CHAPTER ONE: Guilt
The downside to abandoning your life forever is the cold realization of how easy it is. I never deluded myself that I was the belle of the ball, and while my address book bulged at the seams the names listed were work related. I've lost contact of most friends over the years. Those who might miss me when I'm gone number disappointingly few.
My father's as safe as he can be, tucked away in the Bayview Retirment Home. If a Dalek assault squad couldn't so much as scorch the patio, he should be protected from any possible repercussions. Beside, why would anyone want to hunt down an assassinate an 89-year-old unsure of which decade it was, and unable to tell any woman wasn't his devoted and beloved wife? I'll be blunt, because that's what I am: he doesn't have a life to lose.
There's no other family to worry about. Mother died of a stroke back in the 90s, and my sister Emily came to a bad end a while ago. To crash a car while driving once was misfortunate, but twice? That smacked of carelessness. Her husband Jerome had sat by her bedside every day for the months she was in a coma. He didn't have to the second time, merely identify the body. He didn't even turn up for the funeral and I never bothered to try and find him.
Having lost my family to all intents and purposes, maybe it was just a matter of time before I lost my principles as well. Life is short, and some people are hot, as the saying goes. So when life contrived to place me in the path of a gorgeous blond hunk who was sexually confused and emotionally vulnerable, why the hell should I care if what I was doing was immoral? Did it matter what homophobic sexist claptrap I came up with as long as I got him into bed? It wasn't as if he needed much convincing. I'm just his type, apparently. He likes them big, blonde and bouncy as long as they don't try to have lives beyond him - if they do, Ben Chatham does his damnedest to make sure they regret it. That was part of the reason I kept going back to him; not just for the sex, but for revenge.
The gorgeous idiot never once bothered to ask how I knew about Charles Broxby, that we'd been roommates for years and he'd confided in me about the fact his latest boytoy was a whining and obsessive stalker. The emotional blackmail he'd put Charles through, just after Charles' father had got murdered, made me dearly want to wreck Ben Chatham's life. Charles fled for the hills and I've lost contact with him too. And so I was left with a combined project of a human sex toy I was morally obliged to make as miserable as possible...
And when I realized he was all I had left, I tried to get away. Convinced him that I'd had a nervous breakdown following being brainwashed by a computer. Ben moved on, like I'd never existed, moving from boytoy to boytoy, occasionally crawling back to the mighty Time Lord Doctor and begging to be his companion again, before being driven away by the knowledge he'd never match up to Rose Tyler or Donna Noble or Martha Jones. He's as stuck in this cycle as I am, clinging to someone no matter how incompatible we are.
Back in 2009 I found myself with Ben again, used for sex and booze and given less respect than a hoodie mugger that had tried to knife him. Kyle's not so bad... in fact, he's a good man... but I treat him like scum. He's big enough to take it, and there have been times weeks have passed where Ben ignores me. Even annoying him enough to tell me to shut up is better than that contemptuous silence. I'm not stupid, but I don't care any more. I'm desensitized. Who cares if that fat waiter with the gutter mouth gropes me in public? Who cares if one of my heroes turns out to be a Nazi sympathizer who brought Hitler back from the grave? When I managed to crash that car, mirroring what happened to my sister so perfectly, all I thought was how unfair it was I had to wake up and suffer more criticisms of my driving from the drunkard who'd been too paralytic to put on his own seat belt.
It's probably post-traumatic stress disorder, maybe some kind of subconscious death wish, that makes me stay with Ben and the others, especially when Torchwood got destroyed and we ended up suddenly sole defenders of Earth, dealing with all the crap UNIT is too busy or respectable to deal with. I stay in a dangerous job with people I hate to protect others I couldn't care less about. Why? It passes the time. I'd rather get blasted to atoms by aliens hiding in Silbury Hill than die alone in my flat, watching what little beauty I have fade and the world change around me.
With the aide of alcohol, I was convinced I could handle anything by cunning application of utter apathy and vicious sarcasm. And you know what, I was very nearly right.
When the government got in contact with us and told us about Ivan Iblomov, Kyle was horrified. This Russian gangster who'd made his millions out of murder, drugs, slavery, prostitution and disturbingly inventive combination of the four, was doing a deal with the leaders of Britain. All the fiddly details of perfect genetic modification exclusive to the United Kingdom in return for a processing plant in Cornwall of all places. All the waste was refined dumped into the water - partially because it was cheaper than going to the trouble of disposing the waste properly, and partly because they wanted to see what happened to the populace.
Little Bampton, one huge experiment. Watching to see what happened as the toxins and chemicals started to get into the water table. And we, Operation: Delta, were going to help keep Ivan's little George A Romero film under wraps, stopping the outside world find out what was going on. Iblomov would pay us handsomely, enough to make our budget rival Torchwood. Paul Farraday was sold on the idea. Corrine Shaw, that lovely woman who enjoys pretending we hate each other, she was less convinced. But the idea of a Britain free of poverty, starvation and disease convinced her the pros outweighed the cons. Ben, would you believe, was the most against it. He'd seen something similar happened while travelling in the TARDIS, a whole town wiped out by chemical weapons as research. But Ben, being Ben, just wanted an easy life. He'd let the others convince him it wasn't worth fighting.
And I let them.
I knew it was wrong. I knew it was criminal in every possible sense of the word. But, like I keep saying, I just didn't care. I might even have told Kyle the real truth if I could have been bothered to put up with his moral outrage. As far as our token chav was concerned, we were providing security for a legitimate business. Well, that's what Ben told him and expected him to believe. Unfortunately, Kyle's smarter than Ben assumes he is (well, he'd have to be, being able to breathe and walk simultaneously). Kyle was the one that noticed the disappearances, the accidents, the way one housewife apparently died from her internal organs dissolving while in the bath. He was the one that decided to call in UNIT, trying to get them to send someone that we could trust.
I was the one that spilled the beans to Ben, betraying Kyle. Ooh, that was a big argument. Ben had stormed off to work out details with Iblomov about how to keep Little Bampton looking normal to the outside world. More chemicals were pumped into the waters to try and cover things up, bottled water brought in, witnesses paid off. UNIT were smart enough to send in Martha Jones, but Ben was (for once) smarter. He kept in the mobile HQ, not even going out for absinthe. He made sure there was nothing for her to report, and even faked a UFO sighting to throw her off the scent. After a month, Jones was still unaware we were invovled at all.
Then Kyle had spotted her going out on the boat with three teenagers. Two of them we worked out were overzealous Greenpeace activists, rookie eager to make a name for themselves. They'd somehow stumbled on the truth. We had no idea who the third teenager was, not that we cared. Ben told Iblomov who sent a boat to wipe them out. Ben was horrified by that, not that he did much about it. As ever. Kyle suggested we uncover ourselves, claim we were "investigating" Gastroix, and bluff the rest. Say it was aliens. Say anything except the truth. Thus allowing Kyle to find out what the truth was. He assumed Ben and I were as in the dark as he was. For such a smart young man he can be incredibly naive.
Ben sauntered down to the town to meet Martha and the teens when and if they got back from their reconnoitre of the dumping ground when he saw it. The TARDIS. The Doctor had got involved. And Ben couldn't let the Time Lord find out his least favorite companion had got into murky waters and selling out innocent people, could he? Of course, that was before we found out the Doctor had regenerated. He'd managed to get into a knife fight in a Soho gay bar apparently, and turned into a floppy-haired teen unable to speak three words without adding "like" to his sentences (Ben, of course, immediately fell horribly in lust with him).
We bluffed it out rather well. Iblomov 'kidnapped' the Greenpeace Frenchies and we 'rescued' them, convinced the Doctor and Martha that we were on the level, Iblomov was evil and there was no proof at all. Even when a giant agitated mutant whelk stormed the village and killed six people. The Doctor was coming up with new and more idiotic plans it was easy enough to sabotage (according to Martha, his brain still hadn't recovered from his transformation), and when the Doctor tried to break into the plant we made sure he did it with Kyle and Ben and Iblomov was waiting. But Iblomov was not in the mood for these games and, understandably unimpressed by the Doctor, decided to shoot him. Ben and Kyle's loyalties made them rescue him, and Ben made sure that all the Russians were kicked unconscious. Despite that variation on the plan, it went ahead with two cheap actors blathering on about GM blood and corn that would destroy the world. The new Doctor fell for it completely. The Plan B kicked in and Iblomov was "arrested" and "deported". He was put on a first-class flight back to Moscow with apologies from Brian Green and officially the Little Bampton plant was shut down.
Gastroix didn't share their secrets, but neither did Britain's compliance get revealed. Only Martha Jones could have been in a position to uncover the truth, but I tricked her into joining Ben and myself for a quick trip with the new Doctor, before getting into a mess with some aliens and King Henry VIII. After that we fell back into the old routine, getting dragged out to archaeological sites and fighting monsters. Kyle bided his time, Ben acted like our little corruption never happened and me? Me? I found comfort where I could. Especially in expensive bottles of port.
Until the redevelopment of Little Bampton began. When the townfolk were all found dead and poisoned and the MOD slapped a D-notice over the whole thing. For once my lazy acceptance failed me and I looked into it. All those fishermen and their families dead from pollution, their village demolished and converted into a secondary Gastroix Plant and the toxins that wiped out the inhabitants converted into a new biological weapon for the British army.
Operation: Delta have nothing to say about it, of course. Paul and Corrine deny everything, Kyle said nothing and Ben genuinely seemed to have forgotten all about it. But with amounts of absinthe he guzzles and denial he enjoys, he might be telling the truth. None of the others knew about it in the first place.
It's just me.
Bitchy moaning Katie Ryan, the girl without any social graces or compassion.
No one cares about Katie because Katie doesn't care.
And why would they notice I'm drinking more and more, to the point that Ben's looking teetotal in comparison, that I'm picking fights with complete strangers? They don't have any other behavior to compare it to, do they? I've always been like this. On the outside at least.
Well, no more.
What will they think when they find out what I've done? I can imagine Ben idly texting my mobile once or twice, perhaps ranting how unreliable and useless I am before completely forgetting about me and screwing the next unsuitable young man he'll clap his eyes on. Craig and Isobel might miss me, enjoying a fresh excuse to wallow in misery and comfort each other. Anselm probably won't notice, Shakey Jake will use his fine and exotic herbs to wash away any upset, and Kyle...
OK, I don't know what Kyle will do.
The gun is surprisingly heavy in my hand. Ironic, as I only really mastered the use of firearms when we were helping Iblomov in Little Bampton. Six bullets, and only one of them needs to work. You've got to like odds like that. It's enough to make anyone excited.
Not me though. I just don't care...
...AND THOSE OTHER LOSERS SAID:
Dalek Warhol: Oof. Like that bit in Return of the Jedi, that is. You know the one. The bit where he takes the mask off. That bit. Not the Ewoks. Although I have a lot of time for them. Nothing in your story made me think of the bit where it turns out that that guy was Lando all along. I'm sorry...I think I have something in my eye...
Wilf: This is genuinely brilliant, and I'd love to see Spara comment on it. It manages to make Katie sympathetic without contradicting her character, and despite its unflattering portrayal of Ben (which can be dismissed by being Katie's personal and rather-screwed-up POV anyway), it's sufficiently negative and hard-hitting in tone that I imagine it to be exactly the sort of thing Spara would appreciate. And all this whilst entertaining and engrossing a confirmed Katie-hater like myself. There is life in this series yet, despite the many attempts (mostly by Spara himself) to prove otherwise. I salute you, Mr. Still-Not-Banned-Yet. Top marks.
Shayde: That was brilliant. I have to say, it was well written, well characterised, and the end. Oh that ending. I really, really enjoyed it.
Squamata2468: Great work on this story, Youth of Australia: I really enjoyed your 'Chatham Christmas Carol' from the Chatham Annual thread, partly because of how you plausibly expanded on the characters while keeping them exactly how they are in the original Sparacus works, and you've done that brilliantly here.
Pseudo: This is a wonderful example of what can be done with these characters. An absolutely wonderful and quite heartbreaking tale. I'm looking forward tor reading part two, which I see you've already posted.
manmiles: This is brilliant. I wish I could honestly write something that powerful.
CHAPTER TWO: Loss
Kyle entered the kitchen and yawned, idly scratching the stubble on his cheek and struggling to remember his obligations of the day ahead. It quickly dawned on him he was effectively off duty for further notice, as the only case Operation: Delta was dealing with was the ghost sighting at that priory in Sussex. The team lead by Chiara Henning was dealing with that. She and Júlíus were getting things done quickly and efficiently, especially given they didn't need to consume twice their bodyweight in booze before they could make decisions. With Johnstone, Roland and Lisa, the case was going quite well from what Kyle remembered. Aparently the ghost was something to do with a meteorite.
Of course, back at the London Office, Keith, James and Rajiv were getting settled in and learning to deal with Shakey Jake. Barry Tuck was rehearsing for a full-blown heart attack in the unarmed combat course he'd been enrolled in, while Anselm was stuck in some kind of school for learning espionage and infiltration. If he learned how to speak like a human being it would be worth the hassle. Craig and Isobel were still jet-setting around Paris with Sebastian the cat, having the most fun Kyle ever remembered them having. Paul and Corinne were looking to set up a new base in Cardiff to replace Torchwood.
As for the two newest recruits, Kyle took slightly longer to recall what they were up to. By the time he'd finished making a cup of tea, he recalled Joshua was in court with the exclusion order from some bird off television called Hannah Murray. 'OD employs celeb stalker', that's what the papers would say if Paul hadn't dealt with it. And that left Adam Wooten, who of course, was upstairs with Ben, sleeping off all thirty-seven seconds of passionate bonking Mr. Chatham had been capable of before passing out drunk.
Kyle slipped a slice of bread into the toaster and turned on the TV to watch the morning news. Nothing particularly interesting was on, it was raining and generally it looked to be the sort of day that would be best served by everyone going back to bed. Kyle wondered for the first time if he should abandon his unofficial position as Ben's nursemaid and join Chiara and the professionals. On the other hand, he did like Ben... when he was sober... and did owe him one or two. It was clear Ben was no longer able to look after himself. He was losing weight rapidly, rarely if ever left the house and had emptied the flat's alcohol supplies three times faster than normal.
Of course, if Operation: Delta went back to actually using him on missions it might be different. Get him out of the flat, meeting people, actually keeping him awake for a few minutes... but since David Cameron's budget increase, the organization could afford all the specialists it needed. For all his travels in time and space, Ben had little useful knowledge or practical skill. He had fame and good looks, which was why Paul wanted him kept on - as a figurehead whose "bestial ego" needed to be sated. That's why they'd deliberately employed pretty boys like Adam and Joshua to keep their icon happy while deliberately keeping him out of decisions.
Kyle had only discovered the truth when he found Paul and Corrine giggling drunkenly after the interviews. It turned out they'd faked the phone call from the Prime Minister that effectively rendered Ben's authority redundant, and waited until he was just drunk enough to fall for it. Kyle had tried to tell Ben about it, but to no avail. He had (yet another) new soul mate to make him happy, and been far more interested into trying to get Piers to join him in a threesome. Piers had left without a word. Ben, it seemed, hadn't even noticed.
A thought struck Kyle as he buttered his toast.
Just where had Katie got to?
If anything, she was worrying him a bit more than Ben. He literally couldn't recall her without a glass of wine in her hand, and hadn't seen her sober in months. She was always rather blunt and stand-offish, but in recent weeks had been all but screaming abuse at everyone and anyone she met. She was increasingly unreliable too. Three out of five days she might not turn up for work, but to be honest, no one was missing her. Even Ben was getting sick of her. Was she just off in a huff because Ben was with yet another man?
With a clear goal in mind, Kyle got to work. He made a pot of tea and some plain toast, put it on a tray and placed it beside Ben's bed - in his drunken lust he'd forgotten to close the bedroom door, let alone open it and Kyle was once again glad for Craig's collection of My Chemical Romance to block out the noises. Ben was twisted and tangled in the bedclothes and Adam, looking pale, feverish and skeletal. Yet there was a happy twist to his thin lips, so Kyle let him sleep. He went down stairs, snatched the keys for Bessie and left.
Once Kyle would have scoffed at him driving a sprightly yellow roadster through London, but if the Doctor thought he needed a car like this to survive on Earth then it was quite clearly more useful than any hybrid two-door Operation: Delta could provide. Kyle's thoughts drifted to Katie's car, and grew troubled. What if she'd tried to drive it and had an accident? It had happened before, not long after Kyle first met Ben - back when Katie had been able to handle her liquor...
Kyle drew up outside Katie's place, a simple one-level house on a corner. He froze as he saw it.
A whacking great sign with the word SOLD out the front.
Kyle pulled up outside the Mermaid wine bar and ducked inside, ordering a coffee. He wasn't even sure why he had come here - he didn't need wine, nor were any of the staff old enough hands to remember Katie. Most of them quit after a day of having to work with Tuck. Kyle had a vague hope she might have been propping up the bar, knocking back a glass of red and moping about... well, pretty much everything.
But she wasn't. And no one of her description had been in for the past week.
Sitting in their usual place, Kyle checked the number he'd scrawled on the back of his hand and made some phone calls. The estate agents were surprisingly helpful. Apparently Katie had suddenly wanted to sell up and move on. She'd wanted it done as quickly as possible, but didn't seem at all worried or scared. Kyle wracked his brains but couldn't think of any sudden debt she'd be into, or any danger that would want her to quit Cambridge. The estate agents explained that, as per her instructions, they had transfered the money to her bank account directly, but what confused them was that Katie hadn't made any kind of inquiries about finding a new place to live.
Which troubled Kyle. Katie kept her cards to her ample chest about her past, but he knew she had no siblings, close relatives or any friends in Cambridge that would put her up for the night. So where would she go? What would she do?
Since she'd clearly had some interest in the cash from selling her house, Kyle rang up the bank. Several computerized options later, he finally got a real person to speak to, but things didn't improve from there on. The man on the other end was friendly enough, but wasn't willing to give up any personal details to Kyle "even if he did sort of work for the police". Kyle cursed silently, wishing that Paul's publicity drive had kicked off a bit sooner so that saying "I work for Operation: Delta" lead to more than a blank stare, a shrug and saying "And...?"
Nevertheless, after a lot of perserverence Kyle learnt that the funds were now tied up with some retirement home - every penny Katie owned was now to be used excusively for the health and wellbeing of one Peter Robin Ryan. Another phone call confirmed he was a dementia sufferer in permanent residence at the home. It didn't take a genius to work out Katie had given all her cash to look after her father... but why?
And where was she?
After that lengthy phone call, Kyle treated himself to a lite beer and then drove back to the Operation: Delta headquarters. He stopped to greet the big guys that were hired as security - Kyle never thought they got enough appreciation, even though they put their lives on the line to protect the staff. Nevertheless, none of the guards had seen Katie for weeks. Nor were they particularly upset by this revelation.
Sighing, Kyle trudged up the steps to the foyer. James was manning the reception desk, making up for his enthusiasm by a lack of coordination and understanding for technology that Kyle couldn't help but find endearing. Maybe Lisa should have left some more helpful notes for him. "Eh, James," Kyle said.
"Oh, hi," James said absently as he struggled to put on his handsfree headpiece upside down and back to front.
"You seen Katie round lately then?"
"Who?" asked James, tugging the headset off his messy brown curls.
"Katie? Katie Ryan? Never mind. Is Paul and Corrine in, then?"
"Yeah, think so," James said, before somehow managing to electrocute himself through the keyboard.
Kyle flashed James a toothy grin. "Don't give up your day job," Kyle said, heading for the stairs.
"This is my day job," James sighed, before knocking his coffee onto the keyboard and causing an explosion.
Paul Farraday was dictating a message into some gizmo in his glass-walled office, feet up on his desk when Kyle arrived. A half-empty bottle of scotch was on the desk but, unlike many of the staff of Operation: Delta, Paul could handle his drink and could even pass for sober. "Afternoon, Scott," Paul said cheerfully, glancing at the strange objets d'art wall clock. "What can I do you for?"
Kyle was reminded why he found Paul such an odious twit. The insistance on calling people by their surnames in casual conversation, that smug, slack-jawed smirt, and the revolting smell of patchouli oil. "It's about Katie," Kyle began without preamble.
Paul's shoulders sank under his designer suit. "Oh no. What's she done now?"
"So what's the problem?" asked Paul, his expression not wavering in the slightest.
"She's disappeared!" Kyle said, temper flaring. "She's not answering her phone, like? Plus she's sold her house and frozen her own bank account and no one knows where she is or what she's doing?"
"And you actually want me to help you find her?" asked Paul slowly, making it sound like Kyle was suggesting they snort some anthrax and set fire to an orphanage. "Scott, Miss Ryan was only part of this organization on sufference. Whatever her archaeological skills, we hardly used them. She was kept on to keep Ben Chatham happy and no one's going to look me in the eye and say she was actually doing that job very well, is she?"
"What does it matter?" Kyle exclaimed. "She's one of us! We owe her!"
Paul blew out his cheeks. "Oh well, I suppose there's a million-to-one chance someone could try to use her to undermine us. All right, Scott, I'll look into it and keep you updated. And if there's nothing else, isn't there a certain archaeologist whose nappies need changing by now?"
Kyle rolled his eyes. "Anything to keep your precious figurehead happy."
"I could tell him all about you using him, you know."
"Feel free. And if he's lucid enough to get upset, ask him if there's anyone else who's prepared to use that sad, unemployable alcoholic? Because I honestly can't think of anyone."
Kyle made a mental note to add this to one of the reasons he was going to enjoy punching Paul's lights out one day. Maybe he'd go mad and threaten the world, or be taken over by aliens, or maybe just cause Kyle to snap. Either way, on that day, he'd smack the bastard down and this moment would be why he did it with a smile.
Adam was gone when Kyle got home. Ben was still asleep. Two slices of toast were left, stale and stiff, next to a mug of cold congealed tea. Kyle wearily collected the tray and cleaned up as best he could. The weather was just as miserable. He spotted a slightly rusted metal shape in the corner and brightened.
Of course, K9! It was a robot dog that someone had sent Ben once as a rather odd assassination attempt. The tin animal said it was a present from the Doctor, acted all useful, and then when their guard was down? Zap. But somehow his nose laser had been broken and despite several weeks of trying to trip Ben down the stairs, or drop onto his head, Ben had finally switched the damn thing up. After that business with Henry VIII, the new Doctor had pointed his sonic spanner thing at the robot and fixed it for good. Ben still insisted it be switched off and ignored, partly because he was paranoid it might try and kill him, partly because it was an insufferably smug git that often showed Ben up.
Pressing all the buttons on the dog's metal back, Kyle watched the red eye visor glow and the head lift.
"This unit is now fully operational, Master Scott," said the robot dog in that fussy, precise voice that sounded more like some self-important university lecturer than a household pet.
"Yeah, I was wondering if I could get some advice," Kyle said, wondering how bad things had come that he was effectively talking to a mobile bit of hand luggage.
"Clarify nature of advice requested."
"It's Katie, Katie Ryan. You remember her?"
"Affirmative. Kathleen Annalisse Ryan, born July 15 1985, fully recognized in memory banks."
"Well, she's disappeared. No one's seen her for weeks, and now it seems she's sold her house and asked for all her money to be used to look after her dad in a retirement home, like? But where is she? What's she's doing?"
K9's crisp-shaped ears spun back and forth, as if thinking. "Insufficient data," he said at last, sounding slightly embarrased. "This unit is capable of certain prognositication abilities based on previous behavior patterns."
"Oh?" Kyle asked, not having a clue what the robot dog was on about.
"Evidence suggests that Mistress Ryan's disappearance was premeditated with her knowledge. Clearly material possessions nor money was no longer required by her."
"I could have told you that!" Kyle snapped exasperated. "I want to know why she's disappeared!"
"Possible explanations list as 743. I shall list them in reverse order..."
"Reverse order? Why?"
"I am programmed to protect you, Master Scott. Also Master Chatham. This extends to emotional wellbeing as well as physical security. In your terms, I 'do not wish to upset you'."
Kyle rubbed his eyes. "You think she's topped herself, don't you?"
"Query: topping oneself?"
Kyle wasn't sure whether to be annoyed at the little computer or pity it. "She's a suicide."
"Probability 89.4454 per cent, Master." Kyle sighed. "Self-destructive behavior patterns have been recorded since the year 2006, and increase in comsumption of intoxicants and stimulants has been noted," K9 continued remorselessly. "Suggestion."
"My sensors can be tuned to specific psycho-spoors, Master. It is possible I can locate Miss Ryan by her alpha-wave pattern, blood type and heat signature."
Kyle arched an eyebrow. This dog was more useful than most of Operation: Delta put together. No wonder Ben hated it being around. "But she's been gone for weeks!"
"Possibility of successful location is 47.6%," K9 admitted. "However, if I am linked to the fibre-optic information network of this time period, I will be able to correlate outside data."
Kyle considered the possibility that the little tin dog was trying to take over the world again, decided he didn't particularly care, and followed the instructions to connect a USB cable to the metal snout. Immediately a regular pattern of mechanical ticks emerged from K9 like a harddrive ticking over. "Analysis of all data streams beginning. I will inform you when contact is made, Master," the dog promised.
"Anything I can do in the mean time?"
"Master Chatham has known Miss Ryan for approximately eighteen hours longer than this unit has been in his presence. It is possible he will have some information about her movements that will be helpful."
"How possible?" Kyle asked.
"5.8% possibility of Master Chatham both retaining useful information and being able to relate it."
"And a 95% chance he can't?"
"Negative, Master. 94.2% possibility."
"I hate it when you get all pedantry!"
"Correct verb is "pedantic", Master."
Kyle wondered if he'd break a toe kicking the dog. It was still tempting. "Get on with the job, K9."
"Master," said K9 archly, and then fell quiet as he continued to scan every internet site in existence for a clue as to Katie Ryan's current whereabouts and status.
Ben was floating in a velvet darkness, beyond the reach of pain or fear or loneliness. It was a magical place that he'd always fled to in childhood when reality hurt too much. As he'd grown older, he'd found it harder and harder to return there, yet more and more alluring. Finally, he'd discovered the key: finest French absinthe!
If he drank just enough of it, he was there again - enveloped in warmth and love, looking up at vast blurry faces and hearing huge, soft words. Meaningless but spoken just for him by the sweet-smelling person holding him, safe and warm and loved. There were no bitter tears here, just laughter.
His thoughts were of wordless songs, long gold-blonde hair, wonderful smells, of swinging up through a huge mansion, of being hugged to the hip of his beautiful mother who kissed his forehead and made him laugh. A world where it was always summer, when the grass almost smelt sweet, and the sky was endless blue. He was adored and cheered, everything he did was a success as his uncles cheered wildly and praised his slightest action. The short time before Nikki had been born... No, don't think about that, Ben told himself. Don't even think about any time after that. Stay ahead of it. And maybe, just maybe, she'd never be born and he could stay this happy for ever.
Amusement in his father's eyes, his mother smiling and waving, Uncle Harry always being there, grinning, his cousin bringing him a drink when he was tired, playing games with Uncle Harry's best friend, his aunties' faces lighting up with delight, happy to see him and laughing as they chased each other through the gardens of home...
Being hugged and admired and wanted and loved...
'Ben! Oi, come on, like! Wake up, Ben!'
And there was Steve standing over him, shaking him playfully. But he looked so upset. Wasn't Steve dead? No, don't think about that. Or what happened to his girlfriend. Steve? Charles? Jake? Jamie? Nick? James? Karl? Milo? Anselm? Nathanial? Piers? Adam? No. Think of that afternoon at home...
"Ben, this is serious!" whoever-it-was was shouting at him. "We've got to find Katie! Ben, I need your help!"
Need me? Someone needs me? Ben couldn't abandon someone who needed him. Especially as it made him feel so important, so wanted, made him feel like he mattered. The way he wanted to feel. They always tried, like Rose or Genna or Abby or... no, if someone needed him, he had to go back.
"Oh," he said in disappointment as the apartment painted itself into reality around him. "It's you, Kyle."
Ben was predictably unhelpful. After what seemed like hours of him complaining he was in the middle of a beautiful deep sleep (and should not be disturbed with such trivial matters), then outraged that Adam had left him without waking him up to say goodbye (not that he should have left in the first place), before whining about hangovers and being sick in the en suite bathroom. Now, wrapped in a bathrobe he seemed to think was some exclusive Harrods dressing gown, he had finally stumbled down to the kitchen where he was demanding Blue Ridge coffee.
Kyle gave him a no-names-brand coffee that strong, black and just the way Ben hated it. Anything to sober him up.
"Look, what do you want me to do?" Ben grumbled. "I haven't seen her since you last did!"
"You've known her for nearly five years!" Kyle reminded him at unnecessarily loud volume.
"The first two years were her trying to get into my underwear and the next three were her complaining when anyone else succeeded," Ben moaned, feeling a sickening wave of nausea wash over him. "She lost her sister in a car accident, her father's in a home, her mother's dead. I found that out after that business in Stange Ness... It was a real relief, I was worried her family would blame me for everything!"
"Oh, you're a real friend to her, Ben, really gone out of your way for her like," Kyle scowled. "She's disappeared! No one knows where or why, and you know her the best, so you're the expert here!"
Ben's eyes were watering. "Please don't shout," he asked softly.
"Do you care about her at all?"
"Of course I do," Ben grumbled. "But she's just gone missing for a bit. What can I do about it?"
"I thought you could do anything," Kyle retorted. "The one, the only and the best, Ben Chatham, remember?"
Ben thought longingly of his warm bed, and even more longingly for the toilet nearby. He was definitely going to be sick. "Have you tried asking the others?" he asked, fighting off the rising urge to vomit.
"None of them have seen her," Kyle reported for the upteenth time. "I got K9 working on it."
"Who?" Ben echoed, then grimaces. "Oh. Oh, well, if you must," he sniffed. "What did the little tinclavic traitor say?"
"Ask you! Because you're supposed to be her friend!" Kyle shouted, finally losing his temper.
Ben jacknifed backwards off the stool and fell onto the ground, and was promptly sick after the impact. Kyle sighed and helped Ben up and over to the sofa, and threw some paper towels and disinfectant over the mess on the kitchen floor. K9 suddenly clicked loudly and spoke. "Master Scott, I have established a pattern of movements of Katie Ryan over the last three weeks."
"Cut to the chase, like, will you?" Kyle asked.
"Query: cutting to..."
"He means only relay the most relevent data, K9," Ben moaned, feeling his skull was about to implode.
"Affirmative. Following the negotiations with estate agent and local credit bank, Katie Ryan used a credit card at Heathrow airport for an express flight to Moscow. Passenger lists and records note she was on the scheduled flight, and disembarked at her destination safely three days prior."
"And?" Kyle urged.
"No further information available," the robot replied infuriatingly. "Analysis for information networks outside the UK require more processing time and..."
Abruptly K9 fell silent.
"...no vocabulary available," the dog replied, which Kyle took to be the computer equivalent of swearing in disbelief.
"What is it?"
The car aerial-like probe extended from the glowing red eyes and pointed towards the TV. "Initializing etheric interfaces. Tuning television network to News24 broadcast. Relevent information has been collected!"
"Well?" Ben groaned as the wide-screen plasma TV seemed to snap on of its own accord. The screen illuminated to show Trinity Wells talking animatedly, but the volume had been cranked down the previous night when Ben - too drunk to find the CD player - had put on a Bowie album in the DVD player.
Kyle didn't need to hear what the newsreader was saying, though.
'RUSSIAN BILLIONAIRE MURDERED AT HOME!' screamed the headline behind Trinity Wells. Beneath it were two photos. One, the last image of Ivan Iblomov alive.
And the other was of Katie Ryan.
...AND THOSE OTHER LOSERS SAID:
Shayde: A.Bloody.Mazing! That was just...wow. Screw Sparas canon. This should be it. Cannon that is.
Dalek Warhol: Brilliance. I'm assuming the trilogy has to end with Ben sobering up (a bit) and reclaiming his place at the head of O: D. But knowing you it'll probably end with him dead in a pool of his own effluence. Which is also a valid way to go. This reminds me of the bit in Return of the Jedi where the people do the stuff. You know the one I mean.
toyline_assembly: 12 out of 10! Loves it! No criticism at all. The real other Kyle might use "like", like more often though... like. In other words, as I said, no criticism at all. So so far it's 'Great' and 'Greater'... Now give us a 'Greatest'! (no pressure)
Squamata2468: I agree with toyline_assembly: this is even better than Guilt. Very eager to see what comes next! Couldn't help but feel a bit sorry for poor Adam. When I saw Shayde say in the Writer's Coffee Bar, "Ben calls him away quite a bit", I had a feeling this is what for.
The Oncoming Storm: This and 'Guilt' are pretty awesome as it goes, top work YOA!
CHAPTER THREE: Hope
Yay! Russia! 21st century, first quarter, before everything got, like, well mingin! I aint been here for ages. Or will be here. Time travel, total headtrip, like. That was when me and Turlough were cruising fighting them things the Master would call Toclafane. I wonder if that was before or after the Year That Never Was for them? Oh, who cares! Crank up the iPod and, like, throw open those doors.
A corridor. Bit of a letdown.
Ooh, windows! And through them... snow! Actual, proper, honest-to-god, not-alien-corpse snow! Well massive! I am so gonna film that on my snazzy mobile. I love me phone. Sometimes I get a bit obsessed with things after I change me face, like. Cricket, umbrellas, yoyos... this time it were phones and I was, like, Donna, can I play with that? And she was like, er, shouldn't we be fighting the Master or something? Moan, moan, moan! Like, didn't she notice the whole android thing was a, like, diversion so the Master could steal that Vortex Manipulator and escape?
Yeah, really should get round to sorting him out one of these days, like. Ooh, someone's coming.
Best duck into this corner. Switch on perception, filter, like. Got a bit obsessed by that as well. Put them on everything, even cloaks, like, and said they were invisible! Man, the guys on facebook couldn't believe people fell that that! Hang on! I know that woman, don't I? Maybe I, like, took a photo of her in me phone?
Ooh, Boney M! Well, like, fitting! Dum-dum-dum, da-dadda-dadda-dum, dum-dum-dum, da-dadda-ladda-dum!
Hey, that's her. The one waving at me in the photo. Wierd. She's not, like, using all her fingers...
Katie Ryan. Awesome! That means Ben and all the other cool folk must be around! YAY!
Katie Ryan tugged her warm coat around her as she was escorted into the main complex of Gastroix Inc (Moscow Division). She hadn't realized it was going to be so cold, especially now in what should have been summer. Global warming? Yeah, whatever. She thought of that description of the Stalinist purges where the blood froze in pools of the ground. Was that her fate? A corpse to be thawed out?
The security staff lead her into the high-tech parody of a Russian palace, where Ivan Iblomov awaited her appointment. As they had effectively been allies and she had personally aided his flight from Britain, he had apparently not been suspicious of her sudden request at a meeting. However, for a billionaire whose hobbies included light slave trade and arms dealing, 'not suspicious' meant little. She'd passed through about a dozen scans and searches. Thankfully, her haughty demeanour meant no one was willing to frisk her too closely and left it up the security systems to worry about if she was carrying any weapons.
Which was good. The alien gizmo she'd stolen from Operation: Delta could fool the sensors into thinking she was unarmed, but not even the dimmest of security guards. The handgun, heavy yet warmed by her own body heat, was nestled in her breast pocket.
Finally Katie was escorted into what looked like an indoor garden. The ceiling was a heavily insulated panoramic window letting the cold white light illuminate exotic-looking bushes and plants. A balcony seemingly hovered in mid air above this contained forest, and the man she had come to see sat on a cushion with a low table covered in a neat arrangement of bowls, glasses and chopsticks. It was some garish blend of Russia, America, Japan and... judging from the pizza slices in the sushi dishes... Italy. But then, for a man used to spending a month in any one of seven continents, it made sense for him to pick and choose the best of each society he profited from.
"Ah, the delightful Miss Katie Ryan," said Ivan warmly, but he didn't rise. "I must confess I have been eager to see you again. Is the business in that insignificant little fishing village finally concluded?"
"Not quite, I'm afraid," Katie said, sliding off her coat. It was warm in the garden, and her slinky low-cut dress was not going to provide any kind of distraction with her wrapped up, was it? "No, I'm afraid this is entirely a social call."
"My favorite kind," Ivan smiled. "Creme de menth?" he offered.
I'm, like, right outside the office garden thing. No sign of Ben or Martha or anyone. Bummer. This regeneration is, like, so not up to speed. I need people that knew the real me around, help totally get my mind in order. Maybe I shoulda stuck with Donna and Wilf. They were awesome. Pity they got all upset when I tried to chat up those ladies in the street though. Maybe I should leave it there...
Ohh, hang on...
RA-RA-RASPUTIN! LOVER OF THE RUSSIAN QUEEN!
THERE WAS A CAT THAT REALLY WAS GONE!
RA-RA-RASPUTIN! RUSSIA'S GREATEST LOVE MACHINE!
IT WAS A SHAME HOW HE CARRIED ON!
Like, I love that bit. I am so going to head back and check out Rasputin in, like, history and stuff. Hang on. Sex machine. Invulnerable to bullets, poison and drowning. Famous.
Oooh, Captain Jack Harkness, have you been being naughty again? RESPEC!
Ang about, what's going on in there?
Katie politely ate a slice of proferred pizza, noting that there were anchovies on it. She loved anchovies. So this final meal wasn't as awful as she thought. Nevertheless, she declined the creme de menth. Her last minutes on this Earth were going to be cold and achingly sober.
Ivan was coming up with a string of conversational nonsense that seemed partially rehearsed. He'd probably used it in small talk from Milan to Mongolia. Katie couldn't complain, since it gave her time to compose herself. "Of course, I'm beginning to consider retirement. At least once we've sorted out things with the United Kingdom. The sudden turnover of Prime Ministers and Presidents means I'm up to my eyes in renegotiations."
"It shouldn't be too difficult, though," Katie pointed out.
"No. They all raise moral objections, say the new regime will sweep away the old... but it's all just code."
"Code for what?"
"Code for them trying to get more money for services rendered than the last guy," Ivan chuckled. Despite everything, he had a nice laugh. He was reasonably handsome too. But then, you couldn't become a successful international criminal looking like the Devil Incarnate, could you? "Thankfully, most of the previous deals were done before the recession. I don't have to pay much more than I did before. Less, in fact, in some cases. Dim sum?"
Katie nodded and took the battered meatball thing. "You said you were going to retire?" she reminded him.
"It's a dream," Ivan sighed. "Running this company is a full-time job. And I'd dearly prefer it to be taken over by someone I trust, someone I have faith in..."
"Any ideas?" Katie asked around a mouthful of food.
"I was considering my son."
"You have a son?" Katie asked, startled. There were no official offspring according to the files, but why would a globe-trotting lethario produce legitimate children? She reminded herself she was here to kill this man. Him suddenly having a family wasn't enough to balance out his crimes. Was it?
"Not yet," Ivan said, his brown eyes twinkling mockingly. "But for all our developments, I haven't managed a way to live forever. What's the point of a crime empire if it only lasts a lifetime?" he asked with a shrug.
What's the point of a crime empire at all? Katie wondered. Did all the millions in drug and gambling profits suddenly acquire meaning if it paid for someone's graduation fee?
"I tend to think in the long term," the bald Russian continued. "But with my lifestyle, I rarely stay in one place long enough to get to know someone... it can be terribly lonely."
Katie nodded sympathetically, thinking of all the prostitutes that tended to go missing after a meeting with the man across the table from her. She finished her tea. Time to wrap this thing up. Little Bampton was going to be avenged, and in the unlikely event of it clearing her conscience, then all the better.
Hang on, better tone down the dance moves. Just cause they can't, like, see me. I'm missing what's going on. Katie's having tea with that bald guy in the leather jacket. He looks familiar. Wait, like, was he in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels? No. Damn. That guy ruled. So who is this guy. He looks kinda familiar...
There lived a certain man in Russia long ago
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow
Most people looked at him with a-terror and a-fear
But to Moscow chicks, he was such a lovely dear!
Hmm. Good summary, like. Dudette Katie seems to agree. She's smiling like an air hostess. On prozac.
"I understand entirely," Katie said, leaning forward to give him a good view of her assets. She ignored the thought her assets wouldn't be admired under the grey-blue light of a mortuary. "Life is short and, as they say, you are hot?"
Ivan gave another merry laugh of genuine amusement. "My dear Miss Ryan," he said in a mock affronted tone, "are you trying to seduce me?"
"I've admired you for a while," Katie lied smiling. "I had no idea you might be looking to father a dynasty, after all. I just want... to be with you."
Ivan smiled at her, but his eyes were calculating. "And... what? Be the mother of my children?"
Katie blinked. She had a vision of herself playing with a toddler. A little girl called Emily. Showing her to her grandfather. Suddenly having meaning in her life. But no. Kids were nothing but parasites, leaches evolution made parents love because otherwise the species would be dead in a week. Did she want to bring a new life into a world she hated? Create a brand new person to disappoint?
She remembered the gun in her coat pocket.
If she'd been drunk, would her mind have wandered this badly?
"It's certainly an interesting proposition," she said at last, idly laying a hand onto her coat.
RA-RA-RASPUTIN! LOVER OF THE RUSSIAN QUEEN!
THEY PUT SOME POISON INTO HIS WINE!
RA-RA-RASPUTIN! RUSSIA'S GREATEST LOVE MACHINE!
HE DRANK AND SAID "I'LL BE FINE!"
"Perhaps we could have plenty of children," Katie continued, her voice hardening. "Move them into Little Bampton?"
"Little Bampton?" Ivan frowned, clearly trying to remember the name. "Oh, that place. Why there?"
"You're personally responsible for all the deaths there."
"Am I?" Ivan asked innocently. "Miss Ryan, I do hope you're not going to disappoint me and say you're secretly wired for sound or something? Even if you were niave enough to think you'd get me confessing to crimes I have no part of, the security dampeners around my home would nullify any transmissions." He sighed. "What do you really want?"
"I'd have liked a confession," Katie admitted. "Might have made things a bit easier. But as far as the world is concerned there's no link between Gastroix and the deaths of 500 people."
"And nor should there be," Ivan said simply.
"You don't care about those people dying, do you?"
"If I'm honest? No. Not, of course, that I had anything to do with it. Tsunamis, earthquakes, bushfires... disasters happen. If I cared about each and every person cut down, well, I wouldn't have enough hours in a day, would I?"
"So if 500 people died and your company benefitted, you'd be happy about that?"
Ivan was still measuring his answers, on the off-chance they were being listened to. "I'd be glad some good came out of this disastrous calamity. Now, Miss Ryan, I feel you've abused my hospitality enough..."
"My thoughts exactly," Katie agreed, leaping to her feet and pulling the gun from her coat. With speed and steadyness that surprised even herself, the gun was suddenly trained between Ivan's eyes. Ivan's unblinking, unafraid eyes.
Katie couldn't pull the trigger.
"Might I ask how you got that gun in here?" he asked, munching on a pizza crust.
"You may ask."
"Oh well, I suppose I'll have to purge the security teams again. For someone as moral as you, you don't seem to mind putting innocents in danger, do you?" Ivan continued. "Or are you saying I was the only one involved in the fishing village incident?"
Katie's rock-solid stance wavered slightly. "You can either die standing up or die sitting down," she said, her voice trembling even more than her hands.
"You might be able to kill me, Miss Ryan," Ivan conceded, "but you won't be able to leave here alive."
"Oddly enough, I factored that into my plan."
"Ah." Ivan swallowed, the first hint of nervousness. "Well, in Russia we have a saying. There's noone more deadly than someone afraid to live." He smiled, calm again. "Do you mind if I finish my drink first?"
"Oh. All right then."
With a shrug, the gangster stiffly rose from his cushion, flexing his legs and stretching his arms. But he made no attempt to run or cry out. With a yawn he turned to face Katie directly and spread his hands invitingly. "I wish your recording was working, Miss Ryan. I would like my last words to have an audience."
"If man is problem, no man, no problem," Katie retorted.
Ivan chuckled. "Oh, I did say that, didn't I? That little bit of theatre was greatly enjoybale. Still. The time for talking is over. I have but one last question."
Ivan cocked his head to one side. "Just how stupid do you think I am?"
Suddenly he kicked the dining table over. It wasn't random violence either. He kicked it in such a way that Katie's abandoned teacup flew through the air at just the right angle for it to smash against her wrist with shocking force. Involuntarily, she dropped the gun onto the floor, and didn't have time to even swear as Ivan kicked out with his other leg in a kung-fu blow that sent her hurtling back into the bonzai floral arrangements.
The impact left Katie dazed and insensible for a moment, long enough for a loud mechanical siren to suddenly blare across the garden. Somehow Ivan had managed to set off the general alarm. The time before every guard in the complex got here could be counted in seconds. Then again, so could the time she had left to live.
As her blurred eyesight struggled to focus, she saw Ivan smoothly collect the fallen gun.
"I regret the necessity to kill you," he said, aiming the gun at her. "But regret is something I can live with. You, manifestly, can not."
And then he frowned.
Katie tried to focus and realized someone was standing behind Ivan and was tapping him on the shoulder. Ivan was spinning around, but the intruder was ready. One arm slid under Ivan's gun hand and flung upwards, spoiling any aim while a booted foot was slammed into the billionaire's solar plexus, forcing him backwards. For the second time, the gun fell onto the floor.
Katie's rescuer was already running to the sofa in one corner and pushing it effortlessly across the balcony to cover up an exit. The reason became obvious as two of the security staff appeared in the doorway. The intruder shoved at the back of the sofa, toppling it forward on top of the two guards and knocking them back. One's machine gun went off, spraying bullets in the air. The intruder forced the sofa through the doorway and then hauled the door shut, waving some object he'd snatched from his pocket over the lock.
As he turned around Katie finally saw the wild mess of floppy brown locks framing the young angular face, the casual dark trouser suit and the low-cut T-shirt beneath. "Doctor?" she mumbled, trying to get up.
Before she could Ivan suddenly exploded forward in a rugby tackle, slamming into the Doctor and forcing him into the ornamental fountain in the middle of the balcony. Ivan was too quick and in moments he had the Time Lord in a headlock, forcing him face down into the water. There was nothing but hatred on Ivan's round face now. He was a monster, without mercy or reason.
And suddenly Katie had the gun in her hand and before she even realized that she was firing.
RA-RA-RASPUTIN! LOVER OF THE RUSSIAN QUEEN!
THEY DIDN'T QUIT! THEY WANTED HIM DEAD!
RA-RA-RASPUTIN! RUSSIA'S GREATEST LOVE MACHINE!
AND SO THEY SHOT HIM TILL HE WAS DEAD!
The bullets sprayed randomly in a wave horizontally across the balcony. It was only when Ivan spun around to face her, his eyes glazed and blood on his lips, she even began to suspect she'd actually hit him. That look of pure hate on his face shifted slightly, as if trying to keep the expression even as the muscles spasmed and died. The eyes, too, somehow remained fixed on Katie as his body collapsed onto the tiles and went limp.
Katie stared at the corpse for a moment and then, heart in her mouth, scrambled to her feet, dropping the gun. She had only one thought - to see if the Doctor was dead or not. She couldn't believe he was here, that he'd somehow had been able to rub together two brain cells to be in any way useful, that he'd even want to save her. But more, she had a horrible feeling the Last of the Time Lords might have died in the act, sacrificing his own life for someone as worthless as her. How could that be justice?
She hauled the Doctor's still body from the water, his hair dark and plastered to his oblong skull. His eyes were shut, his body boneless and he wasn't breathing. Now shaking violently, Katie struggled to roll him into the recovery position, all the time her brain screaming at her she couldn't do CPR on a man with two hearts and that she'd more likely break his ribs than revive him. And where was that music comic from?
Katie turned and saw an iPod lying discarded on the floor near the dining table, blaring out fitfully over the continuing howls of the alarms and the sounds of footsteps. In the distance there was the drone of a helicopter lifting off that launch pad she'd spotted earlier. And then, suddenly, the iPod fell silent.
Katie stared at it, then at the still body of the owner. It was as if the stupid piece of plastic was somehow linked to the Doctor and unable to survive without him. She knew how it felt. Without the Time Lord, she would have been dead without even so much as scratching Ivan Iblomov, a useless, fruitless endeavor to alleviate her own guilt. But now she had a fresh batch. She'd got another innocent killed. A man better than she was.
But she refused to care. It wouldn't be long before the guards broke in and her bullet-riddled corpse would join the other two occupants of the balcony into oblivion.
"Oh, zoze Rushans!" moaned a voice theatrically.
Katie looked up and saw the Doctor spit out a mouth full of water like a miniature whale spout. Propping himself up on his elbow, the Doctor looked at her, bright blue eyes shining with life. "Whoa, that was radical! I am, like, so doing that again!" he grinned. "Come on, babe, let's get moving before the hired goons turn up!"
"No," said Katie quietly, relaxing on her haunches. "This was a suicide mission."
"Which you have totally survived," the Doctor pointed out, getting to his soggy feet and snatching up the iPod.
"So far. But I'm not stupid. Even if we evade the guards, the only way I'm getting out of here is in a wooden box."
The Doctor's face was unyeilding. "Yeah," he agreed. "I know."
It was the news story of the month. Maybe the year, if it turned out to be a slow one. The unexpected assassination of a Russian businessman, sending the entire Gastroix Corporation into chaos and drawing all sorts of unwanted attention from the authorities. Plenty of those new political leaders Iblomov had been "renegotiating" with were suddenly claiming they had discovered his corruption and villainy, and were all too eager to assist inquires... as long as it was made clear it was the previous administration that had done all the naughty things to. The spotlight of the media was turning onto England. Operation: Delta was going to in for some trouble, since even if they could hide their shady deal with Iblomov, they certainly couldn't deny one of their senior agents had gone all the way to Russia to blow the fat bastard's head off.
The manhunt for Katie Ryan went on for two months before it was called off. She was declared officially dead.
The funeral was a modest service with a small attendence - Katie's father, Ben Chatham and his nephew Craig, Craig's girlfriend Isobel and Kyle Barry Scott (with a strange mascot resembling a tin dog no one mentioned). As such, no one noticed a blue wooden police box sitting amongst the stone sepulchres at the outskirts of the graveyard.
Katie was sprawled on the glass floor of the TARDIS control room, where she'd collapsed and thrown up. If the Doctor was troubled about the mess, he didn't show it. Presumably there was some kind of automatic cleaning function, give how many "Skins parties" ostensibly took place there. At the moment she felt completely drained and disgusted. Killing someone in cold blood wasn't as easy when you had to live with what you'd done. She was supposed to get shot to pieces like some Jimmy Cagney character, quick and easy with no time to reflect. She might have wanted to hate the Doctor for dragging her to safety, but at the moment sweet and uncaring apathy was the only thing keeping her sane.
"Back we are, babe," the Doctor announced brightly, skipping over to the gleaming silver-white console. "As far as the world concerned, like, you're dead and buried. You can totally start again, like. New name, new life, new myspace page..." He glared at her as he set a control. "Come on! You get to be late for, like, your own funeral!"
"I don't want to go back," Katie said dully. "That's why I made sure they couldn't follow me."
"But all your friends and stuff, yeah?"
Katie rolled over, as if trying to hide from his words.
"Don't they give you stuff, like, worth living for?"
"So, like, where do you want to go then?" the Doctor asked impatiently.
"I don't care," came the bitter reply.
The Doctor shrugged.
Ben followed the others off to the meager memorial service being held at the Mermaid wine bar.
For a moment he thought he caught the sound of grinding engines on the wind, and it took him a moment to identify the sound. Was it the TARDIS? He turned and looked around, but there was no sign of the time machine, and silence had fallen again. If it was the Doctor, he must have left. Another disappointment. Another failure.
Christ he needed a drink.
Above me, in the day-glo orange sky where stars could be seen in daylight, there was a conjunction of three moons - two large spheres of yellow and blue, and a tiny black circle between them, its penumbra glowing like a solar eclipse. And that's not even the most interesting thing here.
The horizon above the duck-egg blue mountain range is a candy-coloured sulphur, neatly contrasting with the lake that reflects the skyscape like a polished mirror the colour of red wine. And here, on the shore where the TARDIS has dumped us, are even more wonders. Ahead, through the meadows of surprisingly-normal looking grass, is a sandstone platform with steps carved into it, matching the curve of the hill. Fluted pillars and doric columns are arranged neatly on the platform, but I can tell at a glance it is not human workmanship. It's like some alien cross between Stonehenge, the Acropolis and the Rose City of Petra, and although it looks small, that's because we're so far away. I could be wrong, but that simple collection of stones would dwarf Kings College of Cambridge.
And then it gets even better.
The Doctor nudges me with an elbow and I follow his gaze up the hill, past the massive gum trees that border the slope. Beyond it are... more pillars. Cracked and worn by the elements, they stretch up into the sky, higher than any tower block I have ever seen. Wisps of cloud cling to the upper edges. They look like the smaller columns, like adults to children... maybe they were? Maybe on this world, doric columns were the dominant life form and this was some kind of nursery? I instinctively scowl, ridiculing this stupid and childish suggestion.
But what if I'm right?
This is a whole new world. So big and strange and different. I find myself remembering my last trip in the TARDIS to an alien world - I stayed in the recreation room getting drunk while Ben and Martha went off with the Doctor. I missed something as beautiful and mindblowing as this... for Cambridge, and the X Factor and cheap chiraz. And I know, with a gut instinct as central to me as breathing in and out, that I can't go back. Not to that tiny crack of land I know back to front with that infinitessimal gaggle of people who spend their lives at archaeological digs and corporate chemical plants. Trying to remember my old life is suddenly so difficult. Looking at this magical, alien landscape makes the faces of Ben and Kyle and the others fuzzy and blurred.
Oh my god. Some of those mountains are actually podiums. Things that could be lionesses the size of... I don't know what could be that size. These things could use the bigger columns as scratching posts, but I can tell they're so far in the distance that to appear so large they must be gigantic. Cloudbanks drift between them. And is it my imagination or did one of those stone animals turn to look at me?
"Where are we?" I finally find the strength to ask.
"No idea," the Doctor says cheerfully, as if such vital information means nothing. "Wicked, innit? Total freedom, like, of all time and all space, everything what ever happened or ever will. Every star, like, what ever was. Totally amazing. You don't have a care in the world."
No. For once, I think the Doctor's wrong.
I do care.
And for the first time in ages, as alien suns warm my face, I smile out of sheer happiness.
The Doctor grins back.
Together we explore the new world around us.
...AND THOSE OTHER LOSERS SAID:
Shayde: Wow. A great conclusion, to a wonderful set of stories. Simply brilliant. The spardoc reminds me of Zaphod Bebblebrox played by Sam Rockwell in the Hitchhikers movie adaption. Just thought I'd bring that up. Loved the inclusion of 'Rasputin', which wierdly I was listening to as I went into this thread. And the ending reminded me somewhat of the ending of Revenge of the Sith.
Dalek Warhol: Nawwwwwwwwwwwwww... The wooden box line was proper quality. That Doctor doesn't deserve writing that good. Further to my comment in the other thread, I hope we can all agree that Ivan Balowski is now canon.
toyline_assembly: In a word: Greatest!
Jonathon This: Youth of Australia, after the first story, you made a comment about everything being so grim because of your own pessimistic vision. And here we see Katie find redemption. A part of me just likes to think that you wrote that as a parallel to yourself overcoming the flu.