Down the hallway, a light was switched off. Heavy footsteps echoed back down the long corridor, and a door closed softly. As soon as the door closed, a dark shaped slipped from her bed and onto the floor, careful not to make any noise. She grabbed a small rucksack concealed under the bed, slipped on her shoes, and carefully eased the window open. The screen was harder to get up silently, but in the end the shadow got it up. She carefully moved out onto the fire escape, and shimmied down the ladder, landing with a thump on the grimy alley floor. Freedom! Now that she was out, the shadow strode confidently out into the nightlife of New York City.
As the glare of sirens and billboards and neon hit her, any passerby could have easily seen the figure who had been a shadow moments ago. She looked like any other normal teenage girl, dressed in raggedy jeans, a red t-shirt, and a pilot's jacket. A small glimmer of a gold chain showed where a locket sat on her chest. Her short brown hair flared out at the end, giving her face a sharp look. She was slight and tall, making her look almost like a gymnast. And when she grinned, as the girl did when she approached the sidewalk, it lit up her whole face.
Her name was Hope. Hope was very, very glad to get out of the orphanage. It was surprisingly easy, actually - all Hope had to do was track the matron's movements for about seven weeks, then calculate the probability algorithms for future movements, then pick out of said algorithms the best time to sneak out without being caught with maximum time to fool around. Piece of cake.
Hope reviewed her mental map of downtown NYC. She had fifteen blocks of walking to go to reach her destination, seven lefts, four rights, and a stop at a hot dog stand. The crosswalk turned GO, and she started walking, and thinking about her next move. Thinking was something she was very good at. But first...Hope stopped and looked up.
A year before, the orphanage she had happened to be at the time (the state of New York tended for some unknown reason to ferry her around a lot - she had been at four foster homes and eleven orphanages in the past nine years) had taken a field trip to a Pennsylvania dairy farm in the middle of nowhere. The cows weren't exciting, the sun was hot, and it smelled bad. However, when time came that night for the group to leave, Hope had glanced up at the sky. And stopped. Stars- so many stars, like diamonds of flaming plasma and hydrogen. They were so...beautiful! Every night after that, even if she could not see them, Hope would look up for a moment and look for the stars - the wonderful, wonderful stars.
Except she was in the middle of the street, and the headlights of the delivery truck were a bit more than stars.
"Watch out!" a pair of capable hands pulled her out of oncoming traffic and onto the sidewalk. "You should watch where you're going young miss!" The voice that belonged to the hands was a light tenor and had a British twang to it. Hope looked up at the man who had saved her.
Her whole body felt like it was quantum locked. Those eyes...a deep brown, so old and very young. I know those eyes...The absolute familiarity was strange to Hope, so strange..."I know you" she said, her voice distant. It was like there was something she was trying to remember, something really important just on the edge of knowledge, and her mind couldn't quite reach it. Slowly, ever so slowly, she began to take in the face that surrounded the eyes. First was his expression - astonishment, then horror, then delight, then staying at befuddled. He was very tall and very thin, with a sharp, handsome face and windswept hair. But..."I know you." She said again. "I don't know how or where or when...but I do."
Suddenly, his hand on her arm tightened and he pulled her through the New York crowd. "Come on." Hope heard the strange man say as he pulled her through several dark alleys, emerging into the not so flattering light of a grimy diner. They entered, and Hope slid into a booth with cracked vinyl the color of dried blood. He slid in opposite of her. They just sat there for what seemed like ages, the girl staring at those strange eyes, the man staring just as intensely back. Then he said,
"Do you know who I am?"
Hope was startled for a moment, then, "I don't know. I think so, but I can't remember how or where I met you. It's like I know, and it's on the tip of my tongue, but I just can't reach it!" She pounded the table with her fist in frustration.
The stranger (no, not strange. This man was never strange) leaned forward across the table "Do you trust me?"
"Absolutely," she replied at once, shocking herself. But it was true - She did trust him, with all her heart. "Please, help me. What's your name?"
A tiny smile played at the corner of his lips, "I'm The Doctor."
"Doctor?" he nodded. "Just Doctor? The Doctor?" she snorted "Well, it isn't like you don't think too much of yourself, is it? Not just a doctor, you’re a Doctor with a big fat THE in front of it!"
He turned indignant "Well, what's your name then, miss I-don't-look-for-passing-cars?"
"Hope. Just Hope." She watched the Doctor intently for any signs of recognition, but at that moment, the server happened to saunter over to take their orders. Hope ordered a piece of cherry pie, the Doctor got banana bread. When the order came the Doctor spoke again through a mouthful of banana.
"So. Tell me Hope. What's a girl no older than seventeen doing wandering around New York City in the middle of the night?"
"I'm...looking. For a memory." she sighed, looked down at the whorls in the fake wood table "I don't...remember... anything from my past. I was found wandering near the world trade center on September 11th, with no identification and no idea who I am. Except my name, Hope. It's taken a while, but the state of New York has finally shuffled me back to an orphanage close enough to Ground Zero."
"So you're going to go there to try to trace your past?" she nodded.
"I made sure everything was the same, my shoes, my clothes, my hair style, everything."
"The same clothes? Wasn't September Eleventh nine years ago?" her eyes said So?, so the Doctor let it go for the moment. "It must have taken some time to find a safe way to sneak out."
She shrugged, "Not really. All I needed to do was watch the nightly routine of the matron, run probability equations on deviations with given paths, and derive the accepted risk from that. Only took me a week to plan it, and I don't plan on going back, so the other girls won't need to tell on me. After all, I'm only the quiet new girl- what reason do they have to pay attention to me other to whisper behind my back?" Her voice ended on a bitter note that soured her expression like bad milk.
"Do the other girls pick on you?" His eyes were smoldering coals sometimes, she noted. Who was this man?
But her reply was still bitter, and her petite mouth turned down at the corners, "Why not? I'm smart enough to make them feel inferior, awkward enough to give them lease to whisper, and weak enough to haze. I'm the perfect target. But, after so many new homes, you learn to suppress what makes you so different. So wrong."
"There's nothing wrong with you! Two arms, two legs, all in the right place - helluva brain - what's not to like?" Why was this man, this Doctor, defending her? They only had just met, right? Hope’s instincts said otherwise.
They were quiet for what seemed like forever, the man and the girl. The server came over and Hope shoved a couple of bills in her hand. Abruptly, they both stood up and the Doctor made to go for the door. Once again, she had that bizarre feeling of déjà vu, that she had been in this situation before, that she knew this odd man. But how could that be? How could she know this man, have the faintest spark of memory, when for nine years she hadn’t been able to recall anything else?
There was a railing, and two people were leaning on it. One was very tall, and one was not. The pair of strangers – for they had to be strangers – gazed out over the Upper Bay, at the boats and the lights of one of Earth’s most magnificent cities. From here, they could just see Ground Zero if they would turn around. But the smaller of the pair had already seen it, already searched its depths for some sort of clue of the vast mystery of her life – and had failed.
“So, what now?” asked The Doctor.
Hope’s voice was very small, “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll hop on a boat, see the world. Always wanted to do that. Travel the globe, make some new friends, see the sights – that kind of thing.”
The Doctor smiled, “What’s so funny?” she demanded.
“Nothing.” Pause. “What if I told you that I could help you find your memory? Well, not find it, in actuality. Just get it back. Retrieve it, that sort of thing.”
“You could do that? Why didn’t you say so?”
He ignored the question, instead looking back out onto the harbor. When he spoke again, his voice was a million miles away, “This is probably going to sound quite mad to you, but I’m not exactly from around here.”
“You- wha-what?” he spluttered.
“Yeah. You’re British.” Hope said simply.
“That’s not what I mean! I’m not…human. I’m from a race of people called Time Lords. And, if I’m right – and I usually am – you might be a Time Lord as well.”
Hope made a little O sound, then said very slowly “I guess…that makes…sense…”
“Did you just accept me telling you I was an alien and you might be one too? Great Schism, you must be crazy or-“
“Well, it’s kind of obvious, Doctor. You’re a bit too…interesting to be human.” He frowned, “and I’ve been different as long as I can remember.”
He changed the subject, looking directly into her eyes, said, “Do you have anything that’s been with you as long as you can remember, something that you’ve never really looked at closely until now, and that can open and close like a locket or a fob watch?” The Doctor looked at her neck, where he caught a glimpse of gold hanging from her neck. She followed his eyes.
“What, this?” she fumbled with a clasp at her neck, and removed her necklace – a small, heart shaped gold locket. There were intricate circular designs on the front, and the back was inscribed in tiny lettering, the name Hope. The Doctor took it from her hand, examining it closely; but he didn’t open it.
“Thought so.” He handed it back to her. “A younger model than my own, of course, but still a Chameleon Arch.”
“It allows the user to pass as another species, to become someone else. For a little while, at least.” Hope was beginning to realize what he was saying, “It can also hide memories away, contain them in a very small package and use a perception filter to make sure no one realizes what it truly is.”
“I’m an alien, aren’t I?”
Both of his hands lightly rested on her shoulders, “No, not right now. Well, yes, but no. Ever notice that even though nine years has passed, you can still wear the same pair of clothing? Of course not, that’s the perception filter.
“That Chameleon Arch, that little thing, is who you were. It is every memory you had and the complete makeup of your DNA. It is, Hope, you. The Time Lord you.”
Her eyes widened in surprise, and a little bit fear, “What will happen if I open that? Will I become who I, who she was, the other Hope? The Time Lord one? What happens to me?”
“You’ll still be you, just different. A bit older and a bit smarter, but the human part of you will still be in there.”
“I’ll just be a memory?” Hope turned away from him. She was silent for a very long time, and then she whispered, “What will it be like?”
“Easy. Just like breathing, except when you breathe in you’ll be different. You don’t have to do this, you know that? No one is forcing you.”
But he didn’t understand. To not know who you are, to know that you were different and not understand why, that was pure torture. And now – the answer was right in front of her, right there, how could she not take it? Then again, who was this other Hope, this new person she could be? But…There was the feeling. The feeling she’d had her whole life, that there was something missing, a memory that she had to remember but couldn’t. It was like having a word on the tip of her tongue – except this was her life, not just a word. There was an interesting thought; if her life could be a word, what word would it be?
She made a decision.
With shaking hands, Hope opened the tiny locket and looked inside.