No-one seems quite sure what the Flame Bringer is...
Imran was just finishing his theory about how someone or something was deliberately trying to bring stagnation to the story just as the Hostess and Kid Curry arrived.
She nodded. "Ninni noticed the same thing," she said. "Said something about dangling story threads tangling up everything to keep the story from moving forward. They're invisible, of course," she added. "But if you focus, you can feel them, wrapping around everyone like sticky spider silk...." She stopped herself before she went off on another tangent. "And it's not just our story that's been knocked off course," she said, with emphasis. "This is Kid Curry, and he seems to have gotten lost ... " she paused, then added, as gently as she could, since she knew how embarrassing it is to have people talk about you in third person while you're standing right there (but this fellow didn't seem ready to speak for himself, quite yet). "Whoever he is, he doesn't seem to belong in the Whoniverse. I think whoever is trying to stop our 'mystery guest' from completing his mission is also trying to stop Kid from reaching his goal, too."
"So maybe," Jo said quietly, as the idea was forming in her head, "the two goals are related."
"But how?" asked Philip.
"Kid?" she asked, turning to him, "can you remember where you were trying to go (or what you were trying to get away from) before you got lost? Can you remember why?"
For a moment Kid Curry hardly seems to have heard her. He is staring in Imran's direction, with a sort of mesmerized fascination directed, by the looks of it, almost as much at the Bookworm's unfamiliar keyboard as at the squirming purple knapsack-type object still trying to wind itself around his ankles.
He shakes his head, blinking, as Our Hostess gently repeats the question and she catches a glimpse of disbelieving wonder chasing across the wary features. "Lost?... why yes, I guess I've gotten myself lost, right enough..."
But as the implications of the question sink in, the momentary innocence drains away, sharp nose and eyes coming instantly on guard. "Sure, I remember why. I was on the run after pulling a liquor store job - that good enough for you?"
He looks away, unable to meet her eyes despite himself. Then the dark glance shifts again, a brief flicker up around the circle of faces as if seeking an escape.
The gathered party guests shift their weight uncomfortably at this news. "Well," someone in the crowd murmurs, "she was right about one thing -- he doesn't belong in a 'Doctor Who' story."
"Have you not read many Virgin New Adventures?" asks Daibhid. Everyone, including Kid Curry and the avocado troll, glare at him. "Just trying to lighten the mood. Sorry."
As Kid continues laying out the details of his crime and his escape, the guests find they have things to do elsewhere -- important things -- in the far corners of the barn. Only the hostess remains at his side, not taking her eyes off him. As with Lord Gallifrijan, she senses there is a field of confusion around him, hiding his true identity. This time, however, it's clearly self-imposed. So many years of being on the run, of hiding himself from the authorities and lynch mobs had taken their toll. She wondered to herself whether or not he even remembered who he'd been, once upon a time.
"The old man held out - wouldn't hand over the cash. I laid him out, and he split his skull on the counter on the way down." His mouth tightened. "There was maybe ninety bucks in the whole place - not enough to get your head broke in for, not enough by a long shot... Turns out he had a parcel of sons. Just about everyone in the whole town must have been some kin of his, I reckon. They come after me, ten or fifteen of them. I was a good way out by that time, but they just kept coming."
Both hands are clenched now, shoulders riding high. "If there'd been a bunch of us, we might have made a stand; scared them off maybe. But there was just me, just the horse and me, and they all knew that country like the back of your hand. Couldn't seem to shake them, no matter how I tried. By the end I was running blind, chasing this way and that, knowing odds were I'd make a wrong turn and they'd head me off -"
He bites off the words sharply on an indrawn breath and catches himself back. One hand tugs at his mustache. "I thought it was a dust- storm. Eyes play funny tricks when the dust gets to blowing; a man can see shapes in the wind, and it won't mean a thing. But even if I'd known - even if I'd guessed I wouldn't come out the far side, at least not in any place I'd ever seen - maybe I'd have gone on through anyhow. Maybe it wouldn't have made much odds."
:::A shape in a dust storm, the avocado troll thinks to herself, I'll have to keep my eyes peeled for that on Titan Three.:::
His scowl dares the onlookers to comment. "You talk about stories that can't find their way to an end. There was an finish to a story coming up pretty clear and soon back then, and it looked like being mine... a dirty little killing in a dirty little town at the back of nowhere, with a rope's end waiting. Maybe I don't belong here... but just maybe I don't find too much appeal in the notion of going back."
Kid's shoulders sagged, and his fists unclenched, but the culprit was sheer exhaustion rather than a willing drop of his guard.
A voice broke into the silence that followed. "Maybe," it said, "he's the one behind this mess. Maybe he's stopping our story to save his own life."
The troll shook her head. "No," she answered, quietly, "the trouble started long before he got here. And I don't think, if he were behind it, the effects of his actions could be detected as far away as Titan Three." But her guest had a point. He did have a powerful motive to keep things as they were. Even if he weren't the cause at the beginning, he could sure make a mess for them later ... unless she could convince him to work on their side. In the meantime, she had to make sure to minimize the danger to herself and her compatriots.
Slowly, gently, as though reaching out to comfort a wild horse, she took hold of one hand, then the other. Kid tensed once more and tried to pull away, but she was stronger (and heavier) than she looked, and didn't let him go. "Daibhid," she said, "I can't reach -- would you do the honors? I believe you'll find a gun in under his vest on the left side. If you would be so kind as to remove it, and put it somewhere safe?"
"A gun?" Daibhid asked, incredulous.
"Well, he is a 'Wild West outlaw', after all."
Cautiously, and with clear trepidation, Daibhid reached under Kid's vest, and pulled out the offending weapon, holding its handle between thumb and forefinger with a level of disgust usually reserved for a half rotten oppossum found under the porch. Kid tried to resist, but with both hands held fast, and his balance hindered by having only one sound leg, there wasn't much he could do.
The troll nodded her approval. "There's a safe beneath the bar," she said. "I suggest we lock it in there until the story is over."
Now without his weapon -- the one thing he had depended on to feel safe for all these years -- Kid's defensiveness collapsed. His whole persona shrank in on itself like a three-day old birthday balloon that had been left in the rain.
"Come on," the troll said as gently as she could. "I think we should sit down and talk for a bit.."
The crowd parted to let Daibhid through.
Finding his way to the safe he threw the gun in and slammed the door, relieved he had managed this without shooting himself or anyone else.
"This is getting too much for me," he thought. "I really need that Irn Bru."
Pouring himself a glass of the orange stuff he noted the Rucksack chasing the cats. "I'd better do something about that subplot of mine before it interferes with the story," he muttered to himself.
"Not necessarily," came a voice from behind him. Turning, he saw Imran, taking a break from the work on the APTFP. "Remember how that Rucksack of yours worked with me and the typo gremlins? Let a plot thread loose and someone else can pick it up later."
Daibhid stared. "There's half a dozen cats running around the BarnTARDIS floor, and possibly more in the other rooms. How's that going to help anyone?"
"I'm working on it."
"I wonder," Jim says. Several expectant pairs of eyes (and one or two strays) turn his way.
"Well, I was just thinking. The Daleks have done wonders with static electricity--they ran a whole city on it, if I recall correctly..."
The first Doctor perks up at this.
"Yes! Indeed they did, though Susan and I soon put paid to their plans, didn't we?" He taps his nose thoughtfully. "Yes, yes, I begin to see! A sufficient, erm, power source could cause a feedback loop with the source of the authorial disprup, erm, disruption."
"Just one problem, my dear boy," the Doctor tuts, apparently oblivious to the fact that he is addressing a horny troll. "How to harness it?"
Swooping in to snag one of the strays with his stubby trollish hand (and surprised to find it takes two hands in his currently reduced circumstances), Jim begins stroking the cat's fur in a soothing manner, and in moments the cat is purring contentedly. A faint crackle of energy is almost visible. Smiling, Jim reaches out to the nearest person and, with a SNAP! and a blue spark, discharges the static electricity.
"Zapped," says the fifth Doctor, grinning.
"Exactly--and if we zap the source of the disturbance....well, perhaps something will happen," Jim finishes lamely. "In any case, it'll be fun, and the cats don't seem to mind!"
At that moment...
'Allie? What's wrong?' Imran asks.
'Someone's... Someone's trying...' Allie shudders. 'They're trying to stop the story, I can feel it, trying to divert it into pointless action... Trying to stop the creativity.'
Imran's eyes widen. 'Stagnation. And Sailor Gallifrey's out of the situation.' He concentrates. 'No. No... No way. No way does the story end here. Allie...'
Allie starts flickering.
In and out.
In and out.
'Hold... on...' Imran murmurs. 'Just a bit longer... Fighting the stagnation...'
Our hostess turns to Philip. 'Do it, Philip. Someone's trying to stop us from finding out the Flame Bringer's true identity - and trying to stop him, too. We have to help him.'
'Hold on. Hold on... Need to keep the story going.'
'Finished!' the Third announces. 'Philip, it's all yours. Activate the APTFP. Speed the Flame Bringer's change up. Before the story can stagnate. Now!!'
Philip nods, and leaps for the APTFP's controls.
And in Another Place...
"Let me go, you snivelling piece of rhinoceros pizzle!"
A young woman in a fuku was struggling against her supernatural bonds, her unseen captor laughing with glee.
"I must admit that while your insults amuse me, your do-good attitude does not. Your meddling in my affairs will cost you... and your friends... dearly..."
"I won't let you do this."
"However do you think you will stop me?"
"There's a way. There's always a way."
The figure turned back to its 'project.'
And Sailor Gallifrey, for the first time as a living planet-entity in a Senshi outfit, began to doubt she could actually do anything this time.
"Gods help you, Doctor... because right now, nobody else can," she whispered.
Allie, her flickering form a bit more stable, gasped. "She hears us!" she said. "Sailor Gallifrey hears us!"
"And she's coming to help?" Jo asked, hopefully.
Allie's face fell. "No," said. "She's being held captive, and can't break her bonds."
"Where is she?"
"I'm not sure," Allie replied. "But she's with our villain, I think."
But Our Hostess didn't even notice. She ran to their "mystery guest" as fast as her short legs could carry her, and tore away at the tangle of sticky story threads that had begun to engulf him like a cocoon. Before long, she saw the hem of an old familiar cloak, and the faint smell of banana daiquiri filled the air around him.
"Lord Gallifrijan?" she asked, hope and worry mingling in equal measures in her voice, "is that you?"
She was answered with a muffled affirmative.
"Quickly!" she called to the others behind her. "Help me get him free. We have to save him!"
"But from what?" Philip asked.
"Someone, somewhere," she answered, "is trying to destroy the magic of storytelling itself!"
Meanwhile, Jim Vowles had noticed their earlier concern over the stagnation...Previous chapter Next chapter