The Hoedowners prepare to separate into three parties...


As the milling crowd of guests began to split up, the members of the various search parties sorting themselves out from those who were heading back to the tables or trying to resume an interrupted conversation, Kid Curry backed off, tensing, only to find himself engulfed in the general confusion. Crowds had always made him jumpy - and too much was happening too fast.

In the course of a few moments' jostling he had lost his bearings altogether. He stared round with eyes that darted somewhat wildly in a vain search for the squat figure of the avocado troll amongst the mass of shoulders and strangers' faces. He had to stick close to her. He'd gathered that much from the talk, and besides she was the only one who'd thrown out any hints as to just what had brought him here... And though he didn't admit it, the little creature was, besides, the only one of all the strangers that he'd let himself even come close to trusting.

Finally he caught a glimpse of the group he was supposed to be joining, only a few paces away, and swung round to plunge forward through the crowd. At the same moment a large and truculent Doctor began to make a move in the opposite direction. The collision almost knocked Kid Curry off his feet.

The Sixth Doctor reached out a long arm to grab his unfortunate assailant by the shoulder, swinging him round. "Is there some kind of problem?" he demanded, staring down his nose at the shorter man.

"Maybe there is." The outlaw pulled free, bristling. "Maybe for a start you can tell me who the Valeyard is - and this female Sailor Gallifrey!"

'Do you really want to know?'

'Yeah.'

'Hey! Hey...!' the Bookworm said. 'What's going on?'

'That's what I wanna know... are you a guy or a gal?'

'Just call me pardner...' the Bookworm sighed.

'If some people would look further than the end of their own noses...' Sixth began.

'Not now! There isn't time for a testosterone contest...' the hostess said, tugging at his sleeve. 'You've got to get ready to look for Alryssa.'

The large Doctor paused. 'Yes. Yes, of course...' He eyed the outlaw warily. 'But I'd advise you to be careful. A lot of things can happen...'

'A lot of things did...' the Kid replied.

The Bookworm winced. 'Eeghhh... That was most definitely not fun.' They looked to the Kid and the Sixth. 'Hmm... cream pies at high noon...'

'That fella looks like he ate most of 'em...' the Kid observed.

'I wouldn't bring that up around him...' the Bookworm said. '...What was it you wanted to know?'

'Who're these people we're going after? This Valeyard fella an' that Sailor Gallifrey... Who are they?'

The Bookworm raised an eyebrow. 'People never ask the simple questions any more... The Valeyard is the Doctor.'

'Another o' those "incarnations"?'

'Sort of... He used to be the embodiment of the Doctor's evil, from far, far in the Doctor's future, inbetween the Doctor's twelfth and final incarnations...' The Bookworm frowned. 'We're still not sure exactly what that means, though... Anyway, he came back in time to the Sixth's time, and put his past self on trial.'

'Wait... he was the judge an' the accused?'

'That's what the Doctor said...' the Bookworm said wryly. 'Apparently, he was after his previous self's lives - don't ask, yes, it is a contradiction in terms, how could he exist if he steals his lives then... Eventually, he settled for taking over another Time Lord...

'Then, after the first Pro-Fun Hoedown last year, he chose to renounce that and retire to Titan Three, where he's been for the last year.'

'Don't sound like a pleasant fella to be 'round...' the Kid observed.

'That's what he thought,' the Bookworm said. 'Which was why he went into seclusion, to think about things...'

'An' he's the one who can tell us what's up with these anomalies...?'

The Bookworm nodded.

'Hmm...' the Kid said. 'An' this Sailor Gallifrey?'

'Another long story...' the Bookworm said. 'Basically, a year or so ago our time, the Doctor's home planet, Gallifrey, was destroyed, its history constantly rewritten in the moments before it blew up.'

'You mean... the Doc's homeless?'

'Yeah.' the Bookworm said.

The Kid looked over at the Doctors, his face unreadable. 'Know how he feels... Go on.'

'Okay. This gets a bit weird round here. Bear with me. When Gallifrey was destroyed, someone - or something - preserved its spirit, spoke to it. They asked the spirit if it - if she - would fight against the stagnation and corruption that had brought about her and her people's destruction.

'She accepted.

'But in order for that to happen... they had to bond her to a human host, body and mind, link her to a human consciousness and physical form...'

'...This Alryssa you keep talkin' 'bout.'

The Bookworm nodded. 'Alryssa's the host. Sort of like our - Allie and Imran's - current situation. We're sharing the body and mind... but the bond's unstable.'

'Sorta like a shaman thing. The shaman speaks to the spirits... 'cept in this case, the spirit's ridin' the shaman.'

'Close enough,' the Bookworm said. 'So... when Creativity is threatened, Alryssa becomes Sailor Gallifrey, champion of Creativity. And her clothes change into a sailor outfit. Don't bring it up if you ever meet her...'

'An' as Sailor Gallifrey... she got enough power to level a galaxy.'

'At least.' The Bookworm frowned. 'Problem is... we don't know who gave her her power, or who made the deal. The Doctor does, but he isn't talking...'

The Bookworm felt a Doctor's glare bore into its back... and studiously ignored it.

'Mmm.' The Kid looked deep in thought. 'Spirits usually ain't my thing - better to leave them be, most of the time... This Valeyard, tho'...' The Valeyard... He scowled again, biting at his mustache. That name just kept ringing a bell, and he didn't know why. Didn't seem to recall where he'd heard it, or when, or even if. Not the sort of name you'd think you'd forget any too easy, either - sounded like some kind of stock pen, but it meant a man. And no, not even a 'man' - and just how, for crying out loud, had he known that?


You can't kill them.

Why not? They were all too willing to try and kill me -

This is not what we are. This is not what we stand for.

*I shall have my revenge, damn you! I never wanted to be your host! I never wanted all of this! Take this stupid war and find someone else's brain to share! Maybe if I destroy them you'll go away and leave me in peace!*

Across the room, his equipment in flames, Captain Cook dared a peek over the smoking remains of a table.

The being known as Sailor Gallifrey, champion of creativity and originality, was frozen, immobile, fighting an inner battle with her own mind. And it looked like the angrier side might well be winning...


Our Hostess bustled about, sorting out which guests would go on which search, her mind on a million things at once. Foremost among them was how the Eighth's party would travel, once they split up, since his TARDIS, along with most of the others, was parked back in the suburban cul-de-sac.

The Master's wardrobe TARDIS was here, of course, but she doubted he would agree to lend it to the Doctor. And even if he did, she was doubtful the Doctor would be able to pilot it, since much of TARDIS engineering depended on telepathic links. There was Auntie Krizu's peepshow box TARDIS, but she made it very clear that she was allergic to anime fiction, and had opted to go see the Valeyard.

The best thing, she decided at last, was to split up after they'd all gotten to the Valeyard's cave (they were nearly there, anyway), and she'd lend the Eighth her Circus Wagon TARDIS ... there was still the problem of telepathic links, but it was probably a smaller glitch than it would be if Compassion hadn't bonded with her TARDIS a year before.

That decision made to her satisfaction, her mind returned to the puzzle of Kid Curry, the way a tongue returns to tease a loose tooth. He was understandably confused by the Valeyard (as were they all), but he seemed completely unfazed by the Doctor -- neither by the fact that he came from another planet, nor that this motley group of eight men were in fact the same person (something many of the Doctor's own companions had trouble understanding)... He didn't even blink when Bookworm mentioned that the Valeyard was one of the Doctor's "incarnations". It was little things like that that were out of sync with Kid really being someone from the 19th Century American West... So who was he? And why was his story tied up with theirs?

At this point, the Circus Wagon was fast approaching the Valeyard's cave...

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