The Bell Jar
PG-13, gen, humour. Theta Sigma and the pursuit of science.
Theta Sigma woke up feeling rather like there was some variety
of dead animal inside his head. There was someone else in his bed, which was no
surprise, but there was a bucket hanging off his foot, which was.
“There is,” he observed, “a plastic bucket hanging off my foot.”
“Your perspicuity is formidable,” said Ushas, coolly. “Don’t move, you’ll
Theta jerked his foot. The bucket swung to and fro, and finally dislodged; it
landed on the floor with a thump as Theta rolled out of bed. “I think my clothes
are here somewhere,” he commented, idly. Ushas had returned to whatever it was
that was so interesting on Theta’s desk, and didn’t pay him any attention as he
wandered naked around the room.
Over her shoulder, she called, “Did you know Koschei is in your bed?”
“The thought had occurred to me, yes.” Theta couldn’t find socks or boots, but
the floors of the citadel tended to be cool and clean enough for bare feet. “I
shall shortly be throwing him out of it. And you, for that matter.”
“I’m not in your bed, Theta. Stick to attainable goals.”
“You’re in my room,” he argued. “And that for no reason that I can see, unless
you want to make a habit of coming in and throwing buckets about after a night
“I didn’t come in,” she said primly, still not looking at him. “I never left.”
“Ah. Good show, was it?”
“Don’t flatter yourself. I came in here for reasons of strict scientific
“Of course you did.” Theta drew back the curtains and looked out at the position
of the sun in the sky. “One of these days we should go to lectures. ”
“Speak for yourself.” She put her hands on her hips. “ I find my time is more
gainfully employed in legitimate scientific experimentation, rather than
listening to interminable old bores drone on and on.”
Theta nodded. “Lord Borusa considers my education a waste of time in any case,
and I do so hate to disappoint him. What is this scientific experiment of yours?
And why does it need to be in my room and involve buckets hung off my feet?”
“There was nowhere else to hang it, and your room faces the sun. It’s crucial
for this type of temporal engineering. Theta, get off!”
Theta didn’t, resting his head on her shoulder as he peered at the apparatus
spread over his desk. There was a bell jar suspended over an ordinary plastic
mixing bowl, with a hole carefully cut through the curve of the glass. Ushas was
holding the bucket across to one side; as Theta watched, she jerked away from
him and poured a mug full of water through the hole in the bell jar. It splashed
disconsolately into the bowl below.
“Gravity,” said Theta suddenly. “That’s profound.”
And then he lost interest; moving back towards the bed, he pulled on the covers.
“Koschei! Get up, it’s past midday and we’ve got lots of lectures not to go to!
Koschei stirred as Ushas poured another mug of water through the bell jar.
“Famed in song and story.” A snort from the window indicated what Ushas thought
of that. “Get up.”
Koschei didn’t stir, and yet more water landed in the bowl. Theta began to lose
patience. “Koschei my sweetheart my darling the love of my life, get out of
my bed. Koschei!”
“I’m coming,” mumbled Koschei. “Just give me a-”
“What? Just give you what?”
“Theta.” Ushas’s voice was strange. “Theta, look up.”
Theta looked. Something was different about the room; the light was falling in
peculiarly translucent fashion over the floor, and Ushas had gone pale in the
sudden dimness. The curtain had stopped billowing, and curled up on the bed,
Koschei’s eyes were wide and fixed, his face frozen in mid-yawn.
Theta grinned. “What have you done, Ushas?” Stepping lightly across, he gave an
Ushas frowned. “Time was supposed to freeze inside the jar,” she said
mournfully, looking at it. Water was static in mid-air, a cloud of droplets that
refused to splash downwards. “But everything in the room’s gone. Except me and
you. Why’s that?”
“I’m a Time Lord, or at least I will be,” Theta said, thoughtfully. “And the
same goes for you. We exist outside of time.”
“But what about Koschei?” She pointed at Koschei, half hidden by the sheet he
had been throwing off his head.
“He’s either not as good at this as us, or...” Theta paused, thinking. “Or, the
effect is only witnessed by those outside time who are making a conscious
effort. Rowing against the current, so to speak. And my dear half-asleep Koschei...
well.” Theta waved an expansive hand. “He got caught up with the flow.”
“That’s it.” Ushas nodded and tried to write something down, but couldn’t lift
her pencil out of the frozen timeline. “That’s definitely it.”
Theta was triumphant. “See, we don’t need to go to lectures.”
“Indeed.” With the full force of one fist, Ushas smashed the bell jar.
“...a minute!” Koschei blinked. “What? What are you both laughing at?”
“Nothing at all, dear heart.” Theta smiled and pulled at the sheet. With Koschei
safely deposited on the floor, Theta began to make the bed. “Both of you, begone.
I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime and do some work.”
Blearily, Koschei wandered out. Ushas followed, sweeping up debris as she went.
“Until tonight, Theta.”
“Until tonight.” Theta nodded.
Once they were gone, he finished straightening the bed and removing the broken
glass. And with the slightest of smiles, he re-set the clock.