By David Ronayne

It was a small blue-green world swinging an erratic orbit around a binary sun. This in itself was nothing unusual. The majority of planets were gentle mixes of the primary colours. If the planet had been jet black or fluorescent pink with bright purple stripes, now that would be spectacular. (Farqa IV was the only known planet to satisfy the second requirement. The soil was barren and nothing grew there, but the inhabitants managed to eke out a living from a lucrative picture postcard industry.) Small blue and green worlds were not uncommon and the fact that this one was part of a binary system, although irregular, was nothing special.

But this planet was special, unique in fact. The entire world was in a state of covalent flux. It existed in a multitude of dimensions at once. Its timeline weaved through universes like a string in a tapestry, and that's why the planet was off limits. The Time Lords didn't want anyone pulling the loose thread that was holding the picture together. The seal of the High Council was sacrosanct, and, it was once claimed, to break it would be the act of a genius, a hero, or a madman.

‘Welcome to Serintip!’ The Doctor spread his arms wide, as if to embrace the entire planet.

Ace lay back in the long grass, basking in the heat of the double suns. She squinted up at the Doctor's silhouetted form. ‘Discovered by lucky chance, right Professor?’

The Doctor nodded and knelt down beside the pile of equipment he and Ace (protestingly) had dragged out of the TARDIS lab. ‘Many years ago one of the Cardinals of the Academy delegated the traditionally important but highly monotonous task of monitoring the time flow of several ‘weak spots’ in the space-time continuum to one of his undergraduate students.’

The Doctor paused. The blinking red light on the monitor at the top of his heap had broken his train of thought. He frowned. This was not meant to happen. The Academy files said the planet was stable. He made explicitly sure that taking scientific measurements would not cause any disruption of the timelines.

He gave the monitor a sharp tap. The flashing stopped. The Time Lord glared at it for a few seconds until satisfied it was inactive. ‘Odd,’ he thought.

‘The student,’ he continued, ‘nervous about the importance of her new job, inadvertently took a spatial scan rather than a temporal one, and discovered this!’ The Doctor looked out over the tussock-covered hills. ‘A stepping stone between universes.’

The Doctor stopped, realising the unusual lack of sound from Ace. He turned to see her lying asleep in the long grass.

Ace stirred some time later. Out of her one open eye, she could see the Doctor's back as he crouched over the instruments, making notes. She rolled over, trying to drift off again. The face she saw was not human. About two feet away, a pair of brown eyes stared at her down a long, fur-covered muzzle. They watched as Ace rose. ‘Professor... Professor, I think you should see this!’

Two creatures disentangled themselves from the grass. They were both about three feet high and reminded Ace of brown bipedal badgers. The first one wore a loose black gown and carried a vicious-looking steel pipe. The second seemed much older. Grey streaks ran through its fur.

It hobbled towards them, leaning heavily on the stick it carried to counter the effects of age and the heavy robes it wore.

The Doctor patted Ace on the shoulder. ‘Wait here.’ He approached the elder, then kneeling down (so as to look the creature straight in the eye) he spoke to it in a series of disjointed mumbles and hand signals. And after a brief pause it replied in a similar fashion.

It was some time later before the conversation ended and both parties turned to leave. Ace turned to watch as the two odd creatures packed their gear away. ‘You two seemed to hit it off.’

The Time Lord nodded. ‘Very intelligent creatures, most helpful with my calculations.’ He took her arm as they headed back to the ship. ‘The old one spoke Ancient Gallifreyan fluently, you know, and...’ He paused, scratching the tip of his nose with his cane. ‘...could almost be as smart as me.’

Ace laughed and swung her ballbase bat experimentally in her paw. The familiar red dome of the QARDIS appeared over the hill.

As the doors closed and the high-pitched whine that heralded dematerialisation started, Ace could be heard saying, ‘No-one's as smart as you, Doctor, not in this universe anyway...’

The ship disappeared, taking Professor Whom and his young companion to another exciting adventure in time and space.

This item appeared in Timestreams 4 (April 1992).

Index nodes: Fiction