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

Saturday, 19 October 2013

This Time, This Place (Part 3) - 50th Anniversary fiction

For 'this is not an adventure' disclaimer and background notes, see part 1

Part 2 here

From the private journal of Triginta-Soror-Hortus, Year of Grace 1314:

This situation with Soror-Coquus has not improved. I had thought of bringing it to the attention of the Nono-Dam, but I am certain she is already aware of it, which suggests to me that she hopes we can work the difficulty out between ourselves.

But what happened today overshadowed everything else. I will try to recall it in as much detail as I can.

It began when two of the novices came scurrying in from the Galilaea, completely ignoring the shocked face of Soror-Lavandarius in their panic—oblivious even to her barked reminder that they must not run. In fact they could not be calmed until the Nono-Dam appeared, at which point they managed to gasp out that there was a man outside asking to enter.

This caused almost as much consternation among the older Sisters. Everyone looked at the Nono-Dam, who remained calm but looked, nevertheless, a little at a loss. I took a step forward. ‘I will speak with him.’

Further distress among the Sororiate. The Nono-Dam merely looked at me for a moment, then nodded. ‘But you should not greet him alone. Soror-Coquus will accompany you.’

Coquus and I were united for one moment in surprise. But of course there was nothing to be said, so we went together out to the porch. At the sight of the man she hung back, but I approached him, pulling my Cappa back from my head, which was recommended as a concession when speaking to outsiders.

He was a slight figure, dressed in a neat, close-fitting outfit of black, complete with gloves and a constricting collar. His greying hair was receding over a high forehead and his beard showed streaks of white on either side of his mouth. He seemed to be sweating slightly, as if from exertion.

‘Ah,’ he said as I drew close, inclining his head slightly. ‘Greetings…Sister?’ I nodded confirmation of his guess. ‘Can you tell me where I am?’

‘This is the Cenobate of the Sororiate Pantheia.’

‘Uh, yes, but the…the planet? And the year?’

‘This is Caela. As to the year, we do not measure as other worlds do. It is the year of Grace 1314.’

He scowled, though he quickly brought his face back to a more neutral expression. He had large, heavy-lidded brown eyes beneath a strong brow, and as he looked at me I fought a sudden urge to step back. I sought for something else to conciliate him. ‘Uh…the Eighth Morestran Empire had successfully quelled an infestation of Kelads at the time I was brought here, over twenty years ago.’ I realised I was taking it for granted that he knew the cycle of Caela’s sun, so I began to speak again, but he brought his gloved hand up in an abrupt movement, and nodded, half-turning away.

‘The very back of beyond, spatially and chronologically, in fact.’

I was not sure the words had been meant for my ears. ‘I am Soror Hortus. This is Soror Coquus. Might I ask your name?’

He looked from me to Coquus. His mouth was a contemptuous line beneath his moustache. ‘The gardener and the cook. Not the most fitting reception committee.’

I felt Soror Coquus move closer. ‘You were asked for your own name.’ For once, I was grateful for Coquus’ fondness for the confrontational; she seemed to have overcome her horror of speaking to a stranger.

‘I am…’ He hesitated briefly. ‘You may call me Magister. Will you conduct me to your Dam?’

‘What is your business here?’ persisted Soror Coquus.

I could see him considering his approach. He gestured down towards the lake, hidden from view. ‘…My ship was forced down. I think it’s beyond repair. I will need to find a way off the planet.’

‘There is no way to leave Caela,’ I told him, but Coquus was worrying about something else. ‘You say your ship came down? We have heard nothing—seen nothing.’

He looked at her for only a moment before addressing himself to me. ‘Surely you have supplies delivered? I can scarcely believe you can feed and clothe yourselves; this climate is hardly ideal for crops. When is the next supply ship due?’

‘Everything we need is transmatted from an orbiting station,’ Coquus said with unmistakable satisfaction. ‘No ships land here.’

‘The transmat is one way,’ I said, as I saw him begin to speak. ‘There were other settlements, years ago, on the eastern landmass, but they have left, as far as we are aware.’

‘You’re alone on this entire planet?’

‘We are all alone, wherever we are,’ said Coquus. I was surprised at the depth of feeling in her voice.

‘A pretty philosophical quibble,’ he muttered. Then his eyes brightened. ‘The transmat – you must have some means of communicating with the station, in order to order what you need. If I could speak to someone…show me the communications room.’

Coquus smiled coldly. ‘Only Soror-Medius can enter that room.’

Magister’s eyebrows flared upward and his eyes bulged, before he controlled himself again. ‘I don’t think you realise who I am. I assure you, if I can speak to someone on the outside, I can arrange for many things to be brought, things that will benefit the Cenobate…’

‘We want for nothing,’ I told him. ‘What else could we desire?’

His face took on a set expression. ‘I wish to speak to the Dam.’

After a moment, Coquus took a step back. ‘I will see if that is to be permitted.’ She turned and walked back into the building. I looked after her, trying not to show my sudden fear. I did not think the Nono-Dam had intended for either of us to be left alone with the visitor.

He bent his unfathomable eyes on me. ‘I cannot be expected to live out the rest of my existence here! I have much to do. You must believe me.’

There was a new intensity in his gaze as he held mine. ‘You must believe me. You-must-belie—’

‘I rather think she has beliefs of her own to fall back on, old chap.’

I felt a shock, as if released from a kind of paralysis. It was a moment before I could even recollect where I was—who I was.

Magister had spun away from me to face the speaker; over Magister’s shoulder I saw a tall, lean man with white hair, dressed in a red jacket and dark trousers and sporting a dark, blue-lined cape. This man now came towards us. ‘So this is where you got to. No good running away, you know. Nowhere to go.’

‘You continue to underestimate me, Doctor. There’s always a way.’

The tall man stopped in front of Magister. Then he seemed to notice me. ‘I’m sorry, how terribly rude of me.’ He extended a hand, then perhaps recalled my vocation and seemed to think better of it. ‘Pleased to meet you. I’m the Doctor. And you are…?’

For a moment I was unable to answer, my mind fixed on the name he had just given. There was something in his face, also; he looked carefully at me. ‘Excuse me, have we met before?’

‘I do not think so. I am Triginta-Soror-Hortus.’

‘Good grief, of course, those titles. In which case I hope you won’t mind if I call you…simply…Soror?’ He gestured at Magister. ‘I’m terribly sorry if this man has caused you any difficulties; he was in my charge, but I took my eyes off him for…well,’ he rubbed a hand on the side of his neck, ‘for long enough, clearly. I brought him here – well, to the lake garden – hoping the surroundings would make him more receptive to what I had to say…but he’s incorrigible, I’m afraid. I’ll take him away again.’

Magister folded his arms. ‘Really, Doctor? And just how will you manage that? I think being deserted by Miss Grant has left your mind rath—’

The Doctor cut in sharply: ‘By now you’ve discovered that there’s no way for you to escape the planet. And you can hardly stay at the Cenobate.’

‘Not even if I invoke the ancient right of sanctuary?’

They both looked at me. I did not know what to tell them, but I was saved from answering by the reappearance of Soror-Coquus. She paused in mid-step as she saw the Doctor, but recovered herself and came to stand by me. ‘You cannot be permitted – either of you – to enter the Cenobate. And the Nono-Dam, likewise, is not permitted to converse with any from the world beyond. You must leave.’

I could well imagine that the Dam herself might have expressed her refusal in gentler tones and language. The Doctor turned to Magister. ‘Well, you see the situation. And without weapons or any suitable malignant faction with which to ally yourself, I doubt you can force entry into the Cenobate.’

‘My question about sanctuary has not yet been answered,’ Magister pointed out.

Coquus looked at me. ‘I was not sure of the Sororiate law on the matter,’ I told her.

There was silence. Magister looked at Coquus. ‘Well?’

Coquus was silent, which worried me. Eventually, she said: ‘No one has requested such a thing before. I…am not certain the right has ever been repealed.’ I could tell that the admission pained her, but it was not within her power to withhold the truth. I saw that with sudden clarity, and realised, for the first time, she could never help speaking to me of how she felt.

‘Then I claim sanctuary,’ said Magister. ‘I suggest you find out the current status of the right.’

‘Don’t be absurd,’ said the Doctor. ‘You’d be screaming for release within a week.’

Magister was silent. He lifted an eyebrow at the Doctor, then looked at us. ‘Well? Run along, one of you, and find out what we need to know.’

I looked at Coquus. She was clearly very uncomfortable. And my mind was awhirl with too many thoughts. Did the Doctor know me? Did he somehow share memories with others who held the same title? Bringing Magister here had been no accident – the Doctor knew the lake and its surroundings. And I knew, I knew now without having to look, that my favourite bloom in the garden would be displaying the colour of the tall man’s eyes.

Magister shifted slightly. ‘I’m waiting.’

Coquus turned her face away. ‘There is no necessity to check.’ I saw her force herself to look back at the men. ‘The right is still available.’

Magister let out a sharp crowing sound. ‘Well Doctor, what do you have to say about that?’

The Doctor stood quite still. He shook his head very slightly. ‘You know I can’t possibly let you remain here. No doubt you’re intending to gain access to the communications room, and try to find a way to escape.’

Magister spread his hands. ‘Ah, you know me so well. And what precisely do you propose to do to stop me?’

The Doctor slid a forefinger up one cheek, looking thoughtful. ‘Well, let’s see…I might try—Hai!’

With this abrupt exclamation he thrust two fingers at the chest of Magister, who stiffened. For a moment they were frozen in a tableau, Magister’s eyes shot with venom, the Doctor meeting his gaze without flinching.

All at once Magister crumpled; the Doctor caught him and eased him down to the boards of the porch. ‘There,’ said the Doctor.

I heard Coquus draw in a sharp breath. ‘He…you cannot…once he had claimed the privilege, you must not—’

‘I don’t believe I heard you accept him, Madam,’ said the Doctor tartly. ‘And believe me, I have done you and the Cenobate a considerable favour.’

I had no doubt of the truth of his words. I looked at Coquus, and she was clearly still troubled.

The Doctor straightened up. ‘I must apologise again for bringing this man here. I’m really not sure now what I hoped to achieve.’ He looked down at Magister. ‘A reconciliation, perhaps.’ There was a strange longing in his gaze, and I wondered about the other Doctors, the men who had come with others—and the one who had come alone in the night to weep. This man, too, seemed to be suffering a loss; something less all-encompassing perhaps, but something that had made him reach out to one who seemed to be his enemy.

He gestured at the fallen figure. ‘If you could just give me a little help to get him on my shoulders…’

Coquus hesitated, so I stepped forward and assisted the Doctor. He took the weight of Magister with apparent ease. I wondered how old he was. His hair was purest white and there were lines on his face, but the eyes that expressed gratitude sparkled with youth. He inclined his head to Coquus, and seemed about to turn away.

‘What will happen to him?’ I asked. ‘What will you do with him?’

He sighed. ‘That’s a question I’ve been asking myself for far too long. I wish I could give you a satisfactory answer.’ He offered a wry smile. ‘Thank you, Soror.’

He made his way along the path that meanders down towards the lake, and disappeared from sight.

Coquus exhaled. I looked at her. ‘Are you well?’

Her eyes flicked at me briefly, then away. ‘We must…tell the Dam.’

My hand was on her arm. I was not certain how it got there. She stared down at it, then looked up and me and drew away. I lowered my eyes in apology. Then something rose in me and I cried out: ‘Why is it this way between us? What must I do to—’

But she was already walking away. I have not had the opportunity to be alone with her since that moment. I went down to the lakeside this evening and sat with the Aeturnums. My favourite flower was blue, as I had known it would be. It also seemed to me that Soror Coquus’ flower turned towards mine more than usual. The meaning of that, I cannot tell.

From the private journal of Quadraginta-Soror-Hortus, Year of Grace 1322:

I am still recuperating from the events of the last two days, but am finally strong enough to record what happened.

We have not had a dust viper in this area for thirty years, so I did not immediately grasp the significance of the faint marks on the lake shoreline. By the time I glimpsed the movement at the edge of my vision it was too late.

There was only the tiniest stab of pain in my ankle. The reptile slithered away through the flowerbed, and for a moment I simply watched. As the reality of what had just passed sank in, it seemed to me that I already felt a spreading chill in my calf, although in truth it was too soon for the venom to be at work. My heart beat wildly; a moment later I was overwhelmed by a feeling of nausea. And then I fell.

When I woke I did not immediately remember what had happened; my first reminder was the fierce, hot throbbing of my leg. Surging with panic I tried to get up, but my strength had left me. I felt passage of blood as pain through every limb.

A pair of hands rested gently on my shoulders and a voice spoke to me. The sun was at its zenith and the brightness was torture to my eyes; through narrowed lids I could see the silhouette of a man with slightly disordered hair that fell to his tight, high collar.

‘Careful now. You’ve had a nasty bite. Dust viper?’

I moved my head in a weak affirmative.

‘Do you know how long ago?’

I tried to speak but my mouth was too dry. I shook my head.

‘All right. Try to keep calm. You’ll be all right.’

‘Doctor…’ Another voice, female, a few metres away. ‘If it was a snake, will it still be around…?’

‘Reasonable question, Charley,’ said the man, and disappeared from my view. ‘It probably struck in panic and then fled. Dust vipers won’t eat anything bigger than a small dog…but you never know.’ I heard a vibrating sound, which increased in pitch and then seemed to all but disappear from the range of my hearing. ‘Hold the screwdriver, make a 360 degree turn. That should make this area uncomfortable for it, if it’s still lurking.’

‘It’s not too comfortable for me,’ said the young woman. ‘Anyway, aren’t snakes supposed to be deaf?’

‘They respond to vibrations,’ said the man. ‘Now pipe down a minute and let me think. Dust viper venom…not the slowest acting, not the fastest, several known antidotes, none of which we have here, except—ah!’


‘The Aeturnums, of course. But we need the right one…’

‘The flowers? What do you mean, the right one? There are hundreds…’

The man was in my field of vision again. ‘Now, Sister, I need your help. Try to open your eyes wider for me… yes, that’s good. Charley! Over here.’

Another shape joined the man. ‘What?’

‘We need to find a flower precisely that colour.’

The next few minutes passed in the manner of a dream. I heard their movements and voices, close by but seeming far away. The visible world disappeared into a flashing, swimming vision of black and red, and I remember wondering if I would finally be privy to the truth about the universe—if I would know whether the Sororiate’s faith was founded in reality. I do not recall whether I was afraid.

When I returned to myself the brightness of the light seemed less painful. They were sitting either side of me.

‘Welcome back, ‘said the man. ‘We nearly lost you. I’m the Doctor.’ It was not a face I had seen before, but it seemed to me more than the title was familiar; had I looked into these blue eyes before? He had dark curls of hair falling on either side of his forehead, a long straight nose, a thin-lipped mouth. His clothes seemed elegant rather than practical; a kind of medium-length coat and a silken scarf at his throat.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘It was the only way we could save you.’

‘I think you’ve confused her, Doctor,’ said the young woman. She came a little closer; a lively, expressive face with huge bright eyes. ‘We used some petals from the flower. Your flower, he said. I don’t really understand what happened – that’s his department.’ She gestured at the Doctor. Then, cocking a curved eyebrow: ‘Although it might be the first time I’ve seen him perform as a medical Doctor…’

‘Needs must, Charley.’ He looked at me. ‘How do you feel?’

I tried to sit up. They both supported me. There was a mist coming in across the lake, which accounted for the change in light, although with the Aeturnum working in me I was also less sensitised. ‘Probably best not to exert yourself,’ the Doctor said. ‘The Aeturnum petals are cleansing your blood, but it takes a little while.’ He paused, then repeated: ‘I am sorry.’

I could feel nothing from the loss of the Aeturnum. Perhaps it was the lingering effect of the venom, numbing my senses.

Charley was looking towards the flowerbed. ‘What is it about those flowers—what did you call them…?’

‘Aeturnums, Charley. They have low level sentience—a psychic bond with the right person. It’s a kind of two-way empathic support system. But there’s a physical aspect to it—one can heal the other, under the right circumstances. Applying the petals to the snakebite wound allowed the…the Sister to take in…well, I suppose you’d say nourishment.’

Something occurred to me. I tried to see the position of the sun. ‘H-how long was I unconscious…?’

‘About an hour,’ said Charley. ‘We were debating about whether to go for help when you woke up. Here, you sound parched.’ She offered me a flask, and helped me put it to my lips. I swallowed a little of the water.

‘The Cenobate is that way,’ said the Doctor, standing up and looking over, though he could not see very far. ‘As I recall, the rest of the Sororiate don’t come to the garden very often. You were lucky we found you.’

I acknowledged this, but I was curious. ‘You have been here before.’

‘A few times.’ He smiled as if at a private joke. ‘What’s your name?’


‘Yes, the gardener—of course.’

‘Gardener?’ Charley looked around. ‘But there’s only—’

‘The Aeturnums, yes.’ The Doctor looked down at me. ‘But they require the company of a higher sentient for several hours a day—usually someone who’s been with them from a very young age.’ He regarded me curiously. ‘It can be a lonely post, but for the right person…’

I could not hold his gaze. How many times had I wondered if I was, indeed, the right person? How many times had I wished to escape, to see what else the universe held? The thoughts came less frequently now, but I was never entirely free of them.

‘And what do the Soror— the Sisters believe?’ asked Charley. ‘Odd sort of religion, that relies on flowers.’

‘What do they believe? They believe in life. In what can be experienced. All religions, no matter how they end up, begin as a search for the truth—a quest to understand.’ The Doctor squatted down again beside me. ‘The Sororiate welcome adherents of all faiths. They believe in the spirit—in the interconnection of all living things.’

‘Hmm. Sounds a little woolly.’

‘On a certain level, Charley, the entire cosmos is a little woolly to the grasp of intellects of our kind. Wave or particle, dead cat, live cat…? The highest laws are beyond our understanding.’ He smiled at me. ‘But there has to be something that understands them, or how would things have ever come into being—right, Sister Hortus?’

I nodded, but without conviction. He saw this, but did not press me. He stood up again.

‘But…but…how do the flowers come into it?’

‘Well, as a manifestation of the universal consciousness. But they’re not strictly necessary, just…helpful.’ He looked at me again. ‘But only one can bond with any one person in a lifetime.’

Charley now turned to look at me. ‘Ohhh…so that one…we used…’

The Doctor nodded.

‘I…’ My throat was still dry, and Charley bent near with the water. Now that I was over the worst effects of the venom, the proximity of another woman affected me as it often did, with her supporting hand seeming to burn into the back of my cropped hair. I swallowed the water quickly and shifted myself away from her. I levered myself upright, ignoring clucks of concern from both of them.

Was I disappointed not to have died? It was a question I had asked myself before, on emergence from illness, or sometimes even from sleep. This was the closest I had come to passing over, and I had not, as far as I could recall, experienced any of the visions some of the other Sisters had seen on the point of death.

I had rarely admitted it to myself, but death held a certain attraction, not simply for the escape it offered from my life, but for the possibility of that certainty, that knowledge about the workings of the universe. I had only twice been seriously ill, but I had dreamed of death many times.

But this time I had a clearer answer to the question. Was I glad I still lived? Now it was an unequivocal yes. And I knew the reason, had known the reason for perhaps a year, but it was another thing I had kept hidden from myself. It was why the loss of the Aeturnum had so little effect.

‘Are you all right?’ Charley was leaning closer, her eyebrows arched high. ‘Not feeling dizzy, or…?’

‘I am well…thank you. B-but I must…’ I tried to stand, but my legs betrayed me. They both caught me and lowered me to the ground.

‘You’re not going anywhere for a little while,’ the Doctor said.

‘I…I need to—’

‘What you need,’ he said, ‘is to take it easy for at least another hour. We can go for help at the Cenobate if you like…? Charley could skip along there in five minutes.’

‘I’m your messenger now, am I?’

‘I thought you might like a chance to see the place,’ said the Doctor without taking his eyes from me.

Charley was silent for a moment. ‘Oh. Well, yes…I could go, if you like…Sister.’ She stood up. The mist had closed in, but the shapes of the slopes in the direction of the Cenobate were dimly visible.

‘No. No, thank you. I will…’ I lifted my hands in reassurance ‘…rest.’

‘Jolly good.’ The Doctor sat back from me. ‘Anything else we can get you?’

I became suddenly conscious of the fact my Cappa had fallen back from my head, and I pulled it up. ‘From where?’

The Doctor looked around quickly. ‘Ah, yes. Point taken. It…seemed the right thing to say.’

I observed him in silence for a few seconds. He smiled at me reassuringly.

‘Where do you come from?’ I asked him, surprising even myself with the question. He looked startled, and adjusted his silken scarf while glancing up towards Charley. ‘Um…well, there are several answers to that…’

‘Then—where are you going?’

‘That,’ said Charley, ‘is even more difficult to answer.’

‘I…will try one further question, then. …Why did you come here?’

Charley looked at the Doctor as if she too was interested in his response to this particular query. The Doctor held my eyes for a moment, then got to his feet and looked out over the lake.

‘There are very few places like it. This is a still place in a turning universe. A place far from all the violence, the clash of civilisations…small enough to be overlooked, barren enough to offer no exploitable resources…one constant in a shifting existence.’

I wondered if he meant the existence of the universe, or something more specific. I breathed out heavily. ‘Put differently, nothing happens here.’

‘If you like, though I wouldn’t—’

‘Is it…do you think me foolish, to…choose to live out my life in such a place?’

He hesitated. ‘I try not to judge the lifestyles of others…’

Charley made a small sound as she turned away.

‘…Well, unless they impact on they people around them…’

Charley’s head came around abruptly. ‘Someone coming, Doctor.’

I felt I knew who it would be. I sat upright, as much as I could. ‘You should leave. I am sorry, but there might be…difficulties if you were discovered here.’

‘If you’re sure you’ll be all right…?’

I nodded and smiled. It occurred to me there was something I had not said. ‘Thank you.’

He simply smiled, and ushered Charley away. As their shapes were folded into the mist, I heard the approaching footfalls clearly, and recognised them without surprise.

‘So,’ Coquus drawled, ‘sitting and gazing at a view you cannot see is more important than supper?’

I said nothing, simply looked up and smiled at her. Her wide mouth was set in a mock-disapproving line, but her hazel eyes returned my smile.

‘Or was it that you feared you would lose your way in the mist?’ she added, her tone already softening. She pulled back her Cappa, uncovered her head completely. Her cropped hair was still brown, without the faintest streak of grey. It was difficult to look at her; she was so beautiful.

‘I was worried,’ she said, very softly.

‘I am sorry.’

‘Well.’ She folded her arms, the way she so often did, but now I knew it was because she wanted to use them for something else. ‘Are you ready to come back now?’

I tensed the muscles in my legs experimentally. ‘Not…yet.’

She remained staring at me, and I could not hold her gaze. I dropped my eyes, and casually drew my legs back underneath me so she would not see the swelling on my ankle.

For a time neither of us moved nor spoke. I looked towards the Aeturnums. Now it felt to me that something was missing, but I was not certain if it was because of the death of my own bloom…or because she was so near, and yet not touching me. But I could not speak of this, and I could not look at her.

Eventually she moved. She stepped closer, hitched up her robe, and settled herself beside me. We sat looking in the same direction.

Part 4 here

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Of Webs and Enemies

The plan was to post, alongside each section of my 50th anniversary story, thoughts on the Doctors featured therein and their eras. However, I scuppered that by deciding to write about the problems and opportunities involved in scripting the real 50th anniversary show alongside the first episode of my fiction. This week I could catch up by writing about Six (Eleven will reappear later in the story, so I can deal with his era then), but I find I don’t have much to say about that era; not that I don’t like it (or at least some of it) but it’s too late in my Classic Who fan life to induce much nostalgia. Colin was great casting but deserved better scripts, costume was a disaster, Nicola was great but deserved better from the scripts, costume was…er, I didn’t mind her costumes so much.

But there are other things to be talked about. Of course the big thing in Who circles this week was the return of the two Troughton stories. This was especially nostalgic for me as I do remember The Web of Fear from its transmission, though the recollections consist of little more than soldiers battling Yetis (well, I was five and a half). Without having the benefit of any visual material, I also recall a disagreement with a friend a year or two after the story about what the Yeti actually looked like, stemming of course from the fact that their appearance did change. I also seem to recall that when we got to see a picture (in The Making of Doctor Who) we both claimed our own interpretation was the more accurate…

I’m pretty sure I also watched The Enemy of the World. It’s an odd thing: I clearly remember seeing the trailer, featuring the helicopter, which would have been shown (I think) directly after The Ice Warriors…but I have no memory of the actual story, or of The Ice Warriors. My earliest definite Who memory is the Cybermen being shot down with their own weapons in The Tenth Planet (and what a moment it was to see that again in a clip around the time Earthshock aired, 18 years on), so it seems overwhelmingly likely that I watched all of Troughton, but apart from playground discussions of the Dalek production line in Power and perhaps misty memories of The Highlanders and The Moonbase, I have no recall of season 4 at all. I didn’t remember Ben and Polly (it wasn’t until the ripe old age of 7, with Liz Shaw, that a miniskirt would would assist in focusing my attention). My much stronger memories of Evil come, I suspect, from the post-Season 5 repeat.

We now have just over half of Season 5, reputedly Troughton’s best season, even if the story situations are somewhat repetitive. Enemy is the exception to that, and is written by David Whitaker, who for my money may be the best writer ever to work on the classic series. So, in prospect, that was promising. I listened to the audio long ago, but had no really strong memory of it from that.

Watching it on Friday, I found…it was ok. Troughton is very good, of course, there are two strong female characters which is always nice (even if Fariah is ultimately sidelined by the plot) and I’m part of a minority that really likes Victoria, but…I found the story itself a little lacking in dramatic focus. Visually, and in other ways, it often felt like a Hartnell story, which is not in itself a criticism, but gave it a certain slightly primitive, cheap feel which the monster stories seem to sidestep, at least for me. Enemy is also highly reminiscent of certain kinds of Avengers episodes, which is again not a bad thing, but it means it is not such ur-Who for the part of me which is still six years old. And it essentially means that what the story does has often been done better by other series. Which makes it hard for me to love it.

Season 5 was quintessential Doctor Who in its subject and treatment – armies of monsters attacking. Exactly the kind of thing I loved growing up (and one reason why, after the monster-heavy Pertwee era, many of the Hinchcliffe stories from Planet of Evil onwards initially left me a little cold, much as I love them now). And an important part of the reason I still watch old Doctor Who is simply the nostalgia – many of the stories do still hold up as adventures, but if I, as an adult, want to be absolutely knocked out by a TV programme I’ll go to Our Friends In The North, The West Wing, or, to take something contemporary with classic Who, The Forsyte Saga or Tenko.

My interests now are not the same as they were when I was growing up. The part of me that loves Doctor Who for what it meant to me as a child can still quietly thrill to Yeti in the underground, but it has a much harder time getting worked up about Patrick Troughton made up as a Mexican. Enemy of the World will obviously be reassessed in the wake of its rediscovery, and lots of people for whom Patrick Troughton is a demi-deity (and, don’t mistake me, he is excellent) will no doubt praise it as a masterpiece, but for me it’s…just ok. Still, it is beyond lovely to have it back, and I will watch it again very soon, I’m sure. And maybe then I will come to love it.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

This Time, This Place (Part 2) - 50th Anniversary fiction

(Note: my attempt to do a new Eccleston sketch was a disaster, so I'm afraid I cheated and grabbed an old one, hence the difference in style. I may try to insert a new Ecc pic at a later date. For 'this is not an adventure' disclaimer and background notes, see part 1)

Part 1 here

From the Novitiate Diary of Quindeci-Novus-Hortus, Year of Grace 1297:

Is the universe under the watchful eye of some greater intelligence? I don’t mean the phantoms some of the Sororiate talk to, of course. I just wonder sometimes if there isn’t…something guiding our steps.

I gathered my things and ran away from the Cenobate today. It was in the deepest part of the night, the very hour that Nono-Dam left us, two years ago. I have often found myself awake at that time.

It was impossible for me to go without saying a final goodbye to the Aeturnums, even though in my five years of tending them I’ve never betrothed myself to one of them. Or they to me. I’ve never been sure whether it was a mutual aversion.

I could follow the path without hesitation by the light of the stars and moons, and it was not long before I could see the shimmer of the lake, and the faint outlined peak of The Vigilea beyond. But as I drew closer to the water, there was a sound that I could not identify at first, so out of place it seemed there, by the garden. Eventually I realised it was the sound of someone sobbing.

The sound, so seldom heard, already disturbed me, but a tremor ran through my entire body as I suddenly felt certain that it was not a member of the Sororiate I could hear. The wretched sound came unmistakably from a male throat.

I stood for a few minutes, unsure whether to skirt the garden and go on my way. I could just make out the shape of the man, huddled by the Aeturnum bed. His sobbing subsided a little, and, drawn by a feeling I cannot adequately explain, I moved closer.

He heard me and raised his head. His hair was obviously close-cropped from the rounded silhouette I saw; I wondered briefly if he might be a brother from some other order. But there was no way any of the Fraternae could have come here.

I stopped a little distance from him. ‘I…did not mean to intrude on your…’ I had no idea how to describe what I had heard. ‘Is there anything…anything that I… or perhaps I might fetch one of the Sisters…?’

He applied the shining sleeves of his dark jacket vigorously to his eyes; two quick wipes, and he looked up. ‘No. Thanks. I was…I…’ He made a quick gesture with his hand, and fell silent.

I stood, not moving, not knowing what I should do.

Without warning, he climbed to his feet. ‘I’m sorry, I…you must be here to meditate, or…I should get out of your way.’

‘No.’ I desperately wanted to pour out my sufferings to someone; I was seized by a powerful urge to tell him what I was doing, to ask for his understanding, his absolution. But I managed to keep silent.

‘I feel in the way now,’ he said. ‘Wherever I am. I’ve never felt that way before. Like I…like I shouldn’t be here.’


He inclined his head slightly. ‘You too? I’m sorry.’ I spread my hands slightly, shrugging, and he nodded. Then he lowered his head, an involuntary movement, and I felt something surge in my throat at the mere sight of his hunched shoulders. I had been feeling that the weight of my years at the Cenobate was more than any one person could bear, but I knew at once that the burden I carried was nothing beside his.

I heard him catch another sob in his throat, and he lifted his head again, his movements artificially brisk. ‘Came here because it…it always helps. Well, usually. But…this time…the peace here only…’

‘This is a good place for solitude,’ I said. ‘But a terrible one for loneliness.’

A long, harsh breath shuddered out of him. I could not see his face clearly, but the starlight glinted wetly in his eyes as he faced me, swaying like a man who wanted to run but who was rooted to the spot. I stood quite still, knowing that he needed to speak, knowing that anything from me would silence him at once.

He spun away from me. ‘I couldn’t save them…’ He took two steps, and I could feel the patient discomfort of the Aeturnums as he stepped on the edge of the bed. Perhaps he felt it too, despite his anguish, for he drew back quickly. ‘They’re all gone…they’re…’ He looked towards me again, and seemed to lose his balance, dropping to his knees. I watched him surrender, his shoulders hunching again and his head dipping, and then I was beside him on the ground, clutching him tight. He gave in to his grief again, and clung to me.

We sat together a long time. The night crept away and sun-view came upon us as we sat. His breathing had slowed, and eventually, by some unspoken mutual consent, we withdrew from the desperate embrace. He sat forward, hugging his own knees. In the pale morning light I could see a face full of energy beneath a high, lined forehead, deep blue eyes hemmed in by a strong brow, and a prominent nose.

‘I’m sorry.’ He did not look at me. ‘Whatever you came here for, I bet it wasn’t this.’

‘No matter.’ I found I could barely remember why I had come out in the night.

He drew in a heavy breath. ‘I’ll be all right now. I can…’ He stopped speaking, his attention caught by something in front of him.

I saw it. A flower, turned towards him in defiance of the rest. A bright blue flower. I knew it well. And yet…a trick of the morning light, perhaps, but it now seemed to me a different shade of blue than previously.

He put his head on one side. ‘Have we met?’ he asked, apparently of the Aeturnum. Then his eyes narrowed and he sat up a little straighter. ‘Of course we have. I remember…’

I knew that flower, so I hastened to correct him. ‘There was another visitor, some years ago. I don’t know why that bloom should turn to you…’

‘Laws unto themselves, Aeturnums,’ he said with something approaching cheerfulness. ‘Like some others I could mention.’ His eyes fixed me with a direct stare and I felt his full presence for the first time. I was not afraid, but, for a moment, almost awed.

‘What’s your name?’ he asked.

It took me a moment to recollect myself. ‘I am Quindeci-Novus-Hortus.’

‘That’s not a name, that’s a title. Who are you? Is your name…Florence? You look like a Florence…’

‘Quindeci-Novus-Hortus. It is the only name I have now.’

‘So what would you have called yourself if you had run away?’

I stared at him. He smiled; a quick movement, not opening his mouth. ‘Well then, Quindeci-Novus-Hortus, let me point something out to you. I’m not the only one who got the attention of the Aeturnums.’

He extended a finger. One of the flowers was open towards me, and the petals were a steely gray.

‘Perfect match, I’d say.’ He was looking from my eyes to the flower. ‘And it wasn’t like that last night—am I right?’

I shook my head, unable to speak. I had not been near enough to the bed, had never looked directly at the flowers. This was an impossibility. Perhaps someone else had been here just before the previous sun-drop…

‘I am right, aren’t I? Hortus…’ He was musing. His eyes turned to me. ‘Yes, you’re the gardener here. I’d almost forgotten. And you’ve never embraced with one of Aeturnums.’ He was speaking matter-of-factly, but even the gaze of the Septo-Dam was not more penetrating. ‘Were you always going to run away? You’ve never been happy? How old are you?’

I drew myself up slightly. ‘That is a lot of questions for one who has no right to be in this place.’

‘And that’s a good way of not answering any of them.’ He looked at me for a moment longer, then jumped to his feet and held out a hand, offering to help me up. I let him pull me to a standing position. He kept hold of my hand – which was an odd feeling, an unusual sensation in my life now – looked at our clasped fingers for a moment, then turned his eyes to the surrounding landscape. ‘This is the most beautiful place I know—but it’s a bit boring after a while.’ He gestured over his shoulder. ‘Other side of that slope, I’ve got the doorway to the whole of the universe—and all of history. Come with me. You won’t be running away from anything—you’ll be running towards everything.’

He dropped my hand, and turned away. ‘But here’s the thing.’ He spun back. ‘I think Quindeci means you’re fifteen. In some parts of the universe, that makes you a minor. Caela, Caela…can’t remember. But then, I never was big on rules…’

‘It does not matter,’ I said.

‘Not to you, maybe, but you won’t get hauled off by a Judoon squad for child trafficking, will you?’

‘No,’ I said. ‘I mean, it does not matter. Because I am staying.’

‘Oh?’ He folded his arms. There was a sudden twinkle in his eyes, as if he was keeping something, some knowledge, from me. ‘That’s a bit sudden, from someone who’s been thinking about running away for years. Any particular reason?’

Without thinking I lowered my eyes to the flowers.

‘Oh, so the first plant that winks at you…’ He shifted balance, still watching me, still with his arms crossed. ‘Why did you never bond with one before?’

‘I do not know. Because…because I never felt I belonged here…?’

‘But you do now?’

‘I…last night was the first…’ I was not sure how to put it. ‘No one comes here except me. The…Sisters, once, when they arrive, to choose a flower. No one else.’ I remembered the man and woman from five years before, and hesitated. But sometimes I felt I must have dreamed them. I forced myself to continue: ‘Then you were here, and you were in pain, and…I do not know, for the first time it felt like this was my place, and you had come here because you needed something. And the Aeturnums could not give you…everything.’ I crouched slowly, looking at the newly-grey flower. ‘I did not know this was possible. It must have…somehow, because of the strength of the feeling, perhaps…’

On the edge of my vision, he nodded thoughtfully. For some moments neither of us spoke. ‘I am sorry,’ I said. ‘I would like to go, it sounds…it sounds wonderful, but I cannot, not now.’ I stood. ‘What about you? You have lost…’ I realised I had no idea. And I could not ask him about it.

I tried something simpler. ‘Do you have a home?’

‘No. Yes. What there is, is over the other side of that slope.’

‘And nowhere else? No…favourite place?’

Almost at once, he smiled to himself. ‘Matter of fact, there is.’

‘Do you have any reason not to go there?’

He let out a breath, and did not look at me. Then he shook his head. He straightened his shoulders, looked squarely at me, then dropped to squat by the flower. He looked at it for a few seconds, then pushed himself up. ‘Well, Quindeci-Novus-Hortus, I think I’ve disrupted your life quite enough for today. But I’ll come back. Or…forward.’

He gave me another of those lightning smiles, this time with his teeth, then turned away.

‘I do not know your name,’ I said.

‘The Doctor.’

I smiled. ‘That is only a title.’

‘It’s the only name I have now.’

I watched him until he was out of sight. Then I turned back and took the long path to the Cenobate, pausing only when I caught the echo of some strange, distant sound that seemed familiar from long ago.

From the Meditation Daybook of Viginti-Discipulus-Hortus, Year of Grace 1307:

The storm inflicted such damage on the Cenobate that I felt more than a little guilty excusing myself to check on the Aeturnum beds. But the Octo-Dam said to me: ‘If the body of the Sororiate is the building, the soul lies there beside the lake.’ She even offered me the help of one of the other Sisters, but I told her I would manage.

I was glad I had done so. When I came over the final slope I found others there, doing the work I had set for myself. A man and two young women were setting about smoothing the earth around the flowers, removing the pieces of flotsam that had been carried by the tornado, and shoring up the stalks of the blooms that had been all but broken by the raging wind. I approached cautiously. The man seemed to be directing the others. He was tall, with fair hair and light-coloured clothing; a thin coat seemed hardly enough protection against the evening’s bitter cold. The women in contrast were both almost buried in heavy coats that seemed too big for them, as if they had borrowed them from others. But there was no one else to be seen; nor could I tell how these people had arrived.

The woman furthest from me – short brown hair, and with features of some beauty and strength of character – was the first to see me. She straightened and tried to reach the man’s shoulder, while keeping her eyes on me. I judged her to be a few years older than I was.

Being unable to reach her companion, she spoke. ‘Doctor.’

The man did not look up, being engaged in freeing two Aeturnum stalks that had become twisted together.


The word stirred something in my memory. But before I had time to think the man looked up at the woman, followed her eyes and stood up. ‘Ah.’ He brushed his hands together, made to give them a final wipe on his coat, stopped himself, then gave me a beaming smile which made him look almost younger than his companion. He extended a hand as he came forward. ‘Sorry, didn’t mean to interfere…’

At this the woman who had alerted him made a sound something like ‘Hmmph.’

‘…but some of them were in danger of dying if we didn’t perform a little horticultural surgery.’

He continued to hold out his hand. I recognised the gesture from somewhere, and took it. He gave a firm squeeze. ‘I’m the Doctor. This is Tegan,’ he indicated the standing woman, ‘and Nyssa.’

The young woman still tending the bed was looking up. Her face was round, her softly curling brown hair down to her shoulders, but there was a calm intelligence in her eyes that countered the impression of innocence. She was a little younger. ‘Hello.’ She returned her attention to the Aeturnums.

The man released my hand, then pulled his back quite quickly and looked at it as if remembering it was slightly dirty. ‘Ah.’ He looked up at me with an apologetic smile. ‘And you are…?’


‘That’s a mouthful,’ said the woman called Tegan. ‘What do they call you for short?’

I struggled to think. The Sororiate still frowned on informality. ‘Hortus,’ I said eventually, with a little shrug.

‘Gardener,’ said the man to Tegan. He turned a pleasant gaze on me. ‘An honourable profession.’

‘As is medicine.’

‘Ah. Well, I don’t…exactly…’ he appeared somewhat at a loss.

‘He fixes all sorts,’ said Tegan with a smile.

‘Including gardens, it seems.’ Then I remembered what had drawn me to this place, and I moved to the Aeturnums, to the end of the bed. The man – the Doctor – seemed to sense what I was looking for; I could tell he was watching me with a slight sense of expectancy.

Both flowers had survived. The slender brown bloom that had embraced the beautiful young woman, and my favourite Aeturnum, the impossible one that seemed to respond to more than one person. The latter was currently a shade of blue I had not seen before, and it was directed towards…

I looked up at the Doctor. In the dying light it was difficult to see the colour of his eyes. He straightened his mouth in a kind of sympathetic grimace, and his hands slipped past his open coat and buried themselves in his trouser pockets. ‘Was the Cenobate badly damaged by the storm?’

‘Y-you know the Cenobate?’

‘I was there once. With a…a friend.’ He seemed distracted for a moment.

I stood up. ‘No men are permitted to visit the Cenobate.’

His hands popped out of his pockets in a conciliatory gesture. ‘No. Quite. My mistake.’ He lifted his fair, almost invisible brows. ‘Perhaps they will be one day, eh..?’

‘How did you get here?’ I immediately regretted the harsh, inquisitorial tone of my question. ‘No one comes here.’ Again, at once, mild regret; I reflected that this was not true. Not quite. ‘No one is supposed to be here. No knows of this place.’

He nodded, drawing in a deep breath and looking to where the sun-drop was silhouetting the Vigilea. ‘One of the last unspoiled spots in the universe. Don’t worry, we’ll keep your secret.’

Tegan moved closer. ‘What do you actually do here? I mean, apart from water a few flowers. Admire the scenery?’

I saw the Doctor and the girl called Nyssa exchange glances.

‘We are a contemplative order.’

‘So, you sit around and think? About what?’

‘What are those?’ said the Doctor loudly before I could answer. He pointed towards the Memoriam Steps, bringing a hand into the middle of Tegan’s back and guiding her gently. ‘Shall we have a look?’

Tegan twisted clear. ‘It’s bad enough here—if you think I’m going out on slippery wet rocks in these heels…’ Beneath the huge furry overcoat she wore I could see boots that rose at the back, balancing on a sharp point and holding her feet at an unnatural angle.

‘Well, I’m going to have a look.’ The Doctor hovered as if hoping she would follow him, but after a moment or two admitted defeat and strode off.

‘Well.’ Tegan looked at the ground. ‘After that not-so-subtle attempt to head me off I guess I’d better not ask you any more questions.’

‘We have nothing to hide concerning our life here. Ask whatever you wish.’

‘No, it’s not…’ She shrugged. ‘The Doctor was right, I would have just started telling you to get off this rock.’ She looked down at Nyssa, who was still rescuing bent stems and half-buried blooms. ‘Funny sort of a garden, just one type of flower. Even if they are a special sort.’

‘Choose one.’

Tegan looked at me. ‘What for?’

‘The Doctor has explained what the Aeturnums are?’

‘Yes, but—’

‘Then choose one. Kneel, and bring your face close to it.’

I saw that Nyssa had already bonded with one of the blooms, which stood in attendance on her as she worked.

Tegan turned away from the bed. ‘No thanks. I sort of like being itchy.’


‘Restless. Prickly. Your flowers have no thorns; you need thorns to survive.’

I gestured at the bed. ‘Apparently not. Besides, the Aeturnums do not change who you are. They do not change anything – not permanently. That can only come from you.’

‘Sure. Ok. It’s still “no thanks”.’ She walked away from the flowers as if to underline her point and then paused, looking at the figure of the Doctor as he reached the last of the steps. I looked towards Nyssa, who went imperturbably on with her work. I knew I should help her, but I went to stand beside Tegan.

The Doctor stood, hands in pockets, looking out over the water. I thought of the lonely man I had encountered a decade ago. ‘Where is his home?’ I asked Tegan.

‘That’s a good question. Not where he came from, that’s for sure.’

‘Is it – the name “Doctor” – a title for lonely people?’ As she looked curiously at me, I went on: ‘I knew another who went by the same title—some years ago.’

At her request I described the man I had met. She turned her mouth down and shook her head. ‘Dunno.’ She looked up at the figure on the water. ‘Never thought of him as lonely, exactly, but now you say it…cut off from his own people…if he has a home, it has to be the TARDIS.’ At my look, she added: ‘A sort of ship.’

‘That is how you came here? But…where is it?’

Tegan nodded at one of the west slopes. ‘Over there a little way. He can’t always control exactly where we land. I’m impressed he got us here, frankly. More successful than his efforts at getting me home.’

‘And where is your home?’

She was silent for a few seconds. ‘Aah, I’m not sure any more. Some places are…comforting because they’re familiar, y’know?…but you can still feel like you don’t belong. You know what I mean?’

I nodded, without meeting her eyes. ‘I know.’

The Doctor was coming back along the steps. As if by mutual consent we began walking to join him. A few paces on I recalled my duty and half-turned back towards the bed, but Tegan put a hand on my arm and smiled. ‘Let her do it. Nyssa’s good at getting things in order. She likes it.’

One becomes used to not being touched; it is one of the conditions of life in the Cenobate. It leaves you unprepared for the experience when it occurs unexpectedly. The simple pressure of a hand on my arm almost took away my ability to stand. Tegan saw me sway, and stepped around to support me with her other hand. For a moment, her hands were all that held me upright. But I had to push her away, so strong was the temptation to wrap my arms around her and hide my face against her coat. She stared at me uncertainly as we stood a little way apart. I lifted my hands. ‘I am sorry.’ Shaking the Doctor’s hand had not affected me like this. I knew why. I took a step back.

‘You all right?’

I drew in a deep breath. The Doctor was approaching, and I fought to compose myself. I forced myself to nod at Tegan. ‘I have had little sleep because of the storm. And…no breakfast.’

‘You want to look after yourself better.’

I managed a smile.

The Doctor stopped beside me. ‘Well, I feel like we’ve taken up enough of your time. I’m sure you have things to do. At least Nyssa has been some help to you.’

‘You’re going…?’

‘Well, as you said, we’re really not meant to be here at all.’

‘This is my garden—my responsibility. I am giving you permission to stay.’

He looked at me as if aware of more than my words. ‘Thank you. But I really do think we should be on our way.’

Did he sense the danger if they stayed? Did he sense the sudden upheaval within me? I looked at Tegan. ‘Will you do one thing for me, if you must go?’

‘What is it?’

‘Find a flower; let it find you.’

She looked at me for a second, then dropped her eyes, shrugged. ‘Okay.’ She lifted her head again, held my eyes – did she read what I tried desperately to keep hidden? – and then turned away towards the bed.

‘She rails against everyone else,’ said the Doctor as we watched her crouch beside Nyssa, ‘but it’s her own helplessness that she hates, when things get…difficult. She wants to be strong all the time.’

‘She will not let herself feel at home.’

He sighed. ‘No. I think she’s stopped wanting to go back, but she doesn’t know how to go forward.’

Tegan looked a little awkward as she cupped her hands around one of the Aeturnums.

‘The very first humans I took with me,’ said the Doctor, seemingly to himself, ‘wanted to get back home, at first. I couldn’t manage it for a very long time. But I don’t think they regretted the time they spent with me. I hope she won’t, either.’

‘She chooses to stay, now?’

‘Yes, I think so.’ A pause. ‘Yes,’ he said, more definitely.

‘Then you are not responsible for her happiness. She is.’ I turned my eyes to him. ‘You should look to your own peace of mind.’

‘Oh, I’m all r…’ He found it impossible to finish. He gave me a bright, slightly artificial smile. ‘We all do what we must to get by. Now, we really should be getting out of your way.’

Nyssa and Tegan had both risen to their feet by the time he joined them. Nyssa waved, the Doctor gave me a smile, and they moved towards the western slopes. Tegan stood for a moment, hugging her coat more closely around her. She raised a hand slightly; I did the same. She walked away.

I hoped she would find a place she could call home.

It was cold. The last light was dying over the horizon. I went to the Aeturnums. I stood for a while looking at the newest to take on its own unique hue, a deep warm brown.

Nyssa had cleared and tidied the bed as well as anyone could have done. I knew I should get back to the Cenobate; there was much to be done there.

I sat down beside the brown flower.

Part 3 here

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Thoughts on the 50th Anniversary Episode

People wanted classic Doctors. People wanted Captain Jack. People wanted River. People wanted the Master. People didn’t want just Tennant and Piper.

I really don’t envy Steven Moffat. Well, actually, I do in many ways…but not in this case. He knows full well that whatever he does, however hard he's worked, whatever appears on November 23rd, a lot of people will complain. But, to those who are unhappy with the anniversary show in prospect, let me pose a couple of questions.

Does anyone seriously think Steven Moffat has not been trying his absolute hardest to make this the best anniversary story he possibly, possibly can?

Does anyone seriously think Steven Moffat is not a huge, huge fan of classic Doctor Who?

Possibly many of the classic Who fans would be happier if Robert Holmes was still alive and writing the anniversary story, and perhaps they would be ecstatic if every surviving classic Doctor was in it. But let’s remind ourselves that it was Robert Holmes who couldn’t find a way to make an anniversary story with only four and quarter Doctors work satisfactorily. And neither could Terrance Dicks, it turned out – The Five Doctors was a pleasant romp, but, as my mother observed at the time, ‘it didn’t seem to be about anything’.

Which is exactly the trap that Mr Moffat will have tried to avoid. I’m quite certain he wanted to do his best for all the fans, old and new, but his first duty when he sat down to write was to drama and narrative, and to the people who pay his wages – i.e., the entire potential audience for the night of Saturday 23rd November. Not just the fans. I don’t doubt for a moment he would love to celebrate the entire history of DW, and there will be, I am sure, many in-jokes and references, perhaps some surprise cameos/clips, etc. But putting the pre-TV Movie Doctors in will only emphasise that they are not the men they once were, and would almost certainly detract from the drama, as well as making the story hopelessly unwieldy. And if Eccleston has declined to take part, it would be a little odd to use McGann, welcome though he would be.

It seems to me that bringing back David Tennant and Billie Piper is the obvious choice to celebrate the programme’s past and yet still keep the drama manageable; they are still the faces of the current programme for a great many people, and they fit easily into the style of the show in a way that the older actors would not. And having only two Doctors (plus the estimable Mr Hurt, of course) will enable the story to breathe. It’s significant that none of the multi-Doctor stories ever turn up in top tens of the programme, and very rarely even in top twenties. The best chance of changing that with The Day of the Doctor comes with the comparatively limited star cast. And who doesn’t want the 50th to be an absolute classic?

It’s possible, of course, that there has been massive misdirection on the part of the BBC publicity machine, and that all the old guys will be popping up unexpectedly during the story. I won’t be sorry to see that, but I won’t be sorry if it doesn’t happen. The history of the programme will be nodded to in many ways, I’m sure, but the fact of the programme, the length of the programme, the presence of Tennant, Piper and the Daleks and the Zygons are all in celebration of the legacy.

But the greatest legacy of Doctor Who is the its power to transport and delight. And the very best result for the 50th anniversary story will be if the entire audience is thrilled, entertained and moved for an hour and quarter and get up to make a cup of tea thinking ‘well, that was bloody good!’ It would be the best result for the BBC. It would be the best thing for the future of the show. It would be the best thing for the fans. Because, after all, we don’t want something that will just top The Three, Five or Two Doctors – we want a new Androzani, Daemons, Fenric, Girl in the Fireplace, City of Death…not a mere celebration, but a new classic. A damn good story.

Does anyone seriously doubt that’s exactly what Steven Moffat sweated blood to try to deliver?

(And if you still want those wonderful old guys, there’s Big Finish’s The Light at the End.)

This Time, This Place (Part 1) - 50th Anniversary Fiction

Disclaimer: This is not an adventure as such, more a character study and a commemoration, though there is a story of sorts. I would like to have included everyone, but it wasn’t practical, so I should warn those entering here – there’s no Rose, but her influence is felt, and there’s no Sarah Jane, but her absence is definitely felt. (As is Elisabeth Sladen’s, surely a shoo-in for the 50th programme if she’d still been with us.) So, please just consider this a brief visit with each of those splendid fellows, and a few of their assistants. (...Companions. Fellow travellers. Whatever...)

The story will be posted in seven parts, ending 16th November 2013.

Prologue: (Year of Grace 1368)

Crouching, he passes his hand in front of the heads of the flowers at the end. The stems give out tiny creaks as the Aeturnums lean, their pale red petals spreading and shifting in hue. He smiles as the colours follow one another; green, grey, brown, blue. He opens his eyes wider and leans in, as if to offer the flowers a better view. ‘Can’t quite get this set, can you?’ He addresses himself primarily to a flower that is already dark brown, but is fluctuating slightly as he stares at it. The red-petalled flowers subside into stillness.

He looks across to where the young woman is gazing out across the water. ‘Clara...’ He straightens up and lifts his head, tilting his prominent chin slightly towards his companion. ‘What colour are my eyes?’

She flicks aside her black hair as she glances round. ‘I don’t know. Depends on the light.’ She immediately returns her attention to the lake. ‘Time Lord colour?’

He looks at her for a moment, then skips down the slope to join her at the water’s edge. He waits without speaking.

She does not look at him. ‘I don’t know. They’re odd—-multi-coloured. Multi-dimensional, almost. know...bigger on the inside.’

‘Now she says it,’ he mutters, following her gaze out across the placid water to the solitary, white-capped mountain beyond the low brown hills. ‘Well...everyone’s eyes are bigger on the inside, anyway.’

‘Windows to the soul...?’

‘If you like. Every person’s bigger on the inside.’ He pauses. ‘“Soul”?’ He looks at her. ‘You know, speaking existentially—-’


He frowns. ‘Why what? Why are we here? Speaking existen—’

‘No, I like it here. Don’t need a reason for the stop off. Why are you asking about your eyes.’

‘Nothing, it’s just – I noticed, this time the Aeturnums can’t match the— what d’you mean, ‘Time Lord colour’? How many Time Lords do you know?’

She looks at him pointedly. ‘Just the one. So far. But they change every regeneration. Your eyes, I mean. I thought...possibly sometimes you get a sort of mixture.’ Clara looks closely at the Doctor’s face. ‘I liked four’s very much. And that grin…’

His wispy brows lower. His head shifts uneasily between his shoulders. He looks at her, then at the water. His mouth makes shapes but he says nothing. He plucks at his bow tie, straightens his back and firms his thin lips into a line. His gaze is now fixed on the distant snow-covered peak.

Clara turns her eyes surreptitiously in his direction and controls her smile. ‘And six. Such...intelligence.’

‘Well, I don’t know.’ He folds his arms. ‘IQ points are all very well, anyone can stack up IQ points. But what about emotional intelligence?’

‘Listen to the geek-boy pot talking about the kettle...’

‘And sartorial intelligence?’

Clara opens her mouth, then closes it again after a moment. ‘Mmm. Okay.’

‘And, while we’re on the subject of clothes, the number of times he – I – we – nearly tripped over that scarf...’

Clara lets out a small, quickly suppressed snort and turns to him. But her eyes are caught by something else. He turns to follow her gaze. The sight of the line of rough, flat rocks stretching out from the shore into the water brings a sad smile to his lips. ‘Ah. The seventeen stones.’

‘Eighteen,’ she says, after a few moments.

‘No, it—’ He looks at her, then back at the stones. She lifts her eyebrows at the back of his head. He counts.

He sets off along the shore. ‘Come on.’

From the Day Book of Deci-Novina-Hortus, Year of Grace 1292:

When I went down to the garden today at sun-view there were people there. I watched them for a while, then went and told Nono-Dam. She didn’t believe me. None of them believed me at first; they said I must have fallen asleep and been dreaming. The Sisters sit all day talking to a spirit that no one can see or touch or hear, but they wouldn’t believe in people, real people, just standing and talking by the water—talking to each other, not to the air. But they had to believe me when they took me down to the water and everyone could see the footprints. The lady took off her shoes and let the water wash over her feet. They could see the shape of the lady’s beautiful feet in the ground, and a few marks of the man’s shoes farther away from the water.

I had watched them from the Ventus bushes by the path. I was just close enough to hear them; although they were strangers, I understood every word they spoke. Well, not every word—but it was our tongue. None of the Sororiate believed that, either.

His coat was so bright in the sunlight it almost hurt my eyes – garish lapels of red and yellow, and on the body of it, thin black lines crossing each other on a red background. He looked a bit like the party-droll I saw on the Morestran transit ship, with his golden curling hair and yellow striped breeches. His eyes didn’t make me laugh, though, even from so far away. After I’d been watching a minute he took his coat off and laid it next to him where he sat. He turned his face up to the sun.

The lady’s clothes made me wish for my old things—not so bright as his, but a soft white shirt and pale blue breeches that left her legs open to the air. I might have shown myself, I might have spoken to them, but I couldn’t stand beside her in my brown smock. And with my hair shorn! I can’t wait for the day when I’ll be able to wear the Cappa. Her hair was so smooth and black, just long enough to rest on her shoulders. It was beautiful.

She seemed unhappy, holding herself with her arms and moving her feet through the water, looking down as she went, as if she was searching for something.

‘Where would you go back to?’ said the man. ‘Not to your step-father.’

The lady pulled her mouth to one side, and shook her head.

‘I know, I know, Necros wasn’t,’ he hesitated, ‘the most pleasant of experiences, but-—’

‘It’s not that.’ She turned and faced him, still standing in the water, spreading her arms slightly. ‘I was thinking…what we’ve seen is just the tip of a…galactic iceberg, I guess. So much suffering; what can we…’ She stopped herself. ‘I mean, how do you decide…?’

‘Not always knowing where the TARDIS will land next has its advantages. No one can make those kinds of choices, Peri.’

‘So you trust to blind luck?’

‘I’m not so sure luck, if it exists, is so blind. I think you have to trust that wherever you are is the place you’re meant to be.’

I thought then that I couldn’t see how they’d got here. I looked around for a vehicle, but the only thing I could see was a tall dark blue cabinet, like a small hut, standing near the shore a little way beyond the Memoriam Steps.

She was saying: ‘You’re not saying you think there’s some intelligence guiding the universe? Wow. That’s pretty close to relig—’

‘I’d be very careful of thinking that intelligence, as you or I understand it, is the only kind. Remember James Jeans: “the universe looks not so much like a great machine—-more like a great thought”. Of course, I had to prompt him a bit…’

‘“Remember”? Do I know this man?’

‘Oh…no, that was Polly…and Ben. Well, I can always take you to meet him…’

‘That’s okay. Another time.’

‘There’s always another time.’ He wagged a finger in the air. ‘But it’s never as important as this one.’ He stood up abruptly, brushing at his breeches and putting his coat over his arm. ‘Now, come along – let me show you why I brought you here.’ He walked quickly up the slope, not waiting for her. She stood watching him for a moment then followed, picking up her shoes before she hurried to catch him up.

He squatted by the Aeturnum bed. The flowers began to lift their heads. ‘As an alleged botanist, Perpugilliam, this should interest you.’

‘“Alleged”? Show me your medical degree, “Doctor”—-and then be prepared to take notes…’

‘You have heard of Joseph Lister, I take it…?’

‘What..?’ She got down beside him. The Aeturnums wavered slightly, not sure where to focus their attention. I saw her mouth fall open. ‘They’re moving…’

He sighed. ‘Nothing escapes the eagle eye of Professor Brown…’

‘Watch it.’ But her voice lost the sharp edge at once. ‘What are they…?’

‘Aeturnums. Another kind of intelligence. They bond – telepathically and otherwise – with higher life forms. Well—sentient life forms, which is not necessarily the same thing…’

‘Why are they changing colour…? They’re changing all the time…and this…this one’s brown…?’

‘They match eye colour. No one knows why. That one has latched on to you, it seems.’ The man leaned closer to a flower that now had bright blue petals. ‘And this one likes me.’

‘No accounting for taste.’

‘Mmm.’ The man sat back. ‘They bond for life. Those two flowers will always be that colour now. Well, if I don’t come again…’ He waved a hand over the rest of the bed. One or two of the flowers twitched, but none changed colour this time. ‘Normally they’re that sort of pale red.’ He reached out a hand quickly. ‘No, no, don’t pick it. If it’s left alone it could live for a hundred years.’

The lady was obviously puzzled. ‘But…but if it’s bonded…shouldn’t I…aren’t we going to take them with us?’

‘They won’t survive in the TARDIS environment.’

‘Are you sure? I thought the TARDIS was about the most—’

‘I’m sure.’ He stood slowly, looking down at the Aeturnums. ‘But think of this; wherever you go, whatever happens to you, there’ll be a memory, and impression of you – of both of us – in this time, and this place.’ He gestured at the dark brown flower. ‘That’s part of you now. And you’re part of it.’

She got to her feet beside him, and they looked together at the rows of blooms. Then she looked at him. ‘What is this time? When…are we?’

‘Approximately half a million years after your time. But even here, even now, there are human descendants on Caela.’


He waved a hand at the Aeturnums again. ‘This garden is still tended.’

‘But only one kind of flower…’

‘Yes, well…’ he looked around, and I hid a little further behind the bushes. ‘It’s a religious order. See the odd-coloured ones? The members of the Cenobate come down here when they first arrive, find one of Aeturnums, and bond.’

‘What for?’

‘I expect they find it grounds them in some way. Simplicity was what Thomas More thought plants were created for. Do you feel grounded, Peri?’

She spoke slowly, after a few seconds. ‘I feel…I don’t know. Not stressed.’

‘Well, there you are. Do you feel ready to face what the universe has to throw at us?’

She took a deep breath, and smiled. ‘I guess.’

As he lifted his arm and she took it, I stepped forward without meaning to, half out of the cover of the bushes. But their backs were turned and they did not see me. As they walked along the shore in the direction of the Memoriam Steps, I felt I wanted to run after them. The Sororiate had been as kind as they knew how, but I did not want to stay on Caela for the rest of my life. At that moment I was so frightened by the future I saw that I was ready to run after the strangers and beg them to take me away with them, for all their talk of suffering wherever they went.

But I was too afraid, and I watched them as they walked a little way out on the Steps, stood there for a time looking at the lake, then walked back and into the hut thing. There was a noise which seemed to me like the cry of some beast or monster, and I hid. When I looked the hut was gone.

Of course I said nothing to the Nono-Dam or any of the others about the disappearing hut. Or about my feelings.

Part 2 here

Notes on The Sororiate Pantheia

The Sororiate are a multi-denominational order in the cenobitic tradition – that is, the sisterhood welcomes adherents of many spiritual paths, and stress community life. The Sororiate was founded in the late period of the Seventh Morestran Empire, on the planet Caela, and eventually spread to several hundred worlds as far apart as Draconia and New Refusis.

Nomenclature: the sisters usually abandon their given names when they take their vows (a practice discontinued by the Marian sect, but reinstated later by some others), and are thenceforth known by their appointed task, the stage of their progress in the life of the spirit and of the community, and the decade of life they are living through. Younger aspirants are graded for every year up to the age of twenty.

Thus: Deci-Novina-Hortus denotes a ten-year-old novice gardener. An older novice (eleven and beyond) is Novus. Each section of the community (gardening, cookery, laundry, etc.) will have members at different stages, but no more than one novice, one disciple, one sister, and sometimes an Honorarius, a senior sister who is semi-retired from her official duties but may in time become a Dam, of which there is only one at any time, designated by age and title.