Israel Boone scratched his white-blond head as he pursed his lips in puzzlement. He had led the stranger in a roundabout fashion to the cabin he shared with his parents and sister, Jemima, losing the redcoats on the way. Mima was away at a friend’s, but his ma at least should have been home. Instead they had found no one there at all, except for his pet goose, Hannibal, who had started honking the moment he laid eyes on the shabby looking man in his funny-looking shirt and pants and hadn’t stopped honking since. Finally, Israel had shooed the goose out of the house and into the yard and closed the door, but it had done little good. Hannibal was still bellyaching loud enough to raise the dead. And what was the stranger doing?
Searching his ma’s cupboards for tea, just like he said.
As another empty container skittered across the wooden planks to land at his feet, Israel shook his head and said, “You must have an awful powerful hankerin’ for tea, mister.”
The stranger paused in mid-stride, an empty container that had once held flour – the flour that now coated the kitchen floor, painting the dark boards white – raised in one hand above his head so he could peer into it, as if the tea might somehow have grown hands and was clinging to the inside of the box in fear of its life. “Hankering? Yes. That must be what it is. Is that the same thing as a craving? I seem to remember having a craving not all that long ago. For apples, I think. Or was it bacon? No, maybe fish fingers and custard….” He shook the box a few more times, and then tossed it after the rest; the ones that had held his ma’s spices and sugar and dried fruits and nuts…. “Why? Is there something wrong with that?”
The boy looked at the mess and sighed. Then he nodded toward the thick leather razor strop hanging on a nail on the wall by his pa’s washstand. “You see that?”
The man spun to look at it. “Why? Do you think there might be tea tucked behind it?”
Israel rolled his eyes as his hand went involuntarily to his backside. “If you don’t know what that is, mister, you sure will when my ma gets home. She’ll introduce you two right proper-like.”
The stranger had crossed to the item in question. He felt the thick band of leather, dropped it, and then picked up his pa’s razor and snapped it open. “This should go,” the ragged man remarked, staring at the shining blade. “I don’t believe in weapons.”
The white-haired boy swallowed hard. “Then you’re throwin’ out the wrong one, mister.” Israel paused. “How come you know that when you don’t know nothin’ else?”
For a moment the stranger said nothing. Then he started and looked up. “What?”
“How do you know you don’t like weapons? You don’t even know your name.”
“I…. Well, I don’t… I just know.” His long face scrunched up like a child’s. A moment later his pale eyebrows popped upward toward the dark mane of hair that brushed his forehead. “I know. You know?”
Israel thought about that for a moment. Yeah, he did. “All right then. We gotta figure us out a plan.”
“First we find some tea,” the man nodded. “A good dose of super-heated free radicals and tannin, that’s what I need….”
“Forget the tea! Sheesh.” Israel pointed a finger at him. “You’re gonna go and make me think you are English after all and then I’m a gonna regret helpin’ you. First, we need to find you a name, and then we need to find my pa.”
The man had returned to the cupboard and was cheerily emptying more of his mother’s precious containers. “First?” he asked over his shoulder as he dumped a handful of rare saffron on the floor.
Israel shook his head…slowly. “Well, I can’t keep callin’ you ‘mister’, can I, mister?”
“Oh.” The stranger paused while gazing down, as if noting how lovely the saffron appeared as it fell like an expensive orange snow to dot the now white-washed floorboards. “I suppose not. But how does one go about finding a name for someone who doesn’t have one?”
“Or just doesn’t remember he does.”
“Well, yes.” The container he was holding dropped to the floor. “It is really rather distracting,” the man said, placing a hand to his forehead. “I feel there is something I should remember –”
“That too.” He frowned mightily, resembling a small child deprived of its favorite toy. “But no, there is something else. Something….important….” As the stranger’s voice trailed off, he winced and then raised his other hand to his head.
“You hurtin’, mister?”
Israel cocked his head and closed one eye. “Like the last time you told me you was fine?”
“Yes!” the man snapped. Then, “No. Well, yes and no.” Suddenly the stranger looked even less like a grownup than before. He looked scared. Real scared. “Every time I try to remember who I am…the pain becomes nearly unbearable.” He gasped and then finished, breathing hard, “There is something wrong with my mind.”
“Has it got something to do with all that blood?” Israel had seen it once they got in the cabin and lit a lantern, but he hadn’t said anything. He’d seen plenty of blood before, with his pa and Mingo. Still, there was an awful lot on the stranger’s shirt and some of it was fresh. “You know you’re still bleedin’?”
“Am I?” The ragged man drew a deep breath and then asked, “Do you have a mirror?”
“Ma’s got one. Behind the curtain there, on the stand by the window.”
It was only as the stranger nodded and headed for the partitioned section of their cabin that served as his parents’ bedroom, that Israel Boone realized something was wrong. He stared after the man for the moment it took him to realize what it was, and then the boy turned his wide blue eyes toward the door that led outside.
Hannibal wasn’t honking anymore.
The ragged man slipped through the curtain and into the cane-backed chair that fronted the well-worn table that served as Israel’s mother’s vanity. He had caught up a lit taper from the dying fire as he headed into the partitioned room, and used it now to light the candle in the brass holder sitting next to the mirror on the table’s worn surface. As a golden glow filled the small area, casting weird shadows on the draped fabric beside him, he gazed at the visage reflected in the crude glass. It was the same one he had seen reflected in the stream before which, for some reason, surprised him. His skin was ghostly pale, though he had to admit that was partly due to the extreme contrast between it and the mop of very thick, very dark hair that rode his forehead like an advancing tsunami. The monstrous wave all but occluded his eyes. Shoving it aside, he stared harder. He thought the eyes were green, but it was hard to tell. They might have been blue turned to green by the candle’s yellow flame. Frowning, he examined the course of the blood stains on his skin and garments. There was little blood spatter. Instead a slender ribbon of red ran down his forehead to his cheek, from his cheek to his neck, and on down from his neck onto the right shoulder of his shirt. It all seemed to originate from that mass of dark goo located on the upper right hand side of his head. After moving the candle to where it would do the most good, the man leaned forward and gingerly parted the dark waves to check the origin of the bloody trail more closely. As his fingers touched the skin around the wound, a sickness swept over him, deeper than physical. So deep in fact, he nearly lost consciousness. Striking out with his hands, he caught the edges of the dressing table and steadied himself. Then he forced his mind to embrace the sickness rather than to flee from it; diligently pursuing the nightmare pain back to its origin. Back to….
There was a woman with orange hair, brilliant flame orange hair, directly in front of him. They were crouched close together. He could feel the heat of her body – hear her heart pounding hard, terror turning its normal tune staccato. She glanced at him. He caught a glimpse of wide dark eyes, and the flash of a wild impetuous smile, and then she vanished around the barricade that screened them – from what? Cautiously, he shifted forward to look. A sickly green glow flashed like neon, alternately lighting and masking the area before him. It might have been a cave, but was most certainly vast and empty. He saw the woman as if in strobe light, moving forward, advancing like a stutter, three or four halting steps with each pulse of the light. When she realized he was watching, she turned and cheekily waved at him –and then she screamed.
There was a name. She was calling out a name.
A low moaning brought the man back to the present. It took a long, pain-wracked moment to realize that it was his own voice he heard. He was standing now, breathing hard – so hard in fact he had put the candle out – his knuckles gone white on the edge of the rough tabletop. His heart – hearts? – pounded like a troop of advancing Judoon – whatever they were. Glancing at the pale face reflected in the mirror, he noted the dam had broken and the stream of blood grown into a river. It poured down his forehead now, blinding one eye. Still he refused to move – refused to yield.
Refused to forget.
“I will remember,” he gasped. “I will…. I am the Doc….”
Pain exploded behind his eyes, lighting a fire in his brain that burned incandescent. His lean body went rigid and his back arched like a tightly strung bow for just a moment. Then the arrow was loosed and he collapsed in an insentient heap on the floor.
Israel Boone winced at the sound of wood scraping against wood, and frowned when it was almost immediately followed by a dull thud – kind of like a heavy sack of flour hitting the floor. He started to turn toward it, but halted because of the other sound. While the scraping and thudding was interesting, it wasn’t near as interesting as the fact that the door to his family’s cabin was slowly swinging inward.
Or half as scary.
Whoever or whatever had stopped Hannibal from honking was coming inside. Israel’s young mind ran quickly through the possibilities. It could be his pa, in which case things would be fine. Pa’d be happy to see him and worried about the stranger, and wouldn’t bother with nothing else. It could be his ma…. The boy’s gaze flicked to the mess the stranger had made and he swallowed hard. And while that wasn’t fine, as his backside would be soon to attest, he’d sure be happy to see her. It could be Mingo, which would be even better than the first two ‘cause Mingo was a friend and not a parent and he knew how to keep his mouth shut about things like saffron-colored snow flour. Or, it might, it could be….
The door completed its circuit, banging against the inside wall, and a tall dark haired man in a military uniform complete with a silver epaulet on one shoulder marched inside. He was quickly followed by several other soldiers who moved with warlike precision into the common room, bayoneted muskets at the ready.
“Guess I didn’t lose ‘em after all,” Israel muttered under his breath. Then, suddenly worried for his silent friend, Israel drew himself up to his full height – which, when considered, was something short of intimidating – and demanded, “What’ve you Lobsterbacks done to Hannibal?”
The man who had entered first walked briskly forward until he towered over him. “And who, might I ask, is Hannibal?”
“Well, who’d ya think? My goose!”
The dark haired man thought a moment. His thin lips twitched as he asked, “White. About as big as you?”
“I’m a mite taller,” the boy protested, crossing his arms in judgment of the soldier’s stupidity.
“But not as tasty, I imagine,” the man with the epaulet returned quickly.
“What? You ain’t cooked my goose, have ya? If’n you hurt him –” Israel formed his fingers into small fists as tears tugged at his eyelids. “What’d Hannibal ever do to you?”
The British officer glanced down and waited for Israel’s gaze to follow his. The boy sucked air between his teeth when he saw the rip in the man’s breeches, just above the knee – and the reddened skin beneath. Israel winced. “Did Hannibal do that?”
The man nodded gravely. “Do you know the penalty for attacking an officer of His Majesty’s Royal Army?”
He sighed. “I bet it ain’t pretty….”
“No. However, your goose has not been…cooked…not yet. And if you can help us, I might be convinced to show leniency. What do you think?”
Israel sniffed. “Me? Help a redcoat? I don’t know.”
“You would not be betraying your country or your cause, young man – that is, assuming you are one of those notorious scoundrels called Yankees. We are looking for one of our own. He was involved in a…accident. Took a severe blow to the head. He may not know who he is.” The soldier’s eyes were a deep, vivid green, and they pinned him like a bearskin to the wall. “Have you seen such a man?’
Israel scrunched his face up as if thinking about it. Then he slowly shook his head. “What’d he look like? I seen an awful lot of men who ain’t in the best of shape.”
The redcoat nodded thoughtfully. “I imagine you have. Very well. Dark brown hair. Rather tall and thin. Pale skinned. He was wearing a striped rose colored shirt and brown pants, of an odd cut.”
“Not a uniform?”
“A civilian informant.”
“Oh.” And pigs can fly, Israel thought silently to himself. After what he considered a long enough pause, the boy shook his head again with great solemnity. “Nope. Ain’t seen hide nor hair of anyone fittin’ that description.”
The officer’s mouth did a good imitation of an upside-down canoe. “Are you sure? There’s a lot of it. It would be hard to miss.”
“A lot of what?”
“Hair. It puts one in mind of a sables’ thick mane.” The soldier paused and then added, almost to himself. “Though the man himself might remind you more of the other end of the horse….”
“I thought he was one of yours,” Israel countered. As he did, he fought to keep his gaze from going to the curtained off area where he knew the stranger must be listening. He sure was good at being quiet. “Don’t sound like you like him much.”
“He has his uses.” The officer turned to his men, raised a finger, and waved it in a circle indicating the interior of the cabin. In response, they fanned out and began to check every nook.
“Hey, what’re you doin’? My pa won’t like it if he catches you here.” Israel raised his own finger – and shook it. “You better get goin’. He’s due any minute.”
“Is that so?” The dark haired man with the epaulet crossed the room. Taking hold of one of the kitchen chairs, he spun it around and then sat in it, leisurely crossing his legs and leaning back as though he meant to stay a while. “My informants placed Daniel Boone near Boonesborough, let’s see….” He pulled out a gold pocket watch and flipped it open. “Around twenty minutes ago. Heading into the fort.” Closing the watch with a threatening snap, the officer leaned forward. “I hope you are not lying to me, boy.”
“My name’s Israel!”
“Good for you,” the officer snarled as he rose to his feet. “Then you should take well to captivity. Nelson!”
The sharp order brought the soldier near the back door around on his heel. “Sir!”
Israel glanced nervously at the partitioned room – which was close by that door. None of the soldiers had moved the curtain and looked in it yet. He knew what his pa would do. Protect the stranger at any cost. He had to cause a distraction. Ducking under Nelson’s arm as the man made a grab for him, the boy made a beeline for the front door. If he could get outside…. If he could just make them follow him and forget about searching that room….
The boy halted in his tracks as the moonlit night showing beyond the open door was eclipsed by a very short, very square redcoat wearing a fat woolen scarf wrapped around his thick neck, and wound all the way up to his flattened nose. The uncocked tricorn hat perched on his egg-shaped head was pulled low, covering most of his forehead, so the only thing that showed between the scarf and the hat’s brim was a set of beady, bruising eyes. When he spoke, the redcoat’s voice was like chains dragged over broken rock.
“Major Blundell,” the newcomer rasped, “have you secured the prisoner?”
“The general has arrived. Stand at arms!” Blundell ordered, thereby halting the search of the cabin’s interior.
Whew! Israel thought as his eyes flicked to the curtain and back. That was close. He should have felt better, but there was something about the square block of a man standing in the doorway that got his hackles up. As he took two steps back, drawing closer to Major Blundell, Israel realized what the newcomer had said.
Angrily, he whirled to face the British officer. “I thought you said the man you was lookin’ for was ‘one of yours’?”
“He is. One of my prisoners.” Blundell moved forward to lay a hand on the boy’s shoulder. Israel squirmed but didn’t escape as the soldier gripped it with bruising strength. “And I will have him back.”
The newcomer nodded his head slowly. “That would be wise.”
Israel felt Blundell flinch. “What would you have me do with the boy, sir?’
“Take him. Tie him up. Put him with the goose.” The square redcoat moved closer and gazed down his flattened nose at Israel. “We’ll decide later which is more to our advantage, freeing…or frying both.”
“Yes, General Stone.” Blundell saluted smartly, and then easily scooped Israel up and anchored him under one arm as he headed for the door.
Kicking and shouting, the boy protested, “You let me go! I don’t know who you are, but when my pa hears what you done, you’re gonna – ”
As Blundell shouldered past the general, Israel’s foot made contact with Stone’s tricorn hat and sent it flying. The boy gasped when he saw what was revealed. The redcoat’s head sort of looked like a big brown potato set in a scarlet wrapper – kind of like the ones they ate at Christmas. “Who…what are you, mister?” he asked.
General Stone ordered Nelson to retrieve his hat before turning to face him.
“Who am I, boy?” the potato sneered as he placed the tricorn hat on his head and shoved it forward to mask his deformity. “The god of war.”
General Stone, actually Field Marshal Stonn of the Sontaran Special Space Service, watched as the cloned British soldier bore the struggling child out the door, noting with distaste the clone’s obvious inability to control even one small human. Stonn wondered momentarily if something had gone wrong with Blundell’s programming, but in the end decided to place the blame squarely where it belonged – on the nature of the human beast. Like the pusillanimous Doctor he had pursued through time and space, Earthers’ chief weakness lay in their compassion. Stonn had no such failing. A child was the seed of an adult enemy, useful as bait and hostage, and good for nothing more. The Sontaran’s sneer widened, cracking his baked brown egg-shaped head nearly in half.
And nothing less.
“We know you are here, Time Lord,” Stonn announced, turning into the room. “Our scanners do not lie. You will surrender or the human child will pay the price.” The Sontaran soldier waited. The clones ringing the room waited as well, their archaic weapons at the ready. It was fortunate the sezerfine gas chambers had survived the transit through time to this century of Earth. Sontarans traditionally controlled humans by hypnosis or by units attached to their necks, but both of these methods had been discovered and defeated by the Doctor in the past. And though the cloning process would not fool the Time Lord for long, it allowed for a more consistent use of the local populace as there was no chance of disaffection or mutiny.
Stonn snarled impatiently. He lifted one four-fingered hand and signaled a soldier forward. As the man snapped to attention before him, the Sontaran took a moment to admire the military machine that was the British army. When this world belonged to Sontar, the English soldiers would serve them well.
“The scanners indicated this building? Why is that?” Stonn snarled.
“It was the only structure within the radius, sir. The Time Lord has to be here.”
Stonn’s snarl turned into a low-throated growl. More than once he had been betrayed by inferior equipment! “Special Service, and our War Wheel ships are outfitted with antiquated technology!” The Sontaran’s beady black eyes quickly inspected the cabin they occupied, noting the pools of shadows in its corners, as well as one area masked by a veil of cloth. “Have you searched every inch?”
“All but one,” the soldier responded, indicating that very area. “We were just about to do so when you came and the major called us to arms–”
Blundell’s second mistake and – perhaps – his last. “Do it now!” Stonn shouted. “Incompetent! If the Time Lord was there, he could have escaped by now!”
Stonn pivoted on his heel to watch the progress of the search. The soldier he had addressed pulled back the heavy curtain to reveal a small, cloistered space filled for the most part by a bed fit only for soft, weak human worms. The space around the bed appeared unoccupied – except by more shadows.
“Drive your blade into the darkness!” Stonn commanded. “Around and under the bed!” He watched expectantly as the soldier did as he was told.
Stonn whirled to find another of the cloned soldiers. “Nelson, isn’t it?” he asked. When the soldier nodded, the Sontaran snapped, “What is it? It had better be good.”
“A faint trail of blood, sir. Leading out what appears to be a back door,” the soldier reported.
“What! Do you mean to tell me the Time Lord escaped?” Stonn gripped the handle of his blaster. “If that is so, heads will roll.”
“I believe it is, sir,” Nelson replied stone-faced and obviously unmoved by his bluster.
Field Marshal Stonn closed his eyes. The one down-side to cloned troops was their lack of fear. It almost took the fun out of killing them.
The Sontaran sighed. “Show me.”
There it was. A faint line of crimson such as might have been left by a man dragging a bloody foot. It crossed the wooden floor boards and disappeared out the partially opened back door.
“Whose job was it to do surveillance on this domicile before entering?” Stonn demanded.
Nelson indicated the soldier standing just outside the door, near a clump of trees. “Lieutenant Haynes, sir.”
The field marshal nodded once and then raised a claw-like hand. In it was a weapon that had nothing to do with this primitive century in which, thanks to the clever artifices of their enemy, he found himself forced to wage war. With relish, he pointed the rheon carbine and pulled the trigger, releasing the weapon’s concentrated blast of energy – disintegrating the disappointment of a soldier named Haynes in an instant and lighting up the night sky.
“Where does the trail lead?” Stonn asked as he holstered the blaster and fastened a piece of cloth over it so it was hidden from casual view.
“Impossible to tell, sir. The night is too dark.”
Stonn remained silent for a moment. “A wise Sontaran fights to win,” he mused, “but he is twice a fool who has no plan for possible defeat. Back to the War-wheel! We will use the scanner to relocate the Time Lord, and then –” The Sontaran raised one blunt hand and crushed his four misshapen fingers into a fist. “We will take him and win the war!”
The sun set and the moon wore a cloak of clouds, casting the Boone’s cabin with its cold hearth and unlit candles into complete darkness. Then, slowly, the darkness waned as the clouds outside the humble domicile shifted and drifted to the east, releasing a beam of moonlight that struck the window near the front door and cast a box-shaped cross on the floor. It stretched all the way to the no longer partitioned room, revealing not only the Boone’s rumpled bed but the pallid hand flecked with blood that poked out from under it. The man with the dark shock of hair and the not green not blue eyes lay on his back beneath the bed, completely exhausted. He had awakened to Israel’s noisy concern about his pet goose and, quickly assessing the situation, known his only recourse was to take cover. Wounded…damaged as he was, he would be no good in a fight. In haste he had slipped under the Boone’s bed, painfully aware that the action offered only a moment’s respite – any good soldier would check to make sure the area was clear. After taking what precautions he could, he had taken hold of the bed’s understructure and worked his feet and fingers into the ropes. Lifting his aching body from the floor he had hung there, suspended, as the soldier poked and prodded.
The redcoat’s bayonet had pierced his dangling shirt, missing him by a hair’s breadth.
For some time the ragged man lay on his back, staring up at the underside of the bed, catching his breath. He had heard enough to know that Israel Boone had been taken captive, and that this man, this General Stone whoever he was, was hunting him. There was no mistaking the description. But what had Stone called him? A…time lord? Though the term meant nothing to him, his mind screamed with pain, rejecting it. Still, within that pain there was an echo of truth – the promise of who and what he was. Though it might well kill him, he was going to have to follow General Stone and his men, not only to rescue the boy, but –
To rescue himself.
Drawing a deep breath, the man caught hold of the side of the bed and painfully dragged himself out from under it. Then, he sat up. As he waited for his head to stop spinning, his hand returned to the amazingly deep and voluminous pocket in his tattered brown trousers. Before he had taken hold of the bed cords and clung to them as if his life depended on it – which, indeed, it had – he had rummaged in his pockets trying to find whatever it was they held that made lying on the unforgiving wooden floor so uncomfortable. He had come up with a veritable potpourri of things: an odd pair of dark glasses, a slingshot, several odd gooey bear shaped candies, and – how could he have forgotten? – one small, gray wind-up mouse. The mouse’s grey coat had been partially stained with a dark substance, which had given him an idea. Before taking hold of the ropes he had soaked it thoroughly in his blood, wound it up, and pointed it in the direction of the back door. Releasing it, he had watched with satisfaction as it left a faint trail as it wobbled over to the threshold and then bumped over it and fell outside.
What sort of a man was it, he wondered, who kept counterfeit mice in his pocket?
What sort of a man was he?
Deciding the answer to that question was better left for another less…exciting day, the ragged man gingerly climbed to his feet and started for the open door, intent on following General Stone to his encampment, and then somehow – though he had no idea how – challenging him and forcing him to explain what had happened. Several feet short of it he stopped abruptly, stunned into inaction by the appearance of a tall, orange haired woman. She was standing on the porch, staring at him as if he had come from another planet. A word formed at the sight of her. A name. The man struggled for a moment as it clung to the tip of his tongue, determined not to be loosed. Then he whispered, “Amy?’
The woman stepped into the room, took one startled look at the destruction around her, and then disappeared into the shadows beside the door. When she reappeared it was with a very long, very deadly looking rifle in her hands.
“Oh, hello,” he said. Holding up a finger, he pointed toward the leather strop hanging on the wall. Crossing to it, he lifted it from the nail and held it out to her even as his light brown eyebrows peaked toward the dark fringe brushing his forehead.
“As far as weapons go – might I suggest an exchange?”