narm00 (narm00) wrote in tardis_hoedown,
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tardis_hoedown

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Odrem ho!



"Pilot?"

"Yes, Beloved?"

"Sensor scan of Odrem complete. Sensors indicate another TARDIS on the planet."

"The Three..." Estrandre murmured. "Whereabouts?"

"Zesca, a small city in the northern hemisphere. Time-space signature for the last dematerialisation of the Nonnies' TARDIS has a 98.7% correlation with present Zesca."

"We're on the right track..." Estrandre murmured. "Has the other TARDIS noticed us yet?"

"No," Beloved answered, "or at least not as far as I can tell."

"Hm." Estandre murmured. "Let me think... All right. I want you to come in under their sensors - I do /not/ want them picking us up before we're ready."

If Beloved's manifestation had been in possession of a head, she would have nodded. "Yes, Pilot."

"Then give me a map showing where we are in relation to the Three."

"Yes, Pilot."

---

The sound of a TARDIS's materialisation echoed through the quiet street, as Sweetheart materialised in an empty lot. Scanning the architecture of the houses around her, she adapted her outer shell to match.

Inside...

Estandre looked up.

"We've arrived." he said.

His guests' partying slowly quietened down.

"All right." he said. "Now we're here, I want a small group to go with Arthur and see if we can get the Nonnies to stay with Beloved, while their TARDIS recuperates."

"I will!" Eloise volunteered.

Estandre nodded. "Anyone else interested, go with Eloise. No more than two or three of you, however - we don't want to draw too much attention."

Eloise nodded.

Estandre frowned. "Now... we need a way to flush the Three out - and before /anyone/ suggests revealing Beloved, I would like to observe that the Three will be wary of any TARDIS appearing so soon after the Nonnies' TARDIS disappeared. They may be bumblers, but I doubt they're /that/ stupid."

Alt-Ninth raised an eyebrow.

"Yes, Doctor?"

"I would have thought the answer was obvious." Alt-Ninth said. "We go TARDIS-shopping."

Estandre raised /his/ eyebrow in turn. "By which you mean..."

"We show up at the Three's TARDIS and inquire about TARDIS parts." Alt-Ninth shrugged. "Simple enough."

Estandre considered. "Mm. Given what happened to Arthur, I'd prefer it if someone combat-capable took care of this..."

Marin raised a hand. "We'll do it."

Behind him, Allie covered her glasses.

Estandre cast a look at them. "Are either of you combat-capable?"

"Allie is," Marin said. "If you can point us where we need to go..."

Estandre nodded. "Would either of you mind if I requested that a small group went with you, in the eventuality something goes wrong?"

Marin and Allie shook their heads.

"No." Marin said.

"All right." Estandre said. "I'd like volunteers for Marin and Allie's group - perhaps about three or four people.

"As for the rest of you... if anyone wants to go out and take a look around, feel free to do so, but be quick. No more than say... an hour.

"To those of you who are happy to remain... we apologise for the interruptions, and hopefully will be able to start up the party again in a short while.

"All right. Let's get started."
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Second gave Third a push toward Allie and Marin.

"...Um, I could help, maybe..." Daibhid Chelonidae volunteered. "I mean, I'm a toon - and a tortoise - so there's not much they could do to me..."

"Good man." Third said.

"Need any help, Doctor?" the Brigadier inquired. "If we're dealing with the kind of rogues I think we are..."

Third considered. "Miss Allingham and myself should be able to handle ourselves if things get rough in the Three's TARDIS. What we'd need is someone who's fairly quick on their feet, to balance Daibhid - no offence, old chap."

"None taken." Daibhid Chelonidae assured him.

The Brigadier chuckled. "Never been the lightest dancer, Doctor. I think I'll sit this one out."

Captain Jack grinned. "Well, /I've/ never been one to pass up the chance to dance..."

"Glad to have you on board, Captain." Third said. "Oh, and Captain?"

"Yeah, Doc?"

Third winced. "I'm /not/ one for flirting, myself..."
Marin and Allie's party, having been provided with directions by Estandre (which Third had memorised, and Allie had recorded on her PDA), set out to find the Three's TARDIS.

It says something about Odrem that none of them - not even Third or Daibhid Chelonidae - stood out.

Zesca /was/ a spaceport, however; the native population had, over the years, got used to seeing a wide variety of people - in the most expansive sense of the word - pass through the city.

The Three's TARDIS was situated in one of the slightly more disreputable parts of Zesca, the sort of place familiar in cities across the galaxy, where very few people ventured out after dark, and those who /did/ went about their business as quickly as they could.

As they approached, Jack took in the surrounding architecture, raising an eyebrow. "Pretty fly-by-night operation, you ask me."

"Experience?" Third said.

"Yeah, pretty much." Jack said. "With a little work, you can get yourself in anywhere you want. These guys don't bother."

"True," Third observed. "Not too far off now..."

"Um, guys..." Daibhid Chelonidae said.

"Yes, Daibhid?"

"Hold it right there."

"...Never mind."

The little group found themselves facing two blasters and a longsword, one to each of the three cloaked figures who had accosted them.

"All right." the middle one said, pointing at Third. "You. The Time Lord. Play nice, and no-one gets hurt."

Third looked down his patrician nose at them. "Ah. I take it /you/ must be the ones hunting TARDISes."

"Got it in one. And we're not about to have the Time Lords come back from the dead and spoil the fun."

"A shame, that." Third observed.

"We grab you, the /rest/ of 'em back off - unless /you/ do something stupid."

"Oh, believe me," Third said. "I would never do anything of the sort."

The blaster shot took the sword-wielder from behind.

As the other two turned, Third karate-chopped one of them into unconsciousness, while Allie took care of the third with jucidious application of a pencil and a pocket calculator.

"Which includes warning you fellows of the person slipping up behind you." Third finished. "Thank you, my dear."

"Call it a favour." their rescuer said with a shrug. "These three have been after all the Gallifreyan technology they could get their hands on - that's why they came after you."

Her face and hands gleamed silver under the moonslight, the face framed by a dark bob of hair. She wore a black top and trousers, with a blaster holstered at her side.

"Thank you." Third said. "I'm the Doctor, and these are my associates Marin, Allie, Jack and Daibhid." He noted her eyes widen when he introduced himself, and stored it away for future reference.

"Nadine," their rescuer said. "Nadine Dartille."

"Our pleasure." Marin said.

Allie dipped. "Thank you."

"Hey," Daibhid said.

"Hel-lo..." Jack said.

"Now..." Third regarded the Three's bodies, rubbing his chin. Revealed, they looked to be human, with one significant difference - their hair colours were not Terran-normal. One of the two males had light blue hair, while the other had a shade of red not normally found in nature. The third was a girl with strikingly pink hair.

"We need to ask these fellows a few questions," Third said finally. "Their TARDIS isn't too far from here, and /one/ of them should have the key..." He noticed Nadine's eyes widen again at the word TARDIS, and added it to his store. Obviously familiar with another incarnation of his, but under what circumstances?

"Got it," Jack said, after a quick search of the Three.

"Good." Third said. "Allie, Daibhid, Jack, get these chaps under cover and keep an eye on them. Marin, Nadine, come with me."
They each heaved up one of the Three. "It's all right for you two," Daibhid muttered, "But even if I wasn't three feet tall..."

"Heavy lifting isn't your thing," Allie concluded. "That's what David always says. Unlike him, you've got an exostructure; let the shell take the weight."

Daibhid experimented, and found a position he was comfortable with. Of course, as a Toon, he could lift a near-infinite amount of weight in the correct circumstances[1], but that didn't mean he *liked* it. While it was true his shell helped distribute the weight, it was also more than enough encumberance for him all on its own.

"So, where are we going?" he asked, "There aren't many places you can take unconscious bodies where people don't get the wrong idea."

"True," admitted Jack, "but in *this* neighbourhood, I think people are careful not to have wrong ideas, just in case they turn out to be right ones."

Daibhid finally registered his surroundings. "Oh!" he said, "It's the Shades. Or the spaceport equivelent."

"Pretty much," agreed Allie. "If we drag them into an alley, the chances are no-one will care much. We just have to keep an eye on them until the others return." She frowned, "I wonder where they come from. They seem basically human, but that hair..."

"It's not dye," confirmed Jack, "I have years of experience in recognising when someone's enhancing their apperance."

Daibhid didn't comment. In his experience as a Toon, humans with pink hair were uncommon, but bright red and blue happened all the time.

[1]Only when it's *funny*.
[Part 1/3]

---

"Got you." the Doctor said, opening the door to the Three's TARDIS.

Together, he, Marin, and Nadine entered.

The first room they entered, rather to the Doctor's surprise, /wasn't/ the console room. Instead, it was rectangular, walls, floor and ceiling pale white, devoid of all ornamentation. In the middle of the room sat a rectangular table, three chairs behind it, one in front.

This, the Doctor suspected, was where the Three held audience, struck their deals, made contracts. Wouldn't want the clients to catch on that the Three's base was a TARDIS itself...

There was a door, just flush with the wall, on the far side of the table.

The Doctor marched towards it, and flung it open.

For a moment, he thought something had exploded inside the console room. It took him a moment to realise that the detritus scattered around bore more resemblance to what might be found in a Terran teenager's room - junk food wrappers, cans, various other drink containers.

How old /were/ the Three?, the Doctor wondered. In the dim light of the moons, they'd looked fairly young - teens, mid-twenties. If they really /were/ teenagers... well, it would explain the console room, for one thing...

"Be careful." he instructed Marin and Nadine.

Nadine wrinkled her nose. "No other life-signs in here... not for want of trying, though."

"That's a relief," Marin observed.

The Doctor gingerly made his way to the central console.

Communications, communications... found it. Now... open communications with Sweetheart, tweak signal so it was recognisably his...

The scanner flickered into life.

"Doctor?" Estandre said.

The Doctor grinned. "Hello, Estandre."

Estandre raised an eyebrow. "You're in the Three's TARDIS? Already?" He peered at Nadine. "Is she-?

The Doctor shook his head. "No, no. The Three decided to attack us on the way, and Nadine here jumped in to assist us. With her help, we managed to incapacitate them, and left them with the others."

Estandre's face darkened. "How did they find you?"

"/That/, we'll need to ask them." the Doctor said. "But that's not the only thing I found disturbing about the whole thing..."

"Oh?" Estandre said.

"They identified me as a Time Lord." the Doctor said.

Estandre frowned. "Strange... I can see their expecting a TARDIS, but a Time Lord? Hm." He focused on the Doctor once more. "What now?"

"With a lock on Sweetheart, I can make a short jump over to where we left the others, pick up them and the Three, and then jump to Sweetheart," the Doctor said. "It shouldn't be too hard."

Estandre nodded. "All right, Doctor. I'll see you back here."

The scanner blinked out.

"Right," the Doctor said. "Let me see..."

---

"Hm." Allie said, examining the Three's bodies.

"Something on your mind?" Jack asked.

"Mm." Allie said. "I'm just wondering why one of them chose to come at us with a sword..."

"Mm." Jack said, considering the sword. "Don't recognise the style, off-hand - I'm more an artillery sort of guy."

Allie raised an eyebrow. "I'm sure."

"It's not just the sword, though." Jack said. "The other boy, he's carrying a shuttle-"

Allie blinked. "A shuttle?"

"You use them in weaving," Jack explained. "Okay, so he's carrying a shuttle, and /she's/ carrying a sextant."

Allie frowned. "A sword, a shuttle, and a sextant? /Why?/"

"The sword, I can see," Jack said. "The other two... not a clue."

"What's so odd about that?" Daibhid said. "I mean, I carry a lot of stuff with me..."

Allie and Jack looked at each other, before deciding it wasn't worth it.

[Part 2/3]

---

Nadine Dartille watched the Doctor as his hands danced over the controls.

Her bioscan had revealed enough similarities between this Doctor and 'her' Doctor to identify them as the same species. Her best guess as to why they had the same name was that it was a designation - a title - given to a specific role in Gallifreyan intelligence. The agent who held the name might die - or retire, which was unlikely, given /her/ encounter with the Doctor - but the name would be passed on.

Which meant 'her' Doctor had most likely been replaced - or had yet to be assigned, given what she'd learned about Gallifrey.

Marin, Allie and Jack all mapped as members of the same species - this Doctor's associates, most likely.

A scan of Daibhid had revealed a living being made of ink and paint. The nanobots had been unable to posit how /that/ would be possible - but since Daibhid was /there/, it apparently /was/.

And 'Estandre' - an associate? A partner?

Hm.

She'd been curious, she freely admitted that. When she'd found out about the Three, and what they were doing, it'd seemed the perfect opportunity to find out a bit more about the Doctor and where he came from.

Plus, she doubted /he/ would have been happy with someone selling Gallifreyan technology on the black market.

Seeking out another Gallifreyan... she'd pretty much dismissed the idea out of hand. The fact they and the Doctor came from the same planet meant virtually nothing, given the average planetary population.

That she /had/ met a Doctor...

Just her luck, she reflected wryly. She'd finally managed to run into the Doctor again - except it wasn't the one she'd known...

---

The Doctor was never one to look a gift horse in the mouth. Equally, however, he wasn't one to take it for granted, either.

Nadine had been keeping track of the Three, /that/ much was apparent. She'd found out what they were doing, had started following them...

The question was 'why'? What was /her/ interest in this? She knew of him and the TARDIS, and /that/ might well have led her to investigate Gallifreyan technology...

...but towards what end?

Best to keep her near, one way or another. If she meant harm, he could put a stop to it as quickly as possible, while if she wanted to help, she would be in a position to do so easily.

She knew one of his future incarnations, and the TARDIS... perhaps that future incarnation had told her not to tell the present him? Or perhaps he simply hadn't mentioned this meeting.

Oh dear. If the future him had messed up Nadine's life...

There were times, the Doctor reflected, he really didn't like having to deal with his future incarnations...
[Part 3/3]

---

"...And here we go," the Doctor said, striding towards the front door of the Three's TARDIS. "Bring the Three with you."

His five associates shared a Look, and with a certain degree of effort managed to haul the Three out into Sweetheart's party room.

Nadine boggled momentarily at what she saw - the last thing she'd expected was a TARDIS configured as a party.

Estandre strode through the crowd. "Doctor."

"Estandre." the Doctor said.

"So... these are the Three, mm?" Estandre said, regarding them. "Hm..."

He beckoned Ruthie over. "Ruthie, get some of the other trolls, and get them to get the Three somewhere safe."

"...Safe?" Ruthie echoed.

"While the Three may not be Pro-Fun," Estandre said, "the Hoedown, however, is. And treating a captured adversary with respect is, while not /Fun/, certainly more Fun than it is Nasty."

Ruthie inclined her head in respect. "Understood."

She bustled off to round up some of the other Pro-Fun Trolls.

"Pilot?" Maid Sweetheart murmured, stepping out from a corridor.

"Yes?" Estandre said.

"I can identify three new sources of Divine power on board." Maid Sweetheart paused. "And I can tell you the three goddesses they belonged to."

She leaned down, removing the sword, the sextant and the shuttle from the bodies of the Three.

Estandre held. "Three- Beloved, are you telling me-?"

"Yes, Pilot." Maid Sweetheart said quietly.

She laid the sword down on the floor.

"This is the sword of Agave the Magnificent, Muse of Gallifrey."

She rested the sextant by the sword's side.

"This is the sextant of Philomela the Romaunt, Muse of Gallifrey."

Finally, she laid down the shuttle.

"And this is the shuttle of Penelope the Weaver-"

"-Muse of Gallifrey," Estandre finished gravely.

Jack blinked. "The /who/?"

"The Muses of Gallifrey," the Doctor answered. "The gods who oversaw the inspiration of Gallifrey."

A certain sadness seemed to come over him.

"They were driven out when Rassilon came to power - when he drove magic from Gallifrey, and cold reason ruled for ever more.

"They were six in number: Electra Elegiast, Anastasia Everborn, Chloe the Futurist, Agave the Magnificent, Philomela the Romaunt, and-"

"Penelope the Weaver." Jack finished. "What happened?"

"Electra and Anastasia managed to make it to twenty-first century Earth," the Doctor said. "I'll introduce you sometime."

Jack raised his eyebrows.

"Chloe died in the flight from Gallifrey," the Doctor continued. "Agave, Philomela, and Penelope... died sometime afterwards, on the long journey from Gallifrey to Earth. To the best of anyone's knowledge, they left nothing of themselves behind, save in memory alone."

Jack nodded.

Estandre and the Doctor regarded the Three.

"These three children found the last artifacts of the lost Goddess-Muses of Gallifrey," Estandre said, his voice so soft it was barely a whisper. "And they used them to find the last artifacts of Gallifrey itself.

He sighed, his centuries weighing down upon him. "And this is the best they could do.

"Were the situation otherwise, I might laugh.

"For some reason, however, I find I am not in the mood."

Jack raised a finger. "Wait a minute. How come she-" He indicated Maid Sweetheart "-can identify them?"

"Because she and I were the ones who brought Electra and Anastasia to Earth." Estandre said.

Jack's eyes widened.

"Having carried two of them already - and changed by the experience - I rather suspect Beloved is one of the few entities who could identify the touch of a Muse of Gallifrey." Estandre said. "If she says these are the last of the lost, I am rather inclined to take her word for it."

"Thank you." Jack said, a new respect in his voice.

Estandre sighed. "The problem /now/ is what to do with them - and with the Three who carried them."
[1/2]

"I have a place for them, Pilot," Maid Sweetheart said. "But you are correct. We need to decide what to do with them in the long-term.

"With your permission?"

Estandre nodded.

Maid Sweetheart took up the artifacts, and disappeared back into the corridor.

Ruthie bustled up, a small horde of Pro-Fun Trolls behind her.

"Okay, guys." she said. "Divide up into three groups, and each group choose one of the Three."

The trolls clustered together in what appeared to be an extended rugby scrum, with a certain amount of excited discussion.

Finally, they split apart into three groups, each group heading for one of the Three.

"All right," Ruthie said. "Everyone, get yourselves in a position to lift."

The trolls readied themselves.

"All right. On the count of three, lift.

"One, two, three... lift!"

The trolls lifted the unconscious Three up off the floor.

"All right. Now follow me." Ruthie said.

She headed off towards another corridor, the three groups of Pro-Fun Trolls following behind. The various party-goers moved out of their way.

Estandre sighed, and looked at the small party of six.

"Thank you," he said. "There are still many questions that need to be answered, but for the moment, the Three are out of the picture.

"Nadine? Might I have a word?"

Nadine nodded.

"Thank you," Estandre said again, and he and Nadine disappeared into the crowd.

"Well," Jack said eventually. "Looks like it's back to the party for us. Drinks are on me."

Third grinned. "Good fellow."
[2/2]

Estandre led Nadine to a quiet, secluded corner of Sweetheart's party room, where the two of them sat down.

Finally, Estandre sighed.

"My apologies for not being a better host. As you can tell, we find ourselves in the middle of a... rather stressful situation."

Nadine nodded. She'd guessed why he wanted to talk to her; to distract himself from what was going on while he took the opportunity to let himself unwind.

"I am Estandre, host of the Pro-Fun Hoedown."

"Nadine." Nadine said. "Nadine Dartille."

Estandre nodded. "A pleasure, Miss Dartille. If I might explain something of the Hoedown...?"

"Of course." Nadine said.

"The Pro-Fun Hoedown is an event devoted to the celebration and promotion of fun." Estandre said. "It is based on Earth, and operates on an /approximately/ annual basis, using the Terran solar calendar.

"I am given to understand, however, that these events have a habit of metamorphosing into strange and unusual adventures across time, space and reality..."

Nadine raised an eyebrow.

"You are free to leave at any time," Estandre continued. "This is a /Pro-Fun/ Hoedown, after all, and if you are not having fun, then... you are free to go.

"The sign outside, however, says 'All Welcome' - and it is my hope that you at least take an opportunity to look around before you go."

Nadine inclined her head. "Thank you."

Estandre nodded. "Now, as to our present situation...

"Both the Doctors and myself are Time Lords. The last Time Lords."

Nadine nodded at the first part; her bioscan of Estandre had confirmed as much. When he reached the second part, her eyes widened.

"We have been on the trail of a band of... TARDIS-thieves, for want of a better term." Estandre went on. "People intent on tracking down and obtaining the remaining TARDISes, by whatever means they could. Towards what end, we have yet to find out.

"As the last Time Lords... the Doctors and I have a certain duty, and a certain responsibility, to ensure that Gallifrey's surviving artifacts do not fall into the hands of those who would use them with malicious intent.

"Hence the present course of action."

Nadine nodded, understanding. She knew how powerful a motive responsibilty could be.

"If I might make so bold as to ask," Estandre said, "how was it /you/ found yourself in this situation?"

Nadine sighed. "There were... rumours, in certain exclusive circles, that if you knew who to meet and where to go, if you had the money to meet the asking price, then it might... just might... be possible to get your hands on a piece of Gallifreyan technology. And perhaps... just perhaps... if you had, say, the wealth of an empire behind you, then you /might/ just be able to get a TARDIS of your own.

"Somehow, I didn't think the Doctor I knew would approve.

"So I followed the rumours, from planet to planet, trying to get a lead; a name, a place, a base of operation.

"Finally, I managed to track them down to Odrem.

"Which is where I ran into /this/ Doctor."

"I see..." Estandre murmured. "If I might ask... which Doctor did you first meet?"

"Medium height, but looked taller." Nadine said. "Long, curly brown hair. Long face. Changeable eye colour. Looked as if he'd escaped from a theatrical costumer's."

"That will be Eighth." Estandre said. "/Hopefully/, the one here comes from a period /after/ he met you..."

Nadine's /other/ eyebrow raised.

"If you wish, I can find him, and see if he /does/ remember." Estandre said.

Nadine hesitated. She wasn't sure she wanted to take the chance he /didn't/ know her.

"Then again, if he /does/ remember you, I rather suspect you'd find out in short measure - without the need for prompting." Estandre added.

Nadine managed a grin. "Thank you."

Estandre inclined his head. "A pleasure. Now..." He glanced at the party. "I fear I must leave you."

Nadine nodded. "Of course."

She and Estandre rose from their seats.

"Thank you for your time, Miss Dartille," Estandre said.

Nadine inclined her head. "And you."

Estandre allowed himself an appreciative smile.

Then the two of them headed their separate ways.
"All right," Ruthie said. "Everyone, get yourselves in a position to lift."

The trolls readied themselves.

"All right. On the count of three, lift.

"One, two, three... lift!"

The trolls lifted the unconscious Three up off the floor.

"All right. Now follow me." Ruthie said.

She headed off towards another corridor, the three groups of Pro-Fun Trolls following behind. The various party-goers moved out of their way.


There was much grunting and heaving and shifting as the brigade of trolls, under Ruthie's command, got the unconscious Three propped up on the sofa. Right now, they didn't look all that dangerous. Though she wasn't the size of a mouse, and they weren't trying to steal her TARDIS.

When it was all over, there was much mopping of brows, and then, Ruthie stood back, hands on her hips, and surveyed the scene. While Eloise was gone, she was not just Deputy Hostess, she was Acting Hostess, and as such, she took her responsibilities seriously.

At either end of the sofa, doubling as end tables, were two mini-fridges, well stocked with colas and grape and orange soda. On the coffee table in front of the sofa was one super sized bucket of cheesey puffs, one of nacho popcorn, and one of chocolate marshmallaw cakes. Close to hand were several handheld electronic games, a pinball machine, and a foosball table.

Ruthie nodded with satisfaction, certain that when these three came to, they'd be entertained and distracted enough not to be too distraught, bored, or otherwise prompted to go look for trouble.

Though as the other pro-fun trolls filed out, and Ruthie followed, closing the door behind her, she had a funny, squirmy feeling in her tummy that it was Trouble who went looking for the Three, and not the other way around. And when Eloise got back, it would be the whole Hoedown that would go looking for that Trouble.
"I have a place for them, Pilot," Maid Sweetheart said. "But you are correct. We need to decide what to do with them in the long-term.

"With your permission?"

Estandre nodded.

Maid Sweetheart took up the artifacts, and disappeared back into the corridor.

Beloved knew exactly where to put the three artifacts. She and Pilot had been planning on the possibility of their recovery for a long time -- even by a TARDIS's measure. Of course, when they began their quest, back when Pilot was still in his first generation, and just graduating from the Time Lord Accademy (six, hard-fought, regenerations ago), their mutual hope had been recover the muses with them. But, sadly, that was not to be.

Still, she knew that Amber (previously Electra), now Muse of metafiction, would like to have these, her sisters' artifacts. A trip to Subreality was in order, after this was all over.

Beloved strode to the Library, and, opening a panel between the shelves for History and Literature, slipped the three artifacts into the special chamber she had created for them -- a pocket of a special dimension, designed to keep them safe. Pilot did not know she had kept the pocket; his last regeneration had been so unexpected, and its success so uncertain, that she'd been afraid to tell him, at first. And the right time just never happened, after that.

Now, she had someone else to worry about -- the Nonny's TARDIS, rebuilding herself within Beloved's zero room. Would the presence of the Artifacts affect that ship's consciousness, as the pressence of Electra had affected her own?

There was no way Beloved could know for sure.

Just then, Ruthie peeked her head around the door. "Sweetheart?" she asked.

"Yes, Ruthie?"

"We put the Three in the secondary game room," the turquoise troll said. "They're still out cold, but um, could you... um, just to be sure that, um..."

Beloved chuckled. "Yes, I'll rearrange things to make sure the corridors in that section circle around on themselves."

"Thanks!" Ruthie said. "I guess I'll go tell Estandre, then." And she trotted off.
Estandre allowed himself an appreciative smile.

Then the two of them headed their separate ways.

Estandre stood at Beloved's main console, one hand resting, lightly, on its smooth granite surface. His gaze was on his reflection in the stone, but that is not what his mind was seeing. He was thinking of the Three, and what a brief tour of their console room told him about them.

Children, all three (though he was certain all three would protest loudly at that designation). They were barely old enough to remember the Time War, much less understand its implications, or the potential power of the implements they were trading. And yet, their operation was far more sophicated than an adolescent swap. They were being used. The question was: by whom?

Estandre sighed, and rubbed the back of his neck. It wouldn't have been the first, or last, time that children would be used as soldiers in war. And every time he encountered it, it made him feel a little bit sick.

At least, by the state of their console room, it was fairly clear that they weren't under mind control. That was, perhaps, a point in the Hoedowners' favor.

"Captain, sir? Uh, I mean Lord Estandre? Um... I don't mean to interupt, but..."

Estandre chuckled. "It's okay, Ruthie," he said. "What is it?"

"We've got the Three settled. I think they'll be comfortable, for a while, at least."

He nodded. "Good."

"Excuse me again, but, um..."

"Yes?"

"I don't think they're all that bad, really -- I think it's someone else, probably."

Estandre couldn't help smiling. "I was thinking exactly the same thing," he said.

Ruthie rocked forward on her toes, ever so slightly. "Ooh! Really?" She paused, then, and cocked her head to one side. "But, um, what if the 'someone else' tries looking for them, on Odrem, and they're not there, anymore?"

"That," Estandre said, serious again, "is a very real concern."