(inspired by the BBCtv Series Doctor Who)
The past is but the beginning of a beginning, and all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn. - H.G. Wells, "The Discovery of the Future," 1901
Starlight filled his eyes, the radiance of a billion, billion suns performing their intricate, cosmic dance just for him. He floated free, turning gently, straying further and further into the shimmering reaches of Space and Time, engulfed at last in the splendour of the Medusa Cascade…
Someone spoke his name.
He blinked. The vast expanse of space was gone, replaced by the rotating blur of ceiling fan blades churning a gentle breeze against his skin. Moonlight played at the open window, the towering walnut tree outside casting long shadows across the far wall of the bedroom.
His bedroom. The room he and Rose had shared when this was their home. How long ago that now seemed.
The storm had dissipated, leaving behind the tangy scent of autumn. Gutter tea, he'd heard it called. He rather liked that. Human beings. They still amazed him. Who else in all the galaxy could put a poetic spin on rotting foliage? He had enjoyed more than his share of that aroma, having walked miles in a downpour. It was that or call for help and calling for help still wasn't in his nature.
He'd misplaced the Jeep. Again. And he'd disengaged the GPS. Again. Special Op's at Torchwood's main branch in London claimed it was a security measure, but he couldn't abide being tracked that way, like a tagged animal in the wild. The mutant Time Lord, stalking aliens across what he still fondly referred to as Pete's World. Or simply off on a lark. Granted, the missing GPS complicated things when it was time to close up shop. The Jeep didn't beckon like the Tardis, his Time Ship, and apparently a reliable Chameleon Circuit was standard issue because it blended into its surroundings so well that he never seemed to be able to locate it when he needed it. Surely it would turn up. It always did. Almost always. But Pete Tyler-boss, benefactor, and father-in-law all rolled into one-had seemed decidedly unamused to see him walking through the side gate earlier instead of driving. He was quick to produce the key from his pocket as a sort of peace offering, but Pete only planted his face in both hands and strode away, muttering some of the more colourful expletives in the English language.
Compared to saving the Earth from the threat of the Yugglorrh Transperion, another lost Jeep was of little consequence, but he admitted it was having a negative impact on insurance premiums. Not good. Especially now with the economy being in the dustbin. Besides, they still hadn't forgiven him for that unfortunate incident with the zeppelin.
At least this time he hadn't phoned from the Embassy in Czechoslovenia, requesting transport (and diplomatic immunity), though, as he was wont to do, he had wandered off yesterday with scarcely enough money for chips, let alone cab fare from Scotland. Yesterday? No, no, no. That wasn't right at all. It was longer than that. A week, then. Three at most. The seasons had yet to change and no matter how distracted he became he had never missed Christmas.
Could it be helped that he was as drawn to Trouble as Trouble was to him? Raising a ruckus, Jackie Tyler called it. Pete was less delicate than his wife on that matter, but dutifully did any damage control necessitated by his latest exploits. Not that it was intentional. Well, not usually. Well… all right, he admitted to himself, sometimes it was quite deliberate but not without provocation. Mostly. Still, it had been a long hike from Aberdeenshire, even after hitching a lift here and there. Maybe he talked too much. The last lorry driver hadn't even waited for the next lay-by.
Blimey, he was tired. Still. He had arrived at the Taylors' home bone weary. Weary enough, even, to bypass a proper sit down (aside from pinching a few slices of Sunday roast and four ginger snaps) and go straight to sleep. But not too weary to dream. And in his dreams he was always coming home. The first home he had had in, oh, too many years to count. All walls and floors and carpets. Where else could he go, really? Not Pete Tyler's posh penthouse flat at Torchwood Towers where his celebrity status had long since evaporated but he was nonetheless at the mercy of those wanting too much of his time. Time he no longer had in unlimited-or almost unlimited-quantities. Nor did he feel he could go to the big old house in Scotland where he had spent the better part of his years on this world. Rose was there, patiently awaiting his eventual return. He had made it nearly to the doorstep this time. He just couldn't find it in himself to stay.
Still trying to outdistance your nightmares, old son? Old habits and all that.
He could no longer move on-or back-or anywhere else in time except for here. Here. Now. With yesterday past and tomorrow yet to come and all of it proceeding in the dreadful, ordinary, dull, way that the people around him found comfortable and acceptable and… normal. On the Slow Path, hours dragged like a rake in the sands of time and where once he had made grand patterns, spiralling and tilting to the music of the spheres, the lines in the sand were now arrow straight, preserved until the inevitable tide washed them away forever.
He sat up in bed, scrubbing his face with his hands His beard needed trimming and, judging by the tangled waves he had to work his fingers through, so did his hair.
Shadows advanced and retreated with the rapidly moving clouds, flashes of moonlight illuminating the large, dusty telescope crouching in a far corner of the room. A well intentioned gift from one of the Tylers' connections in the new Euro government shortly after his arrival, he had inadvertently insulted the giver by assuming the costly item was a toy intended for Jackie and Pete's wee boy, Tony, and not for him, the mysterious Spaceman. That mistake nearly sparked an international incident. His very first. At least on this world. Thankfully, Rose had been at his side to rein him in and dispense more diplomacy than he was capable of mustering without escalating things further. How was he to know that the ambassador from New Germany lacked a sense of humour? He had later tinkered with the device in a vain attempt to increase its functionality, scattering pieces like a brilliant, restless child until Pete suggested that nothing short of a full scale observatory was going to satisfy him and even that was doubtful. As of late he had simply stopped looking at the stars. There weren't enough in the English night sky and they were too far away.
The blanket he had wrapped himself in fell to the wet floor as he swing his feet over the edge of the bed. His sodden clothing still lay in the heap he'd dropped it, but a cup of tea had been placed on the bedside table, a pile of sticky sugar cubes sitting beside the saucer. He stuck a finger into the cup and put it in his mouth. Cold. Tea leaves floated on the surface like micro lily pads in a dark pond. He wondered who had brought it in and when. Seeing as he had been unable to find any pyjamas whoever it was may have gotten an eyeful. He glanced behind him, but, no, Rose was not there. Of course not.
In the midst of her exasperated scolding earlier Rose's mum, Jackie, had said something about flocks of sheep gone missing around Cairngorm and how the young Duke of Edinburgh, quite the student of paranormal activity himself, had rung up Torchwood, adamant about it being a bona fide Rift. That and the weather was worse than normal. It only made sense they would dispatch Rose to investigate the anomaly, seeing as she was just miles away from Balmoral Castle. He knew he should have answered his mobile when he saw her Torchwood exchange. But honestly, thunder-storms and sheep swallowing holes in Space and Time? How the mighty had fallen. Jackie admonished him further for not ringing them up even once while he was gone this time (he had memorized most of that tirade) and suggested that if he persisted in being a rover, dragging in without so much as a by your leave, he cold flop in the orangery with what she called his "coral monstrosity."
Since his last modifications to the dimensional stabilizer the Tardis was indeed growing at an alarming rate and he admitted the Time Ship had entered an awkward stage of development, but there was no need to insult a growing trans-dimensional entity. Jackie would have torn into him even deeper had it not been for her older son, Tony. Something in his tired face had registered on the boy. He had seen it mirrored in the lad's eyes and was grateful for the interference as Tony steered his mum away, sparing them all from her tirade. Or his own foolish response. That left wee Rusty Tyler standing midway down the stately manor's entrance hall, watching him with eyes so much like Rose's that it made him hurt inside just to look at the boy. He stood, dripping in silence at the bottom of the grand staircase, until the housekeeper's annoyed tut-tuts broke into his reverie and he'd dragged himself off in search of a towel.
The Tylers were awake now. His senses had been retooled to something more akin to normal human senses, but they were often abnormally keen. Jackie and Pete were quarrelling in groggy voices over whose turn it was to put little Rusty back in his cot. Ah. That explained the cold, leafy tea-though how the lad had managed to enter the room without him knowing, he could only guess. He was relatively sure human children possessed unique super powers governing stealth.
A narrow band of light shown beneath the door, followed by a giggle and the patter of small feet down the hall. By the heavy footfalls and weary groan, he knew it was Pete's turn to chase the boy down and, with Tony's help (and the lure of bickies), coax Rusty back to bed. Not long after came the murmurs of a now-familiar bedtime story and promises of taking the ponies out for a picnic in the nature preserve. Pete, he reflected, had become the very dad Rose had dreamed of, here in this world of second chances. He smiled. Good on you, mate. Good on you.
A noise below his side window caught his attention. Snapping brittle twigs betrayed some unseen night visitor. He rose stiffly to investigate but it was too dark to see anything. A badger, perhaps. Or weasels. He had seen a pair of the slinking devils not a month past, darting along the hedgerow, beating a fast retreat from Jackie's yapping little Westie, Petunia. They reminded him a little of the tafelshrews back on Gallifrey-so did the little dog for that matter- and he wondered if they tasted as bad. Probably not half as bad as the trufflemorphs From Zelioridon. Oh, now that was a planet to behold. Beautiful rainforests under half a dozen moons circling a now ancient star. He'd intended to take his good mate, Donna Noble, there on holiday until it became clear that Donna's idea of a break did not include invigorating hikes through dense jungles filled with eight foot long millipedes-milli-milli-bazzili-pedes-, dark purple winged sloth bats that would eat bananas right from your hand, and the most intoxicating blooming carnivorous plants that smelled like mocha latte. For some reason no one he had ever taken there had been all that enamoured of the place. Maybe that was because they always seemed to run out of bananas before they found the sloth bats. Or was it the millipedes?
He should have taken Donna to Felspoon to see the swaying mountains. Now he'd never get the chance. For all she was a part of him-that very strange, human part of him-Donna Noble was no longer part of his world. Nor was she part of his adopted world. This not-Earth-gingerbread-house he had been placed in and left to do what exactly? Grow old?
Someone spoke his name.
Why don't you hear me?
He breathed deeply and closed his weary eyes, focusing on the steady drip, drip, drip of water in the down pipes. The Time Lord's legacy to himself. Echoes back across Space and Time. He always heard them. Dreamt them. But his name? It wasn't even his name. Not really. Not anymore. Not since he had had been splintered off the man he used to be. It wasn't his life. But it was still his past and he had a very good memory. Fat lot of good it did him.
Felspoon, Zelioridon, Kastopheria, Spiridon. They might as well be notations in John Smith's Journal of Impossible Things. Visions from another life. Only this time he had not consciously altered his genetic code to disguise himself among humans. This time every cell had been overwritten without his consent. But that didn't change his memories. Didn't erase the dreams of another lifetime. Not his lifetime. His single, short human lifetime. All right, perhaps a very long lifetime by human standards given the genetic cocktail that had spit him into existence. Instantaneous biological meta crisis indeed. As if. All the intellect of the Time Lord he had been with none of the perks.
Yes, the chunk of Tardis coral he had been given possessed the heart of a Time Ship, but it was as much a complex space-time event as he was and they were both out of their element in this universe. As he aged and died a little more each day, the ship aged and lived. It would fly again. Oh, yes. But the question remained whether it could be properly primed after his first aborted attempt to operate it had ended so disastrously, destroying the only briode nebuliser he had, to date, been able to assemble from scratch. Not for the first time he considered that his altered Time Lord genes were insufficient to imprint. Without Rassilon's Imprimteur the fledgling Tardis would never withstand the stresses of entering the Time Vortex. It would be disintegrated, he and Rose with it. Assuming Rose would go with him this time. Without a Tardis he was stranded. Exiled. Again. Without even the likes of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart to wage words with. Even the fastest airship this world currently offered couldn't travel fast enough to get him far enough.
Someone spoke his name.
No longer a hushed whisper but spoken with an urgency that made his single heart beat hard against his chest, growing in intensity.
Someone had left the kettle on.
"Amy…" Rory Williams muttered, not wanting to move. "Amy, the kettle…"
"Amy, the kettle," he tried again, forcibly keeping his eyes shut to keep from waking up completely. But it was no use. She was even more deeply asleep than usual. Or ignoring him. He couldn't always tell.
With a yawn, Rory rolled over to get out of bed and startled fully awake. They were not in their bedroom. They were… not in England at all. He glanced around. He was drifting on what appeared to be a cloud. In the Tardis. In space. Probably.
She bolted awake then, nearly falling through the cradle of mist onto the floor.
"Whoa! What the-"
"Oh great. Now he doesn't just show up for special occasions and on holidays with enticements of adventure through Space and Time, he sneaks in in the middle of the night and kidnaps us from our bed. I'm too old for this."
"Is that the kettle?"
Amy was clamouring to get up now, a perilous proposition from a bed with no distinct edges. Rory wasn't sure if this sleeping arrangement was a result of the Doctor's sense of humour or the Tardis herself. The Doctor had promised to order up the king-sized, canopied bed Amy had pointed out in an exclusive home furnishings catalogue, but that was ages ago when the Time Lord last departed from their home to pop off to Cwmbran to stock up on Jammie Dodgers. Apparently they were introducing a new flavour.
The kettle whistled on, the sound echoing down the long corridor.
Rory rubbed the sleep from his eyes and looked for something to wear. He settled for a pair of denims and a shirt he'd left behind. They hadn't been laundered, and he hadn't worn that size in over two years, but he had learned the hard way not to wander the Tardis in his pyjamas or dressing gown or less. They never knew what head of state-or planet-the Doctor might be entertaining in the middle of what they thought was the night. The Doctor kept curious hours, but he and Amy needed to sleep-much to the Time Lord's chagrin. Not that the man was above waking them if he got too bored. Or lonely. He didn't admit the lonely part, but Amy maintained that was what it was and over time Rory had come to agree. For all he had friends and companions scattered through the galaxies, the Doctor remained the loneliest man Rory knew.
Tugging on the cowboy boots he had gotten on what he thought was still their first trip to America-honestly, it was all rather jumbled now-Rory stumbled out the door. Amy shuffled along behind him in her nightie and the oversized bunny slippers the Doctor had given her some Christmas past. No doubt the Doctor was already in the Tardis control room, headphones or some other nonsense obscuring the screeee of the kettle. The sound was defiantly coming from there and not one of the kitchens.
"Nice trick, Doctor," Amy complained, pushing strands of ginger hair away from her face as she yawned. "Ha ha, very funny, now put us back!"
But the Doctor was not there.
Hastily, Rory wrapped his shirt sleeve around his hand and wrestled the sputtering kettle from the hob before that entire section of the Time Ship's flight control panel was doused in scalding water. At times he could not help but think the ship's instrument panels had been designed by monkeys for all they made sense.
"Ow ow ow ow ow!"
Even through heavy cotton flannel the kettle was, well, boiling hot.
"Good one, Doctor," Amy told the empty room, pausing to kiss the tips of her husband's fingers and switch off the cooker top. "Leave the kettle and go for a walk. Typical."
After a moment of impatient waiting, Rory poured the steaming water into the teapot, managing not to burn his fingers again. Amy leaned in close beside him to inhale the scent. Whatever the Doctor had in the infuser smelled gorgeous. Cinnamon and nutmeg and another scent he could not identify. It reminded him of Christmas and Christmas reminded him of the English countryside which, in turn, reminded him that he wanted to be home. In bed. With his wife.
A large green cup sat next to a plate of Toffee Dodgers as if the Doctor had planned to return for a midnight snack. Or a 3am snack. Who really knew out here in space. And that was another thing, Rory thought. Why were there no windows on the flight deck? Just row upon row of rounded portal-looking-things with equipment and lights and bizarre wiring behind them.
Amy popped one of the biscuits into her mouth then picked up the mug. She showed it to Rory and he shrugged at the Greek symbols. Theta Sigma. Right. Whatever. He toggled a few switches, wondering where they were. When they were. He found no answers.
The Tardis was running ever so quietly, the Time Rotor rising and falling gracefully amid the turning gears in the towering central column. Nary a warning alarm sounded; nary a warning light blinked. Why wasn't that state of affairs more reassuring?
After a moment Rory realized he could hear something else. A faint mechanical ticking. But from where? Wandering the Tardis was not something he relished in the middle of, oh, whatever time it was. The Doctor so rarely abandoned his post. Not during flight. Too many knobs to turn, gears to wiggle, gizmos to adjust. Even it was just to show-off. The Time Lord barely sat still long enough to eat, or, Rory mused, drink the tea he'd obviously put the kettle on for. While Amy poured out a cup, Rory dragged himself up the stairs, around the upper deck and back again. He repeated his search below, ducking loops of connective cable, but the ticking could only be heard at the main level. Thinking it a stroke of genius, he checked the pocket of the green jacket hanging over a jump seat, but it was not the Doctor's sonic screwdriver. He thought better of reaching in any deeper than that.
Amy shook back her long red hair then stood with hands on her hips, watching the Time Rotor rise and fall. The rhythmic pulse was almost hypnotic. The pace had quickened.
"Rory, a little help here."
"Talk to her."
"Talk to who?" he asked, wondering what he had missed while briefly pondering the contents of the Doctor's jacket pockets.
"To the Tardis."
"Me? What makes you think she'll talk to me?"
"She liked you, remember?"
"Oh. That," he said, recalling how the Tardis had once communicated telepathically with him, directing them to a secondary control room during their terrifying flight with the sentient asteroid creature, House. "All right. But, what should I say?"
"How should I know."
Not very helpful, that. But Amy was tired and when Amy was tired, Amy was cross. And when Amy was cross it was best to simply do what she said.
"Hello," Rory said awkwardly, directing his words toward the pulsing lights that twisted around the Time Rotor. He smiled, then wondered if the Tardis could see him at all. "It's me. The Pretty One. We're looking for the Doctor."
Amy raised her eyebrows at him.
"Please," he added swiftly.
As if on cue a door behind them slid open. A door he was quite sure he'd never noticed before.
"Okay. That's new."
"Oh, Doctor," Amy said, hazel eyes flashing. "Still keeping secrets are we?"
tick, tick tick
The sound drew them on until Rory thought they would be forced to abandon the steaming cup of tea they had been passing back and forth between them. As it was, half of the snacks were now missing.
They had traversed the butterfly garden, checked the water slide, and passed a rather sizable badger wandering down a hall when, round the next bend, they came up short before a door. Not an automatic Star Trek kind of proper spaceship door, but a wooden blue door that resembled the outer door of a police box but with an elaborate brass handle and an old fashioned key hole. That was the Tardis though. An amalgamation of old and new, of curious lost-in-time artefacts and alien gadgetry, some of which he suspected even the Doctor was unsure about. Ancient and new and the bluest of blue. The Tardis. And the Doctor himself.
The door stood slightly ajar, the mysterious sound coming from within, ticking away like some great clock keeping track of all of Time and Space.
The door creaked open at a nudge and Rory saw instantly what was making the noise. A rickety vintage reel to reel movie projector stood in the middle of a cluttered, darkened room and there, on a makeshift screen fashioned of what was apparently easels and a parachute, wandered Charlie Chaplin's familiar Tramp.
Rory placed the biscuits and tea on a bureau beside the door, pushing aside an assortment of film canisters and splicing tape to do so. As his eyes adjusted to the light from the old black and white film he could see that the room was larger by far than he'd first realized, made smaller by the sheer quantity of stuff that crowded the space like some misfit museum or an antique emporium gone very wrong. Clocks of every variety kept time. Or dozens of different times by the look of the ones nearest them. Antique mantel clocks; a towering grandfather clock; a tail wagging Kit Kat clock, boggling eyes popping back and forth. Hourglasses poured sand silently. Water dripped from a gravity defying cylinder. A beam of light erupted from the tip of a miniature pyramid. Gently swinging glowing globes orbited one another in a far corner and every flat surface of furniture displayed things he had imagined could only be coughed up out of Amy's great grandmother's attic in Scotland.
"Whoa…" Amy breathed at last.
Rory had to agree. Whoa, indeed. Or, was that woe?
Remnants of civilisations he could only guess at mingled with the familiar. A misshapen glass orb that might once have been a delicate carafe. A pristine American newspaper dated 27 February 1967. Was that a crude oil lamp affixed to a battered miner's hat? And there, in the far corner, was that the panel of a lifeboat emblazoned R.M.S. Titanic?
Rory ran his fingers lightly over the splintered remains of the lifeboat. Beyond, just visible through a partially closed second door and the dim light, crouched a set of bunk beds, rough hewed like something he had seen on the telly about American ski lodges. The bottom bunk was a tangle of mismatched socks and what appeared to be the parts of a motorbike. The top bunk appeared empty, an indigo quilt sewn with gold intertwining circular designs trailing off of it. He averted his eyes from so private a domain, his gaze passing over dozens of interesting-and less intimate-objects. In the centre of the room, in front of the projector and beside a claw-footed table, crouched a Louis XV chair that looked like it belonged in a BBC historical drama series. In the chair, long legs stretched out in front of him, sat the Doctor.
Before Rory could stop her, Amy stepped closer. The Doctor's head was bowed, a cascade of unruly brown hair spilling over closed eyes. Amy's fingers flew to her lips and she motioned shhhh. He was asleep. In the midst of all the jumble and flickering light, with Charlie Chaplin scampering away from a flaming Zeppelin, the Doctor was asleep. An open book lay propped on the Time Lord's left knee, barely held in place by the two fingers resting against the open pages. As Rory watched, afraid that their mere presence would be enough to wake him, the Doctor's hand dropped aside and the book slipped free, rustling to the floor. Rory held his breath. They were done for. The Doctor was going to wake up, discover their intrusion, and, and… and he really didn't know what would happen after that but couldn't imagine that it would be anything good. Then again, the Doctor might just thank them for the tea, ask them if they liked their cool, new cloud bed, and then tell them they were going on a perilous journey that involved poisonous frogs and a wombat. When none of those things happened, Amy bent to retrieve the book. She handed it to Rory. H.G. Wells. The Time Machine. Of course. The vintage edition was well thumbed and dog eared, as if it had been read a thousand times. The last dozen or so pages, though, were still crisp.
While they had stood frozen in silence the reel to reel had run out, the tape end slapping round and round until Rory switched the machine off. Only the faint glow of the floating orbs in the corner and the blinking red LED lights on a 1970's era digital clock radio provided any illumination.
"Amy," he whispered, "come on. Leave him be."
"But he looks so sweet," she whispered back, no longer cross and obviously entranced. "Like my old granddad on a Sunday afternoon back in Scotland. Look. Even his little bowtie is undone…"
But it was too late. Amy couldn't help herself and had reached out to touch the Doctor's shoulder fondly. At once, the Time Lord was in motion, lunging forward, tripping over his own feet, then reeling backwards, flipping the chair on top of himself.
"What are you doing here? You can't be here!" the Doctor cried, scrambling up and stumbling past them into the brightly lit hallway.
"Doctor, I'm sorry!"
"No, no, no, no, no!"
"Amy, I don't think he's talking to us."
Indeed, the Doctor wasn't looking at them at all, Instead, the poor man was turning in drunken circles, eyes wild, hands pressed to either side of a frantically wagging head.
"I can't! I can't help you. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry… please stop. Please…"
For a moment the Doctor seemed to look at them, surprise registering on the long, narrow face. As quickly it was gone, as was the Time Lord, running down the passageway, Amy and Rory in pursuit.