A fairytale by the Oneiroi, translated.
They have travelled far and wide, the lonely man of many faces and his faithful follower. They’ve heard the hints of the dark dog begotten of time’s storm; won the battle at the falls of Stheno’s youngest, cursed sister; and each escaped Anesidora’s entrapping tomb.
They travel together in an ancient, stolen vessel, inadequately maintained, and insufficiently repaired. The interior is spacious, filled with the technical apparatus needed to pilot such a complex craft. The workmanship is arcane: once beautiful and elegant, now extensively jury-rigged, a half-working relic of the majestic civilization which constructed it. There were once fleets of these, each piloted by six skilled crew; now the lonely man may be the only being left who can even come close to manning the helm.
Today, however, is not his day. Without ill-wind or storm, obstacle or shoal, the craft flies wild through dark skies, cartwheeling back and forth without rhyme or reason, before careering to a full stop. The engines groan and whine, steam issues from a broken vent, and the console’s warning lights inform any other sufficiently unobservant viewer that all is not well. The open window in the middle of the room shows the golden light of a young star. Through the window, its fusion throws a warm glow in all directions through the cockpit. The tall handrail that runs all the way around the window casts long shadows.
All else around the craft is inky blackness, unilluminated by the weak glow of the star which dwarfs our heroes’ craft. The pale blue hull is indistinct against the starred sky, it’s lettering only visible when the starlight shines on it just so.
The lonely man is not unaccustomed to such setbacks: such are the risks when one captains so ancient a vessel. He darts manically back and forth, closing this valve, and adjusting that setting. The noise of the engines falls to a low, comforting hum, and the steam ceases. The console is still alive with warnings, glistening angrily.
The follower, dazed, asks the lonely man what happened: was that his usual, clumsy flying, or is there more amiss? The lonely man ignores this interruption, and looks back and forth about the console, tweaking this lever and that knob, trying to understand the problem. His eyes are wild as he learns more about the causes of our present chaos. One of his jury-rigs has overridden the signs that the engines are running low on some important supplement. They need careful, regular feeding, or else, well, you see what happens.
The follower does not want to feed the craft some lump of metal. The lonely man should do it, or else the craft should feed itself. Is it not old enough yet that it knows what it wants? The lonely man relents. He has discovered the problem, and concocted a solution, so his attentions seep back out of the heart of the machine an into the here and now. He will fix the machine, but feeding is not all it needs. It has run so low that another part is broken, but not to worry, there is an automated system full of spares.
The automated system is not full of spares. In fact, the automated system is completely devoid of spares, or anything like them. The lonely man cycles it backwards and forwards; every slot is empty: the tipsy rig is quite out of comfort zones. The follower is somewhat concerned at this development, but the lonely man seems un-phased. A manic glint in his eye, he concludes aloud that he will have to produce the replacement valve from other parts, and replace it himself. The follower – face all unease and worry – does not share his easy confidence. The follower suggests that perhaps another of the lonely man’s faces would be better suited to this task, perhaps the one which he most recently wore? The lonely man dismisses these concerns out of hand: there is no reason for anxiety, he assures, for he has the situation under control.
As the lonely man darts back and forth, purloining this widget and that for his abomination of a spare, the follower enumerates other concerns, urging caution. Won’t there be dangerous energies that deep in the heart of the machine – the follower questions – though the answer is well-known: the readout of the spare-less fix-machine says as much. The lonely man replies that such petty rontgens might power a risk to the follower, but not to him. The follower urges the lonely man to reconsider the use of his last face: he would be much more skilled at this task with it on. The lonely man completes his replacement valve, and ducks through a door quipping something witty. The follower barely hears it.
The lonely man has been gone a long while, and the follower does not enjoy the wait. Since his flashy departure, things do not seem to have been fixed. The lights grow dim, leaving the cockpit in a gentle pallor, lit mainly by the young star at the window. The follower’s concern for the lonely man’s plan has not subsided, but – unable to operate the console – there is little that can be done even to check the status of the repairs. The follower paces, but as the hours drip by grows tired, and cold. The young star is the only source of warmth. Lying down next to the window, the follower rests in its yellow, watery glow.
Gradually, the console ceases to twinkle as all the lights blink off. Eventually, there is just on light left: a red warning light, spinning silently, though there is no one left to see it. At length, it too goes out. Dark figures move in the hollow cockpit. Figments of the faces that lonely man once wore drift into being one by one. At first, the traipse silently. The most recent speaks first, lamenting. Look how this ship dies just like every other. The last of its kind and the last of his kind, a fitting coffin. This is how it ends, cold and alone, teetering on the edge between emptiness and the dark.
The follower stirs, roused by these words. For a while these speeches make sense, but after a moment she realises their contrariness: these are not the words of the lonely man she knows. With a shout, she challenges the weeping spectres. “This is how you end it, without a fight?” she shouts, hot tears of rage running down her face. “You’re the man who makes people well, fix this, fix me! You promised to keep me safe, so don’t mope, save the day, hero. Am I your friend, or just another person you’ve acquired?” With this diatribe, she breaks down, weeping, and falls to her knees before the lonely man’s latest incarnation, the spectre of the man he most recently was.
The phantom is moved by this outpouring, and surprised, as if he had not expected anyone else in the room. He capitulates, muttering something in French, but it is not heartfelt – more habit than sentiment. He sets to work, examining the console, searching for clues. He has none of the lonely man’s passion or vigour, he moves slowly, but purposefully, examining this or that dial, moving levers with grace and care.
It seems that the lonely man is trapped, but unharmed, in an eddy of the ship’s core. Time is passing so slowly for him that it would take an eternity to draw breath, let alone complete the repairs. The spectre looks up at the follower, face un-moved, like a dog expecting punishment. The follower ignores this gesture, and flies to the lonely man’s aid, opening the door that releases him from his mire. He looks to the follower for a moment, surprised by her sudden appearance, and even more surprised at her thankful embrace.
The repairs are completed swiftly.
The cockpit is warm, and well-lit, but devoid of apparitions. The young star is quite far-off in the sold window, bubbling and boiling as young stars do. The follower asks the lonely man what becomes of the faces he casts off, then tells her fable. “Time lords don’t believe in ghosts,” the lonely man of many faces says, before throwing the lever home, flinging his stolen vessel sideways through the future, and slingshotting it back into the depths of history.
The young star is gone from the window. The day’s events are meaningless to it.