The Panopticon's Lord Physician hummed quietly to himself as he keyed in the override beside the door, doing his best to disregard the security officer with cheerful, deliberate ignorance. Such automatous specimens as he clearly were not capable of intuiting the nature of their prisoner, let alone treating him properly.
The door to the zero room slid open with a whisper. The physician paused outside, not in awe of the sudden, calming nothingness beyond, but to check to see if his patient's hysterics had recurred. By the look of him, seated on the floor, back resting against the wall, his head slumped against his chest, it appeared that they had not.
The physician smiled and gave the doorway an appreciative pat as he entered. Marvelous invention, the zero room; it was the most effective tool for managing post-regenerative mania ever devised. If not for the expense of it, the physician would have had one installed as his personal sleeping chamber. He approached his patient and cleared his throat, but the hoary-headed man gave no indication that he'd heard. The physician activated his sonic scanner and passed the green beam over his patient's body. His brain wave patterns indicated both clarity of thought and function, and low-level consciousness.
"Well now, my boy, you seem to have come through quite well," the physician remarked. His voice, conditioned to reach the highest tiers of an academic amphitheater, reverberated against the heavy walls. The man stirred only slightly, his head lolling a bit to the side. The Lord Physician had years of experience at waking disinterested pupils, and was surprised to elicit so minor a response. Perhaps the zero room had worked its science a bit too well. He had a small pharmacy in the pockets of his robe, but the physician was reluctant to chemically excite the man's nerves after his recent trauma. "Perhaps you'd like to get out of here, now, for a bit of fresh air," he added pointedly.
The man raised his head, and rested it back against the wall, his worn brow creased in discomfort. The physician heard shuffling. He looked over to see the guard standing in the doorway, shaking his head sternly. The physician scowled. Damn the Castellan and his ignorant orders! Very well, he'd not achieved his station without employing a few clever tactics now and then. He nodded at the guard, and turned his attention back to his patient. He drew a deep breath.
"Outsiders often think that Rassilon was just indulging in a bit of megalomania when he instituted the limit on regenerations," the physician began, "But what few seem to remember is that before he did so, failed regenerations accounted for a great many Time Lord deaths, and let me assure you, young man, that is indeed a terrible way to go."
The man opened his eyes a weak slit, but nothing more. The physician adjusted the setting on his scanner and knelt before him, joints creaking with all the grace of a toppling tree. If the universe was a fair place, he'd trade bodies with his patient so each of them would better represent his actual age. But that was the ironic truth of regeneration. Eventually, not even the freshest of facades could repair a crumbling infrastructure.
All the patient's readings were reassuringly robust in spite of his worn, aged appearance, and the physician felt his stomach roil in frustration. Would it take an actual death to convince those fools to stop inducements?
"Rassilon's peers recognized how much more dodgy the process became after the twelfth. There were simply all manner of nasty complications that could turn up, like the teratomatic regeneration failure I treated once," the physician continued conversationally. "The poor fellow expired from a rather egregious jab to the eye, and when he regenerated, the process got stuck. By the time he was brought to me, his whole head was one gigantic eyeball, topped with a nice blond coif. I induced another regeneration, but the poor chap's pattern had stabilized, so instead of a blond-haired eyeball, he was now a ginger-topped one!"
The physician shook his head and tsked in amusement as he held open the man's eyelids and checked them with the green beam. "A colleague of mine had a truly dreadful story of encountering a poor soul who was head-to-toe in thumbs, but that's all pretty rare," he added. He shifted his eyes to check on the guard, and noted with satisfaction the slight absence of color from the man's face.
"Then, of course, everybody's heard the legend of the Man in Flux, which I say probably never even happened. Regenerative energy is internally generated, it's simply not possible for someone to be stuck in the transformative phase for all of eternity, as a glowing statue kept in the halls of medicine. Pah! It's quite clearly a holo-diagram of the transformative phase, but nobody ever reads the plaques these days," he scoffed, blasting the man's face with breath, making him jump. "When you get stuck in the transfomation, you burn up, starting at the extremities and working your way in. Combustive transitional phase failure. Utterly horrific for the victim, especially since there's no way to predict it. Either the glow subsides and they're all right, or the glow subsides and all you've got left is a pile of ash! Which, on the plus side, makes for easy cleanup."
The physician set aside his device and placed his hands on the young man's shoulders. He stole another glance towards the door. The guard looked decidedly ill-at-ease. Returning his attention the soporific man in front of him, he administered a reassuring pat, then continued down his chest, poking him in the ribs and stomach. The man still appeared dazed, but it seemed as though some part of his mind registered the pat-down as an aggressive action. He feebly tried to push back. The physician began to think he might need a stimulant after all.
"Now, relax, I'm just checking that everything's in the right place. Which it seems to be. No signs of interstitial transformational disorganization. Now there's something you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy! In the most severe cases, you can end up with a foot for a nose, and legs where your arms were. Saw a case like that my first week out of the medical academy. I was able to reverse it, thank goodness, but the patient complained of toe jam bogeys for weeks after. Still, I suppose that's better than coming out with bits missing. I remember back in my academy days, 'Professor Cairn's Half-Generate Cause List.' Used to terrify the freshers with it, adding all sorts of ridiculous 'dos' and 'don'ts' to make sure their first regeneration didn't end at the waist. It's such an august tradition that no one seemed to know who'd begun the list in the first place. I'm rather convinced that it might have started as a serious academic work. I steer clear of hadronic energy to this day, just to be safe."
The physician didn't need to look at the guard; he could hear him shifting uncomfortably.
"And though there's never been a controlled study that proved it, you'll be hard-pressed to find a Time Lord who doesn't still adhere to the Essence Bubble Rule. Essence is highly isomorphic, everyone knows that, but still the fear of inducement lingers, and the paranoid cries of 'stay out of the glow!' continue unabated. Personally, I've always found a brush with essence to be quite refreshing," he continued, deftly slipping an injector out of his pocket and against the man's ribs.
The man's eyes widened a bit from their previously half-lidded state.
"But then," the physician chuckled, "I'm as much to blame as any, I suppose. It was my suggestion that violating the Essence Bubble Rule be added to Cairn's List in the first place. Yet, for all the fear and myth, I remember the time I was contacted by Panopticon Security because they thought they'd found a murder and dismemberment case. Turned out it wasn't a murder at all, just some unfortunate alley dweller whose regeneration left behind a string of half-generate pieces, a condition we call vestigial morphological redundancy, which is known to occur with escalating frequency in double-digit regenerations," the physician explained, wagging an almost scolding finger at the man. Then he started to chuckle again. "But then, the next day, the fellow came to security himself to report finding a left arm in his shack. When they told him it was his, and offered to dispose of it for him, he actually refused! 'Always good to have an extra hand around the place,' he said."
The physician enjoyed a hearty laugh as he turned off his device and climbed laboriously to his feet. He noticed the guard still standing in the doorway, looking a bit faint but still putting a brave face on it. All right, then, the gloves were coming off.
"Yessir, young lad, from interspecies biological meta crises and progressive regenerational stabilization failures, to metabolic containment syndrome and partial transformations, I have seen it all, and you are indeed fortunate to have nothing more than post-regenerative shock to contend with. It's a nice change of pace for me, to be sure," he concluded loudly, making a show of turning off his scanner.
He paused, introspectively. "Not like the regenerative omphalocele I saw last week. The term seems obtuse to the layman, so let me just say that it's when your entrails regenerate outside of your body. It's a bit like turning inside out, with only the thinnest layer of peritoneum protecting it all. Imagine! Your liver, spleen, intestines, all just hanging out for casual inspection! Usually fatal, of course, especially if the phenomenon should affect the brain. It starts out looking very much like a vestigial redundancy of the head, only all you get is a sac of brain matter protruding through the skull like some kind of particularly complicated boil." He shook his head sadly. "Almost always fatal, except for the woman who strolled into my clinic clutching a handbag to herself that was holding most of her intestines. They were connected to her body with an umbilical string of blood vessels. We were lucky she came to us when she did or the sac would likely have burst from the accumulation of--"
The physician stopped, interrupted by the sound of the guard retching rather violently outside the zero room. "Better late than never," the physician commented happily, sneaking up behind the guard with another injector and applying its contents into the man's hip. The guard jerked, coughed, and collapsed. The physician grabbed him quickly and aimed him at a clean spot on the floor, then dropped him in a heap. He turned back to see his patient staring at him wide-eyed, surprised.
The physician hurried back, grabbed the man's arm and started coaxing him to his feet. "Now, how about that fresh air I mentioned earlier? I think a bit of exercise--another environment, shall we say--would do you a world of good." The man still looked baffled, and the physician was able to lead him out of the zero room and start a quick retreat down the corridor. They rounded a corner and aimed for a lift when the alarm began to sound. The physician pulled them both up short until he spotted the access door to a decline. "In fact, you're coming along so well that we shall--what's the old saying?--'take the stairs.'"
Descending the ramp at a pace that taxed the old physician's muscles and lungs, he activated a button on the bottom of his sonic scanner. "Valet, are you ready?" he queried into the hidden speaker grille.
"This what you call subtlety, Lord Physician?" a female voice crackled back irritably. "The field is down, but I couldn't get inside the thing to tell if they'd done the job yet or not. You've got moments til they isolate you. Sorry."
"Don't fret, Valet. We all must learn to cope with the unpredictable nature of life. We'll just have to go for it." Swinging his patient around a spiral turn in the decline, the physician stopped at a door and punched in another key code. The door opened for them into the wide, low-ceilinged Panopticon Hangar Bay, lined with rows of rectangular grey boxes. Identical grey boxes. The alarm was still going strong, and the physician was reminded again of the man covered in thumbs. "Valet, which one is it?"
"The blue one. It's near center; you won't miss it," Valet answered. "And may I say, good luck to the both of you."
The physician thumbed the scanner off again and resumed his rushed escort towards the center of the bay. He heard doors opening on at least two sides of the cavernous space, and soon, cries of "Halt!"
"What's going on?" the physician's patient finally spoke, his voice weak.
"Oh, just a bit of post-regenerative amnesia," the physician assured him hurriedly. One of the guards gave an order to fire. The physician ducked behind one of the grey boxes for cover, pulling his patient down with him. Bolts of energy zipped past, singeing the air in their wake. Were those stun bolts? He knew energy beams existed that were capable of destroying regenerative capacity, but doubted such would be used by the Chancellory Guard. His hearts pounded.
"Ooh, lovely color," his patient slurred.
"Yes, like a floral meta crisis I saw once," the physician agreed thoughtlessly, dashing from row to row with his patient, hoping to avoid the growing number of guards. "Turned the woman a most striking shade of green from the chloroplastic inclusions."
Then he saw it, a blue box, like Valet said, sitting just two rows ahead. It had some additional features that defied logic, including a lamp on the top, but it had to be the one. They paused again to permit laser fire to pass. "Anyway, post-regenerative amnesia responds quite well to familiar presences. Like, say, that blue box over there," the physician prompted.
The man's deceptively old face lit up with welcome lucidity. "My Tardis!" Still crouching, he suddenly clutched at the physician's stole. "You must help me escape!"
Caught off-guard, the physician struggled to pry his patient's fingers off of him. "That's exactly what I'm trying to do, Doctor, provided they haven't coordinate-locked your machine, yet."
The patient's face clouded. "You know me? Who are you?"
"To answer in order, only by reputation, and it happens that you're not the only one of our society who feels so strongly about the security of the universe," the physician responded quickly, finally freeing his stole from the Doctor's grip.
"Oh. Then are you coming with me?"
The physician felt a small tug in his hearts, an ancient desire changed by the weight of years of duty. "Goodness, no, Doctor. I've evil of my own to conquer right here. Now!"
The two men dashed from their current protective box to another in the next row, across from the Doctor's blue machine. The guards were closing in, they'd evidently figured out the physician's target and were hurrying to cut them off. This would be difficult.
"Do you have your key?" the physician asked.
The Doctor reached inside the pocket of his undersized, disheveled suit jacket. "Yes."
"Then, when I give the signal, run! Get away from here and don't look back." Before the Doctor could respond, the physician crept around to the other side of the box. He looked both ways, then threw his sonic scanner down the row. The clatter it made immediately drew about half of the guards' attention and gunfire. Then, turning the other direction to face the remaining flank of armed men, he drew a deep breath, then ran out into the open, back the way he'd just run. "You'll never catch me, you--!"
The words were pounded out of him by the impact of at least two laser beams in the chest. Hot, searing pain exploded through his lungs and hearts, lancing into his arms, following his nerve pathways to bring fire to his whole body. He hit the floor hard, scarcely feeling it as numbness began to overtake the pain. Just a stunning beam, then?
But as even as he lay there, hearing the shouts of the guards and their boots clattering as they approached him, he was aware that his hearts seemed to be beating far too fast, and far, far too irregularly. He started to feel lightheaded, saw darkness begin to edge into his vision. One heart seemed to be slowing, the other, spasming in short bursts. His breathing grew labored, and he realized what was happening. Damned old body.
The guards crowded around him and he could see it in their faces: they knew something was wrong. Their mouths moved, but he couldn't hear what they were saying over the sudden mechanical wheezing that filled the air. An artificial breeze tickled his clammy brow. The guards turned towards it, and the physician smiled to himself as they realized that they'd got the wrong man, that their real target was escaping right under their collective noses.
The few guards who happened to remain by him backed away, eyes widened in fear, as a glow simmered out of the physician's paralyzed extremities. He could feel a tingle in his feet, in his hands, a slight buzzing in the nerves, but in his gut, he knew how it was going to end, and the realization didn't bother him one bit. The most common cause of Time Lord deaths these days, the major consequence of Rassilon's decree, and something he'd witnessed so many times it hadn't even been worth mentioning in the zero room. He could feel the energy bleed out of him, sensed the glow sputter and start to fade. He saw one young guard approach, saw his mouth open and form the words, "What's wrong?"
The medical term for it was geriatric regeneration failure. But the Lord Physician knew that wouldn't mean anything to the young fellow. "Time's up," he said laconically, embracing the cool wash of senescence without regret. Of all the many ways for Time Lords to die, in all his years of experience, the Lord Physician was unable to think of a better way than this.
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