Teaser: “Exodus of the Daleks”
THE BOLT arced through the air before finding its mark, burying itself deep into the centre of the crude wicker target.
“Bullseye!” roared Riddell in appreciation.
The flame-haired young girl dropped her crossbow and ran to retrieve the arrow, then skipped back to Riddell and pounced upon him with a warm embrace. The pair laughed. They cut a strange duo in some ways—Riddell outfitted in his full hunting gear, the girl in a simple tunic and leather sandals—but they enjoyed an easy familial chemistry.
A pale figure stepped onto the common from behind the pair, his cream linen suit resplendent and his panama shielding his eyes from the afternoon sun. “I never had you down as the paternal type, John,” teased the Doctor.
Riddell looked momentarily embarrassed, as though he had been found out betraying his rough, adventuring persona. “I meant that as a compliment,” the Doctor reassured him.
Riddell relaxed and introduced his young companion. “This is Chupho,” he declared. “Chupho, this is the friend I was telling you about: the Doctor.” The girl was altogether unsure of this new stranger and hid behind Riddell, grabbing the tail of his jacket and peering out inquisitively at the Time Lord. “Don’t mind him,” Riddell reassured her. “He’s always like that, but he’s mostly harmless.”
Sensing the girl’s reticence, the Doctor flashed his broadest smile, bent down, proffered a handshake, and addressed her directly. “Lovely to meet you, Chupho. You’re quite the little hunter-in-training, aren’t you? Don’t you listen too closely to my friend John here, mind. Maybe just every other word. Although… that wouldn’t make much sense, come to think of it. You can make up your own mind, I’m sure.”
The girl giggled at the Doctor and ran off to retrieve her crossbow and resume her target practice. The two travellers watched her in silence. From the corner of his eye, Riddell could see his friend’s countenance had taken on a shadow, one he had seen all too often in recent days.
“What is it, Doctor?” he ventured. “I thought you’d be enjoying this. We’ve been here a week without a hint of trouble, and—between your stories down the tavern and me passing on my ‘legendary’ hunting skills—the people here are already treating us like heroes. Isn’t this the quiet holiday you’d been craving for so long?”
“I wonder, John. I wonder,” replied the Doctor, thoughtful and considered in his tone. “What if the reason I’ve felt lost all this time, careening from one emergency to the next, is the same reason we’re always running, always in such a hurry? Maybe the moment I know where and who I am, the moment I stop running, is what I fear the most? Maybe being lost is my answer.”
Riddell sought to brush aside this thought, although his voice betrayed that he wasn’t entirely convinced by what he went on to say. “I never took you for the superstitious type, Doctor.”
“Trouble has a habit of catching up with me, John.”
“And you love it! That’s what we live for, right?”
The Doctor flashed a weak smile, but it vanished almost as soon as it arrived. Before he could think about responding, the duo were interrupted by a teenage peasant boy who ran onto the common and straight up to them, picking out the Doctor.
“They say you’re a ‘doctor’, sir. Is that true?” he asked, urgently.
“I am, indeed, dear boy,” replied the Doctor with a quick doff of his panama. “Is someone somewhere in need of a good yarn?”
The breathless teenager shook his head, gasping for breath. “No. I need your help.”
The Doctor shot Riddell a knowing look, and a moment of silent understanding passed between them.
Riddell took a deep breath.