“How can we even see it?”
“The TARDIS. We’re in the Vortex, and the Vortex has no three-dimensional aspects. You can’t look out a window at the Vortex. I know. He told me.”
The other woman smiled. “Well, a screen isn’t really a window, of course. And what you see on this screen … I suppose you could call it a seeming.”
“I set the controls of this screen to show me how close, in space-time, the TARDIS might be to our capsule. We don’t really want to run into him — or him into us. Better for all involved if we put a great deal of the universe between us, don’t you agree? But you’re quite correct; there is no way for a non-Gallifreyan to see into the Vortex. So, a seeming; a symbol. The reality made into an image that this capsule has created for me — for us. We humans are very literal creatures.” She walked over to where her comfortable chair awaited her, and patted the one next to it. “Come. Sit.”
Clara obliged. Her feet ached. She had actually taken it upon herself to feed the few people who’d mistakenly stumbled into the diner thinking it was a diner, while she waited for the Doctor to walk from where they’d left him to where they waited for him.
Running back and forth from the front to the interior of Me’s capsule, finding a food replicator that could make the hot beef sandwiches and tuna melts she served to her unsuspecting customers had amused her. She’d also liked making them smile when she told them their lunches were on the diner — opening day special, she’d said, and she’d been warmed as much as a dead person could be warmed. But standing on her feet all that time … if she was dead, why did her ankles ache?
She looked at Ashildr, or Me, or whatever the other woman wanted to be called these days, and considered her words. “Human. Are we?”
“Certainly. A dead human who, for the moment, chooses to be alive, and a human who cannot — yet — die, yes. But human.”
"I guess. And even if we aren’t, we might as well act as if we are,” Clara said after a moment.
Me grinned. “That’s as good an order of the day as I can think of.”
“So now what?” Clara couldn’t match her compatriot’s glee; not yet, but she did manage a slight smile.
“Where do you want to go?”
The smile turned into a rueful grimace as she smoothed the apron on her waitress uniform. “I never know where I want to go. He always asked me, and I never had a good answer for him. Almost never, at least. I did get him to take me on a luxury train ride once. In space.”
“Ah, like the Galaxy Express 999.”
Clara tried not to gape. “You like anime?”
“Oh, yes, especially that one. I read the manga first, though. And I liked the first movie.”
“Huh … well, it was a little like that. Except for the mummy. Can I have a little time to think about where to go?”
“That sounds like an excellent idea. Perhaps we should have some tea while we think about it — no, don’t get up —” Me raised a hand, waved Clara back to her seat. “I’ll be Mother.”
“You know where the replicators are?”
"I do, but I think I’m looking for the full kitchen. I’d like to brew it the right way, kettle and all. I imagine it will be where I find it,” she said.
Clara looked up at her. “That’s a pretty Zen attitude.”
That earned a laugh, and the laugh reminded Clara of a young Viking she once knew. Perhaps the woman in front of her carried more than she let on of who she had once been.
“This capsule will let me find it,” Me said. “She may take a while to get used to us, but I have a feeling she likes us, and is willing to learn.”
As she said it, Me walked to the white wall and gently placed on hand on a roundel. Clara felt a subtle change in the soft thrum that surrounded them. Abruptly, she felt homesick for the TARDIS, her TARDIS, the one she’d finally made peace with, the one she’d developed a fondness for, much to their mutual surprise.
“She needs a name,” Clara said. “Don’t you think?”
The other woman shrugged. “Perhaps. But we already know that she’s a TARDIS —”
“That name’s taken,” Clara said firmly, even as she realized how ridiculous that sounded. “This ship … she needs a name of her own.”
“Something else we should think about, then,” Me said. "I’ll be right back. Probably.”
In the silence that followed Me’s departure to find tea, Clara had more time than she liked to think about things, so she focused on what was closest to the surface. I’m going to think of her as Mie she decided. I refuse to travel with a pronoun. It was bad enough with the Doctor—
With that, her determination to avoid thinking of him dissolved like salt in water.
Clara had given herself enough time to freak out over her lack of a pulse. She’d also given herself time to get used to the odd way everything now looked to her — the blurring of everything around the edges, the occasional rainbow flash of colors that weren’t colors limning those blurred edges. She knew what it was, after all, courtesy of her own quick mind and Me’s supposition; she was in her own time envelope, so fragile and thin that she could interact with everything around her, so implacably strong that she could not break free of it. Only walking back into her own timeline would free her, and then only for her death. That was a certainty.
Clara was certain of a lot of things now.
She was fairly certain that taking the long way around would give her time enough to make peace, again, with dying. ( Think of Danny she’d thought to herself. Think of Danny. Given enough time, the mantra would take on the necessary power, she thought.)
She was certain that she would never stop feeling guilty for having erased the Doctor’s memory. She’d probably be irrationally hurt for a few years that he hadn’t somehow trumped the erasure to smile in recognition at her face in the diner. Me assured her that things like that did dissipate. I’ve only hated the Doctor occasionally, and it’s never lasted more than a few decades at a time. she’d said; Most of the time I’ve liked him.
Clara was quite certain she would never get the nightmare of the bird and the first second of eternity out of her head.
That he had done so much for her was absolutely horrifying, unbelievably exhilarating, and almost enough to send her back to Gallifrey, to plead with the Time Lords to send her back to the raven.
“Enough! It’s done, it’s done, and he chose it, and I’ve chosen my road,” she said aloud, as if doing so made it more official.
“You’re still thinking about his time in the confession disc, aren’t you?” Me was back, carefully setting out the tea service on the table that now stood in front of their two chairs. There were shortcakes, and chocolates, which were probably not at all what one should serve for tea in a time capsule. The pot was steaming. “Shall I pour?”
“That didn’t take long,” Clara changed position in her chair, partly to hide the fact that she had startled badly when Me reappeared. “If you’re pouring, I take just a little milk. And please tell me it isn’t Earl Grey.”
Me made a face. “Never could stand the stuff. Perfume belongs on the earlobes, not in a teacup. No, this is proper English breakfast.”
Me seated herself again. "I like chocolates for breakfast.”
“And we know it’s breakfast because …?”
“Because we want it to be. And you were thinking about what he did again, weren’t you.” Clara was astonished at how gentle Me sounded. She looked into her eyes and suddenly found that she couldn’t speak for the lump in her throat. She nodded.
“He did well,” Me said softly. "I am glad he saved you.”
Clara took a deep breath, and for a moment forgot that she had no need of doing so. When she let the breath out, she felt just a little bit more calm.
"I am too.”
“Here.” Me handed her a cup.
Clara took a sip. It was exactly what she wanted. She looked at Me. "I want to know how you snagged the capsule. I want to know why you decided to take me on. I want to know which of us is the companion. I want to know how you spell your name — I’m going to spell it M- I-E because —”
“ — you don’t fancy travelling with a pronoun?” Me’s eyebrow was exquisite.
“On the money.” Clara grinned.
“Then Mie I shall be.”
Clara sat back further in her chair, and decided she liked how she felt. “So I want to know a lot of things. Is that alright?”
“As rain.” Mie laughed again. “And we’ll let Her tell us what Her name is.”