Knowing Her Place
That old Type 40 never did fit in. Now it would never be of use again, such a shame, such a shame. Written for Everloyal.
"It's too unruly, I tell you. I might even say rebellious."
"Perhaps it picked up an anomaly while in transit, in the Vortex. It's been known to happen, though rare. There could be a weakness in the interface, it is an older model. I'll run a purge through its systems."
"That's what you said last time. No, this is nothing foreign picked up, it's that machine itself! It keeps trying to predict what it thinks I need, it has absolutely no right whatsoever to be using the psychic link that way." He was greatly affronted, like a dignified, stern man dragged haphazardly through the hedges by his dog.
"Well, some of these older models can become a little undisciplined as they age. It's already scheduled for additional repair, and needs tightening up…"
"Undisciplined? You mean unusable! Unreliable!" he huffed. "Rummaging around in my subconscious that way, why it's indecent. I will not set foot in it again. I demand a new assignment!"
He was afraid. She had tried to show him there wasn't anything to be afraid of, but he was afraid of any loss of control. And afraid that she knew it.
"Yes, yes. I'll get the requisition started right away, sir. We've a couple very nice new ones ready for first-time training if you'd like. Never been impressed on anyone but the handlers."
The Time Lord took a deep breath. "All other protocols and training are completed? I won't be doing your job for you, if that's what you're looking for."
"Oh yes, I mean, no I wouldn't expect anything of the sort from you, I mean of course it would be ready for official work, sir. Fully equipped."
"Good. And this one?"
"I suppose we'll find some use for it in student training…"
"I want it scrapped."
"That…thing, has been in my mind, I tell you. It keeps trying to take initiative. If it is untrainable and unusable, it's a danger."
As was he. As were all who were like him.
"What if some citizen with a less perceptive and disciplined mind than mine were to fly it? Someone who didn't know how to keep a firm upper hand? Certainly not for students. It's no wonder it was rejected by its former Time Lord. I was not informed of this, by the way, I had to research it myself." He stuck out his chest self-righteously and glowered at the handler.
"Well, not exactly rejected…" he began unhappily. "From what I understand it was a case of…"
Inability to trust. Inability to recognize her sifting through all the flavours and threads of Time to bring him treasures, that what she'd found was better than what he thought he wanted, better. Treasures flung back in her face.
"And he wasn't the first; there was at least one other before him. This machine is a misfit, and you knew it yet you allowed it to be assigned again."
"Now, just a minute. It wasn't just my decision. They're too costly to simply toss out because of some little imperfection, you know. We did what we could to fix it, though I admit this particular machine has always measured slightly above the mean on some independent empathetic tests, perhaps a bit spirited…"
"It is a tool," the Time Lord said firmly. "An interface."
The handler's face smoothed into a careful impassivity. "Of course, sir. I'm well aware of that, sir."
She was not only an interface. She couldn't be only an interface, not even if she wanted it. There was a need of freedom there yet, in his mind, and he was so trapped in that stern shell. If she could only dislodge the ice, the dry crust of his pride, perhaps….
"You speak of it as if it were an independent intelligence. We are the Masters and…" The Time Lord turned suddenly and glared at the TARDIS behind him. "Stop it, I command you!" He turned back to the handler even more indignant. "And if that tool of yours doesn't stop trying to reestablish with my psyche, I will personally begin the scrapping process myself."
The handler startled slightly at this and quickly pulled up a blinking oblong, punching buttons on it. The faintly glowing light inside the open doors dulled until they were barely visible.
"Take it apart and use it as a diagnostic example if you like, but by no means are you to send it back out there. Who knows where it would end up, and its Time Lord with it? What if it went off alone? I might even be inclined to hold you personally responsible if any mishap were to occur because of the fluctuations in that machine."
Where would she end up? Where in all of that surging multi-faceted eternity of her life and breath they only knew as the Vortex would she end up, alone? Where do homeless birds fly to? She could not face it alone. She was not made to be alone.
"It inherently refuses to keep its proper place." He pointed a condemning finger towards the silent TARDIS that stood nearby. "I want it scrapped."
The handler's shoulders sagged ever so slightly. It was inevitable that those in his line of work would become at least a little attached to the living machines under their care, there was always the danger of giving them too much equality with properly sentient life, gallifrepomorphic tendencies. He'd heard the lectures and read of the consequences enough times to know he didn't want any shadow of it on his record. "Agreed, agreed. There's still a few of these old Type 40s out there, but we'll move this one up the queue for scrap."
"Right. See to it. Reset that key. I want no part of it. I'll be back tomorrow and I expect it to be gone from this dock by then. Permanently gone."
"Yes sir, I'm sure it will be."
He stood back on his heels, apparently satisfied, and sniffed slightly. "Now I'm off to have my mind refreshed. I feel quite in need of it after that." He shook his sleeves slightly, as if shaking off invisible dust and turned his back on the TARDIS, marching off through the nearby doors.
She felt his shaking her off, the rejection of even that small sense of ownership by association, a final slam of the door from something that had been bad from the start. A relief and a desolation.
The handler sighed and punched a different button on the oblong, then gave the side of the machine a little conciliatory pat. The former owner had left the key in the lock. He ran the oblong over the key and keyhole, resetting the owner-recognition to neutral. Not that it mattered, he thought, by that evening the key wouldn't open anything at all.
He stood for a moment. He could feel something emanating from it, the loneliness, hurt, that ever-present longing for flight that all such things seem to sing and groan with.
Memories of the threads of Time singing as they were stretched and woven and plucked. A musical instrument standing silent, whispering its loss of a player.
He shook his head at his overactive imagination and started walking away. "I'm letting this job get to me," he said out loud. It helped convince him. "Just an old, worn out machine. Time to let it go."
Let it go, let it go.
He poked a button on the oblong he carried. Behind him, the lights inside the machine brightened up cautiously.
"Enjoy it, last chance you get to shine," he said, then smiled to himself at his own ridiculous whimsy, talking to a TARDIS this way.
Without another glance, he walked out, flipping the machine's number up on that evening's scrap listing as he went. "Definitely time for a break."