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Scout Carter's Journal

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Scout Carter's Journal - Part 11

Case File X257-23

Report by Detective Scout Carter


"Okay, so I guess that's all wrapped up now."

How I got that hopeful, I have no idea. I should have known better.

Fiona supplied a nice meal and, unfortunately, a chance for several people to wander off. The Doctor made his way along early, as did Blazer. The former didn't call attention to his departure (I'm not even exactly sure when he left), the latter at least explained he was on his way back to his spot in Amber's Navy. "I've got potatoes to peal and dishes to clean."

He still didn't strike me as a military sort.

"He's a strange one," Luke observed, just after Blazer left. I avoided any pot-kettle comments.

"Yeah, but we like him." That was true enough. He was safely on my "mostly harmless" list.

"He likes things nice and safe," Steed added, and the conversation drifted to more harmless things.

"So, finally glad to get that thing off your neck?" Suehprom asked me. He'd been the person who'd made the least comments about the Jewel while I had it, so this was a little odd. But not much by Suehprom standards.

"I didn't really wear it much." That was true, since I'd been warned it was dangerous to do so. Warned both by words and observation.

"What's it like?" he followed up, surprising me only a little with his after-the-fact curiosity.

"It wasn't too heavy. I think it's happier where it is." That seemed to end the conversation.

I took some time to arrange to go back to Amber with Random. That seemed as good a place as any to start deciding where to go next. Better than some, in fact.

That was when I noticed a bit of string, floating in an archway.

"Jenny, is that you?" Suehprom called out once I'd drawn people's attention to it. He hadn't turned around to look, but he had opened an eye in the back of his head. Weird trick, that. And, on cue, she came through the door, one of her balloons in tow.

At that moment, the stone started buzzing madly in my pocket. Like I needed that warning.

"Hey, I know you," Jenny said to Random with a big smile. Then she knelt, quite charmingly, and added "You're the king."

"Yeah," he said, eyeing her warily. I decided now was a good time to distract her.

"So, what brought you here?" I asked her. Because I didn't think she was on Fiona's regular guest list, but I could always be wrong.

"I did," she answered with a sweet smile. "I brought me here." I should have asked a more direct question, but I've still got bad habits of Earth courtesy.

"I meant to say 'why are you here?' You looking for Random?"

"No. You." That was a surprise. She and I hadn't exactly been friends, but she hadn't been openly hostile most of the time, either.

"Why were you looking for me?"

"Do you really want me to say so in front of all these people?" That was nice of her, but it didn't really matter. I waved for her to continue. "Lots of bad people are out to get you."

"Yeah, I know," I sighed. "But thanks for the warning."

Suehprom decided that courtesy wasn't a skill he needed. "Are you one of them?"

Jenny smiled sweetly, dimples and all. "Do I look like a bad person?"

"That's not exactly an answer," Suehprom noted with something I'd have to call the opposite of tact.

"If I were after him, would I come and warn him?" she asked, and it didn't escape me that the logic wasn't entirely solid.

"Yes," Suehprom answered, and they started exchanging "why?" and "because" like two six year olds. At least Jenny almost looked the part.

"I like you," Jenny said, with a cute little giggle. "You're gonna be my new boyfriend."

They smiled and chirped like teen-agers now, agreeing to head back to the Courts. The whole arrangement didn't exactly make me happy (it meant letting Suehprom out of my sight, of course, and teamed him up with a cheerfully dangerous partner), but it did put him as far away as my understanding of this cosmology said was possible. Once they'd left, the stone quieted back down. And Jenny said she was here to warn me about danger. Right.

It wasn't long after that when Steed, Anna, Mrs. Peel, Random and I decided it was time to head back to Amber. We Trumped back to Steed's room, and I have him back the sword I'd borrowed from his wall, then headed toward my own rooms.

"We'll need to talk soon," I said to Random.

"Yeah... I guess so." He didn't seem to upset by the idea. Or too anxious, either.

"Contact me once the paperwork's caught up."

He smiled ruefully. "Please don't wait that long."

Anna and I went back to my rooms. Which meant I didn't have a good excuse to avoid talking to her anymore.

"Technically," she said when I asked if she was still my bodyguard, "we're in a gray area here. You did give the Jewel back to him, but I haven't actually been relieved of duty. And that girl with the balloons did..."

"Yeah, that's one of the things I need to talk to Random about. You interested in sticking to this job?" I hoped she was. I'd gotten used to having her around, even if I had no idea just what she was.

"I guess so," she said. "I'll see what he wants."

"Well, I'll make sure he knows what you want," I said, as she headed into the room first, to check it out. I'd gotten used to that, too. She only takes a couple of minutes, but I knew she was doing a thorough job.

"So..." I said, deciding now was as good a time as any, "do you have a few minutes?"

"Sure. What do you need?" She seemed a little apprehensive. After all, we'd been together quite a while and never really talked anything but shop.

"Well, I thought it might be a good idea if we took a few minutes and..." And what? Figured out if this was going to stay a 'professional relationship'? I had no real reason to expect it would be anything else, though I really wouldn't mind that change. Unless it turned out she really was one of those body-stealing things the Doctor had implied she was... "Work things out."

"Such as?" She looked more worried now. I decided to start with an easier topic.

"Random told me that he told you, before we even started on this whole search, what was going on. Really going on." I had to know what she'd kept quiet. I knew why I thought she had, but that isn't always the same thing.

"He thought I needed to know," she said. She seemed a little embarrassed about it. "He wanted me to make sure you didn't give the Jewel to the wrong person. But I wasn't supposed to steer you toward him in any way."

"Yeah, I told him you'd done that. Done a good job at that, I mean." There. Easy question aside. Hardly any offense given. Now, let's see how much of a mess I can make of things. "So... That was your father? Like for the rest of us?"

The stone started buzzing. I didn't think the question was actually dangerous...

"Yes," she said simply.

"So you're not actually... entirely what you look like?" I had hoped she was. I liked what she looked like, and I hated to consider that it might be a body she'd stolen just for that quality.

She smiled. "I'd say I'm at least as human as you are."

"That's not saying as much as I used to think it did," I answered with my own smile. Neither of us had much humor in those expressions.

"So, does it bother you that I'm not entirely human?" she asked, putting the real question in the open.

And, of course, it did. Hell yeah, it did. Especially if she was really... No, let her explain first. "I guess that it would be unfair if I said it did. It just... kind of surprised me."

"Unfair or not, it does." She wasn't stupid, she could read my hesitation like a book.

"Yeah... I'm not really used to this yet. It's all... still pretty sudden." What a weak excuse. But I didn't have anything better.

"It's got to be strange going from being a detective to being a heartbeat or two away from the ruler ship of... well, everything."

I hadn't really considered it that way. And I didn't like that even more than I didn't like the idea of Anna's body originally being someone else's. "I'm really hoping it doesn't come to that," I said.

The stone was still buzzing, and I looked around for something other than my useless-in-Amber pistol to use as a weapon if it was right. Anna noticed my furtive glances and shrugged a question. "Are you sure you checked this place out?"

"Why do you ask?" She sounded a little insulted. So I tapped the pocket where I always kept the stone. She knew what it did. So she made another check, including the secret passage we'd had problems with earlier.

The buzzing stopped, and I told her as much. "I guess that cleared it up."

"We've got to see about getting you a more secure room," she said, still not satisfied.

"I'd be surprised if a room here, with all these guards, is about as secure as you can get. Without getting a long way from the center of things, I mean. Anyway, I think this stone's playing games. It's buzzed a couple of times, but nothing happened." Which was odd, because it had been accurate up until now. It only buzzed when I was in immediate danger... And I had to admit, Jenny's visit had qualified, as nice as she seemed. "Maybe it was just warning me of a potential... Something that *might* have happened?" I was reaching.

"Well, still... After what that girl with the balloons said..." Anna was on edge, I couldn't blame her. She finished looking around, or almost. In the middle of closing the doorway to the secret passage, she stopped and turned to face me. "Would you be more comfortable with a bodyguard who was more human?"

That wasn't a question I'd anticipated. I mean, I liked having Anna around, I was comfortable with her. Or I had been until I'd found out... What? I'd found out possibilities, not facts. Maybe the facts weren't as bad as the possibilities.

"Probably not. I've gotten used to having you around." The words were out before I realized that they weren't much more than faint praise.

"Thanks. I think."

"No, really. You've done a good job. I just... I was a little surprised, that's all. And like I said, I'm not used to that sort of thing..." 'not used to it'? It scared me, plain and simple. I didn't know how to say that, though, without... No, there was something I could try. "Steed had a problem earlier, with someone borrowing his body. Stealing it, I guess."

"Ahh." She paused, considering it. "I don't actually borrow bodies. I'm... not that advanced. I'm only half-Ty'iga. I can do some transport tricks, that's about it."

"Oh, really? So you're not..." I didn't understand it. How could someone be half something that didn't have a body of it's own.

"I'm somewhat unique. My parents were Ty'igas, but Ty'igas don't reproduce, not in the usual sense. Physically, I mean. But they borrowed two hosts and... There's me."

That was a strange story, but if it was true... Well, she was human enough for most things, maybe a good bit more than me. I could hardly hold her parent's body-snatching against her.

"So what brought you all the way to this end of things?" I knew Ty'iga were from the Chaos end of reality, so I assumed she must be as well.

"I never really fit in on the other side," she shrugged, not offering any extra detail. "I did some worth through shadow, and eventually my employer... your father... found me. I've been working for him for a while
now."

"Well, then we can keep giving this a try." Actually, this hadn't ended as bad as I'd worried it would. She wasn't anything like as strange as I'd thought, she was just... Well, almost just... what she looked like. "I'll be sure to let him know. He said I should talk to him when I was ready, but I think... I could use a bath and a few day's sleep. Then... I have no idea what he'll want me to do."

We changed topics then, talked about Martin and what we'd need to do about him. Maybe find him, maybe nothing. The Martin in the record store didn't seem like the person who was trying to kill me... It had me stumped. But I needed sleep more than answers right then.

I sent Anna to find me a sword, something that would be mine to get used to. I decided I needed a rest.

First I took off my coat, drew the stone out and then my collection of Trumps. I took a moment to sort them out. I had three Luke's, probably because he never stopped giving them out. What had I done to deserve that many, though? A little sorting and I counted out who I'd met and who I might want to talk to. Random stayed on top, most of the others fought it out over who would be on the bottom. Such a pleasant family I'd inherited.

One I hadn't met. She had green hair. How strange... And as I looked at her card, the stone started buzzing. I put the card down, and it stopped. Very odd.

Luke won the race to the bottom. He was safe enough in an emergency but no one I'd want to call frequently.

I laid down, maybe to catch a short nap.

And the stone started buzzing.

"Stop it," I muttered, and it did.

I was almost asleep by the next time it started buzzing. I picked it up off the nightstand, set it down on the carpeted floor. It would be quieter there.

I woke up again when it bumped into the foot of the bed. The thing was vibrating like mad, but there wasn't any sign of danger. Something must be wrong with it. I never did know why it buzzed when I was in danger, maybe it had decided to buzz for another reason.

And I needed sleep.

All too soon, a knock at the door woke me.

And the rock was going off.

I picked it up, walked to the door. "Yeah?"

"You're needed," said Blazer's voice.

"I'll be right there," I said, looking for my coat. I hadn't gotten nearly enough sleep. I opened the door, and it was Blazer. "What's up?"

"Random needs you," he said.

"Oh, right. You seen Anna?" She should have been back, I think.

"err... no." Must not have been as long a nap as I thought, then.

"Okay. Which way?"

He pointed, I let him lead as well. The stone didn't stop buzzing. I didn't have any idea why.

He lead me to a room that wasn't Random's. I knew that.

"He's in here. He told me to wait outside." Something about that was strange, but my head was still lying on a pillow inside, so I just stated the obvious.

"This isn't Random's room."

"I know," Blazer said, "but he's in there."

"Oh, I forgot my sword, I'll be right back..." I turned, to head back to my room. Not that I had a sword there, but I wasn't buying this whole situation, I wanted a chance to regroup.

The stone screamed a warning, just a second before a shot rang out. But I'd gotten so in the habit of ignoring it of late, I didn't react in time.

And I fell, a burning feeling in my lower back.

And then things got very dark. It's strange the things you think about as you pass out. For me, it was 'Now I was sure I'd have to clean my coat.'

Case File X257-24

Report by Detective Scout Carter


I shook off a mix of shock, painkillers, and blood loss, and surprisingly, didn't feel all that bad. I must have been out longer than I'd thought, long enough to recover. Or maybe I hadn't been hit anywhere vital ant it had just all been shock. No, I know what getting shot feels like and that's what I'd felt just before the world went black.

Anyway, I looked around and I was in the Amber infirmary, a place with I'd been happily becoming less familiar recently. Nothing lasts forever I guess. Not even here. And I was alone, which was unusual. But at least it was a sign that no one else was...

There was a wind, blowing along the halls, rattling the door. "The floor was dusty, neglected.

Something was wrong.

I got to my feet, shook the dust of myself as the door squeaked on its hinges. I was still familiar enough with this room to know it didn't have a squeaky door.

Something was very wrong.

The hallway was empty when I stepped out. Except for wind and dust. No guards, no sign of recent occupants. And no one answered my calls. And my coat, as battered as it was, was nowhere to be found.

This was worse than wrong.

I walked back toward my own room, hoping there was something there to explain this. The room should have been familiar. I hoped.

Then I noticed footsteps that weren't mine, but also were not too distant. Downstairs, echoing slightly in the empty stone hallway. I stopped, got a bearing on them, and headed for the stairs, trying to make as little noise as I could. I leaned a little on the banister, the staircase and accompanying vertigo reminding me wasn't 100%.

At the bottom, I found some footprints. Not mine, which I'd gotten used to looking at trailing behind me every time I turned around. No, these were someone else.

And headed toward the throne room. I'd been around the castle often enough to recognize that. And to know that there were a hell of a Lot of rooms I'd rather they'd headed toward.

I got to the throne room door, which was hanging open and yes, the footprints did head in. Score one for my intuition even under the effects of painkillers. Or maybe just for my bad luck. 'Excepting the worse, I made a quick glance around the doorway, into the room.

There was one person in there, back towards me. He wore a long, purple robe and a crown and stood beside the throne. I may be a born and bread anti-royalist American, but I can recognize 'king' when someone writes it twenty feet high. But this person was too tall to be Random...

I didn't have the rock, which was maybe a good thing after my recent problems with it. But I also didn't have my gun which... well, didn't hurt since it wouldn't work in Amber anyway. Mine wouldn't, someone else's did, though. Life isn't exactly fair.

I stepped through the doorway and cleared my throat.

Martin turned around and looked at me. He didn't look exactly surprised to see me.

'You're not keeping the place up very well." Old trick, that. Be as casual and mundane as possible, in the hopes it will set the subject oft their guard. I didn't expect it to work against him. He might technically be my younger brother (and I wasn't too sure I liked that idea), but he probably had an experience edge on me because of how time works in Shadow.

"A lot has happened since your death," he said, which managed to be quite casual and significantly not mundane at the same time. I was pretty certain it lacked a little accuracy, too. I felt a little drug-woozy, but death should be tougher on the equilibrium than that... shouldn't it?

"uh-huh..." It was hard to respond to that, but I gave it a try. '"Want to fill me in then?"

"Why? You come here to torment me often enough." I'm sounded bitter. And I was kind of proud of myself for doing something I didn't remember. After all, I was pretty sure I wasn't dead, so what I after dying was hard to recall in any detail.

"You pretend like you don't know?" he said, his voice cold with anger. "You come here to torment me often enough." This was pretty strange, and I'd grown a much greater tolerance for strange recently.

"Come on, humor me," I said, offering him a narrow smile he could freely interpret as cruel if he wanted to.

"Where shall I start? With Random's... accident? With the invasion from Chaos? With my coronation?" His tone was more bitter now, I touched a nerve.

"Well, any of those sounds interesting," I said, trying to be nonchalant. His coronation? Not likely even if Random had an 'accident' and Chaos invaded. They wouldn't need him as a puppet, at least not for long. He wasn't dumb enough to think otherwise, either.

He sighed, shook his head and stood silent for a moment. "It all went wrong," he said almost whispering. "It all went horribly, horribly wrong." Maybe he thought that was telling me something, but I'd had a look around. It was no surprise to me at all that he'd come to that sort of conclusion. "What can I do?" he asked, looking at me with eyes sharp with hurt. '"What will stop you from coming back to haunt me? You want the crown is that it?"

"Not really." That didn't take any skill at lying. If there was anything around that I know I didn't want more than that, I'd be hard pressed to pick it out.

"Believe me, I'm sorry l ever took it. I should have let you have it." I could see his eyes now, through the drifting dust and dimness of the vast hall. He meant what he was saying.

"I wasn't really looking for it in the first place." Still quite true. Understatement, if anything.

"hmm... 'Why won 't you leave me alone, then?"

"There doesn't seem to be anybody else here to talk to." I glanced around at the dusty, abandoned castle. '"The absence of conversational options was quite obvious."

"Alright, I admit it. I failed. Does that make you happy?"

"Not really, "I repeated. It was clear he knew me about as well in this crazy vision of the future as he did now. 'Which is to say, not at all.

"Do you think you could have done any better?" His voice was bitter, accusing even while he begged me to excuse his failure.

I wasn't ready to do that yet, though. "Anything's possible."

"If I had it to do over again, I don't think l would kill you." That almost made me feel good, but he felt a need to add "...if for no other reason than that I'm sick of your ghost haunting me."

"Well, I wish there was a better reason than that." and I did. This was the man who had sent ridiculous agents stolen from movies to kill me, with considerable gusto, if barely any real skill. Still, I thought he might just be fooled, used. Clearly, he hadn't ended up in this mess on his own. "So, your friends didn't help you much, did they?"

His smile was painful to see. "Are you kidding? I'm lord of all I survey."

"My point." He glared across the dusty hall, no longer worthy of the label 'grand', but I continued. "You looked a lot happier in that record shop."

"I was." He turned away. "I guess I just have to face it." He removed the crown, set it on the throne without raising too much dust, then shrugged off the purple robes, which did raise quite a cloud. "It's over. Amber's over."

"That's it?" It looked like it, but who can say.

"Turn the lights out when you leave." He walked forward, right past me.

"So that's it? You just give up, after all this?"

"And why shouldn't we?" He didn't meet my eyes now.

"I dunno. It took a lot of work, to get this, didn't it?"

"Sometimes the things we work the hardest for aren't the things that will make us happy." He kept walking, his back to me now, leading the way down the abandoned halls.

"Very deep." He hadn't told me anything all that useful yet, so this... all this... could just be a painkiller hallucination. Nothing I didn't know or fear had been said. "So you really think I'm just following you to haunt you?"

"Why else?"

I'd try a new tactic. Get him to talk by making him admit to what I needed to hear. "I've talked to you before, haven't I?"

"Yes."

"Pretty often, right?"

"As if I've had a night's peace. "

Ouch. Persistent little bit of guilt, aren't I? "I'll see what I can do about that."

"No please. You've already done quite enough."

We'd reached the main gates, which swung open, empty. Outside, it rained heavily. "So you did all that just to have this?" I asked.

"Do you want me to say I was wrong?" He turned back to me now, anger sharpening his eyes. "To apologize? Is that what you want?"

"No."

"Tell me what you want."

"I'm just wondering why you never asked."

"Asked?" It hadn't made sense to him. I hadn't expected it to.

"You think I wanted this?" He stood, shocked. The idea had it seems, never even occurred to him. I had to explain it. '"I never wanted anything to with any of it. As hard as that might be for you to believe."

"That's never an option."

"You seem to be doing a pretty good job of walking away now."

"There's no one left to stop me... except you."

"I never wanted to stop you doing anything. Why would I?"

Again, he had to consider that. Lightning flashed in the sky, then thunder rolled in behind it. He was silent, just shrugged his shoulders and walked out, into the downpour. "I guess it's too late now," he said, barely to be heard over the rain. "For either of us."

"I've never been to quick to accept that."

"But the rain had swallowed him, and I was alone. Lightning struck again and thunder rolled, closer, very close...

And suddenly, there was pain.

Everything hurt.

"Hello, old chap are you... Oh, dear." It was an unfamiliar voice, but the tone sounded Doctor-like. "I've got a piece of leather here, you can bite onto it if you like."

I heard someone muttering something and digging through the medical supplies, but I wasn't in any real mood to listen.

Everything hurt.

And then nothing hurt. And Kat lifted her hand off my arm with a slight smile that I couldn't help but make up meanings for.

"I say, old chap, are you all right?" He didn't look like the Doctor. The beard was gone, and his clothes had lost the essential blackness he'd seemed taken with recently, but the style was his. He confirmed it when I asked.

I looked around. Steed and Emma were there with them. I was feeling fine, but weak...

We spent some time discussing who had shot me, which I was fairly certain wasn't Blazer but I didn't see anyone else... But I remembered something... beige? Yes, that was it. I didn't bring that up. I remembered Sweeny, though. I'd deal with that later.

And then someone appeared, dressed... Well, everyone here tended to dress like they were in a period movie, except me. They called him Leonardo, and he seemed friendly enough. He helped the Doctor make a Trump of Anna so we could get here into the picture. Kat recovered my Trumps (and that damned rock) from my coat, but that was no help. I didn't have a Trump of Anna.

I wasn't feeling much, though. I'm not sure I was healed, actually, just... separated from any direct concern about it. My head wasn't entirely clear, but whatever Kat had done was a lot better than what I'd felt like before she did it. I guess that's why they Trumped Random in. He gave me a nice shot, and then Kat lifted her mind trick. I still didn't feel much of anything (it was like my arms and legs had fallen asleep and were slowly restoring circulation), but my head was fuzzier than before.

Somewhere along the line, they Trumped Anna in, and she brought Blazer along with her, though he was less than conscious. From what I remember, they didn't reach much of a conclusion from anything Kat could learn from him or from their observations on the slug they'd pulled from me.

They all left for tea (Steed, Emma and the Doctor are all given to that habit and insisted), and I took a nap with Anna watching the door.

What woke me up was the Doctor stage-whispering "Is he awake?" to Anna. I'm not sure how much time had passed, but I felt a little less foggy. Still not too good, though. And the news wasn't any better.

Apparently, Eric was still causing trouble, and had somehow changed places with Merlin and imprisoned the original. Or so everyone thought. And they'd decided they needed to go to Chaos to fix this mess, once they found a way to prove it was what they thought. And they needed me along, I guess in case anyone wanted to get rough.

They rolled my bed along the castle's halls to the TARDIS. It had landed itself near Steed's room and was, while familiar, now decorated with dark wood paneling in something of a Victorian style... I didn't ask how. The Doctor pushed me through its halls to something he said was his new medical lab.

"That tube in the corner is where you want to go," he said, then pushed a few buttons and some rather vile liquid and a few bits of... something started to drain out. "Let me see... Disintegrate the solids..."

I was a little worried that I was going to be put into a tube with a button that disintegrated all its solid contents, but the Doctor assured me this was the fastest way, even as he filled it with a new something... A green gel of some sort. "Don't hold your breath, by the way. You can breathe this stuff."

"Do I have to?" He assured me I did, then helped me in and sealed the tube. He set a small egg timer on the nearest table, rapped on the tube wall with a single knuckle, then waved.

It was about a half-hour later when he came back and drained out the gel. I coughed for several minutes, but I did actually feel a lot better. The wound in my back had healed to a very slight scar.

"Err... Doctor," Steed yelled from down the hall. "Someone interesting is coming out of the theater."

"Just a moment," he said to me then leaned out the door. "Yes?"

Whatever the reply was, he looked interested. He pointed me toward a closet and trotted back to the control room.

I liberated some clothes from the Doctor's closet. It wasn't that easy. I carefully avoided anything with frills, lace, wildly blended colors, question mark patterns or other total fashion mistakes... I ended up in a basic black suit with a bit of a straight collar. Either out of date or cutting-edge depending on where in the cycle of pop culture you found yourself.

I walked into the control room. Anna nodded to me, seeming only a little embarrassed by failing to protect me from my stupidity earlier. Kat, Emma, Steed, the Doctor and that new guy, Leonardo, were all there. I suppose we were most of our way to Chaos...

"Don't wear all black! It scares me," the Doctor said as I entered. "It's a long story."

No one had brought my coat, but Kat handed me the stone and Anna had my Trumps. I was missing my gun, though.

I looked at the view screen and... "Is that Luke?" He looked too young.

"Yes, it is," the Doctor said.

"Where are we?" And further back, 1 saw Merlin and Martin. The view looked familiar, too...

"We're in Las Angeles, }986..." the Doctor began.

"'86... I thought they'd torn that place down in '92" I looked again, and Luke was clearly looking right at us. "What are we doing here?"

No one paid me any real attention. Kat headed out and started talking to Luke, Steed and the Doctor followed them. Leonardo's clothes shifted (while I watched... don't think I didn't notice that) into something vaguely late-80's and he followed as well. The Doctor tossed an ugly blanket over the TARDIS to hide it. Well, that's how his mind works.

The last thing I wanted to do was mess up my own past, or retroactively give Martin a reason for everything he'd done. Or deal with Luke. Never, unless necessary.

The control room was tense. Neither Anna nor I really wanted to talk about the lost day, I suppose... I watched Martin until he left the frame. so I asked to the Doctor's robot dog (I mentioned him before, didn't I? the Doctor calls him "K-9") and he shifted the view to keep my half-brother in view. He and Merlin looked pretty friendly, and they glanced over toward Luke now and then, until he went over, excused himself, then returned to Kat side. Merlin and Martin headed off.

So I just watched and got slowly more worried. Why did they want to talk to the Luke of the past? I hadn't seen Suehprom around, so someone else had to have made up this plan. I think I'd rather not be part of it...

"I don't know why they went out," I said, mostly to myself. "This is only going to make things worse..." Anna didn't seem too concerned, though. I'm getting sick of all this time travel, and being in my own past really made me nervous. And Luke wasn't the best person for them to be dealing with no matter what time.

To distract myself, I watched Merlin and Martin on the screen, which followed them quite nicely...

"It's good Luke left, really," Martin said. "We can't really talk about Amber with him around, can we?"

"There's something you wanted to talk about involving Amber?" Merlin asked. He seemed surprised.

"Actually, yeah. I've been having problems coming to terms with the whole 'father thing." That wasn't news. Years later he still couldn't claim success there.

"I know what you mean," Merlin answered with a half-smile. "It was pretty good when my dad showed up in Chaos."

"Right. I mean, all of a sudden, here I am, heir of one of the most important men in the universe, out of the blue." Martin didn't look the part, with his spiky green hair and facial piercings, but Merlin and I both knew he was telling the truth.

"You just have to decide what you want. Where you want to go, who you want to be," Merlin said. "You have the Pattern, you can go anywhere."

"1 know," Martin said.

"Believe me, I would never want his job anyway," Merlin lead them around a corner, down a street. He seemed familiar with the city and I wondered how close we'd come to one another without ever knowing it.

"Dunno... I might," Martin answered with a smile. "You could do a lot of good with a job like that."

"But you'd never had a personal life of your own again. Amber has to be worse than Chaos, and I couldn't even take that."

`"Maybe." Martin shrugged. I don't think he was convinced. Hell, I know he wasn't convinced.

They climbed into Merlin's car, plugged in a cassette tape. Queen, played loud...

The Doctor and the rest came into the TARDIS again, so my spy time was over.

"Well, Gentlemen," the Doctor said, "shall we try to proceed on to Chaos then?"

We all agreed and the Doctor prodded randomly at the buttons. Soon enough, the central column began moving up and down, making its familiar but still odd sound.

On our way there, we made some plans. Not necessarily good plans, but they were something. Mrs. Peel, Steed and Leonardo were going to create a distraction while the Doctor, Anna, Kat and I were going to make out way into the dungeons and free the apparent Eric, who we were fairly certain was really Merlin.

The Doctor had managed to sneak a DNA sample of Merlin while we were in the 80's, so he was along to ascertain our rescuer's identity. Kat was along to get us past the guards; she was good at that sort of thing. Me? I was there in case things got messy.

Something I learned about the wide open parts of Chaos is that it's easier to not remember every detail. Plus I doubt it's really too important, anyway. We took advantage of some friendly (if slow) walking, talking trees to get directions. I'll never watch "Wizard of Oz" the same way again; at least none of them threw apples.

As Kat, Anna, the Doctor and I approached the gates of the castle, Steed and Leonardo's distraction started. Fireworks, light shows, lots of noise. Nothing subtle. With the help of Kat, who suppressed the guard's perception a bit, we didn't have all that much of a problem.

"Help, help! Something's happening outside! I think it's Pattern!" The Doctor's approach managed to work to get us through the gates. I won't imagine why either Merlin or Eric would have guards that dense.

The dungeons were fairly dank and unpleasant, but I didn't expect anything else. And Kat told us most of the guards were mind-shielded, proof against her tricks. But she was able to teleport us to Eric's cell. Merlin's cell. I wasn't convinced either way, yet.

Anna and I took care of the closest guards while the Doctor scanned the prisoner to prove he was Merlin. It wasn't hard for either of us to take care of that, since there were only two. When I got back, they were trying to figure a way to short out the field that was holding the cell closed. Anna volunteered to help, and she started to shift shape. I really didn't want to see that... But as just a mass of energy, she was able to somehow meld with the field, make herself the same strength as it, and then burst the lock.

With the field that had held it gone, I was able to force the door open and Merlin (who looked like Eric, of course) joined us in the hall. Guards came running toward us, Kat started her spell...

And we didn't teleport. We didn't even move. Anna and I took guard, and the Doctor used a stasis grenade to hold the guards, but it wasn't a stable effect.

We only had seconds, and we ducked around a corner, which had to look like we'd vanished.

The floor started to rumble, bits of ceiling fell. Steed and Leonardo were overdoing it.

That was when Merlin strode down the hall, past the guards who were still stasised or knocked out by rubble. Or Eric looking like Merlin...

'Surrender peacefully?" he asked, and I stepped forward and liberated one of the guard's swords.

I smiled, because that wasn't going to happen. The rock wasn't buzzing, but that wasn't something took as immediately important.

"I'll hold here. You go." Anna didn't take my instructions, but I hoped the Doctor, Kat and Merlin could get away...

Eric advanced, he was clearly skilled. Much better than me. But I was just trying to hold him back, I could give ground. And Anna could help a bit.

Our first exchange was fair enough, I parried him easily. But he tossed a dagger with his free hand, past me, striking Kat in the forehead. Not good...

I wasn't managing this too well. I was giving ground almost every exchange, but Eric wasn't rushing it, either. But time was on his side. Eventually, he'd hove lots of guards to help him.

The Doctor's toys weren't working. Eric must have shut technology down. Things looked grim.

"Since I would prefer good relations with my family back in Amber," Eric said, "if you surrender, I will make arrangements for you to be extradited eventually."

"Not in the plans,' I said, trying to not let it distract me. With Anna's help, we still really didn't have a prayer. But we held off for long minutes, not really hurting him but not really being hurt outs elves...

And then the rumbling of the earthquake increased, and the ceiling fell onto us. An entire castle of dark, heavy stone...

I looked up from my desk to the window in my door. I could see my name there, painted on the glass. "Scout Carter, Private Investigator". Of course, it was backwards from my side. "retraC tuocS". Sounds like something you could order at one of those places down in Chinatown.

I was waiting for Anna to get back. She'd been doing legwork on our latest case while I tried to put the pieces together. It was an inheritance case, and those were always ugly. I'd already pretty much proven to myself that my client wasn't going to get didly, but I'd made that promise up front. Hire me and I'm hired to find the truth, not anyone's convenient version of things.

You pay your money, you take your chances. At least with me, that is. I have my standards, and I never break them. Never have, not since I opened my office.

Anna came in, wearing something she must have had sewn around her. She had the body to wear that sort of thing, and legs that reached all the way to the floor. I'm surprised she wasn't beating men off with a stick. If I wasn't in a line of work that promised tragedy, I'd have been right here with 'em.

"Scout," she said in a breathless way that matched her perfect figure like a dream, "we have to get out of here."

"What's up, doll? Trouble? Or are they fumigating the dump again?" My landlord was fighting a holding action against the rats and roaches, but since he enjoyed the fight I never argued.

"No, we have to find out what happened to Eric." She seemed upset about something. Her frown made the cutest shadows on her skin, a delicate gray that light danced around. Just a couple big cases, and I could dump this biz... "Do you know what happened?" she continued. "We were fighting with Eric, we'd gotten Merlin out of the cell and then, then... I woke up here."

I tried to hide a sniff for liquor on her clothes. She didn't usually booze it up too seriously this early in the night, but we all slip sometimes. "Look, we were working on this Eric case, but we took the rest of the night off. You think we need to dig more right now?"

"Yeah, right." She looked confused. But, to me, it just meant doing what I was paid to do. I'd planned to get back to it soon anyway.

"Okay, then let's head down to the newspaper and check it out." I stood up and reached for my hat.

"The newspaper?" Now she looked really confused. Not drunk (I hadn't smelled anything, at least), just out of place. That wasn't like here. She was the solid half of this team, really.

"They've got everything in their storerooms there. And after-hours like this, we can probably get in for some free searching. I know the night beat reporter." I'd have to buy him a bottle of his favorite, but that was worth the effort.

"If you say so, Scout."

"You feelin' all right, babe?" She looked all right, just confused. But it could be she was getting some flu or something.

"I think one of us may have gotten hit a little too hard..." I hope it wasn't her. I'd hate to think there were bruises under than dress. But I liked thinking about what else might be...

"Yeah, well, it'll clear itself up. Lets hit the bricks, toots."

I snatched up my coat and we swept our way into the stairwell, with her close behind me.

"We need to dig up more dirt on this bunch. The whole family."

"But," she said, "you already know the whole family. You've met most of them."

"Look, there's always something more you can find out. That's the name of the game, sweetheart."

She looked at me oddly again. "Okay..." but she didn't sound like she was agreeing.

"The paper'll have pictures. We can look for anyone who shouldn't be there." That was basic stuff, but we'd been banging our heads against dead ends on this crazy case.

"You've got pictures already, Scout."

"What do you mean? We haven't dug into the photo morgue yet, doll."

She reached into the pocket of my coat and pulled out a deck of cards. Dunno why I was carrying that.

"What, he looks like the King of Hearts or something?"

"Not of Hearts," she said, then she fished among the cards and showed me a picture of Eric. It was him all right. I knew the look and I didn't trust it. Maybe it was those fancy clothes or the "god-I'm-handsome" smile. Or maybe I just naturally don't trust winners when I have a choice.

"What kind of crazy playing cards are these, anyway?" Pictures of my client on cards? Why didn't I remember that I was carrying them? Something was wrong. "What's going on here?"

"I think you must have been the one hit on the head," she said.

"I don't remember being hit on the head," I growled because I didn't and I really didn't like the implications she was leading toward. "We just went out for a drink after working the case yesterday, said we'd start again today, right?"

"You might not want to look at that so hard," she said, because I was staring at the card.

"What? This is our client, right?" Staring at the face hadn't made it any more familiar.

"Not exactly." She knew more than she was saying. I didn1t like that. It felt wrong, her keeping secrets from me.

"Do you want to fill me in on what I'm missing, here?" I flipped through the cards. There were knockout dames on several, suspicious looking men on the rest. None of them were dressed like normal people and they all smelled like money. Old money and all the trouble that goes with it.

"Where do you want me to start?" she asked.

"Wherever you think works best. I'm game." I was starting to notice a hole in my memory. Maybe I had taken a knock recently.

"Okay... You're Scout."

A little too basic, but I can play along. "Yeah."

"And your father is Random. No, maybe we shouldn't start there." She must have seen my confused look. "Do you remember Amber?"

That rang a bell. Somewhere. "Isn't that the estate this whole fight's over?"

"Sort of..."

"Okay. I've got that part worked out. Big place, up on the Hill, right?" It was starting to fill in.

"err... Yeah..." She seemed reluctant to agree. I don't like the feeling that left me with. "Eric and Merlin are both from Amber..."

"Right, I'm with you that far." Merlin? The name was only a little familiar. Had she said it earlier?

"But they were fighting to take over Chaos," she said.

No bells. "'Chaos'? That's the company right? The old family company?" It was a guess.

"err... Yeah. Well, not exactly. It was the rival company, until Merlin took it over." I didn't think she was telling the whole story. But I could run with this.

"Okay, so we need to know who owns this Chaos Company clean, Eric or Merlin. No problem. We hit the papers, we did up the history in the business reports, right?" I knew how to dig up records.

She frowned. "Can I have those cards?" she asked. "No, look very closely at this card..."

She held out the card of one of the men. He looked like a little guy, dressed in some crazy Shakespeare stage get-up. "Who's this?"

"The head of the company. Just look, will you?"

I looked... I don't know what she meant. But the card started feeling cold in my hand. Very cold...

And he looked at me from the card, glaring up at me... "Scout?" a voice said from somewhere. I definitely had too much last night.

Anna put her hand on my shoulder. "I'll explain later, your majesty. Just pull us through."

"Hey, this card is moving. I want you to tell me why this card is doing all this stuff."

She grabbed my wrist and, with her free hand, reached through the card...

We were standing in the Pattern room. Random was there, so were Merlin and Eric, except that Eric was walking the Pattern. And the group I'd gone to Chaos with, plus an extra young girl who hung at the Doctor's side. Later on, they told me she went by "Ace."

"That was a long, strange trip." My head was clear again, and I mostly remembered what had happened. Anna still looked at me with a question in her eyes. "Yeah, I'm me again."

The rest explained to me that they were getting Eric and Merlin to both walk the Pattern so they could prove who was who. They'd lost track. Apparently walking that thing undid shapeshifting tricks. No one explained to me why there were two Slinkies on the Pattern as well.

I didn't like the plan, but when I checked my coat (still a dusky gray, but that goes well with everything) and found that I didn't have my little red stone. But Kat did have it and she gave it back. With it, I knew I could track our Pattern-walker if he ran off.

So I waited. I didn't have any problem with waiting a little.

One of Smiling Jenny's balloons drifted in and lurked behind Kat, but since she didn't seem to care much, neither did I.

But when Eric reached the center of the Pattern and still looked like Eric, we all decided we'd made a big mistake. And he decided to let the Pattern take him far, far away rather then give us time to make it right.

"Anna, come with me."

It was a long way up the stairs, but I had to walk or I'd lose the trail. From Amber, of course, going anywhere means you get closer to anyplace outside of Amber, so we went out the gate and down to the docks. It was that or the Arden and I wasn't about to face Julian again.

We got ourselves a place on an outgoing ship, planning to come ashore when it did and follow the stone's trail from there to Eric. In the meantime, Anna and I took the chance to be alone as a perfect invitation for tension. I don't know what it was, really. But I really didn't want to admit to what I'd been thinking in that film noir shadow we'd been stuck in. And I think she got that message clearly enough.

For most of the voyage, I searched for what I really wanted to say, and I didn't find it.

As we started to dock in Kashfa, the stone told me we wouldn't have that far to travel after all. Our target was here.

Here meant Kashfa.

Kashfa meant Luke.

I think I might have been better off with Julian.

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R. Cal Westray, Jr.
Copyright 2001 [Westray.org].
All rights reserved.
Revised: October 23, 2007 .