Authors: Nick Harkaway
Tags: #Fiction, #Science Fiction, #General
Deep in the gap between the stars, the TARDIS is damaged by a temporal mine. It’s not life-threatening, but the Tenth Doctor will need a while to repair the damage. But he’s not alone. The strangely familiar-looking Christina thinks the Doctor has arrived in her bed and breakfast, somewhere in Wales. In fact, the TARDIS seems to have enveloped Christina’s entire town – and something else is trapped inside with it. A violent, unnatural storm threatens them all and – unless it’s stopped – the entire universe.
Nick Harkaway was born in Cornwall in 1972. He likes deckled edges, wine, and breathtaking views. He does not like anchovies or reality television. He lives in London with his wife and two children.
HE WAS IN
the Hungarian Bathroom when it happened, brushing his teeth. He didn’t actually need to brush his teeth – his body didn’t allow the sort of decay toothbrushes were supposed to prevent – but he liked to do it anyway because he enjoyed the mintiness frothing over his tongue and out of his mouth. It was like a carwash for the tonsils. Occasionally he pretended to be a dragon while he did his incisors, scowling appallingly into the Rococo mirror and blowing menacing bubbles until either he or the image was cowed into surrender. He was fairly sure, at that moment, that he had the enemy on the run.
‘Aaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggh!’ he told his reflection. He did some hand gestures, too, because after all a lot of communication was non-verbal. The reflection tried the same tactic, but couldn’t pull it off.
Hah! Take that, you scoundrel!
He had to acknowledge that he got like this when he travelled alone. He tended to be a bit distracted, a bit wibbly. He began thinking about people he’d left behind, people he didn’t see any more for very good reasons. People like Donna. The Doctor-Donna, who had known him absolutely, for a little while, and who didn’t know any more who he was. And Martha Jones. Martha Jones who’d left him, rather than the other way around. Had to respect that.
Had to love it.
And then, yes, all right: he’d spent the last two weeks growing oak trees in a park the TARDIS had apparently generated at some point for reasons of its own. He’d caught himself using the artificial sun to make the branches grow into the word ‘Rose’, and hurriedly decided it was time to move on.
On the upside, he was pretty sure the guy in the mirror was ready to throw in the towel. Which would be ideal, because he needed a towel.
‘Aaaaaarrggggh!’ he said again. ‘Aaarghaahahrhgh!’
Then there was a really, really loud bang. He hadn’t known a bang like it in…
It was a very, very long time. There had been a Cro Magnon alpha once who was killed by a falling mammoth. For some reason no one entirely understood, it was a fixed point in time. You couldn’t do anything about it. Young Time Lords were shown recordings as a sort of learning experience. Sometimes, they were told, this is the universe, and that’s it. The mammoth got caught in a scree-slide and went off an overhanging cliff, trumpeting sadly all the way down – and it was a long way – and there below him there was the alpha roaring his defiance at an enemy troop and beating his chest: ‘I am mighty! Fear me! Raaaawr.’ Lots of raaawr. Then there was this great, awful, hugely significant moment where he looked up and saw the mammoth and you could almost swear he said ‘oh, dear’, and the mammoth seemed to be looking down and saying very much the same thing. And then both of them were definitely extinct.
And now, in the Hungarian Bathroom, with the TARDIS ringing around him like a huge cast iron bell and the Rococo mirror (Giorgio Innocenti of Venice, genius, loved cinnamon buns, drank too much and sang rude songs about the duke; bad idea, long prison sentence, very sad) now in pieces in the sink, he was pretty sure he knew how that felt. To be hit by a mammoth. To be a mammoth hit by a planet. Either, really.
Fifteen seconds later he was staring at the displays in the console room. He squinted through his glasses at the lambent tachyonic visualiser. And then he said quite a lot of bad words one after another in just under a hundred distinct languages.
He’d hit a temporal mine, or, to put it less technically, a big ugly imploding timey-wimey blowy-uppy thing. A BUIT-WB-UT. Acronyms sometimes made things sound better. He conceded that this one didn’t.
The bad news was that temporal mines were on the very short list of things which could actually damage a TARDIS. Destroy one, even. Certainly hurt it. And the really bad news was that there weren’t any of them left in the entire universe, anywhere, because they were supposed to be timelocked with the rest of the war, except that this one evidently wasn’t. Oh, no, this one was here and it was behaving very oddly indeed, and now it was doing something with really a lot of transtachyonic sheer, something which was frankly a bit impossible, and that was just rude. That much torsion could actually decalibrate the capacitance smoothifier and pop the seams of the TARDIS like a bag full of soup. Splat. Splatter. Splunch. Except not, because the soup would go into the bag and take the kitchen with it. Oh, wait, that was even odder –
He just had time to say something which would get you arrested on the Omogan Planet of Rain.
All the lights went out, and he heard a triple impact, like an alien heart or the footstep of something huge walking on three legs.
Pah pah POM.
He stood in the darkness listening, and hoping it was still outside. It must be, though. The TARDIS wouldn’t let anything inside.
The longer he stood there, the more he wasn’t sure.
Christina was a respectable sort of widow. There was another sort, all dancing on tables and keeping late hours with poets, but she didn’t hold with any of that. She might have been forgiven if, being made single at her relatively young age – she was 35 – she had gone a little mad and done a lot of regrettable things. Oh, not that she was dull. There might well come a day when she would unbutton a little, even be said to cut loose. Time would heal all wounds, no doubt.
If only it didn’t move so slowly about its business, leaden and deadly bread-and-butter and no cake. Every day she could remember was exactly like every other, stretching back to the moment she had opened her doors to paying customers after her husband had passed away.
But that wasn’t quite true. The telephone was coming to Jonestown: the mayor had announced it. He would have one on his desk for calling to the Parish Council, and another for London, though he didn’t see the point of that, and the police station would have one, and the firehouse, too, and Mr Heidt who had bought the big house at the edge the park, the old Lord’s manor, he was so rich – apparently – that he would have one, too.
Hers was a good life. She interfered with no one, and no one interfered with her.
She smiled at this happy thought, and went to clean the Reading Room. She had guests coming, day after tomorrow, and the reading room was always popular at teatime. She opened the door, and stopped.
There was a man.
He did not look like a murderer or a villain, but she knew you could not always tell by the looking. He was reading, evidently, and this was reassuring because even if he was in the wrong place by definition, this being her house and she having no idea who he might be, he was also doing the right thing in this place, reading in the Reading Room, and that was a point in his favour. All the same, before speaking, she stepped to the fireplace so that the poker was within easy reach. She could smell damp in the stones, mould growing in the chimney. She must get someone in to deal with it, or guests would complain. The books would suffer.
Irrelevant landlady detail. She shut her eyes briefly for focus, then gave a stern cough.
She didn’t want to be excused at all. She wanted him to give an account of his presence, and that right speedily or she’d bash him with the poker.
If she had set off a bomb under his chair she could hardly have achieved a more spectacular reaction. He jerked up and out of the recliner, arms windmilling and legs abruptly about six inches too long for his trousers. The book – not one of hers, full of technical drawings and the like, he must have brought it with him – went spiralling up in the air and came down with curious neatness on the seat he had left behind, and he gaped at her for a longish while as if she was the first woman he’d ever seen, and then his mouth opened to let out an incredulous:
His amazement was so palpable that she dismissed the poker for the moment, and carried on speaking. ‘I said, “Excuse me”,’ she said, still stern but allowing for the possibility that it was all a comical misunderstanding. Perhaps she’d left the front door open after going to the grocer – the latch was a little soft – and he’d come in here to wait for her return. Or something. There were explanations, thousands of them. Tens of thousands. Numbers larger than that, numbers you’d need new ways of writing down…
He said ‘What?’ again.
‘This is my house,’ she said, feeling a little guilty now at having given him such a shock. ‘My Reading Room. What can I do for you?’
‘Yes. My house.’ She hoped he wasn’t going to say surely it was her husband’s house. She might have to go for the poker after all, and claim he’d made an inappropriate advance.
‘Your house!’ he said instead, in the tones of one coming to terms with the idea.
‘Your house!’ No doubt about it. The light had dawned. He smiled. Beamed, even. ‘Your house. Of course it is. Where are my manners? I’m with The Library, we’re just looking for lost books.’ He produced a wallet, showed her a piece of paper. ‘And there’s one. They get everywhere, don’t they, books? Little scamps.’ He nodded to himself, gathered up the manual he had been reading and shoved it in his pocket.
She peered at the paper. She said, blankly, ‘It’s blank.’
He stared at her again, looked at it. ‘So it is! Wrong wallet, my mistake. Must have left the card in my other trousers. Lovely house. Lovely library. Really amazing. Oooh, look, there’s a copy of
up there, I’ve never read that one, I hear it’s awful. “Do a comedy,” I told him. “Everyone loves
She didn’t bother to comment on this ridiculous statement; she just waited with what her husband had called her organist’s look, because he said church organists always knew how to silence wayward young men and so did she. It worked. He wilted a bit.
‘This is my library,’ she said. ‘In my house. So for the last time: what are you doing here?’
He stroked his chin. It was a fine chin, she thought. No doubt many young women – and, yes, some not so young – had made fools of themselves over this man. Simon had been dead for three years and more. It wasn’t a crime to notice.
She stamped hard on that thought, and waited.
‘Paying guest,’ he suggested.
‘Fifty pounds a week, in advance, plus breakfast. How long will you be here?’
‘Indefinitely. Hang on, fifty quid?’
‘That’s a bit steep, even for…’ He stopped. ‘Where are we, anyway?’
Fifty pounds was fifty pounds, even if the customer was a lunatic. ‘Wales,’ she told him staunchly.
He sighed. ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Of course. In all the universe, space and time, it turns out however far you go there’s mostly Wales.’
He stared off into space – literally into space, she was fairly sure, his gaze seemed to fix on a horizon so far beyond her damasked wall that she was almost a little envious – and when the silence became a little awkward she asked for his name, for the visitor’s book. She was fairly sure he was about to say ‘Smith’ when something stopped him. His mouth – a good mouth, lean and twitching upwards at the corners – started to form the letter ‘S’, but then a shadow crossed his face and he changed his mind. ‘J… Jer- Jah- Juh- Jo… J-J-oooones,’ he said. ‘Definitely. Jones. John Jones. With a “J”. My name,’ in case it hadn’t been clear enough that it wasn’t, ‘is John J-ones.’
‘Well,’ she replied, ‘you’ll fit right in, then,’ and took his hand because he had it stuck out there for her to shake and if she didn’t she would seem rude. ‘Welcome to Jonestown.’
‘Jonestown,’ he repeated. ‘Of course. Very nice!’
She wondered if he had somehow not known where he was.
The handshake lasted an uncomfortable moment and he said ‘John Jones’ a couple more times while he waggled her arm up and down, stretching his lips around the second part to get used to it. To escape, she asked if he would like a full breakfast. He beamed.
‘Eggs! Bacon! Tomatoes! Fried bread! That’ll kill you, fried bread. Clogs up the arteries. Well, it would. I’ve got tiny… things… in my blood, sluice it out again. So pile it up,
—’ he broke off. ‘I’m sorry, we haven’t been formally introduced.’
She felt curiously that it mattered to him very much what she said. ‘Christina,’ she answered.