“No, I didn’t know that! How interesting!” Thomas said to the blonde girl, slightly over half his age. He nursed his drink, reminding himself that the point was to get her drunk, not him.
The girl bounced in time with the overpowering music as she continued to tell Thomas about her job. “Mmm, hmm!” she yelled, “And the lunches are catered, so I haven’t had to spend any of my own money. So, the pay’s not really that bad!”
Thomas carefully held on to his wildly interested smile, and began bouncing along with her when suddenly there was a vibration in his pocket. Damn, he though, looking for a clear path to the exit. He held up his phone. Jennifer was calling. “It’s probably work!” he yelled to the blonde. “I have to take this!” She nodded and sipped her drink. Thomas headed quickly for the door, though not running.
He got the door closed on the fourth ring, swiping to answer just before it went to voicemail. The sound of the disco was muffled, but still quite loud out here. He continued to move quickly away from the clubs lining the water’s edge as he spoke into the phone. “Hi, Honey! So glad you could call!”
“Hey Babe, how’s the conference going?”
“Oh, you know. Boring and dry. And you? How are things at home?”
“Same old, same old, but home is home. You’re in Greece! That’s got to be a kick. What’s the nightlife like?”
Thomas looked back at the club a little guiltily. “There isn’t much really. It’s pretty enough in the daytime — I’ll send you pictures — but it’s really just a fishing town. A bunch of old people who go to sleep early and rise with the sun.” He looked back at the club again, this time with more longing than guilt. He really needed to get back there before that blonde— what was her name? It didn’t matter. Before she found some other lucky guy to buy her a drink. “Look, Honey, I need to go, it was a rough flight followed by a long day, and I’m going to turn in —”
A scraping on the pavement just behind Thomas startled him, and he turned around. Three figures lunged out of the darkness and grabbed him, knocking his phone from his hand. “Let go!” he yelled. “No! Aaaaaahh!”
“Hello? Thomas? What was that? Are you there? Thomas?” called the voice on the other end of the phone, laying, screen broken, on the pavement as Thomas’ unconscious form was dragged away. “Thomas?”
Pandora picked up another one of the gadgets littering the Doctor’s workbench and turned it over between the fingers of both hands. “And what’s this one do?”
The Doctor looked up from his work, the multiple lenses of his jeweler’s glasses making his right eye look twice as big as his left. He reached out and grabbed the device and set it down carefully on the table. “It’s a power core from a Zygon communication module.” He went back to tinkering on his latest device.
Pandora frowned and looked around. The Doctor’s little alcove was getting more and more cluttered with the things he kept putting together. She reached right across the Doctor’s work area to pick up another item of interest. “And what about this one?”
The Doctor grabbed her hand before she reached it, and held on to it, breathing a sigh of relief. “That is a vortex rift stabilizer, and unless you want to get pulled into the rift, I suggest you don’t touch it.” He let go of her hand and she retracted it, looking glum again.
The Doctor returned to adjusting a minuscule timing pin on a row of similar items under the open hatch of his device. He paused in his work when he realized that Pandora’s face was scant inches from his own as she was watching his work closely.
He closed his eyes impatiently and removed the pin adjuster, a tool of his own making. “What is going on, Pandora?” the Doctor asked.
“I’m bored! That’s what’s going on!” She threw up her arms and sighed dramatically. “Aren’t you? I mean, don’t you feel it? It’s been forever since we’ve had any kind of adventure. Summer’s over, but it’s still too hot to do anything, and we’re just sitting here doing nothing. Admit it, you don’t really want to be working on this thing right now, do you?”
The Doctor set down the tool and the gadget, and sighed. “I’ll admit, I have been feeling a bit... antsy… lately.”
He sat at his workbench leaning on his elbow with a rather dissatisfied, even frustrated look on his face. He looked as if he were formulating the words to expound on his statement, but instead he came to a decision. He stood up suddenly and put a finger on a knot in the wood of his workbench. Several sections of the bench came to life, causing Pandora to take a step backward in surprise and awe.
A square panel just where the Doctor had been sitting flipped over. The tools that were scattered across that part of his bench stayed affixed to the wood as it flipped, as if magnetized to the spot. A monitor and keyboard were revealed. A panel further over slid to the side and more controls rose to sit flush with the surface. Further transformations continued. At one point Pandora rushed forward and grabbed her box just as that section of workbench folded in on itself. She watched as a spark plug that had been lying next to it actually folded and receded into the newly filled space.
The Doctor pointed to the screen and, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened, said, “Six tourists to the island of Thasos in Greece have gone missing in the last five days. The last one was a Russian woman. Her friends witnessed the abduction, and claim that she was dragged off by a trio of ‘Chyerti’; roughly translated as ‘devils’.”
There was a Russian website up on screen with a video showing the tourist friends speaking about the incident, however Pandora paid it no attention as she was still fixated on the former workbench. The bench had raised slightly in back and widened into an isosceles trapezoid. The oddest assortment of controls littered the surface. There was what looked like a hydraulic pump next to a steamship’s telegraph, next to a whole bank of dials and sliders that look like they were lifted from a recording studio. There were a series of cranks along the edge, and a potentiometer that looked like it came out of Doctor Frankenstein’s lab.
“Where did all this come from?” Pandora asked.
“Well, I’ve had to make due. I don’t want to be totally disconnected from the world down here.”
He ignored the keyboard in front of the monitor, and instead primed the hydraulic pump twice, pushed the lever on the telegraph forward two positions to ‘dead slow’, slid over to turn two dials then slid back and rang an antique brass call bell embedded in the console. The website changed to show an aerial view of the Greek Island.
“Now that’s total rubbish,” Pandora said, pointing at the bell. “That bell is never connected to anything.”
“Of course it is. Watch.” He leaned across and pushed up one of the sliders, then rang the bell again. The image zoomed in further to display a town on the Southern end of the island.
“Limenaria,” the Doctor explained, “where four of the six have gone missing. A quiet little village on the Adriatic. There’s a lumber industry and a quarry nearby, but mainly, they serve the tourist trade.” He turned a dial and hit the bell again. An image of beach umbrellas and crystal clear water came up. He turned the dial another click and hit the bell once more. The image switched to an old hotel in white plaster and a relatively new bar and disco next door.
That nagging feeling of recognition finally sparked into something concrete for Pandora, and she broke out laughing. “This is like in the Monk’s Tardis, that wedge you pulled up. This is a Tardis console, isn’t it?”
“No,” the Doctor said defensively. “It’s totally different. I just… like the layout. It’s… organized. Like my mind.”
Pandora continued to look at the Doctor with amusement.
“Look,” the Doctor said, pushing a big red button marked ‘Emergency Stop’, which caused the console to transform itself back into a workbench. “If you aren’t interested in going with me to Greece and figuring out what’s behind the disappearances, then just say so.”
Pandora suppressed her mocking smile and said, “Doctor, just for future reference, anytime you’re asking me if I’d like to travel to a Greek Island and investigate mysterious abductions with you, I’m going to say, ‘Hells yeah’. You could even drop the Greek part or the mystery part and you’d get the same answer. Anything’s better than just sitting around here.”
Then her expression changed and her eyebrows knitted. “But how are we going to get there? Your timeship—”
“Tardis,” the Doctor corrected. “Timeships are totally different things.”
“—Tardis. Whatever. Your Tardis is still out of commission. You’ve got your psychic paper, but I’ve got no ID. No ID means no plane ticket. And even with a ticket, I still don’t have a passport, and without one of those, can I even get through Greek customs?”
“Thus the adventure begins, Pandora! It’s time you stopped thinking along the normal lines. Who do you want to be today? A pair of flight instructors gone seriously off track? Military pilots on maneuvers? Stowaways on a cargo plane?”
“I don’t think my box’ll fit in a military cockpit…”
“You can leave it here. It’ll be fine in my little alcove. No one can find it here,” the Doctor said, dismissing her concerns.
Pandora looked nervously down at her box, an ornately carved wooden chest just about big enough to keep a cat in, padlocked in front and with a handle on top. “I’d rather not be away from it that long. Either we take it with us, or I don’t go.”
The Doctor stared at the box as well, more curious now than ever he had been, but he broke off the moment she looked up. “Cargo plane it is then. Let’s get one re-routed to Thasos, shall we?”
He turned back to his workbench and pressed the knothole on its surface again. It reconfigured itself for him, and he began typing at the keyboard at lightning speed. Every once in a while, he would pause in his typing to reach across the console, and flip a switch or turn a crank. The one in the middle made a ‘squeaky, squeaky’ noise as he spun it. Web pages and text terminals flashed across the screen for several minutes, then the Doctor sat back in his stool and watched. An animated gif depicting a cluster of emerald crystal tubes moved up and down through a glass casing sat in the center of his screen indicating that it was working, then the desk bell rang, startling Pandora. When she looked back at the screen, an email was on display.
“There you go,” the Doctor said, tapping on the screen. “Relief supplies and tents donated to the island to aid the Syrian refugees. Enough that they’ll need a Hercules to transport them. That ought to be plenty enough space to guarantee a comfortable enough ride.”
He spun around on his stool to look at Pandora with a wide, excited grin. “We have,” he said and looked at his watch, “one hour, thirty to get to RAF Croughton. Plenty of time to come up with our cover story. Need anything for the journey?”
The Hercules actually took them to Kratikos, and they took an Uber, a ferry and another Uber from there to Limenaria.
The Doctor showed the first variation of his outfit that Pandora had ever seen as soon as they stepped out of the car. He put on his sunglasses, then bent and unzipped the lower portion of his pant legs, turning them into cargo shorts. He shoved the leg material into one of his pockets, then pulled off his hoodie and wrapped it around his waist, tying the sleeves into a knot at the front. He patted down his pockets until he found the one he wanted and pulled out a small tube. He squeezed out some zinc oxide and slathered it over his nose. He offered the tube to Pandora, then paused when he saw her looking him up and down.
“What?” he asked, then looked at himself, arms held wide. He realized his legs were a bit pale, but surely that couldn’t be it. “Ah, the shirt,” he said. His graphic tee today had a depiction of an atom on one side and said, ‘Never trust an atom, they make up everything.’ “I’m wearing it ironically,” he explained, “They only make up three percent of the universe.” He offered her the tube again.
Pandora shook her head. “No thanks. I tan okay.”
The Doctor shrugged, capped the tube and shoved it back into a pocket. “How would you even know that? You’re British.”
“Hah! Thanks for that,” Pandora responded.
She looked around at the city. The streets had deteriorated quickly after they’d left the 69, a highway that looped around the island, connecting the major cities and beaches, before returning to the ferry dock at the city of Thasos. The buildings looked like they were all from the seventies or earlier, and even the ones in decent repair kept to the same design. There was a scattering of more modern buildings that stood out as if to say, ‘Tourists, stay here.’ The car had dropped them off at the shore, where there were a mix of old buildings and new discos, but now in the middle of the day, the town stood empty. There was a large and peaceful marina behind a pair of breakwaters. In the marina were anchored a fleet of fishing vessels, a pair of luxury yachts and a research vessel of some sort, with a large crane at the stern and on its deck, an oddly shaped craft that looked a bit like a helicopter without rotors. Beyond the marina, the clear blue-green Adriatic Sea extended to the South as far as Pandora could see.
Pandora pulled her tablet out of her bag and started looking for a WIFI signal. “Good luck with that,” the Doctor said.
She looked over at him then back at her device. She took a few steps in each direction and waited for a second before trying another way. “Yeah, I thought maybe with the clubs…”
“The clubs are only active at night, and even then, they don’t cater to the sorts who would be watching their phones.”
Pandora sighed and returned her tablet to her shoulder bag, looking around again.
“Let’s go find Svetlana’s friends,” the Doctor said, bringing Pandora back to the reason they were there. “The article mentioned that they were staying at the Katerina.” He was looking at his phone and orienting himself until he pointed just East of North. “Which is that way. Come along, Pandora.” Without looking back, he began marching off into the city. Pandora picked her box up and followed after him.
They soon found themselves in front of Katerina Studios, a well-kept, peach-colored three story building with Spanish tiles for a roof. They walked up to the first door on the ground floor, not sure which one held the witnesses, but then they heard the sounds of Russian conversation taking place two flights up. The Doctor bounded up the stairs and knocked loudly on the door.
The door was opened by a short blonde woman in her mid-twenties. She wore an off the shoulder t-shirt with the straps of a bikini top showing from underneath. Her legs down to her painted toenails were bare. Over her shoulder they could see a tall young man with a dark complexion and a flat-top hair style wearing a tank top and gold chains over red bathing trunks and flip flops.
“Hello, yes?” the woman asked.
“Hello,” the Doctor said cheerfully, holding up his psychic paper, “I’m the Doctor and this is Pandora. We’re with the Christian Science Monitor. We were hoping to ask you a few questions about Svetlana’s abduction.”
The woman sighed tiredly. “Won’t you people leave us alone?” she asked in heavily accented English.
“We’re not like the others,” the Doctor assured her, “and it’s alright. We speak Russian.”
Pandora’s head popped up. ‘We do?’, she thought, then she remembered ‘the gift of the Tardis’. ‘We do’,” she thought, and smiled.
The man in the apartments spoke up, “You won’t believe us. You are only going to make us look like idiots in your little newspaper. Why should we speak to you?”
Pandora stepped forward. “It’s like the Doctor said. We’re not like the others. I think you’ll find we’ll believe what you have to say.”
The woman considered her words for a while, then stepped aside and opened the door wider. “I’m Dasha. This is Lyosha,” she said, indicating the young man. “He is Sveta’s boyfriend.” She motioned to a couch and a couple chairs.
“Thank you for talking to us, Dasha,” Pandora said, and sat on the couch with her box on her lap. Dasha sat next to her and Lyosha took one of the chairs.
The Doctor went instead into the attached kitchen and pulled out the coffee maker. He smelled the bowl, then filled it with water from the tap. “How about you start by telling us what you were doing when it happened?”
“We were tired after dancing at Istos down on the beach,” Dasha said.
“The music there is good,” Lyosha added.
Dasha continued. “But we weren’t, you know, sleepy tired, so we decided to walk along the beach for a while. It was a nice night, pleasantly warm, and the sound of the waves on the beach was very soothing. Sveta had to stop to tie her shoe as we crossed the bridge down there, and we got a bit ahead of her.”
“Hang on, the bridge?” the Doctor asked. He began searching through cupboards until he found an old packet of Lipton tea bags. He smelled that too and pulled a face, but he took out several tea bags anyway.
“There’s a dry river bed at the end of the breakwater, and there is a bridge for the road that goes over it.” Lyosha explained.
“Go on,” Pandora said to Dasha.
Dasha hesitated for a moment before continuing. “We heard Sveta scream. Now, you must understand, the moon was out, and the night was bright. So, our eyes weren’t playing tricks or whatever you’re thinking.”
“It’s okay,” the Doctor called, pausing in his activity to listen intently. “Just tell us what you saw.”
Dasha swallowed hard. “They were big. And black.”
“Green-black,” Lyosha interrupted.
Dasha glanced over at him then went on. “They were like reptiles, but they were wearing clothes. Gowns made of netting or something. They had long necks, like — I don’t know — like a llama or something, and these… fins on their heads.” She held her hand up to the sides of her head, palms just behind her ears and fanning out her fingers out toward the back. “Sveta was struggling to get away from them, and they were holding a hand over her mouth so she wouldn’t scream again. They only had three fingers, with these claws. Chyerti,” she said. She was holding up a curled hand to show the claws.
“I ran at them,” Lyosha said. “I was going to hit them. Fight them off… But I blacked out,” he added, ashamed.
“They shot him. I don’t know what with, and I didn’t see any bullets or rays or whatever, but they held up this thing, and Lyosha fell over.” Dasha swallowed again. “I started screaming, then they turned their gun toward me, and I blacked out too.”
The Doctor came out of the kitchen and set down three mugs of tea, taking a fourth for himself.
Pandora and Dasha picked up theirs, but Lyosha ignored his. He stood up, suddenly angry. “They weren’t costumes, and we aren’t crazy. I was close. I could see the muscles in their neck move when they turned toward me. I could see the glint in their eyes. These were devils, come from Hell to drag Sveta down, and it should have been me!”
“It’s a big leap from ‘not-human’ to ‘devils from hell’,” Pandora said.
“But don’t worry,” the Doctor said, “Pandora and I are investigative journalists. If Svetlana is still alive—”
“And she probably is—” Pandora interrupted.
“And she could well be,” the Doctor corrected, “we’ll find her.”
A moment passed while they all sat silently in thought, holding hot mugs of tea in their hands. Then the Doctor downed his in one gulp and stood up quickly. He took Pandora’s un-drunk tea from her hands and set both mugs on the table. “Come along Pandora, we’re on the case,” he said and headed for the door.
Pandora stood up and said gently, “We’ll do everything we can. Thank you,” and she too left.
When they were outside, the Doctor was moving quickly again in the direction of the beach. Pandora hurried to keep up, lugging her box with her. “So, what do you think? Aliens?”
“No, not this time, I don’t think so,” the Doctor said.
“I don’t get it then. Is this our kind of thing or not?” Pandora asked.
“Oh, it’s our kind of thing, I think. I want to see the crime scene before I make any specific predictions though.” He had a good stride going, but Pandora was used to his style of walking by now and walked alongside him in silence.
When they got back down to the beach, the Doctor shaded his eyes and found the line of the breakwater. “West,” he said and headed off again. Pandora, having only rested for a moment, sighed and transferred the box to her other arm, then took off again after him.
The Doctor stopped when he got to the bridge and awkwardly reached into the pocket of his hoodie, which was hanging off his waist. He produced the sonic screwdriver and began scanning the long bridge. Pandora stepped to the side of the bridge and looked over the edge. The concrete spillway of a wide dry river bed ran some fifteen feet below them. Far enough that Pandora wouldn’t want to jump, but not so far she’d be afraid of dying if she fell. She turned back to find the Doctor carefully examining every inch of the bridge, and she started on the end she was on.
She walked slowly along the edge of the bridge, scanning the ground in front of her. She wasn’t sure what she was meant to be looking for, but she thought maybe an earring, or possibly signs of a scuffle, or perhaps even weird footprints. The sun baked concrete didn’t leave any possibility of the latter two as it turned out, but the heat reflected up at her reminded her that she was still wearing her jacket. It had been absolute ages since she’d last removed it, and a stench came off her as she pulled her arms out of the sleeves. She looked over at the Doctor, hoping he couldn’t smell her, or even worse, that she usually smelled like this and she’s just gotten used to it. She bundled her jacket up and laid it across the box she was carrying. She bunched up her sleeves and went back to scanning the bridge. A further thought occurred to her and she started looking for blood drops as well.
She got to the other end of the bridge without finding anything. The Doctor was still scanning slowly and had only reached the middle of the bridge, so she walked over to the seaward side of the bridge with the intention of searching on the way back. Instead, something in the dirt at the end of the bridge caught her eye. There was a tree planted there, and a little trail leading down into the muddy tidal estuary below. In the middle of this trail lay a dried-up, long thin greenish-black thing that appeared to be organic. There were a few bumps or nodules along its length.
“Doctor? What’s this?” she called out.
The Doctor stopped his scanning and hurried to stand over by her. “A ha,” he said and pointed his sonic at it. He then stooped and picked it up. “Seaweed,” he said.
“Oh. Sorry, I thought it was something.”
“It is something. Those bumps on the underside are a type of clam that only grows at extreme depths. Something dragged this up from the deep sea.” He dropped the seaweed and wiped his hand off on his shorts, looking out over the seemingly endless Adriatic before them.
“What could have done that?”
“It’s possible it came up with a deep-sea fisherman’s anchor…” he trailed off.
Pandora sensed an ‘or’ coming. “Or?” she asked.
“Or, this town, this island and quite possibly this world, are in terrible danger,” the Doctor said quietly.
A chill ran through Pandora. “So, what do we do about it?”
The Doctor turned to face her, a wide grin on his face. “A stakeout!”