The Doctor was clinging to life in a slaughterhouse of time and blades. She was stuck to the central column of the President’s TARDIS as its sawblade console whizzed around, going at god knew how many revolutions a second, making her feel very sick. Ballads had been written about the strength of the Time Lord constitution, but none of them made her want to vomit any less.
“Don’t you want off the merry-go-round?” came the voice of the President from somewhere. “You don’t have to bother with this. All this needless dying. What benefit’s in it for you?”
The Doctor put great stock in giving a witty reply, but at that exact moment she couldn’t speak without throwing up. Her silence would satisfy him, and that made her nausea even worse.
She had a bit of medicine for these sorts of occasions. Pills to settle the stomach, and something else: a universal sedative. Even she couldn’t control the laws of physics. But she might still be able to make them tired.
Sending time to sleep wasn’t really on, of course. It broke three laws of the Time Lords and probably the Hippocratic Oath. But there weren’t any other Time Lords left at the minute, and she was fighting someone who wasn’t interested in the rules. She swallowed one pill and crumbled the other into the blades, hoping she’d got them both the right way round.
The blades were slowing down as time got drowsy. She jumped down as they stopped, her body thumping hard on the solid metal. The pills had been weak; the effect was localised. Everything around the console hadn’t slowed down at all. The round things on the wall were moving up and down relentlessly, slicing like guillotines, their empty holes like a grater’s. He’d be in there, wouldn’t he, the President? Deep within the centre of his machine. It was exhausting, never giving up. But you had to do what you could to save all of creation.
She braced herself and ran at the holes in the wall, rolling through one just before it would slice her in half. Past it was a steep metal slope which she tumbled down, before she fell onto a conveyor belt a slight distance below. It was moving, of course, and rapidly. Spiked pistons were pummelling relentlessly at one end.
She got to her feet and frantically started to run, as fast as she could away from the mincing machines. As she did she noticed that sleek other Doctor, who was watching her calmly from a gantry held some way away.
“Come on,” she shouted to him. “Am I just a piece of meat to you?”
The man above her smiled.
“All of us are meat, Doctor,” he said. “If our enemies get a hold of us for one second. And with a machine such as this? I have all the seconds I ever need.”
Spinning blades shot from the air out of nowhere, but they weren’t being aimed down at her. They whizzed out of opening doors to places in space and time, to eviscerate other people that might end up being a problem. That’d include all of them, she knew. Lorna and Chris, Osgood and John. She’d have to hope they were strong as she thought they were.
People were falling through those open doors just like she had, screaming as they dropped down past the belt where she was running. She couldn’t see where they were falling or how they died. She didn’t have to. The hearing was more than enough.
“Stop it,” said the Doctor. “You’ve made your point; you can do it without any killing.”
“But this is what the universe is!” said the President. “All of time and space, it all ends here. In people being pulped to nothing. In death. War is written into us, Doctor. We will always fight those who are not our own. At least I’ll bring peace for the people who survive. Yours is a path of total extermination.”
Behind him were squelches and the splintering of bone. It wasn’t the sort of place where you’d want a lecture.
“This is what people are to you, isn’t it?” she said. “Props in an argument that’s only in your head. You’ll let trillions die because you can’t think of one way to save them, and if you can’t do it then that means no one can.”
“You presume to know how I truly think?” said the President with a smile.
“You’re the Doctor,” she said. “And I know them very well. They’re the one person I’d never think deserved any mercy”–
She never thought she’d have to fight for everything she was. Not like this, not against this kind of Doctor. But she knew that she had to, now. She knew exactly what was now on the line.
“You were broken and beaten, Davros,” she said. “You were as good as dead. But you’ve come back and triumphed, ‘cause that’s what the Doctor does. But you’re not the only one who can play at being her. And I’m sure as hell not going to be worse at it than you.”
The President smiled, totally unfazed.
“You know this is the end,” he said. “I have indulged you with the lie that we are equals.”
“And that’s just it, isn’t it?” said the Doctor. “Both of us. We always thought we were the only clever one.”
The President’s indulgent smile grew even deeper. Behind him the machines continued to thump and slice.
“You underestimate me,” he said. “And perhaps you overestimate this world. There is a voice all living creatures hear, proclaiming their kind to be the greatest of all. My Daleks have always been brave enough to say it, and now we can hear it, too. Perhaps we should take a listen, don’t you think? Admit to ourselves what we’ve really always known.”
The round things high up above them blinked, and then they were Dalek eyes.
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” they cried. “YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!”
She could have just given up and joined the President. A part of her had once longed for an easier life. Better that than being beaten up and patronised, by idiots who had no idea how smart she really was. Because she was good, wasn’t she? That was the problem. She always had to go round being good without ever getting anything back.
“YOU ARE THE SUPERIOR BEING!” the voices shouted again.
Maybe they had a point, at that.
Maybe she was.