Authors: Dale Smith
The Many Hands
Recent titles in the
THE PIRATE LOOP
MARTHA IN THE MIRROR
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Published in 2008 by BBC Books, an imprint of Ebury Publishing.
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© Dale Smith, 2008
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For the mother-in-law,
Katherine sat by the fire and sewed. The night was
cold, and there would certainly be snow before the
week was out. Her husband was out in the cold,
somewhere. He was an academic. Katherine's mother
had warned her about marrying a soldier, who would
always be away fighting some war or another, but
nothing had been said about academics. They, too,
were often away, chasing down some elusive new
truth, consulting with German colleagues about the
minutiae of anatomy.
She had not seen Alexander in two days. She was
She sat by the fire and sewed.
'Katherine?' she heard him call.
She did not rise, nor did she answer. They had
married eleven years earlier, four years after that they
had taken this house. The city bustled outside day and
night. A near never-ending stream of souls passing
over the new North Bridge, each one desperate to
make themselves heard over the trample of feet. They
needed to be here, to be close to the University, for
'Katherine?' he called again.
She did not rise, nor did she answer.
All the same, he found her. He appeared in the
doorway, his clothing in some disarray, favouring his
left leg as if his right was causing him pain. He looked
at her, his sad tired eyes reminding her of why she had
agreed to marry him, those eleven years ago. In his
arms, he held a baby, wrapped in a woollen blanket.
It didn't cry.
'Alexander!' she said, rising from her seat.
'I've been at the house,' he said, not moving from the
doorway. That year, he had bought himself some two
hundred acres in Craiglockhart, to indulge a passion
for gardens. 'The child was left there, abandoned. He
has no one to care for him, Katherine.'
Katherine was not one for simpering, but even
she let out a gasp. She stroked the poor child's face
with a finger: the flesh was ruddy and warm. Some
God-given instinct made it hold her eye, recognising
immediately the woman who was to be its mother, as
if they had already long been acquainted. She took it
from her husband and held it to her, and it did not
'We shall need a wet-nurse,' Katherine said.
Her husband smiled, kindly.
'We will call him Alexander,' he announced.
'After yourself?' Katherine asked, eyebrow arched.
'It's an old family name,' her husband corrected.
It was a gloomy day in Edinburgh, but then when
wasn't it? The city was almost constantly covered in
a grey smudge of low lying cloud, always threatening
to break rain. But the people of the city didn't let it
put them off their business: the square throbbed
with them, every inch of the Grassmarket filled with
people hawking their wares, or preachers saving
souls, or urchins picking the pockets of those foolish
enough to stop. It couldn't have been busier if there
was a hanging due.
In a moment, everything would change.
The screams washed down the crowd like a wave,
causing each they touched to turn and stare. So
packed was the square, it took a few moments before
anybody could see anything. Then the crowd parted
down the middle: men, women and children all
fought to be away from the cobbled road and tried to
climb the buildings that faced the square. Most didn't
manage it, and some were felled simply by the weight
of others trying to save themselves.
The air filled with a dreadful mix of clattering
wheels and screaming horses. A small boy who was
clinging to the wall of a public house rearranged his
grip and strained to see. At the bend of the road he
could see the stagecoach as it wove drunkenly towards
them. The horses spat froth as they galloped blindly
onwards, the driver clinging for his life to his perch
and at the same time trying to pull the horses to a stop
with the reins.
As the stagecoach raced by, the boy saw two men
standing on its roof.
The Doctor crouched low as he tried to surf the
stagecoach. The longer this went on, the more likely it
was that people would get hurt: the driver was doing
his best to steer the horses as they bolted, but it was
a losing battle. Plus he couldn't fight the natural urge
to look over his shoulder at his attacker; the pale man
was having as much trouble as the Doctor in keeping
his balance as the stagecoach rocked, but he was still
'Hey,' the Doctor called to the man.
The pale man didn't even turn, just kept shuffling
cautiously towards the driver. He was wearing the
muddy long-coat of a farmer, possibly a poacher,
but as yet he hadn't reached for the knife that was
tucked into his belt. Instead, his pale hands were
outstretched, as if the only blades he needed were his
own sharp fingernails. So far, the Doctor hadn't seen
the man's face, just the lank strands of his hair flailing
in the wind.
He tried a different tack.
'Entschuldigen?' he called.
The pale man turned, and the Doctor got a brief
flash of black marble eyes and a triumphant feeling.
Then he saw a piece of the stagecoach roof splinter,
and looked again: the pale man's shoulder now had
a dry red tear in it where something had struck him,
attracting his attention.
The Doctor risked a glance behind him, and saw
four red-jacketed soldiers firing from the steps down
from the Castle.
'They're shooting at us!' cried a voice from below.
The Doctor ducked low to avoid perforation, and
stuck his head out over the edge of the stagecoach.
There was a passenger sticking his head out of the
window and waving wildly.
'Don't worry,' the Doctor called as the coach veered
violently to the left. 'Just stay inside.'
The passenger gave him a strange look, and ducked
The Doctor risked another look behind him, and
saw the soldiers running after them whilst trying to
reload their muskets. He was safe from that for a few
moments, anyway. He pulled himself unsteadily to
his feet and turned back to face forwards.
The pale man seemed to have lost interest in the
driver, which was something. Instead, he was making
shuffling steps towards the Doctor, those sharp little
Hold on a moment.
'Aren't you—' the Doctor started to shout to the
The stagecoach hit a loose cobble, and bucked
into the air. The driver let out a cry and tried to keep
hold of the reins and the coach and his wits, all in
one messy manoeuvre. The coach tottered left, then
teetered right, before deciding that perhaps it would
remain on all four wheels for a few moments longer.
The Doctor, however, didn't have much time
for relief: the pale man lost his footing as the coach
kicked, and ended up diving for the Doctor, talons
outstretched. Instead, he allowed himself a moment
to wonder how Martha was doing.
Then the pale man knocked him on his back.
As she ran, she kept her mind busy by listing the
organisation of the human lung: the trachea, the
bronchi, the bronchioles and the terminal bronchioles,
the respiratory bronchioles, the alveolar ducts, and
the alveoli. She remembered reading in one textbook
that the alveoli had the same surface area as a tennis
court. She counted off the diseases that affected the
lungs, alphabetically. She kept getting stuck after
None of it would comfort her about the way her
Not five minutes ago, she had been standing on the
ramparts of Edinburgh Castle enjoying the view. The
Doctor had been talking, the way he did, about how
she was seeing something no one else would ever
see again. Clear countryside, all the way down to the
Firth of Forth: Edinburgh before they built the bits
of Edinburgh she remembered from that film. Then
he'd told her why they'd needed to expand, turning
to point down at the 80,000 people pushing their way
through a daily life on the streets of the Old Town.
'Well,' the Doctor had said. 'Just "the Town" at the
Now here she was, pushing through it herself.
'Three,' she panted. 'Four. Seven.'
A woman dressed as a novelty toilet-roll cover
stepped out of her house to Martha's right, and
nearly ended up flat on her bustle as Martha barged
past. Martha didn't even look behind her, but she
heard the decidedly ungentlemanly shouts coming
from the lady's companion. They weren't the first to
be annoyed by her: as she ran down the High Street,
she had been knocking people left, right and centre.
The houses that towered up three and four storeys on
either side of the wide road were the town houses of
the great and the good, and there hadn't been a single
soul she had barged past that had had so much as a
smudge of dust on their person. Until she'd sent them
sprawling in the gutter.
On her right, she saw the archway. The sign above
it announced it as Fishmarket Close, although it
looked like it was just a tunnel that burrowed deep
into the cellars of the houses. Martha turned sharply
and ran into the darkness, the smell of fish rushing
up to greet her as she ran. The ground sloped away
from her feet at an alarming speed, and she knew that
if she lost her footing for even a moment, she'd be
tumbling. It took her a moment to realise that she had
passed through the archway and was out in the fresh
air again: as the ground dropped away, the tops of the
houses remained on a level and the sunlight found it
harder and harder to reach her.
The streets were even worse now she was off the
Royal Mile, filled with more people in worse clothes
and splattered with a thick brown mud that she was
starting to suspect wasn't actually mud. The houses
seemed little more than tiny boxes, all piled high on
top of each other like the estates in Tower Hamlets.
Each had a metal spiral staircase outside it, leading up
to the higher levels that looked barely big enough to
let a child up comfortably. The language grew fouler
as she bumped and barged, and more than one person
started throwing things after her.
She had a momentary image of the houses on the
Royal Mile as nothing more than a flimsy rubber
mask, pulled aside to reveal the monstrous decay of
the real city beneath...
Martha burst out of the street, and suddenly found
herself blinking in the sunlight for a moment. She
had never really pushed through a crowd of people
running in the opposite direction before she'd met the
Doctor. It wasn't something she particularly enjoyed.
People were losing their footing and falling all around
her, and the doctor in her wanted to stop and check
they were all right. The Doctor in her made her keep
moving, pushing and swerving into every space she
was forcing open. The sound of their screaming was
deafening. She wasn't going to make it, she knew.
'Three. Four. Seven,' she panted.
Suddenly the crowd thinned around her. At the
same time, their screams got louder as they realised
the danger they were in was so much more imminent.
They parted like water around her, eager to fill up
the small space she had left them that much further
from destruction. Another moment, and Martha was
alone, standing gasping for breath in the middle of the
cobbled road. She had to bend double just to force the
air into her lungs.
'Run, girl!' someone shouted, but she didn't see
She stood up straight and composed herself.
As she turned, she saw the stagecoach careering
down the road towards her, the driver having given
up all pretence at control and just looking for the right
moment to jump. She couldn't see the Doctor or the
highwayman he'd been chasing. Perhaps they'd both
fallen, and were lying broken further up the road. The
streets were empty. After the press of the crowd, it felt
more alien than any planet she'd set foot on.
The horses were heading straight for her, teeth
She held up a hand, and didn't flinch.
'Three four seven,' she said.
In some ways, the Doctor supposed, it could be
considered quite restful. OK, so he was in very
real danger of getting a terminal haircut from the
buildings lining the Cowgate, but at least he was lying
down. And he had the wind blowing through his hair,
an advantage that the stagecoach's bald driver was
completely missing out on. All he needed was the
certainty of being alive when the coach stopped, and
it would be a very jolly afternoon's ride.
The pale man was kneeling over the Doctor,
having seemingly no interest in picking himself up
and resuming his attack on the driver. Nor was he
attacking the Doctor, as such. Yes, he was flailing
those sharp fingernails around, but if it was an attack
it was a particularly unfocused one. An unbiased
observer might be hard-pushed to decide if the nails
were aimed at the Doctor, or merely trying to claw
their way through the stagecoach roof. Certainly the
pale man wasn't looking at him as the blows fell: he
stared glassily into space, one pupil larger than the
other. The Doctor filed the information in case it was
The Doctor looked at the driver, who glanced back
'Don't worry,' the Doctor shouted. 'I've got a
The stagecoach bounced again, and the Doctor's
pale attacker rolled across the roof. For a moment,
he looked as if he might fall, but at the last minute
he twisted and somehow ended up back on his feet.
As the pale man rolled his glassy eyes in the Doctor's
vague direction, a thin sliver of drool ran down his
'I can help you,' the Doctor told him.
A musket shot rang out.
Martha swallowed hard, and closed her eyes.
'Three four seven,' she said.
The sonic screwdriver felt heavy in her hand,
but she held it high. Her thumb found the switch
without her having to look, and she pressed it down.
She couldn't help flinching, even though she knew it
wasn't going to explode in her hand. Probably wasn't
going to explode in her hand. It wasn't making any
sound, or at least none that she could hear. She risked
a peek through one squinting eye.
The horses were nearly on top of her.
Her mouth fell open and her eyes opened wide.
The stagecoach was hurtling towards her, the driver
crossing himself and jumping from his perch to land
awkwardly on the cobbles below. But she could see
the highwayman and the Doctor, standing on the
roof of the coach as if they were meeting in a bar for
the first time. The Doctor was holding his hand out
to the highwayman, saying something the clatter of
hoof-beats was drowning out.
He was incredible.
There was the faint sound of a car backfiring that
Martha barely noticed, until she remembered that this
was a good couple of hundred years before internal
combustion. The highwayman on the roof twitched
and tumbled from the stagecoach roof. Martha barely
had the time to register that he'd been shot before her
heart leapt at the sight of the Doctor launching himself
after him. The two met in mid-air, as the Doctor spun
to protect the highwayman from the stone cobbles.
Martha realised she was still standing in the path of
It was too late, far too late. Martha could see those
who had managed to get themselves out of the exact
place she was standing looking back at her with a
mixture of sympathy and excitement. This would
be one to tell the grandchildren about, no doubt.
All Martha could do was worry about whether the
Doctor had hurt himself in the fall.
The horses let out a strange noise and slowed.
It was so odd to see: one moment, the horses were
charging foam-mouthed towards her and she had
no chance of survival; the next, they were starting
to slow, flicking their manes about as if they were in
an equine shampoo advert. Martha felt a moment of
elation, before she realised that the stagecoach itself
wasn't slowing down.
As the horses both moved to the left, suddenly
interested in the buildings lining the street, the
stagecoach sped on at top speed. The gathered crowd
didn't know what to do, and neither did the horses.
They dug their feet in indignantly as the coach pulled
them backwards down the road, their hooves grinding
sparks from the rough stone.