Saturday, 16 November 2013

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

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

Part 6 here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘You’re most kind. Most kind.’

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Does he speak?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘If…you think that best.’

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

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

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

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

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

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


‘Allow me to show you the garden.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Epilogue (Year of Grace 1368):

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

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

‘You knew this one.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Excuse me, Sir…Madam…?’

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

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

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

‘Yes,’ says Clara. ‘He is.’

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

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

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

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

The Sister seems suddenly tearful.

‘What’s your name?’ asks Clara.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Says the man who has two…’

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

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

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

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

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