It’s gone, the nameless Cheetah planet, but the Professor’s right, she can feel it inside her. Not like it was before, she’s not hunting anything, but it’s still there at the edges of her being. Sometimes she can hear a whispered sister from somewhere in the trees, even if, when she looks, it’s only the leaves. Sometimes she can scent things in the wind in a way she never could before. It ought to be disturbing, but she likes the way it feels.
“Where now, Ace?” the Doctor asks, coming up behind her as she hesitates at the crossroads between two narrow dusty tracks on a alien hill. “You sense something, don’t you?”
She can smell blood in the air. If she breathes in she can taste it, whether or not she wants to. “Over that way. But, Professor –”
“I think we might be too late.”
He reaches for his hat. “We’ll see about that. But in that case – Ace –”
“I think we should run!”
(She could run forever – forever.)
When they round the corner and tear down the hill to find the battle’s over and done with and only the dead and the wounded are left behind on the field, she doesn’t feel anything but sadness and horror. There’s no desire to feed. She has everything she needs within. She isn’t consumed by the hunger. She is in control of what’s left.
Sometimes in her dreams, though, it’s different – the planet’s still there, wild and fiery and blazing in her veins – but it slips away again when she wakes. She runs in her sleep, and even hunts sometimes, but awake she knows that’s not her: she’s never really been either the hunter or the prey. She’s something else. She’s better than that. She has to be, or what’s the point?
When she opens her eyes now, even though she can still smell the blood through the smoke of a small wood fire, the ghost of it is banished immediately by the smell of something much more obnoxious – and the sight of the Doctor, hanging off a branch of a tree above her.
“Professor! What are you doing?”
He doffs his hat and then drops back down to join her, gesturing at the row of rounded brown fruit that look more like giant hazelnuts sitting by the edge of the fire. “Breakfast, courtesy of Mother Nature.”
“Not bloody likely,” says Ace, screwing up her nose. She doesn’t need a supernatural sense of smell to pick up the pungent aroma of the fruit. It’s not promising, certainly not for someone who’s always been a carnivore anyway. “Bacon, that’s the thing for breakfast, not… whatever those revolting things are.”
The Doctor puts two more alien fruit or nuts, or nut-fruit, down by the fire and gives her one of his looks. “Haven’t you learnt by now that appearances can be deceptive?” Then he pauses, and tilts his head to one side. She’s still getting the look. “You’re all right? Yesterday.” He waves both hands vaguely. “Battles lost and all that. Fields of blood.”
“Hey, we stopped them in the end.” She pokes at one of the nuts with the toe of her Doc Martens, but it doesn’t look or smell any better to her yet. “Yes,” she adds, more quietly. “I’m fine. Honest. I mean, not really, but you’d have to worry if someone was fine about that. But in me. Yeah. I’m good.”
He nods. “Glad to hear it,” he says, but he seems less sure than she is, so she smiles to show him, and there’s nothing wrongly feral in her now, nothing for even him to worry about. She’s tried it in the mirror and maybe there are glints of gold in her eyes sometimes, but that’s okay. It’s an important part of who she is now and she doesn’t want to lose it.
“Good,” he says, more firmly, and smiles, and tweaks her nose. “And now,” he adds, whipping out a large spotted handkerchief as a napkin from his pocket, “breakfast!”