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he bedroom of a child can be unsettling. During the day the space is filled with laughter and noise, but when the sun sets it changes significantly. The bizarre toys and bright colours become dull, warped and misshapen under the faded light. What were once the smiling faces of dolls become sinister and disturbing grimaces in the dark.

In a small bed in the corner of the room, a child quietly dozed. Curled up in a ball with her head buried deeply in the pillow, she slept on, completely unaware she was not alone. In the opposite corner, being careful not to make any noise, the Doctor stood. Satisfied she was really asleep, he folded his arms quietly, leaned back against a pink wardrobe and settled in for a long wait.

And he waited.

Finally, something changed. One moment, the floor of the bedroom was empty save for a small collection of scattered toys, the next, a tall figure stood motionless in the middle of the room. Its appearance had been instantaneous but completely silent, marked only by a slight gust of air shifted by his arrival.

In the darkness it was difficult to make out much in the way of detail. Tall, but definitely humanoid in shape, any features were concealed within layers of dark material that covered its whole body. It stood perfectly still, save for a slow and methodical turning of its head as it gazed around the room, searching.

Finally, its eyes settled on the sleeping bundle in the corner of the room. 

‘Hello,’ the Doctor said in a calm but firm tone from the opposite corner.

Instantly, the tall figure stopped and spun to face him. Two glowing yellow eyes fixed the time-traveller in an unblinking stare.

‘You should not be here,’ it responded in a loud voice.

‘Shh!,’ the Doctor whispered, indicating the child, ‘she’s trying to sleep.’

‘We are muffled, she will not wake.’ The voice was clipped and methodical, each word spoken with precision, as if being chosen carefully.

The Doctor snapped open, his sonic screwdriver. For a moment his face was illuminated by its green light as he swept the device in the direction of the new arrival.

‘So we are,’ he commented at a more reasonable volume. ‘You’re a machine?’ he added after a moment.

‘I am a fabrication. That is correct.’

‘That explains a lot.’ The Doctor paused. ‘Do you know who I am?’

‘Your psychometric information indicates a high percentage chance that you are the entity Doctor.’

The Time Lord stepped forward, adjusting his tie. ‘Well I suppose that’ll save on introductions,’ he replied, sounding marginally disappointed.

‘You should not be here,’ the machine reiterated.

‘Yes I should,’ the Doctor replied. ‘That’s the one thing you can be certain about me, I’m always where I’m supposed to be.’ He paused. ‘Not always where I want to be,’ he conceded, ‘but you on the other hand are a synthetic lifeform who has just appeared in the bedroom of a small child. Of the two of us, who’s more out of place?’

‘I am here to collect.’

‘Yes, I know that. I know what you are, I know who you are and I'm not going to stop you. I just want to know, why?’

‘Why?’ the creature repeated.

‘Yes, why? Throughout the whole universe, there are two legends that repeat themselves endlessly,’ the Doctor explained. ‘Yours is one of them. The Collector, the Harvester, Tooth-Stealer, Denturex. Different languages, different species, but always the same legend.’

‘What is the other legend?’ the machine asked.

The Doctor grinned. ‘Me. Now, there are countless cultures and species across the galaxy,’ he continued, ‘all sharing one thing in common. A legend that someone, something, and for some reason, keeps stealing their teeth.’

‘We are not thieves,’ the machine replied, sounding somewhat defensive. ‘Recompense is always paid.’

‘That’s true,’ the Doctor conceded. ‘You do always leave a payment.’ He paused. ‘We?’

‘I am not the only unit allocated with this task,’ the figure explained.

‘That makes sense,’ the Doctor conceded. ‘It’s a big universe, and that’s a lot of teeth.’

The machine turned for a moment to face the sleeping girl, before rotating again to face the Doctor. ‘What is the reason for your presence?’ it asked.

‘The girl,’ the Doctor motioned towards the sleeping child in the corner of the room. ‘She’s special to me. We travelled together for a while. Well, we will travel together for a while, she’s a bit small right now though. It’s complicated.’

‘I will not harm her,’ the robot insisted.

‘Yes, I know that.’

‘What is the reason for your presence, if not to protect?’

The Doctor’s grin widened. ‘Curiousity! I'll be honest, I've always wanted to meet you. I thought I’d caught up to you a few years ago actually,’ he explained. ‘There were rumours of you at a London primary school, but it turned out it was just Alice’s mum.’

‘I am not familiar with Alice.’

‘No, I wasn’t either,’ the Doctor responded, ‘I didn’t half give her mum a shock.’

The two stood in silence for a moment - the only sound a ticking from a Mickey Mouse clock on the chest of drawers. Finally, the Doctor spoke.

‘Why the teeth? I’ve always wondered.’

‘Acquisition of diverse genetic information is my purpose. Sentient life must be catalogued.’

The Doctor considered the response for a moment. It sounded familiar, a phrase from long past.

Finally, he snapped his fingers. ‘You’re a Custodian!’ he exclaimed. ‘I should have known, cataloguers of the universe, the great bean-counters of reality.’

For a moment, the device stood silent, as if considering its response. ‘It is likely the Custodian race you speak of was responsible for our construction.’

‘Likely? You mean you don't know?’

‘Much information was lost during your great Time War.’

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. ‘Can't you just ask them?’

‘Much information was lost during your great Time War.’ The machine repeated.

The Doctor paused. ‘You mean they're all dead.’ It wasn't a question.

The machine bowed its head in acknowledgment.

‘So,’ the Doctor continued, ‘you don't know who you are, but you know you're supposed to collect teeth?’

‘Sentient life must be catalogued.’

‘Yes, you said that, but why teeth?’

‘This is unknown. Our protocols were reconstructed to the best of our abilities. Our objective for acquisition was calculated to the highest degree of probability as “teeth”’

‘Hang on, probability? You mean you're not sure?’

‘Certainty was not possible with the information available.’

The Doctor laughed. ‘You mean you might not be supposed to be collecting teeth?’

‘Alternative possibilities were calculated.’

‘Like what?’ He asked.

‘One potential analysis indicated heads.’

The Doctor stopped laughing. ‘No. Teeth, teeth are good. Let’s definitely go with teeth.’

The robot turned towards the bed. ‘My time is limited. I must complete my task.’

‘Don’t let me stop you,’ the Doctor chuckled. ‘Time and teeth wait for no man.’

The machine stepped towards the sleeping child for a moment, before pausing.

‘Looking for this?’ the Doctor asked, tossing a tiny object towards the figure. Without turning to look, the machine snapped out a metallic hand and caught the item cleanly. “Don’t worry,” the Doctor added, ‘I’ve left payment.’

The machine turned and for a moment its lifeless eyes fixed on the Doctor. For that one brief second, the Time Lord couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for it. Then it was gone, vanishing as soundlessly and quickly as it had arrived.

For a moment, the Doctor stood at the head of the bed, his ancient eyes watching over the slumbering child. Finally, he leaned carefully over the bed and gently patted her gently on the hand.

‘Sweet dreams, Pond.’

He paused, and raised a finger in warning.

‘And don't spend it all at once.’

written by
NICK WHEELER
copyright 2015
 
artwork by
COLIN JOHN
copyright 2015
 

artwork by ANDY LAMBERT
used with permission
 
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