ve had it set up for a very, very long time.

“Nevertheless, as it stands, this is in my domain. Should that prove wrong… even if it is, someone did this to this world, to these people, robbed this world of its inhabitants. And someone, here, now, is taking advantage of that—maybe the same people, maybe not. Maybe they’re unaware of what happened… or maybe they’re not.” Amber’s voice hardened. “Whichever way it goes, I believe I have some cause to be angry.”

Schroedy nodded, and sent his response back to Daibhid.

He also stuck on a personal addendum.

:::What did Florestan mean, former Power? ‘Cause where I’m sitting, she’s not looking very ‘former’ to me…:::

:::I don’t know,::: replied Daibhid. :::I think she used to be a much bigger power?:::

:::Yeah,::: replied Schroedy, who’d got that much from her conversation with Q. He’d actually been thinking Daibhid might ask Florestan what he’d meant, but it looked like the human’s nervousness with anyone he viewed as an authority figure was starting to kick in. It was a wonder he was able to speak to the Doctors. :::So you tell your gang Amber’s reasoning, and I’ll catch up with you later.::: He shut off the connection and turned to the rest of the party, who were still discussing their next move.

:::Excuse me,::: he said, :::but are we going to stand in the doorway passing messages all day or are we going to actually enter the building?::: And, answering his own question, he jumped off Amber’s shoulder and stalked inside.

“Schroedy, wait!” cried Amber, but it was too late.

This was great! Acting as a field telephone was all very well, and he was glad to be helpful, but he wanted adventure!

He wanted what? He was glad to be what?? He stopped, and shook his head. Obviously the mental link with Daibhid was causing some sort of feedback. What he really wanted was for this all to be over, and to return to the kitchen, or anywhere else there might be food. But this seemed like the best way to achieve that, as well. Or at any rate better than hanging about in the door.

“Oh, my giddy aunt!” cried Second. “There could be all kinds of nasty booby traps in there that need a wizard to unlock them.”

Over his shoulder, but uncomprehended by all except Amber and Nuku-Nuku, Schroedy tossed the response: :::I’m a familiar. Besides, I don’t think there’s anything here that I can’t deal with. Let me remind you I’m a very-near-Siameeeeeeee!::: The final shriek, just as he went out of sight, was quite understandable even to those who didn’t understand Cat.

Amber looked concerned. Then she struggled not to smile. “He’s okay,” she said. “He says to watch out for the marble floors.”

“So it’s safe for us to follow then?” asked the Brigadier, who was getting a bit breathless in his chainmail.

“Oh, I shouldn’t think so for a moment,” replied Third. “You can’t have magical defences… or mechanical ones… that get tripped every time an animal goes past. There’s likely to be all sorts of things there that simply ignored Schroedinger. We don’t have a rogue on our team, so we shall just have to be cautious. On the other hand, I don’t think the traps are likely to be fatal. Just inconveniencing. So, shall we enter?”

Q, who had been leaning against the wall with his arms folded, somehow contriving to radiate the forebearance he was showing in not mentioning that he could have sorted the whole thing out by now, if they hadn’t insisted he gave up his powers, caught the last sentence and deftly slipped into the leadership position.

The other natural leaders, who’d been paying more attention to Third (Third himself being one of them, of course), decided to let him.

A smile briefly flicked across Florestan’s lips after Daibhid relayed the message from Schroedy. “Ah,” he said. “I would not have thought of a whole universe of perception as a narrative—but then I am not a muse.”

The First Doctor coughed impatiently. “Philosophising on the nature of reality is all well and good,” he said, “—in the right time and place… But this is neither the right time nor place! We have a piece of unknown technology to discover, and someone else is looking to find it before we do. I therefore suggest that we get a move on—hm?” He looked about ready to poke Daibhid in the ribs with the tip of his wand. “What does your map say, m’Boy? Where in this ‘castle’ shall we find the proverbial ‘X’?”

Daibhid squinted at the map. “Looks like it’s some room in the center—the throne room, perhaps?”

“The most fortified place in the Castle Keep,” Seventh said, nodding. “Figures.”

“And in a power plant, that would be… the reactor core?” Ian surmised.

There was general rhubarb in the affirmative.

“Then let’s get a move on!” First said.

“Though be on the lookout for whoever sent that ‘Jason’ character,” Seventh warned. “Shan’t be too pleased that the effort to turn us away failed utterly.”

previous - index - next

Story copyright © 2003 the original authors; this compilation copyright © 2003–2005 Igenlode Wordsmith and Paul Andinach; HTML modified by Imran Inayat.