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.

HH

* 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.

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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.

R

* 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.

HH

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…

HH