The Name of a King by vegetables



Summary: Emperors, the Colosseum, and streets lined with columns and marble! It's 73 BC, and none of those things have yet come to Ancient Rome. But there's a whale made of salt and a grape that drinks human blood, and a very unpleasant decision the Doctor might have to make. But her friends don't care about any of that: they're just happy to be on a holiday.
Rating: All Ages
Categories: Other Doctors
Characters: The Doctor (Author-Created)
Genres: Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Drama, General, Humor, Mixed, Series
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: Be Afraid
Published: 2018.09.01
Updated: 2018.11.23


Index

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
Chapter 15: Chapter 14
Chapter 16: Chapter 15
Chapter 17: Chapter 16
Chapter 18: Chapter 17


Chapter 1: Cover


cover

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Chapter 2: Chapter 1

Rome’s Republic was burning down, and now Herminius’s house was, too. He’d woken suddenly to a smell that was even worse than the usual one, and thin black smoke he knew would soon turn thicker.

He’d always known the risks of living on the top floor. In Rome, the higher your station the lower you lived: your honour bought gold and your gold bought safety, and so men with neither lived high above the ground. But the same law meant he was higher than a slave, and that thought would bring comfort when he tromped up his many stairs. But it was far from his mind as he now rushed quickly down them, choking his way through the heat and the smell of the fire.

He ran out to the alley as smoke swept down to the ground, aware of a crowd he was only just able to see. But he didn’t need sight to know Crassus was there, haggling and shouting with his stern, familiar voice. You could tell from the harshness of the bargain, from the sobs of the rich man and woman whose rooms he was eager to buy. Rome’s fire department would put out the fiercest blaze in your home– but they’d make you sell the whole place to them first. Crassus was the one in charge of that, and the ruthlessness of it had made him a very rich man indeed.

“Leave us with something!” the man from the bottom floor was shouting. “I’m a quaestor; I’ve always supported you! In the Senate I’ve long been a friend to your allies’ political ambitions”–

“I’m sure,” said Crassus, sounding bored. “And I’ve always known the value of a friend. It’s a lot, yes, but the value of value is greater. Gold, and enough of it to buy ten thousand swords. You’ve bought me honour, yes, and that doesn’t count for nothing. But with your gold? I can buy something that matters more.”

The quaestor howled through the sound of the smoke, though the logic seemed reasonable to Herminius. A fireman came up to him and named a price, a great deal lower than the one the quaestor was weeping over. He accepted without hesitation. It meant a smaller room in a higher place, further from honour and closer to death. But that was the way things had to be, though the vain found it hard to accept it.

"Crassus will die in dishonour,” came a crystal voice in his mind. "Far from here, to a foe who’s both yours and his. And when he’s gone, they’ll mark the things he did here. It’s said they’ll seal his dead throat up in gold.”

That was supposed to bring Herminius pleasure, he assumed, yet hearing it made his own insides feel heavy. Crassus was a monster, but he was still a Roman– they were both part of the fabric of a city to which the whole world wished it belonged. If he fell in battle it meant his people fell, too, and the thought of that was something he’d tried very hard to avoid.

Herminius was not the sort to notice that the quaestor’s wife was no longer weeping. But he did notice her husband’s scream, which cut through the smoke as it thinned on the narrow street. He couldn’t see what had happened to her; not through the night and the crowd. But he heard the firemen start to cry out in shock, their voices shouting a single common word.

Gold! She’s gone and turned to gold!”

Gold, by the will of the Gods!”

"Gold, and enough to buy the whole street! Even if none of it was burning.”

Above the shocked voices, Herminius heard the one that didn’t seem bothered at all. Crassus was talking smoothly to the newly wiveless quaestor, totally undisturbed by the impossible thing that had happened. He was talking about how unexpected the whims of the Gods might be, however well the augurs foretold the future. How the Republic’s unchanging strength was based on the changing of its minds, and how he had a new offer to give to the man before him now.

But Herminius needed no lessons on how things could change for a man. The smoke had cleared enough that he could see something lying before him; a something that would change the course of his entire life. On the ground beneath the soot and ash was an enormous crystal, somehow firmly embedded in the hard dirt of the path. He touched it gently in case it was warm from the fire, then when it didn’t seem to be grabbed it tightly with both hands. It was a crystal of salt that was as big as his head, and it was growing even as he raised it from the ground.

It wouldn’t be worth as much as a wife made out of gold. But it was enough for more, a living beyond the means of an inept baker. Lodgings, slaves and a good name to marry another– the whole street was still roaring with fire, but suddenly it all seemed to smell of hope.

Herminius held the giant rock above his head, and with delight and exhaustion began to cough and laugh...

...Far off past the outskirts of the city, an unearthly creature cried out with a furious roar.

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Chapter 3: Chapter 2

A battered ruin of a box took form in the battered ruin of a street. It would be two thousand years before anyone would think of inventing a box just like it, but it still felt at home in the cramped, high lane where it was now. It felt oddly reassuring in that tight space– like it was telling the world that things would look just as dilapidated in the millennia still to come. With a whump, its paint-stained shell grew solid in the air, and like a song fading in from the background the voice of a woman became clear.

“Brace yourself for the wonders of history!” it said. It’s 73BC, and the weather feels warm and pleasant. And where we are will be a holiday destination for tourists for thousands of years. Prepare for the romance, the glory, and the wonder… of Ancient Rome!”

The Doctor flung open the doors of her TARDIS, and Chris and Lorna jumped out in delight. Their grins were huge as they emerged into the summer air of the past, then got smaller as they looked at what was there.

“This isn’t Ancient Rome,” said Chris. Rome’s got columns, and the buildings are all white. This is muddy and all falling down.”

“Ah, but that’s the thing about this place! It lasts for a very long time. One of its rulers, he said he’d found it a city of brick and left it a city of marble. But that’s all in the future still. This is just what it looks like at the bricky end.”

“Oh,” said Chris, looking disappointed.

“But it’s still Rome!” said her Mum. “Full of sun, and history, and all sorts of fun things to see!

“We could go to the Colosseum!” said Chris.

“That hasn’t been built yet,” said the Doctor.

“Then we could see Pompeii!”

“That’s in Pompeii.”

“Oh. Well, we could meet the Emperor! As long as it’s not one of the bad ones.”

“There isn’t an Emperor yet,” said the Doctor. “That’s all still to come. But Julius Caesar is around!”

“Oh!”

“He’s not done much of anything yet. He’ll be off in the senate, I expect, complaining about something dull.”

Chris put her hands in her pockets, and looked glum.

“It smells in the past,” she said after a while.

“Doctor,” said Lorna. “It’s very impressive, how we’ve gone back in time and all. But when you said we were going to Ancient Rome I imagined we’d see… gladiators, and Hadrian’s Wall! But this, well. It doesn’t even look like the books.”

“History often doesn’t. Holidays often don’t! There isn’t a picture of your house, is there, when you buy a postcard of Manchester?”

“But the whole point of a holiday,” said Lorna, “is that you don’t tend to spend it in your house.”

“Well, we’ll find a nice place to stay here,” said the Doctor. “It’s not all alleys and smells, even now. And I’ve got an app for this kind of thing.” She produced her phone from her pocket and began to tap and swipe. “It’s like Air B’n’B, but for the past. When a jobbing Time Lord needs somewhere to stay.”

“You call yourself a Time Lord?!” said Lorna in disbelief, but the Doctor was totally absorbed in her phone. She pointed triumphantly in one direction and started to run in it, then pointed in a completely different direction and started to run towards that.

“Come on!” said! “Holidays await!”

“Let’s go, Chrissy,”’ said Chris’s mother softly, “at least we don’t have to pay for any of this.”

They followed their tour guide into 73 BC, into a Rome quite unlike the one that they wanted to visit.

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Chapter 4: Chapter 3

It was foolish to pick the famous years, Lady Destange knew. True, the goriest battles and the deadliest plagues would produce great quantities of blood, but the quality always left something to be desired. It wouldn’t do for a grape of her breeding to sup the same blood as common folk: people like her were deserving of higher things. When little blood was spilt, and what fell came dark with dread– that was the only drink worthy of the name.

But she’d been swallowed herself, as quick as a Stalingrad ‘41. Her tiny ship of manbone had been devoured by a something, and as she bounced around in its stomach she’d been sure that she’d met her end. And when she’d thought that she’d wept until red stained the creature’s insides, until one day there was a crash as her captor smashed into a world.

It had been passing here. Her destination, where the finest fruit in the universe grew ripe with blood. Before it had spread out across the galaxy to a million different varieties; when it was angry and raw and violent with deepened red. She fed into the minds of the fruit of that world now, to taunt them and confuse them and play her little tricks.

And to drink, of course. She’d bring them here to drink.

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Chapter 5: Chapter 4

It still smelled awful, the place that the Doctor had taken them to. Lorna had been horrified and Chris had been unsurprised by everything that flowed through the city, and picking their way through it had dampened their enthusiasm further.

They passed through tight crossroads and alleys they were barely able to squeeze through, before they finally came to a wider street. This at least looked a bit more like the books: there were buildings which looked like they might have been covered in marble, and the helmets of legionnaires occasionally poked through the crowd. But the place they finally came to looked as disappointingly wrong as most of the rest of the city. It was squat and small and made of dark brown brick, a badly-built balcony extending to a view beyond. It looked to Lorna that it might have been from around when she was born, not lifetimes before the birth of Jesus Christ.

A cheerful and bearded man greeted them as they made their way towards the house. “News travels quickly, it seems!” he beamed at them as they approached. “I’ve only been here since the morning, and already some women are down here to sell rich old Herminius things.”

“I’m not a woman,” said Chris grumpily.

“And I’m not buying any flowers or rubbish! Just because I’ve come into money, doesn’t mean I’ve lost all my sense.” There was no malice in any of his words; only joy at the situation he’d found himself in.

“It’s not what you might buy that we’re interested in,” said the Doctor. “But what you might sell, instead. You’ve done well for yourself, no doubt.” She grinned. “But you’d do even better with these.”

From a pocket of her jeans she pulled two giant rubies, with which it might be possible to buy the whole city twice. Herminius looked so stunned at them that he forgot that he should have been sceptical.

“Gems are a lot to offer,” he said, “for a man to bake you a loaf of bread.”

“You’re quite right! And they’re even more to offer, for what we’re actually asking for. We’ve been gossiping, as women.” She turned to her companions. “That’s what we do, right?”

“Gossip away!” said Lorna.

“I’m not a woman,” said Chris again. “I’m a girl.”

“Good for you! Anyway, we were talking to everyone round here, exchanging new gossip techniques. And we heard” – she glanced very quickly at her phone– “ that you’ve got some rooms spare here. For the slaves, who you’ve not quite got round to buying.

Slaves?” said Chris, horrified.

“We were never offered any gems,” muttered her mother.

Herminius frowned, the offer of huge amounts of money unsettling him more than the idea he was about to be parted from it.

“You’re seeking lodgings here in Rome?” he said. “But you’re all so pale, and your clothes– they’re like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”

“That’s surprisingly easy to explain,” said the Doctor. “We’re from, ah, a very mysterious island–“

“We’re from the future,” said Chris.

“Chris!" said the Doctor.

Chris shrugged. “I like being honest.”

“The future?” said Herminius. “Well, that would explain a few things. The odd materials you wear, and how you’re white as a stone–“

“Oh, that’s not because of that,” said Lorna. “We’re just from Britain.”

Herminius looked at her in shock.

“Britain?” he said. “But that can’t be!”

“You believe that we’re from the future!” said Lorna. “Surely that’s stranger than us being from a rainy old island somewhere?”

“I know the future exists,” said Herminius. “I was never so sure your island did.”

“You’ll know all about Roman Britain,” said the Doctor to Chris and Lorna. “Straight roads and hot baths in the cold. But it’s too early for all that now. At the minute, it’s a strange island full of dark mists and pale barbarians; an awful tale to scare small children with. There’s some who wonder if it even exists at all.”

“If it does,” said Herminius, who still seemed unconvinced, “then it’s an unconquered wasteland. If in the future it has women with rubies such as yours? Then perhaps I can ignore my darkest fears.”

“You’re a thinking man,” said the Doctor.

“A citizen is what he makes himself. However high he rises.”

“Of course,” said the Doctor. “But even the greatest philosophers might be surprised to meet three travelers from the future.”

“Ah,” said Herminius with a grin, “But then I’m a practical man. And I’ve been persuaded by the evidence of my eyes. There’s more to the world than just the men and the gods.”

“Good for you,” said the Doctor, who was not returning Herminius’s smile. “Perhaps we can, you know. Put a few more eyes on whatever’s made you think that way?”

“Your lodgings await,” said Herminius knowingly, taking one of the rubies from the Doctor’s hand. They followed him into the smallish apartment, and saw at once what had changed how he saw the world.

This bit of Ancient Rome wasn’t much like it was in cartoons. But even so, Chris was sure the thing on Herminius’s table was not something a historian would think should be there. It was an enormous crystal that swelled up like a tumour, rocky tendrils snaking out in an organic way. It filled up the whole table to the point it could hardly take the weight, and above it flew wispy, crystal creatures a bit like Chinese dragons.

“It’s in pain,” said the Doctor softly. “It’s roaring out in pain.”

“And with us looking forward to relaxing,” said Lorna sadly.

“A busman’s holiday, then,” muttered the Doctor. “This is worse than my trip to Ibiza.”

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Chapter 6: Chapter 5

In a vault below the vaults of his largest villa, Marcus Licinius Crassus looked on at his crowd of gold. The room burned with nearly a hundred torches, but it was still hard to make out every statue’s face. There were slaves, and freedmen, and some who he’d even recognised. What had struck these people had done it indiscriminately, like the most barbarian disease.

He was the greatest of Rome’s most powerful men. But it had still been a challenge to steal and buy his way to owning every statue person in the city. He’d had assistance, though, of a very unusual kind. The richest people in Rome had slaves for the smallest things. But no man other than Crassus had one entirely devoted to mysteries.

It wasn’t long since he had first bought Thresu, when his last slave of mysteries fell to the thing with the hands of a man. He’d shown the young man a few of the things that should never have been in the world, but this was the first time he’d face something that Crassus considered a threat.

“Gold,” he said to the slave. “It’s worth what it is because it doesn’t decay, and because there’s never very much of it. I’ve spent so much on getting a little gold; I don’t want someone to go around making more. Every person who changes,” he snarled, “makes me a much poorer man.”

“They’re really people, then?” said Thresu, still stunned despite his position.

“Not anymore,” said Crassus, “and I fear they’re of less value to me.”

Thresu looked at the frozen faces of men, women and children, each seeming unbothered by the fact they were made of metal.

“It’s funny,” he said, “how their eyes seem to follow you around the room.”

“That’s because their eyes are following you around the room,” said his master. “And soon their bodies will, too, and their fists. They’re not human, not anymore. But sometimes they still get a little animated .”

Thresu looked worriedly at the nearest figure; a soldier armed with a sword of gold. As he watched the snarl on its face grew fiercer, and he nervously drew his dagger to his hand.

“A good test, isn’t it?” said Crassus, “for a new slave of the mysteries.” He twisted a brooch on his toga, and smiled as anachronistic armour wrapped around his form.

“You said I’d be a scholar,” Thresu protested uselessly, “not a gladiator!”

“You’ll need to be both,” said his master from behind a visor, “if you’re going to last very long in this role.”

The entire room of statues was moving now; faces and bodies wrapped in confusion and pain. But through his life Thresu had learned some level of cunning, and the value of having no honour in a fight. He grabbed a torch from the curved wall and thrust it to the hand of the golden soldier, moving it with the wrist as it curled and writhed. Even heated, no Roman steel could cut through solid gold, but Thresu’s blade was different: given to him in secret by his master, and carved from the tooth of a monster that had no name. That beast had chewed through diamonds in a place beyond, and it sliced the hand clean from its owner now. If the statue felt pain, it showed no sign of it: it just bought its remaining hand open to crush closed Thresu’s throat.

Thresu has meant to slice through the statue with its spear, but in his fear he’d been thinking of it as flesh. As he tried to thrust the weapon through his foe it glanced against the gold, and he saw with horror that the other statues were now moving towards him too. He thrust his dagger out in a desperate spiral, knowing there was no way he could fend off the entire room–

–and then suddenly there was a rush of air, and the movement of something too fast to see. Flashes of a sword far sharper than a soldier’s seemed to swipe through the nearest statues, then to sear through ones that lurked much further away. Before Thresu had any idea what was happening the room stood still, with the golden people cut down to shapeless lumps.

“Of course you couldn’t beat them,” said his master. “I have something greater than you for that.” He nodded to the figure beside them both, who had cut all the golden figures down.

Thresu had once seen an old marble statue, with all the paint that had covered it stripped clean. Its stone had reminded him of bloodless flesh, somehow kept living beyond its death. The thing before him now was like that statue, but he knew that it was alive, examining him through lidless eyes of stone.

“It’s a monster,” he said.

“He once was a man just like you,” said Crassus. “A soldier, and he’s a soldier still. It’s not men who he fights anymore, but he does protect the city, even if he does it as part of protecting me. I call him The Rex.”

Thresu had absorbed enough of his captor’s culture to be shocked by that.

“But that means–“

Crassus laughed. “Tell me, Thresu. If there are no kings in Rome. What better name than the name of a king, to fight what we pretend isn’t here?”

That sounded like the kind of question to which any answer would result in a beating, and so Thresu kept as expressionless as he could.

“You are high for a slave,” said Crassus. “And I do trust you with this. Command the Rex. Take him where the thing in his sack guides you, to end the source of this endless gold. Do this, and you’ll be worthy of more mysteries. And maybe even freedom, one of these days.”

“Yes,” said Thresu. “I’ll be a guide to your king.”

“He’s not my king,” said Crassus. “He’s my slave. Never forget that. It doesn’t matter if you’re a free man, or if you’re turned to marble. You’re still mine in this city, as long as I’m still alive. And as long as the thing that makes the gold,” he snarled, “becomes very dead indeed.”

“Your guide,” Crassus continued as he opened the Rex’s sack.

He sees me as what I’m made of,” said a voice in Thresu’s mind, “ Like if you were a piece of meat. But I’m worth much more than what I appear to be. Even if I was built all out of gold.”

A thing shaped like a leech floated out of the sack, wings all down each side flapping gently as it went. It was complex and luminous in a way only living things could be, but even so it was clear that it wasn’t made out of flesh.

Salt,” said the voice. “A voice made of it, beyond time itself. And we’ll have an interesting time together, as I already know.”

“Is,” said Thresu to his master. “Um. I don’t wish to be impudent. But is that creature also–”

“Talking to me?” said Crassus. “Oh, probably. But I stopped listening a long time ago. It’s pretentious and it sees the future; that’s a very bad combination. Gold and swords, they’re how I make my predictions. They’re usually about how I’m going to win.”

Thresu bowed, and the man like stone did as well.

“Watch him,” said Crassus. “Watch, and guard, and wait for the kill.”

Thresu nodded, and went as fast from the room as couldn’t be mistaken for rudeness.

“I hope he succeeds,” said Crassus to his endless lumps of gold. “So many dead slaves of mysteries. Someone might start to think I have a problem.”

None of the metal that had been men responded as it lay on the ground. It stayed there dead as gold should be, and not even the flicker of the torchlight could convince someone it had once been alive.

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Chapter 7: Chapter 6

The Doctor sat at the table with her friends, poking her sonic screwdriver at the giant crystal.

“It’s an alien,” said Chris, as a flat statement rather than a question.

“A bit of one,” said the Doctor. “It’s from a Salineoptera. A salt whale. And from the way this rock is screaming it can’t be far from here.”

“Gosh,” said Lorna. “I didn’t know they had whales in Italy, back in the past.”

“Well, They didn’t have salt whales,” said the Doctor. “They’re from”– she worked out the number of light years, and decided it wasn’t worth the bother –“space,” she said, intoning it mystically so it sounded like what she’d always meant to say.

“Everything’s from space,” said Chris, “and nobody ever notices.”

Herminius came in through the door, smiling broadly at his guests. “Do you like it?” he asked. “The source of all my riches, before you came along!!”

“It’s a piece of a creature that’s in horrendous pain,” said the Doctor, “but this bit of it doesn’t feel much of anything. If you want to chisel bits off to live it large then that’s horrible–“ she made a yucky face “–but I’m not going to stop you. And at least,” she added, breaking off a bit of salt herself, “no one else is actually in danger. Worth a lot in this period, is salt,” she said to her friends, who already knew.

She popped the salt in her mouth and chewed it thoughtfully, then made a face that was even worse than someone with a mouth full of salt should make.

“Well,” she said, “turns out everyone else is actually in danger. Don’t lick the salt; Chris.”

Chris looked frightened. “Is it dangerous?”

“Worse. It’s alcoholic.”

“The salt whale is an alcoholic?” said Lorna.

“Not quite,” said the Doctor. “It’s nothing as sensible as that.”

“Is it something to do,” said Herminius, “with people turning to gold?”

“That,” said the Doctor, “is an ominously specific question.”

“It’s just my old neighbour, she turned to gold the other day–“

“Right. Okay. Turning to gold, and dying in other ways. I’ll have to take action, however they’re going to kill.”

“Couldn’t the ruler of the city help?” said Lorna. “Send in the legions, or something.”

What?” said Herminius, outraged. “But this is Rome! We’re a Republic; a democracy! There’s no one man at the top ruling over it all! Surely it’s still said — even in the future — that there are no kings in Rome!”

“But Rome doesn’t have a king,” said Chris. “It has an Emp–“

“An employment crisis!” said the Doctor over her friend. “For all the kings. They come here with all their experience kinging, then go ‘Oops, no, there’s no positions here!’”

“I don’t like it when you talk over me,” said Chris.

“It’s rude! But what’d be morebrude, would be trying to make yourself king of a city like this. And what’d be rudest of all, would be not calling yourself a king, even though you basically were! Wouldn’t that be a horrifying thing,” she said, staring very hard at her friends, “for a citizen of Rome to even have to consider?

“I just thought they’d be able to help,” said Lorna.

There was a very uncomfortable silence for a while.

“So!” said Lorna brightly, “how about this monster, who’s coming to kill us all?”

“It’s not a monster. It’s a person, as far as I could tell from the taste. They must’ve been swallowed by the whale. They’re one of the Kilderkin, from one of the finer vintages. They’re a people that evolved from–“ she blushed, “from grapes.”

What?” said Lorna.

“I’m glad I’m not a grape,” said Chris.

“Well, you’ll wish you weren’t a human, if this person stays here much longer. They’ll drink the blood out of everyone here, or turn them to gold. Like a very confusing metaphor for capitalism.”

She got out her phone, and flicked it on.

“We’d better hurry,” she said, swiping and tapping her screen, “I’ve got this app that’s a bit like Uber, but for the time before cars were invented–“

“We’re not coming,” said Chris.

The Doctor boggled at her. “But we’re going on an adventure!”

“I don’t want to go on an adventure,” said Chris. “I want to be on holiday.”

“Ah. Well. I’ll just save all the people in this city on my own, then,” said the Doctor.

“Enjoy it!” said Lorna with a smile.

“It’s just, well. It’s going to be quite a lot of work.”

“You said we were going on holiday,” said Lorna. “You didn’t say anything about saving ancient cities. It’d be more effort for us, you know. Losing this.”

The Doctor frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“I know you don’t,” said Lorna. “It’s what I’ve been meaning to talk to you about.”

She turned round to her daughter.

“Chrissy,” she said. “D’you mind? I want to speak to your magic friend alone.”

Chris looked like she did mind, but started to head off anyway.

“Beat the wine person, Doctor,” she said as she went to their room.

Lorna waited until she was sure her daughter was gone.

“Back there,” she said to the Doctor, “you said what your people were called.”

The Doctor smiled. “Time Lords.”

“Right. And that wasn’t, you know, a joke, or a lie you tell a child?”

“What?”

“It just sounds… very pompous, I suppose. Like you wouldn’t want to meet a person who would call themselves that.”

“I didn’t come up with it. Although women where I’m from are often called Time Ladies, but I thought–“

“I don’t care about that. I was just thinking, it’s you, you know? Down to a tee.” She laughed. “However much you don’t want it to be.”

“I ran away from that planet,” said the Doctor. “People aren’t defined by where they’re from.”

“And that’s exactly what a person like you would say. Get a new accent, slum it with us normal folk; like in the end you’re not still a bloody Lord.

The Doctor looked punctured, like a wounded balloon.

“I’m not blaming you! I know you’re trying. And I know you’re good, I do. But it’s just… it’s not enough, at the end of the day. To put on some jeans and sound a bit Northern. You’ll go back to your wood and your giant house, and the rest of us’ll be going on living our lives.”

“Not here,” said the Doctor softly. “Everyone’ll die, here, if I don’t go and put a stop to it.”

Lorna’s expression grew less hard. “I don’t mean I don’t think you’re a good woman, Doctor. And what you do is–“ she laughed “–it’s amazing… but you need to understand, sometimes we won’t want to join you. Because sometimes it’s just too much, you know? Sometimes we need not to see it. To stay and relax, for a while.”

The Doctor avoided Lorna’s gaze.

“You know,” she said to a wall, “that I think you’re a good woman, too.”

“No,” said Lorna. “No, I had no idea.”

She smiled at the Doctor.

“Stay safe, Time Lord.”

The Doctor smiled. “Enjoy your holiday, Lorna.”

They looked blankly at each other like something more should have happened, then the Doctor shuffled awkwardly away. Leaving the world of a holiday where nothing much happened, she set off to fight an evil grape woman from space.

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Chapter 8: Chapter 7

The sun was low in the sky by the time the Doctor’s chariot pulled past the outskirts of Rome. The city was very small by the standards of Chris and Lorna’s time, but it had still taken a while to get to the point where it finally ended. The traffic was heavy and the chariot was slow, and for what seemed like hours they’d ridden past the tumbledown tombs that stretched their way out from the centre. Finally they came to the long stretch of the Appian Way, to an area that at least felt like it was mostly green.

“It’s a nice place,” said the Doctor to the high bit of wood that separated her from the chariot’s driver. There was no response at all, and she scowled at a nearby tree.

In many of her incarnations the Doctor had struggled with taxi drivers– as highly opinionated people whose lives depended on their vehicles, they’d always reminded her a bit too much of herself. She’d told herself she needed to get better with people, but now she found herself wondering if maybe she’d found a line.

“Straight, aren’t they?” she said, trying once again, “these roads you Romans build. Means it’s that much less work for you, I imagine! Just riding along in a big straight line. You probably don’t have to do much of anything at all, to keep a chariot like this just riding on and on–“

She realised, and scowled at a tree once more.

“Oh, Hell," she muttered, smashing the wooden partition with her fist. As she’d suspected, her driver was solid gold, and probably had been for an embarrassing number of conversations.

The horse was still going, somehow, at the same pace despite how much more weight she would be bearing. She had kept on running out of fear her driver was still alive– which was wise of her, because he was. The Doctor shivered to think of being trapped in that golden body: it was a fate she’d never wish on anyone, no matter how many taxis they drove.

It was time for Plan B, then. The Doctor rarely carried a salt shaker, because they reminded her too much of the Daleks. But this was a desperate situation, so she’d bought along a special one just in case. She took it out as she leapt off the driverless chariot, pointing it in the general direction her app had told her to go. She frowned as she moved it slightly and slightly again, until the salt glass middle of the shaker began to move upwards as if it was magnetised.

“This thing’s worth its salt,” said the Doctor, because she was positive no one was listening. An attractive force of that magnitude meant there was an enormous quantity of salt nearby, and that meant she was close to the Salineoptera. And that there might be time, if she was very lucky, to save both the city and the whale.

Close behind the Doctor and totally unseen by her, another chariot skidded to a halt. An anxious looking man jumped off as a figure wrapped tight in cloth dismounted, pointing towards the woman in the ahistorical clothes. She wasn’t made of gold, although her hair was yellower than should be possible, and Thresu had no idea why the Rex seemed so keen on following her.

That woman is worth far more than gold,” said the voice in his mind who was listening in. “She has saved this world and saved the whole of time. And we need her more than ever, now that time is crumbling down.

But the Rex may want to kill her,” said Thresu in his mind, “and I’m tasked to do as he will.”

Ha! Not in the slightest. The Rex is a king, but that woman is a Lord– something great enough that even he would be wise bow to bow down to her.”

“But,” thought Thresu, “she’s a woman–"

And I’m a mouth made out of salt. You’re going to have to be more open-minded,” the voice scolded, “if you’re going to be any good at this job.”

Thresu thought of the worst tasks he’d had as a slave, mopping up vomit and wiping latrines. How he’d been so delighted when he was given this task instead, and how he’d give anything to be a cleaner again right now.

He sighed to himself and followed the marble soldier, tracking the woman who had the impossible hair.

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Chapter 9: Chapter 8

Chris looked down at the fish intestines that covered her food, trying to think of a way she could avoid eating them.

“They’re the best in Rome!” said Herminius, seeing how miserable she looked. “No one else leaves them to rot for quite as long.”

“Come on, Chrissy!” said her mother. “We’re on holiday! You know what they say: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do!’ Eat your fish guts,” she added, less enthusiastically.

“I just don’t see why anyone would want to,” said Chris as she poked at her food.

“Well, maybe they won’t for much longer!” said Herminius cheerily. “When Herminius’s own-brand salt goes into business.” He gestured towards the heaving crystal that threatened to collapse his table. “Maybe it’ll make everyone less angry, even! Getting saltiness from rocks, and not a big pile of guts.”

“Everyone’s angry where we’re from, too,” said Chris. “Britain, and the future. Even though we don’t have to put this on our food.”

“Difficult times, is it?” said Herminius knowingly.

Lorna looked oddly at him. “You understand?”

Herminius laughed. “All of Rome would! There’s not much happening now, not this year. But over my lifetime, well. More’s happened than anyone would want.”

Lorna frowned at that. “Because everyone’s so angry?”

“The gods are angry, and not just the people. The Temple of Jupiter burned down, and with it our surest way to see the future. Three scrolls of prophecy, given to us by an ancient and mysterious woman!”

“She isn’t that ancient,” said Chris. “If she’s who I think she is.”

“It must have been very violent,” guessed Lorna. “All the stuff that you’re talking about. There’s not so much violence, the place where we’re both from.” She nodded at her daughter. “It’s not really suitable, for a child.”

“Violence is interesting,” said Chris, looking hurt.

Herminius nodded. “Your daughter’s right. It doesn’t do to hide the truth of the world, not even from a girl.”

“When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” said Chris to her mother hopefully.

“Not now, love,” sighed Lorna. “I’m on holiday. She gestured to the creatures above the salt. “Why don’t you play with those crystal things? You always were interested in animals.”

“They’re not animals,” said Chris, walking over to them. “Animals aren’t made of rocks.” Still, she went over to the table, to watch as their long thin bodies snaked over the salt that they’d budded from. She looked less disgruntled as she watch them float around, and her mother watched her until the disagreement was forgotten.

“Let’s go outside, eh?” said Lorna to Herminius. “I think Chrissy’s going to be fine.”

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Chapter 10: Chapter 9

Holding her salt shaker in front of her like a weapon, the Doctor made her way through a half-plowed field. She’d been pretending to be oblivious to the two people stalking her just so she’d have some time alone, but the obvious sound of their stomping feet had finally become too much for her.

“I know you’re behind me,” she said without turning round, “and that you’re not human.”

“I am too!” said Thresu, giving himself away without thinking.

“Not you! Mr Marbles there, who you’re travelling with. In his not very convincing disguise.”

“It’s not really a disguise,” said Thresu desperately. “All sorts of people wear strange things, these days.” He looked meaningfully at the Doctor, who failed to get the hint. “And he was human, anyway,” he added as an afterthought, “before he was turned to stone.”

“Oh, everything’s been human once,” said the Doctor, looking at the soil. “This dirt’d’ve been corpses, and the corpses would’ve been people, and it doesn’t mean the crops can hold much of a conversation. What matters to me is that now he’s something very powerful, and I’m guessing he’s come here to kill.”

“I don’t see why I should tell you about him,” said Thresu, “when I know nothing at all about who you are.” The salt in his mind screamed at him for the lie, but he blanked out all the words as well as he could. He’d had a lot of practice not listening to the furious, in his lifetime as a slave.

“I’m the Doctor,” she said. “A traveller of time and space. And I come from the mysterious, far-off land… of Britain.

“I’ve heard of Britain,” said Thresu. “It’s an awful place, covered in rain and fog!”

“All true!” grinned the Doctor. “It’s quite nice.”

“I hear they let women make their own rules,” said Thresu.

“Yup,” said the Doctor. “We’ve mad ideas over in Blighty.”

“And that they’ll all be crushed by the might of the legions of Rome, in good time.”

“At any rate,” said the Doctor, “I imagine your friend’s very good at fighting. It’s just that I’d guess he likes to do it, well.” She made a face. “To the death?”

“There are other ways?” said Thresu, confused.

“There are if you’re me. This person who’s turning you all to gold, she’s abhorrent. But she’s still a person, and I still don’t want her dead.”

Thresu looked even more confused. “It sounds like you do things very differently on that island of yours,” he said.

“Well, if that’s too mind-blowing for you, this next bit’s going to be tricky. Because the awful person who still is a person is also a giant grape.” She nodded into the distance. ”And she’s right over there.”

“Is that an alien vintage I smell with my delicate nose?” came a high voice from very nearby, “how nice to have an aperitif! It bodes so well to start a drinking session with something very fine indeed.”

Thresu looked wearily at the thing that was waddling towards them, which he might have mistaken for a very fat woman with a particularly terrible disease. She was huge and round and clomping on spherical legs, her red-purple body encased in a toga that couldn’t take the strain. She wasn’t the sort of creature he’d imagined he might encounter, when he’d ended up studying mysteries.

His mind went back to the worst day he’d had as a slave, when he’d had to clean vomit from every room in his master’s villa. It had got into the murals and the fine rugs scrunched over the floor, and he’d had to scrub until the smell of it wedged right into his nose and throat. He’d wept at the end of the third day without sleep, and all that had only been the start of it. And as the grape-like aristocrat wobbled her way towards him, he realised he’d give anything to be back in that day once more.

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Chapter 11: Chapter 10

Holding her salt shaker in front of her like a weapon, the Doctor made her way through a half-plowed field. She’d been pretending to be oblivious to the two people stalking her — just so she’d get some time alone — but the obvious sound of their stomping feet had finally become too much for her.

“I know you’re behind me,” she said without turning round, “and that you’re not human.”

“I am too!” said Thresu, giving himself away without thinking.

“Not you! Mr Marbles there, who you’re travelling with. In his not very convincing disguise.”

“It’s not really a disguise,” said Thresu desperately. “All sorts of people wear strange things, these days.” He looked meaningfully at the Doctor, who failed to get the hint. “And he was human, anyway,” he added as an afterthought, “before he was turned to stone.”

“Oh, everything’s been human once,” said the Doctor, looking at the soil. “This dirt’d’ve been corpses, and the corpses would’ve been people, and it doesn’t mean the crops can hold much of a conversation. What matters to me is that he’s something quite different now, and I’m guessing that he’s come here to kill.”

“I don’t see why I should tell you about him,” said Thresu, “when I know nothing at all about you.” The salt in his mind screamed at him for the lie, but he blanked out all the words as well as he could. He’d had a lot of practice in not listening to the furious, in his lifetime as a slave.

“I’m the Doctor,” she said. “A traveller of time and space. And I come from the mysterious, far-off land… of Britain.

“I’ve heard of Britain,” said Thresu. “It’s an awful place, covered in rain and fog!”

“All true!” grinned the Doctor. “It’s quite nice.”

“I hear they let women make their own rules,” said Thresu.

“Yup,” said the Doctor. “We’ve mad ideas over in Blighty.”

“And that they’ll all be crushed by the might of the legions of Rome, in good time.”

The Doctor winced, and decided to change the subject.

“At any rate,” she said. “I imagine your friend’s very good at fighting. It’s just that I’d guess he likes to do it, well.” She made a face. “To the death?”

“There are other ways?” said Thresu, confused.

“There are if you’re me. This person who’s turning you all to gold, she’s abhorrent. But she’s still a person, and I still don’t want her dead.”

Thresu looked even more confused. “It sounds like you do things very differently on that island of yours,” he said.

“Well, if that’s too mind-blowing for you, this next bit’s going to be tricky. Because the awful person who we can’t forget is a person is also a giant grape.” She nodded into the distance. ”And she’s right over there.”

Thresu looked round, wearily wishing he was surprised by the madness of the world. He might have mistaken the thing that was waddling towards them for a very fat woman with an especially terrible disease. She was huge and round and clomping on spherical legs, her red-purple body encased in a toga that couldn’t take the strain. She wasn’t the sort of creature he’d imagined he might encounter, when he’d ended up studying mysteries.

“Is that an alien vintage I smell with my delicate nose?” the grape woman cried. “How nice to have an aperitif! It bodes so well to start a drinking session with something that’s very fine indeed.”

Thresu’s mind went back to the worst day he’d had as a slave, when he’d had to clean vomit from every room in his master’s villa. It had got into the murals and the fine rugs scrunched over the floor, and he’d had to scrub until the smell of it wedged right into his nose and throat. He’d wept at the end of the third day without sleep, and all that had only been the start of it. And as the grape-like aristocrat wobbled her way towards him, he realised he’d give anything to be back in that day once more.

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Chapter 12: Chapter 11

Chris wouldn’t have admitted it to her mother, but the salt creatures were even more interesting than a conversation about violence. They seemed to grow out of the giant crystal like stalks from a rotting potato, until their weight snapped them off with a crack and they detached themselves into the world. And that was sort of interesting, but it didn’t really matter– because they were talking to her with a single voice about something that was far more important.

“Hello, Chris,” the voice had said in her mind.

“You know my name,” said Chris. “And you got it right!” she added, which shouldn’t have been more impressive but was.

“I know lots of things, yes. I’m all outside of time. Whales and rocks and mouths all break out off of me, but they’re not what I really am. I’m something much bigger, more so than you can imagine. I am the Kelest.”

Chris looked frightened at that. Something huge and beyond her understanding had talked to her once before. She’d seen it as a man with a face like a skull, and it had almost burned everyone to death.

“Are you going to kill me?” she said. “Are you going to kill the world?

Oh no,” said the voice, “I wouldn’t be interested in that.”

“That’s good. Some boys in my class used to fill plastic boats with spiders and fill them up with water ‘till they drowned. I thought we might be like spiders, to a thing that’s as big as you.”

“But there’s no joy in death, when you live outside of time. Somewhere you’re dead now, and always have been, and somewhere you’ve always been alive as well. Changing the when of it isn’t so interesting, in the way that it might have been for your friends.”

“I wouldn’t be friends with some boys that killed spiders!” said Chris, then paused as something occurred to her.

“Wait,” she said, “if you’re outside time, then can you see the future? My friend’s father always thought it was going to be terrible.”

“Ah, but that’s the thing. You come from just the wrong bit of it, I’m afraid.”

“So it is terrible?” said Chris, surprised at how awful it felt to know for sure. “My other friend said there were lots of futures: that some were very bad, and that others were an awful lot better. But I’m not sure what she says is always true.”

“There are always many possibilities. A whole mess of things that could happen, even in Ancient Rome. But there’s a structure to it, all the same: things that are likely, the ones that never are. But that’s no longer true, when it gets to a certain point. The place you’re from, and everything after that. It’s shattered like a mirror made of time.”

“Because of us?” said Chris, horrified. “Because of something we all did at home?”

“No. There was a weapon. A beam, focused from one world into yours. A place that should never have existed, that bought all futures into existence. So that what comes next is a mystery, as much to me as to you.”

“Time is broken,” said Chris.

The voice in her mind laughed. “Yes, that’s how the Doctor would have put it!”

Chris gasped. “You mean you know who the Doctor–“

“Of course I do. Flitting through time in the way she does; it gives me a massive headache. I’m with her now, as it happens. Or rather, a part of me is.”

“She stole your mouth?” said Chris. “She can be very rude.”

“She’s with someone who is also a part of another. A slave to the richest man in Rome. One of my mouths stowed away with his master, when it first budded out from this rock.”

“You shouldn’t talk about people in that way,” said Chris, “he’s not a part of anyone. Whoever he is, he’ll be worth as much as anyone else who’s here.”

That might be what you think,” said the Kelest, “ but it’s not what he does. He believes everyone has their place, here in Rome. He accepts his is where he belongs.”

“But that’s wrong!” shouted Chris.

“Well, why not tell him that yourself? My mouths and mind are joined, in ways you couldn’t see. All you have to do is open your mind, and you’ll find that you’re with him, too.”

“I don’t know if that’s something I’d want to do,” said Chris.

“No. And you don’t have to,” said the Kelest. “But wouldn’t it be better for him? To convince him of the way you saw the world. To show him he’s worth more than whatever his head might say.”

“Only if I know you’re telling the truth,” said Chris. “How do I know you won’t eat my brain, or drink up my blood like a leech?”

“You don’t,” said the Kelest . “You shouldn’t trust anyone, in a place like Ancient Rome. But you’re from the point the future shatters. To see what you do, how any of you work; it might help me understand why. And help me see the whole of creation once more.”

Chris wasn’t convinced by that at all, and her mind drifted off to wondering about violence again. But as she did she felt pictures that shouldn’t be there; the Doctor and a man arguing next to a man wrapped totally up in cloth. And somehow as she saw them she knew the man was called Thresu, and who he was and what he’d done and all of the things that he’d seen. She heard the Kelest whispering to him like it was whispering to her, and it felt like being in a small and uncomfortable room.

“Get out of my mind,” she said to the salt creatures in front of her. “It isn’t yours to play with.”

“I’m not in it,” said the Kelest, “ but you’re overhearing anyway. Your mother went away from this room, because there were things she didn’t want you to know. But it’s harder to keep your voice down, when it’s in so many places at once.”

“I could go away anyway, though,” said Chris. “To the other room, and shut the door. I could throw away any mouths, if you tried to get some of them through.”

“Yes. But then Thresu might be a slave for the rest of his days. And you’d always think about that, whoever’s days you were in after now.”

Chris sighed deeply. It was very annoying, to be outargued by a bit of salt. But then she could see how the Doctor was in danger, and the disordered thoughts tumbling through Thresu’s mind made it clear how much trouble she was in. Without even realising it she wasn’t listening to the salt or the man anymore, but was just caught up in the fight…

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Chapter 13: Chapter 12

...which was one of the odder ones the Doctor had experienced. The Kilderkin had seemed a weak thing as it waddled through the field, and the Rex had looked as confident as a statue as it strode towards her, the cloth binding his body falling away to reveal the stony flesh underneath.

“That thing looks valuable on a great many worlds indeed!” said Lady Destange. “What a shame, to turn him to something as worthless as dust.”

“Not likely!” said Thresu in a way that was meant to be menacing, “the Rex has killed horrors far worse than some swollen up old woman! Who has horrible breath,” he added as he smelled her for the first time.

“Not that he’ll be doing any killing now,” said the Doctor, as she drew her sonic screwdriver from a little loop on her belt, “because that’s not something I’m going to allow to happen.”

Lady Destange burst out laughing.

Allow?” she said. “You underestimate the strength of a Lady of the Kilderkin.”

“She really doesn’t,” muttered Thresu to the bulging mass of the grape.

“Oh, the sweet opinions of a fruit,” said Lady Destange, “as weak and anaemic as the vintage that flows through its veins!”

“I’m not a fruit!” said Thresu. “I’m a slave!”

“Then you understand that some of us are your betters,” spat Lady Destange. “That there’s a top to the chain, and a bottom to it. And in your case, dear,” she smiled, “I’m afraid you’re firmly at the lower end.”

The Rex had been steady in his advance towards the grape, as she mocked the man who might have been his master. He drew his sword in as smooth a movement as if he’d still been flesh, ready to swipe down through the thin, red skin of the Kilderkin. But Lady Destange was laughing as the sword scratched off her pulp, and as no juice flowed from the wound that was barely there.

“Keep going!” said Thresu, with no idea if encouragement would work. “Slice her through!”

“Now, him have his fun!” laughed Lady Destange. “It’s not much of a life, being made out of cold, dead stone. I bet a part of him misses it, the life that one has as a fruit. It’d be lovely, wouldn’t it, to taste some of its pleasure again?”

A vine ripped out of Lady Destange’s hand with surprising force, hitting the Rex’s face with enough power to whip it back. A crack swept over the marble mouth of the statue, and the vine snaked into it to begin pumping wine through his body. His sword rose to strike the grape woman again, but as it did so it began to shake. There was a horrible, shuddering pause, before his grip grew slack as his body began to tinge pink.

“She’s filling him up with wine!” said Thresu, but the Doctor was shaking her head.

“That’s blood,” she said. “Veins of marble themselves to arteries. She’s making him human again.”

Thresu stared at her. “And shouldn’t you do something?”

“Why?” said the Doctor. “I didn’t want anyone dead, and nobody’s dying. It’s just a shame when a child has to see, isn’t it?” she said as the half-flesh statue started giggling. “When someone gets as drunk as your friend soon will.”

Thresu stared harder. “You know?–“

“I didn’t. But now I do.”

“That was stupid of you,” said the child in his mind, and Thresu thought wistfully of latrines once again. The Rex looked like he might need one soon himself: he was now bright red and fallen to the ground, fully human and completely unaware of it. The wine that flowed through the Kilderkin‘s veins had turned him into a man, but it had made him into a drunk as well. He was rolling around on the ploughed dirt in the field, and looked like he’d become extremely interested in everyone’s shoes.

“That’s the threatening one dealt with,” said Destange, “so now we can have some fun. It doesn’t do, when such lowly creatures go about calling themselves Lords of Time. I think we’ve a need, dearie–“ she glowered at the Doctor “–to go putting you in your place.”

Don’t worry,” said Chris’s voice in Thresu’s head. “The Doctor’s good at things like this. Which seem silly and scary, and which might end up killing you anyway. She’ll make sure that you don’t come to harm.”

The Doctor was backing away with the expression of someone who’d always had an awkward relationship with alcohol, and Thresu thought the voice was being awfully optimistic.

”She looks terrified,” he thought to whoever was speaking to him, and had a telepathic sense that they were getting very exasperated indeed.

Then tell her what I said,” said the voice in his mind like a sigh. ”She likes that, I think. When she’s given encouragement by a child.”

“You can do it, Doctor,” said Thresu through gritted teeth. “That child in my head says she just knows it.”

The Doctor looked at him. “Did she really say that?” she said.

Yes,” said his own voice and the one in his head simultaneously.

The Doctor looked like someone who’d turned up to be guillotined and had a surprise party thrown for her instead. “It’s just. Well. Everything’s been less… child-friendly than I’d hoped, and I wasn’t sure if she’d–“

She was cut off as a vine from the Kilderkin cracked the air.

“Right!” she said. “Not dying! Doing that, before we go about getting all maudlin.” She took out her salt shaker again, twisting the top of it in a delicate and particular way. The salt that had been gently rising in it slammed its way to the top, the attractive power of the whale amplified by whatever the twisting had done. With her free hand, she whipped out her sonic screwdriver and pointed it directly at Lady Destange.

“You’re right, you know,” she said to her. “We’re not so stately, us Time Lords. Play a big game talking up the rules, but when it comes down to it?” She grinned. “That just means we know how to break them.”

The sound of the screwdriver was an argument to the universe, that the woman made out of a grape was also a great pile of salt. And there was a massive attractive force being created by the Doctor’s tiny shaker, calling all the salt in the area towards the creature that was the biggest lump of all. The piece of the Kelest that had been floating around them wrapped round Thresu’s arm to keep from blowing away, and tiny flecks on the ground were flying in one direction through the air. Lady Destange opened her mouth to say something, but before she could was barrelled back at a phenomenal speed, further and further backwards until she disappeared into the distance.

“She’s gone!” said Thresu. “You got rid of her forever, just like that!”

“Not exactly,” said the Doctor. “I’ve sent her back to the whale. She’ll hit it at great speed; it’ll take her out of commission for a while. But she’ll be back to drink everyone, before too long.”

“Then,” said Thresu with a frown, “was there any point to anything we just did at all?”

“Buying time,” she said. “Everything that happens here, you have to understand that. It’s all about buying time.”

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Chapter 14: Chapter 13

Lorna and Herminius stood together by his long, low house, looking out down the hill to the brown of the city beyond. It looked nothing at all like Lorna had ever imagined Rome; more like an old industrial town that had been squeezed into too small a space. She was very aware that almost everything she knew about the city hadn’t happened yet, and that anything she might say about what she did know could send Herminius mad. But she’d found the not saying much had made him suspect she was hiding something, and he seemed more tense now the two of them were alone.

“If you both dislike our time so much,” he said. “The guts of fishes, and the guts of men. Then why come here at all? If the future is so full of marvels.”

“It’s not so great when you live in it. And I’ve always wanted to go to Rome. I mean, nothing I wanted to see is here, but, you know. It was a goal.”

“Your daughter seemed appalled that I might keep slaves,” said Herminius. “I wondered if you once might have been one.”

Lorna laughed. “Maybe it feels like it sometimes!” she said. “But no, nobody is where we’re from. A person owning another person… that’s wrong, isn’t it? Really wrong. And if someone said I could do it just because of the city I was from,” she shook her head, “it’s mad. You all think it here, of course. And you’ve been good to me and Chrissy, you have. But thinking of how when we’re gone, you’ll turn our room over to that” – she shuddered. "I’m not even sorry. It’s wrong.”

If Herminius was offended by that, he didn’t show it. He was frowning out at his city as though it was offending him too, for a reason that had nothing to do with slavery. He looked deeply and profoundly troubled, like Lorna’s existence had forced him to consider something he’d been trying to forget.

“A world without slaves,” he said. “I almost said it was unthinkable, but because of you I have thought of it. It’s the first step to it actually happening. And perhaps it makes me think… of some other impossible things.”

“You’re very open minded, for your time.”

“Our minds are sliced open with swords. Five hundred years, since kings were gone from Rome! But since his rule, it seems like their time might come again. You’ll know of him, of course, in the future,” he said, before intoning a name that Lorna had never heard.

“I’m sorry,” she said in a way that was obviously truthful, “I’ve no idea who that is.”

Herminius’s face lightened. “Then maybe there is hope for the future! A man who can make us slaughter each other in the streets, like gladiators do for sport. For him to be forgotten, as if nothing had happened at all!”

His face darkened again.

“Unless there was worse to come, of course. And a man would come who’d turn on the city for good. Crush all of Rome, and rule it for all of his life.”

Lorna hesitated. A part of knew she shouldn’t, but at the same time she wasn’t so sure at all. She imagined what she’d shout, at someone who knew all the secrets of her future, and what she’d say if the Doctor did to her what she was doing to Herminius right now.

“Have you heard,” she said as delicately as she could, “of a man called Julius Caesar?”

Herminius burst out laughing.

Caesar! We don’t have anything to fear from him. He’s just vain, and money-grubbing. More concerned with people knowing who he is, than the business of being in power.” He shook his head. “No, that’s not the kind of man I’m worried about. Even last year, all the trouble with the pirates. One man appointed to rule the city, and I know I wasn’t the only one who thought he might never stop. Once it’s been shown to be possible. It might only be a matter of time.”

He looked at Lorna with exhausted eyes, and suddenly he could have been anyone who she knew.

“Tell me,” he said. “Truthfully. Am I right to fear it as I do? Will a king come once again to Rome?”

Lorna looked at the fear in his eyes and the paleness in his skin, and for a second she understood what it might feel like to live as the Doctor.

“No,” she said, as enthusiastically as she could, “not that I know of. Two thousand years from now the city’s still here, and it never gets ruled over by even a single king.”

Herminius’s face brightened very slightly.

“Then perhaps I can relax a little.”

“That’d be nice,” said Lorna. “Relaxing’s good, when you’re having some time of your own.”

She looked over to the house where her daughter was playing with the salt things, and hoped she at least had a little less to think about with them.

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Chapter 15: Chapter 14

“You’re stupid!” Chris was saying in Thresu’s mind. The Doctor had suggested they deserved a treat after everything they’d been through with the Kilderkin, and had given him some food that wouldn’t be invented for a while. He chewed on the unnaturally soft and sweet thing as they made their way to where the whale must be, and tried very hard to forget the trials of his day.

But it turned out the voice in his head wanted to fight him as soon as they’d finished with the grape, berating him for not just running away.

“We’d take you!” it was saying. “We’ve got a special machine! Nobody would find you; no one would know. You’d have a whole new life as something that wasn’t a slave.”

“But I’d know,” he said with his mind. “It’d follow me everywhere, just like you’re doing now. A high, annoying voice that would always be stuck in my head. It’d always judge me, and I’d know it was always right.”

“She’s right, you know,” said the Doctor.

Thresu looked horrified. “You’re in my head, as well? There’s a lot in there I’d rather that nobody saw!”

“Oh, I’ve seen worse, all the minds I’ve rummaged around in. But I’ve no interest in going into yours. I’ve all of time and space to explore! There’s bigger monsters there than in your mind.”

“Then”–

“I know what she’s saying,” said the Doctor, “because I should be saying it too. You don’t need to be here, not now. You absolutely could get away. You wouldn’t have to leave Rome, even. There’s a thing I can do, though I shouldn’t do it often. Change you just a bit, so you can’t be recognised anymore. A face that’s not quite the one of the person who ran away. I never even asked your name, you know,” she said, “so I couldn’t even tell if you chose yourself a new one.”

Thresu shook his head. “I’d still be running away from what the Republic is. Our roles; they’re how we show each other the merit we have as men. It’s not enough to slip away from them, even if we’re never caught. If we did, how would we know how much anyone was really worth?”

“I think everyone’s worth the same. That’s why I’ve come so far, to save the creature down there.”

She nodded down to the bottom of the valley where they’d arrived. The salt whale lay there oblivious to the world; pink-white and larger than anything that lived on the Earth. It was angular and jagged, but somehow animal-like as well: like a sculptor had tried to carve a thing from a sailor’s story.

But then people were carving at the whale itself, hacking away with scythes and knives. It had been in pain so long that it had given up on roaring: now it just sat there, waiting for the end to come. But a Salineoptera could withstand a lot, and the Doctor knew it would be some time before this one would die.

As she looked at the men and women chipping away at the creature, suddenly the Doctor saw things through different eyes, harsh and grey below eyebrows she no longer had. The people were monsters, who should have known better. The creature was an innocent, another victim of the human race. There were no nuances to it, no complexity. No starving children at home or families judging you for destitution. There were only the people who were evil and the whale who was very good, and the eyes that were watching who got to decide which was which.

But then that sort of judgement was what the Doctor was. To think anything else would go against what she’d been for a very long time indeed. But Rome’s Republic had lasted for a very long time as well, and that wouldn’t mean anything when it fell.

In her memory she was an old man looking down at the Earth, at all its people screaming to be saved. She was turning away from all of them to save a single creature, and she’d known as she did it she was very, very wise…

...it had always been more difficult than they knew, to be the Doctor. And it didn’t seem fair, in that second, that it now had to get harder still.

“She was right, y’know,” sighed the Doctor. “Not enough to be a lady, if you’re still going to act like a lord. And I don’t think she’d have put it like that, and in a way that proves my point.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Thresu.

“I’m saying we need to use our imaginations,” said the Doctor. “And think about how our world could be. A world where you matter, as much as anyone else. Whether they’re a citizen or a slave. Where you matter even if you do something,” she sighed, “like refuse to rescue a salt whale. To put it out of its misery, and let the people sell on its remains.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” said Thresu. “It’d be barbaric!”

“But I’m a barbarian!” laughed the Doctor. “Full of odd customs and from very far away. But people and monsters, Romans and barbarians.” She shrugged. “Sometimes, you need to see things in a different way. Killing a whale, you know, next to a whole society selling people. It’s not a comparable thing. But to rebel against what everyone believes, even when it’s monstrous”– she shook her head. “I know just how hard that can be.”

She looked at him, like she was trying to see the person stuck into the body.

“What’s your name?” she asked him.

“Thresu,” he said, and she smiled with the whole of her face.

“You know,” she said, “I had no idea if you were going to tell the truth.”

“You’ve been honest to me.”

“Partially.”

She sighed.

“Then have a good life, Thresu. Try not to kill any whales. Or people. And maybe brace up for a rocky few decades. It’s not just the salt, that’s going to end up dead.”

Thresu looked at her, thinking of everything she’d said and everything he’d seen. The world was very big, was the point of being a slave to the mysteries. Perhaps it was big enough, that he didn’t have to be one any more.

“Do it,” he said. “Make me a new man.”

“Not quite,” she said, smiling as her hand began to glow. “It’s just a new face. There’s so much in us, isn’t there, that never really changes at all?”

It was, she reflected as she bought her hand to his head, exactly the wrong thing to say before going to kill off a whale.

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Chapter 16: Chapter 15

It had been quick, at least; she’d seen to that. She’d looked it in the eyes, and not said she was sorry. If she had, then the whale might have forgiven her, and at that moment it would have been too much for her to bear.

There had been a scent of alcohol on its dying breath. Lady Destange must have gone inside to recover, to the remains of her ship that would be deep within the whale. The Doctor tracked the whiff of it and picked her way through the carcass with her torch, before at last she saw the Kilderkin squeezed tight within her wreck..

“Ah, Doctor!” said Lady Destange. “No friend, I see. Only the nobility, eh, for this little showdown of ours?”

“I don’t want a showdown. Just for you to go away.”

“But I do want that, you see; I want that very much. It’s a thirsty business, you know, getting catapulted into a whale. Makes one want revenge, and an awful lot of blood. Be it Time Lord, human, all of it.” She giggled. “You’ve made me want to get properly totty.”

“I looked for the bit that didn’t fit, you see,” said the Doctor, ignoring her, “and thought about why it’d be. You’re here for blood, but you turn people to gold, and that doesn’t make any sense! Less blood to drink; heavier to lift. You wouldn’t waste your time with that. Unless you were poor,” she said triumphantly, “and the whole Lady business was a ruse. You go somewhere no one can find you to do something nobody knows you can do, and go back to your planet with gold and the finest blood! You can buy your way to really being a lady, after that. And to an outsider it might look like you weren’t so different to a person hacking away at–“ she frowned. “Why are you laughing at me?”

Lady Destange was doubled over, laughing heavily while wheezing from her wounds. “You sound so clever!” she said, “as you get it completely wrong. Gold is worthless where I’m from; that’s what makes it so funny! These people and that metal, they’re both so valueless, but to turn one worthless thing to another and see everyone act as if it matters! Ha!” She steadied herself. “I know you want a sob story, dear,” she said. “But the truth’s the truth. I’m exactly the person I say I am. The drinking, the killing, all of it. I just did it all because I found it fun.”

“Oh, come on,” said the Doctor. “I was going to make a clever point, don’t you see? I had a big speech; it was going to be really good. But you’re just utterly evil, aren’t you? It doesn’t work if you’re just evil!”

She took a tiny sachet from a pocket and shook it, setting some impossible chemistry in motion.

“I didn’t want to have to do this,” said the Doctor.

The sachet burst apart as the thing inside it expanded, and in a second a tall glass bottle had formed within her hands.

Lady Destange’s eyes widened. “You can’t!” she said softly. Then: “YOU CAN’T!” loudly and desperately.

“It won’t kill you,” said the Doctor. “It’ll just be incredibly unpleasant.”

The Kilderkin continued to plead as the glass of the bottle began to gently ring.

“Know what they told me on my medical degree?” said the Doctor. “That if something’s going to hurt badly, you always say it’ll hurt a little less than it will. ‘Cause it means your patient knows that things’ll be bad; they’ll be prepared for it. But you don’t panic them, not more than you have to do.”

She raised the bottle above her head.

“So this,” she said, “will hurt more than you can possibly imagine.”

The cork came off the bottle with a pop, and the Doctor closed her eyes as Lady Destange began to scream.

A sound filled the air like a glass being poured in reverse, and the smell of alcohol filled up the Doctor’s nostrils. After a while she opened her eyes, to find herself alone and with a bottle full of the most wonderful wine she’d ever smelled. She turned it over sadly in her hands, her face like she was looking at a patient who’d fallen into a coma.

“Blood and wine,” she said to herself sadly.

She walked back out of the broken and rocky corpse.

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Chapter 17: Chapter 16

Chris sat with her mother on the balcony over the hill, watching the sun set above the city. Beside them, Herminius poured out a clay jar of water, for them all to sip as they saw the warm night set in.

“It’s beautiful,” Lorna said.

“No it isn’t,” said Chris.

“No,” said Lorna. “But I’m glad you’re here. It doesn’t all have to be so bad, see? The wonders of time and space.”

“It’s not so bad,” said Chris, smiling at her.

Behind them was a grumpy muttering, as the Doctor came up to where they stood.

“Hello, Doctor,” said Lorna. “Save the whales?”

“Killed the whale. It’s not been one of my better days. Of course, maybe if I’d had some help”–

“Oh, we’d just have got in your way. And we’ve had a nice time here, on our holidays.”

“You’re happy?” said the Doctor, surprised.

“I am!” laughed Chris.

“She is! And I am, too. Taking us here, Doctor… it was a nice thing to do. So thank you for doing it, really. From both of us.”

The Doctor somehow looked both enormously happy and incredibly sad.

“There’s no need to thank me,” she said, “it’s sort of what I do.”

She was quiet for a long time.

“It makes you think, though,” she said eventually.

“Does it?” said Lorna.

“A whole society of people, all frustrated and angry. Who all thought that everything would never change, but who’ve now been shown that it can. If someone is cruel and stubborn enough, and doesn’t care about what he destroys.”

“I wasn’t thinking about that,” said Chris. “I was playing with these little salt things.”

“Yes,” said the Doctor, “but isn’t it interesting? To see a place like this that seems to be at peace, but which is clearly on the verge of… of something”–

“They have very good olives here,” said Lorna. “They’ve been a lot better than I was expecting.”

“Oh, sod it all,” said the Doctor, and stormed off into the house.

“She shouldn’t swear,” said Chris.

“No,” said Lorna. “It’s not appropriate at all.”

They stayed for a while to watch the setting sun.

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Chapter 18: Chapter 17

Lorna stayed out that night, long after it had become far darker than it ever would at home. She looked up into space from her wrong place in time, and despite everything she’d talked about she now felt deeply at peace.

The bright and historically inaccurate light of an electric torch shone into her as the Doctor came out of the house.

“It was cancerous,” said the Doctor. “Herminius’s salt. If we’d left it alone it’d have grown and grown, in the way that a crystal can. Devoured the whole city; maybe more. I’ve sorted it now; it won’t go on getting bigger. But our host might be less jolly than he has been, when morning comes.”

“That doesn’t bother me,” said Lorna, “as long as we can still stay a while.”

“Oh yes,” said the Doctor. “Yes, we’ll definitely be doing that. If you keep on saving the world, you probably should have a really good holiday on it sometimes. I’ll have to leave soonish, to drop off some wine to its family. But you and Chris can stay as long as the both of you want.”

She went up beside her friend and shone the light over the hill, picking out the roof of the Senate beyond.

“The Roman Republic,” she said. “Almost half a millennium old. So old you’d think it’d last forever; but the person who extinguishes it’s already lived almost half the life he’ll have. And no one really remembers this place, this Rome. Only the one that replaces it, and the names of the people who did. Julius Caesar, Claudius and Augustus. Emperors. When something’s very, very old, it can be hard to remember,” she said, “how it’s often the oldest things who get to die.”

She hesitated for a moment.

“When I took us here, Lorna. What I was trying to say was”–

“Oh, hush. You think I didn’t see what you were trying to do in a second? People aren’t idiots, y’know. You can’t forget that, just because you’re clever. I don’t want to be taught a lesson. I just want to have a rest. To forget about everything, for a change..”

The Doctor looked round to Herminius’s house.

“It’s not a great place, for a holiday,” she admitted.

“It’s nice! It’s warm and sunny and the air is so fresh; there’s all sorts of new things to see. If we stay here a while, I might even get a tan. Then people’ll wonder where I was.”

She turned to her friend.

“Do you know how long it’s been,” she said, “since me and Christina last had a holiday? I’ve been so tired, Doctor. Even before all that’s happened. I just wanted to go somewhere where I didn’t have to worry, see? Just for a while. And everything you’re worrying about, right now. It’s all such a long way away.”

“Perhaps,” said the Doctor reluctantly.

Lorna laughed. “Maybe I’m the one who should be the psychiatrist, eh?”

“This isn’t really what the job involves.”

“Well. Maybe it’s something to think about. When you’re out doing your other job.”

“Not now,” said the Doctor, smiling. “We’re on holiday.”

They stood together in the night for a while, looking at stars that had no thought of invading.

“Getting late”, said Lorna eventually. “We’d better turn in for the night.”

They walked together into the modest home.

Thousands of years in the future, no one would think of that night when they thought of Rome. No legions marched up the hill where the TARDIS now sat; no murals graced its tall and crumbling buildings. In roasting schools for centuries, children would learn the names of kings– but there are no kings in Rome, and for a while yet there’d be no emperors either. Instead, people whose names no future would know kept time in their tiny city, unaware that in an even smaller room slept a person who had saved them all.

History is a series of books and pictures, and a number of terrible men. And in her time the Doctor has met all those terrors, has fought them and loved them and at her worst been them as well. But it is not for those men the Doctor saves the world, and not through reading of them that she cares for history. She finds the wonder of our world in our unremembered lives, which if they go unwritten about are still not forgotten by her. The children playing games through the legs in a crowded street; the laughter in a language that no book now recalls. The memories of the places that no one will remember, holed up in a woman so that at least someone does. The Doctor saves the world so we can go on living those lives.

She saves it so that sometimes we can go on a holiday.

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