(The Question, pt. II)
A This Time Round: To Die For fiction
It was a quiet day at the This Time Round. Thus far, that is.
Harry was behind the bar, carefully making a list of things that
needed to be ordered (the most prominent of which were tomato
juice and brown food coloring, ingredients which lately seemed to
be in quite demand). Outside, a kindly, middle-aged gentleman
and his dog were both happily cleaning the windows, the dog with
a squeegee in hand and bouncing from a bungee, the man dividing
his time between soaping the windows and awkwardly talking with
the proprietor of the local wool shop. Inside, a young teenaged
girl in a black dress had just arrived, carrying a broom and a
package; after asking Harry, she stepped up to the First Doctor
and delivered the latter of the two items to him. The young girl
had already gotten his signature in a receipt book, curtseyed,
and was in the process of making for the entranceway when...
The 'Round shook. A few glasses crashed to the floor, the lights
dimmed slightly, and a number of the more seasoned denizens took
that as their cue to get underneath cover, lest the first jolt
were but a precursor of something even more wicked that way
coming. But when a few heartbeats (or, as the case may be, a few
double-heartbeats) had passed and nothing further seemed to
follow, all attention turned toward the direction of the noise.
Most had already guessed as to the ultimate source, a hypothesis
quickly confirmed by the eventual sight of a young woman in brown
dress walking toward the pub. A thick pillar of black smoke
could be seen in the distance behind her.
She seemed to be in a very cheerful mood.
A few of them watched as she entered the pub, but most had by
that time already gone back to their concerns. After all, the
topic of psychopathic murder had long since graduated to the
realm of background noise; it was just one of those things that
gave the place a certain degree of unique flavor. Except for two
people, that is; Mel and Tegan continued to talk between
themselves, their whispers now much more heated than before.
"One Demise?" Harry asked as the Trakenite young woman took a
seat at the bar.
She carefully placed a small, book-like bundle on the bar top.
"Yes, I think that would be appropriate this time."
Harry mixed the drink, handed her the glass, and gave her a small
plate with the little ice figurine, the last because Harry knew
she always preferred to do the honors herself. Without much more
thought she picked up the ice-figure and tossed it haphazardly
into the air, where it arched almost to the ceiling before
falling squarely into the glass. At no time did her eyes ever
actually track the frozen thing, their attention instead fixed on
the open notebook before her. No one knew how she did it.
"Got him again, did you old girl?"
She nodded, her attention fixed on writing something in the book-
like bundle. Then she took a sip of her drink. "Yes, actually.
It didn't quite work out the way I'd intended, but the end result
was still the same."
"Oh, how so?"
She looked thoughtfully at him. "Well... he seemed to be
spending a good deal of time pacing to and fro, mumbling to
himself about something or other. Anyway, when it looked like he
wouldn't budge, I had to attract his attention. So I exposed
myself..." (Quite suddenly, the pub grew extremely silent, a few
of the male denizens actually sputtering) "...and scared him into
running in the right direction..."
Her face took on a slightly confused look. "Well, obviously yes.
I was standing in the bushes where he couldn't see me, so I had
to step out into the open."
Behind her, a very large number of lungs started to breath again.
"Anyway, I scared him off in the right direction, straight toward
the car. And so I merely let him get close enough, then flipped
the switch." She recreated the arming-and-detonating motion with
her hand. "And the rest, well, was history."
(At the same time, in a shed at the back of the establishment,
The Proprietor wondered what the heck had happened to all the
fertilizer and kerosene he'd bought recently.)
"Well, it worked then? Jolly good. Complete disintegration?"
She looked down at some of her notes. "Well, not quite, but near
enough. He should be back in, oh..." (she consulted a clock on
the wall behind Harry) "...another fifty minutes or so. Plenty
of time before his next shift."
Harry nodded negatively. "I'm afraid not tonight." He said,
pointing out an Ogron that had just arrived and was now making
its way toward the bar. "Francois is on duty tonight."
She looked up from her notebook with a frown. "But isn't tonight
"Well, usually yes. But Francois said he had something scheduled
tomorrow night, so they traded off shifts."
"Oh." She said, suddenly perking up. "You mean he has the
evening off? No shift tonight?"
"Not unless one of the Doctors have an errand for him to run."
The young woman carefully closed her notebook, took a last sip of
her Demise, then excitedly got up from the bar. "Oh, good. That
means I do have something to work on tonight after all. Thank
you, Harry. You're always a gentleman."
A few eyes tracked her as she left, watching her excited exit and
making her way across the parking lot. One or two sets of those
eyes wondered why she stopped at the edge of the newly-repaved
area where the crater had once been, but since the pause was so
brief they didn't wonder for long. Instead, they turned back to
their drinks and conversations.
For two of them, though, all of these elements were intertwined.
Mel grimaced at Tegan. "Now it's car bombs. A couple of weeks
ago it was missiles." she mumbled to the other. "It's getting
out of hand." came the conclusion.
Tegan absent-mindedly ran her finger along the rim of her glass.
"I know. It's getting to the point that I almost dread to find
out what next she has in mind."
"You're her closest friend. Isn't there anything you can do
The Australian woman shrugged, but otherwise the question was
greeted with helpless silence.
Not too far away, local law enforcement began to pick through the
remains of a bombed-out, completely obliterated vehicle.
One of the investigators bent down to examine something: a rusty,
twisted bumper with a peeling "My Other Vehicle is a TARDIS"
bumper sticker affixed haphazardly to one side. In the center of
the bumper a license place was still attached. An American
license plate, he noted; one of those customized types that
Americans liked so much. From the State of Ohio.
And it was expired.
To those who were not used to it, it was always a strange
sensation when it happened.
One moment you would be dead certain there was no one else
around, minding your own business and standing around admiring
the scenery, and the next you'd have that sudden realization that
nearby space had suddenly become filled with a living, breathing,
humanoid shape. To make matters worse, a part of you would be
adamant in asserting that the person in question had always been
standing there, that you'd even remembered him standing there
when you first walked into the area, and damn if you weren't
getting a little senile in your old age and how come was it that
you could be standing right next to the chap and never quite
notice he was there?
The reasons for this dichotomy of perception have long been
understood and explained by philosophers more talented than this
humble chronicler. Essentially, it all boils down to the
realization that intelligent beings the universe over would much
rather make up some convoluted, irrational proposition and
believe in it rather than accept what is patently obvious,
especially if what is patently obvious doesn't quite fit that
being's perceptions. Thus, transdimensional beings like Death,
the Tooth Fairy, and Elvis can walk among whole crowds of
sentients and never quite be noticed (most of the time),
monopolistic software manufacturers can claim that their products
are original and innovative, and assassination conspiracy
theorists can make a bundle on the lecture and book tour circuits
by insisting that a lack of evidence is, in fact, evidence
Also, a young man can suddenly snap into existence, even though
moments ago he was quite dead. Because he'd have been standing
there just the same if he hadn't died, the subconscious may
suddenly decide it really doesn't want to go through the trouble
of rationalizing, so it just "cooks the books", as it were, and
like a crooked accountant backdates a couple of entries in order
to reconcile the here-and-now with the indeterminate past. Who
(Well, sometimes he does, but that's another issue entirely.)
Anyway, to make a long explanation short, Adric's sudden re-
appearances have been known to scare the bejeesus out of people,
who subsequently nearly always could not quite figure out why it
was they should react so. The only three people who seemed
oblivious to it all were the very same three people calmly
talking among themselves and waiting for him to return, but this
was probably more due to repeat exposure than anything else.
Friends or not, Adric thought sullenly as he took one step from
the Realm of the Dead and into the Land of the Living, he was
beginning to wish they'd all just go away.
They mean well, he kept trying to tell himself, almost in a
mantra. They've deluded themselves into thinking they were in
the right. Heck, if you came right down to it, they probably
thought they were doing him a favor.
So, why am I going along with it? he wanted to know.
The problem was, he reflected, he really didn't have an answer to
The Alzarian tried to hide the grimace on his face as he came
back into being, but gave up mere moments later. The three were
wasting no time in making their moves; no sooner had he fully
reconstituted than Lucas and Wesley stepped immediately to either
side. Ryoko, on the other hand, jumped into the air in front of
him and began to levitate. Not a good sign, as far as Adric was
They mean well, they mean well, they mean well.
"Didn't go well, I take it?" Ryoko remarked. The space-pirate
girl was now lying on her side and hovering about two meters
above the ground.
"Not even close." Adric responded, dejectedly. "She side-swiped
me with a car bomb."
"Doug did warn you, you know." Lucas pointed out. "He told you
she was carrying something that looked like a remote detonator."
"I know, I know." the Alzarian agreed. "But I expected a package
or a piece of pipe or even a landmine or something. Not a whole
bleep'ing car." Adric glanced from side to side, uncomfortably
noting the way Lucas and Wesley were flanking him. They looked
to be in that certain determined frame of mind that Meant Well.
"Err, you three aren't thinking about...?"
Ryoko switched to a cross-legged position, but still continued to
hover. "Doug just reported in, and says the psycho is on the
move again. He also says she knows you're not working tonight."
Adric inwardly groaned; he'd been counting on her not finding
that out, in the hopes that he could end up with a nice, quiet
evening for a change. "Err, I don't suppose there's any chance
you'll all let me off the hook for the evening?" he pleaded.
"No." three voices responded, simultaneously.
"Hey Adric, think of it this way;" Wesley pointed out, "chances
are she won't have planned for anything, so she'll be much more
likely to give you those extra few seconds you need."
Adric gave his friend a dubious look. "It takes more than that
to catch her off guard. More likely she'll just pull a concealed
weapon and decorate the walls with my brains." There was an
emphatic sigh. "I don't suppose it would change matters if I
repeated the opinion that you've all gone balmy on me?"
"Not a chance."
Ryoko gave him a skewed smirk. "Adric, it's for your own good.
You _need_ to ask her out; it's the only way you're ever going to
put an end to this."
Wesley's communicator beeped, and the Starfleet wunderkind
stepped off to the side to consult with it in private. He
returned a few moments later. "OK, the ADF has her spotted. She
should be coming around that cleft of trees..." (Wesley pointed
toward a grove far down the pathway they were currently situated)
"...in about five minutes."
"Just think of something from Shakespeare," Lucas suggested, as
he and Wesley began to prod him forward by the unfortunate's
elbows. "There's got to be an appropriate quote you know to help
"`Once more into the breach...' comes immediately to mind." he
A few minutes earlier and a few hundred meters removed, Vick3ie
had shrieked excitedly into her mic. "I have a visual on Psycho
Bitch! Repeat, I have a visual on Psycho Bitch!" she resounded.
The next few words had been a quick description of the current
modus operandi of choice.
Several hundred meters away, in a not-so-conspicuously disguised
faux package delivery truck, Doug nodded. At last, he thought.
The weapon description came as something of a surprise, but upon
reflection he decided it shouldn't have. Probably picked it up
from one of Chang Lee's games. "Understood, Alpha Three.
Maintain your position and do not, repeat, do not interfere.
Alpha Four, Alpha Seven... Take your positions but do not
The ADF Guy listened just long enough for the other two to
acknowledge his orders, then immediately switched channels. As
he did so, he took a glance toward one of the other displays, a
monitor whose screen was presently a stubborn shade of misty
white. "Heather," he asked over his shoulder, to the young woman
sitting in the station behind him, "how are we doing on our eye-
"Spotty. That cold front is moving in fast. Might blind us for
the next couple of days, too."
"What about local support? Can we get a recon fly over?
Harriers or something?"
"Working on it, but probably not soon enough for this one."
Doug shook his head. "Damn." he muttered to himself. He _hated_
doing this blind. Perhaps he should send a request up the line
for those new helmets, the ones with the CCD transmitters built
in. Better mention it to Starr when he gave him the next sitrep.
He typed a command, then heard a dial tone in his ears, followed
by the odd beep that usually accompanied a cellular network
trying to access a communicator. "Wesley, here. What's up?"
came a voice, eventually.
"Mr. Crusher, this is Alpha Six. We have a visual on Psy...,
err, Papa-Bravo four-hundred meters north-northwest of your
position, heading due south. Be advised that she appears to be
armed with an NIN-class nail gun, double-barrel configuration."
"Understood. I'll warn Adric. We're, um, getting him prepped
"Tell him to put some back-bone in it this time, and he'll do
fine. He's just asking someone out, fer chrissakes. It's not
like it's the end of the world."
"Uh huh. You tell him that." A few voices could be heard in the
background, and at least one of them was in anything but a calm
mood. "Thanks Doug, but I gotta go. We'll let you know how it
turns out. Wesley out."
"Understood. Alpha Six out."
Almost as soon as he signed off, Heather spoke up again. "Doug!
Break in the clouds!" she shouted, and pointed to one of the
video displays. On it could be seen the darker outline of an
obviously humanoid shape, holding a gun-like weapon to one side.
The image faded momentarily into the mist, then once more
"About bloody time something went our way." Doug mumbled. "Have
you got the tape set up?"
Heather glanced to one side. "Tape is rolling."
"Good. Very good."
They watched silently as the screen became clearer. The camera
continued to center on the brown-haired young woman as she
maintained her southerly course. In the lower right hand corner,
four other figures could be seen hiding behind a row of
"Think he'll get it out this time?" Heather asked
"What do you think?"
In the lower corner, two of the figures could be seen physically
shoving a third into the clearing while the fourth watched.
Doug nodded in agreement. "A miracle."
It didn't take long for things to go to hell.
"Oh, hi! Um, err, I didn't expect, uh..."
All in all, it could have gone better.
Adric took a deep breath, concentrated, and felt the real world
form around him. Again.
Distantly, he wondered about the deep breath part. After all, it
was not as if he could get any more dead merely by not breathing.
He wasn't even certain it was really air that filled his lungs
when he was on the other side; it could very well just be a
construct of his imagination, there because the act of breathing
was so natural that it seemed incongruous that he should do
anything but. After all, he'd _seen_ some of the entities that
had decided to make the other side their home, and offhand he
guessed that a good breath of fresh air was pretty much optional
to a being with an exploded chest cavity. Still, there was one
indirect piece of evidence in oxygen's favor; when coming back,
he'd yet to have to actually gasp for breath.
So the transition came, the mist cleared, and once more he was in
the park, back at the spot he usually came out at. As he had
expected, they were once more waiting for him -- arms folded,
faces smiling, and yes, standing and looking at him like they
Meant Well. It was almost enough to make him seriously consider
trying to find out what the rent situation was like in Purgatory.
Worse than in Silicon Valley, he'd heard; great mountain view,
but just a tad over-crowded.
"So, how did it go?" Ryoko asked innocently.
Adric gave them his usual smirk. "As well... as can be
"I was getting around to it when I was, umm, errr..."
"Nailed?" Wes suggested helpfully.
"I was rather hoping not to have to resort to that euphemism, but
yes." Be nice, be rational, he thought. Remember, they mean
well. "Look, guys... can't we just call it a day? She's
obviously not in a receptive mood right now, and, well..."
"Oh, we could..." Lucas began, hesitantly, which was followed
immediately by a more confident "...but..." from Wesley and
finished by a "...we won't." from Ryoko.
Adric starred at them, then clapped. "You three are getting
quite good at that." he noted sarcastically. "You know, if it
weren't for the copyright issues, the lot of you could be the
next Three Stooges."
"Marx Brothers, more like." Lucas pointed out. "They always
were the more intelligent ones."
"So listen up, Zeppo." Ryoko stepped in. "We've still got some
daylight left. If we put it to good use, we can be finished with
this by nightfall. Now, this is what we suggest..."
They mean well, they mean well, they mean well, they mean...
Enough was enough.
"No." Adric said. The sound of his voice surprised even him.
Ryoko arched an eyebrow. "No?"
The Alzarian dug his heals in, shoulders squared and stiff.
"No." he repeated, for emphasis. "This has gone far enough.
She's gotten me twice already today, and I don't want to go for
the hat-trick. It bloody well _hurts_, Ryoko. Do you ever think
"Sure we do," Wesley noted. "But so do most things that really
"Come on, Adric. Just one more time. If it doesn't work, I'll
treat for drinks at Ucchan's and we'll forget about it."
"Well, for the rest of the day at any rate."
Adric shook his head, and found his voice rising. "No, the
answer is still no. You've had me waste most of the last several
days on this, and I'm not only getting no where but I've been
there so many times I'm in their frequent dire program!" He
waved his arms theatrically. "She _isn't_ interested, guys! I
don't care what you think the truth is, the bottom line its not
bloody likely and you're wasting your time and I'm just getting
wasted! This isn't working!"
The three eyed each other quickly. "Not even one more short...?"
"Are you certain?"
The three glanced at each other. Their expressions changed
subtly, knowingly, almost maniacally.
Lucas coughed. "What if, ummm, what if you didn't have a
"Yeah," Wesley chimed in, "like what if there were...
circumstances... where you had no choice but to ask her?"
Ryoko's turn. "Or at least say what you really thought of her?"
Adric eyed the three carefully. It occurred to him that this
conversation was taking a road just paved with good intentions.
"All right. What sort of mayhem have you three planned for me
All three of them gave him a look of mock sheepishness. In
"Oh, nothing, nothing at all... Just an idle observation." Ryoko
said, pretending to find the lack of detail in the clouds
overhead somewhat fascinating.
"Uh huh. Ryoko, the last time I saw you with that expression you
were denying any knowledge to that knock-out tablet in Ayeka's
drink." Adric glanced up and behind the three. "So, what's it
this time, eh? More blackmail? Nabiki find something else she
thinks she can use as a lever?" His mind flashed to a few
potentially troublesome instances, all of which he fervently
hoped were safely out of the prying Tendou's reach.
Ryoko stifled a giggle. "Well, not exactly..."
Lucas' turn. "Not so much blackmail as..."
"Let's just say that..." Wesley concluded, "events sometimes have
a way of taking on lives of their own."
Run. Run now. Don't look back...
"Fine. If that's the way this is going to be played, then this
is final. I will not do it -- now, or ever! I don't care what
you three do to me, or what Nabiki has up her sleeve, or what I
may have thought in the past, or whatever the hell else. I WILL
NOT ASK HER, and that's FINAL!!"
"Ask me what?" a familiar voice demanded from behind him,
melodious and lovely and laced with venom.
Adric's blood suddenly took on the qualities of freon. "You
didn't...?" he whispered toward the three.
Ryoko gave him a `Who, me?' look. "Well, the direct methods
weren't working, so..." she whispered back.
"Adric, I'm _waiting_ for an explanation " Even from behind, he
could hear the toes of her shoes tapping impatiently on the
A deep-throated moan escaped his lips. "You did." he groaned.
His throat strangled at the words, which were pronounced much
less in response and much more as a statement of feared fact.
Dear Gods, his mind raced. How long had she been back there?
More importantly, what did she hear?
He turned around to face the voice. Slowly.
It was her alright, his eyes confirming it as if he had somehow
(perhaps out of extreme hope) doubted it would be. She stood
there, one foot tapping the ground, her arms folded across her
chest, one tucked hand tapping her arm in rhythm with the foot.
Her head was tilted slightly in his direction, the glower on her
face making her appear almost sinister. Almost, that is.
Adric felt the ire and determination of a few moments before
suddenly evaporate. "Uh..." he gulped, nearly choking on the
lump and becoming vaguely aware that his entire vocabulary seemed
to have hit a tailback somewhere between his brain and vocal
"Well...?" she demanded insistently.
"Um, err, um..."
"Coherent as always, I see." she observed, primly.
The vocabularal logjam opened just a crack. "No! I mean, yes!
It was then that he noted the small slip of paper in her other
hand. She gripped it and held it up for him to see. "First I
get this note hand-delivered by one of your pathetic fan cronies,
asking me to come here, saying that there was something you
needed to discuss, and signed by you."
"That wasn't, umm, I mean, I didn't..."
"When I get here, I find you conspiring with your friends. About
something that has to do with me."
"Uh... no! Not conspiring! Not conspiring at all. Ha-ha-ha.
Whatever gave you that idea? We were, um, we were discussing..."
Her arm shot up, and somehow her hand now held a rather
substantial-sized 9mm pistol, aimed straight at his forehead.
"Well, yes, I suppose we... they... were. A little, that is..."
The Alzarian glanced toward his friends, but found they had all
taken a very large number of steps back. The bastards were
"So, then... would you mind explaining what this is all about?"
"Nothing, really. Um, just a little, err, conversation..."
"Well, um, yes, I suppose that was the gist of it, yes."
Her other hand rested itself at the back end of the gun.
"And...?" Her voice left no room for argument.
The gun moved momentarily to the left. A shot rang out,
deafening for an instant. Then the gun returned to its former
target. "And...?" she repeated, emphatically.
Adric gulped once more. The air was going down like lead. "Um,
would you, um, I mean..."
"Is there some distant, possible, remote..."
"Errr, chance that, uh, you might, umm..."
"Do you want me to start counting to ten?"
She used her other hand to draw the bolt of the weapon back,
cocking it. Click. "One."
A particularly brave neuron fired in Adric's brain, relaying the
message: Get it over with.
Another gulp, then
Oh crap, he thought. Did I really say the "like" part?
She blinked, as if in surprise -- but then her face suddenly
The gun came down.
"Took you long enough." she muttered, matter of factly.
His brain froze. "K-k-k...huh?" He found it to be about the
most coherent thing he could manage to say.
"Honestly, Tegan warned me you were a bit on the clueless side,
but I never thought it would take _this long_."
"K-k-k...?" The dryness on his eyes reminded him it was time to
blink, and so he did. A rather large number of times, in quick
succession, just to make up for the lost time.
"Would six o'clock be fine?" she asked. Somehow, all the
familiar rancor had disappeared from her voice.
"K-k-k...?" A small part of him was frantically trying to issue
a warning, but the rest of him was too busy dealing with an
epiphany that said he could probably fly unaided at that moment.
Or at least, levitate a little.
"I'll take that as a yes." she said cautiously and nodding
"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" This voice belonged to
Wesley, who had abruptly materialized at Adric's side.
"See?" Lucas this time. "We told you it would be easy." The
submarine kid gave Adric's back a congratulatory pat, with
perhaps just a little too much force. Or more accurately stated,
with just enough force to qualify as a push.
Still stunned, Adric took a staggered step forward, tripped, and
lost his balance in her direction...
...and fell straight through her.
"A hologram!" Adric grumbled over his glass of Sapporo Ichiban.
The mere recollection was still enough to turn his face red.
"You bastards tricked me with a gods-damn hologram!"
Three of them sat in a corner at Ucchan's. They were at present
minus Lucas, who had begged off the drinking trip because he "had
to get back to the sub for a fanfic" early the next morning. The
remaining three were nursing their drinks and watching as the
holographic representation wandered around the establishment,
apparently more out of pre-programmed curiosity than anything
else. Ucchan's proprietor was watching it as well, her giant,
razor sharp spatula an arm's reach away; the foursome's
assurances not withstanding, she wasn't about to take any
"Holographic projection, actually." Wesley corrected, proudly.
"I used some episodes in the Enterprise's computer archives to
whip up a holodeck simulation, added a few wrinkles to compensate
for some of her, um, non-canonical personality changes, ran it
through a block-transfer compiler, loaded it into a hardlight
generator, and presto! Instant Trakenite Psychopath."
"It was still a trick!"
"But one you fell for." Ryoko noted drily.
"I did not fall for it." Adric retorted. He took a pointed drink
from his glass. "I suspected something was wrong from the
"That's your story, and you're sticking to it, right?"
Adric mumbled something incoherent which the others pretended not
to have heard. Fortunately for Adric, the other two became
distracted by the spectacle of watching Moroboshi Ataru make a
leaping pass at the hologram. The hologram merely glanced in the
lech's direction, raised one eyebrow, and made certain she was
standing in front of a particularly hard wall. The young man
went sailing head first-into the brick.
"Turn her off, Wes." Adric appealed. "Please?"
"Don't want the reminder?"
"Not particularly, no."
Wesley fingered a button on a small, palm-sized control before
him, hesitated, then glanced up at the hologram. For a moment
the hologram looked at him, nodded in acknowledgment, then
abruptly disappeared. In its place a small, hand-sized object
with a single, blinking light appeared, immediately dropping to
the floor. Wesley left the table and went over to retrieve the
"You know," Ryoko spoke up, "I'd say you were just a little
disappointed when you found out she wasn't the real one."
"No I wasn't." Adric said. He didn't even try to make it sound
like he believed it.
Ryoko considered momentarily, thinking briefly that she should
choose her next words carefully, but quickly discarded that idea
in favor of brazen bluntness.
"Why is it so difficult for you to admit that you still like her?
There's nothing wrong with admitting it, or to be ashamed about
it. Hell... around here, unrequited love is practically the
"I'm not in love with her." he growled.
"You act like it. You act like every time she kills you, she's
really just taken another piece of you and ground it underfoot.
It's not the actual killing part that bothers you anymore; it's
what it symbolizes. That's what really disturbs you."
"So you say."
The two watched silently as Wesley picked up the hardlight
generator from the floor. No sooner had that happened than he
immediately bumped into Tendou Nabiki, who had been regarding the
object with some curiosity.
"Remember last Christmas?"
"I try not to."
"I'm not surprised." Ryoko paused before continuing. "I was
there, you know. Here, when Wesley dragged you in, trying to
lighten your spirits. You said you wanted to drink yourself to
death. At first I thought it was just hyperbole... I'd never
seen anyone actually do it until then."
Adric grunted, and took a drink from his glass. "Caring and
introspective? Aren't you getting a just a little OOC, Ryoko?"
The space pirate shrugged. "Yeah, well, hang around enough
creative newsgroups and it'll happen to the best of us."
Nabiki was asking Wesley a string of questions. Monetary symbols
of various denominations were almost visible in her pupils.
"I know what it's like. To be an outsider, that is. To be just
different enough from everyone else that they find it
uncomfortable. No matter how hard you try, you find they won't
accept you. You're always apart, but never a part." She turned
towards him, her usually cheerful features taking on a decidedly
darker look to them. "It feels like crap, don't it? Frustrating
as hell. They always dismiss you, never take you seriously,
putting you down because they think you're an easy target. Even
the best of them, the ones who should know better. It's too damn
easy for them to whisper 'There but for the graces go I', and
just walk away." She smirked. "Am I on the right track?"
Adric returned the smirk. His drink sat on the table, untouched
for the last few minutes. "I don't know." he admitted. "I'm
still not certain where it is you're going."
Ryoko took a deep breath. "Adric... The worst part about all of
that is... when you hear the same words repeated over and over
again, you start to believe them yourself. Oh, you keep telling
yourself different, keep proclaiming that to all who can hear,
but... inside you start to believe them, start to think there
really might be something to what they say, no matter how bad or
absurd. That's when you start to loose trust in yourself, when
you start to doubt your own abilities. If that goes unchecked,
you eventually come to the point where you're afraid of doing
anything, afraid to take any chances. Afraid... afraid to live.
That's not the way to go on. Life's too short not to take
chances -- especially on things that actually mean something."
Adric picked up his drink again, and downed the remaining
contents in one gulp. "I think you're overstating things." he
said afterwards. He did so staring into the glass. "This is...
this isn't what you think This is something completely
"I don't see how."
Adric continued to stare into his glass, but sat silent, hoping
the whole conversation would just go away.
"Ryoko, please. I wish you'd just drop the entire subject."
"Just one suggestion? Then I'll drop it for the night?"
Wearily, reluctantly, he nodded a consent.
"I saw the look on your face, just before you realized she was a
hologram. I can pretty much guess what you were really
thinking." A heartbeat. "Remember that feeling. Hold onto it,
and think that maybe next time it will be for real. You never
know, maybe it will. But whatever happens... they can't take
that away from you. No one can. Not me, not Wesley, not those
idiot fans, not those so-called friends of yours at the other
place. The only one who can deny it to you is yourself. If you
want something, if you _really_ want something, you can't sit
back and hope it comes to you. If you do that, it'll never
happen." Ryoko looked down at her own glass, and grew quite
somber. "Even if it doesn't work out, you can say to yourself
you at least tried. Which is a hell of a lot more than you'd get
by letting things slide."
After that, there was a long moment of silence as Alzarian and
space pirate contemplated their empty glasses, each in thought.
They didn't notice when Wesley returned to their table, hardlight
generator in hand. He plopped it down on the formica in front of
them. "You'll never believe what Nabiki wants to do."
Ryoko considered the evidence for a moment. "Sell hardlight
versions of various characters?" she ventured.
"Bingo. She thinks the hentai market alone would be enough to
"Just think, Ryoko." Adric noted with a straight-face. "Why, I
bet your holo could brighten up the confidence of many an
obsessive, geeky, insecure fan..."
"Don't even think it, dead-boy." Ryoko growled. Then a thought
struck that made her grin. "On the other hand, I'm sure it would
make Ayeka just _oh so thrilled_ to find that there were copies
of her in hentai hands..." She looked up from her contemplation
and toward Wesley. "You didn't agree to the idea, did you?"
"Are you kidding? Around here, the girls are better armed than
the boys. How long do you think I'd last?" The Starfleet kid
sat back down at the table. "Besides, it's not like I have any
reason to become rich. I come from an enlightened, advanced
society where money and monetary gains are not all that
"How dull," the space pirate girl responded. "Remind me not to
Adric got a lift back to the 'Round from Ryoko and Ryo-ohki. It
was well past midnight when they arrived outside the door of the
Ryo-ohki sniffed the air, and finding the deliciously aromatic
scent of carrots in the wind, simply hopped off in the direction
of Mel's garden for an eager repast. Ryoko shouted a couple of
fast words to the departing cabbit, to the effect that she didn't
expect to be staying long and to be prepared to leave soon and
please don't gorge yourself this time, they really did need to be
back at the Masaki shrine soon.
They entered, and looked around. A surprising number of the
regulars were still present, but most had long since departed
into the night. The Brigadier was still up, talking with two
guests (a woman in a Manticoran Navy captain's uniform, and a
very small man in the dark grey uniform of some ragtag mercenary
group); a very frustrated writer sat in a corner with a battered
laptop, trying to come up with something intelligible to write;
and Francois was gathering up the remains of someone who had
dared to utter those most foul of words, "Sorry, I don't have
enough for a tip."
Polly walked up to Ryoko, slate in hand. "Um, I'm sorry to
bother you, but..."
"Penny Robinson." Ryoko said, without hesitation. "Lost in
Polly nodded when an appropriate entry came up. "OK, thank you."
The blonde woman looked at Ryoko quizzically. "Um, pardon me for
asking, but you look a little different...?"
"I dyed my hair."
"Oh, ok then."
Ryoko walked up to the bar, where Adric was talking to an
oriental-looking young man. The look on Adric's face was an odd
mixture of relief and... disappointment? Maybe, but not quite.
"Whattsup?" she asked.
"She's gone off to get ready for a story." Adric explained,
somewhat confused. "Along with Tegan and Fifth Doc. But I
thought nothing was scheduled..."
"Came through in the late afternoon." Chang-Lee explained. "A
long one, too. Probably will be at it for days. Tegan and the
Doc wanted to leave immediately to get it over with, but she
insisted she had a few things to take care of and..."
From behind them the door swung open. "For the last time, no!"
The Fifth Doctor's voice said, sounding even more irritated than
it usually did. "Either leave them all here or in the TARDIS,
but once we're there you're not to take any of them with us!"
"But, Doctor!" a perturbed voice pleaded from just behind him, "I
only got to pull a gun on someone ONCE that entire season! Now,
here's the perfect chance to make up for it and..."
"No, no, and no! You're staying in character this time, even if
it kills you to do so!"
The Doctor strode purposely toward the bar, Trakenite psychopath
in tow. He reached it in far less strides than normal, so much
so that the young woman in brown had to almost run to keep up.
The Doctor motioned the bartender for a drink, refusing to answer
the accusatory glare of his companion. Somehow, both failed to
notice the Alzarian and the space pirate at the other end of the
"One, Doctor? Just one? It won't even be a big one, I promise!
Small caliber, easily hidden, you won't even notice it was
"Until you'd shot someone with it because you were bored,
probably someone who was integral to the plot. For the absolute
last time, you will carry no weapons on this story, none at all!
That is absolutely final!"
"Do you wish me to get Kamelion to fill in for you? No? Then
you'll handle this as I say, and that is final." He turned away
from her, and purposely headed in the direction of the writers
table, where a spirited and lucrative card game was still going
strong. "And wear the other outfit this time," he ordered, not
caring what howls of protest that instruction would raise, "so I
won't be forced to get Ace to search you! Understood?" The last
was said without any expectation that something would be said in
The young woman watched the Doctor walk away, then returned to
the bar, fuming. "One Demise." she ordered. "No, on second
thought, just give me the ice figure. I think I need to crush
something right now."
Chang handed one to her, and she began to methodically pound it
against the counter top. After the fifth knock, the frozen head
snapped off. "No good." she mumbled. "What I really need right
now is to kill someone."
Chris Cwej tapped her on the shoulder, then pointed in Adric's
"Thanks a lot, Chris." Adric mumbled.
Chris gave him a 'better you than me' shrug. "Hey... anytime!"
"TAAAAAAAAA!!!" came the deep-throated yell of brown-clad
Trakenite wrath. In one fluid motion, she moved from sitting at
the bar to flinging herself in the Alzarian's direction, a broad-
bladed bowie knife quite suddenly produced and raised for the
kill. "This is it, swamp rat!" she screamed as she tackled him
to the floor. "Get ready to die!"
He fell backwards to the hard floor with a crack that did no
wonders for his back. But before he could recover, he felt the
uncomforting jab of a bent knee on his chest, one hand pressed
against his shoulder, and the entire focus of a small person's
body weight against him, trying to keep him immobilized on the
floor. The other hand still held the knife, raised high above
his assailant's head, ready to strike. "Say your last words,
His brain flashed some quick retorts, some desperate pleas to
try. Something, anything to stave off the painful inevitable.
His mind formed the words, his mouth prepared to say them -- but
then, time seemed to slow. To a crawl. In his field of vision
he realized he could see it all, see everything at once, all the
details that defined the moment. The knife raised high, a glint
of pub lighting reflecting off of the blade; a knee on his chest
and an arm on his shoulder, both pressing with a force that he
found surprising; and a face filled with anger and hate, looking
down upon him with cold, ice-like eyes. Very cold, with no hint
of warmth in them whatsoever.
So near, the thought echoed, and yet so far.
He looked up at her, and his voice became a detached whisper.
"What's the point?" it asked.
The question took her by surprise. "What do you mean, what's the
point?" she demanded.
"What's the point?" he repeated, no less uncertain. "Why bother?
Nothing I say or do will ever change things... will it?" The
last was said not as a question, but as a statement of fact.
Her eyes met his, and for a few precious seconds, they held.
The hand gripping the knife tightened, the knuckles becoming
white. The knife wavered up and down once, twice, as if in
Then her teeth clenched with a deep, enraged growl. The knife
began to come down...
At the last moment, reflex kicked in and his eyelids shut
tightly, despite the knowledge that a mere fold of skin was
hardly likely to stop a slamming, sharpened implement. No
matter, it would probably all be over in a very few moments
It took an extra few seconds for him to realize he wasn't
breathing, but then with some degree of surprise his lungs kicked
in for real and he inhaled a heavy, tobacco-and-alcohol tinged
breath of pub air. Then he realized a number of things more or
less at once: the pressure on his chest had disappeared; a palm
was no longer pressing into his shoulder blade; and as far as he
could tell, he couldn't feel any sharpened pieces of honed metal
embedded in his skull. Or any body part else, for that matter.
He opened his eyes, and turned his head.
The knife stood in the floor, blade driven point-first, mere
He sat up, just in time to catch the hard clap of hurried
footsteps and a door closing forcefully behind someone. Most of
the immediate patrons had turned in that direction, watching the
hasty departure; a few returned their eyes back to him, confusion
clearly evident on their faces.
Ryoko extended her hand. "Mind explaining that one to me?" she
asked, as he took her hand and she helped pull him back to his
"I'm not sure." he confessed, still watching the door. "I'm not
certain I could explain it even if I did understand it."
Ryoko looked at her friend carefully, then shook her head.
"Adric... that makes no sense."
The Alzarian grunted, but was otherwise silent.
On the other side of the pub, in a dark corner usually frequented
by bit characters, one lone figure sat and calmly watched the
entire incident play itself out.
He eyed the black-haired boy carefully, his lips pursed into a
In his line of work, it was considered customary that he should
mark that moment with a long, glowing drag from a cigarette at
his lips. The problem with this tradition was that this
particular lone figure didn't have much use for union rules, and
generally thumbed his nose at the established procedures whenever
possible. Besides, he'd left his cigs in the car. So instead,
he took a long sip from his bottle of natural spring water, sat
back, and carefully considered.
Around him, several of the others at his corner were suddenly
grumbling hasty apologies to one another, feigning interest in
their watches, and otherwise indicating that it was probably
getting a bit too late for them and now was probably a good time
to leave. The lone figure had spent a good deal of time the past
few hours watching this particular group, and after long and
careful consideration (mostly because he hadn't anything better
to do at the time) had more or less figured out who each of them
really worked for. He watched with hidden amusement as the blue-
skinned man and the 30's-ish woman in middle-management business
dress both beat hasty departures; undoubtably, they would both
have their reports transmitted and filed within the hour.
He wondered if that Alabama redneck had any idea what sort of a
scramble it was he had touched off. Probably not. It was like
him to be so totally focused that he had no idea what the big
picture around him was. Which was fine with the lone figure; as
far as he was concerned, there didn't need to be any attention in
his direction. Not yet, at any rate. Not until it was too late
for them to do anything about it.
Which brought him back to the black-haired annoyance at the other
end of the room, the one that didn't have the decency to just
stay good and dead. He looked at him with a small modicum of
concern. Something was going on and he didn't like it, not one
little bit. Something he hadn't planned for, a contingency he
hadn't considered. Well, that was the nature of war, he decided.
No battle-plan ever truly survives contact with the enemy. But
still... the very idea of what that particular scene implied sent
shivers down his spine and nausea through his stomach. If he
wasn't so confident in the computer sims they'd run, he'd
probably be a lot more alarmed than he already was. Still, no
need to panic. He... they... had plenty of time to correct any
schedule... aberrations... that cropped up.
The lone figure gulped down the last of his water, stood, and
laid a fiver on the table. He slicked back his near-shoulder-
length black hair and adjusted the lay of his dark suit smartly.
Then, he simply walked out of the pub and towards the parking
After all, he had a report of his own to file.
8 October 1999
"Doctor Who" copyright the British Broadcasting Corporation, who
may actually be getting their act together, but don't hold your
breath. "This Time Round" created by Tyler Dion, who probably is
rolling his eyes right now and wondering just what sort of a hell
hath unleashed. "ST:TNG" copyright Paramount, "Seaquest DSV"
copyright Amblin Entertainment, "Tenchi Muyo" copyright
ADC/Pioneer. Original story and concepts Copyright 1999 All
Rights Reserved by one Douglas B. Killings, who really hopes he
wins the lottery soon because he doesn't know how the hell else
he can ever hope to juggle writing and Real Life.