"Oh, and you can take that off." The Doctor pointed at my face. "I'm immune."
Only after some seconds did I realize that I was still wearing my face mask. Having to have it on me the whole work day and in public transport had gotten me used to it. It actually felt strange not to wear it, but I still stuffed it inside my pocket, while I took a closer look at the coral shaped pillars and the weird round lights on the walls.
"Fix… Why do you think I could fix something like that? Gaping at the foreign technology around me I shook my head, then glanced back at the Doctor. "Is it really a time machine? Is all this from the future?"
He rubbed his neck with a somewhat impish smile. "That's hard to answer. Considering the distance and temporal distortions within the proximity to the galaxy's centre and then the gap between the time your and my civilisation evolved."
I blinked stupidly at him, mulling over the words, all while trying to keep standing upright. My head was spinning. Something in here seemed to make me nauseous, either in here or… the still overwhelming sensation of déjà vu.
"L… isten," I stuttered. "I can barely fix stuff from my own world and time. I'm only an apprentice." Then again was I not eager at all to leave this extraordinary place too soon. My mind wasn't able to cope, however, crawling around at an alarmingly slow speed. "And I definitely can't fix alien tech," I closed, dooming myself.
He was alien. No doubt about that. I just… sensed it, because of the way he felt so utterly different to the people I usually had to deal with, because of how my head still spun and made me sick and my knees weak.
"Ho, careful." The Doctor grabbed my arm and steadied me. "Must be a bit of shock, all this, eh?" He smiled warmly and guided me to one of the jump seats near the console.
"Have I been here before?" I wanted to know as I flopped down into the seat. "It feels so…" There was a distinct lack of words in my vocabulary to even begin describing what I felt and so I only glared wide eyed at the Doctor.
"I know what you mean. But no, I would remember." He thoughtfully bit down on his tongue, mulling over his next words. "The TARDIS. She seems to know you. My ship, I mean. She's sentient"
I glared at the ceiling, trying to understand. A sentient time machine that somehow knew me, that had brought this alien man right to this place to get the most useless person in existence. There was absolutely nothing I could do. Not even my boss and co-workers let me do much because they thought I wouldn't be able to get anything done.
Not that they would have ever given me the chance. They only assumed, based on looks and gender. And it wasn't the first time I thought about looking for something else… but the chances of me finding something were so slim - with my poor social skills and all that - that I stayed anyway. But now…
My head felt a little better and I hopped from the seat to carefully stroke a hand over the console, deliberately staying away from anything I could accidentally push. A light tingling crept from my fingers into my mind, like a soft nudge.
I smiled and let out a huff. "Okay. I'll do whatever I can. And you get me away from here. I don't care where."
The Doctor grinned and rushed to my side to flip a few switches. "Alright. Can do that. She needs to get to work again, though." Some buttons and his hand landed on a big lever. "Hold on to something."
I grabbed the rim of the console right in time not to get thrown to the ground as the engines sprang to life with a groan and some wheezing and a few noises that clearly weren't healthy. The whole thing shook violently and I was glad when it was finally over.
And then a screeching resounded through the room that made my ears hurt and my heart clench. It was as painful as it was… sad? Like the outcry of a hurt child. Confused, I glanced at the Doctor and his face showed concern.
"It's not actually hurting her to travel. But each time she loses a great deal of energy."
"And you need something to replenish her fuel or something?"
"Nope, not fuel, not like you'd know it, anyway. It's more… mhm… Yeah, well, let's call it fuel. Too complicated for human brains."
I raised a brow and followed him to the doors, taking a careful look outside when he pushed them open. It only partially surprised me to see that we were in a completely different place. Somewhere in the middle of a big town… London maybe? I hadn't been there too often.
"Can't travel too far," the Doctor explained. "Ever since the Master fiddled with the torinomatic subsystems, that is. And now he's gone and the TARDIS is sick."
There was a strange tingling in my head as he said this. As if something was… calling me, calling or rather… crying out. I pinched my eyes shut and shook my head, stepping out of the doors.
This is too easy, I thought. Shouldn't I be scared? Everything outside the doors could be an illusion and we could be who knows where instead. And I'm just following like an idiot, without even thinking about it.
Or maybe my time at work had made me braver, had taught me to be less scared of new situations. A lot less, actually, compared to just some months ago.
"Who did this to your ship?" I asked, unsure if I had heard the name correctly.
The Doctor winced slightly, his fingers idly stroking over the blue frame. "The Master. He is… like me. No, not at all. Only the same species. I have a responsibility. Have to make sure he stays out of trouble, but… well, that obviously failed."
"You mean he ran off and sabotaged the TARDIS?"
A sigh. "Yeah. Seems like it. I traced him to this time period. Bad time, really bad time. No idea what he wants here."
Neither did I, nor did I have a clue what in the world I could do to help make the ship feel better. My eyes wandered over the passersby, all with masks and weary looks. This truly was a bad time to be alive and an even worse time to be stuck.
"If he's responsible for this stupid virus I'm going to kick his nuts personally," I grumbled.
The Doctor gave me a grin that was clearly involuntary, but he shook his head. "Nah, I don't think so. Viruses evolve completely naturally from time to time. Actually in an interval that can be traced and calculated. Should have done that, you lot. Could have saved you quite the trouble." He clapped his hands and beamed at me. "Anyway! He's my problem, not yours."
"And what do you think is here that will help fix the box?" I wanted to know. "There must be a reason for us being here of all places."
"Here? Nothing. Just hiding the TARDIS. And thought you might wanna grab a snack."
I glared at the Doctor and he gave me a smile and a shrug as if to say, this was obvious.
"You have no idea what to do," I concluded, a little peeved.
"Eh, well, somewhat. Maybe. Hey! You wanted to get away from there anyway." He pursed his lips in a childish manner, making me chuckle. "I do have an idea. Come with me. Or… if you still want a snack..."
"I never said I wanted one."
"Oh. Thought you might be hungry after working all day."
Okay, there was no argument against that. My eyes darted over an ordinary hot dog booth nearby and my stomach gave off a demanding rumble.
I sighed. "Well, alright. Might not be the worst idea. Don't you have food in your ship? Or is that not edible for humans?"
"Oh, there is! But it's not the same." The Doctor strode ahead. "Nothing tops the taste of real and honest street food."
"Yeah, but you'll get us into trouble. Stay here. I'll get some."
With that I took out my mask and put it on, giving the Doctor a pointed look that made his mouth drop open as he understood. And I certainly wasn't in the mood to explain anything to anyone. Not that they would believe a word.
Some minutes later I had our food and we enjoyed it while the Doctor brought me back inside the ship, explaining it was now hidden from sight. Something about it being out of sync, whatever that might mean. He then proceeded to open a small latch and pull out some wire, while the other hand held the hot dog. Mine vanished quickly as I watched, curious what he might be planning.
"'m not sure this'll work," he mumbled between bites and had the decency to swallow before continuing. "The TARDIS is telepathic, so I do have some hopes she might… uh… communicate?" He waved a hand at the cables. "I will connect you to her."
"Wha'?" My last bite was forgotten. "Me? Why? How? I… I don't think I can communicate with an alien ship!"
The Doctor's face dropped for a second, but returned quickly to a smile. "She brought me to you. That must mean she can. Probably. Hopefully. We can at least try."
I swallowed and glared at the few crumbs of bread in my hand that I then lay aside. This was crazy. Where had I stumbled into? And why the heck didn't it scare the crap out of me? It was as if the exact opposite was happening. I felt excited and… relieved? A sensation as if I was taking a step forward, after being stuck in one place for too long, as if coming a tiny little bit closer to the solution of a complex puzzle.
"Okay. Do it," I agreed. "I'm curious."
"Ha! That's the spirit!" The alien man grinned from ear to ear, jumped around me and searched for the best possibility to place those wires on me. In the end he simply held them out and made me take them into my hands. "Dunno how that works, myself, honestly. If I could simply talk to the TARDIS I would have long done it. But… eh. Let's just see, yeah?"
I nodded and closed my hands to fists, holding the wires firmly. They felt surprisingly soft between my fingers, silken even and not at all like metal.
"Uh...do I have to do or say something?"
The Doctor shrugged. "I'm not sure. It's the telepathic connector. Usually dangerous to use without modifications, but…" He shut his mouth as he realized what he had just told me.
There was no way to tell if this would harm or even kill me. And I was nothing but a disposable. A random stranger he had picked up. So why bother with safety?
I clenched my fists tighter and closed my eyes. It didn't matter. My thoughts drifted away, my awareness wrapped itself around my perception. Did I feel something new? Was there a foreign sensation?
Open your eyes, little one.
The voice was softly spoken, more a sensation than a sound, like the warm caress of a sunbeam. My lids crept open and instead of the console room I found myself in a completely empty space. But only for some seconds before tiny golden specs started to appear from all around me. Stars. Fireflies. The dust of time.
I held my open palms out, waiting for some of the particles to touch my skin. Each of them tingled the tiniest bit and soon my whole body was vibrating in a way that made me giddy and wrapped me in a warmth only a loving embrace could offer.
You can see, spoke the voice.
"Yeah. It's beautiful. Is that you?"
There was a soft, appreciating hum. Not everyone can see. My thief can't. He was never here.
"Is that why you told him to get me?"
Another hum. We are not here. But I am. I am with you children. Within this world I can speak. I am now the same. I am a thought.
Whenever I took a breath my body relaxed further, the warm light circling me slowly.
"How can I help you?" I wanted to know. "Seeing this can't be enough."
You are connected. You see. You feel. You feel the hearts around you. You sense their joy, their fear and their pain.
My eyes dropped to my feet, a weary sigh escaping my lungs. "I used to think that everyone can do that. And always wondered why they would inflict so much pain to others when it must hurt themselves, too."
But reality was different. Normal people could not sense these things. And they assumed I also could not, because I did not know how to respond to the things I felt, had no knowledge of the accepted social script they were expecting.
You are not broken, my child, the TARDIS hummed softly and the light got denser, filling me with a warmth that almost made me cry. Only the embrace of my father had ever given me such comfort. Only he ever loved me for who I was. No. Not broken at all. You are a light, a little light in all the dark. So lonely. So hurt.
The gold formed into threads, spun around my limbs and my fingers, seeped into the fabric of my clothes and just held me, held me so tight that my chest hurt from all the unspilled tears of decades.
Stay strong, little one. He needs you. They both do. And I need you. I need my thief to be happy. But he can't be happy. He needs his rogue, but he is hurt and lost. And I can't help
I took a shaky breath, trying to stay calm and composed. Never before had anyone needed me, no one had ever given me a reason to keep walking. And now it scared me, because I wasn't sure I could actually do it.
Find my hurting rogue. Guide him out of the darkness. Bring him back to my thief. Open your heart, but don't let his pain consume you.
The lump in my throat seemed to grow with every word and I swallowed it down, straightened and glared into the golden light. The most beautiful thing I had ever seen. My hands carefully waved through the shimmering threads, caressed them tenderly.
"I don't think I can do that," was what I admitted, breathed out as a whisper.
You can try, child of the void. It's all I'm asking of you.
Yeah… I could do that. I could try. Try and move, step by step, one tiny move at the time, further and further until I would reach the warmth of the golden light again.
The TARDIS hummed soothingly, a melody, a song, a lullaby of ancient times. It made my head tired, my limbs heavy. I was held in warm arms, cuddled up against the light.
And when I blinked and found myself back in the console room, when I realized I was sitting on the cold floor, staring up into the Doctor's worried face…
I could still feel the song of the TARDIS in my heart.