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Tristan’s Father

Tristan’s Father, Part 8

Posted on Mar 31, 2010

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7] Paranoia was a concept I’d learned here, on Earth, yet one more cultural oddity I’d had to assimilate from the late twentieth century and the early twenty-first. We hadn’t even had a word for it, not just because the language we’d been bequeathed was an odd mixture of English and Spanish and Japanese and Arabic squeezed through an apocalyptic bottleneck, but because the culture my ancestors — the ones still in the future, and now in an alternative timeline to the planet Earth I was now living on — created in the aftermath of what they’d survived had consciously rejected such notions. But I’d learned about paranoia fast, at the mercy of UNIT, and in the suspicious and mistrustful atmospheres of the political and media circles of London and New York. And I’d become paranoid myself, and still couldn’t decide whether that was a healthy response to an environment that — as Tegan had once characterized it when I’d tried to describe for her a culture that did not inspire paranoia — “menaced you with threats you weren’t sure were real wielded by people you weren’t sure existed.” I could have written anthropological papers about how current events are shaped by mass psychosis that no one would understand for a thousand years. The watered-down versions of my future-historian perspective on now that I posted anonymously on the Internet caused consternation enough among those who were moved enough to comment on them. But Nate Steele was real, and the New York Post was real, and the smirk he’d thrown my way in the media room at Midtown South had been real. I’d accompanied Peter to his impromptu press conference on my way out of his HQ, without any sense of urgency to stay and watch — I’d learned that what was important, in the larger scheme of things that UNIT charged me to keep an eye on, was not what Peter said here but what version of what he said ended up on TV and the Internet later… and I would watch for that on TV and the Web later. But Steele was there, among the mob of TV cameras and newspaper reporters and respected bloggers, and when he saw me enter behind Peter, an unpleasant grin lit up his face, and when he caught my eye, the grin became that slimy sneer of his… with a lot more spine behind it than it usual had. Steele always fancied he’d happened onto something sensational about me, though a lack of surety tempered his arrogance — but all of a sudden there was a new confidence in his sneer, and that terrified me. Now, I couldn’t help glancing over my shoulder as I strode up Seventh Avenue toward 1515 Broadway, feeling like I was stumbling all the way. The streets were eerily empty for a Wednesday afternoon, so many people having been scared off the island or...

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Tristan’s Father, Part 7

Posted on Apr 13, 2009

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] 46.9 hours earlier (Earthtime: Monday 5:17pm Eastern) The Doctor Earth. In jeopardy. Again. And it was all my fault. Tristan didn’t protest as I hauled him bodily into rush-hour traffic on Riverside Drive — he just hung limp in my grasp, resigned and despondent, as I stalked us across four lanes of jammed-up, honking vehicles. Of course it would be Earth that would be so at risk from my own child’s untutored ignorance. Because of course it would only have been a human of Earth who would be his mother, a human of Earth whom I would have fallen in love with and produced a child with — however in Rassilon’s great realm such a thing could have happened. And so of course it would only have been here that that child would be present and capable of doing such unwitting harm. I glared down at him, skinny and gangly and scared, and I loosened my grip just a bit, chagrined. Tristan, my son. I was responsible for bringing this child into the universe, and I didn’t even know how. How could he even be? I knew exactly what I was doing when I greedily took advantage of Ayren’s ignorance of what loving a Time Lord would mean for her. I knew it was a recipe for misery for both of us. But this — Tristan yelped as I yanked his arm again, dragging him into Riverside Park — how could I have been so wrong that I didn’t even know there was a right? “Hey,” Tristan said as we tromped through the park. “Where are we going?” I stopped us in front of the TARDIS. “Right here.” I fiddled with the key in the lock. “Inside…” And I shoved him in. I had to shove him again inside: he was riveted in the doorway. “Quit your gawping,” I told him, pulling him toward the console. “We’ve got work to do.” “It’s…” His mouth gaped, and then he grinned. “It’s dimensionally transcendental.” “That’s the same thing–” That’s the same thing your mother said the first time she stepped inside the TARDIS. Not “It’s bigger in the inside” but “It’s dimensionally transcendental.” “That’s the first thing most people notice. Nothing gets by you, eh? Sharp as a tack, you are.” It came out sarcastic — I couldn’t tell him right now how proud I was that he grasped the concept, not when I was in the middle of an enormous scold at him for being a too-clever little wanker. I set a few dials and flipped a few switches. “See that knob there?” I pointed to the big green one right in front of him. “Turn it, all the way round.” He stared at me through the bashful shock of blond hair that’d fallen over his eyes as he edged closer to the console. “That one?” “That one.” He hesitated, his hand hovering over the knob like he...

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Tristan’s Father, Part 6

Posted on Sep 9, 2008

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] A few minutes later, Peter was standing over me with scowl on his face. “Ayren,” he said, “if you can’t stand up, I’m calling an ambulance over to take you to the hospital.” “Look, I’m standing, see?” I shoved away the Doctor’s helping hand, and Peter’s, but I did lean against the building, just a little, as I rose to my feet. “I’m okay.” I staggered a few steps away from them, and out into the street, to prove how okay I was… and then I moaned a little, and they both materialized at my side again, their hands coming gently to my elbows and waist. But it wasn’t my throbbing head that jolted me to a halt: it was the sights around me. The two corpses near us had not, thankfully, been joined by others, at least not that I could see, but though the older man’s face was now covered with what looked like Peter’s suit jacket, the gaping hollow in his midsection was bare, which seemed indecent somehow; the younger woman was, of course, now dead, her body draped from head to knees in a paramedic’s blanket. The police had blocked off Times Square to regular traffic, but there were news vans everywhere, and cameras and microphones were shoved into the faces of bewildered office workers and tourists perched on curbs and abandoned cars, sobbing or holding gauze to bloody lacerations or muttering dazedly into cell phones that they were fine. It was a perfectly gorgeous late-spring day, the air warm but crisped by a cool breeze, the sky between the buildings sunny and clear azure. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, and let it go in a sigh: I’d been getting used to the idea that I was safe here from all the nightmarish bursts of life since I’d met the Doctor. I guess that’s over. The Doctor tensed beside me, and gave my arm a quick squeeze, which I pulled out of just as lightly. Comfort was not what I wanted from him right now, but answers, and the tight inward coiling of his mind, like he was shrinking away from me, told me I wasn’t going to get any. A metallic lurch echoed behind us, and we, the Doctor and Peter and I, swung around in time to see the giant neon M of the McDonald’s restaurant a block up — one of its legs was already crushed — collapse off its moorings with a shower of electric sparks. It dangled like a gaudy toy from one slender wire for a long moment, sending dozens of people running in a tidal wave of panic, and then it crashed to the suddenly empty sidewalk in a swell of broken glass. When the frenzy subsided, my gaze was drawn up and past the new mess to notice that, a block beyond and ten or twelve stories up the manmade canyon of Times...

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Tristan’s Father, Part 5

Posted on Aug 21, 2008

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] 43.7 hours earlier (Earthtime: Monday 4:42pm Eastern) The Doctor “…and this projects the waveforms that excite the molecules in the groundwater,” Tristan rushed on in his breathless explanation, pointing here and there at the various juryrigged doodads on his workbench, “and this reads the resulting–” “That’s a quantum spectrometer,” I said. “With a digital readout. That’s clever.” “I like making things,” he said defensively, as if my admiration were an accusation. Perhaps I’d been wrong about him being coddled — perhaps he was, instead, being discouraged in his natural inclinations and pushed in other directions he didn’t want to go in. And the way he glared at me, his blue eyes flashing with a fury undercut by fear, told me he was terrified I was here to take this amusement away from him. And maybe I was. “Making things is good,” I said, feeling like I was tiptoeing across thin ice. “I like a bit of tinkering myself. But you’ve got to be careful.” “But I’m not doing anything wrong!” my son exclaimed, his voice rising to an indignant adolescent squeal. My son… I fell back to lean against the other workbench before my legs gave out under me. The rage and the frustration: why had I not expected this, to see myself so powerfully in him? A child of Gallifrey would never have dared blaze so defiant to his elder, and yet I had dared it, and been punished for it, and now hot jealousy surged in me — Tristan was so much freer than I had ever been as a child — and I barked a laugh I couldn’t stop at the absurdity of that, of being resentful of him, who had had no more control over where he’d been born that I had had. He misunderstood my self-deprecating snort as a different kind of reaction to what he’d said. “They told me I could do whatever I want here as long as I don’t make any trouble.” He sounded scared now. “And I’m not!… Am I?” “Trust me, mate,” I told him, “you don’t want them finding out what kind of trouble you’re causing here.” “Why should I trust you? I don’t know you. Aren’t you them too?” I stared at him, suddenly terrified that I’d ruined any chance I might have had at winning him over by barrelling into his life, however unintentionally, like an inquisitor, like an overlord — like my own father had been. And keeping my identity secret… the longer I did that, the harder it would be to tell him the truth, and that stung hard, now that I saw myself in him, and so instantly, far more than I ever had in the children of my long-ago life, before I left Gallifrey to wander forever, children who became staid, conservative adults who were long estranged from me, were long strangers I barely recognized, and were now gone. The crushing totality of my...

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Tristan’s Father, Part 4

Posted on Jun 26, 2008

[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] Out on Eighth Avenue, while Michael tried to hail a cab, I called Peter. “I’m sorry I missed your calls last night,” I said when he answered, before he could say anything himself. “Yeah, that’s not like you,” he said. “Everything all right?” “Oh, I don’t know,” I sighed. “So you weren’t just too busy having a good time, then?” I could hear the grin in his voice. “Not like you’re thinking, no.” I said it more sharply than I meant to as the bewildered bliss of the night before and the stranger morning after suddenly jangled me, and a giggle of terror and delight escaped my lips: the Doctor! I found I was shivering all over, listening to Peter stammer an apology in my ear and watching Michael wave me over to the yellow taxi at the curb. How could I let him go? Even just back to the TARDIS. The sure certainty rushed at me that I would not see him again. Oh, gods, I’m being ridiculous, I admonished myself as I climbed into the cab, Michael’s hand at my elbow, his handsome face quirking into a frown as he felt how wobbly I was. “No, Peter,” I said into the phone, “I’m sorry. Don’t mind me, please.” “Okay…” He sounded uncertain. “Look, I’m on my way into a meeting at UNIT about the park yesterday.” Michael had given the driver our destination, and we were inching up Eighth Avenue in morning rush traffic. “You got anything at all I can bring in with me?” “Yeah,” and he was all business again — I could hear him shuffling papers around. “I had the ME up all night doing autopsies, and she found something… Here it is: The victims all died from, well, having their midsections removed — not blood loss, obviously, since they still had plenty of that sloshing around in them, but general shock and loss of vital organs.” “Right…” “But she thinks they might have died anyway because they all had the same weird protein or enzyme in their bloodstream, and it was doing some strange shit to their biochemistry.” “Weird how?” “Weird as in ‘not of this Earth.'” “Ah, this was your coroner. The one who… knows?” “Yeah. She says that it’s absolutely not like anything she’s ever seen before, and probably not like anything that could have evolved on Earth. It actually crashed the PCR, which I didn’t even think was possible.” “Wow. That’s… weird.” “Yeah.” There was a pause. “Ayren, it would be so much more helpful to both of us if I was in that meeting with you.” I sighed — this was far from the first time we’d had this discussion. “I know. You know I’ve been lobbying them to bring you in. I’m not gonna let up.” “All right. Let’s touch base later?” “Of course.” Michael was grinning at me as I dropped the phone into my bag. “Poor Peter… What will he...

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Tristan’s Father, Part 3

Posted on Jun 13, 2008

[Part 1] [Part 2] 32.1 hours earlier (Earthtime: Monday 4:18pm Eastern) The Doctor I swore in Gallifreyan. The TARDIS had arrived in the spacetime vicinity of early-21st-century Earth, and the transdimensional hazard alarm had started blaring, and I could only bark out a bitter laugh at my rotten luck. It was the same alarm the Nestene had set off months earlier, and I couldn’t ignore it: what good would Ayren do me if her planet was reduced to a molten heap of slag by genocidal androids from a parallel universe or whatever it was that had set the TARDIS to screaming in terror? As long as she was safe and secure on Earth — or anywhere, but Earth was where she was — then there was always the possibility of us reconciling. Even if I never saw her again. But I was going to see her. I was going to see her. I skipped around the console checking readings and trying to figure out what had tripped the alarm, and all the while my hearts tumbled over crazy palpitations and my gut yawned in terror and I giggled with glee. I was going to see her. It smacked me then: Can’t show up at Ayren’s drunk. Probably couldn’t save the planet drunk, either. I spat out another Gallifreyan oath as I shook off the inebriating effects of Jack’s bottle: what a waste of good scotch. And then I had to giggle again, too. Because it had been Ayren who had told me once that she always knew I was at my angriest when the only thing I could find to say was so profane that no translation from the original was possible. A shiver of anticipation shot through me as I remembered other, far more pleasurable moments with her that had reduced me to an incoherence that only similar such profound obscenity could overcome. But I should not be anticipating that at all. Not at all… The alarm. The monitor had answers, but not good ones. I took a startled step back, shook my head: but no, the scotch was well and truly gone. I was reading that right. A waveband of submicrosonics was resonating the bedrock under Manhattan Island… it would actually start to shake skyscrapers out of their foundations if it got just a few orders of magnitude stronger. And the city certainly didn’t need any more disasters like that. It was a colder shiver now that ran through me: the coincidence! The danger was literally under Ayren’s feet, at the very moment at which I decided to drop in? Although that had happened with the Nestene, too, hadn’t it? Or almost, at least. Why was planet Earth practically under siege these days? This was very bad: the waveforms were reverberating through transdimensional spacetime, threatening the city across a span of at least decades, with weaker tendrils stretching forward and backward over centuries. Before long, buildings would begin to topple from the 1960s through the 2040s, for...

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Tristan’s Father, Part 2

Posted on Jun 4, 2008

[Part 1] 26.8 hours earlier (Earthtime: Monday 4:03pm Eastern) Alone. The TARDIS yawned empty. The dimness of the console room was like a cave, like a place used and abandoned: hollow, rocky. Empty. I wasn’t there. I was screaming myself hoarse in the temporal trenches of the Montigan Rift as weaponized timeloops razored my own cruel memories through my head again and again over endless nanoseconds. I was choking with my bare hands, and relishing it, the scrawny neck of a Rigellian sneak-scout whose mere presence in the hellish pits of Arcadia threatened a year’s worth of scheming against the Dalek redoubt there. I was watching Gallifrey burn, the psychic cries of millions of my people searing through me… and shutting them out when I should have embraced their final terrible moments as my punishment. I was howling at the broken knob on the dimensional stabilizer just to drown out all the silent voices. “You sure you don’t wanna come with us, Doctor?” Rose had asked at the threshold of the TARDIS doors. “I’ve seen it,” I snapped. “It’s rubbish.” But perhaps I should have gone. Perhaps if Jack hadn’t groaned theatrically, reminding me how exhausting he could be. “Oh, don’t listen to him, Rose. DisneyPlanet is the pinnacle achievement of human civilization.” “Well then, Captain Jack, looks like you’ve got me all to yourself.” Perhaps if Rose hadn’t simpered at him, reminding me that she didn’t even see me as a man, never mind one to be flirted with. I couldn’t have borne to be with them at that moment, but as soon as they were gone, in their swirls of laughter and spirited human energy, the moment the doors slammed shut behind them, all life was sucked out of the TARDIS. Out of me. I was alone. Which is what I had been trying to avoid since regeneration shock and an urgent, hungry need not to be alone anymore drove me to Earth, and to latch onto Rose’s unsullied vivacity the moment I met her. And maybe that was a mistake. For she hadn’t the first clue who I really was, or what I really needed, and even if she had, she couldn’t give it to me. But her innocence — and even Jack’s, he who fancied himself a man about time and space and yet was no more than a child — was like a balm, forcing me to forgive myself, or to try to, telling me that there were good reasons why everything I’d endured was worth it. Now, though, with that calming influence yanked away, it was like sobering up after the glorious blankness of a good roaring drunk. Which was not at all what I needed at this moment. I tore through the TARDIS kitchens, and the bar in the library, but there was nothing, and I found myself on the floor of the library, weeping and laughing at the same time. The world had ended and there was nothing to live for,...

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Tristan’s Father, Part 1

Posted on Jun 1, 2008

It was a Tuesday. Just an ordinary Tuesday of my new life that, a decade and a half into it, was no longer so new. But it was a day on which the strangeness of this new life had struck me unexpectedly, as seemed to happen at random every now and again. I’d stood in the market picking over fruit, and suddenly found myself marvelling that this fuzzy green one no longer existed when I’d lived my previous life, and found myself aching for one particularly delicious fruit not yet known here, on this still lovely world, in this impossibly distant past. And I found, as I lugged my groceries home, juggling my camera and sketchpad — for it was Tuesday mornings when I joined an art class in the park to struggle with my poor drawings and only slightly better photos — that I was aching again for the man who’d delivered, however inadvertantly, this strange life to me. And I wondered — again — at what a transformed person I’d become at his side, and how the old before-him me would have called these changes he’d wrought in me changes for the worse, but which the new me, the fifteen-years-new me, now recognized as merely the price that needed to be paid to bring me to this present contentment. So I ached for him, but it was a dull, comfortable ache, one that I’d learned to carry without hope of it ever being assuaged. Yet there he was. *** He sat on the top of the stoop of my house — well, not my house, but the one generously allowed to me — one boot-clad toe tapping absently, heavily as he glanced up and down the street till he saw me, and a grin split his face in two. It was not the same face I’d fallen in love with, nor the same face that had come, briefly, to see me almost ten years earlier. This dangerous physical inconstancy I’d come to accept long before, though I’d feared the threat of it for a long time. Now, it seemed like mere detail. I stopped at the foot of the short flight of stairs and stared at him for a moment. His eyes went wide, and he said nothing, but he said it like it was everything, like he was wound up in hopeful expectancy. I climbed the stairs, put my bundles of everyday life down against the door, and sat next to him. Still he said nothing, only stared at me, and I studied his new face, handsome in a more severe way than the one I’d met so long ago… yet the same keen light shone out of the same blue eyes. His hair, much darker now, was shorn close to his head, and there were newer, harsher angles to his face that spoke of rough years since I’d seen him last. His smile was not the cheery beam I’d known, but a lonelier curl of...

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