Pandora woke up in a car park on Back Church Lane. She was one of a dozen people who called this location home last night. Some she knew, some she’d seen before, a few others she’d never seen, but they were friends of one of the regulars. Thanks to the ‘No Second Night Out’ folks, there was a decent chance she’d never see them again. She got up quietly and verified her possessions, then threw her bag over her shoulder, picked up her box and stepped carefully around those who were still sleeping or just starting to stir.
She stepped out from under the tracks into the sunlight and took a few moments to let her eyes adjust. She then walked down the road toward the basketball courts where there was a public fountain. She fished a toothbrush out of her bag and ran it under the water, then brushed her teeth.
She rinsed and spit, then ran the water for a while before taking a long drink. This early in the morning and it was already hot. She couldn’t wait to see what Summer would be like. She rinsed the toothbrush off and put it back into her purse, at the same time pulling out a stick of gum and popping it into her mouth. She splashed some water onto her face and hair, then ran her fingers through it, ready for the day.
Pandora walked down to the docks where a refrigerator lorry was loading up with the morning’s catch. As she approached, Pandora saw a driver she recognized. “Good morning Jerry,” she called out.
Jerry was with another man, signing something on a clipboard. He looked up when he heard her calling, and he smiled when he saw her. “Pandora! Good morning. What are you up to today?”
“You know me Jerry, every day’s an adventure. Mind if I catch a ride?”
“Hop on and don’t mind the cold.”
She thanked him and swung up onto the back of the lorry, sitting on the ledge that jutted out from the rear. She reached into her bag and pulled out her tablet. It only had forty percent charge, but it also had a Wi-Fi signal, so she decided to download her news streams. The lorry left the docks and Pandora held onto her box with one hand, and with the other, a strap dangling from the side as it turned the corner.
The lorry ride ended at the loading docks behind a market where the Swede was standing with a couple other guys, ready to unload the lorry. The Swede was a large man, well over six and a half feet tall, burley and covered in hair. He had red hair obviously in recession and a proud handlebar moustache with a two-day growth of beard. He was currently dressed in filthy overalls, work boots and long rubber gloves. His magnificent hair and moustache were hidden behind nets.
When the lorry got ready to back up, Pandora grabbed her box and swung down and off, banging on the side of the lorry to let Jerry know she was clear. The Swede came up to her and gave her a big bear hug. “Pandora!” he said in a thick Swedish accent. “Did you come to take Obelix off my hands?”
“Not specifically, but I’d be happy to,” Pandora said, hugging him back, arms only going half way around him.
“Berömlig! He needs some exercise.” The Swede put his fingers to his lips and whistled, high and piercing. A massive black dog came running through a gap in some nearby laurels and bound happily around him. “Oh, hey. I grabbed a box of biscuits that was too damaged to sell. Do you want it?” he asked as he patted the dog’s head and generally tried to keep it off of him.
“Absolutely! I’m famished. Obelix, kom!” The dog tore itself away from the Swede and started jumping all over Pandora. She put her box down and played with him far more energetically than the Swede would. This freed him up to walk to a small truck and lean in through the open passenger side window.
“I also have these,” he said apologetically, holding up a tin of kippers. “I hesitate to even offer them because English fish are piss, but perhaps you’ll feed them to the dog for me? Or, how do you say, tip them in the bin?” He walked back over to them and handed over the mangled box of what turned out to be digestive biscuits and the tin of kippers.
“I’m sure they’ll be lovely,” she said hungrily, adding them to the contents of her bag. “See you back around noon, yeah?”
“Perfekt,” he said, and returned to his work crew, already unloading the lorry.
Pandora whistled, and she and Obelix left. As soon as she was out of sight, she opened up the box of biscuits and shoved a handful in her mouth. She tossed one toward Obelix who snapped it out of the air. She smiled and tossed him another.
They walked to a nearby park, and Pandora found an empty bench. She set down her box and removed the tin of kippers, turning the key carefully to open them without spilling oil. She peeled one out, shook the oil off, looked at it hungrily, then tossed it to Obelix. He gulped it up and licked his nose, eyes fixated on the tin in wait for the next one. “Now, I know you had a meal yesterday,” she said, and ate the next one. The two took turns until the tin was out of fish, then Pandora looked around to be sure no one was looking, and drank the oil from the tin, using a finger to get all the last bits of fish skin.
She started in on the box of biscuits, alternating between feeding herself and feeding the dog, but now she started throwing them farther and farther behind him. The dog happily ran after them, catching them in the air, or hunting them down in the grass. When they’d finished off the box, Pandora’s hunger was gone, and she threw the box and the tin into a nearby bin.
She pulled a plastic bag out of her shoulder bag and carefully pulled open the zip-lock top. Using just two fingers, she removed a slobbery, sticky tennis ball covered in tooth marks. She threw it as far as she could with just two fingertips, then wiped them off on the park bench. She put the zip-lock back in her bag, picked up her box and decided to get a bit of a walk herself. Every time Obelix brought the tennis ball back, she’d pull it from his mouth with just the two fingers, strings of slobber snapping back from the ball to the dog’s mouth, and she’d throw it as far as she could in front of her.
In this manner, they walked slowly across the park toward the tennis courts. She turned around to look back the way they had come, but Obelix wouldn’t have any of it. He was ready to play, not to head back. Pandora reached for the ball, but Obelix growled and pulled his face away. He lowered his front paws and danced to the side as Pandora made a grab for the ball. Pandora set her box down and got fully involved, laughing as she reached around from one side while feinting with her other hand. She eventually got a couple fingers on the ball and Obelix let her take it. She threw the ball, and Obelix ran happily after it.
Obelix ran back with the ball and she had to fight him for it again. “A little help please?” called a voice from behind. She turned to see a man in white polo shirt and shorts with socks pulled up to his knees leaning against the chain link fence separating her from the tennis court. He indicated with a look and a subtle movement of his head a tennis ball laying in the grass nearby her.
Pandora smiled. “Sure,” she said and bent down to pick the ball up.
“Thanks, doll,” the man said.
Something about the way he said that rubbed her the wrong way. She threw the tennis ball way over the fence, making the man run for it. She smiled and turned back to Obelix, tossing their nice new, clean ball up in the air and catching it. “Time to go, Obelix. Kom hit!” she said, slapping her leg hard. She bent down and picked up her box and set a brisk pace. She threw the ball into her bag, vowing to wash out the zip-lock later.
“Hey!” called the angry tennis player from behind her, clutching a disgustingly soggy ball.
She eventually returned the dog to his rightful owner and decided to spend the afternoon at the Marble Arch tube stop. When she got there, she found Willie the Bucket Drummer playing his reggae rhythms for the commuters, dreads flying to the beat. “Willie!” she called to him. “Mind if I sing along?”
“Don’ mind none at’all darlin’. People pay better for a duo, hey?”
Pandora set her box and purse down, then spotted an empty socket and set her tablet to charge. “My lucky day,” she said to herself.
When he finished his current tune, she started with a cool and sweet rendition of ‘Three Little Birds’ with a little hip sway, stomp. Hip sway, stomp. Willie slowed down the rhythm to match. Next they did ‘Stir it Up’ and Willie popped a drum at just the right timing to add a psychedelic waa-waa to the base line. They ran through ‘Pick Myself Up’ and ‘Red, Red Wine’ during the rush hour, then reached the end of Pandora’s reggae knowledge and start repeating themselves.
When the crowds died down, Willie started stacking his buckets and pans and Pandora gathered her belongings. They split the money. Pandora insisted on tipping him from her share, and Willie eventually conceded, on the condition that Pandora learn some more Peter Tosh and she sing with him again soon. The two hugged and parted ways, Pandora leaving with enough money to buy lunch for the next few days.
All in all, it was a pretty good day, Pandora thought as she rode the lift back up to street level. She walked the last little bit down the alley behind the seamstress’s shop where she intended to spend the night. The lights were already off for the night, so she climbed the fire escape to the second floor and pulled the window open.
She climbed inside, set her box down and shut the window. There was a plate of chicken linguini under cling wrap sitting on the corner of the sewing table. Pandora smiled. The seamstress has always been so good to her. She has always felt like she should do something in return. She thought of maybe tidying up the shop, but it was already so neat and clean. Pandora would gladly drive traffic her way, if only she knew someone who needed a seamstress. Perhaps now that she had the Doctor in her life, he could help her come up with something.
She peeled off the cellophane and found a post-it note attached. She smiled again, and stuck the note to the edge of the table. She’d read it later, but for now she wanted her pasta while it was hot. She went into the little kitchen and got a fork, then tucked in with an appetite she didn’t have minutes before.
When she was done with her meal and had washed the plate, she picked up the post-it and realized it wasn’t from the seamstress. It read, “Come see me tonight. I’ve got something cool to show you. -The Doctor.”
It had been a while since she last saw him. It had been just after their adventure on the planet Dor a month or so back. She wasn’t sure she’d yet recovered from the resulting expansion of her personal world view, and certainly wasn’t sure she was ready for another.
She sighed. “This is how adventures start,” she said to the note. She considered ignoring it and getting a good night’s sleep instead, but finally shouldered her bag, picked up her box and made her way out the fire escape.
When she got to the Doctor’s alcove in the city’s underground, she found another post-it. “I’m on the roof. Take the lift, then the fire-escape to the top.”
She placed her box on the workbench, then made her way to the roof, where she found the Doctor, huddled over a telescope.
She looked up at the sky. The London city lights caused enough sky glow that there wasn’t much to be seen, but there was a new moon, so a few more bright dots than normal were visible. The Doctor had the telescope pointed at the brightest of the bunch.
“What’cha got there?” she asked.
The Doctor turned, and smiled at Pandora, nodding his greeting. “Just doing a little planet-gazing. How have you been?”
“Same old, same old,” she said and bent to look through the lens of the scope. She saw a bright, fuzzy, yellowish crescent shape. “Is that Jupiter?” she asked.
“Venus. Only planets closer to the Sun have phases like the moon.”
“Oh,” she said and bent again to watch it. “What’s so cool about it that you wanted me to see?”
“This isn’t what I wanted to show you,” the Doctor said. “I was just passing the time until you arrived.” Pandora stepped back, and the Doctor bent to look through the lens for some time as the motors on his Dobsonian scope slowly clicked.
“The Earth isn’t the first planet I’ve taken under my wing. Venus used to be a lush, green world with vast oceans. The Silurians ruled Earth at the time, and the Ice Warriors had Mars. Both of them could take care of themselves. The Venusians were different. They were artists and philosophers. And they were frightfully allergic to raw metals. Add to that the fact that they lived on a world that many alien races would kill for, and well, a lot of them tried.”
The Doctor stood up and turned back toward Pandora. “I kept them safe for a long time. And in exchange, they taught me a lot. The only world I’d known before was Gallifrey, and they were so different. Five of everything -- arms, legs, eyes, mouths. They taught me to defend myself, and they taught me how a real family raises a child.”
“So what happened?” Pandora asked.
“Global warming happened. I was so busy worrying about the alien threats, I didn’t notice they were killing themselves off. Not until it was too late, anyway.” He fiddled with the focus knob distractedly, but didn’t look through the lens again. “Sometimes I make myself look at Venus, just to remind myself that I can’t always save everyone.”
Pandora felt herself getting depressed and wanted to change the subject. “Well, if you didn’t want to show me Venus, what did you want to show me?”
“Ah, yes,” the Doctor said, pulled suddenly out of his mood. He took his sonic screwdriver from his hoodie pocket and pointed it at the telescope. A green light came on and the sonic buzzed. The telescope motors stopped clicking, and he deactivated the sonic and stowed it away again.
“You finished your new sonic!” Pandora said excitedly.
“Well, yes, but that’s not it either.” He pulled the sonic back out and tossed it across to Pandora.
Pandora turned it over in her hands. It was slightly thinner than his previous one and mostly cylindrical. It had sections of alternating brass and dark wood, with a small black, plastic button halfway down one side, and a brass ring opposite it. She placed her thumb on the black button and slipped her index finger through the ring. She pulled back on the ring and four brass claws extended forward from the lens at the tip. When she pressed the button, lasers emitted from the four claws, meeting about four inches in front of the tip. She relaxed the ring and the four claws contracted to their previous configuration, the lasers turned off and the tip glowed green. She twisted the base, and it clicked into several different positions. Each time it clicked, the light on the other end would change colors. Blue, purple, red, white and ultra-violet, then off, and back to green. She let go of the button and handed it back to the Doctor. “So... What is it then?”
“This,” he said with a broad smile. He handed her a brochure.
She unfolded it and looked it over. “Hampton Court Palace?” She continued reading.
“This bit here,” the Doctor said, flipping it over and jabbing with a finger. “A collection of royal articles belonging to Queen Elizabeth I will be on display for one week only, and it opened today.”
“And you are a fan of hers?” she asked, continuing to read.
“Fan enough to marry her. She was my second wife, wait -- third, no. Second wife.” He took the brochure back and folded it hastily before sticking it in his pocket. “It says the collection contains items that haven’t been displayed for over four hundred years! I wonder if any of them are mine...”
“Wait, back up. You married Queen Elizabeth? The ‘virgin queen’?” Pandora asked, laughing.
“Well, yeah. She insisted. Attended it twice more for good measure too. Anyway, I’ve got to see for myself. Gotta be tonight though, so I’m afraid there’ll be a bit of the old ‘B and E’. Give me a chance to break in the new sonic. Are you game?”
“For a break in on property of the crown? Do I need to remind you I’m trying not to be noticed? Besides, you waited four hundred years, why can’t you wait until morning?”
The Doctor sucked in air through his teeth and scratched at his hair, “Yeah... I’m going to want a closer look than they’ll allow the general public. One of those pieces might be the ring I gave her, and if she’s not using it anymore, I might want to have it back. The stone in the setting isn’t quite from around here.”
“I don’t know, Doctor...”
“Come on! It’ll be fun. Wouldn’t you love to hold her royal sceptre? Just for a moment, of course, you’d have to put that right back.” He paused, awaiting her response, holding her eyes with a big excited smile.
She tried to picture herself with the jewel-encrusted sceptre in her hands, and had to admit it would probably feel incredible. “How would we even get there? I don’t know all the tunnels between here and Richmond upon Thames,” Pandora said reluctantly.
The Doctor pumped a fist, considering the evening’s activities a forgone conclusion at this point. He ripped the Velcro closure from one of the pockets on his cargo pants and pulled out a mobile. “We join the twenty-first century and use Uber.”
“You’ve got a phone as well,” she accused. “Been doing some shopping since I saw you last.”
“I got you one as well. Easier than sticky notes.” He handed the phone to her and pulled out a second. “These come with universal roaming too, and I do mean universal. I made some tweaks.”
The Uber driver dropped them off at The Mute Swan, and they went on foot from there.
Crossing the grounds was easy enough. There were guards, and there were dogs, but the Doctor and Pandora stayed out of the light, and away from the obvious patrols. Pandora was quite good at spotting the cameras, and the Doctor disabled them with his sonic before they were seen.
They got to the main building unnoticed and the Doctor sonicked the lock, getting them inside. “Actually, I was expecting a lot more security, to be honest. Did you notice that group of them clustered up on the North side? I wonder what that was about.”
“Yeah, no. I really don’t do a lot of this,” Pandora whispered, looking around nervously. They were in the gift shop. She decided to scout ahead while the Doctor secured the door, but he put an arm out to stop her.
“Cameras may be your thing, but vibration sensors,” he said, pointing with his sonic, “and temperature alarms are mine.” He pointed again, and activated his sonic. A moment later, he twirled it around a finger and blew imaginary smoke off the tip.
Pandora rolled her eyes. “Is it safe to go now, then?”
The Doctor continued his pantomime despite the eye rolling, and put his sonic into a pretend holster. “Should be safe, li’l lady,” he said in a bad Texan accent, “You just stick with me and we’ll be fine.” He pulled a lazy salute and did a John Wayne mosey toward the museum proper.
Pandora sighed and followed along, but stopped when she came out into the staircase. She stood in awe and spun slowly around taking it all in.
“Yes, the King’s Staircase,” the Doctor said in his regular voice. “It’s all very impressive, but the exhibits are this way.” He walked to the door and looked both ways, running his sonic over the doorway.
“So we’re only here to see your stuff and ignore the rest?” Pandora asked, following him.
“No,” the Doctor replied defensively. “You can... look. Just be... near me while you are looking.” He pointed his sonic at a sensor in a corner of the hallway. “That’s odd,” he said, and smacked his sonic on his open palm a few times.
“Motion sensor in the corner. I don’t remember disabling it. Ah!” His sudden exclamation startled Pandora. He pointed at a case along one wall. “That is her diary.” He approached the case, Pandora following. There was a small book with a beaded cover laying open under glass next to a silver and turquoise comb and a horse-hair brush. “I would love to look through the rest of it,” he said, but he tore himself away, and Pandora followed him.
They entered the main exhibit room and the Doctor held out his arm again. Pandora looked around. There were banners hanging along the walls announcing the exhibit and small glass cases all around the perimeter. There was one case against the back wall with a mannequin wearing one of Queen Elizabeth I’s dresses. In the center of the room was a medium-sized case separated by a velvet rope. The main lighting was off in the room as well as throughout the palace, but the case lighting was still on, and the contents sparkled. Front and center was her crown, and lying on one side was an orb, and on the other a sceptre. In front was a necklace and to either side of that were rings.
“Now that’s not right,” the Doctor said, waving his sonic around. Pandora looked to him, waiting for him to explain rather than asking. “Laser grid - off. Motion sensor - off. Temperature sensor - bypassed. Only the cameras were still active when I got here.”
“So it’s safe then?” Pandora said, entering the room and approaching the velvet rope.
“Perfectly,” he said quietly, but nervously. He too entered the room cautiously, testing each step. He walked up to the velvet rope and stepped over. He stepped right up to the glass case and inspected its contents.
“There it is,” he said, pointing at one of the rings.
Pandora caught motion out of the corner of her eye and instinctively grabbed for the Doctor’s arm. She pulled him backward as a figure fell from the ceiling.
The figure came to a stop a foot or so above the glass case. It was a woman in a black catsuit, with dark hair drawn back in a ponytail. Only then did Pandora see that she was suspended by thin wires attached to some mechanism on her belt.
“Finders keepers,” the woman said with a smile. She touched a button on her belt that had been lit up green, and it switched to red. She grabbed the glass case with both hands and quite suddenly reversed direction, speeding upward toward an open vent in the ceiling with the case in tow.
The room resonated with her laughter as she disappeared through the vent. Suddenly alarms started going off, and doors started closing.
“She did that on purpose!” The Doctor said, pointing his sonic at the door closest to them, and it stopped half way down.
“We have to get out of here! The guards will be on their way,” Pandora said.
“We have to follow her!” the Doctor said, on the run.
“She’s one of mine!”
“One of your what?”
“Ohhhh...” he said, frustrated. “It’s complicated!” He pointed his sonic at the next set of doors and there was an audible click just before he hit them at full speed, blasting them open.
They found themselves in a courtyard with a second set of open doors across the way. The Doctor got to the center of the courtyard and turned around, looking up at the rooftops. Pandora caught sight of the woman abseiling down from the roof near the opposite doors. “There!” she yelled, pointing. The two ran after her as she disconnected from the rope and ran through the open doors.
Lights started coming on all over the property, and she ran straight toward the King’s Beasts statues.
“Not possible!” the Doctor said under his breath.
“What’s not possible?” Pandora asked.
The Doctor redoubled his speed. “There are only ten King’s Beasts!”
Pandora did her best to keep up.
Christina got to the statue on the far left of the row of eleven and opened up a panel on the side. She turned back toward them, smiled and waved goodbye.
As she closed the panel, the Doctor threw his sonic. It stuck in the doorjamb, preventing it from closing and giving the Doctor those few extra seconds he needed to get there. He grabbed his sonic and shouldered the door open.
Pandora got there just after him, but stopped short when she saw inside the statue. There was a large, white room with circular cutouts in a honeycomb pattern on the walls. In the center of the room was a raised, six-sided console covered in buttons, levers and monitors. “It’s bigger on the inside!” she said.
The Doctor looked miffed. “It’s not all about size, there’s something to be said for décor.”
Lady Christina backed away toward the console.
The Doctor held up his hands in a non-threatening manner, staying in the open doorway. “Christina, what are you doing with -” An elderly white man stepped out of a doorway to the Doctor’s right, drawing his attention mid-sentence. The man had neatly trimmed salt and pepper hair with a bald spot in the back. He was wearing a tailored brown suit with loop and button closures and leather loafers. “You!” said the Doctor.
The man broke into a surprised smile. “Doctor!”
“Doctor?” Christina said, shock showing in her expression as she regarded the Doctor anew.
“I see you got tired of the flying bus,” the Doctor said with a cheeky smile.
“Who are these people?” Pandora asked.
“Pandora, I’d like to introduce you to the Lady Christina De Souza. Christina,” he said and turned to find her charging at him.
She hit him full force, launching him out of the Tardis and knocking both him and Pandora to the ground. She smiled again. “Goodbye Doctor. Good to meet you... again,” she said and slammed the stone panel on the side of the statue. With an odd, echoing, wheezing sound of gears grinding, the statue began to fade and finally disappeared.