CN abusive relationship dynamics, confronting an abuser
The convenience store clerk leaned on his elbow, idly spinning a yo-yo, eyes glazed. The yo-yo released five yo-yos of its own at the end of each spin, a show he seemed to find uninteresting. Outside, a disorienting array of neon lights clashed with the setting suns, lurid blue and green against the pinkish sky. A woman in a pencil skirt, deep blue blouse, black bowtie, and black peep-toe heels strode into the store, and the electronic bell of the glass door’s movement snapped him to attention. As he opened his mouth in rehearsed greeting, she arrived at his counter, raised a small wallet-like pad of paper, and cut him off before his first word.
“Dr. Karen Almirola, Rollaven District Sanitation Inspector, third class, first degree, matalovu cor Dundalita, I need to see your storeroom, please,” she recited in one breath. The paper corroborated her details
“We’re not due for our next inspection for another three eclipse cycles,” he protested. After a moment’s realization, he added, “and that’s not the next callsign.”
“Look, friend,” the woman answered, leaning forward a bit and letting her dense brown curls hang over the counter, “there’s something going on in that room, and I need to inspect it for your safety and that of the whole Rollaven District, maybe even the rest of the planet. You can make your little scene about the gamma scrats you haven’t been keeping down like you told your boss you would, or you can let me in and deal with the thing before it gets you first.”
The man looked like he was about to confusedly protest again when another woman burst into the store and immediately locked the door behind her. Catching her breath, she was scared into backing away into a store display a minute later by a screaming crowd pounding on the door waving miscellaneous items bearing her likeness. Here, she wore olive green leggings, a black tank top, expensive running shoes, a green pearl necklace, and a series of black linework designs on her forehead, accentuating her brows, but in the images, she wore elaborate evening gowns, saris, and abundant, extravagant jewelry as well as her facial ink. She kept backing away, knocking over the display and pushing another aside. He gawped in astonishment and stammered helplessly, raising a shaky hand to point at her.
At the counter, the first woman raised a finger and then rushed to the second, catching her before she could tumble into another shelf.
“Easy, easy,” the first woman whispered. “I’m the Doctor, and I’m here to help.”
“They won’t stop chasing me,” the second woman gasped. “They started as soon as I stepped outside and they won’t stop. I need to get away. I need—” She scrambled to her feet and out of Karen’s arms, and only refrained from bolting toward the back-alley door when Karen called out, “Someplace to hide? I have one of those.”
The woman paused, pleading in her eyes.
“Come on,” Karen continued, putting a hand gently on the woman’s back, “Let’s get you out of here.”
The clerk watched dumbfounded as Karen led the woman out through the back door. As the door creaked shut behind them, he muttered, “I locked that door.”
“What did you say your name was?” the woman asked Karen, looking around nervously in the dirty but sunlit alley.
“I didn’t,” Karen answered, “but you can call me the Doctor.”
The woman looked confused, and the Doctor didn’t elaborate. Instead, she produced a metal pen and pointed it at another door a few meters away. The end of the pen glowed magenta, and the door unlatched itself, swinging gently open. Two bright green bat-like creatures the size of cats bounded out of the door on their knuckles and flapped into the street, leaving puffs of green powder behind, and the Doctor shook her head sardonically. “It’s always gamma scrats around here. These folks never seem to get rid of them.” She gestured for the woman to follow her, and hesitantly, she did. Using her pen as a flashlight, the Doctor looked around for a few minutes and then excitedly raised a large plastic suitcase. Motioning for the woman to exit, the Doctor returned to the alley and closed the door behind her.
“What’s that?” the woman asked.
“Something that never should have been left here,” the Doctor intoned, “that will upset the timestream if I don’t take it away. I’m just annoyed that he made me go in the back way to get it.”
“That’s…not really an answer,” the woman responded, crossing her arms incredulously.
“No, no it isn’t,” the Doctor answered, “but you’re not who you want me to think you are, either.”
“How did you know?” the woman asked, now seated within the TARDIS in a well-cushioned chair. Opposite her, on the other side of a round table, the Doctor sat in a similar chair and pushed a magazine toward the woman.
“Deepika Ranjul is a treasure this whole world knows on sight, who’s been famous for long enough to know that mobs happen if she takes her morning jogs to the street instead of her usual indoor track,” the Doctor answered, waiting for the woman to look at her own face on the cover. “And you’ve never heard that name before.”
The woman somehow managed to blanch with horror and blush in embarrassment at the same time. “No, I haven’t.” She fussed with the hem of her top.
“So what kind of interloper takes on the appearance of the most famous person on this entire planet without knowing it?”
The woman who only looked like Deepika Ranjul turned her head and lowered her eyes, rubbing her arm sheepishly.
“As you wish,” the Doctor answered. “Is there somewhere you wanted to go?”
“Nowhere. Anywhere. Just…away from here.” She bolted upright at a metallic clanging noise, and slowly relaxed as nothing followed it.
“You’d better get some rest. I’ll pick somewhere safe where we can figure out what to do next.”
The woman who wasn’t Deepika Ranjul lay awake in her cabin. The room was at once clinical and cozy, with plush covers on a bed that looked like it folded out of the slightly shiny gray walls. A small window showed the flaring blue and orange of the TARDIS’s travel through space and time. As she closed her eyes, she turned her mind toward old memories.
Spires of gray-green stone, reaching into the moonlit sky from the ocean floor. Lenses for the light concerts down below. Metal arms for water measurements. The porous smoothness of the stone, a delight for weary claws. Shankarasuth’s last light concert, before they retired, and the celebration of their life that it became. How expertly they used light attenuation to give the concert layers, to make the deep scattering as meaningful as the shallow clarity. Watching the recording again and again, trying to understand the life that they had lived.
Her first assignment, to document the sociology of the newest species the Yitorns had discovered. Casting her mind into the Thoughtlines to find a receptive host, entering his body. Silently observing his activities, and then asking him questions in his dreams. Occasionally taking control to examine something he didn’t notice, and apologizing afterward. Learning his name. T’toramin the Crafty. The feeling of his many waxy limbs fluttering through dense vegetation to find food. Thanking him for his time with a vision of Shankarasuth’s last show. Writing a report that got a lot of attention, and then faded away.
When she met Atanalodh.
She started to cry.
His claws in her mind. The mindknife he held to her most cherished memories. The lavish gifts from distant worlds, precious and irreplaceable. The days he spent riding the Thoughtlines into her and out, each the dreadful wrench of a Yitorn’s deepest sin. The smell of his finest pheromones. The way he dangled her professional advancement before her, keeping her around because she’d lose everything if she didn’t let him. His ample embrace, at once a comfort and a threat. The echo of his voice, sonorous and deadly. The day he trapped her in herself, just to prove that he could, and lived her life so badly it took her weeks to undo his misdeeds. The day she lost everything.
“Let me out!” a voice screamed into her reverie. Her crying only increased. “Why are you holding me in here!?”
“I’m sorry,” the woman who only looked like Deepika Ranjul sobbed back. “I’m so sorry.”
Her sleep was fitful, and she dreamed of claws and saffron.
In the morning, a smell both familiar and new wafted into the room, which did more to wake her than the wan morning sun. She rose, smoothed her clothes, and stepped into the hall. A few steps later, she came to the same table where she had sat the evening before, and the Doctor was collecting deep yellow pancakes from a pan onto a plate. Behind her, a metal tower of a being, marked in black and pink and whose lower portion was covered in protruding globes, held a tray that still carried the condiments of the unfolding meal. This latter being pointed their eyestalk at her and announced in a harsh mechanical staccato, “SHE IS RISEN.”
“Thanks, Mar,” the Doctor answered. “I hope you like methi thepla.”
The woman sat, staring at the lightly fried discs of flour and fenugreek in pensive silence.
“IS IT NOT TO YOUR LIKING?” Mar asked, in the same harsh voice. The Doctor put up a hand, and Mar levitated backward slightly.
“It’s familiar because it’s Deepika’s favorite,” the Doctor explained, sitting down and taking a small bowl of mango chutney from Mar’s tray. She placed it between her and the woman, folded a methi thepla into a scoop, and scooped some for a small bite. “That body knows that, even if you don’t.”
The woman mimicked the Doctor’s motions, and clearly enjoyed what she tasted.
“I’m not going to call you Deepika,” the Doctor insisted as she took another bite, “so you might as well tell me your real name.”
The woman hesitated, contemplating her meal for a moment. “Namarula.”
“Thank you for telling me that, Namarula.” Mar appeared behind the Doctor with a pitcher of water and some glasses on their tray, and the Doctor took them.
“I hoped to hide that name forever,” she intoned, pouring herself a glass and quickly finishing her food.
“It’s not just the fans you’re running from,” the Doctor surmised.
“No,” Namarula answered, turning sheepish again, “no it isn’t.”
“And whoever it is, they scare you enough to take over the body of the first receptive mind you found, and start running even there.”
Namarula started crying. “It’s worse than that. I broke all of my people’s most important rules.” She put her face in her hands. “I entered the Thoughtlines unsanctioned, I entered a body without its permission, I suppressed the mind to take total control…but I had to get out. I had to get away. He’ll…they’ll…there’s nowhere left for me.”
The Doctor took Namarula’s borrowed hand. “There’s a whole universe out there for you, and I’m going to get you there.”
She looked up at the Doctor, eyes pleading.
“You don’t get to keep holding Deepika, though.” There was a hardness in the Doctor’s words and face that didn’t fit her gentle voice. “That’s something you’ll have to answer for.”
Namarula looked momentarily frightened. She asked, “Why would you help me, after what I did…after what I’m still doing to Deepika?”
“Right now, I see two people in desperate need, and the way to help you both is to get you somewhere safe.”
Namarula hugged the Doctor, suddenly and tightly. She squeezed out, “Thank you.”
The Doctor let her cling for a minute or so, and then answered, “Now, let’s get you some fresh air.”
“Where are we, anyway?” Namarula asked as she and the Doctor walked on red-tipped grass just outside the TARDIS, under a greenish sky.
“Planet Lateria, 60,000 years from when we met. Far enough that whatever trick that creature uses to find you should take a while to work again.”
“I’ve never heard of that planet.”
“I’m counting on that,” the Doctor answered.
“Oh?” Namarula asked.
“Somehow, your pursuer knows where you go. Maybe your minds are linked, maybe he can sense your path through the Thoughtlines, but however he’s doing it, he needs to know what to do with that information. So if we hide on a planet you’ve never heard of and know nothing about, at a time and location that are both lies, he can’t get that information from you…and if you’ve never heard of it, chances are, neither has he.”
“That…almost makes sense,” Namarula answered, looking up at the sky and watching the clouds gently swirl.
“A lot of things about me almost make sense, and the rest, you can talk to Mar about,” the Doctor answered slyly.
“You’re a remarkable creature, Doctor,” Namarula remarked, tilting her head and eyeing her rescuer.
“I suspect you are as well, Namarula,” the Doctor responded, “but I won’t be sure until I know it’s just you.”
Namarula sat on the ground and clasped her knees. “When a Yitorn studies the same subject for a long time, they leave their mark on us. We come back with a bit of them in us. Phrases, movements, even memories. After a dozen subjects, we’re such a jumble that we only make sense to ourselves when we’re studying someone, living their life instead of ours, focused on our notes. We call the elders ‘collage students.’ The art they make about being a collage student is fashionable back in Yitorn present. My favorite light concert was about that…Shankarasuth lived so many lives, it took a whole ocean to show them.”
“Most species are little oceans like that,” the Doctor mused. “Everyone we meet touches us somehow, and the memories are remade every time we remember them. We spend a lot of time thinking about the people who made us who we are, and the people who might make us into who we will become. A lot of us start to wonder if our past selves would even recognize who we are now.”
Namarula sat still for a long time. “Perhaps we Yitorns aren’t so different after all.”
A three-eyed froglike creature with a grasshopper’s mandibles hopped up to her. She thought it cute until it raised an arm and stabbed her with an invisible blade apparently protruding from its forearm. She screamed in pain and the Doctor lifted her and tried to shake off her attacker. The blade crackled and flickered, showing its shape as the frog-creature climbed up her leg and torso, each step another invisible stab leaving no wound behind. The stab that took it up to her collarbone came with a telepathic message: “There’s no running from a Saberthought, Namarula.”
The Doctor stopped the attacker’s message with a loud screech from her sonic screwdriver. The creature fell off, its mental blades flickering in and out of existence. It skittered away into the grass, and the Doctor guided Namarula back inside the TARDIS.
“Hang on, Namarula,” the Doctor answered. “It’s time for us to leave.”
The TARDIS’s violent lurching lasted only a few minutes, but Namarula didn’t let go of her handhold until the Doctor put a calming hand on her shoulder.
The Yitorn using Deepika Ranjul’s body sat down in the same chair, clutching her old water glass and breathing heavily. “Why? He will find me. He always found me then, and he found me now. Lies and distance and he still found me. There’s no running from him.” She started to rock back and forth. “I shouldn’t have let myself hope. No running from a Saberthought. That’s their motto. That’s what’s on all of their lintels. That’s the catch phrase in their light concerts. That’s what they say when they’ve found someone. No running from a Saberthought. No running. No…” She started to cry. “It’s going to be like this forever. A little more running, and then the blade. No running from a Saberthought…”
The Doctor crouched to Namarula’s eye level and put her hands on her shoulders while Mar attended to the TARDIS controls. “Listen to me, Namarula,” she began. “We are going to get you out of this. You deserve it, and it’s what I do.”
“Why?” Namarula demanded, shaking off the Doctor’s hands. “Why are you so sure I’m worth all this? Atanalodh will come for you, too.”
“I’ve been traveling the universe a long time, Namarula. I’ve seen more than you can imagine, and the one thing I never stop seeing is the value of an outstretched hand.”
“But…maybe I didn’t need to take Deepika’s body,” she protested, looking at the floor and wringing her hands. “Maybe…I could have fought…”
“How that part ends depends on how Deepika feels about you when this is all over,” the Doctor insisted. “Until then, you got out, and there’s no shame in that.”
She looked up.
“The monsters who take hold of us know that making it hard to fight them is only the beginning. It’s hard to fight a bear, but a bear will eventually stop. The real evil is when they learn to not just make it hard to fight, but also make it hard to run.” The Doctor walked to the other chair and sat down. “Getting away from that is an accomplishment, and I hope you never let anyone convince you otherwise.”
Namarula was quiet for a few minutes, and then exhaled, “I haven’t gotten away yet, though.”
The Doctor produced her sonic screwdriver. “I have some ideas about that.”
Deeper inside the TARDIS, Namarula, the Doctor, and Mar all stood around the Doctor’s sonic screwdriver, propped upright on the floor on spring-loaded legs. The Doctor kneeled on the floor and Namarula followed, while Mar remained vigilant.
“The rest of this plan will make the most sense if I can tell you in your own mind. Is that okay?”
A bit confused, Namarula answered, “All right…but Yitorn minds are…complicated.”
The Doctor reached toward Deepika’s head and closed her eyes. A moment later, the two figures in the TARDIS were frozen in those positions, but within Namarula’s mind, they stood in the sky above a slowly spinning landscape of gray-green stone and ruddy earth, protruding from vast oceans. The stone looked like towering cities, filled with light and movement. Above them, streaks of white flashed across a vaulted upper limit, fading a little before streaking once more. There was no sun or other light source, and the sky looked and felt like the inside of a thunderstorm, without rain. The Doctor looked much as she did in the wider world, her clothing more crisp and tidy, but Namarula looked like a cloud of glowing green-white mist, which occasionally formed claws and other limbs from its substance.
“I’ve seen weirder,” the Doctor commented.
The mist that was Namarula crackled and vibrated, which communicated, “For some reason, I believe you.”
One of the stone building’s lights turned from green to a deep red-orange, and Namarula looked worried.
“She’s strong. We train in taking total control, but never in holding it for more than a few hours. I don’t know how I’ve been able to hold her this long.”
A second building’s lights changed color.
“We might be able to hear her soon. What was your plan?”
“Tell Atanalodh you’re waiting for him.”
“What!?” Namarula hovered back in terror.
“If he somehow finds his way into the TARDIS, Mar can deal with him. If he comes here, into mental contact like I am, he’ll be visiting you where you’re strongest, and where you make the rules. And, you’ll have my strength to draw on, without him even knowing that I’m here. Maybe even Deepika’s, if she’ll share it with you.”
Namarula hesitated. The Doctor approached her and laid a gentle hand on her churning mist, reassuring, “We don’t have to do this. We can find other ways.”
Namarula draped a flickering tendril onto the Doctor’s hand. “Thank you, Doctor.”
She looked down, as another building’s lights turned orange, and looked up at the sky. “Atanalodh. I’m waiting for you.”
Up above, the Thoughtlines cracked and pealed, growing in intensity. A cloud formed before them, pulling in the sparks as it took shape. It resembled Namarula’s misty form, pulsing in yellow, but all of its edges and boundaries were razor-sharp. The cloud continued growing during its slow descent, arriving before Namarula and the Doctor at nearly twice her size. A long tendril, hazy and sharply defined all at once, extended from the cloud around the two challengers, its end like a translucent carving knife, gently tapping on Namarula’s mist. Underneath each tap, the mist took a shape like a collarbone.
“My sweet Namarula,” the thing cooed venomously, “I missed you so. I picked out some natano fruit from the Fellucian rainforests for you.”
“Not today, Atanalodh,” Namarula answered, resolute.
“Then why did you call me, my love?” Atanalodh’s tapping grew more emphatic.
“You said it yourself. ‘No running from a Saberthought.’ I’m done running.”
“Are you? Well, that’s a relief.” Atanalodh drew the mindknife along Namarula’s collarbone, then upward, gently grazing along her substance. “I was worried I’d have to convince you.”
Namarula closed her eyes, raised a long tendril toward Atanalodh, and slammed it downward. It crashed through Atanalodh’s arm, and the long limb shattered into pieces that disintegrated into nothing with a metallic clatter as they fell. The Doctor looked on in satisfaction. Atanalodh vibrated, flickered, and morphed his edges into rows of blades.
“This isn’t going to be like the last times,” Namarula insisted.
Namarula froze as a second set of limbs began tapping on her, this time from behind.
“Are you sure about that? There’s no running from a Saberthought…” Atanalodh gleefully recited, this time having his double grate its mindknives into Namarula’s substance ever so slightly with each tap and caress, “but the fight’s not worth it, either.”
From down below, one of the green-lit buildings erupted into a monstrous maw and lunged upward, crushing the second Atanalodh to nothing. Atanalodh proper reached over with another tendril, tracing a thin line along the giant stone serpent, and then cut its head off in a single swing. The pieces crashed downward as the building-snake receded, reforming into a cracked and wounded version of the building they once were.
“Now, now, Namarula, you know what happens when you try to use your memories against me. You get careless, and I make sure you know it.” Atanalodh looked down at the cityscape, a vibration like a smirk crossing his mist. “But perhaps you need a reminder.” Atanalodh streaked downward, through the invisible floor on which the Doctor stood, and Namarula and the Doctor followed urgently.
Down below, Atanalodh stopped near one of the taller buildings. “I remember this one,” he mused aloud. “Your Yitorn convocation. Your body wore such grand finery. I was there, you know.” He dragged a mindknife along its stones, tracing the lines between them, leaving harsh scratches behind.
“No, you weren’t!” Namarula shouted back. She drove herself bodily into Atanalodh, slamming him into the building and lashing her limbs around his. With a hideous wrenching snap, she severed six of them, their mindknives crumbling like crushed glass. “I have relived this moment every day since you started hurting me, and in every second, I know who did and did not watch me receive my circlet. You and I did not meet until years later. You can’t scare me anymore!”
Namarula raised another building to crush Atanalodh, but the building’s lights turned orange mid-motion, and it returned to its usual shape.
“Memory is a fickle thing, my sweet Namarula. It answers to many masters: emotions, logic, time…and me.” Atanalodh plunged a mindknife through the building’s windows, and Namarula now remembered, clear as day, that Atanalodh had been at her Yitorn Convocation, front and center, grinning deviously. She shuddered back in horror, and the Doctor landed behind her, steadying her with a hand and a nod. Atanalodh swelled in size, and crept toward her again.
“There’s no running from a Saberthought, and no fighting, either,” Atanalodh threatened, waving a mindknife back and forth. “I’ll have you again, if I have to hollow out your entire life to do it. It’s better you come quietly.”
The Doctor kneeled behind Namarula and grasped on of her tendrils. “You have my strength,” she whispered, and her thoughts focused on her Yitorn friend.
From above, below, and all of the other directions, fifteen spectral buildings lunged out of the psychic ether, pounding into Atanalodh and crushing every limb the Saberthought tried to interpose. As this onslaught worked itself out, Namarula raised one of her own limbs, hardened and heavy, and jabbed it into the center of her abuser, crashing straight through him and into the building behind. In her thoughts, Atanalodh’s presence faded from her Convocation memories. Atanalodh lurched and shuddered, raising several limbs and watching them flicker into nothing instead of forming mindknives. Namarula seized Atanalodh with a dozen tendrils, flung him into the lightning-studded sky, and pierced him with another fifteen phosphorescent columns. Like a pincushion, he crashed and rolled back down into Namarula’s memory landscape, and again he rose.
“That’s a nice trick,” he coughed out, the mist of his body giving partial way to the crablike image that lay underneath, “but I have a nicer one.” He collected the mistiness about him into an orb and plunged it into the ground beneath him, cackling with satisfaction. All around, building lights changed from green to yellow, and Namarula felt Atanalodh’s venomous presence seeping into every moment of her past. Screaming as his intrusion proceeded, she heard him whisper directly into her mind from a thousand places in her own past, “Mine is the only thing you ever get to be, and I will have every second of you whether you want me to or not. Remember, you did this.”
The Doctor rushed to Namarula and shook her, shouting her name, but her screaming did not stop, nor did the changing lights. Her face tightened, and she shouted into the sky, “Now, Mar!”
A hideous screeching noise roared into the entire cityscape, and all at once the green glow of Namarula’s memories returned as Atanalodh’s intrusion retreated back into him and then exploded into nothing. Atanalodh grasped his head with his jointed claws, howling in pain, as his carapace cracked and flickered. Namarula calmed, and descended. As she did so, some of the buildings began to move—specifically, the red-orange ones. A group of them crept closer, displacing some green buildings on the way there, and some other nearby buildings turned red-orange and joined them. Namarula clubbed Atanalodh into the sky, and shattered bit of his mental carapace fell before her. Up above, the mobile buildings crashed into him, pinning his crushed body in place. Namarula clambered up the nearest one, the Doctor following. At the top, staring into what was left of Atanalodh’s face, she whispered:
“That was clever, shedding your Thoughtskill for one last effort to infiltrate everything I am. You had to know, though, that it was the last effort. Without this layer of psychic possibility,” Namarula explained as she gestured at herself, “all you have left is your own mind, in its own shape, without even the hope of leaving here unless I let you. Or rather, unless Deepika lets you.”
The buildings squeezed, and one of Atanalodh’s clawed arms fell off, disappearing into the city below.
“She’ll probably squeeze me out of here soon, but before that, she’s going to squeeze you out of everywhere. She’s in there too, you know, and she felt exactly what you just tried to do to me…to us. I locked her in her bedroom, sure, but you just tried to burn her house down. She has priorities.”
“It doesn’t matter what you do,” Atanalodh coughed. “I’ve already made my mark on you. Even if you destroy me now, you’ll remember me…remember everything I did to you…for you.”
“That’s my burden to bear. This is yours.” Namarula clamped onto Atanalodh’s head with a wispy limb while the buildings underneath bent violently, crushing Atanalodh’s body to nothing in their perfect tessellation. Namarula flung his insensate head into the Thoughtlines above, where the next flash of lightning erased it. As she turned toward the Doctor and took in her face of mingled horror, awe, and relief, the red-orange lights spread across the city, and then mingled together. The Thoughtline lightning faded to a low simmer, while the cityscape became the four walls of a light blue bedroom. Namarula and the Doctor now stood before a lavish canopy bed, and between them and this furniture stood Deepika Ranjul in a well-decorated red-orange sari.
“I…I did it,” Deepika murmured in disbelief.
Namarula collected her Thoughtskill, hiding it within herself to show the vaguely humanoid, crablike shape of her Yitorn mind, and kneeled before Deepika. Still breathing heavily from her ordeal, she was too exhausted to cry, but she wanted to.
“I…” she began, “I’m so, so sorry.” She kept looking at the floor, not even shifting her slightly stalked eyes upward to Deepika’s feet. “It shouldn’t have been you. It shouldn’t have been anyone. I’m…” The tears finally came. “I’m so sorry.”
Deepika drew in her lips. “You were running from that man…Atanalodh?”
“Yes,” Namarula answered, still shaking.
Deepika descended to the floor and draped a careful hug around Namarula’s hard shell. “Then I forgive you.” Namarula sobbed openly.
“Thank you,” she choked out. “But why?”
“I’ve been fighting my way out of your hold since you came to me, and it showed me your memories. He’s…he was…scary. The things he did to you…I don’t even have words for them. I could have let him destroy you from the inside, and taken my chances with him after that, but he didn’t deserve it. My people have known too many monsters like that. They deserve a fight, and we gave them one.”
Namarula hugged back.
“I was angry with you. I wanted to be angry with you. But seeing all of that, seeing him…I understand.”
Namarula hugged tighter.
“It’s still not okay that you didn’t ask me, before or during. But I understand.”
The two were still for a long time, and the Doctor stepped back and looked out Deepika’s bedroom window. Outside, a six-year-old version of her in a white dress chased butterflies, and a fifteen-year-old version held hands with her first boyfriend on a park bench. The Doctor smiled.
“I should get going,” Namarula intoned wistfully. She stood, and then stopped. “But where I’m from, I just murdered a respected scientist so thoroughly that his mind will never be recovered. I thought I had nowhere to go before, but now…”
Deepika looked worried. “Well, I can’t let you stay in here if it’s going to be anything like this time.”
The Doctor stepped forward with a raised finger. “If I may, I think I can solve both of your problems.”
Aboard the TARDIS, the suitcase the Doctor had retrieved from the convenience store shook open, and a series of metal limbs emerged from it. Smoothly, the entire case lifted itself upright on these limbs and reconfigured itself into a humanoid shape, which then began to secrete a warm brown skin. In a few minutes, the robotic form looked human, but for the circuit-board pattern of her veins and metallic blue sheen of her hair. A minute after that, it secreted clothing: a green sundress and brown sandals. Suddenly, she began moving, and spoke in a new voice.
“This feels…strange,” Namarula announced, raising her new arms. “And wonderful.”
“I thought you’d like it. Like you, that body had nowhere to go. Whoever owned it before didn’t want it, and I have no use of my own for it, other than protecting the timestream from something that shouldn’t exist here for another million years or so.”
Namarula took a few steps around the TARDIS control room as the Doctor, Mar, and Deepika watched.
“Right now it’s on the default appearance settings,” the Doctor explained. “You should be able to figure out the reconfiguration protocol and make it look like your old body within a few days.”
“I don’t think I want to,” Namarula answered. “That shape is full of bad memories now. I think it’s time for me to make some new ones. Better ones.”
“That’s a good idea,” Deepika responded, putting a hand on Namarula’s new shoulder. “Take care of yourself, Namarula.”
“You too, Deepika.” The two hugged, long and dearly.
“I can drop you off a few moments after Namarula first entered your body,” the Doctor explained to Deepika, “so that you don’t lose any time. There’ll be two of you in Rollaven for a little while, but if you don’t make a scene about it, it should pass without drawing any additional attention to either of you.”
“Thanks,” she answered, looking out a window at the unfamiliar world outside. “What did you say your name was?”
“You can call me the Doctor.”
“Right, right. And who should I ask to play you in the movie I’m going to pitch about this ordeal about fifteen minutes after I get back home?” she asked with a wry smile.
“Well, if you can’t get Karunya Changrabali, I’ll settle for Nina Davuluru,” the Doctor answered without missing a beat.
“You really do know who I am, don’t you?” Deepika Rajul laughed.
“You were amazing in Aquí me quedo sin ti.”
“Really? I feel like most people didn’t get that one.”
“Most people are wrong about a lot of things.”
The two laughed, and Namarula smiled, not really understanding what was happening.
“Time to hold on. The TARDIS handles like a soccer riot.”
Deepika and Namarula grasped the nearest handholds as the shaking started.
“Where did you want to go after this, Namarula?”
“I don’t know…someplace warm. And sunny.”
The TARDIS lurched violently, and the Doctor began to sing, “Esta noche será especial…”
Mar took the next line: “NOS IREMOS PARA LA PLAYA…”
The Doctor: “Tambores, arena, y mar…”
“CANCIONES DE MI GUITARRA…”
Deepika and Namarula smiled.