He firmly grasps the small hand in his.
“Where are we going, Grandfather?” the little voice asks.
“On a trip, to someplace very far away,” he replies in hushed tones, leading the child down the deserted corridor. He doesn’t look down at her, only ahead of them, to be sure their path is clear. They must not be found out.
“Why?” she persists.
“Because… we must.” He has no other explanation to give her. At least, not one he can give her now. He whisks her along with him, trying not to betray in voice or action the apprehension that he feels. It makes both his hearts beat rapidly.
“Is Grandmother coming too?”
The question hits him like a harpoon through his chest, more painful even than he expected it to be.
“No, child,” he states, trying not to let his voice crack. “But perhaps we will see her again when we return.”
He knows this is a lie. He cannot help but think back to the moment he knew they would be parted. She was calm. She was always calm, while he stormed and raged:
“Fools! Hypocrites! How dare they pronounce edicts from on high! They know nothing of life! Of the Universe they’ve proclaimed themselves rulers of! They say it’s all my fault! MY FAULT? Hmph!”
He turns in anger toward the window, looking down at the confusion in the Citadel, as the great crystalline dome that encases it is bombarded from above. He knows that his actions were not entirely without blame, but he cannot help thinking this was all coming to his people anyway, the inevitable result of their arrogant decisions, regardless of what he had done.
...but they will see to it that he is the one to pay for it.
They called him a trouble-maker.
He hopes he is.
“I ought to leave this planet once and for all! Take off into the stars and leave them to clean up their own messes! There’s more out there than they can understand. Someone MUST be brave enough to break away…”
Soft footsteps and the sweep of a robe on the marble floor signal that she has followed him, listening silently, ready with wise counsel, as usual. But what she says surprises him more than anything else could.
“You are right, my beloved.”
He turns to her. Her face, old and etched with the lines of many lifetimes, is still beautiful and placid. But he can see the sadness that hides behind her eyes now.
“I give you my blessing to go,” she states simply. “I know you must. Even if the Time Lords forgave you, you would never be content here again. I have known you long enough to know that much. I cannot leave here, but you may.”
“I could not go without you… ” he begins, but she shakes her head.
“My regeneration cycle is nearing its end- yours has just begun. I must stay here, and provide a voice of reason on the High Council while Time permits, but there is more you can do for our people, for the Universe, out there. We had one lifetime together. That must be enough.”
He knows her words have truth in them. But it’s a bittersweet revelation.
“What of our Grandchild?” he questions. “What will become of her, with no parents, when we both are gone? I cannot permit her to become a pariah, to be pointed at, and whispered about because of what they say her family has done. To be raised on Time Lord truths!”
“No,” she puts her hand on his. “That is why she must go with you.”
A tear escapes her eye. “Give her a chance at a real life, and I shall be happy, my beloved. We may have lost our children, but if you and she survive, I will know peace at the end of my life.”
He thinks his hearts will break. But he embraces her, knowing what he must do…
He pushes the memories aside. He must not let them distract him from the task he has at hand. The capsules are at the other end of this very corridor. He has acquired the key. They need only steal away a few more yards, and then they might steal away into eternity.
“Come, child, quietly now,” he says. He feels the squeeze of her trusting grip on his hand, and feels oddly reassured by it. She, at least, doesn’t doubt in him.
They pad silently down the hallway. They reach the door at last. They stand before it, and he points a device of his own invention at the keypad. The doors slide open. He pockets the device again, and leads the way into a large, cavernous docking bay.
There are several tall, columnar objects standing around the room. They are plain, unmarked, and scarcely wider than his own thin body. They don’t look like ships. They are only black or white or grey pillars to those who do not know that this is the resting fašade of a Type 40 Time & Space Capsule.
He takes the key out of his pocket. He holds it up in front of him, like a divining rod. He cannot tell the ships apart, but the key glows, and pulls him toward its match.
They stand in front of the grey pillar. He places the key where a lock would feel right, and the surface of the pillar changes; a lock appears around the key. He turns it, and a door appears now. He pushes it open, and leads his grandchild in.
It is dark inside the ship. But the echo of their footsteps indicates a space that is dramatically larger on the inside than its outside would suggest- the standard for all dimensionally transcendental vehicles.
He feels his granddaughters’ hands clutching at his robe.
“Where are we?” she asks, timidly.
“In the ship that will take us on our trip, my dear,” he reassures her. “Let’s find the controls, and turn on the lights, hmm?”
With her clinging to his robes, he walks slowly, carefully, toward what he hopes is the center of the room. Though his voice is light for the child’s sake, a mix of emotions swirl in the pit of his stomach. He can’t tell if it’s excitement, or hope, or fear, that he feels. It is probably all three.
He stretches a hand out in front of him, trying to find a control console somewhere in the black void.
Suddenly- as soon as his hand touches it- it whirrs into life.
A light turns on above their heads, and the six-sided console, aglow with an array of different colored buttons and knobs, is the first thing they see. Then its central column glows & pulsates before their eyes, with the metal components inside the clear casing spinning like a whirligig. The child’s mouth hangs agape, her eyes wide in wonderment as she stares at all the dials & valves, transfixed while she watches the circling and spinning mirrors within the central column. Her grandfather is not sure that he isn’t doing the same.
Then the lights come up in the room around them. His granddaughter gasps when she sees how big it is. Her fear entirely forgotten, she rushes to touch the farthest wall- it is white, with roundels cut into it that glow brightly and warmly. All the walls in the room are made of these roundels, so that it seems to radiate light from every side. At the other end of the room, behind a glass partition, computers & instruments hum soothingly as little indicator light bulbs on them blink. Beyond that, a doorway leads into the rest of the ship. His granddaughter runs back to him excitedly.
“Oh Grandfather, it’s beautiful!” she enthuses. “I like this ship! I think it likes us, too.”
The old man would have laughed at such a statement before. But now, as he runs his hand slowly along the side of the console, and feels the vibration of the engine beneath it- he feels differently.
This is no ordinary ship- time and space travel requires a living vortex of time-energy to power it.
This is no simple engine beneath this console.
It is a heart.
He is only borrowing it, of course- only stealing a little time to prove a point, that is all- but as he stands with his granddaughter in the console room, he feels, somewhere deep down in his soul, that it is welcoming them.
He feels, with certainty, for the first time, that what he is doing is right.
His fingers tingle as they touch the switches, alive with possibilities.
“Where are we going?” the child whispers to him in conspiratorial glee.
He picks her up, and looks into her bright, expectant face. Her shining eyes are his bulwark against sadness, against fear. For her sake, he will brave anything.
He touches his forehead to hers affectionately, and whispers to her:
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