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The Interloper

By Brad Schmidt

The Butterfly Man had been in Little Ockley for a few weeks now.

James Christopher Stuart had overheard him talking to old Mrs Thomas, the baker's wife. ‘On holiday,’ he'd said, in an elusive accent, ‘from London.’ It had been a long time since James had seen Mrs Thomas smile, ever since her son Thomas had eloped with one of the gypsy girls from over the moor.

He didn't seem like one of the usual aristocrat vacationers, despite his attire. Even that seemed scuffed in places. He still seemed wealthy though. It had taken James a while to realise the wealth didn't lie with the odd currency he used - and even Mrs Thomas didn't mind waiting for him to count his spare change - but with the wisdom he radiated.

James had lived in Little Ockley all his life. He'd rarely left the village, aside from the odd picnics he would arrange, solitarily trekking through the woods on a ‘nature exploration’. That's what he called them - well, that was what he told people when they asked why he had picnics alone. ‘They're not picnics,’ his grandmother had claimed. ‘Picnics are for families, not for withdrawn, spotty youths.’ But she had died a few years back, in front of her cherished fireplace in the oak rocker he and his father had crafted from the oak that fell in the storm. He didn't feel the need to honour her memory by denying himself such free pleasures, the likes of which nature offered to him in abundance. And none of them ever seemed to understand that the birds and the butterflies didn't like a crowd.

Which made it all the more strange that they were perfectly comfortable with the visitor. That was why James had called him the ‘Butterfly Man’.

James had been off on one of his picnics, after class on a warm Sunday. He clambered over Farmer Myrtle's fence and headed for the copse of trees nestled at the base of the rocky outcrop, jutting like a beak through the green down of the countryside.

He passed the scarecrow, hanging limply on its post, weighed down on one side by a dark green velvet jacket hooked on its weathered arm. It was the Butterfly Man's jacket. It smelt familiar, like the fireplace at home. It was the smell of memories; his grandmother surfaced in his thoughts. Expecting her reprisal for his solitary existence, he was surprised when her face smiled, lighting up as if dark clouds had lifted.

[Eighth Doctor]

The jacket was an anchor in the sea of history, and somehow James knew that so was the Butterfly Man.

James found him a mile later, on the rackety wooden pier that aged at the edge of the lake. He sat leaning against the remaining post at the end, hands clasped loosely on his chest, eyes closed in contented slumber. The sunlight refracted off the water and shone through his long chestnut hair. James thought he looked holy. More holy than Father Joseph anyway, perched on his lectern like a sly fat fox.

He approached the Butterfly Man quietly. Nature made more commotion; the ducks in the water flitting back and forth. James carefully laid the green cloth on the dry patch of wood at the edge of the pier, planning to leave it and be on his way.

‘Thank you.’

James jumped, his feet slipping in the mud at the water's edge. His hand grasped an overhanging branch for support.

‘I'm sorry -’ they began, before laughing. The Butterfly Man stood, picking up his jacket and slinging it over his shoulder. ‘I'm the Doctor.’

‘I'm James. James Stuart.’ He proffered a hand, but the Doctor didn't notice, so he dropped it hurriedly.

‘Yes, I've seen you in the village.’ Suddenly the slight figure leapt up and grabbed a branch, pulling it down to eye-level.

‘Don't let that besmirch my name!’

The Doctor was intrigued by the branch. James hesitantly moved forward to peer at the object that so fascinated him. The Doctor motioned for him to come closer.

‘Look - it's killing its prey.’ A spider was engulfing a small flying insect. James was baffled as to how the Doctor's frantic grabbing of the branch had not disturbed it. The spider's spindly limbs gently held the gnat immobile.

‘Something so delicate yet so deadly. It's amazing,’ the Doctor murmured.

‘You... like nature?’ James said, before realising how foolish he sounded.

‘I love life.’ He let go of the branch and it sprang upwards. James saw the spider catapult off and hit the surface of the water, pulling a stitch in its glassy fabric. ‘It wasn't hungry, it was just being greedy. Why don't you like the village?’

James started, then realised the Doctor was replying to an earlier statement. ‘Well - it's just so closed. They're all so uptight and reserved. They never come out here, apart from Farmer Myrtle when the cows wander, and that's only because I told him it disturbs the burrowing animals and rips the ground up -’ He stopped. ‘Forgive me, I'm talking endlessly of trivial matters.’

The Doctor was listening intently. He continued to do so even when James had stopped, his piercing blue eyes staring at both James and far away. He felt like a mouse in the claws of the future.

‘No no no. It's the trivial things that matter,’ said the Doctor. He began moving in the direction of the village. James followed him, struggling for purchase in the slippery mud, while the Doctor seemed to float effortlessly above it.

The Doctor was a fascinating well of knowledge. In casual asides during their conversation, James had learnt more about what actually interested him than ever before.

They had made their way through the trees and on to the rough track into the village. The sun beat down on them contentedly; the crickets chirping their repetitive melody while robins chittered excitedly in the trees and hedgerows. A quail shuffled lazily across the path.

‘So are you on vacation here?’ asked James, adjusting his muddied fawn trousers into some semblance of dignity as they approached the village.

‘Yes,’ the Doctor said. ‘There's nothing quite so relaxing as a fine summer's day in the English countryside.’

James laughed. The Doctor smiled. ‘What?’

‘It just seems queer to hear such poetic diction in Little Ockley.’

‘It seems queer seemingly everywhere I go.’

James could quite easily believe the Doctor had been everywhere. ‘You're right though. As dull as the village is its natural beauty compels me to remain. I have heard stories from travellers of cities such as London. It sounds horrid.’

The Doctor contemplated this as they passed the first gate into the village, entering a path sheltered by an interweaving canopy of branches. ‘It can be, but it has its own charms.’

James gasped and clasped at his loosely parted hair, his hands sliding down to cover his face. ‘My sincerest apologies, Doctor. I had forgotten your home was in London. I was harsh in my judgement; it is undoubtedly a beautiful place to produce such a cultured wisdom as yours,’ he rattled.

The Doctor laughed. ‘Thank you! But London's not my home.’

Bewilderment clouded James’ face. ‘Oh.’

‘No - I merely told Mrs Thomas that I was on vacation from London, as I have just been - well, working - there and needed a rest.’

James nodded, glad the Doctor hadn't taken offense at his eavesdropping of their conversation. ‘Ah. So, if I may ask, where is your home?’

‘Long ago and far away. I left to travel.’

James smiled sadly. ‘A wise choice. My family has no inclination to see the world outside Little Ockley. I do, but I fear I will grow old in the village.’

‘Families can be difficult,’ pondered the Doctor.

The remainder of the journey to James’ house was short and uncomfortably silent.

‘I must thank you for such an enlightening conversation, Doctor,’ James said when they reached his brick cottage.

‘As must I,’ said the Doctor. ‘Next week, would you like to see London?’

James stared dumbfounded at him. The Doctor's child-like gaze implored him in the dying sunlight.

‘You... jest,’ he breathed.

‘No,’ said the Doctor. ‘And I’ll have you back in time for supper.’

James smiled. ‘Yes - that would be simply wondrous. But how -’

The Doctor interrupted in a flurry of action. He grasped James’ hand and shook it vigorously. ‘Good! I’ll be in the village, so I’ ll see you around. Good-day,’ he said, and had turned and walked back out of the village.

James had shivered in his white cotton shirt, as a wave of change broke over his life.

Indeed it had.

That had been three days ago now. For James Stuart, they were three days of sudden restlessness. Before, he had been content to live in Little Ockley, but now he could barely wait to go to London.

Clasping the silver ball which he had found in the copse, James made his way across the cobbled village courtyard to the inn, where the Doctor sat at one of the outdoor tables, sipping a glass of water with a leather-bound book in his lap.

‘Good afternoon, Doctor,’ said James. He motioned to the seat opposite the Doctor, who nodded. He sat down.

‘Hello James,’ said the Doctor.

‘How is Little Ockley treating you?’ asked James.

The Doctor smiled. ‘Not bad.’ He closed the book and slid it across the wooden face of the table. James picked it up. The sunlight glittered on the gold-embossed title.

‘Now and... Zen?’ he read slowly.

The Doctor smiled. ‘Yes. It's fascinating. It's written by an old friend of mine. She was studying contemporary spiritualism.’

‘Ah,’ said James. ‘Am I intruding? I’ll leave you to continue if you wish. I thought you might like to see something.’

‘I’d be delighted,’ said the Doctor. ‘Jo's prose is a trifle ambiguous at times.’

With a smile, James delved into the pocket of his mossy green waistcoat and flourished the silver ball.

‘What do you think it is?’ he said as the Doctor took it from him. His face appeared horrified. ‘It's fascinating. It's like an egg constructed entirely from silver.’

The Doctor was silent, rotating the object in his hands. He looked annoyed. James sat in silence for a moment. The atmosphere suddenly seemed tense.

‘Have I disturbed you?’ asked James tentatively. The Doctor's face looked like Farmer Myrtle's when the chickens ran loose through the village.

The Doctor snapped out of his introspection. ‘No no no. It's not you.’ He sighed violently. ‘Why is it that whenever I try to take a holiday something always intrudes?’

James felt guilty. ‘What is amiss?’

‘This,’ said the Doctor, juggling the silver ball back and forth in his hands. ‘It's a temporal induction link.’ He balanced the fist-sized ball on his glass and stared at it.

James gasped and leant forward. ‘Doctor, look! There are ripples in the water!’

The chair creaked as the Doctor leant forward. ‘The link. It's vibrating...’ He leant back and turned awkwardly, shuffling in the pockets of his jacket, which lay cloaking the chair. He pulled out a long silver device like a small pipe.

‘What -’ James began. The Doctor picked up the ‘link’, as he called it, and pressed it against the pipe.

There was a warble like a song thrush. Mr Moore, the carpenter, glanced up in alarm from the end of the street, where he sat sanding a wheel on the milkman's cart.

The ball suddenly separated in half with a click, the two halves bridged by a strange piece of metal inscribed with tiny lines.

‘...which means it's still active.’

The Doctor looked up, seemingly at James, but his gaze held infinity. James was wallowing in confusion.

‘Where did you get this?’

Zephyrs teased the Doctor's and James' hair as they proceeded towards the copse in the dying day. A hare sped across the field, a dark blur in the sighing grasses. The thick blue of the sky was tingeing to black; stars slowly appearing, casting their cold and magical gaze on the contented countryside.

The trees were dark and foreboding as they approached. Ravens circled the rocky outcrop; the jackdaws cawed as they settled for the night. Apart of the whispering of the lake, it was only sound.

They reached the copse and James led the Doctor to where he had stumbled across the link. There remained a spherical indent in the soil at the base of a large oak, where James had prized it free. The Doctor probed at it briefly, before clenching his fists, sighing, and gazing up to the heavens.

‘I must confess, Doctor: I am a little lost,’ said James.

‘Yes, so am I.’ The Doctor straightened his jacket and surveyed the forest. ‘Have you seen anything else odd?’

James contemplated. ‘No. What in particular are you imagining you will find?’

The Doctor exhaled loudly. An owl, startled, hooted and flew from its perch. ‘You’d know if you found it. Would you mind helping me take a look around?’

‘Not at all, Doctor. But as it is dark -’

‘Yes yes yes,’ he said hurriedly, patting his pockets. He reached inside one and pulled out another cylindrical object, this time of a strange red construction. Suddenly a powerful ray of light shot from one end and illuminated the trees.

‘Oh...’ James breathed.

The Doctor threw it lightly to James, who instinctively caught it. ‘It's a torch. Don't show anyone and don't get it wet.’

James waved the light back and forth, bemused. The Doctor pulled a similar object from his pocket which produced the same light.

‘These could be artifacts from another world,’ said James excitedly.

‘London. Well, not yet...’ The Doctor moved off into the forest, waving his beam of light around. James slowly moved in the opposite direction, more fascinated with his torch than by anything that lay ahead in the dark.

James returned to the same clearing some half an hour later. There was no sign of the Doctor, or his light.

Suddenly in a spray of bark and twigs the Doctor fell from a tree above him, balanced in a lithe feline manner.

‘Look,’ said the Doctor, and shone his torch upwards. James expected to see something miraculous. He did, but it wasn't entirely what he expected.

The light sparkled off a thousand strands of spider web wound through the maze of branches. The gossamer web looked as beautiful and delicate as diamond, and swayed gently in the warm evening breeze. A hush descended on the forest, perforated only by the occasional cracking twig as a badger foraged, or the chirruping of an insect.

‘It's magnificent,’ James breathed.

‘I also found this,’ said the Doctor. From the corner of his eye, James saw the Doctor brandish something, and fought to tear his attention from the natural spectacle. It was another silver object, this time a palm-sized triangle, with small holes puncturing the surface.

‘What's that?’ said James.

‘A translator,’ said the Doctor. ‘And it makes the difficulty in our search for this time zone's intruder somewhat lessened.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ said James, baffled again.

The Doctor looked James square in the eye. ‘Someone has come from the future to Little Ockley, and without the link they're trapped here. They've dropped their translator too, and without that they won't get far. I'd say they're either hiding, dead, or humanoid enough to be staying in the village.’

It was utter nonsense, James decided, but totally serious.

‘There are a few guests at the inn. Often poets come to find inspiration here,’ said James.

‘As did I. Instead, I'm playing Galactic Parking Maid.’ He sighed. ‘Are there any people that don't speak?’ It sounded ridiculous in itself, although James chuckled for a different reason.

‘In Little Ockley? Of course! There's not much to talk about here. Even the weather is too calm to warrant discussion!’

The Doctor smiled. ‘Then we’ll go to the inn and inquire.’

‘Yes, of course,’ said James. With a quick flick of the torch and glance upwards, James followed the Doctor, amused at the odd turnaround of events from his usual life.

It was pitch black by the time they reached the village again. Half a mile out of the village, the Doctor had insisted they pocket their torches. As soon as James had returned his to the Doctor, the light went out.

‘Aren't you going to ask how they work?’ said the Doctor.

‘What would be the purpose in that? I would not understand,’ said James.

‘Well that's interesting.’


‘A friend of mine that doesn't ask questions.’

Like moths to the flame they approached the warm glow from the inn windows. There was the steady rumble of discussion inside, muted by the brick walls.

‘Hmm. I've got a better idea. James, you go inside and look around. I'll go and fetch some equipment of my own which could be of use.’

James nodded. ‘Very well.’

The Doctor smiled. ‘Good luck,’ he said, patting James on the shoulders before turning and walking into the oily darkness. James sighed and steeled himself, then pushed open the heavy door.

The room was thick with tobacco smoke and warm from the roaring fire and squash of people. It seemed as if tonight the whole village was assembled in the small establishment. James wove through the crowd, carefully avoiding the drunken gaze of his father, who sat in the corner laughing uproariously with Mr Thomas.

An arm tugged at him and he jumped. A chubby girl in serving uniform was pulling him into the shadows by the alcove stairway leading upstairs.

‘Rachel, don't frighten me so,’ he said quickly.

‘Oh, I'm not the one you should be so afraid of, Jimmy,’ his sister bemoaned. ‘Father's in a dreadful mood with you. Mother got the blame for it, she's at home crying her heart out for grandmother.’

James felt a pang of sadness for his mother, then remembered the Doctor's steadfast gaze. ‘I'll be home soon. I need your help first. Who is a stranger here?’

Rachel looked quizzical, before peering around the room, diffuse with a smoky pallor. ‘There's that one,’ she said, pointing at a patron, ‘and that one.’

A lecherous man suddenly loomed over Rachel. It was an inebriate Father Joseph. ‘Girl! Where's my ale?’

Rachel scuttled off. James sighed and walked towards one of the men his sister had indicated.

The first was a thin, suspicious looking man whom James had seen kick at his friend Sully's dog. He had instantly disliked the cruel stranger.

The stranger in question was edgy. ‘What do you want?’ he yelled. A few other, more alert patrons glanced in their direction. James backed away. ‘I'm sorry. I mistook you for someone else.’

It couldn't be him, James thought. He spoke perfectly clearly. He elbowed his way through a jam of villagers.

‘Excuse me, sir,’ said James, with a confidence he did not feel. The second visitor looked up from his lone residence at the corner table.

‘Yes?’ said the man, looking confused.

James faltered. He spoke too! ‘Ah - my apologies. I mistook you for someone else.’ He backed away clumsily, pushing through the crowds towards his sister, who was collecting mugs from a nearby table. The man stared after him shrewdly, narrowing his eyes in contemplation.

‘Rachel. Are you sure there's no-one else here?’

She glared at him. ‘Apart from that strange man you've befriended, no. Now kindly let me to work, before father thinks me as befit for his wrath as he does you!’

James sighed and made his way towards the exit. Outside he stood, waiting for the Doctor. He didn't notice a figure slip into the night from the back entrance.

With the gentleness of a feather, a summer rain began to caress his face, cool after the stifling heat of the inn.

The Doctor emerged from the TARDIS, perched in a niche on the rocky outcrop. He held in his hands a compass-like device, which fluctuated similarly. He began to follow its advice, slowly, so as not to fall in the darkness or the rapidly softening earth, or to make a noise and alert to the time traveller. Or wake the jackdaws.

An hour later, James was damp. The rain had stopped, but the clouds seemed to be gathering, obscuring the speckled face of the heavens. He was still leaning against the wall of the inn, pressed up against the bricks which radiated their stored heat from the previous day's sun. Deep in the shadows, he was barely visible.

A movement caught his eye. It was a man, stealing through the night. As he neared the inn, James saw his face from the glowing firelight. It was the second foreign man. James sunk deeper into the darkness. The man jogged lightly up to the back of the inn. James crept, spider-like in the shadows, to the edge of the building and peered around carefully. He saw the man duck inside the still-crowded inn.

A few moments later, a lamp flared in one of the upstairs guest rooms. Several minutes passed, in which time the shadows splashing down told their story. The man was getting ready for bed. The light then snuffed out, leaving James to ponder exactly what was going on.

The needle on the device steadied, pointing directly towards a dense patch of forest. The Doctor moved cautiously forward. A field mouse scuttled past him, and he jumped, knocking a loose branch to the forest floor - with a revealing flash of metal.

The Doctor smiled, and set to work on the door of the time capsule with his sonic screwdriver. It slipped from his rain-slicked hands.

With a sigh of annoyance, he knelt down to retrieve it, and noticed a light impression in the soil. It was a footprint, and it was fresh.

Half an hour later, the Doctor returned to the courtyard. James sensed his excited atmosphere as much as he could the electricity in the air, the arrival of an approaching storm.

‘How did you get on?’ the Doctor asked, wiping his damp brow. He had obviously returned with haste.

‘Well, there are only two other guests. I talked to one.’

‘Excellent! So the other must be our thirtieth century visitor! I found his craft and his shoe size,’ said the Doctor.

James held up his hands and interrupted. ‘I also spoke to the other one.’

The Doctor was crestfallen. ‘Oh.’ There was an awkward silence. It suddenly passed, and the childish enthusiasm returned. It reminded James of Rachel when father had rescued the baby geese after a fox ate the mother. ‘Well, it's muddy. Come on.’

He disappeared into the inn, a weary James following. He decided not to try and follow what was happening anymore.

They walked stopped along the hallway, following the muddy trail of footprints in the dull green rug.

‘Doctor,’ whispered James in the oppressive silence.

‘Yes?’ said the Doctor. James winced.

‘One footprint is indistinguishable from another. How are you going to match one to that which you saw?’

‘Well, it looked like that one,’ the Doctor said with even more volume, and walked boldly through a doorway, at the bottom of which was a faded print. James glanced around nervously, before ducking in after the Doctor. He heard footsteps on the staircase and pushed the door shut. Darkness swallowed them whole.

The Doctor flared his torch. ‘Ta-da!’

The man sat up in his bed. ‘What in the Goddess’ name -’

James visibly paled, but the half-light did not betray his shame. ‘Doctor, he speaks English... Wait! He was skulking around in the darkness outside before you returned!’

The Doctor nodded and smiled sweetly. ‘Yes, he was checking to see if his time capsule was all right - weren't you, Professor Thuselah Lykos?’

The man spluttered. ‘I’ll have you know-’

‘But Doctor,’ interrupted James. ‘You told me he could not speak.’

The Doctor frowned. ‘I thought you didn't ask questions,’ he said. He reached into his pocket and held the link out to Professor Lykos, who snatched at it. The Doctor pulled it back sharply.

‘So. How did you manage this then?’ said the Doctor, his voice hard.

Lykos glared venomously at him. ‘I couldn't leave time travel in the hands of the Empire. Who knows what obscene experiments they could have attempted?’

‘Then why didn't you destroy what you found?’ The Doctor spun the link on his index finger. James stared bemused at the little man hunched in his blankets, who had supposedly travelled from the future.

‘It was a freak discovery! I was given it for a purpose, though, and while I know I had to take my secret far from the Empire, I had to see and taste the fruits of a bygone age!’ Lykos ranted. The Doctor shook his head.

‘Well, you can't.’

The professor snorted in reply. ‘That's rich, coming from you! You're the mysterious Doctor, aren't you? You've been around the Empire long enough to gain a less-than-reputable reputation.’

The Doctor pulled a stool out from near a dresser, and straddled it awkwardly, the link balanced on his steepled fingers. ‘But -’ the Doctor began, his brow beetling. ‘I know what I'm doing. You don't.’

Lykos arched an eyebrow. ‘What gives you the right? One fugitive accusing another. It's a bit hypocritical, isn't it?’

James stood and watched the agitated exchange awkwardly. He sensed the Doctor's dilemma, even if he did not entirely understand the situation.

‘Of course!’ the Doctor suddenly cried. ‘The TARDIS’ telepathic fields extended to you, James, that's how you could understand him!’

Irritation gnawed at James’ senses, but he cast it aside and nodded as if he understood. The Doctor's attention returned to Lykos, and he raised the link.

‘You're trapped here without this.’

Lykos scowled venomously. ‘It ejected when I was working on the craft. I couldn't find it.’

The Doctor sighed. ‘What gives me the right not to return this?’ He could picture the dematerialisation circuit appearing suddenly on the console, and the relief he had felt as his freedom had returned.

‘You -’ Lykos began.

There was a sudden crash and the door flew open. The three started and spun to face the entrance. Lightning suddenly flashed, revealing James' father tottering there in all his drunken glory. The link fell from the Doctor's hands as he twitched in surprise, and rolled across the floor.

He dived after it, but his awkward position on the stool sent him sprawling to the floor. Lykos swooped down in his nightgown and clutched the silver sphere, like the white owl in the forest snatching its prey. He leapt over the Doctor, past James and pushed Mr Stuart to an unresponsive heap on the floor, in one fluid movement. He disappeared down the hallway.

James ran across and pulled the Doctor upright, who glanced around horrified. ‘The link!’ he cried.

‘Mr Lykos has it!’ James replied.

The Doctor leapt over the prostrate Mr Stuart and ran after Lykos, James sprinting behind.

Lykos ran from the village, drunken revellers taunting the night-clothed figure sprinting through the heavy rain. The Doctor and James followed about ten metres behind, the gap between them and the professor remaining infuriatingly constant.

Thunder rolled heavily. As they left the village lights and were greeted by the stormy night, the Doctor tossed James a lit torch and brandished his own. The light made Lykos seem a fleeing spectre in his white robe, and James shivered involuntarily.

‘But these torches are not to be wet, you said!’ cried James. The Doctor's reply was lost to a peal of omnipotent thunder.

They reached the copse within ten minutes. James gasped painfully, while the Doctor seemed unaffected. The torch beams jerked wildly as they pounded through the copse. All three began struggling in their footing.

‘No!’ the Doctor cried as they neared the time capsule. ‘We've got to stop him!’

James gasped in agreement, trying to wipe his soaking fringe from his eyes.

Lykos held the link aloft as he ran and grabbed at the entrance control of the time capsule and twisted its metallic lock and lightning flashed -

And a potent explosion sent the Doctor and James sprawling backwards.

‘Ungh,’ said the Doctor. James sat up and let the rain rinse the mud from his face.

‘What happened?’ he spluttered. His nose trickled blood, but it slid away in the water. The air smelt charred, and a thick smoke was rising slowly in the heavy downpour.

‘How awful,’ the Doctor lamented, trying to right himself. ‘He shouldn't have held the link upwards. It acted as a conductor.’

‘What does that mean?’ said James, then chided himself for asking further questions.

The Doctor cautiously moved forward into the crater left behind by the time capsule's explosion. ‘Lykos. He was struck by lightning while he held the metal link. It caused a massive overload in an unstable power force - inverted-polarity uranium fusion.’

James remembered the oak that had fallen in the storm, struck by the ferocious fire from the sky. He pictured the twisted black trunk and shuddered. ‘What a dreadful occurence.’

‘Fate. So kind, yet so cruel,’ said the Doctor.

They stood silently in the mournful and pleading rain. Mourning the unpleasant fate of Lykos; but to the Doctor, it also pleaded introspection. Lykos had been right. And the Doctor saw Lykos as the yearning traveller with the unquenchable thirst for experience, not the misguided scientist - as he had been the very same; long ago and far away.

The owl hooted.

‘Ah... This may be of no comfort to you, Doctor, but at least he didn't escape,’ said James.

The night had been thick with storm and guilt. In the morning, the sun broke through the dawn clouds, but the Doctor seemed just as sombre. They sat on the pier in the dewy morning, eating fresh bread that Mrs Thomas had given them on their way past the bakery and out of town. James idly tossed a piece to the assembly of ducks, trailing his battered leather shoes in the water.

‘Yes. My work is done. The cost as high as ever, but the work -’ he ripped a chunk of bread savagely from the loaf and carefully threw it to a lone swan circling wearily-’ -is done.’

James sighed. ‘But it wasn't your fault.’

The Doctor threw the last piece of bread to the ducks and dusted his hands. James didn't recall actually seeing the Doctor eat any of the loaf himself. ‘No. Fate intervened and prevented me from making an impossible choice. It's a choice I may have to make again, and one to which the answer must be found.’ He stood up.

‘But first...’ he said, grinning down at James. His eyes sparkled like the cobwebs had the night before. ‘Let's to London.’

This item appeared in TSV 56 (October 1998).

Index nodes: Fiction