The lanky brown-haired man with the not-light-not-dark eyes could feel it. A tingling just beneath the skin like pins and needles. Pleasurable and painful. And he could hear it. A revolving, gyrating sound. Whining, grousing, groaning like a woman giving birth. Since he had remembered the blue box visions of it haunted his sleep and crowded out his waking thoughts making him wonder if – on top of being the kind of man who frightened little girls – he might not be some kind of a lunatic. As he stumbled through the trees, following what he could only call a ‘longing’, the man whose name was and wasn’t John Smith found his field of vision occluded by faces for which he had no names, names for which there were no faces, and outlandish places that couldn’t possibly exist. One iconic image connected them all – the blue box with its door wide open, calling him home. Tears streamed down his cheeks. His breath came in gasps. His heart pounded hard enough for two men – or for two hearts. He didn’t think John Smith was supposed to have two hearts, but then again the painful memory – Doctor John Smith – might. If he could find the blue box, he’d be able to sort it. He needed a fix and, like an addict, somehow he knew – he just knew that whatever drug he needed would be found in that blue box.
If it was not the blue box itself.
He stopped, suddenly uncertain. If this was some sort of addiction then it was best to deny it, to turn back to the Boone’s humble home and remain in their loving care until he could kick the habit. The images in his mind’s eye – the horrible, horrific things he had witnessed or dreamed – were beyond the stuff of nightmares. In them he courted both gods and monsters, always running, always chasing, always caught but never killed; charming, challenging, and cheating death over and over again. And changing. His own face seemed to change near a dozen times, growing from old to young as his soul aged in reverse, feeling the weight of nearly one thousand years….
The ragged man dropped to his knees and buried his face in his hands.
He was mad.
John Smith was lost and he needed somebody to find him.
Jemima Boone ached for the stranger, just like she’d ached for that little lost fawn her brother had taken in when it went and got itself lost. She watched him hesitate, shudder, and then drop to his knees. Men didn’t sob, but she could hear him moaning. He was in pain and she really wanted to do something about it.
She just didn’t know what.
One time her pa had been hurting bad. A friend of his had done something powerful wrong and Pa had been forced to stop him from doing something worse. In the middle of the night she’d heard her ma talking, long and low. Curious, she’d crept out of the bed she shared with her brother and gone to the opening in the floor to look down. What she saw then had stuck with her like pitch on a stick. Her pa had been crying. Her pa – Daniel Boone! She watched as her ma stroked his hair and held him. Her pa was a strong man, and he had gripped her ma hard enough Jemima thought the slender woman might break. But she hadn’t, and a few minutes later she had watched as her ma took her pa’s hand and walked him across the cabin to their bed.
She’d laid awake a long time that night wondering about men and marriage and life and love. Jemima’s gaze went to John Smith. He was still there, but now he was staring off into the distance. She didn’t love him like her ma loved her pa. She couldn’t. She’d just met him. But she knew, somehow, that there was something extra special about him, just like her pa. She knew John was smart and strong as anything, but knew as well that sometimes that wasn’t the best thing. The strongest trees snapped in the wind if they couldn’t learn to bend.
Catching her skirts in her hands, Jemima threaded her way through the thicket of short thorny bushes that separated her from the place where John Smith knelt. As she did, she saw a shadow fall across his stick thin form. There was nothing suspicious about the shadow – nothing that should have raised her hackles. It could have been cast by a branch swaying high above, a bird flying low, or maybe even a cloud passing overhead. But she didn’t think so. The light was coming from the west, passing through the trees as the sun set behind the rolling hills of Kentucky. Whatever cast the shadow was low to the ground and moving from the east toward the wounded man. She might hope for a friend – both her pa and Mingo were out here somewhere – but life on the frontier had taught her to expect an enemy. Glancing around for some kind of a weapon, Jemima spied a moss-covered branch thick as her wrist. Picking it up, she hefted it a few times before settling on the best balance.
And then she waited.
Time was, the man who was and wasn’t John Smith somehow knew, that he could not have been taken unawares. There had been a time when he had always been on top of the game – one, if not ten steps ahead of his enemy. When he had been unstoppable, undefeatable, invincible…
Unfortunately, that time was not now.
John shifted to the left a second too late. The wooden butt of the musket missed his head, but came down hard on his shoulder sending pain shooting through his already hard-pressed frame. He rolled to his feet and stood there, breathing hard, peering into the darkness, trying to discern his attacker. The light was nearly gone. Only its echo remained and it was fading fast. Still, a blur of bright red within the burnished colors of autumn alerted him to the fact that his attacker was on the move, once again wielding his gun as a club. As the soldier made no attempt to shoot him, he surmised fairly quickly that his capture and not his death was the man’s intent. He knew this could work to his advantage.
At least it would have if he had been able to think straight.
John ducked under the man’s weapon and twirled, catching the stock of the musket in his hands. Employing every ounce of strength remaining to him, he swung the weapon – and the soldier – about, wincing at the sound the man’s head made as it came in contact with a nearby tree. As the soldier’s body slid silently to the forest floor, John stared at the weapon in his hands. He knew possession of a rifle meant security on the frontier. The soldier would have a kit on him with powder, shot, and flint. With the musket as his protector, he could advance through the trees with confidence until he reached the elusive blue box of his dreams.
Disgusted, he flung the gun into the underbrush. “No,” he said firmly, as if to convince himself, “no weapons. I don’t like weapons.”
“Lucky for me,” a droll voice commented. As John looked up a British soldier stepped out of the shadows cast by the trees and into the light of the rising moon. It struck his tidy, lean figure, illuminating the brass buttons on his coat and the single silver epaulet on his shoulder that marked him as an officer. It took a moment, but finally John placed the voice. “Major Blundell,” he said, naming the newcomer.
The officer nodded. “So you were in the Boone cabin when we came. I assumed so.”
“Yes. Well, actually, technically, I was in the bedroom. Actually, technically, under the bed,” he replied. “I was…checking, for dust bunnies. Vicious things, dust bunnies….”
“The mouse was a clever feint. No wonder you defeated Stonn twice before. His rigid military mind is so bound by rules and an imposed order; he can’t even begin to imagine the chaos that is you.”
John scowled. “You know who I am.”
Blundell nodded again. “Yes.”
“No. Not yet.” The major cast a glance over his shoulder, as if he expected someone. By the look on his face it was not for tea. “You’re safer as you are,” he finished enigmatically.
“Why would you want to keep me safe?” he queried. “You told Israel…. By the way, is the boy safe, because if you have done anything to harm him –”
“You’ll do what?” The soldier’s gaze fell on the discarded musket. “Shoot me?” Blundell held up a hand for silence. “He’s safe. Back home with his ma.”
“Well. That’s good. Then I won’t have to do the…thing. The thing I was going to do if he wasn’t... safe. Whatever that was….” John’s voice rose as his outrage grew. “Now tell me, Major Blundell, what Machiavellian plot are you hatching? What could possibly make you to want to keep me safe? I am your enemy, or so you said. And now you have me!” He threw his arms wide. “Here I am! Captured! Taken! At your mercy! What are you going to do with –” He froze in position. Blundell was scowling. A second later, the officer looked over his shoulder again. Lowering his arms, John finished sheepishly, “And apparently incredibly stupid. You’re not alone, are you?’
“Neither of us will be in a minute,” Blundell muttered. Then he moved closer. “Listen to me, the British soldiers who are coming after you are neither British, nor soldiers. You can’t let them take you. If they do, the programming that was begun by the Sontarans will be completed and you, my friend, will become a weapon of Special Forces, primed to destroy hundreds of millions.” The man’s eyes sought and found his. In their grey depths, John read real fear. “You don’t want that, do you? You’re known as a man of peace.”
John’s frown deepened. Recalling the death, destruction, and rampant devastation that filled his waking terrors, that was hard to believe. “Am I?” he asked.
“Yes. You are. Just remember, you can’t trust the redcoats. There are natives close by. Go to them. They’ll get you where you need to go.” Blundell shifted his coat back and reached inside, a second later producing a flintlock pistol. “Here, take this. You will need it to –”
Blundell hesitated. He started to turn, but before he could a tree branch the size of a baby Anaconda struck the side of his head and sent him straight to the ground. John blinked. By the light of the moon he could just make out a small, slender warrior wearing petticoats. “Jemima Boone? Is that you?” he asked, puzzled. “Something seems to be missing…. Apples. That’s it, apples. You were picking apples last time I saw – what are you doing here? You shouldn’t be here.”
“Well, I am. What are you going to do about it?” she answered defiantly.
He glanced at Blundell where he lay sprawled on the ground, and then looked at her. A slow smile spread across his face. “Cheer?”
Jemima beamed. “I saw him draw the pistol,” she replied. “I couldn’t just let him shoot you, now could I?”
He didn’t correct her. Though Blundell had not been about to attack, he doubted the redcoat – or whoever he was – had had his best interests in mind. “Thank you,” he said simply.
“There’s more of them coming, and soon. I could see them through the trees. We’ve got maybe three or four minutes.” She bent and retrieved the fallen man’s weapon and anchored it behind the waistband of her apron. “Now, come on. We gotta run!”
“Leave the pistol behind,” he said, taking hold of her arm.
“What?” The girl’s brown head shook. “You must be a city feller. You gotta have a gun. There’s wolves and bears and panthers and…” Jemima glanced over her shoulder and back. “Men. Dangerous men. Why would you want to leave it here?”
She didn’t understand. How could she when he didn’t understand himself? “Jemima, I know the frontier can be deadly, and that every day of your life here is lived on the edge. But there’s one thing about a weapon it seems no one has told you.”
“I bet I know more than you ever will about rifles. What’s it that I don’t know?” she snapped, obviously thinking him an idiot.
“It makes a man lazy. Instead of asking questions, he shoots. Instead of thinking about the answer, he shoots. Instead of trying reason with and understanding his enemy, he shoots.”
“My pa does all that first,” she countered. “He don’t…doesn’t shoot unless he has to.”
“Then your father is to be admired. He’s a good man.” John paused as a sudden sadness all but overwhelmed him. “A better man than I.”
“You mean you killed somebody?” Jemima asked all doe-eyed innocence.
“I’m not sure,” he admitted wearily. “But yes, I think I have caused more than one man’s death, and I know how easy it is to forget to ask questions first. Now, leave it, or I won’t go. I’ll stay here and let the soldiers take me.”
“Why would you do that?”
John reached out and took her hand. “There are some things more important than living.”
He was a funny one.
Jemima could hear the redcoats coming. The soldiers had been checking out a series of caves when she spotted them. It couldn’t be more than a minute now before they would break through the trees. And here John Smith stood, willing to let himself be taken rather than kill the men who meant to kill him. She didn’t understand. The world she lived in was a violent one where settlers and Indians fought a daily battle for ownership of the land, where men like Simon Girty and his sons killed for nothing more than a pile of furs, and where others – desperate men and women – were willing to lie, cheat, and steal for a crust of bread. But her ma had told her of another world. The one back east where men and women walked in safety on the city streets, where they didn’t think about survival every minute of the day, where thoughts of music and dancing and books filled a young girl’s head instead of visions of blood and bullets and lifeless bodies. Maybe John was right. Maybe a rifle did make it too easy to kill, and killing had made the frontier what it was – hard. His hand still held hers. She glanced at it, lily white as the moon shining above, not tanned like leather and baked hard from the sun or covered with calluses like her pa’s was. Jemima felt her cheeks flush. She was glad the stranger couldn’t see it. She was embarrassed by her feelings for him, and felt guilty that she preferred a man like him to her pa. There was no man better than her pa. But John….
Well, John Smith was from another world.
“All right,” she said as she let go of his hand and removed the pistol from behind the waistband of her apron. She opened the flash pan and shook out the powder before tossing the weapon into the trees. “Now will you go?”
His smile was all the reward she needed. “You are absolutely brilliant; do you know that, Jemima Boone?”
“I’m not so sure about that,” she answered, the color on her cheeks deepening. “But I am sure about one thing – do you hear them coming? We gotta run!”
For several seconds John Smith didn’t move. Then, as if stirring from a waking dream, he pivoted on his heel with the grace of a dancer. Flashing a wild grin, he caught her hand again.
Then he shouted, “Geronimo!” and led the charge into the trees.
The grin was for Jemima’s sake. They weren’t going to make it. He had hesitated too long. The man who was and wasn’t John Smith really didn’t care about himself. He was so tired, so incredibly tired that it was all he could do to put one foot in front of the other. But he did care about Jemima. Precious, dear, lovely, wonderful, magnificent Jemima! He couldn’t let her come to harm. As he ran through the trees, pulling her after him, taking the brunt of the attack of branches, thorns, and bristles while shielding her with his reed thin frame, he seemed to recall other times when he had done the same thing. There were so many faces – round and square, pixyish and proud, angry and aggravated. Some were young – so very, very young – while others were lined, not with age, but with the wisdom that comes with the passage of time.
What had General Stone – or Stonn as Blundell named him – called him? Time Lord? Was that what he was? Was that why he remembered so many, many things? What in the world was a lord of –?
John heard a sharp crack! and a hot stab of pain in his left shoulder nearly dropped him. He staggered, breathing hard. Jemima came alongside him. Her beautiful face was filthy and streaked with sweat and tears. She spoke quickly while wrapping her arm around his waist, pleading for him to ignore it and keep going – to run, to fly!
He looked down and then he knew. The field of red that was Jemima’s father’s shirt was darkening to maroon with his blood. So much for his earlier theory. He had been shot.
“It never rains but it pours,” he remarked inanely, and then did as he was told.
Jemima seemed to know where she was going and so he let her lead. She was amazing; completely unafraid and focused on the task at hand. He had the feeling she had done this sort of thing before, and that made him immeasurably sad. She deserved better.
They had all deserved better.
“Hang on, John, we’re almost there,” his stalwart companion said close to his ear as she directed him sharply to the left and then shoved him up a rocky slope. After a moment they halted in a musty place so dark he could only sense and not see her. “Can you climb?” Jemima asked, breathless.
He turned his face up and felt a rush of chill air. “How far?”
“Not far. A few feet.” She winced. “Maybe more than a few.”
That made him laugh. “You and George Washington…”
“…cannot tell a lie.” Suddenly weary, he reached out for support and was surprised when his hand encountered a crude ladder lashed together from thick branches and old rope. “What is this place?” he asked as he ran his fingers along one of the rungs.
“Israel and I found it. I don’t think no one else knows about it. We’re in a cave. This here is a kind of chute. It’s near the back. It leads up to another chamber big enough for five or six men to lie down in.” Jemima waited a moment, and then she added, “You’ll be safe there.”
“Yes, I suppose so….” John stopped with his fingers gripping a twisted knot, and swung back to face her. “Whoa. Whoa! I’ll be safe? What about you?”
“I gotta go back. You need help. Once we’re up, I’ll make sure the bleeding stops and then –”
Anger made his tone harsher than he intended. “Are you mad? Do you honestly think I would let you, a mere child, face such a hostile environment alone just to bring me aid?”
“Do you honestly think you, a skinny bandy-legged city feller, could stop me?” the girl replied in kind.
He closed his eyes and counted, unsuccessfully, backwards from ten. He was angry, yes. But not at Jemima. What fueled his anger was frustration with his own helplessness. And, he had to admit, fear of his own mortality. He didn’t want to scare her more than she already was, but he was going to have to tell her. Something was wrong. The dual drumbeat in his chest had grown erratic, especially on the side the bullet had penetrated. It wasn’t worth Jemima risking her life if what she was risking it for what turned out to be a corpse. Reaching out, he found her shoulder and squeezed it. “Forgive me. I shouldn’t have called you a child. It is just, well,” he smiled though he knew she couldn’t see it, “you are so very, very young.”
“You’re not that old yourself.”
“Oh yes, yes, I am. Jemima, I need to tell you something, and I need you to be brave. All right?”
He felt her tense beneath his touch. “Sure.”
“I am afraid I may be dying.”
“No, you ain’t…aren’t, silly,” she countered quickly. “I’ve seen men shot there before. Unless you bleed to death or mortification sets in, that wound won’t kill you.”
“I am not like other men,” he said, knowing that he meant it, and knowing he had to make her believe that he meant it. John took hold of her hand and placed it on the right side of his chest. After a moment, he moved it to the left. He heard her gasp and then she pulled away. “So I was right,” he mused quietly, “you – humans – don’t have two hearts.”
Her voice trembled. “No…no one does.”
“I do.” His laugh sounded weak even to him. “Am I an ‘oddity in parentheses’ as someone once said, or something…else? Doesn’t really matter, I suppose. Won’t be here long. First heart’s fading fast and the second, well…no one likes to dance alone.” He turned toward the chute and looked up. “Is it dark in here, Jemima? Well, of course, it’s dark, it’s a cave, but I mean really dark? Black cat in the shadows on a moonless night dark? Onyx stone on black velvet cloth dark? By the way,” he added, looking back toward where he thought she was standing, “you’d be quite smashing in black velvet. Have to check the wardrobe room and see if there’s something there. Maybe a black sacque-back gown?” John hesitated, uncertain. He couldn’t see or sense her. “I say, are you still there?”
It took a second. “Yes.”
“Do I frighten you, Jemima Boone?”
Quicker this time. “Yes.”
“More than the redcoats?”
Another beat. “Yes. And no.”
“Well, that’s something. I’m not the monster under your bed, I promise. In fact, I think I’m actually the one who frightens the monsters away and saves little girls like you.” Glancing at the ladder again, he saw that a bit of light had crept in from the opening above. “Oh, look! Moonlight. By the light of the silvery moon, I want to spoon…. Well, not actually, more in the mood to croon, if you know what I mean….” John winced as a sudden pain wrapped itself around his chest, tightening like a garrote in the hand of a Thuggee. “You know, Jemima, I don’t think, after all, that I have the energy to climb up your most excellent ladder. I think I’ll just sit…right…here.” Suddenly weak, he slid to the cold cave floor and leaned his head back against the lashed branches. One heart had stilled. The other was beating twice as fast now, trying to compensate – and failing miserably. “Jemima? I say, Jemima? Are you there? Oh, dear….”
John Smith’s memory might be faulty, but on one point it was crystal clear. There was one thing that frightened him –
The thought of dying alone.
Jemima was still there. The moon was riding high and a thin shaft of light penetrated the darkness. It fell on the stranger where he sat at the bottom of the ladder, painting his pallid skin blue and his dark hair bluer still. After calling her name and getting no answer, he had closed his eyes and fallen silent. She couldn’t tell if he was still breathing or not. She was. Rapidly, and with fear. Who was John Smith? What was he? If he hadn’t placed her hand on his chest, she never would have believed it. He had two hearts! Was that even possible? Her mother had taught her that they were all fearfully and wonderfully made by God in Heaven. But did that mean they all had to be made the same? Was there, somewhere on the Earth, a race of men and women with two hearts instead of one? Or, could they be – could he possibly be from some other world? Maybe from inside the earth, or from one of the lights up in the sky? It seemed silly, but she remembered there was another verse in the good book; one she’d always wondered about. John 10:16. ‘And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice,’ Jesus said. Her ma said that had to do with the Gentiles, but one night when she and Mingo had been looking up at the stars; they had talked about the possibility of those ‘other sheep’ living on them. Mingo told her some of the stars were other worlds, like the Earth, but no one knew if people could survive there.
Maybe some did. Like John Smith.
Jemima gnawed her lip. Her pa had taught her to look close at anything that frightened her and to think about how she and it were alike, instead of concentrating on how they were different. John walked and talked. He ate food and drank water like she did. He had two eyes and ears, a nose and mouth, and two arms and legs. And two hearts…. She drew a deep breath. “Forget that,” she ordered. He could be hurt. He had red blood. He got weary and tired, and worried about things just like she did. And he was gentle and kind. He hated guns. He laughed a lot, even though his eyes stayed sad most times. He had put himself in danger for Israel, and wasn’t willing now to put her in danger even if it meant saving his own life.
If all of that didn’t make him human, she sure didn’t know what would.
Jemima took a step forward and then stopped, suddenly unsure. “Like when I touch him, he’s gonna feel different,” she chided herself. She had held his hand. It was warm like hers, if a bit less than you might expect. Drawing a deep breath, she walked straight over to him and knelt by his side. After only a second’s pause, she took his hand again. It was colder than before.
“John? John, can you hear me?” When he failed to respond, she grew frightened. Taking hold of his good shoulder, she shook him gently. “John!”
He moaned, and then slowly opened his eyes. “She’s coming,” he murmured. “Can’t you…hear her? Good old thing. Never let…me…down yet.”
“Who’s coming?” Jemima asked.
“Knows I’m…dying. Set her…out of phase. Left a…post-it…on her central memory…core. Emergency override….”
He was talking gibberish, just like people did before they…died. Jemima pressed her hand against both sides of his shirt. Only one heart was beating. Feebly. She shuddered as she pulled her hand away. It was covered in his blood.
“John, what can I do? Tell me what to do to help you!”
He remained still for a moment, and then John’s eyes popped open and he sat straight up. Catching hold of her wrist, he gripped it tightly even as a sudden wind swept through the cave, stirring his thick brown hair and tossing her own long brown tresses into her face. “She’s almost here,” he said. “Jemima, you’ll need to…be brave again. Very, very…brave this time. You’re going to…have to…get me inside.”
“Inside what?” she demanded as the wind intensified to a fever pitch. A second later a blue-white light, accompanied by an unnatural grinding sound filled the cave setting her teeth on edge. Jemima gasped as the sound took shape, becoming a large blue box the size of Cincinnatus’ shed. Terror nearly overwhelmed her.
“Your time…has words. Sorcery. Witchcraft. Devilry.” John drew a shuddering breath. “Where I come…from…it’s called science. Have you…heard of science? Tell me you have….”
“Mingo’s talked about science,” she replied, her eyes never leaving the box. “He studied it at Oxford.”
“Good man. Excellent…man. Hope to…meet him…one day.” John feebly touched her wrist. “This is…science. I promise…I’m not a…devil.”
“I’ve met plenty of men who are,” she answered soberly. “You’re not one of them.”
“Said…I always pick…my friends well.” He shifted his grip on her, caught her wrist and turned her hand over. When he saw it was blood-covered, he nodded. “Genetic material and a good imprint. The old girl should recognize…it. You just need to…shake hands with her. Programmed her to…open the door…in case I couldn’t. In case…no key.” John winced with pain. “Just hope…she doesn’t…think you shot me.” His laugh was fey. “Jemima Boone. Little sure shot. Fastest gun in Kentuck….”
His hand fell away from her and John slumped against her, unconscious. For a full thirty seconds Jemima remained where she was. Her eyes darted to the big blue box once, twice, three times. Still, she didn’t move. She was so scared. What was she going to do? She wasn’t a hero, not like her pa. She was just a girl who…. The memory struck her like a slap in the face. She remembered another time, not that long ago, when she had been this scared. Her pa had taken her along on a hunting trip to show her some land he meant to give her for a dowry. He had gone to mark one of the trees and hurt himself by accident, striking his leg with the ax instead of the wood. That had been bad enough, but then some men who had been trailing them came along to steal the furs he had gathered. They tied her pa up and left him for dead. It had been up to her to save him, and though she had thought there was no way she could do it, she had. Her pa had been so proud of her.
She’d make him proud again.
After gently lowering John’s still form to the stone floor, Jemima rose to her feet and cautiously crossed the distance to the big blue box that had come out of nowhere. It nearly filled the cave. The thing that looked like a lantern on the top of it touched the ceiling, and there was just enough room on either side for a skinny man to pass by. Halting in front of it she noted the door with its key hole and handle, and the little square window with the funny sign beneath it that said ‘Police telephone. Free for use of public.’ For a minute she tried to puzzle that out, but decided she’d better leave it for later. John was dying. What she had to do now was get him inside.
Not sure of what to do, Jemima called out, “Is anyone in there? Can you hear me?” John kept saying ‘she’, so maybe there was a woman inside who he expected to open the door. “Hello?”
Rising up on tiptoe she tried to peer in the window, but it was either dirty or just for pretend. With a frown, she turned to the door. There was that keyhole, but she didn’t have a key. Or did she? Jemima raised her hand, bringing it before her face. On it was a handprint written in the stranger’s blood. John had been looking at her hand when he said something about ‘her’ recognizing it, and added that what she, Jemima, needed to do was to ‘shake hands’ with the box. Jemima knew the Indians thought blood had special power, especially the women of Mingo’s tribe. If whoever was in this…box…belonged to John, maybe – like a dog – they could recognize his scent. It was crazy, Jemima told herself, but then again what about this day wasn’t? Glancing back at him, she realized any second she delayed was a second he didn’t have. Feeling mighty foolish, she whispered a prayer and then pressed her blood-soaked hand against the wooden door, covering the key hole. For a moment it seemed her prayer was in vain. Then there was a click.
And the door swung inward.