A/N: Well, look who came back from the dead. First off, I'm really very sorry for the delay. I found this arc really difficult to write. I just kept running into loads of walls (I now have a new-found respect for people who write these shows). However, I think I now know where I was going wrong. I was basically trying write a story in 4 chapters (not entirely worked out that way) that I would normally want to spend 15 chapters on. So I can bare that in mind in the future. Still, your comments are more than welcome.
Market in the Treetops
"Just like that?"
"Just like that," the Doctor confirmed, grinning as he watched Sherlock. "After all we've been through, you still don't believe me."
"It's a little hard to believe."
"Right, and standing in a big blue box that's larger on the inside than the out is so much easier to believe."
Touché, but the inconsistences of the TARDIS were hard enough to wrap his head around (they would require further investigation). He always trusted his eyes, above and beyond all his other senses, and with them sought the truth. For fifteen minutes and twenty-seven seconds, he had questioned not only his sight but his own sanity. Now he was left in the position of wondering how reliable the information from his senses would be.
Was traveling through time and space really such a big leap? Everything in the control room was certainly wired up to function; it was just a matter of what that function was. There was one way he would know for sure…
"You could always go out and check. Why trust me, when you can see for yourself," the Doctor gave voice to Sherlock's conclusion.
It was the only thing to do. Spinning round on his heel, he marched to the door and opened it.
The first thing that hit him was the noise. The shouting, laughing, weeping and calling that blended together into a great roar, letting him know what was on the other side of the door: a market place (clearly a public place for there to be so much noise, given the variety in emotions and voices, and the breeze indicating the outside, a market place was the most likely conclusion. Could be a park, but it was too busy. Theme park, no mechanical noises and the emotions were too varied. Festival… No music). Every now and then a sales pitch would fight its way over the din so that Sherlock could make out the odd word (market place, confirmed) before they sank back into the heaving mass of noise. Over it all was the ever present humming (much like an insect's buzzing)…bees? If so, hundreds, thousands of them. A bee market? Honey market? That was ridiculous: at the very least, why would the Doctor take him to a honey market?
The smell hit him a mere second after the sound. It was unique, clearly distinct from the countryside of England, Europe and any other country's that he had been to and nothing like anywhere in London. A hint of dampness overlaid it, but only slightly (recently rain quickly drying, the air still humid). The strongest scent was flora, especially… trees? There were fragrances that he couldn't identify, some he could take an educated guess at (trees and plants, most likely deciduous rather than boreal), but others completely escaped even his expert knowledge in everything that mattered. They were completely new, they tantalised his senses and mind. They begged him to track them down and classify what they were. From vegetation to whatever else lay beyond that barely open door. Not that it would take long to answer the latter. He stepped out.
The humidity hit him hard (eighty-eight per cent), like a solid wall of air, and the heat rolled over him (thirty-six degrees Celsius). He immediately took off his coat and scarf, absent-mindedly throwing them back into the open TARDIS (the Doctor shouted something about it not being a cloakroom). He had been right; they were in the middle of a marketplace. However, he would never have guessed where the bazaar would be; in the treetops (just above the canopy layer, in the emergence layer. More trees breaking into this layer than he would expect). Not just any treetops either, they were in a tropical rainforest.
Large platforms had been built around the trunks and between strong branches while bridges and walkways of various designs (beam, log, Inca rope-bridge, even an arch and a suspension bridge) and sizes (from what he could see ninety centimetres to ten and a half metres wide) between them. Beam bridges seemed most popular, wide enough so that a row of stalls could be set up along one side and a stream of people on the other (must be very high shear-stress strength wood to take all the weight).
People? Aliens would be better, though they wouldn't be aliens here. His attention shifted to the individuals and groups flowing around them. Most had the same physiological appearance. Although on three occasions he caught sight of something different that distracted him (they were all bipedal, most humanoid), identifying the natives was easy. A buzzing noise rushed by his ear as one such native dashed past his head.
His eyes darted round, absorbing the environment and picking out key features, while the roar of sounds started to give him a headache. (What was 'Panya' anyway? A local speciality judging from the number of people calling for it. Could be the staple diet? A flower? Perhaps that was the rich sweet scent he had caught - too sweet for his taste, too sickly and it made his stomach uneasy).
The natives. Their silhouette was similar to a small human (why was he only noticing now? Too many things to take note of, it was hard to decide which called for his attention first), but there was no confusing the two. Their heads were longer and narrower, as if they'd been pulled from the front and stretched. The eyes were all black and ten times to twelve times the size of a human's. Rather than sitting on the front of the head, they sat on the sides of the skull, a characteristic of creatures low down on the food chain, descended from prey and not predators. Perhaps the reason they would take up residence in the tree tops: less risk of danger, though they must be herbivores and reasonably intelligent to create a society and buildings.
A group walked past, three males (he would need further examination to be sure, since his conclusions were based on trends in Earth's fauna, and there was no guarantee it would be the same here) carrying objects and bags as they followed a female around. Polyandric society. A shout behind him, boys stealing fruit from a stall. Females didn't have wings, but appeared to be dominant in society (Tattooed lines on foreheads possibly represented some kind of hierarchy ranking). Females rare, only seen two so far, possibly reason for their authority. Used sex and reproduction to gain control (much like The Woman, no, wrong time and place to think on that).
A child cried out and was sick, the odour mixing horribly with the overly sugary ambient fragrance. High in energy which would be needed to replenish energy from flying, so Panya must be a staple food rather than delicacy. None of the natives were over five feet. Beside him the Doctor was asking him if it was alright. The wings were small in comparison to body mass, appeared to work in a fashion in keeping with Dickinson's 2005 bee research. Definitely not a fixed-wing flight and… the Doctor's questions were rather distracting. A child ran past and the/a father ran after it. Male child-carers supported the polyandric society theory. A strange new creature walked by, covered in scales and what could only described as a cat-man beside him; no time to dwell on them as there was too many other important facts to take in but they stood five foot and three inches and five foot and seven inches. Alien species to the planet, must be travellers and not merchants because their clothes were practical… and the Doctor had a hand on his shoulder now. The alien - not that one, his alien - sounded worried. Too much. He could appreciate that now. His mind was trying to take in everything and could only acknowledge so much in one go, like the couple arguing twenty metres away. She was right, they probably have enough for the party. Depends on how much they eat though. Something pressed into his backbone (the sixth vertebra, height: 146 cm) and he realised that he had stepped back into the barrier round the platform. He automatically turned and looked down and through a gap in the canopy caught sight of the ground a hundred metres below, which was far higher than trees on Earth. If he fell he wouldbe dead. Like jumping froma building and forthe briefest of seconds they were oneandthesame and he quickly looked up to the vines and tentofifteen centimetre leaves and wasthata snake? His hand fell on the fence, the woodsmooth with telltale signs of sandingdown colouringpale almostwhite andtherewas thesoftsmell ofwhathesworewasmintandthedoctorputahandonhisshoul der-
And his mind crashed into darkness.
When the world slowly returned to Sherlock, he'd been moved.
He was lying on his side. His eyes opened first, not taking in much besides the wooden floor and walls in his line of sight. He was sleeping on the floor. Correction, he was too comfortable and his eyesight two centimetres higher than it would be. He was lying on what was probably most accurately described as a futon (soft padded quilt, most likely grass from the smell, no springs) and a genuine Japanese style rather than the type sold in shops in England. The 'wall' opposite him was obviously just the tree trunk covered in a kind of moss.
Rolling over onto his back, he briefly noted the roof (thatched, presumably containing millions of insects and small creatures, he'd take tiles any day) before he sat up and looked around the room. It was mostly empty (a chest in one corner, a mosaic picture that appeared to be made up of crushed petals and that was it) and most likely a guest room. Nothing gave him a hint of where they were or whose house they were in. There was only one entrance and in it stood the Doctor.
He stood with his back to Sherlock, chatting happily to whoever stood on the other side. Children from the sounds of it (high voices, excited) and they were asking the man questions. He could understand every word, which meant there must a translator somewhere. That was logical; the Doctor would need a way to translate if he travelled through time and space, (though Sherlock suspected the man could also speak more than a handful of languages). He doubted the Sonic Screwdriver could translate, especially not the scale of the marketplace (Not just audio, but visual translations of the stall signs as well. Also, must be translating several languages at once. How had he missed that the first time around? Too many messages floating his brain, that's how). Something that could translate on that scale would have to be too powerful to condense to the screwdriver. It must be transmitted by the T.A.R.D.I.S. It was the most logical conclusion (must being going straight into his brain somehow. He must enquire into how that worked).
"Is it true you set fire to your food?" a voice floated through (Pre-puberty high, but then if these were aliens then there was no telling if they naturally had a high voice. It didn't seem so, but it was too early to draw conclusions).
"Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeell," the Doctor started in his usual tone, "we don't really set fire to our food; we cook it. Put it in a big pan and put that on a fire. Food's not really on the fire. 'Cept for barbecues, but everyone loves barbecues."
Sherlock grasped at the little bits of information he could from the simple exchange between the new alien and his alien.
A new voice spoke up (he would normally say male, between six and eight). "What about flesh? I heard you eat the flesh of animals like Gonians?"
"Sometimes, depends on the person. Depends where you're from."
"Do women really only marry one partner?"
His alien drew breath to reply, and threw a glance back at Sherlock. Seeing his companion conscious, the Doctor paused and then broke into a wide smile. "You're awake!"
There was a rush of sound: several 'people' (three small people or children dashing towards the door) from the other side of the wall, accompanied by exclamations of delight. Sherlock didn't see them though as an older male voice brought them to a halt (naturally high voice, though not high enough to be comical. Ages reassessed accordingly).
"Seilan, Mailan, Teilan, stay where you are and leave the poor stranger alone. Now sit back down." The 'man' ignored the moans and groans from the children (undoubtedly his). The children couldn't have made it very far as the room was still again after four seconds. A new voice spoke up, (a little lower than the first, but still unexpectedly high) still male (or he thought so. This was beginning to get frustrating).
"Feel free to pull the door closed if you wish to speak to your friend privately."
"Thank you, we'll be out of your hair…er… wings in no time."
The second male chuckled. "You're welcome to stay for as long as you need."
"I love Toceps, always so friendly," (must be the species name) "great hosts," and then his alien stepped back into the room, sliding the wooden door shut as he did so. He walked over to the futon, watching Sherlock with a careful expression. He crouched down beside him looking a little, though not overly, concerned. "How are you?"
"I'm fine," the detective answered firmly and perhaps a little defensively. "I just…" What had happened?
"Had a bit of an overload," the Doctor supplied. "Partly my fault, I should have taken you through time but stayed on Earth first. It's easier on the brain to take everything in if you're not trying to examine a million and one alien things at once. Guess I was a little eager to impress, bit of a fault of mine sometimes. Still," and he took a deep breath and straightened a little, "you need to slow down a little." A grin spread across his face, taking away any real bite the comment may have. "There's no hurry, no need to try and take it all in at once."
If only it was that simple. This wasn't something he could just switch on and off, it all just all flooded in with his senses. One did not actively try to recognise the voice of an old friend, they just do. When he looked at something, he looked at it and being somewhere so new, it was hard not to look.
"Where and when are we?" He asked, moving onto far more interesting matters.
"According to your calendar, around 2300AD, give or take a couple of years, not sure about the EXACT date. How specific do you want me to be for location?"
"As precise as you can be," he said, expecting a standard 'precise' reply rather than the Doctor's precise reply.
"Right… twentieth century human terms… We're in the Pegasus Constellation. Right ascension 21h 29m 58.33s, Declination +12o 12' 01.2". The Messier 15 globular cluster about 34,000 light years away from Earth. What's now referred as its sixth star, on the fourth planet from the sun called Taikei. We are 24oN and 36oE, on the smallest continent , Tenpa. We're in the small land-locked country of Kenpura, boarded by Leaza, Senta and Eatan. The eastern border is forty kilometres, the northern border is 87 km, western border is seventeen km and the southern border is 103 kilometres away. Rainforest covers the entire country. This prefecture is Punran, the town is Keiran, fourth level down in the south-east quarter at number forty two-"
"I don't need useless details."
"You did say, 'as precise as you can be'."
Sherlock gave his companion a half-smile, which was returned with a full bright one. "I suppose I did."
"Still think I'm lying about the TARDIS then?"
The Detective stood and looked out of the window at the strange new land before him. He took in everything from the houses (he could see forty-seven from here, on five different layers. The Doctor said this was the sixth level, so there was at least one more out of view. All these buildings were circular, wrapping round the trunk, most appeared to be one storey, but spacious. All had a veranda running around the outside. Middle-class, suburban neighbourhood? Possible) and trees (unlike any he had seen, but bearing a vague resemblance to trees found in the Amazon. Strange fruit on some of branches. The most common was a pale blue fruit the size of a coconut. But these trees were taller than any on Earth, taller than even the Shard building in London). He looked for deception as he did with the T.A.R.D.I.S, adding his observations from when he first stepped out onto this world. The sights, smells, sounds that were too real to be faked.
"I don't see how you could be," and it was the single most wondrous and exciting revelation in his life.
A knock at the door drew him away from his reflections. The Doctor leapt from his crouch and dashed towards the door, sliding it open so that Sherlock could see the being on the other side. He pulled all the knowledge and observations together, adding what he now could to piece together a picture of the new alien before them.
He'd already deduced that they were most likely descended from herbivores and lower food-chain animals. Prey, not predators (the head insect in shape, he decided now that his head was clearer, long from the side while slightly triangular from the front. Curiously it appeared to have skin and not shell, though the colour was extremely pale olive, but with darker patterns. No antenna, curious). Humanoid with insectile influences. Long thin limbs (a third the proportional width of a humans, and a third more the length, they must have deceptively strong upper bodies). Had a thorax and abdomen (but the divide less extreme than Earth's insects). Tattooed onto his forehead was a single red line (First husband? Most likely top of the household male hierarchy).
Their host spoke. "We have food and drink set out, would you like to join us? If your friend feels up to it."
"We'd love to!" the Doctor declared with more excitement than Sherlock thought was necessary. "Wouldn't we?" Sherlock remained silent, he had no idea what they would serve (besides flora) so had little idea as to whether he would 'love' to join them (the creature's family. Wife must have sent the husband up to invite them down. Probably didn't have another husband, otherwise a lesser male would have been sent to do the menial task. Unless sending a senior male was a token of unusual respect? No, they were strangers here, why would they be accorded such an honour?). The Time Lord continued, unperturbed "Ignore him, still a little out of it; we'd love to join your family for mid-afternoon meal."(Clumsy phrasing, best translation the T.A.R.D.I.S. could come up with?)
Love was an exaggeration, at least for him, but he couldn't' deny the curiosity to see more of these people. He was quite content to follow them into the neighbouring room.
It was clearly a dining room-come-living room. Toys, reading material and general clutter (three items of clothing, a pad of paper and a set of paints). Grass mats, cushions and blankets lined areas of the floor, but there was little actual furniture. The closet thing there was to furniture were a couple of thick polished wooden slabs (locally sourced, five centimetres thick). The smaller of the two sat along the outer wall (rectangular, 164 cm by 60cm, a couple of slightly discoloured areas, probably ingrained stains), a bucket of soapy water on top with what looked like utensils soaking inside. Obviously the food preparation area. The larger slab rested in the centre, a (more or less) perfect circle (123cm diameter), painted blue with what was most likely a sun motif in the centre. Arranged on top were various clay bowls (nine in total, for the purpose of serving. Sizes varied, as do contents. All vegetation or fungi. One jug of thick liquid. Panya juice? What looked like large chopsticks rested in each bowel, probably for serving) and around the edge seven places were set (no cutlery, just two bowels. One smaller, more of a cup, no doubt for the juice. All painted in bright colours and patterns. Sun designs seemed most popular. Cultural relevance? Or personal preference?).
Their host took a seat on the floor on a plush cushion, beside a smaller (younger?) male. The second male had the same single line down the centre of his forehead, but beside it on (Sherlock's) left was a second smaller line. A second husband (earlier assumption wrong. Would need to be more careful in the future, attending guests was probably a very serious task to be handled by the household head. Or did a newer husband take precedence over an older one? ). The Second Husband was a shorter (by ten centimetres) being, but stockier (more of an athletic-build. A change in tastes for the woman? Or simply moving onto a younger mate. Hard to tell without more data and a fuller understanding of the life cycle of the natives). On the other side of the second husband sat three boys (various ages from looks of it, different height and development. Excellent, more data to understand aging) all staring at Sherlock with wide eyes (first time seeing an alien most likely, certainly a human). The youngest (he would estimate not much older than toddler stage) gaped at him with a slightly open mouth. The middle child (looking at the difference between the youngest and adult, he would guess the developmental equivalent of a human seven year old) acted with barely more restraint, only the slightest parting of his mouth (no lips). The eldest (stuck developmentally between childhood and adulthood, leaning more to the former rather than the latter. Early teen) tried to look calm and unconcerned (definitely early teen), but failed miserably.
"Please, take a seat. These are our sons, Seilan," the First Husband pointed to the eldest (patterns on the body matched the first husband, most likely his biological son. Other shared features supported this), "Mailan," (biological son of the second husband), "and our youngest Teilan," (biological son of the first husband). "I am Geisu, First Husband to Lan, and this is Lairan, Second Husband to Lan." (Interesting. Second syllable of the names was the mother's name. Like a surname? If so woman didn't have any. First syllable was taken from the biological father's first syllable and changed the first letter... or what would be the first letter if written in English).
Lairan spoke up for the first time, "Please help yourself, though I'm not sure what humans can eat."
Sherlock took a seat on a pillow and was briefly surprised by how comfortable it was (filled with down or soft wool, more likely down).
"Most of this will do," the Doctor reassured them, reaching for a bowl as his hosts did the same. He then leaned in to Sherlock a little, "Just don't eat anything red, it's poisonous to us. Rest should be fine though."
"'Should be'?" He let the Time Lord pile food into his bowl. All raw, not surprising as fires couldn't be a safe tool in this environment.
"It won't kill you, might make you a little ill," his companion replied, "but don't let that put you off. I'm sure none of this will make you sick… or turn your mouth purple. Oooo, panya juice. I love panya juice."
Dropping (not quite literally) the pulses, he reached for a jug and poured a generous amount into both their 'cups'. As he poured he talked (does the man ever stop?). "You owe Geisu your thanks, Detective. He and Seilan brought you here after you collapsed."
When Sherlock didn't respond, the Time Lord cleared his throat. Sherlock's mouth twitched up for 0.9 seconds. "Thank you."
"There's nothing to thank us for," Geisu replied. "I couldn't just leave you there."
"We do appreciate it though, and to your wife for letting us stay." The Doctor's eyes swept over the table. "Where is your wife Lan? Bit unusual to have a meal without the wife around."
The table stilled and the family all looked to Geisu. 'Not in the least bit suspicious,' Sherlock thought sarcastically.
"She's not currently here."
"She's gone missing," the middle child, Mailan replied in a hushed voice. "Like the others."
As soon as the words left the child's mouth, the Doctor shifted (eyes more focused, homing in on the situation. Present and interested and not just there and enjoying the moment).
"Mailan, don't talk rubbish," the second husband, Lairan hissed to his son. "She'll be back in a couple of days with a new husband. It isn't new." Clearly referring to how he had entered the family as the Second Husband (men had no say on new husbands then, not legally anyway).
"But she's pregnant," Seilan, the eldest son, objected (damn, it was his voice that he had assumed belonged to the six to eight year old). "She never goes far from the house when she's pregnant."
"Enough," Geisu interjected in a firm voice. "This is not a topic for when we have guests."
"I don't know," the Doctor said, his voice was calm with a hint of suggestion. "I think this is a very good topic. Tell me about these missing Toceps."
The boys looked between themselves, excited and clearly wanting to speak up. They looked to the first husband, who sighed. "Three women have gone missing from our town over the last two months. All of them pregnant."
"How far through the pregnancy?" Sherlock spoke up from his seat. This could be interesting.
"Near the end."
"How close to the end?"
"Lan was in her last month."
"And the others?"
"I'm not sure."
"Where were they taken from?"
"Different places, all over town."
"Yes, where?" Why could people not just answer the question.
"Lan disappeared from outside the house, from the veranda," now that was intriguing, "I don't know about the others."
They'd need to look at the scenes, but there was a good chance most, if not all evidence would be gone by now (rainforest, tropical downpours would occur daily. That wasn't including disturbance from civilians who would have passed through the scene). Tricky, but not impossible.
"When did your wife disappear and what happened?"
"I wasn't here at the time," Geisu turned to Lairan, but Seilan spoke up first.
"A week ago."
"Seilan," Geisu hissed, his patience apparently running thin.
"No," the Doctor interjected on the boy's behalf, "let him talk. What happened and don't leave anything out, even if it doesn't seem important?"
The husbands looked annoyed that they were apparently being over-ruled in their own home, but to Sherlock's utter confusion and surprise, they didn't object. Normally when people looked like that in his company they were prone to prattling on about one thing or another that he had apparently done wrong. He'd have to watch the Time Lord closely for an explanation. For now the boys were happily telling their side of the story.
"We went outside to play on the veranda," Mailan began. "I was chasing Teilan, he's just starting to fly, and mother was following us as we went round the house."
"After the fourth time they ran round," Seilan continued, "Mother wasn't there anymore."
"Second time round," Mailan argued.
"No, it was four times."
"Two times. You weren't there."
"I was reading in the doorway," he pointed vaguely at the entrance to the building. "You were making so much noise that I lost my place every time you went past. It was four times."
"Which one was it?" Sherlock asked in a measured tone.
"I believe it was four times,' Lairan said.
Finally! "Were all the women pregnant?"
"Yes," Geisu took back control of the answers.
"Are all pregnant women kidnapped?"
"Why just those women?" the Doctor asked softly, more to himself, but Geisu replied.
"I wish I knew."
Sherlock suddenly stood (nothing more to learn here). He was just making his way to the exit to look at the scene outdoors when his companion stopped him. "Where are you going?"
The detective looked back. "I'm going to investigate."
"But you haven't finished your food."
"You haven't touched it."
"I don't eat during a case, it slows me down."
He turned and took a step towards the outside, but the Doctor was suddenly by his side, a hand on his bicep. He leaned into Sherlock's personal space to speak quietly. "Detective, it's very rude here to leave the table without finishing your food."
"Then you be polite and I'll look outside," and he spun round and left the room before the man could object.
Seilan's voice followed him out. "Do all humans leave their food unfinished? Is it rude to finish your food?"
A/N: So, there you go. A brand new chapter and the introduction to the new arc. I hope you enjoy my rather pitiful attempt.