Zoey Fleetwood finally gets to meet the Doctor! But will her first impression go as smoothly as she hopes?
It’s rather disorienting that memory can make almost any point in the past feel like it was just a second ago. Just as you start kindergarten, you get nervous about the new environment and want to go back to the safety of preschool, where you only had to learn colors and letters rather than numbers. Just as you start college, the newfound freedom of being on your own makes you wonder how you were even able to get by only a few short months ago. And just as Zoey Fleetwood’s cab came to a stop, she felt as though she had only just arrived at the airport to leave America. The only things she knew about Smithwood Manor were the name and that the Doctor owned the place, so she took the graffiti as a good sign. The street sign was supposed to read Allen Road, but the letter I was spray painted in the middle. In addition to this, the sign at the front of the house had a fun little message slapped on the bottom, “Beware of the God.” Well, if he’s not here yet, at least I got something to do.
Stepping outside of the car, she stretched her legs, relieved that she didn’t have to just sit down anymore. Her skirt billowed a bit in the breeze as she grabbed her bags out of the trunk. The driver offered to help, but she refused. The bags weren’t that heavy, partially because she knows a cool trick to put a day’s worth of clothes into a little sock ball, and partially because River Song told her to travel light. The lawn looked okay, but the house looks like it’s been empty for a while. The windows could certainly use a good dusting. Hopefully there’s at least some cleaning supplies. She knocked at the door, and really hoped someone would respond. Zoey didn’t like waiting in other people’s houses where they weren’t there, mostly fearing she would somehow break something. Unfortunately, nobody responded, so she worked up the courage to ease the door open.
The strange combination of people she’s met so far has made her rather nervous to meet the Doctor. Both Susan and River have spoken very highly of him, but Zoey couldn’t help but notice that Susan looks a bit older than River Song did, and Susan only ever referred to him as Grandfather. Either way, she was in his house, so she assumed it was some time travel shenanigans and moved on to looking around the place. She called out a “Hello?” out of politeness and started looking at the pictures on the wall. Zoey saw enough pictures to recognize a few of them as the Doctor. Definitely the one with the white hair and the cane. Scarf, celery, umbrella, all the various key accessories. She couldn’t recognize anyone else in the photos though, except for one. The last picture she looked at caught her eye, as it seemed to be another picture of Susan when she was younger, but different from the one that was in her professor’s office. The facial features looked as though they found a doppelganger of her or something. She really needed to write down a list of the questions that she was going to ask this guy.
The living room seemed to be as good a place as any to set down her bags. She decided not to unpack, hoping that she could bring them on the TARDIS. The kitchen seemed surprisingly stocked, so Zoey looked around for some cleaning supplies. The food was all kept in some weird looking gel that must preserve it, somehow. Hopefully the Doctor won’t mind her taking an apple. She had to dig around for them, but eventually found a container of wipes, a broom, and some window cleaner. Then again, was it worth it to start cleaning? What if he doesn’t come? What if this was all for nothing? Idiot, I should’ve stayed in America, at least I knew someone there. She started hyperventilating, but was able to quickly ground herself. Well, I’m still going to be here, and I’m gonna keep thinking like this if I just sit down. Might as well be useful. She grabbed a wipe.
The worst part about someone leaving your life isn’t the initial exit, but everything you have to clean up afterwards that reminds you of them. The Doctor was feeling that particular sting as he found a partially eaten cake in the kitchen. This dessert was the last creation of Evelyn Smythe that he would get to enjoy. He set it aside for later, as he didn’t have the heart to eat it now. Thankfully, the roundels in the TARDIS’s kitchen had a small stasis field that kept food fresh for as long as it needed to be. He uses it more often than the gel storage, as this body has taken more notice of the aftertaste left on food by the gel than his past selves. The Doctor went to the control room, desperate to find anything else to occupy his mind. Thankfully, someone had sent him a message that only contained coordinates and a kiss mark in lipstick. His first thought as he immediately set in the coordinates was remembering where they led to: the house in Kent he bought with some of the money earned by working with UNIT. His second thought was wondering who left the kiss.
After landing, the Doctor looked around for his coat that he just now noticed he wasn’t wearing. He was hoping to find one of his reddish coats, as the vest and pants he was wearing went with that jacket. The coat he ended up finding was certainly red, but had a bit more plaid than what he was going for, with blue decorating the edges. Ah well, he thought, why not? The mirror seemed to agree with the decision, but the Doctor never had any trouble knowing he looked good. He sauntered out the door, ready to take on whatever awaited him.
Smithwood Manor hasn’t changed much since he last visited, but there was an interesting new addition in the form of someone vigorously wiping the sign. The myriad of patterns on her clothes could give him a run for his money. The Doctor tried to greet the person, but she seemed to not notice him until she was finished.
“There we go! Finally got that gunk off of your sign.”
“How do you know it’s mine?”
The young woman finally stood up and turned to regard him, “Are you the Doctor?”
“Why, yes I am.”
“Pleasure to finally meet you, my name’s Zoey Fleetwood.” She went past him to look at the TARDIS, feeling the hum it radiates from within. “Your ship looks a bit different from the last time I saw it.” She seemed quite determined to give him as many questions for her as she has for him.
“Oh? When did you last see it?”
“Last summer. Apparently you plopped your granddaughter onto a cruise. I’ve been told not to give you all the details.”
“My granddaughter? By whom?”
“My professor. She was the one who left the kiss, by the way. You’ll meet her in your future.”
“I see. I’m guessing she told you about this place as well?”
“Yeah, I’ve been cleaning up for a bit while I was waiting for you.”
“That’s very kind of you.”
“I was actually hoping you could help me, if there wasn’t some kind of alien you were chasing. The shelves need dusting and I didn’t feel comfortable moving your things around while you weren’t here.”
“I think we can manage that. It’s not an alien that has my attention at the moment.”
With the last flick of a wipe, the dust on the mantle had finally been dealt with. Zoey turned around and tossed it into the plastic bag that the Doctor was holding. He then started handing her the various knick knacks to put back up there.
“So when was the last time you came to visit this place?”
“If I remember correctly, it was with two of my old friends, Tegan and Turlough. Some Judoon were looking for an artifact that I ended up swapping with a cricket ball.”
“What’s a Judoon?”
“A sort of police-for-hire with rhinoceros heads.”
“And here I thought the police couldn’t get worse.”
“Just because they look like a rhinoceros doesn’t make them any lesser.”
“It’s the for-hire part that I was focusing on. It sounds like an an-cap’s dream.”
“Anarcho-capitalist, aka not a real anarchist.” With this, Zoey picked up the last thing to put back on the mantle, a snow globe with a miniature model of the house. She picked it up by the glass, and realized this was a mistake within 3 seconds. Unfortunately, it was 3 seconds too late, and it slipped out of her fingers before she could react. The Doctor rushed to try and save it, but accidentally bumped into the stepladder, causing Zoey to fall on top of him.
The carpet felt much less comfortable than it did a second ago. The room was still very well lit, but this lighting wasn’t as natural as it should’ve been. Zoey then remembered she was on top of the Doctor, and quickly got off while also offering him a hand. Well, this could be going better, she thought.
“Are you okay?”
“I’m fine. Nothing feels broken. My apologies for knocking you over.”
“I’m sorry I dropped your snowglobe. Was it important?”
“Nothing that can’t be replaced.” The Doctor started taking in the surroundings. “Though I fear it may not have been simply a snowglobe.”
“Is this another part of the house?”
“It doesn’t seem that way, though I admit I have yet to explore the entire place.”
The wallpaper was a pale yellow that made Zoey think of old Super Nintendo systems. The Doctor, however, was reminded of an old friend of his, Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The lights were fluorescent, and gave off a buzz that almost sounded like it was trying to be more harsh than usual fluorescent lights. Each wall had a doorway that led to a room looking exactly the same. “Well, it’s your house, which way should we go?” The Doctor furrowed his brow, played a quick round of eenie-meenie-miney-mo, and went into the room he chose. Zoey followed closely behind.
Walking through the rooms didn’t lead to any new developments. Each one looked exactly the same, down to the smallest details. Zoey has noticed the same stain 5 different times, each time furiously trying to find any sort of distinct feature. The 6th time she saw the stain gave her a realization. “I’m gonna take a wild stab in the dark and guess you’ve never used 4chan?”
“You’d be correct, young lady. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I remembered something one of my old friends showed me last year. So like, when you’re playing a video game, sometimes you can break through the various boundaries in the game’s world, right?”
“The idea goes that if you do that in real life, you end up in the Backrooms.”
“The Backrooms, eh? What else do you remember?”
“Uh, I think it goes on for something like 600 million miles, some say that the Backrooms have different levels, getting more threatening as you go deeper, and there are exit points throughout the place, but it’s a gamble whether you end up where you were or someplace worse.”
“What about the point where we entered?”
“Yeah, that’s typically the safest way to get back. Do you think we should turn around?”
“Er, do you remember which way we came from?” The look on Zoey’s face answered the Doctor’s question.
Zoey was quiet as they continued forward. She couldn’t help but feel like she was annoying him. Then out of the blue, he asked, “Do you mind if I call you Miss Fleetwood?” That took her by surprise, making her blush. “Oh, uh, sure. Why Miss Fleetwood?”
“Well, I knew a Zoe some time ago. If I keep using your first name, I might expect Jamie to be standing next to you.”
“Do you travel with a lot of people?”
“Oh, all sorts of people. The Zoe I knew before you was remarkable. I’d go so far as to say she was a genius. I didn’t often show it, but she could run circles around me if she wanted to.”
“What about Jamie?”
“I met Jamie in Scotland. He was one of the Highlanders. He wasn’t quite as booksmart as Zoe or myself, but very formidable in his own right. If only they could’ve stayed longer.”
“Yeah, that’s always the way, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking about a lot of my old friends too, now that I’m so far away from everyone I knew. Then again, maybe it’s better that I’m not with them. Now I can’t screw it up, you know?”
“Forgive me, but I think you might be underestimating yourself, Miss Fleetwood.”
“I mean, you say that, but we are sort of trapped here because of me.”
“And? I’ve faced some of the most terrifying forces the cosmos can throw at me, do you really think that I’m going to let a bunch of rooms defeat me?”
“How do you plan to fight a room, Doctor?”
“I…Well, you see….I’m working on it.”
“So what if this Nestene Consciousness got ahold of, like, a Lunchable?”
“Yeah, you know, it’s like a little plastic tray with kid food in it.”
“I’m aware of the concept, but what do you mean?”
“Like, what does a Lunchable do if it’s alive? How would it move around?”
“That’s, actually not a bad question, come to think of it. Most of the time I’ve only ever seen it’s influence on mannequins. There was that time they used plastic flowers in their strategy. Perhaps if it can’t move around, the Nestene is able to imbue plastic objects with various abilities.”
“What if something’s only partially plastic?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“I’ve had a lot of time to think of what to ask you.”
“Anything else you wanted to know?”
“I did want to ask about your granddaughter.”
“Ah. It’s probably best if we avoid asking about her. From what you’ve told me, it seems like that adventure happens in my future, as well.”
“What can you tell me about her now?”
“Well, I haven’t seen her in quite a while. We stopped traveling together after we landed in 2150.”
“She fell in love, and I felt I’d only be dragging her down if I kept bringing her to the places I go. I haven’t seen her since we were all Timescooped to Gallifrey.”
“You should visit her.”
“It’s not that easy, my dear. There’s so many people who I want to visit, but I just can’t bring myself to face them. Adric, Jamie, and right now, especially Evelyn. With how I acted when she left, I doubt she’d even want to see me again.”
“I doubt that. I’m sure they know you well enough to see that you still care about all of them. You can always find some way. You have a time machine, don’t you?”
“Indeed I do, Miss Fleetwood. Perhaps one of my future selves can handle it.”
They both stopped in their tracks, paralyzed with fear, when the light directly above them faltered. “There wouldn’t happen to be any information on if the lights start flickering, would there Miss Fleetwood?”
“I think avoiding would be the best strategy, don’t you?”
“Quite.” They ran away.
The Doctor was holding a small, oblong device, paying close attention to any changes it registers. “Do you know what these exit points look like?”
“Nope. There’s really only one picture that everyone agrees is part of the Backrooms, and that’s just showing a part of these hallways. Anything picking up on your sonic dild-”
“Sonic Lance, thank you very much young lady. And no.”
“Even if we do find an exit point, I don’t know how we’re going to get through, unless you have another snow globe in your pockets.”
“I’m working on that. I have a feeling it’s somehow connected to the senses.”
“I noticed that as we continued walking, I kept having to make myself remember things like what the carpets felt like, the unique smell of the house. I think, if we’re able to keep those sensations fresh in our minds as we pass through an exit point, we should be able to return.”
“Better idea than what I had.”
“Oh? What was your idea?”
“Using my head as a battering ram.”
The Doctor chuckled. “We could consider that as a backup, but hopefully we can pass through without you getting hurt.” As they kept walking, the Doctor started weighing his options. Not for the current situation, mind you, this was just another Tuesday for the Time Lord. No, he was considering inviting Zoey to the TARDIS. He was starting to feel like he might be putting off Melanie Bush a bit too long at this point, but he really enjoyed this incarnation. Ultimately, he decided to inquire if Zoey had anything interesting she wanted to see. “So, Miss Fleetwood. I was wondering if I could ask you something.”
Zoey tensed up, somehow still thinking that he might be angry with her. “Sure, what’s up?”
“I’m guessing you have an idea of what the TARDIS can do at this point.”
“Yeah, I think I get the gist.”
“Well, if I were to bring you with me, where would you like to go?”
Her eyes lit up, and at least 50 different possibilities were zooming around her mind. “Well, I definitely want to see golden toads from before they were extinct. I also want to go see Rocky Horror Picture Show during its initial theatrical run so I can tell you all the callbacks without getting interrupted. Have you ever heard of Captain Sticky?”
“Do I want to?”
“Apparently, there’s been a sort of movement of people who want to be real life superheroes, and the first person who tried to do that was Captain Sticky. You’d like him, from what I read he always tried to use nonviolent approaches to crime.”
“Well, he sounds like a man after my own hearts.” Yeah, she’s coming on board.
Not having heard anything in the Backrooms except for the hum of the fluorescent lights, the Doctor and Zoey thought they’d be safe. That is, until something started growling. Immediately, Zoey grabbed the Doctor’s hand and took off in the opposite direction. “We have to go the other way!” the Doctor protested. “That’s where the nearest exit point is!”
“Maybe so, but that’s also were the sound came from.”
“You seem very certain that it’s dangerous. Do you know what it is?”
“No, and I think it’s best we don’t find out!” No matter how long they kept running, it felt like the thing they heard was getting closer. Still, they continued until they were both about to collapse. For all the running the Doctor’s done, you would think he’d have better stamina. When they dared to look behind them, they didn’t see anything that might have been chasing after them. The look they exchanged made it clear that they could use a break, and so they sat down against the wall. Zoey broke the prolonged silence with, “So why do they call it a sonic lance?”
“Well, it’s primary function is cutting things.”
“I thought you didn’t use weapons.”
“Most of the time, I use this when I need to cut wires.”
“Normally, I’d use a sonic screwdriver, but I haven’t gotten around to making a new one since the Terileptils destroyed it.”
“What makes it sonic?”
“It uses a localized pulse of sound waves.”
“It cuts wires with sound?”
“A bit of an elementary description, but something like that.”
“What if we put that somewhere in the opposite direction of where we’re going so that we can draw away whatever we just heard?” The two looked at each other, the Doctor taking a second to fully map out what he was going to do next.
“You know, Miss Fleetwood,” he replied, “You just might have something there.”
A few rooms behind where the Doctor and Zoey found themselves now, a tape recorder was playing a loop of various noises that the Doctor’s sonic lance made. Not that they were paying any mind to it anymore, as they found themselves trying to look at what they believed to be an exit point. It felt as though the exit point almost didn’t want you to look at it, like if you didn’t focus on it hard enough, you’d forget about it. Zoey almost walked out of the room 5 separate times, just forgetting about it altogether, until the Doctor brought her back. “Miss Fleetwood, if we’re going to get out of here, we need to concentrate on that corner, do you understand?”
“What do you mean by concentrate?”
“Look at it, regardless of what your mind might be telling you. See if you can remember anything about the house, and use your mind to project it onto that exit point.”
“I’ll try.” She did as she was told, laser-focusing her attention on the exit point. She tried to think about any of the sensations she felt before being sent here, but couldn’t quite keep the images in her mind. Even so, the two found it easier to focus on the exit point as time went on.
“Do we pass through it now?”
“Not yet,” the Doctor replied, a great deal of effort in his voice, “I’m trying to reach out, but I can’t quite make it yet.” It was as if he was climbing a rock wall, and the last stone he needed to grab was just barely out of his reach. As he stopped to take a breather, Zoey offered him the apple she was holding onto for later, to which his face lit up.
“Miss Fleetwood, you may have just saved both of us!” He grabbed it and took a bite, bracing himself.
The process of going back to Smithwood Manor felt the same as going into the Backrooms, only they were a lot more tired by the time they got back here. Then again, you probably wouldn’t do well if you got lost for a few hours with no food. This new room they entered had the first pieces of furniture either of them have seen in what felt like aeons. Two couches. Before the Doctor could even blink, Zoey had fallen asleep on one. Just as he was going to make a comment, he found himself yawning. Oh well, why not?
He would come to regret his decision when he woke up later, the horrid aftertaste still lingering in his mouth. Zoey hadn’t woken up yet, giving the Doctor one of the best ideas he’s had in awhile. Dashing to the TARDIS for some food that wasn’t preserved in gel, he started thinking of what he wanted to cook for, well, technically it would be dinner given the time of day, but he would consider it breakfast after the rest they had.
The sizzle of the pan with bacon in it was the first thing that started dragging Zoey out of her slumber, and the smell that followed got her up and about. She walked into the kitchen yawning, where the Doctor was cooking the bacon, as well as slicing up some fruit and whisking some eggs in a bowl. He was certainly trying to do all of it at one, though whether he succeeded is an entirely different story. “Ah, Miss Fleetwood! I hope you’re hungry!”
“Yeah, why not?” she replied, grabbing the bowl from the Doctor so he didn’t have as much to focus on. Cooking was always one of the things Zoey wanted to learn more of, though she never had as much fun doing it alone as she was having in this moment.
“What am I doing with this?” she asked
“Omelets, of course!” the Doctor replied jovially, passing a pan. She started the stove on her side and set the pan down while she looked for seasonings to put in the eggs. The cupboards had some pepper, curry powder, and garlic salt. Perfect. She took a slice of one of the strawberries the Doctor cut and ate it, to which he jokingly looked betrayed. Preparing everything didn’t take very long, though there was an argument on how long the bacon should be cooked for. At long last, they had a decent little banquet prepared, wasting no time in helping themselves.
“Do you have a lot of experience cooking, Doctor?”
“Oh, certainly!” he said with a mouthful of omelet, “You know, one time I was being tailed down by some of my own people, and I managed to get them to leave me alone with some of my most exquisite creations.”
“Really? They stopped chasing you because of the food you made?”
“Well, there might have been a slight neurotoxin within the food, but that’s beside the point.”
“Oh, it was never going to do any real damage. We Time Lords are made of sterner stuff.”
Zoey took another bite of fruit and eyed the Doctor for a second, “So do Time Lords have any differences in bone structure to people?”
“Oh, nothing extreme. Maybe a few less phalanges in the hands and feet.”
“That’s weird. I wonder why we look so similar as species.”
“Ah. Our fault, I believe. One of the founders of Time Lord society wanted to make all the species in the universe look like Time Lords.”
“And he could just, do that?”
“Well, Rassilon was a very gifted inventor. Even I don’t quite know everything he was, or is able to do.”
“Huh.” They both looked at the table, and realized they’d eaten everything. “Welp, time to wash these dishes, I guess.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” the Doctor said, throwing his plate in the trash.
The TARDIS’s doors swung open, and the duo walked inside, bags in hand. Zoey took it all in, her first impression being appreciative that the lighting is better in this TARDIS. “Where should we set everything down?”
“Oh, anywhere, we can worry about it later.” Zoey set her stuff down in a corner of the ship. After the Doctor did the same, he turned around and asked, “Well?” She looked around at what she could see some more. “How far do the corridors go?”
“Not sure. A TARDIS is essentially its own dimension, so I haven’t quite explored every nook and cranny.”
She looked at the console. “Could I learn how to pilot it?”
“Why do you want to?”
“Those buttons look like they’re so much fun to touch.”
“Well, I’m sure I could give you some lessons.” He coughed a little, “Is there, you know, anything else you had to say about it?” Her face twisted into something like a grimace. “What’s that face for?”
“There is one thing, but I don’t think you’re gonna like it.” For the love of humanity, can’t she just say it’s bigger on the inside. “Out with it, Miss Fleetwood.”
“The Master’s TARDIS looked cooler.” Oh boy, did That set him off.
Zoey and the Doctor kept crouched behind a bush. Their outfits might have been extremely colorful, but they blended into the untamed landscape of the hills of Costa Rica. They waited quietly, certain that they were at the right area. Just when Zoey felt they were waiting too long, she could see a small toad, colored a brilliant gold. Soon behind him, came another. And another. And several more, until the field they were looking at was littered with golden toads. All of them could feel it; the wet season had just begun, and it was time for the male toads to emerge for one night out of the entire year. When they all found their spots on the ground, they began singing for the female toads. A symphony of croaking engulfed the landscape, and it felt as if Mother Nature herself had stopped to listen. The Doctor was in awe, but not nearly as much as Zoey was. The golden toad was declared extinct in 2000, and she only learned about them in high school, so she thought she’d never get to see them herself. She finally understood what Susan and River Song meant when they described the Doctor as impossible; in many ways, she still felt this was impossible. Eventually, the song of the toads reached a conclusion, and one by one they found their way back in the ground. Zoey hugged the Doctor. “Thank you.”
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