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The Seeds of Doubt

By Peter Adamson

[Vervoid]She looked at her watch. It had been three days, eleven hours and four minutes since he'd locked himself away. Three and a half days stuck in the TARDIS with nothing but the same patterned walls, the highly polished floors and the consistent lighting for as far as she dared to wander without the Doctor close by. She'd spent all the time in her room she cared to, run the gym ragged and swum countless lengths of the pool, but she was bored, and she knew that for as long as he shut himself away she wouldn't see an end to it.

Mel stood outside the door to what she assumed was his room, arms folded. There were a few areas of the TARDIS she knew were his and his alone, and this was one of them. She checked her watch again, sighed and thought once more about knocking. She was just about to when he appeared, looking no more cheerful than when he first entered. He looked her up and down wearily, and when no reaction was forthcoming simply sniffed and stared down his nose at her.

‘All right’ he finally announced. ‘Let's move on now, shall we?’

Down the corridor to the Console Room he marched and then paused, breathing slowly and heavily as he rested his knuckles on the console station's scotia. She stood in the doorway watching him tweak a few switches and held her breath, waiting for that indescribable sensation of landing that told her she could relax. At last it arrived and he turned, his lips pursed in a smile.

‘Fancy a spot of tea?’

She smiled uncertainly. ‘Yes please, but make mine a fruit juice’.

They left.

‘An Amphora Betan?’


‘How can you tell? You're not even looking in the right direction!’

‘The plumage gives her away, and there's a mirror behind you’

‘Oh. Oh look - a human!’


‘No, it is - he's wearing what looks like a conch for a hat.’

The Doctor craned around to catch a glimpse of what his companion had seen.

‘It's a Debni.’

‘Tch. Why is it they always look human to me and not to you?’

‘The Debnisi are polymorphs. This one has just assumed a humanoid shape because he's been flying economy class. I don't blame him — the seating's diabolical. Observe.’

Within seconds and without breaking stride the shell-hatted human began to ooze, resembling Turkish Delight. Once transformed into what the Doctor assured was its natural state, it slicked its way down toward luggage claim, shell still attached. The Doctor turned back with a superior pout on his face.

‘That's Doctor eleven, Mel one.’

‘You don't have to rub it in. I'm still new to this game’

It was hard to believe that this was Earth. Outside the spaceport sky was tangerine, like a glowing ember blending into a deep terracotta overhead. Across it various sized craft filed in orderly rows like Morse code, their fairy lights twinkling in brilliant white and green and blue. The largest craft was just below the window of the observation lounge where they sat together at a plastic table, Mel with her fruit juice and the Doctor ignoring his untouched and slowly cooling Darjeeling. She supposed the reason they were there would come eventually, but in the meantime couldn't shake off an unaccountable sense of dread. Perhaps they were waiting for someone, but the Doctor wasn't telling whom for — in fact he was being uncharacteristically secretive.

‘So what's on the agenda?’

‘On the what?’ He feigned distraction.

‘The agenda. You heard me, you're just being evasive.’


‘Oh, spare me the Harold Pinter routine, Doctor! We're supposed to be friends and you're shutting me out!

The awkward silence that followed only reinforced to Mel how suddenly she'd raised her voice.

‘I used to be a lot worse,’ he replied quietly.

‘So I've heard.’

His reaction surprised her. She was used to him keeping his emotions in check, maintaining the sort of sartorial elegance and genteel demeanour that he believed his reputation preceded. Of course she'd met enough of his old acquaintances to know that he had a reputation for being mercurial, pugnacious, and sometimes quite belligerent. But never easily offended. After countless attempts to get him on an exercise machine, she of all people knew he had a thick skin.

This time though, he looked hurt. She tried to smooth the waters.

‘Doctor, what are we doing here? Are we supposed to be meeting someone or looking for something?’

‘Evidence,’ he grunted.

‘Evidence of what, exactly?’

His features sharpened as he snapped back to consciousness.

‘The kind of evidence that would put to rest once and for all my alleged culpability. A... stain upon my very reputation.’

‘I don't understand’

‘Mel. In my many years of travel I have put countless worlds to rights. I have protected the innocent, freed the enslaved and championed the weak. I have overthrown tyrants and turned back whole armies single-handed. I've saved the very universe and the fabric of space and time.’

He paused as if for effect. ‘I have never advocated, nor to my knowledge perpetrated genocide.’

‘Genocide? This is about the Vervoids, isn't it?’

He smiled sadly. ‘I should have known you'd remember.’

‘Well it only happened last week! You've hardly given yourself the opportunity to think of anything else. Ten days out and all I've seen are TARDIS walls. I’ll be seeing roundels on everything next!’

‘I'm sorry, Mel. I've not been my proper self of late.’

‘I know! You've locked yourself away in that study of yours for most of the last few days. Have you even slept?’

‘I've been preoccupied. Sleep later. Mel—’ he cleared his throat and stopped as Mel watched two eight-foot tall lupins (she supposed) sway down the aisle behind the Doctor. Their bell-shaped flowers whispered as they moved, making an eerie noise. The Doctor continued quietly.

‘What if I were to tell you that I knew what would happen on the star liner? The murders, the mutiny, the Vervoids escaping — everything?’

Mel thought about this, choosing her words carefully. ‘I think I'd want to know how.’

‘A recording of the events was used as evidence during my trial — not that it helped me in any way, the Valeyard tampered with them.’

‘So you knew which passengers weren't going to survive the journey?’ she whispered. The Doctor gave her a long, sympathetic look before replying.

‘I had some impression, yes, but I saw that file a long time ago. Mel I tried — my very best. If I could have saved a single one of those people I would have. Instead, I discovered that despite the best efforts of even a Time Lord the future is as immutable as the past. It was a disaster I was powerless to prevent, the worst kind of torture.

He continued, looking down into his cup. ‘I would have ensured that not a single soul on board that ship was lost. Neither human nor Mogarian — nor Vervoid.’

‘But the Vervoids were monsters!’ exclaimed Mel. ‘You saved lives by preventing their escape.’

‘Indeed, but the fact of my part in their genocide remains. Or at least it appears to — which is why I brought the TARDIS here.’

‘But the sentence was quashed — you walked free. You were even offered the Presidency if I'm not mistaken!’

‘That's not the point’

‘Then what is? The trial was a set up, the verdict dismissed and surely forgotten. Nobody could condemn you for what you did to save lives! You're worrying yourself silly over an event that's part past, part fiction.’ She looked sympathetically into his eyes. ‘Who would know?’

He returned her gaze, incredulous. ‘I would.’

Her chair grew uncomfortable and she shifted around in it awkwardly. ‘So what are you hoping to find here?’

He considered this for a moment. ‘For many years I came to regard this episode of my life as the starting point of something bigger — a time of turmoil which I was desperate to avoid. I physically steered myself away from certain times and places and put the whole event out of my mind. For a good while I refused to even contemplate its eventuality. And now it has occurred. As yet nothing untoward has come to pass, but I wish to exercise caution nonetheless. In a way I still don't know how things ‘turn out’ and I'm not sure I wish to.’

‘Well I'm not sure I understand! Why not just visit the future and find some point in time where the Vervoids do exist? Wouldn't that be enough?’

He sighed. ‘It's not as easy as that, Mel. Yes, I've looked into a possible future where the Vervoids are present, and yes, I've contemplated visiting it. But recently I've come to distrust futures.’

He paused.

‘There's another problem. Besides that doubtful future projection — and the least said about the TARDIS’ connection to the Matrix the better, just seeing or reading about it wouldn't necessarily prove that it was any more existent or reliable. Having done the research, I've dispensed with the results. It's the real world for me now — good or bad.’

‘But the Vervoids do exist? You've heard of them surviving?’

‘Existing in some form, yes. Surviving... hard to say. When I first picked you up on Earth, genetic engineering was still a dream. Ten years later, it was a reality. Another ten years —’ he parted his hands simply ‘the source of entire economies, from foodstuffs to livestock. In this day and age, the fact is that there are several hundred species of Vervoid in existence throughout the galaxy — all individually tailored and trademarked, all created from disparate sections of plant DNA in commercial laboratories. The very nature of competition.’

‘And they're completely different species?’

‘They're completely different products, Mel. Different strains, but variations on the same source, the same idea. Most are unintelligent — the safest kind. Some are ambulatory, like the ones we encountered on the Hyperion III, many others aren't. Some are bred to be diurnal, others photosynthesis by moonlight. Some have built in defenses to ward off would-be gene thieves, and others still seem to have developed them of their own accord. Genomics in this day and age is still fraught with risk and consequence — Professor Laskey's brood fell within that last category; they were entirely unique. No other Vervoid genotype matches theirs — they were — are, in essence, a new race.’

‘And the ones on the star liner were the only ones of their kind?’

He shrugged. ‘To the last individual, I checked what records remain. No wonder the Professor was so protective of them — it was a risky venture with much to lose, and she staked everything she had on it, right down to her last, evidently least reliable gene stock.’

‘But if you had known—’

‘It would have changed nothing!’ the Doctor rumbled. ‘Lives were at stake, and at threat was no more than cargo — its sentience, its murderous motivation pure happenstance. And yet to hear that accusation, to face the prospect that I was guilty of genocide — it changed everything. That's why I had to come here, Mel. Sometimes it's not enough to be proved correct by anecdote or history. I need to see this for myself.’

Behind him the dark mass of the Hyperion III all but filled the vast window as it lazily glided in to dock. Mel could make out individual windows filing past the viewing platform, tiny rows of lights running the length of its vast Art Deco hull. On either side tethers led to the smaller tug craft, little more than tractors gathering about her, guiding the ship towards her moorings. On board the remaining crew would be preparing to disembark, gathering reports and testimonies in preparation for a discreet debriefing. Passengers, still dazed from an enforced confinement would be leaving their cabins and gathering at mustering stations, eager to put their experience behind them.

‘So what's the plan?’ she said, cradling her glass.

‘Ah.’ He replied. ‘Now that's a delicate matter. This is a crowded intergalactic terminal with a good many souls on board, none of whom will be expecting an unscheduled stop by a decommissioned liner, much less one with such a dangerous cargo.’

‘Haven't you told security?’

He winced. ‘Well I tried. But they wouldn't listen. They took very little interest in my warnings, none at all in my sworn acquaintance with the Commodore.’ He added, ‘but a great deal in the contents of my coat pockets.’

Mel laughed into her drink. ‘If they tried to empty them all you'd still be with them now!’

‘Indeed’. He frowned. ‘All the same, I had to part with some important diagnostic equipment which the lummoxes took to be "dangerous paraphernalia". I'll give them "dangerous".‘

‘So how did you persuade them to let you stay here?’

He pulled a face. ‘I'm on probation,’ he intoned morosely. ‘The story of my life.’ He waved gingerly to a suited official standing conspicuously near the sweet stand. The official pretended not to have seen him and turned his attention instead to a shelf of souvenir plush toys behind him. ‘At the first sign of trouble,’ whispered the Doctor ‘I'm out on my ear.’

‘So what are you going to do when the ship arrives?’

‘Cause trouble.’ He pointed from behind his menu to the wall opposite. ‘There's a fire alarm over there with my name on it. If nothing else it'll clear the terminal long enough for me to assess the situation uninterrupted.’

As if on cue the gates opened on the far side of the lounge, and Mel felt herself take a sharp inward breath of anticipation. The Doctor turned once more, his broad shoulders all but blocking her previously perfect view. The gates were now fully open, but no sign of life could be seen. Only the slightest breeze stirred from the gantry corridor beyond, causing Mel to blink as she quenched a sudden thirst with a sip from her glass. The Doctor watched, a combination of apprehension and disappointment on his face. The corridor ran perhaps ten metres before curving from sight, and was empty. Mel went to ask what was happening when, to her relief, shadows finally moved across the smooth floor and the steady bobbing of heads characteristic of weary passengers began to appear from around the corner. She saw the Doctor squinting to pick out familiar faces among them, but none were there. As more bodies filled the space, the room appeared to dim; everything else seemed to be running in slow motion.

Mel's head felt light as a familiar odour struck her senses and the whole room began to close in, muffled voices and odd shapes moving among the new arrivals. She briefly mistook the flocked head of an elderly gentleman for the characteristic bud of an alien plant before the real thing suddenly appeared. It was enormous — far taller than she'd remembered, rising from the sea of passengers as if it has been planted among them and was now growing, swaying in the humid breeze, seeking her out. Another appeared behind it, and two more farther down the way.

The air in the lounge now took on a sickly brown colour, and her head hurt from the effort to see through the haze. Mel realised then that the whole time she had remained frozen in her seat, as had the Doctor, who was only now rising to action as though forcing himself up from the bottom of a stagnant pool. She tried to focus — was this methane in the air? Her mind swam as she watched his plastic chair topple onto the tiled floor of the cafeteria, clattering like a banging gate. He wouldn't be able to make it to the far wall in time - he wasn't fast enough, and too many people were blocking his way to the fire alarm. But the Doctor hadn't moved from his spot, and he stood looking over the heads like a drover among sheep, while the marauding creatures cut through the crowd like wolves. A rising scream filled her ears as the Vervoids slowly moved towards her, and she dimly realised that it was her own voice making the sound. Why couldn't she move? The Doctor had disappeared, and the scream became the wail of a klaxon as the crowd became fluid, people colliding and falling over one another as they rushed for the exits.

Things were beginning to return to focus now, and among the throng the Vervoids stood hunched and twitching, their obscene faces spewing a brown dust which now fogged the terminal. The ones at the back extended their arms to shoot thorns at those in flight — she didn't remember them being able to do that. Still they approached, singling her out from everyone else. Struggling to rise from her chair was an enormous effort and met with creaming, trembling muscles. Mel braced herself against the table, but it tipped under her flattened palm, sending her crashing to the floor. As she hit the hard tiles, a vast stooping figure reached down to snuff out her life.

Bright light filtered in as she finally opened her eyes. Roundeled walls and a hexagonal ceiling; it was her own room in the TARDIS. Next to her was her bedside table with her books piled neatly and a small collection of porcelain figurines congregated busily about them. At some point she must have changed into a cotton nightgown — or someone had done it for her.

‘Hello.’ The Doctor got up from the wicker chair nearby and crossed over to the dresser, pouring a glass of water for her from a jug he'd brought in. ‘Here, drink this — you're bound to be dehydrated. How do you feel?’

‘I ache all over, but otherwise I'm fine. How did I get here?’

‘Ah, that would be my doing. Things didn't go quite as planned at the spaceport.’

‘The Vervoids!’ she realised suddenly.

‘Yes...’ he grimaced. ‘Upon reflection that came as something of a relief. It could have gone a great deal worse.’

‘What? I don't understand — I was attacked!’

He looked at her, puzzled. ‘Attacked? No Mel — you collapsed! If in any way you were manhandled then I offer my deepest apologies, but I had to get you back to the TARDIS quickly.’

‘What about the Vervoids?’ she asked.

‘What Vervoids?’

‘The ones I saw! They were in the terminal!’

A look of confusion shot across his face, then realisation. ‘Of course! Phantasmagoria, Mel. You've been out for two days. The hallucinations would be a natural reaction to having alien biomatter in your system.’


He sat down on the bed. ‘When you fainted, you drifted into a brief coma. Fortunately the alarms were triggered, so the terminal emptied quickly. I rushed you back here to the medical bay, and the diagnostic equipment pinpointed the cause — sensory overload and shutdown due to Vervoid pollen in your bloodstream.

She froze. ‘In my blood?’

‘In your stomach wall to be precise - it was at the point of migration when I caught up with it.’ He narrowed his eyes, recalling the scene. ‘As the gates were opened there was a slight draught — do you remember it?’

‘Yes, but how did it get inside me?’

‘It was already everywhere in the ship. In the ducts, atop bulkheads, in the carpet... no doubt ninety percent of it would have been taken care of by the Hyperion III's self-cleaning systems. But some remained, as nature tends to provide.’

‘Fortunately, my fears for the Vervoids' progenity were exaggerated, and most of the remaining pollen was sterilised within minutes after exposure to the rarified air of the ship. That's one thing their DNA hadn't yet overcome; independent reproduction. Unless, of course, it came into contact with a ready-made preservative.’

He smiled indulgently and produced a plastic container from a coat pocket. Inside was a thin amber fluid. Mel gasped.

‘My fruit juice!’

‘I rather imagine it was. Most likely as the particles drifted across the table they were trapped in your glass, whereupon young lady you ingested them unawares. I really had no idea it was so virulent. You've been very lucky.’

She sat up, rubbing her head. Her hair felt dry and wiry — no wonder, she'd not washed it in two days. She tried to take it all in.

‘So what's going to happen — is the pollen still inside me?’

He smiled and patted the eiderdown reassuringly. ‘All gone now. It took me a good while, but you've a clean bill of health from your Doctor.’

She returned his smile bravely. ‘Well then I may as well get out of bed.’

Suddenly she remembered.

‘Doctor — the Vervoids in my dream. They were taller than before, and behaved differently. Are you sure you got the right ones?’

‘See for yourself’ he said, nodding toward the bedside table.

Atop the pile of books were perhaps five or six Polaroid-sized photo scans — black and white images taken from an electron microscope. Somehow it didn't surprise Mel to imagine such a piece of equipment somewhere in the TARDIS. She studied the photos and saw that they were assorted close up images of the pollen. It was round and flat like a blood platelet, but covered with tiny barbs so it resembled a bur. She continued to look upon it — at first it had appeared brutal and aggressive, but she saw now some of the fragility inherent in the spore, the same nature that had driven the mature creatures on their rampage through the space liner. This wasn't evil or malice, it was survival. Zooming in further the pollen's surface became an alien terrain, all canyons and peaks. The last scan was a step further in resolution; on the porous landscape the letters ‘LT2985’ stood out in relief, slightly misshapen as though reproduced by a child's hand, but still recognisable.

‘Laskey Thrematologistics,’ the Doctor elaborated, the triumph having left his voice. ‘The last of the professor's legacy dormant in this canister.’ They were both silent for a while, regarding the innocuous container in the Doctor's hand.

‘Have you decided what you're going to do with them?’ Mel asked eventually.

‘Not yet’ he said. ‘We've plenty of time to decide. Perhaps we could find a planet far from civilisation where they could grow unbothered by humanity, see how they fare on their own? Perhaps, if the Time Lords are still interested at all, I may give them the coordinates.’

He pocketed the canister and rose, walking toward the door. ‘Do you know it's strange’ he said eventually. ‘If you had been aware that there were preservatives in this juice, would you have even ordered it?’

‘Absolutely not! Did you know?’

‘I had no idea,’ he said finally and smiled, turning to the door. She watched him leave.

‘You saved my life, Doctor’ she finally blurted. ‘Thankyou.’

He returned to the door and looked at her fondly. ‘We save one another's’ he said and left for the Console Room.

‘Are we ready to move on then?’ Mel asked quietly to herself.

‘I've already set the co-ordinates’ came the reply down the corridor.

She smile and got out of bed, dressed herself and went to join him.

This item appeared in TSV 61 (December 2000).

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