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14: `A spaceship powered by technobabble.'
same to me.’ He stopped, a horrible thought occurring to him. ‘Unless it did,
Calamee shook her head. ‘You’d still be a blob of slime, wouldn’t you? It
didn’t look like anything happened to you when you fell – the grey thing just
passed over you.’
‘Now, isn’t that odd? We have a phenomenon that seems, indiscriminately
as far as we can tell, to break down and rebuild organic matter, and it leaves
me untouched. Now why would that be?’
Calamee gave a heavy shrug and smiled. ‘I’m the one with the questions,
remember: you’re here to provide the answers.’
‘Oh. . . ’ The Doctor slapped his hand to the top of his head. ‘There was
something else. I had a flashback. Or maybe a dream – or perhaps it was a
‘OK, OK – we get the idea.’
‘I saw a cat. And something happening to my body, some sort of transformation. Clothes as well as me. And I saw. . . ’ His voice tailed off as he screwed
up his eyes, trying to remember what it was he’d seen. He whirled suddenly,
jabbing his finger towards her in the dark. ‘I saw you – from up there. And
I saw the barn from outside. And I saw. . . something else. A big, shapeless
blob. I think it was a spaceship, a melted spaceship.’
‘A spaceship? Where?’
He shrugged. ‘No idea – but that’s not the point. I think I was seeing
things through other eyes. Maybe birds or insects. And there was a sense of
something else there, another mind, a presence.’
He fell silent, listening to the sound of the barn’s timbers, creaking gently
like old lungs.
‘The sooner we get to the TARDIS, the better. Come on. I need to know what
we’re dealing with. If this wave keeps on going, it’ll hit the city in probably
less than four hours.’
‘But if it didn’t harm you, what’s the problem?’
They stepped out into the night air. It felt cleaner and fresher than it had
‘I suspect that I was an exception. I don’t know why the wave didn’t rebuild
me – but I have a horrible feeling that when it reaches the city, it won’t be
quite so fussy. Now let’s find the TARDIS.’
Calamee just stood and stared as the Doctor breezed on into the room, heading for a six-sided control console at its centre. The room was huge, thought
Calamee in wonder – some sort of optical illusion, probably. Holograms, perhaps. She wondered, briefly, how he managed to move so far away from her,
though, but put that down to more technical trickery. So it was totally reasonable that something the size of a portable toilet should be as big inside as
her school hall. She looked up, and saw the arch of the night sky above her,
dotted with stars. Did the TARDIS not have a roof? Calamee scanned down
until she saw where the ‘sky’ met the pale, wooden walls, inset with recessed
circles, and spotted the fuzzy line where they joined. Another hologram, then.
Or maybe the walls were the hologram, and the open ceiling was real.
She shrugged her way out of the Doctor’s coat and hung it over the back of
a twisty wooden chair. Nessus climbed sleepily from the pocket and dragged
his way up into her arms.
The Doctor was flicking switches casually, peering at little vidscreens set
into the control panel. He gave a shrug, leaned back, and called out for Fitz
and Trix over his shoulder, before seemingly forgetting to listen for an answer
and dashing back to Calamee, alone and dazed in the doorway.
‘Welcome to the TARDIS,’ he beamed. ‘My home. Like it?’
Calamee wobbled her head uncertainly.
‘It’s. . . big.’
‘Everyone says that, he said, grinning, pulling out the jar of night beast jam
from his coat pocket. Apart from the ones who think it’s cool to pretend they
‘Is it holograms, then?’
‘Um? Oh no no no. Nothing so naff. Transcendental thingummyjig.’
‘No, no thanks. Had a nap earlier – oh, I see what you. . . No.’ He rubbed
his forehead as if he’d suddenly remembered that he’d forgotten what he was
looking for. ‘Dimensionalism. Transcendent. Something like that.’
‘Bigger inside,’ he muttered. ‘Pocket universes. Plasmic shells.’ He wiggled
his fingers vaguely. ‘Bibblybobblybo.’
‘OK,’ said Calamee with a deep breath. ‘A spaceship powered by technobabble. So where’s this Fitz and Trix, then?’ She glanced round, wondering if
they slept in the comfy armchairs that she could see in one of the alcoves.
‘Fitz!’ the Doctor called, crossing to a doorway that Calamee hadn’t seen
before. He leaned through it before shrugging and disappearing. She could
hear him calling their names. Nessus gave a squeak, jumped down from her
arms, and went scampering after him.
Calamee shook her head, and wandered almost nervously over to the control console, glancing up at the ‘sky’, just to check it was still there. She’d
assumed that this single room was all there was, but from the Doctor’s disappearance, she figured out there was more. As her eyes played over the little
brass buttons and quaintly retro displays in front of her, it suddenly hit her:
this was real. This was really real. The Doctor was from outer space, and – if
she was a very, very good girl – maybe she could go there with him when he
left. Her heart danced in her chest at the thought of it.
‘What d’you think, Nessus?’ she whispered. ‘Fancy travelling around the
universe in this, then?’ Her eyes roved hungrily over the tempting rows of
buttons and switches.
‘I’ll be ten minutes,’ came the Doctor’s voice, floating through the corridors
of the TARDIS like a lost ghost. She nodded to herself and reached out to
the antiquated controls. ‘And don’t touch anything!’ Calamee jerked her hand
back and looked around to see if she was being watched. Just in case she was,
she pulled a face into the empty air and wandered off after him.
The TARDIS, as she’d half expected, was considerably bigger than even the
control room had suggested. Leading off from the alcoves that lay around the
edge of the control room were several doorways. She took the one that the
Doctor had taken, and after following a blood-red corridor, hung with really
old oil-paintings of people who looked a bit like the Doctor but with huge,
stupid-looking wigs on, she found him pressing buttons in a room so white
and clean and cold that it could have been the inside of a fridge. She squinted
as she stepped in. Something invisible faintly resisted her, like thick cobwebs,
but she pushed on through.
‘What are you doing?’
He waved at the squat, white machine in front of him. Nessus sat on the
top, gazing around in stupid fascination.
‘Analysing the DNA we got from the night beast. He seemed to suddenly
remember something, and jammed his hand into his trouser pockets to bring
out the other sample jar, the one he had filled with the goo from the barn. To
the surprise of both of them, instead of the grey slime that they’d expected,
the jar was half-filled with bits of straw and grass and weeds.
‘Remarkable,’ said the Doctor, cautiously unscrewing the top.
Calamee backed away.
‘Should you be doing that?’
‘Shouldn’t I? Oh, I see what you mean.’
He crossed to a large, open-fronted cabinet – white again – against a wall
and stuck his hands and the jar into it.
‘Bio-containment field,’ he explained. ‘Like on the door back there. Should
keep it –’
‘– away from your hands?’ Calamee finished dubiously. ‘I don’t think so.’
‘But we’ve already worked out that it doesn’t seem to affect me.’
It was too late, anyway: by the time he’d finished the sentence, the top
was off the jar, and the Doctor was sprinkling the contents into the tray at
the bottom of the cabinet. He pulled a face and poked at them disconsolately
before scraping some of them back into the jar, putting the top back on, and
bringing it back to the DNA analyser. A ping sounded incongruously and with
an alarmingly loud chattering noise, a stream of paper tape spewed from a
little slot in its front. The Doctor snatched at it and read it, incredibly quickly,
as it pooled at his feet.
Calamee opened her mouth to ask what it said, but he raised a peremptory
finger before popping the jar of weeds into the machine.
He stuck out his tongue as he concentrated on pressing buttons on the machine, and then stood back with his arms folded.
‘Oh, yes yes. Fascinating. Really fascinating.’
‘That’s good,’ she answered sourly. ‘I expect.’
A few moments later, the machine pinged again, and more tape jetted from
the slot. The Doctor devoured the information on it greedily before going
‘Ha!’ theatrically, and sweeping back out of the room. Nessus sprang on to his
shoulder as he breezed past. Calamee raced to catch up with him, finding him
slipping back into his coat.
‘Oi!’ she yelled.
‘No time, Calamee – no time at all. We have to get back to the city.’
He stared at her.
‘To warn them of course.’
He rolled his eyes.
‘That your planet is about to be devoured. What else?’
Calamee stared at him. Nessus peered out of the folds of the Doctor’s coat
and squeaked as if in agreement.
‘The wave?’ she said.
‘Well, we’re not talking about the rampant rise of capitalism. I don’t quite
know how the wave propagates itself yet. If it’s dependent on energy released
from the breakdown of chemical bonds in the organic matter it disintegrates,
then it may all fizzle out once it reaches the tarmac and cobbles of the city.
But there’s the rest of the wave to consider – the bit of it that’s just going to
race on out across the planet’s countryside.’
This was suddenly too much to take in. He was talking about everything
she knew. Saiarossa, Espero – her parents, even. It didn’t matter that this
wave seemed to reconstitute things as it went: it still felt like the Doctor had
just pronounced a death sentence on her planet.
‘Can’t we stop it? Can’t we do something?’
‘Hopefully, yes. But in the meantime, we have to get back to the city.’ He
started heading for the door.
Calamee coughed pointedly. ‘And we’re going to walk?’
He stopped sharply and turned, his face puckered into a frown.
‘We’re standing in the most advanced spaceship that I’ve ever heard of, and
you’re planning on strolling casually back to the city?’ Calamee said patiently,
waiting for the penny to drop. ‘And anyway, how are we going to get through
the wave again? That trick with the barn only works one way. Think about
it, Doctor. Going back, we’re going to have to run through it, and Lord only
knows what’ll happen to us. You might be immune to it, but I wouldn’t want
to bet my life that I am.’
The Doctor sighed.
‘Have you any idea how difficult short hops are in the TARDIS? Have you?’
She stared at him blankly.
‘No,’ he said suddenly, thrusting Nessus back into her arms and bounding
up to the control panel, ‘I don’t suppose you have. Well. . . ’ He began pressing
buttons before turning to her, a broad smile cracking his face. ‘It’s a good job
that I have.’
Trix had no difficulty finding the Palace. It was just about the biggest and bestlit building in the city. Even from the side streets, she could see its imposing,
sand-coloured faỗade, illuminated by lights set into the square in front of it.
It wasn’t huge – not Buckingham Palace huge. But it had the whole side
of the square to itself, and thus managed a certain gravitas. Some kind of
tournament, with horses and men with big sticks, was being set up, and most
of the area was fenced off. The rain had driven most of the punters away,
though, and only now that it had stopped were they making their way back,
jostling to get a good view. She made easy going around the arena, trying
to keep her head down and not attract too much attention; although she
wasn’t quite sure why, she felt surprisingly nervous and vulnerable. Fitz’s
unceremonious dumping of her in favour of Farine still preyed on her, and she
put her state of mind down to that.
It had been quite a surprise, though, to be accosted by the two little old
ladies. For a moment, she’d expected to be mugged, and felt quite disproportionately sick.
‘We have a message for you,’ one of them had said, caught awkwardly between curtsying and bowing. That had been a turn-up.
‘Her Highness Princess Sensimi asked us to give you this,’ the other one had
said, pressing something into Trix’s hand. ‘She says to follow her and. . . Fitz?
to the Palace and to present this. They’ll let you in.’ And with a bit more
bowing and scraping, as if Trix had been royalty herself, the two women had
Trix had opened her hand to discover a silvery credit-card sized thing with a
holographic picture floating just above the surface. She’d had to find a streetlight to read it by – and had been rather staggered to find that it was some
sort of ID card, for, sure enough, Princess Sensimi Ruth Auburon – complete
A picture of Farine.
Trix knew there had been something wrong with Farine: something about
how she dressed, how she acted. Amateurs! she thought. Her body language
had been all wrong. It was obvious: ‘Farine’, despite trying to look like a
normal, everyday person, had carried herself with an hauteur, an attitude,
that suggested she thought she was better than everyone else.
But this just made it all the more puzzling: why did this Princess Sensimi
want Fitz? Why was she taking him to the Palace? And, considering how
snotty Sensimi had been, did Trix really want to be there too?
Oh. . . hang on, thought Trix, watching a couple of men trying to rope
a particularly skittish horse. Palace. Palace equals money. Equals gorgeous
things. Equals –
Someone jostled her from behind and she turned sharply – more sharply
than she’d intended: the youth that had elbowed her jumped back in alarm
for some reason and apologised. Trix just stared at him, memories of the
three men that had attacked her still fresh in her head. For a moment, she
wondered quite what had happened back there.
As the man sloped away, casting shifty looks at her, she turned back to the
Palace. She’d been caught in the torrential downpour, and could almost feel
the steam rising from her body, like the horses cantering around the arena.
Never a great fan of horses – they’d scared her as a child, and still managed
to make her nervous as an adult – she found herself strangely drawn to them,
and spent a few moments watching them pacing backwards and forwards as
their riders set up some sort of jousting match.
To her side, she caught snatches of a worried conversation about a brush
fire, out beyond the city, but the general consensus seemed to be that the rain
would have put it out by now. She looked up into the sky – a few shreds
of cloud obscured the stars, and Trix felt a quite explicable longing to be out
there, back in the TARDIS, away from this place. She shook her head and took
a breath. She needed to find the Doctor and Fitz.
Farine hated the cellar – which was hardly surprising, considering what
Princess Sensimi kept in there, and considering what she expected Farine to
do. It wasn’t helped by the fact that the princess had broken the main light
switch so that Farine had to make her way down the steps in the darkness until
she found the second one. The weight of the pan she carried was making her
arm ache, and so she was relieved to be able to set it down for a few moments
while she felt along the wall for the switch. A rustling from the far end of the
cellar made her stomach tighten, and she had to remind herself that the thing
down there was safe behind bars.
The noise that suddenly issued from the old barrel storage room, just next
door, was another thing entirely. Building up from almost nothing, it sounded
like a whole herd of elephines, signalling to each other across the southern
plains. As the noise rose to a crescendo, Farine abandoned her pan, abandoned her search for the light switch, and fled back up the stairs.
A few moments later, the door to the barrel room opened cautiously, and the
Doctor’s head poked through.
‘The old girl must have a thing for cellars,’ he said to Calamee. ‘I think her
melodrama circuit’s turned up too high, you know.’
‘We’re in the Palace?’ said Calamee, a rather hurtful tone of disbelief in her
voice, somewhere behind him.
‘Of course we’re in the Palace,’ replied the Doctor indignantly as he ushered
her through. ‘I told you: the old girl’s rather good at these short hops.’
Calamee started to say something, but the Doctor shushed her, peering
around in the gloom as his eyes acclimatised themselves. In the distance,
and at quite some height, was a vague sliver of light – a partly opened door,
he imagined. Yes, he could make out the steps that led up to it.
‘Can you smell that?’ he whispered.
There was an excited squeal from Nessus and the sounds of tiny paws skittering over the flags beneath their feet.
‘Nessus!’ hissed Calamee. ‘Come back!’
‘I think-he can smell it too.’
The Doctor didn’t answer – over on the far wall, he thought he could see
something that looked like a switch, outlined faintly by the light from the door
‘Stay here,’ he said, and gingerly made his way over. Moments later, the
room was bathed in light from a single bulb high on the ceiling, and he turned
to see Calamee staring in horror at something concealed behind a pile of plastic crates.
‘I think you’d better look at this,’ Calamee said.
Makeshift bars had been set in a doorway that led into another room. And
lying on a pile of straw, just beyond those bars, was one of the night beasts.
Curled up on the creature’s chest was Nessus, looking up at them both with
bright, happy eyes.
‘The foot-stomping Tantrum Fairy was back.’
‘Nessus! Come out of there!’ pleaded Calamee, unable to believe that her
pet was sitting on what, from all accounts, was one of the most vicious and
fearsome animals on Espero.
‘Quite touching, really,’ said the Doctor, folding his arms insouciantly.
‘No it’s not bloody touching – it won’t be if that thing attacks him. Doctor,
please – help me get him out.’
‘I don’t think it’s going to attack him, do you? Look at them, Happy as Larry.’
‘Happy as what?’
‘As a pig in shhhh. . . someone’s coming!’
Calamee felt the Doctor grab her arm and drag her back into the doorway
to the room where the TARDIS had landed. She hadn’t quite got over the
fact that it had landed inside the Palace. Presumably without drilling a hole
through its roof. She wondered for a moment whether he was going to bundle
her back in, and opened her mouth to protest – until she heard the sound of
footsteps on the stairs.
She tried to peer around the Doctor, who was peeking through the crack
he’d left in the door, but he seemed determined to hog the view. She could
hear voices, whispers. Whoever had come into the cellar seemed as shifty as
‘Who is it?’ she whispered in his ear, trying to get a look.
‘Considering how coincidence seems to follow me around,’ he replied wryly,
‘I shouldn’t have been surprised. It’s Fitz!’
Fitz had had a feeling about this. From the moment Sensimi had come back
and woken him from his dream about the Doctor’s bottom, as they’d shiftily
slipped through the Palace apparently trying to avoid everyone, right up to
the moment they’d entered the cellar, everything screamed BAD. But he’d
badgered Sensimi to tell him why she was so interested in him, and he could
hardly bottle out now.
The huge pan of bloody meat on the floor at the foot of the steps didn’t
‘Cellars,’ he muttered to no one in particular. ‘Always with the cellars.
Doesn’t anyone do things in attics any more? And what’s that smell?’ he
asked, realising that, along with the must and damp, there was another scent
here – something warm and musky and alive. Quite pleasant, he thought.
He dipped his head casually towards his own armpit, wondering if he needed
‘You wanted to know,’ Sensimi said sullenly, crossing to a darkened doorway
that seemed to lead into another chamber. ‘There. Now you know.’
She stood back, arms folded grumpily.
Behind the bars set wonkily into the doorframe was a dark, shaggy shape –
and it took Fitz a few moments to realise what it was. And what was sitting
‘What the devil have you got one of those for? And is that Looloo on its
‘Looloo?’ Sensimi did a double-take.
‘Looloo?’ echoed a voice from a doorway in the other wall, making them
both jump. ‘I think you’ll find he’s called Nessus.’
‘Doctor!’ shrieked Fitz as his friend disentangled himself from the shadows.
‘Who?’ said Sensimi.
Another figure stepped out from behind the Doctor and squeezed herself
past – a rather peeved-looking girl, younger than Sensimi, Fitz would have
said, but certainly with a bit more spunk. Her short-cropped hair had been
tinted bronze and complemented her dark skin beautifully. ‘Is this the Fitz you
‘I wouldn’t quite say lost – more mislaid.’ And with that, the Doctor bounded
over and gave Fitz a huge, rib-cracking hug, lifting him clear off the ground.
For a moment, Fitz wondered if the Doctor was going to kiss him – and remembered the dream.
Eventually, the Doctor let him go, and, gasping, Fitz said: ‘I thought you
‘No, not dead actually. Just missing. Someone in the city said they’d seen
you, but we couldn’t find you. And now Trix has gone AWOL as well.’
The Doctor threw him a look. ‘Probably on the hunt for the Imperial Crown
Jewels or something. You know what she’s like.’ He gave a rather dismissive
shrug and turned to Sensimi, who, simmering quietly throughout the reunion,
seemed to be reaching the boil. ‘And you must be. . . ?’
‘This is her Royal Ladyness Princess Sensimi,’ Fitz introduced her. The Doctor held out his hand, but Sensimi frostily ignored it.
‘And this is Calamee,’ said the Doctor, introducing his own new friend. ‘She’s
been helping me.’ He paused and scratched his nose. ‘I don’t know about you,