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Srebrna, Skald Arkadii (and thoughts on writing)

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Double Pride Double Trouble – CH 04

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Chapter 4: And we plan the same plans

The Plan was a simple piece of paper stuck to the wardrobe door, with each main point spawning several smaller ones. Each was carefully bulleted or numbered in thick, colourful marker and main points were underscored.
“Mom makes plans like this for every family event. She is the organiser and keeps everyone to their deadlines. Only she makes it on the computer, so she can add points when she wants, and she sends e-mails with reminders to everyone.”
Rose nodded slowly.
“Dad uses stuff like this to prepare for our trips, or when I’m training before a contest – he plans my exercise and preparation for weeks before. I used to think it was stupid because I had to spend all that time on doing unnecessary stuff long before the competition was supposed to start, but then I started getting much better…”
“Competition?”
She looked at her sister in surprise for a moment.
“Horse riding.”
Mina sat on her bed with a groan.
“Lord. Horses.”
“What? Don’t tell me you’re afraid of them!”
Mina cringed silently.
“Can’t you, like, pretend?” Rose finally asked, irritated just a bit.
“For two months? With big, smelly, snorting and stomping animals?”
“They’re not that bad! And Star is the best little mare I’ve ever seen!”
Mina groaned.
“I just hope there is no contest for me to show in in the fall.”
“Yep, you’re lucky here. You’ll just have to ride her every day, to make sure she doesn’t start growing fat.”
“Argh.”
“You just have to deal with one horse” Rose shrugged. “I’ll have to deal with the London underground.”

#

The Plan had three main headers
FAMILY
SCHOOL
ORIENTATION

Under Family, girls listed
* names
* faces
* who likes who

And that was quite enough to keep them occupied for the first week.

“Grandma doesn’t like mom, or me” Mina explained, scratching her nose and pointing to the faces on the photo she found from Jane’s birthday picnic. “Grandpa actually loves Mom the best, because she plays chess with him and reads all the same books. He is a retired engineer and Mom says he was the one who made everyone stop nagging her when she wanted to get a degree in programming. Because grandma said it was not a proper feminine thing to do. So grandma always touts how aunt Jane studied child psychology and that it is the proper thing to do.”
Rose nodded, making small notes on the thick notepad.
“And what about the other aunts?”
“This one, here. Mary is the third, she’s two years younger than Mom. She is a historian, writes descriptions of old churches and little chapels and stuff like this. Show her a ceiling painted with angels and she can spend a day analysing the colours used, the type of gilding, the size of the brush and even if the painter was standing or maybe lay on his back. It doesn’t sound fascinating when I say it, but she can make it like a story of what the painter’s life used to be in various times. Really cool stuff, she helped me with some fab school projects.”
“Next?”
“Here, Kitty. Catherine, but Mom hates… ah!” Mina’s face brightened. “That’s why!”
Rose frowned.
“You mean we have two aunts named Catherine?”
“Yep, but only one is terrible. Aunt Kitty is fun. She works at some office, but loves building stuff – like, mechanical things. Her husband – uncle Ted – jokes that one day he will buy an auto repair shop just so that aunt Kitty can get greasy up to her elbows without feeling guilty and having to wash it off before work. She loves to ride this enormous bike – and that’s how she met uncle Ted – his bike broke down in the middle of nowhere and she helped him to get it started again.”
Rose blinked.
“A bike? Like, a motorbike?”
“Duh. Sure, a motorbike. She helped him fix the engine – clear the flues or whatever it was. He was supposed to go camping with some mates but ended up chasing her for some fifty kilometers, because she dropped her documents when she was done with his bike. And she thought he was a crazy biker murderer and that he was trying to catch her. And because she went over the speed limit, the police pulled her over and asked for documents. She didn’t have any…”
“Of course.”
“And there comes uncle Ted, ‘all in shiny leather armour’ as she says, and hands them her wallet, saying something like ‘You forgot your papers again, love’ and she couldn’t even hit him because it was in front of a traffic policeman. Once the police ticketed them – both of them – he apologised for frightening her and asked her out to a dinner.”
“That’s crazy.”
“That’s what grandma says. She still doesn’t trust uncle Ted, but Mom thinks he’s great for aunt Kitty. And he promised he would teach me to ride, but aunt Kitty hit him with a newspaper and said that if anyone is teaching her nieces to ride, it will be her.”
Rose’s eyes widened.
“Aunt Catherine would have a kitten if she saw me on a motorbike.”
Mina snorted.
“We’ll have to wait three more years anyway.”
Rose sighed dreamily but quickly shook herself out of it.
“Ok, so that’s aunt Kitty, number four. And five is… Lydia?”
“Aunt Lydia, yes. She’s four years younger than Mom and she has Adele. Adele is just a bit younger than us, and we used to play together a lot when aunt Lydia dropped her at Grandma’s, but something happened and aunt Lydia doesn’t like her playing with me anymore. I think it may be because of our Dad, because every time she looks at me she says something bad about the way I look, like my hair, or my eye colour. Which, looking at the photo you’ve shown me, is what we got from Dad.”
“Everyone hates him?” Rose said morosely.
“Except for aunt Jane and uncle Charlie, I’m afraid, yes.”
“I can’t promise I will be nice to whoever tries trash-talk him.”
“Well, I can’t promise I won’t get into aunt Catherine’s face if she says stuff about Mom.”
“Deal.”
“Deal.”
“So, what about aunt Lydia’s husband? Boyfriend?”
“None. I’ve never even seen Adele’s dad. I only know that his name starts with ‘G’, because I once saw a postcard with a lot of loves and kisses and it was sent before Adele was born, so I kind of guessed it must have been him.”
Rose chewed a cookie slowly.
“That all sounds very complicated” she said at last. “OK, hit me. Who next?”

#

“I hope I won’t get lost in the gardens” Mina sighed, looking at the photo of Pemberley house. “Because, really, it looks like it needs its own satellite system to navigate there.”
“Wouldn’t help” Rose shrugged. “Dad asked Google and they de-listed our internal alleys and garden paths. You’d basically see a lot of ‘green area’.”
“Very promising.”
“Well, at least the house is so big you’ll see it from anywhere on the grounds.”
Mina blinked and rubbed her eyes.
“OK, so. Floorplan test. Doors in the middle of the house. On the right, the great hall, then the staircase. To the back, the library, then the drawing room and the music room. On the left, the master’s study – and Dad doesn’t use it anymore, due to it being too stuffy, so he keeps most house records there, and then the mistress’ study, same. Then there are the servants’ stairs.”
“Very well. The library mostly contains first editions and other stuff that can barely stay together, so the rule is ‘look, don’t touch’. The normal, readable stuff is upstairs in my room and in Dad’s study. So, what’s in the basement?”
“The kitchens and the servants’ quarters” Mina answered promptly. “The rooms are not used anymore, as they were terribly inconvenient and way too cold and damp, so all the house and ground employees live in a new building on the grounds. The rooms are now storage space and the kitchen has been vastly updated since the old times, adding electricity and other stuff that the building commission allowed, but the museum guys didn’t, and they were very unhappy once it was redone.”
“Yep. Out great-grand-father wrote them that he expects to live in this house until he dies and he intends to do this with all possible comforts, including the comfort of his cook, who wishes to have all modern amenities, and not be stuck with a wood stove.”
“Good for him. Nice that he cared for the staff’s comfort.”
“He cared for his dinners and suppers, Dad says” Rose corrected. “He knew perfectly well that unhappy cook makes unhappy meals.”
“Still, the outcome counts. He got her a better working space, instead of just demanding stuff to be done properly without upgrading the hardware. I’m sure there were many people who wouldn’t even think about how the employees get things done.”
“That for sure. Aunt Catherine, for example. She used to complain of drafts in her rooms and berating the students who were hired to clean until Dad pointed out that she can either have her room aired and fresh, or stuffy and draft-free. Because what she called ‘drafts’ was actually fresh air moving when they were airing the unused rooms next to hers. She got very angry and told him proper servants would have known how to air a room and not make it drafty at the same time.”
Mina blinked, slowly.
“Is she for real?”
Rose rolled her eyes.
“Unfortunately, very much so.”
“And she called them ‘servants’, like, to their faces?”
“Yes, she did. They weren’t happy.”
“And what did Dad do?”
“He told her to stop bothering the poor girls and to make a choice – either they clean her room and she stays quiet or they will skip her and aunt Anne’s rooms, but the two of them will have to clean after themselves. She was quick to pick the first option.”
“Poor students. They would have been happier with the second one, I suppose.”
“Sure. There was enough to do in the whole house anyway. But Dad paid them enough to make sure they didn’t just quit when she became more annoying, Mrs Reynolds said.”
“Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper?”
“And cook, and aunt Georgiana’s babysitter, long time ago.”
“At least you won’t have to learn all the staff names. It’s just me and Mom at the flat and grandma has just one lady who helps with cleaning after parties, a kid next door who mows the grass and a part-time gardener who only works in spring and summer.”
“But I will have to learn all the little cousins.”
“True. And it may be harder to fool kids than grownups, too.”

#

“Schoolmates will be a challenge. I have my form picture here, so we can print it in the computer room and I’ll sign them all and mark who is who. However, the important one is Annie, here. She is an annoying pest and she will try to get on your nerves. Just avoid her, or she will make your life hell.”
“Annie, avoid. OK.”
“Also, don’t try it with any of the guys, please. One, they are all at the grabby stage. Two, I’d rather not be pressed to follow through later.”
“No problem, but same to you.”
“Sure. I’ll be spending all my time adoring the most important man in my life” Mina fluttered her eyelashes and smiled sweetly.
“Dear Lord, stop that” Rose choked on her cookie. “You look like some of my classmates when Dad picks me up from school. Half of my form salivates – and some of the teachers, too. Three tried to get me to set them up on dates with him.”
Mina sat for a moment, looking at her sister with round eyes.
“I’m not sure if it’s better or worse at my school” she uttered finally. “Mothers from my class basically either hate Mom or look down at her. You know. The only unmarried mother in the whole year.”
“Statistically impossible” Rose bit into another cookie. “How many kids?”
“No idea…”
“Because in an average class in normal society there should be at least two kids from partial families. If not orphaned, then parents divorced or otherwise split.”
“Well, there are some divorced parents, but at least everyone knows their both parents” Mina shrugged and started playing with the blanket edge. “And I…”
“Well, at least Dad doesn’t get shamed for having me alone” Rose licked her fingers to clean them of all crumbs. “But if I had a quid for every time I’ve heard kids snickering that my mother must have hated me, and that’s why she left me…”
The moment Rose’s eyes filled with tears, her sister was already hugging the breath out of her.
“I’m sure she loved you. She must have an explanation to all this.”
“I’m planning to ask her” Rose mumbled quietly. “Because…”
“We have to get to the bottom of this. She is perfectly lovely, and if you say Dad is a nice guy, too, then something very weird must have happened.”
“I wonder what he did to make her leave and take you away.”
“Actually, it might have been Dad that had left her” Mina pointed out suddenly. “We don’t know where they were living when…”
Rose nodded reluctantly.
“Maybe they were moving? Because it seems my side knows Mom, and your side knows Dad, which means they must have met ‘the other side’ at least once. If grandma criticises you for being too similar to him, she must have spent enough time to get to know him. And aunt Catherine…”
“Which means that we don’t know where they lived, but definitely we know they moved between London and Lambton.”
“At least visited the ‘other’ place for long enough to leave a lasting impression. I wonder when it was, actually. When they started, when – whichever it was that left, left.”
“We’ll have to make a proper investigation. Like, point one, check our birth certificates. There is always a place of birth written there. At least we’ll know where they were living at the time.”
Rose chewed on her thumb for a moment.
“I think it was Mom that left Dad, and not the other way round” she said finally. “Because Dad once said he would never imagine living anywhere but in Derbyshire. And we do have a house there and all that stuff. And in London, you two live in a flat, which is, you know. Temporary.”
Mina nodded slowly.
“And we can google for Mom’s master thesis” she said softly. “Because she didn’t to it in London, that much I know. So if she did it in Derbyshire…”
“And it was sometime when we were born…”
“Then we’ll know where they lived, for sure.”
“I wonder what Dad did to piss off the other half of the family if they lived that far away.”
“They had to spend some time in London, definitely. I can’t imagine my whole family travelling north to visit” Mina suddenly bit her lip in thought.
“What? You asleep?”
“I… Wait a minute” she shook herself awake. “Aunt Jane’s wedding! That’s why there are no photos!”
Rose frowned, but Mina explained immediately, raking her hair with all fingers, as enlightenment hit her suddenly.
“They were married like a year before we were born. There are no photos of their wedding, nowhere in the house. Even at grandma’s. Only two of just their faces. But usually people have a ton of photos, even special albums, and they make videos, and…”
“So our parents were together at that wedding.”
“I’d say so. Even better, if Dad is uncle Charles’ best friend, and Mom and aunt Jane are the closest sisters…”
“They were the bridesmaid and the best man” Mina concluded. “And that’s why all the shots from the church and from the reception would include them.”
“So the whole family is hiding the photos from you.”
“Maybe that was the time when he managed to annoy them that much? Because if they were organising the wedding and he was the best man, he would have been there all the time to help and to keep uncle Charles calm and so on.”
“And with everyone already nervous about the wedding…”
“I’d say it wouldn’t take long for grandma to get mad at anyone who opposed her, and from what you’re saying, Dad isn’t quite like uncle Charles when it comes to talking to people.”
“The only person he allows to boss him is Aunt Catherine, actually.”
“He must have done something that made grandma hate him – and us, now.”
They stretched on Mina’s bed, side by side, pulling a blanket over their legs.
“What a mess” Rose sighed.
“I wonder what they will do when they have to meet to exchange us.”
“I guess kissing and making up won’t be on agenda.”
Mina licked her lips and worried the lower one with her teeth for a moment.
“Maybe we could make them make up.”
“Dad is like the most stubborn guy I’ve met. I mean, whenever he argues with uncle Richard, he always wins. Always.”
“Maybe he’s always right?”
“That’s what I told uncle Richard and he looked at me funny and said he knows about one effing mistake my Dad made and it’s enough for uncle to think about Dad as an idiot. It wasn’t ‘effing’ of course, but Dad expects me not to use the ‘f’ word too often.”
“Not that I’m a betting girl, but I would bet that it has something to do with Mom.”

#

“I just hope we can get them to let us meet later on.”
“We’ll have our phones, you know.”
“That won’t be enough.”
“If they don’t let us meet, phones are better than nothing.”
“We have a class trip to London planned in November.”
Mina’s eyes widened.
“Let me know when – I’ll see if I could sneak out, at least for the afternoon!”
“We could freak out my classmates.”
“We could freak out anyone. Especially if you let me know what you’d be wearing. We could pick similar outfits and mess with everyone out there.”
“And since you’ll be already after spending two months with them, you will know everyone, so it will be even better!”

#

She pinned the pattern to the big corkboard, aligning the partial printouts with each other and stepped away to see the whole. She chose two coloursets – one in floral yellows and another in geometric greens. She had enough pieces for both items, but still missed a few darker accents in the green set. Ordering them online was much less fun than buying in an actual fabric store, but there wasn’t enough time. If she was to finish before Mina came home at the end of August, she had to hurry.
The oven beeped.
It was three o’clock in the morning and Elizabeth felt more alive than during the day. London was stifling and stinky that summer and she vastly preferred sleeping during the day and working during the night.
Sometimes the modern construction didn’t sound all that attractive and she felt a wave of nostalgia for the good, proper country mansion with two-foot-thick walls, dim rooms and cool stone floors. It would have been much more comfortable to spend summer in…
She stomped on the thought with vigour.

#

ORIENTATION
Mina underlined it a few times in thick marker.
“You will have to learn the basics of big city navigation. I suppose Dad never took you to London – and I kind of can guess why – but it means you’ll have to memorise the underground lines now, at least the ones that are most important to us – from our place to the school, from school to the museums, to aunt Jane’s and to grandma. At least to grandma it’s a bus, not underground. Let’s start with Oyster card…”
Rose nodded, her eyes growing with every explanation of the names, colours and variations of the underground lines that Mina pulled up on her tablet.
“I will need some help with this” she said morosely. “I had no idea this would be that complicated. I’ve heard jokes about that stuff, but… how can one line be still called one line when it goes to six different places?”
Mina huffed and closed her eyes.
“The main part of the line stays the same, it’s just that it forks at the ends. You have to take the Northern and pay attention…”

#

“There is a bus that goes from school, all across the town and out to the villages and bigger houses. You have to get off it by the church in Kympton and then walk ten minutes to the house. The morning will be easier, as Dad always takes me to school on his way to the office, but in the afternoon you have to manage yourself unless someone is in town and can pick you up. That would be either Dad on Fridays, when he tries to finish early, or Mrs Reynolds when she goes shopping – but then you’ll be expected to spend time with her picking groceries, or aunt Georgi if she picks up the post, and she will tell you in the morning.”
“Fine. And how will I know the right church?” Mina rubbed the bridge of her nose. “At least in London, all the stops are being read aloud, and you won’t have to guess.”
“It’s big, red and half of the bus will be leaving at that point. I will mark the place on my Google Maps so you can check it on the bus and you will know when to be ready to go. From the church, it’s just a straight road up to the house, through the grounds – not the front entrance, because that is a two-mile drive, but from the side. You can still enter by the main door, obviously, but the better way is to go by the kitchen entrance” she pointed to the side of the house schematic “and leave all the outside stuff in the cloakroom. If it gets rainy, everyone goes through there, except for aunt Catherine, who insists on always using the main door and being waited on by someone from the staff.”
“She definitely is annoying.”
“Tell me about it. You will just have to survive two months, I’ve had my whole life with her.”
Mina pressed her sister’s shoulder briefly.
“Wait till you meet grandma. Then we can talk.”

#

“The school has an old gym, a new gym, a stadium and a few additional courts – tennis, volleyball, whatever. Normally P.E. starts in the gym and then we are divided into groups to do various stuff, or we run laps around the whole area. For swimming, we have separate outings, once every two weeks, and we go by the bus to the municipal pool. There will be a schedule given at the beginning, so you just have to remember to pack the swimsuit, towel and flipflops.”
“Ok, and for gym?”
“Just shorts and a t-shirt, there should be a bunch in my wardrobe. School logo on the front and everything. Standard uniform issue. Lockers suck, because the door doesn’t close properly, but there is always one girl who guards them, so she will make sure everyone can change safely. Each week someone else, of course. Anyway, it’s not like the guys will run in, because Coach Warbert would have their heads for it, but they ‘can’t help if the door is open’, you know.”
“Sometimes an all-girl school sounds a little more attractive.”
They both laughed into their soup.
The quiet, out-of-the-way table that was appointed as theirs was actually a blessing. They could safely exchange even more points of their everyday life than they would normally be able to put in their rather busy schedule.
“Ah, food! We didn’t discuss that yet. Mrs Reynolds cooks, and the general idea is that what she cooks, we eat. Except for aunt Anne, who complains about everything that contains too much saturated fat or whatever the current fad is and then anyway eats cookies for the whole day and is always very surprised she can’t eat supper later. You can skip some disgusting stuff, like Brussel sprouts, if you eat enough of everything else – so pick another vegetable and say you just want a lot of that, and Dad won’t mind. There is always something to choose from. And there is always something to eat left in the kitchen, so if you’re late for whatever reason, like the bus going slower, or a school outing, you can take whatever is in the fridge and microwave it. And there is always something sweet unless Dad gets to it first.”
“Anything else? I mean, I saw you’ve like never touched anything in the kitchen, so I’m guessing you can’t do much…”
Rose rolled her eyes.
“I’m pretty much abysmal. Dad’s skills are up to frying an egg or making some toast, but not much more. Aunt Georgi can cook, actually, because she used to be a girl scout. But she always says it’s a skill she’d much rather not be forced to use on daily basis, and she doesn’t feel proficient enough to make others eat whatever she makes.”
“OOkk” Mina rubbed her face. “That has to change. Mom actually started teaching me stuff last year, but we’ve had home ed for two years now, so she expects me to be able to feed myself in a reasonable way. Can you make sandwiches without cutting yourself bloody?”
“I suppose so.”
“Heat up milk for cocoa?”
“No problem.”
“Remember to take it out before it escapes the cup?”
“I think I can manage.”
“Fry scrambled eggs?”
Rose grimaced.
“Not happy with having to crack them open. I don’t like the way raw eggs look inside.”
“Squeamish?”
“It’s just gross.”
“OK, moving on. Chopping onions? Peeling carrots? Cooking pasta?”
“Yes, yes if there is a proper peeler, no.”
“As long as it’s warm you can always say you didn’t want a cooked supper or something. And eat yoghurt or sandwiches. But you’ll have to catch up by mid-October, when it goes colder.”
“I’ll try, but I really don’t like using a gas stove. I’m always afraid there will be something stuck in the pipes and we’ll blow up at the smallest provocation. The ones we used during home ed looked like they had been there when our grandma went to that school.”
“Geez, living in the countryside must have affected your brain. It’s the twenty-first century and there are options. We don’t have an actual gas stove at the house, it’s fully electric. I’ve cooked my first soup on it. No matches, no open flame, no risks.”
“I’ll try to convince Dad to maybe switch one of the stoves in the kitchen to electric then” Rose sighed. “It would be good to have a chance to, maybe, do stuff for myself.”
“And it’s much more ecological” Mina added. “OK, next. Washing machine!”

#

“Mucking out the stall is normally done by one of the grooms, but if you manage to annoy Dad enough, you will get stable chores. First, you have to take out all the dirty stuff…”

#

“Water the herbs, once a day, in the early morning. They droop immediately if you forget.”

#

“My bike is in the shed, next to the stable. You can use it on the property, but not on the public road, Dad gets really antsy if I do that.”

#

“We don’t have an electric dryer, so all the clothes have to be put either on the balcony, on the lines, or inside, on the fold-out dryer.”
“And then taken down, folded…”
“Yep. My stuff to my room, Mom’s stuff on her bed, linens to the hall cupboard and kitchen stuff to the big drawer under the oven.”

#

“First weekend after school starts, Dad will take me – you – for a trip. No idea what that will be, it’s always a surprise. Might be hiking, might be an astronomical observatory, might be a road trip to some weird monument. Last year we went to Devon to see the traditional dairies and old workshops in the area. Just because there was a mention of them in my history textbook and Dad decided I should see some of that stuff with my own eyes.”

#

“Mom does most of the shopping, but if she forgets something, or if she has to work through the whole afternoon, she will give you money. The Sainsbury is just around the corner, on the left from the house. It has everything you’d need. We don’t have any specific preferred brand, except for bread, tea and Mom’s favourite crackers, but these she buys at M&S. Bread is this one” Mina tapped on her tablet “and tea is either M&S – and that one Mom will buy herself – or Twinings. Earl Grey or English Breakfast. Sometimes she drinks green, but that one she buys in a tea shop somewhere near Camden Town.”

#

“The bathroom is your own, and you should clean it. It’s theoretically shared with the room on the other side, but nobody uses it. So you have your own. I think long ago it used to be a dressing room, or something. There is a mop and there should be some wipes there, you just need to make sure all is dry when you’re done. Tiling is OK, but Dad says the walls can’t cope with that much moisture and if we don’t take care, the house will collapse on our heads one day.”

#

“And for my birthday, I always bake cookies for my whole class. With Mom, so don’t worry, she will help you. Tell her you want to try something completely new and she won’t expect you to do it perfectly at first attempt. Pick something that can be prepared in the food processor – chocolate chip cookies should do. I was picking them for the next time. You just put stuff in the bowl in the correct order and make sure it’s blended well. Ask Mom to help you chop the chocolate or buy the ready-made chocolate chips.”

#

“My bigger headphones are in the drawer of my desk, next to the computer. Earbuds I’ll give you when we pack so that we don’t lose them.”
“My charger and the whole set of cables are in the box below my table, next to the art supplies crate. There is a duplicate cable for everything, from my old phone to the mp3 player.”

#

“Password to my school account, to my e-mail and PINs for my phone and ATM card.”
“You have an ATM card?”
“You have a facebook account.”
An ATM card?!
“Shh. Dad said I should have one, just in case I get stuck somewhere and don’t have money to get back. I can withdraw fifty pounds a week, and if I hit the limit, it will be flagged as an emergency and Dad will get a notification where I was.”
“So if something weird happens, I could actually alert him by withdrawing the money?”
“Kind of, I suppose.”
“OK, so PIN for my phone, the unblock shape is like this. Password for the school account, my Gmail and my facebook. Don’t accept any new friends. I added everyone I cared for and really don’t want to get spammed with random crap. The PIN to the main door is here, and if you forget, the doorman will let you in, but you’ll have to wait for him a bit. Tablet has the same unblock shape as the phone. Also, don’t log any game in to Facebook. I don’t feel the need to share my results, and Mom would have my head – or yours – if I let some crappy company get my private data.”

#

“Locker combinations change every year, so you will get yours on the first day.”
“Same for you.”
“At least that will be new for everyone.”

#

“The ballet lessons” Mina asked uncertainly. “Do you still take them?”
Rose blinked.
“No, no. Thankfully, no. I asked Dad to stop it two years ago. It was too much, too late in the afternoon and the girls were so catty I frankly hated going there. The exercise itself was fine and if I could get individual lessons, or in some other group, I’d be OK. But there is no other club in Lambton, so…” she shrugged. “You?”
“No, we used to do dance classes, but the teacher got into trouble with some mothers when she allowed girls to dance in pairs to practice waltz. Mom said she just can’t understand people sometimes and had uncle Charles give me dancing lessons for a few months.”
“I can waltz, but only slowly” Rose admitted. “But I also learned rumba and samba last year, Dad signed me up for summer lessons.”
“I can do both slow and Viennese” Mina bit into a cookie. “And they taught us Polonaise and Laendler.”
“And what? I know what Polonaise is, but Laendler?”
“Austrian folk dance. Ever seen Sounds of Music?”
Rose sat back for a moment.
“Aaah! That’s what Maria is dancing with the Captain!”
“Yep. So we did this. No modern dances, though.”
“As long as there is no school dance, you’ll be fine.”
“Don’t even start.”

#

“Volleyball.”
“Basketball.”
“Crap.”
“‘A lot can change during the summer, Miss. I’d like to try volleyball this year.‘”
“I hope it works.”
“Well, and I hope we will manage to switch stuff back in November, once we are back in our own schools. I don’t relish the idea of being stuck in volleyball club for the rest of the year.”

#

“There are a lot of similarities between Italian and French, that saves us. Otherwise, we fail all tests and we excel at homework assignments. It shouldn’t be that hard to undo the damage in November.”
“The grammar references are all on the shelf above my desk, you will see them. Verb conjugation is in the thin red one, Bescherelle. If your Italian is on the same level as my French, you should be able to pick the idea up.”
“Mine are all on the bookshelf, green cover. Full grammar reference, with conjugation, articles and stuff. And the dictionaries.”

#

“Mom loves Terry Pratchett.”
“Dad says fantasy is an escape from real world. But he buys me Discworld, too.”
“Tolkien?”
“Hardy?”
“Gaiman?”
“Yes. Rowling?”
“Yes, but rolling her eyes.”
“Same.”
“Andrew Norton?”
“Meh. McCaffrey?”
“Cool. Montgomery?”
“Yep. Emily or Anne?”
“Pat.”
“Emily.”
“Dumas?”
“Too thick. But OK.”
“Verne?”
“Eighty Days.”
“Journey to the Centre of Earth.”
“Thackeray?”
“Definitely. Lindgren?”
“Who?”
“Astrid Lindgren. ‘Bullerby Children’, you know?”
“Never heard of them.”
“You have some catching up to do.”
“Edith Nesbit?”
“Yep.”
“‘Borrowers’?”
“Not so much. ‘Mary Poppins’?”
“Very much. Twain?”
“Not really. Burnett?”
“‘Little Princess’ or ‘Secret Garden’?”
“‘Little Princess’, Mary annoys me too much.”
“If we manage to make them let us meet, we can try to make a trip to Yorkshire. I went with Dad last year and it was just… perfect.”
Mina sighed.
“Let’s hope we can get this to work during this year. I really don’t want to…”
“I know.”

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Double Pride Double Trouble – CH 03

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Chapter 3:  We think the same thoughts

The cabin wasn’t very big. Two beds, a dresser, a table, two rickety chairs and a wardrobe left very little free floor space – just enough to move one of the chairs to the middle of the rug and put a box of cookies on it. It was just close enough to let them reach towards said box comfortably from both beds. They sat in silence, munching the cookies and looking suspiciously at each other across the tiny room.
Mina gathered her courage first.
“So… Your aunt Jane gave these pliers to you?”
“Aunt Jane.”
“And she was the one who told you about this camp?”
“Yep.”
Mina reached behind her bed and picked up her tablet.
“And does your aunt Jane have a husband?”
Rose frowned.
“She does. Actually, it’s more like that husband is more my so called uncle, because he’s Dad’s best friend, and aunt Jane is just his wife. They aren’t like, related to us, or anything, but Dad always said that uncle Charles is like a brother he could freely pick for himself, instead of being assigned one at birth. Will you please explain what this third degree is about?”
Mina nodded slowly and turned the tablet on, then spent some time swiping through screens.
“Would that be aunt Jane and uncle Charles Bingley?” she handed the tablet to Rose, showing her a photo of a group of people sitting to a Christmas dinner. “These two? Because I know them as my Mom’s oldest sister and her husband. And the people responsible for me being here, on this camp.”
Rose grabbed the tablet, gasping.
“That’s… That’s my aunt! And my uncle! And… I never knew they had that many kids! Dad always says they don’t bring any because aunt Catherine hates toddlers.”
“Grandma would go bonkers if they ever decided to come to any family party without them. I may be the eldest in the whole generation, but she says that the more, the better. She loves aunt Jane more than my Mom because of this” Mina made a face.
Rose hiccoughed.
“Now” Mina hugged the tablet to herself “you see where this is going, don’t you?”
Rose nodded slowly.
“You think that if my aunt Jane and uncle Charles – who are my Dad’s best friend and his wife – and your aunt Jane and uncle Charles – who are your actual aunt and her husband – are the same people, then…”
“Yep. My Mom and your Dad are actually our parents. We’re twins. And Mom and Dad have some explaining to do.”
“Also, aunt Jane will have some explaining to do, when our p-parents” Rose stuttered here “find out that she manipulated both of them into letting us come here.”
Mina clasped her hands over her mouth.
“Mom will kill her. She wanted to take me to the seaside and take aunt Kitty and her kids with us, to see local fairs and markets. She only gave up after aunt Jane told her it’s healthier for me to finally go somewhere without family.”
“Dad will stop talking to uncle Charles” Rose whispered. “It was uncle who managed to get him to agree. Aunt actually just proposed it at some dinner and told me all about it before Dad had time to react. It took two more hours for uncle to convince Dad that I’m old enough to go on my own..”
Again they sat in silence for a moment.
“This is going to be a mess” declared Mina.
They looked at each other with wide eyes.

#

They sat on Mina’s bed, shoulder to shoulder, hands clasped over a scratchy blanket covering their legs.
“Do you think, if you asked, father would let you come to visit us?”
Rose slowly shook her head.
“Don’t think so. Or, even if he did, aunt Catherine would do something to make it impossible.”
Mina frowned.
“OK, first things first. We have to make a list of all family members so that I can understand what you’re talking about. Who is aunt Catherine and why does she sound like a right nightmare?”

#

“Anne is our father’s cousin?”
“Yes.”
“Like, actual cousin, parents were siblings?”
“Yes, Dad’s mother – I’ve never met her, she died when aunt Georgiana was born – and aunt Catherine were sisters.”
“Gross. I think that’s against the law or something…” Mina scrunched up her nose.
“I’m sure if aunt Catherine can do anything about it, she will” Rose shrugged. “She gets what she wants, and from what aunt Georgi told me, she wanted Dad and aunt Anne to get married for, like, ages.”
“I’d like to see her try” Mina said quietly. “She can’t do this if Mom and he are still married.”
Rose shrugged.
“I can definitely imagine her trying to. She’s been at it far longer than we’ve been alive. Aunt Georgi says she started at Dad when he was only in high school.”
“It’s like, disgusting.”
“You’ve said it, girl.”
“I wonder what made her so… why would she even want this for her daughter?”
Rose snorted and whipped out her phone, pulled up a picture and handed it over to Mina without a word.
“Wow” was the only thing her sister managed to say.
“Yeah. Half of my class is like, in love with him.”
“He looks like a movie star.”
“He’s your father, mind you.”
Mina snorted.
“I can only say, at least now I know where my looks come from. Most of our side of the family is blonde, only Mom is a bit darker, but no black hair on anyone there.”
“OK, your turn” Rose looked at her expectantly.
Mina made a quick choice, picking a photo she liked the best.
“This is Mom. Last Christmas, she…”
Rose’s eyes teared up.
“God, she’s lovely” she whispered. “I…”
“Yep” Mina popped the ‘p’ happily. “And she’s fun. And she loves making stuff. You’ll love her, just wait. We’ll think of something.”
“You’ll love Dad, too. He… He would do anything for me. I mean, for us, I suppose. We have to make this happen.”

Between them, a screen showing Elizabeth Bennet hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree slowly darkened.

#

“How many?!” Rose’s voice rose in pitch.
“Four. Not counting the second-degree-whatevers, because grandma has two siblings and they also have kids. Granduncle Eddie has four and grandaunt Phil has three. Plus there is a cousin of our grandpa’s, who’s like a lot younger than him and is kind of always visiting and trying to ask one of Mom’s friends out, and she’s always blowing him off. She doesn’t really like him, but she says she just can’t tell him to get lost because her mother keeps setting her up with some weird guys from her church, so she prefers Bill because she knows what to do to keep him at a distance.”
“So, what, four aunts, plus their cousins?”
“Yes, uncle Eddie has two daughters and two sons and aunt Phil has two daughters and one son. So in total we have eight aunts and three uncles, well, the ones that are kind of our Mom’s generation. Plus husbands, meaning, Mom’s brothers-in-law. Also, Tommy, who is Mom’s oldest cousin, is getting married next year, so we’ll get another aunt. She’s nice and she loves crafts, just like mom.”
Rose wrapped a blanket around herself more tightly.
“I thought a big family is when you have, like, two siblings” she mumbled slowly.
“Well, now you know what it means to have an actual big family. And Grandma has the biggest house, so she invites everyone for every holiday possible, and usually everyone comes. So there’s me, aunt Jane’s five, aunt Kitty’s twins and aunt Lydia’s Adele, who’s kind of our age, and aunt Mary’s Jimmy. Jimmy is not our actual cousin, because aunt Mary adopted him, but he’s been with her since he was like two or three months old, so he’s family anyway.”
Rose nodded mutely.
“And our cousins are mostly girls, because it’s just Jimmy and Jonathan, aunt Jane’s youngest, for boys. Grandma is very worried about us all, because she says nobody will be able to afford all these weddings once we’re all grown up. Grandpa then says that he hopes we all elope and let our parents keep the money, and usually then there is a row and uncle Charlie has to do something to make them stop.”

#

Rose sighed, swiping through Mina’s photoalbum on the tablet.
“I wish I could convince Dad to let me visit” she said dejectedly. “But I wouldn’t count on it. And if aunt Anne hears about it, she will run to aunt Catherine and she will do anything she can to stop me.”
“Why would she want to? I know you told me she wants father to marry aunt Anne, but this doesn’t make sense…”
Rose turned to face her sister, who was busy crocheting a bag from a ball of string for her craft project.
“Because they both like to make me not do stuff. I only learnt how to swim because the school requires it, even though we have a pool and a pond on the property. But aunt Anne said that she always felt that it is not ladylike to swim, and aunt Catherine agreed. And they said I can’t go to the public pool with other children from my school, even when aunt Georgiana went herself.”
“That’s stupid. Swimming is useful. Our coach says it can save your life someday.”
“Well, I suppose aunt Catherine would sooner die than be seen as unladylike.”
“Or she would wait for rescue and then complain that they were late.”
Rose snorted and nodded.
“And then there was this camp. I almost didn’t come because aunt Anne imagined that I would be mixing with inappropriate element. They nearly got Dad to switch my school to the very posh one on the other end of town. I’d spend whole morning every day just getting there. And I know some of these girls from my ballet classes, and I tell you, they are a nasty bunch. I wouldn’t want to sit by any of them for the world. Also, it’s segregated.”
Mina frowned.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s a girls school. No guys.”
“Geez. What are they afraid of, that you’d get boy-cooties?”
“Inappropriate element, again. Apparently school dances are a sin. Or something.”
They sat in silence for a moment, looking at a photo of Elizabeth sitting by her sewing machine. Rose zoomed it in to get a better look at her face and sighed.
“Maybe you could come to us?” she suggested. “Would your… would mother allow you to come?”
Mina frowned.
“I don’t… I’m not sure. I could maybe convince aunt Jane to ask her to take me when they visit you, but…” she bit her lip.
“What?”
“I don’t think Mom likes father very much.”
Silence fell for a moment.
“Why?” Rose finally asked in a small voice.
“She never mentions him. Even when she once listed all her ex-boyfriends to a friend, she never said anything about him. I know because that friend asked which one of these was my father and Mom said ‘none’. So you see, she doesn’t even mention him, like, in normal way.”
“Dad never mentioned mother either, but…” Rose thought for a moment. “I think I once heard aunt Catherine rant about her, mostly about someone’s ungratefulness and aiming too high for their own good. And Dad said ‘not one more word about her, aunt’ and suddenly she went so silent.”
“And grandma doesn’t like him either” Mina said morosely. “Like, when I do something she doesn’t like, she says stuff like ‘so much like him’. I’m guessing father got on her nerves somehow.”
“I wonder how they managed to stay together long enough to have us” Rose sighed, rubbing her eyes. “Because it seems like nobody from one side has anything good to say about the other one.”
“Except for aunt Jane and uncle Charles, because they still visit both of them.”
“Yeah, but only you get to play with their kids.”
Mina nodded slowly.
“I think I know why they don’t ever take them visiting to you.”
Rose ate another cookie, waiting for Mina to proceed.
“It’s… If they brought them to a dinner and one of the little ones said something about meeting me with my daddy, I’d know there was something wrong. So they had to choose one house they don’t bring kids to.”
“And that was our house…”
“Because grandma would be furious if they tried coming without her grandbabies. So they had to choose our side as the ones to be visited in full cast.”
Rose groaned.
“I want to meet my cousins. I want to have more aunts! I just have Anne, who is stupid and always goes tattling to her mother, and aunt Georgiana who is like the sweetest thing ever, but she’d never do anything like aunt Jane, to argue or talk over Dad. She’s mostly sitting in her room and working on her articles and historical papers.”
“You have aunt Jane, too” Mina pointed out. “You can talk to her about stuff, I guess. I do.”
“But she lives closer to you, so it’s not like I can talk to her very often.”
Mina sighed.
“I’d like to see your house. And meet aunt Georgiana. She sounds nice.”
“If aunt Jane ever brings you, we could spend time together, I’d show you the gardens and everything. And you know, the best part would be, you could meet Dad. He’s…” she shrugged. “I don’t know. Other kids always complain about their Dads, but I’ve never understood why. My – our – Dad is just great, and he loves doing stuff with me, like riding horses. Or playing chess. He takes whole days off work, just to go with me somewhere. Last spring he took me to Bronte Parsonage to show me where they lived, when we were reading Jane Eyre at school.”
“I wish you could come to London and meet everyone” Mina sighed. “We have fabulous fun, playing in grandma’s garden. And we could go see all the good things in the city. There are all these museums I love, and the shops, and everything. Mom actually promised to take me for brafitting when I’m back from the camp, and if you could come, that would be even more fun.”
“Dad promised me a weekend hike in the mountains, once I’m back from the camp. That would be more fun with the two of us, too” Rose added. “And then we could…” she broke off. “You know what?”
“Hm?”
“I just imagined what fun we could have if we managed to get them to send us to the same school – I’d actually agree to a boarding school, if we got them to send both of us. Would you?”
Mina nodded slowly and then smiled.
“Oooh, can you imagine what kind of confusion we could cause? Like, if we cut our hair the same way and tried talking the same?”
“We anyway talk almost the same – Dad makes sure I don’t speak too much like a local girl – he said people used to laugh at him when he did it by accident at the Uni.”
“Wow. I can’t even start on the stuff we could do…”
“We can try now” Rose suggested suddenly. “Like I… I could cut my hair, you know. It’s not like I love this braid, but aunt Catherine insists on me having long hair. So if I cut it during the camp, she can’t do anything about it, right?”
Mina’s eyes widened.
“That would be so cool” she gasped. “And then we could just mess with everyone’s minds for the rest of the camp!”
“Wow.”
Mina felt her mouth suddenly go dry.
“Rose?”
“Hmm?”
“How would you” she swallowed “How would you feel about going to London after the camp is finished?”
Rose propped herself on one elbow and looked at her sister.
“That would be fab, but I don’t think Dad would agree, like I said.”
“Dad wouldn’t have to agree, you see. He wouldn’t even notice you were gone.”
“Wh… oh, wow.”
“Yep. I’d take all your stuff…”
“And I’d go to London and you to Derbyshire…”
“We could switch and nobody would notice!”
“You could say that you had to cut your hair because… because someone stuck chewing gum in it!”
“And you’d just have to play along and stop biting your nails.”
“What!?”
“I don’t bite mine” Mina waggled her fingers towards her sister. “And you do. So you have to stop and let them grow properly.”
“You’d have to start” Rose pointed out.
“Let’s say we claim I grew out of it, OK? Gross.”
Rose frowned.
“But what about houses? And school and people?”
Mina smiled.
“Totally covered. We still have six weeks of camp to make a proper, what Mom calls it, Knowledge Transfer. You teach me about Pemberley, I teach you about our flat, and building and stuff. So. You game?”
Rose grinned and sat up straighter.
“Oh yea. The biggest performance of my life! And you know what? We have all these lovely photos on our tablets and phones, right? It’s like a real life cheat sheet! We can learn faces and places and things, so you’ll show me all the cousins and I can show you everyone on my side and the gardens and my schoolmates. This way once school year starts, we can keep it up for some more time.”
Mina stiffened.
“School, yes. We have to make sure we know everything… Lord, I hate studying during summer!”
“For higher good” Rose said piously and kept her very serious face until they both collapsed with laughter. “OK, let’s start at home. If we don’t cover that, we’ll be found out immediately.”
“And what if we aren’t found out? We can’t keep it up infinitely.”
Rose pondered the question for a moment.
“If we aren’t found out by Halloween, then we tell. Once they switch us back, we’ll have enough time to correct all tests we flunk and get the grades up. Because, come on, how good is your French?”
Mina snorted.
“Probably about as good as your Italian.”
“I suppose so. OK, time to make a plan.”

Double Pride Double Trouble – CH 02

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Chapter 2: While still being so different

Their things were packed in a matter of minutes and their cabin mates regarded them sorrowfully (some, however, with hidden relief) as they trudged down the lane to the last cabin of the camp. It was separated from the other, lived-in cabins by a few empty ones and had the form of an old farmhouse – it had been there since the camp had been built, just after the war, most probably.
Mina crawled up the stairs, dragging her backpack, her shoulder bag and the guitar and immediately deposited them on the bed closer to the door.
Rose had to pull up a rolling suitcase, which took her more time and much more sweat. She made an annoyed sound, seeing the closer bed taken, but silently marched to the other bed and flopped bonelessly on it.
“You are expected in the kitchen in twenty minutes” they heard from the outside and groaned – for once in total agreement.

#

Mina was heroically chopping the cabbage for the big soup pot, trying not to smirk in amusement as Rose was getting dressed down by the main cook for being unable to peel potatoes. The poor girl apparently had never ever done anything in the kitchen but was more than unwilling to admit it.
Well, the cabbage was all chopped, and the carrots were waiting, but Rose was pouting in the corner, being set to wash the apples for the afternoon. Mina couldn’t really imagine a house in which a kid would not be able to peel a stupid potato by the age of fourteen.

#

Rose took delight in watering the plants. There was something immensely satisfying in tending to a garden. She was never allowed to do this at home – not since Aunt Catherine found out that one could actually get dirty in the gardens. Ever since, trying to get something to grow was a battle Rose waged on her own windowsill, covering the attempts at making a beanstalk climb with “school project”.
Mina wasn’t doing quite as well. She had managed to drop her seed packet, step in a molehill three times and almost sat on a rake. She was muddy, dirty and rather annoyed. And what was worse, Rose was absolutely perfect at that stuff, while Mina couldn’t wait to get away from the dirt, the poking tools and the weeds she was supposed to magically distinguish from carrot.

#

Rose was dying of boredom. Sewing. SEWING. There were machines in the world for a purpose. She couldn’t keep an even stitch and she never planned to need one. The idea of sewing a plush toy “for a sister or a cousin” was making her actually angry. She didn’t have anyone to give a plushie to.
Mina was in heaven. This was like all the times when Mom allowed her to dig up the bags of yarn and patchwork pieces and pick her own design. Mom never used faux fur, so this was even better because once she came home, she would be able to show Mom something only Mina knew how to do!

#

And so it went, hour by hour, sports, crafts, singing, field trips and kitchen duty. Each trying to talk to the other as little as possible, despite the fact that mostly they had only each other for company – including meals, as Mrs Hill managed to set up an isolation table only for them, too.

#

Mina was on a verge of strangling the pouty, huffing and mumbling Rose, especially during meals. She had never felt as much under scrutiny, even during the family dinners when Grandma discussed everyone’s manners with relish – usually focusing on Mina’s lack thereof – as when Rose looked at her elbow propped on the table with such revulsion.
On the other hand, Rose seemed quite unable to do anything by herself that was more complicated than brushing her hair. Every stuck window was a reason for complaining.

#

Rose wanted nothing more than for Mina to get lost in the woods. The superiority of the girl was getting on her nerves each and every second. She could do everything. Pull a splinter out with her tweezers – she had special tweezers in her backpack! Hang a rope to dry her clothes. Open stupid stuck windows.
Still, she ate like a little kid, forgetting to use her knife and sometimes trying to cut with her fork, being obviously too lazy to behave properly.

#

The cabin was rather draughty and they both sat on their cots, carefully wrapped in layers of blankets.
The day promised to be ugly and all sport and activities were cancelled due to the risk of heavy rain. Even the computers in the rec room were shut down, just in case a storm came later. Everyone took their food from the cafeteria and skipped trying to eat it in the windy barn of a dining room, taking the plates and cups to their cabins, with adults carefully not noticing that breach in camp rules.
Rose was nibbling on a sandwich, typing something on her tablet at the same time, when a gust of wind across their floor actually moved her slippers.
“All right, enough is enough” Mina said and stood up. “Come on, we need to fix it.”
As Rose stared at her in wonder, she pulled on her boots and marched out. Rose caught up to her at the back of the cabin.
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking at Mina in surprise.
“I’m quite sure that draught is not supposed to be that strong. Ah, you see? There is a plank that doesn’t sit between the others properly. Good thing the nail is still in it. Wait a moment. I’ll try to find another, so it sits better.”
She was back in a minute, holding a rather rusty nail and a complicated tool.
“That’s a multi-hammer” she explained. “Got it for my birthday, from my aunt. Best gift ever.”
She carefully placed the plank back where it was supposed to be and hammered the nail home, adding a few taps at the end to drive it as deep as it could go.
Rose nodded.
“I got pliers like this. But aunt Anne took them away. She’s not really that big on me doing stuff by myself. She fought against me coming here, too. I think she still feels I’m just a kid.”
“Crazy. We’re fourteen. It’s not like we’re toddlers or babies. I feel quite up to the challenge of spending two months away from home. And of using a hammer.”
Mina lined up the second nail and bashed on its head in satisfaction until it was flush with the wood.
“This should do it” she wiped her hands on her knees. “Dear auntie Jane, I have to tell her I used it for something serious, finally.”
Rose licked her lips.
“Aunt Jane?”
“M-hm.”
“Funny thing” Rose said “I got my pliers from an aunt also named Jane, just before she told me about this camp. And…” she pulled the hammer from Mina’s hand slowly. “My pliers look like they came from the same set…”
Mina frowned.
“Like what?”
“Well, they have the same kind of decoration and the handles are pink with these holes in them” Rose pointed. “That’s weird.”
She handed the hammer back to Mina, who looked at it, frowning.
“Let’s go inside. I have some cookies from my mom if you want…?”
Rose’s eyes widened.
“Sure!”

But if you can still dream – 23

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Chapter 11: But only in their dreams…

But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.

Tom Schulman, in Dead Poets Society, expressed by the character John Keating

Jack: Sleep deprivation

All the contours were sharp, but blurry at the same time. The colours of everything on TARDIS were slightly shifted and he couldn’t stop shivering.

The stupid circles Doctor was showing him told him nothing. Obviously, they should mean various things, and the simplest set was a kind of a primer, but his brain just didn’t work that way. He tried to draw them from memory and when he compared them later, his crooked ovals didn’t even come close to what he saw printed in the fat book.

Fortunately it seemed the Doctor had also read a few Earth books and so allowed him a moment of respite when he considered the latest flight of fancy.

Then, suddenly, they were mixing the cheese, jello, sugar and lemonjuice in a big bowl and throwing in frozen strawberries. He doubted the logic of this, but followed Doctor’s directions and then witnessed him stuffing his face with the result. Even though everything was already looking like an old movie done with a bad camera, including faint trailing lines left by objects moving, as if his eyes could not notice something was gone for a few seconds after it moved. That made the Doctor’s hand a blur, moving up and down with a spoon.

The spoon itself was becoming its own shiny blur.

Spoon. Spooooooon.

He felt that he could totally have an out of body experience anytime now, no cheesecake required.

Spoooooon.

Finally his friend was done and they moved to the TV room, as it had the best sofa. Then the Doctor made a valiant attempt at not-falling-asleep-but-almost.

Jack privately thought the strawberries must have interfered with the process, but his brain was still stuck in a slo-mo mode, so before he managed to voice his opinion, the Doctor managed to take a shot at meditating, gymnastics, breathing exercises, some other sit-and-murmur-quietly thing and finally simulating a dervish.

Nevertheless he still looked very awake.

As Jack watched him pant on the sofa, he tried putting his strawberries-related conclusions in words, but before he got to opening his mouth, the screen came alive and the Doctor went off.

‘Ah. That may be it. Thank you, lady.’

‘-No problem, Captain-‘

A girl, in her teens or so, was sitting on the sofa armrest.

Jack was actually surprised at the lack of surprise he felt.

‘And you are?’

She blinked and smiled, a bit too wide for a standard human being.

‘-I’m me-‘ she weaved her hand around. ‘-I’m here-‘

Jack blinked and shook his head slightly. She wasn’t blurring. She was actually the only thing in tha room that had proper colours and shape.

‘You don’t look like a spaceship.’

‘-You don’t look like a crook-‘

‘Point taken. But I’m reformed, you know.’

‘-I’m not-‘

She smirked.

‘-Now, he’s out, I hope the little hypnotisation trick worked correctly. If it did, she should be showing up antime. You will have to pay attention and take her to the medbay immediately. I don’t have the right sensors in this room, and I really need to diagnose what is going on with her. Leave him here, he will wake up in his own time, but get to the medbay before he does-‘

He nodded, a bit sideways.

‘-Make sure you don’t miss her-‘

‘Yeah.’

‘-And, Captain… Take a break after this. You need to sleep. You’re still able to damage yourself if you continue like this, even if you’re im-im-im-imm… Heck. If you’re stuck-‘ she finished unhappily. ‘-your brain can only take that much-‘

He sat there after she disappeared, considering the complicated situation of travelling in a spaceship with a speech impediment. He tried to keep himself upright, rigidly so, to make sure his required sleep didn’t come anytime too soon. Suddenly the warm weight next to him shifted and leaned towards him, her head on his shoulder, blonde hair tickling his nose.

Automatically he put his arm around her and pulled her closer, but her limp body simply slumped across his lap.

Then the jolt of adrenaline woke him up.

He was barelling down the corridor towards the medbay in no time at all. As he straightened her out on the cot, the instruments started coming to life and he saw with a relief the first of the diagnostic lights shining already on Rose.

He started opening the cupboards, looking for something to remove the residue of the tape from her skin and for any medicine he could possibly identify. Suddenly she made a small noise and immediately he was leaning over her, barely stopping himself from toppling over, as he looked at her eyes flutter open.

“Jack?” she whispered in a hoarse voice.

“Rosie” he sighed. “Oh, love, you have us such a scare…!”

“I don’t feel so well” she complained, a shiver going through her.

Another.

Then another.

Then her body spasmed on the little cot and suddenly she was gone.

He could only sit there and cry.

Written by Srebrna

2016/05/26 at 02:32

But if you can still dream – 22

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Chapter 11: But only in their dreams…

But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.

Tom Schulman, in Dead Poets Society, expressed by the character John Keating

Doctor: Out of body experience

“You will have to teach me.”

They both looked rather worn out.

Even Jack’s innuendo was next to zero, as they pored over the maps, time graphs and descriptions Doctor managed to write down, and Doctor was becoming slightly worried about him. He could cope with next to no sleep for prolonged stretches of time, but Jack – immortal or no – had to sleep in a regular fashion. They already had to experience what happened if Jack was restarted sick and he really didn’t wish to replay that one.

“We can try, but I wouldn’t hold my breath” Doctor grimaced, walking around the table. “Or, I would, but you should not. Gallifreyan writing is somewhat…” he chewed his next word. “Complicated.”

“We eat complicated for breakfast, remember?”

“Not that kind of complicated. It really… What it really does is interfacing with the time sensors in your brain and so transferring the meaning through them. Human beings may learn to catch the general idea, if they start early enough.”

“I have a lot of time to catch up” Jack shrugged. “And every Time Agent had to be a quick learner. Who doesn’t learn, doesn’t get to live long.”

Two days later they were still on tha basic circle combination and Doctor was annoyed.

Nothing was working. Jack could not hold the picture of the circles in his mind long enough for the interpretation to come through.

“…and I’m an idiot, too!”

Jack yawned and turned towards his friend slowly.

“Are you implying that there is” yawn “some other idiot already here?”

Doctor shot him an angry glare.

“You can’t learn Gallifreyan. You just… Can’t. Never, ever.”

“Very nice” yawn “Why?”

“Because of the number that Rose did on you. You have no time sensors active. Or rather, you have – but they are permanently frozen and tracking only one type of information – the one that tells you whether you’re in the right time or not. They can’t be trained to do anything else. This is the other side of why TARDIS and, to a certain degree, me are both slightly allergic to you. You’re like that one thing stuck and unmovable. Even when she’s flying both of us through time and space, she feels you like a tiny speck of a pebble in her mental shoe.”

Jack blinked slowly and slumped over the tabletop, his nose touching the leather binding of a fat book, his eyes drifting slowly closed.

Suddenly, a sharp shout jerked him erect. “I know!” the Doctor shouted and whipped the screwdriver out, flicking it in the air. “I will need to find a few ingredients, but that should work!”

Jack shook his head and followed his host towards the kitchen.

“What the blazes are you blathering about?”

“There is that book” he scrunched his nose in concentration “About a doctor – don’t laugh – who is trying to understand the NDEs. I could tell him something about these, but my NDEs are mostly related to being in pain and turning myself inside out, sometimes in flames, so I suppose that would not fit his model. Anyway, what he does is he uses a drug to put people in a kind of trance and tracks their brain activity and chemistry to find out what NDEs actually are. One of the points they make there is that many people who claim to have had an NDE also had an out of body experience. That gives me an idea” he pulled a drawer open and started rummaging through it.

“You want to fix the same kind of drug?”

“No, that would be silly. It was a made-up drug, and anyway it wouldn’t work. I tried. But I can get myself auto-hypnotised to get an out of body experience. Then I’d be asleep and awake at the same time. If I wait long enough, she has to be asleep again at some point, and then we’ll be in sync but I will also have control over what I’m doing, right?”

Jack shuddered slightly and nodded.

“If you say so. So, what do you need?”

“A cup of sugar, some gelatine, four pounds of good cottage cheese and three big bags of frozen strawberries. And lemons.”

When the rest of the cheesecake was safely stored in the fridge, Doctor arranged himself on the couch.

“I can probably start with the counting, and as full of sugar I am, I should be out in minutes.”

“Sure that is the right way?”

He shrugged.

“It worked the last time.”

Not that time, however.

They went through controlled breathing exercise, meditation, standing on his head, hiperventilation, counting, spinning and other equally weird and equally useless attempts. As they sprawled on the sofa again, the TV screen flickered on and the Doctor blinked. Two small, connected gears spinned there for a moment and he shrugged, turning around and through the sofa armrest, suddenly floating away from the place he was sitting and watching the screen with glazed eyes. Jack leaned forward and poked him slightly.

“Whatever you did, it worked” he said towards the ceiling and started setting up the elaborate alarm system they rigged to time the Doctor’s stay in the non-awake state.

He could not really focus on what was happening in the TV room and slowly drifted through the door, out into the corridor and up one flight of stairs, finding himself in front of her bedroom door. He tested it with his finger, but it went through, so he followed it and passed the solid metal, entering the dimly-lit interior of a dusty, slightly messy and rather… pink room.

“ah” he exhaled “so you kept it?”

“-why shouldn’t I?-“

“well, sometimes we have to jettison this or that… I remember you getting rid of a significant part of the mass once, including the original medbay”

“-we didn’t jettison anything recently, so it’s here-“

“but we did and you got rid of…”

“-Jack’s porn collection, yes-“

“he was rather miffed about that”

“-he doesn’t need it anyway-“

He blinked and turned around.

“how come you’re speaking to me so directly?”

“-you’re much more open now-“

“but…”

“-he needs your help-“

He twirled in place and floated back towards the TV room, but the sight of Jack coming down the corridor stopped him. The prone body in the Captain’s arms explained the hurry and the big man was having obvious trouble keeping his steps straight, bumping his shoulders on the walls rather painfully.

“I hope he wakes up as soon as possible” Jack murmured, trying to keep her steady. “I have no idea what might be wrong with you, Rosie, but I promise, we’ll make it better. Just stay with me, ok? Stay with me.”

Rose was getting paler with every second, but she was till breathing and warm, so whatever was wrong with her was not – not yet – fatal.

He shouldered the medbay door open and deposited her on the cot.

He floated over to her unresponsive body and surveyed it, biting his lip.

She looked so frail. Her forearms were dotted with injection spots, some sticky tape still left on her skin, probably something they used to secure the IV.

“She’s not waking up, why is she not waking up…” he mumbled, looking through the cupboards “Why am I so thick? I can’t read this stuff… He should have bloody labelled it in English!”

She stirred on the bed. In a flash they were both by her side and the lights in the room flared a bit more to the warm yellow. Then he felt suddenly as if he was falling backwards, and backwards, and through the walls, and then directly down the staircase, missing all the stairs and railings he was trying to grasp and then he jerked awake, gasping for air, and up on his feet that very second.

And he heard Jack’s disappointed cry from the medbay.

Written by Srebrna

2016/05/26 at 02:31

Two for the price of one – 5

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She felt exhausted and small black spots were fluttering in front of her eyes. She stumbled more and more often, even with his support.

He watched her weaver and looked around, searching for the best possible hiding spot. Over Rose’s head he made an expressive face to Romana, who nodded wearily, but soldiered on.

‘Rose’ he finally sighed after watching her trip over her own feet again. ‘We have to stop. You need rest.’

Her eyes shot wide open and she shook her head.

‘You do. I will run ahead, bring TARDIS here and pick you up. I’m the fastest of us three. You stay with Romana and she’ll keep you safe. Please?’

She drew a laboured breath and clung to his sleeve desperately.

‘I don’t want to leave you. I really really don’t want to leave you here, but if we want to get out of here safely, I need you to stay calm and hide with Romana. Please?’

He wasn’t expecting easy acceptance, but finally she sighed let go of his hand.

What he also wasn’t expecting was both of her hands reaching for his head and pulling him down into a fierce kiss.

It was a bit of surprise, so he didn’t respond at the first second, but in a moment he felt his awkwardness melt away – unlike with the other first kiss this body had received – and he kissed her back.

She broke it off, still holding his face in her palms and looked at him angrily. She pursed her lips and gave him a frowny, stern gaze.

‘I will. I will be back. You just hide and wait. Take this’ he pushed his screwdriver into her hands. ‘Activate it every five minutes or anytime when you feel threatened. TARDIS will zero in on it once I’m inside.’

***

He hurried up, following Romana’s instructions for the shortest route. The multitude of views on all sides of the tower was tempting him on every corner, but he kept repeating her name to make himself scale the stairs at his top speed.

Not all obstacles were as easy to pass.

‘I need some kind of identification from you, my lord.’

The guardsman seemed quite firm, young and completely indifferent to the fact that he was speaking to the Saviour of Gallifrey, ex-Lord President, etc etc etc.

He wanted an official planetary ID card with appropriate authorisation chip, and psychic paper wasn’t working at all.

‘My lord, I need you to remove yourself from this area. We’re handling a delicate situation with a construction collapse. I’m sure you will be able to use the observatorium tomorrow the latest.’

‘Actually, I may be of a help in this’ he grinned, whipping out his… Ah. ‘Well, I mean, I’ve already been there and my TARDIS should be nearby, so I could hover her outside whatever happened and help…’

‘Your TARDIS?’ the boy’s face creased in puzzlement.

‘Yes, my TARDIS. You know, the ship. Travels in time. And space. TARDIS.’

‘Ah! You mean the travel capsule. So it’s yours! Do you know how much damage you’ve made?!’

And suddenly, the lance was up, pointing at Doctor’s middle.

‘It wasn’t exactly a controlled landing, my lad’ the Doctor’s hands went slowly up and towards the tip of the weapon. ‘I was homing in on the beacon affixed on the ball thingy at the top and the landing kind of happened to me when I wasn’t paying attention’ he moved the spear aside. ‘So, would you let me go up there, remove it and let you proceed with whatever it is that needs to be done, or would you rather stand here, point that stick at me and force whoever is working there to deal with my TARDIS as it is, sitting in the middle of the wall and quite unwilling to leave?’

***

In the end, he had to resort to intimidation, and the young guard resorted to chasing him down with the magnetized spear – it was a painful way of finding out it was not purely ceremonial. Fortunately the guard’s motivation was not as strong as his own, and apparently the youth of Gallifrey were not so well versed in the science of running and hiding in twisty corridors anymore.

As soon as the young man passed his small nook, he darted out and dashed back towards the observatory in hope of reaching his TARDIS before anyone tried to force her open or move her from her parking spot.

The hole in the wall was empty.

Written by Srebrna

2015/10/23 at 00:32

Do odchodzących/To ones who leave

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Kiedy ktoś umiera, mówimy

“Miał swoje lata”, “Swoje przeżyła”

Ale to tylko wyjaśnienie

A nie usprawiedliwienie

Kiedyś was dogonimy i powiemy

Jak bardzo nam przykro

Że zostawiliście nas samych

Chwilę na nas poczekacie, oczywiście.

 

When someone dies, we say

“He was getting on in years”, “She did live through a lot”

But it’s just an explanation

Not a justification

Someday we’ll catch up and tell you

How hurt we were

When you’d left us behind

You’ll have to wait a while, of course

Written by Srebrna

2015/01/05 at 03:45

Posted in Poems

Tagged with , , , , ,

But if you can still dream – 21

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Chapter 11: But only in their dreams…

But only in their dreams can men be truly free. ‘Twas always thus, and always thus will be.
Tom Schulman, in Dead Poets Society, expressed by the character John Keating

Rose: Coma

The sitting room was eerily quiet, only sounds the murmur of cars filtering through the window somewhere in the house and a humming of some household appliance. Rose’s things were still lying around, her tea mug just as she left it on the side table, her purple jacket across a chair. Jackie sat on the sofa, looking through the thick folder of medical documentation without actually reading anything.
“I wish I was a bit smarter” she finally said, breaking the silence.
Theresa’s vacuuming in the next room stopped for a moment and her face appeared in the door.
“You wanted anything, maam?”
Jackie’s smile felt as if it was cracking her skin.
“No, just talking to myself. Sorry, Theresa. Just finish the vacuuming and you can take the rest day off. I’ll order dinner in.”
The housekeeper shook her head and sighed. The house was much too empty without Miss Rose.

Pete read the short report Martha Jones had delivered with a bit more understanding than his wife. Still not much could actually be decided based on “drug coma, no sign of brain damage, significant strain on heart muscle, ventilator required” and the list of drugs required to keep Rose under as her body kept fighting the simple medicines used on normal humans.
“Do you expect any chance of improvement, doctor Jones?”
The young medic sighed, pushing the stray hair back behind her ear.
“I have no idea. With a standard human I’d say douse her with a bunch of appropriate medicines and wake up slowly. Rose however keeps waking up quickly whenever we put even a little less of the sleeping drugs in the drip. Her heart will finally give in at some point, as every time we tried to wake her up it speeds up again to 160 bpm. I’m afraid to keep her under for much longer, but I don’t see any other option. The heart medicines we’ve tried to apply to slow down her heartbeat don’t seem to have any actual effect.”
Pete worried his thumb with his teeth.
“What about some of the alien tech we’ve collected? Any… I don’t know. Criogenics? I’m almost sure we’ve had a stasis pod somewhere around.”
“Now cleared the animal testing stage, I’m afraid. We haven’t managed to wake up anything alive yet.”
“Ouch” he pursed his lips. “So we are out of options.”

They sat on the sofa in front of a black TV screen, her head on his shoulder.
“I visited Rose today” she whispered. “I read to her, they say it’s good to talk to coma patients.”
He felt a half-smirk pulling at his lips.
“What did you read?”
She huffed quietly.
“A few gossip pages, but then I thought she may be getting worse from these, so I went home and brought some of her physics books. I’m not sure I had all the pronunciation right, but at least…” she sniffed. “And then I bought a CD with someone reading Sherlock Holmes stories. Very nice voice, you know, like from the TV. I left the player there for her, the nurse promised she’ll turn it on during the night.”

A cultured, quiet voice was reciting something vaguely familiar as she struggled for air.
Everything was soft and nice, apart from whatever was covering her mouth. She didn’t have enough strength to raise her hand, so she let it be, small tears trickling down her cheek, into her hair.
This was no dream, she was quite sure. This had to be reality, plain and simple.
She was very, very sick.
On this particular evening, Lestrade had spoken of the weather and
the newspapers. Then he had fallen silent, puffing thoughtfully at his
cigar. Holmes looked keenly at him.
“Anything remarkable on hand?” he asked.
“I don’t think so, Doctor” Jack sighed, and a sound of papers being shuffled reached her ears.
She was quite sure the story didn’t have Jack or the Doctor in it. Quite.
“I’m having a vague feeling that we are missing something” Doctor’s fingers raked his hair. “Did she say anything? Anything at all? Your name, at least?”
Jack groaned.
“For once in my life I wish I was dressed. Maybe she wouldn’t have screamed so.”
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“How do you think she’s doing it? We can safely say it’s only happening when you’re asleep – any ideas why?”
Her heart was beating so slowly, but still she could hear the pulsing blood in her ears as she struggled to get through to them, to tell them she was right here, she heard…
TARDIS made a distressed sound and both men looked up at the console.
“She’s showing something” Doctor’s voice quivered with excitement. “It’s a…” he looked around “a ghost of a vital signal? Does this make any sense?”
Jack jumped to his side and wrangled some display from benath the main console, trailing a bunch of colorful cables behind it.
“Seems it is a radiation of some sort… Whaddyacallit, void stuff?”
Doctor rolled his eyes and turned a few knobs.
Her heart picked up the pace as she watched her two favourite boys work in such an accord.
“Rose!” Jack finally exclaimed. “That’s the same radiation that was on that blanket! Something is coming through!”
“TARDIS is actually… Enhancing it? Why can’t you just…”
:You’re awake:
She felt herself falling back, back into the soft covers, the shock of being back in her own body forcing her to open her eyes. She was still hearing Jack and the Doctor panicking at the console, but around her activity exploded as multitude of medical staff ran to and fro, trying to replace the suddenly vanished drip-bag.

“We had to give her something experimental.”
Martha Jones looked like the most tired doctor in the entire England.
“Nothing standard works for long. Her body is actively fighting the drugs and neutralizing them. Actually, now most of them are getting directly expelled – she’s sweating them out. At least her heart did not reach the same BPM count as the last time she woke up, but it’s still alarming.”
Pete looked down at the piece of paper with some words scribbled on it in a hurry.
“And this is what she managed to say?”
Martha Jones grimaced unhappily.
“I’m afraid it’s not much. I’d wish for something sensible, but…”
“No, no. This is perfectly sensible” Pete Tyler shook his head. “You just have to know how to read it.”

“She thinks she’s actually crossing over to the TARDIS.”
Jackie grimaced and picked up the scrap of prescription used to write down Rose’s first words after coming out of the coma.
Doctor and captain looking for way. Have to sleep a lot a lot. Void stuff detect. TARDIS will pull me.
She looked at her husband, propped against the door frame, his hands in his pockets.
“She wants to go back” she whispered hopelessly. “My baby girl wants to go back and I have no idea how to help her.”
“Who is ‘captain’?”
“Oh, him. He’s supposed to be dead, Rose told me about him. Some kind of galactic con-man who accompanied her and the Doctor for a while. He should be dead, but is she thinks he’s with the Doctor, then he is. She said he was a time traveller, but more of a tradesman kind than a hero one, if you get my meaning.”
“So… An immortal time lord and probably-dead time-travelling scam artist are searching for some way to get her back to your old universe, she’s supposed to sleep a lot even though she keeps waking up, they will detect that void thing we’re all covered with and the police box ship is helping them to get her through?”
Jackie sniffed and nodded, wiping her nose with a hankie.
“I suppose so.”
“Then let’s hope they know what they are doing, because I’m afraid we’re out of options.”

Written by Srebrna

2014/06/10 at 02:53

But if you can still dream – 20

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To die, to sleep;

To die, to sleep;
To sleep! Perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
Hamlet III, 1

Doctor: Sleeping positions

His bed was messed up to an unusual degree.
Once he accepted the fact that there is, indeed, another live being on his ship when he is sleeping, the easiness of sleep itself came quite quickly. Of course he could go for weeks on weeks without more than a nap now and then. He still could. But he preferred not to, considering what could happen if he drove himself to sleep deprivation. Like his humans for all these years, who liked to sleep in, some even joking that a time-travelling ship lets them sleep millenia in one stretch, he now took his time and relaxed. A deep, proper, full-sized sleep would also come, at some point. This way he could make sure his next regeneration wouldn’t wreck his whole body and mess with his mind. No more of this – if, and it was a big IF, if he had to regenerate again, Jack will be there to oversee it, get him to medbay ASAP and check his vitals. Also, TARDIS will be able to direct Jack to whatever nutritients they would be needing, because after last time with tea (and previous – damn hard to find bananas, when one is floating in freezing water in an evening coat and too-tight suit pants!) he wanted to make sure he’d get exactly what he would need and without delay.
He lied there, looking at the ceiling, trying to understand what was different. He never planned this kind of things before. They just… happened. Companions coped. He managed. OK, not every regeneration was particularily brilliant point in his life – especially the sixth him was nothing to write home about – but he got through, survived and went on.
Now, he was planning and it was, in fact, scaring him a bit. The very fact that he sat down and explained to Jack the mechanics of regeneration, the first signs, the possible causes, risky situations, outcomes, needed materials, protocols and definite no-no’s (“Don’t give me aspirin, ever, even if I beg for it, or someone thinks it may help my heart”, “Never get me to a hospital. EVER. EVEN if you think I finally died – medbay is good enough, but if it really gets weird, or my hearts don’t start, run Protocol 3, it is coded to your voice pattern. TARDIS will lock everything and get us, top-speed, to dr Grace Holloway, San Francisco. It has to be after 1999, and she will know what to do…”, “No glucose IVs or any other nutrients intravenously – they may go the wrong way”).
He was feeling a bit queasy about giving Jack so much information about himself, but every time he thought about keeping something to himself, a small tiny thought popped up in his brain, reminding him that this, like thousand of other things, may be the detail that saves his life or sanity the next time.
Bed was messed up.
Not by him. He slept on his side, on one side of the 7 feet wide and long bed. The other side of the bed was messed and it radiated… body heat? Residue of a living being sleeping there, with him?
“Jack! What the hell!?”
He was suddenly very, very much awake. And very angry.
And then there was a scream.
A girl was screaming, scared out of her mind, but it was like a music for his ears. Even when the scream suddenly stopped and he heard kitchen implements falling with clatter, his crazy smile was widening.
“Jack!” he burst into the kitchen, where the Captain was trying, in vain, to hide his best parts with a pot and a cooking apron and looking madly at the exact spot that the Doctor was now standing on.
“D..dd….dddd…”
“At first, I thought you brought some company on board and they mistook the rooms” Doctor said in a conversational tone, leaning on the door frame. “But now I think you were quite alone today, and it was actually only me that slept… not alone.”
“Wh…? What?”
“Did you, or did you not, in fact, just got caught parading butt-naked around the kitchen and scared Rose Tyler into the next universe?”
“Doctor!”
“But that’s great!” he smiled maniacally. “That means she actually was here! I mean, look at you – well, maybe not, but still – she saw you. Did you see her? I most certainly heard her, oh yes. And TARDIS felt her existence appear and then shut down again.”
“I saw her” Jack gave up the efforts to cover himself and settled on just not showing the most important bits. Somehow getting caught naked in the kitchen twice didn’t seem as much fun as getting caught naked in his bedroom, by some appropriate person. “She was here, she looked at me, and screamed. May I tell you what it does to my self-esteem, to have girls scream with fear when they see me? May I?”
“You may not. But you may tell me what she looked like” the Doctor scrunched his nose and sat at the table. “Also, you may turn off the gas under that pan, before the eggs burn.”
After a few minutes (and one short trip to Jack’s wardrobe) they were sitting on their usual places and Jack was inhaling his scrambled eggs, trying not to choke when he related the very short story of his encounter with their most beloved friend.
“She walked in. Not appeared here, walked. When I rerun what I heard just before she showed up, I know I noticed steps in the corridor, but thought it was just something in the kitchen. Then she stood by the door, probably slightly stunned by all the beauty…”
“Captain.”
“Very well. I turned ’round, feeling eyes on my ass – a bit intrusive. She stared at me for at most two seconds and then screamed. She bent forward, still crying something, and flickered out.”
“Flickered… out?”
“Like a damn Princess Leia on a bad recording.”
“But when she was here, she was material? I mean, not see-through, or flickering?”
“No, solid, totally. And then she blinked out and in once and disappeared.”
Doctor pouted slightly, pondering the new data.
“I think… I… Well. Hm.”
“Very informative, thank you.”
Doctor snatched last half-burnt toast.
“I think I need something to eat. Also, I think – I am very hopeful! – that we can, in fact, pull her through.”

The next ship-evening he laid there, on “his” side of the bed, curled around “her” pillow. Still somewhat smelling of her.
Next morning didn’t bring anything new, but for a few blonde hair, which he collected gleefully and took to the TARDIS lab for identification.
Blonde hair turned out to be emitting – still active – void particles. Their roots, however, gave something even more interesting – the DNA of, well, human origins, but very much mutated. And the mutations were such that the Doctor stared at the readout for several good seconds before comprehending them. Including the fact that the tiny wisp of energy still stuck to these cells was pulsating with the familiar golden glow.

Written by Srebrna

2014/06/05 at 02:50

But if you can still dream – 19

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To die, to sleep;

To die, to sleep;
To sleep! Perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
Hamlet III, 1

Rose: Benzodiazepines

“We have no idea” the frog-like medic stated. “Your blood results are good, maybe only the iron levels are a bit too low – you could benefit from a change of diet, Miss Tyler. But in the behaviour tests I see overall slowness of response, drop in the general awareness and significant problems with concentration. How do you feel in these areas? I know that the poisoning with whatever it was – hopefully someone will identify it – might have affected your brain processes, but nobody could have predicted that the effects will last that long.”
She pursed her lips.
“I’m afraid I’m not sleeping very well lately” she answered finally. “And then during the day I can’t focus on text, I have to read the same sentence three times… It’s as if I could not take any more knowledge in. I just can’t work like this…”
He nodded, chewing the tip of his pencil.
“Your performance will be, I’m afraid, deteriorating. I’d say you should take at least three weeks of vacation,but you Torchwood freaks wouldn’t recognize vacation if it came up close and spit on your shoe.”
“I already have taken a week. This seizure came on the first day… What should I do, go home and watch TV all the time?”
He scratched back of his head in thought.
“Let me think… I’d suggest you take a dose of this” he scribbled on a notepad “and simply stay at home. Read or listen to music, no watching TV – the blinking pictures may have adverse effect. Stay as long as you need. I’m putting you on a prolonged sick leave.”
She sighed.
“What does it do?”
He looked up at her.
“The medicine. What does it do and what does it contain? I’m allergic to some drugs, so I’d rather not add asthma or spots to the whole mess.”
He recited the ingredients slowly, watching her nod at every name.
“Very well. Here’s your prescription. Pick the stuff up in the hospital apothecary. They will be expecting you.”
Bedside manner from hell. How did he became a doctor?
Dismissed, she stood up and slowly walked to the door.

She fell backwards on her bed and looked at the label. Of course the booklet inside the box was thicker than the capsule holder and she totally disregarded it, only taking a look at the “adverse drug reactions”.
Lots. Aw, hell.

Of course she got at least half of the list of these. Her throat was sore and somehow constricted, her left hand was a bit stiff and she would have sworn someone had wrapped her brain in cotton candy.
She got up quietly, putting the cover back over his sleeping form and sneaked out to the corridor. She more felt her way forward than saw it – her brain still working on low power, eyes not quite catching the details, ears…
Someone was singing.
The voice carried along the corridor with firmness, self-assuredness and openness of a professional singer. It was a rich, strong but surprisingly mellow tenor which reminded her of something, but she couldn’t quite place what.
Before she made a conscious decision, there she was, standing in the door to TARDIS kitchen, the most homey room on the whole ship.
Lights were low, but the stove lamp was lit so she could take in all the peculiarity of the scene – a pan full of scrambled eggs, a stack of half-burned toast on a plate, a butter dish and, in the middle of it, singing “Can you feel the love tonight” into the whisk, dancing and making wild gestures was a dead man. Naked.
She apparently stood there for a bit too long – took some time to analyse her observations – because he turned.
She saw the perfect face, slightly tousled hair, sculpted muscle and the infuriating smile that made women (and some men) swoon at the very sight of him.
His lips moved, eyes widened, he was saying something, walking to her, reaching out, but she didn’t hear, didn’t see, didn’t think. She screamed.

“Seizure!” the nurse cried, as the body on the table tensed up and contorted painfully. The attendants grabbed a flailing limb each and held Rose down on the bed.
“As you see” Martha Jones gestured helplessly. “We have no new ideas. Or, rather, they have no idea, as I have been denied access to Rose’s records.”
Pete Tyler twisted his gloves in desperation as he watched his wife look forlornly at Rose through the thick glass.
“I’ll make sure you get authorised” he uttered finally. “No way they are treating her like a test subject. I won’t be able to be here all the time. Even then they would probably be able to go behind my back. You will make sure they understand that for cutting up Rose they will pay by being cut themselves. Cut away from the employee list at least” He squeezed his eyes shut. “If they cannot come to any reasonable solution, we’ll take her back home. Can I rely on you, doctor Jones?”
She nodded slowly, wondering what she got herself into.
“You will need details that are in Rose’s Torchwood personnel file. When you read it, you will understand why it is of utmost importance not to let these… butchers… find any reason to cut Rose open or try any invasive treatment.”
Jackie turned to them, determination shining in her face.
“Doctor Jones, my daughter is something special. I’m not saying this because she’s my little girl. She may be, when time comes, the only person who can save this whole universe. And I like this one as much as my previous one – even better, considering Pete here – I’d much rather it stayed as it is. Oh, stop it, Pete. She will read Rose’s file, mine too, if she wants, and it’s all there. Doctor Jones” she turned to the astonished medic. “Rose was born to me and Peter Tyler who died before she even walked. We, and one other, were transported to this reality a bit under two years ago, and have replaced two persons who were killed at that time.”
“Cybermen” Martha whispered.
“Jackie Tyler of this world was converted” Pete’s voice was hard and low. “Jackie agreed to stay in her place.”
“Only Rose never existed here, so we had to create a backstory for her. So, of course, parts of her medical history are sham, only put there to explain her visible scars and some changes that might have occurred.”
“But couldn’t you have just given the real explanation? After all, any accidents she might have had couldn’t be so different from what could happen here… Could they?”
“Werewolf scratching across her back, 1800’s stitching. Laser burns. Non-earth colourings in her tattoo. If watched through red-green 3D glasses, she is surrounded by a swarm of shining particles. Enough?”
“She is also mildly telepathic, highly empathic and has slight telekinetic abilities” Jackie added. “Do you feel we could have included any of this in a normal report?”
Martha Jones, MD, just nodded.
A day (and a sleepless night) later a very determined Martha Jones was standing in front of the main desk and repeating her demand. Finally, after the third recitation of her authorisations, the guard gave up and let her in. She noted his name carefully. Pete will want to know.
After an evening of extensive reading and a night talking to Pete and Jackie, she had, finally, knowledge on which she could base her analysis of Rose’s health. And also re-evaluate whatever she herself diagnosed before.
Which was a lot.
“Basing on the blood samples, Rose is no longer human. No human being would have been able to live with these mineral levels, low sugar and, well, several other abnormalities. I will have to cook up results that will give a diagnosis of severe anaemia and some general infection. Giving her supplements and general antibiotics – with reference to her allergy listing, of course – may help her and will give the team something to do. Also, it seems that this situation is a recent development – her last blood test was only five days ago – and based on it, your Torchwood physician prescribed the pills – it was showing slight iron deficiency, nothing more interesting.”
Pete nodded and simply turned his laptop towards her, an application to falsify blood results already running.
“There is, though, another and much graver problem” Martha had his attention immediately. “Her sleep patterns. She doesn’t sleep. No more than an hour per day.
“Although Rose is, as I said, probably non-human, we have never yet met a species that would be able to survive on next to no sleep. Rose’s EEG shows that even when we perceive her as sleeping, her brain is still working at full speed. Only for an hour or so she goes into what would be, for any of us, a light sleep. No deep sleep phase, no REM – only an hour of barely useful nap every twenty-six hours or so.”
“That means brain damage?” Pete has seen people go without sleep for much longer than was healthy for them.
“Not necessarily” Martha bit her lower lip. “The blood results may be an outcome or be linked to the sleeping problems. She may be suffering no damage at all. If her physiology has been altered enough to cope with the blood abnormalities, it may also be coping with no sleep. But I don’t know, frankly, ANY species with such ability.”
Jackie made a strangled noise. The other two looked at her suspiciously as she raked her perfectly coiffed hair with her fingers.
“I know one” she finally uttered.
Pete sat straighter suddenly.
“You think…?”
“I suppose so.”
“Damn.”
Martha waited, suddenly no longer the centre of attention. And quite glad about that. She was a physician, not a xenologist, and her knowledge of aliens was limited to the humanoid ones that have been apprehended by Torchwood. Finally, the pair returned their focus to her.
“What are the real risks here, doctor?”
She inhaled slowly.
“Starting from the ‘human’ risks – as you said, brain damage, personality disorders, ataxia, aphasia, anything, basically. Any other? Well, hard to estimate without knowing the physiology of whatever species she is mutating into, but I suppose similar, including additional physical changes, and, if the change in total is too large, organs shutdown. For the time being, she is staying without contact with us, but her brain is working full-speed, as if she was completely conscious. Her heart rate is 160, BP almost 145/110. This means she’s burning down energy in a rate that is hard to equal by the ‘safe’ IV nutrients we can give her. Also, if this goes for much longer, her heart is going to sustain damage. The options we have now is either putting her into deeper sleep – to make her brain and heart slow down – or try to wake her up in order to check what is actually going on with her.”
Jackie’s eyes jumped nervously from the doctor to her husband.
“Do we have any safe drugs that would keep her in deeper state of sleep for long enough?”
“Fortunately, yes. She had no adverse reaction to Thitrax, so we can give her the deep-coma amount safely and work from there” she rubbed her eyes and nose tiredly. “However, there is always a risk that she won’t wake up from this. I have no way of even guessing the state of her brain – what it is supposed to be and how badly it’s screwed up now. I’m sorry. But I’d rather say it now, then surprise you with this when she doesn’t came back.”
“But if you try to wake her up now…?” Jackie’s lips trembled.
“Her heart will probably give in. And I frankly can’t say what we could do about it, as transplant would probably be out of question.”
Pete drew his wife closer.
“Deep coma. At least we will still have options then.”

Written by Srebrna

2014/06/01 at 01:45