The Ends of the Earth by vegetables
Reality spluttered and fractured around the Doctor— and then she was in the same place, and somewhere else. Another London, another time. Somewhere in the 2020s, judging by the skyline. And from the state of the streets, not long after something Not Good.
They were nearly deserted, at least by human beings. The only real noise was the sound of other Doctors nearby— attacking each other with zaps and flashes, spouting witticisms as they fought. A child in a flying wheelchair zoomed high above her, lasers firing at the dragon she used to be.
Posters lined the walls: about COVID, or something like it. The Doctor ordered them into a timeline by their various states of decay. STOP THE SPREAD. THE CURFEW CONTAINS. STAY ALIVE: STAY INSIDE.
She saw the freshest among them, and her hearts clenched.
CARRY ON, it said, with black background, bold text, a crown. The text obscured by bright pink spray, the word CARRION graffitiing it out.
The shadow of someone fell over her, long and tall in the afternoon light. She turned around to see a man with a curious smile, who was somehow even taller still.
“No time like the present, eh?” he said, a glint in his over-large spectacles. “Everything’s science fiction. Until it happens.”
The Doctor looked over to him, up at his eyes.
“You’re me,” she said.
The man nodded.
“That’s the size of it,” he said. “You’re giving a bit of special treatment to the loved ones, so I’ve heard.”
“And it’s understandable. Many do. Can’t let it happen, of course. Not on my watch.”
He twiddled a dial on the clock on the side of his wrist, its hands now rotating, spinning backwards. As they did, time reversed around both Doctors, a newsreel showing what had happened to this world. Black lorries shovelling corpses, then corpses piling up. The corpses when they were still people, collapsing down onto the street. Everything backwards until the Doctors were standing in an ordinary London morning, with everyone walking about like the world was normal.
The tall man watched, observing it all, his expression obscured under the cold frame of his glasses.
“Time was,” he said to the Doctor, “you understood why all this had to happen. But they’ve broken you, haven’t they? Gone fumbling about in your gears.”
He gave her a jolly grin.
“Not to worry, though,” he said. “I’ll have you back to normal in a tick. Or a tock. It’s this clock I have that does it, is what I mean.”
He took a pocket watch out of his shirt and gave it a cheery shake.
“Nice bit of kit you’ve got there,” said the Doctor. “There’s just one problem. I don’t need fixing.”
She raised her screwdriver, its orange bulb starting to glow. The tall man gave an appreciative whistle as he heard it begin to screech.
“Would you look at that!” he said. “Nothing like any weapon I’ve ever seen. Won’t work, I’m afraid. No weapons do. Might knock me about a little, of course. Make me someone shorter; no worries there. Been a hard time getting clothes in this body.”
“Don’t lose track of your tailor just yet,” said the Doctor as the sound increased to a deafening whirr. “Because this isn’t a weapon.”
“It’s a screwdriver,” she said.
The man’s eyes boggled in panic, racing over to the back of the watch. There, the screws are merrily coming loose from their tiny bolts.
”Well,” he muttered. “That’d do it.”
The watch erupted from the back in a hail of sand, pummelling into the tall man’s face, etching scars into his glasses. The Doctor started to run – to run anywhere, as long as it was away – but as she did the world went green around her—
—and she was in another Earth, this time with leaves everywhere. Really everywhere: covering the skyline, the buildings. There were leaf-covered lumps sticking up everywhere, and the Doctor knew that they must once have been people. There was a storm of oxygen in her nostrils, far too pure. This must be a place where the plants had fought back, then. There would be no other life living here, except for them.
Except, of course, there was other life passing through. Her other selves, standing tall in the wind-tousled leaves. On one side, a man in camouflaged medical overalls, an indigo face mask tucked in the pocket of his gown. Five other men beside him, cloaked with the same clothes and face, but with those faces coloured by masks all the colours of the rainbow. Blue was missing, though. They were every colour other than blue.
And on the other side, there was only one Doctor, her face an arched smile at her foes. She was tall. She was bald. And she carried a flaming sword.
The Doctor with the indigo face mask was shouting at her, his scalpel outstretched.
“Of course you’re going to use it!” he was saying.
“I told you,” replied the Doctor he was fighting. “The sword’s not used for violence.”
“You’re a Doctor,” replied the man in the indigo mask. “So ask any of my Surgeon Generals. Medicine and violence? They’re really only a matter of degree.”
Watching her past and future selves bicker, the Doctor felt the truth sink in: she didn’t really have a plan here, not at all. Only to survive long enough to be someone who’d pick up a flaming sword, then become extremely good at never using it. So for now, she hid behind the largest clump of leaves, trying her best not to become involved.
“You misunderstand me,” her future self was saying to the Surgeon Generals. “The sword’s not for violence. It’s for holding the violence back. If I don’t try very hard, it might escape.”
Nearer than should have been possible, there was an enormous and distinctly non plant-based roar.
“Oh,” said the future Doctor distantly. “My mind must have been somewhere else.”
“There aren’t any animals here!” spat the Chief of the Surgeon Generals. The plants wiped them all from the face of this Earth. Where could they even be from?”
“Eden,” the future Doctor said.
The Chief Surgeon General scowled. “But Eden isn’t real.”
“No,” said the future Doctor. “That’s why it was such a good place to hide them.”
From behind her clump of leaves, the Doctor ducked as lions and buffaloes and so many other animals burst out from under the greenness; their teeth bared, their claws outstretched. The masks over the Surgeon Generals’ faces couldn’t disguise their fear as the menagerie barrelled towards them.
“This animal rabble can’t ever stop us, Doctor!” the Chief of them desperately cried. “We’re military vets! With a veterinary degree!”
All six of them brandished their scalpels, and the tall, bald Doctor held her sword straight on—
And as the animals leapt towards the Generals the Doctor felt herself knocked to the ground, her big blue coat heavy against her back. There was a slash of red against the green, and for a moment the Doctor thought it must be blood—
But no. She was in another world, the woman and surgeons gone. A red sky under chimneys belching flame. A ginger-haired man, all dressed in black above her. Sneering at her, with a face made of pure contempt.
“You think you have the wit to truly be evil, Doctor?” he said, scoffing. “Mere fantasy. For you will weep when you see your precious world of man enslaved to the whims of the Valey—ow!”
He reeled from the stone which had smacked hard between his eyes.
“The Valeyow?” said the Doctor.
“No!” roared the man. “The Valeyard!”
The Doctor looked at him pityingly.
“If I’m being honest,” she said. “The Valeyow and the Valeyard. They’re both pretty equal in sounding unthreatening.”
The Valeyard glared through the bruise on his face, drawing himself to his full height.
“Folly, Doctor,” he said. “As now you will now be witness to just how threatening a Valeyard can be!”
He raised his hands and the flames from the chimneys burned bright, as a dreadful thrumming sound began to fill the air. Over his blue-bruised and red-haired face, the Valeyard began to grow a terrible grin—
And another stone hit him on the side of the head with a thwack. He gave a small, pathetic squeak, and fell to the ground.
The Doctor turned round to see a woman who was smiling, a a child’s catapult held inside he r hand. Her hair was dyed vivid red, and tattoos of question marks scrolled down her arms.
“Don’t worry,” said the woman. “You’ll be ginger on your own terms soon enough.”
The Doctor smiled back, getting ready to say something—
But then there was a crackle and she was somewhere else, which was white like death. Bone earth, bone sky. A silence. There was a disc in the sky that was flat and red. It stood cold in the air above her, a coin of a sun.
It was strange to hear silence, after all that fighting. There was only one other Doctor here, and she was standing still. A grey streak in her hair, a book clenched in her hand— its cover splattered with something like hardened sugar.
This other self regarded the Doctor strangely, like an old woman peering at a child. The Doctor, meanwhile, was observing that other self’s hands, where electricity crackled and seethed.
“You’re with the Reign,” she said.
The woman with the streak in her hair smiled.
“Is that what you think?” she said. “History’s always more complicated than it seems. You’d know that, if you’d read enough books. Or remembered them.”
She frowned, looking at the Doctor, and looking distant.
“I wonder how much you do remember,” she said. “Of everything you were.”
The Doctor looked at her as well, confused.
“You’re talking like you already know who I am,” she said.
Her other self smiled.
“The Timeless Reign has no idea. Don’t worry. Some of us made very sure of that.”
She gave the Doctor a sly wink, and a knowing grin.
“History is complicated”, she whispered.
“You were me, once,” she added. “And a long time after that you were her; you were the Doctor that summoned us here. So everything you need to know should already be in your head. And if it isn’t? It’ll be in here.”
She handed over the sugar-spattered book, and the Doctor tentatively flicked through its pages. Every one of them was completely and totally blank.
“I’m beginning to appreciate why other people might find me annoying,” said the Doctor.
“Don’t think about the Doctor you’re fighting,” her other self said. “Think about what happened next. Tiny moments of memory; fleeting images. You must have some idea.”
The Doctor frowned, scrunching up her face as she concentrated.
“I do remember some of it,” she said. “But it’s so strange. It feels like it can’t ever have happened.”
“Then maybe it didn’t,” said her other self.
The Doctor looked at her. “What’re you saying?”
“That everything that happened next is in there,” said her other self, gesturing at the book.
The Doctor looked down at the empty pages, hearing Judith’s voice from what now felt like so long ago. “Sometimes, it feels like the only way out is killing yourself,” it echoed in her mind.
“If you know all this,” she said to the other self before her, “why don’t you just tell me what’s going on?”
Her other self gave a half smile.
“Because from what I’ve read,” she said. “you’ve always been asking a question. And that means – deep down – that you already know the answer. It’s always been about whatever you really are.”
The Doctor frowned. “So you’re saying”—
“Your future’s an open book,” said her other self.
She smiled at her.
“Good luck,” she whispered.
And then she was gone, and that world was. The Doctor was falling down, back into the clearing, landing hard on the trampled grass. The real timeline, the real world.
She got up to her feet, her eyes locking onto Doctor Clayton. Above them in another world, Daleks turned the sky to orange fire.
“Let this end,” said the other Doctor. “Let it go.”
“That’s what you want?” said the Doctor, feeling her body shaking.
Not averting her eyes, she took her ray gun from a pocket in her coat, pointing it right at the other Doctor’s chest.
“Over my dead body,” she said.
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