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Imperfect Copy

A Novel by David Carroll


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Short Stories

Tabula Rasa

Imperfect Copy: Chapter 3

by David Carroll, 1994

'It's like Venus,' said Ace as she walked along the grassy path, balancing precariously on the edge over a paddy. 'The watery place.'

The Doctor raised his hand in friendly response to the curious stares of a couple and their cow, working in an adjacent field, and didn't answer. Before breakfast he had put on some working clothes, still too big for him, and he looked faintly ridiculous.

Ace was doing better in something she guessed used to be Helano's (and perhaps still was, she thought in a flash of quick guilt), though it was, to say the least, lacking in cred. The robes they had been wearing yesterday had been examined by the Doctor, and left with the Lenkso's. He had told her the material was certainly not from this culture (she'd actually worked that one out) and there were too many possibilities to guess its source without laboratory equipment.

That raised the question about where the TARDIS was, and they didn't really discuss that question. It seemed too close to too many other, more difficult, questions.

The Doctor was silent now, thinking, as they walked towards the village centre.

'Did you find out anything from Petro?' Ace asked.

'Not much. We're in the far south of the country of Harriso, bounded in that direction by the Styx. He's not sure how many people live here, but he thinks Harriso is about five hundred kilometres from one end to the other. He was hiding something about the River, and was trying to find out what I knew on the subject. I think he's a bit worried that we're here.'

'Yeah, and he wouldn't be the only one. Ever heard of Harriso before?'

'No, never. Of course I could have been here when it had a different name. That happens occasionally, though it's unlikely in this case. The Esperanto suggests an Earth colony, but very few actually picked up the language -- less than point four of a percent.'

'It sounds horribly complicated.'

The Doctor gave a short, not quite friendly laugh. 'No, it's not. It's one of the simplest your species devised. No-one bothered to learn it though.'

'You're being smug and superior again.'

'Whom, I?' And he was smiling, and the two walked on a little along happier than before.

Until the Doctor spoke again. 'The surface temperature of Venus is seven hundred and thirty five Kelvin. Water couldn't exist, and even lead would be in its liquid state.'

The girl rolled her eyes. 'Yes, I know that, Professor. It was a joke.'

'It wasn't funny. Such high temperatures were first suspected by Humans in 1956, confirmed in 1969 and experienced in 1994. But someone had already given a perfect description of the planet, some six hundred and fifty years previously. His name was Dante Alighieri, and the description was in a poem called La divina commedia, or "The Divine Comedy".'

'Dante?' said Ace.

'Dante.' said the Doctor.

They walked on in silence.

* * *

'Now, girl. What were you doing in there, eh?' a voice said from behind her. It was a youngish voice, and unfamiliar.

[G]esemio suppressed her cry of relief, and started to think again. The arms that belonged to the voice shook her a little, but not too much. She chose her words carefully. 'I was shown the room by Andreo Akvisto. He's about a hundred and seventy centimetres tall, with pale skin and green eyes. He let me in, and said I could stay there.'

A couple of seconds passed, and she was released. She turned to face her attacker, and leant against the smooth wooden wall, tired after her struggling.

There were two of them, in fact. The one who had grabbed her was tall and gangly, but with obvious strength in his torso and arms. The second, standing a little behind, was both shorter and, she was pleased to note, more nervous. They were younger than she was, probably not more than about nineteen. Thin-and-Gangly was looking at her suspiciously. 'Andreo didn't say anything about a girl staying over at the store,' he said, daring her to disagree.

'I only met him last night. Late. I'm only new in town, if you haven't guessed. I don't want to cause any trouble, I just needed somewhere to stay.'

'Then why not stay at his house?'

She looked steadily at him, and after a while he shrugged. 'OK, OK, I believe you. So what do you want to do now?'

'Stay here, if that's alright with you.'

He considered. 'Yeah, I suppose so. But we've got to get the props organised for tonight and laid out proper. We'll leave the store locked, and you aren't allowed to touch any of it. When we get back to the village we'll ask Andreo about you.'

'And speaking of the lock,' [G]esemio continued, having a thought, 'you can see it's not broken, I couldn't have got in unless someone let me.'

'Yes, yes. I said I believe you.'

'What's your name?' the other boy said suddenly, as if he was feeling left out of the conversation.

She considered lying, giving a false name. But she knew it wouldn't help her any. So she just said '[G]esemio,' and offered no more.

'That's a pretty name,' said the short one, shyly now. [G]esemio forced herself to smile at him.

The two introduced themselves as Sando and Natalo, and after a short silence, it was clear they weren't saying much more than that either. They finally went into the storeroom she'd spent the night in and started rummaging through the equipment.

She watched them for a while, standing inside the doorway so as not to impede the main source of Light. They were creating piles of costumes and weapons and crowns, pulling them from bags and putting them in well-defined mounds. After a while she gave up and went to have a closer look at the whole complex she had only quickly seen in last night's torchlight.

It was a theatre of course, a little theatre consisting of just a stage, three small buildings behind and rough seating in front. The stage itself was little more than a skeleton of bare boards, wooden poles and hanging rope. The "floor" was raised up on several posts, about a metre off the hard packed earth beneath it, and when she jumped up for a closer look she found no less than three trapdoors leading down into the darkness. The area was perhaps six or seven metres long and half that length deep. Three of the four sides had, at regular intervals, poles standing another three metres high, and a sparse but complex arrangement of ropes and pulleys and planks made up the ceiling. At each end wooden shelves hung loose from the walls, a metre wide and divided into two sections, each able to be individually swung upwards to form a platform.

The seating for the audience lay several metres in front of the main stage, and was also elevated. Simply planks built up upon a lattice, and curving round the stage itself, she guessed it could fit four hundred people without anybody falling off the sides.

All in all it wasn't terribly impressive. Compared to the ones near home which could seat well over a thousand people in comfort, and with stage layouts that made this one look like a child's toy, it was almost laughable. She supposed she shouldn't be too condescending, a theatre she had once visited in Centrejo made the same comparison to those at home, but then, that was Centrejo for you.

She sat on the edge of the stage (mindful that she could not be seen -- the high seating obscured any casual observation) and tried to imagine an audience. An audience of four hundred people looking at her, ready to break into hysterical laughter at the slightest error, the most casual slipping of dialogue.

Somehow, she didn't have to use a great deal of imagination for that sensation.

She shook her head and after a while wandered back to see how the two boys were doing. They had almost finished, and were going through a mental check-list to see if they had forgotten anything. In a lapse from his earlier surliness the tall one explained that the props were being assembled now because time was needed if any had been misplaced. The actual setting up of the backdrops round the stage would be done in the three hours before tonight's performance. She nodded, pretending interest, and bent to admire the material of the costumes.

When they were ready to go back to the village she spoke to them, sounding as grave as she possibly could. 'Do not tell anyone I am here,' she said. 'Except Andreo, of course. But please, don't tell anyone.'

They looked a little uncertain about the request, but didn't push it. The short one, Natalo, smiled at her again and said of course they wouldn't, and she had to be content with that.

As she watched them leave she realised something. When she had been grabbed, thinking her attacker was the man who had been following her, she had thought that she had gone further than she had expected.

But she had been wrong. It had been a flash of optimism to relieve her quick despair. She looked at the dagger she had retrieved unseen from the top of one of the piles before the boys had locked the door. The blade was a long one, dangerous looking, with the tainted white of hardened bone. Useless for stabbing, but the edge was reasonably sharp, and she had realised whilst sitting on the stage there was all sorts of damage you could do with it. She concealed the weapon beneath her heavy woollen jacket before going to sit under the wooden latticework of public seating.

It was a bit damp down there, but it looked to be the safest place to keep an eye on nearby movement and remain unseen. She sat on the floor, and thought about last night, and the last couple of weeks.

She hadn't expected to have failed by now, because she hadn't expected to fail at all. This time, she knew, she was going all the way.

* * *

In Malvarmo, as in most of the smaller towns and villages in Harriso, there was a regular market. You know the sort of thing -- food, drink and the smaller crafts, and a general lack of peace and quiet. This market lasted for several hours about the noon hour, occurring every three days. Just about everyone would come round sooner or later, threading their way between the stalls and the screaming children, and while it couldn't really be called exciting, a happy time was generally had by all. Farming communities are like that.

Just why this cycle of three days had been adopted, be it for reasons religious, numerical or simply esoteric, no-one could tell you. They might say it was because it was the way it always had been or, more pragmatically, that it was the time taken for a good size larder to empty itself.

Whatever the reason, that left two days in three for Ajlmo Dunstaro to conduct his business, providing the meat and juice and milk (and, of course, rice) for those who needed them, away from the crush of the market.

It worried him a little, this job of hoarding and metering out doses on demand. It could be done easily by the Sanktemoj over at the tavern, or by several of the other businesses in the village. But he did it, and no-one seemed to mind, and certainly no-one had even hinted at an Expulsion for unproductivity.

But it worried him.

No-one was wanting anything at the moment, not after the accident this morning, and the people he saw walked with a gait more subdued than normal. So he sat in the shaded area that had become his own and just looked across the large and empty square, and brooded.

Until two people walked into the square, a man and a girl, and a brief glance in their direction become an incredulous stare.

Ajlmo licked his suddenly dry lips. He'd heard that two adults had come out of the River, who hadn't by now? And like everyone in the pub last night he had laughed when the suggestion was made, with appropriately obscene gestures, that the two had simply been too close to the edge up-stream. Everyone had laughed, but no-one had really believed it. And now...

The man and girl were glancing round in interest (but not at him, not yet -- he moved further back into shadow). And there was no mistake, no mistake at all.

Memories came back, of a time when he was a general hand to anyone who needed him, before every job became one job, and he did more than sit in the shade.

He kept his eye on the pair, noting their clothing, their walk, everything he could. No sound reached him across the square, but he dared not even move from shadow to circle closer.

The man gestured and the two walked off East towards the tavern. When they had left Ajlmo closed his stall and hurried out of the square himself, though his route lay South East.

This must be no trick of the memory, he told himself harshly. No old man's folly. He had to be sure. And proof wasn't going to be that hard to find.

* * *

Elizabeto stood up, went inside and put some sensible clothes on. She'd have to go into the village and... do something. She was a bit unsure about exactly what, but that was all right. She was sure it would all start making sense at some point, and until then she'd just go with the flow. Do all the right things.

Maybe that would make it better.

When she finished dressing she moved out into the living room and started cleaning up. Just putting some of her stuff away, tidy.

It was one of the right things to do, before going to town.

She looked at a wooden sculpture she had picked up somewhere and was now sitting skew upon a table. As she had done before she held it, and ran her fingers over its curves. It was a beautiful thing, fifteen centimetres tall and thirty long, a sea-bird skimming over water, its back arching, its wings thrown back triumphant. The crab in the bird's mouth was detailed exquisitely, little pincers waving. When she was younger Elizabeto had marvelled at that crab, the way the carver had managed to capture such obvious emotion in something so tiny. The crab looked very surprised.

'Dad's dead,' she said to herself.

'So I hear,' said the man behind her.

Elizabeto jumped, literally, and let out a small cry of fear. She spun round, falling backwards at the black silhouette in her doorway. It took a step inwards, a step towards her.

Elizabeto almost threw the statue at it, almost ran for the internal door beside her, almost panicked.

She discovered she just didn't have the energy.

'Who are you?' she said warily as the figure resolved itself into a fair-headed man she had never seen before. 'What do you want?'

'Just to talk, to ask you a question or two.'

He walked outside again and she followed. She nodded as he gestured for permission to sit, and she sat as well and they looked across the table at each other.

'They tell me you are the daughter of Vilhelmo Trasto,' the man said. She hadn't heard her father called by the full version of his name in a long, long time, and it jarred with his memory. She studied this man closer. He was a lean man, with skin slightly darker than the norm in Malvarmo. His face was bland somehow, and even his blonde hair didn't seem out of place. He was waiting for her to say something.

'Yes I am,' she said stiffly. 'And I can't imagine why you'd be interested in such a thing.'

'I am not here about your father's death,' he said, trying to reassure her in his measured pace. 'But I do offer my sincere condolences to you.'

Thanks a whole lot, Elizabeto almost said. Why should you care?

But she realised that no-one else had offered her such a gift; not the four men who had told her the news and then went away, and certainly no-one else from the village would.

'Thank you,' she said simply, and waited for him to say something else.

'This may seem a bit of an odd question at a time like this, but did you see your father last night?'

'I...' She floundered a little.

'It's all right, if you think I'm being pushy you can tell me to get out of here. But if you don't mind...'

'It's OK. I don't mind. No, I didn't see him. I... He and I didn't get on very well.'

He looked a little disappointed. 'I'm sorry to hear that.'

'Just one more thing,' he continued after a pause. 'Have you ever seen this girl?' He unfolded a piece of paper and showed her a sketch.

Elizabeto looked at it blankly, not really seeing it. 'No,' she murmured. 'Never.'

'Well,' said the man, 'I'll leave you alone then. Thanks for your help.' Without waiting for a reply he stood up and walked away.

Elizabeto sat there and reviewed the conversation in her head slowly, not quite believing it had happened. There was nothing overtly wrong with it, it just felt... strange.

She shook her head, and looked at the carved sea-bird, still clutched in one hand. She felt a bit sick, and this morning anything would feel strange.

She put the statue down on the table and sat a while. It was perhaps half an hour, though she couldn't really say, before she started walking into town. Completely forgetting all the little things she had been going to do before the journey.

* * *

'Well, go on' said Ace. 'Tell me about it. I know you're dying to.'

'Tell you about what?' the Doctor said, distracted. The two looked round a large grassy area surrounded by buildings. They all looked small-business-like, and by the painted signs above dark doorways and various examples hanging outside they seemed to be all craft-oriented. Mats, rope and nets, baskets, saddles, little tools and ornaments of the by now familiar wood and bone, and also leather and bound grass. In the open area under cover in front of one shop a burly craftsman, his arms and hands somehow stained, was fitting smooth spokes into a large cart-wheel. He had looked up briefly at them, and continued working. A boy who was obviously the man's apprentice was alternating his attention between his master's work and the Doctor and Ace with a faint look of guilt on his face. Ace smiled at him.

She noticed a shop that looked more like a permanent stall selling meat and vegetables on the other side of the square. She guessed from the markings in the grass that there were a great many more stalls here at regular intervals. There were more buildings towards the East, at least one of which had two storeys. The Doctor gestured and they started walking in that direction.

She had also noticed, silently and without more than a flick of the eyes, a place which seemed to sell weapons.

'Esperanto, of course,' she answered her friend. 'The loco jingo.'

'It was the work of a nineteenth Century Polish linguist called Ludwig Zamenhof. He believed that the language barrier was one of the important obstacles to world peace, and created a politically neutral language to try and ease the situation. It's phonetic -- every word is pronounced the way it's written, and it is also completely consistent in just about every aspect of word usage. Are you listening?'

'Yeah,' said Ace, glancing with bright eyes at a large bonfire burning merrily and apparently superfluously in the middle of the new grassy area they had just entered. Extra wood was stacked nearby, and there were about two dozen foot-long sticks she guessed were torches arranged within the dirt-floored circle. She remembered her thoughts earlier about the difficulty of lighting fires.

The Doctor continued the lesson. 'It consists of twenty-eight letters, six of which aren't contained in English. There are sixteen fundamental rules of grammar, each of which has no exceptions. It was first published in 1887.'

'Wonderful,' said Ace. 'We must go then sometime.'

'That may be a little difficult at the moment. But we might be able to get some assistance at this wretched hive of scum and villainy.'

Ace looked at the tavern they were standing in front of, the two storey building she had already spotted. A sign above the door was translated by the Doctor from "La Varmega Loko" to "The Hot Place". (And speaking of heat, she realised that the chill she had sensed earlier had deepened, becoming almost oppressive as the day got brighter -- but neither the Doctor or any of the people she had seen were paying it any heed.)

Where they were now standing wasn't so much a square but a collection of buildings in no particular pattern and a fair distance apart. She could see a large cattle yard to the North, the animals grazing or being led around by sober men behind a high wooden fence. Also in that rough direction was a stable, perhaps able to hold twenty horses. This tavern had a much smaller stable attached to one side. Ace had once been madly in love with horses. The affection had been at the age of seven, and had lasted a whole week.

'What do you expect to find in here,' she asked, 'apart from the local piss-pots?'

The Time Lord considered the building carefully (looking for emergency exits, Ace thought with an internal grin). 'According to Petro Akvisto most of the trade with this village is carried over water. I'm going to see if we can hire ourselves a boat.'

'And we leave the droids outside?'

'Got it in one.'

* * *

Petro Akvisto was walking back to his four-room house and three-field farm when a sudden sensation made him stop in his tracks.

'Are you all right?' he heard his son say.

'Yes,' he heard himself reply, and the two walked on.

It's fear, he thought to himself. It's the real thing. The skin on his arms felt like it was being stretched over the muscle, his body felt both distanced and intimately nauseous.

Things were happening beyond his control, things he could only guess at. And he was the one that was supposed to handle it, he was supposed to take charge. It was his duty.

But he was only a farmer, and content to work his crop and cope with the problems of disease and runaway cattle and everything else as they arose. He had a wife and two children and was pleased to love them. His daughter, a year older then Andreo, was married happily enough and he still talked to her regularly, as a friend.

But something was happening that was somehow more important than all of that, all of what he was. It was like there was some ancient prophecy that everyone knew was going to happen one day, but that no-one believed in when it finally came. It was like that, and somehow it was supposed to be his job to know what to do.

He knew it, and it frightened him.

But something frightened him even more, because maybe it wasn't his job, maybe it was that of his son. The young man who walked so confidently beside him.

Six months, he suddenly thought, and he was surprised that the thought was a savage one. She's only six months older, don't believe your own lie.

Petro didn't know if he was supposed to be a hero or a martyr, or simply irrelevant.

'Good luck,' he told his son, still distantly.

His son didn't start, wasn't surprised at the words or asked what they meant. His reply was a simple "yes".

When, five minutes later and they reached the house, one of Andreo's friends met them and spoke urgently about a girl at the theatre. Andreo had taken him aside and they talked.

Petro watched them for a while, and didn't even want to know.

* * *

Ajlmo's thoughts were very simple as he knelt down in a cavern deep in the Cold Spot and played the light of his torch over his proof. They had crystalised perfectly, like the very breath from his mouth. 'Can we move them?' he asked Timoteo, the man standing behind and above him. This deep, Ajlmo found it painful just to open his mouth, exposing the interior to the dry cold. It didn't appear to affect his companion in the slightest.

'Don't see why not,' was the slow reply, 'under the circumstances, I mean.'

Ajlmo nodded, and after several unsuccessful attempts at moving the bodies he got out his knife and started prying his proof away from the cold hard floor. Waiting just long enough to be irritating, Timoteo bent down and started to help.

'It's been a busy day,' he said, by way of conversation. Ajlmo didn't bother replying.

* * *

Natalo was walking back past the cattle yard when he saw a fair-haired man talking to one of the women there. Sando had already gone ahead to find Andreo and tell him about [G]esemio, so Natalo was in no particular hurry. He hadn't seen the man before and didn't think twice about it.

But as he passed close he heard something about the man looking for someone. He stopped, and glanced at the pair, interested. The woman was shaking her head, and the man put a piece of paper back in his pocket. Natalo walked on.

As he ducked between two of the buildings leading to the village square someone entered from the other end of the alley, silhouetted against the glare of Light. It's the man, Natalo thought. But it couldn't be, there hadn't been time. He glanced back nervously, and kept on going. His own footsteps seemed too loud on the loose surface, for there was no grass here, away from the Light.

'I'm looking for a friend,' the fair-haired man said without preamble, when they met in the middle. 'Perhaps you can help me.'

Act, came a sudden thought into Natalo's head, sounding panicked. You're an actor, so act. 'Yeah, if I can. Can I see her picture, the one you showed that woman?' he said casually.

Natalo could see the man well enough away from the glare, and saw the man's quick grin with amazing clarity. 'I don't think that's necessary, it's such a hit or miss way of obtaining information.'

'Yes,' Natalo agreed, because it seemed safer that way.

Without knowing quite how it happened, Natalo found himself on the ground, his face pushed roughly into the soil. He tried to cry out, but the man had grabbed his arm and was twisting it, and the sudden pain got in the way of his voice. He could only gasp, feeling his mouth and tongue against the dirt.

'Where is she?' the man said.

Natalo tried to twist away from the pain, tried to swing his arms to grab the man pinning him down.

'Where is she?' the man said.

'Get off me,' Natalo tried to yell, but his head was dragged up out of the dirt by the hair, and he couldn't finish the sentence. But it was only when he saw the bone knife that he started to cry.

The blade came closer, vertical, waving a little, finally resting on his forehead and cheek, over his right eye. With a gentle sawing motion it started going deeper. Through the eye-lid.

'Where is she?' the man said.

Through the dirt and tears, Natalo told him, and the pressure on his arm went away.

But the knife was still there, and slowly it was drawn down his face, over the wet skin. Past his lips, over his chin, against his throat.

Natalo blabbed helplessly, telling the man not to kill him, telling the man he was hurting, telling the man anything at all.

But in his own ears his voice was cut off suddenly. And in his last brief seconds, Natalo couldn't work out why.

* * *

'What is this,' said Ace quietly, 'happy hour or something?'

The Doctor and Ace looked round the dimly lit room. In a way Ace was surprised that anyone was here. It was, after all, before lunchtime -- but the room was half-filled with people, perhaps thirty in all, and they all looked thoroughly miserable.

It reminded Ace of a London pub after the local soccer team had lost a game, the ever-present music turned off in mourning. There was even an unattended dart-board on one of the side walls.

People were turning to look at them, but like just about everybody they'd already met, no-one approached them, and no-one's stare seemed unfriendly. Just curious. The Doctor beamed back at the collective gaze in his normal oblivious way, and the heads turned back to the floor.

'They certainly don't look too ecstatic,' the Time Lord muttered under his breath. 'You grab a table and I'll engage in some polite conversation.'

He was about to move further into the room when Ace grabbed his arm. 'What's Esperanto for "a mug of your finest"?'

The Doctor rolled his eyes. 'You're in rice country now, beer will be hard to come by. Sake is the drink of preference, at least by the smell.'

'Whatever. I've still got to blend in.'

'Try "taso de akvo".'

She repeated it under her breath and they separated.

She went to the bar and smiled at the man behind it. 'Taso de sake,' she said brightly. He looked at her steadily. 'Sako? Sakeo?' That seemed to ring a bell, and he got out a little wooden cup and filled it with some sort of clear liquid. He didn't ask for any money, and Ace figured that would be the Doctor's problem later on.

Finding a seat which gave her a pretty good look at the place she sat and tasted the drink. When she'd seen it initially she thought she'd been double-bluffed, but she shouldn't have worried. You're losing your touch, Professor. Esperanto lesson number one -- akvo means water. She had never tasted sake before, the Japanese answer to vodka, though it seemed the tastier drink, the faint undertone of rice unmistakable. And it was, by the effect it had on the back of her throat, pure breed firewater.

Akvo means water, she repeated to herself thoughtfully. Now isn't that interesting?

Ace sat and sipped her drink and watched the Doctor's negotiations, which from this distance weren't looking too successful.

She smiled a little, sadly.

In this situation she'd normally be in with the crowd, finding out information, and simply chatting with the drinkers for the hell of it. It was a skill she had, talking to people. Knowing what to say, and what not to.

But not today. Today she could only watch.

She realised she was feeling a little left out of things.

She remembered all the pubs she had been in back on Earth, usually taken along by whoever her Mum was seeing at the time. She looked back and thought about the people she had known there, and in hindsight she marvelled at how she could talk to them and drink with them and still hate them so very much.

And after that there were other bars. Darker and louder bars, where half the patrons walked with dead eyes and all danced desperately and sat alone in corners and felt each other under and over the tables and half of them wanted to slide their hands up your skirt and some of them tried. She had been threatened by a switchblade once, all green and red in the smoke, and she had shaken her head and moved away and that was all.

Threatened by vibroblades, later, in a different place.

She had finished her drink, and she got up to get a refill. As she moved towards the bar she measured her own reactions, and knew she wasn't drunk. Not that she would be, on one cup (and it was a strange little cup, made of wood of course, and with square sides and base. She smiled at it).

She took the drink and sat down and started thinking all over again. No seedy bars lately, at least none she'd felt at home in. She remembered yesterday, trudging in the grass, and for the first real time today those feelings caught up with her.

And everything caught up with you, in time. Every step, every word. It was the only way the world could work. You run and have fun in the sun, but it all catches up. And you spin round, like a twelve year old playing red games in the dirt.

Before death or after.

Ace finished her sake, and stood up again.

Sometime later the Doctor came over and she looked up at him. 'No luck,' he said. 'There are a couple of barges in town, but nothing that anyone will let near the Styx.' He smiled. 'I don't think I blame them.'

'Yeah,' said Ace, thinking it wouldn't be a good idea to ask for one for the road. She swigged the last quarter of the cup, gasped, got up, and together they walked out.

What about money, she thought again, vaguely. But didn't pursue the matter.

Halfway back through the village centre, the Doctor fell over.

'Great, Professor,' she said, sitting down next to him. 'Fantastic, what I needed.'

The Doctor groaned a little, his eyes moving in quick circles, disjointed and aimless. But it didn't even look like the Doctor, not really. It was a short man wearing coarse clothing and lying in the grass. It's the light, she thought suddenly. He's the Doctor, and the more light there is, the less you see of him.

Someone was rushing up to them, talking urgently in that stupid bloody language they all talked. She felt like getting angry, but decided to ignore the woman instead.

But when the woman put her hand on the Doctor's forehead Ace snatched at it. 'Hey,' she said. 'That's my job.'

The woman looked at her strangely, and whatever Ace was about to do was interrupted by the Doctor himself, sitting bolt upright fast enough to almost throw her and the new woman backward.

He was looking straight at Ace, fixing her with an unfocused but still powerful stare. Making her feel hot and uncomfortable and guilty. 'Kura[g]a koro, Tegan,' he said. 'Nothing to worry about, simple post-regenerative trauma. Only temporary. Affects the memory. Probably start calling you Zoe. Trouble is...' and now his gaze became muddy and his voice faltering. 'Trouble is, I can't even remember regenerating.'

He fell back again, and the two looked down at him, somewhat stunned.


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