Trust Me, I Know What I'm Doing > Hoorah for Progress! > The Whom It May Concern

Meanwhile, back at the cul-de-sac:

Having crossed and recrossed the empty space where Eloise’s TARDIS usually stood, waving about a small example of Clarke’s Law, the ninth Doctor studied the device’s readout, and frowned.

“It’s still here,” he announced.

“Why can’t we see it, then?” Emma asked. “And why didn’t you walk into it just now?”

“The real-world interface has been reoriented,” the Doctor explained. “Normally, it’s aligned with the set of dimensions we think of as everyday space-time—but someone has rotated it into a new set of dimensions. Instead of height, width, and depth it now has austh, truth, and xanth—or something equally strange.”

“So, why can’t we see it?” Emma asked. “And why didn’t you walk into it just now?”

“Because it doesn’t currently have any height, width, or depth—in this frame of reference, it’s merely an infinitesimal point. To all intents and purposes, it’s not here.”

“But you just said—” Emma gave up, and moved on to the practical point. “So there’s no way we can get in there and help them?”

“Now, I didn’t say that,” the Doctor protested. He looked thoughtful for a moment. “In fact, I—”

He broke off as another TARDIS materialised nearby. After a moment the door opened and a young man and woman stepped out.

“Hello,” said the young woman. “I’m Jenny, and this is Jimmy. We’re the fourth Doctor’s companions from Seven Keys to Doomsday.”

“We heard that there’s a party on,” Jimmy added, “and that all the Doctor’s companions, including those from other media, were invited—so here we are.”

“If you’re companions of the fourth Doctor,” Emma put in, “Why didn’t you arrive with the fourth Doctor?”

“But we did,” Jenny said. She turned and called back through the still-open door of the TARDIS. “Are you coming or not, uncle?”

“Just a moment,” another voice replied, and a long-haired older man in an old-fashioned outfit stepped out of the TARDIS, in the act of tying his cravat. “Hello,” he said, smiling, “I’m the Doctor. And you must be the Doctor. Pleased to meet you.”

Emma stared at the newcomer, and then turned to her own Doctor. “If he’s the fourth Doctor,” she said, bewildered, “then who was—”

“I’ll explain later,” said the Doctor reassuringly. “Right now, we need to see about getting in contact with Eloise and her guests.”

Emma nodded. “What were you about to say when this lot arrived?”

The Doctor hesitated. In fact, he had no idea—yet—how to communicate with the quadrillers, and had only spoken because he’d heard the first faint sounds of TARDIS materialisation and had thus been assured that the sentence would remain unfinished.

Then he relaxed, and smiled. “I was about to say that I—”

He broke off as another TARDIS materialised nearby. After a moment the door opened and a young man and woman stepped out, followed by a small furry alien.

“Hello,” said the young man, who was wearing an outfit typical of the late 18th century. “I’m Jason, and these are Crystal and Zog.” He paused, and moved out of the way as another young man—this one wearing a more modern ensemble featuring a Greenpeace t-shirt and a fedora—exited the TARDIS. “We’re the fourth Doctor’s companions from The Ultimate Adventure.”

Emma looked bewildered. She was about to press her Doctor further1, when yet another TARDIS materialised. This one was shaped like a double decker bus.

“Oh hell,” thought Ninth, looking from the bus-TARDIS to his fiancée. “I’m not going to be able to explain this later…”

Sixth stood fretting, his attention divided fruitlessly between an inaudible conversation and an obscure yet stupid and subtly tasteless one. Imran took pity or something on him, distracting his titanic intellect2 by focusing on the other pressing problem.

“Carrie and the Trader,” Imran pointed out.

The Doctor slapped his hands together gleefully. “Where? I knew, of course, that they’d be—”

“Still not here?” suggested Trella helpfully.

“Precisely.” The Doctor pouted heroically. Peri came out in sympathy.4

“Actually,” Mel confided in an undertone, “I’ve always fancied—”


“—Cliff Richard.”

“I don’t see what that has to do with anything!”

Mel sighed. “Yes, that’s what he thinks too. But, Peri, surely you can’t be unstirred by Wired for Sound? Was there ever such a funky techno-anthem before its time?”

“Er,” said Peri intelligently. “Um, Mel, you being the genius, you may have noticed our problem right now is—”

Carrie Doesn’t Live Here,” she of Pease Pottage agreed, going automatically into a dance routine, “Any More…

“A bonnie performance,” agreed Jim Sledge, oozing up from behind with eyebrow ready-cocked, and slinging Mel over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry.


Everyone else seemed to have something more urgent to do than meddle with the super secret agent star of The Man from L.U.R.V.E., so a resurgent Sugar Rae now performed that service.


“Sugar, my darling!”

“Don’t sugar me! And while you’re about it,” the two implausibilities sparred briefly in three non-existent martial-arts styles, to general public indifference, “don’t sugar—MMMMPH! Call that a kiss, Jim Sledge?!” Mel, unregarded, crashed to the floor, mercifully depriving her of the breath to maintain her Time and the Rani special. “Well, call this a—” Our heroes, too, crashed to the floor in a separate and distinct capacity, thus allowing us under the specious rubric of good taste to forget about them for, oh, how precious is that while.

“So,” Imran persisted, as sphinxes reddened, agents cavorted, and rats infodumped, “where are they? Do you know what fanpower is? Does anyone?”

“I do,” Trella said.

She suddenly found herself the centre of attention.

“Well, actually, make that ‘I know what fanpower is’,” she went on. “I don’t have a clue where they’ve gone…”

“So what is it?” Imran was not in the best of tempers.

Trella grinned. “I should know this. It’s the power of your Inner Fan—the thing you have that makes you a fan of something.

“What I think’s happened is that either Carrie or the Trader—I’m betting Carrie—invoked their inner fan just as they were getting sucked through into their private world. I’m not sure why, though…”

Adric frowned. “Hm…”

“I would have thought that was obvious,” Sixth harrumphed. “In invoking her inner fan—calling upon something that is by nature both private and public—I do believe Carrie managed to shift her end-location, to shift her to a rather more public world, a world she happens to be a fan of.”

“Which is…?”

“E. E. ‘Doc’ Smith’s Lensman series,” Sixth said. “From that point, Carrie and Gray should have no trouble finding their way back—hence her warning not to follow. Although how our charming demoness came by her knowledge of all this…”

Trella raised an eyebrow. “I’m PA to the Goddess of Metafiction and a raving Spike fangirl. You think I don’t know about this?”

Imran frowned. “Hold on, hold on… something’s nagging at me. Something about all this. About this whole private and public thing. It’s nagging at me… Something about worlds. Individual worlds. Shared worlds. What we—wait.

“I think I’ve just worked something out.

Individually. This whole thing happened individually, one by one. It didn’t happen all at once, and it didn’t happen to a group of people. One person, each at a time.

“It’s not time efficient—but then, I don’t think time’s been a concern in this. This hasn’t been about time. Removal. That’s what I’m getting the impression of. The people here were removed. Pulled into their own individual worlds. Their private worlds. The worlds they held inside. The worlds they’d created inside themselves, for better or worse. Not shared worlds… personal worlds. The ultimate in personal tailoring—because they tailored it themselves.

“But no-one’s moved in.

“This wasn’t about invasion—that’s out. It was about removing the people here. Removing them so this thing could…” Imran trailed off. “That’s what I’m missing. Could what?

“Sandra said that thing was trying to survive,” Adric said. “But it hasn’t actually done all that much. I think it’s trying to recover itself. Trouble is, it’s in a very fragile state, and too many people, too many minds…”

“…So it had to clear the natives out of the way before they could interfere,” Imran concluded. “Before they tried seeking it out. All of this’s been about its survival.

“Something that couldn’t handle multiple minds—or maybe not anymore. Something that found multiplicity damaging.” He frowned. “Hm. Reminds me of something… Amber worked the exact opposite way. Too powerful for one, so she became one of Gaia’s Powers. Whatever this thing is… Too fragile for many, but stable around a few…”

“But what?” Tegan demanded of the world at large. “What is this thing?!”

Sandra’s words echoed in Eloise’s mind, so clearly that she spoke them aloud, barely realizing it: “…fighting to survive.”

“Hmm?” Eighth half turned to her, half still studying the reliefs.

“It’s fighting to survive,” Eloise said, louder. “At least, that’s what Sandra said.”

“Well, yes,” Harry replied, “now. But that doesn’t mean that’s why it began all of this. It—whatever ‘it’ is—must have been stronger way back when, or its effect wouldn’t have been so devastating. … Right?” He turned to the others for confirmation of his theory.

There was brief, quiet rhubarb, half to the effect of “Yeah, that makes sense,” and half, “Well, maybe.” Harry was not altogether reassured.

“Hey!” Charley called out, “Look at this!”

They turned. Charley was some yards away, crouching down in a natural alcove formed by a cluster of stalagmites.

Eighth went over and crouched beside her. “What is it?” he asked.

“Here.” Charley traced a pattern with her finger along the cave wall, near the floor. “I think it’s some sort of carving. But I don’t know—it’s really worn. It might just be the shape of the rock.”

The Doctor followed her finger with his own. “No,” he said, “no, the curves and angles are too geometric—too regular—for that. It’s definitely a carving. The technique and style are very crude, however. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the oldest carving of them all—made before the natives had fully adapted to life down here. Hmmm. I really wish I could make out what this inscription is of, though.”

Glitch-Bob came over and peered over the Doctor’s shoulder. “It’s a picture of that beast we found over there,” he said, turning to point at the fearsome creature they had found lurking in the background, near the beginning of the story. “Very stylized and minimalist, but definitely the same.”

“You certain of that?” the Doctor asked, turning to look at him.

Glitch-Bob nodded. “I’m a Guardian,” he said, simply. “It’s my job to recognize viruses, even though they try to mutate themselves, and change their form. They try—but there is always the trace of their original signature—their unique pattern—that continues through all their transformations. The same is true with language—and art.” He now moved his own finger along the shape. “There’s the head. See? And the legs?”

The Doctor nodded. “Yes …yes!! Of course… So this beast, whatever it is, must be at the center of all of this. I’d always assumed it was a native creature of this planet—part of the scenery. But now…”

One of the natives, the bold one who had grabbed Eloise earlier, now pushed himself between them to look at the carving himself, then started chattering excitedly to his fellows. And his excitement spread to the others.

“You know,” Fourth said, half to himself, “I don’t think even they knew it was there.”

“I’m not surprised,” Charley said. “It is very old and worn. If I hadn’t been looking for something, I never would have found it.”

Then the native traced his finger around another part of the carving they had missed—a shape surrounding the creature—like a balloon, or an upside-down bottle, balanced on its neck.

“What the—??” Charley asked.

“It’s a room,” Glitch-Bob said simply, “… or a cave. An enclosure of some kind. The creature is entering the room.”

They looked at him. He shrugged. “I’ve seen plenty of things like that on floorplans and schematics,” he said, in an ‘isn’t it obvious?’ sort of way.

“But why?” Harry asked. “And what sort of room is it?”

“Thunder and lightning in the sky,” Delirium piped up, “and the raindrops are teeth. Teeth have tongues. Tongues whisper. Whispers by the millions are louder than thunder.”

Harry glared at her. “That’s not an answer,” he said.

“Maybe it is,” Eloise said. “We—anybody, really—enter a room or a cave for shelter, protection. Maybe this creature, or whatever it is, came here for protection from something.”

Leela nodded. “When a creature is wounded, it will try to get away to solitude—to be alone.”

“But when it came here,” Fourth said, continuing her point, “It found this world inhabited—downright crowded, by the look of that city. And so, it came up with a way to get people to leave, one by one.”

“Rather inefficient, isn’t it?” Harry asked. “Why not go after the people all at once?”

“‘Whispers by the millions are louder than thunder,’” Eloise repeated. “Maybe it can only influence one mind at a time.”

“If you’re right,” Eighth said, “that might explain why the effect was so wobbly when we first arrived—why it took a while for it to take—whatever it is, it couldn’t handle all of us arriving en masse.”

“And then we split into smaller groups,” Glitch-Bob said, glumly. “How convenient for it.” Eloise cocked her head to one side. “I think,” she said, slowly, “that we may just have stumbled on the why. It, whatever it is, is trying to survive—that’s why.” She gazed a moment at the bas relief on the wall, then glanced at the two Doctors. “Have you finished your interpretations?”

“As much as we can do here,” Fourth said. “I wish I could access Sweetheart’s translation engine for some of these inscriptions…”

Eloise nodded. “I’m anxious to get back to her myself. And if our theories are correct, the sooner we’re back in a large group, the better. I think it’s time for us to go, and find the others.”

“I can carry these images,” Bob said, “in a packet of my RAM, at least, until we get back in range of Sweetheart’s translation engines.”

Eloise nodded. “I’m anxious to get back to her myself. But I think we should find Florestan, first, rather than going straight there. I don’t like the idea of … whatever this thing is … locking us out. She’s had enough of being tampered with. He’s her pilot, she may need his help more than anything, now.”

What she didn’t say was that she needed Florestan more than anything. When he first awoke out of his suspended regeneration, she saw him as someone who would take Sweetheart away from her. In the year or so that had just passed, however, he’d become the closest thing to a real family that she had ever known, eccentric and alien as he was.

“I’m not sure she is being tampered with,” Eighth said, in a reassuring tone, “… at least, not in the same way she has been in the past. What- or who-ever is doing this has likely never seen a TARDIS before, and so wouldn’t know how to tamper with her controls. My guess is that there is a lock between us and Sweetheart.”

“The same sort of lock that’s keeping the natives from returning out of their private universes?” Charley asked.

“That is one possibility,” Eighth said.

“Still,” said Eloise, quickly, feeling that she was losing her point, “he knows Sweetheart better than anyone… except maybe Sister herself,” she added, a little uneasily—the idea of Sweetheart’s split personality hadn’t quite sunk in, and she didn’t like it, especially after what happened last year. “At least, he certainly knows the whole of her better—I mean, he may know of a way around whatever’s locking us out.”

“You mean, a ‘back door’?” Donald asked.

Eloise nodded.

“Are you sure there is such a thing?”

“No,” Eloise said, fighting to keep her panic down. “But if there is, he would know. And besides,” she added, with more confidence, “if our theories are correct, the sooner we’re in a large group, the better. I really don’t want us scattering to the four winds to search for lost persons, only to become lost ourselves.”

Nth nodded. “Right,” he said. “If we meet up with the other two teams—before they split again, we can share what we’ve learned—and what we know may—no, will (unless I’m grossly misreading our predicament)—help Fifth and Sixth’ team overcome whatever hurdle they’re facing.”

Fourth nodded sharply, or at least as sharply as was possible for him. “Let’s do that, then,” he said.

“Walking up the beach leads the ocean to follow,” Delirium said, in a warning tone.

Eloise nodded. “The reality is slowly returning,” she said. “But that may not be enough. If this … being … is still here, and still trying to survive, it may start unraveling everything once we leave… It—it doesn’t seem malicious… at least, not deliberately so. It might have cleared this space of minds by killing everyone, but it didn’t. It simply moved them out of the way. The consequences have been devastating, but sometimes, when you’re feeling threatened, or hurt, you can’t think of that.”

Her mind snapped back to the curse she had made, and how the other trolls had cheered at that, their voices echoing in her head like voices in a nightmare, and she felt momentarily sick. She quickly slipped her hand into a pocket, and took hold of her favorite river pebble, to ground herself in the real. Now, of all times, she did not want to slip into her private world… not while it was so shaky.

She drew a deep, steadying breath. “If we could somehow provide this … being … with what it needs to survive, than maybe it would retreat from this world on its own.”

“A sort of Zero Room,” Eighth said, “such as we have when our regenerations get dodgy… only it would be a Zero World.”

“But how could we possibly build an entire world?!” Alryssa asked.

“The world we’re in now,” Eighth reminded her, “is on the sub atomic level, at least, from a third dimensional viewpoint.”

“Step one of our part of the quest seems to have been completed,” Fourth said. “… on to step two!”

“And that will require all hands,” Eloise said. “That means finding Fifth and Sixth—pronto!”

“So,” said Glitch-Bob, “hadn’t we better hurry?”

There was general rhubarb to the affirmative, and their little band started to leave the cavern, and head back up the way they had come. Eloise turned to wave her thanks to the natives for all their help, and was surprised to see them coming along.

“Do they know what they’re getting themselves into?” Charley whispered in an aside to Eloise. “I don’t think they’ve been above ground in 150 years.”

“Perhaps not,” said Eloise. “But are you going to tell them they can’t come? It’s their world, after all. They deserve to have a hand in trying to save it. Besides, once we get closer to Sweetheart’s translation engines, we’ll be better able to communicate.”

Charley nodded. But her brows were knit with concern.

And so, Fourth’s, Eighth’s and Nth’s group (nearly doubled in one fell swoop, thanks to the new volunteers), made their way back through the sewer tunnels. Eventually, they reached the odd trap door again, and Eloise pushed it open to the daylight.

The boundary of reality had not reached them, yet. They emerged into the same “ruined forest” as before. Nonetheless, they could see it approaching, like the front of a strong rainstorm in the distance, there was a clear delineation in the quality of light between one reality and the next.

Eloise broke into a sprint. “Come on!” she said, urging the others forward. “If we hurry, we can meet them more than half way!”

And she ran faster than anyone else thought possible, on her short, troll legs.

As the group made its way toward the reality wavefront, Donald suddenly realised that Paul had fallen behind. Turning, he saw that Paul had stopped, and was staring off into the forest.

A woman in a white dress stood among the trees, looking back at him with a haunted expression on her face.

Donald approached cautiously. “Paul…?”

“I’ve been waiting for something like this,” Paul said, not taking his eyes off the woman, “ever since someone worked out that events here were influenced by our expectations.”

The woman turned away, then back again, looking at Paul expectantly. Paul nodded, and began walking toward her.

“Paul,” said Donald, “do you think this might be an instance of slipping off into your own private reality?”

“Of course it is,” Paul said, still walking. “I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. There are bits of my private reality I wouldn’t mind a closer look at.”

“You’ll be trapped!”

“Yes,” Paul agreed cheerfully. “But not forever. Not with an entire joyful quadrille working on rescuing everyone. See you later.”

He reached the woman in white, who turned, and they walked off together into the forest.

Just before they disappeared from view, Paul stopped and turned back. “I’ve just realised something very interesting,” he said.

“Yes?” said Donald.

“I’ll tell you when I get back. ’Bye.”

And then he was gone.

Donald sighed, and hurried after the others.

Meanwhile— in the city of the Mentoids nestled deep in the Martian Highlands…

“So, let’s check off what we’ve got here,” said Evan.

“One Director’s Cut print of The Avengers,” began Zoe, checking off a list. “Missing footage from Metropolis, The Magnificent Ambersons, and Xanadu. Original prints of the Star Wars trilogy just in case. Notes for the unpublished supplements to the Dune RPG. Complete back issues of Tales of the Beanworld. ‘That one episode of Frasier that they always seem to skip in syndication’…” she put the list down. “Do we really need all this?”

“I explained this before—when are ever going to be here again? Keep going, I think we got that ‘Karkus’ omnibus.”

The Mentoid leader got up from his ivory throne, and walked towards the two. As one would expect, he was the sort of wise robed elder that frequently led advanced alien civilizations, complete with green, make-up-like skin.

“Take all you wish,” he said. “But do plan on returning. We are doing what we can to stabilize our environment, and I understand your friends are doing their best as well.”

“Really. I’ve never been able to follow what they’re doing without a flowchart,” Evan replied.

“Like what we’re doing makes any sense,” said Zoe.

“It does. Thematically, at least.” At this point Evan was praying that this time the conversation would not lead into him having to explain the plot of Exorcist II.

“Don’t worry, I figured it out,” said the Mentoid leader. “Except the bit where James Earl Jones turns into a leopard.”

Evan resisted responding, knowing full well that the palace contained his complete notes on the subject.

It was at this point that the kung fu hamsters attacked. Leaping into the entrance, the small, strange anime creatures, figments of a part of Evan’s imagination he really wished he’d kept secret, surrounded our heroes.

“They’re so cute!” said Zoe.

“Don’t let your guard down,” said Evan. “That’s how they get you.” He put his arms at his sides and held them out in a gesture of surrender. “What’s this about? What do you want?”

A yellow hard-hatted hamster, larger than the others, stepped into the middle of the circle formed by his henchmen. “We are the Solar Ham-Hams.”

“Yeah, I kinda made that happen. Sorry.”

“Are you kidding? This is great! Those cats won’t know what hit ’em…”

“Do you have any actual demands?”

“Oh, right. We came to you because you created us. Sort of. Anyway, we want out!”

“Out… you mean of this world.”

“Right. It’s too unstable here. Too many superheroes to compete with. If we follow you back to your world, we’ll live like kings!”

“I knew the quest wouldn’t be easy,” said Zoe.

“My horoscope was right. Animated hamsters were bound to cause me great misfortune,” said Evan.

Far and away in a great hexagonal chamber filled with rows of nearly identical books, a giant white rabbit sits morosely next to the inert body of a smashed automaton.

Discarded on the floor next to the rabbit, who wears a tattered waistcoat and a necklace of dirty finger bones, is an ancient, tattered book with the title The Revelation of St. Alice stamped on the spine.

“When Aholibamah bare Jeush, and Jaalam, and Korah, I bet he never envisioned the Oracle being smashed by an overstuffed tart and an empty marmalade jar,” said his companion, a melancholy Dodo resplendent in Carmen Miranda drag.

“The Revelation of St. Alice did,” the Rabbit murmured in voice as soft and sad as a plate of uncooked tofu at a Brazilian barbecue. “The Alone Time is fast approaching. Consensus reality is diverging. The multiversal biodata streams are being routed out of the main network into splinter nodes. But worst of all, without consensus reality, how will our shipments of Tang reach us? The work of the Indexers Guild of the Great Library will grind to a halt without the ingredients for Russian tea.”

“No Russian tea!” mourned the third inhabitant of the room, a punky Dormouse clad in black leather and myriad piercings. “Mousies can’t index on Turkish delight alone! Woe! Woe!”

“Woe is meeses and usses, too,” agreed the Dodo wholeheartedly. He picked sadly at the remains of a box of chocolates ensconced in his feathery lap.

“The Oracle’s last prophecy was wrong,” said the Rabbit. “The coming of the Two Who Are Somewhat Less Than One But Are Occasionally Useful proved to be a calamity. The Uttermost Whom is still unhealed. It will continue creating pearls of reality to protect itself against the demands of narrative.”

“Casting us poor swine into the pearls,” the Dormouse keened. “Oh woe! Woe! I don’t want to trapped in the metaphorical congealed snot of a non-existent mollusk.”

“Who will save us from the Whom?” muttered the Rabbit, lost in thought. “Who can save us?”

The diverse group of latecomers chewed the fat while waiting for Sweetheart to reappear.

“That was interesting,” Emma said, massaging her sore jaw. “Is blubber always that, well, blubbery?”

“Bler bler bler blerm bla blerm,” said a small boy standing next to her, his voice muffled by the orange parka hood that obscured all but his large eyes.

“Now, now, young man,” said Ninth. “Please refrain from using that sort of language in the presence of my fiancé. How a foul-mouthed young cretin like you acquired modified Time Lord DNA is beyond me, although I do find the concept of duplicate regenerations quite fascinating. Perhaps a conversation with Paul Gadzikowski is in order.”

The attention of the group was drawn to a new arrival, a man clad in a rumpled grey flannel suit, who walked with the staggering gate of the pleasantly inebriated. His fedora was askew and a festive lei was carelessly thrown around his neck.

“Boy,” he said, to no one in particular. “Next year, I’m going to the Pro-Chaos Villains’ Potluck and Bingo Tournament first. Those cats throw a mean soiree.” He focused on the group as if become aware of them for the first time and grinned.

“Howdy, folks,” he said, aiming to tip his hat in greeting but missing by a country mile. “Joe Wade, ace reporter and man-about-town, at your service.” He stopped, a look of sobriety growing on his features. He stared blankly at the empty lot vacated by Sweetheart. “Wait. Something’s missing.”

A long moment passed. Realization dawned on Joe’s face.

“Hmmm, I think it’s my underwear.”

“Nuku-Nuku hears something,” said the android.

“Could it be…?” said Amber.

“Let’s go see,” said Q, and the group headed back up the stairs.

In the room where they had first entered the university, they found the group of their friends led by 4th, 8th, Nth, and Eloise. The hostess excitedly told Doctors 2, 3, 1, and 7 all about the discovery she had made in the sewers, introduced them to one of the natives, and told them the ‘why’ of the problem: Someone or something was only trying to survive.

“Great!” said an annoyed Q. “Just great! This party has turned into one of those ‘Don’t hurt this thing, it’s alive!’ episodes of Star Trek! Now you’re going to get all noble and pacifistic, and you won’t be any fun!

“Q,” said Amber, “maybe someday you will be the one in trouble, and then you’ll appreciate the help of those humans you find so boring.”

I think that’s wonderful,” said Amy to Eloise. “I enjoy those episodes that Q doesn’t. I think we’re about to find out what it’s like to be Jean-Luc… whoa, those are big shoes to fill.”

“That reminds me,” said Q. “I haven’t heard you talk about the Prime Directive all night. Whatever happened to, ‘This is the way things are, and we don’t have any right to interfere?’ “

“Unlike Jean-Luc, I never took the oath to uphold that rule,” answered Amy. “Besides, this adventure was too good to pass up.”

“Excuse me, but there’s more,” said Eloise.

“Let’s hear it, then,” said Third.


Eighth stepped forward to explain his theories about how the quadrillers were being kept out of the TARDIS. “Now that’s the problem I would like to help solve,” said Q.

“Very well,” said Eloise. “Since Florestan is Sweetheart’s pilot, I think he might know of another way to get into her. We need to talk to him next.”

“Florestan,” Eloise said, cautiously, “do you know of another way into Sweetheart? Sort of a ‘back door’?”

“Hm,” he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose the way he did whenever he tried to puzzle something out. “I suppose you could say that Beloved already created a back door, when she interfaced with this universe, so it’s certainly possible.”

He paused, and looked into Eighth’s eyes. “But if your theory is correct,” he said, “then what we need is not so much a back door as a way to pick the lock, and we’ll need a way to do it with the technology we can get our hands on here.”

“Like MacGyver?” Gordon piped up, cheerfully.

“Who?” asked Florestan.

“Never mind…”

Q’s grin meanwhile, was growing broader, and Florestan eyed him uncomfortably. He had no idea who Jean-Luc was, but he had the feeling that the two of them shared a closer philosophy than he shared with Q.

“I wonder,” Florestan went on, eyeing the cube that had been so central to reversing the distortion of reality, “if our lock pick isn’t right under our noses…”

“You mean,” Harry asked, “it might have more than one function?”

“Wouldn’t be surprised,” Sarah Jane commented. “It certainly wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Indeed,” First said. “I propose that some of us stay here, and try to puzzle out a way to pick the proverbial lock, while you others catch up with my Fifth and Sixth selves, and see what’s keeping them, and get Sister back here, so we can reunite her with Sweetheart as soon as possible… Silly fools have probably gotten myselves in trouble again. Now, young man,” he said to Q, in a tone that assured all within hearing that he would brook no nonsense, “it’s about time we set to work, hm?”

“Young man, indeed,” grumbled Q. “I was around before life had even developed on your planet…”

“Maturity is as maturity does!” piped up Fourth, as he stepped forward to join the little group that gathered to see what other secrets the cube might reveal.

“You’re one to talk!” muttered First. “You’re even more of a clown than him,” he said, indicating Second. “And I didn’t think that was possible. Besides, shouldn’t you be with your ‘team’?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Fourth replied casually, idly dusting off his lapels. “I thought now would be as good a time as any for a team shuffle.”

Florestan nodded. “Now that we’ve each found the objects of our several quests,” he said, “it seems that the best thing to do would be to redivide, and share what we’ve learned with each other.”

There was rhubarb of general agreement with this as the three teams reshuffled into two. When it was over, the First, Third and Eighth Doctors decided to stay behind and work with the cube, while the Second, Seventh and Nth Doctors decided to go with Florestan and Eloise to seek out Fifth and Sixth.

As the groups divided up, Daibhid said, “Well, I don’t see myself being much use working on the cube. Bob?”

“I might be able to offer a hand,” Bob the Muse decided. “I’ll stay here. Does this mean you’re heading for the tower?”

“Might as well. Um, Sandra,” he called, as Schroedy jumped back onto his shoulder, “You did say the Sphinx wasn’t a threat any more?”

“Not a direct one, no. Like I said, Candy had a geas over Hashteput and thereby managed to… um… pacify her.”

“Oh yeah, that’s right. Y’know, that’s some pretty impressive geas-use,” Daibhid mused, in the tones of one who has misspoken a wish on more than one role-playing occasion. “Mrs Harcourt must be really clever with language.”

“That’s… certainly one way to put it,” said Sandra, straight-faced.

Q noticed that Amy was still standing there, watching. “You’re not going to look for our wayward friends?” he asked her.

“No, I think I’ll stay here,” she answered. “I want to see what happens, and besides, a lady doesn’t leave her date.”

Q smiled at that and picked up the mysterious cube. “Now what else can this thing do?”

To Eloise’s surprise, the natives that had followed her out of the caverns also divided up between the two groups, some choosing to stay behind and study the cube, and some, to make the trek to the tower.

“It’s almost as if they understand,” Eloise whispered.

“Of course they do,” Florestan said. “Just because we don’t understand them, without the use of Beloved’s translation engine doesn’t mean that they are without understanding. After all,” he reminded her, “it was their ancestors, 150 years ago, who designed and built the communication device that called us here in the first place.”

“Of course,” Eloise said, feeling her cheeks darken in a blush, “I should have realized. It was boorish of me not to.”

“You’re not the first to make such a mistake,” Florestan said, gently, “believe me.”

Eloise sighed and bowed her head. “I suppose so,” she said, “but still…” She felt a hand slip into hers, and looked up to see Genny, the troll that had helped her before, after she’d gotten upset at Magnus’s teleportation spell.

“It’ll be okay,” Genny said. “We’re on our way to a happy ending.”

“You sure?” Eloise asked.

“I’m sure,” Genny said. “I can feel it in my bones.” With that, she squared her shoulders and looked ahead to the tower in the distance.

And Eloise couldn’t help but do the same.

1 Get your minds out of the gutter, thank you.

2 “So-called because of the way it sinks without trace in a crisis, I suppose!”—Ms. R. J. Companion, MA, PhD, FRS, BEM3, MP, PlybngMnth.

3 British Empire Medal. Positively not the other kind. Unless she’s been wearing a Cunning Disguise all along. Of course, in that case she is probably the Master in a hyper-intelligent ananagrammatic regeneration; but let that pass!

4 No, not that way. Jeez Louise, didn’t you get your ration in the last chapter? Besides, Peri is a respectable married lady these days! Tsk tsk, etc!

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