Teaser: “The House That Ate Time” (The Zen Doctor)
THE STARK walls of the console room seemed to radiate a soft white light, creating a feeling of warmth in otherwise sterile surroundings. A hexagonal console stood in the centre of the room, stretching up to a bright ceiling almost entirely covered by a canopy of intertwining leafy branches. The light filtering through the greenery threw patterns of shadows across the white walls. From the distance, the faint wooden sound of wind chimes wound its way into the tranquil room. In a far corner, a man sat in meditation.
With a sound like ice cracking on the surface of a deep, frozen lake, a metallic whirring broke through the calm. The noise grew closer. The man opened one eye, breathed deeply, and closed it.
The clamour did not cease, and soon a series of beeps accompanied the whirring. There was a loud thunk as something rolled across the threshold into room. This time, the man opened both eyes. His metal canine companion trundled toward him.
“K9. I really must get around to installing a silencer.”
“Apologies, Master. I did not mean to disturb you. However, I have just detected an anomalous temporal convergence in close—”
Before K9 could offer the location of the anomaly, there was a great crashing sound. Muffled voices drifted over from the other side of the console.
With one quick and silent movement, the man was on his feet, searching for the source of the commotion.
“You call that breaking my fall?”
“Doctor, you’re crushing my legs!”
“Well, clearly your legs were a terrible choice to use in breaking my fall!”
The man rounded the console. Two figures were in a tangled heap on the floor, arguing with each other as they struggled in an unsuccessful effort to extricate their limbs out from under each other. A look of shock spread across the man’s face. He recognized this couple as well today as if he had seen them yesterday, rather than several lifetimes ago. The taller figure’s pale features were almost as distinctive as his long emerald cape.
A second crash sounded from somewhere in the distance, down one of the many long halls stretching off from the central console room. A small smile twitched at the sides of the man’s mouth. Owing to his newfound sense of premonition, he was not used to surprises. With curiosity, he cocked his head to the side to listen. Above the still arguing voices, he heard an unmistakable sound.
“Master? I detect the sound of—”
“Yes, K9. That’s the sound of hooves.”
The beating canter of the unseen animal grew louder until, with a deafening crash, one of the console room walls tore open and a horse galloped inside, carrying a rider shielding his head from the collision. The blonde-maned horse skidded to a halt a mere foot from the console. Behind them, a piece of panelling from the wall dangled precariously. The rider dusted off his cream suit and beamed a wide smile as he tipped his Panama hat and declared, “Hello. I’m the Doctor. Sorry about your wall.”
The couple, who had finally managed to regain their footing, gaped at him at these words.
The man who so recently had been deep in meditation—contemplating time, space, and events yet to come—let out a laugh of astonishment. He smiled from the rider to the confused couple. Then he said, “Hello, Doctors. It’s always exhilarating to meet my previous incarnations, especially when it’s so unexpected!”
The piece of wall panel fell with a crash to the floor.