There were holes in London in 1962. Spaces where bombs had fallen in the war— the last war, and there’d be adults soon who didn’t even remember it. Where nobody had gotten around to building anything, and nature had been allowed to grow back.
The hole the Doctor had come to was a big one. Once, a whole lot of streets had been here, once a whole lot of bombs had changed that in a flash. Now something like a path had been cleared along its middle, which people walked up and down as they went their way through the world.
The Doctor was crouching in the bushes, watching them. She was aware they’d probably be horrified if they knew. Now she was a woman she was a bit more aware of it; how hiding in bushes and staring at people probably wasn’t on. But the world was at stake. She hoped if they knew that they’d understand.
They were coming up the path now, as she waited and watched. The COPS, a great massive group of them. Sometimes people looked at them, confused, but always they shook their heads and looked away. The Doctor knew the excuses they’d have in their minds. Drama students, maybe, or something from the telly. It was easier to get away with being an alien than you’d think.
The Porter was coming up from the opposite direction, she saw, still in his anachronistic clothes, no one paying him any attention either. And no one seemed to notice the static she felt was building beneath the world—
—but she could feel it, now that she knew what to look for. Time fraying at its edges, wearing through. Ready to snap like an ancient rubber band. Below this reality she felt that there were others: different timelines, crackling, nerves under jolted skin. So many monsters in them, all trying to take the Earth down. And so many versions of her, too, she’d never dreamed there could ever be so many, all of them fighting hard in all the other Earths underneath. How long had she been doing this, since the beginning? How far back did her history really go?
The Porter might know, at least, though she wouldn’t have time to ask him. He was standing in the path through the green and brambles, craning his neck up to the sky. And the COPS were standing around him in a circle, their long arms like brambles as well, like metal thorns all tangling together until each of them were bound in a copper ring. And the ring was glowing red, then white, and suddenly cracks were appearing in the sky—
“Fyandect”, moaned the COPS as the sky burst apart into bits. “Uncophense.”
“NO!” the Doctor screamed, although it was no use at all. Radiation was spilling everywhere, enough to kill a human, enough that every living thing native to the clearing wouldn’t be living for long. But the humans on the path hadn’t noticed, they wouldn’t have time to, because they were looking up horrified at the sky—
–at a world which was screaming as clouds were covered up by red handprints–
–at an army of porcelain men unhooking their human faces, to reveal the expressionless masks just underneath–
–at a great rain of eyes with enormous mouths, staring onwards as they barrelled to the ground–
—and at every other threat she’d remembered stopping, at more she hadn’t. At the doom which time said would have to happen, in all its forms. At the crushing gears of fate, and the death of hope.
At the ends of the Earth.
She knew there was no saving any of the humans here. But she couldn’t let herself think about that, not now. The best she could do was to bring the person responsible to justice. And that was all she was thinking about as she was running towards the COPS, was whipping out her ray gun, was shooting one square in the head. It exploded into a mess of greenish goo, and that got the Porter’s attention at last.
“It’s too late to stop us,” the Porter said as she ran towards him. “We already have so much of what we need.”
She barrelled into him and knocked him hard to the ground, sending the COPS flying everywhere. Around them debris was falling from other worlds, robot heads and burning rubble, great lumps of evil styrofoam.
“You’re monsters,” the Doctor growled as she pinned the Porter down on the ground.
The Porter smiled, like he was indulging a child.
“Now, Doctor,” he says. “That’s not quite fair. We merely have a different morality. A different understanding of what is necessary.”
“The Time Lords always did,” said the Doctor, trying to hold him, to prevent him from wiggling free.
“We are not you,” the Porter said. “However much of you there is in us. My people will never be the Doctor.”
“Too right. So many lifetimes; so many adventures. You’ll never be anything more than a shadow.”
It was silly, but she’d hoped the Porter might flinch at that. Instead, he only laughed.
“Don’t you remember?” he said with a knowing smile. “Not everything we are is made from you.”
His right hand was free now even as they wrestled, and from a pocket he bought out the bronze, heavy bulb of the CULLIS.
“Maybe it’s not quite the same as immortality,” he said, looking at it. “But at least it can give us time to finish the job.”
The CULLIS glinted in the light of the sun, and suddenly it was obvious how a person could fall through the world. The Doctor looked round horrified at the hole that was just below her, that had always been there. How could the rubble and the dirt not be falling down it? When it was all that she could do not to tumble into the void—
—If hypersound was legal, said a tiny part of her brain. If you used your sonic at that kind of setting you could align it to his frequency. So you could tell wherever he was. You could track him down.
And she fished her screwdriver out from the depths of her clothes and let its sound roar as high as it could, until the shape of the Porter was imprinted deep in its waves, and she let it whine on and on as she felt the Time Lord push her down the hole, through that wound in the world the bombs of the Blitz hadn’t known they’d left behind—
—she landed hard on a cracked grey pavement and jumped up to her feet. It was a tidy street, just a short way from the clearing, and she ran back as fast as she could towards the green—
—but as she ran she saw the mess of realities fizz and explode, a million timelines cancelling out into fire. And as quickly as she’d seen the explosion it had gone, a horror of nature you’d have to be a Time Lord to see—
—and then she let herself stop, and sag, and sigh. She was alone, now. The COPS and the Porter were no longer here, and the humans would never have existed. Time had a way of knitting itself together, of covering things up when it needed. No one would notice there had even been a hole.
The universe would always find ways of fixing itself. But sometimes it left loose ends. And she was one of them now, the Doctor knew, split like a hair into pieces, a know it all who no longer knew anything at all.
The sun was bright and beautiful in the clearing.
Time ticked on innocently, onwards towards the end.