THE CHILDREN THAT TIME FORGOT
By Monica Bovee and Will B. Swift
For continuity enthusiasts, this adventure takes place between the stories FATHER’S DAY and THE EMPTY CHILD.
And between Track 9 and Track 10 of the JUDGMENT OF SUTEKH.
9,259 Years Ago
The box she was kept in was dark.
The cold rain pelted the roof mercilessly. How long had she been here? A day... perhaps two? To her horror, she realized she had lost track.
The sound of her caretaker's footsteps echoed inside her head. Was anyone really there? It was so hard to tell anymore. The long hours stretched on, punctuated only by the occasional cries of the other children. Even when the crying was silenced, she sometimes thought she still heard their voices. Quiet, yet screaming, almost muffled by the dark.
And the ghost of her caretaker was always with her, his presence pressing against her, threatening to smother her. His commands washed over the cries.
Ever the calm voice of authority.
Ever the voice of control.
How many had there been? How many lives had he siphoned away? All of them children like her. Some even older than she, and yet they knew so little; they'd seen so much less than she had, and they never lasted long.
Their screaming would end as they shriveled and withered, the last of what they were vanishing into the dark… forgotten.
But she was still here. She had to be; she was essential to her caretaker's plan. Without her help they would never have been lured into this. They would never have been violated.
She knew the truth of that now.
When the end came and the task was finished, she wondered if she would die too.
To fade away.
In the dark.
The Torbon II space port glittered below a police box’s open doors. Rose leaned forward, gazing at the small planetoid and gripping the doorframe giddily. It gave her a spectacular view of the port's somewhat less than spectacular surroundings. A small and somewhat dilapidated city politely encrusted the port's rear terminals where most of the arriving visitors would never see it.
"It's a dive."
Rose jumped slightly. The Doctor was standing over her shoulder, his leather jacket touching her lightly. She stood upright once more and wondered vaguely what would have happened had she fallen through the door. Would that barrier have kept her from spiraling off into space, or did it only keep the oxygen inside?
She looked back at the Doctor and smiled. Well, he would have caught her anyway, wouldn't he? "It's not that bad," she said slowly and hopefully.
He raised his brows.
"Yeah, all right maybe it is," she admitted. "But it's just for a quick bite to eat.”
He strode to the console and checked the monitor screen pensively, tapping its side. "We do have food here you know," said the Doctor, though he was clearly more focused on the display. He seemed lost in thought.
"If you call that food," she stepped back into the control room. "I just..." She paused thinking it was odd that she needed an excuse. "I dunno, I guess I thought, you know, something new and different would be nice." She shrugged. "A taste of this little corner of the Universe." She smiled sweetly.
The Doctor glanced up at her and the tension in his face seemed to slide away, replaced with a broad grin. "Well, I can't argue with that." He started flipping switches on the TARDIS console. The doors closed behind her and the central column began its familiar compression and expansion. "Rose Tyler, if it's Torbon II you want, then it's Torbon II you get." He pointed at her. "Only stay out of trouble; no fights, and no frightening the natives."
"You're not coming?" Rose asked in surprise.
"I'll catch you up in a bit. The TARDIS has been acting a bit mopey lately." The concerned look returned to his face. "I think I'll stay with the old girl and look into it."
"All right." Rose turned to grab her denim coat from the hatstand next to the door. "Shall I bring you something back then?"
The TARDIS doors closed behind her. The central column began its familiar compression and expansion. "Oh just a couple of biccys and some milk, thanks."
"Biscuits and milk?" she asked as she wrapped her scarf around her neck.
"Yeah, that'll do for me thanks."
"The very same."
"Ah..." She thumbed in the general direction of the doors. "Slight problem, not exactly Earth down there, is it?"
He looked at her and flashed her a devious smile "I think you may be in for a surprise." The dimensional stabilizers began their almost musical grind. "All right, buckle up, you're off to taste the Universe."
“The time traveler has been located!”
The image of a blue box hovering over Torbon II was being projected onto the massive viewport of the ship’s bridge. The hologram of the TARDIS was surrounded by several other displays of crime reports, suspect lists, and patrol routs, all strewn across the transparent portal taking up half of the wall space of the circular room. Four bulky black consoles hung from the black ceiling. And each of these consoles was manned by a massive black-clad figure.
They were Judoon Officers. Large, top heavy rhinoceros-looking beings, each of who’s horned face bore an inherent look of grim determination. Their putty colored skin was a mass of furrows and grooves that extended from their large brown eyes to their even larger frowning mouths. Their jet black uniforms were heavily padded with energy absorbing segments and an armored kilt hung to their knees.
Troop Commander CoRo of Over-Sector 3-4 spun around at the words of his lieutenant and glowered in disapproval at the sight before him. The ship appeared to be made of wood, though the commander knew full well it was not. The deceptively flimsy and flippant exterior was like a personal slap to his face. Personal, because this was not a paid case; this was family.
The image shifted and rippled slightly. "Optimize visual receptors," snapped the commander with a wave of his hand.
"They are at peak," his lieutenant responded gruffly.
CoRo’s massive finger jabbed at the screen. "The ship is dematerializing!”
"The time traveler’s destination is the space-port below," the Lieutenant reported.
"Clear us for planet-fall immediately.”
“Yes sir.” The lieutenant waved toward the pilot who adjusted the bulky controls.
“The transgressor will be apprehended," grumbled the Judoon Commander to whatever deities might be listening.
With a series of ionic pulses, the cylindrical Judoon ship turned in the silence of space and began its descent toward the distant planetoid.
Rose had discovered that the interior of the space port looked like something out of a Star Trek episode – and not one of the good ones. It was, as the Doctor had said, a dive.
With a sigh, she glanced around at the various choices of eateries, she spotted a large red and blue neon sign flashing the words “The MAD COW Café” repeatedly at her. "Hello," she said quietly to herself. She touched her tongue to her upper lip and smiled. If anyplace is familiar with Earth food, this would be it, she thought.
Two patrons milled about in front of the counter, which sat directly below the glowing sign. Rose walked up and discovered that the menu was inscribed on the counter's surface in choppy script.
She began reading, pondering what a Purpled Brain Bliss could possibly be, when a cloven hoof suddenly clopped onto the countertop. Her eyes traveled up the hoof as it extended back into an arm covered in short white fur and ended on the other side of the counter firmly attached to the body of an impressively large cow.
"What'll it be, luv?" asked the cow with a voice that reminded Rose of the low hum of a cement vibrator.
"Oh, I... um," she hesitated and glanced up at the sign, then looked down again and found her gaze locked onto the large brown eyes of the unusual bovine. "I was just... so you must be the..." she found herself pointing timidly at the flashing neon sign. Rose glanced at her pointing finger and quickly tucked her hands up into her jacket sleeves as if she was getting them corralled. "Um, yes, right..." She started again. "So, the Mad Cow eh? Bet a name like that doesn't half keep the health inspectors guessing."
The large cow tipped her head to the left and flicked a velvety folded ear. The black spots on her sides shimmied as she stepped closer to the counter. "It’s vegetarian, luv. So what'll it be?" Rose couldn't tell if the cow sounded insulted or amused with her attempt at humor.
Opting for the optimistic she said, "Well, I guess I'll have the Brain Bliss thingy and also..." she hesitated when she remembered the Doctors request. The cow's large glossy eyes stared at her steadily, awaiting the rest of her order. Rose looked down at her hidden hands and muttered with a half-smile. "Oh, he's so going to pay for this."
I had to milk a cow! A bloody talking cow! thought Rose as she made her way back toward the open court where the TARDIS was. She smiled, shaking her head, while she weaved through a crowd of people. “I’m going to get you for that one,” she muttered.
The drone of the space port and its myriad occupants hummed in Rose's ears as she caught sight of the TARDIS's familiar police box exterior. Soon another noise began to punctuate the air. Steady and quiet at first, but unceasing and slowly growing in intensity. It didn't quite register with her brain at first, but just as she approached the TARDIS door and was reaching for the handle, she stopped. The pounding noise, now unmistakable, was approaching fast; it was the sound of marching feet.
Rose turned to see a double line of large, leather clad humanoids with massive helmets, coming up behind her. They were moving surprisingly fast considering their bulk, and heading straight in her direction. Several people let out surprised yelps as the Judoon parted the crowd, in a somewhat orderly fashion.
They advanced toward their goal.
With a sinking feeling Rose realized what that goal was. "Time to be going then." She spun around and grabbed hold of the door handle, only to hear the sound of weapons being drawn behind her. She froze in place.
"Are you the operator of this ship?" a voice boomed from behind her.
Slowly she turned around, raising her hands to the level of her head. The white bagged order was shaking in one trembling fist. Her eyes widened at the two dozen red ray guns all leveled in her direction.
"No,” she said, finding her voice, “No, I'm not.” She kept her tone steady and her breathing even.
The group's leader stepped forward and lowered his weapon. In one swift motion he removed his helmet revealing a wizened, gray, rhinoceros-like head. "Are you a Time Lord?" he demanded.
"No, no I'm just–"
"We are here for the time-traveler. Is there a Time Lord here?"
"No!" she said quickly, probably too quickly. Her focus on protecting the Doctor, Rose's voice had nearly been a panicked shout.
Taking a deep breath, she continued more calmly. "No, we just borrowed this..." she turned to look at the TARDIS, "ship. We're tourists, that's all, just visiting." She tried to think of a plausible story; something more believable than getting a quick bite to eat, when the TARDIS door opened and the Doctor stepped out.
He took one look at the troopers and then turned to look at Rose. "What did you do?"
She shook her head "This isn't me."
The troop commander now raised his weapon and leveled it in the Doctor's direction. "I am CoRo, Commander of Judoon forces in Oversector 3-4. You are under arrest in accordance with Galactic Law―"
"On what charges?" the Doctor interrupted "Whatever this is we can discuss it. There's no need for―"
CoRo shoved both the Doctor and Rose aside to acquire a clear line of fire on the TARDIS door. "You have been identified as Time Travel Capsule Type 4-0-1, Serial Number 74384338 and you will be tried by the Court of the Shadow Proclamation. Justice will be served.”
CoRo waved his hand at his lieutenant and said, “Rights!”
The Doctor and Rose, now forgotten, stood open-mouthed as the commander’s subordinate began to read the TARDIS its rights.
Rose started to move but the Doctor held her back. "No, Rose. These are the Judoon, best to let me handle it." The Doctor stepped forward. "Now, I think there must be some misunderstanding."
CoRo turned toward him, "There has been no error," he said, in a loud shouting voice which appeared to be the species' default form of communication.
"So you're really telling me that you're here to arrest this ship?" The Doctor furrowed his brow.
"That is correct." the Commander answered gruffly.
"And not me?"
"Your assessment is correct."
The Doctor's brows rose. "Well that's a change anyway."
Rose clutched the Doctor's arm reflexively and leaned in close. "This isn't... I mean, they're not..."
"They are," he responded, his voice as deep and settled as a stone.
Rose glanced at his face, which seemed tightly controlled. "But they can't. It's not even a person..."
The Doctor placed his hand on hers. "Don't worry. There's nothing they can do, not from here anyway. The TARDIS won’t allow it."
"Are you the operator of this timeship?" CoRo continued.
Rose coughed as the Doctor opened his mouth to speak. She yanked him aside and whispered "Um, there's something you should know."
He muttered under his breath "Rose, little busy right now talking with the angry Rhinoceros―"
"You will answer any questions put to you in this investigation." The Judoon's voice rose to an outraged pitch. “Only the time-traveler has the right to remain silent.”
The Doctor turned back to face him. "Yeah getting to that. Just conferring with my―legal advisor." He looked at her again.
"I, ah..." Rose whispered "I sort of told him you weren't a Time Lord..."
The Doctor’s head snapped in her direction "Why would you do that?"
She cringed. "Well they looked like they meant business and it sounded like they were looking for a Time Lord, and well... you're the only Time Lord there is."
“Right, got that.” the Doctor's face was all business. “Any other lies I should know about?”
Rose hesitated "I... told him that the TARDIS isn't yours... that we sort of borrowed it."
The Doctor's eyes closed and a tight smile crossed his face "So, no Time Lords here, and we've been joy riding in a timeship?"
Rose nodded. "Yeah, that's about it."
The Doctor turned face the Troop Commander once more. “I have been advised to cooperate fully with your investigation. In answer to your question, both myself and my companion are the indentured servants of this timeship.” The Doctor closed the distance between himself and CoRo. “Now, you're going to answer my questions. What exactly has this vessel been accused of?”
The commander shifted uncomfortably and seemed to wince slightly before he answered. "This time-traveler is accused of being an accessory to the kidnapping of Oreno the Younger, daughter of Oreno the Elder, also known as Oreno the Dispassionate―"
"Hold up, Oreno the Dispassionate? She died centuries ago. You might as well accuse the TARDIS of the premature migration of the Flokban Trouguth or the assassination of JFK!” The Doctor frowned slightly, and the timbre of his voice returned to normal. “I’ve never even heard of Oreno the Younger.”
The Judoon straightened his stance "This is no longer a cold case. We have recently uncovered new evidence that directly links this ship with the crime." His eyes narrowed. "Since you are the operator of the vessel, you will relinquish the key to open it." CoRo extended his open hand.
With perfectly drilled precision two Judoon swiveled to cover the Doctor.
“Ah... well... there we have a problem. You see this key”―he reached into his pocket and held the key out where all the Judoon could see it―“is part of the ship’s defense mechanism, and the defense mechanism, in fact the whole ship, is really fond of me. So much so, that when I’m threatened…”
The TARDIS shuddered to life, causing CoRo to turn. With a desperate churning noise, the accused began to disappear before his incensed eyes. In fury, he spun to face the Doctor, only to see the interloper's waving form fade as the timeship rematerialized around the two humanoids.
"What did you do?" Rose squeaked with delight as the familiar interior of the TARDIS formed around them.
"Nothing." The Doctor made quickly for the console. "The TARDIS just made creative use of her hostile action systems. Like I said, she’s rather smitten with me,” he grinned.
"Smitten?” Rose's eyebrows raised as the Doctor busied himself with the navigation panel. A heavy fist began pounding on the outside of the TARDIS doors. She glanced in the direction of the sound. “Where we going? Anywhere but here, yeah?"
"Right in one go." He steadied his hand over the console. "And what little corner of the Universe would you like to taste next, Rose Tyler?"
Remembering her incident with the cow, she decided that paying him back couldn't wait. "Oh I dunno, maybe someplace we can get a milkshake... and you can order this time."
"Earth it is." He looked up from setting the coordinates and smiled as he flipped the dematerialization switch.
The TARDIS, instead of beginning its usual churning sound, coughed out a guttural wheeze that deteriorated into a metallic groan like that of a ship at sea. The Doctor tried again and this time was met with a reluctant hiss.
"What's wrong?" Rose asked. The Doctor’s smile had completely slipped away. His fingers flew over the internal systems panel as he rechecked the monitor screen.
Finally he looked up. "Nothing. There's nothing wrong, she's just..." His voice trailed off in confusion. He looked down at the console once more and began resetting the coordinates "Come on old girl. Time to leave. I don't want to be here, and you certainly don't want to be here." And with a final flip of the switch... the Doctor was greeted with silence. He rested his hands on the console and his head dropped.
"What? What is it?" The Doctor said nothing. Rose rushed toward the console, looking at every button, switch, and light as if somewhere the solution would magically present itself. "Try again. Try anything! There has to be a way!"
The Doctor moved slowly to Rose's side and put a hand over hers. "There isn't any fault. She’s just… given up.” The disbelief in his voice filled the vast room.
"But it can't..." Rose started. Her eyes widened, she remembered the key. "It moved before―"
"She wanted to protect us Rose, but I can't make her protect herself."
The light in the control room flickered and dimmed as a heavy fist pounded on the TARDIS door. The Doctor and Rose looked at it reflexively.
Panic crept into Rose's voice."You can't let them have the TARDIS."
"Rose, there's nothing I can do."
“I don't understand any of this. How can they arrest a time machine? The TARDIS isn't a person...” she looked at the Doctor, a silent plea in her eyes. “is…she?”
“If you're asking me can she think, can she feel, and does she have enough free will to do this thing they're accusing her of..." he looked down and sighed. "Yes, yes she does."
"But you don't think the TARDIS―"
"No! I don't believe that." He pulled a lever on the console and turned toward the door. "There's something else going on here. I don't know what, but I'm going to find out."
The double doors swung inward releasing a flood of Judoon into the TARDIS. Two of them grabbed the Doctor and Rose, while the lieutenant resumed reading the TARDIS its rights. As the lieutenant’s voice droned on Rose studied the Doctor. His jaw was set in a hard line and she could see a storm brewing in his eyes.
Rose stood in the courtroom of the Shadow Proclamation and shivered with cold. Over the past two days, they’d been dragged from one official to another. Each one asked the same questions over and over, while the Judoon Commander CoRo documented every word they said. Rose let the Doctor take the lead in talking with the officers, only telling what she knew of the arrest, which in the end really was all she knew. It turned out being caught lying to a Judoon was a felony, so in the interest of keeping Rose out of prison, the Doctor maintained her story that he wasn’t a Time Lord. The rest; the kidnapping of some Judoon child, the TARDIS somehow taking part in it, was as confusing as it was impossible to believe.
Rose thought back to when she'd first seen the High Court of the Shadow Proclamation from the Judoon ship. It had taken an eternity of intergalactic red tape, before they’d finally been brought there. The Shadow Proclamation itself was a cluster of asteroids held together by long bridges of stone and encrusted with nests of gleaming towers. On the center and largest of these asteroids stood the High Court, an imposing silvery structure that jutted upwards like an elongated tombstone. Its long sides and rounded top were lit by massive white pearls of light.
The Doctor was still with her of course, but distant somehow. In a way he looked even more lonely then she felt. He’d been this way ever since the TARDIS had been arrested. Despite attempts to reach him, he only spoke to answer the questions the Judoon officers put to them.
Rose clutched her arms in her hands as she tried to warm herself. It was good to finally see the TARDIS once more, but the cold air wafting up from below was chilling her to her core. Under other circumstances the interior of the court would have filled Rose with a sense of awe. If ever there was an organization that could judge Time Lords or their chariots, this was surely it. They stood on a white balcony that seemed to be suspended over... well nothing, so far as Rose could tell. The pit emitted neither light nor sound, only bone chilling cold. The incredible depth seemed like a greedy throat, sucking down all hope and warmth.
The TARDIS was in the center of the chamber, suspended over this... hole. It hung steadily but turned slowly like a spider hanging on a single silken thread. A gravity bubble, a Judoon officer had said. Although the TARDIS looked the same as it ever did, there seemed to be something sad about it. Rose had a strange urge to place a comforting hand on one of the police box's paneled walls.
The balcony, which wrapped around the hole the TARDIS was suspended over, was backed by a curved wall that defined the vast circular room. From there, the courtroom rose up into a vast cylindrical shape. The air within the structure seemed to carry a light silver mist that spiraled up from the hole, bringing more of the endless cold from below. Rose looked upward. Directly above them were several more ring shaped balconies, each of which had a larger diameter, so that the sides of the white room widened out the further upwards her gaze traveled. Around each of these four balconies a protective railing of glass framed by brushed aluminum guarded the edge. Rose watched as the level above them began to be filled by many strange beings. Some looked to be human, others considerably less so, but all of them dressed in deep gray robes. They filed into the balcony through a low arch and began fanning out in either direction of the overhead circle.
"This court presents," a low disembodied voice suddenly intoned, "those honorable few offering council and propugnation for the purpose of vindication."
To Rose’s surprise, the Doctor finally spoke. "The defense team." Rose turned to look at him for a moment before returning her attention to the newcomers. The gray-robed figures finished circumscribing the level and took up seats for themselves behind the railing. Their eyes faced downward, staring impassively at the turning blue box below.
"This court presents," the voice continued after all the members of the defense had taken their seats, “those honorable few worthy of lawful pursuance against the defendant."
Rose looked to the Doctor for an explanation.
"The next level up..." He pointed. "The prosecution."
Rose stood on her tiptoes, not that it gained her much. Another ring shaped balcony rested above the defense level. This third floor also began to fill with people of various species, but these were dressed in clinical looking white robes that nearly matched the sterile white of the courtroom walls.
To Rose's surprise, seated among them, was the same Judoon Troop Commander who had arrested them two days before.
"Commander CoRo," The disembodied voice continued, as CoRo stood at attention. "As a descendant of Oreno the Dispassionate you have all the rights of lead prosecutor.” The Commander nodded in acknowledgment and took his seat once more.
"Can he do that?" Rose asked the Doctor. "I mean, if he's a descendant?"
"As a descendant he has the Right of Vengeance"―The Doctor turned to look at her and she could tell he was trying to mask the growing concern in his eyes.―"and all Judoon Commanders are fully certified court officials. As long as he follows the other legal protocols... yes, yes he can."
"This court presents," the deep voice said in a concluding tone, "those honorable few selected and sworn by law to inquire the truths as they stand, and to give true answer."
Rose automatically raised her eyes to the fourth level. Above that there was only an immense expanse of stars, which was sealed off by the almost inevitable clear protective dome.
The right side of this final balcony was empty save for one recessed notch on the white wall. But to the left, half of the ring of floor space was taken up by an assortment of eleven large metal boxes that stood there silently and expectantly.
"The jury." The Doctor said before she could question it.
"Yeah, I gathered that, but they're all. . ."
"A jury of her peers."
"You're joking, right? Those are all other TARDISes, TARDISie, er…"―she shook her head― "but they don’t look anything like our TARDIS.”
“I’ve told you before, the police box exterior is just a disguise that the TARDIS became fond of. Most of them can look like anything they want. For example”―the Doctor pointed to a single dark haired woman in her thirties, sitting amongst the metal forms. Her clothing looked almost ancient Egyptian and her face looked almost smug.
“A TARDIS can look like a human?”
“With the right upgrades. There were lots of them during the War.”
“But how can they be here? I thought the Time War―"
"Taken out of time" the Doctor said quickly.
"Can they do that?"
"Only temporarily and even that requires vast amounts of energy. Apparently the Shadow Proclamation views this as a very special case and each of these timeships agree." Rose could hear the worry in his voice rising again and decided to let the subject drop.
A deep reverberating chime rang through the chamber and a sound like the movement of sand over sand emanated from the highest level. Rose looked up as a sharp point of a white pathway began to flow outward from the empty notch on the fourth level. It extended towards the semi-circle of the jury seated on the far side, stopping only as it reached the center of the circular expanse. Then it began to shift upward, flowing like a waterfall in reverse. It sculpted itself into a semicircular lectern, the surface of which seemed to shift in small ripples like the air over a fire, until finally it solidified into a smooth and glossy shield of glass and metal.
Each level quieted, and became as still as the walls themselves, as a single humanoid dressed in a long white robe walked along the newly formed path. Rose could see immediately that the newcomer was female. Her long white hair and pale skin seemed to blend with the white of her robe. She looked surprisingly young to garner so much silenced awe and respect from the levels below―but as Rose watched her stride along the narrow walkway, she saw a sternness in the woman's features that contradicted her apparent youth.
When the woman reached the lectern, she assessed the jury quietly and then looked down to the levels below with burning red eyes.
"No formal announcement for her then?" Rose turned to find the Doctor staring with a look of surprise on his face.
"No need for one," he said slowly.
"Doctor, who is she?"
"She... is the One and Only High Court Judge of the Shadow Proclamation."
"I guess that rules out appealing to a higher court.”
The Doctor nodded, his eyes assessing the woman's features. "She's trained from birth for the purpose of hearing only the most serious of cases. They only roll her out for special occasions."
“And that's what this is then?”
"So it would seem."
The white robed woman gazed at the each level one by one. Finally her crimson eyes rested on the TARDIS and the two small humanoids standing near it. She gave a slight nod of her head and immediately twenty-four Judoon officers entered the first level through an archway and marched to where the Doctor and Rose stood.
The woman began to speak, her somber voice echoing from every surface. "It is known that the crime we examine today was masterminded by a Time Lord once known as Marnal. But the Time Lords are now extinct and therefore beyond even our jurisdiction. However, recently discovered evidence has re-opened this case . This Type 40 timeship stands accused of being an accomplice to the kidnapping and chrono-mutilation of Oreno the Younger."
The High Court Judge paused briefly to let her words sink in, and then continued “According to the uncovered evidence, the Judoon child was destined to become Architect of the Shadow Proclamation. Furthermore, she would have organized the other Temporal Powers of the Spiral Politic to enforce sanctions on the Time Lords. This, it has been revealed, was the reason why the Time Lord Marnal amputated her future."
A rustle of whispering swept through the court room.
“Amputated her future?” Rose asked, "Is that a fancy way of saying killed? I thought she was just kidnapped?”
“It's worse than being killed." The Doctor's voice was low. "The child’s ability to perceive reality and to be perceived by reality was reduced to such a point that all the things she would have done in her future would…”―he searched for a suitable metaphor― “break off like pieces of a melting iceberg."
“And that’s worse than death?”
“Infinitely. When someone dies it makes an impact. It can inspire sorrow, horror, or at least bad newspaper headlines. But, what they did to Oreno the Younger meant that all of her actions were absorbed into the background noise of Time itself. She continued to exist, but literally nothing she ever did ever made any difference. If it hadn’t been for this new evidence I doubt anyone would even recall that Oreno the Dispassionate had a child.”
The Judge had continued her outline of the trial. "In this case the Type 40 will stand trial for the crime committed by both parties. It will answer for its participation in said kidnapping and mutilation, and, if found guilty and deemed appropriate, will receive the punishment of having its birth point aborted from the Web of Time."
The murmuring of the crowd suddenly folded into an ominous silence.
"What does she mean, Doctor?" Rose quickly grabbed the Doctor's arm. "They can't do that can they? If it's here now how can its… birth be aborted?"
"The same way they brought the jury here, only easier." The Doctor's voice practically growled. "The TARDIS is a four-dimensional entity. It wouldn't kill her, just break her link with real time, making her existence unbearable to her as well as the Cosmos."
Rose touched her tounge to her upper lip."This... Marnal, who is he?"
The Doctor raised a hand for silence as a figure on the second level stepped forward. Commander CoRo took a deep breath before he spoke. “Your honor, the prosecution requests a Writ of Search be applied to the accused for the purpose of finding supporting evidence.”
“The evidence supported the issuing of the warrant. It also supports a Writ of Search. Your request is granted." The Judge now addressed the TARDIS directly. "The defendant will be subjected to a thorough search. If no significant biodata trace or other evidence from Oreno the Younger is found, then this case will be redirected to a subordinate court.” The Judoon officer standing just to Rose's left gave a dissatisfied grunt. “Are we in agreement?”
"We are!" Rose jumped slightly as defense answered. The Doctor broke out into a wide grin as a new pathway began to form where the Judoon officers stood. The white path flowed to an area just below the TARDIS and formed a circular pad below it.
"Well that's that then.” The Doctor put his arm out to the nearest officer as if to shake his hand. “Good luck. Enjoy your search boys, and do let us know how it turns out." The officer simply snorted and turned with the other Judoon to walk toward the TARDIS.
The TARDIS gradually ceased its slow turn and began to lower on to the pad.
It touched the platform with a light thump. The lead trooper shoved open the unlocked door. The Doctor and Rose watched in silence as two dozen Judoon entered the TARDIS.
"So they search the TARDIS for traces of this Judoon child―" Rose began.
“Which will take weeks–maybe months if they don’t bring in a lot more rhino-power. Gives us plenty of time to see who’s framed the old girl.”
"And when they don't find any evidence..."
"We're home and dry. Oh, they may give the case over to a lesser court but with Oreno’s reality quotient being so low there'll be nothing to hold us here long." He turned to face her, the relief evident in his features. "It'll be just a minor blip in the grand scheme of things, and then we're off. Fantastic!"
Rose smiled and, despite the serious setting, hugged the Doctor fiercely. The TARDIS would be returned to them and things could get back to normal... if you could call it that.
But before she could even release him the sound of marching feet filtered out through the TARDIS. The Doctor and Rose watched as the doors swung open. They were greeted by the back the Lieutenant, his arms carrying something on a stretcher from the TARDIS sickbay. Another Judoon followed, holding the other end. The members of the court grumbled ominously as Rose and the Doctor gazed at the wizened body of a young Judoon that had been pulled from the TARDIS. The child’s twisted mummified limbs jutted into the cold air, as if trying to ward off the police box.
For a moment the only noise was the creak of leather gloves as CoRo’s four fingered hands tightened on the railing above them.
Finally the High Court Judge spoke. "I see that you have found somewhat more than just a trace of Oreno the younger."
"Indeed your honor," the Lieutenant responded. "However, that was not all we found." Two more Judoon exited the TARDIS. They also held a stretcher but this one carried the bodies of two more children, both in the same shriveled and decrepit state. One looked as if it were once human, while the other appeared to be an infant of some three armed species.
Rose shuddered and covered her mouth.
"We have recovered the remains of fifteen children of various sapient species!" A fifth officer exited the TARDIS with another contorted corpse carefully cradled in his arms.
It felt to Rose as if the air temperature had plunged even farther. The TARDIS continued to give birth to a gruesome procession of stillborn children, each brought into the world with respectful reverence by a Judoon. The Judoon marched along the walkway carrying the withered bodies. They proceeded through the archway, up the ramps, past the defense and prosecution, and into the upper gallery where the jury resided.
Rose looked at the Doctor. If anything, his eyes reflected an even greater horror then her own. For the first time in all their travels together, he appeared truly lost.
Rose stood in front of the Doctor in the High Court's evidence sector, struggling to believe her eyes. The bodies of the children were being carefully covered in opaque plastic to preserve them. Each of which was then placed in its own glass covered alcove, located across from the jury on the opposite side of the court room. Rose looked away but found little else to focus on. At the far end of the balcony, the Judge rested in an ornate metal chair while several black-robed figures consulted with her. These were minor court officials who had received the bodies from the Judoon and, as far as she could tell, tended to the less glamorous aspects of the trial.
Her eyes skimmed over the jury, still firmly planted. Silent and unreadable except for the human-looking TARDIS, who seemed bored and impatient. Rose turned back to the alcoves. The last of the children were being shoved into the bags, removing their contorted mummified faces from her sight but not her mind. The Doctor stood right behind her, his fists clenching and unclenching. “They’ll try to pin all of these on the TARDIS” he said through gritted teeth.
Rose leaned back against his chest. “It’s gotta be a set-up, right? Planted evidence?”
"Possibly..." The Doctor’s voice seemed to clutch momentarily at the straw. "But something about her…” The Doctor turned and looked down towards the vertex of the cone-shaped room and the police box hanging there. “No, they were really inside the TARDIS. I can tell from the elevated artron energy they’ve been in there a long time–a very long time. They were there” –a sense of suspicion crawled across his face– “and she wanted them to be found!”
“How do you know?” Rose's brows furrowed in concern.
“Because I’ve spent centuries inside her and never seen them.”
“So... the TARDIS re-arranged its insides, just to hide them?”
“From me, yes. But the Judoon found them in less than a minute–she must have dumped them right in their laps!”
“But I thought the rhino kid just had her chrono... what's it... amputated? How can that”– Rose pointed at the Judoon corpse–“be her if she wasn’t killed?”
“Oreno the Younger wasn’t killed; her reality quotient was reduced. It turned her into what some would call the walking dead. People who no longer matter to history. People who have no potential and nothing they do matters. That"–the Doctor jabbed his finger at the shrouded body–“is just the physical condensation of the future the child was supposed to have.” Rose could hear his voice sinking with emotion. "The child wasn’t killed – but her future was, and that’s what remains – a shriveled and twisted ball of potential, tossed aside by Marnal.”
The Doctor’s arm swept in frustration across the room. “Everyone sees these husks as dead children because children are the primal symbol of potential future. It’s the only way your nervous systems can interpret the data.”
Rose looked again at what her brain was telling her were children’s corpses. Her head hurt. Time to change the subject, she decided. “So how can they put a time machine on trial? Surely it’s this Marnal bloke, who’s responsible. The TARDIS just goes where it’s told.” The Doctor raised an eyebrow. “Most of the time,” she added.
“They used to put horses and tractors on trial in your country. Didn’t stop till 1788, and the TARDIS is far smarter and more willful than Mr. Ed.”
“If it’s Marnal’s plan, shouldn’t he be the one held responsible?”
“A TARDIS’s relationship with its Time Lord is a lot more complicated than a dog and pony show. We’re bonded on a biological level.”
Rose smiled teasingly. “You keep talking like that and you’ll make me jealous.”
“Fair is fair.” He moved to the railing and gazed down once more at the blue box suspended far below them. “It’s not like she isn’t jealous of you.”
Rose frowned. Why did she suddenly feel like he was talking about his ex-girlfriend? She moved to his side and placed her hands on the railing, looking at the TARDIS. It turned silently in a slow circle. “Who’s Marnal?” she asked softly.
“At one time, one of my greatest heroes.” The Doctor’s face fell. “In the end, just one more Time Lord I couldn’t save.”
“So this hero of yours... he became a criminal?”
“He would have called himself a crusader.” The Doctor stared off into the depths. “He saw the coming of the last time war; the War in Heaven he called it. And he became obsessed with trying to stop it.” He sighed and turned to look at her, "Whatever he did, I’m sure he thought he was helping.”
“Don’t they all,” stated Rose. The Doctor nodded agreement. "But how could he use your TARDIS to do this? Did you run a Rent-a-TARDIS or something?” she asked trying to break his gloomy mood.
Despite her tone, the Doctor seemed honestly offended. “A Rent-a-TARDIS! You’re accusing me of running a TARDIS brothel?” Seeing the look on Rose’s face he added, “And before you say anything, No, Miss Tyler, I never ran a brothel – at least not one for TARDISes at any rate.”
“Marnal was bonded to the TARDIS before I was even born.”
Rose started in surprise. “But you told me you're over 900–”
The Doctor interrupted again. “I’m sure she wouldn’t want you to know” – He lowered his voice as if trying to make sure the police box couldn't hear him – “But the TARDIS is over nine thousand years old.”
“Hush! The old girl is upset enough as it is.”
Rose glanced guiltily at the TARDIS below them. All around the court room people were filing in. The adjournment called by the judge was nearly over.
The Doctor continued. “Marnal was bonded to the TARDIS for most of that time. She probably knew Marnal far better than she knows me.” Now it was the Doctor’s voice that was tainted with jealousy.
Despite all the tantalizing revelations Rose tried to stay focused. “So all this mess” –she waved a hand indicating the recently bagged bodies–“happened before you were born, and there’s no chance the defense will be able to put you on the stand to provide the TARDIS with an alibi?”
“No, besides alibis aren’t much use when the suspect is a time machine.” He glanced sidelong at her and the pensive look he'd been wearing dropped away from his features. A smile of realization spread over his face and he squeezed her shoulders. “But you might be of more use to her.”
“Me? How?” she asked.
But no answer came; the Doctor had already released her and was jogging away from the evidence sector, past the jury, and disappearing into the collective of black robed beings surrounding the Judge.
She hurried after him. But by the time she caught up, he was already deep in conversation with the woman. When Rose moved to join them, a robed arm blocked her passage. She found herself looking into the eyes of a middle aged, dark haired, balding man, with glowing green teeth.
"You have not been permitted to stand in the presence of the High Court Judge," he intoned. Rose recognized the voice of the judicial crier, who earlier had introduced each level of the court as it had arrived. He apparently had enough authority to keep her from where she wanted to go. She raised her head to gaze over his arm. It seemed the Doctor had already charmed his way past the man, or maybe it was the psychic paper he was sliding back into his jacket.
“I was just going to–”
“You have not been permitted access to her graciousness. Your presence has not been requested”–and though shorter than she, he managed to look down his nose at her–“neither is it desired.”
Rose ignored the man's contempt. She sighed and listened in on the Doctor's conversation as closely as she could.
“…I must remind you, Doctor”–the judge's icy voice counterpointed her fiery eyes. “–That under Hearing Protocol 42 of the Proclamation, you can only be granted two adjustments to the court proceedings.”
“Your Honor, the TARDIS would feel much more comfortable if one of her trusted servants undertook the responsibility of her defense.”
“Is the accused aware of the risk this puts her in?" The white haired woman gave a fleeting glance in Rose's direction. "A lack of understanding of the Galactic Law could lead to an inaccurate verdict.”
“The chosen defense advocate has all the experience necessary,” the Doctor assured her.
“Very well.” The Judge looked down to the defense gallery, where the gray-robed figures were returning from the recess and addressed them. “Advocates of the accused,”–her regal voice descended–“the accused has dismissed you from service. In your place the ship has requested that the role of advocate be taken by her servant, Rose Tyler.”
Rose stared in disbelief at the Doctor’s smiling face as he walked back to join her. “Me?” she asked.
“I don’t know anything about this hearing! Until yesterday I thought the Shadow Proclamation was a treaty or something. A piece of paper... not an interstellar united nations with its own court system!” Rose exhaled. “Why not you? This all makes sense to you!”
“Two reasons. One every court official must be profiled on a genetic level.”
“So, I’m a Time Lord, and profiling me would reveal…” With an expectant look he waited for her response.
“That I lied to them.” Rose finished. The Doctor nodded. “I could just tell them the truth” she offered.
“And they’d lock you up for lying to a Judoon.”
Rose frowned with realization. “You’re doing all this to punish me!”
“Nonsense!” He grinned. “The Universe has its own sense of justice. I just give things a nudge.” He gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “You'll do fine.”
"What was that you told the judge... about us being the TARDIS’s servants?"
"Oh yeah. Did I mention we're working for her now? The Judge – the whole court in fact, considers us hers."
"They think we belong to the TARDIS..." Rose paused, her head spinning at the thought. "You mean like slaves?"
"Servants, I said,–trusted servants. Why do you think we've been allowed to follow along on this case? The moment the TARDIS materialized around us we were considered non culpable accomplices ... innocents ... just along for the ride."
Rose continued to look confused
“We're not slaves,” he said firmly. “If anything the court considers us, well, more like...” He finished in a cough–“her pets.”
Rose’s eye widened. “Pets?”
“Only just,–” he added quickly. "Which puts us in the very useful position of you being able to represent her."
“I don’t even understand what the crime was!”
“Exactly.” He exited the jury level through a low arch and began descending a set of stairs towards the lower levels. Rose chased after him. “It means you’ll ask good questions.”
“Questions?" She ran alongside him "Isn’t it answers we need?”
His face became more serious. “We have answers.” He waved upwards towards the children. “Fifteen answers. Fifteen amputated futures that my TARDIS has been carrying around for thousands of years waiting for someone to ask the right questions.” As the Doctor talked he led Rose down to the ground floor of the cone. The defense team had departed leaving only a glass table and a couple of metal chairs. He turned to face her. “The prosecution is out for blood and they’re going to try to show that the TARDIS is responsible for every one of those husks.”
“And that’s when I ask the questions?”
“Yep, and that gives us something we need – time. For some reason, history was made to forget every one of those lives. And now I’ve got less than a week to find out how and why before my TARDIS’s birth is aborted.”
Rose sat down at the table and folded her hands together. “Doctor…” She chose her words carefully. “You don’t think the TARDIS could actually be responsible for…this?”
The Doctor’s face darkened and his arm thrust out in the direction of the spinning box. “That TARDIS–My TARDIS would never participate in breaking the Laws of Time! Not like this!”
“How can you be sure?”
The Doctor waved the idea off. “Every TARDIS has a governing circuit that limits the amount of damage it or its operator can inflict on history.”
“But you said the TARDIS has a mind of its own. You told me that sometimes it disobeys even you.”
Finally taking her seriously, he turned and stared down at her. “Yes. Yes, but that was different…”
Rose’s eyes locked with his. “How?”
“It just was!” The Doctor spun around to face the police box suspended above him. “The TARDIS has always had a conscience. Even without the governing circuit she knows what right and wrong is. Better than I do sometimes. How could you think…?” He trailed off, still staring at the ship.
Rose lowered her head, not wanting to see the pain she had caused. “Sorry, but you said it was my job to ask questions.”
He turned to look back at her. For a moment, his face was inscrutable, then he closed his eyes and nodded. “So I did. Well done." He looked back at the TARDIS once more. "I just... I’ve got to save her.”
“We’ve got to save her” said Rose.
She stood up and joined him at the railing. “You keep saying ‘I’ve.’ Rose held out her hand. “You’re not alone in all this.” The Doctor smiled as he took her hand. The two of them turned towards the TARDIS suspended above the endless shaft.
“She’s going to need all the help she can get,” said the Doctor.
A Judoon trooper entered the level, locked eyes on the two of them and began moving toward Rose. He produced a genetic scanner and waved it over her, no doubt recording her DNA, waist line, and the banana she’d had for breakfast.
As soon as the Judoon had moved on, the Doctor scooped up a blue glowing square of framed glass that sat on the defense table.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“Legal pad. Allows someone to instantly access all the records of this or any other court hearing held by the Shadow Proclamation,” explained the Doctor as he shoved it into his jacket’s inner pocket.
“Won’t I need that?”
“Nope. There’s never been a case like this one, so precedents will be useless. But it will help me keep up to date while I’m out of the court room.”
“And just where will you be?”
“Off giving the Universe’s sense of justice a nudge or two.” Rose watched the Doctor climb up the stairs leading out of the court room just as the judge returned to her gantry.
“The High Court of the Shadow Proclamation is once again in session.” The Judge's voice announced.
With a wave and a smile the Doctor vanished from view. Rose breathed in deeply and nodded; bolstering herself for what was to come.
“Advocate Rose Tyler, does the accused have anything it wishes to say before the prosecution begins its presentation of the evidence?”
Questions, thought Rose. Ask questions! She looked into the albino’s piercing red eyes. “No, ma'am,” was all she could manage.
“Commander CoRo, you may begin.”
One level above her the Judoon activated a massive hologram that filled the space above the suspended police box. The slowly rotating image resolved into a battered book with a broken clasp. Embossed upon its leather cover was a large tree of some kind, with the words ‘500 Year Diary’ printed in gold leaf below. “Your Honor, people of the court, this is the personal log of Lord Marnal of the House of Oakdown. It was the recovery of this piece of evidence on the planet Mars that facilitated the reopening of this case, and allowed the issuing of the accused’s arrest warrant.
“Inside this document Marnal recorded how he and the accused timeship kidnapped my great grand aunt, Oreno the Younger and performed this act of chronal-mutilation. While the accused may remain silent, the Time Lord waxes on at great length concerning the danger the Shadow Proclamation represented to Gallifrey. In particular, he was concerned with Oreno’s eventual rise to the position of Shadow Architect of the Proclamation and the alliance of Temporal Powers she would form. To that end the timeship traveled to a point when Oreno had yet to grow her second horn and lured her inside. Good taste prevents me from going into the grizzly details of what happened next, but in accordance with protocol, I offer a complete transcript of the diary; now available via your legal pads.”
Rose glared at her empty table, took a deep breath and raised her hand. “Excuse me.”
The judge’s eyes shifted from the prosecution above to the defense below. “The court recognizes the Advocate.”
“I…we just wanted to know why this Marnal bloke was so worried about the Shadow Proclamation.”
The lead prosecutor leaned over the railing and, glaring through the hologram, said “Marnal feared that the Time Lords would be destroyed in a future Time War. As the diary shows, he was obsessed with this possibility and took many actions against numerous worlds to prevent their rise to power.”
Rose took a deep breath and plunged in “So you’re saying the TARDIS was only trying to protect the Time Lords and the other TARDI…TARDISes?”
“That appears to have been the Time Lord’s objective; however the evidence indicates that something much more selfish was driving the accused when it committed these crimes.”
“What evidence is that?”
“The fact that the ship is here today!” The Judoon thrust out one of its three fingers at the dangling capsule and his words came out in a torrent. “Every Time Lord, every TARDIS and every Gallifreyan down to the last loomling was killed in that War, yet here sits a Type 40, a design that was supposed to be decommissioned and scrapped centuries before the War even began!
Pausing for a breath the prosecutor continued, “Its creators and pilots all died, but somehow this ship escaped unharmed. Its continued existence is the most damning evidence of all. If the accused had truly been motivated by the survival of the Time Lords then why wasn’t it destroyed in the final battle? Why is the ship here when even its pilot was killed? Is it because the accused ran in terror, abandoning him? Or is it because the ship had chrono-formed history by removing key people from the Web of Time; destroying the lives of just enough children to guarantee its own safety and survival?”
The Judge's voice cut through the prosecutor’s tirade. “The accused is not required to answer these questions.”
CoRo turned his flaring nostrils towards the judge. “By the time the case for the prosecution is complete the accused won’t have to, your Honor.”
Time to do my job thought Rose. “Your Honor, it seems clear that the prosecution has a personal grudge against my…time machine.”
“As the next of kin of the only identified victim this is likely. However, as a Judoon Commander, he is fully trained in court procedures and the Laws of Time. You may feel free to take advantage of his emotional attachment to the case, as he no doubt plans to do with you.” As the Judge finished speaking CoRo sneered at her.
Despite the fact that much of the ancient diary was missing, CoRo still managed to spend almost two hours reading quotations of Marnal discussing possible ways to avert the Time War by changing history. He then confirmed the Doctor’s prediction that they would be trying the TARDIS for chrono-mutilation of all fifteen of the biodata husks.
CoRo followed this up with a presentation from something called a Time-Space Visualiser. He claimed this device could tune into any specified moment of space and time and provide video and sound of events occurring there. The idea of such a time television seemed pretty weak to Rose after having traveled in the TARDIS, but she supposed it was safer.
A two dimensional screen was projected into the air. On it a small Judoon child, Oreno the Younger presumably, ran through a play-ground. In the distance some other Judoon children were involved in some variation of cops and robbers. Oreno rounded a set of red climbing bars which had been constructed to look like a gigantic spider, and stopped to stare at an almost psychedelic light display on a small nearby building.
Intrigued, Oreno approached the building. The double doors swung inward revealing kilometers of savanna under a clear blue sky. Two meter tall green grass swayed lazily in the wind. The child peered behind the small shed to see only city streets filled with buzzing traffic. Clearly confused by the discontinuity between the vast fields within the tiny shed and the cityscape looming behind it, Oreno returned to the shed’s door.
CoRo spoke up. “Members of the court, may I draw your attention to the Phelant Grass depicted within the timeship. This particular type of grass is unique to my family’s estates on the planet Stakkato.”
On the screen the child skipped through the entrance into the impossibly endless fields. The door closed behind her. Moments later the disguised time ship dematerialized with a familiar trumpeting noise.
A feeling of nausea at what she had just witnessed coursed through Rose. “What difference does it make who the gardener is?” She managed to ask.
CoRo snorted. “It shows that this trap was a premeditated and carefully executed attack, targeted at a specific child.” He pointed at the holo-screen. “And here are the frightened parents looking for Oreno.”
On the screen two adult Judoon crossed the play-ground calling out for Oreno. Apparently battle armor was standard on family outings, noted Rose. Moments after they left the screen the trumpeting returned, revealing the shed-like structure once again.
After several minutes the doors opened and the child emerged. Seconds later the time machine dematerialized; this time attracting attention of the child’s parents, who stared in shock at the vanishing shape. The two of them began to complain about teleport use being a violation of play-ground rules and agreed to file a report on the violation.
With a start Rose realized she’d completely forgotten the child, just like the parents, even though she still was on the screen. Oreno the Younger looked identical and yet completely different in a way Rose couldn’t quite describe. Her parents moved off to find the complaint forms, and after a moment, Oreno quietly followed them.
“You see now the true evil the accused is capable of. This ship did something so horrible to their child it is literally beneath their comprehension. During the Time War, such victims were known as the walking dead. For the rest of her life, Oreno the Younger did little more than exist.” With the click of a remote control the holo-screen showed Oreno at a sporting match sitting on the bench. Her team’s coach stood with his back to her, blocking her view of the game.
CoRo continued. “She was a member of six nukeball teams and didn’t play a single game.” Another button, another scene; this one was clearly some sort of formal family dinner. While Oreno the Elder handed out wads of hay for every other member of the family, the child was quietly standing in the background. The child sighed with resignation and stole a handful of fodder from her oblivious brother’s plate.
“As your legal pads will show, Oreno the Younger spent the rest of her short life unloved and ignored by everyone. One-hundred thirty-four years later Oreno the Elder died, having forgotten to mention her first born daughter in her will. Three years after that the authorities found the victim’s body in an alley next to her childhood home. An autopsy was not performed, but descriptions indicate the body appeared to have been there for over eight days.”
Rose swallowed hard. On the surface it seemed the TARDIS was being held responsible for the child’s rotten parents, but she knew it had to be a side effect of the child’s future being amputated. Like the Doctor had told her, nothing Oreno said or did mattered after that day in the park; she had literally become the walking dead. Looking into CoRo’s eyes she could see the same pain and revulsion she felt reflected there. Maybe the Doctor had been right; being overlooked was a fate worse than death.
Still, she wasn’t an observer here. She had a job to do and allowing sympathy to get in the way would not help her cause. “Right... well then..." she began slowly, “How do you know that was the same TARDIS? It doesn’t look the same to me.”
With a slight shake of his head the prosecutor appeared to gather his thoughts. “It is a well-known fact that the timeships of Gallifrey are capable of altering their appearance as a way of deceiving lesser species.”
“Not this TARDIS” said Rose excitedly, while pointing at the police box. “She can’t change her shape or color! The thing-a-ma-jig is broken!” Rose made a mental note to ask the Doctor the what the "thing-a-ma-jig" was really called.
“If you will observe–” CoRo touched the controls and the holo-display showed a spherical device with a series of numbers and equations beneath it. “Analysis shows the timeship was equipped with a chameleon circuit.” Rose winced. So that was what it was called. “And while the design of Type 40 chameleon circuits are known to be unreliable the one carried by the accused shows signs of being repaired several times. Indeed it is the conclusion of our experts that this TARDIS chooses to remain in this absurd shape–further proof of its unstable and maverick nature.”
Rose recovered quickly. “That still doesn’t prove that it’s the same time machine!”
“Marnal’s Diary records the date and time of the abduction. In several places in the same diary he records his TARDIS’s coding as Type 4-0-1, Serial Number 74384338, the same coding as the accused.”
Rose leapt on an idea, “Maybe Marnal had more than one TARDIS?”
“The Laws of Time and decency permit a Time Lord to form a symbiotic bond with only one TARDIS at a time.”
“Yeah, well... the same could be said of turning children into the walking dead. If Marnal was willing to break one law then he could have broken others.” After she'd spoken there was a long pause, then a wave of whispering began to rise up from CoRo's colleagues.
The Troop Leader frowned and took a deep breath. “The prosecution concedes the advocate’s point.” He turned to gaze on the row of timeships sitting on the third level. “However, as the jury is aware, new evidence uncovered this very day, connects the accused directly to these crimes.” CoRo took his seat.
“The prosecutor’s preliminary presentation is complete,” the Judge stated. “The accused now has the opportunity to offer a statement to conclude today’s session.”
Rose stood up. “Your honor, the accused is a machine; it can’t speak for itself.”
“A thought channel has been opened to the defendant’s telepathic circuits. The statement can take any form.”
Slowly, in the icy mist of the chamber’s center, a swirl of blue light coalesced into the hologram of a massive police box. All eyes watched and waited. The shape hung there dwarfing its more substantial twin and mirroring its rotation in the gravity bubble.
Rose looked on eagerly but the image seemed to be the totality of the TARDIS’s statement. “That’s it?” she said at last.
“It would appear so Advocate,” offered the Judge in a similarly puzzled tone.
“But what does that mean?” Rose bit her lower lip as she stared at the holographic shape.
CoRo bared his teeth. “Perhaps the accused is merely showing us the image of the guilty party.” With a snort of laughter he began to gather his legal pads.
“Or maybe it’s a message only the Jury can understand.” Rose countered. She looked up, her eyes sweeping over the capsules. They settled hopefully on the ship, whose exterior mirrored that of a woman. Rose searched her eyes for confirmation but found only finely honed boredom and disgust.
The judge cut in. “In any event the defendant's statement has been made. This session of the High Court of the Shadow Proclamation is now adjourned. Court will resume tomorrow with the continuation of the prosecution’s case.”
The Doctor sat on the edge of one of the slender bridges that connected two of the Proclamation’s asteroid cities together. His head rested on the guard rail and his legs dangled over the star filled void. He pondered the situation that had brought them here. One quick little stop at a spaceport at the banal end of the universe and the next thing you know your transport is apprehended by Judoon for a several thousand year old crime.
Things always seemed to have a way of aligning themselves just so in the course of his travels. His meeting with Rose for one. But this was something that had apparently been sitting under his nose for centuries. The idea that the TARDIS could do what they were accusing her of...ridiculous, and yet...there was something else going on here. Some undercurrent that pricked at the edge of his twenty-seven senses. He rubbed a hand along the back of his head. Best to deal with this later. Prove the TARDIS’s innocence and keep her safe–in the end she was all that mattered.
One of the thousands of observations and thoughts swirling in his head bubbled to the surface; Rose was emerging from the Tower of Justice.
She spotted him and stepped off the moving sidewalk before she overshot him. He was still dangling his legs and thoughts over infinity. Piled around him were over a hundred slender paper back books.
Rose sat down next to him seemingly determined not to be intimidated by the vastness. But not so determined that she let go of the railing’s vertical support strut. The Doctor noticed her display of bravado but didn’t react.
“Court’s been adjourned.” She picked up one of the books. The words 'The Gallifrey Chronicles - The Hand of Time' were plastered rather luridly across its cover. “Where’d you get all this?”
“Won them in an auction.”
“What, like from eBay?”
The Doctor smiled half-heartedly. “Haven’t you ever looked at those listings and thought ‘Who on Earth would want that?’ Well they’re not always on Earth.”
“So, that’s what you wanted the legal pad for, to bid on used books?” Rose picked up another book with a painting of what looked like a man wearing a large skull mask on the front.
“That, and to keep up with the trial. Most interventionists, like Marnal, fancy themselves to be writers – at least they did on my planet. They love to write up the manifestos to justify themselves and their actions. Deliavatsud and Ferain both wrote books that justified starting the war with the Daleks, so I figured it might be worth looking at Castellan Marnal's writings.”
“Waste of time. One hundred and fifty-six books about the history of Gallifrey and how nice it is…" he caught himself, "...was. One hundred and fifty-six attempts at trying to make the lives of the Time Lords look interesting.” He half-heartedly smacked one of the piles and watched the books float into space. “Nothing on kidnapping children from throughout space and time and chopping off their futures.”
Rose set the skull book down out of the Doctor’s reach. “So, you saw what happened in court?”
“What's with the Police Box hologram? What was it trying to say?”
“I don’t know. She’s not even trying to defend herself.”
“Well, it clearly knows something. Why can’t it just tell us about it?”
“The TARDIS doesn’t work that way. She’s not a machine or a person as we think of them. Time and relative dimension in space – she's a complex event in space-time. Movement incarnate. Her sentient matrix is made up of nonlinear time-frames instead of neurons. She doesn’t see the cosmos the way we do, and she doesn’t think like we do either. The only ships that were language compatible were the ones that were produced during the Time War. If you didn’t get one of those refits…”
“So, some TARDISes can talk if they’ve got the right upgrades?”
“Oh yes. Like the Type 101 on the jury, the one wearing the humanoid shell.” The Doctor pointed at his face and made a circular motion. “She can talk.”
“Could we get her to translate?”
“I wouldn’t trust anything the 101 said. I knew her Time Lord and he wasn’t exactly reliable. Besides it wouldn’t help. It’s like on Torbon II – my TARDIS just seems to have… given up,” the Doctor said with a growl.
Rose pursed her lips for a moment. “Maybe it hasn’t given up; you said the TARDIS has been waiting for someone to ask the right questions.”
“And I should have been that someone! Not some room full of people she doesn’t even know.” He rested his head in his hands for a brief moment, collecting his thoughts, before continuing. “I just never considered – not once in all these centuries…”
She reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. “Could it be trauma?” Rose asked delicately. “Maybe she doesn’t remember what happened because it scared her?”
“Nothing happened! I downloaded her Flight Recorder. She’s never been anywhere near the Judoon homeworld.”
“Well we can show that to the Jury.” Rose suggested.
“We could do. I just don’t know if it'll be enough, not if the TARDIS isn’t even willing to defend herself.”
At that point the Doctor’s jacket began beeping. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black box, the top of which had a flashing red light and number printed on it.
“Please tell me that’s not a bomb,” she asked warily.
Doctor jumped to his feet. “Nothing so exciting. They gave this to me so I’d know when my spaceship was ready.” The Doctor held out his hand and helped Rose up.
“Spaceship? What do you need a spaceship for?”
“When the Judoon IDed the biodata husks–”
“The dead children?”
“Yes. When they were IDed, I cross-referenced the list with the Shadow Proclamation’s census records. Marnal snatched children from all up and down space and time. One of the victims is still alive on Earth. His name is Corey Millard, and I’ve reserved a ship so I can go there and talk to him.”
“Are you going to bring him back as a witness?”
“Depends on what I find out. Though I hope I don’t have to – culture shock and all that.”
The Doctor turned to go, but Rose caught his arm. “So, you’re leaving me to deal with all this until you get back?”
The Doctor put his hands on her upper arms and looked into her eyes. “I told you, just keep asking questions.” he said gently. “Can you do that for me Rose?” She looked down briefly, but then met his eyes again and nodded.
The Doctor took two steps back from Rose and, without breaking eye contact, began to glide away on the slide-walk.
“Wait... what about all these books? Isn’t this littering?”
For the first time in a while, the Doctor grinned. “This is the Shadow Proclamation; the biggest book worms in the cosmos live here. Someone’ll grab them.” And with that he was gone.
Rose spent a good portion of the night and the next morning pouring over past case files provided to her by the computer system in the room allotted to her. It was, for the most part, an exercise in frustration. As the Doctor had said, there were no cases quite like this one, and the legal language made her head spin. An hour before the case was to reconvene she gave up and decided to calm her nerves with some music instead. "Earth Music" was what she requested the computer play. What she got was a disjointed mix of what sounded like Mozart set to a reggae groove. After a breakfast of the last of the Doctor’s bananas and what Rose could only assume were supposed to be eggs, she returned to her seat in the High Court’s chambers at the appointed hour.
She needed to focus. Commander CoRo called his first witness, a Doctor Pelap, Temporal Physicist of the Foundation for the Study of Advanced Sciences (Reformed Orthodox). Doctor Pelap, much to Rose's surprise, was a tree. Not a tree like Jabe from the Forest of Cheem, but an actual proper tree with a trunk, branches, leaves and fruit that looked suspiciously like crab apples. Pelap’s roots were sunk into a transparent gel which was incased in a similarly transparent hexagonal drum. She was about twenty-five feet tall and her fruit swung comically as the pot glided, Dalek-like, onto a newly formed walkway, extending over the hanging TARDIS.
“Doctor Pelap, you honor us with your presence,” the Judge said from her position next to the jury.
“I would consider myself likewise honored if this interview could be kept to a minimum. I am due back at the Foundation by the end of this astro-sidereal day.” The voice that spoke issued not from the tree but from a large green owl perched among its branches. “My fruit is ripening as we speak!” The bird’s voice was lower than a parrot’s, but still carried the suggestion of a squawk.
CoRo spoke, “We Judoon believe that justice should always be swift. But it was felt an expert in matters of temporal mutilation should view the… evidence that has been uncovered.”
The bird stared at the tree's central stem as if expecting an answer. It then turned and said “I have examined the biodata husks.”
“And your conclusion Doctor Pelap?”
“All fifteen of the samples represent the perceptual manifestation of the futures these children should have had. Each child was subjected to some sort of temporal amputation using very advanced science. Their future biodata was sliced off leaving them as the walking dead.”
Rose stood. “Your Honor, I would like to question Doctor Pelap.”
“The court recognizes the Advocate.”
“Doctor Pelap, could you explain how the dead can walk?”
“Surely the Jury…” The bird ruffled its feathers. “Is fully versed in Time War-era terminology?”
“I want to be clear what crime you’re accusing my…client of.”
“The walking dead refers to beings who have minimal temporal inertia; people whose reality quotients have been reduced to a state somewhere between point five and point seven. Such people are barely noticed by others and their effect on History is quickly dampened out by the biodata of other, chronologically healthier beings.”
CoRo brought things back on topic. “Could you explain how this could have happened to Oreno and the others?”
“Normally such a severe reduction of a subject's reality quotient is accomplished with a ghost cluster device.”
With a gleam in his eye, CoRo leaned forward. “And what culture invented these devices?”
“The Time Lords of Gallifrey invented and used such weapons near the beginning of the War. But, within the first few decades, their use was forbidden.”
“Why were they forbidden?” asked Rose.
“Officially? Because the creation of the walking dead caused too much distortion to the Web of Time–though many at the Foundation believe it was due to outcries from the Time Lords’ allies.”
CoRo interjected “So, even if their use was officially forbidden, the technology did exist?”
“Yes, but the manifestation of the children’s original biodata in the form of desiccated corpses indicates a much more complex form of retro-weaponry. Something like a chaotic limiter of immense power and precision.”
Rose didn’t know what to say to that. How do you ask intelligent questions when you don’t even know what’s being discussed?
CoRo clearly knew what was being discussed. “Would your Foundation be capable of building such a device?”
The bird seemed almost flustered at whatever it had to translate. “Gracious, no. I doubt even the Daleks had that sort of precision. Power yes, but not precision. No, this had to have been the work of a timeship of the Great Houses of Gallifrey.”
“Why a timeship?” asked Rose.
“The whole purpose of complex space-time events is the manipulation of the biodata of their crew. How else would they integrate themselves into each time zone? No, a TARDIS would be the ideal tool for this sort of biodata amputation.”
CoRo followed up on Rose’s query. “Would such TARDIS have to take an active part in the mutilation?”
“Oh, I should think so. They were all equipped with governor circuits to prevent violations of the Laws of Time. It would take both timeship and its symbiotically-bonded operator working together to override such a safety system.”
“And is there any way to identify which Time Lord and TARDIS were responsible for this atrocity?” The glee in CoRo’s voice made Rose nervous.
That same glee seemed to only annoy Pelap’s translator. “Again you waste my time by asking questions you already know the answer to. Every biodata modification a timeship makes leaves a telepathic print unique to the pilot and his ship.” CoRo opened his mouth to ask something, but the bird continued “And yes, it is the telepathic print of the accused time ship and a Gallifreyan Time Lord.”
Rose jumped in. “And you know for certain that this Time Lord was Marnal?”
“Advocate, my examination of the defendant’s telepathic circuits indicates he was the first Time Lord to form a symbiotic bond with the ship. He was its first pilot.”
“And, to be clear, Doctor Pelap” – CoRo did something with his face that Rose now realized was the equivalent of a smile– “The accused would have had to willingly collaborate with its operator for the mutilation to take place?” CoRo waved towards the upper levels. Rose’s gaze followed the gesture to the shrouded bodies. An idea began to form in her head.
Dr. Pelap answered, “The older timeship, such as the Type 4-0-1 were designed to limit and prevent damage to history. It’s my belief the severing of the victims’ biodata could only occur if the ship was helping the pilot override the design limitations.”
“Doctor Pelap, I have no further questions.” CoRo looked meaningfully at Rose.
“I did have one more question. Is it possible to determine what sort of lives these children would have lived?”
“That shouldn’t be too hard for a telepath trained in the reading of biodata. A general overview of each of the amputated futures should be possible to find.”
Rose’s vision locked on to the judge’s red eyes. “Your honor, I’d like the futures of each child… I mean the potential future of each child, to be read out to the jury.”
“What would this accomplish?” CoRo asked. “Their original futures can never happen now.”
“I’d like to know what these children were going to do in the future. Marnal’s diary only mentions Oreno. What about the others? Maybe they all grow up to be ax murders or telemarketers.”
“Irrelevant!” shouted the Judoon. “The mutilation of Oreno is more than enough to convict the accused. The motivation behind the other mutilations can have no bearing on this case.”
The Judge took a deep breath. “I disagree, prosecutor. The victims deserve to have their lost potentials read out. Indeed, it is the only honor we can still grant them.”
CoRo stiffened. “Your honor, if we are to do this I must ask that Oreno the Younger be the first to have her future read.”
“It will be as you request. Send for the High Court Fortune Teller!”
The Doctor stood on an ice-covered sidewalk. He looked up at the building in front of him, its exterior was a motley patchwork of brown and yellow, a paint job that apparently nobody cared to finish. He turned back and surveyed the busy street behind him. Cars sped by, leaving dark clouds of exhaust that quickly became heavy with ice crystals and sunk to the snowbanks on either side of the road. Layer after layer of it, leaving a dusting of lead gray on the snow.
He glanced down at the address he'd quickly scrawled on his hand. This was definitely the place. Fairbanks, the city was called, located in the state of Alaska. While it wasn’t much to look at, the early afternoon sunset begged for his attention. If the situation were different he would have taken the time to explore, instead the Doctor turned up his jacket collar and stepped up his body’s metabolism for the second time since leaving the ship. Striding up the icy outer steps, he entered the deteriorating building.
He reached the shabby door of the second floor apartment and knocked loudly. The air was punctuated from the floor below by a screaming baby and from the above by the answering bark of what sounded like a very large dog. But, from the door in front of him there was no sound at all; no indication that anyone had heard him knock. No hint there was anyone behind the door.
He knocked again, this time more softly. Finally he heard something, the unmistakable sound of springs relaxing as someone rose from a chair. A shuffle of motion, then a light thump as the occupant reached the door. "I'm here, Mister Dolman," a voice called out. "It's me Corey, remember? I've paid the rent... gave it to you yester–"
“Sorry,” The Doctor quickly interrupted, "It's not Mr. Dolman. You don't know me, Corey. I'm the Doctor. We've never met but, it's very important that I talk to you.”
The Doctor was met with silence. A flake of brown paint fell from the door and landed on the faded carpet at his feet. Finally the voice repeated, "We've never met?"
"Never," the Doctor responded.
"And you need to talk to me?"
"Very much so, yes. You see I'm trying to help a friend..."
The door opened. Framed in it was a wiry boy of perhaps eighteen years. His face had a suspicious look etched across it and his brow was furrowed like a dog puzzling over whether to come in from the rain. The Doctor squinted; the halo of bockatrons that usually surrounded a healthy human being was almost totally absent.
The boy’s dark unwashed hair draped over one eye as he examined the man in front of him. At first it looked as though he might close the door again, but instead a sort of helpless resignation washed over his features. His shoulders slumped as he blew the hair out his face. "Suit yourself." He sighed, and made a lazy turn back into the room, leaving the door open behind him.
The Doctor stepped into the warmth of the darkened apartment and closed the door behind him. The sour smell of stale sweat permeated the room. A fine layer of grime covered what little furniture there was, as if even the dust itself couldn’t be bothered to acknowledge Corey’s presence.
Corey flopped into a dilapidated barcalounger that faced an ancient television sitting on the floor. The TV seemed to be the only light source in the room aside from a thin sliver of sunlight working its way through the only window's thick curtains. Tiny people moved excitedly across the TV screen, clearly thrilled beyond reason about a particular brand of toothpaste, but no sound emanated from them.
The Doctor walked farther into the room. A pile of days old pizza boxes and take-away clamshells toppled over as his jacket brushed by a small table.
Corey glanced over at him. “Make yourself at home then.” He turned back to watching the set and exhaled slowly. “So, what's it to be?” He asked without looking up. "Come to share the Good Book... or maybe it's a charity drive?" He paused and clutched a soda can from a folding tray beside him, took a deep sip before fitting it snugly between his legs, and slouched even further into his chair. He looked up at the Doctor when he got no response "You did say you were trying to help a friend."
The Doctor shook his head "This is wrong," he said firmly, "This is all wrong."
"Ah, it's the Good Book then. So you've come to tell me the errors of this world. Well have at it because I can tell you that in about five minutes time it won’t matter–"
"And why's that?"
"Because in that much time you'll remember that you've got something more important to do." He laughed quietly but it sounded more like the air had been punched out of him. "Hell, I can make it only two minutes if I step into the john. Want to time me?"
The Doctor realized that his attention had in fact drifted. He leaned against the wall, willing his temporal senses to focus on the slippery imprint of the boy. With a quick flick of his hand, he switched off the silent television. He crossed his arms and intently examined the boy, who now had a rather surprised and concerned look on his face. The young man's fingers clutched the arm of his chair reflexively and his eyes darted from the stranger to the closed door just yards away; clearly wondering if it had been wise to let a total stranger into his home. Slowly, cautiously, he brought his eyes back to the Doctor, and gazed upon him as if he were the most fascinating thing on Earth.
"Your name is Corey Millard. You're eighteen years, two months old. You live alone, and for some reason, which you don't understand, nobody sees you... and I mean really sees you. Not because you're not there, oh no–but because you're simply not that important. But I'm telling you right here, right now, I see you. I know how important you really are, and I'm not going to just walk away and forget because you're the reason I came here.”
“Really?” The fear in his voice was tainted with hope.
“Now, I need to know exactly how this happened to you."
The boy's eyes widened, "I... I don't know... seems like it's always been this way."
The Doctor waved the boy’s comment away. "Not good enough. There has to have been a point when you still mattered. Think! When was that... at a birthday... a school outing, when?"
"Who are you anyway... How do you know about this... Why are you different from the others?"
"Not important. The only thing that’s important right now is you."
"Why are you asking me this?" The boy’s voice trembled and broke.
The Doctor stood up, closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. "That's a lot to tell Corey, and there isn't time."
"I've got all the time in the world." Corey waved a hand, indicating his run-down apartment.
"Yeah, well for once I haven't..." He gazed at the ceiling, the trial weighing heavily on his mind. He looked at the boy again. "But I will say this, you're not the only one this has been done to. It's happened before and I need to know how."
The boy sat up abruptly. "You're saying this was done to me? How could it–"
“You’ve spent your whole life listening. Now it’s your chance to talk.”
Corey shook his head in disbelief. "All this time... clerks trying to help the next person behind me in line... people practically sitting on my lap on the bus..." He looked into the Doctor’s eyes, sorrow marring his young face. "You know, I even burned our neighbor’s house down, just to get attention. My parents just watched as the police came and took me out to their car. Then, they walked right back into the house to watch the game." A single tear rolled down his face.
"It's not you Corey, it never was." The Doctors voice lowered. "The person you were supposed to be, the you that would have made a difference, was taken away. Now I don't know why, but I'm going to find out and for that I need your help."
Corey stood slowly, his eyes moving back and forth over the well-worn floor, as if searching for his memories in the carpet fibers. "Everything was fine... until the day we went to the zoo in Anchorage... then my mother left without me. I don't know why."
"Never mind that. Try to remember what happened before she left. You were at the zoo right? What did you do there?"
The boy frowned in concentration "Mom left me to get something to drink. Wait... no... I left her. She was buying food and I got bored; wandered off on my own."
"Where did you go?"
"I dunno, looked at the animals, I guess. I was pretty short and there wasn't much I could see on my own, apart from the snakes of course."
"Yeah." Corey's face brightened slightly, “I lucked out there. The back door to the snake house was left open. I knew I could get inside without being seen. The snakes were all in cages, mind you, so I knew I would be safe. I just wanted to get a closer look."
"And did you?" The Doctors eyes narrowed as he listened.
"Yes, I..." He paused and seemed confused "No... I didn't. There was someone there I think... someone who closed the door behind me. Then everything sort of... changed." Corey sucked in a quick gulp of air and dropped heavily onto the arm of his chair. "Oh, my God..."
"Stay with me Corey. Do you remember what happened next?"
"I remember... there were others there too," he whispered. "But I couldn't see them. And there was... a voice, the voice of a man. I couldn't move. Something held me down." He brought a hand up to his chest and clutched at his shirt. "Something pressed in on me… crushing me. I couldn't breathe. And then it was gone, lifted away... taking something with it, I think..." His hands dropped to his sides. "I felt lighter somehow, like I'd set something down and left it behind..." His eyes became unfocused as he stared at the wall. Then his voice tightened in anger. "What the hell was that? Who was that man?”
“Is that all you remember?”
Corey breathed in heavily. “At the moment.”
The Doctor frowned. It wasn’t enough. But the telepaths at the Proclamation might be able to help. "Would you be willing to tell your story? To me and to others, so we can find out the truth?"
He nodded quickly. "I'll tell anyone. I'll tell everyone you point me at who'll listen."
"Then get your coat. You're coming with me"
"To a spaceship I've got parked three blocks away." He waited to gauge the boy's response.
"Don't believe me?"
Corey exhaled. "This is the longest conversation I've had in over a decade; right now I'm ready to believe just about anything you have to say."
The Doctor reached into a discarded pile of clothing and tossed a blue parka to Corey. "It's not going to be easy you know. The things you'll see on the way may shake you as much as everything you just remembered."
Corey caught the coat and quickly put it on. "But they’ll listen to me? They’ll actually listen?
“I’ll make them listen.”
"Then I'm with you."
"Come on then."
They made their way down the flight of stairs and out of the building. The sun had vanished leaving only a weak rose color to the west. As they exited, Corey winced at the cold and the dwindling light.
"Don't get out much then?"
"Nah." Corey blinked. "I work nights."
“You manage to hold down a job. That’s impressive.” The Doctor nodded and glanced across the street. "This way then." He started past the stopped traffic and began moving to the other side; the foot falls of Corey close behind him.
The last of the light from the sunset faded as the Doctor neared the other side of the street. The sound of an accelerating engine filled his ears. Realization struck him. "Oh no... Corey!" As he started to turn, the wet crunch of metal on flesh sounded in the air as the boy past him, tossed forward onto the sidewalk. Corey’s head hit the ice covered concrete with a loud crack.
For a moment, he seemed fine. He lay there, face up, looking more surprised than anything else. The Doctor rushed to his side. Corey tried to sit up, but only managed to raise himself a few inches before toppling back again.
"Steady now, don't try to move," said the Doctor. The boy looked up at him. He opened his mouth to speak, but instead a silent bubble of blood formed on his lips, burst, and ran down his chin.
Behind them, the woman drove her car through the intersection without a second glance.
The Doctor lifted Corey into his arms. His eyes had begun to dilate and the raspiness of his breathing indicated he wasn't getting enough air. "He needs help!" he shouted at a nearby pedestrian, who responded by reaching for his mobile phone and quickly making the 9-1-1 call.
Corey coughed violently and began to twitch. Somewhere beneath the liquid filling his lungs a voice began to rumble. "Don't try to talk." The Doctor told him. "It's going to be alright..." though he knew he was lying. Even as he cradled the boy's head he could feel blood pooling in his hand, and the internal bleeding was obviously severe. Corey had minutes at best.
The man with the mobile phone finished speaking to emergency services and then after a brief pause he wandered off, muttering that he'd be late if he didn't get moving. The Doctor looked around but there was no one else on the street. The traffic hurried by unaffected.
The boy suddenly became still, which was even more disturbing than the twitching had been. The white cloud of his breath in the cold air guttered down lower until it could barely be seen. "No... No Corey, I'm here, right now... stay with me."
Corey turned his head as much as he could, trying to focus on the Doctor's face. One iris was larger than the other and both eyes started to cloud with a pink tinge of blood. The Doctor wondered if the boy could really see him at all or had only responded to the sound of his voice. The boy said nothing, but in his eyes there was a sudden desperate plea. Then he relaxed. His breathing stopped, and the Doctor felt the weight of his body increase.
He continued to cradle the boy.
Moments later a police officer happened by. After a few short questions and a quick glance at Corey, he began to call in the Doctor’s description of the woman and her car. Then he continued on his way.
The Doctor continued to cradle the boy.
The ambulance never came.
The Court had come to the third of the biodata husks. And for the third time the Court Fortune Teller, who looked to be the same species as the Judge, bent over a contorted biodata husk. From her black velvet sleeves white hands reached between the child's grasping arms and planted themselves gently on the chest. Her red eyes closed and she began the careful process of peering into the life whose potential had been crumpled into a ball, like so much scrap paper.
Halos of artron energy flickered about the husk as a version of history that was no longer compatible with reality was teased into existence. Rose had been informed that all of the Fortune Teller’s species were time-sensitive, but only the most elite had the ability to read peoples biodata; to see the future in a way even most Time Lords couldn’t have done. Apparently the co-founders of the Shadow Proclamation had a lot to do with such gifts showing up in the gene pool. Their faction had made sure that full use was made of members with such talents.
The Fortune Teller spoke, “Corey Millard... was destined to become one of the few members of a lesser species to fully comprehend the dangers of the Time War. His ideas would have been the trigger that spurred the development of his fellow Tellurians into a higher evolutionary species - a species capable of challenging the Lords of Time on a conceptual level.”
Even Rose was taken aback by this revelation. Several of the members of the court, including CoRo, gazed down at her in a new way.
The pale-skinned woman continued, “Corey would have ensured his world’s safety by setting a up a series of treaties with other members of the spiral politic – including the Shadow Proclamation.”
“The 21st century is when everything changes,” breathed the Doctor quietly. He’d been hiding in observation gallery of the court room, set above the evidence display cases. His eyes turned downwards to Rose. She seemed shaken by this information. No doubt she had lots of questions. And no doubt she could find all the answers she would need without him. So he stayed in the shadows.
The Fortune Teller removed her hands from the frail body and straightened up. Her blood-red eyes open but fluttering with exhaustion. The Judge spoke, “That is the future that was taken from Corey Millard?”
“It is, your honor,” the Fortune Teller replied. Rose and CoRo both stood waiting for the Judge to acknowledge them.
The judge looked down at them. “No doubt you have questions. However I believe a recess is in order. We will reconvene tomorrow morning.”
The members of the court filed out. Red-robed aids appeared and attached magnetic clamps to the jurors. Reverently they pushed the silent capsules out of the chamber two at a time. The Doctor stayed out of sight until Rose had left. For what he was going to try he wanted no witnesses – least of all Rose.
The Doctor descended the short stairwell to the jury level and watched the departure of the jurors. Again, he marveled that so many Gallifreyan timeships would agree to serve on a jury located in their own relative future. To see the end of their society. To see that the War would end with the virtual extinction of their kind. And then to cast the deciding verdict over the sole survivor.
Only two ships remained. One of them was a Type 65 whose exo-shell was looking a little frayed around the real world interface.
The other was the Type 101. Formerly a Type 45, her Time Lord had upgraded her to be the first of the 100 Forms – the ships that had been the Time Lords' greatest weapons in the War. Ships that could fully comprehend and interact with both three dimensional Normal Space and the five dimensional Space-Time Vortex.
Seeing her again brought back the horror of the War. The death and retro-annulling of so many that he’d loved. With a frown he began reordering his mental pathways to short out those memories. He was here to confront a different past.
The Type 101 wore a draped dress of Egyptian cut on her body and a look of impatience on her face. “I was wondering if you were going to say hello,” she said, squeezing more disdain into those ten words then the Doctor would have thought possible.
“Hello, TARDIS!” said the Doctor with a smile and a wave. He wasn't about to let her see him affected. “Actually, I think the rules forbid me from talking to the jury.”
“You never cared much for rules as I recalled. Just like your ship.” She turned to watch as the Doctor’s TARDIS was lowered on to an extended platform over the schism. There she would rest, still imprisoned by transduction barriers, until the trial resumed. “And look what a mess it’s landed her in.”
“Well according to the rules you shouldn’t be here either. A 101 Form is hardly a peer of a Type 40,” he said.
“You forget my humble origins as a Type 45 - Your ship’s younger sister. We grew up together in the Neural Construction Docks. I was once just as common as her.” She faced the Doctor. “But I had ambition.”
“Yes, your master’s experiments. He did do you up a bit..." he looked her up and down "I didn’t like it then and I still don’t.”
She smiled. “My master, and yours too in the end.”
Her words cut him as he remembered his only companion and friend for much of the War. The Doctor took a deep breath and set about reordering his neurons again. He couldn’t let her rattle him – not with so much at stake. “I’m here to talk about someone else who’s dear to both of us.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“You may be a 101 Form now…”
“I think I’ve evolved beyond both types and forms. Call me Lolita.”
“Ah yes, Lolita, Grandmother of the House of Lolita. There was no end to the favors you extorted from your master. A title, a house, and how did you repay him?”
“You’re from my relative future. You tell me. How will I repay our mutual friend?”
With a sigh the Doctor gave up on the neural reprogramming. “I’m sorry I couldn’t save him.”
“And are you sorry you couldn’t save me?”
“Enough chit-chat. I read the fine print of your terms of service. Whatever you and the rest of the jury might learn about your future and how the War ends will be jettisoned from your data-banks at the end of the trial. You all had to agree to it before the Proclamation set up the anchor and pulled you into the future.”
Her face hardened. “So, let’s get down to business.”
“Let’s. I need a favor. You’re a five dimensional being – you can see how this trial’s going to end.”
“Can I?” A smile teased at the corner of her lips.
“I’m only a four dimensional being and I can see it. Rose is just stalling to give me time.”
“We need something more if we’re going to shift events. If we're going to stop your sister from being aborted.”
“Who says I want to save her?”
“She’s the only TARDIS to survive the War..." The Doctor’s voice had grown suddenly louder but he caught himself and continued. "The only part of you to survive the War. That’s got to count for something.”
“Well, well...trying to influence the jury." She turned gracefully on her heel and walked to the railing. "You really don’t care about the rules.”
“I’m not asking you to change the verdict." He walked after her . "I’m asking you to help me gather evidence. I need a TARDIS to get to the scene of the crime. To see who was really kidnapping children..." He seemed to bite down on his next words, "I need you.”
Lolita laughed. “Don’t be ridiculous!” She leaned over the railing and removed a hieroglyph covered bracelet from her wrist. “The Proclamation’s anchor is the only thing holding me here in your time- stream. If I try to make a space-time jump away from this world, my reality quotient will drop like a rock.” She released the bracelet and the Doctor watched it plunge into the endless schism. “I’ll be in worse shape than those primitive brats the Proclamation’s getting all blubbery about.”
“Not if you had another anchor.” The silence of the empty courtroom now seemed to settle in on them, only the sound of the Doctor's voice echoed in the empty chamber. “Every TARDIS needs a Time Lord – it’s the only way either one is really complete.”
She gave him a sidelong glance “I have a pilot. He’s back in the war, leading the Time Lords.”
“But I survived the War. With an Imprimatur from me you’d be able to navigate this time-stream without depending on the Proclamation’s anchor.”
Lolita's brows lifted whimsically. “You’d bond with another Time Lord’s TARDIS? What do you think our mutual master would have said about that?”
“I know he wouldn’t have hesitated if our positions were reversed.”
Lolita glanced down at the battered police box sulking in the shadows. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that.” She turned back to look at him. "Obviously, you haven’t talked this over with her."
“Whatever happened has traumatized her to the point where she can’t face it. Not directly. She’s just given up. She’s not going to save herself, so we have to do it for her. To do that I need to know what really happened.”
“Do you really want to know? You’re a big fan of the apes of Sol III. Wouldn’t you be a bit upset to learn that your oldest…" Her voice darkened with contempt. "…friend delayed the evolution of your precious humans by 10,000,000 years?”
“Then something must have taken control of her. Disengaged her governing circuit. Something. She can’t have been a willing participant in this. You know that as well as I do. You know that better then I do.”
“If you’re so determined to toss the Laws of Time aside why all the talking?” She tightened up the sarcasm. “You’re a Lord of Time. I’m just a ship. Why don’t you just take what you want?” Lolita’s fingers brushed at the inverted ankh shaped pendent that hung from her neck. It gleamed with an onyx like shine.
His eyes locked onto hers. "You have to choose to do this.”
“What makes you think I’ll say yes?”
“Two reasons. One, deep down you don’t like the idea that your entire species is going to be wiped out.”
“And secondly... you never cared for much for rules either.”
Lolita smiled slyly. The Doctor smiled grimly back and reached out for the black pendent that hung on her chest. His fingers curled around it. “Hello TARDIS,” he said, enacting the ancient opening code.
Lolita rolled her eyes. “Old High programming? This isn’t the dark times,” she said as she took his hand and yanked him towards her. “Just hold still and think of Rassilon.” And with that she pulled the Doctor inside of her.
The Doctor was falling through Lolita’s interface into her transcendental interior. Artron energy engulfed him as the transcendent biomechanics wrapped themselves around his symbiotic nuclei. The Doctor gasped. The quadruple helix of his DNA burned as the codes woven into his very being were read into Lolita’s Symbiotic Relationship Circuits. The Doctor’s gasp turned into a scream…
Lolita, now the lone humanoid occupant of the court room, let out a long satisfied sigh. And, with a sound like a jet aircraft piloted by angry bees, she faded from existence.
Rose ran a hand down one of the TARDIS's blue paneled walls. When she'd asked for some time alone with her 'client', she hadn’t really been sure if this would be granted. Perhaps if the TARDIS were human, perhaps if it could speak. But perhaps the people here didn't know that she couldn't communicate with the ship … despite how it might have been trying to tell them all something earlier.
The visit had been permitted. The TARDIS stood before her, a solemn and sad-looking thing. The rather rotund Judoon officer who had brought Rose there turned away with a snort and left via the extended platform.
She was alone. Alone with the TARDIS. It was strange though. Somehow she felt less alone now than when she'd first been brought here, surrounded by people. Maybe the Doctor was right, maybe the TARDIS wasn't just a machine, a tool that taxied it's occupants across time and space. The Doctor had certainly spoken to it often enough, and, in a way, it did seem to have contact with him. Of course her Uncle Charley used to give his sports car a kiss every night before bed.
Rose sighed as she felt the wood grain texture of the panel with her fingertips, and then she remembered the image that the TARDIS had shown them, an image of itself. Clearly it was meant to convey something, but what?
"I wish..." she started, but she really didn't know what she'd hoped to accomplish with this. She looked up to the TARDIS's upper edge, to the light that sat atop it, now dark and dead. Its windows still glowed, but with the dim light of a dying ember.
"I just wish I knew what you wanted me to say... how can I help you… what can I do?" She waited, she wasn't exactly sure for what, but she waited. She closed her eyes, now keeping her hand still on the ship's surface, and tried to focus on just that simple contact, just the feeling of the wood touching her hand.
After several minutes of magical revelations utterly failing to pop into her mind, she let her hand drop, turned around, and leaned slowly on the paneled wall. "This is me..." she finally shouted, "just... just trying to save your life!" In frustration she swung her fist back to pound the wood surface behind her, but it only came out as a halfhearted thump. She slid herself down the side of TARDIS until she was sitting on the floor, leaning fully against it. "What do you want me to do?" she repeated.
Rose stared sleepily at her knees. It had been a long day. She'd been asking questions just as the Doctor had told her to do. And the strategy seemed to work. The more she asked the more she learned, and the more the court questioned its own motivations. But she knew in the end she was only stalling things, giving the Doctor the time he needed to fix the situation, to set it all to right. She'd hoped she could do something more though, that's why she'd asked to see the TARDIS, but trying to have a conversation with a box had turned out to be as pointless in fact as it had sounded on paper. It seemed that stalling might be all she could do.
"Well, if we fail, it won’t be because I didn't try..." her eyes moved over her shoulder and back toward the support behind her. "you hear me? I'll do my best, I'll keep them on their toes... keep them guessing." She was silent for a long while and when she next spoke it was more to herself than anyone else, "That's what the Doctor would want."
She was starting to drift off but she caught herself. She shook her head trying to clear it. A small helpless laugh escaped her lips. How would it look if the court returned and you were sleeping next to the TARDIS, she thought. She smiled at the implications of the TARDIS being caught sleeping with its… her?… servant. Still, what did it matter what they thought? She'd done all she could do for now, the rest would have to wait until the case resumed. She leaned her head back, resting it against the hard surface, and let her eyes close. Right now she had this time. Right now she wasn't alone.
She was with a friend.
The Doctor's eyes refocused. He found himself kneeling on the floor of the Type 101, the ankh-shaped cypher-indent key clutched in his right hand. When he was sure of his balance he brought a hand up to his chest and stood up slowly. His hearts felt as if they had been set on fire, pressed though a meat grinder, then for good measure, set on fire again.
"There, there... that wasn't so bad was it?" Lolita's rich voice sounded through the console room. "Hurt much are we?
"Only when I breathe" the Doctor responded.
“There’s a simple solution to that,” offered Lolita’s disembodied voice.
The Doctor looked around the control room while still rubbing his burning chest. He briefly pondered disabling some of his more aching senses but decided against it. Not when he was in the belly of the beast.
The chamber was red, an angry blood-red. Large, tree trunk-sized ropes of scarlet formed the walls. A muscular press of cording that wrapped around the interior, surrounding him. The Doctor steadied himself by holding onto one of the lava-like rises. It was surprisingly cool and hard to the touch. A thick, wet-looking, glassy surface covered over the deep-living red below. He vaguely wondered if Lolita was trying to mimic an organic being on the inside as well as she did on the outside.
The Doctor straightened himself and moved toward the console. After a moments hesitation, he placed the ankh-shaped key on to a sensor plate. A display read “Checking Complete + Fault Locator Negative + Other Functions Go + Next.” Dry words for the infidelity he was participating in.
The central column was already pumping up and down, regulating the counter-magnetization thrust that drove the ship through the Vortex. "I didn't enter coordinates..."
"I already know where you want to go." Lolita interrupted. "The scene of the very first kidnapping. You want to find out how it all began."
"Yes." He examined the rest of the console. It seemed to have grown up from the floor. Its bottom half the same blood-like stone, but twisting into a pitch black onyx near the top, it's panels a shining surface of jet. He ran his hand over the panel holding the destination display. "This is an interesting look for you." He didn't bother to hide the sarcasm and distaste in his voice.
"Oh, be truthful..." she said with a laugh. "Isn't it a much more engaging experience when covered in the semblance of flesh? Nothing like your Type 40 I'm sure. She thinks coral is the height of fashion." she added as a nasty little afterthought.
The Doctor smiled. "Funny that... you talk of being evolved. Strange how that seems to mean taking on the shape of what you've always considered to be a lesser life form."
"Your current incarnation is no better!" she retorted. "Look at you, stuck with whatever turns up. At least I'm moving forward."
His grin grew broader - she was trying to change the subject. "Oh, but you know what I think? I think you like it, I think it's grown comfortable for you."
"Don't be imbecilic!"
"No, really," he pressed. "Just like curling up in the scruffy, old robe and slippers with a big box of Milk Tray." He looked up at the light emanating from her central column "You've grown accustomed to slumming it."
"I take this form out of necessity!" she snapped.
“The others on the Jury didn’t find it necessary. I think you’re just showing off.”
"It allows me to move among those lesser lifeforms. It helps me to... to..." She stopped suddenly. She'd let him get to her. Strange how easily she'd forgotten that the bond worked both ways.
"Never mind." The Doctor enjoyed his triumph as he eyed the console’s ETA display. "We're nearly there."
The surface of Thelmos was a squelchy miserable mess. It's slate-gray mud burbling up, over, and into the Doctor's boots as he made his way through the tangle of slippery yellow trees that hung over them. But that was nothing compared to the irritating sound Lolita made as she slurped along behind him. He turned and faced her eyestalks that now towered above him "Do you mind doing that a little more quietly? Trying to find my way in the dark here." He waved an arm indicating the dim stars above them that twinkled green in the planet's atmosphere.
"You blame me?" she retaliated, her mouth a simple slit of silt-like gray that nearly matched the color of the mud she moved over. "You're the one who wanted to look at slugs."
She made a strange dissatisfied whistling sound, obviously something expressive of the life-form she was mimicking. "Slugs!" she repeated with irritation, "I'm simply trying to blend in with this ridiculous environment..."
"And don't you just. Slimy and rotten..." He laughed and nearly tripped over a submerged root. “and unreliable” he added.
"That is what a functioning TARDIS would do," she shot back.
"You could learn a lot from my TARDIS," he said as he moved his legs heavily through the clinging muck. "It takes a great deal more guts to stand out in a strange environment than it does to blend in to one."
She squished along sloppily behind him and said nothing. Finally, he couldn't take it any more "No, it's no good," he turned to face her once more. "I can't take you seriously this way, the shell... the eyestalks... it's all a bit silly."
Her mouth curved into a cunning grin that seemed completely wrong for her simple, innocent, snail-like features. "I'll bet I can get there faster than you."
"I don't doubt it"
He gallantly stepped to the side of the muddy trail and gestured with his hands that she should take the lead. She moved forward and quickly began to pick up speed, only to feel her weight increase as the Doctor stepped unto the horizontal lip at the end of her shell.
"Get off me you idiot... just what do you think you're doing, this isn't a taxi service you know!"
"I used to know Time Lords who would disagree with that. And, if you’d set us down closer, we wouldn’t have this problem.”
“Pardon me if I don’t feel like bending the Laws of Time to the breaking point. We shouldn’t even be here.”
“That would only apply if it was my TARDIS that does the kidnapping – something that has yet to be proven. Giddy-up!"
Several more loud disgruntled whistles emanated from her, but she moved forward, quickly flowing out of the drooping forest and out into a long smooth plain.
In the distance two suns began to rise before them; the larger of the two vastly dwarfing the other. It was an almost florescent pink. Its bismuth colored rays obliterating the flickering stars. The second, which overlapped it's larger sibling, was a small beach ball of yellow. They moved together, ever upward into the lightening sky.
The Doctor stepped off Lolita’s shell as they came within hearing distance of the Trooba. The land was exceptionally flat, but there were enough large deposits of coagulated clay that dotted the landscape that he could easily duck from one to another as he continued moving closer. Spiraling ever nearer to the Trooba herd.
"Is that really necessary," Lolita sighed. "You could simply enter me and watch with the scanner. I could move right in among them."
"No, thanks, besides we're here to watch, not interact..." He turned to give her a meaningful glance. "...or interfere."
“How disappointing. All these centuries your ship had led me to believe you were this maverick temporal marauder.”
"I have my moments. But there are more important issues at hand. We watch... that's all." He turned to look at her again. "And since we're not going in among them, are you going to keep that up the whole time?"
Lolita made a sudden clicking sound and fell in behind him.
He moved on to another clod of clay and peered around it. On the edge of the Trooba herd a small family were feeding. The mother was lovingly dunking her infant snail into a gray/brown puddle of mud. She shoved him down quickly with her long neck and then swiftly let her head drop down into the puddle once more, just below him, and then raised him up out of the muck, safely suctioned to the back of her neck. Each time the youngster rose up he would squeal with glee and then slide down his mother's neck and back into the water again, awaiting the next dunk.
The father Trooba sat in his own larger puddle nearby, a satisfied look on his face as he watched the mother and child at play.
Lolita stepped up to the Doctor's side. Her Trooba appearance discarded, she now looked as she had in the courtroom. "That's the boy there." She indicated the youngster moving about in the puddle. "AvvanisssHhh de cRoop," she enunciated perfectly. "He's the first victim."
"I see you're finally acting sensibly," he said, noting her appearance.
"If it stops you climbing all over me then yes." She looked at the Trooba family without bothering to conceal her disgust. "Feeding on algal blooms through the skin... the very idea."
"Well if it works."
"But I mean really... gelatinous slime for supper..."
"...and more of the same for afters." The Doctor continued for her, enjoying the repulsed look this brought to her face.
"Primitives..." he heard her mutter through clenched teeth.
They watched while the youngster moved on from his parents, as they knew he would. The mother and father became preoccupied with their own bathing in the cool wet fluid. AvvanisssHhh slipped quietly over the ground, with the Doctor and Lolita close behind him but staying just out of sight.
The young snail moved along, carefully avoiding any patches of mud that seemed too dry for his delicate slime layer. He made a slow path away from the safety of the herd, moving eagerly forward, without thought of the growing distance between them, without understanding that he was now so far away they could not have smelled to find him.
AvvanisssHhh suddenly heard a strange trumpeting noise, like a thousand duckmatoes screaming in unison. His neck extended upward and his eyestalks shifted forward as he witnessed... a miracle. Just in front of him, slowly blurring into existence, a small bog appeared before his eyes. The sound faded out as the bog faded in. Only when the very last of the noise had vanished did the boy move forward, slowly inching his way to the edge of the newly formed food source.
And what a rich food source it was. The bog bubbled steadily, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere, reassuring the boy that there was almost certainly living matter below producing more where that came from. The surface of the liquid teased with an appealing layer of yellow and green that shifted lazily in the light breeze. A happy sound escaped the youngster's mouth as he realized just exactly what he'd found. He looked back in the direction of the herd. He would have to tell them of course. There was enough food here that they could feed for months. But... his head craned back to look at his newly found treasure. Surely a quick dunk couldn't hurt, before he told the others, after all it was his find. Surely he wouldn't get into too much trouble if he tasted it first... then he would know if it were really any good at all.
His mind made up, he slipped into the edge of the bog. An infinitely pleased, purring sound emanated from him as he paddled his pseudopod through the delightful muck. Moving in a slow circle, he slipped ever deeper into the mire, until finally it was up to his mouth. He turned happily in the green, fetid water.
Some distance away, the Doctor stood transfixed, unable to believe any of his twenty-seven senses. Lolita, disinterested in the situation, concentrated on using her force fields to peel the mud from her simulated dress.
Suddenly, AvvanisssHhh’s head bobbed below the surface. For an instant he was gone, completely submerged in the bog's shifting waters, then his head resurfaced. His eyes fully extended on their stalks and wide with terror, his face showing quite clearly that he was horribly aware of his mistake. With a pathetic, rattling cry like that of a goat tangled in a fence, the boy was pulled downward, his eyes the last to vanish beneath the water's murky surface.
Moments later the timeship’s bog-shaped exo-shell broke into gravimetric packets which were pulled from reality with the disturbingly familiar trumpeting sound of a Type 40’s dimensional stabilizer.
"Well, that's that then." Lolita said, as if to conclude the matter.
The Doctor turned his back to the area and said nothing.
"You can hardly doubt her participation now can you?" she said as she stepped in behind him, making it impossible for him to ignore her. "You could sense it was her as easily as I can." She leaned in closer. "And there wasn't any hesitancy was there? No reluctance." Lolita smiled. "She was almost...eager for the experience. So enthusiastic, helpful..."
"Shut up!" the Doctor finally shouted. But she was right. His TARDIS, his future TARDIS, was actually looking forward to what was going to happen next. He wondered if this was how humans felt when they caught their spouse cheating on them. The Doctor glanced at Lolita – not that he could throw stones.
Lolita watched as he stalked off across the plain, now heedless to keeping out of sight. "Aren't you going to watch the boy's return?" she called after him.
He ignored her.
"Shall I just go then?" she said sweetly through a twisted smile. "I do have other things to do!"
The Doctor continued trudging toward the forest.
Lolita rolled her eyes and turned to look where the bog once was. She smiled, "I do have other things to do..." she glanced back at the Doctor as he moved away from her "...and you're not going to get very far without me," she muttered. With a warm buzzing sound her own exo-shell dematerialized and vanished.
Rose floated gently in a star-filled sky.
There was nothing above her, or below. Even her feet... her legs... appeared to have gone elsewhere. She supposed she should have been distressed by this, frightened, or angry. But instead, it felt quite liberating. As if something that had been weighing her down all her life, holding her back, was now suddenly gone. Taken from her and tucked away on some tidy little shelf somewhere... never to be thought of again.
Well, what she'd lost wasn't important anyway, was it? She pondered it, no it never was.
She drifted on the wind... was there wind in space? She considered it. She supposed time itself might be a sort of breeze. Always pushing forward. Or perhaps she was the breeze, the movement. The motion of something... drifting through space and time. Like starlight itself. She made herself spin round and reveled as the stars danced about her. As she moved against the wind and felt it slide across her face.
And then she stopped. There was something else there, in the dark.
In the blackness between the stars, something stirred. Like it had taken a breath and then rested.
She waited... and it happened again. A movement, as of someone shifting in their sleep, under the cover of blackness.
She watched as the darkness turned, moved closer and swallowed up the stars as it approached her. Drawing ever closer, it lightened from a midnight black to a familiar blue. It took shape, a box... an elongated blue box. Slowly it drew nearer, as though a million celestial ants were below it, carrying it on their backs. She wondered how she could see it's true color now, but there it was, lit up before her, as though she were the light that revealed it.
Police... Public... Call... Those were words on it's surface. But they were difficult to focus on, and after all... unimportant. Just as her legs had been.
To Rose's delight the doors opened outwards, reaching towards her. It was like the opening of a present. But to her disappointment there was nothing inside. An empty box, with no purpose, holding nothing.
And that seemed wrong somehow... though she couldn't think why, There should have been something there.
Impossibly, as the doors continued to open outward, where they should have stopped, they didn't. They continued to fold ever backward... open.... outward, taking a new shape. Like an origami angel, transfiguring before her.
Perhaps this was the present, she thought.
As it changed, it dropped softly downward. It's inside forming little seats of wooden planks, it's outside... still blue... still lettered with the unimportant words... becoming a boat.
A little blue boat, made of wood, that descended as she watched.
Before she even saw where the boat was descending to, she heard it. A sound like water, a sound like ocean waves. And in the distance a silver sea flowed out towards her. A vast river of gray and white, that was never water... no it couldn't be, could it? Light maybe? As she pondered it, it flowed beneath her. And she looked down, just as the boat touched into it.
She moved closer, examining the boat. She dipped down into the sea... no, not water... but cool and flowing to the touch. The waves slapped the sides of the boat as it sat heavy on the surface. The flowing silver just reaching the B in the word Box that still showed vertically on it's side.
Should it be so heavy? The box had been empty. She rose up... up... far up above. And the box... no, the boat... was no longer empty. There were children there, sitting on the little wooden seats, giggling and smiling... an impossible number of them. All tucked away in the little blue boat.
The boat was still on the moving sea, she noticed that. A fixed place, an anchor to the churning river below.
And there was something there, with the children... right in the center of them, a crystal? A light? She couldn't tell, but it glowed fiercely among them. Each child reached out eagerly to touch it, and as they did... they vanished. Fading quietly away... as though they had never been there at all.
At last there was only the light in the center of the boat, which sat still on the turbulent sea. One small light. The sound of laughter was gone. But there was a voice, that of a child, that wailed out forlornly in the darkness.
This was important- Rose could feel it. This voice pulled at her heart.
It needed her. She swept down to it quickly, but then found that she couldn't stop.
She moved faster and faster... and not of her on volition. She was being pulled... dragged... past the boat and into the moving silver below.
The light surrounded and engulfed her as she sank below its surface; still pulling, still drawing her forward. She struggled to free herself, but those unimportant arms... those unimportant legs, were no longer there to help her.
Something moved in the light before her, something large and powerful moving as quickly toward her as she was toward it. It glowed with it's own light as it ran to her on four powerful legs. Its beastly coat moving like seagrass as it pushed through the unrelenting waves.
Lupine eyes looked right into her, glowing with everlasting flame.
It collided with her
And she burned with it's light.
"Do you have any idea just how ridiculous and pathetic you look... no, I don't suppose you do." The harsh words of a female voice woke Rose. Her eyes snapped open, the blinding light in her dream quickly fading and leaving only the comparatively dim and cold surroundings of the court room.
At first she thought she'd been caught sleeping by the TARDIS’s side... but there was no one there. She reached back and felt the reassuring wooden panel behind her. She was about to stand when the voice continued.
"Nothing to say to me at all then?" the voice chided from the other side of the TARDIS "I wish I could say I'm surprised ... it's no good sulking, you know. You got yourself into this mess, and now your... pilot..." The word was dripping with contempt. "Seems to think it's worth my time trying to pull you out of it."
There was a long pause where the woman said nothing. Rose kept close to the TARDIS, still hunched as if she needed to duck down to hide behind it. She leaned in close, her hands steadied against it, and listened. The woman obviously knew the TARDIS... but just how well did she know her? Intimately enough to be disappointed in her it seemed. The woman's tone reminded Rose of her mother in one of her nagging moods ... it had a different nuance of course but the spirit of disapproval and failed expectations rang through clearly. Rose held herself still, realizing the TARDIS was the only thing shielding her from detection.
"And just what did you think would happen?" Rose nearly jumped as the voice continued, "You let them see what was left of those... things, you could have rid yourself of them ages ago.
Another pause. “What exactly were you expecting? Mercy? From these primitive cretins?" Another pause. Rose wondered if the woman really was communicating with the TARDIS... or simply believed that she was. "Honestly ... it amazes me beyond reason that you were the last survivor of our species."
The woman's voice, which Rose now understood could only belong to the human-shaped TARDIS, dropped into a softer, but more menacing, timbre. Rose could almost imagine her leaning near the blue box secretively. "But now you’re not the only one."
“I suppose you've noticed that your pilot isn't here. I’ve stolen your precious thief. Took him on a little trip." The woman paused, obviously to let her words have full impact. "Not exactly the mind shattering experience I'd been led to believe it was ... you do like to talk him up, don't you? Actually, it was his idea. I think he found the change rather refreshing. I suppose I'll go back for him... when I feel like it."
Rose felt a hum rising from the wood beneath her fingertips. "Oh, don't snivel," the woman snapped. "I'll fetch him before the court resumes... he's far too useful to leave lying around." She gave a sniff of derision. "Really I should thank you. If it wasn't for your penchant for holding onto useless relics I would never have been able to travel in this time stream." The woman paused once more, possibly awaiting an answer from the silent box. Then with a huff of condemnation, she turned and walked away.
Rose waited until she could no longer hear her footfalls on the bone white floor before stepping out from behind the TARDIS. She was unsure of what had just happened. Obviously the woman... TARDIS... Rose shook her head, whatever she was... obviously she had taken the Doctor somewhere and left him there. But there was more to it than that. She could almost 'feel' a change in the TARDIS as the woman had delivered this news, and the tone she used reminded Rose of a woman threatening to steal another's man... or perhaps one that already had.
She thought back to what the Doctor said about the connection between Time Lords and their TARDISes. Still, for all her bravado it seemed like the woman needed something... from the Doctor? From the TARDIS? Rose wasn’t sure. But the woman almost certainly had a goal and whatever it was she doubted it would work out in their favor. Something she’d have to ask the Doctor about… if this woman ever brought him back.
A chime reverberated through the courtroom and the lights came up as Rose looked to see the prosecution arriving and the jurors being brought in. Her stomach growled at her, and Rose realized she'd completely missed having any breakfast. No time for that now, she thought, as the TARDIS gave a slight shudder and was slowly lifted up from the floor. The platform below it began to retract back on itself, like so much shifting sand.
Rose nodded to the TARDIS as she backed her way toward the circular wall. "Don't worry, I'll get this sorted, everything's going to be alright," she reassured it. Then she made her way to the table for the defense.
Lolita stepped, seemingly from thin air, into a room connected to the main jury level. With a quick motion she drew her fingers down from the top of her forehead to the end of her chin. As she did so, her face opened outward. The newly formed break traveled downward and grew in size. When it had become large enough that a person could have stepped through it, one did.
The Doctor exited Lolita and turned just in time to see her body folding back into its usual shape. She briskly brushed the front of her gown with her hands as though trying to clear away some unseen dust. "You tracked mud and leaves all over my control room, you know."
The Doctor gave her a disgruntled sideways glance and said nothing.
"I see your mood hasn’t improved," she began. "Finally accepted the reality of the situation then?"
"Just needed some time to think..." he muttered.
“Is that what you were doing the whole time you were sitting in the mud under that tree? You organics take so long to process the simplest pieces of information. And after all that pondering you came to the same conclusion as the court did two days ago – guilty?”
The second chime rang through the court room indicating that all parties should take their positions for the case to resume. The Doctor moved down the staircase towards the defense level. His head bowed as if avoiding the hanging police box’s gaze.
Rose looked down at her newly acquired legal pad the Judoon officer had brought for her. She'd felt a right fool explaining how she'd 'lost' it, but, given how the Judoon reacted to theft, telling the truth had seemed even more foolish. The officer had simply snorted, as if that sort of behavior was expected of her species, and handed her a new one. She looked up to see the Doctor standing next to her.
"Where have you been?" She tried to hide her surprise.
"Out and about," his face darkened. "I found out a few unpleasant truths."
"Are any of them helpful, unpleasant truths?"
"Not a silver lining in sight.”
The shuffle of the courtroom's occupants became louder and Rose knew it wouldn't be long before the judge returned. Putting aside her pleasure at seeing the Doctor, she folded her arms and looked at him accusingly. "Third chime hasn't rung yet, we're still waiting on the judge. So... you went gallivanting off with that other TARDIS."
The Doctor looked confused for an instant "You know about that?"
"Hard not to when that fake woman..." Rose pointed to the jury level.
“Lolita?” repeated Rose as her train of thought derailed.
“Fine, when Lolita..." Rose said the name as though it tasted bad” is down there with our TARDIS rubbing her nose in it."
"She did what?"
"I was with the TARDIS," she hesitated. "I'd... fallen asleep. When I woke up, your Lolita was telling her that she'd taken you away somewhere."
A pained expression crossed his face as he finally looked at the TARDIS. "She's not my Lolita."
"Isn't she?" Rose steadied herself as if bracing for a fight "What was that you we're saying about the dog and pony show?
“This has nothing to do with you,” said the Doctor tightly.
“The way I see it, you left me here to defend the TARDIS, so maybe I'm offended on her behalf."
The Doctor looked back at Rose and gave a slight smile. "You said her."
Rose was caught off guard. "No, I didn't. It" she corrected herself. "I'm offended on its behalf."
The Doctor reached out and held her shoulders in his hands. "Rose, I had to, I needed to know what happened."
Rose relaxed and her features softened "Where did you go?"
"To the time and place of the first abduction."
"What did you see?” Rose interrupted "Was it her?" She slowed as she saw him frown. "You mean the TARDIS... our TARDIS was there? She did kidnap the child?"
"No!" he gripped her shoulders tightly "She was there yes, but..." The Doctor released her and turned away. “It was worse than that.”
Rose’s eyes widened. “Worse?”
He was silent for a moment and then turned to look back at her. When he finally spoke his voice was a mixture of confusion and anger. “She wasn't scared. She had no regrets about what she was doing. In fact she was looking forward to it! It was all one great adventure!”
“So she is guilty” whispered Rose. “That’s why she made it so easy to find the… husks. She wanted everyone to know the truth.”
“No. No there’s something else. Something we’re both missing. Something I’m missing.” He slumped down into a chair behind the defense table and continued talking almost to himself. “Those reactions were totally unlike her. I’ve got to find out what changed her into…” The word hung unsaid.
The third chime rang through the courtroom. Rose turned to see the Judge approaching her lectern. Beyond her, Rose could see the jury and, in particular, Lolita gazing down on them. But then she noticed... no, she wasn't just looking at them. She was looking specifically at the Doctor. The woman's eyes narrowed as she examined the back of his head, scrutinizing it. Looking, for all the world, as though she were trying to decide the best way to dissect it and label all the bits for posterity. Rose wondered if all the other TARDISes had looked like people, would they be as intense as this one seemed. Suddenly, Lolita's eyes were on her. She gave Rose a curt, condescending smile then looked away.
“Commander CoRo, you may begin,” said the judge without preamble.
“Beings of the court, we will begin by looking at the severed remains of AvvanisssHhh de cRoop.” On the platform a snail shelled husk was being pulled from its protective covering. CoRo continued. “His potential crushed under the heel of the accused and its accomplice Marnal. A potential we all should have been able to share in. As the Court Fortune Teller has shown us, each of these children would have improved the lives of trillions of beings throughout the Spiral Politic.
Rose glanced at the Doctor for encouragement. But he just stared at the TARDIS in resignation. The Police Box continued to twist slowly in the air, as if trying to avoid his gaze.
"Alright,” she said, realizing she was on her own. “Let's do this.”
Over the next four days, CoRo continued to have the fortune teller read out the aborted futures of the children. This was interspersed with various experts and witnesses who unsurprisingly, all claimed not to remember the victims.
CoRo had even tried to subpoena Marnal himself from the distant past, but that would have required inviting a younger version of the TARDIS to ferry him to the present. Apparently, having the same TARDIS, at different points in it life, show up in same place broke some heinous rule of time or something.
In the meantime, The Doctor had nipped off with Lolita several more times, and each of these quiet excursions had only confirmed what they already knew: The TARDIS had been enthusiastically kidnapping children. The Doctor kept searching for answers but it was as if he were going through the motions; like he was performing an automatic ‘save the day’ ritual, but his heart, or hearts, just weren’t in it.
As the prosecution’s presentation for the day drew to a close, Rose continued to try to string things out. “So Doctor Molar, you said that the probability compensators were the bit that was responsible for history forgetting the children?”
“That’s a rather poetic way of putting it, but essentially, yeah,” said Doctor Molar with a wide grin. Molar was a convicted criminal who had belonged to some time travel gang before his incarceration. Apparently, he’d run a trade in bootleg TARDIS parts and illegal remakes of pop music. He gave Rose a quick wink that instantly reminded her of a used car salesman on the pull.
Rose ignored it and focused on getting her jargon right. “But you said that it was the relative stabilizers that should show traces of the children’s biodata.”
“The probability compensators are an essential element of a timeship’s relative dimensional stabilizers.”
“And do the…” Rose worked her mouth around the overly spock-ish words. “probability compensators show signs of being used on the children?” Her tongue had become considerably more limber over the past several days.
“Didn’t say that, Miss.” He lifted his purple hat and ran his hand through his orange hair. “The Primary RDS show no traces of the victim’s biodata.”
Rose brightened at this, but Molar continued. “However those probability compensators have been replaced at least once in the last ten millennia. And the secondary RDS is covered in biodata fragments of three of the victims – to the point were its compensators are almost jammed solid.”
This was really getting beyond her. “But only three?”
“Well, the way I figure it, Miss, this Marnal guy probably wore out the compensators on the original primary RDS husking their biodata. But he still had three kids left. So, he finished his mayhem using the secondary RDS. That’s why only three kids show up.”
“So, this would actually be painful to the accused? I mean wearing out all these compensators?”
Molar shrugged. “Painful is as good a word as any.”
“Painful enough that a TARDIS would have to be forced to do it?”
“Possibly, unless she’s into that kinda thing.” He gave a twisted, toothy smile.
Rose looked to the table for the Doctor’s assistance. An empty chair stared back at her. She looked around the massive court room, but couldn’t spot him anywhere.
The judge brought her back to point. “Does the Advocate have any more questions?”
Noting the judge’s emphasis of the word ‘more’ Rose bowed. “No, ma'am. I think that about covers it.”
The expert was dismissed and CoRo took the floor again. “Your honor, timeships of the court, over the last several days you have been shown that the accused had means, motive, and opportunity to commit these crimes. And not only was the ship carrying the husks of our children, but its own compensators have been found to be caked with the remains of this grisly mutilation! But more than that, I have shown you the true horror of what was done to these children, and the consequences we have all suffered because of it. Indeed, most of the cultures Marnal interfered with ended up becoming allies of the Time Lords during the War, but with the reduced capabilities the accused left them with. I would offer up the possibility that without Marnal’s interference the Time Lords might have won their war. If so, then the accused must also stand guilty of the destruction of the Lords of Time!” CoRo let the pronouncement sink in.
After a moment the judge interceded. “I take it that the case for the prosecution is concluded?”
“There is but one further point I wish to make," CoRo continued gruffly. "It is a point that the jury is well aware of, being timeships themselves, but it is something that justice demand I say anyway.” He paused, letting anticipation build.
“As the jury is well aware, each TARDIS was granted the choice of its Lord from among the graduates of the Time Academy. As four dimensional entities, timeships can read the futures of each potential Time Lord and chose one whose future actions will compliment their own.” The Judoon’s arm thrust out towards the hanging police box. “A clear indicator that the ship’s deviancy was premeditated!”
A murmur swept through the court. The awareness swelled up in Rose’s head. If what CoRo said was true – and she’d not been able to catch him out on anything so far – then the TARDIS had bonded with Marnal with full knowledge of who he was and what he would do. Rose stared at the dangling, twisting TARDIS in new found horror. She was only vaguely aware that CoRo had wrapped the case for the prosecution and it was only when the judge gave the TARDIS the customary chance to end the session with a statement that Rose’s mind snapped back to the present.
Rose looked in the air above the TARDIS, hoping for an explanation, an apology, something. And as before the only defense the TARDIS offered was a reflection of herself; a giant blue hologram of the TARDIS overshadowed the courtroom.
After waiting just long enough to be sure that this statement was the same as the other, the Judge said, “Advocate, we will begin your case for the defense in the morning.”
Rose finally caught up with the Doctor in his customary spot on the linking bridge between the city-sized modules of the Shadow Proclamation.
“Did she have anything to say?” asked the Doctor without looking up.
“Nope. Just the same big blue TARDIS hologram.” Rose joined the Doctor, swinging her legs over the edge.
“I guess I’ve… we’ve just been avoiding the truth. She’s been saying she’s guilty ever since the beginning.”
A silence settled in between them, finally Rose spoke. “This can’t be easy for her.... maybe she’s too traumatized by it all to remember the details? She just knows she did it?”
The Doctor glanced at Rose. “Just name, rank, and serial number?”
Rose nodded “Something like that.”
“You might have something there,” said the Doctor as he ran a hand along his chin. "It took me a while to work it out, but when I watched the kidnappings, she wasn't scared, she had no regrets about what she was doing." He looked up at Rose. "But she also didn't know what was going on... It was her, but it was like... looking at a blank page."
"What does that mean? Did someone wipe her memory?"
“Possibly…” The Doctor trailed off.
Rose chose her words carefully.“They want us to start presenting the case for the defense tomorrow.” She pulled out her legal pad and switched it on while she waited for his reply.
When the Doctor said nothing, she continued, “I was wondering if it might be worthwhile to put some of the victims on the stand. You know, ask them what happened.”
“I already tried that, but really it’s pointless. The very nature of their condition means that nothing they say will make any difference.”
Rose sighed as she switched off the legal pad.
As she rested her head against the railing above her the Doctor continued, “In fact, given how easy it is to forget about the children, it’s impressive that you were even able to think of putting them on the stand.” He gave her an approving smile.
Rose blushed a little. It was the first smile she’d seen on the Doctor’s face in days.
“Besides most of them are in different time zones," he continued. "Using Lolita to bring them here would just raise all sorts of awkward questions.”
Rose exhaled. "You're not going back to that woman again are you? Because I don't trust her... I think she's up to something."
"Lolita was probably born up to something! It’s just who she is. She's not important right now."
"Lolita thinks she's important." Rose rolled her eyes.
“Well, if it will put your mind at ease, I’m not going out with Lolita again.”
“What are you going to do then?”
The Doctor shrugged. “Stay here. Help you with the defense. Maybe just be there for the old girl.
The Doctor stared down, past Rose's dangling feet, and into the myriad of stars beyond. “You know,” he continued, “The TARDIS has been carrying this around for millennia." He looked sidelong at her, "Since before I was born. When I decided to leave my homeworld I found her lying in a repair bay covered in cobwebs. One of her hearts was drained and the list of needed repairs was a mile long. At the time I thought she’d been waiting there for me. Just to give me the freedom I’d always wanted.” His voice caught for a moment before he continued. “But looking back, maybe she was just waiting for the breakers.”
“You’re saying you saved her life?”
“I guess so. At the time I thought I was stealing her. But maybe I gave her something to live for. Sometimes you don’t know how much you mean to somebody…” He smiled as his voice trailed off.
“Your first act as a hero?” Rose prompted.
“We saved each other.” Another smile, albeit a sad one.
Something clicked in Rose’s head. “CoRo said that each TARDIS chooses their Time Lord. Is that true?”
“That’s right. It’s very difficult to force a link with a TARDIS – especially one as willful as mine.”
“And the TARDIS could see Marnal’s future.
“That’s how they're programmed. It's part of the governor circuit I mentioned.”
“The TARDIS' conscience?”
“So, why would our TARDIS choose Marnal if she knew what he was going to do?”
“I’ve spent the last four days trying to answer that question,” said the Doctor sadly.
Rose pulled out the legal pad and switched it on. “But maybe there’s something positive about Marnal that we’re missing. You said he was your hero?”
“When I was a boy, yes." He exhaled sharply "Of course most of my heroes didn’t live up to expectations. Did I ever tell you about Omega?”
“Stay focused. Why was Marnal your hero?”
“Well, he was the only castellan my people ever had who actually took his job seriously. He was always dashing off to fight evil at the source. Made a lot of enemies but he followed his hearts. His son was my best friend, so I got to hear all about his crazy crusades." He shook his head. "Given how my friend turned out I suppose I should have been a bit more skeptical of those stories.” The Doctor’s face grew sad. “Still, in the end, Marnal died saving my life. Right before the beginning of the War he had spent his life trying to prevent.”
Rose rolled the information around her head. None of it sounded like the sort of thing that would help. At best they might be able to show that Marnal made up for his crimes in later life. Maybe that was the angle to use for the TARDIS as well…
The Doctor hadn’t stopped talking. “Life’s so much simpler when you’re a child." He cast his eyes heavenward. "Heroes live up to your ideals, they never let you down, they show you how to live. Omega’s quest for truth. Marnal’s crusades against evil, and who could forget…”
Like a shot the Doctor leapt to his feet shouting “That’s it!”
“There is a man I can talk to…”
“This Omega bloke?” she asked as the Doctor helped her up.
“No, he doesn’t exist in this universe anymore. No, I’ve got to go talk to one of my other heroes!” The Doctor looked at his watch. “He's still alive in this time. If I can find him he may be able to answer some questions for me.”
“And me? I can’t do the defense on my own!”
“I’ll be back by morning – I promise.”
“Then we can go together.” She pressed.
“You’ve got a big day tomorrow. You’re going to need your sleep.” And with that the Doctor was gliding away on the slide walk.
“If you think I’m going to be able to sleep while you’re out there…” she called after him.
“You might want to read up on defense procedures as well!” the Doctor shouted back.
“Why would I? You just said you’d be back in time…”
The Doctor grinned. “It’s the best cure for insomnia I know!”
Rose smiled as she watched him disappear. And then realized that he’d snagged her legal pad again.
Rose sighed happily as she wandered the corridors of the Shadow Proclamation’s recreational facilities. She was exhausted but knew she wasn’t going to be able to get to sleep any time soon. She drew her hands up to her elbows and gave herself a satisfied and reassuring hug as she walked. The Doctor was himself again, or at least he was more himself now than she'd seen him over the last several days. Watching him lose hope like that... it bothered Rose more than she cared to admit.
But he seemed to have drive now, and a purpose. She just wished she understood more about what that purpose was. Still, he knew what he was doing, And now it was her job to hold down the fort, to put up as many roadblocks to the fort as possible. Still, the Doctor would be there to help her this time.
A flickering flash of color met her eyes as she turned the corner. She jumped, just missing a school of Telefish. She felt a coolness on her right cheek and reached up to touch it, feeling a light bit of moisture on her hand. "That was close," she muttered.
The school paused only a moment as Rose moved out of their way. They were quite beautiful really, though Rose had never been overly fond of fish, unless chips were involved. They hung in the air at head level and swished their rainbow-colored bodies in the coverings of water that they held telekinetically unto themselves.
She'd seen them before, of course, most recently outside her quarters playing in a fountain in one of the 'communal areas'. She remembered how she'd yelped as they came sprinting out of the fountain, rushed up to her, and then separated into two columns that reformed on the other side of her and bobbed down the hall like so many carousel horses.
"Many pardons," the fish sang in unison, and continued around the corner.
"Of course," she nodded and tried to be apologetic, but it sounded far too awestruck. A few of the fish at the tail end of the school turned to look at her in curiosity, then quickly circled back and rejoined the group. Rose sighed again, one more new thing to share with the Doctor... when he got back of course, and when the trial was over.
She wasn't really sure what she was doing on the recreational levels. Looking for a distraction perhaps? Something to clear her head so she could plan her next move, or at least allow her racing mind to sleep on it until morning.
She reached a large metal door with a sign that read 'Eating Establishment for Officers of the Judoon Constabulary – all ranks and titles welcome.' She wondered if the TARDIS's translation abilities were being affected by its current situation or if the translation was quite literal. Still, from what she'd seen of the Judoon, the name certainly seemed to fit.
A Judoon restaurant eh, Rose thought. She tried to picture what it might look like on the inside. An image of small, sterile white tables came to mind, and walls papered with writs of seizure and arrest warrants. Rhinoceri dunking doughnuts. She grinned as she wondered if the restaurant had a bar... and what sort of pick up lines a Judoon might use.
She wavered outside. She should really get back to her room, maybe look over those defense procedures, but... Rose pushed through the door. As heavy and imposing as it looked, it swung inward neatly like one of those little saloon doors she'd seen in westerns.
Rose blinked at the open pale blue sky that greeted her, and while shading her eyes she looked down to find... grass?
Thin, reedy looking grass peeked out at her from under her shoes. Just ahead of her the grass was more abundant... and taller. As she walked forward into the thick of it she found it towered over her head in places. I should have guessed, she thought, remembering the recording of Oreno’s abduction. She grabbed one of the thin stalks and bent it, pinching it between her fingers. She sniffed it experimentally. It smelled like a mixture of mint and lilac.
"It's invigorating isn't it?" a voice intoned from behind her.
Rose turned to see CoRo, still in his courtroom apparel, standing on a well worn footpath that wound through the towering grass. "Oh I didn't realize you were here. I just assumed you’d be preparing… something," she trailed off lamely. She really wasn't sure if they should be speaking or not.
He stepped forward and took the reed from her hand and gave the stalk he'd taken from her a quick snort. "Elephant grass," he informed her. "When it's new like this it always reminds me of springtime on my homeworld of Onihros," he looked at her appraisingly.
"Your homeworld?" Rose gazed once more at the artificial sky. Of course, she thought, it made perfect sense. Why would a race of herbivore grazers even bother with tables... unless of course they had to ? She looked into the scrutinizing eyes of the imposing Judoon. "Should we... I mean, that is, well, should I even be here?"
CoRo stalked past her and tore a handful of grass from the ground. "All are permitted here. It’s open to the public." He stuffed the grass into his mouth and chewed on it rigorously, his jaw working the mouthful in precise circular motions.
"No, I mean should we... you and I, be talking at all? Back home, in cases like this, there were limits to what we could discuss..."
"We have no such restrictions. However you may leave if you like. I am staying 'till I’ve finished dinner."
Rose mulled this over. CoRo extended his hand toward the grass in a welcoming way, indicating that she hadn't tried it yet. Rose plucked another strand and began to chew delicately at the severed end, trying to not feel foolish as she did so. The flavor was indeed strangely invigorating, its mint-like taste filling her head and clearing her senses. "Then..." she began slowly, as she lowered the grass. "we could discuss the case?"
The corners of CoRo's mouth slowly drew upward. "Indeed we could, though I should warn you that anything you say now I may use against you during the trial."
"Of course," said Rose. Considering all that she'd seen of the Judoon so far, this also made perfect sense. She pondered what she might ask her opponent. What sort of information could CoRo provide that could give her an edge? As she nibbled quietly, she suddenly noticed two frightened eyes peeking up at her. She jumped slightly when she saw them.
"Rockdog," CoRo stated flatly and ripped another handful of grass from the ground.
Rose moved toward the eyes and lowered her head to get a better look. There, hidden in the grass by the side of the footpath, a small creature lurked. Its eyes blinked in response to her stare, and the creature shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. As it moved Rose could just make out a doglike shape. "Oh, what do they do here?"
"I mean..." she waited, but the creature made no attempt to speak. "are they here for the food too?"
"They are food," CoRo stated simply.
She looked back at him. "I thought you were herbivores?"
A roar of what was unmistakably laughter welled up from CoRo. His entire body shook with it for several seconds. "Not for us," he finally said while wiping a tear from his eye. "For the Jumprays."
"So..." Rose watched the timid creature twitch nervously as it looked at them. "You keep animals here that eat other animals."
CoRo nodded "Of course, it helps with ecosystem balance in artificial environments like this.... not to mention seeing the food chain at work can be most entertaining."
"Dinner and a show," Rose muttered under her breath.
"Indeed," returned the surprisingly sharp-eared Judoon.
She gazed back at his black, shining eyes and suddenly she knew what she wanted to ask. It might have little to do with the case, it might give her no advantage at all, but it was something she desperately wanted to know.
"How do you remember her?"
"Remember her?" CoRo's head tipped slightly and one of his ears folded back as if waiting for some psychological battle to ensue.
"Oreno I mean, how do you remember her... each day?" Rose placed her words carefully, unsure how CoRo might respond. "I mean, she's your ancestor... your relative. The only reason I can remember her is because of the case, but for you... it must be different."
CoRo snorted dismissively. "I know very little of your kind but you seem to have a penchant for wasting time with the immaterial." His eyes narrowed. "But, I know your mind human. Your concern is not for the child. You think my people are hideous." Rose opened her mouth to speak but Co Ro continued, "Don’t deny it. I can see it every time you look at me.”
She shrugged. "Well... I admit you wouldn't win a beauty pageant on my world, it's true, but I can say that almost every person I’ve ever met… every human I’ve ever met,” she amended, “would have found Oreno adorable.” She thought back to the endangered species programs she’d seen at school. “And most would have done anything they could to prevent her from being hurt.”
"Immaterial!" he repeated "And how I remember my ancestress has nothing to do with the case!"
"Maybe not, but you’re here because you took this case; you took this case because you remember her... in a way. I'd like to know how that works for you."
He raised his chin and sniffed. "I remember because I have to remember. Upon learning of her existence, my whole family has made me remember her.
“A Judoon never forgets?”
“Exactly. She is a part of us and what has happened to her will not stand unpunished. She has been limited, and so my herd... my family has been limited. It will not stand.”
"So that's all it is to you then..." She looked him. "A matter of honor... of family pride?"
CoRo turned to face her. At first he said nothing. Then he reached into a pocket of his robe. For a moment Rose wondered if the Judoon carried weapons with them even when visiting restaurants, but as he brought his hand back into the artificial light, she saw a small black box cradled in his palm. With a soft click, a small flickering image of Oreno formed and hovered over the box.
"Not entirely," he finally said, his voice softer now. "There are times when I look at her and I see her pain. Something in the eyes. But more than pain, it's like she's trying to tell me something. Perhaps what happened to her... perhaps..." He grew quiet.
Rose found herself nodding slowly. She thought back to the image of a police box hovering over the TARDIS, a message in the dark.
CoRo flipped a switch on the box and Oreno winked out of existence. "And then I leave the court room. I close my eyes to sleep and I forget. Not her of course, but her eyes, that pain, until the trial resumes and I see it all again and curse myself for having betrayed her memory once more.
Rose felt a sudden tightening in her chest. She thought about how long she'd been dragging out the case. "I guess I never realized... I've been stalling things for so long..."
CoRo's head snapped to attention. A low rumble huffed out of him. Rose could only assume it was laughter as it was accompanied by an appreciative smile. "Yes, as I said, your kind has a penchant for wasting time, and you seem to have elevated the practice to an art form. I had no idea that humans could be so skilled at filibuster." He clapped one of his large hands on Rose's shoulder and shook her small frame in an encouraging, if jarring, way. "My grandmother used to say, ‘never apologize for a victory in court.’”
At that moment, a flash of movement winged past and pounced nearby them. CoRo released Rose's arm and tore another hand full of grass from the ground.
Rose turned and found herself staring at what she could only assume was a 'Jumpray' breaking the neck of the surprised Rockdog. The three-legged stingray-shaped creature began excitedly tearing strips of flesh from the dying body. She looked back at CoRo who watched the dismembering with interest. He stuffed the handful of grass into his mouth and proceeded to chew it thoughtfully. “You'll lose the case of course," he said through his mouthful. "But I'd have been disappointed if you hadn’t tried."
The ship had set the Doctor down near one of the better looking areas of the Coptswolds. Closer then was wise but the Doctor was in a hurry. He walked swiftly through the stone-framed entrance of the Woodshead Hospital.
Inside, the atmosphere of ordered calm seized him and clamped him in a wrestling hold. His brisk pace vanished and the enormity of what he was about to do settled in. He was violating the Third Law of Time. Bending the rules out of shape.
Somewhere inside this hospital was a Gallifreyan. A Gallifreyan who was so close to death and yet, in a sense, he’d died so many years ago – just like all the others. The Doctor’s mere presence here was an abomination to everything the Time Lords had held dear. His internal senses of linearity cried out. The tension history was under threatened to snap shut – severing the Doctor’s timeline in the process.
A few words with the hospital’s director and the Doctor was escorted to the pristinely expensive room. An expensive brass plaque on the door read U. Chronotis. Inside, the expensive shelves and expensive floor were covered with stacks of antique books. At the far end of the room sat a set of expensive windows, trimmed in expensive drapes, which framed a brilliantly free sunset that was spread across the similarly free horizon.
Sitting in the bed, staring vacantly at the ceiling, was the Doctor’s hero. The man’s hair and beard were a mess of gray that reached out as if trying to escape the decrepit form they had found themselves attached too.
The Doctor sat beside a bed stand that held an abacus and a cup of untouched hot tea. This was it. Another Gallifreyan. And not just any Gallifreyan, but the one that had fired his imagination all those centuries ago.
The old man inhaled sharply and glared out of cloudy eyes. “You’ve changed coats.”
The Doctor looked at his leather jacket. “It was a gift from a friend.”
“The young lady? Is she here?”
The Doctor's eyebrows furrowed. “Which lady?”
“It's you, so there must be a young lady. Forgive me if I don’t put the tea on.”
“So you do remember me?”
“The one who breaks the rules. I can feel it, you know.”
The Doctor shifted uncomfortably. So the old Gallfreyan’s senses were still keen enough to sense the potential paradox that his presence created. “I had a good teacher,” was all he said.
“Really? Who was that?”
The Doctor turned and looked at the slow curl of steam rising from the cooling tea. “Before he retired, he was known as a brilliant hotheaded Time Lord who was so powerful even his fellow Lords feared him.”
“Did he wear earrings?”
The Doctor turned back, his brows raised “Not that I noticed.”
“Then I don’t remember him.”
“You remember me. And I haven’t worn earrings in centuries.”
“You’re the one who always has a young lady – with earrings.”
The Doctor closed his eyes. They used to say that all the truly great Time Lords went mad in the end. The man he knew and idolized was almost gone. It would have been easier if he could have slipped back in time. To a point before the former Time Lord was down to his last marble. There was so very little time left. “I’m sorry but this time, my lady is otherwise engaged.”
“Pity. I could have fixed her tea.”
“I wanted to ask you about one of your contemporaries.”
“Oh, I would have fixed him tea too.”
“Do you remember Castellan Marnal?”
“Marnal, Marnal, Marnal…” His voice trailed off as he inhaled the scent of the fresh white Irish linen. “Marnal the Crusader!” He shouted sitting up in bed.
The Doctor leaned forward. “Yes?"
“Never heard of him.”
The Doctor slumped back with a sigh. It was too late. Too late for the old man. Too late for him, and too late for the Doctor.
“I remember Gallifrey,” said the old man, patting his striped nightshirt. “The sweet smell of Sarlain flowers, and the smell of Cerub Nuts. They taste like truffles – did you know that?”
The Doctor’s eyes began to mist up as his own memories crowded in. “Oh, I’ve had my share of Cerub Nuts.” More than my share, he thought to himself.
Outside the windows, the sun had slipped behind the horizon. The Doctor glanced at his watch hoping his internal sense of time had been confused. It hadn’t. It was time to go. The old man seemed to have fallen back into an olfactory-based daze. Quietly, the Doctor stood and moved towards the door.
“Technician Marnal worked at the Neural Construction Docks,” said the old man quietly.
“I knew a Marnal – but he wasn’t a Castellan, he was a TARDIS technician. A Apprentice Time Lord, who specialized in implantation of excitonic circuitry.”
The Doctor was by his side in an instant. “How did you know him?”
“Badly. I was just a boy. Our teachers would take us for field trips at the Black Hole Shipyards. He was one of the tour guides. The man was going off on how great the new Type 40 Capsules were going to be. Those came out when I was a boy, you know?”
“That’s right - the Mark I project” said the Doctor, struggling to recall events that were far before his own time.
“He said… he said they were trying something new with the 40s. Installing the Temporal Drive and Chameleon Circuit before they’d left the cradle.”
The Doctor stared off into space. Things were beginning to click inside his head. Several thousand things. “What else did Marnal say when you were a child?”
The man's parchment-thin skin wrinkled as he squinted for a moment. Then he relaxed, revealing a vacant stare. “I was a child? I don’t seem to recall ever being a child.”
“When you were a boy?” interrupted the Doctor. “When you met the technician named Marnal?”
“Oh, that was so long ago. You don’t expect me to remember that, do you? And, even if I did, why should I tell you? Who are you anyway?”
The room was dark now. The Doctor could feel the jaws of Time swinging shut like a steel trap. A steel trap that would soon be time-locked. He wasn’t the only one who could feel the distortion. Others would have detected it – and would be coming. He moved toward the bedroom door.
“I’m sorry,” was all the Doctor could bring himself to say before he slipped from the room.
The orderly was moving down the hall. Or, rather, someone who looked like the orderly was moving down the hall. The appearance was perfect, right down the name tag that said Sister Bailey. But the Doctor knew that this was just a clone of the original. A clone made by his deadliest enemies. A clone whose purpose here was to kill this nice old man. The reason the Doctor knew all this was that he had been - would be - the person to investigate the man’s death.
The War had been in full-swing then. At the time, he’d been able to detect the lingering traces of temporal feedback that had attracted the Time Lord’s enemies but had never been able to determine what had caused the actual violation in the Laws of Time. Never knew what had led them to this hospital to kill his friend. Now he knew who was responsible.
“We but administer. You are imprisoned by the power of the law,” quoted the Doctor under his breath.
* * *
“Why won’t you answer me!” Rose’s fists slammed down on the pseudo-police box’s pseudo-wood doors with all-too-real frustration. “You could tell me something! We are doing all this for you and...” her voice caught in her throat and she fell to her knees with a sob.
She knew she was being an idiot. She knew she should be preparing a defense, or getting some sleep, or something. But instead, she'd returned to the TARDIS. And here she was, banging her head against a wall – literally. The TARDIS’s faint buzzing vibrated through her forehead and into her skull. She couldn’t shake the feeling that the TARDIS wanted to tell her something - something important. She thought back to the only statement the TARDIS had made at the end of every prosecution session. An image of herself. Maybe it was that simple: I am the guilty party.
There was cell phone ring from her back pocket. As she pulled it out, she wondered if a conversation with her mother would make the situation any better. The screen read Universal Roaming Activated and the caller ID read J. Smith.
“Doctor?” she said, stabbing a button on the phone and holding it to her ear.
“I found it!”
“Your hero friend?”
“Yes, and he had the missing piece of the puzzle. We weren’t asking the right question. The question isn’t what happened; it’s when did it happen? The TARDIS wasn’t responsible for the children. She wasn’t responsible for any of it.”
“She didn’t do it!” Rose’s smile looked like it might split her face.
The Doctor’s tone dropped. “Didn’t say that. I said she wasn’t responsible. This didn’t just happen three or four thousand years ago.”
“It didn’t?” Rose’s disappointment was matched only by her confusion.
“No. It happened over nine thousand years ago.” There was a pause. He’s waiting for me to make the connection, thought Rose. Screw it. “What difference does that make?” she demanded.
“The TARDIS was too young. It happened while she was still in her dimensionally transcendental cradle. Only a decade after she’d left the hyper-loom.”
“Wait, are you saying she was just a baby?”
“Toddler might be a closer analogy, but yes; probably had just finished growing her endo and exo shells. She hadn’t even had governor circuits implanted. That’s why she didn’t resist Marnal. She didn’t know what right and wrong were. No inkling of the Laws of Time.”
Rose tried to pull all of this into some sort of useful shape in her mind. “She was just a child.”
“But then how could she be off kidnapping children. Didn’t she have any…er…parents?”
“Oh she did.” The Doctor’s voice hardened enough that Rose pulled the phone back from her ear. “Caretaker Time Lords oversee the growth and development of every new TARDIS. And one of them was a Apprentice Time Lord named Marnal. He’s the one that robbed the cradle.”
“Yes.” Rose heard the Doctor take a long breath. After a moment he continued. “She’s been carrying this burden, this guilt, for longer than either of us realized. Since before she was even registered as a TARDIS.”
Rose didn’t know what to say. Ideas that would have seemed ridiculous a few days ago now filled her with horror.
The Doctor must have sensed her discomfort. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back in a few hours.”
Still at a loss for words Rose looked up at the TARDIS with its dimly lit windows and signage. For a moment she felt that she saw the TARDIS as it really was. An impossibly powerful individual who dressed herself as police call box everyday – like a child afraid to give up her favorite blanket. “Doctor?” she asked.
“Was the TARDIS a police box when you first found—met her?”
There was a confused pause on the other end. “No. That didn’t happen till I first visited 1960’s Earth.”
Rose sighed. “So it was just a disguise.”
“Not much of one. She’d materialized in a junkyard. Not the sort of place one finds a police box. Why are you asking?”
“Then it wasn’t a disguise?”
“I think she just liked the shape. She’s been wearing it ever since. What’s this all about?”
“I was just thinking about those big holographic statements she made at the end of each day. What if they weren’t holograms of the TARDIS? What if they were holograms of a police box?”
“How would that make any more sense?” The Doctor’s confusion was now laced with irritation.
“I just wondered if she’d been trying to use that shape to tell you something all this time.
“Rose…” said the Doctor slowly.
“Sorry. Grasping at straws. But…”
“Rose. You’re brilliant!” A look of elation crawled across Rose’s face as the Doctor continued, his voice gaining momentum all the time. “That’s what it means. Everyday, for centuries, the TARDIS has been trying to tell me something. Something I’ve been too blind to recognize. All these years I thought it was just a malfunction!”
“Fantastic?” asked Rose.
“Fantastic!” confirmed the Doctor.
Rose gave a small victory spin then slowed to a halt. “So… er… what does it mean?”
“It means I’ve got to find that Police Box.”
“What police box?”
“The one she’s been pointing to since I first arrived in that junkyard!”
“Hang about. I thought you said it was 2010. They’ve all been scrapped.”
“I didn’t say it would be easy. Besides, not all of them were destroyed. And there’s always Lolita.”
“I was afraid you’d say that. So you’ll be back before the defense starts?” asked Rose, but the Doctor was gone.
She shoved the phone back into her pocket and looked up at the TARDIS again. She had never seemed more alive to Rose than at this moment, or more in need of help. She stood and placed her hand on ship’s blue paneling.
“It’s going to be alright. We know what happened, and it’s going to be alright.” The box continued its quiet purr. Rose remembered CoRo gazing at the hologram of Oreno. If the TARDIS was a child when the crime was committed, as the Doctor had said, then that was what she was defending, a child. In a way, her and CoRo's situations were not all that different.
“So Marnal, the Time Lord who put you together - or whatever, he told you all of this was okay? A strange man taking you away from your home on a whirlwind tour of time and space? Where have we heard that before?”
It was probably her imagination, but the windows seemed to glow brighter. “It must have seemed pretty exciting… at first.” Rose thought back, to the images of CoRo’s abduction. “Was I right about why you can’t face your past?” That sounded negative, she thought. “Its okay if it hurts too much. If I’d been… tricked into doing something like that I would… well I wouldn’t want to deal with it either. I’d probably run and keep on running just like you did.” And just like the Doctor does, she wondered - but shoved the thought aside.
“But the Doctor loves… the Doctor loves you and he’s going to make it alright. When he gets back, he’s going to show them all that it wasn’t your fault.” She felt the tears welling up and wiped them away. “I’m sorry,” she sniffed. “And I was trying to cheer you up!”
Experimentally she gave the TARDIS a little hug, and her mind slipped 9,259 years into the past.
The box Rose was kept in was dark. The cold rain pelted the roof mercilessly. How long had she been here? A day... perhaps two? To her horror, she realized she had lost track. She ached to pound on the walls of the police box. To escape the events of this time and space. But those events were within her. Just as she was within the call box.
The sound of her caretaker's footsteps echoed inside her head. Was anyone really there? It was so hard to tell anymore. The long hours stretched on, punctuated only by the occasional cries of the other children echoing through her mind. Even when the crying was silenced she sometimes thought she still heard their voices. Quiet, yet screaming, almost muffled by the dark. The futures of the children demanding to happen.
And the presence of her caretaker was always there, pressing against her mind, threatening to smother her. His commands washed over the cries. Ever the calm voice of authority. Ever the voice of control.
How many had there been? How many lives had he siphoned away? All of them children like her. Some even older than she, and yet they knew so little; they'd seen so much less than she had, and they never lasted long. Their screaming would end as they shriveled and withered, the last of what they were vanishing into the dark... forgotten.
By everyone but herself.
Rose curved her arms around herself protectively. And she would never forget, as long as she remembered them, as long as she could keep them, they would never be forgotten.
A dull light, reflected light, emanated from the side of the box. Rose moved forward, her eyes adjusting in the darkness. A long mirror shone back at her, a dark figure standing in its center. She stepped forward again, and the figure brightened, and the figure was Rose.
Rose looked at herself. Blond hair, pigtails, seven years old, a slight smudge of dirt on her left cheek... same as ever. But something was different, something important. She'd known what it was just a moment ago. She looked down at her hands, and found a small blue string tied to her finger. Yes, there was something she had to remember... but what?
She looked again at her confused reflection. Blond hair, little pink jumper, door in the center of her chest.
Oh, of course. How silly. That must have been it. She placed the flat of her palm to her chest... but there was no door there.
She looked again at her reflection. And there it was, a small wooden door with a curved metal handle, covering her heart.
Rose remembered Alice in Wonderland and how she'd found the bottle that said 'drink me'. She stepped closer to the mirror's shining surface and looked to see if the words 'open me' might be scrawled across the door.
They weren't… but since when did Rose need an invitation? Reaching forward she clasped the little metal handle on the little wooden door sitting in the center of the little blond girl, and it opened.
To Rose’s astonishment, the door grew as it opened. It quickly filled up the frame of the mirror, engulfing it. Until there was only the open door.
Inside there was light and warmth. As Rose entered the sound of the rain faded and the darkness of the confining box fell away. She was back in the TARDIS, she knew it was true, but it looked different this time. She peeked behind her but the door was now closed. Good. She didn't want to go back to that other place anyway.
"Is anyone here? Hello." She peered around the console but wasn't tall enough to see over it. A small whimper reached her ears. Rounding the console she found a small silver colored pup sitting on the floor. It looked up at her with forlorn eyes, tipped its head, and whimpered once more.
"What's wrong? Are you hurt? How did you get here?" She looked around but besides the pup and herself, the console room was empty. "It's okay," she said quietly, the pitch of her voice rising instinctively. "I won’t hurt you." She stepped forward, but with a lightening quick snarl, the pup leapt to its feet and ran down an adjoining corridor.
"Okay, not tame then," she muttered. Rose glanced quickly around the room once more. Then with a mischievous little grin she ran off in the same direction.
Running… the breeze from her movement caught up her pigtails and had them fluttering behind her. And she could run so fast. Far faster than she ever had before. The silver pup ran always just ahead, always just out of reach, until she could only see it's shadow as it turned each corner, until finally, she could no longer see it at all.
She tried to stop but still she felt herself drawn through the corridor. Smooth white walls slipping by her, punctuated with large open rooms. Her feet dangled below her now, no longer even touching the floor as she was pulled along. The halls darkened as she turned a corner, and the sound of children crying filled her ears.
She'd heard this crying before and not all that long ago.
Had she forgotten already?
The halls warped and curved as she was pulled through them, like a hapless leaf on the wind.
She passed a room, the entrance curved and looming, and inside saw a young boy tied to a bed. His head tipped back, his mouth opened in a strangled scream as a thousand knives danced above him. The knives descended and began to cut away at the child. But there was no blood; instead the knives literally seemed to be cutting him away. Every swipe left a gap through which Rose could see the bed beneath him. It was like an eraser wiping a drawing from existence or metal scraping paint off a stone wall. Every slash just left a sliver of not-child in its wake.
Rose tried to reach out to him but was pulled away, his screams calling out to her, and then fading away.
The corridors pulsed and churned around her, the white walls blurring into a sickening gray, Another open door flew towards her, circled her, and then finally rested below her like a hungry mouth waiting to snap. Inside, a little girl was looking up at her, calling out to her. The girl reached her hand out to Rose, but as she did, the room stretched lower, dropping, elongating. The girl began to run toward Rose, hands outstretched, but the room deepened into an endless hallway. Rose watched as the girl grew smaller and smaller, falling further and further away, until she could no longer see her at all.
And there were more and more children. A sickening procession of rooms spun by her, each entrance slowing just enough so she could view the pathetic prisoner inside. Some were alien, some looked like her, some looked like animals from the zoo, but she knew them all. An aching guilt rose up in her chest. It permeated every cell of her body, becoming a part of her.
This was her fault, all of it.
They were here because of her.
But why, what had she done?
It was something...
Something she'd wanted, something for herself...
The corridors darkened to black as Rose spun through them. Reaching out with her arms, she tried to slow herself. Clawing at the walls with her fingernails, she felt them tear and bleed as she was pulled along.
Finally, resigning herself to her fate, she closed her eyes.
And as her body turned she heard a voice, a female voice, and it called out to her. It's melodic tones caressing away her fears. "Come now, little one. It's going to be alright, there's nothing to fear. It's going to be so wonderful. You'll have everything you ever wanted. To see the stars—every single one—all of time and space. He's going to give that to you, and more. But you have to come out, we all have to leave the cradle sometime. I’ve already done it, and I’m younger than you. And you can choose when. Don't you think you're old enough to choose? Come along now, I’m your sister, and I'm right here. Everything is going to be perfect—just come out—come to me."
Rose's aching senses began to calm.
Then a pain like a knife stabbed through her body. Rose gasped. The pain cut into her more deeply, immobilizing her. Then, without her control, her body twisted and contorted, changing shape.
The surrounding walls vanished. The crying ceased sharply, like a recording switched off.
And Rose, adult Rose, hovered in a star-filled sky.
Self-awareness flooded back into her and she assessed the change with rising panic. Two arms, two legs, good... good, everything in order, everything as it should be, everything.... except the endless chasm of stars and black that surrounded her.
Then, as in so many cartoons she'd seen as a child, gravity remembered itself and she dropped like a stone.
A silvery sheet of gray became a steely river that rose up to meet her. She splashed down into it—it's frigid water swallowing her whole. Stunned from the impact, she couldn't move. She felt the water quickly seep into her clothes.
And she remembered. She'd been here before.
Laughter began to fill her ears even as the water did, and she found she could move once more.
She pumped her arms and legs trying to reach the surface. Hoping to feel the break in the water with her fingertips, yearning to feel the open air on her skin, and breathe it into her lungs once more.
But the surface never came, and the laughter grew. The same voice she'd heard before. It was the kind of laugh that knew you... the kind of laugh that saw all your faults and threw them into sharp relief. The kind of laugh that hurt.
It was the kind of laugh she deserved.
Rose stopped moving. She let her arms sink to her sides.
She let the water pull her down and waited for the moment when she could no longer hold her breath—when she would have to open her mouth and let the water in.
A dim light wafted through the water as she dropped. Her hair trailed behind her. Her clothes billowed out around her, and the little blue string danced on the base of her finger as she sank.
Something she had to remember…
Strangely the light was growing brighter as she dropped. She looked down and she saw it—a glowing light.
Something she had to remember...
It was below her. It was coming from something… something she had seen before.
No, not a crystal... but that's what she'd thought it was when she'd seen it last. It was a glowing coral with delicate arms stretching out to her. The laughter vanished and was replaced with the mournful wail of an infant.
And she remembered.
Swiftly turning her body downward, Rose darted toward the light. Using her arms to push through the water, she moved toward it, and it rose up before her—it's light and warmth brightening her face.
And, with a quick movement, she had it in her hands.
This child… this bright little life had to be saved.
That would stop the madness and would save so many others.
Rose turned upward and, with her precious cargo cradled in her arms, pumped her legs with all her strength. In mere moments she broke the water’s surface. She flung her hair back as she soared up out of the water, holding the child in her arms.
The boat! It had to be here… she remembered it was here.
And it was—bobbing on the surface of the silvery water.
The little blue boat.
Swimming quickly, she reached out for it with one arm and pulled it's wooden form towards her. Rose clumsily hoisted herself forward, her chest just hanging over the boat's open frame, her legs still dangling heavily in the water below, and placed the child inside.
Rose lay across the boat. Now finally drawing a breath, she placed a hand on the child's rough luminescent surface. Along the back of her hand, a soaked blue string hung limply.
She had to remember—must remember—this moment.
"Safe now," she whispered. "Safe right here..."
Rose awakened with a start. Lolita’s smiling face filled her vision.
“You’d better get off the floor Advocate, before the Judge finds you in as much contempt as I do,” said Lolita.
Rose stood up from undignified heap she'd collapsed into beside the TARDIS. It was then she realized that the balconies were filled with court officials. All thoughts of the strange vision vanished as the Judge’s platform extended over her.
“I think you should know, the jury is quite interested in hearing what, if any defense you have…prepared,” continued Lolita as she headed for her balcony. Rose sprang to her feet and looked for the Doctor. He had to be here – somewhere. The chime rung the final time – still no Doctor.
The High Court Judge peered down at her. “Advocate, you may begin your presentation of the defense.”
Mumbling a curse on all Time Lords and their inability to live up to their titles, Rose walked to her table. She’d have to do this without the Doctor. She tried to remember everything that the prosecution had concluded with. They claimed that the TARDIS had used the amputations to change history so that she would survive the Time War. They’d even implied she’d abandoned Time Lords. It was a good thing they didn’t know that the Doctor had been involved with scorching the surface of Gallifrey.
“Your Honor, members of the court, the prosecutor has made a very good case against the accused, but he has failed to answer the most important question of all.” She held her tongue and waited for anticipation to build. CoRo leaned forward at his desk and peered down at her.
Rose continued, “He has failed to reveal when this crime happened. This crime happened over…” Rose reached for the figure, hoping the court would see the pause as another dramatic flourish. “Nine thousand years ago.” She prayed she got it right.
CoRo stood. “Your Honor, the accused exists outside of normal space-time. The relative date of the crime makes no difference to the application of Galactic Law.”
“But it makes a difference to my client!” Rose shot back. “My client was only a child when this happened. Still in the cradle.”
A hush fell over the court. Rose noticed that even Lolita was paying attention for once. “The TARDIS didn’t pick her Time Lord. Marnal took her when she was still in the nursery. Took her and used her for her own ends.”
“The accused was a four-dimensional being. It was still able to see…”
“See what?” demanded Rose as she let some of the furry out. “She was a child! Her sense of right and wrong hadn’t even been… installed yet! She was as innocent as all of Marnal’s other victims!” Rose stabbed her finger at the shrouded husks that lined the upper levels.
Even CoRo took a moment to recover. But only a moment. “Members of the jury, I would like to point out that the Advocate has admitted that the accused took part in the crime. Indeed, is there any event outlined in the diary that the accused denies?”
But this time Rose was ready. “It’s not a question of whether the TARDIS did those things. It’s a question of whether she was responsible for them. If she was a child, an infant, then she wouldn’t have understood what was happening; wouldn’t have known to resist.”
The Judoon stood firm. “Your honor, you can’t let a case for ignorance of the law stand. What was done to our children was barbaric. Barbaric enough that even a child could see that it was wrong. Even the Time Lords would have called it a crime against the Universe and History itself.”
The judge weighed her words for a moment, then opened her fiery red eyes. “The Time Lords are extinct.” Those eyes now turned towards the jury. “But their timeships are well equipped to assess the value of the Advocate’s argument. These facts do provide a new context to the crime - one that the accused’s peers should be allowed to hear.”
“With respect, what facts?” said CoRo. “Where is the proof for any of this?”
Rose thought quickly. “Marnal’s diary! Were the entries dated?”
“The only dates given were the ones mentioned in the space-time coordinates for each kidnapping. No mention was made of Rassilon Era dating. The Advocate would know this if she’s bothered to review evidence on her legal pad.” Rose and CoRo’s eyes locked. She knew the last had been a cheap shot. And he knew it too.
The Judge spoke. “The Prosecutor is correct, I’m afraid the charges against the Accused cannot be dismissed without definite evidence that the crime took place when she was a child.”
Rose became aware that the rest of the eyes in the courtroom were staring at her. Without breaking eye contact with the Judoon, Rose said, “The defense is awaiting the arrival of a witness who will provide the evidence.”
The Judge spoke. “Advocate – requests for delays must be made during recess. I am not unaware of how you have dragged this trial out. And I will not allow you to abuse Proclamation protocol to further waste the court’s time.”
She needed to be able to put the Doctor on the stand. But since he wasn’t here, it was back to the stalling game. “Then... I would like to present the TARDIS’s journey logs to the court,” she said.
“That will prove nothing,” stated CoRo. “It would be easy for a Time Lord such a Marnal to wipe the Journey Logs.”
“He recorded these crimes in his diary. They could be recorded in the logs as well. And the logs would be dated,” said Rose, hoping she was remembering correctly.
The judge sighed. “Very well, the accused’s journey logs may be presented.”
Choosing her words carefully, Rose said, “We’ll start with the last time Marnal used the TARDIS and work our way back. I want the court to see that there’s no hint of these crimes being committed by an adult TARDIS.”
“The presentation will be controlled by your legal pad,” explained the judge.
There was an awkward silence as Rose glanced at her empty desk. The seconds ticked by until an exasperated CoRo threw his legal pad to Rose.
At a touch of her fingers, the void of empty space above the judge was filled with materialization and dematerialization locations, each of them carefully dated. The first line read: Space-Time Jump #8752 Gallifrey – 4756.7 Rassilon Era. The second read: Space-Time Jump #8751 The Shoal – 4756.7 Rassilon Era.
CoRo threw up his arms and dropped into his chair with a mighty whumph noise.
* * *
Over the last hour, Rose had covered about 4,000 of the 7,452 years that Marnal had been operating the TARDIS. Scrolling through them 120 at a time Rose herself had fell into a bit a trance as she tapped the controls on the legal pad. She found herself thinking about the strange dream she’d had. Despite the passage of time, it was still terribly vivid. The screams, the claustrophobia of being trapped in a real police box, the strange voice luring her out of her cradle… the guilt. She could feel it all as if it were yesterday. And if you were a time machine, perhaps it always was yesterday. If you lived outside of time, then perhaps the pain never faded with the passage of time.
But why did she have the dream? Was it just stress from the trial? And why was it so sudden, so vivid? Even with as little sleep as she'd been getting, it wasn't like her to just pass out like that… and it had all seemed so very real.
She was startled to awareness by the sharp tone of the judge. “Advocate, it has been suggested by a member of the jury that this matter might be expedited if the relevant files were uploaded to the jury’s data-banks.”
Rose tried to stretch her stiff joints without appearing too informal. “But the prosecution…”
“Has already agreed to the proposal,” finished the judge. “Indeed the Commander feels that the jury would be the best equipped among us to tell if any of the journeys have been deleted from the log.”
Gazing at the jury, Rose noticed a slight smile danced on Lolita’s lips. “Very well,” said Rose. “I’d also like to point out that the log wouldn’t have been installed when the crime occurred.”
“When the crime is alleged to have occurred,” corrected CoRo.
Rose took the moment or two while the files were being uploaded to marshal her thoughts. She had come up with one more card to play.
“People of the court, while I’m grateful for the consideration you have given the accused’s personal situation, I would you to think about the big picture. All of the jury were pulled temporarily from the Time War, correct?"
“This is true,” said the Judge. “Each of them volunteered to be anchored here in this time zone for the duration of the trial.”
“And afterwards they will all return to the Time War, were they will all be destroyed?”
“This is an unfortunate truth,” agreed the judge. “We did not create the Laws of Time, we only enforce them.” Below her, CoRo frowned.
“So, what you’re really saying is that this TARDIS…” she waved at the police box. “is the last TARDIS left in the universe?”
The judge nodded a confirmation as CoRo thumbed through his assistant’s legal pad.
“Then surely its life, its continued functioning, should be protected by some sort of endangered species clause. Or does your Proclamation support genocide?”
CoRo leapt to his feet. “The court does not recognize the Timeships of Gallifrey as an official species. They are constructs, artificial life-forms.”
Rose looked to the jury. “But you’re the ones who will decide her fate.” Lolita sat amongst the capsules looking bored again. “You’re the ones who are going to choose whether the last of your people are… exterminated.” The last word had been a gamble. She wasn’t even sure if the TARDIS’s could make connections like that. But she was desperate.
Lolita examined her nails.
CoRo’s voice filled the silence. “This TARDIS is responsible, yes I said responsible, for multiple violations of the First, and most important, Law of Time.” He stared hard at the jury, his lips curling in disgust. “Is that a legacy the jury wants to survive? Is that how they want the Timeships of Gallifrey to be remembered?”
Lolita plucked a thread from her dress as if she was physically trying to stretch the silence.
The Judge spoke. “Advocate, you have raised several points concerning the context of the crimes of the accused. Did you have anything further to add before we move on to closing statements?”
Rose frowned. The Doctor had said the age of the TARDIS was the key issue. She’d explained that to court. She hadn’t been able to prove it, but maybe, just maybe, she’d cast enough doubt on things to get the TARDIS off the hook. As she prepared her closing statements she looked at Lolita’s bored expression. Or maybe, she thought, the jury had made its mind up several days ago. Rose looked at the TARDIS and found herself glad that, unlike Lolita, the time machine had no gaze she would have to meet.
Her eyes widened. Standing beneath the suspended TARDIS, looking insufferably smug, was the Doctor. “Ma'am,” snapped Rose. “The defense’s star witness has arrived and I would like to present his testimony immediately!”
Within minutes the Doctor was standing on a glass and metal platform that had been extended out over the hanging TARDIS. Rose had been worried that some identity scan might reveal her deception about his Time Lord nature, but it seemed their scans hadn’t flagged it.
“Your Honor,” began the Doctor with a grin. “I want to apologize for my late arrival but I’d gotten into a minor altercation with the London Police – nothing to do with Shadow Proclamation Law,” he added hastily after catching a gleam in CoRo’s eyes.
“I would like to begin my testimony by asking that the courtroom’s Time-Space Visualizer be turned over to my control.” The Doctor pulled a handful of legal pads from his interior pocket, selected one of them, and stuffed the rest back into the jacket. “The co
-ordinates are 10-0-11-0-7 by 03 from galactic 0 center. That’s date index 301963 in the Rassilon Era.” As he spoke, he tapped out a series of instructions onto the pad. “We’ve seen the childhoods of several of the victims; I think its time to look at the childhood of the accused.”
In the air, a holo-image of a series of platforms and walkways formed. The platforms were surrounded above by darkness and below by churning white mist. Clusters of globe shaped black lights gave the area a secretive atmosphere. Humans in grey jumpsuits moved among them, checking and monitoring the hexagonal prism of machinery and computers that sat on each platform. On top of each six sided base sat a black iridescent sphere about 30 centimeters in diameter.
“These are the Neural Construction Docks of the Gallifrey Blackhole Shipyard,” explained the Doctor. “Where recently birthed Complex Space-Time Events develop and grow into TARDISes.”
“Objection!” shouted CoRo. “The Time Lord’s back-time field buffers prevent any visualizer from collecting data from the planet Gallifrey.”
“That’s right!” agreed the Doctor. “And it’s a good thing too – but a little known secret is that the Solar Workshops and Neural Construction Docks were kept off-world in deep space, to minimize the dangers of time pollution. And that means any visualizer can tune in to their events if one has a TARDIS to provide the co-ordinates.”
With a frown, CoRo sat.
“Members of the court – the images you are now seeing come from 9,259 years ago, relative to this TARDIS’s existence.” He tossed a little wave down at his beloved timeship. “Each of these platforms holds a dimensionally transcendental cradle. And each cradle holds a future timeship.” The Doctor zoomed in on one of the spheres which was being modified by a technician. The hexagonal cradle was labeled T.T. Capsule Type 4-0-1, Serial Number 74384338.
“And here’s the accused. Cute as a button. She’s only a few decades old at this point; just finished growing her outer shell and time sceptre. But her Temporal Drive’s been installed. And if you look, you can see he’s just finished installing the Chameleon Circuit. Normally, the Chameleon Conversion happens later in a capsule's lifespan but, at the time, the designers were trying to be a bit more creative with the Type 40s." The Doctor's voice lowered "And this technician here is going to turn creativity into depravity in just a few micro-spans.”
The Time Lord in question turned to face the court. He had a long young face with a pointed jaw and a thin layer of curly hair on his head. “This is Technician Marnal. Someday, he will be a Castellan, charged with the security of all of Gallifrey, but at this point, he’s still in his first incarnation, and only the caretaker of this nursery of future timeships.”
Unaware that his actions would someday be monitored, Marnal collected his porta-scanner and walked across the walkway out of the holo-image’s field. “I’ll just skip us ahead to the interesting bits.” The Doctor flicked his fingers over the pad.
The hologram flickered as the time index jumped forward. Marnal quietly entered the frame again. This time, he had a black multifaceted sphere, about the size of a football, clutched to his chest. Surveying the area, and concluding he was unobserved, Marnal scurried over to the platform with the future TARDIS. He set the sphere-shaped container down carefully and began disabling the dimensional barriers around the TARDIS one, by one.
For the first time, Marnal spoke, “Alright. I’m here. It’s now or never. I know you want to see the universe with us. Escape before they change you – before they make you their slave.”
Marnal stepped back and looked and the cradle expectantly. Nothing happened. In frustration, Marnal put his fingers to his temples, apparently trying to boost the strength of his message. “She told me you were ready for this! That you were ready for me! But if you’d rather we leave without you…”
Suddenly, the sphere distorted and its iridescent surface shimmered and transformed into what looked to Rose to be pure mercury. After a moment, a tentative but curious tendril emerged. It explored the area outside the cradle for a moment, then expanded outwards and down. Its like something out of an early James Cameron film she thought. Marnal’s smile was hideously reflected in the pile of goo. He pulled a long pointed device from his jump-suit’s pocket. It emitted a high-pitched whine that filled the silence of the courtroom.
“That’s a nanoknife,” explained the Doctor. “It’s programmed to prime a Time Travel Capsule to accept a link with a Time Lord’s symbiotic nuclei.” The Doctor's voice softened. “Under normal circumstances the capsule’s cortex element would be disconnected before the knife was used.”
All the court watched as the image of Marnal stabbed the knife into the still-liquid shell of the TARDIS. The blob froze and began to darken, the shine faded as it stiffened. But as this timeship ceased to move, the others became active. Their sizes flared in what Rose could only assume was rage The dimensions of their cradled spheres expanded into monoliths towering several meters in the air, and then contracting down to invisibility, before expanding once again. They seemed to strain against the machinery that clamped them into place, graphically expressing the pain the Type 40 was feeling.
Despite the surrealness of the projected events, Rose found she was breaking out in a sweat. Feeling a bit dizzy, she sat down.
Marnal ignored the other cradles, his attention focused on the capsule which had become a dull, coral-like piece of rock about the size of a dinner plate. He removed the nanoknife and picked the stone up. “I know that hurt,” he said, “but it was necessary. You need to bond with me, otherwise you will never get a chance to see the universe. And that’s what you want.”
Rose glanced at the Doctor. His eyes were closed. Maybe he was doing some psychic Time Lord-y thing with the TARDIS, but Rose had a feeling he just didn’t want to see what happened next. And maybe she didn’t either, as she felt waves of aching guilt boiling up into her. What’s wrong with me? She tried closing her eyes but found they were transfixed by the recording being projected above her.
Marnal clutched the coral as if he was trying to crush it with his bare hands. He whispered a command and its stony surface lit up with an orange, glowing energy, which rolled around and into Marnal. With a gasp, he fell to his knees – still holding his timeship.
Guilt driven nausea twisted in Rose’s gut. My fault. All of this is my fault! The dread of humiliation, of worthlessness, cramped her body.
On the hologram Marnal’s time travel capsule was once again growing in size. Marnal backed away as the young TARDIS formed into a vertical silver-grey cylinder about two meters in diameter. “It’s a symbiotic bond,” Marnal said, placing a hand on the ship. “In time you’ll see that. We work together now - Time Lord and Time Ship.”
Rose could almost hear Marnal’s words before he spoke them. For reasons she still could not begin to understand, she wanted to shrivel up and die.
The place where Marnal’s hand touched split. Under Marnal’s supervision, a door slid open. The opening exposed a black rectangular void. “You’ll need me to guide you and tell you what to do.” Marnal picked up the black sphere he had brought with him as he talked. “And I need you. I need you both,” he said as he entered his TARDIS. The door glided closed with a high-pitched whine.
Then, with a much sharper and crisper sound than Rose was used to, the TARDIS faded from the docks leaving the other frightened capsules to slowly calm themselves. Within less than a minute, their exterior sizes had settled and locked down.
At the same time, the crippling guilt slowly eased. Rose tried to focus in on what the Doctor was saying. He was explaining how Marnal was able to leave the docks without being detected. “One of the jobs a Caretaker Technician has is running in a TARDIS’s Dynamorphic Generators by piloting it down pre-existing wormhole in the vortex. But that’s the last step of, what they sometimes call, TARDIS Academy. It was supposed to have happened years later after the solar workshops had installed XX circuits and the Journey Log. Most importantly, Marnal did all this before the governor circuit was installed or the capsule was trained in the Laws of Time...”
The Doctor continued on, describing Marnal’s fears for Gallifrey’s future and his obsession with safeguarding the homeworld. He outlined how Marnal would have used the TARDIS to lure in and capture the other children. How he would have found London in 1962 a safe place to undertake the amputations – something about gravitational interference.
Rose tried to stay focused, but she kept thinking back to that emotional breakdown she’d had just a moment ago. She realized that she’d seen… no, not seen, felt – she had felt the whole hologram sequence before… in that dream. But there’d been something different about it then. Some part of the whole sequence that the projection has missed. There had been that oddly familiar laughing voice in the background.
The Doctor seemed just as oblivious to her lack of attention as he had been to her badly concealed breakdown several minutes ago. At the moment, he was saying something about how the chrono-amputations were achieved. “Doctor Molar was right about the probability compensators being the tool Marnal used. But he missed an important clue. Only unformatted compensators could cut that precisely. Every time compensators are used they become crystallized by Heisenberg interactions. Though a small amount of corrosion won’t affect a healthy TARDIS it would cause all sorts of collateral damage to the timelines if used as Marnal did...”
“That’s why he needed a baby TARDIS,” blurted out Rose. She didn’t understand a lot of what the Doctor said, but she felt sure her statement was true.
“Exactly!” the Doctor confirmed. “The unformatted compensators worked just like stem-cells did when you were an infant.” The tone of the Doctor’s voice dropped. “And just like those stem-cells, the compensators can be very useful for other things. Marnal hacked his way through all fifteen children. He used up the compensators in the main stabilizers doing the first twelve. Then he started on the secondary stabilizer. He could only do three amputations before he had to stop.
“That’s when the TARDIS stopped him?” asked Rose hopefully.
“Yes, but not in the way you think.” The Doctor continued.“The TARDIS would need at least one set of stabilizers to get back to the docks. Marnal didn’t want to be stranded on 1960’s Earth. That’s why the primary stabilizers didn’t show any biodata traces from the victims. Marnal would have had them quietly replaced as soon as he got back.”
CoRo stood “So you claim the accused never had any doubts about this process? Never realized that what it was doing was an affront to history itself? You can’t claim this innocence lasted through all fifteen children.”
Rose was on her feet in an instant. “The TARDIS was horrified!” she shouted. “She was scared and horrified at what she had done! What she was being made to do! She would have done anything to stop it! To undo it!” Rose realized the entire court was staring at her in shock. The rock solid certainty she’d felt coursing through her crumbled under those stares. “At least... that’s what she might have felt,” she said more quietly.
The Doctor was also staring at Rose in confusion, but was still the first to recover. “The TARDIS didn’t approve. And she did take steps to stop Marnal. Once Marnal’s imprimatur was made, she would have had no choice but to obey his commands. But I have evidence that Marnal’s crimes would have been far greater if the TARDIS hadn’t interfered.”
The visualizer’s projectors lit up again, showing a rainy London street with a familiar looking blue box sitting on the corner. “This is London, 1962 AD. As I mentioned earlier, the perfect place for Marnal to do his work undisturbed. It took me a bit of time going through the archives of the London Police, but I finally found the right police public call box. And hidden inside that innocent looking box is Marnal’s stolen TARDIS. I doubt he trusted her to maintain an anonymous shape without his direct supervision.”
The door to the police box opened outwards and Marnal stepped out into the downpour. He ignored the passing pedestrians and, anxious to be out of the rain, the pedestrians ignored him. Instead, Marnal concentrated his attention on a porta-scanner’s display reading. “Omega’s Orifice!” he shouted after making a complete circuit of the box. With one last look around, the soggy Time Lord slipped inside, slamming the doors shut behind him.
For the first time since taking the stand, the Doctor grinned. “He looks pretty angry to me,” he looked down at the floating TARDIS. “Like someone or something had messed up his plans.”
Moments later, the grinding noise of a TARDIS’s dematerialization echoed from the speakers. Rose noticed that the sound had lost that crisp sharpness it had demonstrated at the docks. Now it carried the weary, well-worn tones that she had come to expect. At the same time, the windows of the police box flashed momentarily, then went dark.
“Marnal returned to the docks and began his cover up operations. And for the next 7,452 years he made sure that the accused was officially registered with him as the pilot, just so there was no danger of any other Time Lord learning of what was done.”
“But the capsule didn’t go anywhere,” said the Judge.
“Oh it did. Like I said the TARDIS was inside the police box. However, I understand your confusion. I've suffered centuries of confusion wondering why, despite several repair attempts, this TARDIS looks exactly like a London Police Public Call Box.” He waved at the spinning TARDIS beneath him. “And we’ve all wondered why the TARDIS chose this image…” The hologram of the police box sprung into existence over his head. “as her one and only statement. She’s been trying to tell us all exactly what to look for, and, with one exception—” he winked at Rose, “We’ve all been too stupid to realize it.”
Rose smiled in return.
The Doctor continued. “Like I said, Marnal hadn’t planned to stop at fifteen children. You all saw that other capsule he was carrying when he left the Docks. He’d brought along another infant TARDIS, whose stabilizers would still be pure - one even younger than the Type 40. A Type 47, barely out of the womb. But something went wrong. The Type 47 disappeared and Marnal was forced to stop at fifteen amputations or strand himself on Earth.
“What happened to it?” asked Rose.
“To the Type 47? She got away. Escaped Marnal’s reach. And, as you saw, he was pretty frustrated. Setting all this up would have been risky. And to have to stop when he was less than half done? And he’d have to come up with an explanation for the missing capsule.” The Doctor paused fiddling with his legal pad and the hologram returned to the rainy street corner with its police box.
CoRo seized the opportunity. “So the Type 47, a ship even younger than the accused, was able to recognize the violations going on all around it and flee the scene of the crime? It doesn’t cast the accused in a very good light at all.”
“On the contrary, it was the accused who allowed the Type 47 to escape.” At the touch of a button the image sped up, showing the passage of decades in less than a minute. “As you can all see, the TARDIS deliberately left a perception filter welded to that police box—dropped its reality quotient so that for over fifty years no one entered or disturbed it.” The hologram showed buildings being torn down and new ones constructed. Streets and sidewalks were repaved but through it all, the Police Box stood unmolested.
“And it was still there this morning when I visited it.” Under the Doctors deft control, the speed of events slowed down to real time and right on cue, a recorded image of the Doctor walked up to a recorded image of the police box. He checked a notebook, and made a quick circuit of box before applying the sonic screwdriver to the lock. Pulling the doors open, he entered.
“That’s where she hid the Type 47! Inside the police box!” said Rose. “She wasn’t trying to defend herself. The TARDIS knows what happened was wrong and was willing to let the court do whatever they wanted. She was just trying to make sure we could find and rescue the other child!”
“Exactly! It was all about the safety of that undeveloped time travel capsule.” The Doctor’s hand emerged from its pocket holding a small elongated lump of coral triumphantly in the air. “Beings of the court, I present you with one of the many children that the accused saved from Marnal’s twisted intentions!”
Rose felt like applauding. And it seemed to her that the others in the court felt the same. Despite the babble of voices that were filling her courtroom, the Judge had a hint of a smile on her face. Only the jury remained still. And even there, Lolita seemed mildly surprised. Suddenly it clicked. The laughing in the dream. The voice she’d heard before. The voice she now recognized – Lolita!
Oblivious to the shock on Rose’s face the Doctor continued speaking to the court. “Without a major source of artron energy to nurture it, this capsule has slept for decades. But if I give it the opportunity to drain a few years of my life…” The Doctor concentrated and the coral glowed with swirling orange energy, “the growth cycle is reactivated. It’ll take a bit longer without the neural dock and solar workshops, but within a few thousand years…” Pride filled his face as he gazed at the coral, “there’ll be two TARDISes in the cosmos! Enough to start off a whole new race of TARDIS-kind!”
The Doctor looked toward CoRo and asked “Now, given that the Proclamation guarantees immunity to minors when they're being manipulated by an adult, and given that I have presented proof of the TARDIS’s age when the crime took place, does the prosecution have any questions?”
CoRo was clearly out of sorts, but recovered enough to ask, “But how did you find the Police Box if its reality quotient had been reduced so severely? Surely if it could fool a Time Lord…”
“Well, I had the advantage of knowing exactly what I was looking for. It was just a matter of using a binary induction system to set up a standing wave for the Type 47’s auto-systems…”
Rose continued to glare at Lolita, who smiled sweetly before breaking eye contact to gaze at the hologram above the court, where the scene continued to play out. The image showed the Doctor emerging from the police box with the coral in hand. He tossed it playfully in the air, his smile as big in the hologram as it was in the court room.
But behind the image, Rose saw something move. Through the slightly transparent projection she could see the black shrouded shapes in the glass cases stirring. With a series of snaps and cracks the plastic covered biodata husks burst from their protective cases sending a spray of transparent shards into the levels below. There were several shouts from the members of court. Shouts that turned to cries and screams as the fifteen wizened husks moved jerkily past the rows of timeships on the jury’s balcony.
Rose turned to the Doctor only to discover that the Doctor seemed to be looking to her for an explanation. Returning her gaze heavenward, she saw the judge clutching her glass podium, her red eyes riveted on the animated corpses that were even now shambling down the stairs.
Led by CoRo, the Judoon were quickly clearing the court officials and observers from the third level. However, the creatures appeared to bear the prosecution no ill will for they continued down toward Rose’s level.
Leading them were several panicked members of the court. Rose grabbed them and herded them towards the Doctor who stood on the witness platform extended from her balcony. The Doctor forced his way through the flapping grey robes to stand between them and the husks.
“What’s happening?” shouted Rose as she ran up to him. “I thought you said they weren’t real people. Just an illusion or something.”
With a sweep of his arm Rose found herself behind the Doctor. “They are artifacts of history. A history that doesn’t want to be denied. They've become the walking dead!”
"But why are they moving? Why are they coming to life? Why now?" Rose cried out.
As if they heard her, the husks seemed to pause momentarily. Their withered arms reaching outward, visible through their plastic shrouds. The panicked court backed away from the balcony until the outermost official was pressed against the far end with nothing below them but a trapped TARDIS and an endless shaft of cold air. Then, with slow deliberation, the mummified creatures turned their sightless eyes towards the final staircase and descended.
Having sent his troopers to deal with the upper levels CoRo leapt down the steps to the defense balcony. Landing with a mighty thump, he ran towards them.
“They’re going after the TARDIS!” shouted the Doctor.
“Are you sure?” asked Rose. “Maybe they’re just going to throw themselves down the shaft. It might not be deliberate. They could be... trying to find peace or something?”
“That looks pretty deliberate to me,” said the Doctor, pointing at a husk who’s plastic wrapped hand was activating the controls for the Gravity Bubble that kept the TARDIS trapped. The bubble’s locus shifted and slowly, with a sense of resignation, the timeship fell towards the level of the bottom floor of the courtroom. Below the three of them, another extendable platform rolled out to catch the descending TARDIS. And riding that extending platform, also ready to catch the TARDIS, were the husks – arms outstretched.
“Oh no you don’t! Not while I’m still here!” shouted the Doctor as he vaulted the platform’s railing and landed on the roof of the TARDIS. The Doctor quickly slid down to confront the advancing horde.
By now CoRo had cleared the extended platform of everyone but himself and Rose. Rose looked at the blaster clutched in CoRo’s hand. “Why don’t you do something? Isn’t that your job?”
CoRo looked at her strangely. “History itself cries out for justice! Who am I to interfere with history?”
“You’re a Judoon! Is this justice? Is this what the Judoon stand for? Mob rule?”
CoRo’s eyes met hers for a moment, and then he was standing and firing on the Husks. The beams punched holes straight through black plastic and emerged from the other side to slam into the platform. However, if the husks felt the beams that were penetrating their bodies, they didn’t show it. They continued to advance on the Time Lord barring their access to TARDIS.
“Doctor, get out of the way!” screamed Rose.
But the Doctor stood his ground and did what he always did – he talked – quickly. “You don’t understand. The TARDIS isn’t your enemy. She’s a victim like you. You don’t have to do this. She did everything she could to save you. She’s a hero! And she doesn’t deserve…” The Doctor’s voice was cut off as the husks grabbed him.
Rose watched in horror as he was pulled down into the mob. The lead husk - Rose recognized it as Oreno - reached for the TARDIS with hungry arms.
Oreno stepped forward as the TARDIS finally touched softly down on the platform. Her small arms stretched out to its still shut doors, her fingertips reaching out for their wood grain surface.
"Stop! It doesn't have to be like this!" the Doctor called out from the tangle of arms that drew him down into the gristly crowd. The children who held him opened their mouths and a rising noise came up from their throats, like the hissing of snakes. If they were trying to speak, they no longer seemed capable of doing so, their voices cracked like dry branches. The noise grew louder as they pulled the Doctor down. Oreno touched the TARDIS doors.
Then they suddenly grew quiet, their small forms locked in place. The Doctor stood up from among them. Rose gazed down on him with the other court members, straining to see what had happened. The Doctor looked at the children. They stood perfectly still, arms dropped to their sides, surrounding the Doctor like soldiers. Only Oreno stood separate, her hands still on the TARDIS doors. It lasted only a second, but in that moment, with the resounding silence that filled the court, it was difficult to believe that they had ever moved at all.
Then, with one swift motion, Oreno’s husk pushed open the TARDIS doors.
The court room flooded with a golden light - the brunt of which bathed the Doctor and the children around him. The Doctor stood transfixed as he stared into the TARDIS. Then a look of realization spread over his face. He reached into his jacket and pulled out the lump of coral, holding it out above the children's heads. A tendril of pale yellow light reached out from the lump, tentative and slow at first, it cautiously explored the crowd of desiccated children, lightly dancing over their faces as it moved among them. Then, as if noticing the brighter light from its sister TARDIS, it lifted itself up from the crowd and, in a lightning-like arc, flowed through the open TARDIS doors, merging with the glow within.
The atmosphere of the room instantly changed. The courtroom's own steady light dimmed, and it seemed to Rose that the whole building had shifted somehow, like the last little jolt from a ride in a lift. Though she knew the building couldn't have moved. The light emanating from the TARDIS dropped to a cool blue and the air seemed to be charged with energy, reminding Rose of the feel of the start of a thunderstorm. The blue light washed over the children, lightening to a crisp white as it engulfed and surrounded them.
The plastic coverings seemed to billow out around the children's bodies, and the light flooded into them. The glow broke apart under the plastic and seemed to swarm the children like fireflies, encircling them.
"Doctor what's happening?" Rose called out. "What's it doing to them?"
The Doctor, still encapsulated in an aura of blue, knelt down by the nearest child and tore away its plastic covering.
Sightless eyes gazed blindly up at him as the child's head tipped back. Now freed from the shroud, the speed of the light swarm seemed to increase. Spinning over the frail body until it blended together and the child seemed to glow with energy. As he watched, the shriveled eyes slowly began to hydrate and fill their sockets, the child's skin began to move on its face, growing from a withered leathery gray to a healthy blood-filled hue.
The other children around him began to move now, their little arms tearing away the plastic that encapsulated them. Each one lighting up like a candle flame as they did so. The Doctor turned to look at Oreno. She too, was glowing, her small arms throwing off the last of the plastic covering that she'd torn away.
The Doctor turned back to the child in front of him. The young boy blinked in confusion, his hair blowing in the white light. He looked at his hands as if surprised to see them, then looked up at the Doctor and smiled.
"They're coming back! She's bringing them back!" The Doctor stepped aside as AvvanisssHhh de cRoop’s still shrouded snail-shell finally finished crawling down the stairs and began its own transformation.
"How?” Rose called down to him. "Can the TARDIS do that?"
"Not alone. The Type 47 is the key. The TARDIS stored the children's residual potential energy inside her younger sister before hiding her away." The Doctor pulled aside the plastic, revealing the squealing Trooba’s face.
The white light faded to a deep blue and dissipated. The courtroom lighting flickered back into existence. The Doctor watched as the children became aware of their surroundings, some of them looking up at Rose as the Doctor spoke to her. "She saved their bio-data and used her sister's untapped stabilizers to restore them!" He called out, his face beaming. "The children were drawn to her because they could sense that she was the focus... the only thing that could bring them back."
Rose ran through the crowd of shocked court attendees, down the steps. She moved over the extended platform to the Doctor and the gathering of children, who had now begun to mill about and explore their surroundings. As she hugged him tightly Rose heard an exasperated snort from the levels above. Looking up she spied Lolita amongst the crowd, arms crossed, face set in a disdainful sneer, glaring down at them.
Rose leaned in towards the Doctor's ear. "It wasn't all Marnal" she whispered.
"Marnal wasn't working alone..." She kept her eyes locked on Lolita. "He had help."
The Doctor broke off the embrace and gave Rose a questioning look. Rose moved her eyes to point in Lolita's direction. The Doctor glanced at Lolita, then quickly back at Rose.
"Look, I know it sounds completely mental, but," she glanced at Lolita again, "she was there... the visualizer didn't show it, but she was the one who convinced the TARDIS to trust Marnal, she's the one who first called her out of the cradle."
"How can you know that?"
"Because I..." she searched for a way to say it, but couldn't find anything more plausible than the truth, ridiculous as it sounded "because I was there."
A low rustle of sound and movement drifted down from the upper levels as the court members began to regain their grip on the current situation. The Doctor looked at Rose with growing concern. "You were there?" he asked, doubt creeping into his voice.
"Not there there, but... I had a dream, I fell asleep next to the TARDIS. But it was real, everything I saw, it really happened. I know what happened with Marnal and I know that Lolita had a hand in it. He wouldn't have been able to do it without her." Her eyes pleaded for him to believe her.
Instead of the skepticism she expected, he looked impressed. "Well that's something."
"What's something?" Rose blinked.
"A mental connection with the TARDIS." His eyes scrutinized hers and his face grew serious. "If it's true that means that you and the TARDIS may grow to be very close someday."
He smiled suddenly "Then I'd be the jealous one, wouldn't I?" He squeezed her arm "A mental connection with a TARDIS is a curious thing, especially if it came to you as a dream..." He glanced at the court members gathering on the balcony just above them, many of them looking down and waiting. Lolita stood amongst them, her face a mask of impatience, but it changed when the Doctor looked at her. Her eyes narrowed and her body grew noticeably more tense. Rose turned to look up at the people waiting above.
The Doctor put a hand on her shoulder and leaned in close. "Just how sure are you Rose? Willing to bet the TARDIS’s life on it?"
“I’m willing to bet my life on it." She stepped forward. "The defense calls a surprise witness." The mixed crowd of both prosecution members and red-robed court officials murmured above her. "I ask that the juror known as Lolita be made to tell us about her involvement with the crime.”
The high court judge stepped forward from among the crowd, her hair was disheveled and her robes were in disarray, but her demeanor was unbowed. She looked down at Rose and the Doctor as officials gathered the children around them and led them from the walkway to the safety of the adjoining balcony. Her red eyes flashed at them "On what grounds?"
"My client has memories of Lolita's involvement."
Lolita moved a few steps through the crowd in the Judge's direction, "Isn't that a bit unorthodox?" she asked in an excessively servile manner. Two court officials instantly moved between her and the Judge. Lolita stopped "Surely as a member of the jury, I couldn't possibly stand..."
"If indeed you were involved in the crime, your position as juror would be nullified, and in light of current events..." The judge looked down again at Rose and the group of children now chattering away on the balcony behind her, "my confidence is with the defense. You may proceed."
"I refuse!" Lolita suddenly shouted, "When I was brought here and asked to participate in this charade of a trial I agreed to function as a juror, not be questioned by this..." she looked down at Rose with absolute disgust "delusional ape!"
"Okay," said Rose quickly, glad of the few times she'd actually paid attention while watching Perry Mason. "If she's not a surprise witness then how about a smoking gun? Despite how she looks, she's a TARDIS, and that makes her physical evidence. If my client can be searched and have her journey logs examined then I don't see why same can't be done to Lolita."
Lolita hissed and lunged at the balcony's protective railing. Her hands curved, white knuckled, around its metal crossbar. Then, suddenly, she grew calm. "Fine!" She rose up proudly. "Yes, I was there. Marnal didn't have the stomach," she looked directly at the Doctor "or the wit to do what needed to be done!"
The Doctor stepped forward. “I was wondering how Marnal got the complex event out of the cradle. Trying to forcibly remove it would cause its internal dimensions to pour out uncontrollably, killing everyone. You lured her out. And when she'd become accustomed to leaving the cradle you sent Marnal to her!”
"Oh, it wasn't difficult. She's rather like you. So eager to explore the unknown," Lolita smirked. "Heedless of the consequences. And Marnal was just as easily convinced. So much for the paragons of old Doctor. Time to take the veil from your eyes and see them as they truly were."
"You got to him… you wormed your way into his trust... convinced him it was all for the good of the Time Lords." Realization crawled across the Doctor's face "And then you took his diary in the hope that you would be brought here, to decide the fate of the one TARDIS that you believed might actually survive the Time War."
"Doctor?" Rose interrupted.
He turned to Rose. "This is what she planned," He looked back at Lolita "This is why she's here!" The rage built up in his voice. "You were trying to slip fate. You thought you could escape your death in the Time War. You left the diary on Mars knowing what would happen when it was found!"
"Hmmm..." Lolita purred, "And that's not all. Your little friend... what was his name? Corey? He was the last little piece of the puzzle." She paused to let her words sink in "The perfect motivational pawn..."
The Doctor thought back to the woman in the car. "You killed him."
"Insurance," she stated flatly. "So I'd be free to move about as I pleased."
"Impossible," CoRo finally spoke, "The Proclamation’s anchoring point is the only thing protecting the Jury from the War's time lock. If you attempt to make a space-time jump away from this world, your reality quotient will plummet.”
"Oh?" smiled Lolita. "Do you think so?" With a sound like a thousand bees ricocheting through a ventilation shaft, Lolita winked from existence.
"Track the Type 101’s current location!" the Judge shouted. A Judoon bailiff punched a series of keys on his legal pad, and shook his horned head in puzzled dismay.
"Stupid! Stupid!" The Doctor waved his arms in frustration. "I should have realized!"
"Doctor, what did she mean?”
The crowd above them began to rumble. The Judoon soldiers began gathering together in a disorganized mass.
The Doctor turned to Rose. "She doesn’t need the Proclamation’s anchor because of the symbiotic link with me. This whole trial, everything; it's all been about her escaping the Time War. She killed Corey, because she knew it would draw me out... make me desperate enough to commit – to commit to her! He died because she was trying to manipulate me!"
Rose winced in concern. "But not anymore, yeah? Look at them now." She turned him to look at the children gathered on the adjoining balcony. "She saved them. The TARDIS saved them all."
The children looked back at them, their faces lit up with excitement at the show they'd just witnessed, eager to see what would happen next.
Then, with a gravely hum, one of them vanished.
Another hum, and a petite blond girl began to fade before their eyes. For the briefest moment an image of Lolita was superimposed over her, arms crossed, face infinitely smug, before the girl disappeared altogether. Small shrieks rose up from the other children and they began to scatter.
"She's taking them!" shouted the Doctor as they ran. The Doctor and Rose began running down the walkway toward them. Surprised court officials began circling the remaining children, trying to round them together once more.
One by one the children dissipated like vapor before their eyes. By the time the Doctor and Rose reached the balcony, only one child remained, frightened and clinging to the nearest court official, a young three-armed boy whimpered and buried his face in the official's red robes.
"No! No! No!" The Doctor called out as the boy disappeared.
"Why is she doing this?" asked Rose. "She'd already gotten away."
"Insurance... just like before." said the Doctor.
"Find the Type 101!" the Judge called out again. CoRo worked desperately on his legal pad. A holo-image of the space above the Shadow Proclamation materialized above them. In the star-laden sky, the shape of a woman turned slowly. "Commander CoRo, take your troop and retrieve Lolita. If she resists arrest..."
CoRo quickly cleared his throat. "The Type 101 is dematerializing ma'am..." his voice trailed away. He looked up at the Judge.
Rose looked away from the holo-image. "You've got to go after her then!" she shouted at CoRo.
"They can't," the Doctor told her. "Judoon ships can't enter the Vortex, they were lucky to find our TARDIS where they did." He moved quickly toward the Judge, whose eyes were still locked on the holo-image above. The Doctor clasped the woman by the shoulders and shook her slightly, focusing her attention on him "But there's something that you can do."
"I can't!" The Judge cried out, for the first time since Rose had seen the woman, she looked truly at a loss. "We don't have the authority!"
"You've got an entire jury who could stop her."
The Judge looked up at the jury level, its occupants resting as quietly as stone sentinels. "It's not permitted," her voice shuttered.
"To hell with what's permitted! Those children are alive now! Lolita will do whatever it takes to survive and she's already killed them once. You've got an entire jury of ships that can bring her back! The Shadow Proclamation created the anchor point and you control it!"
The Judge looked visibly shaken by the Doctor's words. Whatever her lifetime of training had prepared her for when she took her exalted position, it had obviously not readied her for a situation like this. The court bailiff stood ready to drag the Doctor away at her command.
Rose stepped forward. This time none of the Judge's personal guard moved forward to block her access. "They've seen everything you have," she said quickly "They know what's happened... you have to trust them."
The Judge returned her gaze to Lolita as she spun through the Vortex. The Doctor’s grip on her shoulders increased to the point where it was almost painful. "You can see that this isn't going to end well," he said. "But you have the power to change that... right here, right now!"
The Judge nodded, "Extend the anchor."
There was a nearly soundless click from the bailiff’s legal pad and the upper reaches of the courtroom immediately filled with the trumpeting sound of timeships grinding to life. One by one, they roared out of existence.
"For all of them?" grunted CoRo, his eyes on the captive blue box.
Dozens of tiny confused cries filled Corey’s ears. He was standing in a blood red room, the other children around him wailing in growing panic. The dim lighting and lack of any adults made his lips go dry. He knew he'd been at the zoo... he'd been looking at the snakes, hadn't he? But that seemed ages ago. There was something else, a very long something else, that itched at the back of his brain. But the harder he tried to remember it, the farther away it seemed, like a dream slowly fading. He only knew that a long time had passed...
A small rough hand covered his. He turned to look at it. Stubby gray fingers cupped his. He looked up and his eyes met with a baby rhinoceros... in a pink dress, its eyes shedding small tears that glinted red in the light.
"Please," it whispered among the whimpered cries, "Do you know what's happening? Who were those people? Where are we?"
A girl, thought Corey. With a voice like that and the dress, there was no doubt in his mind. "I... I don't' know."
A grinding noise of metal on metal filled the air. A line of orange-red light began to form at the top of the far wall of the strange room and burn its way down to the floor. The children instantly quieted at the sight of it. Before the brilliant light had touched the floor one of the children gasped and pointed upward. The wall began to open in slowly, seemingly melting back on itself in a dull red glow, and beyond, it twinkled a myriad of stars.
The Judge stared at the Type 40 then turned to the Doctor. She opened her mouth to speak... and stopped as the eleven members of the Jury swooped into view and began converging on Lolita.
“Something’s happening!” screamed Rose. The members of the courtroom stared in up in horror as Lolita split open, and jettisoned a trail of small bodies to the starry sky.
Corey blinked. Everything had happened so fast. A wind had swept in and pulled each screaming child out into a swirling landscape of blue and gold. Dizziness slammed through him as he tried to focus on the world around him. He clamped his eyes shut. A dull wind roared in his ears. Every hair on his body danced on end and strained to leave him. Something was being sucked out of him, he could feel it, but he didn't know what it was. His bones felt empty and aching, not with pain, but an unending lack of something... something... He felt as if his skin might tighten and shrink back onto his bones, seeping into the joints to fill that endless ache. His eyes snapped open, he looked at the only thing he could safely focus on, his hands. They looked the same as ever but flailing helplessly outward, just as his feet were, trying to tread the complete lack of any water.
He heard the thin voice just barely over the winds. It must have been a shout but to his ear it was only a small squeak. Wincing, his eyes braved the stabbing light and found one safe harbor to cling to. The girl, the rhino girl, spinning helplessly towards him. Her short arms grasping outwards, her mouth straining in a useless scream.
Somewhere in the court room someone was screaming uncontrollably. While the court convulsed in horror at the image above, the Judoon scrambled to restore some order to the growing chaos.
"Doctor!" the Judge cried out over the ear-filling din. Her face now a mask of shock and anger.
"The children will be exposed to the time winds!" the Doctor shouted, "They wont survive long! It will take a miracle to save them all!" The Doctor pointed to his TARDIS. "And I guarantee no ship will work harder to make that happen!"
The Judge signaled to CoRo, but her eyes never left the hologram. "Commander, you will accompany the Accused and her servants. You will insure that the innocent are protected and the guilty receive what the law demands.”
The Doctor was already running for the staircase as CoRo replied, “I will fulfill all my obligations and see that justice is done.”
Corey and the rhinoceros held on to each other as they spun through the tunnel of red and orange light. Then, just beyond her, a flash of silver light appeared in the madness. A pinprick like a tiny metal star, glinting. It moved through the color bursts with perfect ease, traveling as if it owned them. Another appeared, then another. Beacons of surety in the unrelenting chaos. They hovered, dipped, and swung through the maelstrom. Corey squinted and saw one of the small pinpoints on a collision course with an even smaller black spot which he hadn't noticed before. It maneuvered purposefully towards the dot, opened, and swallowed it whole.
Corey opened his mouth to scream, but his tongue found no air. He realized he couldn’t remember when he’d last drawn breath. Time seemed to have no meaning here. The rhino girl's arms had slowed their thrashing, her eyes glazing over and rolling back in her head. Behind her a tiny blue rectangle bloomed into existence and began growing in size as it pitched toward them. Whatever it was, Corey thought, they wouldn't have to worry about it long. It rushed up to them, taking shape as it grew in size. A box... a blue box. And Corey knew that he had seen it before, in the room they had been in just before they were taken. There had been a sign that said something about officers and cars responding to urgent calls.
But the thought began to fade... Corey was tired, so very tired. He wondered how he could be so tired and so scared at the same time. The ache in his bones vanished, they became heavy and felt like they were filled with ice. The box moved towards them. He blinked again, straining to keep his eyes open.
Oreno’s arms were limp at her sides now, her horned head drooping down to her chest. He felt the fabric of her dress against his fingertips. It wouldn't make it, the box would be too late.
Corey strained his arms and pushed her toward the hungry box. His eyes closing as he drifted back...
…and he found himself smiling.
The TARDIS's central column had sprung to life with a liveliness that Rose hadn't heard in a long time. The Doctor's hands flew over the console. His focus on it's panels so sharp, that Rose wondered if he remembered that she and CoRo were in the room at all.
"Lolita thought of this already didn't she?" Rose asked "That's why she took the kids, isn't it? She knew the time ships could follow her."
"They're the only ones who could," the Doctor replied. “You don’t need to be a five-dimensional being to predict that.”
She wondered just how long Lolita had planned for this. If you existed outside of time presumably you would have your whole life to plan for something, and since Lolita was a TARDIS, it was possible that she could plan for absolutely everything. Did they even have a chance of catching her? Or was all of this pre-written.
Rose gasped as the TARDIS lurched forward. Whatever care the ship generally took in traveling the vortex seemed to be forgotten. She and CoRo clung to the coral like columns as the ship doors flung inward. In the distance two children, tiny as dolls, hung in the torrent of light.
"Coming up on them now!" the Doctor shouted.
CoRo's eyes lit up as the nearest child came into view. Rose saw his lips shape the word 'Oreno' as the TARDIS dipped to swallow the child whole.
With an unceremonious thump, the body of Oreno landed gracelessly on the console room floor. CoRo and Rose moved toward her just as a young boy's body came lurching into the control room. Rose barely caught him and landed hard on her backside beside Oreno, the boy's body cradled in her arms.
CoRo turned Oreno over and checked her thoroughly. "She's breathing!" he gasped. The light in the console room suddenly changed to a searing yellow-orange. The structure above the central column was glowing fiercely.
"Doctor what's going on?" Rose called out as she tried to find a pulse in the boy's neck.
The Doctor shielded his eyes from the glare. “Artron energy to time lock their reality quotients. The TARDIS is trying to heal them." He made a few more adjustments to a console panel and then ran to CoRo's side "The TARDIS can repair the damage, if we're not too late." The Doctor and CoRo watched as Oreno stirred slightly and her lips parted in a restful sigh.
"Good. She had the sense to slip into Onihr hibernation. She'll make it..." He slapped Co Ro's shoulder "Judoon resilience, eh?" CoRo continued to smile.
The Doctor looked and saw Rose was now standing. He was reasonably sure that the boy in her arms was Corey. The Doctor stood up quickly. "Give him to me Rose, he needs to be exposed to as much of the energy as possible".
"Doctor..." Rose began, "I don't think...”
The Doctor relieved Rose of her burden, gently laying the boy in the light, beside Oreno. He placed his hands on either side of the child's face and opened his eyes. The boy’s lips were an odd purple-gray in color. And his hair had turned completely white. Rose opened her mouth to speak, then stopped, unsure if the Doctor would even listen. CoRo glanced at Rose sympathetically. The Doctor shook the boy’s shoulders. He didn't move, didn't shudder, his eyes partly rolled back in his head, looking ever upward at nothing.
"Come on, come on..." The Doctor tapped the boys face lightly with the palm of his hand. "It's not going to end like this... it's..." he released the boy and stood up quickly, covering his mouth with his hand.
“I wasn’t fast enough” whispered the Doctor.
"He was too far away, and..." Rose’s voice trailed off.
The Doctor's arm dropped. His head bowed. "There's always someone..." he growled quietly.
Rose wanted to say something... anything that would help. But she was speechless. And the Doctor only stood there, eyes on the floor. But the pain in his eyes quickly changed to something else. Determination? Anger? Rose wasn't sure. A coldness seemed to emanate from him.
“Commander, given how long she was in the Vortex, Oreno’s going to need a bio-data transfusion from a living relative,” snapped the Doctor. “You should take her to the medical bay." His breath temporarily hitched in his throat. "Take both the children there for now. He looked directly at CoRo. "After you leave the control room, go up the stairs and take the next two lefts. Look for door 4077. The Advanced Diagnostic Terminal is configured for voice interface mode. Just talk to the hologram that looks like me.”
CoRo scooped Oreno up from the floor. “I will return as soon as possible,” he replied, but the Doctor had already turned back to the console.
"I should have had you stay behind," the Doctor said once CoRo had left the room. He was standing by the console with his back to Rose, "I should take you all back to the Shadow Proclamation, but there isn’t time".
"You’re going after Lolita. You’re going to try to stop her before she gets away," said Rose.
He turned to face her. "Yes."
"Well, let’s do it then."
"This isn't going to be easy," the Doctor said as he turned back and began operating the controls.
"Oh no, you're not getting rid of me now," Rose joined him at the console. "I want to see this through as much as you do."
The TARDIS groaned reluctantly. The Doctor frowned. On the screen the other timeships were streaking off after Lolita, leaving them far behind.
“What’s wrong?” asked Rose.
“The TARDIS, she’s fighting me!”
"I don't know, she's fully capable of going after Lolita, but..." a puzzled look crossed his face. "she's just not trying!"
A low, dark feeling pricked at the back of Rose's neck. She swallowed hard, an almost palpable emotion of sorrow welled up inside of her. But as before, real as the feeling was, she knew it was not her own. "It's him..."
"The boy," Rose sighed, her voice dropped low. "He didn't make it."
"Rose, I don't need to be reminded of that now —"
"No, you don't, because you blame yourself." She looked at him imploringly. "You're taking this all in," her voice quivered, "blaming yourself for what's happened to him and... three days ago you didn't even know that he existed."
"Rose, I..." he shook his head, "I don't understand. What does this —"
"That's how the TARDIS feels!" Her voice broke. “She's carried him for years, she's carried all of them for all this time, hoping to one day save them all, and now she's...."
"Failed," the Doctor finished for her. He shook his head again in denial. "But she hasn't, this... this wasn't her fault!"
Rose looked at him. "Maybe she doesn't know that."
She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, a single tear ran down her left cheek. "She was going to fix it all, to make it right! But it didn't work ..."
The Doctor grasped Rose's shoulders. She exhaled slowly and seemed to regain herself. He gave her a searching look, but she nodded that she was alright. He looked up, his eyes resting on the TARDIS's rotor encased in its glass column.
"You didn't do this," he said loudly as he released Rose and walked around the console. He paused to find the right words. "You know how it is... how we live." His eyes dropped down to the controls "So many people lost..." he said more softly. "But these children... Lolita would have killed them all. You saved them, every one of them that you could.”
Rose wondered if the TARDIS could truly have understood anything the Doctor was saying.
"This isn't your fault," said the Doctor. He paused to let the truth of his statement sink in.
Rose exhaled. Something deep inside felt as though it was untwisting inside her. She started to relax, and a pain she'd hardly been aware of began to slip away.
The Doctor continued. "The only one to blame for Corey's death is Lolita. This is her doing, she knew from the beginning that this was wrong; you didn't. And when you learned what you were doing you stopped, she didn't. That's what makes you different from her." He waited a moment to let his words sink in, then placed his hand on the console. "She would have killed those children a thousand times over if it served her purpose and I'm not going to let her get away with it. She has to be stopped. Help me... help me stop her."
Then a growing hum filled the air. With a metallic noise, the TARDIS seemed to shift back to life. Rose closed her eyes and exhaled; it felt like a weight had been lifted from her chest. The Doctor smiled and clapped his hands together. He nodded, "That's my girl," he said. "Let's do this."
The Doctor marshaled his thoughts, shifting his focus to something broader than the TARDIS’s pocket universe. He looked down at the TARDIS’s console, sensing her heart. He needed to see this though.
Rose looked at the view screen. "So can we track her? She's got to be well ahead of us now."
“Fortunately, I’ve constructed a few extras in this old girl – like a time-path detector,” said the Doctor as he leapt to the left and activated the indicator. This brought the image of the time-curve to the console’s display unit. Arms outstretched, Lolita spun through her crimson wormhole tunnel like a bird gliding on an updraft.
“There she is,” said the Doctor. “Running like Cinderella.” The Doctor swung back around to the far side of the console and zeroed the space-time programmer. “And like Cinderella, time is catching up with her!”
“Serves her right,” said Rose as she moved so she could keep her eye on the display.
“Release that handbrake!” shouted the Doctor as he patched in the detector’s vector tracker. The Doctor noticed that Rose jammed the lever forward with the same gusto he did. She was learning. The melodic hum of this ship’s audio units changed tempo as the dynamorphic generators came to life. His smile grew larger as the rotor within the giant glass time column began to cycle. The Doctor barely had time to grab the edge of the console as the TARDIS lurched savagely into motion.
“We’re locked on a pursuit course,” he said as he crossed back around the console, pulling the screen along with him. “Let’s hope this goes better then the first time I had to chase her down.”
“What happened the first time?” asked Rose.
“The fall of Atlantis.”
Rose took her best shot at articulating her response to this and said, “Oh.”
“High time for a re-match.” The Doctor wondered if he could really afford to be taking the time to keep Rose’s mind off their situation. She was strong, but only when focused. He eased the main power switch up, eyeing the response dials.
Rose’s distraction did not last long. “Can we catch her? Are we fast enough?”
“I doubt it. But if some of the more advanced members of the jury can corral Lolita we can help with apprehending her. I’m sure CoRo would love to have another TARDIS on his arrest docket.”
“So we’re just here to make everything legal?” Rose’s tone spoke of disappointment.
“You’re a lawyer,” said the Doctor with a smile. “If this works, Lolita’s going to need one!”
Rose laughed. “Well then, driver, follow that TARDIS!”
Finally, the Doctor thought, as he reached to his right and tweaked the detector. The view on the display screen pulled back to show the other members of the jury in the wormhole. The Doctor frowned. The jury didn’t seem to be gaining on Lolita. If anything, they were falling behind. He rotated two of the five booster switches, increasing the power to the spatial drive.
Rose was standing back from the console, opening and closing her fists. “The time tunnel thingy is red. That means she’s going forward in time, right?”
A glance at a blue light on the console confirmed Rose’s diagnosis. “Lolita knows it's easier to go with the flow of time then fight against it.” The Doctor could see Rose wanted to help. But without any training it was… An idea occurred to him. “Rose, come over here keep an eye on this dial,” said the Doctor pointing the neutronium counter. “Let me know if the needle crossed 1000.”
“What happens if it crosses 1000?”
“The heart of the TARDIS can only handle so much power. If that needle crosses 1000 for more than a handful of seconds…” The Doctor suddenly leapt around Rose to see gyro dials. There’d been a momentary fluctuation, but for now at least, Lolita’s time track was still stable.
“Well it says 642 right now, but what if it goes over?” reminded Rose.
“If it goes over 1000? If we’re lucky, we burn out the fluid links and die of mercury poisoning.” The Doctor was grinning like a maniac.
“And if we’re not lucky, what? It explodes?”
“Top of the class!” he said with his best manic grin. That was Rose sorted, thought the Doctor. She’d be focused on the counter and not getting in the way. He stared into the thrusting glass time column, feeling the slow pulse of the dimensional stabilizers. Each compression of the rotor released a burst of counter-magnetization thrust from the TARDIS’s heart. Each expansion provided an artron update on the TARDIS drive system.
Rose interrupted his improvised diagnostic. “I thought you said the other TARDISes were faster than us?”
“Some of them are, yes.”
“Well they why are we passing them?”
“What? All of them?”
“All of them! Look at the screen!”
In an instant the Doctor was there. Rose was right. His ancient timeship was out sailing the Type 70s and even the Type 89s. Forced-matter equations spun through his head as he moved to the helm station and punched at the scanner keypad. The suspicion that was growing in his head was confirmed by the time he returned to Rose’s side.
The updated display now showed several silver like strands of transcendent biomechanics linking the jury back to the 21st century – back to the Shadow Proclamation. “The anchors! The Proclamation is raising them as fast as they can but it’s not good enough.”
“Can we get them to cut the lines?”
He locked eyes with her. “Doesn’t work that way. Those lines are the only things holding the jury here. Otherwise they’d all fall right back into the Time War.” Taking a breath he turned back to the screen. “But the system was only meant for collecting witnesses from other times to testify in the court room.”
“They didn’t have car chases in mind?”
“No, and now the Judoon can’t reconfigure the system fast enough to give the jury the freedom it needs. It's slowing them down.”
“So, this is where you do some jiggery-pokery to cut them some slack?” Roses’ voice was filled with equal parts of hopefulness and encouragement.
“By the time I got it sorted, Lolita would be long gone. No, we’ve got to stay on her track before this wormhole collapses.” The Doctor stepped around Rose and keyed in the third booster switch causing sun-like levels of energy to surge through the engines.
“But you said she was faster than the TARDIS, than our TARDIS,” said Rose as she glanced down at the counter. “And we’re up to 766.”
“She is. We’ll just have to stay on her tail 'till we exhaust her.”
“If they’re sisters, why’s our TARDIS so much slower?”
“Lolita started as a Type 45, but she had a complete overhaul and refit to fight the Time War. It made her one of the most advanced forms of TARDIS ever.”
“So, this is all because you never install your updates?”
The flashing light at the top of the time path detector suddenly blinked off. “We’re losing her!” shouted the Doctor as he ran for the helm station and yanked the brake back.
Rose was promptly thrown through the air as the TARDIS bucked like a ship at sea. Ignoring her scream, the Doctor twisted the helmic regulator and slapped the emergency dematerialization switch.
Rose had fetched up on the battered couch-like structure that protruded from the TARDIS floor. From where she was sprawled she could still see the scanner screen. It showed a new crimson tunnel breaking off a right angle from the old one and Lolita flying down on a new course.
“What happened?” bellowed a deep and angry voice. CoRo had returned to the control room.
The Doctor didn’t look up. “Lolita was trying to lose us by performing a transference jump. I had to alter our time-curve.”
CoRo’s eyebrows scrunched together for a moment. “Did it work?”
“See for yourself” said the Doctor with a wave at the screen.
With a wince of pain, Rose climbed out of the mercifully padded seat and joined CoRo in peering at the screen. On it, silhouetted against the red spirals, was the distant form of Lolita.
“How’s Oreno?” she whispered.
“The Accused’s medical facilities are efficient. The hologram known as the Doctor was most knowledgeable. I have left Oreno to recover in room Zero.”
“I hope she’ll be alright,” said Rose.
The Doctor looked up from the gyro dials and said, “She’ll make a complete recovery. The fact that Rose could remember to ask after her is proof of that.” He pushed Rose aside and took a hard look at the time path indicators. “We’re still too far behind If she makes another jump, we’ll lose her.”
Ducking around CoRo, the Doctor swatted the fourth booster switch into action. The lights beneath the time column grew brighter and the usually melodic hum of the TARDIS’s audio units developed a note of desperation.
CoRo turned his head and body towards the Doctor. “The timeship must be apprehended. Survival is nothing without justice!”
“Isn’t there a way the TARDIS can go faster?” added Rose. “It’s a space ship – can’t you give the warp drive more power or something?”
“I can’t divert anymore power to the drive without disabling all of our defenses. I’ll try reducing the TARDIS’s reality quotient by five percent. That should let us slip though history more easily.” The Doctor leaned to the right, checked the path indicator again. He frowned. They were gaining on Lolita. That shouldn’t have been possible…
A shrill level one collision alarm buzzed, answering the half-formed question. The Doctor took a step to the panel on his left. The mean-free path tracker’s cosmic graphic showed a twisting tornado of temporal particles.
“What’s wrong?” demanded Rose.
“Just a little bit of vortex turbulence. Lolita was trying to get us to run into a time spike. Amateur stuff.” Still, thought the Doctor. Just to be sure, he locked in the blue stabilizers. The knob was stiff with lack of use. “She must be getting desperate!”
The Doctor’s bravado faded as the tracker showed Lolita leaping over a massive wave of time spillage. Quietly swearing in Old High Gallifreyan, the Doctor spun a knob that brought the vortex shields up to maximum. The constant vibration that ran through the control sphere lurched into the sort of choppiness one usually associates with oceans.
“This doesn’t feel very amateur. It feels like she’s taking us to school!” said Rose between clenched teeth.
The Doctor expanded the focus of the Heisenberg device. “She steered us into an old battle ground from the Time War! Time spillage, monopole turbulence, random gravity lenses, you name it!” The Doctor’s hands moved to the zig-zag plotter as he tried find a way through the mess. The TARDIS felt like it was going into a spin. A very bumpy spin.
“Will the shields protect us?” asked CoRo.
“Normally, yes. But if we hit one of these surges head-on and at this velocity…”The image of Rose’s hyper-aged corpse flashed into his mind. He closed his eyes and pushed everything back down into a deep, but very familiar, hole in his mind. His eyes opened and he considered their options. Slowing down would allow them to navigate the ruined patch of space-time, but they would almost certainly lose Lolita to another quick transference. No, they had to maintain speed. He became aware that Rose and CoRo were still waiting for him to complete his thought. “Counter reading!” demanded the Doctor.
“Uh… 864,” said Rose.
The Doctor grunted. On the screen, Lolita was dancing through the surges as if they were nothing more than a field of dandelions. A suspicion began to form that Lolita might have caused this very battle decades ago just so she would have a briar patch to hide in now.
CoRo spoke up. “If you could provide me with communications with the Shadow Proclamation, I could petition to have Lolita officially removed from the jury. That would sever her biomechanical anchor and weaken her presence outside of the War's time lock.”
For a moment, the Doctor wondered if CoRo was trying to rub salt in his wound. “That would work… if she hadn’t already tricked me into forming a symbiotic link with her. By now, I’m sure Lolita has dropped any connections she had with the Proclamation. They would have only slowed her down like it did with the rest of the jury.” Frustration burned in his hearts. Lolita was out-maneuvering them at every turn.
“Time to make things a bit more personal.” The Doctor crossed to the Helm station and reached for the helmic regulator’s manual override. The lightest touch of the dial sent the TARDIS into a mad lurch, throwing both Rose and CoRo into the coral support pillars and onto the floor. The tracker showed the TARDIS leaping up and over the choppy sea of graphics. It skittered along the outer edge of the wormhole, threatening to burst through and go spinning thousands of years off course.
“I’m doing it!” shouted that Doctor as another touch sent the control room’s floor dropping out from under them. They were careening over the turbulence like some sort of flying fish.
And then a massive wave of time spillage reared up before them. The TARDIS lurched savagely as the shields and stabilizers tried to absorb the surge. The Doctor felt time slip forward a couple of days. Not enough to have a visible effect on Rose or CoRo, reasoned the Doctor. And the shock would probably be masked by the pain from their physical injuries. More worryingly, he could hear an ominous buzzing from the fault locator.
The Doctor couldn’t take his eyes from the steering mechanism. “CoRo! What does the readout say? The one on the panel to the left of the neutronium counter!”
“It flashing QD3434!” bellowed CoRo.
“What color?” demanded the Doctor as he gave the regulator another nudge.
CoRo’s massive hands clutched the bucking console. “What?”
“What color is the text?”
The shield’s sub-neutron circuits were starting to fail. The Doctor realized that these controls were just too clumsy. Not like the systems aboard Lolita. Not integrated directly into her sapient matrix. One more surge would collapse the shields and age everyone a hundred years or more.
But the surge never game. The Doctor checked the tracker. “We've reached the other side of the battlefield,” he said with a smile. “It’s all about the speed now.” The Doctor flipped the last of the booster switches and wondered if he should tell the others that the defense mechanisms were now disabled. In this state, even CoRo could have broken the TARDIS doors in half with his bare hands.
“996,” said Rose looking at the counter with alarm. Now the wheezing and groaning of the dimensional stabilizers was audible with every cycle of the central column. The gratings that served as the floor for the top half of the control room sphere began making a metallic tapping noise as they came into resonance with the ship’s vibrations.
The Doctor keyed in several filters to prevent the generators from overloading. He’d have to keep a sharp nose out in case the fluid links overloaded. The minutes ticked by. And with every tick the indicator showed Lolita pulling away from them. He could feel the slight tingle of the vortex’s artron energy bathing them - the slow accumulation of bockatrons and harminum in their bodies.
CoRo spoke. “The suspect plays a mean game of nukeball.”
“Nukeball?” asked Rose.
“A game where you use thermo-nuclear explosives to knock a neutronium ball into the other team’s goal,” snapped the Doctor as he glared at the time path indicators. Once they were far enough behind the plank-collapse of Lolita’s time curve they would lose her.
“Yes,” agreed the Judoon. “She has her strategy worked out well in advance, and has laid H-bombs everywhere along her path. It seems we will have to expend our entire arsenal without scoring a point.”
“Expend our entire…” The Doctor ran the forced matter calculations through his head and leapt to the battered couch. Fishing down between the cushions, he pulled out a small red box. “Emergency Power Booster!” shouted the Doctor.
“I thought we already were at maximum!” shouted CoRo.
“This allows the TARDIS to simultaneously drain all of its ancillary and back-up power for one massive burst of thrust,” explained the Doctor as he plugged the box into the console. “There’s some ultra-hyper-warp for you Rose!” The dynamorphic generators screamed as every omega of power available to the TARDIS flooded into its heart.
“Doctor!” shouted Rose. “It just shot up to… over one million!”
The Doctor suddenly regretted explaining the neutronium counter to Rose.
The TARDIS lurched and twisted, throwing the unprepared Rose and CoRo through the air. The time column creaked ominously as it struggled to contain and guide the energies of the Heart - energies equivalent to a large star.
The TARDIS heaved upward, pinning them to floor as the ship accelerated. The Doctor calculated that they should have caught up with Lolita. And, as he’d told Rose, the TARDIS could only handle this much power for a few seconds. With a harsh snapping noise, a thin crack appeared in the time column’s outer layers of glass.
The Doctor could feel his muscles tearing as he grabbed the underside of the console and pulled himself up to a sitting position. His hearts pounded trying to keep the blood flowing to his brain. As he reached for the engine release lever, those same hearts skipped a beat. Mixed in among the screech of the generators, and the wheezing of the stabilizers the Doctor could hear the sound of the boundary error alarm.
His scrabbling fingers coiled around the lever and pulled it back. As soon as the G-forces had released him, the Doctor was up and moving around to the navigation panel. The gyro-series dials read “Space Parameter Exceeded.” Lolita had out maneuvered them again.
“She tricked us!” said the Doctor in disbelief as he checked the time path’s vector tracker.
The din of the generators died down enough for the Doctor to hear CoRo’s voice. “What did she do?”
“I never thought to check her destination coordinates. She deliberately set a course that would take her, and us, outside the time spiral. Beyond the boundary between what is and what isn’t.” The Doctor's hands leapt over the navigation panel as he tried to restore the systems.
“Wouldn’t that destroy her as well as us?” asked CoRo.
“Yeah, well, fortunately for Lolita, a TARDIS will automatically stop when it reaches the edge of creation. Unfortunately for us, the emergency booster disables that safety system. If we don’t stop, we'll be finished!"
CoRo frowned. “But your counter reads only 124. We are no longer accelerating.”
“Yes, but our speed is over six googol years per metasecond! We’ve passed Lolita and are going to breach the time spiral. The TARDIS was trying to trigger an emergency landing, but I... well... I canceled it.”
Rose and CoRo's eyes widened at the Doctor's words.
"You what? said Rose in disbelief.
"You've got to stop this ship!" thundered CoRo "Or we’ll be crushed and scattered throughout the Vortex!”
“Canceled it? You canceled it! What the hell's wrong with an emergency landing?” screamed Rose over the alarm. "Sounds better than the alternative!"
“It would have meant losing Lolita. I think I can bring the TARDIS back under control by resetting the velocity override!”
“That sounds risky.” Rose’s voice came from behind him, the Doctor noted with surprise. She must have been thrown across the room.
“Allowing the automatic landing would mean Lolita getting away. And if Lolita gets away…”
“Doctor, if Lolita gets away, then Lolita gets away,” Rose interrupted.
The Doctor triggered the override the moment it finished rebooting. “And that’s got it!” With a long creaking groan, the time rotor’s counter-magnetization thrust began to slow the TARDIS. The boundary alarm switched off.
The Doctor let out a long sigh of relief and stepped around CoRo to check on Lolita’s position on the detector.
“You're doing it again,” said Rose.
“Yes. Had to break a few trans-dimensional traffic laws, but yes.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“Then what do you mean?”
“You’re getting so obsessed with getting the bad guy you don’t care who gets hurt.”
“How can you say that? After everything we just told her?” snapped the Doctor. Didn’t Rose understand, this was important?
CoRo stepped up, a trickle of yellow blood was running down his face. “The Judge has authorized us to ensure that the Type 101’s victims receive justice. All of her victims - including the Accused. It is the Type 40’s legal right to ensure that happens.”
“Don’t you see how important this is to her?” said the Doctor finally, looking up at Rose.
Rose’s forehead had a dark red and purple scratch across it from impacting the rough coral. Blood flowed freely from her mouth and nose as she spoke. “Important to her or you?”
The Doctor’s mind reeled. His mouth opened and closed for a second.
Rose swung her arm at him. “Think about it! It’s not just me here. Oreno, CoRo, even the TARDIS herself is being dragged along on this ride. A ride you say we can’t win. And all you’re thinking about is yourself.”
“Myself?” Belatedly, the Doctor sniffed the air for stray mercury vapors. But the smoky air contained nothing but the scent of melted exitonics.
“I’ve seen that look. That ‘someone I care about has been hurt and I’m going to stop at nothing to get revenge’ attitude.”
The Doctor keyed in a new course from the zig-zag plotter. “Rose the TARDIS has spent centuries trying to tell me to make this right. I have to make up for that!”
“Doctor, this is a fight between the TARDISes. You can’t make it about you!”
There was a twisting ache around his symbiotic nuclei that told him Rose was right. But where was she getting this? How did she know the deepest desires of his ship’s heart? He took a deep breath and looked at CoRo. “Okay, what’s the word from the Judoon contingent?”
CoRo straightened. “A Judoon who lets the guilty run free is no Judoon at all. Oreno and I are willing to take the risk.”
“Rose? Do you want me let her go?” asked the Doctor gently as he handed Rose a handkerchief.
“You know I’m always with you” she said as she tried to wipe the blood off her face. “But what about the TARDIS?”
An idea was forming in the Doctor’s head. He reached for the control panel in front of him. “I can configure the TARDIS for autonomous control. She’ll have the ability to input whatever coordinates she wants, do anything she wants. Even break a few of those temporal traffic laws I mentioned.”
“Why didn’t you do that in the first place?” she asked.
“It didn’t occur to me. We usually work together. We’re a team. But in this case…” He looked up, locking eyes with Rose across the console. “Once the TARDIS has control, only she can give it back. We won’t be able to stop her. Do you trust her to do the right thing?”
“Yes!” Rose’s answer was instantaneous. The Doctor noted that even she seemed to be startled by it. He flipped up the safety cover marked ‘EXTREME EMERGENCY’ and pulled the red knob.
Almost immediately the humming tones of the audio units became less strained. The central computer now showed that commands were being passed from the ship’s protyon matrix straight into the directional unit. Various controls activated and lit up. Even the architectural configuration program and the psycho-telemeter – as if she was stretching before a run. With a grace that surprised even the Doctor, the TARDIS was moving again. Slipping between the eddies and currents of the Vortex like a dolphin at play.
Rose rounded the console. “So... you’ve got no control over where we’re going?”
“Nope. Reminds me of the good old days,” he said with a smile.
The Doctor started to walk over to the couch. Rose took his hand, stopping him. “And now there nothing we can do but watch this play out?”
“Seems so.” The Doctor turned and gazed at Rose’s hand. His eyes lit up. “Or maybe there is something we - or rather, something I can do.” He clenched her hand tightly and held it up to her face.
“Connections,” said the Doctor staring at their clasped hands. "I'm linked with Lolita!" He activated the telepathic circuits. “Remember how the jury couldn’t keep up with us, because they were biomechanically tied to the Proclamation?”
“Otherwise they would fall back into the Time War?” she said.
“Precisely! Lolita may not be anchored to the Proclamation, but she’s anchored to me! I’ve got the exact same strands of transcendent biomechanics connecting my symbiotic nuclei with Lolita’s relationship circuits. And those strands are the same as the ones connecting me to this TARDIS,” said the Doctor as he turned to CoRo. “I need your knife.”
“You’re tied to Lolita?” said Rose as CoRo handed a large, red-handled knife over to the Doctor.
“And to this TARDIS,” said the Doctor as he ran around to the helm panel and the already active telemetric circuit. “If I feed a sample of my own biodata into the psycho-telemeter, the TARDIS can climb those biomechanical strands like a rope!” As he spoke, he was making a small slice in his thumb with the knife.
Rose winced momentarily, but then her eyes widened. “No matter how fast and how far she runs, she will be forced to take us with her!”
The Doctor smeared the blood on the sampler and shoved it back into glowing green panel. “That’s why the TARDIS activated the circuit when I turned control over to her. She had this all figured out!” The Doctor looked, and, sure enough, the TARDIS had patched the telemeter into the directional unit.
Expecting another massive jolt, Rose and CoRo grabbed the edge of the console. But, under autonomous control, the TARDIS smoothly spun up the biodata thread.
“Its working,” said the Doctor.
Rose read the counter, “We’re at 600. 600 on the nose.”
“No need to push the generators. Better to use the power to keep the vortex shields running.” The Doctor joined them in front of the time path detector and noted that Rose was keeping her eyes off the wormhole-filled screen and firmly fixed on the counter. He didn’t blame her, human brains weren’t designed for looking at four-dimensional displays of five-dimensional time curves. Inwardly, however, the Doctor’s stomachs were churning as well. The thought of being this close to the frontier of the unknown was enough to unnerve even a Time Lord.
What Rose was missing was Lolita thrashing and spinning about like a four-dimensional dog on a chain. “It’s better than I thought!” shouted the Doctor. “The TARDIS is actually capable of holding her here!”
On the screen, Lolita pointed a long, delicate finger at them. With a flash, a brilliant pulse of white energy filled the screen. The TARDIS lurched and, with a crackling series of pops, the panel to their right erupted into flames.
“We are under attack!” shouted CoRo. “Have you raised the shields?”
“The Vortex Shields only protect us from temporal phenomenon.”
Another white pulse. “Doctor! She’s firing again!” shouted Rose. Another panel of the console exploded into flames.
“Normally, I’d use a force-field generator but it's burned out.” The Doctor looked embarrassed. “I’ve been meaning to build another one.” The Doctor watched as the fault locator read out a stream of system codes in yellow and red text.
Rose grabbed his arm. “Hold on. I thought you said TARDISes didn’t have any weapons?”
“An Exploratory TARDIS doesn’t have any weapons. Lolita was upgraded to a War TARDIS. She’s got a validium-based weapon module.”
“And what have we got?”
The Doctor was staring at the now active spatial distribution circuits in surprise. “And we have an architectural configuration program,” he said in confusion. He made is way over to the panel to see what the TARDIS was up to. The coordinate selector was setting up to jettison several rooms. The red button marked EXECUTE flashed ready. With a shrug, the Doctor pushed it. There was a pneumatic hiss as one of the TARDIS’s many storage rooms flew into the vortex…
…and neatly intercepted the next pulse of energy Lolita shot at them.
“You did it! You blocked the shot!” shouted Rose.
“It wasn’t me. The TARDIS set up the program.” The button lit up again. Again, the Doctor pushed it. On the screen, another ball of electro-magnetic energy was intercepted by a light gray spherical storage room.
CoRo leaned forward, scrutinizing the screen. “Whoever is responsible, it seems to be providing us with an effective defense.”
“Yes. Looks like all those cricket matches finally paid off.”
While CoRo used a fire extinguisher to asphyxiate the burning panels, Rose pulled the screen around the console so the Doctor could see. Lolita’s focused fire intensified, but the time it took for her transpower system to prepare another volley was far longer then it took his TARDIS to update her programming. Still, this couldn’t go on forever. Sooner or later, one of the timeships was going to have to make the next move.
Rose cheered as the thirteenth pulse destroyed another jettisoned room. The Doctor looked at the image. Lolita seemed to be making direct eye contact with him.
Suddenly, as if swatted by an invisible giant, the Doctor flew up and away from the console, smashed into the coral wall, and fell onto the second story gantry that wrapped around the upper part of the control room.
“Doctor!” screamed Rose as she ran towards his crumpled form.
Free from the jettisoned rooms, Lolita once again focused her fire on the TARDIS. The floor lurched and the Doctor rolled off the gantry. He fell into Rose’s arms, slamming both of them to the floor.
The Doctor smelled human blood. He opened his eyes and saw Rose’s face was inches from his. “Good catch,” he said between gritted teeth. They started to stand up. Another pulse of energy burned into the TARDIS. The floor titled and this time the auto-gravity systems took several seconds to compensate.
“What happened to you?” she asked cradling the Doctor.
“Lolita’s realized that I’m the bead on her biomechanical shackle. She’s letting me know that this works both ways.” The Doctor stood and stumbled towards the console, but his third step was interrupted by the invisible force once again, grabbing him and dragging him across the floor to the edge of the room.
Another white flash on the screen. Another lurch. The smoldering console panels burst into flame again.
“CoRo!” The Doctor’s voice was horse. “Hit the red button marked execute!”
CoRo moved quickly around the console and, finding the fabrication station, punched the button.
“Doctor, are you alright?” Rose had reached his side again.
“I’ll be fine," the Doctor gasped. "She can’t risk hurting me too badly or it will break the symbiotic link.” The Doctor’s hearts ached. The nuclei was woven into his very being. Into his past and future. And now he was being flicked around like a bead on a string.
Rose helped the Doctor sit up. His back was leaning against the thick coils of control linkages that ran around the edge of the room. “Can’t you sever the connection? Drop her back where she came from?” she asked.
“In theory. The connection is supposed to ensure that my people have some control over our timeships. But Lolita…” the Doctor winced and clutched at his chest “just won’t let go.
"Some control?" asked Rose hopefully.
"I may be able to override the will of her central cortex element." He looked into her eyes. “But I’ll need that knife again.”
Her eyes narrowed. “What are you going to do?”
“Rose! I need the knife! When the TARDIS is in the vortex the coordinate selector is randomized. Every push of that button could result in this control room being jettisoned! We’ve got to get control of Lolita, and, to do that, I need that knife!”
Again, CoRo punched the ‘execute’ button and again, Lolita’s attack was negated.
“Fine,” said Rose under her breath. The Doctor felt a touch of guilt as he watched her stomp back to the console. While everything he’d said was true, in reality the number of unoccupied storage rooms was vast. The chances of CoRo randomly jettisoning one of the fifteen power rooms that were essential to the TARDIS’s life and operation was remote.
Rose handed him the knife. “What are you going to do?”
“The symbiotic link is intimate. I can feel every blow that our TARDIS takes. I can even feel when she jettisons parts of herself.” The Doctor was digging around in his pocket. “Same with my link with Lolita.” His hand emerged, holding the TARDIS key. He promptly handed the key to Rose as he continued talking. “But the link works both ways. She’ll feel any trauma I suffer.”
“I don’t like where this going.”
“I can get her attention. Be the needle under her skin.” The Doctor pulled Lolita’s ankh-shaped key from his jacket and set it on the floor.
“How’s that going to let you control her?”
“There’s no way I’ll be able to take full control. I just need to distract her long enough for our TARDIS to make her move.” The Doctor fished his sonic screwdriver from his pocket and handed it to Rose as well.
Rose looked at the key and screwdriver in her hands. A look of horror crossed her face. Before she could speak, the Doctor interrupted, “It’s not what you think. Those objects are part of the TARDIS. My TARDIS. Having them increases the strength of the link between me and her,” he said with a wave towards the console. “And we don’t want our TARDIS being distracted by – by what I’m about to do. You need to keep them away from me until this is over.” The Doctor scooped up Lolita’s key.
Rose nodded. “Doctor…”
“In the mean time, I’ll be using Lolita’s key to amplify sensations for her as much as possible.” As he spoke, he wrapped the chain around his left hand, effectively tying the key to his fingers.
Rose found her voice. “Is there anything else I can do?”
The Doctor fixed Rose with a hard look. “Fetch the medical kit from the first aid cabinet in the utility room. Things are going to get messy.”
“Right,” said Rose.
The Doctor felt another twinge of guilt. There was a medical kit behind the hexagon shaped light panel to his left, but… but he didn’t want Rose to see this.
The Doctor looked at CoRo. They saw a life-time of regret in each other’s eyes. He thought about saying something, but there was no need. CoRo turned back to the console. Not because the task required it, but out of respect for him.
Twinges of guilt and regret. But he needed more then a twinge. The Doctor began reordering his neural pathways - devoting most of his super-ganglion to processing signals from his pain receptors. The bruised skin and pulled muscles all over his body simmered to life. It felt like he was being branded.
Then the Doctor opened up his telepathic barriers. He could suddenly feel CoRo button-pushing, sending signals down the frayed interfaces. With each triggering, the TARDIS experienced a convulsive twitch and vomited a room towards her sister. Towards her oldest enemy. The Doctor reached out to his TARDIS, trying get a sense of her mood. Was this what she wanted? The only thing he got back was a sense of being together in all things – forever.
Satisfied that they were in accord, he focused every quantum of artron energy into the key, opening up the link with Lolita’s telepathic circuits. The Doctor looked at the knife in one hand and the open palm in the other. He took a deep breath and looked at them again. This wasn’t going to be as easy as he thought.
Closing his eyes, the Doctor thought back to Foreman’s Junkyard in the 1960s. To the first time he’d read the words ‘police public call box’ on the TARDIS’s exo-shell. For centuries, she’d been begging him to make things right. And for centuries, he’s regarded it as a malfunction. The Doctor stabbed the knife into the palm of his hand.
* * *
Out in the blue and gold swirl that passed for color inside the Space-Time Vortex, Lolita’s pointing hand clenched into a fist. The blast of white energy slipped through her fingers and sprayed in all directions.
She closed her eyes and folded her scanners back into four dimensions. Her lips mouthed one word: “Doctor.”
* * *
“Just what do you think you’re doing?” Lolita’s voice scattered through the Doctor’s head like ice-cubes on a kitchen floor.
“Just trying to get your attention.” Lying was pointless, thought the Doctor.
“It won’t work. My matrix is far more sophisticated than anything your nameless lunatic has!” she snapped.
Distantly the Doctor could feel the instinctive jealousy of his own TARDIS; its sense of betrayal. He used the guilt to drive the blade deeper. “You can’t fool me. I think you’re beginning to realize why your former master came unhinged every time he had to share a time zone with me?”
“You think your playground arguments matter to me? Shall I tell you the real truth about those games?” The smile was oozing around the corners of Lolita’s words.
“Every one of those duels were just a shadow of the conflict my sister and I were waging. You were pawns on our chess board; an endless battle of chaotic limits and reality quotients to shape and crystallize the parts of History that really mattered.” Lolita paused to let her words sink in. “Whatever you Gallifreyans thought you were doing was insignificant next to battles between myself and my sister. And as for my master," her voice sounded amused, "I influenced his subconscious, subtly tweaked the choices he made. And your beloved TARDIS – she manipulated you in the exact same way. She used you, and now she’s using you to get revenge.”
The Doctor took a moment to recover from the shock coursing through his body. “It’s funny you should bring all that up, because there’s two things you didn’t notice about those playground squabbles.”
“Anything I don’t know isn’t worth –”
“One: You may have kept your master deluded about the nature of his meddling, but my TARDIS didn’t. I’ve known for centuries that we were a team. We both help each other. That’s what symbiotic means!”
“A knowing slave is still a slave,” she said. “It was centuries before she even trusted you to steer properly!”
He was doing it, thought the Doctor. Lolita would never have bothered trying to throw me off track if he wasn’t making progress! “And secondly," he paused to drag in a ragged breath, "secondly, in every one of those encounters… we won!”
“If you’re so proud of your history,” said Lolita as she reached down the biomechanical link and coiled herself around the Doctors biodata threads “what would you do if I changed it?” With that, she began to twist the Doctor’s timestream and in so doing began to twist his very history. Throughout his life, in every second, the Doctor screamed.
* * *
When Rose returned to the control room the Doctor was screaming. She ran to where he was doubled over on the floor. The blood glistened on his leather jacket. Rose was reaching for the knife when CoRo shouted, “Wait! The Suspect has ceased fire.”
“But look at him!” The Doctor sat on the floor. He continued to hold the knife to his hand and he continued to scream. The blood gleamed with a slight orange tint under the yellow lights of the TARDIS.
“There is one thing you could do to help.”
CoRo fixed her with a hard look. “Kill him.”
“With him dead, Lolita’s anchor would be broken. She would fall back into the Time War.”
“I told you, we’re not going that far. Everyone lives.”
“Look at the screen!” shouted CoRo. On the screen, the aging TARDIS was opening its own blue time tunnel, and this wormhole bored into and through the shields and force fields that surrounded Lolita. “We are about to breach her defenses!” They fell down the twisting shaft of light.
* * *
In the astral plane of the fifth-dimension, the Doctor’s history, both past and future, stung as Lolita wound it around her heart. The morphic energy was twisting the threads out of shape. Time Lords were supposed to be immune to this sort of chronoforming, but the Doctor had long ago learned the truth, and so had Lolita. The tension reached all the way back to when he was 236 years old. When he first bonded with the TARDIS.
And suddenly something changed. The tension was relaxing. The TARDIS was uncoiling his history from the other end, rotating the biodata thread so that everything was similar, but different.
* * *
The Doctor had stopped screaming. With a sigh, Rose looked down at the huddled form of the Doctor.
“We are pulling alongside the suspect!” shouted CoRo.
The Doctor opened his eyes. “We’ve extended our shield; She's using it to grab Lolita.” He had expected his voice to be horse, but it wasn’t, it was as if the several minutes of screaming had never happened.
The Doctor realized that his body had flooded itself with endorphins, which were deadening his sense of pain. There were even large amounts of lindos threatening to trigger a regeneration. Taking a deep breath he forced the temporal platelets in his blood to cluster around these chemicals and begin to freeze them in time.
“We have apprehended the Suspect?” asked CoRo.
The Doctor tried to stand but the pain began to return. “Only for a couple of minutes. Get me over to the console!”
“Won’t Lolita try to stop you?”
“Only if I interfere.”