It all started when Rose complained of feeling a bit peckish.
The Doctor remonstrated with her, his long arms spreading wide as though to take in all the TARDIS. "C'mon Rose, the food compilers can make anything-"
"Yeah, and the last seven meals all tasted like orange-flavoured baby aspirin. I just want some real food for a change."
"Real food," he frowned at her, his high forehead creasing.
"Uh-huh," she said sunnily, smiling up at him and ignoring his glower.
He jerked his chin back.
"Well come on Doctor, give the lady what she wants," Jack teased. He was watching the whole interaction from the opposite side of the control console, and finding it more than a little hilarious.
"Real food. Right. Jack - if you could just adjust that dial by your knee-"
Jack did so, and with several wheezings and shivers the TARDIS materialised.
"Here you go - Tokyo Disneyland!" the Doctor said triumphantly.
"Really?" Rose nearly squealed, rushing down the gangway to the doors, the hood of her tracksuit flying behind her. She looked outside, and then looked back, one dark brow arched and a laugh on her face. A warm breeze blew back her blonde hair for a moment, filling the room with the smell of fresh-cut grass and wet bamboo.
"Great. You could at least have landed us here when they're open," she said, and stepped out of sight.
"What?" the Doctor protested, following her; and Jack followed in turn, which gave him an excellent opportunity to admire the Doctor's posterior view.
Outside was a broad stone street, laid out in a series of shallow steps or levels; and lined on both sides with what looked like food booths. The booths were painted in bright colours that had slightly faded with the sun, but they seemed to be clean and in good repair. The paper lanterns and sliding screens looked Japanese enough, but there were no people.
Even if there were no people, though, the rich smell of cooking filled the air. Hot rice, steamed crab, duck and seaweed and miso soup…
"Definitely not Disneyland," the Doctor frowned, looking both ways.
"How can you tell?" Jack asked, shrugging his shoulders. He was glad he had left his long coat in the TARDIS; this felt like a warm summer day, just right for his light shirt and vintage thirty-fifth-century panelled pants. Skin would have felt even better, but this probably wasn't the time for that, unfortunately. He had really enjoyed the clothing-optional planets and environments they had visited.
"No Mickey Mouse. If this was a Disneyland, every pillar and post would have his face on it. Instead," he frowned at a shallow stone oval rising out of the ground, carved in the likeness of a blank smiling face, "there's these. Which do seem familiar somehow."
"Wait a minute there, Doc. You're telling me that Mickey Mouse is real?"
"Whad'dya mean, real? Of course he's real."
"I always thought he was a myth, like George Washington."
"Well, he's real in that there's a real character called Mickey Mouse - hang on, I've met George Washington! Gave him advice on how to hold a hatchet, and did I ever regret that-"
"Hey!" Rose shouted from one of the side streets. "Hey, d'you have any money?"
Rose waited, but heard no answer. "Fine," she said to herself. She sat down in front of the open counter, and loaded a plate up with crisp fried wontons and strips of chicken breast. "I'll just help myself then. The Doctor'll have money." She felt a little curious as to why there were no staff in view, with all this fresh food here, platters and piles of it: weren't they worried someone would pinch some?
But she wasn't going to, she told herself virtuously. She'd pay up - as soon as the Doctor came by.
She took her first bite, and mmmm'd to herself in pleasure: this was perfect! Just what she had wanted, hot and salty and delicious. She took her second bite and third, and went on steadily eating, faster and faster.
The Doctor and Jack had gone to the head of the street, walking up the broad stone steps, to see if they could find any signposts. There was a great red and gold pillar here, bearing a four-sided lantern with paper panels, and a carefully trimmed pine tree arching at just the appropriate angle to complement it. But they didn't pay attention to the tree or the unlit lantern; instead their eyes were drawn to the castle.
Well, it might as well have been a castle: it rose above them, floor after floor, with balconies and glowing windows like jewels. Its walls were red, with roofs the green of old copper, and figures of golden dragons coiled across the roofs. A smokestack that looked as tall as a redwood tree rose beside it, topped with a pennant of smoke. A long wooden bridge arched out in front of them, over what looked to be the inlet of a shallow ocean, and the bridge was painted red and gold to match.
"Bath house," the Doctor said. "Definitely Japanese…but definitely not Disneyland." He looked around, scowling again. "But I still think I might have been here before."
"Are you sure we're on Earth?"
"Sure I'm sure! Well, mostly sure. Why?"
"Because of that," and Jack pointed.
The Doctor followed Jack's gesture, and his eyes widened. The sun was setting. It was setting hard: sliding down through the sky like a stone dropping through water, moving far faster than the sun ever moved on Earth. The shadows of the bridge's hand railings grew visibly, gliding across the worn wooden boards as though to bar their way.
"Jack, I think we should get back to the TARDIS. Now. Where's Rose?"
They trotted back down the street, and turned right to where they had seen Rose go earlier. They could hear the sounds of someone eating, but the munching was much louder than it ought to be.
"I knew she was peckish, but…" Jack's voice trailed off as he brushed through the short curtain hanging over the door of the shop and looked at the eater.
The flowing blonde hair was Rose's, but it was hanging from a long cone-shaped head. Tiny dark eyes looked incuriously at Jack, and then the great pink pig wriggled itself off the stool. Rose's tracksuit still clung to its legs as it stood upright and pawed at the counter with its hooves, knocking down a plate of squid. It fell to all fours and started to gorge itself.
"Rose!" the Doctor half-screamed, and the pig grunted in indifference. Then it squealed, shrilly, as something rose on the other side of the counter.
It was a shadow, or a clump of some attenuated jelly: the gleaming steel utensils and wet chopping blocks of the kitchen behind it could be seen through it. It was featureless except for two dimly glowing eyes, and it smacked at the pig with a long switch. The pig fell back, then rooted forward, snout blindly seeking the spilled food. The blonde hair had fallen away, or somehow melted into the pig's skin; there was nothing of Rose about the animal now.
Jack darted forward, and suffered a kick for his trouble. The pig was considerably larger than Rose had been, and heavier as well: it turned on him, eyes emotionless except for driving hunger, and grunted angrily.
"We need a rope!" Jack shouted to the Doctor, who was frantically waving his sonic screwdriver at the pig. "Find a rope!" He menaced the jellylike shadow with his fists, and it swiped at him in turn.
The Doctor spun on his heel and faced a street full of living shadows. Shadows were opening the storefronts; shadows were dripping and lolling along in a parody of walking, or rising up through the ground like smoke. The Doctor charged across the street, dodging the shadows, reached for the end of the rope that hung down from one of the lantern chains - and froze.
He stared, his blue eyes wide, his short hair seeming to bristle on his head.
He could see his hand, and he could see the rope through it. He spun and held both hands up towards the strings of little red lights that were coming alive in the too-sudden dusk, and he could see the lights through his flesh as well, as though they were underwater. Or rather, as if he was water and they were real.
The rope would have to wait for a moment. He ran as fast as he could for Jack.
Jack was babbling as soon as he saw the Doctor. "They took her away; I was going to follow her but-"
"Shut up," the Doctor said tightly, pulling out his sonic screwdriver and adjusting the settings with quick flicks of his thumbs.
"Shut up? What's going on?"
"Look at your hands," and Jack stared at them, and saw a glow around them - a glow that did not disguise their faint transparency. The fingertips were almost gone, the outlines of his fingernails hovering like lines in clean air.
"We're out of phase with this place," the Doctor said quickly. "We need to adjust ourselves or we'll fade out."
"She can take care of herself, Jack! I need to adjust your phase, now, and you've got to do the same for me, the instant you're solid enough, y'understand?"
"All right. What do I-?"
"Just stand still," and Jack did as the Doctor pointed the sonic screwdriver at him and waved it up and down, as steadily as a machine. Jack quivered; it felt like invisible fingers were gently prodding at each cell of his body, tapping them very slightly, moving them. But even as his own hands grew more solid, he couldn't help but notice that the Doctor was growing more and more ghostlike.
"Done. Now me!" The Doctor held out the sonic screwdriver across his palm - and it fell through his hand, bouncing off the stones at their feet.
"Oh no." Jack picked up the screwdriver and turned it back on. He couldn't panic, not now. He pointed it at the Doctor and moved it, slowly, up and down, willing it to work, hoping that none of the settings had been changed by the drop. He tried to concentrate on doing exactly what the Doctor had done. He tried even harder not to imagine what it would be like to be stranded here without him.
The Doctor's lips were moving, but Jack couldn't hear him. He forced his hands to continue their slow steady sweeps with the screwdriver.
The Doctor was still fading. He was a smudge in the gloom, a faint glowing outline…and then in an instant he was there, solid as stone.
Jack kept moving the screwdriver until the Doctor reached out and took it from his grip; for a moment Jack grasped his hand, reassuring himself that the Doctor was really there.
"Fantastic, Jack!" he said.
Jack was still recovering from the sight of the Doctor nearly going out like a light. "What was that you were trying to say, when you were - fading?"
The Doctor looked puzzled. "That you were doin' it just right, of course. What else would I be saying?"
"Nothing." Jack leaned over and grabbed his own knees for a moment, getting back the breath that he had been holding too tight. "Nothing."
Then he straightened. "Now we find Rose."
That was easier said then done. When they traced the path that the shadows had taken the pig, they found themselves in a maze of open-plan barns, packed with thousands of animals. Cattle, chickens in endless bamboo cages, and pigs. Hundreds upon hundreds of pigs.
"No trace," the Doctor said, finally returning his sonic screwdriver to a familiar pocket in his leather jacket. "However she's been altered, I can't separate her out from the rest of these."
"Doctor, they were serving pork back in those restaurants. I smelled it. We have to find her!" Jack's eyes ran over the sea of smooth pink backs again, hoping against hope to recognise something familiar, or to have one of the pigs rise up and turn back into the girl he knew so well.
"They aren't going to be butcherin' all these pigs in one night." He nearly added "I hope," but bit back those words at the last instant. "We need to find out who's in charge, and have them change Rose back."
"And how do you suggest we do that?"
The Doctor shrugged. "When in doubt, head for the most important-looking building you can find."
They both nodded together. The bath house.