Selected Works of A.K. Thorne and His Friends

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How to be a Successful Writer Without Trying – Part One

Stand in front of a mirror and punch yourself.

Drink a tall glass of scotch and smoke Camel Turkish Silvers.

Pick up a bad habit, like borrowing other peoples cell phones to report bad driving to numbers you pick up from “How’s My Driving” stickers on trucks you see on the road. Make shit up. Be belligerent, and give other people’s names as references.

Bars are your home, whether you drink or not. Own the end of a bar. Showers are not your friend. Grow a beard to catch the scotch and guinness that misses your mouth. Always order sausages.

Spend a good amount of time on an apartment search and then spend more money than you make on a flat that is too small and drafty. Force yourself to wear scarves on a 24-hour basis. Become intimate with instant food and noodles.

Borrow your stuck-up friend’s Mac and go to a Starbucks. Play some bad Radiohead over the speakers. Try Pablo Honey, and hit repeat on creep. Order only Triple Grande Non-fat No whip Zebra Mochas, and always send one back. Stand in line and look at the scones, but don’t ever order anything and don’t let people know you’re not actually in line.

Spend some time in Asian markets. Buy some Tom Yum Crisp and leave the dried up shrimp wherever you can. Box office window sills are prime real estate.

Steal jackets from business men after they’ve given you their business cards. Mail the jacket to people around the world and instruct them to take pics of themselves wearing the jacket in odd situations, like defecating in a public park on a merry-go-round, or fornicating in a dirty broom closet. Once the jacket has been around enough, mail it back to the business man and enclose a link to the website that now showcases the jacket’s amazing journey. Tell him he’s a twat.

Superglue car magnets to other people’s cars that blatantly contradict or nullify a bumper sticker they already have. Like the anti-obama “Keep the Change” countered with “‘Cuz I can’t fuckin’ count”.

Why do all this, you ask?

Because, being a successful writer has nothing to do with writing. Being a successful writer requires that you be an asshole, a troublemaker, a fascist and elitist fuck that people would rather punch in the face than listen to.

If you’re anything less than a scumbag, you’re just a business man with a penchant for metaphor.

– A.K. Thorne, Dirtbag Sessions: 1987

In Which the Doctor Wonders at the Disappearance of the Head of a Thripitifalus Vex

“It’s rat poison,” Thorne says to me.

I spit out the mouthful of foul tasting oatmeal – a meal I had accepted only to play nice and shut him up.

“I was being facetious,” he says, regarding the pile of oatmeal on his linoleum floor.

Well, it tasted awful. I don’t understand how you can eat that stuff.

“I don’t. I just wanted to see how bad it was without tasting it.”

Lovely – you’re a real pal.

“How’s it going, selling my stories and all,” Thorne asks. He turns his attention to Jeopardy on the television.

“One of the longest in the world, it stretches from Qinghai to Shanghai,” Alex prompts on the set.

“What is my penis,” Thorne answers.

Frankly, no one’s going for them. And I’ve had only one personal response. The lady said it was very good, but it bogged down at page two.

“What piece is that?”

The android piece. Page two is where you began to describe the orphanage and how the instructor came to be there.

“Well, goddammit. They either want too much detail or not enough.”

“Belize for 500,” a contestant says.

I’ve got a long list of places to submit, but if you like I can edit your stories some for each market.

“This hole is over 300 meters across and 124 meters deep,” Alex says.

“What is my anus,” Thorne answers. “I should go on this show.”

Do you want me to edit your stories, Mr. Thorne. We may have more luck responding to their suggestions.

“Fine, I don’t care,” he says, waving me away. Reaching for his reading glasses on the night stand next to his bed, Thorne bumps a rectangular cardboard box. Turning it around, he reveals that it is a box of rat poison.

“Well, what do you know, it was rat poison after all!” he chuckles, his heavy smoker’s cough turning the laugh into the sound of a box full of rusty nails being shaken back and forth.

I vomit.

Doctor Who : Red Right Hand

2. The Kelvaxan Reliquary

“Some lesson plan,” Rory quipped from the uncomfortable metal bench in the holding cell the Doctor and his companions found themselves in.

“Yes, well,” the Doctor stammered. “I suppose this is the Principal’s Office.”

The Doctor paced back and forth in front of the energy field across the entrance to their cell. Occasionally, he spared a glance at the heavily armed guards in the long hallway outside their cell.

“I don’t understand it,” he said to Amy and Rory. “Heems and I have an excellent relationship. I’ve supplied him with countless additions to his collection. Why would he leave us to stew here like this?”

“Maybe this friend of yours is no longer in charge,” Amy offered.

“Perhaps,” the Doctor said quietly, not convinced.

The Doctor continued his pacing and several moments passed without a word being said between the companions. Finally, Rory cleared his throat.

“So, this is like a space museum or something, right?”

“It’s much more than that,” the Doctor explained. Sighing to himself and apparently abandoning his solemn pacing, he sat down between Amy and Rory, causing them to have to move to either side to allow him room.

“This is a reminder of all the accomplishments of all the known species of the universe. Detailed histories, ancient relics, recreations of long-lost technologies. This is the ultimate museum. Mind you, there are several smaller collections throughout every galaxy and I’ve seen several of them, but nothing comes close to the range of history covered here.”

“Is there anything from Earth?” Amy asked.

“Oh yes,” the Doctor said with a smile. “For starters, there’s the Promethean Hearthstone.”

“What’s that?” Rory questioned. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“You wouldn’t have,” the Doctor explained. “It’s supposedly the stone that the progenitors of your species first created their own fire on. Sad, really, how long its taken you to mature since then. If we ever get out of here, you two might become the first true humans to have ever laid eyes on it. It’s from about eight hundred thousand years before either of you were born.”

“You mean we’re the first humans to come here?” Amy asked, surprised.

“I said you’d be the first true humans to lay eyes on it. Once your species masters faster-than-light travel, several humans visit this place – though by that time, their DNA’s a bit … muddled.”

“Muddled?” Amy queried, raising an eyebrow.

“Long story.”

The slamming of heavy doors echoed down the long corridor toward them, followed by the steady sound of footsteps approaching. The Doctor quickly stood up and his companions rose behind him, following his lead. Squinting through the gloom of the poorly lit corridor, the Doctor finally made out the form of the aged curator, flanked by two guards, walking towards them.

“Let me do the talking,” the Doctor said over his shoulder.

“Curator Heems!” the Doctor said loudly. “Have I done something wrong? My companions and I are a bit ruffled, if you understand my meaning. What’s all the fuss?”

Heems gestured to the guards and one flipped up the cover of a control panel housing the energy field controls. The guard keyed the unlock sequence and the field soon dissipated.

“Doctor,” Heems said, his face reddening a bit with embarrassment. “I do sincerely apologize for the unfortunate delay. Had I known you were coming I’d have issued you security clearance that would have prevented all this.”

With a genuine look of pleasure on his face, the curator grabbed the Doctor’s hand and shook it vigorously. The Doctor’s face softened and he too revealed his pleasure at seeing his old friend again.

“It’s good to see you, Curator Heems. I trust you are well.”

“Oh, you know, still an aging relic among relics,” Heems joked. “Who do you have here with you?”

The Doctor turned, putting an arm around the old man’s shoulders and gestured to his companions. “May I present my good friends, Amy and Rory of Earth, circa second millenium OCE.”

“OCE?” Heems remarked, his eyes lighting up. “This is a very special visit indeed.”

“Yes, well, they’re not that special,” the Doctor mocked.

“Any friend of the Doctor is an honored guest here,” Heems declared, shaking each of the companions’ hands in turn. “Now let’s get out of this dank cell and we’ll have refreshments in my office.”

With another gesture to his guards, Heems dismissed them from their posts and they marched off down the corridor. Heems motioned for the Doctor and his companions to follow him and they began walking leisurely down the long corridor.

“Doctor,” Rory whispered. “What’s OCE?”

“Old Common Era,” the Doctor whispered conspiratorially. “Though in this day and age its often abbreviation for a more derogatory and possibly more appropriate label.”

“What’s that?”

“The Oafish Common Era,” the Doctor said with a smirk. “No more questions!”

The Doctor and his companions followed the curator down several long hallways before reaching the ornate doors of the curator’s office.

“Is that real Valosian oak?” the Doctor asked, marveling at the rich wood.

“Good eye, Doctor,” Heems verified. “The carvings are the work of Jeb Sabe Sob of Cheem, excommunicated artist.”

“They’re beautiful,” Amy remarked. “Why was he excommunicated?”

“He was a tree of the Forest of Cheem,” the Doctor explained. “His people considered his carving of wood grotesque and abominable. No more questions! You’re here to learn, not ask questions.”

Amy and Rory exchanged puzzled looks.

The group entered the Curator’s office and followed Heems to his old desk where three ornate chairs and a small table had been erected for them. Refreshments of various types had been laid out on the table.

“Help yourselves,” Heems waved absently. “If you desire anything else, don’t hesitate to ask for it. We can probably get it.”

Graciously, the companions took their seats and began to partake of the offered food and drink. The Doctor remained standing and walked around the curator’s office for a few moments, perusing the private collection.

After Heems had situated himself behind his desk and sipped at his own drink, he turned his attention to the Doctor.

“How long has it been, Doctor?”

“Hard to say. What year is it?”

“I’m not sure myself,” Heems chuckled.

“The Van Statten Collection,” the Doctor surmised, snapping his fingers.

“Ah yes,” Heems said, nodding in remembrance. “Not the most intriguing collection of artifacts, but significant nonetheless. Lots of visitors to it.”

“Significant and difficult to get,” the Doctor said. “If you remember I had a thousand tons of concrete to get through to secure it.”

“And we greatly appreciate your efforts, Doctor.” Heems turned to the companions. “Did you know that the Doctor is the second greatest single contributor to our collections here? On the tour, I’m sure he’ll be able to point out all the artifacts he has secured for us.”

“Second?” the Doctor asked with surprise, holding a large egg he had picked up from a display awkwardly.

“Yes, second, Doctor. You’re not the only relic hunter we’ve had the fortune to work with. I’ll have to arrange a meeting while you’re here – he’s expected anytime now.”

The Doctor set the egg down carefully and made his way over to the wall of alien heads and began talking to himself as he looked at each in turn, saying things like “nice bloke” and “so that’s what they look like under all the hair”.

“What line of work are the two of you in?” Heems asked the companions.

“Uh,” Amy hesitated, looking to the Doctor for help that wasn’t coming. “We’re students.”

“This is sort of a, uh, field trip, thing,” Rory offered.

“Excellent,” Heems said with genuine delight. “I’m sure you’ll both just love some of the exhibits we have here. Do you enjoy music?”

“Oh, we love it,” Amy said.

“In our Arts Division we have the entire history of music on Earth on file, from ABBA to Zed Zed Nine.”

“Do you have it in MP3?” Rory asked, hopefully.

“What is MP3?” Heems asked, confused.

The Doctor interrupted before Rory could answer. “What happened to the Thripitifalus Vex you had?”

Again, Heems seemed confused and caught off guard. “I’ve never heard of it, Doctor. Was it something you brought me? I do have the habit of being rather forgetful.”

The Doctor raised an eyebrow and turned to regard the curator. His face was one of momentary concern, but he soon changed the subject. “I’m probably misremembering it, I suppose. So what was the story with all the security, by the way?”

The Doctor left the private collection and sat down heavily in the remaining empty chair.

“Ah yes,” Heems said. “Again, I do apologize. Security was heightened at the time you arrived while a new piece was being delivered to me. We often increase security measures during certain high profile transfers and all traffic to the asteroid is prohibited during such transactions. Of course, the sudden unexpected and unsanctioned arrival of a vessel on the asteroid was quite the breach of that security.”

“Yes, well, I do like to pop in from time to time unexpectedly,” the Doctor joked.

“You’re lucky you weren’t shot on sight,” Heems replied, a bit more serious than he had been since their arrival. “But its all sorted out now.”

Amy and Rory shot meaningful glances at each other, realizing that once again the Doctor had managed to narrowly postpone the death of his companions.

The Doctor took a sip from his beverage and leaped up out of his chair again. “I’m sorry, Curator Heems. It just keeps bugging me. I’m absolutely positive you had a Thripitifalus Vex head on your wall last time I was here.” Walking determinedly towards the data console set into the wall opposite the alien heads, he pulled up an antique chair to it, causing a loud shriek as he dragged it across the floor. “Do you mind if I check your logs for it? Maybe it was moved to a public exhibit.”

His face ashen, Heems quickly rose from his desk. “Don’t touch that console!”

With painful slowness, the Doctor swiveled his head to gaze directly at the old relic collector. His eyes narrowed with suspicion.

“We’re installing a new system and are in the middle of transferring data. You could corrupt that data flow and we would lose eons of research in just one second,” Heems explained. He seemed more than just a bit agitated.

“Hmm, yes,” the Doctor said, moving away but still eyeing Heems. “Perhaps later then.”

Curator Heems sat down again slowly, his brow furrowed as if he found his own outburst unusual.

“We definitely appreciate your hospitality, old friend,” the Doctor said, walking leisurely back to the desk. “I think my friends and I are a bit full now, so we’d like to freshen up a bit before we begin the tour.”

“Actually,” Rory said, moving a cookie towards his mouth. “I thought I’d have a couple more -”

The Doctor slapped the cookie out of Rory’s hand.

“The facilities aboard my ship are somewhat lacking. Do you have some place we might clean up a bit and relax?”

“Absolutely, Doctor,” Heems said, rising from his desk. He pressed a series of buttons and the ornate doors opened again. “If you head down the hall, you’ll come to an intersecting hallway. Take a right there and you’ll come to our guest quarters we set aside for visiting dignitaries. The caretaker is named Dolla, she’ll take care of you.”

“Thank you, Curator Heems,” the Doctor said with a bow. “We’ll leave you now and hope to meet up with you later – perhaps for a personalized tour?”

“Just let Dolla know when you’re ready and she’ll page me,” Heems replied. “I look forward to it.”

“So do I,” the Doctor said and turned to leave. “Come along, children.”

Rory and Amy quickly rose from their seats and followed the Doctor. Rory suddenly turned back and trotted over to the table where he pocketed a few cookies. Heems smiled and nodded that it was acceptable.

“Rory!” the Doctor called from the door.

Rory jumped and knocked the plate of cookies to the ground. “Sorry.”

“Leave it,” Heems said, chuckling.

“I’m coming,” Rory said, and caught up to Amy and the Doctor. The three companions left Heems’ office and the doors closed behind them.

After a moment, Heems opened a small drawer in his desk. Inside was the Speak & Spell, glowing eerily.

“He is a Timelord,” Heems began, and then related to the Speak & Spell everything he knew about the Doctor.

***

The Doctor and his companions walked casually down the long corridor that led away from the curator’s office, stopping occasionally to view the art mounted intermittently along the walls.

“Alright,” Amy said, having noticed the Doctor’s mood change. “What’s wrong, Doctor?”

“There’s something definitely amiss here,” the Doctor revealed, whipping out his sonic screwdriver. Activating it, he waved it about and looked with interest at the readings. “We should keep our eyes and ears open.”

“Oh great,” Rory sighed. “Even classtime is dangerous with you.”

The Doctor didn’t remark on the observation and led them to the intersection Heems had spoke of. “I’d like to take that tour now, but we should probably stick to our story. We’ll pop in for a quick wash and stretch and then get into the thick of things.”

Amy and Rory followed the Doctor as he led them right and towards the Guest Quarters. The architecture changed as they proceeded further down this new hall. The ceiling rose and the hallway  finally gave way to a large vaulted lobby. It was readily apparently that they had entered the equivalent of a posh hotel, complete with sitting areas and a front desk.

As they approached the front desk, they couldn’t help but notice an argument ensuing.

“I don’t have a reservation, for the last time,” a dusty looking man sat to the girl at the desk. The girl, a young blonde-haired petite type with impish features, seemed rather put out with him. “Do you know who I am?” he said impatiently.

The girl, seeing the three companions approaching, brightened up considerably and ignored the troublesome guest. “You must be the Doctor and his companions. Curator Heems called ahead and told us to expect you. I’m Dolla. Don’t hesitate to call on me at anytime, should you need me. I’ll be happy to serve you.”

“Uh, we don’t have reservations, per se,” the Doctor apologized, with a significant look to the other guest who now stood agape at the rebuff.

“That’s alright, Doctor. Curator Heems has told us to give you our finest suite for your stay. You’ll find all the amenities you might need here. I’ll show you to the suite.”

As an aside she curtly said to the other guest, “Excuse me.”

The man reddened visibly in the face and he slapped the gloves he was holding against the desk. A small cloud of dust rose from the impact.

“Now wait just a damned minute,” the man barked. “Who the hell are you people?”

Sighing, Dolla turned an offered an quick introduction. “This is the Doctor and his companions.”

“Amy,” Amy said politely.

“Uh, Rory,” Rory responded in like manner.

“The Doctor, Amy, and Uhrory,” the man repeated. “Imperial dignitaries from the Kalthex Empire? Estimators from the Ixian Council of Artifact Reconciliation?”

“They are special guests of Curator Heems,” Dolla explained. With reluctance, she reversed the introductions. “This is Drustan Light.”

“Captain Drustan Light,” the young grizzled-looking man corrected. He wore a long Earth-style duster over a utility vest and a dirty white long-sleeved shirt. His dark brown hair was short but messy and he was covered in a thick layer of grime in several places. His leather boots looked as if they  had been hastily repaired a thousand times. His beard, though also trimmed close, was wild and shot with grey streaks.

“A pleasure, I’m sure,” the Doctor replied, inclining his head slightly.

“Here to paw unappreciatively at the fine collection here, I’ll wager,” Captain Light said bitterly.

“Actually, I’m a relic collector. Heems and I go way back,” the Doctor said snootily. Amy and Rory didn’t miss the rising tension between the two men.

“Is that right?” Light said with a sneer.

“It is,” the Doctor said, not backing down.

“Interesting.”

“Indeed.”

“Yeah.”

“Mmm.”

“Hmm.”

“Ahh.”

“Can we please wash up before we’re irreversibly stained with testosterone?” Amy blurted with exasperation.

“We’ll meet again Doctor,” Captain Light said before walking away.

“I suppose we will at that,” the Doctor replied. He quickly changed his demeanor and patted his companions on their shoulders. “Alright! Washing up time! Heave ho! Allons-y! Ha, haven’t said that in a while. I shall have to do it again sometime.”

Dolla led the three to their suite without further incident.

***

After thirty minutes or so, the Doctor and his companions emerged from their room and made their way back to the front desk where they found Dolla smiling and waiting for them.

“Curator Heems sends his regrets. He won’t be able to take you on the tour himself, but he has authorized me to show you around,” she explained.

“Is he ill?” the Doctor queried with concern.

“No,” Dolla replied. “Nothing like that. Our good friend Captain Light has his attentions for the time being. Their discussions can get rather heated and lengthy.”

Stepping out from behind the front desk, Dolla clicked a small device in her hand and a service robot rose up behind the desk in her place.

“Enjoy your stay at the Kelvaxan Reliquary!” it said to them as they left.

“I don’t often get the chance to take such esteemed guests on a tour of the facilities,” Dolla explained with enthusiasm. “Curator Heems usually has that honor.”

“Has anything troubling happened here lately?” the Doctor probed. “Heems seems a bit preoccupied.”

“Aside from that awful Drustan Light arriving? Not that I know of.”

“What was the transfer that was taking place when we arrived? A new arrival for the museum?”

“We’re not allowed to discuss it at this time,” Dolla said quickly. “Confidentially, I’ve never seen the place so locked up during a transfer. Apparently, the extra security was requested by the collector. It’s a wonder you weren’t gunned down as you entered orbit.”

Again, Amy and Rory exchanged concerned glances.

“Yes, well my ship offers special access privileges at times,” the Doctor said with a smirk. “Did it have something to do with the new system being installed?”

“New system? I don’t know anything about that,” Dolla said, confused.

The Doctor raised his eyebrows meaningfully at his companions.

The quartet enter the main exhibition area and Dolla took her time going over the history of each piece as they viewed them. Her knowledge of the exhibitions was quite extensive and the Doctor offered personal insight where possible. Several times he revealed that he was the one who had brought a certain piece to the Reliquary. They had passed through several areas and hours had elapsed before the Doctor stopped the tour and asked Dolla a personal question.

“How do you know so much about this place? I thought you were just a hotel clerk.”

“Oh that!” Dolla said, pleased that the Doctor was interested in her personally. Amy rolled her eyes. “I just work the front desk when things are slow here. I’m actually an archaeologist.”

“Are you now?” the Doctor replied excitedly. “Where do you come from, Dolla?”

“Phi Gamma Six,” Dolla responded proudly.

“An Earth colony,” the Doctor said knowingly. Turning to Amy and Rory he mouthed the word “muddled”.

“You’ve heard of it?”

“I’ve been there. Several times in fact. Lovely place. So, I guess that means you’re a student of the Academy?”

“I graduated with the highest honors,” Dolla said beaming.

This time Amy and Rory both rolled their eyes.

“I think its time we split up,” the Doctor said. “I’ll go with Dolla here and discuss some of the intricacies of universal history and you two can wander about as you please.”

“What about that lesson you’re supposed to be teaching us?” Rory asked.

“Hands on!” the Doctor said, hurriedly pushing them along. “Newest breakthrough in curriculum. Enjoy!”

And with that, the Doctor and Dolla left Amy and Rory to themselves.

“That man,” Rory said, clenching his fist.

“Come on, love,” Amy said to him. “Let’s go have a bit of fun.”

From down one of the many corridors they heard the Doctor’s voice in a booming echo say, “Don’t touch anything!”

***

Most of the day slipped by before the Doctor and Dolla finally caught up with Amy and Rory. The two companions had found the Communications Wing and were testing out Earth technology that was only a few hundred years more advanced than their own time.

“Doctor,” Amy said excitedly. “Look at this!”

Amy and Rory were both wearing headsets with small reticles that fit over one eye. On their right hands, small adhesive microchips had been set on each finger and thumb.

“It’s like having an iPad without the iPad!” Rory said in techno-ecstacy. “It’s amazing! the screen looks like its just hovering in front of me.”

“This has got to be an Apple product,” Amy said with finality.

At the remark Dolla burst out laughing.

“What’s she laughing at, Doctor?” Rory asked.

“Let’s just say Apple was a blip on the screen. Significant but passing. And thus endeth the lesson, children. No matter how fantastic, how trendy, how amazing something seems to you, it will soon be obsolete. No  need to buy the next great thing every year. Know your tech, choose your tech, customize your tech, and make it last. By the time its worn out, something better than the four hundred iterations that have passed in between will be there to buy. Rinse and repeat,” the Doctor said sagely.

“That’s actually an older model,” Dolla said. “The last design was eventually integrated cybertech. The chips were implanted in your fingers and a special optical implant obsoleted the need for a reticle.”

“No way!” Rory said. “Do you have any we could take back with us?”

“Absolutely not!” the Doctor chided. “You can’t take future technologies back to Earth, you’ll muck up the whole future history of the planet and possibly the galaxy.”

“Oh come on, Doctor,” Amy pleaded. “We’d keep it secret. No one would know.”

“Besides,” the Doctor continued. “There won’t be a person that can implant it without killing you for another hundred years after your time.”

At that moment, Curator Heems walked up to them, beside him was Captain Light.

“Doctor, I said I’d introduce you to the number one contributor to our little collection here. And this is that man. May I introduce Captain Drustan Light.”

The two men stood glaring at each other, resuming the standoff from earlier in the day.

In unison they both said, “We’ve met.”

In Which the Doctor Procures Cotton Candy

On one of our jaunts down to the gas station to get Thorne some smokes, he makes me pull the car over at a park.

Hopping out, the old man trudges over to a large piece of playground equipment and begins to climb the ladder to its top.

What are you doing?

“I need to use to restroom,” he yells back to me.

Reaching the top of the slide descending down from it, Thorne then urinates down the spiraling plastic slide.

Hey! Stop that! I say. Sprinting over to him, I realize there’s nothing I can do. The waterfall of urine trickles off the end of the slide.

That’s very childish and disgusting. Clean that up before some poor toddler comes along and gets some disease.

“As you wish, master,” Thorne says and slides down the slide. At the bottom, his white warmup pants are slick with piss and stained yellow.

What the hell are you doing? Are you insane?

“Now you’ve got something to write about, Mr. Writer’s Block,” he says with a smirk.

Doctor Who: Red Right Hand

1. History Lessons

“Funny story, this,” the Doctor explained as he leaned out the door of the TARDIS. He held on tightly to the door frame and extended a small paper tube towards a billowy pink substance, just outside the blue police box. Below him was open space, an endless sea of stars.

“There was this Sontaran I knew that was a terrific gambler,” he said, moving the tube in circles as the pink substance clung to it in lumps. “Could never let a bet go by him. Made a horrible warrior, and I suppose that’s why they exiled him.”

Behind the Doctor, Amy and Rory, his two companions were bent over the small screen of Rory’s smartphone.

“Still, being a Sontaran, he couldn’t help but want to battle something, so he builds a small strikeforce of mercenaries and starts taking over systems, one by one.” The Doctor continued his tale as he swirled more of the pink fluff around the tube. Once that tube held a significant amount of the fluffy substance on it, he secured it by sticking one end into a pocket, then he began with another fresh paper tube. “Naturally, I couldn’t let him do that any more so I offered him a wager. I told him I could create a nebula made completely of  cotton candy – ridiculous doesn’t even begin to describe the odds against me, and he took the bet. The stakes were that if I won, he would retire from marauding, and if he won, I’d stop giving him problems.”

The two companions burst out in laughter behind him. The Doctor, assuming they were listening to his story smiled and prepared for the ending to his tale.

“And so, one supercharged matter replicator set to infinitely replicate replicators replicating replicators replicating cotton candy placed in stasis right at the center of a sun going supernova was all I needed,” the Doctor said, gathering a final bit of fluff. In one motion, he pulled himself into the TARDIS, shut the doors, and held two generous clouds of pink cotton candy before him. “And voila! Goodbye Sontaran, and hello cotton candy for all!”

Both Amy and Rory were rolling on the floor laughing. The Doctor beamed a toothy smile at them, pleased with the reaction his story had garnered. He soon realized, as his smile turned to a frown, that the two companions’ mirth was coming from something else.

“Look you two,” he said chidingly. “I’m showing you a fantastic marvel of the universe, that I happened to have created I might add, and you’re bent in half over a cellphone not even paying attention.”

“What Doctor?” Amy asked, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Cotton candy!” the Doctor shouted. “It’s a nebula you can eat!”

“Oh right, sorry Doctor,” Rory apologized, taking the cotton candy that was offered. “It’s just one of my mates posted this insane video.”

“May I see it?” the Doctor asked, seemingly interested.

Rory handed over his phone. “Just hit play. It’s absolutely hilarious, Doctor. You’ll love it.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will love this,” the Doctor said cryptically, pacing back towards the TARDIS doors. He watched the video for a few moments and as the video ended he expelled a brief, “Ah.”

“Well? What do you think?” Amy queried.

“It’s a poor woman smashing grapes then falling off a raised platform,” the Doctor stated flatly.

“It’s brilliant, right?” Rory said, still chuckling to himself.

“Rory,” the Doctor said, opening the TARDIS doors to reveal the Cotton Candy Nebula, “this is brilliant.”

Turning towards the doors, the Doctor wound up. With a throw that would make a professional cricketer take notice, he launched Rory’s phone into space where it quickly began to gather a cloud of cotton candy around it.

“Doctor!” the companions shouted in unison.

“What did you do that for?” Amy said bitterly. “Where’s your sense of humor?”

“Where’s your sense of perspective?” the Doctor countered angrily. “Hello! You’re in a time machine. You’ve got infinite wonders, astounding possibilities, amazing sights to behold out these two simple doors and you’re giggling over a video of slapstick garbage.”

Quickly, he stalked over to the two companions and took the cotton candy from them – Rory was in mid-bite. “You don’t deserve these,” he said, stalking back to the doors and chucking the tasty treats back into the nebula.

“Doctor, you’re being childish,” Amy said, with a hint of a smile.

“I’d say he was being rude,” Rory quipped. “That was an expensive phone.”

“Oh, come on, Rory,” the Doctor replied. “You’ll just buy another the first chance you get. It’s how things work down on Earth. Buy this technology, then buy the next version next year, then the next, and on and on. I don’t understand how you two can be exposed to … ” The Doctor made exaggerated gestures towards the TARDIS console, the nebula outside, and the room surrounding them, ” … this! And you still are slaves to pop culture.”

“Oi, now that’s a bit harsh,” Amy responded defensively. “I happen to think my likes are very untrendy and original. I happen to think Radiohead’s awful.”

“Hey!” Rory snapped, jabbing her in the ribs.

“All beside the point,” the Doctor said. “As is continuously the problem with species delving into advanced technologies, your society is not maturing at the same pace as the science. If you were, you’d have been past crotch shots and people tripping decades ago.”

“Speaking of not maturing at the same pace, its hard for us to tell if we’ve matured at all with you shaving years off our lives in the blink of an eye,” Amy said sarcastically.

“That was necessary,” the Doctor replied. “And I gave you a huge birthday cake for it, from the greatest bakery in the universe. And, once again, that would never have happened if Rory here had been paying attention to the giant signs that said, ‘Don’t mix the gunbunnies’!”

“Doctor,” Amy said, frowning. “He said he was sorry.”

“‘Sorry’ is not good enough anymore,” the Doctor scolded. “It’s time I taught you both a lesson.”

“What is this? Primary school?” Rory asked.

“Apparently so,” the Doctor snapped. Without another word, he launched himself purposefully to the console and began inputting coordinates.

“Alright, Mr. Grumpyface. Where are we going?” Amy asked.

“You’ll see,” the Doctor said, and threw a lever initiating their next jaunt through time and space. The ship jerked, and both Amy and Rory were propelled into their seats roughly.

“Oh,” the Doctor said grumpily. “Might want to hang on.”

***

Hundreds of light years away from the Cotton Candy Nebula, an armored spaceship touched down on a heavily guarded landing pad outside the Receiving Department of a vast underground complex on the asteroid Kelvax. In space, above the ship, the twin stars Ularus and Getis shone brilliantly – their combined red and yellow rays reflecting off the massive ship’s polished hull. As the ship vented gases into the thin atmosphere of the orbiting rock, a giant spherical shield began to block out the stars as it moved to cover the landing pad. Red spinning lights strobed in time with a blaring alarm as the environmental shield closed over the ship and the precious cargo it held.

After several minutes, the red lights turned to green, indicating the environment in the shielded landing area had been equalized with the rest of the complex. Two columns of heavily armed guards jogged out of the complex to surround the ship’s access ramp in a semi-circle as it slowly began to descend. Facing out from the ramp, the guards activated their weapons and took defensive positions, awaiting the the transfer team to disembark and alert for any signs of trouble.

With a dull thud, the ramp settled to the landing pad and a detachment of twelve armored guards from the ship escorted a man in rich robes to the Receiving Area. The Kelvaxan guards parted to allow their honored guest to pass. Another contingent disembarked shortly after, this group even more heavily surrounded. Two guards in the second contingent carried between them a large black box.

The man in the expensive robes spoke briefly with a Kelvaxan official, who then waved the entire group and their cargo through the security portal leading into the depths of the complex.

The group passed through several more security checkpoints without incident as they approached the core of the asteroid and Central Control. Eventually, the heavily guarded group reached an ornate set of wooden doors at the end of a long narrow hallway. It was at this point that they were made to wait while a senior guard entered the doors to secure clearance for them.

After several minutes, the guard returned and indicated that only the man in the expensive robes, the cargo, and its two guards would be allowed through. The man nodded his understanding, and after a subtle hand gesture, the rest of the guards that had acted as escorts took up positions along the hallway, weapons at the ready.

The man stepped through the doors, followed by the guards and their cargo, and into an expansive room with vaulted ceilings. On the wall to their left hung the mounted and stuffed heads of hundreds of alien species, some wild and some civilized. Some represented species advanced enough to have breached the frontier of interstellar travel, while other represented species long extinct. On the opposite wall were shelves of books, from floor to ceiling, broken intermittently by computer consoles – presumably holding databases of writings no longer available in hard copy. Throughout the room, tables and glass cases held artifacts from thousands of cultures across the galaxy.

At the far end of the room, at an old wooden desk that looked more like a relic than anything functional, was seated a wrinkled old man in a tweed suit. The old man was bent over a large tome, a magnifying glass mounted over his right eye. As if not noticing the arrival of the group, he continued to peruse the page before him until the man in the expensive robes and his two guards stood before the desk.

Without looking up he spoke, “Ah, Lord Trelonde. I trust your journey was uneventful.”

The man in the expensive robes snapped his heels together smartly and bowed his head. “We are grateful for the escort ships you sent to meet us at Feldett III, Curator Heems – though I doubt anyone but yourself would see the value in the artifact I’ve brought you.”

“Quite,” the Curator said, looking up at the other man. Smiling, he gestured to the tome in front of him. “Any idea what this is?”

Trelonde gazed briefly at the book and did not recognize the language it was written in. “I’m an avid collector of rare artifacts, Curator Heems, for certain, but I am not an expert on ancient texts such as this, however.”

Heems rose from his seat and shut the book. “Five million years ago, Warlord Walthus Vex wiped out an eighth of the sentient species present in this galaxy at that time.” Heems removed the larger lens from his eye and placed a pair of round spectacles on his nose. “A vicious tyrant, he took what he wanted, including mates. Sex and species didn’t matter to him – his species was the Royn, who all have adaptive reproductive systems and can mate and create offspring with any living species. This book is a detailed record of every creature he coupled with in that conquest – and every creature that died birthing his Royn progeny.”

Trelonde made a face of disgust.

“It’s really quite interesting. The Royn are also empaths. He was able to experience what they felt while forcing himself on them and wrote it all down. This is the twenty-seventh volume of four thousand. The illustrations are very graphically detailed,” Heems said with a smirk.

“Now about this piece you’ve brought me, Lord Trelonde,” Heems said, moving around and approaching the black box. “Are you able to verify its authenticity?”

“It’s authenticity is not what makes this piece worth collecting,” Trelonde explained, a strange look on his face. “It may be an original – it may be a clever copy. That’s not the point. I can guarantee you’ll never see anything like it in your life.”

“Cease the pitch,” Heems said impatiently. “Show me the piece or leave this asteroid. I don’t have time to ponder the possibilities and improbabilities of life.”

“As you wish,” Trelonde replied with a brief bow.

Heems ushered them over to a low table and relocated a few relics from its surface to other tables. Trelonde nodded to the guards and they carefully set the black box on to the empty surface. The guards each removed keychains from their persons and inserted their respective keys into locks on either side of the box. Lastly, Trelonde pulled a key from within his robes and inserted it into a larger locking mechanism on the front of the box. At Trelonde’s signal, the three men turned their keys and the lid to the box popped open with a hiss. Briefly, visible clouds of gas billowed out and dissipated.

Trelonde opened the lid completely and stepped back for Heems to inspect the contents.

Curator Heems had donned a pair of latex gloves and reverently stepped forward to the box. The inside of the box was lit with soft glowlights and for a moment Heems simply stared at what lay inside, the light reflecting off his round spectacles. He then took a deep breath and reached into the box. Carefully, he removed the ancient device from its velvet cushion and held it at eye level.

The American-made 1986 Model Speak & Spell appeared to be in mint condition.

“Very nice,” Heems said. “But there’s still the question of its authenticity.”

“I assure you, its authenticity won’t matter once you see what it does.”

Heems turned a skeptical eye to Trelonde. “It still works?”

“Turn it on and find out, Curator Heems.”

Heems scoffed at the relic collector and pressed the button marked “ON”.

Four musical tones sounded, indicating the device was active. After a pause, the device’s screen glowed green as words appeared. A synthesized voice spoke the words as they printed.

“Good day to you, Curator Heems,” it droned.

“What gimmick is this?” Heems demanded, narrowing his eyes at Trelonde. “I’m not a collector of cheap parlor tricks.”

“This is no trick,” the device said aloud. “You are being given a priceless gift.”

Surprised, Heems regarded the ancient Earth toy in his hands. “For all intents and purposes, it appears authentic. The coloring is accurate. The speech synthesizer is very close to the original, but I suspect its been tampered with. Artificial intelligence module installed?”

Trelonde stood silently regarding the Curator – waiting.

Heems turned the toy over in his hands and examined it closer. “I won’t give you full value unless I can verify its authenticity, and expect a deduction for the electronic tampering that’s been done to it.”

“As it said, it is a gift, Curator Heems,” Trelonde said, his smile waxing cryptic.

“Hmph,” Heems huffed. “I’m still going to open it up.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” the Speak & Spell commanded.

Heems eyes seemed to glaze over and his mouth opened as if he were about to say something.

Then Heems spoke: “I’ll do no such thing.”

Trelonde’s smile widened maniacally.

***

The wheezy, grinding noise stopped and the TARDIS materialized with a thump.

“Right,” the Doctor said, moving to the doors. “Stay together, no touching each other, and more importantly no touching any of the pieces unless given explicit permission.”

“What is this place, Doctor?” Amy asked.

“You are about to step into the oldest and most extensive museum in the universe – the Kelvaxan Reliquary. It is here that I intend to show you that your gizmos, your apps, and your social networking tools are just the detritus on the surface of the deeper technological potential of Earth. First, I’ll introduce you to my old friend, Curator Heems. He should be able to get us into some of the more exclusive exhibits.”

The Doctor grasped the door handle. “Maybe then you’ll learn when and where to show proper respect to the wonders of the universe.” He then added with a smirk, “Especially me.”

The Doctor threw open the door and stepped out backwards, his arms open in welcome as he backpedaled out the TARDIS.

“My friends,” he declared, “welcome to future history!”

The first things that Amy and Rory noticed as they stepped out after him were the thirty-seven laser rifles that were trained on them.

“Doctor,” Rory said hesitantly.

“I know, its a bit much to take in at first, but your senses will soon level out.”

With a flourish, the Doctor spun around with the intent to march purposefully forward into the vast museum. Instead, he marched purposefully into a laser rifle.

“Ah,” the Doctor said. “Not the sort of respect I had in mind.”

In Which Bunnies Mate Through Telepathy

“There is nothing more evil than a rabbit,” Thorne says to me.

Okay, explain that one to me.

“Deep beneath the Earth, there is a secret empire of lepine fascists waiting to take over.”

I don’t think lepine is a word.

“I learned this one day under the influence of a powerful otherwordly force that had taken over my cognitive processes.”

So you were on drugs?

“I was on drugs.”

Doctor Who : Red Right Hand

Prologue: Seas of Blue and Pink

“This is your fault, Rory!” the Doctor shouted back as he sprinted across the Yazoshean fields towards the safety of the TARDIS.

“My fault?” Rory, one of the Doctor’s two present companion travelers responded, also in a full sprint just behind the Doctor. “You’re the one that -”

“Shut up, Rory,” Amy Pond snapped, taking a split second to slap his shoulder as she pushed past him. “Just run!”

Their pursuers, a massive swarm of blue and pink gunbunnies, followed close behind, squeaking in furry fury.

Rory chanced a look back and saw that the swarm was growing by the second. Gunbunnies were shimmering and splitting into twos, threes, and fours by the second. Five minutes earlier, there had been only a few hundred, now there were hundreds of thousands swarming over the lush green hills where the Doctor had decided to park his blue box.

Rory’s eyes widened in terror and with a burst of speed he passed up both Amy and the Doctor. The TARDIS was still two rises away and the gunbunnies were multiplying so quickly that they were beginning to surround the fleeing trio of time travelers.

“Not far now!” the Doctor cried as they began the ascent up the final hill. “Just over this last rise.”

“You said that three rises ago, Doctor,” Amy panted, now pulling up the rear behind the two men. Just behind her, a gunbunny that had pulled ahead of the rest leaped at her and found purchase on her ankle. Before she could knock it away, there were four of the alien creatures on her. Tripping over the multiplying creatures, she fell hard to ground.

The Doctor heard her body hit the ground, and quickly turned back for her. Ahead of them, Rory continued to run up the hill to escape. By the time the Doctor reached Amy, she was covered in the aliens, her screams muffled by the sheer volume of blue and pink fur covering her.

The Doctor braced himself and shouted, “Sorry!” as he kicked one of the gunbunnies off of her back.

Again and again, he kicked the creatures away from her, each time saying, “Sorry!” and “So so sorry!” and “I sincerely apologize” as the gunbunnies were propelled from Amy and into the air where they multiplied in flight like organic fireworks. Grabbing her hands, the Doctor pulled Amy to her feet and they continued their escape as the rest of the gunbunny hoard pushed ever closer to them.

At the top of the hill, they found Rory standing still looking in the distance. There, in a low spot between several rolling hills before them, sat the TARDIS. Between the companions and the vessel of their escape was a veritable sea of multiplying aliens.

“Oh dear,” the Doctor said quietly. “I hope you two know how to swim.”

Without explanation, the Doctor ran into the oncoming waves of gunbunnies, bashing and kicking the knee deep flood of pink and blue. “Don’t stop, keep moving!” he yelled back at them. “They only want to lick you!”

Grabbing Amy’s hand, Rory pulled her with him into the swarm and ran after the Doctor.

Gunbunnies squeaked as they were trod on by the trio. The Doctor continued his progress, kicking and slapping the aliens away, each time expressing his sincerest apologies. The closer the companions got to the TARDIS, the deeper the sea of gunbunnies became until just ten feet or so from the doors of the strange blue box, they were completed submerged in blue and pink.

Amy and Rory managed to reach the TARDIS and were pressed in hard against the Doctor as he fumbled for his keys.

“Oi! Don’t shove!” the Doctor yelled, his voice muffled by a gunbunny licking his face. The Timelord found it increasingly difficult to unlock the doors to the TARDIS as gunbunnies kept appearing in front of the keyhole.

“Doctor, what happens if they get inside the TARDIS?” Rory asked, pushing a gunbunny from his face just enough to breathe.

“I have a plan!” the Doctor said, just as the key slid home. “Aha! Now, when I open up quickly get in and help me shut the door behind us.”

Pushed by the force of rapidly multiplying aliens around them, the three companions fell into the TARDIS in a quickly growing pile of pink and blue. Jumping to their feet, the three braced against the door and managed with difficulty to shut it.

“Now this might tingle,” the Doctor said. From an inner pocket, he removed his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the TARDIS console, using it as a remote control. With a flash, the pile of gunbunnies that had managed to get inside the ship vanished and an incredible stench was left behind.

“Oh my god,” Rory gasped.

“That’s so horrible,” Amy said, covering her nose.

“Give it a minute,” the Doctor said, collapsing into a seat. After a few seconds of tear-inducing stench, the smell gradually faded and the companions breathed sighs of relief.

“Six hundred years, Rory,” the Doctor said frowning at the gangly boy who had caused the entire ordeal. “For six hundred years, the Yazoshean people have kept the gunbunny population in check and in two seconds you caused the biggest catastrophe the planet has seen in millennia.”

“I didn’t know,” Rory stammered.

“You didn’t know?” Amy cut in. “The second we walked into the city there were signs plastered fifty feet high saying  ‘Don’t mix the gunbunnies’.”

“They were both pink! And I checked their -” Rory gestured, pointing to his crotch. “- you know …”

“Rory, you’d need a microscope and an autopsy to see their reproductive organs,” the Doctor explained. “It’s in their brains. They reproduce telepathically. And honestly, just because something’s pink doesn’t mean its a female – you fashion fascist. Pink is cool.” The Doctor started, shocked at what he had said. “No, I take that back. Pink is never, ever cool. No, sorry.”

“Oh,” Rory said, looking down at his feet.

“Oh, he says,” Amy Pond replied sarcastically. “You probably upset the ecosystem or something or other.”

“No, no,” the Doctor said, rising and casually walking to the console. “No worries. Gunbunny longevity is only a day. They’ll soon run out of steam and start to die. It’s the stench of their dying that has the lasting affect. That will take about a year to go away.”

Pulling a lever, the Doctor activated the TARDIS. With a grinding noise, muffled by the sea of reproducing gunbunnies covering it, the TARDIS disappeared from the Yazoshean fields.

“Why do they call them gunbunnies, anyway?” Amy asked, moving to stand next to the Doctor.

“Excellent question, Pond,” the Doctor replied. “Easy answer. Under the right circumstances, if you were to fire a gun at a wall fifty feet away, while standing over a gunbunny, the gunbunnies would reproduce so fast as to reach the wall before the bullet. Gunbunnies.”

Making several adjustments on the TARDIS console, the Doctor plotted their next jaunt in time and space.

“So where to next?” the Doctor asked them. “Planet of the Infinite Waterfall? Cotton Candy Nebula?”

“Wait a minute,” Rory said, his forehead crumpled in confusion. “So what happened to the gunbunnies in here?”

“Another easy answer,” the Doctor said. “I sped up time a year inside the TARDIS. They lived, they multiplied, they partied hard, and died natural deaths. All in an instant.”

“What?” Amy gawked. “You mean I’m a year older?”

“Ah,” the Doctor said, laughing nervously. “Happy birthday?”

Amy and Rory both silently glared at the Timelord.

Hoping to alleviate the suddenly heavy atmosphere, the Doctor pulled out a small party horn from one of his seemingly endless pockets and tooted it. “Now who wants their spankings first?” he said half-heartedly and bit his lip. “Ha. Um … yes. Bit late. Is it hot in here?”

In Which the Game is an Appendage

“What would you do if you could do anything?”

I can do anything.

Mr. Thorne is enjoying his pudding. There’s a film over it – the chocolate-ish substance looks like an oil slick with rainbow swirls.

How old is that pudding?

“What would you do if you found out you were meant to do something?”

You mean like destiny? I don’t believe in it.

Thorne smacks his pudding, swishing it in his mouth like he’s tasting wine.

That’s disgusting.

“What? Destiny?”

That old pudding you are eating.

“Perhaps I was meant to eat it,” he says, shoveling another shaky spoonful into his mouth. “New pudding sounds scary.”

Are you making a point?

“What would you do if you didn’t have to do anything?” he asks with a smile, pushing brown liquid through the gaps in his teeth.

Nothing.

“No man needs nothing.”

Sherlock Holmes

and the

Adventure of the Prime Machine

Epilogue: Bigger Game

The homeworld of the Huulanix race was a desert planet called Hiilax. The natives of Hiilax were reflections of the harsh and arid world from which they sprang billions of years before they grew into the advanced space-faring race they were destined to become. Gigantic crags stabbed through seas of grey desert sand and formed far reaching, impassable mountain ranges across the landscape. Under grey-orange skies, the Huulanix race eked out a meager living for billions of years, barely surviving in the few oases found in valleys of the great ranges.

The menagerie of dominant species of Hiilax were a study in predatory superiority and extreme adaptability. Visitors to Hiilax would wonder why no flora or fauna could be observed in the wild – until they were sudden attacked by a vicious Krathricx beast, which they had mistaken for a rock. The plant life was just as vicious. Juniklk trees resembled Earth’s cacti, but grew extremely wide root systems that radiated out under the sands from the visible part of the plant. The Juniklk sensed vibrations of movement over their root systems and could shift those roots with such violence as to displace huge amounts of desert sand in an instant, trapping  prey both by entangling it and burying it. Such root systems grew so vast, it sometimes happened that one could not see the the tree before they were already being sensed by its roots.

The Huulanix themselves took several million years to band together into sentient tribes. They evolved from a highly efficient carnivore that resembled Earth’s ratel. Over millenia, these beasts grew armored plating over vital organs, developed astounding limb strength and agility, and built up nearly invincible immune systems and endurance. They were the pinnacle of evolution for thousands upon thousands of years.

During one era of Hiilax’s planetary evolution, the world suffered a prolonged ice age, and many dominant species were wiped out. However, it was the fierce ancestors of the Huulanix that adapted to pack hunting, both for greater success against rarer prey and for cannibalism when necessary. Over the centuries, the pack mentality grew until the ice receded and the world grew arid once more. With the passing of the ice age, species that had died out were replaced by different, more suitably adapted ones. The ancestors of the Huulanix became extremely successful. Packs grew into tribes, tribes built villages, villages grew into cities, and the future of the Huulanix as the pinnacle species of the planet was set in stone.

As civilized beings, the Huulanix developed a penchant for games. Though the desert was ever-changing, the need of entertainment to break the monotony of the sand and rocks grew until it became the centerpiece of tradition for the race over their long development into an advanced civilization.

Thus, the Huulanix gamers came to be.

***

Oba Fortux was the most successful Huulanix gamer of the modern age. His Talyf Djani Gaming Expo was the largest construction ever completed on the planet’s surface. Billions of beings from across the galaxy came through his Expo to partake in the most advanced – and expensive – games of entertainment ever devised. The pyramidal building rose above the desert as high as some of the lofty peaks of the dagger-like mountain ranges. The massive complex could be observed via telescope from three neighboring planets.

But now, Oba Fortux had a problem. A descendant of the great carnivorous race of the planet’s long history, he had grown extensive armor plates, like chitin, over his shoulders, chest, and skull. This still left some weak points – chinks in the armor. Oba’s biggest weak spot was his greed.

“How long until we can go live on the newest miniverse?” Oba asked his advisors.

The great Huulanix gamer lord stood staring out of the highest tower of the geosynchronous orbital platform he used as a corporate headquarters. He sneered at the continual flux of spaceships going to and from the massive Expo below him on the planet’s surface. In his mind, he told himself it wasn’t as many as it should be.

“We’re having some issues getting the physical laws to stabilize. All our attempts have had flaws that cause the miniverse to collapse after only a few minutes,” one of the advisors stated.

Oba’s massive neck cracked as he twisted his head around to stare at his assembled Advisory Panel.

Quietly, he stalked over to the advisor that had spoke.

“Are you or are you not the greatest Physics expert in the galaxy?” Oba asked calmly.

The advisor cringed at the proximity of the gamer lord. “Y-yes, Oba. There is no one better.”

“So would you say you have an intimate relationship with the physical laws of space?”

“Uh, y-yes, my lord,” the advisor stammered.

Oba nodded exaggeratedly and grabbed the advisor by the front of his robes. Calmly and quietly he pulled the gaunt advisor to the window overlooking the planet below.

“In my experience, there is always a bigger fish,” Oba grunted. “I think you should become more intimate with the physics of this system. What do you think?”

The advisor’s eyes widened in horror. Before he could scream Oba threw him through the window, shattering it and opening the tower to the vacuum of space. The rest of the advisory panel dove for something to hang on to as air evacuated the gamer lord’s office. Oba braced himself and moved only a few inches toward the shattered glass before the orbital platforms environmental controls slammed a blastshield down over the opening.

As the rest of advisors gasped for air, Oba walked over to his ornate desk and activated a communications channel with the transit authority. “Prepare me a shuttle to Master Control.”

***

“Since the collapse of  the the primary miniverse, we’ve been looking for ways to prevent participants from gaining the ability to affect certain universal laws,” the Lead Technician explained to Oba. “However, we’ve noticed an alarming number of gaps in the laws that we cannot close. Even the Prime Machine cannot effect the changes required to close those gaps.”

Oba’s hands clenched in fury, his claws sliced gouges in his palm as his stood fuming. His analytical mind was calculating the loss of the new miniverse not being online yet. In his head, he could see money pouring out from the planet and into deep space.

“I thought the Prime Machine was infallible. In fact, I thought our entire system was absolutely infallible. And yet, you tell me that we can’t even control the simplest physical settings?” Oba barked.

“My lord, it is not an issue with our systems, it is an issue with the technology given to us by the -”

“What a convenient excuse. Blame the salesmen,” Oba sneered. “You and I both know we’ll never see them again.”

Oba sneered with disdain at the massive metallic sphere that held the miniature universe forming the centerpiece of his gaming empire. Months ago he had suffered incalculable losses as the prototype game was destroyed by one of the participants. In addition, governments from several systems had levied sanctions on the gaming planet for the deaths of players that had occurred while in the massive game. Among the most influential of the planets now advocating the termination of the Prime Machine was Dreides VII, the homeworld of the gamer who had collapsed the gaming miniverse.

A messenger entered into the control room as Oba pondered which technicians he would kill today for the delay.

“Lord Oba, you have visitors.”

“I am not to be disturbed!” Oba shouted, playing with the idea of ripping the messengers head off and pummeling a technician with it.

“My Lord, they bear an Imperial Inspection Decree.”

If Oba’s mottled grey scales could pale, they would have. “Bring them in,” Oba said, less viciously.

Instead of the usual Inspection Team he expected to see, only a young red-haired human female entered.

Oba’s scaly eyebrow raised slightly.

“What is a human doing on a Huulanix Imperial Inspection Team?” Oba asked suspiciously.

“Yes, well,” the girl stammered. “Foreign exchange program.” Quickly, she flashed a sheet of paper in a small leather case at him. It definitely looked like an Imperial Inspection Decree, but Oba felt something was amiss.

“Leave us,” Oba commanded to the technicians, who quickly obeyed and thanked their gaming gods for the reprieve.

Soon Oba and the girl were alone. “Did you come alone?” he said, moving to stand close to her.

“My associates are inspecting another area at the moment,” she said nervously. “They’ll be along shortly. In fact, any second now.”

“I’m not usually fond of the human form, but you are an overly attractive example of your race. What is your name?” he said seductively, circling around her, admiring her fit body.

“Amy Pond,” she stated flatly. “And you are?”

Moving back in front of her, he pressed very close and grinned, showing his razor sharp teeth, “I am Gamer Lord Oba Fortux, master of this Expo.”

“Good,” Amy said with a smile on her face. With a swift motion, she brought her knee up swiftly between Oba’s legs. The Concussion Pad strapped to her knee activated at impact with the Huulanix gamer lord’s reproductive organs. The massive body of Oba was lifted off the ground from the concussion burst and he flew back several yards.

The door to the control room opened and two human males entered. One with floppy hair, a suit, and a bow tie; the other, a gangly youth about the same age as Amy.

“Ah yes, the Huulanix least protected area, the family jewels,” the man in the bow tie said. Moving to stand over the crumpled and moaning form of Oba.

“Greetings, Lord Oba, I’m the Doctor and this is my associate Rory,” he said with a beaming smile. “I see you’ve met the amazing Amelia Pond.” With a wink, he patted Amy on the shoulder and moved over to sit at the master controls connected to the Prime Machine.

“My goodness, that’s a lovely bit of technology you have there,” the Doctor stated, gesturing towards the metallic sphere holding the miniverse. “But, you see, I’m a bit confused. Last time I was here, one of your technicians told me that you only had one. Since I witnessed the other one collapse personally, thanks to another of my good friends, I’m a bit surprised to see another one in operation.”

Oba continued to groan in agony.

“No, don’t get up. I wouldn’t want to have to sic Rory on you, he can be very cross, can’t you Rory.”

The male youth looked around nervously. “Uh, yeah, right.” He sneered at the downed Oba and growled with something akin to menace.

“But not as cross as me, Oba,” the Doctor said with an edge to his voice. “I can become very cross indeed – especially when people don’t tell me the things I want to know.”

With a flourish, the Doctor brandished his sonic screwdriver and aimed it at the console. A warbling squeal erupted from it as he activated it and the console erupted in a shower of sparks. Jumping up, he trotted over to the still moaning gamer lord.

“Now, who sold you this technology?” the Doctor asked.

Oba gasped for air but managed to bark out,” No one! We developed it … ourselves.”

“You remember how I said I could become very cross just then?” the Doctor said menacingly. “If I know about one chink in your armor, don’t you think I might know a few more? Perhaps the one leading directly to your brain?” The Doctor aimed his sonic screwdriver at an unarmored portion of the Huulanix skull the diameter of a nickel. “I checked your scientific records, Oba. This technology is way beyond your race’s abilities. Who sold it to you?”

“The TDI sold it to us!” the gamer lord shouted, and then he began to weep.

“TDI. TDI. Never heard of them. Who are they?” the Doctor demanded.

“Temporal Defense Initiative,” Oba moaned. “They sold us two units and the Prime Machine.”

“Did they now?” the Doctor mused. “I’ve never heard of them. They sound very official.”

“They are not from this universe,” Oba whined, curling further into a fetal position.

The Doctor stood up abruptly. “What do you mean ‘not from this universe’?”

“They travel through the multiverse selling the technology to create miniature universes. It was very, very expensive.”

The Doctor paced over to the console that was beginning to emit acrid clouds of smoke. His face was crumpled in thoughtful concern.

“Doctor, what’s wrong?” Amy asked.

“They’re seeding,” the Doctor said, more to himself.

“Seeding? These spheres are alive?” Rory asked.

“No, no. Nothing like that,” the Doctor said, waving away the question. “No, this is much more sinister. They’re seeding gateways. I think I may have encountered them before – or at least a version of them.”

“Can we stop them?” Amy asked.

“I don’t know,” the Doctor said. “For the longest time I’ve only had to deal with one, maybe two universes at a time. If this Temporal Defense Initiative is what I think it is, we’re not talking multiversal travel, we’re talking infiniversal travel. Universes inside universes inside multiverses inside mulitiverses – its all very complicated and all very, very dangerous.”

“So then, again,” Amy said, getting impatient, “big scary alien on the ground, cross, and possibly about to recover soon. What now?”

“Now, we destroy this sphere,” the Doctor said with finality. Aiming the sonic screwdriver at the sphere and activating it. The sphere began to vibrate and emit bursts of energy and gas.

From the floor Oba gaped at the sight. “What have you done? You’ll destroy the whole complex!”

Technicians burst through the door and froze in their tracks, realizing what was happening. “It’s going to explode!”

“Implode actually,” the Doctor corrected.

“Gods! What do we do?” they asked in varying unison.

“What do you think you do, you silly fools,” the Doctor shouted. “Run for your lives!”

Oba leaped up with a surprising recovery and following the group of technicians as they followed the Doctor’s advice.

Before he, Amy, and Rory transported themselves back to the TARDIS, the Doctor added:

“And the same goes for the Temporal Defense Initiative … “

In Which Our Story Reaches Its Climax … and Then Explodes

It’s sunny outside, but the wind is biting. My eyes feel dry and my nose is clogged. Thorne is threading his rocket onto the launching pad in the middle of the abandoned field I’ve taken him to.

Have you done this before?

“Certainly I have,” he says. Attaching the igniter, he walks away, spooling out a length of wire in his wake.

How high will it go?

“It’s not the height that matters, its how far it falls that determines whether its a success or not.”

I guess I follow you. The harder they fall.

“Yes, well. I’ve solved that problem. When I was younger, a friend of mine rigged up a model rocket to fire its engines in stages. He thought he could get his rocket into space. He had 37 engines on it, all timed to fire in succession so that momentum was never lost.”

Did it work?

“He blew himself up.”

Smiling, Thorne flipped the switched and the model rocket shot up into the air with a whoosh. It seemed like it would go on forever, but then it noticeably slowed and reached an apex. Then it promptly exploded.

“Always quit while you’re ahead. Then you won’t have to worry about the fall.”

So, are we going to finish this story, or what?

“Prepare for explosions.”

—-

Sherlock Holmes

and the

Adventure of the Prime Machine

9. Nemesis

I groggily clawed my way back to consciousness as I felt my body being jostled roughly. It took several moments to orient myself with the environment, but soon I deduced the truth of my predicament. I was still bound by the wrists and ankles but my gag had slipped away from my mouth. I found myself tightly bound to the side of a hansom with little ability to move. Next to me sat Sherlock Holmes, whipping the frothing horses that pulled our carriage.

I did not recognize the countryside surrounding us, but it reminded me of Switzerland, if not some bizarre mock-up of it. A cold wind bit my face and tears cut cold paths from my eyes as we moved at unsafe speeds down a dirt road.

“How do you know about the Doctor?” I asked aloud.

“It’s my business to know the facts, Watson,” he said evenly. “Do you really think that all this time I didn’t know exactly what was going on?”

“You’re not Sherlock Holmes,” I challenged. “None of this is real.”

Holmes jerked his head to regard me momentarily with a look that might have been surprise, but the glance soon faded into a sneer. “You’re out of your depth here. Don’t be so sure you know the truth.”

“I suppose you expect me to believe your little charade about this all being the result of breathing fumes at the opium den?” I snapped. “Ridiculous. This is a game – a game being controlled by a computer.”

“Now it’s you who are being ridiculous, Watson,” he replied.

“You, yourself, admitted that you know who the Doctor is,” I cried in retort. “You do not exist. You are a construct of a very complicated game being played out by -”

With a speed unlike anything human, Sherlock Holmes reached a hand over and grabbed my forehead. Before I could pull away I experienced a sharp blinding pain that echoed down into my spine. The scene slowed and I felt myself being blurred and stretched in time and space until all light was pulled into a pinpoint set within a deep and foreboding void of darkness.

My mind flashed through the events of the last several months, time I had spent in the game, trapped by the Prime Machine. A whirlwind of visions assaulted me and I witnessed past occurrences being replayed in my head. With each vision, a new altered one replaced it. Holmes was erasing my memories – rewriting my personal history as I watched.

“You didn’t really think you were the smartest being in this universe, did you?” his voice echoed in my head. “Haven’t you ever asked yourself why you play the part of the sidekick, and not the master?”

In fact, I had pondered that point many times since I had learned the Doctor’s version of the truth. It was that nagging doubt in the back of my mind, that question never asked aloud that faded as quickly as it came to the surface – the one piece of the puzzle that all others suggested existed by the void it left, but was never found to fill it.

“This goes beyond tests of intelligence and games of wit.”

I saw Coraline and my wife, Chief Galen and the people of Dreides VII, my whole life vaporized and replaced by a story I knew so well that I had created an entire miniature universe from my visions of it alone.

“I am the one chosen to beat this game. You are merely a pawn in a greater struggle.”

I struggled to breathe. His hand felt like hot coals against my skin and I could not move away from that searing pain. I tried desperately to hang on to some memory of my life I had just rediscovered and my eyes flashed to my forearm, covered by the sleeve of my overcoat. I knew there was a truth there, something to hang on to, but I could not move my hand to pull back the curtain covering what was hidden there.

“They chose poorly. Even the great Prime Machine doesn’t realize it is being used.”

Slowly the trees at the sides of the dirt road were coming into focus and I could make out the forms of the horses pulling us in our carriage.

“Listen, Watson, as I tell you this before I erase it forever from your mind. My race was destroyed long ago, erased from history forever. We were the pinnacle of sentience in the universe and our master race was the supreme force of change sweeping across the galaxies as we wiped out all those lesser than us. This man, The Doctor, fought us, tricked us, and destroyed us, binding our fate forever to the void. Some of us escaped to return here, but always this one figure stood in their way, preventing our return to supremacy.”

As he spoke, he transferred some of his thoughts to me in visions. I saw a humanoid race, proud and vicious, mutated and changed into a superior form – a perfect machine. I saw a man battling their evil through time, always wearing a different face, but obviously the Doctor.

“The race of beings that created the Prime Machine created a universe from scratch, and in doing so unwittingly wrote the laws of that alternate universe to allow for gaps – holes in the fabric of space and time. It sought out the greatest minds to test, and, without knowing it, pulled me from the void. I am a god in this universe, and soon, using the ramshackle physics that allow this alternate universe to exist, I will pass into your universe, where I will retain my powers. Even now, your Doctor struggles against me, thinking he faces off against a powerful artificial intelligence, but soon he will come here and he will learn the truth. And then he will be destroyed once and for all. I am the last hope for my kind.”

The visions faded as I slowly came back to full consciousness. Holmes’s words slipped into my mind and then faded away as they were spoken.

“We will survive!”

With extreme mental struggle, I managed to whisper a question before my last true memory faded away forever.

“Who are you?” I gasped.

“As far as you will ever know,” he said with an evil laugh, “I am Sherlock Holmes.”

As he pulled his hand away, the sounds and vibrations of the carriage came rushing back to the surface of my senses.

Once again, I was Watson.

“Goodness, Holmes,” I said, shaking my head to clear it. “Why am I tied up? And how did we get to Switzerland so quickly?”

“Feeling better, Watson?” he said with a smile. “Let me help you.”

With one hand still holding the reins, he untied my bindings and tossed the ropes to the road.

“You were slipping in and out of consciousness throughout the trip here and I’ve taken excessive measures to ensure your safety on our long journey, but we could not delay this part of it any further, so I tied you firmly to the side of the carriage to prevent injury,” he explained.

“A bit tight on the knots, I’d say,” I remarked, rubbing my wrists vigorously. For a moment I felt the sudden urge to pull back my sleeve. I did so, but was unaware of what I expected to see there. I saw only pale skin, reddened at the wrist where the ropes had rubbed the flesh.

I quickly ran my hands over various parts of my body, feeling inexplicably sore in several places. My hands fell upon the gag hanging loosely around my neck.

“A gag?” I queried.

“You were feverish. The cloth served to soak up some of the sweat,” was Holmes’s reply. His eyes were distant, but focused on the road ahead of us.

“Here let me take over the reins,” I offered. With a queer smirk, Holmes surrendered control to me. Using my familiarity with horses, I was able to coax more speed out of them and we tore through the countryside at incredible speed.

“Keep following this road until it forks. Take a left and follow the river for a distance until you see a large barn in disrepair. The rest of our journey will start there on foot.” Holmes removed his pipe from an inside pocket and tamped the tobacco before lighting it. Puffs of smoke swirled around underneath the canvas top covering us before being caught in the rush of air from our movement.

“That damned Moriarty,” I spat. “He’ll pay for his crimes.”

“Indeed.”

“What a brilliant plan to lure him to the location of your last meeting with him. Reichenbach Falls. If only his tumble into the falls had killed him the first time, both Tristan and Mycroft would still be alive,” I remarked with a sigh.

“This is the end game, Watson,” he stated. “I will need your complete devotion to the task at hand. You are the bait. Our subtle communications through his network of thugs and lackeys will bring him out of hiding, but rest assured he knows what this is leading to. Once he arrives, leave him to me.”

“As always, old friend, you can count on me.”

The rest of our trip by carriage was colored in silence and scenery. After the fork in the road, the elevation gradually began to grow. Our horses showed signs of tiring and the last few miles to the abandoned barn were at a noticeably slower pace.

Once we arrived at our last destination by carriage, Holmes and I both quickly exited the carriage, not bothering to secure our transportation. The horses were unhitched and allowed to forage and drink from the running river nearby. They would not stray far in their state.

“Up for a bit of a hike, Watson?” Holmes asked, proceeding towards the foot trail that would lead us to the falls.

“Lead on,” I replied.

The path gradually climbed upwards for a few more miles, and it was close to sunset by the time we were close enough to see the falls in the distance. I found myself full of energy, even after my trials since the incident at the opium den. As I walked I tried to remember exactly what happened, but the details were shrouded, as if seen through silk. I remembered the meeting with Tristan, Holmes’ bizarre doppelganger, but no events after that point. Even the details of our trip by train were cloudy in my mind.

“I will wait here in cover,” Holmes said as we reached a dense growth of bushes and trees. “You go on to the end of the trail and soon Moriarty should find you there. I will then come up behind and surprise him.”

I nodded my understanding and left Sherlock to hide in the brush.

Again, I felt the urge to look at my forearm, and this time I distinctly felt I should see something written there, but again I saw only bare flesh under the sleeve.

Approaching the falls, I wondered if Moriarty was watching me ascend. Mist from the roaring water washed over me in curtains sporadically. Feeling the chill, I shoved my hands in my pockets and in the right one I discovered a pistol. This struck me as unusual, as the entire hike I should have felt the weight of the gun there, but did not. It was if it had suddenly appeared there as soon as my thoughts drifted towards the possibility of it being there.

My confusion quickly dissipated as I reached a narrow ledge, barely wide enough for a cart to traverse, that led to the spot where Holmes and Moriarty had grappled with each other those many years ago.

I had not been present for that climactic battle, but had heard its telling in detail by Holmes himself many times.

At the end of the trail, I chanced a look over the ledge to the bottom of the falls. How a man could have survived the fall was beyond me. The rocky walls were slick and seemingly devoid of any handholds or place to make as ascent. Moriarty must have survived by a miracle to have fallen that distance and not been broken against the rocks at the fall’s base.

Turning around and steeling myself for possible combat, I prepared to meet my friend’s arch nemesis. His method of arrival, however, completely caught me off guard.

From out of the roar of the falls I heard an all-together different sound – a groaning of machinery that seemed somewhat familiar, but at the same time completely alien. I glanced around for a mill or man-made structure that might house machinery that would make such a racket, but as the sound grew louder I determined its source.

A strange blue box, with English text labeling it as a Police Box, suddenly shimmered into view out of thin air. My pulse began to race at such an unusual site. I clamored for some rational explanation, as my friend had often instructed during moments of seemingly irrational occurrences. No rational deduction of the clues at hand came close to making sense of what I saw.

With a final thump, the strange box appeared fully and its door opened. Immediately, and mostly by instinct, I removed my pistol from its pocket and leveled at the door and whatever might come from within.

Professor Moriarty stepped out and immediately jumped in surprise.

“Jeffrey!” he said. “What are you doing here? I told you to stay on Dreides VII!”

He seemed very cross at seeing me there, which was contrary to what I had been led to believe would happen. His mention of the name Jeffrey and Dreides meant nothing to me.

“Stay where you are, Moriarty,” I snapped. “I will fire upon you if I must, but your life is not mine to take at this time.”

Moriarty sighed, placing his hand to his brow, and said to himself, “Not this again.”

Exasperatedly, he ran his hands through his floppy hair. “Jeffrey -”

“My name is Dr. John Watson.”

“Your name is Jeffrey, and you’ve made a very silly, very human error in coming here,” he replied.

“You’re the one who has made the error, fiend,” I stated confidently. “You escaped death here once before, but not this time. One way or another, Professor, your end comes here and it comes soon.” I glanced down the trail and did not see Holmes approaching. I wondered what was taking him so long.

“Look,” Moriarty said calmly. “Let’s just put away the gun and talk for a moment. Surely, I’ve got no where to run. For you to be that confident in my demise, you must have some cunning trap laid for me. It won’t hurt to point that thing somewhere else before you hurt one of us.”

I thought briefly about the situation for a moment, and decided he was right. He had no where to run – except back into his box.

“Step over to the edge,” I directed. “Away from the box.”

“Fine. Fine.” Acquiescing to my demands, he carefully moved toward the ledge and looked over. “I’ve seen bigger.”

I moved between him and his box to cut off any escape, and then lowered the gun.

“So,” he said casually. “Where is old Sherlock, by the way? Sent you off again to do the hard work while he puffs away on his pipe like some pompous prat?”

“He’s a better man than you, Moriarty.”

“Yes, well, it remains to be seen if he even is a man.”

Incensed, I raised the gun at him again.

“Alright,” he said quickly, raising his hands. “What have they done to you, Jeffrey?”

His face fell into a look of concern. “I told you to stay out of this. Your wife and child need you.”

“My wife is dead, and I have no children,” I snapped. “Now shut up, or I will take your life whether Holmes arrives or not.”

“You don’t remember?” he said, lowering his hands slowly. “You don’t remember Coraline?”

His words meant nothing to me. Purposefully, I cocked the pistol.

Before I could fire, there was a loud explosion above us. Huge pieces of the cliff wall broke loose with sickening slowness. With an overwhelming feeling of dread I realized I had been tricked by my only friend. He had sacrificed me for his own sick game against his adversary.

As rocks began to rain down upon us, Moriarty sprinted towards me. I didn’t bother to lift the gun. At that moment, seeing an enormous sheet of rock teeter over my head, I resigned myself to my fate – death at the hands of a man I trusted completely.

Moriarty hit me hard and propelled me backwards into his unusual box. As large rocks hit us, the door opened and we fell in a heap inside. He quickly shut the door and I noticed immediately that we seemed to have been transported somewhere else. My first thoughts were that I had died, but soon I realized I had been here before.

“It’s bigger on the inside,” I said, a trickle of blood running into my eye.

“That’s more like it,” Moriarty said. He pulled a handkerchief from one of his pockets and dabbed a wound on my temple. “Not so bad, not so bad. You’ll survive.”

“TARDIS,” I said, the word sounded familiar and fitting, and with the spoken word images flooded my thoughts.

“Yes, Jeffrey,” he said, smiling as he stood. “You’re getting now.”

As quickly as the memories had been erased by the being pretending to be Sherlock Holmes, they came rushing back in full clarity.

“Doctor,” I said, recognizing my savior for the first time. “There’s something you must know. Holmes is not part of the game, he’s a competitor in the game.”

“Yes,” he confirmed. “My little trip to see the Huulanix yielded some unexpected surprises. That realization was just one of them. Did he tell you who he was?”

I shook my head, struggling to stand, then decided to remain on the floor. “Not directly, just that you had faced his kind before and destroyed his race.”

“Well, that could be anybody,” he said, slightly smirking. “Everyone’s always saying I’ve wiped them out, or knocked them down, or beaten them up, but they always come back. Especially, the really evil ones.”

The Doctor strode over to a large console rising to the ceiling in the center of the room. Half of it looked extremely complex, the rest looked remarkably like random junk tossed together. Pulling a suspended screen towards him, he tapped it and seemed to be pleased with what he saw.

“We’re a bit buried, but no worries. She took the rockfall like a champ, the sexy old gal.”

Turning back to face me he asked, “Was there anything else he said?”

I nodded, “Something about the void. And how the miniature universe would give him the ability to cross over into our universe. He said he was his race’s last hope, and that they would survive.”

The Doctor looked suddenly weak and turned, bracing himself against the console.

“No,” he said. “It couldn’t be.”

Watching him, I noticed that for the first time since I had known him, he looked genuinely scared.

“How did he say it?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Angrily, as if he didn’t like you very much at all.”

“No, I mean the last part about surviving. What were his exact words?”

“He said, ‘We will survive’,” I said. The Doctor bent over and softly banged his head against the console.

“No, no, no. Not them, please. And if so, why them?” he moaned. “Anyone but one of them. An infinite number of races in the history of the multiverse and it would just have to be them.”

“We should get away from here,” I pleaded. “He … did something to me. Erased my memories. He said he was a god here and had powers.”

“Oh, we’re not going anywhere,” the Doctor said, suddenly standing up straight. He made a few adjustments to dials on the console and pulled a lever. The room shook and the roaring sound I had heard earlier echoed through the room. “We’re moving just a bit, but we’re staying right here and waiting for our good friend to show himself. We have to stop this right now and right here.”

Leaping from the console he trotted over to the doors and listened. The shaking and roaring stopped. The Doctor turned towards me, a serious look on his face. “I told you not to come, but I understand why you did. I’d have done the same thing, but what we’re about to face is possibly beyond both our abilities. The thing is, you have powers here too. Remember the rottweiler?”

I nodded, once again resigning myself to a fate that might not end with survival.

“You may be our only hope here, Jeffrey. If it comes down to it, I may not be able to help at all. If he really does have powers here, you’re the only one who can stand against him. My skills are useless in the face of that much power.”

“I was always the only one who could fix this,” I said to him.

Smiling slightly he walked over to me and patted my shoulder in encouragement. “Just remember, you’ve got a family waiting for you back home.”

Smiling back, I raised my sleeve and showed my forearm to him. Written in ink, just like it had been during our visit to Mycroft, was the name of my daughter, Coraline.

“Right. Let’s end this adventure, Jeffrey. And hope for a happy ending. I always like happy endings – not enough of them these days.”

With a flourish he opened the door and stepped out on the ledge. The TARDIS had moved about twenty feet from its original position. Where it had stood, a huge pile of rocks stood – dust and pebbles still trickled down from the cliff walls above.

“Here I am, whoever you are!” the Doctor shouted. His voice echoed deeply through the area, only slightly dampened by the roar of the water over the falls.

“I knew you’d fail me, Watson,” said a voice behind the TARDIS. Brazenly, Sherlock Holmes strode out from his hiding place, puffing on his pipe. “I’d hoped he’d have goaded you into killing him for me, but I suppose the hard work is really the master’s work after all.”

“”Let’s end this charade,” the Doctor said confidently. “Who are you?”

“You mean you haven’t figured it out yet?” Holmes said, then burst into laughter. “Some Time Lord you are.”

I raised my pistol and aimed it at our adversary. “The Doctor asked you a question.”

“And I will tell him when I chose,” Holmes snapped. “Just before I extinguish his life and his remaining regenerations, once and for all.”

Raising a hand, Holmes gestured towards the Doctor. A shimmering wave of energy erupted from his hand and encircled the Doctor’s neck, raising him off the ground. The Doctor struggled, frantically grasping at the energy beam choking him.

I fired the pistol three times directly at the head and torso of Holmes, but the bullets never reached him. They stopped in mid-air and fell to the ground.

“Your weapons cannot kill me!” Holmes shouted triumphantly. “I am superior!”

Gesturing with his other hand, another energy beam snaked toward me and knocked the gun from my hands.

“This universe has given me  powers beyond your conception. Once I vanquish you, I will receive the reward promised me by the Prime Machine – this universe to control!”

“You forget,” I said cryptically. “We are competitors on equal ground here. You’ll not find me so easily put down.”

Suddenly, there was the sound of great amounts of air being inhaled. A noise like a balloon inflating caused Holmes to turn towards the new threat. His eyes fell upon the firebear I had conjured up from the depths of my mind. The fantastic creature expelled a concentrated fireball directly at Holmes. A look of pure fear crossed over his face before he vanished, along with the energy beam suspending the Doctor.

Running over to the Doctor’s crumpled form, I motioned for the firebear under my control to stand near us, in case Holmes returned.

“Great idea, Jeffrey,” the Doctor gasped. “Nearly had me there, he did.”

“Are you alright?” I asked, glancing around for any sign of Holmes.

“I’m fine, just keep on your guard. It only gets rougher from here.”

Just then, Holmes blinked back into existence beside the firebear. Before the creature could unleash another fiery blast, Holmes raised a finger at it and fired a concentrated beam of energy at it. For a moment, we could see the creature’s skeleton glowing through transparent flesh before it crumpled in a heap, dead.

“I know that weapon,” the Doctor said quietly.

Next, Holmes gestured towards me and I felt myself shifted from my position faster than I could think. The world went dark and I was paralyzed, unable to move or breathe. After several minutes, I realized I could project my mind outward from my position. Holmes had transported me into the solid rock wall. I was trapped.

Using my mind projection, yet completely unfamiliar with how to use it effectively, I saw the final struggle between the two adversaries through the rock.

Just as the story went, detailing the original fight between the detective and his nemesis, Holmes charged the Doctor, intending to throw him over the falls. The Doctor deftly maneuvered to brace himself and physically grappled with Holmes at the precipice. For several seconds, with both men seemingly about to topple over the edge, they wrestled for dominance.

“I’ll kill you without use of my powers, Doctor,” Holmes shouted, spraying spit as he desperately tried to gain the upper hand. “Then you shall know once and for all that we are supreme.”

“Nice weapon you used against the firebear,” the Doctor retorted. “I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it before. And it makes me wonder …”

With a brilliant shifting of his weight, the Doctor bent and propelled Holmes over his shoulder. Holmes landed on his feet but teetered on the edge, his arms flailing. Unfortunately, he regained his balance and stood defiantly, prepared to continue.

“I bet you’re wearing a perception filter, aren’t you?” the Doctor said. Brandishing his sonic screwdriver, he aimed it at Holmes and used the device. Holmes form shimmered and faded to reveal a metallic being with a dome top. Two implements extended from an area at its front, and strange spherical protrusions lined its lower plating.

“Dalek!” the Doctor shouted triumphantly.

With an altogether different voice, one metallic and grating as befitting its appearance, the Dalek responded, “Your discovery of my identity makes no difference! You will only know me as Death!”

One of the forward implements, obviously its weapon, pointed at the Doctor and fired. There was no way to escape it.

As the Doctor braced himself for his death, I concentrated on the scene. Closing my eyes, I imagined time stopping completely. The sound of the waterfall stopped and I found myself in complete silence. I willed myself forward out of the solid rock until I felt ground beneath my feet. Opening my eyes, I saw the scene frozen before me.

The waterfall was frozen, sheets of rushing water suspended in mid-air. A beam of energy was extended from the Dalek’s weapon and reached halfway to the Doctor, who stood frozen waiting to die. Mentally, I moved the Doctor’s position to the right enough for the beam to miss him. Seeing that I had done what I could and losing focus on holding the scene in time, I let go.

The beam exploded against empty rock wall. Before the Dalek could reorient itself and target his nemesis again, the Doctor rushed forward with a war cry and shoved the Dalek over the edge of the precipice. With an inhuman scream, the Dalek toppled over to its demise.

“Well done, Jeffrey,” the Doctor said, panting. “Excellent show. You saved my life.”

“We’re even,” I said flatly. “But what about this place and all the people still trapped here?”

“Yes, well,” the Doctor hesitated. “About that.”

“Yes?”

“I’ve got nothing.”

“I’ve won the game,” I exclaimed. “My prize is this universe as a sandbox, like the Dalek said.”

“Yes, that is the prize,” the Doctor agreed. “But you obviously didn’t read the fine print. No cheating.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You manipulated the game world. The game will keep going with all its participants until someone wins legitimately. We’ll have to go back to the Huulanix and figure out a way to stop the game at its source.”

“But thousands more could die here!” I yelled. “We have to destroy this place.”

“We’ll figure out something,” the Doctor said placating me. “But for now, we need to leave. The Prime Machine won’t like what we’ve done here and may send something unpleasant to make sure we get a real ‘game over'”

“GAME OVER IS NOW!” came the cry of the Dalek. Using jets at its base it rose over the ledge and hovered with its weapon aimed at the Doctor. “DALEKS MUST SURVIVE!”

Concentrating again, I mentally bent the weapon to fire back at the Dalek. With a tremendous explosion, the Dalek’s own weapon blew a hole in its casing. The Dalek fell to the ledge with a crash. Inside I could make out a disgusting creature set within the machine shell.

Both the Doctor and I walked over to the incapacitated creature and knelt down to observe its true form.

In a weaker, non-amplified voice the Dalek spoke, “Have … mercy …”

“Always the same with you Daleks,” the Doctor remarked. “You show no mercy, yet you beg for it at your pitiful end.”

“Daleks … must … survive.”

“And always I show you the mercy that you’ll never visit upon anyone.”

“Daleks … must … sur-”

The Dalek froze and spoke no more. The Doctor’s eyes widened and he turned to me wrathfully. “You had no right to do that!”

“And you did? Would you have let him suffer?”

“I would have let him breathe a final breath of this universe! You murdered him when he was defenseless!” the Doctor shouted.

“I merely froze him in time,” I said. “There will be no more deaths here.”

Looking quickly back to the Dalek’s frozen form, the Doctor apologized, “I’m sorry. It’s just …”

“I know how you feel,” I replied.

“I think you do now,” he said, rising to his feet. “Let’s get out of here.”

I stood up straight but did not move from my position.

“Come on, Jeffrey. We should go pay a visit to the Prime Machine.”

“I’m not leaving,” I stated.

Coming back to stand before me, the Doctor grabbed my shoulders. “You can’t stay here. You have people that need you back on Dreides VII. What can you possibly do here now? The Prime Machine will use all its power to eject you from the game alive or dead.”

“Not while I still have these powers, Doctor.”

“Jeffrey,” the Doctor said quietly. “What are you thinking?”

“Every universe has an end. I can control time and space in this universe,” I said. “I can collapse it into nothing.”

“Jeffrey don’t,” he pleaded. “Jeffrey please don’t do this. There’s another way.”

“This is the only way.”

“For the love of your family, Jeffrey, you can’t do this!” he said, shaking me roughly.

“For the love of my family, I have to do this,” I replied.

Concentrating my power, I transported the Doctor into the TARDIS. For a brief moment, my energies mingled with that of the TARDIS and I felt it say to me, “This is the right thing to do. I shall keep him safe.”

Projecting my voice and awareness, I asked the Doctor a final question. “What will happen to my body back on Dreides VII?

The Doctor slumped against his console, and banged a fist against what looked like a puzzle cube set into its face. “I don’t know. Maybe you die, maybe you turn into a vegetable, maybe you go ‘poof!’. I don’t know. Jeffrey, I beg of you one last time, think of Coraline.”

“And I tell you one last time, Doctor: I am.”

The TARDIS began to fade as the roaring sound of its passing grew in intensity.

“Thank you, Doctor. Farewell.”

As soon as the blue box disappeared, I imagined the entire universe drawing into my head. I could see outside my body as a brilliant white point of light erupted from the center of my forehead and suddenly drew inwards.

“It’s bigger on the inside,” I said as rocks began to roll towards me.

The Dalek, now unfrozen, said in its weak voice, “We all are.”

Reichenbach Falls shifted its downward course and the entire waterflow was sucked into my mind. The force grew and the cliffside buckled under me. I reached out and cradled the broken Dalek’s fragile form and pulled it into me. With loud cracks, the rock shelf around me broke and I floated in mid-air as I swallowed it whole into the supermassive void I was creating in my mind. I would take it all.

The clouds erupted in brilliant lightning. The moon stopped its slow pace across the sky and started to grow in apparent size. I reached a point that I knew I could not turn back from, and one last time I thought of Coraline.

The Earth exploded into flames and the seas boiled in protest, and still I pulled it in. The sky became impossibly bright as every star I could imagine came hurtling towards me. I heard a noise I soon realized was my own screams of anguish, and still I pulled on.

In a tremendous rush of light, matter, and energy, the universe collapsed into my mind and was no more.

***

I remember waking from that dream in a cold sweat. Apparently, I had been in a non-responsive state for several weeks before I finally came to. The events that had transpired in the dream were fresh on my mind, and I knowingly categorized the entire affair as a flashback to the episode I had in the opium den with my good friend, Sherlock Holmes.

This place they keep me in is bizarre. The leaps our human race has made in such a short time amazes me beyond comprehension. I still remember a time when I thought locomotives were the most advanced human construction I had ever seen, but now I stand corrected.

I’m an old man now, senile and incoherent. They take me for walks in a strange garden where I think I can see bars in the sky. Perhaps it is just the effects of the drugs they give me to counteract my quickly increasing dementia. How long I have been here, I cannot tell. Occasionally, I’ll remember times when I had visitors, especially a young girl who I think I may have seen grow old before my eyes.

One day, the visitors stopped coming. For a long time, I think they’ve tried to tell me that my dreams were real, but I know that to be untrue. The ridiculous nature of the dreams can easily be refuted by logic – the one thing I retain from my time spent with my one true friend, Sherlock Holmes. I ignore what they say, realizing that its my own warped mind creating the false conversations about that ridiculous dream.

In my spare time, I chronicle my adventures with the great detective. At least those events are clear in my mind. Sometimes, its as if that time and place exists in permanence in my mind, easily extracted to detail.

Often throughout my life, and growing less so now that I reach a doddering old age of forgetfulness, I suddenly remember a case we had shared involvement in that I had forgotten for a great many years only to have every detail flood back with a connecting familiar scent, or locale. Such sudden remembrances have fueled my writing for years after I felt I had written all there was to be written about my friend.

That is what this tale has been – a forgotten adventure, my last adventure.

The incident in the opium den has never been explained to me. I feel that they don’t truly know why I so violently reacted to the mix of fumes of smoked narcotics in that place. That incident ended my life as it was. Since then, I have remained here, alone.

Holmes is lost to me now, having apparently died many years ago. He never once came to see me here under my conjured cage in the sky, where phantom visitors pretend to be family I never had. I know he stayed away because he blamed himself for what happened. I do not blame him, though.

All along I’ve known the danger of being an assistant and close friend to Sherlock Holmes, and I wouldn’t have changed the way my life turned out for the world – for the universe.

And so, here I sit, writing what I hope will be my last tale about my friend and my final adventure with him. I grow weary and know that I am not long for this world.

Just the other day I imagined a man came to see me. He had brown floppy hair and a ridiculous bow tie. With him, he had brought a young red-haired girl and a young, slightly gangly looking boy. I remember the imagined words he spoke to them very clearly.

“This is the man who saved my life.”

In Which Our Hero Becomes Schrödinger’s Cat Trapped in the Impossible Cube

“What do you think of death?” Thorne asks me. We’re standing over his coffin, barefoot on the astroturf surrounding the site. How much more plastic can you get? So much artificial drowning the very real specter of death, grief, and loss.

Death is real.

“So you’re going with the safe answer.”

The astroturf is dark with overuse, like those semi circles of fake green you see in front of certain houses built in the mid-1900s. There is grass suffering underneath it. There are worms emerging against a strangely solid sky wondering ‘what-the-fuck?’

You want me to ask how you’re still here.

“I’m not there.”

So who is in the box?

“Schrödinger’s cat?”

I never understood thought experiments.

“Imagine coming into existence all at once in mid-air with no sensory experience at all. At the exact moment you achieve self-awareness, Maxwell’s demon opens a door that may or may not allow a radioactive substance to trigger a device that will break a vial of poison in a spaceship in which a cat is trapped. The spaceship is connected to another identical spaceship by some string that must be painted with paint that is infinitely divisible. If the cat dies, the second spaceship doesn’t stop accelerating and catches up with the first ship, causing the string to break in a way other than was supposed. The first ship is filled with animals that have apparent rolling locomotion which are to be shipped to a planet and used as messengers between two generals attempting to attack a third army in a joint attack. If the generals are successful, a reconstruction company, Glazier Reconstruction and Renewal, which is considered an indicator of economic welfare, will reap the profits, but if they are not, the economy will tank as the reconstruction company’s assets beyond their job orders are tied to the imperialism of the two generals. Assume that someone has restrained a cat with no feet on one side of that planet, and a lightly buttered piece of toast on the other. The question is, if the economy tanks and the shadows on the wall instruct you to set that planet on a collision course with another larger planet, would the restrained cat die before the toast is vaporized?”

The answer is: Experimenting with hypothetical cats just gets you scratched and hissed at.

“You’re learning, young padawan.”

Sherlock Holmes

and the

Adventure of the Prime Machine

8. Reality

I am an old man now – I can feel it with each minute movement of my frail and failing body. I ponder the realities of being able to count my remaining years on the fingers of my hands, or perhaps even just one hand. As I reflect back on the events I have related to you here, I know without doubt that years were shaved off my life in the despairing darkness I found myself in when I was pulled from one reality to the next.

My last vision before the darkness was of my daughter’s bright and shining form before me – my first vision as I came roughly back to consciousness was of her mother, seated next to my hospital bed. Her silhouette in the window blocked the rectangular framing around the window panes, but beyond those solid geometric patterns there was another more extensive grid across the strangely orange sky in the distance.

“Jeffrey?” her voice called to me out of the fog in my mind. “Can you hear me?”

“I can see you, Elizabeth,” I replied. I clenched a hand I had not used in some time around what I soon discovered was her own hand. My voice was weak and tremulous, dry and cracking like sandpaper over pebbles.

She leaned forward and her smile brightened the room. Her face came into sharp focus, as well as the tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Coraline?” I asked, my daughter’s face still fresh in my mind from the other reality.

“She’s wonderful, Jeffrey,” she replied with joy. “We’re so happy that you’re well.”

I managed a smile of my own as I gazed at her, but my eyes fell slowly to the window and the great cage I had seen in my visions in the other reality – the game.

“The cage. It’s the environmental shield,” I remembered. “This is Dreides VII.”

“That’s right, Jeffrey,” she confirmed. “This is our home.”

I clenched her hand tighter. Memories, fresh ones full of life, were flooding back into my soul like deep dry hole being filled for the first time in centuries. Cracks and crevices in my recollections were quickly being filled. “When can I see Coraline?”

“Soon, darling,” she said soothingly, rubbing my hand with her own.

“How much do you remember about what happened, Jeffrey?” said a voice to my other side. I recognized it, but the associations I made with it were laced with fear and turmoil. I turned my head to see the source of the voice and there stood the Doctor, the man who had apparently saved my life.

“I suppose we have you to thank for saving me?” I asked him.

“You have yourself to thank, Jeffrey,” he replied. His eyes belied something unsaid and I knew from his gaze that whatever danger I had just been extricated from, it was not over. “But I really must insist you try and remember what happened. Your mind endured an incredible amount of stress when we brought you out of the game. I was afraid you wouldn’t make it.”

I looked to Elizabeth, trusting her guidance. She nodded her head and I settled back  against my pillow and tried to assimilate the memories of my ordeal.

“I was Dr. Watson.” I began. “Holmes and I were investigating a case in Yorkshire.”

I hesitated. The scenes were blurry in my head and it felt as if they were faded by time – even crumbling before my mind’s eye.

“What happened while you were on the case?” the Doctor cued.

“We were diverted – a man was on the tracks and vanished.” I explained, but as I did so a nagging doubt rang from somewhere in my subconscious. There was a missing piece here that even the Doctor had not considered. I could not hold onto  it, and it slipped away.

The Doctor moved from his position beside my bed and went to the door. Calmly he opened it and leaned out briefly, speaking to someone in the hallway before coming back to stand next to me.

“Was he described as looking something like this?” the Doctor asked.

A man with bright yellow hair and thick rubber-soled boots entered my room. I recognized the man, and suddenly made the connection to the alternate reality – a clue I had been unable to discern previously while still in the game.

“Chief Galen!” I exclaimed. “But then – you were in the game?”

The chief nodded silently, a smile on his face.

“Without his expertise, we’d likely never have found you,” the Doctor explained. “Chief was the first man to go in. Unfortunately, the Prime Machine didn’t want him there, and placed him in quite an uncomfortable position.”

“That’s the last time I ever want to look a roaring locomotive in the face, I can tell you,” the Chief said cheerfully, his gruff demeanor bringing a smile to my face.

“And the Rubidium?” I said, beginning to place the puzzle pieces closer together.

“Well,” the Doctor said, “I suppose I could have been more help in Leeds, but it was important we didn’t reveal too much to you at once. As I had said to you before, the game world is actually a miniature universe. The Rubidium was simply a by-product of entering that universe from this one. You’re lucky you didn’t blow yourself up.”

“You knew what it was all along!” I accused.

“Ha! Yes, well, er,”  the Doctor juggled a response. “You were perfectly safe.”

There was a silent pause.

“Sort of,” he quipped. “But anyway, you’re here safe now and soon you’ll be able to see your lovely daughter, Coraline. And I’ll be adjourning to take care of the little Huulanix problem we have and that should sort things out rather nicely then, right? Right.” The Doctor clapped his hands together and rubbed them excitedly. “It’s wonderful to have you back safe and sound, Jeffrey. We had quite the little adventure didn’t we?”

“I should say so,” I replied with a hint of fury. “I wonder just how much safer it could have been.”

“There’s that fiery charm I’ve come to love,” he joked, beaming his smile at me. “Now, I believe there’s someone who has been dying to see you. Mrs. Peterson, may I have the honor?”

Graciously, she nodded her approval to him and he leaped to the door and threw it open. “Coraline?” he called down the hall.

My daughter, just as bright and full of life as I remembered her, ran into the room and jumped on my bed, embracing me a slightly painful hug, but one I took with grace and showering relief.

“Daddy!” she exclaimed, burying her head into my chest. It was the happiest I had felt in a very long time. The ages it seemed I had been trapped in the game fell away from me like ice breaking away from a melting glacier. My soul shined forth from deep within me.

From the corner of my eye, I saw the Doctor smile to himself and surreptitiously exit the room.

I pulled on Elizabeth’s hand and together we all embraced each other, tears of joy running down our faces.

It was the last time we would ever embrace in that way.

After our initial reunion, I drifted off to a deep slumber and was haunted by visions of the ordeal I had endured in the game. Voices spoke to me of lies and hidden truths – an entity tried desperately to convince me that this life I had returned to was not real, that Elizabeth and Coraline were not really there in my room with me. When I sought out this entity in my dreams I found myself, and standing behind me was the figure the Prime Machine had conjured out of my head to represent Sherlock Holmes.

I awoke, covered in beads of sweat, with the cage in the sky filling my view.

That morning, several medical doctors looked me over and eventually agreed to allow me out into the lush garden on the grounds of the medical unit I was staying in. Elizabeth took time to rest and recover, having been sleepless by my bedside since I was pulled back to reality.

Coraline and I sat in the garden watching the butterflies flit carelessly from flower to flower. I listened contentedly as she recounted all the things she had done over the period of my absence.

I ate real food, devouring cheeses and breads and meats with passion. Coraline entertained me with her tumbling skills and a thousand pictures she had drawn of myself, Elizabeth, and a little girl grinning ear to ear. “That’s me Daddy!” she would explain. “I’m happy you’re home.”

In one picture she had drawn a man with a bowtie, standing next to a large blue box.

“Who is this man, Coraline?” I asked.

“That’s the Doctor, Daddy,” she said matter-of-factly, as if I should have known better. “And that’s his shapeship.”

“Spaceship, you mean, sweetie,” I corrected.

“Nope, its a shapeship,” she insisted.

The morning flew by too fast for my liking and eventually Chief Galen came out to bring us back to my room. I could tell he had spent many sleepless nights since my ordeal began in earnest, as well. Quickly, his position as close friend to myself and my family came flooding back to me. I remembered the many hours he and I spent discussing integration with the Huulanix supercomputer when the strange gaming race had come to Dreides VII to challenge me. With Chief’s help, we had built or advised the construction of a hundred or so gaming units across the human-controlled sectors of the galaxy.

“It’s a shame it fell to such bad things,” he said to me as we walked back to the medical building. “It had such potential.”

I listened, watching Coraline skip happily to the door ahead of us.

“Well, no real harm done, right?” I said, smiling at my daughter’s antics.

“You mean you don’t know?” Chief said suddenly, grabbing my arm and stopping me.

“Know what?” I asked, growing wary.

“The game is still going,” he said. “No one knows why. There’s still people dying in there.”

His last sentence stayed with me.

“The Doctor thinks he can get them out by going to the Prime Machine and interfacing directly with it.”

“What do you mean there’s still people dying?” I queried. “I’m not in the game. It’s over. No one else was in the game.”

Absent-mindedly, I watched Coraline skipping across the grass in front of the door leading back to my hospital bed. I knew exactly what Chief meant. The scene seemed to slow down before me. My daughter’s skipping grew slower and slower as the truth washed over me and chilled my spine.

Chief was silent, but I said what he was afraid to admit.

“Those people really died, like I would have. It’s my fault. And there’s still people trapped there,” I surmised. “My God, it’s my fault they died.”

Chief looked unsure of what to do. He put a hand of my shoulder and I brushed it away. Silently, I gathered up Coraline in my arms and went back to my room, leaving Chief to stand stupidly in the garden alone.

I did not speak to anyone the rest of that evening and feigned sleep until the day’s light gave way to darkness. Stealthily, I exited my room and cut across the hallway to an open door. Listening for sounds of the presence of others, I waited in the darkness. Down the hall I could hear a few nurses speaking to each other in hushed tones. In the direction of the voices, brighter light cast shadows of human movement on the wall. Slipping quietly away, I went in the opposite direction.

At the time, I did not know exactly what I was looking for, but I soon came upon the Doctor’s blue box tucked away in a shadowy corner of a large room used for storing large medical machinery, monitors, laser-surgical devices, and scanners. I tried the doors to the strange blue box, but they were locked.

As I stood there, Chief and the Doctor entered speaking heatedly. I quickly ducked around the backside of the Doctor’s box and listened to their conversation.

“I told you he wasn’t to know those people were still in there, Chief,” the Doctor said in frustration.

“I thought you told me that so you could tell him yourself, Doctor!” Chief exclaimed. “He’s got a right to know. Maybe he can help.”

“He’s helped enough,” the Doctor snapped. “He’s just one man. He’s been through a terrible ordeal. The last thing he needed was to be told that he may have inadvertently killed people without knowing it. I mean, how would you feel, Chief?”

“I would want to know.”

“No, you wouldn’t,” the Doctor said quietly. “I speak from experience. You wouldn’t want to wake up to the screams of people you never knew, people you couldn’t save. I know.”

“What can we do now?” Chief asked. “He knows. He’ll want to help you.”

“He can’t. He has a wife and child that very much need him at the moment,” the Doctor said, opening the door to his box. “Just be there for him. That should be punishment enough for you, seeing it in his eyes as he dwells on the lives lost.”

“I’m sorry,” Chief said.

“You should be,” the Doctor said, slamming the door behind him. I heard Chief’s heavy footsteps leaving the room and after a few moments of silence, I slipped around to the front of the box and tried the door. It opened.

I stepped through the threshold and found myself in an expansive room, impossibly larger than the blue box I had entered. In its center a large complicated looking console reached up to the ceiling, strange noises came from all around me.

“You don’t looked shocked,” a voice said behind me.

I casually turned to face the Doctor.

“I get slightly miffed when people don’t say things like ‘It’s bigger on the inside’ or various other obvious exclamations of wonder and awe. No, not you though. It figures. Oh well.”

He strode past me to his console, patting my shoulder on the way.

“You can’t come with me, Jeffrey,” came his frank declaration.

I did not answer his refusal right away.

“Coraline calls this your shapeship,” I said. “She’s not far off, I think. You’re a shapeshifter, Doctor. I’m sure, given the obvious technological advances you may have at your disposal, you fashion yourself as some sort of savior of time and space, but you’re just a meddler – changing faces for each fool you goad into helping you.”

The Doctor stopped what he was doing and stood with his back to me.

“You’ve been where I am. You know what it feels like,” I spoke carefully, hoping my words would change his mind. “To not be able to save everyone – to feel a responsibility to right wrongs that you yourself may have caused. But you hide behind that mask of yours, the one that says you’ve seen and done everything and can save anyone.”

“Don’t speak to me as if you know me, Jeffrey. My mind is much bigger on the inside than yours. I can hold and have held an entire species’ death rattle in my head. I have been where you are, a thousandfold, a thousand times. I’ve felt the responsibility of an entire universe – knowing every step that I take, every second I breathe air into these lungs I could be bringing about the destruction of everything ever.”

“This is my fight, Doctor!” I yelled, losing control. “Every day of my life I will have to look into the eyes of my daughter and know that somewhere out there they may be another little girl whose father didn’t come out of the game alive!”

His head sagged a bit, and he drew in a long, tedious breath.

“How many more are there?” I demanded. “How many more people are trapped in that computer’s insanity?”

The Doctor mumbled something.

“What was that?” I barked at him.

“Thousands,” he said, quietly staring at his console.

“Why didn’t the game stop?” I asked. “I thought you said that if I was gone, this would end.”

“It was logical. You were the computer’s opponent,” he rationalized. “No opponent, no game.”

Again, something in the back of my mind screamed at me to see the clue I had yet to open my eyes to. Giving up hope, and ignoring the nagging doubt in my head, I turned to leave the strange ship and return to my room.

“Jeffrey,” the Doctor said, turning to face me. “I can take this. These thousands might still die, but it will be my fault if they do. Let me take that from you. Let this be my burden.”

“This will forever be my burden, Doctor. There’s nothing more you can take from me.”

With that last statement, I left his ship and stood alone in the storage room. Behind me, a horrible, grinding noise grew in volume and I turned to see the Doctor’s blue box vanish into thin air.

At that moment, as the grinding sound faded into nothingness, I knew what I would do. I pocketed a hypogun and headed for the building which housed the interface to the game. I struggled painfully with the notion of saying goodbye to my wife and daughter, but I could not bear the thought of seeing either of them realize it would be the last time they would see me.

I strode purposefully across the garden and found the man I was looking for, staring skyward at the stars through the environmental shield above us. Chief Galen looked beside himself, not noticing my approach. Silently, I walked up behind him, hypogun in hand, and pressed the barrel of it against his back.

“Don’t make this difficult,” I said to his back, pressing the hypogun forcefully against him. “I just need you to help me get back in the game.”

“Jeffrey, don’t do this,” he pleaded. “Let the Doctor handle this. He can do this without us.”

“I don’t care if he can change history to his whims. I’m doing this, and you will help me.”

Chief nodded his intention to yield to my desires and I guided him toward the Entertainment building.

“You’re going to miss the arena opening tomorrow. We have three teams coming in from the outer orbits. Should be a good match or two.”

“Don’t bother, Chief. I’m not interested in mundane activities. I have to do this.”

Together we marched across the expansive garden and Chief used his security clearance to enter the building. A sign had been posted on the door indicating the Entertainment building would be shut down until further notice.

“We were able to get all the Dreides residents out of the game while the Doctor was in the game with you,” Chief offered.

“Be quiet, Chief. Just get me in the game.”

We walked down a long hallway, our footsteps echoing throughout the complex, which had been devoid of people since my extrication from the game.

Using his security card a second time, he lead me into a giant spherical room. An apparatus, similar to a dentist’s chair with wires and hoses leading to and from it, occupied the center of the room. Large metallic spheres set into the walls were spaced at intervals all around the room.

“It will take some time to reboot the system and establish a connection,” Chief explained, looking over his shoulder. “It would be a lot easier if you’d take that empty hypogun out of my back.”

Sheepishly, I allowed my arm to drop. I expected Chief to detain me and drag me back to my room, perhaps strapping me to my bed. Instead, he continued the process of rebooting the system.

“I’d have helped you if you’d have just asked, you know,” he said. “You weren’t alone in what happened. You and I were in this together from the beginning. It’s as much your fault as mine.”

“That’s not true, Chief,” I said, attempting to reason with him, but feeling better for not having to go through this final battle alone.

“It is,” he said with hesitation. “You couldn’t have done any of this without me.”

I sighed and patted his shoulder. “Thank you, Chief.”

Before I could react, he spun his large frame around and embraced me in a rough hug. “We’ll make things right, Jeffrey.”

I attempted a smile and he eventually released me. I walked over to the chair I would most likely die in and feelings of intense fear and dread washed over me. In contrast to those feelings, I heard a voice in my head, like a siren’s song, calling me back to that devious reality – the hell the Prime Machine had created to best me.

“Don’t lose me in there,” I instructed. “I think I may know a way to divert the Prime Machine’s attention away from interacting with the other people in the game, but you’ve got to be monitoring me at all times. Can you hack the other signals and shut the others off?”

“I can try. We’ll get as many out as we can.”

“No matter what happens, do not pull me out. Do you understand?”

“Jeffrey, if you get in trouble, I’ll -”

“You’ll do nothing. I have to try, and if it kills me, so be it. Then the Doctor will be our last hope.”

“Do you trust him?” Chief asked, not sounding too sure.

“I do.”

Chief made the final connections to my physical body as i tried to settle into the oversized cushions of the interface.

“Five minutes, Jeffrey. Good luck.”

“Goodbye, Chief.”

The five minutes passed in silence and then Chief activated the connections.

Darkness flooded my vision and for several minutes I could not draw breath. I felt myself falling through a void in space, then speeding my descent until I felt my body being ripped apart into a billion smaller pieces. A light grew in the distance and I flew still faster towards it until slowly it began to fill my perspective. I experienced the sensation of being assembled particle by particle and the scene before me slowly cleared into focus.

I was tied tightly to a lounge chair in Holmes apartment. Before me roared a fire in the fireplace and wisps of smoke wafted gently over my head from some source behind me.

“Ah Watson,” a voice said. “I trust your respite into unconsciousness has not left you without your senses. It’s good to have you back with us.”

I struggled in vain against the bindings and attempted to speak, but quickly realized I had been gagged as well.

Sherlock Holmes’ gaunt form walked leisurely around the chair to stand in front of the fire. He puffed pensively on a wooden pipe and regarded me with a smirk.

“Don’t fret about the bindings too much, dear Watson,” he said. “You’ve been a frightful state since the debacle at the opium den. I had no idea you would have such a reaction to the fumes in the place. You should count yourself quite fortunate that I was able to pull you from that place before you went into shock.”

I grunted and tried to speak around the gag, but could only managed to growl incomprehensible gibberish at him.

“Oh yes, sorry about the gag as well,” he said waving his hand absently at me as he tamped down the tobacco in his pipe. “Best for you to breathe through your nose until the narcotics have fully exited your system. You really gave us quite a scare.”

I realized then that I was having trouble conjuring up images from Dreides VII. I tried to remember how I had come to this place, and could not reconcile the images into any sort of substantial memory. It was if my mind was being erased with each image I attempted to conjure up. I quickly stopped, fearing that further thoughts would erase my reality completely from my mind.

“Now, Watson. Let’s discuss our next course of action. We had to abandon the cow business after your accident, and good timing has rewarded us with quite the intriguing replacement. All we need is some suitable bait,” he said, gesturing towards me. “and the perfect place to draw my nemesis to his final ultimate demise. Do you know know who I speak of, dear Watson?”

I spoke against the gag and nearly choked. Smiling, Sherlock carefully removed the gag from my mouth, being careful not to get his fingers near enough for me to bite him.

“You mean Professor Moriarty,” I said, knowing who the ultimate nemesis for Sherlock Holmes would be.

“No, you fool,” Sherlock said, removing a blackjack from his coat pocket. “I mean the Doctor.”

With force, Holmes bludgeoned me and once again I found myself descending into deep darkness.