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 you're a kid, they tell you it's all... grow up. Get a job. Get married. Get a house. Have a kid, and that's it. But the truth is, the world is so much stranger than that. It's so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.” -Doctor Who, “Love and Monsters”

“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 well acquainted 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, how did 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 she was, very incongruously, wearing a wedding dress. “Why are you wearing a wedding dress?” he blurted.

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!”

“I did not abduct you,” said Stuart indignantly. “You appeared here without my assistance, and quite impossibly too, may I add, since we are in flight.”

“Well, clearly it isn’t impossible, since I’m here…wherever here is,” she said flatly. “Where is here, anyway?”

“You are in the TARDIS,” replied Stuart. “The what?” “The TARDIS,” he repeated.

He realized too late that she naturally had no idea what the TARDIS actually was. After another moment of baffled silence, her expression transformed into one of panicked fury. “Well, you can get me out of this…TARDIS right now, and take me back home!”

“Certainly,” he muttered, turning toward the TARDIS console so that he could do just that. It was clear that the woman had no more idea of what had happened than he did, and the best course of action seemed to be simply taking her home without any further questions. Not that he wanted her to stay. After the day he’d had, a distraught stranger was the absolute last thing he wanted to deal with. “Where do I—" His words died on his lips as he caught sight of the young woman running toward the TARDIS door as fast as she could go. “No, don’t!”

On reaching it, she wrenched it open and stopped dead. There, looking as if it was close enough for her to reach out and touch, was the Horsehead Nebula.

Stuart sighed and left the console to stand behind her. “You’re in space,” he said gently. “Outer space. This is my…spaceship.” He heard the TARDIS rumble slightly as if it took offense to being called a mere spaceship, when in reality, it was so much more than that. The acronym stood for Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It was a spaceship, a time machine, a miracle of technology, a fortress, a home, and a companion—the only one he had. Yet how could he explain everything the TARDIS was to a strange 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.

Still she said nothing as she stared out at the nebula, awestruck. Stuart had seen it before. The realization that they were somehow floating in space was something that rendered a lot of planetbound 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.”

“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.

As Stuart had hoped, the exchange had the desired effect, and Elle’s brain seemed to kick back into 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 a smile.

“It is. It is also getting cold with these doors open,” as he spoke, Stuart grabbed each door and closed them. He caught a glimpse of Elle’s disappointed face as he turned to walk back to the console. “I really do not understand how you could materialize here like that, and I understand most 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.

Stuart smiled as he turned to look at her. “I have many names,” he said, “but you may call me Stuart.”

“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?”

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 did so anyway. “But he is gone now. I…lost him.”

Elle walked over to him, and placed her hand on his arm. “I’m sorry,” she said.

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 getting married?” “The chapel in Sierra Plains,” replied Elle, watching as Stuart started a frenetic dance around the console, twirling dials, sliding switches and pulling levers.

“I will have you there in a jiffy. Your family and your bridegroom to be will barely have noticed that you are missing.” He flipped the final switch necessary to make the journey, and the TARDIS gave a lurch, causing Elle to lunge for a grip on the console. “Sorry, should have warned you,” he called over the din. She only grimaced as they hurtled toward their destination. ***

“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 were there, but Elle herself was not. Azula sighed deeply and shut the door again.

Downstairs, she found her mother jamming the ‘call’ button on her cell phone, as if that would help the call get through any better. “I still can’t reach her.”

“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 to scatter. “Ugh, I should have known this would happen.”

Her son, Billy, walked up just in time to hear this last statement. “What do you mean by that?” he demanded. 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 to witness yet another argument between the two. She turned away, scanning the room for either her father or the groom.

The latter leaned against the arch, staring blankly at his cell phone. After a moment, he crossed his 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 date and introduced him to Elle after the fact, but she could not help feeling sorry for him now. She had no idea what she would do if her fiancée suddenly disappeared at the altar.

Before she could take a step to approach him, another man sidled up to Tristan and murmured in his ear. Tristan’s brows furrowed, and he nodded. The newcomer clapped him on the shoulder and hurried out of the chapel.

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.”

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 might be there even if she’s not picking up the phone. We could leave someone here, or send them to any of the other places she might be.”

“That’s a good idea,” he said. “We’ll take the family back to the house and try to stay calm until we find out where she is.” Azula forced down her uneasy feelings, nodded, and went back to Mya and Billy to try to break up the fight. ***

“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, gently stroking the blue wood. “What is it? What have you eaten?”

“Stuart!” cried Elle, frantic now. “Hm?” He glanced at her. “Oh, I’m sorry. The TARDIS seems to have a bit of indigestion.”

She took a closer look at the machine then, eyes popping when she realized something else. “Oh, my God.”

Stuart glanced over at her as she backed away, and seemed to register her panic, because he hurried to her side. “It’s all right, Ellie,” he said. “She’s only bigger on the inside, that’s all!”

“How is that possible?” He shrugged and smiled. “It’s common technology where I’m from. Anyway, we had better give her a minute to recover, she seems to be recalibrating for some reason. Let’s get you to the chapel.”

“Oh no, the wedding!” She pressed a hand against her stomach, to ward off the sudden wave of guilt. She was about to miss her own wedding, and all she could think about was the strange yet wonderful blue box and the glorious view she had just had of the stars. Focus, Elle, she told herself. Tristan’s more important. “We’re all the way across town!” “Are we?” Stuart glanced around.

Elle crossed her arms. Her family must be frantic, and Tristan—she couldn’t even imagine what he must be thinking. “What time is it?” He glanced at his watch. “Five past three.” “We can still make it!”

“Lovely, why don’t you give them a call and tell them—" Her incredulous expression made him falter. “What, you haven’t got one of those mobile telephones?”

“I do, but not with me! I’m in my wedding dress!” She gestured to her outfit. “I don’t have a purse and 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 through here?”

“Not often, but my friend lives around here, maybe we could borrow her car—wait, wait there!” A taxi began to rush by just at that moment. Elle ran to the curb and waved it down. Stuart followed more slowly. She was not looking at him, or she would have noticed the concerned, studious expression on his face as he assessed the driver. “Do you have any money with you?” she asked him.

“No, I haven’t,” he said. “You?”

She turned and lifted an eyebrow. “Pockets? Remember?” He did not seem to register the comment. She sighed and turned back to the cab, opening the door. “Excuse me, sir? Hi, I need to get to the chapel. I don’t have anything with me, sorry, but when we get there I’ll have my mother 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 into the cab.

“Elle, don’t!” Stuart cried suddenly, reaching for her, but by then she was already sitting in the back seat. The door slammed shut before he could follow, the lock thumped down, and the driver began to take off at an alarming pace.

“Hey!” Elle leaned over the seat. “We left my friend, we’ve got to go back.” She felt uneasy about this, knowing that she would not be able to explain what had happened without Stuart. “Sir? We need to turn back!”

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!”

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. Utterly frantic, she pulled a move she would not have otherwise, and yanked his hat off his head.

She did not expect his whole face to come with the hat. From beneath the mask, a gleaming metal robot head emerged. Elle screamed and pressed back against the seat. She took another moment to affirm that there was, in fact, a robot driving the car, and then scrambled to the side door in an attempt to get it unlocked.

A whoosh of air passed by the car, and the TARDIS materialized, floating clumsily through the air along the highway. The door opened, and Stuart appeared, the end of a rope in one hand and his sonic screwdriver in the other. He shouted something at her that she could not hear. “The door’s locked!” she yelled in reply, pointing at the lock that would not come open so he would understand.

He pointed the screwdriver at the lock and it burst open. She opened the window. “You’ll have to jump!” he cried. “Whatever that thing is, it needs you, and whatever it needs you for, it’s not good!”

Elle could not imagine anything worse. They were moving at a terrifying speed. If she did not make it across the gap, she would be severely injured at the very least. “I can’t do it!”

“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!”

“Is that what you said to your brother before you lost him? Did he trust you?”

A brief flash of pain crossed his face before it was replaced by determination. “He did, and he isn’t dead, he is so alive. Now come on!”

***

The TARDIS wobbled and spun as it headed to a small park standing along the main road of Sierra 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 were flung open, and Elle stumbled out, Stuart hot on her heels, along with a plume of smoke and steam.

Stuart coughed as the two of them made their way away from the open door. “Sorry, for a spaceship, 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.

“Yes.” “I am sorry.” “It’s not your fault,” she replied.

“You can always reschedule it,” said Stuart.

“Yeah, we can,” she agreed, and then turned back to him, arms folded defensively across her chest. “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, I couldn’t go back on someone’s personal timeline…apparently, it’s a theory I’ve read, seems pretty sound.”

Elle shrugged. She seemed too focused on the fact that she had missed her wedding to bother scrutinizing 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.”

Stuart pulled a thoughtful face. “Not really. Servos are given a form of artificial intelligence when they’re created, and are capable of deciding their own actions, whereas automatons are basic drones. Someone, somewhere is controlling them.” He looked over at Elle. “The questions are who, where were they taking you, and why do they want you?”

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 are you, Elle Fitzhugh?” he asked quietly.

“I’m my family’s heir.” Stuart waited for her to elaborate, and after a moment, she did. “Sierra Plains is under martial law because of a power plant accident that happened generations ago. It pretty much devastated the whole region. The area was flooded with radiation, tons of people died…” She swallowed. “Things were so bad they were calling it an apocalypse.”

“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 on it, going into other fields to try to help make things normal again, and we’ve sort of been doing it ever since. It’s a family legacy, going into social work. And I’m the heir, so I’m expected to lead the effort from here on.”

“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 missing from the picture. “What’s your job?”

“I’m…not really working on anything just yet,” she said sheepishly. “I just got out of college, you see. 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 a real 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 right now but they like him at the office so it probably won’t be long before he starts getting promotions.” She paused, then quietly added, “I hope so, anyway.”

Her obvious concern over the matter sparked his curiosity. “Is there any reason he wouldn’t?”

“Not that I know of, it’s just…well, no one in the family’s been able to get a job in the Politics track before, so it’s a big deal. We’re not exactly popular with a lot of the officials.”

“Is that why you’re marrying him?” Stuart knew that was an impertinent question, but he couldn’t stop himself from asking it.

This time her silence went on too long. “No,” she said then, rather forcefully. “I mean, it’s a bonus, but I do love him.”

Stuart decided not to say anything about her obvious hesitation. Instead, he picked up on something else she had mentioned. “You say your family is not popular with some?”

She shook her head. “No. The current general, Dennis Raikov, hates my family. I don’t know why. Maybe he thinks we’re interfering with him? He’s constantly waiting for us to slip up: to break a law, or give him some other excuse to lock one of us up. He caught my uncle on something to do with the occult while my mom was pregnant with me. My dad went into Paranormal because of that—oh, sorry, I’m rambling. The point is, he’d do anything to mess us up, and my parents are terrified of him.”

“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 think he’s the one who sent those things after me?”

“It is a distinct possibility,” conceded Stuart. “The question remains, why, and just how did they know where you were?” He got up and started pacing along the sand. “I could understand if they abducted you from outside the chapel, somewhere everyone knew you would be, but from the inside, out of thin air… They must be tracking you somehow. Stand up.”

She did as he bade, and flinched when he took out his sonic screwdriver and activated it, running it through the air around her. “What is that?” she asked.

“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 to find you.”

He put the screwdriver back into his pocket, reached into the other, and pulled out a small gold ring that looked for all the world like a wedding band. “This is a bio-damper,” he explained, on seeing her face. “It will scramble any technology the drones may be using to trace you.” He slipped it onto her finger and silently added, ‘terrestrial or otherwise.’ The screwdriver had picked up some odd readings it couldn’t identify, and that worried him.

Elle looked down at it. “Well,” she said at last, “you can be the one to explain to my fiancée why I disappeared from our wedding, only to turn up later with a strange man, and wearing a wedding ring.” Her face fell. “Tristan. He’ll be so worried. Everyone will be.”.”

Stuart looked over at the TARDIS. “She should be alright by now. Do you want to go and find them?” Elle nodded. “Please.” ***

They did not find anyone at the chapel, save a janitor and a family friend who directed them to the house (after a bit of relieved flailing), so Elle and Stuart got back in the TARDIS and went there instead. She had him park on the flat roof where her family kept miscellaneous paraphernalia. “So no one will come by and take your ship because it’s parked outside the zoning limits,” 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 to look at the pair.

“Where the hell have you been?” barked Mya. “How could you just up and disappear like that in the 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.

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?”

“You know how long it took to make all the preparations,” added Mya. “We’re not going to be able to 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!”

“Do you have any idea how scared I was that you weren’t coming back?” Tristan put in.

“How did you do it, anyway?” Harry asked. “I’ve never seen anything like it, not even during my time as a Cult Leader.”

“Elle, say something!”

It was too much. Elle covered her face with her hands as she broke down in tears. Tristan moved forward to hug her and the rest of them abruptly fell silent.

While Elle tearfully explained the bare basics (she didn’t know what happened, Stuart had found her and helped her get back to them), Stuart mostly listened, and confirmed details when he was asked to. After a while, they seemed satisfied. “Thank you for bringing her back,” Tristan said then, putting a possessive arm around Elle’s shoulders. Stuart’s stomach turned. “I could hardly do anything else,” he said, striving for lightness.

“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, grinning down at Elle, who smiled faintly back. Stuart shook his hand quickly, and tried to smile through the rest of the introductions.

“Gabriel, do we have enough rations for one more?” asked Mya, with a glance at the Servo standing 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.”

“I would be happy to,” said Stuart, not out of any real need to eat, but a desire to study the family a little more.

Tristan guided Elle to a seat at the table, and the rest of the family gathered around, Mya already chattering away about rescheduling the wedding. Instead of following, Stuart leaned against the nearby divider and simply watched them. He regretted this decision immediately when Azula lightly touched Elle’s shoulder on her way to help Gabriel with the chef salad, and the two women exchanged affectionate smiles. They were close, that much was clear, possibly closest to each other out of everyone they knew.

Suddenly, the pain came flooding back again. He had forgotten, in all the excitement. “I’ll just…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.

The layout of the house, which he had only had time to glance at during their stampede to the kitchen, distracted him somewhat. There were hardly any partitions—a quick peek behind the two interior doors he discovered proved that only the restrooms were cordoned off from the rest. In the 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 their house on such a small footprint?

Turning toward the stairs, he caught sight of a nearby bookshelf. On a shelf near the top was a volume marked “Regulation Handbook.” He neatly retrieved it and began to thumb through it.

Sims’ houses may not occupy any larger than an 8x8 area, nor may any items be placed outside this 8x8 area. The pieces began to fit together in his head. Elle’s comment about the zoning laws had to have been referring to this regulation. Stuart flipped to another page. Several items on it had been crossed out, and another glance around the room and into the nearby restroom proved that these were restrictions the citizens of Sierra Plains no longer had to follow. “Curious,” he murmured, continuing to read.

When he went back downstairs, Azula and Gabriel were handing out plates of salad. Azula caught 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.”

“No trouble at all,” said Stuart, with a smile. “Ah, do you mind if I ask you what happened at the wedding, though? I mean, I know you don’t know, but…what did it look like?”

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 she was gone.” “There was that glittery light, too,” Billy added, coming up to them with his mouth full and his fork already scooping up the next bite. Stuart turned to him abruptly, eyes narrowing. “Glittery light? What color?” “Goldish,” said Billy. “Why?”

“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 found her, but…if it’s Huon energy, that’s ancient. It hasn’t existed for a long, long time. That means…it means…” His eyes fell on the gold band around Elle’s ring finger. “It means it can’t be hidden by a bio-damper!” He dropped his plate on the chess table and ran for the balcony.

“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 back inside the house. “Ellie, they’ve found you, you’ve got to get out.”

“What?” Elle bounded up from her chair, eliciting a displeased grunt from Tristan, who had had his arm around her. “No time! Do you have a car?” “Yes, the truck’s downstairs.”

“Right. You lot.” Stuart gestured to the family. “They’re far enough away that you’ve got time. Run downstairs, 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!”

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 putting my 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.”

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 the stairs, and she followed, mumbling curses at her heeled shoes. ***

After helping his mother into the passenger seat, Billy hopped into the bed of the truck and offered Azula a hand up. She took it, glancing back as she hoisted herself up. Her eyes widened in alarm. “Where’s Elle?” Tristan turned toward the front door. His bride was nowhere in sight. He ground his teeth. “She must still be in the house with that man. I’ll get her.” “Hurry!” Billy yelled. “They’re nearly here!”

Looking quickly between the oncoming group of autons and the distraught siblings, Tristan made a 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 than she is. She’d want you to be safe, you know she would.”

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. “Get moving.”

The truck screeched as it barreled backward out of the driveway. Tristan immediately ran for the stairs, not waiting to watch them go.

“Ellie!” The shout, accompanied by pounding footsteps on the stairs, cut through the chill winter air. Stuart stifled a groan as Tristan’s head appeared through the opening to the roof. “Elle? What are you doing?” “I’m going with Stuart,” explained Elle.

“Why?” Tristan demanded, striding over to them. “He shows up, steals you away, ruins our wedding and then brings those things here. Why are you going anywhere with him? Did he threaten you?”

“No!” exclaimed Elle. “He would never threaten me, and he didn’t steal me away! There’s something going on here, Tristan, something big, and Stuart thinks he knows what. I have to go with 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 well with her fiancée.

Tristan looked from her to Stuart, before gently caressing her cheek. As he did so, Stuart fought an irrational urge to knock his hand away from her face, and looked away. “I think I do understand,” said Tristan quietly, “but I can’t let you go alone. I’m coming too.”

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’t touch anything.” He turned on his heel and stalked into the TARDIS.

“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.”

Stuart was already tapping at something on the centre console when Elle and Tristan entered. He heard Tristan’s step falter. “But, but…” “Yes, it is bigger on the inside than the outside,” said Stuart flatly, as he moved to a different station on the console.

“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?”

Stuart gave Tristan a pointed look. “With a razor sharp brain like that, it is easy to see what Ellie sees in you.” He danced around to another panel. “Stuart…”

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 start there.”

Tristan snorted and turned to look at all the knick-knacks scattered around. “What’s this?” he asked picking up a brown leather sphere. “Some sort of alien egg?”

Stuart looked over and his entire demeanor changed. “I told you not to touch anything. Put it down now.”

“Why? What is it?” “It is a football. Put it down.” “Doesn’t look like a football.”

“Mr. Smith, there are dozens of rule sets for football on every planet in the universe. On Pesch there is a complicated rule in one set that states that a player can’t kick the ball unless at least three of his feet, but not more than five, are in contact with the ground. You do not have a monopoly on the game. Now I’m telling you again, put the football down.”

The redhead sneered as he did so. “Okay, okay. I get it. No touching your belongings.”

“That does not belong to me,” muttered Stuart, as he turned his attention to the console once again. “Is it your brother’s?” The quiet question made him look up. With his attention focused on Tristan and the football, he had missed Elle walking up to the console. He nodded tersely. “What happened to him? You said he’s not dead, but you’re acting like he is.”

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 to lay them to rest.”

“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 to our own, some of which completely different?”

Stuart nodded. “Yes. There was another mini-verse which had come too close to our own. It was pressing against ours, blurring the line of reality between the two mini-verses. The beings we saw weren’t ghosts. They were the inhabitants of that other mini-verse; we would have appeared exactly the same to them.” He paused. “Two mini-verses trying to occupy the same space is a Very Bad Thing. People disappearing, toddlers wanting twenty simultaneous lovers, Fireball Visible from Space bad. Bertie and I had to stop it from happening.

“We tracked the weakest point between realities to Simbridge, and with the help of a journalism student at the university, set about separating the two mini-verses. However, something went wrong with one of the transducers. There was a feedback, or build up of energy of some sort and it exploded, causing the veil between the two realities to rip. It was obvious that the only way to close 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 Sophia snatched one of the working transducers from Bertie’s hand and ran through the rip. As soon as he realized what she was planning to do, Bertie dove after her, but it was too late. She had already started the sequence to close the rip as soon as she had gone through. It closed with both of them on the other side.”

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’t heard her. “Like ripples on a pond, the effects spread out, from Simbridge, and by a strange quirk of fate, one of the last places where the two mini-verses ceased to touch, was the Simlish seaside town of Simmouth. There, beneath the pier, was the last time I saw my brother. He seemed quite happy. The mini-verse they are in is apparently stuck in the Victorian era, and Sophia is having a hard time adjusting to wearing a corset, but I’ll place bets on them marrying within the year.” He tried to smile as he spoke, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I’m sorry,” repeated Elle.

Stuart shook himself. “So, there I was, wallowing in my sadness at losing Bertie, and then you appear, quite impossibly, in my TARDIS.” This time the smile was genuine.

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.

Stuart glanced at him. Lost in the past and his grief, he had forgotten all about Tristan’s presence. “Of course. Hang on.” He punched a button and fought to hide a smirk as Tristan lost his footing at the sudden movement, while Ellie retained her balance like a pro. He caught her eye 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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