Bet ya' all thought I'd gone and died on you, considering how
long its been since I last posted one of these. No such luck. I
was just held prisoner by my Place of Employment for a few weeks
while they tried to arrange a hostage exchange. Damn consulting

This one didn't come out quite the way I wanted it to, but I'm
rather tired of looking at it, so here we go anyway. Special
Thanks to Vickie Griswold and Diane Brendan for advance
commentary and beta-reading; I couldn't have crawled through this
without you.

As always, commentary and criticism are welcome, flamers will be
doused with gasoline and set ablaze (poetic justice if there ever
was). Yes, I know I still owe some of you reciprocal commentary;
please give me a little time to dig myself out of this backlog.

Email: DeTroyes@EnterAct.Com

Copyright disclaimer at end.

22 May, 1999

Friendly Gestures
(The Question, pt. I)
A This Time Round: To Die For fiction.


She was rather perturbed at the First Doctor's companions.

She'd ordered the thing especially for use on Adric, of course.
She'd decided that she had been relying far too much lately on
methods that involved some form of ballistics, and it was
beginning to get rather boring. After all, when you came right
down to it, if you've seen one sopping chest wound or one vacated
skull, you've seen them all -- and lately, she'd seen them far
too many times.

So, she'd thought this would be a much more interesting change of
pace. It had style, it had panache; it made a _statement_, which
as far as she was concerned was about half the point. Like most
of her methods, it would send a clear and unequivocal signal
about where she stood on the matter, one that could not possibly
be misinterpreted. And, she had decided, it was so very
important that this message be understood by everyone; she so
much wanted it all to be absolutely clear.

Which, unfortunately, brought her back to the subject of the
First Doctor's companions.

She wasn't certain exactly how it happened, but for some reason a
number of them had decided to borrow the thing before she had a
chance to use it. Susan, at first, then Vicki and later Dodo.
What was worse, two of them had managed to accidentally off _Him_
in the process, and as far as she was concerned that was
completely inappropriate. Didn't they understand that it was her
job to try any new methods on Him first, just to make sure they'd
work? Didn't they know how much effort she'd put into this,
charting out weakest stress points and ascertaining levels of
pain tolerance? Didn't they realize that she'd worked very hard
to catalogue, categorize, and cauterize each and every method,
just so they didn't have to? Didn't it occur to them that trying
something new without it first being vetted by her was just...
not proper?

She had considered doing something to the three of them, but
regretfully decided against it. The Old Codger would undoubtedly
not have approved, and if there was anyone that shouldn't be
angered, it was him. So, for the moment, that particular series
of transgressions would have to go unresponded to. True, it was
frustrating, but then again she already had a way to work out her
frustrations, and it certainly didn't involve eggshells.
Besides... in some ways, she found it all rather flattering;
she'd never been a role model before, and the very idea that some
of the other young ladies were starting to follow her lead was
strangely satisfying.

Therefore, there was nothing left for it but to have her turn
with the thing. After all, why waste the opportunity? She'd
never tested this method before, and it certainly deserved a
meticulous entry of its own in her catalogue.

So she adjusted the straps to the harness; as the load on her
back was digging into her shoulder. Then she put on the thick
gloves, unclipped the hose, and adjusted the nozzle to the device
slightly. Quickly she took a glance at the yellow-and-green clad
mannequin about fifteen meters away, standing before her in the
field behind the pub. It looked fairly accurate; she'd even gone
to the trouble of having a star replica stamped out of aluminum,
just so her test would be that much more realistic.

She smiled, glanced at the clock on the table, and pulled the

A stream of flame spouted toward the mannequin, enveloping it.
She held until the figure was a humanoid-shaped pillar of fire,
stopped, then glanced once more at the clock. Satisfied, she
clipped the nozzle back to the harness, turned to the test bench,
and activated a new page in her notebook.

Six seconds, she thought. Adjusting for His healing abilities
and thick skull (curiously, she chose to underline those last two
words), call it about nine seconds minimum.

She dutifully added the information to the notebook, under the
newly created entry of "Method #522: Full-Body Burn, Flame-
thrower". She made a few more notes, mostly concerning
speculations on reconstitution timings, which she had lately
begun to be very proficient at predicting. She knew, for
instance, that a full disintegrate usually took about one hour
ten minutes to come back from (Method #163, Disintegrate, Phaser
Type II), but a mere shot to the head only about forty-five
(Method #92, Head shot, Glock-17). Since this method would
undoubtedly leave more remains than a full disintegrate but much
less than a run-of-the-mill head shot, she estimated a
reconstitution time of around 1hr +/- 2 minutes. Unfortunately,
the weasel wasn't always cooperative, so she wasn't always able
to determine exactly when He came back. Still, she had done this
enough times to know that her predictions were reasonably

She paged back a few entries, to compare some notes and to make
notations concerning potential cross-references. Most of the
entries reviewed were short and to the point, but occasionally
some were quite detailed, and it was those detailed entries which
momentarily drew her attention. Especially one of the very
recent entries, which was considerably more detailed than any
other in the tome and the discussion to which an extensive number
of pages had been devoted. No conclusion as yet, but the
rational debate had been... interesting.

With a sigh she powered-down the book and reactivated the lock's
25-digit keycode, hand-print scan, and retinal scan. She
certainly didn't want anyone to find the book and read her notes,
not until she'd had a chance to edit them in a more professional

After all, she didn't want them to get the wrong impression, did


Hidden in the nearby trees, a short, brown-haired woman lurked
quietly, peering through a large pair of binoculars with one
hand, while the stock of her M-16 rested in the elbow of her
other free arm.

"Three, target in sight, awaiting orders."

Not too far away in another tree, a stocky man with short-cropped
red hair and beard, hefted a sniping rifle at the same target.
"Four, I have a hard target, awaiting orders."

From what used to be the summit of a small hillock about 400
meters away, a third individual (short and heavy-set, with black
hair) gazed through the scope attached to his M40. He lined up
the cross hairs on the Trakenite's curly head, and spoke into his
headpiece. "Seven, target acquired, awaiting orders."

"Team Alpha, this is Six. Hold your fire and stay in position.
Do not, repeat, do not engage target."

To varying extent, each of the three swore. It was so
frustrating, they each thought. After all, the Bitch was in
plain sight, and with one word they could take her out and make
the poor sod's life that much better. Yet, they were being
ordered to hold and observe. Hold and observe, while she
prepared to continue on her program of pain and torment. It just
didn't make sense, and each of them wondered what the hell their
fearless leader had in mind.

Besides... didn't he realize how hard it was to keep cross hairs
aligned when your whole body kept twitching?


Not too far away, in a large conspicuously disguised vehicle...

"Let me get this straight. You DON'T want us to kill her?"

Ryoko nodded vigorously. "Look, Doug. We really do admire your
dedication to this. Honest. But... killing her isn't going to
solve the problem. In fact, it may just end up making him a
whole lot more miserable... which is exactly what we don't want,

Diane looked perplexed. "But, I don't understand. How can
killing her make him _more_ miserable? I thought the whole point
of this exercise was to make it so he wouldn't be ridiculed and
abused anymore."

"Exactly, it is. But there are better ways to do it than, well,
carefully chosen preventive assassinations."

The ADF's fearless leader looked decidedly uncomfortable with
that particular thought.

"Look," the space pirate girl continued, "usually I'm as much in
favor as you are of just going in with guns blazing and killing
anyone remotely associated. But this time, well, the gang and I
have thought it over and we really think this isn't the right
time for it."

"You still haven't answered Di's question, Ryoko."

"Then I'll give you two words to mull over: Akane Syndrome." She
then proceeded to outline her, Wes, and Lucas' deductions, citing
as many examples as she could remember off hand and ending with
the contents of a certain procured video tape. She also informed
them about what they were going to try to do about it.

The two Adric-fans looked stunned.

"Damn..." Diane whistled. "You know, it does make a certain
degree of ghastly sense."

Doug shook his head, not quite convinced. "Naw... Naw, it can't
be. Adric and her? If so, she's got a funny way of showing it."

"Yeah, but Doug... she's psycho." Diane pointed out, one finger
making a circular motion in the air. "Who knows what really
makes sense to her?"

"I'll get you a copy of the video." Ryoko offered. "Watch it,
and you'll know we're right."

"He told me he did nothing more than a weapons check on her..."

The aqua-haired girl grinned. "Looks a lot friendlier than that
on tape."

The two fans eyed each other. "Ok..." Doug said carefully,
"assuming we do go along with this, what do you want us to do?"

"Keep track of her movements, and try to keep him alive long
enough to ask. Our biggest problem is that her attacks usually
come so fast he barely has time to scream. We've got to give him
a chance to get the words out."

"Easier said than done. According to our intel, she's
practically got killing him down to a science."

"What about while he's working at the 'Round?" Diane suggested.
"She can't touch him when he's on shift."

The space pirate shook her head. "We thought of that. We might
yet have to resort to it, but for the moment it'd probably be
best if we held that as a last option. He's reluctant enough
about it as it is, and there's no telling what sort of a reaction
they'll give him if she publicly declined."

Diane thought that dynamic over. "Yeah, I can see that. He gets
enough crap from them without that adding to it." She considered
the girl's words. "So. Does this mean he's going along with
it?" she asked, hopefully.

"Not willingly, but Wes and Lucas are pushing him forward whether
he wants it or not." Ryoko flashed a skewed grin. "After all,
what else are friends for?"

That brought a chuckle from all present.

Diane turned to her friend. "Doug... you do realize that if this
gets set up successfully, RADW will throw a collective fit?"

One corner of Doug's mouth curled maniacally. "Yeah. Won't


A flash of reflected light caught her attention.

Out of the corner of her eye, she picked out the figure amid the
foliage. Three, she thought. That makes three, two snipers and
one spotter.

She continued to adjust the harness straps, acting as if she had
not seen them, while at the same time trying to come to an
estimate as to how many of them were out there.

Lets see, there's one in the trees and one on top of the hillock,
each with sniping rifles, and a third with binoculars, probably
with some kind of assault rifle (she decided it was probably
something on the order of #77, Multiple Gunshot Wounds, M16, Full
Auto). Almost certainly they would have other weapons available
(#123, Chest Wound, .357 Magnum came immediately to mind,
possibly with #201, Stomach Burst, Hand Grenade as an option).
Chances were good they also had a command post somewhere close --
probably that greenish-brown package delivery truck on the
street, the one that hadn't moved for almost two hours. Add two
to three in there...

She glanced at the gauge on the FL6, and smirked. The three
girls had wasted an awful lot of fuel, and her calibration
experiments had used up more. And she didn't have the time to
order up replacement gas cartridges. To be absolutely certain of
getting Him, she doubted she had the fuel to spare.

Mentally, she took stock of her personal inventory and the
options they presented, but decided none of them really would be
all that effective. To use them adequately, she would be faced
with having to either take off the flame-thrower because it would
get in the way (#42, Head Shot, Sig Sauer P225), or would have to
get so close that her intentions would be known long before she
got near enough to have any fun (#179, Arterial Cut, Butterfly


She continued to act unawares, putting her notebook in a lock box
on the test bench, activating the attached locks and thermite
charges, and finally sealing it with another thumb print. No
need to let them know just yet that she knew they were there.
Besides, they obviously could have taken her out some time ago,
and the fact that they hadn't led her to believe she was just
under observation. Not that it didn't concern her, but there
really was no need to advertise her knowledge to them. Better to
let them think she didn't know, so that they might make a similar
mistake in the future. Still, it did mean she should probably
start to be a little more cautious; the weasel's friends were
fast proving they could be almost as dreadfully annoying as He

It was getting late, she realized. Here it was almost noon, and
she hadn't even made an attempt yet. Rather unlike her, but then
again the less common methods always took longer, just because of
the pre-mortem tests she always ran. So, with a sigh, she hefted
the burden on her back and began to make her way around the This
Time Round, carefully watching the reflected light from three
sets of eyepieces as she did so. She should eventually come up
with some way of dealing with those losers, but at the moment she
had a mission to accomplish.

Even so, she thought as she left the grounds of the pub, it
didn't mean she couldn't consider some possibilities while she
tried to find Him. Maybe a few "#341, Multiple Shrapnel Wounds,
Claymore" in the trees, and perhaps supplemented by the odd
"#277, Torso Rupture, Bouncing Betty" in the grass. That should
take care of any unwanted attention.

She continued on her way.


"Six, this is Seven. Papa-Bravo moving out, heading east."

"Confirm, Seven. Maintain your position and do not, repeat, do
not engage. Observe until she is out of sight, then fall back on
the command vehicle. Understood?"

"Confirm, Six. Understood." Alpha Seven watched as the
Trakenite turned the corner of the pub. "Six, this is Seven.
Have lost visual with subject."

"Six, this is Four. Have lost visual."

"Six, this is Three. Papa-Bravo is still in my sight. She's
just paused at the edge of the crater and is looking in."

"Seven, fall back on command vehicle. Four, Three, hold until
she has left the parking lot, then follow. Be careful; if you
can see her, then chances are she can see you."

"Affirmative, Six." A pause. "Ok, she's turned away from the
crater and is now continuing on an east-bound heading. Looks
like she's on her way toward the park." Another pause. "Ok Six,
this is Three. In pursuit on foot."


Elsewhere in our little drama...

"Wes, this is a bad idea that just keeps getting worse."

Ever since they had first approached him on this, Adric of
Alzarius had tried to convince himself that it wouldn't ever
really happen, that he wouldn't ever really find himself trying
to come up with a rational way to ask an irrational person if
they would go out with him.

"Relax, Adric. It's only a flame-thrower. How many times have
you had that one already?"

He should have seen it coming, he realized later; he should have
seen that Nabiki would have her hand in it, that she'd come up
with a way to prod him along. He hadn't anticipated that there
would be evidence he couldn't explain away, even if it was (on
the face of it) rather innocuous evidence at that. But the tape
did exist, the evidence was there for all to see, and if he was
to have any hope for a stress-free and unfettered existence, the
only choice he had was to prove to them once and for all that he
was right and they were wrong.

"In the last few weeks, twice. Something about flame wars and

Of course, when you really came down to it, he had no one but
himself to blame; he'd been the one to let his guard down in
front of a whole room full of people, and so now he had to face
the consequences. He really hated himself when he did something
stupid like that. It always opened him up to the others,
providing a source for those endless jibes and taunts they all
liked to direct at him. Of course, this time there was a
slightly unusual twist: it had been his own friends which had
decided to betray him, but in such a way that they seemed to
genuinely believe would really help. Meanwhile, the others had
since done nothing worse than give him the odd, askance glare, as
if wondering when it was that the other boot would drop.

"Look. So what if she says 'no'? At least you would have asked,
and at least you would know the answer."

"She could tell everyone, and I would never hear the end of it.
Hell, they're still taunting me about the time Gadzikowski set me
up with Mel and Peri."

"So, take the moral high-ground. Tell them you were trying to
extend an olive-branch, make amends for whatever it is she's got
against you. What can she do about that, huh? Embarrass you to

"She'd consider it a challenge."

The strange part about it was, he could see their logic to it.
They were completely wrong, of course, but he still could see it.
He'd thought about it a lot lately, especially in the last few
days. But no matter how many times he tried to rethink it, no
matter how many different angles he chose to explore, he still
came to the same regretful conclusions: this spite program of
hers was far too methodical, her efforts at eradicating him far
too systematic, for there to be anything to their deductions. If
it was anything but, if there had ever been some spark of
affection lurking behind all of that malice, then surely it must
have been lost or extinguished long ago. No other conclusion fit
the evidence at hand.

Why couldn't they see that?

Because just once I was fool enough to let myself pretend

"You know, Adric." the young man in the UEO uniform remarked, "I
actually think you're more afraid that she _will_ accept than

"She won't accept." he grumbled. "Of that, I can assure you."

"Until she actually turns you down," Wesley Crusher interrupted,
"that's just your opinion." The corners of his mouth upturned.
"Of course, you're welcome to try to prove or disprove it."

Adric couldn't come up with a retort at that moment, which just
served to underline the general feeling that he was doomed.

"Luckily, Doug got us an opening you can use." Lucas Wolencek
added. "Not a planned one, mind you, but heck, isn't that what
improvisation is about?"

"Let me guess. The towel?"

"Bingo. After all, she did ask _you_ to make sure it was

The Alzarian nodded; he'd noticed Wes and the ADF talking in low
whispers the night before; but hadn't had the nerve to find out
what it was they were planning. Not that they'd have asked for
his opinion.

"So... what's the plan?"

Wesley nodded. "Simple. The ADF surrounds her, you throw in the
towel, you ask."



"Look, Wes. If you're going to arrange a funeral for me, could
you at least have the courtesy of allowing me to pick the
gravesite?" Heavy sigh. "I don't want the ADF anywhere around -
- they're almost as loony as she is. She'll _know_ something was
up the moment they show."

"Yeah, but they can provide cover..."

"I've already been covered once by them, thank you very much."

"Then how...?"

"I'll think of something."

There was a pause, as the Alzarian's two friends stared at the
fixture behind which they knew their friend to be.

"Ummm... Adric?" Lucas began.


"You know, it's very hard to improvise when you've got yourself
locked in the stall like that..."


Charlie Thompson. (Alpha Seven) had just withdrawn to the ADF's
command vehicle when Heather showed up, a bag of miscellaneous
electronic parts in hand. Charlie looked strangely at the bag.
"Radio Shack?"

"Tandy." Heather corrected, then began to explain as she climbed
in. "About the time that WANKER lot showed up the other day, we
detected some kind of a minor breach in the local panreality
logarithmic oscillation template, as if someone had punched a
hole through the vortex. Best guess is, the two events are
connected. Anyway, I'm hoping to build a spatial anomaly
detector that will be able to better pinpoint exactly when and
where such PLOT developments occur."


"Well, PLOT developments like these vary notoriously in
predictability; sometimes they come when you least expect them,
other times you can see them coming a mile away. Unfortunately,
for our purposes that's not good enough. But they do happen to
have one thing in common: the presence of CVE's. The SAD-WANKER
device I'm building will detect the presence and location of any
CVE's in the area."

"CVE's? Charged Vacuum Embodiments?"

Heather shook her head negatively. "Uh-uh. Cheap Visual

The young woman settled herself at one of the terminals, and
donned a headpiece that dangled from a peg. "Who's on her?" she

Charlie nodded toward one of the other screens, upon which two
figures could be seen distantly tailing a third. "Walter and
Vick3ie. They're keeping as far away as they can."

Up toward the front, Diane climbed into the driver's seat and
started up the engine. "Doug... where the hell did you get this
piece of crap?" she grumbled.

"From some French guy in New York. Hey, you try to do better on
that so-called budget Langley gave us."

A buzzing sound issued from his gun belt, and he reached down for
his cell phone. "Yo! Yeah, its me. Ok. Ok. Huh? You mean
_don't_ tail her? But... Ok. No, I don't think so. Uh huh.
Yeah, that should work. Probably better that way, too. Uh huh.
Uh, ten and one-half. Why do you need to know? Uh huh. Ok,
that makes sense. Uh huh. Are you sure? Not even a little? I
swear, it'll be no more than a graze..." His voice dropped as if
extremely disappointed. "Oh, all right. If he insists. It's
his call, after all. Uh huh. Ok, _this time_, sure. But if
this one doesn't work out... Fine, fine. We'll play along.
Fine. Over and out."

"Alpha One is on the move, people!" Doug shouted to the back of
the truck, as he clipped the cell phone back on. "Di, head for
the park and go to the south-east corner parking lot."

"Car park!" Heather shouted from the back of the truck.

"Whatever. Charlie, what's the twenty on Psycho Bitch?"

"She's just entered the western edge of the park. Walt and
Vick3ie still have the tail."

The ADF Guy took a deep breath. It just didn't feel right. Here
they were, offering the poor guy more support than he ever
dreamed he had, and they were being asked to just sit back and
let things happen. Without interfering. It just wasn't fair.
They'd all sacrificed so much, pulled each other through so much
fannish hell, just to be where they were right then and there.
But the person they'd come to rescue just didn't want them around
when he made The Big Move, and it was all somewhat disappointing.
There had to be _something_ they could do to help him...

An idea struck him. Yeah, they could do that. Strictly
speaking, it wasn't interference at all...

"Heather. Got that hook up with GCHQ worked out yet?"

The young woman looked up from her Terminal. "Yes. I had to get
your Langley friends to put some pressure, but I believe some
sort of an agreement has been worked out. Anyway, we can get a
hi-res feed anytime we want it."

Doug smiled. Good.

"Get the image up. If it's clear, tell Three and Four to break
off and rendezvous at the parking lot."

Yeah. This should help. This should help him lots...

Heather suddenly looked up from her terminal. "Diane! Left side
of the road!" she shouted quickly.

A screech, a crunch, the sound of broken glass, and a very
succinct curse were heard in quick succession, all coming from



An eminent Earth philosopher, she had heard, had once made the
observation that when you were on fire, people have a tendency to
get out of your way. The same held true, evidently, if you also
went about holding an instrument capable of bestowing that
particular honor on someone.

People were getting out of her way, most quite hurriedly. A
small group of teenagers took one look in her direction, and
immediately turned and ran; another young woman, in a nurse's
uniform and shepherding a pair of very young unruly children,
bodily threw her charges into a buggy and beat a hasty retreat.
Even the animals and birds seemed to sense the importance of her
presence, for they seemed to have suddenly decided en masse that
their business was best carried on in locations as far away as

She thought that it was very sporting of them, that they should
all recognize the value of her pet project, and of how much
easier it was when she was given a clear shot at Him. Not that
she wasn't above using area-effect methods, mind you (as proved
by #333, Full Body Destruction, Cruise Missile); but truth to
tell those lacked that certain degree of finesse she was actually
aiming for. Besides, collateral damage was just plain messy;
even if she didn't have to clean up the results, there was the
aesthetics of it all to consider. No, no it was far better that
she confine herself to this one target. It was good that
everyone obliged her by not seeking to get in her way; obviously,
they understood the importance of her mission.

Except for that pesky ADF lot, two of whom evidently still
lingered some meters behind.

She glanced around. Still no sign of Him yet. She supposed
there was a remote possibility He was somewhere else, or would be
coming from some other direction, than that which her instincts
told her. But no, no. She would find Him here. She wasn't
certain how she knew, but knew it she did. They would meet
somewhere in this park, and they would... _she_ would... continue
the... the... experiment. Yes, that was it. Continue the

She already was composing the notebook entry in her mind.


Wesley had to shove his tricorder under the stall door to get him
to budge. On the small screen was a very short message,
addressed to a certain Rec.Arts news group, and directing to a
URL whose contents everyone "just had" to view. The message had
not yet been sent, but it carried the desired effect.

They tucked the neatly laundered and folded towel into his hands,
and hustled him out of the restroom. A few of the usual pub
patrons were there, but none gave them any special notice.
Taking that as a good omen, Wesley and Lucas each gripped an arm
and half-pushed, half-dragged Adric before them to the
entranceway, then shoved him out the door.

They had not gone three steps when he bumped into someone: a very
small, elderly man in the garb of a Buddhist priest. The tiny
man looked up from beneath his wooden-bowl hat, and suddenly
began to vehemently shake his walking stick, screaming quick
words in Japanese pertaining to ominous omens and bad luck. The
priest immediately produced a white necklace of some kind, went
to his knees, and began to offer a series of quick prayers.

"Great. Just great." Adric mumbled.


Once more, not too far away -- approximately 35,790 kilometers
away, as a matter of fact -- a satellite received a priority
message from its controllers. Being a good, well-programmed
satellite, it obeyed immediately. It dutifully reoriented one of
its cameras away from its current assignment (that of keeping an
eye on troop movements in an area known as Kosovo), and instead
turned it upon a new target further north and to the west. The
new coordinates were provided in the transmission.

It adjusted its focus, and began to transmit the data on a
special, reserved channel. Heavily encrypted, of course.


Heather gave a short clap as the image came through. It was of a
park, as seen from an angle almost directly above, although
Heather thought that there seemed to be a hint of parallax to the

The surprisingly distinct, clearly-defined shape of a brown-
haired woman could be seen in the center of the screen.

"OK, Doug. We're live!"


They were paused at the edge of the park.

They knew she was in there somewhere, and judging by the number
of frantically retreating beings, they figured they were probably
headed in the right direction.

But Adric wouldn't budge.

"Why are you making me do this?" he complained, his feet rooted,
his heals dug in so hard that they threatened to leave
indentations in the concrete. "You know I'll just end up as
well-done steak."

"Truth?" Lucas responded, "Because you'll never do it on your
own, so someone has to step up and give you a quick kick in the

"That's because I'm not stupid enough to try this. Luke, Wes...
you two really have _no idea_ what she's capable of."

"You're wrong. We know exactly what she's capable of. Believe
me, we've seen it more times than we like."

Wes interjected. "But Adric, remember what we're saying. What
if we are right? What if the root of all of this is because
she's too stubborn to admit what she really thinks? You've said
it yourself; up until this started, she was always the reserved,
repressed sort. Well, something must have caused her to snap in
your direction."

The bloody thing of it was, Adric mused to himself, they almost
made insanity sound so damn reasonable.

Wes continued. "Look. One minute. That's all it takes. One
minute, and we'll all know who's right. You've spent much more
time than that just agonizing over it."

"I'm not agonizing over anything -- don't smirk at me like that!
I'm just not particularly interested in making myself even more
of a laughing stock than I already am."

"In other words," Lucas pointed out, "you're scared."

"Of her? Who wouldn't be?"

"Different kind of scared."

That actually shut him up.

"Ok, I admit it." Wesley began anew. "We don't really know
what's going on inside her head. But brooding in a dark corner
waiting for enlightenment is not the way to find out. And don't
tell me you don't, because we've all seen you do it." The young
man paused, as much for effect as to get his breath. "If you
want to get to the bottom of this, if you really want to know why
it is you're always the target... then this is the best way to do

"If we're wrong, fine." Lucas offered. "We'll own up and not
push you again."

"But if we're right... you'll have the opportunity to bring an
end to this once and for all. Make things better for you, maybe
even happier. Isn't that worth the risk?"

"You've got nothing to lose but another punch in the card."

"And everything to gain."

So damn reasonable, he thought to himself. So bloody, gods-damn


A few minutes later, Adric found himself standing, alone, at a
fork in the path. From one side, a young woman was anxiously
making for the park entrance, pushing a buggy carrying two
children. The Alzarian took that as a probable omen, and headed
in that direction.

His thoughts had started to betray him.

Maybe she does like me, Hope reasoned. Maybe I _have_ been going
about this the wrong way. Maybe I've been running away when I
should have been turning around.

Doubt sneered. Maybe I'm just stuck in an O. Henry story,
waiting for the noose to tighten.

A couple of teenage kids ran up the path towards him, stopped,
took one look in his direction, and immediately scattered.

Look, Hope. We've already covered this ground. What's the real
likelihood, hmm? She's popular, I'm not. She's got a future,
I'm space dust. She's smart and intelligent and self-assured,
I'm geeky and whiny and prone to second-guessing myself. She's
got legions of admirers, I've got the pontifications of David J.
Howe. She's got everything, I've got nothing. It just doesn't
add up.

A pause at another fork as he considered options. Hmmm. There
was a certain terrified look to that leaping squirrel. Perhaps
that direction?

So, why are you really doing this? To get them off your back?
Or because maybe you think there is a chance?

There is no chance. If there was...

But if there was a chance, wouldn't you take it? Don't you want
to take it?


But it's not likely...

Who cares if it's not likely... would you take it?


He rounded a copse of trees... and there she was.

He took a deep breath.

Relax. Underneath it all, she's still just a girl. OK, a young
woman. But still... it's not like she's an alien or something...
well, actually, technically she was, but that was beside the

Relax. Billions of beings do this every bleeping day. Relax.
It's no big deal.


He gulped, and let out the deep breath.

Let's get this over with.


"There he is!" Vick3ie observed, pointing to a small figure on
the screen.

"Di, stop the truck!" Doug ordered.

Walter leaned forward and adjusted terminal controls. "Don't we
have a way to listen in?" he asked.

Behind him, Heather picked up a gun-like contraption with a large
parabolic dish at the front end. She stepped to the front and
aimed it toward the side-window of the cab. "We do now." she


She heard her name shouted behind her, and was already turning
before she identified the voice. She brought the flame-thrower
barrel to bear in his direction.

He was walking directly toward her. Rather fast. And didn't
seem to be watching where He was going. Typical, just typical.

A folded something was tucked underneath one arm.

She almost flamed him right then and there on principle, but
strangely held her fire. Something was wrong, she thought; He
never walked up to her like that when she held a weapon in plain

She watched him carefully. "What do _you_ want?"

"Ummm, h-h-hello, errr.." he managed to stammer as he came within
earshot of her. "I've been, umm, that is, fancy meeting..."

Her eyes became very thin. "Adric..." she said, her voice
dripping with icicles. "What are you doing here?"


Back in the truck, Five members of the Adric Defense Force leaned
toward the speaker, straining to hear the words. A sixth member
held the parabolic-dish contraption aimed out the window.

"Come on." Heather muttered, "Don't be such a sod. Ask her."


"Um, um, nothing, actually. I, um, was just going out for a walk
in the park... and, well, um..."

She adjusted the nozzle, then noticed something behind Him. That
package delivery truck was in the distance, parked, with some
kind of odd weapon aimed in their direction.

That ADF lot. She hadn't seen them for some time. Where were

But He was here...

An ambush?

Adric glanced at the weapon. "The flame-thrower?" he said,
weakly. "You know, you're actually rather late. Susan and Dodo
already had a go with me on that..."


The ADF cringed in unison.

"Dear god..." one of them groaned.


She eyed Him suspiciously. Something was very, very wrong here.
Her instincts told her to flame and run.

But for some reason, she found herself holding.

"Umm, err, I got your towel back from Doug." he foundered,
proffering the Marvin-The-Martian clothe as if he had just
remembered its existence. "Remember, you should always know
where your towel is..."

He ended the last with a short, nervous laugh.


Six heads were now burying themselves in the palms of six
corresponding pairs of hands.

"He's going to need a lot more help than I thought." Vick3ie
muttered, shaking her head in exasperation.


"Drop the towel and step away." she said evenly.

Perhaps He thinks I won't flame Him so long as He held the

But, if that were the case, why was He obeying her and letting it


He let the towel drop to the ground, and then took two steps

This is going better than I expected. At least one minute, and
she hasn't flamed me yet. Good. Now is the time...

"Thank you." he heard her say, with a slightly odd, questioning
tinge in her voice. "That should make this much less difficult."

"Yes, quite." He agreed, hurriedly. He took a deep breath and
closed his eyes. "Anyway, err, um, the reason... Uh, I was
wondering if..."


"...well, you know, if you would be interested in doing something
on Friday night..."

He opened his eyes, to find that everything was now dancing
shades of orange and red.

"I'M SORRY," a voice sounded behind him, apologetic. "BUT I


She took two steps to the side, to give herself a clear view
should anyone else be coming. But no one appeared. Snipers were
possible, of course, but she'd just sent Him to temporary
oblivion, and they hadn't done anything to her about it. Not
even a warning shot.

How odd. They must have had some reason. The truck was still
there, in the distance, but there did not appear to be any
activity from it. Even more odd.

She picked up the towel, unfolded it to make sure it was not
damaged, and then threw it over her shoulder, the last mostly
because she didn't have any other way to carry it. As she did
so, she glimpsed the blackened remains turning to ash in the
pyre, but then turned away without dwelling much more upon them.
There was no point now, after all; and besides, burned flesh made
such a dreadful stench.

Instead, she carefully noted the time, and began her retreat
toward the 'Round. That was where He'd most likely go
afterwards, she reasoned, although of late He had been hanging
out at that wretched establishment over anime-side. Anyway, if
she was lucky, He'd go to the pub directly afterwards and she
could get a confirmation of sorts on her reconstitution

Still no response from the others. She was almost to the safety
of the trees, too. How very curious.

Momentarily, she wondered what it was He'd been about to say.
For once, she actually regretted having not held her trigger
finger in check, if for no other reason than amusement's sake. A
second more and she'd have found out, maybe even have an answer
as to why it was He'd actually sought her out. Oh well.
Considering the source, she supposed it wasn't important. No,
not important. Never important. More of his annoying chatter,
most likely. Not important at all.

Unless... No. After all, a distant part of her asked, quite
seriously. What was the likelihood? Really?


They were still shaking their heads minutes after the pillar of
flame burned itself out.

Di was the first to snap out of the spell, being the practical
sort after all. "Well... that was a right disaster." she said,

Doug nodded gravely. "Did we get it on tape?"

Walter, sitting beside Heather before the electronic forest,
examined one of the VCR's near him. "Yeah. Not that it does us
any good." He reached forward to eject the tape. "I don't think
that was the proof Ryoko was hoping for."

"He'll do better next time. I'm sure of it."

Heather looked up at Doug dubiously. "After this, are you sure
they'll even be a next time?"

Diane nodded in confidence. "Wes and Ryoko will make certain of
it. Just watch."

"Uh huh. This isn't over, not by a long shot." Doug said, taking
the tape from Walter's hand. "And if he doesn't want us around
when he tries to play Romeo -- you can see his point, can't you?
-- then it's our job to make sure he at least has the

The other five looked around at each other, uneasily. Something
was cooking in fearless leader's brain, and not one of them had
an idea as to what.

The ADF guy didn't seem to notice. Instead, he took a long, hard
look at the video tape in his hands.

"Even if it means we have to be... discreet... about getting the
job done."

One lock of hair fell dramatically across his forehead as he said
the words.

Under the circumstances, it was the best that could be arranged.
After all, it was rather hard to contrive proper drama in such an
enclosed space.

22 May 1999



"Doctor Who" characters and concepts copyright the British
Broadcasting Corporation and their respective creators.

"This Time Round" was created by Tyler Dion, whose ideas we have
shamelessly stolen and periodically forget to credit. Gomenasai.

Wesley Crusher (ST:TNG) copyright Paramount, Lucas Wolencek
(Seaquest DSV) copyright Amblin Entertainment, Ryoko (Tenchi
Muyo) copyright Pioneer Entertainment. The anthropomorphic
figure of Death has been around for a few centuries, but is
currently under contract with Terry Pratchett.

This is a work of fanfiction. Absolutely no intention was made
to infringe upon copyrights already held by others, and besides,
I have no money, so please don't sue me. Original story and
concepts copyright 1999, Douglas B. Killings, all rights
reserved. If I catch anyone making any money off of this story,
I will hunt them down and kill them.

*if it doesn't belong to me, it belongs to the
BBC, unless it belongs to those two lovely
people who thought of this pub thing, but whose
names I can't quite remember, though I am sure
to be reminded very shortly*