Do Not Stand

Jack was four years old when he first saw them.

Jack was eight years old when he learnt to ignore them.

Jack was twelve years old when he realised nobody else could see them, as they danced the same steps over and over, and spoke the same words again and again and never to him at all. Never to him, because they never saw him at all, just as nobody else could see them. It was all disturbingly simple. All he had to do was play the same game, the one he’d learnt at eight and not see them, pretend not to see them, whatever they were. He wasn’t really sure. But he pretended not to see them, expect not when he was in class and things were boring, then they were much better than the teacher, much better than vids. Sometimes, he’d play detective and try to figure out what they were doing.

Jack was fourteen years old when he thought he had figured it out, which was why he was here.

Jack was fourteen years old when he was proved wrong. He could hear their voices again, distant on the wind, as if from the end of a tunnel, or the end of the past, or wherever ghosts came from.

“He’s aware of us, he’s a sensitive.”

That was a jolt. Jack’s head swung round. He didn’t mean it to, he was waiting, watching and waiting for somebody who didn’t sound at all like the voice.

“Don’t you ‘my lady’ me; this boy is much more important than another committee meeting. Tell the Council to take a recess, pour them some darkberry juice, and please, keep Chancellor Heddin away from the chala, it so aggravates him, and then we can get nothing done at all…”

And then there was a lady, sitting on the grave stone, the grave-thing, like a tomb, but not, all stone and all over the grave. Where she wasn’t a moment ago. No fairy dust or ectoplasm or nothing, she was just there, as if she’d always been there, but wasn’t a moment ago.

Her hair fell over her shoulders like a waterfall, a yellow, slightly tired waterfall, and so was little like a waterfall at all, and she was wearing something Jack thought was historical, because everything’s bound to be historical somewhere. And her smile, Jack really liked her smile, and he really wanted it to go on forever, because it seemed to be directed at him.

Of course, it wasn’t going to be, it was just a massive coincidence, a really nice fantasy, so much better than vids or bedsheets or anything he could come up with on his own. He was fourteen years old and knew he wanted to take that smile with him to bed and hold it close.

“Now, young man, can you hear me, or can you only see me?” She was wearing boots beneath those robe things and they were crossed at the ankles and everything about her was tight and neat, and she had just said something to him, hadn’t she?

“Er… hi!” Jack was fourteen years old and would like to point out that he was normally very suave and sophisticated. It was just a slightly confusing situation, that’s all. And his cheeks were flushing, which they shouldn’t be, he should be all pale, he knows that. Hopefully, the dirt and stuff will cover them up some.

“Well, young man, work hard and the Agency will come for you soon, and you can put that talent of yours to good use. And please, smile more, it’s a very pleasing smile.”

And she put her hand up to her mouth and moved her hand kind of forward as she blew him a kiss.

The kiss stayed, crystallised in air, crystallised in Jack’s thoughts, even as she disappeared from view, and this time, he couldn’t even hear her, as he turned away from his mother’s grave and smiled through the tear-carved trails on his face.

Jack was still working very hard at school when he was sixteen, his father was delighted.

Jack was twenty-eight years old when he was called into the office of the head of the Agency, at the temporary interim headquarters on the dark moon of Peladon; he had a sense of foreboding. Anyone called in alone wasn’t going to find themselves in a bed of roses. That said, beds of roses were really over-rated, Jack had had a horrible itch for weeks.

Jack was twenty-eight years and four months old when he’d stepped through the door and seen the woman who had sat on the grave five thousand four hundred and twenty six days before on a different world, in a different time zone. Jack had what the tutors at the Agency Academy called a gift, they also called it a damn good way to get killed by Celestials, or Eternals, or maybe even Time Lords. Jack wondered which of those the lady was, and whether his instinct that Clestials were Time Lords in silly hats was right and whether Eternals were really the ones to be scared of…

And then, fourteen years, four months and six days after he first met her, he realised that she was no longer smiling.

Jack’s heart falls through his boots.

She stands up, and she’s so much smaller than he remembers. So very much smaller. And he’s at a loss for words again, the only thing that comes is, “Ma’am?” and confusion as she steps up to him.

Jack recognises the equipment and the technicians across the room, sees them out of the corner of his eye, he already knows what is going to happen, he only has one question now, “Why?”

And she reaches up to his chin, and pulls him down closer to her level with a touch as gentle as an iron feather, and he can see now, that she’s been crying, and she tips up on her toes, her scarlet robes swishing across the white plastiform floor, and she leans in and kisses his forehead.

“Young man, I got you into this, took you away…”

Jack doesn’t want to hear this, Jack took himself away with the Agency, he moves his hand, impatient, trying to signal that he doesn’t want this emotional bullshit and hide the fact that he doesn’t want it, because he doesn’t want to be crying the moment the techs pull the switch.

“I’m giving you a present. A future. We’re going to lose, Nemesis already has dealt blessed Gallifrey its fate and it shall fall in the war in heavens, and there is only the smallest chance that they shall fall too, but we cannot let them take our citadel, the centre of Time itself…

“I’m giving you a future, dear boy, please understand.”

And suddenly, Jack sees it all, the Agency, the Celestials, the Timelords, all heads of the same beast and doomed to fight a war in heaven, that they can not win, but dare not lose…

He wants to say no, demand that he gets the chance to prove his training, that every man counts, that he might tip the scales…

But everything’s beginning to freeze, and the last thing he notices is her smile, a tiny smile, not one of happiness, but one of a sad bravery, and then…

And then, the world falls to pieces and he plunges backward through memory to a destination unknown, and he prays it is not the graveyard, he wants some memory of that smile.

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