Staring at this mystery Doctor (and I hope this amuses a few of you) I said, “Who?”
This is a true story. It’s not going to sound like it, but it is. I’m asking Ponken to put it here because you are the only readers who might believe it. Or Who might believe it? But then I’m getting ahead of myself. I work in a hospital. It’s a second shift job so I’m usually there from 3 to 11pm. Occasionally, they need me to stay until 2am. It’s the last ten minutes that really get you. Like the whole day catches up to you at once. It can be tough.
Anyways one night we had a third shift call-in and I stayed late. It was actually just after 2am by the time I got finished. I said goodnight to my coworkers and trudged out of the lab, feeling exhausted. Now, in my building there’s a spot between my lab and the exit where two hallways meet, and the acoustics are very strange there. Right at that junction, little noises echo and amplify so that two steps around the corner everything sounds louder than the first or third step. And I’d been noticing this hum- like something electric switched on. But I could only hear it at that second step.
On this night it was somewhat louder than normal. I could almost feel the rest of the sounds in the hall stripping away. Maybe I was just overtired, but it was making me feel a bit breathless; almost paranoid. I hesitated on that second step and suddenly the sound was so loud I had to cup my hands over my ears. It now sounded like a whining, the noise of something terrified. It invaded my ears, going on and on forever and I sank to my knees. Then a voice behind me spoke.
“D’you hear that?” it said. Embarrassed, I got to my feet and immediately noticed two things. The hum was at its usual volume, and the voice was somehow incredibly familiar to me, but I couldn’t place it. That should have been my first clue.
I turned. Standing in front of me was someone in green scrubs and a surgical mask. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or a woman, though I suppose it doesn’t really matter. He or she held out an ID badge and said in a cheerful but slightly muffled voice, “Hello, I’m the doctor!”
That should have been my second clue. In hindsight it was obvious enough. But remember: it was late, and I was tired, and, after all, I was in a hospital. And as sure as I am now about all this, I know not everyone will believe me. But it’s my hope a few of you reading this might, or at least be interested enough to continue.
Staring at this mystery Doctor (and I hope this amuses a few of you) I said, “Who?”
My eyes went to the ID badge held in front of my face. It was then that I noticed the picture on the badge. It showed a much older individual than the one standing before me. Squinting at it I could make out a colorful mess around his or her neck. And I realized I’d seen the color pattern before. That detail should have been my third clue. As my tired brain belatedly tried to catch up, this Doctor noticed the mismatched ID and hurriedly removed the surgical mask saying, “Ooh sorry. Old picture. Old me,” then tossed it aside with a smile. My heart almost stopped as my brain finally processed all clues and came to a conclusion. The face was new, but this was definitely not just *a* doctor in front of me. It was *the* Doctor. The one we all know and love. And why should I recognize the face from a TV show? Actors portraying real people rarely look exactly like them. All I knew in that fragile, earth-shattering moment was that somehow, somehow it was all real. And there I was. Maybe you won’t believe me. Or maybe you can’t believe me. But I knew in my heart Who I was standing next to. And this meant of course that I was both in the safest place possible and in unimaginable danger.
Never one to waste time, the Doctor said, “So tell me, do you hear it? The cry?”
“It’s. It’s you. You’re here!” I said unhelpfully.
“Yeah, and you’re there!” The Doctor said stupidly, mirroring my grin, then became more serious.
“But the crying? It’s not just me is it? You hear it too.”
“Yes!” I said trying to snap out of my stupor. “I kept thinking it sounded like crying. But only right here.”
As I moved to demonstrate where I meant, the overwhelming noise came back. This time it reverberated in my chest and stomach and down into my toes and fingertips. I got the sense now that it was a cry of incredible pain. I fell to my hands and knees, panting.
“Hey!” Came a loud shout in my ear. The shout roused me and I remembered I was in a hallway with the Doctor. Turning away from the unending wail, I saw the Doctor holding a hand out to me. I took it and shakily rose to my feet.
“What’s your name?”
“Well Tracey, I’m the Doctor-”
“I know.” I interrupted. “At least, I know what I’ve heard. There are so many stories about you.”
“My reputation precedes me does it? That does make things a bit easier because I am going to need you to trust me.”
Nodding evenly the Doctor said, “Good. Now let’s find out where you keep popping off to.”
“What? What do you mean?” I said.
“You keep sort of disappearing. Frankly it’s rude. But not to worry, I’ll get you sorted. That noise you keep hearing, how long ago did it start?”
“I guess I first noticed it about two weeks ago. But like I said, it’s only in this one spot-“
“Stop, no, don’t show me the spot.” The Doctor cautioned me. “That spot where the sound is strongest is a localized microfamiliarvortex.”
“And that is?”
“And that is something you should stay very far away from until I can find out whether or not it poses any threat to you.”
“But it’s crying- screaming in agony.”
“Maybe, or maybe it just wants you to think that it is. Now, hold this, and also this.”
Into my left hand was placed a banana. Into my right, a perfectly round purple disk with a small cream colored dot slightly off center. “What’s this for?” I asked.
“One is a relative time object to your timeline, the other is my lunch.”
I looked from one to the other trying to decide which was meant to be which.
“Excellent!” said the Doctor after a moment, grabbing both items from me and taking a bite from each, only to spit out the mouthful in disgust.
“Ahem. Now listen. I’ve determined the vortex cannot harm you; at least not yet. But it’s getting stronger. I need to find out more about it, and for that I need to ask you to do something difficult.”
“You need me to go back to the spot.”
“I need you to go back to the- yes well, I wish you wouldn’t get ahead of me, it takes all the fun out of explaining.”
Looking momentarily flustered, the Doctor continued. “I think you’re being pulled out of time and I need to know how far. Take this. It’s a sonic device. It will track where you go. I’d go myself but the fix is on you. Stand on the spot where the sound is the loudest, but only for a moment. Understand?”
“Yes,” I said. Taking the device from the Doctor I stepped back onto the spot as instructed. The sound had increased in volume and was now a deafening roar that filled me with panic and confusion. Even steeling myself for the encounter proved useless as my legs folded under me once again. Though I still held the sonic device in one hand, I could not fight the impulse to shield my ears with my hands. I tried to get to my feet, but I now felt as though liquid fear had been injected into my veins. My legs were quaking and I could not command the strength to stand. With violent effort I threw myself sideways, rolling away and colliding with a set of limbs which grabbed and held me steady. I looked up into the Doctor’s eyes. I held out the device that was clenched in my hand. As I passed it to the Doctor, I noticed the screen read: 1:47.
“You ok then?” the Doctor asked.
“There’s a girl. Alright. Something’s established a psychic link with you and keeps pulling you through time to one moment. Tell me Tracey, what’s happening in that moment?”
“I don’t know, just that sound. It eclipses everything else. It sounds afraid. It makes me afraid.”
“Ok. A distress call. But why send a distress call to a single moment? Why bring you to that moment if no one is there needing any help?”
“1:47,” I said.
“Time of day. No. More likely late night. You’re being pulled away to just a few minutes ago.”
“I was working at 1:47. It’s when I start to burn out.”
The Doctor looked at me and said slowly, “It’s been affecting you for weeks. I was wrong. It is dangerous, and on no account should you go near that spot again.”
“But we have to help. They’re scared.”
“Nothing sends a distress signal and then doesn’t show up at the coordinates they’re broadcasting! Unless…the Minutiae!”
“Little creatures the size of dust particles. The Minutiae exist within just one minute of every day, but they can access things outside that minute. They use a sort of time echolocation. They bring objects to them and gauge how long it took for them to arrive. It’s how they get their bearings. But usually they only move small things- things that will go unnoticed if they go missing. They must be desperate if they’re yanking something complex like a living organism through time. You pass this spot every day. They established a link with you, now they’re trying to tell you something, only it’s too strong; the message is killing you. I need to intercept the message. If I could just get to that moment myself…”
“Can’t you get to it?”
“You’re being pulled directly to 1:47 in consecutive time. The TARDIS won’t be able to pinpoint the proper moment. If I arrive early it would interfere with the timeline already in place. If I arrive late I’ve missed it.”
“Then it has to be me,” I said.
“I can’t send you through the vortex again. It could kill you.”
“It hasn’t yet.”
“Oh, that’s the best reason to do anything isn’t it? Look, you’d have less than one minute and how would you even communicate with them? I’m better suited than you, I’ve got more languages in my head.”
“But I’m the connection.” I said.
“Unless I become the connection. If I take on your thoughts and memories about the Minutiae, they’ll see me as the link and the vortex will bring me to them.”
“Yeah?” I said.
“Probably,” said the Doctor.
“Won’t it just kill you?” I said.
“It’s a risk. Got a better idea?”
“Could we somehow share the connection? It would take twice as long to kill two of us,” I said.
“No. Sharing a connection like that would be ridiculous, impossible, unthinkable…ah, maybe…ok worth a shot!”
The Doctor faced me and extended a hand to gently touch my forehead. “Think of your interactions with the Minutiae so far. Give me everything you can about how it felt, and the sensations you experienced.”
It’s weird enough being yanked through time. But it’s infinitely weirder to live those moments again with the Doctor breathing as you breathe, falling as you fall, living as you live. As we both experienced the trips I’d already made, I started feel the overlapping of our selves and it frightened me. I think- it frightened us.
“Don’t panic,” we said together. Then just the Doctor’s voice said, “Hold my hand. That’s the distance we want. Ready?”
“Yeah,” I said relaxing somewhat.
We stepped to the vortex. The sound was dilute now, shared between our ears. The fear was less, shared between two brains.
“What do you need? How can we help you.” I heard the Doctor say. I could feel the Doctor’s brain receiving an answer but it just sounded like static.
“What do they say?” I yelled. The muted cry persisted in its agony, growing louder all the while.
“‘Scared. Trapped,’” the Doctor said. “‘The cylindrical eddy.’ They must be right under our noses.”
“Not under,” I cried pointing upwards.
“The fluorescent lights are cylinders!”
“Lift me!” I hollered. The Doctor was already turning to do so. Then several things happened very slowly all at once. I could see the light fixture would be just out of reach. “Sonic,” we both said. It was in the top pocket of the scrubs. As the Doctor lifted me into the air I snatched it up and switched on the metal-effectors. The entire action was one single elegant motion. As I was hoisted skyward, arm lifted victoriously, a pair of fluorescent light bulbs and a plastic cover rained down on us. The cover clattered noisily to the ground as the bulbs rolled away. The Doctor set me on my feet. The hall was now quiet. “Did we-“ I began. A shockwave that seemed to originate from the space between us pushed both of us backwards and I blacked out.
I came to hearing the Doctor say my name. Sitting up I asked, “Did it work? Should we smash the bulbs?”
“No need. The cylinder the Minutiae were trapped in was in motion as their minute ended. When they reappear tomorrow night they’ll be along the floor of the hallway somewhere. We should put the bulbs back if they’re intact. Oh look someone’s already done that. Oh ladder! Could’ve used that before.”
The Doctor gestured at a ladder that was now parked in the hall.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Well after 2am. My guess is when the minute ended it collapsed the microfamiliarvortex and kicked us back to when we left from most recently. Judging by the force it created, I’d say the vortex from tomorrow night was implicated too. Of course it won’t happen now. Timey-“
“Wimey,” I finished. “Your head is a big mess you know. Cluttered.”
The Doctor paused as if still deciding on the words to use, then said carefully, “When I asked you to trust me, you said ‘implicitly’. Why?”
“Why did I say it?”
“Why did you do it? Trust me I mean. You had no reason to.”
“Yes. Stories. Good ones? True ones? Trustworthy ones? Incredible ones? Before today you’d never even looked into my eyes. I’m the Doctor. I’m not the stories.”
“Are you saying the stories aren’t true?”
“I’m saying the stories aren’t me. You trusted me. You had no way of knowing if you were being wise or reckless- none.”
“The stories- no. It’s my turn now. The stories I know of the Doctor show me someone bold, someone daring, someone who makes choices without hesitation, someone who chooses to give others the benefit of the doubt- someone who is often wise and more often, caring. I had no idea if those stories were correct. But I wanted them to be. And when you asked me to trust you I knew you wanted them to be too. Trusting someone is always reckless, Doctor. But you know that, don’t you?”
The Doctor was silent for a lengthy moment, and taking my hands, said,
“Then, thank you. For being reckless with me,” and was gone.
I can’t make you believe my story is true. But I’ve told it, and you’ve listened. Was what happened to me imagination, fiction, or a sharp tap on the head from an ill-timed overhead light cover falling? The moments seem real. I can remember the look on the Doctor’s face when I said trust is reckless; the smell of the fresh banana and the weight of the disk; the feel of the sonic in my hand, like something alive; the rooms and halls and libraries and empires of knowledge that I glimpsed when the Doctor’s brain touched mine. And I can say to you this was real. Yet to you it remains a story. But since you still read on, permit me to ask this favor. Trust me, recklessly. Because I want this story to be true too.