On Saturdays, the Curator comes by Ms. Smith’s house for tea, and then they go for an adventure in his time machine.
Ms. Smith and the Curator walked across the Worldsphere.
The drone that followed them, Ka!ditu, announced that the wreck was another kilometer away. They continued to walk. They were both quite elderly, and the Curator walked with a cane, slowly, and slightly hunched over, but even cursory observation would reveal them to be surprisingly spry for their age. Walking through the tropical woods, they looked like nothing so much as tourists on a package holiday gone utterly wrong, but who were nevertheless keeping calm and carrying on, and largely acquitting themselves admirably in their continued survival.
“How long was it for you between when you dropped me off with Mrs. Jones and when you came by for tea for the first time?” Ms. Smith finally asked, to break the silence.
The Curator thought about it. “I don’t know. It was a lot. I stopped counting years eight faces ago. Or I might have been lying. There was the Scottish one. And the Punch and Judy man. And Merlin… I don’t remember, really.” He paused for a moment. “aM!xitsa, how old did you say the wreck was?”
“‘I’m Ka!ditu, Curator,” the drone said with unhesitating patience, although it was the third time she had answered this question, and the fifteenth she’d been called aM!xitsa. “And the wreck is eighty years old.”
“It hardly seems fair to call it a wreck,” Ms. Smith said, for the first time. “I mean, it’s a man with a Vortex Manipulator. He probably fused with something teleporting in.”
“So why are we investigating this?” the Curator asked. “I’m cold.”
“Because there’s still a life sign,” explained Ms. Smith. The Curator accepted this explanation, as he had the previous time a few hours earlier.
Shortly thereafter, they arrived at the wreck. The man’s body was thoroughly mangled, but still impossibly, uncannily intact. Only the face was relatively untouched. He had pronounced, handsome cheekbones, and a squared, heroic jaw. His hair was short, brown, and uncannily well tousled for a man having spent eighty years lying on a pile of rocks. “You’re,” Ms. Smith began when she was him, but he cut her off.
“Captain Boe,” he said, flashing a Hollywood smile. “I’m an immortal time traveller, but I wrecked on the Worldsphere. My body usually heals itself, but there was an awful lot of damage, and eighty years of being stranded seem to have taken their toll. How did you find me?”
“Psychic paper,” the Curator announced confidently. “Hello, I’m the Curator. Would you like a Gummi Bear?” he asked, pulling a bag full of candy from his pocket.
“Your biodata was detected by Professor Malone at the Cal Institute,” Ka!ditu added by way of explanation, “and we identified your crash site. Since we were not fond of most of the implications of something that could survive, badly injured, for eighty years, we aided you in issuing a psychic distress call. Professor Malone advises seeing Professor Trelundar. The Curator will take you there.”
“Will I? Hmph.” The Curator paused, then looked at Captain Boe. “Did you say you were an immortal time traveller?” he asked, as he popped a Gummi Bear into his own mouth. “That’s fascinating. I was an immortal time traveller once too.”
After a two day stop on Trados that was mostly uneventful, but where the eventful bits were exceedingly thrilling, the Curator and Ms. Smith managed to navigate back to their usual landing site in Watford, and were back in Ms. Smith’s car driving to Chiswick, as the Curator did not have a spare bed for Captain Boe.
“You know, we could just leave tonight,” the Curator said, as he drove.
Ms. Smith sighed. “You may be young and bursting with energy, but I’m sticking to one adventure per day,” she said.
Captain Boe groaned in the back seat, and tried to sit up. His body looked like there wasn’t an ounce of fat on him, nor more than a pound or two of muscle, but somehow he shifted it upright, leaning his head against the back of the seat. It looked impossibly large perched on his skeletal shoulders.
“I’m not sure our friend can make it to morning,” the Curator mused ominously, then turned to look into the back seat. “Can you make it to morning?” he asked. Captain Boe did not answer, but a look of terror spread across his face. The Curator turned back to look at Ms. Smith. “I don’t think he can make it to morni… what are you doing?” He said, throwing his hands up as Ms. Smith grabbed the wheel and jerked it to the right.
“I’m driving,” she said, as she pulled the emergency break on, skidding to a stop on the side of the road.
The Curator blinked, then frowned. “I was only looking at the Captain for a second! It’s a Mini, not a time machine. I can do two things at once.”
Ms. Smith stared at him, impassively, breathing evenly, and remaining as calm as she could. “You promised me no looking away from the road, Curator. I’ll drive us home.”
Slowly, he opened the door, and walked around to the other side of the car. She got in, adjusted the seat and mirrors, and flipped on her turn signal to merge back onto the M-25. The Curator stared out the window, silently.
In the back seat, Captain Boe coughed. “I’ll be fine overnight. I promise, I really am immortal.”
“There we go. Come on, Curator. You can use the spare room. We’ll take the first bus tomorrow, and take the train out to Cambridge, and we’ll be at Professor Trelundar’s rooms by lunch.” The Curator kept staring out the window, but at least didn’t argue, which was something.
Ms. Smith smiled. “I’ll order from the Vietnamese place you like, and we can sit in the attic and tune Mickey to the subwave. We’ll get a good night’s sleep. And then another adventure.” She looked at the Curator.
For a moment, he kept staring at the window, and then, after a second, he turned and smiled a big, massively toothy grin.
They’d not slept, as it happened. Instead they’d stayed up all night mediating in a business dispute between the Indigenous Martians and the Tar-Modowk, Still, the Curator had made breakfast, seemingly while nobody was looking, and the coffee had been journalist strong, so there they were at the bus stop, on the second adventure of the weekend, which was at once wonderful and slightly overwhelming.
“I don’t know why you call him Mickey,” the Curator said. Captain Boe laughed, and Ms. Smith smiled at him.
“Says the man who named five dogs ‘Canine,’” Ms. Smith said, lightly punching the Curator in the shoulder.
“But why Mickey?” the Curator asked, then saw the look of surprise on Boe’s face, and covered. “I mean, you might as well name it Leela,” he said. “Or Sky,” he added, after a moment.
“I like Mickey,” Captain Boe said, smiling awkwardly. “He and I took a vacation to Peladon under the Fourth Great and Bountiful Human Empire. Fantastic vacation planet. I think Martha came too. They were a great couple. Them and the Temple-Nobles.” He trailed off, as a bus turned onto the road two blocks away. They all stood, Captain Boe leaning heavily on Ms. Smith’s shoulder.
Next to them, a girl, in her twenties, coughed. She had shoulder-length brown hair, and wide, enthused eyes that matched. “Excuse me, sorry, but Doctor? You don’t want to take this bus. Actually, you should probably take the Underground. You’re a clever boy – run off and tidy it up,” she said, and smiled charmingly.
“What did you call me?” asked the Curator.
“Thank you,” Ms. Smith interrupted. “Have a nice trip,” she added as the bus pulled up. The girl nodded, and then turned and merrily jumped on board. “Morning Auntie Iris,” she said to the driver, as the doors shut behind her.
“The Underground? A good tidying up,” the Curator said quizzically. “Why I can’t remember anything strange happening on the Underground since 1968,” he said.
“Come on,” Ms. Smith said with a sigh. “Turnham Green’s a half mile walk.”
“On second thought, I suppose I shouldn’t have trusted my memory quite so much,” the Curator mused, as they boarded the train to Cambridge.
“I’ll call Professor Trelundar and tell her we had some trouble with a tribe of Eocenes and will make it for dinner instead of lunch,” Ms. Smith replied, pulling another gob of slime from her hair.
“Was I the only one who thought the second in command was cute?” said Captain Boe.
Professor Trelundar had quickly obtained Captain Boe a bed in a hospital that could help transition him to a new life form, and had sent the Curator and the Captain via Time Ring. While they were out having their adventure, Professor Trelundar and Ms. Smith went punting on the Cam.
“How’s he doing?” Professor Trelundar asked delicately, after circling through a few rounds of pleasantries. She was navigating the punt well enough, though giving the sense that it was something she’d only ever watched someone else do.
Ms. Smith sat in the boat, staring at the college town as they floated by. “He’s forgetful. I don’t think he can drive anymore. He’s still brilliant, and he can usually cover for it, but he needs someone to keep him focused. I take him to work on the days Osgood doesn’t. We tried letting him take a taxi a month ago, but he got side-tracked by a Quark invasion that turned out to be a physics conference in Greenwich. So I mostly try to convince him to stay in the spare room. If I make the bed, he usually doesn’t notice he’s spent more than one night in a row anymore.”
Professor Trelundar nodded. “I’ve been petitioning for a new cycle. He shouldn’t have to live like this.”
Ms. Smith stared at her. She thought about correcting her, and stressing how active he still was, and how he really could still take care of an alien invasion without any help. But there was no point, and she knew it. Trelundar had her failings, and a tendency to assume the worst was among them. “Who’s Professor Malone?” she asked instead.
“An old, old flame. She keeps the definitive record of him. She’s the only person who actually knows every single face he’s worn, and in what order. She takes care of him, much like you do, but on a bigger level,” Professor Trelundar explained.
Ms. Smith nodded, and smiled. There were so many people she’d never met.
“He is happy, you know,” she finally said. Professor Trelundar didn’t look like she understood what that meant, but at least she seemed to believe it.
“Is this one of the years Parsons is at Cambridge?” asked the Curator, as he thundered down the hallway.
“No, Curator. Parsons passed away ten years ago, in California. You were at the funeral,” Professor Voratrelundar sighed, trying her best to straighten up behind him as he whirled about, pointing the sonic screwdriver at seemingly random objects.
“Ah, yes, of course. Pity. He’d be helpful. I think the energy’s anti-tachyonic.”
“Curator,” Ms. Smith said gently, “you were saying it was para-artron energy half an hour ago.”
“And I’ve since learned more. Keep up,” he said, and whirled around a corner, nearly crashing into a middle aged economics professor.
Professor Trelundar apologized to the professor, then dashed to catch up. “That’s all well and good, but could we please just stop for a moment and try setting up Mickey to scan instead of storming around Girton College shouting at windows?” she asked.
The Curator stopped, and turned around.
“You think I’m having an episode,” he said, cautiously.
“It is the third time you’ve gone chasing energy signatures since you got back from Terminus,” Ms. Smith said, taking the Curator’s hand and gently trying to lead him back down the hall.
The Curator frowned, and began to follow, then paused, looking at his screwdriver. Then he looked up, pulled back his hand, and smiled broadly.
“But if I am having an episode,” he said, whirling backwards and knocking over a desk lamp, “then what’s coming out of the trans-dimensional gateway behind this door,” he said, pointing the screwdriver at the knob with a flourish. There was a high pitched whirr, and for a moment, nothing happened. Then a few sparks popped out of the doorknob. Gently, the Curator pushed open the door.
“So we meet again, Doctor” the shark-like thing in the office snarled arrogantly.
“Why do people keep calling me that?” asked the Curator.
Ms. Smith and Professor Trelundar sipped tea in her sitting room, while the Curator slept in the other room. He’d been sleeping for three days now, fitfully, waking up occasionally, but not rising out of bed.
“What’s going to happen now?” she asked. Professor Trelundar shrugged.
“Can’t say, really. We’ve all been through worse, but the worst isn’t always the one that gets you.”
“Just ask Parsons,” the Curator mumbled sadly, from the other room. Ms. Smith nodded, slowly.
“He wasn’t badly hurt, all things considered. He’s just wearing a bit thin, and not really healing from the injuries. We can get him another cycle, if we can get the High Council to approve it, but they’re dragging their feet, and I don’t know why. No doubt Lord President Vardelay is up to some sinister scheme or another that someone will have to stop. I’ll put Dorothée and Doctor Summerfield on it. Hopefully they’ll sort it out in time. There’s more of it than there looks, especially if I can get the Sisterhood to send some of their elixir.”
Ms. Smith nodded. She understood about half of what Professor Trelundar was saying, but could read the tone well enough: nobody knew what was going to happen next.
“We’ll do the best we can,” Professor Trelundar continued. “Between me and Professor Malone, there are two former Lord Presidents pulling for him. That still counts for something, even after all this time. But I can’t promise anything. And even if I could…” She trailed off
“Yes, of course. No telling if he’ll even be interested in all of us after it all happens again. That’s how it always goes.” Ms. Smith smiled softly, and Professor Trelundar smiled back.
“Do you want me to work on Mickey? I think I still remember enough to get him running again,” Professor Trelundar said. Ms. Smith looked at the pile of exploded circuitry in the corner. Privately, she suspected it was more of a project than Professor Trelundar imagined, but she nodded enthusiastically anyway. The Professor would need something to take her mind off the Curator anyway, in those long, sleepless stretches of waiting for something to happen. She remembered Wednesday dinners with the Langers when Rani was ill, and how they said it had kept them sane in the last two years. If Professor Trelundar wanted to tinker with a tin dog, she could tinker with a tin dog. And if she couldn’t fix him, well, Mickey had gone out fighting. Just like the Curator, in the end.
Ms. Smith finished her tea, and said her farewells, stopping in to kiss the Curator once, on the forehead, although he was asleep again. Waiting for the train back to London, she e-mailed the photos of the Selachians to Ms. Webber at the Herald, hoping they’d pass muster. It wasn’t the flashiest invasion, however high its cost, but she thought she’d gotten some good shots, at least. Then she sat for a moment, staring at the phone. The sun was setting across the platform, the reddening light deepening the October hues on the trees. She took a long, deep breath, smiled, and wiped away a tear. “Where there’s life,” she murmured softly to herself, and laughed. And then she texted Luke to invite him for dinner on Saturday.