by Ben Aaronovitch
            And when he was old, they put him out to pasture. They gave him a dacha that overlooked the lake and assigned him a flat faced nurse who'd once worked for the KGB. During the short alpine summer, when the pollution reports were favourable, she would wheel him out onto the veranda to sit in the sun. They kept a bracelet on his wrist, a battery of miniature sensors that monitored his heart, blood sugar and adrenaline levels. The stainless steel buckle deliberately too complex for his arthritic fingers to unfasten. Every other second it broadcast a burst of medical data, relayed through the TV in the lounge and onto thr mainframe under the school. A constant mechanical deathwatch. His final decline bitmapprd in glorious 3D under the ground.
            His nights were filled with nightmares, as if the sum of all his fears had finally broken thcough the decaying walls of his conscious mind. He would wake screaming, his body rigid with terror, clawing at the smothering blankets. Even so, as his memories faded he found himself embracing his night terror - as the only surety of his existence.
            There was a horse in the field below the dacha, a magnificent white stallion, eighteen-hands high, with hooves as big as dinner plates, which had gone bad tempered with old age. Once in a while a tall man with blonde hair would enter the field and talk to the horse.
            He was aware that he too had visitors, men and women, mostly in uniform. They too would speak to him but, like the horse, he was aware only of the tone, not the substance, of their words. He felt himself in competition with the stallion, a contest to see who could die first.
            It was dicult to say when he first became aware of the boy. He seemed to have sprung up like a mushroom on the veranda one day, while he was dozing. The boy never seemed to wear his boots, although the rest of his uniform was always crisp, the blue UN flashes startling against the deep camoufiage green. The old man would open his eyes to find the boy squatting comfortably beside the wheelchair. He got the sense that the boy was somehow watching over him.

            New dreams overcame him in his sleep. A forest, in some far country where the air was hot and moist under the spreading canopy. Someone would speak to him in his dream, sometimes it was a woman, sometimes it was the boy, sometimes a mixture of both. The dreams filled him with a sense of loss like a fading summer.
            Atter a while, a week, a month, a year - he didn't know - he spoke to the boy.
            "Who are you?" he asked.
            The boy looked at him with strangely familiar eyes. Girls eyes, thought the old man. "Don't you know me, baba?" he asked.
            The old man shook his head, he'd forgotten so much. "I'm dying," he said suddenly.
            "Yes baba," said the boy, "I know."
            "Everybody dies," said the old man, "me, the horse, even you."
            "Yes baba."
            "Do you know why we die?"
            "No baba," said the boy.
            "Because we live."
            The boy was silent. Out on the pasture the stallion restlessly pawed the ground.
            "You like the horse?" asked the boy, finally.
            "It's a stallion," said the old man as if it was important.
            "You want to ride it?"
            "I can't," said the old man, restless in his wheelchair.
            "I think you want to," said the boy.

            Mounting was easier than he thought it would be; the boy was stronger than he looked, boosting him onto the horse's back. He felt the hot skin of the horse against his legs as he got astride, the muscles shifting under the skin.
            "I say," he told the boy, "I think I've forgotten how to do this."
            "Nothing is forgotten " said the boy.
            "Don't tell me, he snapped, "tell the horse."
            The boy smiled and raised his hand. In that moment the old man saw himself reflected in the boy's expression.
            Suddenly he remembered it all. He remembered the path in the forest the girl with the basket on her head being young and full of impetuous blood.
            "Wait," said the old man. There were questions he wanted to ask, things he wanted to say.
            The flat of the boy's hand came down hard on the stallion's rump.
            The old man forgot the boy as the horse sprang away. He was amazed at the power still in the old animal. Amazed at the strength in his own limbs, as he gripped with his knees and held onto the mane with both hands. The horse raced across the pasture, its hooves thundering on the grass like the sound of distant guns.
            The perimeter of the field was marked with a barhed wire fence but the stallion took it easily, snorting with contempt. They hit the medacam surface of the access road that ran down to the main road.
            He felt the wind rip around his face stripping away the haze that had consumed his mind. He changed his posture riding with his back down, head thrust forward into the wind. The stallion responded hy picking up the gallup.
            He saw the school to his left, framed by the blue white peaks of the mountain beyond. People were outside, men and women with startled faces running to intercept him. He wanted to shout to them, to tell them that it was all right, that he'd discovered the secret of eternal youth but his lungs were full of cold air and pain. The horse, too, was breathing in ragged uneven gasps, spittle flying back from drawn lips.
            Across the landing field they raced. Where the helicopters clattered and buzzed. Across the perimeter road and onto the final pasture before the lake. He risked a look behind. A land cruiser was chasing them, bouncing across the rutted field. The driver taking insane risks to reach them in time.
            Too late. Ahead the edge of the cliff bisected his view, the far shore of the lake just visible above and beyond that, the cool peaks of the mountains. A line of wire mesh across the lip to stop the unwary falling.
            One last fence.
            The hated bracelet on his wrist started to scream. A last technical defence against oblivion.
            The stallion took the fence with a metre to spare.
            The ground vanished from beneath them.
            He felt the artery burst like a blow inside his skull.
            Horse and rider were both dead before they hit the water two hundred metres below.

            And when he was dead they put him in the ground. They gave him a funeral with full military honours and buried him under the Union Jack. After the young soldiers had been paraded away, the old soldiers went inside to tell their lies and to try drink enough to sleep that night.
            It was almost dawn by the time General Bambera climbed into bed and her husband's arms. He'd taken it very well considering it had been his horse.
            "Nothing is forgotten," she said before she fell asleep.
            They woke her an hour later, to tell her that a mountain in America had just exploded.

Source: Doctor Who Magazine #195