Sentiment Before Sense Episode 2 by Sarah Jane Smith
Summary: Because sometimes heroes are hopelessly brave and can’t bear to see anyone suffer but there are consequences to making a bargain with the devil, no matter who will suffer if you don’t.
Categories: Sarah Jane Adventures, Thirteenth Doctor
Characters: Graham O'Brien, Other Character(s), Ryan Sinclair, The Doctor (13th), The Doctor (Ruth), The Master (Dhawan), Yasmin Khan
Genres: Action/Adventure, Series
Series: Sentiment Before Sense
Chapter 1: Prologue
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 1: Prologue
Author's Notes: Summary: Ruth is born.
Missy stared hard at the cracked stone of the cell with glassy eyes. She had been in this single room for longer than the lifespan of most creatures in the galaxy. With every passing day, she appreciated the Doctor’s mercy in visiting her in the vault he had kept her in more. He had provided her with books and a piano and conversation.
She was certain she had long since gone mad. She couldn’t be bothered to check, she couldn’t be bothered to move. To what purpose stride around her tiny box as though she were a caged animal.
There was a noise outside, boot on floor, but she didn’t bother to glance up. It was simply a guard checking the prisoners. She heard the slow tread stop outside each door until it finally stopped at hers, the face peered in at her, checking she was present and accounted for.
After all these years, she was past acknowledging this moment with commentary or questions or flirtatious waves. She instead said nothing, and continued to look into the cracked stone. And this time, it was the guard who broke the silence between them, a shocked voice she hadn’t heard in eons.
“It’s Missy now,” she didn’t look at him. Perhaps this was a sign of her madness, perhaps she was having this conversation with nobody.
“What are you doing here?”
And of all things, it was that which made her believe that he must be the Doctor. Surely, her own mind would conjure the most recent version of him, long face looking tragically at her as he told her how she had failed to become the person he had hoped that she would. She rose from the low pallet, all the furniture she had been given, and walked towards the door. It was a version of the Doctor she hadn’t seen for eons, diminutive in size with a ridiculous shaggy haircut and yellow checked trousers.
“Really, Doctor. Are you colour blind in every regeneration?”
He scowled. “You’re in prison and insulting my dress sense. You never did have any sense of priority.”
She shrugged. “Yes, well. I may have committed terrible acts, but your dress sense is truly criminal.”
Missy reached through the bars and took hold of his cloak, rubbing it between thumb and forefinger. “Robes of the Imperial guard in Pyrdonian colours. I’ve never seen you wear this.”
“Well...I grew up. Got a real job.” He put his hand in his pocket, feeling the device he’d been ordered to use on the prisoner. A command he had no intent of following, but wasn’t quite sure how to get out of either.
Her smile was almost fond. “Oh, Doctor. You never grow up.”
She saw the flicker of something like hope in his eyes and reminded herself when (if) she got out of this, to track the Doctor down and ask about this little escapade. The Doctor working for the Imperial Guard? It sounded impossible.
“Why are you here?” he asked again. “I’m sure it was dreadful, you’re locked in the highest security vault, changing times randomly to prevent you from effecting escape or any of your jailors from feeling sorry for you. That’s always been a talent of yours, after all.”
“I...may have gotten myself into a pickle, Doctor.”
He looked at her, unimpressed, and she continued.
“One day, you and I will stand, side by side, to face Mondassian Cybermen, and I fall.”
She could see him watching but, since it was (more or less) true, he detected no hint of a lie on her face. “I’m sorry.”
“Oh, you are. It’s terribly sad. There are many tears and recriminations and much beating of the breast, but there are humans to be saved and Cybermen to be stopped and I tell you to leave me and, hero that you are, you do.”
“But you’re not dead. I didn’t wait for you to regenerate?”
Ah- A careless detail to have forgotten. “You believe it to be my last regeneration. And, due to the nature of the wound, the process is having trouble getting started. Regeneration is...well. You have only had the experience once, Doctor. They get worse. They get more difficult and dangerous and painful and I believed I was going to die.”
“Now you’re just being dramatic.”
“I am not! I lay there on the ground, looking up at the sky and waited for my final moments. And he came to me.”
“Missy! If you please!”
“And what did he want? What was his price?”
“A Time Lord life.”
There was a long, considering silence. The Doctor was still watching her, eyes still fixed on her face. So young, those eyes, she hadn’t seen him this young in...in forever. Civilisations had fallen since the Doctor last looked like this. Her civilisation had fallen since the Doctor had looked like this.
Missy picked up the thread of her narrative. “I came here. Not to now here, to the Gallifrey of my time. Time Lords, as you will learn, are capable of corruption. There are those who are truly rotten amongst us. I planned to choose one who deserved it and offer them up.”
To be fair, the General was little more than a military dictator, she wouldn’t be missed. The fact that Missy could have taken her place, nothing more than a bonus.
“And you were caught.”
Missy gestured around herself. “Obviously. And any day now, my grace period will be up and the Trickster will come to take what he is owed from me.”
Dark eyes regarded her for a second longer. “Do you have a plan?”
“I assure you, Doctor, if I had a plan, I wouldn’t still be here. Bigger on the inside technology and Gallifrey still keeps its prisoners in boxes. Hardly a civilised way to treat offenders, is it?”
“Well.” He put a hand to his throat and undid the clasp of the cloak. “I have a plan.”
She raised an eyebrow.
“You bargained the Trickster a Time Lord life. If you’re having trouble regenerating, we can’t risk it being yours, but I’m right at the start of mine, I can part with one lifetime.”
The other eyebrow rose to match. “You...will give up your own regeneration. You have no idea what the Trickster will make you do.”
The Doctor gave her his best impression of a rakish smile. It didn’t quite fit this face.
“I volunteer as tribute,” Missy mocked and then, immediately, “Doctor. Don’t?”
He reached through the bars and patted her hand. “One of us has to.”
“But why is it always you!?”
“It seems it’s my turn. You gave yourself up to the Cybermen. I’m returning the favour.”
She didn’t know how to dissuade him; she didn’t have any other way out if she did.
“Trickster!” the Doctor called out, and turned, opening her cell door. A figure appeared behind him, eyeless and imposing, robed in black. The Doctor didn’t look at him, still unlocking the cell. “The bargain is fulfilled. I offer you a Time Lord consciousness.”
“Are you certain? You must consent.”
Missy’s hand rose as though she was going to tug him back, but her courage faltered. She touched the Doctor’s arm briefly, carefully. “Thank you,” then in a whisk of skirts, she was gone into the labyrinth of the prison block.
“I consent.” The Doctor turned, finally, to the Trickster. He took a step forward.
“Very well. One Time Lord lifetime that belongs to me.” The Trickster put a hand on the Doctor’s shoulder and he yelped short and sharp, spasming and crashing to his knees. There was a flare of orange behind the eyes and the world exploded in fire.
Some moments later, the Doctor climbed to her feet: the yellow trousers were ridiculously short and her dark skin was grey with the regeneration trauma, but she stood confidently in the corridor, ready to live her life the way she was commanded to. “What do we do first?” she asked the Trickster.
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Chapter 2: Chapter 1
Author's Notes: A nice long chapter to make up for the wait. Enjoy!
Summary: The Doctor returns to Gallifrey to learn how this all began.
The Doctor throws the door wide and is greeted with the unimpressed faces of Yaz, Ryan and Graham, all glaring at her.
“You went off without us,” Yaz accuses. “Again.”
“No.” The Doctor denies. “Well, yes. OK. I did, but I’m back now. Did you get everything? Trainers? Did you bring us pizza?”
“It’s cold by now,” Yaz says, evidently irritated. “You were supposed to meet us at 6, it’s almost 8.”
“Sorry. We had an urgent call.”
Yaz still doesn’t look mollified, but she does follow the others into the TARDIS, dropping the pizza box onto the step (where it is promptly forgotten), and joining the Doctor by the console.
“What was so urgent?”
“Oh...some people needed help. And we found out my timeline is disintegrating.” The Doctor keeps flipping switches.
“What?!” Ryan and Graham demand in unison.
“Nothing to worry about.” She turns another dial and dashes around the console to poke at something on the other side.
“To be honest, it sounds like it might be something to worry about, Doc.”
“OK, it might be something to worry about. But,” she continues brightly, “we’re going to stop it from happening.”
Yaz stares at her, but the Doctor doesn’t look up. “Are you going to tell us who’s disintegrating your timeline?”
“Uh. Me.” She throws the main lever with force.
Yaz sighs heavily, still hurt about being abandoned in Cardiff. “Right, ok. That makes loads of sense.”
The temporal column starts moving with a groan, and the Doctor turns back to Yaz. “Right. Recap. Basically, an early version of myself is being controlled by a vicious demigod from a different dimension and is being used to create chaos by being forced to act in a way that is against the principles of the Time Lords. She’s sowing discord in her own timestream with her actions, and bringing the wrath of Gallifrey down on herself. Eventually, she’ll be removed from time, taking out all the versions of me that come after her.”
“And how are we going to stop it?”
“No idea, but I’m sure something will occur to me. Eventually.”
“Where are we going then?”
The TARDIS stops moving.
“What? Really? But- isn’t Gallifrey...gone.”
The Doctor turns, staring at the doors. She’s as tense as Yaz has ever seen her, looks almost ready to snap. She doesn’t make eye contact with any of them.
“Barren. No life will ever grow again, but the planet itself, even the ruins...Intact.”
She’s perfectly still, Ryan notices. The Doctor never stands perfectly still.
“Doctor. Why here?” Yaz asks gently. “Why do this to yourself?”
“Because I need to know why I did this. I need to know the exact details of this bargain. I need to see my past.” She looks like she’s forcing herself to move as heads for the doors of her TARDIS. With anxiously swapped looks, the others follow.
It’s the first time in a while that Jack has truly missed his sight just for the sake of being able to see. To finally walk on the surface of Gallifrey and not be able to see what the Doctor had once described to him seems colossally unfair.
The Doctor has given him a new set of sonic sunglasses, but the green lines do nothing but stop him bumping into things, no consolation for being unable to see the red grass or silver trees he’d once heard described with such longing. It is eerily, unnaturally silent. He grabs at Yaz’s jacket, pulling her back a little to ask quietly, “What happened here?”
He senses more than sees Yaz dart a quick glance at the Doctor, but she is some way ahead of them now, leading quickly into what Jack assumes is the citadel.
“I’m not sure, she never says much.”
Jack nods. Always talking but never saying anything, he remembers the frustration well.
“When we were here last time, it was already ruined. I think the Master did it. And he was here, he had a plan, turning Time Lord corpses into cybermen.”
“Cybermen that can regenerate?!” Jack demands in horror.
“No. Yes, but there aren’t any. There was a weapon, powerful enough to destroy all life on the planet. And the Doctor used it. Killed the cybermen, and the Master, I thought. But she seems convinced he escaped.”
“Or maybe just wants him to.”
“Why would she want that?”
Jack smiles, and doesn’t try to explain. He knows he can never fully understand what the Doctor does, but he knows what it is to live long enough to see everyone you care about die of old age, to see whole planets move on without you. He knows every shade of the complex swirl of betrayal, of wondering if you could find the right code to reset everything back to how it had been, of wondering what you could have done differently, of knowing that you had been the one to hurt them first.
He hates the Master with a fire few humans could match. He’d suffered at his hands; had watched everything and everyone he cared about suffer at his hands, and the fact that most of them didn’t remember it and that it had been, relatively, several hundred years ago, had done nothing to quell Jack’s loathing. But he understands why the Doctor does not.
“How did the Doctor escape?”
“No idea.” Yaz shrugs moodily. “We thought she hadn’t for months, then she came back, but she never talks about it.”
Maybe she saved the Master too, Jack thinks but doesn’t say. That would be just like the Doctor, saving everyone she could before making a planet uninhabitable, cyberman collaborating psychopath or not.
“I thought Gallifrey was long gone,” he says instead.
Yaz looks at him.
“There was-” he’s not sure of the detail, he’s only heard the story in myth, and in that single unguarded moment when the Doctor had reminisced when they first fought the Master. “A war. A war for time. And Gallifrey- I thought it was gone then.”
“If there was a war...maybe that’s why she doesn’t talk about it, too many bad memories.”
“Maybe.” There’s a heavy silence between them. “Is it beautiful? He talked about it like it was beautiful.”
“It’s a burned out husk, Jack.” The Doctor interrupts harshly. They hadn’t realised she was near enough to hear, Jack always forgets she has much better senses than he does. Before he can apologise though she’s continuing in a voice both brusque and brittle, “No plant life, no animal, not even bacteria. We are the only living things walking on this surface and if we stay too long- No. It isn’t beautiful. Not anymore.”
Yaz gives him another quick look and then takes a couple of steps until she’s shoulder to shoulder with the Doctor. Without Time Lord hearing, Jack can’t hear what they are saying, but he sees the Yaz shape brush closer to the Doctor shape, sees the fingers entwine and looks away. His role with the Doctor has never been to offer tactile comfort.
They all stand in respectful silence for a moment. It is the Doctor that breaks it.
“Come on. We can’t be here long, but I need a quick look at the archives.”
They follow her into a building, and through labyrinthine corridors. The Doctor is never anything less than certain about her direction, always moving with purpose, but it is obvious to Jack from the speed and surety of her paces, that she has been here before. His brain itches with tension even though she has said there can be nothing here.
“Jack,” the Doctor says, and he follows the unspoken directive, moving up to her side. “I’m going to use the Matrix to get any information I can about her. Do you have anything that could give me a starting point?”
“Well…I’ve met her, I could just do an image match, but it will be quicker if I can add keywords, filters if you like. Did she say anything that might help me pinpoint where her timeline intersects with mine?”
“Uh. She said she was the first of you, that she’d never regenerated.”
“Untrue. Anything else?”
“She always acted as though she were under orders. Someone had told her to achieve certain outcomes. She always said she had to keep the timeline pure.”
She doesn’t stop, doesn’t falter, and takes another corner sharply, “Pure?” she demands, word a whip crack. “That’s what she said? She didn’t say intact or safe, she said pure?”
“Definitely. I think I’d remember.” He tries to keep the edge out of his own voice.
“That sounds like a particular goal, a manipulation of time. Planets. Where did she take you? When?”
“She was at one of the labour rebellions on Taxxon 7, ensured the government was able to retake control, helped bring down the monarchy on Evianel, she was involved in selecting the diplomat that orchestrated first contact between Earth and Alpha Centuri too, but it wasn’t a name I know and I studied that. It’s a seminal bit of politics.”
“Those are all tipping points.”
He looks at her blankly.
“All moments when the universe could have gone off the rails and imploded or exploded, war and fire and conflict. No one ever making any progress.”
“So what does that mean?”
Her voice is grim. “It means that I’m being used to court disaster, and I don’t much like being used.” She pauses briefly as she enters the next room.
The sonic sunglasses pick out steps and a couple of doors leading into further hallways or antechambers, in the centre there is a curved dais.
“Don’t stand on the platform,” she orders without looking at them. “I have no idea if the Master’s paralysis field is still active.”
Ryan, who had been in the process of sitting on it, leaps up and gives it a wary look.
The Doctor stops by the entry to one of the rooms Jack had noticed. She doesn’t turn to look at them. “I won’t be long.”
“Doctor, wait!” It’s Yaz.
The Doctor does turn then, piercing green eyes focusing on her friend’s face, but her own expressionless.
“You don’t have to do this alone.”
“We wouldn’t- we don’t think less of you, Doc,” Graham promises awkwardly.
She sighs through her nose. “I’m going to use the Matrix. It’s a computer, Kind of. It’s a repository of all Time Lord knowledge and I’m going to interface with it telepathically. I’m not sure if human brains can do it and I am certain it will damage you if you try. Just wait here.”
“We should still go with you,” Yaz insists. “Psychic communication is dangerous, you’ve told us that loads of times.”
“I haven’t. You’ve been watching too much telly.”
“So it’s perfectly safe then?” Ryan questions.
“‘Course it is. I’m always careful. Careful is my middle name.”
It is only because of the gravity and sadness in the Doctor’s eyes that none of them laugh. She sighs again. “Okay, well. I’ll be careful this time.”
Yaz is still looking at her.
“Fine. Yaz. But don’t touch anything. And the rest of you stay here.”
Yaz gives the others a quick smile. “I’ll look after her.”
“Shout if you need us,” says Jack.
She nods once and spins back to follow the Doctor’s receding shape.
The Doctor leads Yaz down a hallway with a steep incline and into a room so vast it seems to be a covered open space. It feels as though they are underground, some sort of cave system perhaps. Usually, Yaz would ask, but she senses that right now the Doctor isn’t up to explaining.
Their footsteps ring in tandem across the stone floor. It’s the kind of place that seems like it should echo, but doesn’t, heavy air instead swallowing the sound.
“We just need an access terminal,” the Doctor says, half to herself. “The Matrix is telepathic, it can access any Time Lord mind from anywhere, although closer the better, but I want to query it, want to be able to use its index, not just get probed by it.”
“So you need a terminal?”
“Probably. I haven’t...well. I have broken into, and out of, the Matrix before. But I haven’t exactly done this.”
“Like every other day then,” Yaz says with a quick smile.
The Doctor smiles back, her eyes lighting briefly. “You don’t have to be down here, you know. I know it’s creepy.”
Yaz shakes back her hair. “I’m coming.”
The Doctor doesn’t argue further and gives her a brief, but real, smile, before leading them across to a carving on the floor. It’s a swirly figure 8 kind of symbol.
“I’ve seen this before,” says Yaz.
The Doctor paces the edges of it. “Yeah,” she agrees absently. “It’s everywhere here. It’s the sigil of the Pyrdonian Chapter.”
“What does that mean?”
“It’s a...faction. School house, I suppose. The government system of Gallifrey is split into Chapters which are groups, or parties, and it goes all the way back to where you are placed at the academy. You’re placed based partly on lineage, but partly on skills and attributes.” She bends brushing over the carving carefully.
“But this mark is everywhere, there’s one in the room we came from.”
“That’s a council chamber, where important things are decided. The Pyrdonian Chapter is the ruling elite. Rassilon himself is supposed to have been one. The one in the council chamber, in the centre of the dais, is a terminal too. But I didn’t want to use that again, in case the Master left anything else unexpected in it.”
Yaz wonders if that’s true or if the Doctor just wanted privacy to discover what her past self had done. She feels briefly guilty for forcing the Doctor to accept her intrusion. It’s incredibly rare for the Doctor to open up like this though, so her guilt doesn’t stop her from asking, “Which Chapter were you part of, Doctor?”
The Doctor is now touching other random parts of the carving and it is lighting up in a sequence unintelligible to Yaz, but that obviously means something to the Doctor as she squats next to it. “Hmmm? Oh. Pyrdonian. The Master and I both were.”
Her voice is vague, attention mostly on whatever the lights are telling her, but there’s a hint of pride in the words too, old and worn but still there. The Doctor looks up, and the moment is broken as her mouth quirks in a mischievous grin. “I used to be High Lord President,” she says lightly. Then, before Yaz can ask any follow up questions to that surprising announcement, carries on, “I’m going to make contact now. I’m not sure what it’s going to look like from your side, but I don’t recommend trying to disconnect me from it. That could have consequences. Messy, brains squirting out of my ears, consequences.”
“How will I know you’re okay?” Yaz asks. That’s what she’s supposed to be here for, after all. “When we found you lying on top of the one in the other room last time, you looked half dead.”
Something softens in the Doctor’s face and Yaz aches. It’s like the Doctor, for all the good she does, doesn’t realise how deeply she is loved in return. She offers Yaz her arm, and then, on reflection, takes her screwdriver out of her pocket and offers that too. “You can take my pulse, if you want. Same place as yours, remember it’s a double beat. That’s normal. And take this. If anything does go wrong, this’ll take you back to the TARDIS, put it in the charging slot on the console and it’ll take you home.”
Yaz settles her fingers on the Doctor’s wrist, feeling the steady thrum of life beneath deceptively delicate skin. “We won’t need it.”
“No. Of course not. This is going to be absolutely fine. Take it anyway.”
Yaz does so.
The Doctor gives her a slightly nervous smile and slaps her hand down flat in the centre of the carving. The whole thing lights up, a glow so bright it’s almost painful, Yaz slams her eyes shut and clamps down tighter on the Doctor’s arm. She’s bathed in the light being burned by it, incinerated by it. It’s looking at her she knows with soul deep certainty, judging her.
The light keeps shining, blazing, if possible, ever more brightly, but Yaz feels the sudden sensation of something between her and it, something a cool blue that shelters her from the glare and she knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that it is the Doctor’s mind. She still can’t open her eyes, the blinding light still literally present, but she can breathe again, feels less oppressed by a weight that had felt unnatural and searing. Her fingers tick back to the pulse points the Doctor had guided her to. They’ve picked up slightly, but not, she thinks, dangerously.
She cracks her eyes open for a second, the Doctor is face down and lax and the flaming light seems somehow to be bending over her. It’s enough to pick Yaz’s heart rate up, but before she can wonder if something has gone terribly wrong, the light starts to writhe and move, it changes colour and, as it recedes in brightness a little and Yaz can open her eyes more fully, she picks out not just colours but figures, and realises it is projecting an image.
She leans a little closer. A cell, she thinks at first, not too different from ones on Earth, ones that she has spent any amount of hours doing training in and on. There’s a woman, sitting on the edge of the bed along one wall. A Time Lord, Yaz can tell that just from her outlandish dress sense. Like someone who’d tried to make a gothic Mary Poppins costume.
For a second, she thinks it’s the Doctor. Not this Doctor, obviously, her face is different, but why would the Matrix be showing some random Time Lord?
Then another figure comes into view at the cell door, a smaller man in an equally ridiculous outfit with a haircut that Yaz associates with old pictures of John Lenon. He’s wearing the same kind of cloak the Master had dressed his cybermasters in, goldy-orange and shimmering.
Yaz leans closer as words begin to come from the image.
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Chapter 3: Chapter 2
Author's Notes: Summary: The first confrontation
“They’ve been ages,” Ryan says, still squinting at the dais suspiciously as he paces around it.
Jack is leaning against the wall, arms folded. He looks, for all the world, like a sentry, well, a laid back sentry. Ryan wonders how sensitive the sunglasses the Doctor gave him are and if he could be on guard. He’s gleaned over the time spent with him that he used to do something vaguely military and possibly to do with aliens. He shifts on his feet and looks at Ryan. “Not that long.”
“We don’t know what’s down there, though.”
“I thought there couldn’t possibly be any life other than us on the planet. Even the Doctor can’t get into too much trouble on a totally barren planet.”
“You’d certainly think that,” Graham responds laconically. “But then you actually travel with the Doctor, and you realise she could get herself into trouble in an empty room.”
Jack tilts his head, lips kicking up to the side. “True enough.”
Before any of them can say anything further though, a figure suddenly appears in the centre of the platform. There’s no sound or flash of light; one moment it’s just the three of them, and the next moment they are being surveyed by something humanoid and thin and dressed in a long black robe, the hood of which hides its head.
“Uh, guys?” Ryan says.
He doesn’t need to. The others have already noticed. Jack pulls himself up off the wall, standing straight and arms dropping to his side.
“Ah,” what they can see of the creature’s unnaturally pale face breaks into a smile that shows off pointed, shark-like teeth. “The Doctor’s friends.”
“Yeah,” Graham sounds wary, “Who are you?”
The smile broadens. They all make a point not to judge on appearances after all their experiences, but Ryan can’t help but think that that smile looks nasty.
“Oh, an old friend. The Doctor and I go back through many lifetimes.” It says, something mocking in the hissing sibilant tones.
“Yeah? And your name?” Jack demands.
It steps down and glides across the room until it’s in front of him. For a second he’s certain it is going to touch him and vows not to flinch away, but it doesn’t, tucking hands instead into voluminous black sleeves and simply considering him. “I could restore your sight, you know.”
“Really.” He keeps his tone expressionless.
“Indeed. And all you have to do is consent.”
“Jack-” Graham’s tone is low and tight with warning and worry.
“I know,” he doesn’t turn away from the thing, staring it down with sightless sockets and wishing the sunglasses afforded him more than outlines. “I won’t.”
It gives a hissing sound like a rush of air escaping a tire. Somehow, despite the inhuman quality of the sound, all three know it for a laugh. “But it is unfair, isn’t it, that they get to see Gallifrey and you do not? You’ve known the Doctor the longest. Are you sure you won’t consent?”
Jack’s heart lurches in his chest and he knows he mustn’t, knows it’s wrong, but still can’t keep from asking, from the words grinding out of him, “And what then? What happens after I consent?”
“Your eyes are returned, whole and unblemished. A favour, nothing more. And - perhaps - one day, you’d be in a position to do a favour for me in return.”
“Stop!” the Doctor’s voice rings abruptly from the entry.
Everyone in the room whirls to face her. She’s slightly dishevelled, as though she’s been running and her face is pale but otherwise composed. Yaz beside her looks uneasily at the thing, a fear Ryan has no context for in her eyes as she looks at it. He suddenly worries that it is standing too close to Jack.
“Doctor!...I wasn’t going to.” It’s only when he says it that he realises it’s true.
She tilts a slight smile in Jack’s direction though her attention never leaves the creature. “So, Trickster, you’re back.”
It gives the nasty smile again, and the Doctor returns it with a sarcastically polite one of her own and strolls nearer to it. “I am weaving myself all through your timeline, Doctor, in little more than a week, there will never be a time when I haven’t been a part of your life, a part of your mind.”
She waves a hand, “Yes, yes, we’ve seen that bit. I sacrificed a regeneration to your service to pay a debt, but being in your service means being utterly unable to disobey, doesn’t it.”
It answers with another of those hissing laughs.
“A fact you never bothered to mention.”
“You never asked,” it taunts.
The Doctor ignores the barb. “Well?” she says after a slight pause, “Go on then. You must be new at this. This is the part where you tell me your terrible scheme.”
“Don’t you already know?” it asks incredulously. Then it pulls itself up tall and announces, “I am the Trickster, an Agent of the Pantheon. I serve the Black Guardian and bring chaos and discord. The universe longs for chaos, keens for it, I am scrubbing the timelines clean, keeping them pure and free of your interference so that the irrationality of the universe can finally have free reign!”
The Doctor actually laughs aloud. “That was a little melodramatic,” she points out. “You could have just said, ‘I like disaster and explosions’. Maybe thrown in a ‘you can’t stop me’, at least that’s traditional.”
“Oh, Doctor. You can make your little jokes, but you can’t stop me.”
She smiles broadly at the Trickster. “There, didn’t that feel good? Always a buzz to deliver a really classic line, in my experience. And, by the way, of course I can stop you.”
“How?” the Trickster sneers.
“I’m glad you asked,” the Doctor’s beam gets even bigger. “When you were controlling the earlier version of me, forcing her into the CIA and ensuring that she became so problematic that Gallifrey itself would remove her from time, did you stop to consider who I am?”
She turns back to look at her friends clustered behind her for a second, “It’s a good plan to have Gallifreyan authorities pull me out of time, because it means it can’t be over ruled by other more powerful members of the Pantheon, but also it would be illegal for any other time agencies to intervene. It would be my home planet, dealing with a rogue agent, no untidy attempts to change it.”
The Trickster gives an angry hiss like serpent about to strike, pulling the Doctor’s attention back towards it. “You are the meddling Time Lord known as the Doctor.”
She draws herself up. “I am the Timeless Child and a member of the Pantheon in my own right. I founded Gallifrey and granted the gift of regeneration and I have power you cannot even suspect untapped in my mind.”
There is a long moment of silence and then the thing starts to laugh. “Oh, Doctor. Did you truly believe that pitiful lie?”
She doesn’t waver, “Confirmed by the Matrix, Trickster.”
“Well, of course. The Matrix doesn’t decide for itself what is right and wrong, it just takes the knowledge of all Timelord minds and stores it away. If it is common knowledge that such a thing is true amongst a certain echelon of Time Lords then,” the Trickster shrugs expansively, “then the Matrix has no reason to question the veracity of that understanding.”
“Right, so it is generally understood that-”
“That you are the Timelesssss Child,” it hisses out, unable to control the laughter once more. “Did that make you feel good, Doctor? Powerful? You have always sought purpose haven’t you, always been secretly afraid that everything you stood for was for nothing. But how better to get all of Gallifrey to accept a lie, but to base it on fact and secret it away in the Celestial Intervention Agency’s own classified files.”
“What’s the truth then, if you’re so clever?”
“That there was a Timeless Child once, and they did indeed come from my dimension. They were a pitiful, weak thing, ever seeking others to protect them, but like us, they were indestructible. The Timeless Child could, in your own terms, regenerate. But they have long since departed from here, they were on Gallifrey once, you may even be part of the same perverted genetic chain, but you aren’t special, Doctor.”
“Why should I believe you?”
“Ask yourself, does it seem likely that you have been here since before this citadel? All those times you feared to die, is it likely that you had endless regeneration capacity to draw on? But it was convenient to have you believe it in readiness for this moment.”
She stands in considering silence for a moment, not allowing her expression to flicker. And doesn’t it just say everything that she’d rather believe the Master’s version of events? He’d love that, she’ll have to tell him.
“It’s not that easy to make Time Lords believe something patently false. And the Matrix hosts a clear psychic imprint. I didn’t make contact with it, but I felt its familiarity and the Master knows the shape of my mind. He wouldn’t be easily fooled.”
The Trickster sniggers again. “The Pantheon plays a long game, Doctor. To us, even Time Lord lives are little more than the blink of an eye. When you fought the Black Guardian for control of the Key to Time, this gameboard was already set. We had your mental impressions.”
“From the version of me you tricked?” she can’t keep the edge from her voice, can’t believe she was ever so naive as to make such a bargain. Even as she says it, she knows it to be wrong. “Those files in the Matrix go back much further.”
“There is a perfect imprint of your mind on Earth at this moment. An imprint that will die in a mere human lifespan, a fraction of a moment for a being like me.”
The Doctor considers, probably only for a second or two, but, under the intense scrutiny of the Trickster and her friends it feels like an age. Beside her Jack shifts his weight slightly, as though he has considered asking a question but didn’t want to distract her and realisation slams into her with all the weight of an asteroid.
“Donna,” she breathes.
Jack goes rigid.
“It was a simple thing to pluck her from her own timestream at the moment of her death, she was happy to consent to it when I promised it meant that she would be remembered and revered. I simply grafted your imprint to old histories of the being who granted your people the power of regeneration and waited, and when the time was right, the Master was...guided to the correct place.”
“And you knew I would believe him.”
“Doctor, it is not only your companions who long to be special. It was pathetically easy to convince you that you were the chosen one, the designer of Gallifrey.”
She grit her teeth slightly and struggles not to show any emotion. “Well, it doesn’t matter. I can beat you anyway.”
“How? You have nothing, no additional skills or intelligence, a finite number of regenerations and I control your timestream, virtually from the beginning. You are fading, Doctor and there’s nothing you can do about it. Chaos will reign and it will do so in your name.”
“You’re wrong. I’ve got my TARDIS and I’ve got my friends and I’ve got a plan and I will stop you.”
It hisses, irritation this time. “Explain yourself.”
“No,” she says firmly. “No, I don’t think I will. A week you said, to see who wins and who falls. You’ll just have to play the game in linear order.” A pause, then the Doctor takes a step towards the door they entered through. “Come on, fam.”
Silently, they move in the direction she indicates.
“Yaz, you’ve got my screwdriver, take the others back to the TARDIS.”
Yaz hesitates but doesn’t argue. The Doctor remains in the doorway, looking at the Trickster. “Any other last minute plans you’d like to share?” she asks cheekily.
“You cannot stop me,” it sounds furious. And just a little panicky. Good.
“Plenty of people bent on universal domination have said that to me,” she makes a show of looking around herself. “Where are they, I wonder?”
“I am not. People.”
“No. You’re a self-styled god.”
“You are a puny mortal, despite gifts given to you by one of my kind. I am a god.”
“We’ll see,” the Doctor doesn’t sound impressed. She turns to leave, following Jack and then, as if an afterthought, turns back once more. “Although, Mr practically-a-god, you could do one thing for me.”
The Trickster sounds furious as it demands, “What?!”
“Doctor!” Jack spins back towards them, openly horrified. “No!”
“Go with the others, Jack.”
He doesn’t, but he does stop arguing.
The Trickster gives a slithering smile. “All I need is your consent, Doctor.”
“My consent to do you an unspecified favour at some later time?”
“Would it make any difference, Doctor, if I promised that I will not force you to carry out harm on another being.”
She remembers her other self and the vicious looking pulse rifle, the deadly explosion. It does relax her, if only slightly.
“Then yes,” she says. Her chin tilts upwards, punctuation to her agreement. “I consent.”
“Doctor,” Jack pleads.
He is ignored by both the Doctor and the Trickster. They hold one another’s gaze for a long moment. It is the Doctor that breaks it, turning away almost carelessly.
“Come on, Jack. We have to stop my timeline from unravelling.”
He follows in her wake, and realises, as they leave the citadel, that he has begun stumbling awkwardly. The outlines being projected on his visual cortex interfering with what his eyes are now telling him.
Hand shaking slightly, Jack reaches up and takes off the sunglasses.
He blinks in the bright sunlight. The Doctor stops, gazing blankly into the distance, to give him a moment to adjust, and Jack takes the fewest possible number of seconds. He understands instantly from the rubble why she wouldn’t want to stand there. He remembers seeing the peninsula where he grew up in a similar shape after the raiders.
Just outside the TARDIS they stop again and the Doctor has composed herself enough to look him fully in the face now, her expression a study in bland. “Well, say what you like about the Trickster, but he does thorough work,” she says lightly, examining his eyes closely. “Follow my finger.” She waves it in front of his eyes.
He bats it away. “That’s for concussion. I’m fine.” She doesn’t lower the hand and instead prods at the skin around his eyes that had, mere moments ago been ruined and burned.
“Does it still hurt?”
“No. I’m fine,” he repeats. “Doctor-”
“Doctor, this whole thing happened because you made a deal with that thing. You can’t just-”
“Don’t tell me what to do, Jack Harkness. Don’t you dare.”
He glares at her. “I will tell you when you’ve been an idiot.”
“He could fix you,” there’s a second where she looks like she’s chewing glass, then spits out, “I couldn’t. I couldn’t fix you. Would you really want me to just leave you blind and helpless and who knows what we’re heading into?”
“Yes,” Jack shouts back at her, “Yes! You shouldn’t have put yourself on the hook owing some interdimensional bastard anything. Who knows what he’ll make you do! It’s not like whatever it is can kill me!”
“There are worse things, Jack. You’re my friend,” she hisses, low voicedly furious, “and besides. A version of me hurt you. It was my responsibility to-”
Jack is almost shaking with rage as he barges past her into the TARDIS. “I’m not your responsibility. And I won’t be your penance. I’ve watched you beat yourself up over things beyond your control for two regenerations already.” And with that he storms through the console room without a word and into the sprawling corridors of the TARDIS interior.
The fam turn in unison to look wide eyed at the Doctor, but one look at her face and they don’t ask.
“Wait…” says Ryan, “was Jack wearing his glasses?”
The Doctor flips the dematerialisation lever with more force than is strictly necessary and the familiar grinding whir fills the room.
“Where are we going?” Graham asks in an attempt to diffuse the tension.
“The Trickster feeds on Chaos. He creates it. That’s what he’s using my younger self to do. We’re going to find her.”
“The universe is a big place, Doc.”
She smiles grimly up at him. “Yeah, but Jack and I borrowed this TARDIS from her timeline.”
Ryan looks over sharply. “So this isn’t our TARDIS. Is that why I can’t find my phone charger?”
“I’ve got another one,” the Doctor says. “My Second self collected bits of wire. I’ve got a whole box of iPhone bits. I used to love showing off to Polly what humans would be capable of in just a few years. It’s in that cabinet over there.”
“Is all our stuff gone?” Graham asks quietly.
Yaz looks anxiously at the Doctor for an answer. She has various momentos from the places they’ve visited herself, and she knows Graham has a couple of pictures of Grace in his room.
“As soon as we restore my timeline, my TARDIS will reappear.” She gives her best reassuring smile. “Don’t worry.”
“You were telling us how you knew where she was, Doctor.”
“Well,” she admits. “I don’t know where she is yet, but she’s travelling without a TARDIS. The Trickster must be teleporting her. Transdimensional beings leave very particular energy trails. I just need to pick one up, and we can track her. Easy.”
“Easy,” Yaz agrees. “And what’s the plan when we get there?”
The Doctor looks surprised to be asked. “Plan?”
“You told the Trickster you had a plan,” Ryan reminds her patiently, already rooting through the box she had mentioned for a substitute charger.
“Oh, yes. Well, obviously I have a plan. Find the other version of me, get her to take back her deal with the Trickster, restore order to the universe.”
“But...Doctor. If she takes back her deal...doesn’t that mean that the Master will end up working for Trickster instead.”
“That sounds worse,” Graham adds. “I’m sorry, Doc, but you said that she was unable to disobey. You mean the Trickster had to empty her mind completely, right? Remove all the stuff from her that makes her you?”
“Yes,” the Doctor says unwillingly, remembering the unnatural sterileness of the mind of her Other.
“But he wouldn’t have to. Not if the Time Lord was willing to work for him.”
“Which of course the Master would be,” Yaz points out.
“It’s not a perfect plan,” the Doctor concedes, “but it’s the best I’ve got. At least my timeline wouldn’t be disintegrating which would buy me time to figure out how to get rid of the Trickster forever.”
They all consider that for a second. The Doctor turns back to the console and makes some tiny adjustments.
“I’ll let you know where we end up pointed at,” she offers after a moment.
Clearly dismissed, the others leave the console room.
Back to index
Chapter 4: Chapter 3
Author's Notes: Summary: Just a short bit of character fluff in this one to round out the Jack/Doctor relationship as the rest of this episode is more of an ensemble piece.
When scanning yields nothing after the first couple of hours, the Doctor decides she needs a break, and she knows she really should talk to Jack. The TARDIS leads her a merry dance before it allows her to find him, tucked away in a tiny sitting room that is little more than an alcove. The walk burns off the worst of her residual anger; the memories almost everything else. The TARDIS has produced a replica of a favourite haunt of Jack and Rose and her Ninth self.
It’s perfect in every detail, close but not claustrophobic. Something that version of her had needed so desperately because he had needed comfort, needed touch, but had been unwilling, even afraid, to ask. This perfect model, obviously drawn from Jack’s longing, tells her that the TARDIS is still the same compassionate friend she has depended on all her lives. It tells her that her younger self isn’t evil or corrupted, simply controlled. It’s not the first time that has happened to the Doctor, and though she despises the thought of losing her autonomy, it offers relief too. She isn’t something she thought she never would be. She can be rescued.
She steps into the tiny room, eyes catching on the single sofa, just big enough for three. He had once sprawled here to read and chat and listen to music and pretend it was purely by chance that his shoulder nudged Jack’s or that his hand naturally covered Rose’s. He had slept better on that sofa than anywhere else in the TARDIS during that regeneration. The alcove even holds slight impressions of that happier time, drawn straight from Jack’s memories.
He’s sitting in the centre of the sofa, body hunched over, looking intently at something held in his hands. It’s a photo of the three of them - of how she was back then - it must be his, from a wallet perhaps. Reforming rooms is the TARDIS’ speciality, but she can’t manifest objects. His coat is off, slung over the back of the chair, and, in his shirt and braces, less layers than she has seen him in virtually since she rescued him, the Doctor is pleased to see that he has filled out, not just given the impression of breadth by his precious Captain’s costume.
He looks up as she approaches and sighs slightly, replacing the photo in a card case that looks otherwise empty.
“I’m sorry,” he says and moves over to make room for her.
She sits down next to him, carefully not touching. Despite his actions, he’s still radiating keep away vibes.
He laughs self consciously. “You go first.”
His mouth twists slightly. “You always did insist on the last word.”
She decides not to take it the way it sounds. “My TARDIS, my rules. Isn’t that what you always insisted on with your team, Captain?”
That goes on unanswered, and Jack’s eyes return to his pensively clasped hands. “I don’t want you to get hurt because of me. I never wanted to risk that. From the very beginning, I wanted to...to prove myself to you.”
The Doctor’s eyes cut away. She has no idea what to say in the face of this raw unburdening of emotion. Before she has to answer though, Jack goes on.
“And...you didn’t even need to do this. You didn’t need to bargain with him.” He tips his head slightly, giving her an unobstructed view of the thing still wired into him, even now he doesn’t touch it. “You’ll figure out how to remove this and then...next time I die, I’ll be...I’ll be whole again.”
“Jack...I have no idea how to get that off. Those things haven’t been used in eons. I’ve never even seen a real one.”
“You’ll figure it out. You’ll make me me again.”
The trust in his eyes actually hurts. She hates when they look at her like that. Like she can magically fix everything. And she hates that it’s not the loss of his eyes that he’s referring to. And she really hates herself for forgetting that Jack had other significant injuries that might trouble him as much as his eyes, maybe even more. Too busy worrying about what the Trickster had taken from her to think about what it had taken from him. Selfish. Selfish and stupid and old.
“Jack...I- I’ll do everything I can.”
He turns the thing to her more fully, “You can touch it,” he offers. “I know it’s you. I won’t freak out this time.”
Her fingers hover over it. “It’ll hurt.”
“A bit. I expect I’ve lived through worse.”
She leans closer, her fingers itch to help. If she can just…
She starts, not by touching the circuitry and wiring, but by looking closely at the scarring around it. “It’s wired into you. Under the skin.”
“Yeah. Goes into my brain, I think. I died twice while it was being attached.”
There goes any hope of just pulling it out, even with Jack’s gift who knows what that will do to him. “You’ll probably need surgery to remove it, even if I can make it inactive.”
He shrugs. “Least of my worries, to be honest.”
“These injuries are much better cared for than some of your others.” She comments idly, and watches, amazed, as a light flush travels up the back of Jack’s neck. She honestly doesn’t think she’s ever seen him embarrassed before.
“I let her treat these ones. It’s incredible what you’ll sit still for when the alternative is having the settings on the torture machine in your brain changed.”
The Doctor carefully doesn’t think about Jack forced to sit still and pliant beneath hands that had hurt him, probably enjoying any gentle touches she had cared to give him and hating himself for it. “We’re going to stop her,” she soothes quietly and gathers her courage to move onto the device.
It still looks just as menacing, still blinking and flashing in incomprehensible sequences. She runs her nail round the rim again, her other hand holding firm on Jack’s shoulder to keep him still, and once again the control panel springs out.
This time, the Doctor puts effort into deciphering the symbols, though it still twists her guts to know that this came from her planet. She tries a couple of simple commands, but each one requests a password before it will execute and each time she fails to provide one it delivers Jack a shock that makes him yelp.
She keeps waiting for him to tell her that he’s done, that he’s had enough, but she’s forgotten how stubborn Jack can be and eventually she is the one who pulls back.
He doesn’t argue, instead curls forward panting through the lingering pain.
“We’ll figure something out,” she offers, a low voiced platitude.
It’s a far cry from being the promise he deserves. Even so, Jack - as he always does - takes her words as gospel and relaxes, slumping against her. Instinctively, she cards her hand through his hair, gratified that he doesn’t flinch away, even when she passes near the thing still wired into him.
“Maybe the sonic?” he suggests.
“Hmm. I don’t have a suitable setting. Let me have a think.”
“I’m not sorry that I made a deal with the Trickster, Jack.”
He nods against her shoulder. “Thank you. I am glad I got to see Gallifrey.”
A few errant tears escape her eyes and roll down her cheeks, dripping onto Jack’s crown. “It’s gone. I thought I’d saved it and it’s still…”
He straightens and puts an arm around her shoulder to pull her in to him this time, but doesn’t say a word, just holds her. She can feel the beat of his heart where she’s pressed against him. The still slightly unnatural feel of a single beat where her instincts expect a double one, and a little faster than human normal, his body still recovering from the stress of her fiddling with the machine.
“Perhaps it can be undone. The Trickster?”
“You were worried about the price of your eyes,” she points out tiredly. “The price of a planet would be considerably more.”
“Yeah. But you’ll think something, Doctor. You’ve saved so many worlds.”
“Somehow I never seem to be able to save my own,” she mutters bitterly.
Jack reaches over and brushes a strand of hair off her face, tucking it behind her ear.
“Don’t,” she mutters.
“What?” he actually manages to sound innocently outraged. She’s rather impressed.
The Doctor pulls away and sits up straight so she can better glare at him. She can’t quite hold onto all her irritation though as she sees his eyes sparkling with their teasing gleam, at least something good has come of today - whatever the cost later. “Don’t waste your moves on me. I’ve seen them all.”
He leans closer and his voice lowers by an octave. “Oh, you haven’t seen all of them.”
The device behind his ear with its various colours reflects in her eyes, which in turn reflect in his, shooting flashes of purple and red and a poisonous green across his irises. The Doctor’s own eyes suddenly widen and a beaming smile spreads across her face. She jumps up to her feet, leaving Jack, still on the sofa, looking slightly shell shocked.
“The Time Lords are looking for her.”
“Quaestor, remember? The Time Lords are looking for her. And the CIA will be out in force by now, particularly if they think she’s getting help from later in her own timestream, that is seriously dangerous. Multiple TARDISes? Much easier to track than a multi-dimensional entity.” And she’s off and running back to the console room.
Back to index
Chapter 5: Chapter 4
Author's Notes: Summary: The search is on
By the time Jack follows her through the door, the TARDIS is in directed flight, not simply drifting through the vortex. He leans a hip against the console and sweeps his eyes over it. The whole console room is totally different to any other way he has seen it laid out. He files the look of the room into what he knows about the Doctor, he has been around the Time Lord for long enough that he knows the console room is a reflection of a sort.
She leans over the console, pulling a lever on the far side and twists a knob with the other hand. “Gotcha,” she says, and smirks up at Jack.
He smirks back and feels a bolt of something he’d thought long since cut out of him, but then, he’d loved the Doctor for longer than some dynasties have clung to power. It’s not surprising she could remind him of that.
Before he has a chance to say anything (he hasn’t even tried to make this Doctor blush yet, and an almost forgotten flutter inside him reminds him that was a favourite game once), the others come in.
“We heard the engines,” Yaz says. “We off somewhere?”
“Deira Minar,” the Doctor says, spinning a huge brass dial, seemingly randomly.
“Bless you,” Graham responds drily.
She half smiles in his direction. “Sounds weird, I know. But-” she breaks off, pulls a screen in front of her and uses her finger to flick it through another couple of screens, “Earth standard calendar 2147, huge agricultural plague. Perfect place for someone trying to cause chaos.”
“What’s the plan?” Ryan asks, bouncing on the balls of his feet.
“We need to find the other Doctor,” Jack starts and the Doctor gives him a reproving look.
“Sorry,” he mutters, completely unrepentant.
“We do need to find the other me,” she starts, “but I don’t want anyone making contact with her. I’ve spoken to her and she should be having some doubts, hopefully that’s been enough to break through the Trickster’s mental control, but I just don’t know. I don’t want anyone else getting hurt.”
“The Trickster feeds on chaos, right?” Yaz asks.
“So, stop her causing chaos and she’ll come and find you.”
“Nice plan,” Jack beams at her. “You must be the brains of the outfit.”
“Oy,” argues Graham.
Jack affects not to notice the glare the Doctor aims at him when Yaz flushes lightly and instead continues. “Lets us choose the ground of engagement which means much less chance of an ambush.”
“Torchwood thinking,” the Doctor argues half heartedly.
“Saves us walking into a trap though,” Ryan points out.
The Doctor sighs. “We don’t walk into traps that often. Alright, fine. Ten points to Yaz for being brilliant.”
“Agricultural plague,” Graham brings them back on topic. “Sounds like chaos is already here.”
“And it can only get worse,” the Doctor agrees. “In a hundred years or so, this place is a huge hub of scientific and medical research. In a little under a hundred, a human scientist called Pranav Jain will be the key notes speaker at a symposium here. That conference will pave the way for a true melding of cultures and a welcoming of aliens into the First Great and Bountiful Human Empire. But right now...desperate, frightened people do stupid, cruel things. The world outside is starving, a tiny nudge could change everything.”
They swap looks, the tone of the Doctor’s voice impressing the gravity of the situation on them.
“How long has she been here?” Jack asks.
The Doctor shrugs. “Not more than a week. Week and a half at the absolute most.”
“We’ve got our work cut out for us,” Graham observes.
The Doctor’s face is pale, her mouth a grim determined line. “Come on, fam. There’s work to be done.”
“What are the three rules?” the Doctor cautions them as they all file out of the TARDIS some minutes later.
Behind her back, Yaz and Ryan swap an aggrieved look, but dutifully chorus, “Don’t wander off, don’t engage with other you or any of the other Time Lords that might be here, and don’t accept any free tickets to stand up comedy.”
“That’s the most important one. Beautiful minds, the people of Deira Minar, but no sense of humour.”
“So where are we?”
The Doctor licks a finger and holds it up. “Southern continent. Usually this place is the agricultural centre of the planet: fruit groves, grains, incredible wildflowers...”
“We’re going to help them, Doctor.”
“Yeah.” She firms her expression. “We absolutely are.”
They keep walking across what at first glance appears to be a wasteland, but as Jack looks closely, he realises that the scrubby naked plants aren’t simply the tufts of barely there grasses common to areas of planets deprived of water. Instead, these are an unnatural blackened colour, as though they have been burned, bending to look closer, he realises that there are large pustules growing on the stems and leaves, like blisters or warts.
“Don’t touch them,” the Doctor cautions.
Jack nods once and straightens, and, without need for discussion the group speeds up slightly, heading for the sad looking collection of buildings at the peak of a hill about a mile away.
About three quarters of the way up the hill the Doctor stops and looks around as though getting her bearings. From up here, the devastation wrought across the countryside is clear. As far as they can see, they are surrounded by neatly bisected fields and Yaz knows that each should be filled with a slightly different colour, creating a chequered board of growth. Now though, each of those sections is identical, filled with wilted and blackened plants.
“What happened?” Ryan wonders aloud, shocked.
“Pollution,” Yaz says sagely.
“No. Well. Yes. But not just pollution.” The Doctor turns back to the hill and starts walking once more, the others trailing in her wake. “They wanted to help. They were trying to engineer plants that would grow in all climates. The human race is spreading out now, colonising, interbreeding with various indigenous life forms. Humans are amazing in terms of their resilience, you can live, even thrive, in some real extremes of temperature. Your foodstuffs though are much more limited. Deira Minar wanted to fix that with grains that would grow in ice and deserts, even under water.”
“Sounds wonderful. What happened?”
“Jack?” The Doctor prompts.
He looks surprised, glancing around in a panic. “I don’t know!”
She looks faintly disapproving. “You should. This is your history. You must have done this at school.”
“I hated history.”
“Says the Time Agent.”
He raises an eyebrow in challenge. “Wouldn’t want to steal your thunder. You like doing the clever bits.”
“He’s got you there, Doc. You do like doing the clever bits.”
She doesn’t argue, and goes back to her explanation. “Well, they were genetically engineering the plants, like you lot with your GM crops, but on a massive scale. Once they had a perfect prototype though, it was cheaper to clone that than continue trying to modify each individual one.”
“Oh no!” says Jack.
Yaz sees the Doctor grimace in agreement, but she doesn’t break stride again. “What?” she asks her.
“Isn’t it obvious?”
“They’re all genetically identical,” Jack explains. “A single virus that one is susceptible to can take out all of them. And I’m guessing there was cross pollinating of their perfect prototype?”
“Yeah,” the Doctor agrees quietly. “Every plant growing has some identical core components to stimulate quick growth in all climates. The grains, the fruits, even the grass.”
“That doesn’t seem fair,” Ryan puffs from the back of the group. “They were trying to do something good and it still all goes wrong.”
“The road to hell, as your Gran used to say,” Graham chips in.
“And,” the Doctor adds, “I’m not sure being fair is really the universe’s primary motivation, or there would be much less payoff for being greedy and unpleasant.” They are on the outskirts of the buildings now and she stops again, “Although, now I’m wondering just how natural this was. The whole situation could have been orchestrated to cause chaos.”
“You said she could only have been here for a week or so.”
“Yeah. And I’m sure my calculations can’t be that far off.” The Doctor brushes her hair off her face in an uncharacteristically uneasy gesture. Then she smiles broadly as though amused by her own foolishness. “Well, I just finished saying the universe sometimes acts without reason, and not like you humans aren’t capable of causing chaos all on your own.”
They all swap slightly disgruntled looks.
“Shall we go and see who’s around?” she asks obliviously and they head into the town.
No matter how long he does this and how many planets they land on, Ryan never quite gets used to it. He supposes that he would have guessed that the people who lived in these houses were human because they look how he expects houses to look: a front door, usually two storeys, curtains in the windows. Nonetheless, there is something indefinably alien about them, perhaps the stone they have been built from with an odd phosphorus sheen; the futuristic code box each has instead of a door handle; or the windows that have a distinctive ripple that he identifies as a forcefield, before wondering where his life went so sideways he is now confidently identifying forcefields.
“Seems empty, Doctor,” he says quietly. The oppressive feel of the silent streets and rotting vegetation giving him the urge to whisper as though he is in a library under the glare of a particularly strict librarian.
She scans with the screwdriver and brings it up to eye level. “There are lifesigns. This place hasn’t been completely abandoned.”
“We should split up, go door to door.”
The Doctor gestures furiously. “What a brilliant idea. That will mean we’re all far away from each other and unable to help when one of us runs into difficulties.”
Jack stifles a smile that the Doctor still gestures like a wacky waving inflatable tube man- Err...woman.
“‘When’ is a little pessimistic, Doctor,” Graham objects.
“You say pessimistic, I say learning from experience.”
“I’m trained in community outreach,” Yaz objects.
“And I quizzed Grace for one of her exams on community care,” Graham adds. “I think I remember how to talk with people with trauma.”
Yaz slants him a narrow-eyed look, like she thinks he might be making fun of her, but before she can say anything, the Doctor cuts over her. “We’ll be safer together.”
“Intimidating though,” Ryan notes, “All of us knocking at your door. A bit weird.”
“Fine. Fine, but no one goes alone.”
“Buddy system,” Jack sings cheerfully. “I’m with Yaz.”
“Fine,” the Doctor says for the third time. “Yaz, hit him if he flirts with you.”
“And what if she flirts with me?”
Graham looks back and forth between them all and decides to ignore them in favour of getting on with the task at hand. “Leaves Ryan with me.”
“Well, yeah. You’ll need someone with social skills.”
“I have social skills.”
“With people who remember the war.”
“You cheeky beggar, Ryan. I’m not that old.”
“Who are you going with, Doctor?”
“Plenty of room on our team,” Jack teases with his most lascivious smirk.
Yaz punches him in the arm and the Doctor sticks her tongue out at him. “I’ll go on my own. Keep the numbers even.”
“The buddy system,” Jack points out because he feels like he should, not because he expects to change the Doctor’s mind.
“Is for humans. I’ll be fine.”
“I think we’ve just been insulted.”
“And when I get shot by daleks, almost end up as James I’s chief torturer, nearly destroy the universe by refusing to leave an anti-matter parallel universe, or wake up an entire army of Cybermen because I don’t check what’s in the cupboards before rebooting their spaceship, then you can insult me.”
Jack and Yaz swap a grin. The Doctor is adorable when she is trying to convince them she’s an Almighty Timelord.
“Meet back here in an hour?” Jack asks.
“Synchronise watches,” Ryan responds in his best Tom Cruise voice and the Doctor rolls her eyes as they actually all pull out their phones to do just that.
“Look out for each other,” she reminds them and takes the narrowest path into the twisty centre of the town.
“See you in a bit,” Yaz waves and they part ways.
Back to index
Chapter 6: Chapter 5
Author's Notes: Summary: The fam learn about the plague
Ryan and Graham make their way to the left of the town and start at one end of a street where the houses have a slightly pink glow.
“This is nice,” Ryan comments.
They walk up the cobbled path. Graham falters only slightly at the sight of the large bay windows with warm brown and slightly threadbare curtains - so much like the ones in the home he and Grace had had. Ryan nudges him without making eye contact, and Graham firms his step and they both step up to the front door.
The box in place of a door handle has numbers and a row of strange symbols, but at the button there is a phone icon, like the one Ryan taps to make the occasional voice call on whatsapp. He presses his thumb against it, and, inside the house they hear a phone begin to ring. He removes his thumb and it stops.
Grinning, Graham puts his thumb on it. The ringing starts once more. “Welcome to the future.”
They wait a second, but there’s no sound or movement from the inside. “Should we ring it again?”
“Seems rude. Maybe they’ve popped out.”
“Let’s try the next one.”
They move back down the path and onto the next house. This box works the same and Ryan rings inside once more. There’s still no answer.
At the fifth door, they stop. “They can’t all be out...can they?”
Graham looks around. The town seems quiet and deserted. “The Doc said life signs, but there isn’t anything going on.”
“Not like there’s anywhere to go.”
“2147. There must be bigger cities. Maybe they all left?”
“Then what was the sonic picking up?”
Graham looks nervously around. “That wasn’t a reassuring question, Ryan.”
The door behind them suddenly opens with the smooth whoosh of automatic doors in shopping centres. “What do you want?”
They both leap back with small sounds of panic, but the figure at the door looks human, if aggressive. She’s small, with a deeply tanned olive complexion that Ryan associates with Mediterranean heritage. She looks about his age, but is smaller and far slighter than Yaz.
In fact, now he is looking closely, she’s not slim or even thin. The girl is emaciated, and he suddenly wonders if she is as old as she appears, skin pinched over the bones of her face giving her an aged look.
He steps back onto the top step and immediately feels guilty when the girl startles back a little, eyes roving over his bulk. “Hey, sorry. I’m Ryan. This is my grandad.” He’s faintly aware of Graham giving the dopey grin he always gives when Ryan calls him that and makes a note to tease him later.
“We’re uhhh….” What would the Doctor say? “We’re community...outreach officers. Just checking in on you.”
She nods slowly and still looks hostile, but not suspicious. “Do you want to come in?”
“If that’s alright,” Graham smiles warmly. “Better to chat inside than on the doorstep, yeah?”
The girl turns and walks back into the house, leaving the door open behind her. They follow, and a few moments later, the door closes with a second small whoosh.
She leads them into a front room that looks so normal it could be in Sheffield. There are two grey sofas, arranged to point forward at a flat silver plate, that Ryan immediately identifies as some kind of futuristic television. There’s an end table with a plant pot on it. The pot itself is a delicate ceramic and has been painted in the blobby colours of a primary school project. It’s empty but for some dry dirt.
Graham is looking at a row of black and silver stands, each one projecting an image above it. They are family shots mostly, what looks like holidays, some kind of celebration with coloured streamers and gifts, a little girl he recognises as the one who opened the door but now in pigtails with chocolate smeared around her mouth. In the last picture, she’s holding a baby.
“What’s your name?” Ryan asks.
“Mariangela. Why are you here? Why now?”
She sounds so angry, in so much pain. Graham has a sinking sensation. He knows too well what grief sounds like. “What’s her name?” he asks, looking at the photo of the baby.
“Him. My son. He was called Santos, after my dad.”
It takes Ryan a moment, then he looks shattered. “I’m sorry. We should’ve- We’ve just arrived.”
She shrugs. “Ask your questions.”
Ryan doesn’t know how to ask, and it is Graham who says gently, “I lost my wife. Recently. She was...I’ll never forget her and I’ll never stop loving her, but it...it gets better.”
“Everyone says that.”
“Oh. Yes.” She gestures at one of the sofas and takes a seat herself.
Ryan sits next to Graham on the other one, who leans forward and says, “Will you tell us what happened?”
The young woman shrugs and her eyes grow wide and wet. “The same as everyone else. There’s no food. I lost my milk, and he died. Everyone died.”
“Are you the only person here?”
She shakes her head. “There are others, a few of us, but we keep to ourselves. If we obey restrictions and don’t cause any problems- no looting or anything like that, we get a government food parcel once a week. There was a week when it didn’t come, the blight had gotten into the trees and some had rotted. They’d fallen, blocking the roads, volunteers came, but...but it was too late for Santos.”
“And they couldn’t evacuate you?”
“To where? Everywhere is the same. We can’t go off world, can’t risk spreading the spores to other planets. Everything we have at the moment is coming from off-world.”
“It seems calm though, that’s good, yeah?”
She gives a wan smile. “Our Interim Planetary Government has mostly focused on keeping everything calm.”
“I just wish it’d all return to normal.”
Ryan glances out of the window. From here, the situation looks even worse than it did on the hill. The scrubby glass, malformed and twisted and dying as it so clearly was, isn’t even visible from Mariangela’s window. The whole place just looks barren.
Silence falls between them, stretches and becomes awkward.
“We should go.”
“I’ll walk you to the next house. They’ll answer the door for me.”
She leads them down the path, and Ryan is struck again by the spindle thinness of her legs and arms. Whatever emergency food they are being sent, it clearly isn’t enough.
The next house offers them water, and some more cautious praise for the Interim Government. The initial panic and rioting and looting that Ryan would expect from a disaster on this scale seems to have been quelled and aid, although admittedly minimal, evenly distributed. He’s not surprised the Doctor likes this place.
“Why an Interim Government?” it occurs to him to ask one man, just as thin as everyone else they’ve met, as they work their way down the street.
The man looks momentarily surprised and then relaxes. “You’re off-worlders. Brave of you to come here, there are still occasional transports coming in, but none leaving.”
Ryan smiles his agreement and wonders if they have stirred up trouble by arriving. Everyone seems adamant that the most important point in the Government’s favour is that everyone has been treated the same - rich, poor, old, young, experts and labourers. He and Graham, claiming to be officials and obviously well fed, might have damaged that credibility.
Graham must be thinking the same, as he leans forward and quickly explains. “Yeah, we’re….freelance. Our friend wanted to see what she could do to help and we came too.”
The man clasps their hands tightly in thanks and then returns to Ryan’s question. “Oh, simple enough, how much do you know of our world?”
“Not much,” Ryan answers truthfully.
“We’ve never had a planetary government before,” the man starts. He jumps up, and begins to pace as he explains, “We have always been peaceful, a colony of researchers and their families. We valued science above all. No doubt many of the things we created could be used to cause planetary upheaval,” he smiles bitterly and waves a hand to encompass everything around them, “but we never saw it, we cared about the biology or geology or physics, we cared about proving our theories.
“But we were still, broadly speaking, nations, depending mostly on what we were studying. Each nation was run independent of the others by their funding bodies. The- This- This blight recognises no boundaries. We needed a unified response.”
Graham nods, “Seems like you responded quickly too.”
The old man shrugs. “Not quickly enough to stop the deaths. The spores spreading the disease are microscopic and designed to survive in the worst of climates for weeks, even months. Our plants use DNA from plantlife in the nearest dozen systems, they could all be susceptible. We can’t evacuate and risk spreading the contaminant, all we can do is hope it resolves itself or that one of the botany groups can engineer a cure.”
There is a flush of colour in the man’s cheeks now, stress or anger, and Graham gently guides him back to a seat with a hand on the shoulder. Ryan fetches him a cup of water and when he returns Graham is asking, “- your specialty?”
The man laughs brokenly, “Oh, we were among the first, me and my beautiful Katerina. We came here when the universities that dominate the cities were little more than temporary outbuildings. She wanted to come so much, she was the most amazing mineralogist I ever met. You know the crystals they use to run all our power here were developed from her work? I was dragged along in her wake, I always was. I’m no scientist. I was just a lowly technician. I was freelance too, half the time. Just Katerina’s extra pair of hands.”
Graham smiles at him. “Sounds like your Katerina and my Grace would have been great friends. She was a force of nature too.”
The man meets Graham’s eyes and stares at him for a moment and then nods sharply once. “I miss her. I was in the process of moving back home. Solan II, in the second ring of the Aziz Nebula, do you know it? That’s where the children are. I didn’t want to be here without her and now I’m stuck here.”
“We’re going to help,” Ryan promises. He can’t bear the pain in the old man’s eyes.
“I know you will, young man.” He pulls himself together, “Now, you said you were freelancers?”
“You’ll be wanting to report to the governmental centre then, to coordinate what you’re doing with the rest of the volunteers.”
“Yeah, that’d be ace. Where is that exactly?”
The man smiles faintly. “You really did arrive unprepared. Ah, for the impetuousness of youth.” Then his eyes meet Graham’s and a small line furrows his brow.
Ryan sputters a laugh as Graham says, “I’m just here to keep them in check.”
The man gives a small chuckle of his own. “Luckily, you’re on the right continent, you’re not even too far. A couple of miles due East is the University of Centralised Agricultural Studies. They’ve got the best labs for learning as much as we can about the blight. The government meetings are hosted in their administration buildings.”
They get up to leave and the man shows them the door. “I’m sorry for your loss,” Ryan says awkwardly on the doorstep. He’s said it at every house so far, the numbers of dead staggering and painful.
“I’m luckier than most. At least my Katerina died before this happened to her beloved home.”
“What’s your name,” Ryan asks impulsively.
“William. Billy, to my friends.”
“Goodbye, Billy, I won’t forget you.”
Tears spring to his eyes. “William Tobin, from Solan II. Tell my children what happened to us, if you can. I have three Kathryn, Caleb and Will.”
Ryan can’t speak, just nods again, turning away to dash away his own tears. He kicks the ground moodily as Graham joins him at the bottom of the steps. “We have to stop this, have to fix it somehow. We can’t just let him sit in his house and quietly starve to death.”
“The Doc’ll fix it. You know she will.”
“She has to!”
Graham nods. “She will. Look, that must be almost an hour. Shall we go back to where we’re meeting the others?”
Ryan nods, grateful for a direction and follows Graham.
Yaz and Jack are already at the meeting point, Yaz’s face is cold and closed in a way that Ryan associates with pain.
“Are you alright?” he asks.
She shakes her head and Ryan can see an echo of his own pain in her eyes.
“I know,” he agrees. “This is-”
She huffs out a breath. “Jack doesn’t think we can change it,” she mutters resentfully.
Ryan and Graham both turn alarmed expressions his way and Jack raises his hands. “Hey. I’m not the expert. But this was history enough that the Doctor expected me to know about it. It’s probably a fixed point. We can stop it getting worse and get everything back on track, but it’s likely that ‘on track’ means letting this run its course.”
“We can’t just leave these people!”
“That’s what I said! We have to do something!”
“The Doctor will be back soon,” Jack reassures. “I’m sure she’ll be able to think of something.”
The Doctor never arrives. One hour turns slowly into two and eventually three. There’s no answer when they try calling her and eventually Jack remembers that she canabilised her phone for a battery on Satellite 5.
“She’s got into trouble,” Yaz says eventually, worry colouring her tone.
“Sometimes she just gets distracted,” Graham offers weakly.
“For three hours? We should have made her have a buddy.”
“Alright, let’s head back to the TARDIS for supplies and a quick strategy meeting.”
They settle around a small table in one of the kitchens and Graham makes tea and sandwiches. They barey pick at them, guilt eating into them with every bite. There are people dying of starvation just a mile or so away and with the TARDIS’ food machine, they probably have the capacity to save that whole town if no one else.
Jack pushes away his plate after only a few bites. “We can’t,” he answers what everyone is thinking. “Everyone keeps talking about how the Government has treated everyone the same. We can’t mess that up for them and risk causing more widespread problems. No one is dying right now, right?”
Mutely, the others shake their heads.
“Alright, so do we try and retrace the Doctor’s steps and if so how or does anyone know where she might be?”
“We know where the official Interim Government central control is,” Ryan offers.
“Getting thrown in small cells is the Doctor’s speciality,” Graham points out.
For a second, Yaz looks like she might object out of loyalty then she just sighs an agreement. “Well, if that’s where whatever authority there is here is based, if she’s in trouble that’s as good a starting point as any.”
“And if she’s just distracted,” Jack points out reassuringly, “she’ll make the same assumption about us and turn up sooner or later.”
“I’ll leave her a note,” Graham says quickly.
“That’s because you’re a billion years old,” Ryan teases, “I’ve already left a message on the groupchat.”
“The groupchat the Doctor can’t access due to her broken phone?” Yaz points out snidely and Ryan puts his phone back in his pocket.
Back to index
Chapter 7: Chapter 6
Author's Notes: A double bill, guys. Aiming to get this all up before the Regeneration.
Summary: Meanwhile, the Doctor...
Heading down the narrow street alone, the Doctor is concentrating more on finding her other self than on the suffering surrounding her. Her hearts ache with the knowledge that this plague must be allowed to run its course, but run its course it will. This ends, and the survivors are all the stronger for it. Deira Minar will go on to ensure that the galaxy is a place of plenty, that life sustaining sustenance can be grown even on otherwise barren asteroids. A young biologist from here, so touched by witnessing her family and friends and neighbours succumb to illness caused by a suppressed immune system from malnutrition, will discover the cure to xeno meningitis. It is not for her to take that away. If she did, she would be no better than the Trickster himself.
They must have landed at the very beginning of the crisis, she notes with a sigh. There are no signs of the destruction and violence of panicking and desperate people. Which means she will have to stand silent through the tragedies she knows are to come.
She chooses a house at random to visit and when the door is opened by a young boy in the ragged remnants of a school uniform, stick figure thin, she feels the breath knocked out of her. It is one thing to know that she must not interfere out of danger of further destabilising an already precarious moment, it is another to stand back and watch a child suffer.
“Hullo,” the boy says lowly.
“Hello, I’m the Doctor.”
He shakes his head. “‘M not sick, Miss. Are you with the food parcel people?”
“I’m not that kind of Doctor, it’s just my name.” She finds a slightly bruised apple in her pocket. “This is all I have.”
The boy snatches it and bites into the sweet flesh immediately.
“Can I come in?”
“I’m not supposed to invite people in when my parents aren’t here.”
She looks him over carefully, at his general unkemptness and the loss she sees in his eyes. The Doctor crouches down to be on eye level with him. “I expect,” she says quietly, “that they wouldn’t mind under the circumstances.”
He looks at her, still chewing ferociously on the apple.
She waits patiently for a moment. “Would you like me to give you some time to think and then come back?”
He shakes his head. “I don’t want to be alone.”
“Is there no one in town you can stay with?”
“I tried. But- The ration boxes. So I came home.”
“What about the ration boxes?”
“Well, the planetary government brings boxes to each house and they have the same for every person in the house. The same all over the planet so that it’s fair, but Giordi’s mum said having to give me food out the box was taking food out of the mouths of Giordi and his sisters and I didn’t want them to die too, so I came home. I get my own now.”
The Doctor shakes her head. Giordi’s mum probably isn’t even a bad person. Desperate people do terrible, cruel things. Still though, the child can’t be much more than nine.
He’s still talking. “That’s what happened to my mum. She gave me her food and she died. I took the food out of her mouth already.”
Nope, revise that thought. Who allows a child to believe he is responsible for the deaths of his parents in the middle of an agricultural plague? “That’s because she loved you very much,” she reassures softly. “You didn’t do anything wrong. Your mum just cared about you so much she wanted to give you everything she had.”
He nods, but his eyes retain their blankness.
The Doctor reaches out and squeezes his hand carefully. “You don’t believe me right now, and that’s ok. But I want you to remember what I just said because it’s true. You can believe it later.”
He nods again.
“Can you tell me what you meant about a planetary government? I thought Deira Minor was divided into city states, each with their own government.”
“Yeah, we did that at school. That’s the old way. Then this happened and there’s no food so everyone got together to make one government so that rules could be made worldwide to help everyone instead of some people having more than others.”
“And they’ve been good?” she asks carefully, with a sinking feeling.
He shrugs. “I don’t really understand a lot of what they say on the vid channel, but they bring ration boxes every week and everyone gets the same, even if you were rich before, even the planetary President. And people leave me alone. The first night I was here by myself I made traps. I thought people might come and try to steal my food since I’m just a kid, but the President says anyone looting will be cut off from the social support structures,” he sounds the words out carefully, “and that’s kept them away. That’s good, isn’t it? That it’s fair? And that at least people aren’t hurting each other?”
It is good, unnaturally so. And not what the history books say happened here. The Doctor knows that panic and violence spread across this world. That the survivors killed each other to take what they could find. Certainly someone is interfering here. What she can’t figure out is how even distribution of supplies and violence kept to a minimum helps spread chaos.
Maybe, she got through to her other and she’s rebelling? Although, that might not even be possible, depending on what exactly the compulsion in her mind is.
“That is good,” she smiles.
The boy has eaten the apple, core and all now and is licking his fingers for the juice, she wishes she had another one to give him.
“Any idea where the President lives?” she asks.
He points at a right angle from where the TARDIS is parked. “In the University of Centralised Agricultural Studies. Over there.”
“Thank you.” The Doctor stands and straightens. “You’re very brave, you know,” she says abruptly, “Your mum would be proud of you.”
He smiles very slightly. “Really?”
“Yeah. Yeah, she would.”
“Will you come back, Doctor?”
“I don’t know. But I will if I can think of a way to help, okay?”
He nods solemnly. An expression far older than his years on his face. “Yeah.”
She turns and waves at him and, in that moment, is grabbed at the elbow by a black clad guard.
“Hey!” the boy says.
The Doctor feels the fingers tighten near painfully over her arm, barely leashed violence. She turns, careful not to pull away and escalate the situation. “It’s ok. I’m fine. These gentlemen are just going to escort me to the Agricultural Centre, isn’t that right?”
The guard’s grip tightens another increment and the Doctor clenches her teeth against a sound of pain.
“The President wants to see you,” says a rasping voice behind her, and a presence on her left makes her realise with a sigh that these guards obviously operate in pairs.
“See,” she strives for a reassuring tone. “It’s fine.”
The boy nods hesitantly.
“Just go back inside,” the Doctor says and then turns to look up at the guard holding her. “The President asked for me personally?” She relaxes fractionally at the sound of the door closing gently behind the child, these guards are exactly the kind of intimidating and aggressive that lends itself to removal of the witnesses.
“You and your friends,” rasps the one holding her.
“Friends? I don’t have any friends. I’m on my own.”
The grip tightens again, unnatural, inhumanly tight, all the way to the bone, and this time the Doctor grunts with pain she can’t fully suppress. “That is some finger strength you have there. What are you? Android?”
The guard yanks her hard and she stumbles slightly on the uneven ground, “Where are your friends?”
“It’s rude not to answer a question,” the Doctor sing-songs.
The other guard grabs her shoulder and now she has two points of pain radiating from the steel-like grip. She hisses again and jerks herself forward, serving to loosen the second guard’s fingers, at least a little. “I’m by myself,” she insists again.
There is a pause while the two guards consider this information, giving the Doctor a chance to look them over. They’re identical, a foot taller than she is, black clad from head to toe, heads covered in bubble-like masks. Slabs, probably. She keeps talking, slabs aren’t known for their quick processing. She might be able to distract them.
“I’m glad you’re here. I’ve been waiting ages, shouldn’t really keep a President waiting.”
“The President said you would have friends,” one or both of them rasp.
The Doctor shrugs. “What can I say? My invitation only included a plus one and I didn’t want to offend them by choosing between them. They’re not here.”
There is another long pause while the slabs consider. It would be just the Doctor’s luck for the fam to turn up now, and until she knows more about what’s happening and this President, she’d rather that didn’t happen. “So, should we go?” she pulls forward again, ignoring the pain.
However, her movement towards the University of Centralised Agricultural Studies sparks something in the slabs programming and they start walking with her. “Tell me about the President?” she says.
There is no answer. Well, she always knew that was optimistic, slabs aren’t known for their chatty willingness to share information, either. Instead, she walks in silence between them, coat swishing in the gentle breeze, the hem just touching the top of the blackened grass. The Doctor looks out over the barren landscape, her misgivings growing with every step. There should be people, hunting for what they can, certain there must be something better if they walk far enough. If nothing else, there should be bodies. The tranquillity, coupled with the destroyed vegetation, makes the planet seem dead. If not for the boy she had spoken to, the Doctor might begin to wonder if her readings had been wrong.
As she and the slabs make it to the top of a rounded hillock, the Doctor gets her first glimpse of the University of Centralised Agricultural Studies. It’s huge, almost a town in its own right. There’s one centre building made of the same softly glowing pink mineral as the houses in the settlement she had just left. It’s impressive to look at, she has to give it that. It’s enormous, a long low building with a tower at each end; a gabled window in the centre, a floor or two above the large arched door. Then, like ripples emanating from a stone thrown into a pond, there are a variety of other buildings, all bordering a wide road perhaps half a mile in total: one tall, flat tower, a number of small houses in a terraced row, a circular building at one end.
“Where’s the President then? In the office with that big window? That’s one I’d want. I bet the view is beautiful. Or, would be, if the planet wasn’t dying.”
Unsurprisingly, there’s no answer.
As they reach the outskirts of the university, the Doctor’s uneasy feeling intensifies. A university campus like this should be teeming with life, with giggling students and harried lecturers. The silence is weighted and unnatural and it echoes in both her hearts. So many people must be dead to create this quiet; these pristine buildings are ruins, just waiting to be weathered by the ravages of time.
The slabs walk her up the empty road and the Doctor shivers slightly, the blank windows of the buildings feeling oppressively like eyes staring at her. The one with a grip on her arm steers her towards the vaulted doorway in the main building. The Doctor grins, “I was right about the office, wasn’t I?”
They march her up a single flight of narrow stairs made of the same smooth crystal, and the Doctor wishes she could stop to examine the tooling of it. She wants to know how this has been done. Deira Minar is somewhere she has always wanted to visit, an incredible repository of human ingenuity and skill.
When they reach the top, they stop outside a heavy wooden door. The hallway is dark, quiet like a library. The Doctor eyes the door. Long before this was the office of the Interim President, this was the office of someone important. Wood is rare here, the trees spindly, and mostly fruit bearing, not suited to this kind of use. This must have been brought in.
She takes a deep breath, closing her eyes for a second. Beyond that door, is her other, or possibly the Trickster. She needs to know what they are doing and why, and then she needs to stop it, get history back on track. All without getting her friends into any trouble. Easy.
The slab finally releases her arm and the Doctor flexes her fingers as feeling returns. She takes another breath and the slab on her right pushes the door open.
The Doctor steps confidently into the room and the President looks up from whatever he’s watching on a monitor in the corner with a bright smile. The Doctor blinks quickly. “You!” she gasps.
The Master gives her a smile which would be winning if it wasn’t edged with madness. “Hello, Doctor.”
How can this be you? She wants to blurt out, but refuses to give the Master the satisfaction of her obvious confusion, so instead she walks over to the desk he’s settled behind and helps herself to the comfortable looking armchair off to the side of it. Deciding that putting her feet on the small coffee table would be a little too affected, she settles for leaning forward, elbows on knees. “It was your TARDIS I tracked?”
He shrugs and walks out from behind the desk to join her, seating himself across from her. He’s wearing his customary purple suit, but has treated himself to some pins denoting some of the highest honours on Deira Minor. His cheekbones are sharper than she remembers, if anything he looks gaunt, an updated version of encouraging people to see what they expect to see she supposes, she can’t imagine the Master starving himself in order to rule over a planet already mostly dead. “How am I supposed to know what signal your antique pile of junk chose to follow?”
“And yours gives off far too much energy. You need to reinitialize the buffers, I thought you had a crew of about 15 from the output,” she retorts, sharply. For a moment there’s a tense silence and the Doctor is just steeling herself to ask what she must, even if it will require listening to his interminable gloating. When the Master abruptly volunteers-
“Do you know there’s another version of you running around?”
“Yes, actually,” the Doctor responds, nettled by his condescending tone. “She’s the one I was trying to follow. Why are you here anyway?”
His face pulls and then the smirk snaps back into place. “I’m not really bothered which version of you’s plans I ruin.”
The Doctor leans further forward, interest lighting her eyes. “You know her plans?”
The Master takes a moment to buff his nails on his lapel, examining them carefully. She doesn’t roll her eyes, mostly because she doesn’t have an audience to appreciate it. “Perhaps. What is it worth to you?”
Wariness steals over her features. “What do you want?”
“How about...one of your pets?”
The Doctor opens her mouth.
“And don’t tell me they’re not here. Yes, I saw you arguing with my slabs, they’re equipped with a full range of surveillance equipment, but I know you too well. There’s no way you’re here by yourself.”
“No,” the Doctor folds her arms and glares.
“Oh, go on. Just one. I haven’t got anyone to play with here if I want to keep my cover.”
She may as well be carved from granite for all the movement she makes.
“Whatever. Fine. Be like that. I tell you what: I’ll tell you what I know and then you can explain to me what is going on in that pretty little head of hers and then I can have the satisfaction of stopping you both.”
A bright smile lights up the Doctor’s face. “You haven’t got a clue what her plan is, you’re just reacting to whatever she’s done.”
A scowl briefly mars his expression, a cloud covering the sun, before he forces his face to relax and leans back in the chair, once more examining his nails. “Which is more than you know,” he reminds her archly.
The Doctor files her best sarcastic remarks for later, and forces herself to look contrite. “Yes, I’m sorry, Master.”
He snorts, not convinced for a second. Once upon a time he was familiar with that pseudo humility from the days when they’d age Baruso’s dinner to be inedible with portable time generators. “She showed up a few days before I did, set up on the south side of the continent.”
“And did what?”
“Oh, come on. You’re not telling me you know her landing site and nothing else? You’re too good for that.”
He looks at her, half amused and half irritated.
She raises an eyebrow.
“She landed at the College of Virology.”
The Doctor’s stomach sinks.
“I arrived just as the plague spread over the continent. She was arranging an evacuation programme to the other parts of the planet. Sloppy, even by your standards, Doctor, all that did was spread the contaminant across the world.”
“And then?” The Doctor asks, her voice tight.
“She arranged for peacekeeping forces, but given the panic created by the virus and the need for more militant control, I took the opportunity to overhaul their government and became planetary President.”
“Wait,” the Doctor holds up a hand. “Firstly, a version of me was - almost certainly - involved in starting a plague, arranged to have it spread across the entire globe, tried to keep the peace with armed thugs and at at no point did you think ‘Well, that’s a bit out of character, maybe there’s something else going on here?’”
The Master splutters for a second before, “I thought you’d just grown a spine. Timeless Child.”
“And secondly, you - Mr Galactic-Domination-At-All-Costs-And-Damn-The-Bodycount - you then started arranging for support for everyone, minimising any looting and rioting, stopping people from moving around and generally, doing your best to stop people from suffering, simply because I was doing the opposite.”
“Oh, and also, I’m not the Timeless Child. It was a clever lie and you were fooled.”
“Now, do you want to help me or not?”
The Master looks at her, clearly swallowing both his first and second remarks before saying, “Tell me what is going on.”
She knows she can’t trust him, but the Master would be a formidable asset in her efforts to stop the Trickster. His intervention is probably the only reason her timeline hasn’t completely unravelled already. She hastily recaps her experience on Gallifrey.
“And actually, if you think about it, this is completely your fault. My younger self wouldn’t have had to make a deal with the Trickster if you weren’t the kind of idiot that went searching for that kind of monster to make deals with. Bit tacky really, taking advantage of someone’s younger regenerations.”
“I didn’t ask you to.”
“Well. Be that as it may. I am asking you: help me.”
There’s a long silence, but she can see that he’s weakening, almost feeling the sensation of crumbling in shields that she would never dream of pushing against, but is too attuned to to simply ignore.
“Look. If we’ve learned one thing today, it’s that when I’m the bad one you feel compelled to be good. You want to destroy her plans? I can help you with that. I’ll even let you take the credit for it.”
He sneers, but he’s about to agree, she can feel it. Then the door slams open.
“Doctor, are you okay?” It’s Yaz.
“Oh look,” the Master says brightly. “You did bring humans after all. I knew you were lying.”
Jack appears in the doorway next to her. His eyes sweep the Master and the familiar grin appears on his face. “Captain Jack Harkness, and you are?” he extends a hand.
“It’s Handsome Jack,” the Master crows. “This is like This is your life!”
Confusion appears on Jack’s face and he falters slightly.
“It’s the Master, Jack,” the Doctor says quietly.
Confusion blooms into shock, tempered with hatred, but Jack doesn’t ask questions. He swings an arm out behind him, blocking Ryan and Graham and glares.
“Is he-?” Yaz starts.
“He’s going to help us,” the Doctor states.
There’s an immediate clamour from everyone else in the room. The Doctor gives them a few seconds to get it out of their system, then she raises her hand to her mouth and uses two fingers to whistle sharply.
“Took me ages to learn how to do that,” she says once there’s quiet. “Yes, you are going to help us,” she addresses the Master first.
He makes a half dozen facial expressions and splutters a few syllables.
“No. Shut up. You know you are going to help, you know you need to stop the Trickster too because if he unravels everything I’ve ever done, that affects your life to an enormous degree. We’ve spent too many centuries together.”
That wins her a smile. “Oh, Doctor. I didn’t know you considered us exclusive.”
She glares at him and doesn’t respond.
“Jack, of course I don’t trust him. I’m going to be watching him at all times, but we are fighting against me and one of the most evil beings in our dimension, we need the manpower. Yaz, I know he destroyed my planet, but I don’t want to be responsible for destroying this one. Graham, I know he doesn’t care about helping people, he cares about ruining my plans and right now, that’s exactly what we want to do too. Ryan...I know he threatened to kill you, but we really need his help.”
“He did kill me,” Jack says, his smile has too many teeth now and the Doctor notices that he’s wound tight enough to snap.
The Master laughs. “How many times was it? 458, 789...I never did reach the end of my experiments.”
“Shut up,” the Doctor snaps again, rounding on the Master. “Leave them alone. And you, stop encouraging him. He’s horrible, we know he’s horrible. We still need his help.”
This time there’s complete silence when she stops talking.
“That’s better. Now, here’s what we’ll do. There’s six of us, so we’ll split into groups of three. Me, the Master and Yaz will go and find my other self and stop her. Jack, Graham and Ryan, you’re plan B. I need you to create a teleportation jamming field - prevent her from leaving. Make sure that if we fail we don’t have to find her again.”
“That’s ridiculous,” the Master points out. “You can’t send a group of humans, on their own, to fight a renegade Time Lord and a member of the Pantheon of Discord.”
“They won’t be-”
“And, even if they are able to avoid two incredibly powerful beings, which is, frankly, rather unlikely, you expect a few apes to be able to create a jamming field capable of preventing the Trickster himself moving as he pleases?”
“Jack knows what to do. And I have equipment.”
“Oh, yes? The Freak knows how to avoid leaks if he starts trying to build a multiphasic resonator? And you have equipment that can actually build something like that? It’s not second hand, mostly broken junk in the TARDIS storage bays?”
The Doctor meets Jack’s eyes and he grimaces. She really really really hates it when the Master is right. And she can’t send him off to create such a field on his own. Who knows what he’d get up to.
“Fine,” she says through gritted teeth. “Master, you help Jack with the jamming field. Fam, we’re going after a different version of me and a god from another dimension.”
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