Josephine Grant sighed dramatically and rested her many-ringed hands on her hips. She did her best to appear exasperated. "Remind me again why we're spending our Friday evening breaking into the locked compound of an old scientist who would have otherwise been more than happy to accommodate an appointment tomorrow morning?"
Her companion barely glanced up from his work. "Because, my dear Ms. Grant," he clarified in the somewhat patronizing manner of his, "this 'old scientist' is not in fact an 'old scientist' at all. He happens to be a member of my own decadent, degenerate race."
"The Time Lords! You're sure?"
"When two of my kind meet, we automatically confirm each other's identities through a low-level telepathic pulse. He knows who I am, and I know who he is."
"But isn't this a good thing? I mean, maybe this Dr. Xavi can give you back the know-how to drive the TARDIS again."
Jo Grant's companion, and the man whom she addressed, was called the Doctor. For all needs and purposes, he appeared to be little more than a mildly eccentric human. He was tall and lanky, skinny in a sprite, athletic sort of way. His wizened yet contradictorily youthful features were accented by a pair of icy blue eyes, a shock of white hair and a prominent, beaky nose. His wiry frame was clad in a velvety ensemble of forest green frock coat and starchy ruffled shirt, with a very large, burgundy bow-tie to boot. All in all, he made for quite a striking if not dandified figure.
Appearances, however, are oftentimes misleading, for the Doctor was not a human being at all. He was a Time Lord, one of an incredibly old race originating from the planet Gallifrey in the constellation of Kasterberous. A renegade of his own people, the Doctor traveled through time and space in his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions in Space), fighting foes and righting wrongs across the universe.
At least, that's how it used to be.
The man Jo knew lived in exile, stranded on Planet Earth and confined to the mid 20th Century as punishment for failing to adhere to strict Time Lord ordinances concerning . . . well . . . just about everything.
It was the Doctor's single most important goal to regain the knowledge of his TARDIS's operation and free himself from his exile. Which, Jo gathered, was why she couldn't understand the Doctor's caution concerning the mysterious Dr. Xavi.
"He may have been sent here to give you back those dematerialization code thingies, to grant your freedom," Jo added for good measure, desperate for a glimmer of hope to break the consternation of her mentor.
The Doctor interrupted his work hot-wiring the door to glance down at the incorrigibly optimistic Jo. Her fine features were pinched in a thin-lipped frown, as they often were when faced with the Doctor's inexplicable antics. Her feathery blond hair, as well as her flared trousers and V-necked jumper, were matted and dirty from climbing through the ventilation shafts surrounding Dr. Xavi's laboratory. She would trail his coattails to the end of the universe, which was probably why the Doctor liked her so much. Much as constant badgering irked him, the Doctor always made an effort to accommodate Jo's seemingly endless string of questions.
"Jo, my people couldn't care less about the comings and goings of this backwater planet . . . "
"Thank you very much."
". . . never mind its people. Their only connection to this world is through me. If one of them has decided to soil their lilly-white hands and actually take an active part in human affairs for a change, then the reason behind it can hardly be one that stems solely from the goodness of their hearts."
"You haven't considered the possibility that you're being just a little bit bias?"
The Doctor knitted his eyebrows shot his young assistant a scowl to curdle sour milk.
Jo stuttered, "Devil's advocate, and all that."
"Hmph." The Doctor flicked an invisible speck of dust off his emerald lapel. "Even though I have definitively good reason to do so, I am not commenting out of bias. The Time Lords never act unless out of their own self-interest. The fact that an older and considerably ruthless member of the Arcalian chapter . . ."
"Cardinal Xavinatora, to be exact. Anyway, the fact that this shady figure of upper Time Lord society has decided to visit the planet of my exile doesn't sit well with me at all. Arcalians and Prydonians aren't the most harmonious of bedfellows."
"You think he may be up to no good?"
"Remember when old Irving payed us a visit? The Master showed up, and then the Autons."
Jo colored slightly, seeing his point. "Oh. Right."
"What's more, according to the Brigadier, this apparent free-range 'think tank' Xavi's running is churning out more advanced technology than anything found on Earth during this time period. He's finding the brightest and the best of the humans and housing them in one place, under his guidance, to create technological marvels way beyond the current century. Even if his objective is benevolent, which I doubt, he could be contaminating the timeline of the human race by introducing unknown scientific concepts to them before they're ready. The entire Web of Time could unravel.
The Doctor nodded his head to acknowledge her understanding. "Now you see why we're spending our evening breaking into laboratories. We have to find out what Xavi is up to, and stop him before he causes more damage than we can handle."
"It's not as though it's much different from the usual hullabaloo we get up to, is it?" Jo asked cheekily.
"No." He couldn't help but crack a smile. "I suppose it's not. If it's not the Master, it's always someone else . . ."
With a satisfying click, the bolt to the massive steel door marking the laboratory entrance released itself and fell harmlessly to the floor. Jo inadvertently flinched at the loud clatter it made, but she and the Doctor were not stopped. No alarms were raised; the facility remained eerily quiet. Pocketing his sonic screwdriver with an exaggerated flourish and a proud smile, the Doctor pushed the door open and stepped inside. Jo hesitated for the merest fraction of a second and then followed him in.
"And I thought the UNIT lab was in a state," Jo voiced aloud as she shot Xavi's workplace her most disapproving frown.
Machines and gadgetry were strewn in a mismatched heap from corner to corner. Cables snaked like tripwire from futuristic-looking generators, computers, and other devices Jo couldn't even begin to name let alone understand. Centered in the melee, like a decrepit dining table centerpiece, was a single slab of pitch black marble. At least, Jo thought it was marble. It was about man-height, perfectly rectangular with no abrasions to mar the perfectly reflective surface. Though it looked like little more than a large hunk of rock, the slab gave off a pulsating aura, like some sort of energy field. It made the hairs stand up on the back of Jo's neck and her skin prickle with gooseflesh. After a few moments, she realized where she had felt the sensation before.
"It's a TARDIS!" Her curiosity began to draw her forward, but the Doctor put a restraining hand on her shoulder.
"It's a dead TARDIS," the Doctor muttered, awe, horror, and mourning lacing his words, "It is little more than a shell, the shadow of the life that used to inhabit the space-time capsule exterior. The darkness you see is not a tangible form of matter, but rather an absence of it. Here, in the center of this room, all of existence that used to inhabit the space of a TARDIS has been removed. The darkness is nothingness. The darkness is a whisper of things long since gone"
Jo picked through the metaphors of the Doctor's poetic description. "It's the ghost of a TARDIS?"
The Doctor gave his assistant a funny look, as if he were surprised by her understanding of a concept that drove most people mad. "Yes, Jo. Very good."
Jo harrumphed, "I may not be as clever as that Liz person you worked with, but I'm not as ditzy as you sometimes make me out to be."
The Time Lord looked even more startled. "I don't think anything of the sort, Jo. Now, let's have a little look around, shall we?"
Jo allowed herself a small smile, and then followed the Doctor's overexcited velvet-clad figure as it disappeared into the gloom.
And that, of course, was when the lights snapped on.
The Doctor froze, caught mid-stride with one leg still suspended in the air. If the two of them hadn't had their hands caught in the proverbial cookie jar, Jo would have laughed at his stock-still poise for flight. As it was, Jo slowly turned around to face their captors. She had been suspecting buffed-up mercenary goons with semi-automatic rifles and the IQs of jellyfish, so she was fairly surprised to find an older man in a tweed jacket leaning nonchalantly against the doorframe.
The figure was your typical "irascible-university-professor-with-a-bow-tie" type. His hair was greying and stuck out in irregular tufts all over his scalp, as if he enjoyed sticking fork tines in electrical sockets during his spare time. He wore his tweed blazer over a crinkled shirt that was buttoned askew. His loose trousers fell over dingy brown shoes that had seen better days. He looked harmless enough, then Jo saw the eyes. They were unnaturally green, like lime candy, and burned with the fervent fire characteristic of either a genius or a madman. They were not unlike the Doctor's, but considerably more malicious.
"I knew it was only a matter of time before you showed up, boy."
"Cardinal Xavinatora. I see you're going by Xavi these days . . ." The Doctor sighed. "I don't relish the thought of Arcalian representatives on Gallifrey, never mind on Earth."
Jo, after recovering from hearing the white-haired Doctor called 'boy', looked at the professor chap with her large eyes and asked him, "You're Xavi?"
The man's emerald orbs bored holes into Jo's forehead. He didn't answer her, but instead addressed the Doctor, "I can't say I think much of the company you keep, Prydonian."
"His name's the Doctor." Jo growled, angry at being ignored, "And you can go stuff your chauvinism where the sun doesn't shine."
Xavi smiled, like a shark does before it bites your leg off. His eyes froze her to the spot. "If you want to keep your pretty features in tact, my dear, I would strongly suggest you keep your mouth shut."
Jo was about to fire another retort, but then she saw the hundreds of bottles of acid solution lined up on the shelves, and decided to keep quiet.
The Doctor shifted his footing to stand between Jo and the professor, and asked, "What's this about, Xavi?"
The decadent, old Time Lord ran a contemplative finger under his chin. "I find that I am in need of your help, Doctor. The matter is of some urgency."
The Doctor couldn't help but goad Xavi. "What? An Arcalian asking a Prydonian for help? This is almost worthy of an entry in the 500 year diary."
Xavi set his jaw but ignored the Doctor's witticisms. "Being as you have ample experience in the circumstances concerning exile . . ."
". . . logic dictated that you would be the individual from whom to illicit the most information, and materials, needed to rectify a slight technical malfunction in my time capsule."
The Doctor looked skeptically at the pillar of blackness in the center of the room. "You call that a technical malfunction?"
"I was on a routine survey mission for the CIA, the nature of which is none of your concern. My TARDIS hit a temporal rift in the Vortex. I was catapulted out of the higher dimensions and came to materialize on Sol Three. Unfortunately, the nature of the rift and its concussive power rendered my TARDIS all but inoperable. A minor technical difficulty: one that can be repaired with your help."
"Xavi, your TARDIS is dead," the Doctor stated, almost sympathetically, "Look at her. There is nothing left. That rift didn't just damage your TARDIS. It killed her."
"Do not attempt to lecture me! YOU KNOW NOTHING! You, whose life span barely withstands comparison to my own! You, who cavorts with human scum!" Xavi shrieked, his green eyes flashing.
Both Jo and the Doctor inwardly despaired. They were dealing with a madman.
"My TARDIS will fly again." He snarled, "I will not die here, not with undesirables like you."
"For heaven's sakes, man, you can't keep this up!" the Doctor pleaded in desperation. "You're introducing scientific techniques way beyond the current century in the hopes of the humans being able to help you. It's a fool's errand, and for what? The corruption of the course of Earth's history! As a CIA operative, surely you can appreciate the gravity of your actions."
"You are so naive, Doctor," Xavi sneered. "Do you think I care for the fate of one insignificant little planet? All I care about is getting back to Gallifrey. Getting back home."
"Cardinal Xavinatora, I know how you feel. I, too, am trapped on Earth, with no hope of escape. I can help you. Call off this mad enterprise before it's too late, release the humans and destroy the scientific secrets you have given them to achieve your own ends, and I swear I will do everything in my power to send you home. I have no wish to see others suffer my fate."
Jo felt a pang. So that was all she, and the rest of Earth, were to him.
Xavi stepped forward until he was standing nose to nose with the Doctor. He whispered hoarsely, "Do you think I have stooped so low as to gamble my fate with the likes of you?"
The Doctor clenched and unclenched his fist, but Xavi's scathing words elicited no response.
Xavinatora continued, "Your involvement comes in elsewhere, Doctor. I, and my human workers, have been able to replicate most aspects of my TARDIS's main power and navigation apparatuses. Only one component remains to be added, a component that can only come from the technical workshops of Gallifrey. Or from another Time Lord's TARDIS."
"I need your dematerialization circuit, Doctor. If you do not give it to me, you will most certainly come to regret it."
The Doctor gave Xavi his most charming smile. "Sorry, old chap. I don't have it. Koschei took it a while ago, and Rassilon alone knows where he is now."
Xavi, his hands in his trouser pockets, shook his head solemnly. "I don't believe you. Please tell me where it is, Doctor."
The Doctor's eyes narrowed. "I just told you: I don't know where it is."
"I think you do. I think you're trying to eek out your revenge on the Time Lords by keeping me here."
"Great Jehosephat, what do you take me for? The last time I saw it, my demat circuit was broken beyond repair. And now it's in the hands of the Master, who as we both know is beyond our reach. I cannot help you."
"Very well, Doctor. You have tried my patience. I am in my 13th incarnation; I don't have all of eternity to play games." Xavi took a few steps backwards, positioning himself against the wall. Before the Doctor could react, Xavi had removed his hands from his pockets. In his right, he held a loaded Enfield revolver.
"Now then," Xavi announced, cocking the barrel and aiming it to the Doctor's left, "I am going to count to five. You, Doctor, are going to hand over your dematerialization circuit or tell me its exact location. If you fail to do so in the time allotted, I will kill Josephine Grant."
The Doctor looked horrified. "Don't be stupid, Xavi! I do not have the circuit!"
The Doctor could feel the panic rising in his chest and the back of his throat twisting into knots. Never before had he felt so totally out-of-control of the situation. He had no bargaining power, no leverage, nothing. He was dealing with an enemy that could not be reasoned with, and Jo was about to die.
The Arcalian said, "Two." Jo quivered with fright. Her large eyes implored her friend to do something, anything.
"Goddammit!" the Doctor cried, on the verge of outright hysteria. "I don't have the blasted dematerialization circuit!"
"Three." Xavi's finger tightened on the trigger, but his cool features were oddly passionless and indifferent. "As the Earth-men say, the clock is ticking."
The Doctor, playing on a desperate bluff, blurted out, "UNIT HQ. It's laying on my bench in the main UNIT lab."
Xavi's withering glare briefly cracked his veneer of stoicism. "Your lie is as blatant as your nose, Doctor. Four."
"Please!" the Doctor begged. "I swear to you. I swear to you on my life, Jo's life, and the life of every single human being on Planet Earth, in the entire cosmos, I DO NOT HAVE IT!"
The gunshot ricocheted around the room, blasting the eardrums of everyone present. Xavi rocketed against the far wall, blood spurting from a jagged gunshot wound right between his hearts. He thumped against the bare masonry, and then slumped to the ground. He was dead before he hit the floor.
The Doctor whirled around to face the tight-lipped, mustachioed face of Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, and the hot barrel of his Army-issued pistol. His small team of UNIT personnel, including Sergeant Benton and a few of his squaddies, quickly secured the room amidst a lot of stomping and superfluous shouting.
Despite the Brigadier's infernal gun-toting policies being the cause of most of his headaches, the Doctor was just short of weeping tears of relief at his friend's timely arrival. He didn't even berate the Brigadier for following him to Xavi's lab.
"Alistair," the Doctor spoke in a shaky whisper, addressing his superior by his given name, "never in my lives have I been as glad to see anyone as I'm glad to see you now."
The Brigadier gave a curt, professional nod, but his eyes betrayed his profound concern and his own relief. "That makes a difference. You're usually insulting everyone by this point in the operation." The soldier quickly changed tack. "Are you all right, Doctor?"
"None the worse for wear, old chap. You followed me here?"
"A precaution, Doctor. I find that we have to take many when dealing with you and your people. Which is who I presume I just shot . . ."
"His name was Xavinatora, but he's gone now. It appears that your superb marksmanship finished the job. The villain was at the end of his 13th incarnation, his last, so he couldn't regenerate after the fatal injury."
The Brigadier visibly relaxed. "For once, Doctor, it appears that bullets have solved the problem at hand. Your lot, the Time Lords, are notoriously hard to get rid of. That Master chap for example . . ."
"Doctor . . ."
The feeble, shuddering voice of Jo Grant drew the Brigadier and the Doctor's attention. She was standing freely where Xavi had aimed the gun at her, but something was terribly wrong. Her face was unnaturally pasty; her dewy eyes were red and puffy, as if she'd been crying. Slowly, she removed the hand she had been clutching to her midsection. It came away bright and bloody, revealing the crimson stain blooming from the front of her jumper.
The Doctor blanched. For a split second, shock froze him.
"Doctor . . ." Jo murmured again, even quieter. Suddenly, she pitched forward as the adrenaline-stoked strength fled her limbs.
"Jo!" The Doctor surged forward in a manic burst of speed and caught Jo's feeble form as she fell. Ever so delicately, he lowered her to the floor of Xavi's lab and rested her head against his shoulder.
"Xavi's gun must have gone off at the same time as the Brigadier's. He managed to fire a single shot," The Doctor muttered, more to himself than anyone in particular. He whipped his head around and bellowed, "Get a medic in here! NOW!"
As Benton sprinted away, Jo smiled. "We really have to stop meeting like this." Her breathing was sticky and wet; globules of blood accumulated in the corners of her mouth. The sole bullet must have punctured a lung.
The Doctor smiled back, and tenderly brushed a lock of blond hair off her sweaty brow. "Next time we'll talk over a cuppa and some scones, eh, Jo. Help is on the way."
Jo shook her head. "I'm not so sure about a next time, Doctor. This may be one pickle even I can't wiggle out of."
The Doctor picked up Jo's bloodstained left hand and held it so tightly his knuckles turned white. "Listen to me very carefully, Josephine Grant. You are going to be okay. I'm not going to let anything happen to you."
"Doctor, I can't hold on." Jo cried out as she was wracked by a fresh wave of pain. The Doctor tried desperately to calm her and staunch the bleeding, but Jo was slipping away under his care.
"It hurts, Doctor," Jo whispered. Her watery eyes were starting to glaze over. "I want it to stop hurting."
"Oh, Jo." The Doctor caressed her fevered cheek. His own tears were flowing freely. "Hold on. Please, hold on."
She seemed to respond to his gentle tone. For a brief moment, Jo's features cleared. Her eyes sparkled and she regarded the Doctor with unbridled love and adoration. She managed to lift her head and rest it against her friend's crushed velvet chest. "I see it now, Doctor. I see what you see, and it's so beautiful."
"What is, my dear?"
The young woman's gaze was far away. "Everything. The universe in all of its complexity. The ebb and flow of the balance of life, the harmony between the stars and the planets and the galaxies and time itself. All of the cosmos is one entity, great and powerful and so very beautiful. The light is shining. It's shining so bright . . . so bright."
She was slipping away. The Doctor pulled Jo closer to him, trying to keep her awake and alive. Her single heart was beating so very feebly through the fabric of her jumper.
"Thank you, Doctor." Jo closed her misty eyes and released a great, satisfied sigh. She had finally found her peace. "Thank you for showing me."
Her thin frame went limp, and Jo Grant was no more.
The Doctor bundled her into his arms and wept into her blond hair. His grief was immeasurable and all-consuming. He prayed to a God he didn't believe in, pleading and begging for Him to return his beloved assistant. Despite the logic of his own mind, the Doctor refused to believe that Jo, so full of life and curiosity and the vigor of youth, was the one that lay truly dead in his arms.
The Doctor looked behind him, locking eyes with the stricken ensemble of UNIT soldiers. The Time Lord suddenly looked his age: weary, haggard, and so, so sad. Yet, he refused to let go of the childish hope that somehow, someway, Jo would open her eyes again.
"Help me," he sobbed to his friends, his striking eyes awash with tears. "Help me bring her back."
The Brigadier dismissed his officers with a silent nod, and then walked forward to place a brotherly hand on the Doctor's bony shoulder. Lethbridge-Stewart, too, was weeping quietly. He had seen men die before. All too often, he had to write that damnable letter to some poor sod's mum, explaining in the cold elocution of bureaucracy why her son would never come home again. Despite its frequency, despite its autonomy, he never got used to it. It never stopped eating away at his soul.
The Brigadier mustered a few words, unsure of how to console his devastated friend. "She's gone, Doctor. Allow her the dignity of a peaceful passing."
The Time Lord went rigid. For a moment, it looked as though the Doctor would strike his superior. He raised a balled fist, covered in Jo's blood, and regarded the Brigadier with fiery malice. In another moment, however, the Doctor averted his penetrating rage from Lethbridge-Stewart and lifted his head to the sky,
"This is your fault!" he roared through hot tears of aching, agonizing grief. "I loved that girl! She was like a daughter to me, and you took her away! Everything that has ever given me happiness: my freedom, my memories, my identity, you've taken and grounded into dust. Josephine gave me happiness again, brought me back from the brink of despair. She was so young, so alive. How could you do this to her . . . to me? HOW COULD YOU? If this is to be my punishment, if I am doomed to suffer the loss of the people I love until the end of my days, then just kill me instead! KILL ME!"
The Brigadier could only watch, dumbfounded, as the Doctor vented his rage at the Time Lords. He had never seen his scientific advisor so heartbroken, so brittle. The old soldier couldn't imagine having everything you love taken away from you, and then having the vestige of your very identity stripped away, like an eagle who'd woken up to find his wings clipped. He couldn't imagine learning to love and trust others again, to grow to care about someone more than you cared for yourself, and then having that person ripped out of your life, to leave nothing but a gaping hole that only grief and anger could fill. He was afraid for his scientific advisor and friend. The Doctor could only fall so low until he accepted the shadowy grasps of utter oblivion.
The Doctor sank to his knees, his soul empty of all but his inner heartache. He couldn't summon the energy to weep anymore. He felt numb with exhaustion, and he felt old. So incredibly old and hollow and tired of the struggle. He had lost his TARDIS, he had lost his freedom, he had lost his identity, and now he had lost Jo. He had nothing. What was there to live for anymore?
"Oh, for Rassilon's sake, Doctor. Do pull yourself together."
The Doctor nearly jumped out of his skin as he whirled around to face the owner of the new voice. Standing in the doorframe, next to a suddenly frozen Brigadier, was a very ordinary-looking man with dark hair and smallish sideburns. He looked to be in his 40s, but in reality he was close to 1000 years old. He had a dimpling face and a quiet, quiescent expression, like a cherub who'd suddenly developed a penchant for 60s suits and bowler hats.
"Irving!" the Doctor snarled. "What the hell do you want now? Why can't you just leave me alone?"
Irving Braxiatel, a fellow Time Lord and, coincidentally, the Doctor's older brother, shot his sibling a look of pure disdain. "I can hardly be blamed for this mess."
"Oh, can't you? What have you done to the Brigadier?"
"I've just frozen him in time for a little spiff. We need to have a talk, and before you start incessantly ranting, I want it to be made clear that I did not come here of my own choosing."
The Doctor snorted. "Do you ever? You wish I didn't exist."
"Yes," Braxiatel agreed bluntly, putting weight on an umbrella he'd procured from his blazer pockets, "But back to the matter at hand, I'm here representing the High Council."
"The High Council? So they have been listening in after all."
Braxiatel groaned. "Yes, you undesirable twit. Lamenting over a human . . . of all the conceivable gall! I've been the laughing stock of the entire Panopticon! Irving Braxiatel: The brother of the exiled renegade who loves humans."
"Your life must be so terrible," the Doctor spat bitterly.
"And now they've asked me to clean up the mess . . . again."
The Doctor could feel his already shredded patience waning. "Stop skirting the issue, Irving. What do you want?"
"Two things." Braxiatel held up his fingers for emphasis, as if schooling a slow child, "One, to ensure that you don't kill yourself. I do have SOME family reputation to uphold, you know."
The Doctor didn't think that was worth acknowledgment.
"Two," Braxiatel continued. "To repair a somewhat problematic rip in the Web of Time."
"Oh? How problematic?"
"Potential-end-of-the-universe problematic. Your usual gaff."
The Doctor's curiosity refused to be aroused. A bleak look on his lined features, he started to walk away. He usually carried himself with such pride, but now his shoulders sagged as if the weight of the world were upon them. "It's not my problem, Braxiatel. Leave me alone with my memories. Leave me alone to grieve. Go back to your Council and tell them the Doctor has clocked out. Permanently."
Braxiatel refused to be drawn in to his little brother's cliched melodrama. "Doctor, Cardinal Xavinatora was never supposed to come to Earth."
"I know that!" the Doctor snapped.
"My superiors' attention was only drawn to Xavinatora after he started introducing basic theories of time-space manipulation and Rassilonian stellar mechanics to some terran institutes. Human beings were never meant to have that knowledge."
"In 50 years, a young human girl will create the first quantum black hole and unleash a wave of radiation that will increase the number of cancer victims by 5000%. In 100 years, the first time traveling experiments will be successful after the deaths of more than 50 scientists involved. In 150 years, an attempt will be made to create a transversal wormhole, which will ultimately collapse in on itself, taking the entire Planet Earth and most of this galactic sector with it. The absence of several major political players in the Galactic Federation will have devastating repercussions. Wars will break out. Old alliances will be severed. Age-old enemies, like the Daleks and the Cybermen, will be free to wreak havoc across millions of worlds and star systems. Unhindered, they will grow in power until they have reached the capability to challenge Gallifrey itself. That is what awaits the future of the universe, given the human's possession of Xavinatora's knowledge."
Even to the grief-stricken Doctor, the consequences of Xavi's tampering were almost too horrible to think about.
"So, what are you going to do about it?" the Doctor inquired.
"Set it right, of course. Make it so that Xavinatora's TARDIS never encountered the collapsed CVE phenomena and never spiraled to Earth. Our tampering will have far less destructive consequences then Xavinatora's tampering, I assure you."
A faint flicker of hope began to kindle itself in the Doctor's hearts. "If Xavi never comes to Earth, does that mean . . . Jo?"
Braxiatel pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "The future of the universe at stake, and she's still all you can think about. But yes, Jo Grant will never have died, because Xavinatora will never have been there to shoot her in the first place."
The Doctor could hardly contain his joy. He grabbed his older brother in a rib-crushing hug and spun him around the room, much to Braxiatel's horror. "Irving! Oh, my good man, whatever are you waiting for? Get started!"
Irving Braxiatel shrugged off the Doctor's embrace like it was a foul-smelling shirt. He stuck his nose up at his towering younger brother. "Yes, well, I can start whenever I like. I could have done it already. The Council gave me complete discretion."
The Doctor arched an eyebrow curiously. "Then why did you come to me first?"
For a very, very brief moment, Braxiatel's face morphed into a most alien expression for a Time Lord. What was it? Pity? Sympathy?
"You're family," Irving admitted grudgingly. "No matter how frustrating, embarrassing, dishonorable, free-spirited, disobedient, hopelessly romantic, cavalier, and just plain annoying you can be, you're still a Prydonian. You're still my brother."
The Doctor smiled for what felt like the first time in years. "Thank you, Irving. I always did say you were a softy at heart."
All sympathy abruptly vanished. With a another sniff of utter contempt, Braxiatel turned on his heel and made his way out the door. "Don't push your luck, Doctor. We won't always be there to bail you out."
"Wait! Irving, how will I know when anything has changed?"
"Blink, Doctor . . . just blink . . . Blink . . . Blink . . . Blink . . . Blink . . . Blink . . . blink"
Time Can Be Rewritten
Doctor . . . Doctor . . . Doctor . . . Doctor . . . Doctor . . . Doctor . . . Doctor!
Good grief, his head hurt! One blink, Irving had said. One blink and all of it would be back to normal. But, naturally, he'd failed to mention the splitting headache to follow. Temporal rewrites were never very pleasant experiences.
"Doctor, are you all right?"
A voice was calling him, breaking through the haze of pain and almost drunken grogginess. A high-pitched voice, with a touch of London cockney and midsummer sunshine. A female voice, an impossible voice born from miracles . . .
"JO!" The Doctor bolted upright and lunged at his companion, enveloping her in an embrace strong enough to crack bones. Jo, suddenly smothered by a wall of green velvet, could only manage a feeble smile.
"Uh . . . hi, Doctor."
The Doctor didn't answer. He was too busy trying to hold back tears of sheer relief. Abruptly, he pulled back from Jo and kissed her on the forehead. He then fixed her with a glistening smile that would have brightened the dark side of the moon and broken the hearts of even the most stoic Time Lord.
"You're alive," he breathed, laughing a little. "Oh, Jo, you're alive!"
Jo couldn't help but smile. "Of course I'm alive. It's YOU we've all been worried about! We went to that weird lab you were so concerned about, which turned out to be nothing by the way, and you passed out when we got there! Out stone cold, right in front of me! I turned right back around and phoned the Brigadier! We're in the sickbay at UNIT HQ."
The Doctor continued to grin like an amorous schoolboy. Jo couldn't help but wonder if the fall had knocked him harder on the head than she's originally thought.
"Doctor, are you sure you're okay?"
"Yes, Jo." The Doctor held her close, closing his eyes and letting out a deep, satisfied sigh. He could wonder about the technicalities and the angry telepathic phone-calls later. For now, being here amidst so much life, amidst people that cared about him, was all that mattered.
"Everything is as it's supposed to be."