“Oh, you are beautiful!”
The title “Time Lord” implies a certain noble solemnity; on Earth, it would suggest fancy wine, musty libraries, marble statuary and long, echoing hallways. The being who would, later in his personal timeline, come to be known as the Doctor danced around the antique console with all the dignity and gravitas of a small child at Christmas.
“You like her?” asked his companion, stepping out of the way with a wary expression; when the not-yet-Doctor gets excited, he has a tendency to forget about everything but the object of his fixation, including anything that might get in his way. “I never cared for the Type 40 myself. Clumsy controls, outdated technology, and, well–just ancient.”
“Like her?” exclaimed the not-yet-Doctor. “I love her! How old must she be now? Two millennia at least–”
“Two thousand, four hundred and thirty-two years, if you’d bothered to read the panel before charging in here,” interjected his friend.
“Yes, yes,” said the not-yet-Doctor irritably, “but look at her! That old and this well preserved? I bet she’d fly if you put her to it.”
“Yes, well, don’t,” said the other Time Lord with a warning glance. “You do know why the Type 40 was decommissioned? We’d never get back.”
“Oh, don’t listen to that old dustbag. I bet you’re a marvelous ship,” the young Doctor told the console, fiddling mindlessly with the nearest control. Something seemed to have jammed it; the accretion of dust over the years, one of the many defects that had finally landed this specimen in a museum.
“Stop what?” said the young Doctor, expression so innocent that it wrapped around to guilt.
“I know that look. You start getting all shiny-eyed, and next thing you know you’ve gone and blown up a sun.”
“It wasn’t inhabited! I checked! And anyway, it wasn’t my fault, someone had drawn the plans the wrong way around.”
“You drew the plans.”
“Yes, but–oh, shut up.”
“I’m just saying,” persisted the not-yet-Doctor’s friend. “You’re not exactly the Academy’s favorite student after that thing with the fish, and if you don’t lay low for a while you’ll get yourself thrown out. We shouldn’t even be in here.”
“Oh, come on, where’s the fun in that?” The young Doctor was crouched, peering underneath the TARDIS console; suddenly he pointed at something buried in the depths of the circuitry. “Hello, what’s this?”
“What’s what?” His friend bent down next to him, squinting. “I don’t see anything.”
“Just there, sort of in between the cable-y looking bits and the thing with the red light. Something’s still online. Looks like…” He hunched his shoulders, trying to get a better look. “Those are the telepathic circuits, aren’t they? Shouldn’t they have been deactivated?”
“You can’t, not in a Type 40. Not without killing it, anyway. Shouldn’t you have known that?”
“The Type 40 isn’t my specialty. Although,” the young Doctor stood, stretching, “I might make it, if I get to spend more time around this girl. You are beautiful, have I mentioned that?” His companion emphatically didn’t flinch before realizing he was talking to the TARDIS again. “And I bet you can hear every word I’m saying, can’t you? Yes you can, you lovely old thing.”
“Come on. Someone’s going to notice we’re in here, sooner or later, and I don’t know about you but I don’t want to get caught. We have to go.” Tugging on the young Doctor’s elbow, dragging him away from the antique console by force. He gave in with relatively little resistance.
“Oh, fine. But I’ll be coming back here,” he remarked over his shoulder; and his companion was fairly certain that the lights flickered a tiny bit in response.
She–as far as a dimensionally transcendental, shapeshifting, engineered being with habitable internal organs can have a gender–had never become particularly attached to her pilots. She had been loyal, as her species was programmed to be, but she had on occasion disguised a fit of pique as malfunction. They never noticed; they assumed it was a quirk of engineering, something irritating but irreparable–not a silent plea for love, appreciation at least, some modicum of respect for the creature that carried them throughout spacetime. Her variety was evidently prone to such “errors”; it was the reason they had been permanently decommissioned, in the end.
Her kind had to be alive, but not too alive.
So she, last of a unique subspecies, was left to languish, feeling the dust of past pilots accrue around her controls and feeling the endless minds passing by, ignoring her, forgetting her as they moved on to some more interesting exhibit. Trapped in spacetime like an insect in amber, unable to move without a pilot, she who could fly so far and burn so bright: so much in the universe, so many minds that flowed and flickered like candlelight, and she was doomed to stay a fixture in a museum for the species with the longest memories in the universe.
And then he.
He was more than candlelight; his mind burned like a forest fire, so bright and clear after centuries of restricted dimness that she almost shrank back from it. It was cluttered, as well, but nothing was perfect–it was the mind of an engineer, a physicist, in awe of the beauty of the universe, full of life and light and energy. Wildfire youth, frustrated with the dull dusty minds of his fellows, itching to fly, to soar, to see–
“Oh, you are beautiful!”
She glowed. None of her pilots had ever complimented her in that way before, so fully and sincerely; a whole mad tangled array of futures flowered into her perception, a hundred thousand trillion possibilities that had begun to flicker into being the moment her door creaked open. The extraordinary impact of a schoolboy’s late-night excursion, and he might never realize it.
She never became attached to her pilots, but in five minutes this child has won her heart; if he became her pilot, she would be the greatest ship in all of spacetime. A homage to her dead sisters; she would fly them to glory, sing their song to the galaxies.
But first she had to make those futures come to pass.
It was easy enough. Telepathy was an integral feature of her species; they could not exist without it, and his mind was close to the tipping point anyway. All it took was a subtle nudge–imagine what we could be, flying together throughout spacetime, it would be amazing wonderful glorious–against the rules, but his was a mind that looked at rules with a raised eyebrow, a cocky grin, yeah? watch me.
Every second the beautiful futures sharpened, gained focus and clarity as they solidified, marked themselves in the progression of spacetime as he would have perceived it; she would have shivered, if she could. So close. The things they would see together…
“I’ll be coming back.”
Soon, let it be soon; she didn’t want to let that brilliant mind out of her perception for fear that it would flicker and vanish like an illusion conjured out of her own desperation. A mind like that would let itself burn without someone to watch it, too caught up in the beauty of the flames to smell the smoke, and there were still too many futures where she never saw him again.
The click of her door sent twin fireworks of hope and fear alight in her mind; she had been offered escape, and to lose it now would be more than she could bear.
But she had been patient for nearly four hundred years, waiting for the right mind. She had even had to settle for perceiving the universe in four simple dimensions, as the pilots did; the fifth dimension was too full of possibles and maybes to pick out a single mind from the throng. Waiting any longer was trivial. She had found her pilot, but he was unprepared, still green on the tree; give him time to ripen, for the frustration to flower into resentment, for the pressure of stony iron-bound minds to build into an unbearable weight.
He would return, her beautiful spark-minded thief.
They would fly.