Part 3

by BKWillis


'She talks to birds
She talks to angels
She talks to trees
She talks to bees
She don't talk to me.
Talks to the rainbows
And to the seas.
She talks to trees
But she don't talk to me.'
--The Ramones


She was beginning to feel like a fool.

For the second day in a row she'd tried to start a conversation with
Embericles as they left the cafeteria and for the second day in a row
her overtures had been met with either blank silence or the flat-
voiced statement, "You're in my way." Nyssaias was a patient girl,
particularly when it came to those who were troubled in some way,
but the redhead's utter stony indifference was starting to grate.

And yet... wasn't that perhaps part of her fascination with the girl?
For as long as Nyssaias could remember, people had responded to
her cheery good nature. When she went out of her way to be nice
to someone, they always responded. Always. A smile and some
kind words had never failed to have an effect, whether it was
stopping a child's tears, calming an angry man, or bringing a smile
to a grouchy old woman's face. The happiness and sheer joy in
life that she felt and that her father and stepmother had taught her
to share had won through every time. Except for now, it seemed.

But no, it would be wrong to view this as some sort of challenge.
To do so would be to turn Embericles into an object to be dealt
with, rather than a person to be helped. And that was what this
should be about, helping someone who needed it.

But... what if that person didn't want to be helped? Was it right to
be so intrusive, especially when the person in question wasn't
hurting anyone else and seemed perfectly content with their lot?
Forced help was no help at all.

And besides, she really was feeling pretty foolish.

Nyssaias took her seat in Mr. Borusa's classroom, not looking
over to see if Embericles had already arrived. She wouldn't give
the girl so much as a look, she decided. She had plenty of other
things to occupy her, anyway. If Embericles approached her, well
then she'd be friendly enough. Otherwise, she'd just let the girl be.

"I'll let her make the first move," Nyssaias muttered.

She didn't look up from her notes when Embericles came into the
room, although she was aware of the bat-winged girl from the
moment she approached the door. She'd have to be catatonic not
to be aware, with the way conversations would mute and a cold
tension would settle over everyone. Still, it was a point of pride
to her that she didn't look.

Class began with the usual roll call and last-minute scribblings to
complete assignments, something Nyssaias herself never had to
resort to.

"Class, we're going to do something a bit different today," Mr.
Borusa announced. "I've read and graded the stories you turned
in on Tuesday and now I'm going to hand them back, but not to
their authors. What I want each of you to do is read the work of
one of your classmates, then analyze the piece. You will do this
by writing an essay detailing your criticisms of the piece. In your
analysis, you will discuss what you liked and disliked about the
story, what was effective about it, and how the climax relates to the
body of the story."

Nyssaias perked up at that. Reading and writing fiction were her
two favorite things and she reveled in schoolwork that let her do
either. Plus, it would be interesting to see what someone had to
say about the story she'd written, which she was rather proud of.
'Tilting the Scales', it was called, a comical love story about a
bumbling knight and a lovestruck dragon who'd both fallen for the
same princess. It had a happy ending, of course. It also had an
abundance of puns, which were something of a secret vice of hers.
She hoped whoever read the piece enjoyed them as much. She
wrote well, and knew it, but she also knew that not every sort of
story suited every taste.

When Mr. Borusa tossed her assigned story onto her desk, she
thought for just a moment that she was being given her own work
back and felt a twinge of disappointment. The staple-fastened
bundle was over a dozen pages and she knew that few other
students would invest so much effort into what they thought of as
a chore. But the handwriting was all wrong: crabbed, dense,
forward-slanted letters packed into the full length of every line.

'Ironclad', read the title at the top. Intrigued, she picked it up and
began to read.

'The pain of remembering that which we had and lost pales beside
the agony of the might-have-beens. The road we chose not to
travel lies forever in our minds, forever enticing and forever beyond
our reach...'


"Excuse me, Coach Rorvik, but isn't dodgeball a children's game?"

The steely-eyed Physical Education instructor turned his withering
glare on the student who'd dared to speak up, fixing him in place
with that harsh gaze that he thought was intimidating, but which
actually just made the students uneasy because it made him look
like he might have a seizure. "A kids' game?!" he demanded, voice
ringing through the gym. "Adric, you think dodgeball is for
_children_?!" Without warning, he whipped the volleyball in his
hand straight at young Adric's head.

Adric's reflexes were good, but not that good. He had just enough
time to flinch as the ball whapped him in the forehead, knocking
him back into the row of boys behind him. He shook his head to
clear it as the other boys hoisted him back to his feet and set him
back in place on the front row of the vaguely military square the
students were formed in. The ball rolled back across the floor to
stop against Coach Rorvik's waiting foot.

"Does _that_ look like a children's game, boy? Dodgeball is sport
at its purest, a test of mettle in which the weak and worthless are
culled by the strong, until only the fittest remain. Dodgeball is a
metaphor for life, my lads, and life and dodgeball both have the
same rules: only the quick and alert survive; victory goes to the
last man standing; and finally--" He hooked a foot under the ball
and flipped it up into his hands, grinning like a weasel in a robin's
nest. "--always aim for the head."

Cain, in the front row and looking more than a bit odd in shorts
and t-shirt, nodded his approval. It was good to know that at
least one teacher in this joint had a clue.

Coach Rorvik tossed the volleyball to him -- threw it at his face,
to be exact -- then picked up another and slung it at Jamie, grunting
in satisfaction at the way both boys caught them without flinching.
"Cain and Jamie will be team captains," the coach barked. "You
two pick your teams and let's see if we can't get something done."
With that, he stalked off to his chair to sit and watch the carnage.

"I pick Rahaaz," Cain said, as expected. The hulking Servii youth
ambled over to stand behind him, thick green arms folded across
his chest.

"Ben," said Jamie, also as expected. You always picked your pals

"Turlough." Vislor Turlough was surprisingly adept at dodgeball,
being notoriously difficult to hit.

"Francois." Turlough and Rahaaz winced as the Ogron stepped
behind Jamie. That was one lad you didn't want to have throwing
at you.


The wiry North Rim boy stepped behind Cain, leaning in a bit to
mumble, "Our part's done. Bella and I made sure to have a little
'slip of the lip' where one of Kali's toadies could hear."

The young Time Lord nodded, not taking his eye off the knot of
boys in front of him.

"Harry," Jamie said, a sturdy-looking young man running over to
stand with him.

"Adric," called Cain. Then, aside to Prak, "If Kali and her skanks
are out front tomorrow, and Embericles turns up, we'll do the other

Prak grinned at the bigger teen's back. "You're one devious guy,
you know? Just a few words at the right moment, and you light the
fuse to one heck of a fireworks show."

Jamie looked over the remaining recruits, considering, before he
made his next choice. "Chris."

"Fitz," Cain called a moment later. "Yeah, Prak," he muttered
smugly, "it's like Rorvik says, you've gotta be quick and alert and
take advantage of whatever you can to win. If this doesn't work, at
worst, nothing happens. At best... Heh heh heh..."

In the diminishing clump of unchosen boys, a black Dalek turned
to the Movellan youth beside him. "I WILL BE CHO-SEN LAST
A-GAIN," he grated, a faint non-mechanical whine in his
synthesized voice. "WHY DOES NO ONE EV-ER WANT ME? IT

"That's because you are an inferior being lacking the manipulative
appendages necessary for throwing," the Movellan replied. "You
have no ability at sport and are incapable of developing such
ability barring major biomechanical re-engineering. You, in short,

Servos whirring, the Dalek spun about and trundled rapidly off
toward the locker room, an odd rasping noise coming from his
speaker-grille, followed by the words, "MY SELF-ES-TEEM IS IM-


'The breeze caught the _Vindicator's_ pennons, sending them
snap-popping in the fading light, a symbol of the victory of the
new over the old. The Republic over the Imperium. The aerial
ironclad of today over the horses and guns of the past. Captain
Hesekiah Markhem over...

'"We did it, Cap'n!" Jenkyn cried redundantly, slapping him on the
shoulder. "This town was the linchpin of the Imperial lines in this
sector." He waved an arm, indicating the blazing chaos below.
From this altitude, it seemed an abstract thing, the fires and the
twisted wreckage of cannons and cannoneers. If you kept talking,
you couldn't hear the roar of the Old Eastern Church as it imploded
into a mass of embers, or the frantic cries of the panicked and the
wounded and the dying. "_Vindicator_ against a whole Imperial
division! And we broke 'em, by God!"

'Markhem nodded slowly. "Broke them indeed." He gazed into the
middle distance, at the shattered, burning ruins of the fort on
Pepper Hill, though it was too far and too shrouded by smoky
darkness to see anything.

'"There'll be medals for this," Jenkyn went on. "An' the biggest
for yourself. But, ah, it's deserved for you. You're a Hero of the
Rebellion now, Cap'n. Your name'll be in every paper and
broadsheet in the Provinces! No hard money, though, o' course.
Still, at least it'll be something to make your folks happy, if
naught else."

'"Folks?" Markhem spoke like a man in a trance, his eyes still
on the smoke over the Pepper Hill battery, searching, perhaps,
for banners that would never fly again. "I have no folks. My
father is dead."

'And darkness settled over the town, shot through with flames
and screams, hiding the sins and glories of Man. It settled on
Pepper Hill, blanketing the corpses of the 43rd Imperial Artillery
and smoothing the pain-etched lines of Colonel Leunard
Markhem's bloodstained face. It settled on the _RAI Vindicator_,
2,200 tons of iron and liftwood and straining humanity floating
light as a thistledown on the night wind. And it settled on the
heart of Captain Hesekiah Markhem, to whom it had been made
clear that the past is our deadliest enemy: a foe without mercy or
compunction; a foe we can never flee; a foe whose defeat brings
no joy, but whose victory means the death of all that we might be.

'"My father is dead."'

Nyssaias put the story aside with a trembling hand, a dull burn
in her stomach that had nothing to do with the day's cafeteria
menu. What she had just read was a thirteen-page slug in the
guts, a sucker-punch in prose. Whoever had written this piece
had consummate skills as a storyteller and an ability to evoke
character that Nyssaias could only envy, but they also had no
concept of mercy whatsoever. From its tense, brooding start
on the bridge of the aerial ironclad, through battle scenes that
were apocalyptic both in execution and in their effect on the
protagonist, all the way to its chilling conclusion, the story was
one long, implacable proof of the folly of hope. And what made
it all so damnably intense was the author's skill in portraying
Markhem, the 'hero' of the story. With exquisite sadism, the
reader was made to respect Markhem, to empathize with him
and care about him as a person, all just to make the hurt that much
worse when everything came to bitterness and despair for him.

Though there was no name on the story -- that was to make certain
that the analysis pieces weren't influenced by personality -- she
had absolutely no doubt who had written it.

Embericles. It always seemed to come back to that girl.

She had talent, that much was obvious. But what world-view, what
perception of life could produce something so beautiful and yet
unremittingly dark and -- yes -- cruel? For cruelty there was in
those pages, a bitter, pitiless painmongering that seemed to cut
both ways, with none of the self-aware irony of, say, a Goth
poseur. The piece had been written not only to make a point, but
to stick it in, twist it, and break it off in the flesh.

Nyssaias shuddered. She'd never even thought in such terms
before, never known she _could_ think that way. It was scary
and, in an unnerving way, liberating.

Unable to help herself, she stole a glance at the corner desk, where
Embericles sat paging through her own assigned piece. The
redhead's coolly neutral expression seemed somehow more sinister
now, though not in any objective way that Nyssaias could put a
name to. She was still beautiful to Nyssaias's eyes -- no, _more_
beautiful, strangely enough -- but it was the heart-freezing beauty
of an ice witch, a being unfathomable and dangerous. Could this
be the 'evil' feeling her friends kept talking about?

Thinking that way was a dead-end for now. Too much conjecture,
not enough real information. Sighing, Nyssaias hunched over her
desk, pulled her wings in tight, and tried to think of what in the
world to say about the alluringly poisonous pages in front of her.


Meanwhile, in the Chemistry class down the hall, things were
getting interesting, as they usually did when Mr. Davros was

" will then add your catalyst to the flask. A reaction should
occur, which you _will_ report upon without fail! Are there any
questions?" The teacher stopped his mechanized wheelchair and
glared at the room with his artificial third eye.

A single hand went up.

Mr. Davros's palsied hand slashed the air in a gesture of negation
as he rasp-wheezed, "No, Ace, the mixture does _not_ explode."

The hand went back down, followed by a disappointed, "Well,

"If my instructions are clear to you," the teacher grated, "proceed
to your tasks! I demand obedience!"

He got it, too, as the students all filed off to their lab tables to begin
the day's experiment. Only one girl lagged behind, moving just
slowly enough to irritate Mr. Davros without actually drawing his

"You really want Davros to chew you out, don't you Kali?" Shanka
asked when the redhead finally deigned to join her.

Kali sneered. "Ah, I'm not afraid of that crippled old jerk. Anyway,
get on with the work. You're the one who gets off on this science-

The smaller Time Lass nodded eagerly. "You betcha, Kali!
Anything for you! I'll see that we get a good grade!"

"Yeah, whatever."

Their third lab partner, Vanir, came hurrying over with an armload
of flasks and beakers, dumping them unceremoniously in front of
Shanka, who began setting up the experiment, occasionally cutting
her eyes at Kali to see if she were watching. But Kali was in a low
discussion with Vanir already.

"...and that's all I caught, Kali. Cain's vampire slut spotted me
listening and they cooled out, so I don't know if there's more to it
than that." The Skyborn girl's expression was earnest, but worried.

"Smeg!" Kali pounded her fist on the table, drawing stares from
her classmates, but a vicious glare and some well-aimed snarls set
them back about their business. "That slimeball _would_ get to
her first, wouldn't he? Never misses a pretty face, that jerkwad."

"You'd know, wouldn't you?" Shanka, who was eavesdropping,
put in.

"Put a sock in it, girlie," Kali growled over her shoulder. She
tapped her chin, frowning in thought, then turned back to Vanir.
"Unless... You know, I wouldn't put it past that dork to try and
trick us into _thinking_ he's hired her on, just to screw with us.
They might have _meant_ for you to hear that."

Vanir looked doubtful. "Well... maybe..."

"Here's what we're going to do, Vanir. We're going to start keeping
an eye on this chick, and just see if she's really hooked up with
Cain's gang. We'll soon find out the truth, you just wait." There
was a gleam in Kali's eyes that her henchgirls knew all too well.

Vanir sighed, trying to decide if this seemed like a good idea or not.
"And if she is?" she asked.

"Then we 'handle' her."

Just then, Shanka poured the catalyst onto the yellowish powder
in the bottom of their test beaker. There was a brief sizzle on
contact as the powder changed to a greenish slime that began
pushing against the glass. Kali just arched an eyebrow at the
sight, while Vanir backed slowly away and Shanka raised her hand.

"Mr. Davros!"

"Yes, Shanka?"

The green slime formed a long pseudopod that began questing
blindly toward the sound of Shanka's voice. She swatted it aside
with her lab notebook, melting several pages.

"Is this the reaction you were talking about, sir?"

Davros eyed the slime from the distance of his desk. "Hmm. No,
that is unacceptable. The slime should be more aggressive than

No sooner had he said those words than the beaker shattered and
the slime began oozing across the table, flailing about with its
pseudopods and dissolving everything in its path.

Now the instructor nodded his approval. "Much better," he
rasped. "I will expect you to contain the creature and have your
complete reports on my desk before the period ends."


As happened every day when the end-of-period bell rang, there
was a fast-moving crush of students at the door, all trying to get
out ahead of _her_. And as always, Embericles paid the
commotion she caused no notice at all as she strode sedately
across the classroom.

Nyssaias sat watching her, torn. On the one hand was her decision
to stop trying to get involved, while on the other was her re-
sparked interest in the mysterious girl. More than ever, she felt the
need to know what would cause a person to see the world as
Embericles saw it. It had to be more that just her reputed violence
and her alienation from her peers. It had to be something deeper
than that. But realistically, her attempts at drawing the girl out thus
far had been analogous to running her head into the same brick
wal over and over and there was no reason to think that would
change just from repetition.

She was half-out of her seat, still trying to decide whether to follow
her or not, when the decision became moot.

"Miss Nyssaias, could I see you for a moment?"

"Uh, wha--?" She shook the fog out of her head. "Yes, Mr.

The teacher's hands formed a steeple on his desk as she stood
before him, his eyes keen with the confident appraisal of one who's
seen and judged many a student and finds little to be surprised by.
"I'll get right to the point, Nyssaias. I have been asked by the
editor of our school newspaper to supply her with talented writers
to help fill out their staff. As it happens, I only have one student
of sufficient skill to recommend, and that student is you. Are you

The winged girl blinked, pleasantly surprised. "Yes sir, I am." She
thought about what she'd been reading earlier, and added, "But I
think you have another student who is as--"

Borusa's stern features darkened even further as he cut her off with
a gesture. "I have only _one_ qualified student at this time,
Nyssaias. One." He glared at her as though daring her to
challenge him. "The job is yours, if you want it. The staff meets in
Room 3-E at the end of the day. Ask for Sarah Jane Smith and tell
her I sent you."

"Yes sir. Thank you for the recommendation, sir."

He waved that aside. "I simply told them the truth. Now run along.
Oh, and Nyssaias? A word of advice." His expression softened,
along with his voice. "It's best not to seek others' troubles,
especially here. But what's best isn't always what's best _for_

(to be continued)


Copyright Notes:

'Doctor Who' is property of the BBC.
'Then Do That Over' concept created by Paul Gadzikowski.
'Desert of Fear' characters created by Clive May, Ken Young, BKWillis,
and Brad Filippone.
Story title and opening quote are from the song 'She Talks to Rainbows',
by the Ramones.
Other original characters created by BKWillis.

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