Chapter 9: Dead Venice
Quick sprinted up the spiral staircase, and opened the door to the TARDIS's wardrobe. She'd run through it before, but the scene hadn't really registered. She'd been under the thrall of Uncanny Valley. Now that she had a chance to look properly, she gasped in delight.
Ten thousand circular racks, hung with a bright jumble of clothes from every era of every planet, filled a room so vast that she could barely see to the other side. And this was only the first floor of the wardrobe. Spiral staircases led higher and lower.
Enchanted, she took a few steps forward, and flipped through the hangers on the nearest rack. A cave woman's fur cape nestled between a black Chanel suit, and a purple dress designed for an alien with three arms. She lifted out the dress, and held it aloft in amazement. Then she hastily put it back, remembering that she was in a hurry. Some other time she would browse through this incredible collection of clothing. Right now, she had to get changed, and meet the Doctor.
"What have you got for me, TARDIS?" she asked, falling into the Doctor's habit of talking to the vehicle without expecting a word in reply.
The racks began to spin. The clothing swung outward, and outfits leaped from rack to rack like frogs on lilypads. Quick took a step backwards and watched, full of wonder and anticipation. What would the TARDIS suggest for Venice, in the year 1347? A homespun peasant dress? The rich embroidered silks and satins of a lady?
The racks slowed, and came to a stop. Hanging on the nearest rack was...
A red spacesuit.
Quick stared at it in dismay. "TARDIS," she said. "I can't wear a spacesuit in medieval Venice! They'll burn me as a witch! Do you have anything a little less attention grabbing?"
The clothing shuffled. Fanciful Venetian party clothes appeared, with masks and ribbons. Long dresses slid past. Then the TARDIS appeared to make up her mind. The medieval dresses vanished, and the spacesuit reappeared.
Quick was crestfallen. The poor TARDIS! Her timing was out by hundreds of years. No wonder the Doctor was worried about her.
No sooner had she thought this, the Yowling began.
It howled through her brain, a thousand times worse than before, filling her with such agonising loneliness and grief that she doubled over, instinctively protecting her ears with her hands. But that didn't block out the telepathic howl. On and on it went, until it ended in an unbearable crescendo.
She raised her head. She was crouched on the floor, hugging her knees, and tears were streaming down her face. The poor Doctor! She had to go to him immediately.
Scrambling to her feet, she wiped her face on her sleeve, and ran for the door without bothering to get changed. "Sorry, TARDIS. I hope you feel better soon," she called out over her shoulder. She'd have to think of an explanation for her modern appearance. Perhaps she could beg or borrow some clothes outside after she'd found the Doctor?
The air rippled with heat, and her ears popped, as she stepped outside the TARDIS. It was like stepping into a blast furnace. But what struck her most was the smell.
Rotting fish. Gagging, she covered her nose and mouth with her sleeve. Was this why the TARDIS had offered the spacesuit? She closed the double doors, and gave them a pat. The smell of long dead fish wasn't fatal, and she'd become accustomed to bad smells during her medical training. The trick was to breathe shallowly until the nose shut down in self-defence. Steeling herself, she lowered her sleeve, and started jogging in the direction of the Yowling. It had come from around the corner of the Piazza San Marco. The Doctor must be standing by the lagoon.
A dried up trail next to the TARDIS was heading in the same direction. Had a fisherman dragged a sackful of rotting fish this way? It certainly smelled like it, and he'd passed recently too. The trail was dry by the TARDIS, but she could see it got wetter in the distance.
At least it was proof that someone still lived here. The silence, now that the Yowling had stopped, was eerie. There wasn't a single voice to be heard. No bird song. No sound of boats or lapping water from out on the lagoon, which the buildings hid. Her footsteps echoed.
A sudden movement out of the corner of her eye and a loud cracking sound made her spin around. The iron railings under the nearest archway were slumping down, apparently at the mere sound of her footsteps. Cautiously glancing about, she approached the railings, and poked what remained of them with a finger. They crumbled into a shower of rust particles, and she backed away.
What was going on? Venice was not only deserted and suffering from a heatwave, it was falling apart. Was it something to do with the disturbance in the Time Vortex, which had so alarmed the Doctor, and injured the TARDIS?
Now she could see in the distance, a tall thin figure completely covered in a black robe. It was he who was leaving the trail. But he wasn't dragging a sackful of rotting fish. Instead, the stinking water was dripping from the bottom of his robes. He was lurching away from her, taking small, dragging steps, and his back was hunched as though it ached.
Quick shuddered as the figure apparently heard her footsteps, paused, and slowly turned around. A black mask, shaped like a bird's face with a long, downward curving bill, hid his face.
A plague mask, she thought. They used to stuff the hollow bill with herbs, because they thought the smell would protect them from the plague. Looks like the Doctor guessed the year right. But why is that man wet and smelling of fish? I've never heard of those things being used as plague remedies before.
The figure raised a shrouded arm, and beckoned her closer.
She obeyed unwillingly. There was something about that figure that made her want to run in the opposite direction. But curiosity and politeness got the better of her. She forced a smile as she drew nearer. "Hullo," she said. "Is there anything I can do to help you? What has happened here?"
Dark eyes glinted at her through the eyeholes in the mask. "Water has left us," the figure said. His voice was deep and guttural, with an odd bubbling sound behind it, as though he were breathing through a hookah pipe. "Here we have rock, but no water. No water, but rock. If only there were water..."
His words made no sense but she could feel the intense emotion behind them. He was sad, but underneath the sadness was terrible anger. "What happened to the water?" she asked.
"The Drummer stole it, just like before." His eyes glinted. "You should know."
"The Drummer?" Quick shook her head. The man was mad. And what was that strange bubbling sound? "I don't understand. What do you mean you have no water? You're soaking wet, and Venice is built on a lagoon," she said. "It's the City of Water-"
The man snarled, and cut her off. "You lied to us. Take this gift, you said. It can make anything, anything you want. We wanted water. We made the City of Water with your gift. But the Drummer stole the water away. Now we have rock, but no water."
"I'm looking for a man," she said, not wanting to continue the conversation. The figure was building up into a towering rage. "He has dark hair, and a sort of bow around his neck."
The figure in black became motionless, and she didn't like the way he was staring at her.
"Over there." He pointed at the place where the square turned to the south, in the direction of the still-invisible lagoon.
She didn't trust him, but she could definitely see something dark under the arches. Could it hurt to take a closer look? After all, she knew the Doctor was in that direction. "Thank you," she said, and hurried off, rubbing her temples. All of a sudden, she was developing a splitting headache. Was it caused by the stench of fish?
But a far worse stench entered her nostrils as she approached the place the figure had indicated.
"Oh no," she muttered, breaking into a run that seemed to hammer nails into her already aching skull.
A pool of blood was clotting and darkening in the shadows of the archway. Little else remained. A few fragments of flesh, traces of splintered bone, a well-chewed foot. The victim appeared to have been torn apart and devoured by wild animals.
"Doctor," she wailed, dropping to her knees by the pool of blood. No, it couldn't be. The Doctor couldn't be dead. It had to be someone else. Surely the Doctor wouldn't look so human inside...
Then the Yowling tore through her head again. Though the pain of it, and her headache combined were enough to make her whimper, she was relieved. The Doctor was alive. So who was this?
She reached into the gore, and picked up a stained piece of material, inspecting it with a growing sense of disbelief. Red plastic. The pool of blood was littered with fragments of red plastic. Broken glass too, and what remained of a helmet.
Whoever this was, they'd been wearing a spacesuit when they'd died.
A rectangle of metal caught her eye. She pulled it out, and wiped it on a tissue from her pocket. It was some kind of identification badge but highly advanced. The photographs and writing moved as though it were a wafer-thin television. The face of a middle aged man with long dark hair stared at her solemnly, and blinked. She read his name.
Ambassador Lloyd Skinner.
A futuristic pistol lay nearby, emitting tiny blue sparks. The barrel had been bitten clean off, and several triangular serrated teeth were still embedded in the metal.
Were these the remains of a visitor from the future, trapped by the disturbance in the Time Vortex just like herself and the Doctor? If so, had the creatures that had attacked him come from the future too? She couldn't think of anything on Earth that had teeth like that.
Except, perhaps, a shark.
Dragging footsteps behind her made her turn, and stand up in a hurry. The resulting stab of pain through her head made her stagger.
The black robed figure was lurching towards her.
"Stop right there," she said. Why was she so dizzy? She hadn't passed out at an autopsy since her first one, and that was more years ago than she cared to count.
He didn't stop. More black robed and masked figures like him were approaching from all directions.
"You found the man," the first figure bubbled.
"What happened to him?" she asked. But she was beginning to suspect the answer.
"We happened to him, human. This is our place," said another figure. Her voice also bubbled, and so did her mocking laughter.
"Who are you? How did you get to Earth?" Quick asked, backing away, and looking for an escape route. The black robed figures didn't seem to be fast, but she wasn't about to bet her life on that.
"We are the Selachi. This is our home planet, not Earth," bubbled the first figure. Slowly, he reached up, and removed his mask.
His face was monstrous. Quick choked back a scream. Vast, soulless black eyes, without apparent lids or pupils, glared at her from a grey face. His skin had the texture of sandpaper, and his nostrils were slits.
But worst of all was his mouth. Inhumanly wide, downward curved, and lipless, it opened to reveal row upon row of triangular serrated teeth. They matched the teeth that had broken off in the Ambassador's pistol.
The male Selachi seemed pleased by her horrified expression. He grinned, and attempted to speak, but breathing the air seemed to cause him pain. Twitching all over, he thrust his mask back onto his face, and the bubbling sound began again. This time it had the rhythm of panting.
It wasn't a plague mask, Quick realised. It was a respirator - for a fish. This wasn't Venice, it was some kind of copy, on an alien planet infested with murderous land sharks.
What was wrong with the atmosphere? Spots were dancing before her eyes, and she wondered if she was going to pass out. I should have put on that spacesuit, she thought. But it's too late now. I have to find the Doctor, and get back to the TARDIS.
The male Selachi began to speak again through his mask. "You left the water," he said accusingly.
Quick took a step away from him. "What do you-?" she began.
"All humanity evolved in the seas, millions of years before they even became human. Then you left the water behind. You abandoned your seas. But the Selachi did not."
"We never will, even though the seas have left us," said the female Selachi. She was edging closer from the other side. Quick was trapped between them.
"The Galactic Federation will not steal us away," said the male. "YOU will not steal us. We will eat you first."
All of the black robed figures were were closing in now. "I'm not part of the Galactic Federation," Quick pleaded. "I'm not even from this time period. I arrived here by accident."
"You lie," said the female, She reached out with her shrouded arms.
Quick ducked, and saw the arms pass over her head. But the male Selachi grabbed her from behind. He was strong, and cold, and stank horribly enough to make her eyes water. The curved bill of his mask came down over her shoulder. With an instinct born of terror, she grabbed the bill, and pulled on it hard. The mask came off in her hands, and she threw it as far as she could.
He released her immediately, and tottered after his mask, choking for breath.
The female made another grab, but Quick dodged between her arms, yanked off her mask too, and flung it over her shoulder.
Then Quick ran for it. She dodged past the other Selachi, who were snarling with rage, and ran in the direction of the Yowling, following the Piazza San Marco as it turned south. What she saw around the corner confirmed that she was on an alien planet.
Where the lagoon should have been was a barren stony plain, like the floor of a dried-up sea. A strange mountain, eroded into the shape of a White Queen chess piece, loomed on the horizon.
Behind the mountain, a second sun was rising. She couldn't believe her eyes, and slowed her run to double check. Yes, there was a yellow sun overheard, and another, redder sun rising in the south.
By edge of the square where the lagoon should have started, stood a gypsy caravan. It was painted black, and along the side, in a graceful flowing white script, were the words, 'Regina Bianca'. Hitched to the caravan was a beautiful black horse. He stood quietly in his harness. No driver could be seen.
The Yowling began again, from behind the caravan. She'd found the Doctor! Staggering, ready to faint from relief and the burning in her lungs and head, she glanced over her shoulder.
The Selachi had recovered their masks, and were lurching down the square towards her. She only had a minute or so before they arrived.
"Doctor!" she shouted, but it came out as a croak. Even her throat was burning.
She tottered around the caravan. Behind it, a man was standing with his back to her, watching the mountain with his hands on his hips. He was the source of the Yowling, but he wasn't the Doctor.
He turned to face her. He was tall, slim, and as tattered and filthy as a scarecrow. His mattered hair and beard reached to his waist, and his fingers twitched rhythmically. Yet somehow, there was such poise and confidence in his bearing that it was difficult to believe that the telepathic cry for help was emanating from him. His smile was broad, and his teeth straight and white.
"I knew the Doctor had arrived. I could smell him." He arched an eyebrow, apparently amused. "You must be one of his companions."
Quick could only nod dumbly, with her mouth open. It wasn't just the shock of finding another Time Lord, after being told that the Doctor was the last of his kind.
No, the really unexpected thing was the new Time Lord's voice...
"Another companion," the man rolled his eyes, still smiling. "How quickly he goes through them! Do you know who I am?"
His voice was as familiar, trustworthy, and comforting as baked beans on toast. She must have heard it a thousand times on the evening news, while she'd sat on her sofa eating dinner. She'd heard it on the television in the hospital waiting room every time she'd gone in to ask for the next patient. That voice was a part of her life back on Earth.
"I do know you," she said, finding her voice at last. "You're Prime Minister Harold Saxon."
The Master just can't ditch that old alias, can he? ;-)
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