In the process of discovering the universe for herself, Jenny’s acquired a baby daughter. It doesn’t matter how—maybe she had a relationship, maybe her husband’s a character in this fic, maybe she cloned herself in the fine old family tradition. But she continues on saving planets and whatnot like any multi-tasking mum.
(Jenny wants to give her baby a meaningful name. Gallifrey means nothing to her: it never had the chance to. And she won’t hang the burden of a whole planet’s memory on such a tiny person. And she wouldn’t know a Gallifreyan name if she heard one anyway. She thinks of Donna, the Earth woman who named her, who spoke to her like a person for the very first time. If she’d ever had a mother, maybe her mother would’ve been a bit like Donna. ‘best baby names from old earth,’ she types into space Google.)
I don’t know exactly what adventure Jenny is busy with, and it doesn’t really matter. But she’s in a tight spot. She’s not sure she’s getting out of this one—and there’s only one escape pod. It’s one of those ones that holds you in stasis until someone rescues you. She herself is honor-bound to stay and protect the station or the city or the scientific base, or she’s injured, or perhaps it’s just that the pod can only take one person however small they are, depending on how angsty you want the story to be.
So Jenny has only one way of keeping her little daughter safe. Heartbroken, terrified, telling herself she’s doing the right thing however much it hurts, she wraps her up and kisses her goodbye and tucks her into the escape capsule alone. She has just time to scrawl a short, not all that informative note before she launches the capsule towards what she hopes is safety.
(I hope she’s heard the story of baby Moses, somewhere on her travels. Stories help.)
Maybe the capsule lets you set rough coordinates in space and time, and she deliberately sends her baby to the past, to a safer time in the universe’s history. Maybe it’s sheer coincidence that the Gallifreyan agents who find the capsule come from an earlier point in its timeline. Maybe Gallifrey’s timeline is truly untethered from that of the rest of the universe and none of these maybes make sense.
In any case, the capsule ends up in the hands of the Time Lords of an earlier period: long before the Time War, before Pandora’s Civil War, before Flavia’s presidency or Borusa’s, before the Sontaran invasion, before the Article Seventeen crisis, before the War Chief scandal even. Inside this alien artifact they find a baby of their own species (or, depending on how you started this story, even more shocking to a bunch of xenophobes like the Time Lords: half their own species), too young to explain herself, and a note which doesn’t explain all that much either.
This is my daughter Susan, says the note, in quick scratchy handwriting or perhaps a breathless voice recording. I daren’t say too much about us, because of timelines.
(“Get the Coordinator in here,” says the highest-ranking Time Lord in the room to the stone-faced guard by the door, as soon as she hears the word timelines.)
But if you have any way of contacting the Time Lord known as the Doctor, tell him this is his granddaughter. Tell him if ever he kept anyone safe, keep her safe. Tell her I love her more than worlds.
The mother didn’t dare sign her name. (Because of timelines.)
The foundling child is a nine days’ wonder in the Capitol. There’s an earlier, more ruthless era, and also a later, more paranoid era, when she would have been vanished away as soon as that Coordinator laid eyes on her. But these—these are proud and complacent Time Lords, so confident of their unshakable position in the universe and the inherent worthiness of their kind that they can say: look at the readings. Look at her genetics, look at her biodata. Whatever else she is, she’s one of us. Give her a chance.
So they give her a chance, if sending this tiny scrap of a thing into a state nursery is a chance. And with her genetic tests, they quickly identify the Time Lord named in the note: recent Academy graduate, Prydonian, good House but no influence, poor academic record, couple of minor infractions, lately been getting a reputation as an interventionist and general hell-raiser under—yes, under the name of “the Doctor.”
The appropriate authorities call him into their office. Furious, haughty, indignant, he swears by every artifact in Rassilon’s toolbox that he has no idea where the girl could have come from. He’s never heard of any Susan, he’s never Loomed a child, he’s certainly never had a child off Gallifrey.
Well, of course he’s heard of people called Susan, he studied old Earth for his thesis in the Academy. Yes, that means he’s interested in alien civilizations. No, that doesn’t mean he’s “just the type” that would have an alien lover, who would have a child, who would have a child of her own, who would be the fragile dark-haired bundle whose image they’re showing him on a screen.
They check his biodata against all the records, and they finally agree that his only trip offworld was a youthful escapade some decades ago, which has already been observed, investigated, and punished. There’s no way he could be responsible. The child is inexplicable, and he’s free to go. He’ll live down the gossip eventually, the authorities assure him.
But he’s seen her now, he’s seen her, and he’s changed his line of argument. What will become of her? he asks, badly feigning carelessness. She’s a ward of the State, they say; they’ll make a guard of her, perhaps, or an attendant. To his ears, they’re sentencing her to endless centuries of drudgery, binding her forever to the Capitol’s cold halls, and the sentence falls as heavily on his heart as if it were his own.
“She’s mine,” he says. “I don’t know how she came to be but she’s mine. You saw the note, you saw the scans. I’ll be responsible for her. I’ll talk round the Keeper of my House, I’ll get her a place in the Academy. She’s mine, not yours and not Gallifrey’s.”
No, they say. He made his first case too well. If he’s innocent of her parentage, he has no claim to her.
Well, he’s never reacted well to being told no. He argues for her in private and pleads for her in public. He tells the authorities just how stupid they are. He visits her whenever he’s allowed, holds her and spends hours telling her stories. When he runs out of the fairy tales of his own rather grim childhood, he tells her Earth stories. Thanks to his research, they come easily to his mind. He teaches her to call him Grandfather, ridiculous as the title sounds on a man of so few centuries.
He mounts a one-man publicity campaign, interrupting meetings and chasing down officials in hallways to make his case. He tries to enlist his old classmates; a lot of his remaining friendships end this way. He makes such a public spectacle of himself that even Runcible the Fatuous, currently sailing through young adulthood in a muffling cloud of self-absorption, remembers a sort of a kind of a version of it. He gets colder and colder letters from the Keeper of his House. But Susan remains a ward of the State.
(Elsewhere in the Capitol, an ambitious junior clerk is assuring his colleagues, with dishonesty so bold it’s almost convincing, that he’s got nothing to do with any of this scandal, and they must be thinking of a different Lungbarrow or something. But deciding it would be wise to keep himself out of sight for a while, he quietly applies for a post in the ambassadorial corps.)
Susan grows faster than her grandfather could’ve imagined. She’s a quiet child, slow to trust any of her caregivers and not popular with the few unfortunate children—orphans without the support of their Houses, for one complex reason or another—who share the creche with her. She’s only happy when she’s by his side, one little hand clinging to his scarlet robe. A possessive part of him, for which he won’t learn to feel guilty until much later, is glad that she only trusts him. He’s all she’s got. He feels the same way about her.
One day, he comes to visit her with an unusually serious air. He maneuvers around the caregivers and the other children and manages to get himself and her alone together. He disables the camera in the corner of the ceiling with a practiced jerk of a few wires. “It’ll look like a mechanical fault, eh?” he says with a twinkle in his eye when he sees her watching.
Then he tells her that she’s about to reach the age when they’re going to decide her future. He tells her of the life she might have, the life her legal guardians think she ought to have: standing decade-in and decade-out in red and gilt, carrying a deadly staser she’ll never use, protecting the President from imaginary attacks, her highest ambition a feathered helmet. Or fetching and carrying obediently whenever one of the Time Lords demands a fresh gown or a drink or a back-up circuit board. Or in traffic control, relaying endless empty messages between alien death fleets and the soap-bubble cities whose word they respect. Is that what she wants?
She shakes her head no.
Or if she’s very lucky, she might manage to get the life his guardians thought he ought to have: years in the Academy, learning about the universe, then centuries in the archives, never touching it. And if you’re very very good, and live till you’ve forgotten anything you ever knew, you’ll end up on the High Council, making decisions for this whole timeline. (She can hear the bitterness in his voice.) He can’t promise it even if she does, he says, but is that what she wants?
She shakes her head no again.
He tells her about the Outsiders, rebels against the system, who prove their worthiness to each other through strength and toughness. She looks down at her body, small for her age, and thinks of her place in the little hierarchy of her peer group. And before her grandfather can even ask, she shakes her head no once more.
“Then I don’t think you belong on Gallifrey,” he says, and tears well up in her eyes—she won’t cry, she won’t—only that’s what one of the bigger kids told her, when he’d overheard two of the adults gossiping, and he’d eaten her supper right off of her plate because he’d said she was a filthy alien and she hadn’t any right to it, and even Taya who usually sort of liked her didn’t play with her for almost a week, and now Grandfather is saying—and oh, no, she’s going to wail—
“No, no, no,” he’s saying, nervously, and she hears him whisper as if to himself, “she’s still so small!” He bends over to look her in the eye. “Gallifrey doesn’t deserve you, my dear,” he says, with a rare warmth that quenches her sobs. “And you deserve the universe. Susan,” he says, more hesitantly than she’s ever heard him do anything, “what would you say if we went away from Gallifrey? If we went out to see other planets?” She’s staring wide-eyed. “It would be just you and me. And we couldn’t come back. But they don’t appear to like us here very much, and I don’t think we like them either.”
He hasn’t even finished before she’s clasped his hands, a smile on her intense little face, and a matching smile grows on his. “Of course I want to go!” she says. “Let’s go now,” and it’s one of the moments when he easily believes she really is, somehow, a child of his blood.
“Right then,” he says, and they laugh like two children together, “are you ready to run when I give the word?”
She nods yes.
He pulls a series of levers by the door—fire alarm, medical alarm, temporal alarm—takes Susan’s hand, and cries “Run!” So in the midst of a cacophony of noise and flashing lights, Time Lords and guards and administrators running hither and thither in pursuit of a fictitious disaster, the Doctor and his granddaughter make their first escape together towards the TARDIS bays.
(He was awfully well-prepared, she notices. He must have been sure of her answer. He knows the route by heart, and he’s got a big bag in his other hand. She wonders what he packed.)
“Will we go to Earth?” she says as they run. “Will we meet aliens? Will we meet my mother?”
“Of course,” he says, and doesn’t say which question he’s answering.
By the time they slip into the unlocked time-travel capsule and coax it into flight, she’s forgotten to ask again.