Life on Mars

by nostalgia [Reviews - 6]

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  • All Ages
  • Swearing
  • General


Ace's first thought on waking was to thank every god that she wasn't on Iceworld any more. True, there was always the possibility that she'd unexpectedly ended up somewhere worse, but so far so good as far as that went. She stretched and sat up in bed. The room she'd been given was larger than the one she'd had on Iceworld, although the sterile white walls could use a few posters.

She picked up her watch from the bedside table and checked the time before remembering that — according to her new friend, at least — she was in a time machine and for all she knew it was last Thursday again. Still, her stomach insisted that it was time for breakfast and the watch seemed to agree.

With perfect timing, there was a knock on the door. Ace got out of bed, pulled a dressing gown over her nightie, and called “I'm decent.”

The door opened and the Doctor appeared in the gap. Ace felt a sudden regret that she hadn't put her things away neatly the night before, and kicked her empty rucksack into a corner. The Doctor ignored the mess and said, “Breakfast?”




The kitchen was surprisingly lacking in hi-tech gadgetry. It was almost as though this normal-looking room belonged to some other place. There wasn't even a toaster. The Doctor gestured at her to take a seat at the kitchen table and opened the fridge.

“What would you like?” he asked.

“Bacon and eggs, please,” said Ace.

The Doctor hesitated, glancing between her and the fridge. “I'm a vegetarian,” he said, almost apologetically.

“Just the eggs, then.”

He nodded and took off his hat, producing a few eggs from it with a look of faux-surprise. Ace grinned despite herself, because it wasn't that good a trick when you thought about it, yet somehow he'd made it seem really impressive. He juggled the eggs a few times before carrying them over to the stove.

Okay, so he was some sort of amateur magician. With a time machine that also did space.

“Can't make eggs without breaking a few eggs,” he muttered, discarding the shells into bin marked 'compost.'

“Do you have a garden?” asked Ace when she saw this.

The Doctor looked over at her. “Do I have a garden?” He frowned. “I'm not sure. There was a garden, but I can't remember where I left it.” With a shrug he went on “I'm sure it'll turn up eventually. These things usually do.”

Ace nodded, mostly because she didn't want to look like she didn't understand what he was on about.

“Could you make the tea?” he asked. “Usually I make the food and Mel...” He went quiet.

Ace stood and went over to him. “I'm sure Mel will be fine, Professor. She seemed well-capable.”

The Doctor looked at her with a strange intensity. “Do you really think so?”

She nodded. “Yeah.” She touched his arm before she realised she was doing it. “Don't worry, she'll be great.” She pulled her hand away and took the kettle to the sink to fill it. She wasn't really very good at consoling people and cheering them up, so hopefully she'd said enough.

“I thought you'd have a space kettle,” she said as she waited for it to boil.

“Oh, no,” said the Doctor, “those aren't very energy-efficient.”

An amateur magician and hippy. With a time-and-space machine.

“Are you an alien?” she asked.

The Doctor looked up from frying the eggs. “Yes. But then, my point of view you're the alien.”

“What sort of alien?” she asked, hopping up on the counter and swinging her legs. “Sorry,” she added with a sudden thought, “is it rude to ask that?”

“You should always ask questions, Ace. How will you learn anything if you don't ask questions? I'm a Time Lord,” he said.

Ace wrinkled her nose. “Is that like those old men in Parliament?”

“Nothing like that,” he said quickly. Then he added, “Perhaps most of them are, in a way. But I'm not like that.” He held out his arm. “See? No ermine robes. I'm just a traveller.” He decanted the eggs onto two plates.

The ate in relative silence, drinking their tea without saying very much. Ace worried that maybe she'd said something wrong. Maybe he'd take her home right away because she was rude. She made an effort to keep her elbows off the table and to use her knife and fork correctly.

Finally the put the dishes in the sink and the Doctor turned to her with a smile. “The scenic route,” he said, rather grandly. “Where do you want to go first?”

Ace thought for a moment. She'd had loads of places in mind, but now that he'd asked in as many words it'd gone all blank. “Could we go to your planet?” she asked, because that seemed as good a place as any to start.

The Doctor's smile slipped a little. “Oh, it's boring,” he said. “It's all... boring. You wouldn't like it.”

Ace relented. “It's okay, Professor, I don't want to go home either.”

He nodded, looking very relieved. “Where, then?”

“I dunno, really. Mars?”

“Mars?” He raised his eyebrows almost comically. “So close to Earth?”

She nodded. “We went on a school trip to an observatory once. I liked Mars best, because it's a nice colour and it's got these moons, see, and...” She stopped and shrugged. “I'm not fussed, we don't have to go there.”

The Doctor smiled at her. “Mars it is, then. When? The great Empire of the Ice Warriors? The early days of human terraforming? The Second Martian Republic?”

“Ice Warriors?”

“That's just a name other people gave them. They just call themselves Martians. Or rather,” he went on, “in their own language they call themselves 'the people,' but 'Martian' does nicely for telling the people from the other people.”

“Oh, wicked, I've never met a Martian.”

The Doctor touched her nose. “Yet.”

Ace smiled.




Martians turned out to be tall, wide, and just a bit scary. Ace tried not to stare as they walked into town during some sort of celebration.

“It's armour,” said the Doctor, before she could ask. “They're warriors, or at least they were, once. These days they enjoy poetry, art, and a game something like Twister but with more religious significance.”

Ace nodded and shoved her hands into her pockets. She wanted to look cool and cosmopolitan. She didn't want him to think she was some sort of na├»ve kid. “Why do poets need armour?”

The Doctor nodded. “Good question.”

“Well?”

“They don't like to discuss it with outsiders. I have a few theories, though.”

Ace left it at that. She took a step backwards and hit something solid and warm. She turned round and looked up at a Martian. “Sorry,” she mumbled, hurrying back to the Doctor's side.

The Doctor put a hand on her shoulder. “Relax, Ace, this isn't a test.” He paused. “Ace...”

“Doctor!” came a thundering cry from across the square.

The Doctor spun on his heel, breaking into a grin. “Slardus! My old friend!”

The Martian stopped in front of them. “I would embrace you, Time Lord, but your kind are so fragile.”

The Doctor patted the Slardus's arm. “How are you? Oh, this is my new friend Ace. She wanted to see something of Mars. Ace, this is Slardus, he helped me with a spot of trouble on Venus.”

Ace tried not to flinch as the tank-like Martian looked down at her and then reached out to touch her jacket.

“What are these emblems? Battle decorations?”

Ace shook her head. “They're just badges.”

“She's not a soldier,” said the Doctor quietly.

Slardus looked Ace up and down. “The Doctor is a great warrior, he will teach you well.”

The Doctor shook his head. “I'm not some sort of military academy, I keep telling you that.”

Ace watched them try to stare each other down, wondering what she was missing. To her surprise it was the Martian who blinked first.

“Then perhaps you'll make a poet of her,” he said.

Ace frowned. “He's not making me into anything,” she protested.

The Doctor shushed her with a look and she slouched off to look at the market stalls. She was examining a lump of shiny green rocky stuff when the Doctor found her again.

“You'll have to forgive him,” he said gently. “This culture is very keen on apprenticeship and the flow of knowledge from one generation to the next.”

Ace shrugged like it was nothing. “Yeah,” she said non-committally. “I'm a crap student anyway.”

The Doctor lifted her chin and looked into her eyes. “Whoever told you that?”

Ace moved away from his touch. “Everyone told me that.”

“Oh, Ace,” he said sadly, shaking his head.

She held up the green lump to change the subject. “What's this?”

“Slaarkith.”

“What's that when it's a home?”

The Doctor took the lump from her and turned it so it sparkled in the red sunlight. “It's a symbolic gift given between... you might say blood-brothers. Kindred spirits, destined to stand side-by-side in battle.”

“Or poetry,” said Ace.

“Indeed,” said the Doctor with a smile, “some of those haiku are very tricky.”

“Sounds like bollocks to me,” she said cheerfully.

“One could call it... nonsense, yes, but the sentiment behind the gift is very real.” He looked at her carefully. “Do you want this? I think I still have some local currency on me.”

She did want it, but she said, “What I do with a bit of green rock?”

The Doctor nodded once, pulled a silver coin from behind her ear, and gave it to the stall-keeper as he handed the rock to Ace.

Ace swallowed and put it carefully into a pocket. She blinked in the dry air, never very good at expressing herself in these situation. She felt like she owed him something, so she said, “My real name's Dorothy.”

“But you prefer Ace?”

“Dorothy's a stupid name,” she said.

“It isn't that bad. But I don't think it really suits you, Ace.”

“Do I have to go home after this?” she asked, getting out that ever-present concern.

“Oh, I shouldn't think so. I've still got a lot to teach you. If you want to learn?” he added, looking straight at her.

Ace smiled. “As long as there isn't any homework.”

The Doctor laughed, and opened his umbrella as it started to rain.