in her absence

PART TWO: Of Doctors and Daemons 

Both the victor
and the vanquished are
but drops of dew,
but bolts of lightning -
thus should we view the world.
                                                Ôuchi Yoshitaka

Vastra’s eyes quickly adjusted to the dim light of the basement.  With no lamps or candles lit, the only illumination came from the open door at the top of the stair.  While she was more than comfortable with the small amount of light weakly filtering down, she still walked from wall to wall, slowly lighting four oil lamps hung midway across each of the damp chamber’s four walls.  Still far from brightly lit, the lamps did enough to reduce the basement’s cavernous atmosphere. 

In the centre of the room stood a tall wooden pillar, a length cut from an old larch tree and stood on end.  Much of the bark appeared to have been stripped or chipped away in a rough manner.  Vastra walked over to it, running a hand over the rough surface, her eyes a sea of confusion and hurt and loss.  She slowly strode past, her hand trailing behind as she retained contact on the wood.  A few more steps brought her to a table covered with a red and gold embroidered cloth.  One hand reached down and lightly touched the material, the smoothness of the silk a very different sensation indeed compared to the rough wood she had walked past. 

A teak rack sat atop the cloth covered table.  The flickering lamp light danced across three glossy, laminated black saya, arched to the top with hilts pointed to the right.  Beneath them sat a small ceramic bottle on a blood-red silk rope.  She picked up the bottle and held it in her hand for a moment before placing it back on the rack.  Deep in thought, she ran her fingers across the cool, smooth surface of the black saya, over the sculpted metal tsuba, and finally to the textured tsukaitself.  Her fingers lingered there, finally wrapping around and drawing the blade from the saya slowly.  The blade itself was finely patterned; the result of countless hours folding and refolding the steel the sword was forged from.  Vastra then drew the blade’s sister from the saya beneath it, holding one loosely in each hand.  Turning back to the length of wood behind her, she raised the blades in salute, and silently began a carefully choreographed kata. 

As she did, her thoughts drifted back… 


The alarm sounded in Forward Stasis Chamber Viridian Beta.  Within one of the individual hibernation cells, a pair of eyes slowly blinked.  The figure jolted as a pulse shocked her systems into full function.  The cell opened and she quickly exited, her ornate handgun cradled tightly in her hands.  She looked from side to side, noticing the remaining eleven cells had opened, yet none of her warrior-sisters emerged from their sleep. Concerned, she ran to one of them, and the sight brought a strained cry from her throat. Inside the cell slumped the desiccated husk of one of her sisters, collapsed against the far wall.  The corpse’s skin was dull and dry, the grey mask barely hanging on her face. Tears running down her face, the lone warrior moved from cell to cell, knowing what she would find in each, yet needing to see this for herself.  Of the twelve warriors in her unit, only she survived to awaken.  Anger rising deep inside her, she moved to a display screen and brought it online. 

There was an incursion one mile from her current position, near Forward Stasis Chamber Viridian Alpha.  Closest to the surface, the warriors there would be the first line of defence in the event that their cavern was breached.  Concerned that they too had somehow not survived their hibernation, she took off at a run to survey the situation and drive off any possible invaders.  She knew she was alone, but she reasoned it was most likely that any invaders would be simple, primitive apes.  She could certainly handle a group of them on her own…her training assured her of that. 

The tunnels grew lighter as she closed in on the surface.  There was a sharp bend before the final incline toward the stasis chambers and the outside.  She paused there, slowly peering around the corner to assess the situation. 

Some two hundred or three hundred yards ahead, what appeared to be a group of apes stood, as he expected.  She did not expect them to be wearing what appeared to be clothes, nor did she expect them to be carrying flame or what appeared to be digging tools.  She wondered for the first time how long she had been asleep, as these apes had none of the heavy, wiry hair that covered their bodies as last she saw, when she and her sisters hunted them for sport.  They chattered and chattered at each other, but their sounds had the actual shape and form of words.

How can this be? she asked herself. 

She then shook her head, casting that thought from her mind.  Clothed or not, they are still apes, she reasoned.  My sisters may not have woken, but I have, and it is my job to protect my people! 

With a scream she burst from behind the corner, her gun at the ready as she charged the apes before her.  They turned to see what had made such a noise, and one of them gaped as his lamp shone across the near-featureless grey mask, broken only by two large black glass eyes that stared, empty of any emotion or humanity.

‘God, in Heaven!  A monster!  For the love of all that’s holy…RUN!’

He turned to run, but found himself blocked by the men who had come with him.  They stood there, slack jawed and shocked as the creature burst up the tunnel toward them, terrible screams coming from some inhuman throat.  Paralyzed with fear, they could do little more than stand there and watch as an avatar of death advanced unrelentingly upon them.

‘You fools!  RUN!’

Their shock worn off, they turned to flee en masse.  As they neared the tunnel’s mouth, one of them tripped over a rock jutting up from the floor.  He fell to the tunnel’s floor hard, nearly knocking the wind from his chest.  He screamed for help, but not one of his companions stopped or turned to offer assistance.  Scrambling across the floor, he had nearly made it back to a standing position when he felt something heavy strike him from behind, sending him sprawling on the dirt and rock a second time.  He turned over and looked up, seeing the creature standing over him, a strange weapon pointed down at him.  He held his hands up before him, covering his face.  His eyes squeezed shut, yet tears still began to flow from them as he began to plead for mercy.

‘Please…I don’t know who you are!  I don’t know what you are!  Please, don’t do this!  I’m begging you…spare me!’

The only response was a hiss from behind the mask.  He opened his eyes in time to see a finger squeeze slowly against what was most certainly a trigger.

The rest was silence.

She looked up and saw the tunnel emptied of the rest of this ape’s tribe.  Hearing nothing from beyond the tunnel’s mouth, she stepped to one side, placing her hand on a small indent on the wall.  Cracks appeared on the stone surface, revealing a door that slowly slid open.  Stepping into the chamber hidden beyond, she touched a dark screen.  After a few moments, it glowed with life.  Lights came on inside the ten hibernation cells in Forward Stasis Chamber Viridian Alpha and she moved from cell to cell, already knowing what she would find at each.

She rested her head against one glass chamber as tears flowed from her eyes like Twin Rivers.  Once again she cried, and a sound that evoked pure sorrow arose from her throat like some wordless elegy.

She didn’t know how long she stood there mourning, but as the flow of tears slowed, she knew one thing.  ‘I will have my revenge on the apes for what they have done to my sisters,’ she spoke quietly.

‘It’s not their fault, you know.’

She spun on her heels, her weapon at the ready.

At the entry to the stasis chamber stood a male ape, dressed in a similar manner to the ones she had just chased out of her tunnels.  Thin, almost gangly or malnourished looking, he stood with one leg crossed over the other, leaning against the opening with a sad half smile on his face.  One hand was hidden in a trouser pocket, while the other stretched over his head, aiding in supporting him.

‘What trickery is this?  How is it you speak such that I can understand you?’

‘Always just a moment too late…or too early.  Any answer to your question would make so much more sense if we’d gotten here on time.’

‘Explain yourself!’

The ape smiled, not moving from his spot.  ‘I speak everything.  Every language… even some that don’t actually exist.  Makes it much easier to get around in life if you can at least ask where the bathroom is, or where you can get a really good steak, don’t you think?’ 

She pointed her gun toward him threateningly, and he stood straight in the doorway.

‘A gun,’  He sighed.  ‘It’s always a gun, isn’t it?  Is the gun really necessary?’

‘You speak, yet so many of your words mean nothing to me.  Are you mad, or just some kind of fool?’

He smiled.  ‘I’ve been called worse, you know.’

‘Why do you say you and your apes did not cause this?’

‘Me and my apes?  They’re not apes, first off…they’re humans.  Homo sapiens, if you want to get technical and not altogether unlike you Homo reptilia.  Secondly, they’re not “my” humans, even if I do happen to look like them.  Actually, if you want to remain technical, it’s more that they look like me than the other way around.  Thirdly, isn’t there something better I can call you than Homo reptilia?  Names are so much better than taxonomy, after all…and when you consider that you’re not descended from the same common ancestor, the taxonomy is actually quite wrong.'
‘And why should I give you my name, ‘human’?  I could just as easily shoot you and be done with this charade!’

The man pulled his hand from his pocket, a slender metal tube held firmly in grip.  Surprised by his quick movement, she could not react when the end of this tube glowed bright green and a high pitched sound began to fill the small chamber.  She felt a jolt as her gun flashed with light.  She dropped it with a hiss, jumping back slightly.  As her eyes readjusted from the bright flash, she looked down, only to see her weapon, smoking and twisted.

‘Anger’s the shortest path to a mistake, my new friend.  You’d do well to remember that.  There’s a huge difference between doing what’s easy and what’s right.  It may be an easy choice to pull a trigger…but it’s not always the right choice.’

‘What did you do?  And how dare you call me ‘friend’?’

The man tossed the device in the air, caught it after a flip or two, and slipped it into a pocket hidden inside his jacket.  ‘Sonic screwdriver: great for hanging shelves, unlocking doors…or disarming Homo reptilian, who won’t be polite and give me a name to call them by.’

She hissed at him, as much in frustration as anger.  ‘Vastra.’

The man smiled.  ‘See, that really didn’t have to be as hard as you made it, did it?  Always better to assume friendship than to be on shaky ground.  Makes for messy situations, I find.  Oh, and before I forget my manners, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Vastra.  My name’s the Doctor, and I know you don’t want to believe me, but I can assure you that those humans had nothing to do with what happened to your sisters in those hibernation cells.’

Behind her mask, Vastra’s eyes widened.  ‘How do you know this?’

The Doctor’s smile faded.  ‘It’s a long story…but you’re not the first of your kind I’ve met.  After all, I must have known your people if I can speak your language, right?’

She crossed her arms, incredulous.  ‘Go on…Doctor.’

The Doctor took a deep breath.  ‘Your scientists were amazingly brilliant, you know. So advanced…it’s only been recently that the humans up there…'

He pointed back toward the cave’s opening.

‘…have been able to replicate some of what your people had done millions of years ago.  Oh, they have a long way to go, don’t get me wrong, but for such a young species, they’re really quite incredible.’

The Doctor caught his breath and continued.

‘Anyway, your astronomers detected something moving in the night sky.  At first they were unsure of what they had found, but in time it became obvious that something very large and catastrophic was heading toward the Earth.  An asteroid maybe…or maybe another planet.’

‘I know this story, Doctor.  It is part of the history we are all taught.  You need not educate me on my own past.’

The Doctor coughed, caught off guard by Vastra’s retort.

‘Anyway, they had to do something, and plans were made.  Some of them worked to build vast arks to send off portions of colonies, along with native plants and animals, to colonize other planets…or to come back to Earth if scanners showed it was not destroyed.  Others built vast underground cities…hives almost…to hibernate in.  Your tribe chose the latter, of course.  They built quite well…amazingly well, if I might add.  Amazing architecture and geologic design.  Not that it mattered in the end.  It was only the moon moving into place, and once it hit the rim of the earth’s gravity well…with a little help from yours truly to slow its trajectory, of course…well, it just started revolving around like the earth revolves around the sun.’

The Doctor paused, out of breath after his dissertation.

‘Vastra, your people were brilliant…but they couldn’t predict everything.’

Vastra scoffed.  ‘You speak so highly of my people and then insult them in very near the same breath?  How dare you!’

The sadness on the Doctor’s face deepened.  ‘Not long after your people went into hibernation, and before the first sheets of a vast ice age began to cover this land, there was a storm.  A vast solar storm, gouts of plasma and magnetic energy bursting off the sun’s corona with the force of billions and billions of volcanic explosions.  Your people, deeper under the earth, most likely survived with little or no difficulty…they’re probably still sleeping.’

The Doctor paused, carefully choosing his words.

‘Closer to the surface, however… the electromagnetic energy disrupted your life support systems.There was less dirt and stone blocking it. The fact that you yourself survived at all was a miracle.’

Vastra chuckled coldly, her voice harsh with emotion.  ‘And you feel this should offer me comfort, Doctor?’

The Doctor shook his head.  ‘No, Vastra.  I don’t think it should, or will.  At the same time, those men you chased out of here…and in one case killed…they were not to blame.  They did not kill your people.  Killing them will not bring your people back…in fact, it may cause more of them to organize against you, bringing war to your people.  I won’t let that happen, Vastra.’

She scoffed.  ‘War, Doctor?  These apes…humans, as you call them…do not know the meaning of war.  Let them come.  We will defeat them, and then take our place above once again.’

‘They’re not ready for you.  Not ready to share the Earth.  Not yet.’

‘The Earth is ours, Doctor!’

‘Not any more it’s not.  While your people slept, the humans evolved.  Certainly, they’re not as advanced as you were, but they’re so much more than they once were!  In time, it’s possible you could both exist together…but it’s not time for that yet.’

The Doctor paused, running one hand through his tousled hair.  He looked down at a watch on his wrist, tapped it a few times, and then looked up.

‘Let me show you.’

‘Show me?  Show me what?’

‘Let me show you what these humans are capable of.  Let me show you how they’ve grown, how they’ve created, how they’ve changed.  Come with me.’

‘My sisters…my people…’

‘…will be fine, Vastra.  I can assure you we’ll be back here almost faster than we left.  Perhaps you’ll learn a thing or two…and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find that these humans deserve their place here too.’

‘I have my doubts of that, Doctor.’

The Doctor turned and walked up toward the tunnel’s mouth.  A few moments later Vastra followed, warily and at a distance lest this was some kind of cunning trap.  At the opening she saw the Doctor walking toward a small building of some kind, roughly built from cut timber.  She hastened her steps and rounded the building to see the Doctor standing before a strange blue object.  Opaque windows glowed with white light, while strange words were emblazoned at the top of the structure.

‘Police Public Call Box?  What madness is this?  What are these words?  And how can I read them?  They are not in my written language?’

The Doctor looked visibly hurt.  ‘It’s my ship.  She’s called the TARDIS.  I travel in it.’ 

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