|Doctor Who Internet Adventure #18 - "Ticket to Writhe"
"My Magnetic, Peripatetic Lover"
by Gregg Smith
'May I be looking at you when my last hour has come, and dying may I hold you with my weakening hand.'
- Tibullus, in Elegies book one.
Doctor: [Whatever is] going on here, it's got to be stopped.
Peri: By us?
The Doctor: Who else is there?
- 'Mindwarp,' part one.
This is not the sort of place where one would want to run into friends. By my reckoning, that leaves strangers and lovers. Strangers first, lovers later:
River sees what she's been missing, and her hand convulses out of pure reaction, shattering the dead glass she holds. Shards cut into her bronzed flesh, and orange blood pools in her fist.
She stares up at him, his naked body, his wrists lashed to the obsidian cross; metal shafts have been nailed through his palms and his feet, into the stone. His head hangs forward limply, his long, brown hair matted with sweat and blood; obscenities have been scrawled across and scarred into the skin of his chest, arms, abdomen and thighs. The Doctor.
The little peels of blood that stripe his body, and the dirt and the shit, camouflage him in the semi-darkness. Occasionally, a member of the crowd throws a glass, or some food, or something else at him. This novelty, that so shocks River, has lost much of the interest it first held for the clubbers and scrubbers on the dance floor - and that it is has become so much a part of the furniture shocks River even more. But it is still of some amusement to them, as the brickbats demonstrate.
A lot of things go through River's head. Among them: A sudden fear and the desire to be elsewhere; gut-wrenching pain; pity; a vicious hatred of everybody, every single fucking being in the club. She would like to kill them, all of them. Those who have done this, those who are dancing round and laughing at the sacrifice, those who would try to stop her were she to pull the Doctor down, those who don't care.
"Are you alright?" A female voice. A woman, medium build and shapely. She wears a black body stocking, covered with printed circuit patterns in gold and red, underneath a short, black leather jacket. She sports black lipstick and gold eye shadow, and her jet-black hair is cut and styled into an Eton crop. She looks concerned, fingers the glass in her right hand nervously, holds her left hand on River's right shoulder awkwardly.
"A lot of people are quite shocked when they first see it."
"What the hell is he doing there?"
"It's a gang thing." She speaks as if those four words explain it all. River looks at her, an expression that demands clarification. "You're new here, aren't you?"
"Yes. I came in on the Green line from Eastern Europe, today."
"Ah." The woman nods, sagely. "My name's Lena, Lena De Trick." She proffers her hand. "I'm an entertainer, working the clubs when I can. In fact, I'm here for an audition."
"I'm called River," says River.
"Would you let me buy you another drink, and maybe we can get a medikit for your hand?"
"Sure. Thanks." River glances towards the Doctor again. "The place that cradled me is burning."
"Hmm? Oh, nothing. Just something someone once said. I..." River cannot think of anything she wants to say.
"You don't know that poor man, do you?"
River looks back at Lena.
"Oh come on, who else? The cock-shy on the crucifix."
* * *
"Know him?" She takes one last look at him. "I've never seen that face before in my life."
[Three weeks ago]
The Doctor frowned mournfully and brushed the rain - condensation - and the oil - engine - from the dilapidated green velvet of his sleeves. He glanced down to the floor, saw his turn-ups and his beloved shoes caked in the dirt and slime of the indoor streets, and tutted. Then, leaning against the nearby support strut, he looked up at the underside of the floor above him, shielding his eyes from the silvery floodlights with his right hand. An expansive labyrinth of gaps ran between the mezzanine blocks, a home to Bubble Jets and PMTs - Personal Mini-Transports - in places affording a view of the inner surface of the City's geodesic dome.
This near the to the dome's base, a person could actually feel the throbbing of the air purifiers, and the slower beat of the gas turbines that kept the City afloat in the upper atmosphere. Running straight through the centre of the dome, and providing support for much of the internal structure, was the Pillar. The Pillar was the connection -structural, commutative and communicative - with the gas refineries and research centres straight further down in the atmosphere, and ultimately with the anchor station on Venus' surface.
* * *
The Doctor glanced at his two passengers, sheltering in the backseat of his Bubble Jet, and grinned reassuringly. 'Nearly there,' he mouthed, and then he took the map from the bonnet of the vehicle and folded it back into his pocket.
Lena has bought River another glass of milk, from the barman whom River had thrown earlier. The man also managed to find a bandage for River's hand, so now she sits rubbing the webbed patch across her palm. Lena stands at the bar, chatting-up blue-eyes and waiting for news of her audition. River's thoughts are of the Doctor, and how she is going to release him. She figures that the best approach is to find the owner of the club, the guy responsible for putting the Doctor up there, find out what is going on and free the Doctor. She decides to find a way into the 'Staff Only' area, and tear the place apart if needs be.
* * *
She finishes her second glass of milk much quicker than the first, and gets up, nodding a goodbye to Lena and disappearing around the far end of the bar, into the toilets - nearly bumping into a man coming out.
Luke strolls out of the toilets with an air of confidence, nearly bumping into a woman coming the other way. He is about thirty, tall but a bit out of shape.
He wears Cuban heels, PVC trousers and a bright blue, oriental jacket with gold swirls. Glitter highlights his cheeks and eyelids, and his lips are cherry red. He smells faintly of vanilla, and is fiddling with an unlit roll-up. His hair is chestnut brown with lighter streaks and has been styled into an esoteric fringe. Luke came to Venus around twelve or thirteen years ago, with a white feather in his pocket, and having eventually found gainful employment as an 'And Finally--' reporter for the local Network feeder, he has yet to leave. He tries to signal the barman talking to Lena, but their conversation is deep.
"Well, it's not the most stimulating job in the universe, but it's not like I've much choice. We are alone--"
"Absolutely," interjects Luke, leaning in between them. "We are all alone, and all in search of some companionship, be it in a pair of deep blue eyes or in a deep, cool glass. So, a Martian Dawn please, when you are quite ready."
Luke smiles at Lena, while the barman takes a tall glass down from the shelf above the bar. He moves to the back, and pours out two measures of vodka and a one of rum. Then he fills the glass to three-quarters with concentrated orange juice. He places the glass on the bar, and dissolves a doberman in it. The drink is a dull orange colour, bittered with pith and small clumps of white powder from the pill. The barman taps the relevant keys on the register, and then Luke puts his creditstick in the slot.
"Thank you very much." Luke smiles tightly, and the barman moves off to serve other customers.
"Mixing your drugs." Lena nods at the glass, now at Luke's lips." You should be careful."
"I saw you dropping id earlier on. It doesn't go at all well with combat drugs."
"Thanks for caring. But I know what I'm doing. The question is: Do you? Despite the fabulous get-up, this doesn't strike me as your kind of place."
"Really? Well, I'm not here for entirely recreational purposes."
"That's good to know."
"I'm a singer."
"Fabulous, I used to sing myself. Bramley, Luke Bramley." Luke proffers his hand, Lena accepts.
"Lena De Trick."
"Pleased to meet you. I hope you don't mind me saying this but, um, I find you very attractive. Would you go to bed with me?"
Lena gags on her gin. "Well, you don't mince words."
"Certainly not. So?"
"I'm, er, with someone, actually. The barman I was talking to."
* * *
"Oh, I guessed that." Luke lights his cigarette. "Truthfully, I, er, was really wondering whether a threesome would be out of the question." He smiles, and raises his eyebrow, and Lena can't tell whether he's joking or not.
[One week ago]
"You knew what to expect, Doctor, you must have. I'm sure you did your research. Yes, you knew what to expect. It's my belief that you always did, and, no doubt, always do. So don't look so surprised, old love. You should never have come here. Cupid is mine, my city, nobody can threaten that." He turned to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed boy on his left, the one fingering various implements and mechanisms. "I want him when you're done. He'll make a useful example, and a wonderful decoration."
"Sure." Despite a mutual contempt, the two men have a serviceable working relationship.
"That's if there is enough left to for people to see, of course. I hope you don't have to do too much to him. Resistance is utterly useless, Doctor!"
"Must you be so melodramatic, Anatoli? Where do you expect this to get you?" The Doctor's voice is weary, mournful.
"Wherever I like, love."
Anatoli taps the Icom on his desk and a light buzzing sounds." We're not to be disturbed. You can finish for the night. Go and chill out downstairs, dear heart."
"Yes, sir." A female voice. The button on the Icom pops back up, accompanied by another buzz.
"Now remember, pain is all in the mind. Say goodbye to your mind, Doctor."
* * *
The screams go on for hours. The torture goes on for days.
River watches the way the barman moves, the way he carries himself and scans the area around him. Military training, she guesses - and he's certainly about old enough. She had been right from the start, from the first time she saw him across the bar - a veteran, probably of the war, definitely of life. She briefly thinks that it's a shame - that a soldier could end up in such a job, that such a nice looking guy would work in a place like this, that she has to do what she is about to do. He has come back to the stores to pick-up a bottle of very expensive wine at the direct request of an extremely important customer. The customer is going to be disappointed.
The barman is reaching up to the top of a rack when River makes her move. Were she the human she has so long pretended to be, she could never have crept up on the man without him noticing, would never have been able to slam the tranq-patch onto the side of his neck, just below the ear. He turns, his jaw hanging open. He is frowning at her. Immediately, his knees buckle, and he falls at her feet. She sets to work.
It doesn't take long - she makes sure of that. A short while later, and she has finished. The jeans are a good length, but she has to puncture a new hole in the belt to pull them tight around her waist. The shirt is a terrible fit, but the waistcoat hides it once she has tightened the strap at the back and fiddled with the shoulders a bit. She feels a bit warm in both her jumpsuit and his uniform, but she can live with that.
She leaves the waiter with his boots, his slip-ons, his gun and a kiss on the forehead.
* * *
"No hard feelings, fella?"
"Life is a gamble at terrible odds - if it was a bet, you wouldn't take it. And this place, on this night, well: Five to one, baby, one in five, no one here gets out alive." Luke grins his faintly ironic grin again. "A lot of curious things have been happening recently, and they are coming to a head. And here, and now, seems quite likely to be the place where that happens." He pauses, looks around him. "So, um, yeah. And, truthfully, I'm not sure that would be such a bad thing. Do you know what schadenfreude is, Lena?"
Lena has lingered with Luke long enough for him to finish his drink, and then buy one for her and another for himself.
* * *
"Yes, I do. And on that philosophical note, I'm afraid I have to take my leave. I'm supposed to be seeing the Entertainments manager in a few minutes. Thanks again for the drink, and the conversation. See you again." She smiles a winning smile, which Luke returns, along with a wink of one of his soft, dark-brown, provocative eyes, and then she wanders over to an empty, sheltered booth overlooking the dance floor. Luke continues to watch her, intently, from where he leans against the bar.
[Ten days ago]
"We've searched every fucking inch of this dome--"
"Whatever. And there is no sign of him anywhere."
"So we follow the only lead we have, dearest: Club Feel--"
* * *
"And Xssixss Entertainments."
"There you are." Purity, Feels' hirer and firer, in a dove white suit over a brown cotton shirt with a buttoned collar. On a black chain around his neck is a silver, circular medallion bearing a crucifix dead centre with an 'F' on either side below the crossbar. He is tall, almost seven feet, and very muscular. "I hate having to come down here, but the offices are all in use."
"You hate coming into your own club?"
"Of course. Do you like being surrounded by all these freaking joyboys, ethnoes, vriks, tappers, DVs and maroons? Pretending to have sex, so explicit, shameless. And all of them a thousand klicks out of it on zap, wacca, dewpull, id and whatever the latest crap craze is. Worthless, all of them."
"Forgive me if I seem forward, but if you hate it so much why do you work here, Mr. Purity?"
"It pays well."
"That seems a little mercenary. Surely, if it offends your sensibilities--"
Purity laughs, a monotone drilling.
"No one would remember the Good Samaritan if he'd only had good intentions. He had money as well."
"Ah. Of course: The practical moralist."
"I also quite like the neo-gothic style. And there are some very attractive perks." He smiles down at Lena. "And it's just Purity, no 'mister'. But you," he jabs his finger at her, "can call me Ryan."
"Very kind of you. So, what's the news, did I get the job?"
"Oh, Lena, let's not launch straight into business. Pleasure first. Another drink?"
"I haven't finished this one yet."
* * *
"Well speed up, then."
River wraps her fingers around the handle of the door to the office. A platinum plaque on the door reads: 'Proprietor - Club Feel.' She pauses a moment, gathers her thoughts, perhaps finally making her mind up.
"Nothing." A male voice.
River spins around, and comes face to nozzle with a gun. The barman's gun. And he is behind it, in his boots and pants, standing self-consciously, looking a little chilly and a lot awkward. He raises an eyebrow.
"You move fast."
"So do you. Especially considering I tranqued you."
"Yes. Thanks for that. Now, I'd like my clothes back, and then--"
River's hands move too swiftly for the barman to see. One yanks his right hand up, and brings it round so that the gun is pressing under the man's chin with her finger over his on the trigger. The other shoots down, grabbing his bollocks through the flimsy material of his briefs, and squeezing.
"I don't want to hurt you, but I cannot let you get in my way."
"Uh, uh, uh, OK, you've made your point. Why don't you, uh, tell me what you want? Perhaps I can help, uh, you."
"I don't want your help, but thanks for offering. What I want is for you to sod off and leave me in peace. But that's not going to be possible, is it? I've no way of guaranteeing that you won't tell your colleagues. So, where do we go from here?"
"Well, well, well." A new arrival. River and the barman turn to see him. A short, slimy man in beige slacks with a matching jacket slung over one shoulder, and a red shirt. He has straw-coloured, shoulder-length hair, a pinched and lined face, and looks to be in his 50s. "An over-dressed young lady and an under-dressed young man."
In a small part of River's heavily occupied mind, she feels quite flattered to be described as young. 'If only he knew,' she thinks.
"Mr. Mammon," the barman begins.
"Please, please, we already seem so familiar. It's Adrian, isn't it? Is it? Call me Tony. What're you two doing outside my office?"
"You run this club," River asks.
"Yes, and Xssixss Entertainments. What of it, babe?"
"Oh, not much. It's just that I want to talk to you about something."
"And what would that be?"
"The man you have crucified above the stage downstairs."
"Ah. I see. Well, love, I'm afraid I'm a busy man. Perhaps you could speak to my PA. I'll put you in touch with her." Mammon reaches into his trouser pocket, pulling out a Cecom. He speaks into the gadget. Well, actually, he shouts: "Security, now!"
The sound of boots pounding on metal fills the corridor, and six security officers appear along it.
"Prompt, aren't they," River observes.
"Shit," shouts the barman. "Run for it."
River needs no pushing; she releases the gun and starts along the corridor in the opposite direction. The barman fires a few rounds over Mammon's head, and follows her.
* * *
"Herd them to the roof," Mammon orders as his staff run past." We'll trap them up there. I want to know who that woman is, she's not the one we were expecting!"
[Two weeks ago]
"I've done it again, haven't I?"
"I don't know, you won't tell me why we're here or what's going on."
* * *
"Yes, well. Soon, Angela, soon."
River throws the heavy metal door at the top of the stairwell open, and glances across the roof to check that it is clear. Satisfied, she pauses for a moment, bending down to massage her calves and ankles. Her bones are shrieking in protest at her activity, but she has to push on. She jogs out, the barman behind her, and they head across the roof. There is a light drizzle coming down from the floor above the club's roof, buffeted by passing vehicles. The barman curses the cold. He looks down at his white, cotton briefs, which are getting rapidly soaked through.
"As soon as we are somewhere safe, I want my trousers back. If it isn't too much trouble."
River is starting to like this guy.
"I have apologised for that."
"Yes. Look, just who are you?"
"My name is River."
"And why are you here?"
"To... to rescue a friend, it seems."
"Rescue a friend? Let me guess: Do you know someone called the Doctor?"
River snaps her head round to look at him.
"What makes you say that?"
"Call it a wild guess."
"You know the Doctor?"
"Oh yes, we go way back. We're very good friends."
"What friend would leave him like... like that, downstairs?"
"It's not as simple as it seems." He looks into River's large, distinctive eyes. "How did you find him?"
"He sent me a note, asked me to bring something to him."
"Have you ever heard of the Whited Sepulchre?"
"Well--" The barman's words are drowned-out by the sound of the door crashing open and gunfire from the stairwell. "Keep going, shift!"
* * *
He and River sprint across the rooftop, darting around areas picked-out by the floodlights above, as a dozen or so security officers charge after them, firing inaccurately and over-eagerly.
"So, you can start next week."
"Great, thanks." Lena smiles. "That's really good news. I think I'd better drop by as often as I can until then, try and get a feel fortis place."
"I thought you'd say something like that."
Lena holds her glass on the table, rolling it between her palms.
"However, it has been an exhausting stretch today, and I really should be getting home."
"No. It's still so early. Stay with me, I promise you won't be bored."
Lena shakes her head. "I really must be going, Ryan. I need my beauty sleep."
"No you don't." Purity runs his fingers through his blonde crop, and fixes her with his cold, blue stare. "And I can't let you leave."
"Let me?" Lena takes her hands away from her glass, and makes to stand. Ryan's left hand suddenly snaps across the table, pinning her right wrist to its surface in a cement grip, which shatters her bracelet. She grabs at his wrist with her left hand, tries to pull him off, and is about to scream. But then he is leaning over the table, his right hand is at her throat, he is squeezing.
She can't swallow, she feels her lungs beginning to burn. She should have expected this, she allowed the drink to cloud her mind. Lady, he's strong, stronger than her, and that shouldn't be. She brings her left hand up, tries to prize him from her throat. He is pulling her over the table, her breasts knock her glass over, clear liquid and half a slice of lemon flood across the table. She digs her nails into the skin of his right hand, he only leers in response. Then her free hand flails out, scraping at his face, grabbing at his collar, ripping at the top button of his shirt. He jerks his head back in amusement. Lena hears the bones in her neck clicking and groaning, and she starts to wheeze. She imagines the blood clotting around the pressure points of his fingers on her flesh. She hears a snap, and is then dimly aware of a release on her wrist, followed by an intense pain that echoes through her mind. She seems to see Ryan reach into the inside pocket of his jacket, pull out a Cecom and switch it on.
"Get Mammon. Tell him it's Ryan." He looks at the woman. "It's no use struggling. You shouldn't have come here, that was stupid. And as for that stage name, it's pathetic. Nothing happens in Cupid without our knowing about it, Miss Ferris, nothing. We knew that the three of you arrived together; the Doctor, and you and your barman friend. And he's told us all about you, bitch. We've been expecting you, waiting. We spotted lover-boy straight away - he sticks out like an amputation. We were just waiting for you to show up, for the whole gang to be here. And now we've got you."
The Cecom buzzes.
"Ryan, darling," Purity winces at Mammon's endearment. "What do you want?"
"Anatoli? I have the Doctor's woman. You want me to kill her?"
Angela's eyes swing around in desperation, searching for some salvation. The club puckers in her vision, the colours drain to sepia. The rhythm all around is indivisible from her dying heartbeat, and she realises that she is no longer hearing the sounds only feeling them. She thinks of Jadi, wonders where he is, why he isn't behind the bar to coverer back. She looks back into Ryan's gaze. He is smiling even more than before.
Fade to black.
To be continued...
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