a night under the stars

by adrian tullberg
Copyright © 2002 by the author. Reproduction of any kind is forbidden.

It was summer on the planet Gallifrey – dusk was falling fast, the orange glow of the day quickly fading to the inky blackness of night. It was also an occasion, of sorts – a meteor storm was passing through the solar system, and by using gravitronic technology, the storm was being redirected towards Gallifrey. The meteors would pass through the atmosphere, and detonate harmlessly on the transduction barriers – but the materials that the meteorites were composed of, similar to certain sulphides, would result in a spectacular night show. The initial storm was split in half, one section sent twelve hours forward in time, so that both sides of Gallifrey would see the free fireworks – but South Gallifrey, one of the few sections of the planet that wasn’t pollution-ridden desert, would get to see it first.

In a nature preserve owned by one of the most politically powerful families on the planet, an elderly man led his son up a hill, where a solitary tree stood. The elder was still in his first body, but hanging on at seven hundred and ninety-five and proud of it. His son was barely half the elder’s height at eleven years of age. The elder reached the tree first, legs trembling due to the effort, and lay back onto the tree with a con tented sigh. The son, however, was watching the sun sink below the horizon, eyes displaying incredible fascination.

“Boy! You dragged me up here – you will stay here with me until the meteorite storm finishes.”

The son looked back at his father with disdain, and grumpily walked up to the tree, and lay next to his father. The old man looked at his chronometer. Fifty-three seconds till nightfall, one minute to the storm. Looking at his child, he decided to present his boy with the news – he was old enough to deal with it – but the shock had to be dealt to him gently.

The sky slowly turned black, while the boy watched the sky, expectantly, impatiently. The elder knew that the storm wouldn’t start for another thirty seconds, but his child seemed too eager – patience was not a quality he possessed. Maybe age would soften this unpleasant manner. Then, exactly on schedule, the meteor shower hit the transduction barrier – garish purple and red bursts lit up the sky, giving every solid object an unusual and distinctive silhouette. The elder gave a brief glance now and then at the sky – mildly interesting, he admitted, but nothing more than that. His son seemed to be unhealthily fascinated with the show in the great dome of heaven. The elder waited for a brief lull in the storm before broaching his first question.

“Son, have you noticed anything – well, different, about yourself from your other contemporaries at the Academy?’ The child was silent in a moment, then spoke, hesitantly. ‘I know they’re all boring. They can’t even think properly – all they can do is read off their allocated files in the Matrix, and recite them, word for word, in class the next day. They can’t think freely – they can’t imagine.’ The elder nodded, face illuminated in a brilliant flash of yellow. He had already noticed his son’s alarming tendency to descend into ‘freestyle thought’. ‘There’s something else, isn’t there?”

“It’s not just the others, it’s the tutors, it’s the Arch Chancellor of the Academy – it’s even the Archive Librarian assigned to our class. It’s everybody! They all want to stop me thinking! They all want me to think in their own boring way. Five days ago, we were shown how to calculate fourth-dimensional vectors. I already solved it because I read the text files ages ago, but the Tutor wouldn’t let me speak until he took three hours to explain how to do it! It’s horrible!”

The elder nodded. ‘Do you know what the other students are calling you?”

“Theta Sigma – D’Jannec, for ‘immortal wanderer’. I like it.”

The elder’s heart rate – he still had only one, couldn’t get two until he finally regenerated – sped up. Free thinking, working ahead of the set syllabus instead of working along a program implemented for millennia, accepting an insult like wanderer as an honour – he decided to act now.

“Do you remember your mother?”

“Not much. You told me she died when I was very young.”

“There’s something I haven’t told you about her – it may explain why you’re having problems conforming like everybody else.”

“I don’t want to…’ The younger’s voice trailed off when he saw the look in his father’s eyes. He took the hint and shut up.

“Two decades ago, I was sent to a very primitive planet called Earth on an exploratory mission – assessing the technological advancement, usual drill.”

The boy interrupted the elder excitedly, ‘You went to another world? Where? When?”

The elder gave his son the look again, and the boy slowly subsided into silence. The elder cleared his throat before continuing.

“Because it was my first time on another world, I made a minor error when mingling with the population – a ‘waitress’ in an eating establishment asked me what I thought of Fulham’s chances in the Cup. I said that I didn’t know the man personally, and shouldn’t make any assessment until I met him – I only found out later that she was talking about a sporting team, not a person. She became curious about me – since I had to operate in the immediate area to make my assessment she had time to track my movements. When I returned back to Gallifrey – I found that Sarah had stowed away in my time capsule.”

The youngster was enthralled by the story. ‘You helped an alien come to our planet?”

The elder winced. ‘Unwillingly. I knew that if The High Council found out about her, I would be finished politically – I smuggled her back to my estate here on South Gallifrey until I could deal with her.”

The son was bouncing up and down like a deranged spring. ‘Go on, go on!”

“During a few weeks, I discovered that we had a certain bond, Sarah and I, so I approached her with this offer. She would be legally registered as my wife, and I would forge a bio-data extract for her in the Matrix. She seemed to be excited at the fact of being on another world than the one you were born on. I remember that… and ten years later, you were born.”

The son’s mouth fell open in amazement. ‘My mother came from another world?”

The elder nodded. ‘Yes. You are half-human. When you came into the world, I knew that you would be different… very different. Your genetic test revealed that your intellect and physiology were unimpaired – but complications could arise in your regenerative abilities and personality – that is the reason that you cannot readily conform with authority – it’s the human in you that’s doing this.”

The son silently digested this information in the brilliant light of the meteorite storm – the elder watched him, looking for a reaction. His child could break down into a nervous wreck, due to the source of his unusual moods. Then the boy’s face broke into a wide grin.


The elder wasn’t prepared for this. ‘By all that’s sacred, what do you mean – good?! It means you’re different to every other Time Lord on Gallifrey!”

“No – it means I’m better – I have Rassilon’s heritage – but I have something new as well….”

The elder exploded. ‘Listen to me, boy! I am trying desperately to make you understand what this means! Your behaviour has been nothing short of scandalous! If anybody inquires too closely, my crimes will be revealed, and my career in the High Council is finished! You will end up in Shada on a charge of treason! I … felt for your mother, and it was painful to watch her die – but I wish to remain out of prison, and be on the Inner Council before my fourth incarnation. You must keep this a secret, do you understand?”

The boy nodded, sullenly. Both the father and his son lay back against the tree, looking at the colours of the meteorite shower without a word. After an hour, the boy spoke.

“Who else knows?”

“Your uncle – he forged your bio-data extract, along with your mother’s.”

The boy spoke, one last time that night.

“Father – if you helped an alien live as a Time Lord in the Capitol – it’s possible that what the Tutors are complaining about could come from you.’

“I’ve thought about that often myself, boy. Be quiet and watch the storm.”

As they lay against the tree, the boy ran his rebellious thoughts through his head, grinning.

I am not a Time Lord.

I am not human.

I am unique.

I am Theta Sigma.

And I will, someday, be free.