Special thanks to gerbilHunter, MrDrP, and Slipgate for their thoughts and reviews! And the Thirteenth Doctor is sending MrDrP a Tardis biscuit for beta-reading this chapter!
Thanks to everyone for reading!
From the moment he saw it, Ron was plunged into a nightmare.
The Doctor had just announced that she'd located a trace of Kim's DNA and was landing the Tardis in close proximity to it. As soon as the wheezing sound was punctuated by the thud that, Ron was coming to learn, always signaled that the ship had come to a stop, he had raced over to the call box's doors.
"Hold on, Ron," the Doctor cautioned. "Let's see what we're walking into."
Reluctantly, he headed back to the console and rejoined the others.
"Oxygen-rich atmosphere," she nodded at one of the displays.
"Inside the city?" Jack asked.
"Just outside it." She continued looking over the numerous instruments that Ron could never hope to understand. Then she frowned.
"W-what?" he asked.
"We appear to be in an arena of some kind," she said.
"Like a coliseum?" Yaz asked.
"Take a look," the Doctor pressed down on a small lever, and a large hologram of an empty stadium appeared on Ron's side of the console. The hologram was so big that he felt dwarfed by it.
Ron stared up at the image for what seemed a very long time. Too long. When he closed his eyes, he was confronted by its inverse image floating against the darkness of his eyelids. When he opened them, he felt dizzy. Nauseous even.
Yaz's voice stirred him from this unpleasant daze. "Coming, Ron?"
"Yeah," he nodded and followed the others as they exited the Tardis.
They had landed on one side of a very narrow walkway that bordered a tall pile of rocks that reminded Ron of someplace he had seen on a mission to Australia senior year. On the other side of the path was a very severe drop. At the bottom were rows of benches. He looked up from this pit and took in the immensity of the rest of the stadium. It was even more overwhelming in real life.
"What is that?" Jack said pointing straight above them.
"A shield that's keeping the oxygen in," the Doctor answered. "It looks like a liquid-based membrane of some kind."
Ron was starting to feel sick. He tentatively reached into his pocket for a solace-producing nuzzle from Rufus only to realize that his pet was still perched on Jack's shoulder. Ron sat down uneasily on the raised wall that divided the walkway from the rocks. He stared at his feet and tried to control his breathing.
"Are you ok, Ron?" Yaz's concerned voice asked.
When she placed a hand on his shoulder, he recoiled from her touch.
"Sorry," he muttered.
She sat next to him, careful to give him some space.
"Want to talk about it?" she asked.
"No," he said firmly.
As she was weighing whether to stay or leave him to his thoughts, she thought she heard a strange animal sound. A screech. Maybe. In any case, something one might hear in the jungle. She stood quickly and looked all around. Apart from the four of them, there was no sign of life either in the stadium or in the rock formation that was casting its shadow over them. Then she remembered Rufus. She decided that he was the most likely culprit.
"A few weeks after graduation," Ron began just above whisper, "that's when it happened."
His voice sounded muffled almost as if he was speaking with a hand clasped over his mouth. When she sat back down and gave his hunched form a close look, Yaz realized that this was exactly what he was doing.
"When what happened?" she asked, leaning close.
"What nightmare?" she asked, placing a hand on his shoulder. He recoiled again. Fearing that she was crowding him, Yaz was about to shift her position away by a foot or so when Ron suddenly leaned against her.
"They kidnapped her," Ron's broken voice managed. "And took her to the Middleton Arena."
Yaz could easily guess who 'they' and 'her' were, so she let him keep talking.
"And that's where …" and he stopped speaking.
She was about to prompt him to continue, but something told her this would be a mistake.
Finally, he spoke. "They replaced her eyes with shards of green glass." He clenched his fists until his knuckles became white.
She considered telling him that it was just a dream, and that everything would be all right. Instead, she gave him a hug. A hug that he returned, fiercely. Eventually, she had to give him a couple of pats on the back, so he would release her … and so she could breathe.
Jack and Rufus were scoping out their surroundings. Jack looking in one direction with his weapon drawn and Rufus, perched on his shoulder, checking out the opposite direction. "Seems completely deserted. But I don't think it has been for long."
"Put the gun away, Jack," the Doctor said as she examined a two-foot tall box attached to the edge of the walkway.
"Not all of us live by your moral standards, Doctor," Jack said crisply.
"If you want to travel with me, you will," she retorted without looking up.
"I knew she was going to say that," Jack mumbled to Rufus as he put his gun back in his holster. "Why did I even bother?" He approached the Doctor and said, "You were saying something about zeiton being connected to their cloaking tech."
She paused what she was doing and looked up. "I suspect the Mentors are involved."
"Mentors. Don't recognize that name. Should I?"
"Shady intergalactic arms dealers."
"As in shadier than normal intergalactic arms dealers?"
"Yes, extremely unpleasant. Fourth-rate weapons, cloaking tech, temporary worm hole hyperdrives, etc. All at exorbitant prices."
"Several regenerations ago, our paths crossed. They were trying to corner the market in zeiton ore. I suspect they have a tech-for-ore 'arrangement' with the Lorwardian Empire."
"Hence, the strip-mine landscaping aesthetic and the bargain basement cloaking tech I witnessed."
"Yes. It also explains how Kim made it to Lorwardia so quickly. I'd say she was lucky to make it here at all. Mentor worm hole hyperdrives have a 73.5% failure rate."
"Failure as in 'boom'?"
The Doctor nodded.
Ron noticed a building at the far end of the walkway with something unusual sticking out of its roof. The sudden buzzing of the Doctor's "pen" distracted him. When he looked, she was pointing it at a nondescript box at the walkway's edge. Almost immediately, Ron heard/felt a rumbling beneath the walkway.
"What's that?" Yaz called out.
"We're about to see," the Doctor replied, her expression dour.
Slowly, a large, oval platform appeared from over the edge. It rose up like it was connected to the walkway on a hinge. When it was even with the walkway, it locked into position. On the far end of this platform was what appeared, to Ron at least, to be the lower half of a pillory. However, it was not the bad memories of the Senior trip to South Beach Bay Harbor that were putting his teeth on edge.
The Doctor and Jack ran to the remains of the device. The Doctor pointed the sonic screwdriver at the largest of the three half-circles in its frame. She then reached down and lifted a single red hair. For his part, Jack ran his fingers along the edge of one of the smaller half-circles; there was a viscous film on its surface. He smelled the substance on the end of his finger and then tentatively placed it to his lips.
"Butter," he said. "That's odd."
"She was here a couple hours ago," the Doctor said putting her sonic away.
"And where is she now?"
"Not sure." The Doctor scanned the walkway and the rock formation. She noted the spears sunk into some of the boulders, and the plasma blast marks along the chimney outcrops. "There are definitely signs of an escape attempt."
"Did she make it?" he asked in a low, hesitant voice.
The Doctor didn't say anything for a while. "Yes," she nodded finally. "I think so."
After a minute, Jack pointed to a shiny object that was sticking from the roof of a nearby building. "Is that what I think it is?"
"Yes. And that means this," she indicated the remains of the device, "is also what you think it is."
Jack lowered his voice again. "Of all the methods of capital punishment, I think I despise this one the most." He added, "And not only for personal reasons."
"Agreed," the Doctor replied. She added bitterly under her breath, "Nothing else is so efficient at turning a person into an object."
"Doctor!" Yaz cried from the walkway.
When she and Jack turned around, they were left speechless by what they saw.
Ron was floating in mid-air and surrounded by a pulsating, cerulean aura. Within seconds, their ears were assailed by harsh simian cries.
The pupils of Ron's eyes vanished.
Kim woke with a start.
Everything hurt. Despite the pain, her mind was centered on what had awakened her. Whether an echo from a dream or a noise from the waking world, she couldn't be sure. However, she implicitly recognized it as the sound of children laughing.
For the next several minutes, she sat perfectly still and listened. Having all her senses on high alert was not the ideal condition for taking in her new surroundings. During the first thirty seconds, she came very close to concluding that the laughter as well as everything else (the prickly feel of the grass against her right palm and left shin, the sweet smell of the air, not to mention the freaky trees with the silver leaves) was pure illusion. As the minutes went by, she gradually dismissed this theory. For one thing, if this was a fantasy her mind had created to escape her current sitch, Kim seriously doubted that the pain she felt would be an integral part of it. Furthermore, in her dreams, the details of objects tended to be microscopically fine one second and then comically abstract the next. All the details she perceived here were rich and stable.
Kim gazed up through the mosaic off shimmering leaves overhead and could just make out the glare from the rows of large lamps high above the trees. She also noted the half dozen broken branches. They went a long way to explaining her pain. Carefully, she extended her legs and stretched out her arms. Nothing seemed broken or sprained. Just really, really sore. She had not detected any hint of the laughter that had awakened her, but there had been another underlying sound. A sound that compelled her to stand up and get moving.
Supporting herself against the tree, she tested her knees to see if they could support her weight. The last thing she needed right now was to throw one out of its socket. Fortunately, they seemed fine. In fact, her legs were the least damaged parts of her body.
Good. I have a feeling I'm going to be doing a lot of running from now on.
She also discovered that her right arm wasn't giving her as much trouble as before. It still hurt, but only as much as everything else did. After a few more stretches, she guesstimated that ninety percent of its mobility had returned. The wound still looked ugly, though. Gingerly, she touched the black skin of her upper arm with her left hand. Some of the black came off on her fingers.
What she had assumed was burnt flesh appeared to be merely soot or ash from the blast.
All the more reason to find that water, Possible.
As she took her first unsupported steps away from the tree, Kim noticed that the sweetness of the air had become significantly pronounced. Then she noticed a pile of small, oval-shaped objects a few feet to her left. Their coloring reminded her, for the most part, of MacIntosh apples—however, their skins did have a few splotches of silver. She took a step closer to them, and the smell overwhelmed her. Before she fully knew what she was doing, she had fallen to her knees and was hungrily taking a bite from one. It tasted kinda like a pear, but so much better than any pear she'd ever had.
"They definitely dribble down your chin like a pear," she said happily, wiping her face dry with the loose, tattered edge of her mission shirt. As she reminded herself to stay quiet, she realized she had completely devoured the "pear." She grabbed another from the pile and quickly made short work of it, too.
The thought did occur to her that perhaps they were drugged or poisoned, but she quickly brushed aside these thoughts because she was so very hungry. Much hungrier than she thought she had been. However, when she went to grab her third, she noticed how very well stacked the pile was—too well. It was basically a pyramid.
Someone gathered these together. For me?
It seemed ferociously unlikely that these fruits would have been collected and placed so close to where she had been passed out by chance. Especially, in the middle of what she was beginning to realize was a sizable, possibly vast, forest.
She heard a rustle behind her. She spun around quickly but saw no one. She remained still for a few minutes, her pulse thundering in her ears. She had almost convinced herself that the noise had been caused by some animal (as if the furtive movements of an unknown alien creature would be a comfort) or, hopefully the wind, when she heard a loud click come from overhead.
Instantly, the forest was plunged into darkness.
After she regained control of her breathing, Kim's senses returned to full alert. Every second she anticipated a return of the rustling she had heard. Or, perhaps, the shouts of Lorwardian guards. Or, the laughter that had awakened her.
Creepy! Possible, why did you think of THAT?
However, there was only silence. As the minutes wore on, Kim noticed that the forest wasn't completely dark. There were a few faint lights coming from high above, much higher than the 'heat lamps.' Then she recalled the small lights she had seen dotted across the ceiling right before her fall. She watched as more of these small lights began turning on. Eventually, dozens of them shone. And their light wasn't inconsequential. She discovered that it was now bright enough that she could, if careful, make her way through the forest. This was good because the running water was still calling to her.
Part of her wanted to stay put and not risk making her sitch any more dire. The larger part of her, however, counseled that staying where she was couldn't be any safer. Besides, she was so thirsty.
She stood and began walking in the direction where the water sounds seemed the strongest. As she advanced through some undergrowth, she thought she heard noises to her right that were echoing her own. She stopped and, again, heard nothing. Either her tracker was exceptionally skilled, or it was all in her imagination. With each step, the noises from the brook or river or whatever grew louder, and Kim ceased to care about anything else.
She stepped from the forest onto a swale that bordered a swiftly flowing river. No longer surrounded by overhanging trees, she found that the ceiling's artificial starlight was more than enough to light her way down to the bank. She kneeled by the edge, cupped her hands, and scooped out a drink. It was very cold. So cold that it made her teeth hurt. She so didn't care. She took four big drinks before taking a break. Then she lay on her back and gazed at the "stars."
At the back her of mind, Kim still entertained the possibility she was being tracked. This niggling thought helpfully kept her from dozing off. After a few minutes she sat up and examined the wound on her arm. She was relieved to see that the black washed away after giving it a few splashes of water. However, the streaks were still there; plus, she discovered an ugly ring of raised skin that was tender to the touch.
Probably the outline of the blast.
She took two more drinks and then sat cross-legged at the rushing water's edge to plan her next move. She considered going back the way she came if only to fill her cargo pockets with as many of those fruits as she could carry. It had been more than thirty minutes since she had eaten them, and she felt fine and hungry for more. However, she wasn't sure if she could find her way back. She glanced at the nearby trees. All the trees in the forest seemed to be the same species. She watched the silver leaves flutter in the breeze and was briefly reminded of a short phrase from of a story she had read in AP English Lit.
… silver and dark …
She couldn't remember the name of the story or its author, but she did know the phrase concerned snowflakes, not leaves. Still, something about this place reminded her of the stillness of a winter's morning. She could almost imagine she was back on Earth.
There was a loud click, and she was blind.
She stumbled to her feet and dug out the recorder from her pocket. Even before her eyes cleared, she knew the artificial day had suddenly dawned. Adrenaline bubbled through her limbs as she waited for her vision to return.
There were two Lorwardians at the edge of the trees maybe twenty feet to her right. The closer one had green skin and appeared female; the other was partially hidden by the trees, and he had orange skin. Kim was about to raise her recorder in a threatening motion when she noticed that both Lorwardians were blinking their eyes rapidly. Almost as if the sudden "dawn" had also taken them by surprise. Then she noticed something else about the pair. Perhaps it was their short statures (for Lorwardians, at least) or something about their postures, but Kim intuited that these were children.
They stared at her; she stared back at them. No one moved.
After what seemed several minutes, Kim slowly placed the recorder back into her pocket. She then carefully raised her left hand and gave them a wave. "Hey," she said with a smile.
The boy didn't react. Although the girl didn't move, either, Kim thought she saw something flash in her eyes that was a degree warmer than "not unkind."
The yellow plasma blast hit Kim's left arm, thrusting her backwards into the frothy havoc of the river.
When she surfaced a few seconds later, the burning pain in her shoulder was vying with the intense chill of the water for possession of her senses. She took a frantic gulp of air. A wail assaulted her ears and for a few seconds she thought it was coming from her. Movement on the shore drew her attention. The Lorwardian girl, who seemed impossibly far up the bank, was screaming while the boy held her back from the river with an outstretched arm. There was also a large orange Lorwardian with a gun. He was speaking harshly to the children and running in her direction.
Kim quickly deduced that the river's strong current was the reason the trio was so far away from her. However, it wasn't carrying her away fast enough because the adult Lorwardian was swiftly shrinking the distance.
As if it wasn't enough that she was trying to stay afloat with two injured arms in freezing, tumultuous water, Kim noticed, with a growing sense of dread, that the sound of the rushing water had grown exponentially louder over the past few seconds. She pointed herself away from the charging Lorwardian and saw what she knew she would see.
Fifty or so feet ahead of her, the river disappeared into a tunnel in the side of an immense wall. Just before it did, the river tumbled over an abrupt rocky edge. Kim swam as hard as she could to the opposite side of the river to try to escape the waterfall. However, the current was too strong, and she was pushed closer to the right side—the side with the charging, armed Lorwardian.
Suddenly, she found herself tangled in vines that were floating at the river's edge. She struggled frantically to grab one of these before going over the falls. The first one she grabbed snapped instantly, but the second one held firm. However, it only did so after she had painfully tumbled over the cusp of the waterfall.
At first, the Lorwardian assumed that the War Criminal had been taken over the falls. By chance, he noticed that a thick vine was being pulled taunt over the edge. He raised and carefully aimed his weapon. He squeezed the trigger; the vine snapped and instantly disappeared over the abyss.
Confidently but with a degree of caution, the Doctor approached Ron's floating form. She placed a finger in her left ear to block out at least some of the howls and high-pitched calls that radiated about his person. "Ron?" she called.
He did not immediately reply.
Looking him over, she noticed that his blue aura included a phantom appendage. Specifically, a long, curled tail. Watching this "limb" flex, she deduced it was possibly prehensile, like one of Earth's spider monkeys. That, of course, would dovetail nicely with the shrieks echoing in the air.
"I am looking for Ron," she called again. "Is Ron still in there?"
At this question, the simian chatter ceased. Ron blinked his eyes twice, and his pupils returned. He was, however, still floating and blue. "Y-yeah, it's still me," he replied in a voice that was both confused and angry.
"Ron, you need to calm down," Jack advised.
Ron shot him a furious look. "90 minutes," he spat.
"I'm sorry?" Jack asked.
"You said we'd have a 90-minute heads up," Ron seethed. "We didn't even get 90 seconds!"
"They were using cloaking technology, Ron," Jack explained, "we didn't know that they—" but then he stopped. "You're right," he admitted. "Torch—no, I failed you. Failed Kim. I'm sorry."
"If you're looking for someone to blame," the Doctor said, "you should be looking at me, Ron."
"What do you mean?" His glare was no longer incandescent but retained a dangerous edge.
"I'm the one ultimately responsible for the Lorwardian Empire," she answered heavily.
"What?" Yaz breathed.
"Clom was invaded and colonized by a species called the Slitheen. The Slitheen persecuted them, even hunted them for sport. I saw an opportunity to help, so I guided them to a new home world. A planet in a completely different galaxy. Where they would be safe. Where they would have a fresh start." She looked away from him and shook her head. "And then I did what I always do." She looked up to meet his gaze.
"What was that?" he asked.
"I left," she confessed. "I went on to the next thing, the next adventure." She sighed. "If I had stayed even a little bit longer, I could have given them more guidance. I might have shepherded their culture, so that they wouldn't become mere epigones of their oppressors, wouldn't destroy their world, wouldn't conquer Earth. And wouldn't have abducted Kim."
The pregnant silence that followed was broken by Ron. "Pretty words, MsD, pretty words. But no one forced them to kidnap Kim. That was their decision." The monkey shrieks became audible again. "That was their mistake. And they're gonna pay."
"And what do you intend to do, Ron?" the Doctor challenged.
"I am going to kick this entire planet's biscuit," he said forcefully as his pupils once again faded away.
Although his words did not make complete sense to her, his intent was unmistakable.
"I cannot allow that to happen," she stated firmly.
He didn't answer. The air behind the rocky outcrop suddenly turned crimson, and a hot wind began to blow.
"What's happening?" Yaz asked, exchanging a worried look with Jack and Rufus.
"You're better than this, Ron," the Doctor called out.
The wind grew stronger. The air across the entire stadium now had a red cast. From the group's perspective it was impossible to tell if this change was limited within the shield or if the outer atmosphere was also turning the color of blood.
"Ron, if you go through with this," the Doctor warned, "we can no longer be friends."
Ron closed his eyes tightly.
"I understand why you are angry, Ron," the Doctor shouted, "so I am going to say this as nicely as I can." Then her voice turned dangerous, "You do not want to be my enemy."
Her last two pronouncements had made a discernible impact on Ron, but it wasn't enough. The Doctor played her ace. "Is this what Kim would want?"
The wind and the simian howls died down; the red air dissipated. And Ron slowly descended back to his spot on the wall. His aura was still visible, but only faintly. "No," he said simply and dropped his head.
The Doctor walked up to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. "I'm proud of you, Ron." She added warmly, "And Kim will be proud, too."
"How do we know that she's even still alive?" he asked, too depressed to cry.
"I know from personal experience that she is a very resourceful person," the Doctor explained. "Also, a good friend of mine says she's amazing."
This last statement raised Ron's spirits high enough that he could cry.
"Come along, Ron. Let's go find her." The Doctor helped him stand, threw her arm around his shoulder and walked him into the Tardis. They were followed by Yaz, Jack, and Rufus.
After the Tardis had dematerialized, an elderly Lorwardian emerged from behind a rock near the entrance tunnel. He rushed back down it so fast that he almost slipped. It didn't matter. As soon as possible, he needed to inform one of the Synod's officers about what he had witnessed: the return of The Great Blue.
When they were eleven, Ron had given Kim a mixed-tape. A few weeks earlier he had inherited his father's dual audio cassette player as well as his vast collection of tapes. Since his father's musical tastes were pretty eclectic, so were Ron's. Hence, the songs he put on the tape were ones Kim was completely unfamiliar with. What also made the tape unusual was that Ron placed some songs on it more than once—in one instance, the same song played three times in a row. Initially, she assumed he had done so by mistake, but he revealed later that these repeats were by design. She didn't like all the songs; a couple she only listened to once and would fast forward past whenever she replayed the tape. However, she did enjoy most of them, and a handful became some of her favorites. It was from this tape, for example, that she first heard "Love Is Like a Butterfly" (she would learn years later that it was Karin Maaka's favorite song). Another song she really liked was called "Paradise." It was interesting that she gravitated toward it because she initially didn't like the singer's voice, like at all. Plus, the song's subject matter was ferociously sad. But the melody really clicked with her for some reason. As she replayed the tape, she found herself trying to sing along with the song, and, when she got to parts where she didn't know the words, she would hum along instead.
Something about the cramped corner of Lorwardia that Kim currently found herself in brought that song back to her.
When she had first gone over the waterfall, her trajectory with the vine had snapped her back through the cascading water where she had feared she'd crash into a wall of rock. However, as she braced for this impact, she noticed that she was swinging through an open space. She realized she was in a small grotto before inertia sent her back through the freezing wall of water. When she returned to the grotto a few seconds later, she let go of the vine and rolled safely to a stop on the chamber's smooth floor.
And not a second too soon. When she looked back, she saw her vine descending the wall of water and out of sight.
She retreated to the rear of the grotto because it was as far away from the falls as she could go. Dropping into a ball, she hugged her knees close to her chest and tried to get warm. Although it hurt a great deal, she rubbed her left arm furiously and extended it as much as she could so she could do the same to her right. Once the chill of the water had begun to dissipate, she gave her new surroundings a closer inspection. Maybe ten feet deep and twenty feet wide, the grotto's shape was much too rectangular to be naturally formed. That plus the smooth floor and, of course, the large door she was leaning against made it obvious that it had been manufactured.
For some purpose, but what?
Still rubbing her arms, she stood and gave the door a long hard look. It had no knob or handle. There was writing on it, but it was in Lorwardian, so that really didn't matter. Starting to feel cold again, she returned to her position on the floor. Rubbing at the goosebumps on her arms as well as on the exposed skin of her legs.
Now what, Possible?
Then she realized that the sound of the waterfall was so loud that it was unlikely that anyone looking for her could hear her.
Unless they're behind this door.
However, when she opened her mouth and repeated this last thought, she realized that even she couldn't hear what she was saying. So, she decided to go ahead and speak aloud. For whatever reason, talking, even when she couldn't hear it, made her feel more normal. Less scared.
After voicing her thoughts for about five minutes, Kim felt confident enough to give singing a try. And the song that came to her was "Paradise." Unfortunately, it had been so many years since she had sung the song that most of the words were lost. Yet, the melody remained clear. She hummed along and when a handful of words did return to her, she'd sing them.
When she shifted her sitting position, she recalled the Doctor's recorder. She took it out and looked it over. Apart from singing, Kim's musical performance experience was rather limited. Her mother had toyed with the idea of getting her piano lessons when she was little. Remembering that this had occurred during the end of her tenth year, she now understood that financial concerns were the most likely reason these lessons never happened. Then again, Ron had always praised her kazoo playing in elementary school.
"How different could they be?" Kim laughed. Her left arm still killed, but she managed to place her fingers randomly over some of the recorder's holes. Since she couldn't hear anything anyway, it really didn't matter what it sounded like. She proceeded to blow in accordance with the melody in her mind. When she came to the parts of the song whose lyrics she knew, she lowered the instrument and sang them.
"When I die let my ashes float down the Green River … Let my soul roll on up to the Rochester Dam … I'll be halfway to Heaven with Paradise waiting … Just five miles away from wherever I am."
She "played" the song again and again until her voice started to feel tired. She stood up to stretch. Her left arm was feeling a little better, and she hardly noticed the pain in her right arm at all.
"Time to get your head back in the game, Possible. Sooner or later, they're going to realize you didn't go over the falls. How to get out of here?" Kim surveyed what little she could see through the falling water. Exiting the grotto was going to be tricky; plus, without something to hold onto, scaling down the rest of the falls' height (however far that might be) didn't seem doable.
"If only I could get through this door," she said, as she turned around to inspect it again. She dropped the recorder, and it rolled about a yard from her feet.
The words on the door were in English.
KEEP OUT! SHIELD OPERATION OFFICERS ONLY
"That fruit was poisoned. I'm hallucinating."
She stared at the words for a very long while. Just as she had convinced herself that she really wasn't experiencing the Lorwardian equivalent of what her Mom's parents would call a "bad trip," she was startled by an ear-shattering noise from above. As it faded away, loud yelling from above pierced the ever-present rumble of the falls. She could tell the Lorwardian voices were speaking English (or she heard them as if they were speaking in English) although she couldn't make out exactly what they were saying. But that didn't matter. In any case, it would be bad news for her.
She rushed to the door, trying to see if she had missed any important detail when she examined it earlier. Apart from the words, there was nothing different about it.
"If I really was hallucinating," she whispered, "there would be a knob."
She ran the fingers of her right hand along the edge of the entire door. About midway down the right side of the door, she found a slight indent.
"Now, I need to hallucinate a crowbar," she groused.
The ear-splitting noise came again—closer this time. And so were the voices.
Her eyes fell on the recorder. She snatched it from the floor.
"Maybe I do have a crowbar," she smiled.
She wedged its mouthpiece into the indent and pushed on it. The door gave a little. She changed her position and pulled back on the recorder as hard as she could. With a bang, that was a degree louder than she would have wanted, the door sprang open, and she landed hard on her rear. She struggled to her feet, placed the recorder back in her pocket, and looked cautiously through the doorway. Beyond it lay a darkened tunnel, highlighted every few feet by flickering crimson lights. It made the "steampunk" hallway from earlier look downright inviting. The ear-splitting noise came again so loud that the floor of the grotto vibrated.
Kim took a deep breath and dashed down the tunnel as quickly as she dared.
Author's note: If you happened to notice some lines that seemed out-of-place in this chapter. It might because I pilfered them from other writers. Ron's description of his nightmare was taken from MrDrP's story "So Not The End of The World." The Doctor's pronouncement on the Lorwardian's device was taken from Albert Camus' Reflections on the Guillotine. Finally, the lines Kim sings are from "Paradise" by the great John Prine.
To be continued …