When Graham O'Brien was a young lad in Essex, one of his best mates was always tinkering with an engine. Be it a motor of a car, truck, motorcycle; it made little difference. Loved to take them apart and put them back together. Graham himself was not overly mechanically inclined. Yes, he could swap out a tire, fix a headlamp, or if push came to shove fumble his way through replacing an oil filter. However, when it came to talking about fuel manifolds, distributor caps, piston rings, Graham was lost. He was usually regulated to holding a light or fetching a wrench and not having a clue what was going on while his friend had his head stuck up an engine's exhaust.
Graham could not help but feel the same way now as he held a torch illuminating a bizarre collection of cables and conduits. They stretched all over the place, running from places unknown in the TARDIS. On the floor, from the ceiling, and at odd angles from every other direction. All of them mixed and coiled together at the center of the room to form a nearly twelve-foot-high column. A convoluted twisting of dark cords and tubes where the Doctor had shoved her head deep into the mess to carry out her repairs.
"More light!" she grunted as she squirmed deeper into the conduits.
"Sorry," replied Graham as he tried to thread his way around a large cable snaking across the floor. He pivoted the torch to shine its light on the Doc's buried head. "Better?" he asked.
"Uh…Littal…," came a distorted reply sounding like one of the many smaller cables spilling out of the same hole the Doctor had forced her way into had wrapped around her throat.
"You sure you're okay in there, Doc?" questioned Graham as he watched more of the Doctor's torso disappear into the unruly mass of tubes.
There was no reply, and after more than a few seconds passed, Graham began to worry when the remaining portion of the Doctor not wholly swallowed up by the pillar pipework making up part of the TARDIS's engine stopped moving.
He was just about ready to grab on to the Doctor's legs and pull her out when she was launched backward, suddenly ejected from the hole. She hit the floor a dozen paces back from the column with a hard thump and rolled to her side. Graham was to her in an instant, fretfully worried that she was hurt. He helped her slowly sit up. Instead of the expected pain, he saw the Doctor coughed once and then begin to laugh.
"Ha…that'll teach me to skip spring cleaning!"
At her side, still concerned, Graham put a hand on her back as she coughed again. "Are you all right?"
"Fine, fine," she brushed him off as she got back to her feet. "That…Not so much." She was pointing at the narrow little tunnel she had just been ejected. A cloud of thick oily smoke was beginning to pour out of the opening.
"Bad?" asked Graham as the smoke continued to roil out the opening in the tubes. A distinct odor of burnt electrical wire filled his nose.
"Not if you don't mind not breathing," replied the Doctor with a small shrug. "But I do, so we should probably leave.
By now the smoke was billowing around them, quickly hazing the already dimly lit room. The smell was overpowering. Graham choked as the acid vapor reach the back of his throat. With the torch, he tried to find the door, but it was already lost in the murky fumes.
Her hand reached his. "This was, Mister O'Brien," came the Doctor's voice. She tugged Graham along pulling him out of smoke. He scrambled after her, managing to keep up as the Doctor threaded around the various tubes and conduits in the chamber. Guiding them away from the noxious cloud.
In the haze, a sudden increase in light and fresh air indicated the Doctor had indeed found the door and managed to get it open. They hurried through, and she slammed it shut behind them. Back in the much better lit and far more breathable TARDIS corridor, Graham and the Doctor sagged against the lower side of a hexagonal wall.
After a good minute of coughing out some of the oily miasmas and taking several steadying breaths of clean air, Graham managed to wheeze out, "Is there a fire extinguisher or something on this ship?"
"What for?" asked the Doctor. She appeared to have been only lightly affected by the smoke. She was already standing, hands on her hips with a slight scowl on her face.
"Well, you've got a fire in your engine…room…or um whatever that place is," answered Graham as he jerked his thumb back at the closed door. "Isn't that bad?"
The Doctor waved a hand dismissively. "It's had far worse than a little smoky fire. Blew up once and nearly ruined the entire universe. It'll be fine."
Not sure how to respond, Graham merely said, "Oh."
"But," said the Doctor with a waggling finger before Graham's nose, "we will need to clean that up. Engines will be offline till we do. The Muon flow has mixed with the Positron matrix and reversed the polarity of the stabilizer. Made that whole mess."
"Blame myself," she continued as she began walking down the passageway. "Should have cleaned it out two hundred years ago. But I was busy with the Sontarans…Or was it the Cybermen? Can't seem to remember and put it off."
Hurrying after her, Graham caught up and asked, "What do we need? Hazmat suits?"
"Don't be daft," replied the Doctor. "We just need a cotton bud."
Graham blinked. "Wha…You mean the little bit of cotton on a stick that you poke in your ear?"
"Eh…A bit bigger and more complicated than a regular cotton swab."
The Doctor tapped a finger against her mouth, apparently lost in thought. "It's about yea high," she said after a few moments. She indicated a spot with her free hand an inch or two below her chin. Just over a meter and a half, Graham reckoned from her height. "And one end was something that looks like a big steel wool brush. With some scribbly writing on the other end," elaborated the Doctor.
"So, a huge cotton bud," mused Graham. "What's the writing say?"
"This side up," replied the Doctor, "But you wouldn't be able to read it. It's written in Gallifrian and besides my penmanship is horrible."
"So where is this thing?"
"That's the tricky bit," answered the Doctor. A faint blush made its way on to her face. "I don't remember where I put it." She tapped her lip again and sighed. "Guess there's nothing doing other than searching the TARDIS."
"Do you want me to get Ryan and Yaz to help look?" asked Graham. The other two members of Team TARDIS were out in Sheffield, with Ryan visiting with some friends and Yaz having dinner with her parents.
"Nah, we should be able to turn it up," replied the Doctor as she resumed walking.
Casting an uncertain glance behind him, back to the door leading to the cavern of conduits and the fire within, Graham had to ask, "It's okay to leave the stuff burning away?"
"Oh that," said the Doctor without a bit of concern. "The TARDIS erected a temporal delay field on those smoky circuits. Slowed down time in there to a crawl. Bought us loads of time."
"Ah, that's good," answered Graham with a nod as he tried and failed to wrap his mind around the idea the TARDIS could alter the flow of time as effortlessly as someone flipping a room's light switch on or off. He gave up trying. The Doctor's ship bordered on something that was near magical and miraculous to him. Best to leave the incomprehensible to others.
Hurrying up to keep pace with the fast walking Doctor, Graham asked, "So where do we start?"
Her head bobbed up and down. "Excellent question! I say we start in the library."
Glancing around as if he expected to see a stack of books show up, he questioned, "You have a library in here?"
She gave him a puzzled look. "Course I have a library. Where else would I read all my books?"
Graham had to admit her answer made sense. Where else would one put books? As to why a high-tech version of a Q-tip was in such a library was anyone's guess. There was a good deal he did not know about the Doctor's TARDIS. Once you got past the idea the inside was bigger than the outside, the question became just how much bigger? After they had found her TARDIS on Desolation, the Doctor had given Graham and the others a brief tour of her ship and granted each of them a room to stay in while they traveled with her. She had cautioned them not to wander off too much into the TARDIS, for it was easy to get lost in the ships many corridors and passageways.
The truth of the Doctor's warning and the sheer size of the TARDIS was hitting home for Graham as he followed her. After walking straight for nearly five minutes, they made a turn to the left, then a right, another right, and then finally a left brought them to another door. The entire time they traveled through identical looking hexagonally-shaped hallways. He was glad the Doctor knew where she was going, he would have been completely lost.
Coming to a stop before the door to the Library, the Doctor said, "Alright, I'll take the left side, and you take the right."
"Fair enough," replied Graham as he went to open the door. Except what they found on the other side was most certainly not a library. It was a bedroom. Not unlike the one Graham had, but instead of a single bed in the middle of the six-sided room, a lightly colored wooden bunk bed filled the space. He was sure this was not Ryan's or Yaz's. From the look of the style of the bed, he would assume it was for children. Yet strewn around the lower bed and on the floor were an assortment of clothes and judging by their size and style they belong to two adults.
Graham took a few steps into the odd bedroom, clearly confused. He was about to turn around, to ask the Doctor where they were, when he noticed a letter on a nightstand near the bunk bed. Handwritten with tall letters it was easy to see from where he stood. It read –
'Amy & Rory,
When you two sleepy heads finally get up, come find me. I'm out in Central Park having fun. We'll have a picnic or something and then on to some sightseeing.
"Amy? Rory?" questioned Graham as returned to the Doctor's side. He had no idea who these people were. The Doctor had never spoken of them. As he looked at her, he found her expression was hard to read. Not sad, but wistful would be his best guess.
She shook her head once as if to shake away some unknowable emotion and turned from the doorway. "Wrong turn. Sorry. Back this way."
The Doctor took off at a brisk pace. Seeing her rapidly retreating backside, Graham dutifully followed after her. Another lengthy walk ensued. Two rights, then left, down a winding staircase, and then right and finally another left. Bringing them before another door. Or, at least he assumed so, this one looked identical to the last.
"Alright, this will be the Library. Mind you some stuff in here is a might dusty. Hasn't had a good cleaning in ages," informed the Doctor as she pushed opened the door. Stepping after her, Graham nearly ran into the Doctor as she stopped just past the threshold. Looking about, it was clear this room was also not the Library. But he was not sure just what this place was meant to be. It was filled with piles of clothing, ornate furniture, and boxes and boxes laying about filled to overflowing with an unending assortment of, well, junk.
The Doctor gradually turned in a full circle, surveying the literal piles of random stuff. Coming to face Graham, he saw she once again had that slightly perplexed look on her face.
"I'm guessing this isn't the library?" offered Graham.
"No, it's sort of my storage room. At least one of them anyway," answered the Doctor.
"One? How many do you have?"
"Honestly I don't keep track." Quickly going on, she added, "Still, this place as a good as any to start."
Wondering why the Doctor was getting lost in her own ship tickled at the back of Graham's mind. She remained standing just a few feet inside the messy room, hands on hips with that slightly confused frown. Did she not know where she was going? But there were plenty of things the Doctor did that made little sense to Graham. Yet, he had promised he would help, and therefore he quashed his worry as a minor concern and asked, "So, I'll take the right side, and you'll take the left?"
A grin broke through the little grimace on her face. "Excellent idea. Let's get to it!"
So for the next hour, Graham sorted through a seemingly unending amount of every conceivable form of junk. Electronic components and gadgets of every type. Broken coffee maker, an old VCR, a set of electrodes which looked like it belonged to Doctor Frankenstein. And that was just the stuff he could easily recognize. Plenty of the rest he had no earthly idea what it did. Just wires and circuits. Then on to piles of pots and pans, dishes, and silverware. Enough to support a dozen restaurants.
He was just beginning to search through an old steamer trunk when he happened to look up and spot the Doctor examining herself in front of an armoire with a full-length mirror. On her head she wore a cream-colored Panama hat and clutched in hands was Whangee-Handle styled umbrella. The handle of the parasol was shaped like a question mark. She twirled herself around once and declared, "I can still pull this off."
"Pull what off?"
"Emmm," she hummed, "An old look from a really long time ago."
Twirling the umbrella around in a looping circle, she elaborated while indicating the spinning brolly, "I used to carry this everywhere with me. My constant companion."
Graham raised an eyebrow. "What? An umbrella?"
She grinned and winked mischievously. "Why not? All types of things you can do with one."
"Why'd you give it up then?"
She stopped spinning the umbrella and shrugged. "Things change." The slight melancholy frown was back.
Returning his attention to the trunk, Graham bent down to sorted through the contents. First, there was one of those big, clunky boombox radios that were all the rage back in the 1980s. Then a baseball bat and then some woman's clothing. At the very bottom of the chest was a black bomber jacket. Taking up most of the backside of the jacket a large letter A, followed by the smaller letters C and E.
"So that where Ace's jacket got to," said the Doctor. He turned to find her standing over him, eyeing the clothing. "She nearly tore the TARDIS apart looking for it."
Pulling it out of the trunk, Graham turned the jacket over to get a better look at the jacket. It was covered in patches and pins sewed into the fabric. A Union Jack Badge, a NASA shuttle pin, something from a soccer team, and a dozen other insignias he had never seen before.
"Ace? A friend of yours?" he asked.
The Doctor simply nodded.
Looking around, as if he was expecting to see this Ace show up and demand her Bomber Jacket back, Graham blurted out, "What happened to her? Where is she?"
Glancing away, the Doctor gave a half-shrug. "Hmm, around. She gave up on calling herself Ace. Grew up, I guess. Goes by Dorothy now. Doing some charity thing…I think."
"Huh," said Graham as put the jacket back in the trunk. Noticing she still had that forlorn look on her face, he put on a wide grin and made a go at cheering the Doctor up. "I bet this Dorothy has some great tales to tell."
The Doctor turned back to Graham and gave him a weak smile. "She would indeed."
"We should look her up sometime," suggested Graham and immediately saw in the change of the Doctor's expression that was the wrong thing to say. Her lips twisted down into an unhappy frown and she wearily shook her head.
"No. I don't want to bother her. She's got her own life to live. Doesn't need me dropping by to muck it all up. I've done plenty of that already." Giving out a lengthy sigh, which came out more as a large puff of air to blow her bangs out of her face the Doctor added, "Besides we need to fix my TARDIS."
At the Doctor's pronouncement, she spun on her heels and headed for the exit at more than a brisk pace. Graham had to scramble after to her to keep up. She practically ran from the room. Then they were back in the TARDIS's endless corridors. This time Graham did not even try to memorize the route they took. Lefts and rights, up and down, he paid little attention, his eyes focused on the Doctor's backside and his increasing worry something was wrong with his friend.
"Back to looking for the library?" he enquired as they made the fourth left turn in a row. Graham was pretty sure they were going in circles.
"Yes," said the Doctor without turning around.
"And you're sure this is the way?"
"Of course, I'm sure!" she snapped with an unusual amount of irritation in her voice.
After a bit of uncomfortable silence as they walked along, the Doctor cleared her throat and began to describe, in rather complicated detail, of how the TARDIS could rearrange its interior space as need.
"You see," she explained, "the metacontext of the state of mater is fluid inside here. Through particle synthesis, furniture, rooms, and even this corridor we're walking in can be well…" She hesitated as she considered her words. "Painted isn't exactly the right word, but it's not a bad metaphor. Yes - we paint the reality of the insides of the TARDIS."
Graham blinked. He understood only about a quarter of what she was saying. "So, what you're saying this is why everything is out of place?"
She made a quick shake of her head. "Not out of place. Just rearranged."
Graham gave up trying to understand, without further protest he returned to following the Doctor. Eventually, they came to two double-wide doors at the top of a short flight of stairs. Above the wide entrance was the word "Library" in big bold black letters.
Huffing to a stop before the doors, he had to ask, "So if this turns out to a be the janitor's closet…"
"Oh, Ha Ha, Graham," interrupted the Doctor with a snort. "Let's see you remember where you left your library when you've been around as long as me."
He was not going to take the bait. "Never had one to lose and I know better than to ask a lady her age."
The Doctor was seemingly back to her usual happy-go-lucky self. Pushing aside whatever funk she had been in. "Smart man, Mister O'Brien," she replied with a broad grin and pulled open the right-side door.
Entering the library, Graham looked up. And up. Enormous bookcases stretched high into the air. Row after row of them, each one an impossible height. All of them made from richly dark oak wood. Massive broad beams supported expansive wide shelves. Each one holding hundreds of thick tomes. He imagined whole vast forests would have to be sacrificed to even make a start on building such a place.
The ceiling, if there was one, was lost high above in a well-lit greyish haze. It took a bit for his mind to turn over just what he was staring at – clouds. They floated around the towering bookcases like the skyline of a city filled with skyscrapers. The library was so big as to have its own weather.
"Wow," breathed out Graham.
"Best not to look up too much," said the Doctor nonchalantly as she strode into the TARDIS's library. "Makes you go all cross-eyed."
Unable to look away, Graham shaded his eyes with his hands to peer upwards to find the source of the light. It was impossibly far away. "Clouds? Does it rain in here?"
"Ehh," she grunted, "ever since the swimming pool ended up here, the whole place has been a bit damp. Guess the clouds are just a natural outcome of evaporation."
"Doesn't that ruin the books?" asked Graham as he wandered after the Doctor, passing by one of the gigantic bookcases. It was easily the size of a small house.
"Nah, everything in the shelves is stasis locked. Stuck in time. Doesn't age a nanosecond."
Graham shook his head, more time manipulation. Given all the incredible abilities of the Doctor's TARDIS, one would think a basic map of the place would not be too difficult.
"Just how are we going to find this tool of yours in here? I thought your junk room was big." Graham let his eyes roam upwards as they walked between the impossibly tall bookcases. He did not go more than a few paces before he almost tripped over his own feet as he tried to take in the sheer size of everything. The Doctor was not exaggerating about going cross-eyed. He forced his gaze back to the floor as he resumed pressing the Doctor how they would ever find anything in this library. "We could spend weeks in here looking. This place is like a forest."
"Thanks," answered the Doctor, misconstruing Graham's lament as a compliment. "It's not a bad collection if I do say so myself." They turned the corner around one the gigantic cabinets, the leg of the bookshelf as thick as a tree trunk. "Mind you it's pretty tiny compared to The Library Planet in the 51st century. Or Gallifrey's Matrix. But I appreciate the sentiment."
Graham did his best to digest the information that this place was 'small' in the Doctor's mind. Traveling deeper into the library he was finding the entire geometry of this place made his eyes ache. Six towering bookcases arched upward to meet high above to form some bizarre type of a vaulted ceiling. It did not look like it could be remotely stable. Yet the massive slabs of oak held fast, holding tens of thousands of volumes in neat rows, even as they angled in directions that would make the orderly stacking of books an impossibility.
Striding forward confidently, the Doctor led them between the twisting bookcases. More soaring stacks formed another hexagonal space. The whole library was laid out in zig-zagging bookshelves creating a maze of cathedral cambers and large hallways. Graham kept close to the Doctor. This was not a place to get lost.
Here and there in the various rooms formed by the bookshelves, there was furniture. Wide tables of dark wood and deeply plush leather chairs. A comfortable place to read among the countless books. Each of these little reading rooms was illuminated from the light of softly glowing bronze shaded desk lamps sitting between the armchairs.
They had passed several of these reading rooms without stopping. But in the fifth one, the Doctor abruptly halted. She leaned over one of the chairs, eyeing something that had been laid across the seat. Graham saw it initially as a rumbled-up pile of fabric. But as the Doctor picked up the cloth, he saw that in fact it was a women's gown.
Holding the dress up to the glow of the nearby desk lamp, the Doctor examined it. Graham inched in to get a better look. The gown was elegant, a deep blue with sparkly sequins sewn into the dress's midriff. But at the same it time more than a little risqué. The hem was cut to show off a lot of the wearer's legs. As she turned the dress over, Graham saw the front of the dress would also show a good deal of cleavage as well. He had a hard time believing the Doctor would ever wear something so revealing.
"It's River's," said the Doctor with a huff. She began folding the dress. "She was always leaving her clothes all over the place. And she could never have enough of them. Traveling with her was like one extended shopping trip."
As the Doctor replaced the now folded dress on the chair's arm, Graham asked, "Another former companion?"
"My wife," replied the Doctor softly without looking at him.
Graham's jaw did several things at once. Up, down, and sort of a sideways wiggle. None of the motions produced any sort of intelligible sounds. Just a low "buhh…"
From his jabbering, she glanced at him, and her face became disapproving. "Oh, close your mouth, Graham. You'll create a draft."
Turning on her heal, the Doctor resumed their trek. Her pace even faster than before. Almost as if she was scurrying away from the two armchairs. Snapping his jaw shut, he had to run to catch up with her. When he reached her, he offered his apology. "Sorry, that just took me by surprise."
"It's fine," she said dismissively. Still at her rapid walk, she added, "We need to keep looking."
"For the oversized cotton bud."
The Doctor nodded and then shook her head. "Yes, but no."
Graham put a restraining hand on the Doctor and brought them to a halt. He was completely exasperated. "Well, what the hell are we looking for?"
"The Codex," said the Doctor as if that answered everything.
"Which is?" enquired Graham with a sigh in the hopes of drawing out a better explanation.
She appeared to mull over an answer for him. "Kind of a map, or more accurately a directory of everything in the TARDIS. With it we can find our missing tool."
"Right," nodded Graham. "So where is this Codex?"
"I believe It's right up ahead," she replied as she pointed down the hall. At the other side of the of the arching anteroom stood tall wooden pedestal. Coming closer, Graham could see a golden light from somewhere above shine down, illuminating the entire dais. The whole pedestal appeared as if it was carved and chiseled from one massive block of darkly ruby colored wood. Ornate wooden flowers and vines circled the column of timber. At the very top of it, lay an enormous book. So thick as to look like ten dictionaries had been stitched together to make a massive tome.
Stepping up to the huge book, the Doctor began flipping through it. Each page was lined with incredibly small, undecipherable text. Words that were a combination of something like hieroglyphics and ink blot smudges. Apparently, each entry representing an item and its location in the TARDIS. And there were thousands upon thousands of pages in this thing.
As she turned page after page, Graham couldn't help but ask, "Don't you have, I don't know, a computer program that can do the search? I mean back home we've got Google, can find anything you want."
"Pfft," sniffed the Doctor as she started shuffling through the Codex, spinning past hundreds of pages at a time. "Where's the fun in that? You Humans," she went on, "always in such a rush to get the answers."
She abruptly stopped her page turning. Graham looked down at the Codex and saw something was pressed between the pages. It was a small, white envelope with golden trim. A single word was written on its front – "Doctor."
Gently picking it up, the Doctor had a rather perplexed look on her face. She apparently did not have any idea who the letter was from. She carefully opened it and pulled out about a dozen sheets of paper. Unlike the overstuffed book the envelope came from, Graham could read these words. It was in English, handwritten in meticulously crafted lines. It began with - "To my dearest friend."
Graham immediately looked away. He could see it in her eyes, this letter was personal and private for the Doctor only. With his mind still on the dress from before, he did not want to intrude and took a step back. Over the next couple minutes, as she carefully read each page, the Doctor's face went through a tumult of emotions. Happy with laughter, then wistful smiles, on to a grim shake of her head, and then finally, and most unexpectedly, tears.
They glinted in the soft glow from above as they ran down her cheeks. "Doc," said Graham in a near hush, "you okay?"
She did not answer him. Whipping at her eyes with the sleeve of her jacket, she spoke in a wobbly whisper, "Alistair, you old sentimental fool."
Graham awkwardly waited as she calmed. He was not sure what else to do. Finally, she let out a long sigh and tucked the pages back into the envelope. Instead of returning it to the Codex, she pocketed the letter in her overcoat. Then she just remained staring off into the vast library. Her still watery eyes very distant.
After enough time, Graham judge it was worth trying again. "Another friend?"
"Yes," she answered in a voice still heavy with emotion. "Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. A soldier. A good man. A brave man." She paused and added with a wry grin. "And sometimes a very stubborn man."
"Someone you lost." He said. It was a statement, not a question.
"Yes," she confirmed. "I never got a chance to say goodbye properly. But Alistair did. He knew I'd drag it out. So, he wrote me this letter. Doing it for me." She glanced around the never-ending stacks of books. "No idea how he got it here."
"Doc, what exactly is going on here? Why do we keep running into stuff from your past…Or, well, your friends' past?"
She leaned in close to him. Her voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. "It's the TARDIS."
Surprise bloomed on his face. "What!?"
Still in a near murmur, she replied. "She's trying to divert me. Keep me busy. And all things considered, doing a pretty good job."
Pressing her hands together, the Doctor grew thoughtful as she considered how to answer. "It's like a kid who doesn't want to take their medicine. Keeps trying to sidetrack the parents."
"Still not getting the why part."
"It's the engine maintenance. The TARDIS doesn't want me to finish. Always trying to distract me," explained the Doctor. "See, the work is deep within her. It's not that pleasant for her."
A little glint of understanding came to Graham. He had not even considered what their work would feel like to the time ship. The TARDIS was alive, according to the Doctor. They must be like ants swarming about, poking and prodding the ship as they had crawled around the engine. "Like an operation? Surgery?"
"Not exactly that severe. But nor is it a sunny day at the park. She's doing her best to bring up stuff to keep me away from finishing."
"Old friends, old memories," mused Graham as he ambled around the podium, contemplating what the TARDIS had been doing to the Doctor for the last couple hours. Then it all just clicked. He spun around to find her sitting on the edge of the dais, still staring off into space.
"I've got a home where every little thing reminds me of Grace. Every room filled with memories. Where staying there more than an hour starts driving me crazy."
She looked up and gave him a sympathetic smile. "And I've got a lot of rooms and a lot of memories."
"People who've traveled with you. Like me, Ryan, and Yaz."
It was easy enough to guess others had traveled with the Doctor before she had literally crashed landed into their lives. But it was hard to accept they were all gone from the Doctor's life. "And you've lost them? All of them?"
"Not exactly lost. Not all my companions. Some people move on. Some grow up. That's the way life works. But yes, some of those I've loved…are gone."
More things clicked together. "And that's why you change rooms around in the TARDIS. Rearrange stuff," said Graham. "So, you can forget?"
"No!" she nearly shouted. Rising, she covered the distance to him. Her eyes blazing with conviction. "I never forget. I hold on to all of you. All they were is with me. Every memory utterly precious." She looked down. "But…it's easier when not every little thing is a reminder of the past. Where it doesn't clutter my way." There was an edge of embarrassment in her voice. "You wondered why I have so many storage rooms. I keep everything."
They stood there together, both silent. Time passed. Maybe it was a second, or maybe it was hours. "One day," said the Doctor as fixed Graham with a stare that bore into him, "You and Ryan and Yaz will leave. I hope it is a good leaving. Where you all go on to have long happy lives. Where you Graham won't be suffocated by your memories of Grace. But whatever your fate. I will remember you."
Now it was Graham who felt the sting of tears. "Isn't hard? For us to be here with you? When you know we'll eventually move on?"
"No…More than you can imagine, you three keep me grounded." She made a small wave towards the way they had come. "Back in the storage room, if it had just been me, I could have spent hours on hours in there. Days even. But you help remind me. Focus me to the present. Not lost in the past with old memories, or worried about the future. But here. Now."
Graham nodded. Understanding a bit more about his extraordinary friend. She was ancient and powerful in ways that defied easy comprehension. Yet at the same time, she was lonely and stuck with the weight of melancholy over her losses. And three little humans, coming together by accident gave her something she needed. Family. Reassuringly he said, "Well, that's what your family is here for."
"My fam," replied the Doctor with an affectionate smile. It was a radiant one that could light an entire room. Just like Grace.
"Well," said Graham with a spread of his arms to indicate the TARDIS, "what are we to do about your uncooperative ship? Can't exactly send her to her room without dinner for punishment."
"That would be a bizarre twisting of space and time to accomplish such thing," answered the Doctor with a gentle laugh. Then she grew thoughtful and she tapped a finger against her nose. "But that does give me an idea."
"Oh," grunted Graham. "So, we can send the TARDIS to her room without supper?"
"Not exactly, but there is a way to get her to behave, find the tool we need and get engines back online."
She had gained that look in her eye that always made Graham a bit nervous. Prepared to launch herself into something very crazy. Reluctantly he forced himself to ask, "And that would be?"
"A little bit of time manipulation and some ninth dimensional metamathematics." The Doctor then held her thumb and index finger up, nearly touching. "And just a tiny bit of risk."
A heavy sigh made its way out of Graham. "Why am I not surprised?"
"Hey, Yaz, hold up," shouted Ryan Sinclair.
Yasmin Khan stopped and turned to see her friend jogging toward her, closing the distance. She was on her way back to the Doctor's TARDIS after spending some time with her parents. They had been insistent that she join them for dinner. Her father complained that lately, she had been missing the family evening meals. And even when she was there, she seemed a million miles away. She had suppressed a smile. He had no idea how right he was.
Ryan panted to a stop before her. "You off to see the Doc?"
"Yeah," she admitted. "Figured I'd see if she was up for a little visit to the past."
"What'd you have in mind?" asked Ryan as they resumed their walk towards where the Doctor had landed the TARDIS earlier this afternoon.
"Dinosaurs!" she announced with glee. "Figured why bother with the Jurassic Park movies when we can see the real thing."
Ryan enthusiastically bobbed his head as he considered the possibilities. "Nice! See me a real T-Rex. I can get aboard that plan."
The TARDIS came into view as they exited the Park Hill estate. The blue police box stood alone on a small hill. With all the appearance of quietly awaiting their return. Ryan and Yaz came to a stop before the TARDIS's door.
"Got a plan to convince the Doctor to take us a few million years in the past?" asked Ryan.
Yaz shrugged. "Can't be that hard. I mean who wouldn't want to see a living dinosaur?"
"Hmm," pondered Ryan with an amused grin, "you never know. Maybe they're really dull and the Doc's seen them a hundred times already."
"How on Earth could they be boring?"
Before Ryan could answer, the doors to the TARDIS banged open and a burst of white smoke belched from the inside. Thrown back by the sudden expulsion of the smoky cloud, Ryan and Yaz staggered away from the entrance to the time ship, coughing and sputtering. As the smoke began to clear a head poked out of the door. It was Graham.
"Finally!" he barked. "You're both here. Get in!"
Ryan gaped at his step-grandfather. He was smudged with dirt and grim and was sporting several days' worth of beard growth. Which was more than a little disconcerting to Ryan as he had left Graham just a few hours ago and he had been cleaned shaven.
"What the hell happened to you?" demanded Ryan.
"The Doc had an idea that blew up in her face. Now we've got ten minutes before the universe implodes."
"More like nine," came from a voice from further in the TARDIS.
Yaz craned her neck to look past the disheveled Graham. She caught sight of the Doctor frantically working away at the controls to the TARDIS. She was dressed in a leather apron and had what appeared to be a long cutlass tied to her side.
"Com'on," shouted the Doctor. "We've got to get Anne Bonny out of my engine room."
"Anne who? And what's this about the universe exploding?" asked Yaz with eyes wide in awed confusion.
"Imploding," corrected Graham. "Trust me, it's important."
Entering the TARDIS, Ryan and Yaz heard a deep bellowing chime. It seemed to ring from everywhere in the ship. Something of profound distress. The floor of the TARDIS swayed and bobbed as if they were rolling on giant unseen waves. With growing alarm, Ryan turned to Graham. "How are we supposed to fix this?"
Despite the dirt and being utterly exhausted, Graham cracked a wide grin. He looked between Ryan, Yaz, the Doctor, and said, "As a family."