Jamie was standing very still, staring out at the surface of the moon--so still, in fact, that the Doctor ran straight into him as he rounded the beeping consoles of the moonbase, moving to check one of the readouts. He hadn’t been giving his path his full attention and had been fully expecting Jamie to move out of his way, in any case. “Jamie, really,” he huffed, “you should be more careful. I could have tripped, you know, or knocked you over!”
Jamie didn’t seem to have heard him. “What are they?” he asked instead.
“Hmm?” the Doctor asked, already concentrating once more on the readouts in front of him.
“The Cybermen,” Jamie answered. “At first I thought I had tae be dead, or . . . or it was the piper comin’ for me, but now I ken that’s nae it.” He shook his head, then winced a bit and held one hand to it.
“Are you quite all right, Jamie?” the Doctor asked with sudden concern. “Here, perhaps you should sit down–”
“Leave it,” Jamie said, sounding aggravated. “I’m fine, it was just a wee bump on the head, that’s all. It’ll take more’n that tae bring down a McCrimmon. Always fashin’, the lot o’ ye.” But he was smiling slightly, the Doctor noted, and smiled a bit himself.
“Yes, well, we’re concerned for you, that’s all,” he said. “But you are looking much better now, I’ll admit.”
“Aye,” Jamie said staunchly. “I am better, and don’t ye forget it.”
“Of course not,” the Doctor said, his smile growing. “I wouldn’t dream of it!”
“Good,” Jamie replied, and returned his gaze to the surface of the moon. A moment later he said, in a more uncertain tone, “but what are they?”
The Doctor considered the question gravely. In a sense, it was hard enough to define the Cybermen in any case–after all, were they human? Humanoid? Machine? A cybernetic combination of both, yes, but in the end what did it come down to? Or were they something else entirely, something new, and entirely other. The Doctor frowned to himself. What they were, and for certain, was wrong–a mechanical perversion of all that was natural, something that could never accept life or beauty as it found it in others but would always try to change it, to strip all that was unique or different or wonderful about it away, leaving it as soulless as they themselves were, bleak and gray and uniform. But how could he begin to explain the process by which the Cybermen had transformed themselves, through cybernetic implants and reprogramming, until they were no longer even truly organic, to Jamie, for whom the moon was something far away up in the sky, and the face of a Cyberman was the face of a ghostly piper come to drag him off to the death of his clan?
“They call ‘em men,” Jamie was saying, “and they walk like men, but they’re nae men at all, are they, Doctor?” He sounded none too certain either way.
“They were men, as we might use the term, once,” the Doctor explained in a solemn tone. “You see, Jamie, underneath all of that metal and plastic there is some part of them that is still flesh, but they have masked it and buried it until there is little left of what–or of who–they were originally.”
Jamie looked at him, his eyes wide. “But why?” he asked. “What’d they want tae do a thing like that for?”
The Doctor sighed. “Survival, I’m afraid,” he said. “Their . . . homeland, you could say, their home planet, had been . . . well, lost, and they knew of no other way to preserve their lives.” He shook his head. “Now survival is all that seems to motivate them,” he said. A weary sorrow crept through him at the thought. “They have forgotten everything they were, or could have been, except for their drive to destroy all threats to their continued existence. And that is all they will do for the rest of time. That is why they must be stopped. There is nothing else we can do with them.”
To his surprise, Jamie just nodded. “Oh, aye,” he said knowingly. “A man can do strange things when it’s down tae doing them or dying. I should ken that well enough.” The Doctor looked over at him, surprised, but then . . . he supposed it shouldn’t be any great surprise, considering where they’d first met the young man.
“Yes, I suppose you should,” he said, and let one hand rest on Jamie’s shoulder for a moment. He could feel a slight tremor pass through Jamie’s body under his hand.
“I’d rather die than be like them, though,” Jamie said. “Could they nae see where it would get them, Doctor?” He shook his head. “All metal and the rest of it . . . I dinna think they’d have much use for a piper, aye?”
“Or for a recorder player, either,” the Doctor said, with a slight smile that made Jamie smile back, then sobered. “No, I shouldn’t think they would. There’s nothing left of the emotions that music speaks to in them, or if there is, they’ve buried it so deeply it would only alarm them, I’m afraid.” Jamie nodded, and the Doctor thought about his other question. “I wouldn’t say they did see where it would get them, Jamie,” he finally said in a low voice, thinking of how so often a panic could sweep a people, or even simply their leaders, or an idea do the same, until all who were dissenters, or who would have been, or might have been, were silenced, “not until it was too late.” And then none of them would have dissented again, for by then, they could not. The thought made him shudder with a primal, purely visceral horror, one that sent a chill through his body, made him imagine his own life thinking the same thoughts and living the same boring rules and ceremonies and lives at the rest of the time Lords, without even questioning so much as which order he should do them in. Horrific, and not even realizing how horrific it would be. A true nightmare.
“Aye,” Jamie said after a moment, wrapping his arms around his chest, “it’s nae for me.”
“Nor for me,” the Doctor said brightly, then sobered again. “And you see, they don’t see what’s wrong with it. That’s the worst of them, truly. They’d rather help all the rest of us be like them than kill us, unless we’ve proven ourselves threats to them, of course.”
“Aye, them that want tae help are always the worst,” Jamie agreed wryly. “Ye Sassenach are fond o’ that, too.”
“I’m not actually English, you know, Jamie,” the Doctor pointed out. “And it’s not really the same thing.”
“You sound like you are,” Jamie said. “And you act English enough tae count.”
“Oh, do I?” the Doctor asked with a slight smile.
“Aye, ye do,” Jamie said. “And don’t you try and deny it, now.”
The Doctor laughed. “Why do you trust me, then?” he asked. “By all rights, I should be your enemy, if I’m as English as all that.”
“Ye wouldnae have tried tae break the clans,” Jamie said, with a shrug. “Besides, ye saved me, and the laird, when I couldnae.” He touched the dirk at his belt.
The Doctor found himself unexpectedly touched by that simple statement of trust. “Yes,” he said. “Well. Quite.”
“Is the future all like this, Doctor?” Jamie asked after a moment.
“Hmm?” the Doctor asked. “Why, whatever do you mean?”
Jamie shrugged. “I dinna ken,” he said. “But here we are on the moon, and . . .”
“So you do believe it’s the moon now?” the Doctor asked with a smile.
“I dinna see what else it could be,” Jamie said practically, “and the rest of ye all believe it. Either way, here we are, and we’re being attacked by these creatures even all the way up here, and under the sea we got ourselves right in the middle of a mess just like this one. D’ye go anywhere that isn’t crawling with danger, Doctor?”
“I, well, I–” the Doctor started, a bit flustered by the question. “I go to plenty of places that are quite peaceful indeed, I’m sure,” he said finally.
Jamie shook his head. “I’ll believe that when I see it,” he said darkly. “I see what Polly meant now.”
“What’s that?” came Polly’s voice from behind him. She pushed herself in between them and smiled at them both. “What did I say? And what will you believe when you see it, Jamie?”
Jamie smiled over at the Doctor, rather teasingly, the Doctor thought. “About the Doctor needing someone tae look after him,” he said. “And I’ll believe he isn’t running us intae trouble when I see it!”
The Doctor sputtered in outrage as Polly laughed. “Oh!” she said. “You weren’t to tell him I said that!”
“Well, it’s true!” Jamie said stubbornly.
“So it is,” Ben put in from Polly’s other side. “Especially the part about trouble; isn’t that right, Duchess?”
“It certainly is not,” the Doctor said with asperity. “And don’t you think our time would be better spent focussing on the problem at hand? Come along now, all of you. There really isn’t a moment to lose.”
“Oi!” Ben cried. “You yourself were just standing around over here.”
“Oh, aye,” Jamie broke in willingly, “so what’ll ye have us do, Doctor?”
“Are you sure you’re quite all right?” Polly asked. “That was quite the knock on the head you got, Jamie.”
“I’m fine,” Jamie said. “What’d I say? Fashin,’ the lot of ye. It doesnae even hurt any longer.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” the Doctor said, with a fond pat to Jamie’s shoulder, remembering his earlier wince.
“Just what d’ye mean by that!” Jamie cried, then sighed and shook his head at the Doctor’s smile.
“Come on, back to work, everyone,” the Doctor said. Jamie cast one last look out the window of the moonbase as he followed the Doctor.
“It’s a daft idea anyway,” he said in a low voice, “buildin’ a machine on the moon tae control the weather. What was wrong with the weather they already had?”
“Well, you should know,” Ben said cheerfully, “you’re from Scotland.”
“And what’s that supposed tae mean?” Jamie demanded hotly, turning to face him. The Doctor just smiled to himself and turned back to the readouts.