Written for: afterism in Yuletide 2011
Betaed by: Ishie
Domaripopexnal—currently calling herself 'Marie Babineaux,' and before that 'Mary Poppins,' and before that 'Maria Pabst'—studied the list of errands the housekeeper had given her when she and her charges had left the house that morning. Not that she needed to study it; she knew perfectly well what it said, and the most efficient way to go about the errands so that maximum time could be spent training her charges. Still, she had found that nothing blended in quite so well on Earth in what its inhabitants called 'the dawn of the twentieth century' as a woman intent on household errands. Assuming one fit the range of phenotypical variation for that geographic location, of course, which was why Dromaripopexnal had thus far reserved her efforts to the continents of Europe and North America.
"Don't dawdle, Madeleine, spit spot," she said, without looking back.
Behind her, she could hear the children whispering.
"Does she have eyes in the back of her head?" Auguste asked.
"Of course not, silly," Lucienne said scornfully. "We've seen her without her hat! She reads minds."
It was commendable logic, and much closer to the truth. Dromaripopexnal was a Time Lady, a native of the lost planet of Gallifrey, and mental sensitivity far beyond that of humans was one of the many gifts they possessed. So she could read minds, given preparation and close proximity to her subject, but in this case it was not necessary.
It was a simple deduction. One of the children was always lagging behind to look at something interesting; and as Auguste and Lucienne had been the most recently chastened for it, Madeleine was the most likely to be the current culprit. Honestly, Dromaripopexnal was not quite sure why looking after human children was considered so difficult. A very little bit of knowledge about the general behaviors of immature Homo sapiens, affection and attention, and discipline as appropriate. It was hardly vortex mathematics!
Which was a good thing, as if it had required the whole of her attention she would have missed the blue box—just large enough (on the outside) for a hominid or two to stand upright in. It was tucked away in an alley, with more discretion than she would have credited its pilot, given that after Rassilon only knew how many subjective centuries the chameleon circuit had never been fixed. She hurried on past, sparing it only a glance, and gave herself a tight smile that none of the children had noticed it.
"Come along!" she said. "If you are good and our errands are completed quickly, and you keep the nursery neat and tidy, we might visit the Exposition Universelle this week instead of next." It was a very educational place, and one about which the children were particularly interested. But Madame Dupigny did not care to spend much money on such things for children, and so (at present) she had said they might have enough tickets for only one visit. But Madame would change her mind, and would take the children herself, before Dromaripopexnal was done.
As expected, all three children behaved quite exemplary for the rest of the day, and that night they went to bed easily and without quarrel.
He was waiting for her in a nearby park. She didn't recognize his face, but then she had not expected to. "Doctor," she said. "What brings you to Paris?" Her skin crawled at the casual way he stood, slouched, hands in his pockets, bow tie askew. If he must wear human clothes, could he not take care to wear them properly?
She was being irrational, she knew. But his iconoclasm had been presented as the key to winning the War, and he had failed. They had all failed.
"The TARDIS caught your signal," he said, springing up from the bench he was leaning on. "I'm sorry, I don't know you." He had obviously not been around a Time Lord in some time, if the state of his mental shields were any indication; they were in tatters, showing glimpses of his emotions beneath them, roiling with hope and guilt and grief. She wondered what he sensed of her.
"I am Dromaripopexnal," she said. "Of all those who might have survived, I am surprised that you did, given how close you must have been to the center of it. Or perhaps I am not surprised at all, knowing your reputation."
"I survived because I was at the center," he said. "Eye of the storm. How did you survive?"
"I was a maintenance tech at the Hospital," she said, gorge rising. The eye of a chronostorm was small. Only those who initiated them could be caught in them. He, personally, had destroyed Gallifrey and committed the genocide of their people. There had been whispers it might be necessary to save the universe from the Daleks. Even if she believed that … but he was at present her only link to civilization. She must be calm, and courteous. "I was reviewing maintenance on the temporo-stasis capsules when the alert went out. We had just had a patient discharged from one." The irony was, if his treatment had lasted only a day longer, he would have survived, as she had. The stasis units were used for cases of asynchronicity, when an accident with the Untempered Schism or the heart of a TARDIS forced someone to exist in multiple timelines at once. A few days in a temporo-stasis chamber would fix the problem by forcing the victim out of time temporarily, until his or her internal chronometer reset itself. "We had only seconds; I was the only one close enough to make it in before the temporal shock wave hit. When the unit opened, Gallifrey was gone and I was on Earth, though I've no idea how the capsule got here."
"Ah." The doctor scratched at his cheek. "Yes, that would do it. Um. As for how you got here, I'm afraid that's my fault. I was in my TARDIS, and I was spat out, and she came looking for a safe and familiar place to land until the chronostorm passed and the Vortex was safe again, and so she came to Earth. I landed a few years after you did, 1912."
"Who else survived?" she asked.
"As far as I know, only the two of us," he said.
Shock forced her hearts out of tempo with one another for a few beats. Out of all the Time Lords, only two survivors? Dromaripopexnal shook her head. Sheer logic argued against it. "The only beacon I was able to build out of the ruins of my capsule was strictly short-range: only a hundred thousand light-years and about a decade in time on either side. I have no way to reach the Vortex so that others might hear me. The universe is vast. Others may be marooned, as I was."
"We'll look," the Doctor said.
"We?" She could not keep the incredulity out of her voice. "You murdered our people! I do not care if it is necessary, I do not wish to travel with you for an extended period of time."
His face fell. That absurdly young, and completely unfamiliar, face. "Not even if we do manage to find another survivor or two?" he asked. The happiness she had sensed fled, and the guilt grew until it choked out everything else; he must have realized he was leaking, for his shields abruptly covered his mind, smooth and ordered as a Time Lord's mind should be.
He was no psychopath or sociopath; he hadn't killed them all for fun. She forced herself to be rational. He was the only other of her kind that she knew of, and surely searching for others would go quicker with his help. "How many regenerations have you had?" she demanded suspiciously. He had always been known for his recklessness.
"Total? Ten. I'm on my eleventh body. Since … the end of the War? Three." He pasted a smile on his face that didn't reach his eyes. "Do you like it?"
"How old are you?" she asked. She was being terribly rude, but she didn't care. Not with him.
"Haven't hit the millennium mark yet," he said with a shrug, looking at her sideways.
"Eleven bodies in a thousand years!" Dromaripopexnal shuddered. She was half again that age, and on only her third body. The kind of life he must have led! He was so very unlike the rest of their people. Travelling with him would only make her more homesick, to be with someone who (unlike the apes who surrounded her now) should have been like her and wasn't. "Doctor, you may spend your lives with abandon, I do not care. But I do not wish to do the same."
"I see," he said. He clapped his hands. "Well! Do you want me to give you a lift somewhere, then?"
She opened her mouth, and then reconsidered. Madeleine, Auguste, and Lucienne would be devastated if she left them; and their mother was not yet sufficiently aware of the responsibilities of her position that Dromaripopexnal could safely leave them in her care. "Can you pick me up in three months?" she asked.
"Of course, but why?" He frowned at her.
"You come on the wings of trouble, Doctor," she said. "I only know you through rumors, but I know enough. You look for trouble—great, calamitous trouble. Then you fix it, or try to, without regard for consequences or long-term effects. Then you leave others to pick up the pieces. I work much more quietly, and I do not care to leave loose ends."
"And what doyou do, Dromaripopexnal?" he asked. "After all, you can't work in a hospital now, not without changing the course of history with what you know, and I see you're not the type of girl to do that."
"As you are?" she said, raising an eyebrow. "No. Although it is impossible to live in a timestream without affecting it. Therefore, I choose my changes … carefully. I do not spread chaos. I work for stability, and wholeness of mind and body and relationships. Such things cannot be accomplished in a day."
He nodded. "Very well. Yes, I can be back to pick you up later. Although … did you know there is a temporal rift not a thousand kilometers away? It's the sort of thing you could use to feed a baby TARDIS with, if you wanted."
Dromaripopexnal considered. A rift was a chancy, unpredictable thing. A TARDIS fed on it from infancy would not be as stable as one fed on the Tempered Schism at the Gallifrey shipyards. Still, it was a handsome offer; she had never thought to have a TARDIS of her very own. It would be a piece of Gallifrey as well as transportation to wherever she wanted. "If your TARDIS will consent to it, I would be honored."
He smiled. "I'll be right back!"
He darted off, and she waited patiently. The other servants would not wake until 5 o'clock, and the children would not wake until seven. She had little need of sleep; there was no need to hurry. And depending on the state of his TARDIS (which she did not wish to think about, given his carelessness in other things) it might take some time to return. She was content to sit in this well-tended garden. The grass was mowed, the flower beds kept with an order that would have been quite acceptable on Gallifrey even if the colors and species were all wrong. It was one of her favorite places on Earth, more so now that the Doctor was not nearby to disturb her.
She was pleasantly surprised when he returned, a mere half-hour after he had left. He came with a sizeable chunk of TARDIS coral, the infant heart of a TARDIS if properly tended and shaped. It was larger than Dromaripopexnal had expected; he and his TARDIS were feeling generous. Or perhaps guilty. "Thank you," she said, taking it from him, along with a bag that was bigger on the inside than it was on the outside.
"The Rift is in Cardiff, in Wales. You'll need to stay within 500 kilometers of it, for the most part, though you can take the coral away from it for a year or so without serious difficulty. The bag has the guidance circuits and shaping tools and databases you'll need. And here," he said, handing her a communications device. Primitive, obviously not Gallifreyan. "It'll reach me any time, any place. If you change your mind, give me a ring."
"I shall do so," she said. "If you find any more of our kind, please inform me."
"Same to you," he said.
"I will." She did not like him, but she was not cruel.
In the nursery of the Dupigny residence, Dromaripopexnal stood over her charges and considered. As a Time Lady, she saw potential futures in a way that humans could not. Lucienne and Auguste were entirely ordinary, and would continue to be ordinary all their lives, although they did of course benefit from her presence. Madeleine, her reason for choosing this household out of all those with unhappy children, had the possibility of something more, if she was given guidance and support and encouragement. Already she was beginning to blossom, and Dromaripopexnal was working on Madame Dupigny to see that she noticed and valued such change. It would not be long now; months, only, and what were a few months to a person who lived for millennia?
Dromaripopexnal retreated into her own room, a small and bare thing, though decidedly better than those of the below-stairs servants. She locked the door, and sat on the bed, coral in her lap. It was best to keep it as close as possible, this far from the rift, both so that it could absorb a bit of her Time Lord nature and could feed from her temporality as humans nursed at their mother's breast. Since she could not take it with her by day, she would hold it close all night long, and that would be enough until she was done here and could travel to Britain.
The coral hummed contentedly at her, and Dromaripopexnal smiled. It was not as good as being back home, but it was infinitely better than nothing. She turned her attention to the bag, sticking her head inside. Yes, as she had suspected. A simple case of dimensional transcendence, nothing fancy, though he had been considerate enough to add a primitive chameleon circuit to it. Only one setting, though she only needed one. She set it next to her carpet bag, and set it to copy; at once the orange plastic vanished, leaving something her employer, their servants, and her charges would find wholly unremarkable.
As long as they only saw it from the outside.