"Mum, the emergency call center won't respond if you call 'just to check' that people are there waiting to pick up the phone again." Jethro Cane snatched his mother's dark red vintage cell phone from her boney hand and hung up on the dial tone. "This is the third time you called. They're probably out there right now having a laugh about it."
"I just want to make sure that you're safe, darling," she pulled him into a hug for the fifteenth time the hour Val and Biff Cane were taking to walk two feet, out the door, and to the car.
Jethro rolled his eyes. He was taller than his mom already, even with her designer heels. He was thin, but healthy. And though she didn't approve of his eyeliner, black clothes, and gelled hair, Jethro thought he was responsible enough to handle being alone for two days.
"Val, I'm sure he'll be fine," Biff, Jethro's father, adjusted the strap on his large shoulder, and smiled inside a bearded frame. "He'll use the time to study his business textbooks. When we get back, we can reward him with a trip to the Museum Satellite."
"Not again," Jethro moaned, pulling away from his mother. "Look, Mum, Dad, I'll be alright. It's your anniversary. You deserve to enjoy yourself without worrying about me."
Val placed a finger on her lips, and glanced between her son and husband and muttered, "Perhaps I'd better call a nanny-"
"No!" Jethro grabbed her arm before she could draw out her phone again. "I'll be fine. Really." He forced a smile, and wrapped an arm around each of their shoulders. "You're going to have a great time. But you have to step out the door first. Actually, here, let me." Jethro let go of them, and pushed open the door. "Your carriage awaits."
"Jethro, you've been so sweet lately," Val sighed happily. "I'm glad you're finally getting over that ridiculous rebellious stage of yours. "
"Yeah, well, you never know what's right around the corner," Jethro put his hand on her back and quietly nudged her over the threshold. "But you still have to step out first. Dad, you too."
"Don't be afraid to call us if you get bored," Biff reminded him.
"I don't think you need to worry about that," Jethro nodded stiffly with a smile. "I'll be fine. You go have fun."
"Goodbye, sweetie!" Val called as she walked to the car. "I'll call tonight!"
"I'll look forward to it," Jethro held his smile, and waved at them as they packed the last bag.
"Oh!" His mother called, just as her leg was in the car. She instantly stood up and leaned toward Jethro over the door of the car. "Remember to shut and lock the door! And don't go outside! You know how dangerous it is!"
"I know, Mum. Here, I'm closing the door now," Jethro stepped inside the frame, and pulled the door toward him.
"I miss you already!" She called from the car window.
"Yeah, same!" Jethro called back. "Bye!"
He shut the door before they could drag out that goodbye any further. He thought he could hear his mother's faint voice, but it was quickly drowned out by the engine. Jethro pressed his ear to the door, and listened until it was going… going… gone.
A grin broke across Jethro's face. "YES!" He cried, jumping up and punching into the air. "Finally!"
Jethro took off up the stairs at a run and darted to his room. It was the first time in his seventeen years that his parents had left him alone in the house. There was always a nanny or a neighbor or a friend whenever his parents had wanted to be alone, which admittedly, wasn't often. They were always worried something would happen to him.
The door to Jethro's room burst open and he ran to his walk-in closet. No more off-white walls and chrome doors. No more abstract paintings of squares and triangles. Nothing between him and different worlds, at last.
The inside of his closet was coated with posters of various metal bands – many classic Earth songs from Norway, along with others from Finland. He pulled down an ugly peach blanket from the top shelf and unwrapped the packed rucksack he hid inside.
Jethro threw the bag over his shoulder, and took one last glance around his room. So bare and white and safe. Cleaned by automatic maids. Bars on his window so he couldn't climb to the roof. On the wall next to the door, a holographic fish swam back and forth at an alarmingly fast pace.
"This is it, Paul," Jethro said, pulling up his computer screen. "Hopefully, I won't see you again." The night before, he had looked up the most risky investment on the market. He had decided on a small company—about to go bankrupt, and working on "the magical capabilities of the human mind". Jethro smiled as he invested a large chunk of his parent's profit into the dubious endeavor. A bit of a 'don't follow me' when they got back and realize he wasn't there. Or perhaps a little revenge that they wasted so much of his life. He stood up, and turned to his holographic fish again. "Sorry I can't turn you off," he said, picking up his satchel. The fish swam back and forth, as it was programmed to, and Jethro left his home without a second thought.
He walked down the street passing identical houses and lawns. The sidewalks were well-kept, even though Jethro never saw anyone using them. Claustor was the safest planet in the galaxy. Everyone on it was rich, secure, and cautious. No one played on the streets, and nobody went on walks. Especially not to the city, even though it was only ten minutes away. Jethro found no resistance as he ran down the street, his bag of clothes and necessities bouncing against his back.
His cheeks were read and adrenaline pumped by the time he reached the city. It was almost painful having to slow down to match the walking speed of the people around. Everyone walked fast, with a sense of urgency to get to one meeting or another. Hardly anyone loitered, and if they did it was inside. A few people glanced at Jethro and his lack of business attire, but aside from a look of disapproval, he was ignored. Several cars passed by in the streets, and Jethro spotted kids riding in the back. For the longest time, he was just like them. Looking out. Going places but never touching them.
But that was over now. Jethro was standing in the city and had five hundred credits in his possession. It wouldn't be enough to get him off-planet, but hopefully he could get as far away from 'home' as possible. So he would walk and walk – to the railway, at least. It could get him to the other side of the planet in about a day, and for only fifty credits. He'd only been on the sleek metallic locomotive a few times in his youth, but enough that he remembered exactly where it was.
Two blocks from the station, there was a sound he'd never heard before. An antique car, failing to start? It came just around the corner, and after the resounding crash from the ally, Jethro's curiosity got the better of him.
A big, wooden, blue box sat crooked atop two dumpsters. The dumpster to the left had fallen on its side, and garbage littered the ground in an alarmingly large pile. The top of the box leaned against the side of the building and said in big, white letters "Police Box". I dropped my bag when the doors opened and a strange man peeked out with a smile. He stretched his leg out, and fell a foot down into the muck.
"Ugh!" he cried, crawling to his feet as the garbage slid from under him. "This is just perfect, land on a new planet and instantly in the trash – again. Great. You'd think this was becoming a habit."
Jethro glanced over his shoulder, but no one else was watching the man pick garbage out of his tweed suit. He was tall, and thin for his size. He spotted a bowtie, suspenders, and a wave of hair that bounced every time he turned his head. Though brushing bits of cereal off of his sleeve, the man left a brown banana peel stuck to the right side of his face.
"Are you okay?" Jethro asked cautiously stepping forward.
The man suddenly looked straight at Jethro, and a large smile spread across his face. "Jethro!" he cried, wading out of the trash and clasping his hands on Jethro's shoulders. "Look at you! You've grown," the man spun Jethro around and quickly stopped him when they were facing each other again. "How long as it been? A year? Two? Blimey, I'm bad with time lapses." He glanced down, spotted Jethro's hand and brought it up to look at it closer, "Still painting your nails I see… but it's good that you still have some individuality, I suppose." He grinned widely again. "So! How are you?"
Jethro's mouth hung open, and pulled his hand away as he said, "Who are you?"
The man blinked and his smile fell, "You don't remember? Midnight? The Copy Creature?"
"You know about that?" Jehtro's brows creased, and he backed away from the man. "How?"
"Well, I was there – remember? Your mum nearly got me thrown—Oh!" The man suddenly slapped his forehead and grinned again. "Sorry, I forgot I've got a new face since then. I'm the Doctor."
The Doctor offered his hand, and Jethro took it with disbelief. "You're the Doctor? You don't look anything like him."
"Yes, but that doesn't mean I'm not him."
"Can you prove it?" Jethro raised an eyebrow.
"You mean knowing who you are, Midnight, and the Copy Creature isn't enough?"
"There was a news article," Jethro shrugged. "With our pictures and story. You could be anyone."
The 'Doctor' whistled and smiled, "Never realized how paranoid you were, Jethro. Alright then. That joke your father said on the shuttle. The punch line was that the pool was abstract. And we were talking to each other because the entertainment system failed. Of course, I was the one to make it fail, but there's no way you'd know about that, now would you?"
Jethro stared at him, and took a step closer, "Doctor? Is it really you?"
"Yes it is, Jethro. Yes it is."
Jethro grinned and ran his hand through his hair in disbelief. "That's… wow."
"It's good to see you too, Jethro."
"Can I say something real quick?"
"Of course, anything you like."
"There's a banana peel on your face."
The Doctor's brow furrowed, and he touched the side of his face. With a squelching noise, the Doctor made 'yelch' sound from the back of his throat and threw it against the wall. "Stupid banana… I hate bananas… why didn't you tell me sooner?"
"You didn't give me a chance," Jethro said flatly as he watched the Doctor wipe his face on his sleeve.
"Well, interrupt me next time. Is there anything else?" The Doctor spun around, and Jethro shook his head. "Well, that's good," the Doctor nodded. "And what's that?" He pointed to Jethro's bag.
"That's – uh-" Jethro's mind raced for an excuse as the Doctor picked up the bag and weighed it in his hand.
"It's a nice rucksack," he nodded. "I like rucksacks. Good for helping people run away. Are you running away?"
"I—well-" the Doctor leaned uncomfortably close to Jethro's face.
"Because in my experience there are two things people put in rucksacks. Things to help them run away, and explosives. And this isn't heavy enough for explosives. So tell me, Jethro Cane, are you or are you not running away?"
Jethro looked left, right, anything to avoid the Doctor's piercing eyes. But they were too close, too old, too brown, for Jethro to avoid for more than a second. Gulping, Jethro took a calming breath and met the Doctor's gaze, "I am."
"What for, Jethro?" The Doctor placed his hands on Jethro's shoulders again, leaning a bit further away. "You have a good family. They care for you-"
"You've met my Mum, Doctor. Don't pretend you didn't want to hit her."
"Jethro," the Doctor said quietly as a police siren blared in the distance. "We can't judge people by their worst moment. What happened on Midnight was probably the most terrifying event of her life. She was scared. We all were. When people are scared, they do things they normally wouldn't. She's only human."
"I hate it when I'm with them, Doctor," Jethro's grip tightened on the strap of his satchel. "I can't breathe. They don't' let me do anything, Doctor. It's not normal. I'm not normal."
"Now, now, that's not true, Jethro. You're brilliant," the Doctor tapped the tip of Jethro's nose and smiled. "Just like everyone else. You can do anything you set your mind to."
Jethro looked up at the Doctor with a grave expression, "And that's why I'm running away. I can't do anything with them around. I can't be anything that they don't want me to be. They look at me and see me as a disappointment, a rebel that's just in some weirdo phase – but I'm not! I don't know who I am, Doctor," Jethro gasped. "I don't. I've been stuck with them all my life. Looking over my shoulder. Catching me before I fall. Not letting me out of their sight. I don't know what it's like to get hurt, except by them. My life is just a series of shuttles from point A to point B with the only difference between the two is that one's green and the other's purple." His hands shook, and he swallowed before continuing, "I'm always behind glass, arms inside the ride at all times. Doctor, what is life if you can't do anything in it? I want to be able to touch something! To run! To work hard, and get something out of it!"
Jethro shook his head, "I know you probably won't understand, but I think that Midnight is the best thing that's ever happened to me. I know it was terrible. It was bloody scary, and I'm sorry about what happened to Skye and the attendant. But I've never done anything remotely like that before. It was the first thing I could really be afraid of. The first time I really felt a rush, and the need to do something, or to think.
"I know it's stupid, Doctor," Jethro sniffed. "But I can't. I just can't keep living the way I did," He rubbed his palm into his eye and gasped. "I need to go somewhere," he said shakily. "I need to do something. I just…"
"Oh, Jethro…" the Doctor mumbled, pulling him to a tight hug. "It's okay. We'll work this out."
Tires screeched against pavement, and sirens filled the ally. Doors opened out of black-and-white police cars, and the first person that emerged wore maroon designer heels.
"Jethro!" his mother cried, running toward them at an alarming rate.
"Mum!" Jethro jumped, and took a step toward her. "Stop – wait!"
Val lifted her vintage leather purse, and swung it as heard as she could at the Doctor's face, "Keep away from my son, you rapist!"
The Doctor looked dumbfounded and stumbled back, and fell into the trash. He held his head, swaying from side to side as he tried to regain his sense of self.
"Mum, what are you doing here?" Jethro demanded.
"We called," Biff said sheepishly from their own car. He looked sympathetic to the Doctor as he found a lump on his skull. "You didn't answer, and we got worried."
"For good reason, too," Val huffed, putting an arm between Jethro and the Doctor. "This man took advantage of your youth and naivety and almost hurt you!"
"Hold on," the Doctor raised his free arm, while the other held his head. "I think there's been a terrible miscommunication-"
"Don't you come near my boy you Monster! I won't have it!"
"Mum, it's okay," Jethro tried to assure her. "This is the Doctor. He didn't take advantage of me-"
"Don't be stupid, of course he did," she said sternly. "Just look at you – crying! And he was hugging you when we came – if that isn't a predator, I don't know what is!"
"Hang on a minute!" the Doctor cried. "There was none of that going on! There's an entirely good explanation for what's happened."
"I'm not going to sit here and listen to your excuses," Val huffed, linking her arm with Jethro's. "Let's go home, Jethro. I knew it was a mistake to go on a trip so early… Police, arrest him!"
"Mum, no!" Jethro pulled out of her grip. "The Doctor doesn't have anything to do with this. I ran away and just happened to run into him. That's all."
Val looked between Jethro and the Doctor, and the Doctor used this moment of silence to speak up and say, "Yes, you see? Perfectly logical."
Val's nostrils flared, and she whipped her head around to face Jethro again, "What did he offer you?"
"What?" Jethro glanced at the Doctor and his father, bewildered.
"What did he offer you, Jethro? We can give you anything money can buy, so it wasn't money. What did he tempt you with, Jethro?"
"Val," Biff said cautiously, placing a hand on her shoulder. "Maybe it was a coincidence."
"They were hugging, Biff!" She snapped, grabbing her son's arm. "Jethro! What was it? Love? You might think it's love but it's not."
"Ew, mom, no!" Jethro pulled away, pointing to the Doctor. "It's the Doctor! You know, from Midnight!"
Biff's mouth dropped and Val slowly turned her head to stare at the Doctor. He smiled at them sheepishly and waved a few fingers at them, "Hello."
"He's the Doctor?" Biff said with disbelief.
"He can't be," Val snapped, crossing her arms. "I've never met any Doctors that looked like that."
"Mom, he just looks different," Jethro insisted.
"He's completely different," Val shrieked, gesturing to the Doctor's entire body. "Different eyes, different hair, different clothes…"
"No, mum, he's the same!" Jethro pleaded. "He looks different, but he's the same on the inside. You just had plastic surgery three months ago, you know!"
"Hold it, just shut up!" The Doctor cried above the voices. He nodded when everyone fell silent and said, "Thank you. Now. Let's just get everything straight. You two," he motioned to Val and Biff, "went on vacation and left Jethro alone – who then runs away and finds me. We end up talking and then you two find us – speaking of which, how did you find us so fast?"
"I have an RFID chip in my arm," Jethro said glumly, pointing to a dark patch of skin in his forearm. "I got it right after we got back from Midnight."
"What—why would you do that?" The Doctor looked at Val and Biff with a bewildered expression.
"You wouldn't understand," Val said crossly. "You don't have a son. We realized how easy it would be for some disaster to strike again, when we weren't with him. This way, we'd know if anything happened."
"Or keep him like a dog on a leash," the Doctor shook his head, and walked toward them. "He's your son, not a criminal. Look, Jethro ran away, and that would usually mean that he's not happy with what's going on. I've never heard of someone who runs away from a place he likes… unless it was something dangerous pretending to be something that they like…"
"What would you know?" Val hissed.
"A lot more than you'd think, mum," Jethro said, taking a step away from her.
"So, what, you think you'd be better off with him?" Val pointed at the Doctor crossly.
"Hang on a minute," the Doctor tried to cut in. "No one said-"
"Yes!" Jethro nodded, standing firm. "I'd bet I'd be a lot happier with anyone but you."
Val shook with anger, nostril flaring, "I just don't understand you, Jethro. We give you everything you could possibly want, kept you safe, and you turn on us."
"Mom, I haven't lived. And I don't think I will if I stay with you and dad."
Val stared at him long and hard before picking up Jethro's bag and throwing it at Jethro's chest. "Fine, if you're so clever. Go with him."
Everyone erupted into talk at once. The Doctor tried to take control of the situation again with "Everyone just calm down-", while Biff stared at his wife with a worried look and muttered, "Val, what on Earth?" Jethro was simply dumbstruck and said, barely above a whisper, "What?"
"You'll see," she said in a shaky voice. "The universe is a harsh and unforgiving place. And as soon as you realize it, you'll want to come straight back home. And good riddance too. As soon as you get a bit more sense in your head, you come straight home, and we'll sort everything out."
"I don't want you protecting me anymore," Jethro said quietly.
Val looked at him, her expression firm but melancholy. Her eyes him over from his head to his toe and she sighed. Pulling him into a hug, she whispered, "Just be careful."
"I will," Jethro mumbled as he hugged back.
"Good, Val stepped away, and started walking toward the cars. She wiped her eye as she called shakily, "Come along, Biff."
Jethro's father looked at him and bit his lip. But a second later it was a small smile, and he pulled Jethro into a hug. "No matter what your mum says, we still love you. And we're really proud of you."
Jethro nodded, and was surprised when his father turned to the Doctor and asked, "Will he be safe with you?"
The Doctor blinked, and let his jaw fall slack. He glanced at the wall, and cleared his throat. Jethro's heart sinking he said quickly, "I trust him, Dad."
Biff looked at his son and sighed, "I trust your judgment. Besides, he did try to save us all back on Midnight."
Jethro smiled, and gave his Dad another quick hug, "Thanks."
Turning around, Jethro slowly approached the Doctor. He didn't seem mad, but Jethro wasn't quite sure what kind of expression he was wearing. A blank face cracked a smile, and twiddled with his thumbs. Jethro gave a small, nervous laugh himself and said sheepishly, "So… It's okay for me to travel with you, right Doctor?"
"I really shouldn't," the Doctor said mysteriously, looking at the wall and rocking on the balls of his feet. "I lead a very dangerous life. It'd be wrong for me to put you at risk like that."
"And if I don't care?"
"I'd say you're a bit daft," the Doctor looked at him out of the corner of his eye.
"You seem a bit daft yourself, Doctor."
A grin spread across the Doctor's face, and he clasped a hand on Jethro's shoulder. "Too true. I suppose I have a couch you can kip on. Besides, your mother seemed pretty insistent that you go with me. I don't dare contradict her; I've had too many bad run-ins with mothers already. Just don't get me into trouble, you got that?" The Doctor tapped Jethro on the nose, and Jethro grinned. "Come along, Jethro. We've got places to see!" The Doctor clambered over the trash, and pulled open the lower of the two police box doors. With a small jump, the Doctor was able to make it inside, and offered a hand to help Jethro in.
As the box vanished, wind rushed from the dematerializing spot, and the banana peel fell from the side of a wall.