The Unravelling

by ElsieMcC [Reviews - 0]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure

The Unravelling

“What are you making?”

Tegan finished counting her stitches, then looked at the Doctor, who was regarding her with one eye from under the brim of his hat.

“I thought you were asleep,” she replied, putting her knitting down beside her on the blanket.

“No, just resting my eyes,” said the Doctor, removing the hat and hitching himself up on one elbow, “and you haven’t answered my question.”

“I’m not sure.”

“You’re not sure?” the Doctor raised his eyebrows in exaggerated disbelief.

“Well, it might be a scarf,” said Tegan, trying not to rise to the Doctor’s teasing, “but I just enjoy the process, really. It’s relaxing.”

“Ah, knitting for the sake of knitting,” replied the Doctor, lying down again and picking up his hat, “I see.” He was about to replace the hat over his face when he paused and asked, “where’s Turlough?”

“Sketching. He’s down there by the lake.”

The Doctor raised his head. The lake was a hundred or so yards away, but he could see the white of Turlough’s shirt and the red of his hair standing out against the green of the grass. Satisfied that his young companion was safely occupied, the Doctor leaned back once again and sighed. It had been his idea to come to here. The last adventure had been hard on the bodies and minds of him and his crew, and he felt that they all deserved a bit of rest and relaxation. The planet Conexos, largely rural and notably peaceful, had seemed like the perfect destination, and, so far, the visit had been a success. The landscape was calming to the eye and soothing to the spirit, the inhabitants of the nearby village of Laineux had welcomed the TARDIS crew and the town market had provided excellent food and drink. All in all, thought the Doctor as he closed his eyes, this had been one of his better ideas.

Tegan was about to pick up her knitting again when something caught her eye. She stared at the sky, then nudged the Doctor.

“Doctor, wake up, something’s happening,” she said, a hint of anxiety in her voice.

“Mph?”

“Doctor!”

Reluctantly, the Doctor sat up and asked, “what is it?”

Tegan pointed towards the lake. “Look at the clouds. Is that normal for here?”

The Doctor followed her gaze. Either side of the lake, the clouds seemed still, but, over it they boiled and seemed to be splitting in opposite directions. The Doctor stood up and began to walk down the hill, murmuring, “how interesting.” Tegan followed, the relaxation she had felt evaporating as she went. Experience had taught her that things that the Doctor called ‘interesting’ were frequently dangerous. As if to confirm this impression, she heard a shout and saw Turlough waving urgently. She quickened her pace and caught up with the Doctor, whose expression had changed from interest to concern.

When they reached the lake, they found Turlough standing by a tree, looking down at the grass. Tegan gasped. The grass on one side of the tree was green and lush, on the other, in a strip that broadened as she looked at it, it was grey and brown, withering before their eyes. Turlough drew back, shivering. He looked at the Doctor and said, “It just started, I looked at the lake and saw the clouds, and then there was noise, like wind, but I couldn’t feel it, and then I saw…” he broke off as the Doctor looked up at the tree.

“Doctor?” said Tegan.

“Hmm? Yes, very odd, very odd indeed.”

Tegan looked up, and stepped back, pulling Turlough with her. Whatever had affected the grass was also affecting the tree. On one side, the leaves were green, on the other, brown and withered. As they watched, the trunk began to warp and split, seemingly pulled by an invisible force. Turlough stepped back again and said, uncertainly, “Doctor?”

The Doctor turned to his companions and said, “ah, yes. Run?” and set off up the hill towards the TARDIS. Halfway up the slope, Turlough turned to look towards the lake, but was yanked almost off his feet by Tegan, who having glanced back, shouted “Come ON!” She had seen something that frightened her more than the clouds and the tree. The ground behind them seemed to be falling away. No sound, no upheaval or tremors, just quietly vanishing into blackness in a widening void that followed them from the lake. They had almost reached the TARDIS and were steeling themselves for a last dash when the Doctor shouted, “Keep back!” Tegan and Turlough stopped and watched, aghast, as the darkness that had pursued them overtook them. One moment the TARDIS was there, standing solidly on the grass, the next it was gone. There was no sound, it didn’t seem to sink, or to be swallowed by the void, it simply disappeared. The Doctor put his hands on his companions shoulders and pulled them further back. The darkness spread, then seemed to settle. A large, oval void, almost as big as the lake. On the far side, Tegan could just see the strip of withered grass, which was extending into the distance. For a moment, nobody spoke. Saying that the TARDIS had gone seemed painfully obvious and unnecessary. Finally, Tegan asked, “Doctor, what happened? I mean, what was that?”

The Doctor didn’t reply. He walked to the edge of the void and took out his sonic screwdriver. He crouched down, close to the edge and scanned the air, then turned back, frowning.
“Well?” asked Turlough, a hint of his old, querulous manner creeping into his voice. He had been badly frightened, though he wouldn’t have admitted it. The Doctor looked at him, almost in surprise. He put the sonic screwdriver back in his pocket and said, “it’s nothing.”

Tegan knew the Doctor would explain, but she was frightened too, and her fear made her preempt him. “What do you mean, it’s nothing? The TARDIS is gone!”

The Doctor walked past his companions, then turned towards them again. He had been as shaken as they had by what had just happened, but he knew they were depending on him. He breathed in, trying to stay calm.

“It really is nothing. A void. A gap in reality. I scanned the breach and there is literally nothing there.”

“But, can we get the TARDIS back?” asked Turlough, appalled. “If that’s a gap in reality, where has it gone?”

“Into the void.”

“And what about the tree, and the grass?”

“I don’t know yet,” said the Doctor, slowly, “but we will need to find out. I suggest we go back to Laineux. Someone there may be able to help us, and we need to warn them in any case.”

With that, he set off towards the town at a brisk pace, leaving his companions trailing in his wake. As they walked, Tegan asked Turlough, “how did it start? You said it was like wind moving in the grass?”

“Yes, I didn’t feel any breeze, but the grass just started to move, and then I saw that it was withering away and… I was leaning against the tree…” he gestured back the way they had come and Tegan gasped.

“What?” asked Turlough, alarmed at her expression.

“Your.. your hand,” replied Tegan.

The Doctor, realising that they had stopped, turned and came back. He found Turlough holding out one arm, while Tegan examined his hand, turning it to look at the palm. Before the Doctor could ask what was happening, Tegan said, “Doctor, look at this. Something’s happened to his arm.”

The Doctor took Tegan’s place and Turlough held out his hand. The Doctor saw in an instant what Tegan had meant. The skin on the hand was loose and wrinkled, and spotted with freckles. The joints of the wrist and fingers were enlarged, the fingers bent as if with great age. Gently, the Doctor tried to straighten one of the fingers and Turlough exclaimed in pain.
“Sorry,” the Doctor let go and pushed Turlough’s sleeve up from his wrist. As with the hand, the wrist joint was distended and the skin seemed thin and papery. Turlough backed away from the Doctor, clutching his wrist.

“What is it? What’s happening to me?” he asked, his eyes wide with fear.

The Doctor considered, his hand on his chin.

“Where exactly were you when the changes started?” he asked.

“I was sitting on the grass, leaning against the tree.”

“And what did you do when you noticed something was happening? Tell me exactly what you did.”

“I...” Turlough paused, then went on, “I turned and looked, then I got up and called out.”

“Show me.”

“What?”

“Show me how you got up.”

“Doctor,” put in Tegan, “shouldn’t we be getting...”

“Just a moment, Tegan,” said the Doctor, putting his hand on her arm, “Show me, Turlough. Imagine that the tree is behind you and show me how you got up.”

Turlough sat down and looked at the Doctor.

“Good. Now, you’ve noticed the grass is changing and...” as he spoke, Turlough put his hand on the ground and, wincing, got to his feet.

“He touched the ground,” said Tegan.

“Am I infected?” asked Turlough, now even more frightened. “Is it... is it going to spread?”

“I hope not,” replied the Doctor, “and I don’t think you’re infected, I think it might be more complicated than that...” He broke off and began to walk quickly.

“Then what is it?” asked Tegan, glancing at Turlough, who was following them slowly, holding his wrist.

“I’m not sure. But I think Turlough might have accidentally put his hand in an accelerating time stream.” Seeing Tegan’s expression, he sighed and went on, “The grass by the lake is going through time more quickly than the grass here. Look,” he pointed back towards the lake. Where the grass had once been was an extending strip of darkness. Beyond it, the grass continued to wither and the leaves on the trees turned brown and dropped.

“Time is running away. When Turlough put his hand down, his arm was caught and it has aged.”

“Will it get worse? And what about the rest of him?”

“I can hear you, you know,” grumbled Turlough.

“I hope not, now he is out of the stream,” the Doctor quickened his pace, as if to distance himself from his companions’ questions.

By now, they had reached Laineux and the Doctor headed for the village square. The daily market was underway, and the calls of the stallholders filled the air. At first glance, the village looked like a rural community divorced from modernity. The market stalls offered a selection of fresh foods and products that appeared to have been crafted rather than mass produced. A closer look, however, revealed some apparent anachronisms. For instance, most of the houses surrounding the village square had aerials attached to their tiled roofs, and more than one of the citizens carried mobile communication devices. Tegan had asked if the villagers were reenacting scenes from the past, but the Doctor had told her that Laineux was an example of modern technology being incorporated into a more traditional way of life. The cities of Conexos were larger and, arguably, more advanced, but a decision had been made in many regions to make use of the advantages of technology without completely abandoning their rural traditions. The use of geothermal and hydroelectric power production, harnessing the flow of rivers and rapids to produce power but without building large dams or damaging the natural sources, had helped to prevent pollution, as had the early development of transporter beam technology, which had reduced reliance on fueled vehicles. Tegan had listened to the Doctor’s explanation with interest, but had decided that, while she enjoyed the quietness of the area for a break, she was a city girl at heart, and would begin to miss the faster pace of life if she stayed too long. Now, she followed the Doctor as he made his way through the square, in search of someone to tell about what they had just witnessed. She paused and looked round as she heard her name being called, then waved to a young woman of about her age, who was standing behind a stall laden with yarn and crafting materials.

“Who’s that?” asked Turlough.

“That’s Nariade. I bought some yarn from her the other day and we got chatting. It was her that I had lunch with yesterday while you and the Doctor were on your walk, remember? Her and her sister.”

“Oh, right,” Turlough shrugged and walked on. Looking ahead, he could see that the Doctor had found the Mayor outside an inn, and he hurried to catch up.

The Mayor of Laineux, Ser. Stricknadel, a tall, heavily built man with a rubicund face and a cheerful expression, was sitting on a bench in front of the inn, enjoying a pint of cider in the sunshine. When the Doctor approached, he raised his glass in greeting, then, as he noticed the Doctor’s serious expression, he got up from the bench and asked “Doctor, is all well?”

“I’m afraid not,” said the Doctor, in a low voice, “is there somewhere we can talk? Something alarming is happening by the lake and we will need to warn people about it, but I don’t want to cause a panic.”

For a moment, the Mayor looked startled, but he recovered quickly and said, “of course, come to my office, all of you, we will speak there.”

The Mayor ushered his unexpected guests towards the other side of the square, where a half-timbered building bore the words “Town Hall” above the door. Once inside the Mayor led the way to his office and closed the door behind his visitors. He sat down behind his desk, and gestured to the others to sit down.

“Now, Doctor,” he said, “Tell me all.”

The Doctor began to describe what they had witnessed earlier, the strange effects on the trees and the grass, the opening of the void and the disappearance of the TARDIS. He glanced at Turlough as he spoke, but decided not to mention the mysterious ageing of his companion’s arm. The Mayor listened in silence. Tegan watched him as the Doctor spoke. His expression was hard to read, but she had the feeling that the news, while startling, was not exactly a surprise to him. Had it happened before? The Doctor finished his account and looked at the Mayor expectantly. The Mayor was silent for a moment. He stood up and paced backwards and forwards across the office, one hand on his chin. After the third crossing, he turned to the Doctor.

“Well, Doctor, this is indeed unexpected news. You were right to bring it to me. I must summon the council and take steps to protect my villagers. If you will come with me, all of you.” He led the way out of the office and up a flight of stairs, then opened the door of a room off the landing. “If you could wait in here, I will summon the council and we will discuss the matter.”

Unsuspecting, the TARDIS crew filed into the room, only for the door to close behind them, followed by the sound of the lock engaging and a bolt being drawn across. The Doctor banged on the door, shouting “what are you doing? Let us out!”

“I’m sorry Doctor, I truly am,” replied Stricknadel, “But I cannot risk you spreading this matter abroad.”

“But the village is in danger!”

“I do not believe so. Incidents like this have occurred in the past. The danger is localised and will be mitigated as best we can. I regret the loss of your ship, I truly do, but there is nothing we can do to help. The danger will pass, I cannot have a panic created.”

“But you can’t keep us in here!” shouted Turlough, “you must let us out some time!”

“And I will,” replied the Mayor, “but not before the area is secured. You must understand my position. I need to take steps to mitigate the danger, and I will, but in the meantime, you must stay here. Please, lower your voices,” as Tegan joined the others in shouting, “it will accomplish nothing. I will release you as soon as it is politic to do so.”

His prisoners heard his footsteps echo on the tiled floor as he walked away and looked at each other. Turlough slid down the door to the floor and cradled his aged arm in his lap.

“So that’s it, then,” he said, gloomily.

“Not necessarily,” replied the Doctor, “a temporary setback, I hope.”

“I hope so too!” said Tegan, tartly, “Much good telling the authorities did us. And what did he mean by ‘the danger will pass’? Will the hole close up? What about the TARDIS?”

The Doctor crouched down next to Turlough and began to examine the door, putting on his glasses to do so. “I don’t know,” he said, softly, “and that worries me. But first things first, we need to get out of here.” The Doctor took out his sonic screwdriver and began to adjust the settings. Turlough, partially roused from his gloom, looked up. “Can you disable the lock?”
“If I can find the right frequency,” said the Doctor, “I should be able to. The bolt may be more of a problem.”

“All the benefits of technology while preserving the traditions,” said Tegan, bitterly.

“Quite,” replied the Doctor, “Now, if I can just…” the sonic screwdriver buzzed and the lock clicked. The Doctor smiled, briefly, then crossed the room and picked up a chair that stood in the far corner. He took it over to the door and clambered up, then began to scan a point about two thirds of the way up the door with the sonic screwdriver.

“What are you doing?” asked Tegan.

“Trying to see if I can magnetise the bolt from in here,” replied the Doctor, without turning to look at her. “Otherwise, lock or no lock, we are still stuck.”

He continued to scan with the screwdriver. Tegan sat down on the floor next to Turlough and put her arm round his shoulders. Another time he might have shaken her off, but, just now, he was grateful for her unspoken sympathy. The next moment, they both jumped as there was a knock at the door, and a voice from the other side said, “Tegan?”

Tegan and Turlough looked at each other in surprise, then Tegan answered, “Yes?”

“It’s me,” the voice continued, “Ennelle.”

Now she had had a chance to think, Tegan recognised the voice and the name. Ennelle was Nariade’s sister. They had met the previous day when Tegan had joined the young stallholder for lunch. She remembered that Ennelle had said that she worked at the Town Hall. Would she help them?

Putting her face against the door and trying not to speak too loudly, Tegan asked, “Ennelle? Can you undo the bolt?”

“Yes, just a moment.”

The TARDIS crew heard the bolt being drawn back and the Doctor jumped down from the chair and stood back as the door opened, to reveal a woman. She stepped forward and held out her hands to Tegan, who ran forward and gripped them, saying, “Thank you. How did you know we were here?”

“I came in to catch up with some work and I heard him talking to you. He doesn’t know I’m here.” She walked a little way along the corridor and peered round the corner, then turned back, saying “we must go now.”

Tegan, the Doctor and Turlough followed her down the corridor to a staircase at the rear of the building, and then outside by the back door. Once outside, Ennelle led them down a side street, then stopped.

“If you carry on down here, you’ll find the hill path. You need to see Maem Ricott.”

“Maem Ricott?” asked the Doctor, “Who is she?”

“She’s wise, she knows everything that happens,” replied Ennelle, “but the Mayor likes to pretend she doesn’t matter, she offends his modern sensibilities.”

The Doctor was about to set off, but then paused.

“Stricknadel said that this has happened before. Do you remember it?”

“No, but it’s in the records. About 50 years ago, a hole opened up, a great dark gap in the land.”

“What happened?” asked Turlough.

“Over time, the hole closed up and the land was as it had been.”

“So if we wait, might the void close up?” asked Tegan, “What about the TARDIS?”

“I’d rather not take the chance,” replied the Doctor, “so I think we will pay Maem Ricott a visit.
Thank you Ennelle.”

Tegan hugged Ennelle and thanked her, and then ran after the Doctor and Turlough, who were already on their way down the street.

Before long, they found themselves on a narrow path that led towards the hills. The Doctor led the way, striding forward with a confidence that he didn’t entirely feel. He hoped that the wise woman would be able to help, but the loss of the TARDIS had unnerved him and he didn’t much like the idea of hanging around for years on the off-chance that it might turn up again. Tegan and Turlough followed behind, Turlough with his hand in his pocket. He tried not to think about it, but the thoughts wouldn’t go away. Would he be stuck like this? Would it get worse? He shook his head and quickened his pace.

At the end of the path stood a house. The wooden walls and turf roof almost camouflaged it against the hillside. A barn, with a fenced enclosure next to it, stood nearby. As they got closer, Tegan could see a garden in front of the house, with flowers and vegetables intermingled. Chickens clucked and pecked between the plants as the Doctor approached the door and knocked. When a voice from within called, “come in,” he pulled the door open and then stopped on the threshold, with a suddenness that caused Turlough to bump into him. The Doctor moved aside so that his companions could see what had made him stop. The door opened onto a large room, bare of furniture save for a chair. A woman was sitting in the chair, knitting. Her needles seemed to be of ordinary proportions, but the knitting overflowed her lap and spread out, filling the room from corner to corner and lying in folds on the floor. The work glowed with a strange iridescence. As Tegan looked at it, she thought she saw shapes and colours flitting across it, here one moment, gone the next.

The Doctor gazed at the work, then at the woman. The frown which had creased his brow on entering the room cleared and he stepped forward, taking care not to tread on the work.

“Maem Ricott? I’m the Doctor. We have come to seek your help.”

The woman looked up from her work, but did not cease to knit. At first glance she seemed to be of great age. Her hair was white, and her face lined. But her eyes were bright and clear and her voice, when she answered, was light and youthful.

“Come in Doctor, you and your young friends are most welcome. You must excuse me if I continue to work.”

“Oh, of course,” replied the Doctor, “I know that you cannot stop. That would be disastrous.”

Aware that the conversation had moved ahead of her understanding, Tegan nudged Turlough.

“What’s he talking about?” she asked in a low voice.

“The Doctor is a man of knowledge,” said Maem Ricott. Then, as Tegan blushed, “do not fear, child, you have not offended me. My ears are sharper than you imagined. I will tell you, unless your friend would care to explain?”

The Doctor turned to his companions. “Maem Ricott can’t stop knitting because, if she does, there will be serious consequences,” he said. “She isn’t knitting with yarn, you see, but with something much more fragile. He looked down at the work, then said, quietly, “this isn’t a blanket. It’s the fabric of reality.”

Tegan and Turlough said nothing. They seemed hypnotised by the work, by the shimmering knitted swathe of reality laid out before them. Maem Ricott watched them, smiling. The Doctor was looking for something on the surface of the work, and, suddenly, he spotted it. Not far from the chair, a dark hole had formed. The yarn had broken and had begun to unravel away from the hole.

The Doctor, seeing that Maem Ricott’s attention had returned to her knitting, cleared his throat and said, “Maem, I believe you have dropped a stitch.”

The knitter looked down, then tutted in irritation, “Goodness, you are right. How frustrating. The yarn gets thin at times, there must have been a weakness.”

Turlough had been looking at the hole. “That’s the void,” he whispered, “That’s why time ran away.” He raised his voice, and asked, “Can you mend it?”

“I cannot,” was the reply, “I cannot cease for an instant. I am sorry if the unravelling has hurt you, but time will pass and all will be whole again.”

“How?” asked Tegan.

“The knitting will continue and the void will pass out of time, it will gradually be replaced by whole cloth,” explained the Doctor.

“But…” Turlough made as if to step forward, but the Doctor’s hand on his shoulder prevented him. Tegan had been thinking. Cautiously, she made her way along the side of the room, so the knitter could see her better. Having done this, she said, “Maem Ricott, I can knit. Will you let me try and mend the hole? If you have a needle, I could try to thread it through and join the ends. Will you let me try?”
For a moment, Tegan felt as if Maem Ricott was looking inside her mind, but she tried to meet her eyes calmly. The knitter regarded her in silence, then smiled.

“Very well. You will find the needle in my case,” she nodded towards the corner of the room, where Tegan could just make out what looked like a small hold-all partly buried under the knitting, “but take care. You men may go to the hill behind the house and watch. You will be able to see the void from there.”

Rightly interpreting this as an order, the Doctor kept his hand on Turlough’s shoulder and steered him out of the room. Having found a tapestry needle, a crochet hook and a spare pair of knitting needles in the case, Tegan set about finding the end of the damaged yarn. She threaded the ends carefully back through the stitches, trying not to warp the work too much as she went. There was silence in the room, apart from the click of Maem Ricott’s needles. Eventually, Tegan sat back on her heels and sighed. The yarn had been connected and the dropped stitch picked up, as tidily as she could manage. Maem Ricott looked down and smiled again.

“Excellent work,” she said, “You have been well trained, I can see. And now,” as a shout came from outside, “you must join your friends and depart. It’s a shame. I am old and I must find my successor soon.”

Tegan stood in the doorway and gazed at the room and the woman on the chair. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like to spend an eternity in that space, knitting together the reality of the world around her. She shivered and, as if she had read Tegan’s thoughts, Maem Ricott said,

“No, don’t worry, dear, I won’t trap you. Join your friends and be on your way.”

Blushing, Tegan went out, leaving Maem Ricott still smiling. Outside, the Doctor and Turlough were waiting.

When Tegan emerged, Turlough rushed towards her, saying excitedly, “You did it! We watched and the land came back and, look!” he held out his hands. Tegan looked down at them and saw that the aged skin and gnarled joints had vanished, Turlough’s hands matched each other again. She took them in hers and asked, “And the TARDIS?”

“The TARDIS has returned,” said the Doctor.

“Thank God,” Tegan replied, with feeling.

“Quite,” said the Doctor, “and as the Mayor may still have a bone to pick with us, may I suggest we take our leave?”

His companions made no reply, but set off down the hill. As they walked, the Doctor and Turlough told Tegan how they had seen the land come back to life. First the grass had rejuvenated, then the trees, and then the void had faded and the land had reemerged, as green as it had been before. Then, suddenly, the TARDIS had reappeared. When they reached the place where the void had been, Tegan stopped. She felt almost afraid to step on the ground, in case it gave way under her. The Doctor, sensing her reluctance, strode ahead and unlocked the TARDIS door, saying in his breeziest manner, “Come on! Nothing to worry about!”

Turlough, who had followed him, said “Come ON Tegan,”

and Tegan, trying not to show how nervous she was, walked over the grass and into the TARDIS.

The Doctor hung up his coat on the hatstand and busied himself with the controls. As Tegan came in, he asked, “Well, where to now?”

Tegan thought for a moment, then said, “I’m not sure. I don’t know about you, Doctor, but I think I’ve had enough relaxation to last me for quite a while, so perhaps we’d better avoid ‘peaceful’ planets?”

“Yes,” replied the Doctor, “yes I see what you mean.” He made some final adjustments and the console sprang into life with the familiar sound that heralded dematerialization.

Turlough looked at Tegan and raised his eyebrows. “Well,” he said, resignedly, “here we go again.”