Day Twenty-Nine – Papercut Moseby’s Left Withered

owr

There is darkness and sound–a repetitive thud and scraping of metal. I feel heat radiating around me, and I feel trapped and claustrophobic.

I cannot move my body more than a few inches in any direction. There are walls surrounding me, lined with soft silk. I feel myself pressed against a cushion to my back–laying down perhaps?

I have two hands; this I can sense. Nails have grown to claws, curling a bit, but not quite brittle. I scratch nervously against my thighs. Two legs are there as well, and I can feel that same nail growth cramping what can only be shoes covering my feet.

I manage to slide a hand up to my chest and notice a dress tie, and–

Gold lapel pin, in the shape of a hypercube.

Green and gold silk tie.

Charcoal suit, wide in the shoulders, a bit long, buttoned midriff, shadowy pinstripe.

Crisp shirt over clean undershirt.

Boxers.

–in a ridiculous gesture, I adjust it nervously.

I get the overwhelming feeling that I am headed to an important meeting, and the heat raging in this box only becomes more unbearable.

I find it difficult to breathe.

There is more noise, and vibrations rattle my heart within my ribcage. I imagine light leaking in from somewhere, but then I realize that the bottom of the box I am trapped inside of has begun to glow.

From outside the box, a roar grows in intensity. I conjure up thoughts of monstrous denizens of the dark lurking just outside. I struggle to breathe, and struggle to find some meaning in the small box I am contained in. The vibrations are becoming more and more violent.

I gaze nervously around for a kitchen. I have a hankering for–

Roasted flesh, alien.

The energy emitted from dying stars.

Ichor of galaxies.

Starblood.

Universal Afterbirth.

–bacon, and wish there was an oven in this box. But, this oven is the box and in reverse, too.

I long for the doorbell, guests filing in, and bacon on mustard yellow ceramic.

“Chih, chih, you look lovely, and God, and Sundee School pretties, and how’s Bill, and isn’t he just so-and-so’s twin, the doll, and I heard her son’s the one that drinks crystal meth from the gutters, and he has a mistress, but I heard him say that he AGREES with the president, that he AGREES, but it was a nice sermon … did you see that they didn’t fill that pew? I heard their son worships–

Brekyirihunuade.

Spandaramet.

Xiuhtecuhtli.

Resheph.

Taranis.

Q’uq’umatz.

–Miley Cyrus, and he’s gay, but is afraid to come out since his mother was in that cult that rewrote the bible in their own twisted vision of the human condition.”

The box explodes and I am expelled from it into light. I fly through fields of fire and dirt until I crash into rock.

My suit is ruined.

Rage fills me–the suit was my favorite.

And there are hundreds of humans around me, staring in disbelief, in shock, in awe.

I look behind me and see the remains of my vessel, the pod that has delivered the tool of extermination to this tiny planet of self-absorbed apes.

I smile, and swallow the first human whole.

 

Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Three

strh

I think I should tell you, I’m now back into this story. I had abandoned it for so long, I thought I might never return to it. And, honestly, it wasn’t until this chapter that I finally realized I’ve got a nice little story going here.

Expect more soon…

Additionally, I’ve been working on some other pieces. The Common Man’s plight in space, an unconventional Western, and a return to both of my novels for a nice rewrite.

Oh, and I owe you that Texas Summer piece for 2014.

3. Departures and Arrivals

After narrowly defusing a further confrontation with Captain Light, Amy and Rory showed the Doctor some of the exhibits that had interested them the most.

Most of the things they found fascinating were child’s play to the Doctor. Where they expected him to agree that a self-perpetuating fruit tree was an amazing invention, he merely scoffed, “You wouldn’t think that if you’d been present at the Mass Gluttony Disaster on Udabes VII.”

While this perturbed the two companions greatly, their attentions soon turned from amazing technological achievements of the past to matters of the immediate present.

“So what did you find out, Doctor?” Rory asked conspiratorially.

“About what?” the Doctor replied, confused.

“About what’s amiss in this place?” Amy cued.

“There’s something amiss here?” he responded, looking at their surroundings curiously.

“Doctor!” she replied, giving him a good showing of her bottom teeth and a withering glare. “You’ve completely forgotten what we were supposed to be keeping our eyes out for. What exactly have you been doing with that dusty tart of an archaeologist all day?”

“Oh that!” the Doctor said with a smile. “For your information, Dolla was an incredible help. Walk with me.”

The trio moved away from the more trafficked exhibits and into an area where few visitors were loitering.

“Apparently, there was a big fuss over an item that arrived shortly before we did,” the Doctor explained. “Our Captain Light is somehow involved, though I don’t know how yet. He wasn’t part of the group that delivered the piece, but seems to know an awful lot about it.”

“Where you able to get into the computer system?” Rory asked.

“Ah. Now that’s the interesting bit. Short answer, no. Long answer, no, but not because a new system is being installed,” the Doctor replied. He paused a moment and scratched his head. “And there’s the tricky bit. That means Heems lied to me. Why would he do that?”

“There’s something in the system he doesn’t want you to see?” Amy guessed.

“Perhaps, or maybe there isn’t something in the system that he doesn’t want me to see,” the Doctor said enigmatically.

“So,” Rory said, “He wants you to see everything?”

“That’s not what I meant,” the Doctor said quickly.

“But that’s what you said,” Amy countered exasperatedly. “If there isn’t something in the system that he-”

“Yes, yes, yes, nevermind,” the Doctor said waving his hands in annoyance. “Listen to what I mean, not what I say.”

Taking a deep breath, the Doctor continued. “What I mean is that I think there are things missing from the database that he doesn’t want me to see. I’ve been here enough times to know a Thripitifalus Vex has been on Heems’s wall since before he took over as Curator. Take into account that I’ve been in this museum at a point in time later than the one we find ourselves in now, and that I know for a fact that it was there then, we’ve suddenly got a nice little mystery on our hands.”

The Doctor began to pace back and forth in front of the two companions.

“I’m even beginning to expect there’s more than just a wildlife trophy missing here. Either there’s a thief at work, or, and I hesitate to even travel down this line of thought, those pieces have ceased to exist.”

“So, what do we do next?” Rory asked.

The Doctor abruptly stopped pacing and faced his companions.

We do nothing. You two,” he said, pointing at them both, “are going home.”

“Ridiculous,” Amy snapped. “You’re taking us with you. You need us. You always need us.”

“True, Amelia Pond,” the Doctor replied warmly. “So many times I’ve needed you both in my travels, and this time is no different.”

Amy and Rory smiled at each other, thinking they’d won.

“Right now, I need you to go home. No buts!” he barked, turning away from them. “I’ll come back and pick you up later, five days at the most.”

“That usually means five years later,” Rory quipped.

“Why won’t you take us?” Amy asked, feigning a pout.

“This part of the adventure is a solo mission, comrades,” he said gravely. “Three’s a crowd. Now, just trust me.”

“Oh great,” Amy and Rory sighed in unison.

The trio made their way back to the TARDIS, saying their farewells to Dolla and Curator Heems along the way. The Doctor allowed Amy and Rory to choose one perishable memento to take with them, still vehemently protesting against them taking any sort of advanced technology back to their time, even if they did sell it in the gift shop. Rory chose a bugdrop, a small capsule that contained short-lived nanobots that would course through his body and repair any damage or malady he might be suffering internally. Amy chose a similar item that erased blemishes on the skin microscopically. Both items would run their course long before they reached Earth.

They reached the TARDIS in silence, ready to continue on with their adventures elsewhere. While the Doctor fiddled with his key, Amy and Rory smiled and embraced each other. With a final glance at the vast and wondrous Kelvaxan Reliquary, the companions turned and ran into the Doctor who was still struggling with the TARDIS doors.

“It’s jammed!” the Doctor grunted, heaving his shoulder against the door. “Now what could have possibly jammed the door?”

Rory cast a nervous look to Amy, who was already glaring back at him.

As the door opened a crack, there was a loud chorus of squeaks and bright pink and blue fur poked through the opening.

The acoustics in the space museum allowed sound to carry for long intervals. The Doctor’s angry cry of “RORY!” lingered long after the TARDIS finally vanished from view.

***

In the yard of the small house Amy and Rory lived in when not traveling with the Time Lord, a rather unpleasant odor began to grow in intensity. Birds fled from the shrubbery in swarms, the stray dog that often made his bed in an untended flower garden nearby fled the scene with a whimper, and even the rats that had burrowed under the foundation of the house vacated in terror as the stench spread.

A wheezy, grinding noise broke through the sound of the flapping wings and scurrying feet, and a blue box materialized. As soon as the box fully appeared with a thump, the door opened and three people wearing gas masks fell over each other trying to get out.

“Get clear!” said one of the people, his voice muffled through the mask. “I’ll set the remote timer.”

Pulling a small handheld device from its pockets, the gas-masked individual pointed it at the blue box. The device issued a shrill squeal and the door to the box shut. There was a brief flash of energy around the box and tendrils of smoke began to drift up from the box’s top.

“Wait for it! Five more seconds!” the person shouted to the others.

After the time had elapsed, all three of the humans removed their masks and gasped for air.

“Oh my god!” Rory panted. “That was awful. Even through the mask.”

“Why didn’t you do that before we left the Reliquary?” Amy questioned the Doctor.

“To teach you a lesson,” the Doctor said, waving a handkerchief in front of his face.

“I’ve had about enough of your lessons, professor,” Rory jabbed.

“Yes, well,” the Doctor stammered. “I admit I didn’t find it pleasant either. I mean, what was I thinking?”

“How did the gunbunnies get back into the TARDIS?” Amy asked.

“I have a few stasis pods aboard. I assume a couple got stowed away inside and initiated a brief stasis period which probably ended while we were away. Regardless, it’s still -”

“My fault,” Rory admitted. “Yes, I know. I said I was sorry.”

The three time travelers took a few moments to catch their breath, before the Doctor clapped his hands and signaled he was ready to depart.

“Don’t get into too much trouble while I’m gone,” he told his companions. “Five days, tops.”

“Yeah, we’ll see,” Rory muttered and turned to go inside the house.

“Doctor,” Amy said before following Rory.

The Doctor spun around with a smile.

“Take care of yourself,” she said.

“I wouldn’t risk the wrath of Pond by doing anything but that,” he replied and skipped off to his TARDIS.

As the door to the amazing blue box slammed shut, the droning sound of the time machine’s departure began. As quickly as it had appeared, it vanished. Amy and Rory went into their house and tried to settle back into their home away from what they considered their real home, the TARDIS.

In the yard of their house, the stray dog returned to sniff the area where the TARDIS had been and sneezed violently.

***

On the dark side of one of the seven moons orbiting around the planet Fallox, a seemingly derelict ship hung in space. The only clue an observer would have that might indicate there was someone aboard the vessel, was the small flame from a lit candle sitting on the ships controls.

Huddling close to the candle was Captain Drustan Light, who was using the dim light to view a crudely drawn map of the position of defensive satellites around the planet. As he peered at the map and tried to plot a course that would lead him safely through the security net, his ship’s onboard computer switched back on.

“Recharge sequence complete, Captain,” the computer spoke with a sultry, feminine voice.

“Switch us back on, Penelope,” Light responded. “I’m tired of squinting at this map by candlelight.”

“It’s bad for your eyes, Captain,” the computer chided. All over the ship, consoles switched on, glowing in reds, greens, and yellows.

Captain Light blinked his eyes in the sudden brightness. “Any luck reducing the recharge time? I wasn’t paying attention.”

“The Timedrive technology is still sapping our core systems beyond standard limits. I reduced the recharge time to compensate by .3 nanoseconds.”

“I guess every little bit helps,” Light sighed. “I just really don’t like being a sitting duck every time we jump. Suppose someone was able to follow us.”

“It is possible that we could find ourselves between a solid aggregate of minerals and an area of matter with strong intermolecular bonds in that situation,” the computer offered.

“A rock and a hard place, you mean,” Captain Light corrected with a smile.

“Is that not synonymous to the situation I described?”

“It is,” Light laughed. “It’s all about the delivery though, Penelope.”

“I am unaware of any further deliveries we are scheduled to make, Captain.”

“Nevermind that. Fire thrusters and take us in slowly,” the ship’s captain commanded.

The old Razor-class light freighter shook violently as the main thrusters fired. Light had commandeered the ship from a privateer operating near the galactic core of the Milky Way galaxy. The Timedrive had been a later addition, provided to Captain Light by his best repeat employer, an organization calling itself Ulysses. The ships hull was peppered with scorch marks from numerous skirmishes, and very little of the ship contained its original parts. Between Captain Light’s extensive upgrades and continuous need to replace faulty and obsolete components, the ship was an interstellar mutt.

“Have you plotted a safe course through the security net?” the computer inquired.

“I think so. Seventy-five by three point zero, sixteen degrees and hold steady.”

The ship shot around the orbiting moon and sped along a course towards the planet.

“Get me a reading on that sector,” Light ordered.

“I show a hole in their defenses in that sector. The ship will pass through unscathed,” the computer replied.

“Full thrust. Let’s just hope we get through before a patrol shows up.”

The ship shuddered violently as it increased speed. Quickly, the planet grew to fill the front window of the cockpit.

“Captain, there is an unusual energy reading coming from the aft section of the ship.”

“Check it out, Penelope,” the captain barked. “Not a good time for surprises.”

“Scanning,” the computer replied.

The ship was only a few hundred miles from the security net and gaining speed. Captain Light switched to manual operation and took control of the ship.

“What’s the verdict?” Captain Light asked.

The computer did not respond.

“Penelope?”

Instead of the computer’s female voice, a dry, mockingly British voice spoke from behind the Captain, “Power down the entire ship, immediately.”

Spinning around in his captain’s chair and drawing his blaster in one motion, Captain Light was shocked to find the Doctor standing holding his sonic screwdriver.

“You!” Captain Light shouted in fury.

“Shut it down if you want to live, Captain Light,” the Doctor warned.

“You’re threatening me with a sonic screwdriver?” the captain laughed incredulously. “What have you done with Penelope?”

“She’s sleeping,” the Doctor said impatiently. “Now shut this ship down or I’ll do it for you.”

“I’d like to see you try,” the Captain retorted. “I’ve got more security measures on this cockpit than -”

Before Captain Light could finish, the Doctor activated his sonic screwdriver, and one by one all the ships controls shut down and went dark.

The ship lurched violently as the thrusters powered down instantly, causing the ship to spin.

“Right,” Light sneered. “I’ll kill you for that.”

“Shut up and don’t breathe,” the Doctor ordered, seemingly unconcerned by the captain’s threat.

The Captain prepared a retort, but it caught in his throat as he caught a glimpse of thousands of microsatellites outside the ship. The entire hole in the security net was blanketed with the devices. His scanners hadn’t been able to detect them.

Barely whispering, the Doctor explained. “They use this sector for returning empty cargo containers. It saves them money by not requiring every container to be fitted with the proper security protocol modules to pass through the net. These little buggers detect electronic activity and certain heat signatures that would indicate a ship is trying to pass through. If they detect something, they vaporize it.”

“What about the -”

“Shh!”

Quieter, much quieter than the Doctor had whispered, Captain Light tried again. “What about the -”

“Shh!” the Doctor repeated.

“What about the residual heat from the thrusters?” the Doctor asked for him. “The cargo containers have to be able to be oriented into a position to pass through the sector. They have their own thrusters, and are controlled remotely. The thrusters shut off before they pass through. Only something the size of your thrusters would have enough residual heat to trigger them.”

“The size of my -”

“Shh!”

“The size of your thrusters doesn’t matter anymore,” the Doctor continued. “I took the liberty of detaching the thrusters at the same time I shut them off.”

“You what?!”

“Shh!”

Captain Light seethed with fury as the ship passed silently through the sea of microsatellites.

“How the hell am I supposed to land this ship once we pass through?” the Captain whispered harshly.

“Don’t ask me,” the Doctor said innocently. “You’re the pilot.”

“So you’ve killed us anyway,” the Captain snapped. “Wonderful.”

“I gave us a chance.”

“Wouldn’t they think of the possibility of a ship passing through like this and then powering up once its passed?” the Captain queried, looking desperately for a way out of the situation.

“Yes,” the Doctor said matter-of-factly. “That’s why the microsatellites extend down almost to the surface, much too low for a ship to pull off any sort of fancy maneuver and save themselves.”

“Where do they terminate?” the Captain asked desperately.

“Oh, about one mile above the surface of the planet.”

“You’re mad,” the Captain said incredulously.

“Well, I am a bit miffed, but that’s mostly because there’s a lingering stench in my ship.”

Captain Light turned abruptly away from the Doctor, and watched the planet speed towards them.

“That was quite clever of you, picking the lock to my ship and dumping a pair of gunbunnies in while I was touring the Reliquary,” the Doctor said icily. “Now I’ll have to apologize to my companion, and I really, really don’t like doing that. Especially when its Rory.”

The Captain couldn’t prevent himself from smirking.

“So, it comes down to this, Mr. Smartypants,” the Doctor continued. “You tell me what’s been happening at the Reliquary that’s caused entire species of lifeforms and eras of history to disappear from time, and I’ll save you and your ship.”

“How?”

“Nevermind that. Just tell me how you’re involved.”

The Captain took a deep breathe, considering the ship’s speed and approximate distance from the planet.

“Honestly, I thought you were involved,” the Captain confessed. “I, too, was investigating when you showed up. I thought I’d follow you when I realized you’ve got yourself a TARDIS.”

“The relic delivered to Heems before I arrived. What was it?” the Doctor pressed.

“A paradox key,” the Captain said. “I’ll tell you what it is when we land safely.”

“Fair enough,” the Doctor said. Nonchalantly, he turned from the cockpit and walked back to his TARDIS.

“Hurry Doctor!” the Captain yelled back at him.

“Oi!” the Doctor snapped. “Don’t rush me.”

The ship continued to spin in its descent, the microsatellites parting before it like water until gradually the cloud of them began to thin, then disappeared completely.

“We’re through!” the Captain yelled back. “I hope you’ve got a plan!”

Suddenly, the entire ship lurched and froze in mid-air. It floated there briefly before gently lowering down through the clouds toward the surface. After a few moments, the ship set down on solid ground.

Rising from his chair, but not putting away his blaster, Captain Light stalked back to the cargo hold. There stood the Doctor leaning against the TARDIS with a smirk on his face.

“So, Captain Light,” he said, “what exactly is a paradox key?”

“I really don’t like you, Doctor,” the Captain growled.

“Perfect!” the Doctor replied. “I don’t like you either.”

“A paradox key is a device engineered to manipulate events towards the perpetuation of a paradox. In the case of the object delivered to the Kelvaxan Reliquary, it was a Speak & Spell,” the Captain explained.

“Interesting,” the Doctor replied.

“This particular one has been compromised and altered. I was on my way to secure it, but Trelonde beat me to it. He’s the one that delivered it to Heems.”

“Why do you have an interest in this?” the Doctor asked calmly.

“I was hired to secure it and return it to its makers,” Captain Light said, holstering his weapon. “And before you ask, I don’t know who they are. They call themselves Ulysses.”

“Again, very interesting. So that then leads us to the present,” the Doctor mused. “What exactly are you doing breaking into a planet?”

“The same thing you’re doing. I’m looking for answers. Some time ago I delivered an artifact to Heems that has since disappeared from his collection. He says he has no knowledge of the item’s existence. This disturbs me. It was a very difficult piece to collect.”

“To steal you mean.”

Captain Light ignored the accusation and continued. “I recovered it from ruins on this planet, but I left three other pieces here. I want to see if they still exist.”

“Why wouldn’t they?” the Doctor asked curiously.

“Just a suspicion. For starters, Fallox is a primitive planet. I’ve been here dozens of times and never once has there been a security net around it.”

“Fallox has always had the grid,” the Doctor stated flatly. “I did my research. They’ve been spacefarers for centuries.”

“Ah, but you’ve never been here, Doctor. The memory is likely resident in my mind only. Just like your Thripitifalus Vex. Time does strange things to the minds of those who travel through its cracks. Sometimes you can change history, but you can’t erase it from the minds of those who have experienced it.”

“I’m coming with you,” the Doctor decided, pushing himself off the blue box.

“I work alone,” Captain Light countered.

“We have the same questions. We tread the same path towards to same goal. I’m not baggage, I’m not a liability.”

“I’m not convinced.”

“I also have Penelope,” the Doctor revealed, holding up a small crystal cube.

The Captain looked momentarily concerned, but then returned to his usual bluster. “One of these days, Doctor, we’ll come to blows.”

“Such a violent man,” the Doctor quipped sarcastically.

“Fine, follow close and do as I say,” Captain Light barked. Quickly, he picked up a pack from a locker in the cargo area and began to fill it with supplies.

“One more question, Captain,” the Doctor said carefully. “Have you ever heard of the Temporal Defense Initiative?”

Captain Light laughed aloud, and grinned at the Doctor, “Of course. I’m one of them.”

Day Twenty-Eight – A Message Written in Mustard Beneath a Park Bench in a Secluded Spot Near the Lake Where Maddie Gantt Found the Possum With the Eye Infection

kwe

 

If you were to find yourself so inclined to dive into that mirror, you would likely find me halfway through that diamond maelstrom, regarding you with disdain from some reflective abode – perhaps a corner of shattered glass, an edge, a wink of light among thousands.

That’s what you want, and you know it – a sideways, uncoupled somersault through enough razor edges to render your overeaten flesh to soup. It’s not your body you hate, and let’s get something straight, I don’t hate my body either. This is where we pull apart you and I – me being the voyeur you so desperately want, not touching you, but murdering you with intentions from a far. For all your lovely prose, your unshackled sexual power, your misplaced sense of godhood, I am the woman who can see the string guiding you up that tall, tall ladder in the sky. I alone know the teeth on the wind – biting and cold at the top of your hip new disaster dive of death.

All of this is a ruse.

All of you is a game.

It won’t be until you are halfway to impact that you’ll realize I’ve emptied the pool.

When you cannot see your reflection before your death, you will know you’ve wasted your life on primitive excretions.

You are a man who was always meant to fall to your death.

And this is why I hold my head up so high – not because I am a proud wife, but because I am hoping to see the black of your eyes as you fall, without reflection of the reflection below, without purpose.

I’ll be touched by the profundity of your last fleeting moments, in awe of the passing of so massive an ego, but it will be the last time you touch me.

 

Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode Two

strh

 

Inspiration. I often find it when I need it most, and not a second before I am about to give up and strive to become a normal human being.

Unrelated to this story, sort of, a recent trip to Honduras has completely filled in all the plot holes in my next novel (tentatively titled Luna-C). And just what does Honduras have to do with a lunar colony, a broken marriage, and fat, rich people being hosed down in zero-G? I guess you’ll just have to wait.

And, while you’re waiting…

—–

2. The Kelvaxan Reliquary

“Some lesson plan,” Rory quipped from the uncomfortable metal bench in the holding cell the Doctor and his companions found themselves in.

“Yes, well,” the Doctor stammered. “I suppose this is the Principal’s Office.”

The Doctor paced back and forth in front of the energy field across the entrance to their cell. Occasionally, he spared a glance at the heavily armed guards in the long hallway outside their cell.

“I don’t understand it,” he said to Amy and Rory. “Heems and I have an excellent relationship. I’ve supplied him with countless additions to his collection. Why would he leave us to stew here like this?”

“Maybe this friend of yours is no longer in charge,” Amy offered.

“Perhaps,” the Doctor said quietly, not convinced.

The Doctor continued his pacing and several moments passed without a word being said between the companions. Finally, Rory cleared his throat.

“So, this is like a space museum or something, right?”

“It’s much more than that,” the Doctor explained. Sighing to himself and apparently abandoning his solemn pacing, he sat down between Amy and Rory, causing them to have to move to either side to allow him room.

“This is a reminder of all the accomplishments of all the known species of the universe. Detailed histories, ancient relics, recreations of long-lost technologies. This is the ultimate museum. Mind you, there are several smaller collections throughout every galaxy and I’ve seen several of them, but nothing comes close to the range of history covered here.”

“Is there anything from Earth?” Amy asked.

“Oh yes,” the Doctor said with a smile. “For starters, there’s the Promethean Hearthstone.”

“What’s that?” Rory questioned. “I’ve never heard of it.”

“You wouldn’t have,” the Doctor explained. “It’s supposedly the stone that the progenitors of your species first created their own fire on. Sad, really, how long its taken you to mature since then. If we ever get out of here, you two might become the first true humans to have ever laid eyes on it. It’s from about eight hundred thousand years before either of you were born.”

“You mean we’re the first humans to come here?” Amy asked, surprised.

“I said you’d be the first true humans to lay eyes on it. Once your species masters faster-than-light travel, several humans visit this place – though by that time, their DNA’s a bit … muddled.”

“Muddled?” Amy queried, raising an eyebrow.

“Long story.”

The slamming of heavy doors echoed down the long corridor toward them, followed by the steady sound of footsteps approaching. The Doctor quickly stood up and his companions rose behind him, following his lead. Squinting through the gloom of the poorly lit corridor, the Doctor finally made out the form of the aged curator, flanked by two guards, walking towards them.

“Let me do the talking,” the Doctor said over his shoulder.

“Curator Heems!” the Doctor said loudly. “Have I done something wrong? My companions and I are a bit ruffled, if you understand my meaning. What’s all the fuss?”

Heems gestured to the guards and one flipped up the cover of a control panel housing the energy field controls. The guard keyed the unlock sequence and the field soon dissipated.

“Doctor,” Heems said, his face reddening a bit with embarrassment. “I do sincerely apologize for the unfortunate delay. Had I known you were coming I’d have issued you security clearance that would have prevented all this.”

With a genuine look of pleasure on his face, the curator grabbed the Doctor’s hand and shook it vigorously. The Doctor’s face softened and he too revealed his pleasure at seeing his old friend again.

“It’s good to see you, Curator Heems. I trust you are well.”

“Oh, you know, still an aging relic among relics,” Heems joked. “Who do you have here with you?”

The Doctor turned, putting an arm around the old man’s shoulders and gestured to his companions. “May I present my good friends, Amy and Rory of Earth, circa second millenium OCE.”

“OCE?” Heems remarked, his eyes lighting up. “This is a very special visit indeed.”

“Yes, well, they’re not that special,” the Doctor mocked.

“Any friend of the Doctor is an honored guest here,” Heems declared, shaking each of the companions’ hands in turn. “Now let’s get out of this dank cell and we’ll have refreshments in my office.”

With another gesture to his guards, Heems dismissed them from their posts and they marched off down the corridor. Heems motioned for the Doctor and his companions to follow him and they began walking leisurely down the long corridor.

“Doctor,” Rory whispered. “What’s OCE?”

“Old Common Era,” the Doctor whispered conspiratorially. “Though in this day and age its often abbreviation for a more derogatory and possibly more appropriate label.”

“What’s that?”

“The Oafish Common Era,” the Doctor said with a smirk. “No more questions!”

The Doctor and his companions followed the curator down several long hallways before reaching the ornate doors of the curator’s office.

“That’s new. Is that real Valosian oak?” the Doctor asked, marveling at the rich wood.

“Good eye, Doctor,” Heems verified. “The carvings are the work of Jeb Sabe Sob of Cheem, excommunicated artist.”

“They’re beautiful,” Amy remarked. “Why was he excommunicated?”

“He was a tree of the Forest of Cheem,” the Doctor explained. “His people considered his carving of wood grotesque and abominable. No more questions! You’re here to learn, not ask questions.”

Amy and Rory exchanged puzzled looks.

The group entered the Curator’s office and followed Heems to his old desk where three ornate chairs and a small table had been erected for them. Refreshments of various types had been laid out on the table.

“Help yourselves,” Heems waved absently. “If you desire anything else, don’t hesitate to ask for it. We can probably get it.”

Graciously, the companions took their seats and began to partake of the offered food and drink. The Doctor remained standing and walked around the curator’s office for a few moments, perusing the private collection.

After Heems had situated himself behind his desk and sipped at his own drink, he turned his attention to the Doctor.

“How long has it been, Doctor?”

“Hard to say. What year is it?”

“I’m not sure myself,” Heems chuckled.

“The Van Statten Collection,” the Doctor surmised, snapping his fingers.

“Ah yes,” Heems said, nodding in remembrance. “Not the most intriguing collection of artifacts, but significant nonetheless. Lots of visitors to it.”

“Significant and difficult to get,” the Doctor said. “If you remember I had a thousand tons of concrete to get through to secure it.”

“And we greatly appreciate your efforts, Doctor.” Heems turned to the companions. “Did you know that the Doctor is the second greatest single contributor to our collections here? On the tour, I’m sure he’ll be able to point out all the artifacts he has secured for us.”

“Second?” the Doctor asked with surprise, holding a large egg he had picked up from a display awkwardly.

“Yes, second, Doctor. You’re not the only relic hunter we’ve had the fortune to work with. I’ll have to arrange a meeting while you’re here – he’s expected anytime now.”

The Doctor set the egg down carefully and made his way over to the wall of alien heads and began talking to himself as he looked at each in turn, saying things like “nice bloke” and “so that’s what they look like under all the hair”.

“What line of work are the two of you in?” Heems asked the companions.

“Uh,” Amy hesitated, looking to the Doctor for help that wasn’t coming. “We’re students.”

“This is sort of a, uh, field trip, thing,” Rory offered.

“Excellent,” Heems said with genuine delight. “I’m sure you’ll both just love some of the exhibits we have here. Do you enjoy music?”

“Oh, we love it,” Amy said.

“In our Arts Division we have the entire history of music on Earth on file, from ABBA to Zed Zed Nine.”

“Do you have it in MP3?” Rory asked, hopefully.

“What is MP3?” Heems asked, confused.

The Doctor interrupted before Rory could answer. “What happened to the Thripitifalus Vex you had?”

Again, Heems seemed confused and caught off guard. “I’ve never heard of it, Doctor. Was it something you brought me? I do have the habit of being rather forgetful.”

The Doctor raised an eyebrow and turned to regard the curator. His face was one of momentary concern, but he soon changed the subject. “I’m probably misremembering it, I suppose. So what was the story with all the security, by the way?”

The Doctor left the private collection and sat down heavily in the remaining empty chair.

“Ah yes,” Heems said. “Again, I do apologize. Security was heightened at the time you arrived while a new piece was being delivered to me. We often increase security measures during certain high profile transfers and all traffic to the asteroid is prohibited during such transactions. Of course, the sudden unexpected and unsanctioned arrival of a vessel on the asteroid was quite the breach of that security.”

“Yes, well, I do like to pop in from time to time unexpectedly,” the Doctor joked.

“You’re lucky you weren’t shot on sight,” Heems replied, a bit more serious than he had been since their arrival. “But its all sorted out now.”

Amy and Rory shot meaningful glances at each other, realizing that once again the Doctor had managed to narrowly postpone the death of his companions.

The Doctor took a sip from his beverage and leaped up out of his chair again. “I’m sorry, Curator Heems. It just keeps bugging me. I’m absolutely positive you had a Thripitifalus Vex head on your wall last time I was here.” Walking determinedly towards the data console set into the wall opposite the alien heads, he pulled up an antique chair to it, causing a loud shriek as he dragged it across the floor. “Do you mind if I check your logs for it? Maybe it was moved to a public exhibit.”

His face ashen, Heems quickly rose from his desk. “Don’t touch that console!”

With painful slowness, the Doctor swiveled his head to gaze directly at the old relic collector. His eyes narrowed with suspicion.

“We’re installing a new system and are in the middle of transferring data. You could corrupt that data flow and we would lose eons of research in just one second,” Heems explained. He seemed more than just a bit agitated.

“Hmm, yes,” the Doctor said, moving away but still eyeing Heems. “Perhaps later then.”

Curator Heems sat down again slowly, his brow furrowed as if he found his own outburst unusual.

“We definitely appreciate your hospitality, old friend,” the Doctor said, walking leisurely back to the desk. “I think my friends and I are a bit full now, so we’d like to freshen up a bit before we begin the tour.”

“Actually,” Rory said, moving a cookie towards his mouth. “I thought I’d have a couple more -”

The Doctor slapped the cookie out of Rory’s hand.

“The facilities aboard my ship are somewhat lacking. Do you have some place we might clean up a bit and relax?”

“Absolutely, Doctor,” Heems said, rising from his desk. He pressed a series of buttons and the ornate doors opened again. “If you head down the hall, you’ll come to an intersecting hallway. Take a right there and you’ll come to our guest quarters we set aside for visiting dignitaries. The caretaker is named Dolla, she’ll take care of you.”

“Thank you, Curator Heems,” the Doctor said with a bow. “We’ll leave you now and hope to meet up with you later – perhaps for a personalized tour?”

“Just let Dolla know when you’re ready and she’ll page me,” Heems replied. “I look forward to it.”

“So do I,” the Doctor said and turned to leave. “Come along, children.”

Rory and Amy quickly rose from their seats and followed the Doctor. Rory suddenly turned back and trotted over to the table where he pocketed a few cookies. Heems smiled and nodded that it was acceptable.

“Rory!” the Doctor called from the door.

Rory jumped and knocked the plate of cookies to the ground. “Sorry.”

“Leave it,” Heems said, chuckling.

“I’m coming,” Rory said, and caught up to Amy and the Doctor. The three companions left Heems’ office and the doors closed behind them.

After a moment, Heems opened a small drawer in his desk. Inside was the Speak & Spell, glowing eerily.

“He is a Time Lord,” Heems began, and then related to the Speak & Spell everything he knew about the Doctor.

***

The Doctor and his companions walked casually down the long corridor that led away from the curator’s office, stopping occasionally to view the art mounted intermittently along the walls.

“Alright,” Amy said, having noticed the Doctor’s mood change. “What’s wrong, Doctor?”

“There’s something definitely amiss here,” the Doctor revealed, whipping out his sonic screwdriver. Activating it, he waved it about and looked with interest at the readings. “We should keep our eyes and ears open.”

“Oh great,” Rory sighed. “Even class time is dangerous with you.”

The Doctor didn’t remark on the observation and led them to the intersection Heems had spoke of. “I’d like to take that tour now, but we should probably stick to our story. We’ll pop in for a quick wash and stretch and then get into the thick of things.”

Amy and Rory followed the Doctor as he led them right and towards the Guest Quarters. The architecture changed as they proceeded further down this new hall. The ceiling rose and the hallway  finally gave way to a large vaulted lobby. It was readily apparent that they had entered the equivalent of a posh hotel, complete with sitting areas and a front desk.

As they approached the front desk, they couldn’t help but notice an argument ensuing.

“I don’t have a reservation, for the last time,” a dusty looking man sat to the girl at the desk. The girl, a young blonde-haired petite type with impish features, seemed rather put out with him. “Do you know who I am?” he said impatiently.

The girl, seeing the three companions approaching, brightened up considerably and ignored the troublesome guest. “You must be the Doctor and his companions. Curator Heems called ahead and told us to expect you. I’m Dolla. Don’t hesitate to call on me at anytime, should you need me. I’ll be happy to serve you.”

“Uh, we don’t have reservations, per se,” the Doctor apologized, with a significant look to the other guest who now stood agape at the rebuff.

“That’s alright, Doctor. Curator Heems has told us to give you our finest suite for your stay. You’ll find all the amenities you might need here. I’ll show you to the suite.”

As an aside she curtly said to the other guest, “Excuse me.”

The man reddened visibly in the face and he slapped the gloves he was holding against the desk. A small cloud of dust rose from the impact.

“Now wait just a damned minute,” the man barked. “Who the hell are you people?”

Sighing, Dolla turned an offered an quick introduction. “This is the Doctor and his companions.”

“Amy,” Amy said politely.

“Uh, Rory,” Rory responded in like manner.

“The Doctor, Amy, and Uhrory,” the man repeated. “Imperial dignitaries from the Kalthex Empire? Estimators from the Ixian Council of Artifact Reconciliation?”

“They are special guests of Curator Heems,” Dolla explained. With reluctance, she reversed the introductions. “This is Drustan Light.”

“Captain Drustan Light,” the young grizzled-looking man corrected. He wore a long Earth-style duster over a utility vest and a dirty white long-sleeved shirt. His dark brown hair was short but messy and he was covered in a thick layer of grime in several places. His leather boots looked as if they  had been hastily repaired a thousand times. His beard, though also trimmed close, was wild and shot with grey streaks.

“A pleasure, I’m sure,” the Doctor replied, inclining his head slightly.

“Here to paw unappreciatively at the fine collection here, I’ll wager,” Captain Light said bitterly.

“Actually, I’m a relic collector. Heems and I go way back,” the Doctor said snootily. Amy and Rory didn’t miss the rising tension between the two men.

“Is that right?” Light said with a sneer.

“It is,” the Doctor said, not backing down.

“Interesting.”

“Indeed.”

“Yeah.”

“Mmm.”

“Hmm.”

“Ahh.”

“Can we please wash up before we’re irreversibly stained with testosterone?” Amy blurted with exasperation.

“We’ll meet again Doctor,” Captain Light said before walking away.

“I suppose we will at that,” the Doctor replied. He quickly changed his demeanor and patted his companions on their shoulders. “Alright! Washing up time! Heave ho! Allons-y! Ha, haven’t said that in a while. I shall have to do it again sometime.”

Dolla led the three to their suite without further incident.

***

After thirty minutes or so, the Doctor and his companions emerged from their room and made their way back to the front desk where they found Dolla smiling and waiting for them.

“Curator Heems sends his regrets. He won’t be able to take you on the tour himself, but he has authorized me to show you around,” she explained.

“Is he ill?” the Doctor queried with concern.

“No,” Dolla replied. “Nothing like that. Our good friend Captain Light has his attentions for the time being. Their discussions can get rather heated and lengthy.”

Stepping out from behind the front desk, Dolla clicked a small device in her hand and a service robot rose up behind the desk in her place.

“Enjoy your stay at the Kelvaxan Reliquary!” it said to them as they left.

“I don’t often get the chance to take such esteemed guests on a tour of the facilities,” Dolla explained with enthusiasm. “Curator Heems usually has that honor.”

“Has anything troubling happened here lately?” the Doctor probed. “Heems seems a bit preoccupied.”

“Aside from that awful Drustan Light arriving? Not that I know of.”

“What was the transfer that was taking place when we arrived? A new arrival for the museum?”

“We’re not allowed to discuss it at this time,” Dolla said quickly. “Confidentially, I’ve never seen the place so locked up during a transfer. Apparently, the extra security was requested by the collector. It’s a wonder you weren’t gunned down as you entered orbit.”

Again, Amy and Rory exchanged concerned glances.

“Yes, well my ship offers special access privileges at times,” the Doctor said with a smirk. “Did it have something to do with the new system being installed?”

“New system? I don’t know anything about that,” Dolla said, confused.

The Doctor raised his eyebrows meaningfully at his companions.

The quartet enter the main exhibition area and Dolla took her time going over the history of each piece as they viewed them. Her knowledge of the exhibitions was quite extensive and the Doctor offered personal insight where possible. Several times he revealed that he was the one who had brought a certain piece to the Reliquary. They had passed through several areas and hours had elapsed before the Doctor stopped the tour and asked Dolla a personal question.

“How do you know so much about this place? I thought you were just a hotel clerk.”

“Oh that!” Dolla said, pleased that the Doctor was interested in her personally. Amy rolled her eyes. “I just work the front desk when things are slow here. I’m actually an archaeologist.”

“Are you now?” the Doctor replied excitedly. “Where do you come from, Dolla?”

“Phi Gamma Six,” Dolla responded proudly.

“An Earth colony,” the Doctor said knowingly. Turning to Amy and Rory he mouthed the word “muddled”.

“You’ve heard of it?”

“I’ve been there. Several times in fact. Lovely place. So, I guess that means you’re a student of the Academy?”

“I graduated with the highest honors,” Dolla said beaming.

This time Amy and Rory both rolled their eyes.

“I think its time we split up,” the Doctor said. “I’ll go with Dolla here and discuss some of the intricacies of universal history and you two can wander about as you please.”

“What about that lesson you’re supposed to be teaching us?” Rory asked.

“Hands on!” the Doctor said, hurriedly pushing them along. “Newest breakthrough in curriculum. Enjoy!”

And with that, the Doctor and Dolla left Amy and Rory to themselves.

“That man,” Rory said, clenching his fist.

“Come on, love,” Amy said to him. “Let’s go have a bit of fun.”

From down one of the many corridors they heard the Doctor’s voice in a booming echo say, “Don’t touch anything!”

***

Most of the day slipped by before the Doctor and Dolla finally caught up with Amy and Rory. The two companions had found the Communications Wing and were testing out Earth technology that was only a few hundred years more advanced than their own time.

“Doctor,” Amy said excitedly. “Look at this!”

Amy and Rory were both wearing headsets with small reticles that fit over one eye. On their right hands, small adhesive microchips had been set on each finger and thumb.

“It’s like having an iPad without the iPad!” Rory said in techno-ecstacy. “It’s amazing! the screen looks like its just hovering in front of me.”

“This has got to be an Apple product,” Amy said with finality.

At the remark Dolla burst out laughing.

“What’s she laughing at, Doctor?” Rory asked.

“Let’s just say Apple was a blip on the screen. Significant but passing. And thus endeth the lesson, children. No matter how fantastic, how trendy, how amazing something seems to you, it will soon be obsolete. No  need to buy the next great thing every year. Know your tech, choose your tech, customize your tech, and make it last. By the time its worn out, something better than the four hundred iterations that have passed in between will be there to buy. Rinse and repeat,” the Doctor said sagely.

“That’s actually an older model,” Dolla said. “The last design was eventually integrated cybertech. The chips were implanted in your fingers and a special optical implant obsoleted the need for a reticle.”

“No way!” Rory said. “Do you have any we could take back with us?”

“Absolutely not!” the Doctor chided. “You can’t take future technologies back to Earth, you’ll muck up the whole future history of the planet and possibly the galaxy.”

“Oh come on, Doctor,” Amy pleaded. “We’d keep it secret. No one would know.”

“Besides,” the Doctor continued. “There won’t be a person that can implant it without killing you for another hundred years after your time.”

At that moment, Curator Heems walked up to them, beside him was Captain Light.

“Doctor, I said I’d introduce you to the number one contributor to our little collection here. And this is that man. May I introduce Captain Drustan Light.”

The two men stood glaring at each other, resuming the standoff from earlier in the day.

In unison they both said, “We’ve met.”

Deftly

On Wednesdays, it’s the sand that turns my stomach. On the beach, the waves are an echo of disaster long conceived, deep vibrations beneath the surface of what makes the world seem appealing. The shells are the fragments of a life I used to cherish, a world I used to own – a map of the left turns and pitfalls, drawn in crayon on manila paper.

My life is woven with as much intricacy as you would expect for a five-year-old. I am an alcoholic and a murderer of ideals – drunk on mirror images bent by pressure and time, and keen to feel the warmth of someone’s great ideas slipping away from them. It’s more simple than you think, my life.

That separation, the peel of waxy paper from adhesive-backed print, is each moment of my life, stripped from my body and my soul with each hammer fall of machinery keeping track of the universe. And how’s that working for them? What’s a measurement of time in a universe that is infinite?

You want numbers? You want age?

I’m five years old somewhere out there. On this beach, somewhere else in the void, I’m eons old and bitter.

I always come back to the sea, blistered and blind, but content.

It’s not the water that makes me smile, it’s the gravity holding it all in. The sea is like my potential, tethered by physics measured by man-sized motes of nothing.

If it ever got away …

In Which the Automaton Finds Peace

M4

 

I am retiring this short story from the submission circuit. While it had some favorable comments, and made it out of slush a few times, I think it was just too simple.

I wrote this for the first time after driving through rural Louisiana and seeing an old beat up dock over dirty water. In my head, I saw an android sitting there swinging his legs. I wrote a long, depressing story about a robot obsessed with water, but unable to swim. I unfortunately lost this story after the first time I wrote it, but the ending never left me. I attached to to a different story, about a different robot. And this is the result.

Regardless of what I had originally intended and forgotten, I am pleased with this story and will no longer be changing it. It is complete.

Enjoy.

—-

In Which the Automaton Finds Peace

 

Instructor Raines removed the old-style QF drive from the M4RV1N unit’s upload bay and closed the access panel. After a few seconds, the panel popped back open.

Raines smirked, but felt a pang of sadness. The grey-blue metal of the android was fading, deep scores marked past accidents, and the drive mechanisms were not as quiet as they used to be.

“I apologize, Instructor Raines,” the M4RV1N unit said to its operator. “I have tried to repair the panel’s latch mechanism on my own, but my appendages were not designed for self-maintenance.”

Raines smiled. “It’s no problem, Marvin. I’ll see what I can do.” The children had given the name to it, based on the Production Number stenciled on the back of his torso: M4RV1N, which stood for Mark IV Robotic Vocational unit 1N. Douglas Adams aside, Raines felt the name fit.

“I do not wish to keep the children waiting,” the android responded. “Fifteen minutes of recreation time have elapsed without my presence.”

Raines unscrewed the faulty latch and took it to his workbench to scour some of the rust from it. “I’m sure they miss you, Marvin, but just think how happy they’ll be during Instructional Time now that your new biology algorithms have been uploaded.”

“Will their happiness at a later time outweigh their sadness now?” the M4RV1N unit asked, swiveling its elliptically shaped head to regard its operator.

“I think companionship at present can outweigh loneliness in the past,” Raines replied. He smirked to himself and returned to his work on the panel latch.

Blowing away residue from the latch, Raines walked back over to Marvin and reinstalled the repaired component. With a gentle push, the panel snapped closed and held.

“Thank you, Instructor Raines,” Marvin intoned. “I can now spend the final ten minutes with the children at the pond.”

Raines patted Marvin on its metallic shoulder. “Not a problem, Marvin. Let me know how the new Biology program works.”

“I will do that, Instructor Raines.”

The android stabilized its stance and trundled out of the maintenance shed towards the pond where the sound of children’s laughter was heard. Marvin paused, then swiveled its head around to ask a final question.

“Have you had any response regarding the upgrade to my core systems shielding?” it asked.

Raines’s eyes automatically drifted to the floor. Marvin was just a robot, but Raines still felt a form of sadness about this subject. “Sorry, old bean. The company that made you just never planned for you to work underwater.”

“Perhaps a customizer of robotic systems could develop the shielding, or perhaps I can do some research on my own. I could instruct you on how to make the upgrade.” If Marvin could sound desperate, one might have noted that tone in its voice as it continued its query.

Raines shook his head. “Even if it were possible, Marvin, the orphanage could not afford it.”

Marvin swiveled its head back towards the pond, but did not continue on its way.

“Perhaps we could test–”

“Marvin,” Raines said with slight force. Moving over to the aged android with the rusting seams and discolored plastic highlights, Raines gently placed a hand on what passed for the android’s head. “If you go into the water with the children, the resulting damage, once your core systems were breached, would permanently destroy you, and could even injure the children.”

Marvin stood silently, its lifeless optical receivers, like black eyes, gazed out over the high grass waving lazily in the wind. One of Marvin’s internal components clicked and whirred as if the android were calculating this fatal possibility.

“This orphanage cannot afford to lose you or the children,” Raines explained, trying to comfort the artificial human. “You are all much too important.”

Without a response, Marvin trundled through the high grass and away from the shed. Raines stood watching it all the way down to the pond where the android carefully moved out on the dock and seated itself to watch the children play in the water. They ran on either side of it, jumping from the dock into the water. Occasionally, one or two children would sit with the android. Smiling with bittersweet acceptance, Raines closed the shed and returned to the administration building.

 

*

 

“A frog is an organism,” Marvin informed the children. Its tactile hands held the live amphibian with the care of a mother holding a baby. “It is made up of organs, like a heart, a brain, a stomach. These organs are made up of tissues, and the tissues are made of cells. Humans are also organisms, and like the frog, you are made up of organs, tissues, and cells.”

The children sat around the android, their eyes turned up to it in awe. Since Marvin’s upgrade, biology had become their favorite subject.

“Can a frog talk?” one of the boys asked.

“Of course,” Marvin said, its voice rising in mock excitement. “A frog says–” Marvin used a built-in sound file that had come with the new biology suite to imitate a frog’s song.

The frog in its hands repeated the song and the classroom came alive with the instantaneous mirth of children’s laughter.

From outside the classroom, Instructors Raines and Kelly watched through the door with smiles on their faces.

“It’s amazing isn’t it,” Instructor Kelly said. “They treat it like anyone one of us.”

Instructor Kelly had been brought on at the orphanage at about the same time as Raines. She had spent just as much time with the android as any other volunteer at the orphanage, but like Raines, she had grown closer to it than most. Only the children held more love for the android than Raines and Kelly, their affection even going so far as referring to Marvin as a “he” at times.

“You mean the frog?” Raines replied with a smirk.

“I mean Marvin,” she said, elbowing him. They smiled at each other and, surreptitiously, she moved her hand into his.

“Now they can get just as much education as any other children, and we don’t have to pay for expensive specialized teachers. Just the bargains, like us.”

Somberly, Kelly said, “But he won’t last forever.”

“Oh, I don’t know, old girl. There are still some of the same model in use. There are plenty of hobbyists programming upgrades out there.”

“You got approval from the old board for the upgrades. What about this new bunch?” Kelly asked, still watching the android.

“Powell’s an old fool,” Raines spat.

“She has the right, most of our donations come from Christian philanthropists and church outreach. Rumor is we may even go private.”

“Hearsay and unlikely. This is still a government facility-–federation or not, there’s still separation of church and state,” Raines argued.

“Calm down,” Kelly said quietly, squeezing his hand. “It’s not all bad.”

“It’s restrictive. There’s no balance in what they want. It’s simple politics.”

Nearly all the children raised their hands as Marvin indicated it was times for questions.

“Do you have organs?” one of the children asked Marvin.

“Are you an organism?” another followed.

The android was silent and turned its head to stare at the instructors which it had known were watching all along.

Raines quickly opened the door and entered the classroom. “Of course he is!” he said.

“Marvin forgot to tell you about the most important organ of all!” Snatching up a little girl, he began to tickle her fiercely. “The Ticklish Organ!”

The children broke in a mock panic as the girl squealed with laughter. Setting the girl down, Raines approached Marvin. “See? Marvin’s just like the rest of us.” Reaching under Marvin’s metallic appendages he pretended to tickle the android.

Following Raines’s lead, Marvin began to laugh and the children cheered.

From the door, Instructor Kelly sighed and smiled.

 

*

 

“It is neither your decision, nor your business how this board runs this orphanage, Instructor Raines,” the chairwoman, Ellen Powell, snapped. “These children will receive a morally sound education as requested by our donors, and that will be accomplished by the reinstatement of a curriculum with a strong foundation of Christian faith. That is what this orphanage was founded on, and regardless of what heathen direction it has taken since that time, it will now be brought back on course.”

“I knew this was coming. I came here to make a difference, not keep things the same. This is a Federation-owned center, it is against the regulations of the American Federation to allow religion to be taught in defiance of logic and science,” Raines pleaded.

“You will watch your tone with me, Raines. You are a valuable asset, but I can find a replacement for you in less than a day. And as for the Federation, their interference will be ended shortly. As of next week, I assume full control of this privately-owned orphanage.”

Raines glared at the plump woman behind her desk. He loathed her hair, tightly drawn up into a bun. He loathed her conservative black dress and her slightly raised chin. He wanted to quit, but could not abandon the children, or Marvin.

“What about Marvin?” Raines asked, desperately snatching at something to prevent his ideals from being trampled to death.

“Who?” Powell asked, confused.

“Our android,” Raines explained. “He’s not programmed to teach your Christian curriculum. We’ll have to wait until I can order new upgrades for him.”

“We will not spend another dime on that thing,” Powell said icily. “We need a new aircar to transport the children to a proper chapel on Sundays, and next autumn we must pay for them to appear at the Pope’s Celebration on the Lunar base for a blessing. We need that publicity more than we need an antique android to function properly.”

“You’re joking!” Raines spat. “Publicity? Do you even hear yourself? We’re here to help these children learn, not parade them in front of dignitaries for money.”

Powell ignored him. “As soon as they are approved, I will be bringing on a new group of instructors. Your robot can go back to its maintenance duties – and you can get back to teaching the curriculum you are assigned to teach.”

He is the best damned instructor you have!”

Raines spun and left the chairwoman’s office, slamming the door behind him.

 

*

 

After a month of interviews, approvals, and hiring, the orphanage brought on five additional Lead Instructors, all certified in the Christian curriculum that would begin to be taught there.

Raines and Kelly were retained as science and physical education instructors, respectively, but Marvin was no longer allowed to act as a teacher’s aide.

Though the android still was allowed to spend recreation time with the children, both Raines and Kelly could sense a growing distance between the children and the artificial human. In parallel, the early, timid movements of a bonding beyond friendship between Raines and Kelly had deteriorated to a point where they typically only spoke to each other during lunch hours. Where Raines had once found a comrade-in-arms, he now found an acquaintance at best.

“Do you ever think you’re being unfair?” Kelly asked Raines one day while they were taking lunch by the pond. “The orphanage is getting the funding it needs.”

“I never said it was bad for the orphanage,” Raines said bitterly. “I said it was bad for the orphans.”

“Who are you to decide how they receive their education, Raines?” Kelly fired back. “I was bitter too, but we’re not missionaries for logic. You’re almost being hypocritical.”

“That sow—“

“That sow and her new cronies are the only thing standing between you and unemployment. Suck it up, Raines. I’ve heard this atheistic bitching from you for years. In the end, you’re worse than them. They’re teaching and you’re still wallowing.”

“The future of our species depends on the education of the generations that follow us,” Raines tried to explain.

“Aren’t they saying the same thing?”

“It’s different.”

“It’s not, Raines,” Kelly said sadly. “You’re different.”

Sighing, she stood and took the rest of her lunch with her.

Raines did not watch her depart; instead, he looked at Marvin, across the pond. One of the new instructors was scolding the android for watching the children play instead of cutting the grass.

“Keep thinking, old bean,” Raines said to himself. “It’s the only thing they can’t take from us.”

 

*

 

“Did God make Marvin?” one of the children asked one of the new instructors during a Bible lesson.

Marvin, who was outside in the hallway mopping the floor, heard the question and turned its head towards the classroom.

“Humans put Marvin together,” Instructor Thomas explained with a forgiving smile. “God works through his children to make the things we need, like computers, automobiles, and shelter.”

“Will Marvin go to heaven?” another child asked.

“Heaven is a place prepared by God for humans,” Thomas said shaking his head. “And even then, only those humans that believe in and accept Jesus as their Savior.”

“What if Marvin believes in Jesus?”

“Yeah!” a few other voices intoned.

Sighing with frustration, Thomas said, “Marvin is not real. Marvin cannot believe in anything. Marvin only performs as it is programmed to perform. It is just a machine.”

In the hallway, Marvin stood silently, his internal components whirring and grinding as he processed new data and sorted it into complementing packets.

“Where will Marvin go when he dies?” a little girl asked sadly.

“A robot doesn’t die like you or me. A robot will stop working and then it will be thrown away.”

Later, when the lesson was over and the children bustled out of Thomas’s classroom. Marvin trundled over and knocked politely on Instructor Thomas’s door.

“Come in, Marvin,” Thomas said from his desk. “What can I do for you?”

Marvin made its way to the desk and stood silently for a moment.

Thomas impatiently removed his reading glasses and looked up from the textbook he had been marking lessons in. “Yes?”

“Will the children be happy in heaven?” Marvin asked him.

Thomas chuckled. “Most assuredly, but hopefully they won’t be children when they go to heaven. They all have long lives ahead of them.”

“Why do humans not go to heaven as soon as they are able, if happiness awaits them there? It seems logical that a longer life only opens the opportunity for unhappiness to occur.”

“What are you asking, Marvin?” Thomas queried, his brow furrowing slightly.

“If it only takes belief in Jesus, then why would God not wish for his children to be brought to heaven as soon as possible so that they may be happy sooner and for a longer time?” Marvin expanded.

“You must die and move on from this world before God brings you into his heaven,” Thomas stated. Slipping his glasses back on, he bent back down to his work.

Marvin remained.

After a few moments, Instructor Thomas looked up and tore the glasses from his face in agitation. “Please leave, Marvin. I have important lessons to prepare.”

“Do humans not wish to die, to reach heaven faster?” Marvin asked.

“No human truly wishes to die,” Thomas said, rising from his desk, intending to use his communications console to call someone to remove the android. “And those who commit suicide are not allowed to enter Heaven.”

After entering the code that would summon one of the groundskeepers, Thomas returned to his desk.

When he looked up a few seconds later, Marvin had left the classroom.

 

*

 

Raines had several difficult adjustments to make in Marvin’s delicate machinery. The increased physical workload placed on the android had overtaxed the joints in his legs. For a week, Marvin had been unable to properly use his right leg, and when he did, it made a terrible metallic scraping noise.

Powell had threatened to chuck the robot, but Raines had promised to correct the problem. He was forced to take a personal day without pay to do so.

“How have you been, Marvin?” Raines asked cheerfully. He had removed the offending leg and proceeded to give it a brief chemical bath to cleanse away the grime caked in the joints.

“Excluding the inoperative status of the appendage you are repairing, I am functioning at average levels of efficiency,” the android responded. His voice, normally ranging in tone, was now monotonous and even.

Raines winced at the sound, gripping his spanner a little tighter. “We miss you in our discussions during the biology lessons.”

Marvin was silent; his head dipped and what passed for his chin tapped gently against his chest.

“Been doing any thinking lately?” Raines queried, desperately trying to ignite a conversation like they had in the past.

“I have run several models on the likely growth patterns of the landscaped shrubbery in the front fields. I think they are accurate given my observations of their previous growth and meteorological forecasts.”

Raines sighed, and began scouring the dirty appendage. He remained quiet during the rest of their time together.

Once he reattached the leg and checked that it was working properly, he helped the android up from its seated position.

Marvin trundled silently away towards his duties for the day.

Raines clenched his jaw tightly, trying to ignore the sudden blurring of the tears obstructing his view. After a moment, he turned off the lights in the shed and slammed its door home.

 

*

 

On a pleasant afternoon, a week after Raines had repaired Marvin’s faulty leg, the children were exceptionally loud with happiness. Several of the instructors came out of their classrooms to watch the orphans play. The sun played off the water of the pond, and the birdsong intermingled with the giggling joy of youth. It was a perfect day.

It had been many weeks since Marvin had come down to watch them play in the pond. They splashed water at each other and played underwater games as the android looked on from its position at the edge of the dock. Its mechanical legs swung slightly over the water as it sat there.

Instructor Raines was in his shed, working and diligently studying diagrams on a shielding interface for Marvin’s core systems. He had spent weeks to find a customizer who could help him with the complicated upgrade. It was going to be a surprise for Marvin and Raines hoped it would cheer the android up.

Down at the pond, Marvin’s lifeless optical receivers recorded the movements of the children as it imperceptibly inched its body closer to the edge of the dock.

Instructor Thomas appeared in the doorway of the shed and knocked politely. Raines looked up and nodded at him.

“I don’t mean to be a pest,” Thomas began, “but your robot has been a bit of an irritation to me lately.”

“Oh?” Raines remarked with surprise. “What has he been doing?”

“Frankly, it’s been asking too many questions.”

Raines chuckled and went back to his studying. “He’s a vocational android. They’re meant to be inquisitive. They’re programmed to learn and then teach what they have learned.”

“Well, it’s not been taught properly, then. I’d appreciate it if you’d just instruct it not to enter my classroom again.”

Raines looked over at his colleague, confused. “I don’t have control over him any more than you do, Thomas. What kind of questions has he been asking you?”

On the dock, Marvin’s body tipped slightly forward and the wood creaked, then it rocked back.

“It’s been awfully morbid, asking about heaven and hell, death, suicide. At first I thought it would be an isolated event, but he keeps coming back. I know several others that say he’s been asking questions along the same lines. Just what sort of robot have you got working here anyway?”

Raines’s eyes moved past Thomas’s shoulder and he could see Marvin on the dock with the children. The children seemed awfully happy to have their companion back.

“He has a logical mind, Thomas. He can’t comprehend farcical deities and mystic rituals. He operates on fact,” Raines stated matter-of-factly. “If he can’t piece together a concept based on what you’ve given him to work with, he’ll keep asking until he can, or until some outside influence changes his perception.”

Thomas turned slightly red. “Perhaps this isn’t the sort of orphanage for a robot like that–”

Raines’s eyes squinted slightly as they watched the robot on the dock.

“–or people like that. Its obsession with the children going to heaven and being happy has just become tiresome and I–”

Thomas’s words faded out and Raines’s eyes went wide as everything clicked together.

Thomas was in mid-sentence when Raines leaped from his seat and bowled him over. The world moved in slow motion as Raines sprinted through the high grass.

Marvin’s body leaned over the water again and this time did not tip back to the safety of the dock.

“Marvin!” a voice screamed over the fields, echoing off the hard brick of the orphanage in the distance.

Marvin’s body slid off the dock and into the water with only a whisper of a splash.

It took a few seconds, but the water found the nooks and crannies in Marvin’s mechanical body.

A boy floated in front of Marvin, his face a masterpiece of elation and joy at seeing his friend finally join them in the pond.

Marvin wished, for the first time in his existence, not that he was alive, but simply that he had a mouth to smile with.

As Marvin died, angels swam in the reflection of his black and lifeless eyes.

###

 

 

Doctor Who: Red Right Hand – Episode One

strh

So, against all odds, I’m suddenly addicted to kaiju films. I’m seriously considering starting a global art movement where you splice Raymond Burr into everything. It’s randomness – nothing to do with this at all. But, where else am I going to memorialize Post-modern Rayburrinsertionism?

Anyway, back to the episode. I very nearly rewrote several parts of this story, then decided to leave as is. I was worried that eventually the dialog regarding the idiocy of the social media revolution would be dated. I was a fool. At the time I wrote this, I had not seen “The Space Museum”, and so when my epic Doctor Who marathon of dreams began (being my intention to watch, or read the screenplay/novelization of, every Doctor Who episode in existence), I was immediately concerned that I may have inadvertently aped something from actual canon. I actually had conceived of the Kelvaxan Reliquary specifically as a way to express the idea that though every thing is eventually obsolete, its soul can never die. Chuck Taylor All-Star’s will disappear one day and no one will care – except that one guy centuries from now who will have a preserved pair, right next to his Jack Purcells, in a crusty hovel on Titan.

1. History Lessons

“Funny story, this,” the Doctor explained as he leaned out the door of the TARDIS. He held on tightly to the door frame and extended a small paper tube towards a billowy pink substance, just outside the blue police box. Below him was open space, an endless sea of stars.

“There was this Sontaran I knew that was a terrific gambler,” he said, moving the tube in circles as the pink substance clung to it in lumps. “Could never let a bet go by him. Made a horrible warrior, and I suppose that’s why they exiled him.”

Behind the Doctor, Amy and Rory, his two companions were bent over the small screen of Rory’s cellphone.

“Still, being a Sontaran, he couldn’t help but want to battle something, so he builds a small strikeforce of mercenaries and starts taking over systems, one by one.” The Doctor continued his tale as he swirled more of the pink fluff around the tube. Once that tube held a significant amount of the fluffy substance on it, he secured it by sticking one end into a pocket, then he began with another fresh paper tube. “Naturally, I couldn’t let him do that any more so I offered him a wager. I told him I could create a nebula made completely of cotton candy – ridiculous doesn’t even begin to describe the odds against me, and he took the bet. The stakes were that if I won, he would retire from marauding, and if he won, I’d stop giving him problems.”

The two companions burst out in laughter behind him. The Doctor, assuming they were listening to his story smiled and prepared for the ending to his tale.

“And so, one supercharged matter replicator set to infinitely replicate replicators replicating replicators replicating cotton candy placed right at the center of a sun going supernova was all I needed,” the Doctor said, gathering a final bit of fluff. In one motion, he pulled himself into the TARDIS, shut the doors, and held two generous clouds of pink cotton candy before him. “And voila! Goodbye Sontaran, and hello cotton candy for all!”

Both Amy and Rory were rolling on the floor laughing. The Doctor beamed a toothy smile at them, pleased with the reaction his story had garnered. He soon realized, as his smile turned to a frown, that the two companions’ mirth was coming from something else.

“Look you two,” he said chidingly. “I’m showing you a fantastic marvel of the universe, that I happened to have created I might add, and you’re bent in half over a cellphone not even paying attention.”

“What Doctor?” Amy asked, wiping tears from her eyes.

“Cotton candy!” the Doctor shouted. “It’s a nebula you can eat!”

“Oh right, sorry Doctor,” Rory apologized, taking the cotton candy that was offered. “It’s just one of my mates posted this insane video.”

“May I see it?” the Doctor asked, seemingly interested.

Rory handed over his phone. “Just hit play. It’s absolutely hilarious, Doctor. You’ll love it.”

“Oh, I’m sure I will love this,” the Doctor said cryptically, pacing back towards the TARDIS doors. He watched the video for a few moments and as the video ended he expelled a brief, “Ah.”

“Well? What do you think?” Amy queried.

“It’s a man being headbutted in the crotch by a toddler,” the Doctor stated flatly.

“It’s brilliant, right?” Rory said, still chuckling to himself.

“Rory,” the Doctor said, opening the TARDIS doors to reveal the Cotton Candy Nebula, “this is brilliant.”

Turning towards the doors, the Doctor wound up. With a throw that would make a professional cricketer take notice, he launched Rory’s phone into space where it quickly began to gather a cloud of cotton candy around it.

“Doctor!” the companions shouted in unison.

“What did you do that for?” Amy said bitterly. “Where’s your sense of humor?”

“Where’s your sense of perspective?” the Doctor countered angrily. “Hello! You’re in a time machine. You’ve got infinite wonders, astounding possibilities, amazing sights to behold out these two simple doors and you’re giggling over a video of slapstick garbage.”

Quickly, he stalked over to the two companions and took the cotton candy from them – Rory was in mid-bite. “You don’t deserve these,” he said, stalking back to the doors and chucking the tasty treats back into the nebula.

“Doctor, you’re being childish,” Amy said, with a hint of a smile.

“I’d say he was being rude,” Rory quipped. “That was an expensive phone.”

“Oh, come on, Rory,” the Doctor replied. “You’ll just buy another the first chance you get. It’s how things work down on Earth. Buy this technology, then buy the next version next year, then the next, and on and on. I don’t understand how you two can be exposed to … ” The Doctor made exaggerated gestures towards the TARDIS console, the nebula outside, and the room surrounding them, ” … this! And you still are slaves to pop culture.”

“Oi, now that’s a bit harsh,” Amy responded defensively. “I happen to think my likes are very untrendy and original. I happen to think Radiohead’s awful.”

“Hey!” Rory snapped, jabbing her in the ribs.

“All beside the point,” the Doctor said. “As is continuously the problem with species delving into advanced technologies, your society is not maturing at the same pace as the science. If you were, you’d have been past crotch shots decades ago.”

“Speaking of not maturing at the same pace, its hard for us to tell if we’ve matured at all with you shaving years off our lives in the blink of an eye,” Amy said sarcastically.

“That was necessary,” the Doctor replied. “And I gave you a huge birthday cake for it, from the greatest bakery in the universe. And, once again, that would never have happened if Rory here had been paying attention to the giant signs that said, ‘Don’t mix the gunbunnies’!”

“Doctor,” Amy said, frowning. “He said he was sorry.”

“‘Sorry’ is not good enough anymore,” the Doctor scolded. “It’s time I taught you both a lesson.”

“What is this? Primary school?” Rory asked.

“Apparently so,” the Doctor snapped. Without another word, he launched himself purposefully to the console and began inputting coordinates.

“Alright, Mr. Grumpyface. Where are we going?” Amy asked.

“You’ll see,” the Doctor said, and threw a lever initiating their next jaunt through time and space. The ship jerked, and both Amy and Rory were propelled into their seats roughly.

“Oh,” the Doctor said grumpily. “Might want to hang on.”

Hundreds of light years away from the Cotton Candy Nebula, an armored spaceship touched down on a heavily guarded landing pad outside the Receiving Department of a vast underground complex on the asteroid Kelvax. In space, above the ship, the twin stars Ularus and Getis shone brilliantly – their combined red and yellow rays reflecting off the massive ship’s polished hull. As the ship vented gases into the thin atmosphere of the orbiting rock, a giant spherical shield began to block out the stars as it moved to cover the landing pad. Red spinning lights strobed in time with a blaring alarm as the environmental shield closed over the ship and the precious cargo it held.

After several minutes, the red lights turned to green, indicating the environment in the shielded landing area had been equalized with the rest of the complex. Two columns of heavily armed guards jogged out of the complex to surround the ship’s access ramp in a semi-circle as it slowly began to descend. Facing out from the ramp, the guards activated their weapons and took defensive positions, awaiting the the transfer team to disembark and alert for any signs of trouble.

With a dull thud, the ramp settled to the landing pad and a detachment of twelve armored guards from the ship escorted a man in rich robes to the Receiving Area. The Kelvaxan guards parted to allow their honored guest to pass. Another contingent disembarked shortly after, this group even more heavily surrounded. Two guards in the second contingent carried between them a large black box.

The man in the expensive robes spoke briefly with a Kelvaxan official, who then waved the entire group and their cargo through the security portal leading into the depths of the complex.

The group passed through several more security checkpoints without incident as they approached the core of the asteroid and Central Control. Eventually, the heavily guarded group reached an ornate set of wooden doors at the end of a long narrow hallway. It was at this point that they were made to wait while a senior guard entered the doors to secure clearance for them.

After several minutes, the guard returned and indicated that only the man in the expensive robes, the cargo, and its two guards would be allowed through. The man nodded his understanding, and after a subtle hand gesture, the rest of the guards that had acted as escorts took up positions along the hallway, weapons at the ready.

The man stepped through the doors, followed by the guards and their cargo, and into an expansive room with vaulted ceilings. On the wall to their left hung the mounted and stuffed heads of hundreds of alien species, some wild and some civilized. Some represented species advanced enough to have breached the frontier of interstellar travel, while other represented species long extinct. On the opposite wall were shelves of books, from floor to ceiling, broken intermittently by computer consoles – presumably holding databases of writings no longer available in hard copy. Throughout the room, tables and glass cases held artifacts from thousands of cultures across the galaxy.

At the far end of the room, at an old wooden desk that looked more like a relic than anything functional, was seated a wrinkled old man in a tweed suit. The old man was bent over a large tome, a magnifying glass mounted over his right eye. As if not noticing the arrival of the group, he continued to peruse the page before him until the man in the expensive robes and his two guards stood before the desk.

Without looking up he spoke, “Ah, Lord Trelonde. I trust your journey was uneventful.”

The man in the expensive robes snapped his heels together smartly and bowed his head. “We are grateful for the escort ships you sent to meet us at Feldett III, Curator Heens – though I doubt anyone but yourself would see the value in the artifact I’ve brought you.”

“Quite,” the Curator said, looking up at the other man. Smiling, he gestured to the tome in front of him. “Any idea what this is?”

Trelonde gazed briefly at the book and did not recognize the language it was written in. “I’m an avid collector of rare artifacts, Curator Heems, for certain, but I am not an expert on ancient texts such as this, however.”

Heems rose from his seat and shut the book. “Five million years ago, Warlord Walthus Balex wiped out an eighth of the sentient species present in this galaxy at that time.” Heems removed the larger lens from his eye and placed a pair of round spectacles on his nose. “A vicious tyrant, he took what he wanted, including mates. Sex and species didn’t matter to him – his species was the Royn, who all have adaptive reproductive systems and can mate and create offspring with any living species. This book is a detailed record of every creature he coupled with in that conquest – and every creature that died birthing his Royn progeny.”

Trelonde made a face of disgust.

“It’s really quite interesting. The Royn are also empaths. He was able to experience what they felt while forcing himself on them and wrote it all down. This is the twenty-seventh volume of four thousand. The illustrations are very graphically detailed,” Heems said with a smirk.

“Now about this piece you’ve brought me, Lord Trelonde,” Heems said, moving around and approaching the black box. “Are you able to verify its authenticity?”

“It’s authenticity is not what makes this piece worth collecting,” Trelonde explained, a strange look on his face. “It may be an original – it may be a clever copy. That’s not the point. I can guarantee you’ll never see anything like it in your life.”

“Cease the pitch,” Heems said impatiently. “Show me the piece or leave this asteroid. I don’t have time to ponder the possibilities and improbabilities of life.”

“As you wish,” Trelonde replied with a brief bow.

Heems ushered them over to a low table and relocated a few relics from its surface to other tables. Trelonde nodded to the guards and they carefully set the black box on to the empty surface. The guards each removed keychains from their persons and inserted their respective keys into locks on either side of the box. Lastly, Trelonde pulled a key from within his robes and inserted it into a larger locking mechanism on the front of the box. At Trelonde’s signal, the three men turned their keys and the lid to the box popped open with a hiss. Briefly, visible clouds of gas billowed out and dissipated.

Trelonde opened the lid completely and stepped back for Heems to inspect the contents.

Curator Heems had donned a pair of latex gloves and reverently stepped forward to the box. The inside of the box was lit with soft glowlights and for a moment Heems simply stared at what lay inside, the light reflecting off his round spectacles. He then took a deep breath and reached into the box. Carefully, he removed the ancient device from its velvet cushion and held it at eye level.

The American-made 1986 Model Speak & Spell appeared to be in mint condition.

“Very nice,” Heems said. “But there’s still the question of its authenticity.”

“I assure you, its authenticity won’t matter once you see what it does.”

Heems turned a skeptical eye to Trelonde. “It still works?”

“Turn it on and find out, Curator Heems.”

Heems scoffed at the relic collector and pressed the button marked “ON”.

Four musical tones sounded, indicating the device was active. After a pause, the device’s screen glowed green as words appeared. A synthesized voice spoke the words as they printed.

“Good day to you, Curator Heems,” it droned.

“What gimmick is this?” Heems demanded, narrowing his eyes at Trelonde. “I’m not a collector of cheap parlor tricks.”

“This is no trick,” the device said aloud. “You are being given a priceless gift.”

Surprised, Heems regarded the ancient Earth toy in his hands. “For all intents and purposes, it appears authentic. The coloring is accurate. The speech synthesizer is very close to the original, but I suspect its been tampered with. Artificial intelligence module installed?”

Trelonde stood silently regarding the Curator – waiting.

Heems turned the toy over in his hands and examined it closer. “I won’t give you full value unless I can verify its authenticity, and expect a deduction for the electronic tampering that’s been done to it.”

“As it said, it is a gift, Curator Heems,” Trelonde said, his smile waxing cryptic.

“Hmph,” Heems huffed. “I’m still going to open it up.”

“You’ll do no such thing,” the Speak & Spell commanded.

Heems eyes seemed to glaze over and his mouth opened as if he were about to say something.

Then Heems spoke: “I’ll do no such thing.”

Trelonde’s smile widened maniacally.

The wheezy, grinding noise stopped and the TARDIS materialized with a thump.

“Right,” the Doctor said, moving to the doors. “Stay together, no touching each other, and more importantly no touching any of the pieces unless given explicit permission.”

“What is this place, Doctor?” Amy asked.

“You are about to step into the oldest and most extensive museum in the universe – the Kelvaxan Reliquary. It is here that I intend to show you that your gizmos, your apps, and your social networking tools are just the detritus on the surface of the deeper technological potential of Earth. First, I’ll introduce you to my old friend, Curator Heems. He should be able to get us into some of the more exclusive exhibits.”

The Doctor grasped the door handle. “Maybe then you’ll learn when and where to show proper respect to the wonders of the universe.” He then added with a smirk, “Especially me.”

The Doctor threw open the door and stepped out backwards, his arms open in welcome as he backpedaled out the TARDIS.

“My friends,” he declared, “welcome to future history!”

The first things that Amy and Rory noticed as they stepped out after him were the thirty-seven laser rifles that were trained on them.

“Doctor,” Rory said hesitantly.

“I know, its a bit much to take in at first, but your senses will soon level out.”

With a flourish, the Doctor spun around with the intent to march purposefully forward into the vast museum. Instead, he marched purposefully into a laser rifle.

“Ah,” the Doctor said. “Not the sort of respect I had in mind.”