Sunday, 3 November 2013

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

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

Part 4 here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Professor…’ said the young woman called Ace.

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

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

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

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

The small man nodded.

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

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

‘I don’t know what you mean…’

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

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

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

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

‘Well, perhaps…but not yet.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

The small man sighed. ‘He was.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Cybermen?’ said Ace and Victoria almost simultaneously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

‘I’ll come wi’ you, Doctor—’

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

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

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

There was a kind of growl.

‘Oh my word…’

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

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

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

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

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

‘Professor! Doctor! Cover your eyes…!’

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Professor, what happened?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Oh aye...’

‘Quiet, Jamie.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 6 here

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