“Captain Harkness,” said the Queen, looking up from a battered red dispatch box as Jack entered her office in Buckingham Palace. “Thank you for coming to London on such short notice. I have a job for you.”
“For me? Your Majesty, I’m flattered but I’m…”
“Effectively unkillable,” she interrupted bluntly.
“Oh,” said Jack; “That sort of job.” He wondered who had told her about his special abilities. Most likely she’d read her father’s notes, he’d seen Jack in action.
“Indeed. Do sit down. Tell me, Captain, what do you think of the Beatles?”
“They’re… interesting,” said Jack, unwilling to reveal the extent of his knowledge, or their importance to the future of music.
“My children are fond of their work. Were you aware that cultists have recently made several attempts to murder their drummer?”
“I did see something in the daily intelligence summaries, but it didn’t really seem to be Torchwood business.”
“It is now, Captain. The Empire took great pains to eliminate Thuggee; I will not see it revived under my rule. I’m told that Torchwood can manage without you for a week or two, I’m assigning you to safeguard the Beatles and make sure that the threat is eliminated once and for all.”
“With respect, your Majesty, I’m no expert on the Thugs. They’re a long way before my time.”
“I’m aware of that, Captain. Fortunately we were able to locate an expert to help you.” She pressed a button on her intercom. “Ask Doctor Lake to come in, please.”
There was a short pause then a footman ushered in a smartly-dressed woman in her forties or early fifties, a little shorter than Jack with unruly wavy blonde hair. She said “Your Majesty?”
“Doctor Lake, this is Captain Jack Harkness, who will be handling this matter. Captain Harkness, this is Doctor Carol Lake, of the Victoria and Albert Museum.”
Doctor Lake winked imperceptibly and Jack did his best to keep a straight face. In unison they said “We’ve met!”
“Splendid. Now do please bring this matter to a swift conclusion, the nation is depending on you.” She turned her attention to one of the files on her desk, and the footman ushered them out.
* * * * *
“Aren’t you supposed to be in Stormcage?” Jack asked quietly, as another footman led them along endless corridors.
River Song grinned and said “Spoilers!”
“And where’s my gun?”
“Spoi… no, actually I can tell you that one, it’s in the property store at Stormcage, or was the last time I saw it. I hope I won’t need it with you around.”
Jack made a mental note to drop in to Stormcage and steal it back if he ever got the chance. “Last time I let you borrow it. Okay, so what brings you to this neck of the woods?”
“Not the TARDIS, I’m afraid.”
“You in the TARDIS? Don’t make me laugh.”
“Spoilers! But no, I had to hitch-hike with… no, spoilers again. It’s really awkward when we’re this far out of sync. Anyway, I heard that there were Thuggee involved and I couldn’t resist popping in to take a look. They’re supposed to have been wiped out more than a hundred years ago.”
“Tell me about it. I’ve been in India four or five times since then, and there’s been no sign of them. Why would they come back now?”
In the distance they began to hear music. “Maybe they know something. We’ll have to ask.”
* * * * *
“She said that living with me
Was bringing her down yeah.
She would never be free
When I was around.
She's got a ticket to ri-hide,
She's got a ticket to ri-hi-hide…”
Jack put two fingers into his mouth and whistled loudly, and was completely ignored. River went to the nearest amplifier and turned up the volume until the music was drowned by feedback howls, then turned it down to zero and said “Hello, pretty boys” once the confused musicians stopped playing.
“What she said,” said Jack. “We need you to answer a few questions.”
“We already told the police everything,” said George.
“At great and turgid length,” added John.
“So why not let us rehearse?” Paul reached for the amplifier controls.
“The Queen doesn’t like assassins in her palace,” said Jack, “and we’re not the police. I’m Captain Jack Harkness, this is Doctor Carol Lake. I think you could say we’re troubleshooters.”
“What sort of trouble do you shoot?” asked Ringo, nervously stubbing out a cigarette in an overflowing ashtray.
“The sort that’s been trying to kill you,” said River. “And probably will if we don’t do something to stop it.”
There was a sudden hiss, followed by a violent ‘bang’ as the ashtray exploded in a red cloud, covering Ringo in a spray of paint.
“Eh up,” said John, “’ere we go again.”
“They have to cover me with paint or it doesn’t count,” said Ringo.
A footman staggered in, clutching his chest, his hands around the shaft of a spear, said “Indians!” and collapsed into a chair.
“Indians?” said Jack, George, and Paul.
“Let me take a look at that;” River moved towards the footman, digging into a large shoulder bag.
“Indians?” said Ringo; “Where?”
“Here,” said the footman, pulling the spear from his jacket and nimbly reversing it in his hands. He shouted “Kaaaaili” and lunged towards Ringo. The lunge ended abruptly when River pulled a huge gun from her bag and shot him with a tranquiliser dart. He collapsed to the floor, giggling, and began to count the toes of his bare feet.
“Have they all been this pathetic?” asked Jack.
“They are a bit rubbish,” said George. “Except for that girl Ahme, she’s a bit of all right. She’s the one that told us about the paint, and she’s tried to help Ringo get it off.”
“Maybe a little turpentine?”
“Not the paint, the ring!”
“This one isn’t even Indian,” said River, who was examining the assassin, “he’s wearing theatrical makeup.”
“Weird.” Jack scribbled a note and called in some guardsmen, who picked up the assassin and took him away, still giggling. “I think you gave him a little too much there, he won’t be able to tell us much for a few hours. I’ve asked Scotland Yard to check theatrical agents, see if anyone recognises him. Superintendent Gluck’s in charge, he’s a bit of a tool but he can handle something like that.”
“It’s plausible that he’s an actor, I suppose. But it means that the whole Thuggee thing is a waste of time, I might as well not have bothered.”
“There has to be someone organising it, for all you know it’s real Thugs behind it all.”
“Why would real Thugs use fake Thugs? That makes no sense at all.”
Jack pulled a magnifying glass from his pocket and said “Let’s have a look at the ring.”
“Here,” said Ringo, holding out his hand to display the red gem on his finger. “It won’t come off. We’ve tried all sorts, nothing will shift it. Ahme was going to try to shrink me out of it, but she shrank Paul by mistake.”
“How did she shrink you?” asked River.
“She said it was a concoction of several rare orchids,” said Paul, “and that she could say no more.”
“What size were you?”
“About an inch tall. I was worried someone would step on me, but it wore off after a couple of minutes.”
River produced her sonic screwdriver, held it a few inches from Paul and scanned him, and said “Rare orchids… riiiight. Noticed any after-effects? Sudden changes in height or weight, unexpected pregnancy, acute nausea and vomiting, large green spots?”
“Pregnancy?” John asked nervously.
“Not likely, you’re not really equipped for it, but it’s the sort of thing that happens when you mess around with certain rare orchids. That stuff is so exotic it might as well have come from another planet.”
Jack nodded slightly, and turned his attention to the ring, producing an odd bakelite-cased device from his implausibly capacious pockets. It looked like an old voltmeter with several needles and numerous blinking lights. “Hmmmm. Where did you say you got this?”
“Ahme’s sister sent it to me,” said Ringo. “She’s a fan, they send us all sorts of things. Cards, knickers, rings… They love us.”
“Odd way of showing it.”
“How do you mean?”
“The reports say they’re trying to kill anyone wearing the ring. She must have known that when she sent it to you.”
“I suppose. I reckon she didn’t think it through properly.”
“Not very thoughtful. But I have to say I like her taste in men… although I could live without the cigarettes.” He left Ringo gaping after him as he went back to River.
“Stop flirting with the pretty boys, Jack,” said River, “I really don’t need the competition. Notice anything odd about the ring?”
Jack lowered his voice. “Let’s see… monomolecular, psychically active, transmitting occasional pulses of Theta radiation, pretty much indestructible. Did I miss anything?”
“The Gallifreyan decorative motif.”
“Time Lord technology? It’s The Doctor’s ring?”
“It could be something left over from the Time War,” said River, remembering just how out of sync they were. It wouldn’t do to drop a hint about The Master. “Or an earlier version of The Doctor could be somewhere in the picture. I know he visited Earth a good few times in the twentieth century.”
“We can’t risk any contact,” Jack said gloomily, “or it’ll mess things up when we meet him for the first time.”
“That’s not necessarily a problem, he can hypnotise himself to forget if he wants to.”
“Psssst!” River and Jack looked around, and eventually noticed some fingers wiggling through a nearby ventilation grille.
“Hello?” said River.
“They will kill Ringo if he does not remove the ring,” said a feminine voice, “I can say no more.”
“Ahme?” said Jack. “It is Ahme, isn’t it?”
There was an intake of breath from the ventilator, and River guessed that Ahme had just seen Jack clearly. “Stop it, Jack.”
“Hello Ahme,” said Ringo, “Any news?”
“Many things are happening,” said Ahme. “You are being watched, and your every move is relayed to the Swami… but I may say no more.”
“The Swami?” said River. “Does he have a name?”
“I may say no more!” Ahme vanished from the grille, moments later there was a whirring noise from inside the wall.
“Don’t like the sound of that,” said Jack, moving to put himself between Ringo and the wall. A hole saw cut out a neat two-inch circle from the plaster, and was withdrawn into the wall, then the hole was filled by a metal disk bearing a glowing red button, and labelled “DO NOT PRESS”.
“The cunning fiends,” said Paul.
“Well, Jack,” said River, “you never were one for obeying orders.”
“Anything for a weird life. Everyone stand back, and stay away from the windows.” He waited until they’d withdrawn then pressed the button. His finger shattered a layer of thin glass and it sprayed him with red dye. Then his finger touched the back of the button, and 240 volts surged through his body, throwing him back. He collapsed to the floor.
George felt his wrist and said “That’s not good. I think they killed him.”
“It’d take more than that to kill Jack,” said River.
“There’s no pulse,” said John, taking Jack’s other wrist and feeling under his vortex manipulator.
“Nonsense, he’s just resting,” said River.
“Sorry, love,” said George, “I think he’s dead.”
“Want to bet?”
“Say a fiver?”
“All right,” said George.
“Anyone else?” asked River.
“I’ll put a quid on it,” said John.
“What about you two?”
“Count me out,” said Ringo, “that’s dead morbid, that is.”
“I’m in for another fiver,” said Paul.
“Okay,” said River. “Wakey, wakey, Jack.” She kicked him in the ribs, hard. Jack lay there, unmoving, for several seconds, then gasped and sat up.
“Eleven quid, boys.”
“It’s a fix,” said Ringo, “he was shamming.”
“Maybe he’s a zombie,” said George.
“Well, I don’t want to eat your brains,” said Jack, standing up, “but I can be quite oral with the right partner…”
Once she’d taken their money, River said “Jack, have you got somewhere safer the boys can hide out?”
“Somewhere half-way habitable?”
They were interrupted by a cry of “Nobody move!” as two men wearing the uniform of the Brigade of Guards burst into the room, one tall, and the other short and stout. The tall man brandished a revolver.
“It’s Professor Foot,” said Ringo, “and what’s his name. Thingy. Algernon!”
“Eh up,” said John, “I didn’t know you’d joined the army.”
“Shut up!” Foot waved his gun menacingly, “and give me the Ring. With its power and my scientific genius I might… dare I say it… rule the world!”
Jack grinned and said “You want to be careful with that thing, someone might get hurt.”
“That’s the idea,” said Foot.
River said “He wasn’t talking to you.” Algernon collapsed to the floor, and Foot raised his hands as she touched the barrel of her gun to the back of his head. “Jack, can you take that, please?”
“My pleasure.” He approached Foot carefully, then without warning punched him in the stomach and plucked the gun from his hand as he doubled over. Before Foot could react Jack hit him again, this time striking for a nerve bundle. Foot collapsed, unconscious.
“The police can take care of them,” Jack said dismissively, “we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
“You’re not kidding,” said River, looking out into the corridor. “They’ve left a relativity credenza out there, you don’t pick those up at Woolworth’s. Or anywhere else around here, I think.”
“What does a relativity crescendo do?” asked Paul.
“Credenza,” said Jack. “It messes up the fabric of space and time, feels like you’re running through treacle. They must have planned to use it to slow down anyone following them. Idiots.”
“How the hell did Foot get hold of it?” asked River, carefully pulling out the plug.
“Someone stole the prototype from MIT last year,” said Jack, “pretty sure this is it.”
Several policemen arrived and began to carry Foot, Algernon and the assassin away. One of them want to pick up the Credenza, and Jack said “You’d better leave that with me” and quickly flashed Torchwood’s warrant card, printed with a subliminal fractal pattern that triggered obedience and short term memory fuzziness. He took care to cover it before anyone had an epileptic fit, and as usual wished that he had real psychic paper instead of a crude substitute.
“What the hell do you want that for?” asked River. “All it’s good for is slowing things down a little.”
“It’s temporal technology, that makes it Torchwood’s.”
“Admit it, you just want to use it to prolong your orgasms.”
“Any chance of going out for a walk?” asked George, “we’re going stir crazy in here.”
“What do you think?” Jack asked River.
“We might as well. It’ll give the police a chance to search for more assassins.” She quietly added “and with any luck the idiots will attack us in the open and we can take the rest of them down.”
“Okay,” said Jack, “let’s go for a walk.”
* * * * *
About twenty minutes later they were walking along a quiet street near the Thames, tailed by a police escort led by Superintendent Gluck, when they began to hear bagpipe music. A moment later a small band appeared around a corner ahead and began to march towards them, playing an instrumental version of A Hard Day’s Night.
“Is it just me,” said River, “or do they look… Indian?”
“Maybe,” said Jack, putting a hand on his pistol.
As they band passed the Beatles one of the tubes of the bagpipes started to squirt red paint, and Ringo and the others turned and ran before they could be hit. “You stay with the boys,” shouted Jack, “I’ll see what these guys have to say for themselves.” He fired a shot in the air, and the band turned and ran.
River, the Beatles, Gluck and most of the police took cover in a nearby pub while Jack chased after the band with a few constables.
“Might as well get a round,” said Ringo, going to the bar. “Four best bitters, and whatever the lady wants…”
“Gin and tonic, please,” said River, guessing that anything more exotic was likely to be badly made.
“…and something for you, Superintendant?”
“Well… no, not while we’re on duty.”
“Four bitters, one gin and tonic,” repeated the swarthy bald barman, skilfully pouring the drinks, but when Ringo tried to pick up his glass it seemed to be stuck to the bar.
“That ring’s sapping your strength,” said George, pulling the glass towards himself. It pivoted on a hidden hinge, and a trapdoor opened under Ringo and dropped him into the cellar, slamming shut again. A bucket of red paint spilled on to him as he lay on the floor.
By the time anyone thought to look away from the hatch the barman was gone. Gluck began to thump the door with his heel. Below him Ringo ran to a window, but it was barred. Outside was Ahme, who said “You are in grave danger. I can say no more,” then walked out of view.
A hatch opened and an angry-looking tiger stalked into the cellar.
* * * * *
As Jack fired the bandsmen began to flee, dropping their instruments as they ran. One of the policemen tripped over a drum, another was stunned by a bouncing trombone, a third taken down by a cymbal thrown like a Frisbee. They ran up the street towards an ice-cream van, and the bandsmen took up a defensive position around it and started to throw knives and throwing stars as they climbed into the van through its serving hatch. Jack shot again, hitting one of them, another was knocked out by a skilfully thrown truncheon, but the others dragged the injured bandsmen into the van.
As the last climbed in Jack grabbed his feet and tried to pull him out again, but was knocked back by a boot to the jaw. One of them threw out a smoke bomb as the serving hatch slammed closed. For a moment the van was shrouded in smoke, and there was an odd groaning noise. As the smoke cleared the van was revealed, looking oddly flat… and fell over, revealing itself to be a full-sized photograph of a van.
“That was bloody odd,” said one of the policemen.
“Has to be ninjas,” said Jack, knowing that he lied. It had been a long time, but he still recognized a TARDIS when he heard it.
* * * * *
The trap door finally came open, and Superintendent Gluck looked down into the cellar and said “Good lord, that’s Rajah, the famous Bengal man-eater who escaped from London Zoo this morning.”
“Good Lord! So it famous is!” said John.
“Oh, don't worry, he's absolutely harmless. All you have to do is sing Beethoven's ‘Ode to Joy’ from the famous Ninth Symphony in D minor.”
As Gluck tried to get everyone singing River shot the tiger with a tranquilliser dart. It collapsed and started snoring. “Sorry to spoil your sing-song, I never could stand karaoke.”
* * * * *
“So we’ve got a disappearing barman and a disappearing ice cream van,” said River, once they were back at Buckingham Palace and out of easy earshot of the Beatles, “and a cult that seems to exist for the sole purpose of assassinating Ringo. I’m finding no evidence of any activity before he was sent the ring.”
“I helped shut down Torchwood Delhi in forty-odd years ago, read through a lot of their records. There was nothing to suggest that Thuggee wasn’t extinct. I’ve asked Torchwood One to take a look at the guy we caught, see if there’s anything odd about him. I’m wondering if he’s been brainwashed to think he’s a real Thug or something. Might take them a while to get back to us though.”
“If you’re right that the van was a TARDIS, or something else that worked the same way, there could be almost anything going on. Mind control, robots, clones, or some trick of Time Lord technology we can’t imagine.”
“There was never anything like that with The Doctor, but I guess his TARDIS was old and held together with their equivalent of duct tape and string even before the Time War. I think he’s used most of the technology he had to keep it going.”
“We really need to find this Ahme woman,” said River. “Whatever’s going on, she’s in the thick of it. She mentioned ‘The Swami,’ it sounds suspiciously like the sort of name a Time Lord might adopt. Maybe she’s his companion, like you were with The Doctor.”
“I know The Doctor likes to travel with an entourage, but why assume all Time Lords are like that?”
“From what I’ve heard most of them liked having humans around so that they could feel superior. The Doctor was a bit better than that, but it’s as good a reason as any.”
“But why pick on the Beatles?”
“Damned if I know,” said River. “They’re as close to being a fixed historical event as it’s possible to be. We know what they’ll do, every detail of how they’ll live and die. You’d have to be crazy to try to change it.”
The door opened, and the Beatles came in. “We’ve been putting our heads together,” said George, “and we’ve got a cunning plan.”
“This ought to be interesting,” said River.
“We put it about that we’re going somewhere exotic like the Bahamas,” said John, “but really we’re going to go somewhere else exotic.”
“I could do with some sun. Where were you thinking of going?”
“The Bahamas, of course,” said Ringo. “That’s why it’s so cunning.”
“I think you’re lost me somewhere,” said Jack.
“We put it about that we’re pretending to go to the Bahamas, but really going somewhere else exotic,” Paul said patiently. “But really we do go to the Bahamas, it’s the last place they’ll ever look for us.”
“I like it,” said River.
“You would,” said Jack, already sure that he wasn’t going to win this one.
* * * * *
The Pan-Am Boeing 707 taxied to a halt at Nassau International Airport, and the Beatles were the first out of the plane, taking pictures of everything they saw. Jack took care to stay out of shot, River waved at the cameras. A small convoy of police cars was waiting, ready to whisk them to a secluded house outside the city.
“No reporters?” asked Jack, a little surprised.
“We leaked a story that they’re going to Freeport,” said one of the policemen. “All of the reporters are on their way there. It should keep them out of the way for a day or two.”
“Sooner or later word will get out that they’re here, but with a bit of luck it’ll take a while. It costs a pretty penny to phone Fleet Street, hopefully nobody who was on the plane will want to spend the money, or wait three hours for a clear line to make a call.”
“Thank you, Sergeant,” said River, “that’s really helpful.”
“All part of the service, Ma’am.”
“Any idea when the Scotland Yard team will arrive?” asked Jack.
“A few hours yet,” said the Sergeant, “but we’ll make sure you’re all right.”
“I’m sure you will, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they’re followed. I’d be grateful if you could check carefully before you bring them out to the house.”
* * * * *
“It’s too quiet,” said Jack, looking out from the veranda and listening to the surf and tropical birds in the distance.
“What were you expecting?”
“The Thugs. They ought to be here by now.”
“You don’t think we shook them off?”
“I’m sure we didn’t. With the right equipment that ring could be detected from a few hundred light-years away, on the same planet the location can easily be pinned down to a couple of feet.”
“You think they have the technology?” asked River
“Whoever gave them the ring probably knew how to find it. I know they have other alien technology; I heard from Torchwood when we refuelled in Miami, the fake Thug was fitted with a Sontaran neural control implant. You can’t get them at Woolworths. Not yet, anyway.”
“None of this seems like a Sontaran plan.”
“No, but the implants are available on the black market in some parts of the galaxy, I smuggled a few myself in my day. The Sontarans don’t actually use them much, their hypnosis works nearly as well and it’s harder to spot. It could be anyone who has off-world access.”
“So let’s see… whoever it is has a TARDIS or something like it, Sontaran implants, shrinking serum, and Galifreyan psychic metal. Where do they get those wonderful toys?”
“Careful, River, there’s still a couple of decades to go before that becomes a common expression.”
“Where did you think the scriptwriters got the phrase?” River asked with a grin.
“The odd thing is that the implant is old. The power cell was down to about forty percent, that means it’s at least eighteen hundred years old. Same for the shrinking drug; the effect should have lasted at least ten minutes, from what John said it wore off in two or three. The most likely cause would be age.”
“Well, I think we’ve established they aren’t really Thuggee,” said River. “Apart from anything else, they’re ludicrously ineffective.”
“Maybe that’s the point. The fake Thugs are making a lot of waves but they aren’t really accomplishing anything, and it’s unlikely they can. If they actually managed to kill Ringo it’d be a huge damn paradox, the universe would quickly cancel it out. It’s got our attention, and if the Doctor was around it’d get his attention, but it probably won’t have any lasting effect.”
“That’s it! They’re trying to get at the Doctor, lure him into a trap or something. But so far as I know he isn’t on Earth or anywhere near us right now.” Some birds flew out of the bushes, squawking loudly. “I’d better check on the boys.” She got up and went inside.
Jack waited a minute or so then said “The mosquitoes must be eating you alive, why don’t you come inside?”
“You are in grave danger,” a voice said from the bushes a few moments later.
“Hello, Ahme.” Jack got up and moved towards the bushes. “Tell me about this danger.”
“I can say no… ouch!”
The bushes thrashed for a moment, then River came out, holding Ahme in a firm arm-lock, and marched her onto the veranda. “I think it’s high time we had a little talk.”
* * * * *
“So your sister really sent Ringo the ring?”
“It is complicated. Swami Clang gave her the ring and said that she was to be the chosen one, the beloved of the gods. It is a great honour amongst our people. Except that my sister was in love, and decided to give it to her beloved, Ringo.”
“This sister of yours,” said Jack. “What’s her name?”
“Why, she is… she is… is… is…”
“How about your parents? Where do they live?”
Ahme looked confused then collapsed to the floor.
“Thought so,” said River. “She’s conditioned too.”
“There’s no implant,” said Jack, examining Ahme’s neck.
“Ahme?” asked John, coming out onto the veranda.
“She says she is,” said River, “but we’re not so sure.”
“Looks like her,” said John. “Is she okay?”
“That’s not what I mean. She says she’s Ahme, but nothing she’s told us about herself quite adds up, and she’s acting like she’s been brainwashed or hypnotized. So was the man we caught at Buckingham Palace.”
“Then why are they trying to kill me?” asked Ringo, joining them on the verandah.
“We’re not sure they are,” said Jack. “Every attack so far seems to have been designed to fail. But don’t rely on that, they may just be really crappy assassins.”
“They’ve come close a couple of times,” said John.
“And now they know we’re here,” said River, “or at least Ahme does. Ringo, you’d better stay out of sight as much as you can.”
“We’d better try to revive her,” said Jack.
River broke a small capsule under her nose. Ahme coughed, spluttered, and woke. “Feeling better?”
“What happened?” asked Ahme.
“You fainted,” said River. “John, Ringo, could you and Jack get her a nice cup of tea? I think we may need to talk privately for a moment.” She somehow managed to imbue the request with overtones that suggested forthcoming gynaecological content, and both Beatles beat a hasty retreat. Jack winked and followed them.
“Right,” said River. “Let’s get to the bottom of this. Someone’s been messing around with your mind, I can fix it with your cooperation or without it. Which would you prefer?”
“I don’t understand…”
“Sorry, it’s for your own good.” River held her sonic screwdriver to Ahme’s head, and she whimpered as parts of her brain vibrated in a way it was never supposed to. After a few seconds she fainted again. River kept the screwdriver working for another thirty seconds, checked that her pulse and respiration were still more or less normal, then used another capsule to revive her.
“What the hell?” said Ahme, her English suddenly devoid of any accent.
“It looks like someone hypnotized you,” said River. “How much can you remember?”
“Well, there was a casting call for a comedy remake of Gunga Din, they wanted actors and actresses who were Indian, or could look the part. I’m from Middlesex but I thought it was worth a shot.”
“Before we go on, do any of the cultists know that you’re here?”
“No. That bastard Clang gave me a sort of compass thing that pointed towards Ringo, I slipped away from the others to come here tonight.”
“Show it to me.”
Ahme pulled a small round disk from her sari and showed it to River. There was a dim red light on the edge towards the house, moving a little as Ringo presumably moved inside. River dropped it and smashed it with her heel. “Just in case they’re tracking it. Okay, maybe you’d better tell us about Swami Clang. Just a second though.” She raised her voice. “Jack, I think Ahme is feeling a lot better.”
“Actually it’s Aimee, with two e’s. Aimee Clement.”
“Lovely name,” said Jack as he joined them. “Okay, let’s take it from the top. Exactly how did you meet the Swami, Aimee?”
“Well, there was a casting call for a comedy remake of Gunga Din, they wanted actors and actresses who were Indian, or could look the part. I’m from Middlesex but I thought it was worth a shot.”
“Hang on a minute,” said River. “That’s exactly what you said a minute ago.”
“Yes,” said Ahme, “because that’s what happened.”
“Yes, but you used exactly the same words and intonation. People don’t do that unless they’re reciting something they’ve learned.”
“I don’t understand,” said Ahme.
“Don’t you? The treatment I gave you should have made sure you aren’t still hypnotized, that means you’re repeating something you’ve been told to say. And it’s probably a pack of lies.”
“So who told you to say that?” asked Jack, gripping Aimee’s arm.
Ahme stared at him defiantly.
“Very clever, Mister Bond,” said Aimee. “But as usual you are far too late.” She laughed, and abruptly disintegrated into a puddle of white goo.
“I’ve seen that trick before,” River said flatly. “She was a ganger, a Flesh duplicate linked to a real person. Someone just cut the link.”
“What did she mean, I’m too late?” asked Jack.
“Where are the boys?”
They ran back into the house, and found six unconscious policemen. The Beatles were gone.
* * * * *
“We must escape quickly,” said Ahme, leading the Beatles along a tunnel drilled through solid rock, and lit by flickering torches. “Harkness and Lake are using you as bait.”
“It’s a good thing there was a secret passage,” said Ringo, his eyes slightly glazed. Ahme paused to let the others catch up, and make sure they got another dose of the synthetic pheromones she was using to ensure their cooperation.
“A very good thing,” said John
“A very very good thing,” said George
“A very very very good thing,” Paul added.
“A… I lost count, was that very very or very very very?” asked Ringo.
“For a drummer, you’re not very very very very good at keeping count,” said George.
“No time to dawdle,” said Ahme, “they’ll find the entrance eventually, we must get on.” She hurried ahead. “No shilly-shallying! I can say no more!”
Eventually they reached the mouth of the tunnel, a cave leading onto a beach. “There is not a moment to lose. I can say no more!”
“Not so fast!” said a familiar voice from the shadows.
“It’s thingy!” said Paul.
Professor Foot walked out into the moonlight and brandished a pistol. “Walther PPK. Quite lethal at this range, or so I’m told. So, we meet again. But this time the advantage is mine.”
“Ours,” said Algernon, following him out. “There are two of us.”
“Give me the ring.”
“It still won’t come off,” said Ringo.
“Then we’ll have to explore other options,” said Foot. Algernon grabbed Ringo’s arm and injected him with something; a few seconds later Ringo collapsed and Algernon dragged him towards the shore, while Foot waved his gun menacingly at the others. They loaded Ringo into a Zodiac launch and roared off out to sea.
“We’d better rescue him,” said Paul, a little dazedly.
Ahme stared after the boat, wondering why her pheromones hadn’t affected Foot and Algernon, then realised the breeze had been blowing the other way. “Follow me. I have my own boat further down the beach.”
* * * * *
“They must have been shielded somehow,” said River, looking at a tablet she’d pulled from her bag, “But I’m picking them up again. Ringo’s heading out to sea fairly quickly, the others are on the beach about a mile west of us, heading away from us at walking speed.”
“You bugged them? Stupid question, of course you did. Why the hell didn’t I think of that.”
“Because you’re stuck using mid twentieth century Earth electronics and the junk Torchwood salvages. I can do much better.”
“We’d better rescue Ringo first, he’s the one they seem to be trying to kill.”
“We can’t be sure of that, whatever they’re up to might involve killing all of them, or that might be their Plan B.”
“Damn it, you’re right.”
“Ahme’s probably taken Ringo, I’d better get after them. You take care of the others, the Thugs have probably got them.”
“Honestly? Because you’re too likely to be diverted by a pretty face. If you go after the others you won’t be making googly eyes at Ahme.”
“Harsh but fair. Okay, give me the tracking frequency and I’ll wake up the cops and get after them.”
River sent the data to Jack’s wrist computer. “There you go. Catch you later.” River checked her tablet again and ran for the parked cars. Jack looked at his wrist, saw that the Beatles were still moving in the same direction, and went to wake the police.
* * * * *
River parked at a marina three miles from the house, found a moored powerboat, and used her laser cutter and sonic screwdriver to steal it. As she roared off out to sea she saw the lights of two police cars arriving, and hoped that they were there to help her, not catch her. She checked the tablet again; Ringo’s tracking signal was stationary, in the next bay along the coast. She plugged in an earphone and sent a signal to activate the built-in bug.
“…I'm better with animals than plugs and transistors, they trust me! I should've gone into vivisection,” said a voice River quickly identified as Algernon, Foot’s assistant.
“Strap him down tightly,” said Foot. “I don’t want him moving while I’m operating.” How had they escaped? And where was Ahme?
“I’m working on it. He won’t stay still!”
“Bloody right I won’t,” said Ringo. “I use this finger, I’m not letting you have it.”
“I’ll give him some anaesthetic, it’ll shut him… ouch! He bit my sodding arm!”
“Get on with it, man, we’ve work to do. With that ring, that invulnerable metal, I could… dare I say it? Rule the world!”
“You keep saying it,” said Algernon, “But I’m bleeding here! I need the first aid kit.”
“Don’t whimper, man, get on with it!”
Ahead River could see the lights of a moored yacht, and she raised an apparently antique lorgnette to see a magnified, image-intensified and stabilised view. Ringo was strapped to an operating table, inclined at forty-five degrees, under a cluster of bright lights, with his hand strapped to a wooden chopping block. Foot was taking practice swings with a small cleaver, while Algernon tried to sedate Ringo and dodge his teeth. River aimed a sonic burst at the engine and the boat surged forward at nearly twice its rated speed. The boat rocked uncomfortably as it bit into the waves, and River knew that a moment’s carelessness could end up with her sinking or losing control; that or the engine might explode, it wasn’t really designed for fuel burning at close to a hundred percent efficiency. She grinned and set the wheel for the yacht.
* * * * *
“The boat is in a cave,” said Ahme, leading the remaining Beatles to a rocky mound on the shore, and climbing half way up the slope. A slab of rock slid aside to reveal an opening. “Quickly, they are chasing us. I can say no more.”
“Hang about,” said John. “Don’t your friends know about this? The Thugs?”
“Quickly, no time for chitter-chatter!”
George shook his head. “I think we need to think this one over.”
“I am so sorry,” said Ahme. “It appears that you may be learning to resist my exotic allure. We shall proceed to sterner methods.” She clapped her hands, and a dozen Thugs rose from pits in the sand, armed with kukris and scimitars, surrounding the Beatles. “Enter. I can say no more.”
“You’ve betrayed us,” said Paul.
“Alas yes,” said Ahme, “it is nothing personal, I assure you. Please enter this, our humble temple.”
“I’m very disappointed,” said John.
“We all are,” said George.
“Swami Clang is patient,” said Ahme, “but his patience is not inexhaustible. Please enter immediately, or there will be consequences you really will not like. I can say no more.”
“Betrayer,” said John, reluctantly moving towards the entrance at sword-point.
“It’s a living,” Ahme said with a shrug, standing to one side to let them pass.
Paul’s voice drifted out through the entrance. “It’s bigger on the inside…”
“It is. But I can say no more. The Swami will explain.”
Ahme waited until they were all inside then shut the slab, scanned for the distinctive signal from the ring, set the vortex manipulator to home in on it, and vanished. Moments later Jack and the police reached the beach.
* * * * *
Ahme materialised and saw Foot raising a small cleaver to amputate Ringo’s finger. “Not so fast,” she shouted, and threw a small dagger. She missed his hand, but the hilt hit the cleaver and made him drop it.
“Surrender immediately. I can say no more.”
“Bloody hell,” said Algernon, “where did you come from?”
“Bombay,” Ahme lied, elbowing him in the sternum. He collapsed to the deck, wheezing.
“Now listen here, missy,” said Foot, fumbling with his revolver. “You’re interfering with science!” He pulled the trigger, but the gun refused to fire. “Cheap British rubbish. Now if this was an American gun, or German… what the hell’s that?”
He was looking past her toward the shore, and Ahme sneered. “Do you expect me to fall for that old trick?”
“Trick?” There was a crash and the yacht lurched, throwing Foot back and making Ahme stumble to her knees. She looked up dazedly as River jumped aboard, saying “Hello, Ahme. You’ve been a naughty girl.”
Ahme struggled to her feet and lurched toward Ringo, grabbed his arm, and used her other hand to roll up her sleeve to reveal a vortex manipulator. As River jumped for them she hit the controls; they vanished into the Time Vortex.
“Algernon,” said Foot, “With that device I could…”
“Oh shut up,” said Algernon.
River finally succeeded in locking onto Ahme’s trace and followed them into the Vortex.
“Algernon,” said Foot. “This has been a black day for British science.”
“It’s about to get blacker,” said Algernon.
The boat was suddenly illuminated from the air by a powerful spotlight. A blimp was hovering there, and an amplified voice said “This is Inspector Gluck of New Scotland Yard. You are all under arrest. Lay down your arms. I repeat, lay down your arms.”
* * * * *
John, Paul and George were wandering across an apparently infinite white floor, with black holes a yard wide at regular intervals. There was a similar pattern on the ceiling, a few feet above them, offset so that the holes above were over solid floor. On a hunch George dropped a penny down one of the holes. It fell out of one of the ceiling holes about fifty feet away, with a faint ‘clink’ as it hit the ground.
“If you put your hand down that hole, do you think you could wave at yourself?”
“Let’s give it a try,” said George, trying it. “No, it isn’t over there.”
“I can see it,” said Paul, “about fifty feet behind you, sticking out of one of the holes in the floor.”
“Weird.” George looked back to see his hand, and made a rude gesture.
“Best not mess about too much, you’d be buggered if you couldn’t get your hand back. Worst than Ringo and his finger.”
“Good point. Hey, can you hear music?”
They listened, and faintly heard a sitar playing a jaunty tune.
“It’s coming from over there, I think,” said George, pointing in roughly the direction they’d been walking.
“You could put some sort of song to that,” said John.
Paul shrugged. “It’s a bit basic.”
“I like it,” said George. “Might do for the B-side of something more serious.”
“Sort of nautical. But there’s a long note there, not easy to put words to it.”
“tum te tum, te tum te tum, something something, went to sea,” said Paul, “tum te tum, te tum te tum, tum tee, something submarine.”
“Submarine?” asked George.
“It fits the tune.”
“Maybe. Needs a lot more work.”
“I think it’s coming from the hole over there,” said John.
“Why that one?”
“Well, apart from anything else, it’s green, all the rest are black.”
“I’m going in,” said George, jumping down the hole. The others shrugged and followed him. They landed on the floor of a huge room that looked like the interior of a Gothic cathedral, with a series of arches on every side The music was coming from a battered tape recorder that was on the floor near a hexagonal thing that looked like a cross between a very complicated organ and a mixing console.
“I reckon you might be able to get a good tune out of that,” said Paul.
“Oh my goodness no,” said a man’s voice. “That would be a very bad mistake.” A chubby bald man wearing an elaborately brocaded robe and an odd helmet that reminded them of Marvin the Martian swept into view from behind the console, and prodded a switch on the recorder with a sandalled foot, stopping the tape. “I am Swami Clang. Welcome to my temple. Cooperate, and we shall have a ripping time. Fail to cooperate…” he paused for a moment “…and there may be problems.” He clapped his hands, and several Thugs bearing swords appeared from the arches.
“Why are you trying to kill Ringo?” asked George.
“Kill him? Hardly. My flock has perhaps been a little over-zealous once or twice, but I need you all very much alive.”
“Why?” John asked bluntly.
“Why? Why, to bring you here, so that my old enemies may try to rescue you! You are merely the bait in a cunning trap.”
“It’s a bit elaborate, isn’t it?” asked Paul. “Couldn’t you just pop round to their house and capture them that way.”
“Those I seek are not bound by the mundane limitations of your world,” said Clang. “They are the very Lords of creation. Like myself.”
“‘Ere we go,” said George, “More bloody religion.”
“It is not religion!” shouted Clang, “It is the fundamental nature of the universe. Some are its masters. You, alas, are not amongst them.”
“Can we sign up or something?”
“Don’t be silly. What do you think this is, some sort of cult?”
“Now that you mention it… yeah.”
“I have been called many things. Swami, Rabbi, Father, humble Monk. Always I live to bring order from chaos, and reduce the unruly nature of the universe. And do I get thanks for it?” He paused and shook his head. “My apologies. The burdens of faith are sometimes harsh. Know only that there is method in what I do, and reason, and there is a moderately good chance that you will all survive once I make my escape from this miserable mud-ball of a planet!”
“Well, I think it’s a bit unfair involving us,” said Paul.
Clang touched his hands together and bowed slightly. “Your pardon. Please, regard yourselves as my honoured guests. We await only the arrival of your missing friend, then I shall reveal the secrets of music that would otherwise remain undreamed of for decades, for centuries. You will learn them and become immensely rich.”
“We write our own music,” said John.
Ahme and Ringo materialised in one of the corridors, and she prodded him forward and into the main chamber.
“Ahme, my dear. He still has the ring?”
“Give it to me.”
“It won’t come off,” said Ringo. “We’ve tried.”
“Don’t be stupid.” Clang snapped his fingers, and the ring floated from Ringo’s hand and across the room to Clang. “I made it, did you really think I couldn’t control it? Bwah ha ha ha ha!”
“That was a sinister laugh,” said John.
“A very sinister laugh,” said Paul.
“Very, very sinister,” said George.
“What they said,” said Ringo. “And thanks for taking the ring back.”
One of the guards fell forward, revealing River standing behind him. “Definitely. It makes this so much easier.” She pulled a plastic pot from her bag and tossed the contents at Clang, covering him from head to foot in red paint. “Kaili! He has the Ring!”
The Thugs advanced on Clang, drawing their weapons, but Clang simply stood there and clapped his hands twice. The Thugs bowed and prostrated themselves at his feet. “Dear lady, that was a most ingenious attempt, but alas I am as always in complete control.”
“Of everything except your ego,” said River. She switched on her sonic screwdriver and used the same tone she’d tried on Ahme. All of the Thugs fell to the floor, writhing, then started to look at Clang angrily. “I thought so. Ahme had some special treatment, I suppose, but your rank and file just got some cut-rate brainwashing. I just switched it off.”
Clang clapped three times, and the Thugs collapsed, unconscious. “Did you think I would forget to install a fail-safe? Now, where did you get that? Who are you, Doctor Lake?”
“Oh come on,” said Ringo, “She’s got half a hardware store in her bag, you can see that every time she pulls something out. She’s Mary Poppins!”
Clang’s eyes widened in fear.
“Hardly,” said River, “Mary’s a lot scarier. I go by a lot of names, Swami, but the one you probably know is River Song.” Clang gulped and stepped back as she put the screwdriver back into her bag and pulled out a large shiny gun. “You’d better stand with him, Ahme, I’m afraid I don’t trust you.”
“I don’t think so,” said Ahme. “Boys, come closer, let’s have a group hug.”
All four Beatles moved toward her, responding to another cloud of pheremones.
“That’s really irritating,” said River.
“Not for long.” Jack came out of another archway and sprayed something at Ahme’s face. She began to cough furiously, and the Beatles recovered and backed out of the line of fire. Ahme turned towards Jack, stumbled forward, then collapsed. Clang stared at him. “What manner of unnatural creature are you?”
“Captain Jack Harkness. You may have heard of me.”
“Pah! I ask again, what are you?”
“You. You are an abomination, by Rassilon, a… a… a fixed point in time!”
“No need to be rude.”
“Sorry, Jack,” said River. “You’re going to have to forget this when we’re done. If you know now it won’t come as a surprise when the Doctor tells you.”
“What does it even mean?” asked John.
“It’s obvious,” said George. “They’re time travellers.”
River and Jack stared at him.
“Oh come on, the swami was talking about music from the future, they’re talking about something that hasn’t happened yet, and this thing’s bigger on the inside than the outside. The only way that’s possible is if it exists in more than three dimensions, and if you can move in more than three dimensions you’ve got a time machine.”
Clang started to giggle. “Oh, I love this. This ape thinks he knows about dimensions!”
“Hey, I read comics! They’re always messing around with dimensions. I’ll bet you’ve never even taken a look.”
“He’s got you there, Clang,” said Jack. “I wish I could say you were wrong, George, but this idiot’s trying to mess up the whole fabric of space and time, I think you might as well know the facts. Yes, we’re all time travellers. River and I are from the future, the Swami is an alien, and this is a time machine. What I don’t get is why he’s doing this when he’s got a TARDIS to play with.”
“What’s a TARDIS?” asked Paul.
“This time machine,” said Jack, “it can be tiny on the outside and as big as the Albert Hall inside.”
“Bigger,” said River.
“We saw,” said John.
“You’re all mental,” said Ringo.
“You don’t have to be mad to work with this stuff, but it helps. I think the Swami’s gone a long way down that route.”
“I can see why he’s doing it,” said River. “Some cowboy’s done a real number on the controls and the energy systems, it’s leaking Artron radiation almost as fast as it accumulates it. I’m surprised you can even do local hops with it. Getting here from London must have been a nightmare, I can’t see getting off planet, and I’d imagine time travel is right out. He’s trying to lure in someone who can fix it.”
“I thought Time Lords knew that stuff,” said Jack.
“I didn’t take the mechanic’s course,” Clang said with scorn, “I studied theology. Of course I know how to operate it, but it’s never been the same since the Doctor sabotaged it. It took me four centuries to get back inside, and I’ve never been able to recharge it.”
River grinned. “Well, why didn’t you say so? I’ve heard all about you. What was it you call yourself? The Monk?”
“I have used that name on occasion. You’ve heard of me?” He stood straighter, as though expecting a compliment.
“You’re the idiot who tried to reverse the Norman conquest. What was it he called you? Oh, I remember, ‘The Meddling Monk.’”
“Oh yeah, I remember that,” said Jack. “He loves telling that story, every time someone talks about changing history he trots it out, explains how the paradoxes would have ripped you apart if you’d somehow got it to work.”
“I had a plan for that,” Clang said sulkily, “and I would have got away for it if not for the Doctor’s tampering.”
Jack grinned. “Heard that one before, we had a couple of cases a year when I was a Time Agent. We were lucky if we found identifiable body parts.”
“He’s thinking the TARDIS would protect him,” said River, “but he hasn’t rewired it as a Paradox Engine. I’m pretty sure it’s not even in a state of temporal grace, which means that anything that gets in here could harm him.”
“Really?” said Jack. “Think the Doctor would mind if I just shoot him?”
“Probably,” River said sadly. “He’s a bit too soft sometimes.”
“There’s no need to be unpleasant about this,” said Clang, backing away slightly. “I would be happy to leave without changing a thing if you will just help me with repairs.”
“What’s it worth?” asked River.
“What would you want?”
“We’ll start off with a cure for everyone you brainwashed,” said Jack. “And some apologies to the Beatles.”
“And I wouldn’t say no to any Norman antiquities you happen to have lying around,” said River.
“That’s it?” said Paul. “What about poor Ahme? I think she deserves some compensation.”
“Do you think she’s a victim?” Clang asked incredulously. “She’s psychotic! I couldn’t get the mind control to stick at all. She’s the one that came up with the idea of using you to get at the Doctor!”
“You bastard!” said Ahme, sitting up and pulling a knife from her sleeve. “I slaved for you, slept with you, gave you the best years of my life and this is the thanks I get!” She tried to stand, but staggered and collapsed again, and vomited onto the floor.
“Charming,” said Clang. “See what these apes are like?”
“You’re not making any friends here,” said John.
“Okay,” said River. “This is the deal I’m offering, take it or leave it. And I’d suggest you take it, because right now I am very annoyed with you. I’m an archaeologist and I’ve wasted a lot of time getting into position to study the resurgence of Thuggee. I was not pleased when it turned out to be your silly game.”
Clang glared at her but thought better of saying anything.
“One. You give Captain Harkness complete specifications on the mind control techniques you used, and the equipment you used to do it. And yes, I mean all of it, the control units as well as the receivers.”
Clang hesitated, then said “Agreed.”
“Two, you give Captain Harkness something that he can sell or otherwise use to give every one of your victims a minimum of ten thousand pounds compensation. Jack, I’m trusting you to make sure that it’s handled fairly. And a hundred thousand pounds to go to whatever charity the Beatles prefer.”
Jack nodded, and Ringo said “Hey, don’t we get any cash?”
“You don’t really need it right now, and I don’t want you getting fat and lazy, you’ve still got a lot of music to make. Do something useful with the money, set up a music scholarship or something. Or would you prefer I gave it to the fund for archaeologists called River Song instead?”
“Music scholarship it is,” said George, the others nodded their agreement.
Jack nodded, and Clang said “Would synthetic gemstones be satisfactory? Indistinguishable from the real thing in this era?”
“Nothing too big or flashy,” said Jack, “we don’t want to destabilize the market.”
“Three,” said River, “You take Ahme with you if she wants to go, I think you two deserve each other.”
Clang sighed. “Very well.”
“And four, the British Museum gets any artefacts you have from pre-Norman Britain, and anything you’ve acquired since then that might be archaeologically significant.”
“Everything?” Clang asked incredulously.
“You’re not staying on Earth, and nobody out there is interested bar a few archaeologists, so why hang on to it?”
“You drive a hard bargain. Agreed.”
“Okay. Give me a few minutes and I’ll have a list of the parts we need. Jack, I might need to draw on your resources for this. I’ll fix your controls and tell you where you can refuel. In return you leave Earth and don’t come back, Clang.”
“Let’s say for the next thousand years or so.”
“My bosses won’t be happy,” said Jack.
“What they don’t know won’t hurt them, I’ll help you cover your tracks. Anyway, you’re working for the Queen right now, it’s her that has to be pleased.”
“Okay, let’s see about getting everyone revived and out of here. Jack, have you got the medical supplies you’ll to help them get over it?” She tapped her head and he realised she meant Retcon.
“No problem, never leave home without them.”
“The boys don’t need any treatment, but I need you to agree that you’ll never tell anyone about any of this.”
“Who’d believe it?” asked Paul.
“Are you sure?” asked Jack.
“Trust me,” said River. “Some of the things they’ve seen here will turn up in their work, I’d hate to mess that up.”
Jack thought for a second. “Okay, but listen, you four. Any problems and I’ll make sure that the Queen says she likes the Rolling Stones better. Understood?”
“You bastard,” said George.
“We got it,” said Paul. “Right boys?” The others nodded their agreement.
“All right,” said River. “As soon as I fix the helmic regulator and communications we need to send a message back a few hours to Inspector Gluck, tell him where he’ll find Foot and Algernon. He turned up when we were on the boat, he had no way to know we were there if I hadn’t told him.”
“Works for me,” said Jack.
“Then let’s get this show on the road.”
* * * * *
“Now don’t forget,” River said four days later, “find somewhere inconspicuous near the docks in Cardiff, you can tap into the Rift anywhere within a half mile or so of the waterfront. You’ve got forty-eight hours to refuel, after that Jack is going to tip off some people you really don’t want to meet. Understood?”
“Understood,” said Clang.
“Ahme, are you sure you want to go with Clang?”
“He’s not getting away from me that easily,” said Ahme.
“Okay. I hope you know what you’re doing. Stay away from Earth, and try to stay out of trouble. Understood?”
River joined Jack and the Beatles outside the TARDIS, then tossed the main key through the entrance to Clang. After a short delay the “rock outcrop” began to make a throbbing noise and faded from view, leaving the beach clear.
“You know he’s going to try to get his revenge,” said Jack.
“I know he’ll try, but he won’t succeed,” said River. “He’s going to go off after the Doctor and run into some of his enemies, that doesn’t end well for anyone but the Doctor. I’ve no idea what happens to Ahme, but the Doctor’s never mentioned her so I’d imagine she dumps him, or he dumps her.”
“You realise just how confusing this is?” asked John.
“The bottom line,” said Jack, “is that he’s going nowhere. He just doesn’t know it. All of his plans are going to be wasted.”
“There’s probably a song in there somewhere,” said Paul.
“I’ll write it,” said John, “You concentrate on the submarine thing…”