The Doctor put his new key into the Tardis and smiled broadly, savoring the moment. He pet the trim lovingly, ending with his hand on the handle of the door. He quickly turned the key and pushed open the door. As much as he desperately longed to go in, his favorite part was watching someone else get their first view of her interior, so he stepped back and let Blaise step inside.
Blaise could already clearly see that it was much bigger on the inside, but he couldn’t wrap his mind around it. He leaned his head around the outside just to verify it wasn’t some sort of trick, then he stepped inside, his boot heels echoing off the marble floor of the expansive room. He could immediately feel the thrum of a powerful engine sitting idle, and it took his eyes a few moments to adjust to the lighting.
There were round wooden pillars with corinthian style caps, stationed around the room with what looked like gas lamps on the four cardinal sides. The room itself was circular and fifty feet across. The walls were inset bookshelves interspaced with sections of exposed brass pipes, dials and valves. Several sections had pneumatic tubes that looked like a message delivery system. Above the bookshelves were round copper rings set into mahogany hexagons, one after another around the perimeter of the room. Doorways led out in three different directions.
In the center of the room was a hexagonal table covered with an odd assortment of instruments and sloped up toward the center, where a mass of crystals surrounded a copper tower capped by a golden ball. Looking up, Blaise could see another crystalline structure suspended from the ceiling some three stories overhead. There was a pulsating amber glow coming from beneath the console, and as he approached, he could detect the distinct smell of ozone.
The Doctor stepped inside and Obelix came padding in after him. The dog sniffed around for a while, then curled up on an Afghan rug that laid against one wall. Also on the rug were a reclining chair, a small circular table, and right next to where Obelix laid his head, a silvery bowl of water. The Doctor closed the doors behind himself and looked around admirably. “So, what do you think?”
Blaise said nothing. He spun around to face the Doctor with his mouth wide open, but a sudden blast of steam from one of the pipes lining the walls diverted his attention and he rushed off to inspect it. He roamed the room, ending up at the console, examining a set of nixie tubes next to a split-flap display showing the current time and location, “25 12 2016 London Earth.” Blaise ran a hand along the brass handrail that bordered the console, then he turned to face the Doctor and said, “I think she’s amazing!”
The Doctor smiled proudly, looking around as well. “Yeah. She’s outdone herself again.” He walked up to the console and touched a few switches, not changing their position, just getting acquainted with them. He walked around the six sections, looking for the monitor, but in the end, all he found was a switch and a dial. He flipped the switch, and a view of Hyde Park appeared encircling the space above the console. The Doctor laughed in delight, and Blaise came over to join him.
Blaise reached out to touch the image, but his fingers passed through it. “Cool,” he breathed.
The Doctor clapped his hands and rubbed them together, the sound of it startling Blaise. “So!” the Doctor said. “What say we get her circuits properly lubed up with a short jaunt, eh?” He switched off the monitor and dashed off to the other side of the console. He turned a wheel rapidly, reached across the length of the wedge he was standing at and turned a series of dials several clicks each. He ran to the wedge nearest the door and levered a pump repeatedly, then over one more wedge and he pushed the telegraph lever forward full.
There was a deep kettle drum boom, then the crystals atop the console rose while their opposites on the ceiling descended. Lightning leapt between them and surrounded the golden ball at the top of the console, casting a bright bluish-white light around the room and intensifying the smell of ozone in the room. The crystal matrix continued to pump, up and down, up and down. The Tardis lurched sideways, causing Blaise to stagger and catch his balance. Steam began releasing from random vents on the walls on a regular basis, and there was a hesitant whining, growling sound of the ship’s engines in action.
Blaise leaned forward to hold onto the console railing with both hands, but almost as soon as he did, the ship settled. The console crystals returned to their original position, the whining growl stopped, and the boom of the drum signaled their full stop. “We’ve landed?” he asked, tentatively letting go of the railing.
The doctor pulled the lever back to full stop. “Landed? Who said anything about landing?” He laughed loudly and ran to the doors, throwing them wide.
Outside was darkness, but the Doctor’s face was bathed in a red light from an unseen source. Blaise walked cautiously toward the doors, the Doctor’s expression encouraging him forward. Obelix padded forward, but sat on his haunches before he got to the door. He slid a ways, then back-peddled and sat down a comfortable distance from the door. He started whining.
Blaise looked to the Doctor again, not sure what he was heading toward. “Smart dog,” the Doctor said, then to Blaise, “Come on. It’s safe.”
Finally Blaise got to the door and saw what was outside. He gasped and stepped back. The Doctor chuckled and put a hand on his shoulder. “Isn’t that the most glorious thing you’ve ever seen?” He gently guided Blaise back to the doorway.
Blaise gripped the doorframe with both hands and leaned his head back out.
They were floating in space. Darkness surrounded them. Off to one side and below them, a large red star provided the light Blaise had seen reflected on the Doctor. A tail of glowing gas pulled away from the star and circled around a smaller blue point of light nearby. It spiraled inward and fed the tiny star as the two slowly circled each other.
“Five hundred million years in your future, and relatively close by, in case you were wondering where we were. Back in your day, that little bluish-white thing used to be the larger of these two stars, and in fact was the only one you could see from Earth. Now it keeps stealing material from its celestial neighbor until it gets big enough to blast off its outer layers all over again. If you lean a bit —” the Doctor said, demonstrating by holding onto the door frame with one hand and leaning out at about forty-five degrees, “— you can see the clouds left over from its previous blasts.”
Blaise steeled up his courage and leaned out the door, not nearly as far as the Doctor was, but enough to see a distant, nebulous cloud reflecting back the blues and the reds of the stars they were slowly orbiting. Blaise lost track of time, staring out there at all there was to see, the intricacies of this cosmic dance. At some point he felt that he was being watched and snapped out of it. He pulled his head back inside the Tardis and saw the Doctor leaning against the door jamb, eating sweets and watching him in amusement.
Blaise coughed self consciously and stepped away from the door. The Doctor reached over and closed both of them. “Well, now that you’ve seen what she can do, where do you want to go?”
“Me? Why me? I-I don’t even know what’s out there.” Blaise said, taken aback.
“Everything is out there, Blaise!” the Doctor said, slapping him on the back. He swept back to the console and switched back on the monitor. The tiny blue-white dot circled and consumed it’s giant red companion above the console. “All of time and space! From the Big Bang to the Heat Death, from the Mutter’s Spiral to the E-space Gate, and yes, you. I’ve been there, I’ve done that.” He unzipped his hoodie and held it wide open. “I’ve even bought the t-shirt.”
“Everything is too much! I want to see it all, but I don’t know what to tell you, I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what anything is called,” Blaise explained.
“Let’s start small then. Past or future? Do you want to meet Romans? Watch the Rapa Nui erect the Easter Island heads?” the Doctor suggested.
“Future. Definitely future. I was never too keen on history in school.”
“That’s a start. Now, where do your passions lie? Not history, I’m guessing not maths, despite your namesake. Science? Exploration? The humanities? Who do you one day hope to be?”
“Art,” Blaise perked up. “I want to be an artist. It’s just graffiti right now, but some day I’ll have money and I’ll work in a studio above a cafe and I’ll show the world what I see. I want to make beauty out of pain. I want to show people the things they usually look away from.”
The Doctor nodded. “Now that, I can work with. You’re looking for inspiration. Experience is the greatest teacher, and I can show you more in a week than most people see in a lifetime. And why not start at the top!” He ran around the console, flipping switches, turning dials and pressing buttons. “I know where we’re going!”
Blaise stepped up to the console and gripped the handrail, preparing for another jump. “And where is that?”
The Doctor paused. “Antares III,” he said and continued his mad romp around the console.
“And what’s there?”
“Nothing of any consequence, really. Only, and without rival, the greatest artist who will ever live.” The Doctor stopped again, one hand on the telegraph lever, then he plunged it forward with a huge, mad smile.
They touched down, and the Doctor ran to the doors again. He threw them open and took a deep breath. “Oh, I really missed that. The smell of someplace new. Not that there’s anything wrong with London, mind you.”
Obelix padded over to the door and stuck his nose out cautiously. “Not this time, big guy,” the Doctor said, bending down and scratching behind the dog’s ears with both hands. “No pets in the museum. I promise you, next time. Bo!” The dog sat down immediately, and the Doctor stood up quickly. “Speaking of which…” He ran off through one of the doorways without further explanation. When he came back he had a small embroidered coin purse. He tossed it in the air and caught it again. “A few Antarian farthings left over from my last visit. Ought to get us in. Come along, Blaise!” He stopped in the doorway again. “Hah! How about, ‘Let’s blaze!’ It can be our catch-phrase!”
Blaise trudged out the door, hands in his pockets. “Real people don’t have catch-phrases,” he said as he passed.
“Sure,” the Doctor muttered, turning to close and lock the doors. “Spoil all the fun.”
The Doctor turned to see that Blaise hadn’t gotten far. He was looking around in wonder again. They’d landed in the middle of a park of sorts, all concrete paths and sculptured trees with yellow leaves. There was a manufactured pond nearby and children were sailing boats of alien design, skipping stones and flying kites. The sun hung, a deep red in the light pink of the sky.
The Doctor stood behind him, giving him a few moments to take it in, then put his hands on Blaise’s shoulders and gently spun him around. “That’s what we came here for.”
A short ways off was a large building of entirely foreign architecture. It blended elements of classical and modern, but with an alien cast to everything. There were columns, but they were angular and looked like they were made from a rosy amber-like material. Stained-glass arches reminded him of cathedrals, but they were pointed at both top and bottom, and there was no leading between the colors, they just sort of blended together. There was a sign out front that was part fountain, and proclaimed the building to be the “Planetary Museum of the Arts”.
They headed toward it, passing vendors selling frozen confections and snacks to children and their parents. Blaise found himself focusing on the familiar aspects of it all. The children were holding the plastic strings of mylar balloons. They ate what looked like red popcorn from familiar square paper packages. When he was passed by a tall bird-like creature in a white robe with gold trim, he suddenly realized everyone else he’d seen so far was human, or at least looked it.
“Hey! Everybody looks human! Well, except that guy,” he said indicating the bird.
The Doctor pushed his hand down. “That woman. And she can hear you,” he said in low tones. “We’re a hundred thousand years in your future. The human race began colonizing the solar system within a hundred years of when we left, and by now, they’re all over the galaxy. We’re six hundred light years from Earth. Wars have been fought and peaces have been made, and the human race lives side by side with species from all over the universe. This hunk of rock we’re walking on wasn’t even habitable when you lot got here, but humans are brilliant creatures, and they’ve terraformed it and molded it to their specifications. They imported an atmosphere and moved it further from its star until it was perfect. You’ll find a few species here that you don’t recognize, particularly once we enter the museum, but don’t forget: Everyone here is an alien, so in a way, no one is.”
There was a queue for the entrance, and Blaise looked around while they waited to pay. He had a chance to touch the wall on the way in, and could tell that what he had mistaken for amber was actually a form of metal, but it let a bit of light through, making it appear warm. He could see a few paintings in the nearest section, mostly abstract, and a bronze statue with some seating placed around it. He also found a few more alien species amongst the visitors. There was one that looked roughly human, and was wearing what Blaise would consider a business suit, but his neck was twice as long as normal, and he had a horse-like tail sticking out over the top of his pants. There was a family of four legged creatures with a soft, leathery look to their grayish brown skin and eyes on stalks that moved independently. Blaise was interrupted by the attendant telling him to put his hand out, which the man stamped, then they were let in.
The Doctor was handed a leaflet, but he just put it in his inside hoodie pocket. He knew where they were going, and was happy to wander along with Blaise until they got there.
Blaise was fascinated by the sculpture, which no one else was paying much attention to. “Is this a real creature, or something mythological?”
“It’s real enough, though stylized a bit,” the Doctor confirmed.
Blaise nodded and walked on. He walked up to a painting and read the artist’s name, then stood back and considered the work for a bit before moving on to the next. He payed more attention to the line of sculptures that formed a line down the center of the hall they were in. There was one of a woman in what appeared to be a frontier outfit gazing off into the distance with a futuristic pistol in hand while a flock of bird-like mammals circled overhead. They were clearly made of the same black metal as the woman, but they were suspended in the air with no visible connection to the rest of the sculpture. Blaise smiled. “Wow.”
The Doctor smiled back. “Just you wait.”
They continued on in this way to the end of the hall, then the Doctor lead Blaise back to a wing of the museum that branched off the main hallway. A sign suspended from the ceiling proclaimed “Mélange” and pointed down the other branch.
The first item they came to was a self-portrait. Mélange was the artist’s name. He stood, crooked shoulders and hands in pockets. He had a mass of curly black hair drooping down lazily over his roughly handsome face. The painting was in black and white, with the exception of one piercing blue eye. It was an incredibly good painting, with subtle brush strokes and a myriad of tones within the range of black to white and a masterful understanding of light and shadow that made it appear to stand out from the frame in three dimensions, and nearly breath with life. The lines of the painting kept drawing Blaise back to that one blue eye, and the Doctor smiled knowingly as Blaise stepped close to the canvas, staring into that eye.
Suddenly Blaise gasped. “Oh. My. God,” he said. The blue eye was a painting all on its own. It made Blaise think of that old saying, that the eyes are a window to the soul, and in this case, it really was. There, within that blue spot were subtle images, each one distinct, of moments in the artist’s life, from early childhood on. It was glassy and three dimensional, and there were images behind images and he saw others in the corners as he focused on one. It was gorgeous beyond anything Blaise had ever seen before. He wanted to reach out and touch the surface.
The Doctor caught his arm. Blaise didn’t even realize he’d moved it. “Best not to,” the Doctor said.
“No. Of course.” Blaise stepped back from the painting, afraid he’d do it again.
“There’s more, this way,” the Doctor suggested.
“This is him, isn’t it? The greatest ever?” Blaise asked in awe.
“Spotted that, did you? Just wait. We’re leading up to something.”
They moved on down the hall, and everything they looked at was the new best thing Blaise had ever seen. Mélange worked in all sorts of mediums as well. There were more paintings, but also photographic mosaics and sculptures. Blaise noted that there were common themes though, once he’d seen a few, he’d be able to recognize Mélange’s work anywhere he saw it, in whatever medium it appeared. There was a sense of perspective, of dimensionality that all his works captured that made them more than they were. His paintings had a depth, a motion; an emotion to them. They made the viewer feel exactly what the artist intended, they drew the eye in a precise way, and they rewarded the viewer for following that visual path. His sculptures did not move on their own, nor did they use any technological trick of free-flight like the ones in the hall outside, but when the observer moved, they revealed something new. They were like a new sculpture from every angle, and as Blaise moved around each one, they told a story. More than once, Blaise wiped tears from his eyes.
The Doctor drew him on down the hall, but Blaise would have been happy standing with any one of these works all day. The Doctor had to keep reminding him that there were others here, and in fact, the hall was quite busy. Blaise just didn’t notice anyone else when he was looking at one of Mélange’s works.
At the end of the hall was a doorway, above which was a plaque reading, “The Eye”. Through the doorway was a carpeted wall, curved away from them. Visitors were entering to the left and exiting from the right, but were moving fast enough that there wasn’t any actual queue. Blaise followed the Doctor, and the carpeted wall on their right turned out to be a clever baffle that kept anyone from seeing the Eye at all until they could see it in its entirety. Once Blaise came around that corner and could see it, he stopped, stunned.
It was like being inside a plasma globe that had been frozen in an instant of time. Pink and blue lightning arced out from a central point in multiple directions, without motion, but without being made of anything discernible; it wasn’t glass, or plastic containing light, like a neon sign. It was just light, frozen solid.
The path they were on just looped in a circle and back out around the Eye, and as Blaise stood there watching, he could see people walk through the bolts of light. He reached out a hand for the nearest one and felt the slightest tingle as his fingers passed through it. Blaise couldn’t help but laugh with delight as he turned to the Doctor. “How —?”
“The how isn’t important,” the Doctor said. “It’s what he did with it. It’s taking the concept and making it real. Come along.”
Blaise looked back, suddenly realizing there were more people coming in behind him. He continued on around the Eye, but only got another step before he froze again. As soon as he had moved, the Eye had shifted. The bolts of plasma or lightning or whatever they were moved wildly around the room as Blaise moved, but froze again when he stopped. One of the arcs had even snapped and reformed somewhere else.
Blaise quickly stepped back to his original position and watched the Eye move backward in time. He stepped forward and watched that same arc snap and reform. He took several more steps, then one step backward, marveling at the way it moved. He crouched low, then stood up again, the scene changed and reverted. Blaise turned to the Doctor again. “And you see it move when you move?”
The Doctor just nodded.
“This is incredible!” Blaise continued on slowly around the room, pausing now and again to appreciate it from the new angle, until he got to the mid-way point and he could suddenly see why it was called, ‘The Eye’. At this point, the various blue-pink arcs all converged on two points, one on the left and the other on the right, and with the plasma ball in the center, it did look like an eye looking back at Blaise; into Blaise. It reminded him of the Lord of the Rings movies and the eye of Sauron.
He was having trouble wrapping his mind around it. He was watching people walking into the room and passing through that focal point on the right, and more walking out, passing through the other one. When Blaise had touched it, it tingled, but no one gave any sign that they felt it as they passed through. Blaise further realized that when he’d walked through those spots, he had seen the beams as being elsewhere, so for those people, they were not passing through the beams at all. He shook his head and gave up trying to understand it, and instead just experienced it.
Blaise crouched again, and the Eye looked down. He stood on tiptoe, and it looked up. He leaned one way, then the other, and the Eye followed him up to a point, then the various arcs snapped their symmetry and wandered randomly around the room until he returned to the center and they all coalesced into the Eye once more.
“This is the most amazing thing I have ever seen,” Blaise said without taking his eyes off of it.
Many other people in the room looked over at him when he spoke and either smiled or nodded, or in some other fashion indicated their agreement, or maybe just their acknowledgement of his feelings.
The Doctor leaned over his shoulder and said quietly enough so that no one else could hear him, “Take it all in, because in under twenty-four hours, it will be gone forever.