The Things that are Human 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
Chapter 14: Chapter 13
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School treated Chris differently, when she came back from space and time. Not because of where she’d been — they wouldn’t have known, or been very interested either — but because the things that they couldn’t have understood had vanished forever from the world.
When the aliens who were grinning skulls had come for Chris and her friends, they’d done something that meant nobody would care as those children began to die. Funeral after funeral went by and Chris shouted that something was wrong, and no one noticed or listened until exactly the right someone did. The Doctor had saved her and broken her as well, and now she was back in a world that seemed broken too. Because now people realised what it meant to lose three friends in fires, and that was the worst thing that could have happened of all.
She wouldn’t have thought so, when she’d come to school that day. She’d hoped they’d have felt the pain of it, given her space and talked through the trauma. She didn’t like the teachers there that much, but she’d not lost all faith in them yet. But she had forgotten how people reacted to mistakes that were so big and so stupid, too huge to ever be able to admit to. Nobody said that they hadn’t realised what that experience would be like to Chris– only a stupid person would fail to see that, and they knew they were not stupid people. None of them said they could have been fooled by things beyond human understanding, because no human wants to believe there are things that they can’t understand. And so they felt shame and confusion and rage at themselves, and all of them turned out that anger onto her. Her teacher shouted and her classmates mocked her; the Deputy Head snarled as she passed her by. Chris imagined flames devouring the pupils, then the teachers, then the world, and as they licked up over the planet she wondered why the Doctor saved anyone at all.
The school did make one concession to her, however. In the afternoon as the classes filed into lines, she made her way to the nurse’s office by the stairs where the ugly picture stood. By that time she’d mostly given up hope the meeting would do any good, although her encounter with the Doctor had broadened her expectations of medical professionals. But the nurse was nothing like the Doctor; not alien and strange with a time machine hidden in the woods. She was odd, though. Chris thought she was very odd.
Even before the skull-faced men had appeared in Chris’s life, her mother had taken her to see a lot of people who thought they could make children better. Through their many failures, Chris had thought she’d seen every way an adult could misunderstand the help that she might want from them. But the nurse had misunderstood her in a way no one else had even thought of: she’d asked her if she really wanted emotions at all. She’d said that after seeing so much a child shouldn’t and feeling so much she wouldn’t be able to understand, it would be perfectly natural to never want to feel a thing again. And Chris had replied that emotions were what she had left of all her friends, and that failing to feel sad that they were gone would have been a disservice to them. And she’d tried to keep her voice steady as she’d done so, but had heard it crack half the way through, so that by the end she was shouting, crying at the stupidity of the nurse and the Doctor and the world. And the nurse had looked very distant, then, and said she’d once thought emotions were important too.
Chris thought about that conversation a lot, over the coming years. When she got home that day and her mum and the Doctor were gone, and the police found the shop they were in a shattered and broken ruin. When they announced that people could apply to become checkout machines at one supermarket, and soon demanded they became them in them all. When she saw her first Cyberman on the street and realised what had spoken to the nurse way back then, and when the politicians said there was no need for humans anymore in their high and mechanical voices.
For so many times Chris thought of that conversation, and what it could mean for her, and what it meant to keep her emotions as they grew heavier and more disreputable to hold. But she never once thought she should let those emotions go. For although she didn’t realise it yet, the Doctor had taught her the most important lesson she could, in the short time they’d spent together in another world. And so in the darkness of that place she now found herself in, Chris struggled, and fought, and lived by the choice that she had made.
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They weren’t going to kill her, the Doctor knew. The two copies of one man who were laughing at her now would consider it a pointless thing– she was no threat to them, after all. The Doctor was used to people wanting to see her dead, but not to those who just didn’t care– not those in the know, at any rate, who were aware of what she really was.
“Now, Simon,” said the older Jones, “what did I used to say about being an entrepreneur?”
“You said what I still say. When you do it right, it’s just like being a god.”
“I did say that. And now I’m thinking: the Doctor’s a bit like a god, isn’t she? One of the rubbish ones, from a very obscure mythology. Maybe when you get being an entrepreneur very right, you get to be whatever it is that’s able to keep a god around their house.”
“People often think they can keep dangerous creatures in their houses,” said the Doctor. “It rarely ends up going well for them.”
“Oh, I remember that it did, though,” said the older Simon. “I remember it worked out very well. See, when I was yours truly over there I remember thinking what a good idea it was to keep you locked up in our house, and now I’m looking back on it I see how I really was so right”–
He picked up the sonic screwdriver he had acquired, older but identical to the Doctor’s. He was about to waggle it triumphantly when he suddenly jumped up in shock, as the glass window of the shopfront shattered to bits and a Cyberman and a teenage boy clomped through.
“This is the place!” a young woman’s voice said from somewhere, and the Doctor was flung off her feet as one Simon grabbed her by each arm.
“Let go of me!” she shouted. “I’m not a bloody box!”
“Rule one, Doctor,” said the older Simon. “Like I always used to say–“
“–know what’s too important to be worth risking,” said the younger one. “Cyberman’ll clean up this mess. We’ve got everything we came for.”
Without much regard for her shoulders, the two Simons lifted the Doctor towards the door as she struggled and wiggled in their grip.
“We need to go quickly,” said the older Simon, nodding towards the Cyberman
and the boy. “That one, there. They’ve got a history.”
The Doctor looked down at the teenager, who she didn’t recognise at all. He looked blankly back at her, confused.
“I don’t know how much of my future you’ve seen,” said the Doctor, “but the version of me who’s me right now hasn’t ever met that boy!”
“That’s a shame,” said the other woman’s voice. “I don’t think it would end well for you.”
The Doctor had always prided herself on noticing things other people didn’t. But in the mess of danger and minimum wage labour she’d experienced over the last few hours, she’d fallen some way from the top of her game. And so she’d seen the clomping white shell of a Cyberman come smashing in, and never even thought to look it in the face.
The Doctor stared at the young woman’s head coming out of the Cyberman’s body. The woman’s expression was a mix of horror and utter contempt, barrelling into the Doctor like the blasts of a thousand Daleks. Faces change a lot, in the years between ten and fifteen. But the Doctor still knew instantly who the girl in front of her was.
“Chris,” she said.
“You,” Chris snarled.
“Oh God. I’m sorry, Chris. I really am! I didn’t mean for any of this to–”
“Mum!” gasped Chris suddenly. “If she’s here, Mum might still be here; there might still be a chance. It’s all the same as it was, the day that she disappeared–”
“She’s in there!” said the Doctor, nodding towards the back room door. “She’s in there, and she’s in danger–”
“Humza!” said Chris to her friend, “Come on!” The two of them ran to the broken frame of the door, neither giving the Doctor another glance.
“Don’t fancy their chances!” said the younger Simon cheerfully. “C’mon, Simon. Let’s get this new Doctor of ours home.”
When situations like this happened the Doctor would remember the promises she’d made to herself, not so long after she’d regenerated. The things she could never do for as long as she had this kind of body, because of the meanings they’d never have had before. She’d imagined a little girl before her and thought about what it would mean, to see the woman who saved the world do all the things that a hero should never do. But now she had met a little girl and left her whole life in a ruin, and every person the Doctor could be would react in the way she did now.
In the arms of her enemies and utterly alone, the Doctor began to cry.
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“Thank you for your time. You will be redeemed,” said the Cyberman to Lorna once again. Lorna had run back behind the rolling metal trolleys, all loaded with food time-travelled to a point that was well past its sell-by date. Boxes of puddings and ready meals fell to the floor as she scrabbled for something to throw, but her hands were shaking so hard that she couldn’t pick up anything at all.
“We’re afraid emotions mean you can’t do everything you’d like,” said the Cyberman cheerily. “You will be redeemed.”
“Redeem THIS!” shouted Lorna, throwing a giant pot of yoghurt as hard as she could at the advancing Cyberman. It hit the scanner on its torso with a beep before glomping uselessly to the ground, and a price briefly flickered across the Cyberman’s eyes.
“I… I didn’t mean that literally,” said Lorna weakly.
“MUM!” cried a voice from the far end of the storage area. The Cyberman turned, confused by the intrusion, before being smacked hard in the chest by Chris’s hard plastic arm.
“Christina!” said Lorna, horrified as she ducked behind the trollies. “They’ve turned you into a robot! And a teenager!”
“And you’ve been fighting the Cybermen with yoghurt!” said Chris, laughing and crying at the same time. She kicked the Cyberman’s legs from underneath it, then ran towards the nearest trolley, picking the whole thing up as expensive beer shattered to the floor.
“Management required,” trilled the Cyberman, “ colleague affecting quality of service.”
“I’m not a colleague,” said Chris, “I just wear the uniform. Humza!” she yelled, “get the barcode!”
She smashed the whole trolley down over the fallen Cyberman, glass breaking and curries glooping as the metal shelves gave way against its form. Chris held the makeshift cage tight as the Cyberman continued to complain, and Humza ran forward with a piece of paper attached to a long chain.
“Okay, Cyberman,” he said, “I’ve got an unexpected item for you.”
He thrust a grubby barcode into the caged creature’s chest. It turned round to look Humza right in the face as the lights in its eyes flickered and dulled.
“Void,” it said.
“That’s right, mate,” muttered Humza, “stare on into the void.”
“Void,” it said again, its cheery voice somehow utterly without hope. “Beyond everything. Behind everything. There is a void.”
Its eyes snapped off into endless darkness.
“Ah, nihilism,” said Humza happily.
“What’ve you done?” said Lorna. “You’ve turned him off with a piece of card?”
“Oh, no,” said Humza. He’s dead.
“Dead?” said Lorna. “But he was my friend! I mean, not really. As much as a colleague can be. But him, and my next door neighbour…”
“Everyone’s gone,” she said, sadly.
“Not you,” said Chris, clomping over the fallen body of the Cyberman. “You came back. You’re here.”
“You thought I was dead,” said Lorna, realising. “A day’s past for me and it’s been years for you. And I never came back.” Tears welled in her eyes. “Bloody Doctor!”
“Bloody Doctor,” agreed Chris. “For a long time I blamed her for all of this,” she waved her arms, “for the Cybermen; What they’ve done to the city. But the thing that was worst was that she’d taken… that she’d run away with…”
Chris broke down in tears and began sobbing, squeezing her mother tightly in a plastic hug.
“Careful, love,” said Lorna. “You’ve gotten a lot stronger, since you were ten.”
Chris laughed through the tears. “When they said it would be better, having no emotions. I never agreed, because I thought about this, you know? And I thought as long as there was a chance, that you weren’t dead, that I’d see you again… that I’d want to feel everything in the world. She was right about that, at least. The Doctor. You can’t let go of hope.”
Lorna didn’t respond to that. Her daughter hadn’t said where the Doctor even was, but she must have been taken away by the two men who were also the one. When Lorna had first met that woman she couldn’t have imagined her being rattled, but something about the shop and the work and the losing seemed to have broken something that ran deep. And she didn’t want to say what she was thinking to her daughter, as she cradled her checkout body in her arms.
She didn’t want to say that the Doctor might’ve let go of hope, after all.
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“This is amazing!” said the Doctor happily, pulling the ninth lever on the chair again. A plastic compartment slid out of one of the arms, in which sat several extremely expensive hats.
“Can I have a hat?” she said.
“Stop asking that,” said the younger Simon. “You know, Simon,” he said to his older self, “I’m starting to think this might’ve been one of the,” he hesitated over his words, “less fantastic ideas in our partnership…”
“Nonsense!” laughed the older Simon. “She’s just being annoying on purpose, in case that means we’ll let her go.”
“No I’m not,” said the Doctor unconvincingly.
“Won’t work, anyway. There’s eyes all over the city, some of them literal. People converted to cameras, nosy as they were in their lives! We’d get you back, Doctor, whenever we wanted you again.”
“Right,” said the Doctor. “Trapped here forever, then.” She looked round. “At least it’s pretty plush, as eternal prisons go.”
She looked round the room properly for the first time. It was grey and dull in the way that cost an awful lot to afford, with the very fattest sofas and the very flattest screens. Everything was in the exact place a famous designer might put it– except for a strange device on the mantelpiece, squat and blue and made like old meccano. It looked very like something she had seen a hundred realities away, on the sugar planet of Ipsico 9, and on seeing it she knew that something was terribly wrong.
“Whisky?” said the older Simon happily. “Something old, for the ancient guest we have here.” The Doctor looked at him oddly, as she saw him properly for the first time too.
“Oh Hell,” she said softly to herself. “And he’s now gone terribly wrong, at that.”
“I’m sorry?” said the older Simon.
“Oh! I was just saying how much I love my whisky,” said the Doctor. “When I’m one of the ones that drinks, in one of the situations like this. Can we have one that’s–” she considered the possibilities “–got a nose a bit like blueberries, but not too like them, and which is smoky, but not in a peaty way. And it has to be from the eighties, so it’s just a little bit disco.”
“I’m sorry?” said the older Simon.
“It’s only right that you make your guest comfortable. And I’m picky about whisky, now. This body has a very snobby tongue.”
“Well… only the best for our new god, I suppose. We are keeping her prisoner, after all.”
“Prisoner is such a harsh word, Simon,” said his younger self. “I prefer to think of it as… a very long holiday.”
“Then let us drink to the start of the journey,” said the older Simon. He smiled in a way that was only slightly exhausted, then disappeared off to the cellar below.
The Doctor waited until she was sure the man had gone.
“Would you like to hear something funny?” she said to the Simon that remained.
“I don’t actually like whisky at all!”
“See, that isn’t funny. That’s annoying. You’ve sent my older self–“
“A long way away. Because I wanted to talk to you about him.”
She turned to look at the younger Simon, suddenly very serious.
“You know all about me, right? So you know that I can see things a human couldn’t, sometimes. When you lot know something’s wrong, and you can’t put your finger on why, I can feel what it is, with my alien thumbs.”
She flexed them up and down, as if to demonstrate.
“I’m afraid I’ve no idea what you mean,” said Simon.
“Well, he’s smart, isn’t he, your older self? He’s a very intelligent chap. And that’s an interesting thing, because–“
She looked at him with eyes of stone.
“Because he doesn’t have a brain.”
Simon fell silent at that. His eyes glanced at the nearest screen, then to the one that was furthest away. Suddenly and without warning, he lunged at the Doctor’s throat, then fell screaming to the floor as she did something clever with her arms.
“You shouldn’t attack a defenceless woman,” she said as he cried out in pain. “It’s not like I said you don’t have a brain.”
“My brain is thinking exceptionally fast,” panted Simon on the floor. “And if you’re not going to die then by God I hope that you’ll still listen–“
He turned his head up to her and stared furiously into her eyes.
“–you can’t mention the brain thing to him, do you hear? You can’t tell him that I already know!”
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Lorna followed her daughter and Humza out of the ruins of her shop to a city that had been completely transformed. The streets and boarded up shops around her workplace had been totally swept away, replaced by large, squarish buildings of ugly and faintly brown plastic. Large red screens were plastered almost everywhere, their laser glow illuminating the sky.
“You wouldn’t know this was Manchester anymore,” said Lorna sadly.
“Cybermanchester,” said Humza.
“It’s just that they now call it–“
“I’m not changing what I call my city because of some jumped up tills with brains!” snapped Lorna.
“There’s nothing wrong with the checkout machines, Mum,” said Chris. They’re with us now.
“But you said you’re with a group of people! People people, I mean. Humans.”
“That’s very offensive,” said Humza.
“She’s from the past,” said Chris. “Mum, the people me and Humza live with. We call ourselves the Things that are Human. All of us are people, just like you, but there’s others who, well…”
“Who don’t see it that way,” said Humza acidly.
“Because of… of what’s happened to you?” said Lorna to Chris, looking at her daughter’s plastic body.
“Yes,” said Chris. “Because of that.”
“And because of your…” Lorna stared at Humza for a while, “I mean, I suppose you’re quite small–“
Humza shook his head. “You really are from another time, aren’t you?” He tapped his glasses furiously. “Because of these.”
“What!? They think you aren’t human because of your specs?”
“Mum,” said Chris gently, “people were already angry, weren’t they? Before you got sent through time. And when it got out that the checkout machines had been selling their missing friends as meat, well. You can imagine what happened next.”
“People seeing other people pulped and turned into machines,” said Humza. “Meant they spent more time thinking about what being a person meant. And who might start failing the purity tests. It was just the altered people at first,” he said, “with the Cyberman limbs, or the altered scanner eyes. But these things, they get more fanatical as they go on. False teeth, artificial hips. Spectacles. They spent a lot of time extending it, what it might mean to be a machine.”
He took off the glasses that had cut him off from his family, and began to wipe them thoughtfully.
“I saw it coming, of course. But others weren’t so… well. Don’t know if lucky or unlucky‘s the word. There aren’t many of us left, at any rate. The things that are stuck in between.”
“A lot of us think it was the plan all along,” said Chris. “To do something so awful we’d be faced with a binary choice. Become emotionless, or be overwhelmed by the emotions we had. But I always thought there was another way.”
Because of her , Lorna thought but didn’t say. They looked like they could do a lot of damage, her daughter’s mechanical arms.
The three of them crept slowly through the remade city, hiding every so often from a Cyberman as it lumbered past. For the most part the whole thing was unrecognisable, but every so often Lorna would see something she knew– the curve of a street, perhaps, or a red brick wall that had once been part of the centre. The tramlines still remained to cross the breadth of the world, and once they all ducked as a Cybertram clunked past, the darkening night illuminated by its great red lamplight eyes.
Eventually, they came to a badly constructed fence, hammered together from all kinds of plastic and scrap. It was clear that the bit of Manchester it contained had once been one of the poorer suburbs; the houses poking out from the shanty town all crumbling and flat roofed.
“This is home,” said Chris once they were close to it. “The Untame. You used to say we had it bad, when I was a child, but I look back on our house pretty fondly now I’m here.”
“It was bad,” said Lorna. “It’s no use pretending otherwise, just because it all got worse later. What happened to it?” she asked. “What happened to you? Losing me with the whole world changing around you. It must have been hell.”
Chris looked uncomfortable at that, at the even having to remember. But the flickering chance of seeing her mother again had kept her going for years, and she was willing to bear at least a little more pain.
“Dad was useless. Social work was worse. You can imagine. The grief and the Cybermen; it’s all mixed together in my mind. There wasn’t a single point, when the useless advice became advice to become a machine. It all just merged up together.”
They approached a man with a red scanner mouth, guarded the entrance to the Untame. “Welcome,” he said to Chris and Humza as they approached, then “I’m afraid we just need to approve this” when he saw Lorna walking behind.
“I’m not a this,” said Lorna, grumpily.
“It’s alright,” said Chris to the guard. “I know she’s got no modifications, but she’s my mother. She’s with me.”
The man looked as unconvinced as he could without a mouth, then moved on over to let them in.
“It’s always possible to get them working for you, isn’t it?” said Humza. “If you know them, and you push the right buttons.”
Hesitant and still struggling to believe the world was real, Lorna followed her daughter through the thin walls of the town.
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“You don’t understand!” Simon was saying to the Doctor. “I know what I’m doing, you see! I have a plan! We did our research on you. You never have a plan. He doesn’t know, you see, that I know that he doesn’t have a brain! Time’s all gone wrong, hasn’t it? All smashed like broken glass. The Simon he was, he didn’t have the life I did. Things are different for me than they were for him. So it’s fine for me to play along, until I figure out how to take his place!”
“It’s funny,” said the Doctor, “because you, I can see that you do have a brain. You just don’t have much luck with actually using it.”
Simon laughed at that. “Come, now!” he said. “I’ve built an empire, haven’t I? You don’t do that without knowing a thing or two. So many times, people told me how I’d never make it. I’ve become quite accustomed to proving that sort of thing wrong.”
The Doctor smiled sadly, and Simon didn’t react well.
“Are you pitying me?” he said.
“No! Well. A bit. It’s just I’m used to it, now. People who build something, or venerate it, until it’s too big for anyone to comprehend. Who think they’re winning, because of their part in all that’s appened, and who know there’ll always be a place for them because they’re the smartest person in the room. But what they create — what you’ve created — well, it isn’t a person, is it? And just because a man breeds a lion, doesn’t mean it can’t turn around and eat him.”
“You’re underestimating me.”
“Probably. And you’re underestimating it. That’s the thing about you. You’re so used to winning, you don’t realise you can lose, and you’re so familiar with getting what you want you don’t notice when things aren’t going to go your way.”
Simon laughed. “That’s what I said about you, isn’t it? Is that an exact quote?”
“It’s one of my skills,” said the Doctor with a smile.
“Ha! Maybe there’s a use for you after all, Jean Smith.”
“It’s John now, I think. I used it by accident; made me realise how much I’d missed it. You can’t go letting people tell you what names you can and can’t use,” she said. “It’s the 21st century, some of the time.”
“Well, John…” Simon sighed heavily. “I know you don’t like people like me. The investors, the men at the top. And I’ve never bothered to be such a likeable chap. But from what I saw, in the files we had on you, I’m not sure you’ve ever given us a chance.”
“You set a Cyberman on my friend.”
“And before that we gave her a job. I started out at the bottom, you know; it was easier then, but still damn hard. And I remember the first day I was in the shop realising that there was no one behind it all; no one person controlling everything. There was just this system of people getting by for themselves, and it all worked better than anything even you could make. Of course, later I learned that people were behind some of it. Making silent decisions, so it didn’t go off the rails.”
“It’s not just me you think of as a god, is it?”
“Well, the company needed me. Don’t you see that? That it needed me?”
“A shark would say that the little fish need him, too.”
“You’re pompous to the end.”
“And you’ve imprisoned me in this tasteless room. I’ve earned a bit of judgement here.”
“And that’s what you’re all about, isn’t it? Judgement.”
The Doctor smiled at him, a quick, warm smile no one else would have given to an enemy.
“I said I’ve earned it. I didn’t say anything about using it. You’ve told yourself the story you needed to survive. I’m the last person who gets to call out a thing like that.”
Simon Jones hid his emotions well, but you could tell he was genuinely surprised.
“As long as you know you did believe in something,” she went on, “then that’s enough for now. ‘Cause all I’m asking is for you to do something impossible.”
“I’m asking you to believe in me.”
“SIMON!” came a loud voice from nowhere. “It looks like you’re getting very comfortable with our guest.”
Simon laughed in an uncomfortable way.
“Just biding time, Simon! Conversation, you know, warming up the saliva! Just what we need before enjoying some really good whisky–“
“Oh, the whisky’s off, I’m afraid. Afraid it didn’t have much of a nose. I, on the other hand, possess a very great number of ears“–
The screens all flicked on at once, each showing the older Simon’s face with a horrible grin. But where his forehead should have begun the whole of his face just stopped, giving way to a total flatness past which nothing rose up at all. You no longer needed to be a Time Lord to see that there was no brain in his skull.
“You heard,” said his younger self. “Of course you did.”
“Oh, I didn’t need to,” said the Simon on the screens. “I’ve known all about your plan for quite some time. I thought it was funny! It’s just, you know, you can’t keep on talking to yourself forever before you start going a little mad. And besides, now the Doctor’s here, I’ve got myself a new pet to go running around and pretending it’s got its own agency.”
“I’ve gone more than just a little mad, haven’t I?” said the younger Simon sadly. “And I always thought I was such a rational man.”
“Well, you know what they used to say on the board, Simon. We always did have our head in the clouds.”
“What he means by that,” said the Doctor, “is that he’s uploaded his brain to a distributed computer. That he’s in everything mechanical in here, controlling it. And that he’s going to try and kill you with your own furniture.”
“You got that from what he said?”
The Doctor shrugged. “I’m very clever.”
“Cleverer than I’d bargained for, perhaps. But I’m not sure it’s enough.”
The younger Simon listened sadly to his older self chuckling to himself on the screens, as the mechanical parts of his chairs began to click and creak. The table in the centre of the room glowed red and eyes flashed unexpectedly on a vase, and he began to think it had been a bad idea to agree to make so much of the flat automated.
One piece of machinery still obeyed him, at least. He pulled out the sonic screwdriver he had shown the Doctor, and waggled it sadly in his hand.
“You should know, Doctor. The last you… it didn’t end well for them.”
“It’s a good job, then,” she said, rolling up her outfit’s sleeves, “that I’m not the last me. “More supermarket experience. Better taste in hats. And most importantly of all”–
She took the other screwdriver out of his hands.
“Two whole sonic screwdrivers,” she said with a grin. “You know what people say, when they hear a Time Lord work more than one of these?”
“No!” shouted Simon as both instruments began to whine.
“Nobody does,” said the Doctor. “And you’re about to find out why.”
The screens with the older Simon on them broke off the walls, propelling themselves into the air with electrostatic force. Metal struts ripped from furniture and knives began to zoom in from the kitchen, swiping at Simon and the Doctor as the multiple objects took on a single form. The Doctor yelled something, and before anyone could hear it her screwdrivers began to twist and amplify a ghastly and unlistenable sound…
...the scene unfolded in the younger Simon’s ears, a raw and endless roar of aural violence. He thought about what he’d said to his older self, what they’d thought the trapped Doctor would do. And as she smashed a grinning vase with the amplified meow of a cat, he found himself longing for the days he’d imagined that the world could be predictable.
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In the hollow shell of what had once been a semi-detached house, Lorna tried to look at the assembled crowd again. She didn’t want to think of herself as old-fashioned, but she was still adjusting to how many ways there now were to be a person. A woman with the head of a parking meter was busily wiping the floor, as a face embedded in a motorised scooter was yelling at her to give it more elbow grease. And around them were people in wheelchairs and with prosthetic limbs and who didn’t look mechanical to Lorna at all. But people who looked exactly like Lorna would think of them all as the same, all equally disgusting and unworthy of being thought of as people at all. Categories seemed very strange, once you saw them from the outside.
She was judging them all, she knew. She didn’t want to, but it seemed to seep in, like the anger and the bitterness and everything else. She thought of how her Cyberconverted colleague had told her she could choose to have no emotions; how it had seemed a temptation almost as much as a threat. And how she judged herself more than anyone else, because–
“I’ve been a terrible mother,” she said out loud. “Sorry,” she added when Chris turned round, “you’ve not seen me so long, and I shouldn’t be–”
She looked away, down to the freshly scrubbed floor.
“There’s something I have to tell you,” she said. “And I probably shouldn’t tell you, but. I kept too many secrets from you, and… and I–”
She rocked very slightly, trying not to cry.
“I shouldn’t be listening to this,” said Humza, “but it’s happened to everyone, mate. There’s no use getting choked up about it.”
“You have no idea what I’m even talking about–“
“Mum,” said Chris. “It’s okay. The Cyberman you were with, it wanted you to be like it was, right? And for a second you thought that might not be such a bad idea.”
“What?” said Lorna. “But how did you know?”
“Don’t be an idiot, Mum!” Chris said. “Look at this place; it’s rubbish! There’re holes in the walls; the shed I used to live in burned down. Julie over there’s just bones and wheels. Everyone here’s had that thought, and a lot more than once.”
“But it wasn’t like this then!”
“No. But it was still bad, wasn’t it? You said so yourself. The day you went missing, someone asked me the same question. And I thought about it for a second, too. But thinking it’s fine, as long as you don’t do it. We’d all have gone mad long ago, if we didn’t believe that.”
“It’s not the life I wanted for you,” said Lorna. “When I imagined you as a teenager, I wanted you to be strong, making your place in the world–“
From somewhere outside there was a furious crash, and an urgent beeping noise flooded through the shell of the house.
“ARMY REQUIRED AT ENTRANCE THREE,” came a not-quite-a-woman’s voice from a speaker.
“An army?” said Lorna. “Are the Cybermen attacking this place?”
“Worse,” said Humza. “Some teenagers, doing what you wanted your daughter to do. And their parents, egging them on. Us Things that are Human aren’t exactly popular, among the humans that aren’t quite so thingy.”
“Ever beaten anyone up, Mum?” said Chris.
“Several times, when I was your age. But I always promised myself I wouldn’t tell you that. Bit of a day for breaking promises, eh?”
“And breaking arms,” said Humza, cracking his knuckles.
“Um. When I said I’d beaten people up, it was more, you know, bruises and scabs. I didn’t go about the playground breaking arms–“
“Well,” said Humza. “We’re not in the playground now.”
“I’m not sure I approve of you hanging around with this person, Chrissy,” said Lorna. “I’d always thought you’d suit someone who–“
“We’re not a couple!” shouted Chris as another hole was blown into the side of the building. A horde of people Lorna accidentally thought of as ordinary shoved their way in, as the Things that had been beside the wall all ran and wheeled away.
“MINCE THEM!” cried the woman at the front, swinging a makeshift weapon in a rage. “These things made my Harry into burgers! We’ll grind them into rust and stew!” She flung her weapon into a nearby checkout machine, which cracked in half with an utterly human scream.
“MAKE THEM METAL SAUSAGES!” cried the crowd of furious people, “ GRIND THEM INTO BONES!”
“The way the world works now,” said Chris, as she charged up the laser on her hand. “Sometimes you have to break a few arms, even when you know it’s not right. But if it makes you feel better, Mum”–
–“We don’t ever kill!” the Doctor shouted to Simon as he picked up a large shard of glass from the floor. She was ducking and weaving as assembled bits of furniture circled around her, multiple metal and plastic bodies controlled by a single mind. Protesting, Simon smashed the glass into his older face on a nearby swooping screen, which only caused the face on the other to laugh harder at his youthful naivety.
“No understanding of a distributed system, young man! You can’t wipe out a song by deleting it from your phone.”
“None of It’s him,” said the Doctor, “he’ll be in lots of different computers, a memory or two in each one. You’re not going to beat him by smashing in a screen!”
“For God’s sake, woman!” said Simon as he put his foot through a hovering and bladed lamp. “You said I shouldn’t kill him!”
“Well, you shouldn’t!” shouted the Doctor as her screwdrivers began to howl again. “Whether you can or not. Not killing, it’s how we show that–“
“–we’re better than them!” said Chris, the scanner on her belly flaring bright to stun the approaching humans. “We understand pain!” she shouted while causing quite a lot of it with a punch. “We’re hurting! They’re hurting! But we’re not the ones who kill!”
The invading people were far too angry to hear that, or to believe it if they did. The ingenious techniques the inhabitants of the house were using to stun and scare them were slowly taking effect, but they didn’t seem quite enough; the bodies of the dead that littered the floor were mounting faster than the bodies of the broken.
“Don’t hold with it myself, Lorna!” said Humza, whacking a man in the shins with a wooden bat. “It’s about surviving, isn’t it, at the end of the day? There’s no use taking the moral high ground!”
“It’s not about being self-righteous!” shouted Chris above the roar of the fight. “He’s never seen that, Mum. How it’s just about saying–“
“–that we’re better than that!” shouted the Doctor from under a thing all assembled from forks. “And that there are things we never do!” she continued as she took it apart with a spoon. “It doesn’t matter if they’re”–
–“a whole lot of murderous bigots,” said Chris in one part of the city–
–“a businessman torrented into robots,” said the Doctor in another–
–“they’re still people,” they said together without knowing it. “And there’s always another way.”
“It’s a noble sentiment,” said the older Simon’s voice from a speaker, “but he doesn’t believe it. And I know that because–“
The younger Simon began to scream, though there seemed to be no machine beside him.
“–I never have,” said the voice with a smile. Slowly, the tiny machines designed to massage the feet that walked over the carpet began to drag Simon into the ground.
“No!” shouted the Doctor. “You can’t!” She thrust out one hand with a shrieking sonic screwdriver, then when nothing happened thrust out the other as well. The two tools growled against the endless motion of the carpet, but Simon still continued to sink into the floor.
She saw his expression just before he vanished, which was one of the rarest of all. It was the face of a man who had known how selfish and cynical the universe really was, and had realised a moment too late how he had been entirely wrong.
“I’m sorry,” she said softly.
No response came from the clean and vibrating floor.
Back to index
It was hard when you first started actively assaulting people, but after a while it got easier. Lorna knew that, because they said it a lot in dramas. But it wasn’t getting easier to punch and kick these people, even as they screamed at her about how they should be cut into bits. It was all wrong, she felt vaguely as she pulled a man’s hair until he screamed. Her own mother certainly wouldn’t approve. Although she’d be dead, of course, or killing her daughter’s friends with the rest of them.
She’d felt so detached from the chaos that brawled around her that she didn’t notice when the screaming changed, not until she realised the invaders were spilling out of the shell of the house when they’d once been spilling in. She was dazed from the act of fighting even after the fighting stopped, until she heard a high, checkout machine voice slicing through the air.
“We’re sorry about that. They will be redeemed.”
Lorna’s insides froze as she looked at row upon row of figures who might not have had insides at all.
“Cybermen,” she said hoarsely. And then: “CYBERME”–
“It’s alright,” said Humza, “they’re not here to harm us. It’s time for the Isha prayer.”
Lorna boggled. “The Cybermen pray?”
“Not all of them. But the ones who’ve come here; they’re Muslims. And there’s not a mosque for miles around that isn’t in the Untame.”
“The Cybermen are Muslims?”
“Not all of them! You wouldn’t say ‘the humans are Muslims’; it’s a generalisation.’” He looked at Chris. “Your mother has backwards views!”
“Oh,” said Lorna. “Right.”
“This,” she said after a while, “is not how I’d imagined the future.”
Back to index
The room that had once been so carefully proportioned was now reduced to a wreck. Items from every room in the flat were strewn destroyed over the floor, and furnishings no one would expect to flicker and spark kept doing so in a sad electric way. On a cracked screen hovering above the mess of it all, the last face of Simon Jones split into a grin.
“Brutal world, isn’t it, business? No matter how much you respect a person, there’s always a chance you’ll have to stab them in the back. Especially when that person is yourself.”
“But not me,” said the Doctor.
“Oh, you’re no threat to me, Doctor. I wasn’t lying, when I said I wanted to keep you here. Someone different to a human, still with just one little old brain. Who’ll try to escape, in a way that’ll keep me amused.”
“I could escape, yes,” said the Doctor. “Or.”
“I could do something that’d amuse you even more. I could try and beat you.”
Simon laughed. “You’re never going to beat me, Doctor. Just one section of my mind alone could”–
“But that’s my point! If I’m never going to beat you you’ll love it, right? If I’m arrogant enough to try, and then I lose. If I do something big and dramatic I know’ll work, and then it doesn’t. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Simon laughed hollowly. “And you think you’ll succeed?”
“I do. And I think you’ll bloody love it, when I don’t. It’s why I think you’re going to let me try.”
She squared herself up to the centre of the screen, to be directly in the vision of the eyes that were not there.
“I want a speech. A big, powerful speech that’s broadcast to everyone. One about why humanity’s worth fighting for, that’ll make it worth fighting for. That’ll overthrow the world. And before that I want out, because I want to see my friends.”
In business, Simon had prided himself on his stern poker face. But it showed signs of cracking to pieces now.
“You think that’s ridiculous,” said the Doctor.
“I think,” said Simon as he struggled not to grin, “that it’s an offer I’m prepared to accept. But I’ll be watching you, Doctor. Remember I have eyes all over this little planet.”
“I’m not going all over the planet,” said the Doctor, “they’re probably just down the road.”
“The suburbs of old Manchester,” smiled Simon. “Not exactly a place to convince you humanity’s worth saving.”
“I know people from there,” said the Doctor, “and they convince me every day.”
“In that case,” said Simon, “I’ll look forward to your speech even more.”
His screen winked off, and the Doctor stared into the blackness.
Panicked, she wondered what on earth she was going to say.
Back to index
“And the Cybermen just leave after praying,” said Lorna, who was still struggling to believe the situation.
“Why wouldn’t they?” said Chris. “They need access to the Mosque; we’re happy to give it to them.”
“Right. And they’re definitely really Muslims?”
Humza sighed. “You think that anything that had no emotions wouldn’t be, don’t you? Because there’s no way you could ever be nothing but reason, and find that you still have a faith.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t really need to,” said Humza. “There were a lot of people with prejudices.”
“You can imagine what some people were like. World gets taken over by checkout machines, and it turns out a load of them are Muslims.”
“That’s… that’s not something I would ever say”–
“And now you’re making it about you. I tell you,” he said to Chris, “if she wasn’t your mother”–
Lorna’s phone went off in a jolly way, the screen flashing the word DOCTOR even though they’d never given each other their numbers.
“It’s her!” said Lorna, relieved that her friend was alive and that she didn’t have to continue the conversation.
“You’re alive!” she said down the phone.
“You’re alive! That’s a relief, I was hoping you were. I’m just outside, with this man who doesn’t want to let me in.”
Lorna frowned. “But there’s no way you could know where we are.”
“Oh, that! I just hacked your phone.”
“But that’s an invasion of privacy!”
“No privacy anymore in Cybermanchester. There’s a man with no brain just looking at us all. Can I come in now?”
Lorna swiped her phone off, slightly less relieved that her friend was alive.
“The Doctor wants in,” she said to her daughter.
“Oh,” said Chris. “I don’t know if we should say yes.”
“Chrissy… Chris. She’s been trying”–
“She saved my life and then took it all away from me. I can’t forgive a thing like that.”
“She still saved it, though. She saved the both of us!”
“If it wasn’t for her, I’d never have lost you.”
“If it wasn’t for her, there wouldn’t be a me. I’d be dead, and you would. There wouldn’t even be a world. And none of this was her fault, not really. She was only trying to save us–“
“Save us!” laughed Chris. “Do you even know, Mum, how much damage in my life has been done by the people who were trying to save me?”
“I just think it would’ve been worse. Without her, and what she did.”
“I said to myself I’d do anything for you, if I ever saw you again. It kept me sane, when I wanted to give up emotions. And if this is what anything means, then. If it’s what you really want, we’ll let the Doctor in. But,” she added, “I’m not going to pretend that I like her.”
“No,” said Lorna. “That would be incredibly challenging.”
Chris clomped to the gate to let the Doctor in, soon coming back with her former friend alongside.
“Lorna!” grinned the Doctor, giving her an enormous hug. Then: “You!” she said to Humza, giving him an even bigger hug while he looked incredibly uncomfortable.
“Don’t give me a hug,” said Chris. “I can literally crush you. Why are you here?” she continued, “Can’t you just leave us alone?”
“I will soon enough. I was just thinking, you know, about the world. Now that it’s ruled by the Cybermen. It’s all very clean, but I thought it might be better… if you lot took it over once again.”
“Us?” said Humza. “The Things that are Human?”
“Anyone who’s human, or wants to be. As long as they still have emotions.”
“That sounds like something a lot of us want,” said Chris, “but I’m not sure there’s any way to do it.”
“I have a way of doing things,” said the Doctor, “when there aren’t any ways to do them.”
“And what’ll you do this time?” said Humza.
“I’m going,” said the Doctor with a huge smile, “ to give a big speech.”
“Oh, we definitely shouldn’t have let her in,” groaned Chris.
“No, it’ll be great! It’s going to be all about the things that make being human special; so inspiring it’ll make you believe in each other again.”
“And what sort‘ve things do you have in mind?” asked Humza skeptically.
“Oh, all sorts of things,” said the Doctor. “Sweating a lot. Chewing gum without dying. You see a lot of colours!” she sighed, “people do get jealous of that.”
“You don’t know, do you?” asked Chris through the acid in her voice.
“Not as such, no,” admitted the Doctor.
“You mean you don’t know what you’re going to say?” gasped Lorna.
“It might not matter. That’s what people like these days, isn’t it? Grinning blondes who don’t have a plan.”
“You can’t do it,” said Chris. “If you don’t know what you’re going to do, you should back out; you should go away. We’ve had enough to deal with, without you making things worse.”
“It’s too late,” said the Doctor. “It’s already been announced. To be broadcast all over the world! In New Trafford,” she said, “which they said is like Old Trafford, but”–
“With more Cybermen?” said Lorna wearily.
“You know, of course,” said Chris, “that you’re messing with real people’s lives.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Lorna. “It shouldn’t be that difficult, should it? There’s all sorts of particularly human things. Like… poems, or something, or art.”
Chris and Humza exchanged a knowing smile.
“That’s right enough,” said Humza. “Take that thing, over there.” He nodded to a painting of Old Manchester on one of the few bits of intact wall. It wasn’t a masterwork, but it was still beautiful: it captured something of the light and spirit of the city in a way that could never be done just by looking at it.
“Exactly,” said Lorna.
“A Cyberman did it,” said Humza with a smile.
“What?” said Lorna. “But it’s so”–
“Human?” said Chris. “We all thought like that, a few years ago. But it’s not really true. It was nice to think there were things that we needed emotions for — that a machine could never do as well — but they’ve done them all as well now, or better. We’re not the best at anything, not anymore.” She shrugged. “But we still want to live.”
“There was a video, a long time ago now,” said Humza. “When they still let humans access YouTube. It had so many arguments about what made humans better; why we should keep fighting against the Cybermen. But it turned out a Cyberman has written it. They were better than us even at that; at saying how we should be alive.”
“So we let go,” said Chris. “It’s their world now; we feel it. So it won’t be enough, to give an inspiring speech.”
“What about a logic puzzle?” said Humza.
“A logic puzzle?” said the Doctor.
“Well, I thought; they’re a bit like robots, right? And that’s what they used to do on TV. When the humans had to beat a robot– they’d do it with a logic puzzle.”
The Doctor grinned an enormous and goofy smile.
“That’s completely wrong,” she said. “They’re nothing like robots at all.”
“Then why are you grinning?”
“Oh! I liked the wrongness of it; its sort of shape–“
“Shut up,” said Chris.
The Doctor looked genuinely stunned.
“I believed in you, you know,” said Chris, “when you were my psychiatrist. And it was because you listened to me, even though nobody else ever would. But now I’m older you’re just talking about nothing, even though you’ve already said you’ve no idea what you’re going to do. You think that it’s charming, don’t you? Because you’ve done it for so long, and it’s how you always got by. But I think it’s everything you said that you weren’t and I”– she started to cry –“And I really believed in you”–
She broke down then, starting to sob. Her mother awkwardly patted her on her plastic shoulder, with no idea whether it was doing anything at all.
The Doctor sighed.
“You’re right,” she said, “about everything.”
Lorna glared at her.
“Except,” said the Doctor.
The glare intensified.
“Except I know exactly what I’m going to say.”
“Oh, COME ON, Doctor!” shouted Lorna. “You can’t do that! You can’t just make my daughter cry because you were pretending you don’t have any solutions, just ‘cause you think that it’s fun ”–
“No,” said the Doctor. “I really didn’t know, when we started this conversation. But I do, now. And it’s going to work, I think. It’s going to save the world.”
She gave the knowing look of someone who was utterly sure their plan would succeed, which was the same look of someone who was also completely wrong.
“But,” she said, “I’m going to need your help.”
“I don’t want to help,” said Chris, while Humza nodded vigorously.
The Doctor’s face fell. “You don’t want to save the world?”
“‘Course she does,” said Humza. “But we don’t believe you can do it.”
“Oh, but you should,” said the Doctor, “I’ve done it lots of times.”
Chris looked round the mess of their broken building, as water ran through the holes the invading humans had slammed through the wall.
“You didn’t stop this,” she said very softly.
“No,” said the Doctor. “No, I didn’t. This time, I let you down.”
“Sometimes I think,” said Lorna. “When I listen to you. That you’re not a woman who understands what it means to hope a little and have that hope just crushed, again and again ‘till you want to become a Cyberman.”
“You can’t believe,” said the Doctor, “because it makes you think of how you knew things could be better, and it makes you realise just how bad they’ve become. And it gets bad enough that it feels like hoping, even for a second… is to lose everything that’s been taken from you all the way over again.”
Chris looked at her oddly. “Then you do understand.”
“Yes. This world’s had so much taken from it you’re scared to even think that it could be saved.”
“If that’s how you want to put it,” said Chris.
“Then…” said the Doctor. “Then I think I’ll have to do something about that. A tiny woman comes along and saves the world. Is that really any more ridiculous, than all that’s happened ‘till now?”
“Everything that happened ‘till now wasn’t good,” said Humza.
“Then,” said the Doctor, “I’d better give a really good speech, hadn’t I?”
She smiled at them all, although her eyes did not.
Lorna sighed. “I’ll be there.”
“Me too,” said Humza, “at least it’s an outing of an evening.”
“Fine,” said Chris. “But I might be a teenager about it.”
The Doctor told them what they needed to do, then headed out to New Trafford alone.
The three of them stood for a while on the blackened carpet.
“She’s doomed, isn’t she?” said Lorna.
“Oh yeah,” said Humza. “Of course she’s doomed.”
Back to index
All around Cybermanchester and beyond, billboards made of light shone out the Doctor’s face, advertising her imminent speech. Cybermen of all shapes and sizes stared up at them with eyes that glowed themselves, while in pockets of rubble at the edges of their cities the humans stared up too. Those among them who could be excited were not, and those who could not be were confused. But all of them felt a sense of strange anticipation, as though something was happening that could never have done so before.
In the bowl of the shining white stadium, the Doctor walked over the snapping plastic grass. Sat on seats round its curve were rows and rows of Cybermen, training their video eyes on her as she slouched in her tiny way. Across the whole world screens were flicking on, Cybermen peering at projections on bellies as humans crowded round their half-broken televisions. The most desperate among them whispered that this was hope; that the company had found a spokeswoman who looked enough like them to understand the horrors they had faced. But most of them saw it for what it was: a show of power to crush their spirits for good.
All the same, the humans still watched on. For some of them, this was what they needed to abandon their emotions for good, and for some it was their pain that somehow kept them still going. Still others watched out of nothing but a sense of being part of something, at seeing something that was still made for them. It had been a long time, after all, since a human had thought of the world as their own.
There was no stage for her, no grand backdrop. There was just a microphone, in the very centre of the grounds. She came to it now and took it into her hand, knowing she was being watched by a whole world of eyes and glass.
In the box where a world ago a commentator would have stood, the brainless figure of Simon Jones sat watching. There was no need for the remains of his human body to be there; his distributed brain ran through every camera focused on the Doctor now. But ruthless as he was, he was not entirely unsentimental. And he still found he had a desire to be there, to watch his pet lose once again.
The Doctor flicked her microphone on, hearing it crackle and wheeze.
“Hello!” she said to the world. “Um.”
She fumbled, looking at notes that were all in the wrong order.
Humza, Lorna and Chris all cringed together from their hiding point in the stands, forgetting why they’d ever agreed to the Doctor’s idea. Beside them, their friend who couldn’t wear an expression shuddered in a plastic way.
“I’m here,” she said, “I’m here. To give.”
“Oh, God,” muttered Humza.
“Right. I’m here to give an inspiring speech about humanity!”
In the box above the stadium, Simon Jones began to grin…
“It’s just,” said the Doctor, “I’m not sure I ever said whose.”
Simon Jones stopped grinning.
The Doctor turned away from where she had been looking, up to the stands above, where row upon row of Cybermen were staring down.
“Cybermen of Earth!” she shouted. “Do you know who I am?”
“ We’re afraid we know exactly who you are. You are the Doctor; you have removed us from many worlds. We’re sorry; but we will have to remove you. You cannot be redeemed. ”
Chris shuddered, scared to agree with the sentiment of a creature who didn’t have any. All around the stadium, the scanner chests of the Cybermen began to grow laser red.
“You’re quite right,” said the Doctor. “I can’t be redeemed! But it’s only now that I understand why. ‘Cause I’ve called you monsters and I’ve called you a plague on the universe, but there’s one word I’d never have used until right now…”
“Oh God,” said Simon, “she’s actually clever! I didn’t plan for what to do if it turned out she was actually clever!”
“...Human,” said the Doctor. “Because that made it easy for me! To kill you all, then to say that I’d never kill a person! But I wouldn’t kill a psychopath, would I? I’d let anyone live, as long as they had a face. But put that face behind a load of glass and plastic, and maybe there’s no telling what I’d do…”
Simon hadn’t planned for the Doctor’s speech to go well. But his mind still flowed through so many of the stadium’s machines, and there were many things he could do to stop that woman from winning. And so — without even having to focus — he turned his mind out to the world.
“We’re up, now,” said Humza, as the chairs round the stadium began to rock from their hinges. “Manchester’s finest. Let’s give United a run for their money, eh?” He took the nearest chair by its leg and swung it into another, shattering metal and plastic all over the packed stadium rows.
“Gillian!” said Chris to her plastic friend, “We can’t hold back a man that’s in everything for long! Are you sure you’re up to this?”
“I’m a very smart woman,” said the 3D printer beside her, “ And I’ve got lots of guts to spare. It’ll hurt loads, but yeah! I can print him a new brain.”
“Just do it fast,” said Chris as she looked grim. Overhead one of the great stadium lights twisted and moved, its great square of circles staring in the Doctor’s direction.
Chris gave a sigh so loud that it squeezed on her cybernetic lungs.
“I promised myself,” she muttered, “that I’d never do this sort of thing again.”
She pointed her palms down so they faced the ground, and charged them so that lasers began to burn on the iron floor. The force of the pressure and heat slammed against her body, and slowly she began to rise into the air.
“What are you doing?” gasped her mother. “Checkout machines can’t fly!”
“Humza’s right, Mum!” laughed Chris. “You really are from the past!”
She blasted in a red, straight line towards the giant stadium light, which had ripped itself from its holdings to float ominously in the sky. She landed on its lightless side as its light burned down to the ground, and furiously started to punch it as it made its way towards the Doctor.
“We don’t have long, Gillian,” said Humza to the gargling printer beside him. “You’ll have to print fast, no matter how painful it is.”
Gillian was groaning to herself as the cells inside her body began to lump together, and the beginnings of a brain began to print into the world.
“We’re sorry,” the Cybermen were saying. “ We are not human; we have been upgraded”–
“But what does that mean?” said the Doctor. “What makes you better or worse? The people who made you did have emotions; what if those seeped into how you all saw the world? So you assumed you were better, without ever really considering why? What if the real way to upgrade… was to turn back to what you were before?”
The speech was booming out on the giant screens as Chris kept smashing away, desperately trying to hold the giant light back. And as she channeled her anger at the Doctor down into the plastic of the light, a very tiny part of her began to hope…
“ That’s not quite right. Upgrading is not an emotional matter. We are superior in the one way that matters. We will survive. We will sur…”
“But you won’t!” said the Doctor. “Don’t you see that? The people who built you, they’ve made you not to see! Look around you! A man in a thousand machines, with no need for a brain at all. How long, d’you think, will it be ‘till he doesn’t need you anymore? How long until you’re on the scrapheap too, with your big old primate brains? What’ll you do when it’s not enough, for you have no emotions at all? Do you really think what’s happened to the other humans won’t also soon happen to you?”
“ We’re sorry. You are asking us to go against our returns policy. You are asking us to give up our world.”
“I’m telling you how not to lose it! How you can keep control of everything, by seeing it another way.”
“ But you have always seen us in the same way. As something to be opposed, and to be fought. You have never believed in the possibility of an alliance”–
“That’s exactly right! And so I didn’t see. That this time, fighting you wasn’t the answer; that this time we were on the same side. Because I’m even worse than you, at missing the obvious! ‘Cause I’ve fought monsters for so long, and been one for so much longer. And so sometimes I forget… that there are times when none of us need to be.”
The hulking square of the light was getting closer to the Doctor now, no matter how fiercely Chris was fighting to delay it. Lorna and Humza were smashing chairs fiercely with wooden bats, but all round the stadium there were more which were scuttling towards them. And below them in furious concentration, it was clear Gillian still had a lot of brain left to print...
“You are not evil!” shouted the Doctor, “you do not seek destruction, and you don’t need to be superior! You are emotionless beings, so you can look at this dispassionately. You can see it, because you know I see it now.”
And she began to smile a smile so big that an emotion-regulating circuit couldn’t handle it, a smile that might make even a Cyberman start to attempt to grin…
“I said I’d give an inspiring speech about humanity! And this is it! Humanity can be huge, if you want it to be! It can include things I despise and creatures I condemn! Those that I love and those that I always kill; but that doesn’t matter to you today! All that matters is that you see the only thing you care about, and that,” she chuckled. “Whatever form it takes… HUMANITY WILL SURVIVE!”
All of the Cybermen’s eyes began to glow. “Attempting to verify,” said one, then another, until all of them were doing it in a way that was totally out of time.
“This is DANGEROUS PROPAGANDA!” shouted Simon from a Cyberman’s torso. “You can’t allow this to continue!”
“I’m sorry,” said the Cyberman, punching its chest so it shattered, “We are attempting to verify.”
Chris looked down at the woman she had hated since she had been ten, who had saved her then broken her then taken her mother away. And for the first time since the rise of Cybermanchester, she began to fall in love with her again.
“Please wait while we verify,” said Cybermen all over the Earth. “ Please wait while we verify.”
“No,” shouted Simon from a million different speakers, “NO!” He reached out with the trillion bits of his mind, to get into every Cyberman on Earth and stop their brains and circuits from working away…
...and far away on one side of the New Trafford stadium, a woman who was a printer finished working with a ding…
“Right,” said Humza, punching some code into a small device. “Let’s do some illegal downloading.” An odd beep came from the thing he was holding, and a mind started to download into a brain.
“NO!” Simon tried to scream, as a million electronic devices were snatched away from him. Chairs clattered down to the floor all around the stadium, and Chris leapt off the floating light as it fell to the ground with a crash.
“Gosh, he’s thinking some right unpleasant things,” said Gillian, “and after I went to all the bother of printing him a brain.”
Around her, hundreds of Cybermen were chorusing out of time, still attempting to verify the Doctor’s argument.
“That is logical,” said a Cyberman eventually. “ Humanity will survive.”
“Humanity will survive,” said another. “ Humanity will survive.”
They all began to repeat it, one after the other. And the Doctor began to repeat it too, her real woman’s voice strange against the fake ones, as she began to laugh and smile and throw her hands up in the air…
“Humanity will survive!” she laughed. “HUMANITY WILL SURVIVE!”
“You know what?” said Chris to herself. “I think there’s a chance… that we actually just might.”
She looked down at the woman who had indeed saved the world, and for the first time in forever she let herself smile too.
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The five of them sat together, looking at the moon over the bright Cybermanchester sky. So much had changed, but it at least held no new scars; a reminder that both it and the Earth had weathered far worse than the Cybermen.
“You did it,” said Chris. “I thought you were just all talk. But you actually did it. You actually saved the world.”
“Well, it wasn’t just me. It was Humza here, who gave me the idea.”
“That was clever of me,” said Humza, wondering what he’d done.
“No, it wasn’t clever at all!” said the Doctor. “That’s what was so brilliant about it. You said a logic puzzle might beat the Cybermen ‘cause they’re robots, and you were totally wrong! It’s just… you were wrong in exactly the right kind of way.”
She looked up at the unchanged moon.
“Because they’ve never been robots,” said the Doctor. “But that’s what we all saw, didn’t we? They’re threats and emotionless and stuck in a big metal cage, so we saw… a cliché, and not what was really there. They could be beaten with a logic puzzle. It just wasn’t their logic that had to change.”
“But they’re monsters,” said Humza.
“Yes,” said the Doctor. “And they’re humans, too. Didn’t you listen to anything I was saying?”
“We’ll have to work out how to live with them, at any rate,” said Chris. “Now we all rule the world, or none of us do. It’ll be a new way of being the human race. But us Things have a head start for that, at least.”
“It’ll be hard,” said Humza. “Very difficult. And,” he said, starting to talk much more quickly, “it’d be easier if we did it together”–
“Humza,” said Chris. “You know I’ve always seen you as a friend.”
Humza looked crestfallen.
“That’s why,” she went on, “I think it’d be really nice to go out with you.”
“That’s mean!” gasped Humza, starting to laugh. “You think just because you can smash people up to a pulp you can go around being mean”–
“It means I can protect you,” said Chris, “now that you’re my dashing suitor.”
“Love,” said Lorna, “I know it’s nice, having a boyfriend and all. But you shouldn’t forget to… you know…”
“Mum!” said Chris. “I’m fifteen! And I have a body made all out of plastic. I know how to take care of myself.”
“It is nice not having to worry about these things,” said Gillian, “What with being a 3D printer.”
Lorna started to laugh, first softly and then until she was hooting and howling, so the three of her friends who had faces seemed uncomfortable and afraid.
“Don’t be like that!” said Gillian, “ It’s a living! I even have a bit of a love life”–
“I’m not laughing at you!” she said. “It’s just– I didn’t even imagine the future, when I was back home. Because if I thought about it I just thought it’d be even worse than what we had. But now I’m actually here, and,” she started laughing again, “and it’s totally mad!”
“But this isn’t the future,” said the Doctor softly. “Not anymore.”
Lorna looked at her, suddenly no longer laughing.
“Time and space,” said the Doctor. “They change, in a way that’s hard to describe. There are infinite possibilities, and they’re all real, but there’s only ever a tiny sliver that get to make up the universe. You’re alive, Lorna, and the younger Simon isn’t. The technology he used to make the Cybermen… I don’t think it’ll even happen, now that he’s gone. So when we get back, back to where we’ve come from– we won’t be able to come back here.”
Humza looked horrified. “You mean we’ll all just stop existing? But she’s only just gone and said yes!”
“Not at all! It’s just… a different bit of existence, in a way. My TARDIS can go anywhere in time and space,” she said, “but it can’t go to the place this place’ll be.”
“Then I’ll stay,” said Lorna to her daughter, “you’ve lost five years with me. You shouldn’t have to lose me forever.”
Chris looked very sad indeed.
“I want that. More than anything. But the world you’ve come from… it still has a me, doesn’t it? When I was a little girl, before I knew you were gone. Knowing that I had lost you; what that was like. I can’t let that Chris go through that as well.”
“You’re a good kid,” said Lorna. “I always thought… that I should have done better for you, you know. But when I see what you’ve become, I think I must have done something right”–
She broke down then, and Chris did, too, and they sobbed and held each other in their plastic and human arms.
“It’s worth it, isn’t it?” said Lorna. “Having emotions.”
“Don’t be an idiot,” said Chris, “of course it is.”
They hugged together in the dim light of the moon.
And that was the end of the rule of the humans that were known as the Cybermen. They would remain and they too would survive, but they would no longer do so in a way that sought out domination. It had been a strange world for those people, if people was indeed what they were. There had been those who kept their faith and those who still told stories, and there had been those who kept on arguing long after they’d lost both their tongues and their mouths. They had argued that emotions were all that had kept them from seeing, that a logic without passion would show them the world as it really was. And it had been thoughts like that which had kept the TARDIS so safely hidden, even as the world around it transformed. And it was that argument that allowed Lorna and the Doctor to slip away unseen, away from a future that would now never happen at all.
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Five years earlier, Chris stared through the railings at the playground’s edge, looking out at a city that would no longer fall to the checkout machines. She’d still been so overwhelmed by everything that had happened in her day — the strange behaviour of the adults, with the nurse’s the strangest of all — that she didn’t even notice the four bullies approaching, pointing and giggling as she stared through the fence alone.
“Hey, Christina!” said the one who was tall and had braces. “Don’t you have any friends anymore?”
Chris turned round vaguely, looking at the bullies like they were across a giant road. She’d somehow been terrified by them, even when she was being stalked by skulls. But something about that seemed faintly silly now.
“No,” she said, “they all died. They burned to death, with their families. So I don’t really have any friends anymore.”
Two of the bullies looked unsettled then, like someone had been given the wrong script. But the one with the curious hair just laughed, in a way that meant she could bear her teeth as widely as possible.
“Did that make you sad, Christina? Did that make you cry to the woman you see ‘cause you’re crazy?”
“My Doctor said I wasn’t crazy. She said the things I saw were real. And that everyone knew they were real, but they were all pretending, because they were too scared and afraid to say that they knew they were. But she said that it was better, to say when you were afraid. And if she’d have met you, she’d’ve said you should also be terrified.”
The small bully laughed. “Terrified of what? Of you coming back and boring us with all the mad things that you say?”
Chris frowned. “Of this, I think. That someone could come and bully someone else, and there’d be nothing that anyone could do. Because they liked feeling strong, and knowing no one’ll stop them. But we’re children,” she said, “and we’re human,” she added, which would never have occurred to her before. “Why wouldn’t you be afraid? If something was coming to bully you, that wasn’t a human child. That was stronger, and that was worse. And that no one’d keep you safe from it anymore.”
The animals in the grass behind the fence were getting agitated, and the insects were buzzing in a slightly unusual way. The meteorologist that wasn’t there would have been startled at what was happening with the wind, because it felt like something else that wasn’t there might just be about to appear.
“We would have all burned, that night,” said Chris to four children who were now feeling bullied themselves, “if it hadn’t been for her. Everyone you love, and everything,” she said. “All of it gone, ‘cause nobody bothered to stop it. You’re bullying me because it makes you feel powerful,” she said with words that didn’t feel like hers, “but you don’t know what power really is. What it would do, if she were to abandon us. What’d happen to you, if there wasn’t any good in the world.”
“You’re mad!” said the sparkly bully desperately, “and your shrink’s mad too, and it shouldn’t be allowed!” She was shouting above a noise that she was trying very hard not to hear, a high and throbbing sound that felt like it was coming from under the world. “You’ve got someone who’s being paid to sit and tell you you’re right to be crazy, and you’re talking about her like you think that she’s some sort of hero!”
“No. She was stupid, and arrogant, and thought she knew more than she did. And she hurt me, more than I think she knows. But I never said she was a hero,” she shouted over a howI of noise, “I said she was my Doctor.”
The wrongness in the air grew sharper until it was very wrong indeed, and a sound that was impossible to ignore was screaming against the wind. Even so, the bullies stared hard at the box taking shape before them, stared as if not believing hard enough would make that impossible thing go away. But the outline of the box grew ever more thick the more they stared and stared, until a battered blue bulk stood in the centre of the playground, abnormal in its strangely normal way.
The children stared up in horror, looking for sense of any kind.
“It’s the police!” said one, pointing at the sign on the TARDIS door. “Run, you idiots! It’s the police!”
The four of them turned and ran, having done just enough to convince themselves that the world was still all sane and normal. After a while the door of the box opened with a creak, and a small woman who was nothing like the police came out of it into the world.
The Doctor looked down at Chris, and gave her an awkward wave.
“It’s you,” said Chris, sulkily.
“It is. People must ask you a lot if you’ve had a nice time at school, right? But you probably haven’t done that, today.”
“Not really. Have you had a nice time in your box?”
“Oh, busy, busy. Saved the human race. I know it doesn’t always seem like that’s a good idea,” she said, squinting at the receding bullies, “but it is. Trust me.”
“I met you, too,” she continued fter a while. “From the future. And she was very different, not just because she was a teenager. And I asked her how she felt when she was you, on this day that we’re in right now. Because I made you think that I would know, and then I showed you that I really didn’t. And that’s not something you should do, to anyone who’s given you your trust.”
Chris looked at her feet. “I’m very angry with you,” she said.
“Yes. And I’d expect you to be. I’ve spent so much time understanding so much; I didn’t see… the things I didn’t see. But I should have seen you. Because everyone deserves that, don’t they? And you’re part of everyone. So you do, too.”
Chris kept looking at her feet. She shuffled one of her shoes around, grinding tiny stones against the ground.
“When you were older,” said the Doctor eventually. “You said that… you did want to see it. All of time, and space. To be excited by it, and to cherish it. To be happy. And that if you thought that it was really, really something… that there was a chance one day you could forgive me.”
“I might want that,” said Chris. “But I have to stay with my mother. She gets so sad, and lonely. I need to be there, to make sure that she’s safe.”
“You won’t need to worry about that,” said a voice from inside the TARDIS as her mum emerged with a smile. “Thought we could both use a holiday, eh? After everything we’ve seen.”
“Mum!” said Chris, horrified. “You can’t come with the Doctor! She’s my friend, not yours!”
“Want your own space, do you?” said her mum. “I understand. Not much fun to have your parents crash in on whatever you think is cool!”
“The Doctor’s not cool,” said Chris. “She’s just my friend.”
“I said to your Mum it wasn’t safe,” said the Doctor, ignoring them, “to go out there with me as a child. That I couldn’t promise I’d keep you safe; that I might not be able to. I’m not an adult, at the end of the day. And I’m definitely not a responsible one. But your mum said–“
“–I said that it wasn’t safe here. That we’d both almost died in the last few days, and all of the planet with us! I’ve seen what the future could be like, and what everything’s like now, and I thought if the Doctor and me were both with you, maybe there’d be a chance you’d be safe–“
“I don’t normally do this,” said the Doctor. “Families. But you’ve both seen so much, and I’ve managed to let you both down. It’s time I was the sort to make exceptions.”
Chris looked at her mother, and at her eyes. She was smiling, but you could see that it wasn’t quite perfect; that behind it there was something she’d never admit was desperation.
“I’ll come,” she said, old enough to know she was doing it for her mother, and young enough not to realise the lie. “But don’t hurt me again.”
“It won’t be that sort of adventure,” said her mother, “lots of fun in the sun; no more evil monsters trying to kill us. We can go to the pyramids!”
“We can do that anyway,” said Chris, as she walked over the boundary that cut the TARDIS insides from the world.
“Yes, but now we can do it in a time machine! With a forest! And proper beds!”
“I never got to see the beds,” said Chris with a smile.
“And you will now,” said the Doctor. “Now, you might think a flowerbed is just something you find in a garden, but a few lives ago I thought there might be something rather more literal I could try–“
The Doctor closed the TARDIS door behind her with a thump, and the world pretended to be normal once again.
A Cyberman would have felt nothing as the cracked light of the police box flickered on, and its chipped and splattered frame began to fade away. It would have felt no thrill at the knowledge there were so many worlds beyond its own, and no excitement at knowing how people would soon catch a sight of a tiny few. And it would have been calm, and untroubled, and it would have lived forever. But that was not the choice that Lorna and Chris had made.
Human experience is very, very broad, and it now stood to grow a little broader…
...the TARDIS faded to nothing in the early evening sky.
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