Doctor Who Fiction – “Grasping At Air”

Doctor Who Fiction – “Grasping At Air”
by Michael E.P. Stevens

A man was not alone but he felt alone. He had crossed light years, traversed dimensions, dipped into Time, and only occasionally had so much loneliness bothered him. But now two old friends had left him. A new boy had arrived and probably, given time, he would become a valued companion. At the moment though, the man could only see what he had lost. The friendship with the girl had been forbidden, and that had made it seem all the more crucial. They were inseperable for a long time – and then suddenly they had parted with something which seemed very much like indifference. The other companion had gone too. “If one is going, the other ought to.” the man had thought. Really, physically, there had been no other way, but still now he regretted it.

The boy was company, but he was new – what did he know of the old ways? Those balmy days of superior intellect, a threesome which challenged, stimulated… All things must change, all people must move on; the man knew of such transitions. After all, it was what his life was based on. But just this once, just now, he was feeling old and decrepid and lonely. As long as he had been aboard the Ship his rule had been never to go back, never to change those personal, inconsequential events which he had witnessed with some regret. But now he wanted to break the rule.

He had an idea. It was of course the soft option, the easy way out. He’d used it once before – and, oh, what joy it had brought! It was not so much going in the past, not so much changing it, but more like bringing a little of the past into the present. It would be like recreating Utopia! He set to work.

The boy was puzzled by the man’s absence from the main parts of the ship. The sudden hermitage in the workshop seemed to have been brought about for no reason which the boy could think of except, perhaps, because of himself. Was it perhaps his clumsiness, or his lack of higher scientific knowledge, or merely the fact that he was an uninvited traveller? Maybe it was because he asked too many questions. But the boy thought the man liked questions!

The boy worried about the man for days, but decided not to bother him. The ship drifted on.

Eventually it was ready. The man’s plans had come to triumphant fruition during the fourth week of work. In silent reverie he tore up the blueprints – he would need them no more. This would be his last attempt to halt the flow of Time.

But should he have made even this attempt? The thing spoke, it knew all that the others had known, it could match the man’s knowledge to a certain degree. These were the qualities that he’d missed, the things he had tried to recapture. But whilst he’d regained those manufacturable, mechanical aspects of bygone days, all the rest was missing. The living ingredient, the girl, was gone. His own youth, the vitality with which he’d held together his little group, was gone. Only the memory, and the yearning, replaced it all. Like a reunion amongst friends, or the return to a place of great fondness, nothing can be as good again as the first time. The man had lost it all. He could now do one of two things; he could either scorn himself for eternity and regret ever having let the girl slip through his fingers, or he could forget.

He chose, of course, to try to forget. He was not the first one to have done so, he realised. So many people before had gone through the agonies of separation, some due to his own actions. He’d left his grandaughter behind without giving her the choice of staying, then the Scots lad and that young girl were sent home because of his carelessness in evading the home planet (though their torment was short-lived since they soon forgot everything about their travels). A bitter row with the scientist girl had sent her away, and then Gallifrey once more intervened as he said goodbye to Sarah-Jane. “I won’t forget you.”, she’d said. “And I won’t forget you.”, he’d promised. Perhaps that made it easier – knowing she at least wouldn’t lose memory of him. But could she feel the same? Didn’t she know he was just a nomad, and that she was just a passing phase in his life?

The man had at last found his solution. The thing he had built was no good to him. He should have known that before he began. Let the past stay with the past. He fetched a crate from a storeroom and said goodbye to the machine. He would try to forget.

The TARDIS materialised on Earth. The date wasn’t quite right, but Sarah would understand in time. The boy stood in the console room and watched as the man pushed the crate outside and left it there.

Would it reach its destination? Would any of them reach their destination before Fate’s chronometer intervened? Only Time would tell.

First Published: November 1989

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