A Hard Day's Night

To the best of James Bowman's knowledge, this situation is trouble.

Judging from the evidence to date, he's not going to bet against it.

Exhibit A is the devastation that's just hit his hallway, courtesy of Exhibit C.

Exhibit B is a short dark-haired woman, complete with spectacular evening clothing, who's just pulled herself out of a diary, complaining about someone called "Jason" and /desperately/ needing a drink, who Exhibit C says is her sister Benny.

Exhibit C is a woman in a glittering blue ballgown, complete with elbow-length gloves, her hair the pale white of moonlight, who says she's an Eternal called Tarda.

Who also says she wants to always stay with him.

In the face of this evidence, there is, realistically, only one thing to do.

'Please, won't you come in? I'm afraid I'm out of anything particularly coma-inducing, but I *should* have some coffee around...'

The two Eternals are staring at James as if he's stripped naked and started singing "Anarchy in the UK". Which would have been an option, but not very helpful.

Neither would be calling the authorities - judging from the news, having them deal with otherworldly entities has a tendency to cause a lot of collateral damage...

'Um...' Benny says. 'Yeah. Okay.' Aside to Tarda, she observes 'Wow. He's got his priorities straight. Cute, clued-in, *and* classy...'

'Mm.' Tarda says, watching James.

'Just one, and then we've really gotta be going.' Benny pushes her way past the duo in the hallway. 'Now, where's the coffee?'

'Fortunately,' James murmurs, 'I bought in a jar yesterday, for just such a situation - no, correct that, for a situation that's just involved the consumption of a massive amount of alcohol.'

'Good thinking,' Tarda murmurs back, 'but I think you might have needed a jumbo size jar...'

'I wasn't exactly expecting company...'

Tarda ahems. 'If it makes you feel any better, I wasn't exactly expecting wanting company...'

'Um... So, is there anything you'd like?'

'...Oh, oh, sorry.' Tara pulls herself together. 'Um, some tea, if you've got any - Benny's the coffee freak in the family.'

'Think I'll join you. I could do with something to calm the nerves...'

Tarda looks at him, then rests a hand on his arm.

James breathes out-

-realises he's thinking clearly, calmly, that the tension's drained from him.

That there's something under his feet again.

'Come on.' Tarda says softly. 'Before Benny guzzles all the sugar.'

'Oh boy...'


Fortunately, she hasn't.

While the two women drink (Benny guzzling it down as if she never intends to sleep again), James takes a moment to think.

And to notice Tarda's discomfort. Whatever she did for him, she couldn't do for herself.

He hesitates. Does Benny still not know what's happened, or has she read one of their minds? Could be she's-

He stops himself there. Second-guessing them. He doesn't know _what_ an Eternal is, what one can do - only that he has two self-professed Eternals in his kitchen, one of who's just stormed out on her partner, and the other-

The other in trouble.

"To be with you always".

Tarda catches him looking, gives him a small, shy smile.

What happens now? he asks himself. Do I throw her out, let her find a hotel? Or do I let her stay?

On the news-

And then he realises. News.

He's living in a news story. Human and otherworlder, living together chaotically ever after - at least, that's the way it's always seemed to go...

...no second-guessing.

Wonders... do I /want/ this on the news? Do I want people staring, seeing, demanding to know everything?

Cult of celebrity. And he's done nothing to make himself a celebrity - nothing, but have two Eternals in his kitchen. Fifteen minutes of fame...

"Think of me..."

Fifteen minutes, and it's all over. A minute in the spotlight...

...no. Why should he put this out in the open? Oh, it'd be newsworthy... but only because it's something different, something sensational, something new. No other reason.

Besides - and more important - they haven't said anything on the subject. In this situation, silence is /not/ always assent.

Benny sets down her coffee. 'Yeeuch... This gives *sludge* a bad name...'

'Sorry about that,' James says drily. 'If I'd known you were coming, I'd have whipped up some sludge just for you.'

Tarda chuckles. 'You can't complain, Benny, you were swilling it down by the bucketful. It has to be better than what you call coffee - I think it ate through the cup, one time...'

'Har har.' Benny says. '...So, um... how about we make our move?'

'That... might be a bit difficult at the moment.' James says carefully.

'Yeah? ...Oh cruk. This is another long-term assignment, isn't it? Don't tell me he's a waverer... Don't tell me you're a waverer.' she tells James.

'It's not that, Benny.' Tarda takes a deep breath. 'He's already made his wish.'

'Yeah?' Benny's eyes light up. 'What was it?'

'For whatever she most desired.'

'Say *what*?!'

'I wished that whatever Tarda most desired would be granted.'

'But- Hold it, we /can't/ grant wishes to ourselves!'

'That didn't matter.' Tarda's voice is quiet. 'It was what he most wanted - his deepest desire.'

'His deepest desire... was for whatever _you_ wanted?' Benny echoes. 'There's more to this guy than meets the eye...'

Personally, James has never thought so. Contradiction seems fairly futile at the moment, though.

'Okay... I wanna hear this one. What *was* it? Can't have been getting Jason and me to work things out.... I think I'd've noticed *that* one... Not giving Meli a sense of direction... wait, wait...'

James takes a deep breath. 'To be with me, always.'

Benny's hand grips the coffee mug so tightly, the handle nearly cuts into the skin. 'Tar...?'

Tarda nods. 'He's telling the truth. It's logged in the Matrix.'

'_Goddess!_' Benny breathes. 'Goddess, Tard, what in the Dark Matrix did you think you were *doing*? *You're* supposed to be the sensible one in this family!'

James desperately tries to quash any speculation as to what this means the rest of their family's like...

'It's not sensible?' Tarda's voice holds nothing more than the question.

'Well, *duh*!' Benny starts counting on her fingers... and frowns. 'For one, a wish like that is gonna make both of you /major/ trouble magnets - that must have /seriously/ warped the probability fluctuations around here, and for second...' She flounders. 'Tard... you barely know the guy! What in the Goddess's name possessed you?'

'Isn't that where any relationship starts?' Tarda says quietly. 'Neither one knowing about the other, not knowing what happens next, only knowing their first response... whatever that might be.'

'But *you*? The girl who has to beat all the boys off with a large stick?' Benny shakes her head. 'Gonna be a lot of broken hearts back home once this gets out.'

Tarda closes her eyes. 'I was the one who made the choice, Benny. I... I knew where I stood with them, knew what they wanted... but I said that I didn't want to get involved, they knew that... hoped otherwise, but they knew.'

'Yeah, but they didn't know this was coming.'

'Neither did I. No-one can anticipate everything.'

Neither did *I*, James thinks.

Eventually, Benny chuckles. 'Heh. 'Sides, those guys need reminding we still get surprised. Just because we're Eternal doesn't mean we've seen *everything*...' She leans forward. 'So, are you staying here?'


James blinks, surprised at the sound of his own voice, then forges on. 'Yes. If she wants. There's more than enough space for two people... and it's been some time since I've had anyone around.'

Benny whistles. 'Almost too good to be true, this guy. Barely breaks a step.'

'After the first Eternal, it gets a lot easier,' James deadpans. 'I never said I was Mr Perfect...'

Benny turns to Tarda. 'Good job you snagged him first. *I'd* try for him, if I weren't married... What the Tarkna, you can't have everything - and he's streets ahead of Jason.'

'But you fell in love with Jason,' Tarda notes.

'*Don't* remind me...' Benny grumbles. 'Great, now I've gotta find somewhere else to stay - unless...?' She leaves the question hanging hopefully.

'Three storeys. No problem... as long as you get things sorted out with Jason,' James adds as a warning note.

'No problem. Just as soon as the little git admits it's all his fault, I'm outta here.'

James groans. Oh yes. He's seen situations like this before - and this time, he's caught in the middle.

Hopefully, this "Jason's" not the jealous type.

And... if he's lucky... no-one saw him come back.

Because he's going to have to explain why he has two women in the house in the morning.

Benny pauses. 'Do you have a computer?'

'My laptop. Wh-'

But Benny's already out of there.


'Trust me, Tarda.' Benny says. 'Besides, after all the time I spend on my diary, I should be able to tell a good story.'

'That's where I get worried.'

'Won't be a problem. I whip up identities for both of us, upload it to the Matrix, and let it do all the hard work.' Benny taps her chin. 'Now... why would two strange women turn up at a guy's house?'

'We're Eternals,' Tarda points out, 'not women.'

'This is why I should tell the story. ...Doctor James Bowman, huh? Doctor of what?'


'Right, right... Okay. Here on sabbatical, only the person we'd planned it with fell ill, and suggested James as an alternative at the last minute... Should cover why they've never heard of us before.

'Okay...' Benny starts typing. 'Lemme see... You first. Hmm. Tarda... surname, damn thing'll want a surname...' She sucks on her tongue as she thinks. 'Gotcha. Fort. Tarda Fort. Hm... Gender: female, *that's* a given... Title: Ms... Status, single...

'Age...' She looks up at Tarda. 'Let's say... about 28. Jamie boy's mid-thirties, won't look that odd...'

Tarda blinks. 'Why would it look odd?'

'Sh, I'm creating. Date of birth... 23rd May, 1972 sounds right. Place of birth.' Benny muses. 'Hm. Let's make you Canadian. They'll accept anything if they think you're Canadian. Vancouver, maybe... Height... 5' 5", weight... eight stone sounds about right, don't want you looking anorexic, education level... let's go the whole hog, full doctorate.' She chuckles. 'Always wanted one of those.

'Right, now me... Hm. Bernice Fort... Kane, Jason's definitely a Kane. Bernice Fort Kane.' She checks down the bodice of her evening gown. 'Yep, boobs still there, still a girl. /Ms/ Fort-Kane, thanks so much, Status...'

Tarda watches her sister carefully.

'Separated.' Benny decides. 'Let him suck on that. 31 years old. 21st June 1969 - sheesh, I'm almost 32! Keep the place... height 5' 4", weight... seven and a half stone should do, education level... Ph.D. Doctorate in English Language - certainly bending the language enough on this.'

She clicks "send". 'There we go. Two carefully forged biographies, ready and prepared. And the Matrix sends us everything we need by Delivery Force. Easy as pi.'

'Benny...' Tarda says carefully. 'Why has a doctor of language decided to go on sabbatical with a medical doctor?'

Benny shrugs. 'What, I can't show a little sisterly support? 'Sides, I needed to get as far away from Jason as possible. Which's the absolute truth, by the way.'

'Mm-hmm.' Tarda says, non-committally.

'I /mean/ that.'


'Tarda, stop being aggressively non-committal, will you? It gets right on my tits!'




'Oh my God...' James sorts through the Delivery Force package on the kitchen table. 'Oh my God... These are... God...' He holds up a graduation photo.

Benny leans in for a closer look. 'Yeah, that is a good one of Tarda, isn't it? And there's me and Meli in the cheering section, look. And Tard blushing her socks off.'

'This is a *fake*!'

Benny shrugs. 'Who's gonna contradict us?'

'Someone with another graduation picture?'

'That's the beauty of it.' Benny says. 'When the Matrix says complete biography, it /means/ complete biography. There /is/ no contradicting evidence - well, physically, anyway. They won't remember us - the Matrix doesn't wanna mess up minds. But they'll convince themselves that we /were/ there.'

James stares at the photograph, then back at the two Eternals. 'My God. No wonder no-one knows about you.' He pauses. 'Wait a minute... if you run a /helpline/, there must be-'

Tarda nods. 'We've had a lot of clients.'

'So why-' James stops himself. 'Why does no-one ever mention you? *Someone* must have wished for something major somewhere along the line. *Something* that got on the news. I mean... They can't get through a single /day/ without mentioning a visiting alien, or another magical girl fight, or another sentai adventure, or another world-threatening conspiracy, so why not-?' He stops.

Tarda and Benny are boggling at him.

'You mean... that's *supposed* to be odd?' Benny finally says, in a very small voice.

'What do you mean "supposed"?'

'Oh Goddess...' Tarda whispers. 'Oh, good Goddess. We're going to have to update the files...'

James stares at them. 'Wait... wait, are you saying you thought all of that was *normal*?'

'Standard E-Space practice.' Benny says. 'It's in all the guides.'

'/Standard/?' James finally rediscovers his voice. 'Standard? When a magical girl goes flying overhead battling the monster of the week, or when the government's latest hardsuit goes on a rampage, or when the latest hyperpowered psychic turns up... all this is /standard/?!'

Tarda nods, still taken aback. 'Standard Terran practice at any point in human history... well, allowing for the technology, but...'

This sinks in.

'Any point in human history?' James repeats. 'It's /always/ been like this?'

Benny swallows. 'Well... it has been, and, um, it's going to be.'

'Well... for most of the projections for either temporal direction from a given point.' Tarda adds, 'but as it stands... um...'


James considers that at this point, his voice is a model of restraint.

Tarda and Benny would disagree.

'That's why we said it was standard.' Benny explains. 'It's always a part of the timeline - one of those things, like earth or water - well, more basic even than that. Sooner or later, you find ways to access the lines of... I think the word's usually "energy" or "prana"... maybe "ki"... in everything - the dragon lines. And since they're in everything...' Benny shrugs.

'We'll find them.' James finishes. 'We're like that. There's always /someone/ who wants to plug into the universe's power socket...' He pauses. 'From a given point - you're time travellers?'

Tarda shakes her head. 'Not in the sense you mean - we're outside time, time-permeable, so we can manifest at any point in the continua - but usually only in one time and place.'

James has to fight to bite down on his tongue. 'Which means... you change history just by being here?'

'Um... It's a bit more complex than that.' Tarda admits. 'Even we don't always know how it works - we're more like tourists here, not natives - but it usually behaves any which way it likes. Cause and effect is only one way of looking at things, as far as it's concerned. But to you - sometimes... your presence is always part of history, always predestined, and sometimes a choice you make here can change the whole timeline, the whole projection. It depends.'

'Somehow, that wasn't what I was expecting to hear.' James deadpans.

Benny shrugs again. 'Time usually knows what it's doing. Doesn't mean it has to let anyone else know.'

'Isn't that anthropomorphising it?'

Benny chuckles. 'Well, it is alive... not such a big step from that to personifying it, really.'

James moves his jaw up and down. 'Alive. Time... is alive.'

'Don't let on. It gets antsy if it thinks you've caught on.' Benny says in a conspiratorial whisper.

'Ah... no problem there, I think.' James finally says.

'Which is why we try to keep a low profile.' Tarda says. 'We /are/ tourists, of a sort, so we have to be careful where we step.'

James digests this.

'Oh boy.'


The silver cat watches them from outside the window, curled up on a wall.

Around it, the meta-probabilities shift. What was improbable - or simply impossible - before is steadily becoming probable - altered by the massive probabilistic shift of the wish.

Considering the existing probabilities before, this should have interesting effects.

Still within the universe's parameters.

The cat licks a paw.

The first faint ripples are beginning to show themselves, shifts in space, time and dimension.

Not the ripples of the wish. That is a localised affair.

Localised. Minor things awakening. Things getting... drawn in... from their original points in the continua.

The cat is... perhaps, not curious. Say, rather, _aware_.

The impossible moves a fraction closer to the realm of the possible.

The observer changes what is observed. The observed changes the observer.

The cat stretches itself.

It is... intrigued, perhaps. Certain things are happening, things that have drawn its attention - and the attention of other forces. Their shape as yet is unclear - perhaps an outline here, a feeling there.


The cat yawns, steps forward, and disappears.


Tarda shudders.

Were she human, she would describe it as "someone just walked over my grave".

As an Eternal, she has nothing to compare it with. Just a feeling... a feeling she is no longer being watched, a feeling of a space where something used to be.

She glances at the other two. Nothing.

A close thing, that one. She hopes she hasn't trespassed on someone else's responsibility.

James puts a birth certificate back in the package. 'All in order.'

Benny raises a "well, *duh*" eyebrow.

James rubs at his eyes, looks at his watch. 'Six am... funny, I thought it was later.'

'Right. Night-night, then?'

James just looks at Benny. 'Unfortunately, I need to be at work in a couple of hours... A quick nap and a shower should do the trick for now. So...' He stretches, yawning. 'Make yourselves at home.'

'Thank you.'

With that, he heads upstairs.

'We didn't break him, did we?' Benny says as soon as he's left. 'He looked a bit... zoned out.'

Tarda shakes her head 'no'. She would know - know, beyond all shadow of a doubt - if James ever came close to breaking - to *being* broken.

She hopes she never knows.

'That's a relief... ' Benny murmurs.

James sticks his head back in. 'Oh... Sorry, I just forgot. Must be more tired than I'd thought... Um... Clothes.'

'Yeeessss...?' Benny says sweetly.

'Um... people - humans - tend to stare at people who wear formal evening dress around the house early in the morning...'

Tarda blinks. 'What we're wearing... is formal evening dress?'

James nods.

'Huh.' Benny remarks. 'And here I thought it was just a nice frock.'

'Oh dear.' Tarda frowns. 'Um...'

The blue ballgown she wears shifts and reshapes around her, responding to her mental instruction. Something suitable...

Benny harrumphs. 'Huh. How about this?'

Tarda opens her eyes again. Deep blue skirt, the colour of the starlit sky, white shirt underneath a black sweater. 'Would this do?'

Once Benny's transformation settles, she checks herself over, obviously approving - canvas jacket and trousers, with enough pockets to outfit a small army between them, with a white blouse tucked underneath.

James, still boggling slightly, grins, and gives Tarda a thumbsup, before he turns and gives Benny the patented "Oy..." look. 'Maybe a bit eccentric, but it should work.'

'Great.' She claps her hands together.

'Now...' James rubs his eyes again. 'I /still/ need that nap. Wake me - no, on reflection, *don't*, no matter what.' Suiting action to word, he sets off upstairs.

'Hmm...' Benny murmurs.

Tarda recognises that look on Benny's face. The last time she saw it, they ended up being hounded by a understandably aggrieved godling - complete with celestial army. 'Benny, he needs to rest.'

'Come on, Tard. It's the least we can do for the guy.'

'Can. Not need.' Tarda observes.

'Sheesh. You worry too much, Tard. Nothing's gonna go wrong.'

'That's what you said last time...'

'Well, it /was/ only one godling...'






Disclaimer: 'Doctor Who' is copyright the BBC's.

(an Oh My Goddess!/Doctor Who fusion - at least in the basic premise...)

Who corresponds to who?

Doctor James Bowman - the Eighth Doctor (he uses the name in 'Vampire Science' and 'Seeing I'.) Tarda - the Type Forty TARDIS (Forty TARDIS - Forty Tarda - Tarda Fort. Tarda's appearance is based on her manifestation in the Doctor's dream in 'Frontier Worlds' - white hair, sparkling eyes, deep blue ballgown.) Benny - the one and only Bernice Summerfield.


Copyright 2002 Imran Inayat.