"Some would be inspired, some would run away, and some would go mad." — The Doctor ("The Sound of Drums")
Forced to look into the Untempered Schism by his elders and guardians, the boy had sensed — something — looking back at him out of the raw, chaotic depths of the time vortex. Unspeakable knowledge flooded his mind. It woke that which had lain dormant in him for the first eight years of his life. Seized by unreasoning terror, he ran into the wastelands, dodging his guardians with unholy speed.
They caught him anyway. Of course they did.
The flying machine descended out of the night sky. Merciless headlights pinned the boy in their blinding white glare, leaving him nowhere to hide. He huddled shivering on the ground, gravel digging into his skin. He wrapped his arms around himself in a futile effort to conceal the writhing mass of tendrils newly sprouted from his torso. Weak and frail, they sent a torrent of unaccustomed sensory input into his mind.
He could only gasp helplessly as gloved hands dragged him upright and tore apart his clothes. His arms were wrenched free and twisted behind his back, his wrists caught in an iron grip. The shreds of his shirt flapped open, revealing the mutation. The air was rough and chill in its flow over the damp skin of the freshly birthed tentacles. The boy felt hideously exposed.
One of his guardians stepped forward, eyes hidden behind a dark visor. "Damn the fates. Another one. I had hoped — but no. Everyone saw. He's god-spawn, unclean. There's nothing we can do for him."
The man holding the boy's wrists answered, his voice flat and distant, "They'll take him in at the Farm, if the operation is successful."
"And the odds on that?" His guardian's tone of disappointment was muted by age and weariness.
"A ninety-five percent survival rate according to the latest statistics. The healing bandages should prevent any physical scarring. Mentally... well, they'll have him in quarantine for three months for monitoring."
"But the chance of full rehabilitation— " His guardian bit off the end of the sentence and shook his head.
"Not very high, my lord," admitted the man. "Less than ten percent of those admitted. But the law is the law."
"So be it. Curse this tainted blood." His guardian flapped a hand in dismissal. "Let the Farm have him!"
The boy cried out in shock as understanding hit him. "Quences, no, please! Don't send me away."
"Filthy Shanir," spat his guardian, his disappointment flaring into rage as he turned his gaze onto the boy. "In the name of Lungbarrow, I cast you out. Blood and bone, you are no kin of mine."
The boy turned pleading eyes towards his other guardian, but she stood with her back to him, rejection plain in the stiff line of her spine and the rigid set of her shoulders. Her mind was cold, sealed off with a single thought: his name would never be spoken in her house again.
It was a law laid down by Lord Rassilon millions of years ago at the end of the Dark Times. Shanir traits were deemed antithetical to the new age of rationality, and so the boy's newborn tentacles were amputated at the root. His memories were blocked down to the cellular level to prevent any chance of recurrence, a forgetting strong enough to last more than a single lifetime, even through regeneration. The boy knew that he had lost something. He knew that he was damned as a Shanir. But no one would tell him more than that. He decided, then, that if they wouldn't answer his questions, he wouldn't answer theirs, either.
Silence became his only effective tool of protest. He settled into a mute defiance that lasted through the three months of quarantine. By the time they released him to the Farm, officially signing him over into the custody of the Housekeeper (he heard the other children address her as "Auntie Cleppetty") and the Caretaker, silence had become deeply-rooted habit. When he refused to name himself, the others took to calling him "Wormhole". Only his cousin Innocet (the sole point of continuity between his old life and this nightmare) still called him "Snail", as she had for as long as he could remember.
The resident bully, an older boy called Torvic, took his silence as a challenge. The children were protected by the teachers while they were in class, but when they were sent out to work in the fields, they were vulnerable to each other. Torvic took advantage of this freedom to corner the new boy whenever he could and cement his place at the bottom of the hierarchy.
Because the boy refused to break his silence, Torvic persisted in his efforts to break him. "What are you, freak?"
"Maybe he's a maledight. Maybe that's why he's scared to talk," suggested one of the other boys. Most of them followed Torvic out of fear, but this one clung to his shadow, hoping to share his glamour. His toadying ways had earned him the privilege of always standing behind Torvic's left shoulder, making him less likely to be targeted by Torvic's own powers.
"Oh, is he?" sneered Torvic. "Well, freak, ill-wish me if you have the guts. Go on, don't hold back."
The boy kept his mouth clamped shut. He wasn't, he wasn't a maledight, an ill-speaker. He would know if he had any power to curse someone. Wouldn't he? But the holes in his memories frightened him with their vague hints of danger. His eyes darted around, seeking any escape, but the others formed a ring around him. His hearts sank: he knew what would come next, just as it had so many times before.
They were gathered at the edge of one of the outer fields. A swell of land hid them from sight of the cluster of buildings at the heart of the Farm. The boy clutched a hoe with both hands. It made a poor weapon, but it was all he had. They had come upon him undetected, someone's Shanir power cloaking them with a sort of invisibility. He suspected Torvic's sidekick, the one he mentally dubbed "the Toad".
"Well?" Torvic advanced a step, the Toad his eager shadow, eyes avid for conflict.
"Look at him, skiving off again," said the Toad. "You ought to teach him a lesson."
The boy raised his hoe in protest, shaking off the small clumps of dirt as evidence of work. He had been weeding between the rows of the rugosa field, only taking a moment off to stretch his back.
Torvic took another step and let his foot land on top of a rugosa plant. It was still small with only a fortnight's growth, a fragile collection of tender leaves. He paused, smiled, then deliberately ground the leaves under his boot.
The boy stifled a gasp, his eyes widening, but he still didn't say anything.
"What's that? Speak up!" Torvic made as if to tread on another plant. His eyes glowed a malevolent crimson.
The boy instinctively thrust the hoe forward to stop him.
Torvic caught the metal blade of the hoe in his hand. "Time take you!" An instant later, the blade trickled away through his fingers in a shower of rust.
The boy stumbled back in horror, flinching away as Torvic pointed a finger at him. It brushed his shirt, and one of the buttons cracked and burst in a puff of dry dust. He fumbled with the haft of the hoe, trying to fend the older boy away, but it was no use: at Torvic's touch, wood blackened, splintered, came undone in his hands. In his hurry to get away, the boy tripped and fell onto his back. He would be next; he could sense Torvic gathering power for another curse.
"Stop! Stop this at once!" A familiar voice cut through the air between them. Cousin Innocet. Her shadow fell across the boy. He saw Torvic backing away, his look of triumph fading to uncertainty. "Leave him alone."
Shanir clashed with Shanir, Innocet's will set against Torvic's. Though Innocent was half a head shorter and three years younger, it was Torvic who gave way first. His face sullen, he spat onto the ground at Innocet's feet, then turned and stalked off. His circle of followers slunk after him.
The boy twisted his neck to glance up at his cousin. She had her right hand raised, palm outwards to face Torvic. She stared after him until he was out of sight on the other side of the hill. Finally, she lowered her hand and reached to help the boy to his feet, tsking at his bedraggled state, brushing the dirt off his clothes. "You shouldn't let him bully you, Snail. You're as strong as he is, really."
The boy stared at her in disbelief, then glanced meaningly at the pile of blackened splinters and sawdust that was all that remained of the hoe.
Innocet sighed. "He's a maledight without enough control to hide it. He knows he'll never get out of here with a certificate, so he's taking it out on the rest of us."
The boy scowled at his feet. Innocet caught the doubt in his thoughts and patted him on the shoulder.
"You'll be all right, once you get used to it. Never mind the weeds, let's go inside. You missed supper." She took him back to the house. Under her authority, earned through her years of trustworthy behavior, they were let into the library, Innocet's favored haunt. She found him a sewing kit and a replacement for his button and set him in an armchair. "Mend the shirt. It's important to keep up appearances. They don't leave us much else at the Farm."
While the boy threaded a needle and poked it clumsily through the holes in the button, his cousin browsed along the walls of the library. The shelves were filled with primitive books made of sheets of wood pulp. Everything in the room had the enforced simplicity typical of the Farm — the Time Lords kept their advanced technology safely away from the untamed Shanirs. Once the boy had finished repairing his shirt, Innocet rewarded him by reading aloud from her favorite volume of ancient history. It was one of the boring political passages, with nothing about space battles or aliens. Within a few minutes, he had drifted off to sleep, snuggled into the ample cushions of the oversized armchair.
By the time he woke, she was gone, summoned to other duties. Without her comforting presence, everything felt cold and forbidding. He crept out of the library and wended his way through the house to the boy's dormitory. He paused with his hand on the door handle: Torvic would be in there, along with his gang of followers. A sick dread sank into his belly. He couldn't. Not tonight.
He slept that night alone in the barn, shivering under a blanket, finding the darkness and solitude less oppressive than the other boys. Shanir powers. He wished he did have Shanir powers, wished for his cousin's apparent ability to shield herself — and him — from Torvic's maledictions. Whatever deformity they had removed from him, it had been bad enough that they wouldn't even let him remember it. Nothing as harmless as a head of white hair or glowing eyes or fangs. It must be one of the Unspeakable Taints hinted at in the books. Innocet had told him that they only had the censored versions at the Farm. The full editions were locked away in the Citadel of the Time Lords.
A few days later, he found himself straying to the edge of the Farm's territory. A strip of woodland marked the boundary, which the children were forbidden to cross. The boy headed straight into the trees, hoping that Torvic wouldn't dare follow him. It was only a ten-minute walk to cross the wood. He found a meadow of tall red grass on the other side. Auntie Cleppetty had told him once that it belonged to the estate of a high-ranking Time Lord, but the boy didn't know his name.
When he spied a child of about his own age playing in the distance, curiosity lured him to trespass further. A son, he guessed, or a favorite niece or grandchild, judging by the fancy clothing. At first he thought the child was alone. On closer inspection, he realized that he — it looked like a boy — was directing two smaller children in a game of "let's pretend". He grinned, recognizing a scene from one of Innocet's fairy tales.
An eyeblink later, the two smaller children had vanished. He gasped.
The remaining boy spun around, a shocked and guilty expression flashing across his face before he recovered his equilibrium.
"You're Shanir!" The startled instinctive recognition jolted the words out of the trespasser. He was surprised at the sound of his own voice after so long without speech. He rubbed his throat, suddenly self-conscious.
"No, I'm Koschei," answered the other boy with remarkable self-possession. "You must be one of the boys from the Farm."
He nodded dumbly.
"Got a name?"
He shook his head. Everyone at the Farm was disinherited. In his case, his family had made it retroactive, stripping him of his identity. It was made forbidden when... when they cast me out. It was easier to think the words.
"Don't do that," commanded Koschei. "Father says telepathy is vulgar."
Vulgar? The boy hung his head, scuffing the dirt with a toe. He saw how old and worn out his shoes were, with the soles starting to come loose again after his last haphazard repair attempt. For the first time, he understood Innocet's admonition about appearances. A word from Koschei, and his father's servants would have no qualms about forcibly ejecting the boy. If they told the Caretaker, the boy would be doubly punished, once for leaving the grounds and again by Torvic for daring to run away.
"You look fairly harmless," said Koschei at last, when the boy didn't seem likely to break the silence. "Father says it's not safe for me to have social interactions outside House and Family, but I'm his only child. I can invite whomever I like."
The boy glanced up for a moment, surprised. Koschei was lonely. He tried to hide it, but the boy saw. It was a loneliness too familiar for him to mistake.
"So? Do you want me to?" Koschei cocked his head, regarding the boy curiously, only a hint of longing reaching his voice.
The boy nodded.
Koschei broke into a wide grin. "Brilliant. So, what should I call you?"
The boy thought about it. Not "Wormhole", that was Torvic's hateful nickname when he wasn't calling him "Freak". Not "Snail", either, that was a nursery name, and he wasn't an infant anymore. Then he remembered the designation on his admission form to the Farm. A name for the nameless.
"Theta Sigma," he said softly, his voice still sounding strange in his ears. "You can call me 'Theta Sigma'."