Tragedy Day

Love and War

by Paul Cornell
Love and War
            They came to the Great Wheel, in the middle of the glade. The Wheel was a huge wooden table which continually rotated on a pivot. In its centre was imbedded a sword, and the shadow of the sword turned around the table depending on what time it was in Puterspace.
            They had made their way there through their individual battles. Jan had faced the Trickster again, who'd asked what he knew about card games. Christopher had been scared by the Mother Goddess, who taunted him about being neither a man nor a woman, and Maire and Roisa had to fare the Whole Inhumanity Of Humanity, for the twentieth time.
            "It is time for us to look at the future..." Christopher, in his long robes, sat slowly down in his seat. He was finely-chiselled, bald and tatooed, his face not quite of either sex. "Join me, Maire"
            Maire, who had sat down, reached across to touch palms with Christopher. Her mass of hair was bound in dreadlocks, and she wore a simple black robe. She was the Priestess of the Travellers, as Christopher was their Priest. "We spin the possibilities, and see what the Goddess knows about us, beyond what we are. Let the first god appear."
            It was Eros, in a male form: a golden waistcoat and centre-parted fair hair. "You're getting complex, aren't you?" he sighed. "Love all over the place. A new lover for Jan..."
            "What a surprise!" muttered Roisa, frowning. fan looked down at his boots.
            "Nobody will remain quite together. Things will get stirred up and shattered. Listen, if I tell you more, you'd avoid it, and you really don't want to. That's the nice thing about me, I'm always tight!"
            Maire nodded to Roisa as the god vanished. "He certainly is..." she smiled.
            The second god appeared on the centre of the table. It was Diana, the goddess of women and wild places. Maire, Roisa, Fiona and the other female Travellers instantly knelt. "We welcome you, Protector Of Women," Maire whispered.
            "Oh, do get up, please!" Diana snapped. "We haven't time for pleasantries. I'm just in front of Her, and I have to tell you, someone is going to be terribly hurt. When he arrives, don't let him be involved with you, don't let his steward near you. Jan, you do have a choice, you can -"
            And Diana was swept away in a flutter vf owls' wings. A sudden shadow burst across the table, and a coldness. The Travellers looked up, and there was Death.
            Death looked around them all with an indulgent smile. She was wrapped in vast robes, but wore red hair that day. "My children..." she told them. "Three quarters of you shall join me soon."
            There was a gasp from the assembled Travellers in their colourful Puterspace forms.
            Jan jumped up, pulling his sword from its sheath. "Shall I?!" he yelled. "Is that me you're talking about?!"
            "Hush!" Maire raised her hand.
            "That's not allowed. You know that."
            "So how shall I know, then?!"
            "You won't.. " Death grinned directly at Jan, and the warrior slowly sat down. "Time's Champion is on his way. My old friend, who has danced with me on the surface of Earth's moon, and bargained with me so many times. He brings his steward, also, as a sacrifice. He will change all your lives, indeed, most lives on this world. Be kind to him, won't you?"
            And then Death was gone.
            "What did she mean?" Roisa asked, hugging herself.
            Christopher turned his head slightly. "So high a number... Perhaps we should leave this place"
            "No," Roisa ran a hand back over her cropped hair. "No, we need to stay in one place a while, let the children grow a bit. You know how unreliable Death is. And besides, how can we avoid what she has for us?"
            "This is a matter for greater debate," Christopher decided. "We must let all the tribe have their say, and see where the group-will takes us. We should not have any part in another war"

             Far away in the virtual reality of Puterspace, something was watching the Travellers at their table. It was an ancient thing, powerful and plotting. And it knew that its moment was fast approaching. When the Travellers had grown content and unworried again, in a few months time, then would be the time to strike.

             Professor Bernice Summerfield swung her satchel low across the grass, cutting the heads off several mushrooms. One hand was stuffed into the pocket of her chinos, the other was spinning and toying with the bag.
            "You know I'm waiting..." she told the mushrooms. "Anticipating!" Her voice had risen to a rather tuneless bellow. "Things I may never posses, but while I'm without them, try a little... tenderness..."
            "Boss, boss, it's okay, we're up..." Clive Aubrey climbed out of his tent, rubbing his eyes. "Where have you been?"
            "Joycetown, on foot, since dawn. I brought back a new PH monitor, a large bottle of whiskey -"
            "God, where did you learn to drink?" Clive winced. He half-remembered something about sitting in his underpants last night, laying a bet on something to do with his mother.
            "Doctor Daniels' college, whiskeyland, planet of Scotch..." Benny swung her satchel into her tent, and took a deep breath of the morning air. She was pretty, in a sharp sort of way, as Clive had often realised but never quite got round to expressing. Short black hair, cut so that strands of it hung over her brow, emphasising her mobile eyebrows and ironic eyes. Her mouth could often purse in self mockery, but there was something about the curve of it that was rather hurt. English hurt, like there were things she'd rather not talk about. She was thirty; had been thirty at a party in the group's tents. Clive sighed. There would always be a gap.
            He joined her, and they both gazed up at the Arch.
            It was a simple silver arc, glittering in the sunlight, soaring in one span high above the dewy grass of the planet Heaven.
            "I just wish we knew what it was..." Clive sighed. The rest of the team were stirring in their tents. Bernice's archaeology unit had been on Heaven for five months, investigating the relics of the vanished Heavenites.
            "If wishes were horses," Benny leant on his shoulder, "we'd all be trampled to death. Wake them all up, then, and let's get on with it"
            "You're a hard woman, boss!" Clive clambered back into the tent.
            "It has been said..." Benny nodded, staring at the arch once more.

             Elsewhere, Operative James Miller stared at the trooper who stood in front of him at attention. "Are you having me on, lad?" he growled.
            "No sir! It was there, sir. In the night sky, right above me!"
            Miller walked behind the trooper, frowning at the corporate logos that decorated the man's uniform shirt. "And what was it like?"
            "A big sphere! A planet! A new planet, right up there!"
            Miller nodded slowly, and patted the trooper on the shoulder. "I know Galatron sends you lot Vrax substitutes every now and then. If you want to tell me about that..."
            "No sir! It was real sir!"
            "Then you can get out, and come back in an hour. And then it will not have been real, you will have been dreaming, is that understood?" Miller spoke gently, but the young trooper still looked hurt. After he left, the older man sighed. "In the Dalek war, Judith, you got soldiers. who didn't sulk if you shouted at them..."
            Judith, his secretary, grinned. "Are you certain he's not telling the truth?"
            Miller grunted. "Exactly the opposite, lass. I'm sure he is. That's what worries me..."

             Far away in time and space, deep in the butterfly tunnel of the spacetime vortex, a police box that was not a police box flew past time and space.
            Inside the box, a Time Lord stood in a darkened laboratory, and stared deep into a cube that he held in his hand. The cube was whispering to him, about dirigibles and doubts, about things that had been lost from memory, and terrible pain that would happen in the near future.
            From a nearby room, Ace called out in a nightmare.
            But the Doctor reacted not at all.
            His tesseract was telling him of love and war.

Source: Doctor Who Magazine #192