Russell was back on his family’s old farmhouse, west of Chicago and next door to paradise. Except this time, the farmhouse didn’t melt away to reveal a TARDIS. In fact, there was no TARDIS at all. No Doctor at all. Just he and Colleen and what seemed like a Norman Rockwell painting: her preparing breakfast, he reading a newspaper, the two of them enjoying bacon and eggs, free of the guilt of fat and cholesterol, gazing lovingly across the table, her in a linen shirtwaist dress and him in slacks, suspenders, and a comfortable Oxford shirt. The days seemed to go one after the other: going into the local supermarket, tending to livestock, bringing in a harvest, and always being together, always in love. Colleen symbolized what Russell was always trying to find in life, what he was always trying to get back to. He had moved from the country into Chicago proper as a child, and he’d spent almost his entire life trying to get back. Even this doctor gambit was just a way to make enough money to get back out into the country. Colleen was what he’d been wanting to get back to: she was calm, she was friendly, and she seemed to enjoy the simple life that Russell knew he couldn’t find on his own. Colleen…no, her name wasn’t even Colleen, it was Maire, an Irish version of Mary… but she hated that name so much! He’d use it to tease her, and he always felt it so strange that she’d prefer her father’s pet name for her, Colleen, which was simply Irish for "girl." But still, Colleen was what she liked, so Colleen it would be.
My God…what did they do to Colleen?
Russell could hear his heart, feel his heart again, feel the blood coursing through his veins. He couldn’t quite figure out why, but it seemed so loud, as if he hadn’t heard it before. Then, little by little, he began to remember. The Master, that horrible man, had picked apart Russell and his wife life a carrion bird would pick over carcasses, feeding them into some ghastly machine to create a new race, combining their DNA with his. The last time he remembered seeing Collen, there was scarcely anything left to her, and yet through some horrible science, or magic, or both, they still lived, and they felt no pain. A memory crashed over Russell like a tidal wave, and he heard his own voice as he remembered it, screaming as he broke under the sheer mental torment.
"Why are you doing this?! Why are you keeping us alive?!"
And he remembered the Master’s face, so calm and cordial though his hands dripped with gore, lean down close to him and whisper.
"I have tried to kill the Doctor, and I have tried to kill his companions. Never once have I succeeded in a true victory. But here, bringing him the indescribable pain of failing you, knowing that he is powerless… when he sees what I have done to you… it will break him, and I will finally have won."
Russell’s head seemed to throb from the memories. He instinctively clapped his hands to the sides of his heads and stayed there a moment before he realized, with no small surprise, that he had hands again. And arms. And legs. He was completely whole, somehow brought back from less than life to full restoration, right down to his fingernails. He was mareveling at it all, like a child with a kaleidoscope, when a familiar voice interrupted him.
"I see you’re awake."
He glanced in the direction of the voice and saw the Doctor, seated comfortably on the other end of a table. It was only the second time Russell had seen him without a necktie of some sorts, and he didn’t seem to be wearing a vest, either. His shirt even looked a little rumpled, which only confused Russell more. They appeared to be in another lab, thought this one seemed to be onboard the Doctor’s TARDIS. Russell doubted the Master had the same frenetic design sense as the Doctor. There was only one question he could ask as the Doctor sat there, smiling.
"What did you do?"
"Consider me all the kings’ horses and all the kings’ men," the Doctor threw his hands out wide, beaming, "You’re very welcome, Mr. Dumpty."
"How did you… do all of this?"
The Doctor twittered his eyebrows and grinned again.
"Magic," he said in a dramatic voice.
"Don’t give me that," Russell said sourly, taking his first few tottering steps off the upright gurney he’d been strapped to, "and could you get any more Frankenstein than this?"
He gestured to the slabs behind him without bothering to turn around. The Doctor smiled and got a wistful look in his eye.
"Ah, Mary… such an interesting girl. Shame about Percy, though. Still, if I remember my ‘pop culture’ correctly," he said those words as if they were a pesky mosquito, "I believe that Frankenstein’s monster was later given… a bride."
He held out his hand with a flourish, beckoning Russell to turn around. Russell’s gangly form spun about to see Colleen just as she always was, strapped onto her own vertical slab. Russell couldn’t help it, the tears poured from his eyes, completely unhidden as he wept to see his wife safe and sound.
"Happy Anniversary," the Doctor called from across the room, "It’s been about a year, all told. A year since your wedding."
"It’s been a year?" Russell murmured, running his hands across his chest as if wondering if it would all crumble away.
"Since your wedding," the Doctor clarified, "it was an awful lot of work, you can’t begrudge me a little time."
"Not at all, not at all…" Russell was back to staring at his hands, but his gaze kept coming back to Colleen. She looked so peaceful, like she was asleep.
"Doctor," he asked, tears welling up again, "Is she… okay?"
He turned back to the Doctor behind the table, who broke into another grin.
"She’s better than okay, Mr. Garamond. Although she’s taking a bit longer to come out of stasis than you did. I did you both the favor of implanting a few nodes into your memory cortices. You both deserve some good dreams…"
Both Russell and the Doctor jerked their necks toward Colleen, obviously enjoying a particular kind of dream. Russell could feel himself blush to the eartips as the Doctor stroked a handlebar moustache and Van Dyke beard. It was the way Russell remembered him, but the beard seemed less full than it had before, more neatly trimmed. It better framed his face as he constantly smiled.
"Like I said," the Doctor’s eyes grew wide and he heaved a sigh, "You both deserved to have some good dreams… even if I had to force you."
His voice trailed off, a little sad, a little bitter. Now that he knew Colleen was all right, Russell had a litany of questions bursting to get out.
"Doctor, what happened here?"
"What happened to those… things the Master was trying to create?"
The Doctor avoided Russell’s eyes and stared at the table.
"Those genetic abominations are gone."
"And the Master?"
"He’s gone, too."
"Please, Doctor," Russell rolled his eyes, "don’t be so vague…"
He looked back down to see the Doctor glaring at him with piercing eyes, his jaw set dangerously tight, all of the skin on his face looking pulled and tense. Russell couldn’t tell if he was trying not to scream, or cry, but he knew he wanted to change the subject before the Doctor stared a hole through him.
"Er, so…" Russell stuffed his hands in his pockets, "How was that all going to work, anyway? I thought the Master hated the idea of mixing with human blood."
"At the molecular level, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor shifted where he sat, "we’re all the same. Only the Master would take such a lovely sentiment and do what he tried to do with it."
"You said his experiments…"
"Abominations," the Doctor corrected him.
"…were gone. Does that mean that…the parts of us are gone, too?"
The Doctor traced a pattern embossed on the table with his finger.
"Sadly, yes. I… wasn’t able to save most of your corporeal form."
"So what are we, then? Robots? Those Cyber-people?"
The Doctor laughed a little at that, a dry, little laugh.
"No, no. I am proud to say that you are both 100% organic material… again."
He smiled at Russell, waiting to see when it would finally dawn on him.
It didn’t take long. Russell turned back to his wife with stars in his eyes.
"Yes," the Doctor responded, not even knowing if it was necessary, "You’ll have children, Mr. Garamond. You and Colleen will have a family."
As if on cue, that last word caused Colleen’s eyes to flutter open. She looked down from the slab and saw Russell, and her face immediately took on an expression of exhultant joy and calm relief. So much so, in fact, that she nearly fainted and fell from the vertical slab. Russell caught her and held her, laughing, crying, and kissing her all at once.
"Oh, God, Colleen," he said over and over, "I love you, I love you, I love you so much!"
"Russell," she reached up and touched his face, smiling, "I feel so light."
"You don’t have your cybernetic parts anymore, honey," Russell grinned, "The Doctor made you human again!"
She gave him a look of disbelief.
"Go ahead if you don’t believe me!" he giggled, "What’s Pi to fifteen digits?"
Colleen looked at him with a mix of confusion and elation.
"I don’t know!" she finally exclaimed, wrapping her arms around her husband’s neck. Russell held her tight as he stood up again, setting his little wife by his side. He had to hold her close to him, as she was like a newborn colt and her legs wobbled where she stood. They both looked over to the Doctor, still by the table, and Russell spoke for them both.
"Doctor, I…" his mouth moved, but words were hard to come, "I can’t thank you enough! WE can’t thank you enough! What you’ve done here, Doctor… it’s nothing short of a miracle!"
"Miracles are the work of a god, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor said sadly. He finally moved from his place behind the table, and as he seemed to glide over to them, they both saw with absolute shock that the Doctor was wheeling himself about in a wheelchair… and that both of his legs were gone.
"And, as you can see…" the Doctor gave one small, sad smile, "I am no god."
There was a long and horrid silence between the three. The Doctor finally ended it with a scoff.
"Come on, you two. We all knew I needed to lose some weight, anyway. And on the brighter side, my cough is gone."
He began to wheel himself back to the table, with Russell hot on his heels, following by a weeping Colleen.
"Don’t even start, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor still had a bit of his sternness in him, "I did it because I had to."
He stopped and turned round to face his companions, discomfort etched on his haggard features.
"What you said about making Colleen human again… it isn’t exactly true."
Russell and Colleen held themselves in a rapt silence. When the Doctor was ready, he began again.
"You are now both technically more Gallifreyan than human. Congratulations, you are the new progenitors of the Gallifreyan race."
He said that last bit with a sarcastically regal wave of his hand, then continued on, wheeling his way about the TARDIS and adjusting bits and pieces in the elaborate technological mish-mash that littered the area where he’d been sitting.
"As a result, life will be a bit… different for both of you. You’ll have one heart, but you’ll have six lives. COnsider them a present from the Master."
Russell looked down at him, but the Doctor had already sped away. Even in a wheelchair, it was tough to keep up.
"I kept one life for myself, I hope you don’t mind. I’m going to need it, and the Master won’t…not where I put him."
Colleen shivered next to Russell’s side, and there was something in the Doctor’s voice then that even made Russell shudder a bit.
"You’re still human enough to have children, to raise a family… although it will be difficult to find where best to do it. You will… attract attention… and for that, I am sorry."
Russell began to notice that the Doctor’s breathing was a bit labored.
"Doctor, are you all right?"
The Doctor looked at him with a sad smile.
"Of course not, my boy. But! There is still much to tell you. You see," he began wheeling to another side of the lab, where there appeared to be a door in the wall that went nowhere.
"A Gallifreyan has a unique biological ace-in-the-hole: regeneration. When a Time Lord is near death, or otherwise… threatened, they can either enact or be subject to regneration. In one single… fiery instant, the entire… biology of the person is rewritten: new face, new person. A little different, but still… rather much the same. Some things go beyond the biological after all."
He reached up and, with a bit of strain, flipped a switch. The doorway began to hum and fill completely with swirling blue light. The Doctor reversed (making sure not to crush anyone’s toes) and wheeled a bit further down the wall, where a second doorway was. He reached up again for the switch, straining again, and Russell quickly reached over and flipped the switch for him. The Doctor gave him a look like a angry bulldog, and began wheeling back to the lab table.
"And you’re telling us this will happen six times?" Colleen asked.
"Five, technically," the Doctor responded, pressing a few buttons on the table contraption, "six lives."
"And will this… regeration happen to you, too?"
He wheeled back to the first doorway, now glowing and swirling mysteriously. Once there, he noticed that Russell and Colleen hadn’t followed. He angrily beckoned them over.
"Come now. We haven’t much time!"
The two of them walked over, but seemed incredibly reluctant. The Doctor was not oblivious to this.
"Oh, what’s wrong with you two NOW?" he grunted.
"What’s going to happen to you, Doctor?" Colleen said softly, unable to hide her tears, "Will you… die?"
"A coward dies a million deaths, my dear," he responded, holding her chin up with his index finger, "I however, will not technically ‘die.’ You see… I’ve done wrong. Very… very wrong. You two are supposed to be dead, by all the Laws of Time. You were not meant to exist right now. That means…"
"The Reapers…" Russell said with quiet horror, remembering the days of Victorian Prime.
"They will come for me," the Doctor continued, "as such, I will do what I did to my people, my planet… I will punish myself. I am exiling this body… with one life… into the Time Trap of Gallifrey. There, I will be safe from the Reapers, living my one life over and over again. To them, and to all of space and time, it will be as if I, as if we… never existed."
"But how?" Colleen recoiled with fear.
"The power generated by the Time Trap is more than enough, my dear, "It is enough to keep you both safe, it is enough to power the ship, and it is enough to keep me safe. It is enough…"
"What will happen to the… other yous?"
The Doctor looked down, sadly.
"It will be as if I did not happen, Mr. Garamond."
The Doctor looked up to see Russell smiling through the tears. The gangly surgeon reached down with long, thin fingers.
"That’s Russell to you, pal."
The Doctor took his hand and smiled.
"Very well… Russell."
"I won’t forget."
"I know you won’t," the Doctor said, "the Time Trap won’t let you."
He wheeled over to a sobbing Colleen and beckoning for her to hug him. She did so, but her body was still wracked with sobs.
"Dear me, Mr. Garamond… this woman is a mess!"
Colleen laughed a little then in the middle of her sobs. She wasn’t sure what to do.
"Might I suggest," the Doctor continued, "a little vacation for the both of you? Perhaps, someday, you could meet me in a quiet little… black and white place?"
Russell could suddenly hear the Rolling Stones parading through his thoughts again, and he smiled.
"It’s a deal."
"But Doctor," Colleen whimpered, "What’s to become of you?"
"My dear, dear girl," he smiled, "I’ve spent far too long with… too many thoughts in my head. Once I remove myself from the timeline, the only thoughts I’ll need to worry about… are my own. What’s to become of me? I think, my dear Colleen… that I will think. Who knows…"
He wheeled himself over to the second doorway.
"Perhaps, given the… nature of time, I will be the old wise man on the mountain… I spoke with during my youth. Time will tell, after all… it always… does. Now now, we’re… wasting valuable time. You’ve each got… five more lives, and I’ve… only got one left… we must move along. I do hope… you’ll enjoy the little place I’ve picked out…for you…"
Russell and Colleen looked into the swirling blue fog, which dissipated to show a lovely little farm house. Russell recognized it immediately.
"That’s my old house…"
"You should find…" the Doctor’s breathing was getting worse, "enough money… in your pockets to pay for… the house. Just in time…Russell… to buy it when your father has to…move away to the city…"
"But…" Russell furrowed his brow, "Dad said he sold the house to some doctor…"
He slapped a palm to his forehead and groaned.
"I should’ve known."
He turned back down to the Doctor and gave him a hug. The Doctor was very uncomfortable with it.
"Thank you, Doctor. It’s been… fun."
"And you, Colleen?" the Doctor asked with one eyebrow up. Colleen did her best to smile.
"Doctor," she said softly, "You’ve saved my life…twice… and you’ve introduced me to the man I love… yes, I’d say it was fun!"
Each of them laughed, but it didn’t last long. He shepherded them out of the doorway and they found, to their surprise, that they were standing on the lawn of Illinois farm land on one of those warm, but not too warm summer nights where the sweet wind blows the fragrance of alfalfa all around.
"Good-bye, you two," the Time Lord said plainly, tears clearly present in his eyes.
"Good-bye, Doctor," they responded. The Doctor turned to wheel back into his TARDIS, when Russell stopped him.
"So, Doctor, you never told me," he said after a deep breath, "This ‘regeneration’ thing… is it going to happen to you?"
The Doctor turned around and looked at Russell with the expression one might give to a curious kitten. The tears were still framing his clear, blue eyes.
"My dear boy… It’s already happening."
And with that, he wheeled back into the TARDIS, which closed up and began to fly away into the night. Colleen and Russell watched as long as they could as the blue box floated away into the night, until a blinding golden flash from the windows of the ship made them turn their eyes away. When they could see again, it was just a calm and gentle Midwest night. Russell held his wife close to him, and together they both cried until they ran out of tears. After that, he took his wife from one hundred years ago into his new home, which was his old home, to live out the first of his six, long lives… all because of that Strange Man.
And when the golden flash receded inside the TARDIS, it was the old Doctor, the previous Doctor, thin and willowy with thick glasses and wild hair, sitting in the old study buried deep within the ship’s interior. He was sitting in the same chair, with the same song playing on the phonograph, holding the little orange world in a bottle in one of his thin and dexterous hands. He stared at it intently, as if trying to remember something, turning it over and over in his hands, but always coming back to the mountains on the southernmost continent. He didn’t even seem to blink until his companion, the one Dr. Martha Jones, entered the study. The Doctor, instead of turning around and smiling in that gawkish way he always had, was still fixated on the globe-like bottle. Martha approached him carefully.
He was still engrossed. She took a few steps closer.
The Doctor was jolted out of the melancholy and began being rather more like, well, himself.
"Ah, Martha! Enjoy the zoo, then? Animals from all over the cosmos in there, even some that breath liquid nitrogen! I’ve often thought what it would be like to breathe liquid nitrogen, or breathe liquid at all, really…"
"What were you looking at, over there?"
She pointed to the bottle that the Doctor had set down in a polished cherrywood holder on one of the lacquered end tables. He started at it again, harder this time, as if trying to remember. Finally he shook his head.
"Bah, must be nothing. Now! Martha Jones, where shall we go next? I never did get to the planet Barcelona, you know… they’ve got dogs with no noses, you can only imagine…"
"I’ve heard the joke, Doctor."
"Ah, very well then… say, have I ever told you about the Chameleon Arch?"
And as they left the room, on those mountains on the planet inside the bottle, a small, bearded, legless man could be seen in a chair, looking out over the burnt orange skies of his homeworld, lost to space, lost to time, and lost in endless thought.