Fiction: The Empty Orphanage

Romana looked down the barrel of the compact blaster at the overweight man in her sights. He wore a red velvet suit and tumbling white beard.

The man in red glanced at her gun, levelled at his head, then back to the curly haired lunatic in the long scarf whom he was also holding at gunpoint.

Romana’s voice was clipped and impatient.

“I won’t tell you again, old man. Drop the gun.”

“And I won’t tell you again, young lady,” the bearded man replied.

“Well isn’t this nice,” the Doctor said cheerily. I’ve always wanted to be in a Mexican standoff with, um… I’m terribly sorry. You look somehow familiar but I can’t quite place you.”

“Shut up,” The man dressed as Santa Claus replied. He had an incongruous broad Yorkshire accent.

“You’re not Mexican are you.”

“Quiet, both of you.” Romana shifted position and adjusted her grip on the blaster. “I’ll start again. Who are you and what are you doing here?”

The Doctor chimed in, keeping his hands in the air, “And would you happen to know why the building is deserted? Orphanages tend to have orphans in them.”

The man in red didn’t flinch. “Do they?”

Neither did the Doctor. “They do. What about the rather large bomb under the Christmas tree over there? On the off-chance, Santa.” He beamed. “Someone must have been very, very naughty…”

The portly figure glared at the Doctor for a moment. “You might want to leave. It’s a big’un. Could be messy.”

Romana stepped forward keeping the gun trained on him. “This is a Rundle android orphanage. Why would you want to blow up an orphanage?”

The Doctor lowered his hands but whipped them back up as old man jerked his gun threateningly.

“The gift of Lady Rundle.” The Doctor added breezily, “There’s nothing like the kindness of wealthy eccentrics. Homes for discarded robots were intended to

solve the android problem. But collecting them all together fuelled anti-robot fear.”

The bearded man gave him a dark look. “Some think they led to the Android Wars.” Romana thought she saw a faint smile play across his chubby face.

“Doctor, there’s something else. The local telepathic field….”

“Yes I’d noticed that. Care to explain, St Nick?”

The old man’s expression didn’t change. “Don’t know what you mean.”

The Doctor’s voice darkened. “Yes you are familiar and I suspect the feeling is mutual.”

“Artron energy!” Romana said. “He’s a Time Lord.”

“And not just any Time Lord, eh Santa?”

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The portly figure shifted uneasily and looked between the Doctor and Romana, keeping his gun pointed at the Doctor’s head. Romana’ eyes widened as she suddenly recognised the telepathic trace. She, glanced at the Doctor.

“He’s you?”

The Doctor nodded, “he’s me.”

The portly figure looked sheepishly at her. “Hello Romana.” She could have sworn he blushed a little.

“Which regeneration?” The Doctor asked.

“None of your business.”

“Well it really doesn’t matter does it,” he replied. “We both know you can’t shoot an earlier version of yourself. So why don’t you lower your gun.” He grinned at the stranger.

The man who might have been Father Christmas glared angrily back and slowly lowered the gun. Romana followed suit.

“Keep the gun on him Romana. I wouldn’t usually use weapons and it’s not that I don’t trust myself but-”

“You’re right. I wouldn’t trust you either.”

The Doctor crossed over to stand beside her.

“You have put on a bit of weight,” she said.

“Now just a minute” replied the old man.

The Doctor cocked his head, “I don’t know. I think it adds a little something.”

“More than a little,” she muttered.

The bearded man sighed. “Are you two going to keep chattering or shoot me? Only it’s been a very long day.”

“Doctor, what on earth is your future self doing breaking into robot orphanages in the thirty first century, dressed as a primitive cultural icon?”

“Well, Beardy, what am I doing posing as a primitive cultural icon? Or am I the real Santa Claus? I hope not, that’s a terrible amount of responsibility…”

The man from the Doctor’s future regarded them both quietly then sighed. “No other way to get past intruder protocols of every robot child in this building. Most commercially available androids are programmed for public holidays the same way. This cultural icon gets a free pass.”

The Doctor pursed his lips. “Very well Santa. Which begs the question of why. Blowing up an orphanage won’t prevent the android wars. They’re a fixed event. I’m afraid we can’t let you do that.”

“Who said I were doin’ that.”

“Then why the bomb?” Romana cut-in. “And where are the orphans?”

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The old man grinned at them, “look in the sack.”

Romana kept the gun trained on him while the Doctor moved to a large red sack between them and the tree. The old man stood watching with his back to the fireplace. The Doctor pulled something small and round, a little like a snowglobe, from the sack.

“Romana. Look at this.” There was amazement in his voice.

Romana, edged round to the Doctor keeping the man in her sights. “what is it?”

The Doctor’s voice was hoarse. “It’s a pocket universe. An entire world contained within a crystal sphere. What on Earth-”

“Doctor!”

Romana shouted as she looked back to the bearded man who had crept back towards the fireplace while she was looking at the globe. He was crouched by the flames and looking at them with a crafty grin. One finger was at his nose – he winked and nodded his head then vanished.

“He’s gone!”

A wheezing, groaning noise echoed round the room as the fireplace slowly disappeared. At the same time the pocket universe slowly dematerialised. A yellowed piece of paper was left in the Doctor’s hands with elaborate handwriting…

Dear Doctor and Romana,

I remember this one! Apologies for the secrecy and nasty business with guns. These orphanages were always blown up. Turns out it was me! Or you. Us. Long story. The android wars will happen but there’s no need for these androids to die. As you know they begin develop free-will when buyer ends their contract. These are people, and now I’ve found them a home in the pocket universe. The population so far is rather large and if they’re to remain safe, no one can know its location.

Not even you.

Oh and by the time you reach the end of the letter you’ll have about thirty seconds before the bomb goes off. I think I did say – it’s a big’un. You’d better run…

Merry Christmas!

The Doctor.