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Murder on the Outside Express

Chapter Text

It was a fairly typical day in This Time Round.

"There we go," Mel said, slotting the latest crop of coloured cards into the scheduling board. "That just leaves the fanfics. Rose, these are yours for the next couple of days" — she dropped a hefty stack of fanfold paper on Rose's table — "and I've highlighted the ones where you get to bear the Doctor's child. Master, these are yours, and I've highlighted—"

"Yeah, yeah, I can guess," the Simm Master scowled. He glanced down the list, nearly every line of which was marked in one of four different colours. "Where do these people get their ideas?"

"From the televised series?" Rose suggested innocently.

Fortunately at this point an interruption presented itself, in the slight and cheerful form of Jo.

"Evening, Polly," she called over her shoulder as she breezed in.

Michelle smirked triumphantly, as she always did when people didn't realise who she really was. Jo didn't notice, being far too busy brandishing a glossy leaflet at the assembled patrons.

"I picked this up at the library," she said. "'For a night out you'll always remember.'"

"Chance'd be a fine thing," Donna said bitterly.

"'Take a luxurious steam train ride and solve a brutal murder in the utmost comfort. Dinner included.'"

"A Murder Mystery evening?" Martha asked. "Let's have a look."

"That's what it says here." Jo handed her the leaflet.

"Yeah... but it doesn't say much else, does it?"

"Of course not. It's a mystery."

"Do not go," Katarina said. "We have seen leaflets advertising such events before, and they have always brought nothing but chaos and disaster upon all who attended."

As usual in the Round, her prophecy of doom was given not the slightest attention.

"Applications by post," Ace read. "Tickets will be issued with further instructions."

"Simple enough," Nyssa said. "But the most important point: Is this connected, in any way, shape or form, with the Tod brothers?"

Various heads bent over the small print.

"Nope. Corrigan Entertainments."

"Never heard of them. Is that a good sign, or a bad sign?"

"It does not matter," Leela said. "Whether these 'Corrigan Entertainments' are friends, known foes or unknown foes, I do not fear them. I shall face them and defeat them."

"Anyone else up for it?" Vicki asked.

A small crowd began to gather around the table.

- * -

It was already dark and foggy by the time the various participants reached the station. The train stood waiting: its locomotive a 1930s streamliner glistening in silver and grey, the carriages painted chocolate and cream, each bearing a name and number picked out in gold. The steam from the locomotive further added to the atmosphere and reduced visibility.

Tegan, looking over the assembled party, was favourably impressed. Perhaps it was down to the influence of the Eliott sisters, but everyone — even Leela — seemed to have made an effort to don smart evening wear. The results were not, however, uniformly successful. Adric could make even a dinner jacket look scruffy, Zoë's idea of a cocktail dress might have been little and black but was still unashamedly a catsuit, and Sara Kingdom's elegant ballgown was somewhat spoiled by the bulky utility belt and holster she was wearing over it.

"Carriage one, now boarding," crackled the tannoy. "Will all passengers for carriage one please join the train."

Tegan glanced down at her ticket. It now bore a glowing numeral 1, which it certainly hadn't before. She made her way forward and climbed aboard, finding herself in a wood-panelled vestibule. A man in velveteen uniform took her ticket.

"Welcome aboard," he said. "Please wait in the dining saloon until the other passengers arrive."

Tegan followed the direction he indicated, to find herself in a luxuriously- appointed dining area. A smiling steward directed her to a table set for four.

"Posh, innit?" Rose sat down beside her. "They must make a bit to be able to afford this. Did you see who else is with us?"

"Perhaps there isn't anyone else," Tegan said.

"Just the two of us, girl detectives?"

"Tyler and Jovanka? Sounds like a builder's merchants."

Before Rose could reply, Sara joined the group.

"They wouldn't let me keep my gun," she grumbled.

"Pity. I'd feel safer knowing one of us was armed and knew how to use it," Tegan said dourly.

Rose looked at the tense faces of her fellow-travellers. "Don't be such a misery. It's just a night out. What can go wrong?"

Tegan took a deep breath. But before she could launch into what would surely have been an extensive catalogue, the fourth member of the party arrived.

"So that's Jovanka, Kingdom, Shaw and Tyler," Rose said. "I don't think it sounds like a builder's merchant any more. More an expensive law firm."

"Expensive is the word," said Liz, running her hand over the veneered surface of the table. "I think that's it for this coach. They closed the door behind me."

"Presumably we're in teams, then," said Sara. "Each coach against the others. I wonder how the scoring system works?"

*

Outside, on the platform, Jamie was engaged in heated argument with Zoë.

"Look," he said. "Why can't you come in with me?"

"Because your ticket says coach 2, Jamie, and mine doesn't."

"Can ye no' swap wi' someone else?"

"It doesn't work. Look, I'll show you. Jo, can I change tickets with you?"

Jo obligingly held out her ticket. Zoë took it, and at once it stopped glowing. The ticket she gave Jo in return lit up the moment Jo took it.

"Now, stop fussing, Jamie. I'm sure Martha and Jo and Ace will look after you."

"Aye, but you're cleverer than any of them."

Zoë nodded.

"Of course I am. But you'll have to make the best of it. Good luck, Jamie, and may the best team win."

"Good luck." Jamie reluctantly set out for the train, then turned and called back. "And try not tae go all zany this time!"

*

As Harry, Leela, Zoë and Vicki climbed aboard the train, the four remaining people on the platform looked at each other and realised the horrid truth.

"Swamprat!"

"Psycho!"

"If you think I'm getting into a train with you two weirdoes," Peri said, "you've got another think coming, I can tell you."

"But she's..."

"But he's..."

"Quiet." Barbara was using her authoritative schoolmarm voice. "Now, before you start bickering again, did either of you have the foresight to read the rules for the evening? All the way through?"

"I was busy," Adric said sulkily. "Dying of a surfeit."

"And no doubt, Nyssa, you were the one force-feeding him? Very well. Look at rule 49."

There was a short pause.

"But that..." Nyssa spluttered. "It's outrageous!"

"Seems sensible to me," said Peri. "No murders except the one we have to solve. After all, it'd be cheating otherwise."

Nyssa gritted her teeth.

"So I've got to sit opposite... him... all evening and not kill him at all. Why did I ever sign up to this?" She glared at Adric. "Why did you ever sign up to this?"

"As it happens," Adric said, "I didn't. I got the ticket in the post."

"So did I. What's going on?"

*

From their vantage point in the ADF's headquarters truck, Wesley and Lucas peered at a monitor. The grainy image on the screen had originated in one of the station's own security cameras and had made its way to them by means of an unofficial tap into its circuit, the work of ADF technicians. Most CCTV systems in Nameless had undergone this treatment several times over; the camera overlooking the pub car park, for example, fed into the secret monitoring channels of no fewer than nine organisations.

"There you are," Wesley announced triumphantly. "Told you it would work."

*

With a mournful whistle, the train set off into the night. Sitting at their tables, the passengers watched as the lights of Nameless drifted past.

"Looks like the dinner comes first," Rose said, looking past Sara at the approaching waiter.

"And then the murder," Tegan said.

"How d'you think they'll do that? I mean, it's just the four of us. Is one of us the murderer and another one the victim?"

"There's another couple of tables set for dinner," Sara said. "I spotted them on the way in."

Tegan raised her eyebrows. "I didn't. You're sharp."

"I've been trained to notice things."

The arrival of the waiter with their food caused a momentary distraction. Before starting her meal, Tegan glanced out of the window. The line here was on an embankment, giving a view over mist-wreathed marshland. Pools of water reflected the moonlight. Or was it ice? It had been a warm evening in Nameless, but the weather Outside Continuity had its own whims and caprices. In the distance was an abandoned windmill, its sails skeletal and irregular. She had no recollection of seeing any of these things on previous train journeys.

"One of us could still be the murderer," Liz said.

Startled out of her reverie, Tegan looked up. "How?"

"Depends how they do it. You've played Cluedo, I take it?"

"Once or twice. It's a Christmas thing, isn't it? You get the relatives round, and you all end up playing a board game."

"Oh, don't get me started," Rose broke in. "Mum tried to get the Doctor to play it once. You know, just after he'd regenerated."

"Who won?"

"Mickey. But the Doctor said it didn't count, 'cos the lead pipe had gone missing and we had to use the iron out of the Monopoly set instead."

"Anyway," Liz said. "My point is that in Cluedo you can be playing the murderer and not know it. It all depends how the cards are dealt."

Her point apparently proved to her satisfaction, she turned her attention back to her slice of melon.

"And the next year," Rose said, more to herself than any of the others, "I was in another world and all the rules were different. And nearly all the people as well. I mean, there isn't a Miss Grey in any version of Cluedo I've ever played."

Sara suddenly put down her spoon.

"Look out there," she said.

The mist outside had thickened; instead of a few wisps over the marsh, it was now a network of streamers, glowing with multicoloured light, and surrounding the train. Nothing could now be seen of the countryside beyond, only the coloured ribbons of cloud. As they swirled to and fro, it gave the dizzying impression that the train was moving backwards, or upwards, or sideways.

"It's a PLOT hole," Rose said.

"We must be headed Inside," Liz said. "Inside where, I wouldn't like to speculate. Almost certainly not our normal universe. You know what that means?"

Tegan nodded.

"This is going to be real," she said. "Get this wrong and we could die."

The iron grip of continuity closed around them. Alternative characterisations melted away like snow. Somewhere else on the train, Nyssa found herself wondering why she was glaring at Adric's throat, and Zoë looked at the banana skin she'd been about to drop on the floor with an air of complete bewilderment.

And the knowledge that this was merely a staged murder mystery evening vanished from everyone's mind.