Steven Taylor was born in the year 2264 on the hundredth anniversary of the Dalek Invasion. The population had exploded in the years following the emancipation. It was a baby boom not unlike the one which followed the great wars of the 20th century. Another effect of the invasion was an increased emphasis on defence and the military. This, combined with the over-population, led to a world where citizens lived in drab, barrack-like hive blocks. The world Steven was born into was made of concrete and dust, of radiation and black smog skies.
Even though he had never seen the stars (he rarely left his hive block, and those few times he had the smoke and pollution had obscured the constellations) he longed to travel among them. To escape.
Like most young men of his era, Steven Taylor was a rampant polygamist. Despite the fact that the Earth was bursting under the strain of far, far too many human bodies (a population of well over thirty billion), it was an official prerogative that ‘all capable, and genetically fit humans, between the ages of eighteen and thirty years who are not otherwise engaged in the War-Effort shall use their bodily resources in the creation of new soldiers’.
The War-Effort. Steven wasn’t sure who they were fighting or if they were winning. Perhaps it was the Daleks? Or some other alien threat? Perhaps there was no war at all, and the entire fight was some large conspiracy. He never did find out.
At the age of twenty-one, in the year 2285, Steven Taylor was selected to become an astronaut and a soldier. He was selected, not because of his intelligence, but because of his strength, his patriotism, his genetic purity, and his unquestioning belief in the mandate of the state.
December 14, 2288. Steven Taylor is twenty-four. He has completed his training and is about to be released on his first mission. His posting is a remote world in the Candust system, supposedly the front line. He will be making a stop on a fledging colony world along the way to re-fuel and distribute supplies. He has never been so proud. Finally, he will see the stars.
“Promise me something,” says his girlfriend, Roxy. “Promise me that you will stay safe.”
He kisses her forehead. “Of course I’ll stay safe. I’ll be keeping you safe.”
She looks at him with worried eyes. This is a final goodbye. Soldiers rarely return from the front, and when they do, because of the schematics of space travel and cryo-hibernation, those who come back are often decades younger than those they left behind.
Roxy is Steven’s special girl. He has had sex with many, but never with her. Her he preserves. Her he exalts. If he had not been chosen to fly away he would have married her after his thirtieth birthday. They would have shared the same bed in the over-thirty dorm. They would have worked in the factories. They would have held hands, and kissed, and made love.
That will never be.
“I want you to have this,” Roxy says, pushing something into his hand. It is fuzzy, and tawdry, and black and white.
“I can’t accept this,” says Steven.
The panda has been extinct for close to two hundred years. Steven didn’t know what the stuffed toy was the first time he saw Roxy cuddling it. It is her mascot. It has been passed down through generations and might be as old as the Dalek Invasion, perhaps older. Its name is Hi-Fi and it is her most precious possession.
“You will,” she says, pressing the delicate stuffed toy almost violently into his hand. “You will because you’ll need company out there, and because there’s nothing left for him here on Earth, not for you, not for me, and not for Hi-Fi.”
“Please,” she says. “For luck?”
Of the twenty young men on Steven’s transport, only he survives the crash landing on Mechanus. He emerges from his cryo-hibernation battered, bruised, and cold to the very centre of his being. He clutches Hi-Fi as the jungle closes in around him. The heat and the damp. Steven has never been in a forest before. He is scared.
Hi-Fi saves him, or at least, he comes to believe that Hi-Fi saved him. Pandas lived in jungles, when they still lived. Steven does not remember how he got away from the killer fungoids and into the Mechanoid city. He reasons that Hi-Fi must have led him there. Somehow.
“Good panda,” he says, cuddling the bear. He thinks of Roxy, and weeps.
Steven thinks he might be going insane. He does not know how much time has passed. The days here are not the same as the days on Earth; night and day move in a far faster round. His cell is sufficient for his bodily needs, but not for his mind.
He talks to Hi-Fi, and through the panda he talks to Roxy. Somewhere along the line, however, that connection is severed. Hi-Fi stops being a representation of Roxy and becomes a person (panda?) in his own right. Steven makes up elaborate back stories for the stuffed toy. He talks to it for hours. Hi-Fi is not just his mascot; he is his sanity.
One day Steven climbs onto the roof. He thinks of jumping, but he can’t bear the thought of leaving Hi-Fi alone.
Another day, during one of his more lucid moments, when he realises that the stuffed panda is just a stuffed panda and won’t miss him, he thinks of jumping again. That day he knows he has gone mad, because, just as he puts one foot out over the brink, he hears Hi-Fi call out to him in Roxy’s voice.
Steven doesn’t try to kill himself again after that.
Steven Taylor, twenty-five years old, has been alone for over a year. He is a young man who was used to a healthy sex life before he left. His hormones drive him mad. He tries to keep himself sane by building a giant jungle gym to play on. He masturbates. He has long discussions with Hi-Fi about everything from politics, to philosophy, to history, to Roxy, to how he misses ice cream. He jokes with the panda. He loves the panda.
When, one day, when the silence is too much to bear and his hormones are stretched to their breaking point Steven needs to satisfy his urges or maybe burst. He needs it so badly he feels like he might explode. (It is a biological response, he knows, to the stress of his situation.)
Hi-Fi saves him again. Steven rubs himself against the panda's soft fur, and in his mind Hi-Fi cries out his name in passion. It isn’t strange. It isn’t dysfunctional. Of course he would make love with Hi-Fi.
Hi-Fi is his mascot.
Hi-Fi is his best friend.
Steven Taylor, twenty-six, has spent two years alone when he is finally given a chance to escape his imprisonment. Barbara and Ian, and Viki and the Doctor seem almost unreal to him with the way they talk and move. He shyly shows them Hi-Fi, but they do not understand. They do not understand how the ratty little stuffed toy is so much more real than them.
When they make their escape, he, in his excitement, forgets about Hi-Fi until it is nearly too late. That is an unforgivable sin.
“The Mascot!” he yells, climbing back into the inferno.
Barbara and Ian, and Viki and the Doctor don’t understand. They only see a stuffed toy, but Steven knows the truth.
And he will not abandon Hi-Fi.
He is ready to give his life for his mascot, his lover, his friend.