Chapter 1

January 14, 1901 - The Manor House, Berkshire

Police Investigate Mysterious Disappearances

Yesterday the police were called in as an eighth person disappeared, adding to police fears more will follow. The victim was Sir Richard Brambury, Earl of Wessex.

The Police are baffled by the disappearances, but they suspect foul play. Suggestions that it may be the work of a single person have been ruled out, and the police are now searching for a gang of perpetrators.

‘I just can't understand it,’ reported Inspector Mackerby. ‘We haven't found any common threads linking the missing people. With the exception of George Cartwright, the people have completely vanished without trace. The gang can strike at any time, which makes them particularly dangerous. So far we have discovered no pattern in the disappearances.’

Sir Richard was out riding alone. When he did not return, his manservant contacted the authorities, but extensive searches failed to turn up his whereabouts.

- The Chronicle, 14/1/1901

A carriage pulled up in the shingle drive of one of the countless country manors found dotted across England's green pastures. Out stepped a short, balding figure who quickly disappeared into the interior of the house. As the carriage rolled off a familiar grating wheeze echoed across the estate...

From the depths of the TARDIS's interior a voice was heard.

‘Trust me, Ace! You'll enjoy a stay in the country!’ Out of the door of the TARDIS stepped the Doctor's latest incarnation, a curious figure in floppy hat and umbrella wielded purposefully.

‘Every time you say that we end up fighting some strange alien menace, or locked in life or death struggles with nutcases,’ Ace called, emerging from the TARDIS. The Doctor however, was already out of earshot, making his way towards the front steps of the country house. ‘Professor!’ Ace called despairingly, then gave up. She hastened after the Doctor who was mounting the steps.

They were greeted by a genteel, if aging butler. The Doctor paused for a moment's recollection.

‘Crabtree, isn't it?’

‘Yes, m'lord. Would you like to see the master?’

‘Yes, yes I would. Is he in?’

‘M'lord is reviewing his inheritance. If you would follow me, Mister..?’

‘Ah, Doctor actually.’

The butler led them along a corridor into a back room.

‘M'lord, the Doctor here to see you with his companion,’ Crabtree announced respectfully. Ace gazed round the room. It seemed almost entirely devoted to the storage of every imaginable archaeological relic. Two men were currently cataloguing the items, checking them off against a very long list.

‘A Doctor, you say?' One of the men turned to face the new arrivals. ‘Good gracious, is that you Doctor? You've changed since I last saw you.’

‘Well, time gets to us all eventually,’ replied the Doctor conversationally.

The man was in his late fifties. His back was unbowed by his years, and you could imagine him meeting every obstacle with typical stoic British aristocratic defiance.

‘Sir Arthur, meet my companion Ace!’

‘Ace room, Arthur!’ Ace breathed. She hurriedly put down the shrunken head of some great tribal chief.

‘Well, my father passed away recently. A great archaeologist, treasures from all over the world.’

‘Yes, fine sarcophagus,' the Doctor said peering under a large pile of relics. 'Your father was in Egypt, was he?’

‘Yes, and he managed to bring this find back. Quite rare, with the grave-robbers having got to just about everything first,’ Sir Arthur replied knowledgeably.

‘Sir Arthur, I was wondering if Ace and I could stay here for a few days. I think some peace and quiet would do us good.’

‘Feel free, Doctor. You can help Willards and myself sort out this junk. I'm glad to have company out here. It gets so damned lonely in these halls. Still, a man's got to make the best of it.’

While the Doctor acquainted himself with the various items of the late George Cartwright's collection, Ace explored the grounds of Sir Arthur's estate. The gardens were extensive, stretching round corners, following meandering paths, filled with mysterious nooks and crannies. In her absorbed search, she didn't notice a dark figure, peering from behind a hedge...

‘So what happened to your father, Sir Arthur?’ asked the Doctor, picking up a skull.

‘He passed away under somewhat mysterious circumstances, Doctor. The coroner said it was similar to a lightning strike, but there hadn't been a storm for miles. Nobody could make head nor tale out of it. It kept the press speculating for weeks.’

‘Massive electrical charge. Curiouser and curiouser,’ the Doctor muttered absently to the skull.

‘What was that Doctor?’

‘Nothing, Sir Arthur. Just thinking, that's all. Willards, check off the neanderthal skull.’ The solicitor obediently ticked off another item on the extensive list of artifacts.

The garden had finally given way to fields and paddocks. Ace leaned on the fence, and surveyed the rolling countryside. So this was the famous British countryside, as yet unpolluted by the creeping tendrils of the industrial revolution. Still, Ace thought, people like Sir Arthur can afford to keep it that way.

Opposite where Ace was standing was a collection of buildings, apparently stables. A young girl was on a horse, cantering around a track. Ace envied her carefree lifestyle. Ace thought back to boring Perivale. Life had been simple then. It had all changed when one of her chemistry experiments had brought her to Iceworld. It was there she had first met the Doctor. It was the start of a series of adventures that had led her to - what? Turn of the century England? She sighed. Still, if dynamite had been invented, it couldn't be all bad. She would like to have had a few words with Nobel, though. She smiled at the thought of all the improvements she could make.

The girl seemed to have finished and was going in. Taking her cue Ace turned back to the house, and began retracing her steps through the garden. Something was different this time. Some sort of sixth sense warned Ace.

Rounding a bend in the path, she was confronted by an Arab dressed in white robes, with a black headdress disguising his face. Waving lazy circles in front of him was a long curved sword. As he edged, Ace inched back, then turned to run. Behind her was another robed Arab also armed with a sword. Grabbing a branch she held it, eyes darting from one to the other, her mind temporarily ignoring the incongruousness of the situation. Arabs in the garden? When she felt constantly out of place herself, Ace was never surprised by the appearance of similarly displaced persons, and she had subconsciously resigned herself to it, as one of the pitfalls of travelling with someone like the Doctor.

Their sabres flicked menacingly, weaving slow patterns in the air. ‘Come on, then. What's keeping you two?’ Ace said, with characteristic bravado. However, she was feeling far from brave, realizing the hopelessness of her situation. If they attacked her simultaneously she was in deep trouble.

Taking the initiative, she brought the branch down on the second Arab. He blocked easily, but she locked their weapons, preventing him from swinging. Changing the direction of her attack, she suddenly thrust viciously, catching the assassin in the chest with the end of the branch. Her foot lashed out and he collapsed gasping.

Ace had no respite. She barely fended off the other Arab's attacks, desperately blocking a flurry of blows. As they circled each other, she knew she couldn't run. She braced herself for the next assault.

‘Ace!!’ The Doctor's call came from the direction of the house. Hearing this new voice, the Arab hesitated and then fled, taking his now recovered companion with him.

Ace leaned against a tree, contemplating her recent brush with death. The Doctor came up the path.

‘Ace, there you are!’

‘Doctor, something funny's going on!’ The Doctor glanced uneasily at the worried look in his young friend's face.

‘Assassins, you say?’ said Sir Arthur incredulously.

‘Yeah, two Arab blokes, walking round with swords in your garden.’ Ace had recovered her good humour, and was now trying to convince Sir Arthur of her story.

‘But it seems totally preposterous! Arab assassins creeping around my garden!’

‘There are a lot of things in this universe you would find hard to believe, Sir Arthur,’ replied the Doctor, rousing himself from one of the armchairs populating Sir Arthur's drawing room. ‘I rather fancy there is a mystery afoot!’ He held up a newspaper, displaying a prominent headline: ‘Police Investigate Mysterious Disappearances’.

‘You don't think there is a link between these disappearances and those Arabs, do you Doctor?'

‘It is a possibility. But there is still something missing. Something important.’

‘Doctor, I have to go into London today on business. But if these assassins are still about...’

‘By all means go, Sir Arthur. Ace and I will go with you.' Sir Arthur was somewhat taken aback by the Doctor's enthusiasm. 'Ace, have you ever been to a music hall?’

‘A concert? Doctor, you're kidding - right?’

‘You'll enjoy it, Ace. There's magic and fire eating and knife-throwing...’

‘Doctor, you said the same thing about the Psychic Circus. Remember? Promise me there'll be no clowns this time!’

‘No clowns,’ replied the Doctor, ‘I promise. Besides I have a couple of old friends I want to check up on.’

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