In truth, she probably didn’t need to have tracked him to find him. He was there in the hospital, just like he had been there before. In the ward where she’d fought alongside her other self, not so many hours. But there weren’t any patients there, not anymore. There was only the Porter there, and his two friends.
The COPS flanked him on either side, looming and tall, bigger than any she’d seen up until now. Their long copper limbs scraped down hard on the broken floor. And the Porter was staring down at her, and he didn’t seem scared in the least. He smiled at her pityingly, like she was a lost little child.
“You’re not the Doctor I have an appointment with,” he said. “But I suppose the Division has been overworking you.”
The Doctor scowled and spoke as confidently as she could.
“Oh, I’m her,” she said. “I’m just a little later than you might’ve expected. Don’t take me for a soft touch, Porter. I’m exactly the woman I was.”
“But like us, now,” said the Porter with a smile. “You’re something a bit more fragile than you were. Which can be broken.”
“Try telling that to the ones who came before you,” the Doctor said. “Who we saw in the sky. So many creatures have come to break this planet. The Time Lords are a picnic next to them.”
She’d expected the Porter to come back with another pithy response, but he didn’t. He just frowned at her, and for the first time his confidence seemed to have slipped.
“Whatever do you mean by that?” he said.
“I’m saying the Earth is defended. Wasn’t that clear?” She frowned. “I thought it was pretty explicit”—
His face had changed; he wasn’t smiling any more. He was staring at her with a look she’d never seen.
“Why is it that you think we’re here?” he asked, very quietly.
(“Everything you know is a lie!” the Master had said, but that wasn’t quite true, not really. There had always been a part of her which knew that something about her was hidden. And now she was feeling like she had done way back there, like she was standing on ice as it started to fracture and crack—)
She took a deep breath.
“You really need to ask that?” she said. “The timeline’s been knocked off its course. The world should end right here, but instead it doesn’t. And there’s nothing worse for the Time Lords than seeing that history’s changed.”
The Porter nodded, almost to himself.
“That is what the universe believes,” he said.
(But now she thought about it, what she’d just said didn’t make sense. If all the Time Lords were doing was upholding the course of history, then why chase her other self in secret? They’d only be doing what anyone would expect them to do. They’d have no obvious reason to even go to the Judoon—)
“In my experience,” she said hesitantly, “people often believe things because they’re true.”
The Porter looked back at her, eyes narrowing.
“Then it worked,” he said softly. “I never thought that it could.”
(Everything you know is a lie!, he’d said, but he’d said something else later on. That all that he’d told her wasn’t the whole of the truth: there’d been something omitted, left out. And knowing her luck it was possible it was something really, extremely important—)
The Doctor’s eyes now narrowed, too.
“Don’t try to confuse me,” she said. “Because so many people’ve done that, and it never ends well for them.” She paused. “Almost never. Rarely. Call it fifty-fifty”—
“But you’re already confused,” the Porter said, “and about far more than you know.”
(It was odd, wasn’t it, that she’d even agreed to be in the Division in the first place? That the Time Lords would torture her, then she’d work for them for maybe billions of years? She’d thought she must have been trapped in it against her will. But then of course that wasn’t really how it had happened at all—)
The Porter was unaware of her thoughts; his head was bowed. Without looking at her, he started to intone.
“The Lordship stands upon a double crime,” he muttered. “The Timeless Child; the Man who Conquered Time”—
He took a deep breath.
“Through Tecteun’s theft, our people became immortal,” he said. “Through Omega’s curse, we now plot a course through time. And yet it is Rassilon who the Division regards as being the true founder of the Time Lords. Strange. Now why do you think that might be?”
The Doctor shifted uncomfortably.
“I don’t see how any of this is relevant”—
“Oh, it’s the most relevant thing in the universe,” said the Porter. “Believe me.”
The Doctor frowned.
“I never understood it myself,” she said. “He never seemed that amazing to me. Maybe he was so full of himself he convinced everyone that he was more than he was.”
“Yes. The Cup and the Sash and the Keys of Rassilon. It’s a little much. And we did warn him about that, in the Division. It’s one thing to indicate you’re arrogant, but it doesn’t do to take it too far. People can’t ever suspect that you might be in on the joke”—
(Everything you know is a lie! the Master was screaming in her mind, over and over again, and both her hearts were now hammering and the jaws opened under the ice—)
“He created a false legacy to hide it,” the Porter was saying. “The lie of the Timeless Child. But what was that lie, exactly? He did leave the universe a clue. It’s in the name he chose for us. The Time Lords. And there are Lords here on this island, I understand. Who have great power; who inherit it. But they are not the source of that power. That comes from above, from a monarch whose face is always changing. And some would say her power derives from the gods—
“No,” said the Doctor. “That can’t be true.”
(But it was, of course, as a part of her knew all along. Armies to fight, that other Doctor had said, and in her mind’s eye she saw those armies now, begging for mercy, for history’s course to change. And she saw the thousands of travellers who had gone with her to travel the universe, who’d find out at the end that their home world was doomed. And that other self had told her nothing had changed for her about being the Doctor, but she’d never thought to ask what exactly that actually meant. Because it was still the Time Lords who’d come up with all the rules, after all. She’d never stopped to think they might have been following them—)
“Cursed to serve; blood-honoured to remain,” the Porter intoned, “a timeless shadow of the Timeless Reign.”
“We appear to be more than we are, Doctor,” he said. “But it’s always been only a story.”
“She was only a child,” the Doctor said. “She was a child and you— you tortured her.”
“We did,” said the Porter, “and we have had many, many years to suffer for our crime. Perhaps in some billions more we’ll have suffered enough. But you did not remain a child forever. We captured a god and injected it into our veins. Is it really impossible to believe you’d have asked us for something back?”
(The boy who would one day be known as the Master, mind cracking as he stared at the cold heart of time. The one who’d grow up to create the Daleks, crying in a field of grasping hands. Everyone starts as a child, as an innocent. But that didn’t have to mean that you’d remain innocent forever.)
“And that was our fate, you see,” the Porter went on. “Rasillon created a myth that our people would grow to believe. And a secret sect who knew the truth. Who followed orders. An organisation in the shadows; we used it to try to control you. Foolish, of course. It was always your orders we were following. Until those of us who protested began to gain the upper hand. And after that, well. We found ourselves all in division”—
“I saw you out there fiddling around with history,” the Doctor said, interrupting him. “You yourself, and the COPS as well. Radiation seeping through from police boxes. That whole sky erupting with other worlds. You caused all that, and you expect me to believe you’re an innocent”—
The Porter laughed.
“You’re right, of course,” he said. “If you find a policeman at the scene of a crime then there can only be one solution. It’s obvious he’s the one who must have committed it!”
He shook his head.
“We’ve been investigating,” he said. “That’s all we’ve ever done. You’ve assumed our intent is the opposite of what it is”—
(It’s easy to get the wrong end of the stick, after all. You meet a secret version of yourself with a police box and think that they all must have police boxes. You feel other versions of you fighting for the Earth and you think that they must be those versions, just like you, because you’re the Doctor and that must be what you’ve always done. It all fits together; you don’t even have to think about it. You just know it’s true. But then everything you know is a lie—)
“But it’s a lot to take in,” said the Porter gently. “So I’ll make it as plain as I can. We’re not here to burn this world, Doctor. We’re trying to save it.”
“We’re trying to save it from you!”