The Pembrian Canonicate of Viltri Prime were known for acquiring secrets and oddities. They had a warren of a monastery hollowed out from ancient lava tubes under the planet's surface. Their tunnels spanned the globe miles deep, so the stories said, and their collection spanned millennia. By all accounts of those who had dared to make the trip and returned to tell the tale, it was a marvel of the modern age.
Somewhere else entirely, it was a Wednesday.
"Nuns who nick the universe's treasures?" Clara bounced on her toes by the TARDIS door, her breezy summer dress accented by a pair of practical shoes. "How unconventional."
"They don't nick." The Doctor frowned, cracked the door and peeked outside.
"I'll bet they do. The knaves."
"They--what? Don't say it that way if you run in to any of them," he whispered, still blocking the door.
"Worried about prior offenses?" she tried. He turned and raised a finger.
"Stop it. I can turn this TARDIS right around."
"I'm sure you can," she suggested, and he stood stock still for a moment, mouth open. Then he sighed, opened the door and stepped out.
"Anyway, they don't nick," he said. "They procure."
"Yeah?" She crept out after him into a gloomy corridor. "Do they make a habit of it?"
Ten minutes later, the Doctor had managed to cross thirty-two items off of his own running "Things I have to see before I believe it" list. Of course, Clara hadn't made a dent in her one hundred and one places. So far, this one looked like the universe's best attempt at a junk drawer.
"Oh look," the Doctor said in the next eddy of a room curling away from the main corridor. He pointed to a clear, faceted ball the size of a satsuma on the wall. "A psychic flash from the aura photographers on Kep!"
Clara leaned against a small spot of bare wall, arms crossed. "I hear Monument Valley is beautiful," she said.
"Been there." The Doctor waved a hand, still perusing the shelves. "I was inside a robot at the time. Not a giant one, mind you; just regular size. Me, though, I was tiny."
She huffed a breath. "At least come up with a believable fib."
"Happens more often than you'd think . . ." he said, eyes passing slowly over a very small, very detailed model of some kind of sleek space plane. Then he spun around. "Long story short, not sure if it still counts as--ooh, is that a Divrixian metallurgic manipulator? Why is it reading yellow?"
He brandished the sonic, and Clara stood up abruptly. "Doctor, I don't think you should touch anything--"
Five minutes after that, they were racing deeper into the maze with a horde of half-cybernetic centipedes in wimples on their heels.
"I was just having a look at it!" the Doctor shouted over his shoulder. "It's a good thing too--!"
They turned a corner and were snagged by a plethora of tiny pincers--reinforcements, cutting off their escape. Soon Clara and the Doctor were wrapped up, arms pinned to their sides by approximately forty-two spindly appendages apiece, hugged against the rearing fore-segments of the very modestly dressed arthropods that had caught them. They could only watch as the pursuing posse met the flankers and fanned out into the corridor.
They were surrounded and immobile. The Doctor cleared his throat.
"Hello! Sisters of the Ciliate Order, may you grow long in life! There's been a bit of a misunderstanding, I'm afraid, and also there is a possible crisis that you really should know about--"
"Ssssilence!" The leader clapped her top two pincers together, and the nun holding the Doctor sent a jolt of blue electricity through him from the ends of her legs. He contained a scream through gritted teeth, but slumped over when the blue arc stopped and the nun slackened her grip.
"Doctor!" Clara cried, and cut off abruptly when she felt her hair start to stand on end. The leader reared up to tower over them, her long antennae swooping down to explore the Doctor's head and shoulders.
"Penitent," she clicked at him. "You will feel right at home in the lower levels. Down there we have such a splendid assortment of thieves."
"You can't!" Clara said. The nun holding her made a disconcerting hissing noise that came from the body segments Clara would have called a neck in a mammal. The body she could feel at her back was strong and solid as stone. She suppressed a shudder and bit her lip. The leader ignored her, still pronouncing sentence over the Doctor.
"Or do you offer usss a rarer and more valuable prize?"
He lolled his head. "Clara," he rasped. For a second her heart sank with the wretched feeling of betrayal, but then the Doctor flicked his eyes down. Clara followed his gaze to a barely free hand that had barely made it to a pocket, fingers curled around a glinting something in his palm. The Doctor finished his offer.
"I realize it's two versus two hundred, but--"
He flicked his wrist and screwed his eyes shut. The psychic flash shot straight up into the air and pulsed. In her brain.
"Leg it!" the Doctor shouted.
The nun let go, and Clara ran.
It was only when she stopped, what felt like miles later, that she realized the Doctor had been counting actual legs and not whole bodies in his assessment. He hadn't followed her. Clara looked around the empty corridor, lost and alone.
Two hours later found Clara wandering the lower levels in search of the Doctor. She took care to avoid roving patrols of Centipede Sisters, and she didn't touch anything that looked like an exhibit or a cache. Some of the eddies branching off of the corridors had thick doors blocking them, with viny grates along the top. She had to shimmy up the sides of the rounded walls and hang on, braced like a spider in a corner, to see through them.
Most of the rooms were occupied only by dust and baubles. Some were different. In one she saw a collection of purple sunflowers drooping in earthenware pots, leaves curved like hunched shoulders on dejected frames. That's right, they seemed to be saying as Clara slunk back down to the floor, Just leave us behind while you go search for fauna like yourself. Much more important. Another room held a kaleidoscope-colored pedestal surrounded by incomprehensible tech. Yet another was bare but for a stuffed penguin the size of a man slumped in the corner, sitting next to an old brown fedora on the floor.
Except Clara coughed, and she was sure the penguin moved. She yelped in surprise and lost her grip on the ceiling, tumbling back down to the floor. She heard shuffling sounds from the other side of the door, and clambered back up to the grate.
"Hello?" she said, peeking in.
The penguin was standing now, the fedora hung at the tip of its wing. In one practiced move it flicked the hat upside down and rolled it atop its head.
"In the klink not half an hour, and here's a beautiful dame come to rescue me," it said. "That's nearly enough to make a fellow like this joint."
"Name's Frobisher," the penguin offered. "Private eye."
She blinked. He blinked back.
"Right!" Clara finally said. "Let's get this door open."
Twenty minutes passed before the distant strains of pop music started echoing through the halls.
"So I was on a case, you see," Frobisher was saying. "Had a bead on a missing smuggler ship--I was looking into it for a lady friend; she thought they might have run afoul with the Justice Department and that's bad news if you don't have compression shielding. And the Sisters, well, I didn't even have time to ask before they locked me up! Don't know what bees got up in their bonnets, usually--"
"Sssh!" Clara held up a hand. "Do you hear that?"
Frobisher cocked his head to one side and narrowed his eyes. "Sounds like . . . " He waddled over to the wall and placed an ear-hole against the rock. "A power ballad?" he finished.
"What," Clara said, but it was hardly the most incredulous thing that had happened today. Sure enough, they rounded a corner and the faint strains of music became more noticeably the chorus of "Keep on Lovin' You" by REO Speedwagon. "Huh," she said. "That's funny, I have a--"
Then the last refrain faded, and the next song began. And wasn't that just the kicker, thought Clara.
Frobisher rubbed his stubby wings together and said, "Oh, I love this song, a true classic! What do you suppose it's coming from?"
Clara took his wing and sped them off toward the source of the sound. "I know exactly what it's coming from," she said. "And he is in so much trouble!"
It took them all of the next track and half of the second refrain of the following before they found the Doctor's cell. Clara scurried up to the grate and said "Oi!"
The Doctor whirled around from fiddling with some contrivance of bric-a-brac accented by the sonic screwdriver, its green tip pulsing to the staccato beat. "Clara!" he said, his voice quieter and hoarser than usual. "Fabulous! You've found me. I couldn't shout so I had to rig something--"
"You nicked it!" she said, poking an accusing finger through the grate.
He blinked and frowned at her. "I what? Can you open the door? Only the sonic doesn't do wood and I had to improvise."
"Keep on Loving You, This Charming Man, Let's Dance!" She said the last bit at the same exact time as it echoed on the refrain in the background. Then she disappeared from the grate and soon the door was creaking open to let her storm through. "You nicked my mix tape!" she said. "From the boom box by my bed, you nicked it! When were you even in my room?"
"What?" the Doctor's eyebrows furrowed the way he did when he was processing too much information too quickly, and then he relaxed and waved a dismissive hand. "Nonsense. That's three songs out of a thousand I could have chosen--"
"Rock the Casbah," Clara interrupted.
Sure enough, Bowie faded out, and the beat started up again with the Clash. Clara raised an eyebrow.
The Doctor stood up straight but not before looking guiltily behind him. The bric-a-brac was in fact a black cassette, its holes rigged up through the pointed nose cones of two front propellers from a very small, very detailed model of a sleek looking space plane, which were slowly feeding the tape across a smooth groove in the handle of the sonic.
"I don't nick." The Doctor straightened his lapels. "I--"
"You can procure it right back when we get home," Clara snapped. "Here I was worried about kleptomaniac nuns and I should have been worried about you!"
"Clara," the Doctor placated. "Now is not really the time."
"You know, I nearly had my carryall stolen when I was fourteen--"
"Near enough to cause grief! It was just a trinket, a game to them, but that bag belonged to my mum!" Her shout echoed to silence, and Clara finally realized at that moment, she was yelling at a thousand-year-old alien in the middle of a lava tube cum convent in some far-away time where space planes were routine, and even if he'd nicked her tape, it wasn't the theft she was most angry about.
They looked at each other for a moment.
"Why do you have a boom box?" the Doctor finally said. "You have iTunes and Spotify and Medusa--"
"Pandora," the penguin corrected him, finally following Clara into the cell now that the air had been let out of the row.
And here she thought for sure she'd found another thing for his list, but the Doctor only smiled broadly and said, "Frobisher! By my stars, what a day!"
"Doc? I should have known." Frobisher's eyes fell on the makeshift tape deck. "Hey! Is that a model three-seven-delta Hadian skimmer? I've been looking for one of those!"
"Whereas I was looking for nothing in particular," the Doctor said. "But--well, there is the matter of the yellow alert on a metallurgic manipulator, and the crisis."
"What crisis is that?" Clara asked, looking around nervously. "Because I don't want another run-in with the centipede nuns and their rock-hard chitinous abs."
"Don't I know it," said Frobisher. "They didn't even let me introduce myself. They were quite--"
"Touchy," the Doctor supplied, looking distractedly around at the walls. "With us too. Something's gotten into them?"
Sharia don't like it-- the tape sang, and was cut off as the Doctor sprang into action again, dismantling the little stereo in under three seconds.
"Yes, well, a working metallurgic manipulator will also sense metallic changes in the igneous foundation around it," he said, quickly stuffing his pockets. "Pressure . . . temperature . . ."
"Is it just me, or is it getting hotter in here?" Frobisher wiped a wing across his brow.
"Ah." The Doctor raised a finger, stopped, and turned to look at Clara.
"Doctor?" she asked.
The floor rumbled ominously underneath them.
"Clara, this is important," the Doctor said slowly. "The novice who was holding you. Was she rock hard . . . or was she actual rock?"
They found the Pyroviles three levels down. It was a foothold infestation, but large enough and settled enough to have diverted magma from the planet's core upward toward its ancient stomping grounds again, ready to flood the treasures of the Pembrian monastery to clear the way for a new world order. Upon discovery, they set charges to the tunnels that led up to the surface, trapping the Doctor, Clara and Frobisher in the lower levels.
"The only thing that will clear this rock is cleansing fire!" the abbot screeched at them before the walls came down upon her.
In search of reinforcements, they found an entire corridor blocked by a massive cell door, and full to the gills on the other side with Canonicates who'd been resistant to the Pyroviles' heady mix of volcanic gases, hypnotism, and stone conversion. They heaved the door open and sisters streamed through all around them, clinging to the lava tubes from floor to ceiling.
"A thousand legs of thanks, and a treasure for each!" squeaked a novice who herself seemed to have barely fifty. "We had tunneled to the underground Balac sea and were about to release the waters on them when they overpowered us."
"We can help!" the Doctor said, but the sister clacked her pincers. The ground quaked again, shaking nuns from the ceiling as Clara and Frobisher ducked away.
"You have helped already!" the novice said as they ran. "We need only a few minutes to reach the seal and break it. But the lava is coming!"
"Right," said Frobisher. "That's our cue to high-tail it!"
"The tunnels--" Clara said, trying to avoid being stepped on a thousand times over by nuns carrying all manner of trinkets and treasures on their backs. She was surprised at the relief she felt when she saw several sisters carrying drooping purple sunflowers in earthenware pots to safety.
"The nearest emergency escape route is two turns from here!" the novice told them, scurrying off. "Flee quickly, and good luck!"
Three minutes later, they were at a dead end.
It was just the three of them. They'd been separated from most of the fleeing centipedes; the few they could see were specks of back legs and modest habits getting rapidly smaller as they watched. The floor shook them again, and the air was oppressive. The lava was right on their heels.
"This is an emergency escape route!" Clara said, taking in heavy breaths as she looked up. And up. And up some more.
"'Course it is!" the Doctor said, winded and looking up with her. "Fastest way out for them, climb the walls straight up! I suppose . . . we should have specified acceptable parameters for ourselves. Although--"
Then he sped off to a nearby room. The floor cracked and Clara screamed. Frobisher hopped foot to foot, looking conflicted.
"Of all the times you'd want working wings!" Clara lamented.
"Ahm," the penguin said. "Well, it's not exactly that . . ."
Clara goggled as with a hefty shake and a strange thwock of a noise, Frobisher transformed, literally, right in front of her eyes. The wings he sported this time were definitely functional.
The Doctor popped his head around the corner, pointing at Frobisher and smiling. "Menoptera!" he said. "That's very good! Spent time on Vortis, have you?"
"I was nearly married!" Frobisher buzzed. "I'll tell you about it some time! But, Doc, this moth's a one-person deal! I can't carry either of you--"
"Got it covered! Go on, we'll be fine!" The Doctor disappeared back into the room.
"As you say!" Frobisher wiggled his antennae, gave Clara a salute with two legs and set off, fluttering straight up the chute. Clara's heart pounded. The heat was unbearable, and there was no way she could climb. She could hear lava burbling and fizzing the walls and the air was so full of dust and soot that it was unbreathable.
"Doctor!" she said, coughing in great gasps as smoke stung her eyes. "Doctor--please! The lava's coming! We need to--!"
At that moment he appeared again, his back to her, frantically dragging a heap of tubes, poles and gadgetry behind him.
"For the love of sanity!" Clara cried, stifling another cough. "Is that a jet pack?"
"No!" The Doctor spun around, grinning like a kid on Christmas, halfway through shrugging his arms into what must have been shoulder straps in a ridiculous bulky contraption. He straightened and chucked a second one at her feet. "It's two jet packs! Come on!"
Miraculously, most flora and fauna survived the Great Fiery flood on Viltri Prime. The only casualties were dust and baubles, the abbot, and a megalomaniacal sect of Pyroviles who would not be missed. The stone sickness in the other affected sisters would heal in the coming weeks, the Doctor assured them.
Back in the TARDIS, Clara's dress was only singed a little at the hem. She wasn't sure if it was from the lava or from the jet pack, and she wasn't sure she wanted to know.
She looked over at the moth who was lounging on the jump seat. "I've never met a mesomorph before," she said.
Frobisher preened his antennae proudly.
"So," Clara tried. "Can you do . . . human? Human-oid?"
"There's one I was working on for a while," Frobisher answered. With another strange shake and a 'pop', he transformed.
"Yeah." Clara stifled a laugh. The coat alone was a monstrosity, and then there was the curly hair and the yellow striped trousers and . . . were those spats green? Something tickled the back of her memory, forgotten again in an instant as she took a deep breath and said, "You might want to work on that one some more."
The Doctor came in from his final goodbyes to the Canonicates and stopped mid-prattle at the console when Frobisher came into view.
"Oh, now that takes me back," he said.
"Well." Clara gathered her belongings and leaned against the console railing. "This was certainly an odd date."
"Odder than usual, even," the Doctor said, narrowing his eyes at the Time Rotor. "If I didn't believe in coincidences, I'd say someone landed us there on purpose to have a go at you."
A bell bonged almost happily. Clara pointedly ignored it.
"On for Wednesday next?" she asked. "I still have one hundred and one places to see."
"On for Wednesday next," the Doctor confirmed, and Clara held out a hand to him.
"My tape, please."
"In your carryall," the Doctor said.
Clara furrowed her brow and hefted the straps of her bag. "You haven't been near my carryall," she said.
"Nonetheless, I'm sure you'll find it there." He clapped his hands and spun around. "Anyway, busy day but show's over. Places to be. I'm not a taxi service you know!"
Clara laughed at him. "See you next week. You and your snog box," she said, and headed out.
The TARDIS door closed with what sounded like a resigned sigh. The Doctor turned around just as his ersatz sixth form came back into the control room.
"Frobisher, before you change back," he said, twirling something small and rectangular that had appeared from nowhere through his fingers. "There's a perfect sartorial accoutrement for your detective ensemble in the wardrobe. Also, I think I need a favor."
Frobisher snapped a steel briefcase shut around a compressed model three-seven-delta Hadian skimmer, and donned his hat over his shock of blond curls.
"Hey, what are friends for?"
Somewhere else entirely, it was a Wednesday.
"Modern technology!" Dave Oswald reverently took their brand new six disc changing CD player from its box and started fiddling with the speaker cords. "Best sound quality on the market." He looked over at the tower of sleek new discs by the stereo. It was an indulgence for his yearly bonus--surely these days there were much more practical expenses in the queue. But they'd both been wanting to upgrade for a while, and it was down to 'now or never'.
"The nursery closet looks so much bigger now," Ellie's voice came from above. "You should see it!"
She came down the stairs, balancing a big beat-up cardboard box over her prominent stomach.
"Oh, let me--" Dave started, getting to his feet, but she waved him off with a look. She reached ground level and clumped the box to the floor.
"This is the lot. I'll take them to the library tomorrow. Though," she bent down with some effort and took out a smaller shoebox, one corner ripped and held together with tape, from the top of the larger one. MIX TAPES was scrawled in sharpie on the side. "I don't think they'll want these ones. I couldn't even find the cases for most of them."
"Do you want to keep them?" Dave eyed the shoebox, silently calculating space requirements.
"I haven't listened to them in years," Ellie said, then looked up at him and grinned in a way that made him fall in love all over again. "Out with the old, in with the new."
Dave grinned back. He pointed at her stomach. "Yeah, when that one's our age, they'll probably listen to thousand-song mixes on tricorders."
Clara's mix tape wasn't in her carryall bag. She checked all the pockets, even the inconspicuous zippered pocket at the bottom where she'd found the tape originally when that good samaritan in the fedora and trench coat had told her to see that all of her belongings were accounted for after he chased the hoodlums down who had snatched it to begin with and that's where she'd seen those ridiculous green spats before.
Her head shot up and she snapped the bag shut. Everything in her room was exactly as she'd left it.
The shoebox went to the curb along with the cardboard and foam detritus that accompanied every brand new modern marvel. The next morning, disposal proved too rough for the taped-together corner, and it split the rest of the way, spitting a lone cassette silently onto the grassy median between sidewalk and street. The waste collectors moved on.
The man at the bus stop lowered his newspaper and looked around, blinking through rounded spectacles. Then he casually stood up and sauntered over, scooping up the cassette and giving it a calculated look before depositing it in a tweed pocket. He walked on, wondering what it might have to say about an impossible girl, but wondering more about where their first Wednesday night would take them.
Clara eyed the old red boom box on her nightstand. Then she tentatively stepped over to it, and pressed PLAY.