in a dim light

by Branwyn [Reviews - 5]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Character Study, General, Horror

Romana opens her eyes.

She should have broken herself of the habit by now. There is never any light. Daleks don’t need it, and their slaves don’t warrant it, except when they’re working. She has passed the better part of ten years in darkness, and still she tries to see.

Today, there is something to look at.

“It’s you,” Romana breathes, though she knows better.

“Yes.”

“You’ve come to rescue me.”

“No.”

The cell is always dark, but her hearing has become quite acute. A few feet in front of her, someone is opening a small plastic bag of sweets.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I’d offer you a jelly baby, but I don’t think you’d be able to taste it.”

Romana pushes against the floor with both her hands. It takes a few tries, but eventually she manages to sit up straight. The walls of her cell are carved of solid rock, cold, as only space is cold. There is no heat in the installation. The Daleks don’t need that either.

“Poor Romana,” says the Doctor. “You must be very tired.”

Romana can almost perceive a shape, an outline of a man with curly hair, darker than the darkness around him. But it is possible that her eyes are playing tricks on her.

“Yes,” she says, “I suppose I am.” She thinks, judging by the sound of his voice, that he is near enough to touch. But she doesn’t quite dare to try.

“The Daleks dream, you know,” he says, perfectly casual. She hears the scrape of chair legs across the floor, and the whisper of cloth as he folds himself into it. “When Davros designed them, he removed most of the emotional center of their brains, so they don’t feel pity or love or most kinds of fear. But he failed to paralyze their subconscious. Probably lacked the imagination to see it as a threat. And so they have dreams. Bad ones, mostly.”

Romana feels his eyes upon her. “They’ve been monitoring your dreams, you know,” he says.

“I’m not surprised. They spend quite a lot of time rummaging around in my brain.”

“If it’s any consolation, they find them terribly disturbing. They believe you must be concealing madness.”

“How absurd. I’m not concealing anything.”

She can almost hear him smiling, can almost see the whiteness of his teeth.

“Did you ever have a reoccurring dream,” he says, “about a room, or a house, or a planet you’d never visited? A place so familiar that each time you dreamt about it, it was like visiting an old friend? Or an old enemy?”

“No, never.”

“Precisely. This is nothing like that at all. In their nightmares, the Daleks are always lost.” He lowers his voice to a stage whisper. “Some of their nightmares are about you.”

“I suppose that’s only fair.”

“They are stranded in time,” he continues. “They fear and envy us for our power over it.”

Something stirs at the back of Romana’s mind. “We are Time Lords,” she says, ruthlessly extracting the words from the light and warmth of the memory in which they are embedded. “We exist in a special relationship with time.”

“That’s true.” He sounds delighted. “That’s very true.”

“Doctor,” she says, “are you quite certain you haven’t come to rescue me? Because I’ve been here rather a long time, and I would quite like to leave.”

“Poor Romana.” For a moment she expects him to reach out and pat her hand. “I said that once already, didn’t I? But it bears repeating. I can’t rescue anyone, I’m afraid. You see, in my own way I’m as much a prisoner as you.”

She hears the hiss and the scratch of a match being struck, and before the light can flare and blind her she has raised a hand to shield her eyes. “They can never let either of us go,” he says, his voice doleful. “Their fear of us is too great.”

Romana blinks behind her hand.

“But then,” he continues, “they can’t get rid of us either.”

Her eyes still hurt, but it has been so long since she last saw light that she lowers her hand anyway. For a moment before the match flickers and dies she can see the Doctor’s face. He is smiling.

“When next you wake,” he says, “it will be to the sound of a thousand Daleks screaming.”

The match goes out, and darkness falls again, as quickly as it was dispersed. She waits, but the only sound that disturbs the silence is the beating of her hearts.

Romana closes her eyes and wills herself to sleep.

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