|Doctor Who Internet Adventure #03 - "Altered State"
"Uh, what's going on?"
by Russ Massey
Usual innuendo warning for what follows.
Dedication: This one's for you, Alden.
As the Dalek began his staccato rap a posse of three black and gold followers swung smoothly into position behind him, snapping their claws in time to the beat.
"We're mean keen *muthas* from the edge o' space:
Ex-term-in-at-ors o' the whole Thal race!
So why do we live in this bleak *bad* place?
Pure nost-algia for the good old days!"
The posse joined in with a chorus of synthesized electronic wails, drumbeats and hissing noises, all spinning 360 degrees in unison.
"Ooo chugga shish shish, wap bam Skaro!"
The Doctor looked at Grace. Grace looked at the Doctor. "Do you ever wish you hadn't asked a question when it was too late to do anything about it?"
"Actually," whispered the Doctor, "If you ignore the dodgey rhyme on that last line it's not too bad. 'Ice Hot', as Fire Escape would say."
"As who would say?"
"Stone gray forests and the *chill* rad-clouds,
Crumbled cities are the Kaled's shrouds!
Home reminds us of the *death* of races,
Cos ex-term-in-ation leaves no traces!"
"Eee chagga shash shash, wip bom Skaro!"
As the Dalek rapper started on his third verse Grace sighed and leaned against the Doctor for support. It looked like this was going to be a long session...
* * *
Meanwhile, in another parallel.
"Grace," panted the Doctor as they ran along some narrow Parisian alley, "Have you noticed anything strange?"
The glare she aimed at him was more or less wasted, since he had outdistanced her thanks to the handicap of her long dress and shorter legs. "What," she gasped, "You mean like being in a strange place on the run from strange people with strange guns? Nothing strange in that, surely?" She reflected on sarcasm, and it's stylistic shortcomings when breath was at a premium. Suddenly the Doctor stopped running. She rebounded from his back and collapsed against the alley wall, bosom heaving. After several seconds of blessed oxygenation she looked up. "Well, Doctor?"
"Hmm?" He tore his gaze from Graces's heaving bosom with difficulty. "Ah, yes! Firstly; according to that newspaper I saw this is the 5th of May in the year 1817, yet there're no signs of military activity in the city, as far as I can see."
"Should there be?"
"Of course! Remember your history: Wellington's return from exile; the English uprising, the invasion of the French Empire! Even now Napoleon should be preparing to meet the Anglo-American invaders as they ravage the Low Countries." The Doctor turned and opened an otherwise unremarkable door in the wall of the alley. The smell of new-baked bread and fresh coffee overtook the noisome odours of the alleyway. "Ah - some things remain constant after all."
This was the point where Grace realised that the wall she was leaning against was coated in the dripping slime that was the main source of the alley's bad smell. Resignedly she trailed the Doctor into the interior of the cafe, or whatever it was. "And the second?"
"Ah, the second." The Doctor ticked off points on his fingers while he poured coffee from a pot that had been heating by a roaring kitchen fire. "Those guns that were pointed at us were six-shooters. Totally anachronistic for this period. Not to mention the stun weapon that knocked us out. Thirdly," he juggled a couple of rolls until they cooled enough to handle, "since when do restaurants have dungeons attached to them? Even in nineteenth century Paris they only make you wash up if you can't pay the bill."
"I'm sure you'll sort it all out," said Grace, slumping gratefully onto a wooden chair.
The door flew open to admit a formidable-looking woman wielding a heavily knobbed club. "Assassins! Robbers! Steal a helpless women's breakfast, would you!"
Grace dropped her coffee cup and cringed as the club descended towards her.
* * *
"Whose per-fume supersedes this *sulphur* reek?
Whose fiery temper makes our casings creak?
One ice-cool *momma* from a red-hot Hell!
Hail to our Empress! Respect to Mel!"
"Mel!" gasped the Doctor incredulously. The daleks now fell absolutely silent, and he and Grace heard the sound of a door being raised. He turned to see a pair of spike-heeled black leather boots visible beneath the rising portal. More was revealed as the door slid smoothly up into its frame. The boots ended at thigh level. Then a black basque. Long leather gloves, with a coiled energy whip dangling negligently from one hand. A spiked collar. And masses of red curls, tumbling down to the small of the figure's back.
"I now prefer to be known as 'Mistress Melanie', Doc. But as we're old... friends, you can simply address me as 'Empress'!"
She stalked through the door to stand facing the travelers, Daleks falling back before her with signs of agitation in their movements.
"This is Mel?" Grace could hardly believe her eyes. "I was expecting someone... shorter," she finished lamely.
"The Doctor lied about me?" laughed Mel. "How surprising. And his tastes seem to have changed considerably." She flicked the whip playfully across Grace's torso. "Or is your daughter still in the TARDIS?"
Grace glowered and drew herself up. "What makes you think I'm going to stand here and be insulted by someone who looks like a cheap vaudeville act!"
Casually Mel allowed the whip she held to uncoil. It began to writhe seemingly of its own volition, violet sparks racing up and down its length. Where it touched the floor it burned serpentine patterns into the pale concrete. With a practised flick Mel wrapped the weapon around the casing of the nearest Dalek. Those close by scattered with electronic wails of dismay, as the victim screeched. Energy surged. There was a gigantic purple flash and a crack like a lightning strike. When Grace's eyes recovered she could see that the hapless alien had been sliced neatly in two and the remains were smouldering wetly on the bleak warehouse floor.
"That," replied Mel, "makes me doubt that you'll do anything other than stand there and scream like every other of the Doctor's fluffy bimbos. Okay?"
Grace shrugged. "Okay." But the expression in her eyes belied her words.
Mel raised one leather gloved hand to the Doctor's face and traced the outline of his lips. "I told you to lose the mustache ages ago. You never did listen. I sometimes wondered if you'd forgotten I was still in the TARDIS."
The Doctor cleared his throat and tore his gaze from the destroyed Dalek. "What happened to you, Mel? What are you doing on Skaro?"
She walked slowly around the pair, inspecting them from all angles as she replied. "As if you care! After you *discarded* me I needed something to do. I was always quite ambitious, as you know. I decided I liked the idea of rulership, so I looked for a race suitable to my talents."
"Didn't the Daleks object?"
"Their opinions were immaterial. Davros was *very* taken with me. We married within weeks of my arrival."
The Doctor held his head in his hands. "This is all too much. It can't be happening!"
Grace put her arm around him and hugged. "Go on."
Mel curled her lip at the intimacy. "How saccharine. I warn you, he'll dump you as soon as you cease to amuse him."
"So how many hours were you with him," snarled Grace.
Mel merely smiled. "As I was saying, Davros and I were wed. Such a sweet old man, but going a bit gaga, I'm afraid. I was greatly shocked that he didn't survive the wedding night, but it was my good fortune that his will (drawn up by your brother I might add) left everything to me. Including the Dalek genetic program codes. The creatures are foolish sentimentalists thanks to his pathetic tampering, but with *my* genius and the secrets of time travel in my grasp..."
The Doctor looked up and stared at her. "Time travel? I don't believe it. You may be a genius by the standards of 20th century Earth, Mel, but you're hardly Rassilon."
He was answered by peals of shrill laughter that sent a chill up his spine. "You're such a fool, Doc! Did you think I spent all those years in the TARDIS out of love for you? I have the entire data bank memorised. All the accumulated temporal knowledge of the Time Lords is in here." She tapped her forehead and stood triumphant, hands on hips.
The Doctor was stunned at the thought that his counterpart had been stupid enough to allow the theft of the Time Lords' greatest secret. "But, but. That's theft!"
Mel's good humour vanished as if a switch had been flicked. "I prefer to think of it as payment. For services rendered." She turned to face her army of Dalek slaves, each pair of eyestalks trained fearfully toward her. "It ends here. Exterminate them!"
* * *
Grace tried to fling herself out of reach of the mad woman's attack, but even as the club descended it rebounded from a cast-iron skillet that the Doctor deftly interposed.
"Madame Falaise! It is I, the Doctor!"
The beefy matron ceased her accusations of crimes innumerable and took a wary step back. She ran a practised eye over the pair. "Le petit Docteur? I think not."
He stepped forward, taking her hand and pressing it to his lips. "I know, I have changed considerably since we last met, Valerie. But do you not recall? I told you then that I could change my appearance. You remember the celebrations on the Emperor's accession? The long, hot night? The gypsy music? The laughter and the tears? The ice-cold champagne..?"
Madame Falaise pinched his cheek lightly. "What are you insinuating, you old rogue? I remember you getting rid of the sewer-beast, and healing poor Annette after the fire." She turned to Grace. "Don't listen to his blather, ma petite. He's not a man to succumb to temptation, is your Doctor."
The Doctor looked at Grace and waggled one eyebrow. She stifled the urge to laugh and pulled herself upright. "Oh, I'm sure that nothing improper or untoward occurred, madame. He is the very soul of probity and propriety." As the satisfied matron bustled about to fix her 'petit Docteur' and guest a more substantial breakfast, Grace took the opportunity to whisper a few questions. "You and her, Doctor? How long ago?"
"No, no," he muttered back. "Madame is the proprietor of one of Paris' most exclusive establishments catering to gentlemen of wealth and taste. And apparently my counterpart in this parallel Earth is a model of moral rectitude. He doesn't know what he missed!"
They were interrupted by a pair of plates laden with croissants, cheese, fresh fruit and fried eggs 'a l'Anglaise'.
"My undying gratitude for your kindness, Madame." The Doctor rose from his seat and gave a courtly bow which elicited a powerful bearhug in return. "I wonder if I could trouble you with a question or two while we break our fast?"
"But of course, my friend. Ask away!"
The Doctor casually mopped up some egg yoke with his bread as he debated the phrasing of the question. "I wonder if by any chance you may have come across a man called Ulysses. He may well be claiming to be my father, I understand."
The woman thought for a moment and shook her head. "I think not. But there was something that reminded me of you recently... Pah! It is gone. Never mind, I will try to remember. Now you, my small one," Madame pulled Grace upright from her half-finished meal, wrinkling her nose, "You need to get out of these soiled rags. I will take you to meet the other girls, and we'll see what we can do."
Grace obediently followed the woman, trying to remember the last time someone had called her 'small one'. She grinned at the Doctor as she left, and waved her fingertips.
"Oh dear," he thought to himself. "I do hope Madame hasn't got the wrong idea about Grace." He shrugged away his doubts. This wasn't his own universe. He doubted that his counterpart would have sold Dorothee to Madame Falaise.
* * *
"No, wait!" shouted the Doctor as a score of Daleks trained their gunsticks toward him. "I have a last request."
"Too late, Doctor," sneered Mel. "Your legendary dissembling skills won't save you now. Fire!"
There was a pregnant pause. A white Dalek raised his claw respectfully, and shuffled in a little circle.
"Well?" snapped the Empress.
"Your pardon, Noble One, but the Doctor is our greatest foe. For ages uncounted he has thwarted our plots, rent asunder our direst plans and schemes. He is our very nemesis; the bane of our existence; our Ultimate Foe."
"Don't get self-referential," hissed an adjacent gray model, "it's a stylistic dead end."
"Yes, yes," spat Mel impatiently. "So what is your problem?"
The Dalek spun to check the assembled multitude, receiving a forest of bobbing eyestalks in support. "We believe that the Doctor's request has the merit of melodramatic necessity. He must be granted a last wish in accordance with epic tradition. Are we mere Ogrons, to butcher without style, without elegance?"
"No," came a unison of grating replies. "We are Daleks!"
Mel sighed heavily and glanced over at the Doctor and Grace. "You see. What can you do with such creatures. They'll be offering you a blindfold and a cigarette next. Very well! One last request, and make it quick."
The Doctor drew himself nobly upright. "I request that which is the right of any man faced with passing beyond the ethereal curtain and journeying into the great unknown. One hour with my beloved in which to make my final goodbyes..."
Grace turned to her companion with misty eyes and squeezed his arm.
"...if the Empress will do me the honour."
"What!" yelled Grace.
"Me?" shrilled Mel.
The Doctor fell to one knee before Melanie and brought a leather-gloved hand to his lips. He gazed soulfully into her narrowed eyes, voice shaking with emotion. "Didn't we share some good times together, Mel? Didn't we have something special once? Could you refuse me now, a pleading helpless wreck on the edge of oblivion?"
Several Daleks were now sobbing uncontrollably at the tender scene, and one was so moved that it smashed itself repeatedly into the wall. Grace desperately attempted to avoid laughter as the Doctor's over-acting got worse with each passing second.
"Well," admitted Mel, licking her carmine lips, "there *were* some experiences I wouldn't have missed for the world. Before the slut, the drunk and the two leg-breakers came aboard. Very well. I will accede to your request. But don't think you can trick me, Doctor. I'm well aware of your capabilities, remember. Secure him!" The last was directed at a nearby Special Duties Dalek, who rumbled forward with a set of manacles and leg irons. Within seconds the Doctor was chained hand and foot. "Follow me." Mel sauntered lithely from the chamber, followed by a hopping Doctor and a prodding Dalek. Just before he disappeared he looked back over his shoulder at Grace and gave a big wink.
Grace sighed and glanced at her watch. It was going to be interesting to see how he got out of this one. So, she had an hour to kill. "Excuse me, but I thought Skaro had actually been destroyed by the Doctor at some point."
A nearby Dalek slid forward to stare down at her. "You are referring to the Omega War. The planet was not destroyed. We merely allowed the Doctor to believe it was. In fact, there is an epic poem that tells the story of that time." The machine made electronic throat clearing noises and raised its protuberances dramatically. "It is called: 'The Eye is quicker than the Hand'."
Grace glanced at her watch again with a sigh. Fifty nine minutes to go.
* * *
The other Grace returned to the kitchen, noting with displeasure that the Doctor had finished the rest of her breakfast as well as his own, and was now carving his initials in the table with the bread knife. "What do you think?" She twirled to show off the green silk dress that Madame had been kind enough to offer. "Not too low cut?"
"Hardly," he leered gallantly in response. "And I love the new hair style. All the nobility are wearing hair a l'imperatrice this decade."
Madame Falaise bustled in, pushing a shy young woman ahead of her. "Here is Annette, Doctor. I'm sure she'd like to thank you for what you did."
He looked frankly at the girl with downcast eyes who stood before him. She had narrow, elfin features, with a pointed chin and slightly retrousse nose. Her hair was raven-black, cut to hang over the left side of her face, hiding her expression. She was slender - almost skinny in fact - and wearing a rough tunic and leggings more suited to a stable lad than a woman who worked for Madame. He had never seen her before in his life. In *his* life. "Ah, yes. Little Annette. It's so good to see you again. How are you getting on?"
"You know how it is, Doctor," answered the older woman. "She cleans and washes, helps with the girls when they're taken ill, plays the pianola a little."
Annette raised her head a little and smiled at this remark. "Not really. I'm not very good."
Her eyes were gray and sad, and showed her to be older than he had first thought. She was probably twenty or so. As the black wing of hair swung back and forth with her movements he caught a glimpse of livid burn scars on the face beneath. On impulse he hugged her. "I'm glad I was able to be of help," he said sincerely.
"I brought her here because I finally remembered who had reminded me of you recently. It was Annette here who told me the story." Madame gave the girl a nudge. "Go on then, tell the Doctor."
Annette glanced shyly at Grace and began in a low, musical voice. "It was something I overheard between Beatrice and her gentlemen. She was talking with him, as he requested, and I was lighting the candles on their dining table. She said 'You have a very interesting face, m'lord." And he said, "I have more than one, my dear girl. You should have seen me in one of my previous lives!' Beatrice just laughed, but I remember thinking that he sounded so serious, and so sad - not as if he was saying something to amuse her. And I thought of you, and the stories you told me after the fire, while I was recovering in bed." Annette wrapped her arms around her thin body, shaking with the terrible memories.
The Doctor took her hand and squeezed in gently. "Go on," he said softly.
She smiled up at him. "You told me such wonderful stories about fighting dragons, and rescuing princesses. You said that there were knights who traveled in ships that flew. Knights who had many lives and many faces, and who protected people like me as best they could. You never said it, but I knew that you were one of them."
Grace sat on the other side of the girl, and put her arm protectively around her. Her eyes met the Doctor's and they smiled together.
Then he stood. "Right," he said briskly, rubbing his hands together. "I expect that you know the identity of Beatrice's companion that evening, Madame."
She grinned. "But of course. The man you seek is the famous English renegade; the duelist who slew the Duke of Wellington some years ago. He is a favourite at the Emperor's court. His name is Mortimer, Duc d'Auvergne. Annette can guide you to his Paris town house if you require."
The girl looked up imploringly. "Please, Doctor. Allow me to help you. I owe you my life."
The Doctor hesitated, but a glance at Grace confirmed him in his decision. "I'm sorry, my child." Her face fell. "But I really will have to tear you away from your duties here. Why, I hardly know my way from the Arc to the Louvre. Heaven knows where I would end up without you to guide me!"
Annette laughed in surprise, and ran from the room to fetch her outerwear.
"Yes," said Madame with a fond look. "You are surely the Doctor."
To Be Continued...
To be continued...
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