Chapter 2: Moperville
The time rotor wheezed as the TARDIS traversed the vortex. Circling around the console, the Doctor continued allowing himself a smile. The TARDIS in transit always felt the most like home of anywhere he had been in centuries, no matter where he was heading.
This trip would be a short one though; a quick hop between two cities on the same planet at the same time. It would only take a few more seconds for the capsule to zero in on the appropriate coordinates. The Doctor looked up at the scanner and listened to the whining of the engines as he started selecting a materialization point in town. But then his head turned as an urgent beeping sounded from the other side of the console. He knew that sound. "That's not a good-" he began, and then his eyes opened wide as the symbols flashing past on the main plot suddenly shifted, and he gripped the console with all his strength.
With a sickening falling sensation, the floor lurched and tipped sideways by at least 45 degrees, nearly catapulting the Doctor to the floor. As he held on to the console and scrambled to stabilize the engines, he heard the rotor's wheezing rise in pitch and urgency and the background hum of the control room get louder. He tried to force a materialization and land the TARDIS somewhere, anywhere, to cut the stress on the still-healing engine, but the levers were locked in place and from the sound of things they weren't even being listened to anyway. Energy arced from a cable far above his head and the smell of smoke filled the air as the readouts started showing his destination point sliding forward in time, first by hours, then days.
The rotor wheezed faster and faster and higher in pitch, and began glowing a brighter green than it should have in a sane world. The Doctor soon resorted to grabbing a hammer off its hook and whacking the power controls over and over as the floor shook and started spinning. The engines couldn't take much more like this in their state. "Stop that! Stop it stop it stop it stop it!"
And then, as suddenly as it has begun, whatever it was, it stopped. The floor gave one more lurch, this time in the opposite direction and flinging the Doctor to the floor, before leveling out. The time rotor wheezed down to a more normal rate, grinding through two more up and down cycles before landing with an indignant-sounding whump and rattle.
The Doctor scrambled to his feet. "What? What was that all about, eh?" he said while slipping on his specs, his eyebrows furrowed. At the console, everything seemed to be in place, though steam was rising from the vents below the metal grating in the floor and uncomfortable sounds continued to issue from the walls. He took a moment to lock down the engines so they couldn't start on their own accord, and checked his indicators. Everything seemed to still be working, but he wouldn't want to put the old girl through something like that again in her current state.
Rushing around to the scanner, he noted that while he had indeed ended up somewhere in Moperville he had landed more than a month late. "Why'd you go and do that now?" he muttered, bringing up the transit logs and trying not to think about what could've happened outside while he was out of the action.
He could hardly believe his eyes. According to his readouts, the TARDIS had sensed not one but two active dimensional rifts in town as it was trying to materialize. One tiny, just strong enough to pass a signal through, and another one that could've passed a few grams of matter. Under normal circumstances that wouldn't have posed a problem at all – there were safeguards all over the machinery to prevent the causality-warping effects of such interpenetration of universes from damaging the engines - but with the shields still down and the engines still healing, the TARDIS had sensed a threat and tried to escape by pushing into the future to a point after the rifts had closed. And that would've been the end of it, except that 4 weeks later came two more dimensional rifts, each capable of passing a couple hundred pounds – a whole person – within one day! These were so big that the TARDIS had refused to even become indirectly causally entangled with them, and had haphazardly leaped forward to nearly a week after their closure. The Reaper had certainly picked a busy town to visit.
His mind snapping back to the reason he'd come in the first place, the Doctor realized this little mishap had given his friend from the museum a whole month at large. Frantically turning his sensors outwards again, he searched for the wizard's power signature – and all his instruments promptly went wibbley. "Oh, what is it now?" he groaned.
His sensors were completely overwhelmed. Outside was a veritable sea of psychic energy. So many sources using so much power that the entire town was awash in it. There was no way that could all have been the result of one individual, even over an entire month. It was like no place he'd seen since he'd taken Sarah Jane to the Uryuom homeworld. To pick an individual magic user's identity out of that morass of interacting and interfering signatures, or even pin down a single signal's location, would be impossible.
At least from in here.
The Doctor knew he had to go out there and assess the situation for himself. See just what was going on out there. It wouldn't do him much good to sit around with no useful sensors. And the Reaper was obviously not the only strange thing going on here – not by a long shot. He just had to see this town for himself.
He looked at the console, still venting steam from below. The TARDIS needed a rest; no matter where in town he had appeared he wouldn't dare move her for at least a couple of hours. Giving her an apologetic pat on the console, he walked over to where his coat had fallen off the rail near the door. Making sure his key and screwdriver were accounted for, he took a deep breath, and stepped outside.
He was facing a parking lot. A rather ordinary one.
He turned around. The TARDIS was backed up against a featureless brick wall, on a sidewalk that continued around the building. Following it around a corner that faced another parking lot, he found that he had landed at the end of some kind of strip mall - at least the TARDIS had the good sense to land up against a solid surface and not, say, in the middle of a highway. He stepped a bit out into the lot, ignoring a car honking at him, and read off the storefronts – a generic bank, a Radio Shack, a barbershop, a noodle place, and closest to his box, a comic book shop. It was very quiet – early afternoon on a Friday, if he had read the time readout correctly.
Well that's boring, he thought.
He licked a finger and held it up, testing the breeze. Turning around until he was facing the center of town, the Doctor set off on foot to see what there was to see.