Never Change

by vegetables [Reviews - 0]

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  • All Ages
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Angst, Character Study, Drama, General, Introspection, Mixed, Series

“I know it doesn’t make any sense!” the Doctor said again, over the howls of the Bendolene blaring that they agreed.

“No, I get it. They’ll turn this shop into a giant spaceship, but neither of us can know how that would be. And they wouldn’t know about… brushing your teeth, or what your teeth even were. Because they’re different. You don’t need to say that again.”

“Of course. Sorry. I get a bit used to explaining things,” she sighed, “like I’m the only John Smith in the room.”

“It’s just a name,” said John to the mess of the room. It was already a ruin, but the Bendolene were doing their best to ruin it more. They were battering the plaster of the walls with the stumps where their hands could have been, then bashing their heads against the floorboards as they cried.

Whatever they were doing, it seemed to be working. Somehow the room was bigger than it had been before, while remaining exactly the same size. The seconds were going solid and the walls were becoming time; the dust on the floor was stretching into a vastness. Reality was straining like a popcorn kernel, about to explode to a ship the size of a sun.

“Hold them back!” The Doctor shouted as she grabbed John’s pile of clothes. “I need to get to the centre, but I won’t be able to fight!” She waggled the heap of trousers and tops to indicate her hands were full.

“I don’t know how!” John shouted as the Doctor began to run. “I’m not that violent!”

“Neither am I!” said the Doctor. “That’s why people like us have to get creative!”

“I don’t understand,” said the nearest Bendolene to John, which seemed very close even with space and time going wrong.

“I’m sorry about this,” said John as he raised his fist. “I really am.” He bought it crashing into the side of the alien’s head, to its hard plastic shell that was somehow even harder than it looked. He swore as his hand bent inwards with pain, then shoved the Bendolene so it smashed into the floor.

“I can’t hold them back for long,” he said. “There’s just one of me, and a lot of them.”

“I’ll only take a moment!” shouted the Doctor. “However long that lasts in a place like this.” The room had shifted so much that she seemed at the end of a hall of mirrors, her shape distorting as the space around her deformed. But she’d arrived at whatever passed for the centre of the room, and spun round to face John as she threw the pile of clothes to the ground. She crouched down along with them and rubbed the stick as frantically as she could, and before long electric lightning was crackling through the space.

“Bendolene!” shouted the Doctor at the top of her voice. “Speak to the people you once were! Think the thoughts you don’t think now, feel the fear you can’t even comprehend! When you were softer than plastic, had noses instead of blades. Remember the people you’ve been, and how they would not want this world to end. Remember being human!” she cried, “and spare the whole human race.”

For a second all the Bendolene stopped, the propellers in their mouths freezing as their heads turned towards the Doctor. The space stopped expanding and the warping walls went still: everything was silent as the aliens stared at a woman not alien enough.

“I don’t understand,” one said from far away.

“I don’t understand,” said another that was horribly near.

One by one the Bendolene cried it, over and over again. “I DON’T UNDERSTAND!” they bawled. “I DON’T UNDERSTAND! I DON’T UNDERSTAND!

John looked hopelessly into the distance, trying not to glance at the Doctor’s face. It seemed wrong to think that she could be defeated, even if there were only moments before he’d never think anything again. But a part of his mind forced him to look over towards her regardless–

–and she was looking right at him to shout one last, desperate thing–

“Do you like people?” she said, her voice entirely sincere.

John had thought he was too terrified to get annoyed at the Doctor again, but she always found a way to prove him wrong.

“Is this the time for that?” he asked as he rammed a Bendolene as hard as he could, causing it to fall sideways through gravity that had gone wrong.

“Trust me!” she yelled. “I know it’s hard. But do.”

“Everyone’s about to die!” he shouted. “Thinking about what that means just makes things worse.”

“It would! Because you do like people, don’t you? No matter how isolated you felt, that’s the one thing that never changed. You can’t stop caring however different you feel, and I know that ‘cause I know how I’m just the same.”

John finally lost his patience.

“It doesn’t matter!” he said. “Don’t you see how that doesn’t matter at all? They’ll all be dead soon; splattered into bits! We’ve seconds to live and your talking’s just making them WORSE!

The Doctor had a look that was supposed to make everything better, and it made John angrier than he’d ever been before.

“You’re not alien at all!” he shouted. “You’re just like everyone else, saying you know what I’m going through! Like you could, when my family’s broken and the world’s a mess and everyone’s suddenly aliens”–

“I don’t understand,” said the Bendolene all as one. “I don’t understand. I don’t”–

“I DON’T UNDERSTAND EITHER!” he shouted into the nearest’s ridiculous face. “Everything’s gone. I’m lonely and tired, I’ve no idea what’s happening; my family’s happy and I’m never going to see them again.”

“I needed the world to be strange!” he cried. “But I didn’t need it to be you. It wasn’t a threat before you came. I didn’t want everyone to die.”

He swallowed, and let himself be selfish.

“I didn’t want me to die,” he added quietly.

The Bendolene looked at him with its grilles that passed for eyes.

“I don’t understand,” it said impassively.

John slumped to the ground with a sob, trying not to cry, trying so hard as not to notice the fact the advancing figures had stopped, and that the Doctor’s face had broken into a grin…

“ ...you don’t understand,” continued the hairdryer thoughtfully.

John stared, barely noticing the Doctor’s guffaw.

“I don’t understand. You don’t understand. I don’t understand. You don’t understand!” chorused the aliens.

John looked at the Doctor and started laughing. “You set me up, didn’t you?” he said in a gleeful way. “You knew I’d react like that.” He shook his head. “You manipulative bas”–

“Careful,” said the Doctor. “Some of the hairdryers might’ve been children. And we’re in touch with their past selves, now. Not much, mind, not enough to get much through. But there’s one thing you do have in common, no matter how dissimilar you are.”

“They’re scared,” he said.

“Not quite. But they’re something a little bit like it. Enough to empathise with a person that’s nothing like them. Just the right amount to acknowledge what matters to you.”

As she was speaking the dimensions were resetting themselves, going back to the ones they were before. But the shape of what was appearing was different; the floorboards transformed into control panels and plaster turned into great engines. You could still tell, just about, that it has once been a worn-out old shop. But it had changed enough that it was now a spaceship as well.

“We should leave,” said the Doctor. “We won’t understand what it’s cost them, to keep their ship this size. Let them mourn, or whatever they do that’s most like it. But they deserve to be alone with their thoughts.”

John nodded. He wasn’t sure he was empathising with them properly, when he tried to imagine how they might feel. But then that was true for everyone, when they thought about anyone at all.

“Where are they going?” he said. “Where are they going to live?”

“I don’t know,” said the Doctor. “And this time I can’t ask, either.”

John nodded to himself, very slightly.

“Doctor,” he said.

“Yes?”

“Where am I going to live?”

“Now that question,” she said, “is one I definitely can ask. It’s just,” she sighed, “that I’ve been trying really hard not to.”

John caught her unsure glance, and bit his lip.

It turned out it felt pretty rubbish, when you saved the world.