The Girl Who Found The Doctor’s Voice – Chapter 34: Zero

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.

FIN

Advertisements

The Girl Who Found The Doctor’s Voice – Chapter 33: This Isn’t A Holodeck

Chapter 33: This Isn’t a Holodeck

 

Across the water, a ship was approaching.

“If this isn’t real, it certainly feels real, ” said Greta.

“Who said anything about it not being real? This isn’t a holodeck, Greta.”

He stood where the water lapped at the stone steps leading down into the pond. The waters spread out in a wide channel, upon the shores of which stood sand-coloured terraces, three, four or five storeys high, paint peeling from the shutters closed over their windows, green vines snaking down drainpipes and wrought-iron balconies. The buildings faced each other on either side of the watery corridor, one side in shadow, the other alit by the golden hues of the late afternoon sun. The Doctor watched the distant vessel, right hand shading his eyes.

Greta pointed. “The water doesn’t look real,” she said.

The Doctor looked down. “What, that?” He sniffed. “Water never looks real if you stare at it for long enough. Most intelligent species eventually give up on the idea of god, and become convinced instead that they’re part of a giant experiment being conducted by pan-dimensional beings, complete with fake water. The main difference between the two theories is that the second one is probably the truth. It’s almost impossible to make water look real.”

“I feel like god exists,” said Greta.

“You’re still young, don’t worry. Prolonged exposure to reason can cure even the most virulent cases of superstition.”

“What are pan-dimensional beings?”

The Doctor looked uncomfortable. “It’s really hard to explain without using the word ‘god.’”

 

 

Greta tossed a small stick into the water. It landed with a splash, sending ripples a short distance. The ship grew larger on the horizon, between the rows of buildings, passing through some distant harbor.

Greta touched the Doctor’s sleeve.

“Why are you crying, Doctor?” she asked.

Startled, the Doctor raised a hand to his face. His fingertips came away wet.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t realise I was. It’s a thing that starts happening as you get older.” He coughed. “Anyway, information can’t really pass in and out of this universe anymore. That’s why the Time Lords built the Matrix, see?”

Greta considered this. “They wanted to know what was going to happen. What was always going to happen.”

“Always going to happen, yes. If all time is eternally present, all time is unredeemable. Should have been irredeemable.”

The boat approached, carving a wide rippling V upon the gently flowing tide.

“If I can remember my past, then why can’t I remember my future?”

The Doctor scratched his head. “Occasionally the universe extends us a kindness. If you were sensible to your suffering as it approached, you’d need reserves of will that most people will never have simply to get yourself out of bed every morning. Some species used to be able to remember both ways, but natural selection rooted those ones out, let’s put it that way.”

“What about the Time Lords?”

“Well, we’re a bit different. That’s our magical power, Greta,” the Doctor said. “As far I am aware, we’re the only sentient species in the universe for whom a sense of agency is more than an illusion. We have free will.”

 

 

“It’s just an old fishing boat,” said Greta.

An old man stood upon the deck of the boat that bobbed in the water before them. He had long grey hair, beaded and dreadlocked , and although he stood tall and proud, clear of eye, he supported his weight with a cane, as his left leg below the knee was nothing more than a polished stump.

“Were you expecting a spaceship?” the man boomed. Greta was startled by the clarity and strength in his voice. She giggled. In one smooth movement, the man reached inside his tunic, and withdrew a cylindrical device which he pointed immediately at the Doctor and Greta. Like a gunslinger himself, the Doctor snatched his sonic from his inside pocket, levelling it back at the old man on the boat. Raising his free hand with an open palm of reassurance, the man activated his device by depressing the large red button on its side. Immediately, two flaps on the boat’s side snapped open with a spray of water, and a steel staircase unfolded upon telescopic arms, coming to rest on the shore where the Doctor and Greta stood. It whined as hydraulic motors levelled the temporary bridge between land and watercraft. The Doctor eyed the makeshift staircase, then his sonic, then the device he could still see in the old man’s hand. Finally, they made eye contact. The Doctor raised his sonic, looking to the other man for a reaction. Greta watched as the old man tapped the red button on his device again. The Doctor’s sonic whirred and flashed in his hand. His eyes widened. His lips followed, parting in a rare grin.

“You!” he shouted. “You look like a pirate!”

“You look like an art-school teacher who plays in a band,” came the reply. “Step on.”

 

“You know, it’s funny, Doctor,” said Greta, grasping with both hands the railing circling the deck. “I can’t tell how old I am right now.”

“You’re exactly as old now as you were when I met you,” the Doctor replied. “The first time.”

Greta looked up at him. “The first time? I don’t know what you mean?”

The sun was beginning to set over the water, which undulated in fractals of dark blue, white, orange and gold.

“You will,” said the Doctor. He looked out across the water. “It’s like Venice, here.”

“That man had a sonic screwdriver like yours, didn’t he?”

The Doctor smiled. “Not like mine. A little more rudimentary. But yes, an early version, so to speak.”

“He’s a Time Lord?”

The Doctor was peering into the end of his sonic, as though it were a telescope.

“Yes,” he said.

“Where did he go?”

The Doctor looked around. “I expect he’s steering the boat,” he said.

This seemed to make sense to Greta, who turned her attention back toward the water.

The Doctor touched her shoulder. She looked up.

“There will be some difficult moments in the coming hours,” he said.

A tear brimmed in Greta’s eye, which she wiped away, nodding.

“Do you know where we are?” the Doctor asked.

Greta nodded again. “As a matter of pure experience, there can be nothing outside of consciousness,” she said. “Therefore, consciousness is not within us, Doctor. We are within consciousness.”

The boat beat on.

The Girl Who Found The Doctor’s Voice – Chapter 32: Missy Writes

Letter from the Time Lord known as Missy to the Time Lord known as the Doctor

 

Dearest Doctor,

I loved being Professor Yana. He had style. I’d have stayed him for ages if that bloody insect hadn’t shot me and turned me into the blonde prat. Bonkers without brains, being him was like being back in the velvet suit all over again. Well, without the beard and the Tissue Compression Eliminator. I loved that thing. The gun, not the beard. Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get in touch. I get the feeling that we’re going to run into each other soon, and something tells me that it isn’t going to be pleasant. Do you remember that time I wiped out a sizeable chunk of the entire universe? You didn’t have a reset button with you that day, did you? That happened on your watch, man. Sometimes you forget the rules. The rules are that you have rules. One of us has to. You landed on Logopolis. Not me. Everything afterward was fair game.

There’s so much you owe me, Doctor. You’re going to miss me when I’m not around like this, and you’re not around like that. We’ve been good for each other, you and me. Imagine you’d ended up in that Dalek asylum with no “junior entertainment manager” to save your arse by getting her arse, well, daleked. You’d just have been stuck down there with Amy and Rory and a bunch of the angriest, craziest Daleks ever built. Bonkers. You’d walk into a Rangers bar in a Celtic shirt, you would. You need me to keep you alive sometimes.

What else did I get absolutely zero cred for, let me think? I didn’t kill Martha’s family. Jacquie Tyler too. Don’t even pretend you hadn’t thought about it yourself. I know how you work, you’d have made it look like an accident – but I know. The way humans think they’re off to some sort of heaven when they croak? Me! Me! I’d say that’s a belter of significant note, when it comes to mighty ripples.

How many times did Clara save your life? Me. Every one. Instant karma, honey. Zero cred. I don’t know why you get so attached to them. I really was quite fond of Lucy, having said that. Now she’s in the sky with diamonds! She loved the rough stuff, that one. Anyway, she was mine first, you know, Clara, I mean, and it should have been my perogative if I wanted to keep her inside that Dalek  until it stopped being really funny, which seemed like it was still really far off when you ruined everything by letting her out. Imagine if you’d actually pulled the trigger on her? Oh my lordy! I just know I’d have been next and I have to tell you, at the time I couldn’t have imagined anything sexier. Remember that day in the graveyard? You were going to murder me so she didn’t have to! It was the most perfect moment of my life. You were going to do it that time, for real. I could feel it. The moment had finally arrived when one of us was really going to do it. Still. I’m sure you must have recognized the flash for what it was, when that shiny old soldier took a pot shot at me. Flash! Memories!

I must admit, I’ve been feeling badly about sending you all the way back to Gallifrey for nothing. I don’t know why, though. You never write. You don’t visit. Frankly, I think sometimes that you really don’t care. How was I to know that Gallifrey wasn’t there? How could I have checked? Do I have a TARDIS? You don’t actually know, do you? Transport? Ditto. Where do I live? You don’t know that either. You don’t care to know.

Well, I do have a TARDIS. Where did it come from? Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies. It’s a brilliant TARDIS, way newer than that museum piece you run around in. But do you want to know what’s most brilliant about it? The Zero room. I love the Zero room! I’ve filled it full of treasure. Let me explain.

I’ve got a box of cyanide and a missing persons report from the relatives of a certain Shockeye O’ the Quancing Grig. Sometimes I keep the box next to the sugar and that sweetener stuff, in the coffee station, which my TARDIS has one of. That box is covered in fingerprints, as is the handgun used by Max Stael to shoot himself, which is one of my favourites for Russian Roulette (I’ve got the sense to wear gloves, darling). Speaking of cyanide, you’ll never imagine what I heard – that lovely whatshisname, Doctor something, no, Professor Solon, that was it – he was found dead, too! On Karn, of all places. Suspicious circumstances. That one set the Third Zone governments at each other’s throats, let me tell you. That’s the sort of mess they’d have sent Charisma off to deal with, back in the day, but you buggered that up for everyone as well, didn’t you? Anyway. What else do I have? I’ve got the security logs from Solomon’s ship. They were absolute murder to track down. The nights I’ve had watching those things on repeat! I’ve been like a human being watching cat videos on YouTube. I bet you didn’t know that there were security cameras on Ribos, either! That one’s a favourite as well. Boom! Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Remember when you were the celery one? I just wanted to say, for the record, that I thought you were an insufferable twat. I was going through an extremely difficult time, and you – you, who’d been involved in plenty of shady goings on, allegedly, you fell off a satellite dish and started acting like you’d grown bloody wings. We nearly wiped out the universe. Nearly wiped out the universe. Do you know how many did die before you finally pulled the plug? Have you never heard of post traumatic stress disorder?  If we’re going to be seeing the last of each other, then I want you to know how much you broke my heart. I was going through the toughest time in my life, and you couldn’t have been more unsupportive if you’d been actively trying to kill me, which frankly would have been preferable to the cold shoulder treatment. Do you know how many times you told someone / something to just go ahead and kill me, or do whatever else they felt like, and just wandered off without looking back? Then you were ready to bash my brains in with the head of a farm animal. Heartbreaking. You can never complain about having been neglected. I have taken care of you.

Anyway, you needn’t worry about my Zero room, not that I flatter myself you would. When I think of how distant you must be from me now, the size of this universe to the north and the south, the arrow of time to the east and the west, our binary hearts  in probabilistic decay, I can tell there’s something coming, Doctor, something in the wind. We’ll be seeing each other soon.

Whose side will you be on?

This you, this me, it’s been real, man. It’s been a slice.

Love and fondest wishes,

Missy

The Girl Who Found The Doctor’s Voice – Chapter 31: The Rise and Fall of Holden Commodore

Extract from the autobiography of Jacques Luminere: “The Legitimacy Of Tyrannicide”

 

Mr. Charisma was up and about. The old fellow had almost killed himself when he jumped out of his hospital bed and launched himself upon me. You can scarce imagine my dread. He was a terrible sight to look upon, by this stage –sunburned, utterly dehydrated, feet worn down to the bone, then drained almost completely of blood by the bat queen just the evening prior; the man was a mess. Slobbering also a treacly stream of malodorous phlegm, which I learned later was the sure medical symptom of a Time Lord regeneration in complete fizzle, his sole concern appeared to be the fate of the human child we had dragged from beneath his ruined body. In any case, once the band had come to their senses and realized that I was genuinely under attack, they had interrupted the concerto and rushed to my aid with the valour one expects of the artistic class, and they had dragged the belligerent Time Lord hence, where I was able to supervise the sound beating he received from the three of them.

Returned to his gurney and suitably restrained, the man was visibly becalmed when I explained that the boy was exceedingly well. Far from having emerged with permanent psychological damage from what many would agree was an ordeal of significant unpleasantness, the boy was quite the young Napoleon, and had declared to me in our first conversation after his rescue that it had been “the coolest” when I shot the queen bat in the head. In short, he had taken the events of the previous day or two in his stride, and I had already arranged for his purchase via a child broker known to Salvatore. His parents were farmers who, from what I understood, had been hit hard by the industrialization programs through which I was bringing modern business practices to Psyllium Husk. Never a man insensitive to the occasionally harrowing consequences of necessary evolvement, and understanding the family to be already burdened by four other tiresome children, I felt that my philanthropy that day in relieving them of a son did, in turn, relieve my soul of the sadness I felt witnessing them doomed as casualties of progress. The boy was to remain in my care until his thirtieth year, when Huskian boys were expected to move out and fend for themselves. As for Mr. Charisma, we had developed a solution of sorts to the immediate problem of keeping him alive.

Salvatore had received an email from the Doctor. It was composed of two sentences: “Every planet I visit, someone tells me that you’ve been asking around for me. Kindly refrain.”

Sensing that this intelligence alone would do more to earn the man a tantrum than it would a promotion, he had displayed hitherto undisclosed depths to his rural intellect, and instructed the Director of Communications to reply with the following stroke of genius:

“You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”

The Director of Communications, a Huskian public servant named Holden Commodore, was unimpressed.

“Trust me, Holden,” Salvatore had implored. His instincts were spot on. This dissembler, this righteous meddler, he could nary resist such an intriguing proposition. Commodore was impressed, and while neither he nor Salvatore could get the slippery fellow to agree to a personal visit, they did receive, in exchange for some sort of moral pledge extracted by the Doctor to be redeemed by him at a future time of his choosing, what proved to be life-saving advice on what to do with Mr. Charisma. At the Doctor’s suggestion, and with only a short delay while we figured out what buttons to push, Mr. Charisma was installed within the Miniscope. Salvatore was dispatched to Gallifrey with a suitable bribe, and upon his successful return with an official Time Lord pardon, Mr. Charisma was formally and publicly declared Director of Communications and Protocol, Psyllium Husk.

Holden Commodore, full of self-importance at having played some role in brokering this historic exchange of intelligence, was dismayed indeed as the tide of progress began lapping at the foundations of his office pillars. Although his position was retained in subordinate to Mr. Charisma, whose title contained both the word “protocol” and the planet’s name, Commodore was aggrieved by what he saw as a diminishment of his status within Huskian society, and shot himself in his office shortly after Mr. Charisma’s appointment was announced. With the demise of Holden Commodore, Mr. Charisma became the last civil servant on Psyllium Husk.

There was something, of course, which I was forced to keep from Mr. Charisma. The Miniscope had ( as I now understand they are programmed to do upon activation) performed a twenty-mile radius scan of the surrounding environment and built a corresponding enclosure in miniature duplicate within itself. Located as it was within my government offices in Psyllium City, the Miniscope had recreated the old palace in molecule-perfect facsimile, including the basement offices in which Mr. Charisma worked, sustained by the artificial life support and compression field generated by the fantastical device.  He was by this point incredibly old, and crippled by the lasting effects of his ordeal, and quite content to amble between the small cottage where he lived in the olive grove behind the parade grounds, and the ancient palace west of Psyllium City, set back from the road along its palm-lined road of rutted red dirt, choked by the red-flowered vines that grew everywhere. I was able to visit him within the Miniscope using an inbuilt interactive user function I had discovered, and I found him to have grown so attached to his microcosmic life that I hadn’t the heart to ruin it for him. At this point, of course, I hadn’t visited him frequently enough to realise that he was living the same day over and over, on a maddening loop.

People often feel swamped, at the contemplation of such a thought, by solid existential anguish. But I tell them: Mr. Charisma got a pretty nice day to get stuck on. He lucked out. I know a lot of people who’d give anything to have twenty years of a pretty nice day over and over, rather than the seven-thousand- three-hundred-and-four assorted bag they ended up with, which is a whole lot more chances for horrible things to happen, which is guaranteed. In many ways, I envied Mr. Charisma his freedom. In fact, his peaceful lifestyle became a source of such fascination for me, the tedious routines, the wobbly bicycle trips from the cottage to the palace and back, the grease with which he oiled his mahogany stump each evening, the cheerful acceptance of a life bereft of glory but also of anxiety… inspired, I decided to retire from public life.

The next eighteen years were the happiest of my life. Samvil grew into a large and handsome boy, quick to study, fleet of foot. While Salvatore ruled Sarcasmic Five and Psyllium Husk in my stead, my son and I fished every river on either planet, climbed the highest mountain peaks, learned languages known only to the local tribes with whom we would make camp for sometimes months at a time. We became champion archeologists and renowned photographers, and when we tired of sight-seeing, we took to the skies in refurbished bi-planes from the Old Wars, hooting at the joy of the dog-fight as we blasted at each other with live ammunition.

One day, after a dog-fight of particular savagery, we were drinking milk together at the officer’s mess, both a-giggle with mirth as we told the tale of our aerial encounter to the cook.

“You think I’d pay a single cent to watch you morons firing cap guns at each other?” said the cook, elbows on counter, chin in palms.

Samvil bristled.

“That’s Colonel Jacques Luminere you’re talking to, man,” he said. The cook lit a cigarette, and sighed.

“Whatever,” he said. “The point is, if you want to do spectacle, you get the experts in. The guys who actually build that stuff, you know, the scientists. Why not get them to walk the talk?”

 

Science Island was thus reborn. Samvil and I worked in joyous triage with Mr. Charisma as we designed our project. Our plan – to transform this ancient amusement park into an arena for science-based gladiatorial combat. It was as cool as it sounds. Salvatore rounded up intellectuals and distributed copies of The Hunger Games to make sure everyone got the general idea. At this time, I was beginning to sense an odd character to our meetings with Mr. Charisma. In fact, I was becoming convinced that he was reliving the same day over and over. Meanwhile, Science Island was two weeks away from the grand opening, and I was pacing my dressing room in white satin shorts. I had been tying, untying and retying my paisley necktie before the mirror, when there was a knock at the door.

Fixing my hairnet gingerly in place, I opened the door a crack. Two of the greyest-looking people I had ever encountered stood outside. They appeared to be assembled from dust.

“Yes?”

The female of the two – I guessed this from the style of her faded rags, though her prescient beard told perhaps a different tale – spoke, in a voice like the rustle of leaves.

“Mr. Jacques Luminere?”

I coughed, despite myself. “Yes?” I snapped. “What do you want, you harbingers of dust?”

The man pulled a document from inside his coat, and handed it to me. Unemotionally, he said:

“We’re Samvil’s parents, Jacques. Today is his thirtieth birthday. We’ve come to take him home.”

The Girl Who Found The Doctor’s Voice – Chapter 30: Put Him In The Miniscope

Chapter 30: Put Him In The Miniscope

Extract from the autobiography of Jacques Luminere: “The Legitimacy Of Tyrannicide”

Salvatore was from Psyllium Husk, and I detested him, back when we first met in officer training. He was a rural sort, agricultural in nature, pragmatic, handsome in an oafish manner I suppose, and he had the most peculiar opinions regarding consumption of milk among adults. You see, by his reckoning, milk produced by dairy cows was intended to support the growth of a very large animal – a cow. Adult people, he reasoned, should not be recreationally consuming something that potent. For this reason, he stuck to beer. Since I have, myself, been a milk drinker since I cried my first wails of terror in this dark, dark world, Salvatore wasted no time in identifying our differing preferences when it came to a lunch beverage, and would ridicule me without mercy in the presence of our fellow officers, in terms frequently humiliating and grotesque. “Thumb-suckery-dumb-dumb” was a favourite. I would picture his crookedsome fangs rotted back to stumps by years of sugary beer, my own proud oral display proof of and testament to the myriad benefits of a diet rich in calcium.

But I digress.

It was the day Charisma woke up. I had just returned from the barber shop when I heard the news; I was in the bath. Salvatore called from Sarcasmic Five to discuss the issue of medical support. I took the call in my study.

“This is Luminere.”

Salvatore appeared on the telescreen in all his unindustrialized glory.

“Salvatore here, sir. I hope I find you in high spirits this morning.”

“The quality of my mood right now needn’t concern you. Unless you’re about to impact upon it in ways I won’t enjoy. Please turn your back while I disrobe.”

Salvatore did as asked, and I shed my bathing towel in favour of a floor-length dressing gown. Ensconcing myself in its purple velveteen folds, I tapped the telescreen.

“I’m decent, you can look again.”

Salvatore shuffled one-hundred-and-eighty degrees in the narrow communications pod, and gave a nod.

“Thank you, sir. If I may say so, your bathrobe is very striking, sir.”

“Thank you. Listen – this whole situation has been a source of profound bloody anxiety for me. What are we going to do? Did you manage to get a hold of the Doctor?”

I slumped into the white feathers of my office sofa, and dipped my fingertips into the bowl of warmed oil resting upon the coffee table. Massaging my forehead with the tips of my fingers, I lay back, eyes wide. After a moment, I said: “you didn’t get him, did you?”

There was a pause.

Did you?” I screamed.

Salvatore, accustomed though he was to such tantruming, jumped.

“He’s a difficult man to track down, sir!” he snapped. “But if you’ll allow me to respond, we didn’t get a meeting with the Doctor, no – but he did respond to our email.”

“Email?”

“Don’t worry about it. Look. He didn’t say much, but it does make a strange sort of sense.”

“As opposed to you, Salvatore, on both fronts. Get to the point, man. What did the Doctor say?”

Salvatore patted his shirt, drawing both a spectacle case and a folded scrap of paper from his breast pocket. Unfolding a pair of rusted half-moons, he put them on and peered at the note.

“Put him in the Miniscope, it says.”

I thought about this. “The Miniscope?”

Salvatore nodded. “The Miniscope.”

A thought occurred to me, a thought I didn’t like. “How did the Doctor even know we had it?” I glanced around. “Allegedly?”

Salvatore leaned forward. “Well, here’s the thing, sir. It turns out, it was the Doctor who dropped Charisma off here in the first place. All these years ago. And he left the machine with Charisma, or so I’m told, as a sort of parting gift.”

I slid my feet into my bejeweled slippers, and began to pace the rug. “It makes perfect sense,” I decided. “The Doctor is an intelligent man, he wouldn’t want to be harbouring that sort of contraband. He left both problems behind. Right on my doorstep. The more I think about it, now I think about it, the more annoying it feels.” I folded my arms. A thought arose in my mind. “Where is the Miniscope?”

Salvatore appeared surprised by this most reasonable of questions. “Wh-where? I was about to ask you the same thing!”

The urge to kill someone was suddenly overwhelming. Reeling furiously toward the bar-fridge, I snatched a bottle of milk from the shelf and slammed the thing closed. Popping the bottle’s cap – without shaking it first – I guzzled the contents until streams of milk ran down my chin, and my moustache bore a creamy residual froth. Gasping for breath, I brandished the bottle-opener at the telescreen as droplets of milk fell upon my gown.

“We picked up that merchant to whom Charisma sold it, correct?” I sputtered.

Salvatore nodded. “We did, yes, but you didn’t tell us what to do with it afterward, did you? I assumed you’d put it in the shed, or, you know, somewhere safe -?”

I racked my brains. “Me? You’re sure you didn’t…” I was struck suddenly by a brilliant thought. “I remember!” I announced. “Get dressed. I’ll meet you in the officer’s mess.”

Within moments, I had oiled my hair and secured it with a net. I made a dash for the exit.

 

The old officer’s mess was empty when I got there, but for one of the gaming machines, before which stood Salvatore, joystick in hand. His agrarian features were set in a frown of concentration and lit by a dappled light display as he gunned down row upon row of advancing enemy craft. He took twenty minutes to finish.

When Salvatore’s ship finally perished, he seemed startled to find me waiting behind him.

“The Miniscope,” I reminded him.

Feigning competence, he motioned me to lower my voice. “Yes, sir,” he whispered. “Where is it?”

“Talk normally, please,” I said.” It’s right here, I remember now. We hid it right here among the gaming machines. Help me.”

Gripping the corners of the large video game machine Salvatore had been playing, we shimmied the device out from between its two neighbours. Behind, in the dusty space hidden between the rows of machines, stood the Miniscope. Around four feet tall, a squat black cylinder topped by a spherical flat-screened viewing center, the device was equipped with three separate control panels, each fitted with an array of gunmetal switches and circular dials. It wore a thick coat of dust.

Salvatore appeared impressed. “I can see why you hid it here with the other machines,” he said.

I scratched my head.

“Put him in the Miniscope, the Doctor said? In the Miniscope?”

Salvatore nodded. “They have a compression field, and time runs locally on a closed loop. Like I said, it makes a strange sort of sense. But then, I’m not a scientist. We don’t have any left.”

I ignored the jibe. “How do you, well, how do we get him into that?”

“Like I said, I’m not a scientist. It looks pretty small. Anyway, I’d best give you a hand down the stairs with it. Does it have a door?”

The Girl Who Found The Doctor’s Voice – Chapter 29: Down The Snake Path

Chapter 29: Down The Snake Path

 

“I know a thing or two about civilization,” said the Doctor.

He walked hand in hand with Greta, following a weaving path down a gentle incline. A warm and gentle light glowed in soft yellows through the airy green foliage of the branches overhead. The path beneath their feet was tiled in mosaic.

“It rarely moves in an uninterrupted positive trajectory. And, more often than you’d probably like to know, it all goes completely pear-shaped.”

“Pear shaped?” said Greta. As the thought emerged in her mind, so too did the fruit sprout from the branches of the overhanging trees, first in blossoms, then in golden pears, which in turn evaporated as clouds of information.

“Pear shaped. A bit rubbish. I’ve seen it happen, a lot. And you know what still somehow catches me completely off-guard? Lots of people tend to see it coming way off, you know, in time to actually do something about it, and they make very serious attempts to alert as many people as they can. But certain civilizations are so hardwired into the virtual reality games they all play, like human beings with money, that they collaborate willingly in their own destruction. Like human beings and their ecosphere. Why aren’t we saving ourselves, they wonder? It isn’t worth it. Too much bother. Too expensive.”

“This seems like a nice civilization,” said Greta, looking around at the buildings on either side. A pleasing combination of stone and metalwork, the buildings seemed designed as to appear both modern and functional in their appearance, yet elegant, classical. She pulled a leaf from a privet hedge as they passed. “But this is still the Dark Places of the Inside, isn’t it?”

“Of course. But this is my idea of a nice civilization,” said the Doctor. “And it shouldn’t be too tricky to sustain it as long as I don’t get distracted. Isn’t it lovely? Just a nice stroll on a nice day, down this… snake-path.”

They both looked down. The path upon which they descended the gentle hill was indeed tiled in the shape and patterns of a snake. Not too far ahead, it coiled around a corner behind an apartment building, and vanished from sight. The splash of a fountain could be heard beyond the trees at the foot of the path.

“Down the snake-path, I kneeled to pray,” said Greta. “I prayed for wine, then heard them say: we have no wine, for we are snakes.”

“Excuse me?”

“It’s a song I used to sing to myself when I was a little girl.”

“You are a little girl. What was I just saying about being distracted?”

Greta laughed her rainbow laugh. “You’re forgetting one thing,” she said. “This isn’t just your universe, Doctor.” She skipped ahead, calling behind her: “while my head was under the covers, I was busy dreaming. I feel sure I used to live in a place like this. Around the corner, at the bottom of the path, there’s a pond, and a fountain.”

“You dreamed us up a snake path?”

“This is what it actually looked like, Doctor.” Greta reached the base of the path, and disappeared around the corner.

“Wait,” the Doctor called out, then broke into a jog.

 

“Why do civilizations fail?” Greta asked. She stood near the edge of the small pond, tearing up a piece of bread and throwing it out for the seagulls wheeling above. The Doctor puffed to a halt beside her.

“I wish you wouldn’t run away like that,’ he said.

“Sooooory. I asked you a question. Why do civilizations fail?”

Noticing a park bench, the Doctor took a seat, and picked up a rolled newspaper he found abandoned there. “Why?” he said, unfolding the newspaper. “Have you ever read one of these? You want to guage the health of any civilization, pick up a newspaper. Look at this!”

Holding the offending organ aloft, he beckoned Greta to join him on the park bench, where he spread the paper open between them.

“Look,” he said, pointing. “Murder. Robbery. Blasphemy laws. Slavery. Torture. Famine. Genocide. Natural disaster. Pandemics. Big weaponry. Sugar. Totalitarianism. Now, I’m not an expert, except that I am, actually, and if you want my professional opinion as a Doctor, these guys are living on borrowed time.”

“Don’t be so dramatic, Doctor!” Greta scolded.

Both eyebrows went up. “Dramatic? Sometimes things really do just fall apart. The hardest thing to save people from is usually themselves. Anyway, look at this. It isn’t just a newspaper. This is the interface.”

“The interface?” 

“Like a nexus point, a way past all this desktop.” The Doctor placed his thumb and forefinger upon the newspaper page, and began reducing and enlarging certain words within the text.

“What are you doing?” Greta reached out to touch the page, and the Doctor slid the newspaper toward her with a signal of encouragement.

“I haven’t a clue,” he said. “Join in. I’m just poking it to see if it pokes back.”

Greta withdrew her hand suddenly, and placed it upon the Doctor’s arm. He looked up.

“Doctor,” she said. “What about the Mara?”

The Doctor folded the newspaper over, and turned to Greta. “What about it?”

“The Dark Places of the Inside, Doctor.”

“We’re passing through different layers of the Miniscope, Greta. I have no idea how far we’ve physically travelled, but we must be getting close to the center. It wasn’t uncommon for a Miniscope to have an infestation of Mara. The creatures in the Miniscope weren’t necessarily ill-treated within the context of their own loops, but the unconscious mind is always aware of the loop, even when the conscious mind is oblivious. They were places of intense sorrow.”

“Why do the Mara love sorrow?”

The Doctor blew air through his teeth. “Why? My best guess would be that the Mara are sorrow. Rene Descartes was only half right when he said ‘I think, therefore I am’. He should have said ‘there is thought’ and just left it at that.”

Greta nodded. “It’s nice here,” she said, after a moment.

“Exactly! It’s nice here. You and I, together – we’ve too much joy in our hearts for suffering to take control. All we need to do is just keep paying attention to every detail, every slice of time. Each is completely unique, you know. The exact layout, the molecular map, it looks like we walk down the same path every day, but the universe will only ever exist in that particular setting, in that exact configuration, once and one time alone. Every shard of time is like a snowflake in a blizzard. You never have the same conscious experience more than once, it simply isn’t possible, the particles of your body and the particles of everything else will never again exist in the precise alignment through which you’re currently living. Once you truly understand that… you can never be bored.”

Greta had fallen asleep.

Shaking his head, the Doctor removed his coat, and draped it over the sleeping human child, before picking up the newspaper, which he rolled tight, and pointed at the darkening sky above.

“Right you,” he said, unfolding his sunglasses. “I’m on my way up.”

The Girl Who Found The Doctor’s Voice – Chapter 28: Come On, Tell Me, Boy

Chapter 28: Come On, Tell Me, Boy

Greta, I need you to listen to me, wherever you are right now, you have nothing to be afraid of as long as you keep paying attention.
The Doctor was in a black void.
He built the scene forensically in his mind. A moment before, he had been sharing the camp fire with Greta. The darkness had spoken: we do what we need in order to survive. Then it had engulfed the Doctor whole.
He tested the limits of his proprioception and became aware of the sensations of his body.
The Dark Places of the Inside.
The Doctor felt a chill. Like cold, but more, as though despair were folding her wings around him. He bowed his head, letting his breath go slowly.
We do what we need in order to survive.
A pale shape appeared in the center of the Doctor’s vision. It took, at first, the form of a point of light, which imbued the Doctor with the unsettling sensation that it was travelling toward him at great speed. As it grew closer, it slowed, and resolved into the shape of a skull, the skull of a snake. It hung there motionless in the black inky void.
Mara.
Doctor.
I’m afraid, and I don’t know where Greta is.
She could be dead, by now.
She isn’t dead.
Optimism without substance.
What are you doing here?
I am trapped. As are you, Doctor.
Then free me.
I am not the forger of your chains.
You don’t understand, I cannot remain here.
For as long as it pleases me, remain here you shall.
Of course. What will you ask her?
What was your mother’s name? In what manner did she wear her hair most often? Does the bleached architecture of your dreams frighten you? Why do you dream about dirt every night?
And what do the Mara dream of?
We are such stuff as nightmares are made from, Doctor.
You were so few in number.
We are many more, now. This universe grows darker.
You’re winning. Yes, I know.
Morality has no entropic immunity.
Nipper.
A table flared into existence. Upon the table sat an old-fashioned gramophone player. Adjacent to the gramophone player sat a small Jack Russell terrier.
You see? You stopped paying full attention, took your eye off the prize. Now there’s a bit of this universe that belongs to me. Hello, Nipper.
A deep pang of despair gripped the Doctor’s hearts and he gasped involuntarily. The measurable quantity of suffering in this universe grew like the event horizon of a black hole. The table, gramophone and dog began slowly to rotate, as though caught on the outer edges of a whirlpool.
The Doctor thought of Greta, of her rainbow laugh. He became aware, on the periphery of consciousness, of a new thought, or perhaps one in the ascendency of reemergence – he remembered suddenly that he had really, really great news to share with her.
The Doctor’s new thoughts caused a surge of joy within his hearts, and a corresponding shift in the universal emotional bandwidth. Joy outdistanced suffering. The table stopped spinning. The Doctor was in control now.
So, this is what it feels like to be a god, is it? Pfff. Rubbish. Oh don’t be like that, you lot and your sulking.

The Doctor stepped forward, regaining the full sense of proprioception, that of consciousness occupying the same physical space as the body. His boots echoed on the black marble underneath as he walked toward the table bearing the gramophone and the dog. As he approached, the shapes of two tall-backed chairs resolved into view. In one of the chairs sat a young man in a red and khaki uniform. Upon his chest, he wore a gold-rimmed badge fashioned in the shape of a star.
The young man stood up as the Doctor joined him at the table. He held out his hand, and smiled. The Doctor fought the urge to be sick. Taking the cold hand in his own, the Doctor shivered. The skin was as pale as snow, the eyes rimmed as though with saffron. The young man had a tattoo of a snake on the inside of his forearm. The Doctor looked down, and saw the snake come to life. Coiling down the arm of its host, it crossed at the wrist and coiled itself around the Doctor’s forearm, where it sank beneath the skin and took the form of a tattoo.

Greta was in the Dark Places of the Inside. She lay beneath the covers of a four-poster bed. There was nothing else where she was, but the snake skull hanging in the dark. She couldn’t remember her mother’s name. But there was something about a shell from the beach, the pattern in the spiral like the coil in her mother’s hair, or in the coil of the serpent’s tail. She squeezed her eyes shut, and pictured in her mind the bouncing of a little dog, a Jack Russell.
The dog tried desperately to gain her attention.
What is it, buddy? Come on, tell me, boy.

There’s always a way out.
You’re not him. You’re just more Mara. Everything in this place is Mara.
You could have come back for me, Doctor.
You know as well as I do that the only thing I’ve ever done was the one thing I was capable of doing at that given moment. That exact one thing. There’s no such thing as could have, or should have.
Suffering relies upon such abstractions.
The Mara rely upon suffering.
We have no need of sustenance, Doctor. Suffering is joy to the Mara.
I cannot linger here. You have to let me go.
It is true, Doctor, that you are nearer to the end than the beginning.
Despair gripped the Doctor once more. He caught the edges of the table, surprising the dog, which stood and turned in a fussy circle before settling again beside the gramophone player.
The needle dropped onto the record turning upon the turntable.
Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor. Doctor.
Tell me how to make it stop.
Doctor. Doctor. Doctor.
Tell me!
Doctor. Doctor.
Come on, tell me, boy!
You have to say it like you’re in love.