The story continues.
The Botanical Wing had long been Kale’s favourite place to retreat. A thoughtful, quiet child, he had grown into an intelligent – if somewhat shy – young man who worked hard at his studies, was respectful to his elders and showed great potential. As the youngest son of the Shadow Architect, he was practically destined for some major Council position when his studies were complete, like his two brothers and older sister before him. Born administrators, all.
But Kale wasn’t like them. At least, that’s what he tried to convince himself in the face of all the overwhelming evidence. He was desperately trying to cultivate an air of rebellion, and all he managed to achieve was slight dissent and a tendency for his eye to twitch when he tried to tell lies.
As a boy, he had spent time in the Library Wing, absorbing fact and fiction alike. Like many other children, he was born and raised on the Shadow Proclamation’s station and had never left. Unlike many other children, however, he yearned for an opportunity to get away from the place. Definitely unlike other children, he harboured a deep affection for fictional tales, filling his young head with tales of derring-do and great adventure whilst his peers sneered at fiction as lies and preferred the joys that raw facts had to offer. They laughed when Kale shyly stood up on his first day at college to say that it was his life’s greatest dream to travel to a distant planet.
So the Botanical Wing was the closest Kale could come to experiencing life on other planets. The rather unique programming of the Biodome meant that he could set the temperature, the level of ambient light and with the press of a few buttons, call forth holographic representations of any planet’s flora. Of course, the Botanical Wing also housed a lot of real plant life as well, but the collection was fairly sparse.
Holographic recall was the only way many extinct plant species would ever be remembered and it had become Kale’s personal bugbear that so many had become extinct at all. It was just another of his peculiarities that set him apart from his peer group, but he didn’t really mind.
If you keep believing it, Kale, one day they will, too.
This particular evening saw him walking through a purple-hued garden of Sontaran roses. For such a war-torn, troubled planet, the flora on the Sontaran’s home planet was quite remarkable, and well adapted to the lower oxygen environment. The roses were night stock, with a delicious scent that the Proclamation’s highly advanced computers recreated in every olfactory detail. Some of the plants were the real article, but it was impossible to distinguish where the real flowers stopped and the recreations began.
Kale strolled easily through the garden, inhaling the scent of the roses and appreciating them with the same attention to detail that he showed to everything. This was the first time he had ‘dialled up’ the Sontaran rose garden, having read about them in a traveller’s journal earlier that day. As he moved through the garden, he bent towards a patch of the flowers to inhale their scent even more deeply.
“I wouldn’t do that.”
The man’s voice made the boy jump and he straightened up to glance over his white-robed shoulder in alarm. He was of above average height for his years, with a head of almost white-blond hair and the pale skin and ice-cool eyes of his mother’s race. In human terms, Kale could probably have been considered a handsome young man, but amongst his own kind, he was considered merely of average appearance. His voice, when he spoke, was soft and gentle. He seemed, overall, to be a very pleasant young man indeed.
Looks can often be deceiving, of course – but Kale genuinely was everything he appeared. And he hated it.
“Why not?” He glanced back at the clump of roses, then at the man who had spoken. Humanoid, tall, skinny and with a shock of artfully disarrayed hair that Kale immediately envied. He was leaning up against the wall of the Biodome, looking faintly bored.
“Sontaran roses,” said the man, pushing himself away from the wall and moving towards Kale. “Perhaps one of the most beautiful flowers in the whole of the known universe. Which given how easy on the eye the planet’s natives aren’t is quite surprising, really. The deepest purples, the brightest reds, a scent to die for, and…”
He reached out with a hand towards the closest rose which almost immediately strained to reach the offered appendage, a set of previously unnoticed petals opening to reveal serrated edges not unlike that of the Earth Venus Fly Trap.
“Carnivorous,” finished the man, snatching his hand back. “You must be Kale.”
“Yes, I am,” said Kale. He stared down at the rose which barely moments ago had been beautiful, but was now visibly seething at having been denied its dinner. “Would that thing have actually tried to bite me?”
“No, it wouldn’t have tried, it would have succeeded. Nasty things, Sontaran roses. They don’t actually sever your limbs or anything, but they do inject a slow-acting poison that paralyses their prey. Of course, their prey is usually much smaller than you or I, so the worst that happens to us is a numb hand – or as was nearly the case in your instance – a numb nose for a while. It’s not pleasant, though.” The man peered suspiciously at the boy. “I thought you were supposed to be well read?”
Kale stared at the stranger, his head filled with confusion at the man’s manner of speech, the way he seemed to go off on a tangent in mid-sentence and shook his head.
“Let us assume that there is a gap in my teaching,” he said in his mild tone, no hint of sarcasm evident, and was rewarded with a fleeting smile from the other. “I am most apologetic,” Kale said, “but I do not recognise you. Who are you?”
“You can call me the Doctor.”
“Doctor of what?”
“Why must people be so literal when I introduce myself? Just ‘the Doctor’. That’s not too hard, is it?”
“Well, no, but…”
“Your mother seems to think that I’ll find you interesting. Why might that be?”
The man’s blunt rudeness surprised Kale. Almost to a man, the people who inhabited the Proclamation base were polite, deferential and well-mannered. Even the Judoon with whom Kale had come into contact said ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, or at least its rough Judoonese equivalent. So he didn’t immediately answer the Doctor’s question, but stood there in confusion, his mouth slightly open.
“Close your mouth, you’ll catch insects.”
Kale’s mouth closed immediately. The Doctor sighed. “Let me make this simple for you, Kale. I promised your mother that I would come and talk to you. She promised me that I would see why I should find you a suitable candidate for a rather unique job opportunity. So far, I’m not seeing it.” The Doctor knew he was being more than a little unfair by not levelling with the kid, but he was feeling faintly angry at the Shadow Architect for putting him into this position. He had seen no sign of the spark he sought in his companions, felt no jolt of connection with this – frankly – dull boy and was already planning out ways he could escape.
Rude. And not ginger.
And with his next words, the boy completely changed the Doctor’s opinion.
“It might help,” said Kale, mildly, not rising to the bait at all, “if you told me exactly what the ‘job opportunity’ was. After all, how is one supposed to get enthused about the unknown, exciting as that may be? We are taught to take on the facts first, then make an appropriate, logical decision based on the divination of those facts.” The faintest of smiles touched Kale’s own young face. “I prefer snap judgements, but don’t tell my mother I said so.”
“Ah, but that’s just it, Kale.” The Doctor’s grin suddenly became very real and curiously infectious. “That’s exactly what the job opportunity is. Getting enthused about the unknown.” He saw the spark of interest flare deep down in the boy’s eyes and knew then what it was that his mother had been saying. Here was a young man whose imagination hadn’t been conditioned into pure logic by the way of life on board this base. Here was a young man who might just get enthused about the unknown.
“Let’s assume for the moment that I am interested in taking you off this base and taking you travelling. What would be your instinctive reaction? Don’t think about it, just tell me what your response would be to the question ‘do you want to come with me?’”
The Doctor had asked this question of people before and had experienced a range of responses from ‘I’m sorry, what do you mean?’, right through to ‘well, I’d have to pay the milkman…put the cat into kennels…pay Auntie Mary’s TV licence’.
In both cases, he’d left without taking the individuals in question.
From what he knew about the Shadow Proclamation, he predicted that the response would be the logical and clinical ‘explain more fully what you mean’. He met the unflinching gaze of the boy who answered almost immediately.
“My instinctive reply, Doctor would be ‘where are we going and when do we leave’?”
Oh-HO! There IS something different about this one.
The Doctor’s grin widened, almost impossibly and he reached over and clapped Kale on the shoulder. “That,” he said, “was the right answer. Tell me what you know about the Covenant of Hours, Kale, because if you play your cards right, you might just be signing up.”
The Doctor had been in Kale’s company for barely two hours and already he was starting to find the adjustment difficult.
Not difficult in the ‘I wish this boy wasn’t here’ sense, no. Kale was almost unerringly polite and well-mannered. They had sat down with the Shadow Architect, discussed the Covenant of Hours, outlined a vague plan of education. Within the hour, the agreement had been finalised, the Doctor had eaten the last of the Shadow Architect’s biscuits, Kale had packed an almost embarrassingly tiny bag of clothing and they had headed back to the TARDIS.
That had been where the difficulties had begun.
Not only had the boy been singularly unimpressed by the TARDIS interior, he had almost immediately started making what the Doctor felt were overly-critical observations about the aged machine’s condition. It was strange, but after so many years of travelling with human companions, the Doctor had come to quite enjoy that look of disbelief that invariably came onto people’s faces when they failed to comprehend the true size of the TARDIS.
The Doctor had never admitted that there were areas and decks inside his own ship that he had never successfully mapped himself, nor that there were other areas that were so deeply immersed in the Time Vortex that mapping them was about as much use as sending the ‘Lusitania’ to rescue survivors of the ‘Titanic’. They changed as often as the weather.
So there had been none of the open-mouthed, fly-catching disbelief of which the Doctor had grown so fond. Of course, it was always funnier when they ran outside and back in again, but usually he was content with the look of confusion as their tiny, simplistic monkey brains tried to make the connection between the size of the TARDIS exterior and its impossible inner space.
But not Kale, oh, no.
He had strolled in through the doors, looked around himself with a faint air of disinterest and set down the bag which he had brought with him. “This ship needs some serious maintenance,” he had observed, in what the Doctor had felt to be an unnecessarily blunt tone, and had looked up with an irritatingly expectant expression. The Doctor had considered urging him outside and back in again, but realised with a pang of regret that the boy had grown up around Time Lord technology.
It was disappointing.
And then the comment about the lack of maintenance on his ship – that stung. He’d spent so long alone in the TARDIS and so long with people who were amazed by its very being that none of them had ever really criticised her. Of course, he’d heard the old girl referred to variously as ‘the old wreck’ and ‘the pile of junk’, but he’d convinced himself that they had been terms of endearment rather than insults.
“Ah, maintenance. Yes.” The Doctor scratched at his long nose with a thin finger. “You’re probably right, she could do with a bit of an overhaul. Unfortunately, the last TARDIS service station for several thousand millennia closed down during the Time War. We get by.”
The Doctor had moved to the console and swept aside several random items that he had emptied out of his pockets that morning. A water pistol, a small, plastic duck, a jam sandwich that had been cultivating some rather interesting mould – all of these had been cluttering up the console and only now did he feel faintly embarrassed at their presence. He could sense Kale staring at the small, plastic duck in mild bewilderment and could feel the question coming before it was even out of the boy’s mouth.
The Doctor straightened up and fixed Kale with a stern glance.
“I expect,” he said, solemnly, “you’re wondering why I have a small, plastic duck on the console.”
Kale hesitated, not wishing to appear stupid then bit his lip and nodded. “The question had crossed my mind, Doctor, yes.”
The Doctor picked up the offending item and waved it around as he spoke. Every so often, it emitted a faint ‘squeak’. “You see, there are some things that you find yourself needing in the most unlikely of situations. Always be prepared, Kale. That’s the first motto of this unit. Be Prepared!” The Doctor made a circle with the thumb and pinky finger of his right hand and let the other three fingers go upright in a close approximation of the Earth Boy Scout salute. “Um. Yes. Be Prepared. Oh, and dib-dib.”
“Dib-dib?” Kale curiously attempted to mimic the salute. Sensing the upper ground, the Doctor released his fingers and changed his salute to that of the Vulcans of Star Trek.
“Live long,” he said, seriously, “and prosper.”
It amused him no end that Kale couldn’t separate his fingers without the help of the other hand.
“These greetings are unfamiliar to me,” said the boy, sounding exasperated. “I am familiar with over seventeen thousand cultures and yet I have no point of reference for these gestures.” He sounded suitably annoyed at his own ignorance. It made the Doctor feel a little better.
“You’ll learn, Kale. Here, hold this.”
He threw the small, plastic duck at the boy who caught it on reflex. Kale raised it to eye level and very, very slowly squeezed it.
It squeaked at him.
There was a long silence during which Kale squeezed the wheezy little duck a few more times. He almost cracked a smile.
“Most intriguing,” he said, eventually. “And how is it that such an item comes in useful?”
The Doctor, busy throwing switches and programming coordinates, looked up and thought on the fly.
“The duck,” he said, “is the symbol of the gods in many cultures. You’d be amazed at the number of times our squeaky little friend has come in handy. You know how it is – you’re running away from a killer group of alien hedgehogs who are hellbent on creating works of art from your lower gastrointestinal tract, when WHAM!”
He slammed his fist down on the console. Startled, Kale dropped the duck in alarm. The Doctor gave him a raffish smile. “Out comes Daffy there, the attacking hedgehogs all drop to worship it and then…” He drew a dramatic pause, probably for longer than necessary, then continued. “Then…you leg it.”
“You run away. That’s something you’ll learn after you’ve spent time with me, Kale. There’s a lot of running away in this job. Now hold on, we’re going for a ride.”
His hand hovered over the engaging switch, but he hesitated, then grinned. “You do the honours.”
“Really?” He received the first youthful expression he’d seen so far in the over-serious boy. Kale’s eyes lit up and he crossed to the console and looked down at the switch that the Doctor indicated.
“Really. Welcome to the TARDIS. Population: two.”
Kale threw the switch and the TARDIS lurched, its pitched whine audible even from within as it phased from solid form into the Time Vortex. The Doctor shouted with glee at the familiar trembling beneath his feet. Used to the sluggish, but violently erratic movements of the ship’s start-up, he had retained his balance with practised ease, whilst Kale had fallen over. Three times already.
“Did I, or did I not say you should hold on?” he said after he’d helped Kale up from the third fall. The boy nodded vigorously and clung to the central rail for dear life as the Doctor bounded, gazelle-like, around the controls, monitoring the readouts and – if he dared admit it – showing off.
“Of course, she hasn’t had the right number of pilots for most of her operational life,” he said, “so I’ve sort of gotten used to doing this stuff by myself.”
“It’s remarkable,” said Kale, softly. “I mean, she is remarkable.” He put out a hand gently, cautiously, and laid it on the TARDIS console. The central column briefly glowed a light shade of pink then returned to a steady green. The Doctor nodded.
“I think she appreciates the sentiment. She never did like being called an ‘it’.” He patted the console fondly. “We’ve been through a lot together, she and I. I owe her my life several times over.”
“How does it feel?”
“How does what feel?”
If he was surprised by the question, the Doctor didn’t show it. There was no hesitation in his reply, only a soft, deeply affectionate tone to his voice. “She is like an extension of me. Like…an extra arm, or another pair of eyes. She is mother, sister, daughter and friend – and always has been. When she hurts, I hurt. When she fears, I fear. She protects me – and those who travel with me.”
He smiled, a real smile instead of the by-now familiar grin. “She is, as you correctly point out, remarkable.”
Kale’s eyes were as wide as saucers as he took all this information in. Then, something seemed to occur to him, and he mentally rewound several sentences.
“What’s a hedgehog?”
The Doctor sighed. “I can see that you’re going to have to do a lot of studying, Kale.” He glanced at the monitors. “Now that’s interesting.”
“What is?” Kale immediately forgot about hedgehogs and still clinging tightly to the central rail, made his way around to the Doctor. He peered over the taller man’s shoulder and concentrated on the symbols.
“That’s Ancient Gallifreyan,” the boy said. The Doctor nodded and was about to translate, when Kale continued. “It says that the fourth moon in orbit around the fifth planet in the cluster known as Scorpius has begun to disintegrate. We should probably investigate.”
The Doctor gaped.
“You read Ancient Gallifreyan?”
“Everyone needs a hobby.” Kale shrugged, lightly.
“Scorpius Five it is, then.” The Doctor shook his head in disbelief and made the course adjustments. This boy was remarkable. Hells, even Ancient Gallifreyans had often had trouble translating their own language. Along comes the Pint Sized Genius, and the evolutionary distance between the Time Lords and modern life forms was swept away.
“Should we take…” Kale had picked up the small, plastic duck. The Doctor looked at it thoughtfully.
“What do you think?”
Kale considered, then beamed a huge smile, before putting the duck carefully into his own pocket.
“I think,” he said, “that we should be prepared.”
“Right you are.”
Oh Gods. What have I wrought?
To be continued…