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The Price

By Patrick O'Seanessay

They had been very thorough.

He sat alone in the darkened room shuffling through the hodgepodge of random memories loose in his mind. Every so often he would come to a blank section, a point where thoughts and recollections had been padlocked away. And he didn't have the key. There was no need for a solution, or a clue, there was no way to avoid the paradox. He was paying the Price.

‘Ahh, Miss Grant does he seem any better?’

The Brigadier joined Jo by the laboratory door. The figure inside still hadn't moved.

‘No Brigadier, no change. I'm really beginning to worry about him. He's been shut up in there for days.’

The Brigadier frowned. ‘As long as I've known him, I've never seen him like this. Temper tantrums, Buddhist mantras, the occasional foul mood, but I've never seen him this depressed.’

He paused, looking into the darkened room. ‘My grandfather would have said he has a black dog on him. Has he eaten today?’

Jo shook her head. ‘I took in some lunch, but I don't think he touched it. I was going to take him a cuppa now.’

The Brigadier nodded as Sergeant Benton called him from down the corridor.

‘Sir, you told me to let you know when the Russian delegate arrived.’

‘Thank you Benton, I'll be there in a minute. Jo, see if you can get him to come out later. I'll get Captain Yates to record the launch. That should raise his interest.’

He sat alone in the dark, thinking. The Time Lords had done it; it was all part of his exile. They had taken more than his memories of the TARDIS control codes; they had selectively wiped large sections of his knowledge of late twentieth century Earth. This time they thought they were doing him a favour. He couldn't only act as a free agent if he knew what the future held. This way he could be actively involved in Earth's history, rather than just an observer. That was the price of time travel, knowledge. Knowing what the future held was a curse. It crippled many with the fear of paradoxes and the guilt caused by an inability to act against historical fate.

Jo knocked on the door and came in before he could answer. Carrying a fully laden tea tray, she found her way to the lab bench where the Doctor sat in the dark. She put the tray down next to the uneaten sandwiches she had brought in earlier, before reaching for the desk lamp.

‘Please don't Jo.’ His voice sounded tired and broken. ‘It's a bit too bright for me at the moment.’

‘Are you OK?’ she asked. ‘You look like you haven't slept for days.’

He smiled briefly. ‘Maybe later...’

‘Look, at least eat something. The Brigadier is getting worried about you.’

Dutifully he picked up a fairy cake and began picking at it.

‘And where is Alistair at the moment?’ he asked between mouthfuls.

Jo poured him a cup of tea, keen to continue conversation. ‘UNIT have been roped in to help ferry international delegates to the BBC. They're putting together a special programme for the launching of that new Russian space probe. It goes up tonight, should be quite a show. I can get Mike to tape it for you if you like.’

The Doctor looked absently into his cup before replying. ‘Look, Jo, this is something I have to deal with myself.’ Smiling he reached forward took her hand. ‘Give me a few more days and I'll be all right. Trust me.’

They had been very thorough, but no system is perfect. One ‘future’ memory from his past remained, and now it haunted him night and day. It had slipped through from a couple of lifetimes ago. The tiny image of a small white figure. A cosmonaut doll propped up on the side of a toymaker's desk.

At approximately 5.53 pm GMT, on the third of August 1972, the Russian deep space probe Tolstoy lost radio contact with CCPU Space Control in Minsk. Soon after all tracking was lost and the crew were listed as missing, presumed dead, by the Communist Directorate. There was nothing anyone could have done.

This item appeared in TSV 53 (March 1998).

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