"Hey. If you're watching this, the TARDIS either noticed I was still alive, or Rose wanted to come back for my body. Thanks, sweetheart."
The man on the screen takes a deep breath, speaks in a slightly rehearsed tone. The air he breathes out is visible for a moment, white vapor fading into transparency against the black wall behind him.
"In case you haven't guessed it yet, I'm still up and walking. I know, right?" He smiles a little, trying for a measure of levity. All the same, there's a tightness at the corners of his eyes that the crinkles of a smile can't overcome. "Surprised me too. And if you're watching this, I'm obviously not here anymore. Still got my vortex manipulator," he explains, holding up his right hand before the camera and tapping the brown device on his wrist. "I've made a couple adjustments, but I can't be exact." He swallows, stares down the lens determinedly.
"I'm about to jump one hundred ninety-eight thousand and ninety-four years into the past. If I'm lucky, I'll land within a century or so of two thousand six. And yeah, Doctor, I know the drill. I know my history."
He chuckles, nervousness barely tinting the edges of the sound. "Of course, if you're watching this, I should have waited longer. Thing is, I've been alone up here for ten days now. If you were coming back for a body, you'd get back here before I was a skeleton." He pauses. "Daleks. Okay, fine, I'd be a skeleton from minute one, but that's not the point. Right now, I'm counting on you being a horrible driver, Doctor, and I just can't wait any longer."
He glances to the side, pulls himself together, and when he speaks again, his voice is steady, calmly listing the conditions he finds himself in. "I've been grabbing food from the gamerooms, but the refrigeration's gone offline, along with most of the heat. I could probably hold out for a year on the non-perishables, maybe more, but odds are I'd run out of sanity before supplies. Or life support." He tugs on the lapels of his jacket, thick and black, almost blending into the wall. "I'm sure you've noticed the lovely tropical climate by now," he adds with no lack of sarcasm before coughing into his sleeve. "I don't know how much better it is down on the surface, though. I've checked out some of the damage and it's only enough to know that seeing what happened to the entertainment isn't high on the list of global priorities. There's still life down there, but all spaceports are basically rubble."
There's a pause as he pulls out a plastic bottle, unscrews the top and takes a swing. He lowers it without swallowing, looks at it and cracks it against the wall. Ice and plastic shatter together. He continues on with no more comment on the hardship than a sigh, voice growing hoarse. "I'm alone up here. It's me and the dust. And there's a lot of it. I've gone through all five hundred levels — there's no one else left. Level One's-" He glances down and breathes. "Don't go down there, Rose. For my peace of mind, just don't look." He swallows nothing in his dry mouth and tries for a lighter transition.
"Anyway, I'm about to head out, so anytime you want to magically appear with some story about traffic in the Time Vortex, some idiot setting off a mauve alert..." He quiets, listens intently. There's complete silence from the tape, save for the slightest hum of machinery and his breath. The observers turn up the volume just in time for him to chuckle ruefully, breaking the stretching moment. "So much for that."
He reaches for the camera, then pulls back. "Oh, Doctor? Something I'd like to know the answer to when you show up. I've thought about it and the pieces just don't match up. Even if you did manage to refine a Delta wave in time, it would have just killed the organism, not vaporized the external armor. If you changed the secondary transmat into a real disintegration beam, that doesnt explain what happened to the fleet." He pauses. "Or to me." He shakes his head, expression thoughtful. "Those things got me. Three Daleks and me with two empty guns. I died. I felt it. No white lights beyond the obvious, but I really was exterminated. I'm thinking it's got to be some sort of delayed reaction from the nanogenes. I mean, just look."
His jacket is quickly shucked, the sleeves of multiple layers rolled up. He pulls a pocketknife from some pocket and flips the blade open. As he holds it to the flesh of his arm, the look he gives the camera is one of a man both showing off and concerned. "Rose?" he says. "It's okay."
With that, he slices his arm, his breath hissing out through clenched teeth. "Wait for it," he tells the camera, speaking to an audience which is not and may never be the one listening. He wipes the blood of the injury off on a cloth before presenting the wound to the camera lens.
It closes up.
"Found that out by accident. Could be some combination of Delta wave, Dalek ray and nanogenes all mixed together. We'll worry about the long-term effects when I’m back home." He laughs a little, the sound both bitter and relieved. "Guess it's good to know you left me for dead because I really was."
He glances at his arm, wipes it a little more. While he speaks, he pulls his jackets back on, teeth chattering more than slightly. "Nothing more to say here, really. I'll keep the com open, I'll be somewhen between the sixteenth century and the twenty-fifth, and I know this is exactly the sort of thing you'd expect of a stupid ape, but really, Doctor, I can't wait for you here any longer." He nods gently as he continues to speak. "I know what risks I'm talking. You know I do. I'll manage. And if I’m mucking everything up and I'll never see either of you two again..."
He looks down, hands on his hips, letting that thought hang, allowing the silence to grow. He looks back up and his smile comes with effort. "Thank you. For everything. You two, well. Rose, I meant what I said. You’re worth it. You will always be worth it." His eyes have a wet sheen as he continues. "Doctor? I take it back. I'm glad I met you. I don't care how often I ended up naked or running for my life. It was fun."
His gaze drops and wanders off to the side in recollection, in imaginings. For one moment, the person who fills the screen is a man hovering on the edge of "I love you" as much as "Good-bye."
There's a beep from the camera and that moment ends.
"Running out of tape on this thing, so I'd better wrap up." He forces a grin, and he might really mean it. "Doctor, Rose, if I don't make it back to you and we never see each other again, I want you two to make sweet, sweet cross-species love and think of me. Often, and at the same time." He laughs little, the sound falling flat. His smile slowly slips from his face as he realizes that he's run out of things to say.
"So this is good-bye," he restates, numb with determination, not meaning the word in the slightest. "See you soon or see you in hell. Either way, I'll be seeing you." With one last grim smile, eye contact maintained with a struggle, he reaches forward for the camera and the image on the screen cuts out with a pop.
They look at each other, a confused look on the younger janitor's face. "Was that a show or somethin'?" Mal asks. "A preview? Doesn't sound like reality viewin' t' me."
Having worked on the GameStation for the better part of his life — better in terms of length, not in terms of quality — Jim shrugs and flips the switch of his grav-vac to setting three. It was surprisingly simple, the way the body went back to the daily tasks of years ago. He'd survived employment in this place until retirement, survived retirement until the invasion, survived the aftermath until being pulled out of retirement. Once he might have thought the idea of rebuilding the entire network system to be a grand undertaking, but now...
Now he just really doesn't care. "Dunno, just somethin'."
"But it was set out all special-like," Mal continues, waving the little slip of paper found on top of the vidscreen. The paper crackles with each pass in front of Jim's nose, cracks and breaks when Jim swats it away. Mal still talks like a man who has yet to realize that what a screen shows may in fact be real, like a man who has never heard contestants scream in terror, never cleaned up their charred remains for a salary. That's because he is that kind of a man, and that's exactly the kind of man Jim has no respect for.
Still, Jim only shrugs his shoulders until he hears his joints pop. Mal's not worth his effort. Very few things seem to be, these days. "Could be what it says it is," he replies, steady in his task, the grav-vac feeling far heavier than it ever had back in the old days. "Or could be a survivor gone mad."
Mal laughs at the first idea and pockets the vidscreen. When Jim looks at him, the younger man shrugs. "Think my daughter'd like it. Pretty bloke on the thing."
Jim doesn't bother to shrug back, only working, only moving forward. Soon he'll be done and gone and away from fools like Mal Wulfsum. That's something worth caring about. Not much, but it is.
That night, as Jim lays himself to rest, he thinks a moment of his gamedead wife. He thinks a moment of a recorded madman, one the many he's seen in his years of watching. He puzzles a moment over healing skin and special effects and why a madman would edit a tape. And of how, in that broken, powerless structure. He thinks a moment of the impossible and how it might be true.
He thinks of hope and sleeps.