Dr Who and the Counterfeit Companion.
The sunset over the sea was of a pleasant purple hue, as small birds flitted hither and yon, snatching tardy insects out of the air. The two walkers made their leisurely way along the shore, drinking in the sound of the waves washing over the coal-black sand. The woman paused to brush back her hair, bent and plucked a pebble with a hole through it from underfoot.
"Do you miss it?" she asked her companion.
"Mmm?" he said, roused from his reverie.
“Do you miss it? The fear, the adrenaline? You do have adrenaline? I was never sure, with your screwy anatomy. Don’t you sometimes long for just one more adventure?”
He looked out to sea.
“Do you see that ship? Just out on the horizon? Malgrabian Whaling vessel. They pull a thousand tonnes of whale meat out of the ocean every year. In little over fifty years they’ll have emptied the sea of almost the entire species. Boy, are they in for a surprise when they discover they’re only the second most intelligent species on the planet!”
“You’re avoiding the question, Doctor! I recognise your ploy, I’ve been with you too long!
He stopped and looked at her. “I...don’t exactly remember. I know we did a lot together. Well, I think that I know that...look, I’ve been through a lot recently, my memory is not what it used to be. Can we drop the conversation?”
He frowned, and shook his head. Grey curls tumbled around a plum-coloured velvet collar. His eyes, briefly troubled, cleared and sparkled anew.
“Do you remember the Robot? I always felt I’d let it down, you know. It wasn’t evil in itself. I didn’t want to destroy it. I really...I’ve hurt so many people. So very many people.” His shoulders sagged.
“Oh, come on Doctor, you’ve said it yourself. There are times when only radical surgery will suffice. Sometimes you have to sacrifice good flesh to be sure you’ve gotten rid of the cancer!”
He looked at her. “Sorry, do I know you? You seem familiar. My memory, it isn’t as good as it was. As it should be. I think I recognise you. We were...”
She erased a circle on the pad she carried, and with a finger described a larger one, in a bright vermillion hue. Immediately The Doctor smiled.
“My dear! I am so sorry! When did you get here?”
“I’ve never been away, Doctor. Truly, I have never left your side. You were telling me about the whaling ship over there?”
“Of course. Malgrab was the first planet to elect a planet-wide government, fifty percent of whom were aquatic mammals. After they nearly wiped out the population the remaining whales waged a war against sea traffic. Brought about a sea-change. Haha!”
She grinned, and updated the pad further.
Glancing at his reflection in the water he opined “This is my favourite body, you know. I remember them all. Which is weird. It’s very unsettling waking up and wondering whose teeth you are going to have in your mouth. Whether your knees are going to be arthritic. Whether you will need a hairbrush or skin tonic. Even what gender you’re going to be. It is a worry, really. But this old thing” he bowed, graciously to her, “This old thing saw me through so much. And it was the only one that could really manage Venusian Aikido, for all that it looked vulnerable”
They walked further, in companionable silence. A shooting star burned its funereal signature across the heavens.
“You’re supposed to make a wish, you know”
She stopped. “I’m sorry?”
He pointed a lace-ringed hand at the area the meteorite had scarred. “Star light, star bright. First star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight”
“And what would you wish for, Doctor?”
He kicked at a pebble. “I don’t rightly know, my dear. Things change. Ideas, ideals melt and flow as time goes by. Time, hah! It’s funny, but recently I imagine I can see time. Taste it. Feel it. What would I wish? I’d...Do you know how many people I have left? How many people have left me? If I could have a wish, would I wish, perhaps, to be gifted with the ability to forget them all? Each parting, every single parting was pure pain. Especially you, my dear. When I left you I...”
He stopped, looking confused. She quickly wrote on the pad with her index finger, and he started grinning.
“People say I used to take life too flippantly. I was too half-hearted. Silly, when you think of it, my dear. I have two hearts. Half-hearted? Surely that would be one heart? Which is enough for you to get by on, isn’t it?” He giggled, and once again she made a pass over the pad. His face dropped, just briefly, then he looked up at her.
“You know, I really think I know what you’re up to.”
She looked startled. “You do? You think you do? Why do you think I’m up to anything?”
“The Master was always a complicated person. I don’t suppose you’ve changed. Always plotting, always cheating!”
Once more she wrote. “Why do you think I’m the Master, Doctor?”
He blinked. “Did I say that? I’m so sorry, my dear. So, so sorry. My age, you know. Terrible thing, getting old. Running out of regenerations. Never entirely sure what the future will ring. Bring. Ring ring! Sting thing” He giggled.
Yet another comment on the pad, and yet again he straightened.
“That’s an interesting constellation” he said quietly, and pointed. “The Arc of the Celestial Bowman. Do you see the bright star over to the left? There used to be seven inhabited planets there. Now they’re all dead. Humans, you know. They have a remarkable propensity for survival, for incredible feats of expansion. And such talents! Music, painting, dance, song, 3vid, film, comedy and laughter. And slaughter. Funny, isn’t it, how laughter is only one letter away from slaughter?”
He started walking backwards, his feet kicking up spray as the waves lapped at his shoes. “Do you remember the Asgard? I’m...struggling to remember if you were there. I’m so sorry. Yes, Asgard. Self-proclaimed Warrior Gods of the Universe. Really they were just wayward children, undirected, unfocussed genius. But they nearly destroyed not only Earth but most of this reality. And me! I nearly died. It was Professor Portia Pope who came to the rescue. She deliberately ingested the Green Crystal and infected them all. At the cost of her life. She sacrificed herself so everything might continue. She was eighty, you know. Brilliant. Mind like a steel trap. I think she’d guessed about me. Her eyes shone. She was finally living, at eighty. And at eighty she committed genocide. Wiped out the entire race of Asgard. Magnificent, murderous mankind. “
He stumbled over a half-buried rock, and stopped. “So very many people have died. So many people have lost their lives, yet I go on. Dammit! Do you think I want to survive at the cost of other people? I don’t want to live forever while my friends hurl themselves off cliffs just to see that I do!”
She looked in his grey eyes. “Don’t worry. You won’t let that happen”
He looked startled. “Sorry? What do you mean?”
“Oh, nothing. Ignore me. It’s just the rambling thoughts of an old woman.” Once again a note on the pad.
“Tristan Ford. That’s a name to conjure with. I thought it was a place when I first heard it. Turned out to be an eight year old boy, with the mind of a dead Skaal Seeker. Now, usually Skaal are all ‘Seek! Destroy!’ and ask questions later, never mind the consequences. This one wanted to be a poet. That was an odd thing. The Skaal Justice wanted her terminated for being faulty, and I wanted the boy to live. And for once I did it and nobody got hurt. She’s still in his mind, sharing her ideas, and he’s a writer. Writes pretty damned good science fiction too. I have to keep popping over to check that it isn’t too realistic. Don’t want any scientists trying to build a Skaalian flashbomb, do we?”
“That’s where I first reversed the polarity of the neutron flow. You know, that makes no sense. Yet I did it, time and time again, and it worked. If you creep up slowly on reality it doesn’t notice a little sleight of hand. Or it pretends not to. Which is the same thing, really”
He grinned at the memory, and stopped again.
“You’re playing with my memories, aren’t you? You’re doing something. I can taste the changes. See the rewritten pathways. And yet...I don’t feel threatened. It’s odd, but I feel complete. I’m not real? I feel real, I can remember...things that I shouldn’t be able to, now I think about it. Right, young lady, I know you’re not a threat. Tell me what’s going on. Have I regenerated? Am I a construct? What’s happened to the real me? There’s something that I have to know. And please don’t do anything to that pad, it is linked to my neural pathways somehow, isn’t it. Be honest, my dear. I know you’re not threatening me. I can take it, honestly. It isn’t as if I forget, you know. I can remember all my regenerations. But this is only my third. So, either I’m remembering future events or I’m forgetting past ones. And I think you can tell me, my dear.”
She sighed. This was the response she was waiting for, and longing for, and dreaded. This was what she had steeled herself for, fought for, for decades. This was the defining moment. The time when her plans, her ideas would either bear fruit or crash into the sand like the waves at her feet. She was involved. Not impartial. She had hoped that after all this time it would be easy. She would be more remote. The Council had asked if she would prefer a substitute, but she’d decided that she was strong enough, that she was old enough. Maybe she was over-confident of her ability to be removed. But on the other hand, she couldn’t let anyone else do it. Not with him. Not with The Doctor.
“Doctor, you’ve lived a long life. And a productive one. You’ve fought magnificently for people, for races, for entire planets. You’ve stood up to oppressors, dictators, natural disasters, you’ve even fought time itself. You have been glorious. Really glorious. And...now it is time to stop. Your time is over. You’ve lived it fabulously. And for a time I lived it with you. You should be proud of what you have done. And because of that we can’t just let you go. Let you fade into time, into space, into dust. That’s not the right end for a hero. So we’ve taken your...spirit, your essence. Everything about you that makes you the good, brave, heroic person that you are, and we’re going to preserve it. Preserve you. There’s a new breed of Tardis, you see. Anthropomorphic Tardis. Proto-humanoid, yet still functioning as a Tardis. It can think, reason, remember, feel. Such a device has great promise, but it needs to have a heart. A centre that cares, understands. We’ve selected you to be the heart and soul of the first.
“Yes.I thought it was something like that. I’d worked it out. I don’t want to go. Really I don’t. I was hoping for rest, at last. After so long don’t I deserve a rest? But...it’s what I do, isn’t it? I go where I’m needed. It’s what I’ve always done, and I suppose now it’s what I will always do. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to tell me.”
She made to write on the pad, but he stopped her.
“One thing. One thing I really must know. How did I die? What happened? Did anyone else get hurt?”
She swallowed, and it was the hardest thing she had ever done, not to rush over and hug him to her. He looked frightened, alone suddenly. Like a schoolboy facing dragons.
“Oh Doctor. You were magnificent! Brilliant like only you could be. You sacrificed yourself, so that the entirety of time and space could survive. You could have lived on, lived forever, like a king. You could have been the ruler of the Universe, for ever. But instead you gave your life, your entire being, knowing that there would be no return, no regeneration. You sacrificed everything on a genius hunch, so that Time itself could exist, survive. Doctor, truly you were brilliant. Brilliant!”
He smiled, faintly. Looking more like a fifty year old dandy than an timeless, ageless being. “Well, that’s something at least!” He grinned. “Okay, ‘fess up. I do know you, don’t I? You’re someone I have met, someone who’s been close to me. Someone I care for?”
She looked startled. “Oh, no, Doctor. I’m just someone who was given the job of preparing you. We’ve been close, over the last decade, getting you ready, getting you to this point, but really you don’t know me at all. We’re more...business partners. Yes, that would be a good analogy. Not close, but we have met.”
He looked suspiciously at her, and she couldn’t meet his eyes. He shrugged. If she couldn’t, wouldn’t tell him, he wouldn’t press the matter. It wasn’t as if it made a blind bit of difference any more. He was not the man he used to be. Wasn’t a man at all, come to that.
“Odd! I can feel something pulling me! Like some tractor beam?”
She sighed. “You’re ready, Doctor. Ready for implanting in the Tardis. Ready to begin again. I...I kind of envy you, you know? I am certainly going to miss you. You were fun to have around. For a while. Goodbye, Doctor”
She turned away from him.
The Doctor faded, and she was sure that already she could hear the Vwooorp Vwooorp noise as he went.
A hint of a tear sparked in her eye. “Be careful, Doctor. Please, be careful. I never told you. I never could. But I loved you then, and I love you now, you wild, magnificent man!”
With a sigh, Romana turned and headed back across the beach, to where her own Tardis waited patiently.