At five a clock, the world was dim and gray. Through the dormitory shared by the professors and the college grounds beyond, the world was silent. A variety of men and women slumbered in a variety of beds, lying still as if they had been frozen in time. A long, slim line of golden light crept over the gabled roofs of the city and touched the clockface above the Prussian blue dormitory.
And slowly, the world began to wake up.
A tavern leaned uneasily against a second building few streets across town, just far enough that the parents of the college weren’t too upset about the seedy nature of the establishment. But just close enough that the students went there anyway. Leaning just as uneasily on each other, three figures exited the tavern. In the centre was a woman in a worn violet dress and a spotted stole, dyed to look like leopard but plainly made of a couple of rabbits that had died while the last king was still on the throne. An enormous scarlet hat with tattered plumes, which nearly blinded her taller companions, covered hair that was still arguably blond.
She attempted to lead the two men on either side in a bawdy song, but as she was making it up as she was going along, neither of them knew the words. The man to her left was wide but not fat, with dark curly hair and a beard cut into stripes. Had he been accompanied by anyone else he would have been recognisably drunk. He wore the grubby, motley cross of garish clothing and armour that people associated with those terrible sky pirates who kept insisting on mooring in the city.
The man to her right was younger than the other two, or at least he looked it. He had a clean-cut, handsome face, a gray coat, and an American accent. He at least attempted to sing along with his companion, but as he had been drinking himself and had no way to know the words, the best be could do was hum along. He did so loudly and brashly, covering the woman’s voice with his attempts to harmonise. What words he could catch, he repeated. Some time after she sang them.
“….mmm mmm dum dum de da…. you’d damn her to the devil, but she’s already there…”
“Wait a minute, wait a minute…” asked the first man. “Where are we going?”
“What was that?” asked the American.
“I said, where are we going?” he repeated.
“To hell if we don’t change our ways, eh, Glitzy?” the woman laughed, leaning closer to bearded man.
“Don’t you go gettin’ coy with me, Iris.” he retorted, shaking his head.
“Oh, I’m not half coy yet, Glitzy! You ought to wait until I’ve had a few!”
“A few?” the American laughed. “So what we that bottle you emptied half past three?”
“A tittle.” the woman said matter-of-factly. All three of them laughed at this as only the intoxicated can.
“So, either of you coming back to my ship with me?” the American asked with a flirtatious smile. He blared it like a signal light at first the woman, then the man.
“You ain’t getting me tonight, Jack, the Nostferatu’s sailin’ today.” Glitz answered simply. “We drank to the flight, remember?”
“With what we were drinking, I wouldn’t be half surprised if he didn’t remember anythin’ after we took to the table.” Iris laughed.
“I remember the table.” said Jack. “And I remember pulling you off it, Iris.”
The three laughed again.
“You’ll both come and see me next time you land, won’t you, boys?” said Iris, stretching up on tiptoe to place a drunken, sticky kiss on Jack’s cheek and another somewhere in Glitz’s beard.
“Good morning, Iris. Stay out of trouble.” said Jack cheerfully.
“You know I won’t!”
Jack let go of Iris, who wobbled slightly as she tried to catch her own footing, and took her chin in his hand to kiss her more steadily on the lips. As she cooed with delight, fanning herself slightly, he did the same to Glitz, who was completely unfazed by this.
“Good morning, Glitz. Feel free to send up your striped flag anytime the Torchwood and the Nosferatu cross paths. I’ll send a board across.”
“Just so long as you wait for my flag this time, lad.” Glitz replied, pointing cheekily at Jack. Jack and Iris both stared at him expectantly.
“What? I already kissed you both.” said the third member nonchalantly. Jack raised his eyebrow and Iris looked despondent.
“I kissed you, that’s not the same thing.” Jack argued. Glitz rolled his eyes.
“Oh, go on then.” Glitz shrugged. He stopped a brief, friendly kiss on each of their mouths and detached from the group. “I’ll call on you next time we land, Iris.”
“You do that, Glitzy, you do that!” she tittered. The woman patted the American’s hand and removed it from her arm.
“You two run along, I think I’ll get one more drink for the road.”
“Oh, come off it, Iris.” the bearded man said. “The sun’s up, they’ll close soon.”
“Oh, you don’t know me womanly wiles. I can get one more drink out of them.”
“I know enough of yer wiles to know you ain’t gettin’ another drink tonight.”
“She can’t get another drink tonight.” said the American.
“Just you watch me, Capt’n.” the woman exclaimed, shaking a finger at him.
“You can’t, because it’s five in the morning.” he explained, but she had already turned around and gone back into the public house.
“So is anyone coming back to my ship with me?” the young-looking man repeated.
“Captain Harkness!” called a voice somewhere behind the drunks. The American blinked, and looked around in surprise.
Standing behind him was a stocky youth with bright eyes and fair hair gathered under their cap. They were putting on a Yorkshire accent poorly enough that the American could tell it was put on. The captain had talked to her briefly, but not long enough to establish whether she was dressed as a boy to get a job or to look for women in the pub, and he wasn’t entirely sure whether or not she thought that her accent or her disguise was fooling anyone.
“I’m Charley. The deckhand.” the youth explained. “The one who wanted work.”
“Charley who wanted work. Now I remember you.” he said, turning his winning smile onto her.
“You want a kiss too, Charley-boy?” Jack grinned. Charley flushed red.
“I—I’ll pass for today, captain.” she stuttered. He was perfectly happy with whichever role she wanted to take, and preferably if she was amenable to taking it with him. But for now, he figured it was probably polite if nothing else to address her as him until otherwise asked.
Charley’s smile was a bit weaker, and she began to wonder exactly how effective her disguise actually was. Before she could doubt her decision much more, the captain clapped her shoulder warmly and gestured grandly towards where his airship was moored.
“I think I can get that arranged, Charley-boy.” grinned Jack. “We could always use another hand on the Torchwood.”
“That sounds just fine t’me, captain.” the youth replied in her too-thick to be real accent. “I likes to keep myself busy, I do.”
“Have you ever worked on an airship, Charley?”
“Once.” she answered, her accent faltering slightly. “But it was a very brief flight.”
Not seven minutes later, when the landlord had finished letting Miss Wyldthyme know precisely what he thought of her “womanly wiles”, the lush found herself back on the street without another sip of gin in her. As the dashing pirates she had been drinking with had retired to their respective ships, she had no choice but to start making her way home as well.
Just as soon as she remembered which way that was.
Halfway across the city, the first movements started in the teacher’s dormitories. A scrappy, tow-headed form half sprang, half tumbled from his bed. Dr. Davison rubbed his eyes furiously, then rolled his shoulders and raised his arms above his head. He swung his body about, stretching in all directions at once. He was the first person awake in his apartment, as usual. Very few people were interested in moving at five-thirty in the morning unless they had already been moving at five. And usually, not unless they’d been moving at four as well.
There was really nothing he could do to convince his wards of the benefits of rising early and taking a healthy constitutional, and he had come to accept that. Still, that gave him time to bathe, dress, get a quick dash around the quad, and get a start on breakfast before his apartment became thick with loud young persons dashing every which way. He tied his dressing gown and began a spritely march down the hallway.
While most of Dr. Davison’s coworkers lived at the college, there were a few notable exceptions. Largely, the Bakers. The Bakers were probably the most respectable family to enter academia. Or at least they had been, before this latest set of brothers. But eccentric academics aside, the Bakers still kept a country home, a townhouse and the various staff that entailed. Cooks, footmen, butlers, valets, house-maids, parlour-maids, under house parlour maids.
And one rather over-qualified nanny.
Miss Bush, the Bakers’ nanny, was another early riser. And another firm believer in the benefits of exercise. At the moment, she was bouncing on her heels and punching at the air, still in her nightdress and her curly red hair escaping from under her sleeping cap. She sang a cheery little song to herself to keep herself on beat, like a child skipping rope.
“…pease pottage hot, pease pottage cold, pease pottage in a pot nine days old…”
She had not only held many jobs in her short twenty years, but also excelled in nearly all of them. She worked on the stage as a child, learning to sing and dance very gracefully. Sometime after that, she spent several years working with punch-card tabulation, where her eidetic memory came into good use. Sadly, when the local college began using these machines, they quickly shifted students to the manual labour of running them and relieved most of the tabulators of their employment. Instead of starting with the older men who had taken this ladylike job because they couldn’t handle heavy lifting, they released the bright young girls who would almost certainly be better off working in service or finding a husband. This is a conclusion easily reached if you are an older gentleman working at a desk job at a college and have never been a young woman in service.
While this was a factor in her securing a job in the household of one of the college’s professors, it was far from the main reason. Only herself, her employer, and his wife knew the exact reason she was currently employed as a nanny. There was no way to tell if the child himself knew the reason, because he was still confined to his cot. The boy also had every appearance of being a penguin; but that never seemed to come up.
“…pease pottage hot, pease pottage cold, pease pottage in a pot eight days old…” she sang, curls bouncing as she moved.
The tram conductor rolled his eyes in exasperation. This was his last round of the night, and he didn’t have the patience to humour this clearly drunk woman any longer than he already had. He had to finish this round and get a start on the part of his job he actually liked before six, and it was already five-forty. The longer he spent arguing with an old woman, the less time he got to tinker with the engine.
“Lookit love, you either got a token or you don’t, an’ I don’t really have the time to sit around wit’ the door open an’ wait while you yatter on about the weather.”
“But it is bone cold, Mr. Drax. ”
Mr. Drax rolled his eyes. This wasn’t the first morning he had met with Miss Wyldthyme or the first time they had this conversation. He knew the colour of her knickers but not the colour of her money, as he had only seen one of those items and it wasn’t the one he had wanted to see.
“Please Mr. Drax, it’s been such a long night an’ I don’t know ‘ow I’m gettin’ home without a bit of help…”
“An’ I don’t know either, because if you ain’t got a tram token, you ain’t ridin’ this tram ‘ome.”
“Are you sure there isn’t anyfing you could do for me? For old time’s sake, Mr. Drax…” As she spoke, her grip on her skirt tightened as if she wasn’t aware of it, but as the edge of her skirt cleared the top of her boots, the conductor became increasingly sure that the old woman knew precisely what she was doing.
“Bird, there’s a lot I would do to make you not lift that skirt any ‘igher, but none of it is givin’ ya a free ride. Worth more than my job, that is.”
Just two seats down from this discussion were the only two paying passengers on the tram; two chorus girls on their way home from the last show of the night. They were crammed together like a full week’s change of clothes in a carpetbag, though there was plenty of room this early in the morning. Their makeup was cloudy and smudged, the dark haired one trying to hide how old she really was while the ginger tried to hide how young she was. Each had nearly been falling asleep on the other’s shoulder before the conductor started this conversation with the drunk, and now turned their attention to pointedly not turning their attention to this spectacle.
The ginger spoke in quiet tones to her friend, though everyone on the tram could hear her nonetheless.
“Do you think we’ve got a spare token between us?”
“No, we’ve got tomorrow’s tokens and the next day’s.” said the older woman.
“But Tamsin, she’ll stand there and argue til the sun’s up if she can’t get a ride home, and I want to be back in me bed now.” Amelia argued. “Let’s just pay her way so we can all get home.”
“She drank her ride home, I can smell that from back here!” Tamsin hissed. “Leave her alone! Sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong is going to be the end of you, Amy. Sammy’s always saying that.”
“Samantha Jones is a git!” Amelia stated loudly, as if she were reciting facts for an oral exam.
“She likes you.”
“She hates me. She hates every girl in the chorus.”
“She doesn’t hate us, she just thinks she’s the best dancer in the chorus.”
“It’s the same thing.” pouted Amelia, straightening her coat and glancing at the front of the bus. She frowned.
“Now the old woman’s looking at us.”
“Don’t talk to her, Amelia.”
“She can hear us.” the ginger pointed out.
“Look at her!” Tamsin whispered. “How many years before that’s us, eh?”
“That’s why we should help her!”
“Not if we have any hope of finding work that will take us at her age! You’ve still got five years of dancing in you, but I’m closer to that than I ever hoped to get. We need to cut corners or else we’ll end up on ‘em.”
“I’m not gonna be on a corner when I’m old. My Rory’s going to be a proper doctor by then.”
“And I suppose you’ll have settled on being his wife proper by then?”
Amy’s mouth opened like a fish out of water, but she was saved from having to answer by Miss Wildthyme interrupting the conversation.
“D’you think that either one of you luvvies might lend an old lady a tram token?” Iris called. Amy looked like she might speak for a moment, but as Tamsin shook her head, Amy found herself shaking hers as well. The conductor smiled in a way that suggested he wasn’t quite as sorry as all that and started the tram up again.
“Sorry, luv,” said Mr. Drax. “Catch the next one, yeah?”
It was common knowledge that Dr. Davison was the earliest riser among his colleagues. It was common speculation that this accounted for why he was such a terse, and somewhat under-slept, young man. He was the second-youngest professor who actually made use of the academy club. The very-youngest professor was a mere twenty-five and often mistaken for one of the students. The very-youngest of the professors was a somewhat silly young man answering to Dr. Smith.
Dr. Smith also woke up fairly early, but upon discovering that it was not yet six, he thought better of the entire situation and dropped back into bed. The assortment of pillows and stuffed bears that filled his bed covered him like an avalanche until the young doctor had disappeared entirely. This was perhaps made more possible by the fact that his bed was, in fact, not a proper bed at all, but a hammock suspended by the bedposts his father had left him. Dr. Smith had always been firmly of the opinion that a hammock was a far superior form of bed. And it was so, if one wanted to disappear entirely under an avalanche of stuffed bears. The only way to improve a hammock, thought Dr. Smith, was to combine it with a bunk bed. And he did so.
He rarely had company overnight.