Chapter 34: Zero
Jacques Luminere was relaxed. In recent times, he had reacquainted himself with the pipe of dried herbs he enjoyed in the old days, and he thought naught of blazing up in the Doctor’s TARDIS while he waited in the pink haze of the Zero room for the Time Lord to return.
Surrounded by a cloud of spicy smoke, he reclined in a large wicker chair, the colonial majesty of which had once seated the White Guardian himself, according to the Doctor.
The Zero room had indistinct boundaries, and the scent of rose petals hung in its cool air like moisture after a thunderstorm. Luminere’s wicker chair was placed about three feet from a black, cylindrical object topped with a series of control dials and a flat-screened viewing sphere. The Miniscope. The polished heels of Luminere’s riding boots rested upon the central control panel at the front of the machine. His green bell-bottomed breeches were embroidered with red jellyfish, and the ancient wool sweater he wore was striped in faded bands of blue and white. Luminere was asleep, his pipe drooping beneath his grey handlebar moustache, dipping lower and lower until it emptied its glowing embers finally upon his navel.
With a shriek like a demented pterodactyl, Luminere went leaping across the floor of the Zero room with both hands a-flutter at his abdomen. Simultaneously, the Miniscope came to life with a shuddering roar like a helicopter preparing for takeoff. A blinding strobe of white light suddenly filled the space which had been so peaceful mere moments prior. Luminere, unaware of the Zero room’s localized gravity feature, found himself elevated by panic as though lifted by the hand of god herself, and he was spinning and screaming thus as the Miniscope’s miniaturization field blasted the Doctor, Greta and Mr.Charisma into the TARDIS.
As the flashing and shuddering ceased, a high wine pervaded the air, piercing, seemingly without end. The Doctor clamped a hand over Greta’s mouth. The maddening frequency concluded. As he slowly removed his hand, he saw Greta’s wide-mouthed grin. A trail of saliva led from the child’s mouth to his palm in a snottery bridge.
“That was amaaaaaaaaaazing!” she announced. “Can we do it again?”
Staring at his hand, the Doctor shook his head. Charisma passed him a red spotted handkerchief. “We’ve arrived,” he said. “I won’t have long, Doctor.”
The Doctor waved around. “Zero room,” he said.
Charisma nodded. “Very well. Take your time. Luminere! Come down from there, you moron.”
“Take a seat,” said the Doctor. Demonstrating, he reclined as though upon an invisible chair. Catching Greta’s look, he nodded his encouragement. “It’s not a trick.”
Following his example, Greta leaned back hesitantly, arms extended behind her to guard against a fall that never came. Like the Doctor, she too was now seated upon thin air. Charisma followed suit, as did Luminere, who had been restored to sanity.
The Doctor cleared his throat. “Introductions, first. Greta, this is Colonel Jacques Luminere, President and Commander-in-Chief of the Twin System, Sarcasmic Five and Psyllium Husk… and this – “ he gestured to the one-legged pirate lookalike –“This is the Time Lord known as Charisma.”
“Mister Charisma,” Luminere corrected.
Ignoring this, the Doctor turned to Greta, who became aware that the other two men were staring at her intently. Shifting uncomfortably, she looked to the Doctor.
“This girl is not my daughter, Doctor. This isn’t Ejhra,” said Charisma. Greta’s eyes darted between him and the Doctor.
“Not anymore,” said the Doctor. “You’re half-right. She’s something even better.”
Luminere tried to remember his own family. He had been adopted, and had no recollection of his own parents, or any cognizance of any other relatives. He had been raised by the army since his early teenage years. The story unfolding before him now was new to the sphere of his experience. In all the years of their friendship, Mr. Charisma had barely spoken of his daughter, not even in the time following Luminere’s absorption into the microcosm of the Miniscope. When it became apparent that Charisma was either unwilling or unable to restore Luminere to the outside world without assistance, he had outsourced his presidential duties to Salvatore, the closest thing he had to an heir and a brother, and the man continued to rule Psyllium Husk and Sarcasmic Five in the spirit of true pragmatism while Luminere teamed up with Charisma to tackle, and eventually break free of, the Miniscope’s time-loop function. Reasoning that every universe is nestled within something larger, Luminere grew accustomed to the safety of life within the controlled duplicate habitat, and attached to the company of the elderly Time Lord imprisoned therein. When he received word from the Doctor of his intended visit, Luminere knew that his life was going to change for good.
“I’m not Ejhra. I’m not her! I’m me!”
Greta’s hands were balled into fists by her side. She was crying softly.
Charisma looked to the Doctor, who touched Greta’s shoulder.
“You’ve just regenerated for the first time,” he said. “It will all come back to you. You were aboard the TARDIS for many, many years. Sleeping for almost all of it. It was how we saved your life.”
Greta wiped at her eyes. “But I remember… I remember my mother…”
Charisma glanced at the Doctor. “How is the Lady Romana, Doctor?”
“Blowing up entire civilizations to see what happens, as far as I’m aware,” said the Doctor. “And you, Charisma – you’ve been in that Miniscope for centuries.” He gestured toward the hazy outline of the Zero room doors. “You should take a walk in the real world. You might be surprised to find you don’t fall apart as expected. Greta – listen to me, please.”
The child looked up.
“I thought my real name was Ej-h-ra,” she mumbled.
“You introduced yourself to me as Greta,” said the Doctor. “Maybe that’s what your Time Lord name will be? You picked it.”
“Why is he here?” she asked suddenly, pointing at Luminere. Luminere looked hurt. “I thought he was some sort of… evil guy, a dictator, or something?”
“Colonel Luminere acts as my lawyer,” said Charisma. “Even Time Lords need documents drawn up by professionals sometimes. That, and, well, the Miniscope doesn’t have a remote control. He stayed here to help.”
Luminere produced a brown weathered briefcase. “I am also his friend,” he said simply, unfastening the brass fastener on the case. He withdrew a sheet of paper, upon which sprawled the intricate clockwork of Gallifreyan script. Luminere cast his eyes downward. “And I’m not a bad guy. Not anymore.”
“An infestation of Mara can produce the most terrible thoughts,” said the Doctor. “Your disease was one of despair, Jacques Luminere. You can be happy now. You’ve suffered enough. The Mara have gone.”
Charisma placed a hand upon Luminere’s shoulder. “Thank you, Doctor,” he said. “The paperwork. Please.”
Greta watched as the Doctor rose from his ghost-chair and accepted the Gallifreyan parchment from Jacques Luminere. Before her eyes, the antikytherean clockwork script resolved into luminescent meaning. The document was ancient, an agreement between the Time Lord known as the Doctor and the Time Lord known as Charisma. The Doctor swore a solemn oath to act as guardian, protector and surgeon-in-chief to his sole daughter and heir, Ejhra of the Mill Lands, until the time of her first stable regeneration, or her death.
The Doctor produced a quill from inside his coat, and signed his Gallifreyan name upon the scroll.
“You are released, my friend,” said Charisma. “Thank you.”
“Daddy,” said the Time Lady known as Greta, filled suddenly with joy. “It’s me.”
The Doctor stood by the doors of his TARDIS. He wore a black hoodie beneath his blue Crombie overcoat, which was buttoned closed. The door was open a crack, and bright sunshine streamed inside. The Doctor unfolded his sunglasses and put them on, smiling at the warmth upon his face.
A small hand tugged at his sleeve.
“Are you sure about this, Doctor?” said Greta.
“You’re a trained TARDIS pilot, you said so yourself,” said the Doctor. “Besides, your old man can help out if needs be.” He patted the machine. “Just don’t get her scratched. And don’t be any longer than twenty local years, ok? I get bored.”
“Where are we, Doctor?” asked Charisma.
“Glasgow,” said the Doctor. “I think, Glasgow.”
“What will you do? For twenty years?” said Luminere.
“I’ve heard that the School of Art is hiring. It’s the least I could do, after that fire I had nothing to do with. And if they don’t give me a job, well… I can play. I’ll busk. I’ve never done that.”
A black guitar case sat on the floor next to the door. Greta smiled.
“I told you that I remembered when you used to sing,” she said.
“Yes,” said the Time Lord. ”You did. And I think I needed desperately to be reminded. So; thank you.” He leaned down, and kissed Greta gently on top of her head. “Thank you for helping me find my voice again.”
The Doctor straightened, and coughed. “I’ve always been rubbish at farewells,” he said. He offered his hand to Luminere, who took it with both his own. “Luminere. Look after the old man. Stay out of politics. And stay away from the Mara, which is basically the same thing. I think the ‘my two dads’ routine is more your speed.”
“Thank you, Doctor,” said Luminere.
The Doctor turned to Charisma, and smiled. “It took a while,” he said. “But I always said I’d get her back to you good as new.” He grasped the old man’s hand, shaking it warmly.
“No holds barred, I was sent to destroy,” he said. “Yeah?”
Mr. Charisma smiled, and put his arm around his daughter’s shoulders. Eyebrows high above his sunglasses, grinning like a wolf, the Doctor hoisted the black guitar case and stepped out of the TARDIS. Outside, the sun was shining brightly.
The Doctor was back in Glasgow.