6. I Remember
This story has been written as an answer to Broken Chameleon’s challenge. I managed to include it in the NaNoWriMo Projet as well…
When you meet the Doctor, it’s usually not a good sign. It means that you are either in trouble or in the wrong place at the wrong time. For me, it was both. How was I supposed to know that the time machine exposed in that Steampunk Convention was going to work after being hit by lightning? I can imagine that the Belgian who made this prop was quite surprised when I disappeared! I wonder if he got into trouble for sending me away in time and space. He probably tried to get me back and failed. But that’s not important. What is important on the other hand is that I didn’t appear where I left, but in the middle of a narrow street that I didn’t have time to examine properly. Almost as soon as I materialised, I heard footsteps and screams. The next moment, someone crashed into me and we both landed on the ground. The first thing I noticed was the scarf. It was so long that it seemed to be everywhere, covering everything. The next thing I noticed were the curly brown hair. That’s when I felt relieved because I knew exactly who had crashed into me. If I was ever to go home again, he would be the only one who could bring me there (one day).
“Doctor?” I asked to make sure that I wasn’t dreaming.
He had been fumbling to get up, but between his scarf and my long Victorian dress, it had proven a bit difficult to sort out which bit of clothing belonged to whom. He looked down at me and obviously tried to remember where we might have met. Then his eyes fell on my necklace and he frowned:
“What have you done to my TARDIS?” He asked rather menacingly.
That moment when you realise that you are indeed with THE Doctor and…that he is under the impression that you stole and shrank his ship…
“It’s a flashlight, look!”
Once I managed to prove to him that I didn’t stole his TARDIS but that I was a weirdo wearing a TARDIS flashlight as a necklace, he easily came to the obvious conclusion.
“You’re obviously not from this time period. How did you get there in the first place?”
That’s when we both realised that we had overlooked something rather important. The Doctor was on the run. Instead of chatting it would probably have been safer for us to postpone the introductions to find shelter. I didn’t get to tell the Doctor how a prop sent me wherever I was. We suddenly were surrounded by shiny silver robots. Instead of screaming out of fear, like any good female companion of Classic Who would have done, I took hold of the tip of the scarf and kept close to the Doctor. It was enough that I was in trouble; I just didn’t want to lose my only hope of ever returning from where I came from.
“Well, well, well, Doctor. It seems that you failed in your puny attempt to escape…”
A man broke the circle of the robots to face the Doctor. I recognised him instantly and was pretty much impressed by how classy and dangerous he looked in the flesh. The Master saw that I was staring at him and smiled charmingly.
“And who might that be?” He asked to no one in particular.
He too took notice of my TARDIS necklace and frowned:
“What is this trickery? What are you up to, Doctor? Take them!”
The charming tone had vanished in an instant. The soldiers immediately moved towards us and took formation, forcing us to walk between them. I still hadn’t let go of the Doctor’s scarf, but he didn’t seem to mind. He was looking around him as if to memorise the way we were going.
My first assumption that I had appeared in a random town proved incorrect. As we were walking, I realised that the building were fakes like a movie setting. Only there were no cameras, no staff and those robots were all too real to be props. Our guards escorted us to what reminded me of a holodeck door that slid open, revealing exactly what I feared would be behind. A room made of black walls segmented into squares marked out by yellow lines. I tightened my grip on the Doctor’s scarf, a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed by the Master.
“Well, well, it seems that your companion has a suspicion about what I have in store for you both. Have fun!”
We were pushed inside. The door slid again, trapping us effectively inside. Once alone, the Doctor looked down at me:
“You and I need to talk,” he said.
“You and I need to get out of here, fast,” I bluntly replied.
I walked back at the door, taking shelter under the doorframe where I hoped I would be safe.
“We are in a holodeck, a place where we can experience virtual reality,” I explained in case my companion didn’t know already.
“I see,” said the Doctor, taking place next to me.
We fell silent as the room turned into an unfriendly landscape. Everything looked grey, from the sky to the rocks. Wind brushed dirt and small stones around.
“Fascinating…” Whispered the Time Lord and for a moment I feared that he would be tempted to have a closer look to the setting that seemed terribly real.
And indeed that’s exactly what he had in mind.
“If we leave the arch, we might be trapped in this reality forever,” I warned him.
“Then I suggest that you stay here and act as my anchor,” smiled the Doctor as he started walking towards the rocks.
He didn’t go very far. I was firmly holding the tip of the scarf and as soon as the Time Lord reached the rocks, the wind almost blew it out of my hand. The Doctor had to cover his face with his arm to protect it from the wind, and he did the most sensible thing to do under the circumstances, he backed away to join me in the arch. He brushed his coat to remove the dust that had covered it in seconds. I could tell that the program’s safety had been removed. There were small cuts on the Doctor’s face where the bits of stone had hit it because of the wind. If we hadn’t reached the arch before the program had been launched then we probably would have been killed within minutes. The Doctor obviously came to the same conclusion because he stared at me and smiled.
“You seem to know me but I know nothing about you, except that you are familiar with this kind of devices.”
I smiled back and held my hand.
“I’m Suzanne, how do you do?”
He shook it and kept it a bit longer in his hand.
“You wouldn’t happen to be my granddaughter by any chance?”
“Not that I know of,” I shrugged. “Although I never knew my grandfather, so there is a place to fill in my family tree if you want it.”
The invitation amused my companion who chose not to reply and focused on the arch’s controls instead. A sonic screwdriver had appeared in his hand and, after removing the controls’ panel, he pointed his tool towards the various buttons and switches. Neither he nor I thought about the potential guards stationed outside the door until it slid open. Luckily there were none.
“Where do we go now?” I asked.
The Doctor looked a bit surprised:
“Now you go your way and I go mine. I have to stop the Master.”
“And I don’t know how to go home. So if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather stick with you.”
The Time Lord finally asked me where I was from and how I got there in the first place. He seemed rather relieved when I explained the strange circumstances of my arrival, and informed me that I had reached the far future from Earth.
“You probably arrived through a crack in time and space. Nothing to worry about right now.”
“Does this mean that you know how to send me back?”
“Of course!” He answered with self confidence.
“Alright. Then I’ll help you defeat the Master and you send me back home. Deal?”
Did I just offer to assist in what would probably be a very dangerous mission? Before I had time to curse myself, the Doctor had started to run, dragging me along since I still hadn’t let go of his scarf.
“Where are we exactly and what did the Master do this time?” I asked while trying to keep up with the Time Lord who didn’t even slow down when he explained that we were in what used to be the next generation of amusement park.
“Those robots were meant to be the staff.”
It was easy to understand the logic behind the development of such a park. Virtual reality was less expensive to maintain and robots would mean less employment fees to pay, as well as savings.
“What went wrong?”
“Unemployment rates increased so much over the years that people couldn’t afford to go to such amusement parks. Plus they weren’t in the mood anymore. Life on Earth has changed a lot, changing people as well. Welcome in a world where greed and selfishness has destroyed every quality in mankind. The Master has seen an opportunity to try and conquer the planet. My problem is that he might just succeed this time…”
I stopped dead on my tracks, somehow managing to stop the Doctor with me. He turned, showing his annoyance:
“Come on, we need to hurry.”
“No we don’t,” I was smiling. “From what you say, Earth is not a nice planet anymore.”
“It is not,” agreed the Time Lord. “War and destruction is so common now that people don’t even remember how it was when peace existed. They don’t seek for peace anymore, they want to express their anger and despair as much as possible. Words like friendship, solidarity, generosity don’t have meaning anymore.”
“Is it hopeless?”
The Doctor had replied without thinking. He realised what he had just said and stared at me, a twinkle in his eyes. He was expecting my next question.
“How can you be sure that the Master is not what Earth need right now? Someone who would inspire every Earthling to unite against him. They would fight a tyrant who wants to impose his authority on a whole planet, without any consideration for those who live on it. He light just be that common enemy who would help bring peace again.”
“That’s a bit drastic…”
“But you might be right,” sighed the Doctor.
We sat on the floor, next to each other and engaged in an ethical debate whether the Doctor should let the Master do as he pleased or try to stop it.
“He is breaking the rules set by the Time Lords.”
“And yet, that’s what you do when you involve yourself into other planets’ business,” I remarked.
He tried to convince me that it was only coincidental, that he never voluntarily interfered and that his actions were dictated by moral standards. We went on like this until robots eventually found us. We were still talking when the Master showed up.
“So, you didn’t like my little simulation?” He mused.
“Not really, no. Too windy for my taste,” replied the Doctor on a cheeky tone.
“I will have to find something else to entertain you then,” the Master laughed.
“That won’t be necessary,” the Doctor said very seriously. “I’m taking off now, I need to drop this young lady home on the way.”
He got up and helped me do the same. A suspicious expression came across the Master’s face.
“What are you up to, Doctor?”
The tone was a bit menacing, but neither of us was impressed.
“Just as I said; I’m leaving. I won’t interfere this time. One of those days, it will end badly for one of us and I’m not in the mood for that today.”
And with that, the Doctor motioned me to follow and started to walk past the robots that didn’t make a move to stop us. They were obviously waiting for the Master’s orders. The Doctor’s old enemy started laughing but didn’t ask his robots to apprehend us.
“I will give you the benefit of the doubt, Doctor. Go freely with your companion. We shall see if you can resist the temptation not to stop me.”
He was clearly enjoying the thought, unless he really didn’t believe a word the Doctor had said. I too was starting to have doubts. It had been too easy to convince him… And yet, it seemed that he had made up his mind. As we were walking away, retracing our steps, he asked me if I had appeared where we had first met and I agreed. I was expecting him to bring me back with his TARDIS but he claimed that it might be safer if I used the crack in time and space providing that it was still active.
“The TARDIS is not very accurate lately,” he confessed. “I can’t promise that I’ll get you where you want when you want… Unless of course you are not in a hurry, in which case you’re welcome to meet Romana, K9 and Eccleston.”
The TARDIS sounded quite crowded and I decided against it.
“I’d rather go home directly. One day, when your TARDIS is accurate, then I’ll take you up on your invitation. In the meantime, you still can pay me a visit when you are in my neighbourhood.”
We had reached the spot where I had appeared. The Doctor took his sonic screwdriver out of his jacket pocket and used it to find the crack.
“Are you sure that you can locate it?” I asked him after his first attempts failed.
‘If it’s there, I’ll find it,” he assured me.
A few more attempts were necessary but he eventually found the crack.
“When I say run, you run,” smiled the Time Lord.
“Or I can also get ready next to the crack and simply walk through it when it’s open.”
“That will work as well.”
I took my position and watched as the Doctor operated his sonic. Almost instantly the crack became larger, opening until it was big enough to let me go through. While the Time Lord was working, I started wondering if he hadn’t played me all along. I couldn’t picture him leaving the Master succeed voluntarily. The two men were arch enemy; they had to interfere in each other’s life.
“Doctor? Are you going back to the TARDIS?”
“It’s time for you to get through that crack.”
“Are you really going to leave?”
He was now facing me, smiling broadly.
“Of course not. I can’t let the Master win, I have to stop him.”
Having said that, he pushed me hard enough for me to fall back inside the crack. Only I had grabbed his scarf again and it was only a matter of luck if he didn’t fell through the crack with me.
I landed on the ground, right where I had left. The Belgian time machine had been destroyed by the lightning, I could make pieces of wood and plastic scattered around. The Convention was deserted, everyone had packed up. I wondered if it was because of the incident or because it was raining heavily. I realised that I had a part of the Doctor’s scarf in my hand and I used it to protect myself from the rain until I reached my car. There, I looked at the scarf and smiled. Nobody would ever believe me if I told my encounter with the Doctor, but I would always know that it happened for real because of that scarf…
“It’s been quite a while,” the Doctor said softly. “Over thirty years in Earth time.”
“Less than ten on my account, those are the joys of time paradoxes…”
Both he and I were trying to avoid one particular topic. When the atmosphere in the living-room became so awkward that even Eccleston stared at us disapprovingly, I finally asked:
“Did you manage to stop him?”
The Doctor looked down at his feet and asked:
“Do you still have my scarf?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Now it’s your turn, did you stop him?”
“Yes,” the Time Lord replied relunctantly.
“And I can’t tell you the future. Suffice to say that I checked afterwards and regretted that I didn’t follow your advice.”
My heart felt heavy hearing this confession.
“There might still be a chance that all those events don’t happen after all,” I told him without exactly knowing if I wanted to comfort him or myself.
He didn’t react and looked down at Eccleston.
“The TARDIS is now accurate,” he said. “I can bring you back exactly when you left.”
I couldn’t help but smile.
“And still you brought me Eccleston to ensure that someone looks after him when you are away. You always knew that I wouldn’t join you anyway.”
“And I wonder why. My companions usually want to come along. It’s only after some time with me that they want to go back to their homes and lead a different life from the one I offered them.”
“It’s too scary. It might be fascinating to visit other worlds, planets and times, but in the end I would always be afraid to loose you one way or the other. How would I go back home, then? It might sound selfish, but I don’t feel brave enough to take that risk. I’d rather have you telling me all your wonderful stories when you visit.”
The Doctor was still smiling when I was done talking. Strangely I felt as if a burden had been removed from my chest.
“It might be dangerous sometimes, but there are funny moments too, you know. Did I ever tell you about that time when Eccleston got lost and I was forced to attend U.N.I.T’s annual karaoke night?”