The boy — whose name turned out to be Lip — led them to a building that seemed slightly less squat than the others in the valley. Inside were lots of other children, huddled round desks and ancient-looking computers.
“Here we are,” said Lip. “The ruling council. We’re in command of most everyone who's left in the city, though there aren't so many of us these days.”
“Are all the adults dead?” said Chris. “Where I'm from they’d be ruling everything, especially if it was as broken as it is here.”
“Adults ruling things!” laughed Lip. “Don't be silly. They’d just sit around eating sweets all day. No, they're not dead, they’re just all still at school. A lot of them are missing, though, children and their adults. Always together, always in pairs. Our population counter’s clicked down more times than I could count. And we think it all has something to do with this person.”
Before Chris could respond, Lip twiddled the dials on a nearby television and bought it loudly to life. It fizzed and spat static as its distorted image turned on, before Chris’s questions were forgotten in the face of what it revealed.
“The caves below the city were popular before things went all wrong,” Lip said. “People would go down there to look at all the rocks; gasp at the shapes that sugar could get itself into. Some of the security cameras still work, in the larger caverns. And one of them showed us this.”
The screen showed a figure that was almost human in shape, but built entirely out of multicoloured sweets. Its yellow stomach was thick with sugared sweat, and its cylinder limbs were slouched into a bent slump. It had spiral eyes and a metal moustache, but somehow still looked more sad than ridiculous. And it was sitting on a giant pile of bones.
Through the blur of the recording, the three people watched as the figure picked up and ate one of the nearest bones, a crunching noise coming from the black circle of his mouth.
“Good God!” said the Doctor. “It's the Kandyman!”
“You know the monster?!” said Lip, astonished.
“‘Know’ is a grand word. I’ve met him. Long time ago, in a place that crops up in most of the futures. He died, as much as a robot made of sugar can. But sometimes it's the most unlikely things that end up coming back.”
Chris frowned. “Why would a man made of candy spend all his time eating bones?”
“Same reason a girl full of bones spends all her time eating candy. Needs a food source, isn't fussed about its origin. Knowing what I do about the man who invented him, I wouldn't be surprised if they made sure he’d find bones tasty.”
“He’s invented?” said Lip. “We thought he just lived down there. Everything native to this planet’s made out of sugar, so why wouldn't it have a man made of candy?”
“Good logic,” said the Doctor, “but he's not from here. He was built by an insane man for an awful dictator; he existed to kill his victims in all these inventive ways. Poisoned by sweets, bayoneted by candy canes. Grim sort of place, it was. They killed you if you weren't happy.”
“That sounds a bit silly,” said Lip.
“It was very silly! But dictatorships often are, from the outside. Pointless acts and meaningless rules, but the stupidest laws can mean everything, when your life’s on the line when you break them. It can't be fun, in this ruined city. But I'd take this place any day over the one where the Kandyman’s from.”
“That's horrible,” said Lip. “But then, I suppose horrible’s a good thing, if you want a high grade in your monster hunting degree.”
“The Doctor was lying about that,” said Chris, before her companion could respond. “We’re not from a university at all, and we didn't come to fight any monsters. We’re only here because the universe went wrong.”
“Ah,” said the Doctor. “Well. Lying’s not quite the word I’d use. I thought if I gave you a reason why I’d check out the thing in your cave then you wouldn't ask too many questions; you’d just let me go and beat it. But the truth is there’s no reason why I’ve come to beat it, not really. I'll stop monsters wherever I am, even if I was only there in the first place to buy some shelves.” She looked at Chris. “Fighting monsters. It's kind of what I do. Should have said that; didn't. I'm sorry.”
“But the universe is still all wrong!” cried Chris. “You said this is supposed to be my house, and it’s all made of sugar instead. Shouldn't we be thinking about that, and not about beating a monster?”
“I can think about two things,” said the Doctor. “I'm very clever.” She smiled. “The caves are a long way beneath this city. I reckon I can get a good reading on what's wrong with the future if I go down to search for the Kandyman—”
“—you want to go alone?” said Lip, looking concerned.
“Of course not!” said Chris. “I’ll be coming, too.”
“Chris won't be coming too,” said the Doctor. “It was dangerous enough bringing her to the city, let alone to the lair of a mad machine. She can stay up here, where it's maybe a fraction more safe.”
“It's just that you're an adult,” said Lip, looking awkward. “I don't know that it's very responsible of me, letting you go down to the caves by yourself.”
“I'm not an adult!” protested the Doctor. “I'm over two thousand years old!”
“I’m sure you are,” said Lip, rolling his eyes. He turned to Chris. “I’d like to accompany the Doctor down the caves, if you're happy putting her in my care. I know we’ve just met, but I’ve had a lot of experience keeping adults safe– it's one of the reasons why I'm in charge now. I promise you she’ll come to no harm under my supervision.”
“Hm,” said Chris. “I'm not happy about going to the future if it just means sitting around in this room all day. If the Doctor’s making herself useful, then I want to do something too.”
“There is one thing,” said Lip. “Whatever's causing people to take their adults down to the caves– we think the adults are talking about it, but they won't tell us children why. You could spy for us; go undercover. You could say you’re a Normingman, from Ipsico 1: they look look human children until the day they die. You could go to school right now; pretend you're here on transfer. There's no reason the adults wouldn't believe you.”
“It would be simpler for the Doctor to go to school,” said Chris. Everyone would obviously think she was an adult.”
“That's true,” said the Doctor, “but they’d make me sit down all day. There’d be no chance to wander around and work out what's caused the future to break. And as I said, it's not save in the caves! I doubt you’ve faced any robots made of sweets before, but the Kandyman’s the worst of them all. He's like—” she whispered “—the Mechagodzilla of candy!”
“I don't know what a Mechagodzilla is,” said Chris.
“In any case,” said Lip, “I think the Doctor's right. With you vouching for her I'm prepared to believe she isn't an adult, and even if you're both lying she’ll be under firm child supervision. We’ll have an adventure, you’ll go off to school.”
“School’s an adventure of its own, in a way!” said the Doctor, who didn't have to go.
Chris sighed. She had imagined a trip with the Doctor would involve exciting things, like fighting alien knights or scaling a living pyramid. Instead, she would be doing the same things she did every day, but in a slightly more ruined location.
She bit her lip, and started getting ready for school.