by vegetables [Reviews - 0]

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  • Teen
  • None
  • Action/Adventure, Alternate Universe, Angst, Drama, General, Horror, Series

“I want to listen to Radio 1,” said Chris for the fourth time since they’d come onto the M60.

“We’re listening to Radio 2,” her mum said from beside her again. “This is an old person car.”

“John’s still a teenager!” said Chris.

“Yeah,” John said from the front, “but I’ve never been very good at it.”

“I imagine the Doctor’s never felt as ancient as when she’s travelled with a child,” said Osgood with a smile.

“Oh God,” said Lorna. “She’s not the only one. You know she thinks The Killers are old person music? The Killers!”

“Speaking of killers,” said John, nodding out of the window. Overhead a shadow was sweeping over the Mini again and again, and there was a flash of blue like the day in another sky.

“Get the phone,” Osgood said, all humour gone from her voice. But it was already ringing, and the Doctor was shouting something at the top of her voice from above them on top of the Mini.

“Is that”– Lorna said as she picked up her phone.

“It’s his TARDIS,” said the Doctor as she stared straight up through the air. “He must’ve cut it off from the vortex at the critical moment. God, he’s good.”

“Put her on speaker,” Osgood said, and Lorna agreed without a word. As the sounds of the outside world filled the car they heard the screaming of that strange machine too, the roar of a TARDIS being operated against its will.

“Doctor,” said Osgood. “What kind of things is a TARDIS capable of? If its pilot turned out to be… unrestrained?”

The Doctor swallowed. “You’ll‘ve thought of some awful stuff yourself, I expect.”

“It’s important to think these things through,” said Osgood.

“Not this time. The worst a TARDIS can do is beyond imagining.”

The President’s TARDIS had finished swooping now. It hovered in the sky as a hawk about to pounce. Osgood was swerving the car between lanes as traffic horns hooted, but that wasn’t going to matter. The box in the sky could smash into them faster than light, break their atoms apart in a wink.

There was a pocket below the Doctor’s pocket where she kept the emergency tools. The ones she wouldn’t want her friends to see, unless all other options had gone. She was unzipping it now and reaching in for the worst of them all–

–then the TARDIS came gently down to Earth in a nearby layby, landing softly on the tarmac without even making a sound. Alongside the box the traffic kept whizzing by, drivers convincing themselves it was only a Portaloo.

“Don’t engage him!” yelled Osgood into the speaker.

There was a clunk like a woman rolling expertly off the top of a Mini.

“She engaged him,” said Osgood helplessly.

She swerved the Mini one last time, pulling into the layby milliseconds before a truck would have crushed them to death.

The four of them knew better than to get out of the car. Instead they all peered as close to the windows as they could, straining to hear a snatch of what was happening. The doors of the TARDIS had opened wide and the President of the World was there, looking even more handsome in person than he had on any of his billboards. The Doctor was standing in front of him, her clothes unrumpled even though she’d just rolled off a car.

“President,” said the Doctor with a snarl.

“Doctor,” said the President happily. “You escaped my little trap, I see. Getting off an exploding planet is so much easier when you have a machine such as this.”

He thumped the side of his TARDIS heartily, and laughed.

“Air Force One,” he said. “Bit of an upgrade, don’t you think?”

“You stole this.” said the Doctor.

“I learned from the best,” said the President with a smile.

The inside of his TARDIS gleamed in metal angles, a slaughtering machine with the blood wiped clean away.

“You’re the president of an entire planet,” said the Doctor. “Don’t you have something better to do than following me around?”

“It’s only one planet,” said the President. “It isn’t difficult to manage its affairs. A trifle, for an intellect like mine.”

“Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing,” said the Doctor.

“Being popular?” said the President. “I’m only giving this world what it wants. Being the Doctor they desire. It’s an excellent strategy. Perhaps you should try it sometime.”

“You’re not giving Earth anything,” snapped the Doctor. “You’re using it. The Daleks and the humans; they won’t band together for long. Once everyone else is dead they will turn on each other.”

“Of course,” said the President. “Both species are well aware of that. And each of them is sure that they will win. After all, their opponents! They seem a little ludicrous, don’t they?”

He laughed to himself very softly indeed.

“That’s what you really care about, isn’t it?” he said. “You think I haven’t really changed my spots. That I’ll sell mankind out to the Daleks when this is done. Just one last creature left for them to exterminate.”

The Doctor looked at him side-eyed, and frowned.

“Well, yeah,” she said. “Of course I think that, because it’s true. Your face might’ve changed, but it’s blood that runs deepest with you. Davros loved his people; the Daleks are your own.”

“And I had thought the Time Lords yours. Yet your true reflection was found with a different kind.”

He threw out his hands to take in the whole of the Earth, then waved to indicate his very human form.

“My people!” he said. “This is what they looked like; this is what they were. They were vain and they were glorious, they survived. The Daleks are only a shadow of that race. True, it took me many years to admit it. But then that too makes me like a human being. I disregard some inconvenient truths. Sometimes I find it easier to look away.”

“You’re lying,” said the Doctor.

“Oh?” said the President. “Perhaps I am. But have you considered what it means if I am not?”

He looked straight upwards, up to the darkening sky. It was still too early for any of the stars to be seen– you could be led to believe that they weren’t really out there at all. Yet whole worlds were still there up above them, still living despite what was lost.

“Imagine it,” said the man who had once been Davros. “Worlds wiped clean of sentience, ready to be explored in a bright new age. That’s what humanity wants, to be pioneers. And I’ll be with them, right there in my great big blue TARDIS. We’ll have so many adventures together.”

He looked at the Doctor and chuckled.

“You no longer know if I’m lying or not,” he said. “Do you?”

The Doctor took a deep breath.

“No. But I know what to do when you don’t know what’s really going on. You always believe in the option that scares you more.”

“And which is that?” asked the President as he looked at her hard in the eyes.

“The Doctor always has to have their secrets,” she said, returning the stare.

The President laughed at that, and it seemed as sincere as anything a man like him might do.

“Oh, Doctor,” he said. “You are a formidable foe! You should know that there’s no malice in what I’m doing. That’s why I paid you a visit, in fact. I wanted to give you a gift.”

From somewhere in his corduroy trousers, the President pulled out something squat and black.

“He’s got a gun!” Lorna cried out from the Mini.

“I’ve got worse, if it comes to that,” said Osgood. “I’m a lot more military than I look.”

The woman she idolised didn’t look military at all. The Doctor was staring at the gun in acceptance, not in despair.

”You’re going to kill me,” she said flatly.

“Come, now,” said her foe with a shake of his head. “What kind of President shoots a woman dead in a layby? Above all else, I stand in the name of hope. I’m here to give you the thing you want most of all.”

He raised the gun up in open palms, inviting the Doctor to take it.

“Kill me,” he said.

The Doctor laughed and it couldn’t disguise her fear.

“My Daleks have told me what you are willing to do,” said the President smoothly. “You will kill billions if you have to, so the universe can be saved. Or instead you could kill one person, now. And not a very righteous one. I know that you think me a monster.”

Unprompted, he grabbed the Doctor’s hand and clenched her fist around the barrel of the gun. She should have moved to stop him, but the shock of it threw her entirely: she had no idea what to do when she was no longer the confident one.

Gently, the President rose the Doctor’s arm so the gun rose too, stopping when the barrel leant gently on the centre of his forehead.

n her last life the Doctor felt she had known everything. But as she stood there unable to move, she saw she knew nothing at all. She’d just been powerful enough for people to play along with everything she’d wanted and believed. This was what it meant to be someone without all that power. This was how it felt when the Doctor was no longer you.

“What’s he doing?” asked Chris from the back of the Mini.

“I don’t know,” said her mother. “But don’t look. Please, Chris. You don’t have to see this.”

“No,” said Osgood. “She has to keep watching, if the Doctor’s to keep being true. Nothing means anything if the children have stopped keeping watch.”

“You’re not her mother,” said Lorna softly, though she didn’t move to pull her daughter away.

“This is the truth,” that other Doctor was saying from far away. “You once took an oath, and it came to be more than morality. You cannot commit violence, and so you bring about so much more violence; never, ever killing to the day that all others are dead. Unless you were to change, of course. To squeeze a little trigger so the problem goes away. You are so good at finding a simple solution. What use is mercy on the day that the Doctor is me?”

The Doctor’s hand was shaking and she didn’t know how to disguise it. The edges of her grimace were twitching, suppressing a roar.

“Don’t worry,” said the President with a chuckle. “I’m only saying it because I know you never would.”

The Doctor looked at him predator eyes, wild and white with her rage. The gun was wobbling on the skin of the President’s brow, and for a second there might have been a flicker of doubt in his eyes–

–and then the Doctor really was roaring, and she’d thrown the gun to the ground. It was already broken before she’d whipped her screwdriver out, but the bellow of its sound shattered it into pieces. She couldn’t hide her emotions, not for long. She hadn’t been that good at being a president.

“He knows her very well,” said Osgood quietly. “He might be more of a fan than me.”

The President was looking benevolently down at the Doctor, with the warmth of a father addressing his spoilt child.

“Noble to the end,” he said, nodding at the fragments of the gun. “And the Earth will thank you for it.”

“What’re you going to do with me?” said the Doctor, almost spitting the words.

“I’m going to reward you!” said the President, laughing. “It’s only fair; you’re a saviour of the Earth. You’ll be free to live the rest of your lives down here. A last alien for the people to come and see, to remind them of the world they left behind. Perhaps I’ll even allow you to keep on using that name. The Doctor. People will think it’s so funny, to believe you could really be him.”

She wanted to punch him, and do even more. To take him apart into atoms, and make each of those atoms know pain. She could, a part of her knew. Or it might have been possible, once. But now he had taken her words away and broken her. The world was frozen against him, and now she was frozen too.

“Go, Doctor,” said the President softly. “You don’t have to run, not anymore. You don’t have to do anything but live. No tears, no anxieties. No regrets. Just go forward in all your beliefs, and prove to me that I’m not mistaken in mine.”

He nodded to her and smiled for a final time, then he was back in his TARDIS and closing the door with a thump. And before it was even closed the Doctor had let out an awful animal sound, and was hammering the side of the police box with her fists– as if that would be enough, as if she could make anything break. And she kept on roaring and hammering as her friends rushed out to get her, thumping the box until it had faded away.

She looked back hopelessly at her friends, ashamed.

“I never like the people we put in charge,” said Chris.

“This isn’t good,” said Osgood. “It’s not going like I’d planned.”

She took the Doctor and hugged her, and for the first time they were equals.

The traffic was speeding on past like the President had never been there.