Rating: Teen, for some violent imagery
Summary: "Once upon a time, a terrible monster from another world came to our planet. We had a very narrow escape."
Characters: Tenth Doctor
Spoilers/Warnings: Minor spoilers for the beginning of The End of Time, Part One. Takes place after Waters of Mars, aaand though it doesn't refer to that episode, the story will make much more sense if you've seen it.
A/N: Thanks to yamx , who told me this needed to be more than the drabble it began as, and to my magnificent betas, canaana and wendymr .
Well, I didn't exactly come straight here. Had a bit of fun, you know. Traveled about. Did this and that. Got into trouble, you know me. It was brilliant. I saw the phosphorous carousel of the great Mingelinga Stat, saved a planet from the red carnivorous Maw, named a galaxy Allison. Got married! That was a mistake.
The Doctor, The End of Time, Part One
You should be asleep, youngling, long since asleep. A tale? I suppose...What sort of tale? Monsters from other worlds? Oh yes, I can tell you about that.
This is a true tale. It happened long ago, when I was a young man, in the early years of the Emperor's reign. The monster... we called it the Maw, because it resembled a vast, insatiable throat. It was as red as a cremation shroud, and it swallowed its prey whole, dissolving their writhing bodies in a pool of acid. Although it was immobile, burrowed deep into the ground, the Maw had the power to take over minds. Its helpless slaves dragged other innocents to a terrible death--even their own kinsmen and friends.
Where did it come from? We never learned that. Somewhere off-world was all we ever knew. Perhaps some part of the creature--the equivalent of a seed--had come with one of the trading ships, or traveled in the heart of a meteorite. However it came, it grew rapidly once it arrived.
A civilian science team was sent to investigate mysterious disappearances near a certain village. When they failed to report back, a squad of soldiers was dispatched. Before anyone in the Capital knew what was happening, the soldiers had marched into a nearby village, seizing half its population to feed to the Maw. Those who resisted were shot.
The Senate argued vehemently about the proper course of action. Some said we should kill the Maw by hurling explosives into it. Others claimed that if we did so, its puppets would surely die or go mad. By then, we were very worried about harm coming to the Maw's slaves. Hundreds of villagers were under its telepathic control, as well as dozens of soldiers. Three of the officers were of High-Caste birth, and one was the nephew of a very influential Senator.
Then the alien arrived in his strange blue box. You would have laughed to see him. He belonged to one of those nearly-bald species that have no proper pelt, just a patch of fur on top of the head. His face was as pale as wet sand, and his hair mud-coloured. His eyes were brown, though no one who looked into them would dare call them mud-coloured. They were--ah, but I am getting ahead of myself.
He walked into the Palace and announced his intention of speaking to the Emperor. Just like that! He ignored the Imperial Guard and their gleaming weaponry. He paid no heed to the Senators and Lords in their finery. He was not even impressed by the Emperor, and spoke to him as an teacher might speak to a foolish but promising student. And most amazing of all, the Emperor permitted it. The High Lord of D'verash, ruler of us all, allowed a bare-faced alien to stand upright in his presence and talk directly to him.
And talk he did. Tyilla bless us, the alien never stopped talking. "You're lucky I happened by when I did. Another two, three days, and that thing would've been ready to spawn. Then you'd have had trouble. Hah!" He made the Guards nervous by removing a device from his pocket, but it was apparently a kind of scanner. "Yep," he said, "you would have had trouble." And he told a tale of a planet which became so infested with the monstrous creatures that it became nothing but a vast feeding ground, and all the people of that world reduced to slaves and cattle.
When the Emperor heard him say this, his eyes became as wide as banquet platters. "What did you do?" the High Lord asked.
The alien shrugged and said, "I wasn't there. My--the ones sent to deal with the problem destabilised the orbit of the planet."
We were all perplexed. The Emperor asked, "How did that help?"
"Made the planet fall into its sun," the alien said matter-of-factly. "The only solution at that point, really. Blowing it up would have been much more difficult. And messy--very messy. Chunks of rock all over, to say nothing of the possibility of viable spores surviving to reach another world."
The alien fiddled with his scanner, and told us that he could create shields that would protect the wearers' minds from the Maw. "Easy peasy. 'Course, that won't do anything for the people who are already controlled. Those poor devils will have to be detached as soon as possible. No time to waste."
"But how--what will you do?"
"Oh, I'll just have a word," the alien said. "Let it know who's boss." He lifted his hand and clicked two of his fingers. "Like that."
I was among the Imperial Counselors sent to observe the proceedings. Now, in private, and all these years later, I will confess to feeling a certain . . . disquiet as our group approached the maw, but the shields worked as promised. Our minds remained untouched.
The alien strode to the very edge of the Maw and looked into its depths. "I wonder who told George Lucas about your kind, hmmm? And look at the size of you! Ah, well. Now, you've got to release these people. I insist. They don't belong to you. This is your one warning." He paused, as if listening, then his face grew still and hard.
The alien did not speak further. He did not move, not so much as as a twitch of an eyelid. Movement--sudden and unexpected--came from the slaves of the Maw. As one, they shivered and faced the alien. A few seconds later, they began to turn towards the Maw, arms outstretched, like sea-fronds caught in a changing tide.
"No, you don't," the alien growled. His forehead creased as though he was struggling to carry a heavy load. The slaves spun part-way towards him, then froze. The alien spoke again, his voice pitched even lower. "I. Command. You."
A terrible shriek--Tyilla defend me from ever hearing such a sound again!--rose up from the centre of the Maw. The ghastly sound reverberated all around us as hundreds of slaves voiced their master's agony. The shriek rose to a shrill pitch, then the Maw and its chorus of slaves stopped all at once, without warning. At least a third of the slaves collapsed to the ground. The remainder drooped, looking exhausted.
The alien looked at me and the other Counselors who had been sent to escort him. "All done," he said cheerfully.
The Senior Counselor asked, "Is it--?"
"What? Oh, it's dead," the alien replied.
I could feel my fur bristle from snout to tail. Yes, youngling, I was afraid. We were all afraid. The Maw was a creature more terrifying than any monster out of legend--and the alien had killed it with his thoughts.
"I was going to offer to relocate it to some isolated world with no higher life forms." He rotated his head from side to side. "It really shouldn't have tried to fight me. That was a mistake." It seemed beyond belief that anyone would have let such a monster live, even in exile, but I heard the alien's words quite clearly.
The villagers and soldiers who had been slaves to the Maw began to stir. Those who had fallen staggered to their feet. All of them slowly rotated until they were facing the alien, then stood still. They stared at him, eyes vacant of will or thought. They stared at their new master...and they waited.
"Oh," the alien said to himself. "Isn't that interesting." He took a few steps forward until he was facing a pair of villagers. They did not react to his approach, only continued to stare blankly. The alien moved sideways and regarded a stout guardsman whose tawny fur was streaked with grey. Like the others, the guardsman stood as motionless as a Summerfest effigy.
The alien reached up, poking the guard's muzzle with a single finger. The guard swayed slightly but did not react in any other way. The alien poked him again, with the same result. He repeated the experiment with two farmers, a merchant, and a youngster in the red robes of an acoloyte. One stout farmwife remained unmoving as the alien tugged carelessly at her ears, making the cackling sound that denoted amusement in his species. "Well, well, well..." He seemed to be pondering a decision.
Meanwhile, we Counselors, D'verashi of the highest castes and representatives of our Emperor, stood there in silence, scarcely daring to breathe.
The alien cocked his head to one side. "Oh, I suppose not. What would I do with you all? Bit of a tight fit, even in the TARDIS." He flicked one hand upwards in a casual gesture, and the captives came fully awake.
The alien did not wait to be offered thanks or gifts or honours from the Emperor. He did not even bid farewell to the Emperor. He stepped into his blue box, which made a sound like the screeching of a flock of sevnet-birds, and vanished. Yes, vanished. My oath on it.
In tales, the ending is always swift. The monster is slain, the captive released, the Emperor declares a holiday, and everyone rejoices. In reality, matters go somewhat differently. There are reports--lengthy reports--to be written. The carcass of the monster must be disposed of. The dead must be properly cremated and mourned. The wounded must be tended--and not all wounds are of the body.
Afterwards, we spoke with all of those who had been enslaved. They took remarkably little harm from their ordeal. Those who had been held the longest suffered from hunger and thirst. Others had small injuries that had not been properly treated. By Tyilla's mercy, the released slaves had clouded memories. But those who remembered most clearly were those had been forced into the most dreadful deeds. Among them were a husband and wife who had been compelled to feed all six of their children to the monster. When the woman's mind was freed, she flung herself into the Maw before the soldiers could stop her. (Yes, the creature was dead, but the acid in its depths was still potent and lethal.)
Her husband? He would have done the same if the soldiers had not seized him. The poor wretch was drugged as heavily as the physicians dared, and confined in a hospital to keep him from harm. But madness and pain are often stronger than locked doors, and eventually he followed his family into death.
There were other wounds of the mind and spirit. No one was surprised when some of the survivors confessed to having bad dreams. Within a week, the physicians learned that all of them were suffering nightmares. Each and every one dreamt of the same thing: dark, cold, alien eyes, staring into them. For many dreadful nights they relived the moment when the alien ripped their minds away from the Maw's domination--and held them in his own. "He looked at me," a soldier said, "like a trinket he'd found in the gutter. I could feel him wondering if I was worth keeping."
Twenty-nine days after the alien departed, the Committee of Counselors returned to the Capital, and reported to the Emperor all that we had witnessed.
The High Lord thanked us for our labours. "We had a narrow escape," he said, and he spoke more truly than he realised.
So now you have had a tale, youngling, about two monsters from off-world. And I leave you to wonder, as I have often wondered over the years, which of them was more fearsome.
-- THE END --