The Buccaneer Chronicles:
By Karen Dunn (Despite Interference by Keith Dunn, Andy Simpkins, Adam J Purcell and Tony Gallichan)
Chapter Three - The Body
Watching Curtis with Blanche I can't help but feel an irrational stab of jealousy.
He comforts her so well, his voice low and soothing as she snuffles and blubs into his shirt.
I can't make out what he's saying but I know that if she had run to me I would not even have been able to wrap a consoling arm around her shoulder, let alone find the right words to ease her fears.
I would have made some cutting remark, some entirely inappropriate witticism about the dead man before us that would have driven her mad with rage.
And yet again a gulf would have opened up between us, stretching our friendship to its fragile limits.
I miss the old days.
I miss the days when she would look up to me, when she would turn to me, her eyes large with wonder, as she pointed out some miracle that I had long ago taken for granted.
I used to find the way everything fascinated her so delightfully childlike.
Now I just find it childish and we argue and fight over the slightest thing.
I miss the way things were and would give anything to feel that way again.
I miss the evenings in the Ship when she would slip into my study while I was working and curl up on a beanbag to watch me.
I miss watching her learn. I miss that feeling of throat-swelling pride when she discovered that she could appreciate something without having to steal it, when she realised there is good in the universe and not everyone is out to get her.
I wish she could teach me to see that way again, because I think I've forgotten how.
"You've ruined my shoes, you know."
Blanche pushed herself away from Colin's chest and sniffed wetly, her eyes flooding with unshed tears, "Sorry 'bout that."
Colin tenderly stroked a stray lock of mousy hair back behind the girl's ear and patted her on the shoulder, "Why don't you go back to the Ship while we try to find out what happened here?"
She shook her head, "I can help."
Colin turned to Macfadyan, "As murders go, it's pretty gruesome."
The Time Lord ignored him, crouching next to the dead man and running his fingers along the shaft of wood that was impaling the corpse to the tree.
Colin and Blanche watched in morbid fascination as Macfadyan reached up and, after the briefest of glances in their direction, pulled back the man's upper lip and peered closely at his teeth.
Blanche gagged, "What the hell are you doing?"
Fighting down the urge to scream, shout, swear - anything to get him away from that corpse - Blanche clenched her fists at her side and edged closer to Colin.
"Would you care for a ham sandwich?"
Colin looked up incredulously as Cre'at hovered next to him; a plate of nibbles bobbing gently on his outstretched arm.
The floating head regarded him impassively, "From studying humanoid interaction I have learned that while observing moments of drama you will often partake of refreshment. The theatrical works of Shakespeare and the televised showings of Jane Austen romances often lead to major calorie consumption. When Mr Darcy removed his shirt and leapt into the lake during Pride and Prejudice Blanche consumed an entire strawberry cheesecake. I have found that marathon showings of Star Trek: Voyager result in the mass consumption of chocolate products but Blanche has informed me that that is known as comfort eating. I could prepare some chocolate ice cream if you would prefer."
Colin sighed, "Thanks, C, but that won't be necessary."
If it was possible for a floating metal head to look crestfallen, Cre'at managed it, "I have prepared 126 rounds of ham sandwiches and two rounds of cheese and pickle. They will go to waste if not consumed promptly."
And he pootled away towards the Ship.
Blanche gave Colin a sideways look, pleased for the distraction, "Why cheese and pickle?"
Colin shrugged, "I told him that variety is the spice of life - suggested a whole range of foods he could experiment with - but cheese and pickle sandwiches was as far as he was prepared to go."
"Dunno. Perhaps Mac likes them..."
"When you've quite finished."
They looked up at the man in question in time to see him cover the corpse's face with a large polka dot handkerchief.
Straightening up, he strolled towards them, dusting himself down with a miniature clothes brush.
Blanche glowered at him, "So?"
Macfadyan tucked the brush into his pocket without even sparing her a glance, "Vampires. Are there any sandwiches left?"
And he strutted off towards the picnic site.
"She looks extremely cross with me and part of me is glad.
How arrogant could I possibly get? Announcing 'vampires' like it was the most natural thing in the world and then walking away.
If I were of lesser breeding I would call myself a smug bastard.
Perhaps Colin will do it for me.
I know I'm starting to annoy him.
He's a soldier - he likes to know what's what. How long will it be before my unpredictability finds its way to his trigger finger?
I bullet between the eyes may not kill me but it would damned well hurt.
And I don't think Colin would ever forgive himself.
He's a good man.
Which is more than I'll ever be.
A good man would apologise to them for being - how did Blanche put it the other day - so far up my own arse I can see through my teeth.
Interesting turn of phrase but a point well made.
A good man would explain to them, without needing to be asked, how I came to my 'vampire' conclusion. And then he would ask their opinions on what to do next.
A good man would take the time to thank Cre'at for preparing enough ham sandwiches to feed an army and still including a few rounds of my favourite cheese and pickle.
A good man would be...better than me.
I am arrogant, I am rude. Even my pretensions have delusions of grandeur.
I could be a good man if I put my mind to it. But that would mean admitting I am wrong about so many things.
That would mean admitting that I care.
And that would never do...not any more.
So I watch as they approach - one furious, one resigned - and I pop a sandwich into my mouth and chew briskly.
I am smugness in a fancy coat.
I don't know how to be anything else."
Cre'at had substituted the little checked picnic blanket for a striped one the size of a small tennis court and was buzzing around it in a mechanical frenzy arranging and rearranging the copious plates of sandwiches, always making sure the solitary pile of cheese and pickle were within Macfadyan's reach.
Colin flopped down next to the Time Lord and helped himself to a much-needed snack, "So are you going to explain what you just said or do we start the guessing games?"
Macfadyan licked a smear of butter from the end of his thumb and regarded his companions with a cautious eye.
Colin was reclining against a capacious picnic basket, seemingly at ease with life.
Only the sideways glances he threw at Blanche betrayed the fact he was worried.
And he was right to be.
Given the way the girl was pacing up and down just far enough away to stay out of reach told them both that there was an explosion of temper rumbling across the horizon.
Mac watched her through lidded eyes.
She had grown so much since the day they met, emotionally, mentally and physically.
The scrawny urchin he had plucked from the streets of Victorian London had blossomed into a woman - almost.
She was almost a foot taller now and her skin held a healthy glow instead of the gaunt paleness of malnutrition and a life spent fighting to survive.
She was still too skinny for his liking but years of neglect was not something you recovered from over night.
Aware she had an audience, Blanche glared at him, "You gonna answer him?"
Mac flashed her a smile and selected a cheese and pickle sandwich from the plate in front of him, "I would have thought my statement spoke for itself. Our friend by the tree had been staked through the heart with a length of oak. The tried and tested method to guarantee the death of a vampire."
Blanche snorted, "The tried and tested method to guarantee the death of anyone, if you ask me. That's your great theory?"
A blob of pickle dropped from the sandwich and plopped onto the blanket.
Macfadyan scooped it up absently and popped it into his mouth, "His lower lip bore unmistakable scarring left by extended canines which tore into his flesh during transformation."
"So he cut his lip and someone stabbed him. It's hardly irrefutable proof that he's Nosferatu, Lord of Darkness."
Macfadyan raised an eyebrow, "I didn't know you'd even heard of Nosferatu."
"You made me read that book."
"Was it good?"
"It gave me nightmares."
"Yes, you really shouldn't read horror novels at bedtime."
"I was expanding my horizons."
Like a spectator at a tennis match, Colin watched the conversation fly back and forth before deciding enough was enough, "Blanche does have a point you know, Mac. How do we know this guy was a vampire? I mean, shouldn't he have disappeared in a puff of smoke or something once he was stabbed?"
Macfadyan wagged an admonishing finger at the young soldier, "You watch too much television, my lad."
Colin smiled brightly, "And you're an arrogant sod. Will you just answer the question."
Macfadyan sighed, ignoring Blanche's snort of delight.
Reaching into his coat pocket he pulled out the stake of wood that had been pinning the corpse to the tree and tossed it to Colin.
The soldier caught it without thinking, his face dissolving into a grimace as his fingers stuck in the tacky mess of blood that stained the stick from its point to half way along its shaft, "Jesus, Mac..."
With a tut of impatience, the Time Lord reached across and tapped the underside of the stake, "For a competent soldier you really can be unobservant."
Colin lifted the gruesome object higher, allowing it to catch the sunlight, and could just make out a line of words carved into the wood.
'Stake (Mk III, oak, 11 inches). To be used on vampires only. Instructions for use: Apply violently to heart and stand well back. If used in error on human being or other non-vampiric race, report immediately to nearest law enforcement officer and await sentencing. Warning: Point may be sharp.'
Colin blinked and looked up at Macfadyan, "Is this a joke?"
"Apparently not. There were a bundle of these behind the tree along with vials of water, which I assume to be holy, and a string of garlic. It would appear that someone is in the vampire slaying business."
Blanche snorted, "And you say he watches too much television."
Macfadyan gave a haughty sniff, "You may mock, my girl, but vampire slaying is a noble and tricky profession. There are records from across the universe detailing incidences of entire civilisations being over run."
Colin tapped the stake against his hand, his brow furrowed, "Yes, but we're not in our universe, are we."
Macfadyan glared at him for a split second, then his face fell, "Yes, well...there is one well-documented case of vampire domination in E Space...it was...oh dear..."
He pushed himself up from the blanket and began pacing, his stride broken every few paces as he took a bite of another sandwich.
He was muttering to himself.
Blanche sighed and flopped down on the blanket, "Do you think he's going to fill us in?"
Colin sat next to her, jabbing absently at the patchy glass with the sharp end of the stake, "Your guess is as good as mine, kid."
There was a moment's silence, broken only by Macfadyan's inarticulate mutterings and Colin's efforts to scratch his name in the soil.
Blanche twirled a loose strand of hair round her finger and puffed out her cheeks before letting out a huff of air and peering at Colin through a flop of fringe, "Do you wanna go find the vampire slayers."
Colin looked up, "What?"
Blanche nodded towards the pacing Time Lord, "Well, he's not going anywhere fast, Cre'at's sulking in the Ship and I'm bored. Let's go and find whoever killed the pale-looking dude."
"We could congratulate him on a fine day's work. We could complement him on his aim."
Colin looked at her.
"You could arm wrestle him, soldier boy. A person who goes round stabbing vampires for a living has got to have developed some useful wrist muscles."
He was looking at her as if she was crazy, "And what if the slayer has worse social skills than the vampire? What if he doesn't believe you're human and gives you a poke with his stick?"
She jumped to her feet, itching to be off, "Oh come on, Colin, Mac's gonna want to talk to the guy. You don't think he's gonna let this be, do you? He's gonna want to know the whos, whys, wheres and whats of this. If we're gonna be dragged into a tacky Night of the Living Dead scenario we might as well be prepared."
With a heavy sigh, Colin took her proffered hand and tugged himself to his feet, "Okay, strange girl, let's go find him."
Unnoticed by the pre-occupied Time Lord, the duo strolled off into the woods.
"And that was zombies."
"Night of the Living Dead."
"Are all soldiers so anal?"
"They think I didn't see them as they talked about me. They think I was so lost in my own thoughts that I didn't hear what they were saying.
Well I heard and I have to admit to feeling a little disappointed.
I didn't think they would be so easy to manipulate.
I know we have to find our friendly neighbourhood vampire slayer and I know he must be nearby but I really do not have time to walk to the nearest town, ask questions, bribe answers out of superstitious natives and then work out what to do next.
I have to analyse the blood on the stake. I have to find out if this creature was in any way ...normal...for this world or if he was one of an invading force. Doubtful, but you never know.
I have to scour the Ship for weapons to use against these things.
I can't do that if I'm convincing yokels to talk to me.
Letting Colin and Blanche take care of the leg work seems like an ideal solution.
Oh, I suppose I could have just asked them nicely to go, but that would have led to questions. Why wasn't I going? What was I going to do while they were gone? What if no one wanted to talk to them? What if, what, what if...
Best to let them think it was their idea.
They'll be safe enough. Colin's a big, strong lad and Blanche could talk her way out of the arms of Death herself.
I'm not worried.
What's the worst that could happen?"