HENRIK HAD BEEN feeding the cat for over a week.
They met during one of his sojourns down to the basement, where he usually went after work to eat the lunch he didn't have time to eat during the day.
The basement had ceased to become a place of menace. He liked the quiet. It was somewhere he could sit and remember Roxanna with fondness, and John with a complicated mix of emotions. He often wondered why he didn't hate him more, but somehow he couldn't. He missed them both with an ache in his heart that would never go away.
The cat had approached him, probably because he was eating sushi at the time. As cats went, it was rather unprepossessing, being a strange bluey shade of white and with an odd red pigment to its eyes. Its tail was skinny and wonky, as if it had been broken at some point.
He had looked down and there it was, tail gently swishing from side to side. It looked as if there would be no argument about the sushi. If Henrik didn't give it some, it would have just helped itself.
Since then, Henrik had fallen into a routine. At the end of the day he would go down to the basement with his Bento box and share a considerable portion of it with the cat.
"What's your name then," he asked on the second day. Until then, he had assumed it was a stray, although it looked well-fed.
"Meowrrrrrrrrp." The cat rubbed itself against his trousered leg, leaving a smattering of white hair.
It was very friendly. By the time Henrik decided he would take down some water and dry food, it was running up to him, rubbing around his legs and purring wildly. Henrik didn't understand the cause of this affection, apart from the sushi, but it rather pleased him.
However, when he suggested the cat come home with him, it ran away and hid. It seemed to be happy in the basement, living off a diet of small rodents and Henrik's lunch. In the end, he put a blanket down on the old mattress John had sometimes used when pulling all-nighters at the lab.
One strange thing though. He was sure the blanket was in a different place every morning, but that was his imagination, of course.
"ODIN, I HAVE YOUR supper," he called when he went down to the basement two weeks after their first meeting.
The cat didn't appear. Henrik looked around, hoping it hadn't trapped itself in one of the cupboards. Nothing.
Then he saw it, backed up against a corner, it's fur all puffed up, tail like a bottle-brush. A low growl rumbled continuously in its throat.
"Whatever is the matter? It's all right. I won't hurt you." He reached his hand out to comfort the animal.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you."
The voice made him spin round. It sounded familiar, a long-loved soft Liverpudlian drawl. His heart began to beat rapidly.
He couldn't see the speaker. He was hidden in the shadows.
"Who are you? How did you get in here?"
"Those questions have complicated answers. Who are you?"
Henrik drew himself up to his full height. "I'm Henrik Hanssen, CEO of this hospital, and you shouldn't be here."
"You're absolutely right. I shouldn't, but I am. What date is it?"
"Show yourself please. I do not care for talking to shadows."
"And yet you do it all the time." The stranger stepped forward.
Henrik gasped. The man was strangely dressed in a long frock coat, slim trousers and a cream waistcoat. He looked like a dandy, with a shock of long curly hair and a gold silk cravat. Other than the clothes and the hair, it could easily have been John twenty years before, right down to the startling blue eyes and heartbreaking smile.
"Who are you?"
"All in good time. When are we? What date? What year? I was asleep when the Tardis touched down. Sometimes it does that. It can be quite unnerving. Are you all right? You look like you've seen a ghost. Very pale. You should eat more iron-rich food."
Henrik held up his hands. "Stop ... talking. You shouldn't be down here. This is private property and you need to leave."
"Oh, I will, when I've found what I'm looking for. The date?"
"April 4th, 2019. Now please..."
"Have you been touching anything you shouldn't?"
A bright light, coupled with a high-pitched whine, shone in Henrik's eyes. He swatted it away. "Stop that. I insist you leave right now!"
"Masterful. I like it. Hmmm." The strange young man ran the strange torch over Henrik, up and down. It emitted a faintly disapproving beep. "Well, I'd say you've been touching something. You have alien contamination."
"I beg your pardon?"
"It means they're here." He trained the torch on the cat, who hissed in protest. "Just as I thought. Hello, old friend. Don't worry. I'm here to escort you to safety."
"He's been perfectly safe with me," Henrik said frostily. "I was going to take him to a vet to check for a microchip as soon as he was happy for me to pick him up."
"That's a terrible idea." The man hunkered down to look more closely at the cat. It sniffed warily at his hand. "What we have is the last known Var being, far from home and looking for sanctuary. Aren't you, friend?"
The cat stared at him. Henrik thought he probably had the same look on his face as well.
The man stood up again and smiled. "Definitely. You're incredibly honoured. I hope you realise that. This animal isn't an animal at all. It's a transmogrifier."
"What on earth are you talking about, man? It's a cat!"
"The Var people are shape shifters. Well, some of them are. Not all. It's a defence mechanism. Also a handy way to reconnoitre a strange planet. This Var obviously escaped when their planet was destroyed." He looked sympathetically at the cat. "By an asteroid, is that right?"
The cat blinked.
"I've had enough of this. I'm calling security." Henrik reached for the red alarm button.
Before he was halfway there, something blue and glowing shot out from the cat's mouth and wrapped around his wrist. Henrik's eyes went wide. He couldn't even scream, or draw back, or run or do any of the things he knew he should be doing. Shock had rooted him to the ground. He watched in horror as the cat bit down on the soft part between thumb and forefinger. The pain was excruciating.
"Please..." Tears ran down his face. He had never been so scared in his life. "Who are you? What do you want?" He heard the hysteria in his voice as he stared at the cat, who was changing, growing bigger, sprouting more.... tentacle things. It grew taller, towering over Henrik, slim and glowing blue, the white fur replaced by iridescent scales, ruby eyes boring into his. "WHAT THE HELL IS THAT THING?"
"Like I said, it's a transmogrifier. It's all right. You just need to keep calm. The Var don't respond well to negative energy." The man began talking in a strange, fluting language.
The alien paused, listening. Then it nodded. The tentacles disappeared back inside its fingers, releasing Henrik's injured hand. Now they had gone, the alien was humanoid in shape, with two arms, two legs and an elegantly shaped head. Henrik held his hand protectively against his body and stared at it in wonder and trepidation.
"What did you say to it?"
"That I'm the Doctor, and I want to help them if I can. This is Varco, originally from the planet Var. Non-binary, pro-nouns they/them. A peaceful species unless alarmed. They were known throughout the universe as the Healers."
The alien began to speak in the same language, then reached out for Henrik's hand again. When he resisted, they pulled it firmly towards them, making him groan with the flare of pain up his arm. Despite the discomfort, he was fascinated.
Each hand had six fingers with elliptical slit at the top of each one, and they glowed as if lit from within, the silver veins clearly visible. As he watched in horrid fascination, the being opened their slim lips and a long tongue appeared, at the tip of which was a small hole. A drop of golden fluid oozed out and dropped on Henrik's skin, to be massaged in with the alien's fingers.
Immediately, the pain disappeared. Where the liquid had landed on his hand, there was a silver scaled mark, but his hand felt completely normal.
"How did..." He flexed and wiggled his fingers, not believing what he was seeing or feeling.
"It's the Var's most precious commodity, vardanium."
The alien spoke again, and Henrik found he was captivated by the graceful way they moved their hands as part of their attempt to communicate.
"Oh what a shame," the Doctor said, his eyes full of sadness. "The only one left? Are you sure?" He listened again, then explained to Henrik. "Varco wants to find their people. They think more may have escaped but they've been searching the universe and can't find them. Now they're being pursued by Sontarans who want Varco's source of vardanium. If they get hold of it, they will be the most powerful beings in the universe, and that, before your inevitable question, is not a good thing."
Golden tears slid down the Var's face.
"Why did you come here?" Henrik asked gently. "How can we help you?"
The Var spoke, and the Doctor interpreted.
"They wanted to find a man with goodness in their heart. Who could be trusted with vardanium and to use it for healing, not for their own power. They chose you, Henrik."
"But ... I'm not a good man, Varco. I abandoned my son and as a consequence he did something terrible...."
"The Var recognise goodness. If they've decided you are up to the job, then there isn't much you can say to persuade them. It's an honour, Henrik. Apparently, they've been assessing you for the last two weeks."
Henrik made a despairing gesture. "It was a cat! I fed it fish and talked to it. That's all. Then it bit me!"
"To show you vardanium's capabilities. They don't make grand gestures without meaning. That is a uniquely human trait." The Doctor's voice and mannerisms were so much like John's, it was hard to look at him, and equally hard to tear his gaze away. "They need sanctuary. This commodity is so precious, the Sontarans are prepared to destroy planets in order to get their hands on it. We've no time to lose." The Doctor started off down the corridor, coat tails flying behind him.
"Wait, have we just become a target for world-destroying monsters?"
"It looks that way," the Doctor replied cheerfully. He paused, then opened a door into one of the storerooms, looking delighted. "Ah, there you are!"
The room was filled with an old-fashioned blue telephone box. As Henrik stared up at it, his mind was already blown with having a silver scar from his hand being bitten and healed again by an alien being, all in the space of five minutes. An old Police box didn't seem to be that surprising in comparison.
"Where the hell did that come from?"
"You asked how I managed to get in here. This is my Tardis." The Doctor slapped the old wood affectionately and opened the door. "Shall we?"
"What is it?"
"It's a Tardis, Henrik. Come on. If you want to save the planet we have to eliminate the threat. Or at least, persuade the threat to leave us in peace. That's the preferred option. The Sontarans aren't a bad race but they only really know how to be warriors, and vardanium will definitely give them the edge. We have to appeal to their sense of honour, ergo persuade them that an unfair advantage is no better than cheating."
Henrik stared blankly at him. "What is a Tardis?"
The Doctor smiled. "It means Time and Relative Dimension in Space. It's a transportation device. It's a time machine." He stretched out his hand. "Come on. It doesn't bite."
"Meowwrrrrrrp?" The white cat stared up at him with ruby eyes, then walked into the police box, tail held high.
Henrik wondered if he were hallucinating. If so, he was about to go further down the rabbit hole.
"Where are we going?"
"To Sontar. I'll explain on the way. Once they realise Varco is here, they won't be far behind and they're not quite as easy to hide. Come on, Henrik. Live a little." The Doctor offered his hand again.
After a moment, Henrik took it, and allowed himself to be led into the time machine.