Those Meddling Kids

by lurking_latinist [Reviews - 0]

  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, General, Standalone

Author's Notes:
Written for lomelinde in Space Swap 2022. Originally posted to AO3.

“This is incredible,” said Fitz, gaping at the planet around them (Anji privately thought, not very gracefully). “This is it.”

And although she was reluctant to show her awe quite so openly, Anji had to admit she did admire the planet. She’d been concerned for a moment when they first stepped out and she saw the stately mansions set in green parks, the elaborate costumes, and the cobbled streets. She hadn’t particularly enjoyed their previous visits to periods of English history where she was considered an obvious outsider. But then a gang of kids crowded into what was quite obviously a flying car had swooped by, all flashing lights and swooshy noises, and Anji realized that despite the historical styling, this was definitely not the past. As she looked closer, too, she noticed that the hooped skirts and frock coats seemed to be worn with more regard to aesthetics than gender, that the elaborately made-up faces weren't all white or even all human, and that the local fashion seemed to be for eyeshadow and lipstick that literally glowed like LED lights. She wondered if she should feel self-conscious about her own jeans and jacket, selected for practicality over style.

It was an Earth colony, the Doctor said, some incredible number of years (exactly what number he was slightly vague about) into the future, in a post-scarcity society where ubiquitous nanobots, or something, could create anything you wanted in an instant—from fresh grapes to a perfect replica of Michelangelo’s David. They’d created a moneyless society where people devoted themselves to pursuing their chosen aesthetics and lifestyles. “Well, that’s me out of a job then,” she’d said, and the Doctor had reassured her that she needn't worry as everything was truly available for free. Which she hadn’t actually been worried about at all, but was sweet of him.

Fitz was, of course, hugely impressed, and had immediately tried magicking up everything he could think of, only to learn that the nanobots were terribly literal-minded and that there was a crucial and messy difference between “a beer” and “a bottle of beer.” Upon which he had agreed to explore the world a bit and learn how things actually worked. The Doctor seemed equally pleased, as they wandered through the maze of streets, and much brighter than he’d been recently. He was still worryingly pale and thin, but he seemed to have shaken off his recent depression, and she hadn’t heard him coughing once. Perhaps the fresh air was doing him good, she thought, and then scolded herself for cliche.

The streets changed as they walked along—and while Anji thought she meant this expression simply in the sense that they walked from one area where the fashion was for cobblestones and gaslamps to another where everything was marble and gold and another that resembled a flower-speckled forest path, she couldn't entirely shake the feeling that everything around them might have been created mere seconds ago, that perhaps the beautiful extraordinary people pursuing their own business on every side had seen the travellers coming. Or perhaps she was just incurably down-to-earth and a natural pessimist.

"Is it just me, or is this starting to feel a little creepy?" said Fitz.

Okay, maybe it wasn't just her natural pessimism.

Then they turned a corner and the Doctor said, "Oh dear," and she knew that they were once again in for real trouble.

This whole area was cheerful cottages, which made the sinister mansion particularly stand out. Anji thought it looked like a cartoon haunted house.

"There's some kind of psychic disturbance centered in that house," whispered the Doctor, one arm each around Fitz and Anji.

"Psychic disturbance?" said Fitz. "Wait, don't tell me. You can just sense it."

"Exactly," said the Doctor, apparently pleased.

"So let me guess," Fitz went on. "Your plan is to go in and poke it with a stick?"

"Not a stick," said the Doctor.

Anji sighed and gently removed the Doctor's hand from her shoulder. "No, really. What's the plan?"

"Well, we're going to go in—"

"Knew it," Fitz groaned.

"—and see if we can help."

Anji had not only a logical mind but a fairly good sense of distance. So she was decidedly confident when, after perhaps fifteen minutes of creeping through cobwebbed hallways full of shadowed nooks and broken knick-knacks one could never quite focus on, she whispered to the Doctor, "We've gone further than the house should be able to hold."

"You live in the TARDIS and this surprises you?" he said.

"Yeah, but this isn't a TARDIS," said Fitz. "Is it? They shouldn't be around."

"It could be for all we know," said the Doctor, smiling. "Or it could be any of a dozen related spacetime phenomena. My current theory is that it's a dimensional instability created by contact between related but incompatible universes."

"Oh," said Fitz. "Right."

Despite the dimensional instability, the Doctor seemed to have a sense of where he was going. He put his hand to his head every so often, grimacing, and Anji asked if he had a headache. "No," he said, "shh. I'm listening." Then he led them to a place where two hallways met—Anji was certain it was two hallways, so it should have four exits—yet somehow there were five. She couldn't see five all at once, but there were definitely five total, and apparently suffering another attack of what he insisted wasn't a headache, the Doctor led them down the most impossible of the five passages. This went on, and Anji became increasingly unsure of time and space.

"This is weirder than the TARDIS," she whispered to Fitz.

"Well, the normal bits of the TARDIS," Fitz responded darkly.

But they followed the Doctor faithfully until finally, gripping his head in both hands, every finger entwined in his wild hair, he led them stumbling into a space. Not a room, as such; she couldn't see walls or a ceiling, and was hesitant to look down for fear she might not see a floor either. But neither was it outdoors; she could feel rather than see that it was not only bounded but quite small. It was simply an Elsewhere.

The Doctor screamed and collapsed to the not-quite-a-floor, limbs twitching.

Fitz immediately crouched beside the Doctor, holding one of his shaking hands and trying to get a coherent response out of him. Anji moved to his other side, but she stayed watchful of their surroundings, even though trying to perceive them made her dizzy. If this was some kind of psychic attack, whatever it was might make a physical move next.

"Come on, let's get out of here," Fitz was saying. "Let's get you back to the TARDIS, you'll feel better there." He tried to put a supporting arm around the Doctor's shoulders, but the Doctor grabbed his other hand and resisted standing up.

"No, I've got to stay here," said the Doctor faintly. "I've almost made contact!"

"Doctor, it's hurting you," said Anji.

"Can't help it," he gasped. Then he went rigid. Fitz, who was still sort of holding him, looked around as if wondering where to put him. But before either of them could decide what to do, he went limp again, drew a deep, ragged breath, and said, "There."

"Where?" said Anji.

"Here!" said the Doctor. "This is Kerranox."

"What is that, a place or a person or—" Fitz demanded.

"It's a place who would like to become a person," said the Doctor, which cleared everything right up, of course.

As if. It took another round of extensive explanations for Anji and Fitz to understand what the Doctor was saying. The room—perhaps the whole house; it wasn't quite clear—was a sentient spacetime, a piece of four-dimensional geometry that could think. Budded off from another universe, but too small to be a universe of its own, it had simply been screaming for help in the form of psychic weirdness.

"I've given it a strand of biodata to stabilize its existence," said the Doctor, "but long-term it will need a physical manifestation."

"Right," said Fitz blankly. "Wait, isn't biodata—isn't that your life? Have you changed your past just now?"

"Well, it's not as if I was doing anything with my past, is it?" said the Doctor reasonably. "Anyway—" He fell silent, then started muttering. Anji and Fitz both moved to catch him if he fell, but he simply stood stock-still and kept—it was more than muttering, it was almost chanting. With his eyes closed, his long, solemn face tense, and his hands held stiffly out, she was irresistibly reminded of a wizard chanting spells. At last he opened his eyes and, in a whirlwind of movement, the house fell apart around them.

Anji grabbed the Doctor's and Fitz's hands and tried to run. Fitz was also running but the Doctor still wouldn't move. Then she realized that the house wasn't falling in on them; it was dissolving into its constituent nanoparticles and reforming into—

"A Muppet?" she said. The orange furry figure was moving around, as if testing out its new arms and legs, its goggle eyes and flapping mouth.

"That's the form Kerranox chose from my memories!" the Doctor said excitedly. "See, they tried being a house, because they had all this geometry that had to go somewhere, but the form didn't allow for a mind. Now they have a form capable of containing a mind." He paused. "It's not a Muppet on the inside, of course."

"So where'd the geometry go, then?" said Fitz.

"Inside!" said the Doctor. "Just like anyone else—all the extra dimensions are folded up inside them."

"Doctor," said Anji slowly, "most people have the same number of dimensions inside as outside."

"That's what you think," said the Doctor. Anji just shook her head.

They wished Kerranox goodbye and good luck, and they set off for the TARDIS. On the one hand, the sense of creeping weirdness had gone away; on the other hand, the Doctor had yet again led them all into danger and subjected himself to insane personal risks, and was even now leaning on Fitz's arm trying to catch his breath. But—and Anji decided this was probably the crucial thing for him—they'd done something good, and he seemed happy. She would take it as a moment when they could all be happy.