Characters: Ninth Doctor, Rose Tyler, Jack Harkness
Summary: A supposedly harmless planet holds unexpected dangers, and disturbing revelations about the Doctor's past.
Disclaimer: The sandbox belongs to RTD and the BBC. I'm just playing here, in the corner, making little sand-TARDISes. Not making any money, not asserting any claims.
A/N:This is another story in my unnamed series about Rose, Jack, and the Doctor traveling together as partners and lovers. It takes place sometime after Changes. Many thanks to my swift and splendid beta, wendymr
Chapter 1 Chapter 2
"But Lyonnesse doesn't exist. It never existed. An' that's my fault."
Jack and Rose gawk at him.
The Doctor mixes up another batch of green fizzy liquid to sprinkle over the clorinthium. "Needs to absorb the catalyst for an hour. Jack, you can get back to excavating. I've got to check the filtration controls." Without another word, he walks out of the lab and turns left, heading deeper into the heart of the TARDIS.
Rose moves, as if to follow, but stops herself. "He needs to be by himself. Jus' for a little while."
Jack takes her hand. He hasn't known the Doctor for as long as Rose, but he recognises the signs of a soldier besieged by unwelcome memories. "Let's go outside."
Having no better destination, they head over to the excavation area. Rose perches on a sun-warmed shelf of rock. "He's been doing better."
Jack seats himself beside her. The damn digging can wait for a few minutes. "Yeah. He's had fewer nightmares, especially since we started sharing a bed."
"He's gonna be okay."
"Yeah. He will." Jack knows far more than he wants to about the scars that battle can inflict on the mind. Still, the Doctor's survived experiences that would have left a human raving mad or catatonic. Jack leans in towards Rose and gives her a one-armed hug. "Tell me everything you know about the Time War."
"Me? You're the Time Agent--"
"Ex-Time Agent. And until a few months ago, I thought Time Lords were extinct and the Time War was a myth."
"You prob'ly know as much as I do, and that's not a lot."
"The Daleks tried to take over the Universe. The Time Lords stopped them." At the cost of their own destruction.
Rose shivers, despite the sunshine. "Ten million Dalek ships, burning."
"What?" Ten million ships... how many Daleks did that add up to?
"That's what the Doctor said. It was before you came on board. He was having nightmares, talking in his sleep. He said, 'You all burned. I made it happen.'" She looks at Jack with troubled eyes. "He was dreaming then, but he was wide awake when he told me that his planet burned. Nothing left but dust and rocks. I think that's how-- I think that he--"
"Yeah. I think so, too." No wonder he has nightmares.
"What I don't get," Rose says, "is how a planet can have never existed. I know you can change history if somebody dies or... doesn't, when he's supposed to..." She stares at the ground, which has become suddenly fascinating.
"Or when a careless idiot lets a plague loose?"
"We stopped it," Rose reminds him. Her fingers comb slowly through his hair, lingering on the back of his neck. "But even if we hadn't, the Earth would still be there, right? History would be different, but the planet wouldn't... disappear."
"That's what they taught me at the Agency. You can change history for an individual, or even a planet. It's theoretically possible to erase an individual's timeline so that he never existed. Completely illegal, but I've heard rumours..." He's restless, and needs to be doing something, so he stands, grabs a shovel, and starts clearing another square-metre of ground.
Rose slips off her rock-perch a moment later, and begins to pace. "Seems almost worse than dying. If someone's dead, at least people still remember him."
He stops digging, and rests his clasped hands on top of the shovel's handle. "To remove an entire planet from the timelines -- the complexity, the power required -- Rose, I can't even conceive of it."
"Not jus' one, Captain -- thousands."
Jack spins around to face the Doctor. How the hell did he sneak up on-- "Thousands?" he repeats, sure that his face looks as blank and stupid as he feels. Not possible. Can't be.
"Thousands of planets erased from Time," the Doctor says evenly. "Both sides did it. Sometimes it was deliberate, like blasting a firebreak. Sometime it was--" He smiles a crooked smile with no humour in it. "--collateral damage."
He remembers a scene he witnessed few months ago: a senior Time Agent who wanted to arrest Jack, confronting a calm, implacable Doctor.
“Are you proposing to declare war on the Time Agency?”
“Not war, Colonel. An’ you should be very grateful for that. You don’t want to see how I wage war. You really don’t."
At the time, he had seen it as part bluff, part Time Lord arrogance. Now he knows that the Doctor's warning had been the verbal equivalent of "showing steel" -- raising a sword from its scabbard just enough to demonstrate that it was razor sharp, not blunted for mere ceremonial display.
Jack hears the Doctor's unspoken words. This is who I am. This is what I have done. He looks at his friend, his partner, his lover. Eyes the colour of a winter sea gaze steadily back at him. "War's never pretty, Doctor."
The Time Lord's only reply is a nod. It's enough.
Some time during this conversation, Jack realises, Rose linked hands with him. She extends her right hand and grasps the Time Lord's left hand. "What do we do now, Doctor?"
Jack notices the slight emphasis on we. Clever girl.
The Doctor sighs. "Time to pay a call on the neighbours. Let's stow the gear in the TARDIS, first. Come along, you two."
Within ten minutes, they're retracing Rose's route along the stream. For once, the humans aren't plaguing him with questions. Their limitless curiosity is one of the things he likes best about the species, but right now, he's grateful for the silence. He doesn't want to talk about the Time War. He doesn't want to think about the Time War, but he's got no choice. He has to investigate these people who claim to be from Lyonnesse. It's absurd, but he believes it's true.
He'd rather do this alone, but he knows what will happen if he tries to leave the humans in the TARDIS. They'll flat out refuse -- or worse, follow him "secretly". They're not stupid or incompetent, but they are often reckless, and oh so terribly fragile. Better that they come along, so he can keep an eye on them.
Although they're quiet, he can read their emotions well enough in a glance, a tilt of the head, a way of walking. Tender-hearted Rose is worried about him, and feeling sad for all those planets and their inhabitants. The "how" of their annihilation is still a question in her mind, but not a pressing one. To her, almost everything to do with time travel is a marvel bordering on magic.
Jack still looks poleaxed, poor lad. He knows enough about temporal mechanics to have opinions on what is -- and is not -- possible. Right now, if I told him that asteroids are created by giants playin' skittles, I think he'd believe me.
When they reach the gorge, he resists the temptation to linger, and only glances at the carving on the wall. It's a ghrazi, all right, but he was already sure of that from Rose's description. The answer isn't here.
Jack's wrist-comp picks up a concentration of life-forms less than a kilometre away.
"I hope it's not another herd of blue cows," Rose teases.
"That was not my fault!" Jack protests. "The magnetic fluctuation was giving me false readings. At least I didn't try to have a conversation with them."
"I was trying to keep an open mind, you git! How was I s'posed to know they weren't intelligent? My first trip in the TARDIS, I got introduced to a tree."
He studies the sonic screwdriver, only half-listening to their playful squabble. "These aren't cows, of any colour. Humanoids, an' I'm pickin' up a fair bit of tech. Solar-based, seems like."
Rose squints up at the cloudless sky. "Good spot for it."
"Depending on their equipment, they could generate enough power for a moderate-sized town," Jack says. "Solar conversion arrays are pretty efficient."
An' it's a passive form of collectin' energy. Not goin' to be detected by anyone who isn't lookin' for it. Good choice if you like privacy.
When he's certain of direction and distance, the Doctor pockets the sonic screwdriver. He doesn't want to be holding something that might be mistaken for a weapon, not when he's approaching people who are suspicious of strangers.
"What's the plan, Doc?"
"Plan? We wander in, nice an' friendly, an' say hullo."
"And then?" Jack prompts him.
"Depends on how long this bunch have been stuck here, and how much they know about what happened."
"How long has it been since the the War ended?" Rose asks.
He shrugs. "Dunno."
Jack, more familiar with temporal grammar, asks, "How long in your personal timeline?"
"Dunno. A couple of years. Maybe three," he amends. We drifted for a while, after the-- after. Don't think the TARDIS knows. She was tendin' her own wounds, poor girl. Even after we healed, I was off my head for a long time.
"But how long ago compared to the time we're in now?" Rose asks. "And what year is it now?"
"It's 3209 by Earth reckonin', an' I can't answer your first question."
Rose is looking confused -- and frustrated -- at not getting an answer to what must seem like a very simple question. Jack has gone expressionless, as he does when he's concentrating on something complicated.
He tries again. "The active phase of the War lasted 'bout three years in relative time. In absolute time, it was waged over twenty or thirty millennia."
Jack's eyes narrow. "But the timelines must have-"
"Yeah. Like spaghetti. Very badly tangled spaghetti. An' it all kept shifting." For the worst, mostly. From Minos IV to Arcadia, it had been an unbroken series of disasters. He takes a deep breath he doesn't really need. "When it was over, the War was timelocked. All of it. No traveling in or out, no changes."
"No Reapers?" Rose asks softly.
He shakes his head. "No Reapers. Part of the price of keepin' them away--" Aside from the billions of lives lost, he added silently. "--was that the planets that ceased to exist, never were, an' never can be again."
"Then how come Jack's heard about Lyonnesse? If it never was?"
"Some civilisations were so influential that they left shadow memories. Echoes in time, you might say." He shrugs. "Sorry. Can't explain it better than that."
Rose scowls at him. "What you really mean is we wouldn't understand, 'cos we're only stupid humans."
"You are not stupid, Rose Tyler, and neither is Jack. I don't travel with stupid people."
"But we are humans," she retorts.
"Humans are fantastic! You've got creativity and imagination." He nods at Jack. "You lot developed the technology for time travel, even without any time-sense. It's like lobsters inventing aeroplanes!"
The corner of Jack's mouth twitches. "Thanks... I think." The twitch becomes a grin, and Rose is chuckling when a round shape comes arcing over one of the large flat-iron rocks.
One part of the Doctor's mind observes that the projectile is about the size of a cricket ball, and the weathered red colour of a Venetian tile roof. Even as he notes its trajectory and speed, he's grabbing his companions' hands, and dragging them backwards as quickly as he can. Neither of them resist -- Jack was already in motion -- but the rough terrain slows them down. They're only two metres away when the projectile strikes the stony ground. There's no explosion, only a dull clink as the hollow clay ball shatters into a hundred shards and splinters.
The Doctor has just enough time to notice two small puddles within the remnants of the ball: one, dull grey and viscous; the other, red and frothy. The instant the two fluids touch, a billow of dense pink smoke appears, and rapidly expands to surround them like a giant cloud of candy-floss. It seems almost comical, but he instinctively switches to respiratory bypass. The humans don't have that option. Jack bends over, retching violently, and Rose covers her mouth with her hands, nearly dropping to her knees but for the Doctor's iron grip on her upper arms.
It's not until the noxious smoke begins to disperse that the Doctor see the fourteen aliens standing in a loose circle around himself and his ill companions. Each one is holding a thick wooden staff, capped at each end with a piece of bronze that looks very much like a clenched fist.