The Eden Project
- Chapter Two -
The Eyes of Memory
"The past is a work of art, free of irrelevancies and loose ends."
- Max Beerbhom [1872-1956]
Night had fallen by the time they made it back to the ranch and the silver moonlight coated the ground in almost liquid mercury. Not feeling comfortable with her riding on her own, the Doctor had insisted he and Rose ride back together. There wasn't actually room on his Eloo for the two of them, but he managed to hold both his reigns and hers while the guide led them slowly back to the ranch.
They rode side by side, their knees occasionally knocking together and the Doctor making sure he flashed Rose some reassuring glances if he noticed her muscles get a bit tense.
The air was cooler by now, and much less humid, and the deep blue which enveloped the sky made it look like it had been stolen by the sea.
"That, up there," the Doctor said at one point, pointing to a small cluster of stars. "You can see that constellation from Earth – but only for half of the year. It disappears during winter, starts to surface again at the Spring Equinox."
Rose turned to him curiously. "You really do know everything, don't you?" she teased with a smile.
"Well, I try."
At that point, their guide – a burly, leathery creature with three eyes and claws for fingers – turned around to face them.
"There are legends about the stars, on this planet," he told him, glancing up to the night sky himself. "If you're interested in hearing them."
"We certainly are," replied the Doctor, glancing to his companion. "Aren't we, Rose?"
"It is said that, out there, there lives a great monster roaming the skies. It travels restlessly through empty space like a drifting, abandoned ship – every now and then it comes across a star that's nearing the end of its life and it consumes it, using the energy to power itself for another several millennia. One day, the creature will die – and when it does, all the stars in the sky will cease to exist, taking from us our motivation to stretch further into the universe. Existence will become an empty and lonely place until eventually every planet is silent and every world becomes history."
The guide finished with a wistful expression in his dark eyes. Almost appropriately, his Eloo gave a cough and shook itself, as though it didn't really like thinking of things in that way.
The Doctor sat with his thoughts like distilled water.
"That's … beautiful," Rose sighed from beside him, her eyes glistening. "And so sad. D'you think it's true?"
"I know very little of things beyond my family – but I think it's foolish to rule something out because it sounds far-fetched."
"I quite agree," added the Doctor, clearing his throat. "Legends are there for a very good reason, if only to make you think of the kind of world you could be living in."
"Legends have truth though, don't they Doctor? They gotta come from somewhere."
He gazed up to the night sky where the stars twinkled down at him as a cool breeze twitched his hair. He remembered something of a different planet, one that should never existed, one whose orbit around a black hole should have technically been impossible. He remembered what he had found down there in that pit – it wasn't easy to forget. "Perhaps," he murmured quietly. "There's usually a nugget of truth somewhere at the core of every legend."
"Part of me hopes that one isn't one of them," Rose admitted, and the Doctor turned to her with a gentle smile. "Wouldn't be able to have anywhere to visit with you, and that'd be awful."
"That would be a terrible thing indeed, yes."
They rounded the corner and, through an alcove of trees ahead, the stables came into view. Most of the other classes were probably already back, so they didn't hang around too long making small talk afterwards. The Doctor slid from his Eloo with elegant grace, before making his way around and offering Rose his hand as she too slipped down.
"How's that ankle of yours doing?" he asked worriedly as she reached down to rub it. "Think you can make it to reception?"
"Should do, yeah. It's… " She frowned uncertainly. "It's not as bad as it was before."
They followed the winding path back hand in hand, their footsteps crunching on the crystallised gravel beneath their feet. They kept bumping shoulders as they went, and Rose's limp – which was barely pronounced at all when they stared walking – had more or less disappeared by the time they reached the front door to reception.
It was a hotel, not just a stable, so the main foyer was bustling with all sorts of beings from all over the place. It had a restaurant and a pool at the back (and, apparently, a library), and was one of the better places to come for a bit of rest and relaxation. They hadn't come here for that, though; they'd just come to see the landscape and explore a bit more alien culture. On the far side there sat two large armchairs, an ornate coffee table between them, and asleep beside one of them was a big, shaggy beast. It was probably some kind of pet belonging to one of the tourists on site.
"Sit yourself down, Rose," said the Doctor as they approached the armchairs. "I'll get us all settled up and then we can head off back to the TARDIS – I still want to check you out."
She raised an eyebrow at him as she sunk into the leathery fabric. "Do you?"
"Your ankle." He blinked, licking his lips. "I want to check your ankle out."
He ran a hand through his hazardous hair. Those words had certainly not meant to slip out of his mouth and he could practically feel Rose's smirk following him as he turned towards the desk on the far side of the room. Blasted girl – she always seemed to draw thoughts and ideas out of him that he never usually had, and it was beginning to unnerve him more and more.
By 'settling up', he meant 'wave the psychic paper around and hope for the best'; it seemed to work wonders on the receptionist, who not disregarded all possible fees but also referred to him as 'your majesty'. He liked setting the paper to 'random', it added a little spice into the lives of those he made up. When he turned back, Rose was busy examining her ankle. The creature at her feet twitched in its sleep. It was large – probably taller than Rose if it stood up on its hind legs – and looked like a strange cross between a lion and a wolf. Its tan hide burned brighter towards its tail, where at the tip a small flame flickered. It seemed… an unusual addition to the planet.
"That's it, we're all ready to go," said the Doctor as he approached. However, curiosity getting the better of him, he crouched down in front of Rose. "May I?" he asked and took her ankle into his hands.
Fishing for the sonic screwdriver, he ran it a few millimetres across her skin, frowning when he recognised the resonance. Then, with gentle fingers, he applied pressure around the joint. "Nothing?" he asked, looking up at her.
Rose shook her head. "Just feels like you're squeezing."
"It was definitely sprained – I felt it, I saw it."
"Maybe I'm just a fast healer." Rose shrugged. If she had been wearing trousers, he would have peeled them back to get a direct look at the skin – but the tights from the dungarees made it a bit too difficult, so instead he just stared intently, wondering why she miraculously seemed to have recovered. "Doctor? Can I have my ankle back now?"
"Oh right, yes, sorry," he babbled, dropping it. "I still want to look you over in the medical lab. The screwdriver's good for telling me what's wrong, but a full body analysis is going to take some time."
Rose's face paled. "Full body analysis? I fell of a horse, Doctor, it's not a mystery."
"Eloo, not horse, and that's not the point. You could barely an hour or so ago, it's at least worth – "
He was interrupted by a low growl. Turning, curiously eyed the beast beside him. It was half sitting, half standing, its ears laid back flat on its head and its large black eyes watching him interestedly. Its hackles were slightly raised and its fiery tail swished from side to side. No longer asleep, then.
"Doctor, be careful."
His gaze roamed the creature's face, from its proud, elongated muzzle to the livid scar that started at its throat and ran near to the tip of its tail. Flecks of white were smattered around the the otherwise colourful fur, and its paws especially looked as though it had spend the evening walking in snow.
"Oh, you are beautiful," he breathed in awe, eyes darting from one detail to the next. "No, really, I've seen a lot in my time and you – you're something else."
The beast trembled for a moment, before relaxing and sitting back on its hind legs. Its wizened eyes, however, never once left the Doctor. "You speak Arckylian," he commented, his voice little more than a guttural growl. "How?"
"Arckylian?" The Doctor sat back, rubbing a hand over his chin. "I haven't heard that word in… centuries, possibly. What are you doing here, of all places? This isn't your world."
His dark pupils glittered for a moment, as though the memory itself were playing out in his eyes. "I am stranded. I do not know how long I have been here, but I seem to be little more than a foolish animal to the creatures of this planet. I've learned patience and tolerance as it is better than sleeping outside in the cold – but it is no real life. Yours… " He looked up to Rose in the chair above him and, remarkably, the fur around his eyes became damp. " …Is the first I have heard of my language for centuries."
"God. That's awful." Rose raised a hand to her mouth, her expression so genuinely sympathetic that the Doctor wondered if she, too, were about to cry.
"What's your name?" he asked gently.
"It would take you many minutes to give you my real one and you are likely to forget it. The creatures here refer to me as Elias Nequam, so you may use that if you wish. I have grown accustomed to it."
"And you've been stranded here?"
Elias nodded his head, his heavy mane shaking with it. "I apologise for my first reaction to you – it was surprise. I still do not understand, but anyone who speaks to me as you have must surely be kind."
"Oh, I can do better than 'kind'," said the Doctor, getting to his feet. He reached out for Rose's hand and she took it, standing beside him.
"Can we… ?" she murmured softly.
He met her eye with raised brows. "I don't know. Do you think we should?"
"I know it's hardly alien big bad or anything, but… " She looked down to Elias, who was washing his paw. Whether or not he was purposefully giving them a little space, the Doctor didn't know. "He's lost, isn't he? Seems mean to just… I mean, there's no law that says it's always got to be a massive civilisation that you save, or anything."
He reached down, taking her hands and squeezing them tight as a grin spread warmly across his face. "You know, sometimes Rose Tyler, I really love travelling with you." He then turned back to Elias with a wave of his hand. "Elias, I think we might be able to help you. I'm the Doctor and this is Rose – we're time travellers."
He said the last in a hushed tone and Elias's ears pricked up. "Time travellers?"
"Yes. We hop about between stars and planets in my spaceship. Oh, I always hate saying that, it sounds so… But yes, that's what we do, Rose and I."
"That, at least, explains your bizarre attire," Elias commented, glancing to Rose and her dungarees. "I did wonder."
"We can go anywhere," Rose said, crouching in front of Elias. "I'm from Earth, yeah? And the Doctor – well, the Doctor's from all over really, least now he is. There's nowhere we can't go."
"Are you actually saying – that you can take me home?" There was such wonder in his voice that the Doctor was suddenly reminded why it was that he did what he did. It wasn't for the explosions and the running and the fact that he liked feeling like a hero – that was all good, but it wasn't it. No, it was for moments like these, when he realised just how much difference his lifestyle made to those around him.
He glanced to Rose out of the corner of his eye, smiling as she reached out and ruffled Elias's mane. Hers was another life he had affected, but in an entirely different way; his companions were always plucked from their timelines like fruit from the forbidden tree. There were backlashes, ripples that followed him everywhere he went and consequences he didn't usually want to hang around for.
Elias's shaggy head dropped, however. "There is little point," he said quietly.
"Why?" asked Rose immediately, stroking him. "There's always point in going home."
"Perhaps. But when I was captured there was a war going on and I'm not as young as I used to be. My family, my tribe … I am so much older… they will not understand if I return to them an aged creature, especially if I cannot fight."
"Well… we can take you back once the war is over. Can't we?"
The Doctor felt Rose's eyes on him, but he frowned down to Elias nonetheless.
"Then I would be a coward," Elias replied dully.
"I thought your race was peaceful," the Doctor stated with a questioning edge. "I always used to hear the Arckylians detested fighting – you were someone to live up to."
"We do. But Doctor, when your young are threatened and your home is being ripped away from beneath your paws, even the most gentle of dispositions would stand and fight. I am a warrior beneath this exterior, though I am without practice, and if I have to fight then I will." He gave a low growl and sat a little straighter, looking up to both of them with defiance. "I failed when I found myself captured that day. If I could return – I might redeem myself. Even in death."
The Doctor nodded gravely. "I understand."
"Doctor." Rose pulled him away for a moment, murmuring, "We can't just take him back to his death – it isn't right."
"Is it any more right to leave him here, where he's all alone?"
She blinked back at him softly, worrying her bottom lip with her teeth. "I don't want to see him die."
"Rose." He touched her cheek softly. "You know what this life is like. I hate to say it, but there is a lot of death in what we do."
"Yeah, and shouldn't we go out of our way to minimise it?"
He glanced back over to Elias, who was watching them carefully. "It's his choice; you and I don't get to decide."
"Couldn't he just… travel with us for a bit? We don't have to take him back straight away, do we?"
The Doctor held her gaze for a moment, his mouth forming a thin line as he thought. There was no reason why, theoretically, they couldn't have another join them on the TARDIS. It had been good fun with Mickey when he'd been around and perhaps an added dimension would make their lives a little more full. But at the end of the day it was still Elias's decision.
Elias trotted up to Rose, shaking his great head. "You are worried that I will die," he stated simply, blinking up to her.
"Um, yeah actually. Sorry."
"Don't be." He pulled as much of a smile as was possible for an animal. "Your compassion is moving – from what I'm given to understand of humans, it is rare, too."
"Not that rare," countered the Doctor, reaching up and scratching his ear. "It's just – you only ever hear about the bad ones, really."
"If you'll allow me, I wish to come with you," said Elias. "I'm not sure how you'll explain it to the owners of this facility, but I'm sure you'll find a way."
"Back to your planet?" Rose checked.
Elias watched her carefully, his gaze set dead into hers. "Eventually, yes. But I… You say you move amongst the stars in your travels. I should quite like to see the stars."
"Then you'll come with us," the Doctor affirmed, looking down to his furry friend with warmth. "Elias. Good name, that – even if it's not yours."
It was easy enough getting the locals to let them take Elias with them; for starters, they didn't really have much of a choice as the animal stayed by their heels and wouldn't leave in a hurry. They tried to demand money, but the Doctor reminded them of his majesty and that he would be very upset if anyone were to challenge him on the matter, so they left fairly promptly afterwards without a word. Elias, however, did make the point of touching noses with a few of the locals – they had been good to him over time, after all. The Doctor and Rose wandered back hand in hand, as per usual, with Elias trotting along beside them.
"You are real, aren't you?" he said at one point, glancing up at the two of them. "I'm not going to wake up and find myself all alone in my chambers?"
"If we're not, then I'm dreaming too," said Rose, swinging the Doctor's hand happily. "And I could never dream up a place as beautiful as this."
"Oh, yes?" The Doctor caught her eye, grinning rakishly. "What do you dream of, then?"
"Never you mind," she responded quickly, but the blush that rose to her cheeks gave him an inner chuckle.
Once the TARDIS loomed into view, Rose slipped her hand out of his, dashing forwards and preparing her key, leaving the other two walking slowly behind her.
"She's a child?" Elias questioned softly, his paws carefully padding through the glass.
"Sort of. To me she should be, and probably to you." He looked down, smiling. "I'm guessing you've been around a good long while."
"You don't think of her as a child." It wasn't a question.
The Doctor cleared his throat, slipping his hands into his pockets. He couldn't escape the distinct feeling that there was something Elias wasn't telling him. "No, I don't."
"You should tell her, Doctor." Elias suddenly stopped. "She feels the same way."
Then he scampered forward, meeting Rose by the TARDIS door and letting her pet him at his mane. The Doctor watched, confused, before following.
"She feels the same way."
Whatever did he mean?
Thanks for reading!