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Riding the Back of Time

why do I hate Paisley





Glasshouse II


Untitled, by Sarah J. Groenewegen

Forgotten Memories, by Evan Paliatseas

The Rushing of Blood, by Evan Paliatseas

Keeper's Demise, by David J Richardson


Alien To Her, by David Carroll

She Twitched, by David Carroll

The Inner Light, by Kate Orman

Waiting in the Light, by Jonathan Barons

Grandfather's Clock, by Steven Caldwell

Messages, by Steven Caldwell

Inge, by Simon Moore


Doctor Who Non-fiction

Tabula Rasa

Just for Tonight

by David Carroll

First Appeared in Pirate Planet, 1991

This story is a sequel to Riding the Back of Time by Kate Orman.

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight
Make me a child again just for tonight!

        Elizabeth Akers

Time lives, it is alive.

At its birth, as singularity spewed forth into the vacuum, time screamed -- a piercing cry of determination, and joy, and primal dread. But only those who need no names heard the scream, and did not care.

One by one the dancing particles cooled, clustered, ordered themselves. Stars were formed, and people were formed to dream about them.

Time became uneven, with bursts of fragile speed and ponderous decay. And in its own inconsistencies it found the mechanics of self-consciousness.

But like all living things, time is not whole. Throughout its span those who need no names have reached into the heart of time, for the sakes of curiosity or amusement, and drawn scars across its flesh. And, more damaging, those who live within time itself have burrowed and gnawed at the fabric that surrounds them, shaping loops and tunnels and rips.

So there are moments where time stumbles, and feels its own pain. Moments such as this, in the green hills of Kentucky in the year 1863.

But at least, for now, time is unswerving in resolve, always expanding, always growing. For it still does not realise that its quest to fill the vacuum is unattainable, always was. Time does not see its own death, its inevitable collapse back into singularity.

There are some that say time breathes, a wind that whispers through the centuries, carrying its own messages to those who can listen. And there are some who say this is carrying the analogy just a little too far.

* * *

The first of the time-storms came on a hot spring evening, a little after midnight. In this narrow valley it blew through tree and bush; birds startled at its touch, owls returned to their perches, not knowing if it was night or day. A rabbit sniffed the air and with her children returned to the safety of her burrow, passing without fear a girl lying on the valley floor.

The girl was asleep, her mind given in to her body's exhaustion. It would be nice, as the time-wind grew and seemed to pass not over this girl, but through her, to say she stirred in her sleep, her dreams turning to uneasy nightmares, full of dark premonition. It would be kind to say her arms instinctively tightened around her swollen belly in protection. But the fury went unheeded, her sleep was deep, and undisturbed till dawn.

* * *

After dinner, which not only had been deadly boring but close to inedible to boot, Ace was glad to simply let one of the Sisters lead her to her room. The Doctor was probably out hunting down his temporal hiccups or whatever he was doing here, but she wouldn't be seeing him tonight anyway. This place, more specifically the Pleasant Hill Shaker Community, had actually got separate buildings for its male and female sleeping quarters. Not just for guests, mind you, but for everybody. Ace had thought of telling someone that it was hardly the best way to keep their community well-stocked, so to speak, but never got round to it. Admittedly, it looked like there were easily three hundred children in the dining hall tonight, but apparently most of them had been adopted by the community, just one result of the war raging outside its walls.

When she reached her room she thanked the Sister politely, trying to remember her name but failing, and entered. She waited about thirty seconds, looking round in resignation at the austere furnishings, before she judged the sister was out of earshot. Then she cried out, almost screaming, in relief at being able to take her bloody dress off. God, it felt good. For the last six or so hours she had become more and more convinced that even sandpaper would have been an improvement over this century's idea of clothing. She was tempted to add the tight black outfit to the fire as she stretched herself in front of its meagre flames, finally tossing the offending garment over the single stool.

Someone had previously put her ruck-sack under the bed, so she dragged it out, checked its contents were intact, and pulled on a t-shirt and skirt. Satisfied that everything was as it should be, she lay down, and wondered what to do now.

She was feeling tired, but it probably wasn't even eight o'clock. Going to bed now would be an unheard of waste.

Explore was the obvious answer. But if there were any mysterious and exciting secrets in this place they were keeping themselves well hidden, and outside there was probably nothing but untamed wilderness and civil war. The latter might be interesting, admittedly, but she knew she'd probably be lost in minutes if she tried to find her way through the former. Ace was a city girl; give her a verdant forest, and she'd take a scene perhaps worth sticking on a postcard.

Still, she could probably find enough pine-cones to practise shooting her catapult at. Half an hour to keep up her form, and she reckoned that would do the day nicely. She grabbed her jacket and the weapon, and slipped quietly out the door.

* * *

Like a thief in the night, Margaret thought nervously as she leaned briefly on the large wooden gate. She felt relief that she wouldn't have to spend tonight as she had the last three, falling asleep in the woods, lying down when she could walk no further. But somehow, that didn't ease her sense of foreboding.

She wished there was a moon tonight. She didn't think she'd ever get used to the sheer lack of light in this sort of place, for apart from the odd glimmer sneaking out through curtain and shutter, and the lamp standing watch at the gate, the settlement was as pitch as the wilderness outside. But despite the stillness and the silence, she knew there were people here, good and kind people from every report. People that could help her.

A frown crossed her face. No-one could help her. She had known that for a long time.

She tried to enter the settlement, but her body protested. Her feet were stinging from the uneven ground, and her legs were covered in tiny cuts from thorn bushes stumbled over in the darkness. But mostly it was just overwhelming weariness, her flesh and her mind one in their resolve not to move an inch. But, after a while, she moved anyway. Maybe it's the baby, she thought, maybe this time round that's all the reason I've got. He was quiet now, not kicking as she had been this morning, and for a panicking moment she placed her hands on her stretched skin, trying to feel some life, having a sudden image of her baby lying dead in her womb, just sort of bobbing.

Just silly, she thought, just pre-natal tension or something stupid like that. But she also knew that with her recent rigours it was a small miracle that she hadn't miscarried.

At one point Margaret had thought her whole life had been controlled by miracles, but now she knew better.

Something broke the silence as she walked along the dirt path. A rhythmic clatter somewhere north-east. She moved towards it, hopeful she wouldn't have to shout and bang on a door to attract some attention. She could see the village was a lot larger then she had originally thought; probably a hundred families could live here in what passed for comfort in this age. She hadn't heard much of the Shakers, but the odd piece of rumour or ridicule had found there way to her in the last year or two. And Jesse, who was to have been the midwife at the birth, had told her all she knew about them.

A quiet group, Jesse had said, with the weariness in her voice of too much life. Strange, but quiet, and damned fine craftsmen -- the best furniture in Kentucky is to be had over at Pleasant Hill. Charitable too, so I hear, they adopt a great many children. That had been said with a sly look and a knowing tone of voice, though she had pretended to ignore it. But remember, the lesson continued, their joy in what they believe is such that their bodies shake in ecstasy. The old woman had shaken her own head, tired of talk. A strange group, she'd said, and that was all.

Jesse was dead now, of course. Her body probably still lying among the charred remains of the little cottage. But that wasn't worth thinking about.

She walked round a building to find a cleared area, between the dwellings and the tall settlement wall. There was a little lamp, protected from the breeze, sitting on a bench, and someone had placed a row of pine-cones next to it.

As she watched, one of the cones jumped backwards sharply, breaking in two. She was about to call out, ask if someone was there in the darkness, when the breeze she'd just noticed increased.

And suddenly all was chaos, time warped and bent and rolled over on itself, the space around her became a living tapestry of untouched wilderness and pioneers and settlers and builders and engineers and when the buildings around her had finished rebuilding themselves more buildings came, of wood and brick and glass and roads stretched and bulldozers roared and children skipped and it rained and snowed and the wind kept rising and pulling at her, blowing through her flesh, catching at her bones, and someone was holding up a lamp and shouting and shielding their face, and somehow throughout it all the one thing that caught her eye was a badge on this person's coat that simply said 1987 and she clutched at her baby and screamed and kept on screaming till the images melted into black.

* * *

The Shakers' doctor was an old man, and Ace had trouble understanding half the things he was going on about. What with his soft voice, ridiculous accent, and incessant muttering, she counted herself lucky she actually knew the strange woman was going to be all right. As to her questions about the baby, all she got was the hint that it wouldn't be long now, me lassie.

To Ace it looked like the woman was ripe to split open any second, the taut skin ripping like paper, disgorging its contents in a spectacular Alien birth.

Truly gross, thought Ace, feeling a little sick at the image. I think I've been living too many horror movies lately.

But when the doctor had finally finished, and he had entreated her yet again to get some sleep, and she had yet again refused, he left, saying something like all that was needed was rest.

Ace herself hadn't seen the second time-storm, for despite her experience in all things temporal she was no time-sensitive, didn't have either the knack or the equipment needed. But she had sensed something, or thought she did anyhow. She reflected that a nine-month pregnant woman suddenly appearing like magic from the night and screaming was likely to get the imagination sensing all sorts of things. What she did know was that the Doctor should be here, even if only to minister to the poor woman.

But, typically, the Doctor had disappeared. The Sisters Ace had sent after him had reported he was nowhere to be found. Ace certainly wasn't worried about him -- nothing that was likely to happen around here could ruffle his hairstyle -- she just wasn't quite that confident in herself when he wasn't round.

But he had said the hardest part about this sort of thing was the waiting, so she waited. Or, on second thoughts, wasn't that line out of a movie?

* * *

She woke up feeling sick. Her arm and legs were hurting, and she was wondering where and when she was. No need to wonder about the baby, for she could feel her, still content in his portable darkness. She wondered how she could ever have thought she was dead within her.

But these were quick sensations, felt rather than thought about, and she blinked back the light of the two oil lamps, and tried to remember if she was supposed to know the person standing over her.

She gave up, and simply asked where and when she was.

"You're safe, and your baby is doing fine," was the reply as she was given something pungent to drink. "But what do you mean by 'when am I'?" The girl was looking down curiously.

Oh God, this again, Margaret thought, already wincing at her next question and the reaction it might cause. "I mean, what year is it?"

The girl opened her mouth, then shut it again. "Um, wait here a sec." She disappeared, and returned a minute later. "1863, or so I'm told."

Margaret felt relief flooding her, she was still here, there was still a chance, at least for her baby. She knew the birth was perhaps only hours away.

A part of her told her it was false relief this, that nothing was alright. That the baby could easily wait days, and she didn't have anything like that amount of time. She was rallying a defence against her pessimistic side when...

"Hey, remember me?" It was the girl again, but the words had been spoken kindly enough, and she looked up at her properly for the first time. She wasn't too much younger than herself, but with brown hair tied back, and dark eyes. "What year are you from?" asked the hovering girl, curiously.

Margaret didn't really know what to say.

"It's all right, you can trust me. 1970." The girl took off the blanket to reveal an outfit that had to be, well, late 20th century. Margaret reached up and grabbed the girl's left arm, swinging it round. On the shoulder was a somehow familiar badge with the year 1987 emblazoned on it. "The Professor gets irritable if I go round showing this gear off to the locals, though you seem to be blending in." She fell silent, waiting for a response.

"I, uh. My first memory of a year was 1994, though I think I was born somewhere in the 2020s." So strange to say it, hear the words she had thought were forever trapped within her, unspeakable. "How... Where'd your clothes come from, did you say you were travelling with someone, what...?" She broke off. She knew that, despite her sudden hope, she shouldn't trust this girl, should get out of here as soon as possible.

But it wasn't possible, not in her state, not till she took the one-way journey.

"Well, the clothes came with me, and I travel with the Professor, well, the Doctor anyway, he's a Time Lord from Gallifrey." That was said with a sly smile. "We travel in his TARDIS, big white thing stuck in a police box. Why, how are you travelling?"

She choose her words carefully, wondering if this was simply a hallucination brought on by over-exertion. "I... travel with no-one. Every four or five years something happens, some sort of... jump. Back in time. Usually about thirty years, though I haven't found any sort of pattern. It's happening now. The first storm has passed and I thought I'd be able to leave my baby here in safety but it's going to come with me, and it probably won't survive that. Not when I land naked in the middle of the country-side somewhere and if there is anyone around they're usually just thirty years more ignorant and savage than they were before." She wasn't going to cry, she had cried too many times, and one time (no, don't, don't remember James, strong and laughing and beautiful) she'd sworn never to do it again.

"Hey, don't worry." Soothing, the girl's voice was, and something more than that. She looked up into her face. Something in it said it understood, it understood hell because it had been there. And for the first time she felt that her hopes might actually have been answered. "Just don't worry about a thing. The Doctor's round somewhere, and he can help you, he's got equipment that can save you from jumping again. I don't know how good he is at delivering babies, but he's an expert at everything else. Wait here a sec."

The girl stood up, went to the door. There was some sort of quick discussion outside before she came in again, sitting down beside the bed.

"Well," she said, seeming to be trying to hide nervousness behind a grin. "We're not entirely sure where he is, but he certainly can't be far away and we've got about half the Shakers round here looking for him. Won't be long."

Relief, hope, fear certainly, but also a sort of peacefulness took Margaret. Let her stretch, feel the full length of her body settle further into the so comfortable bed. For some strange reason she felt like going to sleep.

"Oh yeah," said the girl above her. "My name's Ace, who are you?"

* * *

"Hey, this place has got to be more than thirty years old. They might be a bunch of stiffs here, but you shouldn't have any trouble with them if you do it right. I mean, if something does go wrong with the Doctor."

"Won't work. Whenever I jump I can end up anywhere up to a couple of hundred miles away. God knows why. Haven't landed in an ocean yet, but I'm waiting for it."

* * *

Ace felt like pacing the room, or kicking the chair, or something. All impossible of course, while she was playing nurse. Where the hell had the Doctor got to?

Probably lying down somewhere, relaxing, she thought bitterly, knowing full well that was unfair.

But until he did come there was nothing anybody else could do. It would probably be enough to get Margaret into the TARDIS to stop this 'jumping' she was talking about, but even that was currently impossible.

And she was in bad shape, a lot worse than she probably knew. The Shaker doctor had bathed her wounds in alcohol, dressed them roughly, prescribed a herbal drink, and that was about it. It had taken Ace a couple of silently angry minutes before realising that was about all he could do. She of all people should know that the olden times were quaint only in hindsight. But with a bad burn on one arm, several days old by the look of it, and her legs cut often and badly, not to mention seeming exhaustion, she wasn't in any shape to go anywhere, let alone jumping back in time.

Once, about an hour after Margaret had first woken, Ace dared to actually ask what she was doing stumbling through the woods when there was a perfectly good road.

The reply was bitter, but amounted to the fact that this perfectly good road was in the middle of a war where most of the soldiers seemed to think a woman travelling alone would make good bayonet practise. That surprised Ace a little, and she almost commented that these days the chivalry was about as safe as the medicine, before biting back her tongue. This woman wasn't visiting, she was living it.

That had been the end of conversation for a while, and Margaret was slipping in and out of sleep and Ace was alternating between feeling concerned and bored.

And the Doctor still hadn't turned up.

Some adventure, thought Ace, he's off enjoying himself and I'm stuck.

Hour after hour, and the Shakers were apparently still looking and nothing was happening.

Nothing, that is, until the third and final time storm hit, some time before dawn.

* * *

Did the wind catch the bedclothes, did it find its way into the lamp to jitter the flame? Margaret opened her eyes and felt the wind against her skin, through her clothes. The room was dark, the lamp burnt low, but she could see Ace sitting opposite her, head bowed.

"Ace." she said.

"Help me." she said. "It's happening, Ace. I must have missed one, 'cause this is it, can't you feel it, like something's going to snap?" Ace seemed to nod, but perhaps she was only dreaming.

Margaret wondered what her baby was dreaming, locked within her, safe from the world.

And now the images came, crazy, no patterns, staccato pictures of times that had been or would be. Furiously they threw themselves at her and through her, cars screeched and cats purred and axes whistled and kettles boiled. A camera clicked one time, neither before nor after any other time, and Margaret wondered what it would record.

The wind started tearing at her, stronger, lifting her hair, getting into her eyes, getting into her lungs, no need to breathe. Her baby kicked, and again, and again.

Then Margaret clutched herself, suddenly knowing what was happening, and as the wind picked her up she screamed like it was the first time ever, and in her own ears the screaming lasted years and years and years.

* * *

Ace awoke, stood up fast, tried to orientate herself in the low light.

A scream was still echoing round the room, growing fainter. Ace just looked at the bed, and saw the bed clothes settle themselves on empty air.

No nick of time this time. The Doctor hadn't come.

"Good luck," she said hollowly, knowing she was talking about events thirty years ago, not knowing anything else to say.

The scream still hadn't stopped, and Ace almost turned to walk away from the room as fast as possible. But she halted mid-stride, because it wasn't Margaret screaming, not at all.

She jumped for the bed, ripping off the blanket and sheets, ripped open the large and threadbare dress beneath them.

Where did Margaret finish and the baby start? An answerless question perhaps, but nature had chosen a couple of inches down the umbilical cord. Ace smiled, bending to pick the crying boy up, cradling him and drying him in his mother's dress. "Good luck." she said again to the empty air, and ran to find a doctor.


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