Everyone was silent in the TARDIS now, as even the Doctor had no idea what to say. She held Chris’s hand as Lorna took the other, the three of them staring at the mushroom cloud high over Rome.
“This didn’t happen,” said Lorna eventually.
“No,” said the Doctor. “But it’s happening now.”
“Will we die?” said Chris, daring to ask the question. “Will we ever be alive? What happens, now everything is gone?”
The Doctor looked as though she hadn’t heard her. Her eyes were glazed and her face was slack. She looked like someone who’d discovered that everything she’d known was a lie.
“I don’t know,” she said, emotionlessly. “Something very bad will happen, I expect. But I don’t know what.” She looked helpless. “Nothing like this has happened before.”
The Monk laughed at that, a loud snort that sounded right out of Manchester. But Manchester was lost, would never exist now at all.
“Don’t laugh! said Chris. “Can’t you see that she was trying? You’ve killed thousands of people, millions. You’ve killed me! You’ve killed my Mum. You shouldn’t be laughing like none of that even matters.”
The Doctor had run to the console as Chris was talking, where she was clattering at a keyboard as fast as her fingers could go. On a monitor above her complex graphs twisted and wheeled.
Suddenly she looked up, madness in her eyes.
“None of it does matter,” she said.
“What?!” said Lorna. “Everyone we know is gone”–
“No.” said the Doctor. “They’re not.”
“But the bomb”–
“Changed history,” said the Doctor. “But the old history”–
She nodded up at the monitor.
–“it’s still there. And it’s not the only one, either; there’s hundreds of timelines all crowded up into the universe.”
“Oh, Doctor,” laughed the Monk, “you are funny! Changing history’s my thing; I’ve tried it loads of times! How could you think that I’ve never once succeeded?”
“You’ve done this before,” said the Doctor, her voice half-sick.
“So many times. The Bombing of Dresden. The Children’s Crusade. The places I thought you wouldn’t go, for the people I knew you’d never save. Funny thing, though. Everywhere I went, no matter when it was. They always had something like this”–
She threw something from her pocket right at the Doctor’s face, but the Doctor caught it before it could hit home. She’d known what the something would be, but it still hurt to see it: a scrap of blue metal like a bit of old meccano, like the ones from all the futures which she’d seen. But only in the futures, never anywhere else. Somehow she’d not thought to check if–
–“The past is broken,” said the Doctor.
“I’ve been trying to tell you that all along,” said the Monk. “A horrible place, is history.”
“It’s not just the future that’s splintering,” said the Doctor. “Everything is! All of time and space. I was looking for the centre like only the time to come mattered, but if it was everything that was broken…”
She trailed off as an awful thought finally occurred to her.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” the Doctor said to the Monk. “You knew I was wrong all along. We could’ve fought together, been proper allies”–
“Because I wanted to see you plead,” said the Monk with an awful smile. “I wanted to watch you beg! To know what you really were, what you’d do when the worst of it comes. And if I’m honest, some part of me hoped that you’d changed. Silly, really. You’re Time Lord to the bone.”
She reached into her pockets to raise her screwdriver into the air, and for an awful moment Chris thought she was about to attack them all. But instead a thrumming sound came beneath the roar of the bomb– the noise of a TARDIS materialising into the world.
“It’s not true,” said the Doctor. “I’m not what you think I am, Monk. I’m awful, yeah. But I’m never that.”
“You always are,” said the Monk, “And always will be, even when you’re bones. So many faces, but your true face never changes.”
“If that’s what you want to believe,” said the Doctor hollowly. Somehow, she looked even more beaten than she should.
“It’s what I’ve known,” said the Monk, “for as long as I can remember. And it’s why whoever we are; whatever we do? We’ll both be the same as always”–
—She laughed a final laugh—
Before any of them could respond the Monk had run past them all, and Chris screamed as she dived out of the TARDIS doors. For a second her silhouette was visible against the remnants of the mushroom cloud, then a loud splash came from somewhere not that far below.Chris and her mother looked out down through the open doors. Some way down from them an arcade machine was suspended in the air, its back swinging open to the sky. Within it was a glimpse of a slightly run-down swimming pool, through which a frizzy-haired woman was happily wading away.
“That’s quite clever,” said Chris’s mother. “She is clever, isn’t she?” she said to the Doctor. “Your friend.”
“I already said it,” said the Doctor in a tone she had never used. “The Monk. Is not. My friend.”
Chris’s mother turned to respond to that, then froze when she saw the Doctor’s expression. It was the face someone you’d trusted wore when they stopped pretending, the day they no longer needed to hide what they really were.
“You don’t need to be that way, Doctor,” she said. “It’s fine! She said nothing bad’ll happen to Christina and me”–
“Yes,” snapped the Doctor. “Everything’s fine.”
Chris moved very slightly, so her mother stood between her and the furious Time Lord.
Here’s a bit of glass!” said the Doctor as she snapped one off from her console, “and it’s looking FINE!”
She bought her knee hard up against the glass, and Chris flinched as it exploded into pieces.
”Would you look at that!” said the Doctor. “Some glass that’s just utterly fine. It’s all smashed to pieces and can’t ever be fixed again, but a human who knows nothing about it says that it must be okay! She must be worth listening to, right? Her species evolved from a lemur!”
“Doctor,” said Chris’s mother. “You know that isn’t what I meant–““And listen to these emergency sirens!” shouted the Doctor as they started to blare overhead. “It’s a good job I installed those, so they’d be able to tell me that everything’s all okay. History’s been broken far more than any of us knew, even the Martial Laws of Time are suspended, causality is literally collapsing, but an idiotic primate said that EVERYTHING’S BLOODY FINE!”
There were the rings of bells and the tolling of broken clocks, and in the grey sky above the TARDIS thunder was starting to break.
“You’re scaring me,” said Chris from behind her mother.
“I’m scaring me too,” said the Doctor with a face-breaking grin. “Can you imagine what that must be like? If you’re frightened from the outside. ‘Cause it’s so much bigger when you’re stuck in this giant old brain!”
She rapped her temple and began to laugh with humour then, the kind that comes after everything you love has been destroyed. She laughed against the thunder and the sound, and her voice became part of the roar lashing the TARDIS.
“Well, she’s gone mad,” said Chris’s mother under her breath. “And history’s blowing itself to bits. And I was going to get to go clubbing tonight.”
She hugged her daughter in a way that covered her, to shelter her from what the Doctor had become.
Through a spiral of breaking realities, the TARDIS continued to fall.