Author: Shona (aka Mara)
Disclaimer: None of these characters are mine, you know that right? I'm just playing in other peoples' sandboxes.
Series: Close Encounters of the Tenth Kind - 3/10
Characters: The Doctor (Ten), Veronica Mars
Warnings: This contains speculation for Veronica Mars post season two, so there are spoilers here for the final episode "Not Pictured". Just sayin'. (Oh, and this ficlet? three and a half thousand words... *headdesk*)
Archive: LJ, my site, A Teaspoon and an Open Mind - anywhere else, just ask!
You might think there’s something strange about an eighteen-year-old high school graduate sitting in a car watching a supposedly empty house at three in the morning. On the other hand, you might not think it’s strange at all and if that’s the case then let me the first to suggest some social adjustment therapy for you; go out once in a while and see what the real world is like. Because this? Is not normal, or it shouldn’t be.
Life – especially in Neptune, California - is nothing like the movies. People aren’t nice when you look under the surface. With the exception of a very few, people are selfish and will stab you in the back and rob you blind all while smiling to your face.
Yeah, so I’m a little jaded. For the past two and a half years I’ve been a kind of trainee private investigator and about half way through the first case I got to see what people really are like. Factor in the facts that my best friend was murdered and I became a social pariah when my dad stood up for what he believed was the truth, and you might get a glimmer of why I find it more than a little difficult to believe in any concept of the basic goodness of humanity.
The reason I was sitting in a car outside an empty house at three in the morning? It was what we in the business call a stakeout. At the start of the summer I swore I was out of this whole thing, believing the only family I care about had been killed and having a gun pointed at me clarified things. This is not the kind of life I want to live. After it all, knowing it was all okay, that Dad was alive and well and that I was going to make it through another day, I just wanted out. Away.
But that’s the thing about this town; it drags me back in every time. Dad was working on some case that he thought I didn’t know about – I guess he figured if I knew he was working with Kendall Casablancas I might have had some issues. He’s right of course, but I knew he’d work it out. I knew he’d stay safe.
And as for me, well I didn’t get out. You see, when I tried, Logan brought me back. Not literally of course because once the news got hold of the story that Aaron Echolls had been found dead in his hotel suite, Logan went to ground. He was the prime suspect of course – so was I for a short while – but eventually Lamb gave up on any hope of actually charging Logan and he cut everyone off. Including me.
Gotta admit, that hurt more than it should have. I know this whatever-it-is I have with him is pretty unhealthy really, but he can be a good man. I know he can. I know he’s not a killer. I just wish he’d given me the chance to tell him that before he disappeared. I ended up back in this whole cloak and dagger routine, because of him, because I need to tell him I know, because I need to tell him I can’t do this any more.
So there I was, parked outside the house that Lynn Echolls kept in her own name – presumably in case she ever did actually leave Aaron – and which she had bequeathed to her son. The only place left in town that Logan could now actually call his. The place seemed deserted although there was obviously still someone around, the lawn had been kept tidy and there were other little clues if you know where to look. But there’s something about an empty house that gives it away. It’s like… it’s waiting for something to happen.
Just like me.
The wind outside picked up and if anything the night got colder. I curled up reflexively, trying to get warm enough to make it through till sunrise – or at least until I could grab a coffee somewhere. I tried to tell myself later that it was because I was just a little stressed that I didn’t pick up on the fact that it was sub-zero in July, but as per usual I didn’t listen. After all, something like that is too far from normal – even for Neptune – and the human mind just isn’t wired to accept things that are so far outside its understanding. That’s something I’ve always kinda suspected, but have really come to see the truth of now.
Just as I’d about convinced myself that being there was a waste of my time – time I should be using to finalise my course options for college – there was movement behind the house. I sat upright, watching, and reached over to the passenger seat where the camera was sitting. Whoever it was out there was tall, slim almost to the point of being skinny, and keeping to the shadows. Through the zoom lens I could see it definitely wasn’t Logan – which made sense really, why would Logan need to sneak around his own house? – but who it was? I had no idea.
Definitely not someone from school, although at first glance he almost looked young enough. But then the lines around his eyes came into focus, and his eyes… if I hadn’t already been shivering from the cold I would have shivered then.
I’m not normally given to hyperbole, but those eyes were old. One look at them and you just know he’s really seen life.
Okay, now I’m starting to sound like some New Ager, but seriously, through that camera lens? That’s what I saw. The moment I took the shot – well, I had to didn’t I? – those eyes snapped up and seemed to look straight into me. I froze right there, I think maybe even my heart stopped just for that moment, and the fear that crawled up my spine was all too familiar. I think that might have been the moment I knew finally I was going to jump at the first chance to get out of this whole life; I was so tired of all that fear.
I pulled the camera down quickly and tried to hide in the shadows a little – even though I knew it was far too late for that. He did take a step towards the car, but something caught his attention inside the house and he turned away, sprinting for the door. I was out of the car before I even thought about it – if Logan was in there then I had to do something.
As I got closer I saw he was using some kind of scanning tool, shaped like an extra wide pen. It was probably something designed to bypass the alarm codes, but it didn’t look like anything I’d seen before. He glanced round and saw me as he opened the door.
“Stay here!” Definitely not from around here with that accent.
“Like that’s going to happen.” I said, adrenaline can do the strangest things to you – like give you a false sense of bravado.
He muttered something under his breath as he dove into the house, heading straight for the kitchen. I couldn’t make out what it was but it was definitely not complimentary, I followed him, my cell phone now in my hand ready to hit speed dial. I’m not ashamed of knowing that sometimes I need my Dad to come get me – I can handle myself, but I also know there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that sometimes help is a good thing. Of course, any normal person would have dialled 911 by now – strange man breaking into a house with some seriously advanced looking professional lock pick – but I’ve never exactly been normal, and besides, in this town I know I can count on Dad, the police department? Maybe. On a good day. Like say… any day Lamb wasn’t ‘working’.
He was moving fast and he was already out of sight as I entered the kitchen. The cellar door was open – Logan hadn’t managed to put any kind of dent on Lynne’s prodigious wine collection, although not through lack of trying – and I could hear a kind of eerie screeching coming from deep in the shadows. I really did not want to go down there but, damn my curiosity, I was on the first step when there was a crash of glass breaking and movement coming towards me. Fast.
It was him – the strange man – sprinting up the stairs and waving wildly at me to move. “Run!” he was yelling, not exactly a standard break-and-entry then. But I stood firm to block his path, or at least I did until I saw a huge shape emerging from the shadows below to follow him into the kitchen.
I turned so quickly I almost fell over the step but his hand was on my elbow, steadying me, and he kept a grip on my arm as he steered us out of the house at almost break-neck speed. Honestly? I didn’t need all that much encouragement to run faster than I ever have – I could almost feel the breath of whatever it was that was behind us on my neck.
As soon as we were through the door though, it stopped. The man was already turning to see and he literally bounced as he saw it hadn’t followed us out onto the carefully manicured lawn. “Ha! I knew it!” He grinned over at me like a little kid. “I knew it! Didn’t I say it would be confined to a really small space? Well, tiny really, all things considered.”
He stopped bouncing and frowned at me. “No?”
I shook my head, “No, you didn’t tell me anything. I’ve never seen you before so how could you have told me anything? Who are you, where’s Logan and what the hell is that thing?”
He looked confused for a moment, one hand going up to scratch at his neck – normally it would be a textbook example of a tell, but somehow I didn’t think that was the case with him. He was radiating confusion more than anything else. Kinda like he was too distracted to notice we hadn’t been introduced yet.
“Ah, right, sorry! I’m the Doctor. That thing,” he gestured to the lurking shadow which seemed to be guarding the door from inside the house, “Is… actually quite hard to explain really unless you know anything about inter-dimensional rifts which I’m guessing you probably aren’t an expert in – no offence, but not many people are. Except me of course, but then that’s why I’m here. It’s nothing to worry about though, it’ll be gone soon – you see I managed to track it down in time to prevent it bleeding through into this world with any real strength and, with the help of a little technological jiggery pokery, got its transportation device to reverse polarity and pretty soon it’ll be on a one-way trip back to where it came from. Or should that be a return trip? Doesn’t matter, once it’s powered up – which should be any second now – there’ll be nothing left but… actually some broken bottles downstairs. Sorry about that. Oh – there it goes now.” There was a sound like a backed-up drain clearing and he was grinning again and I think I actually felt part of my brain explode as I tried to follow what he was saying. “What was the other question again?”
“Logan.” I said, focusing on the one thing I thought I could be sure of. “You don’t know him but that’s his house you just broke into.” The fear was starting to give way to sarcasm, a nasty trait of mine but it’s never gotten me into anything I couldn’t get out of. Most of the time.
“Really? Oh well, I shouldn’t worry about him if I were you. There was no one in the house.” He paused. “That is, I don’t think there was. Well… Maybe in the… No, no, there was definitely no one there, I’m sure there wasn’t.”
He didn’t actually sound all that sure and I swear I was just about to call him on it when I saw the lawn was being painted with blue and red strobes. One thing you can say about the good old Neptune Police Department, if an ‘09er calls them they’ll be on the case in a heartbeat. Anyone else – like, say for example, me – and they might show up eventually. If they weren’t busy giving a press conference or something. I already mentioned I was a little jaded, right?
On the other hand, my being here probably wouldn’t go down all that well, what with Sheriff Lamb still itching for a way to get at me and Dad. Luckily I had parked well away from the front of the house and – especially lucky for me - the car wasn’t mine. Mac had loaned me her VW while mine was in the shop and, although it wouldn’t take a genius to connect Mac’s car with me, it would take someone smarter than Lamb to make that connection.
I ducked down out of sight and was more than a little surprised when the stranger – the Doctor – waved cheerfully as the car doors opened.
“Friends of yours I take it?” He said out of the corner of his mouth.
I stared up at him, trying to figure him out and failing, “Not exactly.” I said, “They’re not looking for me either if that’s what you think, but if they find me here then… it’s complicated.”
He didn’t look down, which I guess I was grateful for since it would have completely given away the fact I was there to anyone with half a brain. “When I tell you, run to the back of the house. The TAR… you’ll find somewhere you can hide there. Here, you’ll need this.” He dropped something into my hand and I remember thinking a simple Yale key was probably the last thing I was expecting. Car key, yes, I would have expected that. House key, not so much.
It definitely wasn’t the time to argue the point though so I took it and got ready to move as he walked forward with his hands held high in a gesture that was somewhere between placating and surrendering with a hefty dose of authority thrown in for good measure.
“Gentlemen!” He called out to them, “Good of you to come, as you can see the situation is completely under control, nothing to worry about. If you’ll just let me get my identification… Go.” That last was aimed at me and I didn’t look back.
I had no idea what I was looking for at the back of the house but I know the last thing I expected to see was a blue box with little white windows and a sign round the top saying “Police Public Call Box”. Well, possibly not the last thing I expected – I do have a pretty vivid imagination - but it definitely took me surprise. I could hear voices from the front lawn and they seemed to be getting closer. I used the key in the lock, fully expecting this to be some kind of trick but figuring I had time to bolt if it didn’t work. Besides, I still had Dad on speed dial and the patented Veronica Mars wit to get me out of this, admittedly it would take a huge helping of that old Mars wit, but… The key turned and as I stepped inside I had just enough presence of mind to close the door behind me and not actually say what I wanted to say out loud.
I must have moved away from the door at some point because a few minutes later – I really have no idea exactly how long it was – I heard him behind me.
“Yeah, it can be a little disorientating at first.” He walked up the metal walkway straight past me and tossed his overcoat onto the banister – an overcoat, in July, in California. And you know something? I really wish that was the oddest thing about the whole situation.
“First things first, your ‘not exactly friends’ are gone, they seemed more than happy to leave for some reason, slightly odd – it’s only slightly psychic paper after all, shouldn’t have sent them packing quite that quickly. After all I didn’t a chance to dazzle them with my brilliance.” He flashed a self-satisfied grin that had just the slightest edge of a puppy looking for a treat after sitting on command. “Oh, and the owner – Logan – showed up just the right moment and the deputies seemed a little less than keen to talk to him, Especially the one with the moustache. That’s something you don’t see much now, moustaches. Can’t think why, well, apart from the fact that very few people can pull off that look… Anyway, there was talk of lawyers and harassment from your Logan friend. That’s a slightly disturbed young man right there, clearly thinks he needs someone watch out for him. Of course, that would pretty much be a full time job and would sort of assume that whoever took on the job didn’t have anything they wanted to do for herself. But then, someone might be happy to have a person like him dictate her actions.”
I narrowed my eyes, but he wasn’t looking at me, why did I think he was having a go at me? There’s a simple answer to that, I’m doing exactly what he accused me – or sorry, ‘someone’ of and I’ve set up camp right next to that proverbial river in Egypt.
“Of course,” he carried on. “Sometimes the best thing for someone in that kind of situation is just to walk away. If she wanted to.” He moved seemingly at random around the large central column of the… room we were in, pushing buttons and turning dials as he went.
I was still a little shell-shocked by this odd place I had ended up in, but strangely I wasn’t completely overwhelmed. Intrigued would be the word I used, curious maybe. Like a cat. And of course you know what happened to the cat.
Damn my cat-like nature.
“So what’s second?” I asked.
He cocked his head to one side and paused in the act of pressing the button nearest the screen he had stopped next to. Looked like some kind of laptop but it was tilted at just the wrong angle for me to see. “Second?” He asked.
“You said ‘first thing’s first’, then you went on to try to reassure me by telling me you got rid of the police and by telling me the person I was worried – no, concerned about was there and, from the sound of it, being himself. Then you make some kind of veiled insult about what you think are my life choices.” I walked towards the column and took a look at the monitor – it was full of spinning shapes and some kind of characters that might or might not have been words in some language I’d never seen before. I wasn’t about to let my ignorance of their significance show though. “So I’m guessing the ‘second’ thing is the part where you offer to take me away from all this. Would I be right?”
He leaned back against the console thing and crossed his arms. “Well…”
“Well here’s the thing,” I interrupted him. “There’s something not quite right here. Aside from the fact I’m standing in the middle of something that looks about a billion times bigger than it should do, and let’s just forget for a second the fact you said something about ‘psychic paper’,” I actually mimed the air quotes as I spoke. “Let’s forget all of that just for a minute. The fact is, you have no idea who I am, or why I would be less than keen to meet Deputy Sachs, and yet you helped me. You gave me the key to this… place.”
”TARDIS.” He supplied with a slight smile.
“This TARDIS – and I will be asking what that stands for later on. Why? Why did you do that for a stranger?”
“Because you took it. I gave you the key and you took it. You could have been over the fence and long gone by now, but you didn’t do that. You used the key.” He shrugged as if that explained everything and I guess in a way it did. “So what do you think, Veronica Mars? Feel like getting away from all this?”
I have tried to analyse why I made my decision and I still don’t really know.
“Yes.” I said and found myself grinning right along with him. “Just one condition though. I’m calling my dad.”
I’m not really sure why he rolled his eyes at that and muttered something about families, but I know it wasn’t malicious. And I know I’ll find out what it’s all about – after all, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t do a little digging now and then.
“Hold on,” I said. “How did you know my name?” He just grinned at me and pulled back on another lever.
So yeah, if you thought it was a little strange for me to be sitting in a car watching an empty house in the middle of the night? You probably don’t want to hear about any of the things that have happened since then.