Chapter 4: Distractions
As night fell on Saturday, the TARDIS sat peacefully against a brick wall. People walked past the blue wooden box, noticing the new addition to the shopping center and passing it off as some ornate port-a-potty or an attempt by the Moperville city council to resurrect the concept of the telephone booth.
The peace was broken, however, as the doors suddenly flew open and the Doctor sprinted out, coat streaming behind him, and nearly crashed into a baseball-cap wearing student on his way into the comic shop. "Sorry, gotta dash!" the Time Lord shouted in apology over his shoulder as he adjusted the complicated dish-shaped device he held in one hand with his screwdriver, and listened to the faint hiss of static coming over an earbud connected to it by a dangling wire.
Come on, just a few more…
Talking to residents the night before had been nearly fruitless. Most either seemed to be completely clueless to anything unusual going on around them, or spouted outlandish and contradictory conspiracy theories. And one person, the ginger-haired cashier, had seemed to be hiding something. With the populace seemingly unwilling or unable to help, at least while he remained inconspicuous and didn't reveal himself, the Doctor had returned defeated to the TARDIS that night and continued trying to tune his psychic scanners to cut through the local interference – when he had gotten a brilliant idea.
Basically, he'd built a really bad psychic detector. The TARDIS scanners were overwhelmed because the scattered, long-lasting background in town was swamping them; if he made a sensor with weak amplifiers and a narrow bandwidth that could only detect the strongest energy flows along a line-of-sight, then he would be able to home in on active sources rather than the noise they left behind. Scanning for the Reaper's particular unique signature would be nigh-on impossible with such a simple setup, but he could at least read raw power, something that the Reaper had plenty of. As he was building it Saturday afternoon though, the TARDIS console had pinged; the background energy had flared as if someone in town had recently used a reasonably powerful spell or empowered artifact. All the more reason to get this thing working, he'd thought. But it just kept happening – a few more in the later afternoon, and right as he was finishing his device they began again, at ten minute intervals or so. Finally getting a bearing, the Doctor had rushed out to find the source. Even if it wasn't the Reaper, it at least might be someone who could help him find him.
As flares came, one by one, he cut through neighborhoods and sprinted across asphalt, comparing the bearings he was getting as he ran to the rough layout of Moperville he had retained in his head. Eventually as the Doctor rounded a corner into a suburban subdivision, a loud crackle over the earbud signaled that he was closer than ever to one of the energy flares, and the compass in the middle of a clump of wires behind the parabolic dish swung to indicate the source was down the next street…
And he was there. A nondescript suburban house, with several cars in the driveway. Glancing up and down the street, he saw no one. Crouching behind some bushes on the edge of the property and turning a knob, he grinned a bit as the little light on the antenna at the center of the dish turned on and the sensor switched from omnidirectional to narrow-beam. He swept the parabolic dish across the house and listened to the Geiger-counter-like crackles and pops in his earpiece.
There were 3 – no, hold on, 4 – distinct, moving sources of energy all around the ground floor. None of them were strong enough to be the Reaper he sought, though. Sweeping the detector's beam over the house again, he also thought he caught a hint of another dim source in the basement. Odd... he thought, giving his device a shake and briefly unplugging the earpiece to blow on its contacts.
So... there are at least four beings in that house that might be in the know about the local secrets, the Doctor thought, his face set for now in a dispassionate mask. But that's also four beings that are using some reasonably powerful energies, and might react badly to being disturbed. Discretion was still in order.
Creeping towards the house along the property line, the Doctor noted that all the blinds had been carefully drawn over all the first floor and basement windows with a view of the street. Coming to the backyard fence, he slowly and quietly unlatched a gate and crouched as he walked along the handrail of a low deck, eyes on the lookout for anyone watching him. He searched the back wall of the house until he caught sight of a window that did not have the blinds tightly shut – only to see what looked like a few teenagers standing around talking. A tall dark-blue-haired boy and a girl with long ginger hair caught his eye first. The girl was holding a camera and talking to someone the Doctor couldn't see, but as he continued through the yard and poked his head just above the railing he was able to briefly see a shorter blond-haired boy and a brunette with the longest hair he'd seen this side of Betelgeuse. Remembering his readings, the Doctor consulted his dish.
His eyebrows furrowed as he swept the beam back and forth. The brunette was definitely awakened. Watching through the window for a few minutes, though, the Doctor kept getting the impression that he wasn't seeing anything important going on; just another party. Just some kids spending time with their friends. A house party that puts out stranger readings than frozen wizards... I almost should've expected it from this town.
He wasn't about to let yet ANOTHER line of investigation hit a dead end. Yes, they were just having a party, but something going on in there had been detectable clear across the city if you had the right equipment. Time for the direct approach – walk right up to the door and say... something. He always seemed to come up with an appropriate line.
As the Doctor quietly crept back along the side of the house to the front yard, he gasped and pressed himself tightly against the wall as he heard the sound of a car engine and saw headlights sweep across the yard; another car was entering the driveway. No matter how direct he wanted to be, it wouldn't do to be caught sneaking around. Hearing the driver emerging from the front and opening another door, he hazarded a peek around the corner – and was simultaneously relieved and disappointed to find it to be just a pizza delivery boy. Gathering what looked to be a truly enormous assortment of foodstuffs in two separate bags, he walked up the driveway to the door. Deciding that this party was interesting enough to hazard a listen, the time lord crouched down and made his way silently behind the tall bushes that framed the front of the house.
He watched as the curly-haired pizza boy blinked in surprise as the door opened before he even rang the doorbell – and observed one of the stranger responses to a food delivery he'd ever seen.
* SLAM *
"There! Over and done with! Bye bye now! Goodbye! Nice evening! So long! Bye bye!"
Blinking and looking back and forth between the now shut door and the second bag of pizza he'd brought, Matt Cohen stammered out a reply to the (rather pretty) uniformed girl behind the door. "Um, I still have more pizza to give you..."
"DAMMIT, NANASE!" the angry feminine voice retorted, and the purple-haired girl, so familiar but impossible to place, forcefully opened the door, yanked the proffered boxes out of his hands, did an about-face without ever making eye contact, and kicked the door shut behind her again.
As the door slammed in his face for the second time, he sighed resignedly and slipped the delivery's money into his pocket. Why did he always have to get the awkward jobs?
"It's a simple job. Easy money!" his friend had told him. What his friend hadn't told him about was all the bizarre things you come into contact with when you visit twenty strangers' houses every night. At least this time he hadn't been greeted by someone trying to convert him to pastafarianism or screaming at him for being thirty seconds late. Not getting something like that was always a plus. On the other hand, from the uniform it looked like there was yet another person at his school – and a cute girl at that – that he had never even noticed. She'd almost certainly have recognized him as the head of the student council... great, one more story going around about his social ineptitude.
I mean, I TRY to be a nice guy. I try to take an interest in people. I try to represent the students well to the school. Why doesn't anything ever work out right?
A thump followed by a muffled grunt from behind the bushes in front of the house startled him and brought him back to the present. "Hello?" he ventured, backing up slightly. "Is somebody there?" If I stumbled onto a home invasion on top of everything else, it'll just make my entire night, he thought to himself, half exasperated and half fearful.
Much to his surprise, a tall man wearing a suit and dirt-streaked trench coat stumbled out of the bushes, grumbling. He caught something to the effect of, "...knew this coat was too long... never happened with the scarf..." in an accent he normally only ever heard on BBC America.
"What are you doing there?" he asked wide eyed, his heart racing for a moment as he saw something in the man's hand... realizing after a moment that it didn't look like a weapon. If anything, it looked more like one of those long-range microphones you could use to eavesdrop on people, especially considering the wire leading up to his ear. Even better, a peeping tom.
The man raised his hands, saying "Oh, me? Just, uh, reading the water meter! See?" he said, indicating the device in his hand. He smiled, but his eyes gave away that he wasn't entirely sincere.
"On a saturday night? With a microphone?" Matt slipped a hand into his pocket, where his cell phone was stored, just in case.
"Oh... I suppose it does look like one, doesn't it? Well, you see, it's, ah, one of those new sonic water meters..."
Matt stared at him blankly, his hand gripping his phone in his pocket even harder as he started backing up towards his car again.
The man could obviously tell his story wasn't going over well. His face fell and his eyes darted around at his surroundings for a few seconds. Briefly making eye contact, he suddenly pointed straight behind Matt. "Look, a distractio – !"
The man's face suddenly lurched into a look of immense surprise, his arm and finger still outstretched pointing behind Matt as he trailed off, mouth open. His eyebrows scrunched together as he suddenly exclaimed, "What!" Not turning around, Matt pulled his phone and car keys out of his pocket as he prepared to get into his car, not buying the man's transparent ruse –
Suddenly, from behind him, an exasperated voice spoke. "Oh no... you? Again? Hell no, I'm outta here. I've got things to do. You're on your own."
Head whipping around to follow the tall man's nearly pained gaze, Matt saw a very distinctive bright red, horned avian with its brows creased in disgust over its beady eyes as it stared at the man. As he watched, it turned around and took flight, its barbed tail making a unique silhouette against the still faintly blue glowing sky.
He watched as the Demonic Duck flew off. "What on Earth was all that about?" Matt asked, turning around...
He never heard the Doctor's reply, muttered half a block away as he sprinted down the street to began a night of running, wandering, and hoping the police weren't after him:
"Hell if I know..."