by Casey J
The sounds of the TARDIS had become part of his mental furniture. He was so used to the wheezing and groaning, and humming and buzzing, he barely heard it any more. The grinding of ancient engines, hard sounds on soft surfaces, seemed everywhere and now…
…now, the TARDIS control room was almost dark and its confines seemed to be closing in around him. He was alone in the dark as the ship moved with a smooth, unnatural responsiveness. None of that exciting shaking-apart-at-the-seams vibration that made the time machine so endearing, just a vile mechanical motion, so cold and unwelcoming.
An insistent sound from the console meant he was about to reach the final destination.
Memories drifted through his blank mind. He remembered the growing panic, the sense that things were spiraling out of control. The underground city, full of blaring alarms and full of anonymous corpses, full of jubilant cheers from humans from all periods of history. Noisiest were two of the resistance leaders, a Greek and a Turk who had linked arms and were dancing to celebrate their victory. “Will somebody turn off that hideous noise?” he had shouted to his comrades. “I cannot think!”
“There’s one thing I don't understand, Doctor,” Zoe said, voicing the one question he’d never wanted to hear. “How are you going to get all these people back to their own time?”
He sighed. “Yes, I’ve been thinking about that. The TARDIS travel machines…”
“I’m afraid that will not be possible,” the War Chief admitted. “There are only two machines left with enough life in them.”
The Doctor felt sick as the humans seemed to surround him, as if they eager to feed on his guilt and panic. “Doctor, does that mean that you can't do as you promised?” they asked him, almost taunting him. “Are we stuck here?”
He felt the metal squares in his pocket, the rest of that psychic beacon Quadrigger Stoyn had constructed and never used. “Well, yes, I can still do that…” he said, something within him watching as he sat down in the middle of the room and laid out the panels in a circle in front of him. “There are people who can help us.”
“You can’t call them in!” the War Chief screamed. “It will be the end of us! They’ll show no mercy! You can’t! You know what will happen!”
“What does he mean, Doctor?” Zoe asked. “Who mustn’t you call?”
“The Time Lords,” he replied. “They’re my own people, the leaders of my race – and they’re the only ones who can put an end to this whole ghastly business and send everyone back to their own times. It’s too difficult for me on my own.”
Jamie shrugged. “Well, that’s all right then,” he said, unimpressed by the histrionics of the War Chief as he struggled to escape.
Zoe, as ever, knew better. “It isn’t all right, is it, Doctor?”
“No, it’s not,” he admitted. “But I’m afraid there’s no alternative.”
“Doctor, please!” the War Chief was howling. “I implore you!”
“Who is more important?” the Doctor shouted angrily at him. “Two of us? Or the tens of thousands of poor soldiers stranded on this planet because of your mad schemes! Whatever happens now, you brought in on yourself!”
The procedure was on the tip of his mind. He closed his eyes, assembling the squares into a cube, a message box. Each panel babbled with whispering voices in a language only a Time Lord could perceive, let alone understand. He heard the humans gasp at the fantastic display, whispering of magic and power and other meaningless words. The message box activated, shifting through the dimensions… and then it was gone.
“What was that?” Jamie was asking.
“A box, Jamie. A very special sort of box, containing all the information about what’s been going on here and an appeal for help.” He sighed and got to his feet. “Jamie, Zoe, this is where we say goodbye…”
“What are you talking about?” demanded the young Scot.
“Well, the Time Lords will return you home along with everyone else, back to your proper times in Earth’s history, past and future, where you belong.” He tried to smile. “So nice to have met both of you.”
“Why can’t we stay with you?” Zoe cried.
“Because the Time Lords know where I am now.”“But I thought they were your people, your friends…”“Yes, Jamie, they are my people, but... Oh, it’d take too long to explain!”
“Now look, if you're going to be in trouble, you'll need me to look after you!”
“Me, too,” Zoe added.
A strange sound filled the hall, like a sudden gust of cold wind that made all of them shiver. The whining, unseen force chilled them all to the bone. The War Chief, as white as a sheet, let out a strangled croak. “They’re coming!” he rasped.
He remembered the air tensing into thick treacle as the time scoops picked each target with micro-molecular accuracy. Jamie, Zoe, the humans, the aliens, even the War Chief all became unreal and irrelevant as the time fields closed in tighter and tighter…
He was standing in a pool of light in a space that had neither walls nor ceiling but was nonetheless indoors. A large screen hung from nowhere before him. A tribunal of Time Lords, dignified in their long white robes, were also present, as was the War Lord himself, standing on a little dais. A trial on Gallifrey itself was very rare, but not unheard of. Even without his own plea for help, the Time Lords would never have tolerated misuse of their own technology.
He thought of all the thousands of human survivors being returned to their own times, including Jamie and Zoe. It was going to be hard to live without them, after all they’d been through together. Of course, there was a slim chance they might meet again but the Time Lords would have made sure they forgot everything beyond the moment they’d first left. They’d remember meeting him in an adventure, but nothing else…
The Valeyard present was winding up his opening address. “This highly-organized operated was devised by the race of which the accused is the leader, disregarding the liberties of all the other species in the galaxy which the accused would have dominated with his tyranny. In every one of these time zones, thousands of human beings fought and died in the belief that they were on their own planet. The death roll of this vicious and diabolical scheme is beyond counting.”
The War Lord said nothing. He was deliberately ignoring everything around him.
Undeterred, the Time Lords continued. “We have received full details of your crime from one of our own race. I will now call upon the witness to swear to the truth of your statement?” the Valeyard asked the Doctor.
“I certainly do,” the Doctor agreed. “Everything in that report is the result of my direct personal observation.”
The Valeyard nodded and turned to the War Lord. “We have already discussed your brutal crimes, contravening all galactic laws. In your selfish desire for conquest you have squandered the lives of millions of intelligent beings.”
“You call humans intelligent?” asked the War Lord, amused. “They are base primitives, always fighting among themselves.”
“What they do among themselves,” said the Inquisitor, “is their own affair. Do you admit the charges with which you have been accused?”
“I do not even admit the authority of this court,” sneered the War Lord. “I am War Lord of a sovereign planet…”
“Have you anything to say in your defense?” asked the Valeyard.
“The humans who died in our war games would have killed each other anyway. Nothing was lost, no wrong has been done. The War Games were not played for their own sake, they were to lead to something better – and members of your own race agreed with me. My War Chief was himself was a Time Lord, and the knowledge he brought me made the whole scheme possible. And another of your Time Lords gave me his support!” he added, pointing across the courtroom to the Doctor.
The Doctor was scandalized. “I never supported your scheme for one moment!”
“You collaborated with my War Chief to capture the leaders of the human resistance,” the War Lord retorted. “If I am guilty, then so are you!”
The tribunal exchanged looks for a moment, holding a telepathic conference.
“We find you guilty of all charges against you,” announced the Inquisitor. “That one of your party, your War Chief, was once a Time Lord gives you no excuse. He too shall be punished. Your attempt to incriminate the Time Lord who wishes to be called the Doctor is equally useless.”
The Doctor felt some relief at that last bit. This tribunal were even more humorless and straight-laced than he’d expected, but thankfully the justice system was as efficient and honorable as their celestial reputation stated.
“Your crimes were monstrous and your punishment will be severe…”
“You have no authority over me,” retorted the War Lord. “And no power any longer to pass any sentence!”
At that moment, five alien security guards came running into the court room. Their weapons were trained on the four Time Lords present; some kind of crack commando team who had followed their leader in the War Chief’s TARDIS. The War Lord must have had some kind of implanted tracking device.
Smiling, the War Lord stepped down from his dais. “Thank you, gentlemen,” he said, but it was unclear if he was referring to the tribunal or his rescuers. “This farce is now over. We shall return to our planet with the Doctor. He shall take over as the new War Chief and build us more TARDISes to be used as we see fit.”
“You’ll never get away!” the Doctor warned. “The Time Lords are too strong for you – and you needn’t think that I’m going to help you…”
The War Lord looked up towards the tribunal. “We have invaded your planet, and we can do so again. Attempt to stop us in any way and we shall bring vengeance upon…”
Suddenly another spotlight activated, shining down on the War Lord. It was not the pale glow of before, but a brilliant beam of white. Five more beams shone down onto the five security guards, engulfing the entire unit. They were all paralyzed where they stood.
“Threatening Time Lords is never a wise move,” the Doctor said quietly.
“A force field has been placed around you,” declared the Inquisitor. “We have also placed one around your planet. Your warlike people will remain prisoners forever. You and your murderous accomplices will be dematerialized.”
The War Lord was still able to speak. “This isn’t fair! After sentence there should be a right of appeal – I too could produce witnesses and you have only heard only half of my story,” he was shouting, for the first time losing his nerve.
“Time will be rolled back and your lives will be thrown into reverse,” the Inquisitor continued. “It will be as though you never existed.”
“No, you don’t understand! We wish to bring everlasting peace,” the War Lord insisted. “A new order for the whole universe, a place for you and a place for us in peaceful co-existence… you don’t have the authority to do this…”
The light beams intensified, bleaching the six prisoners until they seemed to fade away.
“We shall win, we shall be masters of the universe,” the War Lord was shouting, but his voice was becoming fainter, as if coming from further and further away. “We have the superior intelligence… it is our destiny to rule…”
Finally, the six beams of white light were empty and there was silence. The spotlights cut out and there was no trace anyone had ever been there. The Doctor looked up at the three Time Lords. “Bravo,” he said, trying to sound upbeat. “Good riddance. I’m glad my evidence was so useful to the court…”
“You will now stand trial,” said the Inquisitor.
The Valeyard smiled unpleasantly. “You know that we are always just.”
“Yes,” said the Doctor, hanging his head. “I know only too well…”
Memories. There was a sound, high and distant. He listened, conscious of his own breathing harsh and shallow. The TARDIS was coming in to land one last time. There was nothing he could do – nothing.
He’d given his best, and this was what he had to show for it.
His new face twisted in disgust and hurt.
“Let us hear the accusations,” boomed the voice of the Inquisitor.
“The charges are two,” answered the Valeyard. “Appropriation of a TARDIS without permission to roam through time and space, and repeatedly breaking our most important law – non-interference in the affairs of other planets.”
The Inquisitor looked down at the Doctor. “What have you to say?”
The Doctor glared up at him. “It isn’t a very good TARDIS to start with. It doesn’t change shape, it won’t go where I want it to. And anyway I didn’t steal it, I just borrowed it for a while…”
“That is the lesser charge,” the other Time Lord present replied. “Do you admit these actions?”
“I not only admit them – I am proud of them,” the Doctor retorted. “While you have been content merely to observe the galaxy, I have been fighting against it…”
“It is not we who are on trial here, Doctor,” the Valeyard reminded him. “It is you.”
“No, no, you’re above criticism, aren’t you?” muttered the Doctor contemptuously. “Give a thought channel and I’ll show you some of the evils I’ve risked my life fighting against.” The tribunal nodded and the Doctor glanced up at the screen. “Let me show you the Quarks, deadly robot servants of the cruel Dominators – they tried to enslave a peace-loving race. Then there were the Yeti! More robot killers, instruments of an alien intelligence trying to take over the planet Earth. Do you know about the Krotons? Not forgetting the Ice Warriors, cruel Martian invaders, or the Cybermen – a nasty lost, half-creature half-machine. But worst of all were the Daleks, a pitiless race of conquerors exterminating everyone they encounter!”
“So you admit the charge?” asked the Inquisitor flatly.
“Of course I do!” the Doctor snapped. “I wanted to help people! It’s true I’ve interfered. I’m guilty of that – just as you are guilty of failing to use your great powers to help those in need! Observing and doing nothing, it’s so… so…”
“Yes?” asked the other Time Lord.
“So downright dull!” shouted the Doctor, more scared than he cared to admit.
“All of this is entirely irrelevant,” the Valeyard pointed out.
“You asked me to justify my actions!” the Doctor protested. “I have fought all these evils while you have done nothing but look on!”
“Is that all you have to say?” asked the Inquisitor, unimpressed.
The Doctor stared at him. “Well… isn’t it enough?”
The third Time Lord spoke. “We have heard your defense. It will be carefully considered – but you have raised difficult issues and we require time to think about them. You will be recalled when we have made our decision.”
There was a final chime as the TARDIS completed re-materialization.
His eyes opened, but he was unable to do anything else. He was in fearful, sinful pain. His lungs were burning in his chest as they ached open and closed, while the chair he was sitting in was unforgivably solid and rough.
He tried to raise his weary head a little, but he couldn’t manage it. Just that effort sent the blood racing from his head, to be replaced by searing pain. He was soon asleep again.
“So,” the Doctor demanded, “has my fate been decided yet?”
“It has,” said the Valeyard. “What do you expect us to do with you?”
“We are not savages,” said the Inquisitor reproachfully.
“Perhaps you’ll sentence me to work in the archives for the next thousand years, something boring like that?” asked the Doctor, slightly more confident.
“No,” the Inquisitor replied. “We have accepted your plea that there is evil in the universe that must be fought – and that you still have a part to play in that struggle.”
The Doctor couldn’t believe his ears. “What? You mean you’re going to set me go free?” he asked hopefully.
The Inquisitor smiled. “Not entirely. We have noted your interest in the planet Earth. The frequency of your visits must have given you special knowledge of that world and its problems.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true,” agreed the Doctor. “Earth seems particularly vulnerable to attack by other worlds.”
“For that reason you will be sent back to that planet…”
“In exile?” spat the Doctor incredulously.
“You will be sent to Earth in the twentieth century time zone and you will remain there for such a time as we deem proper.” The Inquisitor looked to the screen, which lit up to show a uniformed man with moustache. “There is a pre-existing military organization on the Earth you have worked with before to repel interplanetary assaults. Your TARDIS will be programmed to home in on this man.”
“Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart,” the Doctor realized.
“Your TARDIS will be limited to movement only on the planet Earth, with no movement beyond it in space or time,” the Valeyard continued. “This will allow you free travel across the planet to deal with any emergencies that arise.”
“How very kind of you,” the Doctor retorted. “But you’re still condemning me to exile on one primitive planet in one particular time! Surely you can’t do that to me?”
“We can, and we do,” replied the Inquisitor icily. “That is the verdict of this tribunal.”
A new thought struck the Doctor. “Besides, I’m known on Earth already both before and after the twentieth century. It could be most difficult and awkward, if not outright embarrassing for me…”
“Your appearance has changed before,” the Inquisitor reminded him. “It will change again. That is part of your sentence.”
The Doctor continued to protest. “You can’t just change what I look like without consulting me!”
“You will have an opportunity to choose your appearance,” said the Valeyard patiently.
“Well,” the Doctor said, still shocked at how quickly things were running away from him, “that’s no so bad, but I warn you – I’m very particular…”
“Here is your first choice,” the Inquisitor said.
The screen now showed a detailed sketch of a white-haired man with sunken cheeks, a bushy beard and dull eyes. “Good gracious,” exclaimed the Doctor. “He’s too old!” The first picture was replaced with another. “Well, he’s too fat, isn’t he?” Another image. “No, never, he’s too thin!” Another. “That one’s too young – no one would respect me!” Another. “Oh, now, that’s rather more like it,” he said. “Yes, I’d certainly want to look like that, I can tell you…”
The sketch was of a man very similar to the Doctor’s current face. Weathered, rough with a wide, smiling mouth and two glistening blue eyes, framed by a neck-length mane of grey-brown hair. The face of someone crafty, but brave.
“I suppose that’s probably the best you can do,” the Doctor mocked. “I’ve never seen such an incredible bunch of terrible-looking faces. You know, people on Earth attach a very great deal of importance to things like appearance…”
“Since the decision has now been made,” said the Inquisitor, with the air of someone eager to finish early for lunch, “the time has come for you to change your appearance and begin your exile.”
The Doctor opened his mouth, but suddenly he was held in the grip of a force field and unable to move. The entire courtroom began to spin and dissolve into darkness, but he could still here the smug voice of the Inquisitor.
“There will be no further discussion…”
The tribunal watched on the screen as the image of the Doctor distorted, flared and kaleidoscoped. Shouting and wailing, the Doctor spun off into a dark void and the screen became blank. After a moment, the trio turned away.
“We did right,” the Inquisitor said at last. “He would never have fitted back into society.”
“I agree,” said the Valeyard.
“A pity,” said the third Time Lord. “He would have brightened the place up no end. Now, we must deal with the final loose end of this matter. The tasks carried out to deal with the War Lords run contrary to our most cherish principles. We dare not compromise our celestial reputation with further interference. We cannot be seen to take further action.”
“We require another agent?” translated the Valeyard, realizing where the third Time Lord was going. “One that can be controlled?”
“And, if necessary, disowned.”
“The renegade is both intelligent and multitalented,” agreed the Inquisitor. “And all his lives are in our hands.”
“I fear this may not be wise,” the Valeyard pointed out. “He is undoubtedly psychotic.”
“But not sufficiently so as to be unpredictable.”
“He is unstable and growing more so all the time,” the Inquisitor noted, frowning at his colleague’s lack of concern. “He cannot be trusted.”
The third Time Lord rolled his eyes. “If we could trust him, he would be of no use to us.”
Memories. Drifting like ghosts.
Susan, Ian, Barbara, Vicki, Katarina, Sara, Oliver, Steven, Dodo, Polly, Ben, Victoria, Jamie, Zoe… the Doctor?
No. He wasn’t gone.
He was living. Breathing. Thinking. Spinning. He was spinning, tumbling, being torn apart like a thousand reflections in a shattered mirror. He let out indignant shouts and yells as he spun faster and faster…
…and then the spinning stopped.
The Doctor was alone, but it seemed that sentence hadn’t been carried out. His clothes still fitted and they still felt like suitable attire, and the hair he ran a tentative hand through was still thick and dark. He elsewhere, standing solid on an invisible ground and ahead of him was the TARDIS. Everything else was white noise and silver-black static.
He circled the police box, trying to peer into the frosted windows and prodding the paneled sides. He wasn’t sure if what was happening. Was he dreaming? Or had he fallen awake? He felt a desire for one last quick tune on his recorder, but the only one he could think of was The Last Post…
Ending up in front of the double doors, the Doctor slid his key into the lock and twisted it. The two doors swung inwards to reveal the impossible interior. The control room was empty and silent, as though waiting. The Doctor approached the console and the outer doors silently swung shut behind him.
After a moment, the Doctor reached out to the dematerialization controls.
“It’s not going to work, you know,” said a voice from the shadows. A voice he knew.
“Well, there’s no harm in trying,” he replied cautiously, turning to face the newcomer.
The face was familiar. The clothes weren’t. He was leaning against the roundeled wall as if he owned the place and looked at the Doctor with a kindly, if sad, expression.
“Who are you?” asked the Doctor.
The spectre smiled. “I’m who you will be.”
It made sense to the Doctor for some reason, as though the stranger was simply clarifying disordered facts he was already privy to.
“So… my time really is up. Just as I was getting the hang of it, too.”
The apparition shrugged and scratched his eyebrow. “Yes, it does seem rather a shame doesn’t it, old chap? Sorry. But that’s the way it has to be, I’m afraid.”
The Doctor’s fear grew – not from uncertainty but understanding. He knew what the other man was saying, no matter how unpalatable, was the truth. A terrible calmness gripped him and he murmured, “I wish I could have done more.”
“Yes,” sighed the stranger. “Well, now it’s time to look to the future.”
“When do we start?” asked the Doctor wearily.
There was something oddly comforting about the other man’s sad smile. “Well, there’s no time like the present, is there?” he asked and reached out with his right hand to press against the TARDIS console, reaching out with the other hand.
The Doctor took a deep breath and mirrored the gesture, placing his left hand on the console and reaching out with his right until his fingertips were touching those of his successor. A circuit was completed and the TARDIS came alive around them, the roundels suffused with flaring, actinic light.
For an indefinable period of time they both stood there, palms burning into each other as the other man blazed like a new star. The dazzling glare faded to a pin-point and then was gone. The circuit was gone, and the Doctor rocked unsteadily on his feet. He felt no pain – just puzzlement to go with the glowing, spreading numbness.
The room was spinning again, and he fell back into his chair in an undignified heap. He felt his skin crawl across his distorting bones before he shed his mortality and…
The features of the subject were blurring slightly, his flesh enveloped with an orange glow like a second skin. The light blazing from every pore flared white and then dispersed in a shimmering blur. The thin, curving moustache growing into a neatly trimmed dark beard that was grey at the corners. The dark, haughty face became sallow and pallid, yet somehow more distinguished and aristocratic. The forehead was higher, and the long sharp sideburns had disappeared into swept-back dark hair which, like the beard, was greying at the temples. The whole body seemed to have shrunk, but the compact build suggested compressed power. Even the grey hairs seemed intimidating, as if they were light glinting on the edges of steel.
As the grey-robed medics examined the transformed bodies, the tribunal turned away and moved into the next chamber. They had witnessed the final transformation which had been carried out on the renegade known as the War Chief.
“Like the Doctor, he has been disciplined for breaking out laws,” the Time Lord said as he moved from one platform to another through the swirling mist. “Changing him will reconstruct his personality, manipulating his baseline memories and personality into something cold, ruthless and brilliant. The stubborn persistence of a bloodhound and the predatory skill of a hunting bird…”
“I am still unconvinced of his value,” replied the Inquisitor. “His alliance with the War Lords was a complete failure with nothing to show for it bar his own incompetence.”
“A weapon is only as good as the one who wields it,” the Time Lord reminded them all, enjoying the slight breeze that stirred the translucent membranes dangling from above. “We shall ensure all his skills, past and present, will be employed to our best advantage.”
“There is no loyalty or obedience in his character for us to reconstruct,” the Valeyard replied. “He is far more dangerous than he appears, perhaps even uncontrollable after his experiences with the War Lords. Regenerative therapy may not be enough. His instability has been fed by influences that can neither be detected nor anticipated. He is too much of a random element to be used, no matter how we heal his body or mind.”
“One could have said that about the Doctor…”
…consciousness returned hours, perhaps days, later. He let his eyes roll open again, and saw that he was sitting in a chair in the corner of the TARDIS control room. There was no sign of anyone else in the room, but he’d been certain he hadn’t been alone.
The Doctor looked down at his body, certain that something very important had happened. Had it changed? He couldn’t remember what it was supposed to look like, but the clothes seemed to fit, apart from the shoes which were too large for him.
The TARDIS, he thought. I remember… what do I remember?
Without thinking, he got to his feet. His limbs felt heavy on awkward limbs, but otherwise he was basically all right. No dizziness, no exhaustion, no hunger. He looked around the control room, but there was no one else there. There should have been, though. Jamie and Zoe and… someone else.
Unsteadily, he peered blearily down at the console displays, trying to work out where the TARDIS was and clear his memory of what had happened. As he scowled at the meters and dials, he felt the pieces sliding into place. Soldiers, war games, time travel…
There was a sound like yet curiously unlike a thunderclap. The Doctor looked up to the console screen which showed the face of the third Time Lord who had been present at his trial, the one of the tribunal without a clear title. He spoke in an indifferent, Olympian voice that was an apathetic as his expression. “And now the time has come to begin your exile,” he announced, his voice echoing around the TARDIS. “Your memory will be wiped and your knowledge of time travel will be taken away.”
“No!” shouted the Doctor, but it was too late. A wave of agony seared through his skull, white hot needles lancing through the tender tissues of his head. He arched back against the wall, shrieking and scrabbling against his head. The tumult behind his eyes filled his mind and burned into his soul.
When he finally collapsed senseless against the console, he was unaware of the time rotor rising and falling. His exile had begun.
Light suddenly flooded back into the darkness, and the Doctor’s eyes flickered open reluctantly. He was still bent double, his upper body sprawled across the control desk. The central column was at rest, and his eyes focused on the blinking lights and flickering dials. The pain he’d experienced, probably the greatest agony he’d ever felt, was gone and if anything he felt almost healthy.
Almost of its own volition, his hand crabbed its way over the console and flipped the scanner control. He peered up at the monitor screen, which showed a city street at night near a jetty. The architecture was metallic and glass paneled, with lurid neon signs in primary colours. An emblem resembling a red W was repeated, and the Doctor recognized it as the symbol of the Wang Chai District in Hong Kong.
He wasn’t sure where he was supposed to have arrived, but he’d expected to be in England in the early 1970s – close to UNIT and Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. At least there he’d have friends and colleagues, people to turn to. The TARDIS seemed to have malfunctioned one last time and he was now imprisoned somewhere completely different.
Two young men were stumbling drunkenly down the pavement towards the TARDIS. They had short hair, ruddy complexions and the more sober of the pair wore a rumbled black suit with a Union Jack tie. The other, a larger and more porcine man, blundered hard into the camera and began to gesticulate angrily.
The Doctor flipped the door switch and swayed unsteadily out of the TARDIS into the warm night air, full of traffic noises and voices.
The man in the tie was struggling to drag his aggressive friend away from the police box, which he seemed to be trying to pick a fight with. “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough!” spat the drunkard with groggy anger.
The first man spotted the Doctor and shot him a weak, hopeful grin. “Don’t mind him, officer – he’s drunk!” he said reasonably.
“Officer?” echoed the Doctor, taken aback.
“It’s just high spirits!” he added, wrenching his companion upright.
“Can you tell me what year it is?” the Doctor asked hopefully.
“What year it is?” repeated the second man slowly.
“I thought I was wasted,” he mused.
“What year is it, actually?” asked the first man, puzzled.
The second assumed a cunning look. “It’s the Year of the Ox, matey!”
“Yeah, the Year of the Ox!” laughed the first and both he and his companion began to make “Moo!” noises, which they both found utterly hilarious.
“Ere, come with us!” the second man said, anger turned to generosity.
“Where are you going?” asked the Doctor, lost in thought.
“Well, Little England!” he replied as if it was obvious, and the pair started to chant “England” to each other as they stumbled off down the street.
The Doctor watched them go. He was in Hong Kong, and either in 1973, 1985 or 1997 if his memory of the Zodiac was clear. A glance at the various posters showed he was on the eve of the 1997 Handover, as Hong Kong returned to the Chinese.
A good thirty-seven years off course, marooned on the wrong side of the planet.
“It’s worse than I thought,” he whispered. “Wrong place, wrong time! The only time you had to actually go somewhere in particular,” he shouted angrily, “and you couldn’t even manage that! You’re worse than useless!”
He only realized he was kicking and punching the police box when he heard the hysterical giggles from the two drunks further up the hill. He viciously aimed a last kick at the base of the TARDIS, as if one last jolt would break whatever inhibitor system the Time Lords had installed.
All he got for his troubles was a very sore foot.
He turned around and headed off after the drunk pair. There was nothing else to do, nobody to wait for – and no there was no way back.
He was numb and disoriented, trying to recall where he was and why he was there. A pearlescent waiting room, shrouded in mist. Was he dead and in some kind of psychic limbo or anteroom of hell? His head throbbed with confusion as he tried to focus on the swirling, disjointed images swimming through his mind.
The mirrored wall section reflected a face he did not recognize – a more refined, remodeled form than the one he had one taken such pride in. Obviously he had lost a life, used up another incarnation in some humiliating confrontation. He clenched his fists so hard they were bloodless, feeling a desire to smash the mirror over and over until nothing remained. But he refused to lose control to vindication and bitterness.
A figure emerged from the billowing mist, an unsmiling man in black and white robes. He rummaged through his mind to recall what was happening, but his memories remained blank – stubbornly empty of everything except the certainty he had been betrayed and was now a prisoner of the Time Lords.
“Are you here to execute me?” he asked calmly.
“The penalty for what you have done is death,” agreed the Time Lord with a thin smile. “But it is possible to commute the death sentence, possibly even restoration to full Time Lord status – but that depends on you.”
“And what do you want with a condemned renegade like myself?” he asked, his voice a softly menacing purr. His new eyes glittered with frightening intensity.
“A mission – possibly several missions, all of which are strictly unofficial. As far as the cosmos is aware, you are still a renegade on the run. Should you succeed, carry out an operation responsibly, you become an authorized representative.”
“For the High Council?”
“We are but the least of their servants, but I speak with their voice – and their full authority. Of course, you are free to refuse. Stand by your principles and die.”
He smiled. “Or take you up on your highly-attractive offer? I will assent, provided that certain conditions of my own are met.” He didn’t let the Time Lord reply. “You need me, quite possibly more than I need you. If there were others you could employ, you already would have. Don’t waste time pretending you aren’t desperate for my help.”
Yes, this new prison had potential – as did his captors who could doubtless be manipulated. Both would be adapted to serve his particular needs. And whatever he had lost in the past, only the future mattered now.
“Well?” he prompted.
The Time Lord considered.
Already he was uncertain if the renegade was truly his to command. The razor-honed lethal abilities were, it seemed, malignantly unstable. This new incarnation was a flawed creation on the edge of irretrievable madness. But for the moment, he was tool to be used and a weapon to wielded. There was still time before his defiance and bloodlust overwhelmed him for him to carry out the missions and then be discarded…
“You’re very confident,” he observed at last.
“Believe me, in such matters I am immutably the master.”