Runaway Bride Part One

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Runaway Bride Part One

  1. 1. Smoothie Sims, Inc. and Di’s Victorian Emporium proudly present… The Runaway Bride (a joint Christmas special for A Villainous Apocalypse and A Victorian Legacy) *The authors would like to extend their sincerest apologies to Russell T. Davies*---“When youre a kid, they tell you its all... grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have akid, and thats it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. Its so much darker. Andso much madder. And so much better.”-Doctor Who, “Love and Monsters”
  2. 2. “What?!”The strange woman’s mouth fell open, but no words came out.“That is impossible!” Stuart exclaimed. He did not utter such words lightly—to someone as wellacquainted with the many eccentricities of the universe as he was, few things were actually,literally impossible. He locked eyes with the woman, noting her silent fear. “We’re in flight, howdid you…?” His gaze traveled her whole length, and he realized that not only had a young,attractive woman somehow materialized inside his spaceship while it was moving, but that shewas, very incongruously, wearing a wedding dress.“Why are you wearing a wedding dress?” he blurted.
  3. 3. This seemed to galvanize the young woman into finding her voice. “Because I’m getting married,or at least I was before you abducted me!”
  4. 4. “I did not abduct you,” said Stuart indignantly. “You appeared here without my assistance, andquite impossibly too, may I add, since we are in flight.”
  5. 5. “Well, clearly it isn’t impossible, since I’m here…wherever here is,” she said flatly. “Where is here,anyway?”
  6. 6. “You are in the TARDIS,” replied Stuart.“The what?”“The TARDIS,” he repeated.
  7. 7. He realized too late that she naturally had no idea what the TARDIS actually was. After anothermoment of baffled silence, her expression transformed into one of panicked fury. “Well, you canget me out of this…TARDIS right now, and take me back home!”
  8. 8. “Certainly,” he muttered, turning toward the TARDIS console so that he could do just that. It wasclear that the woman had no more idea of what had happened than he did, and the best courseof action seemed to be simply taking her home without any further questions. Not that he wantedher to stay. After the day he’d had, a distraught stranger was the absolute last thing he wanted todeal with. “Where do I—" His words died on his lips as he caught sight of the young womanrunning toward the TARDIS door as fast as she could go. “No, don’t!”
  9. 9. On reaching it, she wrenched it open and stopped dead. There, looking as if it was close enoughfor her to reach out and touch, was the Horsehead Nebula.
  10. 10. Stuart sighed and left the console to stand behind her. “You’re in space,” he said gently. “Outerspace. This is my…spaceship.”He heard the TARDIS rumble slightly as if it took offense to being called a mere spaceship, whenin reality, it was so much more than that. The acronym stood for Time and Relative Dimension inSpace. It was a spaceship, a time machine, a miracle of technology, a fortress, a home, and acompanion—the only one he had. Yet how could he explain everything the TARDIS was to astrange human he was about to deposit back where she had come from, never to see her again?It was best not to elaborate on anything he did not absolutely have to.
  11. 11. Still she said nothing as she stared out at the nebula, awestruck. Stuart had seen it before. Therealization that they were somehow floating in space was something that rendered a lot of planet-bound species incapable of rational thought for a while. “What is your name?” he asked quietly.“Elle Fitzhugh,” she answered automatically, “b-but most people call me Ellie.”
  12. 12. “Human?” he asked, as he looked her up and down.Elle blinked and looked at him. “Is that optional?”“It is with me,” he replied in an undertone.
  13. 13. As Stuart had hoped, the exchange had the desired effect, and Elle’s brain seemed to kick backinto gear and realize details, including a very important one. “How am I breathing?”“The TARDIS is protecting us.”“You’re talking about it like it’s alive.” Elle gave a nervous laugh, which Stuart answered with asmile.
  14. 14. “It is. It is also getting cold with these doors open,” as he spoke, Stuart grabbed each door andclosed them. He caught a glimpse of Elle’s disappointed face as he turned to walk back to theconsole. “I really do not understand how you could materialize here like that, and I understandmost things,” he murmured. “It should be impossible; it is impossible, and yet…here you are.”“Who are you?” called Elle, from where she still stood by the doors.
  15. 15. Stuart smiled as he turned to look at her. “I have many names,” he said, “but you may call meStuart.”
  16. 16. “What are you?” was her next question.“I am a…traveler,” he replied carefully. “I travel from planet to planet, witnessing great events.”“By yourself?”
  17. 17. He swallowed. That was one question he had not expected. “I…do now.”“Oh.”“I used to travel with my brother,” Stuart didn’t know why he felt he had to elaborate, but he didso anyway. “But he is gone now. I…lost him.”
  18. 18. Elle walked over to him, and placed her hand on his arm. “I’m sorry,” she said.
  19. 19. Stuart looked down at it for a short moment, before whirling away from her. “But never mind that!”he exclaimed in mock cheerfulness. “You have a wedding to get to! Where are you gettingmarried?”“The chapel in Sierra Plains,” replied Elle, watching as Stuart started a frenetic dance around theconsole, twirling dials, sliding switches and pulling levers.
  20. 20. “I will have you there in a jiffy. Your family and your bridegroom to be will barely have noticed thatyou are missing.” He flipped the final switch necessary to make the journey, and the TARDISgave a lurch, causing Elle to lunge for a grip on the console. “Sorry, should have warned you,” hecalled over the din. She only grimaced as they hurtled toward their destination. ***
  21. 21. “Ellie?” Azula Fitzhugh tore open the door to the upstairs dressing room. “Are you—I guess not,”she trailed off, staring at the tiny, empty space. Her sister’s street clothes and cell phone werethere, but Elle herself was not. Azula sighed deeply and shut the door again.
  22. 22. Downstairs, she found her mother jamming the ‘call’ button on her cell phone, as if that wouldhelp the call get through any better. “I still can’t reach her.”
  23. 23. “Yeah, because her cell phone’s upstairs and she isn’t,” said Azula. “Have you tried the house?”“No answer there, either,” Mya replied. She looked around at the frenzied guests beginning toscatter. “Ugh, I should have known this would happen.”
  24. 24. Her son, Billy, walked up just in time to hear this last statement. “What do you mean by that?” hedemanded.Mya waved a hand. “Something was bound to go wrong. Something always does, at a wedding.Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if she just got cold feet, but how she managed to pull that off…”Billy immediately started in on her for that, and Azula bristled, disliking the idea of having towitness yet another argument between the two. She turned away, scanning the room for eitherher father or the groom.
  25. 25. The latter leaned against the arch, staring blankly at his cell phone. After a moment, he crossedhis arms and raised his eyes to the opposite wall. Immediately, Azula’s heart flickered with pity.She had not known how to feel about Tristan Smith, given that she’d first met him on a blind dateand introduced him to Elle after the fact, but she could not help feeling sorry for him now. Shehad no idea what she would do if her fiancée suddenly disappeared at the altar.
  26. 26. Before she could take a step to approach him, another man sidled up to Tristan and murmured inhis ear. Tristan’s brows furrowed, and he nodded. The newcomer clapped him on the shoulderand hurried out of the chapel.
  27. 27. Azula frowned and quickly made her way toward him. “Tristan.”He glanced up at her. “Azula. Did you get hold of her?”“No, she left her cell phone and there’s no answer at the house. What did the General want?”“Oh, he offered to put out a patrol for Ellie to see if he could find out where she ended up.”
  28. 28. She did not like the sound of that. “That’s probably not necessary, she can’t be far.”“And if she is?” His eyes narrowed slightly, and his expression went cold.She bit her lip. “We’ll find her,” she said, with certainty. “Let’s check the house anyway, she mightbe there even if she’s not picking up the phone. We could leave someone here, or send them toany of the other places she might be.”
  29. 29. “That’s a good idea,” he said. “We’ll take the family back to the house and try to stay calm untilwe find out where she is.”Azula forced down her uneasy feelings, nodded, and went back to Mya and Billy to try to breakup the fight. ***
  30. 30. “Oh!” The sight that greeted Elle as she hurried out of the TARDIS was not a reassuring one.They had made it back to Sierra Plains, but the chapel was nowhere in sight. “Stuart!”He walked out after her, but had not heard her. “Poor dear,” he said to the TARDIS, gentlystroking the blue wood. “What is it? What have you eaten?”
  31. 31. “Stuart!” cried Elle, frantic now.“Hm?” He glanced at her. “Oh, I’m sorry. The TARDIS seems to have a bit of indigestion.”
  32. 32. She took a closer look at the machine then, eyes popping when she realized something else.“Oh, my God.”
  33. 33. Stuart glanced over at her as she backed away, and seemed to register her panic, because hehurried to her side. “It’s all right, Ellie,” he said. “She’s only bigger on the inside, that’s all!”
  34. 34. “How is that possible?”He shrugged and smiled. “It’s common technology where I’m from. Anyway, we had better giveher a minute to recover, she seems to be recalibrating for some reason. Let’s get you to thechapel.”
  35. 35. “Oh no, the wedding!” She pressed a hand against her stomach, to ward off the sudden wave ofguilt. She was about to miss her own wedding, and all she could think about was the strange yetwonderful blue box and the glorious view she had just had of the stars. Focus, Elle, she toldherself. Tristan’s more important. “We’re all the way across town!”“Are we?” Stuart glanced around.
  36. 36. Elle crossed her arms. Her family must be frantic, and Tristan—she couldn’t even imagine whathe must be thinking. “What time is it?”He glanced at his watch. “Five past three.”“We can still make it!”
  37. 37. “Lovely, why don’t you give them a call and tell them—" Her incredulous expression made himfalter. “What, you haven’t got one of those mobile telephones?”
  38. 38. “I do, but not with me! I’m in my wedding dress!” She gestured to her outfit. “I don’t have a purseand I didn’t think that I’d need pockets!”“Right, right.” He looked around again. “Well, we’ll have to hail a cab. Do they come throughhere?”
  39. 39. “Not often, but my friend lives around here, maybe we could borrow her car—wait, wait there!” Ataxi began to rush by just at that moment. Elle ran to the curb and waved it down. Stuart followedmore slowly. She was not looking at him, or she would have noticed the concerned, studiousexpression on his face as he assessed the driver. “Do you have any money with you?” she askedhim.“No, I haven’t,” he said. “You?”
  40. 40. She turned and lifted an eyebrow. “Pockets? Remember?” He did not seem to register thecomment. She sighed and turned back to the cab, opening the door. “Excuse me, sir? Hi, I needto get to the chapel. I don’t have anything with me, sorry, but when we get there I’ll have mymother pay you. It’s dreadfully important, I’m already late.”The Santa-impersonator at the wheel nodded his head slightly. Relieved, she began to get intothe cab.
  41. 41. “Elle, don’t!” Stuart cried suddenly, reaching for her, but by then she was already sitting in theback seat. The door slammed shut before he could follow, the lock thumped down, and the driverbegan to take off at an alarming pace.
  42. 42. “Hey!” Elle leaned over the seat. “We left my friend, we’ve got to go back.” She felt uneasy aboutthis, knowing that she would not be able to explain what had happened without Stuart. “Sir? Weneed to turn back!”
  43. 43. The driver did not respond or turn his head. Instead, he directed the car not toward the chapel,but down the long, empty road leading out of town, toward the military base. “Hey!” she cried,scared now. “We’re going the wrong way!”
  44. 44. He had to have heard her. He had nodded when she got into the car, so he wasn’t deaf. Was he?Maybe he was a lip reader, a bad one… She tapped him on the shoulder. No response. Utterlyfrantic, she pulled a move she would not have otherwise, and yanked his hat off his head.
  45. 45. She did not expect his whole face to come with the hat. From beneath the mask, a gleamingmetal robot head emerged.Elle screamed and pressed back against the seat. She took another moment to affirm that therewas, in fact, a robot driving the car, and then scrambled to the side door in an attempt to get itunlocked.
  46. 46. A whoosh of air passed by the car, and the TARDIS materialized, floating clumsily through the airalong the highway. The door opened, and Stuart appeared, the end of a rope in one hand and hissonic screwdriver in the other. He shouted something at her that she could not hear. “The door’slocked!” she yelled in reply, pointing at the lock that would not come open so he wouldunderstand.
  47. 47. He pointed the screwdriver at the lock and it burst open. She opened the window. “You’ll have tojump!” he cried. “Whatever that thing is, it needs you, and whatever it needs you for, it’s notgood!”
  48. 48. Elle could not imagine anything worse. They were moving at a terrifying speed. If she did notmake it across the gap, she would be severely injured at the very least. “I can’t do it!”
  49. 49. “You have to!”She shoved open the door and glanced at the ground, then across at him, gripped by terror.Stuart held out his arms. “I’ll catch you! Trust me!”
  50. 50. “Is that what you said to your brother before you lost him? Did he trust you?”
  51. 51. A brief flash of pain crossed his face before it was replaced by determination. “He did, and heisn’t dead, he is so alive. Now come on!”
  52. 52. ***
  53. 53. The TARDIS wobbled and spun as it headed to a small park standing along the main road ofSierra Plains, a little way away from the main block of houses. It bounced along the sidewalk,before coming to rest at a drunken angle, barely missing the outdoor chess set. The doors wereflung open, and Elle stumbled out, Stuart hot on her heels, along with a plume of smoke andsteam.
  54. 54. Stuart coughed as the two of them made their way away from the open door. “Sorry, for aspaceship, she does not do a lot of flying.”Elle gave him a small smile and turned toward the buildings in the distance. “Did we miss it?”asked Stuart, divining her thoughts exactly.
  55. 55. “Yes.”“I am sorry.”“It’s not your fault,” she replied.“You can always reschedule it,” said Stuart.
  56. 56. “Yeah, we can,” she agreed, and then turned back to him, arms folded defensively across herchest. “Too bad your spaceship isn’t a time machine, we could go back and get there in time.”Stuart smiled ruefully, to cover his alarm at her statement. “Yes, it’s a shame. But, even if I did, Icouldn’t go back on someone’s personal timeline…apparently, it’s a theory I’ve read, seemspretty sound.”
  57. 57. Elle shrugged. She seemed too focused on the fact that she had missed her wedding to botherscrutinizing his blunder, for which he felt thankful. “What was that thing?” she asked instead.“A basic automaton,” replied Stuart.“Like a Servo? We have one that my dad made.”
  58. 58. Stuart pulled a thoughtful face. “Not really. Servos are given a form of artificial intelligence whenthey’re created, and are capable of deciding their own actions, whereas automatons are basicdrones. Someone, somewhere is controlling them.” He looked over at Elle. “The questions arewho, where were they taking you, and why do they want you?”
  59. 59. Elle sat down on one of the swings. “It could be because of who I am.”Stuart took the other and looked at her profile as she looked out over Sierra Plains. “And who areyou, Elle Fitzhugh?” he asked quietly.
  60. 60. “I’m my family’s heir.” Stuart waited for her to elaborate, and after a moment, she did. “SierraPlains is under martial law because of a power plant accident that happened generations ago. Itpretty much devastated the whole region. The area was flooded with radiation, tons of peopledied…” She swallowed. “Things were so bad they were calling it an apocalypse.”
  61. 61. “And how does your family factor into this?”“My great-great-grandfather, Rhys Fitzhugh, was part of the university’s first graduating class.Because of the military restrictions, he wasn’t allowed to leave the area, so he came back here.His work in Natural Science brought plant life back to the region. His wife and daughters built onit, going into other fields to try to help make things normal again, and we’ve sort of been doing itever since. It’s a family legacy, going into social work. And I’m the heir, so I’m expected to leadthe effort from here on.”
  62. 62. “And each of you have a different project?”She nodded.“Interesting.” It was a promising lead, but Stuart felt that there was still a significant chunk missingfrom the picture. “What’s your job?”
  63. 63. “I’m…not really working on anything just yet,” she said sheepishly. “I just got out of college, yousee. My younger brother Billy’s still there. He’ll graduate at the end of Spring. My sister, Azula,reinstated the legal system recently, so what we want to do this generation is build on that, get areal government put in place and relax the labor laws and give our police force some real power.Tristan—that’s my fiancé, Tristan—he’s working on the government part, he’s a Lobbyist rightnow but they like him at the office so it probably won’t be long before he starts gettingpromotions.” She paused, then quietly added, “I hope so, anyway.”
  64. 64. Her obvious concern over the matter sparked his curiosity. “Is there any reason he wouldn’t?”
  65. 65. “Not that I know of, it’s just…well, no one in the family’s been able to get a job in the Politics trackbefore, so it’s a big deal. We’re not exactly popular with a lot of the officials.”
  66. 66. “Is that why you’re marrying him?” Stuart knew that was an impertinent question, but he couldn’tstop himself from asking it.
  67. 67. This time her silence went on too long. “No,” she said then, rather forcefully. “I mean, it’s abonus, but I do love him.”
  68. 68. Stuart decided not to say anything about her obvious hesitation. Instead, he picked up onsomething else she had mentioned. “You say your family is not popular with some?”
  69. 69. She shook her head. “No. The current general, Dennis Raikov, hates my family. I don’t knowwhy. Maybe he thinks we’re interfering with him? He’s constantly waiting for us to slip up: tobreak a law, or give him some other excuse to lock one of us up. He caught my uncle onsomething to do with the occult while my mom was pregnant with me. My dad went intoParanormal because of that—oh, sorry, I’m rambling. The point is, he’d do anything to mess usup, and my parents are terrified of him.”
  70. 70. “So, you’re a thorn in this general’s side?”“Yes. I think he’d be a whole lot happier if we all just disappeared.” She paused. “Do you thinkhe’s the one who sent those things after me?”
  71. 71. “It is a distinct possibility,” conceded Stuart. “The question remains, why, and just how did theyknow where you were?” He got up and started pacing along the sand. “I could understand if theyabducted you from outside the chapel, somewhere everyone knew you would be, but from theinside, out of thin air… They must be tracking you somehow. Stand up.”
  72. 72. She did as he bade, and flinched when he took out his sonic screwdriver and activated it, runningit through the air around her. “What is that?” she asked.
  73. 73. “Sonic screwdriver,” he muttered, frowning at it.“What does it do?”“All sorts of different things. Right now, it’s failing to tell me exactly how the drones knew where tofind you.”
  74. 74. He put the screwdriver back into his pocket, reached into the other, and pulled out a small goldring that looked for all the world like a wedding band. “This is a bio-damper,” he explained, onseeing her face. “It will scramble any technology the drones may be using to trace you.” Heslipped it onto her finger and silently added, ‘terrestrial or otherwise.’ The screwdriver had pickedup some odd readings it couldn’t identify, and that worried him.
  75. 75. Elle looked down at it. “Well,” she said at last, “you can be the one to explain to my fiancée why Idisappeared from our wedding, only to turn up later with a strange man, and wearing a weddingring.” Her face fell. “Tristan. He’ll be so worried. Everyone will be.”.”
  76. 76. Stuart looked over at the TARDIS. “She should be alright by now. Do you want to go and findthem?”Elle nodded. “Please.” ***
  77. 77. They did not find anyone at the chapel, save a janitor and a family friend who directed them tothe house (after a bit of relieved flailing), so Elle and Stuart got back in the TARDIS and wentthere instead. She had him park on the flat roof where her family kept miscellaneousparaphernalia. “So no one will come by and take your ship because it’s parked outside the zoninglimits,” she explained, as they ran down the stairs to the first floor.“Ellie!” cried Azula. At this, the entire family leapt from their seats or stopped pacing and turned tolook at the pair.
  78. 78. “Where the hell have you been?” barked Mya. “How could you just up and disappear like that inthe middle of your own wedding? Nerves, cold feet? You didn’t have to make a show out of it!”“Mom,” Elle whispered, backing away instinctively.
  79. 79. Tristan advanced from a different direction. “Who’s this?” he asked, gesturing to Stuart.“Oh, I’m just passing through,” Stuart said easily. “Hello!”Billy’s remark cut right over Tristan’s skeptical look. “We’ve been worried sick! What happened?”
  80. 80. “You know how long it took to make all the preparations,” added Mya. “We’re not going to be ableto get the chapel again until the end of Spring at the earliest, do you know that?”“Mom, for God’s sake,” Azula said, giving her mother the stink-eye.“Well, she should know!”
  81. 81. “Do you have any idea how scared I was that you weren’t coming back?” Tristan put in.
  82. 82. “How did you do it, anyway?” Harry asked. “I’ve never seen anything like it, not even during mytime as a Cult Leader.”
  83. 83. “Elle, say something!”
  84. 84. It was too much. Elle covered her face with her hands as she broke down in tears. Tristan movedforward to hug her and the rest of them abruptly fell silent.
  85. 85. While Elle tearfully explained the bare basics (she didn’t know what happened, Stuart had foundher and helped her get back to them), Stuart mostly listened, and confirmed details when he wasasked to. After a while, they seemed satisfied. “Thank you for bringing her back,” Tristan saidthen, putting a possessive arm around Elle’s shoulders.Stuart’s stomach turned. “I could hardly do anything else,” he said, striving for lightness.
  86. 86. “Of course. Ah, I didn’t catch your name…”“You can call me Stuart. And you are?”Tristan held out his other hand. “Tristan Smith, soon to be Tristan Fitzhugh,” he said, grinningdown at Elle, who smiled faintly back.Stuart shook his hand quickly, and tried to smile through the rest of the introductions.
  87. 87. “Gabriel, do we have enough rations for one more?” asked Mya, with a glance at the Servostanding over her right shoulder.“I believe they will be sufficient,” Gabriel replied, nodding.“Then I hope you’ll stay for dinner, Stuart. It’s the least we can do to thank you, after all.”
  88. 88. “I would be happy to,” said Stuart, not out of any real need to eat, but a desire to study the familya little more.
  89. 89. Tristan guided Elle to a seat at the table, and the rest of the family gathered around, Mya alreadychattering away about rescheduling the wedding. Instead of following, Stuart leaned against thenearby divider and simply watched them. He regretted this decision immediately when Azulalightly touched Elle’s shoulder on her way to help Gabriel with the chef salad, and the two womenexchanged affectionate smiles. They were close, that much was clear, possibly closest to eachother out of everyone they knew.
  90. 90. Suddenly, the pain came flooding back again. He had forgotten, in all the excitement. “I’lljust…pop upstairs to the loo really quickly,” he muttered, in case anyone was paying attention,and ran up the stairs as fast as he could go.
  91. 91. The layout of the house, which he had only had time to glance at during their stampede to thekitchen, distracted him somewhat. There were hardly any partitions—a quick peek behind the twointerior doors he discovered proved that only the restrooms were cordoned off from the rest. Inthe main living area, the Fitzhughs had crammed in as many necessary items as they could,leaving just enough room to walk between the furniture. He frowned. Why had they built theirhouse on such a small footprint?
  92. 92. Turning toward the stairs, he caught sight of a nearby bookshelf. On a shelf near the top was avolume marked “Regulation Handbook.” He neatly retrieved it and began to thumb through it.
  93. 93. Sims’ houses may not occupy any larger than an 8x8 area, nor may any items be placed outsidethis 8x8 area.The pieces began to fit together in his head. Elle’s comment about the zoning laws had to havebeen referring to this regulation. Stuart flipped to another page. Several items on it had beencrossed out, and another glance around the room and into the nearby restroom proved that thesewere restrictions the citizens of Sierra Plains no longer had to follow. “Curious,” he murmured,continuing to read.
  94. 94. When he went back downstairs, Azula and Gabriel were handing out plates of salad. Azulacaught sight of him and hurried over. “Thank you again,” she said, offering him a heaping portion.“I’m so glad you found her. We were really worried.”
  95. 95. “No trouble at all,” said Stuart, with a smile. “Ah, do you mind if I ask you what happened at thewedding, though? I mean, I know you don’t know, but…what did it look like?”
  96. 96. She frowned. “Well, she just…disappeared.”“How?”“She…faded out, I guess? It wasn’t all at once, she just went sort of transparent and then shewas gone.”“There was that glittery light, too,” Billy added, coming up to them with his mouth full and his forkalready scooping up the next bite.Stuart turned to him abruptly, eyes narrowing. “Glittery light? What color?”“Goldish,” said Billy. “Why?”
  97. 97. “That sounds like Huon energy,” Stuart said.“So you might know what happened?” Azula asked eagerly.He nodded. “This kind of thing is my…field of expertise, you might say. It might be how I foundher, but…if it’s Huon energy, that’s ancient. It hasn’t existed for a long, long time. That means…itmeans…” His eyes fell on the gold band around Elle’s ring finger. “It means it can’t be hidden bya bio-damper!” He dropped his plate on the chess table and ran for the balcony.
  98. 98. “What does that mean?” Billy and Azula asked, in near-unison, as they followed him.Stuart pointed to the autons advancing on the house. “No time to explain. Ellie!” He raced backinside the house. “Ellie, they’ve found you, you’ve got to get out.”
  99. 99. “What?” Elle bounded up from her chair, eliciting a displeased grunt from Tristan, who had hadhis arm around her.“No time! Do you have a car?”“Yes, the truck’s downstairs.”
  100. 100. “Right. You lot.” Stuart gestured to the family. “They’re far enough away that you’ve got time. Rundownstairs, get in your truck, and drive as far away as you can.”“Do what he says,” Elle added, when they hesitated. “Go! It’ll be okay!”
  101. 101. They ran. “Go with them,” said Stuart, when Elle did not follow.“Forget it,” she said. “I’m staying with you. If they can track me, even with this on, then I’m puttingmy family in danger. Besides…I feel safe with you. You’re the man who keeps saving my life,after all. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
  102. 102. Stuart nodded, contriving to look stern but secretly feeling a thrill at her words. “Come on, then.We’ve got to get back to the TARDIS. I have a theory I want to investigate.” He hurried up thestairs, and she followed, mumbling curses at her heeled shoes. ***
  103. 103. After helping his mother into the passenger seat, Billy hopped into the bed of the truck andoffered Azula a hand up. She took it, glancing back as she hoisted herself up. Her eyes widenedin alarm. “Where’s Elle?”Tristan turned toward the front door. His bride was nowhere in sight. He ground his teeth. “Shemust still be in the house with that man. I’ll get her.”“Hurry!” Billy yelled. “They’re nearly here!”
  104. 104. Looking quickly between the oncoming group of autons and the distraught siblings, Tristan madea fast decision. “Just go,” he said. “You don’t have time to wait.”“What?” Azula cried. “No, we can’t leave Elle here!”“I’ll get her out!” Tristan shouted back. “Start driving, double back and pick us up when it’s safe.Those things want her for something, so they’re not going to hurt her. You’re in more danger thanshe is. She’d want you to be safe, you know she would.”
  105. 105. The blonde bit her lip. “You promise you’ll get her out?”“I promise. Trust me, Azula.”Billy pointed a finger toward Tristan. “If she gets hurt—"“You’ll end me in a thousand terrifying ways, I know,” said Tristan, barely rolling his eyes. “Getmoving.”
  106. 106. The truck screeched as it barreled backward out of the driveway. Tristan immediately ran for thestairs, not waiting to watch them go.
  107. 107. “Ellie!” The shout, accompanied by pounding footsteps on the stairs, cut through the chill winterair. Stuart stifled a groan as Tristan’s head appeared through the opening to the roof. “Elle? Whatare you doing?”“I’m going with Stuart,” explained Elle.
  108. 108. “Why?” Tristan demanded, striding over to them. “He shows up, steals you away, ruins ourwedding and then brings those things here. Why are you going anywhere with him? Did hethreaten you?”
  109. 109. “No!” exclaimed Elle. “He would never threaten me, and he didn’t steal me away! There’ssomething going on here, Tristan, something big, and Stuart thinks he knows what. I have to gowith him. I have to find out what really happened to me at the wedding. Please understand that.”She left out the part about only feeling safe around Stuart; she doubted it would go down wellwith her fiancée.
  110. 110. Tristan looked from her to Stuart, before gently caressing her cheek. As he did so, Stuart foughtan irrational urge to knock his hand away from her face, and looked away. “I think I dounderstand,” said Tristan quietly, “but I can’t let you go alone. I’m coming too.”
  111. 111. Elle smiled. “I’d like that, and I’m sure Stuart won’t mind.”“It doesn’t matter if he does. You’re my fiancée. I’m coming.”Stuart’s eyes narrowed, but he had to concede the point. “Oh, very well. Do as I say, and don’ttouch anything.” He turned on his heel and stalked into the TARDIS.
  112. 112. “Why is he going into that old blue box?” Tristan asked.“It’s more like a box of wonders,” replied Elle, with a smile. “Wait until you see inside it.”
  113. 113. Stuart was already tapping at something on the centre console when Elle and Tristan entered. Heheard Tristan’s step falter. “But, but…”“Yes, it is bigger on the inside than the outside,” said Stuart flatly, as he moved to a differentstation on the console.
  114. 114. “This can’t be terrestrial,” said Tristan, looking round in awe.“It’s not.” Stuart spun a control.“Then you are,” Tristan paused as he looked at Stuart, “alien?”
  115. 115. Stuart gave Tristan a pointed look. “With a razor sharp brain like that, it is easy to see what Elliesees in you.” He danced around to another panel.“Stuart…”
  116. 116. Elle’s admonishment got lost as Tristan asked, “So where are we going?”Stuart turned back to the console. “There is a military base a few miles away. We’re going to startthere.”
  117. 117. Tristan snorted and turned to look at all the knick-knacks scattered around. “What’s this?” heasked picking up a brown leather sphere. “Some sort of alien egg?”
  118. 118. Stuart looked over and his entire demeanor changed. “I told you not to touch anything. Put itdown now.”
  119. 119. “Why? What is it?”“It is a football. Put it down.”“Doesn’t look like a football.”
  120. 120. “Mr. Smith, there are dozens of rule sets for football on every planet in the universe. On Peschthere is a complicated rule in one set that states that a player can’t kick the ball unless at leastthree of his feet, but not more than five, are in contact with the ground. You do not have amonopoly on the game. Now I’m telling you again, put the football down.”
  121. 121. The redhead sneered as he did so. “Okay, okay. I get it. No touching your belongings.”
  122. 122. “That does not belong to me,” muttered Stuart, as he turned his attention to the console onceagain.“Is it your brother’s?” The quiet question made him look up. With his attention focused on Tristanand the football, he had missed Elle walking up to the console. He nodded tersely. “Whathappened to him? You said he’s not dead, but you’re acting like he is.”
  123. 123. Stuart paused, his hand hovering over a switch.“I’m sorry, you don’t have to tell me…”“Do you remember a little while back, the time of ghosts?” asked Stuart quietly.Elle nodded. “Yes. They were everywhere. Dad was even called out of retirement to help try tolay them to rest.”
  124. 124. “And have you heard of the multi-verse theory?” He twiddled a knob as he spoke.“The theory that there are thousands of other mini-verses out there, some of which are similar toour own, some of which completely different?”
  125. 125. Stuart nodded. “Yes. There was another mini-verse which had come too close to our own. It waspressing against ours, blurring the line of reality between the two mini-verses. The beings we sawweren’t ghosts. They were the inhabitants of that other mini-verse; we would have appearedexactly the same to them.” He paused. “Two mini-verses trying to occupy the same space is aVery Bad Thing. People disappearing, toddlers wanting twenty simultaneous lovers, FireballVisible from Space bad. Bertie and I had to stop it from happening.
  126. 126. “We tracked the weakest point between realities to Simbridge, and with the help of a journalismstudent at the university, set about separating the two mini-verses. However, something wentwrong with one of the transducers. There was a feedback, or build up of energy of some sort andit exploded, causing the veil between the two realities to rip. It was obvious that the only way toclose the rip and pull the two mini-verses apart, was to close the rip from the other mini-verse.Bertie and I were arguing about how best to do that, and not get trapped there, when Sophiasnatched one of the working transducers from Bertie’s hand and ran through the rip. As soon ashe realized what she was planning to do, Bertie dove after her, but it was too late. She hadalready started the sequence to close the rip as soon as she had gone through. It closed withboth of them on the other side.”
  127. 127. Elle’s breath caught in her throat. “I’m so sorry,” she said quietly.“Closing the rip worked and the two mini-verses moved apart,” continued Stuart, as if he hadn’theard her. “Like ripples on a pond, the effects spread out, from Simbridge, and by a strange quirkof fate, one of the last places where the two mini-verses ceased to touch, was the Simlishseaside town of Simmouth. There, beneath the pier, was the last time I saw my brother. Heseemed quite happy. The mini-verse they are in is apparently stuck in the Victorian era, andSophia is having a hard time adjusting to wearing a corset, but I’ll place bets on them marryingwithin the year.” He tried to smile as he spoke, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes.“I’m sorry,” repeated Elle.
  128. 128. Stuart shook himself. “So, there I was, wallowing in my sadness at losing Bertie, and then youappear, quite impossibly, in my TARDIS.” This time the smile was genuine.
  129. 129. Elle was about to return it, when Tristan put his arms around her. “As touching as all of this is,aren’t we supposed to be heading somewhere?” he asked.
  130. 130. Stuart glanced at him. Lost in the past and his grief, he had forgotten all about Tristan’spresence. “Of course. Hang on.” He punched a button and fought to hide a smirk as Tristan losthis footing at the sudden movement, while Ellie retained her balance like a pro. He caught hereye and winked and grinned at her. He was gratified when she returned his smile. *** (The Runaway Bride will continue in Part 2!)

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