Traci didn't sleep much that night. Her head was too full of unearthly ideas and nebula dust to think straight, and when she closed her eyes, all she could see was that alien standing in his space-time machine. When fatigue finally overcame her, that old dream, of grand halls, dusty tomes, and orange skies, came to her unbidden. The dream felt more real to her than her normal life: she held the Laws of Time in her hands, and the universe prospered under her guidance. Upon waking, she lay in bed for a while, struggling to remind herself which world was the real one.
While short, the sleep cleared her mind, and she was better able to think about what she had been told the day before. After throwing on her robe, she made herself some coffee and toast, and sat at her kitchen table to eat and ponder. If she could trust everything the Doctor had told her - and while he wasn't exactly the best at explaining things or relaying details, there had been no indication that he wasn't trustworthy - she was an alien masquerading as a human, and she originally came from a distant planet, where she had just finished her schooling. Apparently, she had some time-related abilities, but she had no idea what they might be. I have time superpowers, she thought, then laughed out loud, the cackle high and tinged with hysteria. I'm cracking up.
Maybe she was. Maybe what she saw out of the doors of that spaceship was just a hallucination. Maybe she dreamed up the whole encounter with that Doctor guy. But she could probably go back and forth on this all day and never figure it out. The only reasonable thing to do was to assume that everything she saw and heard yesterday was true and figure out what it all meant. It was the only way to deal with it, and if, in the end, she concluded that it was all a figment of her fragmenting imagination, then… she would deal with that when it happened.
So how could she sort it all out? It was only natural for her to fall back on her law training. She pulled over a pad of paper and a pen and began to write, first a list of what she knew, and then a list of questions she needed answers for. This time, I'm going to be ready for him, and make sure he tells me everything I need to know. She spent over an hour, thinking and writing, and once she was satisfied with her notes, she dressed herself and headed out. Somehow, she knew he would find her wherever she chose to go, and she really didn't want him invading her apartment.
Traci was not disappointed. She spotted the Doctor in his long brown overcoat, standing in the small park about a half a mile from her apartment. His hands jammed in his pocket, he was watching the children playing a game of tag among the play structures. His back was to her, and she was tempted to slip away, to flee from this odd man and his offer of a new life, but she couldn't. She wasn't sure if she was afraid of the man himself or what he represented, but she had to find out everything, to know what it was all about. Clasping her purse tightly to her body, she willed her feet to move and strode across the grass. He must have heard her approach, for he turned when she reached him. A bright smile spread across his face.
"Ah! Good morning, Traci! How are you?"
"Hello, Doctor. I'm doing as well as can be expected." She couldn't bring herself to smile, so she kept her expression business-like.
"Ah, yes. Quite a lot to take in, isn't it? You've plenty of questions, I expect?" He tugged on his ear.
"I do." She reached in her purse and pulled out her notepad, flipping it open to her list.
At the site of the pad, the Doctor grinned broadly. "A list! No less than I expected from you."
Traci's eyes narrowed as she peered at him from under a furrowed brow. She couldn't decide if he was mocking her. "The only way to make sure I don't miss something," she murmured in a tight voice.
"Well, then, fire away." He seemed completely oblivious to her suspicions, and she abandoned that train of thought, to pay attention to her primary concerns.
"Ok, first." She eyed him, holding his gaze for three seconds before speaking. "What's a police public call box?"
The Doctor threw back his head, laughing. "A fine first question! They used to be all over England for the first half of this century, so that people who needed help could use the phones in the boxes to call the police. Don't have them now, mostly. They were phased out in the 1970s."
"So why does your spaceship look like one?"
"It's a disguise!" He seemed very proud of its ingenuity, and with a sarcastic expression, she shifted her weight to the other leg and cocked a fist on her hip. "No, really. The TARDIS has a chameleon circuit, which, when she lands, calculates the optimal disguise for it to blend into her surroundings. She then assumes the shape of a police box."
One eyebrow went up. "That's not much of a disguise."
"The circuit's been a bit faulty, going on a few years now." He shrugged. "Besides, at least I can always find it again. Hard to remember where you've parked when your motor looks different every time. What if it chose a park bench? Which one of them is the right one?" He gestured towards the numerous benches around them. "Is that woman over there sitting on your TARDIS?"
Traci blinked. She wasn't quite sure how you would enter a park bench spaceship and had to remind herself that this conversation was likely to get far more surreal before it was over.
"O-kaay," she drawled, then inhaled deeply before consulting her notebook. "So. You've been following me around." That was a statement, not a question.
"No, I haven't. Well," he drawled, glancing up at the sky, "not really. Well, perhaps a little. I've checked up on you now and again. A couple of times. A handful, really."
Frustrated by his equivocation, Traci shifted her stance and cocked a fist on her hip. She realized that her questions needed to be specific and to the point, or he would just dance around them. "Just these three times, then? When I was in high school, that time in the diner, and yesterday?"
He rubbed the back of his neck, looking a little sheepish. "Well, no, not quite. I've seen you three times other than those."
The admission didn't surprise her. "When?"
"Your high school and college graduations," he listed, counting them on his fingers, "and then once while you were in law school."
"In law school? When was that?"
"Early on. Your second term. Law library. Group of friends, studying for an exam." He answered the question in her wide eyes. "I was reshelving books."
Traci tried to remember the incident, but she had spent a lot of time in the library and no specific instance stood out to her. She shook her head. "I certainly didn't see you any of those times."
"No. I tried to be inconspicuous. It's not something I do easily."
She smiled in spite of herself. "No, you probably don't." She nodded to herself as she pretended to consult her list. It was time to start asking the real questions. "So, you say that I've hidden myself here on Earth, as a human. Why would I do such a thing?"
His cheery demeanor transformed, his smile gone and his eyes flat and serious. "That's a question that had to be asked, but I'd hoped you wouldn't. Here, come sit with me." He motioned to a bench, and she sat down with him.
"I believe... I think... from what I can deduce, you fled Gallifrey for your life. You see..." He scrubbed his hand down his face, over his mouth and jaw, before he spoke. "Our people, the Time Lords, fought a war with another race, called the Daleks. A war on a scale so enormous that I have problems comprehending it sometimes, and I was there. Billions of warriors fighting, across hundreds of planets. And… we lost. Our planet, our people were destroyed. All gone. All dust." He bit his lip. "I think that faced with certain death just when you were starting to live, you fled the planet and hid yourself away here." He let silence fall between them, interrupted only by the sounds of the children playing around them, incongruous with the deep sadness in his eyes.
Traci was stunned. Her eyes wide and staring, she hugged herself against an iciness that enveloped her. A war so big that it completely destroyed a planet? She couldn't even picture such a thing. The thought of the Earth being populated by seven billion people was not easy to imagine, and that number was equivalent to the number of warriors in the battle at one time? How could that even be possible?
"I can't believe…" She stopped as she heard the trite words issuing from her mouth.
"No. No, you can't. It's too enormous. I understand." He inhaled deeply. "But it's true."
"And your people are gone."
"Our people, yes."
She stared at him, unable to truly comprehend the war and the idea that he and she were the only two survivors. "There's got to be others."
"No, we are the last."
Refusing to believe that, she turned away from him, shaking her head. "That doesn't make any sense. I'm here. You're here. There's got to be more who survived."
The Doctor down at his hands. "There was one other." She looked back at him expectantly. "He did the same thing that I think you did: hid himself to escape the end of the war. I discovered him quite by accident. But, he gave me the idea that there might be others like him out there. I've searched." He looked back up at her. "You're the only one."
"Where is he now?"
His shoulders slumped. "He's dead."
Though she didn't know this now-dead Time Lord, the admission dropped a rock into her stomach. While she didn't feel like a Time Lady and could not feel his loss as one of her own, the Doctor's desolation was almost palpable and she couldn't help but join in his despair. She couldn't begin to imagine what it would be like to be the last human in existence. Anything she could think to say sounded woefully inadequate. "I… I'm sorry." She reached over and put a hand on his arm. He smiled sadly.
"It's all right. I'm all right." Then, he straightened again and his tone was light. "You've more questions, I'm sure."
Traci jerked back at his change in attitude. Certainly he was reluctant to talk more about the war and the end of his people, but his sudden cheer shocked her. This was the first indication that he was truly alien, and shiver ran down her spine. She stared down at her notepad, pretending to consider her questions as she quieted her disturbed nerves. "Um, yeah. So, uh, how did you find me? I mean, you say I'm human now. Do I give off time waves or something?"
He grinned at her little quip. "Actually, no, you're human to all observation. But, you have something Time Lord with you, and I built a device to detect it."
"I do?" Frowning, she looked down at herself, not sure what he was referring to.
"You have a pocket watch, don't you?" Seeing the confusion on her face, he jerked his chin at her purse.
Opening her purse, she reached into an inner pocket and pulled out a brass pocket watch. Turning it over multiple times in her hands, she stared at it as if she had never seen it before. Its cover was etched with a complex design of interlocking circles and lines. "This thing? I've always had it, though I don't use it. I've got this." She pointed at the watch on her wrist, then held up the pocket watch. "This is from the Time Lords?"
"Yes. It's part of the chameleon arch that changed you into a human. It holds the Time Lady part of yourself, and you'll get it back if you open it."
Jerking back, Traci dropped the watch as if it had suddenly become searing hot, and it bounced off the bench and landed on the grass. The Doctor reached down and snagged it, holding it up between them on the tips of three long fingers.
"You can hear it, can't you? Speaking to you softly."
She had never noticed it before, but she knew immediately what he meant: a quiet presence in the back of her mind that had always been there, which had grown a little louder when she pulled the watch out of her purse. Her stomach somersaulted a few times. She nodded, her eyes wide and frightened.
"It waits for you," he murmured, catching her eye. "Whenever you're ready."
That wasn't even a question. Reaching over, she took the watch from him and dropped it back in her purse. It was patient, and its voice quieted a touch. "Can you hear it, too?"
"A little. I can sense its presence. But it's not speaking to me."
She glanced at her purse again, then deliberately looked away. She paused to watch three children run by playing a game of tag. "Okay, so that's how I… change. You said yesterday that you've done this, right? What's it like? I mean, what happens to me, to Traci, when I, you know, become this Time Lady?"
The Doctor leaned back and crossed his arms. "Well, the circumstances were very different. I was being hunted by a family of murderous aliens who could track me as a Time Lord, so I hid myself as a human in England in 1913…"
Traci reminded herself again that this probably really all did make sense.
"...The man I became was very different from me, very human, and I was him for only a couple of months. He had a very hard time deciding to become me again. The aliens had found him and were threatening to kill everyone around him if I didn't return. Without that threat, I don't think he would have chosen to change back."
The Doctor stated matter-of-factly and without emotion, "He had fallen in love."
Traci stared at him. It was not lost on her that the Doctor referred to the human that he had become as "he," rather than "I." The human had had a difficult time, and the human had fallen in love. Not the Doctor. And she understood exactly what that meant. "If I become the Time Lady, then, Traci disappears. Everything I am now ceases to exist. I won't be me anymore."
He sat back up straight and faced her. "No, not exactly. John Smith still exists, in me, and I can hear him, in my mind, but I'm not John Smith. Traci will still be a part of you, but you will be the Time Lady you were before."
"And who was that?"
One eyebrow cocked high. "What do you mean?"
"What was I like? I hope I was someone I'd like." She shrugged. "What was my name?"
The Doctor tugged at an ear. His eyes dropped to her purse, lingering there for a moment before he shook his head. "I don't know. I've never met you before."
"But..." She stared at him, searching his face for some guidance. "Why would I want to become someone when I don't know who that is?"
"I don't know. That's something you'll have to figure out for yourself."
Covering her mouth with her hand, she sat and thought about everything he'd just described. She tried to imagine herself as a different person, with different thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, but while she could, for the sake of argument, empathize with others' viewpoints and feelings, actually envisioning herself as another person was beyond her. She also tried to understand what it meant to have another persona buried within you, but it made no sense. How could her self as Traci exist while she was also someone else? Her hand dropped into her lap with an audible thump. "Is it like dying? Does Traci die and I become someone else?"
"Well, I haven't died, so I can't really say, can I? But, I suppose it might be." He ran a hand through his hair.
"Does it hurt? Changing like that?" she asked in a small voice.
"Oh, yes. It hurts." Holding her gaze, he regarded her with gravity, no hint of his usual flippant cheer. He was determined to not sugar-coat the truth in any way. "It rewrites your entire biology. Your whole body transforms, every cell. It is also frightening and profoundly disturbing, but also empowering, like…" His eyes dropped to his hands, open before him, and he stared at them as if he'd never really seen them before. "Like you're becoming whole again."
For all that he clearly represented the pain this change would cause, it was his last statement that chilled her soul, and she plastered her hand over her mouth, the pull on her skin widening her already horrified eyes. His words implied that she was unfinished, or closed off from herself, or sliced in half. Was she really only half a person? She felt like a complete human being, but how could she know? Maybe he was right and she was just living a lie... but it was the only life she knew, and despite its trials and troubles, she liked it.
"Traci? Are you all right?"
The Doctor's kind, concerned words pulled her back out of her thoughts, though she was still nonplussed. "Yeah. I'm okay." Looking for something to do, she tore the top sheet out of her notebook and crumpled it up. "I'm out of questions," she mumbled. "I need to think."
"I know. Take all the time you need."
"If I have more questions...?" She looked up to see him regarding her with some amount of sympathy.
"I'll tell you anything you want to know."
"Yeah." She glanced around the park once more. "Tomorrow, here?"
"I'll be here." He reached over and patted her on the upper arm, then rose and strode off down the park path. She watched him until he followed its curve out of sight, then she, too, rose and headed home.