The Long Shadow by vegetables
Chapter 1: Cover
Chapter 2: Chapter 1
Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
Chapter 8: Chapter 7
Chapter 9: Chapter 8
Chapter 10: Chapter 9
Chapter 11: Chapter 10
Chapter 12: Chapter 11
Chapter 13: Chapter 12
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It was the holiest spaceship in the Empire, and he was the most pious baboon. Even if he’d been given to selfish hopes, he’d not have dreamed his life would have led him this high: to have become a cardinal was unthinkable enough, but to be granted an audience with the Papio himself? It was impossible, but it was happening anyway– in the way all the best miracles did.
Since he’d arrived on the Vaticus, Cardinal Bless had been humbled by even the most minor members of the ship’s crew. He knew what it was to feel small, of course, just like anyone who dimly understood the Lord, but he couldn't remember feeling so inadequate when seen against a fellow baboon. He’d studied Christian thought to the highest level, but these people seemed to embody it, to make the Word of God real through the acts of baboon. But the awe he’d felt at them shrank to nothing as he approached the Papio’s chambers.
Everything melted away as he entered the great gold doors. There must have been scores of soldiers and bodyguards in that room, but to Bless it seemed only two people were present. There was him, and there was God’s representative in the universe. For a moment that was all there was, and that was the only thing that mattered.
The Papio gave his full attention to Bless, his submissive pose somehow utterly dominating the room.
"Cardinal,” said the Papio. “Blessed by name, and blessed by nature! I do think what we’re called has an influence on our calling. But what the Primature’s asking you to do– well, there are those who’d say it wasn't blessed at all.”
"It's a righteous cause,” said Bless unflinchingly. “All lives are precious in the eyes of God, of course. Even his. But the Lord is not endlessly forgiving. And his actions, his works… I see why they're worthy of His judgement.”
"We’ve lost so many to that man’s teachings,” said the Papio. “It's almost no matter if they venerate or shun him! They all turn from the Lord in the end. But the Lord’s followers, of course,” he snarled, "are graced with a great many teeth.”
The Papio yawned in exactly the right way to bare his canines to everyone in the room.
"Our church has always had her military wing,” he continued. “Her assassins in the shadows. Not following our Lord’s more recent practice, perhaps, but still essential to His design. And the one you are to assassinate has fallen further than most.”
Above the two baboons, a hologram of a face sputtered to life. The technology was ancient — like everything else on the Vaticus — but the strange shape of a man’s face could still be seen in its light. The cardinal shuddered at the sight of it, unable to help himself. If you exercised your imagination, you might see how that face resembled a baboon’s– but to do so would feel utterly repulsive. The man’s skin was meat-pink and his teeth were slight; grey hair sprouted from his head in places you wouldn't expect.
The Cardinal shuddered, against his better instincts. He knew ugliness was no marker of sin; there was no connection between the awfulness of the man’s appearance and crimes. But the ugliness would make it easier, he knew, when the time came to end his life.
"We have new information about our target,” said the Papio. “Our sources say that he’s changed, more than we ever thought possible. You might find he is not what you had expected. You might not even recognise him.”
"It makes no difference,” said the Cardinal. “A man can change in a thousand ways, but the only one that matters is submission to the Lord. And that, I fear, is a path that may be closed to him."
"Then you must stand firm, however you find him,” said the Papio. “Do what you must– and bring me his head.”
"I shall,” whispered the cardinal.
"Bring me his head!” repeated the Palio. “Whatever he says, and whatever he pleads! Bring me the head,” he cried, “of Professor Charles Darwin."
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The gentle English lunchtime was broken by a very un-English sound. Beside a sprawling, well-kept garden, a battered police box splatted to the ground.
"This is more like it!” said the Doctor, throwing open the TARDIS doors. "England, almost the right century. What more could anyone ask for?”
"This isn't my house,” said Chris, stepping out to look at the building just past the garden. “It's much too big, like it belongs to the Queen.” She frowned. “Have you met the Queen?”
"Not yet,” said the Doctor. She grimaced. “Right now she's still a bit... not-born.”
"This is the past,” said Chris flatly. “You said you’d get me home!”
"I got close!” said the Doctor. "They're very large, are time and space. This is South East England, 1881. Late Victorian times; it's basically next door. Anyway,” she said brightly, “from here we can be back to your house soon enough. But I have to say hello to someone first. It just so happens that this place is home–” she smiled “–to a bit of a friend of mine.”
A figure came towards them from house, all slow and bent with age. He looked up towards them with his bearded face, which lined with dismay as he saw the ruined blue box before him.
"Hey, Chazza!” said the Doctor cheerfully. “Chazzy D!”
"You,” said Charles Darwin with a snarl.
"Oh. You’ve met this me before? I've not met you, from this side of things. Been a bit busy with my psychiatry degree–”
"I am a scientist of international renown, Doctor,” said Darwin. “But there's only one man who’d call me Chazzy D. Except when you're a woman, like now.”
He caught Chris’s eye, and grinned.
"She thinks that sort of language impresses the youth of today. She doesn't know when today is, of course, but that doesn't really matter. You’ll be quite unimpressed, I'm sure, whenever it is that you're from."
"Charles, the 21st century,” said the Doctor, indicating Chris, “the 21st century, Charles. He’s a good friend, Chris; we’ve been on loads of adventures together. Giant lizards off the Galapagos; skeletal beasts in the British Museum. And he’s really famous, too, though it's gone to his head a bit.”
"Oh!” said Chris. “You're Charles Darwin. I’ve heard of you!”
Darwin’s slight grin turned to a smile.
"You wrote that book, Great Expectations. My mother didn't like it very much.”
"Oh, God,” moaned Darwin, a frown crashing back to his face.
"I wasn't going to say, Charles,” said the Doctor. “But you seem a bit grumpy today. Grumpier than usual, I mean. Worms playing up, are they?”
"The lives of worms are always a charm to be involved in,” muttered Darwin. "But the lives of men–” He scowled. “Letters, Doctor! From every church in England, and more beside. Telling me how I’m in league with the devil, and worse.”
“Yes, well, what's new about that?” said the Doctor. “It's two decades since the Origin; you’ve been getting angry letters for years. Hell, I get letters like that,” she sighed, “and I don't even have an address.”
“As ever, the difference is of degree rather than kind,” said Darwin. “Of course there have always been letters! Scores of them. I employ people to respond to most, but even then some always end up here.”
“But lately, there have been so many. Strange opinions, and always so very angry. And now I fear that I'm getting too old for them all.”
He stared down at the Doctor and Chris with exhausted eyes.
“That's wrong,” said the Doctor, softly.
“Well!” said Darwin. “One tries not to judge! But if I was forced, I confess–”
“No,” said the Doctor. “It shouldn't be happening, not now. Not in 1881. People are angry with you, ‘course they are! We all had enough relatives we hated before your theory came along. But if there's a lot more anger, at exactly this point in time–”
She looked past Darwin at a tall, proud tree. Its shadow was long in the autumn light, and yet it was not the autumn at all.
“I think,” she said after a while, “that something is wrong with history.”
“She’s always saying that,” groaned Darwin to Chris, “and she always follows it up with something completely awful.”
“C’mon Charles,” said the Doctor cheerfully. “Let's go and look through your mail.”
Darwin and Chris exchanged a resigned and meaningful glance.
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Cardinal Bless had never been the sort to follow scientific developments. There were those in his troop who were brilliant theorists, always bent on expanding his mind. But he’d always told them his mind had been expanded enough by the Lord: he knew what they thought of that, although they would never say.
But still. Time travel! It seemed a forgotten dream. When Bless was an infant, his grandfather had told him of the first baboon in time, who’d delivered pictures of the future to a thrilled audience glued to their screens. Back then, they’d assumed baboons of Bless’s generation would flit through time as routinely as they went to the shops, just as everyone had done in the future they'd seen in the pictures.
But that future had never arrived. Scientists whispered that something had gone wrong with history, and the public slowly lost interest in the idea of traveling through it. They still imagined baboons would, of course, some day in the distant future. But those baboons would not be them, and that day was far from now.
The time machine Bless was in now wasn't so different to the ones from his grandfather’s day. It was huge and full of strange devices, which blared and screeched as the craft roared far from its present. This was the furthest into the past a baboon had ever gone, but Bless didn't feel like a pioneer as the planet of his ancestors swelled below him. He felt lost and far from God, and small against the enormous vastness of time.
The giant ship fell from the cool night sky.
Behind it, a hail of shadows smashed their way into the world.
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“Letters!” snarled Darwin to his study, “an endless cavalcade! Bishops complaining about science, scientists complaining about me. I'm used to it, of course,” he growled, “but now there are so many. Why, I remember back in 1869–”
The Doctor nodded and listened for a while, until she was sure the scientist was listening to no one but himself.
“Chris,” she said, “d’you notice anything wrong with Charles’s study?”
“It smells like dead people,” said Chris.
“That's rude!” said the Doctor. “No, look down there, below the chair. The one that's too big for you to sit on.”
Chris squinted down at the chair in front of her. It was bright blue, and much posher than she was used to, with a mix of fabric and wood at its base. But nothing about it struck her as particularly out of the ordinary.
Just as she was wondering if the Doctor had been tricking her, she noticed something move between the chair and the wall. She looked in the narrow gap, but there was nothing there– just the long shadow of the chair, snaking its way up the wall. But then if the sun was coming through just there, and the light was hitting the chair on its side–
“The shadows are wrong,” said Chris.
“They're very wrong,” said the Doctor. “And not just here. They’ve been wrong on a lot of things, ever since we arrived.”
The shadow behind the chair rose up, as if annoyed at being noticed. It stretched further and further towards the roof, heightening through the softened light. The Doctor snarled, and drew her sonic screwdriver–
–before a very non-Victorian beeping filled the room. Startled, the shadow slunk back behind its chair.
“Just as I was saying!” said Darwin, who’d been so busy talking he’d missed everything that was going on. “These people know they can’t win with reasoned debate, oh no! They have to resort to tricks, or accursed sounds!”
He swept the bleeping letter into his hands, oblivious to the lights that flashed on it in their ahistorical way.
“Look at what this letter actually says!” he snapped, “once you get past the presentation. That it's nothing but blasphemy to compare a monkey to man. That a creature so pure could never have come from one so foul and base! If they'd only be willing to listen to reason…”
“I'm not sure that means what you think it does,” said the Doctor quietly. “Let me see it, Charles.”
She took the letter out of the old man's hands.
“As I thought,” she said, pointing at the strange cross on the letterhead. “This is the seal of the Square Primature. This letter’s from…”
“It's from a sect of Christian baboons,” she said at last.
“That's silly,” said Chris.
“It's preposterous!” said Darwin. “The mind of a baboon would be quite different to our own. If they had a belief system of any kind, it would be about how they saw the world, not how we did! They'd have totally different metaphysics. They wouldn't concern themselves with what the Archbishop of Canterbury says.”
“Maybe so,” said the Doctor. “But these,” she said with a meaningful glance, “are baboons from the future.”
“Oh!” said Darwin, and burst out laughing. “You mean to say—”
”I do!” said the Doctor.
“Then the letter means– oh, but that is funny!”
“I don't like it when you talk like I’m not here,” said Chris. “And I don't see why any of this is something to laugh about.”
“The people who sent this letter,” said the Doctor. “They’re baboons now, but they haven't always been. People think it has a direction, evolution; that it's this big stack of creatures with themselves stuck up on the top. But that's not how it works, not really. The same forms emerge again and again, the same patterns. And in the right sort of situation–”
“–men could evolve into baboons,” breathed Darwin. “They're Christians because they never stopped being Christians, even when they grew fur and tails. Fascinating,” he said. “I’d never have dreamed!”
“It makes me sad to think about,” said Chris. “Thinking that I could have a child, and then they could, and that one day a child would be a baboon. I wouldn't know what to say, if I met them. It would all make me very uncomfortable.”
“Yes, well, the baboons aren't happy about it either,” said the Doctor. “They've all the trappings of Catholicism, but not a lot left of the teachings. And they don't seem too happy with what Charles has to say about who's in their family history.”
She glanced at the Primature’s letter, reading the whole of it for the first time.
She went pale.
“Oh hell,” she said. “They say that they're coming to kill you.”
“Ha!” said Darwin, his wrinkled face unfazed. “That's what they all say! I’ve had a lot of death threats in the past few decades; I’m quite past the point of worrying about them.”
“You should worry about this one,” said the Doctor. “If nothing else, they people who wrote these other letters respect you because you're a man, but that's exactly why the Primature despises you. Remember how horrified you were when I showed you the wars of the 20th century? Think about how much worse they could seem, to people who aren't human. Your species repulses them, Charles. They will kill you.”
Darwin looked completely unperturbed at this. Lazily, he stabbed at the message with his letter opener.
“Odd sort of thing for Christians,” he said, “to have such a low opinion of all men. Whatever do they suppose Jesus was?”
“A baboon,” said the Doctor flatly.
Darwin’s shocked face went whiter than his beard.
“Oh, don't be like that; he wasn't a white man either. It's what people do, isn't it? Whether they're humans or baboons. Take something like the Easter story and make sure the Son of God looks just like them.”
“Although if you want to know what really happened–”
She was interrupted by a somehow silent bang. An absence swelled across the study, as if its silence had been snuffed out by something even quieter.
Loudly and without noise, a darkness rose from behind the chair. Fast as a shadow, Chris and Darwin threw themselves behind the Doctor.
“The assassin!” gasped Darwin. “And he's nothing like a baboon!”
“Not everything is about you, you know,” muttered the Doctor. “This thing hasn't been sent to kill you. Of course, it is going to kill you,” she added, “but not for any good reason. Get down!”
The three of them ducked as a shaft of shadow swept across Darwin’s desk. The letters strewn across it became darker, as everything does when in shadow– then went darker still, as if blackened under fire. There was a light like the darkness, and then all the letters were gone.
”Chris!” shouted the Doctor. “Take Darwin's letter opener!” It was a rude request, but Chris was too frightened to say anything. Still, she felt guilty as she prised it from the old man's hand.
“It isn’t sharp at all!” Chris cried. “And that's a shadow! You can't cut it up with a knife!”
”Not the shadow, Chris. The light!” She nodded to the window. “Over there.”
Cutting up some light with a letter opener didn't make a lot of sense. But then the world hadn't made a lot of sense even before Chris had met the Doctor, and it didn't seem to be getting any better. She held the knife as fiercely as she could manage, but she was a child and she was scared. Her hands shook as she made her way to the far end of the study, as the shadows seemed to turn towards her…
...before they stopped, and peeled away. A shaft of light beamed down on Chris, although there was nowhere that it could have come from. The Doctor’s eyes widened in horror.
“On second thoughts!” she said. “Running away! Let’s do that, instead of fighting!”
But it was already too late for Chris to run. Shadow slammed into her from in front of the impossible light, flowing into her mouth and her mind. She coughed as nothingness swam into her, her body casting a too-small shadow against the light…
...and then she saw things that had never been in the room. Her mother, stressed after she’d gone to bed. Her friend, who she’d once scratched hard until she bled. Pain and exhaustion swept through her mind, and she knew all of it had been caused by her. It was the despair that she had brought to people, whether she’d intended it or not. It was the shadow she had cast upon the world.
Adults often told Chris that there were things she'd only understand when she was older, and for a second she wondered if this was one of them. Perhaps all adults felt like this at some point in their lives? But even as she thought this, she knew that it was wrong. The adult world was not one where people were afraid of the pain they caused; a glance at it could tell you that. What she was feeling now was something a person of any age would struggle to handle…
...the thought of age made her look again at Darwin, who stared in horror at her as he crouched against the wall. It was funny how dark he seemed, how glum the whole room felt. Hazily, she felt the hilt of the paper knife in her hand. She raised her arm against the thundering pain, and thrust it down into nothing at all–
–and the nothing split, in a way you could never describe. A dull slit of light shone where shadow had otherwise been. The sense of despair eased in Chris’s mind as she bought the knife down again, then again once more as she slashed at the shadows that surrounded her on all sides. She could hear a soundless scream of pain getting more intense with each inflicted wound, before the sun shone once more through the window and the shadow was swept away.
Chris howled and shook in the perfectly normal light. Her two companions eased themselves from the wall.
“We have to go,” said the Doctor gently to Chris. “I’m sorry that happened to you, Chris. And I'll tell you why it did, but we have to go now.” She shot a glance to the chair where the shadow had come from, behind which dark shapes arched in unusual ways.
”Where are we going?” asked Darwin. “The Torchwood Institute? The Royal Society? Somewhere with guns, I hope.”
“We’re going to the woods,” said the Doctor. “We’re off to track down your assassin. And no guns!” she said, remembering what Charles was like with them.
“That's what I always forget about these adventures,” sighed Darwin. “It's so rare that they're ever any fun.” Then he hastily swept out of his study, with the traumatised Chris following in his wake.
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Bless hadn't thought much about how to disguise his time machine. In his mind, he’d gone over his plan to slaughter Charles Darwin a great number of times, but he’d given no thought to the details leading up to that one point. The Primature would take care of that sort of thing, he’d assumed, and now the weight of that error was coming home to him.
Bless could fell a whole troop of soldiers while still remaining unseen, but he had no idea how to give that level of stealth to a machine. He’d got his pilotoon to examine the technical manifest of the ship, telling her that through God all things became possible. She’d muttered something to the effect that invisibility was the one thing God knew very well, and he’d declined to claw her for the blasphemy. Perhaps there was still some way to get home– and if there was, he’d need her for it.
The shadows were strange as he paced through the wood, towards the path where he knew that Darwin liked to stroll. But then he was on Earth, after all, and it made sense things would seem unnatural here. The Primature taught that the ancients had seen the whole of the sky as Heaven, while Hell burned dull at the centre of the world. Since then, people had spread to the heavens and left Hell far behind, but Satan still stood at this planet’s core with his empire burning away. And it followed that all the Earth was damned; a thin skin under which the lair of the devil churned. That was why Jesus had come where he had– to be the light at the darkest point of the universe.
But shadows aside, it all looked rather… nice. Bless had imagined the forests where Darwin walked would be snarled and terrible, as if the wood itself wept as he came by. But instead everything was soft and gentle; all shafts of light playing in quiet glades. A small mammal Bless didn't recognise scurried past, and the Cardinal noted how very unthreatening it looked.
He was being a bad Christian, in his way. The idea that sin only lurked in ugliness — or that grace was only found in beauty — was against all the teachings he held dear. Still, for the first time a faint doubt came into his mind.
He snarled to himself. Such thoughts were unsuited to the mind of a skilled assassin. He shook his furry body, and went off to kill himself a man.
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Darwin and his guests had run some way into the woods by now, and finally the shadows looked normal. Even so, the Doctor studied the afternoon light for some time before she finally puffed her cheeks out and relaxed.
“There should have been another way,” she said to Chris at last, who was still shaking from her experience with the shadow. “I didn’t think it would pounce like that, not on someone as young as you. I thought you would be safe, but I didn’t see how hungry that thing back there was.”
Chris said nothing, looking at the ground.
“You could have taken the knife,” she said. “Tried to cut everything up. You’ve more muscles than me.” She shivered. “ I saw… things,” she said. “I don't want to see them again.”
“A child soldier, Doctor?” wheezed Darwin as he gasped for air. “Dear me, you really don't practice what you preach–”
“–that's not what you are, Chris,” interrupted the Doctor. “Don't listen to the stupid genius over there. I never thought for a minute that thing would attack–”
“Tell me,” said Darwin, is our young friend from after they bring back child labour, or–”
“What?” said Chris.
“Ix-nay on the ild chabour-ay,” said the Doctor. “And it's not like that. The Lethe, they…” she trailed off, a hollowness in eyes.
“...they take the shadow you cast,” she said at last. “Every bad thing you’ve ever done; all the pain you've caused. And me and Charles… we’ve hurt more people than most.”
“I can see how you did,” spat Chris through tears.
”You’re a child. And… well, innocence isn't the word, not exactly. Because I don't want to take away from how awful those things you saw would’ve been. But when the shadow of the Lethe hits another living thing… well, then, it's everything you felt but worse. Unimaginably so. And a child doesn't tend to cast a long shadow.”
“You thought it might hit you,” said Chris.
“Either of us! Me or Charles. If that happened in a space as enclosed as that, we might all have been caught in the shadow’s wake. It’d have torn our minds apart.”
“We’re a feast to them, Chris,” she said, “But I should have seen there was still a risk to you–”
“But you didn’t,” said Chris, putting her hands in her pockets. She walked on ahead, just far enough to feel on her own, making sure to snap as many twigs as possible under her feet.
“I always thought I was good with children,” said the Doctor when she was sure Chris was too far away to hear. “I suppose you need to believe that, if you’re going to be really bad with them.”
Darwin didn’t respond to that, but just stared softly at the ground.
“Ah. Of course. Bad with adults too. I forgot what time of year this was.”
”I didn’t know,” said Darwin sadly, “if you knew there was anything to forget.”
”Of course I did! You’re not the only brains of the outfit. It’s 1881, it’s April, you’re sad and it’s affecting what you do. It’s not like you to get angry at something so petty as a threat of assassination.”
”It’s thirty years since she died,” added the Doctor unnecessarily.
”Next Saturday,” said Darwin. “Silly, isn’t it? To discover so much, yet be troubled by something so small.”
“No life is small, Charles,” said the Doctor. “Especially not the life of your own child. It's a long time since I met Anne, but she was special– not just to her father, but through whatever eyes I had on at the time.”
She looked down the path stretched through the woods, where her child companion walked slouched and defeated.
“Chris reminds you of her,” she said, knowing she should have realised.
“Oh, not really; no more than anyone her age. And you can't go sealing yourself off from children, not for three whole decades. I can see them now without too much of the pain. It's just…”
“...sometimes a child does cast a long shadow,” he said at last. “And perhaps you’ve forgotten that, with her.”
He turned to look the Doctor in the eyes.
“You can't lose her, Doctor.”
“And I won’t! I'm just taking her back to her house, anyway. I'm her cab driver, not her mother. If I thought I was anything else, I might remember… how many people I‘ve lost, I suppose. When travelling with them became like an adventure.”
They both looked back to Chris, who was now quite far away.
“I can be responsible, if I have to be” said the Doctor. “I defend a whole planet, after all. How much harder can it be to defend a child?”
Darwin smiled. “That's exactly the sort of thing everyone says, when they end up with this sort of responsibility. Take it from a scientific genius.” he cackled, “it turns out to be much harder.”
Chris heard the last bit of that, as she hurried on as far ahead as she dared. She had been concentrating intensely on being the exactly right amount of far away, not close enough to feel she was with Darwin and the Doctor, but not so far that they couldn't save her from shadows or baboons.
The leaves grew thick over that part of the forest, and very little light broke through. Still, the shapes of trees still flickered against the grass, their shadows stretching in a way that almost looked like hands.
If the Doctor had been closer to Chris, she’d have said you had to watch out for almost. If a thing was almost like something else, she'd say, you could miss the point when it was better to think that it was that something else after all. She'd have said that if a great big hand of shadow had wanted to hide somewhere, then it might well choose a place where you might mistake it for the outline of a tree. She'd have said safety was an illusion, and that you should always be on your guard. But the Doctor had not kept Chris safe, and now she was too far away.
A two-dimensional blackness twisted through three dimensions, and Chris screamed as she was sucked into a fourth.
The Doctor ran towards the shadows, but it was already much too late.
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“Good grief!” Chris heard someone saying as she woozily came to. “I wasn't expecting this! But it makes sense, I suppose. A world as corrupt as this, twisting you to the shape of a man.”
“I'm not a man,” said Chris, wondering who she was talking to.
“Quite right! You're a baboon the same as me, blessed by name and nature. Doesn’t matter what you look like; even an infant would know that. Did you kill him, at least? Is our mission complete?”
Chris looked at her surroundings as the voice was speaking to her. She was sprawled at the centre of a wide dome, a large room lit with a harsh white light. Beneath her a starfish of shadow squirmed, and around her was a cage made entirely out of light. She got to her feet, to look over at the voice’s owner.
“I’m not who you think I am,” said Chris. “I’m not a baboon, or a Christian. I’m just a little girl.”
“A girl?” said the baboon, sounding confused. “I’ve not heard of one of those. Though I suppose the Cardinal said men had hair all over their mouths, and yours seems very hairless to me.
“Men are bigger than girls,” said Chris. “And the one you want to kill is grumpier. But we're all the same sort of thing. We’re all humans.”
”Bigger than you!” gasped the baboon. “But you're already enormous! I can see why the Cardinal was so frightened to come here.”
“I'm not enormous,” said Chris, “and I don't see why you're here. I don't like Charles Darwin much, but that's no reason to kill him. You can't just go around, killing the people you don't like. Do baboons do that, in the place where you're all from?”
“No! We're not animals! But it's not that we don't like him. We knew our place in the universe, you see; it was just as the Bible said. God created the stars and us to rule them; guided us from this world into the Heavens. And He knew we were broken, but that was okay, because through His Son we could all be redeemed. It gave us hope, you see? But then we came across that bloody book, and of course it was written by a man–”
The baboon looked up. She was embarrassed, though Chris couldn't know, and another baboon could have seen she looked very awkward indeed.
“I’ve not asked your name,” she said.
“I'm Chris,” replied the caged girl. “Christina Sillars.”
“Good. I'm Pilotoon Fliss,” said the baboon, “and I like to know people’s names before I insult them.”
“Insult me? But I haven't done anything! I'm in a cage!”
“I must get you out of there,” said Fliss, who made no effort to do so. ”But I don't mean you, not really, but your species. I mean, we’re not the best to judge! But some of the things you people have done, well. Perhaps there are worse things than sin, is what I’m saying. And finding that book, and realising we’d come from you… it was more than a lot of us could bear.”
“That makes sense,” said Chris. “Sometimes I'm ashamed I'm descended from humans, too. But it's not Charles’s fault, is it? He just wrote it down in that book of his. It’s not like he made it become true.”
“He made our pain true. He took us further from God. Death’s a mercy, with a crime as great as that.”
A long shadow, Chris thought. It was strange to think, that a person could cause such anger so long after they were gone. She thought of what Darwin would have felt, had the thing in the study hit him, and just for a second she understood what the Doctor had been so scared of.
The shadows were here as well, of course. They lapped at Chris’s feet, tugging at her socks like little fish biting away.
”You took them here,” she said to the Pilotoon. “You released these shadows into the world, and they attacked me. It was horrible!”
“Oh, no, that wasn't us,” said Fliss. “We just assumed they belonged down here. When we crash landed they swarmed into the ship; shadows can get through the smallest cracks. So we put them in a cage, not that it helped you much. That’ll just be the head of it, there’ll still be bits all around the wood looking for food to swallow up. Like you, for example!”
“Please let me out of this cage,” said Chris, feeling her socks get bitten away. Fliss bounded over and waved one of her paws, so the girl fell through the light and into the ship beyond.
“It's odd, though,” said Fliss as Chris slid out of the cage. If the shadows aren't from around here, then why are they here at all? What possible reason could they have, to come somewhere as ghastly as this?”
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“The idea of it!” Darwin snorted as he picked through the woods behind the Doctor. “A sonic screwdriver is ridiculous enough, but this–”
“My screwdriver is a powerful scientific instrument,” said the Doctor. “This is just the same.”
“A likely story! What did you call it, again?”
She blushed. “A smellin’ spanner.”
“Well,” said Darwin acidly, “That is a very scientific name–”
“–science isn't dull everywhere, y’know. We’re not all Victorians. And I’d like to see you find a better way of finding a baboon! They have a very particular aroma, and if I twist my spanner like this…”
A dull ping rose from the Doctor's olfactory tool. She grinned, and adopted a brisker walk.
“But you're looking for a shadow, not a baboon!” said Darwin. “Shadows don't have a smell! I must say, whenever I meet you, I like I’ve lost all my faculties. But this– why, it's worse than that time with the barnacles!”
“Oh, don't say things you don't mean!” snapped the Doctor. “Nothing could be worse than that. These baboons, they're very new to time travel. Don't know how to do it gently. They take a bullet and stick their people in them, then just smash it right through time and space.” She scowled. “Like uncorking champagne with a nuclear bomb.”
“Call me a pedantic old man,” said Darwin, “but I don't see what that has to do with shadows.”
“Oh, neither did they! That was the whole problem. They thought there's nothing much wrong with ripping a hole in space. After all, it’s mostly empty, right?”
“And the world is a few thousand years old, and a person’s too special to’ve evolved. Sometimes the things we know are true are wrong. All that darkness, it's done its share of evolving too. The Vashta Nerada, the Festerflame. Creatures of shadow, that feed on the shadows in us. It's not the Lethe that’ve got her; it's something else– the baboons must’ve… smashed through an ecosystem, like a ship barrelling into a reef. Everything that survived would be stuck to their machine, and most of it should still be around there. It's the source of it all. It's where we’ll most likely find her.”
“That may all be true,” said Darwin. “But a thought occurs to me, as a zoologist. Something else that smells like a baboon is a baboon itself! Like the one in these woods, who is currently trying to killing me.”
“Well,” said the Doctor, “perhaps that's a risk I’m willing to take.”
“Not just me who’s grumpier than normal, I see!” said Darwin. “Anyone would think it was you, being chased by some missionary monkeys.” His voice dropped to a whisper. “I don't suppose it's because of–”
“Don't say that,” said the Doctor. “Just don't. Not right now.”
“But you’ve no idea what I was going to say!”
"Oh, come off it! Anyone would. I already saw it, back there. When you saw me with Chris, you didn't see it as you would've once; the Doctor and her friend. The way it was before, you wouldn't have…”
“...you would never have thought of me as a father,” she said in the end.
“Oh, now,” said Darwin. “I’ve met so many of you over the years! I know it's still you in there, even though there might be less space in that woman’s brain–”
“There isn't,” snapped the Doctor, “and that's not even the point. ‘Cause I know if you’d met me now you wouldn't give me the time of day, that you wouldn't ever think I could be clever. And you're supposed to be an expert, at looking at the world. And if you can't see–”
"Sometimes,” she said, “I wish there'd been someone better.”
“Woman or man,” said Darwin, “you’re always contemptuous of people like me. Evolutionists! Victorians! Humans. We're always not good enough for the standards of– of wherever it is you're from! I set out to do Heaven’s work, you know, back at the start of my life. I never expected I would end up where I did. It’s true what they say, I suppose. God moves in mysterious ways.”
Darwin's brow eased, anger replaced with curiosity.
“That’s a point,” he said. “What did really happen, the day that he was crucified? What's the true story of Jesus Christ?”
“What? Oh, he was the Son of God, and all of it was true. Now, stop asking questions,” frowned the Doctor, “I need to concentrate on this smell.”
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Cardinal Bless’s mission was not going as he had hoped. He had found the path he knew Darwin would walk down, had waited for his prey to arrive. But as the hours passed and the scientist failed to appear, all the baboon had to occupy his mind was how many shades of green this planet seemed to have. Once, he saw two men walk through the forest, so much taller than the picture in his mind. As they passed he leapt out from his hiding place, with a roar, keen to see what sort of fight he could expect from them. But they’d just howled and run away, and he'd had no idea what to make of that.
It was all very strange, the past and this planet, and God seemed absent in unexpected ways. He was reflecting on this when his fur bristled with the sense of an incoming call: it was Fliss, contacting him from his crashed time machine.
“Pilotoon!” he said as her face flickered before his, the knobs and dials of the ship dimly visible behind her. “Not much progress with the invisibility, I see.”
“That isn't possible,” said Fliss, “and it isn't why I called. Cardinal, there's a man in the ship! Or something like one, at any rate. And she says she knows Charles Darwin!”
Bless looked startled. “Then we can't waste time! I'm sure our archives have ancient teachings on extracting information from her race–”
“There's no need for that! She's quite nice. Doesn't seem to like Darwin very much, just like us! I wasn't able to convince her that our mission was a just one, but then it's not me who was hired for their pious mind.”
”I am by the path where Darwin often walks,” said Bless. “All I need to do is wait for him. Why would I waste time with some man who fell into your care?”
”It’s how she fell into it I’m worried about, Cardinal. Snapped up by a shadow, she was! If you just sit there waiting all day, the same might happen to you. You'd come back to the ship unexpectedly then; we'd both get a nasty fright.“
Darkness, thought Bless. Present even on the holiest mission, poisoning the best of plans.
He snarled and slunk his way back to the ship, oblivious to the shadows that snapped at him as he went.
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”Can I just say something?” said Darwin for the eighth time. The Doctor strode on ahead, not looking at him.
“Well, if you’ll be that way,” he said at last. “It's not been easy knowing, you know. What we’ve all got coming up, some way down the line. Old Empires falling and new ones making war; the awful things that men will do in my name!”
The Doctor stomped on, the expression of her back unchanged.
“What I’m trying to say,” snapped Darwin, “is that I judge myself every day! I judge and I judge, without the help of some puffed-up Lord of Time. Or Archbishop. Or baboon. I'm proud of what I’ve done, don't get me wrong! To be remembered at all is a great privilege. But at the end of one’s life one sometimes wonders… if it might have been better to have accomplished less.”
The sun was getting low in the sky by now, and Darwin's shadow stretched out far behind him. The Doctor's shadow fell on his tired face, until at last its owner turned round with a smile.
“Hard, isn't it?” she said. “Getting old. I've done it lots of times, and it never gets any easier.”
“You know,” Darwin went on. “my life's work. All about how order rises against chance, yet the work itself did rather have chance as its architect! I don't know if I’d even have left Edinburgh if it hadn't been for the advice of that one man–”
“Ah, well,” said the Doctor a bit too quickly, “time and chance happen to us all, eh? Hey, look at these orchids!” she said in a desperate way, “I’m sure we’d enjoy talking about those.”
“He was a curious character, though! Dress sense quite out of style for the time. In fact, in a funny way, he reminded me of–”
Suddenly his face darkened, as the Doctor looked very guilty indeed.
“–he reminded me of you,” he said with a snarl.
“Ah,” said the Doctor. “That. I can see how that might look… a bit bad?”
“BAD?!” roared Darwin as his whole body shook with rage. “Damn right, it's bad! It was you, wasn’t it? You got me to leave because you knew what I’d discover if I did.”
“Yes,” said the Doctor, unable to meet his gaze. “But I’m sorry.”
“How could sorry be enough? All this time you’ve known me and never once thought to say that… that you set me up! Didn't you? Back then, in the Galapagos, a thousand other places besides! Always being helped along, like a child with his sums! Why, one could go far as to say that natural selection was not discovered by a professor,” he said, pointing his finger at the accused, “but by a mere Doctor–”
“Charles,” said the Doctor quietly. “Charles, please. It's not like that, not really–”
“Every day I get letters about how I’ve disproved God,” shouted Darwin. “Would that they knew the truth! That God exists and meddles in our affairs, and always judges us as we go! How many,” he said with tears now in his eyes, “how many human achievements were helped along by you? Are we anything at all without your guiding hand?”
“You are everything,” breathed the Doctor. “You must know I do think that. And I didn't…”
“...your theory,” she said at last. “Someone would’ve had it, whether I’d been there or not. Some ideas just happen to societies, whoever’s around at the time. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't matter who has them, not really. Especially an idea like yours, one that sets people's minds on fire. And I can't change history, not really. But sometimes, well... sometimes I can make the best of a bad job.”
“But I’ve seen the future,” said Darwin. “And it's awful, worse than our worst imaginings.”
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “So you know what it means when I say it was worse when it wasn’t you. When someone else discovered evolution, someone with an agenda. I’ve seen that future, and I had to turn away: more gas and death and jackboots, all done in the name of a theory. But not in your name. Surely that’s worth something? To prevent some of the horror that's coming, no matter the cost to you?”
“If it was a choice,” said Darwin. “But it’s the same with all your friends, isn’t it? You break us apart in a second, when it’s all for the greater good. But maybe sometimes we don’t want to be that good. Maybe sometimes we just want to be left alone.”
“You came to me when I was mourning, and you came with a little girl. Whether it’s today or my whole damn life, you can’t seem to leave me in peace! You turn up in your box, and before I know it I’m being chased by shadows–”
Cardinal Bless burst from behind a nearby tree.
Beneath their feet, a mass of shadow sagged into being.
“Oh,” sighed the Doctor. “That was so close to being well-timed.”
“Hey!” said a voice from another direction entirely. “Get back to our ship! You, and that friend you have there!” Pilotoon Fliss appeared from another part of the wood, jabbing her tail at Darwin. Chris bobbed uncomfortably on the Pilotoon’s back, tied on tight with uncomfortable wire.
“That’s my friend you’ve got there!” shouted the Doctor. “You give her back!”
“Huh,” said the Pilotoon. “You know, I suppose I could. I was just using her to guide me to that scientist you’ve got there, and it looks like you’ve bought him to us anyway. How about an exchange? One friend for another, eh?”
The shadow that had swollen up near Darwin and the Doctor was like a spitting sun, a great circle blasting out silhouetted shapes. Among these was a shoal of tiny shadows like snapping fish, which spat out of the blackness and made their way towards Fliss.
“Watch out!” said the Doctor, as the shadows circled the Pilotoon’s feet. “Those things’ll kill you!”
“Hardly!” laughed Fliss. “What’ll they do; take me back to my ship? It's not as bad as all that, you know!”
As she spoke a shadow-fish swam up her hind leg, leaving a trail of nothingness behind. Darwin gasped as he realised he could see through the path of the shadow, as if there had never been any leg there at all. Another shadow swam up the Pilotoon’s body, then another, and she hardly had time to scream before she was gone.
The uneaten ropes that had held Chris dropped uselessly to the ground. Chris squealed, scampering away from the shadows before the fish could gobble her up too.
“Pilotoon!” shouted Bless in horror. “But I should have known.”
He turned to his prey and bared his giant teeth.
“I have seen what your sin does at a distance, Charles Darwin. Where I’m from you’ve been dead for so long, and yet still you cause so much grief and pain. So many cardinals turned from the true faith, because of your hollow theories! But to see young Fliss cut down by you– it makes me see you are worse than even I had thought possible.”
“They can't have been very good cardinals, if you don't mind me saying,” muttered Darwin. “Wherever it is that you’re from. I don't know they’re as incompatible as all that, my theories and the church.”
“BLASPHEMY!” yelled the furious baboon. “Insults adding to injury! For that you will know what it means to feel true pain–”
Darwin looked back past the cardinal to the forests beyond, where the trees cast their long, straight shadows. The sun was very low in the sky now, and his own shadow cast a great line in front of him, like a stream of misery falling from his form. You might almost think it could reach those trees, this close to the end of the day.
“I know what it means to feel true pain,” he said softly.
And then he cackled and stood bolt upright, a manic grin plastered to his face.
“Oh no,” said the Doctor. “Don't do that. You need to be an expert at faces, to pull off a grin like that!”
“You see!” laughed Darwin, ignoring the Doctor completely. “Your friend is just the start of it. All of you are! Your religion; your species? You don't know the half of what I’ve done.”
He bounded over to the knot of shadow that seethed upon the ground. He was barely a religious man now, but he still prayed as he ran to that place– that the shadow creature he hoped for was within that mass of shade, so he could save his friends and not just meet his end. Perhaps God heard him, just that once in his life: shadow swam up him in a way that did not slice through him, and in his mind he felt a horrendous pain.
When a man is hated enough, he gives that hate a face. When Darwin thought of the people who despised him, he saw it in a certain way: a flurry of letters and angry articles in The Times. And without realising it, he’d come to think of those images as the same thing as the hate they represented, to be the totality of the hate for him that lay in the world. It was what he'd expected to face when the Lethe cloaked itself upon him, and in less than a second he knew how he’d been wrong.
He saw people both human and not, spread through so many lives and years. On some level he’d known how many lives the future could hold– but now he could see them all, in a way a human mind should never grasp. He saw every person who would ever be damaged by him; how every turn of phrase in his writing had shattered lives. Some of the fears people would take from his work were justified and some of them were not, but in that moment Darwin saw how that didn't really matter. All that mattered was the pain, and all of the pain was real.
He was a gentleman, above all other things. He would not strike a child, or punch a man unprompted. That would be more than uncivilised; it would be inhuman. But he had taught how the world could act in inhuman ways, and now he saw how he had done the same.
He’d meant to make a clever speech, to save the day. Like she always did, no matter the man she was. But it all seemed so much harder as his shadow boomed low and long…
...right over Cardinal Bless, who watched as his job was done for him.
I’m still grinning, Darwin realised. All that pain, and his expression hadn't changed. He channeled that grin into his voice, as he stood in the blackness of the world.
“See it!” he shouted to the baboon. “See what I see, the things I’ve done to the world! The people that I have scarred,” he said, “and the faiths that I have crushed. And you’ll just be the next of them,” he snarled, “who thinks he's so very special. That slaying me will change what I already am; that my blood can bring back the God your people have lost! But forget my theory, monkey. Look at me, and ask yourself this: what kind of creator would make a man like this? What kind of monster–”
Darwin was interrupted by a shape in ordinary clothes, shoving him out of the shadow as gently as it could. The Doctor stepped into the space where her friend had been and grinned, her expression seeming far more natural than Darwin’s had. Shadow streamed up and around her, drawn like light into a void.
“It’s me, is the answer,” she said. “His creator’s me. I don’t know if you got that. Because it was me who set it in motion, behind the scenes. And it’s me who’s the cause of it all: everything he did, and everyone he hurt. You want to see your monster, Cardinal? You want to see a God? Then look at me, you idiot! Look at the bloody Doctor!”
And she grinned, a huge, goofy grin that should not have been able to terrify.
“’Cause it's all me, you know,” she said. “Darwin is only famous because of me! He’s only alive because of me! And his species, and his planet! Life itself, and all of reality! Everything we find beautiful in this world.”
“And everything we regret,” she said.
Her shadow began to stretch from her body, on and on with no end in sight. It caught the cardinal as it stretched and then just kept on going, as if it would run and run until it encircled the world. The Doctor was still grinning, but Chris could see the pain building up in her eyes– of every life she had ever scarred, in the thousands of years she had lived.
Bless stared up at the Doctor’s darkened form.
“I'm sorry,” he said. “What did you just say?”
“That I'm incredibly old and powerful and terrifying,” said the Doctor, who was now forgetting to grin. “Didn't you take any of that in? I'm channeling, you know, what's quite a lot of pain–”
“Yes, I felt all that,” said Bless. “But I'm a member of a Holy Order; it’s my job to deal with pain. Don't you know anything about what my profession involves?”
“Doesn't really come up,” said the Doctor. “This whole territory’s pretty new to me, to be honest. Look, is looking at the awful consequences of our lives doing nothing at all for you?”
“Nothing whatsoever,” said Bless cheerfully. “I know that I'm a sinner.”
“Oh, thank God,” said the Doctor, letting her body slump down. She thrust her hands into her pockets and bought out her special tools — screwdriver in one hand, spanner in the other — and let them blast out awful scents and sounds. The darkness around her screamed in its silent way, then fled back to the safety of the forest.
The Doctor slumped to her knees, panting with exhaustion and despair. Cardinal Bless padded over to her, and when he spoke his voice was thick with awe.
“You could thank God yourself, of course,” he said softly. “You’re one of the Lords, aren't you? Those just below the angels. Tasked by the Father to watch, with only one foot in the world.”
“Um,” said the Doctor. “I'm not sure that's how I’d describe–”
”But you are, aren't you?” said Bless. “A Lord of Time. Any fool could see that!”
“But,” said Darwin weakly, “but she looks exactly like us–”
”Maybe not any fool,” Bless went on. “But the point is that you came here, didn't you? You intervened, in the distant past of our kind. One could almost call it—” his eyes grew bright “—intelligent design–”
“Ah,” said the Doctor. “Well. I suppose… from a certain point of view–”
“Everything my people feared because of him,“ said Bless, jabbing his tail at Darwin, “was because we thought we were no better than men. But that isn't true, is it? Without you they’d be nothing, all scrabbling around in the dirt! And it sounds like you’ve had to help them out a very large number of times.”
“We are pretty rubbish,” said Chris, looking bored.
“How many times have you had to save us baboons, Doctor?” said the Cardinal. “I can't say I’ve heard of you poking around the place.”
“You’re pretty good at taking care of yourselves,” said the Doctor, looking at her feet.
“Then it's as the Bible says! Life's useless creatures helped along by God’s angels, with us baboons as the outcome of it of it all.” He paused. “Although angels are usually male–”
“Well, so am I,” said the Doctor, who wanted the Cardinal to go away.
“Does all this mean that nobody’s going to kill me?” said Darwin.
“Oh, there shouldn't be any need for that!” said Cardinal Bless. “This has all just been a terrible misunderstanding.”
“Right. Well. That's good, I suppose.”
The four of them looked at each other, all feeling uncomfortable about their species.
“I don't suppose,” said Darwin after a while, “that a baboon would have any interest in tea?”
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It was very hard to drive a time machine back through a tear in space. Harder, in fact, than unscrambling an egg. But the Doctor unscrambled eggs for breakfast, and it wasn't so hard for her. She’d made the necessary adjustments on Bless’s machine, to send him home even without a pilotoon. He’d have lots to say when he got back– “a missionary with a mission!” the Doctor had said, and she'd laughed a lot even though no one had found it funny.
She was more tight-lipped about what she'd done to the shadows. All she’d say was that they'd been taken care of, and that it had been humane– and baboone, she'd said to Bless with a wink. Now the only shadows left were the natural ones, which faded to black as night fell upon Darwin's house.
That didn't explain everything, of course. Darwin had too many letters; rage was bursting through Late Victorian England. The Doctor said nothing about why that might be, because her suspicions had made her very afraid indeed.
But she hid her fears well as she stood with Darwin by his door, looking up at the emerging stars. Some way away Chris sat under a tree, grumpily shredding daisies with her nails.
“I was going to do it, you know,” Darwin said to the Doctor. “Sacrifice myself. And even as I was running to that shadow, I thought, 'I bet she won't bloody let me!’ It's not for other people to do things like that, oh no. It's only ever for you.”
"Should I have just waited, then?” said the Doctor. “Watched and done nothing, in the way a good Time Lord should? Is that what you’d have preferred, in the end?”
Darwin laughed. “Not at all! I’d be dead then, wouldn't I? But I'm still mad that you saved me, even though I'm glad you did. A bit of a mess, an old man’s brain,” he said. “I hope we sort that out, when we evolve into baboons.”
They both stared up at the blackness for a while.
“I don't have long left, do I?” said Darwin in the end.
“No,” said the Doctor. “I'm sorry.”
“And this… this is the last time we meet. Isn't it?”
“Oh, I don't know; never say never. I’ve lots of lives left to live, haven't I? But… I think so, yes.”
Darwin smiled sadly.
“Then… you’ve ruined my life, you know. Dragged me places I didn't want to go to see things that I wouldn't much care for. It's been exhausting and I don't know I wanted any of it; it's so far from the life that I should have led. I suppose what I'm trying to say is…”
He held out his hand to hers.
“...that you’ve been a good friend, Doctor.”
“Charles,” she said, nodding to him as she shook his hand.
“And Chris!” shouted Darwin, loud enough for the young girl to hear. Sighing, she dropped her ruined flowers to come over to the old man.
“I'm glad I met you,” said Darwin. “You remind me of someone who was very special to me.”
“Thank you,” said Chris. “I’ll tell my mother I met you. She likes you more than that other Charles, I think. You have better documentaries.”
“Ah, well, I shouldn't really know what those are. Our little secret, eh?” He winked. “That David Attenborough is good.”
“I think that's enough damage to the space-time continuum for one day,” said the Doctor. “C’mon, Chris. It’s time for you to get home.”
Darwin gave a jolly wave to them as they walked away, before he closed his door on them both for the last time.
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A Victorian would have found the Doctor's torch every bit as amazing as her other devices, big and plastic and filling her path with light. She picked a reverse shadow as she made her way back to the TARDIS, a long, thin glow snaking from her to the world beyond.
She sighed when she and Chris arrived back at her ancient machine. There was not yet such thing as a police box out in the world, and by rights the TARDIS should have looked like an omen of something new. But even here in the past it looked weary and ancient, as if its oldness was now something that transcended time.
She looked down at Chris as they got to the TARDIS door, the harsh light of the torch stinging both of their eyes.
“What you saw today,” said the Doctor, “And what I did. Who I was in the past, and what I am now. It’s…”
She looked to the ground.
“...I know I need to be better,” she finished, lamely.
“That's good,” said Chris. “And it was good, what you did. Saving Darwin. I think he thought so too, though I don't know if he said.”
She looked up at the old, blue doors.
”I want to go home now,” she said.
”It’s time,” said the Doctor.
She turned her key in the rusted lock.
There were no shadows as the two of them slipped into the time machine. Shadows need light to cast them, and now there was almost none; curtains were firmly drawn against the thickening night. One of the Doctor’s deepest fears was that one day she’d cast no shadow, that so little good would be left in her there’d be no brightness left to see the shade. If she had voiced this fear to those who knew her they’d have laughed at it, for they’d have seen it for the impossibility it was. But the Doctor would never tell anyone her darkest fears, even as they began to swallow the world.
The night was broken by a scream of unnatural noise as the TARDIS roared into life. Its tiny lamp blared furious and strong, illuminating the forest and the night beyond. Just for a moment, everything became bright…
...before something faded away, and then was gone.
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