So I'm both looking forward to and really not looking forward to these two weeks. Gonna be one hell of an emotional ride... anyway.
"She could see things the way he could, think the way he thought, have a glimpse into the way he felt. A decade previously, he had despairingly come to the conclusion that he would never feel such a special kinship again, the one that only came with another of his species. To be able to experience it again... there were no words."
CHAPTER 3. The Man In The Top Hat
August 23, 2015.
It wasn't often that Melody Clarke got angry. It was usually her sister who had the volcanic temper, a glare that could strip paint and a tone, when used, that was more corrosive than the strongest of acids. She, on the other hand, was too naturally sweet to be like that on a regular basis – but when she got angry, boy, did she show it.
She stood, giving the man a death glare which even Jacqueline would have been proud of, her arms folded over her chest, and electricity all but crackling in her eyes and wild hair. She could see the man wilting under her gaze.
"Trust me, I left everything just where I found it." No answer. "I'll – I'll just be off then, shall I?" He made to leave, but in his haste tripped over a chair leg in the cluttered room, landing on all fours right in front of her.
She tried – and almost succeeded – to stop her lip curling at the sight of him prostate before her. He let out a frustrated splutter. "Kids these days, can't keep their room straight. Not like in the old times – Versailles in 1781, now there's interior design for you. Well, actually, exterior design as well, it had the most magnificent gardens. And the library! It had the-"
"Are you going to shut up now?" As the man rambled, Melody had more or less decided that the man wasn't malicious – he simply didn't look the type – but even so, he'd broken into her sister's room. She wondered how he'd done it – by the looks of things, he'd just strolled straight through the door as if it was unlocked. She knew that Jacqueline wouldn't have made such a basic error. "Or shall I just call the police, Doctor?" She asked, in a voice that was razor-sharp.
"Er – yes. No! No, sorry. Don't do that. That would be very much not good." The Doctor replied, nervously straightening his white bow-tie. Now that Melody's fury had abated slightly, she could see that he was certainly dressed for an occasion – frankly, he looked quite dashing in his spotless white shirt and pitch-black tuxedo, even in the oddly flickering light. And she couldn't remember the last time he'd seen a man in a top-hat.
"I was just delivering a gift to your sister – wait, this is your sister's room, right? Not yours?" It would be a rather silly mistake to make – but he'd made plenty before. He stepped slightly to the side, so Melody saw the deep-blue diary on the table for the first time.
Melody's eyes narrowed. "Couldn't you just have given it to her directly? She's at the graduation, and she's not hard to find."
"Sorry, but no. Discretion is paramount for this – don't want to provoke any unexpected reactions."
"So instead you felt that you had to break into her room. How did you do that, anyway? How'd you get in?"
"Through the door, obviously," the Doctor replied, somewhat bemused by the question.
"Which was locked."
"Yes, well, there are ways around that." He pulled out a silver, cylindrical object, twirling it in the air. It was similar – no, identical – to Jacqueline's unlocker, save for a bright green crystal held within the claw-like appendages rather than dark crimson. "Sonic screwdriver. Useful for getting in and out of doors, cages, space-bottles and carnivorous fruit. Very good on fruit."
Melody disregarded the last, nonsensical part of his little explanation, focussing instead on the device before her. A voice told her that she was being far too open with a man whom she couldn't trust, but... "My sister has one of those."
"I know," he replied, pocketing the device. "I gave it to her."
"Well, OK, technically I didn't give it to her. In actuality my TARDIS did, but who's counting?"
"What the hell is a TARDIS?"
"It's my, uh, car."
"Your car?" Melody's voice was positively dripping with scepticism.
"It's not like any car you've ever seen, believe me. Although if I ever manage to fix the chameleon circuit, it might at least look like one. Anyway, it was lovely to meet you again, Melody Clarke, but it's time for me to dash." He made to leave, but Melody blocked his path.
"You're not going anywhere, mister, until you explain how you know my sister. And what the point of that-" she nodded towards the diary "-is."
"What makes you think I know your sister?" Melody didn't answer. "OK. Rubbish lie. Alright. I know your sister."
"You know her really well, even though she's never even met you. I'm not stupid, Doctor, I saw those emails you sent a few weeks ago."
"Yes, I expected as much."
His evasion wasn't lost on Melody, so she decided on a more direct tack. "What's the book for?"
"It's a diary."
"I can see that. Whose diary?"
"A friend's." He smiled gently – a smile filled with a wistful tenderness. With age. And love. "Well - more than a friend."
He says that as if he hasn't seen her in years... "Where is she now? Is she still alive?"
"Of course. She's just... hiding. Hopefully she'll come back soon."
"What's in the diary? Can I read it?" She moved forward, but the Doctor held out an arm to stop her.
"Sorry – spoilers. Let your sister read it first."
"Why? No secrets, what's Jacqueline's is mine too."
He smiled warmly at her. "I know. But we all have you break our own rules every now and then again. Let her have first go, OK?"
"You still haven't explained what it's for."
"It's... encouragement." He sighed. "Fine. The truth of the matter is that your sister will soon have to make a huge, life-changing decision that quite frankly has massive ramifications for the fate of the entire universe. This diary will hopefully help her make the right choice. Make sense?"
Melody blinked. It really didn't (fate of the entire friggin' universe? Melodrama here we go!) but she chose not to argue the point. "Why do you keep calling her 'my sister'? She has a name, and you know what it is."
He was still smiling, but this smile was softer... sadder. "Yes," he murmured. "Yes, she does." Then, as if a switch had been thrown, his face brightened, an enigmatic light returning to her eyes. "Now, Melody Clarke, I must be off. Don't worry, you'll see me again very soon." He tipped his hat to her and walked out of the room... before stopping in his tracks.
"Is it just me, or did the lights just flicker?"
"Huh? What?" Melody was still distracted by the diary, tossing up whether to open it or not.
"The lights. Did they not just flicker a wee bit? All of them?"
"Oh. That. Yeah, they've been doing that for months," Melody replied casually. At once, the Doctor strode back onto the room and leapt onto the bed, unpocketing his sonic screwdriver as he did so. "Wait – what the hell are you doing?"
The Doctor didn't seem to hear her as he buzzed the sonic up and down the florescent tube on the ceiling. "Standard fluorescent light, wiring is OK, no short-circuits to speak of so it must be a power fluctuation... Melody, how many lights have been doing this?"
"What? Um... er..."
"How many lights?"
"Well, all of them, I guess. All over the building."
"All of them... all of them. So it's not a local power fluctuation... Melody, where's the power box for this building?"
"Erm – on the south-east corner, I think."
"Many thanks." He leapt off the bed and jogged out of the room – before turning back and sticking his head through the doorway again. "You coming?"
To say Melody was taken aback was an extreme understatement. "Um - what?"
He rolled his eyes. "Are you, Melody Clarke, coming with me?"
A raised eyebrow. "What for?"
"Well, you've noticed the power going all wibbly around here, haven't you?"
She had no idea what 'wibbly' meant, but she got the gist. "Yeah, of course."
"Would you like to find out why it's happening?"
She folded her arms across her chest, cocking her head slightly. "You're assuming a lot about my curiosity."
"Curiosity is a wonderful thing to assume. Your choice, either way." The Doctor pocketed his sonic and leaned on the doorway, evidently waiting for her decision.
Melody sighed inwardly. Running off with a mad man who had broken into her sister's home to join him on some vague, unspecified adventure – this wasn't too far from a cheap ten dollar pulpy romance she liked to dip into every now and then for a giggle. Her sister would be mortified – and then tease her for the next week if she heard.
But, then, that was what made this different, wasn't it? He wasn't some ordinary guy – and this wasn't some random dalliance. No. There were bigger fish to fry here.
"Erm – OK. Just... just hang on, I need to get changed."
He looked her up and down. "Don't see the need, but whatever floats your boat. Five minutes. South-east corner of the building." And with that, he was gone.
Jacqueline had started tapping her foot on the ground, a bad sign if there ever was one.
Patience had never been her strong point, a fact Melody was fond of making her very much aware of, and her sister had been gone for a good half-hour now.
Come ON. How long does it take to get changed?
"Hey, Jacqueline!" It was Kevin, Melody's boyfriend – although, to be quite honest, that term didn't really apply any more, their thing having fizzled out shortly after Melody had left him high and dry a few weeks before. "Seen Melody?"
"She's just going to get changed. She'll be back soon," she told him, although she almost didn't add the word soon to the end.
Kevin wasn't convinced. "I haven't seen her in, like, forty-five minutes. Can't take that long to get changed, surely?"
Jacqueline bit her lip. "Maybe." OK, Melody was picky about what she wore, but never this picky. It wasn't as it she was going on a date or anything. So what the devil was taking her so long?
Huh. Never used that phrase before. Very British of me.
She shook her head, mentally batting away the distraction – something was amiss here, and she'd always been the slightly paranoid type.
"I'm going to go look for her," she declared, setting down her half-finished can. "Be back in a bit."
"Want me to come with you?" Kevin had been angling for a chat with Jacqueline for a while, for some reason. He'd been unsuccessful as of yet.
She shook her head, taking the first strides away from the crowd towards the college. "Nah. She's just getting changed, that's all."
Despite that, she wondered why she didn't believe her own words. Surely that was it? Just getting changed.
Within three minutes, Melody had changed to a far more comfortable outfit of jeans and a blue woollen jumper. She jogged past the still-broken lift and down the several flights of stairs, heading for the south-eastern corner of the rectangular building. The Doctor was already there, head buried in the metal box and wires trailing around his shoulders.
"Um... what are you doing?" Melody had a funny idea this was a question she'd be asking a lot.
"Just reorganising the circuitry, make it more efficient." A few sparks flew out of the power box as he spoke, causing Melody to recoil in alarm. "There. Your college's electricity bill is now half of what it was five minutes ago."
"So... is that all you're doing? Saving us money?"
"'Course not, that's just a hobby. But there's nothing interesting here, so never mind." He pocketed his sonic screwdriver and closed the box.
"Right. And here I was thinking you'd be doing something interesting."
"And is that a problem? Life isn't always explosions and running."
"I bothered to get changed, Doctor. I was expecting something a bit more interesting than you faffing about in a power box."
Unexpectedly, he grinned toothily at her. "Have I told you I liked you? Now I have. Well then, Melody Clarke, I shall endeavour to give you 'interesting'. But first," He sat on the grass, folding his legs together in the manner of a schoolchild being read to by his teacher. "Let me ask you some questions. One, do you have any fish fingers and custard lying around?"
Melody's jaw hit the ground. "What?!"
"I'll take that as a no. Never mind. Two, has there been anything funny happening around here in the last, say, two months?"
"Um..." Melody ground her brain back into her gear, having been stunned by the bizarre request. Fish fingers and... no. I must have misheard him. "A little. A few people have gone missing every now, most of them were last seen around here." Some of them were students – college life had taken a real downer in the days after that, with everyone on edge. Things had settled down for some weeks now.
"I've heard about that; I'm sorry. And the lights... have they been flickering like that a lot?"
"Not really, only a little. Not happened in a while, actually..."
"Very interesting. So it's a power fluctuation, and it doesn't come from the source... so that must mean it's the destination..." he drifted off, deep in thought. Suddenly, he sprung back up. "That lift. How long has it been broken?"
"And the lights have been flickering for-?"
"Two months. Yeah, I've noticed. One of those coincidences the universe throws up from time to time?"
"Somehow, I don't think so."
Melody had to sprint to keep up with him as he strode back into the building. Along the way, she just about managed to remember to send a quick message to her sister saying that she'd gotten tied up with something and would be a while. Don't go looking for me, she concluded as a warning.
Something told her the Doctor didn't want Jacqueline getting involved in this.
Jacqueline sauntered into the college, now fuming more than a little. She'd been hoping to have met Melody along the way, given her an earful and then headed back together. But there was no sign of her – and it wasn't like Mels to take detours.
What the hell is she doing?
She jogged up the stairs two at a time, quickly reaching the floor where both their rooms were. She strode purposefully over to her sister's room, hammering on the door with her fist.
"Oi, Mels! The hell are you doing in there?" She demanded.
Nothing. Not a whisper, not a sound. "Come on, Mels, surely it can't be that hard to get changed?" Still nothing.
She frowned. Something's not right here. She reached into the pocket of her jeans and withdrew her crimson-crystal unlocker, opening the door with a click. She pushed it open cautiously. "Melody?"
The room was empty. Not a soul in sight and there sure as hell wasn't room to hide. Melody's academic dress was strewn on the bed and the wardrobe lay half open – evidently, she'd gotten changed in an almighty hurry before running off somewhere. Where the hell is she?
Just as her blood pressure was about to rise into alarming territory, her phone double-beeped. She whipped it out with trembling hands, reading the text message.
Got distracted. Sorry. Don't go looking for me, will be a while – busy. Mels xx
She sighed. At least she's safe. Her overactive imagination had created a vast variety of potential scenarios, and many of them weren't pleasant. She also judged most of those to be highly unlikely, but as far as she was concerned there was no such thing as 'too safe' when it came to Melody. She made a mental note to give her a verbal walloping later, for wasting so much of her valuable time.
She considered going back – and almost instantly dismissed the idea. Really, there wasn't much back there to hold her attention – no booze, no Mels, too many suits. She decided to go back to her room and have a lie-down. She closed the door, locking it again with a buzz and a click, and headed down the corridor to her own room. She placed her hand on the handle and pushed – and found to her surprise that the door swung freely open.
Clearly, it hadn't been locked – but these doors were the kind that locked if you closed them at all. The only way it could be unlocked whilst staying closed was if she'd opened it using her unlocker – which was why she'd had to lock Melody's door on the way out.
Someone's been using an unlocker on my door. Which means someone's broken into my room.
She barged it open with her body, half-expecting to come across a balaclava-clad man in the middle of ransacking her room. Instead, she found it empty – and pristine. Pristine in the sense that everything was where she'd left it – save for the desk.
The contents had been roughly pushed to one side so as to make some room, and in the space a book had been placed. A thick, hard-bound deep-blue diary. Jacqueline moved over to it and picked it off the desk, running her fingers over the cover.
It had a window patterning on the front, and there was an ever-so-slight coarseness to the cover that indicated that it had been used a fair bit already. She could see from the way some of the pages seemed to crease and bend that there had been plenty written in it already – but there was plenty of blank pages still left as well. She turned it over in her hand, frowning.
Why does this look and feel so damn familiar? She could have sworn she'd never seen this before, never touched it... but the way it crackled ever so softly when she squeezed it, the graininess of the cover – there wasn't any other word for it. Familiar.
There was piece of paper wedged between two pages. She took it out and unfolded it, revealing a cursive, flowing script – again, curiously familiar. Just a little encouragement, it read. After that was a mess of lines, circles and dots that Jacqueline recognised as the same impossible-to-read symbology that accompanied some of her emails.
As she stared, the symbols seem to glow, and shift on the paper, brightening and fading...
She gasped. Suddenly, she could read the strange script.
Love, the Doctor.
She kept staring at the page. She blinked... and it was gone. Back to the same unintelligible mess of squiggles. But she remembered... she remembered what she'd seen. It's him again. He gave me this. Left it here. Why? What for? Encouragement for what?
She cast her mind back to the last email John Smith had sent her. The one signed off by the Doctor.
Find Amelia Pond.
Her eyes widened to saucers. This diary... it's hers. Amelia Pond's. She didn't know how she knew – she just knew.
With trembling fingers, she opened the diary, sat down, and began to read.
My name is Amy Pond, the first entry, dated the 25th of June 2010, read.
When I was seven, I had an imaginary friend. Last night was the night before my wedding, and my imaginary friend came back...
"So is this normal for you?"
The Doctor didn't even bother to turn around to fave Melody, continuing to run his sonic up and down the taped-off lift. "Hm? What?"
"This. The whole 'do something mysterious and impressive while someone else stands around looking confused so you can look clever when you explain it to them' thing."
"No idea what you're talking about."
Melody was totally unconvinced. "Right. So what are you doing, then? What's so special about this lift?"
"Well, according to the sonic..." He cocked his wrist so the sonic was right in front of his eyes, reading off a tiny panel on one side. "It's not actually a lift."
Melody raised an eyebrow ever so gently. "Let me guess," she intoned in a voice overflowing with sarcasm. "It's just a metal box with buttons on it. Oh, and it took me between different floors whenever I pushed said buttons. Gee, I wish we had a name for something like that..."
"Snarky, aren't you?"
"I do my best. Come on, mister. Explain to me what's going on. Now."
"You're just as bad as your sister," he muttered under his breath as he jammed his thumb into the 'up' button on the panel. The doors slid open with barely a whisper, and he stepped inside.
"Nothing. OK. Fine. First, I want you to breathe deep. Centre yourself. Find a calm space-"
"Doctor, shut up and tell me," Melody ordered in an icy, slicing tone.
"Alright, alright! It's a lift, but it seems that someone's piggybacked a teleporter to the controls."
"A teleporter?" This day was getting beyond weird now. "What, like a disappear from one place, reappear instantly in a completely different place teleporter?"
"Well, yes, as opposed to all the other kinds of teleporters you see around."
"And you say I'm too sarcastic."
"Not quite. Listen more carefully next time, Clarke, your life may depend on it soon." He twirled his sonic in a convulted pattern in the air and checked the results again. Apparently satisfied with the results, he pocketed the screwdriver in his tuxedo, patting it against his chest. "Now, coming?"
"What?" Melody had not been expecting this. At all. "Um-"
"Is that the usual response to everything nowadays? I'll try again. Are you, Miss Clarke, coming?"
She narrowed her eyes, unimpressed by the slight condescension in his tone. "Let me guess – you want to activate the teleporter."
"Sounds like a good idea, yes."
"And do you know where it goes? You do, right?"
"Don't be silly, of course I don't."
She folded her arms across her chest. "No. No, somehow, I don't think so."
"Suit yourself. Go back and run to your degree, and work, and nine-to-five-days, and two hour traffic jams. I, meanwhile, shall have fun with teleporters. Love teleporters, haven't seen one in ages..."
His words weakened her resolve somewhat. Now that she thought about it, a normal life was more or less synonymous with a boring life.
And hadn't she spent so many long, quiet evenings with her sister, gazing up at the stars, hoping and wondering if there was something more?
Now she was here, and he was offering. All she had to do was take.
"OK. Suppose I go with you. Not that I will. Not that I'm saying I will – or won't – or whatever. But suppose I go with you. Will it be, well..."
"Dangerous?" Alarmingly, his face visibly brightened at the word. "Oh, almost certainly! Life threateningly, terrifyingly dangerous. Teleporter that's resulted in people going missing for weeks and I, the Doctor, have no idea where it goes? How could it not?" He seemed positively giddy at the idea, but sobered up once he remembered her presence. "But, of course, if that's too much, then you're free to go. I won't stop you."
She glanced behind her, down the grey, dank corridor, down the featureless hall... down at a normal life.
"Right. Fine. Just one last question. Can I trust you?" You've already tried to lie and deceive me and my sister plenty of times already...
His eyes widened, clearly affronted by the question. "Of course you can. Absolutely you can."
She locked eyes with his, her liquid brown searching his sky blue. His aged blue. Kind blue. Her expression softened, and she stepped inside the lift. "OK. You win."
He smiled at her, a warm, caring smile. A smile that carried with it the promise of protection by any means possible, at any cost. "Good girl. First – ground rules: one, I'm the Doctor, two, don't wander off, and three, don't ask stupid questions. Understand?"
Melody nodded, although she suspected that number three was going to be difficult to hold to. "Understood. Teleport us away, Doctor."
He grinned at her, flicked out his sonic, raised it at the ceiling and pushed the button.
Jacqueline had never read so quickly in her life.
This was quite a feat – she had broken speed-reading records at school – but she'd found herself inexorably drawn into the diary, addicted to the slender, flowing script, so much like her own, and the words they conveyed.
Frankly, at times she wasn't sure if she was reading a diary or a proposal for a sci-fi film. Countries on spaceships? Winston Churchill? Seriously? A few times she'd been tempted to just put the diary down and stop reading, it was so ridiculous. But then...
20th June 2010. Crash of the Byzantium. That had turned everything on its head. Not so much the account of the experience – which was quite frankly more terrifying than she suspected she could envisage – but more the fact it seemed so damned familiar.
Deadly stone statues that moved only when you weren't looking? She'd seen those.
Forest full of oxygen machines? She'd been there.
Laying on the forest floor dying as the statue, apparently named a Weeping Angel, consumed her from within? She'd experienced that too.
All in her dreams.
The implication was obvious. I am Amelia Pond, and this was my life before I lost my memory. But that simply raised more questions than answers. Why did I end up here? What was I like before I lost my memory? Who is the Doctor, and how did he know me?
None of this made any sense. She flicked through the pages, hoping for some actual answers as to who she was, who Amelia was. She flicked through to the page close to the end of where Amy – she still had to think of Amy Pond as a different person to herself – had written up to. It was blank save for one line.
My name is Amelia Pond.
She frowned. Well, that was useless, wasn't it? She already knew that, thanks. She turned back through the pages, hoping to find something more enlightening. A settled on a page about halfway through.
Found something neat today, Amelia had written, apparently the sonic screwdriver can home in on the TARDIS if you're within about a mile of it and you're on the right frequency. No idea how the Doctor didn't realise this before. I think he didn't realise this, anyway. Maybe he was being stupid. Either way, it sure saved our butts today. Literally – those fish thingies were kind of vicious and fast on land. For fish, at least. We had to run pretty quick, but that's not easy when your own personal idiot had parked inside a maze. Good thing I don't use the sonic phone any more, there's no way I'd have worked out the right setting in time. Pointing and thinking is heaps easier...
At first Jacqueline thought that that was completely useless as well, but an idea had struck her.
Her unlocker. What was it really called? "Unlocker" was just a name she'd given it because it, well, unlocked stuff. She didn't actually have the slightest clue what it was actually called. And it certainly seemed to give off some kind of directed sound wave when activated, based on 'experiments' where she'd activated it right next to her ear (not something she recommended to anyone else).
She took out the silver, cylindrical device and inspected it slowly in her fingers. It was completely mad and somewhat stupid, but what harm was there in trying?
Point and think.
"Alright," she said out loud. "Let's see if this is legit. Go on, point me at this... TARDIS thing." She placed her thumb on the activate button and jammed down on it hard.
At first, nothing happened, and Jacqueline was about to write it off as useless... but then she heard something. An almost inaudible, high-pitched drone. Cautiously, as if this was a really dangerous thing to be doing, she turned the sonic around so it was pointing vaguely north. The drone suddenly increased into a loud, constant tone.
Jacqueline broke into a broad grin. She stuffed the diary in her pocket, got up and started following her sonic screwdriver.
If you hadn't worked it out, the "adventure" is a highly simplified riff on Closing Time.