The Wrong Idea

by lurking_latinist [Reviews - 0]

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  • Teen
  • None
  • Angst, Drama, General, Introspection

Author's Notes:
Originally published October 20, 2021, on AO3.

Braxiatel remembers the invasions. No one knows he remembers them; he certainly isn’t high enough in the ranks—yet—to be given need-to-know access, nor was he on the spot when the Doctor used the demat gun.

(His brother has used a demat gun.)

It’s simply that he’s been in the paranoid habit of backing up his memories to an external storage device for a while now, ever since he started hearing voices in the mirror. When his distinguished ex-colleague Chancellor Borusa propagates a targeted amnesia worm through the Gallifreyan subconscious, Brax’s mind forgets like everyone else’s and accepts the fiction imposed: a peaceful transfer of power from the old president—a slightly formless figure—to the new one. But soon he performs his regular cross-check, finds the discrepancy, and uploads the missing memories back into his mind. So he’s perhaps the only person who remembers living through the invasions on the ground, as it were, if you could call the hallowed halls of the Academy the ground. His memories, he reflects wryly, must be an incredibly valuable historical resource.

When he first recalls the memories, they hit him like a physical blow. It’s like the exact reverse of realizing your remembered nightmare wasn’t real; it seems imagined at first, then slots into the hole in his memory.

It sounds like a bad joke at first: the Sontarans? The Sontarans invaded Gallifrey? But of course they rode the coat-tails of the Vardans (his mind plays the memory rapidly backwards) and the Vardans had, you have to grant, formidable psychic powers. And they’d had a quisling, of course.

The Doctor.

Brax wishes it wasn’t so easy to picture him in the role. He got permission to visit the Doctor once in his exile, back when he himself had still been an ambassador, and the Doctor treated him to hours of vitriol about their homeworld, everything from its social structure to its taste in headgear. He can’t, it’s true, picture the Doctor actually wanting to rule Gallifrey, even as the spoilt whimsical dictator with the explosive temper who’d made brief appearances on Public Register Video before shutting it down. Of course, there would have been some reward from the Vardans as well. Perhaps he would’ve handed them Gallifrey when he got bored with it, settled down on his favorite planet Earth in the ragbag luxury he favored.

Still, what Brax hears later, although over unreliable whisper networks, seems far more plausible, far truer—he wishes he didn’t have to admit it—to what he knows of his brother: disaffected, without loyalties, an aimless force of destruction, smashing up the planet for vengeance or just for kicks. When he was an ambassador, he occasionally encountered worlds that had some kind of legend of the Doctor. They had one thing in common, these worlds: they were all devastated war zones.

It’s difficult not to let anything slip when he calls home, lately. Innocet takes his call—it’s always Innocet who uses the comms, it always has been, since they were young—and he remembers, with first-time vividness, calling her to tell her what had happened.

They got news slowly out at Lungbarrow, and it wasn’t, come to think of it, the first time he’d had to tell her awful news about the Doctor. He was offworld when the Doctor went renegade—thank Rassilon—but he’d been the one to tell her about the forced regeneration. He wonders if she’s ever managed to break it to the rest of the family; it was the sort of thing the older generations simply didn’t speak of. He’s never told her that everyone expected a sentence of final death, nor his private belief that the CIA had something to do with the reduced sentence. The Other only knew what the Doctor had done for them. Brax knew better than to wonder—although a part of him, a part that sounded like the tired voice in the mirror, suggested that having a personal connection to one of the Agency’s unspeakables might not be without its usefulness.

Brax was also the one to tell the family, via Innocet, that the Doctor was elected President. By the time they got the news, the disgraceful mess of a trial was already over and, much to everyone’s surprise, it was the Doctor who had landed on his feet. Brax suspects his elders are still worming bits of the story out of poor Innocet.

He knows there are people—idle theorists, he’s sure, with too much time on their hands—who insist the official explanation of Pandad’s assassination was a cover-up. He won’t let himself think about that possibility too closely.

She already knew something was wrong when he called her. It took him a while to make time to do it. That the Doctor was back, and was claiming the Presidency, was news; that he was, as he had been for several centuries, mad as a box of frogs would not surprise Innocet any more than it surprised Brax. So he was busy keeping in touch with Capitol connections, alongside his usual Academy work—making himself available, as it were, if anyone needed a politically astute ally from the new President's house. Although his position was modest, he knew he was well thought of in a number of quarters, and this could be his foot back in the door.

But then—the induction; the Doctor's collapse; the Vardans. Then that little toad Kelner and his list of the politically unreliable. Brax's Capitol connections were getting thinner on the ground. He didn't think he would be on Kelner's list—the Castellan was hunting bigger game—but, he thought, if a memory of his existence flashed into the Doctor's erratic brain and he sent for him, there'd be trouble one way or another. More trouble.

He cancelled his classes, put a scrambler on his communicator, locked his office door. He even put off a meeting with young Romanadvoratrelundar, who'd been going around like a white fury ever since the induction. He checked for bugs and then he called Innocet at Lungbarrow.

She knew something was up, because one of the families nearby had a cousin who was a Chancellery Guard; he'd been home on leave, then suddenly recalled to duty. But Brax's news, he could tell, shocked her to the core. She'd never really stopped thinking of the Doctor as the little cousin she petted and scolded, forever in and out of trouble. There wasn't going to be any out, anymore.

Brax made her promise not to leave the House, and not to let anyone else leave either. The Capitol, he told her, wasn't safe.

"Come back to Lungbarrow," she urged him.

"I daren't call attention to myself," he told her. He didn't add that he trusted neither the House nor its inhabitants—scarcely even her. Still, she promised to hide him from any search, if he needed to run to her. There were secret places in the House, she said, that no one else knew.

"Not even the Doctor?" he asked, and watched dispassionately as her face worked in reluctant admission.

He promised to call her again, not to leave her cut off from the world. But it was all over, even Borusa's cleanup, Innocet's memories gone with everyone else's, before he could keep his promise. Now all he can do is remember, every time he checks in with her—just a few words, just to show he's on decent terms with his Family—remember her fear, her panic, and how powerless he'd been.

He swears to himself, if the Doctor comes back, he'll do something. The man's thrown away every advantage he's ever had with nothing but a lunatic grin, but there must be something that will make him regret.

But of course that doesn't happen. Of course the next news of the Doctor he hears is an icy little note from the Housekeeper of Heartshaven. She wants to know where his brother has taken her promising heiress, and if there's any chance of getting the girl back.

He doesn't know where they are, he replies, cold and angry. It is possible that she will be recovered safely; very unlikely that her reputation can be saved, not if she associated herself with—with—

He backtracks, deletes the sentence, ends his letter abruptly with a formal farewell.

He backtracks again. He adds in a sentence that feels like the only appropriate response to what's happened, even if no one else will remember why.

The Doctor, he writes, is dead to him.