After Life by Amy Wolf
Summary: Rationally speaking, you know you’re not dead. Also, there aren’t eight other people in here, and you aren’t trapped in Jean-Paul Sartre’s vision of Hell.
Rating: All Ages
Characters: Jackie Tyler, Mickey Smith, Rose Tyler, The Doctor (10th), The Doctor (1st), The Doctor (2nd), The Doctor (3rd), The Doctor (4th), The Doctor (5th), The Doctor (6th), The Doctor (7th), The Doctor (8th)
Chapter 1: No Exit
Chapter 2: Counting Down: Coal Hill
Chapter 3: Counting Down: Necros
Chapter 4: Counting Down: London
Chapter 5: Counting Down: Skaro
Chapter 6: Counting Down: Untime
Chapter 7: Counting Down: Again, London
Chapter 8: Counting Down: Again, Skaro
Chapter 9: Open Your Eyes
Chapter 10: Counting Up: Exhausted
Chapter 11: Counting Up: Sentenced
Chapter 12: Counting Up: Burned
Chapter 13: Counting Up: Fallen
Chapter 14: Counting Up: Poisoned
Chapter 15: Counting Up: Shaken
Chapter 16: Counting Up: Shot
Chapter 17: Counting Up: Light
Chapter 18: Wide Awake
Chapter 1: No Exit
Author's Notes: For anyone who's confused, this takes place more or less during the Christmas Invasion, almost entirely inside the Doctor's mind. The "You" in the story's sort of the Ninth Doctor, in a sense. References to the outside world will come in at some point.
You’ve always wondered about this bit. After. You’ve been through the regeneration process eight times, but always from the opposite end. In your memories, you’re always the new one, the one who’s there after the change. You were never certain if there was anyone else to be.
It’s not death; you know that much. You’re never really a different person afterwards. There’s a shift, though, an abrupt divide between who you were and who you are. A different phase of your life. Something you grew out of. Still you, but a you that no longer fits.
You’ve asked humans before, and it’s actually much the same for them. Their memories are littered with the identities they grew out of, the stages of life they left behind. You can only see one difference; instead of a burning rush of renewal, they get a slow, creeping crawl. Less of a spring-cleaning, more of a perpetual tidying-up. A number have asked you if your past selves still live on in your head. You’d usually laugh and ask them if they still had a version of their twelve-year-old self peeping out behind their eyes.
Right now, sitting in an ugly gray room, staring at an eye-wateringly polychromatic version of yourself, you wish you’d gotten an answer at least once.
“So you’re the latest,” he sniffs, picking derisively at your jacket. “You dress like a thug.”
He’s insulting your jacket? “Maybe I am,” you reply.
“Nonsense. Things may have gotten a bit garbled around here, but we haven’t been totally cut off. You’re no thug, no matter what you think of yourself.”
“Garbled?” you ask.
“Best not get into that bit yet.” The little one with a bowl haircut pops up out of nowhere and holds a hand up. “He’s just been through rather a shock. We all had enough of a time with things, and that was under better circumstances.”
He’s talking about you, you realize. “Excuse me, what exactly is going on here? Or don’t I get to know?”
The little one looks at you, startled. “What on Earth ever possessed you to adopt a Manchester accent?”
“I like Manchester,” you mutter. “The food’s good.” You shake your head and glare. “Are you going to start explaining things?”
“Of course, of course.” He wrings his hand. “I was just getting to that. Well, um,” he pauses. “Do you remember how you got here?”
“I regenerated,” you snap. “I did notice.”
“Everyone noticed,” growls the enormous blonde one. “You only went and swallowed the Time Vortex.”
“Don’t mind him,” says the little one. “He’s still annoyed about how he went.” He nods, his hair flopping in his face. “So you remember the regeneration. That’s good. I wasn’t sure. Matters around here have become rather…confused.”
“Garbled,” you say.
“Right.” He shoots an odd look at the blond one standing next to him. “So you regenerated, and all the bits of you that are part of the current you are still out there. And the bits of you that you’re not currently using are, well, here. Inside.”
“Inside my mind? This is some sort of psychological dustbin for leftover aspects of my personality?”
“More of a storage facility.” He holds his hand up reassuringly. You’re beginning to wonder why he’s so keen on keeping you reassured. “We remember how we used to be, watch how we turn out, and influence how we become. Like any other memories, really. Just a bit more personality thrown in.”
“Yeah? So where’s the rest of you then? Do I get to meet the whole crew?”
“Oh, we’re all here.” He snaps his fingers and changes. The face in front of you has shifted, his dark hair’s combed back and streaked with gray, and he’s wearing a Panama hat.
You glance over at the other one, and see that his curly hair’s gone brown. The face under it is thinner, with a prominent nose, a pair of bright blue eyes, and the toothiest grin this side of a saber-toothed tiger.
“How’d you do that?” You shouldn’t be startled. You should know this, the way you knew you’ve regenerated, the way you knew this place was somewhere in your memories. But there seems to be a gap somewhere. A disconnect.
Something in your head screams at you to stop thinking about it right now.
“It’s easy enough,” replies the grinning one. “It’s really only me. All I have to do is shift my outlook a bit, and…” he changes into white-haired one with a penchant for velvet, “the rest follows suit.”
“But where’d the rest of you go? Aren’t you all in here, then? How come there’s only two…” You glance over, but the little one’s gone.
“I can assure you, my good fellow, we are all present and accounted for.” He waves his hand in a sweeping gesture, and you see seven figures standing in front of you, scattered around the room. They all turn for a quick glance and vanish, leaving the white-haired one standing alone. “We’re all a bit busy at the moment, helping to put the new fellow together. Was ingesting a good portion of the Time Vortex absolutely necessary? It made rather a mess. We’re having a devil of a time putting the brain back together. And we all need to keep an eye on our seventh self. He has plans, and you know how he is when he has plans.”
You snort. “I remember. You can all just pop in and out, then? How do you pull that off?”
He sighs, “That’s the thing, my dear chap. You should know that without asking, but matter have become rather…”
“Confused?” you ask, raising your eyebrows.
“Difficult,” he replies. “We were hoping you could help us sort things out.” He reaches a hand out to help you up.
You shake your head and stand up on your own. “What am I supposed to do? I don’t know the tricks, yet.”
“Yes,” he says, walking around an oddly-shaped corner of the room, “but you know him.”
There’s a man around the corner, when you step past. He’s got his face buried in his knees. Pale brown hair in soft curls falls over his legs. He’s wearing a dark velvet jacket, rather crumpled, and he’s moaning. Softly, but with horrible persistence, he’s moaning.
“He’s been like that since the last regeneration,” says the man behind you. “We were hoping…”
You don’t hear what they’re hoping, as you rush forward, but it is almost certainly not the well-aimed kick you deliver to the huddled man’s head. “You bastard!” you scream, delivering a second swift kick to the ribs. “You murdering bastard!” You kick him again, in the head this time. He crumples under your onslaught, unresisting. “How dare you?” you scream again. “You killer! You coward! How dare you? How dare you kill them, and leave me alive!” You pull back to kick again (and again, and again, and again to infinity or oblivion or whatever makes it stop) but strong hands grab you from behind and pull you away.
“Steady on,” says a voice behind you. “That’s not going to do any good.”
“No good? You know what he did? He destroyed Gallifrey! He killed them! He killed them all!”
Behind you there’s silence. You can feel somehow, all seven of them standing behind you in absolute silence. The hands holding you slacken their grip. You twist free, and turn around.
You’re ready to scream some more, but the looks on their faces stop you. Like seven mirrors they reflect guilt, sorrow and grief; aimed at you, or the one on the floor, you can’t tell.
You turn away. Back to the corner where your past sits in a heap of wrinkled velvet. “Did you know?”
One voice, now. All of them, with one voice. “I knew.”
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Chapter 2: Counting Down: Coal Hill
Author's Notes: All opinions expressed are those of characters, not the author. This chapter indirectly references Remembrance of the Daleks.
You still don’t turn around. It would be daft to be afraid of your own face, terrified to meet your own eyes. Daft or depressing, but you still keep your eyes fixed on the wall. “And you stopped me? You kept him here? You protected him? You want…” You pause, nearly choking with rage. “You want me to fix him?”
“Don’t you think you’ve suffered enough?” asks a Scottish voice.
Him. You know him. The schemer. The one who had everything planned out centuries in advance. The one who managed to regenerate before the war started.
You turn around. There he is in his hat, and his suit and his question-mark jumper that makes you hope the new one gets your fashion sense. That odd little brolly hangs idly from his arm.
“Enough?” you snarl. “What could ever be enough?” When you were him you earned you the title “Destroyer of Worlds,” you set Skaro up for a destruction so thorough that not even a stone remains, and he’s asking you if you’ve suffered enough?
“Was it enough for you?” You step forward. “Is that how you justified things? Did it even things out, all the deaths you caused, all the harm? Did it balance out, destroyer of worlds? Ka Faraq Gatri? Did that justify everything? Did it balance out because you suffered?” You nearly spit the word.
You’re looming over him now, and the little man steps back. He holds his umbrella up to as if to ward you off. “I did what needed to be done. It balanced out because of the lives I saved.”
“Spare me,” you sneer. “You weren’t a cold, calculating bastard because the universe demanded it. You did it because you like to win. Because it was fun being cleverer than everyone else. Because it feeds your ego. If you’d really been so altruistic, you’d have put a definitive end to the Daleks. You knew the war was coming, you could have prevented it. But instead you resorted to half-measures, enraging the Daleks without finishing them. Nice work. Fine champion of Time you are.” You turn away, and begin looking at the walls.
They’re different. While you weren’t looking, the walls changed. They're still gray, but not that horrendously ornate gray, simultaneously baroque and bland. A basement, now. An Earth basement, with an indefinable Englishness about it. And familiar.
You’ve been here before. Not for centuries, but you’ve been here before. Twice, actually. Once to set things up, and once when it played out.
You remember this basement. And you remember the Dalek coming up those stairs.
You point to the stairs. “What’s up there?”
Behind you, he replies, “I don’t know.” He frowns worriedly when he says that. "It shouldn't be possible, but I don't know where that leads."
“Is that the way out?" you ask. "Is it a way out?”
“Don’t play games with me.” It appears to lead somewhere, and anywhere is better than being trapped in this room when it changes back. You are finally somewhere you can’t hear your last self moan.
You start to dash up the stairs, when your other self says, “Wait!”
He holds up his umbrella. “You’ll need this.”
You snort, “What, is it going to rain?”
“Take it,” he says.
For some unknown reason, you do, grabbing it by the question-mark handle he holds out. You half expect something to happen when you touch it, with him still holding onto the point, some kind of energy transfer, but there’s nothing. You sling it over your arm, and head up the stairs.
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Chapter 3: Counting Down: Necros
Author's Notes: References Revelation of the Daleks
It’s a longer walk than it looks, going up the stairs. Entirely too long. Someone’s playing silly buggers with space-time.
When you finally reach the door, it swings open easily, revealing something that looks like the great outdoors. You ready the umbrella after your first glance at the storm clouds in the sky.
It isn’t raining, though. It’s snowing. You open the umbrella regardless, and step through the door.
“Where did you get that?” a voice bellows. You turn, and it’s the big blond you, a blue cloak covering the jacket a rainbow must have vomited on (you really hope the new one gets your fashion sense; you were the best-dressed one yet). He points to the umbrella. “What’s your game?”
You glance up, and hold it out. “It’s yours,” you say on impulse. You hold it out to him, still open.
He goes pale, and steps back. “Did he send you? My successor? Was this his idea?”
You step closer, and hold out the umbrella again. “You have to take it,” you say. You have an uncomfortably itchy trapped feeling, like you’re following a script you haven’t read.
He glares like you’ve just offered him a cobra, and reaches out his hand. The umbrella’s still open, and he takes it by the fabric. You still have the handle, until you let go. You wonder if that means something. You wonder if any of this does.
Once again, you don’t feel anything strange when you let go. But he goes white and wobbly like he’s about to collapse. He turns the umbrella around in his hands until he’s holding the handle. In a strangely weak voice, he says, “We never got on, you know. Predecessors and direct successors almost never do. No one wants to see what they turn into, or what they’ve left behind.” The umbrella snaps shut.
He turns, and begins marching through the snow. You trail along behind him. You remember these woods, and this snow. That’s the problem with living in your own memories. Everything is familiar. You’re beginning to recognize a theme, though. Not one you particularly like.
At least it isn’t Etra Prime. Although you’re curious why not.
“Why here?” you ask, turning to your other self. “Why Necros? It wasn’t particularly important. It was only Davros.”
“Only Davros?” he bristles. “Have you gone completely mad? Did you forget what ‘only Davros’ was trying to do?”
“I didn’t forget.” You turn away, and continue pacing through the snow. “He was trying to make Daleks out of humans. The same think the Dalek Emperor did, only less effectively.”
“Because I stopped him!” he snaps.
“Because he wasn’t important!” you shout back. If this one wants to raise his voice, you can certainly keep up. “Davros hadn’t been important for centuries. Not since he created the Daleks. He’d been slowing them down, actually, with his little civil wars. They weren’t going to line up behind him en masse, they weren’t ever going to be good little followers, because he wasn’t a Dalek. That was the fundamental flaw in his plans; no matter what he did to himself, in the end he wasn’t a Dalek. All he’d do was delay things with his little factions.”
“That’s easy to say now. Dismissing his ‘little factions’. But if I hadn’t stopped him, who knows...”
“I know.” You’re at the wall. You turn around. “It was one of my biggest mistakes, one of our biggest mistakes,” you point at him, “getting distracted by Davros. I know. He died it the war, well before the end. I burned his body and fed his ashes into a disintegrator, just to be certain he wouldn’t come back. And you know how much difference it made? None.” You click your fingers in his face, and he jerks back, affronted. “The Daleks killed his little cult of followers, and their war machine rolled on. If anything, they were more efficient. Had you gone after the ship headed to Skaro, you might have had some impact on the real enemy. As it was, you were useless. Wasting so much time on the wrong target.”
“Drag Peri after a Dalek warship?” he splutters. “I was trying to keep her at least somewhat protected.”
You grab the top of the wall, and plant a foot on the stone. “Oh, yes. Trying to deal with the Daleks by taking on Davros, trying to se that Peri made it back safe home to her mother. Like I said, useless.” You scramble up the wall.
The other side of the wall is strangely blank. It isn’t Necros, and it isn’t the warehouse you’re expecting. You perch on the top, and prepare to hop down the other side, when you hear your other self.
You turn, and look down.
He unpins the cat badge from the lapel, and holds it up. “It’s only fair,” he says, with a slightly malevolent grin.
You take it, and tuck it into your pocket. Then you face into the blankness, and jump.
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Chapter 4: Counting Down: London
Author's Notes: References Resurrection of the Daleks and Dalek
You land with your feet on a concrete floor.
Ah. Here’s the warehouse. And inside the warehouse, there’s you.
Blond, this one is. Blond and beige. Seeing his face from the outside, you understand some of the looks Tegan gave you. And begin to wonder about Turlough, as well.
His face should look pleasantly mild, but it’s white and drawn. He’s pointing a gun at nothing, at an empty wall. His hand is starting to shake.
You clear your throat.
He spins, and for a moment, the gun is pointing at you. Then he blinks, and his arm drops to his side.
This is all horribly familiar. You start to wonder if, when the next one comes, you’ll be meeting him in a Utah bunker that exists only in your mind.
The gun slides from his fingers, and hits the floor with a thud. He takes a deep breath, and pushes his hair back. “You’re here,” he says.
You nod. “What were you aiming at?”
“Davros,” he says.
“Davros is gone.”
You sigh, and reach into your pocket. “This is yours.” You pull out the cat badge.
He freezes. “You can’t mean that.”
“It’s yours,” you say. “Take it.”
He doesn’t lift a hand. Sighing, you reach up and pin it to the lapel that doesn’t have the celery on it. He flinches a bit, but doesn’t resist.
When you’re finished, he asks, “Satisfied?” sounding a touch resentful.
“It wasn’t me who thought of this,” you say. You’re still not sure of the point behind this little pass-along game. Except, perhaps, to make them all resent you for it. “I didn’t set up any of this. Did you?” You tilt your head. “Is this game your idea?”
He shakes his head. You notice his blond hair’s damp with sweat. “Not my game, no. This sort of thing was never me. I prefer games where everyone knows the rules.” He takes a cricket ball out of his pocket, and starts toying with it.
You glance down at the gun on the floor. “What are the rules, then?”
“No idea. I was hoping you could sort it out.”
You kick idly at the gun, sending it sliding along the floor. “Why me?” You have your suspicions about why you, what’s expected of you. What the others wanted from you in the beginning, and what the unseen parts of your mind are asking.
You have no intention of doing what they want, though. Some things should never be forgiven.
Your younger self (younger in so many ways) shrugs. You look up at him, then down at the gun again. “Why did you hesitate?” you ask. “Shooting Davros. Why did you hesitate?”
He shrugs again. “Does it matter?”
“Probably not.” You step over towards the gun, and kick it again, sending it sliding into the wall. “Why?”
“I don’t know,” he says. “It’s hard. Killing, I mean. No matter who it is. That sort of thing was never me.”
You snort. “It wasn’t? Then why was it only Davros you hesitated to kill? Why not the Daleks?”
“You think I should have hesitated to kill the Daleks?” he asks, incredulous.
You shake your head. “I want to know why.”
He opens his mouth, but not words come out. After a moment, he swallows, and starts again. “It was different. He wasn’t the same as the Daleks. I knew his name.”
“Is that it, then? You knew his name? He has a name, and a face, and looks a bit like your species? Is that why it was so hard?”
He shakes his head again, more forcefully. “No! It wasn’t that. You know me better than that. You know yourself better than that. It wasn’t because he was humanoid. It was because I knew him.”
He turns, and begins pacing, tossing the cricket ball from hand to hand. “I knew him, a bit. I’d met him. I’d spoken with him, more than once. And even though I knew what he’d done, that made it harder. Even with an enemy, those things make some difference. That’s why I hesitated. Do you understand?” His voice falters a bit on the last question.
You close your eyes against the vision of a Dalek mutant, his casing open, reaching out for sunlight with a single tentacle. “I understand,” you say.
You take a deep breath, and continue. “Sentimentality. Simple sentimentality. It’s easier to kill the enemy en masse than to think about the individual live you took. But those things shouldn’t make a difference. Someone doesn’t become more real because you spoke with him. They’re not any more worthy of death because you don’t know their name. If it’s necessary to kill them, it should be something you can do while looking them in the eye. Even if it’s an eyestalk. If you can’t do that, you have no business trying at all.” You open your eyes. “Don’t bother to show me out. I remember the way.”
As you stalk off towards the time corridor, you hear him call out, “Catch!” You turn and catch the cricket ball, then give him a raised-eyebrow stare.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he says. “I’m not being completely cruel. That ball saved my life, once. Well, not exactly that ball, but that’s my memory of it.”
You stare a moment longer, then turn away, ball in hand, and walk towards the time tunnel. You hesitate a moment (you know what’s on the other side), then step through.
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Chapter 5: Counting Down: Skaro
Author's Notes: References Genesis of the Daleks
You knew what would be on the other side of the time tunnel. There was only one thing it could be. You knew.
It doesn’t make it any easier, though.
Your fourth self you remember from Sarah Jane’s odd pantomime description, all teeth and curls. Scarves and gadgets and the delighted wanderings of someone who, for the first time in centuries, wasn’t a prisoner or an exile or a fugitive, but truly free.
No wonder you smiled so much.
He isn’t smiling when you see him, though. He’s standing in a corridor you remember from Skaro (the planet you destroyed you think, and correct yourself. A planet you destroyed), outside the Dalek hatchery, bent over a pair of wires and frowning in concentration.
Not smiling, and remembering how you got into that situation, not entirely free.
Not that that excuses anything. You had more than enough choices.
You take the cricket ball, and drop it on the ground. It rolls towards him, and stops at his foot. He sets the wires down a moment, and picks up the ball. It disappears into his pockets.
You need pockets like that. You didn’t bother last time, as dimensional transcendence is difficult to get into leather. It got rather tiring, though, having to carry everything bigger than an ordinary pocket holds.
“So this is it,” you say, “the moment you started the war.”
“What should I have done?” he asks. “Killed them all? Committed genocide?”
“Why not?” you snap. “That’s what it came down to in the end. That’s what it came down to, and it didn’t even work. Not on the Daleks, anyways.” You turn away, and stare at the wall.
“So I was supposed to wipe out a sentient species because it might have been necessary in the future? Not even try to find an better way? Simply slaughter them?” He turns towards you, eyes wide and nostrils flaring.
“You killed more because of this,” you snap back. “You personally killed far more in ending the war than you would have in destroying this room. What you would have done here to prevent the Daleks is so much less than what you had to do to stop them.”
“I thought there was a better way. I hoped there was a better way. If there was any other possibility...”
“Why’d you take the mission then?” you ask, stepping in close.
He looks you in the eyes, alarmed, “What?”
“Why did you take the mission?” you repeat, through your teeth. “You came here to kill them...”
He cuts you off, “I wasn’t set to kill them, necessarily. That wasn’t the mission.” He looks away.
“You came to kill them.” Your voice is low, but firm. “You came to kill them, and undo all the harm they’ve done, and all the harm they would do, but you weakened at the last second. Pathetic,” you sneer, turning away.
“Pathetic?” His voice rises. “Turning away from genocide? Not wanting to...”
“Exterminate them?” you ask, cocking your head. He flinches. “It was pathetic. Because you stood there with the wires in your hand, and what made you hesitate wasn’t that it was about to happen, but that it was you that had to decide. You’d have gladly let Davros ‘decomission’ his project for you. Killing all these little squelchy things” you tap the little glass window set in the door, “just as dead. But you wanted that because you could have kept your hands clean and your eyes closed. Like I said, pathetic. Cowardly. Weak.”
He stares down for a long time at the wires on the floor, and shakes his head. Finally he speaks. “Why are your doing this?” he asks, “putting us all through this? To tell us what we should have done? To spread the guilt?”
“I’m not doing this,” you say, shaking your head. What would be the point of that? It isn’t diminishing the guilt to blaming it on your past selves. It’s still your actions; still your guilt. Every encounter only convicts you further, expands your culpability
“I beg to differ,” he says. “It must be you. Process of elimination.” He takes the time ring off his wrist, and hands it to you.
“For your predecessor?” you ask.
He shakes his head. “This is for my predecessor,” he says, taking off his scarf. He loops the scarf around your neck, and taps the time ring. “This,” he says, “is the way out.”
You glance down at the time ring, and look back up at him. He’s activated it, though, and he’s already starting to fade. Just before leaving, he asks in a forlorn voice, “Did I have the right, then?”
You shake your head. “You had the duty.”
The last thing you see is him bending down to pick up the wires again.
For the first time, you wonder how long he has to stand there holding the wires. How long they all have to stand there; in the cave, in the warehouse, in the basement, in the snow. Not for the first time, you wonder why.
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Chapter 6: Counting Down: Untime
Author's Notes: References Day of the Daleks
Some words don’t translate. You’re the last who remembers the language of Gallifrey, and you’ll be damned before you see it distorted into the incomprehensible tangle you’d get trying to transliterate it into human writing. So when the time ring fades into a familiar place than never existed in that form because you prevented the temporal anomaly that created it, “Untime,” is the best translation you can come up with. Somewhen you’ve before. Somewhen that never was.
That’s impossible, of course, but it wasn’t back then. Not for a Time Lord. Not quite.
The English phrasing doesn’t matter though, since the only person present speaks Gallifreyan precisely as well as you.
He’s the first thing you see when you arrive; a man in a red velvet smoking jacket strapped to a table.
The mind scanner. You can’t remember if it was the first time Daleks tried to scan your brain. It definitely wasn’t the last. Or the worst.
He glances worriedly at the scarf, and you smile. “Yes, this is for you.” You drop it on his chest, and his face curls into a sneer of distaste.
You step back, and watch him struggle with his bonds. After a few minutes, he asks, “Could you release me, my dear chap?”
“Yes, but I don’t think I will.” You circle the table, smiling as pleasantly as you can manage. “Having a good time? Saving the Earth, saving the humans, usual business?”
He turns his head and glares at you, but doesn’t respond.
“You’re good at that,” you continue, “saving the humans from Daleks. Extremely good, as I recall. Astounding.”
He lifts his head to give you another dirty look. “Are you complaining about that?”
“Not exactly complaining, no.” You begin examining the equipment of the Dalek mind scanner. Surprisingly primitive stuff. They improved later. The better their opposition, the better technology the Daleks produced. “Just...observing. You’ve always been very protective of this little planet.”
“I was exiled here!” he snaps. “I was hardly about to let the planet be destroyed while I was living on it.”
“I was talking about after.” You turn back to face the table. “The war.”
He drops his head.
You put your hands on the table, and lean over him. “People always compare war to chess. For the most part, that’s rubbish. Denial. A way of pretending that all the lives you take are just little wooden pieces that you can put back at the end of the game. But there are one or two interesting similarities.”
You straighten up. “Before the game starts, all moves are possible. All outcomes. But each move narrows the possibilities. Reduces the outcomes. Limits the ways you can win. And if you make up your mind to protect one piece, say the queen,” you tap the table as if pointing to an imaginary chess board, “then you limit your chances to save the king.”
His eyes follow your finger, then move up to your face. “You are aware of the potential consequences if the Daleks altered human history. The consequences for Gallifrey, and the consequences for...”
“Ourself?” You raise an eyebrow.
He clears his throat indignantly. “If our history were unraveled or erased, then the consequences for the universe would be disastrous. Without anyone to oppose Omega, without...”
“Our timeline’s not going to come unraveled.” You shake your head. “Really, you can’t be that oblivious.”
“You can’t just ignore the consequences of a temporal paradox.” He lifts his head again.
“And you can’t survive a time ram, and you can’t escape from a chronic hysteresis. You can’t slide sideways through reality using nothing but a TARDIS console and put the ship back together after splitting between two universes. You can’t even set foot on one spot in the time line, and then go back and alter things so it never happened. First law of time travel, remember? By all rights, you shouldn’t be here now.”
He drops his head. “What are you suggesting?”
“I’m suggesting,” you say, “that you never needed to keep your timeline in one piece. Any more than you had to worry about time turning on you otherwise. You’ve danced with her enough to know she always lets you call the tune. You didn’t save this little planet to preserve the universe. You made your choice because of what you most wanted to save. And it wasn’t the world you came from, the people who raised you, the planet you always called home. No, it was these...apes that you picked. Over your own world.”
He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. “I was trying to save everyone.”
“You couldn’t, though. In the end you couldn’t. And you made it perfectly clear where your priorities lie.”
He doesn’t respond. He doesn’t open his eyes. He just lays on the table, looking very tired.
You sigh, and begin removing the restraints. He sits up, brushes himself down, and straightens his clothes. The scarf falls into his lap. He makes no effort to move it.
“So, where’s the way out then?” you ask.
He points wordlessly out the doorway. He picks up the scarf, and loops it idly around his neck. Then he picks up his cape and starts to put it on. He stops, the cape still in his hands, and passes it to you.
“For your predecessor?” you ask.
He nods, a trace of a smile on his lips. “He could stand to dress better.”
You take the cape in hand. The satin lining’s oddly smooth to the touch. You haven’t touched any fabrics that grand in a while, and for a moment you stare down at the red lining, running your fingers over it.
Then you turn towards the door, and walk away. You don’t look back.
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Chapter 7: Counting Down: Again, London
Author's Notes: References Evil of the Daleks and Parting of the Ways
The door is metal, and automatic. When it slides back, it reveals a Victorian drawing-room. Under normal circumstances, that would surprise you. Right now, you simply spend a moment trying to sort out where you are.
It’s the Waterfeld home. Where Victoria grew up. And her father... Well. You’re lucky it isn’t Skaro again.
He is sitting at a table, just as you expect him. Black coat and black hair nearly obscuring his face, he tinkers with the device in his hand.
You come up behind him quietly, and lean over. You drop the cloak over his shoulders. “Having fun?”
He jumps, and drops the tool he was using on the floor. Shooting you an annoyed look, he sets the device down, and proceeds to scramble around the floor. Strangely, the cape stays on his shoulders.
You straighten up, fold your arms, and lean back against the wall, smiling. “There’s no need for all that,” you say. “Your clever little idea has already done all the damage it can do.”
His head pops from behind a sofa. “Damage?”
You nod, still smiling. “Cunning device. Mentally reprogramming the Daleks. The “human factor” as they called it. Made a Kaled mutant remember that it could have a personality. And of course the reverse device; turning humans into killing machine. I always thought they overestimated the difficulty of that bit. If you want to turn humans into unquestioning killers, it’s easier just to talk to them. A few well-written speeches, spark the old paranoia a bit, play on the group loyalty. No machines needed.”
He stands up and dusts himself off. The tool and the device are both tucked back into his pockets. “You still haven’t told me,” he says, with an affronted glare, “what sort of damage you imagine I inflicted.”
“That device of yours was very clever. Very clever indeed.” You nod to yourself, the smile still frozen on your face. “To take something as incoherent as “the human factor” and turn it into actual results. Impressive. And it did something even more impressive. It got the Daleks thinking. Downright astounding, that. If I recall, in those days, they weren’t that bright.”
He harrumphs and straightens his tie. “Bright enough,” he says. “They did have time machines.”
“Exactly.” You stand up straight. Your face is starting to hurt from smiling, but you don’t stop. You’re not sure if you can stop. “They had time machines. It wouldn’t have mattered otherwise, your clever little device. Your clever little idea; making them see how similar human brains and Dalek brains really were. But they had time machines. And they used them. That’s how they managed to become so impressively intelligent while still not being that bright. Ideas were passed back. When the Time War broke out, all sorts of ideas were passed back. What one stage of Dalek history knew, all Daleks knew.”
“Horrendously irresponsible,” he grumbles. “Endangering fundamental causality.”
“They’re Daleks,” you step forward. The frozen grin on your face must look disturbing by now. “They don’t care.”
He looks up at you, and the clownishness briefly melts away. His eyes meet yours with all the intelligence of a Time Lord, and one who grasps the implication of what you just said.
It’s not entirely necessary for you to say any more. You do anyways. The muscles in your face hurt, and you’re in no mood to be kind. “They take advantage of that knowledge. Davros is first, although he completely bungles it. Still thinking too much like a biped. He tries to turn individual humans into Daleks, and it falls apart. He doesn’t think to use human tissue.”
He’s gone rather pale, and his mouth hangs open. He doesn’t look away, though.
You respect him for that, a bit. Not enough to stop. “So the Daleks experiment with the idea a few times. There’s some particularly unpleasant results from Daleks repeating Davros’s mistake. But near the end of the war, they’re starting to catch on. And afterwards, when the Dalek Emperor needs to rebuild, he has no other Daleks, but plenty of humans to work with. All because of your clever little idea and your clever little device.”
He finally tears his eyes away, and looks down at his hands. “It wasn’t...It wasn’t my idea. The Daleks demanded it. I simply turned the tables.”
“Oh, right.” You lean in. The muscles in your face are killing you, which is a bit annoying because it isn’t your real face. If there’s one advantage to being a mental construct trapped in your own psyche, it should be that things don’t hurt. “The Dalek factor. The human factor. They hadn’t a clue what they were talking about. It took you to translate that into something that could work.”
“I couldn’t have anticipated...”
“You did,” you interrupt. “You didn’t know, I’ll grant you. But you anticipated the possibility. You guessed. You knew they had time travel. But you decided it was worth the risk. And the Dalek Emperor put millions of humans through the meat grinder to create more Daleks, thanks to the clever little idea you put into his head.”
He groans, and puts his head in his hands. “I only....I only...”
“You what?” you ask, leaning in. The smile finally drops. “You what?”
He just groans again, and shakes his head.
You straighten up. There’s another door at the end of the room. Simple enough. But there’s one last thing. You hold out your hand.
He takes one hand away from his face, and reaches into his pocket. Without looking, he pulls out the recorder, and holds it out towards you. You take it, and walk away, out the opposite door.
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Chapter 8: Counting Down: Again, Skaro
Author's Notes: References The Daleks (the second Doctor Who story, technically known as The Mutants).
It’s the first one, now. End of the line. Something’s bound to happen now. Something has to.
The door from Victoria’s drawing room leads into the TARDIS. Your TARDIS. The old console room, the way it was when you first arrived on Earth. The way it looked when you first picked up the habit of traveling with humans, one of the two species that would come to define your life.
And when you met the other species that the rest of your life would center around.
He’s fiddling with the mercury fluid link. Of course.
“There you are, hmm.” He doesn’t look at you.
“And here you are.” You don’t look away.
“Come to play out this little game of yours?” He sets the mercury tube on the console.
You pick it up. Such a small thing. “It’s not my game.”
He paces, still not looking at you. “Who else’s could it be?”
“I don’t know!” you snap, pocketing the fluid link. “Oh, yes,” you say, pulling out the recorder. “This is for you.”
He looks up, finally, and harrumphs indignantly. “The nerve!” He holds out his hand, though. It shakes a bit as he reaches out, but he takes the recorder.
You put your hands in your pocket, and your fingers bump the fluid link. Such a tiny thing, the little glass tube that started it all. “Why’d you do it?” you ask.
“This.” You pull the tube out and waggle it in front of his face.
He finally meets your eyes. “Don’t you remember?”
The scary thing is, you don’t. Not exactly. You remember it happening, and you remember that it was you. But you don’t entirely remember what it was like. It doesn’t feel quite like your memory. Not completely. That isn’t right, you know, and it’s the best sign so far that there’s something broken in you.
But you’ve been ignoring that since you regenerated. You can hold out a bit longer.
“Indulge me,” you say, flashing a mirthless grin. “Why?”
He drops his eyes, and sighs. He turns and paces a bit, and for a moment you think he isn’t going to answer. Finally, he stops, facing the hat stand, and speaks. “I wanted to explore. We were on a new world, one I had never even heard of, and everyone was ready to pack up and leave! I had finally left those dried up old pedants on Gallifrey, and I was not going to run and hide from the universe simply because a few humans became skittish!”
“Right.” You tilt your head and close your hands over the fluid link. “The dried up old pedants who warned you about the dangers of interference. The ones who told you what a single Time Lord could do to causality. The impact of one small change, one tiny item that changes the universe. Did you cause the war?”
“I..I don’t know,” he stammers, still apparently addressing the hat stand.
“That’s it,” you say, “you don’t know. I don’t know. I’ll never know, will I, if a bit of glass and mercury caused the biggest war this universe has ever seen. I’ll never know what the Daleks would have been, had they stuck to rolling around the city full of electric floors, if they’d have worried about the universe outside.” He’s given up on the hat stand, and is facing you. His eyes are still on the floor.
The invasion of Earth,” you continue, watching him flinch, “I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think that the human race was nearly destroyed by Daleks in the twenty-second century. Not originally. But I don’t know. I’ll never know, now. There is no way to go back and change it, or even find out. Because everything the Daleks did, all the destruction, all the murder, the entire Time War and the destruction of Gallifrey are written into history, and they’re written by my hand!”
You stop, and take a breath. “Because I was you. Because I sabotaged this.”
He’s staring at the small tube in your hand. The fluid link shines innocuously.
“I’ve thought about it,” you continue, “changing what I did. Going back and altering that one point. Preventing the tube from breaking. Seeing how history unfolds, if it’s better or worse. But I can’t do that now, I literally can’t. Because if I made that one change. the universe would come apart around my ears. If I hadn’t” you close your hand, “tampered with this!"
You throw the fluid link hard at his head. He throws his hands up, and the glass shatters against his arm. Glass and mercury go flying over everything.
And just like that, he’s gone. It’s all gone, the TARDIS, the hat stand, everything. You turn around, half expecting to find your eighth self curled up in a corner, but there’s nothing. No corners. No walls. Nothing.
Just blankness. Just empty whiteness, stretching out above and below and beyond, into the horizonless distance, for as far as you can see.
Silently cursing yourself for having watched the film THX 1138, you begin to walk.
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Chapter 9: Open Your Eyes
Author's Notes: Uses a scene from The Christmas Invasion. Also, I know the Doctor talked about tea having an infusion of free radicals, but he got that wrong. Not that I blame him, with the regeneration and all.
You were threatened with this, once. Nothing, ever. By the White Guardian, which led you to suspect that the Black and White Guardians were divided by something other than good and evil.
You don’t know what happened with the White Guardian in the end, but he got what he wanted from you. He’d be unlikely to do something like this to you now. It’s almost certainly all in your head, then. Process of elimination, like you told yourself. There only is just you.
You don’t know how long you’ve been walking. There’s nothing to measure by. Presumably, you can’t go on forever. One day, you’ll die, really die, and this will be over.
“Is that it?” you shout into the nothingness. “No more games? No more little mysteries? No more leading me around by the nose? What’s this all about, then? What’s left?”
“Help me,” you hear. Without thinking, you open your eyes. Your real eyes, the ones you didn’t realize were closed.
You’re awake, really awake, with the sonic screwdriver in your hand. There’s a spinning Christmas tree, and screaming. Rose and her mum.
Quick, before you can put things together, your hand shoots out and uses the screwdriver to destroy the tree. That’s when you realize that you’re not in the driver’s seat.
Well, the real you is. The new you, with the skinny new body and floppy hair. The one sitting up in Jackie Tyler’s bed, which is an alarming thought in its own right.
“Remote control,” he says, “but who’s controlling it?”
They can’t be far, you think, and he heads for the balcony. He’s wearing pajamas, and you hope that’s not the outfit he’s settled on.
Your head hurts. You’re not entirely sure why.
On the balcony, you see the robots dressed like Father Christmas. Scavengers, you think. That’s probably the worst they can throw at you. They’re ready to run at the first sign of danger. Sure enough, the new boy pulls out the sonic screwdriver and uses a bit of subsonic vibration to frighten them off.
They’re not what you need to worry about, though. Those scavengers only trail along in the wake of something big. You can’t hear what the new boy’s thinking, and he doesn’t seem to hear you. But your head hurts enough that you know something’s not right.
Mickey’s been asking what’s happening for at least a minute, and the new one finally responds, “Pilot fish.”
Perfect, you sigh, or rather, not being in charge anymore, you don’t. Enigmatic and taciturn. You wouldn’t be surprised if Rose decides to stay home rather than deal with this.
He says the pilot fish bit again, and collapses. You feel the vortex burning and begin to wonder if being stuck in bizarre mental landscapes is such a bad place to be after all.
“You woke me up too soon,” he says. “I’m still regenerating. I’m bursting with energy.” Evidently he does speak, which is a relief. Your headache is getting worse, and he spits up vortex.
You’ve never even heard of anyone spitting up vortex before, but it is unquestionably a bad sign.
You have no idea what to do about the vortex; either it will leave or it won’t. But while he’s yammering on about energy and ‘pilot fish’ (and you’re tempted to slap him and insist he offer a proper explanation), you recognize the headache as a neural implosion (the other ones said they were having trouble with the brain). That’s something you do know how to deal with. There were a whole host of remedies on Gallifrey, but the simple first aid version is an infusion of liquid tannin, and antioxidants to clear out the free radicals. Easy enough.
It’s a bit disconcerting when the new one says, “I’m having a neural implosion.” The thoughts are in your mind, and the words come out your mouth, but the connection’s not there. Off-putting.
“I need...” he stammers, and Jackie begins rattling off remedies at a mind-boggling rate. If anyone was going to guess tea, you’d have thought it would be her. But she spouts off about medication and vitamins, and you’re tempted to tell her to shut up.
“I need you to shut up,” he says, and you burst out laughing in your head. The new kid’s got potential. Telling Jackie to shut up on the first day. You’re a bit annoyed that he can’t provide a simple explanation (Just spit it out, you snap, but he doesn’t seem to hear) and at his non-existent attention span. There’s something powerful and malevolent headed towards the planet, and halfway through the explanation, he starts nattering on about an apple in his dressing gown (making the words “magpie mind” echo unpleasantly through your head). But he’s not completely hopeless, and you begin to take an interest in making this work. There’s danger to be fought, and people to be protected, and Rose, of course. She’s right there, looking so human, staring into your eyes waiting for you to pull it together and save everyone.
Even living on as some mental hitchhiker in the new one’s mind is starting to look like it might be worthwhile. That’s not the choice, though. The part of your mind that seems to know what’s going on tells you that. It’s pull together, or break apart. In or out.
“But the pilot fish,” says the new you. “The pilot fish mean that something...something...something is coming.” You mentally curse as your eyelids fall shut. Everything fades out, and you find yourself staring at another gray wall.
“Alright then,” you ask, “what do I need to do?”
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Chapter 10: Counting Up: Exhausted
Author's Notes: References The Tenth Planet
You’re in a gray room, a crude scooped-out place that looks barely formed, like something a child would dig out of a block of clay. It’s round; the floors, ceilings, and walls forming one uneven surface that only halfway flattens on the bottom.
Better than the nothing, though. Gray is easier on the eyes than white. And when you turn, you see the way out.
It’s a corridor, leading back to the start. That hideous gray room. You can see it at the end. You can also see your eighth self, still huddled in the corner.
You can’t hear him moaning from here, but you doubt he’s stopped.
Between him and you, there are eight columns. Between the columns stand seven alcoves, with seven busts. Your faces, the first seven of them, in white marble. They are remarkably true to life.
The corridor looks short, but you know better.
You don’t want to go forward. You think you understand what you need to do, so you really don’t want to go forward. Some things should not be forgiven, and some things should not be embraced.
But on the other side, there’s your new self, with your new mind and new life. There’s Rose waiting for you. And there’s something coming. Something dangerous.
If you don’t go forward, you might be trapped here. Forever staring down a corridor, unwilling to move on. There’s nothing on this end, just more gray. You might be stuck here for the rest of your lives. Or (and something in the back of your head suggests this is more likely), it could all fade away, leaving you back in the emptiness.
There’s the new you on the outside. He might manage without you; evidently you managed, with much of your last self moaning in a corner the whole time. Then again, he might not.
We’re having a devil of a time putting the brain back together.
Having your neurons violently rewired while simultaneously attempting to expel vortex energy is complicated enough. And the best medical care you’re likely to receive is Jackie Tyler, which is downright frightening. Although if there’s ever a woman who’s likely to consider a hot cup of tea as a cure for an imploding brain...
You want this regeneration to make it. You want to live. You want to see Rose safe, see this world safe. They need you out there, and you want to help.
Plus, you’d quite like to be there if the new kid manages to tell Jackie off again.
This is what’s needed. This is how you can help. This is your only choice.
You step forward.
The step doesn’t carry you into the corridor; it carries you inside the TARDIS. Your first self is standing there, looking contemplative.
You’re tired, overwhelmingly tired. It’s a struggle to breathe. Your whole body feels worn out, and you stare down at your hand.
You’re still you. He’s still him.
“I never hated Gallifrey,” he says. “That’s not why I wanted to leave. It was simply too small; there was a whole universe out there. All of time and space, and I was expected to stay home and hide. It was maddening! I came to resent Gallifrey, the way one might resent a prison cell. But I never truly hated them, not even after...” he breaks off. “There are some things one mustn’t blame an entire world for. After I left, with Susan, I did enjoy the opportunity to explore. Perhaps a bit too much. Had I known the consequences....” He shakes his head. “Not that world. But one can not hide from the universe for fear of the consequences. That’s at least as deadly as recklessness, perhaps deadlier. There are dangers that you can’t avoid by hiding. Remember Omega, hmm?” He looks up at you, eyes twinkling.
You nod, then lean over and clutch the console. This exhaustion is familiar, but it feels like death. You remember how frightened you were the first time, how young. You weren’t entirely sure if regeneration would work. You didn’t explain the regeneration to Ben and Polly, because you weren’t certain what would happen. You hadn’t wanted to burden them with expectations if you died.
“Matters didn’t turn out as I intended, but in my experience, very little does.” He looks you up and down, and gives a disapproving sniff. “Had I know how my future incarnations would turn out, I would have likely made different choices. That isn’t an option, though, not even for a Time Lord. I would not have hidden from existence, though, even if it were possible. Holing up in one little corner of the universe and never seeing, never growing, never touching the stars...” He shakes his head. “That isn’t a better alternative. Not even to extinction. You can’t avoid death by avoiding life. The only way is to go forth in all your beliefs, and face the consequences as they come.”
He nods sharply, and holds out his arm. You take it, and stagger towards the door. For a moment you feel you aren’t going to make it, as you start to fall. But he catches you and puts your arm over his shoulder, and together you make it to the door. He opens the door, and there’s a blinding light outside. Before stepping through, you give him one last look, an exhausted but appreciative smile. He smiles back as you straighten up and stumble through the door.
Outside, you’re in the corridor again. You’re standing by the column between the first and second bust. You still gasp for breath a moment, but you’re already feeling better.
There’s six more sections ahead of you, and it’s going to hurt. Every step of the way, it is going to hurt. That’s fine, though. You can face pain. You’re still not entirely sure if you can face the room at the end, but one step at a time.
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Chapter 11: Counting Up: Sentenced
Author's Notes: References The War Games
You only pause briefly before the next step. You don’t dare wait too long. You’re already forcing yourself forward, holding on to that glimpse of life, and Rose’s liquid brown eyes staring desperately into your new face. If you stop too long, let the anticipation build up, really think about what you’re going to have to face at the end, you’ll never be able to carry on.
But you need a minute to catch your breath. And you can’t resist a quick look back.
The room is gone. The small scooped-out room you started out in is gone. At the end of the corridor is a blank wall. The alcove’s still there, down the corridor, but where the pillar and the bust stood...
You stare a moment, just to be sure what you’re seeing. Then you wave.
Your first self waves back, then points down the corridor. Nodding, you turn back towards the room. You square your shoulders, take a deep breath, and step forward.
Into a courtroom. A Time Lord courtroom. You’ve seen more than a few of these, but this one stands out. It was your first. Your first time on trial for your life. If this had been real, there’d be three judges sitting above you, handing down your sentence.
As it is, there’s just you. And you. And a sudden rush of dizziness that nearly drops you on the spot.
Your other self dashes out and catches you. He’s shorter than your remember (you remember being that short, not looking that short), and you’re worried that you’ll knock him over. Or squash him.
But he’s stronger than he looks (you do remember that) and he catches you with a smile. You wind up bent over pretty far, but he’s bearing up under your weight. “Annoying, isn’t it?” he says. “The vertigo. It was worse when I was actually here. I thought I was going to die.”
“Oh, not from that,” he adds, catching the look on your face. “That was after they pronounced sentence. I was a bit shocked about the sentence, actually. I was quite certain I was going to be executed.”
You finally look where you’re going. Towards the regeneration chamber. It wasn’t actually in the courtroom, when the courtroom was real. But the doors looked exactly like that.
He helps you along for another slow step across the floor. “That was the traditional penalty for interventionists. Seemingly inevitable. It was like fate. You’re caught tampering with history; you get reduced to your component atoms. Did your young lady really do that to the Dalek Emperor?”
You nod. It isn’t exactly painful, but it does aggravate the dizziness until you feel like your eyes are about to roll out of your head.
“Oh, I say.” You can’t tell if he quite approves, but he definitely sounds impressed. “Remarkable.”
You manage to quirk a smile. Remarkable. That she is.
“I didn’t have very many alternatives, you see,” he continues, taking another step forward. “I was certain that if the Time Lords found me, it would be the end. And I don’t particularly want to die if I can avoid it. I’ve always been quite fond of life, and would hate to lose it. It’s so interesting.”
He sighs, his face creasing into a frown. “I couldn’t just abandon people to their problems, though. I couldn’t do nothing. I couldn’t, for instance, leave poor Mr. Waterfeld to the Daleks. Although I didn’t manage to save him, in the end.”
He frowns, and looks down at the floor. “I did save Victoria, though,” he adds, and the two of you take another step.
“That was the reason behind my ‘clever little ideas’, you know. There were very few things one person could do against a Dalek army. Even if that one person was a Time Lord. The ordinary choice didn’t work. So I improvised, and I took a few risks that turned out...” He shakes his head and stuffs his free hand in his pocket. “Oh dear, oh dear.”
“I did save quite a few,” he says, looking up. “Victoria, for one. Zoe. Jamie too, although....” he breaks off again. “He did survive, at least. Clever lad.”
He drags you one more step. The regeneration chamber’s quite close now. If you reached out in front of you, your arms just might brush the door.
You hope you have long arms this time around. You don’t remember the proportions of the new body. It didn’t feel that different. Thinner. You didn’t notice being shorter. And tall with long arms tends to be useful.
“It was a bit surprising how much actually worked. Aspiring conquerors tend to be a bit repetitive, though. They make much the same plans, guard against many of the same threats, and tend to have the same weaknesses. Try something their last ten opponents haven’t and odds are, they won’t be able to cope. Then again, occasionally...” He pauses, giving you a significant look and tapping his nose, “the completely and totally obvious works if they don’t expect to from someone like you.”
You roll your eyes. Several colorful expressions pop into your head, your favorite being, “Teach your grandmother to suck eggs,” but you don’t answer back. There’s an ending up ahead, and several more beyond it, and you have to stagger through them all.
You step forward again, nearly unbalancing him, before he catches up. “Oh, right,” he says. “Best get on with it.” He looks at the door, and it swings open. There is...there appears to be nothing but darkness beyond. “I can’t take you over the threshold, you know. I’m afraid you have to do that yourself.”
You nod. Of course not. Nothing in this whole strange journey was set up to make it easy for you, so why make it easy by making it someone else’s responsibility? No, it has to be your own choice, your own actions, every step of the way.
Even the last step. And you know what that will be. And you’ll have to do it of your own free will.
“I suppose it’s appropriate,” he mutters nervously. “I did rather walk into that one. I knew what the consequences of calling the Time Lords would be. Even though I tried to run, I knew. But, as I said, there were very few things I could manage, and two things I never could, not even when the choices ran out. I could never play martyr, giving up on life. And I couldn’t abandon people to save my own hide.”
You take a deep breath, and stand up straight. It’s the last step. In reality you were dragged in, almost kicking and screaming (although the dizziness helped take some of the fight out). Because, when it came down to it, you couldn’t just give up.
As you step forward, you feel him take your hand. You give one last reassuring squeeze before you let go, and walk into the dark.
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Chapter 12: Counting Up: Burned
Author's Notes: References Planet of the Spiders. Briefly quotes David Copperfield.
You stagger briefly as you step out. The sudden loss of dizziness leaves a bizarre reverse vertigo as you readjust to normality. Like getting your land legs again. By the time you’ve thought that far; by the time you’ve put a name on it, it’s gone. You stand steady, and brace yourself for what’s ahead.
But of course, you look back. If you were in the Old Testament, you’d have been reduced to salt ages ago. You can never entirely resist a look back.
There’s one alcove, and one pillar. Still just one. But there isn’t just one of you standing behind you. The two of them are in the alcove, glaring and sniping at each other in front of the flat gray wall.
The way off is closing off behind you. Something doesn’t want to give you too many choices. Or make it look like you have too many choices, at least. You suspect that if you balked on the threshold to the final room, nothing would force you to go forward.
You’d be free to linger in a doorway for the rest of your life.
But you have a ways to go before then. And although what’s ahead of you is going to hurt like nothing yet, it’s not the worst. You step forward.
And drop, your knees hitting the rough floor of the cave. A horrible burning pain runs through every inch of your flesh.
Radiation sickness. Nightmarish stuff. One good thing about being a Time Lord is that most forms of radiation don’t do you any harm. Unfortunately, you’re still vulnerable to whatever vile wavelength irradiates this blasted cave.
And it hurts. Rassilon, it hurts.
“Need a hand?” asks a voice with familiar, cultured tones. It’s him, staring down with infuriating smugness. “I’m never one to deny assistance to someone in need.” He stands there, looking far too calm in his beautifully neat velvet and ruffles, and reaches out a hand.
You glare at him for a long moment, and consider refusing. But you don’t know if you have the strength to stand up on your own. And you can’t stop. You take his hand, and let him help you up.
“I suppose you could call it selfish,” he says, “all of this.” He hooks your arm through his, and leads you forward. “That’s one way of looking at it. There are other ways, of course. Mind that stone!”
You look down and step over a large rock in your path.
“One could look on it as atonement. I removed the crystal; I had to put it back. In disrupting the order, I took the blame for the consequences, and restoring it was the only way to make amends. I never cared for that interpretation myself, even though it’s likely true.” He sighs. “Not exactly encouraging, regarding change as a fault, and attributing inherent virtue to the pre-existing state. Large step here.”
You look down to see a wide crack in the ground. He steps over it easily, his hand still on your arm. You overbalance, and nearly fall into the crack, before he catches you and pulls you over to the other side.
He’s so damn energetic. So healthy. It’s easy for him. He doesn’t have to take the pain.
That’s not right though. He suffered this the first time, back when you were him. He took it when he needed to, and took his place in your mind. Perhaps he had his own fight, then, and you didn’t notice, because you weren’t looking inwards. Perhaps he doesn’t hurt because he accepted things. Came to some accord with his past. Perhaps it doesn’t hurt this bad if you don’t fight it all.
For a moment, your mind wanders towards the other man in a velvet jacket, the one at the end. You wonder what he rejected to be shut off like that. You wonder how much he hurts, and something that could be guilt or pity makes your stomach twist.
Then again, it could just be the radiation sickness.
Your other self steadies you, and resumes his brisk stride and that strange philosophical monologue.
“There is another way of looking at it,” he adds. “One I much prefer. The more traditional heroic view. I went to save the humans. Why? Because they needed saving. I quite like humans, for the most part, but I don’t sit around deciding who to save based on something as trivial as species preference. Most humans of my acquaintance have a remarkable knack for putting themselves in a position where they need rescue, and, luckily enough, in positions where I can save them. And, as the hero of my own life at least...”
Dickens, you think. You’re trapped in your own deaths and he’s quoting David bloody Copperfield at you. Granted, it was a good book...
You loose your train of thought as the TARDIS comes into sight. It takes you a moment to realize that he’s stopped too, and gone silent. You glance over, and see him gazing tenderly at the old girl.
“You could call it selfish...” He breaks off, swallows, and continues. “You could call it selfish, because I got what I wanted. I faced my fears. I paid my debts. I fought down my inner demons. And I saved the ones I cared for. The ones I loved.”
You look back at the TARDIS. The doors are standing open. They weren’t, you remember. The first time, the real time, they weren’t. You were too sick to stand, and had to pull yourself up on the paneling to unlock the door.
He lets go of your arm, and leans you up against the cave wall. “I’m afraid you’ll have to take the last steps yourself. I can’t help you there.”
You nod. Seems to be a pattern. There are a few final steps you’re not looking forward to taking, but this isn’t one. You remember how grateful you were to see her there in the tunnel, locked door and all. Your TARDIS. Home.
Judging by the tears your other self is blinking back, you think he remembers, too.
You stagger forward, your hand on the wall.
“It doesn’t matter,” he calls from behind you, “about the selfishness. Not when you’re saving people. Not when what you’re doing is still good.”
You glance back again, and he’s giving you an honest smile.
“You can’t measure what you do against infinity,” he says, “only the best choice you have. So it doesn’t matter if you’re putting the people you care for first, as long as you’re saving someone. As long as you’re helping.”
You nod, and return an undoubtedly sickly echo of the smile. Then you stagger forward towards the TARDIS.
The cave wall doesn’t extend to the TARDIS, and you have to crawl the last few feet. But you reach the doors, and crawl through. Out of the cave.
And back into the corridor. There’s a brief, nearly overwhelming rush of relief as your body realizes the radiation sickness is gone. For a second you feel deliriously giddy, floating on the absence of pain. You get back on your feet, and look ahead.
Four more columns before the last chamber. Then next one won’t be the worst, but it should be hard enough.
A quick look reveals just one alcove behind you. Still just one. The three of you standing behind you seem to have worked up a good brisk squabble, consisting almost entirely of complaint about each other’s clothes. You don’t blame them. It’s embarrassing what you used to wear in your younger days. Although none of them are any place to criticize the others.
You turn and face forward, squaring up for the next step.
Back to index
Chapter 13: Counting Up: Fallen
Author's Notes: References Logopolis. Quotes Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening, by Robert Frost.
This was a swift end, you remember, and not the hardest. With that in mind, you step quickly forward.
And find yourself plummeting sickeningly through the air.
Your hands catch hold of a familiar length of knitted wool, and you manage to stop your fall. For the moment.
You look down first. A stupid idea, you suspect. You know what’s down there. Earth. Specifically one small patch of it; the support struts of a radio telescope, and a flat green stretch of ground that’s far harder than it looks.
A quick glance confirms it; you definitely shouldn’t have looked down.
You clutch the scarf tighter for a moment, watching the wool stretch. You briefly consider trying to climb it; maybe pull yourself back onto the catwalk, going down the stairs (in your curiously unpopulated mental landscape, you doubt the Master would be blocking the exit), and just walking away.
But that’s not how this game works. You doubt you’d find anything more than flat green grass and an empty world, even if it was possible to make it up. And you don’t find empty green much more appealing than empty white. Instead, you try to wrap the scarf around one hand, while hanging on with the other. The maneuver fails, sending you sliding downwards a good six inches.
“I’m sorry,” says a voice above you, “I can’t pull you up.”
You look up, and see your fourth self frowning apologetically downwards. He’s clutching the other end of the scarf. The bit where it’s tied to the catwalk.
He doesn’t look like he’s trying to pull you up, but you believe him when he says he can’t.
Another inch of red wool slides through your fingers. You shift your grip on the scarf for one that’s hopefully more secure.
“This whole business was a bit of a muddle. Trying to run from my own end, and walking directly into it. And I didn’t manage the Master particularly well. I suppose you’d say I should have killed him.”
You stare back up in shock. You never said that. You never even thought that.
“He destroyed a quarter of the galaxy, after all.” He’s still frowning down at you. “That’s not quite on a scale with the Daleks, but it’s close. For one man, it’s stunning.”
He didn’t know, you think. He didn’t understand what he was doing on Logopolis. He wanted to rule, not destroy. Feeble excuses, but they all sound better than the truth; he used to be a friend.
You open your mouth to say something, but your hand slips, and you skid another foot down the scarf. The sudden jolt as you catch the fabric again leaves you breathless.
Lucky for you the daft thing’s so long. Still, there’s only maybe four feet left. You caught a cable on the way down last time, you remember. That bought you a few seconds. Not much time.
You risk a quick glance at the ground below you. Not much time at all.
“But he agreed to help stop it, so I had hope. Hope that he’d finally seen the harm he’d done, the mess he made. Hope that he’d somehow rein himself in, at least moderate his efforts so he didn’t do as much harm. That sort of hope.”
Your palms are starting to sweat. The scarf helps absorb it, but that only does so much. Wet wool isn’t the most comfortable grip, either. Your fingers, from what you can see, are going red.
When the scarf slides through your hands, and you drop a few more inches, you at least wind up clutching dry wool. For the moment. But your palms feel like they’ve been rubbed raw.
He tries to brush his curly hair back with his free hand. He’s going against gravity, and it doesn’t do much good. “The difficulty is that it’s always now.” He sighs. “Well, you know. It’s never getting to the end of it all, finding out what would work, and then going back to the right moment. Even with the Daleks, I didn’t know it all. I didn’t know what their potential was. I didn’t know how it would end.”
You close your eyes to stop yourself rolling them. You knew enough.
“It wasn’t the end of Dalek history,” he insists. “I didn’t know it all. And it’s always now, you see, even in the past. It’s always right this moment. Now. First law of time travel. There isn’t a chance to change the decision I made ten years ago, or two weeks ago, or eleven seconds ago. It’s one of the few rules even I can’t bend.”
You hardly feel it as another stretch of scarf slides through your hand. Your fingers are starting to go numb.
“It only half-works,” he says, “working out what to do from what the consequences were. By the time I really know the answer, it’s far too late to use. So I have to decide, right now. Decide if I’m going to save or take the lives in front of me. Decide how much I can excuse in fear of what someone else might do. Decide if I’m going let someone else take the fall.” He glances down portentously on the last word.
You look down. It’s still the same ground you remember, doubtless just as painfully hard. You’ll find out soon, anyways. There’s only a couple feet of scarf left.
“It may be a weakness, but in the moment, I’d rather hope. I’d rather take a chance, and try to solve it with less bloodshed. Try to see who I can save. Because it’s now, it’s always now, and right now you can’t touch what you did three days ago. You can’t guess what you’ll know next week. Just do the best you can that moment, and when it’s over, let go.”
You stare up at him. His eyes are intensely blue. It’s strange seeing yourself from the outside. You can never seem to properly remember how you really looked. You wonder if your new self has blue eyes. You seem to get those a lot.
The palms of your hands have gone numb. They’ll stop hurting once you finish this. It’s one of the few rules of this odd game that works in your favor. And if your self up there meant what you think, it’ll be over quite soon. You give him a questioning glance.
You take your left hand off the scarf. The strain on your right shoulder hurts quite a lot. The cable’s quite close. If you started swinging now, you could quite likely catch hold of it, and buy yourself another few minutes. No point, though.
It’s surprisingly difficult to make your hand let go of the scarf. The survival instinct balks like a mule. Part of you won’t believe this isn’t quite real. But in the end, you force your fingers open, and let go.
You fall, plummeting wildly, arms flailing, eyes on the worried face above you...
And land. In the gray corridor, on something that feels like stone. Quite hard, anyways.
“Oi,” you call, “that’s cheating!” There’s no scarf burn and your hands don’t hurt, but the bruises on your back definitely do.
A glance back (you probably could borrow the name Orpheus some time; you have his major weakness,) reveals four selves behind you. They’ve given up arguing fashion, and are currently attempting to organize a hand of bridge. Unsurprisingly, your fourth self kept a deck of cards in his pocket. You expect five minutes before another argument breaks out.
Ah, well. Half a league, half a league, half a league onwards. And, you think, your mind flicking to a different poem, miles to go before you sleep.
Back to index
Chapter 14: Counting Up: Poisoned
Author's Notes: References The Caves of Androzani and Fox in Socks.
You turn your back on the bridge games your four selves are playing behind you just as the inevitable argument breaks out. The next step is another hard one. Just thinking about it makes your hands itch.
But you can only hesitate so long before it becomes not going at all. You take a step out of the gray corridor, and into the Androzani mud.
The spectrox poisoning doesn’t drop you. Not quite. You’ve braced for it, and manage to keep your feet under you, even on the rough mud-slicked ground. Your knees threaten to buckle under you with every step, but that’s only the numbness. It doesn’t hurt.
The sores do. You can see the blisters on the back of your hand, but more than that, you can feel them. They’re no more real than the memory they were a minute ago, but they hurt.
At least you don’t have to carry Peri this time. That makes it easier to walk. And if you had the vial of bat’s milk now, you could drink it with a clear conscience.
The bat’s milk! You stick your hand in your pocket and feel for the vial, just in case. It’s not there. You’re not surprised.
“Good idea, though,” you hear. Since there’s only you in here, you know exactly who must be speaking. You look up anyways.
He’s sitting on a little hill, not far off, staring down at you with a look of keen interest, exactly like he’s watching a chess tournament, or a cricket match. He doesn’t have blood on his head, or blisters on his hands. He looks perfectly healthy.
There is still mud on his jacket though. The white and beige clothes are stained with dirt. You find that perversely satisfying.
“I mean it.” He stands up, and starts walking down the hill. “The bat’s milk. It didn’t work, but there was no reason to think it couldn’t. Sharp thinking. I couldn’t manage that well with spectrox toxemia. I could hardly manage at all.”
He sighs and climbs down the hill. “It was a complete muddle, you know. A muddle of a battle in a private little war. No beetles in bottles, though.”
You grin briefly at that. History and guilt are one thing; Doctor Seuss is something else.
He smiles back. “There’s a promising sign. We were worrying you wouldn’t ease up at all.” He reaches out his hand.
You don’t reach back. You know you’re being petty, but you don’t reach back.
“Suit yourself,” he says, shrugging. “If you want a hand, I’m here.”
You take a wobbly step, and nearly stumble, but still don’t reach for help. Sheer stubbornness, you know, but you don’t want to make it too easy for him. Not quite yet.
He brushes down his coat. “It was a mess, this place. This whole planet. I don’t think anyone got away clean. I didn’t really do much good for anyone but Peri, and she wouldn’t have been in this if I hadn’t brought her along.”
You suddenly realize you’ve been nodding along unconsciously the whole time. You stop, and rub your face. Evidently you’ve been sweating. Your hands feel strange, like you’re wearing thick rubber gloves.
“I would have gladly saved them all, if I could. But Peri - Peri was my responsibility. I did owe her something more than I owed the rest. A bit more, at least.”
You stumble, and catch yourself. You stare down at the ground, watching your steps, making sure you’re on steady ground. When you look up, you notice he’s been holding his arm out again.
He gives you a curious glance, and then drops his arm. “It all comes down to interference. Don’t give me that look,” he says. “I’m not talking about that ‘don’t touch anything’ rubbish from school, believe me. I’m talking about consequences and responsibility. You touch things, you change things. Peri, for instance. Her life changed in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I hadn’t shown up. For the best, I think. At least she says she’s happy enough.” He pauses, and shakes his head. “Anyways. It was my fault she went to Androzani, so I had to half kill myself trying to keep her alive.” He holds up his wrists, and slides his sleeves up, showing laser burns. “I owed her.”
You glace over, then push your own sleeves up. There’s the same marks. Just a few small red lines, from where you cut the handcuffs off. You hadn’t felt them. They’re shallow, and you don’t feel much on your hands but the sores.
He catches your quizzical glance. “I don’t quite understand it either. Perhaps these little walls you’ve been building are giving way?”
You stare a moment, then shrug and keep walking. Perhaps. You still don’t quite buy that’s it’s you causing all of this (you-you as opposed to current you, or the other yous, or you overall, and you have got to stop trying to think in English so much), but you can see it’s breaking down. And you think you can live with that. Some of it, at least.
You don’t know if you can live with where it’s all going to end, but you don’t think you have much choice. The patterns repeat, and you’re not blind. You suspect you have very few choices in the end.
“That was the thing with Peri. With Davros, too. The more you know someone, the more you meet with them, the more you tamper. The more you interfere. Sentimentality, yes.” He put his hands up. “I confess. Even enemies become attachments after a few centuries. It becomes harder to let go. But there’s more than that.”
He bends down and picks up a pebble. “I could have killed him, I suppose. I don’t know what difference it would have made. I don’t know what difference it made that I killed any of those Daleks. But it would have been an easy answer, killing Davros. A lazy answer. And I suspect it wouldn’t have answered anything in the end. It didn’t, did it?” he asks, looking at you. “When he died. It didn’t solve anything.”
You shake your head. It’s unfair, part of you thinks, having your own words thrown back at you. But what else have you been doing to them the whole time?
He throws the pebble into a distant mud hill. “I stepped in, brushed against Davros’s life, and suddenly someone I’d never heard of is infamous throughout the universe. At least some of that was my fault. I didn’t make him what he was, but I changed some of the details. Before I took it on myself to end things, I had to think. More than that, because I had the time to think about it, I had to think.”
There’s a small mudslide behind him, where the pebble hit. You lean around to watch it fall, and stumble.
He catches you, and, pulls you upright. He steadies you with his hands on your shoulders, then gives you a questioning look. “Okay?” he asks.
You nod. You’re steady now, or steady enough. Only about four feet from the TARDIS, too. But when he holds out his arm, you take it and walk the rest of the way.
He stops in front of the door. “Last step’s yours, as I’m sure you know.”
You put a hand on your door to steady yourself, and reach into your pocket. The key’s there. It’s always there.
You unlock the door and step inside.
The sensation as the spectrox toxemia disappears is weird. The numbness vanishes instantly, without pins and needles, but a rush of feeling. At the same time the sores vanish, the pain melting away.
It feels quite good, actually. You’re almost sorry it’s over so soon.
You take a long, deep breath, and glance back. Your fifth self is on the edge of the card game, trying to join in. Your fourth self keeps giving him dirty looks. There’s still just one alcove behind you.
And two ahead of you. One just past this next column. Not too bad, you think. More confusing than anything. One before the last column. And then the room at the end.
You catch your breath, and ready yourself for the next step.
Back to index
Chapter 15: Counting Up: Shaken
Author's Notes: References Time and the Rani.
The card game behind you has collapsed in favor of an argument; mostly between your fourth and fifth selves. Your second self is apparently trying to resolve it by waving a large bag of chocolate coins at everyone.
If you ever get through this insane game, and manage to settle in properly like everyone else, you’re demanding really interesting pockets.
You can’t hear the words of the argument, though. The moaning ahead of you drowns it out. The sound’s slow and steady, and sets your teeth on edge.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better. But you’re developing some distinct ideas about how this is playing out (for instance, you’re fairly sure of which self made this mess, and which one set up the game, and neither one is you). And if you’ve read the patterns right, and you can find it in you to see this through, it will get better.
You step forward, into what turns out to be the TARDIS console room. It’s the old white design, and it’s lurching like mad. You grab at the console to steady yourself, but miss.
Hand grab you from behind, pulling you upright. You feel yourself being dragged and propped up against the console.
Your other self (and when you glance back, it is him) asks “Steady now?”
You nod. You’ve got a grip on the console, now, and it should see you through this lurching. Not that there’s any point. Nowhere to go on this round. Nothing to do but hang on or fall.
Hang on, and then fall, you correct yourself.
“I must say,” he declares, “you took your time in arriving. Really, if you’re going to put us all through this, the least you can do is be quick about it. No one’s sure how long this new one can last in this state. I’m hardly anything to be terrified of,” he snorts, glaring down at you. “In comparison to what’s behind you, this whole business is relatively minor.”
You clutch the console, and glare back. If you let go and hit your head now, you wonder, would that get you out of listening to him? Probably not.
“Trivial, really. Requiring a regeneration to deal with some little accident. I was quite offended.” He folds his arms. “I expected a grander ending than that.”
He turns away, and when he speaks, his voice is softer than you expect. “Regeneration’s hardly death, but it is the death of something. A perspective, perhaps. A point of view. The appearance, of course, but far more than that. It’s the loss of a whole stage of life; something worth giving up in the end, but giving up for something.” He sounds wistful for a moment.
When he turns back, his face has the usual affronted look, and he speaks in his normal grand orator style. “Of course, the results were hardly trivial. They never are. Had I...remained as I was, events with Mel would have taken a far different turn. She might not have left when she did, or at least left under different circumstances. And I doubt I could have struck the right note to manage Ace.” He purses his lips. “She was rather willful, and two stubborn personalities rarely work well together. So in the end, it was hardly trivial. So few things are.”
He tucks his hands in his trouser pockets, and begins pacing the console room. “Perhaps, as you suggested, Necros had very little impact on the war. Perhaps. If looked at through the lens of future strategic advantage for Gallifrey, that would constitute a fairly minor contribution.”
You jerk your head up to interrupt. You’re not sure if you can speak (you’ve been watching the patterns), but you’re hardly going to let that slide. You didn’t come all this way to listen to evasions and excuses.
He catches your eyes and looks down. “Or not a contribution at all. As you say, the Daleks progressed faster. Becoming distracted by Davros was a mistake. But,” he says, looking up again, “stopping him wasn’t. Helping the people of Necros wasn’t.”
You drop your eyes under his stare. The juddering of the floor beneath you makes you feel dizzy, and you close your eyes.
“War is an extraordinarily narrow lens through which to view the universe. The Time War is not the purpose of existence. Ensuring that the people of the galaxy weren’t forced into unwitting cannibalism, the dead and dying could rest easy without fear of unwanted,” he pauses and shudders, “transformations, and one world could be free of Dalek dominion is worthwhile in its own right.”
“You know this,” he says, leaning in close.
You open your eyes and look up. He’s still staring, but his expression isn’t defensive or irritated. Just intense.
“It’s clear that you know this,” he continues. “I know how this regeneration ended, and you wouldn’t have made the choice you did, if you didn’t realize that there’s more to life than fighting Daleks. You did well. But...”
He straightens up and begins walking again. The shaking of the TARDIS doesn’t seem to effect his balance at all. “But, considering what you nearly did to the Earth, you must see the problem. It’s very easy to be distracted by the bigger picture. To imagine that the largest and most immediate fight is all that’s important. The war has ended, though. It didn’t even last your lifetime.”
“If you had ignored Necros,” he says, “you’d hardly be better off now. Even taking out a Dalek warship was hardly likely to make a difference. One ship removed from the Dalek war machine; that would be trivial. There were ten million ships at the end of the war.” He sighs and shakes his head. “Ten million. And we destroyed so many...”
You bite your lip. The look on his face is almost painful to watch. You were the only one, in the end who lived through the war. The only one who remembers what you saw and what you did. But it’s clear from his expression that the you that remembers is all of you.
“It had to be done.” He straightens up, adjusting his coat, and clears his throat. “The reason you joined the war, the reason you stood against Daleks, is the reason Necros is far from trivial. It’s the most essential thing, standing to protect those who need you. Far more important than defeating the enemy. It’s easy to lose sight of this. And once you lose sight of this, you’re in danger of forgetting it altogether.”
He claps a hand on your back. “You have done well,” he says, “no matter what you want to think of yourself.” Then he steps back.
You glance up at him across the shaking console.
Just as the floor lurches beneath your feet, you close your eyes and let go.
There’s a pain, brief and sharp as your head hits the TARDIS. It’s a clean pain, though, almost a relief after all the poison and radiation. You roll away, and open your eyes.
The corridor again. You’ve done it. You’re nearly through.
You scramble to your feet and dust yourself off. Not that there’s any proper dust here. The floor’s impossibly clean.
You grin for a moment in triumph and relief, then stare down the corridor.
The seventh column’s up ahead. The last. You’re not quite sure how that one will play out. You don’t fancy lying cut open on an operating table, your hearts being torn up by an invisible Grace. But there’s a few thing you’d like to have your seventh self explain.
Then...the room at the end. And him. Now you know exactly what you need to do once you get there. You’re still not entirely sure you can. But it’s looking possible.
Back to index
Chapter 16: Counting Up: Shot
Author's Notes: Reference the TV Movie.
You have a word ready on your lips as you stand on the threshold. You’re not sure if you can speak on the other side; something’s stopped you so far, and made you just listen. Not that you entirely blame them.
But you have to ask one thing.
You mutter to yourself in the corridor, bouncing on the balls of your feet. You practice the word again and again. And when you feel ready, you dash forward.
As soon as you’re through, while you’ve still only half-recognized the dark room, and the man standing there, you ask, “Why?”
The little man stares a moment, and then replies, “Ah, you’ve noticed my little scheme.”
You nod, glancing around the room. It’s the dark décor, with the marble and wood. The Gothic look. Quite nice, actually. You’re not sure why the old girl decided to change it. But you’ve given up arguing with her about how she wants to look.
Your other self takes off his hat and sets it on the console. “I’m only partially responsible,” he says. “It was your wish, I believe, to chase everyone down, rub our faces in guilt. Ensure none of us could look at our hands without seeing blood. That was what you wanted, wasn’t it?” He tilts his head.
You nod again. You did want it. When you saw your eighth self in here, with the others defending him, protecting him, asking you to help him, you wanted to do this so bad you could taste it.
You don’t anymore. It was far less satisfying than you expected. And it didn’t really change anything, except maybe you.
“I simply gave you what you wanted. Let you follow that desire all the way down to the end. And,” he adds, “left you a breadcrumb trail so you could find your way back.”
The umbrella, you think. The cat pin. The cricket-ball, the scarf, the cape. The bloody recorder. He’s been playing you from the start. You turn away, and step towards the door.
“That was all the manipulation I ever actually wanted to do,” he calls out. “What I did to you. What I’d willingly do to myself. If I could have managed everyone like that, I’d have a clear conscience.”
You stop. You know, since he’s set this up, that when you step through the door, you’ll be shot (cheating slightly, but in your favor for once; it’s easier than the operating table.) You also know that since you’ve caught on to the game, you can walk away. You don’t have to watch him try to justify himself.
But when you arrived, what you wanted most was to break your other selves. Make them suffer for what they did; what you did. And now, what you want most is to fix this; get out of the traps laid inside your mind. You owe him a few minutes for that.
You turn back. You’re not in a rush to get shot, anyways.
“Sometimes, if you steer people correctly, they’ll catch a glimpse of where their actions can lead. Avoid the oncoming disasters, and learn to save themselves. It’s manipulation, certainly, if you don’t give them an honest choice. But when honesty fails, do you force them, manipulate them, step aside and let the harm occur? Is it really a better choice to watch them destroy themselves and those around them because they won’t listen?”
He picks the hat up again and starts toying with it. “It is a talent. I did take pride in it, sometimes to a harmful extent. Ace...Ace was a project that got out of hand. I had her best interests in mind, but I did more harm than I meant. I was proud of Ace, though. And I will confess to some...intellectual satisfaction in how I orchestrated matters against Lady Peinfort. But how can you imagine I took pride in destroying Skaro? That was a failure. I failed.”
He sighs. “It was an emergency measure. A backup plan in case all else failed. I didn’t want that, though. Why do you think I spent so much effort to keep the Hand away from them?”
You raise your eyebrows at him. You can think of a few reasons for putting on a show like that (if you recall, the hand wasn’t programmed when the Daleks first went after Coal Hill.) What you can’t think of is an outcome where the Daleks don’t use a weapon they have.
He puts the hat back on. “I did guess how it would end. I knew it was likely that the Daleks would obtain the Hand regardless, and that it was nearly certain they’d use it. But if they did use it, there wasn’t a better choice than aiming it for Skaro; destroying their planet, rather than another. If some planet had to end, it was theirs. I only hesitated because I wanted to give them a chance, at least. With the trap in the Hand of Omega in reserve, I could offer them a chance to turn away without letting anyone else die if they didn’t.”
You nod, and turn back to the door. If he doesn’t want to tell the rest, fair enough. You’re done pushing.
Your hand’s on the door when he says, “I was trying to stop the war.”
When you turn back, he’s sitting in the plush chair by the record player, looking extremely tired. “I did see the war coming. At least some of it.” He shakes his head. “I never imagined destroying Gallifrey. But I knew I’d need to do what I’d hesitated to do once before; end the Daleks for good. That, or watch them roll over the universe, destroying all other life. Destroying a planet is horror enough; but it’s preferable to wiping out a entire sentient species.” He rubs his eyes.
You lean against the door and watch him speak. This has been worth staying for, after all.
“That’s it, really,” he says, looking up. “I wanted to give them a chance. Hit them hard enough that they’d be forced to back off, and I wouldn’t have to...I did have another backup plan. It may have worked. But the next fellow came along. Nothing alters one’s plans like sudden regeneration. Particularly since he spent most of his time trying not to be me. He did break the Dalek Empire in the end, though. Whatever remnants still cling, he broke their empire”
He leans forward and stares into your eyes. “They wouldn’t have stopped. They would have just kept expanding further and further through space until there was nowhere left. After that, they would have colonized time. There would be nothing left but Daleks. There never would have been anything but Daleks. There would be no possibility of anything but Daleks. I gave them as many chances as I could, but they had to stop.”
He leans back in the chair and closes his eyes. “I’m sorry. I can’t change what’s out that door. If we stop it now, you lose your place, and you have to find a new way to the next room. And with the condition the new fellow’s in, we don’t have that much time.”
You nod, and open the door. This one will be quick, at least.
The first few steps are nothing. A dirty alley. You don’t see guns in front of you, or young men holding them. Not that you expected to.
The sound of the bullets is a fraction of a second before they hit. You have just enough time to realize they’ve fired before you feel one slam into your shoulder. More bullets hit, sending pain through your left leg. You force yourself onwards until you fall.
You land in the corridor, splayed out on the threshold of the last room. The pain is, as usual, gone. You pull yourself up.
A quick glance behind you reveals your seventh self. The other six have divided into pairs; your second and sixth selves are sharing the chocolate coins, your first and fourth have the deck of cards, and your third and fifth selves are swapping stories about...something. Apparently the Master, judging by how your third self laughs as your fifth self mimes a beard.
Your seventh self watches, and smiles like a cat in a pigeon loft.
You turn back to the room ahead of you. It has the same hideously ornate gray walls, and the same velvet-jacketed figure in the corner emitting the same horrible moan.
The light’s different, though. Brighter. You think you know why, and the thought makes you freeze on the doorstep.
To make it through to the end, you’ll have to face the light.
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Chapter 17: Counting Up: LightYou remember thinking earlier that you could, in theory, stand in this doorway forever. It doesn’t look so theoretical now. Not in the face of that spreading light.
You could stand here forever, listening to yourself moan. The seven behind you might stay behind. Or they might leave. But the one ahead of you isn’t moving unless you step forward. He spent years like this, you think. In the back of your head, trapped in his own guilt, feeling nothing but horror and pain.
For some reason, this thought makes your head itch. You scratch a spot just above your left ear.
The others might leave, but he’s broken enough to stay. And you’re stubborn enough that, if you decide to, you can stand here and stare at him until you all drop dead.
But if you’re stubborn enough to make yourself stay, you can push hard enough to make yourself go. And you’re finally ready to stop fighting the wrong things.
You step forward. The room doesn’t change, not in any way you’ve noticed. It may be a little brighter (you suspect it is, but this is hard enough without thinking about that).
He’s still sitting crumpled up in the corner, hair falling over his face, and moaning. The same horrible, steady moan.
You walk over to him, and crouch down in front of him. “Hey,” you say, tapping him on the shoulder.
He looks up. The moaning stops. His eyes focus on your face, and he stares silently at you. Something in his expression almost dares you to hurt him again. Dares you to take your revenge.
Oh, hell, you think. If you’re going to do this right, you have to do it right now.
You slide your jacket off. His eyes widen in surprise.
You smile back at him, as gently and naturally as you can manage (it’s getting brighter, and the light’s starting to hurt your eyes), and drape the jacket around his shoulders. “Hey,” you say.
He looks down at the leather, and murmurs “Fits,” or something similar. For a moment, there’s a trace of a wistful smile.
You nod, trying not to squint. Then you stand up, and hold out your hand. He stares for a long moment.
“You can’t stay,” you tell him. “Not any more.” You reach down and take his hand.
He starts to pull away. “Do you realize what you’re asking?”
“I know exactly what I’m asking.” You tighten the grip on his hand. “Something’s coming for London. Something big. It could be here right now, and we can’t make it if we’re not all in one piece.” And the light’s getting stronger. You’re not going into that alone again.
“You made it.”
“Once.” You shake your head. “Not this time.” You pull again.
He stands, jacket still askew, hair falling in every direction. “You’d do that to him, to our new self? Make him really part of me? Make him the man that destroyed Gallifrey?”
“He is anyway. We all are. I was. I am.” Did he really think he’d spared you that?
He stares at you a moment. The light’s so bright you can’t read his expression, but eventually he lets go of your hand and straightens his jacket and hair. You feel a perverse urge to laugh as he adjusts his cravat. It seems to leave him stronger, though. Maybe even strong enough.
A terrible deafening silence grows. You’ve always wondered if you imagined that. If you went a bit mad as you watched the light spread, and your mind invented that horrifying silence that screamed and roared, that forced its way into your ears like it hoped to devour all sound. It certainly seems irrational enough. But it hovers at the edge of your hearing, exactly as you remember it, growing with the light.
You hold out your hand again. This time he takes it. Together, you turn and face the light.
“I did everything I could think of,” he says, as you walk into the light. His voice somehow carries above the silence, leaving it the only sound you hear. You can hardly see him through the brightness, but you can feel his hand on your. “I did try to win the war. To save Gallifrey. That’s the only thing that winning ever really meant. The end wasn’t winning the war. It was...stopping it.”
The silence is getting louder, painfully loud, and you know that has to be mad. But the silence is deafeningly loud, and the light without heat is starting to burn, because that’s how you remember it, rational or not.
“The scale of the war defeated me. The Daleks and the Time Lords weren’t the only ones involved. We weren’t even a tenth of those fighting; or a fraction of those who died. I was supposed to save Gallifrey, but who would save all the rest? I couldn’t forget them. I never could.” He gives your hand a squeeze.
You squeeze back. You can’t see anything anymore. Anything but the light, too blinding for color, almost too blinding for thought. The screaming silence drives into you, grinding your nerves raw. And, in this twisted causality, you don’t know how much further before you reach the device that set all of this off.
He continues, his voice growing stronger. “They called me a hero for Arcadia. An important strategic contribution, I believe it was. The entire planet burned to nothing, and I was honored for contributing to the war. No one honored the Arcadians. No one on Gallifrey spoke of them.”
You stagger onward towards the center of the light. It’s so overwhelming that you can’t see where it gets brighter; it seems all-consuming, wherever you turn. You head instead to where it hurts the worst, where the light burns hardest into your bones.
“The war had to end,” he says. “Even though we couldn’t save Gallifrey, the war had to end. If it continued, time itself would give out. That meant defeating the Daleks. Nothing else would stop the war. If the Time Lords stopped fighting, or died without defeating the Daleks, or simply hid, it wouldn’t have ended the war. The Daleks would have simply fought someone else. Everyone else, until there was no one left. I had to kill the Daleks to end the war. It was genocide, but I did it. I had to.”
Your legs nearly buckle with the pain, and you clutch his arm to steady yourself. He holds you up, his arm steady and strong. He seems to be getting stronger.
Not you, at least not yet. You feel like the light’s dissolving you.
“I left it too late,” he says. “That’s what doomed the Time Lords. I spent the war looking for something else I could do. Anything else. In the end, the Time Lords were trapped. Gallifrey was doomed. I couldn’t save them. Some thought...” He breaks off, then starts again. “There was no way. I could let the Daleks kill them, or I could kill them and make their deaths mean something.”
You feel him stop. You stop too. There’s nowhere else to go, and only one thing left to do. The light has nearly burned you away.
His hand clutches yours. “I readied everything, and waited for the Daleks to come. Waited for the fleet to reach Gallifrey, ready to exterminate us. And when the Daleks arrived, I ended it.”
You reach out together. You can’t tell if his hand pulls your, or yours pulls his. There is just the light, and the mad howling silence and the need to end this all.
Your hand in his, you reach for the button (although it wasn’t a button in reality, your memory barks out) and press down.
There’s a moment of blessedly natural quiet, and it all goes dark.
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Chapter 18: Wide Awake
Author's Notes: References and a short quote from The Christmas Invasion.
The first thing you notice is the smell of tea. The second thing is the TARDIS floor grating pressing against the back of your head. You roll over, forgetting for a moment that it’s not you who does those things anymore, and the grating is pressing against the side of your face. That doesn’t really help. It smells like the tea’s coming up from under the floor, but that can’t be right.
You open your eyes; or someone does. It’s still not quite you. But that’s not what you need to worry about now; there’s a half empty thermos of tea dribbling out on the floor in front of you. You suspect, you hope, that it will be enough.
You feel a wave of urgency from the not-quite-you, and your hand shoots out to grab the thermos. Tilted upright, there’s a decent cupful left on the bottom. A bit of good luck, that.
Your new self pushes himself up off the floor and gulps down the tea. The pain in your head that you’ve nearly stopped noticing suddenly vanishes to your immense relief.
Something else is different, not just the lack of pain. You feel somehow more solid that you were. More real. Odd, since you don’t remember feeling unreal, until a moment ago, when you thought you were dissolving, but you feel more...present than you did since the regeneration.
The new you stands up. Still in his pajamas, you note disapprovingly. And that strange bathrobe that had an apple in the pocket. If he doesn’t find something else to wear soon, he’ll be a new fashion low. He walks over to the console, and flips the scanner on.
Sycorax. A right nuisance at the best of times. And right now they have Rose. You watch her try to scare them with borrowed words, a garbled version of the ones you used trying to stop the Nestene. You wonder what she thinks she’s doing. You knew what you were talking about when you tried this, and you still failed. She watched you fail. She watched you nearly die.
Then again, having seen what happens when she tries something different (less than a day ago, stunningly enough), you’re not sure if you want her to make a habit of that.
You laugh internally as she threatens the Sycorax with Daleks, a slightly bleak laugh. Tell them what finally killed the Daleks, you think. Tell them what you did, Rose, and see how they take that. There’s an echo to your laughter, or possibly an answering laugh. But you don’t think much about that now. You need to save the Earth (again), but first you need to save Rose. You need a plan.
I know, I know the new boy thinks, and you nearly fall over in shock. He can hear you now. He doesn’t seem to have entirely noticed you; perhaps just taken you for his own thoughts. But he heard.
You catch a reflection of your other selves smiling at you, like an overlay, showing you both the inside and the outside of your head at once. So that’s how it works, you think. That’s how it’s meant to be.
You all start gabbling ideas at the new kid; everything you can remember about the Sycorax, plans to distract them, what you can see about their weapons, and their prisoners (it looks like Harriet Jones has turned up somehow,). How long they’re likely to talk before someone dies.
The new kid sorts through this easily, sorting and skipping through the information with the same delightful ease you remember from your more inspired moments. You glance over in surprise at your other selves, and catch your third self grinning at your shock.
You jump when the Sycorax leader threatens Rose, but the new one calmly switches the telepathic translators back on as a distraction, shuts down the scanner, and heads for the door.
Before he opens the door, you tell your new self, “Do what needs to be done. If you can spare them, good. But if not, don’t hold back. Finish things. No half-measures.” You don’t want him making your same mistakes.
“No second chances,” he echoes back. That’s not what you said. That’s not what you meant at all. You give your seventh self a raised eyebrow. But he’s staring back the same way.
You both turn and glance over at your eighth self. He gives you a smile that’s far too cold for his pretty face and tumbledown curls. And far too knowing.
You stare a moment, but shake it off. The world’s on the line. You focus on your latest self as he opens the door and readies to save the world again.
The TARDIS door swings wide. Every eye on the ship turns to face you. Your new self smiles. From the inside of your head, you grin back.
“Did you miss me?”
I'm back, you think. I'm back.
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