Snowfall. Five of a kind. Robrana. Even a simple museum visit can be hazardous when the Doctor is involved. Is Miriam among friends or enemies? And what is the Oid?
“Careful, Nac, watch her head!”
“I’ve got it, Fen. Put the blanket over her.”
“Is Werdna getting water?”
“No I sent him to fetch Nibuz.”
“How in Robrana is she not frozen? There’s a blizzard out there!”
Miriam opened her eyes. The voices belonged to a pair of average-looking people, except their hands seemed wrong somehow. Her eyes were misty, adjusting themselves. She’d been thrilled to receive Marie’s call that morning that the Doctor wanted to do “something normal, like waterskiing or mountain climbing”. They settled on a museum visit. Then he touched something and all hell broke loose. She tried to sit up now.
“Easy, easy. Take it slow. My name is Nac. This is Fen.” As he gestured, Miriam saw why their hands looked so strange. Both of them had six fingers on each hand. Miriam turned her focus away from their hands. Nac had a quietly determined face and brownish hair. Fen had more years evident in his hair, which was gray, than in the look of his face, which was youthful. Miriam wondered where on earth- no, off earth probably- she was. Fine for the Doctor to marvel at some well-preserved alien artifact! But why did he HAVE to poke at it? The whirlwind it created was slowly dragging them all in, and the last thing she remembered after the Doctor yelled at them to stay well back, was yelling in return, “WE COULD’VE STAYED HOME FOR TEA!!”
“Where am I?” she asked Fen.
“In our teahome. We found you outside.”
So. Home for tea indeed. Alien voice-activated tech she supposed. Or something. How the hell was she going to get home?
“Where did you come from?” Nac asked.
“I’m not sure…far away,” Miriam said, finding herself again staring at their hands.
“Where is she?” came a voice. Another six-fingered person entered and knelt beside Miriam. He had a heavy brow and dark hair that looked like it wanted to become unruly.
“I’m Nibuz. Are you in any pain?”
Miriam responded in the negative. “Uh uh,” she said.
“What’s your name?”
“Miriam. I’d like to examine you to make sure nothing’s hurt. Is that alright?”
“Yes,” said Miriam.
When Nibuz got to Miriam’s hands someone gasped. The new voice said, “What happened to her?” The new person must have been Werdna. He looked very young. His lips were faintly pursed in concern, or was this a habitual facial feature?
“My hands have been like this all my life,” Miriam managed to say.
“Guys! I have something fantastic to tell you,” a fifth voice noisily proclaimed. Boyish, with a sharp jawline, the newest arrival caught sight of Miriam and seemed startled to find her there.
“Hepsoge, tea will be late today,” Nac said, addressing the fifth person.
“Who is she?” Hepsoge demanded, staring at Miriam’s hands. To Miriam he blurted suddenly, “Did the Quinity send you?”
“NO. I am NOT from the Quinity!” Miriam said forcefully. Her mind began to race. If they misidentified her as a member of the Calexa Quinity it could be very dangerous for her. The Quinity themselves tried to kill her entire neighborhood. Actions like that were bound to make some enemies.
“Alright, Werdna, with me- everyone else- out,” said Nibuz authoritatively, herding the other three to the door. Before the door closed, Hepsoge stopped him and the two exchanged words briefly.
Werdna, who was sitting next to Miriam, said, “You’ll have to forgive Hepsoge. He’s got his pet theories on what the Quinity wants. He can go a little overboard at times.”
“Why does he think I’m from the Quinity? Because of this?” Miriam held up her five-fingered hand.
Werdna turned slightly red and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sure people have given you grief all your life about being different. That must’ve been hard for you. But no, I think he just imagines the Quinity drives everything.”
Nibuz joined them, adding, “We talk a lot at tea about this. Understanding the direction of the Quinity is a complex process. But our strength lies in figuring it out together. It’s what separates us from the culters.”
“The culters?” Miriam asked. Nibuz and Werdna exchanged confused looks.
“Are we the only Quinity you know?” Nibuz asked.
“You’re Quinity!??” Miriam said beginning to feel frightened. “I should go. I’ve taken enough of your time.” Was she babbling too obviously? How could she get away and where could she go?
“‘Buz,” said Werdna softly, “What if the only Quinity she knows are the culters?” Turning to Miriam, Werdna said, “Don’t worry. We aren’t going to hurt you. You can come and go as you please. We just want to make sure you’re alright.”
“Can I go outside and look around? I’ve got to know where I am, so I can figure out how to get home,” Miriam asked, trying to gauge their reactions. Could she trust them?
“How are you feeling now?” Nibuz asked. “Because if standing up doesn’t bother you, walking around should be alright, only it’s very cold out. Werdna, can you go with her? There’s an extra jacket in the closet she can wear. Don’t be gone too long.”
As they went out, Nac passed them. He closed the door separating the two rooms so he and Nibuz were alone.
“Who is she Nibuz?” Nac asked.
“I don’t know, but she doesn’t seem to know anything about the purposeful Quinity.”
“A free soul?”
“Or a culter.”
“What would a culter be doing here?”
“What would a free soul be doing here? Just do me a favor and tell the others not to overwhelm her. Physically she’s fine, but I’m worried about her mental state. She may be suffering a memory loss from some kind of shock. And if she is a culter, it’s very possible she’s run away or is being shunned.”
Nac nodded. “I’ll talk to the others.”
Werdna took Miriam outside into the overcast dim of early evening. It was light in the yard when they found her, but now it grew darker by the minute. The light from the teahome glinted off snow covering the ground. Every now and then the wind gusted small specks of it at them. How in Robrana did they manage to find her unharmed in this weather? Werdna wondered. “Were you getting a little claustrophobic in there?” he asked.
“Hoping a little fresh air might clear my head,” Miriam said.
“I’ll do whatever I can to help you, Miriam,” Werdna said. “All of us will. Promise.”
Miriam was silent in thought. Finally she said decisively, “Ok. There’s someone I need you to help me find.”
“You mean someone else might be lost out here?”
“I honestly don’t know. I came here by accident. The same accident may have carried him here.” Miriam wondered how much she could reveal. Did they travel between planets?
“There wasn’t any sign of another person where we found you,” Werdna said.
“How do you send messages?” Miriam asked. Maybe she could call the Doctor?
“We have the voice-to-voice,” Werdna said, indicating a small device that fit over his ear. He took a spare from his pocket and handed it to Miriam to try. “But that’s only short range. Would your friend be able to respond to a broadcast?”
“I think so.”
“Then let’s go back inside. I’ll have Fen set one up. Come on.”
Once back inside, they brushed off snow in the entryway. It was empty besides another six-fingered person Miriam hadn’t met yet. Brown curly hair, and an easy smile, he greeted them. “I’m Golarob. Are you here for tea?”
“Miriam is our guest today. Golarob I need to go upstairs with Fen. Keep her company can you?”
“Of course,” said Golarob. Turning to Miriam he said, “It’s nice to have guests. Where are you from?”
“Nowhere you’ve ever heard of I expect.”
“It’s ok. I like hearing about far off places.”
“I come from Earth. Do you know it?”
“No. Do you have Quinity there?”
Miriam considered how to answer. Golarob’s face showed genuine interest. His manner was content and relaxed, suggesting not a stranger, but a close friend of many years. It was almost like he was waiting for her to be herself. Miriam took the risk. “We have no Quinity on my world. But my boyfriend met them once. It was terrifying. They nearly killed him, and a lot of other people too.”
“Your first experience with Quinity was the Calexa? Oh I’m so sorry,” Golarob said. “The Calexa are– misguided.”
“But you’re Quinity too?”
“Yes. Does that worry you? I can see how it must.”
“What separates you from Calexa then?”
“We care about life. We define ourselves using the five principles instead of letting someone else define them for us. The weekly tea is our quest for it. Calexa never even look; stuck in their dusty scrolls! I can promise you the Quinity here is peaceful and open. You’re from off-world right? You’re the second one today.”
“Is the other one still around?” Miriam asked breathlessly.
“He went upstairs.” Golarob barely got the sentence out but Miriam was already sprinting up the steps. “Thank you!” she called over her shoulder.
Someone was at the top of the stairs with his back to her. Someone with five-fingered hands. “Doctor?” Miriam said. He turned. It was the Doctor. Except it wasn’t the one she’d left in the museum with Leon. “Miriam! It’s been so long! How are you? No wait. Hang on. You’re still here. Why haven’t you returned?”
“I don’t know how I got here. How could I possibly get myself back?”
“But you came back all those years ago.”
“Well I HAVEN’T.”
“Minor problem! I’ll get you back. Or I will. I’m sure of it. If I could just find the TARDIS…”
“You’ve lost the TARDIS too!”
“Look at the big picture! Obviously you do get back unharmed.”
“What about all that ‘time can be rewritten’ stuff?”
“When did I say that? (Why am I always saying things?)”
“OH!” Miriam vocalized her frustration.
“I don’t mean to interrupt, but is this the friend I’m supposed to find?” Fen asked.
“Unfortunately,” Miriam grumbled. Just then a tremor shook the room. The force was surprising but not injurious. The shudder ended. “What happened?” asked Miriam.
“Oh that’s normal. It’s more an annoyance than anything,” said Nibuz.
“So you often get seismic activity here?” asked the Doctor.
“Electric, not seismic.” Fen corrected him. “The electric activity in this zone interacts with the structure. We get those vibrations pretty regularly. As the oid approaches they get stronger.”
“And what’s the Oid?”
“It’s just a cleanup satelloid. It drags in garbage from other satellites to keep planetary pathways clear,” said Fen.
“Anything about it seem weird to any of you?” the Doctor asked them.
“Well now that you mention it-” Hepsoge began.
The others groaned collectively and one of them threw a pillow at Hepsoge.
“If anything unusual has been happening you need to tell me about it. Don’t leave out any details,” the Doctor said.
Hepsoge looked helplessly at the others. Finally Nibuz said, “Go on, ‘Soj. Share your theory. I’ll keep quiet.” Nibuz folded his arms and waited.
Hepsoge took a breath and said, “I think, there’s a presence in the Oid. I think the electrical signals it generates are a form of communication. There’s something big, something really important here…usually people cut me off by now. Why haven’t you?”
“It’s because I believe you. Please go on.”
Hepsoge let out a sigh and said in a rush, “I know it’s impossible, but once, when I was a child, the Oid sang to me as it passed overhead. Then we moved and I wasn’t in its path any longer. And now it’s nearby and, well, the others all think I’m being ridiculous, but I sense it’s calling me. Like maybe the Quinity itself has a message for me. I set up a program to monitor the electrical signals. I just haven’t been able to decode–”
Nibuz got to his feet. “Wait, ‘Buz!” Hepsoge protested.
“Did I say anything? I said nothing!” Nibuz said a little too loudly, walking out. Fen followed him into the other room.
“I don’t know what to do with him, Fen,” Nibuz murmured.
“You think we need to do anything?” asked Fen.
“He cannot go around asking people if the Quinity sent them just because he craves a moment of divinity. The Quinity calls us to serve by loving others. Everything we do bends to that love. But earlier today? How was frightening that poor off-worlder showing her love? Hepsoge thinks the Quinity is going to talk to him. The Oid is just the latest manifestation. You can’t tell me that doesn’t frighten you. It must.”
“I know you worry the Calexa may target him. Nibuz, he’s smarter than that.”
“It’s not about smart,” said Nibuz.
“You know what I mean. He won’t join the culters.”
“I would never.”
Fen and Nibuz turned to see Hepsoge standing in the doorway.
“‘Soj. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“I would NEVER join the Calexa. They don’t have what I want and I don’t want what they have. You guys are my Quinity. You know that ‘Buz. I just want to hear the call. As we all do.”
“Come on. Let’s have tea,” Fen said.
Fen opened the door and found the Doctor waiting just on the other side. Looking past Fen, the Doctor said. “Ah, Hepsoge, would you show me that program you mentioned?”
“Won’t you be joining us for the ceremony?” asked Hepsoge.
“I came here because I was tracking the electrical signals too. I want a look at what you’ve recorded. I’ll be very quiet,” implored the Doctor.
“We already have me and Miriam as thumbs anyway,” said Golarob.
“As what?” said Miriam.
“It means we sit in the middle with the others around us for the tea ceremony. Sometimes Quinities have an extra and that’s me. But today we are both thumbs.” Golarob gave Miriam a double thumbs up. “thumb,” he whispered.
“I’ve got the saucers antigravved in case the tremors keep up,” Nac announced. He moved to set eight teacups in the air for them.
“Come here and sit down. I’m so glad you came,” Golarob said to Miriam. They arranged themselves into a circle cross-legged on the floor; five around two, with the Doctor a few feet away, softly clicking keys of the keyboard.
“Let’s begin,” said Nac.
They spoke in turns, one after another—
“Spark. Electricity. The something that drives us.”
“Knowledge. We seek to expand ourselves.”
“Quiet. When we breathe. When we listen. We are.”
“Growth. Connection. We bend to one another.”
“Water. We find our way. We make our way.”
“Thumb. Fingers curl around. I am a thumb.”
Golarob seemed remarkably happy with his pronouncement. His smile lit the others’ faces with smiles in turn and each one reached forward to clap him on the shoulders affectionately. They greeted Miriam warmly in the same fashion.
“We seek the Quinity. We are the Quinity,” they all said.
“Breathe with us,” Golarob whispered. All of them breathed deeply and exhaled. “We drink the tea of the universe,” they said together.
After the full length of a moment, Golarob turned to Miriam. “Tea?” he asked, reaching out and plucking one of the cups from out of the air. Over Golarob’s shoulder Miriam could see the Doctor still working at the computer. Without looking away from the screen he reached across to take a floating teacup and briefly drink from it, before placing it back on the still floating saucer. Miriam sipped hers. She was on the point of asking Golarob what came next in the ceremony when another tremor shook the room.
“YES!” said the Doctor. “There! There it is! Come and see! Quickly!”
Puzzled, they got to their feet and went to join the Doctor in staring at the computer screen. Fen was the first to react.
“That’s that’s- it should be impossible!”
“Doesn’t seem to be stopping it,” said the Doctor.
“This wasn’t here before. It was just static,” said Nibuz.
“This is language,” Werdna said at last.
“Not just that. The Oid is speeding up,” Nac said.
“It’s designed to slow and eventually crash, but not to speed up. How were you even able to fine tune the program? And hang on, language? ‘Soj, you were right! ‘Soj I’m sorry,” Nibuz said, hardly knowing which thought to follow first.
Hepsoge didn’t answer. Standing a pace back from the others, he looked stunned. His breath came in gasps.
“I tweaked the program a bit, added an algorithm, fixed a bug,” the Doctor was saying.
Miriam ignored the others to stand near Hepsoge. His eyes were closed. “Hepsoge?” Miriam said.
“Shhh,” he said.
“What is all this information? Coordinates? Instructions?” Fen muttered, chewing his fingertips in concentration.
Hepsoge turned to Miriam and quietly, excitedly spoke to her. “Come with me?” His eyes blazed with emotion. Miriam glanced at the Doctor, who gazed evenly at her, awaiting her decision. Miriam took the risk. No one else saw them leave. They slipped noiselessly out to a stairwell and began climbing. They gained the third floor which opened to the roof. The sky was darkening and snowflakes drifted around them. Neither had brought a jacket. “How long are we going to be out here?” asked Miriam, shivering.
“Oh! I’m not thinking straight!” Hepsoge said giddily. He peeled off his sweater and handed it to Miriam to wear.
“What about you?” she asked. He now wore no shirt except a thin short-sleeved thing.
“I won’t need it,” Hepsoge answered.
The snow swirled around them not so much falling as circling. “She seemed to think this would look pretty cool.”
“What would? Tell me what’s going on. Don’t frighten me!”
“Never!” Hepsoge turned and took both Miriam’s hands. “This is my apology for doing just that, so please don’t have any fear. It’s the Oid. She wants me and I have to go to her. The Doctor knows, I think. The others will try to stop me, but I need someone to witness this. Tell them, tell them–” but Hepsoge shook his head.
The snow was no longer spiraling; instead it jittered in place, not quite falling or rising. Miriam followed Soj’s gaze to a string of what appeared to be dots floating in the air. “Those are for me,” Hepsoge said, smiling. “Stay right here. Any closer and the variable gravity will take you. Goodbye Miriam.” As Miriam watched, Hepsoge took three running steps and launched into the air. At the apex of his leap, instead of landing back on the roof, he hung suspended in the air, with the snow around him. Then slowly he began to drift upwards. The snow sailed after him, dancing as it went. The dots, which were in fact tiny spheres, had approached closer, and arranged themselves in a line above Hepsoge. A trail for him to follow. He reached the first one and touched it with a foot. It met and resisted him, allowing him to propel upward. The spheres were a path of stepping stones. Miriam could just hear his laughter as he jumped from one to the next. Each one crumbled to dust as he pushed off. Faster and faster he ascended, growing smaller against the sky.
“She’s here!” Miriam heard a voice behind her say. The other five finally realized where she and Hepsoge went and came up to find them. The Doctor was with them. “What are you doing up here?” Nibuz asked her.
“Look!” Miriam responded. They all looked up to see the vanishingly tiny dot that was Hepsoge.
“Is that the Oid?” Fen asked. “Where’s Hepsoge?” asked Werdna.
“He’s gone,” answered Miriam.
“Gone? Gone where?”
“You knew he was going to do this,” said Miriam to the Doctor. “Why didn’t you stop it?”
“You told me not to.”
“Why would I do that?”
“Don’t know. Maybe it isn’t over yet.”
“Where’s Hepsoge?” asked Werdna again.
“Gone to the Oid,” said the Doctor.
“I, he’s, what?” Nibuz stammered.
Fen began frantically trying his voice-to-voice, “‘Soj, come in. Hepsoge respond!”
The Doctor continued, “The language you all couldn’t read? It was the Oid telling Hepsoge to join it. It wanted to explore space. It was trapped orbiting Robrana. It needed a push. And it wanted a friend. Hepsoge gave it both.”
“Come in? Come in! ‘Soj respond!”
“‘Fen?” The voice in Miriam’s ear was Hepsoge.
“‘Soj! Thank the Quinity! Where are you?”
“I’m sorry Fen. There wasn’t time to say everything I wanted. Isn’t time! I can see her. She’s beautiful. I’m almost to her now.”
“Goodbye,” Hepsoge said just as the signal went to static.
Nobody spoke. Someone was crying quietly. The empty static sound on the voice-to-voice rushed and whooshed. Then suddenly the static cleared and a loud voice said, “move back, move back!” The Doctor was the fastest to act. He threw both arms out to the sides and somehow corralled them all into taking several quick steps back. Something was falling to Robrana. A spinning flaming square hurtled down at them, resolving into a large blue box which landed at their feet. “I don’t believe it,” said Miriam. The TARDIS door opened. “Hepsoge!” several of them said simultaneously. Hepsoge grinned at them and fell face-first into the snow on the roof. “Oof,” he said. “It’s cold. I’d forgotten cold. It’s amazing. Can we go inside now?” In fact they were all lifting him up as he said this. They went back inside to the tea room, half carrying Hepsoge with them and managed to get him onto a couch. Perhaps they would have all waited breathlessly for him to speak, except Golarob was ready to burst. “Don’t you ever- do that to us- ever again, or, or!” He tried to threaten, but wound up just spluttering and choking.
“What happened up there?” Nibuz finally asked.
“Did you really go up to the Oid?” said Fen.
“Yes,” said Hepsoge.
“What’s that you came back in?” asked Nac.
“The TARDIS is mine actually,” said the Doctor. “What I don’t understand is you coming back. The Oid went to a lot of trouble getting you. It waited years for you. Why did you return?”
“I guess we both saw she couldn’t keep me? It made sense until it didn’t. I don’t know if I can explain it better. Not all my words have come back…oh, and she had me bring along these two things she said, you were missing.” Hepsoge said all this only haltingly.
“Two? Where’s the other thing?” Miriam asked.
“Inside the first thing,” said Hepsoge. Miriam and the Doctor headed to the stairs to investigate the ‘other thing’ while Hepsoge kept talking. “Hey, do you guys remember that stuff we have, it’s wet, and it tastes good? What’s that stuff called again?”
“Uhhh water?” said Werdna uncertainly.
“Yesss. That was it. Could I maybe get some of that stuff?”
The stairwell door closed behind them. Miriam rushed up to the TARDIS, hesitated at the door, then as she stood there it swung open to her. On the floor was the alien artifact. Or another one like it.
“Are you ready to go back?” the Doctor asked Miriam.
“Shouldn’t I say goodbye?” Miriam wondered.
“You’re already miles away. Will words make leaving any different?”
Miriam looked to the stairwell door. Nac looked out at her. She waved once and slowly Nac waved back, before turning and going down the stairs. “Ok,” said Miriam. How do I activate it?”
Somewhere in a museum, Leon, Jim, Marie and the Doctor fell to the floor in a series of awkward positions. “Doctor, where’s Miriam got to?” Leon said trying to escape a tangle of velvet ropes.
The Doctor picked himself up off an empty display case groaning. He looked around and said, “She has to be here! I closed down the portal almost immediately. She HAS TO BE HERE. I can’t have lost her!” They scanned the room in dismay. Jim and Marie lifted themselves from the floor, straightening shirts and rubbing bruised elbows. A flash of light from the next room caught their attention.
They found Miriam lying on the floor. Leon rushed over to her. “Mirimu?” he said.
Miriam opened her eyes. “I’m alright. Just give me a minute,” she said.
“The battery in the device is dead. It must have shorted and sent her one room over!” said the Doctor.
“And given her a sweater?” asked Leon.
“Not quite. I’ve been to Robrana. And while I can’t share everything that happened, I’m pretty sure I need to tell you to listen to ‘Soj and let him do what he’s planning to do.”
“So I somehow managed to send you to my own future? I’m not sure if that proves I’m a genius or a fool,” the Doctor said.
“Hey! Did you move something in here?” a security guard shouted.
“Now we know,” Leon said.
“Minor problem! Ok. Everyone. On my signal, RUN!!!”