A life of contemplation, ritual, and discipline. Every day now, for millennia, he has done the same series of things. Rise from his brief period of rest, greet his wife (and the rest of his family, during those occasional short decades when there were more than just the two of them in their apartments), partake in a small meal, dress himself in his light blue robes, then leave for the main citadel to take up his duties and his research. In the evening, he returned to his home to rest. The details shifted, to accommodate the quirks in personality that were inherent with each new incarnation, but the life remained the same. He didn’t remember any other life; even his time as a student at the Academy, which lasted for nearly a hundred years, was so far removed that it felt like it had happened to a different person. Which, some might argue, it did. Nine different people ago.
There was one major change he had recently made to his morning sequence; "recent" meant a few decades ago. After donning his robes and settling the ornate collar around his neck that denoted his membership in his very elite class, he strode to the entrance of the apartments and picked up the blaster rifle hung on a hook by the door. Checking the sight and the settings, he verified the level of power in the battery, then flicked off the safety. Nodding once, he opened the door and strode out, letting it slam behind him; both hands were occupied with carrying the gun, as the high collar prevented him from slinging it over his shoulder. As the war had worn on, the command had come down that all Time Lords were expected to serve as soldiers at a moment's notice, even those who had never so much as seen a Dalek before. He had taken this news with the same equanimity with which he had treated all other parts of his life, and thus, he carried his rifle between home and work, and at both places, it hung near the door, unused except for the system check every morning and power recharge every night.
Though every Time Lord in the citadel carried some kind of firearm, he felt that it was a useless affectation. The Lord President had termed them all soldiers, and yet their bright robes and ostentatious collars would only hinder them in combat and make them targets. Even the Chancellory Guard would not be truly effective, in their largely ceremonial decorated armour. The real soldiers - the trained Time Lord combatants and the Gallifreyan troops - wore dark, close-fitting, armoured suits, designed for protection, stealth, and agility. However, it didn't signify much to protest: if the robed Time Lords were ever attacked directly, the soldiers must have fallen and hope would be gone. If the weaponry made them feel more secure now, they might as well carry them.
The atmosphere in the halls was quiet and tense. Knots of Time Lords and Gallifreyans huddled together, their whispers echoing, filling the air with an indistinct hiss, but he knew what they must be talking about. Rumours were abroad that the war was going worse than ever, that the Daleks had taken several key strategic locations and were continuing their advance, but he knew better. As one of the historians responsible for archiving all knowledge in the Matrix, he knew they weren't rumours, but hard fact. The Daleks had advanced so far as to make some small attacks on remote parts of Gallifrey, but though they hadn't yet tested the defences of the main cities, it was only a matter of time, and not much of it.
His position as one of the senior archivists gave him access to more knowledge about the current situation than anyone might realise. He knew that the Lord President had sequestered himself with his inner circle, leaving the General to command his army alone. Perhaps the fighting force might be more effective if the two groups worked together, but he couldn't blame Rassilon for his reaction. He believed that the Lord President was running scared, afraid that the work of his many lifetimes, the oldest and most powerful race in the universe, was about to be destroyed, and if he had been in his shoes, he wouldn't be able to face his people. He was running scared himself, having planned for at least another four millennia of life and duty, and he calmed himself only with many lifetimes' practice of meeting challenges with grace and fortitude. If his hearts were clenching in his chest, it did not show on his face.
Arriving at the complex that housed the Matrix, he wound his way through the network of corridors to the main archive. There, he hung up his rifle and collar on the rack near the door and made his way to his console, nodding greetings to his colleagues. As he sat down, he inquired of his neighbour, "Any news, Tholad?"
Clad in purple robes, the Time Lord who shared the console with him did not look up from his work as he replied. "There have been more minor incursions on the distant continents overnight, Dalek bombardments, but nothing we couldn't repel. Civilian casualties, but no Time Lords. Not even a single regeneration."
The archivist nodded. "No losses, then. Good, good. Have the events been archived?"
"Yes. I have just completed checking the work now."
"Excellent. Send copies to the General. He may wish to review them for strategic information." Settling into his chair, he began to organise his day's work.
"We have also had a preliminary report that the attempt to disrupt the Dalekanium supply in the Piluri Nebula was successful, though the commander has informed us that no official history was recorded and we should use this report to catalogue the event." Tholad began reading the salient points from a monitor. "The planet Miltavic was found to be rich in Dalekanium. After the Daleks were driven off, it was determined that the only way to permanently destroy the supply was to destroy the planet, and a total fission device was used to reduce it to its component quarks."
Pulling up the relevant file, he peered at it. "What kind of a planet was Miltavic?" he asked absently as he glanced through the data.
"Sentient. Technology level four. Population of two-point-three billion. No, one-point-seven billion after the Daleks left."
"Ah. A small planet, then." He tapped the screen and circled a set of numbers with his fingertip. "It is strange that this decision was made. The planet certainly had Dalekanium, but it was not truly plentiful. Perhaps it would be enough to outfit a battalion of Daleks, but not much more. It seems a waste of a total fission device. Our armaments are not inexhaustible." He thumped the console with the heel of his hand. "No, we can't use this. It doesn't follow the correct protocols for a preliminary report. Send it back to him, asking for corrections."
"Of course." Tholad's fingers flew over the control panels as he dealt with the data. "I'm removing the entry about it from the Matrix."
"Good. The exclusion of such a minor event is inconsequential, and we maintain the integrity of our data." He settled back in his chair and began his work processing the day's historical reports. The mechanical clicks and taps of computer work, occasionally interrupted by discussions about time and events, soothed him, and he forgot the irritation of the poorly-reported incident.
The day progressed much as it usually did, and he had just begun working on his own research when Tholad gasped softly. The note of alarm in the sudden hiss made the archivist look up. "Is something wrong?"
Tholad was standing by one of the receiver consoles, staring at the screen. "Another incursion. It's not a bombardment this time. Daleks on the surface." The chamber fell silent.
Jaran found her voice first. "They broke through the sky trenches?" Leaping from her chair, she strode up behind Tholad and peered at the screen. "Yes. The trenches fell at..." She clapped a hand over her mouth. "I know those coordinates. That's Arcadia."
Tholad staggered back a step and caught himself on the corner of a console. "If Arcadia falls, all is lost."
"Nonsense," the archivist stated with more confidence than he felt. "Even if Arcadia falls, they have not breached the Capitol. The defenses here will give the Daleks pause. However..." He stood up and crossed the room to the rack of hanging rifles, hefting his from its hook. "We should be ready to defend ourselves." Releasing the safety, he strode back to his console and propped the rifle next to him, then focused his attention on his screen. The other Time Lords followed suit, settling in their chairs with their weapons and returning to their work.
This time, however, he could not suppress the growing apprehension that was gripping his hearts. The room was too silent, the familiar cadence of data entry gone, replaced by slow, hesitant keypresses then sporadic bursts of taps, followed by grunts of frustration at the inevitable mistakes. He knew the cause: they, like he, could only think of the current attack on Arcadia and what it meant. Despite his reassurances, they all knew the end, if not immediately imminent, was near: perhaps a day or two; a week if they were lucky. They, like he, pretended to work, knowing that everything they did was ultimately for nothing.
Rising from his chair, he picked up his rifle and walked over to the console of the senior archivist, Dosrin. A brilliant woman, she was a good five millennia his junior, but far more talented in exploring and manipulating the Matrix. She was also the only other archivist who was on the High Council. "Madame Archivist, we have done good work and there is nothing but dregs left to be done, which is a simple enough task for me. I do not see a reason for the rest of the staff to remain here today."
Puzzled, Dosrin peered up at him, then around at the other Time Lords, who had all turned to look at them. He knew that she'd never been particularly sensitive to the emotions and attitudes of others and did not share in the anxiety that pervaded the department. However, comprehension dawned on her face and, smoothing her gray robe with one hand, she flicked the other dismissively. "Yes, yes. Go home, all of you. There is little left to be done here that will be of use."
He'd never seen the Matrix chamber clear so quickly, the retreating figures blurs of coloured fabric as they fetched their collars and rifles and fled through the door. Once they were alone, Dosrin turned to him. "They'll be facing down Daleks soon enough. We all will."
"This, at least, gives them time to prepare. And bid their families goodbye."
"You have always been too sentimental," she stated with a disapproving smirk. "However, you have also always been far better at understanding the politics than I. What will happen now?"
He crossed his arms over his chest. "I expect that the Lord President will call the final meeting of the High Council. A last grandstand to stab at saving us all, I expect."
"When will it be, do you think?"
He thumbed his chin. "No more than fifty microspans, I should say."
"Well." She stood up. "We should make ready. Change into our council robes.” She ran a hand down her customary gray robe, then sneered. ”Filthy Prydonian scarlet! I should like to face the end of… of this war in my chapter's colours, thank you."
"He wanted to unify us against the Daleks."
"He wanted to subjugate us. The Daleks were simply a convenient excuse." She swept an arm to indicate the room. "Using the war and our history to mould us once again into the dominant race of the universe. All for his own glory. See where it's gotten us." She strode over to the rack and picked up her own collar, straightening it around her neck before continuing. "He had better produce a miracle, because I do not intend to die for him. And if he does, he'll find, when it's all over, that there aren't many of us who will suffer his rule for much longer." She picked up her rifle and, opening the door with exaggerated grace, disappeared into the corridor.
The archivist stared after her for a long moment. He had known that she disagreed with Rassilon's policies and tactics, though not to this extent. He didn't share her sentiments. He knew that the Time Lords had needed a strong President to lead them through the war and there was none stronger than the founder of the race himself, though he did agree that his bullish approach to the war, meeting the Daleks head-on in the hope that superior technology would defeat an endless supply of fearless soldiers, had likely not been the right strategy. Many of the most successful campaigns against their enemy had employed guile and subterfuge.
However, what was done was done, and there was no use arguing about it now. Returning to his console, he positioned his ornate, unwieldy collar on his shoulders and hefted the rifle into his arms. After so many years of carrying it, it was comfortable, but he had hoped he would never have to fire it. That hope was now gone. Taking one last look at the repository of all Time Lord knowledge, he bowed to the room with deep respect, then stepped out.
The news of Arcadia had spread fast through the Capitol. Worries that had earlier been whispered were now voiced aloud, and people rushed about the corridors in preparation for imminent conflict. Armoured soldiers now wandered among the more ceremonially bedecked Chancellory Guard. Keeping a serious expression, he strode through the columned arcades towards his apartments; it would not do to let the Gallifreyans and the other Time Lords see any hint of fear or weakness in a council member. Upon arriving home, he found a note pinned to the empty rifle rack in his wife's perfectly symmetric handwriting. I've gone up to the northern battlements to reinforce the troops there. Farewell, my husband. He nodded his approval of her willingness to defend the citadel. Hanging his rifle and collar, he swept to the foyer closet and changed his blue robes for scarlet ones embroidered with gold. Returning the collar to his shoulders, he then sat in his favourite armchair to await the summons that he knew must come.
A few microspans later, it was not a chime from the message box that roused him from his memories, but a knock at the door. Rising from his chair, he composed his expression into one of polite inquiry that would be suitable to display to any caller, but he already knew who it would be. "Greetings, Mayal," he intoned in a neutral voice as he opened the door.
"Father." The woman in plain robes with a stately, lined face and gray hair twisted up into a neat bun smiled and threw her arms around him, pressing her cheek to his as well as she could with the huge, stiff collar in the way.
The sight of Mayalinthdorendal warmed his hearts more than he would ever admit to anyone. Neither his youngest progeny, nor the most clever, nor the most ambitious, she was nevertheless his favourite. She was not even a Time Lady: hot-headed and assured from the moment she was born, at age five, she declared she would not be a Time Lady and refused to even pretend to attend preliminary training for the Academy. It was perhaps this inner strength, this complete knowledge of her own mind and desires, that endeared her to him, and though it had hurt his reputation to have a child not apply to the Academy, he still adored her. It soothed him to know that she was already nearing the end of her natural lifespan, that the ending of this war would not deprive her of much time.
He ushered her into the apartments that had once been her home, and as he removed his collar and returned to his chair, she took the one directly opposite. "I wanted to see you again, one last time. The rumours are true, aren't they?"
"Arcadia is under direct attack. Once it falls, there is only the Capitol left, and it will then be a matter of attrition."
Mayal shivered even though the room was comfortably warm. “We have nowhere to run. I’ve heard a few ships had fled the surface, only to be shot down before they left the atmosphere. We simply have too many people to evacuate via the few TARDISes we have left.”
“And regardless, we have no way to escape the timelock. Our enemy would find us before long. No, there is no way out.” It took this discussion of inevitable events to impress upon him the desperation of their situation and how much it grieved him that Mayal and the rest of his descendants would not have the opportunity to live out their natural lives. Anger welled up in his breast and, quivering as he struggled to keep it in check, he lashed out against the fate of his planet with impotent fury. “We are Time Lords! We do not run! And we do not die! We have guarded the universe, served it too long for it to end like this!”
Mayal sat with her hands folded in her lap. “Yet it will, Father. There is nothing we can do to stop it. The universe will have to survive without your guidance.”
He snorted his contempt. “It shall not. The Daleks will have reduced the oldest race to dust, and from there, they will destroy all else. That has been their goal from the moment they were created.”
“So they might. But you don’t know." Her tone was reasonable, smooth with gentle persuasion. "Even you can’t see beyond the time lock, Father. A race, or maybe an alliance of races, may emerge that can fight the Daleks and win. Perhaps they will learn from our mistakes and prove victorious.”
A fond smile lit her eyes. “Now you’re just being obstinate. But I understand. You’re as frightened as I am.” Rising from her seat, she moved to him and sat in his lap as she once did a long time ago, when she had been a child. Her aged, light frame nestled comfortably in his strong arms. “Probably so much more than I. You’ve so much life left.” She stroked his smooth cheek. “You’re still so young and handsome in this incarnation, and you’ve three more to go. I’ve only a few years left. I can’t comprehend how terrible this is for you.”
“That is not it…”
“Yes, it is. You know it is.” Her smile didn't hide the sadness in her eyes. "You don't want to die, when you have so much life to live, so much more to accomplish. And you've all devoted your lives to protecting the universe, to making sure that time progresses as it should. It's not fair, is it?'
He grunted his frustration and held her to him. As he stroked her hair, he savoured her warmth and love like a condemned man does his last meal. After a number of microspans, he murmured in her ear. "No, it's not fair."
She nodded and pulled back to gaze at her father. "The universe will survive in some form. Perhaps it might become a Dalek empire, and perhaps not. But it always prospered under Gallifreyan stewardship, and we will always be remembered and respected for that. However," and she grinned mischievously at him, "as you tried to make me go to the Academy to learn, everything must come to an end sometime."
Returning her grin, he shook his head at her impudence. He took her hand, grasping it between both of his. "We will not go down without a fight."
"The last battle for Gallifrey shall be bitter, and it will cost the Daleks dearly."
Doubtful, he closed his eyes and sighed. "If there is any other way, any other option we can take -"
"Of course. You will do what you can to save our people. I trust you to do the right thing, Father."
He pressed his cheek to hers. "I love you, Mayal."
"I love you, Father." She drew back from his embrace. "I must go. It is time that I return to my family, and I am sure your summons will arrive soon." She kissed him lightly on the cheek before rising from his lap. "Farewell, Father."
"Farewell, my daughter." He stood and watched with hands clasped in front of him as she bowed and withdrew from the apartments. If he held back any tears, he did not admit it, even to himself.
Retrieving his collar, he perched it on his shoulders and settled back in his chair to wait, staring impassively at the empty chair across from him. As the microspans crawled by, news scrolled across the event monitor: Arcadia lost, the sky trenches around the capitol falling, the breach of the great dome, the horrors that were released to hound the Daleks across space and time returning to Gallifrey for the final defence. The summons to the council chamber finally arrived after a far longer wait than he had expected. Exiting his apartments with his rifle at the ready, he strode through the vasty halls of the Capitol, his gaze straight ahead, avoiding the eyes of the masses of Time Lords and Gallifreyans searching for reassurance and hope. At the High Council, he maintained his silence as he climbed the tiers to his assigned position, slipping between the Time Lords who had been his neighbours for a millennium now.
The oppressive atmosphere in the cavernous chamber mirrored the state of his own mind: angry, frightened whispers echoed back and forth in a susurrus of despair. He twitched in his nervousness, and fought to still himself, not wanting to betray his fear to his colleagues. He began to wish that the end would come faster, as the anticipation of doom seemed worse than the fate itself.
To his left, Teshin, a talented temporal engineer and a relatively new council member late in his second incarnation, leaned over and murmured, "The rumour is that the Lord President has found a way to defeat the Daleks. He's going to reveal the plan presently."
The archivist smirked in disbelief and shook his head. "Nonsense. A new plan to defeat the Daleks in the final hour of Gallifrey? Such miracles only occur in fairy tales."
On his right, Amadvil, a captain of the Chancellory Guard who was one of the longest-serving members of the High Council, moved closer to join the tete-a-tete. "I heard that he found a way to escape the time lock. He plans to take us out and trap the Daleks inside, sealing them away from the rest of time." She straightened her shoulders in an unconscious indication of her confidence in the plan.
"Now, that is nonsense," spat Teshin. "Even if there were a way to break the time lock, what would stop the Daleks from doing the same thing? Impossible."
Drawing herself up, she crossed her arms and huffed. "Because, of course, you are an engineer and know everything, I suppose."
"I know only that it makes no sense. Without defeating the Daleks first, there is no way to stop them from escaping the time lock with us." He glanced at the man between them for his opinion.
The archivist stepped back, refusing to conjecture. "I am a specialist of the past. I know nothing of the present or the future." Just then, the hushed murmurs pervading the chamber grew into a low rumble as the Lord President stepped onto the speaker's platform and brandished his staff to request silence. The three Time Lords stepped back to their positions.
"The time of Gallifrey's destiny is at hand, my brothers! Arcadia has fallen and the Daleks are at our door as I speak. But do we capitulate? Do we fall? Do we allow a billion years of Time Lord history to crumble to dust?
"We have guarded the universe for far too long to allow these upstart abominations to destroy all that we have achieved. We will survive. We will live. More than that, we will ascend!" He pounded the floor with his staff. "I propose to you now the Ultimate Sanction, the final evolution of our race. I shall destroy the time vortex to end time itself, and we will take our place among the Eternals as creatures of consciousness. To do this, we must first escape the time lock, and a child of Gallifrey has provided the means. We sacrificed his sanity to create a signal that threads through the lock, a path out of the darkness for us all. We can end this war, destroy our enemies, and fulfill our destiny!"
The Lord President's words echoed through the chamber, fading away into a stunned silence. A barely audible whisper hissed through the air, followed by hundreds more as the gathered Time Lords repeated the concepts and discussed them with their neighbours. The archivist turned, first to Amadvil, whose shining eyes were locked on the man on the platform, her face radiant with triumph, then to Teshin, who, with fingers over his mouth, was staring at nothing, deep in thought.
"Destroy the time vortex..." The engineer wiggled his finger in front of his face, running through the mathematics in his head as he mumbled. "The time lock had always prevented that theory from... But with an out, and reversing the released artron energy back on the... We'd have but a moment, but... that's all we'd need..." His next word was whispered. "Yes."
"Then Rassilon saves us all." Fists clenched, the archivist held back a cheer, though his mind joined in the psychic exultation that swept the room.
The Lord President raised his staff again and the chamber fell into dead silence. "Now the High Council of the Time Lords must vote: whether we die here today, or return to the waking world and complete the Ultimate Sanction. For this is the hour when either Gallifrey falls, or Gallifrey rises!"
Immediate shouts of "Gallifrey rises!" rose all around. The archivist sucked in his breath and joined in with his own chant but the name of his home died on his lips and the next word would not come. In his mind's eye, instead of the ascension of his people to a status of greater than gods, he saw only his daughter's light form dancing before him, then melting into the darkness, her people - his people, and his planet - reduced to nothingness. Gallifrey does not rise. We are Time Lords, and we may rise, but Gallifrey falls. My beautiful Mayal will fall. All of them, all Gallifreyans who by choice or by aptitude or by luck did not complete Academy training will fall. Billions of them. He stared around the chamber at his chanting brethren on the High Council, a small sample of a small sample of men. And the uncountable others, races we know and those we have yet to encounter; an entire universe, of which we call ourselves guardians, sacrificed so a few may live, because we are afraid.
Mayal's words rang in his ears. I trust you to do the right thing, Father.
He sat down.
With his back straight and his hands folded in his lap, he willed himself steady. It would not do to let the other Time Lords see any hint of fear or weakness in him. Around him, the others chanted and brandished their fists in the air; he stared straight ahead and could not discern any other seated individual in his peripheral vision. However, as he listened with his mind, there was one other, a quiet but firm voice that joined with his, and that was enough. Together, they would protest.
. _ . _ . _ . _ .
He stood with his head bowed, his hands covering his face. The hem of a robe brushed his as the Lord President swept past him, between him and the woman who had joined her voice with his. The Lord President’s voice rang out as he took his position at the front of the procession.
"The vote is taken. Only two stand against, and will stand as monument to their shame, like the Weeping Angels of old. Now the vanguard stands prepared, as the children of Gallifrey return to the universe. To Earth!"
Following the drumbeat signal, they walked from a world of war to a planet at peace. A cold light filtered through his fingers. I stand as monument to your shame, Lord President, to the shame of all Time Lords. You have betrayed all that we have stood for, all that you have taught us from the earliest days. My only shame is that I cannot stop you. I have done what is right.
As the light died away, the roar of a mighty engine and the crash of shattering glass, followed by the dull thud of a body on a hard stone floor, filled his ears: the sound of hope. Focusing his thoughts, the archivist directed his conviction, his strength to bolster the weary, battered Time Lord sprawled on the ground twenty feet in front of him. Rassilon's voice sounded once more.
"My Lord Doctor. My Lord Master. We are gathered for the end."