Crack!Fic: Inter-Universe Travel Incorporated
A/N: I can give no acceptable explanation or apologise enough. All I have to say in my defence is that I present this as a warning to future writers in that one should never let the plot bunnies afflicted with myxomatosis breed. Never. Shoot them on sight.
Summary: It's just a jump to the left. A little step to the right. With your hands on your hips, and your characters in a dimension jump fic. Let's do the Time Warp again! (and to people who haven't seen Being Human - yes George does really talk with all those italics)
Pairings: Discworld: Polly/Mal, Being Human: none
Warnings: Takes place after the end of the series so may be mildly spoilerific. Otherwise nothing really, but it is crack!fic so insanity and forced Narativium inhalation do occur. Oh, and mild swearing.
Disclaimer: Author owns nothing and does not intend to profit from the work. Characters from Monstrous Regiment belong to Terry Pratchett and those from Being Human belong to the BBC.
A bit of background for those who don't read Terry Pratchett – will contain spoilers for MR
On the Discworld (a flat world carried by four elephants who stand on the back of a turtle which swims through space – work with me here) there are vampires. These vampires come in many shapes and sizes. Some are the old fashioned vampires you would recognise from Dracula legends, they sleep in coffins, can be damaged by sunlight, garlic, crosses, holy water, the works. Others have learnt to overcome the negative (read deadly) effects of such techniques and can live almost normal lives, as long as they keep their attention focussed.
A self-help programme has been set up for Vampires who wish to desist from the nasty habit of drinking blood. These people are called Black Ribboners and go through a strict 12 step programme in order to wean themselves off the dreaded b-vord. The process involves transferring the need to another subject or item selected by the vampire to match their individual tastes and desires. After they have completed the programme they join the general population, wear a twisted black ribbon on their lapel and attend weekly meetings to keep their resolution strong. There they sit around the harmonium singing encouraging hymns and drinking hot cocoa. Though not accepted totally by society, a Black Ribboner is more welcome than an unreformed Vamp.
In the Terry Pratchett novel Monstrous Regiment, a group of young lads join the army for a number of plot related reasons and go off to assist their small country in its fight against the country next door. Both countries have similarities to Eastern European or Baltic states. During the course of the novel each young 'lad' is in turn revealed to be instead a young 'lady' masquerading in order to circumvent the chauvinistic religious and social barriers that stand in their way. Suffice it to say that the group win the day (I'll try not to spoil too much of it for you in case you might want to read it) and following discharge from the army, go their separate ways. Two of the 'lads' Maladict[a] (a black Ribboner who has transferred to coffee) and Polly Perks rejoin the army at the end of the novel to continue fighting for equality, justice, freedom and quite probably a hard boiled egg.
All you really need to remember is girls masquerading as boys in the army and a vampire who needs unrestricted access to coffee at all times. Or else she'll start biting again. And you wouldn't want that.
When In Bristol…
This, thought George nursing his umpteenth cup of tea, was the final piece of evidence that he had no life. Normal people went out on a Saturday night. He could even remember how it was supposed to go. You'd go out, have a few drinks, have a few more drinks, and then when satisfactorily drunk go to some dive with a sticky floor and dance awkwardly until they put the lights up and everyone left dancing alone skulked home via the kebab shop to nurse the hangover. Sometimes you might get lucky and a nice girl might take pity on you and then there was the careful dance of the coffee invitation and the hoping that this time your flatmate hadn't thrown up in your bed again. Staying in, slumped on a second hand couch watching "Total Wipeout!" on BBC1 whilst waiting for Casualty to start so that you could snark bitterly at the behaviour of the nursing staff just didn't compare.
"My life is over" he informed the other two occupants of the room.
Mitchell as usual ignored him but Annie looked around, worried and he was forced to reach out and grab her arm to prevent her getting up to make him another cup of tea. At that moment the TV picture juddered, the digibox on the blink again and he swore, nudging Annie to nudge Mitchell to go and fix it. Normally he would be wiling enough to fiddle with the wires, reassuring connectivity appealing to his geeky side, but tonight he was in such a foul mood that he couldn't be bothered. So it was Mitchell that was crawling forward to reach round the back of the unit and jiggle wires when the flash of blue light ripped through the flat with an unpleasant tearing sound.
When they blinked away the white dots they saw sprawled on the floor before the TV, where Mitchell had been just a minute before, a figure in an unfamiliar uniform. For all the androgynous appearance George's nose and the still untamed wolf libido told him it was definitely a female. She seemed to be carrying something.
"Oh My God!" George leapt to his feet pulling his arm from Annie's terrified grasp (and hoping no-one had heard his girly scream when Mitchell had vanished before their eyes). "There is a woman in my house! And she has a cross bow!"
The intruder just stared at them, the confusion they were all feeling written large across her face. Then, as though suddenly recollecting what she was carrying, she carefully put the crossbow down, ensuring it wasn't pointing at anyone.
"How is this even possible?" George appealed to Annie but she could offer nothing but a shrug.
"Mitchell was there! And now he's gone and you're…" he waved in a derogatory manner "…here. And you have a crossbow. Why do you have a crossbow? And, Oh My God, what looks like a very efficient sword!"
He swallowed in an attempt to collect himself.
"What the, excuse my language, FLYING FUCK is going on?"
The young woman sighed and rubbed the bridge of her nose. When she spoke her accent startled them. The words were perfect English, but with an unfamiliar lilt, perhaps Russian George thought.
"Do you have any coffee?" They both stared at her in total incomprehension. "Coffee? Made from roasted Coffea Arabica or Coffea canephora beans, ground and infused in hot water?"
"Yes, thank you, we know what Coffee is!"
"We've got tea." Annie offered brightly.
"No. It has to be coffee." She looked at them and realising they spoke the truth shook her head. "You don't have any coffee in the house? At all?"
"I'll look." But George stopped halfway to the kitchen as the idiocy of what he was doing sunk in.
"Hang on a minute. You came here, out of nowhere, disrupting a nice quiet evening let me tell you, and we've not had many of those lately..." He caught himself rambling. "Anyway! You come here out of nowhere and you get me looking for coffee for you? Well I'm not doing it!"
He drew himself up and adjusted his glasses. "We're not making you coffee until you tell us what's going on! If that's ok. No! Even if it's not ok!"
Annie looked over to him in gentle exasperation. "It's only coffee George. It's not a major demand."
The young woman made a 'what-she-said' face.
"Besides" Annie added, "we can easily kick her butt if she tries anything. You are, after all, the worlds gayest Ninja and my powers are quite strong in this house, I'll throw the sofa at her or something."
"Not the TV." George held out his hands in a pleading gesture. "We're still making payments."
The stalemate continued in silence, the girl's gaze flickering from one to the other of them as each wondered what to do next. George could feel the nervous sweat prickling down his spine and castigated himself for being such a wuss. Straightening up and pushing his shoulders back in an attempt to at least appear butch he determined not to let her dominate him. It was his house after all, his territory. She moved at last tilting her head to one side as though she'd just picked up on something interesting. Her face passed through a number of expressions and the one it eventually settled on worried him. She sniffed deeply, snuffling at the air.
"You're a werewolf?" Her lip curled.
"Maybe! How did you know that?"
He inhaled in turn and caught the scent of something familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time. An image of Mitchell the first time he'd met him flickered across his mind. Why would she remind him of Mitchell?
"Wait a minute. You're a vampire?"
"A vampire?" Annie vanished, reappearing in the kitchen. "I thought Mitchell was finished with all that!"
"Hey, hey." She held up placating hands. "It's all cool, see?"
The evil she vampire who had invaded his house pulled forward the lapel of her jacket, showing them something there. It was a folded ribbon, held on a pin, like an AIDS ribbon but black. It didn't ring any bells.
"What's that then? You're against prostate cancer? Campaigning for better rights for Goths?"
She sighed, exasperated. "No you idiot. I'm off the stuff. A Black Ribboner. You've heard of us right? 'Not Vun Drop'?"
Two puzzled faces stared back at her. Comprehension was not making house calls today.
"I've done the programme. I'm officially certified as no longer a danger to women posing on balconies in under-wired nightdresses." They still weren't getting it so she continued in quiet statement. "I don't bite people anymore and I don't suck blood."
They persisted with the staring.
"Anyway, you live with a vampire."
How did she know that? George asked the question and in reply she swept a hand around the room explaining that the carriage clock and style of ornament placement were obviously vampiric in origin.
"Plus it stinks of vampire. I'm surprised you can't smell it. Guess you must have got used to it"
""Ok, yes" George gave up, there was no arguing with her. "A vampire does live here. But Mitchell is our friend!"
The vampire lifted her hands and shrugged, the 'whatever' as clear as if she had spoken it. Either vampires and werewolves lived together in perfect harmony where she came from or she just couldn't be bothered to judge. Rubbing the bridge of her nose again she asked plaintively, "are you sure you don't have any coffee?"
Mitchell opened his eyes and then quickly closed them again in the hope the vision would go away. When he cracked open an eye he was disturbed to see that they were still there. It wasn't so much the large number of lads in uniform holding him down, rather the annoyed looking young woman currently aiming what looked like a loaded and cocked crossbow at the anatomically correct portion of his chest.
"Er. Hello?" He dragged up his best conciliatory smile but that only made them tense further.
The woman leant a worrying few inches closer, the arrow tip now skimming his breast bone, and asked him an incomprehensible question.
"Are you a Black Ribboner?"
He gazed up at her in confusion. She sighed at his stupidity and tried again.
"Are. You. A. Black. Ribboner?"
Women asking incomprehensible questions were something he was perfectly at home with, he'd been living in the same house as Annie for a year after all.
"He's definitely a vamp Sarge. Look at the teeth."
Mitchell pulled his lip down over his fangs and wondered if he could survive another stake to the chest without George and his 999 skills.
"Scruffy though." It seemed they all had something to say.
"Maybe we should just stake you now to save trouble." The exceedingly frightening young woman slid her finger purposefully from where it had been resting along the shaft to hover over the trigger.
Mitchell felt he had to do something. There was no way he could raise his hands any higher, or adopt a more submissive position (which incidentally his ego wasn't that happy about).
"Look, you don't need the crossbow. Ok I'm a vampire; you've got me there love. But I've been off the stuff for over a year now, on my mother's life!"
The crossbow was being to get rather personal. His patience was running thin and he wasn't sure he wanted to play this stupid game anymore. Plus the "scruffy" comment had rankled.
"I'm not from round here, I don't know who the feck you are and I don't know anything about this ribbon shite!"
The crossbow twitched and in that instant he saw his life flash before his eyes. A lot of it had been very boring. His eyes, aching from staring at the bolt-tip cross-eyed jumped up to her face and he saw her expression relax as she accepted that he was probably telling the truth. She stepped back and his shoulders slumped in relief, though he noted she was still holding the crossbow rather more in his direction than he would like.
"Ok. Fair enough. So where did you come from and where's my vampire gone?"
He quickly waved conciliatory hands again as the crossbow swung back. It became abundantly clear that the woman was not in any way joking at this moment in time.
"Where. Is. My. Vampire?"
Mitchell promoted this day to his worst. Even above the day he got vamped. Even above the day he asked the girl next door for a kiss before he went away to war and had to walk down the high street with what felt like the whole village laughing at him. He was going to die in a muddy clearing miles away from home by the hand of an insane power-mad bitch with a crossbow fetish and no-one would ever know.
"I don't know!!" He hadn't meant to wail, but the strange place and the multitude of angry people with weapons was getting to him. "I was sat at home with my friends, minding my own business and watching crap Saturday night TV when there was this fizzle of light and I opened my eyes to find you lot staring at me and the uncomfortable end of a crossbow attempting to make friends with my breastbone. I swear. I don't know what happened!"
He suddenly thought of George and Annie left back there wondering where he had gone. What would they be doing? Would they worry? George would work it out. George could always work anything out given enough encouragement, generally a boot up his arse.
He looked up to see his attacker put the crossbow up, flicking the safety catch on and sighed in relief. Maybe the maniac wasn't going to kill him today.
"They have coffee where you come from?"
Mitchell blinked, confused. She might have decided not to murder him in cold blood, but it appeared she was still unable to stop asking incomprehensible questions.
The woman smiled, relieved, and seemed to be pondering something. Whatever it was it seemed to have distracted her from her homicidal crossbow tendencies and she turned to the lads holding him down and indicated they should let go.
"Wherever Mal is, I'm sure he'll be ok." A man Mitchell recognised as a Corporal received the crossbow from the disturbed bitch with a reassuring smile. Stripes on uniforms were a long ago learnt skill though now he looked, Mitchell thought these uniforms seemed worryingly familiar in their unfamiliarity.
"I'm sure." She rubbed the bridge of her nose as if she wasn't that sure actually. "Take over Corporal. There are some people I need to talk to."
Mitchell thought he heard her mutter: "I can't be doing with this" as she walked away.
George and Annie were hiding in the kitchen. George would argue that they weren't hiding, they were just talking in an area of their house that they had every right to be in considering they were up to date on the rent and possession was 9/10ths of the law. But the quick looks he kept sneaking at the figure hunched on the sofa cradling a cup of instant coffee belied his protests.
She'd given her name as 'Mal' but nothing more, where she came from or what she might consider doing next were still a mystery. Annie was whispering in his ear that they should really develop some kind of plan, possibly regarding exorcism when a heavy knock at the door resounded through the apartment. Three heads perked up. Mal looked across the expanse of space at them and George realised that as the only person legally living in the house he had to do something. Pulling himself together he walked briskly over to the door, feeling Mal's eyes on him every step of the way. Sliding back the Yale he opened the door a crack, and jumped back as he saw who was there. It was one of Mitchell's vampires. That lot from the undertakers, he'd never caught all their names. One of the clever ones by the looks of him, not merely a thug but one involved in planning.
"Er. Mitchell's not here" he stuttered and jumped again as he felt a light touch on his arm. Mal had come up behind him and was looking around his shoulder with curiosity. On seeing her, their unwelcome knocker perked up, recognising her as vampire immediately.
"I don't think that's any business of yours." She stepped out from behind George, seemingly unafraid of the teeth in the doorway. "Why are you here?"
"Friend of Mitchell's are you? We could always do with fresh members." He smiled unpleasantly. "Welcome to Bristol darlin', can I come in?"
George heard Annie's intake of breath behind him at the same time as her hand tightened on his arm. Mal had heard them too and frowned.
"I don't think so."
She was all politeness but non-the-less reached past George to grasp the edge of the door in preparation to shutting it in his face. The outer vamp stepped forward, almost crossing the threshold, but not quite. His eyes turned pure reflective black, his teeth more prominent than ever as he leaned in.
"Don't cross me little girl. I've got more power than you've had hot dinners, you don't want to throw your lot in with these losers."
Mal stepped back, lips curling upward at the edges slightly and removed her hand from the door. Thinking it was capitulation she was offering he smiled in return and made as if to come in. But her free hand had dropped to the hilt on her hip and before he could raise a foot to cross the step she had drawn the sword. It made an unpleasant ringing noise as it was released from the scabbard and their visitor stepped back, allowing her to loom over him with the added height of the doorstep on her side. As the blade hung there before all their gazes, vibrating slightly, George could see that it was indeed a very efficient sword. She didn't brandish it, merely held the blade steady, her stance screaming a warning of coiled tension ready to explode into action.
Then she smiled and, cooperating fully, the evening sunlight glinted off razor sharp incisors in that no-longer friendly face. Still smiling, she tapped the now perspiring aggressor on the shoulder and murmured quietly that she wished to inform him of something.
"This is a very sharp sword." As she spoke the tip traced a delicate line across his throat, gathering sweat droplets in its path and came to rest in the hollow where his collarbone drifted away from his neck.
"It is customary I know to use a stake in these situations, but I understand complete removal of the head from the body generally works just as well. Now sir, I have but one simple question for you. Are you going to continue bothering me, or is this the moment at which you take yourself off and find something more pleasurable to be doing?"
It was only after George had shut and bolted the door and Mal had returned the sword to its scabbard that Annie reappeared, poking her head through from the kitchen to remark:
"At least she's better than Mitchell at actually getting things done!"
Mal gave a small smile, unfastening the sword belt and laying the whole ensemble carefully to one side before collapsing back into the sofa and picking up the coffee again. George was still hovering in the vicinity of the kitchen with Annie skulking behind him and finally Mal snapped at them to stop fidgeting and come and sit down. It took a few minutes of nervous shuffling but eventually they settled, George at the very far end of the sofa with Annie at his feet. The silence stretched on uncomfortably and then George, unable to bear it any longer, took the plunge.
"Do you know where Mitchell is?"
"I think he's back there." Mal put down her coffee cup and turned to face them, drawing up her knees and hugging them to her chest.
"Where?" That was Annie, George still thinking through the full connotations of her words.
"Back where I came from. Borogravia, well, not Borogravia per se, he could have landed anywhere. I mean he's back there on the Disc."
"The disc?" Annie shuffled round so that she could participate more in the discussion.
"You mean you're from a different planet?" George's brain was starting to tick over at last. The removal of sharp implements from the vicinity of the person he was talking to tended to help with that.
"Which planet is this?"
"Earth of course" Annie explained, confusion beginning to draw down a frown in her smooth forehead.
"Third planet out from the sun or Sol," George added. "Stable rotational orbit. Rocky crust over molten iron core. Mostly Harmless."
"Then yes, I'm from a different planet." She reached out for her coffee again. "Flat spinning disk supported on the backs of four elephants standing on the back of a turtle that swims through space. Mostly Magical."
"Oh" said Annie. There wasn't really anything else to say.
Considering the situation, George concluded that they could either assume the woman was mad and recently escaped from a mental institution, or that all this was in fact real. Bearing in mind that Mitchell had recently disappeared without trace under their very eyes he was currently leaning towards the second option. Just because you didn't believe in things didn't mean they were polite enough to stop existing. He was proof enough of that. If you'd asked him three years about the existence of vampires and werewolves he'd have laughed in your face. Or possibly smiled politely and saved his laughter until after you'd gone, but still. And now look at him. Looking back over the conversation he found there was something still niggling at him. He just had to ask.
"Really a turtle…?"
Three un-drunk cups of tea later Mal had had enough. The odd couple were kindness itself, the three un-drunk cups of tea bore witness to that, but as she slipped out into the street drawing the door behind her she wondered how it was this Mitchell person hadn't strangled them already. They did like to talk and seemed unable to prevent themselves wandering around in conversational circles. Added to that was the girl's seemingly insatiable interest in the minutiae of life in Borogravia when all Mal wanted to discuss was how this Snafu had happened and how the blazes they were going to fix it.
She'd listened carefully (ignoring the way their accents grated on her ears) and managed to make (for her) some helpful comments as they'd attempted to make sense of what had happened. From what the boy (and she couldn't think of him as a man, not with those ears and that physique) had said it seemed she'd crossed instantaneously between parallel dimensions and the bridge had vanished behind her. What that meant in terms of getting home she couldn't face up to contemplating at that moment in time. He'd said something about reversing the polarity and she'd recognised he'd been bullshitting himself as much as her. It was at that point she'd shot up from the settee, muttering something about needing some air and made for the door. Annie had appeared at her side holding a dark jacket as she struggled with the locking mechanism and she'd taken it gratefully.
That reminded her, she thought as she watched a lone figure pass by on the other side of the road; she must ask if all the people on "Earth" could move from spot to spot instantaneously without passing through the air in between. If so this place was even weirder than she'd already accepted. Taking a deep breath of the chill air she leant back against the scrappily painted wall and allowed herself at last to wonder what Polly was doing.
Vampires are good at staying immobile in one place, it helps when waiting for the perfect nightgown/balcony moment and it was a good while later before she moved again. Giving up on her search for a familiar constellation in the strangely fuzzy sky she lowered herself to the steps, finding a comfortable dip in the stone that indicated a parade of people had sat in this same spot over the years. Pulling the borrowed jacket up around her ears against the chill she felt something solid in a pocket and after some difficulty with the zip managed to slip her hand inside and found a packet of cigarettes. Bless that Mitchell. Not only did he have decent clothes but he had the good sense to leave some smokes lying around just in case a random dimension hopper should drop by unexpectedly. She opened the packet and sniffed appreciatively at the contents.
She was sitting on the doorstep, smoking, when Annie stepped through the door without opening it and perched beside her. They sat in silence for a moment before Mal broke the quiet.
"Annie?" The girl turned towards her with a friendly smile.
"Does everyone here walk through walls?" Mal indicated the door with her cigarette hand. The other was fully occupied holding the lighter she still hadn't got the courage to return to her breeches pocket.
"I'm a ghost."
"My fiancé pushed me down the stairs. This was my house then."
Mal couldn't think of anything to answer that and in the silence looked down to see she'd been doing it again, unconsciously caressing the engraving on the lighter with her thumb, running it back and forth over the words. Unbidden a memory surfaced, Polly's worried face hovering as she'd opened the box, the burnished steel nestling in the dark velvet, the words clearer then. Across the dimensions she felt the tug of home and swallowed a sudden lump in her throat.
Stubbing out the remains of the smoked cigarette on the edge of the step she pulled another from the pack. But having lit it and consciously placed the lighter back in her breeches pocket out of sight she realised she now had nothing to do with her other hand. Plunging it deep into a pocket, she hoped Annie hadn't seen the hint of tremor or if she had she would attribute it to the low temperature.
"This hasn't happened before then"
"No." Annie decide not to comment on the distress visible in the way the girl held herself. "But don't worry, George is smart, we'll fix this."
She caught the unconvinced look Mal flashed in her direction before her gaze stuttered away, staring straight ahead across the street. The vampire sat unmoving apart from the hand lifting the cigarette now and then to her lips. Whatever she was thinking about she wasn't sharing. Annie desperately tried to think of something to reassure her. But what was there to say? Sorry you've been dragged across the dimensions to a place you don't understand, shoved in front of strangers (one of whom is dead) and left to cope?
Mal abruptly took a last drag on the fag and flicked it into the street. Annie watched the sparks fly as it hit the tarmac and felt the decision being made in the tense body beside her before she saw it. Hauling herself to her feet Mal began to walk away but halted at Annie's concerned enquiry.
"I need better coffee than the crap you've got here. No offence meant."
"None taken." Annie thought for a moment. "There's an Italian café down the road. The cabbies hang out there so they're probably still open and I'm pretty sure they've got an espresso machine. You could try them."
Shoving her hands deep into the pockets of the borrowed jacket Mal slouched away.
"What about money?" Annie called after her, but she was out of range.
She'd got lost. Ironic really, considering how her day was going so far. She hadn't meant to, but she'd obviously taken a wrong turning and now she was walking down one quiet residential street after another, with no sign of any sort of shops open or closed. How big was this town anyway? The houses all looked the same and she was beginning to doubt her internal sense of geography as it continued telling her she'd never been down this particular road before.
As she came round yet another identical corner into another identical street of houses she saw them. Halfway down the road were three gents in long coats wandering towards her. Vampires. She didn't need the screaming alarm her nasal passages were letting rip with to tell her that. Why did the arrogant ones always think an off-the-peg long coat sufficed for style? There was more to exuding an air of faint menace under the delicate auspices of perfect attire than merely throwing on a trench coat. Catching a glimpse of herself in the window of the strange carts these humans filled their streets with Mal's lips twitched in the smallest smidgeon of a smile. Even after a composure-ruffling non-consensual yank across who knew how many dimensions and attired in a borrowed jacket she still had it.
They'd come to within hailing distance as she'd been musing. The smallest one stepped forward, leaving the two overly large ones that even Mal could identify as Brawn without Brains to hover behind. Ah. It was going to be one of those conversations.
"Look what we have here boys, a new vampire..."
"Sodoff" she replied creatively.
"Where are you from then lad? Don't seem right to me, a nice boy like you out without protection."
"Oh, I have protection." She smiled nastily, raising her lip and allowing her teeth to be seen.
"Oh those… we've all got those. I meant real protection. This can be a scary world for little boys." He scented the air and then a nasty smile, mirroring her own, broke out over his face.
"Little girls on the other hand, well we've all got to do what we can to look after them don't we?" He took a step forward. "A nice thing like you really shouldn't be out on your own."
She shrugged and tried to move past him but his earlier step had brought him close enough to lay a hand on her arm.
"Don't touch me."
He laughed but it was abruptly swallowed as she threw off his hand and turning grabbed him around the neck to slam him hard against the nearest garden wall. The two mammoths stepped forward and she held up a hand to stop them.
"You Stay There." They did.
She leant in so she could whisper in his ear, feeling his pulse twitch under her hand.
"You are keeping me from my coffee. The last fool who attempted to deny me caffeination ended up in pieces. And they didn't even find all the pieces."
He whimpered, his feet scrabbling.
"Now, are you going to indicate the direction of the nearest purveyor of coffee, or would you prefer to continue wasting my time?"
He pointed a wavering finger down the road.
"Thank you. Your co-operation has been noted."
Released from her hold he slid down the wall to crouch shivering in a heap at her feet and she turned and left him there, the large two stepping aside to let her past.
She found the cafe easily enough, the one lighted shop front in a street of darkness. It was quiet, a couple of gents sat alone and a small group clustered around a table in the corner. Squinting up at the terrible script on the board on the wall she was relieved to find she recognised some names there, though much of it was incomprehensible. What was [ploughman's] anyway? She ordered an espresso and felt for her money purse on her belt, before remembering that her coin would be no use here. Thinking quickly she ran her fingers through the many pockets in the borrowed jacket and heaved a sigh of relief as she heard something chink in one of the inside pockets. Looking down at the small collection of coins she held she realised she had no idea which ones to hand over. But the owner looked reasonably kind so she merely proffered the handful of coins over the counter and waited for him to pick through and take what he wanted.
He looked from the handful of change to her face and back before shrugging and picking out a couple of coins. "That accent, not from round here originally are ya Luv?"
"Borogravia" she offered and looking down realised she still had a reasonable number of coins left.
"Oh, one of them Baltic States? Yeah, we get a lot of your people in here."
She smiled at him, careful to keep her teeth hidden and proffering the change again enquired if she could get another with the money she had left. He checked, nodded and took another two coins leaving her some small copper tokens and some silver. Dropping the change back into the original pocket she made a note to check with Annie or George as to how money worked over here.
The sounds of a coffee grinder drew her out of her reverie and her nostrils flared as the scent of fresh ground drifted over the counter. This was the real deal. She watched the familiar mechanics of coffee brewing, her need rising until eventually the paper cup was placed on the top in front of her, steam rising and carrying the beautiful aroma to her waiting senses. She couldn't stop her self reaching out and grabbing the cup, lifting it and inhaling deeply before taking that perfect first sip. Ah coffee.
"Careful! It's hot."
Her eyes met his over the cup and she shrugged, indicating that she hadn't burnt herself and wasn't intending to sue.
"Thank you" she threw over a shoulder as she turned to go and heard him call "come again" over the closing of the door behind her.
Retracing her steps back to the house she let the aroma of coffee wrap itself around her and carry her onward. Every now and then she took the smallest sip from the cup held so carefully. However, she wasn't so absorbed that she didn't realise she'd picked up a trail. Glancing back over her shoulder as she turned a corner she noted the two massive shapes following her and the small weed stumbling along in their wake. She ignored them, but it was too much to hope they would do the same. They came up on here heels, the two large ones beginning to talk between themselves about how terrible things occasionally happened to random loners out and about unprotected on the Bristol streets and what a shame it was that the Police seemed unable to do anything about it.
"Go home boys, before you do something you'd regret."
She took another sip from the rapidly cooling coffee, slowing her pace just a smidgeon but not enough that they realised they were coming up on her shoulder. They didn't take the hint, choosing instead to describe the condition of a body found recently in a dark alleyway in this area. They were approaching the back of a takeaway and she noted with interest the large waste bins jutting out into the walkway.
Making her decision she halted abruptly, the thug behind stumbling into her elbow and collapsing to the ground in pain whilst the other drifted to a stop alongside her. Changing the cup of precious coffee from her right to left hand she punched out sidewise, watching in admiration as the waste bin folded gracefully around the second thug, confining him in its folds. Turning she ignored the groaning remains of a man currently introducing his lunch, dinner and tea to the gutter, to address the only remaining upright member of the trio.
"And that, gentlemen, concludes our business I believe. Enjoy the rest of the evening."
She turned and walked away unruffled, sipping delicately.
Mitchell was not having a good day. They'd eventually came to collect him in a group and hustled him over to the main building. Mitchell had co-operated as best he was able, but not knowing at times in which direction they wanted him to walk meant that he was more pushed into the room than led. They'd sat him in a chair in front of the most cluttered desk he'd seen in a while, and that included some he'd seen in the hospital. The chair was a plain wooden one but he wasn't complaining. It was better than the cold stone he'd spent the last couple of hours attempting not to come into contact with in that chill cell. He was worried he'd never be able to feel his butt cheeks again.
He tried to look around, take note of the situation, see if there was anything he could use to get himself out of this hole, but his thinking was clouded. For some reason he could hear his heartbeat pounding in his ears and the stuttering thumping of the young lads stood behind him were only beating a crazy counterpoint to his thoughts. He was hungry. Man was he hungry. Like really hungry. What was happening to him? He hadn't been this needy for ages. It must be the stress. Getting kidnapped at bolt-point would put a spoke in the wheels of anyone's positive thinking technique. He tried to concentrate on something else, anything, and was immensely grateful as the door opened behind him providing a new distraction.
The crazy she-devil who'd captured him came into the room and from the way she walked in like she owned the place he guessed he'd been plonked in her office. She was finishing off a conversation with the Corporal he'd seen when he'd first opened his eyes and he heard her tell him to "get the Sergeant on it smartish as it looked like they didn't have much time". What did she mean "not much time"? Mitchell hoped and prayed it meant that his ambassador would be turning up shortly to get him out of the hands of these crazy people with their fetish for ancient weaponry.
Sending the Corporal away she shut the door calmly behind him and crossed the room to deal with the next problem on her list.
I'm Lieutenant Perks," she rested a hip on the desk. "What's your name son?"
"And what are you doing here Mitchell?"
He looked up as she leant back on the desk, following up her slim form, hearing her heartbeat, slow and steady, not afraid of him. Hot blood pulsing through her. The shameful tug of need. He tried to ignore it. She was still talking.
"You are indeed a problem. The Igor's say they have no idea what happened this afternoon, all their clever machinery threw a widget about the time you appeared to us. They suggest I have a go at shaking the tree higher up and see what falls out, what do you think?"
Mitchell fought to hear what she was saying through the haze of hunger. She leant forward, snapping her fingers under his nose.
"Mitchell. Mitchell !"
He could see the beat in her throat when she leant forward. Warm blood pulsing just under the skin, if he just reached out…
"What the Fuck?!!"
She leapt back swearing. In the next few seconds he learnt a whole new vocabulary as she kicked over his chair and planted a foot on his neck as the crossbows of the guarding pair swung toward him with intent.
"I thought you said you were clean? !!"
She waved to one of the guards, and when he handed her his crossbow she flicked off the safety and had it hovering over his heart in one clean movement. While he was still digesting his new position she jerked her head and the now free guard moved over to a filing cabinet and pulled out some thick chains from the top drawer. Mitchell swallowed.
"I am! I was! But sometimes it's an effort!"
His muscles bunched, wondering if he could throw her off, but she just leant a little bit more of her weight onto his neck and smiling in a not very nice way at all suggested that he didn't bother trying that.
"What's your transference?"
"Your thing - you know - that you transfer the need onto? What's yours?" She rolled her eyes and continued as though explaining to a child. "You tell me, I tell them and we send out and get you some."
"I don't know what you mean." His face fell. "I failed again. Lauren was right, there's nothing that can help me." She snorted and he saw her lips twitch as though she were trying to hold back a laugh.
Somewhere behind his head he could feel the guard hovering with the chains and above him he saw the crossbow twitch for a moment as the she-devil seemed to be getting ready for something. She leant down a smidgeon, and he could noticed dispassionately that she was careful to strike the perfect balance between looming over him and maintaining her balance as a precaution should he try something. The calm authority in her voice held his attention.
"Now, we are going to do this nice and quick and you are going to behave. Ok? Firstly because you are a gentleman and thus would never consider offering harm to a lady. But secondly because I am vastly experienced at combating vampire reflexes and should you think of trying anything you will find yourself a heap of dust before you can say Plogzive! Do we have an agreement young man?"
The next few seconds went past too quickly for him to ever be exactly sure what she did. But the result of all the efficient activity was that he was tied to the chair, unable to move and she had the crossbow back in her hands, pointing once again at his breastbone.
"Damn emo vampires." She put up the crossbow, flicking on the safety catch and with a wave of her hand at the guards he felt himself lifted up in the chair and settled back in an upright position.
"No Ribbon. No transference. No skills." She shook her head almost in disappointment. "We are used to a better quality of vampire around here let me tell you." She noticed him testing the chains and added, "Don't bother, they're specially designed to hold vampires."
He looked up in enquiry.
Placing the crossbow on the desk – still pointing at him he noted – she moved round solid piece of furniture and settled into her chair. Stuck out in isolation in the middle of the room under that appraising gaze he felt more exposed than a man fully dressed (including natty fingerless gloves) should. He knew that one of the guards behind him still had his crossbow and couldn't help thinking that this was when they skewered him fore and aft before throwing him out onto the dust heap.
But she merely picked up her pen and selecting a piece of paper from the untidy heaps in front of her, began to make some notes. Looking up she met his eyes and produced a kind smile.
"Well Mitchell, you've taken the decision out of my hands anyway." He froze but she continued regardless. "We've got to get you to Ankh Morpork and we've got to get you there fast."
She returned her attention to her paperwork, scribbling away on various different forms and signing here and there with a flourish. He sat before her in silence, twitching faintly. He couldn't care less about Ankh Morpork, whatever that was. The heartbeats in the room were thundering in his ears, her slow steady pulse before him and the faster, more uneven beats of the guards behind him. He couldn't prevent a whimper escaping though he clamped his jaw shut. She didn't look up but her pen halted, her head cocked at the sound. There was a moment of tense silence and then she put down her pen, pushing back her chair with a sigh. She crossed the room and opening the door behind him, spoke quietly to the private stationed outside. Closing the door again she didn't return to her desk, instead moving calmly around the room, collating loose papers into a file while she waited. There came a knock at the door.
Mitchell's brain screamed at him (fresh meat!) and he leapt up in his chair to be brought up short by the chains. His captor was moving across to greet the new arrival but turned back to put a hand on his shoulder and settle him back in the chair. It surprised him that she wasn't angry, concern instead in her eyes as she reminded him that she had told him so before switching her attention to the Sergeant who had just arrived and enquiring "are they fresh?"
The haze cleared momentarily and he could see now what the man was holding. It was rats. Two rats, freshly killed if his senses were anything to go by, hanging by their tails from the man's fingers. Did they expect him to feed on that? He'd never considered rat, never considered animals other than human as temptation. What were they planning to do to him?
He realised she had taken one of the rats and was walking cautiously towards him. Behind him he heard a heartbeat speed up as the guard with the crossbow levelled it in his direction again but his attention was glued to the woman standing in front of him. She held up the rat, unafraid of him for all she was poised to jump back the minute he made any kind of move. He looked up at her in confusion.
"Bite you idiot."
He made a noise of incomprehension and she reached forward to yank at his forelock. It hurt and he pulled away but as he opened his mouth to protest she stuck the rat in and tapped him on the head, forcing him to bite down. It tasted as disgusting as he'd always thought it would but as the still warm blood gushed over his tongue and down his throat he felt fantastic. She patted him on the shoulder murmuring "good boy" and turning to the sergeant indicated with a jerk of her head that a private conversation over by the window was requested.
"What about him?"
"Oh he'll be fine for a bit. We'll take the other rat for the trip. I can always pick something up along the way."
The guard was still hovering and for all Mitchell worried about his crossbow handling skills, he was glad there were others in the room apart from the crazy rat feeding woman. Now that his brain was able to process information other than his need to feed, he was remembering what she'd said earlier. If he could have spoken around the hairy gag she'd seen fit to inflict upon him he'd have asked where this Ankh Morpork was and what she was planning to do to him when they got there.
The next half hour was decidedly unpleasant. Let us draw a veil over the scene of a group of strong young men manhandling him to the coach still wrapped in the frightening chains. They didn't at least throw him to the floor, but instead propped him up on one of the seats. Facing backward he noted, and hoped he wouldn't throw up. He'd been unable to spit out the rat, she'd forced it in so hard, and he didn't want to envisage what would happen if he threw up around rat and had to inhale that for the remainder of the journey.
They left him there to wait. He was just completing the last points in a highly complicated plan of escape when he heard quick footsteps and the door was wrenched open to reveal his captor. She was still in conversation with the Sergeant and paused with her foot on the top step – half in and half out of the carriage.
"That should be all the stuff for the next few weeks. I'll be back as soon as it's done, keep an eye on the Hubward Sector, I'm not sure we've seen the last of that trouble, and try and make sure the lads get some Melee training, Thursday was just an embarrassment."
"And you'll send news should Mal turn up back here?"
She nodded, banging on the roof as he shut the door behind her with a "Good luck Lieutenant." A whip cracked and the coach took off at high speed, throwing Mitchell from his seat. She caught him and put him gently back in his place. He muttered something around the rat and saw her lips twitch again before she relented and helped him spit it out, throwing it out of the window. They sat in silence for a while and then taking her calm demeanour as a good sign he broached the subject of the chains. He tried to explain that he gave his parole and wouldn't harm her, he was just so uncomfortable. She refused him and when he began to plead (putting his pride to one side) she leant forward let him see the seriousness in her eyes.
"You're an untransformed vampire, count yourself lucky you're not staked n buried at any or all of the crossroads we've driven over."
Sitting back she took a crossbow (what was it with these soldiers and their need to stake him whenever possible) and placed it to hand on the seat next to her. Ignoring him she opened one of the pile of files she'd brought with her and began to make notes in the margin. They drove on in silence as the countryside darkened into dusk outside the window.