The Assistant

by Lurky McLurklurk [Reviews - 7]

Printer
  • All Ages
  • None
  • Alternate Universe, General

Author's Notes:
Written for pie_is_good in the bluesuit_fic ficathon.

"You're going to need to get a job, you know."

"Am I?"

"Yes!"

"But, I thought ..."

"You thought?"

"Well, nine to five isn't exactly my thing, and what would I put on my CV? '1267-2010 AD (Earth-linear relative): travelling'? Anyway, it's not as if we need jobs. Your dad's not exactly poor ..."

"We are not going to sponge off him. No way. You're getting a job, mister. In fact, I've already got the perfect one lined up for you."

"Really?"

"Yeah, you can come and work with me. I'll vouch for you. No need to write a CV."

"Really?"

"What?"

"Well ... you know, I'm not sure it's a good idea for us to work together. What would we do at the end of the day? 'How was your day at work, dear?' 'Exactly the same as yours, dear.' 'Jolly good.'"

"Which of us is saying 'Jolly good' in that little play?"

"Oh, you, obviously, that's how you talk."

"Right."

"I just think it would be better if we didn't spend all our time together."

"We used to spend all our time together. When we were travelling."

"That was different."

"Well, if you're not going to work for Torchwood, then what are you going to do?"

"I definitely have to get a job?"

"Yes!"

"I could work for UNIT. I've done that before. Not in this universe, perhaps, but they exist here. I saw a truck one time."

"And how are you going to contact them? They're a top secret organisation! They're not exactly going to be in the phone book ..."

* * *

As it turned out, UNIT were in the phone book, if by phone book you meant the very small and discreet black address book locked in the hidden compartment of Pete's desk. But finding the address was about as far as the Doctor's luck seemed to stretch. The ageing NCO manning the front desk proved to be very good at stalling unwanted visitors.

"I'm afraid we're not really in the market for new staff, Mr. Chesterton," he said. The Doctor still hadn't decided on a consistent alias, and was already regretting this latest choice. Somehow it made him feel like he had to be a bit too sensible and responsible. "But I'm sure you'll see an advertisement in the Times if we do start recruiting."

The Doctor suspected sarcasm, but had no time to investigate because at that moment the doors behind the desk opened, and from them stepped not one but two familiar and very welcome faces.

"Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart!" he cried excitedly, adroitly dodging the sergeant's attempts to stop him from rushing over. "And Sarah Jane Smith! Oh, Sarah Jane Smith, how are you?"

"Do you know this gentleman, Miss Smith?" the Brigadier asked.

"Never seen him before in my life," Sarah said. The Doctor deflated slightly. Not that he hadn't known, really, that these weren't his friends, but the coolness of the reception was disappointing all the same.

"Sergeant?" the Brigadier snapped.

"Sorry, sir," came the reply, "this is Mr. Chesterton. He was enquiring about the possibility of a job with us."

"It's McCrimmon, actually," the Doctor said, grabbing the Brigadier's hand and shaking it before he had a chance to take it away. "Dr James McCrimmon. And your man over there is right, I would very much like to come and work with your august organisation."

The Brigadier managed to extract his hand from where the Doctor was still pumping it up and down. "As I'm sure you've already been informed, we're not hiring."

"I could be your scientific advisor," the Doctor tried. "I've got lots of relevant experience."

"We already have a scientific advisor," the Brigadier said.

"Well, then I can be the assistant to the scientific advisor!" the Doctor said brightly.

"Our advisor doesn't tend to need much help."

"I'll be the teaboy, then. I do make a very good cup of tea. Please? Give me a chance."

Somewhat to his surprise, Sarah spoke up. "It might be worth it, Brigadier."

"I'm well aware of your opinions on UNIT's catering, Miss Smith." The Brigadier's mouth twitched into a smile. He turned to the Doctor. "Very well. Would you like to join us for a taste test, Miss Smith?"

* * *

Half an hour or so later, the Doctor had, through a combination of fast talking and excellent brewing (the secret was in the timing, naturally), managed to become assistant to the scientific advisor, with special responsibility for beverage provision.

As he walked out of the Brigadier's office into what was now his place of employment, he found himself being grabbed by the elbow and propelled quickly away. He looked down to see Sarah's hand, two fingers of which, he noticed, were missing their last knuckle. Presumably some long-ago accident that hadn't happened to his Sarah. "Not that the tea wasn't very good," she whispered, "but you owe me."

"Oh, more than you could ever know," the Doctor said solemnly.

They reached the opposite end of the corridor from the Brigadier's office and stopped. "Look," Sarah said, "I don't know what your game is, but you clearly know something about all this. I'm a journalist. Or I was, back in the seventies when this place was first getting up and running."

"The seventies? Not the eighties?" the Doctor asked.

Sarah looked perplexed. "I think I can remember which year's which, thank you. Anyway, now I'm writing a book, the secret history of UNIT. Lethbridge-Stewart seems to be giving me complete access, but I can't help feeling he's trying to overwhelm me with information the way he used to with D-notices."

"And you want me to sniff around on the inside for you, try and work out what he's not telling you?"

Sarah seemed a bit put out that he'd got her point so quickly. "Well, yes."

"Sounds fun," the Doctor said.

Again, the speed of his acceptance seemed to take the wind out of her sails. "I'll be in touch shortly, then."

The Doctor started back down the corridor, then turned on one heel. "You do know about the aliens, right?"

"Everyone knows about the aliens!"

"Oh, right, 'course they do." The activities of this world's Torchwood activities had been exposed after the Cyber crisis, just another of the dominos knocked over by the fall of the Tops.

"The question is: what was UNIT's angle? Were they just another bunch of scavengers? Or was there something else? What if they were collaborating with the extraterrestrials?"

"Or maybe they were actually trying to protect the Earth?"

"Stranger things have happened," Sarah admitted.

"Doctor McCrimmon!" the Brigadier shouted.

"I should go," Sarah said. "See you soon."

The shout came again. "Doctor McCrimmon!"

"Oh, right, that's me. Coming!" The Doctor rushed over to him as Sarah headed down the stairs.

"I thought I'd introduce you to some people," the Brigadier said. "Come with me." As the Doctor fell into step beside him, his voice dropped. "I don't know exactly what's going on with you, McCrimmon, but you know far too much for me to let you out of my sight. That's the real reason you've got this job."

"Ah, Sun Tzu. Keep your friends close but your enemies closer. Very wise." The Brigadier didn't look impressed, but he carried on anyway. "Is that what you're doing with Sa-- Miss Smith?"

"I am cooperating fully with Miss Smith's book, Doctor. That isn't just a line." He stopped for a moment. "To be honest with you, UNIT these days is little more than a social club for semi-retired soldiers. Fairly soon, everyone who remembers will be gone, or simply won't remember any more. We ought to get the facts straight before then." He started walking again. "Now, let me take you to the lab to meet your new superior."

Round a corner, up some stairs, and the Doctor found himself outside a large set of double doors painted a rather violent green colour. UNIT's headquarters weren't in the same place on this world as they'd been in the other Earth, but some things didn't seem to change very much. "Might be best if you wait here," Lethbridge-Stewart said. "He can be a bit temperamental."

The Brigadier went inside, and for about five minutes the temperamental nature of the scientific advisor -- his new boss, that was a weird sensation all by itself -- became clear, with a number of outbursts along the lines of "Brigadier, I do not need an assistant!", quite a lot of banging, and at least one noise that he was fairly sure was a test tube smashing.

The door opened again and the Brigadier poked his head out. "In you come, then. Doctor McCrimmon, this is UNIT's scientific advisor. He's ... well, the Doctor."

The man behind the Brigadier had long wavy hair and piercing blue eyes, and was wearing a cravat and an elaborate waistcoat.

It was like looking into a mirror. If it was some sort of special magic mirror that reversed your last two regenerations.

The Doctor just about managed to allow his hand to be shaken in between being astonished and shocked. "It's wonderful to meet you," the other Doctor said sarcastically. "I always enjoy meeting new people. Particularly when they've been dumped on me with no warning." He glanced up and down, taking in the Doctor's suit and trainers, his gaze lingering on his hair. The overall effect was rather dismissive. "Come on, then, I suppose you'd better show me these fabled teamaking skills of yours."

* * *

The Doctor had never got on fabulously well with his former incarnations, to the point where he sometimes wondered if the First Law of Time was motivated more by etiquette considerations than the need to preserve the continuity of the spacetime continuum. Even when he'd met his fifth self recently -- though that was yet another of the things that he had to keep reminding himself hadn't exactly happened to him -- there'd been that frisson of self-criticism.

But as it turned out, the problem had been that, what with the end of everything generally being imminent on such occasions, he'd just never had time to get over that initial prickliness (understandable; it was never fun to be confronted with one's more attractive replacement). After a week of being variously ignored, used for demeaning scut work and endless cups of tea, he was getting on with his previous self like a house on fire.

Though, of course, it wasn't his previous self, nor even that other him's previous self. This was another version, which was completely impossible -- and not the good sort of impossible, either.

It was an incontrovertible fact that there had only ever been one Gallifrey, fixed at the centre of time and overseeing every parallel universe and the voids between them: a giant eye watching over not just all history, but all histories. And if there was but one Gallifrey, it stood to reason that there could only be one Doctor.

And yet it was equally incontrovertible that he was working, day in, day out, with another version of his former self. The Doctor had fairly quickly established, through a mixture of subtle questioning, careful observation and pumping Sarah for information in their regular meetings, that his counterpart had no memory of anything beyond the last hundred years or so, and that he had spent that entire period on Earth. The Doctor recalled the equivalent period of his own life, though the recollection was always hazy: remembering having no memory was inevitably confusing. He'd been trapped on Earth while the TARDIS recovered from the strain of protecting his timeline from paradox, his only connection to his previous life a note telling him to meet Fitz in 2001. He knew that this other Doctor had the same note, had seen him hurriedly folding it and slipping it into a pocket when he walked in on him unexpectedly. It was strange for him to recall that time now, his memory restored but Gallifrey once more gone.

Over the weeks that followed, as he grew closer to his counterpart, the Doctor toyed with various hypotheses to explain this apparent contradiction. Like him, this Doctor came from a timeline without a Gallifrey. Perhaps there was only one Doctor as long as there was one Gallifrey; perhaps there were as many Doctors as there were ways to destroy the planet. Or perhaps each universe had its own Doctor, and he just happened to be the Doctor whose origins were on Gallifrey. Perhaps this Doctor had once been a crystal skeleton, or a human inventor. It might be considered absurdly narcissistic to consider oneself as a multiversal constant, but stranger things had happened. And he had to admit that he was quite special.

There was no way to know for sure. What he was certain of, somehow, was that somewhere his not-quite-double had a TARDIS of his own, recovered now from its trauma and ready to fly off into time and space once more.

The question was: where?

* * *

"Did I ever tell you about the Abominable Snowmen?"

"The actual Yeti?"

"Of course the actual Yeti! All the stuff we've seen and you still express incredulity over Yeti. I don't know."

"You've gone quiet. What is it?

"I was just thinking, all the stuff we've seen. Do you miss it?"

"Miss what?"

"Travelling in the TARDIS. Seeing the universe. Exploring the wonders of time and space."

"I honestly don't know."

"You don't know?"

"No, I don't know. I mean, that was all amazing, obviously. But now I have a job where the wonders of time and space come to me."

"Well, so do I."

"Yes, yes, I know! I don't want to have that argument again. We've still got better kit at my job, though. Anyway, there's all these stories of yours, as well. We're never going to run out of those even if you tell me ten a night for the rest of our lives."

"Well, stories are important. That's definitely true."

"So go on then, tell me about the actual Yeti."

"Well, when I say 'actual', it turns out that the source of the Yeti legend is a bunch of robots controlled by a disembodied intelligence from before the dawn of time ..."

* * *

He was in the canteen, pushing the last few peas around his plate, still vaguely perturbed by this whole appetite thing, when a bulky manila folder landed on the table in front of him, followed by Sarah Jane slumping into the plastic chair opposite.

He looked up at her, saw a hollowness in her eyes. "What is it?"

"The real reason UNIT was formed." She sighed. "It's all in there, chapter and verse. Newly declassified by the People's Republic after a freedom of information request from little old me. Nothing blacked out, everything in the contents present and correct, no unfortunate gaps due to fires or flooding in the warehouse ..."

The Doctor took the cover gingerly between his fingers, as though it was potentially explosive. "This is the story, then?"

"It is, but it's so much bigger than the one I was looking for, now or back then. No wonder they shipped me off to the camps."

"Your fingers ..." Stupid Doctor. Stupid, stupid Doctor.

She laid her hand out on the table between them. "My only souvenir of five wasted years."

"I'm so sorry."

She smiled at him, thinly. "It's hardly your fault."

He opened the folder, eyes scanning faster and faster as he turned the pages. He stopped for a moment, fixed her with his gaze. "This is all true?" he asked, desperate for an answer he knew he wouldn't hear.

"It fits with everything I found out at the time. But the scale of it! An entire intelligent race -- two! -- living on Earth, wiped out utterly. Exterminated. Aliens were never the real threat, not with Torchwood around. But a challenge like that to mankind's supremacy? Oh yes, that'd be enough to get the squabbling nations to unite for a while."

The Doctor reached the end of the file, read the final document, now-useless plans to ensure that the secret never escaped.

"Not so much a social club as hush money, I suppose." Neither of them had noticed the Brigadier enter the room. He turned to Sarah, then the Doctor, looking each of them straight in the eye. "I want you both to know that none of us are proud. I suppose you'll be wanting to interview me again, Miss Smith," he said stiffly.

"I ... I'm not sure I--"

"Nonsense," the Brigadier snapped. "Don't take pity on me because I'm a feeble old man. The story needs to be told. That's what I've always said to you, isn't it?"

"You didn't tell me about this!"

"I was too ashamed."

The Doctor barely heard them, their voices coming to him as though down a tunnel at a great distance. "Do you mind if I take this?" he asked, picking up the folder. Sarah nodded distractedly and he marched out into the corridor.

When he reached the lab, the other Doctor was staring intently at a test tube rack. He threw the dossier down onto the desk next to him. "I need to know -- did you help them make this?"

The Doctor looked at him for a moment, grey eyes full of sadness, then looked away. When he spoke, his voice was quiet, the whisper of the grave. "It was supposed to be a cure." He paused; the Doctor said nothing, just waited for him to explain. "The reptiles had a biological weapon, a plague that would have wiped out all human life on the planet. They'd released it; people were dying. I found an antidote. I had to find an antidote. But it was ... too powerful. It didn't just attack the plague, its mode of action struck at some fundamental biochemical process in the cells of the reptiles too, some pathway superseded by evolution since then."

The Doctor finished the story for him. "And so UNIT had its own biological weapon. They salted the earth and poisoned the seas, making the whole planet utterly inimical to its original sentient inhabitants." He sat down on a lab stool, thunderstruck. It was so close to what had happened in his world. Could his cure have been similarly twisted, if the powers that be had been that little bit more ruthless? Would he have been able to stop them?

His counterpart sat down opposite him, looked him in the eye. "Judge me if you like, but you mustn't think badly of Alastair. You don't know what things were like, back then."

He thought of Wenley Moor, of the things that were more similar than he would like to admit; and then he thought of Sarah's mangled fingers. "No, I'm sure I don't."

"Let me show you something."

* * *

They went down in the lift, to a deep level not advertised by the controls. When the doors finally opened, they led onto a gloomy concrete corridor, somewhere between basement and bunker.

"You may have noticed," the other Doctor said as he strode briskly down the corridor, "I'm not much of a one for material possessions. But there is something that's very precious to me, and I want to show it to you. You know my worst secret now. This is my best." And he opened a nondescript door with a flourish of his sonic screwdriver.

Even before he stepped into the room, the Doctor could feel the humming reverberating through every cell of his body, the prickle of static electricity on his skin. So he was unsurprised to see the TARDIS, standing in a dimly lit corner, towered over by empty storage racks. He stared, entranced by the raw promise it embodied. Freedom. The ability to go anywhere, do anything. It was enough to make him positively giddy.

Then his view was blocked by his counterpart stepping in front of him, invading his personal space. He grabbed the Doctor's hand and pressed it to his chest. "I'm not like you. I have two hearts." The double thud resonated through the Doctor's thoughts as he listened to his counterpart continue, the truth of that simple statement sinking in. "I've lived for over a hundred years, and I've always, always had this." He let go and gestured at the TARDIS. "It didn't always look quite like this, but ... well, do you want to see inside?"

The Doctor grinned at him. "Oh, do I?"

When he climbed inside, it was just the way he remembered it. Wooden panelling, brass fittings, antique furniture ... But all that was just window dressing, ephemera. What really mattered were the vast and mighty processes, sentient but incomprehensible, underpinning the structure of the pocket universe, interfacing it with the outside world, the forces corralled under the console, contained but restless. He could feel them calling out to him, itching to be used once more, to rewrite history with each journey. He could already imagine doing it, feel his hands running across the console, see the rotor rising and falling, hear the elephantine roar of dematerialisation.

And in that moment, to his immense surprise, he realised that he didn't want to. He only had one heart, a heart that was bound to Earth. He couldn't leave, not the way this Doctor could. If he left, it would be a sundering, a sacrifice, and a worthless one at that. He wondered for a moment if it was cowardice, and decided instead that it was nobility.

"So ... what do you think?"

The Doctor scratched the back of his neck. "Oh, er, yeah, it's biggerontheinsidethantheoutside. When did that happen?"

"About ten years ago."

The Doctor nodded, then cleared his throat. "This looks like some sort of control panel." He gestured vaguely at the console.

"Yes, it seems so, doesn't it?" his counterpart said. "But a control panel for what?"

This was it, the Doctor thought, the moment of truth. "It's a time machine. It's called the TARDIS." He skipped around the console, pointing as he went. "This is the helmic regulator, that's the time path indicator, and this--" he reached under the console and grabbed an inverted tetrahedron "--is the dematerialisation circuit." He looked at it, threw it in the air. "Remember how it works?"

"I ... I think I do. Collapsing down a five-dimensional projection, reinterfacing the outer plasmic shell with the main bulk of the ship for transit! But how do I know that? How do you know that?"

"That's a very long story."

The other Doctor was silent for a moment. "If you know all this, do you know who I am?"

"You're the Doctor. You're a Time Lord -- the only Time Lord, the last of the Time Lords. You right wrongs, fight injustice, and make sure the tea doesn't get too cold. The TARDIS is your travelling machine. And the universe needs you."

"You've known all along," the other Doctor whispered under his breath as he spoke. "Ever since we met." And then he asked: "Are ... are you Fitz?"

The Doctor could feel a tear forming in the corner of his eye. "Fitz isn't coming. I'm sorry."

"Oh." He walked over to the console, started flicking switches, hesitantly at first but then with increasing confidence. "The whole of time and space," he breathed. "A million million galaxies, each with a million million stars. A cosmos full of wonders."

"A universe of terrors," the Doctor said. "Evil that must be fought."

"The light of twin suns, casting double shadows on the sand of an alien desert."

"The darkness of the human heart."

"Do you want to come with me?"

"I can't," the Doctor said. "I have ... I can't."

A strident and oh-so-familiar voice rang out from the doorway. "Well if you won't, then I will!"

They both turned to see Sarah Jane and the Brigadier standing on the threshold.

"We came looking for you," the Brigadier said, "after that business in the canteen. We were worried you were ... well, obviously we didn't need to worry."

"I've found out what my box is for, Brigadier," the other Doctor said joyfully.

"And you've got yourself a travelling companion," the Doctor reminded him, standing behind Sarah Jane with his hands on her shoulders. "Always very important to have a travelling companion."

"You're going somewhere?" the Brigadier asked.

"I'm going everywhere!" He walked over to the Brigadier. "Don't worry, you'll get along just fine without me. McCrimmon here can take over, I've taught him everything I know."

"Hey!" the Doctor objected, but the two men ignored him.

"We always knew this day would come, Doctor," the Brigadier told his old friend. "I'm happy for you."

"I'll come back and visit, I'm sure. Once I've worked out how to navigate."

"And you, Miss Smith?" the Brigadier asked. "What about your book?"

"I'll write a new one! I think it'll be a travelogue."

"Well, I hope it has a happier ending than the one you were going to write," Lethbridge-Stewart said.

"Goodbye, Brigadier," she said. "I'm very proud to have known you."

The double-hearted Doctor's gleeful activity at the console was making it clearer and clearer that they would be leaving very soon; the Brigadier was already picking up on it subconsciously, beating a retreat. The Doctor followed, stopping briefly half way to look back at him, and the woman staring on at him with wonder and just a little bit of healthy scepticism.

"Look after his hearts, Sarah Jane."

She smiled at him, that heartbreaking smile he remembered so well. "Don't worry, I will."

He closed the door gently behind him, and almost instantly the light began to flash as the TARDIS faded away, leaving behind it the tumultous din of reality groaning back into shape without it.

The Brigadier looked behind himself in wonder. "How extraordinary! Don't you think, Doctor McCrimmon?"

"Oh, you can just call me Doctor if you want," the Doctor said.

"I suppose I can at that. Quite, quite extraordinary," he repeated. "In fact, I think that's more than enough extraordinariness for one day; I'd suggest we both go home, Doctor."

"Yes," the Doctor said, "home."

* * *

"I got promoted at work today."

"Oh, brilliant, well done!"

"I'm the Scientific Advisor now. No assisting. Though I think they'll still want me to make the tea."

"What happened to the guy you were working under?"

"He ... left."

"Jumped before he was pushed?"

"Wh...? No, no, nothing like that. It was just time for him to move on. Bigger and better things."

"Oh, well, that's good then."

"Yeah, yeah, it was really good."

"What are you smiling about?"

"I was just thinking ... Did I ever tell you about the time I met Noel Coward?"

"Is this going to be another of your anecdotes where you use the TARDIS to stalk celebrities?"

"I don't stalk people! There are historical figures I ... admire, but I don't stalk anyone. Anyway, Noel Coward was actually a time traveller himself, had these pinking shears that could cut the Very Fabric of Space and Time. This was when I was travelling with Fitz--"

"Fitz? I don't think you've mentioned him before."

"Haven't I? Oh. Well, there were these talking poodles. From the Dogworld, obviously ..."