Saturday, 5 October 2013

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.

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