The Ends of the Earth by vegetables
On the planet of Sellan with its six strange suns, a very tall man was looking straight up at the sky. He was as lanky as he was long, dressed in a blue shirt and enormous spectacles. A clock was stitched into his left breast pocket, and a prominent watch was strapped onto the top of his wrist.
“I know you’re here,” he said, as he squinted into the sunlight. “You’ve got a bit of a smell to you, I’m afraid.”
He turned round to face a pile of rocks behind him, giving it an awkward wave with his gangly arms.
The rocks seemed to bristle, somehow.
“A warrior of the Stenza does not hide!” shouted a voice from behind them.
“You are, though, as far as I can see,” said the man. “Hiding.”
“I am stalking!” roared the rocks. “As a hunter stalks its prey! And a trophy torn from the Doctor themselves would mark me as a champion indeed!”
The warrior rose from behind the rocks at last, grinning with as many teeth as were stuck in his face.
“Good for you,” said the man, as he now grinned back. “Bad for me, of course. Just have one question first. If you wouldn’t mind.”
The warrior of the Stenza clearly did. He flung himself at the man, who sidestepped neatly, looking mildly interested as his foe crashed into the ground.
“Love the enthusiasm,” said the man, cheerfully. “Let’s put a bit of that in your answer, as well. Tell me: right now. What time is it?”
“It is time for you to die!” snarled the Stenza as he got to his feet.
“No, not like that,” said the man. “In the strictly chronological sense. I shouldn’t need to ask, of course!” he laughed. “With a fellow like you around, it’s clear that the answer’s tooth hurty.”
The Stenza roared, lunging forward with a giant blade made out of the sinew and bone of his enemies. The man stepped to one side, without looking bothered at all.
“That’s fair, sir,” he said. “It is what that joke did deserve. Puns or a root canal, eh? One’s almost as painful as the other.”
The Stenza was extremely angry now. He lunged again, and once more he crashed into the ground.
“Tell me when you’re finished with that,” said the man. “I’ve another question for you.”
The Stenza snarled. “The only question you should be asking, creature, is which of your organs you wish my blade to spare until last!”
The man ignored that comment completely. Instead, he produced a silver pocket watch from somewhere, and started to look at it thoughtfully.
“Timepieces,” he said. “Got a thing for them, myself. They’re complex, aren’t they? All these odds and ends, just ticking away.”
He stared into the eyes of the Stenza, who was taken in by it all, despite himself.
“My question to you, good man,” he said, wiggling his pocket watch. “Which one has the most moving parts?”
The Stenza warrior paused for a moment, reflecting on it.
“On the Eighth of the Nine Systems there stands a clock,” he said at last, “which is erected to the glory of my people. When the Stenza stood victorious, we gathered every living thing, and from each one we tore out a single bone. And each was carved into part of that mighty clock. Its chimes now sound our triumph to the dead!”
The man looked back at him, eyes slightly narrowed.
“Right,” said the man. “Well, that’s disgusting. Wrong, too, as it happens. No, it’s a timepiece just like this.”
He waggled the pocket watch once again, and laughed.
“It was in front of you all along!” he said. “Funny how things turn out, eh? You’re laughing a little; I can see that you’re showing your teeth.”
The Stenza scowled and spat on the ground.
“A trifle like that?” he said. “The clock of the Stenza stood high and tall.”
“No,” said the man. “It’s an hourglass. That’s the answer I was looking for.”
He clicked a button on the top of the pocket watch and it flicked open, sand pouring out of it as it did.
The man grinned with unnerving delight.
“Sand, see,” he said, pointing as it fell. “I made it full of sand.”
The Stenza screamed with fury, trying to snatch away the watch.
“Oy, now,” said the man, as he swiped it away. “That’s a meticulous piece of engineering!”
An alarm went off on the pocket watch, a furious beep. The sand that was still pouring out of it began flashing red.
“Unusual,” said the man, clicking the pocket watch shut. “What’s the time, Mr Tooth?”
He examined the face of it, and frowned. For a moment, any trace of merriment in him was gone.
“Ah, well,” he said. “Commeth the hour, commeth the man, as I say.”
He turned back to the Stenza, looking a little bit sheepish.
“Sorry to be a nuisance, good sir,” he said. “But we’ll have to reschedule this thing we’ve got going on. You killing me, and all that. Something’s come up. Personal matter. Don’t suppose you’d be fine with me taking my leave?”
The Stenza didn’t respond with words. Instead he glared at the man with a hate he had rarely seen, even though he had more enemies the there were stars in the galaxy. On the Warrior’s head each tooth began to crack open, revealing a series deadly and spinning drills.
The man looked back at his furious foe, and sighed.
“Right you are,” he muttered. “Chance would be a fine thing.”
And there always was a chance, as Sel’dywer knew only too well. Where there’s life, there’s hope, the Dice Lady liked to say, and this was the way that she proved it— by gambling on the fate of a people, just before their end should be due.
She’d given him a book to read before he came into the games room. A children’s book, like she’d thought that might lessen the pain. From his planet’s future, a thousand years after his time, explaining how the armies had flooded his city. How no one survived. There was a cartoon underneath, with a little joke. Sel’dywer didn’t think it was really that funny.
The room was before him now, and it wasn’t grand. Wood panels on the walls, a faded carpet, red. A table with a single die upon it. Her.
He reconsidered, as he took her in. Maybe it was a grand room, after all. Maybe anywhere with the Dice Lady in it would be, maybe grandness had to follow her wherever she’d go. She sat still: poised incredibly pale. Like a woman made out of wax, or a dead one embalmed. But then she wasn’t the one whose life was about to be in question.
He let that thought go, because he had to. He smiled. Tried hard not to dwell on his fate.
Red against white, she smiled back.
“Ready to dice with death?” she said.
“I’d bet my life on it,” he replied. “One die, one throw. Five chances.”
He waggled the children’s book still clutched in his hand.
“You roll a one, everything I’ve read in here happens, just as you’ve said it should. Anything else, time’s rewritten. The whole city lives. That’s my understanding of it, right? Those are the rules.”
The Dice Lady steepled her hands, and chuckled slightly.
“Almost,” she said. “There is another detail. Though I expect you know it?”
Sel’dywer snorted. “I know the rumours,” he said. “But rumours are all they are. They don’t stack up.”
“They’re fact, I’m afraid,” the Dice Lady said. “No one’s ever beaten me. They can roll anything but one, but then it’s always one. I’ve always won.”
Sel’dywer looked back at her, feeling ice prick through his blood.
“Forgive me,” he said. “But if I understood correctly. You said you stood for hope. And hope’s not… well. It isn’t a weighted die”—
“And this isn’t a weighted die!” said the Dice Lady. “But. The problem is”—
She frowned, and puffed out her cheeks, and every motion was perfect as she did.
“You think every option’s possible, and they’re all equal,” she said. “You can’t see what’s decided by the force of the throw. By whatever’s already in motion. As far as you see? Anything can happen. But when you’ve peered into the gears of the universe”—
–she was peering hard into his eyes–
“One,” she said. “It’s always one. Because you can’t fight fate.”
“Then why play the game at all?” said Sel’dywer. “To toy with your prey?”
The Dice Lady smiled.
“Because there was a man on a planet that I can’t stand who once said this: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? It’s the definition of insanity. And he also said that God does not play dice.”
Sel’dywer met her gaze, still, though it was piercing and terrible. Her face stared into his, like an awful truth.
“So I play my games for the same reason that I hope,” she said. “I like to think: perhaps that man was wrong.”
She picked up the die.
“But it’s always one,” of course, she said, as she threw it into the air. “You wouldn’t get good odds from many bookkeepers. Except three, of course.”
“They’ve got enough odds between them for the universe”—
In a dome as wide as the sky which was lined entirely with books, a curly-haired man burst through a bright red door. His cheeks were almost as red – from just how fast he’d been running – and his pleasant, open face was drenched with sweat.
“Lads!” he gasped at the two people before him. “Lads!”
The two of them glowered as they looked up from their books. Unsteadily, one of them got to his feet. He was also curly-haired— but his face was unpleasant, and currently it was not accepting visitors.
“What have I told you about calling us lads?” he said. “It isn’t grammatical. She is a woman. And I am against it on principle.”
The woman beside him nodded. Her hair was straight and streaked with white and black, and the openness of her face tended to vary.
“He’s right,” she said, flicking scrunched up paper at the open-faced man. “Is this laddish? Is that?”
She pointed at a picture of the open-faced man she had drawn, which was unspeakable.
The open-faced man paused. He considered the nearly comatose man in front of him, his crystallised drool. The hyperactive woman; the brown splotches on her horrible picture.
An ominous thought occurred to him, as dreadful as any he’d faced in his great many lives.
“Are you on the salted caramel again?” he said.
“Are you on the salted caramel again?” repeated the woman in a high, mocking tone. “Eating the salt and the sugar, while I’m out being ever so good?”
The open-faced man gave a weary sigh.
“Are you…?” he said.”The caramel?””
The woman rolled her eyes, which wasn’t an answer. Behind her on a shallow wooden table, splatters covered a book which was very important indeed.
“You can’t get it on that one, at least!” said the open-faced man. “We’d all be for it then.”
The closed-face man glowered at him, like he might be a caramel stain too.
“Why’re you here, anyway?” he said. “Don’t you have something important to do? I’ve been taking out library books for about a thousand years. They’ll probably soon be overdue.”
The open-faced man looked grave.
“It’s a call from our future,” he said. “The Doctor’s gone bad.”
“Oh god,” said the other man. “I’m not speaking like a teenager again, am I? Trying to be cool?”
“What’s so important about us going bad?” said the woman between mouthfuls of caramel. “That’s happened loads of times. Listen.”
She got out a well-thumbed book and wodged it open.
“Once upon a time,” she began to read, “and long ago…”
Once upon a time – and long ago – all of the darkness within the Doctor coalesced into one single body. Then it happened again, and once more after that. Then it happened a fourth time, as well. Now, there were ten of them, and so now they all needed a leader. The darkest of the darkness, to amalgamate the amalgamations. The High Valeyard.
He was standing before them now: a man with high cheekbones and a wiry cloud of hair, glowering with his piercing and ice-blue eyes. Glaring down at the full Council of Valeyards, assembled around a large, round table. They appeared as ominous as they did evil: eight of them in dark and sinister clothes, and one in a hideous salmon-pink suit.
“What is the purpose of this meeting?” demanded one, a woman who was thin and angular, her boniness unrestricted to her cheeks.
”Evil,” said the High Valeyard, without emotion.
“An evil we commit, or one we oppose?” said the Valeyard who was an old and imperious woman. “We could all be out doing evil if we didn’t have so many meetings.”
The Valeyard in the hideous suit nodded.
“Yes, there’s a lot of admin in Valeyarding, isn’t there?” he said. “Not a lot of people seem to realise that.”
“It is an evil we oppose of which I speak,” said the High Valeyard, cutting him off. “Who I have summoned you all here now to fight against.”
The Valeyard who was stern and fat snorted to himself.
“You know the laws of our Council, High Valeyard,” he said. “For us to move against an evil, it must be truly”—
“Yes, I’m aware,” said the High Valeyard. His emotionlessness was giving way to irritation.
“There is another,” he said. “An incarnation of ourselves that chose to shun natural order. Through her actions, the web of time has broken around her. And yet for her own selfish desire, she now seeks to break it more.”
The youngest and most feared of the Valeyards smirked.
“Most ignoble,” she said. “And yet we do not seek to recruit her.”
The High Valeyard gave a lipless smile.
“This incarnation does not go by the name of The Valeyard,” he said. “And nor does she play by our rules.”
The ancient Valeyard took a long, deep breath, and started to speak in his lilting voice.
”The same could be said of many of our kind,” he said. “For the length of our Reign has been long. There are those who have taken any number of names. And who once took some strange oaths of their own.”
The Valeyard with the awful secret stared right into the High Valeyard’s eyes, and talked to him unflinchingly, trying to outpierce his gaze.
“Tell me,” he said. “This evil you summon us to fight. What name does she go by, out there in the universe? That would be terrible enough to summon the Valeyards themselves?”
The High Valeyard smiled.
“But that’s just it,” he said. “She calls herself The Doctor.”
He watched as the Council erupted in horror and fury.
Far away on the planet Bulgaria Five, a stadium was shouting out almost as loudly as the Valeyards. Behind the stage with identical grins on their faces, two men that looked exactly the same were watching the crowd. Each of them in silver, sequinned tracksuits, both with their light-blonde hair gelled into waves.
“Can you believe it?” one said to the other. “Space Eurovision! I never thought we’d make it to the final!”
“It’s so long since Ireland made it,” said the other. “We’ll do the Emerald Planet proud!”
One of the men looked excitedly behind him at the props being prepared to roll on stage: the two giant silver spheres, each with the same hairstyle as the men. Underneath them and with military precision, an army of Sontaran backing singers were ready to march into action.
The man felt his grin grow wider than perhaps it had been in any of his lifetimes—
—when from the other man’s pocket, something blared with a furious beep.
“Edward?” said the man. “I thought I’d told you to turn your phone off! What if it went off on stage?”
Edward looked back at him, guilt welling up in his eyes.
“I’m sorry, John,” he said. “It’s not my phone. It’s something you told me to turn off a long time ago. Much further back than tonight.”
Apologetically, he produced a strange device from a pocket of his tracksuit.
John stared at him in horror.
“Nothing’s more important than the Space Eurovision,” he said. “We’ve always said it!”
Edward looked at him with a curious expression, one his billions of fans might never have seen.
“Not always,” he said, quietly.
John looked back, apprehension wide in his eyes.
“Edward?” he said. “You’re talking about”—
“Before I was an Edward. Before you were a John.”
“We took an oath,” said John. “We chose to renounce that life. Together.”
The big rolling spheres were wheeling onto the stage. The Sontarans were readying their glitter guns. There wasn’t much time left, to persuade Edward to go on and perform. It called for desperate measures, John knew. From his speechifying days, when he’d been— when he’d been someone very different to now.
“You know what we stand for,” he said. “Music and dancing! Massive performances! There’s no point in a universe if it doesn’t have any joy.”
Edward looked back at him, face totally serious and set.
“There’s no joy without justice, John,” he said, quietly.
John laughed very softly to himself.
“And people really think we’re identical,” he said.
The announcer is shouting their names, and the crowd was going wild. It was everything John had wanted, for as long as he’d ever been a John. He’d almost forgotten that there’d once been another way.
He closed his eyes, and turned away from the applause. Reluctantly, he moved one hand to the top of his tracksuit zipper.
“One last time, then,” he said. “For justice.”
In an effortlessly choreographed motion, the two men unzipped their tracksuits to reveal their t-shirts underneath: one with TIME written on it in large letters, the other with SPACE.
“Doctor,” one noded to the other.
“Doctor”, the other nodded back.
They each thrust a hand into the air, and snapped their fingers
“Jedward no more!” they cried.
”Around the deep black table of the Council, the Valeyards were continuing to rage.”
”It’s unthinkable!” said the imperious old woman. “I mean that; I wouldn’t ever have thought it!”
“This will not do!” shouted the man in the hideous suit, slamming his fist on the table. “This simply will not do!”
The High Valeyard watched them argue, no emotion in his pale blue eyes. He knew how to moderate the Council well enough. He would simply watch, and he would wait.
“I wish to speak!” shouted the Valeyard with the fine, grey beard.
“You are speaking!” spat the Valeyard with the thick ginger hair.
“Then I wish to be heard by you all,” boomed the bearded Valeyard, loud enough that the whole room fell silent before him.
He coughed lightly, and spoke in his calm, reasoned tones.
“It is said that a Valeyard will one day seek to claim all of the Doctor’s lives,” he said. “Yet it appears it is the Doctor who has struck first. If she is to stand for both good and evil, I say there will soon be no space left for us.”
“Indeed,” said the High Valeyard. “It is an existential threat which we now face. And – dare I say it – I believe we are in agreement on how to proceed?”
The youngest Valeyard smiled.
”That’s never happened before,” she said.
“And yet even in eternity, a first time may still occur,” said the High Valeyard.
He raised his voice to a tone that befitted a leader.
”We move against this Doctor. All in favour say AYE!”
”AYE!” roared the ten in the room in one voice.
The High Valeyard smiled like a crocodile who’d just been freed.
“Then it’s settled,” he said. “The Valeyards are going to war.”
In a dome full of books and melancholy, an open-faced man had finally finished explaining himself to two people he was pretty sure wouldn’t be listening.
“So that’s about the size of it,” he said. “Ready to rumble?”
He smiled, then felt his smile fade as the people before him made no effort to move.
The sour-faced man waved a finger at him, and burped.
“Well,” he said. “You’re a very handsome man. And we’ve considered what you have to say.”
“We have,” said the woman. “We’ve got big minds, you know. Really huge ones.”
“I know,” said the open-faced man.
“The thing is,” said the other man. “Time and space. They’re not like… a fudge, like you probably think they are.”
“Don’t interrupt!” shouted the sour-faced man. “You’ll frighten the books. No. What the majesty of the space-time continuum resembles is… a really big lump of salted caramel. Decedent. Oozing. You don’t want to mess with some time and space like that.”
He took a great glob of it in his hand, and began to chew on it disgustingly.
“See?” he said. “That’s time and space, right there. Mimmilly, Mammily. Caramelly, Wammily. A great big lump of the stuff.”
The open-faced man stared at him.
“What does that mean?” he said.
“It means that we’re not bloody going!” snapped the woman.
“The books wouldn’t like it, anyway,” muttered the sour faced man. “There’d be no one around to feed them.”
The open-faced man glowered at them.
“Just me, then,” he said. “Against this threat to the state of the universe.”
“Monologuing!” shouted the woman.
Without looking up, the sour-faced man held up a bit of cardboard with MONOLOGUING written on it in capital letters.
The open-faced man boggled.
“You two would be crap in a Time War,” he muttered as he stormed off.
A long way away, Sel’dywer and the Dice Lady both stared at the die, and what it showed.
“Well,” said the Dice Lady. “That’s never happened before. It looks like today is your lucky day.”
“As they looked at it, the die suddenly started to beep.
“That’s never happened before, either,” she said. “And it means that it isn’t my lucky day. Not at all.”
Sel’dywer didn’t care about the beeping. He was looking at the face of the die with a sense of dread. He knew he shouldn’t say anything, should take his victory. But something got the better of him, all the same.
“Does it count?” he said.
The Dice Lady looked at him as if he had gambled away his brain.
“Why wouldn’t it?” she said. “We established the rules. Anything but one, and your city is spared. I know I’m believed to be cruel. But I do play fair.”
“But,” said Sel’dywer, “but that isn’t even a number”—
“And one is a number, isn’t it? So if I haven’t even managed to roll a number, then I certainly can’t have won. By definition. I assume you follow?”
Sel’dywer began to speak.
“It wasn’t on the dice before you threw it,” he said.
“Yes, well,” said the Dice Lady. “Observer effect, I shouldn’t wonder. Something to think about. Perhaps free will is not an illusion, after all.”
She smiled at him, and somehow the smile seemed genuine.
“But I have to go,” she said. “Got a planet to kill. Enjoy your anachronistic miracle, Sel’dywer.”
Then she was gone, before he’d even thought to notice she was leaving. She’d seemed warmer, in the end, Sel’dywer thought. He hadn’t even realised she’d known his name.
His city was safe. His husbands and his wife would all live on. He should be happy, he knew.
But he couldn’t get it out of his head.
He looked at the die on the table, once again.
On its top face there was a single question mark.
“It can get very complicated, an hourglass,” said the very tall man with a sigh. “There are so many moving parts. Sometimes it does make one wish for a simpler time.”
The dental drills of the Stenza were flying towards him, and as they did the man moved jerkily, uncoordinatedly. It looked like he had no control over his awkward body. But when he stood straight again, none of the drills had hit home.
“The timepiece with the fewest moving parts, of course?” he said as he lightly brushed his shirt. “That’s your sundial. Only two pieces to get if you’ll make one of those. All you need’s a star, like that one”—
An egg timer rang in his pocket as the fifth sun of Sellan lit the sky. At exactly the right angle to reflect through the crystals that hung in the air, creating a ray of hot and furious light.
—“and a shadow,” finished the man.
He looked at the blackened smear which was once a Stenza warrior.
“How about that, then?” he said. “It really was two thirty, after all.”
He looked at his beeping pocket watch again, and frowned.
“Funny, really”, he muttered. “Not like I’ve got time to kill.”
Light glinted in his glasses, and he smiled to himself.
“Right”, he said. “Let’s get a shift on.”
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.
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