Elsewhere on Titan Three...
'We're in trouble,' the Eighth said. 'Oh?'
'Circus... circus. The Bookworm guessed - no, saw - Alryssa with Captain Cook...'
'Psychic Circus,' Third completed.
'There are robot clowns behind us, aren't there?'
'Which makes a twisted kind of sense...' Sixth muttered. 'Sonic Screwdriver, anyone?'
'I wouldn't bet on it...' Eighth said. 'Something's animating them... as it reanimated the good Captain.'
Fifth raised an eyebrow. 'Not the Gods of Ragnarok?'
'We'll see...' Eighth murmured.
'Perceptive...' the voice said. 'Very perceptive...'
Alryssa paused. 'Coerced? You were coerced into this? But...'
'The Powers That Be are bound by their own rules, Senshi. As are we.' The figure indicated that this avenue of inquiry was closed. 'Now, the bargain.'
'You want me to deal with those who coerced you, don't you...' Alryssa said darkly. 'Have your little doll take care of what you can't.'
Something else, another shape, slid into the room.
'This was not the arrangement...' it said. 'This was not why we asked her...'
'Not why you asked...' the first shape said. 'Others disagreed.'
'Killing her because she was not what you wanted... of course she was not what we wanted. She would make her own path, not answer to us...'
'A trap. This was a trap...' Alryssa whispered. 'Push me towards self-destruction, alert my friends, lure them here... for your own purposes, and for those of whoever coerced you... and if your little Senshi blows up - and blows her friends up - so much the better...'
'This is the real world, Senshi...' the first voice said. 'Your concern is with the Universe.'
'I fight for my friends...' Alryssa hissed.
'She was supposed to forge her own path. We were not supposed to meddle!' the second shape insisted. 'Advice, if she wanted it, if she wanted to listen, assistance... but the choice was hers.'
'We did what we were told to do,' the first said. 'What happened next was not our concern.'
'But you would have enjoyed it...' the second voice hissed.
Alryssa tapped her staff against the ground. 'My friends? This menagerie?'
'Ah, the menagerie... I believe your friends are just about to encounter a prize exhibit...' the first voice leered.
'A gryphon. Half lion, half eagle.'
'...Where does it say it's made out of metal?'
'That's why it's here. A metal gryphon? A living metal gryphon? Perfect for a sideshow...'
'A hungry metal gryphon...'
"I think it's time to resort to plan C," concluded Sixth.
Third looked askance at him.
"Run, you idiot!" Sixth yelled, as he turned and tried to peg it further into the caves. His attempt was thwarted by a well-placed foot.
"Stop being such a bloody fool," Third said as he picked Sixth back up.
"What do you suggest?" came the snapped reply, just as the gryphon made its first swipe.
"I'm working on it!" yelled Eighth, as he dodged the talons - barely - and rolled to safety behind a large stalagmite.
'Of course, it's just a baby...' the first voice observed happily. 'It hasn't reached full growth yet...'
'What do you want?' Alryssa said, through gritted teeth. 'Just tell me the damn bargain...!'
'No!' the second voice said. 'No! You will not do this.'
'No? And what do you propose...?'
"I propose we bring him here."
Alryssa stared as the figure pointed.
"Him? He was involved in this somewhere down the line, wasn't he? Why does this not surprise me..." she trailed off. "What do you want to do to him?"
There was an ungodly screeching as the gryphon slashed at the stalagmite to get to its prey. Eighth struggled with his sonic screwdriver, irritated by the distraction.
"Look, could you just find something else to do for five - gagh!"
He rolled again. Rock shattered.
"I don't suppose any of you could - "
"Could what?" replied Sixth, daring a look around his vantage point.
"Er... he's gone."
The gryphon changed its mind, having lost its prey, and began stalking the next available source of Lunch....
Meanwhile, gloom threatened to overtake the avocado troll and her party...
For the first time since this adventure began, the avocado troll felt like something like a fifth wheel. She was too short to offer much support to her three weakened guests, and she no longer had a hoedown to lead. She didn't even have her TARDIS anymore, and she felt homesick without it. She didn't even have her fiddle (she'd left it lying on the stage the moment the Mystery Guest arrived... She hoped some thoughtful soul had noticed and moved it to a safer location... If anything happened to it...) For only the fifth time in her long troll life, she felt the need to indulge in a long, self-pitying sniffle.
No! she told herself, I don't have time for this... If everything else is falling apart, I must try all the harder to keep myself together. I may not be able to do much at the moment, but I'm still able to think.
And so that's what she did.
The first thought that came to her mind was an angry one: I never liked that Lord Gallifrijan, anyway, even the real one, back when we first met him on Gallifrey. He was far too charming, knew far too --
That was it! Even back then, he'd known far more than any Gallifreyan from the time of Rassilon ought to have known. He'd recognized Compassion as a TARDIS, long before even type one TARDISes had been invented... He'd been able to recognize that the correction of the crossing timelines had come from the goddess Eris, hidden inside Compassion. Even then, she'd never been able to figure that out -- how could any mortal be able to pinpoint a Divine Act at such close range? Unless, of course, he wasn't mortal at all... It would have been easy as picking out a black pebble on a white beach for another god, a rival god... So. They were dealing with the Gods of Ragnarok after all! The euphoria she felt at having made that connection vanished the moment she realized what that fact meant. He even knew my private Earth identity, she thought with a shiver. She felt another, even longer, sniffle coming on.
Another, chilling thought crowded in on that the first one's heels: But it had turned out that the "Lord Gallifrijan" that knew her name and recognized Compassion was actually the Valeyard in disguise, before they had attacked him with water balloons, cream pies, and giant feathers, when he was still under the control of the Black Guardian. So his knowing Compassion, and her private name, made perfect sense, since he was simply a weird, later incarnation of the Doctor, and all the Doctors knew her well.
If she remembered correctly (and 99.44% of the time, she did), the Valeyard had trapped the real Lord Gallifrijan in a time loop, and took over his identity. But then they freed the Valeyard from the Black Guardian's mind control by provoking him to laughter (for evil cannot keep hold on a mind that is bent on fun), which freed the real Lord Gallifrijan, too. And the Valeyard decided to go off and be a hermit, to try and figure himself out, and atone for what he'd done, and now, here they all were -- reunited.
But the Valeyard still wouldn't have been able to recognize Eris -- normally. If the knowledge of Eris had come from one of the Gods of Ragnarok, did that mean that the Valeyard (or maybe the Black Guardian) had been working with Them, even then? Was the Valeyard, she thought, with a sudden wave of panic, still working with them?
NO! she told herself. I refuse to believe that! No God of Ragnarok could giggle as sincerely, as helplessly, as the Valeyard had after that owl dropped that egg on his head. They can try to imitate laughter, but they don't have the creativity to make it honest or real -- the closest they can come is an army of robot clowns (as far from real laughter as a vampire horror flick is from "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood"). No God of Ragnarok could have hugged her with as much warmth or enthusiasm as the Valeyard had, just moments ago.
But for all the assurances she told herself, the nasty thoughts were gathering, threatening to batter down the door. She turned her attention outward, to the people around her, and discovered that she was straggling near the end of the line... she must have slowed her pace without even realizing it. Only one other person was nearby ... that strange enigmatic guest that didn't belong there at all... or did he?
The story was fluxing under them... and twisting back. A story had a momentum of its own; on some level he'd known that all his life - kicked back against that deadly flow and never succeeded, never even realised, until he'd been plucked abruptly out of his own stream and dumped here.
But it was a known power, good or bad, but understandable. Back when he'd first come to that barn, he'd felt that strength already weakening, and now it was all but gone: anything could be on the cards soon, maybe. A few hours ago he'd fastened on that idea as salvation, the way out of a life that was tightening towards a noose. He'd seen it as hope. He must have been crazy.
Because the stories were flying apart now, all that power and direction bleeding away - stolen away - their own histories shifting under them the way his had, the way the troll had shaken him up, back in the barn... She'd been right, right all along. Nothing was safe anymore. Nothing in the world.
And that memory triggered another. A question... "Someone important. Someone you wanted to impress. Who was it, Kid?..."
"That meeting you were headed for," she ventured, quietly, and left the phrase dangling, waiting for his mind to catch it. After a while, it did.
"Ma'am?" he asked.
"I'd bet ten to one in favor of it having something to do with this."
Kid shook his head, more in wonder than in disagreement. "But how could it? This is a universe away --"
"You see?" she said, cutting him off. "That's just it! I've watched you pretty closely since the moment you walked into the cul-de-sac. I've seen you thrown off balance by lots of things," she smiled wryly, "--me, for example. But you're not thrown by the idea that eight separate men, who are as alike to each other as fish is to whiskey, are really the same man. You're not thrown by the idea of distant planets, or vast galaxies, nor by the idea that we could travel there in the time it takes you to walk from one end of town to another. Now, where would a cowboy like yourself get comfortable with ideas like those?"
At once, she regretted that last question. She hadn't phrased it right, and she could see the hostility start to rise again. "Now," she added quickly, before the anger made it all the way to the surface, "I believe you are a real cowboy, and that most of the life you remember is a real one. You smell too much of horse, and earth, and sweat, and hunger for all that to be fake. I'm not accusing you of lying.... I'm not accusing you of anything..."
"But," he prompted.
"But," she continued, relieved that she hadn't lost him, "I suspect that somewhere in your lost past (a past that was either stolen from you, or blocked by your own mind to keep you from going crazy), you've had an encounter with the Doctor -- or with someone like him... maybe a mad dreamer of a star gazer, who told you all his crazy ideas about distant worlds, and shamans, and spirits, and that maybe, just maybe, some of those crazy ideas started to make sense. I suspect that these aliens we're up against -- the Gods of Ragnarok -- stopped you from going to that meeting because if you had gone, if you had told this someone what you knew, or saw, or suspected, then their plans would have fallen apart right then. If we only we could get at that lost memory, then we'd have a chance at figuring out their weak spot -- we'd have a chance to defeat them!"
Kid opened his mouth as though to speak.
But before he could get a word out, the Valeyard called out from ahead: "Here we are, then! We'll be safe in here!"
The little band of not-so-merry travellers stopped their long trek, and the avocado troll found herself in the center of a crowd once more. Looking around, she saw that the cavern they were in had been hewn into the form of a perfect dome, and that the natural stone had been covered over by a strange metallic substance that shimmered like mother of pearl, giving off a soft, silvery light of its own.
"Like it?" he asked, cheerily. "I did this when I first got here --"
"You did this?" Fourth asked, incredulously, "All this?"
"Yes, well, when you have the prospect of a millennium or so of solitude in front of you, you discover the need for a hobby. Besides," he added, a little sheepishly, "after the debacle with the Black Guardian, I wanted to be sure I couldn't fall prey to mind control again. The scientists from Meston Viva, who first inhabited this planet, left a lot of perfectly good equipment behind. It didn't start out this grand, of course," he conceded, "but it just sort of ... grew on me."
"But what are these walls made of?" First asked, reaching out to touch the glass-smooth surface.
"It's a alloy of lead, phosphorous and other ores found only on this planet... I started out making helmets," he explained, "tinkering with the blend until my mind felt its most secure. But the helmets were hot, and incredibly heavy, so I came up with the idea of a chamber... I then added the phosphorus so it wouldn't be so damned dark."
The avocado troll looked to the Second Doctor, Jamie, and Zoe. Sure enough, they seem to be recovering from whatever attack had hit them before.
"Now," the Valeyard said, after basking a moment in the admiration of his handiwork, "let's all sit down, and you can tell me exactly what brought you here."
And so they sat, gladly, in a circle, like the oddest group of campers ever to gather around the campfire. Only, there was no campfire. And the story the avocado troll recounted one more time (this time, properly introducing Kid to the others), was no flight of fancy, but a nightmare all too real.
But the Eighth Doctor's party is still in trouble...Previous chapter Next chapter