The Stranger

Further away than you could imagine, circling a dying star, is the greatest library that ever existed. It had been a forest planet once. But, millennia ago, the trees were cut down and great halls rose in their place, covering the surface of the entire world. The darkness ruled it now. The archives were governed by the shadows, and the halls of scrolls had no witness save the dust and the silence. Except one.

The shadows, the Vashta Nerada, had no voice except for those that they could steal. If they could talk, the shadows would have praised and pitied in equal measure. If the darkness could name, it would have been Stranger. Or, perhaps Witness, Changer, Trickster or Saviour. The language of the lightless was imprecise and defied translation.

He had been there for centuries, trapped in the countless pathways. An ancient pact – the shadowkin couldn’t remember why, whether it was born from fear or respect, scorn or some twisted mercy – held that no Vashta Nerada would ever devour the stranger.

He had lived in the library for lifetimes. The stranger’s kind, it was said, were near-to-immortal, and could reknit flesh, body and bone to recover from grievous injury. Even as the body regenerated, though, the stranger’s mind waned. The fire that had driven him for centuries had dipped low, wanly guttering like a candle’s flame. Each subsequent regeneration became instead a degeneration. Eventually, without that spark of intelligence, the physical form had begun to follow the mind’s atavistic descent. He was now but a shambling creature, showing no sign of the grace or intellect that had saved and damned so many.

The stranger could barely remember his former life. Words would come to him now – Skaro, Gallifrey, Tardis – but they were rendered meaningless without context. He knew the library and his den, a blue box that was bigger on the inside. He was too far gone to even contemplate the paradox.

MOON, the Nth-level intelligence that orbited the forest-planet, would talk to the stranger. It had originally been a protection and countermeasure system, designed to protect the long-faded artificial intelligences that powered the library. Now it comforted the stranger at night, calming the beast during its occasional, terrifying moments of lucidity. MOON would sing the Goodbye Song to the creature, farewelling each melancholic remembering. Such times were thankfully brief, and growing ever further apart.

The shadows could not speak, so the stranger hallucinated others like him. Companions, to keep him company. He found a primal joy in naming things – Pip, Pop, Tree-Low, Tutter – when his own name had been lost so long ago. Sometimes, at night, he wonders if he had ever even known it. He’d cast it aside centuries before. Now, he was just like a bear, a bear in a blue house.


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