The LAN room of This Time Round.
During the day, it's a bustling, cheerful place, reflecting the mood of its sysop, equipped with all the things a LAN room could require - printers, scanners, several UNIX servers, some NT servers, currently upgrading to XP, (a brief flirtation with Windows 3000 had proven... well, let's just say there's a /reason/ it's limited to AIs), interesting and possibly deadly technical gadgets on a workbench...
The main desk is usually brightly lit, displaying the papers and trade magazines that cover it - Matrixnews, PCWeek - and the biggest monitor in the room. And we mean *big*.
Propped up next to the monitor is a sign which says "Hi, I'm Mel, your friendly neighbourhood SysOp".
By the time midnight comes round, however, it's a quiet, darkened place, with the lights turned down low, and remains that way until the morning shift. Only the most devoted tend to stay here overnight.
Like this night, for instance.
Chang Lee peered at the screen, then at the piece of paper by his hand, which had several notes scribbled on it. 'Okay... Let's try...'
His hand bumped against something.
He turned, and looked up into Mel's concerned face. 'Hey, Mel.'
'Is everything okay?'
'Yeah, no problem. Why?'
Mel glanced at the door leading to the bar room. 'Well, the Proprietor gets... twitchy... if there aren't any employees at the bar. As opposed to being up before the bar, but that's something for another time.'
Lee stretched and yawned. 'Yeah, I know, but things've been pretty dead tonight... thought I'd take a little break for a while.' He closed the web page, and logged out.
'How about I make you some soup?' Mel suggested. 'Something to warm you up before you go off shift.'
Lee let out a long, low breath. 'Yeah. Sounds good to me.' He hauled himself out of the chair and headed for the door.
Mel glanced at the terminal he'd been working on. Thought about the web page he'd been looking at.
She went through what she knew of the place. The cursed springs? Unlikely, but possible. Martial arts training ground? Not Lee's style - he had more sense than that.
The Chinese Amazons?
Lee looked down at the bowl of tomato soup in front of him, then back up at Mel. 'I was kinda expecting...'
'-Carrot soup?' Mel finished. 'Confounding expectations doesn't always hurt. Besides, it's still good food.'
'Yeah, I suppose so...' Lee chuckled. 'Living on takeout most nights doesn't do much for the bod.'
Mel paused. 'You live on takeout?'
'Well, that and whatever I can get from the kitchen.'
Mel rolled her eyes. 'You're as bad as the Doctors sometimes, you know that?'
'Hey, there're worse things to be.' Lee said.
'Don't remind me.'
Lee took a deep breath. 'Jeez, I need a break.'
'Not exactly a good idea at the moment.' Mel observed.
'I know. I know. Massive influx, yadda yadda, all hands needed. Which is why I haven't asked the boss yet, 'cause if I do, he'll start doin' that twitching thing again.'
'When /was/ the last time you took a break?' Mel asked.
'Don't ask.' Lee said. 'There's a reason I keep hanging round here - it's a hell of a lot less lethal than a lotta places Out here.'
'But you still want a break.' Mel observed.
Lee grinned. 'Yeah. I figured what the hell, it couldn't be as bad as I remembered. And...'
'Go on.' Mel prompted.
Lee shook his head. 'It just gets to you sometimes. Things wear on you, get you down, and you just wanna let it all /out/ before you snap. Maybe they don't get as bad as they did for Adric-'
'I hope not.' Mel said.
'But it still gets pretty bad, y'know?'
'It's like... well, I figure the stress out there, okay it's going to be lethal, deadly, and terrifying - but at least I'm doin' something different, something that's not /this/. Make any sense to you?'
'I think we all feel like that sooner or later.' Mel said. 'Maybe not quite the same... we get dissatisfied, we want to get out of our lives, to do something /different/. Then we meet the Doctor-'
'And he turns our lives upside down.' Lee finished. 'What's that line... "Be careful what you wish for, you might just get it". He's sorta the living embodiment of that. We want something different - and man, do we get it. In spades.'
Mel chuckled. 'Tell me about it... So did you have anywhere in mind?'
Lee shrugged. 'Just looking round, seein' if there might be anything that catches the eye. Haven't seen anything yet.'
Mel thought about the "Jusenkyou" webpage, but said nothing.
Instead, she said 'How about Fantasy Island?'
'Where Doc and the guys went? Maybe... doesn't sound like there's a lot to do, though.'
'The Fairytale Kingdom?'
Lee raised an eyebrow. 'I hope you're joking. You saw what happened to Chris and Fitz. There is no /way/ I'm getting in drag.'
'How about Nerima?'
'Nerima?' Lee blinked. 'You mean anime-side, right?'
'In Tokyo, yeah?'
'Yes.' Mel confirmed.
'Mel, I'm trying to get away from things, not head straight back into them.'
'It's not as if it's all psycho romance.' Mel said. 'You could have space opera, time travel, psychological dramas, sitcoms, fantastic quests...'
Lee gave her a /look/. 'Uh-huh. I stand by my previous statement.'
'Didn't you know?' Mel said. 'A lot of characters in Nerima come from Japanese computer games.'
'And whatshisname... Bison? Vega?'
'And Donkey Kong?'
Gotcha, Mel thought.
Outwardly, she said 'Yes. If they're from anime, manga, computer games... they're in Nerima.'
'In the flesh? For real?'
Mel grinned. 'You've only /played/ them here. In Nerima, you get to meet them face to face, go head to head.'
Lee's eyes were wide enough to qualify him for an anime of his own. 'Whoa.'
'And Eighth and the rest of the guys - well, /one/ version of them, anyway - are out there.' Mel added. 'It's not like you'd be alone.'
Lee suddenly fixed on Mel. 'They're /there/? Since when?'
'Since they decided to help plan Ranma Saotome's wedding.' Mel said. 'Blame the Doctor - he always decides to stick his nose in.'
'And you know this 'cause...'
'I've been emailing them.' Mel said. 'Keeping them up to date on what's going on back here.'
'Doc doing the whole wedding thing?' Lee chuckled. 'I like it. I mean, I saw what happened at his own wedding... I'd /love/ to see what he does at some other poor bastard's... Damn.'
'What?' Mel asked. All the life suddenly seemed to have gone out of Lee.
'Like I said... I /can't/ go. Still too busy, with all these crossovers. Last thing the Boss wants is someone walking out, /specially/ now he's looking for more help.'
Time for the clincher, Mel thought. 'What if I could find someone to fill in for you while you left?'
'I'd say I'll have whatever you just snorted.' Lee said. '/No-one/ here wants to take the shift - not the Docs, not the companions, not even the /monsters/. You'd have to be crazy, desperate, or bored as hell to take a job here!'
'But if I /could/ find someone?' Mel pressed.
'Then I'd say, yeah, why not?'
'Okay...' Mel checked her watch. 'If I make an appointment with the Proprietor for... 4 pm? That okay?'
'Make it 5. Need my beauty sleep, y'know how it is.'
'5 it is.'
Lee shook his head. 'Though who you're gonna get by 5...'
'Don't worry.' Mel reassured him. 'I'll take care of it.'
Lee's eyebrows arched. 'Now *this* I gotta see.'
Lee entered the Proprietor's office, leaving the door a crack open behind it.
'What is it?' the Proprietor said, resting his elbows on the table.
Lee sat down on the opposite side of the Proprietor's desk. 'Er... Wanted to see you 'bout a couple of things.'
This is not going to be good, the Proprietor thought. Probably wants a raise.
'Go on.' he said.
Lee took a deep breath. 'Okay... Um, first thing, I wondered if you'd mind helping me out. There's this friend of mine - friend of a friend's - who's looking for a job, and I wondered if you'd mind giving her an interview.'
'We're not running a charity here, you know.' the Proprietor said in his most Serious Tone of Voice. 'I can't interview everyone who walks in off the street...'
Could have fooled me, Lee's expression said, although the Proprietor didn't notice it. 'Yeah, okay. I've got her waiting outside. I'll just go tell her-'
'She's outside?' the Proprietor said.
'Yeah. Seems to like the place. She's hitting it off with Luna, at any rate...'
Hitting it off with Luna... The Proprietor's mental cogs began to turn. Someone who can talk to Luna. Someone who can talk to Luna so I don't have to.
'Wait, wait...' he said. 'Let me think about this. Okay. I'll give her a shot. Just /one/, you understand?'
He went over to the door, and said to someone outside 'He said he'll give it a shot.'
There was an indistinct reply, and then the speaker walked through the door.
Without opening it.
The Proprietor nearly choked.
Sandra sat down in Lee's recently vacated chair. 'Thanks. I know this must be a lot of trouble for you...'
The boy's snapped, the Proprietor decided. Bound to happen sooner or later - I was hoping for later, but ah well. What on Earth does he think a /ghost/ can do round here?
'Oh no. No trouble at all.' he said smarmily.
Lee handed the Proprietor a sheaf of papers. The Proprietor blinked at him.
'Her application form and references.' Lee explained.
References? How the Hell could a ghost have references?!
'Okay. Let me look these over...' He traced a finger down the page. Name, address, mortem-status (she'd marked it "Undead"), age ("20 years old. Or 10 months."), post applied for, previous occupations...
"Former embodiment of denied personality aspects" - okay...
"Procurer of equines"... wait a minute.
'You were a horse thief?' he asked, not looking up from the page.
Sandra blushed, which wasn't a bad trick, all things considered. 'I was... a lot younger then. And a lot more stupid.'
'Uh-huh...' The Proprietor had moved on to the references.
The first signature he recognised; he'd seen it enough times when Nyssaias or Embericles had flashed their licences in his face, (and a lot more than that, his libido added), and proceeded to commandeer an upstairs bedroom for the next week. Calliope's.
The other was in neat, copperplate writing.
He read it over. Then again, to make sure he'd read it right the first time.
It was signed "The Contessa". Underneath, in neat brackets, were the words "storyteller to the Vortex City subverse".
She'd got a reference from a Storyteller. She actually had a reference from one of the Storytellers.
Ye gods. The girl couldn't have had a better reference if she'd asked Don Richards or Don Russell. Turning her down *now*, without very, /very/ good reasons indeed...
Never let it be said he wouldn't at least /try/, though.
'Okay, Miss Sandra. That all seems to be in order... If I might ask... Why do you want to work here?'
Sandra shrugged. 'I needed a life. And since this seemed like the closest I could come...'
'Okay. Hypothetical: How would you deal with difficult customers?'
'Like this.' Sandra concentrated.
The Proprietor suddenly had the overwhelming need to double over in extreme and agonising pain. '...Very... Good...'
'Oh, sorry.' Sandra apologised.
Equally suddenly, the Proprietor's backside felt a lot less painful. 'And... what did you just do?'
'Telekinesis.' Sandra explained. 'It's how I move things around. The stronger my emotion, the more I can move.'
The Proprietor thought about that.
Thought about the gangs of armed lunatics who usually hung around the place, and how some carefully applied telekinesis might make them think twice.
Thought about the benefits of having an employee who couldn't get injured, since she was already dead.
Thought about an employee who would never, /ever/ ask for sick pay.
Thought about Luna.
Sandra beamed happily, a massive grin arriving on her face.
Lee coughed from where he'd been standing.
The Proprietor looked up. He'd almost forgotten the boy was there.
'There was something else.' Lee said, handing the Proprietor another sheet of paper.
The Proprietor gave it the once over. 'Application of Leave?'
Lee nodded. 'Yep.'
Lose Lee, gain Sandra. Lose Lee, gain Sandra...
...on one hand, more hands /would/ be helpful around here, even if it did mean paying more. On the other, he'd shown admirable ingenuity and forethought, especially in making sure he had to see Luna as little as possible...
The Proprietor rubber-stamped the application. 'Approved.'
'We rock, we rock, we /rock/!'
'He went for it then?' Mel inquired rhetorically.
Sandra's face was wreathed in smiles. 'He did. Lee's outta here-'
'-And Sandra here's the new bartender.' Lee finished. 'Mel, that was /brilliant/.'
'The two of you didn't do badly yourselves.' Mel pointed out.
'Once we mentioned Luna, we /had/ him!' Lee exulted. 'He couldn't say yes fast enough!'
'Can't think why,' Sandra added innocently. 'Anyone would think he was scared of her or something...'
'By the way,' Lee wondered, 'where'd you get that reference from a Storyteller?'
Sandra shrugged. 'Just your average saving of the omniverse deal. Every little helps. How'd you know it was from a Storyteller?'
'Learned to read upside down. Helped with all those charge sheets they used to lay out back home.'
Mel raised an eyebrow at that one.
Lee stretched. 'Ooof... Okay. All I gotta do now is get packed, and get a night's sleep.' The grin spread across his face once more. 'Night's sleep. I'm finally gonna get a night's sleep. Sleep. At night. Oh yeah. Mr Sandman, here I come!'
Sandra winced. 'Better not say that. He might hear you...'
Near the Round, early the next morning:
Sandra leaned forward, and gave Lee a quick peck on the cheek. 'Don't be a stranger.'
'No chance.' He almost lifted his hand to feel the cold touch against his skin, but thought better of it.
Mel gave him a massive hug. 'Let us know how it goes, won't you?'
Lee grinned. 'Will do, o Mistress of the Megabyte.'
'Flatterer.' Mel said, completely failing to conceal her smile.
'Lemme know how Adric gets on, won't you? Hate to think it all goes down the pan for him.'
Mel nodded. 'I will. And I'll let him know you wish him well.'
Lee gave her the thumbs up. Then he picked up his small bag and walked forward.
The swirling silver effect of a PLOT Hole opened up before him.
The world went-
He staggered as he left. Whoa. Blacked out there for a bit. Stress must'a really been getting to me.
He examined the map Mel had given him before he left. Right. I'm /here/... Ucchan's Okonomiyaki Restaurant is /there/, and from /there/, I can get to the dojo the guys're staying at.
Hope they won't mind. Doc won't, but... the rest?
Nah, Doc should cool 'em down, even if they do get pissed.
Maybe he could get a taxi in, rest a bit, then give the place the lookover it deserved.
Yeah, that sounded good.
Now, how'd you get a taxi round here...?
He nearly jumped out of his skin, turned and whistled.
Standing just off the curb was a motorbike. And he meant motorbike.
This thing was sin on two wheels. Sleek. Streamlined. Compact.
He looked around. Must'a been a car or something-
The bike. Definitely the bike.
Someone playing tricks on the tour-
Definitely looking that way.
He set off. Taxi, taxi...
Children starting to look round now.
Oh yeah, this is good, this is good-
End of the street now, and-
He spun around.
Looked at the bike standing next to him. Same bike.
Looked back at the shrine. No bike.
It'd followed him from the shrine.
"Hey, it followed me home! Can I keep it?" he muttered to himself.
He snorted. Yeah, like anyone was gonna believe that.
Maybe they'd left some ID or something-
No. Touching - bad idea. Gloves first.
Right. Now let's see what we got here...
Helmet hanging off the postillon. He checked inside.
Jeez, talk about idiocy. Anyone could nick this-
He looked at the registration, and bugged.
His name. The damn thing was registered in his name.
Mel musta told the Doctor he was coming.
Lee whistled. Whoa. Didn't think even the Doc could arrange something like this so soon - but he had a time machine...
...maybe he went back in time and set it up? Could be...
...registered today, so could be...
Okay. Registered in his name, with his photograph, following him around... pretty obvious who it's meant for...
...and if it was a con, he was gonna make the most of it.
He pulled the keys out from the helmet, pulled on the helmet, hooked up the bag to the postillon, managed to get astride the saddle, put in the keys, and revved the engine.
'Okay, let's see what you can-AAAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!'
The bike finally skidded to a halt.
Lee took a long, deep, shuddering breath. Okay. Okay. Got the bike under control - sort of, at any rate.
Now all he had to do was remember how to move. He could start by trying to open his eyelids.
Hey, wait a minute. Why could he still hear screech-
That /wasn't/ the bike.
His eyes opened.
Okay. A cat. He'd run over a cat.
At least it'd only been a cat. The way he'd been going, it was a miracle he hadn't run over anything /else/.
Then he looked up. And up. And up.
This wasn't a cat. This was the Godzilla of cats.
It towered over the bike, its yellow eyes fixed on him.
Then it spoke.
'You,' "Catzilla" said, 'squished my tail.'
Lee opened his mouth to explain, but "Catzilla" continued on remorselessly.
'If that's the way you're going to be, then I'm going.'
Lee blinked. "Catzilla" had vanished, and where it'd been-
-a temple bell was floating off into the distance.
Hallucination, he decided. Near death experiences would do that to you. Now where was the white light?
Oh yeah. He'd forgotten to stand up.
Maybe he could just stay here, where it was nice and quiet and dark, and there were no giant cats or floating bells. Okay, so the tarmac was hard, but you couldn't have everything.
Someone pulled his leg out from under the bike, got him flat out on his back - oh yeah, much more comfortable, he decided - and started removing his helmet.
'Hey, you okay in there? Does anything hurt?' The voice was young, female, fluid, and concerned.
Lee tried shaking his head. It worked.
'Okay. Lemme see if I can get this off. Now, whatever you do, don't scream.'
Don't scream? He was too damn /scared/ to scream.
The helmet came off. Lee opened his eyes.
And looked at the face of his rescuer.
'Izzy...?' he managed to get out. Or thought he did. It might have been a squeak.
'Lee? Chang Lee?' the fish girl said.
Lee wasn't up to replying, so he settled for a nod.
'You know him?' another woman's voice said, this one rich and smooth.
'Yep. He's an old friend of the Doctor's - known him ever since the Doctor got his current body, sort of thing. Honourary companion... actually, I think we also got you down as one of the Master's companions too, didn't we? Have to ask...' Izzy said, staying on just this side of babble.
'He recognised you.' the other woman said.
'Yeah. Looks like he's been keeping up on his DWM.' Izzy said. 'Able to get up yet?'
'You know,' Lee said, 'you look a lot different in person.'
'I get that a lot.' Izzy said, a small grin tugging at her features. 'Maybe you should stay down for a while.'
'Sounds good to me.' Lee decided. 'Izzy...?'
'What the /Hell/ did I crash into?'
'A cat demon.'
'A cat demon,' Lee repeated flatly.
'Yeah. Lives in a giant bell, and whoever holds the little bell that matches it gets to be its bride, so it keeps hanging 'round here, because this's where the little bell is. And this time, it decided it wanted fish, too.' The last sentence was said with just a /trace/ of irony.
'And it turned out to be a wimp,' the other woman said. 'Honestly, some demons...'
'Right.' Lee said. 'Uh-huh.' This was starting to feel distinctly familiar. Nothing he could put his finger on, but something, all the same, that made this feel /distinctly/ like the Round. 'Hey, Doc around?'
'Yep. Let me guess: you're here on holiday.'
' 'Cause you needed /this/ version of the Doctor... which means you're on holiday.' Izzy grinned. 'And you'll fit /right/ in round here... "Speed Racer", anyone?'
'Mm. K1's gonna want a word with you about that bike. Putting some major stress on the engine like that...'
The other woman moved into his line of sight. 'Hey there, hon. I'm Urd.'
For some reason, Lee found he'd lost the ability to speak again.
Urd examined Lee critically. 'I think Nurse Urd recommends some /strong/ sake for this boy.'
'Ready to stand up yet?' Izzy asked. 'Then... Hup!'
Together, Izzy and Urd helped Lee to his feet.
He took another long breath. 'Whoa. Whoa. /Gotta/ talk to Doc 'bout speed limits on that thing.'
Izzy frowned. 'Why?'
'Sent it off to meet me.' Lee explained. 'Okay, so he's gonna know /now/ I'm coming, but he's probably gonna go back and...'
He trailed off. Urd was looking between him and the bike.
Then she looked back at him. 'It's not as simple as that. It's spirit-bound to you. Correction - *she's* bound to you.'
'You've been bonded on a spiritual level.' Urd explained. 'Notice any weird cheap visual effects lately?'
'He'd have to have come through a PLOT Hole to get here...' Izzy interjected.
'Perfect.' Urd said. 'Looks like you got hit with an Adaptation.'
'And one of those is...'
'You'll manifest a special ability linked to the subverse you're in. Adapting to its nature. In /your/ case, the bike.'
'This never happens to Adric...' Lee mumbled.
'Nope.' Izzy said. 'Us, and just us. Well, anyone who travelled with our Doctor, anyway...'
'Uh-huh. So why us?'
Urd scowled. 'I don't know. The damn earth spirits keep clamming up whenever I ask - protection program, which means it's Special Access Information. Something about "appointing knights", or something stupid like that. Kami-sama alone knows why...'
Lee raised his eyebrows. 'Hey, I used to work with a goop-spitting corpse. This ain't /that/ much weirder. But I'm really startin' to wish they'd /ask/ first...'
'Oh yeah.' Izzy said.
'So what'd /you/ guys get?'
'Let's see...' Izzy ticked off on her fingers. 'Compassion's pulling the whole "Dark Queen" schtick - she's a real sucker for that - Stacy's got a third eye, and I've started commanding water. Don't know about the others...'
Lee groaned. 'Oh God... Dark Queen Compassion? Shoot me. Just shoot me.'
'That's what Fitz said.' Izzy said.
'Yeah? Good for him.' Lee let his head slump. 'But I'm guessing he's in maximum pain after /that/ line...'
Urd's mouth twitched into a smile. 'Nope, he's fine - well, he's still upright and walking, at least. Anything else is up for grabs. C'mon, let's get you in the dojo, and you'll see for yourself.'
'And meet the rest of the gang.' Izzy added.
'Rest of the gang...?' Lee said, once more with that inescapable feeling of familiarity creeping over him.
'Yep. We met a couple of people on holiday, and things sort of ...snowballed from there.' Izzy said, her mouth twitching at the corners.
'Snowballed.' Lee repeated.
He took a deep breath.
'Okay. You didn't meet any Pokemon, did you?'
Lee grinned, and cracked his knuckles. 'Then I'm right behind you...'
The End (for now)
Summary: A forgotten companion sets out to team up with the rest of the gang.
Disclaimers: 'Doctor Who' is the BBC's, as is Mel. Chang Lee is BBC/Universal's, Izzy is Marvel's, Urd (well, this version) is Kosuke Fujishima's, and the demon cat is Rumiko Takahashi's.
(It just occured to me... Urd is Yggdrasil's - the universe-maintaining computer's - System Manager. Hmm...)
This Time Round is Tyler Dion's, the Proprietor is BKWillis's, and Sandra's mine.
With thanks to Doug Killings, who suggested Lee's introduction and a few suggestions on his background, as well as providing info on the LAN room.
Luna is Luna Inverse, who got introduced as the Round's new waitress in BKWillis's 'Hard Help' - and the Proprietor has good reason to keep her at arm's length... Sandra's origin is outlined in my 'Moving In', while the full details - and her encounter with the Contessa - are covered in 'The Night The Stories Went Dark'.
Chris' and Fitz's involuntary walk on the wild side was during Doug Killings' 'Story Time: Cinderella' - Lee's guessing at what the Kingdom would be like.
Copyright 2002 Imran Inayat