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The Nameless Letters

Chapter Text

…a bag of mint humbugs which never runs out. All well and good, Clara, though of course I’d have preferred jelly babies.

**********

Time!

When he’s at the Shuttered Palace, he’s in his future. The minor arcana gaze up shyly, asking if he’s romanced two beauties from Ladybones Road. They wave, serene in their societal brilliance. He waves back.

(He has not, in fact, seduced either, seduction not really being in his line. Londoners tell him that he’ll never make his name this way; he replies that he already has one. Thank you very much.)

But back at Ladybones Road itself, it's still the past. Here the undelved model and her unremarkable artist are merely humble bohemian denizens, of no more interest than their fellows. Though here, too, they have only one thought on their minds - the sly things.

A temporal discontinuity. A flaw in the system? An accident? An error in the arcana?

He doesn't know, but it makes him happy. Nothing will persuade him to talk to the pair in either time period. Leaving them as they are is just too tempting.

**********

If I sold my soul to the devilish set, would that be one soul they’d be buying or twelve? Another reason for me to stay well away from spirifers; the negotiations would no doubt be unending.

Though their taste in hats, now. Have they fetched fedoras from the future? It’s almost tempting to become an intimate so I can find out…

**********

The university students have a practice wherein one arranges, by careful manipulation, to be simultaneously exiled, imprisoned, insane and deceased.

“Quad-fail! Quad-fail!”

He drinks the mushroom tea and says nothing. Immortals in his old universe were never anything like this.

**********

So there’s myself. You know me. Then there’s the tall one with the brown coat and the Estuary accent, he’s the Socialite. The one you first met has taken up playing football with the Urchins, my first self has adopted the Revolutionary cause and an outrageous hat to match...

I keep expecting someone to notice that I’ve been twelve different people to twelve different factions across the city, but either they haven’t noticed or they haven’t cared. Then again, there are an annoying number of Nameless Doctors around here.

Perhaps I’ll go back to “John Smith”. If, as it appears, an actual name is more noteworthy in these parts...

**********

Everyone carries ever-lasting candlesticks in Fallen London; even he has one, a relic from his prison stay. Constantly burning down...and then burning back up again, in moments of inattention. The general murk makes it easy to overlook the things, until a Revolutionary’s chance remark in a subdued cafe sets him straight.

“...the Liberation of Night, when everything changes. No more natural or unnatural law, once the light’s gone.”

Is light itself a medium in this universe? An aether?

Does that explain the odd correlations he sees between the candlesticks and time?

**********

A Rubbery Man was very importunate about giving me a ball of everlasting butterscotch today, so I took it to make him happy. They don’t seem to appreciate aliens down here. How very impolite.

At least, I hope it’s butterscotch. Now that the Socialite’s licked it to see how it tastes.

**********

He rifles through his deck of arcana (no true Londoner would dream of moving without their aid, he’s been assured, and he is trying to come to terms with this place’s way of doing things). Major: nothing very interesting today. Another rat funeral. Another corpse.

Minor, then. Mudlarking for secrets in the Stolen River, or searching for secrets? Why not both. The watchful folk in Ladybones Road seem his style…

until he’s spotted by a passing Docker, and his blonde, argumentative sixth self is the one responding to some good-natured mockery, giving as good as he gets.

It’s freeing, being this many people this quickly.

It’s also more than a little insane.

**********

Woke up in the Royal Beth today. Swapped all my dreams to get out early. They’re only dreams, after all; I don’t need them.

At least, I thought I didn’t; but how would I know in a universe with utterly different laws and ways? I’m starting to second-guess myself now.

Best not do too much of that at present. I don’t want to make a return visit.

**********

The Flowered Fairgoer explains to him, in a singsong voice (it is a regular profession down here, explaining London to Surface newcomers, though of course he’s never been there). Londoners call their currency echoes. Why? Because the Masters like it that way. Why do the Masters matter? Because they rule London. Why do they rule London? Because the Traitor Empress sold them the Fifth City. Why is it called the Fifth City? Because before, there was a fourth, and a third...

He thinks about this for a while. “Then what did the Fourth City call their money? Did they call their coins echoes as well?”

The Flowered Fairgoer shrugs. “Maybe. Are you paying in moonpearls or rostygold?”

**********

An encounter with one of the fabled Masters. He demanded a book that I didn’t care to give to him. After a certain amount of unpleasantness, he changed his mind and asked that I write him a different one. Which I did.

Thus endeth the matter.

If this is all they’re capable of, I daresay Daleks could roll circles around ‘em.

**********

He purchases a cottage out by Watchmaker’s Hill (as close to Kent as Fallen London gets - past it lies only marshland and desolation). It’s the common practice down here, with so many buildings lying empty, and he’s stashed a magnificent diamond in the false heel of one Chelsea boot, for the fee. His previous self would never have thought of a dodge like that.

Not the sort of thing he’d normally do, but this is a new universe; time for a new start. With different versions of himself all playing host to different factions from Monday to Saturday, the privacy and spaciousness is also very necessary.

The seventh day is for recovering from the other six.

**********

Apes at the Carnival, grinning at the crowds from their cage before the Ministry of Public Decency arrived and swooped them out of sight, cage and all. Pentecostal apes, now that was a story and a half. And not one I ever thought to hear mentioned again...did I ever mention to you that I’m not good at weddings? Weddings and I have a uniquely disastrous history, Clara. Never invite me to yours, please.

Well, never mind. But of all the features of our universe I might have guessed for a parallel London (zeppelins, check, royal family horribilis, check), the occasional incursion of soulless apes wasn’t one I was looking for.

I wonder if anyone would know about a sable sun…

**********

It’s surprisingly difficult trying to find a companion down here. At least, one who doesn’t want to be paid upfront, and that’s never been his style.

This Secular Missionary isn’t bad, but seems convinced that he fancies her, which is embarrassingly erroneous (why does everyone look to love as an all-encompassing explanation down here?) And she’s certainly rather fanatical.

Which trait she shares with the Firebrand Revolutionary, the other possible companion he’s been considering. Very cagey on the subject of romance and blushes whenever anyone talks to him about his proclivities. Most refreshing. Still, rather too earnest on his pet interests; obsessive to the point of boredom.

Come to think of it, the two certainly share a dignified lack of proportion. Perhaps he ought to introduce them, one of these days?

**********

all shall be well,

the Doctor

Postscript: It’s a popular phrase down here. Most of my selves like it, except the Spy. Who has been in a bad mood lately, now he’s found out that no one will let him into the nice clubs until he’s a posy.

I assume this has some deep and subtle meaning in the local tradecraft. Shall investigate further.

**********

He doesn’t seem to have a knack for the shadowy side of life, but without some experience it’s difficult to follow up on the stray clues about this Cheesemonger. And his third self, who’s taken up with the Great Game players, is not a little keen on that.

So he gets a job as ostensible pickpocket. Every week he shows up and gets paid a sizeable fee for failing to successfully lift so much as a handkerchief.

This must be a tax scam or something, but deuced if he can figure out what.

**********

I have a pile of lead Correspondence plaques now. (I’d accumulated rather a lot of alcohol, somehow, and when I was trying to get rid of that I just ended up with a pile of satin scraps on my doorstep and then I traded that away, and so forth...and these are too heavy for me to bother finding a scrap-metal merchant at this time of night. Day).

Besides, they say it’s the language of the stars. I rather think it’s like Old High Gallifreyan, but I’d need more of them to be sure…

**********

Studying the Correspondence requires an in at the university (he learns this on the quiet from two of the teachers there - one scientist, one historian - who were involved in his escape from New Newgate.) Which requires proving one’s credentials. Which mostly means doing a great many expeditions in the Forgotten Quarter so the professors there don’t have to do their own legwork.

It's a stupid enterprise. He'd have this sorted in an hour if he still had time travel. Half an hour. Twenty-five minutes, tops.

**********

I’m alarmed to discover that my cast-off self has an identity of his own, here. The Valeyard. Living quietly in what used to be Shepherd’s Bush, with a regular gig as a trickster. (Which is also a paid profession down here.)

The Flowered Fairgoer took pains to assure me this was normal, that many and indeed most Londoners have shadowy alt selves (she saw us together, though I can’t imagine how she grasped our resemblance - well, I suppose I can if it’s this common). I shall keep a sharp eye on him all the same. If I’d known I was bringing him along when I came here - but then, I didn’t.

Though I’m ever less certain that intent is sufficient, down in Fallen London...

Chapter Text

I asked the Regretful Soldier whether he might consider banding a few soldiers together specifically to handle odd threats and protect London. A unit, even.

He put down his wine at once and looked me straight in the eye. “What do you think the regulars are for, these days?”

I suppose he has a point.

**********

“Archetypes,” the Flowered Fairgoer says, pouring out a careful measure of pitch-black stuff into her teacup. Perhaps it even is pitch; Londoners have odder tastes than that, he’s found. Rat souffles. Lumps. Blemmigans.

“The Bazaar has a bent for the fabulist, and the cities grow to match. All manner of love, you know. I fancy the Third City for a flirt, while the Second liked the Neath no more than its masters…and as for London? London loves it to the core. If it’s possible for the bargain to sour through too scrumptious an excess, the Fifth City will find its way to that end, you may be sure.”

“In thirty years? That’s rather fast-paced,” the Doctor ventures, once she’s finally trailed off and begun on her drink. “And besides…two history of science teachers, a regretful soldier, a maligned waitress- not quite everyone I knew before, but enough to make me wonder. As if- is that bottled oblivion? What for?”

“Yesterday was Thursday. I make a point of keeping my mind clear of Thursdays. Besides, I’ve two symphonies and a novel contracted beforetimes. The staff occasionally take pity on the inadequately persuasive- of course, most of them are wise to my tricks by now, but I do get the number four special now and again. And then just see me sing! Or type, as the case may be. You should try it sometime.”

“I’ll pass. But even allowing for chance, it seems- statistically improbable? The way they talk, how they act - I know these people as if I remembered them. I could predict every upswing of the Archaeologist's scrawl as she wrote the words, I knew the Zailor’s tale about his father before he ever told it.”

“Two explanations. You’re imagining things! Reading far too much into vague similarities for your previous sheltered existence- was it sheltered? It sounds it. Unless you'd rather think," she leans in close, impish and sly and intimate, "The entire universe is here just as your personal mnemonic? Merely to teach you valuable life lessons, are you quite so egotistical as that? Because solipsism is about the most popular delusion in the Neath, you know, and I should hate to find you’re as common as you look. Now at the Beth last week, I met a lovely brace of Napoleons…”

The Doctor opens his mouth, closes it again in confusion.

When Caligula’s closes down that night, he’s yet to say another word.

**********

…never tell anybody all your secrets in one go, she said, or they’ll never respect you in the morning.

I rather think you’d have enjoyed the Fairgoer’s company, Clara. If I can’t remember you, I can still remember the shape of what must have been - and did you ever, ever tell me the full truth?

I do sincerely hope you didn’t. I fancy that would have been more fun.

**********

“And for what reason do you wish to join the Postal Service?“ the Portly Examiner asks.

Reasons by the score. They have dimensional engineering, he’s almost positive - how else could they transport all those rats instantaneously? Interfering with the mails is no doubt a capital offense, but he’s quite sure he’s clever enough to catch a few secrets that way. Besides, the Socialite (who is currently navigating) rather fancies being a postman.

He expounds on his interest in the public welfare, knowledge of London’s twisting streets through frequent walkabouts, excellent command of Latin, everything he can think of that sounds like a delightful-and-not-too-needy candidate for the position.

“Yes, yes, that’s all by the by,” the Examiner says impatiently. “But have you a burning desire to deliver messages? Have you ever begged the friend of a friend of a friend to let you stand outside their beloved’s window, reciting their risible love poetry, just to be that link between mind and fellow mind? Do you kidnap Urchin messengers and steal their parcels, for the sake of making those deliveries? If I said I had a letter in my pocket this very moment, addressed for the Prickfinger Wastes, would you knock me down to take it?”

He’s half-risen from his chair. The tip of an envelope peers from his waistcoat pocket.

“…what if I said, I do have that enthusiasm, but for helping people generally and not exclusively for package-delivery?”

“You’re overqualified,” the Examiner says, sinking back into their armchair in deep disillusionment. “Try the Bazaar professions, they’re always looking for all-rounders. Quite the pity really. You had everything else going for you. ”

“I could deliver the letter on my way home, if you like.”

“Ah. It’s blank. A rhetorical device only, you understand.”

“Ah. Wouldn’t it be even more convincing if you’d actually written an address on it?”

The Examiner flushes burnt-brick red. “How obtuse are you, man? Don’t you see, then I should have to deliver it!”

**********

This Missionary really can be an extraordinarily frustrating person. When I asked for a simple description of her husband, all I received was "Ah. Dark hair," and considerable grave nodding. When pressed, admitted that she wasn't attentive to details.

Which I suppose explains how you go about losing a whole husband in the first place.

Given the choice between asking the Masters for a favour, or making love to the Lady, or ruining the Spy's reputation with the Great Game (they are very particular; he is nosing his way through a Cheesemonger’s schemes, in the vague hope of being initiated into their secrets some time next century)…. I've naturally elected to burn my connections to the Masters. I can always throw another party if I need another favour. They seem to enjoy parties. And flirtations.

What kind of despots throw themselves wild all-night musical parties, anyhow?

**********

He spends a small fortune acquiring a ratwork watch, tiny and exquisite. It keeps time beautifully, and makes a most satisfactory ticking sound when he opens it. Perhaps it was expecting too much to anticipate more.

Or perhaps he’s merely purchased the wrong object. It is a Bazaar article, at that.

**********

Improper London, Clara. I always did have a fascination with the places that shouldn’t exist.

Dark shadows at the Carnival, some of Spite’s most squalid corners….Often signified by snatches of the white speech, a whole dialect with curious tonalities. At first I chalked it up to the differences between universes, but it's distinctly different from the Empress’s English: a language evolved to be innocuous and escape attention from Judgements or Masters. All that’s spoken down by Spitalfields, where one can purchase odds and ends- clay dishes, breast of dressed rat for takeaway, driftweed sellers crying their wares. An entire market where the real city lives, quite distinct from the Bazaar.

But it isn't Proper. So officially, it isn't. My arcana neither flux nor wither there, and as for the flow of time…

you know, I’ll get back to you on that.

**********

He takes up the Examiner’s suggestion and becomes a journalist. It sounds like an excellent excuse to go poking into things and annoying authority figures. Old habits die hard.

It also involves a very tired Urchin dropping by his house every week with a wheelbarrow full of brass, but he’s becoming accustomed to that sort of randomness by now.

**********

Clara, has there ever been such a frustratingly leisurely society? All my experience goes for naught, I'll admit that was to be expected. But I could equally well barrel my way in with cartloads of jewels, or a mountain of Surface affidavits, and it would make very little difference. Only time and patient insinuations will do the trick, it seems. Sometimes I think that I ought to just march up to the Bazaar in my usual way, demand to know what's going on, and restore London to her rightful place before the next glim-fall.

But that’s not what I came here for, was it? A different universe, different rules, wherein I have no idea and no standard of reference whether its actions are for the best or not. Perhaps there's good reason for bringing London down here. Perhaps huge interventions in planetary temporality are only normal here and I shouldn’t judge it as a moral problem any more than I would the existence of planets with no oxygen. Rarely have I been so uncertain about my next move.

It’s a refreshingly novel sensation, I’ll admit to that.

Chapter Text

Dear Clara,

Investigations in progress. It appears that like street names, the whole morass of British identities was one of the things swept away by the Fall - all here are just Londoners, end of tale. No trace remains of regional identities- or if they do, no one trusts me with the information yet.

So all I've achieved for my pains is firmly cementing my reputation as a Scottish maniac. Not a common affair in these parts; apparently the country mounted a tremendous programme to recover all its nationals who were in London when it was stolen (alive at first, more likely dead later on). With quite remarkable success. The few left have had their burr worn off by thirty years' rubbing.

(The Socialite’s started to play up to this at the palace, occasionally. As a party trick. He offends my sense of decency, sometimes.)

I’ve yet to hear a peep about the Welsh, mind. Wonder why.

*********

The Flowered Fairgoer teases him, gently. "Why can't I introduce the Doctor to the Doctor? What terrible thing would happen?"

"Nothing much in particular," he says. "Only it'd be a little technically difficult. There's only one of me ever out and about at a time, you see."

"Now why should that be? Are the others all locked up in a dark cupboard, hung up like so many clean suits? With special instructions for washing?"

"Something not far off from that, perhaps. Does it make a difference to you, which one I appear as?"

"Of course not. I'm fond of you all, although particularly this one,“ she says, throwing an arm about him with a most sincere leer.

"Tell me something," the Doctor says, detaching himself with a certain weary deja vu. "Have you ever thought of driving an omnibus?"

*********

…like so much else that’s jati, Clara, the lottery is about the Bazaar but not of it.

It goes like this. You begin with a suitably terrifying tale; that’s the easy part, what with the number of authors and journalists and bohemians cluttering up the place. To say nothing of people who aren't officially in the business but will happily spin you a yarn.

Your job is now to determine the author’s probable fate from that solitary text, register your opinion on the matter with the jati syndicate, and then go out and find out the actual truth. Alive or dead, sane or insane, being soul-sucked by hungry Reflections, etc. Paying out increasing sums to the bookies as you go. Cash out any time in your investigations that you like, for a small payout; or guess correctly, read the author’s horoscope in their hastily scribbled writing, and the reward’s apparently a handsome one. I say apparently, as I’ve yet to win my way through.

London being the sort of place it is, the odds of this thing are no better than random chance. Worse. But the odder part of this is that while you’re engaged in your investigations, there are a great many more people who are cheering or booing your progress, wagering side bets on your guesses. There are favourites, and fail-proof systems of numbers, and all manner of paraphernalia catering for those folks who find the shroom-hopping races a trifle too legitimate.

(Posies aren’t allowed to participate in the side bets, alas. Just to give the thing some veneer of honesty.)

I’ve even heard whisperings of a certain Master, who’s been known to slide in the odd echo or ten- and gets the guesses wrong as often as anybody else. That surprised me, as I’d thought the whole point of the jati was to deny any role to the Bazaar and her space-bats.

“Sometimes,” the Tattooless Zailor told me. “But when it’s the price for keeping other Masters out…and they aren’t the real villains, you know. Except for Mr Fires. Now he’s a right ___!”

I can’t say whether this London is better or worse than the one I recall; but it’s certainly more profane.

*********

The Doctor spends a long afternoon talking to one of the philosophers at Speaker’s Corner (it has another name now, but somebody had almost dropped an irrigo piano on him from five stories up on the way here, and his memory’s a trifle disarrayed. He’ll have to have a word with a certain Barrister about whether these random assassination plots are going to be an ongoing problem.)

This particular philosopher is no saner- or less sane, for that matter- than any other, but they’ve painted up a sandwich board in startlingly bright colours. In the absence of good sense, might as well go with the aesthetic sense.

"It's a cult dedicated to the principle of no free will, for anyone, anywhere. All the way up the Chain. Not the poor common people of London, not the Masters, not the Bazaar."

"Mmm. Thought experiment. Suppose that you had someone come in from outside the Chain. What happens then?”

"No such place,” the philosopher says, looking not a little taken aback. “Not even the Neath is completely detached from the Chain."

"I mean, say from another universe altogether."

"Like Parabola? Still under the Judgement's dominion - "

"Not like that. An entirely different location. Somewhere- else.”

He spends a good two hours at the task, and still hasn’t communicated the concept by the end of it. It’s exasperating enough that he almost contemplates finding his own sandwich board, just to write something inane and meaningful on it- DOWN WITH THE THREE O’CLOCK TOAST, or TIME IS NOT FOR SALE- OR IT SHOULDN’T BE.

That must be how they keep finding new recruits.

*********

Dear Clara,

laid up with a hangover. The annoying part is it isn't even mine.

The Docker, of course, can handle a drink or six of hot mushroom wine without difficulty, and did. The problem came when I changed to the Professor for investigating- something, something he refuses to let on about. Typical. Details remain sketchy, but from results I’d appear to have passed out shortly thereafter, and someone - quite probably the same someone - both laid me out on a carnival bench and picked my pocket. Fortunately it was only a few pennies worth of rostygold. Why London uses the currency of hell when a significant proportion of the population is in favour of warring with them, I’d like to know.

Impossible to know what to make of this changing, anyway. Like the wounds - intellectually I'm aware that my various limbs are in severe danger of detachment, but sensations are curious here; people slap on a few bandages and don’t much worry until they keel over dead. I've seen some quite civilised societal gatherings in which every last one of the participants was dripping blood from somewhere or other, including myself…

perhaps I’d best err on the side of assuming you're squeamish? Never mind. This business of not knowing my correspondent gets increasingly confounding.

I've met beings before like this, unable to tell how badly wounded they are without resorting to instruments - but I've not been in a place that enforces that on everyone. Where we come from - universe-wise - biological rewriting is a matter of time and effort. If you've turned into a grotesque scorpion unexpectedly, it's because you've decided this is worth braving the perils of hard science to try, or more nefariously because someone decided it for you. But here (in the Neath, at least), it's just The Way Things Are. As natural as the gravity.

People like it this way. They say it's less painful. I usually find that argument not a little insidious.

Especially on a morning so unpalatable as this…

*********

“I know you,” the Professor slurs to a Chestnut Seller. “The remembrance of a friend long neglected…that ridiculous hat! The campaign medal! The Socialite took a pacifist and turned him into a soldier. Time Lord Victorious, indeed. Interloper, I’d done it all first.”

“You’re drunk, sir,” the Seller points out. With more patience than anything else.

“An exceedingly well-judged observation,” the Doctor agrees, upending his mulled wine. “Most assuredly true! I had a chess game I was losing, so popped out. Quick-change artiste, came back in again as somebody else. Worked a charm.”

“Ah. Playing Philonous down in his tent, would that be right?”

“Much higher stakes than that.” He starts in on the next bottle, with forthright determination. “You know, I’ve been dormant. Biding my time. The board has to be set up, before the players can begin.”

“Eleven prideful Masters, and the Bazaar to boot,” the Chestnut Seller says. “Against…”

“Me, myself and I. Or just I- the one who’s learning the Correspondence, the one who’s listened to the winds howl in the Forgotten Quarter. The one,” the Professor says, stuffing the whole hot bag of fungal chestnuts into the recesses of his coat, “who has spent the evening eating his way through a Lorn Fluke’s worth of Rubbery Lumps. Saving universes can be a messy business. And greasy, apparently.”

“Well. I’ll be here if you ever change your mind.”

“I will. Frequently. Camouflage, you know.” Slap bang goes the last of the Rostygold, in compensation. “Not to let the left hand know what the right is doing- oh yes, that was my speciality. Whenever there’s injustice, too fraught to reach without a masterplan…I’ll be seeing you again.”

"What," the Chestnut Seller asks, "makes you think you'll do any better a job at it than the rest of the Seekers?"

"Seven," the Professor murmurs, with sudden indistinct glee, "does happen to be my lucky number..."