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Dr Who Fiction: Ice Like Centuries

Title: Ice Like Centuries
Author: [info]kaffyr 
Characters: Nine/TARDIS
Rating: PG-13 for brief but intense violence.
Summary: He wanted someplace dark to flee the flames. Instead, he found himself at the mercy of someone from his past, on a planet where the light wasn't light, and where Time wasn't right.
Beta'd/Edited: by the redoubtable
[info]dr_whuh  and the delightful [info]ljgeoff
  . Many, many thanks!
Author's Notes: This was written for the very patient
[info]zenitt , who won my services in the help_haiti auction. He asked for a story in which the Ninth Doctor makes a decision similar to that which he made in "Father's Day"; as he said something that illustrated his "readiness to jump in front of the flying bullet." He also asked for darkness, a hostile environment, and a fate that was slower in execution than that which he faced in that little church. I hope I have done him proud, because I was absolutely chuffed that he bid, and that he challenged me to do this. ETA: This has been changed, with utmost embarrassment, to assign the correct gender to   zenitt  . Ahem.
Disclaimer: I do not own anything in the Whoniverse, nor do I own any characters who originated in Doctor Who; both are owned solely by the BBC and
their various creators. I earn nothing and intend no infringements. I simply love them all.

************
 


     Rift activity around the planet made it beautiful from space. It shimmered, dancing and sparkling like a star viewed from the warmth of atmosphere, wreathed about with blue streams and black rivers of what might seem to be a planet-wide festival of lights, if you didn’t look with eyes that could see.
     It was dead, though. The world was dead.
     Its rift had exploded and poisoned it, and remained in place like an illusory auroral shroud that had nothing to do with light.
     Nothing left now but eddies in time, shifts in the empty space that cradled the world. Nothing left but temporal and spatial shivers so small and rapid that they rendered the world a quantum legend, always one picosecond ahead or behind itself, one nanometer out of position.
     It had been a beautiful planet, once upon a scrambled time.
     Not famous, not powerful, not even peopled by particularly memorable beings. They had their share of beauty and yearning after truth, certainly, a history of great deeds, and science, art and kindness. They also had blood and greed and hate, petty fears, and monsters, and masters of war. Just people.        

**************

     But they could see Time, just a little.
     Killed them. Most of them.
     I killed them. Pronoun’s important in this case.
     Not all of them, though.
     I saved some. I did. Me.
     But, you know? That pronoun’s ... irrelevant.

**************
                                           
     “You’ve got to leave. Now.”
     The blows had become so regular that the latest one – to his ribs, as it happened – hardly registered. The only important thing was to keep repeating his warning until someone in the room believed him.
     “You’ve got to leave.”
     He swallowed, or tried to. He’d had no water for some time, so it was hard. He tried to blink, but his eyes were too swollen and bruised to open fully and he was too tired to make the effort successful.
     “You’ve got to.”
     Length of metal bar, he thought two seconds later, once he was over his surprise at something hurting again. Hurting worse. Broken radius, cracked ulna, he thought. In his professional capacity as a Doctor.
     “You– ”
    Be-ringed fingers, three of them, three of five fingers, all five fisted and fast across his mouth, jolting his head back into the wall. Red stars, blue and yellow ones too, behind his shut eyes for ... maybe a century. Force enough to drive teeth into his lower lip. He swallowed blood, grateful for the moisture.
     Shadow in front of him. Heat on his face. Reek of ketones, weariness, death, aggression-building drugs that no longer held back fear.
     “Paschal– ”
     Another blow to the mouth.
     “Devil. Sanctimonious bastard. Time Lord filth, betrayer, bastard. Bastard. Bastard.
     “You’ve got to leave. Hold it back, promise I’ll hold it back.” He was proud of getting all the syllables out clearly, despite the blood and the torn, swollen lips. “It’ll take me.”
     “I’ll kill you.”
     “Not like it will.’
     Those fingers, digging at his eyes, forcing the lids apart. Paschal’s own eyes boring into his. Quite, quite mad. Quite, quite right.
     “I want you to die and stay dying, not dead.”
     “Rift’ll turn me inside out, likely.”
     “Not good enough, not, not, not, nuh-hu-huh–”
     Paschal  was crying. Salt and despair ... god, he wanted to ... he’d rather the fist across the face, rather another broken bone, perhaps the humerus this time ... rather anything but this.
     Paschal. Admiral, hero, friend, sacrifice. Last commander of the last sector to distemporate before the fall of Arcadia. Last man to see Ace alive. Last survivor of the Nightmare Child campaign. Last non-Gallifreyan in the final fleet.
    
His ally. Servant. Dupe.
     Dead, he’d thought, when the TARDIS tumbled him into this treacherous system. Long gone, like everything else, everyone else.
     Not dead. Not alive though; not Paschal nor his dead-eyed, insane crew, all of them caught in the backwash of time rippling out all wrong from the once and future wreck of Gallifrey and catching on the gravitational pull of this once-upon-a-time world.
     And he had found them.
     And he could save them.
     He coughed, and moistened his lips with blood.

***************

     After I regenerated —
     After I regenerated —
     After I regenerated —
     It was hard to get past that.
     Tried not to sleep. Tried not to eat. Tried not to breathe, but I did. Couldn’t not, life’s a jealous mistress, a bitch, but ... didn’t even talk for awhile.
     Tried getting lost in the TARDIS, following halls and stairwells and trails; knew I’d hit limbo if I walked just the right path. Tried to go back home, back into nothingness. She wouldn’t let me. Damn Her.    
     I came here because it was cold and dark. Well, that and the rift. We Time Lords like the feel of rift activity. We Time Lords.
     I came because I couldn't remember much beyond the fire and the maelstrom when I regenerated.
     Hated that. I needed to remember, even if remembering was like dying over and over again.
     This was the best possible place for me to do it, I thought. I knew the planet from ... from  before we lost. Good people, for the most part. Paschal's people. Time-sensitive because of the naturally-occurring rift around the planet. His folks had a small civilization; not that powerful, but fiercely loyal to Gallifrey and advanced enough that we could play on that. Three systems colonized, I think, with good star drives, and very simple time vortex manipulators that were more or less compatible with our tech.
     We promised them a lot; I promised them. The old me usually convinced myself that I could keep my promises. Now, though. I wouldn't trust me to hit the ground if I fell off a cliff.
     When I did what I did, lit the pyre for Skaro and Gallifrey, I felt its flames burning through time lines — a greedy firestorm worthy of millions of Dresdens. It incinerated the possibilities of countless worlds. One of them was Paschal's.
     And when the flames died, the world was a cinder. Always had been a cinder, because I'd ensured that life never even started there. The universe had been retrofitted to accept a zombie world where all the working parts, the oxygen, the nitrogen, the atmosphere and gravity and — just — the heat from its tiny sun, were there, but the message that said 'Live' had never been sent.
      It still existed in this reality, mostly. And mostly was what counted to a Time Lord. The Time Lord. I could make use of it.
     I could still walk on its surface, sit down on the rock under the starlight, and let the cold seep through me while I watched the rift dance.
     That's what I wanted, me. Cold.
     I could remember, maybe, sitting alone in a cold, dark place.
     Only one problem.


********************

    
"We were blown into the rift," Paschal said. He hadn't spoken for some time, not since he stopped hitting the Doctor. He'd backed away, all the way to the door of the deserted crew quarters. Then he'd stood, watching, before returning to sit on the floor next to his bound captive. "Did I tell you that?"
     "Yes."
     "Do you want some water?"
     The sanity wouldn't last, he reckoned. It was pulsing just like the universe had, probably because of the planet's ongoing entry and exit from reality. But it was a nice change from being hit. "Yeah, that'd be good."
     Paschal stood, and wiped his hands through his hair, then wiped his eyes and nose. "I find myself crying a lot these - well, I don't really know if they are days."
     He had always been the best non-Gallifreyan in the fleet at sensing timeline disturbances, the Doctor remembered. "They are, sometimes," he said.
     "We felt everything disappear. Felt ourselves forgetting. The rift protected most of us, although some of us who weren't far enough into the rift disappeared and we forgot them, too. Some of us who went too far into the rift were just taken by it, or at least I suspect that's the case because we can remember them."
    He moved closer, and the Doctor forced himself not to flinch. "I don't know how I knew it was you. You're completely different. Perhaps it's something about the eyes ...." He faded to a stop, then started again. "Still, I'm quite assured that it's you."
     The Doctor nodded, and tried to settle himself more comfortably. Without warning, Paschal leaned over, hauled him up, then loosed his bonds.
     That was unexpected. He wanted to roll his shoulders, wanted to rub his wrists and regain some circulation. The broken bones militated against it, so he moved the pain to one side and tried to consider his next move. He had no idea when the next timeline pulse would throw everything back into violence and madness. He should press whatever advantage he had now, while they continued to exist in the potentiality in which Paschal was sane.   
     "Look, Paschal, you know you're going to go out of phase again, right?"
     The other started shaking his head, but didn't answer.
     "Listen. Listen, hard as you can. I can get you all out of here."
     Paschal straightened his back, a semblance of the old military discipline showing through the shambling weariness. "You can't. You can't even get yourself out of here."
     The Doctor knew his TARDIS was under what passed for a guard in the small mess down the ship's corridor. But the guards were the last of Paschal's troops, and they were in even worse shape than their commander. He could get past them with a little planning. After all, they'd only got him in the first place because he hadn't expected anything to be moving on the planet's surface when he arrived. And that had been a horrid surprise, hadn't it, he thought, as if the universe had stretched forth its hand and given his guilty conscience life.
     Still ...
    "I don't have to."


**************


    I couldn't explain what needed to be done, not even to Paschal. I just told him that I could use the TARDIS as a sort of doorstop, one that would keep causality momentarily open for him and his crew. He would have precious minutes in which to launch from the planet's surface, during a time wave in which the planet would actually have a surface. That would be courtesy of me and the TARDIS.
    He'd forgot what I told him when he was killing me. It hadn't happened for him, not completely, so the little things got erased. Now? He didn't ask me what I meant when I said I wouldn't have to get out of here. I didn't mind; no need to give him the gory details.
    Well, gory's not the word. It's just that it gets a little too close to looking like magic, no matter how hard you explain it properly. I could have tried to tell him about all the science, all the quanta- and quadra-temporal folding physics I learned when I was young. Still would have looked like magic, so ... like I said, no need.
    If he'd forced me, I'd have said it was like that old alchemical law of equivalent return; to get something, one must give something of equivalent value.
    It all came down to one cold equation: all things that were in place when I negated Gallifrey — anywhere in the universe, any time in the universe — have a mass of potentiality. If something is to be plucked from that potentiality, another timeline must be altered to maintain the entropic balance.
    I fell into this cold equation by chance, and I could leave it, because I wasn't supposed to be here in the first place.
    If I stayed, though, other prisoners could leave.
    Their leaving would require more energy than the TARDIS and I would need to escape; but we could give them the energy they needed.
    The only question I had myself was whether the old girl and I would be erased in waves and phases when we did that — able to see ourselves go, you might say — or whether we'd disappear all at once.

*****************
   
"Is there anything there left for us to go back to?"
    He'd figured that question would come.
    "Depends. I've made up this—" and he proffered an odd-shaped disc to Paschal. "Plug it in to the first Third Great and Bountiful terminal you get to, you'll have new identities and home planets. That information will disseminate through every ID system in the empire. You'll all have backgrounds. I put you into the Granath Confederacy, because—"
    "They survived?" Paschal smiled tightly.
    "Yup." What was he going to do? That the man was still sane, still or at all, seemed a small blessing. He didn't want to look too closely at the Admiral's eyes, though.
    "I suppose you had something to do with that." His eyes were going bad. Very, very bad.
    "Not directly. You know that. And you'll fit in there well, your people descended from Granath settlers—"
    "Shut up."
    Damn. He could feel it, the whorl and tide of the change, the ache and bite of it in his bones and the taste of it in the back of his throat.
    Paschal rubbed his eyes, scrubbed at his face, shook his head. "No. No, no. No. Nononono—"
    Two steps was all it took. Walk in front of a bus, why don't you, he thought to himself, as he put both hands on Paschal's shoulders, his own face dangerously close to those very bad eyes, to Paschal's own hands. "Hold on." Hopelessly and unscientifically, he tried to will his own time sense to expand across the abyss of inches, to encompass Paschal.
    "Sorry."
    What? He forced himself to look back into his friend's face. The eyes were still borderline bad, but — oh. Oh. Things had moved again. There. That was good. That was good. There it went ... the taste faded, and the ache, and the tide receded. Back in the now. He breathed out, and tried to relax away from the thought of wrist ligatures, and of the deliberately-ignored agony that was his broken arm, of swallowing blood.
    "Are we OK, then?"
    "What did you just do?"
    "Nothing, me." Take your hands off his shoulders, now, he thought. Move back, make that nice and smooth. "Time and tide, though. We've got to do this. You willing to take these backgrounds? Can you explain to your lads?"
    "What happens to you?"
    "Can you explain to them?"
    The disc was plucked from his hand. "What happens to you?"
    "Not much. Nothin' to worry about."
    "Bastard." But Paschal's smile was gentle now, and his eyes weren't bad. Not bad at all. "Never could answer a question directly, if a labyrinthine answer would do."
    "That's me." He let himself smile back. He could hear the others crying down the corridor. That last wave had been easy on them; there were no sounds of rage or violence. "Think they're ready."
    "I was afraid to say anything to them," Paschal said slowly. "I didn't want to promise anything. But you convinced me. And I convinced them."
    The Doctor looked away.
    "Time, then."
    "Time."

***************
 
      They're gone. Took off —
    — They're gone. Took off —
    —They're gone. Took off —
    — They're —
       — gone —
           — gone —
    And back. I'm back. She's screaming around me. Hush. It'll end soon enough —
       — gone —
       — back—
       — back—
        It feels like regenerating, but worse. I'm burning —
 There are flames —
   — Like they did, I'm burning —
    — Like she did, I'm burning —
     — Like she did, and she did, I'm burning —
       — I'm burning again —
       — I'm burning again, and —
        — I'm burning again, and I —
   — long for —
    — long for —
     — long for —
   — I'm coming —
    — I'm coming —
      — I'm bringing fire to —
            — bringing fire to —
       — I'll see you, see you all in hell —
        — I'll see —
    And back, I'm back. She's screaming around me. Hush. It'll end soon —
     — Hush. It'll end —
     — Hush —
    It's eating us alive, like regenerating, like regenerating, hush, regenerating, like eating us —
    — eating us alive —
     — eating us —
 —  I'm burning again. Like regenerating, but worse —
   — Hush. We'll end soon —
    — Hush. We'll end soon —
    — Hush. Sorry —
     — Hush. Sorry —
      — Hush. Sorry —
    And back. I'm back. When does it end? Soon —
    — I'm sorry —
     — I'm sorry. Where —
      — I'm sorry. Where are, where will, where are you —
   Hush. Hush. Hush —
   — No —
   — No —
   — No. No, nononono —

****************

   
"Time Lord. Get up. Bastard."
    Hand, under his head. Very gentle.
    Wait. That was a linear thought. And that one, too.
    He opened his eyes. Paschal's eyes were above him. And they were very, very good. Or bad, he couldn't tell. "What—"
    "You arrogant sod. Did you really think I'd let you get away with doing this to yourself?"
    He pushed away, and up. He was inside the TARDIS, and She was still. She wasn't screaming. "What have you done?"
    Paschal smiled. "I thought you'd betrayed us, at the very last. The Daleks had come for the fleet, and you were gone, called back to Gallifrey. All your people, all your ships. I kept waiting, and I could feel ... I could feel the timelines collapsing, and I thought you'd run to save yourself." He shrugged. "We ran, too, then, what was left of the fleet, but they were after us. Every move, every jump, every timeshift we could program, they were after us. I tried getting us home. I got us here. Just us. Just my ship, and then we were caught here. And then you came back."
    "Paschal, why are you here?" He couldn't feel the pain in his arm. Paschal had splinted it, and had given him something, something that worked with his Gallifreyan physiology, maybe something he himself had taught him about, Gallifreyan first aid for the Gallifreyan leader. He felt time and bile at the back of his throat, and he couldn't tell if one caused the other, or if he just hated himself that much.
    Paschal was sweating, just a bit. "Don't worry. The others are in the Confederacy. The time's gone by, a bit, you know. They — I arranged for some memory wipes for some of them, new memories for the ones who still had nightmares. A couple said they could handle it, kept what memories they could.
    "I can't."
    He always felt the timelines better than any other non-Gallifreyan in the fleet. He did, indeed. But he wasn't Gallifreyan, was he, the Doctor thought.
    "It's broken something inside. I think. I think I'm broken."
    "Don't be daft, man. You can get help. You ... you — it's worth a try, you're worth — "
    "I came back, because you did. You came back for us."
    Oh, no. Oh, no.
    "I came — Paschal, I —"
    "I figured it out. Something needed to come back to let you out, right?" He was sweating even more. He was trying so hard to hold on. "You've got the science for it, no doubt about it, but I was always just a military man with a sense of history.
    "But I do understand honor. My ship is here, and I'm here, and I think we're the ransom you need. Thank you, Doctor."
    He could say nothing. Paschal shivered, then straightened up, became brisk, his eyes — quite bright, quite bad — looking out the open door. "Now, then. I never knew much about the TARDIS, but I think I've done the vectoring right. I've programmed it ... no, you always called it her, like a ship, right ... right ... "
    His eyes lost focus as the Doctor felt a pulse, and a torque. "No time, it seems. So ... so, thank you. I'm sending you to that place you loved. Easy, since it's the one that shows up in your logs most."
    She let him see the logs? Damn Her, damn Her.
    "Goodbye. And thank you for repaying your debt."
    He sprinted out, and She shut the door.
                  

*****************
    
    Rift activity around the planet made it beautiful from space. It shimmered, dancing and sparkling like a star viewed from the warmth of atmosphere, wreathed about with blue streams and black rivers of what might seem to be a planet-wide festival of lights, if you didn’t look with eyes that could see.
     It was dead, though. The world was dead.

**************

    I saved some. I did. Me.
    But, you know? That pronoun’s ... irrelevant.


-30-
    
  

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
mack_the_spoon
Feb. 5th, 2010 01:49 am (UTC)
I'm not the one who requested this prompt, but if I were, I'd be very happy with it - which is to say, this is excellent.
kaffyr
Feb. 5th, 2010 03:08 am (UTC)
Thank you, my dear!
zenitt
Feb. 5th, 2010 02:15 am (UTC)
Indeed, I couldn't ask for more. Great, great stuff. Thank you very much!
kaffyr
Feb. 5th, 2010 03:08 am (UTC)
Pleased to be of service!
namarie24
Feb. 5th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
I very much enjoyed this story. Haunting and beautiful - like a certain leather-jacketed Time Lord.
kaffyr
Feb. 5th, 2010 04:36 am (UTC)
He is, isn't he? Thank you for the kind words!
clocketpatch
Feb. 5th, 2010 03:58 am (UTC)
Wow. Nine needs more fic like this. Fandom needs more fic like this. Which is to say: really, really well done.
kaffyr
Feb. 5th, 2010 04:42 am (UTC)
Oh, my. I'm very grateful for your words, and even more glad that you thought the story was worthwhile. Thank you.
acciochocolate
May. 6th, 2010 09:13 am (UTC)
re: Ice Like Centuries
Intense and tragic. That's Nine and his story, or part of it. But I feel part of what you're trying to say here. *sighs*
kaffyr
May. 6th, 2010 03:45 pm (UTC)
Re: Ice Like Centuries
Thank you. I tried to intertwine the interior tragedy, and the deliberate victory he hands to his friend, as closely as possible, and the result for him is, indeed, a tragic one. Still it's just one story of him as he travels away from the Time War, and perhaps there will be other stories, in which his journey is less marinated in personal sorrow.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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