There are no Time Ladies on Gallifrey any longer.
In the first millennia of the war, during President Romana's reign, they were legion. They were the front lines of battle, flying and repairing TARDISes. They were the scientists, developing bigger and better weapons to fight the Daleks with and protect Gallifrey. They walked the halls of the Citadel, spoke on the High Council. They were mothers and daughters, sisters and nieces, grandmothers and granddaughters a thousand times over. They were loved and hated, admired and feared, respected and corrupted. They sacrificed and bled just as much as any of the Time Lords.
And then the Six took over. Six members of the High Council who deposed Romanadvoratrelundar and placed her in a time-locked prison cell. She would not sanction them, you see, refused to allow their plans to be set into motion. They wanted to resurrect Rassilon and crown him their leader, and they did not care about the history told by the Seers and the Matrix itself; that Rassilon had built the Time Lords on the shoulders of the lesser races. That he had become so evil, so corrupt, that to wake him would mean their utter destruction.
They resurrected Rassilon, and it was the beginning of the end. With Romana's fall from power, the Council changed. It became colder, more cruel, without her guiding hand. It begun silencing its women. First Romana, then others. Chancellor Flavia disappeared soon after Romana was imprisoned. The savage Leela, leader of the Palace Guard, was thrown out into the waste lands for her impure blood. The girl-child - she was nearing forty, but they still called her that - Ace, the sole human to ever attend the Prydonian Academy, was attacked and driven from Gallifrey.
Yet Gallifrey was still losing the War.
So then the Time Lords sought out the renegades, for Rassilon believed they would be perfect soldiers for the Time War. He bribed, cajoled, threatened, and finally forcibly resurrected every renegade there was. The Master, brought back from true death to lead the Time Lords into battles they would never win. The Rani, her planet turned into a vast weapons factory, chained to her laboratory until she found the perfect instrument of destruction. The Monk, locked in a workroom to interpret orders and battle plans for the Nightmare Child. Iris Wildthyme and her corps of engineers, reworking old scraps of metal until they formed new battle TARDISes. The Doctor, who was given Flavia's former position and named Lord Chancellor for life. Others, whose names have been lost.
They paraded the renegades for the public eye - see how strong a Time Lord's connection to Gallifrey and its people is? - and every day, every year, every decade, more and more Time Ladies disappeared. The disloyal, who spoke against Rassilon. The heretical, who questioned continuing to fight the Daleks. The hysterical, who "could not bear" the suffering of the War. They were Dispersed, erased from even the Matrix itself, and only a few on Gallifrey even noticed.
One who did notice was the Lord Doctor's granddaughter, the girl called Susan. She was still quite young, and did as she was told. Helped the Matrix technicians monitor the psi-waves of soldiers. Lent what little medical knowledge she had to tend the wounded after battles. Came to read to the prisoners kept in the Tower - which was where her eyes were opened.
Her grandmother was among the prisoners.
There were three Time Ladies in the highest part of the Tower. Their names were no longer spoken, stricken from everything but the Matrix, but Susan still knew them; Romana, Ushas, and Melanthe. Imprisoning the former Lady President and the renegade Head of Biotemporal Munitions, Susan could understand, but her grandmother Melanthe? She begged her grandmother - why are you here? How have you angered Lord Rassilon? - but there was no answer, not from her grandmother.
Ushas spoke, and Susan had never known the renegade they called "the Rani" to be kind, but her voice held kindness nontheless. "She cannot answer you, Susan. The Lord President does not appreciate when a Time Lady speaks truth. It offends his delicate mental sensibilities."
"Why can you speak and she cannot?"
"I am still useful to his Lordship. I know formulas and equations to create everything from warp stars to biodata dampners. Melanthe and Romana, however, have nothing that Rassilon wishes to hear, so he has silenced them."
Ushas nodded. "You could try. I have, a number of times. It's done no good."
Susan looked over at Romana, the once-proud leader of the Time Lords, still wearing her presidential robes of white. "How?"
"Honestly? I don't know. There are old records of silencing a Time Lord completely, but they're under Class-10 restriction. I do know nothing can reverse the process save the Lord President. Not even I could manage it."
"Grandfather would never allow this."
"No, he wouldn't, if he knew. Our Lord President has forbidden anyone to speak of it." Ushas laughed darkly, and it sent a chill up Susan's spine. "I shouldn't like to be the Time Lord who tried to inform the Doctor of what's happened to his nearest and dearest, such as we are."
"I want to know how he did it," Susan replied fiercely. "What can you tell me?"
Ushas sighed, and motioned her to come closer to the forcefield at the door to the top of the Tower. Susan could see the zed-neutrino energy of the barrier hissing and sparking, and approached cautiously. Ushas sat on the floor opposite the barrier and faced Susan, Romana and Melanthe to either side of her. Under the veil of her hair - still long and ginger, after all these years - she spoke quietly to Susan, shielding their conversation from the Tower guards.
"The Matrix speculates - purely theoretically, you understand - about the things that existed before the Time Lords. There were the vampires, of course, and the Guardians, the Divergents and their like in alternate and parallel universes. And then there were the Sisters. Have you read the Trifold Manifest?"
"The sister-goddesses. Death, Pain, and Time." Susan recited, because it hasn't been so long since her lessons.
"There is no proof at all they existed," Ushas said, some of her old haughtiness returning. "But . . . one of the legends tells of a woman fleeing a great battle in terror from the horrors she's seen. She runs all the way to the end of the universe and begs the sisters to turn her to stone so she can feel no more pain. For some reason, they cannot change her entirely, but they each try. Death gives her eternal life, Pain takes her suffering away, but Time cannot remove her memories. And so the woman weeps for all eternity, hiding her face in shame for living when so many others have died. She is the Weeping Angel, faceless, voiceless, and nameless, thrice-cursed."
"And the Lord President has discovered the first part of the curse?" Susan guesses.
Ushas looked haunted then, every bit of her eight hundred and forty-three years (the same as Susan's grandfather), and nodded.
"I would not care to be in the same cosmos as Rassilon should he discover a method of un-naming. He has taken everything else from me save my voice, my face, and my name. Your grandmother and Romana have less. I will die before I let him take my identity."
The Rani would end up being correct - she would die before she allowed the Lord President to destroy her.
It was in the fifth chronological millennia of the War (they'd been through so many temporal shifts and never-weres and might-have-beens that no one was entirely sure how long they'd been fighting), at the fall of Arcadia. The Master's ship, the Cruciform, had been captured by the Daleks and turned against them, causing an endless loop of pain upon all who encountered it. It seems the Time Lords were falling victim to their own technology, and the Lord President ordered the Rani to engineer a transdimensional reality plague in retaliation.
Kill the Daleks - and anything else in the plague's way - in every universe there is, was, and ever will be, in other words. And Ushas could not do it. It isn't logical to engineer a weapon that not only can be used against you, but is indiscriminate. It's genocide of her own people, and she refuses.
She is made an example of. Publicly stood before the Council by the Lord President and informed of her fate: she will be Dispersed, erased from the memories of every Time Lord, stripped of all three of her names (her given name, her nickname, and her adopted title) and never spoken of in the Matrix again. The Doctor begs for mercy, because the Rani will not, and offers the Lord President a deal, that he will take up the work she leaves behind if Rassilon spares her life. Rassilon agrees, and the Time Lady once known as the Rani is taken back to the Tower, as voiceless as her cellmates. She is found by the Palace Guard one morning, an empty shell without a mind to fill it.
No one dares to ask, but there are old legends - the Toclafane, the Ancient Ones - that say if you give up all of your names, you cease to exist. If the legends are true, either Ushas found a way to harness their power, twist it to her will, or Rassilon has a new power beyond anything the Time Lords can dream of. She isn't sure which option she prefers to be true, which is the less-cruel to think of.
Susan's grandfather is heartsbroken. He lost the Master at Arcadia, lost Ushas to her own pride, and now knows he lost Melanthe and Romana to Rassilon's iron rule. What he doesn't know is that he has one more thing left to lose.
For the Daleks are winning, there is no doubt about that. They are conquering world after world, galaxy after galaxy, spreading death and destruction, and the Time Lords are becoming ever more desperate. The Doctor is given instructions for ever more destructive weapons; weapons Ushas would never consider using, and Susan's grandfather laughs, for he once condemned Ushas and her weaponry. He constructs the weapons (transdimensional reality plagues and illusion strikes and warp-fold cluster bombs) and he sinks deeper into the kind of madness that Rassilon also possesses.
Grandfather talks to the women, the fallen Time Ladies, as if they still exist. He weeps for Melanthe, for the wife he lost so long ago to distance and decorum and the rules no one on Gallifrey even remembers. He laughs madly with Ushas, shares secrets of technology and what-once-was, tells halves of old school tales with names that are no longer spoken. And he regrets with Romana, talks of the days when they explored places as vast as the universe and as small as Parisian cafes.
Susan goes to the Lord President, falls on her knees and begs him to release the Doctor. Rassilon turns a deaf ear to her pleas, insisting he needs the Doctor to win the war. Rassilon and the Doctor supervise the creation of a new Key, one that does not just remove an individual from time and space but does it in every possible universe on a planet-wide scale, and, just to twist the knife even further, retrieve an Inferno Whirlwind from the smoking ruins of Goth to disperse the Key. Hundreds of billions of beings to be incinerated as they are erased from hundreds of billions of universes.
It is the final atrocity in an ages-long war of atrocities, and Susan cannot bear it, the degeneration of her grandfather, the degredation of those Time Ladies who still live, the dispersal of the others. She does not understand how her people have become so mindlessly cruel. And she supposes, in later years, that is why she makes her way up to the Tower in the final days of the war.
It was her last hope.
She has aged in this body, only her second, and it takes her time to climb the stairs of the Tower. Hundreds of feet have marched the same path she is walking now, and she thinks she's been spending too much time with her grandfather, because she can hear them. Ushas's harsh appraisal ("madness runs in the family, it seems, though your research is sound"), Romana's quiet hope ("if the legends are true, anything is possible, for nothing can get worse"), Melanthe's honest support ("you always were a genius, my girl, if anyone can do this, it's you"). She can hear others, Leela and Ace and Flavia and Iris and Thalia and Darkel, women she's never met, never will meet.
And Susan can hear her mother. It has been three hundred years, and Susan can finally hear her again. Her mother speaks gently, encouragingly.
"There is no dishonor in weeping, my daughter. Tears are Pain's gift to us. Use them well."
Step by step, she climbs, tears running down her face. Each step is a prayer to the Sisters: take my voice, that it may strengthen others; take my name, that it may be unwritten from the cosmos; take my face, hide it in deepest shame. Thrice-sacrificed, thrice-cursed, I call to you to take what you will from me. Turn me to stone, that I may feel no pain. Hear my cry, as you have heard the cries of my sisters. Let us not simply fade away.
And slowly, so slowly Susan cannot, in later years, remember it occurring, she feels herself begin to change. Her skin is tougher, the tears running down her face hotter and thicker, and there is a pressure building behind her eyes. She reaches the door, stepping inside to find Rassilon and his council surrounding two small figures: Romana and Melanthe.
"Ah, Lady Susan, you have finally joined us. Perhaps you will be more amenable to my final plan."
Rassilon's eyes glitter with madness as he announces his plan for the end of the Time War: the predestination paradox, the violation of the Master Accords, ascension to a higher plane of existence, control over the Vortex itself. And she doesn't need his ranting to know that both Melanthe and Romana have refused to support him.
"No, my Lord President," she says. "A thousand times no."
He rises to his feet, pointing that damned glove of his at Melanthe. "What if it saves your grandmother?"
Melanthe locks eyes with Susan, and she can feel that pressure that's been building behind her eyes intensify. What is it, what have the Sisters given her?
"Your support, Lady Susan?" Rassilon demands.
The word that leaves Susan's lips is the same one in Melanthe's eyes: Never. She is silent as she dissolves in a shimmer of smoke, for she cannot scream with no voice. The scream tears out of Romana's throat instead, full of fury and rage, defying everything that should be, for she has been silenced for centuries.
"No, never! Never, Rassilon, will you force us into betraying everything that we hold dear! You have stolen our very lives with your lust for power, and I say NEVER."
"Silence!" Rassilon bellows, and Romana only shouts louder, her tiny frame trembling with the energy pouring off her.
"You have broken the Laws of Time, and the Sisters will collect. In the names of those you have destroyed, I swear to you, the sons of Gallifrey you have manipulated will be your undoing."
He laughs, facing her in a sweep of red robes (Prydonian colors, and Susan has never been so deeply ashamed of her house), blazing bright against Romana's dull black everyday robes.
"The Doctor and the Master? My dear Romana . . . they will never know. You and Susan have committed high treason, and you will both be paraded before the Time Lords as an example of what occurs when one disobeys me and then executed. You have far outlived your minor usefulness."
And the power bursts out of Susan's eyes, striking the hearts of two of Rassilon's guards. They scream as they are erased from time itself, and Susan watches, horrified. She can see the same power building behind Romana's eyes, though Romana gently takes Susan's hands and holds them to her eyes, then mirrors her posture. They stand in the eye of the storm they've unleashed, and though Rassilon rants and raves and does parade them before the assembled Time Lords (not a single Time Lady among them, Romana and Susan are the last), he treads lightly.
Until the day the High Council decides that Gallifrey shall rise. It is the final day, where Rassilon decrees the Time Lords shall rise above their flesh-and-blood forms to become creatures of consciousness, and let the universe end itself. The day the Time Lock cracks, and she and Romana follow Rassilon into an uncertain future.
The day she sees her grandfather for the last time.
Susan and Romana stand beside Rassilon, for what other choice do they have? Perish in the devastation Gallifrey has become, or perish in the future of uncertain causes. Either way, it will be at the Doctor's hand, and Susan has trusted her grandfather in all things. She cannot stop now.
She and Romana listen as the Doctor, the Master, and Rassilon meet again, and it is the stuff of legends. The insane Lord President, using his powers to show that he has them, confident of his will being done. The Castellan, Iphyxs, and the Chancellor, Portius, who replaced the Doctor in Rassilon's confidences when it became clear he had his own agenda to end the War, both silent in their support of Rassilon. The abomination the Master has become, as diseased and obsessed with glory as Rassilon.
(She saw him once, on Gallifrey, long before the war, when he was poisoned by his possession of a non-Gallifreyan body, but still the friendly enemy her grandfather had always regarded him as. He had been charming then, bowed his head to her and called her almost-grandniece, in acknowledgement of his friendship with her grandfather. During the War, he never had time for the likes of her, the drums drowning out everything else.)
Finally, there is the Doctor, the man who fixes people. He sounds so young and yet so very, very ancient. He holds the weight of lifetimes in his voice, and he is so, so tired of the War they've all been fighting.
And it is when the Doctor cocks a pistol - a simple, human gun - at Rassilon, then at the Master, that Susan feels the pressure behind her eyes receding. She peeks through her fingers and can see them: the slim, ages-young figure of her grandfather, hand shaking as he clutches the weapon; and the slight figure in black behind him, the Master, his shock of white hair at odds with his similarly-young body. There is a man - a simple, human man - locked in a glass box beside them, and Susan can see his life growing short. One simple human life, with the fate of Gallifrey and all its people resting in the balance. One decision, resting on the shoulders of one man.
"The final act of your life is murder. But which one of us?"
Which one does he shoot - his near-brother the Master, or his spiritual father, Rassilon?
And her grandfather cannot do it, she knows. Her strong, courageous grandfather cannot kill when it is one single life at stake. Numbers, she knows, have always comforted him. The greater the number, the easier it is to find permutations, equations, different ways of arriving at the same conclusion. She must give him a third choice, put another face to the destruction that must follow, no matter what he does.
He looks up at her, his voice echoing through her head - oh, my dear girl, my Susan - and she can feel the tears begin to trickle down her face. She weeps for him, because he's still running and she will be left behind once more. She was so very lost, once, and it seems she is destined to be lost again. He had taken her from her home on Gallifrey, given her another home in the TARDIS (oh, she can hear the old girl, too, hear her voice gentle as a caress), and forced her to accept what was almost a permanent home on Earth, if not for the Time War.
He turns back toward the Master ("get out of the way"), and destroys the link Rassilon has created with this time and this reality. The pull starts, time winding back around her and the other Time Lords, and the Visionary's voice echoes through the link: Gallifrey falls, as it always must. It is a fixed point in time, the destruction of Gallifrey, and that cannot change, even for the mighty Rassilon.
"You die with me, Doctor," he says, never willing to face defeat with honor. All the legends talk of Rassilon's dignity and victory.
All the legends lie.
"I know," her grandfather says, and she sees in his eyes that he is ready to die.
She cannot watch this part, cannot witness the final cruelty Rassilon could bestow upon her by killing her grandfather in front of her eyes. She raises her hands to her face, mirrors Romana on the other side of her, who is weeping herself, and prays again.
Let us not be Rassilon's final victims. Let my grandfather survive the Time War, as he must. Let a part of Gallifrey survive, and let us see justice done.
But now it is the Master who says, quietly, "Get out of the way", channeling all his fury and rage and insanity into punishing Rassilon. The energy builds up around them, Time tugs them back into the mouth of hell, and the Master stands in front of Susan, Rassilon at his feet. The Time Lock snaps into place, and he looks first at her, then at Romana, before the transdimensional link takes hold.
"Such a waste, isn't it?"
And it is, Susan thinks. It's all such a waste. The Time Lords are nothing except wasted potential, used and abused by dictatorial maniacs and squabbling bureaucrats. They had the chance for true goodness, true greatness, and they failed, time and time again. Rassilon and his applied bollocks about ascending to a higher plane of existence, becoming creatures of thought? An utter selfish waste, the ultimate in non-interference.
It was non-interference that got them involved in the Time War in the first place.
She cannot stand still and do nothing any longer, and the quantum energy that's pulling her back into her own timeline suddenly explodes around her. It drenches the Castellan and the Chancellor and the Lord President, and she can feel it - every moment from every lifetime they have ever lived. It's sweet on the back of her tongue, and she can hear Romana at the back of her head.
"Can't you feel them?"
Susan can feel all of them, scattered through time and space, all the wasted potential of Gallifrey's Time Ladies. Knows that the Sisters have given them a second chance: gather enough potential energy to convert into quantum energy, and bring the Time Ladies back. Thrice-cursed, they will become the monsters of legend, the Weeping Angels. Each woman they find needs potential to become reality, and she will do whatever it takes.
Susan thinks she'll start with her mother.