Creatures at an Exposition
Author: Metaldog

Chapter 9
Tom

-=Chapter Nine=-

Suddenly, a door opened next to me, and a pair of hands grabbed me and pulled me into the room.  I saw the Rutan land on the carpet where I had just lain, and then the door slammed shut.  The Rutan bashed itself against the door several times.  Then it stopped, and the silence seemed louder.

"Matt!" the Doctor exclaimed, seemingly surprised to see me.

"Doctor!" I exclaimed, genuinely surprised.  It had been the Doctor who had saved me.  "What are you doing here?"

"Waiting for my room service.  I ordered tea half an hour ago."

"Well, I threw it at the Rutan."

He looked at me, gravely.  "You threw my tea at the Rutan."

"I didn't know what else to do!"

"You threw... MY TEA... at the RUTAN?!?!"  He looked seriously upset.

"It just killed half a dozen people in the hallway!  What was I supposed to do?"  I couldn't understand why the Doctor was angry with me.

"Hit it with a stick or something!  Isn't that what you apes are good at?"  He turned away, took a few steps, and placed his face in his hands.  Just as I was about to say something else, he held his hands up, with the index finger of each hand pointed at the ceiling.  He crossed his legs, and did a quick one-eighty.  His eyes were closed, and his face expressionless.  "Did you say the Rutan just killed half a dozen people in the hallway?" he asked, very calmly.

"Yes.  And I believe they were Secret Service Agents.  Probably here protecting you-know-who."

"The President who's going to die tomorrow."

"Well, technically, he doesn't die for eight days.  Tomorrow he gets shot."  I was nit-picking, I know, but frustration made me do that sometimes.

"So what if he dies today or two weeks from Tuesday?  The outcome remains the same."  He started to pace back and forth in the elegantly furnished room, holding one finger slightly higher than the other.  "Roosevelt still becomes President.  We just need to make sure that it's the real Roosevelt and not the Rutan Roosevelt."  He walked over an antique chair, tipping it gently onto its back with his feet.  "Simple solution is to slaughter the slithering slimeballs as soon as... well, soon.  OR!"  He turned at a ninety-degree angle and knocked over a potted plant.  "Convince them to leave peacefully!  Which will never happen.  Rutans?  Leave peacefully?  Never happen."

"But he has to die now," I interjected.  "This assassination is just the first of many, which eventually causes the First World War.  Which causes the Second World War.  Which causes the Cold War and a dozen little wars."

"There's no such thing as a little war," he said, coldly.

"Exactly.  If this doesn't go down exactly the way it says in the history books..."

"Good!  Excellent!  Wonderful!"  He stepped over an ornate coffee table and held his hand up in front of me, like he expected a high-five.  I gave him a high-five.  "You understand!  This one little event, on this tiny little world, shapes the future of the whole Galaxy.  Mankind's just starting to become a global community; the Twentieth Century, with all that progress, is just waiting to happen.  And here it is, every corner of the planet represented in a crappy little county fair in a backwater city named after a large, edible animal.  And two little bullets," he held out his left hand, in which I saw two bullets, "and one tiny little gun, so small it can be concealed in a handkerchief," a Derringer pistol magically appeared in his right hand, "is all we need to make history happen."

"Czolgosz has to kill him.  Not you."

"Does it matter?"  He looked at me, his eyes watering.  "So they'll execute me.  I can regenerate again.  I've still got a few more in me, I think.  Then I'll retire.  I'll find a nice planet and meditate for a thousand years and I'll never meddle with the affairs of the Universe again."  He seemed on the verge of tears.

I put my hand on his shoulder.  "You.  Don't.  Kill.  McKinley.  Czolgosz does.  That's how history recorded it, anyways.  I did a report on this when I was in college."

"You failed that class." he said.  He was right.

I looked him in the eye.  "I missed the final exam.  I would have passed, but I had to pull a double shift."  I took the gun out of his hand.  He let me take it.  I placed the gun on the table and sat in a chair.  I motioned to him to sit down; he picked up the chair he had previously walked over, and placed it beside my chair.  He sat down.

"But what about the movie?  You saw it.  I shot McKinley."

I had an idea.  "Maybe it was a Rutan disguised as you."

He jumped up.  "Maybe it was a Rutan... maybe it was all Rutan!"

"What?"

"We need to look at that movie again.  As soon as Nikola Tesla brings the TARDIS back, we need to look at it again."  I wasn't too surprised by his assertion that Tesla was the TARDIS thief, as I had surmised the same thing.  He started pacing back and forth again.

"So now what?  I'm sure sooner or later somebody's going to notice the dead bodies in the hall."

"Actually, I'm surprised that nobody's noticed them already.  They didn't die half quiet."  The Doctor peered through the peep-hole in the door.  "The hotel seems strangely empty."

"Well, we're up on the fifth floor.  Well, sort of the sixth, but they count the ground floor separately."

"No excuse," the Doctor said.  "There is a lift."

"There's a what?"

---

"So whose room is this, anyways?"  I asked the Doctor.  "Don't tell me you snuck in the back way and managed to book a room on the top floor, with no money and no name?"

"Actually, it's a suite." he said, opening a door.  We stepped through the door and there in the bedroom, working at an ornate desk, was Thomas Alva Edison.

"Ah, Doctor!" Edison spoke, looking up from his work.  It looked like some sort of electrical diagram.  "Is the tea here?"  He looked at me in my bellhop uniform.  "Did you bring the tea?" he asked me.

"Uh, no, sir, Mister Edison, sir." I stammered.  I hadn't been that tongue-tied since I ran into Bill Clinton at a Sabres game.  "I mean, yes, I did, but there was a Rutan..."

"Rutan?  Doctor?  Don't tell me there's aliens afoot again."  He looked accusingly at the Doctor.

The Doctor bowed his head in shame, and smiled guiltily.  "You know me.  Always chasing aliens."

"Yes, and always leaving a path of destruction in your wake.  Remember what happened last time?  You almost burned down my workshop!"

"Almost.  Stress on the almost."

"And what about the time you almost pulled my ear off!  And that fiasco with the... the... oh, what was his name?  The Mister?  The Master!"

"I'm sorry," I interrupted.  "You've met the Doctor before?"

"I don't know what business it is of yours," Edison snorted, "but yes, I have.  Doctor, who is this bellhop?"

"Oh, this is my friend, Matt.  He's from the future."

"Ah, bellhops from the future!  What will they think of next?  Well I suppose that means that I've already tipped you, so you can be on your way now.  Shoo!"

"Now that's not very nice!" the Doctor accused.  "You should tip the man.  He didn't even know there was a lift."

"Didn't know?  Why, I wired up that elevator, myself!  Every room in this hotel has electric light!  Perhaps you forgot, though.  It used to be called the Berkeley Hotel, when it was first built.  That was only five years ago."  Edison picked up the table lamp from the desk in front of him.  "See this?  It has a joint on it."  He turned the lamp and the bulb, with its stained-glass shade, swiveled out on an arm.  "That was the Doctor's entire contribution to the idea.  'It should have an elbow on it,' he said.  'Why?' I said.  "'Because I like elbows,' he said.  Because I like elbows, indeed!"

I smirked at Edison's impression of the Doctor's voice.  "I like elbows." the Doctor said, and I started to laugh.

"Anyways, I don't like this light shade," Edison continued, "the light seems entirely too green."

"What?" the Doctor jumped up and spun around.  "Green?"

---

I followed the Doctor's gaze, and noticed where the green light was coming from.  This suite was one of the few rooms in the hotel to have its own private bathroom, and a green glow was faintly shining through every crack in the closed door.  The Doctor cautiously approached the bathroom door.

"Doctor!  Here!"  Edison had reached into a bag near his feet, and pulled out a pair of rubber gloves.  He tossed them to the Doctor, who caught them and pulled them on.

"Perfect!  How'd you know?"

"Are these aliens slimy?"

"No, not particularly.  More like sticky."

"Oh, well, then perhaps different gloves..." Edison started to root through the bag.

"But they are electric." the Doctor added.

"Ah, perfect then."

---

"Mister Edison?" I asked.

"Tom."  He smiled at me, trying to look friendly.

"Tom, do you have any more rubber gloves?"

Edison looked in his bag for a few seconds.  "No."

"Anything non-conductive?"

Edison looked in his bag for a few seconds.  "No."

"Then perhaps we should leave."

"Good idea."  He gathered up his notes from the desk.  Before I could see what they all were, he shuffled them into a neat pile, but I could see that the papers on top were blueprints to some kind of machine.  He stuffed them into the bag and rose from his chair.  Then he handed me his bag.

"I'm not really a bellhop, you know."

He snatched his bag back from me.  "And you think you're getting a tip?"  He left the bedroom in a huff.

"Could you two be quiet?  I'm huntin' wabbits over here!" the Doctor whispered, loudly.  He was standing at the bathroom door, his rubber-gloved hand hovering over the knob.

"Maybe you should knock first."  He looked at me like I was crazy.  "Well, it's a bathroom," I said.

He rolled his eyes.  "Rutan's don't... do that.  Not like that, anyways."

"Might be in the bath."

"Yeah, could be..." the Doctor mused.  "Well, nothing I've never seen before!  And besides, I'm a Doctor!"  He grabbed the doorknob and flung it open.

---

The Rutan was in the bath.

---

I picked up the desk lamp and threw it at the alien thing.  My first and most basic human instinct was to destroy it.  The cord stopped its flight in mid-arc, and it plummeted to the tile floor.  The glass shade and bulb both shattered.

The Rutan, which was halfway out of the bathtub when I threw the lamp, retreated into the tub.  It was filled halfway with water, which seemed to boil and churn around the beast.  Every surface of the room was covered with thick frost, and mist that rose from the turbulent bath was falling from the ceiling as big, puffy snowflakes.

"What'd you do that for?" the Doctor asked.

"Well, uh... it was hot.  The bulb."

"Well now it's not.  Now it's just broken glass that the Rutan might cut itself on.  Oh dear, it might get a tiny boo-boo on its littlest tentacle.  Stupid ape."

"Hey, at least it got back in the bath."

"For the moment.  Remember, they can jump."

"AND WE can walk." The Rutan took on the shape of a man; the same man I had seen in the hallway.  As he changed shape, his voice changed, as well.  "And we can talk."  He stepped out of the bath, and, strangely, his clothes were not wet.  The footprints it left in the snow caught my attention, because they looked strangely crooked.  They were definitely not human footprints.

"Then let's talk, you and me.  Time Lord to Rutan.  Just between us higher species." the Doctor said.  He motioned me towards the door.

"Very well, then.  Human, you may leave.  We are a single Rutan; the brood of our energies are elsewhere.  We will speak to the Time Lord."

---

I left the bedroom as quickly as I could.  Edison stood at the door to the hallway, looking out.
"Well, at least the President's safe," he said.

"Not very," I said.  "All of the Secret Service agents are dead."

"No, they're not.  They're right here."

I ran to the door.  Four men in identical suits stood at the end of the hallway, by the door to the President's suite.  Four more men stood by the top of the stairs, at the other end of the hallway.  We were, as the name "middle suite" would imply, in the middle.  There was no sign of the other agents' bodies, nor did I see any trace of the broken teapot.

"Damn it." I muttered.

"Blasphemer!" Edison said.

"They took the pastries."

"Damn it!" he groaned.  "There's nothing quite like a good pastry."

I pulled Edison back into the room, and closed the door.

"What's the meaning of this?  They'll let us pass!  Do you know who I am?"  He grabbed the lapels of his coat and scowled at me fiercely.  "We will get our pastries back."

"Those were Rutans."

"Rutans?  I thought they were electric.  And green."

"And shapechangers.  But apparently somewhat limited in that regard."

"How do you mean?"

"Those men?  They all had the same face."  I locked the door.

---

I went back to the bedroom.  The Doctor was holding the Rutan at bay with his sonic screwdriver. "Hey, Doc, he lied.  The other eight are in the hall."

"I know.  Check this out; new setting I just installed on this thing.  Micro-millimeter wave.  Creates a small beam of invisible light that cooks your skin ever so slightly.  Does no damage but it hurts like hell."  He pointed it at my arm, above the elbow, and it felt like I was being branded.  I jerked away.

He pointed the sonic at the Rutan again.  "Now answer my questions!  How many are you?"

The Rutan had reverted to its blobby shape, although it was perched on an elegant chair.  "WE ARE NOT TELLING."

"Doctor!  Are you torturing it?"

"No, not really.  You were the demonstration.  Now it knows that I'm not fibbing.  I'm not fibbing, am I, Matt?  That felt really, really, hot, didn't it?"

"Like a cigarette being put out on my skin.  But it didn't even leave a mark.  Don't do that again."

"Oh, yes, I completely forgot..." the Doctor rummaged about in his left jacket pocket with his left hand.  "No... hang on..." He reached completely around himself and rummaged about in his right pocket with his left hand.  Then he reached in an inside pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes.  "These are yours," he said.

I took the pack of cigarettes.  "Oh, wow!  I haven't had a cigarette all day!  Thank you!  Where'd you get these?"

"Your house.  Couple of weeks ago.  Nobody was home.  I drank some milk, hope you don't mind.  And I helped myself to some cheese.  Is that all you ever have, cheddar?  You should get some more variety in your cheese."

"Sometimes I have swiss."

"Ooh!  I like swiss!  Lots of little round holes.  I like little round holes.  You know.  In my cheese."  He looked slightly embarassed.

"Yeah I noticed a certain pattern to the TARDIS decor.  All of the walls had those porthole things..."

"Some are windows, some are lights.  Some are cupboards.  Some are access panels to vital systems of the TARDIS.  They all have a purpose.  I don't just put little round holes in every TARDIS desktop theme just because I like little round holes in my cheese." He sounded defensive.

"I wonder if they have any cheese at the Exposition."

"Yes, they do!" he said.  "Over near the... oh that information booth with the woman who had the funny hat.  You remember the one?  It was all fruit?  I wanted to eat her head!"

"Oh, yeah!  Hey that isn't far from..." I beamed a mischievous smile.

"From what?"

"The Original Hamburg Sandwich!"

"Oh, no."  He wagged his finger at me.  "No cheeseburgers!"

"Okay, but I have to try one of those burgers.  I mean, it's the original.  The real deal, you know?  None of that fast food crap."

"Okay, okay, I'll let you have a hamburger.  One hamburger.  No cheese!"

"Thanks, Doc."  I opened my pack of cigarettes and lit one.  The familiar smoke felt good in my nicotine-starved lungs.

"I still think you should quit," the Doctor said, disapprovingly.

I looked around.  "So, uh... where's the Rutan?"  It was no longer on the chair.

---

We jumped up from our chairs and searched the room.  There was a window open in the bathroom, which was probably how it got in the bathroom in the first place.  The localized snow flurries had stopped, and the frost was starting to melt.

"Hey, Doc, look at this!" I was looking at the footprints on the snowy tile.

"Don't call me Doc.  Please."

"Doctor.  The Rutan's got his shoes on the wrong feet."

He bounded over, and looked at the rapidly melting footprints.  "More like he's got his feet on the wrong feet!  Rutans were never very good at xenobiology.  I remember the first battle they had with the Sontarans.  They kept shooting the Sontarans in the... um... lower abdominal area.  Between the legs."  He coughed and looked at the wall like it had done something interesting.  "The Sontarans don't have any vital organs there.  No organs at all, actually.  I never understood Rutan biology until I examined that Rutan I killed at Fang Rock.  Their brain is not inside the globular mass, you know.  It's suspended in a sac that hangs on the underside of the creature.  Almost looks like, well, you know, a sac filled with brains.  But they're little brains, most of the time.  Two of them; one for the individual and one for the hive-mind."

"So it's a sac with a pair of brains in it.  Sounds... really familiar.  And I'm glad it wasn't humans fighting the Rutans in that battle."

"Or Time Lords!"  He started to laugh, then cleared his throat and adjusted his shorts.  Then he didn't seem to know what to do with his hands; he put them on his hips, with the thumbs crooked into the tops of his pants pockets.  "Well, anyways... that Rutan that was just here?  The one that got away?  He had a huge sac."

I couldn't help it; I burst out laughing.

 

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