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#1, 1990
The setting and basic idea for this story was later used in the Brief Encounter Reunion, published in Doctor Who Magazine.
The winds howled their rage, sending flurries of snow up the steep walls and around the figure at their peak, patterns of white on white. Not exactly a beach in California, but I wouldn't swap it for any other place in the galaxy, the barbarian queen thought as she watched for her husband. Perpugilliam Brown didn't think of her old life very often. It was dead. There was only the present, and the future to look forward to.
Life had been kind to her in the last twenty-odd years. Waist length hair, pale skin and a superb physique left almost no reminder of the girl that once was. But that was not all, indeed the least of the changes. Peri had matured, found her purpose in life. She was at last content.
The horns sounded their lonely wail in answer to the signal received some minutes before. Eyes that were sharper than hers had seen the returning party, and even as she watched one of the flurries coalesced into small dark figures before again being lost in the storm. Peri left her post on the castle parapet and hurried towards the stairs. They were early, and by the look of it the hunt had gone well.
The hunt. By rights she should have accompanied Yrcanos, remained by his side in the Krontep custom of man and wife being one, and had done so many times in the past. The animal that provided her with her current clothing, her protection against the fiercest of the elements, she had killed and skinned herself. Out there was freedom. Hunter and hunted in the eternal dance, skill against instinct, man against nature. The only thing between yourself and a frozen death was your will to survive.
On their wedding night they had gone out into that harsh wilderness, the frozen tundra that covered much of this continent of Krontep. Alone, they had made the ultimate commitment to each other. She had saved his life that night. She would make jokes about it later, but seeing his prostrate body at the bottom of the cliff was the most terrifying sight of her life. That had brought it home. This was no adolescent fantasy she had dreamed up during a particularly boring chemistry lecture. This was real. The man she thought, hoped, she loved was lying face down below her, becoming one with the landscape.
It was her fault of course, and after they were safe she was given her second lecture on survival, on how each person must rely on those around them to have any chance of negotiating the hostile terrain. This time she listened, and started to understand. But now she was panicking, and quick as she was she had to follow the first of the predators to find the body. Snarling, it left this easy meal for something that was surely not much harder. It could sense the fear of this fragile beast and sprang. Peri killed it. She was never sure how, but the sight of it lying at her feet again spurred her to action. Dragging Yrcanos to the cave that seemed to open up in the cliff, she guarded him and tended him in the hours till he awoke. The carnivores seemed to lose interest once they had finished with the body of their comrade, and the snow covered the bloody trail leading to the shelter.
Dawn was still only a promise when he struggled awake. Sitting up beside the small fire, he regarded her with a look she had never seen before. "When I went to the stars I thought I would find only misery and pain. Instead I found you. I have never been as wrong in all my life."
"I don't know about that, but I promise that you will never regret your promises yesterday. I will make you proud of me."
"You already have." He smiled. "I just hope you don't go through spears as fast as this."
She looked down at her weapon. Its flint head had been seemingly torn off, leaving a jagged and splinted edge.
"Its broken." she said in mild wonderment, "Like a pocket watch."
He looked puzzled.
"Nothing, just a joke from my childhood"
They kissed, and made love, and were one. And it seemed that nature itself looked over them, for while Peri never learned of the creature that instinctively did not to return to its lair that morning, she would not have been overly surprised.
Instead she crossed the landing pad, and jogged down the stairs leading to the central court. Bureaucracy had intervened this time. The fact that they lived in a galaxy where star-travel was common meant that the simple life wasn't necessarily all it was cracked up to be. They were fairly lucky, admittedly. There were no huge deposits of valuable minerals or antidotes to rare diseases on Thordon and it was far too cold for anybody to actually want to live there.
However, being self-proclaimed King of the planet (there were still many Vingten who disagreed, but considerably less prepared to do anything about it after the last war) with subjects numbered in their millions and stretched over three continents had its disadvantages. Apart from communication and travel (handled in part by a radio network and a small number of Transmat terminals, though Peri had strived long to keep the sometimes necessary influences of technology to a non-addictive minimum) Yrcanos had found the amount of off-world distractions made the conquest seemingly not worth it. Almost.
At the moment the court was being visited by delegates from Tau Ceti, respectively putting forward the notion that Thordon would be an ideal site for a penal colony. The sessions had been successful, from the Thordon point of view, and the delegates were now in their rooms preparing to leave with a report of their failure. The King had been impatient to return to his wilderness after such negotiations, to be rid of such petty detail and political manoeuvring and had of course desired his Queen to accompany him. However the standards of Galactic etiquette made this impossible without insulting the Tauns who had not as yet left, and knowing her husband's impatience with such formality, she had sent him out alone.
She reached the bottom of the staircase and entered the chamber that was the heart of this castle. The silence stopped her in her tracks. The huge room was filled with people, and not one of them made the slightest sound. They turned to face her, their expressions unreadable. She knew these people, she had spent the last twenty years with them, yet they now seemed alien, unreachable. They parted in front of her, an inaudible wave as she walked unsteadily towards the centre of the room. She noted briefly the Taun delegates had appeared from a door near the one she had entered, but were finding no passage through the soundless throng. But that was not important. What was important was being revealed in front of her. On a wooden stretcher on the floor a figure lay. She did not have to see the blood that poured out of the dreadful wounds in its torso, oozed out of its mouth, did not have to see the horrible white of shattered bone. She looked into its eyes, and she knew that Yrcanos, the King, her life, was dying.
She looked round. "But why..." She knew the question was futile, but anything to break the silence of this room.
The man behind her came forward hesitantly, and kneeling to reach her height, put his arms around her. His jacket and her dress were the same dull black. "Death... happens, Perpugilliam. It is something that no one can control, it just happens. Your father was a good friend of mine. We all feel his loss, but you can't stay in here forever, you must accept that he is gone"
"No!" She broke free and stepped forward. The body was so peaceful, so beautiful, but it was an illusion. A trick for the funeral. You couldn't put any old thing in this coffin, with its silk lining and gold-plated handles. "Come back" she whispered, another futile game.
The man behind her hesitated, seemed on the verge of coming forward once again when an irritated woman's call of "Howard, where are you?" rose above the background hum. The man sighed, "Come on Peri, lets go." She refused him. "Jesus, Peri, don't you understand, he's dead, he's gone and won't be coming back. Now come away from there." He stormed out of the room, followed by Peri's hate-filled gaze.
She turned back to the body. Her emotions again threatened to overwhelm her. Tears glistened expectantly as if anxious to be free just one more time. But she blinked them back, and her voice was steady with the authority of twenty years rule. "Take him to our room." She was obeyed.
* * *
The corridors were cold, and all the clothes she had would not shield her from their chill. She walked alone, and in silence. The whole castle had been silent these last few days, the children, the hounds, the wind. The king was dying and the world had stopped.
"Three-score and ten I can remember well:
She stopped, puzzled. Where was that from? Probably something the Doctor had once said. Then she knew. Macbeth. She had studied Shakespeare at school of course. The immortal bard, immortal bore more like it. Or so she had thought then, but time, experience, and perhaps even the Doctor, had lent new meaning to the timeless verse. And while the darkness has not the face of day entombed, the sun that had shone these last twenty years through cloud and snow and stone had turned its back on her, left her bereft. She felt an odd intimacy with Shakespeare's Scotland, so far away.
Then she remembered something else the Doctor had once said.
"That is the smell of Death, Peri. Ancient musk heavy in the air. Fruit-soft flesh peeling from white bones. The unholy, unburiable stench of Armageddon. There's nothing quite so evocative as one's sense of smell, is there?"
She thought of Yrcanos lying motionless upon his bed, tended by her daughters and by the elder who had finally sent her away before she collapsed from exhaustion. She thought of his death-like pallor, the fever of his brow, the sound of his ravings when consciousness forced him back into the world, but mostly the sick, pervasive stench of faeces and blood and pain.
She almost screamed. "What would you know, Doctor. What would you KNOW!". She swung her arm against the unforgiving stone, hard, expecting pain.
Not feeling any she looked down at her blood stained hand ("Out, out, damned spot", but she was too tired to giggle) to find it held by another. Covered by soft green-blue hair it felt incredibly strong before it released its grip. She followed the arm up past the padded sleeves to the equally furred face.
"Your majesty is tired, perhaps you should find some rest?"
She supposed she should have been surprised that the delegate had got past the guards, wondered how long he had been here, but she couldn't.
"So they tell me. What do you want?"
"I am sorry for this intrusion, majesty. But I could not get a message to you. I am here concerning the well-being of your self and your husband, to our mutual benefit of course." His voice was lower then was normal for a Taun, high and piercing to combat the sound of crashing surf in the seas where they normally made their home. Equally mobile in or out of the water, their fur, colouring and webbed digits indicated a marine evolution.
"Yes, yes, but what do you want"
"Let me come straight to the point, your majesty. Your husband is not well. He has been practically disembowelled, his right leg almost totally crushed. He is dying, and your medicines will not be able to stop that from happening. He needs help now, from modern facilities, while your 'doctor' is dressing the wounds and applying herbal remedies."
She closed her eyes, suddenly feeling as exhausted as everyone claimed. She let his words slide over her, ignoring their meaning, only seeing their intent. She was in no shape for the verbal sparring this man was so good at. "Leave me. Return to your quarters and finish your preparations for departure."
"I am talking about your husband's life."
"Go away." She turned to face him and her stare was resolute.
"As your majesty commands". He bowed briefly, and returned the way he had come. Peri watched him leave and then turned back towards the Royal compartments. She would try to get some sleep after all.
* * *
In the sudden darkness, the soft undertone of whispers almost completely died away. In the ensuing shuffle, as everyone tried to find some sort of comfort on the science-lab stools, the boy sitting next to her moved his own slightly closer. She felt she should turn to him, offer him some sort of response. But as the flickering numbers reached their inevitable end and the documentary started she became more and more drawn into it, ignoring the presence beside her. As the narrator droned on in his measured voice, showing no surprise at the revelations of his speech, the screen filled with colour. She saw the birth of animals as the voice explained the stages of foetal growth, saw the period of dependence when the mother brought food and safety to her demanding off-spring, the now-mature animal leaving home, marking and patrolling its own territory, finding a mate, producing its own children. On screen the animals aged, the slow plodding of giant tortoises and the sparkle of ephemeral butterflies, and one by one the animals died. Whether it took a hundred years or a day, systems broke down, became slower, stopped. And as the narrator explained the secrets of death, seeming not to care that he too would die, the screen changed, lost it colour and seemed to move through patterns of white on white. A man came into focus, coalesced through the storm, a huge man with a rough face, calloused hands, a shaggy beard with only a few touches of dignified grey. A spear was clutched in one hand, and the fur of some unknown animal was wrapped tightly around him. He seemed capable of endless battles, unchecked violence. But she could sense that wasn't all he was, she saw the gentleness, the wisdom that age brings, and it occurred to her that this man would be capable of providing, and deserving of, great love. He was dead now, lying in the snow, and as the narrator explained in his measured voice about stop-motion photography the body changed. It seemed to bloat for a few seconds, then collapse upon itself again. The flesh became softer, as worms ate away at it from the inside, only briefly showing themselves to the camera. For this demonstration the carrion eaters were kept away from the corpse, but the insects were unchecked, and the body got thinner. Then suddenly it was alive with writhing maggots, white and sickly they moved in ever-changing patterns on the face, burrowing to find sustenance for their own short lives. Glimpses of something previously unseen showed themselves as the eyes and lips were eaten away and the abdomen collapsed. Then the flesh became quickly-dissolving tatters over a whitened frame, which in turn lost its definition, the bones collapsing upon themselves, and all was still. Only the voice remained.
There was no movement from the class as the documentary ended, the tape whipping through the air unheeded, the final image lingering. Peri sat in the darkness, filled with an indescribable sorrow. Something distracted her, and she noticed that the boy had placed his hand on her thigh, moving one finger over her flesh in lazy patterns. She looked up at him. His face was hidden in a skin-tight black and white leather mask, and she woke up screaming.
* * *
There were the good times of course, when good meant ordinary and time flew by with scant regard for those caught by its vagaries. The many years of simple existence with this man beside her. The problems they had faced, the journeys they had made, the children they had raised, the fights they had had. And through all of this, they were together. For even when they were apart they knew the other was there, with them, loving them. So she forced herself to remember the good times, the years that memory tries to hide. Anything to stop herself thinking about what lay on the bed before her.
He was big and shouted a lot. That was her first impression of him on Thoros Beta, a long, long way away. The Doctor had dragged her there with some idea about pirated weaponry after a short visit to Thordon, though a large distance from where they now were. After that things got a little confusing. Certainly Sil was there, and another of his race performing some undoubtedly unethical experiments. And then... she remembered tunnels and fighting and a half-beast and... She remembered meeting Yrcanos, and she remembered seeing the Doctor for the last time. They were walking back from the sea, where he had... but she refused that memory. They were walking, and Yrcanos had attacked him and he had ran. Her last sight of him was a flash of that awful coat, their last words were in anger, and her dread at what he had become. Later Yrcanos would explain that the Doctor had tried to rescue her, but had disappeared, and then there was only confusion, and they had found themselves back on Thordon with no idea how or why, and she was simply happy to find the arms of someone who cared.
Then for the first time she could remember her life became stable. The wedding came and went, the first of eight children arrived a year later and was named after Yrcanos's father. She learnt what it was to be a queen, earned the respect of those around her, those who said no off-world wench could reign. She told stories by the fire to her children, of Daleks and Androgums, but even to her they were no more then stories. Yrcanos was always there, always strong. And the times she spent with him by the fire were...
He groaned, his hand rising instinctively towards hers before the pain regained its hold over him, and she forgot all but her struggle to keep him alive.
* * *
"It has been a week since you were to have left, and yet your shuttle is still preparing for launch. Normally I would welcome such a stay but current circumstances prevent me from attending to you."
"I understand your concern, majesty, but such delays are sometimes inevitable. I am making every endeavour to leave at the first available opportunity. But that is not possible at the moment."
"Because of my husband"
"Yes, if you like. You can see I must try, can't you. And while it greatly aids my mission, as I said the benefit is mutual."
"And you are not willing to ignore the political manoeuvring and simply save a man's life"
"My superiors would not deem that an appropriate action, but, ah, your majesty, you have hardly been approachable for even such a proposition as that."
"My husband says that nature gives and nature receives. Perhaps it is we who have taken too much and it is now the time to give."
"But your husband? Surely you do not believe that, majesty, you are from off-world, you have... My apologies your majesty, the ship will leave within the hour."
* * *
The bedroom was small, and normally cosy. But Peri had realised that even that which lay on the bed, her dying husband, could not take away the memories of its warmth. They consoled her, lent her strength. She worked tirelessly, sleeping five hours a day, holding court for six hours, including having to handle the inevitable well-wishers, and those with more self-interested concern, that arrived daily from the three continents. She spent the rest of her life in here. She knew when it was going to happen, she had known forever, but only told herself when even the less perceptive could see the inevitable. As the life-force ran out of him she leapt on him, finding his mouth with hers she tasted his blood as it mingled with her tears. He knew she was there and was glad. But he died. Only this time it was real, and Peri too died.
* * *
The barbarian queen stood up, her gaze steady as she walked from the room, only barely acknowledging the reverence of those around her. As she climbed the stairs she remembered a time when she would have fought against this, struggle with the last of her energies. But memories were ephemeral, fragmented and discordant pieces of the past. There was only the present. The bitter cold of the parapet did not touch her as she looked through the perpetual storm for the last time.
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