By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted January 2000
Summary: Lois and Clark find themselves in Albert Square and meet the characters from the British soap opera "EastEnders," courtesy of a mysterious "Doctor" and his amazing (and temperamental) machine called a TARDIS…
Note for non-UK readers: this story is a crossover between "Lois and Clark" and two British TV programmes: "Doctor Who" (a science- fiction series) and "EastEnders" (a soap opera about ordinary life in a suburb of London). Anyone not familiar with these programmes and their characters can find more information by following links on the BBC's home page (http://www.bbc.co.uk). All recognisable characters in this story — okay, this farce <g> — are copyright the respective TV production companies.
I should confess that one character in this story is loosely based on a well-known fanfic writer (no, not me! <g>), and I'm still waiting for his revenge for this cameo.
Feedback, if you must(!), to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Lois, I still think we should—"
"Oh, Clark, stop fussing!" his wife ordered, throwing Clark Kent a mock-impatient glance. "After all, it's not as if we're not going to be *safe* around here — I mean, at the first sign of any danger, all you have to do is use a bit of your buzz-buzz…"
"Lo-is!" Clark muttered in protest. "I really wish you wouldn't call it my 'buzz-buzz' — and anyway, you know I can't always do things in public." He sighed, then added, "Please remind me what we're doing here." He gestured with his arm, indicating the dilapidated buildings, the rotting refuse, the broken alcohol bottles and shadows in every corner of the back alley in Suicide Slum where Lois had insisted they start their search. He wrinkled his nose. The stench was appalling; even Lois, who wasn't in possession of a super-powered nose, had to be able to smell it.
She didn't appear to be that bothered, if she did. "Clark, you heard the reports just like I did. There've been some weird sightings here—"
"Oh yeah," her husband drawled. "A strange blue structure — like some sort of shed — which appears and disappears. And you believe that, even when all the witnesses are either winos or junkies?"
"Come on, Clark, it doesn't hurt to check it out," Lois encouraged him. "And you're a fine one to talk about unexplained occurrences — what if I'd said that about a man who could fly?"
He grinned at her. "Well, you did have a first-hand demonstration… What the heck's that?"
A blue structure, somewhat resembling a shed, had suddenly materialised in front of them.
"See?" Lois gesticulated at it, simultaneously turning to glare at Clark. "See? I was right!"
Clark rolled his eyes. "Yes, you were, honey. Now will you please stay back while I take a look?" he requested, but without much hope that she would accede.
He walked cautiously up to the structure, discreetly lowering his glasses so that he could take a look inside. No success; it seemed to be lined with *something* preventing his vision from penetrating it, though strangely enough Clark didn't think it was lead. The structure had windows on the front, but they were opaque, although a strange glow seemed to come from within. On the front, a small sign read "Police Box."
Police? No police precinct that Clark knew of had ever used a structure like this.
The door was slightly ajar. He hesitated, wondering whether it was safe to enter given the inexplicable way in which the structure had simply appeared in front of them. But a small hand pushed its way past him, thrusting the door further open.
"Come on, Clark!" Lois urged, "Don't you want to get the story here?"
"Lois!" Clark protested. "We don't know what's in there — I can't…" He lowered his voice noticeably. "…x-ray it."
"Oh, we'll be fine," she dismissed his concern. "You're more than capable of getting us out safely." She darted past him and inside the structure. With a wry, helpless grimace, he followed her.
Once inside, Clark couldn't believe what he was seeing. The structure— police box— *whatever* it was, had appeared from the outside to be large enough to house one, perhaps two people. Inside, it was cavernous; they stood inside one large room and it seemed that there were others off it.
"Clark… what the heck is this?" Lois demanded, coming to stand next to him.
"I have absolutely no idea," he told her, staring around him in bafflement.
"It's a TARDIS, of course," a booming, English-accented voice sounded from behind them. They swung around, to be confronted by a tall man with twinkling eyes and unruly curly hair. He wore a long woollen coat and a multi-coloured scarf which reached almost to his ankles.
"A tardis?" Clark asked blankly.
"And who are you?" Lois demanded.
The man strolled over to them. "TARDIS — Time and Relative Dimensions in Space," he told them, as if that explained everything; the duo continued to stare at him in confusion. "And I'm the Doctor."
"Doctor? A medical doctor?" Clark enquired, thinking that this was something he could understand.
"Time and relative dimensions… are you a time-traveller?" Lois demanded, before the Doctor could reply.
"Quite right, young woman!" the man replied, beaming at her. "But I wonder if you could help me — I think I took a wrong turning somewhere just left of Alderaan and I must have drifted off course. Could you tell me where and when I am?"
"Alderaan?" Clark queried.
"Yes, the planet, of course." the Doctor responded impatiently. "But it's destroyed now, so you may not have heard of it."
"You can travel to different planets?" Clark asked hoarsely, torn between believing what this mysterious stranger was saying to him and wondering… hoping… dreading… Just why was this man here?
Lois's gaze flew to his. "Krypton?" she whispered, knowing he could hear her. He nodded imperceptibly. He couldn't possibly say anything to this stranger — this possible crackpot — about that, though.
Lois rescued him. "Mr… Doctor, whoever you are, you're on Earth — in Metropolis, to be precise, and the year is 1999."
"Doctor Who, that's correct," he replied mystifyingly. "Earth — I hadn't intended to go anywhere near Earth. And 1999… ah well, it could be worse. Now if I could just work out what's stopping the TARDIS from dematerialising again… every time I try, it simply returns to the same co-ordinates, no matter what I try to set the co-ordinates to…"
The Doctor continued to mutter anxiously to himself as he bent over his control panel; Lois and Clark exchanged glances. "Crackpot?" Lois muttered softly.
"Maybe. I don't know," Clark replied equally quietly. "If he is, it doesn't explain this thing — how it's appearing and disappearing — and why it's so huge inside."
"No, it doesn't," Lois agreed. She glanced over at the Doctor: he seemed to be engrossed in his task. Before Clark could guess at her intentions, she sneaked over to stand at the other side of the console and began to examine the various dials, levels and displays.
"Lois!" Clark hissed. "What are you doing…?"
The Doctor looked up. "Young woman, what do you think you're doing? Don't touch that… No! Aaahhhh — Now look what you've done!"
Lois grabbed onto the edge of the console as the TARDIS began to lurch alarmingly, loud noises emitting from it at the same time. Clark rushed to her side, holding her protectively against his larger body as he stared at the Doctor. "What's happening?" he demanded abruptly.
The Doctor had hurried to Lois's side of the console and was frantically trying to do something with some of the controls. "Your companion managed to start up the TARDIS. But unfortunately, since I hadn't finished setting the co-ordinates and checking all the other controls, I have absolutely no idea where — let alone when — it's taking us." He raised his head and glared at them suddenly. "And, by the way, I don't believe you ever told me just what you are doing in my TARDIS."
"You mean this is really a time-travel device?" Lois demanded, ignoring the Doctor's implied question.
"Yes. It can travel through time, space and dimensions," the Doctor explained a little impatiently. "I am a Time Lord."
"Time Lord?" Clark repeated incredulously.
"Yes. Like all the Time Lords, I am from Gallifrey — that's a planet, of course! Do try to keep up!" Whoever this man was, Clark considered, he wasn't exactly patient.
"And this… time machine… is now taking us somewhere, only you don't know where?" Clark demanded.
"Precisely!" The Doctor turned away, again busying himself with the controls. Clark studied the console for a few moments, but gave up as he realised that none of them made any sense to him.
But a few moments later, the rocking and the noise ceased. The Doctor raised his head, a broad grin on his face. "We've arrived!"
"But where?" Clark demanded.
"Not to say when," Lois muttered.
"Well, come on!" the Doctor exclaimed, already half-way to the door. He threw it open to reveal an open, green space. Exchanging glances, Lois and Clark followed cautiously.
They were in a grassy square, surrounded by shrubs and trees. Clark took a quick look around, pulling his glasses discreetly down in order to do so, and was somewhat reassured. Bending his head to murmur in Lois's ear, he said, "As far as I can tell, we're somewhere on Earth. I'm not sure it's America, though."
"Yes, but *which* Earth?" Lois demanded. "You heard him — he said he travels through dimensions too."
The Doctor swung around to face them. "Well, I say — it looks as if we've been fortunate. We're still on your planet, though I need to find out exactly where and when." He paused for a moment, clearly deep in thought. "Look," he added, "I think we should split up while I see if I can find what I need to repair the calibration mechanism. We can meet back here after dark, all right?"
Clark was none too sure that this was a sensible suggestion, but Lois nudged him. "That might be good, Clark! That way we can work on our own… and you can use you-know-what!"
"But what if we can't find him, or that… *thing* again? We need them to get back to our own world!"
"We could still be in our world," Lois argued. "Then all you'd need to do is…" She motioned with the flat of her hand, a sweeping upward gesture.
Clark grimaced, prepared to argue the point; but the Doctor had already disappeared. "Great. Now what do we do?" he muttered, disgruntled.
Lois shrugged, then pointed towards a gate. "That way?" she suggested.
"Might as well," Clark agreed, walking with her. The gate led onto a road the other side of which was bordered by a row of tall brownstones, most looking somewhat run-down. Their appearance, and that of the square, did not suggest their location was anywhere in America. Clark muttered something suddenly and darted to the side. "See this?" he asked Lois, indicating a street-sign. "My guess is we're in London."
"London?" Lois queried. "How do you figure that out?"
"See there?" He gestured. "All London street-signs have the area of London marked on them. Here, it says E20 — that's East 20, the district — and Borough of Walford. The borough is the local administrative district," he explained. "There'll be a local council for the area."
"And Albert Square," Lois read. "So we're somewhere called Albert Square in the east end of London?" She turned to him and grinned. "Well, you did promise to take me to London some time, though I never thought it would be like this!"
"What is it now, Tiff?" a bored voice demanded. The speaker was a tall, muscular man in his early thirties, with little hair to speak of, wearing a sleeveless T-shirt. He emerged from the kitchen to glare at his much younger wife.
"Oh, do stop moaning, Grant!" Tiffany Mitchell replied. "You promised you'd look after Courtney today so I could go up West. I want to go now!"
"You're always goin' up West," her husband muttered. "And why do I have to look after Courtney anyway?"
"You're her father!" Tiffany shouted back at him as she grabbed her coat and shoulder-bag. "I've fed her and changed her, but she needs some fresh air. It's not fair, keepin' her cooped up in the pub all day long."
She began to descend the stairs, then glanced back at her husband. "And don't you go pestering Bee to look after her. She's got enough to cope with, what wiv the stall and being pregnant again."
"As if I'd go near that crazy friend of yours," Grant muttered. "She's a bloody harridan, that Bianca Butcher. The things she's accused me of…"
"Well, she's probably right about at least some of them," Tiffany flung back at him, then left by the pub's side door, slamming it behind her.
Still muttering about women's many failings and unreasonable expectations, Grant Mitchell swaggered into his daughter's bedroom.
"So what do we need to find out?" Lois asked as she glanced around her curiously. "We know we're in London, but…"
"But we don't know *which* London, or what year, or anything."
"Okay," Lois suggested. "How about we have a look in that store over there — they sell newspapers."
"Good idea." Clark led the way across the road and a moment later they entered the newsagent's shop. A scruffy-looking man of approaching fifty grunted at them as they walked in; Lois ignored him, though Clark bid the man a polite 'good afternoon'. Lois pounced on a copy of the London Times — just "The Times", she noticed with interest — and saw that the date was recorded as Monday, October 5, 1998.
"Nearly a year ago," she murmured to Clark. He had picked up another newspaper — "The Guardian", she noticed — and was flicking through it.
"Still no clue as to which universe we're in," he murmured in response. "From what I can see here, Tony Blair is the British Prime Minister, Gerhard Schroeder is the German Chancellor… and, yep, Clinton's still US President." He continued scanning the paper, but suddenly realising that the shopkeeper was giving them some hard stares, he placed the newspaper back on the shelf. "Come on, Lois — let's get out of here."
Lois put her copy of the Times back reluctantly; she would have quite liked to take a copy of that world-famous paper home with her as a souvenir, but she was aware that the only cash they had with them was US currency.
Outside, Clark turned to face Lois. "Okay, I don't think we're in our world."
"That paper I was looking at — it had a media supplement, and there was a feature article on someone called Rupert Murdoch. Seems he owns nearly half the world's media, between newspapers, satellite TV and internet communications. I think we'd have heard of him, Lois, don't you? Especially as his company is based in the States."
"Oh, great," Lois groaned. "We're stuck in a different universe, thousands of miles from home, with only the clothes we stand up in and a few dollars in our pockets. God only knows if our credit cards will work here either."
"Well, we're going to meet up with the Doctor again later — with any luck, he'll have figured out how to get us back by then."
"Oh, yeah — that's always assuming he decides to take us!" Lois grunted. "From what I've seen of him so far, I wouldn't exactly trust him."
"Don't worry, I'll be able to find him," Clark soothed. "And I'm keeping an eye on that TARDIS thing — it's still there. Or… it was…" he muttered as he tried to spot it again with his super- vision. There was nothing there any more.
Just then a small child, probably aged about two, came toddling down the street towards them, apparently alone and distressed. Clark crouched and steadied her, holding her still so that she couldn't get away. "Hey there, little one, where are your mom and dad?" he asked softly.
"I don't see anyone," Lois murmured, concerned, scanning the street. It wasn't particularly busy, although there was a market on the far side of the road; the traders appeared to be busy with their own affairs and none of them seemed to have noticed the child.
Clark hoisted the little girl up onto his hip. "I guess we'd better ask around, see if anyone knows her. Maybe the shopkeeper…?"
But before he could go any further, an aggressive voice shouted from several feet away. "Oi! You — you leave my kid alone!"
Clark stared in the direction of the voice and saw a bulky, muscular male striding angrily towards him. "Are you this little girl's father?" he enquired calmly. "My wife and I found her wandering on her own—"
"Yeah, that's my kid, and you better hand her over!" the man insisted.
"How do we know you're her father?" Lois objected.
For a moment it looked as if the man might strike out at her; Lois saw Clark tense, preparing to defend her if necessary. Then the stranger appeared to relax a little, calling to a passer-by. "Hey, Pat! Come here a minute, will you?"
A large, blonde woman in her fifties changed direction and joined the little group. She seemed surprised at first, as if wondering what the man wanted with her, but then her expression changed and she smiled fondly at the little girl in Clark's arms. "Hello, Courtney love."
"Pat, tell these busybodies I'm Courtney's dad, okay?" the man demanded.
The woman looked taken aback, but confirmed the information readily enough. "Course he is — anyone round here will tell you that. 'E's Grant Mitchell — that's Courtney, his little girl. They live at the pub — the Queen Vic, on the corner of the Square."
Grant Mitchell nodded, then explained, "I took 'er out for a walk, but when I stopped for a minute to talk to Phil, she just wandered off. I've been searching for her for the last couple of minutes."
Clark handed the little girl over to her father. "We just saw her walking towards us — she seemed a bit upset." As Grant took the child, she snuggled up to him, clearly pleased to be with him.
Lois was taken aback at this sight: the man looked like a complete thug, yet he clearly loved his daughter, and she loved him.
The man turned his attention to Clark. "Thanks for looking after her, mate." As the older woman walked off, Grant continued, "You're not from around here — Americans, are you?"
"Yeah — just over here on a brief vacation," Clark fudged. "Look — have you seen a tall man, dark-haired, wearing a long scarf? He was in the square over there not long ago."
Grant glanced around, then turned back. "Nah, I ain't seen anyone who looks like that. But you could ask at the pub or the caff — someone there might've seen 'im."
As Grant departed, Lois looked at Clark, puzzled. "The caff?"
"Cafe — it's like the British equivalent of a diner," he explained, scanning the street ahead of them. "I guess that must be it," he added, indicating a building with a neon sign saying 'Kathy's' displayed in the window.
"Do we really want to go in there?" Lois objected. "We don't have any British money."
Clark paused and checked his wallet. "I've got fifty bucks — if we could find a bank, that'd get us… oh, about thirty, thirty- five pounds."
"I haven't seen any banks so far," Lois pointed out.
"Okay, let's go back the other way," Clark suggested. "There's nothing else we can do right now — my guess is the Doctor's our only way of getting back home, and he's disappeared off in search of something. And, by the way, the TARDIS seems to have gone as well."
"It has?" Lois was shocked, clutching at his arm in panic.
"Look, don't get too worried yet. He did say he'd meet us, and I believe him. We might as well have a look around for now — if we find him, and we're still convinced he's going to meet us later, I can take us into the centre of London and show you the sights."
Clark would have begun walking but Lois caught his arm, tugging him back to her. He regarded her quizzically, and she pulled his head down to hers, capturing his mouth. They shared a passionate kiss, only releasing each other when Lois discovered a need to breathe.
"What was that for?" Clark enquired, amused.
"Oh, nothing," Lois replied airily. "I just decided that if I'm going to be stuck in a different country in another universe, I'd rather it was with you and no-one else."
As they turned to resume their journey along the street, they noticed a thin woman of about sixty staring disapprovingly at them, lips pursed. "Young people these days — they got no sense of decency at all. Behaving like that in a public place…" She took a long drag of her cigarette, allowing the ash to fall on the ground as she tutted again. Clark turned his head towards her and blew discreetly. Her cigarette extinguished itself, to her disgust; she tottered off in the direction of the launderette, lighting another as she went.
Rounding the corner, Clark spotted a public house opposite them. "That's the pub that woman mentioned — the Queen Victoria," he pointed out to Lois. "Maybe we should check there for the Doctor."
"Sure — and we could ask about a bank at the same time," Lois agreed.
Lois looked about her with interest as they entered the pub, but was disappointed to find that it in no way resembled the traditional English pub of her imaginations. The interior was dark and dingy, the seats were covered in a dark red velour fabric, and the place smelt of stale beer and cigarette smoke. A rather grotesque-looking bust of what she imagined must be Queen Victoria stood on a shelf behind the bar.
The pub was relatively empty; it seemed it was not long after opening time. As they walked to the bar, a middle-aged woman with a bubbly blonde perm greeted them with a cheerful smile. "Hello, luv — what can I get you?"
"Sorry, we're not here to buy a drink." Clark said apologetically. "We need to find a bank — um, we've run out of British currency, and we need to exchange some dollars."
"Oh well, I'm afraid you're out of luck in that case — there isn't a bank in Walford. You'll have to go on to the next town." She hesitated for a moment, then added, "How much d'you need, anyway?"
"Oh, we just wanted to change fifty dollars for now," Clark replied hopefully, giving the landlady one of his charming smiles. She smiled back, clearly appreciating it.
"Oi, Grant!" she called, turning away from the bar. "Any idea 'ow much fifty dollars is worth?"
The man Lois and Clark had met earlier appeared in the doorway. "Dunno — thirty-something quid, I think." He noticed the couple in front of the bar, and did a double-take. "Oh, it's you two." Seeing the older woman's puzzled expression, Grant added, "They're the Americans who found Courtney earlier."
"Oh well, in that case you can have a drink on the 'ouse!" the landlady exclaimed. "Look, I can change your money for you — Grant'll work out how much it's worth, an' in the meantime you sit yourselves down. What'll it be?"
"Oh — that's very kind of you," Lois accepted before Clark could demur. She had decided that, while she might not particularly like the pub's interior, the woman's friendliness might give them an opportunity to ask questions. "I'll have a diet soda." Seeing the woman's puzzled expression, she nudged Clark. "Help me out here!"
Clark grinned, then turned back to the landlady. "My wife will have a diet, ummm…" he paused as he scanned the contents of the cabinets behind the bar, "Lemonade," he concluded. "And I'll try a pint of bitter."
"I'll bring them over to you with your cash," the woman offered, indicating the seats grouped around the interior of the building.
As the couple sat, Lois leaned towards Clark, a puzzled frown on her face. "Why does that woman look so familiar?"
Clark frowned. "I was thinking that too while we were talking to her. But… hang on!" he added suddenly. "I know exactly who she reminds me of — that British actress who was in all those Carry On movies. The woman with the big… ummm…" He trailed off, noticing Lois's raised eyebrows, which informed him that she knew what he'd been thinking.
"I know who you mean, Clark," she hissed. "Barbara Windsor."
"That's who she looks like — only older," Clark agreed. "Weird."
"Here you go, love." The throaty female voice close to his left ear came as a shock to Clark, and he attempted to drag himself back from his day-dream about one of the many Carry On scenes in which Sid James pursued a half-naked Barbara Windsor. Smiling politely at the landlady, he thanked her again as she handed him the British money in exchange for his dollars.
She paused by their table briefly and introduced herself. "I'm Peggy Mitchell, the landlady, and I'm also Courtney's grandmother, so I'm very grateful to you for looking after her earlier."
Lois returned the landlady's smile. "It was our pleasure, Mrs Mitchell. She's a beautiful little girl."
Peggy beamed. "She certainly is. Don't take after her dad, that's for sure. Do you have kids?"
Lois's gaze flicked briefly to Clark before she replied. "Not yet, but we'd like to."
Peggy smiled again. "Well, I hope you do. You have a good time now."
She returned to the bar, and Lois turned her attention back to Clark. He had just leaned over and snaffled a newspaper which lay on one of the nearby tables. Lois raised an eyebrow in amusement: so this was the British tabloid press. Well, it didn't look anything like as bad as the Whisper, but on the other hand it certainly didn't look like a *news* paper.
He raised his head, sensing her gaze on him, and murmured softly, "Well, this answers one question."
"Whether Superman exists in this universe." He gestured at the open page; Lois's gaze followed the direction he was indicating, and her jaw dropped.
"Superman is a *fictional* character?"
"Looks that way," Clark agreed. "See here — there are apparently comic books, animated TV series, and four movies already. Seems there are plans for a new movie — look."
"With *Nicholas Cage*?" Lois ejaculated in appalled disgust. "How on earth could that… that weedy wimp play you? He doesn't even *look* like you."
"Lois, sweetheart, we wouldn't want him to look like me," Clark murmured.
"No, but… he doesn't look like he could bend a piece of paper with his bare hand, let alone steel — and he's not remotely good- looking. I could never figure out what Meg Ryan saw in him in 'City of Angels' — I'd have reported him to the police as a stalker."
Clark laughed softly. "Okay, okay, I take it you're not a member of his fan club. Anyway, since Clark Kent is apparently a famous fictional character in this universe, we'd better not let anyone find out my full name while we're here."
Lois grinned. "That's no problem. You can be Mr Lane."
"Clark Lane… sounds like an address," he grumbled.
"As long as I live there too, do you care?" she teased him, flicking his nose.
The pub was filling up; it was a little after noon, so this must be the lunchtime crowd, Lois surmised. Murmuring "back soon" to Clark, she got to her feet and walked slowly towards the bar, catching a number of admiring glances on her way. She deliberately slowed and met the gaze of one man who had called out a greeting to her.
"Hello yourself," she murmured, smiling at him.
"Oh, you're in with a chance there, Hugh," someone else called lasciviously.
The man called Hugh smiled back at her and replied, in an accent Lois didn't recognise, "You're American."
"Yes, that's right," Lois confirmed. "And you're not a Londoner, are you?"
Hugh's face creased into a dazed smile. "I'm Welsh."
"Can't you tell?" someone else yelled raucously.
"Oh, shut up, Barry!" Hugh retorted. "Err… can I buy you a drink, Miss…?"
"That's very kind of you, Hugh, but I'm with my husband…" Lois gestured towards Clark. "I was just wondering — Clark and I came here with a friend, but we got separated. Have any of you seen a tall man…" She described the Doctor, hoping that someone would have seen him. Okay, Clark had said that he could use his x-ray vision to search for the man, but Lois wasn't entirely convinced of that strategy. For one thing, Clark would need to be very careful about using any of his powers while they were here, and for another she didn't trust the Doctor not to try to elude them.
"I saw 'im," a young woman's voice came from nearby. Lois turned to see a woman of about her own height, about five months' pregnant, with a glorious mane of red hair, coming over. "I got a stall on the market, see, and he passed me about a half-hour ago. Tall bloke, you said? No fashion sense a' all?"
"Sounds about right," Lois murmured, liking this young woman. "But where did he go?"
"I didn't exactly see — maybe towards the Arches. You didn't see 'im, did ya, Ricky?" she asked, turning towards a young man who now came to stand by her side, placing his arm around her waist.
"Nah — but then, I was under a car most of the morning, Bee," Ricky replied. He nuzzled Bianca's ear with his mouth and she pulled away, shrieking in mock-outrage.
"Ricky Butcher — you'll make me spill my drink!"
"That's all right, Bee — I can always get you another one."
Lois interrupted this by-play before the young couple could get completely engrossed in each other. "What exactly is this Arches — - and where is it?"
Ricky returned his attention to her. "Oh, it's down by the old railway bridge — on Bridge Street. The Arches is Phil's workshop. We repair cars."
'Ah, that explains his oily overalls and dirty fingers,' Lois thought. "Thanks very much," she said aloud, and returned to Clark. "Take me out of here — I need some fresh air," she murmured.
"Yeah, getting a bit smoky, isn't it?" he agreed.
Back outside in the Square, Lois began to fill Clark in on what she'd discovered, but he touched his hand to his ear. "I heard."
"You were listening?"
"Sure I was listening. I heard some guy come on to my wife… of course I listened!" he informed her.
"They didn't mean any harm," Lois insisted.
"No, I know, but… anyway." He looped his arm about her shoulders and led her on. "Let's find these Arches."
"Aw, come on, Ma! I know you got more than that." The voice was aggressive, threatening.
Dot Cotton, well used to her son's behaviour, refused to flinch. "Nick, I told ya. That's all I 'ave. I ain't got no more."
"Twenty measly quid! What am I supposed to do with that? That won't get me a fix!"
"Nick, I thought you were off that horrible stuff," Dot protested. "Don't tell me you're back on it… No, please, you can't torture your poor mother like that."
"Oh, shut up, Ma!" the scruffy, belligerent man ordered, grabbing at his mother's arm. "You got to have more money somewhere — or something I can sell. Now come on!"
He began to hustle her out of the laundrette and onto the road.
"Clark? What is it?" Lois asked, concerned, recognising the expression on her husband's face.
He glanced at her. "Someone's being attacked, I think."
"You can't do anything!" she reminded him anxiously.
"Superman can't — but I can," he muttered swiftly, breaking into a run. As he rounded the corner, Lois close behind him, he saw a scrawny, dishevelled man of about forty hustling an older woman out of the laundrette. He recognised the woman as the one who had tutted at them earlier.
The man was holding the woman too roughly for Clark's liking, especially considering the exchange he had overheard with his super-hearing. He stepped in front of the couple. "Ma'am — is there a problem?"
The woman glanced at him; it was enough for Clark to see that she was frightened. But she refused to show it, instead replying in a falsely matter-of-fact voice, "No, no, there's no problem. Thank you for your concern, but you can go and get on with your own business now."
The man looked Clark up and down scornfully. "Yeah, get lost, mate. You're not wanted here."
Lois watched Clark anxiously, wondering whether he'd be able to do anything. Clearly the woman was frightened, but for some reason she was unwilling to admit it. As she stood watching, a hand lightly touched her arm. She glanced around, to see the woman called Pat standing next to her.
"Your 'usband better be careful," Pat murmured in a concerned voice. "That Nick Cotton's a bad lot. Dunno why Dot puts up with 'im, but you don't want your man gettin' hurt. Best tell him to leave it be."
But Lois could see that Clark was speaking to the woman called Dot again. "Ma'am, I apologise if it's none of my business, but it looks to me as if this man is hurting you."
"Come on, Ma!" Nick ordered, tugging Dot so roughly that she stumbled and fell. Clark caught her before she hit the ground and steadied her on her feet again, then placed himself between her and her son.
"Try that on me, my friend, and I can promise you that you won't find me as easy to push around," he told Nick softly.
"Get out of the way!" Nick spat, pushing at Clark. To his surprise, Clark didn't move.
"What's going on 'ere?" Grant Mitchell had been sent out for some milk by his mother, and was striding towards the mini-market when he saw a small crowd of people outside the laundrette.
"It's Nick bloody Cotton, that's what," Mark Fowler told him. "I'd no idea he was back, but seems he was bullying Dot again. Someone's taking him on, though — I don't recognise the bloke, but he don't look tough enough to beat Cotton."
Grant strained to see over the heads of the assembled crowd; he recognised the petite American brunette who he'd seen twice already, and groaned. "Don't tell me it's that Yank bloke — the one in the posh suit?"
"Yeah, that's him," Mark replied, surprised. "You know 'im?"
"Ran into him earlier," Grant muttered. "Oh, hell… I s'pose we'd better see he don't get himself killed."
He pushed through the crowd, with Mark behind him, and frowned in disbelief as he saw the American keeping his body firmly between Nick and Dot. The man was protecting Dot, but at risk to his own safety.
Suddenly he saw a flash of something in Nick's pocket. "Look out, mate, 'e's got a knife!" Grant yelled, lunging forward.
At the same moment, Nick grabbed the knife and jabbed the blade in Clark's direction.
As Grant and Mark ran behind Nick and tried to work out a way of grabbing him without getting anyone hurt, their jaws dropped as they saw the stranger calmly reach out and grasp the wrist in which Nick held the knife. He then squeezed; after a few seconds, the knife dropped harmlessly to the ground. Mark picked it up.
While Nick was still in shock, Grant lunged for him, grabbing him and pinning his arms to his sides.
"You all right, mate?" Mark demanded of the tall American.
The man blinked, then smiled. "I'm fine. Has someone called the police?"
"Oh, no police, please!" Dot Cotton pleaded. "They'll just lock my Nick up again…"
"Dot, you know that's the best place for 'im," Mark said sympathetically. "You can't go around wondering whether he's going to jump out at you from behind every corner."
"I'll deal wiv 'im," Grant muttered, dragging Nick away and around into an alley.
Clark was relieved that he had managed to disarm the man without either giving away any of his abilities or allowing anyone to get hurt. His gaze swiftly searched for Lois, finding her standing beside the woman called Pat. She threw him a reassuring smile.
He turned to look at Grant Mitchell. The landlady's son had a tight hold on Nick Cotton and was dragging him off. Clark didn't particularly like the expression on Mitchell's face, and he followed discreetly.
In the alley, he saw Mitchell throw Cotton to the ground and start to lay into him with his fists.
"Hey, surely that's not necessary!" Clark called out.
Grant half-turned. "Look, mate, I'm sure we appreciate what you did just now, but this is our business. We look after our own in the East End."
So butt out. Clark understood the message loud and clear. Just then, he noticed Nick Cotton kick out with one leg, trying to overbalance Grant. It took Clark a split second to decide; then with one blast of super-breath he made the stack of litter-bins against which Cotton was leaning collapse on top of him. They were empty, he reassured himself; the man wouldn't have suffered any serious injury.
He turned and walked away. As Grant had said, it was none of his business. He needed to get back to Lois, and find the Doctor.
"There's the Arches," Clark pointed out a few minutes later. He paused, fiddling with his glasses, then turned to grin at Lois. "He's in there!"
"Searching through what looks like a stack of spare parts. God knows what the owner thinks."
"Come on." Lois tugged at Clark's arm. They peered around the entrance into the dark and gloomy interior.
"Oh, it's you two," the Doctor exclaimed, spotting them. "I did wonder where you'd got to… but never mind. Perhaps you can help me. I need a…" His voice trailed off as he began to search through the assortment of parts and accessories again.
"Describe it to me," Clark offered. The Doctor complied; not being particularly mechanically-minded, the references didn't make much sense to Clark, but he tilted his glasses and searched nonetheless. Within a couple of minutes he was holding aloft a rusty, strangely-shaped object. "That what you wanted?"
"Excellent!" the Doctor exclaimed. "With any luck, I should be able to fix the mechanism now. I, ah, I take it you would like to be transported back to your own world?"
"Yes, please!" Lois stated firmly.
"Well, if you can go and amuse yourselves for a couple of hours, I'll be ready to go then. You'll find the TARDIS where we left it — it's cloaked at the moment, so you won't be able to see it. But when I'm ready to go, it will materialise for you."
Lois and Clark exchanged glances, then Clark turned back to the Doctor. "Okay, two hours."
"What can we do in two hours — with thirty-four pounds?" Lois asked as they exited the Arches.
"Well, how about I buy you lunch at the caff, and then we have a look around the market?" Clark suggested.
Lois pouted. "It's not exactly the Tower of London, honey."
"No, it isn't, but I promise you we'll come back and do London properly some other time. When we have as long as we want, and access to as much money as we need," Clark soothed.
"Okay — the caff it is," Lois agreed.
After lunch in the caff, Lois and Clark strolled around the street-market. Lois was intrigued by the stalls, which sold anything from fruit and vegetables to cheap clothes and CDs; she recognised the young flame-haired woman from the pub at one of the stalls. Bianca gave her a beaming smile as they passed, and Lois noticed her eye Clark up and down. Lois's feeling of possessive indignation dissipated after Bianca winked at her as if to say, 'Nice! Lucky you!'
Clark, completely oblivious as usual to the female attention he was attracting, was examining some souvenirs of London on a bric- a-brac stall; he seemed intrigued by a scale model of the Tower of London. He caught Lois's eye.
"You know, this is where they used to send traitors before they were executed? And not just traitors — two of Henry VIII's wives were sent there, and so was Sir Thomas More, the author of 'Utopia'," he observed quietly.
"Shame we can't send Tempus there," Lois retorted. "I'd be happy to yell, 'Off with his head!'"
Clark laughed, but, very quickly, his expression changed. Lois knew that look; he was listening to something with his super- hearing. A few moments later, there was a commotion at the far end of the market. As Lois watched, a tall, shaggy-haired, bearded man, dressed in New Age Traveller-like clothes, pushed his way through the crowd.
"Who's he?" she asked Clark _sotto voce_.
He shrugged. "No idea, though his accent's weird. It has intonations a little like Cockney, but…" He hesitated, concentrating. "That's it!" he muttered quickly. "Australian — though he's probably been away from Australia for a few years. The accent's kinda muted."
Suddenly, the people who had been standing around either chatting or working at the far end of the market began acting rather oddly. Some were running, others screaming and backing away from the strange-looking Australian.
"What's going on?" Lois asked.
"'E says he's got a bomb," Dot Cotton replied as she nervously backed away. "'E says he wants to blow up the 'ole Square!"
Clark touched Lois's arm. She glanced up at him, instantly understanding, then turned to Mrs Cotton. "I think someone should call the police."
"Oh, I fink Phil Mitchell's already doing that," Dot replied. "Leastways, 'e went back into the Arches."
"The guy's a lunatic!" Bianca exclaimed, coming to join the little group. "Has 'e really got a bomb? Where's 'e hiding it — under that manky old coat of 'is?"
Lois did her best to distract the inhabitants of the square by pretending to develop hysterics, but out of the corner of her eye she noticed Clark approaching the stranger. Clark spoke to him, but she couldn't hear what was said.
"What's this about a bomb?" Clark asked quietly.
The man glared at him from glassy, unfocused eyes. "I've got a bomb, and you're all going to die! I just can't stand any more of this torture!"
"Soap!" the man replied, incomprehensibly. Clark eyed him curiously; certainly, both the look and smell of the man did appear to suggest that he had an aversion to washing. Pretending to adjust his glasses, Clark x-rayed the man's clothing. There was nothing anywhere to indicate any sort of device.
Before he could breathe more easily, though, he had to eliminate the possibility that the Australian might have planted something in the Square. He fixed his companion with a hard stare. "Where is the bomb?"
"In my electron microscope, of course," he retorted.
'Yes, naturally…' Clark thought. Patiently, he enquired, "Where is your electron microscope?"
The man heaved a sigh, which stated beyond doubt that he thought he was dealing with an imbecile. 'He'd get on well with the Doctor,' Clark mused.
"In my secret laboratory, which is buried underneath the laundrette. And I'm not going to tell you how to get in there! You think I'd give away all my secrets? I'm an award-winning scientist, I'll have you know! I've even been a time-traveller in another existence!" The man's voice grew increasingly high-pitched as he finished his statement.
Clark cautiously glanced over towards the laundrette, though, by now, he was convinced that the guy was a complete nut. All he could see, with super-quick use of his x-ray vision, were foundations and an empty basement.
"If there is a bomb," he enquired patiently, "won't you get killed, too?"
The man shook his head, as if despairing of Clark's ability to understand even simple concepts. "Of course not! I told you, I'm a time traveller — I'll simply come back and rescue myself!"
Running footsteps alerted him to the imminent arrival of people who clearly weren't worried that the guy was about to blast them all to Kingdom Come. Taking hold of the Australian's arm, he turned to see a stocky, balding man who bore a striking resemblance to Grant Mitchell. With him were two police officers. Clark happily relinquished the Australian to their custody.
"Thanks, mate," one officer said. "We got a call this morning telling us this guy had broken out of the mental hospital. I'm sure the staff'll be happy to have him back."
"Oh, you know 'im?" the other Mitchell brother enquired.
"Oh, yeah," drawled the other officer. "Professor Atcliffe. He used to be a brilliant academic, won all sorts of prizes, was even considered for the Nobel Prize for Physics one year. But then he went mad — no-one really knows what caused it, but he did say something about too many neighbours and families and coronation streets and… oh, having brookside or something rammed down his throat. No-one could work out what he meant, of course. But he's been in that mental hospital for three years now. Doesn't look like he'll ever be cured."
"That's very sad," Lois said softly, coming up to join her husband.
"Yes, what a waste," Clark agreed. "It sounds like he was a great guy before this happened."
A car drew up then, and a man in nurse's uniform got out and came over to the little group. "There you are, Professor," he said soothingly. "Come on, let's get you back to the hospital. You prefer it there, don't you? It's much more comfortable. You can sit and watch television — and if we go now, you'll just be in time to see the afternoon repeat of Emmerdale."
The despairing expression in Atcliffe's eyes as he was led away haunted Clark for the rest of the afternoon.
Two hours later, Lois and Clark stood in the middle of the square. Lois was tapping her foot impatiently. "I knew we should have stayed with him. We shouldn't have trusted him…"
A blue object materialised in front of them. Clark glanced at Lois, but forbore to say anything, instead urging her forward.
The Doctor stood at the console as they entered. "Right — now where was it? 1999, you said?"
"Yes, Metropolis, New Troy. And it was 5 August," Lois specified. A thought struck her. "How will you know how to find the right dimension?"
The Doctor grinned broadly at her. "We'll just have to hope for the best."
Lois clutched at Clark's arm as the TARDIS began to lurch about alarmingly again.
Crossing the Square as he took his dog for their regular afternoon-closing walk, Grant paused, startled. What was that sound? The dog had heard it, too; the creature whined in fear.
There was a quick flash of blue — a shape something like the old red telephone boxes. Then it disappeared, and the noise with it.
Shaking his head, Grant urged the dog on.
"Well, if we're lucky, you should be safely home," the Doctor announced as the TARDIS fell silent.
"But what if we're not — what if it's the wrong…?"
But the Doctor wasn't listening. He was urging them towards the door, propelling them by the force of his own movements. Clark weighed up the options: he could seize the Doctor and drag him outside with them, and then if they were in the wrong place, the man would have no option but to take them back home.
But somehow, and he never knew how it had happened, he and Lois were standing in the back alley in Suicide Slum where they had started — or somewhere very like it. He shot a glance back at the TARDIS, but it was already starting to roar. As he watched, helpless, it disappeared.
"Where are we?" Lois demanded in a whisper.
"Metropolis, certainly," Clark replied.
"But *which* Metropolis?" Lois asked, clearly worried.
Clark grabbed her arm and hustled her into a doorway before glancing up and down the alley. No-one was around; he pulled open his shirt and, clasping Lois to his chest, he shot up into the air as Superman.
He flew around, getting his bearings, and after a circuit of the city, landed them in the back garden of 348 Hyperion Avenue. "We're home," he assured her. "Everything's identical — even that T-shirt of mine you managed to get chocolate on last night is still on the floor in the bedroom."
Lois sighed; the thought of what they would do had they been stranded in an alternate universe had been too much to contemplate on top of their experiences that day. "Thank heavens for that," she murmured.
"What about our story?" Clark enquired.
"What story?" she demanded.
"The weird object in Suicide Slum…?"
"You think we can write about that?" Lois demanded. "Who'd believe us? 'Aliens kidnapped me and took me to an alternate London' — they'd think we were crazy."
"Yeah," Clark agreed. "And anyway, we won't be seeing the Doctor again."
"Guess not," Lois agreed.
"Hi, Grant!" Tiffany called as she hurried up the stairs. "Is Courtney okay?"
Her husband emerged from the sitting room, the toddler in his arms. "She's fine. You have a good day?"
"Great, thanks," Tiffany grinned, taking her daughter from her husband and handing him her shopping bags in return. "Anything interesting happen around here today?"
For a moment Grant hesitated, thinking about the strange American who had been so much stronger and fearless than he looked, and about the strange noises in the Square. Then he dismissed his thoughts. "Nah. Same as usual."
Lois lay in one of her favourite places, her head resting on her husband's broad, naked chest. "So, Clark, just when *are* you going to take me to London?"
He grinned at her. "As soon as you earn us the price of the hotel accommodation," he teased. "It's only fair, after all, since I take care of the flights."
She flicked his nose. "Well, you'll just have to help me win another Kerth award. The prize money should cover it."
"Shame we can't write about that TARDIS, then — that'd be an award-winner, all right," Clark grinned.
"Yeah — Kookie of the Year!" Lois muttered in disgust. "But I warn you, I'm going to hold you to that London trip!"
"You do that, sweetheart," Clark suggested, before rolling over and distracting her completely.