"I've been meaning to ask you..."
"Why I chose a 20th Century police box as the shape for my TARDIS?" The Doctor finished the question, and smiled a boyish grin.
"Yes, that's it, though I didn't think that you could choose the shape."
"Oh, yes. TARDISes have what's called a chameleon circuit, which works pretty much like the name suggests. When I first came to Earth after leaving Gallifrey during my first life, I landed in the 1960's, where police boxes like this one were rather common, especially in England. Little did I know that the chameleon circuit was damaged, and that caused the shape I chose-the police box- to become permanent."
"Permanent? You mean, you couldn't fix the circuit, or ask the Time Lords to fix it for you?"
"Oh, I could certainly do both of those things; in fact, I fixed the circuit myself after my fifth regeneration. But I had become so attached to the old girl's shape that I decided to chuck the circuit altogether. It's really not that much different than the default." And with another broad smile, he continued, "As for the Time Lords, even though they have done several modifications to the TARDIS in the past, not all of them have been good, so I try to keep them as far away from her as possible."
"I see. Isn't it, well, hard to explain the police box to aliens, or those in the future?"
"Well, most alien races, as well as the humans in the far future have heard of the Time Lords and the TARDIS, so I don't have to do much explaining then. But, it's those in the past and present who seem to have the most trouble."
"The present to you is what, exactly?"
"Oh, did I say present? Slip of the tongue; actually, I tend to spend much of my time on Earth in a broadly defined period between the middle of the 19th Century and the end of the 20th Century. I really have no reason why that happens; it's as if the TARDIS has developed such an affinity for the place and time that she really doesn't want to leave."
"You speak about the TARDIS as if she were alive."
"You just did as well, Jean-Luc." Picard smiled. "So I did... I guess it comes from being around ships so much."
"Indeed. As I was saying before," he continued as he opened the door to the TARDIS, "many people in the late 20th Century seem to think that the ship is an actual police box. At least one of my early companions wandered into the TARDIS that way."
"Absolutely not. Fortunately, Dodo was a very interesting person to have around. Most of the time." The Doctor smiled, and motioned for Picard to enter the TARDIS.
The Doctor and Picard opened the huge metal-and-wood doors that separated the outer hallway from the console room, and Picard got his first look at the vast interior of the time machine. He looked at the Doctor for permission to look around, and the Doctor gave him a 'help yourself' wave of his hand. The Enterprise captain walked around the console room, looking at the bookshelf in the study area and the console.
Upon spotting the large Time Rotor, he stared at the object for several seconds, mystified. The Doctor came up behind Picard and whispered, "Wonderful, isn't it?"
"Oh, yes! How can you fit so much..."
"The TARDIS is dimensionally transcendental. It exists in an entirely different dimension than the one the outside inhabits, hence the name."
"Pardon?" Picard was confused.
"TARDIS; Time And Relative Dimensions in Space." Picard nodded understandingly. The Doctor smiled. "I noticed you're not as tongue-tied as some of your crew. Geordi was astounded, and Deanna couldn't say much past 'Oh, my goodness!'"
"Yes, well, I've gone through so much in my years in Starfleet that I've conditioned myself not to be surprised by anything. In a few minutes, I'll change, trust me." Picard smiled, as the Doctor moved to the console. "We should be off, Jean-Luc. Would you like to speak to the bridge before you go?"
"The TARDIS can do that?"
"The TARDIS, like my own humble self, can do just about anything." The Doctor made a courtly bow, and flipped several switches in a row on one of the console surfaces. A moment later, the scanner screen lit up, showing a view of the bridge.
"Number One, do you read?"
"Loud and clear, sir. I must say, from what I'm seeing right now, Geordi and Deanna's descriptions weren't exaggerating. The TARDIS is spectactular, Doctor."
"Thank you, Commander. Perhaps when our mission is concluded, you can have a tour as well. Jean-Luc?"
"Will, just remember what I said; anything out of the ordinary, no matter how inocuous, just get out. The Doctor will get me back to you if you should have to leave the system." Picard looked to the Doctor for confirmation. The Time Lord nodded. "You have my word, Commander; he will be returned to you, if I can."
Picard continued. "Your priority is to the ship and her crew, not to me or to Data. Understood?"
Riker nodded, still not sure. "I wish I could still talk you out of this, sir. I don't like it at all; not that I don't trust the Doctor, I just don't trust the Devidians."
"I empathize, Number One. I'll play it safe, to be sure." An uneasy moment followed, and Riker coughed.
"Uh, sir... Doctor Crusher wanted me to tell you to be careful."
Picard smiled. "Tell her that I will return, hopefully in time for our date. That is all. Picard out."
Riker smiled as well, as he spoke, "Godspeed to you, sir. Enterprise out."
The connection was severed, as the Doctor flipped more switches, preparing the TARDIS for temporal flight. As he did so, he stage-whispered, "So, you and the beauteous Doctor Beverly Crusher are involved, eh?"
Picard looked at the Doctor, who was studiously working away. "Yes, we are... to a point. Right now, our years of friendship seem to be gettting in the way, though."
"Really? In what way?"
"Well, we've been friends for so long, it's taking quite an effort to become more than friends. Also, the differences in age and rank are something of a difficulty."
"Really? In that you're afraid to put her in danger, or to put yourself at risk?"
"And in that I think myself not worthy of her at times, because she is so young and full of life."
The Doctor was smiling now, which didn't exactly comfort Picard. "You find this amusing?" Picard asked in a semi-threatening tone.
"Oh, no, not at all, Jean-Luc. I just find it refreshing that humans still have the same romantic hangups they've always had, and will continue to have in the future."
"The future? I don't follow..."
"Two of my most recent companions, peace officers from the 30th Century, were struggling with much the same questions that you and Beverly are now. It's too bad I didn't get here sooner; perhaps you could have helped Roz and Chris out..." The Doctor trailed off, a brief look of pain crossing his face, and he went back to work.
Picard noticed, however, and walked over to the Doctor, facing him over the console. His features lined in the blue of the Time Rotor, he said softly, "Doctor, are you all right?"
"Yes, Jean-Luc, I'm fine." The Doctor said, with a bit more force than he had intended, which didn't go unnoticed by Picard. The Doctor started the temporal flight sequence, as Picard continued, "Do you want to talk about it?"
"No, Jean-Luc, I do not want to talk about it, all right! Besides, I'm fine! Really!" The Doctor rammed home the lever to start the Time Rotor, and as the Rotor moved up and down, and the dematerialization sounds could be heard, the Doctor slumped on the console, apparently exhausted.
"Doctor!" Picard moved to help the Time Lord, but the Doctor held up his hand. "I'm all right; I'm just... fighting it."
"The pain, Jean-Luc." The Doctor stood up a little straighter at the console, and as his features became illuminated by the blue tinge of the console, they seemed to grow lines, etched into his youthful coutenance.
"You see, I took Roz Forrester home, to the 30th Century, not too long ago. Before I regenerated, I felt I had to do it. But I sent her home to die. And Chris, her partner, Squire, and maybe lover, never really forgave me for it."
Picard, shocked as he was by this revelation, tried to retain his composure. "Did you mean for her to die?"
The Doctor looked Picard in the eye, pain in his face, comfort in the captain's.
"No. I didn't mean for her to die. I never meant for any of them to die..." Unbidden, the images sped through his mind: Katarina, Sara Kingdom, Adric, and now Roz. *Possibly Ace, too, if I don't do something*, he thought frantically. "I really didn't... they just happened. They were never part of the plan..."
The Doctor moved from the console, loping over to the chair nearby, and slumped down on it, psychic pain striking his face and body a wracking blow. *I've got to help him, or he won't be in any shape to help me, or Data, or Ace.* Picard thought, as he sat down next to him.
"Doctor, it wasn't your fault..."
"How do you know that?" The Doctor fairly screamed. "I don't even know that! Perhaps they were ways of getting my attention; telling me, 'Hey there, Doctor, don't get so sure of yourself, or you'll get it.' And I just didn't get the message..."
Picard grabbed hold of the Time Lord and looked him in the eye. "Doctor, listen to me! I know what it's like! I've seen people die under my command! I'll tell you, the pain never goes away! It doesn't, not ever! You just have to take it, and use it to your advantage! You have to turn the pain around and make it worth something, make the deaths mean something, or they'll all die in vain! Do you understand, Doctor! Make them mean something!"
Listening to Picard's words, the Doctor found himself drifting back into his own past, and seeing the deaths over again, but this time, noticing the bigger picture, what they'd sacrificed themselves for. For Katarina and Sara, their deaths meant the Daleks wouldn't invade Earth's future; for Adric, his death meant the Cybermen weren't going to destroy Earth, a planet he didn't even really know about; for Roz, her death meant the continued existence of the world she had fought for her entire life as an Adjudicator.
And, he realized, he had died several times himself, and found that they all meant something as well, although they didn't seem like it in the beginning. He had died several times for seeemingly no reason at all, but he realized that those deaths allowed newer and better Doctors to be born, Doctors who were better able to deal with and defeat the monsters he'd been protecting Time from for almost a thousand years. None of his deaths had been in vain, just as none of his companions' deaths had been meaningless. They all meant something; he was just too wrapped up in his own grief to realize it.
Picard was continuing now... "You can't keep carrying the pain around with you! You can keep their memories, their faces, their hearts, inside of you, but you can't keep the pain inside, or else you'll lose yourself! You have to pull yourself together, or you'll lose Ace! You'll lose Ace!"
The Doctor saw that Picard was right: if he didn't get it together now, he was going to lose Ace, and then everything she had done afterward would be gone. *Coming back to me, growing up into Dorothee, becoming a time-traveller in her own right and one of my most valued friends, none of that's going to happen because I wallowed in self-pity!*
The Doctor pulled himself together, sat up straight in the chair, and looked at Picard.
"You're absolutely right, Jean-Luc. What's past is past; I can't change it. Actually," he noted wryly, "I could change it, but chances are, I'd leave everything in worse shape than when I started, so why even consider it?"
The Doctor moved over to the console, and checked the readings and looked over his ship with new purpose. He did look up for a moment, though, and smile.
"Thank you, Jean-Luc. I needed a good swift kick in the arse to get me back in the present, rather than living in the past."
"And now, it's time to save Ace. Just one stop, and we'll find her, and rescue her. Hang on, girl, we're almost there!"
Picard smiled himself, as the Time Rotor moved majestically up and down in the middle of the console. *Glad I could help, Doctor... Hang on, Data. We're coming!*
Ace woke up with a start, to see the form of Data standing over her. She thought once again, half-asleep, that even for an android, he really did cut a dashing figure. Then she was fully awake, alert and ready for action.
"Morning already, Data?"
"Yes, Ace. I noticed that after our discussion, you went to sleep and did not appear to be troubled by any more dreams."
"Yeah, I had more important things to think about than the past." Ace changed the subject; the dream was something she still didn't want to discuss, even in the daylight.
"Is everybody ready to go?"
"I believe so. Captain Spock has taken me aside and mentioned the possibility that we may have to find shelter again tonight, and that we should keep this area open as a base of sorts."
"Good idea there. What do you suggest? Split up and search, then meet here at intervals? Sounds like a standard SAR plan to me."
Data nodded. "That sounds like a logical plan of action. I had momentarily forgotten that you have military experience, and that such exercises would be in your training, as they are in our Starfleet survival courses."
Ace couldn't imagine Data forgetting anything, and chalked it up to making her feel better about her situation. She looked around to see Kahless and Spock conversing softly, with Harriman standing off to the side, looking a little uncomfortable.
"Oy there, Harriman; look a little like the odd man out here, pal." Harriman responded with a grim look in her direction. Data looked at Ace pointedly.
"Perhaps it is not a good idea to 'hassle' Captain Harriman so, Ace."
"Why not, Yellow Eyes? He's just a spineless jellyfish; you remember his reaction when we met Kahless. I find it hard to believe that he became commander of a garbage scow, much less the Federation flagship."
"That is true, he does not seem to have a great deal of self-confidence. I wonder..." Data excused himself, and walked over to Harriman. "May I speak to you for a moment, Captain?"
"Certainly, Mister Data." Harriman followed Data out into the mouth of the cave, out of earshot of those inside, even Spock. Data spoke.
"I know about Captain Kirk, Captain Harriman."
"I knew you would bring it up sometime... you are the one from the future. You had to know." Harriman looked sullen, and not a little scared.
"I know that Captain James Kirk was lost during the dry-run of the Enterprise-B, some 80 years before my time. How long has it been for you?"
"Only eight months. The Enterprise-B limped back to dry-dock, and spent three months in repairs while I and the rest of the officers, including Mister Scott and Mister Chekov, submitted to an inquiry regarding our actions."
"I recall the inquiry. You and the former Enterprise officers were never formally charged with negligence in the death of Captain Kirk. It was a most unfortunate accident, Captain; you must not continue to dwell on the things you cannot change."
Harriman suddenly colored, and whirled on Data.
"What do you know, Data? How do you know I couldn't change things? If I had been a little more forceful, a little more commanding... but I wasn't. Ace's right; I'm a spineless jellyfish, and I let a living legend die."
Harriman lowered his head in dejection, as he walked away. Ace came up behind the android, looked at Harriman, and spoke.
"What's going on?"
"Captain Harriman apparently believes that he is, as you said, 'a spineless jellyfish'."
"Hey, I didn't mean to hurt his feelings, really..."
"I know that, Ace. But, you see, he believes himself responsible not long ago in his timeline for the accidental death of a very important Starfleet officer." Data briefly recounted the events of the dry-run of the Enterprise-B, as Ace nodded.
"I had no idea... and even after everybody important believes him innocent, he still thinks he had something to do with killing Kirk?"
"Yes. I tried to impress upon him not to give up hope, but he would not listen. You see, Captain John Harriman, in approximately a year, will command the Enterprise in a brief battle with two Romulan Birds of Prey in the Neutral Zone, and for his performance in that conflict, he will recieve our highest honor, the Federation Medal of Valor."
"His actions serve to distract the Romulans from carrying out a planned incursion into Federation space, an incursion historians speculate would have cost the Federation untold casualties. The Romulans, for their part, will go into hiding after that, building up their technology, waiting to assert themselves again, which they will do in my time, nearly a century later."
Ace understood immediately. "So, Harriman eventually becomes a hero, but you can't tell him because for him, it hasn't happened yet."
"Additionally, we are struggling with our knowledge of the final fate of Captain Kirk in a very different context. We have both discovered that for Captain Spock, the death of his closest friend has not occurred."
Ace held the side of her head, as she moaned, "I've been away from time-travel too long... temporal mechanics is starting to give me a headache. I promise, you won't hear a peep out of me." Ace managed a pantomime of zipping her lips and throwing away the key, to emphasize her silence.
Data managed a brief smile at that, as Spock and Kahless emerged from the cave. Spock cast a look over the android and the human, and then over the horizon. "Where is Harriman?"
"Right here, Mister Spock." Harriman came up to them. "I took a look at our surrounding areas, and it appears to be more more and more rock and sand. Just a whole lot of nothing."
"But nevertheless, we must continue to search for signs of civilization." Data nodded agreement.
"Having first-hand knowledge of the Devidians, I would hazard a guess that they, or one of their storage facilities, is nearby. They must have energy to continue their time-travel, and it would be illogical to take us somewhere where they could not get to."
"Agreed. That must be our first priority; to find these Devidians and force them to return us to our respective places and times." The voice of Kahless whispered, which for a Klingon was more like a low growl. The Emperor swung his batleth for emphasis as he continued, "Or they will face the wrath of the mighty Kahless!"
He said this with such deadpan conviction that Ace found it hard not to laugh at him. She controlled herself, however, enough to say, "You know, Emperor, that might not be such a good idea there. I mean, if you kill them all, how in the world are they going to get us home, hmmm?"
"I agree with the Emperor. Therefore, the best and most logical way to accomplish our objective is to work in teams, and move in an orderly search pattern." Spock knelt down in the dirt at the mouth of the cave, and proceeded to draw a quick but thorough search diagram.
The other four looked at the diagram, and quickly agreed on search areas. Data and Ace agreed to proceed in one direction, while Spock and Harriman agreed to move in another. Kahless reluctantly agreed to stay close to the cave, undercover, as a "strategic reserve".
Data and Ace walked away from the cave, resolutely searching for anything that might be able to help their cause. They had gotten some kilometers from the cave when Ace noticed something, or thought she did. She stopped, squinting into the distance...
"Data, you see that?"
Data looked in the direction Ace was looking in, and shook his head. "I do not see anything, Ace."
"I'm sure that for just a moment, I saw something more than just sand and heat waves. Maybe I was imagining it."
Data thought for a moment. "It is possible, Ace. However, I can also speculate another possibility."
"What's that?" Ace said, her hope renewing. *Maybe I'm not crazy*, she thought.
"That you could be seeing something outside our normal universe. Remember, the Devidians have the ability to move out of phase with our physical reality."
"But how could I spot it, whatever it is, and no one else?"
"You are more time-sensitive than any of us, due to your extensive travel with the Doctor. That sensitivity may lend itself to a subconscious awareness of the Devidians' time-phasing."
"You mean, since I've traveled through time, I can somehow sense things outside of normal time? Cool."
Data smiled. "Yes, that would most definitely be 'cool', Ace. Time sensitivity is not a well-known theory of science, even in my era."
"Let's get the others, and see what they think."
Data and Ace returned to the cave, where the others were waiting. After hearing Ace's story, and Data's theory as to the cause, everyone agreed to take a look. Spock spoke.
"I have also travelled through time in several instances. Perhaps that fact, in addition to my Vulcan mind abilities, may be of assistance in finding whatever you saw."
"Great! Let's go." The group followed Ace's lead through the rocky terrain beyond the cave. After a moment's looking, she pointed, "There, there!"
Spock looked at the area where Ace was pointing. "I do not see anything yet. Maybe if we got closer..." The group moved closer to the selected area, and as they did, Spock opened his mind to his surroundings. After a few moments, he motioned for them to stop. "I am getting some type of weak telepathic sensation from the area."
"The Devidians?" Harriman whispered.
"It is certainly a possibility." The group ducked behind a nearby outcropping, lest they be noticed. Data seemed to stare off into the distance. "I am now starting to see a shift in alpha-wave frequency just ahead. It is very possibly a by-product of a phased cloaking device."
"Phased cloaking device? What's that?"
"It is an experimental device tested in my era that not only shields an object from visual inspection, but mechanical inspection as well. A ship using such a device could hide anywhere, even within solid rock."
"Device? You mean the Devidians aren't doing this themselves?"
"It does not appear so. The frequency range is lower than that employed by the Devidians for their personal time-phasing."
"But they appear to be in plain sight, Data... Why not hide inside a rock or something?"
"I do not know, Ace; perhaps the Devidians cannot control the phase effect effectively here for some reason. Perhaps the triolic radiation that pervades this area is at fault."
"Data... I just had a thought. What if this cloak is shielding a horde of Devidians?"
"If that were the case, Ace, they would have most likely noticed us by now."
Ace looked at the seeming-nothingness for a long minute, before muttering, "I wish the Professor were here."
"The Doctor? What would he do in this situation?"
"I'm not really sure... maybe use his sonic screwdriver on it or something."
"What is this sonic screwdriver?" Data was suddenly all-ears.
"Well, it uses sound waves to disrupt mechanical circuitry and blow up bombs and stuff like that. I think he even used it against the Daleks a few times."
Data thought about this for a moment, and then spoke. "You may have given us a way to render this cloaked object visible."
"If I can use my vocal modulators to match the frequency of the alpha-wave pattern of the cloaking shield, and then slowly increase the frequency, it may have a disruptive effect on whatever machinery is maintaining the cloak."
"Bloody naff, Data. Can you do it?"
"I can certainly make the attempt." Data stood up, and after a moment's study, turned to the others. "The frequency is going to be quite high; I suggest all of you, especially Captain Spock, cover your ears." He waited until everyone had done so, and then opened his mouth.
At once, an ear-splitting noise emanated from the android, which got higher and higher in pitch, until finally, the air in front of them shimmered, like water in a pond. The shimmering effect continued, then suddenly, it was visible.
Ace breathed, "Gordon Bennett, what's that?"
It was a door, inset into a slab of rock, part of a massive fortress-like compound. Heavy, metal, almost impenetrable... and wide open.
A few seconds passed, and a group of twenty helmeted figures came out of the door. They spread out, searching for whoever had breached their seemingly invisible defenses.
Harriman responded at once, grabbing Data and pulling him under cover of the outcropping. They all looked as the figures came closer and closer to them.
*Trouble...we're in big trouble.* Ace silently answered her own question. It wasn't much consolation, given the circumstances.
Cris Lawrence, alias Doc8 on Dalnet, is a 20-year-old sophomore Political Science student at Miami University of Ohio. In addition to this story, he is currently working on two other Eighth Doctor stories: "Picture of Guilt", featuring the first adventure of Melissa Chambers and the Doctor; and "The Play's the Thing", which, with some revision, will hopefully become his first published New Adventure sometime in 1998. Cris is also a fan of the DC Comics character The Flash, and you can see the culmination of his obsession on his Scarlet Speedster Web Page
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