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When a Time Lord’s name is revealed,
Time itself will become unsealed …
Worlds will crumble into dust,
Your home will burn, and it must.
“Perhaps you could tell us your name,” the Professor said.
The Doctor looked around at all the accusing faces staring at him. Why, why did it always come back to this question? The wrong thing said at this moment might get him thrown out into extonic sunlight.
“What does it matter?” he tried.
“Then tell us,” the Hostess said.
He could hardly tell them his real name. Even if he could. Even if he wanted to. Even if it didn’t break every rule … what if they heard the translation?
So he chose the only other option available to him. “John Smith.”
An outraged response, but better received, he thought, than the alternative …
“I thought you’d got caught!”
Koschei grinned at his friend as he waved the bottles in triumph. “Caught? Me? You have no faith in me, Theta.”
“So why did you take so long?”
“I nearly got caught. Note the use of the word ‘nearly’. Because I didn’t actually get caught. So. Pay up.”
Theta shook his head in amusement, taking his bottle. “Fine. You sneaked the drinks out of the teachers’ rooms, you win. But you’re going to have to wait until Friday till I can afford to pay you.”
Koschei tutted. “Theta Sigma! Betting more than you can afford, what am I going to do with you?”
“My suggestion, wait till Friday,” Theta replied, uncapping his drink. “What is it they say on Earth? Cheers?”
“You could pay me another way instead.” Koschei’s eyes suddenly glinted mischievously, and Theta twitched. He had learned to expect trouble when his friend was this excited.
“Oh yes? How?”
“Yeah. Tell me your name.”
Theta, whose drink was halfway to his mouth, froze. Silence stretched in the room except for Koschei tapping a rhythm of four on his bedpost.
“I can’t do that,” Theta replied. “You know I can’t. Why would you even ask?”
“I told you mine.”
“When we were eight! And that’s not the point.”
“Oh, come on. We’ll be choosing new ones in a few weeks anyway.”
“Koschei, you know only family’s supposed to know, it’s the rules.”
“And who is the master rule-breaker, me or you?—Ooh.” Koschei mouthed the word ‘master’ again a couple of times. “I like that …”
“You know why it’s the rules,” Theta insisted. “True names are dangerous.”
“You got sung that stupid nursery rhyme as well, did you? You seriously think the world will end if you say your name?”
“I’m your best friend, practically family anyway. And you already know my name, so it’s only fair.”
“You don’t care what your name means,” Theta murmured.
Koschei shrugged. “Why should I?”
“‘Called to War’? Doesn’t it scare you even slightly?”
“No. Why? And if mine’s apparently so terrible, how can yours be worse?”
Theta bowed his head. “It is worse. And unlike you, I care what it means.”
“So what is it?”
Finally, the word Theta had suppressed his whole life came tumbling out, half-stammered. He had never said the name himself, only heard it uttered from his mother’s lips. A normal experience for a Time Lord.
Koschei’s mouth was hanging open. In the split second after he had finished, a shiver ran down Theta’s spine, even though the room was warm.
“Now that,” Koschei finally spoke, “is one cool name.”
Theta stared at him in disbelief. “You’re not serious?”
“Of course I am! That could strike fear into a Toclafane.”
“I don’t want to strike fear into anyone,” Theta replied, wondering why Koschei would even think he would. “You do?”
“Hey, I’m not the one called ‘Bringer of Destruction’, am I?”
Bringer of Destruction. The words rang in Theta’s ears. “Stop it! Forget you ever heard it. It’s not true, anyway, I don’t want to destroy anything.”
“And I’m certainly not fighting any war anytime soon,” Koschei said. “So much for names being the reflection of the soul. Maybe our mothers both sensed them wrong? Maybe mine was supposed to be ‘Most Handsome Man in the Galaxy’, and yours was supposed to be ‘Eternally Broke Because he Kept Losing Bets to the Most Handsome Man in the Galaxy’.”
Theta couldn’t help the laugh that escaped, and gave Koschei a playful shove. But somewhere deep down he felt uneasy.
On Gallifrey, rules were usually made for good reasons. And he had just broken one that was taken much more seriously than stealing booze from the teachers.
But he could trust Koschei—right?