Short 19 - Birthday Dance
It was not often I was invited to parties. Well, not high society parties, anyway; high society parties usually don't involve heavy amounts of tesseract beer and ryncol or Zaeed Massani and Garrus Vakarian almost blowing the party to pieces. Nor do they involve Harry Dresden's love of Burger King and it's bowel-wrenching quality.
But I digress.
Katherine's birthday celebration was, well, what you'd expect for a neo-feudal society like the court on Tharkad. Lots of impressive uniforms and formal suits and dresses and all sorts of nobbish titles. When Katherine led me to the door and we were announced, I rather agitated the chamberlain by offering my name only as "The Doctor". I had briefly considered my Unseen University positions to make him feel better, but I found his mood detestable and decided not to humor him. Rather, like Katherine, I outright ignored him.
The birthday ball was... almost mind-numbingly boring. I got the feeling that even Katherine was tiring of it as suitor after suitor came up and tried to pry her away for a dance. She turned them all down, enduring their wheedling as she did while I found myself wishing I'd somehow brought Harry and Sam Vimes to the party just for the inevitable fireworks... and in Harry's case, fire period.
"Victor." Katherine calling out to her brother jolted me out of my musings. She led me up to where her brother was standing, in uniform of course, with his aid Galen Cox at his side. "Victor, how have you been?", she asked.
"Getting along, dear sister." He smiled at her. I got the impression the smile gained an edge when he looked at me. "Doctor. I hear you have been giving Katherine quite a tour?"
"Oh, yes, yes indeed," I said. "She's a wonderful traveling companion."
"I'm happy she's enjoying herself," he said. "Although I would ask a favor of you, if you might?"
"Let me guess. You want me to go do something regarding the Clans, I imagine?", I asked pointedly. "You've still got over 13 years on the Truce, Prince."
"I don't trust the Clans to remain stationary that long," Victor answered. "I'd feel better if I knew your technology and mind was standing ready to aide us against the Clans when their march resumes."
"If it does, the Clans will rather regret it, I promise," I replied non-noncommittally. I'd indeed had thoughts about them... but, well, I'm a Time Lord. No rush. I had better things to do, other places to show Katherine.
When we walked away Katherine looked back at her brother. "I'm worried about him," she confessed.
"Victor's mind is so military, and he's so focused on the Clans. I'm afraid he's ignoring other problems." She shook her head. "It's why I come home so often and stay. He's always slighting the wrong reporter or the wrong socialite, and I have to repair the damage."
"Yes." I took Katherine's hand. "Well, Katherine, you wanted me here for..."
"Ah, Katherine my dear cousin!"
The voice made us turn. I saw Katherine's expression darken a little and, as the other man drew closer, I knew why.
Duke Ryan Steiner, effective leader of the Skye region of Lyran territory and married to the ruler of the truncated Tamar Pact section, strode up to us flanked by assistants. "Katherine, congratulations," he said warmly. "Twenty-one, oh if your grandmother could see you, I'm sure she'd be proud." His eyes moved over to me. "Is this your personal assistant?"
It was a calculated social insult, but when you're a Time Lord you don't particularly feel the barbs of mere dukes. I smiled at him. "Somewhat, I suppose. I did pull her out of that quicksand on Layama 12."
"And then I had to pull you out," Katherine pointed out, smiling widely. We looked at each other.
"Yes, so it's probably more accurate to say we're each other's personal assistants," I remarked, looking back to Ryan.
He took the retort in stride. "Ah, you must be the mysterious Doctor." Ryan smiled widely. "You haven't aged at all, sir. It's been what... nearly twenty years since you saved my dear cousins from that extremist?"
"He was one of yours, wasn't he?", I asked.
"Oh, no. That was before the people of Skye looked to me as their defender," Ryan remarked smoothly. "They would never raise their hands against my cousin these days."
"Of course not. It would look rather... bad on all concerned, wouldn't it?"
"indeed." Ryan looked to Katherine. "Katherine, I've been trying to get through to you for weeks. I have a business proposal that I'm sure you..."
"I'm not interested, cousin," Katherine snapped. "I have no idea what games you're up to now, but I know it' s not something I want to be a part of."
Ryan sighed and shook his head. "Katherine, I would rather you see my side in this. I'm trying to protect the people of Skye. And my wife's world is under Clan occupation, her people have suffered so much..."
"I wish I could believe you meant well, cousin, but I know better. You want power. And you don't care that the only way to become Archon would involve destroying the Federated Commonwealth my parents formed." Katherine pulled at my arm. "I've nothing more to say."
"Cousin, I fear you'll come to regret..." Ryan stopped himself at that point, undoubtedly aware that others might hear what he was saying.
"He must think me an idiot," Katherine grumbled as she led me toward the center of the ballroom. "He's been after the throne for years."
"Yes. Undoubtedly he sees you as a valuable ally against your mother and brother," I replied in a low voice. In my mind I thought of how the timeline would have originally gone. Katherine would, indeed, have allied with Ryan... and then encouraged her brother to assassinate him to remove him as a rival.
But that Katherine - no, she was 'Katrina', wasn't she? - was not my Katherine. My Katherine had shifted her ambitions after a lifetime of dreaming about the wonders I'd promised to show her for being a "good girl". She eschewed all titles, all Inner Sphere propriety, when we traveled; she was simply Katherine Steiner-Davion, the Doctor's traveling Companion. She believed in helping people and encouraged me to always think the same way.
In short, she was everything that Katrina Steiner-Davion was not.
"Well, let's see how these feet do, eh?", I said to her. "Time to dance, my dear?"
"Yes, very much," Katherine agreed.
We went off to the dance floor and, as eyes came around to focus on us, we took to it as we had practiced and kept pace, never faltering. As we twirled around I smiled at her. "Happy Birthday, Katherine."
"Thank you, Doctor," she replied. "This was the best birthday gift you've ever given me."
I raised an eyebrow. "Even better than your 10th Birthday and the trip to see the ponies of Equestria?"
Katherine giggled in reply. "Yes. Even better than that." We twisted around once more. "Sometimes I wish I never had to come back," she admitted. "I hate having to deal with the court and men like my cousin. I'd give up all of my titles in a heartbeat if I didn't feel like it would be abandoning my family."
I nodded at her. "I know. Don't worry about it, though. No matter how restrictive being Princess of the Commonwealth can be, remember the TARDIS is always going to be there to take you away from this whenever you need."
"Yes." There was a tear in her eye. "And that is the greatest gift you've ever given me."