You’ve always liked the thought of non-locality.
To put it another way: spooky action at a distance. Einstein called it that. You had a poster of him on your wall all the way through Einstein Year; thirteen years old and Gemma Stayes was your first maybe-girlfriend for a whole three days, till she dumped you because you wouldn’t bunk off down the Victoria Centre with her. She went with her mates and you went to a talk from a visiting uni professor about particle theory. Bit of a disappointment, really. You knew it all already.
You had to pretend you were only pretending not to be gutted over Gemma. Wrote her name in the boys’ toilets, said you were the one dumped her. To be honest, you never missed her. She would’ve laughed at your poster; probably never heard of Einstein. Definitely never heard of entanglement. Would’ve thought Bell’s Theorem was the new Girls Aloud.
Breaking it down, so easy even Gemma Stayes and her mates could understand it: you stick two particles together, right? So now they’re entangled. And then you fly one of them to the end of the universe — yeah, shouldn’t work, but it’s only a thought experiment, like the cat in the box, and if you’ve got a TARDIS then it’s not as impossible as it sounds, either — and now you’ve got two particles again, a universe between them.
Muck about with one, and the other one changes. Instantaneous reaction. You try to explain to people why this is so amazing, but it means getting into why nothing can go faster than light (and that no, it’s not just that we haven’t invented the warp drive yet, and no, it’s not a question of finding the right sort of rocket fuel) and relativity and that brings you back to Einstein again.
Basically: some stuff, once you’ve tangled it up, stays tangled, even when it looks separate again.
Fudges the physics a bit, but it’ll do.
Right, then. Adam Mitchell, this is your life.
You’re seven years old and you’ve run away from home. You didn’t mean to break Dad’s computer, but you didn’t think while you were taking it to bits how you were going to put it back together again, and that’s what you’re always being told off for, Not Thinking. Seems a bit silly to you, because you think all the time. Couldn’t stop if you wanted to, and Mum’s wanted you to often enough.
It’s drizzling. Years later you’ll remember that it was raining, and that you had a bag full of supplies - two jumpers, extra pair of jeans, half the space taken up by books and a soggy bag of jam sandwiches squashed at the bottom. You’ll remember that the graffiti across the community centre said that Deb hearted Tariq and Simon was a gayboy, even if you didn’t know what the second one meant.
You’ll remember the man who walked you home — not his face, not all that clearly, but you’ll remember curly hair and a long scarf and a loud voice, and how he gave you jelly babies from a paper bag, and you didn’t tell your mum because you didn’t want her to know you’d taken sweets from a strange man.
“This is your street, I believe,” he says, tipping his hat to you as he turns to go.
You’re just a kid, but you’re old enough to know what a Pentium Processor is, and definitely old enough to clock that there’s something a bit weird about this guy. You stand there for ages in the wet street, hair and clothes soaked, till your parents come and get you.
There’s a row about the computer, of course. It upsets you, and that’s probably why you don’t remember the blue police box at the entrance to the park, the one that was gone next day; you’re only seven, and in the scheme of things it doesn’t seem important.
You don’t mean to almost start World War Three, but if people are going to make their security systems so easy to hack, they deserve everything they get.
You make the front page of The Sun. Your mum keeps a copy, optimistically hoping that some day she can embarrass you in front of a new girlfriend.
You’re thirteen. Top of your form class by miles. Unpopular, but good at keeping your head down. Into Star Wars and League of Gentlemen, painfully uncool about clothes and music, still two years away from your mum letting you get contacts. Two weeks from now, Gemma Stayes will ask you out and you’ll stammer a ‘yeah’, your IQ halved by her highlights and lipgloss.
You’re eating pot noodle in front of the news, the chemistry homework you’re meant to be doing forgotten as Andrew Marr reports on what’s happening in London. You wonder whether it was Al Qaeda, make up an elaborate James Bond scenario with hallucinogenic gas that makes people think shop dummies are alive.
There’s very little that’s interesting about you at this age, but one day you’ll do the maths, work out that this is where you were when the Doctor asked Rose to come with him.
At fourteen, you win a competition on some conspiracy website by writing about how you want to meet aliens. It’s been your obsession since the fake crash into Big Ben — all of a fortnight, and considering how quick you go through interests, that’s a long time. You’ve always got SETI@home running in the background, whatever you’re doing, and no matter how long the odds are there’s always this feeling that it might just be you.
Blame Camelot. The lottery started up the year you were born. Maybe it did something to your whole generation.
You swap a couple of emails with the site owner, making up stories about aliens and UFOs, until you decide he’s a nutter or a paedo or both and stop answering his messages. His imaginary alien friend doesn’t even have a good name. The Doctor? It’s no Darth Vader, is it? It’s not even ET. It’s boring, it’s forgettable, and you do forget, because the company that sponsors the site emails to ask if you want a summer job and that’s far more important. Spending the summer working on computers in America? Getting paid and all? Brilliant.
When you find out the real work Henry Van Statten’s got lined up for you, it’s like all six of your numbers coming up. Better than that.
You’re twenty. If the Dalek has anything to do with it, probably won’t see twenty-one. You wish you felt guiltier about not staying to make sure Rose got out; she’s alive, though, so it’s all right, isn’t it?
You think you know more about aliens than anybody else on this planet, and then you’re watching the Doctor throw million-dollar alien artefacts aside like they came from Christmas crackers —
“Broken, broken, hairdryer…”
- and you’re starting to realize you don’t know much at all.
You ask the most obvious question first.
“If you’re an alien, how come…”
Rose and the Doctor tell you that lots of planets have a North. In unison. Rose rolls her eyes.
“What is he, though?” you ask, when it’s just you and Rose. “What species, I mean?”
She hesitates, and you try to look open. You’ve got an honest face, your mum’s always said so.
“He’s a Time Lord,” she says. “I don’t know what planet he comes from. It’s gone, now. There was a war. Don’t mention it to him, will you?”
You stamp down the Fawlty Towers joke. There’s a time and a place. There’s lots of times and places, and just thinking that makes you want to laugh, but you’re not sure if you’d ever stop.
You’re twenty, and it’s the year two hundred thousand, and you know everything in the universe.
The information streams into you, through the new hole at the front of your head. Theory of Everything. Complete history of the twelve Martian colonies. The decline and fall of the New Roman Empire. Maps of the Earth covering thousands of years, cities rising and disappearing again like mirages, hurricanes forming and dissipating in the weather nets. You know what a Thlangal Sunrise is and how you mix one and you know how it tastes and what it would cost on any planet and in any currency in the empire and it’s too much to hold inside your head and you can feel the pressure building up inside your skull and you know every single thing messy, scary that can go wrong in the human brain.
And then, as you think you’re about to explode, it’s all gone.
It’s a couple of hours later. It’s thousands of years earlier. The Doctor’s gone.
You fork your tea into your mouth, not tasting it. Your taste buds feel as fried as your brain. On the TV, the Prime Minister’s doing her weekly address. You knew everything about her. You knew the length of her term, the date she died, what she ate for breakfast the morning of each General Election. It all flooded through you and out again, used you as a processor; now, you’re hard-pushed to remember her name.
Takes you days to accept that the Doctor’s not trying to teach you a lesson, that he isn’t coming back.
You’re twenty-one. Today, actually, but the birthday boy would rather take a trip down to London than try and round up the few mates he hasn’t seen for years. Bit sad to throw your own birthday party, especially if you’re not sure anybody but your parents would come.
The website’s long gone — you expected that, after six years. But there should’ve been traces. Google cache, abandoned blogs and Livejournal communities, old newsgroups filled with porn and spam about Cialis. You tried every address you remembered and they’re all gone.
Good thing you remembered Mickey Smith’s name from his old emails. Common enough name, big city; took you weeks finding him. Broke a lot of privacy laws while you were at it.
You’re expecting a greasy, overweight fifty-year-old in a flat full of bootleg DVDs and porn mags. You find a skinny guy in his late twenties, normal looking, nice flat, nicer girlfriend. He won’t even talk to you, at first. Says he’s not into that any more, that it was just something stupid he made up when he was a kid.
You stick around. Buy him a drink at the pub. Happen to be passing when he’s pushing his squalling kid around the park.
“Look,” he finally tells you, “forget about it, yeah? It’s too dangerous. Anybody knows that, it should be me.”
The baby’s gone quiet, watching the ducks. You look out over the grey water and want to snap your fingers; the hat you wear all the time is pulled low over your forehead and nobody would know but you, and it’d make you believe that it all really happened. You want to be anywhere but here.
You say, “I can’t forget. It’s part of me, now. It is me. How am I meant to forget it?”
“You do, though. You learn to forget.”
You’ve forgotten ninety-nine point nine recurring percent of every piece of information that’s ever passed through your brain. You’re not going to lose the rest of it.
Mickey says, “I should go. Shireen’ll wonder where I am.”
And then it’s just you, by yourself on a park bench, almost crying, a bit lost; where you started, more or less, and you wait till nearly dark but nobody comes for you, and you wonder if the Doctor’s at the other side of the universe, and if something happened to him, whether you’d know it right away, faster than light.