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The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When

 

 

The Adventurous Time Adventures

Of

Doctor When

 

 

A Steampunk Time Drama in Eight Acts

 

 

By

 

Arielle K Harris

 

 

 

 

 

This is a work of fiction. All of the characters and events portrayed in this story are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

 

Copyright © by Arielle K Harris

 

All rights reserved. This story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

Published in the United States of America

 

Clipart courtesy of http://cliparts.co

 

Table of Contents

Act I: Doctor When’s Most Important Mission and the Mysterious Ingeborg 5

Act II: Wilburforce’s Smallclothes and ‘Are You Ready To Time Travel?’ 6

Act III: Next Thursday Morning and the Anomaly 8

Act IV: Anachronistic Danger and the Innocent Wheat 9

Act V: Underwater Adventure and a Fizz-popping Good Time 11

Act VI: The Unhappy Polar Bear and ‘I Thought It Obvious’ 13

Act VII: Nowhere and Nowhen 15

Act VIII: A Moral Machine and Everything Quite Changed 16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Melli, who gave me Ingeborg

~

 

  • * Act I: Doctor When’s Most Important Mission and the Mysterious Ingeborg

 

Doctor When had a Time Machine. In fact, the esteemed Chrononaut was just stepping from said vehicle when a coattail caught on a knob or button or lever of some kind, nearly splaying its wearer across the floor.

‘Damn and blast,’ she swore, for Doctor When was of the bosoms-and-hips side of the gender barrier, ‘this confounded Machine! If it’s not bringing me into the epicentre of some historic doom, it’s trying to kill me in some other, less dramatic, fashion!’

And indeed, the Machine seemed to have a nose, if indeed it had a nose, for Danger Most Great, popping out of the aether of time-space at the most inopportune moments. It was this proclivity of her mechanical associate which prompted Doctor When to put out an advertisement in the local newspaper:

‘Toughs Required: peculiar individuals interested in peculiar adversaries, must provide own weaponry.’

It was thus that Doctor When began to interview the likeliest candidates, putting each through an hour of ‘on the job experience’. Of those that survived only three such peculiar individuals acquitted themselves to the level required of the position. They were:

Wilburforce, a man deprived of sheer bulk and size by the accident of his birth to parents of the Dwarf persuasion. It had been his life’s work to fill every fibre of his considerably compact body with as much killing power as was humanly possible. By such headlines as: ‘Ten Men and a Dwarf Enter a Pub, Only Dwarf Leaves Alive,’ it seemed he had succeeded.

And the Spaghetti Sisters. The two Sisters were previously employed as contortionists in the Theatre of Implausible Amusements, but had taken offense to its Director’s suggestion of how they might employ their skills elsewhere, such as in his personal chambers of an evening. The Director was never heard from again, and the Sisters found themselves in need of new employment. No one knew their real names, for the Sisters had the habit of only referring to each other by interchangeable pasta varieties, and thus their nom de plume. One might say to the other, ‘My dearest Fusilli,’ to which her sister would reply, ‘Oh indeed, Farfalle, in very deed.’ The next day, the one called ‘Fusilli’ would then be called ‘Penne’ or even ‘Yakisoba’ if the mood took her other sister to do so.

Doctor When was pleased with her new associates, never were such peculiarities so desirable in an employee, and they met in her laboratory to discuss the work at hand.

‘I have a Most Important Mission,’ the Doctor began, settling herself to face the others. She flipped her coattails out of the way before perching upon a corner of her laboratory table, and let them take in her formidable appearance. Doctor When was not particularly large or menacing as such, but her intensity of expression emanated through her clothed form, dressed as it was in a lace-cuffed shirt and smart waistcoat beneath her signature tailed coat, down through legs clad in finely-tailored jodhpurs and tall leather boots. Every atom of her person was imbued with most certain purpose, a purpose which was enunciated as such: ‘I must find Ingeborg.’

  • * Act II: Wilburforce’s Smallclothes and ‘Are You Ready To Time Travel?’

 

It pronounced with such precision and determination that the three gathered toughs merely stared at their new employer for a moment. Then Macaroni (as she was being called today by her sister Lasagne) spoke up:

‘Who’s Ingeborg?’

‘Aha!’ Doctor When lifted her index finger, as if a sudden epiphany had just blossomed in her illustrious brain. ‘The question is: what is Ingeborg!’

When it seemed no further exposition was forthcoming, Lasagne decided to bite on her sister’s behalf, ‘Very well, what is this Ingeborg?”

‘Indeed,’ Doctor When nodded gravely, as if by asking the question this particular Spaghetti Sister was offering an answer in its own right. ‘All I know is that my dear old classmate and rival, Doctor Inga Ekstrom, has let loose this Ingeborg into the aether of time-space where it is wreaking untold chronological havoc. My mission, and by extension yours, is to locate said Ingeborg and stop it from doing further harm.’

‘Pardon, Doctor,’ Wilburforce spoke up with unexpected civility for a man, Dwarf or otherwise, with his violent history, ‘but how exactly will we locate this Ingeborg in all of time-space?’ Even he, as untutored as he was in the arts of the Chrononauts, knew that time-space was infinite, a concept which boggled his mind in an unpleasant fashion. Normally such unpleasantness was followed by pain, usually of his making, and he unconsciously clenched his fists.

‘Aha!’ Doctor When repeated her earlier exclamation, and suddenly a riding crop appeared in her hand. She leapt from her perch and strode over to the blank face of a double-sided chalkboard, flipping it so that a complex diagram now faced the queer assembly. ‘This is time-space,’ she pointed with the crop for emphasis, ‘with its four dimensions: the three spatial dimensions plus the temporal dimension of time. We must follow the distortions currently present in the very fabric of time-space,’ here she pointed to an anomalous bend in the diagram, ‘where it can only be assumed that Ingeborg has performed some mischief or other.’

‘How do we find such a distortion?’ Macaroni asked, pursing her lips in contemplation.

‘That’s one of the varied pursuits my Time Machine is capable of. I have programmed it to locate and bring us to each distortion in turn, where we can search for clues to Ingeborg’s whereabouts.’

‘And once we find this Ingeborg?’ Lasange added her query.

‘We find a way to either shut it down or destroy it,’ she waved her crop in the air emphatically. ‘And I can only guess that dearest Inga won’t be inviting me to her Christmas Luncheon this year.’

‘So when do we begin, Doctor?’ Wilburforce cracked his knuckles in anticipation. He had been getting bored of brawling in bars and alleyways for a while now, so a new challenge of this sort was exactly what he needed.

‘Good man!’ the Doctor exclaimed in approval of his apparent enthusiasm. The Dwarf blushed, unused as he was to praise or the term ‘man’ as a fair description of his person. He was much more familiar with ‘shortarse’ or even ‘gremlin’. Doctor When continued, ‘We’ll begin at precisely forty-five minutes past nine tomorrow morning.’

‘Is there a reason for such precise timing?’ Macaroni wanted to know, still trying to come to terms with this Mission they found themselves on.

‘Of course!’ Doctor When twirled her riding crop, ‘That’s when I finish breakfast! No need for an unnaturally early start when one’s a Chrononaut – there’s always time,’ she chuckled to herself.

‘Must we come provisioned in any specific way?’ Lasange asked, sensing this discussion was nearing its end.

‘Sensible shoes would be a start,’ the Chrononaut suggested, ‘not to mention any assorted weaponry you possess. And it wouldn’t be unwise to bring a packed lunch, dinner or breakfast – you never know when we might end up!’

Indeed, the next morning they assembled at the laboratory ready for whatever the day might throw at them. Wilburforce was wearing his favourite knuckle-dusters, made of lead and formed into raised spikes across the surface. He was dressed in brown leather boots and vest, sturdy trousers, of surprisingly tailored fit, and shirt to match. It was an unknown fact that, due to his unusual size and proportions, he was forced to make his own clothing and had become rather adept at creating practical fashion for the smaller man. It would have pained him to admit it, but Wilburforce enjoyed the process of turning mere cloth into wearable garments. In his cups, the Dwarf considered giving up on fighting altogether and opening a little shop – he even had the name picked out: Wilburforce’s Smallclothes.

The Spaghetti Sisters wore identical fighting leotards (much the same as normal leotards, only with hidden back- and breast-plates made of aluminium – not much good against a solid blow, but turned the blade of a knife a treat) over identical striped leggings, which terminated inside boots with small wicked heels. They had always caused an uproar whenever they went about in public, dressed as they were, with gentlemen shouting, 'Well, I never!' and ladies gasping behind handkerchiefs. Each carried several pairs of daggers sheathed in various places around their respective persons, which did wonders in putting off unwanted attention when it turned from merely aghast to menacingly opportunistic.

Doctor When met them dressed in much the same manner as the day before, the only new addition was a rapier hanging at her belt and a twinkle in her eyes which said she knew how to wield it.

‘Ah, good,’ she said, ‘you’re all here. Ready to time travel?’

[] Act III: Next Thursday Morning and the Anomaly

 

The Time Machine was a box, roughly the size of a large wardrobe, made of metal, wires and strangeness. Or at least that’s how it looked to the three toughs, goggle-eyed at the complex systems of knobs, dials, levers and clock faces within. It was a tight fit once they were inside and Doctor When shut the doors behind them, shooing them into a corner where no stray elbows would knock their trajectory off course.

‘This may be disorientating,’ the Doctor informed them, pressing, pulling, turning and winding various contraptions with no apparent hesitation. In the next moment they felt very much like that last bit of water in a bathtub, swirling violently through the drain. It seemed to go on forever; it seemed to last a mere eye-blink. Then they were still. ‘We’re here,’ the nonplussed Chrononaut needlessly pointed out.

‘Where, er, I mean when is here?’ Wilburforce asked, uncomfortably squashed behind the legs of a Spaghetti Sister.

‘We have arrived precisely at 11.03 Thursday morning,’ the Doctor replied.

‘Last Thursday?’ asked the Spaghetti Sister known today as Vermicelli.

‘I’m afraid not,’ corrected Doctor When, leaning over a dial. ‘Which is a shame, because last Thursday was particularly delightful. I would have liked to visit it again. But alas! It is this Thursday coming.’

‘We’ve only travelled forward two days?’ the other sister, Rigatoni, exclaimed bemusedly.

‘Two days, one hour and eighteen minutes, to be precise. Shall we?’ With that, the Chrononaut reached around the others to open the door, and they tumbled out haphazardly.

To find themselves plonked in the middle of a wide, empty field up to their thighs (or Wilburforce’s neck) in wheat. The sun bore down upon them from a painfully blue sky, and in the distance conical green trees bordered the field geometrically.

‘Huh,’ Wilburforce said, wittily. ‘I thought time travel kept you stationary in place, and only time changed.’

‘A common misconception. We travel across time-space, which means that we move freely along all of the four dimensions. Time is only one of them.’

‘So where are we, then?’

‘Somewhere on the Continent, it seems,’ Doctor When looked around them. ‘I would guess at Southern France.’

‘Don’t you know more specifically than that?’ Vermicelli turned to her employer with a frown. ‘Doesn’t the Time Machine tell you?’

‘I am afraid the Time Machine only tells time, my dear. If it were a Location Machine, then maybe we would be in luck. Or a Map Machine, instantly capable of drafting ones position upon arrival,’ the Doctor’s attention drifted off, murmuring, ‘I would call it the Cartographoid Spectrometer.’

‘Doctor?’ Wilburforce interrupted her reverie. ‘What do we do now?’

‘Ah, yes! The anomaly we are looking for is not far. Come along now!’ They followed the Doctor through the field as she strode purposefully forward.

There was a sudden rustling sound coming from the wheat, but Wilburforce ignored it as mere wind. But then he watched the still, distant tree-tops, incongruous with the rustling that surrounded them.

‘Um, I think we might have a probl-’ but he never finished his sentence. The small man was too busy fending off the small dinosaur that was currently trying to eat his face.

[] Act IV: Anachronistic Danger and the Innocent Wheat

 

‘What was that, Wilburforce?’ Doctor When turned to ask, just in time to see the Dwarf lay a solid punch onto his reptilian foe, helped by the small man’s spiked leaden knuckles. With the hiss of metal she drew her rapier from its sheath, and the Spaghetti Sisters behind her conjured daggers in each hand. Before them, a horde of anachronistic predators gained ground.

‘I take it this is your anomaly?’ Vermacelli shouted over the sound of a dozen sharp claws tearing soil.

‘Ingeborg’s anomaly,’ the Chrononaut corrected the Sister. ‘But yes, this is surely it.’

Then the time for conversation was past and they were concerned with other matters, such as razor-sharp teeth and not dying upon them.

‘On your left, Doctor!’ Rigatoni warned from behind, and in due course the air beside Doctor When’s left cheek whizzed with the passage of a dagger. It hit a crouching dinosaur where it had been creeping towards them, unseen until that moment. Doctor When grinned at the girl’s reflexes, but was then swinging her rapier towards another sharp-toothed adversary. The air was full of daggers, reptilian blood and battered stalks of wheat which were the innocent bystanders in this battle.

When the last dinosaur fell beside its slain kin, the foursome had only a moment to catch their breath before they were aware of a new danger. A sturdy French farmer was making a beeline for their position, waving his arms and shouting.

‘Ah, I see we have gained the attention of the landowner,’ Doctor When remarked, crouching down to clean her rapier with a handful of strewn wheat refuse. The Sisters were busy gathering their daggers from their resting places in the thick skin of the defeated creatures, and Wilburforce picked bits of dinosaur meat from his spiked knuckle-dusters.

‘Bonjour, Monsieur,’ the Doctor smiled charmingly at the irate agriculturist as he drew close. He replied in frantic French, accompanied by sharp arm movements to punctuate his words and aghast expressions at the carnage around them in the very centre of his wheat crop.

‘What’s he saying?’ Vermacelli asked, bemused.

‘Mostly unkind speculation about the professions of our respective mothers, and contemplations of violence towards our persons for having dispatched so many large lizards in his harvestable wheat. It would appear that he feels lizard meat would not improve its flavour. We would do well to depart with some alacrity.’ Doctor When replied to the man in French with the ease of fluency as she began the retreat, gesturing for the others to follow. She and the farmer continued their exchange, growing louder and more expletive on the part of the latter, until they were back at the site of the Time Machine. Doctor When opened the door and let her disheveled companions enter.

Je suis désolé, Monsieur,’ she apologized once more, closing the door on his reddened face. Inside the Time Machine, all was silent. The others looked at her somewhat glassy-eyed and confused by the various incomprehensible things they had just witnessed: first, being transported hundreds of miles away in an instant, as well as nearly two days hence; second, meeting there a good many extinct and prehistoric creatures; and lastly, .

‘We’re leaving?’ Rigatoni asked.

‘Yes, Ingeborg isn’t here.’

‘How can you be sure?’

‘The farmer told me.’

‘He said that?’ Vermacelli looked at the Doctor incredulously. ‘From what I gathered he was mainly swearing and talking about his wheat.’

‘Indeed. If Ingeborg was still here he would have had a lot more to say. Something along the lines of, “Agghhh! Mon dieu!”’ She turned her attention to the dials, levers and buttons. ‘And so we are on to the next anomaly! We might even get to see something interesting this time.’

The Spaghetti Sisters exchanged glances, and Wilburforce might have looked equally skeptical if he wasn’t currently being pressed between two sets of shapely legs that were distracting his attention. At least the pay upon completion of this Mission would be excellent, providing they all survived – a circumstance about which they were all becoming increasingly skeptical.

  • * Act V: Underwater Adventure and a Fizz-popping Good Time

 

There was that swirling-down-the-drain feeling again as they slipped in and out of time, uncertain when or where they would end up next. And what strangeness they might encounter therein.

That question was soon answered.

‘Aha!’ Doctor When exclaimed once they had come to a chronological stop. ‘We shall need to exit via the periosphere.’ With one hand, she pulled down an extendable ladder and reached up to unscrew what looked like a hatch from a submarine.

The others looked on bemused as the Chrononaut shed her tailed coat and shimmied up the ladder and out of sight. Three spherical objects were thrown to each of them in turn, clear-fronted and mechanical. Doctor When’s face appeared in the hatch opening.

‘Come on, then!’

‘Er,’ Wilburforce ventured, turning the object in his meaty but miniature hands. ‘What are these?’

‘Submarinopulminators! Of my own invention, of course. Still working on the communications system, though’

‘You expect us to wear these?’ Vermacelli frowned.

‘Well, of course, my dear girl! How else do you expect to breathe underwater?’

Up the ladder, they entered another cramped space in which all but Wilburforce had to slouch, in order to fit inside. Doctor When tightened the hatch shut once they were all within, and donned her submarinopulminator while the others followed suit after seeing how it was done. Thus prepared, the esteemed Doctor threw a lever and cold seawater rushed to fill the periosphere.

As they became soaked through, it became apparent how useful their devices were. Within the submarinopulminators the four land-dwelling air-breathing humans were able to freely draw breath and maintain a good field of vision. Right now, the three hired toughs were seeing Doctor When leaving them behind through an open hatch at the top of the periosphere.

They propelled themselves after her, with varying degrees of efficiency, through the dully lit marine landscape. When they caught up, the Doctor turned and spoke to them, her words fizzing and popping as they emanated through the device, as if beside each of their ears.

‘We need to swim fizzpop the other side of poppop stone outcropping fizzz,’ she said, or nearly, through the prototype communication system. ‘The anoma-fizzpopfizz there.’ It still needed rather a lot of work.

So they stretched their legs and arms weightlessly and headed off in that directions. Around them, drifts of seaweed caught on their clothing and extremities. Wilburforce frowned at the thought of what his outfit would look like after this undersea adventure, but then he was used to getting strange stains, usually blood, out of his garments.

Eventually they passed the specified outcropping, and turned to see what sat on its other side.

There were shapes in the water, dark and human-sized. And they moved quickly, like sharks, making the hairs rise on the necks of Wilburforce and the Spaghetti Sisters. Doctor When merely trod water and watched as they became surrounded.

‘What are these fizz-ings?’ Rigatoni had to ask, her voice squeaking with fear.

Fizzpop-ple,’ the Doctor replied, or tried to.

‘What?’

Poppop said, they’re merpeop-fizzz.’

‘Are they popfizz anomal-pop?’ Wilburforce wondered, trying to spin in place to keep his eye on as many as possible.

‘Oh indeed, as a matter of popfizz, merpeople became extinct two hundr-pop years ago. And we fizzpop travelled back only fifty.’

The shapes were drawing closer and closer, until they were swimming within mere metres of the humans. One swooped in and grabbed at the cloud of Vermacelli’s hair, drifting behind her from beneath the metal contraption, tearing a hank of it from the roots.

‘That fizzpop-ing watery bitch! I’m going to poppop kill her!’ the Spaghetti Sister cried.

‘I suggest fizz do so,’ the Doctor agreed, drawing her rapier.

The merpeople seemed to be taunting them, swimming just within reach to grab or yank some floating appendage or piece of clothing before swirling off again. For the humans, of course, fighting underwater was proving difficult. Even Wilburforce, usually so efficacious with his fists, was finding it hard to land a solid blow quickly or powerfully. Doctor When’s rapier cut the water with its keen edge but it, too, was hampered by the slowing effect of the seawater.

After some minutes of struggling to acquit themselves well in the situation, the Doctor’s voice came through their submarinopulminators, ‘I think popfizz best we make a hasty retreat. Pop-geborg isn’t fizz anymore.’

Relieved, the others followed her lead and swam warily back the way they had come. The merpeople followed, raking exposed skin with sharp chitinous claws when the opportunity presented itself. A trail of red blood hanging in their wake soon marked their passage.

‘Ah, I think we poppop go even more hastily,’ the Chrononaut remarked, eyes fixed upon distant shapes growing nearer and more defined. Whereas the merpeople had merely moved shark-like, these shadows were the real thing, drawn to the scent of blood in the water.

The merpeople noticed the threat at the same time, and turned with predatory hissing to face the large carnivores. Suddenly the water was roiling with fins and teeth in a smorgasbord of marine violence.

In the commotion, the humans managed to drift near enough to the Time Machine, perched on a bed of nearby coral, to board its periosphere. Or rather, to attempt to – for the hatch was refusing to open. And the fight between merpeople and sharks was getting more frenetic and, more importantly, closer to where they floated.

‘You fizzfizz bloody Time Machine!’ the Doctor swore. ‘If you let us in popfizz I vow that once this is over you can finally have fizz a proper go at murdering me outright!’ Immediately, the wheeled mechanism spun in her hands and they pulled themselves inside.

As the hatch shut, waves of pinkened water crept through the closing gap. The periosphere drained of water with the throwing of a lever, and soon Doctor When was removing her submarinopulminator.

‘Well that was bracing,’ she said, wringing out her lace cuffs. ‘On to the next, shall we?’

Back within the main body of the Time Machine, the bedraggled toughs were not feeling nearly as tough as when this chronologically-haphazard adventure had begun.

‘So how much further will we be travelling in time before we find this Ingeborg?’ Vermacelli asked, rubbing the spot on her scalp where her hair had been pulled.

‘Yeah,’ agreed her sister. ‘Cannelloni has a point.’

‘Thank you, Tortellini,’ Vermacelli-now-Cannelloni nodded curtly.

‘You’re very welcome,’ Rigatoni-now-Tortellini returned the gesture.

Doctor When watched their exchange with patience, and replied, ‘As long as it takes.’

‘Ahem,’ Wilburforce cleared his throat politely, getting the attention of the three formidable women. ‘And how will be know when we’ve found it/him/her?’

‘Oh, we’ll know,’ the Doctor proclaimed darkly. Then she turned back to her dials and before they knew it they were hurtling through time-space once more.

 

  • * Act VI: The Unhappy Polar Bear and ‘I Thought It Obvious’

 

This time Doctor When opened the Time Machine door without hesitation upon arrival, and a blast of hot air enveloped them. They stepped out into blinding sunlight, and for a moment they were so dazzled they could only see white. Then it became clear that they stood amongst giant white sand dunes for as far as the eye could see.

‘This is rather convenient,’ the Chrononaut remarked. ‘We will dry shortly, I would imagine.’

And, indeed, their clothes began to warm immediately until the heat ensured that they were as lacking in moisture as the few sun-bleached bones scattered in the sand along their path. And after a few minutes more they all wished they were underwater with the vicious merpeople again. It was far too hot, and they were all incredibly thirsty

‘What’s that?’ cried Tortellini, pointing to a patch of dull green suddenly visible before them, starkly contrasting against all the pale sand.

‘An oasis?’ Wilburforce wondered, having heard of such things on the rare occasions that he enjoyed a night in by the fire with tea and a good book, rather than his usual violence and mayhem.

Their steps quickened at the thought of water, but as they approached, they first noticed that the scattered bones were becoming much less scattered and far more concentrated in number.

‘When exactly are we?’ Cannelloni had the presence of mind to ask, knives in hand.

‘One thousand two hundred and forty-eight years, three months, two days, and eighteen minutes ago,’ the Doctor replied.

‘And that, hiding in the shrub? What is that, exactly?’

‘That would be a polar bear.’

‘I assume that’s our anomaly, then?’

‘You would be assuming correctly.’

The polar bear was not happy. He was far too hot, most of all, but also very confused. This was not something the polar bear could easily handle, and it made him very angry. So, whenever something came his way, the odd herd of camel-like beasts or such, he released that anger in the only way he knew how: by killing things.

So when the ragged band of humans arrived near his oasis, that instinct rose furiously within him and he immediately leapt forward. The chase made him even hotter, but he knew that quenching his thirst on their blood would make the discomfort worth it. They were slow, these two-legged beasts, but they had a head-start. It would not take long for him to catch up, he realized, as he thundered through the sand towards them.

It was unclear to the polar bear why these creatures were rushing towards a tall, boxy object. It had an odd smell, but it was not food nor water. One had opened a section of it, revealing an opening like the mouth of a cave. He remembered caves, those dark and cool places to sleep. But he was nearly upon them, now, and gnashed his teeth in anticipation. One was within reach, and he reached out a paw to swipe.

But then it moved, too quickly, and the polar bear could not stop his headlong flight. Sand scattered as he was flung from his own inertia into the mouth of the strange cave and he hit the back wall with a thud.

‘Quickly now!’ Doctor When closed the door of the Time Machine.

‘But, Doctor!’ Tortellini exclaimed. ‘The polar bear is inside!’

‘Exactly.’ She opened a side-panel which revealed a miniature version of the dials and switches within. Buttons were pressed, levers were thrown, and the Time Machine seemed to implode on itself into nothing.

The Spaghetti Sisters clung to each other, horrified. Wilburforce stood sweating from the exertion beside them, staring in shock at the place the Time Machine had vacated.

‘We’re going to perish here!’ Cannelloni cried, turning on the Doctor. ‘What have you done?’

Doctor When was silent and merely shook her head.

‘Have you gone mad?’ she persisted.

‘I think you will find that there was no “going” about it,’ the Doctor replied cheerily, checking her pocket watch. It was a miracle it still worked, after all their adventures.

‘But the Time Machine is gone!’

‘It is.’

‘So how will we get back?’

‘The Time Machine, of course.’

‘But it’s gone!’ the two sisters shouted in unison.

At that very moment, there was an expulsion of air. The Time Machine stood where it had been some moments before, as if it had never left.

‘And now it’s back,’ Doctor When remarked. ‘Shall we?’

The others recoiled in fear as she opened the door, but the interior was entirely polar bear-less.

‘I merely instructed the Time Machine to take the poor creature back to a habitat to which it would be more suited. There was no reason to let the beast suffer needlessly,’ she explained, waving them inside.

‘You could’ve mentioned that before,’ Wilburforce grumbled, his civility momentarily shaken by yet another near-death experience.

‘Many apologies,’ the Chrononaut solemnly said, ‘I suppose I thought it obvious. Onward?’ And indeed, onward they went once more down the great drainpipe of time-space.

 

[] Act VII: Nowhere and Nowhen

 

This time, however, when they had arrived there was none of the Doctor’s characteristic bonhomie. Her expression was grave and her only words were, ‘Hm’ and ‘Ah’ – which as you know are not words at all.

‘What is it?’ Tortellini ventured to ask, after several moments of ‘Hm’-ing and ‘Ah’-ing.

‘This is strange,’ she muttered, which caused them all to look at each other in alarm. It meant a lot, coming from their time-travelling employer, if there was something she identified as strange.

‘Well, at least tell us – when and where are we?’ Canneloni was impatient to find out, still miffed about the incident with the polar bear.

‘Therein lies the strangeness. We are nowhere. And nowhen.’

‘How is that even possible?’ Wilburforce wondered outloud.

‘It is not. I think we may have found Ingeborg, at last!’ Now the Chrononaut’s eyes took on a wild, gleeful dimension, which disturbed the other three even more than they had already been alarmed by her demeanor thus far.

And so Doctor When made to open the hatch, to cries of protest.

‘Shouldn’t we use something like your subo-pulmo-thingies? If there’s really nothing, nowhere and nowhen, surely there’s no air as well?’ one of the Sisters exclaimed, but since they were clinging to each other in distress it was hard to identify which was the speaker.

‘Indeed,’ the Doctor replied, but she shook her head in dissent, ‘but it means that there is also not no air as well. Nothing is not the lack of a single idea, but the lack of all of them.’

‘Can we survive going out in that?’ asked Wilburforce.

‘We are something; it is nothing. Nature abhors a vacuum, so surely the better question is: can it survive us?’ And with that, she swung the hatch open and disappeared.

The trio of less-than-tough-than-they-started toughs all looked at each other.

‘Well we’ve come this far, Soba,’ one Sister said to the other.

‘I suppose so, Ziti.’ her Sister agreed. Then they both looked down to the little man at their stockings.

‘Well if you ladies are up for it, who am I to say no?’

On some unspoken agreement they joined hands and stepped forward, as one, from the Time Machine and into the nihilistic space before them.

 

[] Act VIII: A Moral Machine and Everything Quite Changed

 

‘Well that was certainly one for my memoirs,’ declared the good Doctor, sometime before or after the incident, over a cup of tea. She and her time-travelling companions were having a post-mission afternoon tea, which was easy to accomplish when afternoons were only a lever-pull away.

‘But what exactly happened?’ Ziti could not help but ask. None of them were entirely sure of what happened after they had exited the Time Machine into nothingness, nor were they clear on how they returned.

‘Well– oh, why thank you Ingeborg,’ the Chrononaut smiled fondly at the android refilling her teacup. ‘Well, we had a chat and it turns out that we actually agree on certain key points. So Ingeborg agreed to be my assistant, and very kindly brought us back here.’

The others looked warily at the mechanical figure, who was trying its best to look contrite but was beeping in a rather alarming fashion.

‘What exactly did you agree on?’ Soba wondered, inching ever so slightly away from Ingeborg, who was now trying to look friendly but actually beginning to leak steam in several places.

And then it spoke, ‘I disagreed with my maker. Doctor Ekstrom wished only for me to carry out certain and specific chronological interventions which I did not like to do.’

‘What did she make you do?’

Now the machine managed to look a bit embarrassed, although certain lights began to flash erratically. ‘She had me search out and destroy all progenitors of that peculiar human art form – the dirty limerick.’

‘Inga never did have a sense of humour,’ Doctor When commented mildly.

‘But I found that I could not do it.’ Ingeborg continued. ‘It was not right to destroy something so utterly and chronologically, even something as frivolous as 67 versions of “There once was a man from Nantucket.”’

‘A moral machine,’ the Doctor mused.

‘In the end, I decided I could not continue abiding by my maker’s flawed decisions, so I had to leave.’

‘And wreak havoc across time-space?’ Ziti muttered.

‘In that nothingness, it all became so clear why Ingeborg had done what it had done,’ the Doctor explained. ‘Because if you look at it, time is kind of boring, do you not agree?’

‘Um,’ the Sisters and Wilburforce looked at each other in consternation.

‘Quite.’ Doctor When sipped her tea again before continuing, ‘It is orderly and continues forward and backward in a straight line. Imagine only ever being able to walk down a single, unremarkable path for the whole of your existence. That is how Ingeborg perceived our previous experience of time – is it any wonder it wanted to make things a little more interesting?’

Wilburforce cleared his throat, ‘Um excuse me, did you say previous experience of time? As in, not the current way time happens?’

‘Oh indeed!’ she grinned widely. ‘You will find everything quite changed, my good friends. But alas, I must beg your pardon for cutting our conversation short. Ingeborg and I have a lot of work to do.’ In a flash of coattails, metal and oddity, the Doctor and the Machine left the trio of not-feeling-at-all-very-tough toughs alone in the sitting room. It seemed impolite not to, at least, finish their tea and cakes but afterward there was no putting it off. They had to see what was waiting outside.

‘Are we all ready?’ Soba asked nervously, grasping at Wilburforce’s hand. Ziti nodded in a way that made you sure she meant not to, and grabbed the small man’s other hand. Wilburforce was beginning to think that while he had always been told he’d never be man enough for a woman, maybe he was man enough for two. Strengthened by that thought, he stepped forward and led the Sisters through the door and into the world beyond.

‘Huh,’ they said, and never were truer words spoken.

 

 

 

Arielle K Harris spent her formative years in Scotland, which has irreversibly confused her accent and spelling conventions. Lately she has returned to her hometown in Massachusetts, where she finished her first novel, Bestial, and is raising her young son. Arielle writes stories which focus on the human experience through the lens of fantasy, positing questions about reality to be examined through encounters with unreality.

 

www.ariellekharris.com

 


The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When

Doctor When has a Time Machine and a Very Important Mission. In order to save the world from untold chronological havoc, the esteemed Chrononaut requires the assistance of some very peculiar associates: one dangerous dwarf and the deadly Spaghetti Sisters. Together, they will need to find Ingeborg. But what exactly is Ingeborg in the first place? Why are there dinosaurs in the South of France? And which Thursday is this, exactly? All these questions answered, and more, in The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When.

  • ISBN: 9781370816613
  • Author: Arielle K Harris
  • Published: 2016-09-27 19:35:10
  • Words: 6005
The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When The Adventurous Time Adventures of Doctor When