Creatures at an Exposition
Author: Metaldog

Chapter 10
Fire and Ice

-=Chapter Ten=-

Hotels at the beginning of the last century were great.  Absolutely great.  Not like the 21st century at all.  The last time I stayed at a fancy hotel, there was a little cash bar inside the tiny fridge.  Little plastic bottles of booze, with full-sized price tags on them.  If you took one, it would be added to your bill.  But in 1901, Thomas Edison's fifth floor suite at the Greystone Hotel had a fully stocked bar, with heavy glass decanters of the finest liquors.

The Doctor grabbed two bottles of wine from the well-stocked wine rack and studied the labels.  "1890... 1890... I think I stepped on these grapes!  I wonder if this wine tastes like my feet..."

"Doctor, this is not the time for a wine tasting!"  Edison chided him.  "The hallway is filled with aliens, we have no way of knowing if the President is even here, that rat Tesla's been running around, and there's another of those Rutans that may or may not still be in the room!"

"Wait, what?"  I asked Edison.  "The President might not be here?"

"He books rooms at a half dozen hotels.  The Secret Service stays in most of them.  Don't know why he bothers dragging them around with him; Grover Cleveland never did.  In either of his terms."

"But the Rutans are here.  Why would they be here if he wasn't here?"

"Well, my boy, ask yourself this: who came first, the chicken or the egg?"

I shook my head.  "The egg, of course.  What are you talking about?"

He clucked his tongue at me.  "Doctor, you've got a good one, here.  Ever so much smarter than those pretty girls you always hang around."

The Doctor responded by pouring wine on the persian rug.  He looked at Edison apologetically.  "Sorry.  Not flammable enough.  Tasty, though.  Not at all like feet.  Well, not my feet, anyways."

Edison and I stared at him, flabbergasted.  "What are you doing?"  I said, in that tone I sometimes used with my daughter when she did things like that.

"Making cocktails.  Want some?"  The Doctor grabbed a funnel and started pouring liquor into one of the wine bottles from two decanters at the same time.  He seemed to have an idea as to how much of each liquor he wanted to put in the bottle, like making molotov cocktails was something in which he specialized.  I grabbed the other bottle and started sniffing decanters.

"Use that one." he said, using his chin to point at a brownish liquor.  I carefully filled the wine bottle about a third of the way with the strong-smelling beverage.  Edison produced a small pile of cloth napkins from a cabinet beside the bar, onto which I up-ended the decanter.  Then I stuffed a booze-soaked napkin in the mouth of the bottle, while the Doctor did the same to his.

---

"So, Mister Edison, where's this elevator I've been hearing about?"

"Right across the hall.  But we have to ring for it, and then the operator will bring it up."

"How do we ring for it?"

"Why, the button on the wall, of course."

I looked out the peep-hole on the door.  I could see a large pair of double doors.  "That's an elevator?"

"Of course that's an elevator.  You wouldn't want to just leave the shaft sitting wide open, would you?  Somebody might fall in."

"Well, I'm used to... future doors."  I figured that I'd better not explain too much about elevators in my century.

"Oh, I see."  He grasped his lapels and scowled at me.  "So our old-fashioned wooden doors aren't good enough for you?  Hinges too complicated for you?  Can you even work a doorknob, or are you so conditioned to opening a door with your brainwaves that you can't fathom what fingers are for?"

"Now, now, Tom.  They don't get that bad for another few centuries."  The Doctor was scanning the room with his sonic screwdriver.  "Nope!  No Rutans hiding in this room.  And I've sealed the door and all of the windows good and tight."  He stuck the sonic back in his pocket with a bit of a flourish, like a gunfighter twirling his pistol on his finger before holstering it.

I looked back out the peep-hole, trying to see the button that would ring for the elevator operator.  I spotted it to the right of the big double doors.

"Okay, here's my plan.  We somehow ring the ding-a-ling thing, and then when the elevator gets here, we throw the molotovs down the hall and jump in the elevator."

"Bad plan," the Doctor said.  "The elevator's electric.  They can disrupt any electrical system, possibly even control it.  We're going down the stairs."

"Won't the Rutans just follow us down the stairs?"

"No, it's more likely they'll climb down the side of the building.  Which means that they'll get to the bottom faster."  The Doctor grabbed a pair of very delicate-looking lacy throw-pillows from a small couch and smacked them together repeatedly.  "How often do they dust in here?  Every day?"

---

"Well, Doctor, what's your plan?"  Edison asked him.  "Not that you ever have one."

"We need to make dust!"  The Doctor bounded across the room and started shaking a small blanket that he had spotted where it lay across the back of an armchair.

"Dust?" I asked.

"Dust!  Don't question, just do it!"

I grabbed some books off the shelves and shook them by their spines.  Some of the pages fell out, and a decent amount of dust, as well.  Then I had another idea.  I lit another cigarette.

The Doctor noticed.  "Good!  Good!  Smoke works, too!"

"Well, in that case," said Edison, as he pulled out a cigar, "I don't suppose you'd mind if I indulge, as well."

"If you must," the Doctor sneered, disapprovingly.  He climbed atop the little couch now, holding one of the persian rugs that were scattered throughout the room.  Not the one he poured wine on, though.  He started whacking the rug with one hand while holding it aloft with the other.  He breathed in a face full of dust as it flew out of the rug, sneezed, and fell onto the couch with the rug on top of him.  He jumped to his feet and banged the dust out of his coat.  "Well, that's enough of that," he said.  "Now we just need to get the Rutans in here."

"In here?" I sputtered, choking on Edison's cigar smoke.  I barely needed to smoke my own cigarette to get all the nicotine I craved.  "I thought you sealed the door.  You know, so we'd be safe."

"We were never safe in here," he said.  "This isn't a haven.  This is a slaughterhouse."

---

The room had high ceilings; at least twelve feet.  In the center of the room was an electric ceiling fan, with the Edison logo emblazoned upon it.  The Doctor grabbed a small table and set it directly below the fan, and then placed a small glass of water on it.  He stood by the windows, across from the door, and pulled out his sonic screwdriver.  He aimed it at the glass of water, and Edison and I watched in amazement as it rapidly boiled and evaporated.  Then he adjusted the screwdriver, and aimed it at the ceiling fan, which started spinning at an alarming rate.  As we watched, the smoke and dust particles in the air started to swirl around.  He adjusted the screwdriver further, and the fan sped up, causing a tiny tornado to form on the top of the small table.  The glass frosted over and cracked, then flew across the room to shatter against a wall, near where Edison was standing.

Edison ducked and scowled at the Doctor, as he tried to keep his bag shut with one hand while holding an unlit molotov cocktail in the other.  I dashed across the room to him, and pulled out my cigarette lighter.

The Doctor then pointed his screwdriver at the door, which flew open.  The eight Rutans were all standing in the doorway.  I noticed that it was getting much windier and colder in the room, and as the Doctor adjusted his screwdriver one more time, it started to snow.

The miniature tornado in the center of the room absorbed the snow, and grew larger.  I felt my hair rise as it filled with static.  The Rutans moved into the room, enchanted by the snowy twister.  They surrounded it, paying no attention to us, and reached out towards it.

"Now!" the Doctor yelled.  I tried to light the alcohol-soaked towels that plugged the bottles, but it was too windy.  I turned my back to the wind, and flicked the wheel across the flint repeatedly, hoping for a flame.  Suddenly, it lit, and the wick caught.  Edison lit his wick off mine, and we turned to face the Rutans, who had turned to face us.

I threw my molotov cocktail at the floor in front of them, and fell back into the wall as it exploded into flame.  Edison threw his bottle awkwardly, and it landed behind the Rutans, on the other side of the snow tornado.

"I think you should know," the Doctor shouted, over the sound of screaming Rutans, "that wasn't water in the glass!"

The snowy tornado burst into blue flame.  I covered my head with my hands as the room suddenly filled with fire.  I felt a hand grab my elbow and pull me.  I chanced a peek and saw that it was the Doctor.  I followed him out of the room and into the hallway, where Thomas Edison was already sitting, looking slightly singed.  My bellhop's jacket was smoldering, and he and the Doctor smacked at the burning bits with their hands.

"Did we get them?" I asked.

The Doctor stood at the door to the room, his eyes filled with reflections of the flames.  He had no expression as he turned his face to me.  "They're dead," he said, flatly.  He started to shamble down the hall, towards the suite that we had assumed contained the President and his wife.  Barely pausing, he kicked the door off its frame and marched into the dark room.

---

"Empty," he said, as he re-emerged.  "McKinley's not here.  And it's a good thing, too.  The Rutans were only here because they followed us."

"What about the other one, Doctor?" Edison asked, as he picked himself off the floor.  "There were eight in the hall, and one in the bath.  Where's he gone, then?"

"She."

"What?"

"It was a she.  A queen.  Little 'q' on the queen, mind you.  The capital 'Q' Queen lives on Rutan III.  Never moves.  This is one of her minions."

"Well, what about her?"  I said.  "She's got to be around here, somewhere."

"She's looking for McKinley.  She already searched this hotel and didn't find him, and she left her brood to keep us pinned down."

---

Several of the hotel workers appeared on the stairs, including some whom I had met earlier at their backyard dinner.  The big doors on the elevator swung open, striking me on the shoulder.  Horace pulled back a cage and ran out.  He was carrying a fire extinguisher, which he started spraying into the burning room.  "You there!  Help us out!" he yelled, as more of the employees lined up behind him with buckets full of water.

I ran into the empty Presidential Suite.  It had a different layout than Edison's suite, and was more elegantly furnished.  The private bathroom was closer to the hallway door, and I turned on the tap in the basin.  The plumbing groaned and brownish water started to sputter from the pipe, then formed a steady stream.  "We have water in here!" I yelled.  A bucket brigade formed between the sink and the fire, and I went back to the hallway.  The Doctor was standing by the top of the steps, waving to me.

"Let's go!" he said, waving his wobbly fingers frantically.  "Quickly!"  He started to run down the stairs.  I ran after him.

"Where's Edison?" I yelled, hoping he could hear me.  The stairwell had filled with all of the guests of the hotel, who were trying to evacuate.  Most were in nightgowns and pajamas, but I caught a glimpse of a naked couple in one of the hallways, holding bed sheets around them and looking dazed.  I doubled back and told them, "It's cold outside.  Better put something on."

The man tried to open the door to their room, but it was locked.  I went back to the stairs as the woman started to cry, but then thought better of it and turned back.  I took off my bellhop's jacket and handed it to the woman, then turned to face the door.  The man stepped back as I rammed my right shoulder into it.  It was very solid, and barely budged.  I rubbed my shoulder and reconsidered my attack.  I lifted my right leg and kicked the door near the handle, putting as much of my weight behind the kick as possible.  The wooden door frame proved to be no match for my 21st Century steel-toed work boots, and the door swung open.

"Thank you, sir!  Thank you very much!" the man said, shaking my hand vigorously.  I recognized him now as Roswell, the man who had called me a vagabond, right before the Doctor and I had been arrested.  My shoulder hurt from the pumping he was giving my arm, but worse than that, he dropped his bedsheets.  The woman had already scurried into the room, and the man quickly followed.  I went back to the stairwell and saw Horace coming down the stairs.

"The fire's out," he said, looking exhausted.  "What happened in there?  What were those green things?"

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you.  Where's the Doctor?"

"Who?"

"The Doctor.  British guy, about this tall, with funny hair."

"I don't know.  I saw Thomas Edison, though.  He's still up there.  He insisted that he would pay for all damages and that he should supervise the cleanup.  Closed the door as soon as the fire was out."

"Good," I said.  "Somehow I got the impression that he's used to cleaning up the Doctor's messes."

---

I finally reached the ground floor, after weaving my way through the people heading up and down the stairs.  Some were heading back to their rooms, and some had apparently decided that a fire in the hotel was a good reason for a party.  As I passed the first floor, I saw that many of them had gathered in the hotel dining room, and had pressed a maid into service as a bartender.

I found the laundry, where my own clothes had been cleaned and neatly folded.  I changed in the cold, dark room, and found my coat on the hook where I had hung it.  A piece of paper crinkled in the pocket, and I pulled it out.  It was a note that read, "Room 112, knock three times.  Maureen and Hattie."  It was signed with two lipstick kisses.  I remembered that they were the two young maids who had offered to launder my clothes for me, and I smiled as I momentarily considered the proposal.  Then I looked at the silver ring on my left hand, folded the note, and put it in my pocket.

I went through the laundry to the kitchen, where another set of stairs led to the hallway near the dining room.  Room 112 was immediately to my right, and I knocked three times.  I heard a rustling and a muttering, then the door slowly opened.  A young woman squinted out from the dark room, her long red hair hanging in her eyes.  She brushed it back and looked at me.

"Oh!  It's you!  We fell asleep waiting for you.  But the offer's still good..." she smiled sleepily and opened the door further.

"Sorry, I'm not here for fun."  I held up my left hand and wiggled my wedding ring with my thumb.  "There's been a fire in the hotel.  Don't worry, it's out, but I thought you should know.  And there are guests in the dining room who need service."

"Oooh!" she whined.  "Always somebody needing service, and never the kind that's fun."  She pouted.  "Hattie!  Wake up!"  She closed the door.

---

I turned from their door and found myself suddenly confronted by the man in the nice suit.  His tie was untied and his hair, what little there was of it, was sticking out at weird angles.  "What the hell's going on here?  Who are you, anyways?  I don't remember hiring you."

"Sorry, sir, there's been a bit of an accident on the fifth floor."

"A bit of an accident?  A bit of an accident?  An entire room has been gutted.  Utterly gutted.  The same room that I sent you to, two hours ago, with a pot of tea!"  His face turned red.  "What are you trying to do, destroy my hotel?"

"Now Mister Statler, calm down, I'm sure it's nothing like that," said Maureen, as she emerged from the room in her maid's uniform.  I saw the other maid, Hattie, standing behind her.  "The fire's out, and there's guests to be attended to."  She started to tie his tie, and he calmed down noticeably.  "Now fix your hair and let's go."  She led him towards the dining room, where the noise of the impromptu party was building.

I headed the other way, down through the kitchen and out the back door.  The Doctor was standing outside, waving his screwdriver back and forth.

"Oh, there you are!  I thought maybe you'd joined the party.  Wouldn't blame you if you did.  No Rutans around here any more."  He put the sonic back in his pocket and sat on one of the logs that circled the smoldering embers of the bonfire.  I sat next to him and lit a cigarette.  He snatched it from me and took a drag, then went into a coughing fit.  "How can you smoke those?" he gasped.

"Oh, I don't know," I said, taking the cigarette back from him and putting it to my lips.  "They're not so bad.  At least I don't smoke cigars."

"I used to smoke a pipe, long time ago," he said.  "Thought it made me look older.  I should have figured that the white hair and walking stick were enough."  He stood up, brushing off the seat of his pants.  "I'm going to join the party."  He walked back into the hotel.

I finished my cigarette, being careful to put the filter in my pocket after it had been fully snuffed.  I didn't know if filtered cigarettes existed in 1901, but I was sure that we didn't want to do any more damage to history than we had already done.  Then I got up, combed my hair with my fingers, and went inside.

---

I awoke, fully clothed, sprawled across a small bed.  Beside me, in another small bed, lay Maureen and Hattie.  They didn't look very comfortable squeezed into that little bed.  They were asleep and, like me, fully clothed in their maid's uniforms.  In a small chair in one corner of the room sat the Doctor; his eyes closed and his arms folded.  He appeared to be asleep.  I shuffled off the end of the bed as quietly as I could.  It was a small room, with a tiny window, and only one door.  A small, simple table in the corner held a basin and ewer.  Sunlight streamed through the window, and I wondered how late we had slept.

"Good morning," the Doctor said, suddenly awake.  "Shall we go?"

"Yes, go, yes.  Going would be good.  Where's the toilet?"

He smiled.  "Down the hall, past the dining room.  I'll show you."  We exited Room 112, leaving the slumbering maids behind.

After I was done doing what I needed to do, I met the Doctor again in the hallway.  We strolled to the front door of the hotel, passing an exhausted Mister Statler at the front desk.  He gave us an angry glare, then turned back to the customers who were giving him grief.  It was, once again, Roswell and his lady friend, except that this time they were fully clothed.  She saw us pass, and gave me a smile and a tiny wave.  I blushed, remembering how she had looked in nothing but bedsheets, and hurried after the Doctor into the morning sun.

 

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