I’ll never know whether or not the Mother’s Watch leaders officially allowed me entrance into the All Mother chamber. My trick with the sonic left most of them spluttering, reeling. One of them required a lie down – guess which.

During the indignant surprise and shock which rattled the crowd, I took my opportunity to enter, followed swiftly behind by Aloy. On the other side of the door, I used the sonic to close it again. It seemed best.

“Only a little bit of showing off, then,” she said when the top panels had slammed back together. Some familiarity and friendliness had crept back into Aloy’s voice. We started to stroll, side by side.

“I’ll make my apologies later. I shouldn’t be so disrespectful, I do try to adhere to cultural traditions, but I’ve never been good with being told what I can’t do.”

“I can relate. Maybe it’s a…Timelord, thing?”

“Timelord, yep. Well remembered!”

“I thought that was the name of your tribe. Back there, you called yourself a different species.”

“Correct.” We walked in silence for a few moments, save for our footsteps. Unfortunately for Aloy, I’m an expert at spotting when someone wants to ask a difficult question. “Well?” It’s easy when you yourself are notorious for asking difficult questions.

“Well. You look human.”

“So do you, but don’t let it get you down.”

We carried on walking, our way lit by interior lighting that was somehow still working. I commented on the power source to Aloy, but she admitted she didn’t know. The last (also first) time she’d been here, her priorities had been on a track heading closer to home. It helped my optimism. If the lights had power, then hopefully so did the computers.

It was like walking inside a giant wire. The walls, ceiling and floors were all metal; modern, slate-coloured, polished clean and entirely characterless, built in the name of simplicity, not aesthetic, and certainly a later period than 21st century.

In the rooms and passages we passed, there were birthing pods, stasis chambers, rehabilitation zones and residential living quarters. Food stores of reconstituted everything. Water recycling plants. Even a few books, which I was liable to steal. They were wasted down here.

It had a distinct sense of the word “stronghold” about it, on the other side of a dreadnought-class doorway which could have withstood – within reason – the end of the world.

When we sat on the Tallneck, I’d mentioned my idea of a ‘planet-wide reset’ to Aloy and had felt fairly sure. Now, I was downright certain.

Aloy spoke up again. “So, what does a Timelord do?”

“Let me see. Typically, put on ridiculous head-dress, spend too many weeks pontificating in the Capital, make up some lies, disguise xenophobia as passive observation, and generally doss about while the rest of us go out into the universe and actually make a difference.” I stopped at a junction. Looked left and right. Opted for left. “Sorry. Old grudges.” My words left behind an awkward silence. Fortunately, I’m immune to them.

“Bit of a sore topic, then,” Aloy said at last. I made a brief grunt in return. To say my feelings towards my own race is ‘a sore topic’ is like referring to a gunshot wound as ‘a bit sore.’

After trekking deeper and lower into the All Mother chambers, past so many underground homes that were far from ‘homely’, we eventually reached a wide, curved room containing what I’d wanted all along: computer terminals. I marched in, fitting the sonic’s sharp hacking attachment as I went. At the first worktop, I drove it deep into the nearest unit, like plunging a knife into a watermelon. Crude, but faster than regular sonic hacking, automatically initiating a remote link to the Q.U.A.R.K.

And through that……

“Hark! The third degenerate child of Gallifrey survives.”

Aloy checked around the room, observing each corner and workstation, finishing back at me.

I raised my right wrist and tapped the Q.U.A.R.K. “Aloy, meet Odyssey. Odyssey, Aloy. Odyssey is my ship.”

“The one you crashed.”

“Not for the first time.”

“Did you genuinely just say ‘hark’ by the way?”

“Need I remind you who regulates my vocabulary?”

“Alright, we can make jokes at my expense all we like-”

“Invitation accepted.”

“But first, I need you to open a new archive item. Timestamp 31st century, planetary location Earth. A potential parallel universe, we are in the plural zones after all, this one’s an apparent victim to a worldwide reset. That’s why we’re here, anyway. To find out.”

“Files are already downloading. Did that crash knock out your ability to read?”

“How about I show you?” Aloy joined me by the computer. “Can you link…that to my Focus?”

“Probably. What’s a Focus?”

She ran a hand through her hair and over her right ear, uncovering the small triangle-shaped device clipped there. It was white, and sleek. A potential advancement, or parallel alternative, to iPhones.

“Odyssey, can-”

“Done it.”

Its effect was immediate. A 3D virtual world of information had blossomed into view around us, being projected from Aloy’s Focus. Now linked to the Q.U.A.R.K, I could see it too. It was a beautiful wireframe display, finished in cool colours of deep blues and purples, with screen-less windows of info.

“HH, I’ve hacked the network. You should now have full access.”

Our virtual world grew denser in information. Thousands of new files presented themselves. We were inundated with a choice of audio files. A few dozen screen-less windows opened around the existing ones.

My eyes darted between them all, unsure where to start.

The truth of this world was mine, at last.



In the Hall of the Mountain Queen

A matriarchal society tribe. 1000+ years had lent Earth a little sensibility. Granted, one tribe in one pocket of one country of one planet does not a unified world make – but Earth has seen its share of problems with men in charge. There was still every possibility that “whatever had happened” to the world was caused for precisely that reason.

While my thoughts pulled away and switched straight into a high gear, the five leaders approached. I swept off my top hat again, and bowed low.

I might have pulled a komodo dragon out of the hat, for all they cared. Their attentions, flooded with fury, were fixated on Aloy.

“You were attempting to access the All Mother in the presence of this male. Explain yourself,” hissed one of them. I corrected myself; she was the furious one, Miss Second from the Left. The rest were just angry, with the exception of the eldest in the middle. She seemed genuinely entertained.

“If I may,” I said, amicably enough, “I wasn’t aware of your customs, and would like to offer my apologies.” This merited zero reaction.

Aloy coughed behind me. “They’re not permitted to speak to outsiders.” She sounded detached, almost indifferent, to me now. Was FutureHH to blame, or the presence of her elders?

“Are you permitted?” I replied.

“I was an outsider too.”

“Hmm. That isn’t a massive surprise.” I addressed the leaders and the cave in general. “So what does one have to do, to ascend from the rank of outsider?”

“Stop talking,” answered the leader in the middle. The remaining four gaped at her, aghast.

“That’ll be difficult,” I replied, oblivious.

Miss Second from the Left bristled at me, before continuing. “Aloy, what have you brought with you? This man is an outsider, a lunatic, clearly dangerous in nature” – I gave a ‘fair enough’ shrug – “he cannot be here, and is certainly not permitted before the All Mother. What do you have to say for yourself?”

People were starting to wake up, stand, huddle together, observe the spectacle unfolding. Most eyes upon me were scrutinising, the rest were fearful. Just as expected. Where they had been disturbing the peace with snores, now a background buzz of anxious voices had descended around us. I kept looking between Aloy, the five leaders, and the townsfolk, as if unsure where the biggest danger lay.

In that same, detached, matter-of-fact voice, Aloy answered. “This man fell from the sky and lived. He shut down Scrappers and Glinthawks in less than a second. He has promised to share this technology with me, in exchange for information.” She sounded like someone reading from a managerial agenda.

It still caused quite a stir. Forgetting themselves, the leaders and a few townsfolk looked towards me. A smaller number even met my gaze, before hurriedly looking away.

“He also has the power to stop time and will be alive a lot longer than all of us.” I nodded at that. FutureHH annoys the hell out of me, but he does at least prove some longevity.

A casual pause settled into the vast room. Aloy sighed, as though what she said next would cause pain or discomfort. “I suggest you listen to him.”

Four of the five leaders remained as unimpressed and impassive as the cavern walls, but the middle one gestured towards me – and apparently her word alone was enough.

Aloy was standing on a small raised disc in front of the door, her back to it. I went and joined her, and we were unintentionally scanned. A thin line of red laser cut through the murk and examined us, head-to-toe, and back again.

> Unauthorised user detected. Access: prohibited <

The female and robotic voice boomed into the cave and echoed away into its depths. I experienced a sudden GLaDOS-tinged shudder.

“You see?” It was screeched by Second from the Left (who else?) quite triumphantly. “The All Mother will not admit him. You seek to unleash a curse upon us, girl.”

Aloy tensed beside me; limited for space on the disc, we stood with our shoulders almost touching. I knew she was less than impressed with me, yet I raised a hand beside her, placating as best I could.

“Do we have a deal?” I muttered out the side of my mouth. We had been interrupted before she decided, and I needed to make sure I still had one friend left in the room.

“What are you planning to do?”

“My best.”

I turned to the five female leaders. “If I speak, will you listen?”

Four faces said No without the use for words; the middle one nodded to me. I spoke directly to her, doing my best to block out the flanking negativity.

My voice filled the cave. I’ve always found it easy to get my vocal chords booming. It’s the lack of an indoor voice.

“What Aloy has told you is true. Allow me to divulge a little more. I am not from your world. I am not from your time. I am not,” and I addressed this next bit to Aloy, “even from the same species.” I had made her a promise of some self-truths, after all.

“You have every right to loathe me, mistrust me, condemn me, even – if I’m honest, I’d be surprised if you didn’t – but you have no reason to. I have not come here to threaten your world, desecrate your shrines, nor cause harm to anyone. I have come here for the very same reason I go anywhere; information. My good friend Aloy here tells me, this is the place to find some.” I pointed a thumb over my shoulder to the ‘All-Mother’ door.

“But I know that knowledge, like most things in life, rarely comes for free. So I make to you, all of you, the very same promise I made to Aloy. Share with me the truth of your world, and in return, I will share with you the gifts from mine.” To finish my point, I equipped the sonic screwdriver and twiddled it between my fingers. Satisfied the crowd had seen it, I turned back to the door, my sonic-arm rising.

“The All-Mother will not allow this,” said Second from the Left, a sneer in her voice. “He will not enter!”

I swivelled my head back towards her, sonic aloft. “Is that your belief?”

“Yes,” she retorted, quite proudly, “it is.”

“Would you like to know the one thing inherently wrong with that belief?”


I activated the sonic and the door started to open. The top segments broke apart and slid into the walls, followed by the ones beneath. A bright light shone down on us from the area that lay within, made brighter the more the door opened. They all blinked, some shielded their eyes to it. I didn’t. I was still looking at the leaders, and said:



Before the Door

It was a door. To be as uncomplicated and anticlimactic as possible.

Admittedly, a triangular door, two storeys tall, built into the heart of the mountain. The sonic informed me its defences included multiple and assorted locking mechanisms, a bio-scanner, interface integrations, and enough strength to withstand more than a nuclear blast. This was a door built in mind of keeping something substantial from getting in.

Or getting out.

I finished my scan, caught Aloy staring at the sonic, smiled. I had made her a deal. New tech in exchange for knowledge – apparently a similar proposition once made to her by a man called “Sylens”. This may have been too fresh in her memory. There was a general air of irritation wafting from where she stood. My smile was not returned.

“Don’t worry,” I told her, as quiet and reassuring as I could manage, “I haven’t forgotten. You’ll get yours too. Once I’ve seen what’s inside here.”

“And then you’ll return to the skies.”

“Mmm,” I said, vaguely, examining the door. My fingertips studied its surface. The metal was smooth, split into equal segments which joined in the middle. I had a sneaking suspicion they were designed to slide away. This didn’t seem the type of door to just open on a hinge.

Thoughts concerned with Aloy’s tone drifted lazily on the edges of my mental perception.

“Where will you go next?” She asked. Similar tone. First warning sign.

“Hmm? Oh, anywhere, really. There is one place I’ve been really meaning to visit. And I’m sure there are planets in need of changing and lives in need of saving…or that might be the other way around.”

Aloy was suddenly beside me. I hadn’t heard her move. Regardless, I carried on inspecting the door. Holding my top hat aside, I placed my ear to its surface. It was impossible to tell if it was humming, or picking up the reverberations of nearby snoring.

“And you’ve been to other worlds?”

My eyes flicked to her looking down at me. I screwed up my face in thought. “Somewhere in the region of……a million, maybe,” I told her, bringing my head away from the door. There was the slightest hint of envy in her face for a brief moment, then replaced by something else. An expression I didn’t like. Second warning sign.

“So what’s this world? A million and one?”

I replaced my top hat, straightened up, and dropped my hands into my coat pockets. She had acquired my fullest attention. “What’s on your mind, Aloy?”

It wasn’t easy for her, trying to negotiate dramatically while talking in a little more than a whisper, though it did wonders for enhancing her anger. “I fought to the moment I could open this door. I travelled for weeks. Survived so much destruction, and you……you managed it in two days.”

“One of the benefits of time travel, I’m afraid.” Only when reading books do I refrain from skipping to the last chapter.

This did nothing to soothe the situation. “I asked you before, if you were dangerous, but this is different. It’s like you don’t care. About me, about anyone else.”

“That isn’t true.”

“You used me to get here. And then, when you’re done, you’ll move onto the next world. Find someone else to interrogate. Start all over again.”

I broke eye contact, unable to stop myself. Her words had cut deep and her gaze was rubbing salt in the wound. I don’t pride myself on my skill in manipulation – what others may call “trust” – but they do come so naturally, I barely notice it. Not until someone like her calls me out.

“Your older self knows it, too,” she added.

Salt in the wound became acid. We had been making good progress, with barely a wrong question asked. But she had been different and so quiet, since our encounter with FutureHH. Now I knew why. I saw what was clouding her thoughts. A feeling of unease from a formidable future.

“What do you want from me, Aloy? I can apologise, if you like, if that would make it better.”

“Who are you, HH? Who are you, why are you here, and,” she added after a pause, “why am I finding it so easy to trust you?” Her glare and expression both softened, then dropped to worry. She cast a glance around the cave, at her people and kinship, to whom she had brought…well, me.

I studied her face, hoping I looked as concerned as a felt – my expression has a habit of dropping into a dangerous neutral whenever I’m in trouble. There was a device clipped to her right ear. Now wasn’t my moment to question it.

“Would you accept a second deal, Aloy?” I asked, gentle as possible. Upon seeing her initial reaction, I added: “Hear me out, it works in your favour. You’ll get your sonic upgrade, I’ll help take down this…HADES thing, that still stands, but now it comes with a one-time bonus offer. Once I’ve seen this world’s story, I will tell you my own. No question-for-a-question. No tricks. Anything you want to know.”

More than capable of looking after herself, Aloy was adept at keeping her emotions hidden. I couldn’t tell if this new offer appealed.

“Tell you what. I’ll even start you off. HH isn’t my original name. There you are, that’s yours to keep. It’s not a fact I tell a lot of people.”

Just as I started to believe she might possibly be swayed, we were interrupted.

“What is the meaning of this? This is sacrilege!”

We turned to see an advancing five-strong-crowd of old women – not exactly the most threatening thing I’d ever seen. Behind them, people previously asleep were either waking up or already standing. That was probably my fault. My indoor voice, at the best of times, is suited best for a bowling alley.

Each old woman was decorated in machine panels, beads, and bangles – their attire suggesting something more in status than just a mere citizen or hunter. Their wooden staves too were rich in ornaments. Considering their swiftness in seizing control, the confidence and authority they commanded without effort, not to mention barking about sacrilege…

Oh yeah. I’d done it. I’d just met the leaders.


Among Them

Our desire to sleep had perished. I myself had no inclination to return to another nightmare of a collapsing Gallifrey. Aloy seems the type who once woken, that’s it.

We pressed on. To the HADES breach, to the truth about this world, to wherever Aloy was leading us which I hoped was a convenient combination of all three. When I broached the topic to Aloy she assured me, quite bluntly, it would be mine to know by the end of the day. The remainder of the journey continued in silence, made necessary by the restless machines around us, or made awkward by the words of FutureHH that clung to our minds.

A choice was coming, a wrong move, and all of it my fault…

In the dwindling darkness of the fifth hour, we reached a settlement Aloy called Mother’s Watch, nestled deep in the mountains. She strode in, making haste to the cliff-face at the back.

The settlement was deserted, an apparent victim of a skirmish. Sharpened logs which had previously served as the settlement walls were fallen in places and scorched in others. A few hut dwellings had collapsed, none remained intact, some had burned down to ashes. The ground was scarred with ruts and gouges made by mechanical claws. My biggest clue, though, was the lifeless form of a broken machine that lay crumpled in the middle of the settlement. Aloy answered my question and called it a Corruptor. It resembled an evil mixture of spider and scorpion, one so unlike the more passive deer/cat/bird machine designs I’d seen so far.

Aloy had taught me about corruption, the HADES-spawned malevolent virus that turned any and all machines wild and feral. If this was the machine which caused it, or spread the virus itself, the “Corruptor” looked the part.

I was glad for the lack of settlers. No doubt everyone would revere Aloy and condemn me under a scrutinising eye. No-one would speak to me. Not with words, anyway. Their instant dislike and mistrust of me wouldn’t require anything more than body language. I stick out even more than I usually do. I’m the only person without scavenged materials, metal panels, a wooden staff. (My desire for one of those things continues to increase.) To them, I am everything they despise, if not outright fear. I am something unknown.

By comparison, our wander under the cover of night was peaceful.

“Come on. This is what you wanted to see.” Aloy led us onwards, upwards, into a gigantic split in the mountainside and a cave hidden within. It was warmer, brighter than the outsider world and lit by wall sconces, high ceilinged, and full of sleeping bodies. Their assorted noises of rest disturbed the air. In that high hall of assorted snores, I allowed myself some silent confusion.

This is what I wanted to see?

Aloy’s pace slowed. I followed suit. Together, we crept past the townsfolk asleep on animal hides and straw. Preoccupied with my footing, predominately trying not to stand on anyone because what an introduction that would be, I didn’t take in my surroundings in full until Aloy stopped.

I glanced her way, she checked back and nodded to what was in front. I looked up and past her, saw what there was to be seen. Then, cautiousness damned, I passed her on the right and made my approach.


Night Fight

I paid little mind to Aloy; to my future self though, I paid fury in full, plus interest.

“Aloy, please can you give us a moment? Me and I need to have a little chat.” I made my request without looking at her, a neat trick that leaves minimal opportunity to protest. She did glance at FutureHH. When he gave the slightest of nods, she took her staff in hand and walked off, in the direction of the forest.

FutureHH watched her go. “You want to know something surprising? Even when I can remember doing that, despite knowing full well this interruption would happen, I’m still angry about it.”

“I don’t care. Why are you even here? You can meddle in your own messes all you like, but you have no right-”

“Don’t I?” FutureHH stood. To my shame, I admit I recoiled slightly, but recovered and stood my ground. I don’t have the right to visit old friends. Is that the rules you’re setting yourself? If so, you might want to prepare for one hell of a shock.”

“If it affects the course of-”

“Shut up.” His voice almost split the night. It carried across several fields over. Aloy stopped in her path, looked back with interest, but carried on.

“This discussion was bad enough when I was standing on your side. Let’s save us both time and effort. Ask me what’s really bothering you.” FutureHH’s Power Glare* was ramped up to its maximum; it would have been less painful to stare down a supernova.

“Why didn’t you tell me about Womble?” And this better be good, because I’ve got to say it myself, in a few millennia.

“We respect his decision.”

“Yes I know, but-”

We respect his decision.”

I nodded, and lowered myself onto the log, sitting by my future self. Two separate Present Tenses, side-by-side.

He’s right, of course. I’m right. Will be right. Had I known of Womble’s departure ahead of time, I’d have acted differently. Overfriendly, perhaps, possibly even needy. Maybe even have started an argument. Something that could only stand to make things worse.

“We both know the truth. Those who walk with us may brave the storm, but never emerge on the other side.”

My gaze trailed off, in the direction Aloy had taken.

“She is no exception. I’m sorry.”

“I’m worse off alone.”

“Not this time.”

“Then for once, for once, will you please tell me what is going to happen, and I will do all that I can to avoid it, or stop it, or-”

I was cut off by FutureHH standing up, punctuated by a loud sigh.

“It doesn’t work like that.”

“So you keep saying. Try something that does work. Tell me why you came here tonight, if you’re so sure there’s nothing you can do?”

FutureHH ran a hand across his eyelids “To look upon a world I recall with fondness. To enjoy a peaceful night. To remember Aloy, before what shall happen, happens.” A sharply-pointed gaze came my way. FutureHH’s eyes were steady, but I noticed they were somewhat wet around the edges. “Instead I get what I always get. You. And all that it implies.”

“Hmph. Our singing hasn’t improved much, by the way.”

In lieu of another sigh, FutureHH’s form started to change from solid through to transparent – his style of announcing his departure. Only when we lose the top hat do we start performing magic tricks…

“Don’t go yet. Tell me what happens.” I checked myself, hesitated, let my mind fill with the natural sounds around us, and refreshed the request. “Tell me what I do wrong.”

FutureHH paused, mid-materialisation. His facial expression was one of see-through petulance. “What I always do.”

“Which would be?”


Then he was gone, leaving behind a terrible stillness, like the entire world had been put on Pause ( ) again. No-one can deny what he’s said. He left his last word on the air, and I cannot disprove it.

There is no greater liability in my life than me.

I remained where I was standing, still facing the point from which the future had disappeared. Too like previous encounters, I was left with a bad taste in his mouth, and the dull headache of a dwindling bad mood.

There were noises, of someone walking through the underbrush, coming from behind me.

“What was all that about?” Aloy asked.

I sighed, the kind made by someone yet to receive an answer to a question asked a long time ago.

“As always, I’m sure I’ll find out.”


* I agree. I’ll come up with a better name.

Horizon: Zero Dusk

Aloy awoke in darkness, lying on her back, facing the stars. Their campfire creaked and spat sparks, but its light and warmth had lowered – several hours must have passed since they decided to stop and rest.

Her keen ears detected the sleep-heavy breathing of her new companion. She knew the irksome snores of men at rest, thus she knew HH was asleep. That hadn’t been the reason for her waking, though.

Someone else was singing; softly, but singing nonetheless. A male voice, close by, was expressing the words ‘the king of the kingdom of man’ in something almost resembling a tune.  It seized her whole attention. Aloy sat up and looked towards the noise. The person, whoever they were, was sitting on a nearby log. “He” – she assumed – was facing away from her, his grey-haired head turned skyward. His dress sense was something similar to the man snoring nearby, although this one’s clothes were as white as the snow plains in the north. Aloy hesitated, but briefly. No bandit dressed that way, and they certainly didn’t sing at their targets. This man was something different.

Aloy collected her staff for good measure, and went towards him. The stranger kept his gaze for the stars, but he did stop singing.

“Now there’s something I haven’t seen in a long time. A quiet night.”

“It might be even quieter, without the singing.” He had woken her, after all.

The stranger didn’t hear her response, or ignored it. “I haven’t known a night to be this quiet since, well…” He looked over his left shoulder, past Aloy, to the camp behind them. Upon turning his head, his face was lit by the dying fire’s glow. Aloy supressed a gasp. She had seen in his face something impossibly familiar.

“Have I always snored, I wonder? Sinuses do get a good clean out, every regeneration, but nothing lasts forever.” Their eyes met. “I suppose you know that already.”

Aloy steadied herself. She had looked into the red, glowing, demonic eyes of countless machines poised to kill her. This man’s glare was something far more powerful.

“Who are you?” The words ‘what are you?’ had been tempting. The raw energy contained in those eyes burned more than molten metal.

“I think you’ve already answered that yourself, Aloy. The only thing quicker than your mind is your skill with a bow. Try as you might, I never did – or will – get the hang of it.”

Aloy’s watchful eye travelled from the old man, to the ‘other’ HH, and back again. FutureHH nodded when she was done.

Ignore age, and the lack of a top hat, to put two HH’s in the vicinity.

“I didn’t mean to startle you. I was perhaps a little too casual. Familiarity makes us keen. It becomes easy to forget that while I haven’t spoken to you for centuries, you have known me for less than a day.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Nor do I, but I carry on regardless. Very soon, him over there will try to help you understand the intricacies of time, the means of traversing it, and its rules. I’m here to advise you not concern yourself.”

He offered an aged right hand, a late attempt towards introduction – though in relative terms, an all-too-similar introduction had already been made earlier that day. She grasped the hand and shook it, unable to ignore how much frailer it felt beneath her fingers, compared to the one before.

“FutureHH. That is what he calls me. I prefer to think of myself as, well…me.”

“The older, wiser one?” She asked. In her world, the older tribe members tended to have the most to say.

The older Timelord smiled and looked down. “I’d say ‘kind of wise’ for both of us. What people get wrong, Aloy, is that wisdom isn’t about following the rules. It isn’t even something that is guaranteed to come with age, and even if it does, it will arrive too late. It’s about choosing what’s most important. By being here, I could cause a time paradox substantial enough to shatter the planet.” His eyes swept over the surrounding lands and returned to her face. “Or, I could sit with an old friend, and revisit another life before it reaches its close. Now, which sounds better to you?”

Aloy shifted her footing. She felt drawn to sit by him.

“Let me ask it another way. What would you choose?”

For several long moments, there was nothing but the sounds of the crackling campfire, the wind in the trees, and HH’s sonorous snoring.

“It’s a difficult one to answer, I realise. Don’t worry. I think I remember enough about you, to know the answer.”

“Go on, then. What would I choose?”

FutureHH smiled at her. “What I strive for, but predominantly miss. You would choose to do the right thing.”

Aloy gave in to her inner turmoil, and sat by the old man at last. She did know him, after all, in a very general way. The younger HH she’d spent the day getting to know did seem clumsy and lucky, someone who tripped through life without ever falling over, yet brave and confident in himself. His future self was similar, but had managed to stop stumbling.

Aloy had never had grandparents before. She enjoyed being in the old Timelord’s company.

“Life is full of tough decisions. You’re going to face one, very soon. I can’t make it for you. All I can suggest is you take time to think. You cannot take back the arrow which has already been shot free.” FutureHH’s gaze had the capability of dismantling governments, and inspiring surrender in the hearts of the universe’s strongest fighters; but for an old friend his gaze was a mixture of serious and kind.

Sitting beside him now wasn’t quite so relaxing. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Regret, remorse, boredom, or just another sleepless night.”

Two pairs of eyes directed their attention to the campfire, and saw “PresentHH” midway through the act of getting up.

somnum + i

I am alone on Gallifrey. When it was beautiful. When the idea of a ‘Time War’ was unthinkable. Home, as I prefer to remember it.

I might be my thirteenth face. I might be my first. I am never granted opportunity to find out.

I cross a field of crimson grass topped with snow, beneath a copper sky. I know, without checking, that the forests are behind me, a fact borrowed from the deepest recesses of my memory. I have left the cover of the silver-leafed trees, into the soothing half-light of an ending day. One sun of the twins is almost gone behind the shining mountains of Solace and Solitude. Its sister sun, one of brighter orange and higher in the sky, will light my world an hour more, before nightfall.

I follow the descent of the red, white-capped meadow, facing west and now able to see the Citadel. Capitol, Gallifrey’s first city, encased in a vast, glass dome, its surface sparkling with rays from the sun. Within that fragile shell are the mighty gold towers and spires of the city itself, the place I called my home, my school, my life – for over a century.

I am blessed with a few seconds to admire it, a few more steps towards it.

Then, the city dies.

Capitol bursts, burns, melts, falls, crumbles, runs with innocent blood. Its once proud and divine existence is struck down without mercy.

 I listen to the silver forests burn, crack, disintegrate behind me. Despite the Capitol, I turn to see. I look behind me, towards the sad pile of broken kindling that stretches into the distance.

Then, I look down, at the way I came here.

The second sun dives below the mountainous horizon, its descent impossible, accelerated ahead of schedule. Whatever remains of the city, of my home word, is cast into impenetrable darkness.

I have still seen them. My footprints in snow, on crimson grass, the accidental image that’s left is undeniable.

My steps back home, soaked in blood.

That sight burns with me, like an after image, until darkness engulfs me completely. Then, I shall wake.

Agitated, restless, and without the benefits of sleep that others seem to enjoy, I return to the conscious world containing 31st century Earth and sit up. Nearby, Aloy sleeps peacefully enough but with her weapons within reach. I watch her, briefly, with a mild sensation of envy uncoiling itself through my veins. It’s not her fault – or anyone else’s for that matter – that I can’t sleep, or that when I do, I endure the same nightmare*. I just wish, sometimes, that I too could be granted eight-ish hours of peace.

Another curse of the Timelords, I suppose. A race that holds, if anything, too firm a grip on reality.

I lie back and stargaze a short while, able to put the time at somewhere around three in the morning. It’ll likely be another 3 or so hours before Aloy joins me and we continue our adventure.

Maybe I’ll try to drift off again. See the nightmare once more. Try and learn something new this time.

Perhaps I’ll actually reach home for once, before my chance is gone forever.


* In my one-thousand-and-five-hundred-plus years, I have slept less than twenty times. Each time has brought the same dream – with one very recent exception: I had the honour and the privilege to speak with Lord Morpheus, King of the Dreaming**. I require no better further proof for my limited sleep record: his reason for visiting was to remark upon the fact he had not sensed my presence for several centuries.

** If I may mildly impugn that honour, the reason I was asleep is linked to drinking too much mead among too many Vikings.

Of Time and Tide

An opinion which HH has expressed before:

I’ve often thought of Time as an ocean; endless, dangerous, hiding its depths, capable of defying even itself, unbound by rules, grave to countless, and incomprehensively beautiful. Always there, without reason but always necessity.

In Time’s ocean everybody swims, whether they can tread its waters or not. Time travellers though, we drown in the stuff.

You’ll have to forgive him. It’s not his best metaphor, but he sticks to it because he’s too busy/lazy to come up with a better one. The last time he considered it, he and Womble were on Mars, visiting a monumental safe haven for Earth’s claustrophobe exodus. That’s his lifestyle.

There are other variations on understanding time travel. A race of sentient trees on the planet Gurgilflax, for example, view time as a series of levels. The top soil is ‘the present’, where their lowest roots rest is ‘the distant past’, and they gradually grow to a brighter future in the sky.

Or more advanced races like the Alters – distant rivals to the Timelords – have lived long enough to do away with the progression hypothesis entirely. Instead, they argue that Time is an illusion far beneath them and therefore spend grand portions of their lives standing in queues or waiting for delayed planes. (Alters also happen to currently lead the immortality market. Timelords would lead the market but regeneration is a hard sell*.)

(Then there are the Observers, to whom space and time isn’t real, because nor are they. More on them later. Much later.)

Since setting up camp in the LIMITLESS field of science-fiction, I’ve been able to explore the surrounding environment of various theories. Personally, even if it makes me a bit old fashioned, I am happy with the forward-progression ideology. I could argue that Time is like a path. It leads away from the past and is still being built in the future. (Fans of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower may like to believe that paths ends in a clearing.)

Time travel offers the chance to view the route ahead and pick a different one, though it will inevitably still lead to the same place. Along the way, time travel shall consider the path, and take a bulldozer to it.

Take where HH is standing now. How he got there may not look the same as it had while he was walking it, but what matters is that he made it and didn’t get lost. Or “drown” to use his own ideology.

The point I’m trying to get across (because contrary to popular belief, there is always a point to my ramblings) is no-one truly understands time-travel, so try not to worry about it too much. Even as a well-travelled and experienced time-traveller, HH has explained his ocean theory three times to Aloy, been unsuccessful each time, given up, and started to discuss literature instead.

‘Discuss’ however suggests a two-way exchange of ideas. Since Aloy has read the grand total of no books, HH has taken to bombarding her with fanatic gushing about Saga.

In other news, they have found a place to camp and bed down for the night. Very soon, HH is going to wake her, though it probably isn’t the HH she would have expected.


* Regeneration is a hard sell, when you think about it. Thirteen times you will need to reapply for every form of identification with a new picture, thirteen lifetimes of tax returns, and the potential lottery of swapping genders. This isn’t in itself a problem, though may lead to a tricky conversation if you happen to be, say, married.

PS: And, whatever time travel metaphor you choose, it’s important to stop every now and then to read some good literature.

Like The Dark Tower.

Aloy, An Ally

In fairness to Aloy, her distant expression of concerned bewilderment was well justified.

To her perspective, I had vanished in mid-air and instantaneously re-appeared on the ground, several feet away from the point I should have crudely arrived. As I gazed up at her, there was a pause from her end. A substantial one. It was preceded by her needing a moment to actually find me again.

Apparently well aware that no answers would be found on the Tallneck’s radar head, she leapt off the abseil point a second time. Once free of the large beast’s impending stride, her gait slowed. Aloy approached me with caution, the same way one would with any impossibility; yielding an air of disbelief, while fighting expectation that it might happen again.

“Presumably you have questions,” said I. “I will answer them, all of them, on that you have my word. Until then, you said it’d be easier to show me what happened to this world, and to follow you. So, now we’re both down here,” I said, glancing left and right, “which way?” As if the past five humiliating minutes hadn’t happened. I am a master of doing that. My autobiography shall contain, or rather won’t contain, a lot of torn-out pages.

Aloy partially turned her head, paying me an intensely shrewd look, her narrowed hunter eyes boring into my own.

“Ask your first question, if it helps,” I prompted. “We can walk and talk.”

“What did you just do?” Direct, as ever.

“I stopped Time,” I replied, stated casually, like someone pointing out they’d just hit a lightswitch. “Well, temporarily, I will admit. Paused would be more accurate. I paused Time.” Why didn’t I just say ‘paused’ first? Crying out loud.

“Are you dangerous?” Her voice was sharp and fast, like an arrow through the night.

I met her gaze, straight and serious as the horizon. An understandable question, to ask of someone who can call everything to heel. “Considerably.”

There were worse and more truthful answers I could have used; regardless, her expression did not improve. I spoke again. “It is dependant on context. I can be more than deadly to my enemies, but safe as possible when among friends.” This was finished with an open-hand gesture towards her.

“Have people ever travelled with you before?”

“Just the once.”

“And they knew of this…power that you have? Were they safe?”

I broke eye-contact to tilt my head, glance across the landscape, inspect the freshly-dug footprints of the Tallneck, and generally scatter some thoughts. Womble and I had been threatened frequently, most of it our own doing, but had there been times where my deliberations had put his life in danger?

Five different examples came to mind and I elected to stop counting.

“I cannot promise absolute safety, to anyone, whether they travel with me or not. Our universe is not built on stable foundations. Life does not come with a guarantee. What I can promise, and do promise, to anyone who happens, chooses or needs to travel with me: I will protect them. No matter what. If it means putting my own life at risk, then so be it.”

“You’re pretty loyal for someone who’s only ever had one friend.”

“Maybe that’s why I’m loyal, then. I can’t afford to lose them.”

We stayed that way, for a few extended moments, very-nearly-but-not-entirely glaring at one another.

“I’m not asking you to travel with me, Aloy.” At least, I’m not asking yet. “But I am asking you to trust me.” I extended my right hand out to her, a simple and widely recognised (I hoped) symbol of alliance. “Sure, I have the power to stop time. I’m also armed with nothing more than a screwdriver, and I can’t fall off a giant robot properly. How dangerous do you think I am?”

Aloy conformed to her role of the hunter. She observed, she listened, she considered, deliberated, decided and, eventually, reacted. She traded the hand holding her staff, and her right hand met my own. We shook, settling an accordance.

“Fools can still be dangerous,” she pointed out, breaking the handshake.

“A fair point. Who’s the bigger fool, then? The bumbling old TImelord, or the huntress who follows him?”

A minor victory; my first laugh out of her. Well, a light, polite chuckle, at least. She struck her staff against the ground and began walking again. I smiled to myself, paid the receding Tallneck a grateful nod, and followed in her wake.

“Go on then,” Aloy requested, when I caught her up, “I can tell you’re dying to explain it to me.”

“I can’t even begin to imagine what you mean.”

“How can time be paused?”

“Ooh, now that is an interesting question. Well. Now. Okay. So. You know, how, say, the ocean works? Time’s kind of like that, except it – bear with me – it’s also a bit bigger, and…”

My wittering, much like myself, followed her into the forest and through the trees.


Pause( )

There is something inherently wonderful in falling without safety equipment, or a parachute, when one is content in the knowledge that they’re not about to go splat.

Nothing but you, a distance of free and open air, the wind tearing past your body, adrenaline at maximum capacity, and the smug inner thought that gravity is about to get humiliated. Baby birds could feel like this, in the brief moment between being kicked out of the nest by an ambitious parent, and opening their wings for the first time.

I wasn’t about to sprout wings, though. What I had in mind defied physics as well as gravity.

Pause ( ) pro-tip: try not to tumble end-over-end too much. It impedes one’s ability to gauge distance remaining. Less than three feet before landing a bit too heavily, I activated it.

Pause ( )

The sensation of doing so isn’t painful. It does have its own varieties of discomfort. For instance, the effect on the eyes when a world-turned-blur strikes a dramatic halt; on the ears upon reaching a perfect silence; on the psyche when the world completely and utterly stops. It is unnerving, but can be reduced with practice.

Sure enough, Time and its infinite outlets had called an unexpected halt. On my right, the Tallneck’s hoof risen off the ground, mid-stride. Dirt hovered between the earth and metal foot; a small cloud of brown dots disturbed while falling. Aloy’s face, far above, was half-concealed by the hair paused while flowing across her cheek. No grass swayed. No trees creaked. Nothing moved.

Except me.

I believe I will never fully understand it. I was given (and one day shall give to my younger self) this gift, with zero explanation. I don’t know why it doesn’t affect me, I don’t know how it can remove my momentum; but it saved my life twice now, so I refuse to ask.

I had fallen more than two storeys. Yet, thanks to Pause( ), I dropped the last three feet to the ground with the same level of disruption as if had just dropped three feet.

My feet planted, legs bent, neither of them snapping or splintering like they should have done. Quite fresh and more than somewhat relieved, I removed myself from the Tallneck’s path and stood by the grass, right where Aloy had been before I jumped.

Then the world flickered. It shimmered like heat haze, rippling white at the edges, inflating in some places and deflating in others. Ground shifted underfoot. The sky made a noise which sounded suspiciously like a creak, the kind of pain heard before something breaks. All combined to the effect of Time clearing its throat and without real words expressing the question: “Are you quite finished?”

There are dangers to keeping Pause( ) activated for too long. I just don’t know what they are. Nor do I intend to find out.

Pause) (

The Tallneck’s hoof stomped into place and it raised another. Grass continued swaying unperturbed. Natural sounds returned sharply, like deactivating Mute on headphones set to maximum – now that did hurt a bit.

Everything continued on as normal, unfazed, and unconcerned.

With the likely exception of Aloy…