by Cyber Moggy and Imran Inayat
The floor beneath her was cold, hard metal grating. Looking around, she saw a strangely organic room filled with pillars and frames that looked as though they had been grown. Beneath the grating was electronics. And in front of her was a man in a brown, pinstriped suit.
"How peculiar," he said. "Where did you come from?"
Moriko didn't answer straight away, not being entirely sure where she was /now/.
"A pub," she said.
She could feel the life pulsing through this place. It was alive - alive in the same way this man was alive, a living entity in its own right.
It felt strange to her somehow; it felt like Cyber Moggy's hand on her shoulder, that same kind of presence that made her feel safe.
"A pub," the man repeated. "O-kay... Let's work with that. World's End? Callahan's Saloon? White Hart? This Time Round?"
"This Time Round." Moriko said.
"Thought so..." the man murmured.
He regarded Moriko carefully. "So how come you ended up /here/?"
"I... have no idea," Moriko said. "I was trying to ward myself, and I found myself here."
"Ah. Misfired magic," the man said. "Happens to the best of us."
He regarded Moriko again. "Ah. You're a changeling, aren't you?"
Moriko blinked. She'd never heard /that/ word before.
"What is a changeling?"
"Wish I knew," the man admitted cheerfully. "Supposed to be these people who get whisked off by some... well, /something/, and come back a bit... different. Not met many myself, and, well, it's a bit hard to get them to give you any straight answers." He frowned. "Really gets on my nerves.
"Right," he said, clapping his hands together. "Changeling. This Time Round. Trying to protect yourself." His eyes narrowed. "So what /were/ you trying to do?"
Moriko sighed. "I was... trying to make some pursuers go away. So I tried asking reality to do it for me."
The man *stared* at her. "You tried *what?* Do you have the faintest /idea/ what could have happened?"
"No," Moriko said simply.
"...You're serious," the man breathed. "You are absolutely, utterly serious. You had absolutely /no/ idea what you were doing. You have absolutely /no/ idea what you could have done." He shook his head. "An untrained changeling loose in Nameless. Wonderful. Just /wonderful/!"
He fixed his gaze on Moriko. "So what happened?"
"I was trying to find reality, so I could ask it to help... and it disappeared." Moriko explained. "I was looking for a way out, and I found myself here."
"So what you're telling me is that you managed to drop /yourself/ out of reality?" the man said.
"Let's hope that's /all/ you did." the man remarked.
His hands darted across the controls surrounding the big crystal column in the room's centre, which began to move up and down, its reverberations echoing through the room.
The man looked up. "Oh, sorry. Didn't catch your name."
"Moriko," Moriko said.
"Moriko," the man repeated. "Moreeko. Sounds quite nice, that, once I get my tongue round it. Mor-i-ko.
"Right then, Moriko." he went on. "I'm the Doctor, and this is the TARDIS. And right now, we're on our way back to Nameless." He looked at her, as if expecting a response.
The Doctor looked distinctly perturbed. "...You did get that, right?"
"Doctor? TARDIS? 'Doctor Who'?" the Doctor tried. "Reason why This Time Round exists?"
Moriko blinked momentarily. "...This Time Round exists because of /you/?"
"I'll explain on the way," the Doctor said.
By the time they materialised, the Doctor had spent what seemed like hours trying to explain to her all about Subreality. Moriko wasn't at all sure that she really understood it, but she'd decided to pretend that she did. After all, that should be enough to make the Doctor stop trying to explain it to her.
"Right, then," the Doctor said, and flipped a couple of controls. He beckoned for Moriko to come around and stand next to him.
She did so, and watched as an image swam into focus on the screen in front of her. It was somewhat indistinct, and she realised that it was raining again.
Through the rain, however, she saw no signs at all that the pub had come under any kind of attack at all. There were several fallen trees in the carpark, and all the other kinds of detritus one would expect after a couple of cyclones had spent some time playing 'catch,' but the pub was standing, and there were no smoking holes in the ground.
"Well, that's something," the Doctor commented. He shrugged into an overcoat, and handed her another one. "Come on. Let's see what's going on."
She pulled the coat on, and prepared herself for a dash through the rain. She had seen no signs of the hunters in the carpark, and she hoped that they had simply left after she had made her unexpected departure.
"What if the hunters are in the pub?" she asked nervously.
"We'll deal with that possibility when we confront it," the Doctor said firmly.
"But shouldn't we be armed, or something? Just in case?"
"Weapons only make things worse, Moriko," he replied, and dashed out into the rain.
Left with no other option, she followed.
By the time they got to the pub, their coats and hair were drenched. The Doctor took her coat, and hung both on the hooks. Moriko brushed her hair back out of her face, and followed him into the pub.
In the pub, they saw several figures sitting by the fire. Two of them were clearly Cyber Moggy and Harry. The others, however, she didn't recognise.
They heard the pair come in, however, because Cyber Moggy spun around. "Moriko!" she exclaimed. "You're alright!"
Moriko felt... it wasn't quite the 'safe' feeling she'd had with Cyber Moggy before, it was the knowledge Cyber Moggy had /wanted/ her to be safe.
It made Moriko feel... more at ease, somehow.
"Because of the Doctor," she said out loud. "I found myself in his TARDIS."
Cyber Moggy blinked. "How did you do that?"
"I wanted to move the hunters." Moriko shrugged. "I ended up getting moved myself."
Cyber Moggy had a strange expression on her face, before shaking herself. "We /wondered/ what had happened. One minute you were standing there - the next, you were /gone/.
"Your hunters looked as surprised as me and Harry, started casting around to see if they could get the scent. If /these/ guys hadn't shown up" - she aimed a thumb at the newcomers - "they'd probably have come after me and Harry to find out what'd happened. Wouldn't have been easy getting out of /that/ one..."
Moriko peered past Cyber Moggy at the strangers.
She could see a huge toad-thing, his face horribly scarred, frills down his neck. He wore a formal suit - jacket, trousers, waistcoat and shirt.
A girl with filmy blue eyes, dark hair under a fuzzy hat, who looked to be a few years older than Moriko's seeming, battered sweater and worn trousers.
Another man, dark reddish hair, purple hue to his skin, points to his ears and his sharp white teeth. Had Moriko had the vocabulary, she would have described the man's clothes as those of a highwayman down on his luck. As it stood, they seemed to her to be tattered finery.
Finally, there was a girl who looked to be about Moriko's age. She had brown hair and equally brown eyes, and wore a red coat over her sweater and skirt. Moriko's eyes, however, could see liquid dripping from the other girl's fingers.
She doubted anyone else could.
The other girl's eyes met hers, and she nodded, acknowledging Moriko, acknowledging Moriko as someone like her - We are alike, you and I.
Moriko nodded back.
From the look on his face, the Doctor knew them - or knew where they came from, at least.
"Who are they?" she asked Cyber Moggy.
"Um..." Cyber Moggy said. "That's... a bit of a hard one.
"The Terileptil - that's the one with frills down his neck - he calls himself Monty. The one in purple's Zalin, he says he's a goblin. The older girl is Abi - she's blind, or so she says - and the younger one's Red."
"/She/ is called Red?" Moriko repeated, wanting to confirm it.
Cyber Moggy nodded. "Yep."
"What happened?" Moriko asked.
"The simple version?" Cyber Moggy said. "They ran into your hunters, and sent them packing."
Moriko blinked. "They did?"
Cyber Moggy shrugged. "They say they've got experience with things like that. Call them 'minions'."
Moriko regarded the newcomers again. She wanted to know more about these people, Red in particular; they looked to know things she needed to learn.
"I take it you're here about Moriko?" the Doctor said.
Monty nodded. "Indeed we are. Abi here got the call from the rats - and knowing that certain of /our/ resident villains would have received this intelligence, and would now be looking to capture their very own changeling, we made haste here as fast as we could.
"Fortunately, we arrived just in time to save Miss Moggy and Mr Sullivan from the minions' clutches.
"As to who in particular might want Miss Moriko..." Monty shrugged. "To my mind, it would be easier to say who did /not/ want her."
"Yeah," the Doctor remarked. "Always the case, isn't it?"
"Dey do /not/ make minions like dey used," Zalin complained. "Minions should give you a /fight/, not run away."
"I'm sure," the Doctor said.
"Regardless, we have a little breathing space before our villain decides on a response," Monty observed. "Almost certainly, they will know Miss Moriko has returned."
"What /I/ wanna know," Abi said, "is what /Moriko/ wants."
"Good question," the Doctor said. "Not sure /she/ knows that one..."
"Know the type," Abi said wryly.
"Hey," Red said shyly.
Moriko inclined her head. "Hello."
"Where's it from?" Red asked.
"My home." Moriko said. "A long, long time ago."
Red's dark eyes fixed on hers. "What was it like?"
"I had..." Moriko trailed off. "I had a home. A mother. I think... I think we were happy together.
"We used to walk in the city, watch the people and the buildings and the places... and at night, at night we would sit and name the stars..." Moriko fell silent.
"She died," she said then. "I do not remember much, but I remember that. She died, and I was alone.
"And then the darkness came. Took me to its home, its... domain. I was... I was to be its plaything."
Red's mouth tightened.
"It grew tired of me, eventually." Moriko said. "Or perhaps it finds amusement in a new game. I could not tell you.
"But I escaped. And I came here."
She fell quiet for a moment. "What of you?"
Red's mouth quirked. "You'll laugh."
"I haven't laughed..." Moriko trailed off. "I have not laughed in a long time."
"No," Red murmured.
"I have..." Moriko hesitated. "I have, I think, lost more than I realised. More than I knew."
"Yeah," Red said. "Me too."
"How do you... How do you go on?" Moriko asked. "The loss, and the chaos, and the madness... how is it you go on?"
"Them," she said finally, nodding to her companions. "With them... it feels warm. Cosy. Like being at home again."
"Them?" Moriko said.
"I like them," Red said, a little defensively. "They're my friends."
Moriko said nothing. Very loudly.
"They /are/!" Red protested.
"Ah, goot. De two of you make friends." Zalin said. "Ve haf been tinking our Red needs friends her own age. She iz a goot girl - she go through minions like dey vas not even dere - but she needs a goot friend. I tink yu vould be perfect together."
Red was blushing the kind of scarlet reserved for terminal embarrassment.
"Ah," Zalin said wisely. "Yu vas talking. I vill leave yu to it."
"I see what you mean," Moriko observed to Red, once he'd withdrawn.
"Shut up." Red muttered. "Just... shut up."
"That would be a good idea," said a new voice from the doorway. "Don't you think?"
Cyber Moggy raised her eyebrows, and went over to the window. "Storm's let up," she said, and sat down again.
Harry returned to the bar, and started polishing glasses. "The rush will probably start soon, then," he predicted. "What would you like to drink, Doctor?"
"Huh?" Moriko said.
"Didn't he explain about regeneration?" Cyber Moggy asked, gesturing at Ten.
"If he did, I didn't understand," Moriko admitted, blushing.
"You haven't managed to get a grip on the whole idea of Subreality, yet, I take it?" Red asked.
Moriko shook her head, still blushing. "It's all so...confusing!"
"That's why you dropped into nothingness," the newcomer said. "Why on earth were you playing with things you don't understand?"
"Sometimes we don't have any other choice, Doctor," Cyber Moggy growled, getting to her feet. "There's very little I can do to protect her against the hunters, and very little that I can teach her about her abilities. Can you do better than that?"
He took a step backwards. "No," he admitted.
"Can you tell me, in all honesty, that you would have done it differently?"
He hesitated, and then shook his head.
"Then keep out of it," she growled, and turned to Red and her friends. "Can you help Moriko to learn?" she asked.
Red and the others nodded without hesitation. "Yes."
Moriko felt once again Cyber Moggy's desire to see her safe and well, and felt herself relax a bit more. Perhaps Red and her friends would be able to help her. Perhaps it would be a good idea for her to go with them.
Monty came over, and she started to realise that Red was right - these people were friends. And they were willing to be her friends, too. She wondered why she hadn't been able to feel it before.
"You probably have some empathic abilities," Monty said, responding to her puzzlement. "Red does. We can help you learn. If you are willing to let us help you."
Moriko came to a decision, and started to smile. "Yes," she said. "I want to learn."
"Nice going," Ten observed to Six.
"Shut up," Six muttered.
"You never /were/ good at dealing with children, were you?" Ten said rhetorically.
"As /I/ happen to recall it, yes, I /am/ good at talking to children," Six retorted. "I am, however, /not/ about to tolerate /anyone/, even a child, blindly rewriting reality!"
"So how about we let someone who knows their stuff handle this?" Ten said. "/We/ won't till we become Merlin."
Six threw up his hands. "All right, all right, you've made your point /painfully/ clear..."
He regarded Moriko. "There is something /strange/ about that girl. And coming from /us/, that's saying something."
"Yeah." Ten said. "Changelings get like that."
"And... we're letting /another/ changeling teach her." Six said. "/This/ will end well."
Ten shrugged. "Red's our best choice at the moment. Unless /you/ know someone."
"/Somebody/ needs to keep an eye on her," Six said.
A thoughtful expression crossed his face. "Hmm..."
"Yep," Ten murmured to himself. "This /is/ gonna end well."
"As you will," Monty said. "And may I say it will be a pleasure to have you around."
"Hold on, hold on..." Abi said. "What's the plan here? We're going to take her in, let Red teach her the whole changeling thing?"
Moriko hesitated. She was reluctant to say farewell to Cyber Moggy... but she wanted to learn what Red had to teach her. And Cyber Moggy wanted her to learn too.
"What about Cyber Moggy?" she said.
All eyes turned to Cyber Moggy.
"I can..." Cyber Moggy hesitated. "I /could/ stick around for a bit - they've been hyping up the weather back home, and I wanted to get away for a few days, you know, take a break, see the sights..."
She bobbed down, looked Moriko in the eye. "But I've got to go home eventually. Can't stay away for ever."
"Would you come back?" Moriko said.
"'Course." Cyber Moggy said, ruffling Moriko's hair. "Got to make sure you're okay, don't I?"
"Do you?" Moriko said.
Cyber Moggy grinned. "Yeah."
She glanced up at the quartet. "You /will/-?"
"You have our word, Miss Moggy," Monty said.
"De Doctor vould haf our heads if ve did not," Zalin put in.
"/Hopefully/," Monty said, glaring at the goblin, "we will not have to find out."
The tall, pale figure sighed. It should - /should/ - have been easy. Snatch the changeling and bring her back here. His minions had expected only mortal resistance. Unfortunately, a wind-speaker had interfered, defending the changeling - and /that/ had delayed them enough the misfits had shown up.
Ah well. He might have lost his chance to capture the changeling, but there were... other ways... he could make her useful.
Make /both/ those changelings useful.
Cyber Moggy leant back in her chair, and sighed. "Well," she said to Harry, as he shut the door behind the now-expanded party. "That was eventful."
"Yes," Harry agreed. "Are you always as protective as that?"
She shook her head. "She touched all my 'mother' buttons," she confessed. "I hate seeing somebody with so much potential given no opportunity to choose her own path. She wouldn't have, if those goons had got her."
Six and Ten settled down opposite her. "I had wondered what your agenda was," Six said.
Cyber Moggy laughed. "I don't have an agenda. I wouldn't mind some info on a place to stay, though."
"There's a boarding house down the road a bit," Harry told her. "It's not much to look at, but it's clean and tidy, and they've always got room for another person. Barbara and Ian run it."
"Thanks, Harry," she said gratefully. "If you'll all excuse me, I think I'll go and look for it. I'm beat. If Moriko comes looking for me, tell her where I'm staying?"
"Sure. I'll see you later."
Ten watched as she left the 'Round. "I wonder what Moriko's former master is going to do next?" he wondered.
"I thought he'd forgotten about her," Harry said.
"Hardly," Six replied. "Changelings are very powerful, and when they are as young and as easily influenced as Moriko was..."
"Yes," Ten agreed. "I wouldn't be at all surprised if those hunters you told us about were working for him."
"Quite besides," Six observed, "When she and Red were talking, she /herself/ raised the possibility that her master might have let her escape as part of its game. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if the minion attack was something it staged..."
Harry frowned. "What about what Monty mentioned? /Their/ villains and all that..."
"It's possible," Ten allowed. "We've teamed up a couple of times. Wouldn't be surprised.
"One way or another, her master's going to be watching with great interest. Whether it planned this or not, it's got a new game to play."
Harry's brow furrowed. "Hold on... if changelings are powerful, how powerful are their masters?"
"The power of a master isn't always superior to the power of their subordinates," Six said. "The Master could tell you a thing or two about that.
"From what I've /gathered/, though - their masters seem to be a good order of power beyond the changelings. /And/ they have the advantage in that /their/ powers come naturally to them. Fortunately for the rest of us, venturing into our worlds for any period of time seems to be anathema to them."
"So... what you're saying," Harry said slowly, "is... we've got ourselves landed in another of /those/ situations? A whole new set of adventures?"
"As to /that/, Harry," Six observed, "we shall have to wait and see, won't we? I, certainly, shall have to keep an eye on the situation."
"Oh dear..." Ten murmured.
"That, however," Six went on, "is a matter for another day. For now... I believe a hot toddy would not go amiss."
"Coming on up," Harry said.
As discussion turned to other matters, and a trickle of customers began to come in, Harry reflected on the evening's events.
He hoped Cyber Moggy and Moriko would be okay. He'd rather liked Cyber Moggy, and while not as protective of Moriko as Cyber Moggy, he did rather want to know how things went for her, particularly hoping she would escape her various hunters (Harry rubbed his throat reflexively).
He suspected Six had been right - they /were/ going to have to wait and see how things went.
Hopefully, he'd get a chance to find out.
For now, though, it was time to get on with things.
Harry looked at the pub around him, allowed himself a grin, and set himself to work.