Divine Heroin Muffin
Click image for sources used
Click here for list of characters and general info.
The Doctor slammed the door shut, drowning out cries of “Exterminate!” As though something had been constricting his lungs and only now let go, Jack found himself able to breathe again. His hands still shaking, he grabbed the Doctor’s coat.
“I thought you said the Daleks were wiped out. Twice.”
“I time-locked this event,” the Doctor snarled. “It’s not just that we shouldn’t--we can't--be here. This could undo everything we accomplished.”
“It’s too late for that, sir,” Ianto said. “We’re here, and we’ve seen what’s outside. We should be there, helping people.”
Jack grimaced. “Did you swap brains with Gwen before we left?”
“I’m not heartless, sir!”
“We are not going out there!” the Doctor yelled. “You already know too much.”
“Ianto’s right,” Cameron said. “If we already know too much, there’s no harm in finding out more. Sort of like passing the point of no return.”
The Doctor shook his head. “You go out there, you’re dead! I don’t have weapons on board, and the Daleks never detected a second TARDIS when I was here. The fact that all systems are down protects us for now, but if they discover us, the course of history will be changed, and it must not. The time lock exists for a reason! Do you understand what would happen if any Dalek escapes, or if they manage to execute their plan because of our interference? There is more at stake than the life of any single human or group of humans.”
“How much time would we have between the TARDIS recovering and the Daleks detecting us?” Ianto asked nonchalantly. Jack knew better than to answer a question posed like that, but the Doctor didn’t.
“About a minute.” The Doctor stared. “Oh, no you don’t!”
Ianto ran over and threw the door open, but Jack followed hot on his heels. “More than enough time to get back.”
Jack grabbed him. “No.”
“This is not a Torchwood matter, sir.”
“I’m not telling you as your boss.” Jack hesitated, but no matter how angry Ianto might be with him, the man would not ignore reason. “I’m telling you as someone who can’t die. I’ll go and see what I can do.”
“Jack!” The Doctor strode over, pointing his sonic screwdriver at the doors. They shuddered but refused to close. “Even the TARDIS! Why does no one listen to me?”
“Doctor, you know you can trust me with the future, so why not just give in to the inevitable and let me go?”
“Then you’re not going alone. I'm coming with you.”
“What? What if the Daleks recognize you?”
The Doctor grinned. “I’ll hide behind you. I’m not immortal, you know.”
Jack turned to Ianto. “Satisfactory?”
He looked ready to argue, but he stepped back and let Jack shut the door on him. The Doctor sighed. “This is a terrible idea, I’ll have you know.”
“You know you want to.” Jack winked.
“Ianto can still see us on the monitor inside.”
“Why do you always think I’m flirting?”
“Because you are. Allons-y.”
They jogged a ways down the street, but it was deserted. While the dogfight continued to rage in the skies, there was no sign of life at all on the ground, not even shattered car windows or flames to indicate looting. There was a distinct lack of screaming as well.
“Maybe the Daleks didn’t bother invading this area,” the Doctor commented. “They weren’t exactly interested in subjugating Earth. Just... finding test subjects.”
“That sounds so much more pleasant. What about the lack of rioting?”
“People decided to behave properly for once?”
They paused outside a building with the words “No Limits” on the front. Jack found the sign oddly appropriate. Peering inside, he found overturned tables and shattered glass littering the ground. “It’s a bar,” he said. “But no one’s doing business. Funny. There’s usually an unwritten rule that bars and churches are open during apocalypses. Otherwise what’s the point?”
“You never struck me as the religious type, Jack.”
“Apocalypses aren’t really my thing. I'm usually one of the people trying to prevent them.” He was surprised to see the Doctor enter, but he followed him in. “Shouldn’t we be looking around?”
“The chairs aren’t up, which means it's not closed. It was daytime when they stole the Earth, so where are all the people?”
Jack reluctantly followed him in, but as they entered there was a faint crunch from behind the counter, too soft to be purposeful, more like someone shifting their weight. Jack would never have heard it if he wasn’t trained to be aware of such things, and he knew the Doctor had more heightened senses than the average human. He shook his head at the time lord when he began heading over to investigate, but the Doctor scoffed. “Daleks aren’t that short.”
The next instant, the Doctor vanished, a cry of surprise muffled as he fell. Jack leapt over the counter, suppressing the desire to yell. A man grabbed his leg, breaking his momentum and slamming him to the ground. A hand covered his mouth until he had the sense to stop struggling.
“Shut up,” the man said, and Jack looked over to see the Doctor unrestrained, grinning and fiddling with his screwdriver. “You’ll attract attention.” Jack looked back at the German and took in his appearance. It was a sort of classic, chiseled look, hair swept back as though both combed and blowing in the wind. He possessed a strong grip, definitely worked out. Jack grinned.
“Captain Jack Harkness,” he said, offering a hand.
The man took it to help him into a sitting position. “Gregor Mann,” he replied, looking a little confused at the overwhelming friendliness. Jack wondered if he should tone down the smile a little.
The Doctor groaned. “Not now, Jack.” Redirecting his attention: “Daleks have been here?”
Gregor nodded. “They swept the streets right after it went dark. We got everyone upstairs in time, but now they’re doing fly-bys of windows.”
“Then we better get upstairs.”
“Not yet!” His eyes narrowed, and he began looking like the sort of dangerous post-apocalyptic survivalist Jack had been concerned about when they first heard the noise. “My brother’s still out there.”
The Doctor wilted a little. “I’m sorry, but he’s either stuck or dead and there’s no point looking for him until the crisis is over.”
“That’s not what I meant. He went to keep a look-out.” He frowned. “You think this will end well?”
“I know it will.” That was part of what Jack liked about the Doctor: even when the odds were against him, he could make you believe it would be all right. In this case, he had cold hard facts on his side, assuming their presence wasn’t a critical strain on the timeline, and this was enough to put even a stranger at ease. Gregor nodded and returned his attention to the front door.
The briefest flash of a reflection preceded the arrival of a young man in orange, which Jack decided was not the stealthiest choice of clothing, even when there were planets in the sky shining weird colors. The door slammed against the wall and bounced back, knocking him over into a chair. He went down with a loud clatter and exclaimed, “Shit!”
Gregor dashed round the counter and tried to help him up, but the man instead pulled him to the ground just as a Dalek death ray lanced through the door straight past where he’d been standing.
“I got spotted.”
“I can tell. Run!”
“Setting one-thirty-seven,” the Doctor said, handing the screwdriver to Jack. “Will meld the door shut.”
Gregor paused halfway in their scramble up the stairs and yelled back, “No one’s melting my door!”
It was too late. Jack was already playing the sonic beam over the edges of the door as the Doctor joined the other two in the rush upstairs. When he’d completed one circuit, he turned the screwdriver off and ran. A beam blasted through the door, glancing him across his side, and he collapsed as a wave of pain swept through him like fire.
The man in orange tried to leap back down the stairs to help him, but the Doctor grabbed his arm and dragged him away. “He’ll be fine!”
“Yeah, it’s only a flesh wound,” Jack snapped. He shook himself, hoping to lessen the residual tingling that felt like ants crawling up his rib cage. As soon as he regained control of his legs, he started running.
“Halt!” the Dalek demanded in a cold, electronic voice that still sent shivers up his spine. “Any human who resists will be exterminated.”
Jack rounded the corner and crashed into the three waiting for him. “Keep going! Stairs don’t stop them, you know!”
“I told you this was a bad idea,” Gregor hissed at his brother. “But you have to run off and play hero!”
“Was I supposed to sit around and wait for them to come for us?”
“Shut up!” Jack said. He sneaked a glance around the corner and saw the Dalek had floated halfway up the stairs. “Get going.”
An explosion rocked the building, and a door down the hall burst open amidst a gust of wind and debris. Several screams followed, the voices sounding thin and empty due to the now-open acoustics of the building.
“That’s your flat,” Gregor said.
“You know the plan,” his brother replied.
“That’s suicide. Remember what I just said about playing the hero?”
Gregor grimaced but obeyed. “What are you doing?” the Doctor protested as the man grabbed both of them and pushed them through the door opposite the room the Daleks were in. “You don’t know what you’re doing. Those Daleks will kill everyone!”
“You have any weapons?” Gregor asked.
The Doctor spluttered indistinctly.
“Then looks like you’re no better off than us. Keep out of sight or you’ll get my brother killed.”
Jack wrapped one arm around the Doctor to stop him from struggling and put his other hand over his mouth. The Doctor glared, but Jack said, “He’s right. Whatever they have planned, they’ll definitely be dead if we interfere now.” The Doctor stopped moving, and for a moment, Jack found the warmth of their proximity rather distracting. Then the Doctor bit him, and he stifled a cry as he let go and cradled his hand.
“I know what you were thinking, Jack,” the Doctor whispered.
“No such thing,” he replied, trying to look scandalized, but from experience with Ianto, he knew it just made him look like he was leering.
“Hey, flying trash can, over here!” a voice came from across the hall, sounding like a kid trying out cuss words for the first time rather than someone in a fight to the death, and Jack had to wonder what sort of person felt bad about insulting a Dalek. There was a dull thud, followed by the whoosh of an energy field, but despite the lack of damage, whatever had been thrown succeeded in attracting the Dalek’s attention.
“You will stop throwing remotes at a Dalek. You will be exterminated for this offence.”
“Catch me first.” A man darted through the doorway and stopped when he turned the corner, back pressed against the wall as he waited for the Dalek to appear.
“What’s he doing?” the Doctor asked, shifting his weight between his feet as he crouched behind the door frame. Jack put a hand on his shoulder--to prevent him from bolting, of course. The time lord felt kind of boney; he would not, Jack guessed, be comfortable to lie on.
“You need to eat more,” Jack commented. Gregor glared at him, while the Doctor merely looked confused.
“I just... have a high metabolism,” he said.
“It’d help if you told us the plan.”
“Olli has a theory that there’s one weapon that can get through their force fields.”
The Doctor gaped. “No! They’re not seriously going to try that? But that... oh, that’s clever. Clever but horribly risky.”
“You think?” The Doctor’s boniness was probably the only thing keeping Gregor from taking him by the shoulders and shaking him.
The Dalek exited the room right as the other finished its ascent. Both men stepped into view and raised their hands, but Daleks did not take aggressive prisoners. “Exterminate!” they cried as one, and taking that as their cue, both men ducked.
Twin rays crossed paths and zoomed onward straight into the opposing Dalek. Both exploded in a burst of flame. Modulated screams died away as the fires fizzled out. Jack realized he was holding his breath and let it out. Realizing their plan had succeeded, the dark-haired one from the room ran over and pulled Gregor’s brother into an embrace, lifting him off the ground as they cheered. Then he lost his balance, and they crashed into the wall. Gregor joined them, pumping his fists into the air, while Jack and the Doctor approached more slowly.
“That was impressive,” the Doctor said. “Hi, I’m the Doctor.”
“What sort of introduction is that?” Gregor asked, but the other two didn’t seem to mind.
Lowering Gregor’s brother to the ground, the polite-to-Daleks one offered a hand: “Olli.”
“Christian,” the other one said, rubbing the back of his head where he’d struck the wall.
“Captain Jack Harkness,” Jack said, taking Olli’s hand before the Doctor could. “That was some fast thinking.”
“We’ve had time to sit around,” Olli replied, oblivious to his charms. “Come on, let’s go make sure the others are all right.”
They moved past the remains of the Dalek blocking the door and entered their flat. A blonde-haired woman crouched in the kitchen while a brunette stood by the blasted windows, holding a chainsaw.
“Where’d you get that?” Christian asked, eyebrows coming together.
“My boss asked me to buy it to replace the one that broke at the construction yard.”
“The dangerous one is Judith,” Olli said, pronouncing the “J” as a “Y” despite the TARDIS translator. “And that’s Lydia. This is the Doctor and Captain Jack Harkness.”
“Hello.” The Doctor waved. “Judith, you might want to move back a few steps.”
Judith obeyed, then looked outside and saw a Dalek rising into view. She screamed, but the Dalek fixed its eyestalk on the Doctor.
“The Doctor!” it exclaimed as it landed. “Exterminate!”
“Don’t think so,” the Doctor replied, grabbing his screwdriver from Jack and swinging it at the ruined Dalek in the doorway. There was a squeal as its weapon summoned the last of its energy reserves and fired at the Dalek in the window, which burst into flames. Part of its shell shattered, but the damage wasn’t nearly as extensive as in the hall. “Ugh, there wasn’t enough power left!”
With a roar, Judith brought her chainsaw down on the Dalek and shoved it back outside, where it plummeted several stories and exploded in the street below.
“Well, that’s one way of handling it,” the Doctor said, lowering his screwdriver.
“Who are you?” asked Lydia.
Christian crossed his arms. “Any other helpful devices we should know about?”
“How long has the invasion lasted?” the Doctor asked Olli.
He shrugged. “Several hours, I’d say.”
The Doctor ran to the window--or hole in the wall--and peered at the sky. “Then that means...” The chainsaw rumbled as Judith accidentally pressed the trigger, and she swung it away from the Doctor as he yelped and jumped back. “Watch that thing! Uh, ah... yes! I think they’re returning to the Crucible!” He shoved Jack aside as he dashed out and down the stairs.
“To the what?” Jack yelled. He jogged after him.
“You’re not supposed to know, anyway!”
He caught up with the Doctor outside No Limits, where the time lord was peering up with a hand shading the left side of his face from the lights in the bar. “It was too bright up there. Couldn’t see properly.”
“It melted my door!” Gregor protested, and Jack saw that he had followed them down, along with Christian and Olli.
“I think the hole in our flat will be a bit more expensive to fix,” replied Christian.
“Well, at least you’ll be able to fix it,” the Doctor said. The others came over and looked into the sky, watching as bright lights that were individual Daleks drifted away, from discernable shapes into pinpoints into nothing at all. “It’ll be over soon, and then we’ll be towing the Earth back to its rightful place.”
“We?” Gregor said.
“Yes, well, that’s kind of hard to explain.”
“I’m an alien, all right? I travel through time and space, so while I’m down here, there’s a past version of me up there, well, two of me, actually, taking care of things.”
“Two of you?” Jack felt his heart pound. “There are three of you present in one go?”
“No. Just no.”
“Oh my god, help!” someone screamed. Jack whirled around to see a dark-haired woman in heels run around the corner, clutching a purse in one hand and a crowbar in the other. It was evident she’d spotted them as she was running straight for them. “Help me!”
“Olivia?” Olli said, dashing over to meet her.
“Olli!” she exclaimed. “I’m so glad to see you! I was on my way over here when those, those things appeared...”
“Friends?” the Doctor asked.
“Cousin,” replied Christian in a flat tone.
“Well, it’s all right now. They’re leaving, see?” Olli pointed into the sky, where an orange spot was growing larger.
“That looks like it’s coming closer,” she replied.
The Doctor squinted. “That would be because it’s a plane. On fire. Headed our way. Run, run, run!”
Jack instinctively headed for the TARDIS, even though the plane was falling in the same direction. The smarter choice would’ve been to go the other way and pass underneath the falling jet before it reached the ground, but now, it struck and tumbled end over end, sliding closer and closer. Everyone followed his lead, and he slowed to let the others pass him, knowing he shouldn’t be the one blocking the doorway if it came down to a last second entry. Olivia made remarkable time, outrunning them all even with her footwear, though he suspected the other men were being almost as stupidly gallant as himself. He could hear the flames of the jet roar as they consumed its leaking fuel and feel their heat licking at the back of his neck as the Doctor sprinted the last few meters, one hand pushing Olivia aside and the other outstretched with the TARDIS key....
As soon as Jack and the Doctor left, Ianto pulled up the TARDIS monitor to watch them creep down the street. Cuddy felt this was a useless endeavor but didn’t have the heart to tell him to stop. Meanwhile, Chase was trying to teach his new robot pet tricks, which given that it was a five-foot spider-like monstrosity with blades on its feet, did not seem like the best idea in the world.
“Roll over, Joey! Come on, roll over!”
Cameron screamed as the droid tumbled backward into her wheelchair, taking them both down with a clang. “Damn it, Chase, it isn’t a dog!”
“She could be one if she wanted to,” Chase retorted as the droid scurried back to his side after helping Cameron up. “Aw, good girl. It wasn’t your fault.”
“That might not be a bad idea, turning into a dog,” Cuddy said. “If we ever leave the TARDIS, you’ll probably attract attention if she travels undisguised with you.”
“It projects hallucinations,” Cameron reminded her, “it doesn’t shape-shift. No dog is as big as that thing.”
Joey ignored her and turned into a baby golden retriever with glistening eyes. She pawed at the floor in her direction, and Cameron glared back. “Try again. Something bigger.”
The dog transformed into an adult giraffe.
“Not quite that big.”
A Siberian tiger.
“Hmm...” three of them said at the same time. Ianto continued staring at the screen but glanced over when he noticed the sudden silence.
“I don’t think that’s going to help with the ‘let’s not get noticed’ problem,” he remarked.
“But it’s cool,” rebutted Cameron.
“And cute,” Chase added. “Plus the claws remind us not to play with her feet.”
“The blades are retractable.” Ianto spoke from personal experience.
“So are claws.”
“If you look away from the screen any longer, Jack and the Doctor might actually move out of sight,” Cuddy said. She felt a twinge of guilt afterward for goading him like that; she couldn’t keep using the trauma of the last couple days as an excuse for any inappropriate behavior, and if she did, she’d end up like House. She frowned and reflexively tugged at her blouse. That was a thought to keep her on the straight and narrow.
“They went into a building,” Ianto replied.
He sighed. “No need to apologize.” Picking up a nearby chair, he took a seat beside her. “I’ve been acting immature anyway.”
Cameron wheeled over to where he’d been standing and began typing on the keyboard. “Does that mean you’re done with the console?”
“Yes. What are you going to do?”
“I want to see what he has installed.”
“According to Joey, the last time you tried to hack a computer system, you nearly got us all killed,” Chase said.
“I’m not hacking. Wow, he has just about every single video game ever made. And emulators for every system!”
Ianto and Chase perked up. Cuddy sighed. Men and their games...
Cameron looked over as though guessing what she was thinking. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”
“I had a level seventy night elf ranger,” Cuddy said. “But then I lost interest.”
“Was this that week when House broke the MRI machine and you signed off on the replacement purchase order as ‘McBooby’?” Chase asked.
“House did what?” Cuddy reached over for a desk drawer that was not aboard the TARDIS and felt her cheeks heat as she made a rude gesture instead to cover up the mistake.
Ianto smiled. “If you think that’s bad, you should see Jack’s annual personnel performance reviews.”
Cuddy lifted an eyebrow.
“I rewrite everything when I enter them into the system, so it’s all right.”
She laughed. “That’s what I do with House’s too.”
“Sounds like our jobs aren’t that different.”
“You still have to deal with aliens.”
“You have to deal with lawyers.”
The TARDIS doors burst open and six people tumbled through. Jack was last and kicked the door shut as a burst of flame shot through, accompanied by the squeal of metal against asphalt. The tail of his coat ignited, and Jack cursed as he shrugged it off and stamped on it. At that exact moment, the lights returned, and the TARDIS console hummed to life before an alarm went off, initiating a series of flashing red lights that should’ve given everyone seizures but miraculously didn’t. A muffled explosion rocked the TARDIS, throwing Ianto into her lap. He scrambled away, eyeing Jack as though he’d been caught with a hand in the cookie jar.
“I didn’t do anything!” Cameron said, pulling her hands away from the keyboard as fast as if they’d caught on fire.
“The TARDIS is back online, but the Daleks have detected us!” the Doctor explained as he leaned over her to bang on the panels. “Oooh, high score on pinball, very nice. Never did get the hang of that one myself.”
“It’s bigger on the inside,” the new female arrival said, beaming as she looked around the room. Cuddy could feel a sexual harassment lawsuit coming up, even if the TARDIS was a machine.
“Forget that; is it safe to go back out, or will there be Daleks waiting?” the one in an orange shirt said, getting up and moving closer to the dark-haired man beside him in a definite violation of personal space. Cuddy sighed; it was always the attractive ones...
“No time for that!” The Doctor jiggled some levers. “We have to get out of here now!”
The TARDIS rumbled as the central column began moving. This was followed by the characteristic dilapidated-Disney-ride motion that accompanied short passages through the time vortex. Then came an unexpected creak and a groan, causing the room to jolt.
“That’s not right,” the Doctor said.
“How can you tell?” orange shirt yelled as he fell and rolled into the next room.
Sparks began flying from the console. The Doctor rubbed at some of the resulting ash and licked his finger. “Feels like that time you grabbed onto the outside, Jack.”
“Daleks have latched onto the TARDIS?”
“‘Like’ as in similar to, but not precisely. I’m not sure...” A second jolt knocked the Doctor off balance. He clambered back and peered at the monitor. “Well, whatever it was, we lost it. The Daleks might have been trying to teleport us when we left, severing the connection.”
“You don’t sound very sure.”
With one last shudder, the TARDIS settled down. The column stopped moving, which meant they’d landed. The Doctor rubbed his neck, grimacing. “That’s because we got knocked out of the time vortex again.”
“Let me guess,” Ianto said. “We’re in the middle of the Time War.”
The Doctor grinned. “Nope. We’re on Earth.”
“After all that, we’re back where we started?” Chase said. “Let’s get going.”
“Hold on, aren’t you curious what’s out there?”
“Not if the last time was anything to judge by!”
“Aw, come on, you don’t even know the time period.”
Orange shirt staggered back through the doorway, dripping wet. A pungent smell hit Cuddy’s nostrils, like a combination of lavender and some cheap perfume of the sort usually sold at K-mart. “The zipper broke on someone’s suitcase,” he said.
His words hit Cuddy like a bucket of cold water. “Oh no!” she exclaimed. When everyone looked at her, she shook her head, “No, not mine; I don’t use anything that smells half that bad.” Cameron looked indignant, as though she’d just finished talking to House. “But we have to go outside now! I forgot to pack a toothbrush!”
Time does not move the same way on the Ramtops. In many senses, the mountains are the spine of the Discworld, and magic runs their length as electricity surges through nerves and neurons. As for time, it ebbs and flows. Like a river, there are places it rushes past, where a careless youth can fall asleep and wake a hundred years later, and there are other places it stands still, where you can try to establish a claim on the land but most likely a wise man has been squatting on it for millennia already.
Then there’s the spot where a man once stood on the bank of the river of time and decided to build a dam. That man was Wen the Eternally Surprised, and that place is the monastery of the History Monks. One perfect spring day repeats there forever, and the cherry trees send out endless waves of blossoms. It’d be easy to protest the dam, but most people don’t know about it, and those who do live downstream. Besides, the History Monks perform an important service: they make sure tomorrow continues to exist.
Susan and Adric followed Lu-Tze along the winding path to the monastery, and she couldn’t help a smile when Adric noticed the snow on the other peaks. “This is so amazing!” he said as Lu-Tze explained where they were. “But there are so many things that are mathematically impossible.”
“Ah. You are one of those scientific fellows, aren’t you? Well, is it not written, ‘Seeing is believing’?”
“Then by your logic, a performance is real too.”
Lu-Tze shrugged. "Often they are believed."
“Your problem is trying to apply the logic of your world to ours,” replied Susan. Not that the theorems he’d brought up during the conversation had made any sense to her, either, but she and Lu-Tze were not the ones having trouble accepting that the universe operated by one rule only--that there were no rules--and even that one it obeyed only on whim. “Lu-Tze, why were you expecting us?”
“But your world is part of the same universe as mine,” Adric pressed on. “Therefore it must be subject to the same laws.”
“And yet you accept that a talking skeleton teleported you here.”
“What about you?” he asked Lu-Tze, clearly deciding Susan was a lost battle. “What is it that makes the Discworld so special?”
“A fish,” Lu-Tze replied.
They were well into the monastery grounds now, and every monk they passed instinctively stopped to make room for Lu-Tze before noticing his guests, whereupon they gawked and began following. At this point, a sizeable crowd swarmed about them, a situation which became a problem when they reached a narrow rope bridge. The press of the group nearly sent one man over the edge, but blue light flashed about him as he sliced time to give himself room to react, then pushed through the people to safety.
When they set foot on the bridge, the others did not follow, but more monks lined the bridges that criss-crossed above and below them.
“The students following us do not have permission to view the mandala,” Lu-Tze explained. “Though today, it would be better if even those who are allowed to see it stayed away. Of course, the prohibition of something just makes people more curious.”
“Mandala?” Adric said.
Susan leaned over the railing, unperturbed by the swaying that resulted, and saw a vast sheet of sand flowing over a hundred feet below her in a flurry that reminded her of a maelstrom. Innumerable colors swirled in an abstract portrait as grains crashed in waves and danced to the rhythm of the universe. Monks hurried around on the ground level, monitoring changes and maintaining the huge drums that rotated beside the seething pattern. “Lobsang never spoke of this,” she whispered, almost lost in the rush of activity, the beauty of raw power calling out to the part of her that wasn’t quite human. For a moment, she felt a part of life, of time, in a way she never had while acting as Death, and it took her breath away.
“He knows better than to involve anyone in this. It is with utmost reluctance that I bring you here.”
Susan grabbed Adric’s arm, holding him as an anchor back to reality, and she forced herself to look away. Of course, the mandala was arguably more real than any of them, but it was too much for her mind to comprehend. Anything bigger than yourself might as well not exist at all; it operated on a completely different plane, and you might as well rage at a lightning storm.
“The mandala reveals patterns of time and space. The drums beside them are procrastinators. We have others that spin time, move it from where it is wasted to where it is needed, but these are for storing the pattern of the sand, so that we may replay any moment in history should the need for analysis ever arise.”
“That’s incredible,” said Adric. “How does it work?”
Lu-Tze gave Susan a look that clearly said, We’re never going to get through to him, are we?
“I’m sure the theory is beyond us,” Susan said. “Lu-Tze is hundreds of years old and has devoted a lifetime to studying this.”
“Hundreds? Are you a time lord?” Adric thought he looked hundreds of years old.
“I am a mere sweeper. We have an abbot, though.”
“Not what I meant, but I guess that answers the question.”
“Very well.” He raised his voice. “Replay the sequence from twenty-one hours ago.”
The tableau froze as the procrastinators wound out. Susan found the sight of time flowing backward profoundly disturbing. It was as though all of her senses were screaming at her, but each relayed a story at odds with the others. When the sand began flowing again, she realized she was gripping the rope railing so tightly her knuckles were white. She let go, but it still felt wrong, because the story in front of her was not now.
“It’s not another glass clock, is it?”
“No, absolutely not. But... I wish it was.”
Susan felt her hair curl of its own volition.
“What’s wrong with a glass clock?” Adric asked.
“A totally glass clock. It stops time,” Susan replied.
Lu-Tze smiled as though indulging a child. “That is one way to put it. A glass clock is so accurate it measures the fundamental time interval. The universal tick, so to speak.”
“Planck time!” Adric exclaimed. “What appears continuous is actually discrete, as described in quantum theory. The infinite is actually finite, since there is a limit to how small something can get.”
The sweeper beamed. “Yes, that is the general idea. But what happens when you gain that level of accuracy?”
“Well, on that scale, mere observation will change reality. So you’re saying that if we could actually measure Planck time, it would freeze time, because your observation alters the nature of reality.”
“Yes, and once time has frozen, you cannot undo the observation--”
“--Because the observer is part of the universe that has been frozen! It’s sort of a paradox.”
“Correct, but a resolvable one for beings that can step out of time.”
“Step? That’s impossible.”
“And we were doing so well,” Susan said.
All further debate ceased as a ripple of motion caught their eye. The collective intake of breath seemed to be the sound of light dying. Then there was silence.
A wave of black sand spread across the mandala like an ink blot staining the pattern, but the splotch grew and grew, obliterating everything, plunging everything into nothing. This is what a nightmare looks like, Susan thought. There was no silence, not even in the absence of life. There was no complete darkness, even in the absence of light. So long as the universe existed, there would be some small atom vibrating, some noise in the quantum foam of space and time. Only in the mind did totality exist, absolute, bleak and unrelenting. Only the imagination could conceive of something so absolutely horrible.
Life will be swept away, the Auditors had said, supplanted by complete illogic. The belief field was failing. Discworld was dying.
The diversity of the mandala was gone, the entire floor covered in blackness. The sand shuddered, and she saw the grains had not become still. The realization was welcome, like a light at the end of a tunnel, and then at the edges, color creeped back in. The black collapsed in on itself and became the memory of a nightmare, rather than a living one. Susan felt a single tear fall from her eye and wiped it away before anyone could see.
“What does it mean?”
“It was an echo of the future, but it did not originate on the Disc.”
“Death explained what the Auditors said on our way back to his domain,” Adric said. “As... disturbing as it was to see the effects firsthand, this information is nothing new.”
“But the timing is.” Lu-Tze waved a hand and the mandala froze again as the procrastinators wound backward even further. Susan braced herself for the horror again, but that was not what the patterns showed. Colors danced as usual, though something was out of place.
“It’s turning dark,” she said. “It’s like... the picture is losing saturation, fading to grey.”
“That is the threat the Auditors warned you about. A weapon of the mind, consuming the universe and reshaping reality in the image of its dreams. The universe was moving toward such a future when something happened.”
The mandala flashed, and the effects they’d witnessed reversed in the blink of an eye. The purity of the colors was startling, and then the pattern froze.
“What comes next, you have already seen.”
Susan shut her eyes while the procrastinators moved forward in time, allowing the mandala to return to the present. Then she repeated, “So what does it mean?”
“It means that twenty-one hours ago, the first threat was resolved without your intervention.”
“How anti-climactic. But what could be worse than that first threat?”
“An acceleration. Twenty-one hours ago, something eliminated the threat and at the same time made it infinitely worse. Before twenty-one hours ago, the threat manifested as a gradual progression in time. Think of mold spreading and growing on bread. Now, the future is in flux. One moment, the bread is freshly baked, and the next moment it is rotten to the core. Two realities are fighting each other for existence. Some time, and we cannot predict when, the other reality will win, unless we take action now and tip the balance the other way.”
“The other reality is one in which the threat has already won. So it is the same threat, but a different execution. A different weapon, perhaps?”
Susan sighed. “Thank you.” She reached into her pocket and withdrew the die. Adric held out the tray.
“Where are you going?” Lu-Tze asked.
“To see what remains of the first threat, and where it vanished.”
“Then take this with you, in case we do not meet again.” Lu-Tze handed her a wrapped item the size of a clipboard but about two fingers thick. She tore off the wrapping paper--predictably featuring cuckoos--and stared.
“It’s an etch-a-sketch!” exclaimed Adric, who had once spent a while playing with one on the TARDIS.
“A what?” The object looked like a picture frame, gray in the middle surrounded by a bright red border, with two ivory cylinders at the bottom two corners.
“You twist the knobs and lines will appear on the screen. Shake it and the picture clears.”
Lu-Tze coughed. “That sounds like a toy!”
“Well, this is not a toy! Qu has spent years developing a miniature mandala.”
Susan nearly dropped the object but managed to restrain herself. She held it at a distance, though, as if it were a poisonous snake. “We don’t need one.”
“It may come in handy. Believe me, we spent many weeks debating whether to give you one.”
“What about wind-up procrastinators? For Adric, I mean, in case we run into something capable of freezing time. I believe I am immune, even on other worlds.”
“The boy carries his own time, just as you do. I know not how, but the fact is evident to the trained eye.”
She found herself staring at the boy with renewed curiosity. Who was he and how had he met Death? Perhaps there was more to this coincidence thing than she liked to admit.
Adric shrugged. “I’m from another universe. Maybe that’s why.”
“Ah,” said Lu-Tze, “it is written, ‘A fish out of water is still slippery.’”
“I wouldn’t want to be a fish.”
“Good luck, Susan and Adric. Should you have need of us, you will always be welcome in the monastery.”
Susan nodded her appreciation and dropped the die. There was a clatter, and they found themselves beneath a willow tree. To their right, ducks drifted upon a pond. To their left, a gaping hole in the ground revealed the smoldering outlines of an underground facility. What looked like magma flowed hundreds of feet below the surface. Then she checked her surroundings and found a single white pillar on the horizon, shooting into the sky. Adric gasped.
“This is Earth. We’re on Earth!”
“You know this place?”
“Washington DC. I’ve seen pictures on postcards.” Adric peered down into the burning ruins. “This does not belong here. I’ve never seen or heard of a similar facility on the entire planet.”
“It looks like a factory.”
Adric frowned, and he’d never looked so young. “We can’t tell anything from this. Everything’s slag.”
“You’re right. This is probably the right place but we’re twenty-one hours too late.”
“I don’t see what we’re supposed to do.” His voice trembled. Susan remembered the mandala, the spreading blackness.
“I do,” she replied, injecting as much resolve into her voice as possible. She put a hand on his shoulder and opened her fist to reveal the small white sphere in her palm. A blink, and they were standing in a field of golden wheat. “We’re going to need both dice.”
Every cloud might have a silver lining, Hector Barbossa reflected, but that didn’t mean the clouds were any more welcome. The bathhouse was in an uproar following his return, and he was lucky Elizabeth’s guards had not been as trusting as they’d seemed. If they hadn’t followed him, someone might have accused him of pushing her off that cliff and he’d be at the end of a rope already. As it was, three eyewitnesses, including her first mate, had seen her leap shortly after he tried to stop her. Everyone loyal was scouring the beaches, hoping she would wash up, alive or dead.
Which, of course, meant no one was guarding Elizabeth’s treasures.
He was halfway through his third flagon of rum, which was watered down so much it barely counted and tasted something like pureed parrot, when Pintel and Ragetti staggered into the bar, the ends of rolled up, yellowing manuscripts sticking out of sacks on their backs like peacock feathers. Spotting him, they headed straight for him, knocking a table over. Barbossa sighed. If they’d been caught in the bathhouse, he could’ve claimed they were idiots acting of their own accord, but now that they were here, he wondered if he shouldn’t have arranged a better rendezvous point, like the Black Pearl. That would’ve attracted attention from the dock master, though, who was certainly in Elizabeth’s pocket. Or had been--he belonged to her successor now. It didn’t matter, though. It was early morning, and the tavern was empty save for the bartender.
“We did it!” Pintel said.
Ragetti nodded, and his false eye nearly popped out. “There was no one there at all. The bathhouse is completely empty. Stealing these was a cinch, though you should know it’s also a sin, cap’n.”
Barbossa rolled his eyes. “Great. Didn’t I tell you not to say a word about your mission?” Without looking, he pointed his pistol in the general direction of the bartender and fired before the man could flee. The thud of the body hitting the ground told him he hadn’t missed. “The things I have to put up with...”
“Sorry,” the men replied in unison.
“Well, now that we have the place to ourselves, lay them out! What did you find?”
The first few rolls consisted of world maps and a few of the Caribbean, though Feng had obviously not been interested in that region of the world. Most were outdated and in poor condition, with a few having been eaten through or covered by mold. Then came a collection that had been stored with the map Will Turner stole the last time they broke in. These were of more interest, though most dealt with local legends, including one about a fish with the head of a lion.
“What’s this?” Ragetti said, flattening out a piece of parchment on the countertop. “Looks like a treasure chest.”
Barbossa looked up from his own study of three maps featuring Florida. If he remembered correctly, the fountain had been somewhere near the southern coastline, and maybe a discrepancy between Feng’s different versions would be a clue. The object of Ragetti’s interest was not a map at all but instead showed a blue box, taller than it was wide. A glance told him it was not a chest at all, and there were words along the top, scraggly as though drawn by someone who didn’t understand their meaning. He could tell it was English, though, and read “Police Box” despite the artist’s uncertain scrawl. He wondered what a "police" was.
Not knowing why, he snatched the parchment and began reading. Ragetti shrugged, turning his attention to their last stolen artifact, which turned out to be a nude sketch of some woman he did not recognize. Barbossa was thankful it’d come last, or else they’d never have gotten through the collection.
“A magical vessel known as the TARDIS,” he read from the scroll, “it contains immense rooms within its frame, despite its small size, and is the transportation of a many-faced man known as the Doctor, who is believed to be an angel of death.”
The king lives to serve, Elizabeth’s last words echoed in his mind. And when the time is right, the king dies for the same purpose.
But Elizabeth’s death had not accomplished anything.
“She is not dead,” Tai Huang had snapped. The wind grabbed at their clothes as the sun dropped beneath the waves, giving a cool evening breeze full reign over the island.
“No one can survive such a fall,” Barbossa replied, but the first mate did not pay him any attention. He just looked over the edge and made a sign with both his hands.
Twin gasps brought him out of his recollection, and he realized he had made the same sign while thinking. “That’s a heathen sign, that is,” Ragetti squeaked.
Pintel hit him over the back of his head. “The Captain’s done plenty of heathen-ish things in his time, he has, and it hasn’t bothered us yet.”
“Aye,” Barbossa growled before pondering the implications of what’d been said. Pintel was aware of his mistake and stared wide-eyed until Barbossa dismissed the statement, deciding it wasn’t worth his time. “It’s just something I saw. What does it mean?”
Ragetti was busy making the cross over his chest, so Pintel replied for him, “It’s the sign of the lion.”
“These fairy tales?” He waved a hand over the mermaid-lion account.
“No. Some say it’s a lion, others a tiger, but whatever it is, it’s a giant orange beast that comes out at night and stalks the island. Every new moon, a child or animal goes missing, always taken from a locked house.”
Barbossa laughed. “Has anyone ever seen this... legend?”
“They say it was here when a prince founded the city,” Ragetti whispered. “And it’s only ever been seen on a cliff overlooking the ocean. At night, you can hear it roar.”
“That’s just water against the rocks,” Pintel retorted, but there was a hint of doubt in his voice. After all, they’d been over the end of the world...
So Huang thought Elizabeth had sacrificed herself to the spirit stalking the island? That made no sense, and doing so didn't advance the pirate cause any. She was king of the Brethren Court, not Singapore. It wasn’t her job to placate some ill-tempered feline.
“Apparently, last new moon, no one disappeared.”
Barbossa gripped his flagon so hard rum sloshed over the rim. “When Elizabeth was here?”
“Get these papers back into storage before they’re missed.” Barbossa got to his feet and stalked out.
“Where are you going, captain?” Pintel called after him as they swept up the rolls of parchment.
He cast about for a good excuse. “To buy a toothbrush,” he snarled, remembering his current one was so frayed it was worthless (and had been for roughly six years). There’s more to her than meets the eye, he thought. There always had been, from the moment they’d dragged her aboard the Black Pearl back at Port Royal. Elizabeth would not kill herself. The only person he thought she’d die for was Will Turner, and there was no longer any need for that.
Where does she keep that chest with his heart?
Then he froze in the middle of taking a step. A moment ago, he had thought her dead, but now he would bet his life, no, his gold, that she lived.
“Tell your fortune?” a cloaked woman asked, her face barely visible beneath a hood. “Only a penny.”
She grabbed his sleeve, and he reached for his sword. Backing away, she did not let go until she said, “Then advice for free, okay?”
“Not my place to give. You must follow.”
“I don’t have time for this.” But he didn’t turn his back on her. The crone let out a low cackle, like the croaking of a frog, and headed into an alley without looking back to see if he came.
Heeding the same weird that had guided his thoughts to this point, he went after her, though he unsheathed his blade first. With the pirates out of the city, only unorganized crime remained, and that was the most dangerous type if only for the unpredictability; you at least had be sane to be a member of organized crime.
They entered a dank, musty boarding house, the only light coming from two candles on a mahogany desk in the hall, in addition to the rays of morning sun that made it through the doorway, where a brick acted as a doorstop. “This is no shop,” he said.
“And I am no fortune teller.” She swept back her hood to reveal a wrinkled face, ordinary and unmemorable. A housekeeper, he guessed, but she held out a hand and revealed a medal. He took it and saw it belonged to the Royal Navy. Seeing his approval, she proceeded upstairs. The room they entered was small, no more than thirty-five square feet. A pallet, narrow table and stool filled the space, but there was no occupant.
Disregarding this fact, a man’s voice spoke to them. “So we meet again.”
Barbossa swung around to confront an empty hall. The housekeeper pulled him into the room and shut the door, ignoring the blade he brandished before her face.
“I do ask you not hurt her. On the desk, if you would.”
He looked and saw nothing but a single candle and a human skull. A skull, a medal and that voice. Barbossa gasped. “You're that commodore? Were that commodore?” He took a moment to silently thank Calypso that she had not brought himself back to life in such a fashion.
The jawbone moved of its own accord, despite the lack of sinew or muscle. A single metal wire kept the piece attached to the rest of the skull, which kept it from falling off but didn't make up for the lack of muscle, or vocal chords. “The name is James Norrington. And of course, I know you by reputation, Captain Barbossa. Since I am no longer capable of wielding a sword or serving the empire, I hope this meeting shall be less tumultuous than ones before.”
He took a seat, and the housekeeper shuffled out the door, allowing it to creak shut. “How is this possible?”
“Says one man who came back from the dead to another. I do not know. One moment I was aboard the Dutchman, bleeding to death, and the next, I was washing ashore, unable to move any part of my body. You can imagine my dismay when I discovered this was because it wasn't there.”
“You know you’re in Singapore?”
“Yes. And I know Elizabeth controls the island. I once told her our fates were intertwined, though I never dreamed anything like this.”
“If you want me to reunite--”
“No!” he snapped, the movement causing him to tip over. Barbossa righted the skull. “Thank you. When I heard of your arrival, I asked for you personally. I have... memories... that do not belong to me. Memories that do not belong to any past I’ve read in history books.”
“A city made of gold, possessing mechanisms I could not have thought up in my wildest imagination or darkest nightmare. The inhabitants wield magic on a level such as we have never witnessed, not from the Aztecs, not from Davy Jones. And they are tunneling, Barbossa, deep under the surface, even beneath the ocean beds.”
“What are the tunnels for?”
“Nothing in the legend speaks of an army.”
“Nevertheless, they are coming here. When they strike, even the empire will fall.”
The whirl of the maelstrom flashed before his eyes, as did Beckett's visage moments before they blasted his ship into splinters. Nevertheless, to crush a nation that spanned the Earth would be a different task altogether. An impossible task, most would say. If Britain ever fell, it would not be at the hands of another nation, but of those within its borders, because no one else had the firepower or wealth to match.
“What am I supposed to do with this knowledge?”
“There is an aura about you that I can now see: the glow of magic. You and others here have been touched more deeply, and it calls them.”
“So they’re not coming to take the city. They’re coming for me?”
“And Elizabeth, Turner, Sparrow, all of you. The city is incidental and may not be harmed or taken at all. They are certainly capable of subtlety and subterfuge.”
“What do they want with us?”
“You will be either assimilated or destroyed. It makes no difference to their ultimate goals.”
All the more reason to find that fountain. “Apple?” he offered absent-mindedly as he withdrew one from his knapsack. Then he remembered what he was talking to. Norrington did a fantastic job of glaring, all things considered. “Right, of course.” He took a bite for himself. “Do you know anything about the fountain of youth?”
“You’re not saying ‘no’ because of my apple, are you?”
“That doesn’t help.”
“I’m not in the mood for word games, Barbossa.”
“Well, you look very good for a skull, and that’s the word of an expert. The curse and all.”
“Thank you,” Norrington replied wryly. “Now, you are their most obvious target, because without magic, you would not exist at all. And you have been touched by that curse. So leave the island immediately. As long as they’re hunting you, they will leave Elizabeth alone.”
Barbossa laughed. “So this is what it’s all about? You’re a skull, Norrington, and you’re still thinking with your dick.”
“With my heart.”
“You don’t have one of those either.”
“Leave, Barbossa. You’d be surprised what a skull can accomplish when commoners are so superstitious.”
“And what about you?”
“I will stay here to protect Elizabeth.”
“You’re magical too.”
“My guess is that stray magic from the tunneling caused my resurrection, giving me a glimpse into their world. If that is the case, then I am already a part of them and will not draw attention.”
“Maybe you’re a spy.”
“I’m giving them a great view, then.”
“You could come with me.”
Surprise emanated from the skull, and Barbossa wondered if that was part of the magic, the ability to transmit emotions in the absence of facial expressions, because he could feel his own heart beat faster and his eyebrows tried to creep up, though he didn’t let them.
“I think not.”
Barbossa shrugged. “Your loss, but you should know, Elizabeth’s dead.”
“What?” His jaw opened so wide he rolled over and off the table, bouncing against the wooden floor and onto the pallet. Barbossa retrieved him and secured him between the wall and candle to prevent further interruptions.
“She leapt off a cliff last night.”
“Into the ocean?”
“Oh. Then she’s not dead.”
“Why do people keep saying that?” He slapped the desk, dislodging the candlestick and sending the skull rolling away. “Arrrrgh.” This time, when the skull landed on the bedding, he left it there. “And if you tell me she’s the human incarnation of some lion god, I’ll throw you out the window.”
The emotions flowing from Norrington were unperturbed. He supposed not much could bother a skull. “Where did you hear such nonsense? Elizabeth and the sea belong together. It will not harm her.”
Barbossa paused, feeling his anger quail before shock. Why had he not realized that himself? “You’re right,” he said. “Of course.” He’d been the one who told her, so how had he not followed her line of reasoning? Well, because she was a half-suicidal madwoman, deny it though she might. Yet everything made sense. “You’ll have your wish granted. As soon as I spot Elizabeth’s heaving wet bodice on land again, I’ll be off this miserable island.”
The pang of anger at his remark vanished as he finished the sentence, replaced by a sort of haughty satisfaction. He was glad the emotional link did not work in reverse, or Norrington might become suspicious. “I’ll leave you to your retirement, then, Commodore.” That wiped away the smugness.
The housekeeper was outside the door when he left, and he wondered how much she had heard. It didn’t matter. He barely acknowledged her bow as he swept past.
The journey to the marketplace passed in a blur. If Norrington’s tale was true, he wanted the Black Pearl ready to cast off at any moment. Elizabeth’s little adventure would attract more attention than was healthy, but at the same time, there was no guarantee he would see her the moment she returned. Her own people swarmed the coastline, keeping watch all day and all night, and if they felt she needed time to “recover” then they could keep him out for at least a week. That was far too long, especially as he didn’t trust her not to leave without him. With a week’s head start, even the Black Pearl wouldn’t be able to give chase.
A solid wall blocked his way, causing him to run head first into a panel of wood. He backed away, cursing. Why was there a stall in the middle of the street? Then he noticed it was painted blue and stood blocking traffic, as though it had dropped from the sky.
“Well, begad,” he said softly. Too many legends were coming true today. What was a pirate supposed to do with immortality, gold and angels? Actually, a list was already growing ever-longer in his mind, but it was possible to have too much of a good thing. Aztec gold had taught him that.
Nevertheless, there was no ignoring facts, and the words “Police Box” were plainly emblazoned across the top of the box.
To Chapter 16: The Universe
Back to Chapter 14: What Happened Next
Summary: Timelines are in chaos as Ten breaks the time lock on the stolen Earth, the effects of the BRAIN factory battle reach Discworld and news of Elizabeth’s supposed suicide spreads across Singapore.