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FIC: All the King's Horses (13/13)

All the King's Horses (13/13)
Rating: PG
Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble
Genre: Gen, drama
Spoilers: Minor spoilers for the first two episodes of Series 4.
Summary: A star empire is menaced by deadly creatures from the time of Rassilon. Will one lone Time Lord and a human companion be enough to defeat them?
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes.
A/N: Here it is, after 6 months and nearly 27,000 words -- the last chapter.  This was meant to be a relatively short fic, and wound up being the longest one I've written yet.  Thanks to the incomparable wendymr 
for beta-reading, Brit-picking, and general encouragement.

Previous Chapters: Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5, Chapter 6, Chapter 7, Chapter 8, Chapter 9, Chapter 10, Chapter 11, Chapter 12 

Chapter 13: Darkness of Night

We send a hospitable guide to the bewildered traveller, to show him the way through the darkness of night.

The Perfect Gentleman, Or, Etiquette and Eloquence: A Book of Information and Instruction by A Gentleman
New York, 1860

When he was a youngster of forty or fifty, and such a day seemed impossibly distant, Tragan Vehik wondered how he would feel when he faced death.  Would he be afraid?  Defiant?  Content?  Regretful?  He had never anticipated that he might be... annoyed.

But how can he feel anything else, when this death is so pointless and unnecessary?  He would willingly give his life for the Empire, for his House, for his line.  If the suit only had power enough for the outward trip, he would still have stepped out of the TARDIS without hesitation.

Dying for a foolish error is another matter.  He knew there would be a light flare, knew how long it would last, knew he had no instrument navigation.  He knew all of these individual facts, but somehow did not connect them, did not see that they would lead to this moment. 

"Carelessness can kill."
  How often in his career did he recite that truth to first-year engineering students?  "Radiation does not care if you are well-intentioned.  Vacuum will not wait for you to be ready.  Electricity will not grant you a second chance.  The Universe has no mercy, and no tolerance for fools."

At least his folly will perish with him.  When the Doctor returns to Paaligiou, he will report only that Tragan Vehik died after completing his task.  What more can he say?  He will not even know the cause, unless his sarthain remembers all that I said about the repairs.

The Doctor's sarthain.  Tragan Vehik has the satisfaction of having solved that puzzle.  How can a primitive -- a human -- be sarthain to a Time Lord?  Answer: if the Time Lord she serves is the Doctor, who is quite mad.  A proper sarthain would be respectful and obedient.  She would not rebuke her master if his madness led him into folly.  She would not provoke him into action with audacious words, or cheer him with improper witticisms.  A mad Time Lord requires an equally mad sarthain to serve him.  For his sake, and for the sake of the Universe, I am glad that the Doctor has such a one to aid him in his quests.

Tragan Vehik's adventure has diverged from the tale of the Prince in Green.  According to legend, the Prince returned safely on his talking jrindol, the two-headed counsellor beside him.  The mutant was not cut in twain; one half coming home and the other dying along the wayside.  In children's stories, all ends well.  Virtue is rewarded, and only the wicked die.  Reality is not always so obliging.

He sighs, looking at the chronometer.  Only three minutes have elapsed.  He wishes that time would flow more swiftly.  He is by no means impatient for death, but he longs to see the stars again.  They will be better company than his own thoughts.

**Turn around.**

The thought now echoing in his head is not his own, nor is it like any mindvoice he has ever heard.  There are no real words in it, nor clear images, just an understanding that he should turn in this direction.  The feel of the mind is very alien -- no surprise, since it must be the Time Lord reaching out to him.  But... without touching?  And at such a distance?"  He tries to call out mentally.  Doctor?  DOCTOR?

The only reply is a repeat of the same command. 
**Turn around.**

Either the oxygen readout is faulty and he is hallucinating, or this is an unexpected chance for salvation.  Either way, he will not be a fool again.  With the barest touch on the controls, he turns until he is facing in the indicated direction.


Again he obeys, moving at a moderate speed, in case he needs to adjust his trajectory.  Twice the strange mindvoice instructs him to turn a few degrees.  He looks at the readings that indicate time passed and distance travelled.  If they are correct, and if his guide is leading him rightly, then he must be nearly to the TARDIS.  And surely he is correct, because the mindvoice is growing stronger.  It feels like music, echoing in a complex pattern that reminds him of the time-lock equations.  Time Lords can see backwards and forwards in time -- is this why his mindvoice seems to overlap itself?

With barely a second's warning, he knows that the TARDIS door is before him.  He draws in his arms and legs only a moment before he feels himself passing through the force-field.  Then his feet are stumbling on a metal floor, and a strong pair of arms is grabbing his shoulders.

The Time Lord's clever fingers make a quick job of unlatching the helmet.  Tragan Vehik stares at him with eyes that must be as wide as moon-cakes.  He feels a hoarse laugh escape his throat.  "Not... you.  The tale is true -- the jrindol speaks..."

Now it is the turn of the the Time Lord and his sarthain to stare -- one in dawning comprehension and the other in confusion -- as Lord Professor Tragan Vehik faces the console of the TARDIS and performs the Obeisance of Respect in the First Degree.


As soon as
Tragan Vehik heads off to the Blue Room to shed the spacesuit, Donna looks at the Doctor.  "Was that what I think it was?  The TARDIS guided him back?"

"Yeah.  I hadn't a clue until he came back in," the Time Lord says.  "I didn't even know he was in trouble.  She didn't tell me a thing."  He looks at the console with what Donna can only describe as an affectionate scowl.  "I suppose too much of her attention was focused out there."  He waves vaguely in the direction of the door.  "Not an easy thing for her to communicate with someone that far away -- other than me.  It helped that Paalgi are telepaths.  Course, it would've been easier if-- well, no matter.  He's back, and the Hrul are sorted.  Next stop, Paaligiou!"

When the TARDIS materialises in the great white hall, pieces of equipment are scattered randomly about, and the AECs, though dull and lifeless, are still arranged on the marble squares like giant draught
pieces.  Two guards stand beside the door.  Nearby is the small table where they ate lunch -- was it only yesterday? -- and jumping up from one of the chairs is Gher Besif, a smile chasing weariness and worry from his face.

The Doctor slaps a control, and the TARDIS door swings open.  "Professor?  Your stop."  Tragan Vehik nods and strides down the ramp.

Donna glares at him.  "What do you think you're doing, Spaceboy?  Just gonna drop him off and... go?"

"Yep.  The Hrul are wrapped up nice and tight, the Professor's safe home, and you, Donna Noble, are owed a spa holiday.  Haven't gone and changed your mind about that, have you?"

"Course not, but it can wait ten minutes.  I want to say a proper goodbye to Gher, at least."

The Doctor waggles his eyebrows.  "Go on, then."

"You're not coming?"


"You are coming," she says in her best no-nonsense voice, and grabs him by the arm.  The Doctor sighs loudly, but doesn't resist her pull.


Lord Professor Tragan Vehik is trying to answer his student's questions.  'Trying' because Gher Besif is pouring out an endless stream of questions with barely a pause between them.  What did it feel like, travelling in the Vortex?  Did the Respected Lord Professor see how big the TARDIS really is?  What did the time-lock look like?  Will it really hold the Hrul forever?  Tragan Vehik wonders if a size 5 magnetic clamp would hold the boy's tongue still long enough for him to answer some of those questions.

He gets a reprieve when the Doctor and Donna Noble walk out of the TARDIS.  Gher Besif bounds towards them.  "Doctor!  Donna!"  The boy salutes the Doctor with a quick bow -- Much too familiar, Tragan Vehik thinks -- then lets himself be drawn into an unseemly hug with the human.

"The guards have gone to alert the High Minister.  All of Paaligiou is waiting to thank you.  There's to be a poetic encomium in the Imperial Gardens in your honour, speeches in the Senate, a Solemn Procession of the Houses, and a feast every night--"

The human holds up her hand as if trying to hold off a herd of jrindols.  "Whoa-- slow down, Gher.  What d'you mean 'every night'?"

"Every night of the Moon of Celebration, of course -- that's forty altogether.  And they say--"  His voice drops to a dramatic whisper.  "--that the Imperator himself is thinking of adopting  the Doctor into his own House, as a Cousin of the Second Circle.  And honours for you too, Donna, I'm sure."

Tragan Vehik does not miss the looks that dart between the Time Lord and the human.  It is not telepathy, but it is a silent conversation.  The Doctor looks as skittish as a wild beast that hears the hounds baying.

The human puts a hand to her forehead.  "Gher, I'm so sorry, but I can't talk right now.  I've got a really awful headache."

The Doctor opens his eyes wide, then nods energetically.  "I've got something in the medbay that will fix it.  She'll be right as rain in an hour or two, so long as she has a bit of a lie-down." 

The Doctor gives a different sort of nod to Tragan Vehik.  He returns it, and an understanding passes between them. 
"Go in safety," Tragan Vehik says, quoting the first part of the ancient Paalgi benediction for travellers.  He omits the second half, return in healthHe looks then at the human, inclining his head ever so slightly.  She says nothing.  For no reason that he can comprehend, the human closes one eye for half a second before she turns, allowing the Doctor to guide her into the TARDIS.

Twenty seconds later, the TARDIS door slams shut, and the grating sound of the Time Rotor echoes through the great chamber.  Gher Besif looks up, confused.  "They are leaving?  Will Donna be all right?  Surely the Doctor will take care of her."

Lord Professor Tragan Vehik shakes his head.  "In this instance, youngling, I believe that she will be taking care of him."  He looks over his shoulder to the place where the TARDIS is beginning to dematerialize.  "Donna Noble is a sarthain of great skill, and she knows her Time Lord.  They will both be well." 

-- THE END --


( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 24th, 2008 05:39 am (UTC)
I'm glad you found it satisfying. A month of ceremonies on Paaligiou would be like a nightmare version of being on Gallifrey -- you don't know anyone, and you're not sure you're going to remember your lines.

Vehik... is what he is -- an older, upper-class Paalgi with a very traditional mindset. He no longer regards Donna as the Doctor's ekhak, but she's still a human, and a crazy one at that. And yes -- by Paalgi standards, both of them are mad.
Dec. 24th, 2008 03:38 am (UTC)
I am so happy you rescued Tragan Vehik, and that it was the TARDIS herself as the (dare I say it?) vehicle of his rescue. :)

Lovely ending; terrific story altogether.
Dec. 24th, 2008 05:47 am (UTC)
I toyed with the idea of killing him -- or Gher -- but decided against it.

And you may surely say "vehicle of his rescue", but then I will be obliged to reply "deus ex machina"

Thanks for the review!
Dec. 24th, 2008 04:11 am (UTC)
Yay! Happy ending! Something that's missing a lot of the time in New Who. And the sentimental old TARDIS saves the grumpy alien.
Dec. 24th, 2008 05:53 am (UTC)
I generally prefer happy endings. Nowadays, I'm mostly channeling my depressive energy into "Valiant Tales". I will confess that I came close to killing Vehik and/or Gher in Chapter 9.

The sentimental old TARDIS -- as you rightly name her -- is used to dealing with a grumpy Time Lord. Vehik is sunshine and kittens in comparison.
Dec. 24th, 2008 06:01 am (UTC)
I've loved every line of this! Beautifully written; the Doctor and Donna were wonderfully in character and the OC's were perfectly drawn as well. Thanks for the ride, it's been fun!
Dec. 24th, 2008 06:32 am (UTC)
Thank you for that incredible compliment, and thank you staying to the end of the journey.
Dec. 24th, 2008 09:32 am (UTC)
This was one of the most brilliant, well written pieces I have ever read!! O___________O

The entire thing is going into my favorites...

I know it doesn't seem it.. but I am seriously speechless right now. I can't stop smiling. That was fantastic!!!
Dec. 24th, 2008 02:35 pm (UTC)
Thank you very much. If you're interested in looking at some of my older stories, the easiest way to find them is on the Teaspoon archive. They're mostly Ninth and Tenth Doctor stories, though this is the first one I've written with Donna in it.
Dec. 24th, 2008 11:08 am (UTC)
Oh, this was lovely. I could just see it as a S4 episode. Well done!

Dec. 24th, 2008 02:41 pm (UTC)
Thanks! It would be fun to see the special effects, especially the labyrinth and the spacewalk.

*sighs* Perhaps someone will give me the BBC for Christmas. ;-)
Dec. 24th, 2008 02:13 pm (UTC)
Due to power outages I have been mostly without net access for the past two weeks. What a lovely thing for me to find waiting for me when I made it back! The S.O. has just recently begun watching season 4, and he keeps saying that he hates Donna. I can't count the times I have wanted to make him read this story to show him the error of his ways.
Dec. 24th, 2008 02:49 pm (UTC)
I'm glad that my timing was good. As for your S.O. -- I'd love to think I could convert him to Donna-love, but if he really doesn't like the character, I'm not sure that my words could sway him. Maybe when he sees more of S4, he will recognize the awesomeness that is Donna Noble.
Dec. 26th, 2008 06:41 pm (UTC)
This was a really fantastic story - I loved it, thank you. I'm glad the TARDIS saved Tragan Vehik, and that he came to understand the Doctor-Donna relationship.
Dec. 27th, 2008 03:21 am (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words.

Tragan Vehik understands their relationship as well as he can within the limits of his worldview. He will never comprehend that they are friends, but he knows that Donna is very good for the Doctor.
Feb. 19th, 2009 02:04 pm (UTC)
It really shouldn't have taken me this long to tell you how much I liked this story. It's odd, but for a fandom about travels anywhere in time and space, there's not much world-building out there. Paalgiou is one of my favourite fandom-created worlds, largely because it feels as though there is a long history and tradition that we're only catching a fraction of a glimpse of. Your original characters, Tragan Vehik and Gher Besif, feel like living, breathing people with their own hopes, fears and prejudices, rather than mere ciphers to service the story.

Aside from the cleverness of the plot with mnemophages and the legends of Rassilon, I like the way that it mirrors one of the themes of the story -- the importance and pain of memory for the Doctor. He may be a powerful alien being but he's also a soul in a certain amount of torment. While I am not fond of Angsting Time Lord stories, in this one the angst felt earned.

Perhaps the thing I liked best about this story, though, was the way you used Donna to give perspective on the Doctor and on this alien world. She's clever and empathetic without losing her essential brassiness or being too knowledgable. One of the things I liked best about season four was the way the relationship between the Doctor and Donna -- that rock-solid, intuitive friendship that both of them needed. I thought you captured that brilliantly.

This is a deft and smart piece of storytelling and I've read it more than once. Thank you.
Feb. 20th, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
Thank you for taking time to post. It's always a pleasant surprise to get feedback on a story that's been up for a while. I will immodestly mention that this story has been nominated for the Children of Time Awards in the Ten/Donna category.

It's odd, but for a fandom about travels anywhere in time and space, there's not much world-building out there.

Perhaps it's that fans are mirroring the show. New Who hasn't done much with alien civilizations. I just reviewed the list of episodes for the Ninth and Tenth Doctors, and most of them take place on Earth (past, present, future, or alternate), or on human colonies, ships, and stations. The aliens are invaders or visitors or allies, but are not the dominant culture.

Paalgiou is one of my favourite fandom-created worlds, largely because it feels as though there is a long history and tradition that we're only catching a fraction of a glimpse of.

In this particular case, the culture needed to be detailed, because the culture was so integral to the story. The original plot idea was: our duo visit a highly-advanced planet which is very focused on rank, etiquette, and ceremony. As a primitive human, Donna is regarded as the Doctor's pet, but when she helps him solve a serious crisis, the locals are forced to respect her. When I began writing, I didn't even know what the crisis was going to be. It didn't entirely matter, because the story was really about Donna, the Doctor, and the alien culture, and how they all related to each other.

Your original characters, Tragan Vehik and Gher Besif, feel like living, breathing people with their own hopes, fears and prejudices, rather than mere ciphers to service the story.

Which is interesting, because they both began as walk-on characters who insisted on being something more. I was going to kill one of them off in Chapter 9.

She's clever and empathetic without losing her essential brassiness or being too knowledgable.

Those are the qualities that made me love Donna as a companion, so if I managed to include them in my story, I'm very pleased.

Thank you for your kind remarks.
Aug. 14th, 2009 09:59 am (UTC)
Just wanted to say thank you for this truly wonderful story. I adore Ten & Donna friendship, and there are (sadly) very few good, long, plotty adventure stories with these two.
And one more question - would you mind if I translate this story into Russian, so my fellow Russian DW fans could read it as well? Of course I would state everywhere that you are the author, and I'm just a translator:)
Aug. 14th, 2009 03:38 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm honored that you think my story is worth the effort of translating, especially since it's rather long. Please list me as author, and include a link back to the original. I'd also appreciate a link to the translation when you post it. Russian is not one of the languages I know, but I have a friend who is fluent.

Aug. 15th, 2009 02:35 am (UTC)
Thank you for permission! Well, I have some experience with long fanfics in ST:TOS and SGA fandoms, but it will be my first long DW story. Promise to do my best:) Sure, I'll list you as an author and will send a link too.
Sep. 5th, 2009 08:21 am (UTC)
Hi again. Well, I've done it at last!:) My blog on Russian site is friends-only (and you need to register anyway), so I put the translation on Sendspace, if it is OK with you. Here is the link: http://www.sendspace.com/file/154vx8 (450 kB, .doc file). This story is really fantastic, and it was a great pleasure to translate.
Sep. 6th, 2009 07:04 pm (UTC)
Very cool. Now I wish I had a translation of the translation. :-)
I can (barely) read the alphabet, so I can recognize the transliteration of "TARDIS", but that's about it.

I sometimes read bits of fanfic in Spanish or French, because it's interesting to see how various terms and bits of slang. I can't do that with Russian, alas.

I've downloaded the file, and would like to post some of it on my LJ, in case there are some language junkies out there who would like to take a look. And since I was recently notified that "All the King's Horses" has been nominated for a Children of Time Award, I figured I'd mention both in the same post.
Sep. 7th, 2009 04:30 am (UTC)
Well, congratulations on the nomination, it's great and completely deserved. And I will be honored if you post some fragments on your LJ:)
May. 5th, 2010 10:34 pm (UTC)
This was a wonderful read.
I loved the world building and the alien culture.
The Donna & Doctor interaction was brilliant.
I absolutely loved the fic!
May. 5th, 2010 11:54 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I'm glad the story worked for you. (And your timing was very, very good.)
Oct. 3rd, 2010 06:08 am (UTC)
Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for this lovely, thoughtful, exceptionally well-plotted and well-paced work. And while the plot is great, it's not even the key point of the story - I find myself impressed by the characters, their interactions and the memories of their past experiences, and by the parallels and changing relationships between them. Brava!
Oct. 4th, 2011 03:58 am (UTC)
Thank you so much! You're quite right that the plot is not the central focus of this story. If my initial idea was phrased as a prompt, it would have looked something like this:
"The Doctor and Donna visit a highly advanced and socially rigid alien civilization -- much like Gallifrey -- where the locals regard Donna as the Doctor's pet". As you can see, it shifted somewhat from that idea, but that was the beginning.

Also, please accept this TARDIS-shaped cookie for correctly using "brava"!
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 4th, 2011 04:02 am (UTC)
*blushes* Thank you for taking the time to comment. I'm glad you enjoyed the story.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )



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