Saturday, 16 November 2013

Who Knows Where The Time Goes...?

A little further down the page, the internet generation can find out what it was like to grow up with Doctor Who in an age without Twitter, DVDs or even other fans, but first, a guest post from Ella, the big-hearted and frankly inspiring @shootthesmiley - a tale of modern fandom...

Part 1 - Being a Whovian

When Doctor Who was reintroduced to TV screens in 2005, I was seven years old. My parents had never been particularly avid fans of the show in its first run, so naturally I was unaware of the new series and it ended up being through a friend, rather than family member, that I was introduced to it. And yes, when I was initially told to watch it I do remember my response being something along the lines of, “I’m not really much of a fan of medical programmes, sorry.” My friend insisted, however, and the following day I became hooked by a show that would stay with me for years.

Much like a lot of people, it seems, I have very little memory of actually watching my first episode of Doctor Who, despite knowing for a fact which episode it was (unsurprisingly, it was Rose – starring the fabulous Christopher Eccleston and Billie Piper). I can also remember the discussions I had about it with my friend the following week at school; about how terrified we now were of shop dummies, and how we both aspired to be like Rose when we grew up. This, I like to think, is where the ‘slippery slope’ began, because from that point onwards, I became infatuated with Doctor Who. By the time we had moved up in the school from year 3 to year 4, I was officially considering myself a fan.

Towards the end of my time in year 4, we had said farewell to Eccleston and hello to David Tennant. I feel that my increasing levels of adoration for the show at this point were perfectly represented in how much money my Mum was spending in Newsagents. Every week I would venture into the shop to find a nice, shiny new issue of the Doctor Who magazine – a magazine which I am still a proud collector of – and on the way out, if I was lucky, my Mum would often be swayed into buying me a couple of packs of Doctor Who trading cards. These cards, coupled with the enormous amount of gifts and stationery from the magazines, are why I like to refer to this part of my Whovian life as ‘The Merchandise era’. No one had to ask what I wanted for Christmas or for my birthday anymore, because each year it was the same; anything Doctor Who. I had books, action figures, posters, magazines, puzzles and more, all of which I still own today!

However, despite the amount of love and enthusiasm I had for the show at this point in time, and the vast amount of books and annuals I had to keep me occupied between seasons, I rarely had anyone to talk to about it. The friend who introduced me had become less and less interested in it, as had many of my other friends, so I was limited in how much I could go on about it – and that was where Matt Smith and the wonderful World Wide Web came in….

On New Years Day, 2010, my family and I were staying with friends in Norway (which was also, by pure coincidence, where we were staying when I watched my first episode of Sherlock, another great passion of mine!) Shamefully, I can quite distinctly remember my first words upon seeing Matt standing in the Tardis being, “Well, I don’t think I’ll be watching that again!” I was cruel not to give him a chance, but as someone who had only witnessed one regeneration prior to Tennant’s, the change in personality of the Doctor was odd and distressing. Quite honestly if I’d had my way at the time, David would have played the Doctor for decades more!

Needless to say, however, I was soon hooked again and regretted every doubt I ever had about Matt. Sure, he was incredibly different to Ten, but his childlike mannerisms and slightly odd food choices began to grow on me. Even better, with a new Doctor came a whole new era of ‘fanhood’ for me. I joined twitter during Matt’s second series, and was thrilled to find that I really wasn’t alone, and that there was a whole community of fans just like myself who I could talk to non-stop about the show. I say community, but really these people have become more of a second family to me, and I couldn’t ask for a nicer one than the Whovians. No one is left out, or made to feel less of a fan, and every single new fan is welcomed with open arms into the virtual Whovian family.

Obviously, I am in no position to speak for people who experienced the first run of Doctor Who, but I do think I speak for a number of newer fans when I say that being a fan of the show today really is an experience that never leaves you. We can watch episodes, old and new, at the touch of a button, or discuss characters and monsters with fans living miles and miles away, sometimes even on the other side of the globe!

At the risk of sounding too clich├ęd, I really do owe so much of my current life to Doctor Who. The friends I have made, and the experiences I have had as a result of watching it are incredible, and the memories I have of it will forever be ones that I treasure. It truly is an honour to be part of such a vast, friendly community of people, and I am certain that the memory of the 50th anniversary will be one that I will never, ever forget.



Part 2 - "Ssh, Granddad, go back to sleep" (title courtesy of Simon Guerrier)

I was a little over four years old.



My first clear memory of Doctor Who is from the 22nd October, 1966; episode 3 of The Tenth Planet. The Cybermen being shot down with their own weapons. It’s no longer a real memory, of course, having been overlaid with impressions from the now-numerous times I’ve re-watched that scene. But it still has a special meaning for me; I held onto that memory for 16 years, until the spring of 1982, when the ‘Did You See?’ programme celebrated the return of the Cybermen in Earthshock by showing that clip (among others). In those days, such chances to see moments of old Doctor Who were very few and far between—and for those, like me, too poor to invest in a video recorder, all too fleeting. All of Doctor Who was like that for me in those days; gone the moment it had come. Memories were almost all you had to sustain your interest.

Of course by 1982 there were some more tangible things to hang on to, but back when I first became fascinated by the programme, there was almost nothing. What did I have? The first Doctor Who Annual (featuring Zarbi, Voord and Sensorites from the TV show), and three novels (Daleks, Zarbi, Crusaders – you can see why one might grow up in the latter sixties thinking Zarbi were terribly important. They still are, to me), all featuring the Hartnell Doctor, of whom I had no actual memory at all. But his character came through fairly clearly in the stories I did have (the first annual of course being written by David Whitaker, not that I knew it at the time. All I knew was that the illustrations were too good to waste sitting sedentarily on the paper so I…cut them out…), so that oddly, although I must have watched almost all of the Troughton era, the second Doctor was in some ways the most elusive for me.
I remember seeing, in Woolworths, what looked like an impossibly exciting annual with Troughton, Jamie and a Cyberman on the cover. But I never owned that book (and I never have, perhaps because the cover looks a good deal less impressive to me nowadays).

Memory is a strange (cheating) beast. I know, for example, that I watched The Ice Warriors because I distinctly recall seeing the trailer for The Enemy of the World that followed the final episode, but I remember nothing about the Ice Warriors itself, or anything else about Enemy, come to that. I think I remember Power of the Daleks, but that may just be because the Dalek production line sequence was much discussed in the playground. No memory of the Macra. No definite memory of The Moonbase. (No memory of Polly! Well, I was young, after all…) I do remember thinking that the Dalek-ised humans in the latter stages of Evil of the Daleks were rather silly, but that memory probably comes from the repeat showing. I certainly did not think the Cybermen in Tomb were silly, as the emergence from the tombs and even more, the Cyberman struggling to hold open the hatch (and looking terrifyingly like it might manage it!) made a very deep impression on me. That really stuck. I recall Web of Fear, but not the Abominable Snowmen, other than being aware that there had been two Yeti stories, which gave rise to a dispute with my best friend about the exact appearance of the Yeti. (If memory serves, I think his idea was much closer, certainly to the Web Yeti—we were both unaware, of course, that they’d actually changed quite substantially between the two stories. There was no merchandise to speak of, either, to help us in these disputes…except for Daleks, of course. Lots of Daleks. We had a tall (about one foot—sorry, 30 centimetres) blue domed one, a medium size silver/grey one, and several smaller ones of various colours with no bottom on their base units. The silvery one may even have had wheels. Of course hardly any eyesticks or guns survived the battering they got.)

Season six was a little clearer, and I’m fairly certain by this time I missed no stories, even if I have no memories of The Krotons or The Space Pirates (some might say understandably). Zoe and Jamie were firmly fixed in my mind, at any rate, so that when Wendy Padbury moved on to The Freewheelers I knew who she was, and similarly with Frazer Hines’ arrival in Emmerdale Farm (as it was then). I watched the former but not the latter (not even when Blake’s 7’s Sally Knyvette ended up there later…though I do now regret missing out on Jenna Coleman’s appearances). What impressions remain from the stories are entirely predictable: White Robots, Quarks, Ice Warriors and, most of all, the coolest-looking Cybermen yet, walking through London (though I don’t think I called anything ‘cool’ in those days, nor for some time to come). I remembered the War Games and its significance, though I don’t remember feeling any particular sorrow at the departure of the main cast. Possibly I was more interested in monsters those days.

(After the sixth season of Doctor Who, it was replaced on Saturday nights by a new American series, the only clear recollection of which I have is a sequence where they all clung to their chairs while the bridge rocked. I got quite fond of it in time, as did the rest of the world.)

Pertwee was where it all really kicked off for me. From here, I know I made a conscious effort never to miss an episode, and at age 7, I was perfectly poised to enjoy an era full of soldiers fighting monsters. Slightly less predictably I seem to recall having a crush on Liz Shaw. It was during this era that information about the programme and its past started to become more accessible; there was The Making of Doctor Who in 1972, which listed every adventure (and had a photograph of a Yeti for us to argue over further). Bear in mind that this was the first time there was any official listing of the stories for public consumption—the first time I’d even heard of the Toymaker and The Drahvins or been aware that the Daleks apparently tried to take over Mr Spock’s home planet. As for what would be on Doctor Who next year, there was never any hope of knowing that. We didn’t even know how long stories were going to be—I remember being quite pleased with myself for having noted that Day of the Daleks and Curse of Peladon were both four parts long, and waited confidently for The Sea Devils to end with part four. Of course it didn’t.

By this time I was clipping out the Radio Times billings for the programme, a practice I’d started with the first instance of that glorious Pertwee era tradition, the Christmas Omnibus repeat. The Daemons had been a treat the first time around, like being allowed to watch a horror film at Saturday teatime—how unimaginably wonderful to see it again! And the billing and accompanying illustration (by Frank Bellamy) was something I kept, along with most of the Pertwee era clippings and bits of the beginning of Baker, for 20 years, until I gave them to another member of the local Doctor Who group.

Something happened in 1972 that I think illustrates the one of the biggest differences between watching the programme then and watching it now. During the winter of 1972 there were strikes, resulting in power cuts. One those cuts happened at 6pm on 19th February—ten minutes into the final episode of Curse of Peladon. And in those days, that was it. No video/DVD release, no iPlayer, no Youtube, no bit torrent—the only way I could get to find out what happened at the end of the story was by reading the Target novelisation, which appeared two and a half years later.

Ah, Target. The Target books were then pretty much the only source of memory-jogging detailed information about the adventures of the Doctor. There is no way to overstate their importance at the time they appeared. I had extremely fond memories of what we used to call ‘dummies’ crashing out of shop windows, but to actually be able to read the entire story of ‘The Auton Invasion’ and put those scenes back in context…after seven years of watching Doctor Who and having to let each story fade into a dim memory, suddenly they were appearing in printed form at what seemed incredible speed. I remember reading the Daemons under a very dark sky, rain spitting, on a boat on the Thames—clearly I was not terribly interested in sight-seeing that day, not when I could get back to Devil’s End. And then, towards the end of 1974, something unbelievably exciting—a Patrick Troughton novel, with Yeti! And then the Cybermen (unseen bar brief glimpses for the entire Pertwee era, mutter grumble…)! Suddenly the previously inaccessible past of Doctor Who was opening up. And when Tom Baker started, and the Robot novel came out a mere two months after its transmission, you could compare your still-fresh recollections with the way the story was written!

But, I need to backtrack a little. Something else happened just before the Target range got underway—and that was Doctor Who’s Tenth Anniversary. Apart from the return of Troughton and Hartnell and all the accompanying Radio Times hoohah, this brought unimaginable new wealth of information in the shape of the Radio Times Anniversary Special. Endless photographs – one for every story, if memory serves – interviews with old companions, with special effects people…

This was still early days for organised Doctor Who archiving, and the special is notorious for taking the first episode title to be the title of an entire serial—so a generation grew up referring to The Nightmare Begins instead of The Daleks’ Masterplan, or The Roof of the World instead of Marco Polo. But what we did have, finally, were episode counts for each story, so we could marvel at the epic length of some of the sixties adventures, and note the oddity of seasons 7 and 8 before the programme settled into its long-running format of 26 episodes divided into four- and six-parters.

But in some ways most startling of all was the unbelievable peek into the future; a list and short outline of the stories that made up the next season of Doctor Who! The Time Warrior, Invasion of the Dinosaurs (so changing of the name of the first episode didn’t work too well on those of us who’d read the special), Death to the Daleks, The Monster of Peladon, Planet of the Spiders…never in the history of the programme had there been such tantalisation! Hard to grasp now, but this was literally the first time we (and I assume I speak for the majority) had EVER had any idea what was coming next.



There was also, around this time, the first Holiday Special, featuring a few photos that were not printed elsewhere (including a lovely one of Roger Delgado that I used for my submission to the Key To Time book, years later). There were small stand-up figures in Weetabix cereal boxes. All told, the Pertwee era was the golden age, both for my interest in the show and for the sudden proliferation of information and product. It was also the only time I regularly bought the annuals (I never had a Tom Baker annual, though that probably had more to do with my discovery of Marvel Comics mid-1975 than anything else. Only so much pocket money, you see).

I continued to watch through the 70s, with admittedly diminishing interest, but I never defected to Buck Rogers like so many others, and the only thing that interrupted my viewing was getting a job that forced me to work Saturday evenings; I missed parts of season 17 and most of 18. At about this time video recorders were coming into use, but being poor, I didn’t even rent one until about 1987; the first episode I ever recorded was Time and the Rani, episode one. I didn’t keep it long. I had audiotaped the first Davison season when it was on, and parts of the Five Faces repeat season, but by the time the McCoy era rolled around my interest lay in other areas, so the videotapes filled up with…tennis.

By that time there were ways to watch older stories. In 1983, the first commercial videotape, Revenge of the Cybermen, had appeared. Those who complained recently that buying Web of Fear and Enemy of the World cost about £3 each more in the UK than the US might like to remind themselves that the first Doctor Who release cost a few pence shy of £40. For one story. In 1983. The next jump down was to £25, and it was only with the advent of the £10 line that I was able to even contemplate buying a single story.

Of course if you were lucky enough to know the right people (as I was from about 1987/8) you could get Doctor Who stories another way – VHS copies of Australian/US broadcasts, or even leaked from the BBC archives. But these were often fourth or fifth generation; the insistence of some people on having to have colour meant that in the first copy of the Daemons I saw it was difficult to distinguish between the Doctor and Mike Yates. For a time in the early 90s the coolest thing imaginable was to have a copy of The Ice Warriors without BBC time-coding on it. In practice this tended to mean that you could quite happily spend more time enthusing about the sound and picture quality of a copy than actually watching it…

This is already too long, but I hope it’s given any newer fans who’ve lasted the course an idea of what it was like to experience Doctor Who in the pre-digital age. One last thought; I did finally get to see the end of The Curse of Peladon, via the Doctor Who and the Monsters repeat season in 1982. It only took ten years.



Think about that, next time you feel sad about having to catch up on an episode on iPlayer, later the same evening…

This Time, This Place (Part 7) - 50th Anniversary fiction

For 'this is not an adventure' disclaimer and notes on the Sororiate, see Part 1

Part 6 here



From the daybook of Octo-Dam-Maria, Year of Grace 1367:

They appeared on the Galilaea without warning, throwing the Sororiate into panic; an elderly man and a very young woman. The Doctor and his granddaughter. I gave orders they should be admitted, which no doubt caused many mutterings. But my authority was not questioned to my face, at least.

They were brought from the porch and I received them in my study. Abelard waited on us. The young woman, Susan, was a little nervous of Abelard, but she soon settled. A brittle but beautiful child, full of uncertainty but ever reaching out to explore. There was an extraordinary light in her eyes; they lit up her face, which seemed shaped as if to draw attention to them.

This was a different Doctor, a man yet to find himself. Long silvery hair, a habit of holding his head at an angle as if assessing his surroundings; a certain peremptory sharpness to his movements, as if he was afraid of settling, of resting for even a moment. His dark eyes showed a more guarded nature than the others I had seen; less open, less kind. Less adventurous.

And yet, this was the one who had abandoned everything he knew and taken Susan out into the universe.

They were fugitives, these two, only recently clear of the clutches of their own people. After several landings they were now confident they could not be traced. Not that they told me this directly, but it was possible to infer much from what they did say. And Susan’s mind was open to me in a way that very few are, betraying emotions and strongly-held fears in unguarded moments.

‘We shan’t trouble you more than is necessary,’ said the Doctor over the first cup of Ventus tea. ‘Just one or two little things I neglected to, ah…pick up before we left.’

‘Anything we have is yours. Write me a list and I will give it to the storehouse.’ I motioned to Abelard.

‘You’re most kind. Most kind.’

I began to speak but something stopped me. I knew very little about time travel, but it seemed to me that it might be dangerous even to reveal that I already knew the Doctor, that I had seen what I now understood must be his future selves. At this point the pattern of his life was not set; I could not risk influencing his path.

‘Mmn?’ He looked at me enquiringly. Aged and mildly infirm he might appear compared to some of the others I had met, but he missed nothing. ‘You were going to say..?’

‘O-only that you should visit the garden while you are here. The lake is very tranquil—it affords an ideal atmosphere for contemplation, and you have…potentially difficult choices ahead of you. And Susan should see the Aeturnums.’

‘Aeturnums..?’

I told him about the blooms, and the good they might do Susan’s restless, impulsive nature. If he wondered why I did not advise him to bond, he did not ask me.

‘Ah, yes!’ His eyes lit up when I had finished. ‘I had heard about these flowers. How very fortunate we should land here.’ He saw my look and his eyes wandered uneasily. ‘I have a little trouble controlling my ship at present…some difficulty with precise landings. I…I expect it will be…’ He trailed off, then lifted his head slightly. ‘I will attend to it.’

Susan had been composing a list with the materials Abelard had brought to us and now handed me the results. They were mostly ordinary objects – writing and drawing materials, a few items of clothing.

‘We left in a hurry,’ Susan explained. ‘Food is no problem, but there are other little things…’

‘Where are you going?’ I asked. ‘Does your journey have an end?’

They looked at one another. The Doctor sat up a little straighter, playing with the lapels on his dark jacket. ‘That remains to be seen. For the moment, our destination is …everywhere. Anywhere. We shall explore, and observe.’ On an impulse, it seemed, he reached out a hand sideways, to Susan, and she clasped it in both of hers. ‘The child will have the education, the experience, that I was only able to dream about.’

I looked again at the list. ‘We have little in the way of everyday clothing, but some stores of cloth. Perhaps,’ I looked up at Susan, ‘you might like to choose some material and take it, in order to fashion your own garments…?’

Susan looked eagerly at her grandfather, who held her gaze without blinking for two or three seconds before waving a hand as he broke into a smile. ‘Run along, child, run along. Just be careful you don’t abuse their generosity…’

‘Abelard will take you to Soror-Vestitus.’ I caught myself. ‘To Soror Emilia, I should say.’

When they had departed, I could see the Doctor looking after them with interest. He turned to me. ‘An unusual servant. Where did you acquire him?’

‘He…fell from the sky. An escape capsule. He was clearly in service to someone, but we never discovered his masters.’

‘Does he speak?’

‘A few words. His capacity for learning language is not great, and his vocal apparatus seems ill-fitted for speech. But he understands everything I say.’ I waited for a few moments then said, as gently as I could: ‘What happened…to Susan’s parents?’

He looked at me for a moment, then his eyes shifted away.

‘I am sorry,’ I said. ‘You prefer not to speak of it. But…forgive me, but is it the wisest thing, to take her away from her home, her own people..?’

Now I had offended him. He sat back. ‘I do think, Madam, that that is hardly your business. I’m much indebted to you for receiving us, and for refreshment, but—’

Abelard re-entered and the Doctor silenced himself. I sighed. ‘I am sorry. I meant no disrespect. But the child is…there is something oddly…febrile about her.’

‘More than any other child of her age?’ he queried.

‘Perhaps not. My experience of children is limited, I admit. I was merely concerned…’

A strange twitch from Abelard distracted me. He took a step towards the Doctor. I watched him for a moment; his expression was unreadable as always, but his head was held sideways at a strange angle, and there seemed to be a cold glitter in his eyes.

And then I felt the presence of something else; a mind. Vast, ancient, malevolent. An entity from beyond, beyond everything we knew, spawned in some pit of evil on a far distant world. A mind that had traversed not only space but time to arrive at this time, this place.

This creature had control of Abelard and the Ogron’s hands were lifting, reaching, stretching towards the Doctor.

The Doctor saw my face and turned to look, but it was too late. The huge hands closed around his neck, and Abelard pulled him into the air. I lurched from my chair but I knew it was useless. I plucked feebly at Abelard’s arm as he held the Doctor suspended.

I am not certain what happened next. The Doctor dropped back in his chair, clutching at his throat. Abelard twisted about with a snarl, and beyond him I glimpsed a small figure, a girl with black hair and dancing eyes, backing away and speaking words I could not hear. She seemed to be taunting Abelard, and he made a lunging grab for her but she twisted clear and this time I heard the words: ‘Have to do better than that, big boy…try again!’ She faced him, her eyes shining: ‘That’s it, come and get me…’

And she skipped farther back and her form grew indistinct, and Abelard stumbled after her…and then shook as his body seemed gripped by some force which distorted the air. He sank to his knees. His body seemed to shimmer, as if it might disappear. Then, all was gone. The girl, the force, the sense of evil. Abelard fell on his hands and knees, heaving great breaths.

Another rasping exhalation near at hand reminded me of the Doctor. I bent to attend him, but he waved me away, struggling to sit up. I watched him anxiously for some seconds, then thought to offer him water. He swallowed gratefully, coughing slightly.

Abelard was standing, looking about him nervously. I went to him and laid my hand on his arm. He looked at me, clearly not understanding, but I held his gaze and felt him slowly relax.

‘Wh-what happened,’ spluttered the Doctor. ‘Why did your servant attack me..?’

I felt quite drained suddenly, and very weak. I returned to my chair and lowered myself slowly. I could feel my heart almost shaking my entire body with the force of its pounding.

Haltingly, I explained what I had seen. The Doctor listened, his fingers to his lips and his eyes cast down. When I had finished, he came to his feet, coughing slightly, and went to where Abelard had fallen. Abelard stood close by and watched him but did not move. Eventually the Doctor came back to his chair.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘nothing there now. Clearly, some alien intelligence intruded, possessed…eh…Abelard, but was driven away somehow—by this young woman you saw. I can only surmise that both she and the alien entered by means of some kind of time portal, and that by drawing your servant back towards the physical point of entry, the alien was pulled out, sucked back to where it came from…’ He sat back. ‘But as to who she was, our mysterious saviour, and what the attacker was…that may remain a mystery. As will where they came from…or, indeed, when. Most odd.’ He looked towards Abelard. ‘I admit…it occurred to me to wonder if your servant had been left here for that very purpose, even so long ago, but I suspect it was merely a case of using whatever subject was to hand. But still, as to the reason… most, er, mystifying…’

I thought about the girl I had glimpsed so briefly, and wondered, recalling the description Soror Hazel had given of the people at the lake, earlier in the season.

‘Could it,’ I ventured, ‘could it have been your own people that—’

‘No, no,’ he cut in brusquely. ‘Impossible. Even if they had managed to find us, such an attack is simply not…’ He shook his head. ‘No.’ Then he gave me a sudden, sharp look. ‘Susan must not know of this.’

‘If…you think that best.’

‘I do. Especially as I have no idea what it might mean.’ He tilted his head back a little, regarding me with a gleam in his eye. ‘I don’t suppose you have any notion of the reason for such an attack?’

I returned his gaze in silence for a second. ‘No. But…you mentioned…a time portal? If you were accurate, if such a thing is to be believed…perhaps there is something in your future…?’

‘It seems likely, yes.’ From his expression I could tell he was not entirely satisfied with my evasion, but he had clearly decided to let it pass. ‘Oh, Susan…,’ he muttered to himself, ‘perhaps you would be better at home, after all…’

The door burst open and Susan came in, loaded down with cuts of cloth. ‘Oh, look, grandfather, this colour…and this…and look at this…’ She spun back to me. ‘Thank you, thank you! It must be a good omen, our landing here…’ She looked at the old man. ‘Don’t you think?’

‘Mmm, yes…quite so, child. Quite so.’ He gave me another penetrating glance. ‘Now I think perhaps we should be off—we’ve troubled the Dam quite enough.’

‘One thing,’ I said quickly, as he rose from the chair.

‘Yes?’

‘Allow me to show you the garden.’

Abelard had to carry me there—and back again when they had left.

They knelt with me by the Aeturnums, and I told them, I do not know why, about Veritae and the years we spent together and yet apart, and the flower that joined us both. And I watched the Doctor’s bloom turn brown from the icy blue it had been, and I watched his face as he digested what it might mean that there was a flower there ready for him. He looked at me but asked no questions. Susan cooed with delight as her own Aeturnum turned green; it was only with difficulty that I persuaded her it must remain here. The Doctor soothed her with a promise to visit the nearby Rings of Ahkaten. Recalling what had been said about the behaviour of the TARDIS in the early days, I hoped he would be able to get Susan there.

They left reluctantly, but with a sense of purpose. And in doing so, showed me a new wonder—a further mystery. The only familiar thing about their departure was the sound, that crying that now seemed to me like the tearing of the fabric of the universe, a shredding of the commonplace and the everyday. The sight was not what I had anticipated, indeed looked forward to; in order to depart they stepped through what seemed a breach in a rocky outcrop, and then the rock appeared to melt and become smaller, losing a part of itself. What had become – or was to become – of the small blue hut, perhaps I will never discover. It only underlined the sense that this man I had just met was not quite the Doctor.

As I wondered, Abelard merely grunted and turned back towards the Cenobate with me in his arms, but I made him pass by the garden again and he let me down, and we stood for a while. I have a feeling that it was the last time I will look upon the lake and the mountains beyond. I stooped and said a farewell to the bloom that is all that remains of Veritae, of Maria, and all that we were and all that we wanted to be.

The events of today have shaken me, physically, and I have taken to my bed. Abelard stands by the door; he has no memory of what he attempted to do. His only concern now is for me; he senses the end is near, and he will not leave, or sleep. Hazel has also entered many times, to the extent that I have had to remind her of her duty to the garden. I will have to speak to her again before I pass.

I came here long ago with no thought in my mind but escape. I cannot remember now when that changed, or why it changed. That it was before I had truly known Veritae seems to me impossible, but I think it is so.

There are traditions that believe everything we do in life is destined to be, that no action of ours is free—that our only true choice in life is whether to accept or to reject what is presented to us. Whether to love and thus live, or to hate and thus die. It is a choice we face in every moment, in every circumstance—in this time and this place, wherever we are. It took me too long to recognise that choice. But having seen it, and having also the supreme joy of being seen, in my entirety, by one other who shared my life here, I am happy to let go.

Abelard brings my supper. I hope I have the strength to eat, or he will fret all night.



Epilogue (Year of Grace 1368):

‘Dam Hortus Maria,’ reads Clara over his shoulder. ‘Is this…is this her gravestone?’

‘A memorial,’ he says. ‘They cremate all members of the Cenobate, but the gardeners are commemorated here.’

‘You knew this one.’

‘Better than I realised. I think she’s been the gardener here for the last sixty or seventy years.’ He stands up, slowly. ‘We met many times; I just didn’t always know it was her. The little girl who watched us from the bushes, to the Dam who sent us on our way at the beginning.’

Clara takes his arm, wraps it in both of hers. ‘Glad I’m not the only one you were stalking.’ She looks across the water to the distant peak. ‘The view is beautiful, but you could get tired, even of this. Don’t think I’d have wanted to spend my whole life here.’

He recalls what seems to him to be his most recent visit, and smiles. ‘Not quite her whole life. She saw a few things, a few other worlds and times. But this was her home.’

‘Brr…give me travelling, any day. I couldn’t bear to be confined to one place, one time.’

The Doctor smiles down at Clara. He starts to speak, checks himself. ‘I…oh. Ah.’ As she looks at him curiously: ‘I was going to remind you that we’re all actually confined to one place, one time—because we can’t be in two places at once. But then, that doesn’t apply to The Impossible Girl, does it? I should think you’d be grateful to be in one spacetime location for a while.’

‘Well, let me ask you—having seen so much of the universe, are you satisfied? Do you want to stop—settle down?’

His face is a picture. She smiles. ‘There you are. And I’ve seen a lot of what you’ve seen, remember. Hasn’t made me any less hungry for more.’

‘It will end eventually,’ he says. ‘Not for me; but either you’ll leave, or…I’ll change. Either way—’

She folds her arms. ‘After what I’ve seen, unless you’re going to grow two heads or start using swear words stronger than “Daleks”, you can’t scare me with a regeneration.’

‘Excuse me, Sir…Madam…?’

The voice comes from behind them, from the stones nearest the shore. They both spin about, the Doctor nearly losing his balance. Clara steadies him.

A Sister stands watching them. She is initially staring at Clara, but eventually addresses herself to the man. ‘You are the Doctor?’

‘For the time being.’ He pauses, frowning to himself. ‘For the time, I am being,’ he says, as if testing how it sounds. ‘For this being, time is—’

‘Yes,’ says Clara. ‘He is.’

‘The Dam told me to expect you.’ The Sister looks at Clara. ‘But…I have seen you before. With another man.’

The Doctor looks askance at Clara; Clara seems mildly embarrassed. The Doctor steps towards the Sister. ‘Did you…have any message from the Dam?’

‘Only…only that the garden is yours. Whenever you wish to come.’

He nods. ‘I wish the Dam was here, so we could thank her.’

The Sister seems suddenly tearful.

‘What’s your name?’ asks Clara.

The Sister looks uneasily at Clara, but gathers herself. ‘I am Sister Hazel-Hortus.’

‘Ah. The new gardener,’ says the Doctor.

‘Not…so very new,’ says Hazel. ‘I have been working with Dam Maria for many years.’

‘Then you must be very upset,’ says the Doctor softly. ‘She was a great lady—and a friend to me at many points in my life.’ He declaims, but quietly: ‘An oasis of tranquillity in a universe of strife.’

‘What have you been reading lately?’ mutters Clara, barely audibly. The Doctor affects not to hear at all.

Hazel comes closer to the visitors. ‘She…the Dam has said to me that she has known you with many faces…perhaps a dozen. I myself have seen two in one place, but this seems to me to be against nature, beyond possibility…’

‘You believe, don’t you,’ says the Doctor, ‘in the possibility of the spirit appearing in many forms, of it manifesting in different ways…? Same thing, really.’

Hazel nods warily, but her eyes keep returning to Clara. ‘You…were here before?’

‘I...may have popped into the Cenobate, very briefly.’ As the Doctor looks at her: ‘Don’t ask.’

‘No—here on the shore…’ persists Hazel.

‘I couldn’t tell you. Possibly, at some point.’ She jerks her head at the Doctor. ‘It can get confusing, being around him. Personal time and universal time…you know.’

Hazel nods. She appears to have nothing else to say. After perhaps half a minute, she bows and retreats, wishing them joy of the garden.

They watch her disappear into the distance. Clara turns to the Doctor. ‘I think she’s killed the mood. Are we ready to go?’

‘In a moment.’ He moves quickly back along the row of stones to the shore, and makes his way to the flower bed, his steps slowing as he draws nearer. He stands looking down. She joins him.

‘That was…Tegan,’ he says, pointing. ‘And Nyssa. And Peri. And Susan.’ He looks farther. ‘Charley. Victoria, Jamie. Ace. Martha.’ He crouches. ‘And this one looks suspiciously like your eye colour.’ He glances up at her.

She lowers herself beside him. ‘Could be anyone…’

‘Except that it’s moving when you move. They all move a bit, the unlinked ones, when they sense someone near, but they give up when they realise you’re already bonded.’

‘Hmm. What about that one?’ she points to the Aeturnum with blended streaks of colour.

‘Ahh.’ His mouth is a line that is not quite a smile. ‘That’s Maria’s flower—Maria’s and Veritae’s.’

‘I suppose at least they had each other…for a while. Must have made the place more bearable.’

‘I don’t think she – either of them – saw it as a prison, not in the end. I met her in the last year of her life; she seemed quite content with how things had turned out. With the life she’d had.’

Clara stands up. ‘But with all that universe out there,’ she spreads her hands, ‘to stay on one tiny planet…?’

He stands, looking down at a flower that still cannot match the shifting colours of his eyes. ‘We each live in two universes,’ he says, ‘outer and inner. And some traditions believe the outer is only a reflection of the inner. So many lives, so many ways of living, of existing…I was saying before; where you are and what you do isn’t always the most important thing.’ He turns away, walking directly up one of the slopes. She follows, hurrying to catch up. ‘Yes…?’ she insists.

‘There’s also who, or what you are.’ He pauses at the crest of the ridge, looks back, before walking toward the familiar blue shape. ‘We mourn the passing of planet, or a star system, a galaxy, but every death is…’ He trails off and breathes out heavily. ‘There’s an entire universe in every heart.’

She has also paused to look back but catches up with him again as he reaches the TARDIS.

‘Says the man who has two…’

He smiles, opening the door and indicating she should enter. ‘Well, I always was a bit of a show-off…’

She skips inside. He closes the door. The light flashes, the sound echoes interminably across the still water. The Aeturnums bend in the breeze and appear to hang their heads, just a little.



From the daybook of Octo-Dam-Maria, Year of Grace 1367:

The Doctor would no doubt laugh at the notion that there is no such thing as freedom. He has followed that shining beacon for many lifetimes. But whatever the truth of the way our lives are ordered, the Doctor has exercised that simple liberty to choose, in every one of his forms; that liberty to love—not just those close to him, but all aspects of creation, even the most terrifying. His is a passion for adventure, the great adventure of life. I have been privileged to be the Keeper of the Garden in an age when a very special flower bloomed. I hope it will continue to bloom for aeons to come.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

This Time, This Place (Part 6) - 50th Anniversary fiction

For 'this is not an adventure' disclaimer and notes on the Sororiate, see Part 1

Part 5 here



From the daybook of Septuagint-Honorarius-Hortus, Year of Grace 1352:

I do not think I have ever seen a face so beautiful. I had the uncomfortable feeling I was betraying the memory of Veritae merely by looking. But Veritae was fifteen years gone, and she was here, in the full flush of her youth. Black hair gathered at the back of her head, large dark eyes, a straight nose with perfectly-shaped nostrils, and lips fuller and lovelier than I could remember seeing. Blessed with beauty. And touched by sadness.

She had not seen me approach; she was looking wonderingly at the Aeturnum that had clearly bonded with her, its petals turning a deeper brown than any I had ever seen. The morning was chill with a fresh breeze, and she drew up the collar of her shining reddish skin jacket.

Without conscious thought I found myself looking around; I was not surprised to see a tall man standing on the Memoriam Steps, his pale brown coat billowing slightly as he stood contemplating the lake.

What is it about large bodies of water that draws our gaze? Perhaps the combination of stillness and movement, the visual appeal of a shining surface and the knowledge of the concealed depth? Perhaps a body of water mirrors the pattern of creation in this way. Perhaps that is the secret of the spiritual repose that water brings us. I made my way carefully down the last part of the path, assisted by a supporting grip on my arm from Abelard; at my age even the slightest slope becomes a (possibly imagined) peril. The young woman became aware of my approach and came to her feet, looking instinctively towards the distant figure of the man before properly registering the figure of Abelard and taking a step back.

‘Do not fear. I know his appearance is against him, but he is harmless.’



‘Oh…’ She put a hand on her chest, taking a deep breath. She looked warily up at Abelard’s face before returning her gaze to mine. ‘Hello. I’m…Martha. Martha Jones.’

‘Septuagint-Honorarius-Hortus.’ At the look on her face I felt suddenly moved to add: ‘But my name…is Maria.’

And there it was, the word that had not passed my lips – had scarcely even entered my thoughts – for six decades or more. Why had I given it now, to this young woman?



Martha extended a hand, but I did not trust myself to take it, so I put my own hands together and bowed slightly. She echoed my action with an uncertain smile. I looked over towards the Steps. ‘And that, of course, will be the Doctor.’

She looked at him and smiled, but there was something else there, something that kept the smile from reaching her eyes. ‘He said he’d been here before.’

‘Many times. Have you seen his Aeturnum?’

Her expression made me realise I should have made myself clearer. I gestured down at the bed. ‘The flower that stands somewhat alone. I had never known a bloom that changed in this way. I do not know how long it took me to understand that they were all the same man.’ I shook my head. ‘Or perhaps I always knew.’

She looked down at the flower but did not stoop for a closer view. ‘The others…what were they like?’ I could see she was resisting the urge to look directly at me.

‘They were…good men.’

One image surfaced in my mind to belie the statement—but then, I had not spoken to that man.

Martha was struggling with another question. ‘Were there…always…others? With him, I mean?’

‘Almost always.’

‘Was there…I mean, did you ever see…a girl…’

‘There have been many…girls…’ ‘Yes,’ she said quickly. ‘Of course.’ She sighed. ‘Never mind.’ She lifted her head, still not looking at me, her eyes seeking out the figure on the lake. ‘So…the Doctor says this is the garden for some kind of a monastery? I sometimes wish I had faith. Must be nice to talk to someone – or something – and know that they hear you. That they see you.’

‘I have often thought it must be, yes.’

She looked at me, a line creasing her perfect brow. ‘Sorry, are you saying…?’ She dropped her eyes, thinking, then looked up again. ‘If you don’t…if you don’t believe, why are you here?’

‘Sometimes, uncertainty has a stronger grip than sure knowledge. Sometimes, one simply waits to be heard.’ I knew that this was not the whole truth, but I hesitated before speaking again. ‘Sometimes…one cannot help but hold on to the little one has.’

She was now avoiding looking towards the lake. ‘Is that…cowardice? Is it stupid?’

‘It is human.’

‘And he isn’t. But he’s holding on to something. Someone.’

‘Perhaps that is why he came here. This place – the blooms, the water, the space – has been known to lay many ghosts to rest.’

All the while she had been speaking to me I was aware that her attention was divided, and now she turned her head towards the lake again. He was moving, returning to the shore. I saw her restrain herself from running to him. She did not look at me as she murmured: ‘It’s a bit pathetic, I know.’

‘You…had a choice—whether or not to accompany him?’

She nodded.

‘Then to expose yourself to such potential hurt could be seen as a courageous choice.’

‘But if it’s pointless…?’

‘Who can say what is the point of anything we do?’ I turned with her to watch him approach. ‘I question daily the purpose of my existence here...but here I remain.’

He thrust his hands into his pockets as he came to stand before us; upright, energetic, with a mobile, youthful face framing the most sparkling brown eyes I had ever observed in a man. ‘Well, if it isn’t my old friend…no, wait, don’t tell me, I know this… Quinquaginta-Soror-Hortus!’ He pulled out his hands as if to shake mine, remembered, clapped his hands loudly together.

‘You flatter me, Doctor; I have not been Quinquaginta for nearly eleven years now.’

‘Really? You sure? Ah, well, who’s counting?’ There was a moment of stillness, as he seemed to be looking at each of us in turn. ‘So,’ he said to Martha, ‘find yourself an Aeturnum?’

She was nodding, but before she could speak, he looked past my head. ‘And who’s this strapping fellow? Have we met? People say all Ogrons look alike, but I’d swear I know that face…’

It was impossible not to respond to his energy. I smiled. ‘This is Abelard. You…left him with us after your last visit.’

‘Did I?’ He froze for a moment, his mouth open. ‘Ooohhh yes, I do remember. Longer ago than you’d think.’ He flashed a quick grin at me. ‘Blinovitch, as well—doesn’t help. Bits filter through. Well, Abelard – interesting choice of name, by the way – must say I like the bits of grey in your hair. Very distinguished. I used to have some of that. Probably will again.’

He looked up at Abelard for a moment or two longer, then returned his attention to us. ‘So, are we good to go?’

‘What?’ Martha seemed taken aback. ‘We only just got here…’

‘Well, mustn’t hang about, we don’t want to get in the Sister’s way…’

‘I am no longer a Sister. I am now an Honorarius.’

He lifted his brows. ‘Oooh, a Dam-in-waiting, practically.’ Before I could assert my modesty, he shot at me: ‘Ever left Caela since you got here?’

‘…No.’

‘And how long ago was that?’

‘I…I was…seven years old.’

He stood quite still and examined my face. ‘Sixty odd years on one planet. I don’t know how you do it.’ He firmed his mouth into a line. ‘I’d’ve been doing anything – making flying machines, building a tower of stones trying to reach the sky – after a week.’ A light gleamed in his eye and he grinned. ‘Want to come for a little spin?’

‘What…? You mean…’

He nodded. ‘Twice round the spiral arm and home via the nearest supernova. Close your mouth, Jones, you look like a drunk Kandalingan.’

I glanced at Martha, who was recovering from her surprise. I tried to steady my thoughts. ‘B-but…I have responsibilities…they will be expecting m—’

‘You’ll be back before they know you’ve gone. And I’m not just saying that.’ He extended an arm, indicating the nearest slope. ‘Just over the hill.’ His eyes seemed to reach into my heart. ‘How about it?’

I think I went mostly because I thought it might help me to understand him—to understand what he was, where he came from, where he was going. In the end, I understood none of those things.

But I saw the heart of the sun that lights Caela; I saw the darkness that lies beyond the edge of our galaxy, and the million million galaxies that swim in it; I saw worlds where the sole living intelligence took gaseous form; I saw the deepest chasm in all the known worlds and the winged creatures that exist only to swoop and sing amid its chorus of fathomless echoes; I saw marriage and birth and disease and death and the creation of a new world; I saw enough to make me sink to my knees in awed helplessness, and for him, all it seemed to do was serve as a spur to further exploration, greater excitement, higher joy. Eyes bright, mouth wide, he treated each new sight as if it was a gift to him that he was sharing with us. Watching him, being with him, I certainly came to better understand Martha’s situation, at least.

I do not know if he meant to give me faith, but that is what I have brought back with me from those few days that passed in a few minutes. I have seen the depths inside the smallest things, I have seen how the great can be contained within the tiny, and I have finally seen, finally understood, that we are loved—because all of creation is loved, all of it has purpose and that purpose is to bring forth love. That we are here and that we know we are here, that we can speak and question and dream and cry and laugh is to me a gift that could not be the result of mere chance, the product of a mechanical universe, but could only come from a source ultimately beyond even the very highest graspings of our material minds, something we cannot hope to understand but can only serve by attending to what it offers us from day to day, be it adventure and death or the simplest domestic task that we have performed a thousand times before.

And somehow, in so many of the wonders I was shown, I was brought back to the memory of Veritae. If all of life is a returning to or a quest for the source, that which ignites the spark of life within each of us, then surely we find it displayed most plainly in another heart which surrenders all its defences before us. We look into another’s eyes to see not only their soul but our own, brought to full flower. It is not that we need another to complete us, but that there are parts of us that remain incompletely expressed without that profound and private blending of souls and bodies.

Yes, I believe I understood Martha better, by the time we returned. Who could look into that face, so alive, and not be seized by a desperate longing?

He explained to me the different faces I had seen, the process by which he renewed himself and survived what might otherwise have destroyed him. I could not help but notice the number of times he used the word ‘we’ and then corrected himself—said ‘I’. It was the only private conversation we had, while Martha slept, and I found I could not ask most of the questions that haunted me.

When we returned the Doctor went for a final look at the lake. Martha hovered close to me. ‘Are you all right?’

I was dizzy with exultation…and a sudden profound sense of grief. I managed a nod and stumbled towards the Aeturnum bed. Abelard’s great hands came out to offer support, but I waved him aside. I fell on my knees before the flower that had been Veritae’s. There, the sense of love and of loss overwhelmed me and I wept as I had not wept since I was a novice.

Martha stood silently beside me. I had told her of the rarity of physical contact in our order. When I had recovered, she crouched next to me and gently laid a hand on mine. There was as much of life in that slight pressure as in all the worlds and stars and systems I had just seen.



From the daybook of Octo-Dam-Maria, Year of Grace 1364:

My first act as Dam has been to re-introduce the use of proper names. This has caused some consternation among the older Sisters and Honorarii.

Considerably more consternation in fact, than was caused to Soror-Hortus-Hazel by her discovery this morning of two visitors to the garden. She behaved with remarkable composure; she did not speak to them, but watched them for some time and brought me a report.

A young woman with soft, shining black hair, small, with a rounded face and quick movements. Exceedingly pretty, Soror Hazel said—and I felt the smallest pang that I no longer visit the garden.

The man was tall, with grey-white hair and eyes that pierced, even from a distance. He seemed to be withdrawn, and Soror Hazel noted that the young woman appeared a little uncertain around him, as if they did not know each other very well. He looked at the lake, and she talked and walked up and down, and then they left. Soror Hazel did not see where they went; I assume he had landed the TARDIS a little way away, as he so often does.

Will I see him again? Abelard is a comfort to me in these times, as he is solid proof that those encounters by the lake were real. Today I gave his pacifier to the workshop Sisters to recycle; I have not used it since he bonded. That must be four years ago now. His mane has turned white and his spine is a little bent, but he is still able to carry a food canister on each shoulder. I must get him to help me down to the lake, one of these days.

Part 7 here

Sunday, 3 November 2013

This Time, This Place (Part 5) - 50th Anniversary fiction

For 'this is not an adventure' disclaimer and notes on the Sororiate, see Part 1

Part 4 here



From the private journal of Sexaginta-Soror-Hortus, Year of Grace 1347:

There was a shooting star in the night, just before dawn, and all the Sororiate believed it landed in the lake. I went to look, with Viginti-Discipulus-Hortus. No one else would venture near the place.

Discipulus-H has come on remarkably in the last year or two; I still recall her utter panic at the apparition of the stranger who was not the Doctor, when she was a mere seventeen. For a long time that encounter left marks in her psyche; now, her love for the blooms overcomes all else. I could see she was afraid of what we might discover, but she would not hear of remaining behind.

As soon as we neared the lake I could hear that we were not the first. Discipulus-H and I peeped cautiously from behind the last of the Ventus bushes, and saw a small man, in a light jacket and dark trousers with a narrow-brimmed hat on his head, and a young woman in black, with a jacket decorated with many small insignia. They were walking along a deep furrow in the earth of the shoreline, which ended where a large, shining canister was half-buried in the damp ground, with water lapping around one end. The canister was open, and appeared to be empty. It was about the length and width of two people.

Neither the man nor the young woman seemed to be armed, although the man carried a stick with an elaborately-curved handle and some kind of membrane wrapped around it, and the girl hefted a heavy-looking black bag on one shoulder.

They approached the canister slowly, moving around it and peering warily into the corners until they were satisfied it was empty. Then the man stood with his stick resting on the rim of the canister and his chin resting on the handle of the stick, while the young woman moved up the shoreline, still looking around.

I beckoned to Discipulus-H, and we started down the path. The man did not see us but his companion noticed us almost immediately, and came back towards him.

‘Professor.’

The man was muttering to himself, and did not look up until we were almost upon him. The young woman looked wary but had apparently decided we represented no threat, as she kept still.

‘Ah,’ said the small man. ‘Soror Hortus, if I’m not mistaken. Or is it Dam by now…? No, I think…’ He trailed off, as if regretting what he had said. He turned to the canister and tapped it with his stick. ‘You appear to have had a visitor.’

‘This is not yours, then?’ asked Discipulus-H.

‘Wouldn’t be caught dead in that thing,’ said the man’s companion.

‘Well, Ace,’ said the man thoughtfully, ‘it’s quite advanced. Environmental control, entertainment centre, nutrition feed—you could survive in here for a month or more before being caught dead.’

He bent to examine the edges of the opening, and it was only then I noticed a large segment of curved metal a little farther into the water. It seemed about the size and shape of the opening in the canister. Before I could say anything, more voices came to my ears.

‘This way…this way, that’s it. Keep up, Victoria…’

The small man seemed once again absorbed in his examination of the canister, but the rest of us looked around. Three figures appeared over the crest of one of the slopes: a short, dark-haired man in a black coat too large for him, and close-patterned trousers, holding a small box which seemed to be guiding him; a young man in a loose shirt and what appeared to be a dark, patterned knee-length skirt; trailing slightly behind, a young woman in a light jacket and dark breeches, her hair reaching to her shoulders.

‘Professor…’ said the young woman called Ace.

The small man looked up. He followed our gazes, looked stupefied. Then his heavy brows came down, and he expelled a long breath. ‘Well, this should be interesting…’

The dark-haired newcomer stopped short. ‘Oh,’ he said. He looked at the device in his hand, made a small adjustment and put it into the capacious pocket of his jacket. He stretched his head sideways, squinting at the canister. ‘Does that thing belong to you? We were tracking it…’

‘With a focussed etheric beam locator, I see.’ The small man lifted his stick and pointed it at the newcomers. ‘Where did you find that?’

The dark-haired man covered his pocket with both hands as if afraid the device would be taken on the spot. ‘It was…well, I don’t see that’s any of your business…’ He trailed off and stared hard at the small man. He took three steps closer. There was not much difference in their height. ‘Oh.’ He retreated a step. ‘Are you…?’

The small man nodded.

‘Well, you’re breaking the rules, you know,’ said the newcomer.

‘Who was here first?’ snapped the small man. ‘And look who’s talking – three times, I recall, at the very least…’

‘I don’t know what you mean…’

‘Perhaps not, at this point in your timeline, but—’

‘Professor,’ broke in Ace. ‘Who is he? Who are they?’

‘Oh yes,’ said the dark-haired man, breaking into a smile and stepping forward to offer both his hands to Ace, ‘I’m sorry, I’m the Doctor,’ and, turning, ‘and this is Jamie, and Victoria.’

Ace looked at the small man. ‘Professor…?’ She turned quickly back to the dark-haired man, but pointed at her companion. ‘This is the Doctor!’

‘Well, perhaps…but not yet.’

The small man strutted forward, swinging his stick. ‘And what precisely does “yet” mean to a time traveller…? If you’re trying to establish some kind of precedence…’

The dark-haired Doctor drew himself up, trying to look down his nose. ‘You know very well what I mean. As for precedence, well…’ he half-turned away. ‘I should have thought that was taken for granted.’ As ‘the Professor’ prepared his retort the Doctor dodged past him and bent over the open canister. ‘So, found anything yet…? Mmn, this is interesting…’

The young woman called Victoria stopped next to the young man. ‘Jamie, what’s happening? Who are these people? That man, he can’t be—’

‘Mebbe he can.’ Jamie bent his head close to Victoria. ‘Polly told me—he changes. Face, voice, everything.’

‘And rarely for the better, I’m afraid,’ said the Doctor, straightening up from the canister.

‘Professor—he’s you?’ Ace appeared desperate to hit something. I confess I was a little confused and frustrated myself. Discipulus-H simply looked dazed.

The small man sighed. ‘He was.’

The Doctor walked around to the other side of the canister, ignoring the water lapping around his ankles. ‘A little rude to use the past tense when I’m standing in front of you, don’t you think?’

The ‘Professor’ leaned on the canister, putting his face close to the Doctor’s. ‘When I’m standing in front of you, I think you’ll find you are past tense.’

They locked eyes for a moment; blue on blue. Then the hatless Doctor (the other I will continue to call the ‘Professor’) looked down into the canister and folded his hands on his chest. ‘So, what d’you make of all this, then?’

A moment as the tension still hung in the air, and then the olive branch was accepted, and they peered together into the canister’s interior. ‘Lots of minor interior damage,’ the Doctor mused. ‘Perhaps the occupant panicked?’

‘Or was in the grip of some kind of fit.’

‘Possibly…the door has been knocked clean off, you notice.’

‘I had noticed. With an indentation in the centre consistent with a large boot.’

Jamie had moved closer during this discussion, ignoring a mildly threatening glare from Ace. ‘Doctor…’

‘Not now, Jamie. Now, from the sophisticated design I think we can assume considerable intelligence on the part of the occupant…’

‘So,’ the ‘Professor’ added, ‘the question becomes what could induce panic in such an occupant.’

‘Well, no….what worries me…’ the Doctor moved around, tentatively touching the slightly warped edges of the canister’s opening, ‘is the possibility of some kind of mental aberration in a being with this kind of strength. I think panic is unlikely, so we’re left with the alternative hypothesis…’

‘Doctor…’ Jamie was looking along the shoreline. He stepped to the Doctor’s side.

‘Which was my suggestion of some kind of fit,’ said the ‘Professor’.

‘Or,’ the Doctor straightened up, ‘some kind of malfunction, if the occupant was robotic…or cybernetic.’

‘Cybermen?’ said Ace and Victoria almost simultaneously.

‘Now let’s not jump to conclusions,’ said the Doctor. ‘There’s none of the—oh, what is it Jamie?’

Jamie ceased his tugging of the Doctor’s sleeve and pointed at the waterline. At first I could see nothing, but after a few moments I was able to discern faint marks in the earth, visible through the shallow water.

‘That’s where the scumbag went,’ muttered Ace, starting forward, but the ‘Professor’ held her back. ‘No, Ace; we have no idea what we’re facing…’

‘But this person could be hurt,’ spoke up Discipulus-H suddenly. Everyone looked at her. ‘It is our duty, surely, to…’ She trailed off as she became conscious of the eyes upon her.

‘Perhaps,’ said Victoria, ‘if we all went together…?’

And so it was we followed the marks along the lakeside, then up across one of the far slopes where they were barely discernible on the dried-out ground and only Jamie could make them out. We moved among the gentle dips and rises until the lake was out of sight. Jamie was leading but both Doctors were close behind him, and Ace kept a little distance from the rest of us—while staying level with the leaders.

‘I’m so sorry,’ Victoria said to me and Discipulus-H at one point. ‘It’s always like this; we rush in to save the day and we have no time to introduce ourselves properly. I’m Victoria Waterfield. That’s Jamie McCrimmon, and that is the Doctor…oh, and so is that, I gather. That will take a little bit of getting used to. I’m afraid I don’t know—’

‘Ace,’ I said, and then gave Victoria our names. She managed a quiet ‘oh’ and then, after a moment or two of silence, asked: ‘So, you’re a religious order?’

Following Discipulus-H’s enthusiastic affirmative, I said: ‘In the oldest sense, perhaps, of a return to the source of things. There is no real dogma here, no requirement for belief in a supreme being. We meditate, and we work, and we live from day to day and attempt to maintain clarity.’

Discipulus-H was looking at me a little warily, and I realised I must be careful not trample on any aspect of her faith. ‘We embrace all manifestations of the spirit,’ I added.

Victoria nodded, and lowered her head as we walked. ‘My father was a scientist, and I always felt…a little ashamed that I still believed.’ She looked up. ‘But I can’t see how it’s possible to believe in nothing—I mean, in pure accident, in the whole universe being some sort of chance happening…can you?’

‘That is absurd,’ said Discipulus-H. ‘I have felt the presence. There is no doubt the cosmos is…guided…’

I looked at her in surprise, which I quickly masked. Victoria’s face reflected her gratitude.

‘Wait…’

Ahead of us, the others had halted. Jamie was holding up a hand. The Doctors were either side of him.

‘Whatever the beastie is, it’s just behind that great rock.’

‘Well, then…’ the Doctor beckoned them back, and they came closer to us. ‘Now then,’ the Doctor was rummaging in a pocket, ‘whatever it is is quite probably afraid, and to avoid frightening it further I think one of us needs to approach it alone.’ He pulled out a coin. ‘So, I propose—’

The ‘Professor’ put a hand over his. ‘With that coin? I prefer to trust to one of my own.’ He whipped something out of his own pocket.

The Doctor put away his coin, looking unhappy. The ‘Professor’ flipped. ‘Call.’

‘Heads.’

The coin was held up. ‘Tails. I wonder if you’ve got into the habit of saying “heads”...?’

The Doctor put his face close to the ‘Professor’. ‘Just be ready, that’s all.’

‘I’ll come wi’ you, Doctor—’

‘No, Jamie, I think it’s best this way…’ The Doctor took one look at his namesake, adjusted his jacket, and moved forward.

Ace came closer, reaching into her bag. The ‘Professor’ put out a warning hand and then brought his finger to his lips. Ace took her hand from the bag, but re-inserted it as soon as she thought all eyes were once again on the Doctor.

The Doctor disappeared from view behind the jutting outcrop that Jamie had indicated. It felt as if we were all holding our breath.

There was a kind of growl.

‘Oh my word…’

The Doctor reappeared. He was running, but going nowhere, as his legs were not on the ground. He hung suspended from the huge hand of a towering ape-like creature dressed in rough clothes, which advanced towards us holding the Doctor aloft with apparent ease.

Even Jamie and Ace seemed cowed by this unexpected apparition, but the ‘Professor’ leaped forward and levelled his stick at the chest of the creature. ‘I order you to put him down, or—’ His words turned into a kind of yelp as the creature seized the end of the stick with its free hand and hoisted him into the air.

‘Well, a lot of good that did!’ snapped the Doctor as they faced each other a few feet apart.

‘Well, try soothing him with that flute you carry, why don’t you? “Considerable intelligence on the part of the occupant”…’

‘It’s a recorder! And I don’t have it with me!’

‘Professor! Doctor! Cover your eyes…!’

Ace had lobbed a small object onto the ground in front of the ape-thing. A moment later there was a flash, a bang and a cloud of smoke. I covered Discipulus-H with my arms and body.

There were shouts, growls from the creature, sounds of scuffling. I looked up; the smoke cleared to show Jamie grappling with the slightly dazed creature. Both the Doctors were picking themselves up; Ace helped the ‘Professor’, and Victoria went to the Doctor.

Jamie came flying through the air, to land half on the Doctor as Victoria was helping him scramble clear.

‘Ace—no!’

Ace paused in the act of throwing. The ‘Professor’ stayed her with a hand, scooped up his fallen stick and planted himself in a defiant pose.

‘Ogron!’ he roared. ‘You’re surrounded. You’re outnumbered. We have many weapons! Nitro Nine! Umbrellas! Kilts! Spoons…recorders! Surrender is your only choice. Give up now and…and…’ He waved an imperious finger at the creature as he thought furiously.

The Ogron’s response was to produce a compact, two-barrelled object from a pouch on its belt and, grasping the device by its handle, point it directly at the shouting man.

‘Professor, get down!’ Ace threw herself on the man as the device discharged. There was a faint hum and a dim blue haze at the end of the barrels, but the shot seemed to miss. We all sought what cover we could, Victoria huddling with me and Discipulus-H, and Jamie and the Doctor flattening themselves against a slight slope while Ace dragged the ‘Professor’ to safety.

The Ogron turned this way and that, covering all of its foes. Ace propped her Doctor against a small rock. Jamie and his Doctor raised their heads cautiously.

The Ogron let off another blast. No one seemed to be hit.

The Doctor sat up, resisting Jamie’s effort to pull him down. He peered intently at the Ogron until, all at once, his eyebrows shot up. ‘Ah.’ He climbed to his feet. The Ogron swung to cover him.

‘Now, now…’ The Doctor took a step forward. ‘Jamie…’ he muttered from the corner of his mouth, ‘if you’d like to get around behind this fellow…’

Jamie scrambled stealthily to obey. The Doctor walked forward. The Ogron fired.

‘You see,’ the Doctor said, still walking, ‘your weapon can’t hurt me. Why don’t you hand it over and we can all be friends?’

The Ogron fired again. The Doctor stepped forward, spreading his hands, his head cocked slightly on one side. ‘You see?’

The Doctor advanced. The Ogron backed away—and fell over Jamie, balled up close to the ground in answer to the Doctor’s surreptitious signals. As the Ogron fell, the Doctor skipped to one side and snatched up the device as it fell, aiming it at the creature. The device discharged once.

Jamie scrambled to his feet, but he was held back as he prepared to leap on the Ogron. ‘I don’t think that will be necessary, Jamie. He won’t hurt us now.’ The Doctor turned to look for the rest of us. ‘You can come out—it’s quite all right.’

The ‘Professor’ was first there, and the Doctor beamed at him and tossed him the device, which he caught and examined. After a few moments he tossed it back. ‘Yes. I see. Very clever.’

‘Just a matter of using my eyes. I recognised the design.’ He extended a hand to pat the shoulder of the other. ‘Just as you apparently recognised this creature. Fearsome brute, isn’t he?’ The Ogron was sitting up with what might be described as a smile on its simian features as if in direct repudiation of the description. ‘He does look familiar, if only I could think from where… Have you—I—we encountered them often?’

‘Two or three times—often in thrall to the Daleks.’

‘Ah. Well, thankfully, not this time, to judge fr—’

‘Professor, what happened?’

Yes,’ Victoria joined Ace. ‘What did you do? What is that weapon?’

The Doctor beamed, then suppressed it as if afraid to look immodest. He gestured at the ‘Professor’. ‘Perhaps you’d care to explain…’

The ‘Professor’ gave him a sidelong glance. ‘It’s not a weapon at all,’ he told the others. ‘It’s a kind of pacifier; mild medication, electronically administered. But of course he didn’t know that,’ indicating the Ogron. ‘I suppose he must have been put in the escape capsule by his owner,’ he looked towards the Doctor, who nodded in agreement, ‘presumably to save him from some kind of disaster in space. I imagine we’ll never know.’

‘Surprised you didn’t remember what that thing was, Professor,’ said Ace. ‘I mean if he’ indicating the Doctor, ‘is an earlier you, then shouldn’t you have his memories?’

They looked at one another. ‘The Blinovitch Limitation effect,’ they said, almost simultaneously.

‘Well,’ said Jamie, eyeing the Ogron, ‘what do we do wi’ him now? Cannae leave him sittin’ here.’

‘No,’ said the Doctor. ‘I suppose we’ll have to drop him off somewhere.’ He turned to me. ‘Unless…a place could be found for him here…?’

I was taken aback by the suggestion. ‘Is…is it—he still dangerous?’

‘Oh, I don’t think so.’ The Doctor turned the pacifying device over in his hand. ‘This is solar-chargeable and more or less unbreakable. One dose a day, he’ll be perfectly manageable.’

‘Doctor,’ squawked Victoria, ‘we can’t leave that…that monster here with the Sisters!’

The Doctor nodded. ‘I know, I know, I was just thinking of the difficulty of returning him home—you know what the TARDIS can be like…’

‘Problem solved,’ said the ‘Professor’. ‘I have perfect control over the TARDIS. We can take him anywhere.’

‘You don’t have to sound quite so smug,’ said the Doctor. ‘Some of us relish a little mystery in our lives, you know.’

‘Oh aye...’

‘Quiet, Jamie.’

‘We can take him,’ said Ace. ‘We’ll have no trouble with some stupid ape-thing, right Professor?’

‘Please,’ I said, before anyone could answer, ‘it is not necessary. If you will leave me the device, we will keep him here—at least for the time being.’ They all looked at me. ‘It seems likely his masters, whoever they were, have perished, or abandoned him. It is possible he is used to service, and we will treat him more kindly than others might—I will make certain of that.’

‘Are you sure?’ asked Victoria. ‘He’s so big…if he got out of control…’

‘There are tasks here we find it difficult to accomplish easily. The movement of the stores, for example. There are storms, periodically—damage. A little brute strength would not go amiss.’

The Doctors looked at me. I longed to ask them questions now, feeling I had begun to understand who they were. Who he was. But there were too many people here. Too much confusion. I had to trust that whatever power ordered the universe would bring him this way again, and that perhaps we would finally talk in openness and true friendship.

I looked at these two faces, one kindly and gentle beneath the dark mop, the other with a twinkle in the eyes that failed to hide the depths behind. They were more alike in some ways than any other two who had come to this place bearing that title, but also utterly different.

As the sun dropped from view Discipulus-H and I left them by the shore of the lake; Jamie, Victoria and Ace had all taken their turn to sit down in front of the Aeturnums. And that very special bloom was currently a blend of two very similar shades of blue. As we crested the slope with the unnamed creature walking obediently at our side, we could hear the faint piping of a wind instrument and the clink-clack of metal accompanying it. They had made the most of their accidental meeting. I doubted there were many such strife-free moments in his life.



Part 6 here

Saturday, 26 October 2013

This Time, This Place (Part 4) - 50th Anniversary fiction

For 'this is not an adventure' disclaimer and notes on the Sororiate, see Part 1

Part 3 here



From the private journal of Quinquaginta-Soror-Hortus, Year of Grace 1337:

I had become used to retreating to the garden, to visit her flower, in order to feel less alone—but also to keep far from the presence of all others. So I was unprepared for the appearance of a visitor this morning.

He stood on the last of the Memoriam Steps, a tall man in a long dark brown coat, with the ends of what I eventually realised was a scarf reaching almost to his feet. His head was covered by a dark wide-brimmed hat, from which I could see brown curls escaping.

He was throwing stones, trying to make them skip along the surface. He obviously had several in his hand, but he soon exhausted his supply. After a few more moments spent contemplating the lake, he turned, perhaps to get more stones, and saw me.

I was next to the Aeturnum bed, so there were two hundred metres between us. The man stood, and looked at me, making no attempt to come back to the shore, so eventually I began to move closer to him. I had no desire to talk to anyone, I had no desire to see anyone—but if he would not come to me, I could not ask him to leave.

Even when I reached the first of the Steps he remained still, watching me. I hesitated, suddenly wondering if he was dangerous. How had he found the place? There had not been anyone here, other than new initiates, since…since the Doctor and Charley, fifteen years before.

He did not appear to be armed, however, and although I could clearly see a formidable intelligence in his eyes there was also a kindly gleam. But his expression was sombre.

‘Hello,’ he said, in deep voice. Even the simple word, a genuine greeting, seemed invested with irony. He went on: ‘You look like you’ve lost your best friend. How odd.’

I was so surprised at his perceptiveness that all I could do was echo. ‘Odd?’

‘I mean, it’s an odd coincidence. Because so have I.’ He came closer. Then he turned to survey the lake. ‘That’s why I came here. To think. Quite lucky to have made it, really, the way—’ He broke off and turned back to me. ‘I’m sorry, perhaps you’d prefer to be alone?’

‘No,’ I said, without thinking. ‘I—’ I cut off the self-contradiction that followed immediately. ‘It is…all right.’

He was looking out over the lake again. ‘Her name was Sarah. Is Sarah.’ He paused. ‘Was Sarah.’ He took off his hat and ruffled his wildly curling hair before turning a rueful half-smile on me. ‘I left her at home, about five hundred thousand years ago and fifty thousand light years from here. I couldn’t take her where I was going.’ He looked down at his hat. ‘But all that time and space is just a short hop for me—I could go back and get her, now I’ve sorted out their mess for them. But should I? Perhaps she deserves a chance to live an ordinary sort of life. What do you think?’ He replaced his hat and lifted his head, looking at me down his strong nose. ‘Do you mind me talking to you like this? I’ve got rather used to having someone to overhear my musings.’

I had no idea what to say; I spread my hands. Then a question came to me. ‘You are The Doctor?’

I had caught him off guard, but his widened eyes and opened mouth were quickly replaced by a brilliant smile. ‘And you’re…Dam, no—Soror Hortus! Looking at you, it must be…twenty years? I was here with—well, you would have known him as Magister. I’m so sorry about that, it wasn’t—’

‘That was another Doctor, and not the last time…’ I stopped speaking, and half-turned back toward the Aeturnums. Then I looked at him again.

He was watching me expectantly, his eyes bright.

I hesitated to voice my thought. It had come to me with increasing insistence over the years, but it still seemed incredible. ‘Y-you are some kind of metamorph?’

‘Well…in an occasional, needs-must, from-the-inside-out sort of way, I suppose I am. But we’ve been through all this—well, we will have.’ Then he looked as if struck by a sudden thought, and his hands reached out to my shoulders, not quite making contact before they drew back. ‘Ohh. Hortus? Quinquaginta Hortus?’

I nodded faintly.

He thrust his hands into his coat pockets and stepped closer to me. It was a moment before he said anything, and then his voice came out as a croak. ‘I’m so sorry. Soror Coquus. I remember.’

His words chilled me with the memory of my loss, but part of me was struck with wonder and disbelief. How could he know? How could he ‘remember’?

His eyes were the colour of the lake, and they looked into me with infinite sorrow. ‘You have just lost your best friend.’

I fought to keep the feelings from overwhelming me. I failed, and felt myself swaying. He caught my flailing arm and steadied me, supporting me as I sank down on the seventh stone.

And I had never held her. A year of simmering ill-will, followed by the realisation that she resented me only because of the feelings she could not control – that she did not understand – and then two decades of friendship that could never become anything more…and then to miss her final moments because of some wretched Novina who needed to bond with a bloom…

But no. It was not that girl’s fault. There was nowhere to lay blame, except at the feet of duty, and tradition. And my own fearfulness.

Veritae – and I would always now think of her by her real name – would never have dared transgress. She believed in the rules of the order. I was always the malcontent, the dissident. She had always left it up to me. And I was too afraid. Too afraid, and now it was too late.

I do not know how long I sat huddled, weeping. My tears subsided at length, leaving me only exhaustion.

All this time he had stood on the seventeenth stone, his back turned, honouring my grief without intruding upon it. Now he turned to me and approached. He reached down a hand. ‘Come with me. I want to show you something.’

I allowed him to grasp me by my wrist and pull me to my feet. I expected him to take me out, to the farthest stone, but he led me back to shore and along the waterline to the Aeturnum bed.

We stood for a few moments contemplating the flowers. I sought out my former favourite, in latter years merely my second favourite bloom, and was not surprised to see it reflecting something very like the colour of the lake.

I avoided looking at the flower that had been Veritae’s, but the Doctor now knelt before it. ‘This was Coquus’ bloom?’

I nodded without turning my eyes. I wondered how he knew.

‘Come and look at it.’

I looked at him.

He moved aside, stretching out a hand in invitation. ‘Come and look. Look closely. It won’t hurt.’ He looked thoughtful for a moment. ‘Well, only a bit…’ Then he grinned, his mouth seeming huge and his eyes alight. ‘Come on.’

I lowered myself next to him, and forced my gaze onto the Aeturnum. The petals were slightly wilted, as I had expected, but the flower looked as though it would survive.

‘Look closer,’ he insisted. ‘Bend down to it.’

I did not want to, but there was such gentle command in his tone that I obeyed. I brought my face close to the flower.

It responded, lifting slightly. I gasped, drew back—and it drooped. I looked at the Doctor. He nodded slightly, his eyes wide and shining. I looked at the Aeturnum and leaned closer.

It lifted its head again until it was directly facing me. And it began to shift hue; Veritae’s hazel colour withdrew slowly as grey began to spread from the outer edges of the petals. I leaned still closer, hardly aware I was doing so, my breath held.

The colour stopped its slow advance, leaving the inner petals hazel, but with a grey fringing, and tiny streaks of the grey reaching down into the heart of the flower. I exhaled. I looked wonderingly at the Doctor.

‘Now it holds both of you,’ he said. ‘It will do that, if there’s sufficient affinity between the one left behind and the one departed.’

I had to blink now, to clear my vision. It was not enough, and I wiped at my eyes with my sleeve. ‘H-how did you know…?’

He made an expansive gesture. ‘Ah. Well, when you’ve been where I’ve been, seen what I’ve seen…’

‘Thank you.’

His expression became sober again. ‘You can’t change what’s been. You can’t go back. But this is a way to go forward.’

I looked at the Aeturnum. It looked back at me. My vision swam again, and I bowed my head.

I heard the Doctor stand. I blinked hard once again and looked up at him. ‘Will you…go back? To find…Sarah?’

‘I don’t know if I can. I don’t know if I’m meant to. I don’t know if I believe in things being meant, or not meant, to be.’ He grinned, but with a trace of rue again. ‘There’s a great comfort in ignorance—it keeps you moving forward, questing, looking.’ He put his hands in his pockets. ‘Goodbye, Quinquaginta-Soror-Hortus. Till we meet again. And we will.’

I came to my feet, aware that there were many questions I had left unasked. He was already walking away. I went to speak but was interrupted by a loud gurgle from my stomach. I realised I had not eaten for almost a day, such had been my distress.

He paused and looked back at me. His hand was delving in his pocket. ‘I don’t like the sound of that. Before I go…’ There was rustling, and he produced a wrinkled paper bag and held it out towards me.

‘…Would you like a jelly baby?’



From the private journal of Quinquaginta-Soror-Hortus, Year of Grace 1338:



Septendecim-Novina-Hortus came scuttling up from the garden today to tell me there was a man down there. Foolish hopes rose in me – another visit, so soon after the last? – but even as I approached the lake I knew something was amiss.

He stood looking out over the water in a dark brown, high-collared coat. He did not move. I watched, hardly daring to move or even to blink. At length he seemed to become aware of me and turned, his gaze focusing directly on my face. There was a kind of emptiness in those brown eyes, like the final surrender to some horror. His face was lined and haggard, his hair brown with streaks of grey, turning to white in the straggling beard and moustache.

He gazed at me, without speaking or showing any expression on those haunted features. Then without warning he turned and strode away, climbing one of the slopes and disappearing. There was that sound again, echoing over the low hills and across the water, then silence.

For a long time I did not move. When I felt sufficiently strong I made my way down to the garden. I did not want to look, but I had to see.

My second favourite flower stood drooping, its petals almost touching the earth. I cried out when I saw it, and fell to my knees. It was not dead, but it would need all my care to live. I sat with it for the remainder of the day. Whenever I thought of the man I had seen, I could not suppress a shudder.



Interlude (Year of Grace 1368):

He stands on the seventeenth stone and looks down at the eighteenth. She stands a few stones behind him, her arms loosely folded, her head cocked to one side. There is no sound except for the gentle lapping of the lake.

He kneels, slowly, and traces the letters chiselled into the final stone. ‘Even we don’t know,’ he says. ‘Where life comes from, where it goes to, what might be on either side…there are some mysteries hidden even from the Time Lords.’ He pauses, fingers resting lightly on the stone. Then he pulls his hand away and looks at it as if it was speaking to him. ‘With all of time and all of space to choose from, it always comes down to one moment, one location. Time is another mystery. There are rules, and lines that can’t be crossed…but no one knows exactly what they all are. Personal time and universal time are two distinct streams. Except when they’re not.’

Clara lifts an eyebrow.

‘Don’t you see?’ He stands up and faces her. ‘If there are further regenerations of me out there, are they out there “now”, for me? How can they be? I haven’t become those Doctors yet. And yet, here we are at the far end of human history, so somewhere in the past there must be, or must be going to be, other, future regenerations…so, personal time and universal time are different things.’



‘Except when they’re not.’

‘Exactly.’ Then his brows draw down. ‘Are you making fun of me?’

‘Would I? I’m just mocking the entire structure of space and time.’

‘Oh. Well. That’s all right.’ He turns back to the stone, pauses, and looks back at her with a frown. Then he crouches again. ‘I ran away from this kind of existence. She ran towards it. I don’t think she felt she was very important, and I’ve…well, I’ve saved a planet or two in my time. But maybe that’s less of a difference than it seems. Maybe what’s important is not always what happens to you and around you, but…’ He falls silent and lays his hand on the stone again.

‘Are you all right?’ asks Clara.

‘I can go back.’ He says. ‘I can always go back. Just like I can go back to the underground, or Global Chemicals or Forgill Castle. But once you see this, once it becomes real…becomes a moment in time that has been lived through... Personal time has its own rules.’ He sighs, and sits back, looking at the name carved there, and the date.

‘Year of Grace,’ she reads. ‘I thought you said we’re far in the future.’

‘The date is from the founding of this Cenobate,’ he says. He sighs again. ‘We should have come earlier.’



Part 5 here