Written for a Reedsy contest with the prompt: write about a couple reconnecting after a rough patch in their relationship.
A scream pierced the air, shrill and wretched it hung in the chilled spring air. Just a few days ago Ta-Da would have been unaware of what could have caused the scream.
Just a few days ago he had been blissfully unaware of his own warped existence pushing him towards the unachievable goal to cure humanity.
But still, he lumbered towards the scream, distorted body aching with every step.
Why had he awoken? Why did none of the other Doctors seem to have the same awareness he had? How long had he existed, blissfully unaware of what he had become?
His heavy boots tread over the rubble that littered the once crowded streets with ease as small bits were simply crushed to dust under his feet.
Rounding the corner he was greeted with the gaping side of what had once been a large office building but whose insides hung loose and mangled like an overstretched dress.
Bodies, grey and emaciated, cluttered the floors. Some looked like they had been attempting to flee while others looked as if they had simply gone whilst praying.
Another noise, not a scream but closer this time, filtered into Ta-Da's thick brass helmet.
Moving through the building's remains he descended further into the depths and out of the single ray of light that had shone through its open wound.
Down a large set of stairs the light tapered leaving the dust to play in the air like stars in the night; he missed seeing the stars.
Not far from the bottom, slid into a corner under a large piece of debris that had fallen to create a perfect little crevice, was a pair of bare feet.
Ta-Da stood still, knowing his arrival would have been heard from a mile away and watched the feet. There were several other bodies on the floor but all color had already left them.
He didn't know how long he stood there waiting but when he saw the feet move, toes curing as they disappeared under the rubble, he edged closer.
"N-No! Stay back!" He heard a woman's voice plead. Something about her voice sat in his chest, squeezing his heart like a child given a new stuffed toy.
The words had barely left her when she let out a whine, one of long and drawn out pain.
Bracing a thick gloved hand on the jagged concrete edge of the debris he leaned down to peer into the crevice.
No sooner had his masked face appeared a rock was flung at him, bouncing uselessly off his helmet with a hollow tink.
"P-Please don't! I-I'm not infected I just...!" She couldn't finish, arms shooting down to brace her stomach as she doubled over.
Her abdomen was large, perfectly round and distended; she was in labor.
Taking in a sharp breath through the filters at the front of his helmet he gripped the rubble piece with both hands.
Feeling the tanks on his back begin to bubble and boil he flung the piece aside with a massive rumble, the dust stars now swirling and clouding the air like a swarm of angry insects.
Exhaling the now hot exhaust steam rushed from his every port in his suit and cleared a path in the dust. Now, he could see the woman.
For a moment he thought a gasket of one of his pressure valves burst as an uncontrolled stream of memories ripped Ta-Da from the present and sent him spiraling into the unknown of his past.
He knew this woman. Visions of them sitting together in a classroom, in a library, at a coffee shop flickered behind the lenses of his mask.
What was left of his heart seized with an emotion that had been taken from him with his real body. He had loved this woman and he had been so close to finally telling her when..
In his deformed state he could not speak, a tube connected to an opening in one of his hands ran down his throat allowing him sustatian himself without removing his helmet.
None of the Doctors could remove their helmets, it was the only thing protecting their reconfigured organs inside of the steel and rubber suit from being exposed.
"Ta..... Da...." he moaned, pained as his throat twitched and contracted around the tube. It was all he could manage of his old name. The woman stared at him, wide-eyed and terrified.
He knew there was no way she could recognize him, no way he could tell her she would be safe with him.
There was no way he could tell her he wouldn't rip her apart or burn her alive like so many Doctors had done to so many innocents when their programming corrupted.
Whether it was because she was calmed or because she knew there was simply no escape in her condition she relented, writhing when another contraction hit her and she pressed her knees together.
Ta-Da moved closer and placed a gentle hand on her knee.
He remembered, he had nearly finished his shadowing for his medical degree when the virus broke out and They called for anyone with medical training.
"Ah... please," the woman sobbed, surprising them both when she grabbed his arm.
While his nerves had been crudely connected to his new body's wiring leaving his senses dulled he could feel her hand trembling. "Help me."
'Of course I'll help you,' he heard a voice, his voice, say in his mind. There wasn't much he could do for her, however.
Despite being labeled as a Doctor the tanks grafted to his back carried nothing more than water, fuel, and what had once been thought a cure for the virus.
Unable to dull her pain he did what he could to make her comfortable and keep her safe from anything that might try to harm her during the process.
He scuttled about, clearing away bodies and garbage and chased away an straggling Infected or two.
During a particularly strong set of contractions she had shooed him from eye-sight but he didn't wander far,
just enough to find a defunct vending machine he was able to smash open and get a light bounty from.
After hours he finally heard it, the gentle cry of a baby and quickly plodded back. Exhausted, the new mother cradled her child close.
Ta-Da could still see the fear return to her eyes as he approached so he set the drink and snack beside her and stepped back, watching.
"I... don't know what or... who... you are but... thank you," the woman breathed, grabbing the drink.
He watched her arms shake and strain as she twisted the top from it before drinking nearly all of it.
On her lap the small baby boy squirmed, kicking and fussing at the sheet and frustration of suddenly being ripped from his warm home. All Ta-Da could do was watch, enraptured.
When was the last time he had seen a baby, moving and breathing?
"... my name is Gwen," the mother spoke up, breaking Ta-Da out of his trance; of course she had no way of knowing he already knew that. "Do you...
do you have a name? I don't want to just call you Doctor... you clearly aren't like the others."
"Ta.... Da..." he managed it again in spite of the more persistent pain in his throat. To his surprise, Gwen smiled.
"Ta-Da?" She giggled. Ta-Da couldn't tell if it was terror, exhaustion, or amusement that had made her laugh but he knew at that moment he needed to hear the sound again and again.
" Well, Ta-Da, thank you. If it wasn't for you I... I don't know what I would have done. I hid here after being chased by some of the Infected.
I had hoped the other bodies would help me hide but I didn't expect to have this guy joining me here."
Ta-Da nodded, in solemn agreement both for the intelligence he remembered her for and the sentiment of not wanting her child born in a pile of rubble.
He could see Gwen's eyes drooping as she shifted her son to her bare breast.
Oddly, Ta-Da felt the need to turn himself away, but he could see just a sliver through the large dark lenses of his helment's goggles.
The light had long since departed and above them he could hear scuttling outside meaning the Prowlers were active.
He didn't know if Gwen could hear them, in fact he was sure she couldn't,
but when he saw her head lift to look at him he knew what she was going to ask him and he had had every intention of complying.
"... will you stay with me tonight?"
Ta-Da made quick work of rebuilding her shelter in case something were to happen, the same crevice she had before but with his lumbering eight foot tall chimera-mech self seated as a door.
"Mm?" Simple grunts and groans did not irritate his tubbing.
"Are... all the Doctors like you? Or are you different somehow?"
While the sunlight had disappeared there was enough moonlight shining through she could see him hold two fingers over his shoulder.
The realization she had figured out how to have a complex conversation with a being unable to utter more than simple grunts seemed to excite Gwen and he could hear her move around inside
her little nook.
"Okay...! Do you know why you are different? Or are you still trying to figure that out?"
"Did it just happen one day or were you always like this?"
"Recent or long-time-ago?"
"Do.. you remember who you were?"
He raised his hand flat, shaking it. Gwen giggled again and Ta-Da felt the pressure in his tubing rise.
Why had he ever let himself become this thing? Why had he ever left this woman's side? Gwen was silent for a long moment, Ta-Da could hear her get comfortable, keeping her baby on her.
".... did we use to know each other?"
Ta-Da didn't answer now, the thrumming of his heart was so hard he began to worry she'd be able to hear it pounding through his metal skin.
Gwen didn't need him to answer and didn't push the matter further.
"Do you think... we could get to know each other again?"
If Ta-Da had nothing else to look forward to in his changed existence, he did at that moment.