A LETTER FROM HELL
Reply: The Sixth Doctor (A Doctor Who crossover)
by Sarah B.
I will be blunt. You do not know me. I am not a human being such as you (once were), I am an alien being called a Time Lord. I travel through space and time much as your race travelled the seas, and it was on one such of these travels that I came upon your letter.
Given its location, it’s a wonder I found the thing at all. It was clinging, all damp and messy, to the wall of an ancient earth sewer pipe I was traversing in the year 4717 with my companion, Peri. You see, my vessel, the TARDIS, can transport itself anywhere, and I can only thank whatever gods there are that at the time it materialized inside the sewer pipe, the pipe was not in use. In fact it had not been used for centuries, and there was nothing left there but some smelly rot and ancient decay. And your letter.
As I said, I almost walked right past the thing as it had been plastered to the sewer wall for so long it was nearly the same color - dank, unimpressive gray. Fortunately I have very keen eyesight and a vast intelligence that it is quite beyond your limited capacities to understand, so I was able to distinguish it from all the other pieces of dung still clinging to the curved concrete surface. That, and I slipped and when I put a hand out to catch myself, it fell squarely on your letter. That in no way negates the preceding sentence.
The appearance of a flat square piece of - something - in an ancient unused sewer pipe created a mystery that it took me and my companion some time to figure out. Peri thought it was a used napkin, then perhaps an undigested bit of bathroom tissue. It was only when I, in my immeasurable wisdom, thought to turn it over and discovered your handwriting. Peri thought it might just be a random pattern of snot on the rag, but she can be a very silly girl sometimes.
Speaking of snot - I must confess the way you wrote the letter presented a very intriguing puzzle to me! You wrote it to a fellow named “Snotty” and Peri said it was obviously a nickname and we’d never be able to figure out who you were actually writing to as there was only one other name mentioned as the possible recipient - Hornblower - and that was clearly a nickname just as Snotty was. She considered finding out any more about the letter - where it came from, who wrote it, and who “Snotty” was - an impossible task, and thought we should just throw the bacteria-laden missive into the nearest puddle and be done with it.
Fortunately, however, I had a free afternoon and vast, vast amounts of staggering intelligence, so I decided to sit down at the archives and see if I could figure this mystery out. Did I mention I’m a genius?
I read your letter through a few times, carefully gleaning facts from every details. You mentioned that you yourself were dead, and were sending the missive from a place earth people call “Hell”. You may have thought this some grand achievement, but I can promise you I have seen MUCH stranger things in my time. Possessing the capabilities to transfer an object from one dimension to another? Pfft. I was doing that when I dirtied my diapers in the crib.
But I digress. Studying the names in your letter I began to see they were pieces in a puzzle. Snotty was clearly a nickname, Hornblower possibly (although I’ve certainly seen worse sobriquets). But the surnames Clayton and Pellew suggested a starting place, and I had two full names to go on: Archie Kennedy and your own, Jack Simpson.
I began with your name, figuring that due to the very aggressive and dominant posture you took in your letter that you were some sort of general or other kind of leader in Earth’s history. Finding nothing, I then searched for an ‘Archie Kennedy’, and what I found encouraged me to believe I had indeed found the unfortunate gentleman you described (more on that in a bit). But he was clearly not the recipient - so who was?
Digging deeper, I traced Kennedy’s name backwards and found it connected to a Pellew - Sir Edward Pellew of the English ship Indefatigable. Aha! My keen and searching intellect pressed me onward, and at last I discovered a name astonishing in both its assemblage and its prestige: Horatio Hornblower.
And here, “Jack Simpson” is where I unraveled the mystery and intent of your letter. The TARDIS libraries contain everything that ever happened, every scrap of history there is, and once I had found Mr. Hornblower’s name and learnt his exploits, the meaning of your missive - and the answers to the questions you sought - became crystal clear.
Peri is often telling me I run on, so here I will be blunt and to the point. To answer your question, mainly, did you get the best of Mr. Hornblower, know this: in my research I found volumes dedicated to his exploits, statues erected to his memory, and a vast array of family and friends who kept his name alive for generations afterward. Whatever hold you thought you had over him was quickly shaken off, for I see in my research that shortly after you died he rose through the ranks and attained all the honor possible for his time. Even in the 48th century buildings bear his name, all manner of paraphernalia his likeness, and his name is in the ranks of the most important adventurers who ever lived. So in that, you are utterly confounded.
Mr. Kennedy was, as I’ve said, a bit more difficult to discern, but as I’ve stated before, I am a genius. The records I found for him ended abruptly with a note that he’d died in Kingston, Jamaica after confessing to a mutinous act, and at first when I read that I thought that he had become the abject creature you predicted in your letter - surviving his ordeal in the boat obviously, but losing his humanity and morals somewhere along the way. All accounts I read mentioned his name with disgrace - his body was buried in a potters’ field, it seems he was forgotten soon after.
But here is where it gets interesting. It turns out I was in Jamaica once a few years after Kennedy’s death (a nest of Cybermen had taken up residence in the basement of the consulate building, but I digress), and I remember that potter’s field as one I passed by at one point. I remember it because it was a windswept, lonely place, but in the middle of it was heaped a rather large collection of Jamaican wildflowers.
Odd thing, and when I asked about it I was told the flowers were ordered and delivered, anonymously, around the same time every year. I made the conclusion that someone had a loved one buried there and wished to leave a remembrance, but then the Cybermen began being pesky again and I quite forgot about it.
Until your letter, that is. Once I learned through my research that Kennedy had been buried in that field, some other discrepancies made themselves known to me. According to the TARDIS records, Kennedy and Hornblower were midshipmen together, and shared such devotion that Kennedy opted to return to Spain as a prisoner, after being there for years and only newly released, just on Hornblower’s word.
All accounts I read of the association of those two men suggested a close bond, yet everything I read about Hornblower told me he would never tolerate the company of a traitor and base individual, as all the accounts of the time depicted Kennedy to be. I revel in untangling conundrums such as these, and I set upon this task with equal glee.
Alas, Mr. Simpson, it appears that what my research uncovered is that you have once again failed utterly. Using my TARDIS I journeyed to several destinations in the 1800s and was able, through conversations with friends and family of both Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Hornblower (not Hornblower himself, mustn’t interfere with history you know), to discover the true nature of Mr. Kennedy’s “treachery”.
I will be blunt, again: Mr. Kennedy is dead, but you will never see him, for if there is a hell there is a heaven, and Mr. Kennedy is certainly there. Moreover, even though the political machinations of that ancient time prevented his true heroism from being known, it is fast in the memories of all who knew both gentlemen, and understand this: in 4717, it is still remembered. Remarkable thing.
And what of you, you wonder? This is the part that truly amuses me. Reading your letter it is blatantly obvious to me that you fancy yourself a great and powerful dominator, able to bend and destroy men at your will. You think yourself a Caesar, or Napoleon, an unstoppable force of evil.
In the vernacular of 21st century American youth: bitch, please.
I knew Caesar, AND Napoleon. I have seen power and corruption that make your feeble attempts seem like the amateur piddlings of a half-witted anchovy.
You deem yourself powerful and malevolent? The Sontarans wouldn’t even look at you. The Cybermen would smear you beneath the heels of their boots. You would be considered too puny for even the most unimportant Dalek to trifle with, a waste of their energy bolt to extinguish you. They might find an intergalactic vendor who would sell you for food. If he was not too picky that is.
Well, Peri is calling me to dinner, so I must wrap this up. I must thank you for this refreshing exercise of my faculties, it has been quite a long time since I have been able to exercise my entire brain! I am also in your debt for introducing me to the admirable Mr. Hornblower and his fellows. I must see if I can talk Peri into an excursion to the 19th century the next time we have holiday. There is a compatriot of Mr. Hornblower’s whose name is William Bush who seems like a very handsome fellow. She might get on with him.
Thank you again for the exercise, and if you should ever be curious as to what became of your resting place, please know that I have found it. It’s just off a rocky beach - I can’t recall the precise location, but it’s a beach resort now. There’s nothing much to see there except a hotel, a string of tourist shops, and - just above where your bones are buried - a fish and chips stand. There’s no mention of you anywhere, but one of the shops sells Pellew and Hornblower salt and pepper shakers. I’ll have to see if I can go back and pick up a set, the owner was very grateful I banished the Vervoids from her vegetable garden.