Persons Displaced from 2019

In 2019, I was invited by Ginger ‘Rathzem” Hoesly to contribute to the charity publication “A Pile of Good Things”, an anthology of stories about the Eleventh Doctor from Doctor Who. The zine is no longer available, and the publisher has reverted the rights to me. Since I could hardly sell, I think it’s a great time to publish it on my blog. I’m pretty proud of it.

The story contains the Eleventh Doctor and Amy, old enemies, multiple sci-fi references, and a Star Navy spaceship which might seem somewhat familiar to people who’ve known me long enough. Without further ado…

Cover art for” A Pile of Good Things,” an 11th Doctor charity zine edited by Ginger ‘Rathzem” Hoesly

– – – – – Displaced Persons, by Michael O’Brien – – – – –

“Right, Doctor,” Amy said with a touch of exasperation. “So, what is this thing?”

The Doctor waved the smoking piece of technology at her. It had four stubby arms protruding equidistantly from a spherical core. “This, Amy, was one of our vortex transducers. The TARDIS uses them to travel safely through the Time Vortex to wherever we go.” He waved his hand grandiosely around the console room. “Unless a minimum number of them are functioning correctly, the TARDIS might never materialize ever again.”

She looked at him narrowly. “And how close are we to this minimum number?”

“With this failure, we’re down to the backup units. Well, to be honest: the emergency units. Well, to be honest: the ‘catastrophic use only’ units. Look, I’ve been busy.”


“Don’t worry; with a small supply of tetratimoline vizorimide, I can build some replacements. The problem is, I don’t have any on board, and, well, tetraviz is volatile stuff. I’d be an utter fool to try to synthesize it without the right equipment.”

“Ah. I was wondering about the explosions this morning.”

He wouldn’t look her in the eye. “Correct. So! Luckily, I know someone who does have the correct equipment, and he owes me a favor.” The Doctor turned to the TARDIS navigational controls, looked dubiously at the burnt-out part he held, then looked over his shoulder at Amy. “You might, ah, want to hang on to something.”

Amy rolled her eyes and grabbed the railing.

The TARDIS reluctantly materialized in a large, well-lit spaceship hangar bay lined with excursion craft and small work pods. The time machine’s door creaked open, and Amy appeared, grasping at the door frame before regaining her feet. The Doctor stepped brightly out behind her and closed the door. “Now that wasn’t so bad, was it? Not anyone could have pulled off a landing like that.”

“You can say that again,” Amy muttered. She looked around. “This… this is pretty impressive, Doctor. We usually end up somewhere worn and dingy.”

He raised his arms wide like a showman. “Amy, we stand aboard the Chasisto, one of the proud starships of the Planetary Alliance Star Navy. This is a time of relative peace for humanity and its allies; though,” his hands dropped as he peered at the fittings on the small ships, “they still have guns. They always have guns.” The Doctor brightened as he heard a hatch slide open. “Anyway! I should shortly have the privilege of introducing you to one of the command staff here, Star Navy Commander Ben Criette.”

A small group of people in smart purple uniform jackets and pants appeared from around one of the parked craft. Their leader, a tall, sandy-haired man, corrected him: “It’s Captain Criette now, Doctor.” Criette smiled and stuck out his hand.

The Doctor stepped forward and shook it vigorously. “Congratulations, congratulations! No one more deserving. Captain, this is my friend Amy Pond, hello. What happened to Captain Kenner?”

“Welcome aboard, Ms. Pond. The Captain was promoted to Admiral, so he could head one of those hush-hush projects everyone has to pretend not to know about.”

Amy furrowed her brow. “Were you expecting us?”

“Oh, no. But we’ve had reason lately to track temporal distortion. When our sensors register an intense surge of it, along with the appearance of a blue box in the hangar section, and –” Criette grinned “– that tortured screeching noise, we know who’s shown up. So, Doctor; you never stop by for a little vacation. What can I do for you?”

The Doctor pulled the failed vortex transducer from a pocket. Criette motioned to one of his party, a woman with lengthy dark hair and an engaging smile. She unclipped a recorder-scanner from her belt and pointed it at the transducer. “Captain, I’m picking up signs of what will have been tetratimoline vizorimide.”

Criette raised his eyebrows and took the transducer from the Doctor to peer at it. “Thank you, Commander Vincennes. Well! You never ask for anything easy, do you, Doctor? Our fabricators can certainly produce tetraviz, though it will have to have been done carefully so that none of it will have sublimated before it was made. How long, do you think, Lane?”

The blond, bespectacled third member of the group stroked his chin while peering at the ceiling. “Well, Captain… if you want the job completed today, we will have had to have started approximately 48 hours from now. I can have had the work started by then if you wish.”

Criette nodded. “Give the order.”

Amy could stand it no longer. “Doctor, what’s this ‘will have started’ and ‘will have been done’ doubletalk? Are they going to make it for you, or not?”

The Doctor smiled indulgently at Criette, who gave her a sympathetic look. “Tetraviz is a strange temporally-imbalanced substance, Ms. Pond. It reacts to changes in its environment before the changes occur, which makes it useful to faster-than-light navigation – and no doubt to time machines.” Criette waved at the TARDIS. “And that’s the reason why we can’t start making it until after we’ve already finished making it. I can tell you: it gives the fabrication computers headaches.”

Amy stared at him. “I’m with the computers. Doctor, you know this makes no sense.”

He shrugged impishly. “Timey-wimey, Amy. Just consider it a chance to relax for two days surrounded by some of your species’ top technological comforts.”

Criette frowned, and he looked at Vincennes and Lane. Lane suddenly needed to polish his glasses, while Vincennes apparently found a fascinating reading on her recorder-scanner. “Well… if you don’t mind, Doctor… we’ve got something happening here that you might help us with.”

Amy sighed. Of course, they did.

After a quick trip in a transit capsule, which Amy privately thought would have made an excellent carnival ride, the five of them walked down a short hallway and entered another surprisingly roomy chamber. A myriad of tiny shining lenses covered the walls, floor, and ceiling of the room. In the center stood a tall, broad weathered cylinder on six stubby legs; next to that stood an extremely impatient-looking man. He was grey-haired, and the skin of his face was tight over prominent cheekbones. His Star Navy uniform jacket bore an unnecessary number of award markers and displayed silver trim on many seams. As he saw the Doctor and Amy, his impatience turned into anger.

“Criette? Who are these people, and what are they doing in a secure area? We have important negotiations to complete, and you run off the moment you hear about some blue box in the landing bay. You do know you have security personnel for those duties, do you not?” The man glared at them all.

Criette’s amiable authority turned into icy formality. “Doctor; Ms. Pond; this is Vice Admiral Robert Drayth, on special assignment to Project Sarcophagus. Admiral Drayth, these are… ah, you can think of them specialists in alien technologies and first contact procedures.”

The Doctor stepped forward and whipped out the small folder with his psychic paper, and Drayth peered at it. “Planetary Alliance Department Thirteen?” His mood changed instantly to wariness. “Have we worked together before?”

“That’s not something I can discuss,” the Doctor equivocated. “But since you’ve been here on site, it might be best to give us your perspective. You probably have information that couldn’t be provided to us in advance.”

Drayth frowned and crossed his arms. “Very well, Doctor. Fact one: this object was found floating in deep space by a survey crew. They reported their find immediately, per procedure, and of course were happy to turn it over to us when we made rendezvous. Apparently, the crew had developed an unfounded antipathy to the thing.”

“I believe the technical term they used was ‘heebie-jeebies’, Admiral,” Criette chimed in helpfully. Drayth ignored him.

“Fact two: as near as we can tell from our scans, this appears to be a multi-dimensional memory unit. Of course, MDM is risky stuff, and the Star Navy gave up on it long ago; but if another race has gotten it working, then we want that technology badly. There could be enough storage in there for an entire civilization’s worth of data! My people are eager to take possession of this device and find out what we can extract from it.”

 “Break it to see how it works, eh?” the Doctor said brightly.

Criette broke in. “Fact three: we’ve been receiving transmissions from the device. There’s definitely some kind of message in the transmissions, but as yet we can’t make sense of them even with the Panlingual Translator.”

“Is there a Fact Four?”

“Well: take a look at it for a few minutes, and tell us what you think, Doctor,” Criette said.

The Doctor and Amy examined the device. The cylinder was somewhat taller than anyone in the room, over a meter wide, and dented and scored from unguessable years drifting through space. In places the pale metallic gold skin showed oxidation stains, carbon smears, and blobs of a nasty-looking green material. Near its base, a few clusters of what looked like status lights shifted polychromatically. Some of those lights were dark and cracked. Despite its imposing age, the longer they looked at it, the more insubstantial it seemed: as though it barely existed in the same world as the observers.

Then the cylinder began to resolidify. The fading hadn’t been imaginary, after all. The Doctor cocked his head curiously, then drew his sonic screwdriver from a pocket and began sweeping it across the cylinder. “Whatever this thing is, it’s temporally unstable. That’s why you’ve been doing time scanning.”

“Yes, yes, we figured that out without assistance,” snapped Drayth. “What is that little buzzy thing you’re waving, anyway?”

“Oh, it’s a prototype recorder-scanner: the latest design. Now, this artifact here is obviously old, but in what direction?”

“Direction?” Amy asked, still half-fascinated.

“Is it old from your past? Or old from your future?” The Doctor spun to face Criette. “Transmissions, you say. And you can’t decipher them?”

“That’s right, Doctor. You’re an expert on temporal phenomena, and quite good with languages as I remember. That’s why I was so pleased to see you.”

Drayth hmmphed at that.

Vincennes had moved over to one of a pair of analyzing consoles placed nearby the device, and she beckoned the Doctor over. “I can explain this console’s interface to you…”

“No need,” the Doctor said confidently. He began poking randomly at the touch-sensitive screen with his index finger.

Vincennes leaned in and spun a virtual dial, then slid a finger up a lit column. A mechanical buzzing noise filled the room. Underneath the interference, at the limit of perception, faint echoes sounded almost like words and sentences.

“We have confirmed linguistic patterns in the transmission’s infrasonic frequencies,” Lane said, gazing at his recorder-scanner. “The information characteristic seems to center around 25-30 Hz. Despite our best attempts at enhancement, the Chomsky Matrices of the Panlingual Translator fail with recursive exceptions at –”

“Yes, fine, thank you, Commander Lane,” interrupted Criette. “Well, Doctor?”

The Doctor seemed barely to have heard. He continued to tap at the touch screen as if determined to play a tune with the electronic beeps it made. Then, startled, he looked up. “Vardans,” he said, and smacked a spot on the screen with his palm. The buzzing interference remained, but the words underneath became quite clear.

“– any assistance you may provide. Message repeats. We are Vardan refugees from the Last Great Time War. We escaped our temporal prison via this memory unit just before the Nova Singularities laid waste to our sector. Several thousand of us are held in these circuits. Our patterns are beginning to degrade, and we urgently request safe haven and a return to our physical forms. We are non-combatants and are desperate for any assistance you may provide. Message repeats.” 

The Doctor stared at his sonic screwdriver. “A vast multi-dimensional memory unit filled with bio-data. That explains these readings. They must have been desperate. Vardans, though…”

“Are they a football squad? Daytime soap opera? Pop music group?” Amy had started to feel as if everyone here knew what was going on but her. It made her feel a little better when Criette said, “I’ve never heard of them either.”

“The Vardans are a race of beings who can exist either in humanoid form, or as energy patterns capable of traveling along almost any wavelength – even the wavelengths of thought itself. I’ve encountered them once: they attempted to invade a planet that was protected by advanced temporal technology, and got their planet locked into a time loop for the trouble. The Last Great Time War, though… the collateral effect of the Nova Singularities could have shredded the loop and the planet both.”

Admiral Drayth peered suspiciously at the Doctor. “You seem to know a great deal about this whole business, Doctor.”

“Rather more than I’d like, yes.”

“So, is it safe to help them?” Amy asked.

Criette spoke up. “Normally, I’d be eager to help on humanitarian grounds. That’s one of the primary missions of this vessel. But: we should perhaps be skeptical about their intentions. I suggest again that we take them to a Star Navy lockdown facility, where we can continue our attempts to communicate and take advantage of greater security.”

The Admiral spoke slowly. “Doctor… tell me more of this Time War. I have top Star Navy clearance, and yet I am not familiar with it.”

The Doctor looked at him evenly. “I’m afraid I’m not able to discuss it with you.”

Drayth’s expression turned shrewd. “Not able? Even your Department Thirteen is afraid of the Temporal Investigations agents, eh?” The Doctor pointedly said nothing. “Perhaps we will discuss this later, Doctor. Now! The Vardans are refugees requesting asylum with the Planetary Alliance. We are bound by our laws and ethics to assist them, and they say their multi-dimensional memory circuits are failing; they may have very little time left!” His expression turned somewhat cunning. “Besides, they may be able to provide information about this Time War that could advance Star Navy research and development by generations. The Alliance’s technical advantage over our neighbors could become unshakable. We have no time to lose!”

“Time to lose,” the Doctor repeated quietly. He drew his sonic screwdriver and walked slowly around the massive data bank, sweeping his device across it in broad strokes. He turned to look at Criette. “Well, Captain? What do you say?”

“Admiral Drayth does have a great deal of authority, Doctor. However, I am Captain of this ship: therefore, we are for the moment a hung jury. That is why I am so eager for your opinion.”

The Doctor tapped his screwdriver thoughtfully against his fingers. “What do you think you could do for them if given a chance, Captain?”

“This whole room is a massive tactile imaging chamber capable of creating solid holographic projections. If, as you say, they are beings of pure energy, we may be able to represent them as solid light – at least some of them. The Chasisto cannot hold thousands, but if they have leaders or representatives, we could perhaps begin negotiations.”

“Criette!” Drayth sputtered. “Your friends have been very helpful to this point, but I will not have non-uniformed personnel at negotiations representing the Star Navy and the Planetary Alliance!”

The Captain set his jaw. “Understood, Admiral. I will remove everyone in civilian attire.” He looked at Lane and cocked his head in the direction of the door.

Lane nodded. “Yes, Captain. Doctor, Ms. Pond, please come with me. I can show you to the ship’s VIP guest accomodations.”

Amy looked the data bank up and down. “Doctor, I don’t want to miss out on these Vardan folks.”

The Doctor smirked at Criette. “It’s all right, Amy. The Captain has his duty, and protocol must be observed.”

Shortly thereafter, as Commander Vincennes re-aligned a larger stand-mounted recorder-scanner with the Vardan device, Lane re-entered with the Doctor and Amy. Amy had acquired a mini-skirted version of the Star Navy uniform, though it was missing any rank or division markings. The Doctor had pinned the abstract rocketship emblem of the Star Navy to one breast of his tweed jacket and added an equipment belt over top of the jacket, rather ruining the lines of the garment. He’d hooked a half-dozen bits of equipment to the belt, and he looked very pleased with himself.

“Doctor, do you even know what any of that does?” Amy was asking as they walked back into the chamber.

“Certainly!” He unclipped a random device. “This is… this is… a hyper-wavicle interplanetary transceiver.” He held it happily, like a child with a new toy. “Space walkie-talkies are cool.” The Doctor looked over Amy’s short uniform. “So that’s what the Star Navy is issuing to women now?”

“I’ll have you know it’s unisex,” Amy declared. “Some of the crewmen on this ship have especially nice legs, too.”

“And some of us will stick with pants, thank you,” Vincennes said from where she stood at the recorder-scanner. “Admiral, Captain: I’ve set up the link. We’re ready.”

The Admiral came out from behind the data bank, a snarl forming on his face. “Criette, I believe I told you to…” He saw how the Doctor and Amy were dressed. “Oh, yes. Very cute, Captain. We’ll discuss this further at a convenient date.”

Criette pretended he hadn’t heard Drayth and spoke to the air. “Tactile Imaging Chamber, load application Varda-zero-two.”

A computer voice confirmed. “Varda-zero-two ready.”

“TIC, launch application.”

The lights on the data bank flashed furiously. The air before it shimmered, and Amy saw her first Vardan.

The Vardan was an unimposing androgynous humanoid in a drab green-gray coverall. A small group of five more shimmered into existence behind them. The very first thing all the Vardans did was to look down at their hands, wiggling their fingers and touching their bodies with long-forgotten sensation.

The lead Vardan raised his attention to their hosts, looking suddenly guilty. “I apologize for my rudeness in not greeting you immediately,” they said. “I am Kamark, speaker for the Vardan Remnant.”

The Admiral stepped close. “Admiral Robert Drayth, speaker for the Planetary Alliance.”

“And these?” Karmak indicated the others in the room.

“Members of my staff,” Drayth said dismissively.

Criette looked away from the Vardans and rolled his eyes.

Karmak asked, “This, then, is a vessel of your Planetary Alliance?” His voice continued to buzz, and Criette motioned to Vincennes, cupping his ear. She nodded and began fiddling further with her controls.

“Indeed. This vessel is fast and powerful but equipped to seek knowledge as well. We are pleased at the opportunity to provide assistance to your people.”

Another of the Vardans spoke. “Forgive me, Admiral, but this room seems hardly suitable as a place from which to control a space vessel – even one with such a small crew.”

Drayth laughed. “Oh, there are hundreds of people aboard this ship. Perhaps we can show you the control room later, if we can devise a method to give you material bodies. Though, I understand you do not always require those?”

“We can travel as insubstantial energy. But, outside of our data unit, we need to take physical forms of some sort.”

“I see. We hope to help you with that.”

“I am certain you can, Admiral Robert Drayth.” The buzzing in the leader’s voice became more pronounced.”

“Six of them. Six of us, Queen,” said the second Vardan.

“Excuse me?” said Drayth.

The lights in the room flickered, and sparks flew from the equipment arrayed around the data bank.

“My Queen, we have control of their projectors.”

“Well… done…” said the lead Vardan, the buzzing nearly overwhelming their voice. Their form seemed to melt and sag. The head became a monstrosity of insect eyes and antennae; slender, shiny legs sprouted from the thorax; and the legs merged into a long, segmented body. The other five of the group began to shift in the same manner.

“Wirrn!” shouted the Doctor.

With a speed supplied by instinct, Criette and Lane drew their quaser pistols and fired repeatedly, but the bolts only seemed to add strength to the insectoid creature. 

“These Vardans we inhabit cannot be harmed by your simple energy weapons, humans,” buzzed the leader. “Electromagnetic waves such as those are like a home to them.”

“How many of those poor souls have you infected, foul creature?” yelled the Doctor. 

“The entire data bank is our hive. These simple, gullible beings provided us the very escape from the Time War they had planned for themselves. Only one of us had to infest one of them as they committed themselves to memory. Through that Queen we have survived, consuming the Vardans to feed our virtual spawn. Their digitized souls have sustained us for eons, but we hunger again for true existence.”

“Shut down the program!” Criette yelled at Vincennes.

“The system’s crashed!” she shouted back. “I’m trying to reboot, but there’s interference from these monster-eyed bugs standing there!”

“Prepare yourselves,” intoned the current Queen. “Your solid light technology has freed us. These forms you have provided are real enough for us to use them to infest the six of you. This fast, powerful ship will be ours once we have taken your bodies as our own, and our hive will spread throughout your Alliance!” The digitally-imaged beings jumped at the real-world ones.

“Green goop,” the Doctor said, dodging a giant insect and grimacing at one of the slimy spots on the cylinder. “I knew I should have recognized that strange bubbly texture. But how -”


He broke his gaze away from the device.  Drayth was already pinned underneath one of the Wirrn and was semi-conscious. Criette was grappling with another, but the creature’s additional limbs were providing a challenge. Vincennes had pushed the large console over and had the third of the giant insects pinned beneath it, but it was already squirming out. Lane had, somehow, gotten atop the cylinder and was kicking at a Wirrn that was attempting to fly up to him in gravity heavier than it was used to. Amy had taken hold of a vessel filled with some heavy fluid and was beating with it at the head and upper thorax of yet another Wirrn. The last one, the leader, was coming around for another pass at the Doctor.

He glanced desperately at everything he’d hung from his equipment belt. Hyper-wavicle interplanetary transceiver: no. Thermic ratchet: no. Nothing on the approaching Wirrn needed tightening. Hydrospanner: no. Grappling hook: maybe? No, the Wirrn was getting closer on its own. Um… err… well…

 Wait. Heavy fluid? He hadn’t seen Amy pick up the container, nor had he seen anyone hand it to her. He spared a vital second to identify the fluid. It wasn’t easy: from this distance, the fluid was as hard to properly focus on as the temporally challenged data bank… Oh.

Amy glanced at the vessel. “I’m a little busy, Doctor!”

“Amy – the container you’re holding!”

“Nobody… I just… I don’t know!”

“Who gave that container to you?”

“If you say so!” She dodged a sweeping Wirrn leg and threw the container at the cylinder as hard as she could.

“Throw it! Throw it at the cylinder!”

The databank dissolved into a pattern of brilliant sparkling lights, reformed as a solid metal object, and suffered a total failure of existence.

Amy’s throw was true: the container hit the cylinder half-way through a temporal fluctuation. Then there was no Star Navy-issue container, just a splash of liquid across the top of the databank.

The TIC computer rebooted, and the solid light forms of the Wirrn flickered out. With that, the room was empty except for the four Star Navy officers, the Doctor, and Amy.

As the cylinder fell out of reality, Lane, suddenly unsupported, fell to the ground.

Everyone except the Doctor looked extremely confused. “Doctor,” said Criette tentatively, “in what order did… what just happened… happen?”

Amy grimaced. “I get it… I get it. It was that blasted time chemical stuff. Trampoline supervisor.”

“Yes,” said the Doctor smugly. “As soon as I saw that Amy was holding the container of tetraviz, I remembered that the databank was temporally unstable: partially because of the Time War, and partly because of the corrupt bio-data inside. It’s no surprise the Wirrn wanted to rush their emergence.”

He looked sad for a moment. “Out of the frying pan of the War into the fire of MDM. Whatever existence the Vardans had in there would have been hellish… for them and for the Wirrn as well. Those bugs aren’t designed to live as electromagnetic waves any more than we are.”

“But where did Amy get a container of tetratimoline vizorimide? We will not have managed to replicate it yet!” 

“One of us must have been going to give it to her. Perhaps we would have been able to predict –”

“Oh, grief,” Amy moaned. “I can’t follow this anymore: stop it, okay? Just stop it. Captain Criette, I’d really appreciate directions to your medical bay. I’m certain you have something for headaches that’s made with nice, simple, boring chemistry.”

“As a matter of fact,” Lane said as he got up off the floor, “the chemical process by which we synthesize the pain reliver gavrixen sodium – popularly known as Levia – is truly fascinating. The molecular structure –”

“Commander Lane, with respect,” Vincennes said, “be quiet and help me get 110 kilos of passed-out Admiral to his quarters. Captain Criette, I’ve notified the fabricator staff, and we should be able to have started another batch of tetraviz for your friend only a little after we will have started the first batch we used here.”

Amy gritted her teeth and pressed her fingers against her temples. “Right. Medical bay.” 

– The End – 

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