|Seventh Doctor, Multi-Era|
The Polar Bears' Golf Club by Doyle [Reviews - 8] |
For the Rose Tyler Girl Adventurer Ficathon for lcsbanana who wanted ‘Rose meeting […] Ace […] and teaming up to Save The Day through cleverness, puns, disguises, and/or gymnastics. If you can get this adventure to end in smooching (femslash or het), that is even better.’ For Rose, this is after Girl in the Fireplace – for Ace, it’s some time in her first season. I’d be remiss not to acknowledge Discworld and Red Dwarf as providing inspiration for bits of this.
”Let me put it another way, Bob: you are a girl. And you’re a girl with as much talent for disguise as a giraffe in dark glasses trying to get into a polar bears-only golf club.” — Edmund Blackadder.
“Look, are you two definitely allowed in here?” It was a responsible job, guarding the Museum and Library of Temporal Justice. You couldn’t let just anyone walk in off the streets, oh no. And while the two students standing in front of the reception desk looked legit — university robes, student passes with the Arch Chancellor’s timestamp — there was something just a bit… off. “You’re not,” he said, feeling under his desk for his emergency whistle, “women or anything, are you?”
The two students gawped at each other.
“What, us? Seriously?”
“Mate, do we look like women to you?”
One of them had a few longish strands of blond hair sticking out from under his hood. “If we were women we wouldn’t be at the university, would we?” he asked reasonably. “They don’t let women in.”
“That’s true, I’ll grant you…”
“Women don’t have moustaches,” the other one put in, and he couldn’t deny the devastating logic of that either.
They did sound like women, though. Unless — it was a weak explanation, but one that meant being left to look at his periodicals in peace, and he clutched gratefully at it — unless they’d lowered the university admissions age? Yes, that must be it. They weren’t women at all, just boys, fresh-faced, squeaky-voiced adolescents who’d got into the college early. Must be clever little spods. “Go on through, lads,” he said, waving them to the entrance. “Library’s through there. We close up at four. And no running!”
Keen as you like, he chuckled to himself when they’d dashed out of sight. Must be eager to get researching.
He thought nothing more about the two boys till much later that night, tucked up in his warm bed far from the museum; he was just dropping off when he thought did those two youngsters from the university ever leave? He was snoring before he could decide.
Back at the museum, two figures crept across the dark lobby. One of them was whistling a song that had been popular on a small portion of an obscure planet called Earth about two thousand years ago. The other was gladly peeling off her moustache.
The cells — or rooms, or freezers, Rose hadn’t decided what they were most like, just that she never wanted to be in one — went on for miles. The medical cases were first, according to the map she’d nicked from the Dean’s personal library while Ace was getting his keys; men and women and little kids with diseases she’d never heard of, in chairs or lying on beds, flowers and cards arranged around them. Nobody was moving behind the thick glass. A little girl had been sneezing when they’d turned the machine on and she was stuck that way, hunched over, face screwed up. The next four halls were all petty criminals, the cards stuck up beside the cells listing a date a few months or a year in the future. Some of the people inside had tears frozen on their cheeks.
“There’s thousands of them.”
“Yeah, well, we only need three,” Rose said, forcing the guilt out of her voice as she looked away from all those staring eyes. “Where are we going?”
“Two rooms over and one to the left. ‘Dangerous insurgents’. Sounds like the Doctor.”
“Your Doctor. Mine only got nicked for parking the TARDIS in the wrong place and then slagging off the judge by mistake.” They shared a Time Lords, who’d have them? look.
“He’ll be in antisocial behaviour, then. Hall 16. We’ll do mine first.”
Ace’s Doctor was where she’d guessed he would be. The sentence card had no date, just a squiggle that Rose knew from her classes was an eternity symbol. Ace went to work with the keys and Rose stood back, looking at the man behind the glass. She’d seen him once before, in the message that had led her to Ace when she’d been on her own for a week and going out of her head worrying over the Doctor and Mickey. Short brown hair underneath a yellow hat, somewhere in his forties, not much taller than her; nothing like the Doctor. But then, she’d thought that once before, when he’d changed. And she’d liked the hologram’s slight smile, and the way he lifted his hat to her — ”I’ll be very pleased to meet you, I’m sure” — and his accent.
“Maybe lots of planets have a Scotland…”
“You do talk rubbish sometimes,” Ace said, shooting Rose a grin over her shoulder. “Nah, this is useless, it’s not any of these. Where’s your one?”
“Only sixty years,” Rose read off his card, once they’d found the right room. “Oh, well, what are we worried for, then? We can just wait till they let him and Mickey out, he can rescue your Doctor, and we can both shuffle after him on our zimmerframes.”
“Can I just point out that in sixty years I’ll only be a spry seventy-seven so I’ll…” Ace looked up from where she’d been fiddling with the keys and stared at the cell. “When you said he looked a bit different,” she said, “I thought you meant he’d got a new umbrella or changed his hair. Blimey. Not bad, is he?”
Rose turned her to the right. “That’s Mickey. That’s the Doctor.”
“Oh, right.” She gave him a quick look, frowning at the hair. “Looks all right. Bit young. Try the lock.”
“There’s something here, under the handle, like a combination lock…”
One of the keys fitted, and her heart jumped. The lock didn’t budge. She twisted the stiff combination wheels until her fingertips were numb, and then let Ace try, but it was no good. The Doctor and Mickey looked down on them like statues, and every time she thought she saw one of them start to move it was just her eyes playing tricks from tiredness and hope.
It was almost dawn before she said, “Plan B, then,” and the hall had seemed to get bigger during the night, so that it swallowed up her voice.
The big problem with Plan B was that there was no Plan B.
“We could put the keys back,” Rose said, just because it was something to do.
Ace swallowed a huge bite of her very-much-like-bacon sandwich before answering. “I think we should keep them.”
“In case we find the combinations and try again?”
“Nah, just ‘cause it’ll annoy the Dean.”
“Our fingerprints are on them, too,” Rose said, concentrating on balancing one of the beer mats on its corner. “I don’t think they even know about fingerprints here, though. We could invent that, if we really do end up stuck here till we’re eighty. Set up as detectives. I’ll be Miss Marple and you can be… I dunno, who’s old and likes blowing things up?”
“That could be our Plan B. Blowing things up.”
And a perfectly good plan died at the conception stage. Ace sighed. “Have some breakfast.”
“Not with this thing on my face.” The Stopped Clock was a student pub, only a few streets from the university, so it was silly costumes back on, facial decorations and all. “Anyway, I need to go, I’ve got a tutorial at nine.”
Ace laughed at the look on her face. “It’s not like you have to go to the lectures, is it? I don’t, they haven’t kicked me out yet. There’s twenty thousand students, they don’t even notice…”
“No, they think you’re some sort of chemistry genius so they let you get away with it. Anyway, it’s all right,” Rose hedged. “Some of it’s sort of interesting. And this tutorial’s temporal law, so I can ask about — I dunno, appeal procedures and things.”
“Plan B, ask very nicely?”
“Worth a try.”
Ace pushed her plate away and licked her fingers. “I’ll make up a batch of nitro-9 anyway, just in case we need a Plan C.”
The quarter-bell was already going when she left the pub. Rose ran for it, holding her hood up and trying not to fall over her robe. Three months dressed as a boy, she thought, and the whole time stuck in what was basically an ankle-length black frock. She missed her jeans.
And her mum, and the Doctor, and Mickey, and the TARDIS…
Best not start down that road.
She was out of breath by the time she got through the university gates (“no running!” the porter shouted after her) and had to slow down. The staircase was behind the feeding pens, and she made a face as she watched two of the servants throwing scraps of decaying food to the vortisaurs. One of the animals screeched at her and its friends all took up the cry, huddling on the far side of the pen. They’d never seemed to like her much. Well, it was mutual; they gave her the creeps. They looked like baby Reapers, all beady eyes and leathery wings. Some of the older students had told her that in third year there was a week-long practical where you had to take a dirigible up into the mountains and use one of the vortisaurs to track a time distortion.
Not that she’d have to do that. Her and Ace would have freed the Doctors and be long gone by then. Course they would.
Professor Staellis’s tutorials were in his room, so Rose concentrated on heaving herself up eight flights of stairs and grumbling about societies that could invent suspended animation but not lifts. Staellis himself was very tall and very round (two Slitheen at once, Rose thought, easily) and delivered his lectures almost lying down in a reclining armchair with his eyes closed, something that didn’t stop him spotting people who came in late. “Mr Tyler, we’d given you up for one of the dead. How good of you to resurrect yourself in time for the last half of the lesson.”
“Sorry, sir. Alarm didn’t go off.”
“Alarms have an astounding habit of doing that when their owners are out all night and not in their rooms to set them. Now, turning to page six hundred and sixty-two…”
Did he really know she’d been gone all night or was that just a guess, Rose wondered as she moved a pile of books off a chair. Either way, he ignored her for the rest of the hour, until everyone else had gone.
“Your essay was almost readable,” he said. High praise. “Interesting idea, a traveller to the past communicating with the present day by leaving letters for himself.”
Thanks, Mickey. I’ll never complain about your movie marathon nights again.
“Inevitably the problem arises of a change to the timeline…”
“Like a paradox?”
That got one eye open. “Language, Mr Tyler, please.”
“Did you have a question or did you wish simply to bask in my company?”
There was no point trying to be clever or roundabout with him. “I was reading about the people locked up in the Museum of Temporal Justice.”
Oh, shut up. “It didn’t say — when people get released, when their sentences are up, who actually lets them out?”
“The head of the health service deals with the cryopatients, the Lord Justice with the criminals,” Staellis said lazily, clasping his thick fingers behind his head. “For symbolic reasons and the slightly more practical one that he’s the only person who knows the codes for the doors. Apart from our own Dean of Legislation, of course.”
“What, he gets a copy of the codes?” Rose asked very casually, as if she was thinking it’d make an interesting footnote in her next essay. “Isn’t that a bit dangerous?”
Staellis snorted. “Someone could steal them, do you mean? Hardly. They’re locked up in his study and I doubt he’d move his backside from that office unless it was on fire.”
“What? What is it? What do you boys want?”
The Dean of Legislation was going a bit deaf in his old age. It took both of them shouting in unison to get through to him.
Ace counted under her breath. “Three. Two.”
“That explosion,” Rose said, as the boom from Ace’s detonation thundered through the hallway. It would make a lot of noise but do no damage, Ace had said, it was a matter of acoustics, and in this, as in all things chemistry-related, Rose went along with her judgement.
“Eh? What was that? I don’t like this at all…”
“Just go along with everyone else, sir,” Ace said, herding him into the path of the students who were piling excitedly out of their classrooms. “Probably just a drill.”
“We never had explosion drills in my school,” Rose said as they slipped into the Dean’s office.
“We did in mine. Well, not so much drills as me getting overexcited in the labs. Where are these codes, then?”
Good question. In a book, Rose assumed, but there were books everywhere. “Locked up, Professor Staellis said. Like in a safe.”
“Or a whole separate room?” She pointed at a pile of books that went nearly to the ceiling, and the handle that was just sticking out.
“Did you think it’d be this easy?” Rose grinned and that, she decided five minutes later, was what had jinxed them, because none of the keys worked.
“He must have it on him.” Ace suddenly kicked one of the books clear across the room. It slithered beneath the desk. “Shit.. We didn’t think.”
Rose was on her toes, trying to see through the small pane of glass. “The window in there’s open, but it’s the seventh floor. We couldn’t climb up even if the creepers were strong enough.”
Ace pulled her bag off her back. “We don’t have to climb up.”
“What, go down?” She tried to picture the floor above. “I think there’s a storeroom straight above this one, but we’d need a rope or something.”
“What about a rope ladder?”
The only thing she could think to say was: “Who carries around a rope ladder?”
Her friend had gone from furious to elated without making any stops in between. “And to think they threw me out of the Brownies. I’m always prepared.”
“I think that’s the Scouts.”
“That’d be why, then. Come on!”
Climbing on a rope ladder from an eighth floor window to a seventh floor window —
- Rose gripped the ladder with both arms and closed her eyes till the swaying stopped —
- it might sound all right when you were safely on the ground talking about it. When you were insisting you should be the one to try it first (‘first’, as if Ace was going to have a go if she ended up splattered across the courtyard?) Once you climbed out the window and there was two hundred feet of empty space beneath you, it all turned scary and real.
She moved her left foot to the next rung.
She could’ve let Ace do it. It was her idea. It was her ladder.
Right foot, one rung down. Now do that another ten times.
But Ace was younger than she was, even if she didn’t act like it, even if she’d go mad if she knew Rose sometimes felt responsible for her. And she was in the Doctor’s past — if something happened to her, it could change history. She could hear the vortisaurs cawing in their pens below, as if they knew she was thinking about the Reapers, the last time the past had changed because of her.
I’m going to die, Rose thought. I’ll lose my grip and that’ll be it. Lunch for the vortisaurs.
Travelling with the Doctor, she’d sometimes thought about dying, but she’d never imagined it like this. On an alien planet, possibly. Thousands of years in the future, it could happen. She’d never considered that it might happen while she was posing as a schoolboy and wearing a really big false moustache.
Eight more rungs. Ace leaned over the windowsill. “You all right?”
“Fine.” Stupid things racing through her head. Competitions when she was little. Being the first girl in her class to climb all the way to the top of the ropes in PE. “I used to go to these gymnastics classes on a Saturday morning — just this free thing at the leisure centre, before they closed it, I must’ve been six or seven, Mum used to take me, God, she hated the other mums but we went every week…” Her foot found the study windowsill and she squeezed the rungs so tightly in relief she thought they might break. “I’m down!”
“Go in and open the door, I’ll come down.”
Funny how you didn’t appreciate little things until you’d had to do without them. Like the ground. Rose could have kissed the mouldy grey carpet on the study floor as she climbed down. And there was the book of combinations, a massive leather volume on the desk with Codex stamped in gold on the cover; she was trying to find the most recent entries when there was a knock on the door.
“Ace, it’s here, it’s…”
Not Ace. Ace wouldn’t take up the whole doorway.
A few seconds too late, Rose realised that her hood was down, and that the thing on her upper lip had come detached while she was panicking on the rope ladder.
Staellis said, “Perhaps you and the other young lady should come up to my rooms for a little chat.”
“I reckon we could make a run for it,” Ace whispered. “He’s dropped off.”
“He’s not asleep,” Rose said, knowing full well from the smirk that Professor Staellis could hear every word. “That’s how he thinks.”
“What’s he got to think about? Whether to turn us over to the police before or after dinner?”
“I’m sure you’ve considered,” Staellis rumbled, “that getting arrested might be the best thing you could do. Go into stasis, get released at the same time as Miss Tyler’s two friends, then the four of you work on freeing this ‘Doctor’.”
“Thought of it,” Ace said. “Couldn’t find any crimes on the books with sixty year sentences. Well, one, but we thought it wasn’t very fair on the cat.”
“That was Plan D.”
“This one’s either E or C Part 2.”
“How much of the alphabet were you planning on exploring?”
“As far as we could,” Rose said. “Till one of them worked or we got caught.”
He opened his eyes. “Or you gave up and accepted that the world is how it is.”
She’d tried to keep her head down in his classes, worried he’d see through the fairly rubbish disguise. Now she looked him in the eye. “No. We’d keep trying, me and Ace. Till it worked or we got caught. That’s how it is.”
And this is where he sends a message tube straight to the police station, she thought. Maybe Ace is right, maybe we should leg it while we’ve got the chance.
Staellis just folded his hands across his stomach and lay back in his chair. “What were these other failed plans?”
“Steal the keys from the Dean — we didn’t know the locks had codes as well. The other one was…”
“Something about bacon sandwiches?” Ace guessed, puzzled too. “Oh! Asking very nicely. Legal appeal, I mean.”
“And why didn’t that work?”
Rose rubbed at her eyes. “You said yourself, in your lectures — only citizens can bring an appeal. And me and Ace aren’t.”
“No,” he said. “But I am.”
“Why d’you think he’s doing this?”
Rose had been looking around the Lord Justice’s chamber — not that there was much to look at. She’d been expecting this to be all Judge John Deed, a massive courtroom, crowds watching from the gallery, people in wigs talking at the jury. Not somebody’s living room, with their housekeeper bringing tea biscuits in on a tray.
“Dunno,” she said. “He’s bored? He’s writing a paper and wants to try out some mad strategy on the judge? He fancies one of us?”
“They’re coming back.”
They both stood when the Lord Justice entered the room, as Staellis had told them to. “Sit, my boys, sit.” He beamed at them, and Rose felt a bit sorry for him. He was small and very old, and seemed delighted someone had come to see him. “Professor… err… the Professor has told me about your case. Now, the two sixty-year sentences I’m willing to commute to probation if I can have a guarantee from you, Master Tyler, that you’ll take your two friends away from the capital and never allow them to return.”
“You’ve got no worries there,” Rose said, ready to hug him and everybody else in the room with relief. “I promise you’ll never see us again.”
“And what about the Professor?” Ace snapped.
The Lord Justice looked at Staellis. “What about him?”
“Not him. The Doctor. My Doctor. Are you letting him out as well?”
“Now that,” the Justice said, “is a far more difficult matter. My child, he broke at least seventeen laws; called into question our system of justice; incited a riot, somewhat inexplicably, among the city’s fishmonger community…”
Ace was on her feet, and forgetting to make her voice sound anything like a boy’s, and Rose had sudden visions of having to make an appeal to get her out of prison as well. “Yeah, and he was right about your so-called justice, wasn’t he? You throw people in your cells and forget about them! You won’t be around in sixty years, how do you know anybody’s going to bother to let your prisoners out when their sentence is up? And as for not letting women into your universities because you think you men were the only ones in the queue when the brains were being handed out -”
“You’re a woman!” The Justice clutched at his chest, gasping for air. Rose added ‘accidental murder of judge’ to her mental charge sheet.
“It’s a paradox,” she blurted out. Even Staellis looked shocked at her using the word. “My Doctor. Ace’s Doctor. They’re the same person, only hers is younger — he can change his body — look, if you keep him locked up forever, my Doctor never exists. Except you know he exists because you’ve got him in a cell, and because he brought me here. You have to let him go.”
“I don’t suppose,” the Justice said, “that you can prove any of this?”
Rose smiled as everything crystallized in her mind. “The vortisaurs go mad if I get anywhere near them,” she said. “Because that’s what they’re trained for. To pick up on time anomalies. And as long as you’ve got Ace’s Doctor, that’s what I am, because I shouldn’t be on this planet.”
“So let her Doctor go,” Ace said, picking up on her thought. “See what the vortisaurs think of him. And then let my Doctor go and see if they’re still smelling a paradox.”
“Astounding,” the Justice muttered. ”Quite astounding.”
“A-plus, Miss Tyler, Miss McShane,” Professor Staellis said.
She’d climbed these stairs dozens of times in the last few months, but doing it in jeans and as herself felt different. Staellis actually smiled at her when she came into his room, and she was surprised to realise she’d miss his tutorials.
“And so you’re, then, back to adventures in time and space? The Dean of Alchemical Studies is inconsolable. I think he had great hopes of young McShane making him his fortune.”
“I can’t really see Ace being a proper chemist,” Rose said. “I try picturing her in a white coat and I just see a lab going up in a massive explosion.”
“And what about you, Rose? What will you be? A gymnast? Vortisaur trainer? Crusader for social justice? You know there are plans to abolish the whole system of time-freezing criminals now, you’ve made them so frightened of prospective paradoxes.”
“Language!” She smiled and stood up. “What will I be? No idea. A traveller? Right now, anyway.”
“Ah, an explorer. I used to have those childhood dreams.”
“But you became a law professor instead,” she teased. “The glamorous life.”
“Well,” Staellis said, smiling as if in remembrance, “needs must. In those days it was even more difficult for a young girl to go adventuring than to dress up and get into university. Goodbye, Miss Tyler.”
Rose was still speechless when she got back to the TARDIS.
Ace was waiting for her, prowling the grass outside the two identical blue boxes. “So did he fancy you, then?”
“He says he helped us because he was madly in love with you.”
“I’ll probably never see you again,” Rose said. “I’ll really miss you.”
“Oh, don’t cry all over me,” Ace said, but reached out to hug her anyway. “Look — don’t ask him what happened to me, all right? It’d feel weird knowing you’re off somewhere knowing my future.”
“I won’t,” she promised, thinking that she wouldn’t want to know anyway; better leaving it this way, with all Ace’s possible futures still open.
“Oh, by the way, you know that you only ever found me ‘cause my Doctor left a message for you? He’s recording it now, and he’s setting it to be triggered by the TARDIS picking up you and me on the same planet. So he needs some of your DNA, apparently.”
“So, what, he needs some of my blood or…”
“I’m just pointing out that according to him this is called a genetic transfer,” Ace said, and kissed her quite thoroughly.
“Say goodbye to Ace, then?” the Doctor asked, doing about as bad a job as Mickey at pretending he hadn’t been glued to it all on the monitor. “I had a chat with her, briefly — she’s so young. Always strange to see people young again when you’ve known them nearly all their lives. She’s brilliant, isn’t she?”
“Yeah,” Rose said. “Yeah, she is. And this has been a seriously weird day.”