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FIC: Combien de Temps Chapters 5-7

Title: Combien de Temps
Chapter(s): 5-7 - Inside
Fandom: Doctor Who
Characters/Pairings: Fourth Doctor, Sarah Jane.
Date Written: 2007
Summary: Good faith, bad faith, dead worlds, fake gods, and what happens when you stop believing in yourself.
Rating/Warnings: PG for some disturbing imagery.
Notes: Title translates loosely to ‘how much time’. This is my attempt at a multi-part story, with a plot, that does not tie into any existing episodes/plot holes/missing scenes. Some new series continuity later on. ALSO: This will eventually be finished. I promise.



Five - Whiteout

The Timelord child sits in the hall, outside the Academy Head’s room – in trouble again, and for no good reason really, he rubs at his eyes and tries to look as uncaring and nonchalant as he can when the door swings open and he is regarded by disdainful and impatient eyes. Too different, too full of dangerous ideas. He is alone.

The Human child sits in detention, impolitely tapping her fingers on the desk in a drumbeat of boredom, staring out the window. Impertinent and presumptuous, they said, full of unrealistic goals. Even at this age, they are disappointed that her dreams involve more than a husband and a handful of children. She is alone.

The Paln child sits in the classroom, sequestered at the corner table, studiously ignoring and being ignored. Too special, too strange, and no one with any idea what to do with him. Afraid. He reads a book, turning the pages without his hands – just to spite them, in some small childish way. He is alone.

Somewhere in the white, they fall into one another.

.o.

There’s something instinctually comforting about falling through nothing, cushioned by other minds – even if only one is familiar, and even if you know better than to think that because something feels safe, it is. Psychokinetic containment field, he thinks disjointedly. That may just have been a mistake. He feels the question-mark somewhere nearby, recognizes its source immediately, but doesn’t offer further commentary. Not until he’s sure. Not until he has some idea – even an inkling – as to how to get them out of this.

.o.

She’s falling and falling, and there’s a feeling in there reminiscent of nausea, but it’s a hard one to pin down without a body to feel it in. She flails out in any way she can, trying to grab onto something familiar, something she can put her mind around that’s more substantive than the endless, painful whiteness.

She hears his voice suddenly, from somewhere nearby. As usual, it makes no sense, and not so much as usual, he isn’t interested in explaining.

But it’s something to cling to, something that halts the descent.

.o.

A glowing pattern shimmers into existence, something like a fractal but infinitely more complex, more dimensions than can really be understood in a three-dimensional universe, folding in on itself impossibly. Tendrils of red and blue and white and a thousand other gradients of color interlock with mechanical precision – and snap into place all around them, the pattern still a work in progress.

It’s familiar.

It’s familiar but it’s not immediately identifying itself, just a sensation of almost-there tickling at their collective consciousness, like a wordless tune stuck maddeningly in the back of the mind, the melody of time and life and universe and what do senses matter here, where you can hear colors and feel thoughts? It is still familiar, and important.

But not offering up its identity.

It swirls and swings out in wide arcs, bits of it passing through them and finding ground there, buzzing and vaguely uncomfortable. There are hundreds of such ground points visible – thousands, even, stretching to where the horizon would be if the word had any meaning in a mindspace.

.o.

There are flashes, in the white.

The reptilian Paln going about their daily lives, a quiet murmuring background hum sliding up into the silent cracks between moments, the gentle earmark of a society half-gone to mental communications – empathic, words still required only for precision and specificity, quiet modifiers of intent.

A city rising out of the dust, faster than it should, time-lapse hindsight as the sky flickers past. Engineering, construction, mechanics – cold disciplines that they do not enjoy or excel at, but they are tired of living in the sand and the heat, chasing the night’s shadows from outcropping to outcropping, and needs must.

The sun in the bowl of purple sky, flaring through a layer of glass, too bright to look straight into its heart but there’s always someone, always eyes willing to burn in the brilliance while everyone else ducks and looks away.

Voices behind a closed door, in turns angry and then pleading. The feeling of something ending. Say goodbye to your friends, you won’t see them again. Better places, better opportunities. So talented, so special. Dangerous. Belong. Jump the barricades. Dragged back - respect and awe and awards and special classes and endless questions and things ending. Always something ending.

.o.

The fall resumes, from this point out, vertigo and despair and spiraling. Physical, mental, metaphorical, it’s all the same in the white, and there’s little point in the differentiation. Gravity is a concept even the inner mind can understand, and in this context, the descent is inevitable.

.o.

The whispers start in and they sound like sprites or angels at first, spinning silver and golden spells with their words. A nudge in one direction or another. Conscience. Imagination. The other side of internal conversations, questions and answers he doesn’t realize he has. The shine in his own mind; the unclouded part of him that can accomplish greatness, the whispers of self assurance in the dark and the howls of ego in the light of day.

Then they start to split.

They start to go sour. Make demands. Make claims to divinity, even. They were never just his own internal voices, and they insist that he knows that. They’ve come to him, out of all the others. He’s been chosen. And people have always told him how special he is, haven’t they? But they have made him special.

Self-assurance crumbles. Without his shine, without something inside to make him worthy, he has little else to believe in. They, dancing now on the periphery of vision and just out of reach, make acceptable substitutes.

.o.

He grows older, and inherits a mean streak, and acts out, as adolescents are wont to do. Power hums in the back of his mind and the voices whisper, rustling and dripping and the ideas they put in his mind are lovely and compelling, and he knows by now that he’s being used, but there isn’t enough left of him to care.

Respect and awe turn to shuffling, scattered fear until one day, there’s white and white and white and no one left to be afraid of him.

.o.

The white came from inside of him- all the white does. He knows that now, with the quivering mental feel of an apology he can barely muster.

It’s not that they died, after all. It’s that he died. That’s why he cannot see them anymore.

.o.

He didn’t kill them.

.o.

He didn’t kill them because his voices say so, and even the vaguest supposition that they might just be lying, transmitted lightly into the white by the interlopers, sends him into a shaking, cold fit.

They wouldn’t lie. There’s no reason for them to lie. They’ve promised him peace, and rest, and before that they promised him power and solitude, and before that they made the childish, wafer thin promises that one day, life would be better. What he has needed most, they found for him, over and over. Except that life didn’t honestly seem any better, and then he died and the promise no longer matters but that doesn’t mean anything and-

They wouldn’t.

He clings to the pattern all around them, as lost as the outsiders for something real. The world shudders.

.o.

The bottom drops out. It is no longer a gradual descent on papered wings, but the brutal fear and adrenaline mind-death of freefall. The show’s over and the lights start to fade, dimming the whiteness as they tumble through it, consciousness colliding and scrabbling together for a handhold and there’s something that feels warm and slippery and red in the space between them. The Doctor just barely manages to catch hold of Sarah’s panicking mind as it slips into the depths, gripless, dragging them down and down and down.

*

Six - Of Familiar Places

It was a fall within a fall.

.o.

Time seemed to compress and stretch and twitch lightly in place. The minute hand shuddered forward, sliding hesitantly up against the ten. There was only one set of eyes watching it; the others were focused downwards, on the scraps of paper laid over desks, on the marks made as pencils scrabbled over them, filling in answers to insignificant questions. Too easy, finished too fast, said the eyes watching the clock.

It couldn’t be constant, Sarah figured, fingering the stubby end of the pencil, eyes fixed on the timepiece. It didn’t always pass at the same rate. Something about observation, or context, shifted its speed. What did that mean?

She didn’t know. She was only seven, after all. Someday, some grownup would explain it to her, when she found one that would listen and not just dismiss it as fancy. But she knew this today, sitting here in the dying end of Maths class: Time was not a constant.

Sarah felt a wash of warmth suddenly, like a murmur of approval unvoiced but somehow still perceived. She looked down from the clock, dark hair bobbing around her face. Where did that come from? She fiddled with the corner of the test sheet, antsy and unsettled. Glanced at the other students, then up towards the teacher sitting at his desk, marking homework papers. Narrowed her eyes.

He was awfully funny-looking, she decided. Why hadn’t she noticed that earlier? Between the hair and the clothes, she decided that he looked a little like a clown. Not a scary one, though. Familiar, like a favorite uncle, which didn’t make a lot of sense since school had only been in session for a few weeks now. She decided that she liked him.

He looked up and met her stare suddenly, something like sadness ringing in the endless blue of his eyes. And like he had something he wanted to say, but physically couldn’t manage it.

Well, it’s only a memory after all, a voice said in her mind suddenly, and Sarah’s breath caught. It was coming from the same place her own thoughts came from, but it didn’t sound like her at all. Wasn’t it only crazy people, like the funny man on the street across from the park with all the cardboard signs, who heard voices in their heads? You’ve put me inside it but it’s already happened, so there’s not a great deal I can do from here. You have to-

Sarah put her hands over her ears and refused to listen. Somewhere in there he came over and asked if she was done with the test, all curls and trailing scarf, and she must have nodded because the sheet disappeared, but she wasn’t sure – wasn’t paying attention. Too busy trying to block out the voice. Later, this would be the teacher that would notice her intelligence, have her plucked out of mediocrity and pushed ahead a class or two. Make school half-livable for her. She remembered him looking different.

On the wall, the clock hand continued its slow plodding towards noon.

.o.

She was on holiday with her family, down on the coast, and she’d spent all day picking over the craggy, rocky shoreline. Her bare feet were covered in cuts and scrapes but she was free of the broken neck her mother had predicted. Why did parents make such gruesome prognostications, she wondered? ‘Prognostication’ was a word she’d learned recently, and was one of her new favorites, but really, all words were lovely. ‘Strong future as a writer’, the teachers all said.

Just ahead, there was a dock jutting crookedly out into the water, grey water and grey sky and grey, time-battered wood. A figure sat hunched on the pier, wrapped in color, a fishing line dangling carelessly out into the water below.

Sarah stopped. Her parents had told her not to talk to strangers, but she’d been a kid then. Now she was twelve – nearly an adult! She shook herself and scrabbled over the last few rocks, then stepped out onto the dock, taking careful steps over towards the funny-looking fisherman. Who wore a scarf to the water, anyway? “What’re you trying to catch?”

He looked up at her, expression open and gentle, and carrying a mad glint of humor. Curls bobbed lightly around his head. “Dock fish,” he replied, resettling the fishing rod in his hands.

Sarah squinted, looking down into the water. “I don’t think there are any fish that live under docks.”

“Well, that might explain my poor luck,” the fisherman grinned, toothy and wide, flicking the line a bit further out.

She thought about this for a minute, then took a few steps and resolutely sat down on the edge of the dock, a foot or two down from him. “Are you a...” She paused. She’d meant to ask if he was a boatman, but for some reason she kept thinking of school, five or six years ago. He looked familiar. “Are you a teacher? Or … or a doctor?”

Where had that come from?

Very good, Sarah. You’re starting to remember.

“No, love. Just a fisherman. And not a very good one, or so my wife says. It’s a secret, but,” and he leaned in a bit, as if imparting some great universal truth, “I actually agree with her.”

Don’t listen to him. Or... us, I suppose. You had that one right on the nose.

The voice was back. Why was it back now, after all this time? Who was it, and what was it trying to tell her?

“Doesn’t your scarf get wet?” she asked suddenly, eying the cumbersome garment. The scene froze around her for a moment, then shuddered, as if several frames had been cut out. He didn’t reply. There was no proper response in her memory – because of course, she hadn’t asked anything close to that, the first time through.

Sarah, I need you to remember. There’s a great deal at stake. You have to trust me.

“I should get back to my family,” she said, vaguely agitated, trying not to show it. Because she wasn’t sure, now, whether she should be trying to ignore the voice or not. Because it was comforting, on some level. Because she wanted to trust it, and that scared her a little. Distracted - what had distracted her the first time through? – by these thoughts, she stood up too hurriedly, slipped on a patch of seaweed-covered, damp wood. It all happened so very, very quickly. She smacked her head against the plank on her way down, knocked herself giddy as she slipped down into the water with a deafening splash.

And she sank.

And there was an arm catching itself around hers, a hand gripping onto her jacket, jerking her to a stop and pulling her sharply upwards to roll, senseless, onto the wood planking. Air was such a luxury, she realized, gasping like a fish on the dock. Dock fish. The joke was almost funny now, and the gasping turned to unhinged laughter as she rolled onto her back to look at her sad, sopping drenched rescuer, concern writ all over his face.

Guess the scarf does get wet, after all.

“Come on,” he said, shambling to his feet, helping her to hers by one hand. “Let’s get you back where you belong.”

Yes, Sarah. Come back to where you belong.

.o.

It was summer, a beautiful cloudless day with the sun at its zenith, the grass a perfectly soft and uniform abstraction of the pitted, cow-chewed reality. The next branch was just a tiny bit out of reach, but Sarah was determined to make it on her own. This was a rite of passage, in a way. Only an inch or two more, and she would have it –

- she remembered this now, as she found herself falling and falling, the ground rising up with unforgiving swiftness and the softness of the grass an insubstantial comfort for the rock-hard earth she knew lurked just underneath and –

- she was caught. Sort of. Not swept out of the sky with ethereal grace, but supported and stumbling and it was supposed to be one of her friends who’d thrown himself under her, not so much catching her as breaking her fall. But it was him again, overdressed in the midday sun, a ghost of other summers.

“You’ve always been here,” she half-stated, half-accused, breaking the momentum of the memory like no other player in it could. No one spoke or moved. The breeze stilled in the leaves above.

He steadied her firmly on her feet but didn’t step back, his imposing height out of place amongst these awkward and gangly teenagers. His hand settled on her shoulder. Only this time through, Sarah. You managed the first time well enough on your own.

A spark of familiarity, passing in the contact. Something in the inflection of the voice, connected with the face hovering, full of concern, so near by. The way he said her name. Something triggered in her mind in a burst of bright blue and the images came as if through a breached dam – dinosaurs and robots and creatures from her imagination, metal men and metal monsters, a mob of mutated people on the plains of an ancient, alien world, a tight space smelling of steel and claustrophobia, a great and depressing blackness giving way to a blurry hodgepodge monstrosity raging towards her...

It was all she could do to catch her breath in a startled gasp, but she remembered.

Distantly, this memory of the summer day in the trees picked up again and played out around her, words and actions from a lifetime ago, continuing on autopilot. She remembered everything now, all in a flash, and had more important things to do. ...Doctor?

Yes, Sarah. Finally. What do you remember?

We crashed. In the... ruins? The ruins. And there was someone in the corner of the room and...

And what?

White. Just white.

We’re still there. You’ve retreated into your safest memories- the ones where there was someone to catch you, to save you. But you’re not a child anymore. You can save yourself now. You have to leave.

A short burst of mental laughter, no humor in it. And go where? Back into the white?

A flustered quality crept into the mental voice. What? Of course not. Back to the real world. You aren’t psychically sensitive, Sarah. You were done no physical injury by that blast. You’re only trapped here because you don’t know how to leave.

But... you are, she thought back at him, a white-hot flare of concern filling the mental line with static as the implications of what he’s said sink in. Sensitive. Are you hur-

She cut herself off, and there was no response for a moment. Then a brushing-away, a dismissal. I can give you a foot-up, show you the way out. You’ll be fine.

But-

Sarah. The voice was stern, suddenly- underwritten with so much bare worry and affection it almost hurt to hear it, but uncompromising. You have to trust me. We can do nothing from inside. Once you’re out, well, then you can shut down the containment field, can’t you? A pause, considering. ‘Can’ isn’t really a strong enough word. ‘Should’ is more the size of it. The lives of an entire society are at stake.

I’m more worried about yours.

Another brushing-away, the thought deflected out into the chaotic cloud surrounding their minds. Go on then. Allez-oop and all that.

She wasn’t ready, not really, and what he’d said hadn’t made much sense – a society? What society? What was she rushing into, here? Could she handle it? – but if trust was all he needed, then he had it, always and without question. The memory had continued onward and he had her foot braced in his hands; he hoisted her back towards the branch in one motion, exactly as she remembered so many years ago. There was the customary headrush of defying gravity and then a strange rushing, bubbling feeling, like the rise through water to the surface, the last few feet a dizzying blur of light and motion before breaking through to the air –

.o.

A burst of light, a cloud of static ringing in her mind like a data feed, encoded, unintelligible -

.o.

And she found herself there, in the ruins of the ruins, the building’s top and most of its walls now sheared away – gasping for air, impoverished lungs clenching and binding and screaming for oxygen. She remembered, in bursts of white against her slowly clearing vision – the empty place, and the pattern, and the containment field and they were one and the same, weren’t they? And the Doctor, he’d gotten her out, and he’d had to stay behind, and he’d told her to break the containment field and he-

And he was lying just a meter or two in front of her, still and white as stone, red slickness settled into the lines of his face. Just like all the others, visible now where they lay in the streets. Bodies to the horizon.

Oh god.

Everyone dies here...

“Wasn’t a dream,’ she rambled to herself, trying to affirm it, as she pulled herself to her hands and knees and scrambled over to him. It couldn’t have been a dream. He was there. It had to be real.

But maybe it hadn’t been. Maybe it had been a dream. Maybe – no. Just no.

Her fingers shook as she reached to touch the blood; they came away red, and she could sense the walls of shock coming down around her mind as she looked at it, felt the sticky tack of it between her finger and thumb. Not an illusion this time. Not a hallucination or a warning. The time for warnings had long since passed.

Maybe-

No.

Shoving aside the panic, Sarah pressed her shaking, bloodied fingers under the line of his jaw, searching for that familiar double-thrum, or even just one, or a trace of warmth, or any sign that the Doctor was still in there somewhere. But he was colder even than his normal chill, and under her fingertips, not a thing stirred.

There was nothing.

.o.

And now, he thought to himself, somewhere in the lonely, endless white, it’s my turn to have faith in you.

*

Seven - Within, Without

There was nothing – no sign of life, no stirring of motion. No offhanded joke about the mistake she was always making, thinking him dead. Nothing at all.

...wait.

There. One tiny, barely perceptible pulsebeat. Twenty seconds later, its lazy companion. Then, again and as before, nothing. Sarah felt hope rise to crowd out the panic, balloon its way into her heart and mind - irrational hope perhaps, but in the ruins of a dead world, surrounded by marble corpses and the dust of an ancient destruction, she was willing to let it take hold. Anything to stave off believing the evidence of her eyes.

She stayed as she was for several minutes more, only relenting to sit back on her heels when she’d felt another set of the strange, desperately slow heartbeats and knew for a fact that she hadn’t imagined it the first time. Tearing her eyes from the still form, she turned her head to look out at the streets now open in front of her, the bodies lying wherever they fell...

... there was life here. There was still life in the Doctor, at least. She knew that, or thought she did. Had to believe it. Maybe the others...

The lives of an entire society...

Sarah felt her mouth fall open in shock. The realization was huge – the implications greater. Pulling herself to her feet, she crossed to the nearest of the aliens and kneeled down next to it, considering. “Don’t know where you fellows keep your major arteries,” she murmured, dropping her ear to the creature’s chest. “But you’ve probably got your heart in the same place, right? Though knowing my luck, it’s probably in your elbow.” What was that someone had said, about making light against the darkness?

A minute passed, then another. Then, finally, there it was – a single beat in the silence. Sarah sat back up slowly, looking out over this corner of the ruined world – not full of corpses. Full of sleepers. “They’re alive,” she said, not sure exactly who she was speaking to but needing to voice it aloud. “They’re all alive.”

.o.

Where did she go? came the question, irritated and demanding. It had no location per say; it came from everywhere, permeating the whiteness.

He turned around to face the perception of it, regardless. It felt like something sneaking up from behind – and it was curious that the mental projection of his body still remained, after the trappings of the memories had fallen away. How strong Sarah’s mind had been, to imprint the visual impression of him so tenaciously into the vocabulary of this mindscape. I sent her back out, he thought, and his projection smiled, smug. Deliberately so. Back to the waking world? Bit beyond your reach, I’d think.

Not beyond our pet’s. A second voice, smoother and less immediately threatening, but dangerous all the same. He will deliver her back to us.

Hands settling into the pockets of his jacket, the Doctor appeared to think about this, then shook his head dismissively. I don’t think so. You underestimate her.

The first voice again, disdain dripping. I believe you OVERestimate her.

Oh, no. The grin had transmuted into a look of disbelief, eyes wide. Never. Sarah is many things, but ‘overestimated’ isn’t often among them.

We’ll-


A better question is, the Doctor interrupted, clearly bored with this tedium of overblown threats, why exactly do you need her, or me? Or any of these people? Conquest, colonization? Something more unconventional? Our mental energy, perhaps?

For a long time, there was no response.

.o.

Okay. So they were all alive. More importantly to her, and yes it was terribly selfish but she’d berate herself for it later, the Doctor was alive. That knowledge was enough, for now – enough to let her focus on what she’d been sent back to do. Shut down the mental containment field. She imagined it like a physical barrier, a sort of electrified fence- one could break through it easily enough once the power was cut off. Granted, that left her no wiser as to exactly how to proceed. Was this being mechanically generated? Controlled by some external intelligence with delusions of godhood?

...or a shaking, terrified lizard in the corner? Sarah blinked. How had she forgotten about him?

Cautiously, she stepped over to where he sat shivering, clutching at his knees, eyes wide open and less empty than they’d seemed just before the white. The walls were gone, torn down by his attack. He wasn’t alone anymore – and his company? His own fallen people.
He was realizing what he’d done.

Sarah didn’t know how she knew this – the knowledge seemed to rise full-formed out of that bank of static that was still rolling around the back of her mind, the one that had been there since she’d woken up. She knew what he was seeing, what he was feeling, and knew that at that moment, everything had changed. She crouched down, regarded him carefully. “Can you hear me?”

“Dead,” he replied, starting to shake harder. “Dead, dead, dead dead dead dead all dead…”

“No,” she said, quietly, entreating. “Just sleeping. But you can wake them up. Wouldn’t you like to do that?”

.o.

No reply? Hit that one a little too close, did I? Good.

The Doctor started walking, though the action had little meaning in the haze of nothingness. He was confident that the voices would follow him; they felt threatened, and would want to keep an eye on the threat. The purple-blue tendril from earlier had reappeared, grounding itself eerily through him and connecting him to the greater pattern, invisible from where he stood; his mental projection was starting to go transparent and strange. So you have this psychic field, absorbing mental energy from every poor fool you manage to catch in your little web. Spider and the fly, a game older than time. But why? What are you trying to accomplish?

Silence. He could feel them there, annoyance and suspicion and resentment, but they didn’t say a word.

And why, he asked finally, turning on his heels- exasperated by the lack of response, and loud, did you pull my ship out of the vortex?

We did not, came the immediate and unexpected response.

.o.

“Noo, out of my head. Head. Out.” The huddled reptile clawed at the top of his skull, ducking his head away from Sarah’s suggestion. Didn’t close his eyes. Couldn’t, now that he’d seen the truth. “Only they can be in my head, you’re not allowed, you can’t turn me against them they are good they give me everything…”

He stopped, and seemed to be listening for something, waiting. Expectant. But nothing came, in the end.

“Test. Testing me. Always testing. The pattern’s all that matters.”

Sarah stepped back, watching the creature rocking itself back and forth, clutching its head. Looked over to the Doctor, inert, defenseless, depending on her. Out at the people she knew now to be alive, waiting in the stillness for someone to come along and save them, pull them from that forever, painful whiteness. She made a sharp, frustrated noise, leaning against one of the standing support beams, pinching the bridge of her nose. She could do this, even alone. She just didn’t have enough information. Ask the right questions.

“Why does the pattern matter?” she asked suddenly, louder than she intended, looking up from her own frustrations.

She watched him blink, and stop rocking, and look up at her, uncomprehending. At first she thought he wasn’t going to answer.

Then: “Because... it’s beautiful.”

.o.

The Doctor blinked. He hadn’t been expecting an answer at all, much less that specific answer. Then who did? The boy?

No. The gentler, more cajoling voice. We would know. We are in control of him. We are only trying to get home.

You’re in control of everything here... and of course you could simply be lying, but let's leave that aside for now... so you would be aware of any sentience pulling nasty tricks with temporal dynamics. It’s not a subtle thing, after all. Unless... The fade was getting worse; looking down at himself, there was very little he could still see. Ahh! Unless it wasn’t a mind that did it.

And he set off in one direction again. Despite the uniformity of the landscape, there was a feeling of coming up upon a cliff, of seeing something vast and great coming into view below, a piece at a time. The rest of the pattern, spidering across the white, interconnections singing and crying in colors and light.

He recognized it, now. The song of everything. The pattern buzzing and vibrating with the energy that connected up the universe. It changed as he watched, sweeping in on itself, possibilities upon ideas upon chance upon chaos upon the forever-branching path of time. What was left of his eyes widened. He hadn’t seen anything like this since he was a child, and it hadn’t been easy then.

It was like looking into the Schism.

.o.

Wonderful, Sarah thought harshly, biting back a shout of frustration. An artist. How do you argue aesthetics? “Life is beautiful too, you know,” she attempted lamely, knowing the cliché for what it is but not much else was coming to mind, and she had to say something.

“No no no, life is ugly. Everything hurts and everyone goes away. It’s... messy and ugly and it hurts and they hurt and they hurt you and the pattern doesn’t care if I’m different...” The boy resumed rocking, and a low, keening sound made its way from his throat, a plea or a lament.

Everyone goes away…

Sarah sighed harshly and shudderingly, risking another glance back to her own gone-away friend. “People go away, but sometimes they can come back. If you let them.”

Silence. Behind those dull eyes were memories of better times and better days, of summers gone and friends sent into darkness. Of the sun, brilliant, shining through the glass ceiling of his home, burning into him the feeling of something better, something greater. The safer days, the stable life, before he was differentspecialstrange. Everyone retreats to the same havens, in the end.

Hesitant, the voice meandered its way across the room. “How do you let them?”

.o.

Where do you come from? What planet? The Doctor asked, not looking away from the twisting and writhing mass of light. The question was flat and uninflected, and terribly, terribly serious.

We cannot say.

Irritation, attention still glued below. What do you mean, you can’t say? That’s the most ridiculous load of poppycock-

We... do not know.

Again, unexpected, but that seemed to be the order of the day. He projected towards his idea of ‘where’ they were and focused in on the minds, trying to feel out their structure and get a sense of their probable origin. It was impolite at best, but this had just become that much more serious. And they recoiled, pulling into themselves after he’d gotten only a glimpse, but even that glimpse was confusing. That doesn’t make any sense...

A third voice broke in suddenly, fairly screaming in the echoey white space. Hurry hurry he’s going to destroy it all our work all our efforts we will die we will all die there’s no time he’s weak he’s weak he’s weak...

And like that the voices were gone, leaving him alone, standing before a child’s multi-dimensional drawing of the great harmonic frequency of the universe. Slowly evaporating into the white.

.o.

“By letting go,” Sarah said softly, crouching beside the boy and reaching for his shoulder. The static buzzed again in her mind and another fact or two became obvious, like pieces of a puzzle slotting themselves into place. “You’ve been using them, building your pattern with them. And it is beautiful to look at. But you’re killing them – all of them, to maintain it. That’s not right. It isn’t beautiful at all.”

Silence. For a moment, she thought she’d won; she bit her lip, waiting. But it could never be that easy. She watched, horrified, as he spasmed under her grip and fell forward onto his side, shaking and crying and all but screaming out apologies to his angels and his gods.

“No, no please, I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’ll only do what you say I won’t listen to her I’m sorry I’ll do what you say forever...”

*

TBC.




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