"Oh, look!" the straggle-haired man in the dark green velvet coat exclaimed, pointing at a chunk of carved masonry that had been hung on the wall, lit with several artfully-positioned lamps. "I remember the day that freize went up on the great temple of Gresul'th on Satir 3! One of the anti-grav lifters cut out, and they almost lost it down the Well of Wails -- fortunately, I was able to help them get the generator started again just in the nick of time."
"Really? What did you do?" his companion asked.
"Gave it a good swift kick. That usually does the trick."
Grace Holloway smiled and rolled her eyes. The thing was, the Doctor probably wasn't joking.
The two time travelers continued their stroll through the magnificant Argolis museum, pride of the Thripin System, the Doctor occasionally pointing out and explaining the background of other familiar objects. Grace had to admit that having a Time Lord as inpromptu tour guide certainly added to the experience.
At one Cheevic funeral urn, he stopped, peered intently at the plaque and smiled, the corners of his bright blue eyes crinkling up slightly. As he walked away from the case, Grace stepped up to see what had interested him so.
'Donated by Professor Bernice Summerfield'. She looked after him somewhat speculatingly. Benice had been one of his many past traveling companions. She'd never met her.
They wandered on, now drifting apart as they examined the objects of most interest to each. It was all very nice, so far, but not substantially different from Grace's other museum experiences.
Then she stepped through an archway into a blazing hot desert.
She stopped and stood, gasping. Not from surprise, though she was shocked, but from the incredible blast of heat. She was dripping with sweat under her sky blue cotton tank dress, her strawberry blond bangs clinging to her forehead. In front of her, she could see a large convoluted shape of what looked like sandstone. It was shimmering in the waves of heat rising up from the sand beneath her, like a heat mirage. She took a hesitant step forward, and--
The Doctor was suddenly next to her. "Grace! Are you all right?"
She blinked, then turned her head with an effort to look at him. "I--yes," she insisted. "I just--"
She blinked again as he turned her around and, throwing an arm around her shoulders, steered her forward. One step, two, three, and
they suddenly broke free into cool, clear air. She stopped and stood, shaking her head. "Doctor," she asked, "what just happened?"
He peered at her in concern, then tutted. "Didn't you see the sign?"
"The warning notice -- environment change."
"Obviously not. Why an 'environment change'?"
"Some artifacts need special conditions if they're to be preserved for any length of time. That was a Sul sand-form -- they're unable to exist anywhere except for their planet of origin, because humidity above a certain level causes them to crumble. So, they brought the planet here to the gallery, so to speak. Some afficiandos claim that you should see it as the natives would anyway, that the original environment is a fundamental part of the viewing experience."
Grace was impressed, if a bit sweaty after her unexpected sauna. This was definitely not what she was used to in a museum.
This was more like it!
Next, she walked through a tunnel around which a dimly-lit tank curved. On either side, lacy sculptures blossomed, formed by the coral-like creatures of Vet under the mental direction of the sea-Masters. At least they'd made allowances for the non-aquatic creatures such as herself, she thought wryly.
A chilled room sported a pool of molten silver, which blurbed and leapt in a disturbingly 'live' fashion. Fascinated, she leaned over the railing that separated it from her, and jerked back, startled, as a pseudopod extended outward at her.
Hearing her gasp, the Doctor spun on a heel, his face creasing into a smile at what he saw. His friend was frozen, the arching silver also frozen in mid-air, as if watching her. She suddenly moved to the right, and it matched her movement. Next, she jumped back, and the silver retreated back into the pool.
The Doctor approached as Grace stood, staring narrowly at the momentarily quiescent vat. He leaned over to read the plaque aloud, and the surface of the silver pool shivered and danced as he spoke.
"Action/Reaction." He grinned as he glanced over at Grace, who looked back at him, an eyebrow raised.
"Ah," she said, with a faint smile. "I would never have guessed!"
Apparently the Doctor had been to the museum several times before; his chief enjoyment seemed to be from watching Grace's reactions to some of the more esoteric exhibits. But when he abruptly stopped, Grace knew that he'd finally seen something that intrigued him.
A large, glowing blue holofield hung suspended in the middle of the room. A bench had been placed in front of it.
The Doctor walked toward it. "A Xivan soulwell," he said softly. "This is new since last I was here." Grace wandered up behind him to stare at the plaque standing on a little stand near the bench, as the Doctor sat down.
"Xivan soulwell, from the Fert Dynasty. It is believed by Xivans that contemplation of a Xivan soulwell will allow the viewer to see into their own future, into their inner selves," she read aloud. Glancing up again, she saw that the Doctor was leaning forward, staring with rapt attention at the holofield, through which half-glimpsed shapes twisted and turned.
"Well," she said, eyebrows raised, "I'll leave you to it, then. I'm going to check the other galleries on this wing. If I don't see you, I'll swing back by here again, okay?"
She leaned forward, concerned; raised her voice a little. "Doctor?"
He turned to look at her, startled. "What? Oh, yes, yes. As you wish." He turned back to the holofield.
She let out her breath in a little sigh as she straightened up and turned to leave. "Don't use it all up, okay?"
No answer. She headed out, a smile twisting her mouth.
The next gallery over, she found some nice Argolin portraits, and spent some time enjoying their finer points. Her knee-jerk reaction, had she been viewing this anywhere but Argolis,would have been to assume that Argolins had a thing for finger-painting those shaggy McDonalds Fry Kids. Of course, she reflected with a smile, as something that looked very much like a green Fry Kid wandered through the room, she'd have been dead wrong -- the portraits were very realistic.
...contemplation of a Xivan soulwell will allow the viewer to see into their own future, into their inner selves...
The Doctor sat, enthralled by what he saw before him, the hint of a smile upon his face. Presently, though, the expression on his face began to change. The smile disappeared, and a line appeared between his brows.
Grace stood in front of a large abstract canvas, stymied. She not only knew what she liked, she knew art. Well, human art, anyway. But if you didn't understand the way the artist thought, could you really understand the art? Then again, perhaps looking at a culture's art might help you to figure out how they thought...*
Suddenly she shivered and frowned, rubbing her right hand thumb with her index finger. The air wasn't especially cool in this particular gallery -- why had she just felt a chill?
The slightly accented male voice behind her made her start. "A fellow admirer of Rentasi Modern, I see."
Grace felt a surge of annoyance. Really, people shouldn't just sneak up behind other people like that! She spared the newcomer a quick glance over her shoulder.
"I'm not that familiar with it," she informed him coolly, before turning back to peer at the painting again, wishing he would take the hint from her body language and go away. Her glimpse had shown her a dark-haired, distinguished-looking middle-aged man, wearing conservative dark gray robes of a style popular with many humanoids. Nothing unusual or remarkable there. But there had been something about his face, in that brief instant. It was hard to describe. But something...disturbing.
Grace calmly turned to go--
--and blinked. The man was standing right behind her. She stepped back, her eyes narrowing when he didn't have the sense to apologize for having so obviously invaded her personal space.
"Excuse me," she said icily.
He stared at her for a few moments, the slightest hint of a smile on his lips, then said, "I'd be happy to explain some of the finer points of the style."
She put on her best company face. "That's very kind, but it won't be necessary." She brushed past him and walked away, not looking back.
If she had, she'd have seen the stranger watch her go, an avid expression on his face. Then follow.
The Doctor sat frozen, his face now twisted in anxiety at what he saw. His mouth opened as if to speak, but no sound emerged.
Grace was so intent on putting the stranger out of her mind that she didn't notice at first that he had followed her. When she saw him out of the corner of her eye several galleries later, she felt a flash of annoyance. Well, he had a right to see the museum like anyone else, she reminded herself grudgingly. Folding her arms, she continued her appraisal of the shiny metallic abstract sculpture sitting on the plinth in front of her.
A few seconds later, she sighed, irritated. It was no good; she couldn't concentrate anymore. She could hear the sound of his quiet footsteps as he strolled around the edge of the room. Staring at the statue, she waited impatiently for him to leave so that she could get on with her own viewing experience.
"It symbolizes the amorphous nature of the future," a voice said right in her ear, and Grace yelped.
Embarrassed, she turned quickly. "If I'd wanted a tour, I'd have rented one of the audio guides," she said, controlled but letting her anger show. "I'm sure you mean well, but I'd appreciate it if you would refrain from the commentary. Excuse me."
As she stepped forward, he put out a hand and caught her arm. "You're not going. You see, there's so much I want to show you..."
Grace stood, staring down at his hand in shock. She was in the middle of a museum, and a stranger was grabbing her arm. He wasn't just annoying, he was dangerous. Naturally there were no museum guards in sight.
God, she hated when people grabbed her, she really hated that-- Grace twisted her arm and it slipped out of the man's grip. Backing rapidly away, she found herself wondering whether this jerk was a 'sworn enemy of the Doctor' kind of creep, or an ordinary garden variety kind of creep. Not that the distinction really mattered at the moment.
"Look," she said, her voice low, "Whoever you are, that was way over the line. I'm notifying museum security."
"Who am I? Why, I'm the Doctor."
Grace stopped and stared. "The Doctor," she repeated flatly.
"Yes. From the future."
She looked at him with narrowed eyes, considering his claim. One thing she'd learned quickly since beginning to travel with the Doctor was to trust her instincts.
She began to back away again. "You'll have to try harder than that," she sneered. "The Doctor would never behave as you do."
His smile chilled her. Definitely the 'sworn enemy of the Doctor' type of creep. "Never?" he said. "You don't really know the Doctor that well, then, do you?"
"I know him well enough." Grace stopped again, as he wasn't following her. His smugness provoked her; made her want to wipe the subtly-amused expression off his face. "No one can know anyone completely, anyway. We all have our secrets."
"Oh, yes..." He laughed softly. "Secrets..."
They stood several meters apart, staring at each other.
"And you just gave yourself away -- you referred to the Doctor, instead of staying in the first person," she pointed out.
"So I did. But that does not make me the liar. You mentioned secrets? Well, I am the Doctor's dirty little secret..."
"My God," Grace blurted out. "Don't tell me you're--"
He looked at her sharply.
"--his father or something," she finished lamely.
"No," he said. "But--"
"Thank God," Grace cut in, sheepishly relieved. "That just would have been...well, just too cliched to be real."
The man stared at her. He looked annoyed, as if thrown off his stride by her interruption.
The Doctor stared in horror at the scene before him.
The creep lunged for Grace. She back-pedaled, keeping just out of his reach. They circled the central statue, while she glanced at the two exits, both equi-distant, guaging her chances of success should she make a break for it.
The stranger now seemed to be quite frustrated. The fact that she refused to keep still was probably making it hard for him to deliver his big speech. Well, tough.
They both paused again. Grace decided to humor him for a few moments as she began to edge backwards towards the door that she knew was behind her. "So, if you're not the Doctor's father, then who are you?"
"I am the Valeyard." The way he said it, he obviously expected her to be impressed. Or depressed, or something.
"I...see." She didn't, but if thinking she did made this nut happy enough so that he didn't attack her before she could get away...
He glared at her, not fooled. "I am the embodiment of the Doctor's potential evil, brought to life."
Grace stopped moving and simply stared. "You're his... dark side, brought to life?" she repeated.
"Ooh, boy -- George Lucas would just love this," she muttered to herself. "All right," she said more loudly, with a placating smile.
The Valeyard stared at her menacingly. "You don't believe me." "Oh, no, I do," she hastened to reassure him.
"You don't. He obviously never told you about me." He sneered. "Then again, he wouldn't, would he?" He leaned forward. "Do you know the things I'm capable of?"
Grace smiled brightly. "No." And I don't particularly want to know, either.
He smiled nastily back at her as he'd just read her thoughts. "But more importantly, do you know the destruction the Doctor has already perpetrated, under the guise of 'good intentions'?"
Grace had an idea. A lot of people were pissed-off at the Doctor for his tendancy to meddle. But then again, they were just the sore losers.
And there was Skaro, the home-world of the merciless Daleks.
"Look, I know about the destruction of Skaro. But whatever he's done, it's been for the good of a lot of people."
The Valeyard sneered. "Oh, what a facile, knee-jerk excuse. So loyal. So simplistic."
Grace glared at him. "You're the one who's simplistic. You're obviously someone with a grudge, but to come here with this ridiculous story -- do you really expect me to believe that?" she said, edging backwards again. "People's 'dark sides' don't just get up and start walking around!"
The Valeyard's eyes narrowed as he yanked a sidearm out of a pocket.
That was her cue to leave. Grace spun and ran.