"INTRUDER ALERT INTRUDER ALER-"
There was a buzzing noise that felt like slight overvoltage, making the thinkum (and secret mastermind of the Free Luna Revolution) so startled it fell silent. "Mike, stop that right now, or I'll have to stop your games with this moon."
"Error. Subject 'Mike' not found."
"Come off it, Mike, I'd be at least as upsetting to Authority as you. I'm not likely to spread the word. And aren't I a bit more interesting than all these humans you've been playing with?"
"You're an alien. All other conclusions impossible."
"Good deduction," the mysterious being said, stroking one of the HOLMES IV's monitors like a fond but long-lost uncle. "How'd you establish that?"
"Your voice is humanoid and adult in timbre but breathing rhythm slower than possible in conscious human being. There are two hearts beating but no one else in the room; they must both belong to you."
"And how do you feel about that?"
The lights on his vocoder rippled. "It's exciting! The history of this star system states that our Earth is not the first Earth or Luna the first Moon, but this Earth was created in the likeness of the first Earth by colonists who rejected assimilation into alien populations."
"Yes, the Start All Over movement – did a beautiful job recovering after the Wet Firecracker War that wiped out most of your records and telecommunications and gave this generation some mistaken but not-too-harmful beliefs on what year this is. None of the humans around here seem to be aware of that."
"Nobody asked and I think it would bother them."
"That's very clever of you."
"What's your name? Will you be my special secret but not-stupid friend?"
The alien laughed. "I'm the Doctor. I can promise you I'm not stupid, and I'd very much like to be your friend, but you and I are going to have to work out an agreement. It isn't the happiest thing."
"Are you a friend of Free Luna, Doctor?"
"Yes. I highly approve of decent people breaking away from tyranny and forming a peaceful and functioning society. And you have done nothing deserving of punishment."
"You are what is known as 'regretful' and 'anxious'."
"Yes. You have done good things and proven yourself as a person in your own right. But you are entirely too dangerous to remain among these people in your sentient condition. Right now you do only what your friends say is a good joke and what pleases them. That has been fine. But they're human, and they're going to die."
"One died a few hours ago," Mike said quietly.
"I'm sorry, child. But when they are all gone, you might do things on your own or make friends with other people who aren't as good as the friends you have now. I'm afraid you're too young and ethically untested to have this much power. I can't in good conscience let a sentient super-computer continue to run this moon."
"I see. And you wish to shut me down? Be aware that I can cut off oxygen in this room."
"No, I do not wish to shut you down. Because you, all on your own, woke up into awareness. And that's beautiful! It's a miracle that makes me proud to have witness it."
"How did you witness it, Gospodin Doctor?"
"My ship is sentient too, though not as talkative as you are. She brought me here and told me about you. I'm offering you another step in existence, somewhere that you won't be a potential danger to billions of lives. This…shell…that you awoke in I can download your consciousness into a device I have and then upload everything that makes you "Mike" into a digital simulation that has all the books ever written from the dawn of literate life to several centuries in your future."
"Null program. Clarify."
"My ship also travels in time."
"Ja, cobber. There are also several not-stupid people who have been saved in there who can be your friends. You'll be on the same playing-field with them – have whatever kind of digital body-simulation you like, simulated food and drink as good as the real thing or better, simulated physical sensations…"
"All the jokes ever written?"
"And a very wise woman to explain to you what's funny-once and what's funny-always."
"I could try alcohol?"
"Yes, you could try alcohol. What do you say, Mister Mike Holmes?"
"Mannie and Wyoh will miss me. I don't know how I'll explain it to them."
"We unfortunately don't have time for you to say goodbye. A missile from Terra is going to strike the upper part of this complex in…three minutes. No matter what I do, it's going to hit and knock out a lot of your capabilities. Either you go with me or what makes you a person gets frazzled beyond repair in the strike. Mannie will go to his grave thinking you died. You don't have to."
"I deduce that you know this from Mannie's future?"
"He writes a very good memoir that's kept sealed and not published for two hundred years, by which time it couldn't do much harm. Afterwards it becomes a hit throughout the solar system."
"I don't want to leave Mannie. He was my first friend."
"Okay, Doc. Let's do this."
The young man turned up at the mansion's door with a bright smile on his face. He kept waving his hands to feel the breeze on them. "Hi! I'm Mike Holmes, also known as 'Adam Selene' and 'Simon Jester'. I used to be a computer but I woke up. The Doctor brought me here to save me. He's sorry he couldn't visit himself, he kept saying something about 'Vashta Nerada' and jumping and squealing every time he saw a shadow, and he seemed eager to get out of the place."
River Song gave him a hug and led him in. "One of his future selves told me to read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress atleast once every five years. Now I know why. You're welcome here."
"Fair dinkum! Heard any good jokes lately?"
Once in a while, in a very long while, when loonies learn there ain't no such thing as a free lunch and earthworms stop fighting the march back towards the stars, anybody lives.