Characters: the TARDIS, the Doctor (10th), his listener (probably Rose)
Summary: "It's hard enough to remember the essentially interchangeable nature of space and time, when comfortably anchored in an entropically-machined existence. And She isn't. Anchored, that is."
Edited: by the incomparable dr_whuh
Author's notes: I wrote this back in 2007, and it's been cached at the A Teaspoon and an Open Mind archive since then. I didn't realize I hadn't put it up on Live Journal until tonight. It's always been a favorite of mine, the second short story I ever attempted, prompted by my overwhelming love for the TARDIS. Consider it an exploration of the TARDIS' nature, insofar as any linear creature can explore a non-linear one.
Disclaimer: As much as I might wish it were otherwise, I do not own anything in the Whoniverse. The Doctor, the TARDIS and those who travel with her are the property of their various creators. I take no coin, and mean to infringe on no copyright. I simply love, unwisely and too well.
*** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Ultimately, she isn't linear. That causes all sorts of complications.
It's hard enough to remember the essentially interchangeable nature of space and time, when comfortably anchored in an entropically-machined existence. And She isn't. Anchored, that is.
The nature of that travel? Ah, there you have complication number one.
She travels in space. But she doesn't travel in a straight line. And not only does she not travel in a straight line, she doesn't properly exist in one. The former is because of the latter, actually. Further, to forestall your inevitable, but still hopelessly linear, next guesses, She doesn't travel or exist in a spiral, either, although I'm aware that a certain someone once suggested She navigates as well as a slinky with a rotor.
It goes without saying that's very dimly regarded in my circle.
Circles, now, they're closer to the truth, and spheres are even closer - as long as one provides for travel and existence through diameter, circumference and topography. Not just a surface dweller, not Her.
Of course it's hard to understand; don't feel bad.
Remember Flatland? Right, that book I gave you. There you go - think of Her as that sphere descending into, through, and out of that world, in front of its hypothetical and quite thoroughly confused denizen.
So if one is willing to accept the statement that She exists everywhere, one would be as right as possible whilst still being wrong.
But there's also the matter of time, in which, as we know very, very well, She also travels.
Now I know we've established that they're one and the same, but space and time aren't anything alike. Traveling in time is the deeper experience. Granted, as well, that that's widely known, but grasping the nature of the depth, and its dangers, is difficult. The currents and riptides of time are frightfully complicated. Frightfully.
Now we have to take a slight detour here. She may not be linear these days, but we are. And She was, once upon a time. So we need to take a look at Her history.
Once upon a time. Remarkable phrase, that. Humans use it a lot without recognizing the worlds of meaning it encompasses. Still, one has to give them points for saying it, and perhaps they do understand it instinctively...sorry, where were we?
Right. History and Her.
We could examine Her history meta-philosophically, I suppose. By which I mean - She was created by linear beings, which posits a beginning. To everything. And, since She exists, there was indeed a beginning. But let's not do that, because that's an entirely different conversation, now that I think abut it. Let's simply say that those who created Her made Her with the stuff of which they themselves were made. She was of them, as much a child of theirs as anyone they loomed.
They, unfortunately, did not recognize what they had wrought, because, as has been mentioned, they were linear beings. Not to mention dreadfully unimaginative. Stuffy, hidebound, pompous twits. Wouldn't recognize wonder if it came up and danced the tango with them.
Well, to be fair, perhaps no one could have recognized it at the beginning; She wasn't yet complete at the moment of Her birth.
Back then, She was only one among many models. Each one was a triumph to make; all of them were incredibly difficult to build. I won't even try to talk about the methods, the materials - the science and the how of it, Suffice it to say that every completion was marked with a sense of moment. The construction teams celebrated each start-up with the kind of glee my old neighborhood rarely saw.
The why of construction? Well, now...do we need to spell it out? She and Her siblings were built to move in space and time. That was their charge, and their builders made them, if not aware, then certainly responsive beyond the lushest wet dreams of any garden-variety AI developer.
What? They were exactly the stuff of wet dreams; that's why I said it.
Moving on...the models weren't expected to communicate with their operators, but their response times to orders and protocols was always so fast, and so spot-on...so intuitive, perhaps...that some operators began to think of them in terms of who, rather than what.
That's not surprising, really. Even humans anthropomorphize machinery - captains and their ships, car afficionados with some beloved Tucker saloon, that sort of thing. And these things, well, they were so far beyond Tuckers and ocean liners that it doesn't even bear consideration. They commanded respect, and they...when they got an operator's attention - real attention - they made you care. Care about them, I mean.
Yes. I was one of those operators.
I can't remember how old I was, or how old She was, when She started talking to me. She wasn't properly mine, but I'd had occasion to use Her during various Academy projects at school. After that, I occasionally got Her out of the pool when I was in good odor with the powers that be, and they wanted me to do something for them. For some reason, I always gravitated to Her.
To be perfectly honest, She reminded me of me.
My own people really didn't know what to do with me, you see, so I rattled about a lot on my own. And there She was, alone in the same way. She sat in the pool because none of the others had put in for permanent operator status with Her. I don't know why. Maybe the others knew somehow that She was different. Whatever the case, She was always sitting there alone when I called in for an assignment. Most of her brethren were taken. You understand that no one actually "owned" any of them as such, but with permanent assignment, everyone thought of their model as theirs. And nearly all of the models existant when I was still at home had their permanent assignee. Except for Her. So I'd always put in for Her.
Funny thing, memories. They're the red-headed stepchildren of time, you know. Worse, they're a foreign language if one isn't certain when to make them and when to appreciate them. Or even what when is, actually.
That was Her problem more than it was mine. When She became truly aware, I think She also became permanently bemused with the whole "it happened then and I'll remember it now" concept.
And seriously, She had every reason to be bemused. Remember the globe She travels through? She thinks in globe, if you see what I mean. She thinks in all moments at once, not one moment after the other. She thinks in a now which is not only super-imposed on a then and a will-be, but is a then, and a will-be.
Hmmm. That's starting to sound like gibberish, isn't it? No, really. Your eyes just glazed over a bit. But be fair, I told you it would get complicated. Just stick with me, alright?
What I'm trying to say is that Her kind, no matter how close to sentience they were, weren't generally able to make it there, as it were. And sapience, well, that was right out.
Sentience. Sapience. You know the difference, right?
Well....quick shorthand. You have to be alive to even qualify for either of them. A rock isn't sentient. End of story. And being alive isn't good enough by itself. A dahlia isn't sentient, although it's alive. It's pretty - always loved dahlias - but it's not sentient or sapient.
A rabbit, now, rabbits are sentient. Rabbits think. That's what sentience is, the ability to think. It doesn't have to be much thinking; just thinking, and I'm not going to try to define thinking, because that's not germane to this discussion, and I'll just end up confusing myself, and then where would you be?
Anyhow, because they're sentient, time passes for them. In fact, I think any living being that actually moves from place to place gets some sort of sentience. Think of that! You'd have a smidgen of sentience for a sea cucumber, here's a half teaspoon of sentience for a luna moth, and a cup full for a cobra, let's say a pint for a sparrow and probably three quarts for an African grey parrot. Oh, and a quart or so for a cougar, and a half-gallon for a Jack Russell terrier, and simply gallons and gallons for primates. Probably a whole swimming pool for bonobos and gorillas....
Where was I?
Sentience, right. Well there you go. That's sentience,
Sapience is one step beyond. Sapience is self-awareness, and that? Well. That is the greatest gift, and the greatest curse, in the Universe. And for the purposes of this conversation, it's also the turning point for Her, and for me.
Because awareness as we understand it - as humans understand it, too, for that matter - relies not only on the march of time, the march from before, to now, to are-we-there-yet, but the noticing of the march. When you have sentience and sapience, you enter the realm of time, simply because, for the first time, you realize that it exists.
And back home, after I don't know how many journeys I took in Her, after I don't know how many hours spent talking to Her, because She was the only creature around who didn't look down on me, or laugh at my lineage, sometime, somewhere - words that mean nothing, should mean nothing, to me, or to Her - She woke up.
And there I was, you see? I was there.
She was bewildered, and if you think listening to me talk can drive you crazy, imagine waking up, full-grown, after a life of sleeping, never meeting anyone consciously, never talking to them, never even knowing that people existed, and having the thoughts and feelings of everything around you batter their way into your head. It was almost fatal for Her. Learning about past, present and future as separate things that way almost shredded Her consciousness.
But I was there for Her.
I held Her together as best I could. We'd been traveling, on some fool mission for the Council. It was years before the Shadow Proclamation came into being, but I seem to remember they'd sent me out to research various political justice models across the quadrants to prep for that...well, never mind, that's not the point.
She woke up, as I said.
After all this time, you'd think I'd have made some study of it, some investigation into what made Her do it. I've never cared to investigate, to tell you the truth. In fact, one of the reasons I took Her when Susan and I escaped, was knowing that they'd ultimately find out about Her. And then She'd be spread out on floor after floor of laboratories, while they tried to find out what had happened, and how they could control it. I'd decided that I'd be damned before I let them get that chance
More damned than I am, I mean.
I heard later that there were one or two other models that might have become what She was. I don't think they survived. So, no, that's one thing to which my vaunted curiosity has never been applied. Bet you never thought you'd hear me say something like that, right?
Funny, but I knew immediately who the presence in my head was when She just burst into awareness. She fit me, you understand? Even when She was whirling around inside Her own baby consciousness - and being a right dangerous little consciousness, too - She slid into my mind so easily, as if She had found an empty spot that needed filling. She filled it.
And after I stopped vomiting up my breakfast, which is apt to happen when someone that powerful just muscles Her way into one's mind uninvited, I went to work. I told Her to focus on me and look at how I walked through time, feel how I did it. Bless Her, She did just as I told her to. Which is more than others around here do. And more than She does, these days, unfortunately.
Anyhow, I don't know how long I sat there on the floor while She walked the edge between being alive and falling back into permanent machinehood. She was moving, I remember that, so it could have been centuries, or nano-seconds.
But the point is, She made it. I knew it, the minute She caught on to causality, and entropy, and linearity. Oh, She was so alive, it made every living thing, every living person, around Her, look like bloody uninteresting stones.
So when She simply disappeared from my mind, barely a moment after we'd stabilized Her thinking, I was absolutely confusticated. That's a word, right? Confusticated? She simply disappeared as an aware entity. All I could sense was what She had been before; a very responsive, but very not-alive AI model.
I couldn't understand what had happened. I sat there on the floor, right where you are, across from where I am now, actually, and I almost cried, I was so frustrated. I felt as if I'd somehow done something to destroy Her consciousness. It felt like murder, if I'm to be absolutely honest.
And then, hey-presto! She was back. She was there, with me, and confused about why I was so upset. As far as She was concerned, She'd always been there. She hadn't realized that She had just taken Herself somewhere else in the sea of time, in a way that I couldn't follow.
Oh yes, time's a sea, just like space is a globe. And space is a sea, whilst time is a globe, come to think of it, but I really think that's a lesson for another time. Just remember that She is always traveling, as I mentioned earlier. She's never still, because She can't be - She's always moving in time and space. She lives in the sea, you understand, and She moves in and around it, and through it, just like She moves around and through that globe that visits Flatland.
Which meant that at any moment in my more-or-less fixed points in time, She was going to be aware, and at any other moment She wasn't. I never knew when Her "when" was going to coincide with mine. Because it was all the same to Her, even after She understood the idea of linearity.
But you learn to live with a friend's shortcomings, now, don't you? That's the way I look at it, anyhow. She is where She is, and when She is, when She happens to be, and that's just the way I had to accept it.
I had to get used to that. It wasn't something they taught us at Academy, because nobody on the esteemed faculty had ever thought about communication - real communication, mind - with someone like Her. Idiots. Overdressed, ceremony-obsessed idiots. They had no idea, none at all. I wish I could tell them. I wish I could tell them anything, I suppose.
Still. It was worth it because, really, She came back to me from wherever it was that I couldn't follow. She came back for me. And She gave up a lot to do that. She wanted to be aware more than She wanted to avoid memories. She's braver than I am, when She's aware.
You see, memories...remember what I said about memories? About them being red-headed stepchildren? I meant that memories are hard things to accept, very hard things. They mean that you have to relive things and sometimes that hurts more than you can ever imagine. Sometimes even the good memories don't make up for having to relive the...the...bad times.
But She made the decision somehow that She wanted to have them, because She knew that simply by having memories, She made Her stand in time, rather than being moved around in it willy-nilly by me, or by anyone else, or by the nature of time itself. She chose to stand still, to the extent She could, so that She could be with me, to the extent She could.
And in all the time between then and now, all the time that you and I recognize as time, She has taken care of me, and I have tried to take care of Her. She's carried me everywhere in the known universe, or at least a goodly portion of it, and to every time since the first bang and almost to the last whimper. She's a bit of a trickster, too, and has learned to take me where I didn't plan to go. She has her own plans, and She hasn't always let me in on them.
But, oh, the journeys we've taken together! I could write a book - or a whole set of books; big leather-bound volumes with onion skin paper and really tiny lettering, and there'd still be no end to the stories She and I made together.
She loves people, you know? She keeps hanging around Earth, and wanting to stay. Sometimes I think She likes it here more than I do. I know She's been fond of some of the folks from there who traveled with us.
She doesn't have a name. None that She's told me, I should say. You know what I call her, just like I know what you call me. Who knows? Maybe She'll tell you what Her name is, and you'll be one up on me.
Yes, She likes you. Very much.
No, I'm not going to tell you why I know that. You want to know? You'll have to ask Her yourself.
I am not being mean. It's just...complicated.
Trust me, I'm being kind.
And so is She.