Title: The Ground Beneath Her Feet (chapter 2)
Author: E.A. Week
E-mail: The Tenth Doctor and Reinette are caught up in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse between Death Dealer Selene and Marcus Corvinus, the first and most powerful vampire.
Category: Doctor Who; mystery/ romance/ supernatural. Crossover with the movie Underworld: Evolution. Sequel to "Eyes on a Moon of Blindness."
Distribution: Feel free to link this story to any Doctor Who or fanfic site, or distribute on a mailing list, but please drop me at least a brief e-mail and let me know you've done this.
Feedback: Letters of comment are always welcome! Loved it? Hated it? Let me know why!
Disclaimer: Copyrights to all characters in this story belong to their respective creators, production companies, and studios. I'm just borrowing them, honest! Special credit goes to Greg Cox, whose Underworld novelizations have provided invaluable background material.
Possible spoilers: This story takes place at some point in the indefinite future of the new Dr. Who series. Minor spoilers through the end of season two/ early season three.
The story title and all chapter titles are shamelessly stolen from U2.
Datclaimer: This story is rated "M" for sexuality, creature violence, and profanity.
IV. God Part II
Weapons and gear stowed in the back of the SUV, the four raced down through the mountain roads toward Budapest. The glowing clock in the dashboard read 1:18 AM. Selene's mind still whirled from the encounter with Tanis, turning over everything he'd said. Her energy was at a high peak: this was her normal hour to be out and about, and the previous day's rest had aided in her physical and mental recuperation. Before they'd left the monastery, she and Michael and Erika had fed from bags of cloned Ziodex blood in Tanis's refrigerator. They wouldn't need to eat again for another twenty-four hours. Selene hoped this whole nightmare with Marcus would be over by their next mealtime.
On the other hand, we could all be dead by then.
In the wide backseat, the Doctor sprawled out, making a mattress of his body for Erika, who lay half on him, half on the seat, her head tucked beneath his chin. Selene didn't think he was sleeping; rather, he seemed to have slipped into an almost trance-like state of concentration.
Abruptly, he spoke. "Did Marcus always have wings?" In the rearview mirror, Selene saw that his eyes were still closed.
"No, only since he became a hybrid."
"How'd that happen, anyway? Did a lycan bite him? Did someone inject him?"
"It was Singe, the lycan scientist," Selene explained. "Viktor killed him in the Elders' crypt. Nobody moved the body, apparently. Singe's blood must've dripped down into Marcus's sarcophagus. There was a dish and a feeding tube on each coffin… some of the blood must've gone through the tube into his mouth. When it woke him up, it transformed him into a hybrid."
"So, that's how the Elders would be awakened? Blood?"
"Yes," Selene stated. "When I woke up Viktor, I fed him my own blood."
"And that's how the Elders passed their memories along to the next one. Through their blood."
"That's how I got Lucian's memories," Michael put in. "He passed them along to me when he bit me."
"It works both ways, then? When a lycan or a vampire bites a human, do they see what's in the human's memories?" the Doctor asked.
"Yes." Selene wondered where all these questions were going.
"Viktor sired you, didn't he? Did you see his memories?"
"No, of course not. Viktor was an Elder. He could block his memories so that they wouldn't flow to me. He would have seen my past—not that there was much to see; I was twenty at the time, and he already knew everything about my family, according to Tanis."
"So when Marcus turned Reinette, he saw her entire life when he bit her?"
The Doctor's eyes opened. "Then Marcus knows about me. That's Reinette's big secret, the secret he wanted to keep from the other vampires, especially Viktor."
"He didn't want them to know she'd had contact with an extraterrestrial?" Michael frowned.
"When I met Reinette, there were some… odd things happening. I needed to know why, and to find out quickly, I read her mind. But mind-reading is a two-way street. I was careless; I didn't block enough of my own memories, and Reinette just walked through my life like she was walking through a house… looking through all those open doors."
Erika's blue eyes were full of wonder. "I did?"
"It was disconcerting, to say the least. And dangerous. I never should have let you…" The Doctor sighed. "So all those things you saw—Marcus saw them when he bit you."
Uneasily, Michael asked, "Is this something we should be worried about?"
"If he saw what Reinette saw, he knows a lot of things about me. Including that my ship travels in time as well as space."
Selene's head snapped around for a moment, and she goggled at him. "In time?"
She turned her eyes back to the road. "Now I can see why he didn't want Viktor to know about you. My God, the Elders would have killed for that kind of power."
"So what would happen if Marcus…?" Erika ventured. "If he found your machine, could he travel in time?"
"No, not based on your memories. You saw certain things, but without the technical understanding, he wouldn't be able to operate the TARDIS. In order to do that, Marcus would need…" He trailed off uncomfortably.
"He'd need to drink your blood," Selene finished.
Quietly, Erika said, "I'll kill him before I let him do that."
"I keep thinking of the worst-case scenario," the Doctor said, almost abstractly. "If he not only frees his brother but bites him as well, you'd have two unbelievably powerful hybrids on your hands. And if Marcus bites me and takes control of my ship… he and William could travel anywhere in time and space, spreading their condition—"
"Jesus Christ!" Michael swore.
"To say nothing of the damage they'd do to the progress of humanity if they go back in Earth time and rewrite their own history."
Selene pressed down on the accelerator. "We'll add all that to the list of reasons why we need to stop Marcus."
"This is it." Selene stopped the SUV in an alley near Pier 19, a drab section of dock along the Danube's east bank, between the Chain and Elizabeth Bridges. Her experienced eyes swept over the massive shape of the Sancta Helena. The ship's military origins were too apparent; she was like a floating fortress, dwarfing the fishing boats and merchant vessels around her.
"How do you know Tanis wasn't setting us up?" Michael asked.
"He's not stupid enough to try that with me," Selene stated. "We should do some reconnaissance first, check out their defenses and plan the best escape routes."
"Or we could just walk right in," the Doctor suggested.
A furious barking split the early morning air, and a massive dog threw itself against the SUV's door. Nerves already on edge, the vehicle's four occupants jolted slightly. A black-clad commando armed with an AK-47 said in French, "You're trespassing on private property!"
Selene answered, "We're here to see Lorenz Macaro."
"Show me your hands," the commando ordered.
"So you want to see my hands?" Selene pressed both palms against the glass. In her left hand, she held Sonja's gold pendant.
"People," the Doctor said, looking about, delighted. "Lovely humans!" He asked one of the grim-looking commandos, "Could I possibly get something to eat? I'm starving."
The guard just glanced at him without responding. The alien strolled along, hands in his pockets, breezy and lighthearted, despite the men bristling with weapons on all sides. Selene felt far less assured. The interior of the Sancta Helena confirmed her assumption that the vessel was in essence a battleship, equipped with the most modern arms and technology. The central ops center left her a little awestruck: from this room, she guessed, Lorenz Macaro could keep tabs on anyone on Earth. Easily two dozen people wearing headsets sat at a profusion of computer consoles, while news reports in an array of languages crackled over radios.
One of the guards spoke quietly to a woman at a terminal; without taking her eyes from the monitor, she reached into a desk drawer and pulled out two small, flat objects wrapped in silver foil. The guard handed both of these to the Doctor, who tore into them eagerly, one after the other. Selene recognized the things as a kind of energy bar that humans used for a quick meal. Despite the Doctor's extraterrestrial origins, his nutritional needs were apparently human. Selene mentally filed away that fact.
The ship didn't seem to faze him in the slightest. He gazed all around as he chewed, nodding slightly a couple of times, eyes happy. Selene suspected it would take a lot to rattle him. Michael appeared nervous and wary, though not mortally afraid; he was absorbing things quickly, and his phenomenal new powers gave him confidence. Poor Erika looked terrified: she was completely out of her element, and she kept edging more closely to the Doctor's side.
The guards led the four prisoners—Selene didn't fool herself that they were guests, not on a ship like this—through the ops room and up onto a bridge overlooking the command center. She blinked, a little disconcerted by the old-fashioned décor. Like Ordoghaz, she thought, right down to the crystal chandelier.
Behind a large mahogany desk sat a man of about sixty, white-haired, with upright posture and piercing blue-gray eyes. His simple black frock coat resembled something that might have been worn by a nineteenth century naval captain. This must be Lorenz Macaro.
He held Sonja's pendant in his hand, fingering it gently. The medallion had provided Selene and her allies their entrée onto the Sancta Helena, no questions asked. The Cleaners hadn't even confiscated her weapons.
"You're familiar with this, then?" she asked without preamble.
"Oh, yes," Macaro said, pressing the green stone. The four blades sprang out. "Intimately." He glanced up at the Cleaners guarding the head of the stairs. "You may go." Reluctantly, they melted back down into the ops center. The old man's composure impressed Selene; he had no evident fear of two vampires, a hybrid, and an extraterrestrial.
Light from one of the Tiffany lamps gleamed on Macaro's ring. She stared at it, at the intertwined letters C and V. The stunning truth hit her immediately.
"You're Alexander Corvinus!" she blurted out.
He looked up from the pendant. "There was a time I was known by that name, yes," he allowed. He rose from his chair and circled around to regard Michael. "But by any name, I am still your forefather." He handed back the pendant, which Michael fastened around his neck.
Selene fought to keep her cool. Michael didn't bother hiding his reaction: this revelation rocked him. Erika stared open-mouthed at Corvinus, too awestruck for words. By contrast, the Doctor grinned smugly, as if he'd already guessed Macaro's true identity.
Corvinus offered a hand to the alien. "Having read so much about you, Doctor, it's an honor to meet you at last."
"The same." With a quick look around the elegant room, the Doctor said, "One foot in the past, one foot in the future… I like it. You haven't been idle for sixteen centuries, I can see that."
Selene had to agree with that: the Cleaners had come a long way from their medieval origins.
"Indeed, not." Tilting his head slightly to one side, Corvinus asked, "What's your interest in this wretched affair?"
The Doctor put a hand on Erika's shoulder. "Her."
Corvinus nodded slightly, understanding.
"How have you stayed hidden all these years?" Selene asked him.
"For centuries I've stood by and watched the havoc my sons have wrought upon each other… and upon humanity." Corvinus looked both sad and troubled. "Hardly the legacy I prayed for the night I watched them enter the world." He sat once again behind the desk. "And a tiresome duty it is: keeping the war contained, cleaning up the mess, hiding my family's unfortunate history."
"Couldn't you have stopped them?" asked Michael.
"Yes," Selene insisted.
Corvinus regarded each of them in turn, then asked, "Could any of you kill your own children?"
"You know what Marcus will do." Selene leaned across the desk to confront her immortal forefather. "I'm the only one who knows where William's prison is. If Marcus finds me, he finds William. You must help us stop him!"
Corvinus laughed harshly. "You're asking me to kill my own son? You? A Death Dealer? How many innocents did you kill in your six-century quest to avenge your family?" So it seemed Corvinus knew everything—and yet he'd done nothing; he'd stood by for centuries, when he could easily have intervened. Selene felt a stab of anger. "Spare me your self-righteous declarations," he said. "You are no different than Marcus, and even less noble than William—he, at least, cannot control his savagery."
Selene wouldn't back down, not now, not after so much bloodshed. "Anything I've done can be laid at your feet! Hundreds of thousands have died because of your inability to accept that your sons are monsters—that they create monsters! And yes, I'm honest enough to include myself in that category! You could have stopped all of this!"
"Do not come groveling to me," he scowled, "simply because you are weaker than your adversary!"
"You know what kind of devastation William caused before he was captured. He can't be set free! And Marcus is a hybrid now, unbelievably powerful! The two of them together would tear the world apart!"
Before Corvinus could reply, a staccato report of gunfire echoed on the upper deck.
"It's already starting," the Doctor said, moving swiftly to peer out one of the narrow horizontal windows, though Selene doubted he'd see much in the darkness. Returning to the big desk, he told Corvinus, "Your moment of truth is here." His face showed a curious mixture of anger and sympathy toward the elderly immortal.
The skylight overhead exploded, and the body of a dead Cleaner landed on the desk in a shower of splintered glass. His face and chest had been ripped to bloody shreds. From the looks of things, he'd never even had time to raise his weapon.
The Doctor rounded on Corvinus. "Your people are dying!"
Corvinus gazed upon the dead Cleaner, anguish etched into every crease on his face. Then a long talon whipped down through the broken skylight, and with gruesome precision, pierced Erika right through the shoulder. She screamed, and an instant later she vanished, whipped up overhead through the skylight.
"Reinette!" Heedless of his own safety, the Doctor bolted down the stairs and through the ops room.
Selene and Michael moved to follow him, but one of the side windows shattered inward, and now it was Michael who Marcus snared on his deadly talons and yanked out through the frame of broken glass.
Michael felt himself lifted through the freezing night air, higher and higher. Above him, he could hear the steady, ominous flapping of those great wings. Pain throbbed in his injured shoulders. The Sancta Helena looked terribly far away. And then Marcus released him with a vicious snap, sending Michael plummeting back down toward the water. Michael smashed through the wooden planks of the old dock, down into the frigid water beneath.
Selene grabbed the dead Cleaner's Uzi.
"You're no match for him," Corvinus warned.
She gave him a filthy look. Concern for Michael loosened her tongue, and she spat, "I can at least try—which is more than I can say for you!" She leaped out through the window, landing like a cat on the broken dock. She saw the hole where Michael's body had gone through the planking, and she peered down into the murky water, hoping desperately that he'd survived the fall.
Michael burst from the water, gasping, and hauled himself onto a wooden boardwalk that ran along the muddy riverbank opposite the Sancta Helena. Growling, he began to change forms. But then Marcus swooped out of nowhere, and with an angry, bat-like shriek, lifted Michael over his head and smashed the younger hybrid down on an exposed strut. To Selene's horror, the metal went right through Michael's chest, impaling him to the old wooden boardwalk. Michael's arm flailed, but Marcus grabbed the limb and slammed it onto a jutting nail. He then ripped the pendant from Michael's neck.
"No!" Selene screamed. She cartwheeled down onto the lower dock, firing the Uzi. Marcus snarled, diving into the river. Selene kept firing, following his path through the water, but he surfaced, unharmed, and seized her, flinging her up into the air beneath the dock. One talon speared through her wrist, pinning her to the wooden planks overhead. Selene tried to kick, and he speared her agonizingly through the thigh, impaling her on a support post. She reached to crush his throat, but he pushed away her hand as if he were swatting a fly. She screamed and struggled, but Marcus was simply too strong, and he positioned himself beneath her wounded wrist, mouth open to catch her dripping blood.
With tremendous effort, Selene's free hand groped through the broken planking above her head, even though she knew she was too late: her memories were flowing into the Elder's mouth in a crimson stream. Her fingers closed over a dead Cleaner's sidearm. She liberated the weapon from its holster and fired, catching Marcus in the face with a hail of bullets. He snarled and released her, leaving Selene to plunge into the icy, murky water of the Danube. She descended into the black depths seemingly forever before she could force her throbbing limbs into motion, kicking her way back up to the surface, gasping for air.
Marcus was gone.
Of course, she despaired. He had two of the three things he needed: her blood and half the key. She could only pray that the second half of the key was hidden somewhere Marcus would never find it.
Selene dragged herself out of the water to Michael, but she saw right away the situation was hopeless. He lay unmoving, that horrible, cruel spear of metal jutting up through his lacerated chest. She gently eased him up off the thing. Sobbing, she held her wounded hand over his lips, letting her blood flow into his mouth: she'd healed him this way twice before, but now it did him no good. The life had completely left his body: she could detect neither breathing nor pulse. Selene wailed in wracking convulsions. Michael was the first person she'd truly loved in centuries; he'd awakened in her feelings that had lain dormant since her family's destruction; she'd barely begun to appreciate his love, and now he'd been ripped away from her.
So lost was she in her grief that she failed to hear the thumping approach of a helicopter overhead.
Erika sank into the black, filthy river, limbs flailing wildly. The pressure of the water crushed down on her as she descended. Marcus had flung her far away from the ship, tossing her into the Danube like a piece of garbage. Whatever feelings he might have had for her in the past were now apparently gone: she was simply a nuisance, an insect to be squashed in his all-consuming quest to liberate his brother.
She couldn't hold her breath any longer. Polluted water rushed into Erika's lungs, drowning her. Everything began to feel very far away: the cold, the pain, the fear. She relaxed, welcoming the approach of oblivion, the tantalizing peace it offered.
Awareness of a vague floating sensation broke into her stupor: she was rising now, and Erika wondered faintly if her spirit were leaving its body. Did vampires have an afterlife? She suspected she was going to find out shortly. The crushing pressure lessened, and Erika became dimly conscious of something dragging her up through the black waves.
Her head broke the surface. Strong bands tightened around her diaphragm, and Erika vomited out a torrent of vile water. Her body shook in spasms as cold and pain returned in a violent rush, setting off excruciating torment in every nerve. She tried to cry out in protest but could only wheeze. Cold lips pressed against hers, and life-giving oxygen rushed into her aching lungs.
She blinked water from her burning eyes, barely recognizing the Doctor: his hair was plastered to his skull, eyes wild, skin tinged blue with cold.
"Breathe," he ordered, and Erika did, though her lungs burned with the effort. She inhaled in shallow gasps, bringing up more water with each exhalation. The Doctor kept breathing into her mouth until finally, Erika was able to inhale and exhale more deeply. Beneath the waves, he kicked powerfully, keeping both of them head and shoulders above the oily black surface. Erika saw the lights of the city gleaming like a mirage, and the far-off black bulk of the Sancta Helena.
"I'm going to pull you along… lie on your back and float." The Doctor eased off Erika's long coat. "Hold onto this."
She clutched the tail of the coat, holding it tightly as the Doctor began to swim, pulling himself with one arm, dragging her with the other. Erika had no idea where they were going—to shore? She clung to her coat for dear life, struggling to keep her face above the lapping waves.
"Here." After seemingly an eternity, they'd reached some destination. Erika was too weak for questions. "I'm going to push you up—can you climb inside?"
Erika nodded. The Doctor helped her turn in the water, then he boosted her up over the edge of a small aluminum boat. The craft lay in the water, tied to a wooden pier. Erika rolled onto the cold metal seats, sobbing pathetically.
The Doctor hauled himself over the gunwales, handing her the wet jacket. "Put that on." He wore only his t-shirt and trousers: he must have left his jacket and coat on the ship in order to be unencumbered in the water. She watched him use the sonic screwdriver to unlock the chains that moored the boat to the dock.
At the stern of the boat was mounted an object that Erika recognized as a gasoline engine. The Doctor waved the sonic screwdriver at the motor, and it coughed to life with a loud buzzing sound. He crawled to the bow of the vessel and took the wheel, steering the boat away from the dock and toward the Sancta Helena.
Erika sat coughing and gasping and shivering, huddled in her wet coat, feeling useless and humiliated. Tears oozed down her cheeks.
"How did Marcus find us?"
"Tanis, probably," the Doctor said, clenching his teeth to keep them from rattling. "Are you all right?"
"I don't know how to swim," she admitted.
"When this is over, I'll teach you." He focused on steering the craft, the icy wind plastering his t-shirt to his torso. Erika realized she could see the ridges of his ribcage, the delicate shape of his clavicles and scapulae. He was so thin, shaking from the cold, yet he never once took his attention from the river in front of him. Within minutes, they'd reached the Sancta Helena, circling around to tie up at an adjacent pier.
The Doctor cut the motorboat's engine. "You'll have to climb the ladder," he said. "I'll be right behind you."
Erika didn't argue. Pain flared in her lacerated shoulder with every movement—Marcus had shredded muscle and cracked bone, by the feel of things, and she could barely move her left arm—but she forced herself to have courage, scaling the ladder rung by rung. The Doctor followed behind. They felt a rush of wind from above as a massive black helicopter approached the Sancta Helena.
When a hand touched Selene's shoulder, she spun around violently, knocking it away. One of the black-clad commandos stood behind her, a tall, muscular Caucasian with white-blond hair. With a gesture, he indicated he wanted to look at Michael.
"Leave him alone!" she sobbed, reaching for a weapon, but her guns were gone, lost in the evil black water.
"I'm Samuel," the man said. His accent proclaimed Australian origins. "If you want Marcus, you'll need Alexander's help."
The mention of the Elder's name lit a fire of volcanic rage inside Selene: if she couldn't save Michael, she could at least put that winged bastard in his grave. And then what? She couldn't think beyond her lust for revenge; without Michael, she felt that anything the future held for her would be completely without meaning.
She limped toward the stone steps that led up the quay to the dock. "Don't leave him here," she ordered.
Two cleaners nodded, hoisting Michael's body and following behind her. When she reached the upper dock, her ears detected, over the thumping helicopter blades, a faint buzzing that grew louder with each moment. One of the commandos shouted a warning.
"It's a boat—headed this way!"
Selene hurried up onto the ship and across the wide deck. One look down over the side confirmed the identity of the small motorboat's passengers. She felt a spasm of guilt: in her anguish over Michael, she'd completely forgotten about Erika and the Doctor.
"It's all right; I know them," she called. The boat slipped out of view for a moment, then she spotted the pair climbing up onto the dock further down, Erika plainly injured. The Doctor urged her up a ladder, and they raced toward the Sancta Helena.
"Oh, no!" Erika cried out when she spotted Michael's body.
"Is he…?" The Doctor sprinted over to the American's inert form. "Oh, no." He scooted down for a look. Selene's throat ached from sobbing, and she didn't trust herself to speak to him. His kindness was almost too much to bear.
"Doctor, can't you do something?" Erika wailed. Her childish trust in the alien's abilities touched Selene absurdly, and she gasped back another swell of tears.
"This is bad… if I'd gotten to him sooner… Selene, I'm so sorry." The sonic screwdriver clicked in his hand as he examined Michael's ghastly wounds. Then, for the barest nanosecond, the tip of the device flickered blue.
"What's that mean?" Erika gasped, wiping her face.
The Doctor dropped the device and put his fingers on Michael's temples, closing his eyes briefly. Selene didn't know whether to let herself feel any kind of hope.
"Is he…?" she whispered.
"I can't tell." The Doctor retrieved the sonic device and tucked it in one pocket, gazing down on Michael with eyes full of unspeakable sadness. "He's not alive, but I'm not sure he's dead, either. Just leave him be for now."
"Corvinus wants to see you," Samuel said urgently, touching Selene's arm. "Before it's too late."
"Let me get my coat," the Doctor told them. "I'll be right behind you."
The great ship echoed strangely with its crew gone, the surveillance equipment dark and silent; Corvinus must have ordered an evacuation. Selene hurried through the ops room and up to the bridge, following Samuel. At least most of the human personnel had escaped the hybrid Elder's deadly onslaught.
The same couldn't be said for Alexander Corvinus, who sat slumped against a wall of his grand office, surrounded by a slowly spreading puddle of his own blood. A great broadsword lay nearby, red blood staining its blade. Despite the gruesome extent of his injuries, Selene thought he could probably be saved: life still flickered in his eyes, and he was the first immortal, after all. Surely his powers of recuperation must be tremendous. But in his stormcloud gaze, she also read defeat, and that saddened her terribly. He'd been unable—no, unwilling—to stop Marcus, and so he'd allowed his son to slay him. And now he had no desire to save himself. He'd chosen to surrender to death rather than put an end to the monster that his blood had created.
Corvinus didn't waste time with idle chatter. "He has the pendant?"
Selene barely managed, "Yes." And at what a price.
"He has everything he needs, then. And he's too powerful for you alone."
"You're the only one older than him," she accused, throat still raw, injuries throbbing with every breath. "The only one stronger!"
Corvinus shook his head. "No matter what he has become… he is still my son."
Selene folded her arms. "Well, he's not mine!" she spat.
Footsteps thumped up onto the bridge behind her: the Doctor and Erika. Erika made a noise of dismay. The Doctor moved to examine Alexander's injuries, but the old man waved him back.
"Your skills will be needed elsewhere, not wasted on me." Corvinus took a large dagger and cut his wrist. He held up his arm, addressing Selene now. "You are the greatest hope," he stated. "Quickly, before there is no more legacy left in my veins."
Selene knelt beside him, then hesitated. "What will I become?" she wondered.
"The future," he said simply.
Visions of Michael's and Marcus's hybrid forms flashed behind Selene's eyes. Would she become like them, some gleaming obsidian creature? Or would Alexander's blood kill her? She realized she had no choice: he was offering her his strength, and without it, she'd never be able to defeat Marcus. Selene bent her head and bit into his wrist.
The old man's blood flowed into her like an elixir. Selene felt first a rush of amazing strength and well-being, then a blazing mental clarity, as if her very mind had become a crystal ball. The exhaustion and muscle fatigue left her; the throbbing pain in her injured leg and wrist began to lessen and quickly abated to nothing.
At last she stood up, eyes glowing blue. She saw weariness and grief on the old man's face, but at the same time, peace and acceptance. He'd passed his strength along to her, and his work was done.
Unexpectedly, the Doctor pushed Erika forward. "Her, too," he said. "Whatever you just did for Selene—her, too."
Corvinus held up his arm a second time. "You, too, child," he said gently. "I believe there's enough for both of you."
Awestruck, Erika inched her way over and clumsily knelt beside him. She sank her fangs into his arm and drank. It didn't take much, just a few swallows, for life and courage to pour back into her. Selene watched in amazement as the gaping wound in the younger vampire's shoulder closed up, became a raw scar, then shrank and vanished completely.
If only it hadn't been too late for Michael, Selene lamented. She doubted if even Alexander's blood could revive him now.
"Thank you," Erika said when she finished, her voice shaking.
"Now go, all of you," Corvinus admonished. "Samuel and his men are at your command."
After one last moment of wordless eye contact with him, Selene turned and left the bridge, the Doctor and Erika hurrying behind her.
"Where are we going?" the Doctor asked, shouting to be heard over the thumping helicopter blades.
"Romania," Selene told him. Alexander's memories had helped to clarify her own, and she realized Viktor's old fortress lay not far from her home village. "It's in the Arad province, on the Mures river, about halfway between Arad city and Deva."
The Doctor nodded. "We'll follow behind you in my ship."
Selene fished into her bodice and produced the key to Tanis's SUV. "Bring the guns," she ordered. "They're all loaded with UV ammo."
"You really think they'll stop Marcus?" the Doctor asked skeptically.
"Do you have a better plan?" she snapped.
He held up his hands in an apologetic gesture. "To Romania, then." Hand in hand, he and Erika hurried off the deck of the Sancta Helena.
Selene hopped aboard the Lynx, strapping herself into a seat. Samuel's men were all ready to go. The Australian climbed in beside the pilot, who began flipping switches. The Lynx lifted off the helipad and rose into the night sky over Budapest. Beside Selene, on the floor, lay Michael's corpse, zipped into a body bag. The men doubtless wondered why she insisted they take it along, but they didn't question Samuel.
Selene wanted Michael at her side, to remind her of the reason for this mission—to find Marcus and destroy him utterly. So far, she'd seen no signs of recuperation in Michael, but part of her—some tiny, childish part—insisted on clinging to hope.
A tremendous explosion shattered her reverie, and she looked down to see a mighty fireball consume the Sancta Helena. Marcus? No, she realized, the Elder had no more interest in his father, now that he possessed everything he needed to free William.
Corvinus, she thought. The old warlord had chosen to end his life decisively. Selene glanced at Samuel. A tiny facial tick in the Australian's cheek was the only telltale sign of emotion. The Lynx turned south and roared through the sky toward Romania, Selene's birthplace.
Erika felt the explosion in the SUV: it shook the ground violently beneath the vehicle's wheels. The windows rattled but remained intact.
"What was that?" she gasped, turning around. A great cloud of oily black smoke belched toward the heavens.
"The Sancta Helena," the Doctor said grimly. "Corvinus went out with a bang." He adjusted controls, hot air blasting out at the highest setting. He was still damp, shivering from their brief sprint to the SUV.
"How could he do that?" Erika said, turning back around. "How could he just let himself die?"
"Despair, loneliness, shame—take your pick. He wasn't lacking in motive." The SUV sped deeper into the streets of downtown Pest.
"At his failure to stop his sons. And now he's sent Selene to do the dirty work he didn't have the stomach to do himself."
"You're angry at him."
"It's hard to feel sympathy for someone who does nothing while his men are murdered. Marcus killed Michael, wounded Selene, and nearly drowned you. Corvinus could have stopped all of that—for that matter, he could have stopped the lycan-vampire war centuries ago. He could have brokered peace between the two races. He could have prevented Viktor's rise to power. Instead, his sentiment for his sons caused him to stand back and watch while thousands of innocents suffered."
"So you're taking Selene's side," Erika stated. "But think about what he said—could you have killed your own child?"
The Doctor rounded a tight corner on two wheels, steering with suppressed rage, his mouth compressed into a hard line. The SUV straightened out and thumped back down to the pavement. "I destroyed my entire planet to keep Time Lord technology away from the most violent and ruthless species in the universe. My whole world, my entire race—and I sacrificed them because I knew the alternative was unthinkable."
Erika sat unmoving, stunned, barely able to breathe. The confession hurt, his words cutting like knives. She didn't speak, knowing full well the inadequacy of any sympathy she could offer.
"And I could have prevented all that centuries earlier. But I opted to show mercy to my enemies, and ultimately my own people paid the price for it."
Erika couldn't fathom having to make such decisions; the weight of it all must be staggering, crushing. She wondered how the Doctor lived with himself. After a few minutes, she ventured timidly, "And you think Corvinus should have done the same?"
The Doctor said curtly, "Yes."
She said nothing for the rest of the drive. After about fifteen minutes, they reached a familiar alleyway: the place where the Death Dealers had parked their cars the night of the final battle. Here, Erika had been wounded and almost killed by Kraven. The Death Dealers' cars were gone, along with the vampires' burned corpses, probably removed by the Cleaners.
The Doctor raised the rear hatch, and Erika reached in, pulling out the guns loaded with UV ammunition. She wondered, if Selene had had one of these weapons when she fought Marcus, would Michael still be alive? Would the encapsulated sunlight even put a dent in Marcus now?
The Doctor helped himself to only a large torch.
"That's it? Don't you want a gun?" asked Erika.
"Not especially, no." The question seemed to insult him.
"How do you think we're going to defeat Marcus? Talk him into committing suicide? Persuade him to mend the error of his ways?"
"You're being shirty," the Doctor grumbled.
"I'm serious. And frankly, I'd like to keep living." Erika smiled at him. "Especially since I have something worth staying alive for."
The anger in his face dissolved when he smiled back at her, though his eyes were still full of torment.
"We'll bring Selene her weapons," he decided. "And let her do the rest. She's a warrior, and Corvinus charged her with defeating Marcus. She's willing to take that on herself—more than willing." He stuck a couple of the smaller guns in his coat pockets. Unhappily, he said, "I would've liked to see some kind of peace agreement… but the situation's beyond that. Marcus isn't interested in peace; he's after world domination—he probably wants a world full of hybrids, with himself as the god and William as his chief enforcer."
Erika shuddered. "Sounds like my idea of hell."
The Doctor slammed down the hatch of the SUV and set the alarm. He and Erika hurried along the street until they reached the grating where one could gain access to the metro tunnels. The bars had been recently soldered into place, a shiny metal Erika suspected was titanium. The Doctor grunted with frustration, fishing for his sonic screwdriver.
"Here, let me," offered Erika. She grabbed hold of two bars and gave a mighty yank. The bars ripped out of the concrete, frame and all. The Doctor stared at her, flabbergasted, mouth open. "What—what?" he sputtered.
"Alexander's blood," she said sheepishly.
The drop into the tunnel was about six feet. Erika hopped down through the hole like she was stepping off a curb. The Doctor lowered himself into the opening as far as he could and then let go. Erika caught him in mid-descent, gently setting him on his feet.
"I could get used to this," he grinned, kissing her.
She returned the kiss fervently. "So could I," she breathed.
He switched on the torch, and they made their way hand-in-hand through the tunnels.
In addition to the pilot and Samuel, the Lynx carried a gunner and four commandos. The gunner swung his fifty-caliber machine gun into position. He unlatched the safety and racked the slide back: the copter was ready for an aerial attack. Selene wondered who would prevail in such a battle: Marcus or the armed helicopter? The men's calm, smooth professionalism reassured her, reminding her favorably of the Death Dealers. No emotion, no wasted or excess movement, just cool, streamlined efficiency.
Say your prayers, Marcus, she thought. I'm coming for you. No power on Earth would stop her, she vowed. Oddly, Selene didn't care one way or the other about William—she only wanted to keep him from killing people. He could die or rot forever in his cell; it made no difference to her. But Marcus—Marcus would pay for taking Michael from her. She unzipped the body bag a few inches and touched Michael's cold face.
Beneath the Lynx, dark forests of pine trees passed by as the copter crossed the border between Hungary and Romania. The Carpathian Alps came into view, mountains Selene had known intimately in her childhood. The waters of the Mures River were visible between the mountain crags, tumbling through the high passes, creating foamy whitecaps as the rapids swirled their way down.
At one time, Viktor had maintained a fortress in this part of Europe, prior to the building of Ordoghaz. By the time he'd turned Selene, the coven had permanently relocated to Hungary.
She could see why this region had appealed to Viktor: even in the twenty-first century, it was remote and forbidding, much of the terrain inaccessible, except by air. The mountainous land didn't lend itself to cultivation, and so it had remained uninhabited through the ages.
Selene's village had been further to the east, one of many medieval settlements along the Mures. She supposed that now it must be gone—incorporated into a bigger town or swallowed up by nature. She recalled that the journey from her village to the fortress had taken a full day by horseback, their donkeys pulling a cart full of her father's tools. He'd been an accomplished mason and builder, the best in the region. Viktor's commission had been a substantial prize, a tremendous honor. The project had taken a year to complete, if memory served her correctly, and the money had paid for the family's new house—a far finer dwelling than most peasants could dream of, with private bedrooms and a separate stable. Selene recalled how the house had pleased her status-conscious mother.
She wondered now if Father had realized his employers were vampires. Possibly not; even then, Viktor must have had human servants, not to mention his lycan slaves, who could go abroad during daylight hours in human form. One of them must have acted as an intermediary for Viktor. She wondered if, ironically, Lucian had had any contact with her family.
Samuel summoned her to the cockpit, and Selene scooted forward. "Is that it?" He pointed to the ruined hulk of a medieval castle, set on a large island in the middle of the crashing river.
Her heart compressed. "Yes."
The pilot took the Lynx down a bit as the crumbling ruin approached. Selene recalled the fortress from her flickering childhood memories, a mighty castle of looming towers and jutting battlements. Time had taken its toll on the structure: the towers were now broken stumps, the masonry crumbling, the window casements hollow and empty, home only to flocks of crows.
After one circuit of the place, Samuel said, "I don't see an entrance."
Selene closed her eyes, summoning the memories Corvinus had helped to sharpen. She remembered that when her family had arrived, they'd come by boat, passing beneath a massive portcullis. Of course. Viktor wouldn't have wanted his stronghold to be accessible by land.
"Circle back around," she said. "There used to be a river entrance."
The pilot returned to the rushing waters of the Mures. Selene looked for the stone archway but couldn't see it. Water levels must have risen since the Middle Ages. Global warming? she wondered ironically.
"It must be submerged," she said.
Samuel called back to his men. "Looks like we're getting wet, lads."
Locker doors banged open, and the commandos began suiting up in scuba gear: Samuel's men were ready for anything. She unlatched the copter's door and slid it open, relishing the blast of freezing air that sharpened her senses even further. Her hazel eyes shifted to luminous pale blue.
"Closer," she shouted to the pilot. He brought the Lynx further down, the mighty propellers causing the waters beneath to ripple out in concentric circles.
Marcus had had too much of a head start: he must be down there somewhere. Selene could only hope he hadn't yet succeeded in freeing his brother.
The Cleaners finished suiting up. Samuel tossed a face mask to Selene. She regarded it for a moment, then tossed it back to him, instead grabbing a Remington 870 combat shotgun. The weapon had been loaded with UV ammunition.
"Ladies first," said Samuel.
Selene leaped out into the freezing air, the rifle clutched in her right hand, and executed a stunning swan dive down into the frigid Mures. The Cleaners followed her one by one, jumping feet-first into the dark water.
She swam powerfully underwater, eyes open, toward the submerged gate. The Cleaners swam behind her, protected by their wet suits, powerful flashlights illuminating their way. Selene's vampiric gaze cut through the darkness, her immortal blood protecting her from hypothermia.
At the end of the tunnel she broke the surface at last, inhaling the cold, musty air inside the castle. Slimy green mold covered the walls, the mortar between the stones crumbling into dust. Selene heard the far-off chitter and flitting of bats, the tiny kin of Marcus.
The Cleaners surfaced around her, sliding up masks and removing their mouthpieces. They'd emerged into a vast, open chamber beneath the central turret of the fortress. Dilapidated wooden bridges criss-crossed overhead, and crumbling stone staircases led up into darkness.
"Which way?" asked Samuel.
Drawing on girlhood memories, Selene pointed left. The party waded through hip-deep silty water, climbing up onto a cracked and damp stone floor. We're the first people here in centuries, she thought, the first beings to walk these floors since William's imprisonment. Viktor had abandoned his home, turning this entire fortress into a mausoleum, a living prison for the mighty lycan. As much as Selene hated Viktor for what he'd done to her, she had to agree with him on one thing: William should never be set free.
They proceeded cautiously through the corridor, past empty cells and torture chambers. Stone arches led to further passages, dark and impenetrable. Not even the powerful light mounted beneath her Remington provided much illumination.
Selene focused on her childhood memories again, picturing her father's laborers as they trundled out cart after cart of dirt and rocks, part of the excavation process. Viktor had wanted a vast subterranean catacombs constructed beneath the fortress. Did Father realize what he was building? Selene wondered. Did he care? He had been a kind, humane man, but had the lure of Viktor's money made him willfully blind to the barbarity for which his work would be used? Or had dungeons been such a common thing in those days that he'd considered his assignment completely unremarkable?
They turned a corner, discovering the passage ahead partly submerged. Samuel left two men to hold the position, then he and two others followed Selene down into the frigid water.
"Shit," she said softly, staring straight ahead. A massive stone slab that should have blocked this section of corridor had been raised, and a sheet of icy water rained down from above. "We're too late. Marcus has already been here."
"How can you be sure?" Samuel murmured.
Selene glanced over to her left. There, on the wall, she spotted the faded remains of the yellow sun and the red flowers she and her sister had painted. The memory of her innocent childhood went through her heart like a dagger.
They waded forward, tensely, gripping their weapons. Up ahead, the ground rose, and they ascended a flight of stone steps. Selene played her light around the walls, noticing immediately that the sarcophagus-like door to William's cell stood open. A set of broken manacles lay on the floor.
"Fuck," she hissed through her teeth. William was free.
Marcus had left the key in the lock. Selene removed the medallion, clutching it in her hand. Both brothers, each incredibly powerful, were at large in the castle. They had to be found and destroyed before William got loose and spread uncontrollable lycanthropy throughout Europe. Selene's heart began to race when she realized how Europe's population had multiplied since the Middle Ages. She thought of the massive rioting, the widespread panic that would ensue if his plague-like condition afflicted the modern world. The entire continent might be decimated before he could be stopped.
Sudden explosions of gunfire rent the dank air of the dungeon, followed by cries of mortal terror. Samuel and his men turned, charging back the way they had come. Selene followed along after them. Up ahead, she caught her first glimpse of William. The woodcuttings hadn't conveyed even a tenth of his massive size, the sheer savagery of him. Blood dripped down from his vast muzzle, staining his albino fur. His eyes glowed cobalt blue.
Samuel's men raced toward him, guns blasting out a barrage of white-hot silver. William howled with pain, then vanished.
A shadow emerged from one of the darkened archways, swooping over to grab Selene by the throat: Marcus, in human form once again, his grin evil and triumphant.
The pilot circled the Lynx again and again around the ruined castle, the gunner beside him fingering his weapon, both men alert to signs of trouble from below. So far, all had been ominously quiet.
Behind them, unheard and unnoticed, the half-zipped body bag stirred slightly. Inside, Michael's body had begun to knit itself back together. His eyes opened, glowing black as night.
Selene had forgotten the incongruous bright red of Marcus's hair; since he'd awakened, she'd only seen him in hybrid form, and small details of his appearance had slipped from her mind. He wore a soaking wet overcoat over his black trousers. She could see no resemblance to Corvinus; dimly, she wondered what William had looked like in human form.
Marcus grabbed her by the throat, slamming her into the stone wall near the faded children's artwork. Chunks of rock and mortar crumbled into the water. Then he stared at her, baffled. He could smell Alexander's blood in her scent.
"What have you done?" he asked fearfully.
Selene summoned every ounce of the old man's strength, knocking away Marcus's arm and driving him back through the water, unleashing every Death Dealer punch and kick in her arsenal. She slammed him into the opposite wall.
"Impressive," he sneered.
Selene's hand closed over the Remington, and she snatched it up, water pouring from the barrel. She aimed straight at the Elder's chest and fired. Marcus staggered back, grunting with pain: the UV ammo couldn't kill him now, but it must hurt like hell—Marcus was, after all, still primarily a vampire. Selene didn't let up: she fired and fired the pump-action rifle until she'd reduced the Elder's torso to a raw mess of bloody, gaping wounds. That's for Michael! she thought savagely.
When she'd exhausted the weapon, she tossed it aside, lunging for the wall near her childhood painting. Marcus saw what she intended and moved to intercept her, but he was slow, doubled over with pain. Beneath the water line lay a circular metal dish set into the rock. Selene pushed the key into the lock and turned the mechanism like a dial, sending the great stone slab, her father's ingenious handiwork, rumbling downward. The door splashed into the water and crashed down to the floor below, sealing off the corridor and leaving Marcus trapped in his brother's prison. Poetic justice. Selene listened to his muffled, impotent thumps against the stone slab, the high-pitched, bat-like shrill of his angry screams, sweet music to her ears.
One brother contained. One more to go. Selene turned and waded back toward the central chamber, hoping Samuel's men were still alive. Time to deal with William.
Selene retraced the way they'd come, back into the main chamber of the fortress. All lay in ominous silence. She passed the bodies of three Cleaners—from what she could determine, none of them were Samuel. She hoped desperately that the strike team leader still lived. No sign of William.
Icy water dripped down from overhead. Selene proceeded slowly, a Walther in each hand, the weapons loaded with clips of silver.
Gunfire exploded overhead, and Selene thought she glimpsed a flash of white fur. She bolted for a nearby archway: there had to be a staircase somewhere. At last she found one and moved swiftly up toward the sounds of battle. She slowed down when she reached the next level, keeping her back to the stone wall as she tried to peer around a corner. The blast from a gun almost took off her head; only her vampiric reflexes saved her life.
"Hold fire!" she barked, jumping back. "Fuck!"
Samuel and his last surviving commando emerged from the shadowy recesses, both men grim and sheepish. Selene didn't wait for an apology.
"Where'd William go?" she said tersely.
Samuel raised his chin. "That way."
He'd indicated one of the rickety wooden bridges that spanned the gloomy chasm. Selene guessed that in the old days, the structure had served as a lookout platform from which Viktor's Death Dealers could keep watch on the lower levels of the fortress—including who came and went via the river entrance. Paranoid bastard. Still, Viktor hadn't lived to such an advanced age by taking chances. Selene eyed the structure dubiously: she supposed that if the bridge would hold the weight of a beast like William, it ought to hold two humans and a vampire.
Time to put that theory to the test.
Samuel went first, inching his way cautiously across the slippery old boards. His subordinate—Greenway, Selene recalled—followed. She herself brought up the rear, guns ready. Mentally, she cursed the creaking noises made by the ancient wood. William would hear their approach as easily as if they'd been tapdancing.
Halfway across, the rotten planks gave out beneath Greenway's feet. With supernatural speed, Selene's arm shot out, catching him by the wrist. He goggled at her with astonishment as she lifted him up and set him to safety on the other side of the gaping hole.
"Thanks," he wheezed.
Samuel started to speak, but a massive white shape loomed up behind him. He spun about, firing his Uzi, but with one swipe of a massive paw, William tore out his throat. Samuel's body spun and fell, becoming entangled in a mesh of rusty chains that hung beneath the bridge. Selene fired both Walthers, but William pounced next on the hapless Greenway. With the commando dispatched, William lunged for Selene, but she leaped into the air, flipping over the werewolf and down through the broken planks, landing in the water below. She raised both guns as she dropped, firing upward.
William howled in pain. Silver bullets were something new for him; the last time he'd faced Death Dealers, swords and crossbows had been the weapons of the day. Welcome to the twenty-first century, Selene thought grimly. The massive lycan leaped up to escape her fusillade, and Selene's heart lurched when she realized he was probably looking for a way outside the castle. Above all else, she couldn't let him escape.
She pulled out two shuriken, exploding stars she'd liberated from Tanis, and pressed the activation buttons, flinging both devices up at William. He flew overhead with phenomenal speed, the razor sharp edge of one star just nicking his leg. The tiny devices embedded in the soft, damp mortar of the roof, tiny lights flashing ominously. Shit! Selene flung herself bodily into the nearest archway an instant before the stars detonated, one after the other.
The noise was deafening, and the ceiling collapsed in an avalanche of old stones, rotting wood, and seemingly a ton of snow. Enormous chunks of rock crashed down, splashing into the water. Selene hunkered in the archway, wondering wildly if the ancient structure could withstand those blasts, or if she and Marcus and William would all be buried alive in the rubble.
At last the tremors stopped, and Selene dared to step out into the chamber. Cautiously she crept along beneath the bridge, which somehow had survived the collapse intact, though jagged holes pockmarked the wooden planking. Overhead, the vaulted ceiling had completely vanished, leaving a large, jagged maw. White snowflakes, eerily pristine, drifted down. The only sound Selene heard was the steady thump of the Lynx's blades. Frosty blue moonlight illuminated the ruined castle's interior.
William had vanished. He possibly might be buried in the rubble, but Selene didn't think she'd get so lucky. Cautiously, keeping her gaze focused upward, she plucked an Uzi from the hands of a dead Cleaner. That monster still lurked somewhere, in the shadows. Despite his animal appearance, she knew how intelligent William must be.
A quiet clinking noise made her skin crawl. Selene whipped around, aiming the gun, but there was no sign of the albino werewolf. Her gaze went to the tangle of chains hanging from beneath the bridge. The metal links stirred in the cold wind: that was the sound she'd heard. Selene started to turn away, but a new movement caught her eye: Samuel's hand, thrashing.
She watched in horror as his dead eyes shot open, his torn throat healing over at phenomenal speed. His skull cracked as it began to change shape. A dark pelt of fur erupted on his skin, and his hands twisted into claws.
He's turning! Immediately, Selene recalled what Tanis had told her: these weren't the lycans we know today… the beasts that William created were raging monsters, never able to take human form again. After centuries of confinement, William's deadly taint was no less contagious.
She aimed the Uzi and pumped silver into Samuel's body, reducing the werewolf to pulp and stopping the transformation. Silently she grieved for Alexander's foremost warrior, the head of the Cleaners. After years of clearing away the bodies of lycans, Samuel had, in death, become one of them himself. She regarded his inert form, sorry she'd had to kill him, but knowing without doubt that that was what Samuel would have wanted.
The other four Cleaners had sprung to unnatural life, shape-shifting rapidly. One of them—Levine, Selene recalled—jumped to his feet and advanced on her. She fired the Uzi, peppering him with silver, but it barely slowed him. She had a sudden new appreciation for Viktor's medieval warriors, facing these things armed with only swords and crossbows. The Uzi ran dry and clicked hollowly, empty. Selene turned it around, using the butt end to smash the werewolf's skull. The blow only stunned him. The other three animals advanced, surrounding her. Pack hunting. Guns exhausted, Selene drew out her hunting knife. A sense of fatalism descended over her. Alexander's blood had sustained her so far, but she doubted it would give her the strength to fight off four fully transformed werewolves, certainly not William's monstrous progeny.
She flipped out of the tightening noose and landed in the cold water. A lycan whipped about and rushed her; she feinted left, then plunged her blade into its skull. One down.
From behind her, a lycan's snarl suddenly rose on a high-pitched shriek of pain. She turned to watch the creature collapse into the water, blood gushing from its back. Behind it stood a powerful male figure in filthy trousers, skin gleaming ebony, mouth open in a snarl of white teeth. Blood dripped from its long black talons.
"Michael!" Somehow, impossibly, he'd come back to life. He must have jumped down from the helicopter to join the fracas. Selene glanced up and saw a rappelling line hanging down from the copter through the gaping hole in the ceiling.
They had no time for emotional reunions: two lycans still lived. And from out of the shadows came the bestial roar of their wolfen sire. William flew through the air, catching Michael in a savage tackle, throwing him into the nearest wall. Rocks flew everywhere, and the entire fortress shook.
Imprisoned behind the stone barricade, Marcus heard the explosions and felt the castle convulse in violent tremors. Small stones rained down around him, and he expected at any moment for the entire roof to give way, burying him beneath the ancient rubble. But the fortress held. His keen bat ears detected the sounds of gunfire, the snarls of newborn lycans. William! Furiously he pounded on the rock wall. He had to get free and aid his brother!
Marcus paused for a moment, forcing himself to think. He recalled that when he'd thrown Selene into the wall, large chunks of rock had come loose, landing in the water. Possibly at least one of those had kept the massive door from sinking into the deep groove carved in the stone floor. He took a deep breath and plunged beneath the water, feeling for the bottom of the door. If the massive rock slab had indeed dropped into that narrow trench, Marcus was trapped for all time; even in hybrid form, he wouldn't be strong enough to pry up the gate. The corridor dead-ended at William's cell; there were no other exits, a virtual oubliette, a place to lock away prisoners and forget about them.
His heart jolted when he felt a gap of about an inch beneath the door. Yes! Just enough space for him to insert his fingers. Marcus pushed both hands beneath the massive piece of stone and began to lift, focusing all his strength on the task. Slowly, the gate—weighing easily more than a ton—began to rise.
He needed only moments to assess the battle situation in the castle's main chamber. Selene had engaged two enormous black lycans in hand-to-hand combat; it galled Marcus to see how strong she'd become. Not far away, William battled a different adversary, and now Marcus's anger blossomed into full-grown fury: Selene's hybrid lover had revived. Impossible, Marcus raged, recalling that he'd slammed that metal strut right through Corvin's heart.
Selene and Corvin had further allies: overhead hovered an airborne mechanical behemoth. At lightning speed, Marcus's mind sorted through the memories of the vampires whose blood he'd consumed after awakening, and in two seconds he'd identified the thing as a military helicopter. Through an open door in its side, a soldier—one of Alexander's men—fired a vicious machine gun down on William. Marcus felt his brother's pain as if it had been his own.
"Noooooo!" The Elder rose into the air, flying across the chamber. A couple of stray bullets struck him, but his mind registered them only as the tiniest pinpricks. He grabbed a cable that hung down from the copter and began to yank, savage anger fueling his limbs. With a thundering roar, the Lynx came crashing nose-down through the ruined castle roof, slamming into the wooden bridge, its propellers still whirling in futility. The men inside lay slumped on the windshield, bloodied and dead. Marcus regarded his handiwork smugly: he doubted that even Viktor could have brought down an armed military helicopter.
The descent of the Lynx had masked other noises, though—a high-pitched sonic whine, followed by a strange mechanical rumble. Before Marcus could leap to the aid of his brother, white-hot pain tore into his back, ripping holes in his delicate wing membranes. He shrieked with pain, spinning around. On the remnants of the wooden bridge stood Reinette. The beautiful French aristocrat Marcus remembered was completely gone, her face now set in an expression of pure steel. She clutched in her hands an Uzi loaded with ultraviolet ammunition, peppering Marcus with a hail of encapsulated sunlight. His batlike screech echoed around the chamber as he launched himself into the air, flying up and catching Reinette in his arms, slamming her into one of the stone walls. She slid down to the ledge, lying motionless. Marcus detected about her the scent of his father's blood, and he screamed again, wondering who else Corvinus had favored with his strength.
An ultraviolet bullet seared through Marcus's skull. He spun about, talons whipping to spear his assailant, but they encountered only air. Then he looked up and spotted Reinette's alien lover, crouched on the highest ledge, calmly pointing a Walther down at him.
Marcus sprang into the air and flew upward, but when he reached the ledge, the alien had vanished. Stone archways opened off the landing, black corridors yawning beyond them. Marcus followed the creature's scent, listening for its distinctive dual heartbeat. Had it taken one of the staircases to a lower level? Marcus swooped down, eyes scanning the rock walls. Below him, the battle raged, William's thundering roars announcing that he was still alive. Silently, Marcus exhorted his brother to rip Selene and her lover to shreds.
The Elder felt a strange pressure in his sensitive ears, and a bullet tore through his skull. Marcus howled. The alien stood on the other side of the chamber, still clutching the gun. How had he gotten over there so quickly? Marcus sailed through the air, but he felt that pressure again, and the alien vanished. His ears popped painfully. Then a bullet struck him in the shoulder, at exactly the point where two wing joints came together. An excruciating fire shot along the length of bone. Snarling, Marcus spun about and spotted the brown-clad figure on the half-ruined bridge.
The alien's scent had grown acrid with adrenaline-laced sweat. Marcus recalled the things he'd gleaned from Reinette's memorable trip through her lover's mind. The alien's species had mastered both space and time; it must be bending time with its mind, allowing itself to stay a few crucial steps ahead of Marcus. And it was a formidable marksman, sending those UV bullets into the most vulnerable points of the hybrid's bat-like body.
The alien couldn't maintain that effort indefinitely, though. Marcus took off, circling around the chamber to avoid making himself an easy target. Below him, one of William's lycans threw Selene into a wall. Kill her! Marcus gloated.
Pop! This time, Marcus was ready: he shot like a rocket across the chamber. The alien suddenly appeared on the lower level. Marcus swooped down. The creature eluded him, but barely. A long talon whipped into the wall, sending up a spray of stone shards. One of these nicked the alien's temple, just above the ear. Red blood dripped down.
The extraterrestrial staggered away, gasping. The effort of bending time had exhausted him. He backed up through the water, shaking, the gun falling from his hand. The scent of his blood stirred a wild craving inside Marcus. He approached his quarry with caution: who knew what tricks the alien might have in reserve?
On an impulse, Marcus shifted back into human form. This might be easier than he'd anticipated—Reinette's memories had provided a clue. He held out one hand in an inviting gesture.
"Why do you run?" He made his voice low, seductive, hypnotic, the same voice he'd used to persuade Viktor and Reinette and countless others through the ages to accept his bite. The beguiling voice of the first vampire, luring victims with the sweet promise of immortality. Such a gift would mean nothing to a creature as long-lived as this alien, but Marcus knew he could offer something far more enticing.
"Don't you want peace?" Marcus asked, continuing his slow, steady approach. The alien's feet slipped on a rock or a chunk of ice concealed beneath the water, and he fell back, gazing up at Marcus with wild eyes. How beautiful and delicate he seemed. "I can give you that—an end to your grief and loneliness. How very alone you are, Doctor." Just a few more steps. The Elder's wings twitched, and the scent of blood made him salivate heavily. "You can join your people and be at peace with them forever. No more running, no more fighting." He hunkered down, reaching a hand to stroke the alien's clammy forehead. Marcus read surrender in the creature's eyes. It would be a fair bargain, he thought—the Doctor would pass his secrets along to Marcus, and Marcus would give him peace in exchange. He grasped the alien's shoulders, pulling its neck toward his mouth.
Pop! Marcus blinked, realizing too late how badly he'd been hoodwinked: the cold barrel of a gun pressed against his forehead. The alien's eyes blazed with triumph.
BLAM! The gun exploded, sending white-hot UV radiation straight into his brain. Marcus reeled from the agony. BLAM! BLAM! With two more shots, the alien put out the Elder's eyes, blinding him.
A bat didn't need to see. Ignoring the blazing hellfire raging inside his skull, Marcus seized the exhausted creature, using his wings to pin its arms and feeling with his hands for its neck. There! Marcus sank his long white fangs into the alien's jugular, and the conflagration in his head subsided immediately as the life-giving stream poured into his mouth.
Selene plunged her hunting knife into the werewolf's skull, then yanked her arm back and used the blade to decapitate the beast. Hot lycan blood splattered across her black leathers.
Now only William remained, locked in titanic hand-to-hand combat with Michael. Selene tensed, preparing to spring to her lover's aid. A horrible scream made her spin around: Erika crouched on one of the upper levels, blood matted in her pale hair, staring down, aghast. Selene's heart slammed against her ribs. Marcus had trapped the Doctor and was guzzling blood from the alien's neck; she could hear the grotesque swallowing sounds from where she stood. A great, dark stain spread down the Doctor's striped jacket. Marcus was staring at Selene as he drank—not at her, but through her, she realized, his eyes not vampire blue or hybrid black but a glowing, blazing, unearthly white.
Erika sprang down from the ledge, firing two Desert Eagles as she dropped. At the same instant, William snarled triumphantly. Selene spun about, seeing that he'd grabbed Michael by the throat and was holding him up in the air, trying to crush him to death. She launched herself into a jaguar-like leap, landing behind the lycan and driving her hunting knife into his spine. He released Michael, roaring, his body twitching in spasms. Michael recovered immediately, leaping on top of his wolfen forefather and seizing the great beast's jaws in his hands. As Selene watched, he forced the mandibles apart until finally bone cracked and the top of William's head ripped off in Michael's hands.
As a young vampire, Marcus had often wondered what it might be like to drink the blood of a god—Apollo or Dionysus or even Zeus himself.
Now he knew.
The alien's blood flowed into him like nectar, ambrosia, so delicious that even human blood seemed like rancid vinegar in contrast. The damaged tissue in his brain mended, eyes re-growing in their sockets. The pleasure was astonishing, lifting his mind to the very pinnacle of ecstasy. But still, none of that could compare to what Marcus experienced as the alien's memories poured through his mind.
Entire solar systems were born, exploding with seismic shock waves as their suns burst forth into fiery existence. Older stars died in a literal blaze of glory, turning supernova and consuming everything in their path. Extraordinary civilizations all across the cosmos rose and flourished and declined and died, eons of time passing in a mere twinkling. The mysteries of time and space unfolded in the Elder's mind, complex phenomena beyond the ability of even the most brilliant human to grasp. He heard the singing of spheres, the glorious music of the universe, felt its throbbing pulse, the essence of life itself, unquenchable and never-ending.
He perceived also the natural abilities the alien possessed, the gifts of his species, powers that the Doctor had been too weak and foolish to employ fully. This creature could have ruled the universe, but his ridiculous set of principles had stayed his hand. Marcus would make no such mistakes.
The flow of blood abruptly slowed and stopped. Marcus sucked in vain: nothing. His hands groped the creature's chest, but its hearts had gone still. It was dead. Stunned and bereft, Marcus shook the body. Surely there must be something left! But he'd drained the alien completely. Marcus licked his lips, longing for that rapture to continue. But it never could: the alien was the last of his species, and Marcus had killed him. His grip went slack, and the corpse crumpled down into the water.
A searing, horrible pain went through his skull, and he heard the grotesque cracking of bone. His soul turned over: his brother was dead, their empathic bond shattered. Corvin had murdered Marcus's twin.
"William!" Marcus could undo this, he knew. He only needed the key to the Doctor's machine, and he could journey back in time—not just before this skirmish, but before the great war itself began. He could kill his father, kill Viktor before that deceitful bastard even rose to power.
But Marcus was paralyzed, unable to move, aware of a wretched sadness creeping through him like an evil tide. The alien's blood turned sour in his gut, and he shook with violent tremors. He regarded the inert body floating in the water. "You devil, what have you done?" he muttered, realizing the creature had tricked him yet again. The Doctor had arranged his memories so that Marcus would first experience delirious heights of pleasure before being catapulted down into despair. He tried to stop the descent, but he was powerless to keep himself from hurtling straight into the Doctor's personal hell. Reinette emptied two clips of UV ammunition into him, but he barely felt it.
A typhoon of anguish exploded in his mind, its merciless black waters fueled by monstrous emotions: grief and loss and guilt and despair, each one crashing like a tsunami through Marcus's soul. He experienced every ounce of the Doctor's suffering, over a thousand years' worth, as if he had lived those things himself, each memory more ghastly than the last, the pain so annihilating that Marcus thought he would kill himself to escape it.
"Noooooooooooo!" he screamed, clutching his head, wings snapping in violent spasms. He staggered about the chamber, out of his mind with agony. "Make it stop! For the love of God, make it stop!"
"What's he doing? What the hell's wrong with him?" Michael gasped.
"He's going mad," Selene realized, frightened at the spectacle. Marcus howled like a madman, shifting back and forth from human to hybrid form, mind and body completely beyond his control. His wings whipped wildly in circles, preventing Selene from even approaching him. She needed a weapon, something big, something—
"Selene!" She heard the screech of metal twisting and breaking. Michael had leaped atop the motionless Lynx and ripped off one of its propeller blades. Something like that! "Here!"
He flung the thing down. Selene caught it and flipped into the air, swinging the blade in a vicious arc. She collided into Marcus at top speed, slicing off most of a wing.
He screeched, blood gushing from the severed limb. The other wing shot around, the deadly talon spearing Selene through her torso. She dropped the propeller blade, gasping with pain.
"I couldn't stop it!" Marcus raved incoherently, eyes bulging and wild. "I couldn't save them!"
Selene seized the talon in her hands and with a mighty wrench, snapped the bone clean in half. His bat-like shriek almost pierced her eardrums. She ripped the talon out of her flesh and drove the spear-like tip under the Elder's jaw, straight up into his skull.
In his tortured eyes, she thought she saw relief.
Selene kicked the propeller blade up into her hand and swung it like a Samurai sword, decapitating Marcus and killing him for good. She threw aside the blade and caught his severed head in her hands. The rest of the Elder's body dropped into the muck.
V. All I Want is You
For a moment, the only sound was Erika's harsh, convulsive sobs. She hunkered down in the water, the Doctor's sodden body half-in, half-out of her arms. She kept patting his face, as if that would miraculously wake him up. Michael was at her side an instant later, taking a look, but his expression told Selene that the Doctor was beyond help.
Her heart broke for Erika. She remembered all too well how she'd felt when she'd found Michael's body impaled on that metal strut. This sense of empathy with another being's pain stunned her; the last time she'd experienced such an emotion had been when her sister's husband died. It seems I've come full circle.
She waded through the water, bearing Marcus's head like a grotesque melon, holding it upside down so that the blood wouldn't flow out. "Here, Erika—you need to drink."
"No!" the younger vampire sobbed. "I don't want his vile blood!"
"Erika, this is your only chance to be whole again! Now drink, quickly, while his blood is still warm!"
Michael added softly, "It's what he would've wanted, Erika."
She wavered, then took the gruesome trophy from Selene. Tipping her head back, she opened her mouth and let Marcus's blood flow down her throat. Selene held her breath, hoping it wouldn't be too late.
Erika's eyes blazed for a few moments, and Selene swore she saw something pass like a ghost through the blonde vampire. Carefully she lowered the Elder's head, licking her lips but not speaking.
"Erika? Are you all right?" Selene asked urgently.
Blinking, Erika said, "Please don't call me that. Erika's the name of a whore. You can call me Reinette." Her accent had changed, the vague Cockney tones gone as if they'd never existed.
Exhaling a loud gust, Selene said, "It worked?"
Reinette nodded. "I have his memories," she said, indicating Marcus. "And because he'd just drunk from the Doctor, I have his memories, too."
"Shit," Michael breathed. "Talk about a full house!"
The Frenchwoman seemed to be processing something, then she jolted. "He isn't dead."
"The Doctor?" Selene asked.
"He's in a coma. He did that deliberately—stopped his hearts so that Marcus wouldn't drain him completely. We can transfuse him—there's blood in the ship. Come on!"
Galvanized, Michael lifted the Doctor's body out of the water. Reinette fished into one of the alien's pockets and produced a small gold key on a chain. "The ship's up there," she said, nodding to one of the upper levels. "Follow me."
Michael exchanged an amused look with Selene: in a heartbeat, it seemed, Erika had gone from serving wench to queen. She swept grandly across the icy, flooded, gore-splattered chamber as if she were walking through the halls of Versailles. Selene followed after her, Michael behind them. Perhaps the events of the past few days and then the epic battle had left him numb—for whatever reason, he failed to see the immanent danger before the two females walked right into it.
"Look out!" he shouted, but it was too late: Selene and Erika stood directly in a shaft of sunlight that streamed in through one of the broken walls.
Michael's heart turned over in painful somersaults, then a sense of awe and wonderment began to grow inside him. "Oh, man!" he whispered.
The two vampires stood in the sunlight, their pale skin glowing gold, staring down at their hands and at each other with thunderstruck expressions.
"What's happening?" Reinette gasped. "We're not burning!"
"Alexander's blood," Selene responded. In her mind, she heard Corvinus telling her she would become the future. Dazed, she wondered what that future would hold for her now, what worlds she would bridge.
Michael joined them in the yellow shaft, the cold, pale light of a winter sun. He became aware of the vast size of the vaulted chamber, the walls that even in their ruined state dwarfed over the three small figures. They looked like children, he thought, like the last survivors of some unthinkable apocalypse—which, in a sense, they were.
Reinette broke the spell. "Come," she said, touching first Selene's arm, then Michael's. "We still have work to do."
"Brace yourself," Michael warned Selene. "This'll shock the shit out of you."
"Thank you for sharing that, Michael," she said dryly, giving the blue box a dubious look. She remembered those things from the streets of London in the 1950s and 1960s. As far as she knew, they'd been phased out in the 1980s. The thing was more than it appeared, she realized; she both heard and felt the vibrations of its tremendous energy.
Reinette opened the narrow door. "Welcome to the TARDIS."
Selene stepped across the threshold and into a world she never could have dreamed existed, so far outside the realm of even her immortal experience that she simply stood there, staring.
"It's—it's—" she struggled.
"Bigger on the inside," Reinette nodded. "Michael, close that door behind you—I know we're in the middle of nowhere, but it's better not to take chances."
Selene edged nervously around the central column, trying to make some sense of the preponderance of cables and wires and switches and levers. For a space ship, it looked comically like something that had been put together in a scrap yard. She'd actually found the Sancta Helena more sophisticated and intimidating.
"This way." Reinette wasn't wasting any time.
A corridor led off the main room—Selene stared down its length, trying to count the doors.
"How far back does it go?"
"Indefinitely," Reinette answered. "The medical room's in here." A door to the right opened into a large, fully equipped surgery. Michael placed the Doctor on a gurney. Reinette went to a cupboard, pulling out a hospital gown, a paper sheet, and three sets of surgical scrubs.
"Does it have what you need?" Selene asked. Michael went through the drawers and cabinets, assessing medicine and supplies with a practiced eye.
"Yeah, it's perfect. Let's get changed and washed up." They stripped off their wet, filthy clothes, amazingly unselfconscious around one another, and donned the scrubs. While Selene and Michael got the Doctor out of his suit and into the hospital gown, Reinette used the sonic screwdriver to open a square, steel refrigerator. Selene gaped when she saw it was filled with IV blood bags.
"Are those all his?"
"No, those are human blood. It's a precaution. He's had a lot of human traveling companions, and he always has them donate to themselves, gradually, one bag at a time—what's that called, Michael?"
"Autologous," he said, washing his hands and arms at a metal sink. "Autologous donation."
"In case they were ever away from Earth and one of his friends needed a transfusion, they'd have clean, compatible blood."
Selene read the handwritten label on one bag. "Martha Jones," it said, indicating an AB- blood type. Reinette emptied the fridge. Curiously, Selene read the labels on each bag. "Mickey Smith, B+." "Rose Tyler, O+." "Jack Harkness, A-." There were enough bags for each person to have had almost a complete blood wash.
"How old are these?" she asked.
"Old," Reinette confirmed. "Rose, Mickey, and Jack traveled with him about two hundred years ago. Martha Jones was closer to a hundred years ago. The Doctor's been on his own since then." When the fridge was empty, she withdrew from a concealed compartment at the bottom a large steel box with a numeric keypad set into its top. Reinette closed her eyes, concentrating briefly, then began to tap the keys. With a hiss, the top of the box opened. Inside lay eight IV bags of dark red blood.
"This is his," she explained. "When his people finished their training, their blood would be engineered so that their bodies could regenerate. That's how they lived to be so old. If another species got hold of this, they might be able to replicate the process, so the Doctor keeps his blood under lock and key."
"Smart," Michael agreed. He'd washed the Doctor's arms and was using alcohol wipes to sterilize the creases of his elbows. "Get one of those bags hooked up to an IV stand. There's nutrient solution in that fridge, there—Selene, could you hook up a bag to the second stand?"
While she carried out this instruction, Selene asked Reinette, "The Doctor can regenerate his body?"
"This is the tenth one," Reinette said. "He can regenerate another three times, and when the thirteenth body dies, he'll be dead permanently. Even with only three lives left, he could potentially live another thousand or two thousand years—maybe even longer."
"Why thirteen?" asked Michael. "Seems kind of arbitrary."
Reinete washed her hands thoroughly. "They tried, but after thirteen bodies, their minds tended to break down. So they stopped at thirteen. Even then, most Time Lords got a little eccentric in their last couple of incarnations, if not actually mad."
"Time Lord?" asked Michael. He gently probed into the Doctor's arm for a vein.
"That's what he is," Reinette said. "A Time Lord—the last one. The rest are extinct, wiped out in a war."
Michael whistled, finally getting the needle into a vein and taping it into place. Blood began dripping down. He repeated the process on the other arm. Selene washed her hands and arms, purposeful and businesslike.
Reinette continued, "That's what drove Marcus mad—that memory. The destruction of his planet. The Doctor arranged his thoughts so that Marcus would be hit with all that guilt and pain at once."
Nodding down toward the motionless body, Michael asked, "So why isn't he crazy? Marcus just felt all that stuff—the Doctor actually lived it."
Reinette tenderly regarded the alien. "Love."
"Love? That's it?"
"Marcus didn't have any love in him. Even his feelings for William were based more on anger toward their father. So he had no defenses against someone else's grief, no buffers, no empathy, no way to deal with it. He'd never experienced so much pain, and it was unbearable for him."
Michael thought this over as he got the second IV line going, a solution of glucose and saline. Selene watched him arrange his instruments on a tray. "You two'll have to assist me." He grinned slightly. "The TARDIS nurses are on strike."
"Whatever you need," Selene told him. They all donned face masks and latex gloves.
When Michael was ready, Reinette shut the medical room door and pushed a wall-mounted button with her knee. Deep infrared light briefly glowed all around them.
"Sterilization," she explained.
"Great," Michael said. "Let's get started."
He flushed and cleaned the wound first, then began the painstaking task of stitching up the severed tendons and muscles and cauterizing the broken blood vessels. The alien's anatomy excited him tremendously. A fantastic array of veins and arteries ran through the Doctor's neck, easily twice the number a human possessed. From the scent of the blood, Michael guessed it had far greater oxygen-carrying capacity—an evolutionary adaptation to keep that incredible brain supplied with fuel.
He stitched the torn skin and applied a sterile dressing. During the surgery, Selene had replaced the first blood bag with a second, and as Michael finished his work, they all heard a wet gurgling noise, then a faint, thready lub-dup. One heart had started beating.
"It's working," Reinette said, her tense expression melting into relief.
Michael washed his hands without answering. Even if the Doctor recovered from the blood loss, there still was the danger posed by Marcus's deadly virus. Selene glanced at him as if reading his mind: what happened when a werewolf-vampire hybrid bit an extraterrestrial species? Her gaze turned to the Doctor's motionless body. What in God's name would he become?
After the surgery, they could only wait, replacing the IV bags of blood and fluids. They moved the Doctor from the gurney to a regular hospital bed and covered him with blankets. Michael found a hot pack to put at the Doctor's feet, which were like blocks of ice.
While the fourth bag of blood dripped down into him, the Doctor's second heart started, struggling to catch up with its mate. He still wasn't breathing, but at least his blood was circulating.
"Why don't you two wash up?" Michael suggested. "I'll keep an eye on him."
"Are there bathrooms?" Selene asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Down there," Reinette told her. They left the medical room and headed deeper into the ship. Selene had a good sense of direction, but she marveled at Reinette's complete familiarity with the maze of corridors.
They emerged abruptly into a kind of insane wardrobe, stretching up a full three levels, rack upon rack of clothes in every conceivable color and style.
"Where are they from?" Selene blurted.
"Everywhere," Reinette said simply, opening a nearby trunk. "Find something clean, and I'll show you where the showers are."
Selene began sorting among the rails. Most of what she found was too colorful and extravagant for her tastes. She realized she'd grown so accustomed to her practical, comfortable Death Dealer's gear that she'd never be able to wear anything else. At last she found a pair of black suede trousers, black riding boots, and a plain jersey in gray silk. Reinette picked out brown boots, a long fawn skirt, and a cream-colored blouse.
The bathroom was an utterly sumptuous affair, all marble and Italian tile and gleaming brass fixtures. The glass-enclosed shower stalls were a marvel, water spraying out from hidden spigots in the ceiling and walls at exactly the right temperature and pressure. Additional spigots provided shampoo and conditioner, soap and lotion. Even the bathrooms at Ordoghaz seemed shabby by contrast. Time Lords, it seemed, believed in pampering themselves.
"When the Doctor recovers, we're going to make good use of that hot tub." Reinette stood at the mirror, pinning up her damp hair.
"You think he'll be all right?" Selene asked.
"He's been through worse than this and survived."
Selene tried the boots. A bit loose, but not bad. They'd do until she could get her own things cleaned up.
"I'm going to pick out some things for Michael." Back in the wardrobe, Selene found trousers and a sweatshirt in Michael's size, taking them back to the medical room. Oddly, she had no difficulty retracing her footsteps.
"How is he?" she asked when she walked into the surgery.
Michael was bent over a microscope at one of the work benches. "God, Selene," he said excitedly. "The Doctor has like eight different types of leukocyte—humans only have five. This is the most incredible blood—" He clicked a dial on the microscope, increasing the magnification.
With a humorous sigh, Selene inspected their patient. "He's breathing."
"Yeah, his lungs started working like ten minutes ago."
Selene put her ear to the Doctor's chest. His breathing was shallow, choppy and irregular, and his hearts still beat in a painfully asynchronous rhythm. She touched his forehead.
"Michael, he's burning up!"
"Yeah, I know." He came to stand beside her. "It's the virus. He's not turning, though."
"Yes, I can feel that."
Sounding a little awestruck, Michael said, "He's fighting it off."
Selene took over in the surgery so that Michael could shower and change clothes. By now, they'd hooked the last bag of the Doctor's blood to the IV stand. Even accounting for the fluid loss and fever, the condition of his body shocked her.
"Is he always this thin?" she asked Reinette.
"No." The younger vampire was troubled. "He's depressed, and he's not eating properly."
Selene goggled at her. "Aliens can get depressed?"
"This one can."
Still, his mental health was the least of their worries. The Doctor's fever climbed all afternoon, and he began to mutter deliriously. Reinette sat with him, stroking his hand and talking to him. Michael sorted through the cabinets, but he wasn't sure what medicines the Doctor could tolerate, and Reinette didn't want to take chances.
"There's not a lot of information in here," she said, tapping her forehead. "I've searched all through his memories and there's almost nothing. He never gets sick."
Toward evening, the alien's eyes blinked open to bleary slits. Selene was horrified to see that the whites had gone blood-red.
"Oh, Christ!" she swore. "He's hemorrhaging!"
The Doctor struggled to tell Reinette something, but he seemed to find speech difficult, maybe because of his injured neck muscles. Suddenly inspired, she took both his hands and held them against her temples. After a moment of communication, she called to Michael.
"There's an anti-viral drug in the top right-hand drawer," she said. "The small yellow bottles. Give him an injection, quickly!"
Michael filled a hypodermic and injected the clear fluid into the Doctor's IV line.
"The blue bottles are morphine," Reinette added. "You can give him one of those, too."
Michael complied, and a few moments later, the Doctor's eyes closed. He drifted into slumber.
"That should do it," Reinette said.
She maintained her bedside vigil all night. Selene and Michael took turns so that the other could sleep, but Reinette refused to budge. Near dawn, the Doctor's temperature dropped, his breathing became less labored, and his hearts began beating together in a more normal-sounding rhythm.
"He's past the worst of it," she told Selene, gently stroking the Doctor's face.
"Why don't you get some sleep?"
"All right." Numbly, Reinette stood. "I'm hungry," she mumbled.
"Help yourself." Selene nodded toward the square refrigerator. "Michael and I have. He said that blood's too old to use for transfusions, but there's enough nutrition left in it for us."
Reinette hated to do that, mostly because she possessed the memories of the Doctor's time with those friends. Drinking their blood struck her as vaguely obscene. But hunger overruled other considerations, and she opened a bag of Mickey Smith's blood, pouring it into a beaker. She wrinkled her nose at the taste: stale, the human equivalent of old bread. But it helped ease her craving, and at least enough time had passed so that not even an echo of Mickey's memories lingered behind.
She slept only in fits, drawn back to the medical room, fussing with the blankets and checking the Doctor's IV line. Toward dawn, she and Selene went outside, climbing up one of the intact parapets to watch the sun rise over the snow-capped Carpathians.
"It's so beautiful," Reinette said, awestruck, relishing the primal warmth on her face. "And it's strange not to be afraid of it." After a few moments, she confided, "Marcus knew I loved gardens, so he let me design one for our manor house… the human servants worked on it during the day. When Marcus visited, we'd walk through it after sunset. I never had a chance to see what it looked like during full daylight."
Selene told her, "I still remember my last day outside in the sun—the day before the night Viktor murdered my family. I went on an errand with my father to another village. Later, I helped my mother and sister weed vegetables. It's strange how you remember things like that, things that normally would be so trivial."
They heard the loud crack of wood breaking.
"What's that?" Reinette asked, alarmed.
"Michael," Selene told her. "He's gathering wood for a funeral pyre."
It took most of the day for Michael to collect enough wood to burn all the bodies, stacking it in a remote corner of the ruin; the three immortals had made a survey of the still-accessible parts of the castle. Then came the disagreeable process of fishing the bloated corpses from the muck and placing them within the pyre. Michael and Selene did most of this work, as their lives had accustomed them to death and grotesque spectacles of decomposing flesh.
At sundown, Reinette joined them. An enormous pile of worm-eaten wood towered up overhead, the seven bodies placed within the stack: Marcus, William, Samuel, and the four Cleaners. The pyre had been Selene's idea, as a gesture of respect to Alexander Corvinus. William and Marcus had been his sons, the Cleaners his loyal servants. He wouldn't have wanted their bodies left to rot. Besides, she'd pointed out, some intrepid archeologist might one day discover this ruin, and the skeletons of six werewolves and a hybrid might create a stir.
Reinette used the sonic screwdriver to ignite the small kindling at the base of the stack, and they stepped back, watching as the flames crept fitfully through the damp kindling, throwing off a lot of smoke. Michael and Selene were quiet, probably thinking of all the bloodshed and tragedy Marcus and William had engendered. The great war had finally ended, but who knew what conflicts might arise among the surviving vampires and lycans? The old order had been completely overthrown: Alexander Corvinus was dead, as well as William and Marcus, Amelia, Viktor, and Lucian. Most of the servants had accompanied their masters to the grave: Kraven, Khan, Tanis, Singe, Raze, Samuel. The survivors would have to find some way of governing themselves. The Doctor would probably say that this crisis represented a turning point for both species, the moment at which they had to grow up and take responsibility for their own futures.
The flames crept higher. Reinette's religious training came back, and she crossed herself, silently reciting the prayers she'd learned as a child. Mostly she thought of Marcus, her lover for fifty years; despite the mayhem he'd caused, she still grieved for him. In temperament he'd been much like the Doctor—intelligent and humorous, with a lively interest in many things, but beneath the surface gaiety, such sadness had lingered. The difference was that Marcus had lacked the capacity for genuine, unselfish love. For all the Doctor's travails, he'd never lost his compassion for others, and if anything ultimately saved him from madness, Reinette thought, it would be his ability to give love.
The searing heat of the pyre became too uncomfortable, and the three immortals withdrew, leaving the flames to consume the remains of their allies and adversaries.
"How long does it take him to heal?"
Reinette went to the Doctor's bedside. Two days had passed since the funeral pyre, and still the Doctor lay unconscious. He'd only come around twice, sipping water and asking for more painkillers. He seemed profoundly exhausted, too weak even to raise his head.
"He should be better by now," Reinette fretted. "His immune system is strong." She stroked his cheek, now thick with stubble. His hair, lank and oily, badly needed washing. "The blood loss and the infection took a lot out of him."
Michael examined the skin beneath the dressing on the Doctor's neck. "This is still raw." He applied a fresh gauze pad, taping it into place. "There's hardly any sign of healing." He frowned. "Maybe it would've been easier for him if…"
"If what?" Reinette prompted.
"If he'd just… changed bodies."
"Regeneration isn't any easier than what he's going through now—the older he's gotten, the more difficult it gets. He usually has a spell of amnesia and erratic behavior. The last time it happened, he spent almost an entire day in bed afterwards." For selfish reasons, Reinette wanted to spare this body, fearing that a change in the Doctor's personality might diminish his feelings for her. Besides, another regeneration would bring him one step closer to death, an inevitability that she wanted to delay for as long as possible.
"He doesn't look good," Michael worried.
"It's probably going to take a few more days," Reinette said.
Selene had walked into the surgery, once again in her Death Dealer garb. "We don't have that long," she stated, opening the door of the square fridge. "We're running out of blood."
Reinette blinked; she hadn't realized they were depleting the stores so quickly.
"Each one of us has been drinking two bags a day," Selene went on. "That's six bags." Normally, one bag would have been plenty, but the blood was so old that its staying power was ten hours at best. "We started with thirty-two bags, and we've gone through eighteen so far. Even if we ration it, we have enough left for maybe three days."
"Pretty brutal number crunching," Michael teased her.
Selene folded her arms. "I'm serious, Michael. When we run out of blood, we'll start starving to death, and we're apt to turn on each other."
"I can find the nearest town," he began.
"The nearest town is over a hundred kilometers in any direction," Selene told him. "Were you planning to fly? The mountains are covered with snow—you'd never get across."
Michael asked, "Reinette, can you operate this thing?"
She shook her head. "I know the dematerialization sequence, but you need an empathic link with the TARDIS to operate it. I could flip all the switches I want, and nothing would happen."
"We need to wake him up long enough to get us out of here," Selene said. "Even if we wheel his bed into the console room."
"He needs to be in a stable state of mind," Reinette warned. "His mind is linked to the ship, and if he operates it the way he is now, we're apt to end up in Stone Age Timbuktu."
"Can you get through to him?" Michael asked. "Can't you… mindmeld, or whatever it is you do?"
Reinette sighed. "I'll try."
Selene and Michael had gone to get some sleep. Reinette sat reading beside the Doctor's bed, her feet propped on a second chair. The TARDIS library contained many volumes, and she'd selected a history of Europe since the eighteenth century, trying to catch up on her lost years.
He began to mutter and thrash. Reinette set aside her book and took his hands. "Doctor?" He mumbled, swallowing hard, and feebly reached up toward the bandage on his neck.
"No!" She took his hands and put them on her temples. At first she felt nothing but pain and confusion, then coherent thoughts and images came across.
We're running low on blood, Reinette told him. And you aren't healing as quickly as you should. We're a hundred miles from civilization, and you're the only one who can operate the TARDIS.
I'm tired, he protested.
I know you are, she countered. But we'll die if you can't get us out of here.
A kind of fuzzy static followed, and Reinette feared he'd lost consciousness again. Then the fog cleared.
Help me up, he requested.
Are you strong enough?
Help me into the cloisters. Images flashed into Reinette's mind: the garden at the very center of the ship. Some of the plants that grew there had healing properties.
I'll have to unhook your IV, she told him.
He showed her how in quick images. Reinette fetched a band-aid and got the needle out of his arm, covering the puncture mark. Then she pushed him up into a sitting position and eased him onto his feet. He could barely stand and had to lean heavily against Reinette's shoulder. She was so strong she could have carried him, but his body was too long for her to properly support his injured neck, so she let him rest most of his weight against her, and they trudged awkwardly into the corridor.
Their progress through the maze proved comically slow, like a three-legged race at a fair. Reinette had to support almost his entire weight, and he kept trying to nod off and sleep. She kept him moving with a stream of bright, encouraging conversation. At one point she looked down, stricken to realize his feet were purple from cold. She hadn't even thought to cover them up.
After what seemed like an interminable journey, her nose detected a fragrant whiff of humid air, and they emerged from a corridor into a garden that looked for all the world as if it had been replicated from a medieval abbey. A stone walkway wound through beds of exotic plants. Graceful archways led to further paths, and Reinette heard the quiet murmur of water, as if a stream were flowing through the garden. The warm air carried with it a tangy herbal scent.
The Doctor straightened up, standing fully on his feet. Reinette kept her arm around him. He inhaled deeply, then sighed. "Much better." His voice was rough and hoarse.
Startled to hear him speaking, she said, "Are you all right?"
"I am now… or I will be, in about six hours." He wandered along the pathways, pausing to sniff some of the pale blossoms. Already his coloring had improved. Reinette searched through his memories to identify the plants, which were native to his home world. In her mind she saw a garden much like this one, but far more vast, stretching as far as the eye could see, where the Time Lords had grown their incredible machines. Each TARDIS had at its very center a cloistered garden, a tiny piece of its birthplace.
"Is there anything I can do?" she asked anxiously.
"You already have," he smiled. "Just give me six hours."
"Are you sure…?"
"Six hours. I promise you, I'll be fine."
As Reinette watched, he wandered to the center of the garden, where a large stone disk that resembled the top of sundial had been set at the confluence of seven pathways. He turned around a few times, as if orienting himself. Then he stood completely still, almost entranced. To Reinette's shock, he began to levitate, floating up until his feet hovered four feet off the ground. His body turned until it lay horizontal, perfectly parallel with the stone disk beneath it.
"Doctor?" she said, alarmed.
It's all right, his voice said in her mind. I'll heal fast in here. You should get some rest.
Reinette hated to leave him, but he plainly knew how to mend himself, and besides, the cloisters disturbed her on some deep level. His alien nature seemed very concentrated here, and although she now shared his memories, this display of extraterrestrial power frightened her. She hesitated, then turned around and hurried out of the garden.
The TARDIS was full of bedrooms; Reinette found one not too far away and lay down on the sumptuous bed, trying to will herself into slumber.
Sleep proved difficult. Scenes from her past kept flicking across her inner eye—her human life, her years with Marcus, with Tanis, with the coven. Interspersed among those memories were the Doctor's experiences and those of Marcus. Thankfully, Alexander's blood had given Reinette the Elders' ability to sort through this vast multitude of thoughts and images, placing some in compartments—just imagine a door closing, the Doctor had once instructed her—and bringing others into the light for closer inspection. Reinette thought she might have gone mad without this ability.
The years in the coven were, in hindsight, the most difficult memories to examine, but Reinette forced herself to study them without flinching. She'd believed she'd been happy—that galled her now more than anything, the fool's paradise in which she'd lived, ignorant of the past and oblivious to the future. At least Louis and Marcus had cared about her. They'd coveted her, yes, but both men had had genuine regard for her and had wished to please her. Even Tanis had been awed by her beauty, entranced by her sexual prowess, thrilled to have a king's mistress in his bed. But to the men of the coven, she'd been a common trollop, a thing to be used and discarded without thought. Soren's interest in her had gone no further than gratifying his most base urges; she'd been an object to him, a pretty toy he used to masturbate with. Reinette had no doubt that Kraven would have treated her exactly the same if she'd ever bedded him. She thought with chagrin of the years she'd spent groveling around his feet, yearning for him, elated when he'd shown her even the smallest scrap of attention.
I would have done anything for him, she recalled. I'd have let him fuck me, let him drain my blood, given my very life to him. And for what?
She put an arm up over her eyes, wishing for the oblivion of sleep. The prospect of the future loomed ahead of her, formless and frightening. Reinette knew how spectacularly unequipped she was for life in the modern world. All the skills she'd mastered as a young woman were now comically useless, things learned in a dead era. Reinette had always been a hothouse flower, a kept woman, dependent on the patronage of others. She had no money, no home; she didn't know how to use a car or a computer; even the phone calls she'd made had only been on the house telephones in the mansion. Where would she go? What would she do?
At last worry and exhaustion took their toll. Reinette turned onto her side, falling into a black, impenetrable slumber.
A rumbling and grinding noise briefly flickered through her dreams. Reinette was a child again, chasing butterflies in Maman's garden, listening to the sound of distant summer thunder.
"Jeanne-Antoinette, come inside!" the governess had scolded. "It's going to rain!"
She blinked awake. "Mother?" she mumbled. Then she remembered where she was. That grinding noise—had the ship moved?
She sprinted for the hallway, running through the maze to the console room. Empty. Lights blinked on the control board.
The door opened, and the Doctor breezed inside, showered and shaved, dressed in a crisp blue suit. Beneath the jacket he wore a white shirt and a teal-green necktie. On his feet he wore canvas basketball shoes, in exactly the same color as his tie.
He spotted Reinette, and an enormous smile spread across his face, warming her to the core. She laughed and sprang toward him. He met her halfway, catching her in his arms and spinning her about.
"Madame de Pompadour!" he laughed, kissing her forehead. "Still alive in the twenty-first century—only with bigger teeth."
She laughed exultantly, squeezing him so tightly that he grunted in protest.
"Sorry!" she said, releasing him. She examined his neck, finding not a trace of damage, not a scar, not even a pucker. "Are you all right?"
"Never better." His warm breath smelled of sweet tea and food: he must have stopped somewhere for breakfast. He still looked a trifle pale, too thin, but otherwise completely healed and healthy.
"What happened?" Selene hurried into the console room. Michael was on her heels, tugging a sweatshirt over his head. She spotted the sunlight coming in through the open door and asked, "Did we move?" She stopped short, staring at the Doctor. "You're all right?"
"I'm fine," the Doctor told her. "Go look."
She went to the door and stepped outside briefly. "We're in downtown Pest."
"Does it fly?" Michael studied the console curiously.
"It disappears in one place, re-appears in another," the Doctor explained. He dug into his pockets, producing a few crisp bank notes, handing some to Michael, some to Selene. "There's a butcher's shop right around the corner that you might want to patronize."
"Thank you." Selene tucked the money into her bodice. "There's a couple of people I need to see, as well."
"I wanna see what's left of my apartment," Michael said. "Get some stuff."
"Wonderful," the Doctor beamed. "It's almost ten right now—should we meet back here at one?"
"Works for me," said Michael.
"That's fine," Selene confirmed.
The Doctor fished into an inner pocket and withdrew two small white plastic tubes. He tossed one to Selene, one to Reinette.
"Meet your new best friend," he said. "SPF 40. Both of you have been living indoors for centuries. You'll get a helluva sunburn if you go outside without it."
"Thank you," said Reinette.
Michael and Selene departed. Reinette carefully applied a layer of the pale cream to her hands and face and neck.
"All right?" he smiled.
"I'm a little nervous," she admitted. "I haven't been around humans in ages."
"Aah, they're not all that bad. Noisy, sometimes, and a little thick, but really, they rather grow on you after a while."
They stepped outside the TARDIS, and the Doctor pulled the door shut behind them. He offered Reinette his arm. They stepped out of an alleyway and into the bustling morning crowds of Ferenciek Square.
"See?" he said, smiling down at her.
Reinette felt like a young child, first learning to walk, or an invalid just getting back on her feet. Everything seemed strange—the modern buildings, the cars and busses whizzing past, the throngs of humanity, the unfamiliar scents and sounds. But strangest of all was the warm, glowing sunlight on her face.
She glanced up at the sky. "This will take some getting used to."
"There's plenty of time—neither one of us is getting old." His fingers laced through hers. "What would you like to see first?"
"Anything," she said simply. "I've never visited Budapest before."
"All right, then. Let's be tourists for a few hours."
They walked. Reinette began to feel somewhat more comfortable, not like such an oddity. She reminded herself that vampire or not, she was still a child of the Earth, and she had as much right to stroll through its cities as anyone.
She caught a few admiring glances as they went along. A businessman of about sixty paused for a lingering look up and down, and as he passed by, he actually doffed his cap and held it against his heart. Reinette favored him with a warm smile. It almost felt like being in Versailles again, when the king's courtiers would throw flowers at her feet.
The dockside warehouse echoed with rough male voices, redolent with the pleasant smell of leather. Selene strolled up to the first worker she saw.
"I'd like to speak with Lorant," she said in Hungarian.
He stared at her, jaw slack, then scurried away.
A moment later, a middle-aged man appeared. He regarded Selene with a stunned expression.
"Selene?" he sputtered. "We heard about the fire… we thought everyone…?"
"There were a couple of survivors," she said. "I'm one of them."
"It's broad daylight!"
"Yes," she said, pointedly skipping explanations. "I need some new things."
"Of course," he murmured, escorting her out to the back room of the warehouse. The sight of so much Death Dealer gear hanging from racks hit her like a kick in the gut. Despite Viktor's lies, the coven had been Selene's family, the Death Dealers in particular, and she'd lost them along with everything else. All her brave brothers and sisters would never come here again to procure new suits of protective gear. She didn't know if any of her fellow-warriors had survived the battle in the lycans' bunker or Marcus's bloody rampage through the mansion. In a twinkling, the centuries-old werewolf hunters, the descendants of Viktor's medieval army, had become extinct. I might well be the last one, Selene realized.
Shrugging off the temptation to indulge in self-pity, she found a set of leathers in her own size and headed for a changing cubicle. She'd done her best to clean up her suit in the TARDIS, but it was still filthy and full of holes. The new gear felt welcome against her skin. She grabbed a long coat off the rack on her way out.
At a market kiosk, she purchased a pair of sleek black sunglasses: the bright morning sun burned harshly against her eyes. As much as she relished the light and warmth, the Doctor had been right about one thing: her dark-adapted body would need time to adjust. She wondered absently how Erika—Reinette—was faring.
The stares of people on the streets disconcerted her at first. At night, Death Dealers tended to blend in with the crowds: humans simply assumed they were Goth party-goers, part of the night life of any major city. A woman dressed like Selene in full daylight attracted more attention. People regarded her with expressions of amusement or disbelief; men stared at her with eyes full of lust; tourists gawked, no doubt imagining she must be part of some crazy Hungarian cult. Others rolled their eyes with jaded, seen-it-all expressions.
One young American businesswoman murmured to another, "Morticia never heard that Goth's like so last decade."
A teenage boy waiting at a stoplight laughed openly, but without malice. "Halloween's next week!" he shouted.
A little girl clutched her mother's hand and said, "Mama, that lady looks like a vampire."
"Don't be silly," the mother chided. "There's no such thing as vampires."
Selene smiled inwardly, strolling through the crowds.
Half an hour later, she stood in the lobby of a tall, modern building. People in the elevator edged nervously away from her. Selene kept her sunglasses on and affected a disinterested stance. She heard audible sighs of relief when she exited the lift on the sixteenth floor, the Budapest headquarters of Ziodex Industries.
"Is Radomár in?" she asked the receptionist.
"He's in a meeting." The young woman licked her lips, staring up at the Death Dealer with apprehension.
"Interrupt him, then. Tell him Selene's here."
"Just Selene. He knows me."
"All right." The girl didn't look too happy, but she disappeared down a hallway. Other office workers peered out curiously. Selene's ears detected quiet, excited whispers.
A moment later, the receptionist re-appeared, a portly middle-aged man in tow.
"Selene!" he cried out. "My God, we heard what happened… we'd almost given up hope that there were any survivors!" They shook hands. "We've been in touch with our affiliates in New York, so they're aware of what happened… they're going to send someone over as soon as they can." Ocean crossings were always difficult for vampires—they had to travel by ship, as flying was impossible. Selene knew that the survivors of Amelia's coven would sooner or later have to be told the stunning truth. She wondered if they'd be able to accept it.
Radomár led her to his office. "Let me just say how pleased I am to see at least one of you alive…" He broke off abruptly, swallowing hard. "Blessed Maria!" he gasped.
Selene had crossed right through a beam of sunlight to take a seat in front of his desk. He stared at his clock, at the sun, at Selene.
"It's almost noon," he sputtered.
"Yes," she answered serenely, removing her sunglasses.
She waved a dismissive hand. "Don't worry about it." It was an order, not a suggestion.
"Of course," he murmured.
Selene continued, "I have some business matters to discuss…"
The cop posted outside Michael's apartment looked acutely bored, despite his newspaper, fidgeting in his folding chair and yawning. He failed to hear the American's approach, only looking up when Michael was right on top of him.
"Hi," said Michael mildly.
The policeman bellowed, jumping to his feet and yanking out his sidearm. Michael snatched the weapon and twisted it like modeling clay.
"Oops, sorry 'bout that," he said, pushing the ruined gun back into the cop's hands.
The youngster made a tiny, high-pitched noise that sounded like, "Wibble."
"It's almost eleven," Michael said. "Why don't you take an early lunch?"
The cop bolted. From his scent, Michael deduced his first stop would be a bathroom. Laughing quietly, he slipped into his apartment.
The last time he'd been here had been when Selene had accosted him, demanding to know why the lycans were chasing him. He replayed the scene in his mind, smiling and shaking his head. The tiny flat seemed like something from another world, another life. He made a quick survey of his belongings, finally fishing a big duffel bag out of the closet and stuffing some clothes into it. He checked the desk, but the cops had confiscated his passport. Michael's wallet was long gone. He had no ID, no money apart from some loose change in his pocket, no job. Yet, none of that bothered him. He felt oddly transcendent.
The medical textbooks would be the most difficult to give up, but they were too big to take with him. Michael stared at the volumes, thinking of all the grueling work, the hours of training, the hard-won knowledge they represented. At last he picked up the phone and tapped in a familiar number.
"Yeah?" the sleepy voice answered.
"Adam? Sorry I woke you up."
"Michael?" On the other end of the line, Adam Lockwood was instantly awake. "Where the hell are you?"
"I'm okay," Michael told him. "But I'm never going back to the hospital. That's over for me now. Swing by my flat and take whatever you want, okay? Give the books to the hospital library, or find some starving med student. Just don't throw them out."
"Michael, what the fuck's going on? You just vanish off the face of the earth, and—"
"It's been great," Michael said. "Bye." He hung up.
The cops seemed to have taken a few of his personal photos, probably wanting to identify his family and friends for questioning. Michael made a mental note to drop his parents a line. He felt a pang, wondering if he'd ever be able to explain to them what had happened. They'd freak, he thought. Better to let them think that the grief over Sam's death and the pressures of the internship had caused him to snap. Hi Mom and Dad, he wrote on an imaginary postcard. Quit my internship, met an amazing woman, wandering around Europe with her. Not sure when I'll be home again. No fixed address, a gypsy life. Let everyone think he'd fallen off the map. That would be easier than trying to fit in, trying to be human, waiting for his friends and family to notice that time was standing still in his body.
The police had left one of the pictures of him and Samantha. Michael traced her face with a fingertip, then tucked the photo into his duffel bag, the only memento of his past he wanted to keep. Around his neck hung Sonja's pendant once again, the talisman of his new life. After one last glance around, Michael shouldered his bag and left the apartment. He didn't look back.
They met up in Ferenciek Square. Michael arrived last. The Doctor and Reinette were discussing the Baroque architecture with Selene, all based on their firsthand observations from the early eighteenth century. Michael paused for a moment, painfully aware of his youth. The Doctor had been around for more than a millennium, Selene for six centuries, Reinette for three. At twenty-eight, Michael was, by their standards, an infant. He couldn't get his head around the notion that he'd still be alive in another five hundred or a thousand years.
He considered the two women, both beautiful, but in such completely different ways. Selene was like the full moon at midnight, he thought, dark and mysterious. Reinette was like noon on a midsummer day, golden and full of light. He decided that he much preferred the moon, which was just as well, since the Doctor so obviously favored the sun.
He caught the alien's eye and called out, "Hey, Van Helsing."
One eyebrow raised, the Doctor gave him a disgruntled look. "Look who thinks he's so clever."
"Do you even have a first name? Or a last name?"
"Yes, 'the Doctor.'"
"Yeah, I'm a doctor, too."
"You may be a doctor, but I'm the Doctor."
"For God's sake, Michael, it's an alias." Selene regarded Michael with fond exasperation.
The four of them stood facing each other, recognizing that after several days of life-or-death crises, the moment of farewell had come. Nobody spoke. A few pigeons fluttered about.
"I really do hate goodbyes," the Doctor grumbled.
Selene produced from one pocket a small plastic card and handed it to Reinette.
"What's this?" the younger woman asked.
"Freedom," Selene told her. "Courtesy of Ziodex Industries."
Michael stared down at the thing, a Visa bank card with the Ziodex logo. It had been printed with the name Reinette Poisson.
"What does it do?" asked Reinette.
"Everything," Selene responded. "You can buy anything, anywhere in the world with that, and Ziodex will pay for it. You can buy a car or even a house if you want. I had them add your name to the Corporation. You're a shareholder now."
"Oh, my God!" Reinette was awestruck. "Selene—you didn't have to do that!"
The Death Dealer shrugged. Michael felt pleased and a little amazed that Selene had actually thought about someone else and had taken steps to look after Reinette's welfare. The Selene he'd met only a few nights earlier would never have done such a thing.
"So, what are you going to do now?" The Doctor's question encompassed both Selene and Michael.
The two glanced at each other, and Selene said, "We're going to find the surviving vampires and lycans and try to forge some kind of peace agreement. It won't be easy, but with all our leaders dead and our numbers decimated, maybe the survivors will be more willing to set aside old differences."
"Good luck," the Doctor said with real feeling.
"What about you?" asked Michael.
"Oh, I don't know." The Doctor smiled widely at his lover. "A long time ago, I promised Reinette I'd show her the stars. I like to keep my promises."
"I can't wait," she said, leaning against him.
"Have fun." Michael offered her a hand, then the Doctor.
Selene added, "Reinette, if you ever decide to settle back on Earth, you'll always have a place in the new order."
"Thank you." Selene wasn't the hugging type, so Reinette offered a hand, very French and dignified. To Michael's vast surprise, they kissed each other's cheeks, as European women often did, completely unselfconscious. Fleetingly, he glimpsed the young Romanian lass that Selene had once been.
Michael told the Doctor, "Thanks for everything… we couldn't have done it without you."
Somewhat abashed, the Doctor said, "Of course you could have!"
After a few more goodbyes and wishes of good luck, the four drifted apart. Michael took Selene's arm, and they strolled across the square, enjoying the peaceful autumn afternoon. The future was full of uncertainty, but at least now they would face it together.
"Where to now?" the Doctor asked Reinette.
"To the stars?" she smiled.
"Are you sure?"
Her face fell. "What do you mean? Of course I'm sure!"
He gestured her over to a nearby bench, and they sat.
"Reinette… you have real freedom now. You're immortal. You can even go out in the sunlight. And you have an unlimited income. You can go anywhere you want, do anything you want, live the kind of life you could never have before… completely your own woman."
She stared at him. "All those things are meaningless if I can't be with the one I love."
"Are you sure?" he repeated.
"Of my love for you? Very sure! Doctor…" She faltered; she knew he was capricious, but had his feelings for her changed so quickly? "I hope you still want me to come with you?"
He kissed her hands and held them against his face. "More than anything." His voice shook.
"There's so many things I need to learn," she reminded him. "And there's nobody I'd rather have as my mentor than you."
He hopped up, pulling her to her feet, though his sudden high spirits couldn't quite mask the emotions of the moment; his eyes were wet. "Well, then, where does Madame de Pompadour want to go first?"
"Paris," she decided, playing along with him.
"Feeling a bit nostalgic?" he teased.
"Like hell," she laughed, sliding her arm through his. "No offense, Doctor, but the things in your wardrobe are an embarrassment. I want to go shopping."
The time rotor rose and fell gently. Reinette's heart thumped with excitement; her grand adventure was about to begin—the trip to the stars that the Doctor had promised three centuries earlier. Thanks to Ziodex, the medical room fridge was full of cloned blood, enough to last several months.
The sojourn in Paris had yielded a pile of clothes, most of it practical, comfortable gear, now safely stashed in the TARDIS wardrobe. Reinette had indulged in few exotic pieces pour la nuit, including a gorgeous dressing gown in dark red silk for the Doctor.
The ship began to materialize, grinding and shuddering to a halt. She stared eagerly at the monitor. "Where are we now?"
"The fourth moon of the planet Malorchis, which circles the star commonly called Cavia, in the Quadrazon galaxy. Nine hundred trillion stars, each with its own collection of planets and moons and asteroids, not a single one of them inhabited." On the monitor appeared an image of a dark, rocky landscape. Reinette squinted but couldn't make out any interesting details. "If you're looking for the cosmic middle of nowhere, this is about as good as it gets."
She stared at him. Was this some kind of obscure Time Lord humor? Or perhaps a hazing of sorts, a joke, an initiation rite for his new traveling companions?
Reinette took the bait. "What's so interesting about that?"
He flipped off the monitor, stepped closer to her, then leaned down and kissed her eyelids, one at a time.
"Privacy," he whispered, tipping up her chin to kiss her lips. "Complete—utter—uninterrupted—privacy."
With a wicked grin, she said, "You have the sexiest brain in the entire universe."
His eyes held a naughty gleam. "And you are remarkably astute." He flipped a couple of switches and the lights dimmed, the ship powering down to conserve energy. The Doctor took Reinette's arm and led her out of the console room. She listened with interest to the walls of the time ship: maybe it was her imagination, but the TARDIS itself seemed to be purring with contentment. Her fingers tightened around the Doctor's. Exploring the universe, she thought, could wait for another day.The End