|Doctor Who, the TARDIS, and the characters of the Doctor and Romana are owned by the BBC. The real person Joe Orton is used here in a fictional context. This is amateur fiction for entertainment purposes only, and I make no money from this story.|
Heartbeat and Sails
And in biting down
on the great foam world
Augie March -- Heartbeat and Sails
It's really pretty good to have a TARDIS when things are... well, when it's all gone tits up, basically. When you're feeling a bit out of sorts.
It's a funny thing. Well, everything. It's all a funny thing. But it's funny how one minute, you're so -- you're so -- Oh, you know... the weight of the universe. All that. So much so that you find you have to crawl right under the console, on the pretext of fixing that dodgy connection in the thermo-temporal stabilising unit. But really it was just so you could stay in there for a while, enveloped, cocooned in her familiar warmth. Not thinking about anything, really. Anything at all.
And then, another minute, another hour, day or week, you're just standing there, leaning back against the doors with a cup of tea, just, you know, surveying your kingdom. And suddenly you've got this ridiculous, wide grin on your face. And you're thinking, how good is this? Eh? Just me and the old girl and the universe. Bloody brilliant.
And that's all right. Ups and downs, that's life. Ups and downs, swings and roundabouts, and history repeating itself. That's just how it is.
There is a room in the TARDIS, and he's not sure how it got there, or even where it is, exactly. It's been a while since he found himself there. It has a small round skylight in its ceiling, through which it's possible to see the stars and planets, the swirling red mists of nebulae, the electric blue crackling of passing time. And... other things, sometimes. He's not sure how she managed it, since by rights, of course, there ought not to be any windows in a timeship, and even if there were, you ought not to be able to see anything out of them. It's pretty realistic, though.
He remembers himself and Romana, lying side by side on the floor, watching the heavens pass over their heads.
"Gosh," she said. "It really is jolly effective, isn't it?"
"Relaxing, don't you find?"
"Oh yes, awfully relaxing. Therapeutic."
"Yes, that's it. Therapeutic. She's a clever old stick, really. One must give her her due."
"Well, one certainly ought to. Where should you be without her, after all?"
"Where should I be? Where should you be?"
"Oh, I should be quite all right." She was being all smug and blonde at the time, he remembers. She would insist on being right about things. Terrible habit, really. She raised herself up on her elbows, and fixed him with what he considered to be an unnecessarily hard and piercing stare.
"You, on the other hand, I'm not so sure about."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm always all right." A little disgruntled, perhaps, just at this precise moment, but perfectly all right. He unfolded himself from the floor. "Come on."
"Where are we going?"
"I was thinking Paris."
That was a little while ago now.
It's very quiet just at the moment. He says it out loud: "It's too quiet in here. Too QUIET." He tries putting on some music, but that just seems to make it worse.
"I think..." he tells the TARDIS, "I'm just going to go for a little run. Get some exercise."
Then he runs up and down corridors, shouting at the top of his lungs. He runs and shouts until he stops running and shouting, and his ears are full of the sound of his own hearts beating, and the blood rushing through his veins.
"Hm..." He stands still, and listens, and clacks his tongue against his teeth because he likes the way it feels. "Nope. That didn't help."
He goes to a party. He's not a hundred percent sure whether he's been invited, but he doesn't think anyone will mind. The party's being held in someone's North London flat in the mid 1960s, and there's a bit of a rumour going round that Joe Orton might be there. It's all a bit buzzy, a bit tense. There's something terribly modern (or, at the very least, modern and terrible) on the record player, and there's a woman who laughs like a donkey. Someone, a bloke with a beard, has brought along some homemade wine that's proved a bit of a hit. "I don't quite know how it happened," he's saying. "It looks as weak as piss, but it'll blow your head off."
"Hello," the Doctor says to the girl sitting next to him on the sofa. "I'm the Doctor." She's very small, and has a black polo neck and black hair and serious, black-rimmed eyes, which she opens very wide.
"Oh dear," she says. "Am I ill?"
She's a student, it turns out. "Oh, me too," says the Doctor. "Me too."
"So, you're a medical student?" She seems to be having slight trouble following the conversation, but he can't blame her, really. It doesn't make much sense.
"Well... student of life, really. I'd say."
"Oh," she says. "Really? Well, I think that's terribly interesting." There is something rather odd about those eyes of hers. When he waves a hand in front of them, they follow it, but very, very slowly, and each at a slightly different speed. He suspects she's been drinking the wine.
"Here," he says, thrusting a plate at her. "Have a custard cream. It'll help. Probably."
On his way out, he passes a familiar face in the corridor. "Hello!" he says. "Fancy running into you here!"
"Sorry, have we met?" Joe Orton stops with his hand on the doorknob, and regards the Doctor coolly from beneath his fringe.
"Oh, haven't we? No, maybe not. I tend to lose track of these things, don't you? I love those plays of yours, though, they're brilliant. Really. You're not going in there, are you?"
"Thank you. I mean, I was, yes. Why?"
"Oh nothing. I should warn you, though..." He lowers his voice conspiratorially. "There's something a bit funny about the wine."
"Right, well. I'll bear that in mind. Thanks."
"Oh, no problem. Bye." The Doctor waves a cheery farewell, and goes on his way.
"No, hang on a minute--"
He stops at the end of the landing. "Mm?"
"Perhaps we have met -- you do look sort of familiar. A little bit like that sailor I met in... but then again, you don't look much like a sailor."
"No, I don't s'pose I do." He tugs absent-mindedly at his collar and cuffs. "But you're not that far off the mark, really. I have been known to sail about a bit. After a manner of speaking. And I do like sea shanties."
Joe folds his arms and leans back against the door. "Well, then. Maybe you're just one of those people who looks like people. What do you think? Are you one of them?"
"Yeah." The Doctor considers. Nods slowly, and grins. "Yeah, maybe I am. Have a happy new year, Joe. And, um -- take care, won't you?"
"Oh, not to worry. I'm very careful, I am. Happy New Year, whoever you are." Joe half-smiles at the Doctor, and then he disappears inside the flat. A small wavelet of noise, of laughter and chatter and music, swells briefly out into the corridor as the door opens and shuts.
The Doctor looks at the closed door for a second, maybe two. Then he turns and runs down the stairs, taking them two at a time. The light in the hallway is on a timer, which runs out before he gets to the front door, but it doesn't matter. Outside, it is very cold. A light sprinkling of new snow lies on the ground, sparkling under the moon and the streetlights. It tips the black railings outside the houses, and lines the branches of the plane trees. It has fallen on the TARDIS, too. When he reaches her, he runs a finger along the ledge above the doors, and puts it in his mouth. Snow from the end of 1966. It tastes like London -- smoky and metallic and hard.
He steps into his ship, and they leave before 1967 begins.
Quiet, he thinks. Quiet is really underrated. He'll go somewhere. Just somewhere quiet.
It's a city. No, it was a city. Something happened to it. Now it's just a grey landscape of rubble and decay, stretching out and out and on forever.
He's not even sure where or when this is, precisely. Somewhere in the Pegasus galaxy, he thinks, and just before dawn. He feels a sudden, unexplained need for height, so he climbs a rusty fire escape on the side of what might have been a warehouse. Rigging. The thought makes him smile. He closes his eyes when he reaches the top, lets go of the handrails and stands still. He can feel the pitch and plunge of the turning empty world beneath his feet.
He sits and waits with his legs dangling over the parapet, watching his trainers swinging above the broken street. He rests his chin on his hand. Sandwiches might have been an idea.
When the big sun comes up over the horizon, it paints the ruined city, gilding it stone by stone, brick by brick. It shines on things that once were hospitals, libraries, gardens. It flashes on broken glass and twisted metal. It illuminates the debris heaped against ruined walls, the small pools of water, the rags and shards and splinters of things, half-buried in the dust. The sun is bright and feels warm on his skin.
Everything here is dead and silent and still. Except that, below him, the rocks are shifting, very slowly. Oh, so slowly and so quietly. He can hear their deep rumbling and feel them move. Nothing is really gone, not on this planet. It's all still here, hanging in time and space. It's just that it's asleep. You could reach out and touch it, if you wanted. It still exists.
He sits there until the sun is high in the sky. And then he gets up, brushes the dust from his trousers, and climbs down again. It's high time he got going, really.
It's good to have a TARDIS when you're feeling a bit... Well, when you're in need of something. Soon enough, you suppose you'll wander back to that skylight room, where you can look up through the little porthole, and see the universe floating by, minding its own business. You'll watch the stars, and you'll probably think about sailors, steering their ships by them. You'll think about little children wishing on them, and planets warmed by them, and about small people far, far down below, pointing up into the sky. You might think of a girl in the snow that wasn't really snow. You might think of a woman at a window, looking out into the night.
Yep, you'll probably think of all those things and more, whether you want to or not.
But then you'll close
your eyes, and you'll smile, because it's all right, really. Because there's
a fair wind blowing, and a course has been set, and the high seas of the
universe are yours, if you want them. And you do.