He leaped onto the rigging, his green frock coat and long brown hair fluttering behind him, caught by the wind.
'Avast, me hearties!' he bellowed, raising his cutlass to the sky.
The sun glinted off his sword.
'A vast what?'
The little boy looked down from the rigging and scowled. Someone had (inexpertly) drawn a curly moustache, and a small pointed beard, on his face, in brown crayon, apparently under the impression that this would make him look old enough to look like a romantic swashbuckler.
The little girl looked back at him innocently.
Her long red hair was pulled back in a ponytail, emphasising her chubby cheeks, and she was wearing a thick seaman's jumper, apparently choosing to favour practicality over romance.
The little boy jumped down off the rigging, rested the plastic cutlass against the mast, and glared at her. 'Avast, me hearties. It's what pirates are supposed to say.'
The girl considered this. 'Yes... but a vast /what/?'
'/Avast/, Cammy. It means 'Hey there!', or 'Attention'... which I find it hard to believe you /don't/ know, somewhere in your database.' The boy's eyes narrowed. 'You're /enjoying/ this, aren't you?'
Cammy contrived to look even more innocent. 'No, I just wanted some clarification on which of two homonymic words you were using...'
'I'm enjoying this.' said another little girl, who was pointing what looked uncannily like a Fisher Price My First Video Camera at the bickering duo. Her long aqua-coloured hair trailed down her back, over the pink dungarees she wore. 'Gonna be great for the programme.'
The little boy put his hand over his eyes. 'Good /grief/...'
'What? /What?!/' the cameragirl demanded.
'Nothing, Ryoko...' the little boy said.
'Shame,' Cammy said.
A toddler with a black and yellow bandanna over his black hair, and two tiny fangs visible in his mouth, toddled into view. 'Um, Doc... Where's the potty?'
Ryoko lowered the camera. 'Ryouga!'
'What?' the Lost Baby asked. He looked around. 'Where am I?'
Doc - the little boy - facefaulted. 'Oh, /wonderful/... This just can't get any better, can it?'
'It's just about to...' Cammy said. 'INCOMING!'
The four toddlers dove for cover.
Then, slowly, Ryoko poked her head back up. 'Incoming /what/?'
'/That/.' Cammy said, over the wind.
A wheezing, groaning sound echoed through the air.
And a blue cardboard box with the words 'POLICE BOX - DON'T KEEP OUT' stencilled across it appeared in the centre of the deck.
A flap opened at the bottom of the box, and a heap of toddlers tumbled out.
'Slo-bo, that better not be your hand there...'
'It ain't me...'
'It isn't a hand...'
'Then I don't wanna know /what/ it is!'
'Will all of you get /offa/ me?!'
Doc sighed. 'Looks like we'd better help them...'
'Can't we just watch?' Cammy asked.
Together, Cammy, Doc, Ryoko and Ryouga managed to untangle the heap of toddlers.
Doc helped Adric up. 'Nyssa been giving you problems again?'
Adric winced. 'You /might/ say that...'
'Decided to get out of the playgroup for a bit?'
'Pretty much.' Adric said. 'Um, Doc, these are-'
'Hi there! I'm Doc - and before anyone asks, no, I'm /not/ the one with the hair, scarf and teeth, that's Fourth Doc. I'm Eighth Doc.'
The toddlers sat there and blinked.
'Long story.' Doc said. 'Anyway, I'm Doc, and these are my friends Adric, Cammy, Ryoko, Ryouga and Ukyou. And you must be the Justice Toddlers.'
Kon /blinked/. 'Well, yeah-'
'Cass, Ciss, Kon, Nita, Slo-bo, Snappy, and...' Doc frowned. 'Ah. Suzie, right?'
The Justice Toddlers nodded dumbly.
'Smile!' Ryoko said, pointing the camera at them. 'You're on PTTV!'
Ciss covered her face. 'OhnoOhnoOhno...'
Nita waved at the camera. 'Hi, Dad!'
'PTTV?' Snappy asked.
'Pirate Toddler TV.' Ryoko said. 'The omniverse's one and only pirate TV station run entirely by toddlers!'
'You're /kidding/...' Cass said.
She looked at them.
'You're not kidding.'
'Would we?' Cammy said, rhetorically.
'So where are we?' Snappy asked. 'And /when/?'
Doc grinned. 'I /thought/ you'd get it first, Snappy.'
Snappy shrugged. 'Long experience with Hourbaby. You can even get used to time travel.'
'I hope not,' Doc said.
Kon's face froze. '/Time travel?!/ We've travelled in time?'
'In a box,' Doc said, 'you can go anywhere. The only limitation is your imagination... and sometimes not even that.'
'We've travelled in /time/?' Ciss squeaked. 'Ma's gonna /kill/ me!'
'Strictly speaking, Hypertime.' Doc said.
'Don't worry, Ciss. We'll be back before she even knows we're gone.' Cass said. 'Um, we /will/, won't we?'
'Oh yeah, that's a /real/ confidence booster, Cass...' Ciss muttered.
'Of course,' Doc said. 'Anyway... you're on the ship "Ship"-'
'The ship /what?/'
'The ship "Ship".' Doc said patiently. 'It's a ship, so we call it "Ship". Saves a lot of problems.'
'Uh-huh...' Ciss said.
'Anyway, we've arrived in this timeline to film our hunt for buried treasure.'
Slo-bo's head snapped round. 'Treasure?'
'Of course,' Doc said. 'It couldn't be a pirate movie without buried treasure, could it?'
'Treasure?' the little Czarnian repeated.
Doc pulled a piece of paper out of his nappy. 'Yep. Here's the map.'
Nita snatched it out of Doc's hands before Slo-bo could grab it.
Then she looked at it.
Finally, she looked back up at Doc. 'It looks like someone doodled on a piece of paper, and then just scribbled in an X.'
Doc shrugged. 'Pretty much.'
'Okay. So long as that's clear.' Nita handed the map back to Doc.
'Pirate? Treasure?' Slo-bo said.
Nita facefaulted. 'Oh no...'
~Pirates?~ Suzie said. ~We get to play at being pirates?~
Slo-bo grinned. 'Who said anythin' 'bout /playing/?'
'Uh-oh...' Kon muttered.
Suzie frowned. ~Um, guys... are you supposed to be that colour?~
~That odd pale green colour.~ the mist girl said.
We draw a veil over the next few minutes (unless you really like graphic descriptions of toddlers barfing).
Some time later...(after the decks got cleared up)
'Not getting into it?' Ryoko asked.
Suzie shook her head. ~No. I... well, I don't like water.~
'I thought you wanted to play at being a pirate.'
'Ah.' Ryoko said. '/That/ explains it...'
She looked out over the sea.
As far as could be seen, the water stretched as far as the horizon in every direction.
'And you wanna stay with your friends, yeah.'
Suzie hesitated, then nodded.
'Hey, don't worry 'bout it.'
~That's the problem. I do.~
'Uh-uh. Not getting into this, all this deep emotional stuff...' Ryoko said firmly.
~It's not a deep thing... well, maybe it is.~ Suzie said finally. ~I... I just miss him. I wish he was here. But he's not. He didn't want to be... they didn't trust him, so he left...~
'But you did.' Ryoko said. 'Nothing you could've said would've stopped him toddling out, y'know.'
~But what if it could?~
'One thing I've learned,' Ryoko said. 'It's not good worrying about might have been. If you want it enough, go for it.'
~But I /can't/!~ Suzie wailed. ~He chose. He made his choice. And it wasn't me!~
Ryoko froze. 'He had another girl?'
Suzie nodded, tears trickling down her face.
~He said... he said, they were sorta friends... he moved out, moved back to her, to /her/ group. He promised he'd be there for me, always...~
Puffs of smoke rose from the deck as her tears fell. Neither Suzie or Ryoko noticed.
'Oh no...' Ryoko whispered. 'Oh no.'
~He made his choice. I can't change it, not without making him angry with me. He made the choice, and there's nothing I can do about it.
And I just want him /back/, so much... I want him back with us, I want things to be like they were...~
Suzie's gaze fell on the blue box. ~I could go-~
'/No/.' Ryoko said.
'No,' she repeated, in a calmer voice. 'No. Don't.'
~But I could-~ Suzie began.
~But Doc said-~
'I know. Anywhere you can imagine. But time gets messy when you try messing with it, even in Hypertime. Time wouldn't change. /This/ wouldn't change.
'And Doc would try to stop you. There could be an /infinity/ of things you could do... and he would still try.'
~But /why?/~ Suzie wailed.
'Well, for one thing, what would have happened if he hadn't left?'
~He would have stayed... ~ Suzie said slowly. ~He wouldn't have been happy. They didn't trust him... he wouldn't have been... I would be, but /he/ wouldn't... and we wouldn't have met Snappy.~
'Maybe this way, he'll get the chance to be happy-'
'Lemme finish.' Ryoko said. 'Maybe then he'll come back.' She shrugged. 'Maybe he won't. But he's got the chance to pull himself together, get a grounding.... get himself stable. His chance to be happy. But that's what matters, doesn't it? It matters he's happy... whether or not you were...'
Her voice trailed off.
Suzie nodded silently.
'Wow. Musta been one heck of a guy.'
~He was.~ Suzie said, looking out over the sea. ~He was.~
'Who was he?'
Suzie hesitated. ~Robin. He called himself Robin.~
'Robin.' Ryoko rolled the word over her tongue.
Suzie nodded. ~His eyes... they were really pretty, when he'd take the mask off. Deep blue...~ She trailed off.
~Can you see that too?~ Suzie pointed at the horizon.
Ryoko shaded her eyes, and followed the mist girl's finger. 'A ship. Make that /ships/. Following us. Could be accident, could be deliberate. But you don't get to be the Dread Pirate Ryoko without taking precautions...'
Suzie *blinked*. ~Dread Pirate?~
'Didn't I mention it? 'S my stage name. "Let's count down those hits with the Dread Pirate!".' Ryoko chuckled. 'Really fun, too... C'mon, let's get down there.'
With one last look behind her, Suzie followed Ryoko down to the deck.
'Hmm. Interesting.' Doc said.
'/Frag/ interestin'.' Slo-bo said. 'They're after us.'
'Us?' Ukyou eeped. 'Why?'
Slo-bo paused. ' 'Kay, they're after a ship full of pirate toddlers, broadcasting a pirate TV station. D'ya think they're our milk delivery?'
'It's not about the licence...' Doc said. 'TV hasn't been developed here yet - still got a few centuries to go on that front. Besides...' He passed the telescope to Slo-bo.
'Pretty much the same make as this thing.' Slo-bo said.
'Looks like they think we're a /real/ pirate ship.' Nita commented.
'Possibly.' Doc said. 'Or perhaps they're pirates.'
Slo-bo started smirking.
'You're sure this isn't accident?' Ryoko asked.
'Trust me, Spikey. Could'a veered away from us by now. They ain't. They're headed straight for us.'
'So...' Cass said. 'One way or another, they wanna catch us. Um... shouldn't we get outta here before they find who's really on board? For some reason, I'm guessing the Adults won't be too happy 'bout finding out /we/ were piloting the ship...'
'They'll wonder where we went...' Doc frowned. 'Ryoko?'
'Would you mind throwing a couple of lightning bolts down? Not on them, just enough to make them think. Don't let them see you.'
Ryoko grinned. 'On it.'
She disappeared with a 'fwip'.
'Lightning bolts?' Snappy said.
'Metahuman ability.' Doc observed. 'I might have asked Ryouga, but that might have blown /us/ up, too...'
'Ah.' Snappy said.
The sea churned under the bolts' impact.
Suzie turned away, the discomfort plain on her face.
'Now /that's/ style.' Slo-bo said.
'Right...' Doc said. 'Suzie, you're up next.'
Suzie double-took. ~Me?~
'They're gonna wonder 'bout the lightning. We want them to think this is /normal/.'
The mist girl nodded.
She let herself drift away from Ship.
And then, she let herself... spread out.
The smoke spread between Ship and their pursuers, forming a heavy fog bank.
Ryoko reappeared back on board. 'Got 'em good and scared.' She looked around. 'Where's Suzie?'
Cass jerked a thumb back at the fog bank. 'Guess.'
'/Oh./' Ryoko said.
Snappy grinned. 'Oh yeah, I can see the way this's going... Your turn, Kon.'
'I'm on it.' Kon said.
He rested his hands on Ship.
Slowly, Ship lifted out of the water.
By only a few centimetres... but it was enough.
Kon grimaced. And /pushed/.
Ship began to move through the air, picking up speed as it went.
'Woah.' Ciss said.
'Land ho!' Cammy yelled.
'Within 3 kilometres.'
Snappy frowned. 'Kon...'
'I'm /on/ it, Snappy.'
'/No/.' Snappy said. 'You /can't/ hold it that long.'
'Maybe not...' Kon said, through pursed lips. 'But... maybe... for... long enough...'
Suzie drifted back onto deck, recoalescing her form.
'How long have we got?' Doc asked Cammy.
'Kon, /stop/!' Cass yelled. 'They /can't/ catch up now!'
Kon's grimace grew deeper.
Slowly, Ship lowered back into the sea, water spraying as it landed.
Kon landed on his bottom, letting out the air. 'Whoof!'
'Good job, everyone.' Doc said.
'Yeah. They've lost track o' us... and even if they do find us, they ain't gonna catch up. I /like/ the way ya think...' Slo-bo said.
'Wonder why they were following us?' Ukyou said.
'We can rule out the treasure...' Nita said.
'Don't look at me,' Ryoko said.
The others looked at her.
'Hey, just 'cause I'm the Dread Pirate Ryoko, it doesn't follow that /I'm/ responsible for any acts of piracy.' Ryoko protested.
The others continued to look at her.
''Sides, I've never been in this timeline before.' she continued.
'Is it just me, or is it getting a bit hot around here?'
'Well, it doesn't matter /now/...' Cass said.
'I wonder...' Doc said.
'Um...' Ryoko said, looking around nervously. 'Where's the camera?'
'I gave it to Ryouga before I went to talk to Suzie.'
The others looked around.
Complete absense of any Ryouga. Or any camera.
Ukyou facefaulted. 'The baka's only got himself lost again...'
'On a /ship/?' Kon said.
'You don't know Ryouga. He could get lost on the way to the potty.'
Kon's eyebrows rose. 'Wow.'
'Leave it ta me. I can find /any/ bastich, no matter where they are.' Slo-bo cracked his knuckles. 'Ow.'
He wrinkled his nose. 'Okay. What the frag's up now?'
'Up with what?' Ukyou asked.
'He ain't here.'
'How'd he get off the ship?' Cass demanded.
'Hey, I'm only tellin' ya what I sense. An' what I sense is that he ain't here!' Slo-bo retorted.
'Great.' Ukyou said. 'Now we've gotta find the baka, /and/ the camera...'
'Any idea where he might have gone?' Snappy asked.
'How far can he have gone? He's only been gone a few minutes.' Kon said.
'But he managed to get off the ship...' Adric pointed out.
~Um, guys? I think there's something you really, really need to look at.~
'Didn't someone say something about us being only six minutes away from land?' Adric said.
'Actually,' Cammy said. 'it's about-'
Crawling down to the beach was remarkably easy, when it came down to it.
Although they did have to go back to fetch the potty.
'Well, we're here.' Doc said.
'Yeah. Wonderful.' Slo-bo said. 'What now?'
'Right.' Ryoko said. 'First, we've gotta find Ryouga and the camera. And /then/, find the treasure.' She paused. 'Actually, now I say it, it sounds really easy, doesn't it?'
'But we don't know whether he's...' Cass trailed off. 'I shouldn't have asked, should I? He's here.'
Slo-bo blinked. 'Yeah, he is.'
'Call it intooishon.' Cass said. '/Is/ that how you say it?'
'That's the baka,' Ukyou said. 'Always manages to get /nearly/ where he's headed for...'
'It may not be that easy.' Ciss said, looking out to sea.
'Why?' Ukyou asked.
''Member those ships that were following us? They're headed this way.'
'They're /what/?' Adric squawked.
'She's right.' Cammy said. 'Assuming no course corrections, they'll be here in about...' Her chubby features darkened.
'Cammy?' Doc asked.
'Bad Things.' Cammy said. 'Bad Things are coming.'
There was a muffled crump.
The toddlers ducked.
For a moment-
-the world went red and dark, the taste of hot iron burning the mouth-
-and then the cannonball impacted at the top of the beach.
~They're already here.~ Suzie said quietly.
To Be Continued...
Author notes: Thanks to Mags L Halliday (on alt.drwho.creative), and PallaPlease (on the YJFF mailing list) for inspiring parts of this fic. Heads-up to Damien Kellis's 'Ghost Ship' (on the SCML).
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat