“Professor? Professor! Pro-fesssss-orrrr!” Ace called. It was no use. She’d been looking for the Doctor for some time now and had already gone through panic and annoyance to simple resignation that he would only show up when he was good and ready to. They hadn’t been dealing with anything hostile, in fact he had been giving her a chance to just relax and look around some shops when they’d been separated.
She stopped and sat on the edge of a tree planter to rest her feet, rotating her ankles pensively.
“Doctor?” called a voice. “Dooooctooor!”
Ace’s looked up quickly. A little way down the street a teenaged girl with dark hair was peering into alleyways as she made her way along, searching.
“Hey!” Ace called. “What kind of doctor are you looking for?”
The girl quickened her pace. “Do you know him?” she asked by way of introduction.
“Know who?” Ace said cautiously.
Rani considered the young woman before her and her odd, dated mode of dress and decided it was worth asking more specifically. Ever since she’d seen the TARDIS flattening a patch of flowers by Sarah Jane’s house she’d been looking for the Doctor. Sarah Jane was out of town and the house was still locked, so he had to be around somewhere. “I’m looking for a man who’s called the Doctor,” she said carefully. “I saw his police box.”
Ace stood up. “You know the Doctor?”
“Yes, or at least I’ve met him a couple of times. He’s friends with my friend Sarah Jane.”
“I’ve heard of Sarah Jane,” Ace nodded. “It sounds like you’re pretty jake. I’m looking for him too, so maybe we can look together. I’m Ace, I travel with him.”
Rani smiled and took the other woman’s hand. “I’m Rani. Rani Chandra.”
“Glad to meetcha, Rani. I’ve checked all the way down that street,” Ace said, pointing. “And you already did that one, so let’s start over there.” She hefted a small backpack she had with her and started off.
“Sure!” Rani said, happy to have made some kind of progress and to have found some help as well. “I mostly just wanted to let him know when Sarah Jane will be back, she’s not home now and I thought he might want to visit her.”
“Yeah? He told me it was a stop just to do some shopping. Just like the Professor to go off without telling me.”
“That’s what I call him. I think it fits him.”
Rani thought about this, recalling the tweedy jacket and bright intelligence of the man she’d met, both of him. “Okay. Yeah, I can see that.”
“Let’s take turn yelling. My throat’s about worn out.”
“Doctooor!” hollered Rani. “Dooooooctor!”
“Yes? What do you want?” asked a voice.
They both spun towards the alleyway that had opened up beside them to find a tall man with a mop of curly blonde hair eyeing them. He was dressed in such clashing colours that both of them had the first impression of his perhaps being a player from a theatre troupe, except his demeanor was perfectly serious.
“What do you want with us?” asked Ace defensively, automatically pushing Rani behind her and bringing her backpack up where she could get at the contents easily.
“That’s my question,” the strange man replied equably. “You were the ones yelling my name, not the other way around, you know.”
“Who do you have there?” asked another voice, and an elderly, grandmotherly lady carrying a knitting bag came up the alley, peering around him to take a look at them.
“How should I know? I’m not a mind-reader,” the man snorted.
“Yes you are, you’re just too polite to do it,” she said. “Now my dear girls, tell me, were you calling for a medical doctor, or were you calling for the Doctor?”
“You know the Doctor too?” asked Rani. It was starting to feel like her city was full of such people.
“Know him?” the man said a bit huffily, drawing himself up. He was very tall.
“Yes, we know him,” said the woman with a gentle smile. “Oh stop your huffing and puffing, you’re scaring them.”
“I am not. There’s nothing about me to be frightened of, Evelyn! Meek as a lamb am I.”
“We’re looking for him,” said Ace, eyeing the tall man. “I’m his traveling companion.”
The elderly lady smiled more deeply at that. “As am I, meek or not. But apparently you’re with another one of him?” She pointed at the brightly dressed man.
“I think so,” said Ace slowly. “Gordon Bennett, are you him too?”
“Him who?” asked Rani, confused.
“Why, he’s the blinkin’ Doctor!” said Ace. “Aren’t you?”
“Of course I am.”
“But you’re not my Doctor,” she said. “Aren’t you supposed to not be running into yourself or something?”
“Unfortunate,” he glowered. “I was hoping I was farther away from myself than that.”
“Hey, look. It’s not our fault you can’t keep track of yourself,” Ace returned a bit hotly.
Evelyn waved him back, apologetic about his sternness. “I’m sorry, don’t mind him. We’re just a bit worried about one of our own companions. You haven’t happened to have seen a penguin anywhere about recently, have you? We’re missing one.”
“A penguin? Like a bird penguin?” Ace asked.
“Well, he’s not quite a bird penguin, but yes, he certainly looks like one.”
“I guess if I was looking for a penguin, I would look at the zoo,” Rani said, trying to be helpful to this very nice, grandmotherly lady. “They keep some there. If anyone saw him loose, that’s what they would do. Catch him and take him there.”
“Frobisher in a zoo? Oh the poor dear,” Evelyn sighed. She then extended a hand. “I’m Evelyn Smythe, by the way, and this is the Doctor.”