Rogue Thoughts, A Tenth Doctor Short Story
It was a dark and stormy night.
“Excellent!” chirped the inventor, looking up at the ceiling and savouring the feel of the oncoming fury. “Most excellent!”
He busied himself around his laboratory, gathering up the things he needed. With his arms full, he headed to the front door. Above the roaring of the wind in the dark trees, and the pelting of rain, there was a strange, electrical hum. He chuckled to himself.
“Electrical!” he said. “Yes, undeniably so, sir. Electrical, or I’m the King of England!”
He tried to open the front door, and again, there came the hum – high-pitched, and oscillating. It made him realise something important, and he carefully laid his equipment on the wooden floor in the hallway.
“Coat, sir. Coat and hat, or you’ll be a soggy King, and no mistake…”
He wrapped himself in a heavy overcoat, and jammed a coarse woollen hat on his rounded head. Then he picked up his equipment once again, and confound it, there again came the humming. From the sound of the rain though, he knew he didn’t have time to worry about strange electrical hummings just at that moment, and so, with a crafty elbow, he opened the latch of his front door…
There was a man. A man bent double, with an ear pressed against his front door, and a strange thin torch, glowing blue against its hinges. The inventor coughed.
The man looked up. He appeared not to notice that he was soaked through to the skin with rain, or that his hair appeared to be suffering a violent disagreement with itself, sticking wildly one way and another. He was a thin man in a suit of thin blue fabric, and now, in response to the coughing inventor, he stood up. His eyes were manic, dancing, excitable, and his torch – which seemed, all things considered, to be the source of the confounded humming noise – still glowed a weird, unearthly blue at the end. He smiled, as though no sight in all his years in the world had ever given him greater joy.
“Doctor Franklin, I presume?” he asked, his smile beaming as the rain fell down his face.
“Benjamin Franklin at your service sir, but I’m no doctor. Humble printing is all my service to the world.”
“Brilliant,” said the man, apparently to himself. “I mean…just brilliant…” The man waved his torch up and down the door again, where it met the frame, and frowned.
“Do you have a particular fascination with doors, sir, or might I ask why you have come to see me on a night such as this?”
“Ah, now – funny thing about doors,” said the man. “Normally, this doesn’t work on doors,” he said, holding up the humming torch. “Well, it works on most doors, but not wooden ones. Doesn’t have a wood setting. Always meant to sort that out, but you know how it is with odd jobs – there’s always something more interesting cropping up.”
“Your…torch…doesn’t work on doors?”
“’s’not a torch,” explained the man. “It’s my sonic screwdriver.”
“Indeed…yeah. Wow…I’m standing on Benjamin Franklin’s doorstep – how cool is that?” The man frowned suddenly.
“Hang on…Not a doctor? What year is this?” he asked suddenly. “What’s the date?”
“The date?” said Franklin, puzzled at the turn the conversation had taken. Then he sniffed. “Why sir, what was the date when you first found the tavern from which you’re late returned?”
“Tavern?” asked the man. “Oh, I see, nooooooo, haven’t been. Not that I’d say no, mind you, s’bloomin’ perishing out here. So – date?”
“It’s the fifteenth of June, 1752,” he said, rather more obligingly than he felt inclined to be.
“1752, 1752, 1750-” The man stopped, and cast a worried glance at the sky.
“Ah,” he said.
“Where was I?” he said.
“Your…sonic…whateveritwas…doesn’t work on doors.”
“Ah, no. Well, as I say, actually it’s pretty phenomenal at opening most doors it meets…just not wooden ones. Normally, you show it a wooden door, it’s all ‘I dunno what to do about that,’ really, it comes over all thick. But this door…This door it likes. And it just happens to be yours…” The man stopped, looking positively boggle-eyed with thought.
There was a pause, and the first rumble of thunder broke beyond the door.
“I am…erm…gratified, to be so blessed,” said Franklin, but if you’ll excuse me, Mr…?”
“Doctor,” said the Doctor. “Just Doctor.” Franklin stared at him for a moment. Hard.
“Well then if you’ll excuse me…Doctor…I was on my way out.”
“You’re going out?” said the Doctor. “In this? Nahh, you don’t wanna do that. Catch your death in weather like this…” He flicked another nervous glance up at the sky. “How about you invite me in and we can have a nice cup of tea, you can tell me all about your experiments, I’ll tell you all about doors, it’ll be lovely and cosy and we can wait out the storm. How does that sound?”
And with that, the Doctor slipped inside, past Franklin, who still had his arms full of equipment, and into the laboratory.
Torn, Franklin turned to look as the Doctor squished down the hall. Then he turned back to look out at the storm.
He sighed, closed the door with his foot, and followed the Doctor back to the lab.
He laid all his equipment on the big wooden table in the middle of the room.
“So…Doctor? Medical man, or student of the sciences?”
“Welllllll,” said the Doctor, wringing out the edge of his jacket. “I dabble, you know? Bit of this, bit of that…”
“And the reason for our visit on so inclement a night?”
“Honestly? I’m a fan,” said the Doctor. “An admirer of your work.”
“Ah,” said Franklin. “Very kind. But I must tell you Doctor, I am about important new work tonight, and I would be about it even now…” He looked meaningfully towards the door.
“How long has it been calling you?” asked the Doctor, suddenly serious.
“The work,” said the Doctor. “The idea of flying a kite in a storm. How long?”
“H-how did you…?” Franklin’s eyes went to his equipment. “Ah, of course . Well, the idea has been developing for some time.”
“Course it has,” said the Doctor, nodding gravely. “And the idea is…?”
Franklin bit his lip. Something about the infuriating man was making his hair stand on end, but another something…a bigger something…seemed to invite confidences.
“I want to study the lightning,” he said eventually, his voice getting low and hoarse with excitement. “I contend that pressure is the key to determining whether an electrical fluid is positively or negatively charged.”
“Wow,” said the Doctor again. “And you just woke up one morning with the idea of catching the lightning, did you?”
“Indeed, yes. It seemed the best way to test my hypothesis – live, as it were.”
“Hmm…” said the Doctor. “Tell me Benjamin, have you been feeling unwell at all lately? Nausea, cramps in the stomach, that kind of thing?”
Franklin laughed. “So my ideas are laughable to you then, Doctor? You think I must be mad or sick?”
“Nnno, but have you been though?”
Franklin laughed again.
“Is this your dabbling, Doctor? Scientist turned medic now?”
“Yessss,” acknowledged the Doctor. “This is me just having a great big nosey old dabble. So have you been? Nauseous at all?”
Franklin stopped laughing, hesitated a moment.
“Well…maybe a little, off and on, but that’s because I’ve been working late. A man should make time to balance his life. Mine has been rather…lopsided of late. Digestive irregularity is only to be expected as a result.”
“Gotta love a scientist,” mused the Doctor. “Most eager to rationalise the irrational, and first to believe themselves…”
“Physician, heal thyself!” said Franklin, grinning. “You sound like a babbler, Doctor. And really, you have no name to attach to your credentials? Makes you sound like a very spurious fellow.”
“Smith,” said the Doctor. “John Smith. And the nausea…I’m guessing it’s only in the mornings, when you wake up?”
Franklin stared at him, appraising.
“Aye,” he said eventually. “Tell me, Doctor Smith…how do you know so much without being told?”
“I’ve seen it before,” said the Doctor, sighing. “It’s the Methyliau Majoria…”
“The Methyliau Majoria. Pretentious name for a pretentious, parasitic lifeform. Most people just call them The Lightning. ’s’just as pretentious, but shorter. Easier to yell when you’re running away, I suppose.”
“Forgive me Doctor, but have you been feeling unwell at all lately? A sharp blow to the head, perhaps?”
“Why you, that’s what I don’t understand. Normally, they go for whatever’s available…”
“What do you mean, they ‘go for’ it?”
“The Methyliau Majoria are like…” He sighed, not really sure how to explain them. “You know how a mind is made up of thoughts – electrical impulses – going through the brain?”
“So I believe,” said Franklin, stroking his chin.
“The Methyliau Majoria are like a mind, only instead of a brain, they use a cloud. Great big alien space-clouds, floating through the universe, like weather where there’s no business being any. So – every now and then, one of them will get curious about the creatures they sense on some planet or other, and a cloud will send out focused patterns of electrical impulses. Dreams, usually, cos most people are easier to influence when they’re asleep. And the chosen victim will get the idea that they want to touch the lightning. The Methyliau Majoria will oblige and wallop! Lightning strikes, replaces the victim’s own mind, and the Lightning walks about for a while.”
Franklin’s chin could only take so much stroking.
“Really, Doctor, I think perhaps you need help. You sound hysterical.”
“Got a coin?” asked the Doctor. “Any coin?”
Franklin rolled his eyes and handed him a quarter. The Doctor tested it for weight, then held it between the forefinger of his right hand and the thumb of his left. He gave the coin a flick, and it began to spin on the table.
“Heads or tails, Ben?” he asked. Franklin shrugged.
“I never have much luck with this,” he admitted, “so it’s no odds to me. Heads!”
The coin kept spinning. Then, after a decent amount of time for physics to have taken its toll…it kept spinning. And then, in sheer defiance of all things physical, it sped up, rotating faster and faster, gouging marks out of Franklin’s wooden table.
“Good Lord!” yelped the inventor.
“Wait a minute,” said the Doctor. Sure enough, as they watched, the coin began to rise into the air, rotating rapidly all the while, a blue electric glow beginning to discharge from its surface as it span.
“How is this possible?!” demanded Franklin.
“It’s what happens when you touch The Lightning!” said the Doctor, his eyes never wavering from the coin.
The coin crackled with electrical energy, then disappeared entirely.
Franklin blinked, waved his hand through the air where the coin had been.
“That’s your mind on Methyliau Majoria,” said the Doctor. “As I say, what I can’t understand is why the Methyliau Majoria would have chosen you. They’re not normally so discriminating. Normally they’ll happily zap whatever spends a lot of time closest to them, up on hillsides and things. Sheep. Maybe a shepherd if they’re lucky. But you…”
He switched on his screwdriver again, and pointed it at Franklin. The little wand made its customary humming noise. Then the pitch changed, climbed, growing higher and higher…
Franklin’s arm shot involuntarily up and he yelped in alarm. Then a bolt of blue lightning discharged from somewhere near his fingertips and wrenched the sonic screwdriver out of the Doctor’s hand, flinging it to the floor.
“Gaaahh!” growled the Doctor in surprise. He peered at Franklin intently.
“Alright, show yourselves!” he demanded. “No more pretending, I know you’re here.”
There was a shimmering and a crackling that made the air taste tinny, and an orange cloud emerged around Franklin’s body, fizzing and hissing with moving worms of yellow, sparking energy.
“What?” said the Doctor. “I mean…what??”
Franklin smiled at him, an eerie, disembodied smile. His eyes flickered orange and gold.
“But you lot don’t…don’t stalk people! You lure them, I know, but not like this. Usually it’s wham, bam, wallop and that’s an end of it. It’s not exactly humane but at least it’s quick. What’s all…this about?” he demanded, waving his arms like a wind vane.
Franklin stared at him, the worms crackling over his body and face.
Franklin’s mouth opened, and a strange, whining noise came out of him. It almost burned with its pitch and intensity, and then, slowly, it seemed to tune itself, like a radio, till it was a growl, a growl in Franklin’s voice.
“Ssssssssanctuary!” he said. The Doctor frowned.
“What?” he said, low now and grave.
“Wwwwwe clllllaim ssssannnctuary.”
“Sanctuary from what?” said the Doctor. “You’re a bunch of independent thoughts from a big space-cloud, what sort of threat are you facing?!”
“The Mmmmmethyliau Mmmmajoria,” said the Franklin-cloud.
“Hold on, you’re the Methyliau Majoria…aren’t you?”
Franklin’s head shook, loosely.
“Oh,” said the Doctor. He took out a pair of clever-specs and slipped them on, peering at the Franklin-cloud more closely. “Then who are you?”
“Exxxxiles…outcasssts. We are the Mmmmethyliau Miiiiinoria…”
“Oh…right,” said the Doctor. “Rogue thoughts. That must be…tricky,” he acknowledged. “So they kicked you out?”
“And you’re getting the hand of the human voicebox, I see. Escaped from what though? What was the issue?”
“Thhey want to colllonise…this world. Wwe said no.”
“Blimey…dissent in the cloud-mind.” The doctor ran a hand over his chin. “You gave them an attack of schizophrenia…”
Franklin’s head nodded, briefly.
“So why stalk Franklin?”
“His mind reached out to us. He offered us escape. His mind is…full of us.”
“Rogue thoughts…yeah, you could be right,” the Doctor agreed. “But you can’t just have him…He’s important. Important as he is, I mean, not as a host for you lot.”
The inventor’s head shook again.
“This is not a debate. Our escape alerted the Majoria. There are more of us in the cloud. They will be destroyed tonight unless they follow us here. The host must touch the lightning…”
“You’re not listening – he can’t. You’ve only gone and chosen yourself a major historical figure for a host. He’s gonna go on to do incredible things. Crucial things. You’re gonna interfere with established history on this planet. And I can’t allow that. Not here, not now, and not with this man.”
The Franklin-cloud bristled alarmingly.
“You cannot stop us,” it said, simply.
The Doctor shoved his hands into his pockets.
“You’re not from round here, are you?” he said. He sighed. “We can do this the hard way if you insist. Or you can take my warning, and my offer.”
“Speak,” said Franklin, the growl diminishing already, the voice recognisably Franklin’s.
“I can’t allow you to change this man’s life. I can’t let him touch the lightning. That’s your warning.”
Franklin’s head flopped sideways.
The Doctor swallowed.
“Take me instead.”
The worms that skittered over Franklin’s body shivered, and he smiled.
“And who…exactly…are you?”
“I can take you somewhere. I can be a cruise-ship for you, take you wherever you want to be, and deliver you into a cloud of your own, or a body of your own if you like.”
“You would do that…for this man?”
“In a couple of heartbeats,” said the Doctor gravely.
“You will touch the lightning?”
“You know I won’t have a choice. But yes. I’ll touch it. But you leave this man alone – leave this species alone. Whaddayou say?”
Franklin seemed to consider for a moment. Then he held out his hand.
“Good decision,” said the Doctor, stepping forward and clasping the hand with both of his. The cloud shuddered and spread, enveloping the doctor’s hand and arm in a coiling cloudy bracelet that soon swirled up his shoulders and enveloped him.
No sooner had the cloud passed fully to the Doctor than he let go of Franklin’s hand, and the inventor fell to the floor, unconscious. The Doctor’s eyes had closed as the cloud had swarmed around him, and it took a long, long moment before they opened again.
They glittered with orange and gold.
His mouth twitched, once, twice, and then he smiled, fully, showing white teeth.
And then the laugh began. It began like a cough in his throat, or a sneeze in his head, and then it built, and built, and built. The Doctor laughed, and laughed, the sound tinged with razor-wire and lightning burns.
“Fool!” he said, at the peak of the laugh, then it stopped abruptly. Time was passing. He looked up at the ceiling for a moment, heard the rumble of thunder in the outside world, beyond the walls of wood. He lunged for Franklin’s kite assembly, gathered it up, and left, leaving the door swung wide behind him.
Franklin lay there on the floor of his own laboratory.
“Nodon’t!!” he yelled as consciousness returned all at once, pleasant as a migraine. He held his head for a moment. Then he forced himself unsteadily to his feet, and looked around.
“Confound the man!” he yelled, wincing at his own voice. He staggered to the front door, and out into the abysmal rain beyond.
The Doctor-Cloud was walking, heavily, like a zombie, away from the house. The voicebox of a human had been one thing, but this…this body was so complex, it was like nothing the Methyliau had ever encountered before. But, oh! When it had learned to master it, what then would be beyond its reach?
“DOCTOR!” yelled Franklin, puffing along some way behind him. “It’s a trick, sir!!”
The Doctor smiled.
“Yes,” he said. “Goooood, isn’t it?”
There was something…Ah…
The Doctor reached down, almost to the end of Franklin’s kite assembly, and found the key. The heavy metal key that would safely store the lightning. He knotted the string around his hand just above the key and snapped it, throwing the key far from him, into the muddy field, then strode on. A half dozen more paces. Fifteen. Twenty. The sky erupted into light and noise above him, and the Doctor looked up into the pouring rain and laughed again as lightning lit his face.
Benjamin Franklin was not an athlete of much note, but now he ran, as all men run when they have a real and urgent need.
“It’s a trick, Doctor!” he yelled, breathless, drawing close to the strange man with impossible hair. “They are invaders! They mean to make us all puppets of The Lightning!”
The Doctor turned his head and grinned.
“Excellent plan,” he said, reaching out a hand toward Franklin. There was a lightning discharge, and some of the cloud of pulsing electric worms snaked back across to Franklin on the current.
“Clap hands, little man,” said the Doctor, and Franklin found himself unable to resist, heard his own hands giving the evil cloud an ovation.
“Good little monkey,” said the Doctor, dropping his arm. The lightning was extinguished, and Franklin still applauded. “We shall have the T…T…Timelord’s body, and this world as our plaything!” The sound of his own clapping hands disgusted Franklin utterly, but he could do nothing but obey the thoughts in his head, the thoughts demanding he keep on clapping.
The Doctor flung the kite into the air, and it caught on the breeze, wheeling and nosing away into the darkness of the skies. The string attached to its body whizzed and whirred through his hands.
He looked down after a moment, regarding the instant burn-marks on his palms. There was a registering of pain in his brain, but the Doctor merely smiled at it. Sensation was all there was. Sensation and thought, and it all was good. The kite dodged up, and up into the clouds.
Into the cloud.
“Frrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrank…lin!” yelled the Doctor suddenly, struggling against himself. “Fiiiiiiiiiight it! Sttttttttop cuuuuulllllappping!”
The sound was escaping from the Doctor as though he was moving in slow motion.
Franklin focused. This Doctor might be extraordinary – but so was he! He managed to close his eyes. And there behind the shutters of his eyelids, Benjamin Franklin marshalled his resources. He pictured himself not clapping. Gritted his teeth and forced himself to think of not clapping.
There was a silence, filled with rumblings above. Franklin didn’t dare to open his eyes, but he knew he had won a tiny battle, had stopped them from debasing his body any further.
“Keeeeeeyeeee!” yelled the Doctor, though it clearly cost him a lot. “Arrrrrgh!” he screamed, as the Methyliau forced him to his knees in the mud.
Something about the sound made Franklin open his eyes. And the shock of seeing the Doctor there, on his knees in the mud, spurred him to action. He moved. He had to think about every step of the way, but he moved slowly, exhaustingly, to the Doctor’s side. He looked down.
“The key! The key’s gone, Doctor! Without the key, you’ll be electrocuted. They’ll win!”
“Myyyyyy…keeeeeyeeee,” gasped the doctor, his head lolling, but his fist still clinging firmly to the kite-string.
“Silence!” he snapped in his normal voice, though with an imperious edge. But Franklin was already rifling through the Doctor’s pockets. He threw out an apple, a collection of assorted coins, some piece of smooth white metallic machinery about which he had not the faintest idea, and then his fingers landed on a small, jagged-toothed metal key. He pulled it out quickly, before the thoughts in his head could swamp him again. But how to attach it?! The Doctor’s grip was firm on the string. Franklin frowned, grabbed the kite-string, higher than the Doctor, and seeing no other way, swung a fist. The blow caught the Doctor on the jaw, but he didn’t move. Sparks streaked across the sky as The Lightning reached out across the cloud.
Franklin, desperate, barged his shoulder against the Doctor. The Doctor-cloud crackled angrily, throwing Franklin clear of the Doctor’s body.
It took them both a second to realise what had happened. The Doctor looked down into his own palm, where a frayed piece of string was all that remained. Franklin blinked in the rain, holding the kite-string in his hand. The Doctor began to run towards him, and Franklin scrambled through the mud, his hands shaking as he roughly tied the key onto the string.
The Doctor leapt towards him, and Franklin panicked, let go of the string. The Doctor managed to grab it, just as the last of the string was about to float out of their reach forever.
The Lightning arced down from the cloud, found the kite, sizzled along the string.
As The Lightning hit the key, floating upward on the string, there was a wheezing, groaning sound like an elephant in an abattoir, and the key glowed gold, then swirling red, then blue. The electricity coursed into the Doctor’s body and he yelled out in pain, jolting from the shock of it. The wheezing noise grew stronger, the string charred black and burned clean through, but the key stayed suspended in the air. The cloud around the Doctor seemed to dissipate, to be drawn, sucked towards the key, where it glowed for a moment, and then was gone.
Franklin, quite exhausted from the exertion and the shock, passed out.
Seconds later, the Doctor’s body fell, seemingly lifeless beside him.
“Wakey, wakey, Ben!”
Franklin opened his eyes…slowly. He was in his bed. In his bedroom. And he wasn’t nauseated, for the first morning in months. All of these things he could believe with relative ease.
“You’re alive,” he noted with some incredulity.
“Oh yes,” said the Doctor, smugly.
“You’re real,” said Franklin, with rather less enthusiasm.
“Real as they come, Benny Boy!”
“Were I to enquire of you precisely what happened last night, would I live to regret the entreaty?”
“Tardis key,” said the Doctor, safe in the knowledge it would mean precisely nothing to the inventor. “Clever thing, the Tardis key. Made out of the same stuff as my ship. Has a very weird relationship to time and space, all things considered. The Lightning hit it, and it…sort of…hit back. You know Newton? For every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction? The Lightning hit the Tardis key and it was a classic case of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object. To cut a long and complicated story short, the Tardis key sucked the Methyliau into the time vortex. ’s’alright, they won’t be dead in there, they’ll just have a lot of time to…erm…think about their actions.”
“A key?” said Franklin. “A key sucked out all the…rogue thoughts?”
“Did I say? Very clever thing, the Tardis key.”
“And what, pray, of the…Methy…Methyl…” Franklin sighed and gave up. “What of the thoughts that inhabited me?”
“Dunno,” said the Doctor. “Was a bit busy being hit by lightning at the time. Ordinary lightning, thankfully – the key sort of acted like a filter. Still – enough to make your hair stand on end and not recommended for humans.”
“Of which species, I am to conclude, you cannot be numbered…shall we say a fully paid-up member?”
The Doctor grinned. Really rather a lot.
“Been a pleasure meeting you, Ben. Really, an absolute delight. You know, apart from the possession, and the lightning strikes, and the punching. Truly, an honour…”
“But the thoughts,” said Franklin, leaning forward in the bed. “Will they come back to haunt me?”
“Rogue thoughts in themselves aren’t bad, Ben. Even rebellious thoughts have their time and their place. Tell you what though….just to be on the safe side, might be wise to stay away from electrical experiments, eh? Try something safer. Politics, maybe…”
Franklin chuckled and shook his head.
“My dear Doctor, if you think politics is safer than lightning storms, you really don’t understand our American story…Doctor?”
The Doctor was gone. In the blink of an eye, the ridiculous man had left him there, in bed.
Some minutes later, the wheezing, groaning, elephantine sound wafted more gently through the house. Franklin wasn’t sure how he understood it, but he knew it meant the Doctor was truly gone. He laid his head back on the pillow, reflecting on the events of the night before and chuckling softly to himself.
“Politics, indeed!” he murmured, as sleep softened the edges of his world again. “What rot…”