'Delivery for a Miss... Sandra?' the delivery man said.
'That's me.' Sandra said.
Sandra took the delivery man's pen and signed her name on the clipboard.
'Jeez...' she muttered. 'You'd think it'd be easy getting hold of something to eat when you're dead, but is it? Noooo...'
'Tell me about it,' the delivery man said.
Sandra chuckled. 'I'm sure Adric would agree, if he were here.'
'Yeah. I know.' The delivery man shook his head. 'How he manages to put up with it... the kid's a lot tougher than he thinks he is.'
'A lot tougher than we thought he was.' Sandra observed.
The delivery man grinned. 'He was always the smart one in the family.'
'He could use some family,' Sandra said, non-committally.
'He could...' he acknowledged. 'But it wouldn't be me. One last thing to do, and then...'
Sandra nodded. The dead understood when another was ready to 'go beyond'.
'Why didn't you come back?' she said instead.
He shrugged. 'The kid was doing fine, the first few years afterwards - well, as fine as could be expected... and there were people, good people, keeping an eye on him. By the time the "deadfics" started...' He shook his head. 'I thought he was getting on. Ready to get on with his life. Besides, the last thing he needed was big brother Varsh turning up and saying: "Hey, guess what, kiddo! I'm back!"' A wicked gleam twinkled in Varsh's eyes. 'It would've been worth it, though, if only to see the look on his face when I told him about Keara. "Oh yeah, you 'member Keara. Outler girl, used to hang around with us? Well, turns out, when you left, she was pregnant...".'
Sandra's eyes widened. 'You're not serious. Adric's a /father/?!' Again, she added mentally.
'Adric?' Varsh raised his eyebrows. 'Nope. Kiddo still hasn't got it on, far as I know - although, if you hear anything 'bout a lemon with Nyssa _and_ Ember, you didn't hear it from me.'
'Gotcha.' Sandra said, her mouth under (almost) complete control.
'No, the kids're mine. Adric's an uncle.'
Sandra opened her mouth, then closed it.
There didn't seem to be anything she could say, really.
'Adric's... an uncle?' she said, finally.
'Twins.' Varsh said. 'A boy and a girl.'
Sandra raised an eyebrow. 'I do hope this means you're not a Jedi.' She waved off Varsh's blank look. 'Long story. Go on.'
'Beautiful kids.' Varsh said. 'The boy's the spitting image of his mom - but the girl takes after our side of the family.'
'So where are they?'
'That's the thing...' Varsh's face darkened. 'I don't know. I should be able to get a lock on them, like I can with him - but I can't. I popped in for the first year or so, see how they were doing - and then, nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada.' He shook his head. 'Wanna know something?'
Varsh's grin was humourless. 'When I saw that kid... what's her name, Adria...'
'Adria d'Alzaire.' Sandra supplied.
'When I first saw her, I thought she was _my_ kid.'
Sandra's eyes bugged.
Being a ghost, this was literal.
Once she'd got them back under control...
'She isn't, of course. One of Adric's alters, like that Coyote kid, or tel-Varesh.' Varsh raised an amused eyebrow. 'First time I heard _that_ name, I wondered what they'd been putting in the plasm. But no, it _is_ the kid...' He let out a heavy sigh. 'I'm prouder of the kid then he'll ever know - and I wish he'd never have had to take that name on.'
'...Why tell me all this?' Sandra finally said. 'Why me? Why not Adric? This is *his* family, he should know...'
The humourless grin returned to Varsh's face. 'Isn't that what a bartender's for? A listening ear, someone you can spill all your problems to, who won't judge... just listen, when you need it. Someone who's not tied up in all'a your crap. A quiet place, somewhere you can be yourself, and let it all spill out.'
'That's what's holding you here...' Sandra breathed. 'That's why you're still around. You don't know what happened to your kids.'
'Could be.' Varsh shrugged. 'I don't know what it is needs doing - but once it's done, I can move on. Until then... I'm stuck.' He gestured down at his uniform. 'Which is pretty much why I took the job. 'Least this way I can get out and about - not like those melonheads down at the MDO.'
'_Oh_ yeah...' Sandra said, 'Kicked up one hell of a fuss when I got sent back - complaining about the _paperwork_, of all things...'
'Wouldn't surprise me one bit.' Varsh observed. 'Just 'cause they think they got sent to Tarkna, they've gotta make all the rest of us feel like it too...'
'They haven't seen Tarkna.' Sandra said darkly.
Varsh raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
He glanced up at the clock over the bar. '*Dammit*. Gotta get to my next delivery.' He grimaced. 'Yeesh. You don't wanna know how much a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man eats, believe me...'
'Want me to tell him?' Sandra said quietly.
'Your choice.' he said, finally. 'But like you said... the kid needs family.'
He tipped his hat.
And disappeared, back into Limbo.
Sandra watched the space where he'd been, unseeing.
Finally, she sighed, and went behind the bar.
'I have cleaned the floor. Is there anything else you wish me to do?'
'Milady? I wondered if it would be possible for me to sacrifice a bull to Zeus on the bar?'
'Mm- Say *what?!*'
'You seemed burdened with worry,' Katarina said. 'Do you wish to unburden yourself?'
'No... No, it'll be okay, Katarina.' Sandra said. She looked around the bar. Floor cleared up, bottles set out ready for recycling, glasses cleaned, tables polished...
...This _had_ been a quiet night, hadn't it? Having the bar _this_ clean seemed almost... unnatural, against some basic principle of the universe.
She allowed herself a private smile. Getting far too used to this...
'Take a break. It's not like anyone's gonna be coming in.'
Katarina inclined her head, and sat down at a table.
Sandra rested her head on her hands.
Of course, there was something she still couldn't get used to. Something even moreso than the concept of Adric being a father.
Adric's an uncle. Adric's an uncle.
She could only imagine how the others'd react.
...Hmm. Did the kids really need to have their first sight of Uncle Adric be Auntie Nyssa lopping his head off with a cleaver?
Somehow, she doubted it.
Naturally, the ADF would leap to their defence - and equally naturally, the WANKERs would get themselves in a deep pile of doo-doo.
And as for Adric himself...
_Was_ it really the best thing to tell him? Maybe she should get Varsh to talk to him, let him know.
Maybe she should tell him herself - but then he'd want to know how she'd learned, and she /really/ didn't want to get into that.
She couldn't keep this secret - like she'd said, Adric needed family, needed to know he /had/ living family, whatever else happened.
Needed to know... what?
His nephew and niece had vanished, disappeared, poof, gone? Gone even beyond a ghost's reach?
She frowned. Why was Varsh blocked off? Couldn't have been the Charged Vacuum Emboitment - he'd said he'd popped in for the first year or so...
...which suggested something powerful at work here. Something able to block off a ghost...
And from previous experience, it wasn't likely to be anything particularly nice.
"So if it's gonna be one a'those things, why get involved? Ain't like it's your family..."
Because it matters to Adric. He deserves the chance to know that he's not alone, that he's still got family out there. And because he got screwed over again, and he's put up with more than enough crap already.
"Yeah? Why didn't he tell baby brother himself? Why load it all on you? Why not do it his own self?"
Okay. You tell _your_ brother that you've been stuck in Limbo for the last twenty years, you can't move on... oh, and by the way, you're an uncle. Congratulations.
"Hah. Believe me, lady, I'd have loved to tell one of them that, if only to see the look on their clueless faces. But somethin' stinks 'bout this whole setup. Somethin' bad. Someone's bein' played for a fool."
Hmm. It _had_ been Varsh she'd spoken to - you couldn't fake _that_. But could he have had other reasons for not letting Adric know? Trying to keep Adric away from whatever got the others? Trying to get an outsider to take a look at things, someone who wasn't an Alzarian? Who might avoid a trap...
...or walk right into one.
...Gods, she missed Kid sometimes. Not like *that*, no - but like the way you missed a partner, someone you'd shared hard times with, someone you'd shared a journey with.
She chuckled. She could almost hear Curry's rough, raspy voice in her head. Sceptical, cynical, single-minded as hell...
And then he'd gone Beyond, to the peace - the freedom - he'd never found in life.
Katarina looked up from the book she was reading. 'Milady?'
'Sorry,' Sandra apologised. 'Just reminiscing.'
'It must have been a happy memory, to make you smile so.'
Sandra grinned. 'It was. Well... not a happy memory, but a good memory, at least.'
'Then it is something to be treasured, against the dark times.'
'Yeah... Yeah, I suppose so.' Sandra grinned. 'One other thing I'm never gonna forget - remember that time Nyss and Emby tried to get you to worship them as goddesses? I don't know what you did, but they keep whimpering about the Minelli every time someone mentions your name...'
'Milady... I may be a handmaiden, but at least grant me enough wit to recognise the truth when I see it.' Katarina said, her expression serious.
'And this would have nothing to do with Nabiki tricking you into letting the Tin Scarecrow write a Katarina-starring story, of course.'
'As I said... I do have enough wit to recognise the truth.' Katarina said, her expression wavering not an inch. 'Even if it is not directly to my advantage.'
'You know what surprises me?' Sandra said. 'That you haven't made a name for yourself as a guide to Muses. I mean, think about it. Muses come from Greek mythology - and the girl who knows more than anyone else about Greek mythology is the girl who lived it.' She considered. '...Okay, so that leaves you and Vicki, but you've got to admit, it is a bit odd...'
'Hmm...' Katarina looked thoughtful for a moment, then looked suspiciously at Sandra. 'You will forgive me if I seem wary of your suggestion, milady.'
'Are you kidding? It's not like I'd try flogging this off to Imran - he's already got more than enough stuff he should be writing, and _I'm_ not helping him procrastinate.'
'It is not Imran I am concerned about.'
Sandra gave Katarina a cynical look. 'Uh-huh. And I have pull with _which_ other writers? Igenlode, maybe, but Igenlode's usually more a lurker. Trust me, there is no way this's falling into Willis's hands.'
'Mm...' Katarina sighed wistfully. 'Still, an Imran story would be nice... he _did_ make my alter a princess, after all...'
'He- Oh. Oh, right. That Dragon Lines story, "I'm No Angel".' Sandra said. ''Course, you'd probably end up with "Imran Angst"...'
'Good.' Katarina said frankly. 'At least someone would be writing about me.'
'You got a subplot from Doug.' Sandra observed.
'True... but it was a subplot, at that.' Katarina said. She gathered herself. 'Douglas did give me a plotline, and I am grateful to him for that, for making me a heroine, but...'
'But?' Sandra prompted.
'I have been a servant, a handmaiden, most of my life - but for once... just _once_ in my life, I would like to be recognised for me, recognised as Katarina - not just as the girl who saved the Doctor by ejecting herself from an airlock, but as myself - as someone in my own right... whether I end a heroine or no.'
Something crawled its way into Sandra's head then.
She examined it.
It sounds like something from the Zone of Utterly Wrong Ideas, she told herself. I mean, it sounds ridiculous. Like some overblown soap opera.
And this differs from the way things normally are *how* again?
'Katarina...' Sandra began. Um, how could she put this? 'Um, there's something I need to tell you. A bit back, I got a visitation from Adric's brother, Varsh.'
Katarina's eyes widened. 'He is alive?'
'A visitation.' Sandra said. 'He's stuck in Limbo.'
'Oh gods.' Katarina whispered.
Sandra took a deep breath - she didn't need it, but it made her feel better. 'And he told me... he told me that he'd had children - but by the time he found out, he was dead, and Adric had left. He popped in for the first year or so, to see how they were doing, and then...' She trailed off. 'Nothing. He can't find them.'
Sandra spread her arms helplessly. 'I don't know. He /should/ be able to get a lock on them...'
'It's a ghost thing - we lock on people or places which matter to us. I can lock on my family - and Varsh should be able to lock on his. He can lock on Adric... but not on his kids.'
Katarina's face darkened. 'I mislike this. Something dark is at work here...'
Sandra nodded. 'Trouble is, we don't know what.'
Katarina hesitated. 'Milady... should we not inform Adric of this? The Alzarians are his kin, after all...'
'Mm.' Sandra said. 'But I'd like to know what's going on, first. Something's going on here - and it could be messy...'
'Could you not seek assistance in the Underworld? Surely there is some spirit there who can tell you what became of them?'
'I /could/...' Sandra paced in thought. 'Last I knew, the Alzarians would've been on the Terradonian spaceship in E-Space. So what happened?'
She paused. She'd just clicked on something about Adric - something she wasn't sure the Alzarian himself realised.
The Alzarian heritage was one of rapid adaptation to environment, which accounted for Adric's rapid healing factor - rapid repair.
What sort of adaptation would manifest after repeated death - after over two thousand deaths?
Probably nothing, she mused - he gets a new body every time he resurrects.
She stored the question away for future reference.
Katarina frowned. 'Milady... do you remember seeing one of Adric's fellows in the Round?'
'Not that I know. Did you?'
Katarina shook her head. 'No. And that is an odd thing, in itself.'
'Not /that/ odd.' Sandra said. 'Not like you could tell who they were just by looking... Still, it could be important.'
Something else occured to her.
Had Adric ever sought out the other Alzarians? If he hadn't... why not? If he had... had he found anything? And if he had, did he tell anyone?
Had Adric ever been curious about what happened to the rest of the Alzarians?
That was odd in itself...
She smiled humourlessly.
And she'd be willing to bet that it'd occured to very few people to wonder what happened to the Alzarians. An entire Starliner of people missing, and no-one blinks an eyelid.
Why? she wondered. Did we really forget there was a shipful of Alzarians out there? That Adric wasn't the last one? Or didn't it matter?
'Milady...?' Katarina said, breaking into Sandra's train of thought.
Katarina took a deep breath. 'I believe we should tell Adric. If this knowledge is true, he should know - and he may provide some insight into what has happened.'
'We need evidence, first.' Sandra told her. 'Independent confirmation. And if it's /not/ true about the kids...' Her face darkened. '...they've messed with the wrong person.'
'Why?' Katarina asked. 'Why not simply say Adric's people have vanished? Surely that would be enough to involve him?'
'It _should_ have...' Sandra said. 'I mean, you'd have thought he'd have done _something_ if he hadn't seen any Alzarians 'round - tried the Time Scoop, something like that, even if it's just out of curiosity, said something to one of his friends... And if he _had_ seen them, I don't think he'd be acting the way he does... maybe he would, but I don't think so.'
'Then... then it seems to me that Varsh spoke truth when he spoke of his children.' Katarina said. 'But truly, would Adric never have given a thought to what became of his home? His kith and kin?'
'No chance.' Sandra said. 'But look at who he hangs out with - Ryoko, Wesley... if someone _had_ mentioned it - even if they said "stay out of this" - they'd have found the Alzarians by now.'
'Or the Doctor.' Katarina interjected. 'I cannot believe he would remain aloof from this. And if anyone could find them, it would be him.'
Sandra shook her head, trying to clear it. 'This just gets weirder and weirder... What the Hades's going on? It's... It's like absolutely _no-one_ gave a second thought to the Alzarians, to where they are, until now - not even Adric, and he _is_ an Alzarian. Adric never thinking of where the other Alzarians are, never asking the Doctor what happened... something's _wrong_ with that picture. I can't see Adric - or the Doctor - behaving like _that_. _Someone_ around here knows more than they're letting on...'
'Why? The Doctor'd return to Traken for Nyssa - he did it in "Primeval". So what's different about the Alzarians? _Is_ there anything different about them? And where the Hades are they?!'
The Nameless One watched the monitor screen from his throne.
'Interesting...' He rested his hands together. 'The Alzarians' return might prove to be an unexpected factor... I think it would be incumbent upon me to ensure that said disruption is minimised.
'Numbers Five and Six should be able to handle this.' He smiled mirthlessly. 'After all, what's the point of being a hidden mastermind if you can't expect your minions to take care of things for you?
'And seeing what Number One - sorry, _Ember_ - makes of this could be interesting...'
Katarina watched as Sandra paced up and down the bar, her agitation evident.
'Milady... what do you feel we should do?'
'I don't _know_!' Sandra exploded. 'I don't know what's going on, what the Hades we should do! We're in on something big, and I don't have clue one what it is!' She span around, and *punched*.
At the other end of the bar, the dartboard exploded.
Sandra shook her hand off, letting the tension drain out. 'Ah... that's better. Now...' She realised Katarina was staring at the remains of the dartboard in shock. 'Um... Sorry about that.'
'It... it needs no forgiveness, milady.' Katarina said quietly, not meeting Sandra's face. 'When the touch of the gods is upon us, it is their bidding we do, for good or ill.'
Sandra twitched, in large part due to the fact that, to all intents and purposes, her family _had_ been touched by the gods. Maybe not quite in the way Katarina meant, but still...
'Umm...' she began.
'To be god-touched is both curse and blessing.' Katarina said, her tone still subdued. 'So it was for milady Cassandra.'
'Thanks. I needed that.' Sandra muttered. '_Right_. Game plan. We need to talk to someone, get the lowdown on this. We need to find Varsh, and we need to ask Adric-'
'Need to ask him what?'
Katarina and Sandra span around.
The Fifth Doctor stood in the doorway.
'I may not be able to sort out what's happening with Adric and Nyssa,' he continued, as he stepped inside, 'but I should be able to help him out with whatever difficulty you were discussing.'
He looked between Katarina and Sandra.
'If one of you would care to fill me in...?'
One single thought suddenly found itself taking up residence in Sandra's mind.
To be continued...
Summary: A simple request provides big problems for Katarina and Sandra...
Katarina's search for a storyline is in BKWillis's 'Everyone Wants To Get In On The Act', while her 'subplot' - forever changing the destiny of the Universe, and being hailed a heroine, is from BKWillis's 'The Writing On The Wall' and Douglas B. Killings's 'Friendly Hopes'. The 'promised "Nyssa and Ember lemon"' is from the '2002 Adric Awards Ceremony'.
Sandra's musing about Kid Curry (from 'The Time The Stories Went Dark'). The Nyss and Emby thing is an original reference.
With thanks to Douglas Killings for the idea of Adric's family.
Copyright 2002 Imran Inayat