Getting Then is Half the Fun
Reverend Bishop stood at the bar, unhappy to be there. He was waiting for someone, and this would never have been his choice of venue for the meet. He stood, despite the available bar stools, and reached for his tonic and lime.
He paused half-way to the glass when a woman in a trench coat and heels with masses of curly blonde hair sat down on the stool next to him. “Vodka, top shelf, chilled, not iced.” She turned to the reverend. “And what are you drinking, soldier?” she asked.
The reverend paused, then turned almost mechanically toward her. “I am meeting someone,” he said. His eyes conveyed a certain contempt.
The blonde woman laughed breathily, a deep purr. “And now we’ve met. Melody Malone,” she introduced herself and extended a hand, fingers pointed down.
He looked down at her hand as if he didn’t know what she was doing, then he turned back to face the bar. There was a mirror at a slant behind the bar, and for a moment their eyes met in the mirror. She smiled slyly, but he looked away.
“I am a man of the cloth, not a soldier,” he said plainly.
The bartender placed Melody’s drink on a napkin, and Melody immediately raised it in a toast. “Onward, Christian soldier,” she said and took a sip of her drink.
“Madam, I don’t know why you are here, but-”
“I thought you’d never ask,” she said, setting her drink down. “You see, I’m concerned about the plight of today’s homeless teens, Reverend Bishop, and I’ve heard a lot about you and I’ve taken quite an interest in your program.”
The reverend stiffened even further at the implied scrutiny. Their eyes found each other’s in the mirror again, but this time, neither looked away. “Go on...”
“Well, the rest is rather obvious, don’t you think?” She turned toward him and the trench coat parted exposing a strategic amount of cleavage. I’d like to write a story about the working conditions in your factory, as well as the sleeping arrangements.”
He turned toward her rather stiffly again, as if his neck were injured. He had the same look in his eye again, but where she had thought it contempt originally, it seemed that a rage boiled beneath his surface, one that never came through in his voice or mannerisms.
“I assure you that the work conditions in my plant are quite-”
“I’m sure they are, Reverend, and more importantly, my readers will be once they have read my story about how... humane they are.”
The reverend was silent, watching Melody for any sign of her true intentions.
“Perhaps you’d like to step outside, and discuss this in private, Ms. Malone?” he finally asked.
Melody slammed back the rest of her drink and set the glass on the bar, missing the napkin. “Allow a lady to freshen up first?” She pulled some lipstick from a small clutch and looked in the mirror to apply it.
The reverend turned stiffly and walked out the back.
Melody blotted her lips on the cocktail napkin. “Bartender?” she called. “Could I trouble you for a pen?”
The bartender pulled one out of his breast pocket and handed it to her.
She jotted something down on the napkin, then placed it in her clutch with the lipstick. “Thank you, doll,” she said, setting the pen down on the bar. “Do be sure the good reverend tips you well for both of us when he returns.”
She followed the reverend out the back and into the alley behind the pub. “I’m not normally this sort of girl, by the way. When a man wants from me the sort of thing you obviously want, generally I play hard to get.”
“I think you’d do well to write your story about something else.”
“Oh, I’m afraid I can’t do that,” she said. Melody turned her back on the reverend. “You could say, I’m passionately involved in this endeavor.”
The reverend’s eyes flashed bright green then glowed dully. “You are certain I can’t convince you otherwise?”
“Alas, I find myself entirely intransigent,” she said with a smirk, one hand reaching into her clutch.
He raised a hand and a spark arced between the webbing of two fingers and slowly climbed up toward the fingertips, where it dissipated only to be replaced by another spark making its climb. “Then, I am sorry,” he said, reaching out for her.
Melody spun around quickly. “How’s this for hard to get?”
He looked down to see the barrel of a staser pistol pointed at him.
Melody fired, and the reverend flew backward with the force of the blast, landing in a collection of rubbish bins. His features slowly dissolve into a glowing green mass with slimy tentacles.
River placed the staser back into her clutch and made her way out of the alley.
Just down the street, at Grosvenor Square, there were a pair of workmen about to bury a large metal box. Melody smiled as she caught one of the worker’s eyes. He had been leaning on a shovel, but stood up straight as she approached.
Melody surprised the man with a kiss full on the lips, then in conspiratorial tones said, “Be a dear and pop this into the box before sealing it up for good, will you? Thank you so much.”
The Doctor and Pandora pressed forward to get a good view as the historian pulled back the lid of the time capsule and reached inside.
“Our first item is,” he said with a dramatic pause before pulling out his hand, “...a cocktail napkin, it appears.”
This got a lot more laughter than his feeble joke had earlier.
“What’s it got on it?” someone in the crowd called out.
“Well, it’s got a lipstick mark of some sort, and there’s some writing on it.”
“What’s it say?” someone else called out.
“It says,” the historian said as he adjusted his glasses, “‘Hello, Sweetie’.”
The Doctor’s head perked up. Pandora looked at him strangely. The Doctor noticed and looked back at her. “We need to get a hold of that napkin,” he explained.
“Why? Does that mean something to you? ‘Hello Sweetie’?”
“Yes,” he said, slightly annoyed. “It’s a message from my wife. Well, might be my wife. If she’s not my wife, I might have to pretend I don’t know her.”
“Wait, you’re married?” Pandora asked, half-shocked, half-amused.
His annoyance only grew. “Yes. Well, ish. It’s complicated. We both travel through time, and we keep meeting in the wrong order. We have these diaries we compare to see where we are. And there’s a code. One of us will ask about ‘Jim the Fish’ to figure out if we’re married yet.
“Jim the Fish?” Pandora laughed.
“Shh. He’s pulling something else out now.”
The historian set the napkin aside on a tarpaulin laying there for just such purposes. He flashed a smile at the crowd and reached back into the time capsule. He paused dramatically and said, “...And, the next item from the time capsule is...”
He pulled out an ovoid metallic item, somewhat larger than an ostrich egg. It had glistening studs in a helix pattern from top to bottom, and a seal around its midsection. “Oh!” the historian exclaimed. “It appears to be a Faberge egg! Let’s see what’s inside, shall we?”
The blood drained from the Doctor’s face. He recognized this item and it wasn’t a Faberge egg. He pulled himself out of his stunned silence and yelled, “No! You mustn’t!“, but he was too late.
The egg didn’t simply hinge open like most Faberge eggs, but instead had a clasp on front with a pull handle just large enough to pry out with one finger. As soon as the historian did so, the top of the egg hissed open and something green and slimy poured out of the lower half and onto the historian’s arm and jacket front.
“Oh, for god’s sake,” the historian said and set the egg on the tarpaulin. The green slimy thing was clinging to him, and the bulk of it was resting atop his still outstretched arm. He grabbed some of the bits of it dangling between his arm and his jacket and tried to pull it off.
“Stop! It will defend itself!” The Doctor pushed people aside to get to the historian as quickly as he could, but he was once again too slow.
The historian stiffened and cried out, shaking. Electricity arced across his skin. The crowd backed away, some of them starting to run. People got pushed and began to panic. Somebody screamed, and the crowd took off as one, running headlong straight away from Grosvenor Square. The Doctor held Pandora’s hand to be sure she didn’t run, but she was right by his side.
The historian collapsed to the ground, eyes staring, mouth open wide in a final, silent, scream of pain and terror. His body smoked.
Pandora put a hand over her mouth and nose, fighting back nausea. She turned away from the scene, but heard a squelching noise that made her look back in horror. The green slimy thing was undulating, moving slowly away from them and toward the time capsule. It was pulsating, a weak green glow as it went.
“Stop where you are,” the Doctor called to it.
It stopped its forward movement, but continued to pulsate. Two of the gooey, stretchy bits resolved themselves into tentacles as they raised off the ground, seeming to sense the air around them.
A hollow, tinny voice, seemingly coming from the blob, spoke. “We cannot fail. We must heal. How much time has passed?”
“Twenty-nine solar rotations,” the Doctor responded.
“You lie!” the harsh voice called. The creature seemed to glow a little brighter.
“Doctor, what is that thing?” Pandora asked.
“Part of the Rutan Host. At constant war with the Sontaran Empire for as long as I can remember, and believe me, that’s a long time.”
The initial panic having died down, people were returning with their smartphones to take pictures or videos of the Rutan. One girl, a couple years younger than Pandora, was live streaming.
The Rutan started moving again, desperately this time. Its tentacles and filaments shot out toward one of the gathered humans, then dragged the central mass forward. It then shot out towards another as he came in close for a better shot.
“Back away, all of you!” the Doctor commanded. Some listened better than others, and the Rutan moved in a new direction.
“Stop Rutan, I’m warning you!” the Doctor said, but the Rutan saw its opportunity and redoubled its speed toward the girl live streaming. She screamed and dropped her phone but did not move from the spot.
The Doctor picked up the egg and pointed his sonic screwdriver at it. The screwdriver whirred and the egg sparked. The Rutan’s movements slowed and the pulsating glow grew weaker, then went out.
Pandora came over to stand next to the Doctor, and he showed her the inside of the egg. “The Rutan stasis pod. It must have been badly injured; the stasis pod was the only thing keeping it alive.”
He tossed the pod into the recently dug hole and picked up the cocktail napkin. He turned to Pandora, holding it up so the message could be seen. “Now she’ll have to let me in.”
“Okay, so we get into your Tardis and travel through time. How do we find your wife based off a lipstick print on a napkin?” Pandora asked as they moved quickly through the streets toward Hyde Park.
“Because she’s brilliant!” the Doctor said excitedly. He handed Pandora the napkin. “Smell that, but don’t touch the lipstick.”
She carefully sniffed at the napkin. There was an odor she didn’t expect, somewhere between rubbing alcohol and paint thinner. “What’s that?” she asked, pulling away from the unpleasant scent.
“She used her hallucinogenic lipstick. That means she’s in danger. What else do you notice about the napkin?” the Doctor prompted.
Pandora turned the napkin over, “Next you’re going to talk about handwriting analysis?” Then her thumb rubbed against the surface and she felt an impression there. “Wait...” she said, holding the napkin up under a streetlamp outside the park. “There’s a stamp here. ‘The Lamb and Hart’? I get it. You know where she was, this pub, and you know when she was there because of the time capsule, and you know who it was because of the message. But to anybody else, it’s just an old napkin with some scribbles on it. That is clever.” She handed the napkin back to the Doctor.
He held it in his hand as they approached the Tardis. His other hand had been in his hoodie pocket all this time, and as he stopped in front of the Tardis doors, he pulled his hand out, producing the Tardis key.
“Hello, old girl,” he started. He touched the wooden frame lovingly and went on. “I’m going to need you this time, and I’m hoping we can put our differences aside. River’s in trouble in 1987, and she’s asking for my help.” He slipped the key into the lock, then just before turning it, he whispered, “We need you.”
He twisted the key, but it wouldn’t budge. He rested his forehead against the doors and closed his eyes. He placed the napkin against the window pane. “Please!” he said, desperately, but quietly. “It’s River.” He stood in that pose for several moments, just breathing in and out. Then he said, barely audible, “I’m begging you.”
He tried the key again, but it still wouldn’t turn.
“Okay,” he said conversationally. He pulled the key out and turned to Pandora while he stuck it back in his pocket. “Plan B it is.”
He unzipped his hoodie and pulled a large folded piece of paper out of an interior pocket. He started spreading it out against the door to the Tardis. It looked like a blueprint of sorts, but sketched out on white paper with a pencil. There were notes in all the margins and most of the rooms, written in the Doctor’s impeccable penmanship.
“The Black Archive,” the Doctor told Pandora. “Probably the most secure structure in all of the UK. It’s buried beneath the Tower of London and guarded by the most highly trained and dedicated soldiers Britain has ever produced. They practice daily the subtle art of recognizing real documents from psychic paper. It houses all the alien technology collected across the ages and deemed to be too dangerous for humanity to use or even be aware of. It was built specifically to prevent my entrance, and the only way to leave is to have your memory of the interior completely wiped.”
The Doctor smiled his most conspiratorial and clever smile. “Of course, every time I’ve been in there, I put a piece of it away in a part of my mind even I couldn’t remember. That way when they wiped my mind, it would still be there, inaccessible, except in dreams.” He paused and considered that. “At least, I have had dreams where I’ve been in there, and I assume that’s what I had done.” He waved it off as unimportant. “Anyway, whenever I’ve woken from such a dream, I’ve sketched out the areas I’d been through as best I could remember them.”
“They have cameras everywhere,” he said pointing at various parts of the map. “Biometric sensors that can determine human from three hundred fourteen different alien species, acoustic sensors sensitive enough to tell one heartbeat from two, heat sensors, sonic dampeners, artron detectors, laser grids -- and not just the sort that raise an alarm when you trip them, more the sort that slice you cleanly in half if you aren’t careful.”
He paused to give Pandora time to catch up with all that. “Three different security zones, starting with Top Secret, with retina scanners separating them, a rotating set of vocal call and response codes, orders to shoot trespassers on sight and worst of all, trained dogs. In short, it is absolutely impregnable.”
“Why are you showing me all this then?” Pandora asked, perplexed.
“Because we’re going to break in,” he said with a broad smile. “Because that,” he said, pointing to a square in the middle of the map, “is where they’ve got a bit of tech that’s going to get us to 1987. I’m going to need some things.”
Petronella Osgood, just plain Osgood to anyone but family, was on her way out through the multiple security checks of the Black Archive. She was always happier when her work kept her away from this place, mostly because of the scrutiny. It wasn’t so bad on the way in, the point was to keep unwanted visitors out after all, but to be questioned, scanned and patted down on the way back out just seemed like overkill.
Kate Stewart wasn’t known to smile often, but she smirked when Osgood had complained about it previously. “I don’t know why it bothers you, it’s not like you’ll remember any of it afterward.”
“Actually, I hate that part most of all,” Osgood had said. “Last time I was driving through the West End, stuck at a light, when I looked down to find a Snorlak larva on the seat next to me. Scared me half to death before I saw the note from myself that I’d just requisitioned it from the Black Archive.”
This time, however, she’d only been working with a Bernulian signal jammer, and she’d returned it for safe keeping.
“Empty your pockets please,” came a voice over the loudspeaker.
Osgood took off her glasses and placed them in the bin on the conveyor next to her, then she reached into her pockets and pulled out her inhaler, her key card and her car keys on their pewter replica sonic screwdriver keychain. She placed them in the bin as well, then stepped to the next door and waited. The conveyor started up, and her possessions disappeared through a hole in the wall and into the next room.
The door in front of her buzzed and she pushed it open. As she stepped through an alarm went off and red lights began blinking in the next room. Osgood looked up in fright at the sprinkler heads in the ceiling, and stepped back, pulling the door shut.
“Sorry! Cat badge!” she called out. She fumbled at her lapel and removed the small bit of metal in the shape of a cat. She held it up in front of the camera. After a few tense moments, the conveyor moved in reverse and the bin with her possessions reappeared. She placed the cat badge in the bin and walked back to the door. The conveyor moved forward, and the door buzzed again. She stepped through without alarm this time. The door closed and deadlocked behind her.
A blast of hurricane force wind blew through her, and industrial fans hidden somewhere along the edges of the room sucked out and analysed any particles that came free. The walls glowed brightly in the UV for several seconds, then again in the infrared.
“Arms out, hold still, close your eyes,” came the voice over the intercom.
Osgood sighed and did her best impression of a lower-case t. She couldn’t help but picture herself naked, as the soldier would see her. Her only consolation was that when he went home at the end of his shift, he’d have his mind wiped too. A red laser spread out at foot level, then swept up her body. She closed her eyes, and felt a tingle as the beam passed over her bare hands, then her face. It switched direction and swept her again from left to right.
An alarm went off again, different from the last and louder this time.
Osgood opened her eyes and patted herself down. “What is it this time?” she yelled over the alarm. She didn’t think there was anything foreign on her.
The intercom came on again. “It’s not you ma’am. Intruder detected in the Archive, ma’am.”
Osgood rushed to the conveyor and stuffed her belongings into her pocket and put her glasses back on. “Is it human?” she yelled.
“No ma’am. Identification pending.”
Osgood went back to the door she’d just come through. “Open this up!”
“That’s against regulation, ma’am,” the soldier said.
“Sod regulations, there’s an intruder! What species is it?” she called.
The voice was silent for a few moments. “Time Lord.”
Osgood banged on the door, “Let me in!” she yelled. The door buzzed and she threw it open, quickly running to the next door, which buzzed as well. She quickly ran through a third room and into the larger room where the soldier she’d been speaking with was sitting at a computer bank with a group of other soldiers.
“Call Chief Stewart immediately,” she called out in general. “And turn off that alarm. We’ve been informed.” Then she picked one in particular. “You. Sergeant Cole.” She paused as the alarm shut off, and when she spoke again, her voice had softened. “Is it the Doctor?”
Sergeant Cole hesitated. “Unknown ma’am. The cameras are shutting off around the disturbance.”
Osgood pulled out her inhaler and gave it a puff.
“The disturbance?” Osgood asked, coming around the desk and pushing Cole away from the keyboard.
“Yes ma’am. We haven’t seen the intruder yet, but they’ve set off several of our systems. Binary vascular system, body temperature is right, they’re giving off artron radiation, and they’ve been using sonic technology on the door locks, cameras and...” he trailed off, with a look of embarrassment.
“Spit it out, soldier,” she said, looking at him askance.
“Our sonic dampeners, ma’am.”
“It’s the Doctor alright,” Osgood said with a proud smile. Her fingers flew across the keys. “Where is he heading?” she asked.
“Unknown, ma’am,” Cole said, confused. “He’s shut off the cameras.”
Osgood sighed. She brought up all the Black Archive cameras on the big screen. “And that’s how you know where he’s heading. He’s only turned off the ones where he’s been.” She pointed at the black squares on the camera monitor. “See? Now if he keeps going in that direction... Sergeant Cole, what do we keep in section G3?”
“Checking,” Cole said, sliding his chair over to another keyboard. He brought up a list, then moved it to the big monitor.
Osgood began scanning the list line by line. “There!” she shouted, pointing. “The Orthopositronium Mirror! He’s heading back in time!” She patted the shoulder of the soldier on the phone. “Inform Ms. Stewart.” Then she turned to the others in the room. “You three with me.” She picked up a tablet computer and headed for the elevator.
“Shall we take up arms, ma’am?” one of the soldiers asked.
“Sure, if you want to make him laugh.”
The elevator door opened and more soldiers were waiting for Osgood and the three soldiers she had with her. One of the new soldiers was a captain. She went up to him and shared the tablet with him. “Deadlock seal the doors, here, here and here. Post your men here and here. Place two more on the mirror itself. If he’s taking the mirror, we need to know when he is going to. He must not leave until we have spoken, or he may wipe any one of you from history, got it?” Osgood asked.
“You heard her. Johnson, Pratt, on the mirror. Paisley, Duncan, MacNair, to the South door, Benson, Meyer and Cass, you’re with me on the North. Desmond and Cole, you’re on the deadlocks. Stay with Osgood. Relay her commands.”
The soldiers sprang into action.
Osgood tapped on her tablet and switched it to a display of all the cameras within the target zone. If any of those cameras went out, she’d be ready to move the men there. “How are we coming with the deadlocks?” she called loudly without looking up.
“Ma’am!” said one of the soldiers, running up to her. “Ms. Stewart is on the horn for you.”
He handed the phone to her and she put it in the crook of her shoulder so she could talk and manage the tablet at the same time. “Ms. Stewart?” she said into the phone.
“Is it really him?”
“Oh, it’s him,” Osgood confirmed.
“Which one of him?”
“We don’t have positive identification yet, ma’am.”
“I suppose it doesn’t matter. But, how did he get in?”
“I’ll ask him when he’s in cuffs, ma’am,” Osgood said as they continued down the hall to where Paisley, Duncan and MacNair stood.
“Not good enough, Osgood. I’m on my way. I want a full analysis of our system and a statement from all the personnel who were there tonight and haven’t been mind-wiped yet.”
“Afraid I have to go ma’am,” Osgood said, then louder, “The camera has gone out just on the other side of this door!”
“Stand back, ma’am,” the sergeant said. He pulled his gun and stood at the door, one hand on the handle. He nodded at one of his men, who removed the deadlock. He pulled the door open and pointed his gun into the hallway. Two others swept in and pointed their guns down the hallway in the other directions.
“What the...?” one of the soldiers said, lowering his weapon.
Sergeant Cole swept with his gun around the doorframe to see what Duncan was talking about.
There, whirring down the hallway was what looked like a Segway with an iPad affixed to the handlebars. Two speakers strapped to the sides pumped out the barely audible sound of two hearts beating, while a sonic device slowly revolved around the top of it. The iPad slowly cycled through a series of photos of each of the Doctor’s incarnations. “I’m the Doctor,” it said in a gruff, raspy voice. “I’m the Doctor,” it repeated in a Northern accent while displaying a man with close-cropped dark hair and protruding ears.
Osgood peered cautiously over Cole’s shoulder when she saw him lower his gun. The sonic device atop the Segway homed in on her tablet and stopped, activated, and turned off the tablet. She recognized a rift stabilizer sparking slightly, which must have been the source of the artron particles. “I’m the Doctor,” the iPad said, displaying a handsome freckled man with wild hair.
Osgood slowly raised the phone to her ear. “Ma’am, we’ve been chasing his stunt double,” she said. Osgood ducked back around the corner and reactivated her tablet.
“He’s there somewhere. Otherwise there’d be no point,” Kate responded.
“Yes, ma’am. I’m expanding the sensor profile now.” Her fingers flew across the screen bringing up security readings across the Archive. “No ma’am, there’s been no unauthorized access elsewhere.” A thought occurred to Osgood. “Wait. Let me look for authorized access outside G3.”
“He’s after another time-travel device,” Kate Stewart said over the phone. “What else do we have in the Archive?”
Osgood brought up an inventory pane. “There’s the time rotor, but that’s only part of a working machine, and there’s the --” She nearly dropped the phone. “The vortex manipulator!” she yelled to the soldiers. “Get everyone to section C4! Lock it down! Lock it down now!”
Osgood started running. The soldiers immediately responded by running as well, communicating over radio headsets with the other team. Osgood got to a door and swiped her card through the slot, but a red light came on and the door did not allow them through. “Damn, we deadlocked this one!” She turned to the soldier controlling the seals. “Get it open, now!”
He typed frantically at his device, then looked up and nodded to her. Osgood tried the card again and a green light came on. She pushed at the door and ran through. “How are we doing on the locks?” she called out.
“Area C4 is secure, ma’am,” a soldier responded.
She continued running while she worked with her tablet. “Unlock door A306114! That’s our entrance.”
They went through an area that was rows and rows of shelving filled with wooden crates stamped with arcane hexadecimal identifiers. She made a hard left half-way down and called out, “That door better be unlocked!” She reached out with her card, swiped it and hit the door at full speed. The little light turned green the very moment before her shoulder collided with the door and it sprang open. The hallways beyond were dark, with recessed lighting along the base of the walls. She took another left, then a quick right. It opened into another large room with more bare metal shelving.
A mix of crates and cardboard boxes filled these shelves. There was a rolling cork board covered in photographs of the Doctor and his companions, and a booth in the middle of the room with a key-code controlled door on its side. She knew there was a large window on the left side, and from where she was, she could see a red glow emanating from that window.
Osgood ran quickly to the keypad and typed in her passcode. The keypad buzzed at her and a little red light blinked. Osgood pounded it with her fist and ran around to the window. The soldiers joined her there, guns drawn.
There were a man and a young woman in the box, both strangers to Osgood. The girl looked up in panic at the soldiers with guns pointed at her. She held up a wooden chest to hide behind. The man, dressed in cargo pants, graphic tee and grey hoodie had the vortex manipulator on his wrist. “Hold on to me, Pandora!” he yelled.
The girl wrapped one arm around him. He pressed several tiny keys on the vortex manipulator, then looked up at Osgood and winked.
The two appeared to shrink to nothing in an instant. A swarm of glowing dust floated around in their place and faded to nothing.
Osgood and the soldiers stood there, stunned.
“What’s happening?” came Kate Stewart’s urgent voice on the phone.
Osgood slowly lifted it to her face. “Huh,” she said. “Cargo pants.”