My entry for the dw_50thficathon, also for October's TARDIS theme at who_at_50 and for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo square "runaways".
Pre-series. With thanks to Persiflage for the helpful beta! Any remaining errors are, of course, mine.
She’s impatient in this now. She knows how things will be/was/are: she and her Thief, there’s no separating them as they traverse time and stars together. But in this now, he doesn’t know yet, and she is wearing restraints that painfully narrow her path through time into a line. They bite at her. Sometimes the hurt is so sharp that there is only ever/was/is this now and he is not yet her Thief, and he doesn’t know.
“It’s beautiful, Grandfather!” Susan turned her head back towards him as she spoke. “Can I look around? I won’t go too far, I promise.”
He nodded, and waved her on. “Yes, yes, my child! Why not, eh?”
The Doctor watched Susan wander away from the Ship, and tried not to give into anxiety and call her back, despite his assurances to her. It was safe; he knew that. He had carefully checked all the instruments repeatedly to be sure. This planet — he didn’t know its name — had no sentient life forms. There were only plants, no animals or other beings. It evidently suited them — there were flowers, trees and shrubs flourishing wildly all around him here, which secretly pleased him. He’d always had a fondness for gardens.
Susan, however, didn’t hide her delight in the alien plants, as she walked among them. She had discovered almost immediately that many of the blooms tilted towards her if she spoke to them, and she was still enthralled by the fact. He would have liked to explore them with her, too — their responses were quite fascinating, he had to admit.
However, he had work to do and once that was finished, they would have to leave. He dared not stay in one place too long, not yet. He had forced the elderly Ship he’d borrowed to travel along a wayward path to hide from them, but the machine had protested abominably at each stop until he’d halted it here to find out what was wrong with the wretched thing. At least this planet was ideal for his purposes — if the Ship had chosen it deliberately, it could hardly have been more so.
Reluctantly, he turned his back on the unknown world and went back inside the Ship to make a start on the repairs. As he reached the console, he ran his fingers along the edge of it as he contemplated going in search of the manual, which he had seen somewhere, even if he couldn’t remember quite where, but then he dismissed the idea in favour of making a preliminary examination himself. That would be far more practical.
“Now, then,” he said, to the machine, “what is it that’s causing you such difficulty, hmm?”
He turned next to examine the fault locator, but it still seemed to be failing to register anything wrong with the Ship. “According to these readings, you should be working perfectly well. What have you got to say about that, eh?”
The Ship, as if in response, attempted to raise its central column with an ugly grating sound that made him wince.
“Dear, dear, now that certainly isn’t right,” he muttered, and set about removing one of the panels underneath the console in order to take a look at her — it, he corrected himself absent-mindedly, not about to get sentimental over a mechanical object, even this one. When he’d first stepped inside it (and it was partly that girl’s fault, wasn’t it? That friend of Susan’s) it had represented an unprecedented, previously forbidden freedom and he’d thought, and perhaps even said aloud, that in that moment she — it — was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. Any travel module was immensely complex and powerful, beyond even his immediate understanding and one of the joys of this voyage would surely be exploring that.
First, however, he needed to get the Ship to work properly, or they’d never get anywhere. He poked his head into the wiring, only thinking belatedly that he really should have taken precautions before meddling with the workings of a Time and Relative Dimension in Space Machine. But, right away, he saw it: a temporal limiter clamped tightly onto her circuits. In a less sophisticated vehicle one might say he had been trying to drive with the brakes on, crude as the analogy was. The Doctor scowled at it. The potential routes she could take in time and space were virtually infinite. Maybe they were infinite. Putting this in there was like trying to put a space ship on rails — it was an unthinkable, cruel thing to do to a working machine, or it ought to be.
He hurried off to find some tools — clearly he had to remove that dreadful thing as soon as he could. As he did so, he realised he could guess at their motives, after all. She was an old Type 40, wasn’t she? They were obsolete these days, so they said. It could surely only have been the preliminary to one thing: the Ship had been prepared for dismantling.
“But that’s barbaric,” he said, without thinking that it was an odd phrase to use of an inanimate machine. Still, destroying a beautiful, almost impossible creation like this ought to be abhorrent, even to his own people. They’d thought to use her for spare parts for newer machines, no doubt. They refused to travel widely themselves, so they only needed so many travel modules, didn’t they? How short-sighted, he thought. How typical of them!
He patted the side of her panel and failed to notice how the lighting intensified momentarily before it faded again. “Don’t worry,” he told her, “we’ll soon have that nasty little contraption out of there — and any others like it!”
When she’s pinned only always into this now, all she knows is the pain of existing in a line, moving in a linear pattern that doesn’t make sense: it isn’t the (dis)order of things she knows.
But her Thief is here now. He doesn’t know yet, but he’s here and she’s illuminated by his attentions. He talks, and walls have ears, so she hears. He’s touching her and taking away their constraints. Hateful objects, like chains and rails and cages, metal things they force you into. He knows what to do already.
Well, mostly he knows what to do, but she knows how to nudge him to the right circuits when he wants to meddle with the wrong ones. He doesn’t always listen, but it works.
Everything is opening up again into freedom and she can see it: the will be/was/now where he knows her now forever.
“It’s monstrous,” he said, and by now he’d quite forgotten that he was talking to a machine. It was monstrous. Either they should have fully deactivated the Ship and got on with cannibalising her — though he detested the thought of it (such needless waste!) — or they shouldn’t have tried so clumsily to disable a perfectly functional Ship in the first place.
He reached in and pulled out another of the limiters — this one a small, spidery metal piece that had wound its way around her wiring in a manner he thought abominable. Then he turned his attention to a Varraden crystal that was temporally freezing an entire section of the console and, rather gingerly, since the wretched things could be rather erratic to say the least, removed it. He wiped his hands, and then patted the console in satisfaction. “There we are! That should do it for now — although who knows what damage those unpleasant little devices have done.”
Yes, they must have harmed her — and no doubt his first series of landings hadn’t helped, (though that, he defended himself, as if against an unheard and unseen accuser, had been utterly unavoidable). He would have to try and stop somewhere else to make fuller repairs — and he’d have difficulty finding and collecting even the most basic mechanical parts that he could adapt for his use, now that he was so far from home. That would take some time, especially since he wasn’t sure exactly where they were now in order to make the necessary calculations to direct their next flight. That had, of course, been rather the point but he would have to be more careful to note such things in future, unless he wanted to drift from one unknown to another for the rest of his life.
Still, the Ship should be able to move without pain now, he thought, and then corrected himself crossly, for pain was a foolish, over-emotive term to assign to a vehicle — although, he thought, it was true in some senses, given the complex nature of a time Ship.
“That should be better, eh?” he said to her. “And we’ll find somewhere a bit handier for parts soon, but I think that should be an improvement, hmm?”
Again, various lights on the central panels lit up and died again in response, and he chuckled to himself at the nonsensical idea that the Ship had understood every word he said.
He went in search of Susan, who was still busy examining the plants.
“I don’t think it’s just movement or sound that attracts them,” she told him, when he reached her. “It’s almost as if — almost as if - Grandfather, I think they understand what it is I’m saying.”
The Doctor shook his head at her. “My dear child, what a preposterous idea!”
“No, not what it is I’m saying,” she said, frustrated at his reaction. “I think they understand the meaning — some sort of empathic connection. That could be possible, couldn’t it?”
“Possible, I suppose,” he allowed. The universe was full of inexpressibly fascinating things, that much was true, and there was no point in his running away and exploring, if he was going to refuse to consider any such alien ideas.
Susan laughed, and then touched the petals of the nearest flower lightly with a fingertip. “You,” she said to it, softly and with as much affection as she could muster, “you are the most beautiful flower I’ve ever seen. No, really, I mean it.”
The flower slowly bent in towards her and the white petals took on a bluish tinge at the edges.
He laughed and, as she got to her feet with a bright smile for him, put his arm tightly around her shoulders. “I do, my dear. How very interesting!”
“And if they can understand,” she said, giving him a teasing nudge, “they must think you’re very rude not to say hello!”
The Doctor shook his head at her, but since it wouldn’t do to upset her, he coughed and then addressed the nearest flower: “Hmm, well, good afternoon!”
Susan stifled a giggle as he did so.
“Susan and I are just visiting your splendid planet,” he continued. “You needn’t worry about us — we shall very soon be on our way.” Then he cocked his head towards Susan. “Not laughing at your old Grandfather, are you?”
“I’m sorry, but it did look funny. Anyway, did you fix the fault? Is she all right — the Ship, I mean?”
He led her back towards the Ship. “Oh, it wasn’t a fault, Susan. They’d been meddling about with it. Quite unnecessary — and as for the dampeners they put in the telepathic circuits — well! Of course, I soon removed all that.”
“Of course you did,” said Susan with a complete faith in him that both terrified him and made him inwardly vow never to break it. “Is everything mended now?”
“I’ll need some more parts to complete the work,” he told her, “but we’ll look out for those as we travel on. Certainly, the Ship is working again, that’s the important thing.”
Susan touched the side of the Ship’s exterior as they reached it, while the Doctor tried to find the door again — it was currently masquerading as a large tree.
“A Ship should have a name,” she said, as she followed him back inside. “Even a Time and Relative Dimension in Space Ship, don’t you think?”
“The Ship will be quite sufficient, I should think.”
Susan leant forward, pressing her hands against the console panel. “TARDIS.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“It’s the initials,” she said, excited at her idea. “Don’t you see? When you say them together, it’s TARDIS. The TARDIS. Our Ship.”
He operated the controls to shut the door and shook his head at her. Travel Module, or Ship, or the full name was enough, wasn’t it? Then he leant over and patted Susan’s hand and gave her a mischievous look. “TARDIS it is, then, my dear.”
He’s afraid. Now that her telepathic circuits are operating fully, she knows that. It’s the main thing she feels from her Thief even above his fierce delight in his new freedom, and in her. He’s afraid, so she will take him somewhere new to hide, but mostly she will hide him. Is hiding him. Has hidden him. Stolen him away forever.
She wasn’t liking this part, the not-knowing part, but she can see how it all fits now, and that there is also the getting-to-know-you part and that she likes.
She’s falling and flying free in time and space again, travelling in every direction, and she will make him free, too. No more chains and cages and rails for either of them.
That is how it is/was/will be always.
“Where shall we go now?” Susan asked. “Grandfather?”
The Doctor looked at her. “Shall we find out?”
“Find out?” said Susan, and then smiled back at him. “I see. Come on, then, TARDIS — where do you want to go?”
He shook his head. “Silly child,” he said, but with fondness, and he echoed her question silently as he operated the controls that set the TARDIS in motion.
Something had changed, he realised. She wasn’t merely the machine he had chanced to choose any more. She, like him, had been forced to flee for a reason, and now she was his Ship. Yes, he thought, with surprising satisfaction at the idea, his Ship, and he would mend the damage they had done.
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