A DAY AT THE ARCHIVES
Things had been pretty quiet much to the concern of Lasaraleen. Not a trace or reading on that gadget which picks up time crystal activity. I was on a rostered day off, trying to move the bed in my room which had belonged to the late Jeremiah Collins (‘late’ on account of his ever-loving nephew, Barnabas). Thing weighed a ton. All solid wood and four posts and canopy and had been stuck in situ since Washington was still at school. And the dust in those brocade hangings! A knock came to the door, a short, sharp rap, and Marcus swept in, looking very lordly in his toga.
"Gaius," he said. "I have favour to ask. I have to go to Boston…"
"Not dressed like that, I hope."
"However, the Dalekii have approached me with request…"
A request?! Daleks?! Two words not usually found together in a sentence, or even in a paragraph. He must have seen the look on my face for he added, "We were discussing this need to discover anomalies…"
"You were discussing – you and the Daleks…" Meaning they weren’t shouting and you weren’t forced to listen and obey.
"Yes, Dalekii speak very pure Latin, very fluent, good accent and correct pronunciation, better than those who adopt silly fashion of talking like plebeians. Say plaustrum not plostrum or other such vulgarities."
Which left me wondering what the Daleks were doing talking about wagons. However, got me remembering seeing one of them go into the office adjoining the drawing room in which Marcus receives his Japanese ‘clients’, sitting in the chair as if it were a throne, every inch the Roman noble. Doubtless it was received in the same way and given the same attention and consideration. Now there’s a terrifying thought: Daleks as clients of the gens Valeria.
"Menelaus said that since I appear to be one who knows how to find out things or cause things to be done, it had come to me."
Now that I could believe. Anyone with any degree of observation could see how Marcus uses those skills native to any Roman politician of the late Republic to get what he wants – networking as a fine art and mutual back-scratching, all laced with Marcus’s lethal charm. What he doesn’t know, he knows from whom to get it. Daleks may be arrogant, genocidal bastards but they are not stupid. History – my planet’s history – has many instances of them using indirect means and manipulation to achieve their ends. In other words they don’t always shoot or shout out orders first. I can just picture Marcus turning his 60 kilowatt smile on the Dalek and agreeing to look into the matter.
"Today I have arranged to have lunch with Carolina and will ask her about family papers she has saved."
Oh, I can imagine that, the little rogue working his magic with the melodious accent, the Latin charm, the handsome face on the unsuspecting and reclusive Carolyn Stoddard.
"I was going to go to Archives – she told me Collinsport has and where they are but I must be in Boston from tomorrow. That affair with Nipponian murder. So I ask you to go in my place and convoy Menelaus thither." He smiled, white teeth flashing in olive-skinned face. "I will be in your debt."
"You certainly will, Your Imperial Wogness. You just can’t have Daleks wandering loose in Collinsport without comment." Or maybe you could. Any town where a werewolf tears out someone’s throat on the landing of the hotel and no one notices probably wouldn’t raise a collective eyebrow.
So I ended up agreeing though I’m sure I may have voiced some objections. I just got stream-rollered again and he swept out to fascinate Carolyn over lunch.
After breakfast the following day, I marched into the ballroom where the Daleks had taken up residence. They had cables running from the timeship to a console complex they were studying. The ballroom was one of those rooms which had only a cursory renovation done in 1967 so had some fascinating cobwebs festooning the corners and the chandeliers. These, I noticed, had been knocked down and the chandeliers sparkled. I’d have paid good money to see Daleks dusting. It certainly wasn’t any of us. The only other things in the room were a clavichord which Barnabas kept in good repair and often played and some swords on stands which belonged to the Kazama brothers. The clavichord and sword racks were near the door and the Daleks and their paraphernalia at the far end. I halted about a metre from them and barked, "Right. Which of you is Menalek?" Apparently it is bad form, rude or not done to address Daleks by name without permission. Normally they don’t give them out (hence the notion on our Earth they don’t have them) but they had already been introduced by name and accepted Marcus using them.
One detached itself. "I am."
"I have been detailed to escort you to the Collinsport Archive. There is a way this can be done without causing a problem under the Home Planets regulations. Let me do the talking and follow my lead."
Well, that went better than expected. I turned and went out, followed by this black and silver war machine. Not a comforting thing to have at one’s back. Outside I’d parked the four-wheel drive. I opened the rear and gestured inside. The Black Dalek rose on antigravs and entered. There’s something about that manoeuvre which always makes my scalp prickle. I shut the door behind it, got in behind the driver’s wheel and started the engine. "Brace yourself," I yelled as we hit the uncharming access road which might best be described as potholes joined by gravel patches.
We bounced along, the Dalek magnetised to the floor in the back, until we reached the Collinsport Road. Marcus’s comments on this road are sulphurous. Shame he didn’t come with a legion to build a proper one. And so we came to Collinsport. I parked in a corner of the town’s parking lot and we emerged into the street, Dalek in front. Hardly anyone about, well, lunchtime on a weekday. Even tourists were scarce as it was another fried eyeballs day. A couple of old biddies yakking ahead of us on a corner simply moved apart to let us past then went on with their conversation.
Nothing escaped the Dalek as its eyestalk travelled from side to side as it moved. However, the gunstick was not in full firing position. In cat terms, the claws were partially retracted. I use the cat analogy because have you noticed that Daleks move like predators – slowly and watching carefully when they enter a strange area, constantly on the alert and ready to attack.
We were almost there when a couple of tourists, male about 16 or 17, came around a corner and stop. "Man, that is sooo cool!" one exclaimed. "What is it?"
"Promotion for a new science fiction film," I replied blandly.
"And it moves by itself." The kid was really excited.
"Not exactly." I took out my work mobile phone, levelled it and pressed one of the buttons. Now I’ll say this for Daleks. They can pick up a cue as well as anyone. Menalek who had halted when we were accosted, began to move forwards. I hit another button and it turned right, then left, then returned to me each time I pressed another button.
"Oh, cool. Radio-controlled. Does it talk?"
Whoever says Daleks have no expression on account of a lack of face, has never been with one in such a situation. The eyestalk swivelled and fixed me hard, silently promising me all sorts of death and destruction if I answered in the affirmative. No way was this Dalek going to talk to these lab specimens.
"No, it’s just a prop."
The other kid was examining it closely. "It looks like some sort of metal but it’s fibreglass, right? Black’s cool but why the silver hemispheres? Spoils the look. Should be black all over like Darth Vader."
I cringed mentally as I got the impression the Dalek was more insulted by being likened to the Sith Lord than by the criticism of its livery. The gunstick moved into firing position.
"Kid, you are going to be so dead if you don’t move," I growled adopting the vernacular.
"It’s for the new Star Wars film, isn’t it?" the pest persisted.
The Dalek moved forward, pushing aside the first geek and deliberately rolling over the foot of the one who had insulted it. Right, Skaro 2 Collinsport 1.
A block further along we were outside a white building across the street from the Archives whose sign was missing as it had been since 1995. Not wishing to be seen talking to my ‘prop’, I extracted the mobile again and began speaking into it.
"Hello, Sol?" Yeah, me, Travis. I’m in Collinsport outside the…" I scanned the noticeboard in front of me, "..First Baptist Church over the road from the Archives. You want I go inside like you said and look up that stuff for you?"
I folded the thing up and put it away then we crossed the road. Fortunately the lights were in our favour as I could imagine the Dalek just crossing against the traffic and blasting a path through it otherwise. Highly advanced technologically but probably never heard of traffic lights. We entered the 19th century red brick building which I think had been a bank in 1897. Here we encountered our next obstacle. The archivist. Or at least I supposed that was what the middle-aged woman behind the desk was. She was rather imposing, a bit like she could have played Lady Bracknell and she wasn’t having Daleks cluttering up her nice archive. Or maybe it was Space Commanders she objected to.
"What’s that? Why have you brought it in here? Take it out immediately."
I got on the Travis high horse (well, we had come over as barons with William the Conqueror). "I am here to do research on behalf of Sol Silverstein of - Universal Studios (the first visplay factory I could think of). He’s looking to buy the Collinwood estate and wants to check the records."
"Oh," she thawed visibly. The Collins name again. "But you’ll have to leave that – that – outside."
Dalek, Madam. If I’d spoken aloud I could imagine her responding, "A Dalek!" in exactly the same tone Lady Bracknell says, "A handbag."
"I see," I replied sweetly. "So you want to leave Mr Silverstein’s $500,000 prop outside and unattended? You are prepared to take the risk? And the consequences should it go missing or is damaged? Perhaps you’d like to discuss it with him? His direct number is speed-dialled on the phone." I smiled. When Travis smiles, showing his teeth, entire squadrons have been known to flee. I proffered the object and she backed off as if it were a phial of Phobon plague.
So we went in. I took a position at the main table opposite the archivist’s desk with Menalek between, cutting off her view of what was really going on. Ms Corning, the archivist, came wittering after us. "It was the Collins estate archives you were after, Mr….?"
"Travis. Yes. Is there an index?"
She went to fetch it. Menalek picked up a pencil and rapidly scrawled a list: cadastral surveys, land sales, geological surveys. Far more flexibility in that sucker-arm than you’d think. Anyway, we started with the 1600s and the earliest surveys and worked forward. I just called up the stuff and passed it across to the Dalek which then scanned it. I amused myself by reading some of it but it was well boring. Loads of data about land divisions, bills of sale, plans for houses including those for that old Collins House Barns talks about which was partly where Collinwood now stands and belonged to his grandparents. That was about the most exciting thing I could relate to. As for the rest – what parts of the forest were cleared and when, what arrangements were made with the native tribes, what was subdivided and when, how many cows someone owned in 1691 – you’d go barmy unless you were a Dalek., I suppose. But I had to look busy like I was the one doing the research so I couldn’t just put my head down and kip out.
So there’s me surrounded by boxes of papers, stacked up like the Great Wall of China while the Metal Master from Skaro ‘went through them with a tea-strainer’, as Kotaro would say. Finally, after the longest afternoon of my life, Ms Corning called time. Menalek must now know more than any Dalek has the right to know about land tenure and rock formations in 18th century New England. I was stiff and thirsty. There’s no air-conditioning in that building. It was hot and stuffy once the western sun struck the windows. I doubted we could adjourn to a pub. If my history serves me correctly, Daleks don’t do pubs. Don’t even get the concept of humans needing a break and refreshment.
I packed everything up, bade Ms Corning good evening and promised to return. Out the door I went, behind the Black Dalek which is the way I like it even though I am well aware that they can swivel the gun 180o in a nanosecond and shoot you just the same. There were more people about, even though it wasn’t a lot cooler. Most just stared for a while before flocking to the culinary delights of MacDonald’s.
Back at the Old House, it was busy as Kongo and Kotaro had returned from work. Kotaro was still at the sushi shop, of course, while Kongo had talked his way into a job at the local library, parlaying his experiences at Metropolis Public Library in that alternate universe. They were making dinner. Lasaraleen arrived at the same time we did. She works in a bookshop or should I say the bookshop. Pernadis was next, bringing Marcus back from the airport in her taxi. He had with him assorted papers he’d charmed out of Carolyn before he went to Boston and duly took them into the ballroom. Unlike me, he didn’t seem bothered by having a Black Dalek on his heels, looming over him, though Marcus and the Daleks are about the same height. He was talking to them in Latin as he set forth the papers and I made my escape.
I wondered how (a) I could get away with bringing ‘Sol Silverstein’s prop’ back to the Archive and (b) how I could farm this task out to someone else with a higher boredom threshold and a greater tolerance of the history of the poxy Collins clan than I. Not my problem for the next few days as I was back on night shift.