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Fic: The Red Maw and the Blue Box

Title: The Red Maw and the Blue Box
Author: Lindenharp
Genres: drama
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."
Words: 1987
Characters: Tenth Doctor
Series: none
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.
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 --


( 36 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 22nd, 2010 02:58 am (UTC)
*shiver* Creepy and brilliant. Wondering if the poor mentally enslaved people were worth keeping, and deciding against it because he has no use for them rather than letting them go instantly because it would be wrong to keep them. The casual way he mentions destabilizing planetary orbits -- I get the distinct feeling there were no rescue operations, so all the enslaved people burned along with the Maws -- without showing a drop of empathy for anyone.

And yet, he's still the Doctor -- he has that pained evasiveness when talking about the Time Lords, and the manic cheerfulness. I think that is much, much scarier than any radical personality change, because it underlines that the potential for such high-handed, chilling unconcern has always and will always be in him.
Mar. 22nd, 2010 05:11 am (UTC)
Thank you. This is exactly the sort of review that an author loves to receive, because you get it.

Yes, this is the Doctor, cheerfully marching off to what might have been mortal danger. The knight errant, ready to face the dragon. But also... the figure of status and power and self-certainty, not thinking about the "little people" he leaves behind in his wake.

Thanks for commenting!
(no subject) - ryan_e - Feb. 21st, 2011 05:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - lindenharp - Mar. 22nd, 2010 06:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 22nd, 2010 04:42 am (UTC)
Creepy and scary...
Mar. 22nd, 2010 05:13 am (UTC)
Thank you. This is the Time Lord Victorious, and he is a very, very scary bloke. Remember what Nine said? "I would make a very bad god." He knew himself very well.
(no subject) - garpu - Mar. 22nd, 2010 05:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lindenharp - Mar. 22nd, 2010 05:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - garpu - Mar. 22nd, 2010 05:33 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lindenharp - Mar. 22nd, 2010 05:51 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - garpu - Mar. 22nd, 2010 05:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lindenharp - Mar. 22nd, 2010 05:59 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - garpu - Mar. 22nd, 2010 06:03 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lindenharp - Mar. 22nd, 2010 06:09 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - garpu - Mar. 22nd, 2010 06:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 22nd, 2010 08:34 am (UTC)
This is brilliant. You've exactly caught that balance between cheerful, carefree-appearing Ten and the real, powerful Time Lord the cheery exterior's hiding. I don't think I'd like to be under the control of his mind, even before WoM and definitely not afterwards.

Also, I liked the voice of your narrator, and find myself wanting to know more about that planet.
Mar. 22nd, 2010 06:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I confess that I was slightly worried if I'd drawn the Doctor just a bit too much over the top, but apparently not.

There was never any chance that the Doctor would keep his new "pets". It would be too much work -- and that's not a form of power that has ever tempted him. He certainly would never go out and intentionally capture some minds. But having won them in a game of telepathic tug-of-war, he couldn't resist looking at them and thinking about possibilities.

As for my narrator and his planet, I don't expect to revisit them. I don't know much more than appears in the story. They're felinoids, and have a level of technology somewhere around WW I England, though without aeronautical abilities. The "trading ships" are space ships of other, more advanced worlds in the region.

Edited at 2010-03-26 01:56 pm (UTC)
Mar. 22nd, 2010 12:55 pm (UTC)
Great story. Very scary doctor. Interesting aliens. Excellent writing!
Mar. 22nd, 2010 06:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the kind words!
Mar. 22nd, 2010 01:57 pm (UTC)
Love that you sprung that Time Lord Victorious on us at the end (Although my family and I call the episode Time Lord Oblivious because of an obvious potential solution not taken). And the way you can never tell whether he's kidding or not.

Mar. 22nd, 2010 07:26 pm (UTC)
Have you seen the Key to Time episodes? It's a six-story arc featuring the Fourth Doctor and Romana, sent on a quest to retrieve and reassemble the six parts of the Key to Time, a super-powerful artefact that gives its holder absolute power. Before handing it over to the White Guardian, the Doctor scares Romana by pretending he'll keep the Key.
"As from this moment there's no such thing as free will in the entire universe. There's only my will because I possess the Key to Time." [video clip]

Of course, that was Four, who was positively allergic to power, and was very happy to escape the Presidency that he only accepted in the first place as a desperate move to save his life. Fast forward a few centuries, and you have poor, wounded Ten, who is happy to claim all the power of the Time Lords, and all of their arrogance.
(no subject) - prairiedawntoo - Mar. 22nd, 2010 09:26 pm (UTC) - Expand
Mar. 22nd, 2010 04:43 pm (UTC)
This has to be one of the best Doctor viewed from the outside stories I've read. You created a credible alien civilisation with a few deft strokes - in some ways they resembled Time Lord society, which made the Doctor's treatment of them even more chilling. And your Doctor dialogue was spot on. Cheery, absolutely believable, funny, utterly Tennant and as scary as hell. Very, very good work. I'd love to see you do something similar with the other items in that list!
Mar. 22nd, 2010 07:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much! I have a fondness for alien POVs. Warning: self-pimpage ahead! One of my older stories, All the King's Horses, features Ten and Donna visiting an alien planet which is similar to Gallifrey in age, level of technology, and social stuffiness. Most of it is from Donna's POV, but some sections show the Doctor through the eyes of one of the alien OCs. There's also some alien POV in my post-CoE story, Consequences.

As for writing the other prompts... I don't know. Possibly. I have considered writing other fairy tales about the Doctor. Right now, I have two WIPs (Lyonnesse and a smutfic that I won't post until it's completed), and I'm going to be on the block in the next Support Stacie auction, coming up on Friday, March 26. But I'll bear those prompts in mind for the future.
Mar. 22nd, 2010 10:42 pm (UTC)
Wow. Amazing. Yes, that's post-WoM Ten all right. *shudders*

I question the narrator's choice of bedtime story, though - no way the youngling's going to sleep now! :)

I love how you imply a whole alien culture by casually referring to certain types of birds and the Summer festival. Very evocative.
Mar. 22nd, 2010 11:30 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you like it! Especially since I have you to thank that it's a fully fleshed-out story instead of a mediocre drabble.

The youngling may not sleep all night, and may be cranky tomorrow, but that won't be his grandfather's problem. *grins*

As for the implying of culture, I'm almost embarrassed to accept praise for something so easy. Unlike longer fics, where you have to build an in-depth, consistent culture, for something like this, just inventing a few scattered details is sufficient. And fun.
Mar. 23rd, 2010 06:37 pm (UTC)
Here via a rec from wendymr...

This really sent a shiver down my spine. It was amazingly written, and all too possible after the events of WoM.

The use of alien POV and the storytelling frame was perfect for the subject matter. Bravo!
Mar. 23rd, 2010 07:28 pm (UTC)
Thank you! I got the idea for the frame from canaana, who correctly pointed out that the first draft read as a mishmash of several styles, one of those being a fairy tale. I liked that idea, and built on it.
Mar. 24th, 2010 03:43 am (UTC)
Oh, now that's clever. The Doctor can be a right frightening creature if he works at it. Lovely work! Brilliant!
Mar. 24th, 2010 03:55 am (UTC)
*blush* Thank you. The Doctor can be frightening even when he isn't trying. He wasn't trying here, except during his struggle with the Maw. The rest of it--the alien flaunting his technological and psychic power--was just the Time Lord Victorious being himself.
Mar. 25th, 2010 05:29 pm (UTC)
Intensely creepy. Interesting balance, a savior more frightening than the beast he conquers. I really dislike the "Doctor-goes-bad/Timelord Victorious" storyline, but you made good use of it here.

I've often thought the Doctor should have a team of psychologist who follow behind him as a mop-up crew.
Mar. 26th, 2010 03:12 am (UTC)
Thank you! I don't think of the Time Lord Victorious as the Doctor-gone-bad. He's the Doctor with the same good intentions -- and a really severe case of hubris.
Mar. 26th, 2010 08:52 am (UTC)
Wow, this is really chilling. I love it!
Mar. 26th, 2010 01:59 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!

(I heart your icon.)
Nov. 9th, 2011 03:07 am (UTC)
Oh, my, this is creepy. And it crept up on me too, even though I knew it was gonna get dark. Very nicely done.
Nov. 9th, 2011 04:09 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'd glad it worked for you.
( 36 comments — Leave a comment )



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