You are a child, and you do not speak. Instead, you touch: the glancing of a palm on a forehead, the soft resting of fingers on a wrist. Instead, you know: you look in the telling eyes of a speaker or a listener, and you find the expressions nestled in the dilation of pupils.
You do not know what speaking is until the loud man (and what is a man?) comes to your planet in a very blue box.
Every child here gains a question.
The Teller holds out the emerald pulsing rock. It has been uncovered, so long ago, from the Founder who scraped at the dirt with his fingers, and he began everything. Let it be, the ancient texts read, that every person of six years of age approach the Stone and find themselves.
The Stone shows. You hold fingernails, palms up, into the rocky green, tactile history whispering into your skin. Know. Find. Touch. The principles of a nation compressed into a product of the ground, your own self impressed into deeper inside.
The Stone murmurs, and you catch flashes of a destiny flickering beneath your hands.
Every child here gains a weight.
That question encapsulates a taste of a future - a choice laid before a person - a single, important pivotal moment introduced before the time actually comes.
Every grave has an answer.
There is talk of the planet unbalancing unto itself: of choices conflicting into changes conflicting into paradoxes. The world shakes. The Stone presses more responsibility, more questions onto the children; you have seen the little ones shake after contact.
Your younger brother's touches gain more pressure after the passing day; his eyes are an impossible black. Paradox, his thoughts murmur, and his bones creak and cannot hold the stream of blood.
You do not know what that word means. All you know is that the old ones live, the young ones try, that people gasp for air every moment like it's a gift, and you are like them and you treat every waking moment like a breath.
Every child tries to stay.
And yet there is a future, despite despite despite. Something possible. In the Founder's Stone, there is tradition and there is alternatives.
Mother and Mother and Brother and you clench tightly onto the grit of the Stone, etching variability with shaking finger nails, and you live.
The man in the box, flashing green light on the surface of the planet. "Paradox," he says, that word again, a grim smile on his face.
What is your question? you ask, for however private it may be, paradox is a word that invites the sharing of the turning of events.
"The oldest in the universe," he says, eyes dark and soft. "The first question asked."
There is no such thing, you reply. There is no order or age of questions. Questions have always been - have always remained in this enclosed system all around us. Before my planet, before the stars, before time - til now, those questions have existed.
He touches the side of your cheeks, and projects a thought: Before time, little one? And the feeling is sad, tinged with memory and disbelief.
You call him Lord of Time, a snatch of words you overhear in his mind, but you stop once you hear the last.
Why do you not believe? you say instead.
"Time is everything," he says, switching back to vocal communication, and he rearranges your own words and slides it back at you. "Time has always been. There is no age of Time."
"Tell me about this Stone of yours," the Lord of Time says, his face creased in a thoughtful expression.
It gives questions.
"And it changes things, doesn't it?"
Yes, you say, we change things. And the pronoun is all that matters.
"What if," he starts slowly, "if I told you that your world is breaking? That your decisions are tearing Time apart. That you have too much knowledge about what might or might not happen soon, and it's too much for Time to handle."
We live, Lord of Time. We find, and we know, and we choose, and we live. Even if the world shakes, we hold.
He glares at you in a mounting frustration. "Little one, your Stone is the root of this problem. I have to-"
Panic rises from the pit of your stomach, creeping upwards. NO. Please don't please don't take it away you can't do that I want-
The Lord of Time looks immediately remorseful. "Then at least take me to it. Perhaps I could work out a way for it to function without causing such a level of damage. I know how important your questions are to you. To your planet."
Compromise, you detect in his mind, and feel a collection of memories drift your way. He offers you trust. At the end of the day, the Lord of Time always makes everything work out. Successes. Rescues. He will do it, you are sure. He will figure things out.
Okay, you say softly. I'll bring you there.
You realise later on: he didn't even show you half of it. He is more than victory.
Every child is a historian. How can one not, after touching the Stone and the questions thrilling through a body, after classes of teachers writing: the answer to her question resulted in this history.
The Doctor tells you, on the way to the Stone, that one learns from history's mistakes - that people make future decisions trying not to repeat the past.
We do not make mistakes, you respond. We know how to divert outcomes, to make things right.
The Lord of Time's lips mouth to form paradox, but he sees your eyes - this stranger, who seems to be used to communication through sounds and noises, who expected you to speak to him the first time - and reads something there. He falls silent.
He reaches down to hold your hand, the gesture of a parent leading a child, and you let him guide you, even though you thought you'd be the one doing so.
The Stone is here, you tell the Lord of Time. Motioning him to the back of the hollow, you point a stubby finger at a green light.
He moves quickly, his own green clothes rustling behind him as the wind of the Stone takes in its visitors. "It's not a stone," he says. "It's one of my people's inventions. Like a crystal ball, but..." He cocks his head sideways. "Let me see..."
This is something you know: in this enclosed space called the universe, objects with the identical polarity cannot exist in the same room without attracting, without imploding within themselves. That is: positive and positive repel off each other without hesitation after sticking. This is: paradox and paradox burn.
The Lord of Time is a paradox within a blue box within a universe's possibilities. He makes the impossible happen - in that, he too, is impossible.
And the Stone?
Projects possible destinies that ricochet off the empty walls. The question, your question, flickers on the edge of your peripheral.
Space and time and memory sear your throat. In some seconds, you have have been created; and in others, you are nonexistent. Still the unmade stuff of stars. You open your mouth - a voiceless, chordless thing - and scream for the first time in your life, your voice rough with hoarseness.
"Hey, hey," someone murmurs softly. Two hands cup your face, stilling and gripping a shaking head. "Little one. It's okay. It's just Time. It's just Time."
There is no such thing as 'just Time', Lord, you manage to beam back at him. You breathe.
Then: Doctor. That's my name, you know. You don't have to constantly call me Lord of Time.
No, you say, it's not.
A small smile quirks at the corner of his lips: bitter, secretive. No one can ever pronounce it, anyways.
And you reach back at him. You clutch at the sides of his forehead, and crash yours to his. For a moment, Doctor. You know I can end the paradox. Give me it.
The Doctor recoils. It's one of the last, the only things he's ever had to remind him of a planet you cannot fathom - red grass, and war, and circular writing creeping down the length of paper. You can sense these recollections, these flashes back to the past.
You are a child - you do not know the weight of what you ask; you do not know anything about this Lord of Time. And yet.
Help, you press into his mind, and his name is suddenly there, folded neatly in the corners of your thoughts, wrapped inside.
You edge towards the Stone. It will simple to reconnect to this artifact of your people, whose minds have been in tune with it for generations. A touch. A choice. Your question.
Leave it, and the answers may crumble. The planet will be in chaos, in dysfunction without its patterns, with its breaking of choices. Your brother may die of a circumstance beyond control. Your mother may never have been born.
The Stone is the future.
"Go on," the Doctor says, his eyes blurring into the fading surroundings. "Go rebuild your planet, little one. If you leave the paradox like this is, the universe might collapse."
What do I do?
"My name. My lif-existence. Give it to Her. Your Stone will not wear Her away any longer, as long as She has me."
The she he speaks of is Time, you think.
Positive and positive repel from each other after collision.
That is: two beings with the same question cannot walk into the same room without this clash all around them.
You are a symbol. A representation of who the Doctor is, was, and ever shall be. You are a question and you are a choice. You are your planet's hope and your planet's doom.
You have his name. His two hearts resting in your hands.
You bow your head, and the Stone shatters into green shards. The Doctor's name pushes on the tip of an unused tongue, and you fall into him, and release it back into his chest. It is a whisper, and it is a whisper loud enough to deafen the universe.
My Stone. My planet.
To Time, you offer two things. To the Doctor - this old old being without much of a future as your planet could ever have, but futures to give others - you give Time. You give him just a little longer until his final moments, and ultimately, you know who he is, even if he doesn't.
One day there might be a child who will readily choose their future over the Doctor's.
But it is very easy to love him, and it is harder to leave him for death.
"Hello, little one," he says, when you eventually open your eyes, and you finally know it's over.