The Long Shadow

by vegetables [Reviews - 0]

Printer Chapter or Story
  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Angst, Drama, General, Hurt/Comfort, Introspection, Missing Scene, Mixed, Series

Letters!” snarled Darwin to his study, “an endless cavalcade! Bishops complaining about science, scientists complaining about me. I'm used to it, of course,” he growled, “but now there are so many. Why, I remember back in 1869–”

The Doctor nodded and listened for a while, until she was sure the scientist was listening to no one but himself.

“Chris,” she said, “d’you notice anything wrong with Charles’s study?”

“It smells like dead people,” said Chris.

“That's rude!” said the Doctor. “No, look down there, below the chair. The one that's too big for you to sit on.”

Chris squinted down at the chair in front of her. It was bright blue, and much posher than she was used to, with a mix of fabric and wood at its base. But nothing about it struck her as particularly out of the ordinary.

Just as she was wondering if the Doctor had been tricking her, she noticed something move between the chair and the wall. She looked in the narrow gap, but there was nothing there– just the long shadow of the chair, snaking its way up the wall. But then if the sun was coming through just there, and the light was hitting the chair on its side–

“The shadows are wrong,” said Chris.

“They're very wrong,” said the Doctor. “And not just here. They’ve been wrong on a lot of things, ever since we arrived.”

The shadow behind the chair rose up, as if annoyed at being noticed. It stretched further and further towards the roof, heightening through the softened light. The Doctor snarled, and drew her sonic screwdriver–

–before a very non-Victorian beeping filled the room. Startled, the shadow slunk back behind its chair.

“Just as I was saying!” said Darwin, who’d been so busy talking he’d missed everything that was going on. “These people know they can’t win with reasoned debate, oh no! They have to resort to tricks, or accursed sounds!”

He swept the bleeping letter into his hands, oblivious to the lights that flashed on it in their ahistorical way.

“Look at what this letter actually says!” he snapped, “once you get past the presentation. That it's nothing but blasphemy to compare a monkey to man. That a creature so pure could never have come from one so foul and base! If they'd only be willing to listen to reason…

“I'm not sure that means what you think it does,” said the Doctor quietly. “Let me see it, Charles.”

She took the letter out of the old man's hands.

“As I thought,” she said, pointing at the strange cross on the letterhead. “This is the seal of the Square Primature. This letter’s from…”

She blushed.

“It's from a sect of Christian baboons,” she said at last.

“That's silly,” said Chris.

“It's preposterous!” said Darwin. “The mind of a baboon would be quite different to our own. If they had a belief system of any kind, it would be about how they saw the world, not how we did! They'd have totally different metaphysics. They wouldn't concern themselves with what the Archbishop of Canterbury says.”

“Maybe so,” said the Doctor. “But these,” she said with a meaningful glance, “are baboons from the future.”

“Oh!” said Darwin, and burst out laughing. “You mean to say—”

”I do!” said the Doctor.

“Then the letter means– oh, but that is funny!

“I don't like it when you talk like I’m not here,” said Chris. “And I don't see why any of this is something to laugh about.”

“The people who sent this letter,” said the Doctor. “They’re baboons now, but they haven't always been. People think it has a direction, evolution; that it's this big stack of creatures with themselves stuck up on the top. But that's not how it works, not really. The same forms emerge again and again, the same patterns. And in the right sort of situation–”

“–men could evolve into baboons,” breathed Darwin. “They're Christians because they never stopped being Christians, even when they grew fur and tails. Fascinating,” he said. “I’d never have dreamed!”

“It makes me sad to think about,” said Chris. “Thinking that I could have a child, and then they could, and that one day a child would be a baboon. I wouldn't know what to say, if I met them. It would all make me very uncomfortable.”

“Yes, well, the baboons aren't happy about it either,” said the Doctor. “They've all the trappings of Catholicism, but not a lot left of the teachings. And they don't seem too happy with what Charles has to say about who's in their family history.”

She glanced at the Primature’s letter, reading the whole of it for the first time.

“They say–”

She went pale.

“Oh hell,” she said. “They say that they're coming to kill you.”

“Ha!” said Darwin, his wrinkled face unfazed. “That's what they all say! I’ve had a lot of death threats in the past few decades; I’m quite past the point of worrying about them.”

“You should worry about this one,” said the Doctor. “If nothing else, they people who wrote these other letters respect you because you're a man, but that's exactly why the Primature despises you. Remember how horrified you were when I showed you the wars of the 20th century? Think about how much worse they could seem, to people who aren't human. Your species repulses them, Charles. They will kill you.”

Darwin looked completely unperturbed at this. Lazily, he stabbed at the message with his letter opener.

“Odd sort of thing for Christians,” he said, “to have such a low opinion of all men. Whatever do they suppose Jesus was?”

“A baboon,” said the Doctor flatly.

Darwin’s shocked face went whiter than his beard.

“Oh, don't be like that; he wasn't a white man either. It's what people do, isn't it? Whether they're humans or baboons. Take something like the Easter story and make sure the Son of God looks just like them.”

She grinned.

“Although if you want to know what really happened–”

She was interrupted by a somehow silent bang. An absence swelled across the study, as if its silence had been snuffed out by something even quieter.

Loudly and without noise, a darkness rose from behind the chair. Fast as a shadow, Chris and Darwin threw themselves behind the Doctor.

“The assassin!” gasped Darwin. “And he's nothing like a baboon!”

“Not everything is about you, you know,” muttered the Doctor. “This thing hasn't been sent to kill you. Of course, it is going to kill you,” she added, “but not for any good reason. Get down!

The three of them ducked as a shaft of shadow swept across Darwin’s desk. The letters strewn across it became darker, as everything does when in shadow– then went darker still, as if blackened under fire. There was a light like the darkness, and then all the letters were gone.

”Chris!” shouted the Doctor. “Take Darwin's letter opener!” It was a rude request, but Chris was too frightened to say anything. Still, she felt guilty as she prised it from the old man's hand.

“It isn’t sharp at all!” Chris cried. “And that's a shadow! You can't cut it up with a knife!”

”Not the shadow, Chris. The light!” She nodded to the window. “Over there.”

Cutting up some light with a letter opener didn't make a lot of sense. But then the world hadn't made a lot of sense even before Chris had met the Doctor, and it didn't seem to be getting any better. She held the knife as fiercely as she could manage, but she was a child and she was scared. Her hands shook as she made her way to the far end of the study, as the shadows seemed to turn towards her…

...before they stopped, and peeled away. A shaft of light beamed down on Chris, although there was nowhere that it could have come from. The Doctor’s eyes widened in horror.

“On second thoughts!” she said. “Running away! Let’s do that, instead of fighting!”

But it was already too late for Chris to run. Shadow slammed into her from in front of the impossible light, flowing into her mouth and her mind. She coughed as nothingness swam into her, her body casting a too-small shadow against the light…

...and then she saw things that had never been in the room. Her mother, stressed after she’d gone to bed. Her friend, who she’d once scratched hard until she bled. Pain and exhaustion swept through her mind, and she knew all of it had been caused by her. It was the despair that she had brought to people, whether she’d intended it or not. It was the shadow she had cast upon the world.

Adults often told Chris that there were things she'd only understand when she was older, and for a second she wondered if this was one of them. Perhaps all adults felt like this at some point in their lives? But even as she thought this, she knew that it was wrong. The adult world was not one where people were afraid of the pain they caused; a glance at it could tell you that. What she was feeling now was something a person of any age would struggle to handle…

...the thought of age made her look again at Darwin, who stared in horror at her as he crouched against the wall. It was funny how dark he seemed, how glum the whole room felt. Hazily, she felt the hilt of the paper knife in her hand. She raised her arm against the thundering pain, and thrust it down into nothing at all–

–and the nothing split, in a way you could never describe. A dull slit of light shone where shadow had otherwise been. The sense of despair eased in Chris’s mind as she bought the knife down again, then again once more as she slashed at the shadows that surrounded her on all sides. She could hear a soundless scream of pain getting more intense with each inflicted wound, before the sun shone once more through the window and the shadow was swept away.

Chris howled and shook in the perfectly normal light. Her two companions eased themselves from the wall.

“We have to go,” said the Doctor gently to Chris. “I’m sorry that happened to you, Chris. And I'll tell you why it did, but we have to go now.” She shot a glance to the chair where the shadow had come from, behind which dark shapes arched in unusual ways.

”Where are we going?” asked Darwin. “The Torchwood Institute? The Royal Society? Somewhere with guns, I hope.”

“We’re going to the woods,” said the Doctor. “We’re off to track down your assassin. And no guns!” she said, remembering what Charles was like with them.

“That's what I always forget about these adventures,” sighed Darwin. “It's so rare that they're ever any fun.” Then he hastily swept out of his study, with the traumatised Chris following in his wake.