"I think," said the Doctor, "that it's time we had a holiday."
Grace's shoulders slumped and she shoved her hands into her jacket pockets. "Isn't that what you always say just before we get into the deepest trouble?"
"No," said the Doctor, spinning the coordinate tumblers to Rassilon Era, "that's 'this shouldn't take long'. And I haven't been to the Eye of Orion in ages."
Grace watched him set the tumblers. "What's it like there?"
"Quiet, restful. The last time I was there -" No, he didn't want to mention that. The time before ... no, his Sirian recurring flu was acting up then, wasn't it? Mel never let him hear the end of it. Now the time before - no, that was the curious incident of the Giant Rat of Sumatra. "Well," he finally said, "you'll see for yourself in just a moment," and the TARDIS rocked them both off their feet.
"What was that?" demanded Grace from the floor.
"No malfunction," said the Doctor, already up and looking over the console readouts. "No damage... We were knocked off course, only a few hundred meters."
"Knocked off course?" said Grace, hanging onto the console edge to drag herself to her feet. "By what?"
The Doctor transferred a graphic to the scanner monitor. It looked like the rings of the cross section of a tree trunk. It was bisected by a horizontal line marking ground level. "There's a spherical time-field centered just at the spot where I intended to land. Actually, there are thirty-five concentric spherical time-fields. The TARDIS couldn't breach the interface; she landed next to it, like a raindrop sliding down the side of a geodesic dome.
"Something is wrong here, and we need to fix it."
"Didn't I say?" grumbled Grace, though she turned the door switch without being asked. "Didn't I tell you, just before it happened?"
"Don't worry, Grace, this," he tried to stop himself but the rest just came out, "shouldn't take long." He marched out of the TARDIS without meeting her eyes.
The sight that greeted him outside the TARDIS was that of a dome about a mile wide at the base. The centerpoint of the sphere(s) was at ground level, so only a hemisphere showed above the ground. The dome seemed to have a mirrored surface.
He heard Grace shut the TARDIS doors behind herself. "Time-fields have a mirror surface?" Optimistically she had brought a pack of picnic sandwiches.
"The interface between normal time and a time-field reflects light and everything else. Like a black hole in reverse."
"We have to go through that?" she asked. "How can we get through it, if nothing can?"
The Doctor rapped on the dome with his knuckles. Though the dome stopped his fingers like a physical object, he felt nothing, and no sound was generated. "I think I know what kind of time-field this is," he said. He leaned on the dome, settling his full weight on it. "You have to perform a particular feat or solve a particular puzzle, and then it'll let you through the interface." He abruptly fell through the dome as if it weren't there.
"Realizing that," the Doctor added, brushing the dust off himself as Grace joined him on the inside, "appears to have been the first puzzle."
Inside the first dome was another, slightly smaller, leaving a strip about five meters wide between the two glassy walls, circling the interior dome. "There'll be circles like this between each pair of time-fields," said the Doctor.
"Kinda makes you think of the circles of Dante's Inferno, doesn't it?" Grace said.
"And they say a classical education isn't any use in the real world. Yes, you're right - except here there are thirty-five circles."
"It doesn't look like the same place, does it?" said Grace.
"It is; what we see is an illusion, an effect of the time-field, the setting of the puzzle we have to solve to pass the next interface." She was right, though; it didn't seem to be the Eye of Orion landscape to any of the physical senses. It seemed to be the interior of a TARDIS, though not the Doctor's TARDIS.
"Isn't this the Abbot's TARDIS?" Grace said.
"Yes, it is," said a firm voice behind them with bemusement in its tone. They turned to see an elderly, hale man in a monk's robe, the Time Lord field historian known as the Abbot Abacus. "Doctor, Grace," he said, clasping arms with the Doctor warmly, "I don't mind your dropping in, but I prefer some notice. Particularly since it's impossible for you to get in here unless I let you in."
"Are we really in the Abbot's TARDIS?" Grace asked.
"No," the Doctor said to her. Turning to the Abbot, he said, "You, I'm afraid, are only an illusion of my old classmate."
The Abbot mulled this over. "That would explain how you got in ..."
The Doctor rapped his knuckles on the circle's interior dome. "Do you see this?" he asked the Abbot.
"See what?" said the Abbot.
"Is the puzzle that we have to make him see it?" asked Grace.
"Given my past relations with him," said the Doctor, "I expect the puzzle is that I have to win an argument with him."
"Now we've been down this road before," said the Abbot, with the harshness that his philosophical differences with the Doctor always brought out in him. "You cannot convince me that your mucking about in History is the proper way to treat it!"
"You know," said the Doctor, getting just as affronted, "you're the embodiment of everything contradictory in Time Lord society. Why bother inventing time capsules if all you're going to do with them is make observations and collect samples? Timescoops do that!"
"History must be preserved! Not just those elements that make up the Web of Time, but all of it! We have the power to preserve, but we must have the baseline data too."
"You know," said the Doctor, "you make me think of the librarian who wants all the books kept on the shelves all the time, and never removed."
At this the Abbot got an incredibly, uncharacteristically hurt look on his face. "I'm nothing like my mother!" he cried, his voice breaking. "You leave her out of it!" He fled from the room. The Doctor thought he was wiping tears away.
"I thought I was referring to a theoretical archetype," the Doctor said, nonplussed.
"Does this mean you won the argument?" Grace asked.
"I suppose it must," said the Doctor. He shuddered as they turned to the next interface, trying to shake himself of the image of the illusory Abbot giving up an argument in a crying fit.
The next circle looked like Grace's apartment.
"So what's this all about?" the Doctor said.
"That's what I'd like to know," said Grace.
"What?" said Grace.
The Doctor looked from one Grace to another. One was the one he'd arrived with, and one was part of the time-field puzzle. Puzzle-Grace was wearing the outfit she'd had on when she'd changed her mind about boarding the TARDIS, and real-Grace was carrying the picnic sandwiches and wearing the ensemble she'd acquired on Desiree II. Which was odd, come to think of it, because that wasn't what she'd been wearing when they arrived at the Eye of Orion ...
"What's going on?" said real-Grace, interupting the Doctor's train of thought.
"What are you doing here?" said puzzle-Grace. "I haven't seen you since New Year's."
"Isn't that what I said when you came back?" Grace said.
"Yes, you did," answered the Doctor.
"I did?" said puzzle-Grace. "When?"
"She doesn't see you," said the Doctor to real-Grace.
"Who doesn't see me?" asked puzzle-Grace.
"So what's the trick to this circle?" asked real-Grace.
"I think I'm supposed to persuade you to come with me."
"Well, don't sound so enthusiastic," said puzzle-Grace sarcastically.
"Uh oh," said real-Grace. "Sounds like you've started off on the wrong foot, doesn't it?"
The Doctor nodded; he'd recognized that tone too. He started with the argument that had worked in real life. "You need a vacation and I need the company."
"I've had nothing but vacation since you were here! I need a job, and guess whose fault that is."
"By the way," said real-Grace, "can we discuss the definition of 'vacation' sometime?"
The Doctor tried again. "You can do good work all over the universe."
"I'm a doctor, Doctor. I do good work when I'm employed at home."
"You can meet a lot of new people."
"I'd rather meet a lot of new co-workers."
The Doctor argued with puzzle-Grace for ten minutes. Finally real-Grace said, "Why don't you just tell her what it's really like?"
The Doctor rolled his eyes and shrugged to the ceiling. He'd tried everything else. "If you come with me, you'll be chased by monsters all over the universe, and the all the evil people there are will try to kill you."
Puzzle-Grace stared at him for a full five count, and finally said, "Well, why didn't you say so?"
"Wonderful!!" The Doctor lept up from the chair where he was sitting. Both Graces followed him into the interface, though only real-Grace completed the trip.
It was different when they crossed this interface. On the other side he felt suddenly weaker. No, not weaker; older. Rather like a regeneration, but backwards, in fact. "Grace," he said, and his voice sounded odd too.
It also seemed to strike Grace that way, for she spun around as if stung. When she saw him she screamed.
"Grace, what's happened?"
"That's what I want to know," said Grace, greatly excited, "what's happened to you?"
He had something in his hand. He looked at it. It was that umbrella he'd been so fond of.
The hand holding the umbrella was stubbier than it had been a moment ago. The coat sleeve on his arm was a different color.
He could feel that he was wearing a hat, which he took off and looked at. "I left my hat in San Francisco," he objected.
"You're the man who died in my O.R. again, aren't you?" Grace wailed.
The Doctor looked in the mirror-surface of the interface they'd just passed through. Grace was right. "The time-fields have retrogenerated me," he said. "They're undoing my life!"
END OF CHAPTER ONE
Back to satire episode index.
Back to Paul's index