‘Kuang-Shi’ is a story I wrote way back in 2002. It’s one of the Legacy stories I’ve been most looking forward to revising. Ten years is a long time, and there’s much about that story which needs fixing. Or more like beating into shape. And so this week I’ve started revamping it! The core story is the same, the events are, more or less, as people will remember them. Only this time it will all make sense, there’ll be some real depth to the characters, to the dark journey they all take in this story. And there will be loads of new material.
The book is due out at the start of 2013, but here’s a sneak peek at the revised first chapter…
The air frizzled and an outline of three people appeared. Within seconds they had solidified, standing in a circled off area under a large cedar tree. The Doctor was the first to act, removing his hands from his two young friends. He looked around, rubbed the bronzed amulet hanging from his neck and muttered to himself.
‘So, not Westminster Abby, then.’
The young man and woman looked at each, smiled and looked up at the sunny sky. Almost in unison they raised a hand to protect their eyes from the glaring sun.
‘This is Earth, isn’t it?’ asked the woman.
The Doctor turned to face her. ‘Yes, Alf, it certainly is Earth, but not where I expected us to materialise.’
‘Nice one, Doctor.’ Alf removed her sunglasses from one of the pockets of her combat trousers and placed them over her eyes. She looked over at Nick who was putting on a less advanced pair of sunglasses. ‘Nick, I’m home,’ she said, and the Doctor grinned behind her back.
After almost a year in the 26th Century it felt nice to be back on Earth. He had to admit he did miss the old place, but probably not as much as Alf. For her, she didn’t even remember her homeworld – the future Earth had been consumed by the Cybermen, and made uninhabitable as a result.
Nick subtly squeezed Alf’s hand, not that the Doctor noticed, of course.
He smiled to himself. ‘Well, we are in the correct year, although not in the place I wanted to be. We were supposed to arrive in Westminster Abby, just in time to witness Andrew marry Fergie. Still,’ he added, checking his watch, ‘we appear to be in the right temporal location. July 23rd 1986.’
He wandered off to look at the stone wall, overgrown with foliage. ‘Highgate Cemetery unless I am mistaken.’
Nick looked around. ‘How can you tell that?’
‘This the Lebanon Circle, which means we’re in the East cemetery.’ The Doctor looked over at Alf. ‘I brought us to Earth on purpose, for you. Neither Nick nor I have homes we can return to, but you at least deserve to see your home.’
Alf was still smiling. ‘Thanks, Doctor.’
‘Least I can do. After all it is my fault that you lost your memory. Kind of.’
Alf looked around, awkwardly. ‘Look, Nick, do you mind if I go off on my own for a bit?’
‘I…’ Nick clearly did mind, but the Doctor stepped in before Nick could say anything else.
‘That’s a good idea. Reacquaint yourself with London. Explore your roots a bit. Who knows, being here may spark some memory in you?’
‘Hope so. Remember that jacket I had? The one that looked like it once had things stitched to it?’
The Doctor nodded. ‘Yes. Whatever happened to it?’
‘Lost it during the war somewhere. Maybe in the Settii cluster?’ Alf shrugged. ‘Don’t matter. Point is, the last badge to fall off, when I was working at the internment camp, was this little black and silver thing that has “1987” embroided onto it. This is 1986, right?’
‘Hmm.’ The Doctor could see where Alf was going. He wanted her to find her roots, but if that badge came from 1987, then it followed so did Alf. What could he do, though? Could he really deny Alf this opportunity? No. This universe was not the one from which she originated, so maybe she never existed on this Earth.
The Doctor hoped so.
‘Okay, there’s an Underground station nearby. Archway, I believe.’ He reached into his deep pockets and pulled out a role of notes. ‘Money. Look after yourself. You can use the amulet to find us.’
Alf looked down at her own amulet. ‘Yeah?’
‘Yes, just hold it, think of us, and it will guide you. Low telepathic feild,’ the Doctor added with his brightest smile. ‘Not as good as the TARDIS, but…’
‘Works for me.’ Alf smiled and looked over at Nick, who was standing a little distance away from them.
The Doctor noticed a strange look pass across his face; disappointment.
Nick looked away.
Alf shrugged. ‘Fine,’ she said softly. ‘Cheers, Doctor, catch you in a bit.’
Nick watched her as she walked out of sight. ‘That was nice of you,’ he said, coming over to the Doctor. He didn’t sound so happy.
‘Well I owe both you and Alf a lot. Besides, you and I have to talk. We haven’t really spoken since you left for your mission to New Mars, and then, I seem to recall, we didn’t part on the best of terms.’
Nick scratched his head. ‘Yeah, keep forgetting that.’ He nodded. ‘Clone you on Nova Mondas.’
‘Quite.’ The Doctor sniffed. ‘Can you smell that?’
It was a faint burning. The Doctor looked around the small circle, and with a cry of excitement pointed to a small build up of energy hanging before the cedar tree. They both walked over to it.
‘What is it?’ Nick asked.
The Doctor probed it with a chubby finger and pulled back quickly. ‘Ow!’ He sucked the tip of his finger. ‘That hurt.’
‘So, what is it then?’
‘The remains of some kind of temporal-spatial portal. At a guess I would say that it was this that pulled us slightly off course.’ With a pop the fissure closed up and faded into nothingness. ‘And now it is gone. Hmm.’
The Doctor looked around. It had been a while since he’d travelled through time, and his time senses were rusty. He concentrated. As a Time Lord he should have been able to sense disruptions in time, but that ability had weakened ever since the planar shift that had altered reality around him.
Ever since Gallifrey had gone.
He removed his amulet and waved it around in front of him.
‘Some kind of divining rod?’ Nick asked.
The Doctor was impressed. ‘Yes, actually,’ he said slowly. ‘I’m fine tuning the amulet’s temporal field to the portal; if it returns the amulet will let me know. There!’ He pocketed the amulet.
‘So, this talk then?’
The Doctor looked at Nick with a smile. ‘Yes. And I know just the place!’
Nick sat down as the Doctor went to fetch some drinks. They were in a small coffee shop just off Hampstead Heath, and Nick was in the best mood he had been in for half a year.
The Doctor is alive!
Things had happened so fast since the Doctor had walked into the shop of Alpha Centauri, carrying a teddy bear and a Ming vase. Nick had tried to slow things down, get some sense out of the Doctor, but it had been a whirlwind of activity and explanations. Nick did not doubt the Doctor, he never would, but he hadn’t had the time to truly process everything.
‘What about Falex?’ Nick asked as the Doctor sat at the table and passed Nick a drink.
‘He’s where he needs to be once again.’ Although he put on a smile, Nick could tell the Doctor was lying.
‘But you promised to look after him, we both did.’
‘I know that, Nick, but when I met his aunty on Taureas II she made me promise to return him home. I should have returned him straight away… but the war…’
A lot of things went crazy with the war. Nick could at least understand that. ‘But I should never have taken him to Chronos with me, I should have…’
The Doctor looked up from his drink sharply. ‘Chronos?’
‘Yeah, some totally screwed up planet. Void pirates, living sky barrels…’
The Doctor rubbed his beard. ‘Oh, a planet. I thought…’ He shook his head. ‘It doesn’t matter. Look, Nick, I understand what you’re saying, but Falex will be better with his own people. Remember what you told me about the Black Sun Station. What Falex did there. While the war went on, while I was in hiding so the clone could do his work, I looked into what Theahmin said. No, not said, implied. She told me it was not safe for “someone like him” to be off Taureas II. And then there was something Alf noticed; that there were no children to be seen anywhere in the capital city of that world.’
Nick didn’t like the sound of that. ‘Then why send him back?’
‘Because of what I discovered. Nice coffee, don’t you think?’ the Doctor asked abruptly, even though he’d yet to pick his cup up.
Nick knew this one. Deflection. He’d seen it practiced many times; heck, he’d done it enough with Falex, especially after he’d thought the Doctor had died and Falex continued to barrage him with questions.
He sat back and folded his arms. ‘This isn’t going to work on me. I’ve been without you for months; I almost died! Lost the use of my legs.’
Now it was the Doctor’s turn to furrow his brow. ‘What? But you’re…’
‘Implants.’ Nick sat forward again, and picked up his cup. ‘Let me tell you what happened on JS-439,’ he said, and outlined the events that led to him being crippled, and the subsequent implants given to him by the Martian surgeon Zylarx, and then the best Draconian cyberneticists who fixed them after the war. While he did this, he sipped the coffee. It was a strong taste, quite unlike anything he’d ever tasted before.
‘No other planet has ever come up with anything like coffee,’ the Doctor pointed out. ‘Oh, there’s worlds which claim to have drinks called coffee this and coffee that, but none quite have the right kind of beans. Remind me to take you the early 21st Century sometime. Coffee seems to be the taking over the Earth by 2011.’
Nick chewed his lip. ‘I don’t think Cybermen really have a taste for coffee,’ he said, trying to keep his tone light, but it was difficult when he remembered how many had died because the Cybermen.
‘Yes. I keep forgetting. Need to get used to this again.’ The Doctor finished his drink. ‘What about Alf?’
Nick nearly spilt his drink; such was the unexpected way in which the Doctor had changed the topic. He eyed his mentor. Had Alf been talking to him? No, of course not, she wouldn’t have had the chance. Unless it was before the war… only, there was nothing to tell the Doctor then.
Was there even something to tell him now? Nick wasn’t so sure. But he remembered the way Alf had massaged his shoulders before the ceremony on Draconia…
‘Erm, what about her?’
‘She’s only with me because I am the only link to her past. But she doesn’t belong with me, nor does she belong on Alpha Centauri. That life was forced on her by the Dommervoy.’
‘Seems to me, mate, the entire last year was forced on all of us.’
‘That is true.’ The Doctor pulled the amulet out of his pocket. ‘Nothing.’
‘What do you think that portal thing was?’
‘No idea, Nick. But whatever it was, it was powerful enough to pull us off course.’
Nick stood up. ‘Then maybe we should head back to the cemetery? Can’t sit here drinking coffee all day.’
The Doctor beamed at him. ‘That’s the spirit, Nick! Now we’ve cleared the air, let’s go and make ourselves useful while Alf is off recollecting.’
At the mention of Alf, Nick paused. The Doctor stopped in the doorway and looked back.
‘What is it?’
‘You don’t think Alf will want to stay here, do you?’
The Doctor thought about it for a second. ‘I don’t know, Nick, that’s up to her.’
Nick sighed inwardly. Yeah, it was…
There was definitely something familiar about the place, almost as if she were visiting somewhere she had grown up in and only had a vague memory of. Which, Alf considered, wasn’t that far from the truth.
She had distant snatches of London, as she was now realising. Passing through the various tube stations on the way from Highgate to Oxford Street awoke certain feelings in her.
There was nothing too specific, just a sense that she had been on a similar journey before. A child bored out her head, while a woman sat beside her, head buried in a magazine. Presumably her mother. Someone who encouraged strong feelings in Alf, either way.
She stepped out of Oxford Circus Station and looked around. So many people!
People like her. Humans! For so long it had only been her. Sure there were plenty of humanoid races in the Galactic Federation, those who looked almost human, but even Nick, the closest to human she had found out there, wasn’t really human. During their long mission to find those spies for the Cybermen, the Doctor had explained a little something about Nick. That he’d once been part of this almost-omnipotent race called the Millennium People, but something had happened that had turned him human. Or at least a close approximation of one. That should have bothered Alf, but living on Alpha Centauri tended to expand one’s horizons. Some of her best friends had been non-human. People she respected, and trusted. But at least being around Nick, and to some extent, the Doctor, made Alf feel a little closer to her own people.
Now here she was. Once again on Earth, surrounded by real human people!
She set off down Oxford Street, looking for somewhere to eat real greasy, unhealthy food. The kind only humans could make.
A number 88 bus passed her by, and she looked up at it. Snatches of memory came back to her. She could see herself as a young girl, with a bunch of other girls, on a bus as it drove up Oxford Street, intent on visiting Tower Records in Piccadilly Circus. She was sitting next to the window, looking down at the sea of people, while a brown girl chatted to her. They were laughing about something, although Alf could not remember what. She thought hard. That girl – her best mate. What was her name?
It was frustrating, but at least it was a memory. Alf smiled. Thanks, Doctor, she thought, a real trip down memory lane.
As she walked she noticed the bill-posts pasted to closed shop fronts. She had seen similar things on the trains. It was an imitation of the Kitchener posters used in 1914, a recruitment campaign of the First World War (she dimly recalled learning about this in History at Greenford Secondary School – more random memories!).
UNIT WANTS YOU, it said in bold letters, with JOIN THE UNITED NATION’S ARMY! GOD SAVE THE KING written underneath in a smaller font.
Ever since she’d entered Archway Station Alf had the feeling that something wasn’t quite right. These posters confirmed it. She had never heard of UNIT, and since when did Earth have a United Nation’s Army?
Then there was the mention of a king… Alf was pretty sure that the UK had a queen in 1986.
She shook her head and continued walking. Maybe the Doctor could explain it later. For now she wanted a good old fashioned burger.
A man walked a few feet behind Alf, unseen by her. Short blonde hair and eyes like blue steel, he followed her, unable to believe what he was seeing.
He smiled. He knew this was a different world from Styria, but it still felt familiar to him, as strange as it might be. Full of machines, carriages without horses, and people wearing the strangest clothes. It was, he thought, the perfect place to hide.
Until he saw her.
For a moment he thought the blood countess had followed him, that she too had discovered one of those magic doors, but as he reached out his mind he felt nothing. No presence at all. The young woman, although an exact double, was empty.
Yet, somehow, she looked just like the Countess Dorothea.
And so he followed her, intrigued, memories of their short-lived marriage filling his mind.
Nick buckled but the Doctor caught him before he hit the ground. Nick took a deep breath and steadied himself. He looked at the Doctor, and saw the sympathetic smile.
‘The implants?’ the Doctor enquired.
Nick wasn’t so sure.
Yes, pain from the implants was a constant, one his the pain-centre of his brain was getting used to. Like an itch he could not scratch. This was different.
‘Ain’t got a Scooby,’ he said, rubbing his legs.
The Doctor nodded, then blinked. ‘A what?’
‘A Scooby. Scooby-Doo. Clue. You know.’
‘Oh. Rhyming slang. Okay. Well, come on, let’s uni.’ The Doctor smiled at his own cleverness but Nick only looked confused. ‘University don, move on?’
Nick smiled through the pain, and raised his eyebrows. ‘You made that up.’
‘I did not!’
Nick laughed, folding his arms. ‘Yes you did.’
‘I… did, yes.’ The Doctor cleared his throat and glanced down to the pavement below him. He looked up with a cheeky grin. ‘Right. You fit enough to carry on?’
‘Thanks,’ Nick said, realising what his friend was attempting to do. He practiced running on the spot. ‘Yep, all systems go.’
‘Come on then.’
Alf bit into the quarter pounder with relish, and chewed. It was amazing! She didn’t even mind the sharp taste of the pickled gherkin; it just felt good to eat real Earth food again. The Doctor had done his best back on Alpha Centauri, but it hadn’t been the same.
She looked out of the window as she chewed. People continued about their business, unaware of the phenomenal moment Alf was having. To her, that only made things even more incredible.
For the first time in ages she felt truly alive. Vibrant!
She blinked. Across the road she thought she saw… She looked closer.
Nah, it couldn’t have been. Although it did look like Nick. Their eyes connected and the man looked away.
She closed the polystyrene burger box and picked up her milkshake. She could have sworn it was Nick – even though he was dressed in some ancient looking clothes, and his hair was short.
As Alf moved from the table she bumped into a McDonald’s crewmember. ‘Oh, sorry,’ she said, then stopped.
Beneath the cap there was no mistaking the rounded face. It was Alf. Younger, less worn, but Alf nonetheless. The younger looked at the elder with equal surprise.
‘Gordon Bennett!’ the younger exclaimed.
The rest of the walk to Highgate Cemetery was uneventful. They passed the obelisks that gated the shaded lane, and Nick pointed to one of the nearby tombs. On the wall next to the iron door hung an inverted torch.
‘What’s with the torches, Doctor?’
‘They are an ancient symbol of death. Indeed, according to old Earth mythology…’ He tailed off and pulled the amulet out of his pocket.
In the centre a sapphire glow emanated.
‘It’s back!’ he said, his bearded face lighting up. He set off at run.
Nick watched him hare off and groaned. Why does he need to run around so much? Bracing himself for the pain, Nick set off at a brisk jog after the Doctor. His route took him through the two rings of catacombs. As soon as he emerged from the inner ring Nick came to an abrupt stop.
The Doctor stood there, a look of total disbelief on his face. Nick looked beyond the Doctor to the portal that hung before the massive cedar tree.
A man was standing by the portal, looking around as if dazed by something. He was dressed in clothes from a simpler time.
A man from their past.
The Doctor stepped forward and held a hand out. ‘Bradley?’ he asked, his voice choked.
The young man turned to look at the Doctor. Nick took a step back. There was no doubt about it, the man before them was Bradley DeMars – one time companion of the Doctor, and a man who had died on Nova Mondas in 2101. Nick remembered it clearly.
This was not good.
‘Erm, hi,’ Bradley said.
Alf stepped back and looked herself over. She could not believe it. Then it came to her. Summer 1986, and with a month to go before her sixteenth birthday she had been doing work experience in McDonald’s on Oxford Street. She had hated it.
‘Ere, how come you look like me?’ asked the younger Alf. She peered closer. ‘You are me, ain’t you?’
‘Yeah.’ Alf was not sure what to say.
Young Alf grinned. ‘I knew it! Knew I wasn’t from Earth, no way I’d be from that naff family. Time travel,’ she asked.
All the name badge said was ‘trainee’. Alf shook her head. She needed to know something important. The most important thing ever. ‘What’s my name?’
‘What? You don’t know? But you’re me…’
‘From a future where you’ve lost your memory.’
Young Alf looked crestfallen. ‘Brilliant.’ She shook her head. ‘Well, I know what it ain’t. It ain’t Dorothy, that’s for sure.’
Dorothy. Yes, that sounded right somehow. Only there was something else that came with the name. A sense of disappointment.
‘Call me Ace, that’s what everyone else calls me.’
‘Ace?’ Alf repeated the name to herself. She thought back to the jacket that she had left in Earth’s Pride. There used to be a name on the back of it, but all that was left was an ‘A’. When Vasek had suggested she call herself Alf, she’d figured that made sense of the ‘A’. But now… She reached out for the girl. ‘Listen! You have to tell me…’
Alf’s hand connected with Ace’s shoulder and time seemed to stand still around them. They blinked in unison.
There was a crackle of energy and the two of them hit the floor together.
Kuang-Shi © 2002, 2012 by Andy Frankham-Allen, All Rights Reserved
‘Time Amulet’ design © 2012 by Mark Pilbeam/Frankallen Books