The wagon jostled along the bumpy county road. Dust flew up from the horses' hooves and the wheels of her carriage, making the air hazy.
I swear, Scarlett thought, Clayton County must not have had a drop of rain all month. Why, the cotton crop must be withering in the fields.
Earthy concerns such as crops and soil always steadied Scarlett. She needed steadying that day. Only that morning she had attended the funeral of Melanie Wilkes – the one real friend she'd ever had, though Scarlett had not realized this until Melanie's death. At lunchtime she had returned home, belly growling despite her grief, only to find that all Rhett's things were gone.
I won't think about that right now. I'll think about that tomorrow.
Scarlett had promised herself a visit to Tara – the one tangible thing left in this world, now that Bonnie, Melanie and Rhett were all lost to her. If she could but set foot on the red earth of Tara, she felt she could face everything that had happened. Her strength would return, and then she could make plans. Yes, everything would make sense once she'd slept once more in her old bed, and been scolded by Mammy, and taken a sip of the scuppernong whiskey. Then she would know how to get Rhett back.
Her heart twisted as the wagon rounded a corner and an overgrown field came into view. Weeds and wildflowers choked the grass. In the distance, two half-ruined walls stood like sentries, black with soot. They were all that remained of Twelve Oaks, the plantation where Ashley had grown up. Once Scarlett's only ambition had been to marry Ashley Wilkes and become mistress of Twelve Oaks; that dream seemed as worthless now as a bushel of Confederate dollars. How much had she wasted for the sake of that dream, for the love of a weak man who could never have made her happy? For the first time, Scarlett realized she had been as much a fool as those boys who ran off to the War Between the States, crowing with pride and swearing they would be home by Christmas. Those boys lay in the mud beneath Gettysburg now, as dead as her hopes.
The horses shied, and Scarlett tugged sharply at the reins. Whatever could have them so spooked?
Her eyes narrowed as she peered into the wild fields that had been Twelve Oaks. There stood a small blue structure – some sort of shanty, no doubt, set up by poor whites or free Negroes. Scarlett had seen such things before; they were all too common during the impoverished years following the War. Like nearly all Southern women, she felt exceedingly nervous about shantytowns, and Scarlett had more reason than most.
But this shack did not frighten Scarlett. Instead, it enraged her. How dare some trash set up a shanty on the Wilkes land? She'd drive them out herself with a whip if she had to.
Scarlett alighted from her carriage, whip clutched so tightly in her hand that the leather nearly cut through the fine cotton of her gloves. "Who's there?" she called. "You come right out this instant, or I'll tan your hide!" No reply came, save the whickering of the horses behind her.
She took another few steps forward, scowling as she saw how dusty the hem of her black silk gown had become. A fine sight she'd make when she came home to Tara. As she brushed irritably at her skirt, she saw that on the ground near her feet lay a cracked monument of gray stone – a sundial that now cast its shadows in vain.
Do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of.
Once, when Scarlett was 15 years old, Ashley had read that inscription aloud to her.
Scarlett dropped her head into her hand, all at once too tired to shout or search or even to weep. She longed only to sink down onto the earth and cry like a little child wanting her mother.
"My word," said a man's voice. "It's her."
Startled, Scarlett skittered back and raised her whip hand. "Show yourself!"
From behind the blue shack stepped a man in an odd sort of brown suit and coat. Scarlett had never seen clothes cut in precisely such a manner before, but she understood instinctively that they were gentleman's attire, rather than tramp's rags. Though the man's hair was positively wild, he wore spectacles like a scholar, and Scarlett felt somewhat reassured.
He said, "Martha, there's no mistaking it. The energy is coming directly from her wagon – and, my word, from her as well."
"She's not an alien, is she?" A Negro girl in dungarees stepped out from behind him – his servant, no doubt.
The man waved a small metal tube in Scarlett's direction, then at her carriage. "Looks local."
"I beg your pardon?" Scarlett drew herself up as severely as she could. This man dressed like a gentleman, but he scarcely behaved like one. "Sir, you have not introduced yourself."
"Ah, yes. Rude of me." Was that an English accent? Scarlett had met some travelers from England when she visited Savannah, and the manner in which they spoke was similar, but she sensed that this man was somehow quite different. He grinned, suddenly boyish, and stepped toward her with his hand outstretched, as if he meant to shake her hand like he would a man's. "I'm the Doctor. This is Martha Jones. And you are –"
"I know the doctor in this county. You're a liar. You – you get away from me."
"It's okay, really." The Negro girl – Martha, he'd called her – stepped forward rather impertinently. "The Doctor needs your help, that's all."
"I don't care what he needs. You clear off this land right away, you hear me? I'll send some men over tonight with shotguns, so you better get."
The man sighed. "I hate kidnappings."
Blood riled, Scarlett swung the whip at him and took a fierce kind of pleasure when he leapt back, hissing in pain. Quickly she ran toward her buggy, cursing the corset that dug into her ribs and kept her catching her breath. If she could only reach the carriage! Then she could goad the horses on, reach Tara within ten minutes, and –
His hand closed around her upper arm, jerking her backward and making her stumble in the dust.
"Got her!" the Englishman cried. "Martha, perhaps a bit of help here –"
"Let go of me this instant, you varmint!" Scarlett swung at him with the whip, but he wouldn't let go. Then Martha was there too, and Scarlett felt something cool press against the nape of her neck. After that, there didn't seem to be an up or down any longer, just brilliant sun and swaying and the deep, deep need for sleep.
When Scarlett awoke, at first she didn't remember where she was. Everything around her was so bright that she at first thought herself outside. No, she was lying on some sot of bed – a very comfortable one, too, with no lumps in the mattress and not a single feather quill poking through to scratch.
Hmmph, Scarlett thought, I've been sending Will and Suellen money to keep Tara up, not to set themselves up like a king and queen. Elegant beds, and lamps turned so high they must be burning through ten gallons of oil a day --
Scarlett sat up, blinking. Immediately she saw that she was in a room wholly unfamiliar to her. Not only had she never been in this bedroom before, she had never been anyplace remotely similar. The walls had the dull sheen of brass, but they curved and bowed unlike any other walls Scarlett had ever seen. There were no windows, and the illumination came from a disc in the ceiling. The light didn't flicker, either; it wasn't a flame at all, more like a circle of captured moonlight. And the temperature was so cool! It had been a blistering day, and even within Tara's high-ceilinged parlor, the air should have been sultry and stifling. Even the smell was strange – pleasant, really, very clean and oddly metallic, but entirely absent of scents that had been ubiquitous throughout Scarlett's life: dust, horse dung, hay and sweat.
I've been kidnapped, she remembered. Like something out of one of Mamie Bart's stories! Things like this did happen, everyone knew it, no matter how much Rhett had pooh-poohed the idea. What if that wild-haired man had been a white slaver? Why, right now, she could be on her way to Constantinople to serve in the Sultan's harem. Couldn't this room be inside a ship? It wasn't tossing from side to side, but that might only be due to calm seas. If she was within a ship, that would explain the curved walls, too.
The thought of having fallen into the clutches of a white slavery ring invigorated Scarlett. She cherished no overheated fantasies about life in the harem, nor the slightest curiosity about seeing Constantinople in any capacity whatsoever. However, for the past several months, she had faced the kind of enemies she could neither comprehend nor combat: Rhett's indifference, Melanie's illness and the realization of her own terrible folly. Scarlett's spirit flared back into strength at the thought of having flesh-and-blood opponents she could thrash within an inch of their lives, which was precisely what she intended to do.
Gathering her skirt in one hand, Scarlett strode to the door to begin hammering upon it – then stopped, startled, as it slid open. No servant stood on the other side. How had it opened?
From the end of the hallway, she could hear voices.
"That little thing? You sure that's it, Doctor?"
"Never judge a trans-dimensional psychic artifact by its cover, Martha."
Yes, those were the same two who had accosted her at Twelve Oaks. She'd give them a piece of her mind, and quick.
Scarlett swept down the hallway, angry words bubbling to her lips. Then she came to the end and stopped where she stood. This wasn't a ship at all! Why, this room – with some great golden monstrosity of a stove in the center, and a smokestack that glowed like a lantern – this place didn't make a lick of sense. It wasn't frightening; it was ridiculous.
"I see our guest has awakened," said the Doctor. He wore no spectacles now. Probably they were merely some sort of disguise. "I do apologize for the, ah, abduction-thingy."
"The tranquilizer I used wasn't designed for humans, but it ought to have been safe," Martha said. "Are you seeing double? Feeling any dizziness?"
"I'm not some silly swooning fool," Scarlett snapped. "I don't know what this place is and I don't care, either. Take me home this instant."
The Doctor sighed and leaned against the odd stove, which was humming with a peculiar, yet not unpleasant, sound. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Miss – your name would be –"
"Mrs. Katie Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler."
"Good Lord," Martha said. Scarlett ignored this, as it looked as though the Doctor might be about to say something useful.
"Well, Katie," the Doctor said with undue familiarity, "I'm afraid we're a rather long way from your home at present."
"We can't be far. I wasn't asleep more than an hour. I can always tell."
The Doctor and Martha exchanged a look before he replied, "This next part always takes a bit of explaining."
At that moment, Scarlett spied a door behind the Doctor – a simple, ordinary door, not like that strange one in the room where she'd been sleeping. No doubt that was the door that led outside. Would he have locked it? That would be the smart thing for a kidnapper to do, but he didn't look that clever.
She ran to the door, ignoring the Doctor and Martha's cries of dismay, flung it open –
The night sky was beneath her. The sky. Beneath. Above too. Around. Everywhere. Nothing was left of the world, only the sky.
Instead of one of the coarser epithets Rhett had taught her, Scarlett found herself crying something Melanie used to say: "Stars above!"
"Quite literally." The Doctor sauntered to her side. Scarlett could hear his footsteps coming closer, but she remained transfixed by the carpet of stars all around. "There's a forcefield holding you inside, not to mention holding our air inside, but to tell you the truth, an open door in-flight always makes me a bit nervous. Would you mind stepping back a bit?"
"I would mind," Scarlett said shortly. "Tell me what you did with the whole world."
"It's right back where we left it, I promise."
"Left? What do you mean, left?"
"I mean that you have been removed from your own planet and your own time. I'm extremely sorry we had to bring you along for this little jaunt to Andalia IV, but I'm afraid it was necessary. Sorry for the inconvenience."
"Inconvenience!" Scarlett could have boxed his ears. But to do that she would have had to take her hands off the doorjamb, and a wave of vertigo was rising dangerously high within her.
Martha stepped closer and gently wrapped her hands around Scarlett's. "I know," she said, her voice soothing. She seemed to have an English accent too. "It's a lot to take in. Nearly lost my lunch the first time I saw how far up the TARDIS goes. Best to step back. Let the Doctor shut the door. You'll think better when you're not taking it all in at once. Trust me."
Carefully, Scarlett uncurled her fingers from the edges of the door and let Martha draw her back from the dizzying vista of the sky. Sure enough, as soon as she was looking at the odd stove again, she felt better. Scarlett walked up to it and held out her hands, but it gave off no heat.
"You're aboard the TARDIS," the Doctor said. "Martha here is traveling with me for a spell. We ran into a bit of trouble on Andalia IV that we think you might be able to help us with."
"You need my help? Well, you ought to have thought of that before you dragged me away from my home."
Martha folded her arms. "You aren't the slightest bit curious? You're traveling among the stars, and that doesn't make you go – I don't know – Wow?"
Scarlett turned to the Doctor. "I must say, your darky has the worst manners I've ever seen in a house servant. Can't you do anything with her?"
Then there was a brown fist in her face, and an enormous flash of pain and light, and Scarlett heard herself hit the floor rather than felt it. Blinking through tears, Scarlett cried out in wordless outrage.
The Doctor looked angry as he held Martha back, and Scarlett was looking forward to the girl receiving the upbraiding she deserved. Instead, he said, "You're never to speak that way about Martha again."
"What do you mean?" Scarlett demanded, her voice muffled by the hands she'd clasped over her swollen, aching nose.
"That's all you've got to say to her?" Martha pushed at the Doctor's shoulder, still furious. "Being a racist only gets you a slap on the wrist?"
"Scarlett's from another age, Martha." The Doctor turned to her, an odd sort of smile on his face, as though – as though Martha were not a servant but a friend. "A fairly ugly age, as such things go. Give her one chance to adjust before you haul off and punch her again."
Martha looked unconvinced.
The Doctor's smile became even gentler. "First do no harm, right?"
With a sigh, Martha relaxed. "Doesn't mean I like it."
"Good show." His gentleness vanished as he looked at Scarlett herself. Although he offered her a hand to help her up, his gaze remained stern. "I shall only explain this once, so hear me well. The stories you've grown up hearing, the ones that tell you some races are superior and others inferior – they're all lies. You probably won't believe me, of course. Overcoming a lifetime's worth of social conditioning in a single conversation isn't easy. Think what you will, but while you're on this ship, you'll treat Martha with the same respect you'd like to receive. If you don't, then Martha has my permission to treat you however she'd like, and you've already had a taste of her left hook. Wouldn't you rather keep the peace?"
Scarlett's cheeks flamed, and she would've liked to snatch Martha's hair out. But she was far from home and at a definite disadvantage. Sullenly, she took the Doctor's hand and allowed him to haul her to her feet.
"There, that's better, isn't it?" The Doctor beamed and rubbed his hands together. "Now we can talk sensibly."
"Fiddle dee dee," Scarlett said. "I bet you never talked sensibly a day in your life."
Martha raised an eyebrow, amused despite herself. "She's got you there, Doctor."
"Talking sensibly, it's a bit of a bore, isn't it? But the sooner I can explain to you why you're here, the sooner we can get you back home."
Home. Home to Tara. Scarlett felt a wave of homesickness more powerful than any other she'd ever known, not even during the war when she'd been so desperate to escape Sherman's siege. Then again, she'd never been this far from home before. Although Scarlett had only the foggiest notion of what it might mean to leave planet Earth, she understood that wherever she was now was not a place she was ever, ever meant to be.
"Explain, then. You kept talking about my carriage, or something that was in my carriage. Are you thieves?"
"In this particular instance, yes." The Doctor reached into a small metal bin in the wall and pulled out a small hoop of dark metal. "But you can have all of it back except for this."
"You kidnapped me for that?" Scarlett was annoyed. Once she'd thought about returning home, she'd thought about the stories she could tell once she got there. Even Rhett – as cold as he behaved now, as little as he claimed he wanted to see her – why, if she wrote him a letter as exciting as this, wouldn't that pique his curiosity? Probably he'd think her a liar, but he'd at least write back to call her one. And once he wrote back, they'd be talking again, which brought her one step closer to regaining his heart.
But if she told Rhett that she'd been robbed and taken to the stars all for the sake of a cheap hair trinket, he'd only think her a bad liar. One who probably didn't even deserve a reply.
The Doctor squinted at her. "How long has this coronet been in your possession?"
"Some coronet. I couldn't find a single storekeeper in all of Georgia who would give me even two dollars for that thing. I tried, too."
"How long?" the Doctor persisted.
"Since the war," Scarlett said. "I reckon about eight years now."
"Eight years. Early 1860s, North America – oh, the sunspot activity would have been like a welcome mat for them." The Doctor's gibberish seemed to mean something important, but he did not explain. "Did you find it someplace? Or did someone sell it to you?"
"It was left to me," she replied. "By someone who's dead. It's mine, all right."
"I didn't say that it wasn't. But this detail is quite important, Katie."
"It's Scarlett." Really, she to have told him to call her Mrs. Butler, as was proper – but she could not call herself by Rhett's name, not while he was so lost to her.
The Doctor didn't skip a beat. "You mean to say this belonged to a relative of yours, Scarlett? A friend?"
"If you must know, it belonged to a Yankee soldier," Scarlett said shortly. "He died at Tara."
"Ireland?" Martha said.
"Tara, my family's plantation in Clayton County. He died there during the war." The Yankee in question had died shortly after Scarlett had fired a pistol between his eyes, but she did not intend to reveal herself as a murderess in front of two strangers. "We were poor then – nearly starving, thanks to the Yankees – so we spent all the money he had on him and sold what we could. No one ever wanted this. So I kept it."
"That's not the whole story," the Doctor said, and for a moment Scarlett's blood turned icy in her veins. How could he know? But the Doctor continued in good humor. "You see, Andalia IV has been plagued by bands of time-traveling thieves over the years – puts them right off the whole idea of time-travelers and makes for a cold welcome, I can tell you that. Those thieves assume various disguises on different worlds, and they very often go about as itinerant mercenaries or peddlers. I imagine the 'Yankee' who died at Tara was actually one of them. When he died, he left behind not only loot he'd taken from Earth but from other planets as well."
It mattered not one whit to Scarlett that the Yankee she'd killed had not actually been human. She often did not think of Yankees as true human beings to begin with. There had been some odd items in that knapsack, come to think of it.
"The Coronet of Halshar is a rather important artifact." The Doctor held it aloft, turning it that way and this, but no matter how the light hit it, it looked like a plain old ring of wire to Scarlett. It fit her perfectly and felt rather comfortable upon her head, so she had often used it to secure the braids and buns of the more complicated hairdos fashion demanded. Was it really worth some money? Scarlett wished she had found someone else who knew this back when she needed the cash, somebody who would've given her gold or greenbacks for it instead of kidnapping her in a shanty that flew to the stars. "For generations, this coronet determined the rightful ruler of Andalia IV."
Scarlett frowned. "How is a hairband supposed to do that?"
"As I was saying to Martha earlier, it's not a hairband – it's a trans-dimensional psychic artifact." The Doctor put the hoop upon a small glass plate on the stove, which promptly began to glow a merry shade of pink. "The readings on this one are off the charts. Essentially, the coronet judges its wearer on any number of leadership criteria: strength of will, single-mindedness of purpose, courage, fortitude, adaptability, resilience, et cetera."
"Like a Sorting Hat?" Martha smiled charmingly at the Doctor. Scarlett recognized that kind of smile; she'd used it often enough herself on hapless males.
The Doctor seemed impervious to feminine wiles. "Honestly, Martha, you must stop relating everything to Harry Potter," he said crossly, before considering. "Though it's not that bad an analogy, actually. Of course, the Coronet of Halshar doesn't possess sentience or sing happy songs or contain swords or anything like that. Least, not so far as I know. This is simply a mechanical device capable of reading character, that's all."
"Sounds like a Sorting Hat to me," said Martha, crossing her arms across her chest.
Very little of what they said made any sense to Scarlett, and as ever, she bored quickly of any conversation that did not center upon her. "If it's important, is someone going to pay me for it?"
"Blimey, don't you ever think about anything but money?" Martha asked.
"No," Scarlett said, "and if you'd ever been as poor as I've been, you wouldn't either."
Martha opened her mouth to protest, and Scarlett could well imagine why. It had been many years since she'd last been poor, thanks to two prosperous marriages and her own hard work and foresight. Though her dress remained dusty, it was black silk, and she wore the pearl earbobs Rhett had given her after Bonnie's birth. She did not look poor any longer and was proud of that.
Yet Martha remained silent. No doubt it was too much to hope that she'd learned any manners.
The Doctor shrugged. "They might pay you for it. On the other hand, they might try to chop off our heads for not having brought it back earlier."
"Chop off our heads?" Scarlett cried.
Martha looked no less alarmed. "Are you sure this is safe?"
"Pretty sure it's not, actually. Y'see, ever since this was stolen from Andalia IV, the whole planet's been in a state of civil war." The Doctor kept talking, but Scarlett did not hear much after that. She did not need to. She knew well what civil war meant – crops burned in the fields, women and children starving for lack of food, their menfolks dead or in prison God only knew where. Mending threadbare clothes in the hopes they might last one more season, pulling a plow like a mule while leather straps cut into your shoulders, and shaking in terror every time a horse and rider appeared on the distant horizon. Hospitals full of the dead and dying, some soldiers no more than boys who had lost their arms or legs and screamed for want of morphine, who died calling for mothers or sweethearts who would cross battlefields to come if only they could hear. That was what war meant.
Scarlett interrupted the Doctor. "You say this hoop can end the war?"
He blinked in surprise, either at the interruption or her sudden interest. "Possibly. If the Coronet of Halshar will choose a new leader for the planet, then the infighting might cease. I don't know if it still works properly after almost a decade on another world – things like this usually calibrate themselves to their home planets –"
"What are we waiting for?" Scarlett demanded. "Let's take it back where it came from and find out."
A slow smile illuminated the Doctor's boyish face. He had wide, dark eyes and a sharp-cornered grin, and he ought to have looked innocent but did not. "There you go. Knew there had to be a bit of humanity in there somewhere."
Scarlett's motives were not humanitarian. She hated war in the same way that she hated any other enemy who had ever hurt her, and she relished the thought of ending a civil war with much the same cold-blooded pleasure an assassin might take when sinking his blade into his target's back. Never analytical, she knew only that she was being praised, and smiled becomingly.
Evidently, for all its myriad and mysterious powers, the Doctor's shanty could not instantly appear on Andalia IV. Their trip would take some time, and the Doctor suggested that both Martha and Scarlett ought to rest and prepare.
"The TARDIS should have hunted up some Andalian costumes for you ladies by now," he'd said as the three of them walked along the corridors. Scarlett very much wanted to ask how the structure could be so much larger within than without, but she disliked appearing ignorant and so contained her curiosity. "Trying on the local styles might help smooth things over a bit."
"I doubt changing clothes is going to make the Andalians like us more," Martha said, shaking her head.
The Doctor shrugged, a gesture that bunched the shoulders of his jacket at the neck. "Worth a shot. Change or not as you like, Martha, but Scarlett's definitely got to put on something else."
Scarlett had been called many things in her life, but few things were as offensive to her as the suggestion that she was inappropriately dressed. "I'm not the one wearing dungarees."
"No, but you are wearing a corset, aren't you?" the Doctor said. Scarlett felt her cheeks flush with heat; she'd never discussed her underclothes with any man to whom she wasn't married, and only Rhett had spoken of the subject with ease. "If we have to run at any point in this adventure – and we well might – you'd be better off in something that gives you half a chance to catch your breath."
Scarlett recognized good sense in his words, though she had not left her house without a corset since the darkest days of the war, when she'd worked in the fields. If asked to discard her corset by a man she'd only met a few hours ago, Maybelle or India or any of the other ladies of Scarlett's acquaintance would probably have fainted dead away. However, Scarlett was at her core the most adaptable of creatures, and already she was adjusting to her peculiar captors.
"Very well," Scarlett said. "Where's my maid?"
"You can dress yourself," Martha said shortly.
"Trust me," the Doctor chimed in, "once you get the hang of it, the whole process will seem quite natural. One leg at a time – just remember that. The Andalian costume is green, but put on whatever fits. I'm sure Martha would love to show you how the plumbing works, wouldn't you, Martha?"
A stubborn wrinkle appeared between Martha's eyebrows. "I don't particularly feel like doing her any favors, thanks."
The corner of the Doctor's mouth twitched, not quite a smile. "Please consider the ramifications if she doesn't understand how to use the plumbing."
"Jesus, fine. Come on." Martha stomped down the hallway, and Scarlett begrudgingly followed.
To Scarlett's astonishment, the TARDIS-thing had a water closet, something she had heard about but never seen. The contraption worked as cleanly and quietly as she'd heard, and she resolved to see about having one installed at home. Even better was the shower, which was no bucket that needed refilling but a font with constant streams of pleasingly warm water.
"Do I have to explain how you would use all this stuff?" Martha asked.
"I'm certain I can manage for myself, thank you." Scarlett could match Martha's coolness.
"If you scald yourself, don't hide it and act proud. Let me know. I'd rather treat you for a burn than for infection."
"Treat me? What would you do about it?"
Martha lifted her chin proudly. "I'm a doctor. A physician. Chew on that." Then she walked out of the room, and that strange door whooshed shut behind her.
As instructed, Scarlett chewed on this information while she took the most luxurious shower of her life. A Negro doctor? She had never heard of such a thing. Then again, she had never heard of a kind of shack that could fly through the stars, and she was standing inside one right now.
Scarlett had discovered for herself, several times in her life, that many ideas handed down to her as gospel truth were anything but. Every man in the state of Georgia – save for Rhett and Ashley – had sworn up and down that any Southerner could lick a dozen Yankees and the war would be over in two weeks. That was why the Confederacy had gotten into the fool war in the first place. And Scarlett had finally realized that men were not invariably more intelligent than women after she'd outsmarted countless men herself. She had used that information to go on and build a successful business, one that thrived and prospered while dozens of the men she'd grown up admiring went bankrupt all around her.
But Negroes? As clever as white folks? That just couldn't be true.
Yet -- what about Mammy? Scarlett had a healthy respect for Mammy's opinions, nearly as high an opinion as Mammy had for her own. Few people, male or female, white or black, could size up a situation faster than Mammy could. Time and again, her counsel had proved true.
Pork had shown more gumption after the war than just about any of the young men from nice families Scarlett had grown up with and been courted by. Pork didn't sit and whine about days gone by; no sir, he went out and stole chickens when they were starving, and Scarlett had been glad for every mouthful of chicken she could get.
Dilcey's courage during the worst of their troubles certainly outshone Suellen's, and by a mile. Uncle Peter remembered everything that had ever been said within earshot of his carriage, even if the words had left the speakers' lips decades ago. As for Prissy – well, Prissy was a fool. But Scarlett knew white fools too.
Had Scarlett ever held any deep principles, either good or evil, she could not have made the transition so easily, if at all. But Scarlett did not have principles. She had instincts, and convictions, and those she generally clung to only so far and so well as they supported her wishes.
Land sakes, she thought. I won't be able to tell Rhett a word about this entire mess. He wouldn't believe it.
No, she wouldn't be able to tell Rhett. He wouldn't listen. He had no use for anything she had to say, whether about Negroes or kidnappings or trips to the stars. If he didn't care that she loved him, then he wouldn't care about anything else, either.
I won't think about that now. I'll think about it tomorrow.
Fresh from her shower, Scarlett turned determinedly to the chiffarobe in the corner. What an odd assortment of clothing it contained! There were dungarees like Martha's and a very strange sort of shirt that seemed to have been made out of a British flag. Yet there were also dresses that looked very old-fashioned, the sort of thing Grandmother Robilliard wore in some of her portraits. Scarlett would gladly wear dungarees before she'd put on anything so out-of-date.
Yet at the very back, she saw a flash of apple-green and greedily clutched at it. What a peculiar sort of dress! Really, it was more like a wrapper than a proper gown, but it wouldn't be indecent to be seen in it. The bell sleeves and long, sweeping skirt reminded Scarlett vividly of the pretty dresses that were in fashion just before the war. The neck stood up a bit in back, which felt odd but looked becoming. In front, quite a bit of her bosom was revealed, but Scarlett rather liked showing off her bosom. She plaited her stick-straight hair into a fetching style and swept into the corridor, feeling prettier than she had in quite a long time. Apple green always did darken her eyes to emerald.
As she went back into the main room of the TARDIS, Scarlett heard Martha complaining, "I can't stand this thing. I feel like I'm tripping over it every second."
"You'll get used to it."
"If the local costume is supposed to make things go smoother this time, how come you aren't changing, Doctor?"
"Amazing thing about this suit. There's virtually no civilization that finds it objectionable. Save the Aztecs, mind you. Prickly race, the Aztecs. Remind me to tell you about the first time I ran into them."
Scarlett got a look at Martha, who was wearing a long robe cut very like her own, albeit in white. "Why, Martha, you look lovely," Scarlett said. Sopping sugar all over young girls was generally the best way to smooth over any ruffled feelings.
Martha's eyes narrowed. "How come you're being so nicey-nicey all of a sudden?"
Scarlett usually preferred to monopolize the attention of any attractive men in her company, and the Doctor, for all his odd clothing and odder behavior, was certainly a handsome fellow. But as she had no intention of spending any more time than necessary flying about the sky with him or any other man, she could afford to be generous. "Really, Martha, I simply can't take my eyes off you. That dress is simply lovely. Don't you think she's lovely, Doctor?"
Martha glanced shyly toward the Doctor.
"Sure," the Doctor said, never looking up from some small whirling panels on the wall. "But our Martha's more comfortable in jeans any day. Aren't you, Martha?"
Instead of answering, Martha smoothed the snowy folds of her skirt, eyes downcast.
The low humming within the TARDIS grew louder, and a roaring, thunderlike sound started. Scarlett jumped, alarmed, but both the Doctor and Martha seemed to take this as a matter of course. As the TARDIS began to rock back and forth, more like a ship than ever, Scarlett braced her hands against a brass rail and felt reassured when her captors did the same.
With a great shudder, the TARDIS went still. The Doctor grinned. "That's the ticket. Ready for your first stroll on an alien world, Scarlett?"
"Let's give them the hoop and be done with it," Scarlett said.
"You really don't care about traveling through the universe, do you?" Martha shook her head. "Unbelievable."
"I don't see what would be so marvelous about it."
"Come along and we'll find out." The Doctor walked with both of them to the door, and they walked into a sunset unlike any Scarlett had ever known. The sky was velvety purple, and the sun as pink as a rose. The landscape rolled softly to the horizon, lush with grass; Scarlett breathed in deeply, and her hard-won knowledge of farming told her from the scent alone that this was good soil, rich and fertile. Truth be told, fantastical though the sky appeared, this place reminded her of Tara. As ever, when she stood on ground that felt like home, Scarlett drew strength from it.
"There!" cried a man's hoarse voice. "The intruders have returned!"
Scarlett, Martha and the Doctor all turned to see three dozen men, each wielding clubs or knives, running straight for them.
Martha gulped. "I don't think the native costume helped."
"Whoa, whoa, whoa, there," the Doctor said, holding up his hands. "No need to be alarmed, gentlemen!"
Martha began skittering backwards toward the TARDIS. "Doctor, I don't think they want to hear it."
The Doctor sighed. "If it's any consolation, most alien jails aren't that bad, really. Stone walls, metal cots, extreme carelessness in terms of security. Keep your eye out for any loose hinges, hmm?"
As their attackers came closer, the Doctor and Martha both backed up. Scarlett remained where she stood and lifted her chin high. As the attackers rushed closer, she cried, "Stop right there!"
They stopped, probably more from surprise than anything else. Scarlett was conscious of the fact that Martha and the Doctor were staring at her as though she'd grown a second head, but she didn't intend to pay them any attention at the moment. Instead she fixed her most withering glare on the tallest of their attackers, who seemed to be the leader. "Don't you take one more step until you explain yourselves."
"These time-travelers are responsible for our wars," he growled, tightening his grip on his club. "You are with them?"
Time travel, time travel. Everyone kept using those words, and Scarlett wasn't at all sure what they meant – everyone traveled through time, yesterday to today to tomorrow, and what else could there be? – so she ignored that. "Are you talking about that sad little coronet that you lost? The one that picks your rulers out for you?"
"Stolen! By time travelers!" The tall man glared viciously at Martha and the Doctor.
Behind her, Scarlett heard Martha whisper, "Doctor, aren't you going to say something?"
"Scarlett seems to have the situation covered for the moment."
Encouraged, Scarlett tossed her head. "Fiddle dee dee. Can't you tell the difference between someone who's hurt you and someone who's doing you a favor? Some Yankee rascal stole your coronet, and we've brought it back."
"The Coronet of Halshar? Here?" The tall man's face lit up with something very like wonder. In truth, Scarlett thought, he was a rather handsome man, despite the absurd fur cloak he wore. His eyes were a peculiar violet color, but otherwise he might easily have been a businessman in Atlanta. Then he frowned. "We have been lied to before. Show us the coronet."
The Doctor reached inside his jacket and pulled out the wire hoop.
Instantly, all their attackers sank to their knees. "By Halshar," the tall man said, "our coronet is restored to us. Once more Andalia will prosper under a rightful ruler. All hail our friends and benefactors!"
Scarlett smiled smugly over her shoulder at the Doctor and Martha. "Now, isn't this better than some old jail?"
Martha sighed. "Well, you've got nerve. I'll give you that."
As the Andalians finished their prayer of thanksgiving, the Doctor stepped forward with a grin. "You've done splendidly so far, Scarlett, but I really want to do the next part. It's my favorite part, really."
"What's that?" Scarlett said. It seemed to her that they ought to be done.
The Doctor grinned happily and addressed himself to the tall man kneeling before Scarlett. "If it's not too much trouble – take me to your leader."
Apparently, on Andalia IV, the question of leadership was an extremely fraught one. Menlek – that turned out to be the name of the tall fellow in front of them, a funny sort of name but one that suited him – explained that, currently, there were two main contenders for the monarchy of Andalia IV. The first, Tanafleen, was the one that Menlek personally followed. Tanafleen apparently was an older gentleman, thin and somewhat sickly, who held tightly to cherished traditions. Scarlett rationalized that Tanafleen sounded much like Jeff Davis. The other fellow, called Poulkvare, was described as a savage who wanted to uproot all the ways that Andalia IV used to follow in favor of crazy, unworkable theories. Poulkvare was clearly Abe Lincoln.
"My hope is that Tanafleen will be chosen by the Coronet of Halshar," Menlek said as they all trouped toward the capital city, which in Scarlett's opinion they ought to have landed closer to at the beginning. "But the coronet's wisdom is not to be denied. If Poulkvare is chosen, then I shall lay down my arms and follow with trust in my heart."
"I don't see why you trust some wire hoop to pick our your leaders for you," Scarlett said, gathering her skirts as she stepped over a puddle. This country got plenty of rain, that was certain. She could taste moisture in the air.
"The Coronet of Halshar has chosen wisely for more than 500 years. When it was stolen, our world was plunged into division and strife. Gladly would I submit to the coronet's guidance again, as would nearly all Andalians."
To Scarlett this sounded like nonsense, but she supposed it was their affair. She turned her attention to more pleasing pursuits. "I must say, you and your troops look terribly impressive. How brave you must be to fight with only knives and clubs!"
Menlek, like any other soldier, puffed up happily at the praise and launched into a long discussion of armaments and group morale. Scarlett nodded and smiled and complimented on cue, paying very little attention to what he said. What mattered was that he was now a soldier who cared for a pretty lady's good opinion. While she basked in the warmth of masculine approval, she also listened to the conversation Martha and the Doctor were having as they walked alongside the party.
"After we take Scarlett back where she belongs, where will we go next? Wouldn't mind visiting the Jazz Age, if you're up for it."
"Why not make ourselves at home in 1872 for a while?"
"And get called a darky again? No thanks."
"Lots of places to go besides the Old South. Let's see, 1872 – hmm, mustn't run into myself – ah, I've got it. There's a spectacular meteor shower visible in France that year. Really amazing stuff, and I know my meteor showers."
"So, we could go on holiday in France together?" Hope shone in Martha's voice. "We could drink a little wine. Visit Paris, maybe."
"Paris has a certain bouquet," the Doctor said, his mind clearly far distant. He was thinking of other people, other times – the past. Martha was the one trying to think of the future, but she saw a future that could never be.
Scarlett recognized the conundrum too well.
Menlek and his troops stopped marching, though they were still standing in the middle of nowhere, so far as Scarlett could see. "What's the matter?" she said. "Why aren't we going on?"
The Doctor grinned. "One little detail we neglected to mention about the Andalians –"
Scarlett yelped as an outcropping of rocks near them started to split apart.
"—they live underground."
"Gracious me." Scarlett peered into the newly revealed darkness below; sure as anything, a long staircase led downward.
They all made their way into the underground city, which was unlike anything in Scarlett's experience. The only large towns she had ever spent any time in were Savannah, Charleston and New Orleans, all of which were located above the ground like any normal living place ought to be. This city had bustling streets and busy blocks, but they were stacked right atop each other like layers in a cake. Scarlett would have thought such an arrangement would stink to high heaven, but instead it smelled pleasantly of hay, and the lanterns that illuminated their path glowed softly with a warm light that beautified everything it touched.
"Why, your city is quite lovely, Menlek," Scarlett said, demurely taking the arm he offered to steady her as they descended. "I suppose you can keep your cities safer during a war, as long as they're underground."
"Great damage can be done to underground cities," Menlek replied sorrowfully. "So far, we remain unscathed, but Poulkvare's forces are near. I had begun to fear a siege, but now that the Coronet of Halshar has returned, surely our battles are at an end."
Siege. The very word made Scarlett shiver. Blast and damn the men who went on making wars! "I do hope so."
When they reached the bottom of the stairs, Scarlett realized, everything seemed even cleaner and much brighter; twice as many lanterns hung here. This would be where decisions were made, where the ruler lived. She straightened herself up and quickly bit her lips so they would flush with color. She wanted to look her best if she was to be presented to some sort of a king.
Once again, she wondered what Rhett would say about this, and once again, she realized that he would probably never even read the letter she sent. Pain clamped around her heart, making her mournful and lost – but only for a moment. Scarlett sensed that, for the time being, it would be best to keep her wits about her.
A thin old man wearing a long red robe swept into the room, trailed by attendants and courtiers. The Doctor smiled. "Tanafleen, I presume?"
Tanafleen nodded, his countenance stern and bewhiskered. Scarlett was reminded of a nanny goat and stifled a smile. The old man's voice dripped with scorn as he asked, "Menlek, who are these outsiders? Not more – time travelers?"
"They are, Lord Tanafleen, but they come not to steal from us but to restore what we have lost. Sir – they have brought back the Coronet of Halshar!"
Everyone around them gasped. The Doctor held the coronet out proudly. Scarlett dimpled, preparing herself for more praise and gratitude, and perhaps presents.
Tanafleen shouted, "Throw the lot of them in jail! This instant!"
"I told you about the stone walls," the Doctor said. "Really, this is Basic Alien Jail Type A. Been in dozens of them."
Scarlett reasoned that she ought to have known the Doctor was a criminal. Why had she been so quick to accept that her kidnapping was some sort of necessary errand? Only one type of person went around kidnapping people, and that was a criminal. Now, for consorting with criminals, she was in jail on some other planet.
Locked in the small cell with her was Martha, who kept shaking the metal bars and peering out as though that would do a bit of good. Imprisoned across the hallway were the Doctor, who looked disgustingly pleased with himself, and Menlek, who looked heartbroken.
"Why did Lord Tanafleen not welcome the return of the coronet?" Menlek sighed. "Why does he not wish for an end to this war?"
"Because the coronet might not choose him," Martha pointed out, testing the lock for what seemed like the hundredth time. "If he keeps fighting the war, he might win. If the coronet goes for Poulkvare, Tanafleen loses. I guess he'd rather take his chances with the war."
"It is not his chance alone he takes!" Menlek bellowed, making the everyone jump. "He takes chances with the lives of all his citizens! This is no leader. Only a despot."
Scarlett did not know nor care what a despot was. "Will there be a trial or a hearing or something? I mean to tell them that I hardly know you people."
Martha rolled her eyes, but she said, "Yeah, Menlek, how does the criminal justice system work here? The Doctor and I weren't on Andalia IV long enough to be sure, last time."
Menlek shrugged. "Once, there would have been a trial before a jury of ten elders. During the war, however, Lord Tanafleen has made several rulings himself. It is a violation of our laws, but I always believed it necessary. Now, I wonder."
"Nothing like a short stint behind bars to add perspective," the Doctor said, slapping Menlek's back. "Take it from me. I've been in alien jails dozens of times, and I always learn a little something. For instance, how to spot a loose hinge when I see one."
Then he wedged his shoulder between two bars of his cell door, shrugged – and the door fell sideways.
As Martha and Scarlett both cried out in delight, the Doctor said, "A hundred worlds. Not one tightened hinge. Makes you wonder."
"We are free!" Menlek shouted. "Now we shall reclaim the coronet and proclaim the truth to all the people of Andalia IV!"
"First we'll have to free the ladies," the Doctor said. "Don't suppose we got lucky enough to have loose hinges on all the doors –"
Scarlett vigorously shook the door of their cell, but it would not budge. "Hellfire," she muttered.
"Doctor, you should go." Martha must have gone mad, to say such a thing, but she looked entirely calm. She extended one hand through the bars, and the Doctor took it. "If you can get hold of the coronet again, and you restore order, then we'll be fine, won't we? Ending the war is more important anyway."
"Don't you dare leave us!" Scarlett protested.
The Doctor seemed not to have heard Scarlett; instead, he remained focused on Martha as he squeezed her hand. "Brave girl."
"That's me. The brave one." Martha's lips quirked in a sad, strained smile.
Menlek smiled at Scarlett. "Never fear, good lady. I shall return and see that you are freed!"
"How very gallant of you," Scarlett said. She'd have liked to give him a slap for running off, war or no war, but she had more sense than to insult her only potential rescuer.
"Onward, Doctor! We must make haste!" Menlek dashed for the door, and the Doctor followed.
For a few long seconds, neither Scarlett nor Martha spoke. Martha sat down heavily on her cot, chin set glumly in her hands. "He picked a fine time to leave his sonic screwdriver on the TARDIS," Martha sighed.
Scarlett ignored this. "He doesn't love you."
Martha sat up straight. "Excuse me?"
"The Doctor isn't in love with you, and if you had any wits, you'd stop mooning around after him like a calf and find yourself someone better."
"Better?" Martha said, as though there could be no such thing. Then she blinked. "Listen, even if this were any of your business, which it isn't –"
"You ought to have thought of that before you kidnapped me and made your doings my business. I was perfectly happy to go on home."
After a pause, Martha said, "Okay, fair enough. But the relationship between the Doctor and me – it's complicated, all right?"
"The two of you haven't anything in common, as far as I can see."
"You don't think I should be with him because I'm black. That's it, isn't it?"
"I didn't mean that." It would have been the first and most violent of Scarlett's objections, had they been sharing this conversation in Atlanta, but on Andalia IV, such considerations seemed fairly remote. "I only meant – "
"What did you mean?"
Pa's long-ago words returned to Scarlett haltingly. "Like must marry like, or there can be no happiness."
"Marriage? Okay, no need to get carried away." Martha held up her hands. "He lost someone, all right? I know he misses her. But life's got to go on, and to me – he's the world to me, and I think – it's worth a chance. And it's my chance to take. End of conversation."
Ashley Wilkes had been the world to Scarlett for nigh onto 14 years, and because of that she had known only loneliness and jealousy instead of the marriage she ought to have had to Rhett. Seeing another woman making the same stupid mistake angered Scarlett almost past the point of reason, and she wanted to grab Martha and shake some sense to her.
But she would not have believed anyone who had told her that she didn't truly love Ashley, or that Ashley did not truly love her. Several people had told her, but it had done no good.
"As you like," Scarlett said, "but mark my words, you'll wish someday that you'd listened to me."
"Yeah, there's no way I'd want to pass up on your wisdom."
"What is that supposed to mean?"
They might have begun arguing in earnest had the Doctor and Menlek not come running back into the room. "Keys!" the Doctor shouted, holding them out in front of him. "Stole the keys!"
Martha beamed. "I knew you'd do it!"
Scarlett was not as reassured, seeing the panic on the men's faces. "Why are you carrying on this way?"
Menlek replied, "We must run. Poulkvare's army is here!"
They ran into the depths of the underground city and found chaos. People ran in every direction, clutching their prized possessions to their chests or reaching for loved one's hands. Shouts and cries filled the air. Scarlett remembered Atlanta in the final days before Sherman's attack; it had been much like this.
"We must reach the Great Chamber!" Menlek insisted, leading them through the din. "That is where the coronet will be kept."
"How do you know that?" Martha shouted. "Tanafleen didn't seem to care much about it before."
"He may be power-mad enough to ignore the coronet, but he would not destroy it," Menlek said.
The Doctor nodded. "Of course. You said he was tradition-bound; even if he won't submit to the coronet, he'll restore it to its rightful place."
Scarlett didn't care about the hairband any longer and could not imagine why the others did, but she had no desire to run into the mayhem around them alone. Instead she stuck with the party, doggedly keeping up with Menlek and the others, trying hard to ignore the assault of old memories that attacked her.
Memories – she'd started to hate them. Why did people remember anything anyway? If she could forget the war, forget Ashley – even forget Bonnie – oh, she would do it in a heartbeat.
At last, after they were all panting and coughing from the smoke in the air, they stumbled into a great, blue-marbled hall. The high arched ceilings caught every sound and magnified it, which was why it sounded like shouting was going on in there –
No, there really was shouting. In the room, Lord Tanafleen stood, soldiers by his side, facing a tall, white-haired woman and her guard. He yelled, "How dare you violate this space?"
"I? I, violate it? It is you who betrays the Great Chamber, Tanafleen, and all the virtues it stands for!"
Menlek whispered, "It is Lady Poulkvare!"
Lady Poulkvare? These people would let a woman run their world? Scarlett knew such things were not unheard-of – her scanty education at the Fayetteville Female Academy had nonetheless sufficed to teach her who Queen Elizabeth had been – but the idea astonished her nonetheless.
Poulkvare, for her part, certainly conducted herself as though she were already a queen. "We have the city, Tanafleen. Your troops are scattered. Surrender."
"You cannot possibly hope to escape this city alive," Tanafleen sneered. "You are the one who should surrender."
The Doctor stepped forward. "Idea. How about, nobody surrenders, and the Coronet of Halshar selects the ruler?"
"The Coronet of Halshar?" Poulkvare turned to stare at him. "But it was stolen years ago –"
"Until we returned it earlier today," the Doctor said. "I imagine it's lying about this room someplace. Tanafleen, wherever did you put it?"
Tanafleen straightened, pressing his lips together in a thin line. When Poulkvare stared at him accusingly, he said, "We have no proof the coronet is genuine. We have been fooled by tricksters before."
"But we can test it!" Poulkvare said. "Shame, Tanafleen. If you are not willing to be tested, I am."
"Here it is," said Menlek, reaching into an ornate box that looked like it might be made of gold. "Lady Poulkvare, if you will –"
Scarlett watched, befuddled, as Poulkvare stepped onto a cloudy white disk in the center of the room. Her guards all kneeled. Menlek solemnly laid the coronet upon her head.
Then Poulkvare winced, ducked her head, and pulled the coronet away. Her guards groaned, and Menlek slumped in disappointment. She whispered, "It is not I."
Tanafleen pushed forward, his narrow face cleaved in two by his toothy grin. "The Coronet of Halshar has spoken! Now, Poulkvare, you shall see me declared rightful ruler of this world."
"If it must be," she said hollowly, handing him the coronet. Tanafleen stood on the disk and quickly put the coronet on – then just as quickly pulled it off, hissing.
"Neither of them?" Menlek said in wonder. "Neither is to lead our world?"
"Fiddle dee dee," Scarlett muttered. "I told you it was just an old hairband."
"Wait a second. Wait. Wait." The Doctor folded his arms in front of his chest. The look on his face was certainly peculiar. "You mean, the coronet actually hurts anyone who isn't supposed to wear it?"
"Of course," Poulkvare said. "How else could the rightful leader be known?"
The Doctor took a deep breath. "Scarlett, stand on that disk and try the coronet."
"I don't see what all the fuss is about," Scarlett huffed as she pushed her way forward. She snatched the coronet from Tanafleen and put it on her head, as she had dozens of times before. "See? There's nothing special about it."
The disk beneath her feet lit up, as did disks along every wall and every ridge of the ceiling. The blue marble glittered in the illumination, all of which swirled around one definite center: Scarlett herself.
"The coronet has chosen!" Menlek prostrated himself upon the ground, as did all the other Andalians in the room, including even Poulkvare and Tanafleen. They began chanting something that Scarlett couldn't understand, and she felt quite bewildered – but as always, the hairband was strangely comfortable to her, and she took some pleasure in being the center of attention.
Martha turned to the Doctor. "What just happened?"
Beaming, the Doctor replied, "The Coronet of Halshar has decided that the new leader of this entire planet is to be Katie Scarlett O'Hara Hamilton Kennedy Butler."
"Me?" Scarlett cried, ready to fling the hairband from her head and run back to that TARDIS shanty as fast as her feet would take her.
But then she considered more carefully.
There's as much money to be made in the building of a civilization as in the wreck of one, Rhett had told her once, and Scarlett had made it her business to learn how to make money while rebuilding a city and a world. She knew what it took to make industries run again after years of war. She knew how to get a farm that had lain fallow too long fertile and productive once more. She knew how people behaved when their society had broken down – and what it took to start over.
She would never have to go back to Atlanta again and see Ashley's sad face as he looked at her, nor India's prideful satisfaction in the fact that Rhett had left. And she would never get a chance to try to win Rhett back – but she knew now, as really she had always known, that there was no winning Rhett back. In some ways, the Rhett she loved had died with Bonnie. What was left now was a broken man, no more the real Rhett than the sad, wandering wreck of her father in his last years had really been her Pa.
Worst of all was that she would never see Tara again. That thought hurt her more than Scarlett had thought she could still be hurt.
But oh, it was the love of the land that spoke to her, and wasn't this land, too? Good farmland, the very best, all of it begging for hands to till it instead of letting it lie while people fought futile wars. Pa didn't sit in Ireland on the patch of land he loved first; no, he went and found a new place to love and to call his very own. Scarlett could do the same.
Menlek shouted, "All hail Queen Scarlett!"
That did have a nice ring to it.
After the coronation ceremonies, at which Scarlett taught both band and dancers the Virginia Reel, she and her guards saw the Doctor and Martha to the TARDIS.
"You've got your work cut out for you," the Doctor said. "You'll want good advisors for counsel."
Like foremen at the sawmill, he meant. "I've already asked Lady Poulkvare for her advice," Scarlett said. "I don't think I'll be asking that nasty Tanafleen fellow."
"Smart woman," the Doctor said. "I'll stop back by sometime, see how you're doing. So if you ever want to go back home –"
"I am home." Scarlett would keep saying this until the day she believed it. She felt both lonelier and more excited than she ever had before.
The Doctor smiled brilliantly, and Scarlett offered him her hand to kiss. He did so with what she considered surprising gentility.
Martha said, "You're bossy enough to be a queen, I guess."
With the coronet on her head and a royal mantle over her robes, Scarlett could ignore such petty jabs. "Mind what I told you in the jail cell."
Martha's eyes darkened, but she nodded. "I hear you."
"What do you say, Martha?" The Doctor put his arm around her shoulders as he guided her back to the TARDIS. "Still want to take in that meteor shower?"
They vanished inside the blue shanty, and Scarlett turned around to go without even watching it fly away. She did not want to feel anything like regret. No, regret was something she was sick of. Better by far to get to the business of ruling her kingdom.
"Queen Scarlett," said Menlek, who walked beside her, "may I have the honor of carrying the hem of your garment?"
"Please do," she said blithely. He really was a handsome man. She wondered if her marriage to Rhett still counted on this planet.
At home, they would think she'd run off. Sooner or later, Rhett would be able to have the marriage dissolved for abandonment. Would he wonder where she had gone? Would he care?
Ashley at least would wonder and care, but he would do so as an old friend, no more. And the others in Atlanta – India Wilkes and Maybelle Picard and Mrs. Meade –
Scarlett began to laugh.
Menlek smiled at her, puzzled but willing. "My sovereign, what amuses you?"
"Those old cats in Atlanta," Scarlett said. "Why, they'd be pea green with envy!"