Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: The Doctor, the Doctor
Word Count: 2482
Refugees. That's all they were now. Once a fine, burgeoning civilization of two billion people, they were caught between the two powerful alien species that descended upon their planet to wage an intergalactic war that had nothing to do with them. In the space of less than two months, they were reduced to less than two hundred thousand refugees, and, having not yet discovered science and technology, they were fleeing their devastated planet on whatever ships other planets had been able to spare. If they were lucky enough to find a new world to call home, there was no guarantee the war wouldn't follow them there.
The Doctor climbed among the ruins of what had been the planet's second largest city, careful to avoid treading on the all-too-common bodies he spied, half-buried in crushed stone. He kept to the shadows to avoid being seen: there were still occasional Dalek patrols, looking for any sentient life that they hadn't yet exterminated, but he also needed to keep out of sight of the Gallifreyan soldiers. This planet had been categorized as “lost,” meaning that any life found on the surface was expected to be hostile, either Daleks or their allies, and was to be destroyed on sight, without question. No aid for survivors, no time to be wasted. The Time Lords only saw the big picture, the landscape of the Time War from orbit; they were long past caring for the people caught in the crossfire.
One thing that did give him a bit of protection was the TARDIS. That blue box, easily visible from any distance, commanded some amount of respect, and the symbol of the presence of the Doctor gave both sides pause. The Gallifreyans, considering him a dangerous and unpredictable psychopath, avoided any location where it was seen, and the Daleks luckily still stood in too much of fear of him to attack it directly. He knew that would change one day: they'd realize that, like so many other TARDISes and battle TARDISes before it, it could be destroyed. Rather easily, too; it was hundreds of years out-of-date and lacking many of the now-basic defenses.
He paused for a moment in an alcove formed from the collapse of two nearby spires and listened for any sign of his quarry. One of the survivors, now on a ship millions of miles away, told him that a group of about fifteen people were thought to be trapped near the council hall, and he'd set out to find them. It sickened him to think that he'd sunk to the point of calculating how many people were worth the risk. Fifteen was a fine number. If it had only been five, he would have instead headed to the next battlefield planet, where he could help so many more. When exactly did he start deciding how many were worth his help?
He ran a hand through his short, dark curls, trying to decide in which direction to search. He heard the creak of shifting rubble and the occasional sound of distant blaster fire, at least three miles away; the dead city was otherwise silent. He kneeled and lodged his fingers in the gravel to feel for vibrations too subtle to hear, but… nothing. Jumping up, he scanned around the ruins. Where could they be? Where could there be enough of a sturdy space for fifteen people to survive this much destruction?
A sudden screech rent the air, and the Doctor spun immediately towards it: the rhythmic groan of a materialising TARDIS, harsh and alien against the silence of the shambles of the city. A Time Lord coming here? Whatever for? The battle was long over, as the main Dalek fleet had flown off a day ago; there was no reason for one to condescend to come to the planet’s surface, as clean-up was handled by Gallifreyan grunt troops. As the Doctor started to creep in the direction of the arriving TARDIS, staying carefully hidden among the crumbled walls, he pulled out his sonic screwdriver, pulsing it periodically to keep a directional bead on it. Who knew which of these lumps of stone or shattered buildings were the Time Lord’s craft?
He needn’t have been so careful. As he hopped over a charred pile of wood, he caught a glimpse of the top of a blue police box beyond a high wall, and came to a confused stop. He stared off towards where he thought he left his TARDIS, then fired a pulse in that direction. Yup, the TARDIS is still there. Then, as quietly as he could, he dashed to the wall and peered around it. It wasn’t his imagination. That was his TARDIS.
A moment later, the police box door opened and a man stepped out, presumably the Doctor, a future Doctor. An incarnation with an older visage, he had tousled gray hair, short scraggly whiskers, a deeply lined face, and slightly stooped, tired shoulders. The Doctor hiding behind the wall noticed that this Doctor was at least dressed for the environment, in heavy boots and a sturdy leather coat over his waistcoat. His sonic screwdriver was tucked into a loop on the bandolier strung across his chest.
The Doctor knew something must be wrong; even if this future incarnation was hundreds or thousands of years in his future, he wouldn’t risk breaking the Laws of Time by landing so close to himself unless there was a very good reason. At the very worst, the TARDIS itself would prevent the encounter. Drawing his dark green frock coat closer around himself, he stepped out from behind the wall. “Doctor,” he called.
"Ah, yes. Greetings, Doctor." He had a gruff but pleasant voice, very polite, in contrast to his weathered countenance. Gazing about the area, he murmured an "Ah!" when he spotted what he was looking for. Gesturing in the direction of a narrow alley between two crumbling buildings, he called back to the younger Doctor, "This way. Come along, now. We haven't a moment to lose." Half-hopping and half-sliding down the pile of rubble his TARDIS was perched on, he beckoned once more with his hand and headed off in that direction.
Intrigued, the Doctor sprinted to catch up with him. "And where exactly are we going?"
"To the place you are looking for. Through this alley now, and then to the right. Still a bit of a hike." Emerging from the alleyway, they began trudging over the mounds of broken stone and wood.
The younger Doctor noticed that despite his age, the older Doctor was quite spry, navigating the difficult terrain at the same speed as himself. "You took the risk of meeting with me simply to guide me to these people? There must be something else on your mind.”
“Absolutely. But I decided that since I must meet with you, I should take the opportunity to rectify this situation.” He waved them onto a new course with one hand. “You see, you won’t find the chamber for another five hours, and by that time, it will have collapsed, killing all but two of its twenty-seven occupants. This time, you will be able to get them all out safely.”
The dark-haired Doctor stopped in his tracks, appalled. “You’re changing our personal timeline?”
“Oh, I’m here to do far more than that,” he replied without stopping.
The Doctor resumed following him. “I don’t like the sound of that.”
“No." With that one word, the gray-haired Doctor sounded as old and weary as he looked. "But it must be done.”
“Explain yourself, Doctor.”
“The Time War. I’m here to enlist your assistance in ending it.”
“Then it lasts beyond my time.” The young Doctor was dispirited.
“Far beyond. I started this time around with a young face.”
“Might I at least hope that you’re my direct successor?”
The older Doctor turned toward his younger self and bowed while he walked. “I am. Spent my life fighting in the war. It’s time to end it.”
The Doctor frowned. “Fighting in it?”
“Yes. This way now. Not too much more.” The bearded Doctor ducked under a fallen beam into another crumbling alleyway.
“What made you decide to get involved?” As he passed under the beam, the Doctor's frown was accusatory.
“That wasn’t me. That was your decision. You had the choice of what I would be, and I am what you chose.”
The young Doctor stopped in his tracks, horrified. "My decision? Why would I choose to become a soldier? Oh, but of course, you can't tell me that. You've already told me too much." With both hands, he covered his face in despair.
The older Doctor grasped his former self’s shoulder. "But I can. My arrival here has thrown the timestreams out of sync. You won't remember any of this. Neither will I, for that matter. Come along, it's up over here. We have quite a lot of digging to do."
The warrior Doctor led his previous self to a collapsed wooden building that, when whole, must have been two stories high. Now a small hill of broken timber, it was strewn with destroyed furnishings. They circled around it until the older Doctor stopped and pointed at a spot. "The door to the basement is about here."
"Then we'd better get to work." The Doctor pulled off his dark green coat and draped it over the nearby remnant of a wall, then joined the other Doctor in clearing the debris by hand. "So, tell me what you're not supposed to tell me." He kept his tone conversational.
The warrior Doctor grabbed chunks of wood and stone and tossed them as far away as he could. "You came to realize that this isn't just another war. You were doing great things, like this right now, saving as many people as you could from it, but it wasn't going to end with anything less than the destruction of the universe, and you knew you had to stop it."
"Becoming a soldier doesn't stop a war. That only feeds it."
"Winning the war, destroying the Daleks would have stopped it. And I fought well, I'd like to think. Though I can't say that I improved either the High Council's or the War Council's opinion of us. Even working with them, we are too unorthodox." The warrior Doctor snorted a gruff laugh. "But no, it didn't work. The Daleks are at Gallifrey and the planet is going to fall. The High Council plans to enact the Final Sanction."
The Doctor stopped tossing debris aside to stare at his other self. "The Final Sanction? Are they so desperate?”
He nodded. “They are. The war has gone far beyond madness. It is time to end it.”
“The Moment. You have it, don't you?" He set his jaw, his face grim.
"Yes. I do. I've already used it. Destroyed Gallifrey, and Skaro, and countless other planets and civilizations. Ended this war in the only way I could, to save the universe."
The young Doctor frowned. "It is done? Then why are you here?"
The older Doctor wagged a finger at him. "Because that’s what’s going to happen, and we're going to change it. A clever boy in our future came up with a new plan, to lock Gallifrey away in an instant of time, rather than burn it."
"And change our personal history in the process. Very risky,” the Doctor commented, shaking his head. He resumed clearing debris.
"The alternative is the end of the universe, by Dalek hands or by ours. We've got to try. And we need help, from all of us. We’ve started the calculations going, back in Totter's Lane, but the more TARDISes we have, the more likely we are to succeed. Here, catch." The older Doctor pulled a small, translucent cube from his pocket and tossed it to his younger self.
The Doctor examined the cube, then stowed it in his pocket. "I can't refuse, of course.” He paused, shaking his head. “But, that I had to enter the war, that you had to spend your life fighting and killing..."
"No. That's why I'm here.” The soldier Doctor leaned against a shattered post. “You see, I'm not going to remember any of this either. To me, I'll be the one who fired the Moment and destroyed the Time Lords and the Daleks and so many more, and in our future, I - three of me, as I understand it - will remember me as the one who broke the promise. I will despise me, and over three lives, I will try my hardest to forget me. But for this moment, I know that I tried to save Gallifrey.”
Pushing off the post, he stepped towards his younger self. Old, weary eyes met young, troubled ones. “And for this moment, I want you to know that you'll make the right decision. You don't want to get involved in the war, but you’ll do so, against your will. And though it will take hundreds of years, because you made that sacrifice, the war will end and the universe will survive."
The young Doctor stared at his older self, then wordlessly turned away and resumed digging, his countenance closed and haunted. After a few more minutes, they began calling into the spaces between the rubble, and answering cries bolstered their spirits and they worked faster, finally clearing a small hole through which a long, pale blue arm reached out to them. The dark-haired Doctor grasped the hand, noting that the talons on the three fingers were broken and worn, from trying to dig out, and he called comforting words down, telling them that they would enlarge the opening as quickly as they could. After another fifteen minutes, the first of the survivors crawled out, squinting at the bright sunlight.
The younger Doctor sprinted off to move his TARDIS to the area, to provide a haven for the survivors and medical facilities for the wounded, while the older Doctor continued to widen the tunnel. It took an hour to get all twenty-seven people out, as many of them could not move on their own. Another hour saw them fed and tended to, and ready for their brief journey to the refugee fleet.
The young Doctor stood outside his police box, leaning against the door. He smiled sadly at the warrior Doctor. “I suppose I won’t even remember this, will I? I’ll remember that all but two died in that hole.”
“But for now, for this moment, we’ve saved them all.” Straightening up, the Doctor bowed, the tail of his green coat sweeping against the door. “I thank you, Doctor. For the knowledge that it will end as well as it could.”
The leather-clad Doctor nodded. “I shall see you at Gallifrey, then.” As his younger self slipped into his police box, he turned to climb his way back to his TARDIS.