“KT76, PD29, A62F and J92S, Grandfather!” Susan read off the fault locator, shouting to be heard over the din of an old Type 40 TARDIS breaking down. Falling apart, a small voice whispered in her head, but she immediately dismissed the thought as too terrible.
The Doctor’s reply, if there was one, was lost as a rather important section of the console exploded.
The Doctor coughed and flapped his coat at the smoke billowing from the console.
“Grandfather, are you alright?” Susan asked from the other side of the console, addressing the figure blurred in the smoke and trying not to choke on the taste of burning.
“Yes, yes, I’m perfectly alright, child, but I’m afraid the same cannot be said for the Ship.”
Obviously the TARDIS had heard that saying, where was it from, about going out with a bang.
She chose not to say this, doubting it would cheer her grandfather up, and instead observed “We’ve landed. Where do you think we are?”
“When is perhaps more important.”
He regarded the console with something very like dismay and experimentally flicked the scanner switch. Much to his obvious surprise and pleasure, it worked.
The picture the scanner displayed was not so encouraging. Not a sign of civilisation, not even a primitive settlement which might have metal-working technology.
For a second, Susan glimpsed two figures in the top left hand corner of the picture, who appeared to be chasing after a sofa, of all things, then all three disappeared.
Perhaps the scanner wasn’t working so well after all. Perhaps they could find a way of replacing mechanics with organic components and hope it worked long enough to get to a more technologically advanced time. Perhaps- The picture on the screen abruptly disappeared, to be replaced by something which looked a little like the vortex, but wasn’t.
“But the TARDIS isn’t moving!” she cried in surprise, staring at the stationary column.
“Hmm,” the Doctor said and twisted a dial. It made no difference.
“Ah,” he added, flicking a row of switches. “I believe, Susan, that we may have been caught by a localised time eddy. It may well prove to be fortunate.”
He looked up and smiled at her. Strange patterns danced across the scanner: the unknown called her and her grandfather onwards and she smiled back.
“Earth,” the Doctor said, returning from a fact-finding mission that only took him a few yards down the road. “Sol Three, inner rim of the Orion Arm of the Milky Way Galaxy. The calendar system used makes this the year 1963. It’s still fairly primitive, but I think it should suffice.”
She could taste the fossil fuels that the planet depended upon in the air. The sky was dark and clouded, but a small disc shining with reflected light was still dimly visible.
“Is that Mondas?” she asked, recalling the name linked with Earth in something she read a long time ago.
The Doctor shook his head. “No, that was a long time ago. That’s the Moon. A full moon, to be precise.”
“That little boy had done his homework, hadn’t he?” she laughed.
The Doctor managed to convince the necessary people that he had been granted the stewardship of the junkyard while Isaac Foreman was out of the country, presenting them with carefully forged letters and documents and securing the TARDIS’ security for at least a year.
Time that was needed, for the necessary repairs were many and complex. It looked like being a very long job, not helped by their lack of expertise (although of course Grandfather would bristle and dismiss any suggestion like that; he didn’t know that Grandmother had told her about fifty-one percent) but not an impossible one, though worryingly important-looking parts were frequently left over.
Susan collected them together in a cardboard box for sorting out later, otherwise, she suspected, they’d be lost, scattered to the chaos of the TARDIS’ infinite space, causing some difficulty when it was necessary to investigate which of the important-looking parts were actually important and which could be bypassed.
Her beloved grandfather, she thought, was getting somewhat absent-minded in his old age, but that didn’t matter as long as she was there to look after him.
Frequently, the Doctor went searching for replacement parts. Sometimes he found exactly the part he needed, usually as a curiosity in a junk shop (and once Susan found it just a few metres away in the junkyard after the Doctor had searched widely for days), but more often he had to compromise, seeking available technology that could either be altered to fit the purpose or form part of a construction that looked something like the remains of the original.
Susan decided to take these times as opportunities to research Earth. She learned that the lost continent of Atlantis was believed to be fictional until it was discovered in 2481; that human science had succeeded in splitting the atom a little under twenty years ago and that just about every history book published on Earth up until the time when time travel became commercially available was inaccurate (and after that, they became a form of travel writing).
The trouble with her research, she realised as her classmates laughed, was that she hadn’t paid much attention to the publication dates of the books.
And then Ian and Barbara joined them and then…the memories floated away just beyond her reach as her whole consciousness was drawn towards the gap torn in the universe, as if towards a black hole.
“Susan! Susan, what is it? What’s wrong?”
David’s voice came to her as if from far away as she lay on the floor where she had fallen, barely aware of her surroundings, concentrating on the sudden silence, emptiness, void.
She’d pushed her awareness away, tried to ignore it as she did so many other reminders and tried to live her life with David in the ‘here-and-now’. But it had always been there.
“It was as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced,” she whispered to herself before realising where she’d heard it before. Then she laughed. And laughed, making her stomach ache and her throat sore. It was hideously inappropriate.
It’s the shock, a Susan said, cool and analytical.
“Susan?” David said, sounding much nearer and so very worried. He picked her up and held her close as her laughter turned to sobs.
“David,” she cried, clinging to him, “Something terrible has happened. My grandfather...”
He might not be able to fully understand her at times like this, but he was there and he loved her, loved her as herself, his strange Susan. That was all that mattered.
It was harder to remember as they grew older, as the years showed on David and not on Susan. His face became lined and strands of grey showed in his dark hair while she kept the appearance of a teenage girl, like a photograph, a frozen moment in time. No, not even that. Photographs faded.
She started and turned. “David. What-”
“No, Susan,” he interrupted. “What are you doing?”
“I…I was going for a walk,” she offered.
“In the middle of the night?”
She did, occasionally. The dark was mysterious and exciting, out here, two centuries away from the street lamps that had become familiar to her a life ago. But not tonight, and she knew he knew that.
“Susan,” he said, and he looked so old, beaten and defeated. “If you want to leave, then at least pay me the courtesy of saying goodbye.”
“I don’t!” she cried, suddenly stung.
“Then why…” he trailed off, leaving the question hanging.
“I thought, well, I thought,” she took a deep breath and continued “I thought it would be easier for you.”
“Easier?” he asked incredulously.
Because people are noticing, talking, and I couldn’t bear for you to be hurt because of me. “Because you don’t want me anymore, because I haven’t given you children and I can’t even grow old with you,” she said and clapped a hand over her mouth, appalled.
That was the most malicious of the gossip and she didn’t believe a word of it.
David stood up, somehow towering, somehow terrible.
“Susan Campbell, your grandfather and friends left in an old-fashioned box that disappeared into thin air. You have two hearts. You know the oddest things and I can sometimes see strange stars in your eyes when you tell me stories.” The anger in his voice didn’t match the words he was saying. “You’re utterly extraordinary and I love you, but if that’s what you think of me, then perhaps you should leave.”
“No,” she said and shook her head furiously so her hair whipped her cheeks. “No, no, I don’t, that was stupid, I don’t know why…” and some part of her sat back and wondered at the physiological and psychological effects on her, observed that no wonder her people didn’t seek this out, but, oh, it was wonderful.
He reached her quickly, pulling her into a tight hug.
“No, I’m sorry, Susan. I live, I die; it’s you that has to carry on.”
“Ssh,” she murmured, concentrating on the beat of his heart against hers, the strange yet familiar warmth of his skin.
“Don’t forget me.”
“Never.” I’ll put flowers on your grave, David, flowers on your grave. I wish I could do more.
She chased it, darting through the streets, ignoring her body’s protest at running for so long. It pulled her onwards, a hook caught in a fish’s mouth.
The Susan who liked to distance herself and comment was making some inventive remarks about whoever it was that had decided to splinter time and not even mark this tear with something as friendly as a sofa.
Susan giggled, somehow finding the breath, just as she caught up and fell through the rip in time.
She landed on a sofa. Good enough, she decided, it was a very comfortable sofa, even if it was a bit late. But she couldn’t stay here; people in almost all times had issues with finding strangers in their homes and the early twenty-first century, she estimated, sitting up and catching sight of the television, was no exception.
There were spaceships above the Taj Mahal and ‘Roundheads’ firing at the police in Trafalgar Square. Someone needed to stop the idiots who had done this, she thought, feeling the hole in her mind ever more acutely.
In all her research on Earth, she had missed the book that said the world had ended when someone ripped a time-space rift apart, fractured the universe and let the past and future bleed into the present.
Pushing away the image of David waiting and waiting for her return, she turned to find an elderly lady staring at her.
“Er, wrong house, sorry.” She cast her eye over the room, looking for an escape. “I was just going,” she offered.
What she expected to happen next was that the woman would either call someone else in the house or the police.
That was unexpected. Shocked, she stopped her consideration of the window catches and focused on the figure in front of her, suddenly so recognizable.
For a moment, she was a child again, as young as she looked; the walls were white and there was a comforting background hum.
“I fell through a fracture,” she said as Barbara released her.
“You don’t look any different. Except for your hair. I like it.” She paused and then continued, “We saw the future. The world can’t end today, can it, Susan?”
She didn’t know what to say. No, the world shouldn’t end this way. But it could. Especially now.
Instead she gazed at her, picking out every familiar feature and noting how time has built up. “You look-”
Barbara smiled, but she’d obviously noticed Susan’s avoidance of the question. “Old.”
“What year is it?”
“Grandfather got you home then!”
“Eventually. There was a lot of shouting, he called us idiots and half-convinced us the Dalek time machine would blow up in our faces but Vicki persuaded him and we managed to get back to 1965.”
Fascinated by this glimpse, Susan asked “Vicki?”
The front door slammed, interrupting them. Barbara hurried out into the hall.
“Where have you been? I was worried sick! Have you been running? You know you’re not supposed to run with your hip. Oh-” Then there was a quiet murmur of voices; Susan paused in the doorway and rather thought she shouldn’t try to hear it, but she caught the word ‘safe’.
“Seeing as I accidentally risked my life for a paper, you’d think it was only fair I get to read it. It looked an interesting article and look, he’s stuck his sword straight through it!”
“But she’s in-”
“No, not our Susan. Susan Susan.”
Susan stepped through into the hallway.
“Ah. Hello, Susan Susan,” Ian said.
“Hello, Ian,” Susan smiled, delighted.
She learnt a lot that day: about her grandfather; about the different people he had known; about how his different selves had changed so many lives. He was still there, somewhere. Wandering, waiting.
“I knew you’d come back,” David said.
“I knew you knew,” Susan replied and kissed him. “Thank you.”
Here and now, they were happy together, and the future didn’t matter because it hadn’t happened yet.
“Welcome home, Susan.”
She brought back a photograph with her, Ian and Barbara and a skinny young man, brown hair sticking up at all angles, glasses perched precariously on his nose above a wide grin, and stuck it up on the wall.
It faded, over time, but she still took it with her.
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