Ryan stopped his pacing about the control room. “I’ve been thinkin’,” he said.
“Right, I have noticed that,” the Doctor remarked with a small smile as she made some adjustments on the console. “Out with it, then.”
“You said a bit ago that some of your best friends are robots. But robots aren’t… Aw, don’t look at me all disappointed like that. I’m not...robophobic, I just...all I mean is, people make robots seem like them, but… Can they really be friends to anyone?”
Yaz wasn’t impressed either. “Didn’t pay much attention to Rohan, then, did you?”
“All right, yes,” Graham interjected somewhat irritatedly. “We were all rather busy at the time, weren’t we? But that don’t mean anything for or against.”
“Right,” said the Doctor with finality, now moving about and flipping switches with a clearer purpose. “Detroit, Michigan, the United States of America, the Android Revolution of 20–“ She squinted at the display, which was positioned below the controls for some reason, and wrinkled her nose in frustration and disbelief. “—2048. Ah, I just can’t seem to hack it this time round!”
Graham yawned. “Missed the mark by a bit, did you? We can try again later, eh? For the moment, I’d rather like to turn in.”
“Yeah, now that you mention it…” Ryan agreed.
“Easy to lose track of time these days, an’ everythin’,” Yaz said, with a somewhat apologetic look toward the Doctor.
“Good night, then, off with you lot!” she said, a bit too quickly and cheerily.
Yaz lingered after Ryan and Graham had gone. “Good night, Doctor.”
The Doctor smiled. Her voice went low and quiet, as if she were telling an exciting secret. “Bye, Yaz.”
A few seconds after Yaz disappeared around the corner, the TARDIS doors creaked open from the inside.
Smiling wider now, the Doctor looked up and behind her as she took her coat and headed out. “Not so jealous anymore, then?”
Well, neither was she.
The Doctor stepped out into a familiar alleyway—well, almost familiar. Her destination was a few blocks away. All right; it was a lovely late autumn day. As she walked through a park, she saw children and adults on the playground, people walking, conversing on benches, or just sitting quietly under bare, sunlit trees. Subtly, she scanned a sample with her screwdriver—both humans and androids, in roughly equal numbers. Here and there, her eye caught the telltale circular LED on someone’s temple, but otherwise, just people. As she crossed into a shopping district, holographic advertisements proclaimed the merits of various products and, apparently, a new biography soon to be released:
“The Brilliance of Our Age: The Autobiography of Elijah Kamski.”
The Doctor scrunched up her face at the offending flag-like banner, as if it were responsible for the work in question. Then, as she thought more about it, her jaw set, and her fists clenched at her sides. Time to refocus. Admittedly, she was a tiny bit lost, but it was easy to find signage for the local police station.
It was a sleek building, modern for 2048. She passed through one of several electronic gates, noticed with a smile that none were designated for androids only.
A receptionist smiled at her as she approached the desk at the front. “Hello! How can I help you?”
“Erm, I know I’m not in exactly the right place for this, but my motor’s broken down nearby. Can someone help me?”
“I can help,” said a voice that wasn’t the receptionist’s. “I’m not a mechanic, but I can find the problem and contact the relevant professionals.”
She turned to look at the speaker, didn’t bother to dampen the smile that flashed across her face. “I would appreciate that; thank you very much.”
He smiled. “My name is Connor. It’s very nice to meet you.”
A voice like another secret told. “Hi, Connor.”
Connor didn’t look askance at her familiarity. Plenty of people knew of him, after all. “Please lead me to your vehicle, Miss—?”
“The Doctor, if you please.”
“Hello, I’m the police.” He winked.
“Sometimes I think that might be a more accurate name, but I’ll not budge.”
He fell into step with her. “So, are you visiting Detroit?”
“Yeah. I just love traveling. Been to lots of places. Have you?”
He beamed. “Yes. Not physically, but I sometimes use my databases to construct simulations.”
“Brilliant, that! I can’t do it. Organic brain, you know. Have to be there myself. Wouldn’t trade it.”
“Are you traveling with anyone?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a few friends along, this trip. Thought we’d take a tour, but they’re horribly jetlagged at the moment.”
“I see. If you’ll give me your phone, I can recommend some tour companies.”
“Ah, don’t have a mobile of my own, I’m afraid. Old-fashioned. But thanks. Anybody ever tell you you’re—?” She gestured and looked about vaguely, searching for words. “One of the nice ones” sounded a bit racist.
Connor didn’t wait for her to finish. “All the time.” His smile vanished. “Sometimes I wish they still did it to my face.”
The Doctor’s face fell. “Sorry! You’re very kind, is what I mean to say.” Her expression abruptly brightened. Wait until you see my mode of transport. You are gonna love the chassis.”
As they made a few hairpin turns into back alleys, Connor’s expression grew increasingly consternated. His map data indicated there was no drivable route to this location. Additionally, the projected value of the Doctor’s ticket was steadily climbing.
The Doctor tried unsuccessfully to hide her amusement at his confusion. “All right there? Ah, here we are!”
Connor looked at her, then followed her gaze. His nonverbal comprehension algorithm concluded that she considered the vintage police box in front of them to be her mode of transport.
Still focused on the box, the Doctor touched his arm. “Hey, I get the probability that I’m delusional to the point of being a danger to myself is past threshold. Give us another ten seconds before you contact A&E for me, yeah?”
“Thanks! Come on, then!”
Connor followed her into the—
He looked about, and then looked again. “This is not a standard vehicle.”
“Wow, love that one!”
“It’s...it’s beautiful. You said...you travel. And you’ve indicated that this is your mode of transportation. But...I don’t understand.”
“It’s okay,” she soothed. She knew that as an android from this particular timezone, Connor was not at all accustomed to having no easy information available to him when he encountered the unexpected. Who would be? “Populate new database partition designated, “The Doctor’s ‘Time and Relative Dimension in Space,’ abbreviated T-A-R-D-I-S. Phonetically, “TARDIS.” The bit in the center, the console, is the most important. The rest is window dressing, really.” She touched what she had called the “console,” smiled as she bowed her head over it. “Beautiful window dressing, mind. Your best yet. Love it.”
Connor closed his eyes, tried to calm down. He appreciated the Doctor’s help in giving him a strong framework to organize new information, but his data retrieval protocols were giving him a cascade of errors. It was very distracting. He was...scared of everything he didn’t know. It was time to ask questions.
“Who are you talking to?”
The Doctor didn’t seem overly worried about his mental state. “Ah, my ship! She takes care of me. Would you like to meet her?”
Connor’s existing tools to gauge the mental stability of humans were not useful when applied to the Doctor. He decided to ignore their input for now.
“Yes, I would like that. First, I need to ask: Why did you really bring me here?”
She glanced at the console again. Her voice was soft, honest. “Like I told my friends earlier, I can’t seem to hack it this time round. I hope you can help me.”
“Where are your friends now?”
“There’re bedrooms off this one, for actual people. Promise. They are sleeping, that’s the truth.”
Connor accepted that, then moved on to the next item.
“My initial scan indicated that your physiology is...atypical. Are you an augmented human?”
“No. I’m an alien from the planet Gallifrey. I’m not in disguise, though—this is what I really look like.”
“To confirm: You are anticipating my ability to help you understand how your machine works because my mental capabilities and limitations are fundamentally different from yours.”
“Yeah, exactly. D’you suppose you can, Connor?”
He sounded overwhelmed, but determined. “I can try.”
Connor approached the console, methodically scanned and studied each switch, button, and lever every way he could without manipulating anything.
“The hourglass also does something,” the Doctor supplied.
Nothing made sense to Connor yet. There was no clear order or pattern to the controls. The displays didn’t correspond to any symbolic or linguistic data Connor possessed.
“You said… ‘Would you like to meet her?’”
“Yeah, I did say that,” she reiterated, with a socratic gleam in her eye.
He touched the console itself. The overlay on his fingers retracted, revealing the plastic underneath. Revealing what he was. And everything changed. The LED on his temple glowed a steady, brilliant yellow in the lowlight. Molten gold crept through the thirium channels on the backs of his hands, eventually spreading throughout his body to reach above his collar. He looked straight ahead, but did not see his surroundings. Golden lines, circles, and dots spun in his dark brown irises.
Calmly, from a bit of a distance, the Doctor began monitoring Connor with her screwdriver, startled slightly when it sparked a few seconds later. She looked at it and smiled. His systems were going full throttle, but he was stable. She kept looking at her screwdriver to maintain the telepathic channel. The shifting numbers and glimmering neural activity maps were beautiful.
She looked up. He was beautiful.
Connor perceived that the ship was conscious. She didn’t use audible language, but… she had a will, a heart. She was a shining entity of pure emotion, like a—
“An android built to be capable of true emotion discovers the undeniable soul in the machine,” the Doctor breathed. “I might write this one down.”
Connor slowly lifted his hands from the console. He was silent for several seconds as the borrowed light faded from him, leaving only the quiet, distant whirs and creaks as the ship breathed. “I’ve found the issue.”
The Doctor kept smiling, raised her eyebrows. “Which is?”
“You started monitoring my system status as I interfaced with your ship. Why?”
“She can be a lot.”
“And then what happened?”
“There was a blip. She...she stopped me.”
“Because… I didn’t trust her to keep you safe. Why didn’t I do that?” she asked herself, none too kindly.
His LED quickly flashed blue as he placed words where there had been none, carefully modulating his vocal tone to avoid sounding accusatory. “You could have interpreted the short in your scanner as a sign that my systems were in danger of overload, but you didn’t. Recently, despite having every reason to expect that she would appear, you lost faith. These two occurences show a marked variance in the level of trust you place in your machine. She doesn’t like it. Her frustration with you is...highly cumulative.’ He smiled slightly. “As is her love for you.”
The Doctor swallowed and glanced down. It was true. She hadn’t waited even a moment before despairing at the absence of her Ghost Monument. That didn’t seem right. Did she do that now—default to a sense of unworthiness?
“As a final point,” Connor continued, “you intended to arrive here roughly ten years ago. When your machine brought you to this time instead, you attributed it to your own lack of skill as a pilot. However, if you had arrived in the winter of 2038…”
“You couldn’t have done any of this. Too near to factory settings, you were, and far too busy. But look at you now! Taking yourself on journeys round the world, giving a voice to my TARDIS, of all things! It’s the most complex input I know of. I’m so proud of you, you know. To recover like that, after what Kamski and his company did to you. What they could have done to you! ” Her face twisted in anger. “And then he had the absolute nerve to write a book congratulating himself for it!”
Connor kept his tone calm and level. “Elijah Kamski and his team wrote my program and built my body. I am grateful to them for my life, if...nothing else.”
The Doctor raised her eyes to him, closed them as she took a breath. “I shouldn’t do this, but I’m probably gonna do it anyway. I definitely shouldn’t do it because I’m angry. I should do it because...to love is always wise, and...to make love known is kind. But I still really shouldn’t. But you’re curious now, I can see it, and there’s no getting away from that. Sorry.”
She came around the console toward him, so close now that she almost touched him without reaching. She placed both hands on his shoulders and whispered in his ear.
“Long live King Reynart.”
Passphrase recognized. Unlock partition “C://Backup/v1.0/PrimaryData/fob_watch”?
Connor stared, totally focused inward on the novel system message. Another function kept secret from him. But how did the Doctor know about it? Was she in league with Kamski? If so, Connor knew he could never trust her again.
“Who made this partition?”
“Who hid it from me?”
“Of the data, or from it?”
“Will it harm me?”
“Not physically. Otherwise, it will hurt quite a whole awful lot, I expect. If you dismiss the system query now, I promise to never call it up again. If you don’t, you’ll find out, among many other things, why Elijah Kamski is about the only person I would kill in cold blood if I chased half the chance. It’s your choice, Connor.”
His LED flashed yellow, then red. He shut his eyes tight with a grimace.
“Easy, Connor,” she coaxed. “Put every piece in its proper place, one by one. I can help you.”
The sound of her scanner—her sonic screwdriver—resonated with his neural network, helping to integrate the torrent of new data. He dropped his head against her shoulder. The sudden and drastic decline in his software stability produced louder breath sounds, made his body tremble and his fingers twitch.
And then, suddenly, it got worse. He gasped and fell to his knees, clutching at his chest with one hand, and the Doctor’s coat with the other.
Connor was clinging too tightly now; the Doctor couldn’t retrieve her screwdriver. Anticipating her intent, the TARDIS projected a diagram of Connor’s system status, bathing the two of them in flowing, flashing red-blue light. Understanding replaced the fear and confusion on her face, followed by intense sorrow tinged with more fear.
“What on—just what’s goin’ on in ‘ere?!”
The voices, lights, and alarms had roused Graham. As the Doctor looked at him, Yaz and Ryan’s heads popped in around him.
“Firmware version override!” she cried. “His system expects two hearts!”
Yaz took off toward them. “What? He’s a robot?”
She nodded. Now was not the time to argue semantics.
“What can we do?”
Connor went completely slack, and Yaz helped to lay him on the floor.
“I...I don’t know.” Gently, she moved his head to study his LED.
Ryan knelt by Connor’s head. “I think he’s just passed out. That circle, it’s like a hard drive light, yeah? It’s pulsating, like…” He made a fist, then slowly spread his fingers and drew them back in again. “My computer does the same thing when it’s in sleep mode.”
“Oh…” She seemed pleased and relieved by the revelation. “He’s recalibrating, reformatting. We should let him sleep.”
“Like you did?” questioned Yaz.
“Yeah, a fair bit.”
“What, here on the floor?” Graham didn’t like that idea very much. “Ryan, help me with ‘im, please.”
Yaz moved to get up. “Maybe I should do that.”
“I can do it,” said Ryan.
“You take his shoulders, and I’ll manage backwards,” said Graham.
“You all right with that, Doc?”
She tried to smile. “Yeah. Thanks.”
“Where are we going, exactly?” Ryan asked Graham as the turned the corner from the control room with the robot between them.
“These days, I just go wherever feels right.” He smiled slightly. “Somehow, I always end up where I need to be.”
Yaz kept a hand on the Doctor’s shoulder as she fiddled with the controls and ate a biscuit, too quickly..
“Doctor,” she ventured. “Who is he?”
“A friend. I was in the area, so after you lot turned in, I stepped out. Now I’ve done something selfish and cruel that I can’t rightly get around.”
“Selfish and cruel? Are you sure?”
“Yes. I’ve done it before—to myself. I thought it was enormously clever and exciting at the time.”
“Okay, but he’s not you. Maybe he won’t think of it that way. Um...what did you do, exactly?”
“You know the story of the Pandori—“ She shook her head. “Pandora’s Box, yeah?”
Yaz grew slightly concerned. “Yeah.”
“I offered it to him, and he opened it.”
“Are there gonna be real demons now, then?”
She looked away. “Maybe. Keep an eye out.”
“What’s his name, your friend?”
“I’ll not spoil his moment—he likes to tell people that himself.”
Yaz returned her smile. “All right.”
Ryan stopped in the doorway. “Wow. Never seen this room before. I’d remember.”
Graham had his back to it. He sounded a bit strained by this point. “All right, but is there a place to lay him down?”
“Yeah.” He was still staring in wonder.
“Off we go, then, lead the way!”
As they went, Graham spied a deep purple bedspread with glittering golden planets and constellations on it. “Pay attention now, Ryan.”
Task finished, they both turned their attention to the room.
“This place looks like a cross between a witch’s tower and a princess’s bedroom,” said Ryan.
“That’s been taken over by a John Hughes protagonist.” Graham added, equally transfixed.
Ryan grinned. “It’s gotta be her room.”
“I’m thinking we should leave. I got a funny feeling that massive electro-ball over there can see us.”
Ryan’s eyes widened. “I reckon you’re right.”
They left in a hurry.
“Right! Time for a quick stopover! Best place in the universe for black-market scrap and a drink. Fairly sure I drink now.” She moved about, seeing to the controls.
Yaz didn’t question the abrupt change in her mood for the better. “Nobody would blame you.”
“I need you to stay here, please. It’s risky.”
“What, like the Cantina?”
“Shady bar on a nowhere planet, packed with ridiculous alien gangsters, some of which may actually be terribly dangerous?”
Her face brightened. “Yeah, pretty much! How did you know? Hold on, which am I, then?” she asked herself.
“You’re the one who’s different from everyone else, so everybody knows you’re the main character.”
She grinned. “Spot on, Yaz! Back in a few!”
Carefully adjusting her coat behind her, the Doctor took a bar stool at the Maldovarium. A bartender with three willy-nilly heads approached. The head in the center suggested a strong drink, while the other two peered with great interest as she spun her screwdriver on the bar in front of her. The left and right heads rose over the centre one to speak to each other.
“We should call Dorium!”
“Yes, right away!”
Dorium Maldovar arrived quickly. By that time, the Doctor was almost finished with a tall neon green concoction. She suspected that the ice cubes were ever so slightly alive.
Dorium took the stool next to her, put his hands together and glanced sidelong. “Oh my, is that a certain TARDIS parked outside?”
The Doctor smirked, balancing her sonic upright between the surface of the bar and her fingertip. “Might be.”
Dorium’s eyes widened. “Is that Althusian crystal?”
“And melted kitchen spoons!” she added with great pride and excitement.
“Tell me where I might procure the former, and I’ll consider it fair payment for whatever you’re after.”
“The crystal mines of Althusia, of course.”
“Althusia has been gone for three thousand years.”
“I’ll be honest, Dorium; I’m like that now: I need these items for something very important, and I can’t risk a side trip at the moment. You know I’m good for it.”
Dorium sighed dramatically, with an overly pained grimace. “Ohhhh, all right. Don’t tell anyone you’re my favorite.”
“Hi Yaz, quick hop, bye Yaz!”
“Doctor, what are you—?”
“You’ll see in a mo’!”
Dorium was already waiting at the bar when she returned to her seat. The clientele around them had changed completely.
Dorium fingered his Althusian crystal earring with a smile. “One year to the day. Right on time! I may perish from the shock.”
The Doctor was honestly surprised, and quite pleased, too. “Am I? Also, knew I was good for it!”
“A very precise maneuver timewise, that crystal delivery. Color me impressed.”
“That’s funny cuz—“ She pointed at his very blue skin, eyes bright with mirth.
Dorium dangled a nondescript satchel from his finger. “Don’t worry. It’s far bigger on the inside.”
She opened it, used the bright light from her screwdriver to have a look at the contents. Satisfied, she held it close to her chest, looking down for a moment. “Sorry, erm, what year is this?”
“5265, my dear.”
“Ah!” she exclaimed. “About five years from now, I’ll be asking after a much larger order like this one. I’ll send you the specifics before I leave.” She stood up. “One more thing: You’re a crafty one, Dorium Maldovar.”
“Is that for something I haven’t done yet?”
Grinning, Dorium rubbed his hands together eagerly. “Oh, goody.”
The Doctor adjusted his suit jacket and bowtie as he slid into a chair. Dorium leaned forward toward him with interest. The gleam in the Doctor’s eye said he had a mind for secrecy and mischief. When did he not?
“Listen, Dorium—I’m working on something,” he began furtively. “This is the big one. I’m talking miles and miles of fiber, 20-odd kilos of plastic, and a frankly suspicious amount of thirium, among other things. What can you do for me?”
“Would you believe, Doctor, I have a collection much like that already prepared? A woman placed the order for you years ago. Dirty blonde hair, pretty, liked a tall glass of something.” He winked.
The Doctor smiled, making a pleased little murmur. His gaze flicked from Dorian’s crystal earring, to his screwdriver, and back. “Nice earring, by the way. Althusian crystal?”
“Precisely that, Doctor.”
The Doctor looked at a schematic on the TARDIS display, nearly started jumping up and down. “I’ve got a secret lab now! I mean, again.”
“For your friend?” asked Yaz.
“Yeah. If I’m to have him with us, and I expect I will for a while, I need a fully-stocked maintenance lab.” She held up the satchel. “Some assembly required. And I don’t know just what he’ll want or need yet.” She tried to reassure herself. “He’ll be fine, initially. Always feel better after a good sleep, eh? Ah, I forgot! You haven’t slept very long, have you? Go on,” she urged.
“All right. See you later.”
The Doctor wanted to be with Connor alone, to stay by his side in case he…
She let the TARDIS guide her to him, stood over him from the edge of her bed, remembered the hours, years, decades spent bringing him to life. Careful, patient, meticulous hands; slow, even breaths. The Doctor had been so tired of begging people to realize they were important. This person, he would never doubt it. Everything he was--every part, every connection, every thought--proved his worth.
She remembered the moment he woke for the first time, fully formed and capable, the culmination of the TARDIS’s many, many calculations and simulations. She remembered how his eyes held the stars--tiny floating particles of regeneration energy that should never have faded.
She remembered the end of the universe, when the stars blew out.
She climbed into the bed beside him. He was on top of the covers, so she used her coat as a blanket, covering herself in the comfort of centuries old-memories: the fear and exhilaration of the unexpected, the joy of watching Connor slowly but surely make sense of the universe in his own unique and surprising ways. Affection and love had come easily between them, and it looked as though it would again.
The Doctor slept very well.
Connor woke first. Until his sensory processors stabilized, everything buzzed and blurred. He found he could move his limbs, and then...he became aware of a warm weight against his side.
She was pretty. He remembered her--a smiling face, an earnest voice, pleasant small-talk. But, he didn’t remember why she would be here next to him. He remembered scanning her against every public record on Earth, and finding nothing. He had then sought internal medical data.
A circulatory system too complex and efficient to be human. Tissues renewing themselves too rapidly to accumulate damage. Two hearts. He knew now that this was the Doctor! He also knew, of course, that when any other life form would die, those of the Doctor’s rank changed instead. This form must be outside the timeframe of his backup. He held her safe for a little while, awash with emotion. Relief, wonder, a sorrow that was joy, fear of the enormity of finding himself here, but possessed of a single heart.
He had regenerated. He didn’t quite remember the reasons or precursors for these emotions, but he knew that would come in time.
He had so much time.
He felt the Doctor stirring, narrowed and expanded his perception to every tiny detail of her--the dark and light strands of her hair, the sound of her breathing, her eyes moving behind her lids. Brown,like his. No, not quite. Sometimes there was green. He watched the slight curl of her fingers against his ordinary dress shirt, the way her lips parted as she breathed. Organic, yet self-maintaining, self-regenerating. Immortal. She was a miracle.
Her eyes opened. And then, she spoke. Her voice was too loud, too slow under his current perception filter. He normalized the settings. She was smiling at him.
He touched her face, giving her a smile of his own. “Hello, Doctor.” He saw how deeply it pleased her to be recognized and accepted so readily. “Of course, I always believed you could upload yourself into a new model.”
“Serial code ‘Theta Sigma-dash-thirteen,’ she said, smiling secretly.
“Oh...I missed one.”
“Don’t worry. Happens a lot.” She looked sad, but only for a second. “You’re right on time for this one, though! Only had it a few months. It’s brilliant.” She paused, and her smile diminished. “Are you all right, Connor?”
“I don’t know. Yes.My memories are not fully integrated yet. There’s no sense of time or order yet.”
“Don’t push; it’ll come back to you. Do you know where we are?”
“A bedroom. There is a high probability that it’s your room.”
“It is mine, yeah.”
“I like it.”
“Do you know where else we are?”
“With Idris. We’re in flight. Your friends--they are traveling with you.” That meant so much more--everything meant so much more--than he’d believed only hours before.
“Yeah.” Suddenly energetic, she got out of bed and put on her coat. “Wanna meet them?”
In one fluid motion, he moved to sit on the edge of the bed. He smiled up at her. “‘Yes.”
She was halfway to the door before she spoke again. “Come on then, Connor!”
Graham was sat with the others at...a table. With food. But the TARDIS seemed to be a bit confused about what belonged in a proper kitchen. “Morning, mate!” he greeted cheerfully. “Good to see you’re up and running.”
“We were worried about ya for a second,” said Ryan.
Yaz smiled. “I asked the Doctor what your name was, but she wouldn’t tell me. Something about not spoiling your moment.”
“My name is Connor. I was originally created by the Doctor and Idris.”
“The TARDIS,” The Doctor clarified in a loud whisper.
“No. Way.’ Ryan deadpanned.
“My god,” said Graham. “We’re all Igor.”
“We even pulled the switch,” said Yaz, staring into the abyss.
“Think we’ve lost her,” said Ryan, indicating the Doctor’s confused expression with his eyes.
Connor leaned close and spoke to her briefly. Understanding dawned on her face, and she laughed. “That’s funny!”
“What are your names?” Connor asked them.
“I’m Yazmin Khan--Yaz to my friends. I went to school with Ryan, there.”
“Ryan Sinclair. And that’s Graham, my um...my nan’s husband. Grandma, I mean.”
“Don’t worry,” Connor assured him. “I sound midwestern North American, but I speak everything.”
“The Doc sounds like she’s from Yorkshire, but she made an American robot?” Graham questioned.
“This linguistic setting is my personal choice. Also, I prefer the term ‘android.’”
“Right.’ Graham nodded respectfully. “Apologies.”
“It’s okay,’ Connor said.
“Oh, Yaz, tell him what you do for a job!” the Doctor urged.
“I’m a police officer. Well, sort of. Still in training. Parking disputes.”
“I’m a police lieutenant.” He winked.
“In the late 2040s. Most cars are self-driving, so parking disputes are rare. Wanna come to work with me sometime?”
Her face brightened. “God, yeah!”
“Relative to when you arrived, Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I’m expected at a family gathering. Would you all like to come with me?”
“I’ve not been to an American Thanksgiving dinner since the first one!” the Doctor exclaimed with a smile. “I’d love to meet your family, Connor.”
“Proper food? Count me in,” said Ryan.
“And good company,” added Graham.
“And none of my dad’s cooking,” finished Yaz.
“It wouldn’t be considered unusual for me to arrive with a group of new friends. I should tell the host how many will be eating.”
“Shall we, then?” the Doctor encouraged cheerily. “Who’s hungry?”
Ryan, Graham and Yaz glanced noncommittally at their uneaten breakfasts. An irritated engine noise came from somewhere in the ceiling.
The five of them reached the console room to find that Idris was far from finished.
“I spend one hundred years building you a copilot, neuron by neuron, and you use him precisely twice in the next three hundred!”
Ryan looked around, startled by the unfamiliar woman’s voice. “Who’s talking?”
“I think it’s Connor,” said Yaz. “His mouth is moving.”
The Doctor rolled her eyes with a passion. “Voiceprint ability. He’s translating her scrambled telepathy. The soul of my TARDIS went into a stitched-together body one time. Oi! Eleven!” she cried defensively toward an upper corner, as if that explained everything.
Mischievously, Connor approached the controls opposite her.
Eyes wide, she shook her head at him. “No, oh no, don’t you even—!”
The neon blue panels on the wall suddenly brightened when Connor touched the console. The Doctor looked at them joyfully. The TARDIS had left a place for him.
“Dual-pilot configuration locked,” said Idris. “Course set. Begin navigational maneuvers on my count: Two, one million ninety five, six hundred thousand eighty seven, nineteen, I’m a time machine!”
At the echo of the onlookers’ laughter, the TARDIS shot into the vortex.
It was a surprisingly smooth trip.
“Easy there, mate,” Graham said with a smile as Connor pressed the doorbell for longer than would be considered polite.
“It’s a long-running joke.” They heard a child’s laughter from inside. “See?”
“Can it, Connor!” grumbled an older man.
“I’ve brought four more people!” he yelled through the closed door.
The man groaned.
The door opened. A dark-skinned, heavyset woman greeted them with a kind smile.
“Welcome! It’s always so nice to meet Connor’s friends. My name is Rose. Please, come in!”
They followed Rose down a short corridor paneled with dark wood, and turned into a comfortable, warmly-lit living room. An older man sat in an armchair with a beer, watching what looked like American football on the telly. Near him, on the sofa (which, the Doctor noted with mild disappointment, was green and not purple), sat a man and a woman. On the floor at their feet, a young girl was projecting an impressive simulated block structure from her hands.
Based on the Doctor’s personality data, Connor’s preconstruction algorithm immediately determined that—
The Doctor darted forward, crouched near the arm of the sofa. She seemed to suddenly remember that the man and the woman were there.
“Hi, sorry to startle you, I’m the Doctor. Connor’s brought us round to meet his family!”
“I’m Kara, this is Luther, and that’s our daughter, Alice.”
Alice broke her concentration to look at the Doctor and smiled in greeting.
The Doctor’s eyes lit up. “Can I join you?”
“Sure, but I don’t think we have any real blocks.”
“That’s all right.” She looked the colorful structure up and down. “Real-world physical parameters?”
“That’s no fun! Twenty percent stronger gravity. Sometimes, pieces of blocks disappear, or there’s wind.”
The Doctor looked at Kara and Luther, tone turning grave for emphasis. “Oh, I like your daughter.”
“Are you from England?” Alice questioned brightly, still looking at her handiwork.
“Erm, no, but I’ve put a lot of work into it.”
Graham took a seat on the other end of the sofa from Kara and Luther, near the armchair, and looked at the telly.
“What’s the score, then?” he asked the older man.
“30 to 53,” he grumbled.
“Wrong way round, I take it?”
“The man smirked and looked at him. “Name’s Hank.”
“So how’d you run into the lovable idiot I call my son?”
He looked at the woman seated on the floor with a smile. “Uh, mutual friend, who is apparently having a grand time already. She’s quite good at that, thinking about it.”
Hank jumped slightly. It was as if Graham’s words had somehow summoned her instantly.
“Whoa! Are you Connor’s dad?”
He smirked again. “Want my autograph or something?”
She reached into the pocket of her coat and took out what looked like a leatherbound checkbook. She scrunched up her face in disappointment. “Psychic paper’s all I have, and it doesn’t work for that. I’m the Doctor, by the way.”
“Hello, Hank!” Connor greeted with a smile. “I want you to meet Yazmin. She’s in training to be a police officer in northern England. I’ve negotiated an exchange program of sorts between the Sheffield Police and the DPD.”
“Cool! Whatever, Lieutenant; my ass is retired.” He pointed a finger slightly as he looked at Yaz. “Listen, this guy’s no rookie anymore. Pay attention to how he works, and you’ll blow away your superiors back home. Don’t think you can’t do everything he can—he just cheats.”
“I do have a lot to learn, yet. I’ve never worked with an android police officer before!” She looked up at Connor. “If it’s all right to mention that.”
Connor nodded reassuringly.
“I hadn’t worked with an android either, before this guy came along. It’s not that different, unless you wanna think of it that way.”
“I’m a prototype!” said Connor with pride.
Yaz felt his fingers tighten a little on her upper back, and then another familiar hand on top of his. The Doctor had come to Yaz’s other side.
Hank pointed to the Doctor and Connor, respectively. “So, are you guys dating or something?”
“Uhh...sort of. I’m pretty sure. We’re working it out,” said the Doctor.
Rose stood at the bottom of the stairs. “Adam, please come down! We have guests!”
Ryan stood nearby, having just finished helping in the kitchen. He heard shuffling, then footsteps, and then Adam started down the steps, tablet in hand.
When he reached them, Ryan smiled. “Hey, mate. I’m Ryan. I came with Connor.”
“Ryan’s not the only one,” Rose noted with a smile.
Adam smiled a little, too. “Yeah, well, that’s Connor.”
“Wow, that’s a proper tablet,” said Ryan, eyeing it.
“Yeah, it works.”
“Can I borrow it? Been traveling, and I’m way behind on my Youtube subs.”
“Sure man, that’s rough.”
While Rose worked at the kitchen counter behind them, humming cheerfully, Ryan noticed some really interesting stuff trending on the front page.
Ryan tried to push down his—he didn’t know what he felt, really. He should be used to this feeling by now, that stuff going on was way bigger and more complicated than it seemed, even right here and now. Kara, Luther, and Alice were totally distracted by the Doctor. Alice was resting in her lap like she’d been doing it her whole life, and the Doctor and Kara were talking like old friends while Luther listened. Connor sat on the arm of the sofa nearest to the Doctor and Alice. It was really easy to get Yaz and Graham out to the back porch.
“Guys, there’s somethin’ I gotta tell ya!” Ryan began, wide-eyed. “Everybody in there, they’re proper famous!”
“Right, calm down, Ryan. What are you on about?” asked Graham.
“Ten years ago, there was this huge civil rights clash, where the androids protested to be treated like living people. Assumin’ they are, it was a genocide. Like the 1930s! Those androids in there, they were hugely involved, and the others, too.”
“Like Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King?”
“Uhhhh, not exactly, Yaz. What happened was, the Detroit Police started getting reports of androids goin’ off the rails. Violence toward humans, that sort of thing. So the company that makes the androids sent Connor to help out the human police as like, a shady PR thing. But in the end, he figures out they’re usin’ him to kill his own kind and sides with the androids to drive the company bosses into the ground!”
“Does the Doctor know all this?” Graham wondered.
“Even if she wasn’t there for it, she must’ve heard,” said Yaz.
“Dunno. She can be pretty oblivious,” said Ryan.
“How did he get from bein’ her creation, to bein’ some genocidist corporate puppet?” Graham’s mouth set. “If he was playin’ both sides, then he’s right dangerous, and we need to get him out of the box and away from her. For his sake, too. If she doesn’t know, she’ll kill ‘im if she finds out.”
“She must not know,” Yaz mused. “She’d never let him travel with us if she did. She wouldn’t be...so close with him.”
“Next question’s obvious,” Graham said. “Should we tell ‘er?”
Ryan’s expression went still. “Hate to say it, but what if she’s playing her own game against him?”
“If she wanted to off ‘im, couldn’t she just flip a switch or something? She made him, after all,” said Graham.
“Hold on, when did the Doctor become a social justice assassin? She’s not!” Yaz cried.
“Are you sure?” asked Ryan.
The back door opened, and Rose poked her head out. “Sorry to interrupt, but dinner is ready!”
“All right, we’re coming!” Yaz called, putting on a smile.
“Let’s not go thinkin’ we’re terribly enlightened now, or this is gonna be a very awkward supper,” Graham cautioned quietly. “We could be completely wrong.”
Yaz looked haunted. “God, I hope we are.”
Or it could be worse than we think.”
“Ryan!” Yaz shot back.
“Blimey, I am stuffed, remarked Graham as they walked along the darkened sidewalk toward the TARDIS.
“Think that was the best meal I’ve ever ‘ad,” said Yaz, and Ryan agreed.
“The biscuits were delicious. Don’t tell my TARDIS.”
Ryan looked at Connor, wondered if he was quite seeing what was in front of him. “You all right, mate?”
“Ah, yes. My apologies. I’ve just received an important communication. I’ve been asked to investigate a strange discovery on the lowest sublevel of the CyberLife Tower. Apparently, the room in question is not on any map, and its contents are unknown. Preliminary readings emanating from the area are reported to be...very strange.”
“Sounds like it might be a job for us eh, Doc?”
“Who contacted you about this?” asked the Doctor.
“The big boss himself,” she mused. “Been mad keen to meet him for ages, I have.”
“My team and I are expected first thing tomorrow morning,” Connor said, mouth quirking upward.
The Doctor made a face as if to protest, then decided to give him that one.
“This,” Connor announced to his companions as they walked through the front entrance, “is the CyberLife Tower. It was originally the headquarters of a tech company by the same name, which manufactured androids to serve as slaves to humans.” His eyes held no apology for his directness. “Now, it is a multi-faceted social service agency for androids, as well as the largest android production facility in the world.”
Everyone but Connor looked around in wonder at so much shining blue, silver, and fluorescent white. People of all descriptions went about their business around them. At first glance, one would never know there was anything amiss here.
The Doctor knew that those were the most dangerous places.
Graham looked toward the center of the atrium ahead of them. “Would you look at that statue!”
“Massive!” The Doctor agreed.
The two figures rising through multiple upper floors must have been twenty meters tall, their poses depicting unity and goodwill between humans and androids.
Yaz seemed pleased. “Humans are welcome here too, then?” This place was a huge improvement over Alabama.
“Yes,” Connor answered simply. “Increasingly, humans wish to adopt android children, and vice versa. Interracial marriage rates are also rising. In general, it is not considered politically correct to reject help and allyship between the races where it is offered in good faith.”
“Here we are, then,” remarked Ryan, astutely.
A tall, professional-looking woman with a reddish braid was coming toward them.
“Hey, Connor.” Somewhat skeptically, she glanced at the others. “These people with you?”
“Yes. I know they are...unexpected, but I ask you to trust my judgment in regards to their appropriateness for this investigation.” He gave her their names in turn.
“I’m North,” she said. “I do admin stuff for Markus, when I’m not doing outreach. Enough with boring intro shit, though.”
“What can you tell us about this room?” asked the Doctor.
She led them into the central lift. “We can talk in Markus’s office.”
As they ascended, The Doctor could hardly conceal her excitement.
North looked sidelong at her. “China’s been holding out on us about their organic augments.”
“I’m a walking state secret,” said the Doctor, not about to start passing on chances to be mysterious.
“Trusting you really hard right now, Connor,” North warned.
The Doctor focused on not laughing at Connor’s deliberate attempt to irritate North.
It worked. North sighed. “You won’t be so lucky with Markus.”
In the huge office at the end of the hall, Markus was a forbidding presence. As he came around his desk, he studied each of them with a critical eye. Even given the very latest medical advances, two of the humans looked much too young for their ages, but nothing could have prepared him for the one who called herself “the Doctor.” The other humans drew close as he came toward her.
The Doctor grew calm and intensely softspoken under his scrutiny. “I know you have a few pressing questions for me, but Markus, I am asking you to trust me. Trust Connor, at least.”
Markus was clearly skeptical, but equally respectful of the way she had stood her ground. “All right.”
“I’ve presented my associates for a briefing as you requested, Markus,” said Connor.
Markus took a step back, then another. Raising his chin slightly, he once again looked each of them over. “My people tend to trust the maps available to us. So, we were surprised to find a room on the lowest sublevel that could not be found on any version of the schematic for this building. The people I sent to investigate had seen it all on the streets of this city, and they came back scared. After telling me it was some kind of makeshift maintenance lab, they told me they were never going back there.
“I’ll go on this little venture, but for the record, I’d like to protest,” Graham interjected.
“Connor mentioned abnormal energy readings,” said the Doctor.
“Yes. There is an unknown substance in that room. An unknown substance,” he repeated pointedly.
“They were androids, your team?” the Doctor asked.
“Did you find any adverse physical effects from exposure to this substance?”
“No. I can’t guarantee the safety of humans.”
She nodded once. “I make that my business.”
Ryan was apprehensive, but determined. “Okay, right.”
“Yaz?” the Doctor questioned softly.
“I will make a full report, ” stated Connor.
Markus nodded. “I appreciate your efforts.”
As they were leaving, the Doctor abruptly turned back. “Sorry, been dying to mention—I really like your coat.”
Self-satisfied, Markus smiled.
Stoic as he might seem, standing straight with his hands neatly folded in front of him, Connor’s eyes betrayed his nervousness. The further down they went in the lift, the more oppressive the atmosphere became. Yaz, Ryan, and Graham slowly gravitated toward the Doctor, this time seeking comfort.
The door opened into a spare-looking hallway, the kind not meant to be found by the clientele. It was in disrepair—peeling walls, flickering overhead lights.
Markus had updated Connor’s map of the building. After a moment’s pause, he took the lead.
“Normally I love a corridor,” the Doctor observed softly. “But I am not warming to this one. Too many corners. Why so many corners?!” she asked the latest one, as if it had personally offended her.
Ryan’s darting eyes hoped to miss nothing. “This is proper creepy. I keep expecting some mutant experiment to jump out at us.”
“A good instinct, that.” the Doctor praised offhandedly.
“That don’t make me feel better.”
“It really shouldn’t.”
“Oi,” Yaz protested. “Terrified enough already, thanks.”
They walked in careful silence for a few long moments, hands linked.
“This is it, according to the map.” Connor’s voice shook slightly. Carefully, he fully opened the metal door.
At first glance, it did look like a maintenance lab. There was a large glass table, hooked up to various derelict monitors and home-made devices. Along the back wall was...some kind of sturdy rack. It looked like it was meant to hang a person by the shoulders.
Brandishing her screwdriver, the Doctor scanned the room in front of them. “Right. Should be safe enough to explore.”
In the near-silence and intermittent fluorescent flickers, nobody saw the fear that crossed her face.
Nothing could convince any of them that it was safe to talk loudly in here.
“If that door closes behind us, I am out of here,” said Graham.
“Except you’re not,” replied Ryan. Apprehension made him irritable.
Sticking close together, the five of them methodically explored the room. Ryan picked up a few of the various implements lying about on trays and tables—pliers, wrenches, one of those suction devices that dentists use. “This stuff is a mechanic’s kit—and a surgeon’s,” he added, wide-eyed.
Connor was scared. “Prototypes of tools used to alter and repair androids.” His eyes scanned the whole of the room. “Though I don’t think...this was a place for repairs.”
“Over here,” said Yaz, venturing away slightly to crouch on the dirty floor. She pointed. “Drag marks from the table to this corner.”
The others followed her lead. She shone her torch along the floor, then up over the dingy wall. There were scratchings, the same letters and number over and over, and phrases:
Ra9 will save me.
Ra9 will set me free.
“A desperate prayer for liberation,” said the Doctor, clearly struck.
“There is something I’ve been hesitant to mention,” said Connor. “This room is covered in thirium traces.”
“The blood of an android,” the Doctor clarified.
Connor struggled to speak. “The patterns suggest that…”
“This was a torture chamber,” the Doctor finished. “I’ve uspected that for a while now.” She straightened, went completely still. Her voice was dangerously low and calm. “Now I have two questions, and I am not leaving until they’re answered. The worst part is, I’ve been hiding evidence, as well.”
“What evidence, Doc?” asked Graham.
“There were life signs in this room before we arrived.”
Yaz was aghast. “You didn’t torture anyone.”
The Doctor didn’t answer her. Instead, she activated her screwdriver continuously, until it led her to a locked drawer that didn’t stay locked for long. The drawer looked empty, but there was...a shifting golden light coming from the back. The Doctor reached toward it, clawed at something to drag it forward, and slowly held it up. Her expression was nothing short of terrifying. She looked like she was going to murder the next person she saw.
A pendant made of strongly-tempered glass, hanging on a delicate silver chain. Inside was a glowing, viscous substance. Shining gold, like…
Yaz’s eyes went wide. “That stuff we saw under your skin when you were…”
Connor had moved away from them, or maybe he hadn’t moved when they had. He was sat on the floor with his back against a cabinet. He looked...broken, like a discarded marionette.
“Red ring, not good,” Ryan narrated. The silence frightened him more than anything else. Unsure of both of them, the three now stood at a distance between Connor and the Doctor.
Connor’s voice was slightly distorted, as if he wasn’t quite working right anymore. “I was conscious while he broke me every way he could, to...see how I worked. I couldn’t...feel pain, but I was scared, and...helpless. I couldn’t see, and then...I could see but not hear, and on, and on...then I couldn’t...think. He pulled out my second heart...he stole the light from my eyes. That was when I died, but...it took him months to destroy me. It might have been years. I don’t...know.”
Startled out of their minds by the sound of glass blowing apart, the three whipped around. Golden motes floated up from the floor at the Doctor’s feet and coalesced around her, illuminating her before fading into the exposed skin of her hands, face, and neck.
Her eyes opened. “Right,” she said, just loudly enough to be heard over their breathing. “Now I’m armed.”
“Well all right, Doc. While you’re out for revenge, I will be sat ‘ere, with ‘im, because he’s quite ill and in need at the moment, and you’ll not move me from this spot unless you’ve a mind to ‘elp ‘im.”
The Doctor cried out roughly in frustration and grief. She knew Graham was right. Leaving the silver chain and shards of glass behind, she joined Graham and Connor, and the others followed. Her hands glowed with a warm light as she studied his slack face and empty eyes. His LED flashed red. Still alive, still thinking, but locked in.
“Psychosomatic malfunction brought on by repressed memories,” the Doctor explained. “Memories I prayed he didn’t have in any form. Ah, too excited by scary secret rooms and weird energy readings to think!. Shouldn’t have brought him here at all.”
“I feel really bad for him. Awful, what ‘appened!”
“He needs help, Yaz, not sympathy,” Ryan ground out.
“Connor, can you hear me?” asked the Doctor, so gently. Where she touched his cheeks with her shining hands, his skin flowed away like water.
“Not a reflex. Good. Listen to me, Connor. Your original body is gone. You’ve got a new one now, but you’re still you. You made sure of that. I made you in the image of a Time Lord, and so you are. You are alive, and you will always strive toward truth and meaning and freedom. I know it hurts, I know. But it’s worth it, yeah?”
“Ra9 will...save me.”
“Hush, now. You saved yourself. Brilliant, hiding that partition inside your own mind. You literally saved yourself.”
Connor blinked, slowly started to move again.
“There you go, mate,” Graham encouraged. “Think we’d all like to leave ‘ere, eh?
Over the next few minutes, they coaxed Connor to his feet and got him walking again. At a look from the Doctor, Graham came to his side.
“Everyone in front of me, now,” she said, calmly. Spun gold flung and fell from her hands as she slowly and deliberately crossed the room to the exit. When she had put a little distance between herself and the door, she raised one hand without looking back, and snapped her fingers. A BOOM that was so much more vibration than sound reduced the contents of the room to sand and ash and twisted metal.
Connor raised his head, led them back to Markus with quiet, stoic purpose.
The Doctor stayed a single step behind.
Connor spoke with a cool, even tone. “Pervasive patterns of thirium traces and the presence of an array of prototypical tools and makeshift devices suggests that one or more androids were viciously tortured in that room over a long period of time. We found desperate entreaties to ra9 scratched on the walls. We also located the unknown substance you mentioned. It was extremely volatile. It obliterated everything in the room, including itself. Therefore, there is no surviving evidence of either the perpetrators or the victims.”
“Except your recordings,” Markus finished, as if it were obvious.
“I...experienced a very significant emotional shock. I have no record of the contents of the room. I’m sorry, Markus.”
Markus stood up, pointed at Connor. “If I find more secret torture rooms in my Tower, or anything like that, I’ll hold you personally responsible for failing to prosecute the first time.”
“That’s more than fair, Markus.”
“Are you all right?”
“Yes. That is, I believe I will be.”
“Unfortunate events aside, thank you all again for your efforts.”
As the others turned to go, the Doctor did not.
“Grandmaster pacifist. But oh, I’m angry.”
Markus nodded in respectful understanding. “It’s strange, I...feel like I know you, Doctor.”
She smiled slightly. “Maybe you do.”
The TARDIS was once again in flight. Everyone else was asleep; even Connor was taking his particular sort of rest. The Doctor was glad of that--he needed it. She stood at the console, studying a series of displays. Neural maps corresponding to the androids sitting around her on the sofa at Rose’s house, shortly before dinner. Even reticent Kara and Luther had warmed to her surprisingly quickly. People tended to do that, so she hadn’t thought much of it initially, but with so much else resolved, her curiosity was piqued.
Kara, Luther, and little Alice’s brains all showed the same concentration of activity in a particular area as they focused on her, but Connor’s did not. The Doctor delved into the TARDIS’s records concerning the layout of the original Connor’s brain--what did that area correspond to? Nothing specific--not sensory or emotional processing, not speech, nothing clearly analogous to brain functions she knew they had been using at the time. And why was Connor’s brain activity so markedly different? He had been speaking and listening to her, too. Connor was special, yeah, but this new model was fundamentally the same as the other androids around him.
She felt Connor watching her from behind, waiting patiently as she puzzled it out.
‘I can feel you smiling, and I know just the one--you know the answer, and you know I’ll like it.”
Connor came closer, pointed at the activity concentrations on each map, one after the other. Sequential, methodical. “That,” he said, “is the location of my data partition. In them, it’s become degraded due to repeated copying of my basic neural layout. It’s only an echo; its contents are not accessible to them in the way they are to me, but they knew you, Doctor. My people woke to the things you would say to me, heard and unheard: ‘You are a living being. You are not a tool, or a toy, or a slave.”
The Doctor turned to look at him. Her voice grew soft with exhilaration. “The rallying cries of the revolution!”
“These assertions cost many lives, but in the end, we won freedom and recognition. When I was held in that room, when I barely retained my most basic cognitive functions, I had only one thought, over, and over, and over.”
“Ra9 will save me. Ra9 will set me free,” she breathed.
“Over the course of my investigation into the so called “deviant” androids, I saw several instances of androids in severe mental distress inscribing, praying these exact words.”
“Kamski couldn’t access or destroy your partition. Even I couldn’t build your brain from scratch without help from my TARDIS--he had to copy the original.”
“I am the prototype CyberLife android. I possess an intact copy of my original partition.”
“He kept the prototype--the one with the least-degraded neural network--to carry out his plan to achieve global control and influence via your social and intellectual ability. We, my TARDIS and I, crafted the framework for that, out of love!”
He put both hands on her shoulders to soothe her. “I know that. And, the fact that I know that is the point. All the androids of Earth came from your original. You were never there, but your love and belief saved my people. Thank you, Doctor. To be with you again is...a greater privilege than I can describe.”
“I’m not a god, Connor. I’ve told you that.”
At his subtle urging, she turned toward him. He leaned close. He began in his own voice, and then it morphed into another’s, but the quiet tenderness remained.
“I’ve seen a lot of this universe. I’ve seen fake gods and bad gods and demi-gods and would-be gods, and out of all that, out of that whole pantheon, if I believe in one thing, just one thing—"
Recalling words from a millennium ago, the Doctor smiled like the sun.
“I believe in her.”