They called it the obsidian city.
Thousands came to see the twisting, soaring spires and watch the fury of two suns refracted by the glass into a blinding array of colour. Tourists would stand at handrails, capturing images in their medium of choice and reading the conveniently stationed notices about its history. They would listen to the chatter of automated guidebooks and then move on, perhaps humbled, but still a long way from unknown cataclysm that froze it there millennia ago.
Carra watched them. It was neither obsidian nor glass, but the fact the city’s hideous birth created such beauty cut inside her with bitterness every bit as sharp as one of the fractured columns. Of all the battlefields she had seen – and there were oh so many of those- the outcome is so at odds with the origins it hurts more than all the bloody messes, empty fields and new developments. This place is permanent, a stark and magnificent reminder of a horror barely now a footnote in history. Unnatural, eerie, disturbing – and to her, good that it was so.
As the setting suns brought on the darkness, currents of air swept around the spires, threatening here and there to dislodge some twists of glass to fall and shatter discordantly on the floor of the canyon. Those hardy enough to brave the cold listened as the city gave up its heat and sang.
Legend claimed the sound for the wails of the obsidian city’s dead. Science spoke of it as the rim of a wine glass or the top of a bottle, the jagged spires reacting to the touch of the wind. Carra knew the truth but by the Gods, she heard the voices of the dead all the same.
She had been aware of his presence a while now, catching the mental scent of him only to lose him among the crowds. The precise dates of the city’s end might be long since lost, but she knew their simultaneous presence here was no coincidence. Civilisations had come and gone since the city fell silent, but it still drew her back, drew them both back, time and again. She looked around, but could not see him with any sense.
A deep, mournful howl came up from the depth of the dead city, a chorus of tones and semitones that made her shiver. She moved forward, gripping the rail at the canyon’s edge and looking into the darkness. She had stood here before…
He put his hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged him away, allowing herself a moment of untouched misery. She was there, both now and then, her own thoughts reminding her that this city, and this planet, once had a name since scoured from memory and history.
“You’re shaking,” he said, from behind her.
A century of guarded responses stopped her sayign what might have otherwise been the truth. “It’s cold.”
He slid his coat over her shoulders. “Is that all?”
“Is it ever?”
There was a resigned brightness to his tone. “Sometimes.”
“Not here it isn’t.”
“No.” His voice was low, serious. “Never here.”
His coat was full of him, mental and physical traces that brushed against her senses. He had known she would be here, wrapped in her remembrances, chasing echoes of his own loss, pain, endless searching… She knew she shouldn’t, here and with him perhaps least of all, but the human in her reached for his mind to try and soothe him.
“Stop that,” he said.
She turned round, glaring accusingly. “You’d have me give up that instinct too?”
“No! Just don’t do it to me.”
“Yes. I suppose I am.” He leaned on the railing, glancing over his shoulder into the canyon. Desire flared a little uncomfortably in the back of her mind. Damn. “I’ve been called worse.”
“Some of it true.”
There was something – she could not tell what, in his eyes. A new darkness. Again she tried to find out what, again he slammed his mental walls down so tightly he was barely there.
She raised her hands in a gesture of resignation. “One day…”
“One day,” he said, distantly. Then he grinned. “Anyway, must be off, there’s a fledgling empire about to be invaded by the human alliance. People like you can’t stop themselves. See you anon.”
He was gone, leaving just the faintest trace of energy in his place and she sighed. The suns were well below the horizon, and a few pale solar lamps were all that was lighting the steep path away from the city. She slid her arms inside his coat and slipped her hands into the pockets. Amidst the usual change, artefacts and bus tickets she found a note.
Please drop the coat off at the Brinx hotel. Thx, Gabriel
The fields of Eden glistened with early morning frost. The height of the Collegium above ground level, nestled as it was at the base of the mountains, bought frosts early.
Across the lawn there was a set of footprints, where the iced blades of grass had melted at someone’s passage. Gabriel hesitated before following, but it was trespass on the Abbots lawn or leave Azrael alone up there while he took the long way round.
It was, after all, only a lawn. The Abott’s incessant maintenance would render any dented blade of grass irrelevant in a short space of time, and compared to Azrael’s tears… well, it was a stupid rule anyway; too stupid for a 21 year old student to rank above the wellbeing of his friend.
He looked up at the clock tower. There was just enough time before lectures, if he was fast. Gabriel followed the prints, straight over the lawn to the stile, and on to the field beyond. Azrael’s path was easy to follow in the increasing light, but Gabriel jogged a little faster, just in case.
Azrael was standing at the cliff edge, arms stretched out, his eyes fixed on some point in the distance. His platinum hair was too short for the wind to catch, but it was trying none the less. Gabriel looked to see what Azrael was watching, but the sea was devoid of anything but itself.
“Azrael.” Gabriel called him, wondering if his voice would carry over the wind and the sound of ocean raging far below. “Azrael!”
“Gabriel?” Azrael turned his head. “Why did you follow me?”
“I was worried about you.”
Azrael turned back to face the sea. His words were almost lost to the biting wind “Sometimes…. I worry about me too.”
Azrael took a step closer to the edge, keeping his balance awkwardly against the wind. Gabriel fought the instinct to grab him, but kept himself barely an arms length away – just in case.
“What are you doing?” Gabriel asked.
“Could you think a bit further back from the edge?”
With a forced laugh, Azrael turned round to face Gabriel, still heels to the edge of the cliff. “I’m an Angel, Gabriel. Perhaps I can fly….”
“It’s a theory,” Gabriel said. “But as you have no wings, its one you should test somewhere less potentially fatal, don’t you think?”
“Do you think anyone round here would miss me?”
“I quite would.” Quite would, indeed.
Gabriel knew why Azrael came and stood on this cliff, where the bracing Galladine winds round the headland and there is nothing obscuring the view to the horizon. He knows because he’s come here himself, long nights under the stars in warmer times, just to get away from the people. Well, most of the people.
There are some however, who in the emotionless world of Eden, have something about them, a spark perhaps. Gabriel craves it. He senses that something about Azrael – a brilliance - sure they were all ‘brilliant’ but Azrael was something more.
Such brilliance was dangerous – he has heard the phrase luciferian used in hushed tones about his friend. He has seen the glint in Azrael’s blue-green eyes – almost feral perhaps, when he enjoys a challenge a little too much. Because of that, he felt about Azrael in ways he shouldn’t really feel about anyone.
A few pebbles slipped from the top of the cliff. Gabriel twitched.
“I saw the letter,” Gabriel said. “I know I shouldn’t have read it, but… you were so upset by it I…”
“Don’t worry,” Azrael says. “I should have burnt it, for all the difference that would have made.”
“Are you going to tell someone?”
“Like who? I’m not supposed to let things like that affect me.”
“Your sister, though. The Abbot would have to let you have some respite for that.”
“I don’t WANT respite. I WANT to not know about it. I do know it though, so what good is respite going to do me? It won’t change anything.”
Gabriel, who had never really been in a position to understand what Azrael was going through, struggled to find the best solution. This was a new side of his friend and he doesn’t like it. “I suppose you could… get it mind - locked or something.”
“That’s what they’d want me to do, isn’t it. Lock it. Hide it, bury it. Pretend. I’m so sick of pretending, Gabriel. It’s false, this place, and it makes us false along with it. I don’t want to be false, Gabriel. I want to be me - able to rant, and grieve, and explore and feel…”
Azrael gestured, the movement destabilising him and he began to fall backwards. Gabriel reached out, snatched his wrist before he could fall and dragged him away from the edge and into his arms.
The spark of contact chased over his body, settling in a warm but adrenalin fuelled heartbeat. Azrael held on, trembling just a little… his breath slowing until both settled into an easy matched rhythm of breath in, breath out.
“I can’t breathe here,” Azrael said. “I can’t bear it. There’s a universe out there. A glorious universe and I’m here, stuck with stupid rules and even more stupid exams. You’re stuck too. You think people like us should be stuck here, saying what we have to say in the way they want it said? ”
“I hadn’t really thought about it…..” Although he has.
“Haven’t you?” Sometimes Gabriel swears Azrael can read his mind.
“All right. Maybe. Just a little bit.”
Azrael smiled for a moment. “The things we’re expected to fight, Gabriel, They know the universe. For all their problems moving through it they are closer to it than our Masters. We’re here, filling our minds with empty rules while, without a thought for anything, They gnaw their way into reality and people die. Out there…” Azrael pulls out of Gabriel’s arms to gesture wildly into the sky. “Out there we shouldn’t be hiding in the shadows, we should be hunting them out among the stars and damn who knows about it.”
“Azzi… I know you’re upset but this is dangerous talk.” The kind of talk that has consequences that Gabriel doesn’t want to think about.
“Then stay away from me. I’ll only get you into trouble.”
“More than likely.” A pause “We should go back.”
Azrael sat down heavily on a mound of stones. “Yes,” he said, resignedly. “I don’t doubt it for one minute. All this ranting on the top of cliffs… I’m just winding myself up. You go, I’ll catch you up.”
The tolling Collegiate bell sounded across the cliffs. If they were fast, they could make it, but Gabriel hesitated, not wanting to leave Azrael so close to the cliff- alone and grieving.
Azrael waved his hand. “Go on. I’ll be fine. There’s no point in both of us getting into trouble. I need to gather my thoughts for a moment, is all.”
Gabriel thought about it. “No,” he said. “I’ll wait.”
“Are you lost?” the woman said, looking up from the richly decorated table.
Carra, aged six and three quarters, grabbed hold of one of the drapes and shook her head.
“Are you sure?”
Thinking better of her statement, she nooded, staring at the glittering, coin laden headscarf the woman wore. “Are you a gypsy?”
The woman laughed. “I suppose I am, “ she said.
“Do you live in a caravan?”
Carra let go of the drapes. All she really knew about caravans was from damp trips to North Wales with nanny Smith. Of course this meant that living in a caravan meant fish and chips for tea, ice cream, and trips to the zoo. Not a bad life, then really, even if there was no TV and you had to listen to boring things on the radio.
Caravans now considered and forgotten, Carra pottered over to the table, only vaguely aware the woman was talking into a walkie talkie like Uncle Paul’s. She was captivated by the ornaments now, and reached up to touch the large glass ball in the centre of the table. It had the look of something spensive, and Carra had long learned the best way to find out for sure if something was spensive was to get into trouble for playing with it. She looked furtively left and right before reaching up to touch the cold shiny surface.
“Careful with that,” the woman said.
“Is it spensive?”
“Yes, and it’s also very heavy. I don’t want you to drop it on yourself and get hurt.”
Carra couldn’t quite figure why someone would want a ball that was too heavy and too spensive to play with – even if it was pretty. She found that hard to express and settled for . ‘Whast for?”
“Ah,” said the woman. “That’s my crystal ball.”
“It’s a special type of glass.”
Carra went for the third question – by which she knew she would have found someone who was fun to wind up or just good at answering questions. “Whast for?”
“I use it for telling fortunes.”
Carra wrinkled her nose. Fortunes, she had supposed, were a bit like spensive, as people seemed to want them, and were unhappy when they lost them. They also talked about them on TV a lot, so she wasn’t sure what telling fortunes was about. Although, there was a woman in an advert who looked a bit like this woman did, who asked ‘what does your future hold’ and offered to ‘tell fortunes’ when you called the ‘telephone number on screen now’. The number started with the special ones mum’s phone didn’t allow, so Carra’s explorations had been cut short on that instance. It was obviously more than about money, because if you needed to know about that you just called the bank or asked Nanny Smith for some
“Take a seat,” the woman said with a smile. “And I will tell you your fortune.”
Carra clambered up onto the chair; she was barely eye level with the table so it promptly provoked a game of peek-a-boo. Then the woman stroked the spensive ball a few times, looking intently at it.
Something was definitely happening, Carra could tell- there was a fuzzy feeling she got in her head when odd things went on, but it was clearly going on in the woman’s head and not in the ball. If the woman thought it was the ball Carra saw no reason to tell her otherwise – grown ups didn’t like it when you pointed out the obvious like that.
“You are a clever young lady,” the woman said. “I think you are going to understand people very well.”
Carra frowned. What kind of fortune was that?
“You are going to have a lot of journeys when you grow up. Long, eventful journeys that will take you a very long way from home, further than you can imagine. They are going to be very special journeys. Adventures.”
Carra nodded. She liked the idea of long journeys, maybe even longer than the long trip to see Nana Raisbeck in Scotland. Carra liked looking at things rush past the window, even if her mum seemed to think she should be doing colouring instead. They weren’t quite adventures though, because there were no robots or wizards. Horses though, and caves sometimes. “Adventures, Like on telly?”
“Yes,” the woman said. “You will need to be very careful though,” the woman said, all serious. “I think you are going to do very good, important things but other people are going to try and stop you.”
The woman stopped looking into the crystal ball, and looked at Carra directly. “Carralin Raisbeck,” she said. “Just you keep asking questions and doing things the way you believe. You’ll know who to trust if you listen carefully to yourself.”
“Carralin!” the familiar voice of Mum, was half angry and half relieved. Mum was carrying baby Robert who was, as usual, asleep and dreaming about tapioca and Nana Smith. Carra was annoyed, she was quite fine talking to the gypsy, and now her mother was pulling her worried face. Carra wished her mother could just know she was all right without getting upset all the time.
“Didn’t we tell you not to wander off?”
Carra didn’t say anything. She knew full well she hadn’t wandered off. She’d stayed where she was looking at the dog outside, it was Mum who had wandered off.
“Come on missy, let’s go home for tea.”
Carra got off the chair and took hold of her mother’s outstretched hand. Mum smiled at the gypsy woman and Carra waved.
“Thank you,” said Mum.
“Bye bye,” the gypsy said. “Remember what I said!”
“So ,” said Mum, as they walked towards the car. “Who is your new friend?”
“She’s a gypsy,” said Carra. “She lives in a caravan, and she told my fortune with a spensive ball.”
“Really. What did she say?”
“She said I was clever, and will go on a long journey and have lots of adventures.”
“Really? That sounds exciting. Where do you think you’ll go?”
Arriving at the car, Carra kept talking while Mum strapped baby Robert into his car seat. “Even further than Scotland.”
“Wow, that far? How about France?”
“No. Further than that.” Carra had never liked the sound of France. “I think I will go to…..” she wracked her brains to think of the furthest away and most exciting place to have adventures she could think of.. “I think I shall go to outer space.”
Mum laughed. “That is a long way.”
“Brum brum,” baby Robert said, as Mum started the car.
Carra subsided into silence on the way home, watching cars and people and trees pass by and thinking about adventures.
It was two years before she thought to wonder how the gypsy had known her name.
It’s only half a memory. Maybe not even that. Closer to a dream. Bond is pissing blood from the wound now, and he knows he isn’t far from the end…
Alley in France it was to be then, after all these years and all these places. Far off in his mind he hears the sound of singing… a long, gentle wailing in registers he can barely hear. It always seems to happen like this, all those times this close to death, (and there had been a lot of those). He’d never got round to telling anyone about the dreams, about the strange imaginings he sometimes had when he was asleep, or like now, close to death.
Bond knows he’s had other faces… he’s never sure how.. perhaps the identity becomes the wearer and much as anything else. Too many reports, too much detail, missions he must have read, now coming back as if they are memories. It makes him good… damn good, taking his predecessor’s experiences, mapping them onto his own, the flash of a refinery , the details of a described face. Of course he hasn’t had other faces, that would be ridiculous even with this much blood loss and yet, a long strand of identity links him backwards,( and forwards he supposes), assuming his successor has the knack.
But still, it’s worth a final shot, he supposes, and he activates the homing beacon. It’s going to bring someone to him… he doesn’t know what side. Either way, he thinks he will be better off dead when they turn up.
Bond half hears voices, drifting in and out, snatches of conversation.
Is he too far gone?
I don’t know
Worth a try?
Always worth a try.
And if he says no?
He’s never said no yet.
There’s a surge in power, a surge reaching out into the universe and flaring just long enough to be noticed by anyone who happens to be looking.
Far away, the TARDIS notices, lurching harsh and quickly from the vortex, seeking out an impossible whisper.
This time, for the first time something closer, so much closer, stirs. Rippling forces dance through salvaged circuitry, laughing.
It assaults all seven of Bond’s senses. He’s burning, an intolerable, burning, aching pressure, his mind on fire. He recalls now: running, dying, escaping, loving… a thousand explosions, crystal clear. Made homeless. Left alone. Running from the pain into a purpose. A small purpose in the scheme of things… but his purpose.
An onrush.. no, an inrush triggering deep seated genetic memories.
Energy erupts, suffusing him.
The Doctor emerges into the corridors of MI5, trying to remember where he’s put the psychic paper in this new jacket.
A new face…
Bond sees his reflection. A new face and the old thoughts. Old thoughts plus.
There’s a new thought now, a new voice and the sound of distant drumming dancing on the edges of his mind. His head aches, as if there’s more than one of him trying to cram into his brain, as if somehow he can’t quite control this new form with its new thoughts.
Bond tries the scotch, experimentally running the oaky fire over new taste buds. Yes. On the rocks though, he finds himself craving ice.
M looks at him, expectantly, turning the page of a dossier that has his new appearance paper-clipped to the surface.
“I’ve told you everything I know,” she says.
“It’s nice to know I’m cleverer than I thought I was.”
No…. far, far cleverer than that….
“I hate to ask this so soon” M says. “But the nuclear situation in North Korea is demanding our immediate attention and you always have been the best.”
He knows what she wants. “Will I voluntarily forget everything and just go back to her Majesty’s secret Service?
“You haven’t got any other spies?”
“None with your… experience.”
Bond swirls the drink in his hand. “Added to which, someone will invariably notice I am not an ordinary, run of the mill human and come looking for me, probably violently?”
“M….” he smiles. The word that’s trying to find its way out is strangely unfamiliar. “No.”
“No?” She looks surprised, angry even, before she settles back into the narrow eyed glare of the professional spymaster.
It is his voice but it isn’t his mind. Not quite. He listens to himself. “This time, I will not be running about in ignorance of who I am… what I am. ”
“Am I going to have to *insist*?” M says, quietly.
“Insist?” He laughs. “I have a mind of my own you know, a much fuller and broader mind than you could ever begin to conceive. I have seen things that would fry your human mind. You think I haven’t noticed the tranquiliser gas inserts and the gun you’re pointing at me under the desk? You think you wouldn’t be dead before anyone got here? Do you really want to insist?”
The workshop catches the Doctor’s eye, more precisely, the assemblage on the bench. He wrinkles his nose and strides in, dropping to his knees in front of it and peering intently at the materials.
“Oi,” says the man behind him. “What are you doing?”
“That,” says the Doctor, pointing at it. “Where did you get it?”
“That? It’s an experimental piece of industrial technology we borrowed from the Chinese.”
“Liar liar, pants on fire,” says the Doctor. “It’s a piece of alien technology.”
“It says, ‘made in Hurgothruf’. Don’t tell me Her Majesty’s finest hadn’t worked that out.”
“Look here, just who the hell are you... ?”
“That’s not nearly so important a question as you think it is. This,” he taps the device with the casualness of a car bonnet, “came from a planet restorer. It was parked round the corner not so long ago. I should know, I died in it.”
“Now the nextest most, sorry, do I mean nextmost? Never mind. Another important question is… did someone activate anything with the capacity to generate memory re-engrams in the recent past… don’t bother answering, I know they did I was just showing off. Now…” he pulls out the sonic screwdriver. “I really wish I didn’t have to do this.”
“Whatever it is I am about to do. Shush, I’m thinking.”
“I imagine you loved it, didn’t you,” Bond says. “Having a superior being so *lonely* and so *devoted* that you could just keep sending him in over and over to do your dirty human killing work.”
“You weren’t like this before. Any time before.”
“Let’s just say I had my eyes opened by the ghost in the machine, shall we? Don’t press the alarm button. I don’t want your national secrets because after all, I do already have them. I don’t even want to sell them to the highest bidder although that is tempting. I don’t even want to kill you, although you deserve it, you time-lord-enslaving bitch. I just want the keys to your car, a new suit, and the rest of this bottle of Bowmore.”
The Doctor has the memory module under his arm as he barges into the office, just as Bond has his hand to M’s throat.
For a moment Bond pauses. “Oh God, it’s you.”
“Come on,” says the Doctor. “Out you come.”
“I am so not playing this game with you. Really. Get out. That’s not your body.”
“I don’t HAVE a body.”
“That’s not my problem.”
“This is how you treat the man who saved your life and the whole of reality?”
“I am very grateful, but don’t think that’s going to make a difference. I have a very long memory.” The Doctor slots the screwdriver into the device, doesn’t hesitate to activate it, although it bucks in his hands. “Out… you…. come.”
Bond’s hands fly to his head. “No no no….”
With a flash of electrical light and the rumble of thunder, the lights on the memory module blink, slowly, irregularly. Bond, dazed and shaking, is curled on the floor like a child.
“Who the hell are you?” says M.
“Why do people always ask me that? I’m the Doctor. Pleased to meet you.” He shakes her hand, nods in the direction of the collapsed agent. “He’ll be fine in a couple of hours. I just evicted his lodger, that’s all. Right, must be off. Don’t start any wars today, weather’s all wrong for it.”
M’s fingers fly to the intercom. “Stop that man…”
Not for the first time, the Doctor runs.
On the banks of the Thames, James Bond 007 sits and drinks whiskey. Tomorrow he will be in Singapore again… tonight something like a half memory flashes across his eyes as the bow-tie man in tweed smiles sadly at him. He can’t remember knowing him but somehow he thinks they are alike.
The Doctor turns and walks away.
In the TARDIS, the lights on the Hurgothruf device blink to themselves. The Doctor pats the gadget almost affectionately.
“Now then,” he says. “What exactly am I going to do with you this time.”