Zepheera moaned softly as she sluggishly came to. The events of the last few hours replayed choppily in her mind. The man…he had picked her up and held her close to his chest as he fought his way through all of the metal men in his path. She remembered gripping the brown pinstriped fabric of his suit just to keep steady. He took her somewhere and tried to get her to talk, but her drug-addled mind refused to let her respond. Then he made her drink something, and everything after that was fuzzy.
The more conscious she became, the more she noticed about her surroundings. The surface on which she lay was strangely leathery and warm…and if she listened closely, she could hear a muted thrum coming from deep within, pressing up against her body in a one-two-three-four.
It was alive. It was a hand!
She shot up with a startled exclamation, falling back on her hands and knees as the uneven ground twitched in surprise. As the hand flattened beneath her, she huddled into a frightened ball, awaiting the inevitable harm to befall her.
“It’s okay!” the man from before whispered, though it was still more than loud enough to make the borrower flinch. “You’re safe. I’m so sorry, I didn’t think you’d be awake for another few hours.”
Zepheera turned her head in the slightest to peek through the gap in the arm covering her head. He was so remarkably large, a small part of her wondered if he could even detect such a small movement.
“Look, er… I don’t mean to scare you. Would it help if I set you down?”
Zepheera frowned in confusion. She knew better than to trust this behemoth of a man after everything she’d been through. Still, he did rescue her from that lab, and he hadn’t made a move to hurt her yet. Hell, he’d had her in his hands while she was asleep! He could have easily done her in then. But he didn’t, and something about those enormous brown orbs insisted that he could be trustworthy.
Slowly lowering her arms from her head, she clutched them close to her chest as she mustered up all of her courage and nodded.
The man smiled, pleased by her response. “Alright. Here we go.”
His fingers curled back up, stretching over Zepheera’s head as he slowly leaned forward and reached out toward a flat but narrow silver surface. She practically scrambled out of his hand, grateful for the solid ground.
Without the giant man filling her vision, Zepheera took in the rest of her surroundings. He sat back in a faded yellow seat, full of holes and duct-tape patches. The room was enormous and dome-like, covered in dim, round lights. Nothing else made sense beyond that; whatever she was standing on hovered above an endless sea of strange-looking levers and dials and cranks.
“What’s your name?” The question made Zepheera’s attention snap up to the man. She pressed her back against the wall behind her and eyed him warily. He sighed, an action that ruffled Zepheera’s shoulder-length hair even at a distance. “I’m trying to help you. I need to know that you’re alright.”
She bit her lip, then swallowed thickly past the lump in her throat. It had been a while since she’d spoken to anyone.
“Zepheera,” she answered, her voice hoarse from disuse.
The man smiled again. “Beautiful name,” he remarked. “I’m the Doctor.” Her eyes flared up with terror again, and he quickly added, “No no no no, not that kind of doctor. Please listen, whatever they did to you, I’m not like them, I promise. Trust me, I only want to help.”
Unsure if she believed him or not, Zepheera forced herself to relax a little and nodded to show she understood.
“I’m going to ask you a few more questions, Zepheera,” the Doctor informed her. “Just to make sure you’re okay now that that nasty drug’s out of your system.”
Zepheera slid her back against the wall until she sat with her knees hugged to her chest. “Okay,” she murmured. She resigned herself to his care as long as he simply seemed concerned for her. That wasn’t a feeling she’d ever expected from someone his size.
As her fear slowly dissipated, curiosity began to take its place. Zepheera began to ask the Doctor questions of her own, and before long they had a back and forth going. Zepheera told the Doctor how she ended up in that lab (leaving out the details about her hidden village) and what exactly they had done to her and the few others like her. She explained that she was the only one left in that place. In return, she learned where exactly she was: inside the Doctor’s TARDIS, which apparently could travel through time and space with ease.
It was the Doctor’s turn to ask a question. “How old are you?”
Zepheera frowned, realizing that she wasn’t sure. “What day is it?” She had been captured a couple months before her birthday, but she wasn’t entirely sure how much time she’d spent in that lab.
The Doctor leaned forward and pressed a button on the console, causing the wall behind Zepheera to light up. She jumped and whirl around to stare at the massive screen behind her as it displayed a series of concentric circles. “May seventh, year twenty eighty-five,” he recited.
Six months, she thought despondently.
“I, erm. I guess that makes me a hundred and fifty-eight.” Happy birthday to me.
The Doctor’s brow rose as he sat back. “Wow. Older than you look,” he mused. “Do you all age so slowly?”
A sad smile tugged at her lips. “Nah, it’s…just me, I think.” She took a steadying breath before asking, “How old are you?”
“Nine hundred and five,” he replied without hesitation.
Now it was Zepheera’s turn to be surprised. “So, way older than you look.”
The Doctor smirked, then adopted a more thoughtful expression. “Zepheera… Is there anything for you to go back to? A home, family, friends?”
Her heart stuttered at the question. As surprisingly pleasant as this man seemed, she was definitely not comfortable leading him to her people. She still had a duty to protect them until she had a full grasp of this new situation. “No,” she answered evenly. “Nothing.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said the Doctor earnestly. He rubbed the back of his neck as he seemed to carefully consider his next words. “Well, if you’d like, you could – I mean, it would be entirely up to you, of course, but… I was wondering if you wanted to–”
Zepheera’s entire body tensed at this new voice.