A character being introduced without a backstory, becoming very involved with a main character off camera, then sacrificing him or herself for another’s happiness Me: TimeTrap Them: Silence in the Library
A TARDIS crew featuring a man who wears bowties, a redhead, her husband, and a no-nonsense tough girl from the future:
I’m just sayin’
Either I’m a genius, or I might want to talk to a lawyer 😉
There’s more, if you keep looking, but I figured after hearing about Asylum, I might finally make this post.
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. Colleen… Colleen… 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…" "Oooooh, Russell…" 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?" "Don’t ask." "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. "You mean…!" 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. "Doctor…" "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." "Hey." 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. "Doctor?" He was still engrossed. She took a few steps closer. "Doctor?" 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.
Russell knew he had to remember. The details were hazy at best, Colleen couldn’t remember any of it. The poor girl, all that she’d been through… and now this. "Well, well," the Master chuckled, still holding tight to Colleen, "Now that we’ve removed all distractions, perhaps we can get to work, hm?" "You know we’d rather die," Russell spat, the moisture from his mouth crackling on the electrical barrier that kept him from his wife. "Why is it that they always say that?" the Master pondered out loud, "Am I really that bad? All I want to do is ensure the best possible life for myself, isn’t that what everyone wants?" "They don’t usually commit genocide to do it." "I’ve never committed genocide," the Master replied, shocked. His indignation, however, soon turned into a wicked smile. "Not completely, anyway." Colleen gave a whimper and the Master held her a little tighter, drawing the broken shards of the sonic screwdriver closer to her ivory throat. "How can you live like this?" Russell cried, his heart aching for his wife’s safety, "All that knowledge, all that power… your people are like gods to us, and yet you do the most horrible things… why? All that potential, all that–" "All that, all that!" the Master cut him off with a mocking tone, "Is that all you can say, you insipid little parrot? Didn’t they used to say that on your planet, that someone was ‘all that?’ Well, yes, I suppose I do think that I am ‘all that.’" He laughed a bit more and hugged Colleen a little closer, leaning down close until his nose was nearly touching the area near her jugular vein, parallel with the makeshift weapon. He saw the muscles in Russell’s face tighten, and he grinned. "You sound just like him, you know, another one of his little pawns, believing the noble lie. You talk to me of genocide, but tell me… did you fight with the Doctor, side by side, battle by battle? Were you there to see his butchery at Serresenaw, or the way he sent so many Time Lords to their deaths overcoming the Dalek stronghold at Korrhum? Do not speak to me of genocide when you ally yourself with the one who murdered two entire races!" "That’s not true!" Russell screamed. "DON’T YOU LIE TO ME!" The Master boomed back, shaking the very walls of his TARDIS, "I CAN’T FEEL THE PRESENCE OF GALLIFREY! MY HOME IS GONE!" "Why do you care?" Russell shouted back, hearing some of his hair sizzle on the barrier as he leaned forward, "You tried to destroy the planet! You fled the Time War! You left your people to die!" "They were not my people," the Master shot back bitterly, "Merely my unsubjugated." "What?" Russell blinked in disbelief. "You don’t think I got a name like ‘the Master’ because I chose it, do you?" "Actually, I did." "The only thing I chose to do," the Master grinned, struggling a little as Colleen squirmed, "Was to MAKE them call me ‘Master.’ First in my class, of noble birth; scholar, athlete, philosopher. I was the most remarkable candidate to come out of the Time Lord Academy since its founding. I would have been Chancellor, President over the high council… but I preferred to be… Master. Master over all, ruling Gallifrey like the Kings and Queens of old, my will absolute!" "Because you were good in school?" Russell raised his eyebrows skeptically. "Because I deserved it!" the Master hissed, "but the Doctor, that low-born idiot, that half-breed, that pusillanimous creature and insult to our race… he robbed me of my right. He took my kingdom from me!" Russell suddenly had a mental flash of that little orange world in a bottle, all the while with Jim Croce in his ears. He answered almost involuntarily, as if he hasn’t meant to say it out loud. "… but Gallifrey isn’t gone…" The Master’s eyes grew wide and his jaw grew slack with shock. "What?" His arms had gone slack with the shock as well, and Colleen took the opportunity to use a few tricks taught to her by an old friend. She drove an elbow into the Master’s midsection and brought her hard-soled shoe down onto his instep. The Master howled in pain, staggering backwards, giving Colleen the option for escape. She chose, instead to reach for the console of the Master’s TARDIS, and the fearsome weapon of the Master’s known as the Tissue Compression Eliminator mere instants before the Master could grasp it. She pointed it at the Time Lord and, without a second thought, fired.
Meanwhile, the Doctor was in complete misery. He sat on the floor of the console room next to his disabled TARDIS, head in his hands. How could he have been so stupid, so careless? He had been arrogant, proud, just like the Master, and what did it get him? His companions, gone. His ship, damaged. The Master’s plan? Who could say. The Doctor sat there, cursing himself over and over. What made him better than the Master now? He had been pompous and preening, maybe even more than his old enemy, and now Russell and Colleen… he could only shudder to think of what horrors lay in store. He knew that his friends would resist, and he knew that the Master did not tolerate resistance… "What have I done?" He wished for something, anything, to help him, but nothing came. The only break in the oppressive silence were occasional bouts of his coughing. No ghosts of Doctors past, locked away in the myriad of TARDIS corridors, no wise words from former companions, even the TARDIS was silent, robbed of its usual hum and activity. The Doctor took the chocolate brown porkpie hat from his head and stared at it a while, casting it aside with a frustrated snarl. "Stupid old man." He leaned back and shouted to the echoing ceiling. "You’ve certainly put yourself over the barrel this time, haven’t you? Haven’t you?" There was no answer. The Doctor let his head sink back down. "Stupid old man." Silence reigned again for a few moments as the Doctor sulked in the dark. Then, like a firefly, a tiny blue light began to blink from across the room. It bathed the console room in a weak blue light, causing the Doctor to raise his head and identify the peculiar source of power in an otherwise powerless ship. Like a child, the Doctor crawled the few feet across the floor to the light, which was emitting the blue light from underneath the band, tucked inside the hat. The Doctor picked up his hat gently, as if afraid to ruin the magic, and gingerly fished out what the blinking object. He identified it immediately as a piece of cyber-technology, a shining piece of silver with interlaced circuitry and dazzling technological beauty. It was shining from a single blue light in the center, a tiny thing that seemed to fill the room now that it had been uncovered. The Doctor’s face was perfectly blue as he regarded the tiny piece of metal. "A cyberman wouldn’t make this," he mused to himself, "It’s too beautiful. That pattern isn’t be from Mondas, either." The metal and circuitry had been molded into a triangle, a Celtic triangle made of several different shapes, all in one continuous line. There was a place on the design where the lines intersected, forming a cradle for the tiny blue light that was still blinking merrily. The Doctor held the tiny piece of silverwork in his hands and smiled. He knew what it was. "Triquetra." He rose to his feet, neatly sliding one of his two-tone spectators into the hat and, with one deft movement, flicking it upwards into his free hand. With a flourish, he popped the hat back on his head and headed back to the center console. He carefully placed the Triquetra into a small aperture on the console, and almost immediately the ship took to it. Suddenly, the entire console room was glowing blue, a glittering ocean of light, and with a triumphant sound, the TARDIS sprang back to life. The Doctor gave a shout of happiness as he ran his hands over the console of his old ship, smiling broadly. "Remarkable girl, that Colleen. Simply remarkable." The Triquetra in the aperture gave a small creak and then cracked in two, crumbling into a fine silver dust as the light grew dim. "No!" the Doctor shouted, trying his best to harvest the tiny grains of silver, "no, no, no, no! How am I supposed to track her if… oh, damn it all!" He threw another fit and sulked into a chair near the console, pulling a sour face. "Fantastic. Just fantastic! I’ve got my ship back, but I don’t know where in time or space or Heaven or Hell they are! If only I hadn’t been so brash, so foolish, if only I hadn’t destroyed my sonic–" He slapped a hand to the breast pocket of his camelhair coat where the sonic screwdriver. "Sonic…" The realization dawned on him, and he suddenly sprang up from the chair and began running around the console, constantly chattering the word "sonic" over and over again. It’s said that a TARDIS was originally meant to be piloted by several Time Lords, and now, all alone, the Doctor was a dervish around the console: flipping switches, turning dials, pressing buttons, and several other tiny tasks. "Sonic, sonic, sonic! I can track that sonic signal, I know I can. No one makes a sonic screwdriver like me! I can track them through space and time, because I know the Master won’t destroy it. No, he’ll want to keep it as some kind of war trophy, no doubt. Arrogant to the end! Well, I’ll show him how arrogant I can be, won’t I, old girl?" He patted the console and the TARDIS seemed to coo in approval. The Doctor slammed one lever into place with a triumphant "HA!" and the ship took off. The Doctor looked up with pride, seeing the time rotor in action, and smiled. "Good old Mr. Garamond, and his very insensible shoes!" The TARDIS sped off for time and space unknown, hot on the heels of the Master and his prisoners.
Colleen Garamond, formerly Colleen Ciradh, was a quiet woman, of that there was no mistake, but at no point was her quietness ever an indication of her lack of thought or involvement. As a 19th century woman with cybernetic implants, she was constantly in conflict with herself: a brain that ran faster than a leopard with sensibilities that more befit a kitten. She was kind, and generous, always willing to help or to do the work that no one else wanted, but always quiet and standing in the background of her own volition. It was a result of the tortures she endured at the hands of a Cyber-Controller in what seemed like a place so long ago, it was those pains that kept her silent, that kept her kind and courteous when others may have grown bitter or greedy. She had been raised in a good family, all of them gone now, starved by a ruling nation who gladly exported grain from Ireland while its people starved by the wayside. Colleen Garamond had lived a difficult life, that much is certain, but her faith and her beliefs in propriety and piety kept her going strong, if usually silent. She spoke very little, but not because she didn’t have anything to say. She reacted, she participated, her face spoke volumes of emotion and experiences in its smooth, freckled, forever-young surface. She simply didn’t speak because she was afraid to. She never knew what thoughts would be hers, and which would be the thoughts of the metal men who slaughtered her neighbors and attempted to assimilate them. Even the word "assimilate" wasn’t hers, yet it was in her mind somehow and she understood it. She understood so much, yet so very little, as the heart of her heart, not her cybernetic one, sought to reconcile with the powerful mind she possessed. She’d done much to keep the mind busy, of course, and the TARDIS proved to be a playground perfectly fit for her: so many books to read, so many rooms to clean to a spotless shine, so many animals to tend in the onboard zoos and menageries. And then, there was Russell, her husband. He had always been so understanding. He never demanded that she talk or that she participate; if anything, he was usually telling her to put the broom and mop away and sit next to him. When she was with him, she always felt so comfortable, it was like wherever they were, it was that beautiful, silent, black and white garden on a far off planet. Everything was calm and simple and easy to understand when she was with him… and yet there was always the fear, always the worry that she wouldn’t be able to control her implanted parts, her heart, her brain, the augmentations to her muscular and skeletal system… there was always a fear that she wouldn’t be able to control what she said, or did, and as she looked at the Master, weapon in hand, her cybernetic mind agonized over the decision forever. Forever, of course, to a cyberman.
Russell knew he had to remember. It was the single most terrifying sight of anything he’d seen in all the time he’d spent traveling in time and space. After Colleen fired on the Master, the console room of the renegade Time Lord’s TARDIS was bathed in a bright golden light as energy seemed to explode from the Master’s body. Golden threads and flecks dance about him from head to toe, swirling in a maelstrom as the Master they knew slowly died and was replaced before their very eyes. The screaming was nearly unbearable, because it seemed like two people screaming at once. One voice they recognized, the other was higher, reedier, and unfamiliar. Colleen and Russell both watched, aghast, as the Master’s face began to warp and change in the golden light, twisting and bending with different ages, hair colors, nose shapes, and so on. Finally, however, it appeared that the current Master was gaining the upper hand, as he began to laugh so loud that it seemed all the glasswork on his lab table would burst. It wasn’t simply him laughing, either, but the laughter of his voice and several other voices, possible future or past Masters, all in horrible unison. Finally, with a shout, the Master brought himself to his feet and thrust both his arms out. In a swirling spike, the golden energy flew clear across the control room to the laboratory area, where it appeared to be swallowed up into a tall, black, box-shaped device in the corner. The machine began to hum, and suddenly it seemed as if the entire laboratory came to life: beakers began to bubble, test tubes were filled, and the piping between it all was buzzing with activity and flowing with peculiar liquids, and all the time the Master, still as he was, was laughing. He rounded on Colleen with a mad, hungry glare in his eyes. The Irish girl’s nerve failed her, and she dropped the TCE in fright. The Master grabbed her roughly by the wrist and wrenched her over to where Russell still stood, powerless within the deadly barrier. "You should keep better track of your woman," he said with a malevolent chuckle, "She’s just bound to get into trouble, you know…" He threw her to the floor and, with the push of a button, a new barrier was erected around her, trapping her. The Master approached them both, replacing the TCE in the pocket of his long, black coat. "I suppose you’re wondering what all this is about," he said, almost merry as he flippantly threw a hand about him, gesturing to the laboratory, "As I told the Doctor, I am creating life." "Is this the part where you give the whole evil plan away?" Russell shot back, sounding bored. The Master regarded him with a bit of frustration, as if Russell had caught him in the cliche. "Well," the Master replied, a little huffy as he came closer and closer to Russell, "I was going to tell you, but you’re being so very rude, I suppose I ought to just get on with your… punishment." "Just get it over with," Russell swallowed hard, summoning all his courage, "There’s nothing you can do to me…" The Master cut him off with one extended index finger in a black velvet glove. "Ah, how true. You are brave, you are stoic, you are the handsome hero of this tale, are you not? The Doctor has taught you well, I see. Very well," he gave a little, flourishing bow, "I concede. You are the good and noble man, and nothing I can do will remove that. However…" He walked away from Russell, his heels clicking on the metal floor all the way to Colleen. "I do wonder," he said, running a finger so close along the barrier that the electricity crackled between it and the glove, "How you might react if I were to…take care of your little wife first…" "Don’t you touch her, you son of a…" "Or what? You’ll kill me? Your woman already tried, Mr. Garamond–" "That’s Doctor Garamond to you, pal." "In fact," the Master continued, unhindered, "She very nearly triggered a full regeneration. Luckily, I have my little contraption in the corner," he gestured to the box, "And the energy fits so very well in there. I should thank you, actually, Colleen, my dear…" Something about the way he said those last three words made Russell’s blood boil. "I was fully planning to trigger a regeneration effect in myself, but now I don’t have to bring myself to inflicting self-harm. How wonderful, hm? Now…" He walked back to the console and pressed a button, making sure to keep the TCE pointed at Colleen the entire time she was out of the containment barrier. Colleen was still mostly human, and it was her human fears, the fears of simple, innocent farm girl far out of her element, that kept her from fighting back. Russell knew he had to remember, even though he’d take lifetimes trying to forget. He wanted to forget how the Master strapped his wife down to a table and, while she was alive, began harvesting parts of her: her flesh, her organs, little by little, molecule by molecule to add to his damned scheme. He mentioned more than once about how he was planning to populate an asteroid into his own personal kingdom using the Panaceaen fog and something called the Hand of Omega, and Russell wanted so much to not hear, because to hear the scattered bits of the Master’s plan was also to hear, and to see, as he tore his wife apart, piece by piece… but still, somehow, through a perversion of Time Lord science and technology, she still lived, and she continued to look over to Russell, helpless, alone, and impotent, and she kept telling him not to worry, not to cry, and she continued to hold the Celtic cross her mother gave her that hung around her neck close to her heart… until the Master finally took away her arms. Yet still, she lived. The Master kept her alive, and he kept her alive so she would have to watch as he did the same to Russell. And finally, when it was all done, Russell looked over at his wife, and she looked over at him, and she smiled, because she was with him, and the world was simple and easy to understand again. Through torrents of tears he couldn’t stop, Russell smiled back, and the pain of the situation, not of the physical loss, is what allowed everything to go mercilessly black. Even as he kept whispered to Colleen "I love you, I love you," his mind was continually chanting something else, and it was simply the word: "Remember."
This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to write. But don’t worry, folks, there’s still one more episode, I promise 🙂
"Doctor, what in the Hell is going on?!" Russell was practically chasing the Doctor all around the TARDIS as the strange man was preparing. He was stuffing his pockets with seemingly anything that came to hand: biscuits, teacups, a handkerchief, a small figurine of a donkey, three sonic screwdrivers, two pairs of Pince-nez spectacles, an icepick. a handful of hazelnuts, and so on. "Your pants are going to fall off if you keep jamming stuff into them…" "Please don’t distract me, Mr. Garamond!" the Doctor pleaded angrily, tugging on his tan jacket, "I’m having trouble keeping everything straight as it is." "Why?" The Doctor adjusted his lapels and gave a shrug, feeling the camelhair fit right about his shoulders. He looked directly at Russell, his eyes clear and blue, his voice frank and unadorned. "Because the Master has never spoken like this in the centuries I have known him. He has always been a master of destruction, of chaos, of murder and death and discord. To hear him speak of philanthropy is…" "Troubling?" "And yet fascinating," the Doctor tapped an index finger to his pursed lips. "You really hope he’s changed, don’t you?" Russell said, marveling. He could still remember the horrors he’d seen at the hands of the Master, and the countless atrocities he’d either read or heard about in their travels. The Master had not been idle since his return: stealing, murdering, cheating, and so on, renewing his trail of infamy across the galaxies. They had been to several planets, space stations, and interstellar colonies, and everywhere people spoke of the Master with dark and frightened tones. And here, the man who has known him the longest, who has seen the majority of his wrongdoings first hand… "I must know," the Doctor nodded, almost distractedly, "I can’t trust him, not after everything… but if he can truly help the universe, if he truly wishes to do good…" The Doctor’s voice trailed off as he bolted from one of the many antechambers, all conversation forgotten. Russell hot on his heels, remarking to himself how the Doctor seemed more scatterbrained than ever. He began to marvel at the Time Lord mind and its capacity for knowledge and capabilities, and yet he felt a great amount of pity for the Doctor as he sped around, his hands seeming to move of their own accord to approve or reject nearly every item in every room of the TARDIS. All those minds, all those memories, all that history locked away in his head… how did it all not consume him? Throughout all the adventures, he’d never really seen this. sure, the Doctor had his… quirks, but so did everyone. This, however… this was bad. Something about the Master always put the Doctor ill at ease, made him grumpier even than usual. Russell noticed, with a hard laugh, that he often acted the same way around his ex-wife. "Something funny, Mr. Garamond?" "I’m just glad you’re wearing suspenders, with all you’re stuffing in those pockets." The Doctor pulled his braces out from under his vest and gave them a tug. His voice was still businesslike and tense. "One of the benefits of subspace trouser pockets, Mr. Garamond. Almost completely weightless. Is Colleen ready?" "We both are." "Good," he said, brushing past the gangly surgeon back to the main console room, "because I’m not." They met up with Colleen in the console room, and the Doctor fiddled with a few devices until one of the integrated flatscreens buzzed into life. The three stood in front of the screen as the Master’s face came into view, much smaller but no less intimidating. "Have you turned off all the lights, Doctor?" the Master called with a mocking tone, "I promise nothing will happen to your TARDIS while you’ve got it parked. At its age, I’d be surprised if anything else CAN happen to that ship." "Spare us the meager witticisms," the Doctor stuffed both hands into his jacket pockets, "bring us on board if you want so much to show us your magnum opus." "Why don’t you come on in, then?" the Master grinned. "I’d rather you send a cab," the Doctor sniffed, "I’m afraid you might scratch my paint job." "As you wish," the Master nodded, and the screen went blank. Colleen and Russell exchanged a look. "Doctor, why don’t we…?" Russell made a motion with his hand as if to simulate flying into the ship. "TARDISes are dimensionally transcendent constructs," the Doctor explained with a level voice, "placing one inside another can wreak havoc on the fabric between dimensions." "Of course," Colleen nodded, "You can’t transcend a transcender, it’d be like turning a box in on itself ad infinitum." "Quite right, my dear. A tear in subspace is something I don’t want to deal with on top of everything else." Russell remembered the Doctor’s claim of subspace trousers, and was inclined to agree. "So how are we going to get there?" "A transmat beam, more than likely. Which reminds me…" He spent a good time digging into his inside jacket pocket, searching for something beyond the confines of camelhair and thread. Finally, his arm returned, clutching three sonic screwdrivers in his fist. He kept one for himself and tossed the other two to Russell and Colleen. "What are these for?" Russell asked, a little worried." "Always be prepared, Mr. Garamond." "Makes you sound like a boy scout." The Doctor fiddled nervously with the screwdriver in his hand. "Believe me, Mr. Garamond, this will prove far more handy than a simple pocketknife. Ah!" he said with relief as a low hum began to echo around the TARDIS, "our cab is here!" There was a blinding flash of light, a sizzling sound of electricity, and suddenly they were all three standing in a towering, white room. As the Doctor began to look around, his vision seemed to be only in black and white, overcome with memories. This was how his TARDIS had looked when he first rescued it from that rubbish heap… he and Susan, so long ago… and all the life and the death and the danger and the thrill of it all had changed his ship in an unalterable way. It would never look like this again, all white and stark, with the roundels on the walls contrasting with the sharp, geometric console. How long had it been, he thought, since Ian, since Barbara… since he was thin, even? Sadly, the color started to leech back into his vision as the nostalgia faded, and a few items of the Master’s tenure began to show themselves: a black coat draped over a chair, a sideboard with several dark liquors prominently displayed in elegant bottles, and a massive laboratory that took up the entire back wall, full of bubbling beakers, flasks, and pipets all moving in perfect harmony towards test tubes, centrifuges, and Petri dishes. At the lab, he could see the broad, muscular back of the Master, working away in a black vest and voluminous white sleeves. He turned to greet them, opening his arms in welcome. The Doctor, wishing to dispense with pleasantries, made to take a step forward, but Colleen’s scream stopped him where he stood. "Doctor, look out!" The Doctor finally became aware of the buzzing electronic barriers that were keeping Russell and Colleen rooted to their spots. The barriers left very little room for movement, and crackled dangerously which what was nothing less than a lethal dose. The Doctor, rather than seem worried or frightened by the experience, merely heaved a sigh. "Honestly, Master. This is the best you can do?" "Wonderful thing about a Chameleon circuit," the Master chuckled, stepping forward until he was nearly face to face with the Doctor at the barrier, "If I input the information for a Dalek mothership, it comes with all the fun little bells & whistles." "Please," the Doctor sniffed contemptuously, "Do you really think this can hold me?" He casually produced the sonic screwdriver from his breast pocket. Before the Master could make a comment, the Doctor placed the device on the floor and drove the hard sole of his two-tone spectator shoe down onto the screwdriver, breaking it to pieces. An ear-splitting shriek issued from the broken device, causing Russell, Colleen, and the Master to cover their ears and causing the electrified barrier around the Doctor to flicker and fade. The Doctor stepped out from the barrier as if nothing was wrong, and as quickly as it had shrieked, the screwdriver fell silent. The Doctor coolly approached the Master, who was still clutching at his ears. "I learned that trick after the fall of the Panopticon, though I feel as I’ve just lost a friend… Master, can you hear me?" The Master slowly lowered his hands from his ears and drew himself back to his full, impressive height. The Doctor looked up to him with a playful sort of scorn and gave him a shove to the chest. The Master, still disoriented, stumbled backwards against the console. "It appears, my old adversary, that there’s not a trick you can prestidigitate that I cannot find a way out of. Perhaps this conflict of ours has finally ended, with me the victor? Are we no longer evenly matched? Could it be that the power of my cold, calculating mind has finally defeated your hot, raging emotions, Master?" He turned to his two companions. "Colleen, dear… Mr. Garamond. Do as I did and relieve yourself of your imprisonment." Colleen immediately did as she was told, and Russell barely had time to block his ears as a second shriek pierced the air. Still, the Doctor did not even flinch. Finally, Russell steeled his nerve and stomped down as hard as he could on the screwdriver the Doctor had given him. Nothing happened. "That is why you should wear more sensible shoes, Mr. Garamond. Give me a moment, and I’ll free you…" He turned back to the console to see, to his aggravation, that the Master had Colleen held fast, a shattered piece of the sonic screwdriver held to her throat. He regarded his enemy with an icy glare. "You know I can kill, Doctor, and you know I will to accomplish my goals," he began circling around the console of his TARDIS. "Well," the Doctor stuck his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels, "That certainly destroys any idea of your possible philanthropy." "Doctor!" Russell shouted from behind the barrier, still unable to break the sonic screwdriver with his rubber-soled shoes, "Don’t just stand there!" The Doctor dismissed him with a wave. "It’s all right, Mr. Garamond, it’s all right. I know what this is about, and it’s certainly not about Colleen. It’s about recognition. You see, the Master is absolutely furious that I have been able to best him time and again, over and over. All he wants is for me to consider him dastardly and evil, no doubt. It’s a peculiar thing, the relation between people. Without evil, there can be no good, so therefore someone must be lower than someone else. The knowledge of just where people stand gives them a sense of permanence, a sense of purpose, and it makes them feel… good. To the Master, feeling bad makes him feel good, and my… unwillingness to give him what he so desperately wants makes him so very, very angry… but I’m tired of it." He turned back to the Master, who was still holding the makeshift weapon to the girl’s throat. "What’s the point, Master? We fight, we don’t fight, what’s the difference in the end? You’ve never been able to defeat me, to kill me, to harm me, really. I always come back, you always come back, and it never ends! Why do you do it?" The Master reached behind himself on the console and flipped a number of switches. "Oh Doctor, you have been naive," he said with a venomous smile, "It’s true, there is a certain…piquancy to the conflict that you and I have shared for so long, and it’s true that I hunger and thirst for the opportunity to finally best you once and for all… but I came to a conclusion after what seemed like an eternity, locked inside your ship. I now know how I can truly beat you, and to beat you is to break you." ‘How very poetic," the Doctor raised an eyebrow, "I suppose you’re going to tell me your grandiose plan now, building to a bombastic, villainous crescendo?" "Actually…" The Master flipped one more switch on his console, and in a flash of light the Doctor was gone, beamed back to his TARDIS via the transmat device. Before he could know what had occurred, the Master’s voice seemed to come from everywhere inside the TARDIS. The Doctor scrambled to the flatscreen, where the Master was broadcasting. Russell and Colleen were both back in the containment field, and the Master had put his black jacket back on, leaning over the console and chuckling softly to himself. "You seem to forget, my dear Doctor, that for a long, long time I was part of your ship. I was absorbed into your TARDIS through the Eye of Harmony. I clung to your ship, and clung to my sanity, all the time plotting my revenge. I know your ship as I do the functions of my own body. When I move my arm…" He flipped a switch, and part of the Doctor’s TARDIS began to grow dim. The Time Rotor suddenly went dark and immobile, and nothing the Doctor attempted in a feverish few seconds could bring it back online. The Master let his chuckles grow into that full, mocking laugh that crashed around the console room like breakers on the surf. "It’s no use, Doctor! Your TARDIS is disabled, you’re dead in the water. It took me decades to access that code. I’ll never be able to process it again, and for that… I thank you. Thank you, Doctor, for bringing about my greatest plan. With you stranded, and with the help of your two little… friends… the new genesis of Gallifrey will begin! Catch me, Doctor, if you can!" There was a great groaning in space, and the Dalek mothership slowly dematerialized out of time, off for parts unknown. The Doctor was left in a scuttled ship, in silence, and alone.
The face on the projection was no longer the metal, emotionless facade of a Dalek, but the laughing face of a handsome man, his hair and neatly trimmed goatee nearly black to match the coat he wore. His laughter came in great peals as it echoed around the TARDIS, and the way it reverberated nearly drove Russell mad. Through it all, the Doctor stood firm, his face showing a mixture of disgust and disappointment as he waited for the infernal laughter to cease. "Oh, come now, Doctor," he showed his teeth in a dazzling grin, "I knew a day when you would appreciate a ruse of this caliber." "One should never impersonate a Dalek," the Doctor shot back darkly, "The entire universe knows that one boundary of good taste." "Except, of course, for me." "Except for you, Master." "I do like it when you use my name," he continued to smile, "I’m also pleasantly surprised to see that you have a stockpile of terraforming fog disinfectant onboard your TARDIS. Always prepared, Doctor?" "I visit some rather unsavory places," the Doctor replied off-handedly, "but none more caustic than the presence of your company." "Oh, don’t be so angry, Doctor. At your age, you’re bound to get wrinkles." "Enough!" the Doctor spat, "What are you doing with the fog? What could you possibly want with something that heals people?" "You think I can’t be philanthropic?" "I know you to be more philatelist than a philanthropist," the Doctor adjusted his cuffs, his voice hiding none of its disdain, "I can’t possibly imagine you helping anyone that isn’t yourself." "Ah, but that was so long ago, Doctor," the Master said with a sigh, "before we became the last two children of Gallifrey, before our race was wiped from the very fabric of existence… how does that old song go? ‘You don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone’ or something like that?" "I’m not one for pop culture," the Doctor continued to snarl, "What do you want with that fog?" "Excuse me!" Russell felt his knees wobble as he stepped between the two bickering Time Lords. "How can you both stand here and argue while people are dying, have died back on Panacea? How can you have a petty little…spat among all of that carnage? How can you stand it, both of you?" The Doctor bowed his head slightly, and the Master broke into another Cheshire grin. "Well, why don’t you tell him, Doctor? Why don’t you tell him what I know, and what you know?" "Let me guess," Russell said, his arms folded, "That both of you somehow knew, in your glorious cosmic wisdom, what was supposed to happen today. You knew that those people were supposed to die, because that’s the Nature of Time or some such baloney… am I right?" The Doctor nodded slightly, and the Master chuckled. "My my… you have become so strong in the time I’ve known you, Mr. Garamond." Russell stabbed his index finger toward the projection screen. "That’s Dr. Garamond to you, pal." He walked over and put a comforting arm on the Doctor’s shoulder. "And a great, strange little man once told me that just because you know someone dies, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grieve." "And that is why you always fail, Doctor," the Master’s words were bitter and harsh, "Your grief and your human emotions nearly drive you mad. It’s why you ran away so long ago, wasn’t it? You just couldn’t stand the lack of… love?" "You weren’t any better, Master," the Doctor replied. His head rose slowly as twin shards of blue ice shot out from under the porkpie brim. "You ran away, too." "I was stifled," the Master snorted, folding his arms, "The Time Lord Academy was no place for someone of my talents." "The Sulphir Plains of Barkhum are more appropriate," the Doctor retorted. The Master clucked his tongue and shook his head. "Is this what we’ve been reduced to in our old age, Doctor? Shouting back and forth like impotent old men? This is not the way the last of our race should be. We had such power, we had such knowledge, and yet we limited ourselves. Why? Arrogance and ego, nothing more. The Time Lords of old believed that by limiting themselves, it made them aware of their own power, and therefore made themselves more powerful. They believed themselves to be minor gods, when they simply could have taken the stars in the palms of their hands and become gods themselves! The true foolishness of the Time Lords was not their adherence to the laws… it was their refusal to break them!" The Master held out his hand to the Doctor, almost beckoning. "Doctor, I know you agree with me. You did the same thing I did, you rebelled against their rules and their laws, their foolishness. Come with me, let us make Gallifrey what it always could have been… what it should have been! Let us make our people great again!" "With the crown resting squarely atop your head, I suppose?" the Doctor shot back with biting sarcasm, "One thousand years, Master… one thousand years we’ve been in each other’s presence, from the nursery… and you still don’t get it. Why don’t you ever understand, Master? When will you ever understand that I simply… don’t care? I was the best student at the academy, and I didn’t care. I was elected President of the High Council, and I ran away. I was given the opportunity to end the Time War… and I hated it! Don’t you understand, Master, can’t you understand? I don’t want it, I never wanted it… and I never understood your hunger for it. The power, the influence, the ability to bend and crush others to your whim… why do you want it so? The only reason I’ve fought you, across galaxies, across dimensions, across time itself… is because someone has to be there to stop you. If you just learned to let it go, Master, to put aside your grudges and your hatred and your hundreds of years of seething lusts… I would never bother you again." He walked a bit closer to the projection screen until he was nearly as tall as the Master’s goatee. "I gave you that chance, Master. When you returned, I wanted so much for you to have finally learned. I figured… I figured that the destruction of two civilizations, including your own, might affect you, might teach you… I gave you a fresh start, a new TARDIS, anything you could want to live a decent life… but you just couldn’t resist, could you? The liquor that you consume is just too potent to give up, and it is a taste I simply cannot stand. Please, Master… we’re the only two left… just… call off whatever plan you’ve concocted this time, just let it go. I don’t want to fight you anymore, I don’t want to have to feel that feeling… just… for God’s sake, be good." The Master’s lip curled into a derisive sneer. "Listen to you. ‘For God’s sake.’ How repulsively human. You say you don’t care, Doctor, and you wish to raise yourself above the arrogance that ended our people… but you are more arrogant even than them." "It is not arrogant to not want to fight." "It is arrogant to think yourself above the fight!" the Master shouted, "We are adversaries, Doctor! Nemeses! We cannot help but fight! Without one of us, the other would surely waste away! You cannot deny that I am as much you as you are me!" The Doctor looked at him blankly for a few moments, as if attempting to reason the statement, then suddenly spasmed in a surprising fit of chuckles, which led to another round of violent coughing. "Well," he said, wiping his mouth, "Nobody’s perfect. Very well then, Master. Explain to me your newest and no doubt greatest plan, and I will stop you, as I always have." "So confident!" the Master chortled, "And yet minutes ago you looked ready to cry. Are you quite well, Doctor?" "Bit of a cough, but I’m learning to manage," the Doctor replied flatly. "You even wear a beard, just like me. How intriguing…" Without changing his expression, the Doctor pulled a sonic screwdriver from the inside pocket of his tan coat and immediately shone the blue light all over his face. In a trice, all the hair had fallen out onto the floor. This caused even more unsettlingly jovial laughter from the Master. The Doctor’s voice remained cold and flat. "I believe you were leading up to the big reveal, Master. Pray, don’t keep us waiting." "Oh, you will find out soon enough. But first, why don’t you come aboard my… borrowed ship?" "Doctor," Russell asked under his breath, "where on Earth did he get a Dalek ship if they’re all… you know…" "Precisely!" the Doctor shouted, causing all in attendance to jump back, "You are so very smart when you want to be, Mr. Garamond, it’s a pity you don’t try to think more often. He raises a very good point, Master: how did you get a Dalek ship if I burned the Daleks out of time and space? Surely you didn’t spend all that time and a ridiculous amount of money building replica ships and little, tiny replica Daleks to fit your… Master plan, did you?" The Master looked a little uncomfortable in his silence. "Doctor, that was a terrible joke," Colleen said softly, reprimanding the strange man for both his terrible timing in the wake of tragedy and his penchant for bad jokes. "The only bad joke is here," the Doctor said, pointing at the Master’s projected face, "This cruel clown is hopping about the galaxies masquerading as the scourge of the universe, and for what? To steal a little terraforming fog?" "Did he really make a replica of a Dalek warship?" Russell asked, trying to look into the projection to see detail. The Master began to shift in his seat, uncomfortable at all the unsavory attention. "Of course not," the Doctor scoffed, "His TARDIS just has the Gallifreyan equivalent to rhinestones and sequins: a working Chameleon Circuit." "What does any of this have to do with a bog-eyed lizard?" "Everything, Mr. Garamond. You see, when Time Lords travel in time, they don’t want to upset the balance or throw turmoil into history. As such, we built our ships with the ability to change their appearance, disguise, and blend in. My TARDIS spent a good many years in a 20th century scrapyard as my granddaughter and I learned about humanity." "Liar!" The Master shouted, "You stole that old TARDIS off a trash heap and ran, like a scared little child! All those rumors about you, who you used to be and who you really are… what rubbish!" The Doctor ignored him completely and continued talking to Russell. "The TARDIS got stuck as an old police telephone box, and I’ve kept it that way ever since. The Master, on the other hand…" He turned back to the projection to see the Master glaring at him. "You’re certainly not taking this seriously, Doctor." "At my age, I can’t afford to," he shot back an aside, then launched back into a proclaiming voice, "The Master, on the other hand, has decided to turn his TARDIS into a replica of a Dalek warship, no doubt to inspire terror and fear and allow him to get away with all sorts of terrible, nasty things, am I right?" It was now the Doctor’s turn to grin at his old enemy, but it wasn’t a grin of a amusement, more a grin of the pride leader challenging a daring young cub. The Master stayed silent, glowering. The Doctor kept on talking, and Russell noticed as he did that the smile from the Doctor’s face fell little by little, word by word, until it was a mask of pure anger. "But to what end? That is always the tricky part. You’ve had all sorts of schemes in the past, haven’t you? How many have died for your whims? How many civilizations have been irrevocably altered and damaged because of your ideas? How many times has the very boundaries of our universe been stretched to its limits by you and your terrible plans. HOW MANY, MASTER? HOW MANY PEOPLE HAVE YOU KILLED, JUST TODAY?!" He collapsed into another fit of coughing, swearing dark oaths between gasping breaths and hacking coughs. For a while there was nothing but coughing and cursing heard around the TARDIS, and finally there was silence… but not for long. "Oh, Doctor… perhaps, it is finally you who does not understand. For today, I did what I did not for the pleasure of snuffing out life… but for creating it." "Nothing is worth murdering dozens of people," Russell said, helping the Doctor as best he could. "That wasn’t life they were living," the Master sniffed, "It was a cruel parody. That fog was an umbilical cord for useless, milksop urchins. They didn’t deserve the miracle of that fog… but, what I intend to do with it… yes, THAT will surely be a miracle!" The Doctor shrugged Russell’s long, thing fingers off his shoulder and straightened his shoulders, looking face to face with his ancient foe. His eyes were red and lidded with the ferocity of the coughing, but they still peered sharply out at the task ahead, almost as if lying in wait, or suspecting an ambush. The Master never spoke of creating life, the Doctor thought. In faith, he had never seen the Master show mercy to a single living being. What was it he was planning? He straightened the porkpie hat on top of his head and blinked twice, hard. "Show me."
"Doctor!" Russell shouted as the Doctor sped past him and back into the TARDIS, "Are those Daleks? THE Daleks?" He followed the Doctor into the white control room, which for once seemed not to stand out on whatever planet they landed on. "I can’t imagine a creature in the universe wicked enough to impersonate them," the Doctor said flatly, fiddling with the TARDIS controls at a dizzying speed, "get your wife, Mr. Garamond. We’re leaving." "What? But all those people…" "There will be no discussion!" the Doctor hissed, mashing a button with his palm. On a viewscreen, more and more of the thick fog started to roll in, comforting the citizens of Panacea. "You can make that stuff? Why?" The Doctor rounded on him, eyes still hot with tears. "GET YOUR WIFE!" he bellowed. Russell had never seen him so distraught. He backpedaled out of the TARDIS and pulled Colleen away from the Panaceaens, now either sleeping peacefully or sleeping forevermore. The fog was making her eyes burns so much that she could barely keep them open, but she still protested. "Russell, what’s going on? Those people…" "I don’t know what’s going on, honey, but I’m not losing you here!" He pulled his wife into the ship and shut the door. He guided her nearly blind form over near the console and sat her down. The Earth doctor then bolted into the TARDIS interior, looking for something to relieve the burning in both their eyes. He came back with small glasses and some water and began flushing his wife’s eyes, completely oblivious to anything else that might be going on. When they were both able to see again. Russell finally looked back to the Doctor and found him still weeping, quietly. Russell immediately chided himself for ignoring the Doctor in what was obviously a time of need. Colleen, as always, seemed to sense his feelings and laid a gentle hand on his. "I’m all right, dear," she said, her green eyes reddened and inflamed, but still seeming to smile, "Go check on him." Russell approached the Doctor carefully, no knowing what to expect. "…Doctor?" "I’m all right, Mr. Garamond," he swiped at his cheeks with a camelhair sleeve, "I’m all…" He was beset by a new round of coughing. "Persistent thing, isn’t it?" the Time Lord tried to force a smile, but his eyes were lying. "Doctor, what’s wrong?" Russell said seriously, evenly. He circled around the console to come a little closer, "you told me once that it was Daleks your people fought in the Time War, but you told me that both of the races were burned out of time and space. How can this be happening?" The Doctor took a shuddering breath and looked upward at the viewscreens. Panacea was beginning to look like it had when they had arrived. "I suppose, Mr. Garamond," he said in a husky sort of sob, "That they won." Russell stood there, thunderstruck. From all that he had heard, from the stories and the books and all the forms of media he’d seen all the way across the galaxies… the word Dalek inspired terror in a million different languages, and for the Doctor to say what he had just said… "They killed me, you know." Russell glanced over to see the Doctor still looking up that faraway look back in his eyes. "My last life. They killed me. Shot me twice. I’ve never felt pain like that again, and I’ve never forgotten it." "But how could they still exist?" Russell prodded, "You made it sound as if they didn’t even exist anymore!" The Doctor gave one short, bitter laugh. "I’m not God, Mr. Garamond. I can’t just wipe something from existence. Matter cannot be created or destroyed, and if I were to remove that much matter, an entire war’s worth, from space and time… do you remember the Reapers, Mr. Garamond?" Russell was suddenly reminded of a Victorian England where the people drove Ferraris, and a man dying too soon, causing those terrible creatures to descend and to sterilize the wound to time. "I don’t want to, but I do." "The Reapers would have torn reality itself apart trying to staunch the bloodflow from such a temporal wound. Nature abhors a vacuum. There are no more creatures of pure nature than the Reapers. And yet… the War had to end… and those responsible had to be punished." His hand seemed to move on its own, and with it the TARDIS took off and Russell felt flight beneath his feet. He glanced at a flatscreen on the console and noticed that they were locked on course to follow the Dalek vessel, far into the blackness of space. "Doctor," Russell’s eyes grew wide, "What are you doing?" The Doctor turned to him, his eyes no longer sad or worried, but instead powerful, and dangerous. "One way or another, Mr. Garamond, the Time War ends tonight." As quickly as the madness had seemed to come across his face, Russell saw it washed away, replaced by a troubled expression, like someone worrying that he had left the gas on. There was fear, yes, but it seemed more like the look of someone who had just realized something. The Doctor pushed three buttons and flew out of the console room. Russell gave pursuit into the twisting corridors of the TARDIS, reminded of the first time he’d ever met the strange man, and chased him through a crowded hospital. The man still had dizzying speed for being shorter, Russell thought as he huffed and puffed to keep up. Eventually, he went to a haggard dogtrot as the Doctor seemed indefatigable, darting in and out of hallway after hallway, left, right and center. "You’re not going to out-walk me this time, Portly!" Russell said, his breath coming in gasps. Finally, he turned a corner and the Doctor was not there, but the slightest movement to his right led him to throw open the door to that study he had found the Doctor in the day before. Thankfully, the record player had been silenced. He saw the Doctor’s back and broad shoulders over by the chairs they had sat in. "Doctor…" "Go away, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor regarded him like a pesky horsefly. "There’s not really anywhere I can go," Russell said with a chuckle, "You’ve got me so turned around in this place that I have no idea where I am. I couldn’t find my way back to the console if I tried." He put his hands in his pockets and stepped closer. "Would you rather I went out there, with the Daleks?" "You’ve abandoned your wife." "She understands. And she knows about Daleks, Doctor. She’d probably want to go first, knowing her." "Fascinating girl, isn’t she?" "I don’t like talking to your back, Doctor," Russell circled around, "You steer us into certain death and then run off, and…" He saw that the Doctor was once again holding the little world in a bottle. "That’s Gallifrey, isn’t it?" Russell asked after a long silence. The Doctor nodded, but only barely. "That’s what that whole Paradox Bomb was, wasn’t it? Allowing you to remove your own past from time and space without wiping yourself out in the process…" Another almost imperceptible nod. "That’s how you won the Time War? You locked it away? What is that thing, anyway?" "It’s called a TimeTrap, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor’s voice was clear, but quiet, "Inside this bottle, the Time War rages and roars, over and over again. Always looping: the life, the death, the violence, the pointlessness… over and over again, grinding themselves into the dirt merely to do it again tomorrow. The massive amount of energy produced from a truly endless war is enough to keep the Reapers away, to keep them from noticing that a planet is missing from the sky and that two races are all but extinct." "But…why?" "BECAUSE THEY NEEDED TO BE PUNISHED!" the Doctor hissed, fighting back a cough, "the idiots thought they could win a war over time itself! They had grown decadent and indolent, they thought themselves gods. They were far too comfortable…" He let out a frighteningly sinister chuckle. "So…I took care of that!" Russell just looked at the Doctor then, too frightened to speak. He always knew that the alien had power, but he had always seemed so reluctant to use it. What else was hidden in this ship, he thought, what other dark secrets were hidden beneath that porkpie hat? Russell realized now that he had made a mistake, that he had assumed the Doctor to be like him, to be human, to be humane… but now more than ever he was aware that the Doctor was certainly nothing like the human half he often claimed to have. "And now what?" he asked with dry lips, "Did the Daleks escape that bottle…thing?" "Impossible," the Doctor mused, staring at the world under glass, "The amount of energy needed to do such a thing would have been noticeable by a hundred different peoples on a thousand worlds. The highest levels of universal consciousness would have convulsed, the universe itself would have shaken. No…" He placed the bottle back on the shelf and sighed. "This could be some sort of reserve force, kept beyond my reach, where I couldn’t find them." He fumbled in the pocket of his gray trousers for a moment and produced a battered, birchwood pipe, which he began to chew agitatedly in deep concentration. "Your reach?" Russell said, steeling his courage, "You know, for someone who claims not to be a god…" "I’d be a very bad God," the Doctor scowled, remembering saying something along those lines before, "I burn the toast, for one. I complain. I’m picky. I tend to judge people. I’m paranoid, hateful, and pessimistic. I am, as you noted, slightly obsessive-compulsive. Does that sound like a god to you?" Russell couldn’t answer. Somehow, he actually felt ashamed. "There are times I have to laugh so I don’t cry, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor said, chewing on the pipestem and pacing back and forth, "When I put that world in the TimeTrap, I removed it. It no longer exists. I removed my family, my home, my friends. My people had become decadent and slothful, yes… but there was still good to be had. Romana, Leela, Dorothea… all friends of mine that I had to lock away. I had to remove everything that created me and take the entirety of Time Lord knowledge into my own mind to prevent the vile conclusion to a war that would have ended existence itself. I scrambled my thoughts, I killed my past… but I had no choice. I had no choice…" His voice trailed off as he stared down at the floor, the unlit pipe hanging precariously from his mouth. The Doctor coughed again, and the pipe fell to the floor and cracked, just on the border of a Persian rug and hard, unforgiving stone tiles. The Doctor just stood there, staring at the broken pipe. He couldn’t bring himself to pick it up. "Please don’t hate me, Mr. Garamond," he said quietly, but with a voice that carried well. Russell bent down and picked up the broken pipe, turning it over in his long, thin fingers before giving it into the Doctor’s short ones. "I wouldn’t even know how to start, Doctor." The Doctor gave a strange noise then, like a laugh was caught halfway in his throat and was blocked by a sob. He put the pipe in his pocket and gave a small smile. "Tell me, Mr. Garamond… are all gods this sad, this lonely?" Russell didn’t get a chance to respond as Colleen’s trembling voice came over an intercom. "Doctor… Russell…please… get here…" In a flash, they were both barrelling down the hallways of the TARDIS. Neither one wanted to think of what danger Colleen may have been in. Russell felt his heart breaking: if anything were to happen to her… how could he have left her alone like that? The two of them made it to the console room in record time to find Colleen backed up against the console, eyes thrown wide in terror as the viewscreen projected into the TARDIS showed the glowing eyestalk of a Dalek, larger than life, bearing down on her and screaming in that unmistakable voice. "WHERE IS THE DOC-TOR? BRING US THE DOC-TOR!" Colleen couldn’t cry, she was too scared. The Doctor strode between Colleen and the colossal projection, standing eye-to-eyestalk with the enemy. Russell rushed in to take Colleen to the other side of the console room, marveling as he did so that the Doctor seemed to have lost any of the fear or melancholy that he had seen in him of late. He stood glaring at the nearly ten-foot-tall projection, shoulders square, two-tone spectator shoes planted firmly on the floor. "Terrorizing women, eh? That’s pathetic even at your level. Well, what do you want? I killed your emperor, destroyed your race, banished you to the madness beyond space and time… and I looked damn good doing it!" The bombast faded a bit, but his voice seemed to grow stronger, more intense as the volume dropped. "Return the disinfectant fog to Panacea. You have no use for it. You have no right to it. Return it, or be destroyed." There were a few moments before the Dalek chose to respond. "WE WILL NOT RE-TURN THE FOG. WE HAVE PLANS FOR IT. DO NOT OPPOSE US, DOC-TOR." "Oh!" the Doctor began to revel in the verbal combat, "Getting awfully confident, aren’t you? How many are there? Six, seven hundred? Thousands? Millions? HOW MANY MORE OF YOU DO I HAVE TO KILL!" he was bellowing now, so much so that Colleen covered her ears and shrunk into the folds of Russell’s arms. "NOW YOU SPEAK LIKE US," the Dalek shouted back, "APPROPRIATE FOR THE MAN WHO DESTROYED HIS OWN RACE." "Every Time Lord on Gallifrey willingly accepts the punishment for ending the Time War, Dalek! I was authorized by the President herself to pull the trigger. All of Gallifrey stands here, with me, against you!" There was another silence, where all that could be heard was the constant heartbeat rhythm of the Dalek machinery. "ARE YOU CER-TAIN?" The Doctor was, for the first time in the conversation, noticeably taken aback. "HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT THEY DO NOT RE-SENT YOU FOR IT, DOC-TOR? HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT SOME WOULD RATHER DESTROY EXISTENCE THAN SUFFER THE HORRORS OF WAR? HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT SOME OF THEM WILL NOT FORGIVE YOU, DOC-TOR?" The Doctor regained his composure and stared into the projection. His face displayed a sort of horrified fury: still shocked and aghast at what was taking place, but using the weaker emotions to feed the stronger and build a fire in the pit of his stomach. He launched his first flaming volley with short, clipped words that seemed to be barely escaping without exploding. "No Dalek would talk like that. Who are you." It was then that the Dalek began to laugh. It was a horrible sound to hear, but no more horrible than the laugh that began to overtake the Dalek voice, until it replaced it immediately. The ten foot Dalek was suddenly plucked up and put away, shown to be the size of a child’s toy, controlled from a distance and filmed to appear more than life sized. The voice continued laughing now, a rich, deep voice, and the projection juddered suddenly as the controller took the camera up to see his face, to show the Doctor who was behind all this… but the Doctor didn’t need to see the face to know who was behind it. He knew by the laughter.
"This place makes me sick," Russell said, suddenly shivering in the temperature controlled environment. "I could see why, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor said, "It’s a chilling glimpse of things to come, isn’t it? You’ve seen it yourself." "Everybody just thinks there’s some kind of magic that hospitals are keeping away from them," Russell shook his head, "I had so many patients that just demanded a pill, or a cream, or something, anything just to ‘fix it.’ I knew people who were taking so many pills it made my head spin… and they were perfectly healthy! Yes, sometimes you ache, sometimes you get sick; sometimes the world gets in the way of everything and there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no magic drug that will make everything better all the time… or at least I didn’t think there was until today." The Doctor stopped his backwards walking and waited for Russell to get closer. He put a hand on the surgeon’s shoulder and regarded him with warm, friendly eyes. "There still isn’t, Mr. Garamond, and there never will be. Even here, on this supposed utopia, there’s no way to magically fix a compound fracture, or a faulty heart, or an impure mind. This fog is only good for the communicable: it can sterilize and heal, but if a bone is not set, it won’t heal correctly. That is, of course, to say nothing of the brain itself. Panacea can bring down swelling in the brain, or help heal a broken vessel, but it can’t keep people from being people, human and alien alike. Even at the end of time itself, where the stars burn out and the universe grows cold and empty… even there, death is death." "Please don’t let it worry you, Russell," Colleen reached up to run fingers through his hair. He turned to her and did his best to smile. "What good is a Hippocratic Oath in a place like this?" he looked up at the manufactured sky, "What good is devoting yourself to helping people when they do something like this? This isn’t life, this is a living death. These…things… they just shuffle around, buy things, watch TV… they’ve forced themselves to remove everything about life that made it worth living. They’d probably pluck out their eyes if someone told them it would make them better, stronger, live longer. All they want is to have comfort, to be in a womb. They don’t even care if someone three planets away if dying from the very same disease that’s turned them into nothing. They don’t seem to care about anything. Is this what happens to humans in the future? It’s all so…" "Selfish." Russell held his wife closely, loving her and loving that she understood. The Doctor sought to put Russell’s nerves at ease. "Earth still lives, Mr. Garamond, for now. And a thousand colonies of man still exist among the stars. None of them are as ghastly at this, I can guarantee you. The dankest, foulest mining colony is a paradise compared to this, but the people here… they really think there is no other way." "What about Heaven?" Colleen asked, "Don’t these people believe that there’s life after death?" "I don’t think they want to, hon," Russell replied gravely, "When you’ve got a planet like this, who wants to bother thinking about God? They created this place." "If they think this is Heaven…" she said quietly, her face ashen and paler even than normal. "You humans," the Doctor said with a little chuckle, "always spending so much time on the subject: is there a life after death? Is there a God? Is this all there is? You’re so eager to understand, but it has to be just right, doesn’t it?" "I suppose you know all the answers?" Russell said with his eyebrows aloft. "I know what I know," the Doctor tapped a finger to his temple, "and what’s more important, I know what I don’t know. You see, it’s more important to know what you don’t know, and to know that you never will know. You humans get so uncomfortable when you come up with something you can’t understand; you make up all sorts of silly stories to make sense of it all. You’d all be much happier, and live longer, if you just understood that you never will understand. Understand?" Colleen nodded, her cybernetic brain following perfectly. Russell gave a sluggish nod, but furrowed his brow. "I suppose you and your kind, those Time Lords… they met God or something? Maybe they are God?" "Hardly," the Doctor retorted bitterly, "But we were smart enough to realize that there is such a way about the universe that something is pulling the strings… and we’ll never know who." "That sounds awfully limiting," Russell regarded the Doctor with mild surprise. "And that," the Doctor said in response, pointing upwards toward Russell’s nose, "sounds awfully human." All three smiled for a moment before the Doctor spoke again. "Still, people of all races and planets will fight and die because they know their beliefs are better than someone else’s, and people will go through their entire lives under the most ridiculous of rules, all the time for something they can’t even be sure exists! What a waste of perfectly good brainpower." "But, Doctor…" Colleen’s meek voice seemed to float by on the fog, "that’s what faith is all about." "Pardon?" the Doctor looked too shocked to look like he hadn’t heard. "Faith is not knowing, but believing anyway," the little Irish girl said, wringing her hands anxiously, "that’s what makes it special, isn’t it? That we still believe?" The Doctor smiled proudly, almost glowing, and took Colleen’s narrow chin in his hand. "From the mind of a Cyberman, no less. Extraordinary. My dear, you never cease to amaze me." She began blushing furiously and squeezed Russell’s arm so hard he thought it would fall off. Small she may be, but several years as a poor farmer gave her an impressive musculature. The Doctor looked at Russell with a look of mock scorn. "And you don’t deserve her, Mr. Garamond." Russell smiled back. "I know." They sojourned back to the TARDIS for lunch, as the Panacaean food never looked appetizing, even in hunger. Russell was glad to be back inside the ship and free of the uncomfortable goggles and the almost ever-present burning sensation he felt around his freshly shaved chin. As Colleen set down the tea tray, that same song began again. "If I could save time in a bottle…" "Doctor," Russell grumbled, "could we please change the playlist on your iPod?" He reached for a scone, only to have his hand slapped away briskly by Colleen, who fixed him with a glare and bade them all join hands. When they had done so, the little Irish girl closed her eyes, and the other two did likewise, sharing in a moment of silent prayer before the meal. When she had finished, Colleen squeezed her companions’ hands to let them know it was all right to open their eyes and break their fast. "Sorry, honey," Russell said, reclaiming his scone before the Doctor could. "Of all places," she replied, dusting her hands on her apron, "Here is where we should bet the most thankful." The Doctor nibbled on a shortbread. "Thankful that we have faith, I presume?" Colleen nodded lamely and said with a brilliant, yet subdued smile. "More thankful that we didn’t have to eat that dreadful looking food!" The Doctor laughed heartily at that, and Russell nearly choked on his scone. It was not in Colleen’s nature to be so judgmental. "Indeed, my dear, indeed!" the Doctor held a cup and saucer to his lips, "I’ve sampled delicacies from one end of the universe to the other, I’ve eaten with Caesar and Caphgrax XVII, I’ve eaten things that would turn you stomach at the thought of it… but the Panacaean food is just so blasted dull, I can’t stomach it!" He took a sip, sighed with pleasure, and set the cup down, nodding to Colleen as if to say that yes, it was indeed terrific tea. No doubt some special blend from the third moon of Jupiter, Russell thought, and then he noticed the Doctor was looking at him. "Now, Mr. Garamond… you said there was something wrong with my… pod?" "No, no, it’s…" Russell thought of explaining the idea, but he knew the Doctor would probably have six or seven quips at the ready, "Nevermind. You’ve just been playing that song, THIS song, for a very long time." "It’s how I enjoy my music," the Doctor shrugged innocently, "I will listen to a piece of music over and over again until I absolutely understand every molecule of it. It’s a true appreciation, I’ve found… don’t you enjoy music, Mr. Garamond?" "Not like this," he grunted as the chorus kicked in for the umpteenth time, "If you ask me, it’s a little obsessive… maybe compulsive." "Obsessive Compulsive Disorder," Colleen replied offhandedly, almost as if she didn’t realize she was talking, "A psychological disorder characterized by a strong desire for order, neatness, and understand. Also characterized in some cases by strict, repeated, but often ordinary tasks and routines held to with perplexingly strong dedication. In most cases, it is believed by the sufferer that if the understanding is not achieved, or the routine is not upheld, that strife or pain will result." She stopped fussing with the silver tea set then, letting the tiny knife clatter onto the butter dish. She turned to Russell and the Doctor, her face red and her voice quiet and ashamed. "Sorry. I… I didn’t mean to." "We know you didn’t," both of her companions responded in unison, prompting both of them to shoot a curious look at each other. "In any case," the Doctor shifted in his chair, a little ruffled, "There are times when obsessive or compulsive behavior is necessary. Sometimes, Mr. Garamond, there really are bad things." He said those last two words slowly, with a grave bit of emotion to them. Colleen, hoping to dispel the mood, set out toast points and bid them all eat. "Well, I’m never one to turn down a meal, no matter how much I don’t need it," the Doctor said, spreading some fluorescent blue preserves on the toast, "Riestephilian Perrenough Preserves. Absolutely splendid, like the harmony of raspberry and peach, with a touch of intoxication." He closed his eyes and brought the toast to his mouth, fully prepared to relish the sensation. Below, his round middle seemed to leap with delight at what was to come. Unfortunately, the rest of him seemed to leap as well as a sudden deluge of alarm bells, frantic pounding, and piteous wails split through the calm TARDIS atmosphere. The toast wound up just to the left of the Doctor’s nose, and he angrily wiped it away with a linen napkin. "My word, what is that racket?!" All formality gone, the three bolted from the table to the console room, where the integrated flatscreens displayed a horrific scene to the usually sterile and white TARDIS interior. Outside the ship, a mob of the swathed folk were beating on the doors, clawing at the wood, and gravely injuring themselves in a vain attempt to breach doors that the kamikaze of the 16th century couldn’t budge. The exterior monitors of the TARDIS showed the tragedy from several different angles, each one more ghoulish than before: the fog had gone. Somehow, the air was clear, and everything was perfectly visible, though no one would have wanted to see it. Without the defenses or the hardships that a usual life would provide, the Panacaeans were literally tearing themselves apart in their panic. Arms broke like twigs, ribs cracked from the crying, endless new wounds opened up and turned the white gauze red all around the TARDIS doors, a lone blue box among the endless white. As the companions watched, the Panacaeans began to fall, one by one, to the ground. It took a few moments for the Doctor to put it together. "NO!" he shouted, immediately leaping into action on the console and manipulating controls at lightning speed, "no, no, no, no, no!" "What the hell is going on out there?" Russell shouted, unable to tear his eyes from the screen. He held Colleen close, feeling the tears pouring down her face unchecked. "Something’s gone wrong out there, they’re starting to panic," the Doctor said, his voice haggard, "The safety has been taken away, and replaced by mindless, animal fear. They’ll riot, they’ll thrash, but most of all they’ll die. The bodies… the bodies aren’t used to it. Their spines are like wafers, heir organs are nearly useless… don’t you see? They’re all having massive heart attacks!" Russell watched another one fall, and then another. They didn’t display the typical symptoms or attitudes of the heart patients he’d seen, but you could hardly call this a usual situation. The Doctor, meanwhile, was being his usual self in the times of crisis: all bluster and bombast, running about the console like a march hare, cutting a ridiculous figure in his rotund figure and porkpie hat, looking so young yet acting so old. Finally, with one last punch of a lever, Russell heard a great hiss, like steam escaping. Outside on the monitors, the familiar fog came rolling in, and the Panacaeans began to fall back into their malaise, some sitting down or laying down, whether to die or to sleep Russell did not know. The Doctor threw open the doors to the TARDIS with a dangerous sort of vigor. The few Panacaeans who were still conscious or alive in the vicinity came to the Doctor, the smiles on their faces nearly tearing their mouths apart, their outstretched arms dislocating their shoulders to show gratitude. The Doctor wasted no time in pointing the sonic screwdriver at them from a distance, and in turn each of them fell down, asleep. Russell and Colleen immediately dropped down to take care of those who were still alive, and the Doctor was left standing around a scene of pathetic carnage. "Mr. Garamond," he said quietly, but forcefully, "You and Colleen take care of these… people. Don’t let them get up, sedate them half to death if you have to. They will try to thank you, and it will kill them. Keep them still until I can fix this." Russell could barely make words. Already his sleeves were soaked with gore. "But how did you… the fog…" "I am always prepared, Mr. Garamond." At any other time, that statement may have seemed ridiculous coming from the strange man, the man who had just had jelly up his nose not five minutes ago. And yet, there was something about the way he stood, with his average height and carrying his above average weight, his jaw set firm and his eyes steely daggers, so determined that Russell could do nothing but be in awe, even in spite of himself. For all of his jokes, for all of his comments, this strange man was still a Time Lord. Then, just when Russell was starting to feel in awe of the Doctor, it was all taken away. High above the manufactured sky, still relatively clear from the lack of fog, a massive bronze saucer, a spaceship, could be seen passing over the planet nearly eclipsing all of the former asteroid. Somehow, through it all, a chilling, cold, staccato voice thundered over all of Panacea. "WE OBEY NO ONE! WE ARE THE SUPERIOR BEINGS! WE ARE THE DALEKS! AND THIS PLANET WILL BE OURS!" The Doctor turned with the saucer ship as it continued in orbit, and as he turned, Russell saw that the Doctor’s eyes were no longer steely, but wide and watery as tears escaped from his eyes and rolled down his cheeks, past the quavering jaw that had been so very resolutely set.
The planet Panacea was constantly covered in a thin, misty fog that obscured any vision at a distance. Russell stood in the control room, peering outward at the murky scene. "This is like London on a good day," he frowned. "Come now, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor tut-tutted, pulling on his camelhair jacket, "That was the city I found you in, the city you were living in… why so hostile?" Russell sighed. "You know why." "Ah yes," the Doctor rocked back on his heels, hands clasped behind his back, "the Harpy." That brought on another bout of coughs from the Doctor, followed by a few light curses. "I moved halfway across the world for her," Russell said softly, intensely, "And she took everything from me. If it wasn’t for you and Colleen… I’d be a very, very bitter man." "Oh, there’s nothing wrong with being a little bitter," the Doctor said with a wink, "Still, if you must be bitter, be bitter with her, not with Old London Town. It housed you, and employed you, didn’t it?" "I suppose." "Then be sure to direct your bitterness properly," the Doctor waggled a finger from the other side of the console, "You never can be fully rid of it. Believe me, I’ve tried." "Instead, you harass one of the greatest architects of all time, only to prove yourself right that his walls would fall?" The Doctor shot him a startlingly wolfish grin. "Exactly." There was a brief silence then, and yet another stanza of "Time in a Bottle" could be heard overhead. Russell kept talking, if only to drown out the repeating song. "Well, I suppose it all worked out for the best. I found Colleen, after all." "Yes, romance," the Doctor threw out a flourish with his hand, but he spoke the word as if it upset him, "I don’t really understand the concept myself, which is why you’ll find me a confirmed old bachelor until the end of my days." "But you have a granddaughter!" Russell countered, catching the Doctor in a lie. The Doctor, knowing he had been caught, became flustered and attempted to use one of his favorite excuses. "Bah. That was ages ago, lifetimes ago… I was a different man then." "And so was I, when you used those antigravity rain boots to scare me half to death. What ever happened to those things, anyway?" "They were terrible at keeping out the water," the Doctor grumbled, taking down the dark brown porkpie hat that always held a place at the top of the hall tree, "What good are Wellies that get your feet wet?" Russell wanted to discuss the merits of boots that actually allowed you to walk over water, but he knew the Doctor would have yet another excuse. After all, he had had a few centuries to practice them. Thankfully, Colleen entered the console room, dressed as always in a simple peasant’s dress. Both Russell and the Doctor had tried to get her to dress more practically, but Colleen was surprisingly adamant about wearing the same type of clothing she’d worn in her own time period. It was something Russell loved about her: she was normally very meek, very accommodating, but every so often she would find a way to put her freckled foot down, and to make everyone listen. She walked over to Russell and gave him a soft smile. "Sorry I’m late. The laundry room is so far away down those halls!" "Consider them shifted, my dear!" the Doctor had regained the bombast they knew him for. He tweaked a few controls, spun three dials, and mashed a button with his palm. There came a great rumbling from the bowels of the labyrinthine ship, and it subsided as quickly as it had came. The Doctor looked at them around the time rotor, expecting praise. "There, now the laundry is three doors down from the kitchen. It’s as close as I could get it without upsetting the animals at the zoo. Now, before we embark, a few ground rules–" "Wait, we have a zoo?" Russell started to ask, but Colleen silenced him with an elbow to the ribs. "Don’t waste time," she whispered, "If I don’t get out of this ship soon, that song will drive me mad!" Russell looked at her, and she winked back. Always full of surprises, she was… it’s probably why he loved her so much. "Number one," the Doctor proclaimed, "no matter what happens, don’t make a scene. Number two: be very careful where you step. Number Three: don’t stare, it’s not polite. Number four: if someone offers you a drink, smell it first. Number five: wear your goggles. And finally…" He strode to the doors of the ship and stood nearby, that slightly unsettling grin returning to his face. "Take a deep breath!" And with that, he threw open the doors. Russell and Colleen did as they were told, but immediately realized that this was not just some ordinary fog. Their throats burned as they breathed, and whatever air they managed into their lungs was immediately ripped away. Even while wearing goggles, they could feel tiny particles burn and smart in their eyes. Russell, who had recently shaved, felt every shorn hair on his chin, every microscopic abrasion spring to stinging life. He clapped a hand to his cheek and swore. "What the hell is this place, Doctor?" The Doctor stood, his back to them, inhaling the air in deep gulp. His eyes were red and full of stinging tears, but he kept breathing in the massive amounts of fog until he was satisfied. He turned to his companions, both of them still shell shocked, and kept the grin going as he took another massive breath. "See?" he let out the breath with a whoosh, "No more cough!" "You’re insane!" Russell bellowed, "this is poison!" "Far from it, Mr. Garamond!" the Doctor shouted back as more and more fog rolled into the TARDIS control room, "This is a one hundred percent germ-hostile terraforming fog agent. It exists to eliminate every possible nasty little niggling protozoa, virus, and bacteria from the air in order to create a living planet from a dead one. Consider it a planetary clean slate." "But people can’t live here!" Russell said, tears clouding his vision. Colleen held close to him as the Doctor beckoned them to come outside. Even the ground was pure and white, a fine sand that gleamed just like the alabaster buildings that rose up all around them. As the TARDIS doors closed, they blew a great deal of the fog away, revealing what appeared to be a city square… a city square full of the people of Panacea. "Oh, but I think they might disagree," the Doctor mused, his eyes still watering. He seemed to relish the stinging of it all, and Russell noted angrily that he had smartly chosen not to shave, instead trimming the small beard that he had grown during his sickness. He should have known something was up, the Doctor hadn’t let hair grown on his face since… "Dear lord…" He heard Colleen gasp at his side and he scanned the crowd with his goggles. In the momentary clarity brought by the TARDIS doors, Russell could finally see what the people who lived here looked like…and why the Doctor warned him not to stare. The city square was filled with shuffling, hunched creatures of all shapes and sizes, swathed head to toe in what seemed like an eternity of gauze. Beneath the gauze, or where it put on thin (perhaps only three layers or so) Russell could see thin, pink skin pulsing beneath the surface, skin that looked like a newborn, or a recently healed scar. Some of their skin seemed to be open and weeping in parts, which the thick gauze was able to absorb. The mummies walked slowly, with measured steps. Every movement, no matter how small, seemed to be done only after painful deliberation. As the mummies shuffled this way and that, going about their lives, it seemed like a ghastly parody of the bustling streets behind the walls of Cassone, carried out in grueling slow motion. Russell’s mouth fell open: he had never seen a more pitiful sight. "What on Earth…" "Fortunately, no," the Doctor stood beside them, grim-jawed, "Panacea was originally just another space rock set to be disinfected, terraformed, and colonized. For the particularly curious, we’re somewhere between Mars and Jupiter. The artificial atmosphere went off without a hitch, but when it came time to remove all the nasty intergalactic microbes… there was an accident. The disinfecting fog machines exploded, saturating the asteroid and the handful of technicians on her with an amount of germ protection unlike anything else in the universe." "Did they die?" Russell asked, holding Colleen tighter as the fog began to roll in again. "Far from it," the Doctor scoff, putting his hands into the pockets of his gray trousers, "Any disease they suffered was immediately healed, everything from a head cold to Hepatitis. The newborn planet started to become a mecca for those who could not be healed any other way, and before anyone could step in to regulate, the population was near one million. However…" "There was a price to pay, wasn’t there?" "Of course, Mr. Garamond… but what makes you say that?" "It never works that way," Russell’s eyes were the eyes of a man who saw many patients leave him on the operating table, "Even in the future, on an asteroid, it never works that way… right?" "Quite right," the Doctor gave a little smile, "You see, the inhabitants of the newly christened Panacea realized something… or I should say that the first soul to leave the planet after a prolonged stay did. There’s a reason I told you not to drink anything here. The food, the drink, everything is laced with the same germ-hostile chemicals, and in much higher quantities than in the air. The people here need it, always more of it, or else they may become acclimated, and their maladies would return. As it is, we should not stay the night here, or you may get very sick upon re-entering the rest of time and space. You see, the citizens of Panacea spent so long gorging themselves on what they thought would make them live longer that their immune systems are almost completely nil. All it would take would be for someone to remove even a fraction of the environment here and there would be pandemics unlike the universe has ever seen. As such, Panacea has been a hot-button issue for philanthropists and politicians since day one. Those original technicians couldn’t help it, they had to live a life like this, and the intergalactic community would have innocent blood on their hands if they didn’t donate enough to keep them inoculated. Once the crowds began, and the long-term effects were finally seen, it was too late to call it off. Instead, it has become the premier ‘get-well’ spot for the rich and famous, or the terminally ill. All that you see around you are the results of prolonged exposure: their skin has forgotten how to heal, their blood how to clot. Their hair is gone, burned away, and their very insides are nearly bleached. They cannot survive without this atmosphere, this environment… but they are no longer sick." Colleen and Russell watched a few more of the shrouded figures shuffle about. Colleen gripped the side of Russell’s shirt tightly and whimpered. "I don’t know if I believe that, Doctor." There were a few other people here and there that were not covered in bandages: there was a Venusian mining tycoon who was trying to get over a bit of pneumonia, a six year old whose parents scrimped and saved to send her for her leukemia, and one particularly unsavory gentlemen who described in detail a disease he got at a martian brothel. Russell saw the man’s pockmarked face and less than pleasant appearance and immediately clapped his hands over Colleen’s ears while he regaled the Doctor with his tales of sordid love. Colleen was understandably upset. "What was that for, Russell?" "You really didn’t need to add that information to that brain of yours," he said with a shudder. "I’m not a child, you know," she added with a little smile, "Sure I can handle a few scary stories." "I’d rather you didn’t have to," he replied, looking down at his bride with a smile and sad eyes, "just on principle." "How very gallant, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor said as they continued walking through what could only be described as a bizarre bazaar, "But you must realize the futility of keeping information from a woman with a cybernetic brain." Russell felt Colleen tense up at his side. It seemed like, every time he tried to make Colleen forget about her trials, the Doctor was there to remind her. Then again, the Doctor considered her a technological wonder. To Russell, she was his wife. It was hard to tell which was more enthusiastic. There were all sorts of things for sale in the slow-moving market: clothes, but they seemed to be identical at every booth; there was food, but it looked bland and unappetizing, and there were supposed art and craft sections, too, but no one was particularly impressed. "If that’s art, you can keep it," Russell sniffed. "You must understand the culture you’re in, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor said, turning round and walking backward while still talking to his companions, "Everything here is fine. Everything is okay. Governments and individuals pay through the nose for their 28th century snake oil, and it keeps the Panacaean coffers full to bursting. Almost everything is subsidized: food, housing, entertainment… even art. There is no use for fear, because no one would dare attack such a wide reaching and pan-species charitable function… and there are armed police on every corner, paid very, very well. There is simple and absolute comfort for these people: their sores weep, their skin is as thin as rice paper, but the drugs wafting through the air keep them in a state of bliss. They don’t want to question. They don’t want to agitate. They don’t dare think outside of their very real, and very infinite, personal comfort. Everything is simply… okay." "It’s a sin," Colleen said very softly. Russell felt his hand scratching his head, and immediately regretted it as his scalp began to sting. "Something about this…I don’t know…" The Doctor kept walking backward, it being a minor miracle that he didn’t bump into one of the slow moving, fragile mummies of Panacea. "Well, Mr. Garamond…" he beamed with teeth that were growing whiter by the second, "would you say that something is not right?"
"If I could save time in a bottle…" "So this is where that music is coming from." Russell opened the door into a cavernous room, a curious mixture of wrought, riveted steel and late Victorian charm. Most curious of all, however, was a tall cylinder surrounded by four steel buttresses. Russell was confused, why did this look like another control room? If it was, he thought, then just how many different rooms were there in the TARDIS? "Close the door, please," the Doctor’s voice came from what seemed like a chasm, "In or out." Russell could tell that the Doctor was in one of his melancholy moods. He got like this from time to time: staring off into space, sulking about, and making cryptic statements that even he didn’t understand. He had told Russell, once, that he had lived several lives. After seeing a few of them back when the Escorix attacked, he started to understand why the Doctor was how the Doctor was: so many lives, almost like different people, inside that one head. Russell couldn’t begrudge him a little melancholy, now and then. "If I could make days last forever, if words could make wishes come true…" "What’s with the song?" Russell asked. Colleen was making dinner, so Russell had decided to seek out the mysterious melody. It had been replaying over and over for almost a day now, all through the TARDIS. "If you’d like to speak to me, my dear boy, come over to where I’m sitting. Then you won’t have to shout." the Doctor said things like that when he wanted to prove he was the authority. Russell shook his head and walked past the auxiliary console, remembering how some of his geriatric patients used to behave the same way, even if they were lain up with sutures and stitches. He found the Doctor sitting in a wingback chair festooned with a russet orange brocade. He was dressed in a smoking jacket and plain black trousers, always one to dress the occasion. In one hand, the strange man held a snifter of port, in the other, a bottle… but certainly not the bottle he poured the port out of. "What’s that?" Russell said with awe. The bottle, with a thin neck and broad, spherical body, rolled gently back and forth on the Doctor’s palm. Inside it, clearly visible through the immaculate crystal, was a world. It seemed to be an entire planet, as russet orange as the chair the Doctor sat on, rendered in minute and startling difficulty, down to the tiniest detail. "What’s that?" Russell said with a wry grin, "is that what they call a hobby on your planet?" "You know the name of my home planet," the Doctor said flatly, ‘Use it." "Fine," Russell was still smiling, "Gallifrey. You just aren’t happy unless you can tell someone they’re wrong, aren’t you?" A tiny smile played with the corners of the Doctor’s mouth. "I prefer to consider it teaching." "Then teach me," Russell sat down across from the Doctor in an identical chair, "what is that thing?" The Doctor looked at it deeply, fondly, sadly. He took a while before finally speaking. "This, Mr. Garamond… is a world in a bottle." "Ugh!" Russell groaned, throwing up his hands, "I can see that! Tell me what it REALLY is." "What it really is?" the Doctor cocked an eyebrow. "You know," Russell said with a laugh, "With you, nothing’s ever normal. A lamp’s never just a lamp, it’s some kind of laser doomsday lamp that could conquer galaxies, or something." "Have you been into Javis’ old comic books?" the Doctor asked. "A little," Russell beamed back, waiting for the complicated reply. Surprisingly, the Doctor didn’t have one. He got up from the chair, putting down his half finished port, and walked to the doorway slowly on slippered feet. "It’s a world in a bottle, Mr. Garamond. No more, no less." He put a hand on the doorknob and coughed, heavily. Russell got up to join him. "That cough just isn’t getting better," he felt himself falling back into his old profession, "Surely you have something on board that would help?" "That’s what the port was for, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor smiled through tightly shut lips, "You and Colleen just had to visit that jungle planet, you know, and I got this cough from that steamy nightmare!" "You wouldn’t take off your suit, Doctor," Russell tried to be reasonable. "I would have looked a fool without it." "As opposed to usually?" The Doctor turned to Russell, his jaw set and his blue eyes piercing. It lost some of its potency, however, when he had to look up a good six inches or so to look the gangly physician in the eye. Russell remembered something the Doctor had said the first night they met, and he couldn’t resist. "You may be THE Doctor," he said, opening the door and bringing them both out into one of the TARDIS’ innumerable hallways, "but I’m A doctor, and I’m ordering you to take care of that nasty cough. Surely there’s a pharmacy planet somewhere out there? Walgreen nebula? CVS star system?" The Doctor heaved a sigh, which brought another cough. "All right, all right. Such impertinence for someone in my state, and at my age, too!" "Oh, quit whining," Russell smiled, throwing his arm around the Doctor’s shoulder. As the two walked down the hall, Russell noted that he seemed to smile a lot more now, ever since the wedding. Sometimes it seemed like he couldn’t stop. It was a lovely kind of lunacy. "I was sent to fetch you for dinner. Colleen made shepherd’s pie, I know you like it." The Doctor looked up at him and had to force back a smile to continue his melancholy. "Shepherd’s pie, terrorizing me, and keeping me from my port… this was all a very nasty plan, Mr. Garamond. Very well," he reset the lapels on his smoking jacket, "A fine supper tonight, a fine bottle of wine, and then we’ll set course for… planet Panacea!" The proclamation only brought on more coughing as the two faded away down one of millions of hallways. "Oh, damn!" As the coughing finally died down, the song could be heard kicking over and repeating itself again "If I could save time in a bottle…"
All stood aghast. V. T. Ackley, author, philanthropist, and last survivor of the long-thought-lost Gallifreyan House Alpha was dead. He was gone, every particle in his body compressed to a level beyond subatomic at the hands of the Master and his horrific weapon, the Tissue Compression Eliminator. The Doctor, Colleen, and Russell had been powerless to stop the carnage, and Ackley himself had asked them not to interfere, lest they be eliminated, too. Ackley, formerly known as the Time Lord Vetaiverturnyonyyackel, had died unflinching, refusing to plead, refusing to beg. The Master looked upon his new weapon and cooed, almost lovingly.
“My. my, my… quite a powerful version, I must say. Those Judoon power cores really add a certain…stringency.”
“Master…” the Doctor’s voice was boiling over with badly-concealed rage, “How could you…”
“I did what was right in my own eyes, Doctor,” the Master spat back, pointing the TCE at each person in turn to keep their distance, “And I did what the rules of Gallifrey would have done. This man was a coward, his entire house were craven fools. Had I the power I would destroy every one of them in turn, for Gallifrey… and for me!”
The Doctor’s voice turned mocking then, spiteful.
“I didn’t know you to be such steadfast proponent to the old ways.”
“I’m not,” he countered, “and I wasn’t. But even you and I, Doctor, cardinal offenders that we were, answered the call when we were summoned across the universe and beyond. They culled me from the grave to fight, and I was glad for it, and I fought beside you on the hills of Wild Endeavor. We shouldered arms at Arcadia, you and I…”
“And you fled.”
“The war was lost,” the Master’s voice turned bitter, almost wistful, “I knew what you were planning, and I wanted no part of it. I ran, and I rain… but your magic was quick, Doctor, and I was pulled back into that damnation within the Eye of Harmony, again tormented and anguished within the heart of that black hole. It was because of that, Doctor, because of you robbing the life I had so recently been given again, that I hate you… I truly hate you.”
The Doctor struck up the courage to move back around the desk, standing where Ackley once stood, before he was no more.
“Believe me,” he said, a little bit of his haughtiness returning, “I’ll cry later. Do you mean to tell me, Master, that you executed that man for not heeding the call of duty, for Castellan and country?”
“Don’t be flippant, Doctor,” the Master once again brandished his fearsome weapon. The Doctor was unimpressed, “They had been Pariahs from our society for centuries, runaways like you and I who lacked the common decency to give their support to the ones who gave them life…”
“Do you think I wanted to, Master?” the Doctor shouted point-black in the Master’s face, “Do you think I had a choice? Do you think any of us did? We were rounded up like cattle, from the reaches of time and space. I had contracts on my head in every galaxy, on every time plane. Time Police were constantly after me, no matter how I tried to hide, don’t you see? These people were hidden, thought dead, away from all of it… they were able to start a new life, they didn’t need to answer the summons, they were free to live as they please without some bloated bureaucrat signing them into service at gunpoint! For you, the war was liberation, but for the rest of us it was slavery: a bloody, horrible slavery that we would have done anything to escape from. You know the horrors we endured, Master. That’s why you fled, and you dare call these people cowards? If anyone in this room is a coward, it’s not the man you just murdered…”
He took one more step closer, until his forehead was nearly flush with the Master’s chin.
The Master’s lip curled upward into a disdainful sneer. His finger toyed with the trigger on the TCE, but rather than strike out, he began a sinister chuckle that erupted into a boisterous, evil laugh that reverberated throughout the late Mr. Ackley’s study.
“Ah, I’m sorry, Doctor…” he wiped away a tear born from mirth, “but I simply cannot take you seriously in this regeneration. You look so ridiculous with your little pot belly and that button nose, all roly-poly… you’re like a baby to look at.”
Now it was the Doctor’s turn to screw up his face in frustration. The Master knew he had hit upon a nerve and continued.
“Yes, this regeneration wasn’t exactly what you had in mind, was it? Why is it, Doctor, that I almost always regenerate into someone tall, dark and handsome and you…well, don’t?”
“I like to spend more of my regenerative energy making sure my mind isn’t that of a sociopath,” the Doctor replied curtly.
“Oh, now what makes you say something like that?” the fiend seemed almost put out, “Is it because I killed a man in cold blood…again?”
He appealed to Russell and Colleen with a simpering smile, but got only hated glares.
“After all the Doctor did for you,” Russell spat, “After he spared your life…”
“Oh yes,” the Master reveled in Russell’s contempt, “Please, go on! Say them all, I never get tired of them! Tell me I’ll never get away with this, call me a monster, say I’mjust no good, or perhaps…”
With a blinding flash of light and a whiff of sulfur, the TCE inexplicably exploded in the Master’s hand, driving painful shards into his palm. The black Gallifreyan leapt back, howling in pain as blood began to pour out of his hand. The Doctor took this chance to laugh now, a laugh almost as spiteful as the Master’s had been.
“Oh, I see you still don’t understand the complexities of my friends,” the Doctor sighed and shook his head while the Master lurched over, gasping, “The cybernetic mind contains so much power, don’t you know, and when you combine that with the full spectrum of human emotion…”
He slammed both hands on either side of the Master’s injured palm, relishing in hearing his old enemy wail in agony.
“And you never know what you’ll get!”
The Master screamed.
“You shouldn’t have insulted her husband, Master, that’s what did it… must have thrown a cybernetic pulse clear across the room, isn’t that fascinating?”
“Have mercy!” the Master pleaded. The Doctor looked at him with a vicious eye.
“You never did.”
The Doctor ground his hand a little harder, and it appeared that smoke started to swirl out from the Master’s hand.
“But you’re such a grand fellow, Master. I’d love to shake you by the hand!”
The Doctor laughed again, a laugh that bordered on manic, until a thin, white hand laid itself comfortingly on top of the Doctors’, which were now nearly covered in the Master’s blood. The Doctor’s laughter almost immediately subsided as he turned to look into Colleen’s sad, pleading eyes.
“Please, Doctor,” he heard her gentle voice over the Master’s moans, “I’m sorry I did that. Help him, would you?”
In a trice, the Doctor released the Master’s hand, and the man in black crumpled to the floor, sobbing. The wound was clearly more than cuts, as some of the propellant to the gun had caused particularly nasty burns to his palm. The Doctor’s bloody hands stained his camelhair jacket as he produced the sonic screwdriver, waving it over the wounds and prying the jagged pieces free.
“The burns will take some time to heal,” he said with a grave seriousness, “Hopefully it will serve as a reminder.”
“Doctor…” Colleen prodded him, “won’t you say you’re sorry?”
There was a long pause as the Doctor looked down. His old enemy, the Master, was crippled with pain, lying before him in utter anguish. Should he ask for forgiveness? Did he do anything wrong? For nearly a thousand years, that man had caused him grief. They had always been at odds, even in the nursery. The Master had always been the bully, and the Doctor the defender… but had he become the bully now? Had he become the one enjoying the pain, causing useless strife to his enemies, reveling in discord?
This was deserved punishment. The Doctor straightened his back and wiped further blood on his already ruined lapels, straightening his jacket.
“I have nothing to be sorry for,” was all he said. He beckoned for Colleen and Russell to enter the TARDIS, which they did without questioning…or perhaps out of fear. As the Doctor himself walked to his ship, he stopped at the door and turned to the Master. His voice was as cold as a dagger in the night.
“Gallifrey is gone. Their laws no longer matter. It’s my universe now, Master. Don’t make me destroy you.”
He shut the door and the TARDIS dematerialized soon after, still leaving the Master to drag himself down the hall to his own ship. He would crawl inside, set the coordinates, and dematerialize his own vessel, licking his wounds and planning his revenge.
So, he thought, the Doctor believed he could destroy me? Then I will destroy everything he has done, everything he has created… I will destroy his life. I swear upon the name of Rassilon, if it be the end of me, I will destroy the Doctor’s very life!
“In the old days,” Ackley began, “Eons ago, farther back than any human can imagine, the inhabitants of Gallifrey grew into a savage and tribal collective, ruled over by a cruel line of despots. Her name was Pythia, and she was the source of Gallifrey’s fertility. A young Gallifreyan by the name of Rassilon seized power from the Pythia, and in her protest she killed herself, cursing our race with never-ending barrenness. Once this was realized by the Gallifreyans, who had abandoned the Pythia’s superstition for the crown of rationality, they began work on a new way to give us what could be eternal life: they crated the Looms.”
“I remember those,” Russell said, “They could create life out of…primordial soup.”
Ackley’s eyes grew wide and he turned them on the Doctor.
“They have seen Gallifrey? We were told it had burned, out of time itself!”
“It’s a long story,” the Doctor said, fixing Russell with a glare, “The Looms were created, and when they were we Gallifreyans realized that we could give ourselves eternal life.”
“But the first experiments with the Loom were horrible, unreal abominations,” Ackley interjected, “not fit for this or any world. Their power was too great, their command over reality itself too powerful. They were cast into the Void Between Dimensions and the Looms were retooled.”
“We were given thirteen lives and the ability to regenerate: when our bodies would prove too taxed, we could refresh them and start anew…but only thirteen times. It was the crowning achievement of Rassilon’s Rationality dogma.”
He ended that on a bitter note, and Ackley nodded with sage recognition and picked up the story from his own point of view.
“They called us House Alpha: the first full clutch of Loom-born. They were seen as the triumph of Rationality over Pyhtia’s taint, and as a celebration of the success, House Alpha was sent on a Grand Tour of the Universe. This served two purposes: to exhibit ourselves as a wonder to the rest of creation… and to further bolster fear of Rassilon’s growing power. We in House Alpha, we knew what power Rassilon could hold, with his new declarations, claiming Lords of Time and Space. We sabotaged our ship, sending it spinning off through the galaxy.”
“You landed on Earth?!” Colleen said, amazed and aghast at the revelation.
“We did,” Ackley smiled and nodded slightly, “You are a rather smart girl. Once landed, we set about removing any way for us to contact home, our loved ones, our lives… we set about removing everything that made us Gallifreyans, and we strove to become fully and impeccably… human. We began to live out each of our thirteen lives: we lived, we died, we married, we gave birth. We started life anew, a true regeneration. We wanted no more of Gallifrey, Rassilon, and the horrible power it would wreak on the universe in ages to come.
“Rassilon’s never stopped growing,” the Doctor grumbled, “Not even when he died. In the last days of his reign he commissioned a way for resurrection to be performed: not regeneration, but a renewal of the original body itself. It is because of his hubris and lust for power that Gallifrey is burnt from the sky, burnt from time itself!”
“And yet we remember,” Ackley’s eyes were wet again, “Why do we remember, Doctor?”
“Time works in mysterious ways, Mr. Ackley,” the Doctor patted his shoulder gently, “And even the so-called ‘Time Lords’ could not completely bend it to their will.”
“So you say, Doctor. So you say.”
In the open doorway stood the Master: tall and strong, with a sinister, handsome face and a dark Van Dyke. He was clad in a black duster coat that reached to his knees, with creased black trousers and black shoes. Under the jacket a starched white shirt could be seen with a simple collar and black cross tie. The Master shed his jacket, hanging it on a nearby hook, and revealed a double-breasted vest done in black brocade. He continued talking as he walked about the room.
“And yet…are there not several times where you have bent the very laws of time and space to your own particular will, Doctor?”
His words were slow and deliberate, impeccably pronounced, carrying a bite of venom underneath.
“Why didn’t you keep your beard, Doctor?” he said suddenly, almost jovially, “It suited you.”
“With us being the last two Time Lords in existence, I’d hate to feel like I was copying you,” the Doctor shot back immediately in a flat and callous tone.
“Oh, but are we?” The Master began walking about again, with each pass of the bookshelves coming closer to Ackley’s desk, “Are we truly the last of the Time Lords? What of House Alpa, Mr. ‘Ackley?’ Have they all gone?”
“I am the last,” Ackley said with a sad nod, “The others have lived all their thirteen lives: some went naturally, some chose to die, but all have gone save myself, the one who had to tell their story, even as a fiction… before it was too late.”
“How very smart of you,” the Master said with a smug, tight-lipped smile, “but you must have chosen this time to die, just like the others of your house.”
Ackley heaved a heavy sigh and rose from his chair. The Doctor made to hold him fast, but the author from House Alpha simply shook his head. Undeterred, Ackley stood face to face with the Master, though he was a fair bit shorter.
“So… the Doctor… and the Master…” he looked from one to the other, then back to the man in black, “Does that make me the Bachelor?”
He chuckled a little at his bad joke, but noticed no one else shared his merriment.
“Still,” he placed his hands into his trouser pockets, “I knew that I was very possibly signing my death warrant by even speaking of the fate of House Alpha. With Gallifrey gone…”
The Master flinched slightly at that, as if the words hurt him a little. Ackley continued.
“I figured my safety could be a bit more ensured. I hardly think either of you would be sending Judoon after me or anything…right?”
The Doctor smiled a bit and shook his head. The Master, surprisingly, did the same, but it was soon to be revealed that his smile was not one of gentleness.
“It is interesting,” the Master mused, “that you mention the Judoon. You see, I ran afoul of a Judoon battalion some months ago.”
“I’ve never heard of it,” the Doctor challenged.
“Of course you haven’t, Doctor,” the Master was almost purring now, “Because the Judoon would never let a story reach the populous that involved an entire battalion being wiped out by one man.”
The Doctor snorted with derision.
“I’m supposed to believe that?”
The Master’s grin grew wider.
“You won’t have to believe it, Doctor. I’ll make it perfectly clear. You see,” He turned his attention back to Ackley, who was still standing bravely in front of him, “A Judoon weapon is a directed energy weapon, meant to disintegrate its enemy. Do you know what that technology is similar to?”
“Stop,” the Doctor hissed, clearly upset.
“I suspect that you do,” the Master was still grinning as he produced a peculiar looking item from inside his vest. It was black, and looked vaguely like a gun, but was meant to be held with the barrel protruding from between the two middle fingers. The moment the Doctor saw it, Russell saw him recoil in horror.
“What is that thing?” he asked, aghast.
“It’s… it’s…” the Doctor was actually lost for words.
“It’s a Tissue Compression Eliminator!” Colleen shrieked, throwing herself into Russell’s shoulder, trying in vain to shut out the information fed to her via her cybernetic mind. The Master threw back his head in a diabolical laugh, yet Ackley still stood firm.
“Quite right, little Irish one,” he cackled, “It did take some time, make no mistake, and took nearly fifty Judoon guns to power this one little item. I’ve been waiting to try it out, and you’ve given me such a perfect target. Surely, if it can kill a Gallifreyan…”
“Don’t!” The Doctor shouted, bolting from the wall. Ackley held out a hand, holding the Doctor where he stood.
“It’s all right, Doctor,” the author said with a grim-set jaw, “Don’t…”
“How can you, Master?” the Doctor bellowed, cutting Ackley off, “How can you think to kill this man? He is our last link to the Gallifreyan people of old! The things he must know! The knowledge he must have! I thought you would agree with me on this, that you would join with me in the preservation and the celebration of what remains of our race! I spared your life with the hope that we would rebuild the life we lost!”
“What do I want with the life we lost, Doctor?” The Master hissed back, “the life that cursed me, ruined me, broke my mind and called me outcast because of it? I don’t want any of that life, Doctor. I am what I am because of that life. You want to return to that?”
He paused for a moment, tapping the barrel of the TCE to his chin, as if in deep thought. A smile crept back to his features as his thought returned to him.
“You know…” he began, almost whimsical, “For all the problems I had with the old Time Lord society, I have to say I admired some of its laws.”
He pointed the barrel once more at Ackley’s chest.
“Especially the one that puts a coward to the sword.”
There was a flash of red light, one truncated scream from Ackley, and then he was gone. House Alpha was no more.
Russell heard the TARDIS touch down and hurried to the door. Colleen followed close behind, both eager to see what the Doctor had in store this time. Indeed, it seemed like there was something that was beginning to come together, and if anyone could figure it out, it would be that strange little man.
“Doctor, aren’t you coming?” Russell asked as he straightened out the lapels in his vest the Doctor had given him.
“In a moment, Mr. Garamond,” the Doctor was still standing at the console, a small smile on his lips, “In a moment.”
He pressed one button, and the central column of the time rotor pulsed once with light, as if firing off a shot, then subsided.
“What did you do?” Russell asked, always the skeptic. The Doctor joined him at the door, pulling his camelhair jacket on and adjusting his golden necktie.
“I believe you would call it ‘instant messaging,’ Mr. Garamond.’
And that was all he would say. With one movement, he swung open the door, and Colleen and Russell were shocked to find themselves perfectly docked within the confines of an office. The walls were adorned with old and well-seasoned wooden bookshelves, all stuffed with too many books to count, many of them first editions, from the look of it. More books spilled out into piles on the floor, and still more were piled on an equally antique and polished desk to the point of obscuring whoever was sitting behind it. Aside from a few papers knocked askew by the TARDIS landing, the entire scene seemed unsettlingly…normal.
“Well done, girl,” the Doctor mused, patting the side of the TARDIS, “I could land this thing on a dime… when I want to.”
“Doctor, where are we?”
“Always with the questions, you are,” the Doctor waggled a finger in mock severity, “Such a skeptic. Probably why I like having you around. Anyway, why not try asking our generous host where we are?”
“Your host is less than generous, and wishes you would leave.”
The voice was American, slightly nasal, and utterly disinterested. Two stacks of books slid aside to reveal a middle-aged man with neatly parted, graying hair and a trim goatee, looking particularly displeased.
“Please remove yourself from my office. I’m not taking visitors.”
He was busy poring over a particularly large book, which seemed to take up most of the available space on his desktop.
“Oh, I think you’ll be taking visitors like us,” the Doctor said with a whimsical sort of seriousness, “you see, we’re travelers in time and space.”
The man behind the desk sighed heavily with frustration. He held up one of he nearby books, which read in broad, sprawling text: UNKNOWN TO TIME. Underneath was a smaller font reading “V.T. Ackley.” The man threw the book back down with a snort.
“Yeah, you and every other fan.”
“I beg your pardon?” The Doctor cocked an eyebrow.
“I get nutjobs like you once in a while,” he leaned back, intertwining his fingers, “They read my books, and they come in here claiming to be one of my lost race of interstellar beings, lost in time and space. I try to explain to them that it’s only a story, but they just can’t get it through their tinfoil hats. It usually ends with me having to ask security to escort them off….”
His eyes drifted momentarily toward the TARDIS, then back again with a snap.
“Forcibly, if necessary.”
“How very rude!” the Doctor huffed, “What a pompous egotist!”
“I bet you hate having competition,” Russell thought to himself. The Doctor slammed his hands down on the stacks of books and pierced Mr. Ackley with a stare.
“Don’t tell me you don’t know who I am,” the rotund man glared out between twin towers of tomes. Ackley hesitated for just a moment before responding with suspicious rapidity:
“Never seen you before in my life.”
“You hesitated,” Russell noted, but Ackley dismissed him with a snarl, now completely denied his afternoon of reading.
“Look, you all went through a lot of trouble to get here, I’m sure…” he stood up briskly and gestured toward the TARDIS, “The spaceship is a particularly nice touch, though…must have been a real terror getting it through the door. What is that, a telephone booth?”
He cut Colleen off with such brusqueness that the little Irish girl gave a squeak and hid behind Russell’s narrow frame. He continued his frogmarch to the door of his office, his crassness seemingly unending.
“Please tell me which guard you bribed at the front gate, and I’ll fire him… right after he boots you off my property. If you want autographs, I’ll be at the Chicago Hilton next week signing the new book. Come there. We’ll have a laugh. Buy me a drink and we’ll have more. Now…” he opened the door and gestured angrily.
“Please get the hell out.”
Russell and Colleen had been watching the whole scene unfold with a mixture of shock and confusion. Surely this isn’t what the Doctor had had in mind. Meanwhile, the Doctor was looking over Mr. Ackley’s book, and chuckling to himself.
“You’re trying too hard, you know,” he mused, tracing the embossed title, “You’re putting up too much of a front… “Unknown to Time,” hah!”
He whirled round, facing Ackley waving the book about in front of him.
“You’ve done well, Mr. Ackley, very, very well to keep yourself hidden. All of this time here, on this planet, and I’ve never found you… you’ve done very well, indeed!”
“What are you talking about, you Limey weirdo?”
“You gave it away, here…” he tapped the hardcover, “You finally gave it away. This book, your book…it gives it all away! You see, I had my suspicions when the TARDIS computer first picked this information out of the intergalactic ether, but I dismissed it as coincidence. However, events of the past few days…” he looked over to Russell and Colleen, apparently very distant cousins, “Have lead me to believe that coincidences are bunk, more or less.”
“Henry Ford,” Ackley sniffed, determined not to be undone.
“Yes, Henry Ford…” the Doctor began to pace around the office, hands behind his back, “Perhaps you knew him, Mr. Ackley, or perhaps you… were him… were you him, Mr. Ackley?”
Every time he said “Mr. Ackley,” it carried just a bit of mocking patronization. Ackley screwed his face up in a mask of frustration.
“Cripes,” he exclaimed, “You’re crazier than all the others.”
“I am never crazy,” the Doctor said, his eyes glinting, “but often mad. You see, I’d be mad to think that I could toss DNA from my companions here,” he waved to Colleen and Russell, still thunderstruck, “into a Nucleic Acid analyzer, and I’d be mad to think that I could toss my own half-human, half-Gallifreyan makeup into the same structure…and that they would match!”
“Galli-what? What are you talking about?” Ackley sputtered, clearly losing this battle of wits now.
“Oh come now, Mr. Ackley,” the Doctor rolled his eyes and moved uncomfortably close to the author, “You’re a member of House Alpha.”
“Wrong author, buddy,” Ackley snorted, “I didn’t go to Hogwarts.”
The Doctor paid him no heed, but continued blustering about, as he was often wont to do.
“V.T. Ackley… Vee… tee! I say, could that possibly stand for something like oh, I don’t know…Vetiver Tunnyson Ackley?”
He turned to the back inside cover of the book and crowed.
“A-ha! So it does!”
“I hate that name!” Ackley exploded, “Why do you think I go by initials, it’s so..”
“It’s so you can hide who you are!” the Doctor shouted back, “It’s a perversion of your real name, isn’t it? It boils your blood to see your name have to be changed such, doesn’t it… Vetaiverturnysonyyackel?”
Ackley blanched at that, and he knew it was no use. His hand was quivering as the door latched and he turned to the Doctor, lips nearly ashen.
“So it is you… Doctor.”
“In the rather ample flesh,” he cried, slapping his stomach, “Last regeneration went a little bad…you know how it goes…”
“Yes, I do know…” Ackley said with a heavy voice that suddenly sounded so old, “and I thought no one would ever know but… but you Doctor… I should have known you’d find me someday.”
“I always was a bee in the bonnet,” the Doctor beamed, “stirring up trouble.”
“We noticed,” Ackley nodded, “All of us in House Alpha. We were always watching you.”
“And helping me, if I’m not mistaken,”
“No,” Ackley said gravely, “We’ve done our best to keep away from any other Gallifreyan activity… any other.”
“Just more coincidences, I suppose,” the Doctor shrugged, mostly unfazed by Ackley’s gravitas. Russell, on the other hand, felt one question needed to be asked.
“What about the Time War?”
Ackley turned to him, and Russell immediately regretted his decision. Ackley’s eyes were almost overflowing with hot, bitter tears.
“God damn the Time War,” he spat, “and God damn anyone who talks about it.”
The Doctor put a comforting arm around the shoulders of Ackley’s elbow-patched sportcoat. The two shared a moment before the Doctor began again.
“I believe…” he took a pause to collect his thoughts gently, “that you will find our friend Mr. Ackley under the heading of a ‘conscientious objector,’ along with the rest of House Alpha.”
“Doctor,” Colleen spoke up when it became clear that Ackley meant them no more harm, “Is House Alpha what I’m thinking it is?”
The Doctor guided Ackley back to his seat and gave a little laugh.
“That depends on what you think it is, my dear.”
“Well, it would seem,” she chewed her lip nervously as she worked her cybernetic brain, constantly cautious of it, “By calling them Alpha, it would mean that they were the first of something. And, with our ancestors being in House Alpha…they are, right?”
“You assumptions are sound, m’gel… but don’t start a sentence with ‘And.’”
Colleen blushed a little, but the Doctor beckoned her to continue.
“Then they must have come here long ago, or at least long enough for them to breed with humans and make…us?”
“That mind of yours really is something,” the Doctor grinned, “If the Cyber-Controller could see you now.”
“Cyber-Controller?” Ackley recoiled in his chair, aghast.
“She’s what happens when you try to make a cyborg in 19-century Ireland,” Russell said with a little grin. He looked over at Colleen, who blushed furiously.
“I see…” Ackley relaxed a bit and turned to the Doctor, “With the Time War over, Doctor… I figured it would be safe to use my name, to tell our story without fear of repercussion. Those men, they called themselves Lords of Time, and Rassilon, he was becoming so very dangerous… when we crashed here, we knew we could hide from it all… we wanted none of what was to become of Gallifrey, even if it meant leaving everything we loved about it.”
“Don’t worry, my good man,” the Doctor again gripped the author’s shoulder, “They have received their punishment.”
The strange man’s face was grim then, and his jaw was set firm. He looked straight through the wall of the office, into parts unknown. Russell knew he could lose him for minutes, possibly hours when he got like this, so he spoke up, hoping to catch it early.
“So who was House Alpha, anyway?”
The Doctor was shaken out of his reverie, and turned to Ackley.
“You’ll help me fill in all the other bits, won’t you?”
Ackley smiled at this, his first smile since they had met him.
Russell couldn’t help but roll his eyes. This all just seemed a little too cute and tidy. The Doctor must have put something together as a little present, a nice little home movie showing what could have been. It’s no surprise that he’d know Grampa was in the Great War. In fact, Russell would be surprised if the Doctor didn’t know something so trivial. It wasn’t exactly invasive, but the Doctor just had a way of finding things out. Either way, he found it very hard to believe that the Doctor had actually met his grandfather. Still, it was a fun little wedding gift.
Until his grandfather sprung to his feet and started shooting.
Armed with a Lee-Enfield service rifle, the young Corporal Garamond opened fire inside the TARDIS. With a shriek, Colleen ducked behind the coat rack, seeking what little cover she could find. As the first round pinged off the wall near the Doctor’s head, the time traveler leaped down under the ship’s console. Meanwhile, the soldier worked the bolt on his gun and reloaded.
“All right!” he shouted, his terror at the situation mingling with an adrenaline rush, “You dirty Huns, you keep your heads down! I don’t know what you did, what kind of dirty Jerry trick this is, but so help me I’ll gun you all down where you stand!”
He aimed the rifle and fired again, watching another round ricochet around the TARDIS interior. The bullet bounced back near the entrance and grazed Colleen, who yelped with the surprise and sudden pain. It was at this time that Russell was now convinced that this was no sick game.
“Come on out!” Jack Garamond bellowed, “I don’t care if you’re the Kaiser, I’ll blow your bloody head off!”
He began to reload again, and the Doctor took this opportunity to reach over the console with the sonic screwdriver. With a flick of the switch, Jack’s rifle was absolutely useless. He thrashed about with it and swore, hurriedly fixing a nasty looking bayonet on the top.
“Might as well have been firing a Sho-sho,” he hissed, brandishing his makeshift spear, “Well, come on out, then! If you’d had guns you’d have shot me by now, so come on out and I’ll run you right through!”
With surprising calm, the Doctor stood up from underneath the console and adjusted the lapels of his tweed jacket.
“I do apologize, sir,” the Strange Man began, “But I must assure you that you are not our enemy, nor are we yours.”
“You speak English pretty well,” Jack snarled, “You a spy?”
“Hardly,” the Doctor said with a smirk. He flipped a few switched on the console and the machine began humming to life. Russell brandished his rifle again, but the Doctor put his hands up, raising his eyebrows in what he hoped was a gentle, placating expression.
“I’m actually proud to say that I’ve aided the British forces on several occasions. Of course, I don’t suppose you were around at the Battle of Trafalgar… were you?”
“Shut it,” Jack barked, “Talking crazy, trying to get me to relax… just another Jerry trick, I bet!”
“I assure you,” the Doctor stressed, “that my name has never been, or ever will be, Jerry. I did meet Jerry Rubin once, but the less said about that, the better… Now, if you’d please put the gun down?”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Why shouldn’t you?”
Jack took another quick look around, his eyes darting nervously.
“Yes, you’re noticing,” the Doctor said eagerly, “You’re a smart one, I can see it in your eyes, I can see your brain working in your eyes… you know this can’t be a German design… you know this can’t even be a design from this planet.”
“Now that’s ridiculous,” Jack laughed nervously and raised his bayonet again as the Doctor tried to approach, “You make it sound like some kind of kid’s story.”
“And who is to say that those stories aren’t real?” The Doctor said with a kind smile, “Please, Mr. Garamond, put the gun down…”
It was odd, Russell noted, to hear the Doctor use that phrase and not refer to him.
“Please, sir…if not for me, than for the young lady you’ve inadvertently wounded…”
Jack spun around with surprise to see Colleen sitting on the floor behind him, afraid to make a sound, a small amount of blood trickling down her arm. Jack immediately sprang to action, offering Colleen his medical kit while keeping his blade trained on the Doctor.
“Here, Miss. If you need any help, let me know. I’m handy with a bandage or two.”
He turned to the Doctor again, “You keeping her in here, are you? She your little slave?”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” the Doctor shook his head, “The young Irish girl is here completely of her own volition, as I’m sure she can tell you. Colleen, dear, would you be so kind?”
Colleen, after easily bandaging the wound, flushed scarlet as all the attention was suddenly focused on her. It was just as the Doctor planned. The minute Jack looked away the Doctor struck out with a hand, neatly disarming the soldier with one nasty chop to the wrist. Jack leapt back in pain, grasping onto his hand as if it were broken. The Doctor cast aside the rifle contemptuously.
“What did you do to my hand?”
“Venusian Aikido,” the Doctor replied calmly, adjusting one of his burgundy shirt cuffs, “From Venus. The planet.”
“Feels like my hand’s broken!”
“It isn’t,” the Doctor responded automatically, “But it will sting for a while. Consider it fair punishment for wounding one of my companions.”
Disarmed and outmanned, Corporal Garamond finally surrendered.
“I’m sorry, Miss,” he offered an awkward nod to Colleen, who flushed again, “I suppose if you were Huns, you’d have done me in by now.”
“That’s the first sensible thing you’ve said,” the Doctor hauled him back to his feet, “now, let us get you back to your time.”
“It is a time machine, after all,” the Doctor said with a small smile, “but I’m sure you won’t believe me. Just another ‘Jerry’ trick.”
He walked back to the console and flipped a few more switches.
“I could send you back, you know. Back to Newfoundland, away from this pointless war.”
“How did you…?”
“You’ve been accidentally materialized on board thanks to the careless steering of one of my companions, and for that I apologize. Would you like to go home, then?”
He pressed a button, and the doors to the TARDIS flew open, showing a picturesque view of the Canadian Atlantic.
“Not quite,” the Doctor said with a tinge of bitterness.
“This… this can’t be real…”
“I assure you that it is.” The Doctor said, getting a little frustrated, “My word, the girl from Black ’47 got the hang of this faster than you do. Home or not?”
Jack Garamond gazed out at it, his home. A wind gusted up and rustled all of the munitions he was carrying, and the canteen clinked lightly against a buckle. The young corporal looked down at it with a stern face, a face of duty.
“If it’s all the same… whoever you are…”
“I told you,” the Doctor quickly doffed his Windsor cap to scratch round his ear, “I’m the Doctor.”
“Fine then…Doctor…” the soldier chose his words carefully, “I’d like you to take me back to my unit. Back to the front. I’ve got a job to do.”
The Doctor looked positively shocked.
“…Are you sure? You could very well die, you know…”
“If that’s to be, it’s to be.”
“Back to that hell of mud and blood and mustard gas?”
The Doctor blew out a long breath and tugged at his Van Dyke worriedly.
“Oh well… if you so insist… back to the front we go.”
He pushed the button again, and the doors closed. With a few more digitations, the TARDIS was back, near to where Jack had been found. Hell on Earth.
“You’ll find your encampment a quarter of a mile to the east,” the Doctor pointed into a dingy gray sky, “Just tell them you were separated from your unit, it happens often enough.”
“You’re telling me,” Jack shouldered his pack and moved for the exit, “Just a few days ago, I was stuck in a trench with an officer. Man must have been dead for days. Still, I got this off him, though…”
In a whirl, the soldier turned and had a Wembley revolver pointed at the Doctor’s chest. The Doctor’s eyes grew wide, almost pleading, and Colleen shrunk from the spot.
“Bet you didn’t know I had this,” the soldier said with a sad little smile, “For King and Country… I just can’t trust you.”
At that precise moment, Javis Nine burst back into the console room, completely oblivious.
“All right, Doctor, I got it wrong by a few…”
Garamond pulled the trigger, and a loud bang echoed around the room. The Doctor fell immediately to the floor without a sound, and Colleen couldn’t help but scream. Javis, however, is not quite the screaming sort. She sprang into action and landed a punch against Garamond’s jaw so hard it split him open to the bone. That rendered him instantly unconscious, and made it easier for Javis to heave him bodily, gear and all, from the TARDIS out into the French wilderness with a snarl. As soon as she closed the door, she rushed to the Doctor’s side, where Colleen was shedding copious tears and trying to staunch the bleeding coming from the left side of the Doctor’s chest.
“What the hell happened?!” Javis thundered. The Doctor, somehow still conscious, still attempted to keep control.
“It’s all right, Javis, it’s all right… I’ll be fine, just…”
His alien physiology kicked in, putting him into a sort of stasis so the wound could be healed. To Javis and Colleen, however, he appeared unconscious, possibly near death. Colleen began tearing the bandages off her arm and ripping at her dress to make hasty bandages, her tears pouring down onto the body. Javis, beginning to panic, vaulted over to the console and began hammering buttons, switches, and levers.
“Doctor…Doctor…Doctor, damn it! The Doctor needs a doctor! Come on!”
She glared at the time rotor in a rage, her face tinged green.
“You take me to a doctor, you hear me? We’ve got to save him!”
She smashed an entire array of buttons with her palm, and the TARDIS juddered into life, speeding away through time and space. Russell knew where they would wind up, and he knew which doctor they would find for their Doctor.
Another Garamond. The same family. Russell’s father never heard anything from his father about the war. He never talked about it. He did, however, carry with him a rather nasty scar on his chin he gained in the war, his only memento. According to the official report, it was an injury sustained by shrapnel after being separated from his unit… but grampa never talked about it. Why?
“It can’t be a coincidence,” Russell said to the Doctor. It was some time later, and they were both sitting in the console room. The same one Russell had recently seen the Doctor bleeding upon. Of course, the Doctor was fine now, as he always seemed to be. He had sent Colleen to prepare tea, which she went off to do, smiling at her new husband without a care in the world.
“Indeed it can’t be, Mr. Garamond,” the Doctor was in his current finery: blue shirt, gray vest and trousers, golden camelhair coat, spectators, and chocolate brown porkpie hat. A little bit of a beard seemed to be growing back, as the Doctor had kept it shorn since Kenos.
“When you’ve seen as much as I have, you begin to stop believing in simple coincidence. For example, your grandmother, Jack’s wife, what was her maiden name?”
Russell thought for a moment.
The Doctor cracked a mysterious, mischievous smile.
“And Colleen’s ancestors are found in the McShane family. You see, Mr. Garamond… I’ve had other travelling companions besides yourselves.”
“I figured as much,” Russell answered drily.
“I first began to notice it at the wedding, you see.”
Colleen reentered with the tea cart, and the Doctor waved her over jovially.
"Colleen’s surviving family back in Ireland, and yours stateside. The names… that is, my Earth companion names… they all seem to be connected… and I’m beginning to think that it’s not just a coincidence. Perhaps there is some reason I choose who I choose to come with me, something that connects them all… connects us all… perhaps it is what I think it might be… and, of course, perhaps not.”
Russell gave a wry smile and laughed a bit.
“But I suppose you’re going to find out, aren’t you?”
He slammed a lever into place, and the TARDIS began to dematerialize.
“There is no greater pursuit than that of knowledge, Mr. Garamond!”
“That sounds like a quote from some great man,” Colleen said, pouring the tea into a travel thermo the moment she heard the vworp.
“It is a quote from a great man!” the Doctor bellowed as the sound got louder, “Me!”
“Colleen, my dear, I do so hate to be a bother at this, such a joyous time in your life…”
The Doctor’s voice came over an intercom, jarring both of the newlyweds wide awake.
“For crying out loud!” Russell said with a groan, “can’t we have a minute’s peace?!”
“You’ve been in bed for nearly fourteen hours,” the Doctor’s voice countered, “now, up we go, you’re wasting daylight!”
“We’re in a time machine!” Russell groaned into a pillow.
“Yes, and if you’d like to stay alive inside said time machine, I suggest you allow your lovely bride to assist me!”
Russell leaned over to comfort his new wife, but found her already up and slipping out of her nightgown.
“Honey,” Russell said with a little whine, “You know you don’t have to…”
“But I should,” Colleen said with her usual common sense, “It’s the least I could do for all he’s done for us.”
Russell sighed and lay back down on the feather pillow, feeling the warmth on her side of the bed fade away. He closed his eyes for what he thought was a moment, but the Doctor’s voice awakened him again.
“Don’t you have something you want to do, Mr. Garamond?”
“I was just resting,” Russell offereda lame excuse.
“I could hear you snoring,” the Doctor’s voice was patronizing…more so than usual, anyway, “Now hurry, I can’t keep your supercomputer of a wife busy for long!”
With a groan, Russell got up and dressed. Supercomputer of a wife… it seemed as if the Doctor was constantly held up on that point, instead of the sweet girl that also shared the body. Then again, it was probably that mindset that kept him a bachelor…at least currently. Russell followed the instructions he’d heard the night before, and entered a small, dark room with a single bare light bulb hanging over a card table. As promised, the table held what looked to be an archaic boombox…at least by Russell’s standards.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this” Russell muttered as he inserted the cassette and pressed play. For a moment, there was the old familiar silence, followed by half a message.
“-cording? Is it recording?Now? Now?”
A slight blip in the sound told Russell that the Doctor had rewound and re-recorded the tape to make sure nothing was lost.
“You’d think,for all that knowledge he’d understand how to use a tape…”
“Yes.Good,” the Doctorbegan again, “Hello, Mr. Garamond, and many happy returns on this, your wedding day. Be good to her, boy… she’ll need it. Now, if you please, stand to the side of this stereo and avoid touching the faceplate, as it can distort the image.”
“Image?” Russellsaid with a touch of worry. With a whoosh, the room was suddenly filled with an accurate representation of the TARDIS control room, in hologram form, and suddenly Russell was watching a three dimensional and very vivid home-made movie.
From the look of it, it appeared that the camera must have been mounted somewhere on the TARDIS console, thought if Russellknew where he’d still never find it in all the switches and buttons. It was the TARDIS as he first recalled seeing it: green, almost sickly looking, before the Master had been purged from its interior and regained its former austere white shine. Russell began to wonder if this really was the Doctor’s memories, or if it was simply a TARDIS security reel, or if it was both, when the Doctor suddenly burst into the room with his usual bravado, flanked by Colleen and, surprisingly, Javis Nine.
“My, my, my!” The Doctor beamed, “The Oligarchs of Triton certainly know how to celebrate!”
“I’ll say,” Javis replied, hopping into a chair and putting her feet up on the console, “My head’s still swimming!”
“At least you minded your manners this time,” the Doctor waggleda finger at her, “I was so embarrassed having to apologize for you at Versailles!”
“How was I supposed to know that wasn’t for eating?”
The Doctor waved her off with a chuckle, and turned to the reticent Colleen, who was busy picking up the jacket Javis had discarded.
“And what of you, Ms. Ciradh? Did you find the banquet to your Hibernian tastes?”
Colleen creased the jacket neatly and hung it on the coat rack near the door.
“If I may be honest, Doctor…”
“By all means, m’gel!” The Doctor doffed his brown tweed hat. He was dressed as Russell first remembered him: all brown and burgundy.
“Well…the whole affair, if you’ll pardon me, Doctor… it was awfully wasteful.”
The Doctor’s mood seemed to deflate as he sympathized.
“Ah, my dear. How true you are. Functions of that caliber have a tendency to throw about much that could be usefully implemented elsewhere… as always, you are a refreshing dose of reality, if not always a… completely welcome one.”
He gave her a wink, and she smiled… slightly. It occurred to Russell that not much changed after he came on board the TARDIS, but it also occurred to him that perhaps it was not necessarily a bad thing. Change, after all, could be for the worse.
“Well!” The Doctor clapped the Windsor cap back on his head and bounded to the console, neatly knocking Javis’ feet off with one swift movement and smile, “What sounds nice, hm? Perhaps something quiet, a relaxing respite from the previous festivities, yes? How about…”
He banged a few buttons into position and flipped a switch.
“A nice afternoon in the French countryside?”
The two ladies looked at each other and shrugged.
“Sounds nice, I suppose,” Javis muttered.
“I’ve heard France is lovely,” Colleen said quietly.
“Then France it is, then!” The Doctor turned a knob left, then right, then left a little more, then paused. He turned slowly from where he was hunched over the console and regarded his two companions.
“Javis, my dear… how have your studies been going?”
“All right, I guess,” Javis shrugged again.
“Your History lessons?”
“All done, I promise,” the pugilist rolled her eyes and sighed.
“Then why don’t you find us a nice era for an afternoon stroll.”
The Doctor slowly let his hand go from the console, trailing it over a few of the buttons, as if trying to entice Javis onward. With a sniff, the New Earth fighter stood up from her chair and shuffled over to the console. She began to fiddle with the knob, back and forth, casting a wary glance every once and a while in the Doctor’s direction to see if she was being watched.
“That looks good…I think,” she said eventually, “what do I do now?”
The Doctor slammed a switch into the “on” position, and the ship lurched into motion through the time vortex. Within a few seconds, the familiar vworp vworp sound began to echo throughout the roundish room, and it was near time for landing. Suddenly, an alarm began to sound and the Doctor rushed to the console, frantically trying to readjust.
“No, no no!” he wailed, mashing several buttons with his palm. That seemed to do the trick, as the alarm quieted and the TARDIS began its materialization. However, something odd was happening on the floor of the console room: at first, it was like a shadow, barely visible, but as the ship touched down more and more the thing took shape… and it was in the shape of a man. He was huddled, hands clasped around the back of his neck and knees drawn close to his face. His eyes were screwed up tight, and he trembled awfully as the TARDIS came to a stop. An eerie silence reigned throughout the ship before the Doctor finally ventured forward to touch the man.
“He’s unconscious, but alive,” the Doctor said, pulling back his hands from the man’s neck, “Most likely a severe onset of shell-shock.”
“You can tell that just from looking at him, Doctor?” Colleen approached with an extra timid sort of caution. The Doctor placed a finger to one side of his nose and winked.
“Simple deduction, Colleen, m’gel. Look at his socks, what can you tell me about them?”
She looked at the man’s nearly-knee length socks.
“They’re blue, Doctor.”
“Yes, they are,” the Doctor said, crouching down to inspect them further, “and you’ll actually find that they are not socks at all, but a wrap called ‘puttees’ used to protect the lower leg during the Great War. Judging from the blue puttees, this gentleman is from Newfoundland, Canada… he’s a long way from home, indeed…”
He turned back to Colleen with scholarly air.
“So, from the Great War I can assume two things: one, that he probably mistook the TARDIS for a falling explosive shell and went into a catatonic state, and two… Javis aimed the TARDIS wrong.”
The fighter was keeping on the periphery of the little lesson, but found herself drawn into it as a result of the last comment.
“Oi! You yourself said you can’t steer this thing worth a…”
“Javis,” the Doctor interrupted her, “what did you set the coordinates to?”
“1916, French countryside. Just like you asked.”
“And when was the Great War, Javis?”
“1917-1919, concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. I read all those boring books, I should know it by now. We would have been just fine if…”
There was a bit of a pause while Javis cooled down a bit, and finally, with head hung, muttered darkly:
“I screwed it up, didn’t I?”
The Doctor sighed and got to his feet.
“Only a little, Javis. It’s all right. Just… go and review the books a little, will you?”
She eyed the Doctor skeptically.
“You sure you’re gonna be okay? This guy looks loaded for combat.”
“It’ll be all right, Javis,” the Doctor said placatingly, “I promise. Go and check up, will you?”
Javis stomped off into the TARDIS interior, grunting and growling to herself. The Doctor turned back to Colleen with a smile.
“Well, we haven’t made too much trouble. We may have even saved his life, depending on where we landed… and when. Colleen, see that our guest is comfortable, but try not to move him too much. We’ll return him to his proper safety as soon as he comes to.”
He strode back to the TARDIS console and looked at a viewscreen, chuckling to himself. A thought struck him, and he called back to Colleen, who was busy wadding up her traveling cloak to use as a makeshift pillow.
“By the way, Colleen… what does it say, on his identification?”
“Identification, Doctor?” the Irish girl asked with a puzzled expression.
“Round his neck, dear… take a look.”
She did as she was told, and read off the identification, inscribed on red and green patches of fiber.
“Corporal Jonathan “Jack” Garamond, Royal Newfoundland Regiment.”
Russell Garamond was still in his tuxedo. After a whirlwind courtship through time and space itself, he and the young miss Colleen Ciradh were married near Russell’s hometown in America. As soon as they finished marveling over his pretty new Irish bride, the family immediately pressed how he was able to afford coming back, missing work, a new family, and various other expenses. Russell responded with a smile that he had found a new line of work, and introduced his friend, the Doctor. The strange, rotund man seemed bothered every time he had to shake a hand or make small talk, but not in way that might offend the guests. Of course, there were some guests who just enjoy being offended, but most of them saw the far-off look in his eye and his ever-present preoccupation and chalked him down as one of those eccentric English genius types. You know, the kind who buy a castle and give themselves silly titles…like “the Doctor.” But the Garamonds were simple enough folk to be polite to the perpetually distracted man, while secretly hoping that Russell was being paid well. It was no surprise that the newly wedded Garamonds were on their way to a honeymoon that was unlike anything seen on Earth in either of their times. But first…
“Consider it my wedding present to you, Mr. Garamond,” the Doctor said with one of his enigmatic expressions. He looked proud, happy, yet… pained.
“What other presents could we possibly need, Doctor?” Russell beamed, “You paid for our wonderful wedding. I got to introduce Colleen to the family, and they loved her, even if they thought she was a little quiet. Who’s louder than Americans, though, right?”
That got a nod from the Doctor, complete with eyebrows raised in assent.
“And now,” Russell walked around TARDIS central console, “You’re giving us an all-expenses tour of the universe for our honeymoon… what more is there?”
The Doctor circled the console, thoughtfully trailing his fingers over the buttons and switches.
“I’ll give you something that you’ll never find in all the universe…not anymore… Time Lord memories.”
The Doctor reached into the breast pocket of his own tuxedo, a tuxedo he felt he hadn’t taken off since Vaientaa more than a week ago. He produced a small package, wrapped gently with brown paper and string.
“Many happy returns, Mr. Garamond.”
Russell accepted the gift and unwrapped it. At first, he was utterly confused.
“Is this… a cassette tape?”
“I haven’t gotten round to upgrading,” the Doctor said with a shrug, “You’ll find a machine that can process it inside the TARDIS, fourteenth door on the right.”
Russell looked at him skeptically.
“Is it a boombox?”
A slight grin creased the round, young-looking features of the strange man.
“Partly,” he said with a slight bit of acrimony, “but don’t worry about that now… you’ve got a wedding night and a blushing bride waiting for you, after all. It’s not very often you get a second chance at that sort of thing.”
Russell flushed a little scarlet around the ears and tucked the cassette tape into his own rumpled tuxedo.
“Colleen’s, um… getting ready.”
“And you could think of no better place to lounge than here?” the Doctor said with a chuckle, turning a knob absentmindedly.
“Well, you forgot to tell me you’d jettisoned the pool,” the Earth doctor said with a smirk.
“Ah, yes… well, you’d have to forgive me an occasional slip of the mind, with all my years?”
“It’s not the slips that bother me, Doctor,” Russell adjusted his lapels and checked his reflection in the shining central column of the time rotor. His hair was getting long, a little shaggy at parts… but he liked it. Still rail thin, though, no matter how many alien pies and pastries the Doctor shoved at him. Sometimes he wondered if the Doctor was trying to make him as plump as he was… though at his height he’d probably be close to three hundred pounds. Still, he didn’t look like a skinny little fool anymore…or at least, he didn’t feel like one anymore. This time traveling life, what had it done to him? Made him a married man, again, made him happy, made him feel alive… and all just because that strange man wandered into his operating room.
And yet, as he lay in bed later that night, next to his new, softly slumbering wife, he got the idea that somehow, it all seemed just to work too well to all be a coincidence. He rolled over, unable to sleep, and saw his tuxedo jacket draped over a chair. What had the Doctor said? He’d never find it again in all the universe? Perhaps it could answer these questions that are keeping him up at night. Or it could be a recipe for Mandalorian Marmalade. One never could tell with the Doctor. Thankfully, at that moment Colleen rolled over in her sleep, draping a warm, soft arm over most of his torso. With that, all of the secrets of the universe seemed somehow less important… at least for now.
The Doctor found himself in a far corner of the Great Hall of Vaientaa. The scene was ominous now, and silent once again. Where once hundreds of creatures enjoyed the feast and delights, the entire room was now stark, barren, and empty. The Doctor could almost hear the hard soles of his spectators clack on the stone floor as he made the long, long walk from the secret entrance, past the long ebony tables to the two great doors. He found the doors locked from the outside, and attempted to knock. It was only after doing so that he realized the futility of his actions and reached for the sonic screwdriver. Upon opening the doors, however, he found two perturbed monks who had been charged with sealing the only way into, or out of, the Great Hall. The Doctor, looking a bit sheepish, tried to produce another coin magically from behind a guard’s ear, but the guard would have none of it. In desperation, the Doctor flicked the coin at the guard, noting with satisfaction that it ricocheted off the first one’s head and hit the second before he dashed off down the corridor. The two guard monks gave chase, but thanks to a veritable labyrinth of corridors and hallways, the Doctor made a confusing escape: into this one, around this corner, up a staircase, across a balcony, a quick swing across a chandelier, a slide under a pair of dutch doors, and finally down a lattice. As the Doctor leaped from the makeshift ladder, he noticed that his feet didn’t hit the ground as hard. A gray mixture of grass and loam padded his steps comfortably as he passed out of a moss-covered corridor and into the spectacular monochromatic garden. He swept off his flattened porkpie and scratched his head thoughtfully at the scene, wondering just how he had missed this in his previous visits. As he walked through the colorless splendor, he noticed with despair that his black and white shoes had been smudged gray from the thick covering of grass and other plants. With a frustrated sigh, he continued scouring the garden for Colleen and Russell. The days’ exploits had been rather tiring, and the Doctor was beginning to yearn for the comforts of his TARDIS…and for the ability to speak. To top it all off, he still couldn’t figure out who the mysterious Abbot had been…yet he seemed to know so much about him…and that peculiar, boorish accent…where had he heard it before? To his dismay, he found Russell and Colleen, both locked in an embrace that the Doctor considered in particularly bad taste. The two flushed a deep gray as they leaped to their feet: straightening clothes, hair, whatever vegetation seemed the most trampled, as the Doctor tapped his feet sourly. Like two children being caught in the cookie jar, Russell and Colleen bowed their heads and followed the Doctor out of the garden, stealing looks and sharing smiles between them. When they finally reached the TARDIS, the Doctor opened it with speed of purpose and immediately entered into the colored interior. The first appearance of color was shocking to the companions, who had almost gotten used to the silent word of grays. Before entering the TARDIS, Russell dropped to one knee and made one large, grandiose romantic gesture, to which Colleen blushed furiously and waved him off. They both entered the TARDIS, not quite sure how to handle the constant groaning sounds of the TARDIS back in their ears. They saw the Doctor in a corner of the console room, rubbing fastidiously at his shoes with a kerchief, none too pleased. "Just my luck," he sighed, "I’m run all over, put through the wringer, and now this!" He tossed the kerchief onto the console, and the ship seemed to coo gently in response, as if trying to calm him down. "Why so upset, Doctor?" Russell tried out his voice again, surprised at how it sounded after so long. "Well, unlike some of us…" the Doctor fixed a fatherly eye on the two, "I was out trying to get to the bottom of this mystery, rather than to the bottom of someone else’s…" "Doctor!" "Sorry, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor brushed some errant moss from his shoulder, "That was rude of me… but I suppose you two had a wonderful time?" Colleen blushed furiously again, and Russell took the initiative, holding her close. "I’d say we did," he said proudly. His smile fell a bit as he added, "Er…aside from the whole ‘murder’ thing…what happened there, anyway?" The Doctor plopped his tuxedo jacket onto the back of a chair and adjusted his cuffs. "Faked the whole thing, it turns out. Heading off to some barren moon for a better religion, or some such rot." "Well, that’s good to hear," Russell said, running his fingers through Colleen’s hair, which was once again a ruddy red, "Although I don’t see why he’d like to leave. I thought it was a nice place." The Doctor scoffed. Russell placed a little kiss on the top of Colleen’s head and humored the moody Gallifreyan. "Where to next?" The Doctor fiddled with his braces and sighed. "I don’t really know, actually." "Well, can I make a suggestion?" Russell "You have the power of speech again, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor began poring over the console controls, "Use it." "Well, I’d like to go back to Ireland…you know, where Colleen is from." The Doctor fixed him with a quizzical glare. "And why would you want to do that?" "I’d like to meet her family," Russell squeezed Colleen a little tighter, "Colleen and I…we’re going to be married." "Oh, are you?" the Doctor flipped a switch moodily, "I hope I’ll be invited to the wedding." "Of course, Doctor," Colleen piped up, "Don’t be silly!" "I’m not the one being silly," the Doctor countered, "It’s your darling fiancee. Mr. Garamond, do you honestly think that Colleen’s family will understand the situation, or that they will even be healthy enough or alive to receive it? I took Ms. Ciradh from a plague, a blight upon her land and people, and from the looks of things I don’t know if there was any family left." Colleen’s good mood crashed. She picked up the skirts of her opulet gown and disappeared into the TARDIS interior, tears welling up in her bright eyes. "Now, why’d you go and do that?" Russell asked in a huff, confronting the Doctor. "It’s just plain honesty, Mr. Garamond," the Doctor didn’t take his eyes off the console, "You’ll have to master it, you know, being a married man and all." "Like you’d know anything about marriage," Russell scoffed. The Doctor looked up with a twinkle in his eye. "Don’t I?" Russell cocked an eyebrow. "You were married? To who? To…what?" "Myself," the Doctor quipped, picking his jacket off the back of the chair and tossing it cavalierly over a shoulder, "A female version of me from another dimension." "You can’t be serious!" "Can’t I?" Russell sat down near the console with a sigh, a slight smile growing on his features. "Well, it’d be the only girl you’d ever be happy with." The Doctor stopped momentarily, as if he’d heard something along that line before. He shook away the cobwebs of a thousand year memory and turned to Russell. "Well played, Mr. Garamond. Might I suggest," he leaned on the console in front of the gangly Earth surgeon, "You go find you betrothed and invite her to see your family? Certainly they’re not all starving on yellow meal. Where did they live again? Illness, Eleanor…" "Illinois, Doctor," Russell stood up and looked down on the Strange Man, "And that’s a good idea." He flicked his fingers at the Doctor’s forehead, knocking the flat, tan porkpie back. "That hat looks ridiculous, you know." The Doctor fumbled to set it back right on his head. "Bah, like I’d trust a human to give me fashion advice…and an American, at that!" Laughing, Russell made his way to the door leading into the TARDIS, calling over his shoulder. "I don’t suppose you know some fantastic wedding planet we could hit up?" "Not for humans, I’m afraid," the Doctor said back, "Though I’d gladly stay for an Earth wedding, provided you don’t take too long." "Not likely," Russell said as he opened the door, "I went to Britain to get away from my crazy family." And with that, he was gone back inside, leaving the Doctor to slump into the chair Russell had recently vacated. "Marriage…marriage between a cyber-girl…and an American. This universe still finds ways to surprise me." He sat up then, and steepled his fingers, a thought rushing into his head. "Yes," he mused, "marriage seems to be all the fuss today, doesn’t it? Well, I’d better get out of this tuxedo." He made his way to the interior door, muttering as he went that he’d have to get it cleaned. How lovely to hear the sound of his voice again! It took some of the sting away from not knowing the Abbot’s face…which he should have, blast it all… perhaps his old age is finally catching up to him… As he went to reach for the door, the aperture blew open unexpectedly with a wind that seemed to come from the very inside of the TARDIS itself. The mysterious wind was sufficient enough to blow the tan porkpie off the Doctor’s head, and as he turned to look after it, he noticed a strange sight: his old porkpie, the one in chocolate brown, his Christmas present, bouncing merrily down the interior corridor in his direction. As the second hat finally rolled to a stop at his feet, the Doctor picked up it, dusted it off, and slapped it on his head with a smile. He entered the TARDIS interior, chuckling and patting the walls fondly. "Oh, all right, all right, if you isist… you sentimental old thing!"
The tunnel was dark. with nary a torch on the wall to light the way. The Doctor reached into one of his pockets and pulled out the sonic screwdriver, which lit into a a pocket-torch with a click of his fingers. The catacomb passage seem to go forever downward and forward, until one began to wonder if the Doctor would reach the very center of the silent planet. The blue light shone eerily through the tunnel as the Doctor went on, periodically looking back to make sure he wasn’t being silently followed. Thankfully, it looked as if the muscular monk had his hands full with an entire marketful of angry patrons, and no doubt he would be forbidden to enter such a sacred place even if it were to retrieve an intruder. Just as planned. The Doctor’s foot suddenly felt cold, and he threw light onto the floor. His foot had stepped into a small puddle of water, and past this nadir the tunnel began to slope upward. Apparently, they could go no lower. The Doctor shook a few drops off his two-tone spectator shoes and headed upwards, wondering about the seemingly shoddy craftsmanship of this tunnel. Everything else on this planet seemed to be put together without space for a knifeblade between stones, and yet this tunnel seemed put together by amateurs. It wasn’t straight in any regard, up or down, right or left, even the ground itself was uneven. He began to wonder just exactly who had put this tunnel together, and whether or not he was on the right path, when he came to a wall that seemed to be made of shifting gray sand. The Doctor tried his first option: the sonic screwdriver. The sand wouldn’t budge. With a shrug, he tucked the gleaming screwdriver into his breast pocket and adopted a thinking posture: one elbow cradled in one hand, with the previous hand drumming distractedly on his lips. He attempted some of his trademark intellectual babbling, but forgetting this was a silent planet, he eventually shut his mouth into a scowl and put his hands on his hips. He tapped his foot on the uneven stones, but was robbed of the angry tapping sound he had hoped for. Finally, after going through a myriad of options in his subspace pockets (a couple of keys, a rubber chicken, chewing gum, playing the spoons, and even stabbing the wall with a rapier), the rippling sand began to show pockmarks and pinpricks. First one, then several, then what seemed like millions all over the wall, until finally words could be made out in the cascade. "You wish to enter?" The Doctor gave the wall an exasperated look and nodded sarcastically. "To enter, one must answer this riddle:" The Doctor cocked an eyebrow to express this new ridiculousness. Surely these sort of things only occured in children’s stories! "Tell me, you who seeks to enter the inner sanctum of Vaientaa… how do you say ‘silence’ in your language?" The Doctor lowered his eyebrows and attempted a snort. He made a gesture, flicking his fingers in front of his lips and sticking out his tongue. "Do not worry. Speak, and I will hear it." The Doctor heaved a sigh and rolled his eyes. This had better be worth it, he thought. He crossed his arms and spoke a silent word. There were a few moments before the reply came. "We hang liars on Vaientaa, you know," the wall spelled out. The Doctor stood firm and expressively mouthed: "Try me." "Are you him?" the wall asked, "finally, after all this time?" The Doctor fumbled for his psychic paper and held it in front of the wall. After a few moments, the wall "spoke" again. "It has been a long time…Doctor." The Doctor shrugged. Time is relative, after all. The sand melted away, grain by grain, until a stone archway was revealed. Beyond the archway was a tiny antechamber, spartan in all things save a simple table and chairs. Three homemade shelves held self-canned foods and a few earthen jugs of water. At the table sat a creature, much like the others of Vaientaa, robed all in black. The Doctor stood and watched for a few moments as the black cloaked figure took drink under his cowl. Near the wine goblet and the bottle (which held the wine, of course) there appeared to be a candle on a simple brass holder… but the flame was red and never wavered. It cast a red sphere in a small radius around the table, and it wasn’t until the black cloaked figure spoke that the Doctor realized it must have been a sonic inhibitor. "You broke my present, Doctor." The voice that came from under the cowl was that of an older gentleman, but not frail, not weary. It was a voice that sounded friendly, paternal, almost… familiar. The Doctor jumped a bit at hearing his first voice since that awful scream. He made to respond autmatically, but checked himself after a few words. He straightened his bowtie and stepped a few paces into the red light, coughing experimentally and delighting in finally hearing sound from his mouth. He had missed it so. "A thousand pardons, Abbot…" The cowl shot upright as the Doctor grinned. "Yes, I know who you are. No one else on this planet would have been able to access that kind of technology," he waggled a finger at the inhibitor, "without serious repercussions. As for the psychic paper…" He waved it around a bit and put it back in his pocket. "It saved my life, so I hope you don’t mind my ‘breaking’ it." "Which life was that, Doctor?" the Abbot replied, his voice seeming to smile. "You remember. The one I first met you in. Big ears, leather jacket, tried to act all tough…" "Ah yes…a strange accent on that one…" "You should talk," the Doctor fired back. What was that accent, anyway? The Abbot exhaled with happiness. "It is nice to see you again… friend." "Likewise, friend," the Doctor took a few more steps forward and placed a hand on the Abbot’s shoulder, "though I wish it could have been under more pleasant circumstances… why fake your own death?" "The answer to that…" the Abbot stood up and began to walk within the radius, "is very complicated." "I travel in time and…" the Doctor made to follow him, but managed to step out of the radius of the inhibitor. His word "space" was lost to the silence of Vaientaa. With a grimace, he ducked back into the red light, picking up where he left off. "Time and space. You couldn’t confuse me if you tried." "Can’t I?" the Abbot pawed at the heel of his cowl, and was tempted, just for a moment, to whisk it off. He thought better. "I came to Vaientaa seventy-five years ago," he began, "You met me on my Silver Jubillee, I suppose you could say…" "Oh, and what a feast there was!" the Doctor almost giggled at that. "I hope you appreciated both your meals within our Great Hall," the Abbot moved back to the table, "Can I offer you a drink? It’s a Fanx wine…I know how fond you are of them. Excellent vintage…" "What would a monk like you know of wine vintages?" "It’s 2244 of the Green Aeon, Doctor," the Abbot mentioned and watched the Doctor nearly swallow his tongue, "I’ve been saving it for this day, the day I finally saw you again in the banquet…and your companions." "That wine’s priceless!" the Doctor paid the Abbot’s secondary comments no heed, "It’s almost a crime to drink it! How could you have known…" "I had a life, Doctor," the Abbot sat down and caressed the bottle fondly, "before I became a monk of Vaientaa." "And decided to encite a bleeding riot at your own anniversary!" the Doctor blustered, "Creatures, citizens of the cosmos are dead above us, does that not bother you?" "It is the way of things," the Abbot curled long fingers around the bottle’s neck, "You of all people should know that." "But it doesn’t mean I have to like it!" the Doctor flung his flattened porkpie hat onto the table, noticing its taupe color for the first time, "Why, Abbot, why?" "Are you sure you won’t have any wine?" the Abbot turned to look at him with an obscured face, "Or perhaps, some of that magically warm tea you keep in your ever-deep pockets?" The Doctor was flabbergasted. "How could you… I know the monks here are vaguely…but…that’s so…" "Trivial?" the Abbot chuckled, "Amazing. You rail against galactic genocide, yet you are rendered a babbling fool by the most trivial matters." The Doctor shut his mouth audibly and reached into his pockets. After a few seconds of rummaging, he pulled a collapsible director’s-style chair out of his right pants pocket, unfurled it, and sat down next to the Abbot. "I don’t have a second cup, Doctor…" The Doctor snatched a collapsible one from inside his jacket. "As I expected," the Abbot filled the cup with wine, "Always prepared." "Yes, I’m just a regular Boy Scout," the Doctor droned, "Now tell me why you faked your death or I’ll clout you with that very expensive wine bottle, something I’d rather not do." The Abbot laughed this time, a laugh from the guts, a good, long laugh. "Oh, I haven’t laughed like that in ages! Watching comedies with captions is only so funny, after all." "I’m rather fond of Mister Keaton, myself," the Doctor smiled, sipping from his cup and savoring the flavor. The Abbot leaned back in his chair. "No longer raging, Doctor?" "Well, between this wine," the Doctor smacked his lips, "and the knowledge I have that my frustration only pleases you further…I decided to practice a bit of that old Vaientaa kindness." "Oh, now it’s no more fun!" the Abbot seemed to pout, before pouring another round, "very well." "About time," the Doctor smirked, taking his second glass. The Abbot took a drink and began his tale. "I faked my death to shock the people of Vaientaa, and all in attendance. Time, I believe you once told me, is like a bead on a string. Without any outside interference, the bead will stay in its place and nothing will become of it. Should something disastrous happen to it, it will swing wildly to and fro and, depending on the direction of the force, it will move relatively backwards or forwards." The Doctor felt he had to interrupt. "But I also said that the swaying from left and right cause ridiculous group think and far-reaching reforms that will cripple a society!" "Not on Vaientaa, Doctor," the Abbot put down his glass with an audible thunk, "this planet, this world is so dedicated to its rituals that such a shocking event will only move the bead forward on the line, as it is held on a straight course by dogma and belief. This I know, for I have instilled it in my monks. My death will do precisely what I want it to do: with no killer ever found, and no logical path of blame, the monks will instead blame themselves, and strive to reform their ways." "You’re awfully manipulative for a monk," The Doctor sniggered. "I learned from the best," the Abbot sniggered back, "Do you remember, we discussed this back when you visited me, fifty of my years ago?" "Sorry," the Doctor pulled a face, "A lot’s happened since then." "Understandable. And you were so different back then," the Abbot drummed his gangly fingers on the rim of his goblet, "so violent, so angry. Full of the wrath of what you had to do to end that terrible Time War…" "I was sknnier, too," the Doctor said sourly, trying to change the subject. "But we spoke of stagnancy, Doctor," the Abbot then folded his hands in front of him, "We spoke of the dangers of stagnancy that doomed your race. And we agreed that this collective, the monks at Vaientaa, would soon grow stagnant as well. They would grow preoccupied with their fundraisers and feasts, their marketplaces and money… they would lose sight of their true purpose, that of finding God and the true meaning of the universe!" "Good luck," the Doctor scoffed and beckoned for another cup of wine, "I’ve been farther than anyone in the universe, and I’ve still got no idea." "Your life is loud, Doctor. As it should be. For me, for us, the true pursuit of ultimate knowledge must be carried out in silence, free from distractions and the warped messages that have befallen us here. True silence, the only path to true knowledge." "Then you can have it, friend," the Doctor smiled. "I plan to," the Abbot replied, "I will be leaving Vaientaa soon, to one of the isolated moons of the Rasz system. There, I will find complete and utter silence and solitude where I can truly contemplate the meaning of life–" "The universe, and everything," the Doctor cut him off with a scoff, "been there, read the book. I can’t see why anyone would want that…" "I made a promise, Doctor," the Abbot’s voice was suddenly heavy with emotion, "To my wife, at the end of her days, that I would take up her work, that I would believe, and that I would find the answers. She lived a good, long life…several of them, actually… and it was through her that I was made to believe. There must be something out there, Doctor, because of all the cosmic chances in the universe… I was given her." There was a long silence as they both sat and drank. Finally, the Abbot had to ask it. "Do you… believe, Doctor?" The Doctor looked at him over the rim of his glass. "There was a very smart man, once… an Earthling, if you can believe it… who said that the best argument for their being a God was that there comes a time where science cannot understand everything." He set the glass down with a wistful, far-off gaze. "I feel obligated to concur." "It is excellent to hear that, my old friend," the Abbot sighed and leaned back again, "Tell me, do you want another psychic paper?" "I’m afraid not," the Doctor scowled, "once word got out I was using it, every nasty fellow in the galaxy started taking psychic training. Thank goodness deadlock seals are expensive, or this would just be a gussied-up penlight." He waggled the sonic screwdriver in front of the Abbot and set it down with a huff. "I envy you, Abbot, I really do… to think that the monks will be set back on the straight and narrow, to think the psychic paper would work forever… but then again I suppose that’s why we always got along. Your idiotic optimism was a nice foil for my…erm…" "Rampant pessimism?" "I’m old, I’m entitled to it," the Doctor pulled a wry face, "Is there any more wine left?" "I’m afraid we’ve emptied it all. What a pity," the Abbot said with a sigh, "Still, good friends and good memories are the perfect companion for a good wine." "I was hoping for a bit of cammenbert, myself," the Doctor said dryly. He stood up from the table and made to shake the Abbot’s hand. "Well, both my curiosity and my palette have been sated, and I suppose you have a rocket to catch." The Abbot stood and shook his hand with those gangly fingers. They seemed almost…human… "Indeed, Doctor. I fear I will not see you again–" "Oh, never say never," the Doctor chuckled. The Abbot drew in a heavy breath that shuddered with emotion. He sighed in a way that suggested he was on the verge of tears. "Yes…" the Doctor actually heard him sniff, "Never say never." "Are you all right?" "Oh, it’s just allergies," the Abbot waved a dismissive hand, "All the dust down here, you know." "Mm-hmmm," the Doctor cocked an eyebrow, "I’m the same way with aspirin, confidentially. Does beastly things to my system. Make sure you do something about that then, eh?" The Doctor waggled a finger in the Abbot’s obscured face. The head monk chuckled and nodded. "I know my way around a bit of medicine, I’ll be all right." "See that you do. I’ll have to come and visit you, ruin all your silence and fun. I’ll search every moon of Rasz til I find you, you know!" "I know, I know…" the Abbot’s voice was still sad, "Here, let me guide you back to the monastery…the easy way. The Abbot pulled one jar (that looked surprisingly like a jar of Branston Pickle) and it clicked in place, letting part of the far wall slide away. The Abbot then pressed the top of the jar, and with a little pop the cascading sand returned to the adjacent arch. The Abbot picked up the sonic inhibitor and lead the Doctor through the secret door into another even smaller room, where an elevator waited. "Quite modern for a room of stone and dust," the Doctor mused. "Modern for some, commonplace for others," the Abbot lead the Doctor into the elevator, which thankfully only had one button. The Doctor stood inside the box, and the Abbot on the outside, as they said their goodbyes. The Abbot made a theatrical gesture to what was probably his temple with his free hand and said in a mysterious voice. "You’ll find your companions near the garden on the northeast side of the monastery." The Doctor gave the Abbot a skeptical look. "Did you… see that?" "The Abbot reached inside the elevator and pressed the button, drawing his long arm back before the door could catch it. The Doctor swore he heard the Abbot smile. "Why don’t you go and see? Goodbye, Doctor." "Goodbye, friend." The elevator door closed with a gentle ding and, in a few seconds, the Doctor was gone, upwards and onwards. The Abbot stood there until he could hear the whirring machinery no longer, then heaved another heavy sigh. He reached down to the candle shaped sonic inhibitor, allowing himself only two wistful words before relegating himself to silence forevermore. "The garden…" He turned out the light, and all was black and gray and white…and silent… until the end of his days.
Russell looked to his left. The Doctor was nowhere to be found. He looked to his right, where a terrified Colleen Ciradh gripped his arm like death. All around him were aliens of all shapes, sizes, colours and types of existence milling about in a riotous mass. A large contingency of large green skinned beasts jostled their gelatinous bodies into place to be the first out the door, while a group of tiny sentient beetle creatures scuttled by under the anti-gravity litters that held the green blobs aloft. Ten foot tall behemoths stepped over willowy sprites as a mass panic pushed for the only way out of the room. All around were agonized and terrified faces, and there was no telling how many other strange alien beings were being trampled underfoot. With the sonic damper in place, you couldn’t hear them cry for help. Russell saw the crush at the door and realized that there was no way Colleen and he would be able to exit any time soon. He looked instead to the far corner of the banquet hall, where several of the monks were still trying to stabilize their leader. Feeling his Hippocratic Oath welling up inside him, Russell resolved to help in any way he could. He grasped Colleen by her narrow wrist and walked away from the bedlam to where the Abbot lay. Immediately, he began apprising the situation: the wound would have been fatal to a human, but there was a firm chance that human physiology would not be an issue here. The blood seemed thick, thicker than human blood, and at the rate he was bleeding out, it had to have been dangerous, no matter what the species. Something major must have been ruptured, but he would have to get inside those black robes to truly find out… One of the monks angrily slapped his hand away as he moved to the Abbot’s garments. It made several angry movements with its hands that probably meant Russell was not wanted. Russell rummaged about in his trousers and produced his medical identification. Unfortunately, his Earth ID wasn’t written on psychic paper, so the monk only gave him a frustrated and quizzical gesture. He tried pointing to the word "Doctor" several times, and to the red cross, but nothing seemed to work. Russell remembered the Doctor mentioning in passing that in the galaxy at large, a hospital was signified by three crescent moons… Wait… the Doctor! Where had that daft bastard gone?
Vaientaa was a monastery planet, but even monastery planets needed sources of income. The Doctor, still in his immaculate tuxedo, was browsing one of the markets that dotted the planet’s surface. Monks stood behind stalls hawking various wares, from fresh-baked hearth bread to treatises published on the nature of God and the universe, to audio recordings of pure, unadulterated and authentic "Vainetaa Silence." The Doctor, however, was no in the mood to shop for loaves of bread or tureens of soup in varying shades of gray. He was looking for the Abbot’s killer. Something was not right. He had had this feeling before. In all his travels since the Time War, he had been given the ability to tell when the laws of time and space were in flux: when they could be bent, when they could be broken, and when everything needed to return to the status quo. It could have been called a sixth sense, but that would be almost insulting to a Time Lord, whose senses often stretch into the double digits. It was only in the most dire of circumstances that his senses had been shuttered, or put askew… or when the Doctor simply felt like paying them no heed. After all, he was hardly a normal Time Lord, and as such couldn’t be expected to always act as such. The market was nearly empty today, which made sense, given both the circumstances of the feast and the murder of the Abbot. What few monks that were to be seen were huddled in the corners of their booths, crying silent tears and flagellating themselves in the vain hope that their pain might somehow save their leader. The Doctor approached one distraught stall, selling hats, and began to look them up and down. A small monk, obviously a child of the stall-tenders, tottered up to him and tugged a black-gloved hand on the hem of his jacket. The Doctor looked down and smiled, patting the little silent creature on its head, which made the black robe wriggle with delight. He browsed through the hats until he found a flat, old-fashioned porkpie, almost a skimmer, and plopped it lopsidedly on his head. He showed it to the little one, who seemed to appreciate it. The Doctor crouched down with a mysterious look on his face, and reached behind the little monk’s to produce a shining silver coin through sleight of hand, delighting the child even further. The parents came to sweep their children away, casting scathing gestures at the Doctor, who merely flipped them the coin and scratched at his scalp under the new hat. Where to begin?
Russell and Colleen exited the hall after everyone else. In fact, they were fairly shoved out by angry monks. Left to wander the halls of the monastery alone, they found it particularly awkward. Colleen had always been quiet, but it was now, when they couldn’t speak, that Russell wished she would more than ever before. Eventually the white stone walls became supremely boring, so the two found one of the many doors that lead out of the massive structure. Upon opening the heavy wooden door (which Russell would have been happy to hear squeak on its hinges) they found themselves in a massive garden that seemed to go on forever: there seemed to be no floor, but instead a thick carpet of moss and ferns,the walls seemed to be nothing but ivy and creeper and morning glory, and the flowers, trees, bushes and thickets seemed to carry on beyond the realm of human comprehension. Had it not been solely in black and white, Russell feared his heart may have burst from the view. Colleen took this as a chance to show some initiative herself, dragging Russell by his thin wrists over to a small stone bench under a ashen willow tree. The bench was immaculate, with not a spot of moss on it, obviously by design it was the only thing within eyesight not covered in verdant splendour. The American doctor and the Irish peasant girl sat on the bench and looked out at the beautiful sight, both feeling their hearts pounding in their chests, but not able to hear their beating. Colleen slumped over onto Russell’s shoulder, and he felt her exhale peacefully, gently laying her hand near his collarbone. Russell, trying not to jostle his precious charge, reached over and plucked a snow-white rose from a nearby bramble, tucking it securely behind one of Colleen’s freckled ears. The black gown, her colorless, yet expressive eyes and tumbling expanse of hair… it was all Russell could do to keep from kissing her. After all, she was partially cybernetic, what could he possibly have to offer her? No, kissing her now would only complicate things, best to leave the tender moment alone. Then he started thinking about Billy Joel songs. About halfway through the second verse of "And So It Goes," Colleen got tired of waiting for Russell’s mental iPod to run out of songs. She rose up, grabbed him by the lapels, and hauled him into her for a simple, yet passionate kiss.
On the other side of the massive monastery, the Doctor had already caused his share of trouble, with no solving of the case in sight. After purchasing the hat, he attempted to buy some chocolate from the next booth over. No one would serve him, so he decided to serve himself. This lead to some more angry gestures, but the chocolate was good so the Doctor took another three pieces and walked off. He munched on them happily, shaking his head in bemusement at the ridiculous actions of the grievers. Really, if the Abbot truly was dead (and the Doctor highly doubted that he was) there was no way mutilating yourself was going to bring him back. No, the Doctor did not believe the Abbot was dead, for the simple reason that no one really seemed to want him dead. Vaientaa was a secluded group of extremists who made good food, but rarely upset anyone. There seemed to be no point in someone coming all the way here just to stuff themselves and stab someone. Unless, of course… someone had a more emotional motive behind the murder…and in that case, how does one get into an emotional relationship with someone who does not speak? Apparently, by taking some chocolate. The Doctor’s actions had not been appreciated at the stall, and now a rather angry looking alien chocolatier had come barreling out from behind that stall to make him pay the balance, so to speak. He was a large, but not particularly muscular creature, who had a face like a rabbit and ears like a Great Dane, and great, tough fingers that smeared cocoa dust on the Doctor’s jacket every time. The Doctor, a little incredulous, brushed the cocoa off his front and handed back the chocolate he hadn’t yet eaten. As the cook turned his back, though, the Doctor began pulling faces at him, which (as he could turn his neck 180 degrees) the cook immediately saw and, in a rage, threw the bag of sweets at the Doctor, who swiftly ducked and sent the chocolate sailing into the face of a spindly looking bead merchant across the way. The bead merchant, a spidery looking thing, kicked up its ten legs and began to accost the chocolatier until the two began a fist-fight. The Doctor, who had lost his hat while ducking, innocently slunk away to retrieve his chapeau while the fight continued. Oddly enough, one of the beetle creatures had crawled under the porkpie and was now marching it away down a gray cobblestone street, providing the Doctor with more grief as he chased the thing around the market: under tables, around tent poles, upsetting displays, and causing more than one alien merchant to trip and fall into a compromising position with another alien merchant of another gender, leading to more bedlam. Finally, the hat (and the alien) leaped onto a wall and began climbing up into the monastery. The Doctor followed in hot pursuit, but the bug crawled quickly, and the Time Lord got a face full of white brick wall instead. Finally done with the game, the Doctor pointed his sonic screwdriver at the hat, which froze and fell into his outstretched palm, beetle inside. With a look of disdain, the Doctor picked the beetle out of the hat, flicked it into a nearby display of table linens, and did his best to clean the hat out. When he had it cleaned to his liking, he popped the thing back on his head at a jaunty angle, and turned from the wall only to see half the marketplace glaring at him, the source of today’s strife…as far as they knew. Another hectic chase followed, with the Doctor on point being chased by all sorts of bizarre, otherworldly beasts. He managed to get the spidery bead merchant wrapped around a tent pole with some quick footwork, and the large chocolatier wound up tripping over a banana the Doctor found, still fresh, in one of his endless jacket pockets. The fruit of the banana? Smashed into the face of a particularly sour looking resident of Javrax III to aid his escape. Round and round they went: the Doctor ducking, dodging, leaping, falling, rolling, and yet still keeping ahead of the mob, eventually losing them before heading down a particularly dark and foreboding alley. The Doctor gulped, hitched up his trousers, set his porkpie on straight, and headed down, coming face to face with the largest, most muscular monk of Vaientaa he had ever seen. Instead of a flowing robe, he wore a tight, black unitard and an executioner’s hood, making him look particularly menacing, but still bearing the mark of Vaientaa. Hearing the mob grow closer, the Doctor tried reasoning with him through signs: the massive monk shook his head severely at every one. Finally, in a desperate move, the Doctor signaled his two eyes by placing his fore and middle finger in front of them. He then pivoted his wrist to claim that he had two eyes. When prompted, the massive monk folded his gigantic arms and sighed. Satisfied enough, the Doctor, with a few bits of flourish, pointed to the monk’s eyes, making a similar gesture. The monk, now peeved by the little man, nodded irritably that yes, he did have two eyes, what of it? The Doctor responded by poking the monk directly in his eyes, and ducking past him as the mob entered the corridor and tried to enter. The massive monk, in a rage, laid into the mob until not a one was left standing, and the Doctor was scot free, scurrying down the corridor into the very bowels of the monastery, and the heart of the mystery.
And what a feast it was. Russell had never seen such a collection of food. Fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, beverages, desserts and a few things he wasn’t sure how to classify; all in as many different patterns and configurations and recipes, all smelling of absolute heaven, and all tasting like nothing he had ever had before. His Hippocratic Oath be damned, Russell swore that he’d keep eating whatever it was he was eating, whether it be animal, vegetable, mineral, opiate, former housepet, or anything else. He’d always heard the Doctor go on and on about the different foods and drinks of the galaxies, and as a rule he’d been polite and sampled a few, but nothing really seemed to supplant his childhood memories of Gulliver’s pizza or Al’s Italian Beef, or even the delicacies of Chinatown. Perhaps that made him a yokel as far as intergalactic cuisine was concerned, but he didn’t care…until he had eaten from the Tisina banquet spread. It did take some getting used to, eating without sound or color, but Russell found that the food more than made up for it. As an added bonus, his belches and groans of ecstasy were completely unheard, allowing him full animal enjoyment of the meal. He hadn’t eaten like this since college, it was like his stomach had no end. Perhaps color makes food more filling, he thought, but it really didn’t seem to matter. He ascribed colors to food as he ate anyway: a roasted creature that tasted like beef was red, whereas the four-legged fowl he consumed he dubbed a roasted golden brown. The desserts were a cavalcade of color within his own imagination, and it was through this that Russell felt a freedom he thought he had forgotten long ago. His imagined world in the Earth-wide cyberspace had fallen apart, been insubstantial, but this…this was here and now, and this was real. He glanced to either side of him, and immediately felt a pig. Colleen was delicately picking apart her meal, methodically yet hungrily as her plate was fairly heaped with all manner of grayscale delights. To his left, the Doctor was taking a different tack, only taking one piece or serving at a time, fully cleaning his plate, then moving to another. His table manners were equally impeccable, and his name tag on the table was displaying food critiques and revelry so fast that Russell couldn’t manage to read it. Feeling more than a little ashamed, Russell dabbed the corners of his mouth on a napkin and returned to more sensible eating. He had run out of Rolling Stones songs, he was halfway through the Beatles. Each time a platter was emptied, another was brought out. It was as if the food never ended. Finally, in the second chorus of "Octopus’ s Garden" Russell had had enough. He leaned back and tried to moan, but naturally no sound came out. Instead, he simply tried best to meter his breathing. He wouldn’t have to eat for a week, maybe longer. Soon after, the Doctor pushed his plate away and, as Colleen has finished some time before, the strange man beckoned for a monk to come by and clean the table. Then, finally, with their meal done, the trio sipped on their aperitif and relaxed in absolute silence. The silence was something Russell was not at all accustomed to: he had started life in the countryside, but soon move inwards, closer to Chicago, and the silence had died there. From Chicago it was off to Cambridge and the study of medicine, and then it was at his job in London. There was his first wife, and Lord knows she never kept quiet, and then there was the constant hustle and bustle of the emergency room, the trauma ward, or anywhere else his scalpel and hands were needed. Then one day, he met that strange little man and, well… things certainly weren’t quiet with him around. But this… This wasn’t the quiet Russell remembered from his childhood. The quiet in the country is a quiet of blowing wind and rustling grass, there was no such noise here at Vaientaa. To put it simply, there was nothing. Complete and utter silence. The planetwide sonic damper made sure that no sound was emitted and, coming from Earth, it was not something Russell was used to in the slightest. He tried to remember the last time he heard utter silence, and he couldn’t. Morseo, he found the presence of utter silence to be rather upsetting. He couldn’t even hear the beat of his own heart or the rush of his blood in his ears, which is something he always thought he’d be able to know. Even the songs he kept playing in his mind weren’t really sounds, but rather memories of sounds, and it was almost as if they existed in spite of themselves, that he was creating a playlist to keep his ears from being unoccupied. Perhaps, he thought, in utter silence…a human being might go mad? He’ll have to study that when he got back to Earth. And then he though of Earth. His life. His practice. Did he do the right thing, leaving the squalor and iniquity behind? Sure, his life had gotten better, but how many innocent people did he condemn because he removed himself from that time? Was he supposed to? Would some other surgeon take his place? Time was strange like that, especially when you find yourself removed from it. Russell beckoned for another monk to come and fill his glass as he tried to summon up the word to "O-bla-di, O-bla-da," but instead could only think of the melancholy strains from "Yesterday," and "Something." He resolved he didn’t like this silence of Vaientaa.
Something in the way she moves Attracts me like no other lover Something in the way she woos me
And then there was Colleen. What could Russell do? He couldn’t help it that he loved her, and he couldn’t help resenting himself a bit for being so selfish. What was love to her, when half of her body was no longer human? What was love when she couldn’t have children? What was love when she still woke up screaming one night out of five because the cybernetic devices in her brain programmed her terrible nightmares? No person was meant to live like that: half a loving, feeling human, and the other an emotionless machine. It tore Russell apart that, for all his medical knowledge, there was nothing he could do other than simply be there, and even that was not enough. She was silent, most of the time, awfully silent, horribly silent, because she didn’t know what would happen if she spoke, or laughed, or cried, or loved…Russell resolved that he hated that silence, too. He was brought out of his reverie by a simple copper American penny clattering silently on the table in front of him. He glanced at his wristwatch: it had only been a few minutes since the plates had been swept away, but it had felt like hours of pondering and thinking. Again, this silence… it allowed for so much thought, but the thought seemed so unwanted. The Doctor held up the nametag at his seat. "Penny for your thoughts?" The strange man cocked an eyebrow. Russell sighed, but it felt empty when he couldn’t hear it. He looked at his own card, which was listing a myriad of problems. He concentrated his gaze until a final sentiment appeared, which he showed the Doctor. "It’s a little weird." The Doctor smiled and raised his glass. Russell did likewise and, at a nudge from the Doctor, had Colleen do the same. All three shared a silent toast. Suddenly, the psychic paper at their places began to display a blinking message. "Please return to your seats and remain. Father Abbot wishes to address the assembled." Russell didn’t understand how anyone could have been able to tear themselves away from the fabulous food, but a few stragglers found their way back to the seats. Finally, all of the black-cloaked monks came to the center of the room and stood in two parallel lines. Through the high doors of the banquet hall walked another figure in black: this one was taller than the others, and seemed to compose itself with a grace that was straddled comic and reverent. The entire scene, robbed of all sound, could very well have looked like Keystone Capers, with monks whizzing this way and that to prepare the way for their abbot. If one had fallen down, Russell may not have been able to keep from laughing. Slowly but surely, with quiet, dignified grace that seemed undermined by the scurrying underlings, the Abbot made his way through the giant banquet hall, the way constantly cleared and each step monitored. The Abbot was at the far end of the elongated dining hall when he turned around, his face obscured like all the others. He unfolded his arms and words began to trickle onto the table cards: "Greetings, all, and welcome. Welcome to our celebration of Tisina, the most sacred time for the monks of Vaientaa. During the time of Tisina, our planet’s three moons will pass in front of our three suns, and the entire world will be plunged into darkness. It is during that time, when all sight and sound is lost, that we shall truly worship, without pretense or agenda, in hopes of answering the questions of the universe. The generous donations given here tonight will further our cause and our research in the hopes that we may someday truly come to know and understand what is in control of the universe or reality. To some, it is a loving God. To others, a Great Consciousness. We on Vaientaa call Him Cisza. Thank you for allowing us to continue our most Holy of enterprises, and thank you for believing in our methods and purpose. We will not subjugate God, we will not seek to defeat the Great Consciousness, we do not seek to even see Cisza, simply to understand. Now, my newfound friends, the time draws nigh. Let us glance upon the perfect, serene grace of Tisina." The Abbot tilted his head up, and the crowd did likewise. In a trice, the bright, white ceilings seemed to dissolve, and the candles to snuff themselves, giving them a shockingly clear vision of the sky. The three moons Russell had seen earlier, impossibly large, made their way to the sky’s zenith, where three suns burned white hot and glaring to the eye. With each passing moment, the moons grew closer and closer, causing shadows to fall bit by bit. Russell tore his gaze away for a brief moment and saw shadow ebbing and flowing like water, closing over the entire assembled gathering, the entire world. He began to worry, to panic, but he saw the Doctor standing, firm and unbothered, and took heart. At last, the three moons covered the three suns and Tisina had come. There was no light. There was no sound. There was only thought. Russell Garamond was not a religious man. He had seen far too many dead children, far too many young women with inoperable tumors and gurgling toddlers, far too many amputees with dreams of running marathons and morbidly obese men with no regard for their own health. He was not entirely convinced that a God even existed, no matter the name. He had spoken with Colleen on this many times, and her resolve had been unswerving. At one point, Russell had snapped and asked why a kind and loving God had done what happened to her, to which she replied that her hardships granted her the ability to meet him. They didn’t speak for a week after, and Russell was still not convinced. Yet still, in that world where nothing could be seen or heard, where he had run out of peppy pop songs to sing in his head, and he was sure that no one, save God, if He even existed, could see or hear…he prayed. He prayed for safety of his friends, and his family, even his harpy of an ex-wife. He did not ask for his own salvation, or even his own protection, but rather that if something was up there, they would take care of those he cared about, even if it meant his life. He would have waited for a response, but the blood-curdling shriek ruined whatever spiritual moment he was having. It came out of nowhere, cutting through the sonic damper like a dentist’s drill in one’s ear, shattering everything that had been at once mystical and interesting about the planet of silence. The scream, heard in the dark and impossible to trace, was like a lance through the stomach to everyone who heard it, and everyone did hear it. There were several tense, agonizing moment where no one could do anything but wait for the moons to recede. Russell felt Colleen’s hand desperately groping for his, and he held it tight. The scream, it seems, had shaken everyone to the core. Finally, the moons began to depart, and light returned to Vaientaa. Russell saw, but did not hear, monks from all over the room scurry to the far corner. The sound had been shut off again, but he could see several faces in the audience, alien faces, humanoid faces, all contorted into masks of grief that would have looked ridiculous and silly if the Abbot was not lying on the polished marble floor, a knife in his back, black blood spilling onto the tiles. The once sumptuous feast turned to lead in Russell’s stomach, and ashes in his mouth.
The three stepped out of the TARDIS onto immaculate, polished floors of white that gleamed like marble. In fact, all around them was white, gleaming white, almost surgical. Massive, fluted columns shot up to a dizzying height, forming an Gothic alabaster canopy above their heads. Looking down, the hallways seemed to stretch on forever in similar endless white and, looking closer still, it appeared that they: Russell Garamond, Colleen Ciradh, and the strange man known as the Doctor, were all represented by black, white, and varying shades of gray. Russell whirled around to look at the TARDIS, convinced that the old, familiar time machine would be its customary blue hue, but alas, it to was gray. As Russell turned back around, he noticed Colleen having much the same reaction. Russell opened his mouth to ask the Doctor exactly what was going on.
No words came out.
It wasn’t that Russell couldn’t breathe, or couldn’t feel the proper apparatus in his throat make the sounds for speaking, it was just…silent. As if all the sound was smothered out of the world and, try as he might, Russell wouldn’t be able to change that. He felt himself yell, stamp his feet, even bang on the TARDIS door… but still, nothing. No sound, and no color.
Just what was going on here?
He made his way to the Doctor, who was now several paces down the hall, in hopes of uncovering the answer. Forcibly, if necessary. Before he had a chance to get a hand on the portly man, the Doctor threw up an index finger with a look of mild aggravation. Russell stopped in his tracks, for no other reason than he had seen what havoc the Doctor could wreak with that hand before. A simple finger might paralyze him. Using his free hand, with the other still outstretched, the Doctor began digging into the pocket of the tuxedo jacket he was wearing. They were all dressed to the nines, the Doctor had promised them a sumptuous banquet. His words, not Russell’s.
The Doctor dug and dug into the pocket, deeper and deeper, far past his wrist and gaining on his elbow, which would have seemed patently impossible if it was not the Doctor. His face told an entire story:
no, not that one
not what I’m looking for
oh, I thought I’d lost that!
might use that later…
I really should fix that one
Colleen was just making her way to Russell when the Doctor finally removed his entire arm from the jacket. The Irish girl’s flouncy evening gown seemed to impede her progress, and she had originally frowned at the idea of such extravagance. Finally, through gentle coaxing from both the Doctor and Russell, she agreed to wear it, and looked absolutely stunning…even if she had had to eschew the high-heels after her third topple in the TARDIS wardrobe. The Doctor finally produced a small, worried looking scrap of leather which may at one point have been a billfold. He held it up and unfurled it, exposing a single piece of white paper. Russell shot the Doctor a look that fairly screamed "you really have lost it," but was forced to change his mind when the paper began writing on itself.
"It’s c–led psychic paper," the widget said, "It see- what you -ant to see."
Unfortunately, the paper looked a little torn, so "want" was missing an "a." The paper soon corrected itself.
"I don’t use it much anym–e. It absorbed mo-t of the blow from a nasty blade on Q—-S."
Again, a word was obscured. The Doctor looked at it, tapped it a few times, gave a sad little shrug and the paper carried on.
"We are on the pl–et known as Vaientaa, on the far end of the Horsehead Ne-ula, about 2000 light-years from E–th."
Russell folded his arms, obviously unimpressed with the geography lesson.
"Why don’t y-u try yellin- at me?"
Russell blinked and looked at the Doctor. The strange little man simply tapped a finger to his head and gave a sly wink. He pulled his sonic screwdriver out of the breast pocket of his tuxedo, and positioned it in front of the psychic paper. The eerie gray light expanded the paper’s message to the size of an artists’ easel, making it easier to read. The paper continued.
"Vaie–aa is a planet -f monks who have ta–n the most severe -ow of silence. Not only do they not s-eak, but n–ther does their monastery –anet. No sou-d is issued by a single pa–icle within its atmosphere. In the o-d days, it was simply agreed upon, but as tourism has increased, the monks cons–ucted a sonic damper that m-tes everything on the planet. –ditionally, it was decided that color was -inful, and di-tracting from their mission, and a sun filter was installed."
Russell looked around, marveling at what he saw. It wasn’t long, though, before he was called back to the Doctor and his funny paper by Colleen nervously tugging at his french-cuffed sleeve.
"The-r mission i- a search for G-d."
Russell again looked from the makeshift presentation screen to the Doctor, who merely nodded.
"You might -hink having -pulen- banquets and tourist inc-me would -egate their pursuits," the paper displayed, "But it is the only way the monks of Va–ntaa can fur-her their s-arch."
The Doctor turned off the screwdriver, and the screen vanished. He dropped the psychic paper back into his pocket, and Russell almost expected to hear it tumbling and crashing down the Doctor’s literally deep pockets. However, it occurred to him that he wouldn’t be hearing anything. This silence…it was almost maddening!
The Doctor replaced his sonic screwdriver and did a little hitch step, extending the crook of his arm to Colleen. She gave a nervous look to Russell, who quickly interceded and took the Irish girl’s arm. Undaunted, the Doctor slid effortlessly on the polished floor, his two tone spectator shoes gleaming as he took Colleen’s other arm. Colleen’s cheeks turned a darker shade of gray. The Doctor stuck a strong hand forward, proclaiming mutely.
And the three continued down the hall. As they traveled, the massive, Gothic halls gave way to epic, arched windows. Outside, a simple black sky sparkled with countless stars, and three gray moons hovered near the horizon. They met up with a few other outsiders, some of whom had the prescience to hold signs with their names on them. The Doctor tried fishing for his psychic paper, but Russell stopped him before it began to look lewd. A smile and a kind gesture would work just as well. As they walked, Russell could see people going this way and that about their chores and lives, all dressed in simple black robes with smooth, featureless white masks. He even spotted some which appeared to be using some form of sign language, which was completely utilitarian and without flourish. Each encounter was met with and ended with a small bow with hands clasped, and as the three got closer to the equally stunning banquet hall they started to get the hang of it: moving the mouth toward the face for "food," making a large, expansive gesture for the banquet hall, and simply pointing in the correct direction. It all seemed to work well, but then again this was a world without luxury.
…Until the meal was served.
Gray it was, yes, and without sound, but taste and smell had not been affected. A good hundred paces from the banquet hall, Russell’s mouth began to water, and the directions given by monks began to seem more and more irrelevant. The nose knew the way, and the stomach spurred them on. The silence was proving more and more frustrating, so Russell soothed it by singing the Rolling Stones in his head as much as possible. He was on the second chorus of "Get Off of My Cloud" when they entered the banquet hall.
Spectacular. High, seemingly endless white ceilings with massive chandeliers adorned by countless white, flickering flames. Tables of black wood stretched for what looked like miles, polished to such a glimmering sheen that the candles shone twice. Monks bustled this way and that, setting up a feast that, although unappealing in color, smelled so wonderful as to be irresistible. Upon entering the room, both Colleen and Russell goggled at the scope of it, while the Doctor rummaged in his pockets again and pulled up a small silk purse, which he dropped, unclasped into the hand of a diminutive monk. The monk popped it open and, upon seeing the contents, began to wriggle with a pleasure that it dares not give a name to, lest it be sinful. Instead, it busied itself shooing the Doctor and his companions to a seat near front and center, obviously a spot of some significance. As the three still sat down, Russell and Colleen were shocked to see the cards at their seat immediately display their names:
Dr. Russell Garamond, Physician.
Chicago, Illinois, United States of America, Earth.
Colleen Ciradh, homemaker
They both exchanged a look, and then looked to the Doctor who, with a cheeky smile, showed them his card, which read:
"Where do you think I got the stuff from?"
He set it back down onto the table, where it reverted to simply "The Doctor." Russell wanted to correct him on a few bits of information presented, but monks soon began whooshing this way and that, bringing out platters and trays and tureens and goblets and piles and piles and piles of the most delicious food you could have ever smelled.
The Feast of Tisina had begun!