Announcement

Collapse
No announcement yet.

Monico Episode Two: University Daze

Collapse
X
 
  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • Monico Episode Two: University Daze

    Disclaimer: The characters that don't belong to me don't belong to me, but the ones I made up do. Confused yet? This is written purely for my own amusement, and is in no way making any profit.
    This story is also a crossover (of sorts), which may have been a very bad decision, but please don't hold that against me. It was convenient to do it this way.


    Feedback: By all means, bring it on. I'm always grateful for constructive comments and suggestions.

    With grateful thanks to Sue for the advice and encouragement.

    Previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer:

    Oz: "I think I better take off."
    Willow: "When?"
    Oz: "Pretty much now."

    Previously, in Tales from the Monico:

    Devon: "Know what you're gonna do?"
    Oz: "I have no idea."

    (Oz escapes a vampire attack while parked up at full moon in the middle of nowhere, and also manages to prevent his transformation while under duress.)

    David: "Maybe we should call the police?"
    Emma: "And tell them what? That our staff keep walking out? That they're all scared of ghosts?"
    David: "There's no such thing as ghosts."

    David (despairingly): "I can't run this place on my own."

    (Oz walks randomly into the Monico and looks around, curiously.)

    David: "The staff walked out and left me in the lurch?you don't want a job, do you?"
    Oz (shrugs): "Okay."

    Oz: "Oz." (off their looks) "Daniel Osbourne."
    Emma: "Emma Gibson, and this idiot is my husband, David."

    (Oz notices things being mysteriously moved, and is later woken up by the ghost).
    Oz (mutters): "No such things as ghosts, huh?"

    Oz: "You do know that the theatre is haunted, right?"
    Emma: "You're actually serious, aren't you?"

    (Oz, David and Emma make a run for it, with the ghost throwing things at them.)

    (Oz, David and Emma's makeshift exorcism succeeds in getting rid of the ghost.)

    Oz: "May you live in interesting times?it's a curse, isn't it? I totally get that."

    Emma: "You can't just de-spook the place and then take off again like the littlest hobo."
    David: "It'll take twice as long to get back on our feet if we don't have staff, and you're the only staff we've got. And then we'll have to have a grand re-opening. You don't want to miss that."
    Oz: "How 'bout a raise?"

    Emma: "Why didn't you want anyone to know you called?"
    Oz (after an awkward beat): "Messy break-up issues."

    *****


  • #2
    *****

    Part One

    *****

    It had been almost like living in limbo. But even limbo couldn't last forever.

    Oz stared out of his window at a moon that was almost full, and knew that he could not afford to be lulled into a false sense of security. He could live among normal people, and he could pretend to be normal, but especially on those days when the call of the moon was at its strongest, he knew deep down that normal was something he would never be again.

    Living in San Francisco for the past few weeks had been a peaceful time for him, more restful than he'd imagined possible. But now decisions had to be made. Stay, or go? Locked up, or at liberty? How far did he trust his hard-won self-control??

    *****

    "You want three days off?" David looked faintly surprised by the request, pausing in the middle of his post-shift clear up with a puzzled frown on his face.

    Oz nodded.

    "Three in a row?" David seemed to be having difficulty grasping the concept.

    "Got some stuff to take care of," Oz casually told him, bending to replace a stack of plates in the appropriate cupboard.

    He realised that had not perhaps been the wisest explanation to give when David's startled expression gave way to curiosity. In his own way, he was as much of a gossip-lover at his wife, Emma. "What sort of stuff?"

    That was a stumper. Oz could hardly admit that he wanted to isolate himself during the full moon and two nights surrounding it, just in case.

    "I thought I'd check out the university," he explained with a shrug. "See if they'll let me enrol." He wanted to find out if he'd be allowed to transfer his credits from Sunnydale. Not that he had that many credits to transfer, having dropped out so early in the year, but he'd come to the conclusion that finishing college, or at least trying to, was as good an ambition to pursue as any. He still felt so hopelessly adrift in his own life.

    "Back to school, huh?" David gave him an amused grin, and the arrival of a group of customers at that point prevented further discussion of the subject. "Okay, whatever, we'll sort something out," he told Oz distractedly.

    It was now close to a month since Daniel Osbourne, late of Sunnydale, university dropout and werewolf, had drifted into the Monico Coffee Bar looking for directions. He'd been there ever since. Helping young bar owners David and Emma Gibson rid their premises of a particularly nasty ghost had gone over rather well, resulting in a permanent job, as well as a small apartment to call his own in the labyrinth of rooms above the caf?.

    Inasmuch as Oz had made plans on leaving his former home in Sunnydale, he'd never intended to remain in one place for so long ? no matter how hard he tried to control his werewolf side, he was aware that severe emotional disturbance could allow the wolf to emerge and tried hard to avoid situations where that might happen. He knew he could never drop his guard. But until he had befriended the Gibsons he hadn't realised how much he missed normal, friendly interaction with reasonably like-minded people and the last few weeks working and boarding with them had helped soothe nerves he hadn't realised were raw.

    The impending full moon ? the second since the 'Sunnydale incident' he usually tried not to remember ? had left him in something of a quandary. Time and a restored equilibrium had reassured him that a recurrence of what had happened, wolfing out by daylight, was unlikely. That had been the result of a fairly unusual combination of circumstances that were hardly likely to be repeated. And the time he'd spent with the monks in Tibet had to a certain extent broken the hold the moon had over him. He still felt its pull, but was able to prevent the change from taking place. It took a lot of hard work and effort, though, and so he'd decided to take precautions ? hence his request for three days off. The three days of the full moon.

    Somehow, somewhere along the line and almost without knowing it, he'd made the decision not to tell David and Emma that he was a werewolf. It was, after all, not the sort of thing he went around telling just anyone ? only those people who already knew about the supernatural and were comfortable with it, not to mention open-minded, as a rule. After their little ghost problem the Gibsons certainly knew about elements of the supernatural, but not by any stretch of the imagination could they be said to be comfortable with that knowledge, although maybe comfortable wasn't the right word to use anyway.

    Mostly though, it was their potential degree of open-mindedness that was not something he was prepared to experiment with at this stage. Also, after the year he'd just been through, it was something of a relief to be around nice normal people who didn't know, to be able to pretend he was normal too. And that in itself was odd ? after becoming a werewolf he had hung mostly with the Scooby gang and spent less and less time with his old friends for the exact opposite reason: because with them he had nothing to hide. A lot had changed since those days.

    *****

    Charms, herbs, meditation, and inner control: no wolf.

    Lying low for the first two days and nights of the full moon was a success. The routine went as smoothly and simply as it had become during his time with the monks in Tibet.

    Having decided that believing in himself had to start somewhere and therefore not to take the extra precaution of locking himself up ? he'd spent way too much time in cages already in his life ? Oz kept to his room as much as possible: small steps, and all that. Avoiding David and Emma meant he didn't have to think too much about how they were taking his isolationist behaviour, although that was a bridge he knew he'd have to cross eventually, which was what he got for trying to live a normal life among normal people when he was anything but. But maybe by then he'd have figured out a proper full moon strategy.

    It was on day three that things started to go wrong.

    *****

    "So how late do you think you'll be?" Emma sighed at the telephone in her hand as she asked the question, and listened with sinking heart to David's reply. "No, she rang in sick. You know I hate opening the caf? on my own."

    She could feel her irritation level rising as she listened to David's next suggestion. "I can't ask him to work his day off?No, I know. Yeah, okay. I'll ask him. It's not like he's been doing anything much with his time off. He probably won't mind?Yeah. Try not to be too late. I was supposed to be in work this afternoon."

    *****

    Emma had known the moment she got up that it was not going to be a good day. Some days just had that feel, and it was on days like this that continuing to hold down two jobs became tricky, even if one of them was only part-time. With David being held up so badly she'd have to cancel her shift at the boutique that afternoon, which wouldn't go down well. And, of course, Oz was having a day off, his third in a row, just when an extra pair of hands was needed with the new waitress having let them down. They really needed to get more staff.

    Oz probably wouldn't mind helping out, she told herself as she headed upstairs to the room he rented from them, and she could always just blame David. It was his suggestion to ask, after all, and it was certainly true that having arranged the time off Oz had barely stirred from his room, despite having told David something about going back to college. Taking a break was all very well and good, but after two days surely he was ready to work again.

    Opening the door in response to her knock, Oz greeted her with a mild "Hey," but then she almost forgot why she was looking for him in the first place.

    "Oz!" she exclaimed in surprise.

    He gave her a quizzical look.

    "Your hair changed color," she pointed out, wondering exactly when that had happened.

    "Oh. Yeah," he acknowledged, a hand automatically rising to touch the side of his head. "That happens occasionally."

    Emma eyed the now dark brown spikes for a moment longer, before remembering why she was there.

    "Okay, so I've got a problem," she explained. "That new waitress can't work today, and David just called to say he's been held up at the wholesalers. So I was wondering if you'd mind helping out downstairs just for an hour or so."

    When Oz didn't immediately reply and looked thoughtful, she anxiously continued, "Are you busy? I know it's your day off, but I really need some help."

    "Yeah, no," said Oz. "It's not that?it's just I've got this appointment. University. I'd need to be done by then."

    "No, no," Emma assured him. "Of course. David'll be back long before then. I hope."

    *****

    Emma had spent the last few weeks patiently trying to coax information out of Oz about the 'messy break-up issues' he'd mentioned. It was like trying to get blood out of a stone, but today as they prepared to open the caf? and Emma took the opportunity to talk, he actually seemed slightly more forthcoming than usual ? probably because he wasn't paying that much attention to her. He was running late, and anxious to get away as soon as David got back.

    "Well, uh, stuff happened that I had to deal with," he explained somewhat absently in response to her query as he set up behind the counter. "I went overseas to get sorted out, and it-it kinda took longer than I expected."

    Giving up any pretence of work, Emma leaned her elbows on the counter, resting her chin on her hands, and listened avidly. This was more information than he'd let slip since she'd known him.

    "So what happened then?" she prompted, wanting to know more and making a mental note to return later to the issue of exactly what the 'stuff' was that he'd had to go overseas to deal with.

    "I came back and she'd moved on," he replied, simply. "Found someone else."

    That it was a painful memory showed clearly on his face and confirmed her suspicions about a broken heart. Emma was all sympathy. "Oh, that's awful," she exclaimed. "I'm so sorry."

    Oz shook his head. "My fault, not hers," he insisted. "I screwed up."

    "Why? What did you do?" Emma asked without thinking, and then mentally kicked herself for such lack of tact as Oz refused to elaborate any further.

    "It's private."

    The words were mildly spoken, but that felt ever so slightly like a reprimand. Emma took the hint and dropped the subject.

    *****

    Oz remembered that his parents had carefully taught him to have nice manners, and to help out whenever and wherever he could. It was not always a good thing. Having been roped into helping Emma set up on his last wolf-day off and thus fallen victim to her ceaseless search for gossip, particularly that of a romantic nature, he was now running late. He was also lacking in transport, since David had borrowed his van.

    The lunch hour rush was already easing off into early afternoon trade by the time an exhausted and harassed David arrived.

    "Sorry, sorry," David breathlessly apologised. "You wouldn't believe the morning I've had."

    "Half the afternoon, too," Emma pointedly told him. "I had to cancel my shift at the boutique, and Oz has an appointment to get to."

    "Sorry," David repeated, looking contrite. "Can you just give me a second for a bite to eat? I'm starving. And I have to unload the van."

    As Oz checked his watch again, wondering if he was ever going to get away, Emma handed David a muffin. "Make it quick," she told him, before turning to Oz. "You'd better make a run for it if you want to make that appointment, unless you want to wait for your van. I'm not sure how long it'll take?"

    Oz shook his head. "Nah. This can be an on-foot job." It would be quicker to walk than wait for David to finish with the van, and he was already on course to miss his appointment completely if he didn't leave right away. "Sure you don't need me?"

    "No, we're good," David assured him through a mouthful of muffin. "You get off. Thanks for helping."

    "You haven't noticed, have you?" Emma remarked, as Oz started to make his way around the counter.

    "Noticed what?" David asked, blankly.

    "His hair."

    Oz paused on his way to the door, resigned, while David gave him a puzzled look.

    "What about his hair?"

    "The color? Notice anything new."

    "Oh yeah!" David drawled, light dawning.

    Oz wasn't used to his hair attracting this much attention, although to be fair it had been a while since he changed the color so dramatically. He checked his watch again, and decided he'd have to leave them to it.

    "I'll see you later then."

    "Yeah," David grinned. "Have fun."

    As Oz made good his escape on foot, he heard Emma's voice behind him.

    "Oh yeah, university enrolment. Great fun."

    *****

    Finally escaping the Monico, Oz headed off to walk the few blocks to the main university campus, his van being loaded up still from David's little shopping excursion. He was then held up even more since an accident had caused a main road to be closed for both traffic and pedestrians. The detour took him well out of his way, making him later than ever for his appointment. Not that being late had ever worried him unduly, but it wasn't a good impression to make if he wanted to be allowed to enrol.

    The afternoon had become well and truly old by the time he had finished seeing all the people he needed to see, and had collected the necessary paperwork. His own fault for accepting an afternoon appointment, but still he'd hoped to get back to the Monico and the relative safety of his room before moonrise. Not that he expected anything to happen; he was fairly confident he had full control now. But he saw no reason to take unnecessary chances, and hanging around populated areas while the sun set and moon rose had not been on his agenda for the day. He still had time, but given how the day was going decided to step up the pace a little.

    It was completely typical of how the day had turned out that while hurrying thus, Oz rounded a corner and ran headlong into a girl coming the other way, her arms over-full of what looked like pieces of a drum-kit, of all things. The collision caused this burden to tumble out of her arms and the assorted items rolled across the ground every which way.

    "Oh?bugger!" the girl cursed, grabbing at what she could save. It was a very Giles-like expression, or maybe more of a Spike-like expression, and the accent was likewise British. Casually dressed in t-shirt, jeans and biker's jacket, she had brown eyes, freckles and wild ginger curls, and looked frustrated rather than annoyed about the mishap.

    A similar sentiment was running through Oz's head as he apologised and bent to help her collect her scattered belongings. "Oh, I'm sorry. Sorry," he told her, feeling flustered.

    Mild frustration aside, the girl didn't seem overly concerned about the collision, and chattered away cheerfully, completely unhurried. "Thanks," she told him, rolling her eyes. "I just got back off a dig and they tell me: 'the dorm was flooded. It has to be closed for structural repairs. Please move all your belongings to the new room we've assigned you.'" She snorted in disgust. "Honestly!"

    "Nuisance, huh?" Oz sympathised, trying to not too obviously check his watch.

    "You said it," she sighed. "I'm Charlie, by the way."

    "Oz." Inwardly he was again reflecting on the downside of being raised to have good manners but he carefully did not let this show as he helped her gather up her kit.

    As they stood back up, each with an armful of drum-kit, it became obvious that he couldn't simply hand all the stuff back to her, not without dropping it all over again. Glancing regretfully up at the sunset, he gave up on making an early get-away, grateful to the monks for giving him such full-moon freedom. "Let me give you a hand with that."

    Charlie smiled gratefully. "Cheers," she thanked him. "It's not far."

    *****

    By the time he'd made sure Charlie and her drum-kit were all sorted out the light was starting to fade. Now into wolf-time, Oz focused on maintaining his human form, stubbornly resisting the call of the moon as he said goodbye.

    Thanks again," Charlie called from her doorway before closing the door. "Nice bumping into you."

    Nodding a farewell, Oz headed off, but quickly realised that he no longer had the faintest idea where on campus he was, and was soon hopelessly lost. Frustrated, he drew deep on his inner calm as the monks had taught him. The campus was a real rabbit-warren of a place, and he'd obviously taken a wrong turn somewhere along the line as, instead of arriving back at the main entrance as he'd intended, he found himself wandering amongst a collection of ramshackle sheds and outhouses that looked like they'd been abandoned for years. Wonderful.

    As he stood pondering, trying to decide where he'd gone wrong, Oz was distracted by a bizarre wheezing sound, gradually growing louder and louder. He frowned, trying to work out where the noise was coming from, and then hurriedly took a few paces backward as the air in front of him appeared to shimmer and vibrate.

    And then all of a sudden there was another shed, where one had not been previously, looking for all the world as if it had been built onto the side of one of the outhouses years earlier.

    Oz blinked, and tried to think about it rationally.

    No. He had definitely just seen a building materialise out of nowhere. Even by Sunnydale standards that was weird, and this was nowhere near Sunnydale.

    Oz wondered if perhaps he should take a closer look and find out what was going on, but all his instincts were screaming 'run'. He decided to take their advice and get as far away as possible, but as he spun around to leave, he came face to face with a group of men: one was older, about Giles' age, and was flanked by a couple of what he could only describe as 'bully boys'. Stopping dead in his tracks, he heard the mechanical sound of a door opening behind him.

    The men seemed as surprised as he was, the older man exclaiming: "What is this? You shouldn't be here."

    Oz backed away, eyes scanning the area for an escape route as someone else came up behind him, grabbing at his shoulder. Spinning around, he was faced by a tall, saturnine man, clad all in black, his dark beard and moustache neatly trimmed.

    "Staunton! Who is this?" he demanded angrily, glaring at Oz.

    "I-I don't know, Master."

    As Oz twisted away he could hear the other man protesting his ignorance but didn't wait to learn more, simply making a run for it, heading for the nearest bolthole he could see, while shouts from behind and pounding footsteps hard on his heels told him he was being pursued.

    There was of course always the possibility that whoever had caused this building to appear out of nowhere was on the side of good, but it seemed unlikely. The forces of good as far as he knew did not chase people like this just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and these had a definite bad guy vibe. Making a fast getaway was definitely his best option here.

    Except, of course, that he was lost and had just run into a dead end, with his pursuers right behind. Before he could even turn back to face his opponents he felt a blow crashing down on the back of his head, and the world went black.

    *****

    Staunton's assistants were standing around looking highly pleased with themselves when the Master caught up with them, Staunton trailing in his wake. The boy who'd happened upon them in such untimely fashion lay unconscious at their feet. The Master glanced at him, scowling.

    "You fools," he spat angrily at the men.

    *****

    Safely back within the confines of his laboratory, the sinister, saturnine man known only as the Master was livid. He'd spent far too much time away from his special project in San Francisco, having been forced to lead his aggravating do-gooder of an archrival on a lengthy wild goose chase in an attempt to throw him off the scent. But he should have known better than to leave such sensitive matters in the hands of underlings when his plans were at such a crucial stage, and he had been infuriated when he arrived to find that not only was the project far behind schedule with a vital component missing completely, but his arrival had been seen by a bystander who happened along at completely the wrong moment.

    "You assured me that the students did not come near these buildings."

    "They don't," the human protested. "They never come here. Why would they? They should all be on vacation."

    "Then where did the boy come from?"

    Staunton looked almost panic-stricken. "I don't know?"

    "And just what were you thinking?" Furious, the Master then rounded on Staunton's bodyguards/assistants. "A plausible excuse was all that was needed to smooth things over, if you hadn't overreacted like that, you imbeciles!"

    "He'd seen your Tardis arrive," one of the men protested. "He was a security risk."

    "I should have known better than to remain away for so long. If that wretched do-gooder hadn't been following me around?" he muttered to himself angrily, before rounding on the men once more. "I expected the machine to be complete by now, but I daresay that was too much to hope from such incompetents. Where is the transponder? The machine is useless without it?"

    *****

    Waking up was not fun.

    There was a great big bass drum pounding away inside his head, and he was lying on something hard. It was uncomfortable. There seemed to be indefinable noise all around him, and when he tried opening his eyes everything was blurred and slanted at an odd angle.

    After a while he realised the angle and discomfort were because he was lying on the floor, looking at everything sideways. Mostly what he could see appeared to be feet. And the noise he could hear was the sound of voices, arguing.

    The noise causing his headache to intensify, Oz closed his eyes again and kept still, keen not to draw attention back to him.

    Everything felt strange, fuzzy. It was hard to think clearly. His skin was tingling, while deep down inside he could feel panic bubbling up, threatening to take over. Captivity brought back bad memories.

    Getting away suddenly seemed the most important thing, the only important thing. Forgetting that his captors were right there in front of him, that he'd not wanted to draw their attention back to himself, he struggled with shaky arms and legs to pick himself up off the floor, to get away.

    Abruptly he realised this was not a good idea as a pair of hands roughly hauled him to his feet and dropped him onto a chair. Too wobbly to maintain his balance, he almost fell straight back off again, feeling dizzy and nauseous.

    And then they were all arguing again, arguing with each other and shouting at him, hurling questions at him, questions he couldn't answer, that made no sense.

    "?should be finished by now?where is it?"
    "Maybe the boy took it?"
    "?Did you take it?"
    "Or perhaps one of you has??"
    "Where did you come from, boy?"
    "He was there as you arrived."
    "What did you see?"
    "?should have just let him go?you hit him too hard, you fools."

    Loud, too loud, and he was tingling all over, the panic welling up?he knew that feeling, couldn't repress it any longer. Through a window he could see the sky. It was dark, the full moon shining brightly, and he knew there was no chance of control right now, not with his head swimming like this. He could feel his control slipping away from him, feel the change happening?

    And then everything went black again.

    *****

    Comment


    • #3
      *****

      Professor Staunton stood and stared in disbelief as the boy who had so unexpectedly happened upon his secret laboratory changed shape right in front of his eyes. Even after all he'd seen and experienced since being recruited by the Master to help build his machine, this was extraordinary.

      The creature ? what was it: some kind of wolf? ? attacked the nearest person, one of Staunton's assistants, who yelled in pain and fear even as his colleagues rushed to his assistance.

      "I don't believe it!" Staunton murmured, awestruck, absent-mindedly taking a step to one side to avoid being swept into the struggle, while in the corner of his eye he saw the Master backing off hurriedly, looking aggravated beyond words.

      The creature was incredibly powerful, yet seemed slightly groggy, which put it at a slight disadvantage once the element of surprise had worn off. Of course, the boy had a head injury, he reminded himself, and therefore so did the wolf. He stared in fascination as the men began to get the upper hand, beating at it with anything that came to hand in sheer self defence.

      "It's a werewolf," Staunton breathed. "An actual werewolf!"

      "I don't have time for this," the Master snapped, impatiently.

      He produced that tiny but lethal gun of his, a weapon Staunton had seen used once and hoped never to experience personally, and aimed at the wolf, sighing in frustration as one of his men blocked the shot. As the scuffle continued, the Master aimed again?

      Acting on pure impulse, Staunton grabbed at his arm, sending the laser-like bolt harmlessly into a wall. "No!" he protested in alarm. "You can't kill it. Do you have any idea how valuable a discovery like this could be? An actual werewolf?"

      "Complete my machine and you'll have all the wealth, glory and notoriety you could wish for," the Master told him, annoyed. "You will certainly have no need for this wretched creature."

      Staunton looked back at the fight. The werewolf's concussion giving them the advantage, his men had successfully subdued it and it now lay all but unconscious on the floor, with two of the men still beating angrily at it, while a third clutched his injured arm and kicked it.

      "I'm a scientist," said Staunton. "Please. Let me keep it for analysis."

      The Master sighed. "Very well. He nodded to the men. "Enough! Take it away and lock it up. And then perhaps we can discuss my transducer once more. Believe me, I will get to the bottom of this, and woe-betide any one of you who believes he can double-cross me."

      Seeing the anger in the Master's eyes, Staunton felt all the resolve he'd built up during his employer's absence melting away, and began to feel very afraid.

      *****

      The Master watched Staunton's goons dragging the now pacified creature away, and fumed at being surrounded by such incompetents. Staunton had assured him that there were so few students on campus during the summer as to be insignificant, and that none had any reason to ever frequent this vicinity. He should have known better than to take the man's word for it, but if those inept assistants of his hadn't overreacted the Master was sure the matter could have been smoothed over with a simple fabrication rather than risk further investigation of the boy's disappearance. After all, who would ever have believed his story? But instead, those bungling fools had gone rushing in like so many bulls at a gate, creating a colossal mess for him to clear up.

      The discovery of the missing component had complicated matters further, as well as increasing the Master's annoyance, and then in the middle of questioning the intruder had come the shock of his transformation. Nothing was ever quite as simple as it should be. Staunton's intervention on behalf of the creature, even while it was attempting to tear his assistants to shreds, had been equally unexpected, preventing the Master from simply putting them all out of their misery by destroying the beast. Valuable scientific discovery of an actual werewolf. Bah.

      The Master was growing increasingly suspicious of Staunton, suspecting a shift in the man's loyalties. Since their unexpected visitor had clearly not had any part in the disappearance of his component, and those imbeciles the man had hired to assist him so obviously did not have the intellect to double-cross him, that left only Staunton himself as suspect. His desire to study the werewolf in hope of achieving academic glory was further proof of his self-interest.

      The Master had no patience for traitors. He was determined to get to the bottom of this, and get his plans back on track.

      *****

      He was falling.

      Spinning, spiralling, down and down, further and further?

      After what seemed an eternity Oz gradually became aware that the spinning sensation was inside his head, which felt like it might just explode if he tried to move.

      When he finally managed to convince himself that he wasn't really falling, and with some difficulty prised his eyes open once more, everything was murky.

      It took a moment longer to realise that was because he was in a darkened, windowless room, and not for any more sinister reason. He found that vaguely reassuring, remembering the fluorescent-bright cells of the Initiative. That had been kind of like waking up in a Star Trek brig. Forcing his mind back to the here and now, he tried to make out shapes in the darkness, but they kept jumping around and blurring. Everything was hazy still.

      Then he remembered being a prisoner, being shouted at, and the memory sent a wave of panic surging through him. But attempting to get up sent white hot pain shooting up his arm and through his chest. Gasping, he dropped to the ground again until the world stopped spinning.

      Lying very still, he tried to think through the fog in his brain, to puzzle out what had happened. Prisoner. He remembered that much, vaguely, and now became aware that there were actual bars in front of him. A cell? Thinking hurt. But he'd been a prisoner. People shouting. That was mostly all he remembered: shouting and confusion. Then he'd felt the wolf emerge?and now? He felt like he'd been kicked all over, and it seemed safe to assume that was pretty much what had happened. The wolf had, after all, been outnumbered. Hazy figures hovered at the edge of his memory, shapes without faces. He wondered muzzily if he'd managed to take any of them out before being subdued, and decided that for once he wouldn't mind if he had. He could taste blood in his mouth, but that could be his own as easily as anyone else's.

      It took a while to realise there was someone moving around in the darkened room just beyond the bars of his makeshift cell. He tried to push himself up onto an elbow to get a better look, but the movement sent a wave of pain surging through him and a moan escaped before he could repress it. He lay still, gasping and seeing spots, waiting for the pain to subside.

      A moment, maybe many moments later, he realised that the bars were gone. Cage door open? Someone was leaning over him, helping him sit up, and wrapping something around his shoulders: a blanket, maybe or a coat. No, it was a sheet, similar to those he could now make out thrown untidily over the furniture or equipment in the room just beyond him. The someone was whispering something in urgent tones. He tried to focus. It was a girl. And she was talking to him: hushing in a low voice with an accent he couldn't place.

      "Shh. Try not to make noise. Easy now. That's it. Do you think you can walk?"

      He wasn't sure he could, but a sense of self-preservation said that was the only way out of this mess. He struggled to stand, and couldn't remember ever hurting that much, pain shooting through his body, ribs on fire. He focused on the not-making-noise imperative, breathing hard, and felt vaguely proud of himself that only the faintest murmur escaped. There were stars in front of his eyes, dancing, and his legs were threatening to fold up under him, but he was dimly aware of an arm sliding around his waist and a surprisingly strong shoulder supporting him. One step after another, one step after another?

      And then all at once he could feel the wind against his face, light dazzling his eyes. Outside. It was daylight and he found himself wondering when that had happened. The sun was shining brightly, too brightly, and the stars were dancing in front of his eyes again.

      "Okay, we're having a little rest now," a voice murmured in his ear, surprising him. Then he remembered. The cell, the girl, helped him get out?

      Knees buckling beneath him, eyes glazing over again, he was jerked back to awareness by her voice sharply calling: "No, no. Stay with me. Tell me your name."

      "Oz," he mumbled through swollen lips.

      "Oz? Look at me," the voice was insistent, not letting him rest. "Oz: is there a full version of that? No, no, talk to me. Don't pass out."

      "Daniel," he murmured. "Osbourne."

      "Okay, Daniel Osbourne," she had allowed him to sit, but not to sink any further than that, holding him upright. "My name is Elli. Can you remember that?"

      Forcing his eyes open, he suddenly found them locked with hers: brilliant, purple eyes, almost iridescent, glaring fiercely. He struggled to get his tongue to work again. What had she asked? "Elli," he managed to get out.

      "Good," came the relieved reply. "No, no, stay awake. We'll find help soon. Talk to me. Is there someone I should call for you?"

      "Call?" The fog in his head was increasing.

      "Yes, call," she prompted. "Family, friends?"

      It was impossible to think. Family? No, miles away. Friends? He'd left them all behind, hadn't he? Except for?David, yes and Emma. She wanted to call them? Struggling to make brain and tongue connect, he could only murmur incoherently about the Monico, and could see that she didn't understand.

      "We need to move again," she told him, very gently helping him back to his feet. The mental fog increasing, he was vaguely aware of her half-supporting, half-dragging him along, of being carefully lowered to the ground, of her leaving?

      Sudden panic roused him a little: enough to see that he hadn't been abandoned. They were at a payphone, and she was trying to get it to work, frowning and patting her pockets, and sighing with frustration.

      "Of course, this would be so much easier if I had local cash," he heard her mutter to herself, looking around with a frown. "Or if there were any handy passers-by to render aid, or whatever. Ah well?"

      With dimming vision, Oz watched her looking anxiously around again. She then frowned fiercely at the phone, pointing sternly at it. "You're going to work, okay?"

      He made no attempt to understand as the phone apparently did as it was told; he was too dizzy to be surprised by such obedience. As the girl, Elli, spoke to the operator, asking for an ambulance, it all became too much. Blackness took over once again.

      *****

      Comment


      • #4
        *****

        Part Two

        *****

        "Hey Mat, wait up."

        Having pulled the early shift and been kept far too busy for his liking, Officer Mat?as Cordoba was sauntering along a corridor in search of his partner, when he heard a voice calling his name.

        A tall, happy-go-lucky Hispanic, with snapping black eyes and shaggy dark curls, Cordoba turned to see said partner hurrying after him.

        Mike Hanson was also darkly good looking, of average height and build, but of a more brooding temperament than Cordoba. He let out a deep sigh as he caught up. "Can you believe how long this day has been? How many early shifts can we pull in one week, huh?"

        "Might be better not to ask questions like that," Mat told him, cheerfully. "Too much like tempting fate."

        "Definitely time for a brunch break."

        "Definitely," Mat laughed. "I don't need to ask where you want to go?"

        "It's a nice caf?," Mike replied, noncommittally.

        "And it has a nice new waitress, too," Mat teased. "And if we go there often enough, you might even pluck up the courage to ask her out?"

        They'd no sooner reached their patrol car than a senior officer appeared, as if by magic. "Hanson and Cordoba. Just the pair I was hoping to find."

        The two officers sighed and turned around, exchanging a resigned look.

        "Lieutenant," Mat greeted him. "We were just about to take our break."

        "I'm sure your stomachs can wait," the lieutenant told them. "This won't take long. I want to you get over to St Luke's and investigate an assault case they've had brought in."

        As the lieutenant headed back inside, the two officers were left gazing at each other in dismay.

        Mike threw himself into the car with a snort of disgust. "Typical."

        Always more easy-going than his partner, Mat was quick to recover his equilibrium. "Temper, temper," he chided, an impish grin lighting up his face. "We'll make it a quick one, yeah? I'm sure she'll still love you after we've dealt with this."

        *****

        The two officers arrived at the hospital in record time thanks to Mike's eagerness to get this over with as quickly as possible, a sentiment Mat's stomach agreed with wholeheartedly. The clerk at the front desk referred them to the appropriate department, and Mat smiled winningly, hunger pangs forgotten, when he saw the very attractive nurse dealing with the case.

        "You're here about the assault case?" she asked.

        "What's the damage?" Mike was wasting no time on pleasantries today.

        Amused rather than annoyed at his partner's bad mood, Mat exchanged philosophical glances with the nurse as she confirmed that they were treating a young man who had suffered a violent assault.

        "Wrist fracture, two cracked ribs, concussion, plus some superficial cuts and bruising," she told them. "He's resting at the moment ? I'm afraid you won't be able to question him for a while."

        Mike's face darkened at that, since he'd been hoping this would be quick. Mat was amused all over again. "Got an ID?" he asked.

        "Daniel Osbourne, according to the girl who brought him in," the nurse replied. Hearing this, Mat frowned slightly, recognising the name but unable to place it.

        "He hasn't been terribly coherent, I'm afraid," the nurse continued. "But the girl might be able to tell you more." She looked around, thoughtfully. "I think she said she was going to the canteen."

        "What's up?" Mike asked, seeing Mat's thoughtful look.

        "Name's familiar," Mat told him. "Not sure why."

        "He's just through here," the nurse continued, showing them to a small room where the patient seemed to be sleeping peacefully enough, although dark bruises were clearly visible against his pale skin.

        Both officers recognised him at once, despite the change of hair color. They had become semi-regular customers at the Monico Coffee Bar over the past few weeks, puzzled by the bizarre unexplained incidents that had been reported so frequently and then abruptly stopped. This was the young guy who worked there. Oz.

        "That's why the name was familiar," Mike exclaimed.

        "You know him?" the nurse asked.

        "Daniel Osbourne. Yes," Mat confirmed. "They call him 'Oz' ? works at the Monico Coffee Bar on South Street."

        "A friend?" she queried.

        "We eat there from time to time," Mike explained.

        "And occasionally investigate complaints about sabotage," Mat added. "Although not so much lately, now I come to think about it."

        "I can find the number," the nurse mused. "I'll call and tell them where he is."

        Seeming delighted that Mat was able to give her contact details for her patient, she headed off to make the call and, moments later, the girl she'd mentioned arrived back, coffee cup in hand.

        She was young and of a rather striking appearance, since her long, dark gold hair had a streak of pure white running through it at the right temple, and her eyes were startlingly purple. She wore a dainty gold stud in her nose, and when questioned replied with a lilting accent that was hard to place: it sounded like it might be some regional variety of British, or possibly something else entirely, but with a faint twang that was definitely Australian thrown in for good measure.

        "Daniel Osbourne," said Mat, gesturing toward the sleeping patient. "You're the person who brought him in?"

        "That's right," the girl confirmed.

        "Officers Mike Hanson and Mat?as Cordoba." Mike showed her his ID. "And you are?"

        "Elli Murphy," she replied. "Mrs."

        "And you gave the staff his name. Daniel Osbourne." Mike was all business today.

        "Yes, that's right," she repeated.

        "Do you know him well?"

        "No," she shook her head. "Never saw him before."

        "So how did you know who he was," Mike asked.

        "I asked," she replied, simply. "I thought, head injury. You're supposed to keep them awake, aren't you?"

        "Did he tell you anything else?" Mat put in. "About what happened to him, whether he saw his attacker?"

        "No," she shook her head, frowning slightly in concentration. "He just said his name?oh! He said something about 'Monica'. I don't know who that is."

        "The Monico," Mat corrected her misunderstanding. "It's a coffee bar. He works there."

        Elli looked surprised. "Oh. You know him then."

        "Slightly," Mat admitted, getting a warning stare from Mike. They were supposed to be questioning her, not the other way around. "Is there anything else you can tell us?" he asked, re-collecting his wits. "Exactly where and how you found him, anything suspicious you might have seen?"

        "He was at the university," Elli replied. "I'm not sure exactly where ? I only just arrived in town, so it's all new to me. I don't know where anything is. I just walked him to the nearest phone box and called an ambulance. I didn't like to leave him there on his own."

        "And you came in with him," said Mike.

        "I wanted to make sure he'd be all right."

        "Quite the Good Samaritan," Mike commented, sourly.

        Annoyed with his partner for letting his bad mood show in front of a witness, Mat barely registered the faintly puzzled look that drifted across the girl's face at the sarcastic reference. She made no comment, and they were still asking questions and getting nowhere when David and Emma Gibson, the young owners of the Monico, arrived at a run full of anxiety about their friend.

        "There he is," said David, seeing Oz through the window of his room.

        "Oh my god, look at him," Emma exclaimed, upset.

        "Mr and Mrs Gibson," Mike greeted them.

        "Officers," David nodded a reply.

        "What happened?" asked Emma, wide-eyed.

        "That's what we're trying to establish," Mat told her. "It seems Mrs Murphy here discovered your friend at the university having suffered a rather violent assault."

        "My god," Emma breathed.

        "When did you last see him?" Mike asked.

        "Yesterday afternoon," David replied. "He said he had an appointment at the university to collect some papers. He wanted to re-enrol."

        Mike nodded. "That ties in with what we know so far. We'll be able to find out more when he wakes up."

        "The nurse said he had a nasty concussion," said Emma, anxiously.

        "He'll be fine," Elli put in, in a reassuring tone. "The doctor said there was no reason to worry: they just want to keep him in overnight for observation. Are you relatives?"

        "Friends," David explained. "Oz works for us." He held out a hand. "David Gibson. This is my wife Emma."

        Elli shook both their hands in greeting. "Elli Murphy."

        "I can't believe this," said Emma. "Thank you so much."

        Elli shrugged. "All I did was call an ambulance. What else was I supposed to do? There didn't seem to be anyone around ? it's holiday time, I suppose."

        "Yes it is," Mat confirmed, his curiosity suddenly aroused. "Why were you at the university in the middle of summer?"

        "I wanted to check out the syllabus," she explained, easily. "I was half way through a degree in fine arts back in Melbourne, but then I took time out to go travelling. I thought I might look into finishing it here."

        "Painting and stuff?" Emma looked interested.

        "Yes, that too," Elli nodded. "But mostly what I do is sculpture, jewellery: oddments like that."

        "Can we get back to the point, please?" said David, looking annoyed with his wife for sidetracking. "You're sure Oz is going to be okay? How did it happen?"

        "At this stage it looks like a mugging," Mat told him. "Wrong place, wrong time. We'll find out for sure when we speak to him. What about yourselves? It's been a while since we had any complaints ? no more 'sabotage'?"

        Curiously enough, both Gibsons looked vaguely uneasy at the question. "No. No," David confirmed. "It's all gone quiet. Business is great these days."

        "I should make a move," Elli put in. "If you don't need me for anything else."

        "Okay," Mike agreed. "I'd like you to call in at the station in the next couple of days to make a formal statement, but other than that, you're free to go."

        "All right then," she nodded, and then turned to David and Emma. "I hope your friend is better soon."

        "Thanks again," Emma called, as the other girl left.

        Mike and Mat looked at each other, and nodded in agreement, before turning back to the Gibsons.

        "I don't think there's anything else we can do here for the moment," said Mike. "We'll come back later to get a statement from Oz, and take things from there."

        "Okay, thanks," said David.

        Leaving David and Emma to fuss over their injured friend, the two officers headed out for their belated brunch.

        *****

        Finally getting away from the hospital, annoyed at having lost so much time but glad she'd been able to help, Elli headed back to the Tardis ? the remarkable vessel that had brought her to San Francisco a few hours earlier, blindly following a maddeningly vague trail. The Doctor would have been expecting her back long before now, unless he'd got into trouble himself, which was not such an unlikely prospect. He was a magnet for trouble.

        From the outside, the Tardis looked like an old-fashioned English police call box, apparently, having got stuck in that form many years previously. Elli had never seen one, so couldn't actually say for sure, but what she did know was that it looked ridiculously out of place here in modern San Francisco. She was always amazed that it didn't attract more attention.

        The Doctor was there already. Short, scruffy and manic, he was pacing furiously, apparently waiting for her to return and perhaps worried that something might have happened to her after they split up.

        "Hi Doc," she greeted him casually as she entered the startlingly spacious interior of the craft.

        The Doctor looked annoyed. "There you are."

        "Here I am," she agreed. "Find out anything?"

        He looked almost sheepish but kept his chin up, proudly declaring: "I've learned which year we landed in."

        "Very clever," she rolled her eyes. "So have I: the year 2000. Hallelujah, I'm home. Almost."

        "And the Master's base was here all along?" he marvelled. "Incredible."

        Elli glared at him, remembering all the weeks they'd spent touring the galaxy unnecessarily. "Yes. I can think of other words for it."

        Possibly deciding that attack was the best form of defence, the Doctor went into a rant. "That insufferable man!" he spluttered. "Leading us on such a wild goose chase, all across the galaxy, no less, and finally back here! The very world and time I met you. If we'd only known?all that time wasted chasing him, and his base was here the whole time. Would you credit it?"

        "Not really," Elli muttered. She'd lost a lot of valuable time getting caught up in all this.

        "If only we could track him more reliably with this thing." The Doctor smacked one of the panels on the console in frustration. "I know he's here, somewhere, but there's just no way to pinpoint his exact location. If we hadn't lost the fix at the crucial moment? He's in the city somewhere, I know it, but it's like searching for a needle in a haystack out there. By the time he moves his Tardis again it might be too late?"

        Elli could never stay angry with him for long, but was pleased to have one up on him. "I already found it," she told him. "The Master's secret base; got inside, even."

        The Doctor was delighted, "Marvellous!" he crowed, adding in the same breath: "How could you? Taking a risk like that!"

        "It was hardly a risk," she dismissed his concern. "They never even knew I was there. Probably do by now, though."

        He looked cross again, apparently resigning himself to the worst. "What did you do?"

        "They had a prisoner," she replied defiantly, remembering the bloodied and naked figure she had discovered by chance while snooping around in search of clues as to how advanced the Master's plans were. "They'd been beating him. I could hardly just leave him there."

        The Doctor still seemed a little annoyed, but he'd become used to her ways during the time they'd spent travelling together and was too much of a humanitarian himself to argue. "No. No," he agreed. "I suppose not."

        "He's a shape-changer," Elli mused, thoughtfully. "Werewolf."

        "Hmm?"

        "The guy I pulled out," She thought about it for a moment. "I don't think that's why he was there, though."

        The Doctor looked frustrated. "Then perhaps you could start telling me what I do need to know! Where, exactly, is there?"

        "The university," she explained. "There're some old outhouses, labs and stuff, tucked away at the back of the campus. They look like they've been deserted forever, but when you get inside it's a hive of activity. The Master's got his Tardis hooked up to the side of it, looking like an extension of the building."

        "Oh, for a working chameleon circuit," the Doctor sighed. "How did you find it?"

        "I just did." She was surprised he even bothered asking.

        "Very well," the Doctor waved for her to continue. "Carry on."

        "I didn't get a good enough look to see how close his plans are to completion," Elli admitted, leaning against the central console and poking at one of the panels. "Not that I could tell by looking, anyway. High-tech isn't my thing, you know. I just wanted to snoop a bit, listen to the underlings talking and see if they gave anything away." She rolled her eyes, remembering how quickly that plan had gone awry. "But then I found this injured prisoner so it turned into a high speed in-and-out instead. And, what kind of a name is 'Oz', anyway? I'll never understand this world." Having distracted herself with that thought, she paused for a second to consider it.

        The Doctor raised an eyebrow, gently slapping her hand away from one of the apparently more sensitive controls. "And yet you choose to live here."

        "It wasn't my choice, remember?" Elli frowned at him, before hesitantly adding: "And now I'm back, I'll have to stay here: you know that."

        The Doctor gave her a sad smile. He liked having company on his travels. "Yes, I know," he acknowledged. "But not until this is over."

        Elli sighed, and got back to the point. "Speaking of which, I won't be able to try the same trick again. They'll have noticed that someone stole their prisoner by now ? increase security."

        "This lad, this?Oz," the Doctor asked. "Do you think he knows anything useful?"

        "I shouldn't think so," Elli wrinkled her nose, thinking. "He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time as far as I could tell. Frankly, given where they've chosen to house their HQ, I'm surprised it hasn't happened sooner. I'll go back to the hospital later on and find out if he remembers anything we should know."

        "Werewolf, you say?" The Doctor sounded curious.

        "Yup. Haven't come across one of those in a while," she confirmed, adding. "I don't think it's important here, though."

        *****

        With the Doctor off snooping somewhere in yet another attempt to find out how close the Master's plans were to completion, Elli returned to the hospital, pleased to have arrived before the police. It was not yet visiting hours, but she had no trouble slipping past the nurses and into Oz's room. He was awake, propped upright with his broken wrist in a sling, and watched her impassively as she pulled a chair over beside the bed and sat down.

        "Hi." She decided not to waste any time beating around the bush. "It's Oz, right? Do you remember me?"

        He had to think about it for a moment, but then dredged the name out of his no doubt hazy memory of the last 24 hours. "Elli?"

        "That's it," she confirmed. "Do you remember what happened to you?"

        Oz nodded, warily.

        "The cops want to talk to you about it," she told him. They'll be back later, I should think."

        He still looked wary as she continued. "I told them as much as I knew, which wasn't a great deal. Just that I found you all bashed up at the uni campus. Your friends confirmed that's where you were going last they saw you. So the cops just need you to tell them you don't remember anything, and they'll file it away under 'unsolved'."

        Elli paused for a moment to allow him to digest the implications of what she'd said, and then continued, a little hesitantly. "The thing is, though, that I need to know more than that. You know, all the stuff you can't tell the cops because they'd think you were insane, or brain damaged, or something. But I need to know exactly what you saw while you were there, anything you heard them talking about, as much as you can remember. It's important."

        "How important?" he asked, his expression grave.

        "Trust me when I say 'very'," Elli replied with a sigh.

        Talking to him, she could feel something almost like an itch, insistent, scratching away right at the back of her mind. It was similar to the nagging instinct that had led her unerringly to the university, and hence to the Master's headquarters. Some things she just knew, although it was rarely enough. This particular instinct was telling her that this young man's future was bound up with her own in some way, although how she couldn't tell. It could be as simple as helping stop the Master, although she was fairly sure that someone with a broken arm and concussion really shouldn't be drawn in to such a fight. His friends outside earlier had given a similar vibe, and she couldn't be sure what it meant, beyond the implication that they were or were going to be involved in some way.

        He remembered very little as it happened, having stumbled onto the Master's secret headquarters completely by accident while lost and in a hurry to be elsewhere. What he did remember was rather confused, understandably enough given the concussion. There had been an argument, he recalled, and he was fairly sure it hadn't all been about his unexpected appearance. Something missing or something that was incomplete? He couldn't be sure, but Elli thought it could be a clue. Especially as the dark man he described who could only be the Master had been so angry about it.

        He was vague about how he'd been injured. Reading between the lines of what he told her, Elli was curious. "Do you never remember what happens when you're in wolf form?"

        There was a long pause.

        "You knew what I was the moment you laid eyes on me," he said, slowly. It was a statement, not a question. He looked shocked, and a little worried: clearly he hadn't been expecting her to know about that, and she realised that his werewolf situation was probably a secret he preferred not to share.

        "Of course." Elli shrugged. She'd never really understood why other people couldn't simply see these things the way she did: she'd never needed to see a shape-changer's alternate form to know that was what they were.

        He looked puzzled. She was used to that reaction.

        "Some things I just know," she explained, vaguely. Noticing the worried look in his eyes, she added. "It's okay. It isn't obvious. To other people, I mean. Your secret is safe?as long as you are." She gave him a stern look, aware of the damage an out-of-control werewolf could cause.

        "Oh, I'm safe," he assured her. "I take precautions."

        "Cool." That was all she needed to know. It was none of her business, but getting back to the Doctor and helping him stop the Master very definitely was. And then, once it was all over, she could get on with her life.

        "By the way," he looked awkward, fingers picking at the bed sheet. "Thanks."

        That would be for the rescue, she reminded herself. "Well, what was I supposed to do?" she asked with a roll of the eyes. "Leave you there?"

        "I'm fairly sure that was an option," he replied, seriously. "You'd have made a faster getaway?" he paused, as though realising something. "Why were you there?"

        "I was investigating," Elli explained.

        "Investigating?" He looked dubious.

        She rolled her eyes again and reminded herself that he was concussed. "Dastardly goings on, of course. Why d'you think I've been asking you all about it?"

        He looked thoughtful again, frowning slightly. "It's kind of hazy," he began, "but something's staying with me. That was?quite a stunt you pulled with the phone box."

        "Yes, it was." Elli replied calmly. She hadn't expected him to remember that, having appeared so out of it at the time, but when people noticed these things she usually found it easiest just to confirm them without explanation, and before he could ask any more questions the nurse arrived to shoo her away.

        *****

        Grateful that their new and extremely efficient waitress was now back at work, willing and able to mind the caf? alone once the lunch time rush had died down, Emma and David returned to the hospital to see if Oz was available for visitors now and to take him some clothes, since he'd been brought in minus any. They were surprised to see the girl who'd brought him in emerging from his room as they arrived. She looked equally surprised, just for a second, but then gave them a disarming smile, explaining, "The nurse is with him at the moment."

        "Hi," Emma replied, curiously. "It was Elli, wasn't it? I thought you'd gone home."

        Elli hesitated slightly. "Yeah. I, um, I came back to see how he was."

        She stood aside slightly to let the nurse past as she left the room, then gave them another bright smile and made to leave. "It was nice to meet you again."

        "Elli!" a voice bellowed down the corridor.

        Startled, all three turned to see a short, scruffy man hurtling toward them with all the force of a small hurricane.

        "Doc." Elli sounded surprised.

        "There you are," the man continued, barrelling to a halt beside her. "I've been looking for you."

        "I'm where I said I would be." She sounded puzzled, and then apparently remembered that David and Emma were standing there listening, awkwardly adding, "This is the Doctor."

        Emma was confused now. They'd been introduced to Oz's doctor earlier, and this definitely wasn't him. "Doctor who?"

        "No time for that," the little man was practically hopping from one foot to the other with impatience. "Someone's stirred up a hornet's nest."

        "Where?" Elli now gave him her full attention, looking concerned.

        "The Master's Tardis has moved again, and his minions are scurrying around like ants," he told her.

        "Which master's what and his who?" David sounded totally bewildered. It all made no sense whatsoever to Emma, either, and she was starting to get seriously worried about what Oz had got himself into. It certainly didn't sound like a simple mugging, as the police had assumed.

        Elli gave them a worried glance as she slowly replied. "Oz said the Master was angry about something ? he thought maybe something was missing or incomplete."

        "Oz said what?" David asked, incredulously.

        The Doctor snapped his fingers. "We need to find out. Come, come: no time to lose"

        As he turned on his heel and scurried away again, Elli smiled an apologetic farewell at the bemused Gibsons and followed.

        David and Emma watched them go in silent amazement. As the odd pair hurried down the corridor, they passed the two police officers coming back the other way, the Hispanic giving Elli a curious look as they went by. Seeing them approach Oz's room, David and Emma realised they would have to wait for Oz to be questioned before they could find out what in the world was going on.

        *****

        Comment


        • #5
          *****

          It had been a very long day, even if he had slept most of it away. Oz had endured two interrogations since waking up in hospital, not to mention assorted medical ministrations ? and uniforms and men in white coats were not his favourite combination at the best of times, not with the unpleasant recent associations they had for him. That was a memory he'd have preferred not to have stirred up again. He was feeling bone-weary and his head was aching as the sound of the door opening heralded more visitors.

          "Hey, Rip Van Winkle." It was David, sounding far too cheerful. "Any idea when you're getting out of here?"

          Oz shook his head, and instantly regretted it. "Soon, hopefully."

          Emma was there too. "They'll probably want to keep you overnight, what with the concussion and all," she told him. "We were really worried, you know."

          Having to stay here all night wasn't a pleasant prospect. He would much prefer to just go home and curl up in his own bed, and maybe sleep for a hundred years. Except that he'd probably be fussed over just as much there as here, with Emma in full-blown mother-hen mode. It was nice to know that she cared, that they cared, but still?

          "Who's watching the shop?" he thought to ask as a distraction, a little embarrassed by all the attention.

          "Shanei," David told him as he sat on the edge of the bed and fiddled with the bunch of grapes they'd brought in as a concession to tradition. "Back in harness after her unplanned day off."

          Shanei was David's latest attempt at improving his staffing situation. A tall African-American girl, she had light brown skin, an elaborately coiffed hairdo, and a No Nonsense Attitude thoroughly deserving of capitalisation. Oz privately reflected that it was a shame David hadn't found her while his 'spiritual' problem was ongoing. She didn't seem the type to be scared off by ghostly antics.

          "Your face is a lovely color, you know," David added. "Several lovely colors, in fact."

          Giving David a light slap on the shoulder for the jibe, Emma pulled up a chair and asked how Oz was feeling now.

          That was a complicated question. These things were all relative. He settled for the automatic cop-out. "I'm okay."

          Emma did not look convinced, but David didn't give her time to argue.

          "Oz," he began rather uncertainly. "There's something really weird going on. That girl who brought you in said that?"

          He stopped, exchanged puzzled frowns with Emma, and then changed tack, eying Oz with unconcealed confusion. "What happened to you, exactly?"

          That was what everyone seemed to want to know today. After talking to Elli, Oz had given the police an abridged version of events: that he'd been running late, got all turned around on the unfamiliar campus, been hit on the back of the head and after that nothing but oblivion. They'd been frustrated, but with nothing to go on there was not much they could do. Elli had been right ? how could he tell them all the crazy stuff he'd seen last night? They'd have him certified. Not to mention the risk of them finding out too much about his own circumstances, which were best kept secret, especially from any authorities.

          "Got lost," he temporised, unsure how much to tell them. Even after the ghost there was a limit to how much they'd believe, surely. "Got bashed. Got rescued."

          But David and Emma already seemed to know that something wasn't right. Emma shook her head. "No," she insisted. "There's more to it than that."

          "Yeah," David agreed. "That girl Elli was just talking to the weirdest guy outside about stuff she said you'd told her."

          "You want to hear the weird?" Oz asked, dubiously.

          "We do," David insisted, and Emma nodded vigorously in agreement.

          If Oz hadn't spoken to Elli, he might have believed he'd imagined the whole thing, but she had taken it all deadly seriously, and something about her manner had convinced him. He wasn't sure how David and Emma would take it, though, or if they would even believe him. He wasn't sure he'd have believed it himself if he hadn't seen it, but since he was still feeling too hazy to try and work it all out for himself, he decided he'd just have to hope for the best and give them a fuller account, editing out only the wolfy parts. He wasn't ready to face their reaction to that, not yet.

          He eyed them both silently for a moment, weighing everything up, and then nodded. "Okay then: what happened."

          *****

          David and Emma took the story of the mysterious materialising shed more calmly than Oz had anticipated, although with predictable disbelief.

          "That's impossible," said David.

          "Yeah," Oz agreed. "That was pretty much my reaction."

          "Are you sure?" Emma asked. "I mean, with the concussion?"

          "No," Oz told her. "This was before I got hit."

          "Oh." They both seemed lost for words.

          "Buildings don't just appear out of nowhere." Judging by Emma's expression she'd prefer to believe the concussion explanation.

          "This one did." That was one of the few things Oz was sure about in all this, his one memory of last night that wasn't confused.

          "So," David wrinkled his brow in thought. "What you're saying is, you were attacked because you saw something you shouldn't have."

          That was close enough. "Pretty much," Oz confirmed, using his good arm to lever himself a little more upright and wincing slightly at the discomfort. Still, he'd take discomfort over actual pain any day.

          David promptly jumped to and helped him straighten up, looking thoughtful. "And this is all because??"

          Oz could only shrug with equal incomprehension. He honestly had no idea.

          "Does it matter?" Emma protested. "It's all over now. We should just go home and forget about it."

          "I don't think it's over," Oz said slowly, remembering Elli and her tale of 'dastardly goings on'.

          David frowned. "Maybe?" he began.

          His voice tailed off as he stopped to think for a moment, and then he continued, eyeing Emma warily. "Maybe we should all go find out some more."

          "What?" Emma's voice ran up the scale, and her face radiated disbelief.

          David faltered slightly under her gaze, but stuck to his guns. "Y-you know, check out where it happened, and, uh, find out what's going on?I mean, we'd be careful, of course."

          "Are you insane?" she stared at him in complete amazement. "Oz doesn't want to go back to where he almost got killed."

          Despite Emma's concern for his welfare, Oz decided that if David was insane then so was he, because he was actually beginning to feel well enough to be puzzled, intrigued even. He wanted to know what he'd stumbled into last night. He opened his mouth to say so. "Uh?"

          "See, Oz agrees with me." David didn't even let him get a word out. He closed his mouth again.

          "They didn't even release him from the hospital yet," Emma pointed out.

          "Well, when they do we'll go check it out," David was starting to look excited. "It'll be an adventure."

          "Adventure?" she gazed at them both, shaking her head in dismay, and then rounded on Oz. "You were just unconscious all night."

          He had no real answer to that. He could hardly tell her that the reason for his prolonged unconsciousness and lack of memory had more to do with wolf issues than concussion, and wearily realised that head injuries were something else he'd have to add to his list of things that could disrupt his self-control enough to bring forth the wolf at full moon and should therefore be avoided at all costs.

          "I'm good to go," he suggested with a one-shouldered shrug.

          Emma looked from Oz to David, and back again. "I don't believe you ? either of you. You've got broken ribs, Oz."

          "Cracked," Oz quietly corrected her, privately reflecting that the ribs were sore, but he could manage. They'd been well strapped up, and the drugs he'd been given were helping. He was tired, and the headache didn't seem to be going anywhere just yet, but that was no reason to take up a hospital bed. His own would do just as well, when he eventually reached it. And in the meantime, he really did want to know what was going on. He wondered if maybe the Scooby gang had been a bad influence on that score.

          "What?" Emma was exasperated.

          "The ribs are cracked, not broken," David elaborated on his behalf.

          "Same difference!" Emma sighed with frustration. "He almost got battered to death last night."

          "Not quite," Oz felt compelled to point out, earning himself a glare. He didn't actually feel all that bad, he decided, not really: maybe not as okay as he'd told Emma, but it could have been a lot worse. He felt a bit like he'd been run over by a truck, but the actual injuries weren't too serious. According to the doctor, they'd have let him go already if it weren't for keeping an eye on the concussion, which wasn't as bad as they'd first thought anyway.

          "And you want to go back there?" Emma protested. "Can't you just let the police handle it?"

          "I kind of need to know what's going on," Oz told her, quietly. He had the feeling that if they left it too late, it really would be too late, possibly in more ways than one.

          "Do you really think the police could handle things that just appear out of nowhere as if by magic?" David asked, still looking rather too enthusiastic at the prospect of an adventure. Then he turned back to Oz, looking curious. "Did you even tell them that part?"

          Oz shook his head, wondering how the cops would have reacted if he had.

          Emma sighed. "I'm surrounded by crazy people. Shouldn't we at least get clearance?"

          "He isn't an aircraft, Em," David pointed out with a grin. "But we'll wait till the doctor says it's okay, okay?"

          *****

          By the time the doctor had agreed to discharge him early the next morning, after a whole night of bed rest, observation and sleep disturbed by unpleasant memories, Oz had recovered enough to feel bored. A little shaky still, admittedly, not to mention sore and aching from head to foot, but bored. He thought that was probably a good sign. He was also increasingly curious to know what the hell was going on at the university, with buildings materialising out of nowhere and muscle men attacking people for no good reason, and this curiosity was currently overriding common sense.

          "We should take you straight home to bed," Emma grumbled as they left, David driving Oz's van since he had no car of his own: that had been sold back in the pre-Oz dark days of ghostdom to help keep the business afloat. "I'm sure that's what the doctor meant when he said you could go."

          "We're just going to take a quick look around," David told her. "What could be the harm in that?"

          Emma gave him a dirty look. "Do you really want me to answer that?"

          As David parked up in the university car park, Oz spotted the first flaw in their plan: he had no idea where on campus his mysterious appearing building had appeared, and really couldn't face the idea of wandering all over the campus looking for it. Feeling tired, he leaned against the side of the van and tried to remember which way he'd gone.

          The campus was quiet, as it was still early and most people were still on summer break anyway, but while he tried to think, a now familiar figure appeared at a run from around a corner. Elli stopped short when she saw them and stared for a second, evidently bewildered by their unexpected presence, but swiftly recovered, made a rapid decision, and dashed over.

          "Thank goodness," she told them. "Is that your van?"

          "It's Oz's," David told her, puzzled.

          "I need a lift," she told them anxiously. "Any chance?"

          "A lift?" Emma looked dubious. "A lift where?"

          "To my, uh, my transport." She looked even more anxious. "The Doctor's got himself into trouble and I need to follow him, as fast as."

          "We were just going to?" David began, but she shook her head, impatiently.

          "Take a look around in search of the weird? Trust me, there's nothing to see here at the moment. The action went elsewhere, and you really don't want to get involved, except for giving me that lift, of course. Please."

          "Where?" Oz asked as they all got back into the van, which was easier said than done when you only had one properly usable arm.

          Elli hesitated, biting her lip. "I don't actually know the street name. But I know where it is. Take a left at the exit, and I can direct you from there."

          *****

          Crowded into the van with Oz and the Gibsons, Elli leaned back in her seat and wondered if she was doing the right thing. Asking for a lift had been a spur of the moment decision that would save her a lot of time, time that was badly needed right now, but she hadn't bargained on their curiosity and determination to get to the bottom of things.

          "Maybe you can explain to us what the hell is going on," Emma bluntly asked as they set off. "Because the guys aren't going to rest until they find out."

          "Believe me, you don't want to hear it." Elli told them, feeling tired and wishing heartily that this was over.

          "Shouldn't that be for us to decide?" said David, glancing at Oz and Emma to see if they were still with him. "I mean, we already know there's something really weird going on. Stuff appearing out of nowhere, and God only knows what else. And we know you're involved in it somehow. And now we seem to be involved too. I think we've got a right to know what we're getting into."

          Elli looked at each of them in turn. "I only asked for a lift ? not for you to get involved in anything."

          "We're already involved," David pointed out, indicating Oz's bruised face.

          Elli couldn't help but be impressed by the gesture of friendly solidarity: she'd been raised with a similar pack mentality, and it struck a chord. She sighed. "I should have just walked. Okay then. Turn right here. Well, basically, there's this madman called the Master."

          "The Master. He's the one I saw, right?" said Oz.

          "And the guy who came looking for you at the hospital was called the Doctor," David put in.

          Elli nodded, and then hesitated, still unsure which way to take this. That feeling she'd had the previous day was back, telling her that like it or not these people had a part to play here. But she also felt very strongly that they'd only become involved by sheer chance and would be better off out of it. She also couldn't be sure how much they'd believe even if she did tell them the whole truth.

          "Left at the end here." She took a deep breath before continuing. "And remember you asked to hear this. Bottom line: the Master is evil. He's got all these grand plans that I can't even begin to explain, except that it involves building a special weapon and blowing things up in a quest for utter dominance. He's got a base here, at the back of the university, where they're building some components for his weapon. Can you pull in by that alley over there?"

          Completely stunned by the simple instruction coming almost in the same breath as this lengthy tale of impending doom, David almost missed the alley. Hurriedly backing back up to it, he parked, and they all sat and stared at Elli in disbelief.

          "My ride is just over here. Thanks for the lift." She scrambled out of the van as she spoke, still hoping to shake them off before they could be dragged into anything else dangerous. In all fairness, bystanders really should be allowed to remain just that.

          "What in the name of all that's holy is that?" she heard David's voice behind her as she opened the door. They'd followed her from the van. Of course.

          "It's called the Tardis," Elli told them, with a sigh. So much for shaking them off. Turning back, her anxiety suddenly gave way to amusement at their bemused expressions, and she had to grin. The Tardis did have that effect when you first saw it. "Yeah, I know: my kingdom for a working chameleon circuit. Thanks again. Bye!"

          It was worth one last attempt at keeping them out of it. As she disappeared into the Tardis and closed the door behind her, she heard Emma say: "I think we were better off not knowing."

          Inside the Tardis, Elli hurried straight over to the central console, and the tracking device the Doctor had installed and taught her how to use. It only worked intermittently, though, and she could only hope that it was having one of its functional moments right now. She needed to be able to track the Master's Tardis and hope he hadn't gone too far. Her ability to follow was limited.

          For once, it seemed that lady luck was smiling. The device picked up the trail instantly. But before she could act upon it, she had a big decision to make regarding the three people still standing outside the Tardis. They didn't seem willing to just walk away from this, and after all, it wasn't that long ago that she'd been an innocent bystander herself, dragged into it all rather more unwillingly than they seemed to be.

          They wanted to help, help could well be badly needed, and besides all that, she could hardly move the Tardis with them standing right next to it.

          *****

          As Elli disappeared through the narrow door, leaving them all behind, Oz looked at David and Emma, still not knowing what to make of all this and beginning to feel that maybe they should have just followed Emma's suggestion and gone straight home. If ? and it was a big if ? what Elli had told them was the truth, maybe Emma was right and they'd been better off not knowing. Except that they did know about it now, and he didn't know how anyone could know that stuff like this was going on, and then just walk away from it and hope someone else sorted it all out. Broken wrist or not, he was involved now, they all were. Although where they were supposed to go from here was anyone's guess.

          Elli's head reappeared through the door. "You might want to take a step back, by the way."

          "No," said David, looking determined. "Hang on a second. You can't just leave it like that." He shook his head, bewildered, and added: "And ? what on earth are you going to do in there?"

          Elli looked worried, and ignored the question. "I honestly think you'd be better off staying out of this from now on. You've already helped more than enough, and I'm really grateful, but this isn't your problem."

          David and Emma both looked at Oz, clearly intending to follow his lead. He wasn't entirely comfortable with the responsibility of making their decision for them, but they'd all already agreed that they wanted in on this, even Emma. Either that or spend the rest of their lives wondering. "No," he said. "I ? we can't just walk away from this now. In too deep, and all. Maybe we can help."

          Elli looked at him, then at David and Emma, and then sighed. "Okay," she said, wearily. "I don't have time to argue about it."

          As she disappeared again, David and Emma both looked at Oz, still expecting him to know what to do. He'd set that precedent when he told them how to get rid of their ghost, he realised. Deciding that it was too late to turn back now, he carefully walked through the door.

          *****

          Entering the Tardis, Oz stopped dead and stared around him in amazement, inhaling sharply.

          For on the other side of that narrow door in the narrow blue box was a very large round room, all white, with a round console in the centre covered with levers, buttons and control panels. Rather incongruously in such high-tech, futuristic surroundings, standing next to a wide double door on the other side of the room was a wooden hat stand, while a tall, old-fashioned armchair stood off to one side. Elli was fiddling with some buttons on the console, frowning at it with the tip of her tongue sticking out in concentration. She glanced up as he came in, wordlessly acknowledging his presence.

          "What the??" David and Emma bumped into his back as they followed, gasped, and then stared around them, looking as amazed as he felt.

          Elli looked up again, giving Oz a quizzical look, as if she'd just realised something. "Shouldn't you be in hospital still?"

          Still gaping around the room, Emma replied on his behalf before he could even open his mouth. "They just released him."

          Elli raised an eyebrow, looking slightly amused. "So, naturally you decided to put yourself straight back in harm's way."

          Put that way it did sound kind of dumb, he had to admit. "Naturally," Oz agreed.

          Elli shrugged. "Well, if you're sure you can manage, I'm not going to argue."

          "It's bigger on the inside than the outside." Finally finding his tongue, David could only state the blindingly obvious, his tone bewildered.

          "It's dimensionally transcendental," Elli told them in a matter-of-fact tone as she flicked a switch. The door closed behind them, making Emma jump.

          "And that means what in English?" Emma was gaping.

          Elli looked her straight in the eye. "Means it's bigger on the inside than the outside." Her expression was sympathetic. "Look, it's all much easier if you don't try to understand. Just accept it."

          "Accept it," David repeated, distantly. "Of course."

          "So, are you ready to go?" she asked, looking uncertain again. "And ? are you really sure you want to?"

          "Go where?" Emma was starting to look alarmed.

          "The Doctor was in the Master's Tardis when it took off again," Elli explained. "We've got back here quickly enough that I can trace where they went ? not far, by the looks: they're still in San Francisco, I think. Just, somewhere on the other side, if I'm reading this thing right." She frowned at the console again.

          Trying to make sense of it all brought Oz's headache back with a crashing thud. Alice through the looking glass, he thought wryly: now he knew how she must have felt. Remembering the armchair he'd seen, he went and sat down, nursing his aching wrist in its sling and wearily leaning his head against the chair back, watching the others through half-closed eyes.

          David was looking even more bewildered than ever. "So you want a lift? The van's just outside?"

          Elli shook her head. "We can take the Tardis."

          "This box?"

          "'This box' is a vessel capable of travelling through both time and space," she told him, reprovingly. "But we don't need to go that far."

          "It does what??" David gasped.

          She looked at him, impatient. "It's a vessel. It goes. That's all you need to know. I don't understand the how behind it either."

          "And you can fly it?" Emma sounded faint. "Or move it, or whatever it does?"

          Elli wrinkled her nose, just a hint of doubt showing through her confident manner. "Sort of. I know which buttons to press and levers to pull. No idea what any of them are called or why any of it works, but I can do it if I have to. And I think I do have to."

          "'Sort of'?" Emma's eyes went wide. "Sort of, and you expect us to go with you?"

          Elli frowned at the console and pressed some more buttons. "I don't expect you to do anything. But I thought you wanted to come." She glanced back up, giving them a quizzical look. "Isn't that why you went back to the university? You said you wanted to know, to help."

          "She's got us there," David admitted, ruefully. "We did want to know what was going on."

          "You mean you did," Emma retorted.

          Elli's hand was hovering over a switch. "Are you coming or going? It's only a short hop."

          The three of them looked at one another, and then David answered. "We're coming. We want to know what's going on."

          Elli pressed the switch and the whole room lurched.

          *****

          Comment


          • #6
            *****

            Part Three

            *****

            The vertigo was worse than any funfair ride he'd ever been on, and it was hard to tell whether his recent head injury was making it all seem that much worse, or if it would have felt that bad anyway. Oz hung onto his chair, feeling sorry for David and Emma who had no such refuge, and concentrated on watching the central column rise and fall. It felt like an eternity, but he realised that it was only a few moments before the column slowly came to a stop once more.

            "Well, we're here." Elli told them, having apparently been entirely unaffected by the journey, if a journey really was what had just happened.

            "You expect us to believe this thing actually moved?" David asked dubiously, as he and Emma slowly let go of the doorframe they'd been clinging onto, but still held onto one another, just in case.

            Elli shrugged. "You can believe what you like. But the fact is that yes, we've moved. From there to here."

            "Where's here?" Emma asked, looking unconvinced.

            "No idea," the other girl admitted, worry furrowing her brow. "Close to wherever the Master's Tardis landed, 'cause I homed in on his signal, but hopefully not too close, 'cause I don't want him to have seen us coming. I think it's still in the city. We'll have to go outside and have to look to find out more."

            "Hang on," David interrupted. "You still haven't told us exactly what's going on."

            Elli looked surprised. "Yes, I did. I told you: the Master is using this place as a base to create a super-weapon, with which he intends to gain control over his fellow Time Lords and from there pretty much the whole universe."

            There was a brief silence.

            "As evil plans go, that's kind of far-reaching," Oz commented from his seat over by the wall, beginning to regain his composure. It all sounded highly unlikely still, but no more so than most of the other unbelievable things he'd seen. Not really.

            Elli nodded. "Not to mention big. Which is why we have to stop him."

            "Hey!" Emma looked panic-stricken. "What 'we'? Nobody said anything about a 'we'."

            "It was a general 'we'," Elli told her, dryly. "But feel free to include yourself in the definition. I've got the feeling this could turn into an all-hands-to-the-pumps situation."

            "But you still aren't explaining," David complained. "What is a Time Lord, and where do you fit in?"

            "It's complicated," Elli wrinkled her nose in thought. "As I understand it, the Time Lords are an incredibly advanced race capable of both space and time travel, but who choose not to get involved in the affairs of 'lesser beings' such as us. Except for the odd troublemaker, such as the Master, and the Doctor, who is a total maverick and can't keep out of trouble."

            "They're from another planet?" David breathed, wide-eyed.

            "And you became involved how?" Emma asked.

            "Oh, I went with him by accident." Elli rolled her eyes in disgust at this twist of fate as she flipped a few switches on the console, frowning in concentration. "I was doing the backpack thing, touring Europe. I met the Doctor in London, where all kinds of craziness was happening. And then, bang. Instead of moving on to Scotland I found myself going a little further: the other side of the galaxy, further."

            "Wow," was all David could say.

            "Exactly," she sighed. "The Doc kept promising to bring me back, and instead we ended up touring the whole galaxy looking for the Master before he could unleash Armageddon. And all that time he was right here where I wanted to be! Give or take a few thousand K's. Right planet, right era, right year, even. Amazing. And very annoying. Look, this is where we are." She nodded over to a large screen, which was now displaying an image of a dark, dingy looking area.

            "What is that?" Emma asked.

            "It's outside," Elli told her. "That's the view-screen."

            David frowned. "It looks like some kind of warehouse."

            "We're going to have to go outside and have a look around," Elli told them. "See if we can find the Doctor." She grinned, suddenly animated at the prospect of action. "Shall we go?"

            *****

            As they followed Elli outside, not really knowing what to expect, Oz wasn't sure whether to be surprised or not that they were no longer in the street from which they'd entered the Tardis. He turned around to look at it: a tall, narrow blue box, bigger on the inside than the outside and capable of travelling through both space and time. Weird really wasn't a strong enough word, and yet it seemed to be becoming the norm.

            The Tardis was now standing in the run-down area they'd seen on the view-screen, just outside an old, abandoned warehouse. Elli peered around, worriedly.

            "Stay here a minute," she told them. "I want to have a look around."

            She disappeared around a corner, as soft-footed as a cat.

            Left alone, the other three looked at one another in bemusement. Emma shivered. Pulling close to David, who put an arm around her, she stretched out a hand to hang onto Oz's sleeve, as though she was afraid one of them might wander off and get into trouble.

            David looked disappointed to be out of the loop again. "So what are we supposed to do now?"

            "Wait, I guess," said Oz. There didn't seem to be much of an alternative.

            Amongst the assortment of litter strewn liberally all around this deserted area were some old, overturned packing cases. They made good enough seats for the trio to sit and wait for whatever was going to happen next. Without Elli or the mysterious Doctor to let them back into the Tardis and take them home, there wasn't much else they could do.

            Further action was not long in arriving. David had left his seat, unable to sit still for longer than a minute, and was poking around in the shadows when Oz's sharp ears picked something up.

            "Listen," he murmured to Emma, who squinted at him curiously and then concentrated. For a moment all they could hear was David kicking at stones a little way off, and then the noise Oz had heard came into focus: the sound of running footsteps, coming closer.

            Elli came belting around a corner, hustling a taller man along. Oz recognised him at once: it was the older man, Staunton, who he'd seen outside the Master's Tardis just before he was captured. A sudden chill ran down his spine at the memory.

            There was no time to worry about it now. A shorter man ? Oz assumed it was the Doctor ? was scurrying along behind Elli, clutching something to his chest.

            "Into the Tardis," he yelled.

            Elli was already fumbling at the door, keeping a firm grip on Staunton's arm.

            Exchanging worried looks, Oz and Emma started to hurry over toward them, glancing across to see that David was also on his way. As they did so, they saw another figure gaining on the Doctor: the Master. And he was aiming what looked like a gun?

            "Look out!" Oz yelled, while Emma screeched a similar warning at the same moment.

            Displaying excellent reflexes, Elli grabbed Staunton and pulled him down, while the Doctor likewise ducked while still running. A bolt of what looked like some kind of laser blast flew wildly over his head.

            Looking back, Oz saw that David had tackled the Master from behind, throwing his aim off, and was still struggling with the furious Time Lord. Forgetting his cracked ribs and broken wrist, he changed direction and rushed over to help.

            Emma got there first, kicking and hitting at the squirming Time Lord to get him away from her husband. Feeling his ribs protest at so much rapid activity, Oz settled for kicking the dropped gun well out of reach. Then Elli arrived, having handed Staunton over to the Doctor. Between them, they managed to pull David away from the Master and ran for the Tardis again.

            En route, Oz risked a glance over his shoulder to see the Master scrabbling around looking for his gun. He quickened his pace, and they all rushed into the Tardis, where the Doctor quickly closed the door behind them, everyone breathing a sigh of relief.

            "That guy was shooting at us!" Emma sounded appalled.

            "Like I said," Elli reminded her, breathlessly. "Evil."

            *****

            Professor Staunton couldn't believe how quickly everything had gone so badly wrong. Fiercely ambitious, yet constantly thwarted in his every attempt at career-ladder-climbing, he'd fallen easily under the sway of the oh-so persuasive Master, seduced by visions of fame and riches. And then, with the Master remaining absent for so long, it had been a short step to convincing himself that something had happened to his employer, that he might never return. Squirreling valuable pieces of equipment away had seemed such a good idea, providing him with, he'd hoped, a short cut to academic glory and fiscal reward?

            But then the Master had returned, and his attempts to salvage the situation had failed miserably. Events since then had snowballed at a frightening pace, spiralling way out of his control. Without the intervention of the Master's long-time enemy the Doctor he'd be dead by now, of that he had no doubt, and yet he felt no gratitude for his rescue, only anger and bitterness that all his hopes and dreams had been crushed once more. What the other people in the Doctor's Tardis had to do with any of it, he had no idea, but his irritation had increased when he recognised the little werewolf whose untimely appearance had signalled the start of the downward spiral. He was intrigued to note that the injuries received in wolf-form seemed to have been carried back into human shape, just as the human's concussion had affected the wolf after his transformation, but regretfully recognised that further analysis of the creature was also now out of his reach. How had it all turned out like this?

            And now he seemed to be stuck with these do-gooders, and could only hope for an opportunity to make good his escape.

            *****

            By the time the Tardis re-materialised on the university campus, a full round of introductions had been made and more detailed explanations given.

            Oz's head was aching again, which made it difficult to take in the finer details. As the Doctor rambled on about an ancient race creating a doomsday weapon that had fortunately never been used, he found himself wondering if he'd fallen asleep and was dreaming himself into an episode of Star Trek or something. He decided that his ribs were hurting too much for this to be a dream. The painkillers he'd been given seemed to be wearing off, and his prescription was still in the van, out of reach.

            The scientific techno-babble was way beyond Oz's ability to process just at the moment, but the gist of it was that the Master had apparently unearthed the long-lost designs for this doomsday weapon, and was having it constructed here, of all places. He intended to unleash it upon his home world of Gallifrey, thus wiping out the Time Lords and enabling him to take full control of all their power and technology. The Doctor looked a little queasy as he explained this: it was the most heinous plan devised by his old rival yet: a plan of genocide against his own people.

            Staunton, it seemed, was a professor of science and mathematics at the university who had fallen into bad company: that of the Master. Hired by the disaffected Time Lord to work on the construction of his weapon with the aid of a few henchmen, Staunton had become greedy. Hiding a vital component of the weapon out at that disused warehouse, he had hoped to either sell them for a huge profit, or blackmail the Master into a larger share of the spoils. This plan had backfired on him and, if not for the Doctor's intervention, would have cost him his life ? not that he seemed all that grateful. He didn't seem all that deserving of such salvation, either, but the Doctor apparently considered all human life sacrosanct, even his. Having retrieved both Staunton and that component, which he swiftly destroyed despite the professor's protest, the Doctor now hoped to get back to the secret laboratory before the Master, and hopefully destroy both the remainder of the weapon and the blueprints for good.

            Helping save someone else's planet and consequently the galaxy was not a position Oz had expected to end up in when he left the Scooby gang. It was such a Sunnydale thing to have happen. Ribs and arm aching from his exertions, he noted with satisfaction how well David and Emma were dealing with the situation ? even Emma was no longer arguing that they had no part in this. Both seemed resolved to help in any way they could; a far cry from the days they'd so firmly refused to believe their ghost existed.

            *****

            The Doctor stuck his head out through the Tardis' door and peered around.

            "All quiet," he said, beckoning the others to follow him.

            As they all filed cautiously out, Oz took up the rear, privately acknowledging that he would not be able to keep up for much longer. He just hoped he wouldn't get in the way, that he'd still be able to help, and that it would all be over soon. Bed was becoming an ever more enticing prospect, universe in peril or not.

            Still in fear of his life, Staunton proved useful: he was able to tell the Doctor exactly where the almost complete device was stored, along with the location of the blueprints they'd been working from. The Doctor's plan was simple: get all the people out, and blow the whole lot up.

            Oz wondered what the fire department would have to say about that.

            Elli, David and Emma were given the task of laying charges, which the Doctor unearthed from some inner recess of the Tardis, all around the weapon. They were aiming for a blast that would destroy the lab and weapon but not the rest of the campus, and also had to at least try to get any remaining henchmen out of the buildings. Oz didn't envy them the task. He, in turn, went with the Doctor and Staunton in search of the blueprints that had been used to put the weapon together in the first place ? the Doctor was determined to ensure that they were also destroyed, so that the Master did not escape with the means to re-create the weapon from scratch.

            "The blueprints were kept in this office," Staunton muttered, glowering at the Doctor. He was helping ? he had little choice now his deal with the Master had soured ? but he clearly didn't like it.

            The Doctor pushed the door open and gestured for Staunton to precede him into the room. As Oz was about to follow them in, he heard a smooth voice taunting, "Ah, Doctor. I was wondering when you'd get here."

            It was the Master.

            Hesitating just outside the door, Oz risked glancing in to see what was happening.

            His gun aimed straight at the Doctor, the renegade Time Lord laughed. It was not a pleasant sound. "My transducer, Doctor, if you'd be so kind."

            "You're too late, Master," the Doctor told him. "This whole building is about to go sky high. Perhaps you should leave, while you still can."

            "You're too kind," the Master sneered. "We still have a little time, I believe. Time for me to salvage my plans."

            "The transducer is gone," the Doctor told him. "It's over."

            "You destroyed it?" The Master's face contorted with rage, but quickly settled back into his habitually smooth, placid expression. "No matter." He tapped his breast pocket, which rustled. "I have the plans. I can re-create the machine ? there is nothing you can do to stop me. Now, if you'll be so good as to let me past."

            Waving his gun menacingly, the Master gestured for the Doctor to let him pass. Instead, the Doctor moved to further block the doorway.

            "I can't allow you to leave with those plans."

            "And exactly how did you propose to stop me?" The Master's voice was full of polite interest.

            "By any means necessary." The Doctor's voice was calm and low, and surprisingly menacing.

            "Why Doctor," the Master remarked in mock astonishment. "I do believe you've forgotten who is holding a gun on whom! Still, lest we be in any doubt about the position here?"

            The Master's free hand dipped into a pocket and came out holding a small black rectangular box. The Doctor's face blanched at the sight. Still peering in from outside the door, Oz assumed this had just made matters a great deal worse.

            "A pulse bomb," the Doctor whispered. "That could destroy half the city!"

            "The entire city, I believe," the Master corrected him calmly. "Unless, of course, you take the time to disarm or otherwise neutralise it first. How much time did you say we had?"

            Holding the black box up in the air, the Master calmly pressed a button and then tossed it towards Staunton, who had remained silent throughout, rigid with fear. The Doctor dived for it, and as the two men fumbled, trying to catch the bomb, they succeeded only in tripping each other up and both went flying.

            His exit thus cleared, the Master strode for the door. He clearly hadn't realised Oz was standing just outside, and, realising that he'd just become the last line of defence, Oz tried to trip him, only to receive a painful blow from the gun butt for his troubles which sent him stumbling into the wall while the Master made good his escape without wasting any more time on him.

            Picking himself back up, Oz hesitated, unsure whether to try and follow the renegade Time Lord or stay and help with the bomb. The decision was taken out of his hands when the Doctor appeared at his side, clutching the little black box that threatened to destroy the entire city.

            "Which way did he go?"

            Oz gestured down the corridor.

            "I have to get those plans off him," the Doctor sounded worried. "But the bomb ? it must be disarmed. There isn't enough time!"

            Oz glanced back through the lab door. Staunton must have hit his head in the fall and was out cold: he would be no further help to them. "What can I do?"

            The Doctor turned the black box over in his hands. "Tamper-proofed, and there isn't time to try to disarm it. Is there a body of water near here? A lake? A duck-pond, even? A sufficient quantity of water would absorb the effect of the blast, neutralise the reaction."

            Oz tried to think. Water. He vaguely remembered there being a lake somewhere at the edge of campus; he'd noticed it on the map and wondered why it was there, taking up valuable land that the developers would surely have preferred to build on.

            "There's a lake," he said, dubiously. "It isn't very big."

            "It'll have to do. Any body of water will do." The Doctor glanced along the corridor where the Master had disappeared, studied the side of the box again for a moment, and then regarded Oz worriedly. "Can you get it there in the next five minutes?"

            Five minutes was all the time they had? Oz nodded, carefully taking the black box from the Time Lord with his good hand.

            "Good luck." The Doctor sprinted away. Oz took a deep breath and did likewise, heading in the opposite direction.

            *****

            Comment


            • #7
              *****

              Bursting out into the open air, Oz looked around frantically. He never had got a grip on exactly where on campus this secret laboratory was. How was he supposed to find his way to the lake from here, in less than five minutes?

              Racing aimlessly across the seemingly deserted campus, heart pounding, ribs on fire, he looked around him frantically as he ran, searching for anything that was familiar, anything that might point him in the right direction. Rushing around a corner, he ran headlong into a girl coming the other way carrying heavy bags of groceries. The groceries went flying.

              "Hey! What d'you think you're playing at?" she demanded, glaring fiercely at him. Oz recognised her, his heart sinking. It was the British girl with the ginger hair and drum-kit, the one he'd bumped into previously, who had unwittingly contributed to his getting lost in the first place and thus inadvertently brought him to this eventuality.

              He felt very, very tired. His ribs were hurting, making it hard to breathe. And he couldn't remember her name. "Where's the lake?" he asked urgently.

              "The what?" she was glaring even harder now.

              "I need to get to the lake, quickly." He wasn't sure how to convey the urgency of the situation to her, but the tone of his voice seemed to do the trick.

              Eying him warily, she gestured vaguely. "It's over ?"

              "No," he cut her off. "Show me. Quickly."

              Looking confused, nevertheless she obeyed and the two off them hurried off.

              Oz was trying to keep count in his head, and knew they were running out of time. Finally, they rounded a corner, and there was the lake, which didn't really seem deserving of the name: more of an ornamental pond, really. It wasn't very big, but it would have to do. He flung the black box into it and pulled the girl back, well away from the edge. Then he waited, breathing heavily.

              The girl whose name he couldn't remember pulled away from him, looking at him askance, apparently waiting for an explanation. And then the pond exploded, sending a fountain of water shooting up into the air. Both Oz and the girl were drenched from head to foot.

              Dripping wet and gasping for breath, the girl stared at him in disbelief, clearly lost for words. Oz had no idea what to say. How could he even begin to explain all this? The adrenaline rush that had brought him this far was suddenly gone, allowing him to really feel every single bruise. He found a nearby tree to lean against, breathing hard.

              As the girl opened her mouth to, presumably, ask what the hell he was doing running around campus with a bomb, a second explosion ripped through the air a short distance away, this one sending smoke and flames into the air rather than water. The secret lab, Oz realised. The plan had been to blow it up, hadn't it? He felt cold, wondering if everyone had got out safely. If anything had happened to David and Emma, who'd only become involved because of him?

              Eyes wide with amazement, the girl evidently decided she really didn't want to know what was going on after all. She hesitated, shaking water out of her hair and wringing out her clothes, and then said: "So, um. Hello again."

              "Hey," Leaning against the tree, Oz bent over, hugging his aching ribs. The name came back to him and he glanced up at her. "It's, uh, it's Charlie, right?"

              "Charlie, yeah," she nodded, frowning slightly at him. "Or Chas, if you want to be really familiar. And you were Oz."

              "I was," he agreed, wearily. "And still am."

              "Are you all right?" Charlie sounded slightly worried. Of course, he'd been in considerably better shape the last time they met, only a day or two earlier.

              Oz managed a smile to reassure her. "I will be." Nothing a year or so in bed wouldn't fix?

              Realising that he was going to have to say something, he tried to find an excuse that would sound convincing to Charlie, and failed utterly. He was still having trouble believing any of it had happened, never mind trying to process the details enough to edit them for anyone else. She listened to him floundering, her expression completely indecipherable, and then shook her head and asked what was really going on.

              *****

              Oz felt very tired and was aching all over as he slowly found his way back to where the secret laboratory had been, with the still very confused Charlie in tow. All that remained was a smouldering ruin, with no sign of life anywhere. Hearing sirens in the distance heralding the approach of the fire service, he felt a stab of panic: where were David and Emma?

              Before he had time to get really worried, he heard a bizarre wheezing sound behind him. It was the same sound that had started this whole thing in the first place. He turned around in time to see the tall blue box that was the Doctor's Tardis materialise.

              The door opened and the Doctor emerged, followed by David, Emma and Elli, and they all exclaimed in delight to see Oz in one piece. Emma threw her arms around him, and so did David, although he caught himself and pulled back, grinning in embarrassment, a moment later.

              "Yuck, you're all wet," Emma protested.

              "Yeah," Oz agreed with the sentiment. Wet clothes were not comfortable to move around in.

              "The bomb?" The Doctor sounded both worried and hopeful at the same time, which was quite a feat.

              "Lake go boom," Oz told him, indicating his dripping outfit and wondering how the cast on his wrist would stand up to such a soaking. The fact that the city was still standing was, he felt, sufficient proof that the bomb had been neutralised. While Elli looked him and Charlie up and down and then disappeared back into the Tardis, the Doctor simply beamed happily at him.

              "Good, good," the Doctor enthused. "Splendid. Well done."

              "Staunton and his people got away," Elli remarked, reappearing with a pair of thick, warm blankets, which she handed to Oz and Charlie, giving the other girl a curious look, no doubt wondering who she was. Oz took his gratefully and Emma promptly came back over to fussily help him wrap it around his shoulders.

              The Doctor looked a little worried. "As long as they didn't take any of the Master's equipment with them, that shouldn't be a problem. They're bound to cause more trouble at some stage, but I'm sure they'll trip themselves up into the arms of the law eventually."

              There was a brief pause, everyone eyeing one another awkwardly, before Oz suddenly remembered that he had an introduction to make.

              "Oh, this is, uh, this is Charlie," was all he could think to say. Charlie smiled uneasily and gave the others a little wave.

              "Hi," she said, with an embarrassed shrug.

              Letting the others introduce themselves to her however they chose, Oz decided that he really couldn't stand up any longer and sat down on the ground, huddling up in his blanket. A moment later something else occurred to him, and he squinted up at the Doctor. "The blueprints?"

              The Doctor looked startled, as though he'd only just remembered that problem, but then fumbled inside his jacket.

              "The Master escaped in his Tardis," he said, ruefully. "But not before I retrieved these." He produced the blueprints with a flourish. Oz wondered how on earth he'd managed it, given the head start the Master had had on him and the renegade's wanton brandishing of his gun, but he didn't seem inclined to elaborate.

              "Gonna build a doomsday weapon of your own?" David sat down beside Oz and regarded the Time Lord cautiously.

              "Certainly not!" the little man sounded offended. He produced a small pen-like device from a pocket and used it to set fire to the plans. "Sonic screwdriver," he explained, gleefully. "One thousand and one different uses."

              The little group watched in silence as the blueprints burned to a crisp. No one could use them to create a device of mass destruction again.

              A small crowd was now gathering, drawn to the flames like so many moths. David sighed and muttered something about gawker-syndrome while, looking back towards the ruin of the secret laboratory, Oz realised something.

              "My enrolment papers were in there." He'd been carrying them when he was captured, so they must have been dropped at the same time. They were definitely gone now. So were the clothes he'd been wearing, and he felt a belated stab of annoyance: he'd liked that shirt.

              Emma sat down beside him. "We'll get you some more."

              Oz wondered if the university would even want him now he'd blown up their lake and all these old outhouses. Maybe he could avoid them finding out his part in all that. Then he remembered that the Initiative had been beneath UC Sunnydale, and wondered if all universities had secret badness going on somewhere on campus. If so, did he really want to enrol? His every attempt at attending university seemed doomed, what with failing to graduate, dropping out, and now this.

              The others were all talking as the fire department arrived to put out the flames, but he felt too tired to pay much attention. He did hear Elli pointing out how lucky he'd been that the Master, Staunton and the others had clearly been so distracted by their own issues that they'd simply tossed him to one side out of the way when he happened along at exactly the wrong moment: under different circumstances, they'd probably have killed him on the spot. She seemed puzzled by it.

              He decided he'd wait until his ribs and arm had healed before he started to feel lucky, and thought that wondering why he'd been left alive would be a bit too much like tempting fate.

              He watched silently as the Doctor went over to talk to the fire marshal and various other people who'd appeared to find out what was going on, wondering vaguely what excuse the Time Lord would give. Gas leak, he heard someone say. It reminded him of Snyder, his old high school principal, and he remembered that the majority of people would rather believe anything other than the truth when the truth was this far out. Who'd believe what had really happened even if they admitted it?

              Hearing his name, he turned his attention back to the conversation at hand. Emma was quizzing Elli on her past as a backpacker travelling Europe, citing Oz himself as someone else who had been all over the world, and noting Charlie's British origins with fascination.

              "I've only been outside the States once," Emma admitted. "We went to Paris one time when I was in high school."

              "Well I've barely been beyond California," David added cheerfully.

              "I just needed to get away," Elli explained, vaguely. "I thought maybe travelling a bit and seeing the world would be good." She wrinkled her nose. "Touring the galaxy really wasn't in the game plan."

              "So if you weren't enrolling when you found Oz ? why were you really here?" Emma asked, curiously.

              "Oh, I was snooping." Elli admitted it without hesitation. She waved toward the burned out ruin. "Found what I was looking for, too."

              "You aren't going to school here, then?"

              Elli shrugged. "I'll need to finish my degree sooner or later, I suppose," she conceded noncommittally.

              "But for now, I guess, you'll be taking off with the Doctor," David assumed.

              Elli shook her head firmly. "Nuh-uh. Been there, done that, not going there again. It's taken long enough to get back to the right planet and time as it is, I think I'm better off going the last few thousand K's under my own steam."

              "You're going back to Australia, then?" Emma asked.

              "I suppose," she sounded unsure. "I should really catch up with everyone; they'll be worried."

              "Or you could stay here for a while," Emma suggested, having apparently taken a shine to the other girl during all the craziness.

              "Or, I could do that," Elli acknowledged. She looked uncertain. "I'm not sure yet what would be best."

              *****

              It seemed to take forever, but at long last the fire was extinguished. The fire department packed up and left, and the crowd dispersed. Charlie went too, evidently realising that she had perhaps as much explanation as she was ever going to or wanted to get, and suddenly remembering her abandoned groceries.

              His work here completed, the Doctor prepared to leave, bidding a sad farewell to his young companion, who was remaining on Earth to find her own way home.

              "Stay safe, Doc," Elli said, hugging him.

              "May you find peace at your journey's end," the Doctor told her solemnly.

              The Tardis door closed behind him. A few minutes later the now familiar wheezing sound began, and the Tardis vanished.

              There was a brief silence.

              Elli then said her own farewells and wandered off, shouldering the backpack that seemed to contain her entire worldly goods. Oz, David and Emma were left to look at one another in wonder at how the day had turned out.

              David glanced at his watch. "Shanei probably resigned already. She's had to open up on her own."

              "Do you remember where you left the van?" Emma asked.

              David nodded. "You two stay here; I'll go get it."

              "It probably got towed by now," Oz remarked ruefully, longing to get home to bed, and wondering when exactly he had started to think of his room at the Monico as home, because home it had become, already.

              *****

              Comment


              • #8
                *****

                Epilogue:

                *****

                A few days later, life was starting to get back to normal. Or as normal as was possible, given that Oz's injury had brought out all of Emma's latent mothering instincts.

                Still recovering and thus barred from doing any actual work, Oz sat at the bar in the Monico early one evening enjoying a light meal. Emma was helping David out behind the bar, Shanei having been pacified for being left in the lurch only by copious amounts of time off and a pay rise.

                Hearing the door open, Oz saw surprise on David and Emma's faces and turned to see who had come in. It was Elli. She wandered up to the bar with a subdued smile. "Hi."

                "Hey! You found us" Emma smiled, pleased to see her.

                "Yes," Elli sat down next to Oz at the counter. "It wasn't hard."

                Emma looked unsure whether that was a good thing or not. "I thought you were heading back to Australia?"

                "I haven't decided yet," Elli admitted.

                "But didn't you want to go home?" David queried.

                "Oh, I will, eventually," she told them, before asking, almost plaintively: "You serve tea, don't you? Can I have a cup?"

                "Coming right up," David assured her, turning to make it.

                Elli turned to Oz. "How are you feeling now?"

                "He's doing better than expected," Emma again answered for him before he could open his mouth. "But not 'back to work' fit just yet."

                Elli looked at Oz. Deadpan, he gestured toward Emma to indicate 'what she said'.

                Catching his eye in shared amusement at Emma's mother-hen act, Elli gave him a mischievous smile before continuing in response to Emma's earlier question. "I'm just not sure I'm ready to go back yet. I think I've done enough travelling, for the time being at least. It might be nice to stay in one place for a while, and here seems as good as anywhere."

                "Thanks."

                "You're welcome," Elli replied with mock gravity. Then she grinned, her mood visibly lightening. "I mean, for one thing, you've got that excellent community spirit going on here as regards universe saving, which is always a good thing. Also, I really did check out the uni, and there are some fantastic courses that tie in really well with what I've already done. I could maybe get my degree finished at last. And, plus, you guys already know that my more recent history is not what you'd call average, so that's a bonus, too."

                She became serious again. "Besides, I promised the Doc I'd keep a weather eye for Staunton, make sure he doesn't get up to anything too terrible if he did steal any equipment. I really need to be here to do that.

                "Excellent," said David, handing her a steaming mug of English breakfast tea. "Welcome to San Francisco."


                ~that's all folks~



                ? J. Browning, September 2004; January 2005
                *Note: As you will have noticed, this story is an AU Doctor Who crossover: because weirdness abounds in both universes so, what the heck, why not? It was a convenient concept to borrow.

                Authors need feedback

                Comment

                Working...
                X