Characters: 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: This story takes place sometime between Planet of the Ood and The Sontaran Stratagem. The Doctor is still recovering from The Year That Never Was -- an experience that he has not mentioned to Donna.
Previous chapters: Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3
Chapter 4, In which the Doctor remembers things he would rather forget, other people forget things they would rather remember, and Donna learns more about Gallifrey.
Memory and forgetfulness are as life and death to one another. To live is to remember and to remember is to live. To die is to forget and to forget is to die.
Samuel Butler, The Notebooks of Samuel Butler
Inter-Planetary Shuttle Wittec’s Glory, Mridan System. Empire of Paalgiou
Slodai Afkhan is happy. How can it be otherwise? Today marks his thirty-fourth year as Captain of Wittec’s Glory – and twice seventeen is a fortunate number, as everyone knows. And it is thrice seventeen years since he first set foot on the finest shuttle in the system. He was only a steward’s boy in the beginning, fetching cups of krattah to the passengers. He had no parents, no influential relatives to sponsor him to a better post. And then old B’Tem down in Engineering had seen something in the skinny brat with no House or Guild, and had begun to teach him. How many nights had he gone without supper or sleep until he could rewire a power conduit to B’tem’s exacting standards? How long had it taken before he could do the same task blindfolded? He had never bothered to count. He did not begrudge a single hour of the hundreds that he had devoted to learning every inch, every curve and crevice of his beloved.
His fingers dance over the nav panel as the Glory approaches atmosphere. Reset circuit 2-sigma to manual. Throttle power down 12%. Switch comm channel to Mridan VI Northern Hemisphere Traffic Control. A readout near his right hand is blinking rapidly, alternating between two sets of numbers. It doesn’t look quite right. Should that be 6.7 or 9.7? Never mind. Time to reverse polarity on the— that green switch on top. B’tem always told him that it was important to do that before… something else.
This is the point at which his co-pilot usually starts to look eager, watching like a skreehawk for some minor error that he can point out to his senior. But the young fool is staring blankly ahead. Probably has his mind on some planetside female, instead of his duty, Slodai thinks. The youth these days don’t know how to concentrate on the task at hand. A steady beeping interrupts his train of thought. It rises in tone and volume – most annoying – and Slodai scans the panel for the button that will silence it. And now there is a light, blinking in rhythm with the sound. A dazzling mauve light. So beautiful. So very beautiful. There was something else he was supposed to be doing, but for the moment, he just wants to gaze into the light. And Captain Slodai Afkhan does just that, smiling, until the moment when Wittec’s Glory is swallowed up by the blaze of another kind of light.
Imperial University of Paalgiou, College of the Sciences, Mridan III
Lord Sifran Renz, Professor of Analytical Transdimensional Geometry, stares at the text displayed on his touchpad: the rough draft of a paper to be submitted to the Imperial Journal of Advanced Mathematics. Something doesn’t look quite right. The formula in the third paragraph makes no sense. It’s as if someone else wrote those symbols – although that is impossible – because he does not recall seeing them before. And what is an infinite vector space? Surely he should know that? Surely he used to know that? His hand reaches out to the commlink control. He is overtired. He needs a soothing drink. His assistant – what is the young man’s name? – can bring him a mug of krat… krat… that spiced stuff. He presses a button, and it is the wrong button, because no soft tenor voice responds. He will have to go in person. Lord Professor Renz takes two steps away from his desk before collapsing in a heap on the office floor. A moment later his assistant is there, because although Lord Professor Renz has inexplicably forgotten how to walk, he has not forgotten how to scream.
Paalgiou Imperial Archives, Paalgiou IV
“I’m the one who let the Hrul out.”
Donna blinks. She can only half-guess what the Doctor’s confession may mean. Asking him to talk about it will be disastrous, but ignoring it is not an option. “Right. That’s good, then.” She continues before the Time Lord has a chance to interrupt. “Since this Rassilon bloke has been dead for a million years, we can’t ask him how he locked up the Hrul, so the next best thing is to understand how they got loose. So, what’s this Eye of Harmony thing?”
The Doctor looks like Donna felt when her friend Kate talked her into joining a folk dance class: three steps behind, not sure how to catch up, and uncertain if it’s even worth trying. Nevertheless, he falls into lecture mode. “The Eye of Harmony is— was an artificial black hole created by Rassilon for my people to use as a power source for time travel. The TARDIS – all of our TARDISs – drew energy from the Eye. It was hidden in the Citadel on Gallifrey.”
“You kept a black hole on your planet?”
“Yep. Safest place, really. Like keeping a generator locked up in a shed, so the neighbours don’t nick the spare petrol.”
The scary thing is, he believes that’s a reasonable analogy. Donna isn’t especially clever, but she grew up with an astronomy-obsessed grandfather, and she knows the difference between an asteroid and a tin of beans. She knows that a black hole the size of a speck of dust could devour the Earth, given enough time. That the Time Lords used a black hole – no, created a black hole – as a power source is pretty staggering. See, the TARDIS doesn’t boggle her mind as much as it should, because it’s too much like magic. Bigger on the inside, travels in time and space… it’s as unreal and fantastic as Aladdin’s flying carpet or Harry Potter’s broomstick. Black holes are real. People from Cambridge and CERN study them. They show up on A-Level science exams and BBC documentaries. And the Doctor talks about installing an artificial black hole in the middle of a populated planet as if it were a weekend DIY project.
“You scare me to death,” she’d said at the end of their first adventure together, when she’d refused to join him in the TARDIS. He’d saved her life more than once, and she couldn’t think of anyone she trusted more, but he had been bloody terrifying. The more that she learns about him, the more terrifying he seems… and oddly enough, the more she trusts him.
Aloud she says carefully, “So when your planet was destroyed, the Eye of Harmony went with it?” Gallifrey burned, the soothsayer had said in Pompeii, though he didn’t say how. Could a black hole even be affected by fire?
One look at the Doctor, and Donna wishes she could take back the words. His face is so blank that it makes granite look expressive. “You have it backwards, Donna. It was the destruction of the Eye that caused Gallifrey to burn.” For a moment, hearing his cold voice, she is back in the tunnel beneath the Thames, watching the Racnoss perish in fire and water. “It was the end of the Time War. We were losing. The mightiest civilization in all of creation, and we were losing. The enemy ships just kept coming. And we knew that once they got the Time Lords out of the way, they were going to slaughter every other sentient species in the Universe.”
She wants to stop him now, stop him saying the terrible words that she knows are coming, but she can’t hold them back any more than she could have held back the deadly floodwaters of the Thames.
“We created a weapon. The details don’t matter, except that the major components had to be controlled by two Time Lords who had been through the Presidential induction ceremony, and could link mentally to the devices. There were only two of us left who could do it: the current President… and me. The President said that she needed to be in the Citadel, to get everything ready at that end. The other part of the job called for some tricky flying in and out of the Vortex. Ro— the President hadn’t piloted a TARDIS for a few centuries. I didn’t argue.” He is facing in Donna’s direction, but his dark eyes are not seeing her, not seeing anything on this planet. “No one was going to survive, no one could possibly survive, but whoever was in the Citadel would have the quicker death. Right in the heart of the firestorm.”
Donna doesn’t say anything – can’t say anything – but one soft gasp slips out, and then the Doctor is looking at her. “Remember Vesuvius?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “That was nothing. An ember, a tiny spark. When the total focused energy of the Eye of Harmony was converted and released, everything burned. Everything and everyone. Except me, and I’m still not sure how that happened. I think the TARDIS must have zigged instead of zagged in the Vortex.” His shrug dismisses his survival as uninteresting and unimportant. “A few nanoseconds after the Eye exploded, the Hrul were escaping into the gaps between dimensions. It’s taken them a few millennia, but now they’re coming home to Paalgiou. And they’re hungry. So, yeah, it’s my responsibility to get them sorted.”
Continue to Chapter 5