If you’re enjoying this, here’s some more. 😉 If not, don’t worry, I’m sure a post about outer space will be along any time now.
The Masque of the Baron
EPISODE TWO: in which the main characters meet some other people
EPISODE TWO: in which the main characters meet some other people
A sky-blue CitroÃ«n honked angrily at the Doctor as he darted across the street. The driver cursed creatively at his dimishing form. Ordinarily, the Doctor would have found the string of expletives amusing. Now he found it tedious.
Following the footsteps of his last journey, the Doctor wandered the streets of Paris. After fifteen minutes of walking, he arrived at the Place de la Concorde. And he remembered.
The tumbrils, clattering across the cobblestones. The guillotine in the place now occupied by the obelisk, its blade rising and falling, severing the heads of the innocent. Their blood running in the gutters as thick as new rain.
The Doctor shuddered. It had been a very long time since he’d seen the French Revolution. His first incarnation, in fact. But the intervening centuries had brought him no nearer to forgetting. He’d been powerless then to stop it. Or had he? It was growing harder and harder to find the razor-edge balance between the Laws of Time and simple compassion.
The Doctor’s past was full of deaths and lies. He saw no reason to assume that his future would be any different. Indeed, he saw an excellent reason to support the opposite case.
He remembered. The Valeyard, playing the role of prosecution for the Time Lords in the Doctor’s most recent trial. The Valeyard, charging the Doctor with genocide. The Valeyard, admitting that he was a potential future incarnation of the Doctor himself.
Shaking himself back into the present, the Doctor considered his immediate options. “The first thing,” he said aloud, “would be to find a cup of tea.” A young couple stared at him. He doffed his hat politely to them, glad to react to something external that wasn’t trying to kill him, as was more often the case.
As the couple moved on, shaking their heads, the Doctor went through his pockets for change. Coming up with enough battered coins to buy tea, he turned purposefully towards a café which he remembered very well from his visit with Romana.
Terri sipped thoughtfully at an enormous cup of café au lait, grateful for its warmth. Adam, meanwhile, was attacking a chicken crêpe with gusto across the table. Terri had, at Adam’s request, driven them to this small, somewhat untidy café in the center of Paris. “No one,” he was saying to her, “can make a proper crêpe these days. Except here.” He poked his fork in the air to indicate the café.
Terri smiled hesitantly back, rearranging her purse on the unoccupied third chair at their table. She’d had a hell of a time getting her little rented Peugeot into its parking space and was still feeling jumpy. “I’m not a tremendous expert on French cuisine, I’m afraid.”
He smiled cheerfully back. “That’s all right! I’m sure you’ll be quite taken with it in no time at all!”
Terri smiled back at him, unsure of what to say. — Damn, she thought. I wish I were better at making small-talk.
She was rescued by the entrance of a most peculiar individual to the café. A diminutive, middle-aged man had entered the café. He wore a cream linen suit, a straw hat, and a sweater that appeared to be covered with question marks.
Terri almost dropped her café au lait. She gasped. Startled, Adam looked up at her. “What is it, Terri?”
She carefully set her cup down on its saucer and leaned across the table. “See that man?” She indicated the newcomer. Adam nodded. “That’s him.”
She made a face. “You know!” she hissed. “My subject.”
Frowning, Adam glanced across at the stranger, who was conversing in rapid French with the patron and gesticulating with his question-mark umbrella. As he turned back to Terri, he shook his head, smiling. “No, that can’t be him.”
“Just take my word for it.”
She frowned at him. “You haven’t been studying this guy. He is frequently described as wearing question marks.” Adam shut up. “Who else would wear question marks?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, Terri, ” he said before returning his attention to his lunch. Annoyed and unwilling to show it, Terri did the same.
She jumped and nearly lost her coffee again when she heard a vaguely Scottish voice politely ask her, “Excuse me, but may I borrow this chair?”
She looked up. Smiling charmingly at her from his modest height was the man she strongly suspected of being the Doctor. “Um, uh, that is, ah . . .” she stammered. She looked across at Adam for help, but he just sat there, beaming fiendishly at her. Looking back at the Scotsman, she said, “yeah, uh, yeah, sure!”
The man pulled the extra chair out and moved it to the next table over, which was unoccupied. This caused Terri’s purse to tumble out onto the floor, spilling its contents. “Oh, dear,” said the man, and bent to the floor, picking up the minutia of Terri’s life and putting them neatly back in the purse, apologizing profusely.
When he had finished, the strange man handed the purse back to Terri. “I am sorry, madam. Most abjectly sorry.” He doffed his hat to her. “Allow me to introduce myself: I’m the Doctor.” He extended his hand to her.
Terri was dumbstruck. This really *was* the mysterious Doctor, irrefutably. So she couldn’t go introducing herself to him. No, not at all! She looked over to Adam for support, but he looked just as surprised, if not more. “Hi, er . . . hello?” she ventured, extending her hand as well. The Doctor grinned and shook it. “I’m Terri Johnson.”
“Charmed to meet you, my dear!” He doffed his hat again and then turned to Adam. “And you are . . .?” he continued, extending his hand once more.
Adam shook his hand, a curious expression on his face. “Adam Pierson.”
“Splendid!” said the Doctor. “Well, I musn’t hang about bothering you! I do apologize for knocking your purse down. I didn’t mean to.” And with that, the Doctor turned around, sat down, and became extraordinarily interested in the menu.
“Well,” said Terri. Adam did not reply, but stared curiously at the Doctor.
“Just shut up,” Terri snapped.
“Well, I’m not the one who lost him,” Adam replied.
“I said, SHUT UP!” shouted Terri. They were standing together in the Touilleries Gardens trying to work out where the Doctor had disappeared to. They had been arguing for the better part of ten minutes. The unfortunate thing was that Adam was absolutely right — Terri was the one who’d lost the Doctor.
“Look, Terri,” he said. She shot him a warning glance, but he did not stop. “We’ll find him again. Why don’t we go get some supper? We’ve been tracking him for hours.”
Terri sighed. She knew that a full stomach would do her the world of good. Staring off into the diminishing sunlight, she gritted her teeth and accepted that Adam was absolutely right. “Okay. Dinner it is.”
So together they set off in search of a cafÃ©. It didn’t take long — Paris is nothing if not a good place to eat. Unfortunately, given their hunger and lack of money, the first suitable place they found was a small cafÃ© that was being battered about by a jazz group that had tried much too hard to mate jazz and heavy metal. They had done so largely by the use of amplifiers, which had not gone over well with the cafÃ©’s proprietor. This was their last night, and they were trying to make up for it by sheer noise.
After a time, to Terri’s extreme relief, the band took a break to let their PA system recover. “At last!” she breathed.
Adam nodded. He had ordered fish, which was bothering Terri a great deal. In France, it seemed, it was appropriate to serve fish with heads intact.
“How can you eat that?” she asked.
“Easy,” he said. “Like this.” And he started eating. Terri shook her head, avoiding the sight of the dead fish’s eye.
“That is so gross, Adam.”
He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Why? I’ve eaten stranger things.” And he dove back into the fish.
Terri shuddered. “Yuck.” And she dug into her own dinner: a simple bowl of French onion soup. “Now French onion soup, on the other hand . . . mm-mm good!”
Adam frowned at her. “Actually, it’s called ‘GratinÃ©e des Halles,’ not French onion . . . soup . . . ,” and he trailed off, staring over Terri’s shoulder at the door.
“What is it?” she asked. Adam did not answer, but merely continued to stare at the door, an curiously blank expression on his face. It was almost as though he’d slipped on a mask to hide behind.
Curious, Terri turned towards the door. And gaped at the figure standing there.
A tall man stood in the doorway, eclipsing the street light. He wore a long black overcoat despite the summer’s heat, the lapels turned up to obscure his face. There was a darkness surrounding the man, a blackness that seemed to hang about his features. The dark man swept into the cafÃ©, drawing every eye to his preternatural presence.
Terri sat frozen as the man walked — no, *sauntered* — ever closer and closer to her table. She turned slowly as he came, only enough to keep her eyes firmly glued to this curious figure.
He stopped at her table. Terri began to shiver uncontrollably. She felt as though the ambient temperature had just dropped seven or eight degrees. Perhaps the dark man noticed her, for he turned and looked her in the eye. He held her gaze in an iron grip for some time. Terri noticed that one of his eyes was green, while the other was black.
“Tu n’es pas important,” he said abruptly. Reality suddenly snapped back into place for Terri, and she was left feeling rather silly, if not a little frightened.
“Mais vous . . .,” he said, turning to Adam, who looked unflinchingly back at the dark man. “Vous ȇtes different.”
Terri, who was too frightened to draw on her small command of French, was lost by the dark man’s words. Adam, however, was not. “Qui ȇtes-vous?” he asked the dark man.
The dark man laughed. Loud, long peals of malicious laughter rumbled out of him, clearly at Adam’s expense. “Moi? Je suis le Baron! Le maître de Paris! Et je sait votre nom, Monsieur. Votre vrai nom.”
Terri watched as all the blood drained slowly from Adam’s face. “Dear God,” he breathed, as the apparition calling himself the Baron smirked at him, retreating back towards the door. Darkness refolded itself around the man as he called out one last time: “Au revoir, Monsieur!” And he vanished into the night.
“Good God, Adam,” she said, “Who was that?”
“Well, he said he was the Baron.”
Terri shook her head in disbelief. “What kind of a nut walks into a cafÃ©, chooses people at random, and picks on them?”
Adam did not answer right away. “I only hope we never find out.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded.
But Adam only stared cryptically at her.
It was upon the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in all of Paris, legended to have been built by good king Henri, that the dark man – the Baron – at last found what he sought. There was a young man standing in the pool of yellow that lay beneath the streetlamp on the northeastern corner of the bridge. He was in severe withdrawal. The dark man could smell it.
So he ventured near the young man, who did not look up at his approa= ch.
The dark man knew everything about him. (Telecommunications had made all that so much easier this time.) He knew where the boy’d been born, how he’d done in school, on the bac . . .
He knew everything. Everything that mattered.
The boy (or was he a man? What is a man? Doesn’t matter) was named Michèl. His last name does not matter. Michèl never used it anyway. He was only two months shy of twenty-two, but looked more like seventeen or eighteen. Except around the eyes, where amphetamines had caused the blood vessels to show. There he looked nearly as old as the dark man himself.
So it was a boy of twenty-one, not a man, whom the dark man chose.
The moon broke briefly through the clouds, sending a crystalline sparkle across the Seine. When it disappeared once more, the Pont Neuf was empty.