|Doctor Who Benny Internet Adventure #02 - "The Least Dangerous Gamer"
"Make Your Own Damsel in Distress with Things You Find Around the Home"
The artefacts in this room were of inestimable value. It was not simply because they were old; the 'Information Age' had hit many different planets at roughly similar times, and the dusty relics of ages past had been preserved with an almost obsessive fanaticism; these bygone ages were, if not readily available, at least within the reaches of your modern museum if you should wish to study them.
But these artefacts were all, in their own way, special. Though they came from hundreds of different worlds and from a maddeningly diverse spectrum of history, they all shared a single theme.
These were the relics of heroism.
All of the artefacts resonated - nay, shrieked - with a tradition of awe-inspiring deeds, of soul-shattering heroics, and of a nobility that bore testament to the eternal triumph of good over evil. The legendary Battle Axe of the Martian Justicars vied for display room with the blaster of the incomparable Captain Zane, of the Space Patrol, that long-forgotten order of men who kept the spaceways safe. The walls were papered with comic books, and the centre of the room was occupied with a display case which held the gem-encrusted crown of wise and noble Tintarious, Last Sage-King of Ancient Ka, the worth of which could easily be used to purchase a dozen star systems.
Of course, the two exceedingly rich, disastrously well-intentioned men who sat by it in over-stuffed armchairs would have barely been able to articulate anything of this vast heroic legacy beyond, "Cool, innit?" They were men (or more accurately, they were boys who had aged more than they should have) who firmly believed that the more expensive a thing was, the better it was, and they had snapped up everything that related to their boyhood dreams derring-do.
At the moment, they were discussing a dead woman.
"I still say that the whole thing was your fault, Robin," the first man said as he sipped a vile concoction of bull's blood and tiger's milk that was claimed to make its drinker into a perfect warrior. (At least, that was what it was supposed to be. In actual fact, after his first taste of the brew, he diluted it with so much sugar, chocolate syrup, and cow's milk that the actual proportion of blood was perhaps one part in one hundred.)
"You put her in the reactor chamber, George," Robin replied with a bit of good-natured defensiveness. "After you ran her into that pillar while running from Duval's hunter drones, as I recall."
"I thought it wouldn't look for her in there," George responded with a touch of sulkiness. "Besides, you turned the reactor on."
"Well, we needed to power the mega-cannon array to destroy the drone! A brilliantly unorthodox solution, I thought... and it would have worked if Piara hadn't been in the core at the time. It would have been very heroic, you'll admit."
"True," George sighed, raising his mix of bull's blood, tiger's milk, and hot chocolate. The tiny marshmallows bobbed and swirled in the sudden current. "Except for the end, it was a truly heroic adventure all around."
Robin clinked his mug against George's. "To the last great heroes of a dull world," he said. They drank, tiny rivulets of bloody chocolate dribbling down their chins and staining their horribly tasteless ties. They mopped themselves off with embarrassed haste, and returned to their conversation.
"So where's Arthur?" George asked.
"Out searching for a new damsel in distress. Myself, I'm hoping for some exotic alien woman - one of the savages from beyond the Rim, perhaps."
George snorted. "They don't need our help," he said, impatience lacing his voice. "Why don't we find some truly needy, desperately helpless young thing for us to practice our heroic arts on? Some real villains for us to battle?"
"Because," Robin said patiently, trying to keep the frustration out of his own voice, "we're not ready yet. That's why we picked women like Piara, who can take care of themselves in case we screw up." He paused briefly as he remembered Piara's body scattering to its component atoms in the reactor core. "That's why we hire professional assassins who won't kill us too. We have to work our way up to the real gig -" He broke off as the door slid open, revealing another young man with a similarly tasteless tie that served as the capstone to an overly flashy suit.
"Let this meeting of the Noble Chivalric Society come to order," he boomed out in a deep, imposing voice that was the product of highly sophisticated subcutaneous voice enhancers. "Arthur, named for the Pendragon, presiding."
Robin jumped to his feet. "Robin, named for the thief of the Hood, ready and present!"
George swiftly followed. "George, named for the saint of the Dragon, ready and present! I say, have you found us a damsel?"
Arthur smiled, revealing engagingly perfect teeth that had been the subject of more cosmetic surgery than all of twentieth century Hollywood. "Indeed I have," he said, his voice synthesisers blending and smoothing his tones. "The lady we shall rescue from perfidious evil - the assassins have already been placed on retainer, standard one-week contract - is an archaeologist by trade, and I don't need to tell you what that means." The other two smiled eagerly, their only acquaintance with the demanding and precise art of archaeology being a series of holosims about a man with a bullwhip. "She's always going off into space and doing heroic things - she'll be perfect for us! I'm telling you, this isn't like the other six times."
"Seven," Robin corrected. "Remember Lucinda Goodholm? The journalist?"
Arthur nodded. "Quite right. This won't be like the other seven times - this time, we're going to be heroes!"
* * *
Bernice Summerfield was not, at the moment, off in space doing greatly heroic things. Nor, surprisingly enough, was she waking up in bed with a massive hangover and a certain degree of understandable confusion about the events of the previous evening. In fact, Benny had not touched a drop of alcohol in two weeks.
"It was getting to be a cliche," she'd commented to a friend of hers who had noted her recent absence from the Witch and Whirlwind. "Every night, I'd head out to the pubs, get myself piss-drunk, and wake up in the morning feeling like shit. So I decided to stop for a month or so - just long enough to remember what I like about drinking, instead of doing it habitually."
Probably, she reflected as she bicycled away from her class on Ikkaban poetry, to kill those brain cells that held the memory of previous classes. If she had to see one more student get that panicky, confused look in their eyes (almost like a puppy in a vet's office), she'd drain an entire bottle of scotch in one gulp and move onto the whiskey before it had hit bottom.
Still, she didn't seem to be missing alcohol all that much, which she thought odd somehow. She had expected fits of nausea, hallucinations, panicky tremors, cravings...instead, she had nothing more than the occasional desire for a pint, easily put down.
Maybe I've still got enough alcohol in my bloodstream that my liver hasn't noticed the lack of fresh liquor, she thought as she parked her bicycle near a small cafe. The class had left her in deep need of philosophical nourishment, and the hours since breakfast had left her with a similar need for physical nourishment - and the Hungry Mind, a bookstore/restaurant, would fill both needs.
But for some reason, she hadn't been needing to get drunk these past two weeks - and she hadn't gotten into any other problems either. Relations with the administration had been cordial, her ex-husband hadn't shown up lately, none of her vast circle of acquaintances had popped up complaining about alien conspiracies, and the latest round of electronic paper-shuffling seemed to have thrown her creditors off the scent of blood - for a while, at least. As she sat down and started scanning a menu, she reflected that for the first time in a long while, things seemed to be going well.
"Excuse me - Ms. Bernice Summerfield?" asked an unfamiliar voice.
Bernice wasn't sure exactly what it was that warned her. Perhaps years of adventuring had honed her instincts; perhaps the voice reminded her of another danger from other times, sending off false warning signals; perhaps it was just simple paranoia that happened to pay off this time. Whatever the reason, she consciously forced herself not to stir. She kept studying the menu as though she'd taken no notice of the man who'd wandered into the restaurant looking for a total stranger.
The man moved over to her table and tapped her on the shoulder. "Benny Summerfield?" he asked again, a bit more forcefully this time.
Benny turned towards the stranger, putting on her best 'benign confusion' face. "I'm sorry," she said. "You must have mistaken me for someone else." She hoped she'd managed to sound natural... looking up into the craggy, weather-beaten face of a 6'4" brute dressed all in grey, with dirty grey hair and wide, staring eyes had a tendency to unnerve even the most skilled of actors.
He frowned slightly, as through trying to work out a difficult maths problem. Benny wasn't sure how fast he processed information, but she was fairly certain that sticking around to find out would be less than healthy. She stuck a salad fork in his leg and ran for the exit.
Behind her, the man in grey bellowed in agony as he yanked the fork out of his thigh. Stupid idiot, Benny though as she ducked through the door and ran for her bike. Pulling it out was probably the worst thing he could have done. Still, it wasn't her job to baby-sit.
There was a young man standing beside her bike - handsome, in a vacuous sort of way, with an expression that denoted either extreme urgency or serious constipation. He wore the latest in commando chic; several million credits worth of high-tech military gear decorated him like bicycling gear on a salmon. "I'm Robin," he said, trying to make his voice sound impressively husky, "Come with me if you want to live."
* * *
A few minutes later, George and Arthur arrived to find Robin lying on the ground, curled up in the foetal position. "Robin?" George asked. "Are you alright?"
Robin looked up through a haze of pain, muttered a few choice (but highly unprintable) words, and then passed out.
"I say," said George, "are you sure this was the best woman for our purposes?"
"Positive," Arthur responded as he pressed a stim-patch to Robin's forehead. "She just doesn't know yet that we're here to help her. Once she learns that we aren't to blame, we'll have no problem keeping her safe. No problem at all."
Robin stirred slightly as the stim-patch sent painkillers and amphetamines into his system.
Benny pedalled furiously away from the restaurant, trying to decide whom to blame. At first, she decided on Jason Kane, if for no other reason than contemplating her ex-husband allowed her to vent a little frustration. But after a few moments, she decided against it. Whatever other faults the little bastard had, he usually managed to get to her before the people chasing him did. Sometimes you'd need a stopwatch to measure the time differential, of course, but he did make sure that people looking for him didn't come to her first.
Which left her with... rather a large list of enemies, as it happened. Her career as a brilliant archaeologist, temporal tourist, professional professor, bon vivant, and all-around sparkling human being had left no shortage of people eager to hasten her departure from this mortal coil. The problem still remained: which one was it this time?
Her musing was interrupted by a low, soft roar that signalled the approach of three hovercycles -expensive, dangerous toys that took months of courses to learn how to steer correctly. From the jerky, erratic motions of the craft, it seemed fairly evident that these riders had cut classes.
One of them pulled up dangerously close to Bernice and smiled in a manner that was probably meant to be reassuring, but which was patronising enough to set Benny's teeth on edge. "I'm Arthur," he said in mellifluous tones. "Don't worry, madam; we're here to help."
Benny tried to brake, but one of the other hovercycles had moved in behind her. "You can take your help and cram it, sunshine," she said as the third cyclist narrowly avoided smashing into her bicycle.
Arthur chuckled in the same half-embarrassed manner of all people who don't understand the difference between a joke and an insult at their expense. "Don't worry, ma'am, we can protect you. Say, that bike looks a little unsafe to me...why don't you ride on here?" So saying, he reached across, put his arm around Benny's waist, and tried to lift her onto his hovercycle.
The results were dramatic. The hovercycle, a machine not meant to have people loaded onto it in mid-flight, flipped over. Arthur realised his mistake and tried to reach for the handle again, but forgot to reach back around Benny first, with the net effect being that Benny found herself falling off of her bike, being dragged along the ground headfirst, and eventually knocking her skull against the sidewalk. As the lights of consciousness dimmed, she heard Arthur say, "Frightfully sorry; that works so much better in the vids."
* * *
Benny finally awoke to find herself in a sumptuously furnished room, lying on a bed and feeling like her head was caught in a vice. All this effort to avoid drinking, she thought, and I still wake up with a splitting headache.
The three men were gathered around her watching anxiously, like small children who'd injured a playmate and were hoping that they didn't need to involve parental authority. "Sorry, ma'am," Arthur said. "I hope that we didn't inconvenience you overmuch."
Benny wanted to break his nose, but her head still throbbed when she thought about moving. She settled for, "Think nothing of it. A quick bit of head trauma in the morning makes the rest of the day seem much better by comparison."
The three of them laughed politely. "A sense of humour! It will be a pleasure as well as a duty to protect you," said George.
"Protect me? From what?"
"Assassins," Robin replied. "A dozen hired killers are after your blood, and it is our heroic duty to keep you safe."
"Assassins?" Benny rolled her eyes. "You've been watching too many Spielberg movies. Archaeologists don't get hired killers sent after them." When we want trouble, we have to go out looking for it, she added silently.
"No, madam," Arthur said seriously. "Robin speaks the truth. Your life is in danger." Privately, Benny agreed only with the latter half of the statement. "But fear not - this safehouse is hidden from them. No harm can come to you here."
With exquisite timing, the wall exploded inwards. A woman stepped through the smoking hold wearing a black jumpsuit that left little to the imagination and carrying a gun that would have caused psychologists everywhere to sign on with Freud's 'penis envy' theory. She looked around the room and grinned ferally as she spotted Benny. "Time to die," she said as she levelled the weapon.
George stepped into the path of the weapon. "I think not, dark damsel!" he cried out boldly.
"Um, George," Arthur said, in a tone of utter panic, "this isn't one of ours."
To be continued...
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