• Published 22nd Apr 2019
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Enchorus - GMBlackjack



Stories set in the Songs of the Spheres multiverse written by a variety of authors.

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Wanderers: Orbits (Runtrivena)

“Know each other? Oh you bet we do. He and I traveled together for a long time... I could go on for days.”
- Vriska Serket on the Travelling Doctor, Songs of the Spheres, Chapter 045 - The Reach of the Sparkle Census

~~~

It shouldn’t have been possible for Vriska’s luck to run out, but something about this latest place she’d been dumped in seemed to drain fortune as fast as she could steal it. Taking peoples’ luck was her thing, dammit. And she didn’t dare try to push any harder than she already was; stealing somebody’s luck without the sudden loss of fortune getting them killed was a particularly tricky skill that she wasn't sure she quite had mastered yet. Never mind that most of the people around here seemed to deserve it, she was trying to be a good person these days, which is pretty much defined by not killing random people for your own comfort.

At least nobody was spitting on her. In that regard, she was considerably better off than the elf huddled in the next doorway down. She actually felt sorry for it; even monsters, it seemed, could hit rock bottom.

This being the Nightside, it was, naturally, night, the full moon hanging massive in the sky as always, and up until she saw him, she had resigned herself to once again sleeping on this disgusting dump that called itself a street. It wasn't the way he walked that first caught her attention, although that should have been a tip-off that there was something special about him; Vriska had quickly learned that acting as though you owned the place, or worse, didn’t care who did, in a place like this was a good way to get called on it. Often fatally.

It wasn't the way the crowd went out of their way not to get in his, either, despite that on its own definitely meaning something was up; even if he wasn't a major player, he clearly had a reputation worth respecting.

No, what made her notice him was the way he seemed to make his own luck. Vriska had never seen anything like it. Not even the other Light players she had known had been able to create it out of nothing, yet here he was, bold as brass, walking around as though the universe was going to go his way whether it liked it or not. If she were to compare luck to something visible, such as, for example, light, she would say he stood out like the sun: as natural as day, and just as impossible to miss. It shouldn’t’ve been possible for something like him to exist, and yet here he was.

Vriska hauled herself out of her grimy doorway and followed the guy, of course. She had nothing better to do, and she just had to find out how he was doing that. And maybe she'd be able to lift some boondollars from the pockets of that well-made suit at the same time. It was at least a couple days since she'd last eaten; even gambling, normally her go-to method of making money, had been going against her way more often than chance had any right to, and it seemed to be normal practice among the locals to protect yourself against mental influences. Shame, otherwise she could just exert her power over one of these puny human minds and make them buy her some food.

Well, he clearly wasn’t local, and he wasn't human either, she was pretty certain of that. Sure, he looked like them, but she knew what human minds felt like by now, and when she reached out to his it looked nothing like their squidgy little defenseless thinkspheres. The surface was more like glass, all curves and edges and nearly transparent; she imagined she'd be able to practically see his thoughts if they weren't so alien. Well, that wasn't so unusual; she’d run into aliens before, hell, Vriska was technically alien herself, and it had taken years of practice to understand human minds enough to do more than just put them to sleep. His was so different she couldn’t even make sense of his surface thoughts, which definitely didn't help her work out which pocket he kept his money in.

He turned purposefully into an unoccupied alley that was only slightly more slimy than the street. Wow, he really is confident. Either that, or hopelessly naive. All the fewer people who might catch her running away with her loot, then. Still, she was somewhat disgusted with herself for having to stoop so low. The Thief of Light ought to be above stealing mere money.

She quickened her step just a little to match his pace, took a guess, reached out, and-

“I wouldn't think about it if I were you. Never know what sort of trouble you could get into, trying that.”

Holy slimebuckets how did he do that? There should have been no way he could’ve heard her sneaking up on him, she was practically silent. “What, picking your pockets or thinking about it?” Vriska replied coolly.

“Both, of course!” He turned to face her, without breaking step. “Now, what’s somebody like you doing in a world like this? Weellll, trying to rob me, obviously, but apart from that,” he continued, without stopping for breath or to let her get a word in edgewise. “You’ve clearly been on the street for some time, probably haven’t eaten a proper meal since you got here - fell through a timeslip, I assume? Happens rather a lot around here, and you’re clearly not local - and it is rather difficult to establish oneself in a new location, especially if you’re on your own - you are, I presume? Rather unusual to find a troll like you this far from the edge of the Great Void, although I suppose somewhere in the Strands is the most logical place for the unexpected and unusual to turn up - and I’d’ve heard if there were more of your lot about. Although I don’t blame you for trying to keep a low profile, I’d generally prefer to myself, but it usually just doesn’t work out, you know how it is: things that need to be done, scary people to scare and all that. Actually talking of which, I was just on my way to the Hawk’s Wind, got an appointment, I’m sure they won’t mind if you tag along.”

Vriska stared. She hadn’t heard anyone like the sound of their own voice quite so much since… well, not counting herself, since of course she listened to other people when they said something worth listening to... probably since Aranea. Huh. She hadn’t realized she’d practically forgotten about her Dancestor. What had happened to her, anyway? One subjective day the Sylph’d been talking everyone’s ears off in the Dream Bubbles, the next… she wasn’t. And Vriska hadn’t even noticed.

“Oi! Are you coming or what?!”

The grey troll shook off her reverie and hurried after him. Why would she follow… oh, right. The Hawk’s Wind was a restaurant. Maybe she could scam some food out of him.

------------------​

The first thing that struck Vriska was the color. Not just one, not just two, but at least a dozen, in eye-searingly bright shades and patterns that looked like somebody had let Terezi choose the crayons for a coloring book. And the book, too. Scented smoke filled the air. A huge, brightly-lit machine against one wall was singing something about cups of butter, while an arrangement of shining metal pipes and boilers in a corner was emitting colorful clouds of something that may or may not have been steam.

“The Hawk’s Wind Bar & Grille.” She hadn’t asked him for the exposition, but he provided it anyway; between him and her fellow Light players she was starting to wonder if maybe she attracted that sort of thing. “It’s said that the entire building is actually the ghost of a bar that burned down in 1970. I haven’t quite confirmed whether ghosts exist here, or whether it’s even possible for buildings to have ghosts, but whatever it is, it’s quite obviously a product of the Sixties.”

Vriska supposed the comment about “the Sixties” was supposed to explain the weird decor, so she let it slide past her. “Ghosts’re real, all right. Some of my best friends were ghosts.”

“That’s not necessarily true in all universes, actually,” he remarked. “I’ve been to universes where, by all rights, nothing like us should exist. Terribly boring, they were. Still,” he added, with a satisfied edge to his voice as though he’d had gotten an answer to a question he hadn’t asked yet, “it’s good to hear that you have an open mind for the inexplicable... ah, there they are.”

Inexplicable, hell. The only thing that was inexplicable about them was how her own ghost had ended up such a damp wiggler.

Sitting uncomfortably at a table to one side, clearly waiting for somebody, were two older human males, one of them wearing a huge, gorgeous crimson cloak which Vriska instantly coveted, the other half-bald and swathed in some kind of purplish hooded robe, which completely failed to conceal the (in Vriska's opinion) dumb scarlet bodysuit.

Her new “friend” strode confidently towards them.

“Stephen! Good to see you!” The glowy guy shook the cloak-wearer’s hand enthusiastically. “If not for the circumstances, at least. I presume it's something world-ending, as usual?”

Stephen didn't look quite so pleased. “Doctor. I don't believe you've met my colleague?” He indicated the man with him. “Doctor Anthony Druid. Druid, this is the Travelling Doctor. You might recall my mentioning him?”

Doctor Lucky shook the third guy's hand no less happily, hardly giving him a chance to respond. “Just 'the Doctor' will do. Although there does seem to be rather a few of us around,” he conceded. Then he turned to Vriska. “This will probably take some time. Why don't you get yourself a bite to eat?”

“Sure,” she shrugged, sarcastically. “Have you actually got any money?”

“Ah, of course. As it happens, yes.” He rummaged in his pockets, turning up a handful of tokens that were probably valid somewhere. One of them was trying to crawl away. “Here, this should be enough.”

Huh. That had been a lot easier than she expected.

“Now…” Doctor Pushover turned back to the other two. “Exactly how serious is it? You mentioned the Eye…”

Vriska looked around for somewhere to get food. I know I’m supposed to be somewhere on Earth, but this place looks more like something out of some of their movies than any real Earth I've seen. A group of suavely dressed human men at the next table chatted in some sort of code. Golden cages hanging from the ceiling held nearly-naked human females dancing so energetically that it wouldn't surprise her to find that their clothes actually had fallen off, and another, even bustier one wearing towering white boots and what looked like pink plastic was heading determinedly in her direction.

“What can I get you, hun? Are you ready to order?” she asked. Ah. A waitress. She listened to the apparent human as patiently as she could, and ordered something she vaguely recognized the name of. The Doctor’s pocket change just covered it.

-----------------------​

“...exceedingly worried if any more suddenly showed up. I've been involved in something similar before, and the only thing more disastrous than somebody having the complete set was trying to use only most of them. I expect having the instruction manual has helped somewhat, at least?” the Travelling Doctor was saying, as the somewhat less-starving troll carefully cleaned up the last crumbs of her meal.

That was when the guy in the white trenchcoat walked in. No, that was the wrong word. He strode in as though he expected everybody else to move out of his way, and move they did. Now this, this was someone who might as well own the place. Not just the building, or the block, but the whole city. He took up so much space in the world that Vriska almost missed the girl in the spotty dress with him, wearing a huge floppy hat that didn't quite conceal her tiny, pointed horns. The other reason was that he, too, was simply glowing with personal, self-made luck. If the Doctor was a sun, then this guy was at least the moon, rising huge and bright in the perpetual night sky: the same light, but somehow so much more reachable. Two in one day? If it wasn't for the way things had been going for her lately, she'd say it couldn't possibly be a coincidence. She wasn't quite sure she dared believe that her luck was coming back.

It would be the easiest thing in the world to reach out and just... take some. Surely he wouldn't miss it? She watched hungrily as the two found an empty table and sat down. The waitress, she saw, wasted no time in going to take their order.

“Don't look now, but Taylor's just showed up.” The three Doctors had noticed Trenchcoat too. She wished they hadn't; maybe just being close to the guy for long enough would let her sort of soak up some of that lovely luck of his.

John Taylor? Oh, dear.” Her Doctor rose, putting his hat back on. “I’m terribly sorry, gentlemen, but I don’t believe we’ll be able to continue this discussion at this time. You know how it is. I hope I've been able to be of help?”

“I suppose we do,” Cloak Guy conceded. “Your assistance is as always, much appreciated; I feel certain we can handle the situation from here.”

The Doctor came over to collect her, much to her disappointment. She had been half-hoping that he might forget about her so she could try to attract some of Moon Man’s good fortune. “It’s time we were going.”

To her credit, she thought, Vriska waited until they were several doors away before asking: “What's the deal with the coat dude?”

“John Taylor? He’s fairly well-known in these parts; I’m surprised you haven’t heard of him before, I’ve run into him once or twice myself.” Vriska jogged a few steps to keep up with the Doctor’s long legs as they rounded a corner. “He’s a rather good private investigator, with something of a gift for finding things. Particularly trouble, hence our somewhat precipitous exit.”

“Is that all?” the troll scoffed. “I can handle trouble.”

Unexpectedly, the Doctor grinned. “Good, because we’re about to go make some.”

“Bring it.” She grinned back.

-------------​

“When you said we were going to make trouble, I thought you meant we were going to go looking for it! That was more like trouble coming after us!” Vriska braced against the door. “What the hell is their deal, anyway?!”

The Doctor glanced up briefly from where he was punching buttons on some complicated, mushroomy… thing, in the middle of the room. The impossibly large room for the tiny booth it was somehow inside. The troll tried not to let it bother her too much; surely she’s seen stranger things by now? “Ah… Elves are… shall we say… less than popular, in the Nightside.” Huddled in what passed for a corner, Vriska’s former neighbour made a noise that sounded like it could have been either a sob and a snarl. The Doctor spared it a sideways look. “Even elves that come from a completely different universe and bear absolutely no resemblance to them besides the name.”

There was a heavy clunk, and the tall central column began to rise and fall rhythmically, machinery complaining loudly in time with its motion. The Doctor stepped away from it, and went to crouch in front of the pathetic creature.

“You’ll be all right, now. You’re safe here. You’re safe, and we’re taking you home.”

The elf didn’t make any audible reply, but it may have relaxed a fraction.

“So where is home for him?”

After another moment, the Doctor hopped back to his feet. “An absolutely fascinating structure known as the Long Earth, although that’s a bit of a misnomer because it’s actually a long universe, weeelllll, more of a cluster or chain really, where people step from world to world as if they’re just next door.” He grinned at her. “I hope you don’t mind taking a trip? We’re already on our way.”

Already? I could get used to traveling like this. I didn’t even feel us move...

“Does this mean I can let go of the door now?”

Author's Note:

Runtrivena:
The idea for Wanderers came about during the original “Multiverse Organisation Compendium” thread, when Songs of the Spheres was still in the planning stages. I noticed that Vriska was supposed to have been the Doctor’s companion for a while, and wondered what it was like, and which Doctor might have been involved; when I posted about this, it turned out that I was the only person in the thread who was actually qualified to answer my own question.

Wanderers was intended to be very short, outlining Vriska’s travels and relationship with the Doctor in maybe 3k words of short snippets. By the time I finished writing “Orbits”, more ideas had come to me, my notes for the next chapter were showing a lot more of Vriska’s character development than I had expected, and it became clear that the whole thing had gotten just a little out of hand, so the simple, tidy three-act structure I had planned had to expand somewhat. As this is posted, I’m still writing part two out of three, which is the longest and most complex section of the entire story. Like I said, it got out of hand.

For those who are wondering, the Travelling Doctor in Wanderers is several regenerations in the future of Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor (as that’s when I started writing), but his past differs from the TV canon version in unspecified ways.

"Orbits" is set in the Nightside, by Simon R. Green. There's a few other things, too; a complete list of credits/acknowledgements will be included with the last chapter.

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