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Not Seeing

Title: Not Seeing
Fandom, Characters: Doctor Who episode `Robots of Death'; D84/Poul (ish)
Rating: PG
Word Count: About 1500
Summary: In the beginning, Poul could not imagine that his assignment to the sand miner was anything other than a Bad Idea, all the way around. Gradually, however, he discovers that at least part of the ordeal is not as miserable of an experience as he had anticipated.
Notes: Long story as to why this got written. I heard about the D84/Poul prompt over at whoniverse1000, but was too obtuse at the time to work out that the fic had actually been written. The more I thought about it, though, the more I wanted such a fic to exist, so I started writing my own. Then I found out the fic had been written, and my own spent months in Minor Revision Limbo, but here we all are at last.

----

A month and a half into the tour. The water had already been through the filtration system at least once---every drop of it---and already tasted like it . . . tasted like nothing, rather. It had been years since Poul had been on a sand miner, which had apparently been enough time for him to forget most of the little things that he disliked about them: the stale water; the same eight people for company, and already beginning to snipe at one another; the constant, vulgar exclamations over the value of the latest ore stream and the money to be collected upon their return to base---a return that was still twenty-two and a half months distant, and Poul was already counting the days. There was something else, too, that Poul did not like about mining tours, but he was doing his best not to think about that.

He was something of an outsider, too, which did not help matters. Not as bad as Chub, the lone scientist, who was completely at sea amongst the miners. Poul had at least tried to befriend his crewmates, rather than rile them with petty taunts, but who was he? He had not been a miner in recent years and he certainly was not from one of the Founding Families. He was Chief Mover, which was a necessary job to be sure, but it was work that was only ever noticed when it was done poorly or not at all; for the most part, Poul blended into the background just as inconspicuously as a voiceless, single-function Dum.

Invisibility was not exactly what Poul needed, but it fit in closely enough to the company's orders that he tried not to mind. `The robot has been instructed to find evidence of Taren Capel,' they had told him, `you needn't worry about that. Your part will only come when the robot finds anything---if it does---in which case it will be up to you to devise a plan to deal with the situation.'

`Yes, but---,' Poul had tried to say.

`Just let the robot do all the work, and what could possibly go wrong?' they had repeated. `Now, off you go.' And off he went, still wondering how it was possible that the company either did not know about his history with Grimwade's Syndrome or persisted in deeming him fit for this task in spite of it.

Since the tour had begun, Poul had been meeting with the robot once a week or so. That had required some negotiation early on, since D84's nature was to do everything according to a regularized schedule, while Poul had felt that the other humans might notice if he repeatedly disappeared for an hour or so at the exact same time every week. In retrospect, though, it might not have mattered, given how little they noticed him at all. The interviews were always quite short anyway:

`Any sign of Taren Capel?'

`No. Have you seen anything?'

`No.'

Poul felt he ought to say something more, maybe suggest some other avenue of investigation or something, but he never felt equal to the task. D84 had evidently noticed, for this week, rather than offering a list of potentially suspicious circumstances it had not observed, or reporting all trivial malfunctions that even the threat of a robot revolution could not render ominous, D84 introduced a topic that Poul doubted was included in its primary directive.

`Why do you fear me?'

`I'm not . . . I'm not afraid of you.' Poul was past that fear now. Mostly. `Just a little unsettled, that's all.'

`I am not hostile to you. You and I are allies.' The voice of reason: calm, rational logic. Irrational fear had very little commerce with reason.

`I know. I know. It's just . . . it's nothing.'

`Please tell me.'

It was a robot. Just a robot. In its casing, it was a mere Dum, although its programming was equal to a SuperVoc, maybe even more advanced. Surely more advanced, for there was something like concern in its voice. Its face---its entire head---was still that solid cast metal: its eyes would not soften, its mouth would not turn down, not even slightly, in a frown of worry, and Poul thought all this made its voice even worse to hear: if it spoke in the same monotone as a Voc, he would not keep being half-deceived into thinking that it was human.

But it sounded so very much like it just wanted to help. He knew the words to explain, simply, what he was asked, and that was all the robot would be able to understand anyway. A robot would not understand feelings, and Poul did not know the words for the feelings, and he did not want to think about them. He could do the easy, analytic words, though. He could do that.

`You don't have facial expressions. You don't . . . gesture with your hands, you don't squint your eyes when you're confused or run your fingers through your hair if you're vexed. I don't have anything to go off of---there's no way to tell what you're thinking.'

`My voice has been programmed with twenty-one distinct inflections.' That particular inflection sounded mostly helpful, though it could have bordered on boastful, especially out of context of their present conversation. Twenty-one really was not enough; for Poul, twenty-one thousand would not have sufficed.

`But I can't see anything. And I doubt what I hear.'

`You do not always see what humans do when they speak.'

Poul took that to refer to interpretation of body language. `I don't always understand it, but I can at least see it. Always.'

`When you are at work, you look only at your control panel. You do not see the other humans as they give orders to you or to each other.'

Poul blinked in some surprise at this observation, but considered it, and at length allowed, `Well, yes, that's true.'

`You only hear their voices.'

`Yes, but . . . are you . . . ? Are you saying I should not look at you? Just turn my back to you, and listen, and pretend that you're human?'

`I simply said that you do not always see.' If bluffing had been included in D84's programming, it was surely doing it now. Poul laughed a little, in spite of himself.

`Yes, yes, I know: no imagination. But it's a good idea, even if you didn't come up with it.' And, because it did not seem right to end quite like that, Poul added, `Thank you.'

----

Six months in. Poul had forgotten that the water could become even more stale, and his crewmates more cantankerous. But then, once a week, it was just he and D84 alone, and if Poul spoke more with the fake-Dum robot than he did with the humans---genuine conversation---it was an unfortunate commentary on Poul's life, for even as advanced as D84 was, the robot was far from a stimulating conversation partner: literature and art and politics were all well beyond its sphere, although they did sometimes have lively enough discussions about drive train mechanics or navigational programmes and subroutines.

Poul would never look at D84 during their weekly interviews, and Poul never minded. `Interviews' had been a rather stale word, though, since their first real discussion---a survey of the history of robotics that eschewed both the deeply technical developments and the numerous ancient fictions. It had become an altogether inaccurate term since the first time D84 had reached out a mechanical hand to touch a human shoulder and the human shoulder had not flinched away. Afterwards, Poul found that he had never even thought of trying to brush off that hand. He told himself that this was because a mechanical hand, its contact with his own flesh impeded by a layer of clothing, was indistinguishable from a human hand. He did not like to think that -phobia could transmute into -philia; he did not even imagine that the two might coexist.

D84, for its part, was experimenting. At least, it had begun by doing so, though what had been initiated with a simple act of a not-at-all simple curiosity (curiosity: a human term for the programmes that instructed D84 to investigate the world around it), had grown into more complex acts of something D84 did not understand at all. D84 understood why Poul had changed `interviews' into `meetings' and `meetings' into `trysts': the words all meant some form of assembly or gathering of two or more persons, but they had different connotations, and those nuances held particular meaning to Poul. D84's catalogue of knowledge included `robophobia, a.k.a. Grimwade's Syndrome', complete with lists of acute and chronic symptoms of, possible causes of and advised reactions to; that same reference also contained `robophilia', complete with similar lists, although, if D84 were officially permitted to have opinions, it would have reported `advised reactions to' as an unsatisfactory catalogue of possibilities.

Now, Poul would sit with his back to D84 while deft hands wandered over his shoulders and arms and back and through his hair---hands that did not seem dead and corpse-like upon his body so long as some material intervened. And perhaps Poul's own conversation was not so engaging at such times as these.

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Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
lost_spook
Apr. 28th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
!!!!!!!!

This is great, really, really. And YOU WROTE POUL. You wrote Poul!!!

And I was so not going to be the scary waffly internet person anymore. Oops. But you wrote this!! I watched RoD for the first time in late 1995 and have been kind of obsessed with it ever since, especially Poul, D84, and the setting. And Leela, of course. And no one but me that I've ever found in the whole of DW fandom has ever written Poul.

I really liked this, and I like your imaginative way of making the pairing work. I got stuck on it (after I'd decided it was impolite to take someone's prompt and more or less go "what you really wanted was...") and the only thing I could think was to, well, be disturbing in the way D84 is helping, but he's not (like I bet his carrying Poul about in the serial was probably not, either). So yours is v clever and works, and they both come across as themselves. And you wrote Poul. I may still be a little hung up on that. :-)

fog_shadow
May. 1st, 2012 04:51 pm (UTC)
Eeeee!!! I am glad you like it!!

It's an interesting and very complicated sort of pairing, isn't it? (And, really, probably about the most complicated that I would really go in for, since I've never managed to get the hang of Foe Yay or love-hate relationships.) Once I finally read your own fic, I was very impressed at the much more direct way you approached their relationship.

Honestly, Poul still figures into a relatively large percentage of the DW that I have seen, so writing him doesn't seem that exceptional. Not any more than writing DW fic in the first place, which, prior to this, I would not have imagined I would have done. (Plus, you know, he's played by David Collings, so of course he's awesome, so of course there should be fic about him. ;) )

And, yeah, there's the whole setting of that particular society, mentioned in bits and pieces, and the back stories of most of the characters. I was really intrigued by the suggestion in your fic that D84 and Poul had a history of . . . solving mysteries for the Company. (And, yeah. More up-close communing with robots: probably not really what Poul needed at that moment.)

And no hard feelings about `the scary waffly internet person'! ;) I'm more than a little guilty of perhaps the opposite extreme of almost-lurky waffly internet person---I swear I have three or four fics of yours over the past weeks bookmarked to be read and commented upon whensoever I should Feel Intelligent (or Like I Have the Time) Enough to do so. :P
lost_spook
May. 3rd, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
Oh, I do like it. And, I mean, not just because a Poul-related fic suddenly went past on my flist. ;-)

And I think D84/Poul is further than I'd go (but probably because my version was creepier, heh)... oh, wait. I suppose there is only a fine line between fascination and fear, and love and hate can both lead to obsession with a person. (I was going to claim I wouldn't do Foe Yay type things, and then remembered I'd written Avon/Servalan from Blake's 7. Although they're canon. Does it count if they're canon and there's nothing you can come up with a fanfic that wouldn't seem possible, except for things involving kittens? Well, unless the kittens wound up dead. But, anyway. No, I don't write things like that. *cough* :lol:)

RoD was one of the tiny handful of VHS episodes of DW I used to have, so I think that's my thing with it, too. And we're not really alone - there aren't many other serials that have had 3 separate sequel/spin-off thingies. And it is fascinating; lots of things to play with, and the definite suggestion of a dystopia, as everyone's in permanent denial that robot-dependency might be a bad thing. (And more, but I'm a bit influenced by the book sequel Corpse Marker. Poul does not get a break in Corpse Marker, nor the unofficial audio series, Kaldor City. As far as I can tell. I only managed to get pt5, so I didn't understand it, but it was mostly snark and deviousness, so I liked it anyway.)

Plus, you know, he's played by David Collings, so of course he's awesome, so of course there should be fic about him.

Why does the rest of the world not think like this? :lol:

:-) While time is, of course, always a thing, I'm amused that you think my fic requires intelligence...

Talking of which, I don't know what you may have bookmarked, but there is this, which has my most coherent thoughts on RoD, although it's an odd thing - I've got to stop writing things that require some sort of explanation/apology for the oddness/reassurances that I'm not v shippy, anyway - a sort of Leela/Poul AU Robophobia (& How To Cure It). (The explanation being: some DW companions leave randomly to marry people they've only just met. Some have a nice lead in, before being abandoned with only one shoe to marry a man who tickles them with fish, or who wants to go up the Amazon looking for toadstools, but other are just slightly more random, like Leela. Which led me to conclude that logically she could have as easily stayed to marry anyone that she had a conversation with... hence the fics.)
lost_spook
Apr. 28th, 2012 07:34 pm (UTC)
Ha. D84/Poul is now accidentally a Thing.

Also, I forgot: Poul would never look at D84 during their weekly interviews, and Poul never minded. Is this meant to be D84 never minded?
fog_shadow
May. 1st, 2012 04:55 pm (UTC)
Ah, no. That was exactly what I meant to say. Or, perhaps, those are exactly the words that I meant to use, although I concede that they don't convey the idea I had as clearly as I would have wished (i.e., that Poul takes the advice and finds that it works for him). I shall consider a rewording of the passage. Thanks.
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