Hell is for Handbaskets
Flashback to the day before.
The Hand curls itself around the hand with the golden ring, building up to a needy nudge. It rather likes the sound of the Other master’s breathing. It rather likes the touch of the Other master’s fingers… the patting and petting and talk of ‘good boy, Hand!’ and the speaking to Flamina in his belly. Old body, new body… it doesn’t matter, because Other master is always nice. And, Flamina is inside, too. Safe inside. Safe and warm, inside. The Time Lords did not know yet, what the Other master had had to do. Only the One, and the Two, and the Three. But Three was Other master, and Other master was not talking to the Hand, being asleep. Still, it keeps nudging for a pet-pet it knew would never come because Other master was, indeed, asleep. Other master had fed the Hand crispytastysweet carrots when the Hand had been the Bird. He still did that, did Other master. And as for that, the Hand had decided a while ago that it should continue liking carrots. And always would, probably.
Other master had been tired recently, because of Flamina. Perhaps that was why he had fallen from the chair yesterday. Or had it been today? Ever since rejoining with itself, the days have been mixed up. The Hand knows this because it could have sworn it had dropped a fishing pole on One’s head tomorrow. It remembers turning into a little boy and using a bit of One’s damaged heart to lure the Bird to the door of the TARDIS. Rose Woman had petted the Hand, told it, ‘Good boy.’
If the Hand had been that chair instead of the Hand, Other master might not be sleeping in the Infirmary now. He would still be sitting in the Hand, using the thing called a tongue between the things called teeth.
It shrinks slightly in size at the thought of not having been the chair. It would have liked to have been…
What it doesn’t like is the Other-master being so vulnerable. That scares the Hand, and makes it remember the Old Days when Omega the One who had made it and its lost sibling had died, at the heart of the star called Qqaba.
But such notions, such dwellings on things out of the Hand’s control are not for the Hand. The Hand has a job to do. Before Other master had fallen asleep, he ‘d said the Hand should go to the Cardinal’s chambers and poke about for anything that did not smell of the Cardinal. The Hand knew easily what Other master meant, but it needed a nose, in the first place.
So it changes, growing from the floor, up and up, and up, beginning the Bird again. It likes becoming the Bird. It has wings, and talons. A sharp mouth-beak for carrots.
Like a spider it scurries over and under and into itself; it crawls into its shape, growing the feathers and the cartilage and the sharp poke-y claws. The beady milk-bubble eyes that can see. The olfactory nares that can smell things, set into the outskirts of hard beak.
It hops and flops into the air, making the leap to the window. Then the Bird who was the Hand begins to lift.
Other master had got the guards to ignore the Hand, when it was the Bird; the Bird could fly and scratch and change what it wanted, not like the Hand, who got stepped on and always had to be a rug. Other master was the only person the Hand didn’t mind being the Hand with, because Other master never stepped on it. Other master was careful not to.
Wings furling against its sides like flags rolling down on their poles, the Bird sails for the door, becoming a nut-shape in midflight as it coasts past the doorframe and into the hallway.
‘Above their heads, between their legs…’ the Other master always said. Care not to scratch anyone was important. One scratch could not chaossify any longer, but the long curlable toes with their bright talons could still bring a welt up on the unprepared.
Hanging fairly high over the head of a Time Lord in purple with a skinny neck that perhaps would have been too easily scraped, the Bird who was the Hand glides on down the hallway, bypassing room after room. When it reaches the right one, it pops into flatness with a slight cloud of feathers, becoming a keycard to fit the passkey machine next to the vestibule.
It changes again on entry, becoming the Hand itself once more so it can easily scurry along the desks and tapestries papering the rooms of the Cardinal.
Other master would have said something like, ‘…mmm. Looks like a bad remodel. Could be worse though! There could be mounted fish.’ The Hand knows this for a fact, because Other master had preferred Borusa’s decorations to the ones in the Cardinal’s quarters now, and had said the words the Hand remembered, the very phrase.
It hovers mid-leap to survey its immediate surroundings, which consist of a dark desk, a familiar set of drawers, and a pair of bookshelves; one shelf was high, another low. Nothing at first glance. The chest in the corner was a heavyset Bombay- those curving drawers would need pulling. So it vibrates them out softly, checking each one for anything the Other-master has described, absently but fervently wishing that Other-master will allow it to fix the beloved Sonic so it can –do wood-.
And there is a lot of wood to do; what is it with the Time Lords and Bombay chests? There is one in almost every room, for some reason…
It commands a drawer to pull itself out, remembering how the Other-Master (and really the Hand should call him Doctor more often, but, old habits and such…) had likened it to something called a broom in… what was it now… Fantasia? Well, whatever that was.
“Hrmm. Delicate documents stuffed in an underwear drawer-…” the Hand can just hear the Other-ma- er, Doctor smirking at his own joke, “…obviously a closeted napper of nappies, a collector of underthings and smallclothes- and maybe toiletries, judging by his erm, extensive medicine cabinet. At first glance, a looky-loo. Then again, could be a dwarf enthusiast or a pickpocket. Or a pervert, in the right situation. But let us not go there. On to the next stick of furniture!”
Oh yes, the Doctor could go on and on for years like that, gabbling away.
Sometimes though, the Hand postulates on the other glove, and grows sad.
How exactly does an object become melancholy? it muses as it rifles and sifts through pairs of chartreuse lace stockings, cream and black-striped gaudy French dresses and endless boring pantaloons for more documents. It has already found the, what was it called? Shopping List, hidden in a perception-filtered hat box.
The Doctor’s voice floats up again, into the Hand’s thoughts. Abruptly, it imagines them coursing through its constructed bare bit of wrist somewhere. “Now Handy, there’s my Extra-Special Extra-Handy-Hand! Where do you think you should look next? Surely you’ve had enough of crossdressing and corsets and would like some nice after dinner material, eh? I think it’s time to write a letter… but remember to put the isometric locks back where you dissolved them! We don’t want the nice assassin to discover we’ve been admiring his fancy colours…”
Of course! The desk. The Hand had forgotten the desk until the clawfoot leg had smacked it in the finger. It would surely scowl, had it a mouth. Or a face. The noble furniture of the Citadel were not as haughty as the House furniture, but they still could give one quite a bit of lip. The desk, however, keeps silent under the Hand’s eyeless gaze, because it knows the Hand could deconstruct it into its individual atoms.
Not that the Doctor would have let it. The desk isn’t that bad, anyhow, not like the man who had placed it in this room. The Assassin.
With the upstart suitably chastised, the Hand sends the single sense it possesses in hand-form upward, its complex scan beams travelling the matter of the leg itself until it reaches a queer false bottom near the wooden well. There is a hidden notch, practically in plain sight from the Hand’s quite low perspective, but perfectly disguised by the standards of those with legs, cleverly concealed under the belly of the desk in a nondescript whorl of burl. It launches itself again, growing a pseudopod in mid-bounce- just in time to fill the notch like a key made of jelly, effecting a nice tidy clicking sound from somewhere.
The Hand drops down, becoming a bird once more so it can cover more ground as it looks for the end source of the click.
Here? No. Not the bookshelves.
It scurries across the room to the table.
No, not the table.
A slight wind blows from the corner- there is only a tapestry there. Strange how it can’t access the memory files on how the Assassin came to be inhabiting this room… perhaps it is a duplicate. Yes. It cannot be the same one that…
The Bird who is the Hand gambols over to investigate on thin legs, spreading its sharp toes wide as it walks. Reaching the corner, it sticks its beak behind the tapestry, suppressing a squawk of excitation in the interests of prudence.
The Assassin had found the Doctor’s old room from his days as Lord President, and had ordered it sealed, him having pretended to be the Cardinal and all for the past few months. The Doctor would have thought it odd that they’d never found the short stone passage behind that old tapestry, which the Bird-Hand now found itself traversing. Must have been a perception filter on it the size of Mount Perdition. Perhaps the Doctor had left it that way? Well, after the Hand was done, it would snap its fingers and put everything back as it had found it, shelves neat, drawers in, drawers in the drawers instead of on the rug, petticoats in the chest. But it would confiscate the contents of the lonely trunk sitting in the middle of the Doctor’s old room, thanks.
After all, hadn’t the Doctor always said, “What is it with villains? They never put their stuff away after they move in. It’s a fair bit embarrassing, not to mention fodder for the neighbors...”
It never sees the hand come down around it. Never sees the silver ring shoved down its throat.