As they carried the last loads of debris into Sweetheart...
Gordon wiped his forehead. 'Whoo. That was hard work.'
Alryssa looked around. 'Where's Imran?'
Allie looked around, too. 'I think he went that way...'
Imran came back, rolling a motorcycle alongside him.
Alryssa blinked, as fragments of memory came together.
'I know,' Imran said. 'I don't think the Mirror Knight'd mind too much if I borrowed it for a bit.'
'The Mirror Knight?'
'We'll tell you about it on the way back.'
'Actually...' Imran began. 'you guys go ahead. I'll meet you there.'
Gordon looked at him. 'Why?'
Imran patted the bike. 'Got one more stop to make... Um, Eloise?'
'Yes, Imran?' Eloise called back.
'Do you have two motorcycle helmets I could borrow?'
'I think so... just let me check in Sweetheart's trunk.' The little troll bustled off.
'Two?' Sandra's eyebrow raised.
'Safety first,' Imran said.
'Us and safety?' Gordon said disbelievingly.
Eloise came back out of Sweetheart's cart. 'Here you go...'
Imran accepted them. 'Thanks.'
He fastened one on, and hooked the other to the bike's rear.
He gunned the motorbike's engine, and grinned.
'Okay, here goes...'
Then he accelerated, towards the edge of the centre -
- 'Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast!' -
- and was gone.
Yokoi blinked. 'Where'd he go?'
Allie shrugged. 'Got me. Sometimes, I don't know whether he's coming or going.'
Eloise poked her head out of the cart, and looked around. 'So... have we got everything here?'
Fourth deposited the last of it inside and dusted his hands off.
"Yes, I think so," he said, flicking his scarf back over his shoulder.
"Time to round everyone up so we can go home," Eloise replied. "This place isn't meant for us."
She began herding the Hoedowners inside, with the promise of warm apple cider and plenty of Pringles providing the incentive.
"Just when I thought my life couldn't suck more," Alyrssa joked wryly.
"I did tell you I was sorry."
"Did you ever have to live with the consequences of your actions?"
"I'm standing here looking right at one of them, aren't I?"
"Maybe. But you get to leave... to start again. Me... I have to pay for my choice. I don't know if I'll ever pay that debt off."
The senshi stood, and stretched her legs. The Doctor looked pained.
"I don't run away from my actions. I have to live with them... suffer. Die, sometimes. But I still stick my nose in... because it's what I do."
"You chose that."
"Maybe. Who knows what the powers that be have up their collective sleeve for us next?"
"Ugh. I don't want to know. Bad enough that I'm at Ma'at's beck and call now..."
She turned away, to walk back to Sweetheart. Eighth rose.
"Do you still hate me for what I did?"
"Hate? No. Bitter? Naturally. Forgive?" She paused, thinking, then turned back to face him. "I'm still working on that."
Eighth nodded. "Come on," he said, trying to lighten the mood. "Time to go home."
"Home... wherever that is," she murmured to herself.
Sailor Gallifrey followed him as he walked towards Sweetheart.
A short time later, Eloise was trying to pass around said goodies, but was having to make her way through a now very crowded space -- filled with an Omniverse's worth of doodads and thingababobs.
"Awrf!" she said, disentangling her tail tuft from the coils of something that might once have been either a bed or a particle accelerator. "Remind me again why we're taking this stuff with us?"
"Do you really want the Center to end up being a landfill?" the second Doctor asked, Socratically.
"I suppose not," she replied. "But what am I supposed to do with all of this?"
"You could start up a museum," a little yellow troll volunteered. "To honor those who have taken on the role of Glory!"
Eloise shook her head. "Writing up the little plaques to go with each exhibit would be impossible -- I'd be lucky if I could figure out what even one percent of all this is."
"Well," the Second ventured, tapping the tips of his fingers together, "each one does have its own spatial-temporal signature, perhaps you could ..."
"Take them back to time and place they belong," Eloise finished, "like a scavenger hunt in reverse. That sounds like ... fun!" And a smile spread across her face. That was how this whole adventure started, after all.
She was finishing her own snack when a curly-haired head pushed under her hand, and a chin rested in her lap. She looked down in surprise. "Oh, hi, Five!" she said to the poodle they had brought to life back at the beginning of the circus battle. "I didn't realize you had come along." She grinned again. "'High Five'. Is that your new name?"
The dog wagged her tail, and looked longingly at the last Pringle on the plate.
"Oh what the heck... Vetinarians' warnings be damned -- at least this once." And she handed her the potato treat, which was gobbled eagerly.
Just then, Daibhid called from behind the bar: "Uh, Eloise..."
She slapped her forehead. "Curry's gun!" she said. "It's still in the safe. We were going to give it back to him, when this was over... but..."
She looked off toward the back. His gladstone bag and coat were there, too. She shuddered. There were always so many loose ends left dangling, when someone left this world. No matter how insignificant a life might seem on the surface, it always left a wide and deep wake through the Omniverse.
Eighth came and stood beside her, following her gaze. "I'll take those things," he said. "I can give them to Doc Gallifrey. That's the world they belong in, and of all of my selves, I'm the one most closely linked to him."
Eloise nodded, her whole face numb, the immensity of what she had just witnessed beginning to settle on her mind. There was one more thing -- one more person -- for her to take care of. "Excuse me," she said.
She headed back to the stables.
The brown horse was there, circling in his box stall, head low, defeated. He looked up when she approached, though, and neighed -- a high, desperate, bugling call -- his whole body shaking with it.
Eloise clambered onto the tack box, so she could be at his eye level, and rubbed that special spot on his forehead. "Shhh, Boy, easy," she said.
He nickered in response, a soft, murmuring "Nrr-nrr-nrr."
She draped her arm over his neck, and put her weight into it -- almost the way another horse would comfort him, if one had been there -- to let him know he wasn't alone.
Horses were herd animals -- from the moment they were born, they needed the company of others as much as they needed food and water and space to run. For how long now had this horse been on the trail, with Curry as his only 'herd'? A dozen years -- a hundred? Didn't matter, really. Either way, Curry was gone, and the brown felt it, deep in his bones, by instinct. For a herd animal to be left so alone was a fate almost worse than death.
Just then, the little turquoise deputy climbed up beside her. "Can we --" she began.
"We can't keep him," Eloise said, anticipating the question and cutting it off. "We have a lot of traveling to do, if we're to return all the artifacts to their home space-times. Very few of those places, I imagine, would be friendly to horses. And it wouldn't fair to keep him locked up in the stable."
"But we can't just take him back there -- we can't!"
Eloise knew what she meant. The world of Vortex City, and other worlds like it, was brutal to the horses that it depended on. This fellow deserved better -- they all did. But this was a life she had a chance to do something about.
And then Eloise got an idea. "I know where we can take him, though," and a fresh smile came to her face.
"Jubilganzia!!" the little troll said, clapping her hands.
Eloise nodded. "Mags and Kingpin are good with horses, and there will be other equestrian acts, when the Circus gets back on its feet -- now that the Gods of Ragnarok are finally gone. And there's good pasture, and lots of space to gallop -- and we can always go back to visit."
"Yay!!" The little troll clapped again, happy with this solution.
Eloise dug into a pocket, and pulled out a jellybaby for the horse. :::Yes,::: Eloise thought to herself :::'Yay!'::: She might even have another go at being guest ringmaster. Except for the fact that it had gone on for far too long, and that half the audience had been trying to wipe them out, performing in the Circus was ... fun. And that's what it was all about.
She gave the brown one final, hearty pat on the neck, and went back out to the main dance floor, to see if there were any other loose ends that needed tidying up.
Back in the barn...
Allie tapped her finger against her chin.
Then she morphed into an exact replica of Xeffy.
'ALLIE!' Xeffy yelled.
'What?' Allie asked. 'I'm just seeing how far this Protean gift goes. Do you know, I never even thought about transforming into anything but a cat?'
Sandra grinned. 'Yeah. We honestly had no idea...'
Xeffy looked back and forth between her big sisters. 'Will you two stop that?'
'Stop what?' the duo chorused.
'Oh Zeus...' Xeffy moaned.
Then a calculating look arrived on her face. 'Hey, Al...'
'Uh uh, Xeph. No way am I going to school in your place. Once was bad enough.' Allie gave her little sister an appraising look. 'And you're thinking about 'captivating' your way out of school. They'll use silencing spells, once they work it out.'
'Of course, they don't have to... as long as you use it occasionally...' Sandra added.
'But what about... well...?' Tessa began.
Allie chuckled. 'I said to Eloise, I said Dad was about due for another shock...' Her face sobered. 'But...' She looked at Sandra.
'I know,' Sandra said. 'Finding out about me is going to be a shock for him, explaining what happened...' She sighed. 'It's going to happen sometime. Dunno what he's going to think. Learning about a new relative... It happens all the time, for the fictives. Now we're part of the Muse soap opera...'
'Which does raise a question...' Tessa said. 'How did Xeffy get to the Circus? Did Dream send her there, or was it someone else?'
'We don't know,' Allie said. 'In the end, we don't know. But whoever it was left a bag of sand just where Xeffy could see it, and use it... and the only being I know of who's associated with a bag of sand...'
'Is Dream,' Tessa completed. 'Direct for him, though...'
'I know...' Allie frowned. 'Why do I get the feeling that he was trying to do something? If Xeph hadn't turned up, we'd have taken much, much more time trying to get Sandra and Kid back, and we wouldn't have put the pieces together about our powers... partly, it was to save all the stories, but I dunno... it's like, on our level, he wanted us to learn the story behind them. Or part of it,' she added.
'Like what your Grandma did, back then,' Yokoi said.
'Yeah... And why Mum blamed herself for whatever she did...' Allie shook her head. 'What was so bad? Were these a... a result of what she did, or were they a side effect?'
'Hmm...' Sandra said.
'Speaking of side effects... Tess?'
The redheaded Muse nodded. 'Alryssa and I. She's indebted herself to Ma'at... and, well, it does have a bit of an impact on me, too.'
'Cause we're under Calliope,' Yokoi surmised.
'Yes,' Tessa said. 'So... I have to hope Ma'at doesn't ask her to do anything against the pantheon.'
'I wouldn't worry,' Allie said. 'We get on pretty well with them, and Ma'at is the goddess of the balance.'
'I'm picking up something else lately...' Tessa mused. 'She's feeling, well... lost. Rootless. Not directionless, but... anchorless.'
'Nasty,' Yokoi said.
'Mm. Don't know what, if anything, I can do about that...' Tessa said. 'It's not something with an easy solution. Getting the Tarot cards back, yes, but this...'
'True. And speaking of the rootless...' Allie's eyes fell on Yokoi. 'Justine. Silence. The Nth Doctor. The Nth Master.'
'We can't take them back,' Yokoi pointed out. 'Their universe is dead...'
Tessa frowned. 'Didn't they say something about their Ship? Either that they'd left it there, or... D'you know, I can't remember? I know they said something had happened to it. Have to sort that out...'
'So we'll have two more renegades roaming the universe?' Yokoi considered this. 'Cool.'
"Not exactly," said Gordon as he watches Igor, Saville and Barry trying to round up the last couple of grooving zombies. He grabbed Yokoi's arm. "C'mere, this is gonna be cool..."
As they headed outside, Yokoi grabbed Gordon's hat and put it on. He turned round. "Suits you," he smiled. They walked out, to find five figures, sitting down and having a cup of tea.
Gordon walked up to them. "Time to get all of you home I think," he said.
"I beg your pardon?" said the Nth Doctor incredously.
"Well, you're kind of all a discontinuity, things could get confusing..."
~ As if they haven't already? ~ signed Silence.
"I've got an idea."
"Ideas can be dangerous things," said the Nth Master.
"They can also be the start of many wonderful things," replied the Doctor.
"That much is true, my old friend."
"I got this back from Yartek." Gordon held up the Sword. "I think there's just enough left to do something."
The Doctor and Master looked at each other. The Master raised an eyebrow. "It could just work."
"Well, we won't know unless we give it a go," said the Doctor enthusiastically.
They all stepped into the Doctor's TARDIS. Gordon smiled as he took in the wood and brass covered console room. Paper drums spinning as pens traced graphs along them, spinning tapes, flashing oscilloscopes, the complex cylinder of glass and light that slowly spun at the centre of the six-sided console.
"Set co-ordinates 0,0,0,0,0 please," Gordon asked the Doctor.
The Doctor moved around the console, pressing buttons, spinning dials and flicking switches. He paused as he reached the main dematerialisation lever.
Gordon nodded. He held the Sword, which glowed faintly, small sparks running along its surface. They felt the vibration of the TARDIS shifting realities, trying to force itself into a lifeless void.
"Now what?" asked Katherine.
"Open the doors," said the Master.
"Eh?" cried Justine.
"I do hope you know what you're doing..." the Doctor said.
He operated the door controls, and the exterior doors slowly opened. The blazing blue stream of the vortex sang all around them.
Gordon looked at the Sword, tiny sparks of light racing along it.
"Forget about making sparks, let's make a fire!"
He threw the Sword through the open doors...
Nobody was too sure what happened next, indeed The Memoirs Of Katherine Bailey, which was found in the middle of a large crater in Tunguska, 1908 simply said:
The doors closed. Silence was the first to realise they were two people short.
~ They have gone. ~
"Will they be okay?" asked Justine.
"I hope so," said the Master.
The Doctor looked at the empty space where Gordon and Yokoi had been.
"I'm quite sure they'll be perfectly fine," he said. He turned toward the scanner and his face lit up.
They all turned to look. The screen was full of galaxies, stars, nebulae. They stood there for some time, taking in the majesty of it all. Reborn, resurrected.
The console gave a small beep. The Doctor peered at a readout on one of the panels.
"Interesting, there appears to be a new entry in the navigation file..."
"There is?" Katherine asked.
"Yes." The Doctor poked at the screen. "Have any of you heard of This Time Round?"
At the Hoedown, meanwhile, there are just a few more items to take care of...Previous chapter Next chapter