A hover taxi, with bright red and yellow stripes, stopped by a waste bin on the pavement. The window wound down and the driver chucked an empty carton into the bin and drove off. The Delchands were a tidy lot, thought Ace, as she walked down the pavement next to the broad highway. The day was pleasantly warm and sunny in the heart of the city of Chenxtoz. The city was newly built in a uniform biscuit colour and the roads and pavements were well spaced out. The buildings with their self-cleaning glass gleamed in the sunshine. Ace's fingers itched to spray some graffiti. Even a little tag in a corner, only she knew about, would satisfy her that somewhere in the place wasn't perfect. She resisted the urge as travelling with the Doctor meant trouble found her whether she invited it or not. She didn’t think of herself as a soppy, fairytale princess, like Sleeping Beauty, waiting for things to happen, but there was no point in being stupid to prove she wasn't.
The pavement turned right, Ace followed it down a gently sloping ramp and came into a bus station. Boring, thought Ace. There were rows of shelters made out of transparent material and behind them was an octagonal building. Ace wondered if she should go back to the shopping precinct, although that had been dull too, apart from when she acquired what looked like a new baseball bat. She halted at the bottom of the ramp and watched a long queue board a hover bus. The bus zipped up the ramp past her, leaving one stop empty save for a red headed woman sat on the bench with a thoroughly fed up pose. Ace smiled; she liked red heads. She wasn't sure if it was because they stood out more or if it was the colour. Taking a few steps closer, a thrill of recognition went through Ace and she went up to the woman.
Mel's downcast expression turned to joy. “Ace!”
Her smile made Ace's stomach do back flips.
“What are you doing here?” they chorused in union.
There was a pause, and then Ace broke the silence. “It's Glitz isn't it? He's run off and left you.”
“I wouldn't go that far. I don’t travel with anyone I think is that bad.”
Ace wondered if Mel had foolishly formed an attachment to Glitz before Mel continued talking.
“I hung around with you for a short while. I didn’t find you bad, quite the opposite.”
Ace smiled, pleased at the compliment.
“And the Doctor too, although he has his moments.”
Ace nodded both in agreement and to hide her disappointment at being put into the same compartment as the Professor, who Ace was quite sure Mel wasn't attracted to.
“Are you still with the Doctor?” said Mel.
“Yeah, he's at the university library. He told me to buzz off for a couple of hours, while he talked to some bloke about some ancient plastic artifact. I hate it when he's being secretive, but I reckon it's better we're apart so I can rescue him if he gets into bother, like from dropping sweet wrappers on the floor.”
“The Delchands are so fastidious, they don’t have any laws against littering because tidiness comes naturally.”
“How come Glitz left you in the lurch?”
“I was outside the Nosferatu Three.”
“Three? What happened to number two?”
“There was a vote --mutiny Glitz called it-- and Stella was made captain.”
“A little kid as captain?”
“Turns out she’s a genius. Glitz didn’t fancy being bossed about by a child and left at the first civilized planet we landed on. I decided he needed an eye kept on him for his own good and I couldn’t stand living off the ship's frozen junk food any longer. I was craving lettuce like crazy. Glitz won Nosferatu Three in a card game.”
“Anyway, I was outside the ship, with Glitz, giving the customs inspector the right forms, when a group of angry thugs turned up. Glitz turned white and ran up into the ship. The next thing I know, the ship had taken off. The thugs shouted and fired their blasters at the ship and I made my escape. I didn't think they would believe me if I said I didn't know what was going on. I decided to come to the transport station to catch a hover bus to the out of town exercise centre. I've visited a few times and I'm sure I'll get a job there as a personal trainer. Then, when I've earned some money, I'll consider my options.”
Ace was about to ask if Mel wanted a lift in the TARDIS, when Mel said, “Is that a rybo stick in your backpack?”
“Is that what it is?” Ace reached around and brought the stick out to show Mel.
“They use it for stirring cauldrons of the national dish.”
“I didn't think it was used for sport. Didn't cost much either. The bloke behind the counter took some of my badges as a swap for it.” Ace caressed the smooth wood of the stick.
A shrill blast from a whistle made them turn to face the ramp. “There she is, officer, the one that stole the rybo stick, while her accomplice raided the till,” said a humanoid alien to another dressed in an official looking uniform.
“I never! I've been had, I thought I was dealing with a real shop assistant,” exclaimed Ace.
“I think we should go. Come with me.” Mel grabbed Ace’s hand and they ran. Being chased did have the occasional upside, thought Ace, enjoying the contact. Mel ran very fast, but then you learnt to with the Doctor. They dodged around the shelters, barged past commuters and dashed into the octagonal building. Inside it was heaving with people. They pushed their way into the throng. Ace could still hear blasts from a whistle, and turned her head to see the officer and the real shopkeeper wearing confused expressions. Ace breathed a sigh of relief; she didn’t have to dread a heavy hand falling on to her shoulder, followed by a guided tour of the planet's criminal justice system.
Ace whispered into Mel’s ear. “Relax, we’ve lost them.” They slowed down to a normal pace, leaving their pursuers standing by the main entrance.
Ace jammed the stick into a bin. “I've gone off it now.”
“It would be safer if you went back to the Doctor at the library.”
Ace nodded, she could hardly enjoy herself with coppers on the lookout for her. Not that she'd had much fun here, except for meeting Mel. Winding their way past harassed commuters, they came out of the building via a different entrance on to a back street.
Ace looked up and down the street. The buildings were identical making it hard for her to get her bearings. “Do you know the way back to the university?”
“Yes … oh no!”
A small group was walking down the street. They recognised Mel, shouted threats about what they did to associates of Glitz and reached for their weapons.
“They don't sound friendly. If they've got blasters, I can't argue with those and it means more running for us. Not that I don’t get enough of that with the Professor,” said Ace. She glanced left and right looking for an escape route and then had an idea. “This time, follow me down that alley.” The two of them took off and ran flat out down a side alley. Ace had spotted a large, industrial waste container partway down the lane. It was hard not to with its orange and yellow fluorescent livery.
“Here, help me push this across the alley,” said Ace.
“Are you going to try and run them down?” said Mel, putting her back to the bin to swing it round on its wheels.
“Nah, better than that.”
The two of them pushed the container to the mouth of the alley. “Turn it long side on,” said Ace.
Once the bin was in position, Ace darted out in front of it and waved her arms in the air. “Over here, bog brains!” She didn't really need to attract the Delchands' attention as they were in hot pursuit. Reaching into her bag, Ace drew out a can of Nitro-9, bunged it under the bin lid, and jumped back behind it. “Right, that should do it.”
“And run away as fast as we can?” said Mel.
“Yeah,” said Ace, with a laugh, as they took to their heels.
Their pursuers came up to the alley mouth and pushed at the waste container, a few seconds later, it exploded, flinging its rotting contents over them to their very vocal dismay. Flames rose up from the bin and blocked the alley.
At the other end of the alley, Mel and Ace paused to view the carnage.
Mel threw her arms around Ace's neck. “Wow, that was amazing.”
“You don’t have to worry about Glitz’s loan shark brigade anymore. Not that branch, anyway.” Embarrassed by Mel’s reaction it took Ace a moment to register that Mel should have moved away once the shock and the relief caused by the explosion had worn off. For the third time that day, Ace’s heart began to race, but for very different reasons as to before.
“You’re pretty amazing too,” said Mel, staring deeply into Ace’s eyes. Ace didn’t get the chance to be embarrassed by the extra compliment as Mel soundly kissed her. Ace slide her arms around Mel’s back. The kissing was leaving Ace weak at the knees and she felt she needed some support, although having Mel's body pressed tightly against her wasn’t reducing her giddy pleasure. When they’d finished kissing, Ace didn’t let go, the feeling of having Mel in her arms was too good to lose.
“I was going to ask if you wanted a lift in the TARDIS, it's back at the university, but if you could stay a while on board …” said Ace.
Mel gave a wide smile. “I expect there have been changes inside since I was last in there.”
“There has, like my bedroom. It’s definitely one room I want you to see as soon as possible.”
“Do you think you’ll have time to show me your room before the Doctor has finished in the library?”
“Oh, yeah, easily.” Ace grinned and released Mel to grasp her hand. “But only if we run.” Hand in hand, they sprinted to the university as if it was the first time they had run that day.