It was hideous.
When Rosalyn Forrester first saw the rock in Benny’s bag, she thought it was a geode. It was a rough, gravely gray-black stone the size of her fist. Actually, she thought it was just a rock, but couldn’t dream of why anyone would sell a rock. Geode was just a guess.
An incorrect guess, of course, but not a bad one for an ex-cop.
Roz caught Benny stealing it out of one of the stalls in the market place.
Technically, Bernice had merely attempted to ‘liberate’ the rock from the store. A drunken whimsy committed by an archaeologist in a particularly bizarre state of mind. Considering she announced her intention of shoplifting to the world at large in a very loud drunken voice before committing the act, Roz, upon seeing Bernice try to cram it into a bag already jam-packed with dresses, booze and scarves, quietly lifted it out and went to the stall owner to pay for it.
“You like?” The shopkeeper was busy with reams of papers and clusters of data cubes. Three of his eyes were counting inventory but his fourth eye was firmly fixed on Roz’s selection. The fifth was ogling Bernice’s buttocks.
Roz looked at the mottled surface of the stone sitting on the counter between them. What the hell did Bernice want with a rock? It was ugly and, although dry to the touch, its silica skin appeared to be coated with a slimy, greasy sheen. “I despise it. It is the most revolting thing I have ever seen. How much do you want for it?”
“It’s a gruber,” the shopkeeper kept counting, the tone of his voice rising as he slipped into Retailspeak: “Long lost in the history of time, grubers were the first of the Scythe Queen’s ornaments-
“Save me the backstory,” Roz grumbled, fumbling in her pack for some local currency. Her gun was in easy reach- but the Doctor said they were to just have a ‘quiet day of shopping.’
They were visiting one of the Ribbon Worlds, a series of small planetoids composed of dynamorphosed schist extruded from an artificial Ortiz ventricle. It was one of the first designed planets; a work of art. The green ‘planet’ seen from space was composed of a single swath of crystalline ribbon scrunched up into a delicate ball- a single, continuous, million mile-wide slice of rock that curved and spiraled about, filling the interior of the planet in random, looping patterns. There were no continents, oceans or lava seas, just an intricate ornamental ball of curving geological lacework. An inconceivable amount of surface area for the planetary surveyors and, to the commercial sectors, an enviable amount of floor space. The corporations quickly blessed the world with an artificial atmosphere to facilitate easier shopping. It was the largest shopping center in all of Argo Navis and also possessed the system’s largest roller coaster as an added entertainment draw. As the Ribbon World attracted large amounts of the general public it was therefore, in Roz’s opinion, not the safest of Sectors to be in. Pulling her hand away from her weaponry, she pointed wearily at the case overflowing with other ‘grubers.’ “The sign on the bin says three for six- how much for just one?”
The shopkeeper’s eye blinked slowly in irritation at having been cut off. “For you, three bongs.”
Roz only managed to dig up five of the small marbles and, by the Goddess, she needed a drink after this. “I’ll give you two,” she tossed them onto the counter and picked up the rock.
The shopkeeper groaned a bit but in the end took her offer.
Roz stepped out of the stall, seeking to place the object back into Benny’s bag, but the other woman was nowhere in sight.
Roz shook her head, tossed the gruber into her own bag and headed for the beer tent.
The gruber sat in Roz’s closet for three months before she tried to kill it.
In her mind, Roz knew that the TARDIS’s state of temporal grace prevented weapons from firing inside the ship- but dammit when you pointed a loaded gun at something that’s attacking you in the middle of the night, when you press the trigger you bloody well expect the thing to go off.
The gruber, obviously, was not a geode. Nor was it hollow, technically. What it was, as Roz discovered when she woke up that night with the monstrous thing wraped around her arm, was a whopping three foot long gleaming, slithering millipede made of rock.
Roz yelled, threw the thing to the floor, grabbed the K4-Assault rifle from her lingerie drawer and fired.
After a few stunned seconds of the trigger clicking harmlessly away, Roz stared down at the gruber. The gruber stared back with large, loving, coal blue eyes. The eyes blinked, large and watery.
Roz stomped on it.
Nothing. It kept staring up at her, imploringly.
Her foot hurt. Out of habit, she slept in combat boots (much to Chris’s continued amusement) but the strontium-lined soles had no impact on the creature. The wretched thing really was made of some sort of rock.
It probably thought she was just trying to pet it.
Roz watched it slither up her bed post and crawl back under the covers, completely unharmed.
She grabbed a taser out of her bathroom, set the voltage to ‘Fry’ and went to zap some answers out of the Doctor. She’d throw him outside the TARDIS first if that’s what it would take to do some damage.
Conveniently —of course- the Doctor was nowhere to be found.
The console room was empty- the double doors were wide open and the cool night air wafted in, along with the occasional bars of sickly sweet music.
Roz had forgotten: the Doctor, Benny and Chris were out enjoying themselves in one of the Argolian Leisure Hives and, faced with the prospect of shiny happy people dithering on about how she should smile more, Roz had gone to bed instead.
No Doctor, no Chris Cwej to order around, a completely ineffective armory- and a slithering gruber in her bedclothes.
Which was of course probably why the gruber chose this night to attack.
Roz swore for a while before tramping noisily off down the corridors to find out where the library had moved itself to today.
Gru-ber: (noun) definition: Silicon-based insectoid lifeform, indigenous to Magyarian clusters, often kept as pets by royalty of during the first Lesions; characterized by nurturing healing powers and harmless nature...
Roz stared at the tiny two-inch black and white sketch in the battered encyclopedia. Typically, none of the data tablets, crystals or wafer servers held any useful information. And of course, the rest of the entry in the book was stained with what Roz feverently hoped was brown toffee- and completely illegible.
The reading lamp in the library was making a buzzing sound that was giving Roz a headache. It was late. There were a vast amount of things that Roz truly hated in this Universe, and sorting through books was definitely somewhere in the top two hundred.
Roz was not a research person- she was a bed person. And at her age, beds were just for sleeping in. Mostly.
Roz switched of the lamp and went back to her room. She stood by her bed and glared at the snaky lump snoring beneath the covers.
There were other beds in the TARDIS- an infinite number, probably. But this was her bed and in her room.
There was no way in hell she was moving out because of some overfriendly, nurturing rock.
Besides, Chris and Bernice would never let her live it down.
After a moment of hesitation, Roz crawled back under the covers and firmly shut her eyes.
There was a skittering noise, and with a touch that she could only just barely feel, the gruber curled round the length of her arm.
Every follicle on her body stood on end as she imagined it wrapping around her arm. A gruesome, shiny, slithery bracelet of nastiness.
Goddess, she hated aliens.
It started as a gentle tingle, but soon Roz felt a warm contented glow slowly infuse her body and before she knew it, she was asleep.
Roz had never had a pet. Her sister was the one who got the puppy. And the ocelot. And the ostrich. And the farm of mere cats. Roz could never get over the whole implied slavery aspect of owning an animal, no matter how well they were taken care of.
She left that lifestyle choice, along with many other morally questionable things, up to her sister.
The gruber, at least, was the most convenient pet possible. She didn’t have to feed it, bathe it or even clean up after it. It didn’t even seem to reproduce or have any wrinkly bits, not that Roz looked too closely. It spent the day curled up in a ball in the closet and at night it would slip between the sheets, wrap around her arm, coo a bit, and fall asleep, its huge eyes staring up at Roz with bliss.
Roz hadn’t told the others about it. But then again, there was a lot she never told the others.
On one particularly rocky planet that they landed on, Roz was tempted to set it free. But, not being either a geologist or a zoologist, she didn’t really know if it would survive. Besides, it wasn’t that she had actually grown fond of it- it would be more accurate to say that she would miss being able to complain about it to herself every night. It was almost reassuring, somehow.
That was what she told herself anyway.
As Chris Cwej used to say, ‘It’s a Roz thing.’
For over a year, every night Roz snuggled with her non-pet under the covers, smiling as she snoozed. Whether she went to sleep grumpy, swearing, angry, or even- not that she’d ever admit it- crying at night, in her sleep, she slept with a smile on her face, with lovely safe dreams and a comforting warm glow in her heart.
One night, the gruber snuggled safely under the covers to wait for her, but Roz never came.
And she would never come back again.
The valley was green, lush and held a lovely creek that splashed down from the hills to pass near a large tree. The TARDIS sat beneath the leafy canopy and Doctor stood beside her, holding the curled gruber in his hand, his hand pulling the door shut behind him.
A ball of similar shape, but bright yellow, hovered just above his head. The horizon bent around them in a most peculiar way.
“You’re not supposed to be here,” said God.
The Doctor stared defiantly up at the yellow smiley face, tossing the gruber up and down in his hand. “Oh, don’t start all that again… that’s not why I’m here.” He nodded at the gruber. “I found this in Roz’s boot cupboard.”
“Ah,” said God.
“’Ah’, indeed. I can see why you’re not into stone tablets around here… They wouldn’t be terribly profound….” The Doctor held the gruber up for God to inspect. “Now, where would young Roslyn find the last surviving member of such a species?”
God shrugged. Which was sort of impressive. Considering it was just a head.
“Benny barely remembers picking it up- I had to use hypno-regression therapy on her… there a thousands of harmless copies of these things crawling around, distant ancestors, genetic cast-offs, robotic replicas, but not an actual, certifiable gruber. It’s older than old. The people who make the copies don’t have a clue what they were really for. I didn’t even know what it was, it’s that old. And yet Roz finds it in a shopping mall?”
God was silent.
The Doctor frowned and pointed a finger at the floating sphere. “I blame you.”
“I get that a lot,” God replied.
The Doctor sat cross-legged in the grass, the gruber in his lap. His voice was low and thick. “She’s dead, you know.”
God floated lower and hovered above some dandelions by the river bank. “I know.”
“It’s been a while now, but I still- I’m just running some last errands, cleaning up some lose ends… I do miss her,” the little man said wistfully. “I don’t know how you did it. But I wanted to say thank you.”
“It wasn’t for you.” God picked up the gruber with the gentle tug of a force field. It spun gently in the air between them. “We owed her a favor.”
“I know. I think she’d approve. But she was never keen on deceit of any sort. Though, in the end, I don’t think she’d mind.” The Doctor jammed his hat onto his head and stood up. “Time to be going, I suppose.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor.”
The Doctor sighed, “She was-“
“I am not referring to Rosalyn.” The bright yellow face watched the figure in the TARDIS doorway, a worried frown etched on its face.
The Doctor nodded, the TARDIS door handle in his hand, as he took one huge breath of Worldsphere air. “Goodbye, God. See you soon.”
The blue door shut behind him and soon the TARDIS slowly faded from sight, tired and faint before vanishing completely with a sigh.
Ji-Pari swept through the outer reaches, where the last of the worlds boiled and frothed at the edge of the cosmos. With a deft flick of the force fields, the ship tossed the tiny, round object into the heart of a newborn sun.
Ji-Pari paused for a moment its systems silent in respect, before flitting away back to the central systems and its home in the Worldsphere.
Eventually, the sun sputtered and coughed, contracting before it swelled outward and ate the barren collection of planetesimals surrounding it. As its searing thermonuclear skin receded and the sun regained its normal size once more, it left behind four new worlds, molten and sloshing, in a single orbit, equidistant from their mother and each other.
In time, their surfaces cooled and variegated mountains rose, volcanoes breathed and new rain fell. Life spawned, rich and precious. The lands became home to a people, of a sort. On this world the skies were blue and the valleys were green, while on that one the sky was red and the earth was rich and fertile. On another the world was entirely filled with water and spouting fountains and packed with free-swimming sea life. On the fourth world, the land was wild with people few and sparse, living in both in solitude and in harmony with a strange species of friendly rock snakes.
And on every world in the new system, people were happy- mostly- and free. And justice ruled throughout.
And, if you really wanted to, you could choose to live on the fourth world, where you could be left alone and dream of a place somewhere better.