Teaser: “The Life and Deaths of Gustaf Urnst”
“WHAT IS it, old man?”
The Doctor had been unusually introspective and subdued ever since they had left Kyrstal on Oomahn. It was a marked shift from his usual mood that Riddell couldn’t help but notice. The Time Lord stood at the TARDIS’ bulbous console, mulling the controls—and, specifically, the glaring red button of the randomiser.
After a pregnant pause, the Doctor finally spoke. “You know, I might have been able to get Kyrstal back home. Back to her own place and time. I might yet be able to do the same for you.” He chuckled. “I might even be able to do the same for me.”
“Doctor?” Riddell had a note of concern in his voice. “But what about the, erm…”
“The randomiser! Yes, my good man, I know.” The Doctor’s voice then took on a low, conspiratorial tone. “The thing is, I can override it. Or, at least, I’m fairly sure I can. The drawback being that it’s more than likely the Time Lords will be able to track us if we do.”
“Well, I’m in no rush to be back home, Doctor, I can assure you,” Riddell pointed out quite directly. “No rush at all. Don’t be taking any unnecessary risks on my account.”
He smiled at how ridiculous that sentence sounded even as he uttered it. As if a day had passed in the company of the Doctor when they hadn’t taken at least one unnecessary risk.
“Quite,” agreed the Doctor. “But what do you think it does to a person, hmm? Being away from home for too long. Losing that sense of self, of belonging to something, to somewhere. You might forget who you are, don’t you think?”
“Are you quite alright, Doctor?”
Riddell was genuinely worried now; in all their travels, he’d never heard his friend talk like this before. The Doctor ignored him, and as he went on Riddell realised it was very possible he was talking to himself. His voice was softer still, less animated than Riddell had become used to from this version of his ancient friend.
“Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if they did find me, anyway.” Again, the briefest of chuckles. “I might even learn a thing or two about myself.”
After a short, uncomfortable silence in the console room that followed his musings, it was as though the Doctor suddenly became self-aware once again, regaining a much livelier composure and, with it, the surety and power of his voice.
“But that’s not the most important thing right now, is it, Riddell?”
Riddell had to confess to being a little nonplussed. “Erm… it isn’t?”
“Absolutely not!” The Doctor stepped right up to his friend, clapped one hand on each of his shoulders and locked his piercing gaze with the eyes of the hunter. “Just what are those alien stones, and what is the meaning of the hieroglyphics engraved upon them? Why had I taken such an interest in them? And why, if the randomiser is functioning as it should be, does the TARDIS keep on taking us to locations where we happen across those artefacts—planets which, moreover, appear to have suffered recent extinction events?”
Relinquishing his grip upon a relieved Riddell, the Doctor then pirouetted across the console room as he addressed the TARDIS herself. “With all of space and time to choose from, that’s quite the coincidence, wouldn’t you say? Are you trying to tell me something, old girl?” The Doctor’s question echoed through the cathedral-like cavern, and Riddell fancied he heard the TARDIS let out the faintest of sighs by way of a response.
The Doctor turned back to wag his finger in Riddell’s direction. “The thing about the TARDIS is that the old girl likes to keep her secrets to herself. But fear not! As I have already noted, I know someone else who might just have the answers we need.” And with that he set to work at the console, furiously pulling all manner of levers and punching at an array buttons and switches.
“Consequences be damned, Riddell! The fate of entire worlds and species are at stake, so now’s not the time for caution or hiding in the shadows. There’s one man who could likely shed some light on what’s going on—a man who, incidentally, knows a thing or two about being marooned a long way from home himself.”
“So… where are we going?” asked an expectant Riddell.
“As it happens, Earth! The nineteen-thirties and the beautiful state of Connecticut, in north-eastern America. Let’s face it, if you’re going to be marooned somewhere in the universe, there are far worse places to end up.”
“And… just who are we going to see?”
“A fellow adventuring sort, and another soul who finds himself out of his place and time. But, most importantly, quite the expert in ancient secrets and the occult: one Gustaf Heinrich Urnst.” Coordinates set, the Doctor clung tightly to the console as he got ready to disengage the randomiser. “You might want to hang onto something. This might get a little bumpy…”