It was raining the day Shinji met the Doctor. He had just run away from the apartment he shared with his commanding officer. He knew he had to go back. Instead, he sat on the train he had chosen at random, listening to the same two tracks on his father's tape player over and over again. The hours passed. The rain continued to fall. People came and went from the train, talking and laughing silently beyond his headphones. He told himself that it didn't matter.
Some time after sunset, he noticed a new sound above that of the music - a strange high-pitched buzzing in his left ear. He tried his best to ignore it, but in time it started to bother him. Shinji reluctantly paused the tape player and turned to the left.
There was a man sitting next to him - a tall, gangly foreigner in a long brown coat. On his lap, he held an old paint can, out of the top of which ran a large collection of wires and antennas. How he had managed to get the thing through the security checkpoints, Shinji couldn't begin to guess. The man was poking at the contraption with what looked like a blue penlight.
"Ex-excuse me," Shinji said - or tried to. It didn't really come out. He cleared his throat and tried again. "Excuse me. I'm sorry, but could you please stop that?"
"Eh?" The man glanced towards Shinji. As he did, the penlight slipped out of his hand.
The tape player abruptly sparked and shorted out in Shinji's hands. He yelped and jumped to his feet - then immediately sat down again. His legs had been asleep for hours. The tape player dropped to the floor.
"Ooh, sorry," the tall man said. He spoke surprisingly good Japanese, if with an odd accent. "Sorry, my fault. You all right, then?" He reached down and scooped up the tape player.
"Uh," Shinji said.
"Here, let me fix that." The man picked up the penlight and held it to the tape player. "Must've been on the same resonance frequency as the tape. You just don't see too many cassette players around anymore. Mind you, they're brilliant - lost art and all that. Used to have one of these myself. Gorgeous sound quality - well, up until I had to use it as the trigger in an antimatter bomb. Still wasn't bad after that, though."
"Er," Shinji said.
"There you are, good as new." The man handed Shinji the tape player. "Or nearly. Might've voided the warranty a bit, sorry. I'm the Doctor, by the way. What's your name?"
"Um." Shinji swallowed. This wasn't fair, he thought. He wasn't in the right state of mind to deal with anyone right now, much less this - this sort of person. "Sh - Shinji."
"Aww, Shinji, that's a brilliant name," the Doctor said cheerfully. He started to poke at the wires coming out of the paint bucket with the penlight. "It's one of those names where anything you get involved in sounds all deep and symbolic. Like Paul or David. Or Jesus, I suppose. Mind you, he always insisted we call him Josh. Not much for the formalities, that one."
Shinji tried for a weak smile. "I-is that so."
One of the wires the Doctor was holding sparked. On top of the paint can, a tiny satellite dish started to spin around. The Doctor looked pleased. "Oh, there we go. Now we've got a live one." He gestured to the can. "Rift energy collector. See, there's this great big dimensional rift floating around up above this city. Kind of like a big crack in the fabric of space and time; lets out a lot of energy, if you know what to look for."
"Uh-huh." Maybe if he just kept agreeing with him, Shinji thought, the man would stop talking.
"Fell through it myself. The rift, I mean. Banged up my ride a bit in the process. Should be able to fix it, once I've got enough power put back together." The Doctor flicked a switch on the side of the paint can off and on a few times. "Problem is, the rift doesn't have any kind of a fixed position. It keeps moving all over the place. So I threw this rig together with a spare magnetic bottle and a fission battery and went after it. Figured a nice big loop around the city was just what I needed, so here I am.
"How about you?"
"Huh?" The question caught Shinji off-guard.
"You've been on this train longer than I have." The Doctor bent down a stray antenna. "Saw you when I got on. And we've been round the city at least twice, so you're not taking the train anywhere in particular. So why'd you get on?"
"Oh. Err - that is, uh..."
The train entered a tunnel. The Doctor waited patiently.
Shinji sighed. This really wasn't fair at all. "It's... complicated," he said at last.
"Usually is," the Doctor said.
That was when the train slowed and came to a stop, right in the middle of the tunnel. Shinji heard the brakes scream. Above his head, his duffel bag slid to the end of the rack.
The Doctor glanced around the car curiously. "Right. I'm pretty sure I didn't do that."
The train's public address system crackled to life. "Attention," said a male voice. "This is your driver speaking. We are experiencing a temporary technical fault within the engine. We are working to solve the problem, and should be -"
The speakers abruptly cut out. As did the lights. All of the lights.
"Or that," the Doctor added, in the darkness.