the gift

A laser blast struck the wall just to the right of the Doctor’s head.  He slowly turned to look, more out of astonishment than anything else.  A gaping hole several inches deep sizzled and smoked, and without warning another blast landed exactly three inches above it. This time the Doctor ducked.

‘I’m not armed,’ he called out, knowing full well it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.  ‘I mean you no har…’ 

Another blast landed near the other two, resulting in a tight triangular grouping that any marksman would be proud of. 

‘Sniping,’ he said to himself.   ‘A grizzly concept.’ 

Three more laser blasts came in rapid succession, slamming into the crate the Doctor was huddling behind.  ‘Reinforcements, fantastic!’ 

The Doctor hadn’t expected a welcome as confrontational as this; in fact, he was expecting something rather more like open arms and warm gratitude.  After all, it was the people of this planet who had put out the distress signal, to which he had made sure to reply well in advance of his arrival so as to ensure something like this wouldn’t happen.  But why then were they not listening to his pleas of peace? 

Why did that always seem to be the case? 

Footsteps were coming his way, and fast.  The Doctor peaked up over the top of the crate to see what he was up against; eleven guards, from the look of it… no, fourteen… no, seventeen!  Seventeen guards just to greet someone who had come to help them?  Things must be very bad indeed. 

The Doctor popped up from his hiding place—which wasn’t too good, as he was now completely surrounded—and threw his hands up in the air.  ‘I mean you no harm,’ he said, accompanying his words with a wide toothy smile.  ‘Take me to your leader.’ 

I am the leader, came a voice from within the Doctor’s head.  Communication by telepathy wasn’t all too uncommon in the universe, but it still came as a bit of a surprise to those unfortunate beings still plagued by primitive vocal speech, even the Doctor.  But as soon as the words stopped ringing in the Doctor’s mind someone stepped through the semi-circular ring of guards.  He wore tight fitting cloths that accentuated the arachnid design of his body, in contrast to the bulky armour worn by the guards which kept their physical appearance a relative mystery. 

‘Well hello, I’m the Doctor.  I’ve come to help.  Although I must say I was surprised by your welcome after having responding to your distress call well before entering your space, although I can’t say I’m not used to such,’ he paused, ‘less-than-gregarious welcomes.’ 

Why have you come?

This took the Doctor aback.  ‘I just told you, I’ve come to help as per the distress signal picked up by my TARDIS.’ 

Where is our gift? 

‘Gift?’  The Doctor scratched his mess of curls, and then slowly lowered his hands back down to his sides.  ‘I’m afraid I hadn’t the time to stop.  And besides, I should hardly know what passes as a suitable gift on…what planet is this again?  You see, I’ve been having some trouble lately with the TARDIS’ identification protocols, and…’ 

Shoot him!  The leader began to turn away from the Doctor, and the guards all re-adjusted their aim.  The click and whine of power cells charging up caused the dumbfounded grin on the Doctor’s face to quickly melt away. 

‘What?  Wait… no… isn’t that a bit harsh?  I’m sorry about the gift, but as I said, I’m only here because—‘ 

Without any warning the guards crumpled to the ground.  A moment later, the leader, too, fell down in a heap. 

‘Now that was unexpected.’  The Doctor scanned the area.  He dared not move until he was sure there weren’t any guns pointed at him.  Not, of course, that he could ever be too sure about that.  And when he was as sure as he could hope to be, he took one step toward the leader.  His mind instantly recoiled with a profound sense of confusion and panic so strong that in brought him down to one knee. 

The Doctor struggled to maintain focus of his surroundings, and it was while gripped by this dizzying haze that he watched through squinted eyes as the guards began standing up one by one, soon followed by the leader.  As they rose, the sense of confusion in the Doctor’s mind subsided, allowing him to slowly stand. 

I apologize, came the familiar voice of the leader.  Please accept my most humble apologies. 

‘You needn’t apologize,’ said the Doctor, delicately rubbing his temples, ‘although an explanation would certainly be most welcome.’ 

Of course, came the leader’s instant reply.  The leader closed his eyes for a second, and almost immediately the soldiers dispersed. My name is Xzohr.  I am the Prime Regent of the continent Azyren, of the planet Clyreon.  We began broadcasting the distress signal because we have found ourselves in a predicament we cannot handle without assistance. 

‘As tends to be the case,’ said the Doctor, smirking childishly. 

Yes, well, we have heard tales of a Doctor with fantastic powers who might be able to help us. 

‘Oh well, I wouldn’t say I have any sort of powers, other than reason and intuition, of course.  But it would be my pleasure to assist you in any way I can.  Please, tell me more of your problem.’ 

The Regent held out one of his spindly insectoid arms, signalling for the Doctor to walk beside him.  The Doctor obliged, and the pair began walking through a maze of brightly lit, quite sterile looking corridors.  As the Regent explained the predicament the Doctor began to make sense of his surroundings. 

As you know, we are a species of telepaths, and as such our physical forms are extremely fragile.  Our general health suffers greatly from the increased demands on our bodies in support of our highly complex brains.  Nearly seventy per cent of our population is currently in-firmed, critically, or close to it. 

‘Indeed.’  From what the Doctor was seeing, he didn’t doubt it.  ‘But I must let you know, Regent, that I will not be able to help you if what you are asking is some sort of fundamental change to your species.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t.  Some things, I fear, are meant to be.  Genetics, most often, is unavoidable.’ 

Then my hopes are encouraged, Doctor, as we appear to agree philosophically.   My species has long ago accepted the nature of its existence.  Our problem lies with but one of our species.  A child. 

The Doctor let loose a long, begrudging sigh, ‘Isn’t it always?’ 

Excuse me, came the leader’s confused voice in the Doctor’s head. 

‘Oh it’s not important.  Tell more about this child.’ 

The Doctor took notice of every detail he could while being led through the complex, including readings from equipment they passed by, data on terminals left unattended, and whatever facts he could deduce just from simple observation alone.  It looked, to him at least, that these people were indeed quite an unhealthy race.  In fact, it seemed as though they were a relatively young race, obviously on account of longevity not being one of their species’ strong suits.  It also seemed as though a very high number of children were among the in-firmed. 

Many of our species’ problems stem from fundamental defects in the DNA governing our physical forms.  Conversely, our mental abilities have evolved to such a state where we can influence the physical world according to our thoughts, at least, only rudimentary. 

The Doctor stopped short. 

Is there a problem. 

‘In my experience,’ said the Doctor, in his best attempt at a diplomatic tone, ‘I have always found that those with the ability to influence the physical world with their thoughts, whether evolved or learned, tend to muck things up.’ 

Muck, asked the leader. 

‘Complicate,’ said the Doctor, wondering if his sarcasm translated well enough.  The pair resumed walking, but in a sort of awkward silence, even for a half-telepathic conversation.  ‘I meant no offense,’ the Doctor added.

None taken.

'Please, continue then.'

Of course.  A by-product of such ability leads to the occasional ambient psychic event. Normally this is no problem, as many of these events are scarcely noticeable, even by our most delicate instruments. 

‘But,’ the Doctor interjected, drawing out the word more sarcastically than he had hoped. 

But in this case—the only such case in our recorded history—the psychic event has manifested as the complete control of our entire continent’s population at irregular intervals. 

The Doctor abruptly halted once again. ‘You don’t say!’ The Regent didn’t respond.  ‘I mean to say,’ the Doctor continued, ‘I’ve never heard of such power before…well, naturally occurring anyway.  How long do these episodes last?  I need frequencies, durations, degree of control.  I need to examine the patient!’ 

The Regent stared at the Doctor, blinking all six pairs of compound eyes in slow unison. The child is in that room, he said, pointing over the Doctor’s left shoulder.

‘Yes, of course.’  The Doctor quickly spun about on his heels and slid into the patient’s room. 

The room looked like any other proper hospital room the Doctor had ever seen; highly reflective white paint, oddly articulated bed with passing reminiscence to some archaic torture device, countless beeping and humming devices each with a display of coloured blips and waves and graphs.  Most of the equipment was so highly advanced even the Doctor only had a fractional grasp of their full purpose.  The Doctor’s sense of impending knowledge overflowed as he flurried around the room closely inspecting all the equipment, but his rising crescendo of excitement fell flat as he noticed the small, frail form huddled in the centre of the bed. 

It was one of the Doctor’s litmus tests in judging the character of others; you could tell an awful lot about a person in how they reacted to a sick child, no matter the species.  The Doctor’s own hearts shuddered at the sight each and every time

He slowly glided closer to the child.  ‘Male or female?’ 

Male.  Is it relevant? 

‘Only in the form the delusions take,’ replied the Doctor.  From what little information he had, it was clear that the natural ability of this species was, for whatever reason, amplifying the delusions, imagination, or dreams of the inflicted. The little show when he had arrived seemed eerily similar to a boy playing with his toy soldiers; an unfortunate similarity between males of nearly every species.