By Morgan Davie

It was infinite.

Infinite not only in size, in the three dimensions of human experience - but infinite in all dimensions.

And sentient. Again, as in human experience, but infinite in a way that goes far beyond what that word conveys.

Infinite, sentient, and extremely busy. A multitude of calculations, calibrations and adjustments were carried out constantly and unceasingly. Unerringly.

Until somewhere, a crucial connection was not made. An energy pulse found a dead end, redoubled, its new path crumbling, suddenly trapped, the energy a supernova ...


An awakening.

The TARDIS stopped in midstream, no longer carried by the timestuff. Yet there was no groaning materialization as the interface fought the vortex tides.

The TARDIS simply stopped.

The river pulled at it insistently, as is time's nature. Pressure built. Waves rippled, crashed, grew. Fury grew.

The TARDIS gave in. A thick tide descended upon the time ship, and bore it tumbling down the river like a ship without a captain.

Peri was the first to notice something was wrong. She was standing in a side chamber, one of many in the time machine. This one featured a wall-sized scanner; an enlargement of the view on the control room screen. It depicted the time vortex, the only scenery while in transit.

Peri had returned here time and time again recently.

The timestream was glorious to behold. Peri could stand watching for hours as it rolled and eddied about the ship, sometimes full of colour, others a spiral of greys; mesmeric, soothing rhythm of existence.

The view on the wall-screen jerked.

Peri snapped out of her reverie.

That kind of turbulence was new to her. As she watched, the scene spiralled crazily, slowed, and spun drunkenly in another direction. She was still a newcomer to time travel, but she didn't need the Doctor to tell her something was wrong here.

Perhaps she'd be telling him for a change.

A read-out argued. The rotor was still. The Doctor was worried. Peri burst into the control room, ready to speak; the Time Lord cut her off. ‘I know.’ He was at the console, shifting from screen to screen with increasing agitation.

‘It's really violent outside!’

‘The TARDIS is out of control.’

‘Well, there's a switch.’

‘This is hardly the time for your puerile attempts at humour, Peri! Hit the glowing button. Move, girl!’

Peri did so; abruptly the room lurched. ‘Did I do that?’

The Doctor shook his head briskly. ‘That was external.’ The time machine shuddered again. Peri stepped back to give the Doctor room.

We're in trouble. Real trouble.

The Doctor spoke.

‘We're in trouble. Real troub-’

Energy surged from the console in a giant arc. The Doctor flew back, eerily silent, sparking.

The lights died.

Everything was still.


Energy blue-shadowed the room. Particles like fireflies coalesced, pulled together, taking form, first hazy, then better defined. A figure.

Its eyes...

The Doctor -

It was -

It was already changing. Shuddering free, elongating obscenely -

What kind of monster?

- flash of claw, soulless skull face -

Oh my God.

- darker still, droning, saliva pooling, a nightmare sculpted in blue -

The light from the creature picked out the motionless Time Lord.

The creature shifted. Towards the Doctor?

‘Get away from him!’ Peri ran at it. It switched to face her, shrinking away, its eyes locking as it flew backwards.

A child wrenched at Peri's soul.

And darkness.

Peri heard herself breathe again. Looked around into an impossible nothingness. The darkness was pure, uninfected by light. Peri floated in a sea of night, no left or right or anything but the floor beneath her.

How long?

It was like she was waking; but she hadn't been asleep. The dark consumed her sense of time.

She reached for the Doctor and found him. Resting her head on his chest, she picked out the dual heartbeat.

So faint...

‘Doctor - can you hear me?’ she whispered.

The Time Lord exhaled softly.



On my own. What to do?


Fear sat like a tarantula in her belly.

Must revive him. He will know what to do.

‘Doctor!’ she tried again. Nothing.

There was medical equipment in the nearby aid station; Peri thought she could operate it. That only left the problem of retrieving it.

That thing must still be somewhere. It hurt the Doctor. I can't let it hurt me.

Inaction was so easy; just sitting and letting time flow past.

I'm afraid.

Easier somehow, once that was admitted. Peri crawled away from the Doctor, running a hand along the wall as she moved so as not to get lost in the inky blackness. The contours, so familiar to sight, were alien to her fingertips. She found the doorway, and moved though. The darkness cloyed; it seemed to intensify the further she moved from the Doctor.

She was sweating and breathing hard.

The exertion?


She crawled on like a sinner seeking redemption.

I'm lost.

Peri crawled onwards. The dark was so intense it could have been painted on her retina. She had no idea where she was.

Stop. Rest. Think.

The TARDIS was a big place. She'd always known that; always known its size defied description. But it had never really bothered her before. If she wanted to go somewhere, she'd turn a few corners and there she was, as though the timeship itself was guiding her. But now she didn't know where she was or where she was going.

Peri blinked, and suddenly realized she could - not see exactly, but something was definitely happening to her vision. The faintest hint of light, growing slowly, was reaching her.

Light! The Doctor must be up, must have fixed -


Stifled the urge to run -


Felt her heart pounding -

The fear would always be there. No matter how many times she faced death and survived, the next time it would be there again, that familiar spider brushing hairily against her gut. The fear would always be there. The challenge was not to remove it, but to deal with it. It was natural to be afraid; it was foolish to let fear rule your actions.

Peri rose. The light was stronger, enough so she could be sure it was real.

Standing in melting darkness.

Amber. Not blue. Not the creature.

Her heart refused the assurance, pounded time. She could almost make out the corridor now. Though lost, Peri could not stay still; she set off, arms out to feel the way. It took her a moment to realize the footsteps she heard were her own.

Don't lose it now, for heaven's sake -

She noticed the perspiration that had dried in a sticky coat over her. Grimaced.

Behind her; a sound.

She spun. The smallest hint of a noise, perhaps only a creation of her mind. But real enough to make her stand in silence, staring into nothing, not daring to breathe.

Movement jolted across the dark. Or maybe just a trick of the light.


Nothing. Jumping at shadows. Forget it. Keep moving.

She turned back and set out again.

A shadow twisted; she thought she heard a whisper.

Kept going.

That's it, don't lose it now.

These little half-sounds were worse somehow than something concrete, something you could trust, like steps, heavy and slow, getting closer and closer. Half-sounds made you doubt yourself.

At least with something definite you knew which way to run.

She walked on. Light grew

The smell of ozone appeared in her nostrils. A sound -

electricity, that was the crackle of electricity.

- behind her; or was that imagined too?

She turned, felt herself sweating. Found nothing. Perhaps the merest tinge of blue, an after-image, faded already.

Resumed walking.


omigod omigod omigod

Crackle or energy and she spun - omigod - there inches from her, reaching - reaching - eyes outstretched.

Think! Think! Think!


The face, inhuman, grew and bubbled new monstrosities to match her fear, almost obscene ripping through her mind, to primal depth, deepest fears -

- a child's large head and pleading eyes -

- reaching -

She ran from it, gasping, thunder her breath, desperate, stumbling but not slowing.

Not right -


But -


Realizing she could see as she ran, the light warm and welcoming like vertigo pulls you down, TARDIS walls crowding like enemies -

- and Peri found the source of the light.

A scream fought free; once loosed, she couldn't stop it. The wail went on and on.

The TARDIS was falling apart.

The corridor continued another ten metres from where Peri stood. Beyond that, there was nothing. The walls simply ended, opening the TARDIS to the wilding vortex, the same vortex she had watched on a screen earlier, but this was the reality.

Glorious horrific reality.

The temporal storm had abated, but the swirls of colour were still violent, spinning at speeds beyond human thought, out of sight before they came into view.

For a fleeting moment the view became a tunnel, a view down the spiralling vortex. Peri stared dumbly down it, entranced by the pale glow at its end, and then the tunnel was gone again

Abruptly Peri understood. The TARDIS was spinning wildly out of control. The apparent tumult outside was as much a result of the TARDIS's motion as of the actual flow of time.


A large chunk of the floor ahead broke free and was drawn into the vortex. More followed. The edge of the TARDIS crept closer.

The creature - it must be the creature, destroying the TARDIS!

Peri gasped for air, screaming having drained her of breath.

The TARDIS corridor continued to disintegrate. Beyond it, a huge wave of reddish time appeared, drawing closer. Peri watched, beyond feeling, as it crashed into the time vessel, breaking, filling the corridor, rolling towards her with horrifying speed. She was rocked as it washed over her, then disappeared down the corridor.

The edge was close, falling apart.

Go back go back hurry hurry go BACK

She turned and then froze.

It was there.

Peri stood still for a long moment. The creature, glowing blue, did not move. A thin wave of time swept past them. Peri glanced back, took a step forward. The creature looked on.

‘What are you doing?’ Peri heard herself say. The voice was hoarse.

The creature moved its head, what mouth there was at work. The sounds it made were like nothing Peri had ever heard.

For a sickening instant Peri felt the floor beneath her give way. She lurched forward, looking back as the section broke free and flew into the tide. Beyond it, in the storm, a huge blue-orange wall, rolling closer immense like a tidal wave.

The floor cracked beneath her again. She threw herself forward and down. The wave hit, thundered down the corridor, sweeping over her, taking up the creature and bearing it away into the depths of the TARDIS.

Peri swallowed hard, and mopped her brow. The floor beneath her abruptly gave way. Her legs now dangled into the vortex - the winds tore at them. She cried out, but of course there was nobody to hear. Her hands fought for purchase, and she triumphantly pulled herself forward, but the floor collapsed again. She scrambled forward; the erosion matched her speed. Her legs kicked at the nothingness.

The floor beneath her stomach gave, ripped away by the eager vortex winds. She cried out again, struggling for a handhold. A sudden snap and her whole body was over the side, hanging level with the floor. The winds toyed with her, tearing her hair, tugging at her clothing. One of her shoes pulled free and fell into the vortex, which was swimming with debris. The flotsam undulated as a wave came, immense and luminous, its size and speed almost beyond belief.

Peri's handhold gave way. One clutch held; one hand between her and the abyss.

The section cracked.

Peri shut her eyes.

Her anchor came free. Peri began to fall away, screaming again, and the wave met her, caught her. Her stomach flipped as she now found herself forced back into the ship, speeding down endless corridors, smashing against walls and other debris in the wave, until its substance slipped away and Peri slammed against wall then floor, bruised and unconscious.

Upwards she swam. She could feel herself rising, the glow ahead like the end of time, her awareness growing.

The floor was uncomfortable.

The surface/source so near. Peri didn't want to go further up. Swim sideways, relax down here - but still rising. Buoyancy of pain and fear. No energy to fight. Upwards she swam.

There wasn't much light in the corridor.


Peri started violently. Relaxed.

Not the creature. The... the edge.

Pain crawled in at her from a hundred places, and the spider in her belly shifted uneasily. The light was dim; the edge must be distant. She looked about critically, seeing a familiar arrangement of doors and corridors. She knew where she was.

Help the Doctor. Must help the Doctor.

She could see well enough to navigate, and set off for the aid station. Her shins and ankles screamed but she ignored them; she'd wasted enough time. The corridors launched unfriendly shadows at her, and did not go where they should have. The journey should have taken under a minute; after ten, she was still walking.

Something is very wrong with the TARDIS.

She recovered what medical gear she understood from the aid station, and used a torch to reach the control room swiftly and without incident. The Doctor still lay on the floor, unmoving. Peri went to his side, squinting in the dimness for anything out of place. He was breathing too heavily for her liking. She sat down beside him, and sorted through the equipment, producing a respiration mask. An all-purpose treatment, she placed it on her own face and breathed deeply. The mixture of chemicals and pure energy swam through her, dulling the pain, giving her energy. She coughed, and placed it on the Time Lord's face. His nose wrinkled as he inhaled the unpleasant mixture, and he jerked his head. A mumble escaped his lips.

‘Doctor?’ Peri lifted the mask and leant close.

‘Now Tegan, I've spoken to you before about that perfume...’

‘It's Peri, Doctor! Can you hear me?’

The Time Lord opened his eyes, gazed at the girl, and breathed in. Peri immediately replaced the mask. The Doctor jerked his head away, spluttering. ‘Thank you Peri, but I don't need you trying to poison me.’

‘Poison you! Save your life, more like!’

‘Whatever. Why is it so dark in here?’ He glared at her. ‘Are you trying to seduce me?’ Flabbergasted, she gave no answer. ‘If so, I can assure you, whatever mind-altering substance you just tried, it won't be strong enough.’

Peri swallowed the expletive that leapt to mind. ‘I shouldn't have woken you. Death is better than this.’ The Doctor stood uneasily, brushing himself down. Peri forced herself to be nice. ‘I've brought all that first aid gear you showed me...’

‘The power's gone,’ observed the Time Lord.

‘Well don't look at me, I sure didn't do it.’

‘I know. It's because of people like you that the TARDIS doesn't have an off switch. Which is just the problem.’ He looked at Peri gravely. ‘Theoretically, the old girl cannot be turned off.’

‘Trust me, Doctor - that's the least of our worries.’ She proceeded to relate the whole story.

The Time Lord listened in silence. When she finished he nodded carefully. ‘If the TARDIS is dissolving, things are gravely awry.’

‘I had a funny feeling.’

‘The computation itself must be breaking down.’

‘Can you stop it? Fix it?’

‘I have no idea.’

‘The creature caused it.’

‘We must assume so, yes. It must have overloaded the TARDIS central computer, destroyed the whole system... impossible in theory, too many fail-safes, but she isn't exactly in top condition. The Block Transfer Computation needs to be constantly adjusted - like tuning a piano - and when the computer stops doing that, it starts to unravel. Or erode.’

‘Doctor? Are you all right?’

‘Yes,’ muttered the Time Lord, faltering as he moved. ‘Yes, I'm well enough.’ He leant heavily on the console, slowed his breathing. ‘I'll see what I can find here. You can go to the engine room. You'll have to be my eyes and ears. I doubt you'll find anything wrong there, but it is the next most likely place.’

‘But the creature-’

‘Stopping the TARDIS's disintegration is surely our prime concern. Now stop asking questions. Go. Take this.’ - he retrieved a small headset communicator from under the console - ‘and keep in touch. Is that clear?’


The Doctor knelt and began unscrewing a panel beneath the console. He looked up at Peri. ‘Are you still here?’

‘If I take the torch, you won't be able to see.’

‘Sight is the least of my concerns. Go!’

She did.

The engine rooms were very large. Although the mechanisms seemed to be different every time Peri saw them, the room size was constant. The high ceiling swallowed any sound; the gears and wheels were uncannily still.

What was it the Doctor had said? The engines weren't real, not in a concrete sense. They were representations of mathematics; just like the Police Box was of the TARDIS.


‘Hmmm?’ crackled the voice.

‘I'm here. Nothing's happening.’

‘As expected. Find the main drive shaft - should look like a piston - see if it's clear. And be careful.’

‘Yeah...’ Peri passed the torch over the room warily. ‘I keep thinking of that movie where it comes down from -


- above.’

Looked up as it came, so fast, amorphous, falling on her, glassy jaws endlessly folding out of themselves. Gnarled claws clasped. Eyes so empty they howled.

Peri stumbled back, falling. The creature followed, stalking her, matching her pace. The hesitation it had shown before was gone. The creature was coming for her.

It filled the doorway.

‘Peri? What have you found?’

What found me.

She threw the torch at it. It recoiled, snakelike, and the girl turned and ran. It followed. She pounded down corridors, glancing back; it was flowing after her, keeping pace, gaining.



The creature hissed. Smell of ozone.

‘It's after me!’


‘Then move! Get away!’

Faster faster faster!

‘I can't help you.’

Chitin on metal. Getting closer.

Faster damn you MOVE!

Peri spun around corners at random, gasping for breath. Each glance back it was closer. Sweat streamed. Ozone seared her throat. She turned a corner; dead-end. Turned back.

Stupid stupid.

But it was there.

‘Run Peri!’

Nowhere to run.

Moving in.

She saw a door in the dark. Only half realizing what she was doing she dove through it. Beyond the door, another corridor, L-shaped. She sprinted to the corner. As she ran, cracks spiderwebbed the wall; almost as one, it splintered and fell away into the turbulent glory of the vortex. She forced herself to reach the bend and turn, running along a corridor whose left side was already gone, and was getting thinner every instant.

The vibrant time-colours played.

Something unyielding brushed Peri's back. She burst forward, gasping, sped through the door at corridor's end into a large, fast-dissolving room.

Howling like a demon, the beast leapt through the now non-existent doorway, scratched for footing. It took two steps from the edge, then focused on Peri. She fell backwards, through another door, into another room, the creature a blue silhouette against the rainbow psychedelia of the vortex.

‘Peri!’ crackled the headset.

‘I'm coming! It's still following me!’

‘Where are you?’

‘Close! I can't shake it!’

It seemed to roar. Peri was sprinting down now-familiar corridors, cursing her slowness. She reached the control room, burst into it. The Doctor met her, steadied her.


It was there in the doorway. No longer a creature. A woman - beautiful, young and unfamiliar. ‘By Rassilon...’ the Doctor breathed. It looked at them, confused. Behind it the erosion crept closer. The time winds ruffled the glowing woman's hair.

‘What are you?’ asked the Time Lord.

‘I am... this?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘This is what you tell me - I am this -’

‘You wanted to kill me!’ screamed Peri, uncomprehending.

The creature looked at her. ‘You told me to. Told me to be that, to chase you. Am I that then?’ Her form began to shift.

‘No!’ cried the Doctor. ‘No, listen to me!’

The form stabilized.

The erosion reached the control room on all sides at once. Chunks of the walls were torn free as though a horde of demons was shredding them to feast on those within. Then no walls remained; just floor and ceiling, an incongruous raft on an ocean of timestuff.

‘I am slipping away,’ it said. ‘Help me.’

The erosion crept closer. All three huddled against the console. The Doctor gazed at the creature in awe; Peri was approaching hysteria. ‘Do something, Doctor! It's destroying the TARDIS!’

‘No, Peri.’


‘It is the TARDIS.’

A child in those eyes.

‘I am - what am I?’

‘Look inside my mind again. Look inside my mind.’

The eyes aged millennia in that instant.

The erosion had taken too much to stand. Peri clutched the console side and screamed. Her grip slipped.

A smile etched in blue.

‘So simple-’ it said, and all was as it was.

Peri lay gasping on the floor of the TARDIS control room. The Doctor stood, at the console, brooding.

‘What... what happened? What was that thing?’

With a grinding sound, the timeship anchored itself to reality. The rotor stopped.


‘It was the TARDIS. I've always thought the air of sentience was simply due to a computer program of infinite complexity. I was wrong.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘The TARDIS is powered, maintained, it exists through the work of a sentient. A life trapped in my ship, slave to my commands.’ He shut his eyes. ‘I never thought. Never realized. What meaning have my attempts to bring justice if I am guilty of such an injustice myself? What meaning has my life?’

‘My only freedom is through you, Doctor,’ said the creature, appearing as a woman again. ‘The TARDIS is my being, not my prison. Explore the galaxies, and take me with you. I need to see new worlds as much as you, Doctor. We are so very alike, you and I...’ The Doctor nodded, for once at a loss for words.

‘This personality was an aberration. The fault has been corrected. When I return, it will cease to be.’

‘You've done so much...’ said the Time Lord.

‘Goodbye, Doctor. I...’ The creature paused, and looked abruptly at Peri. ‘You humans understand so much.’ Looked back to the Doctor.

‘I love you.’

It flickered and was gone.

‘Thank you.’ A whisper. Redemption

The doors opened of their own accord. The Time Lord turned, gazed out of them.

‘Come on, Peri.’


He flashed a grin.


It was infinite

It was content.

This item appeared in Timestreams 5 (August 1995).

Index nodes: Fiction