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Doctor Who Internet Adventure #02 - "Six Sides to Every Story"


Chapter 2
"The Golden Prize"
by Rebecca Dowgiert


---


A small, tow-headed boy lay on his stomach, peering warily out of the hill-top copse he was hiding in. He blinked as an iridescent fly crawled quickly across the stand of grass closest to his eyes, then refocused, staring out at the yellow fields below.


       The robed stranger was still following him. The dark figure, made small by distance, was moving slowly but surely in his direction. Every once in a while it would stop and look up at the slope, as if it could sense something, before continuing resolutely on.


       Seth scowled and scrunched down lower. At this rate, he'd soon have to move again. He'd been playing a bizarre game of hide and seek with the stranger all morning. At first, he'd thought it was just coincidence when the visitor had begun to follow him. He'd started out to run some errands for his mother, and had been surprised to see the robed figure who had been seen walking the length and breadth of the town the evening before. The man had followed him for several blocks, before he'd handily and unobtrusively lost him in a jumble of alleyways. Seth had then strolled off to carry out his errands, congratulating himself on his cleverness.


       But the stranger had somehow found him. And begun to follow him again. That had been when he'd decided that the man somehow knew about and was after the marvellous object that Seth had found just a couple of days earlier.


       Seth put his hand in one of the pockets of his tunic top and pulled out a sphere. It was a ball of a burnished gold colour, small enough to comfortably hold in one hand. Not heavy for it's size, it was slightly warm to the touch. It was unquestionably the most beautiful thing Seth had ever owned, and he was not about to give it up for anyone. He'd found it in the pond, while swimming. He remembered seeing the golden glint, and diving down through the murk to retrieve it. Upon realizing what a remarkable object he had found, he had been very glad that no one else had been there to share in his discovery.


       He'd carried it with him ever since. He even slept with it under his pillow. He'd kept it totally secret, not even showing it to his mother. She'd just tell him that it must belong to someone else; to give it to the magistrate, who'd know what to do with such an obviously valuable object. His eyes narrowed stubbornly. Finders Keepers. He didn't even want to sell it — it was too beautiful.


       Some things were more valuable than mere money, even if he and his mother could certainly have used a sudden inflow of cash.


       And now that spook of a stranger was coming after him, coming to steal his treasure - he just knew it!


       Well, he'd have to catch him first. Seth got up, brushed himself off, and slipped away down the back of the hill, disappearing into the underbrush. Behind him, the robed figure moved relentlessly up the slope, its pace quickening.


* * *


Marilee Summers stood in the small courtyard behind her house, shaking out a wet sheet, about to hang it on a clothesline to dry in the early afternoon sunlight. Clothespin in mouth, she frowned, her face creasing in worry. She hadn't seen Seth all day — where was he?


       Out running in the woods, of course. Forgetting his errands again. Playing with his friends, or, just as likely, roaming by himself. She'd told him that it wasn't safe to wander alone. What if he fell and twisted an ankle? Or got a cramp while swimming?


       Now her face twisted with annoyance. She stood, unwinding another sheet, thinking of what she could possibly say to make him mind her.


       A sudden wheezing noise broke her train of thought. It seemed to be coming from the yard next door. Mildly curious, she walked over to the high wooden fence and peered through a knothole, as the noise died away. At first glance, everything appeared to be normal, though she did notice a large blue cabinet that was standing in the corner. She blinked, and turned away from the fence, disinterested now that the noise had stopped, noting that the neighbours had put in a strange garden shed of some kind.


       As she walked away, the 'garden shed' door opened, disgorging three people from what should have been an impossibly tight space.


       "Here we are," said the Doctor cheerfully, brandishing the jury-rigged tracer. "Amyros, Earth colony. Agricultural exports, especially grain, a specialty. And home to at least one of the segments of the Key To Time, if this tracer is to be believed."


       Dr. Grace Holloway looked slightly perturbed at her friend's cavalier assessment of the instrument he had created, but wisely said nothing. She, the Doctor, and Merak of Atrios were chasing after the scattered pieces of a fabulously powerful device that would give its bearer control over Time itself, and which was also being sought by at least one other unknown person, with apparently sinister motives.. There was, she mused, no margin for error on this venture. On the other hand, her Time Lord friend was habitually flip, so his current attitude was really nothing out of the ordinary.


       The tracer was clicking softly. "We're not too far away," its creator observed, eyebrow raised in surprise. As he turned, the clicking increased slightly. He stopped, looking in the direction the tracer indicated. Their line of sight led out over the roofs of the small farming town, past a broad belt of cultivated land, to the trees of a nearby patch of woodland.


       The three of them made their way out of the yard to the street, as the woman hanging laundry in the next yard over looked at them, puzzled.


* * *


"That's odd," the Doctor observed, suddenly, stopping in the street outside.


       "What?" Grace inquired.


       "Now we've stopped, but the frequency of clicks is still increasing. Whatever the segment is disguised as, it's moving -- towards us."


       Merak and Grace looked at each other, then around, wondering if it would really be that easy. Could they just stand here, while the segmentcame right to them?


* * *


Seth hurried along, stopping every now and then to check for any signs that his pursuer was catching up with him.


       Nothing. He'd lost him. Good; it was high time he headed home. His mother would kill him for being out this late.


       He picked up his pace somewhat, trotting along.


       A dark figure suddenly stepped out in front of him.


       Seth froze like a frightened deer. His first instinct was to run, but he was constrained by a spark of curiosity. He wanted to know why this man wanted the golden thing he carried. He unconsciously put his hand into his pocket to reassure himself of its presence. Yes, it was still there. In fact, he fancied that it was warmer than it had been earlier.


       The robed stranger followed the movement of Seth's hand, and under the shadowing hood, Seth could barely see a flash of a smile.


       "Hello, there," the stranger said, then, in a quiet voice. "Don't be frightened. I just want to talk to you."


       Seth almost rolled his eyes. Yeah, right, he thought, scornfully. This is like a scene out of every safety video they made us watch in school.


       "You see, I think you may have found something that belongs to me. Something I lost."


       Seth's eyes narrowed. He shook his head. "I haven't found anything." He took a step backwards.


       And another.


       And a third. He turned, balancing on the balls of his feet, about to run.


       Then the stranger spoke again, soothingly. "Boy," he said, "Don't you want to know what it is?"


       Seth stopped, and looked warily over his shoulder at the stranger. He turned back to listen, still ready to flee at a moment's notice.


       "That is a very special thing you've found," the man continued. "But then, you know that, don't you?" His words flowed like honey into Seth's mind. "I don't blame you for wanting to keep it to yourself. But it's important that you give it to me, don't you see? It belongs to me."


       Seth could see, too. He reached into his pocket, and drew out the golden ball. He stood, staring momentarily at the sphere, then began to stretch his hand forth. The stranger smiled encouragingly and came forward, reaching for the small globe.


       A sudden harsh screech jarred the air above them. Seth blinked, startled, as with a flash of scarlet wings, a forest screecher darted away through the trees. What had he been about to do?


       The stranger's hand, just inches away, was reaching out for the softly-glowing golden sphere where it sat, on Seth's palm.


       With an incoherent cry of protest, Seth snatched his hand away, leapt back, whirled, and ran.


       Behind him, the stranger snarled something in a strange tongue, and sprinted after him.


* * *


The Doctor, Grace and Merak were walking briskly along a lane between two houses near the edge of the town. The tracer clicks were tantalizing; they indicated that the source was still moving towards them. Grace felt a momentary pang of disappointment. At this rate, this was going to be too easy. Then she let out a sudden bark of laughter.


       The Doctor tilted his head to peer owlishly at her. "And what, pray tell, was that for?" he inquired.


       "I just realized that I'm finally starting to get used to all the craziness that you get involved in," she told him archly. She pointed at him in mock disapproval. "I've been hanging around with you for too long. You are definitely a bad influence."


       The Doctor grinned hugely, delighted. "Well, that's always nice to hear!" he replied.


       Merak listened to his companions' banter, bemused. He had needed some time to recover the last time he had encountered the Doctor, years ago, near the end of the War; and now, here he was, off adventuring with him. Then again, he'd dare much to recover his love, the Princess Astra of Atrios. He shook his head. Why did his lady have to be, in addition to a canny ruler and a beautiful woman, part of the fabled 'Key To Time?' The thought of Astra, reduced to a crystal and used to track down and collect the other segments, twisted his insides.


       The Doctor had told him that their best bet was to keep whatever villain or villains had taken Astra from assembling the entire 'Key'. After that, they could see about somehow rescuing and restoring the Princess.


       It would have to do, for now.


       He stared out across the fields, as a sudden flash of movement caught his attention. Then his eyes bugged, as he realized what he was seeing.


       "Merak?" A moment later, Grace saw it, too. A small figure was sprinting desperately across the grain field, heading towards town. Close on his heels followed a taller, sinister dark-robed figure.


       This was no coincidence.


       The Doctor suddenly looked up wildly from the rapidly-clicking tracer. "It's the segment!" he exclaimed. He peered at the dark figure and his quarry. The boy's strength was obviously flagging - he wasn't going to make it. The Doctor's eyes narrowed as the pursuer gained several yards on his prey.


       "Oh, no, you don't!" he muttered. Reaching into a jacket pocket, he removed a small mirror. Moving forward, he raised it to the sky, and called out in High Gallifreyan, in a voice that carried clearly out across the field below them.


       The running boy didn't seem to notice, but the pursuing stranger glanced up, startled, and got a face full of reflected afternoon sunlight. He involuntarily flung up an arm to block the light, and stumbled, his pace broken.


       Ahead of him, the boy, as if sensing the respite, put on a fresh burst of speed, and dashed in among the out-lying buildings, downslope from where the three travellers stood, watching.


       The dark figure recovered and continued its pursuit, also disappearing into the jumble of buildings.


       "Come on!" the Doctor shouted, setting off at a dead run. "We've got to find him first!"


* * *


The three of them rushed madly through the streets of the small but confusingly-laid out town, ignoring the curious glances from their fellow pedestrians, as they followed both the tracer's signal and their sense of the direction that the boy had been headed in. None of the streets seemed to be straight; they branched out organically, as if added as the need arose.


       At least she was getting better at this running thing, Grace reflected as they careened around a corner and down another twisting pedestrian walkway. Travelling with the Doctor, she certainly got to do a lot of it.


       The Doctor skidded to a halt momentarily, stopping to let the tracer pick up a steady reading. He turned until he had found the direction from whence the strongest signal came. "That way!" he cried, pointing down yet another alleyway, and they set off once again.


* * *


The robed stranger paused in his own pursuit to pull a small communicator from the recesses of his garment. He spoke into it briefly, listened to the reply, then nodded, satisfied. His temporary 'allies' in the town would ensure that the boy would not escape. As for the Doctor and his friends... well, since he was the first to run into them, it was his duty to ensure that the others of the Circle, busy with their own searches, did not. He pulled a black cube, small enough to fit on the palm of a hand, from somewhere else in his robe, and put it momentarily to an ear. Satisfied by the faint, squeaking noises that issued from it, he smiled and returned it to its hiding place, before striding onwards to continue his search.


* * *


Seth crouched nervously behind a large waste container in an alleyway, catching his breath. He wanted to run for home, but even though he'd lost the robed man, several townspeople had given startled looks of recognition as he'd rushed by. Several of them had begun to chase him, though they'd been much easier to shake than the mysterious stranger. Still, it seemed at the moment as if the entire town were after him. Perhaps it'd be best if he just stayed here for a while and waited for all the excitement to die down.


       A large shape blundered into the alleyway opening and began to move down it. It was Lothus, who worked at the local garage. He was a potentially scary person, but had never been unkind to Seth. Because of that, he decided to stay put in his hiding place, rather than fleeing.


       It turned out to be a tactical error. Lothus was not just passing through the alleyway; he was methodically checking every spot that a small boy could hide in. Seth jumped to his feet in a panic, but his legs were cramped from crouching down, and he just couldn't move quickly enough to avoid Lothus's long-armed grasp. He yelped in surprise as a large hand snagged him by the collar and yanked him around.


       Seth looked gingerly up at the tall, imposing man in front of him. Lothus peered down at him, frowning, then began to march him towards the alleyway entrance.


       At that moment, three people appeared at the end of the alley. The two groups froze, momentarily, staring at one another. Lothus blinked at the sight of the strangers, two men and a woman, who were staring wordlessly at him and the boy, then moved to pass by them.


       The tousled-haired stranger in the dark green jacket, holding a rod-like device, stepped into his path, blocking his way. "Excuse me, but I was wondering if I might have a word with this young person you're dragging about by the collar..." he began, reasonably.


       Lothus glared belligerently at this interruption and swung a massive fist out at him. The Doctor jumped away, and sighed. "So it's like that, is it? Why couldn't you henchpeople be polite for a change?"


       Merak, who had been quietly seething, moved quickly forward, his speed belying his age. Grace winced, but the Atrian handily ducked a blow that looked as if it could have taken his head off, and pounced. He quickly grabbed at the bigger man's arm, the one holding the boy, and twisted. The brute lost his grasp on the boy, who ducked away, turning to flee. Merak leaped nimbly back, away from the large man, who whirled ponderously about, single-mindedly searching for his escaped prisoner.


       Seth's eyes widened, and he dashed off down the alley.


       "Wait for us!" the Doctor shouted, taking off after him. "We're going the same way as you!" Grace and Merak gave each other a commiserating look and quickly followed.


       Behind them, Lothus bellowed vainly at them to stop, and set off in pursuit.


* * *


Seth sprinted down a narrow side street, trying to put as much space as possible between himself and Lothus, whose zombie-like behaviour had scared the beejeesus out of him. He dimly sensed that the strangers, who had freed him from the mechanic's grasp, were close behind him, but didn't bother to turn around to check.


       Three corners and several blocks later, he felt safe enough to slow down for a breather. He turned to look around him, and jumped. The man with the jacket was standing next to him, also catching his breath, grinning hugely.


       "Ah!" he exclaimed. "Exhilarating, eh?"


       Seth rolled his eyes at him and began to inch away.


       The stranger stepped forward and Seth found himself shaking the man's hand. Or, rather, his hand was being shaken, very vigorously.


       "Hello, I'm the Doctor. And you are--?"


       Seth blinked. "Seth Summers." His hand was released, and he looked at it gingerly.


       The stranger abruptly plunked himself down on the curb of the new alley they had found themselves in. Vaguely reassured by this, Seth decided that he didn't need to run away immediately.


       The next instant, the other two strangers sprinted by the alley's entrance, glancing down it as they passed it. He heard a startled exclamation, and they reappeared, walking now, coming towards Seth and the stranger. Seth twitched uncertainly, but as none of them had tried to grab him, and had in fact helped him get away from Lothus, he held his ground.


       The other, older man, and the woman looked at him, and then at their friend, who raised an eyebrow meaningfully at them. They shrugged, and sat down next to him on the curb. Now, only Seth was standing. He looked down at them from this vantage point. After being pursued by grown-ups all afternoon, it was a nice change.


       "Well?" the woman asked, peering up at him. "Aren't you going to tell us why that man was chasing you?"


       Seth hesitated, then surprised himself by pulling out the golden sphere. He quickly stepped back several paces, waiting for them to leap greedily at him, and glared challengingly at them.


       "I found this," he told them. "It's mine. I think they want it. You want it too, don't you?"


       "Well... now that you mention it..." the Doctor admitted.


       Seth had heard enough. He turned to run yet again, but was stopped by the man's plaintive request.


       "Wait. Please."


       He turned to look. Grown-ups usually didn't talk to him that way; they just ordered him around. He decided that he could stay long enough to hear them out.


       The Doctor tilted his head, looking cannily up at the boy in front of him. "Want to trade?"


       Seth automatically began to shake his head, then hesitated. "It'd have to be pretty good," he warned the Doctor.


       "Well, I have some interesting stuff," the Doctor told him, and proceeded to empty his pockets.


       Grace and Merak stared, incredulously, as the pile grew. Several objects Grace recognized, or had at least seen before: the sonic screwdriver was there, a butterfly yo-yo, a handkerchief, a roll of life-savers (wintergreen, and slightly the worse for pocket-lint), various coins, a plastic spoon...


       Of course, those were just the objects she recognized.


       She blinked, as a small green ovoid, which at first glance she had assumed to be plastic, uncurled itself and began to walk away on six legs. It had no discernible head or tail, but seemed to know where it was going.


       Seth stared, fascinated, then moved carefully forward, shadowing the creature. He glanced over at the Doctor.


       "Can I pick it up? Will it bite me?"


       "Feel free. Talmanian treewalkers are generally rather friendly. The worst they can do, if you make them angry, is to sing to you."


       Seth looked back up, laughing, from where he was now kneeling, holding the creature carefully in his cupped hands. "They sing?" he asked in disbelief.


       "You've obviously never heard a Talmanian tree-walker sing. They're incapable of staying on key."


       Grace shook her head with a rueful smile. The fate of the Universe might be in their hands, ruthless villains hot on their trail, and they were all four crouched around a pile of intergalactic oddities, haggling.


* * *


In the end, Seth settled on the tree-walker, the yo-yo, a deck of Altarian playing cards, a mechanical cap-gun from nineteen-thirties Earth, a holographic postcard of the living volcano of Denebus 4, and a tiny but exquisite pocket version of a twenty-third century jigsaw puzzle, that, the Doctor assured him, would re-amalgamate and re-cut itself into an entirely new configuration every time the preceding puzzle had been completed. 'The only jigsaw puzzle you'll ever need to buy', the box's cover proclaimed.


       Seth stood, happily stowing away his new loot into his tunic pockets, then handed over the small golden ball, looking at it a little wistfully as he did so.


       "You are definitely getting the better deal," the Doctor informed him, accepting the globe, as he finished scooping what was left of the pile of flotsam and jetsam back into his pockets. "It isn't even really what it appears to be. See?" With that he took up the tracer, which was clicking so much that it almost sounded like a continuous hum, and touched it carefully to the sphere. All four of them watched, fascinated, as the edges of the sphere blurred, twisted, and morphed into a crystalline polyhedron of disparate angles.


       Seth blinked. Well, that was kind of cool, but it wasn't as cool as the tree-walker, or the ever-changing puzzle.


       "Well, I gotta go. See you," he told them, cheerfully. This day had turned out to be not quite so bad, after all. And off he walked, whistling cheerfully.


       "Don't forget: tree-walkers curl up when warm, and wake up when they get cold!" the Doctor shouted after Seth, through cupped hands.


       The boy, now a distant figure, turned and waved his understanding, then turned a corner and was gone.


       The three travellers stood momentarily, smiling at each other with satisfaction at the successful conclusion of their search.


       "Well, it's a start," the Doctor declared, examining the crystal he was holding. Still holding the segment in his left hand, he companionably draped an arm across each of his companions' shoulders, and glanced from one to the other. Merak still had a worried cast to his brow, and the Doctor knew he was thinking of Astra.


       He smiled reassuringly. "Don't worry," he told the Atrian. "We'll get her back." To the Doctor's right, Grace also smiled encouragingly, and Merak smiled wanly back at them, not wanting to seem defeatist.


       The Doctor abruptly disentangled himself. "Now, we'd better be on our way--" he began, striding forward.


       He froze suddenly. Grace and Merak followed his gaze to the figure that had suddenly appeared at the entrance by which they had entered the alleyway. It looked like the robed and hooded figure they'd seen chasing Seth earlier. Before they could do more than gape at the apparition, he raised some kind of hand weapon. Grace instinctively flinched back, then felt a strange tingling sensation. Seconds later, she renewed her acquaintance with the ground, something that had been happening all too frequently, lately. Her limbs felt rubbery, and she could do nothing more than twitch uncoordinatedly. She could see that the Doctor and Merak were similarly sprawled, like puppets with their strings cut.


       Her tongue could still move, though. "I hate when this happens..." she slurred, thickly.


       "That's my line," the Doctor muttered, to her left. He blinked as the feet of the stranger approached the segment where it lay, next to his outstretched, nerveless hand. A hand reached down and picked it up.


       "Thank you for saving me the trouble of retrieving this from the boy, Doctor," the stranger told him.


       "Oh... anytime. Do... I... know you?" the Doctor sardonically wondered aloud, laboriously.


       "No. Nor will you." The voice hesitated. "I do feel some regret at having to kill you, but you can't be allowed to interfere with our quest. Farewell."


       The stranger removed from his robe the small hand-sized box he'd examined earlier. He set it down on the ground and pressed at a curiously carved catch on one side. The panel disappeared from sight.


       For a few moments, nothing happened. Then there was a muffled squeak, which erupted into a cacophony of squawks. What looked like a grey, flapping membrane appeared at the open side of the cube. It emerged cautiously from the small box, straining to squeeze out, then fluttered and spread itself wide, a flapping, floating ovoid of about four feet in diameter. Two others followed, in close succession, like tissues from a Kleenex dispenser, Grace observed with dull horror — one for each of them. Oddly enough, other than the fact that those creatures were probably about to kill them in some horrible fashion, all she could think of at the moment was that the box had to be dimensionally transcendent inside...


       Free, the three membranes drifted back and forth, uncertainly.


       The robed stranger looked at the tableau a moment longer. The creatures seemed to orient on him, for all the world like dogs before their master.


       "Feed," he told them. He turned and strode quickly away.


       The membranes began to drift hungrily towards the three supine figures.


---
To be continued...



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