The Doctor was in the neighborhood. That’s what he’d called to say. How he had Jim’s number was no mystery, of course. He’d been around once before, to give Marie news of her other “family” on a distant planet, the name of which they’d never learned. Now it seemed the Doctor was in the mood for a visit – or thought Jim could give him a hand? He was distracted and it was difficult to understand precisely what he wanted. But he told Jim where he was and to hurry over, and since it really wasn’t too far away Jim set off.

When Jim arrived he spotted the TARDIS right away and knocked at the door. After a few bangs and clangs the Doctor stuck his head out. “Jim! I’m having a bit of bother with the TARDIS, but come in, I’m pretty sure it’s nothing, probably just need to oil the time circuits…” As Jim stepped inside he caught his breath. He’d been hoping to say something witty, intelligent and fresh. Even knowing the TARDIS was going to be bigger on the inside, however, hadn’t done much to prepare his brain for the actual thing. He’d heard about people who, upon observing a total solar eclipse, felt uncanny dread. So, a TARDIS was like that. Jim opened his mouth to say words, ones he hadn’t fully decided on yet. But he was spared the embarrassment of whatever was going to pop out of his mouth by another loud crash. It probably didn’t matter anyway.

“Sorry!” called the Doctor. He came out from under some equipment, clutching a handful of cables and something that looked like an electric colander. “It’s the strangest thing. The chronolater won’t budge. It’s hooked up properly, no faults anywhere, yet it’s almost as though it’s frozen.” Without warning the Doctor leapt a railing and put his head out the TARDIS door. Returning, he laughed nervously and said, “Ok. Time’s still moving out there. That’s good. Here, Jim; take hold of this measure.” Jim accepted one end of a tape measure which the Doctor was shoving at him. The Doctor stretched it across the console and all the way to one corner of the room. “The dimensions seem stable enough. What else could be causing it?” The Doctor leaned back against the console casually. As he did so, something happened behind him. It wouldn’t be correct to call it an explosion, but it didn’t much resemble anything else Jim could think of, so he did the only sensible thing given the situation. He grabbed the Doctor by the arm and pulled him into a crouch. The words, “Look out!” escaped his lips.

The explosion hung in the air, neither expanding nor receding; a white circle with ragged edges that fluctuated slightly but was otherwise unmoving. The sound of the explosion had stopped, although sound was also a poor descriptor for it. Weirdly, it felt somehow like the sound was being sucked out of Jim’s ears, rather than entering in.

“What is that thing?” Jim asked. In response the Doctor said, “Keep back from it.” As they looked on, the explosion/nonsplosion sprouted a bubble which pulled away and formed a vaguely humanoid shape. The shape was something like a person encased in a net of faintly glowing fibers. The shape moved to the TARDIS console and, more quickly than Jim would have thought possible, jammed a yellow spiral into an opening that seemed to be designed for it. At the same time, the circle that the figure came from winked out. “What’s that you’re doing- what are you touching?” the Doctor said, rushing over to examine the spiral. His face changed from panic to shocked relief. “Thank you. But how could you know?”

“What?” asked Jim.

“The time widget should never be fully removed, only adjusted relative to conditions. Taking it out risks the TARDIS falling out of pro-directional time. We could wind up materializing in a dimension where time runs slower or faster, runs backwards or even stands still.” He approached the shape. The shape extended an appendage toward the Doctor. The Doctor mirrored the movement, then suddenly yanked back his hand as though he’d been burnt.

“Are you hurt?” Jim asked concerned.

“No. It repelled me. I can’t get close enough to touch it directly.”

Using the sonic, he tried to take readings. The sonic buzzed weakly, it’s sound fluctuating like the Doppler effect of cars on a highway. “These readings don’t make sense,” the Doctor complained. “What are you?” The mysterious form made sounds which Jim took to be language, however they were garbled and had a strange tonality. They sounded drawn-in instead of pushed-out, and had the feel of constant questioning; phrases tilted upwards. The figure moved in the direction of the outside doors. The Doctor put his hand on the locking mechanism to hold it steady, then thought better of it and instead opened the door. “We’re letting it out?” asked Jim. “Whatever it is, I can’t get any readings on my sonic, which means it’s probably incredibly powerful. It restored the time widget, so it’s friendly. I’m going to let it go where it wants.”

The strange creature exited the TARDIS, moving quickly across the sidewalk and into the street. Thankfully there was very little traffic. “Powerful, benevolent, and incomprehensible…Where could it be going?” The Doctor mused. “We are going to follow it, aren’t we?” Jim asked after a moment. “Yep, come on!” The Doctor replied, jogging after it. It chose a door and entered. The Doctor was close behind. Flashing his psychic paper he called out, “Paranormal team, please remain calm, I need everyone to evacuate, everyone out please!” People scurried from the shop in a panic that tried its best to appear organized. Once the patrons were all cleared out, Jim turned the sign so it read “closed” and shut the door. The creature-thing stood, or seemed to stand, still.

“What’s it doing?” Jim whispered. “Waiting for us to make the first move,” the Doctor said, then facing it he said, “Can you understand me?” It reached out again, making sounds. “You must be aware I can’t touch you.” The Doctor gestured in frustration. “I can’t get a grasp on what it’s saying. I need to focus.” The Doctor grabbed a glass bowl from a display and a box of hollow elbow noodles. He tore open the box and poured the pasta into the bowl, swirling it forcefully. “You’re using macaroni to help you concentrate?” Jim asked. “That would be ridiculous. Macaroni is very distracting. It’s not so I can focus. It’s to focus the thought energy from our new friend to a form we can understand. It even works through a scrambling field which is I suspect, what we’re dealing with.” The Doctor put the bowl down on the floor between himself and the creature. It anticipated him, kneeling as the Doctor settled cross-legged on the floor. By his side, Jim listened. Words filled the air but they were cluttered, indistinct. Eventually they resolved themselves into phrases. A high voice was speaking-

“Please, please, bring me to your TARDIS. I do not belong here. But you say I am opposite. You are opposite. Help me. I’ve told you.”
“Try to stay calm. Where did you come from?”
“The rift!”
“What do you mean? How did you get here?”
“You said you would help me return. Here it is wrong. My world is right. Do you understand now?”
“I’m trying. You come from another world? Somewhere opposite?”
“I must make you understand!”
“Please try to stay calm. I want to help.”

Here the shape stopped speaking. The Doctor puffed out his cheeks in a sigh. He turned away from facing the creature and conferred with Jim. “She says she comes from opposite. It seems everything she does is opposite! She asks to go to the TARDIS yet we’ve just come from it. She tells us to listen then falls silent. I tell her to be calm and it only increases her anxiety. Am I losing my touch?”

Jim watched the creature. Her movements were jerky, strange. Her words were so tangled they had to be unwound before they could be understood. What was it about how they sounded?

The Doctor went on, “She’s intelligent enough to replace a time widget, yet her words are confused. Is she injured? In shock perhaps?”

The time widget. Something was off about the way she placed it. Putting a spiral into a slot shaped for it should have been a ponderously slow affair. Yet she’d almost flung it in, her motion erratic, yet precise. Why? Then it dawned on Jim why her pattern of speech sounded so familiar. “She’s going backwards,” Jim said softly.

The Doctor continued independently musing, “She’s frightened. Needs us to understand something. Something about…what did you just say?”

“Her speech. It’s backwards. The things she does. They’re backwards. Aren’t they? When she put in that time widget I thought it looked strange. Like she was pulling it out, but in reverse.”

“Yes. YES. Jim you’re a genius. That was why none of her responses made sense! We won’t see her getting calmer, because from our point of view she’d be getting less calm! Everything we’re seeing is in reverse.”
“Which has to mean she’s fairly scared right now. Can we help her? She wanted to go to the TARDIS.”
“She already has. From her perspective we took her there! She must have known removing the time widget would allow the rift between our realities to emerge and take her home.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Nothing. This is all in her past.”
“No. No there must be a way to help her.”

The figure started speaking again. “So I have to get you to bring me to this, this -TARDIS to remove a spiral?”

The Doctor gasped. Under his breath he said, “I was wrong. She knows nothing about the TARDIS. She isn’t advanced. She only knows what I’m going to tell her. I have to explain to her how to leave. Or else she never will.”

Turning to her again the Doctor said, “You must explain to me what’s happening. You must make me understand. It’s the only way I can help you. Keep explaining to me over and over. I don’t know if you can understand this, but we are moving in opposite directions in time. Our realities are opposites. So you must keep explaining to me what’s happening until I get to the blue box, my TARDIS.”
“I must pull out a spiral to return home?”
“The spiral I touch is the one you must remove. Remove the spiral fully. Pull the spiral all the way out. The yellow spiral will activate the rift you came through. You must follow me to the blue box, the TARDIS. You must watch me. You must listen carefully. I won’t be able to repeat my instruction. You can do this.”
“There was a power surge. They were experimenting with space folding and stretching- I’m not even a first string tech! The rift appeared and pulled me in!”
“Explain to me what happened.”
“Where am I? Help me. I’m frightened. I don’t know what’s happening.”
At this point Jim felt compelled to be reassuring, “Please believe we are friends. We want to help. Trust us.”
“Help Me. My name is Nenesh. Can You Understand Me? PLEASE.”

Nenesh got to her feet. It was hard to watch her now. She was quaking violently in fear. Fear that had been subsiding in reverse. As hard as it was to watch, Jim knew they were seeing her past. Things would be ok.
“Now she’s gotten up. We have to guide her to sit here with us,” said the Doctor.
“Yes. How?” asked Jim.
“Indicate the spot we want her to sit. Slowly. This is early for her and she’s terrified.”

Jim rose carefully and tried to look non-threatening. He pointed to the spot on the floor Nenesh was departing, or would soon occupy. The Doctor gently patted the spot on the floor. They tried to make their movements slow and not alarming. But as the things they did had their effect in reverse, Nenesh, in their eyes, only grew more alarmed. As they looked on, another “explosion” blossomed behind her. She stumbled from side to side, getting closer to it. Jim followed, transfixed. He wanted badly to reach out to her, to comfort her. So badly that he was unable to resist the impulse to try. The same force of repulsion met him, pushing his hand away. The rift began to draw Nenesh into itself.

“Jim that’s our cue to get back,” said the Doctor. He tugged insistently at Jim’s arm. “I want to stay with her!” Jim said with more force than he intended, and struggling against the Doctor. “It’s dangerous for us to be this close. Do you hear me? There’s nothing more we can do for her. We have already done it! We’ve saved her. Jim, you’ve saved her. Now get back!!” Jim allowed himself to be pulled away from the rift that was quickly absorbing Nenesh. In another moment she was gone.

“Will she be alright? I mean, you know, has she been alright?” asked Jim.
“A strange circle we are all in. Yes! I think so. When we saw her first arrive she was already leaving- everything in reverse. We must have solved it. You must have solved it. It’s good you decided to call me.”
“What do you mean? You called me!”
“No I didn’t. You called me.”
“The phone rang and I answered it.”
“Me too. Ok. If neither of us called then who-?” The Doctor and Jim looked at each other. The Doctor took off running through the door and back to the TARDIS. Jim followed. He found the Doctor frantically scanning a wall of text on one of the TARDIS console screens. “There’s the call! But who initiated it?”
“What are you doing?” asked Jim.
“Tracing the call. Or trying to. It’s extremely tricky. Almost. As though. It had to cross from an entirely different reality??” The Doctor grinned and pushed a few buttons. Then he announced, “There’s a message. I don’t know how, but there’s a message.” The Doctor pressed one more button and an audio file began to play.

“Hello Translator. Hello Comforter. I have no way of knowing when you’ll receive this. If luck is with me, you’ll get it just after events have transpired. Long ago, when I was very young, I visited your world accidentally, and you helped me escape. I owe you my thanks. Translator, your TARDIS is a piece of technology unlike any other. I wish our time flow were not misaligned. We would have much to talk about. Comforter, you told me you were a friend when I was badly scared. I’ve never forgotten you both. It took me ages to work out how to send this to both of your communication devices. I am old now. Far older than when you met me. But if you receive this I am triumphant. Thank you both.”

The Doctor and Jim were silent a moment. “Tell you what, let’s swing by your place and pick up Marie. I’m in the mood for something normal. How’s waterskiing sound?”


Header graphic by: Vecteezy!

This article was written by Tracey Fountain
Tracey can usually be found near or in Albany NY. She likes sci-fi, Doctor Who, the Beatles, the Aquabats, and friendly people being friendly. If you have her number, call her sometime! High-5 Tracey Fountain on Twitter and say hi from us: @Yecartniatnouf