BY DAVID CARROLL
Imperfect Copy a novel
The Tiger who wanted to be Human a comic
Changeling, with Kate Orman
BY KATE ORMAN
Untitled, by Sarah J. Groenewegen
Forgotten Memories, by Evan Paliatseas
The Rushing of Blood, by Evan Paliatseas
Keeper's Demise, by David J Richardson
NON DOCTOR WHO
Alien To Her, by David Carroll
She Twitched, by David Carroll
The Inner Light, by Kate Orman
Waiting in the Light, by Jonathan Barons
Grandfather's Clock, by Steven Caldwell
Messages, by Steven Caldwell
Inge, by Simon Moore
by David Carroll
First Appeared in Burnt Toast#12, 1992
A bird drops out of the sky, grey on grey and silent.
Peri's heart misses a beat.
The wings fly backward and the bird hangs, scooping at the water with its beak, very still.
One beat, two. Its wings fly backwards and it is away. It calls out, though in victory or defeat Peri cannot say, and is lost in the grey. Nothing moves, there is no colour in the world. Except.
"Ah," said the Doctor, walking past the girl, umbrella waving, gulping down the frigid air. "Now this is living. Untamed wilderness, horizons unbounded. What we need is a bit of calm every now and again. Even I get tired of traipsing round the universe. The soul yearns, my girl, for solitude and quiet."
"Not to mention a lot of snow," Peri said, kicking up the white powder. "I thought you said we were going somewhere floral."
"A metaphor, Peri. Use your imagination." He waved his umbrella again. "Each flake a tiny flower of perfect crystal. Perfect and unique."
He turned, and Peri's snowball flew past his head, missing by millimetres. He grinned at her, but she didn't smile back, and they walked on together, beside the lake.
"Mind you," the Doctor mused, ten minutes later. "Since we're supposed to be on Zeta Minor there might be something wrong with the navigation circuits. It is, you must admit, the fourth time in five landings we've landed in a snow-field. Thermostat's probably playing up again."
Peri didn't comment. She was actually enjoying the walk. Her coat was warm and the ground was firmly packed, no pushing through snow-drifts this time round. The clouds let through the occasional beam from whatever sun they hid, and the air was untainted and crisp.
The snow they walked through was virgin, no marks bar the driftings of wind and their own trail behind them. She laughed, suddenly.
"Hmmm?" the Time Lord enquired.
"Oh, I just thought that maybe I could turn round and there'd be only a single pair of footprints behind us."
Her companion turned suddenly and Peri had to step backwards in a hurry to keep up with him. She looked at their trail stretching before them.
"But who could they be," he said with a strange smile on his face. "There are two sets of prints, and we're alone."
He turned again, as abruptly as before, only this time Peri kept in time. They both stared in shock, and the naked man, not ten feet away, took a step closer towards them, and another.
He looked very old. His face was slack and his eyes were black and dead. The mouth opened and closed sluggishly, and saliva ran in a trail down one side of his chin. His body was disproportioned, gaunt arms and legs, solid in the stomach. He scratched at his stomach, leaving long red weals over the flesh. His body did not shiver, it held itself firm, but Peri saw the colour blue bruising the skin, deepening towards the feet. Blue for mourning, she thought. Blue for the dead.
The Doctor sprang forward, snatching his coat off his own shoulders, draping it over the stranger. "Quick Peri," he ordered, "wrap up his legs, we've got to get him warm." He held up each slack eyelid in turn, peering intently into the eyes. He checked the pulse and looked worried. As he lowered the man to the ground Peri wrapped his legs in her own coat, started to massage the feet, quickly and surely. Fear and chill rose up in her, but she forced herself to keep rubbing, her gloves slipping over the skin she knew must be like ice.
"Why Doctor," somebody said, a rich voice, low, sibilant and hateful. She looked up. It was the man speaking, but it was a voice she recognised. "What brings you to these coolish climes? Companionship perhaps, or a frozen tomb?"
The Doctor was working feverishly, didn't stop to look at the man's mouth that was suddenly under alien control. And the man was still scratching at his stomach, quicker now, with fingernails ragged and sharp.
"You'll find both out here, I assure you. But first you'll have to find me."
The man laughed, cunning and calculated. And as he laughed his fingers dug into his own paunch, pulling and tearing through sudden bubbling red. The skin flapped away and the hand buried itself, pulling out grey loops of gut and meat that steamed when it hit the snow.
Peri didn't know what stopped first, the hand or the laugh, but when she turned back half a minute later, the taste of bile in her mouth and tears in her eyes, it was over.
The Doctor knelt over him, looking down so sadly at the body. "Heart attack," he said when he saw her looking.
"The Master," Peri said, looking round at the white landscape stretching about them.
He nodded slowly, and closed the stranger's eyes. He stood up and also looked round while Peri tried to say something sincere to a God she didn't believe in, about the soul of this dead thing lying in the snow.
* * *
"Bastard at table one said to complement the chef," the waitress said, with a more than a hint of genuine bitterness.
"Bastard?" a'Gren's eyes raised slightly. "Didn't he leave a tip?"
The girl snorted. "Fat bloody chance. I don't think he paid anything. I asked Jela and she says she doesn't quite remember taking the money. But she didn't even want to check the till, reckoned there was nothing wrong."
"Has this man gone?" a'Gren asked, putting a friendly hand on the girl's shoulders.
"Yes, a couple of minutes ago."
"Well then. There are some people you just can't help. You know that, you've waited tables long enough."
"Yeah... but he just got to me. The way he looked at you." The girl smiled nervously, and a'Gren smiled reassuringly back.
"It doesn't matter," he said again. "Really, it doesn't." And that seemed to placate her, and she straightened her tie and went back out into the dining area.
a'Gren returned to his cooking, and forgot all about the bastard at table one.
Until he left the small back door of the restaurant several hours later, stepping out into the dusty red streets of his city.
"I require," said the man in black that was leaning against the red stone of the building, "a human child for the table. I have some delicate negotiations tonight, and some of my associates are more particular than others." He looked at a'Gren with a perfectly serious expression on his face, and dark, dark eyes, very deep.
a'Gren was about to explode into sudden, violent fury. There was nothing to say, but his body tensed and he raised a clenched fist and, and he looked into those eyes.
They seemed black and luminescent, infinitely fascinating, and so very deep. "What," said a'Gren, faltering. "What do you want me to do?"
"Are you married?" the man asked casually. "Do you have a son or daughter of your own?"
"I do," a'Gren replied, sounding very far away from himself.
"And do you love them?"
"Good, that'll do. Meet me with the child at the corner of Market and Calleen in two hours. I'll give you instructions for preparation then."
a'Gren nodded, and the man leant closer.
"I am the Master, and you will obey me."
a'Gren nodded, and knew that it was true.
* * *
The dish, as it turned out, was a simple one, no need to think too much about it. That was good, and a'Gren worked with tears in his eyes and sickness in his stomach and tried not to think about anything.
He was complimented on his work later, by the man in black and the hooded men with deep voices and tan fur on their hands.
He never learnt if the negotiations went well or not, but once it was all finished they were both standing outside, on the street again. a'Gren was very tired, he had worked hard and hadn't had any sleep for many hours. When the Master walked away he stayed where he was, perfectly steady.
"Well, come on," the Master chided, after he had taken a few steps. a'Gren followed to a rusty iron cabinet, sagging against an alley wall. They both went inside.
After the glare of the streets, the darkness within made a'Gren think he had gone blind. He had enough will left to give thanks, and waited for his next instruction.
* * *
Peri was cold now, and she glanced at her coat, tangled between the corpse's legs. The Doctor, of course, was showing no ill-effects from the weather, even in short sleeves.
Every man has the right to bare arms, she thought. She wanted to kick something, she felt so useless. Why aren't I any good at this sort of thing, she thought. Telling the Doctor would do no good, just as telling him she was cold, or she was frightened, would do no good. She could only watch him.
He was now checking the lake for sign of something, brushing his fingers through the clear water thoughtfully. He had already examined the ground where the corpse's footprints started, and about a ten feet radius around that. He was looking for the Master, she knew, but she didn't know how. He turned from the bank and pulled a small metallic instrument from a trouser pocket, waving it around. The instrument beeped, and he didn't look satisfied.
Peri rubbed her hands together, and wondered if jogging on the spot would cause an outburst about an interruption.
"Well, put your coat on," the Doctor said, without looking at her. "The living need it more than the dead."
She complied, trying not to look when she pulled the garment free. Just as gingerly she rearranged the Doctor's own coat to cover the man's wounds and his nakedness. She felt better after that, but not much.
The Doctor looked round, saw the body again. "The dead..." he murmured to himself, and came over the kneel by its side. He examined its chest and eyes again, and frowned.
He pulled a thin metal pointer from another pocket and examined the man's ruptured belly more closely. Peri didn't watch that, either.
"Just a corpse," the Time Lord reassured her when he'd finished. "Nothing to fear."
"Ah, Doctor, such a disappointment, and such an easy puzzle too."
The voice came from nowhere. The Doctor stood stock still, trying to listen to more than the words. And somehow the words changed, became clearer, Peri thought.
"Behind you," said the Master.
They both turned and there he was, stark black against the snow, covering Peri with the stubby black Tissue Compression Eliminator. He looked pleased with himself.
"Can you cook, my dear?" he asked softly.
Peri turned to the Doctor for help, but he was only watching.
"I can, uh, do scrambled eggs sort of. And grill a steak." She tried to smile and failed. She shrugged, not knowing what else to say.
The Master addressed her, but looked at the Doctor. "No matter. You're coming with me."
The Doctor's frown deepened.
* * *
a'Gren was kept in a room, twenty foot square, dark walls, dark floor, dark ceiling, not enough light, too much light.
Others shared the room as well. As many as seven, as few as three. There were no facilities, no beds. Food appeared in the middle of the room occasionally, and was sometimes fought over. The room stank. Occasionally the filth would simply disappear.
The were no patterns, the light never changed.
When he was allowed out of the room the stubble of beard, the filth and smell, disappeared from his own body, and he was given simple dark clothes to wear. He cooked in a large kitchen, well stocked with meats, vegetables, fruits, breads, condiments of all description, many he had never seen before.
And he cooked, to the best of his ability, experimenting, perfecting old techniques, coming up with new ones. Sometimes he was told what to prepare, often he was given apparent free reign. In the kitchen he could do something, had something to think about that didn't cause him pain. He would be called upon to serve the food, always to groups, sometimes in the darkness, sometimes in impossible light. He never had to wash the dishes.
But most of the time he was in the room.
The others in the room never spoke much, and a'Gren didn't want to tell them anything about himself. New-comers would often demand escape, entreat the help of those that spoke the same language, or simply scream and beat the walls. a'Gren had done that too, and he ignored it.
A couple had appeared once, talking of love and escape. When a'Gren lay with the woman she cried and a'Gren said he was sorry, though he didn't mean it. The man was silent. Maybe the two did escape, and certainly some people never came back once they'd left. But if so they escaped separately, perhaps three years apart, he calculated in a lucid moment.
Those in the group fought, but they couldn't physically harm each other, couldn't harm themselves.
In the kitchens there were many possible instruments of self-destruction, but a'Gren could only think about them, he could not act on the impulse.
Sex in the group was always joyless, just an instrument of frustration and pain.
And life in the room went on. When a'Gren ever saw his hair, it was more grey than he remembered.
And one day he was taken out of the room and not given clothes, not taken to the kitchen.
"Your cooking bores me," the Master said. "It is the work of an amateur, nothing more." a'Gren said nothing. "Tell me," said the Master. "The child you cooked for me once, was it your own?"
"No," a'Gren said, and then, surprised at himself, he started to cry. He looked away from the Master, so deeply ashamed.
"It doesn't matter," the Master said, he voice rich and kind and soft. "I can kill it later, perhaps." a'Gren didn't look up, didn't try to clear the fog of tears, but the Master walked over, and actually touched his hand.
a'Gren looked then, found the Master's eyes, ready to swallow his own.
"Give me your child," the Master said, and put a'Gren's hand on his own belly. a'Gren knew what he meant.
* * *
The snow and the grey were unchanging, monotonous to Peri. The man in black and the man of colours stared at each other, one smiling slightly.
"What is this about?" said Peri. "What's going on?"
"Revenge," said the Doctor, "you know how it is. A rather childish display of redress over past humiliation." He spoke the last word slowly, very deliberately.
"Don't trifle with me, Doctor. I mean what I say," the Master said, raising the TCE a little, still pointing it at Peri.
"Of course you do," the Doctor said, and then he smiled.
He walked over to the nameless corpse in the snow and retrieved his coat. When he knelt he had his back to the Master, and only Peri saw his expression, one of profound sorrow, etched deeply into his face. It was absent when he stood and turned again.
"Are you coming, Peri?" the Doctor said.
"Yes," she replied.
"I put you behind me," the Doctor said to the Master, and together, he and Peri turned around, and walked back to the TARDIS.
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