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Fic: Vacuum (classic!Who)

Title: Vacuum
Author: flowsoffire
Fandom: classic!Who
Pairing/characters: Zoe Heriot
Genre: Angst/Drama
Rating: K+
Word count: c. 1000 words.
Disclaimer: I don't own anything.
Summary: Something is missing in Zoe’s mind.
Author's note: This is my entry for the “Classics” one-shot challenge on [profile] who_contest, set post-War Games. See note at the end for a few tiny specifics.

When she starts awake at the middle of the night, Zoe knows there is something off.

For her, this is not highly unusual. She sits up in bed, rigid and taut, and attempts to ease the feeling of wrongness—to coolly convince herself that no, there has been no terrible mistake in anyone’s calculations, that there shall be no tiny glitch in the system, no catastrophe, no impending doom. To rationalize the wild coiling in her insides, like metallic cords pulling at her gut, squeezing, squeezing—process and eliminate the fear, clean away the disturbances and leave only simple, obvious fact. Come on, she thinks. You know better than this. Just calm down, just calculate—if you go through each and every function of the ship, one by one, and check everything in your head, then maybe you can go back to sleep. Eventually.

Tonight it doesn’t come as easily, like an automated pattern snapping into place, a long-rehashed tune. Zoe thinks and thinks, yet she can’t settle and focus on one specific cause to blame for the anxiety. It takes an awful few seconds until she manages to call to mind the basic functions of the wheel, even—like there is a blank, a void in her mind, and she must summon the knowledge from some great distance. At the notion, the panic rises dark and smothering, yet slower than she is accustomed to. Is this it? she thinks. Is her head failing her, too big a brain for such a frail little machine? Is she finally losing touch, drowning in the great sea of data that’s the only thing that feels right and real, that feels anything like home?

Her heart hammers, nightgown clinging to her back with sweat. Mindlessly, she reaches for the heavy tome of advanced quantum physics on her bedside table. The weight of it feels familiar across her lap—embarrassingly cumbersome when all serious scientists use feather-light data pads that can hold an infinity of volumes hanging between two fingers, but for all of her clear-cut and icy-cold rationality, Zoe must have her little fetishes and the great ancient thing feels good to her. She opens the book, yet her eyes do not instantly home in on the exact line where she last stopped. The text is familiar, but feels faraway somehow.

This is all growing alarming. She does her best to concentrate, yet her brain feels sluggish, like it has lost all of its bearings, its instantaneous reflexes. Even when moving back to some old project after a while of working on more advanced features, she usually snaps back to it way faster than this. She is a neat little robot, Zoe is, yet here she scrambles in the dark and it feels wrong. Like she shouldn’t be this way. Like she is being sent back to something she’d left behind, something stifling small, when the very notion is laughable—what could she ever have but knowledge, and what could there be that’s wider and more fulfilling?

The book is no longer a friend, and it takes ages to get back to sleep.

The next day, Zoe logs in to the wheel’s archive. She skims through pages upon pages, dozens of fields she’s read up on. She has forgotten nothing, she reminds herself constantly—her mind is still every bit as sharp, as quick—she simply feels disconnected. She solves a few equations on the sideline of her head as she attempts to settle on a good, challenging read. She scrolls faster, swallowing as she browses the titles blindly. Another part of her wants to push back the screen and talk to someone, and that is quite new—that is frightening.

She should opt for something solid, deep and enlightening, something that will be a productive use of her time and abilities. She always does that—she has no time for trivialities—gone are the Karkus days, the comics and adventure novels that used to keep her hooked for hours, in-between advanced physics, algebra and programming. She is no more child, and if all she has is her brain to get anywhere in life—if she is a prodigy more than a person, inadequate for anything social or indeed human—then there is no use daydreaming about mad quests.

She tells herself that, quite firmly, and still switches to the library labelled “Fiction”.

One hour passes and finds her sitting there, somewhat breathless as she clicks a file shut. Silliness, she decides, again. Highly surreal silliness, that indeed drew a fair few giggles out of her, yet that hardly changes the fact. She dimly wonders what kind of hallucinogetic substance the author must have consumed before producing any such work; a potent one, surely, not that she would know about those things. Still. How silly, and how sweet; how dazzling and how dark, and how wonderful.

Her work seems a little small after this, her life a little dull. She may think, invent, progress and analyse the complexities of space for years on end, and yet she will never have seen anything.

She can read, she supposes—in her free time—to make up for this. What else is there for her? Once upon a time, she used to delve into the classics. Deeper, greater men and women would hold her transfixed—she has long neglected their words in favour of figures and calculations, yet she remembers them well, as all things she has ever learned or experienced.

Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught…

Not taught, perhaps, but discovered for sure. She can discover anything if she sets her mind to it, if she just dismisses the daze… If she stops feeling so small and scared, carried away by irrational mind tricks. She is Zoe Heriot, young astrophysicist extraordinaire, and she can do anything she wants.

Not that she cannot spare one hour here and there for a book, she supposes. No need to feel too guilty about this. It could relax her brain, and widen her perspectives, perhaps. It could even help her grow a little.

A half-smile twists her lips as she pushes herself away from the desk, still coiled tight from nerves, yearning for restless activity. There is much to do. So much, and no time to waste.

Yet she will not forget Wonderland.

Author's note II: My knowledge of Zoe is all from the show’s material, though I’ve also poked at her entry on the TARDIS Wiki for extra insight, and my view seemed to fit the spirit of some BF audios featuring her somewhat. The quote in italics is from Oscar Wilde, whose full works Zoe did read, still according to BF and the Wiki. Karkus reference from The Mind Robber; the Alice in Wonderland parallel is mine.


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 18th, 2015 02:58 am (UTC)
This was amazing. Sad and aching; her panic is palpable even though she doesn't know what is wrong. For this Zoe, reading fantastic stories may indeed be opening new worlds and modes of being...but they are so much less than she could be (and has been though she doesn't remember).

Loved this line: Is her head failing her, too big a brain for such a frail little machine? Is she finally losing touch, drowning in the great sea of data that’s the only thing that feels right and real, that feels anything like home?
Jun. 22nd, 2015 06:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the feedback! (And picking your favourite line—always interesting!) It means a lot to me that you liked this :) ♥
Jun. 19th, 2015 08:33 am (UTC)
I don't know much about Zoe or her story, but your writing here is just beautiful. That sense of memory lost and gone, but unknown is beautiful. You have made me really want to go and watch more of her story now.
Jun. 22nd, 2015 08:32 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! ♥♥♥ It means so much to me that you enjoyed the story!

I just felt like there was a lot of potential to Zoe's character, part of it unexplored. :) Classic!Who stays a lot on the light-hearted side. In Zoe's introduction story, we see that she is all about the intellect and seems rather emotionally detached and not very good at interaction, but then she just adjusts to everything swimmingly, and is just a super-clever companion that tends to be best with the more intellectual side of things. Which is just brilliant, don't get me wrong, but the potential for angst is not covered by the show. From what I've heard, Big Finish doesn't have those limitations at all and doesn't fear to go into the tragic, so her stories there must be very interesting, as must their take on many characters actually. (I'd love to check out more BF but the obsessive side of me says "no, the actual show first! In order!")
Jun. 19th, 2015 06:51 pm (UTC)
I have never thought about how similar Jamie and Zoe's departures are to Donna's. Their Life doesn't hing eon it, though, which makes it even more tragic, in a sense. But to forever not knowing what they have lost, but still feeling that something is amiss. That is harsh.

I love it that she reads Wonderland! It was one of my first literary loves, I was three or four when my Mum first read it. And I made her re-read it over and over again until I could read it myself. I loved the absurdity and the odd turns it made. My Mum told me much later that she deeply disliked the book for the very same reasons. :)
Jun. 22nd, 2015 08:18 pm (UTC)
It really is! I also thought of that parallel, and how there was definitely something to be done there :) It's really like it all never happened, but it did.

It's such a gorgeous book! I read it rather late, only a year back or so, but I adored it, so unique and hilarious indeed, just surreal :D

Anyway, thanks for the feedback! It means a lot *hugs*

Edited at 2015-06-22 08:18 pm (UTC)
Jun. 23rd, 2015 05:23 am (UTC)
Yes. On the whole the companions Life gets so much better for travelling with the Doctor, but then there are those who die and those who can't remember. And it must be so crippling! Suppressing menroies isn't good for you and I can't imagine it would be different just because someone else has imposed that suppression. Rather the opposite, actually.

Isn't it just? My copy had really wonderful illustrations by Tove Jansson (more famous for her Moomins), which was very dreamlike and evocative.


And I was a rather Alice-like child so I indetified myself with her a lot.

My pleasure- I got to read it! *hugs*
Jun. 26th, 2015 07:47 pm (UTC)
Quite true! It must be a terrible strain on the subconscious, and make itself known through all kinds of trouble… Very difficult.

Oh, these look really lovely! :D
Jun. 20th, 2015 05:37 am (UTC)
I love your portrayal of Zoe! She's one of the absolute best old school companions. There is so much depth to mine here, and you really do her justice.

You do a great job of deep POV for a character that is so intelligent, almost mechanical in her thinking; and yet a living, feeling young woman. Perfect!
Jun. 23rd, 2015 08:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you, I'm so happy you liked this so much! :D Zoe is the best, she's really so interesting. I'm delighted you think my characterization did her justice :) ♥
Jul. 4th, 2015 06:17 am (UTC)
Poor Zoe!! Nothing wrong with the dear one at all!! Just big gaps that her great mind can't fill and a sense of longing that wasn't there before. I always wondered if their time with Two hadn't haunted those two in some small way...but some ways are smaller than others. I hate to think of her going back to what she was. I like the idea of her 'finding' it all again, even if it is not quite the same. Thank you for this, honey. Always.

Jul. 7th, 2015 07:55 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for the feedback, honey, I'm delighted you liked my take on her ♥
Jul. 6th, 2015 02:51 am (UTC)
Wonderful Zoe characterization. Well done.
Jul. 10th, 2015 07:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you! ♥ I'm so glad you liked this.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )


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