Almost ten years living onboard the TARDIS and Nyssa still wondered if she’d seen even half of it.
Ten years, in fact, that seemed to have flown by and none of it showing in her face. She knew the TARDIS had special properties, some sort of temporal stasis that slowed down everything inside it, kept her heart rate steady even when she felt worry or fear and kept her in constant suspense over her first wrinkle, her first gray hair.
In spite of its endless labyrinthine corridors, she always felt calm and sure-footed in the TARDIS, even when being pulled through a maddening vortex —
Nyssa hardly had time to catch herself when she felt the explosion, rocking the interior of the time ship. She managed to hurl herself at the door to the control room just as another explosion hit, well-timed as the door flew open and sent her flying through it, her fall broken by the Doctor, who had already landed on the floor, face-down.
“Ah, Nyssa, there you are. Seems we’ve got a little problem.”
Correcting herself, Nyssa held tight to the central console as another explosion hit, almost sending her off-balance again. The Doctor, a living spring (Tegan once called him ‘Tigger’ much to Nyssa’s deep confusion — a Tigger being a tiny burrowing rodent on her home planet of Traken), bounced up from the floor and dashed around the console, making furious adjustments as lights went off and on and, most disconcertingly, matter itself seemed to fade. Nyssa felt herself nearly fall again as the console seemed to disappear for a moment before re-establishing itself. The Doctor’s idea of a ‘little problem’ and everyone else’s sometimes proved to be two terribly, disturbingly different things.
“Doctor — something’s happening to the TARDIS. Is it dematerializing?”
She looked up and her eyes grew wide with horror as the Doctor himself grew nearly transparent - then disappeared altogether.
In less than a blink of an eye, she saw someone else standing in front of her, a gangly young man with short brown hair in a dark blue suit, tapping worriedly at the time rotor.
“What’s that all about then, eh? Eh?”
He didn’t see her, this stranger, but then he was gone and, just as suddenly, so was she.
She knew she must still be in the TARDIS; the walls with the familiar roundels looked like any other corridor on the ship, but something was still different. She was sure this was a corridor she’d never used before, though she could hardly explain to herself why. There was a lightness she’d never experienced, something she almost wanted to call ‘youth,’ as if she were in an entirely new place, just built, fresh off the TARDIS assembly line, if there were such a thing. In the deepest part of her mind, she heard, no, felt, a laugh, not entirely friendly, but not necessarily mocking, either.
She wondered how many others had shouted his name down these corridors, in a panic, lost, yet, at the same time, not panicked at all. She knew she should feel more alarm than she did, but that special something about the TARDIS always prevented it. She felt safe, if that were really possible.
The corridor soon opened to a large room that made Nyssa think of the old school halls on Traken, or one of the large Terran cathedrals the Doctor had taken her to on one of their visits to Earth. The walls were almost wood-like, of a dark stain; chairs were piled on top of one another and tables were pushed off to the corners, as if the room had not been used in some time indeed. The only source of a light was a single, focused beam coming out of the ceiling projecting an ever-changing array of planets, none of which she recognized. The room itself would have been entirely silent, except for a strangely musical-like sound that was growing in intensity and volume — something was approaching.
I was born to love you
And I will never be free
You’ll always be a part of me
She didn’t recognize the tune, but imagined it must be something from Earth, something Tegan would probably know. As the sound grew closer, she desperately wished Tegan were there now, with some blunt observation that would, no doubt, be followed by a mild oath directed at the Doctor and his infuriating ability to land them in the craziest situations.
The noise stopped, abruptly, and Nyssa could hardly have been more startled at the sight that emerged from the darkness of the other side of the room: a young woman, not much older than herself, with short hair and an expression of mild curiosity. The other girl wore clothes that Nyssa recognized as being from Earth, but, like the Doctor’s own predilection for the fashions of that planet, those looks could be deceiving.
“Hello - who are you? How did you get in here?”
Nyssa felt almost too astonished to speak; she rubbed the damp palms of her hands against the soft velvet of her arms to reassure herself, before taking a step forward.
“I’m Nyssa. Who are you?”
The young woman took another step forward and Nyssa could see she was holding a small device where the music she’d heard earlier no doubt came from.
“I’m Susan. How did you get on board the TARDIS? Grandfather isn’t terribly fond of stowaways.”
Nyssa watched as she was circled, Susan’s eyes never leaving hers even as she felt completely examined. This was no human being in front of her.
“You’re not from Earth, are you? I don’t remember anyone wearing clothes like that. And that smell — something from the Mettula Orionsis, I think.”
Smell? She can smell where I’m from?
“Are you from the Traken Empire? I’ve always wanted grandfather to take me.”
“I am, yes. Tell me — who is your grandfather?”
The strange girl who called herself Susan laughed, shaking her head, then perched herself on a rather unsteady-looking chair.
“Grandfather is — grandfather. I don’t know how else to tell you. Some people call him the Doctor, though I’m honestly not sure why. One of those humans he likes so well, I expect. Oh, maybe you’ve never heard of them. Humans, I mean. Have you ever been to Earth? Are you with the Shadow Proclamation? Is that why you’re here? Oh, anything’s better than being a stowaway, trust me.”
Still out of sorts by the recent events, Nyssa felt herself returning the smile of this intense young woman, who, she was even more surprised to now understand, was her Doctor’s own grandchild — the Doctor, a father, a grandfather! She had no idea before now that he had any sort of family - but how did they come to meet like this?
“I’m sorry, I’m not a stowaway - I promise you. You see, I live here, too. I have for some time and I know your grandfather — but I have a terrible feeling he won’t know me. Something’s happened and, well, I’m not really sure how to describe it. One moment I was in the TARDIS control room with the Doctor and the next moment — I was out there, in that corridor.”
Susan’s smile did not fade; she only shrugged in response.
“Oh, that’s probably the TARDIS, up to her old tricks. She gets up to some odd things now and then. You might never know where you’ll turn up. Still, I’ve never see anyone just ‘appear’ before. Unless there was some danger — she might have just moved you out of the way and well, might have moved you a little farther than you expected.”
“Or perhaps necessary? If there were danger — and there might have been, we were experiencing some sort of attack, I think — the TARDIS would have moved him too, yes?”
Susan alit from her perch and began to pace around the revolving projection of planets.
“Oh yes, she’d never let anything happen to grandfather. Still, it seems something needs to be put right again. We’d better go see him.”
Nyssa felt a slight shiver at the thought of meeting the Doctor at some other point on his timeline; she felt certain she was somewhere long before her own ‘time’ with him and that he would not only not recognize her, but would probably be most displeased at the potential temporal ramifications of their meeting, should there be any.
“I know what you’re thinking. Just don’t tell him too much and he should be able to figure it out without too much fuss, though, honestly, if the TARDIS put you here, now, there must be a reason. Something calamitous, no doubt — always is.”
“You talk about the TARDIS the way he does — as if she’s got a mind of her own.”
The enigmatic smile returned.
“Oh, but she does, very much so. If you travel with him, you must know. She is very much alive and very much in charge! He does his best to steer her now and then, but she’s got her own ideas. Oh, don’t tell him I said that. They quarrel something awful sometimes. He’ll say I’m just siding with her. He’s not wrong.”
Another explosion hit the ship, sending the two women reeling and chairs flying. They both ducked under a table to avoid being hit.
“Another explosion! What is it?”
“Is this what you heard before?”
“Yes, just before everything disappeared. I mean, before I got here.”
A loud siren went off, echoing through the chamber.
“The alert! We must have collided with something!”
Susan sprang from her cover, grabbing Nyssa by the hand and dragging her along, out into the corridor.
“Come on, this way, we’ve got to find grandfather.”
The door to the control room swung open, allowing the two women entrance, just as another explosion hit, sending them to the floor. Nyssa looked up in time to see the fading outline of what might have been a very old man in dark clothes —
- only to be replaced by the Doctor, her Doctor, surely, though, he seemed altered somehow, much older, heavier — and with considerably less hair.
The young woman ran to him, embracing him tightly.
“Well if this isn’t the strangest of days indeed, my Susan, after all this time — and all of me everywhere at once. Which, is not a good thing right now, I’m so sorry, I’d love to stay but there’s been a little accident, might be the end of the world, or Belgium, not sure…”
“Grandfather — don’t go!”
But Susan’s arms were empty; she held nothing but air.
“Where did he go?”
Susan looked about her, frantically, checking the instruments on the TARDIS console.
“He’s still here, I can feel it. He’s here, but he isn’t. There was most definitely a collision though, something impossible, two TARDISes? More? I’m not sure, but I think he’s crossing his own time stream — very dangerous.”
Nyssa had regained her own sense of balance but had no idea what to do; if it was true and the TARDIS had collided with itself, how were they here in the control room and the Doctor was not? Where was he? Or, perhaps, more importantly, when?
“There really isn’t much we can do — the TARDIS seems to have merged with herself, somehow. Multiple time streams colliding — but how? The TARDIS is shifting matter, trying to re-arrange herself around herself.”
Nyssa felt her own alarm rising.
“Doesn’t seem like she’s able to maintain integrity.”
Nyssa was right; both women stared in shock as the TARDIS console began to disappear in front of them.
“She’s going to shift again — hang on!”
Another explosion hit and everything went dark. Nyssa could feel all the hairs on her arms standing, almost painfully. She felt sick, a wave of nausea overwhelming her, pulling her to her knees.
The noise had stopped but the room was still dark. She waited for her eyes to adjust; standing, she felt only a wall in front of her. Susan was gone. She had been moved again — but where?
She saw a small light emanating from a door and headed toward it. She was surprised to hear the same tune she had heard before, when she first met Susan.
I was born to love you
And I will never be free
You’ll always be a part of me
She was in the library, but it looked quite different from the way she remembered: tables were littered with charts and electronic paraphernalia, slim computer pads and a book she’d never seen before.
She touched the hard surface, colored and shaped not unlike the doors of the TARDIS. She almost opened the cover —
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Spoilers.”
Startled by the newcomer, Nyssa jerked her hand away and stepped back from the table in fright.
“Who are you?”
A woman with wild, unruly curls emerged from behind a bookcase; her eyes full of wisdom and mischief. She wore a dark velvet overcoat that reminded her of something from the Doctor’s wardrobes.
The woman laughed and shook her head.
“Not the one you’re looking for. I’m River Song. I know you. I’ve seen your face from the TARDIS databanks. It’s Nyssa, isn’t it?”
TARDIS databanks…I’m in some future version now. Have to tread carefully.
“Yes it is.”
“Well, I’m tempted to ask all sorts of questions but I’m guessing you have quite a few yourself, from the look of it. Sorry I can’t really give you any.”
“I’m not sure it matters at this point, but I know I’m not where I should be. Where I’m from, or when I’m from — there’s been some sort of accident with the TARDIS, she’s collided with herself, I think. Have you experienced any sort of explosions? Any sort of — shifting?”
River Song stared at her, dumbfounded.
“No, nothing like that has been happening. You’re experiencing some sort of temporal displacement?”
“Something like that. I think the TARDIS is colliding with herself at several different points in time — she keeps ‘shifting’ me away from danger, but I can’t seem to get to the Doctor.”
A deep, resonating bell began to sound, hollow, like cathedral bells.
“The cloister bell — that can’t be good.”
“We’ve got to find the Doctor.”
River nodded, agreeing, and, pocketing her journal, headed for the closest door.
The heavy gong of the cloister bell kept repeating itself as the two women made their way down a particularly narrow corridor — one that seemed to be growing narrower as they ran along it.
River stopped and glanced about the corridor, anxious.
“Yes, I see it. It’s shrinking somehow. We’ve got to stay ahead of it, get to the control room. If it’s still there.”
They set off at a run, winding through the seemingly endless maze until they saw it, the wide double doors that would lead them to the control room. Dashing toward them, as the walls around them grew smaller, forcing them to duck for fear of hitting their heads on the ceiling, they crashed against the doors — only to watch them disappear in front of them.
Collapsing, out of breath, River and Nyssa turned back and watched, as the corridor walls seem to twist and invert, before collapsing to reveal an entirely new room.
Rising, slowly, River took the first tentative steps into their new location, a wide cavern of a room with an entire wall made up of high paneled windows that looked out onto the vastness of space. At the center of the room was a single chair, an old leather easy chair like something out of an English library. Nyssa following, they approached the chair, surprised to find it occupied: it was the Doctor. And he was asleep.
Looking young and a little rakish in his striped trousers and morning coat, just as he was before this catastrophe, the Doctor dozed, unaware of the two intruders. He hardly moved at all.
“Well, I haven’t see that face in a while — but this is how you remember him, isn’t it?”
Nyssa glanced over at River, whose perpetually bemused expression left her bewildered.
“We should wake him!”
Nyssa reached a trembling hand toward the figure slumped in the chair — until it was caught by River.
“No, he isn’t here, neither are we. This is the past.”
As she spoke, a great rush of wind spun around them, startling them and almost knocking them off their feet. The room itself was spinning and as they both reached for the chair to steady themselves, the chair — and the Doctor — disappeared and the room went dark.
Nyssa wanted to scream in frustration at her lack of control; she was being tossed forwards and backwards, with no idea when it might end, if ever. A person could go mad in those corridors, with no end, no way out.
A blinding light filled the space around her and the most familiar sound she knew: the TARDIS engine, the cranky, wheezing noise that meant they were landing or leaving, though she had no way of knowing. Once again, she heard that faint, musical sound, the words now too familiar.
I was born to love you
And I will never be free
You’ll always be a part of me
The light settled almost instantly and she felt some relief to find herself in the control room, looking very much as she left it. Only with one extra occupant — and it wasn’t River or Susan or the Doctor.
The newcomer was tall and beautiful with a curious expression etched on her fine, porcelain features. She wore a bodice of the type that used to be popular on Earth, long before Tegan’s time. Her hair was wild, as if tossed around in some storm. She seemed to pulse with a golden light that emanated from her chest and throat — a golden light Nyssa had seen only once before, when the Doctor last regenerated.
“Yes, no, yes, yes, no and no and yes and maybe. I hope that answers all your questions, not that it matters, we haven’t much time, though I’m not quite sure when that will be, might have already happened, what’s going to happen, that is. Not for you, of course, I meant for the other one. So hard to keep all of you in one place — you keep moving about. It would help me greatly if you didn’t do that so much. Try to stand still, won’t be a moment.”
The golden light swirled around the woman’s body and, for just a split second she disappeared within it, then immediately re-appeared.
Nyssa, who had not moved, felt as if her own insides had shifted this time and wondered if the TARDIS had made another mistake.
“No, that’s not it at all, he just forgot to put the shields up. Isn’t the first time, either — can’t tell you how awful the last mess was. Took half a millennia to close that rift. Wasn’t my fault, won’t take the blame this time. Or was it last time? Oh, this is one of the archives, isn’t it?”
“Who are you?”
The woman smiled and squared her shoulders.
“I’m Sexy. Not to brag, I never do that, but how often do you get a chance to chat? Of course, this will be over in a moment and I’ll be saying hello and something about those little boxes. Or a motorbike, not sure. Too many things happening at once. Does get rather exciting, doesn’t it? Nyssa. That’s it. Always liked you. Had to let you go of course, and I was right, wasn’t I? You found that cure. Good for you, standing up to the council like that. Oh, he’s here again. Looks like everything is getting sorted. Except for one thing, Nyssa?”
The golden light grew richer and brighter, swarming around the woman’s body. She seemed to float in Nyssa’s direction, one hand reaching out to touch a single strand of the girl’s hair.
“Tell the Doctor he’s coming. He’ll find him in the Matrix.”
The light filled the room, blinding Nyssa, filling her with a sense of calm and rightness, something she couldn’t quite define. When she opened her eyes again, she was still in the control room — with the Doctor. Her Doctor.
“Nyssa — sorry about that, a little hiccup in the time vortex, I think, but we seem to be back on course — how did you do?”
She could not think of how to respond, at first — so much had happened and so quickly, too. The Doctor’s past and his future still swirling around her, making her feel dizzy, yet perfectly calm - always so calm.
“The TARDIS took care of me, Doctor — though she has an odd way of going about it.”
The Doctor sighed, patting his belly and smiling to himself with what looked like, to Nyssa, relief.
“Well, that’s the old girl all over, isn’t it? Still, there’s no place like home.”
“Oh, Doctor — there is one thing.”
Making various adjustments around the console, the Doctor’s head snapped up as he glanced over at Nyssa.
“There was a — woman, here, in the control room, just now, I mean, just before you re-appeared. I'm not sure who she was, but she wanted you to know that he’s coming and that you’ll find him in the Matrix.”
The Doctor shoved both hands deep in his pockets, a sure sign that he was thinking, deeply.
“He, she said? He’s coming? He’s in the Matrix? Did she say who ‘he’ is?”
“No, she disappeared too quickly. And that was strange, too.”
“Well, you disappeared and appeared in the blink of an eye, but she, this woman, she was filled with light, as if she were regenerating. I think she might have been one of the Time Lords.”
The Doctor nodded, pacing around the console, his eyes never leaving the time rotor.
“Mmm…could have been, yes, very possible — though I hardly think so.”
He patted the console affectionately and headed toward the door.
“Doctor — where are you going?”
“Oh, just thought I’d finish some repairs I’ve been meaning to get done. Seems like a good time, don’t you think?”
Nyssa nodded, smiling and followed him through the door.
She was a little surprised however, when he stopped and stuck his head back inside the control room. He seemed to be talking to himself — out loud:
“Oh, and Doctor — don’t forget to put your shields up.”
Smiling to himself, the Doctor set off down one of the long TARDIS corridors, nodding for Nyssa to keep up with him. She returned his smile and fell into pace with him. Even though she felt the tug of her curiosity demanding to be sated, questions about Susan and River Song and 'Sexy' could wait.
They had all the time in the world.