“Doctor, I hate to pressure you,” Jack called from his useless position between the computer and the assailant at the door, sounding like pressure was exactly what he intended, “but we could really use some of that nick-of-time magic right now.”
The Titan, just outside their meagre refuge, had pulled one corner of the heavy bronze barrier away from its weakening frame. It would be a matter of minutes before it was rid of it— and them.
“Two ticks!” he called back, moving with as much urgency and frenetic energy as he’d ever managed.
He aimed the sonic in a few more places, and was rewarded with the sound of booting circuitry. He jumped, cat-like, to his feet, only to have his traitorous legs nearly betray him before he ran back around to the monitor. Fingers flying furiously across the dust-caked keyboard, he searched for access to the Titans.
The corner of the reinforced door was slowly peeling back, and the Titan had made enough headway that they could see into the corridor beyond. Enormous metal fingers scrabbled through every few seconds for more purchase. It wouldn’t be long before the entire hand fit, and the shooting began anew. This time, if the Titan got through, they were almost assured they wouldn’t make it out alive.
Jack scrambled around the room, ignoring his pain, and looking for anything he could use against the giant killing machine. He seized a mouldering chair – which fell apart as soon as he lifted it from its ancient resting place. Well, it had been a desperate gamble anyway. He ran to the window, and pulled down the threadbare curtains, rod and all. He made short work of divesting the heavy pole of its shattered cloth coverings. Dashing to the door, he beat at the fingers every time they appeared. It probably would have been more effective if the thing outside were alive, and could feel pain. As it was, he was doing little to slow the progress of the machine pulling at the weak point, succeeding only in losing blood, and making himself lightheaded.
“It’s no damned good,” the Doctor called bitterly, frowning at the monitor, and yanking at his hair as if it were being deliberately uncooperative. “They aren’t linked into anything in the city’s data base! I could bloody route electricity to any pile of rubble you like, but something to save our skins? Asking too much, that is! The only useful thing I’ve found is a power source in Zeus Olympus, and that’s at the base of the bloody volcano!”
“So, were screwed?” Jack refused to believe it. Even in the face of thousands of Daleks, they’d come up with something. It had been a lousy something that had gotten him killed for the first of many times, but something, nonetheless.
The Doctor raked his hands down his face, and turned back to the monitor once more in desperation. “We’ll get out of this Jack.”
He abandoned finding a way to shut down the things intent on killing them, but kept typing furiously, looking for an escape route from their marble and bronze prison. It didn’t seem like there was any way out of the room, save the door under assault. No vent shafts, no attic access, nothing. Nothing but the windows, and a twenty metre death-drop to the ground. He began calculating the likelihood of survival, and what types of injuries he’d sustain if they jumped – not that Harkness couldn’t come back from such a thing, but his own mortality was a very real obstacle now that he no longer had a regeneration to spare.
He’d never regretted siphoning off his regeneration energy to help others, but it was seriously biting him in the arse at the moment.
Still, no matter what happened to him, he had to get Jack back to Cardiff, and the Tylers – all of them – to safety. So, he wasn’t done in. No. Not by any stretch. He was determined…
…and a determined Doctor was a very formidable thing.
He abandoned the console, and began fiddling with the sonic. Aiming it at the fingers Jack was pointlessly jousting with the ancient curtain rod, they watched as they lost their shape, and moulded into a solid mass of gold just inside the hole. The Titan tried to withdraw the deformed limb, but found the appendage stuck.
Harkness let out a yell that was somewhere between a laugh, and a victory cry, but it died in his throat when the robot ripped the damaged arm back through the small opening, leaving a gaping wound in the wall.
“Well,” the Doctor mused with wide eyes, and a sinking feeling in his gut, “that didn’t work quite as I planned.”
Jack appeared ready to murder him and be done with it. “Ya think?”
The silver view-port passing for a face appeared in the hole, almost tauntingly, before the arm that wasn’t a solid mass slowly reached in, and began prying.
“We’re going to have to jump, Jack.”
“I was afraid you were gonna say that,” the captain muttered darkly. “At least I won’t be full of holes when I come back. What about you? Superior biology gonna save your skin, or are you in for another regeneration?”
“No… I don’t exactly have one left,” he said as nonchalantly as possible, pulling the immortal man with him to the large, grime-caked windows. He busied himself with the screwdriver, trying to dislodge hundreds of years of dirt so that they could open it. He’d rather not be cut to ribbons if he could avoid it, and somehow jumping through windows had lost its appeal when one had once nearly stranded him in France.
“What, you’ve got a limit on them?”
“Yes,” he growled, not wishing to dwell on the subject. “On the energy it takes to do it, yes. We’re not all fixed points, Jack. Most species have inherent limitations. So, yes. Regeneration is limited. We get twelve, and I’ve used the energy for other things at times. Took some years off my life to do whatever needed to be done! Is that a crime? It’s mine, you know! I can—”
“What the hell, Doctor? What the hell are we gonna do?”
“We’re going to cross our fingers, Harkness.”
“No, we’re not.” Jack grabbed his arm to get his full attention. “You’re going to jump out on my back, and I’ll break your fall. I have nothing to worry about, you—”
The silence that suddenly filled the room was as frightening as the cacophony had been, and it cut Jack off, mid-thought.
The Titan had stopped peeling back the door, and there was no sign of the vibrating engines.
“What the hell?” Jack frowned.
“I don’t know. Maybe it has speech processors, and figured out we were going to jump?”
“Should we… shouldn’t we sneak out that way then?” he pointed at the mangled door and knitted his brows. “Or at least get away from the damn window?
“Give it a minute, let’s make sure they’ve actually moved off before we run out like clods.”
“Oh, my clever boys! I’m so happy to see you!”
The Alpha kept clutching at their arms to persuade herself she’d really found them, and that she wasn’t about to burn into time-fodder for an insane living chair.
“Wait, no!” she amended with an elbow into each of their ribs. “I’m cross with you! You two’re complete idiots! Wha’ the hell were you thinkin’ comin’ here? This is wha’ happens when no one listens to me! An’ wha‘ the hell happened to you Omega, eh? You look like someone whipped you while you were lyin’ about!” she hissed furiously.
They were crouching in a musty, wooden wardrobe, and waiting for a large group of the enthralled women to pass. They’d sonicked the handles, and, though it had been jiggled a few times, no one had tried to force her way in – yet.
“Rope burns…” Lios mumbled sheepishly as his sister fussed like a mother hen over the visible wounds with the whirring instrument. It wouldn’t do much, but he was grateful. It sped the healing, and eased the pain a bit.
“Right. Well,” she whispered in a softened manner, “we need to get to the inner cities. Tha’s where we’ll find the Doctor, an’ I said I’d be comin’ in after him. Who knows wha’ it’s like in there. My money’s on not good.”
She pulled down one of the garments surrounding them. Roughly shoving her arms into the heavy, velvet cloak, she fastened it at her neck and chest. She yanked down two more, and thrust them at Lios and Torin, rolling her eyes at Torin’s face of indignity in the highest.
“It’s temporary!” she reminded. “An’ better than wha’ you got on! Wha’ the hell’re you wearing, eh?”
Torin was all pout, but he put on the lady’s cloak without further complaint.
They pulled up their hoods, and prepared to stroll out into the thick of the confusion.
The Alpha aimed the sonic at the door handle, then stowed it back in her bodice as Torin didn’t have pockets. She opened the door, and the three siblings strolled out leisurely, pretending they belonged precisely where they had just been, and had every right to go exactly where they were going. That nearly always worked.
Success was not long, and, perhaps, the odds not in their favour.
They made it all the way into the main devotion hall where the altar housing the enormous, snarling, stone wolf presided over its worshipers. Escape seemed assured, until they neared the front entrance, and Selene was bumped. As she blocked the telepathic nudge at her shields, the collective mental alarm went up, and all attention snapped to the triplets.
The trio joined hands to minimise the risk of losing one another in the fray. They sprinted out the doors, swinging and kicking with free limbs, and shoving bodily, or, in one instance, the brothers swinging the entirety of their sister off her feet at the Olympians who tried to block them. They didn’t stop as they reached the street, though they had little clue where they were going.
TARDIS? Torin shot out to both, and pulled slightly at his sister’s hand to indicate the direction of the timeship.
No, I don’t have Mum’s key. She flushed at her stupidity in forgetting it as they ran full-tilt, although those who bathed her would have taken it off her anyway. We need to get to a cruiser or a teleport. Cruiser is better, but I’ve no idea where to look.
I do, Lios informed them.
Shock flitted over his siblings’ features.
Saw it in Clytie’s head when we put her out.
Despite his current exertion, his face betrayed the inner turmoil he felt at invading the mind of the girl he’d so fancied. He knit his brows, and couldn’t help projecting his feelings a bit to his siblings.
Brilliant! Torin grinned, and jumped over a bench in his path, doing a little mid-air twirl before landing.
The ever-suspicious Alpha locked eyes with her youngest brother questioningly. He reddened, and looked away.
Oh, sod it all, the Doctor was right! You were chatting up that ginger, weren’t you? That’s how she knew about me, Selene mentally huffed. You let your damned guard down!
I’m so, so sorry, Alpha. Lios looked thoroughly ashamed.
Her ire left her all at once, and she tightened her fingers around his. Gormless git, I can’t stay mad at you, can I? She was ruddy gorgeous, and I get it, alright? The Doctor’s words of admonishment rang in her ears. She was not his mother, nor was he a child. He was her brother, and it wasn’t as if she had navigated any of this mess perfectly. It’s not your fault, you couldn’t know, could you? Get us to the yard then.
He squeezed her hand back, but mentally retreated from her, nonetheless. The poisonous guilt building in his gut would not be assuaged by her reassurance, and he needed time to process.
The Olympians were swift. They kept the triplets running as fast as their legs would carry them, unlike most other species they’d had the pleasure of running from, and they were dead accurate in aim. Twice they were almost swallowed by golden nets, only ducking in the nick of time when the Alpha heard the faint, but tell-tale swish milliseconds before disaster. Still, the hesitation allowed a few to catch them up, and they had to fight their attackers off both physically, and telepathically while maintaining top speeds.
They had managed only the slightest lead on the mob, when they reached the all but abandoned shipyard.
Selene sonicked the lock on the chains, and Torin and Lios wrenched open the heavy bronze gate with a seldom-witnessed display of Time Lord brute strength.
They ran inside quickly, the brothers slamming the gates shut and throwing their bodies against them, while their sister reconnected the chains and locked them again. They trotted farther in as the throng reached the tall, bronze barrier, and finally allowed themselves a moment to stop.
They exchanged bewildered looks, which quickly morphed into dazzling grins.
This devolved into fits of wild laughter, and they launched themselves into each other’s arms.
“OI! SHUT UP!”
The Alpha’s laughter cut short as she grabbed both men to hurl them to the ground, and a net sailed over their heads.
“Right. Movin’ then! Go!”
They got to their feet, and ran into the hangar.
Inside were rows of sleek, metallic ships, shaped like arrowheads, with a clear cockpit at the very nose of the ship. They were all in various states of disrepair.
Apparently, travel of this sort hadn’t been used in quite some time.
The Doctor had said that all teleports went directly to the nearest inner city, and women weren’t allowed. Selene wondered if they did any travelling outside their home areas at all.
All of it was disheartening. These women the triplets were fleeing, were unwitting captives being used like pawns by a monster, and, as a result, they really hadn’t the time to rebuild any of the ships that could’ve helped save them.
A spark lit inside, some intangible agreement of determination, and they were off, each running between the rows to examine each craft for their best options. Their bond made it such that they shared what they learned as they searched, and they had a detailed layout of the hangar in three minutes, and sixteen seconds.
A ship, three spots in from the exit, was almost complete. It would only take roughly thirty minutes to put back into working order if they worked as quickly as they could.
They worked in a seemingly choreographed dance as the Beta wielded the sonic, reconnecting systems, soldering wires, and attaching parts, while the Alpha and Omega cannibalised the other spacecraft to bring him what he needed. They didn’t care how badly they damaged the other ships. They only needed the one to work.
A loud crash rang through the yard, and the three stopped mid-task to listen for a tick.
The mob was trying to batter down the gates.
Fantastic. The Alpha snapped them out if it. Move! Now! Go! Go! Go!
They poured on speed. They still had eight minutes and eleven seconds worth of work to complete, and they would need at least another six to calibrate once inside.
It would be so, so close.
Never going to get it in time. It’s impossible, the Beta lamented in flashes, over which neither of his siblings assumed he had any control.
Impossible doesn’t exist in our family, the Omega responded immediately. Don’t think. Just do it.
The Beta’s features hardened into an atypical, cold determination, and his fingers flew like they were possessed by lightning sprites.
Another ear-splitting crash was soon trailed by crunching metal, and shouting.
All three began frantically wielding spanners and connecting parts.
Finishing the last set of wires, they closed the hull as the last boom and clatter of the gates resounded, and the Olympian mob came pouring in.
The siblings launched themselves through the hatch, sealing the airlocks just as the hangar filled with angry, golden bodies.
The Alpha sprang into the cockpit, immediately experimentally flipping switches.
The console was arrayed behind the captain’s chair, and seemed to be facing the wrong direction for any sort of control with a view of one’s direction. It was strange, but she assumed it was a craft which required two to operate. Thank God, she had Torin.
“Can you fly it?” Lios asked, nervously eyeing the horde pummelling the ship outside.
“‘Course,” she answered testily, “I can fly anythin’, I jus’ need time, an’ tha’s somethin’ we’re a bit skint on, yeah?”
Torin was already under the panel, calibrating the hyper-drives, and trying to bring up the navigation systems. At least, if they could get the terrestrial maps, they could set the autopilot while Selene acclimated to the Olympic control systems.
Selene was milliseconds from putting a fist through some of the more delicate displays. Nothing was giving her any indication of how to get the stupid, glittery thing off the ground! She distinctly disliked being thwarted by a ship. Normally, they got on well, but, like so much on this stupid, stupid planet, it was all very confusing to her sensibilities. No throttle, nothing for steering, and nothing she touched was responding! It just sat there, motionless and dead, only it wasn’t! It was lit up like a tree at Christmastime! So why wasn’t it registering—
The Alpha stopped touching the control panel, and smacked herself on the forehead with a groan. Without further delay, she reached for a spindly golden headset, which she’d assumed was for external communication, and put it on. Two flat diodes rested at her temples, and she felt a tingle on her skin beneath.
“Actually, I’m supremely thick! Should’ve guessed right off from the layout, but…” she said with a grin as she climbed into the captain’s chair near the windshield. “Wha’ d’we know about these people, eh?”
Many fists pounded on the dusty glass, leaving trails of grime in their wake.
Lios just blinked at Selene in bewilderment. What could possibly inspire excitement and mirth at a moment like this?
“Telepathy,” she effused, pointing at the diodes on the headset. “The controls are telepathic!”
The engines roared to life as she gave the command, and the Olympians went scattering like rodents before a newly awakened cat.
Lios clung to the strange, rear console as they hovered, and rocked back and forth while she got her bearings. He hated being in any craft with his sister at the helm.
Torin, however, sported a lunatic grin as he slid himself from under the dusty computers. For him, this would be more fun than he’d had in years.
His brother’s expression made Li’s stomach clench.
Oh, they were in for it.
Neither young man could see the expression their sister wore as she gently eased them out of the hangar, and perhaps it was for the best. If the Omega had witnessed the look of unadulterated ecstasy on her beaming visage, he may have demanded to be thrown back to the mob.
She commanded the nav-systems to chart a course for the nearest capitol city, and they were slicing through the open sky like a golden arrow.
She didn’t care about anything in that moment.
She was flying again.
“Right. They’ve gone,” the Doctor announced while they cautiously peered out the clean spots they’d rubbed into the grime-covered pane. It seemed to be true. Seven whole minutes had elapsed without an attempt on their lives.
“Not complaining,” Jack replied as he tied the spangled fabric the Doctor had given him into a sling for his wounded arm, “but why?”
“Either they’re coming around to shoot us through the windows, or they found something else to kill,” he replied sagely. “Though, I imagine they’d have at least come around where we could see them if they were still bent on getting us. So…”
“So, they’re chasing someone else.”
“Your powers of deduction are astounding, Harkness.”
“Only if the universe hates me.”
Jack managed a weak chuckle, his head woozy from blood loss. “Does it?”
The walls around them shook as a sonic boom thundered through the air, shattering the windows before them. They ducked, and covered their heads as another, then another resounded through the city, followed by the unmistakable sound of large flying objects impacting the ground. The building shook with the force of the explosions.
The Doctor used his sonic to free the mangled door from its precarious position, allowing it to fall with a resounding clang. They stepped over it, and into the wrecked, but empty corridor.
Another sonic boom dislodged marble dust from the ceiling. It rained down on top of them, covering them in white, and making it appear as if each had aged substantially in a matter of moments.
The lower hall was deserted, not a single Titan remained.
They hurried down the bullet-riddled stairs to the ancient main doors, which were standing open, as another distinct crashing sound, and following explosion shook the building again.
Outside, tearing through the smoky early evening sky, a small fighter ship darted between the ruins at unbelievable speeds, as the remaining thirteen Death Engines gave a lively chase.
It was an incredible sight. Whoever the pilot was, he was bloody brilliant. More than half of the deadly machines lay in tangled masses, burning with blue fire, and asphyxiating, black smoke. Their carcasses littered the decaying city, some appearing to have collided with each other, others all but vaporised when they impacted the earth.
The noise was deafening. It assaulted their ears, and vibrated their bones mercilessly. Covering them did little to muffle the din; it was as steady and overwhelming as a tornado, threatening to make their ears bleed. The air was choked with the smells of burning things and stone dust, but neither the Doctor, nor Jack could do more than stand rooted, following the suicidal manoeuvrings of the glimmering ship weaving its way through the rubble of Apollo Zephyrus.
The pilot made a hairpin turn around a decaying temple, and one more Titan slammed into the columns, sending a mushroom cloud of blue fire and smoke billowing into the sky.
Another turn saw the fighter ship flying toward them fast enough to send them both sprawling on their backs.
As it passed overhead, the Doctor felt an unfamiliar nudge in his mind.
Keepin’ out of trouble then, Bow-tie?
For a moment, he was too disoriented to comprehend. He tugged at his sooty tie, and his eyes went wide, before he opened his mind to her.
You beautiful little terror! What took you so long? I was afraid you’d actually listened and gone back to the TARDIS!
Bit of trouble then?
We had to ditch a mob an’ nick a ride. Kid’s stuff.
The ship was flying almost straight up into the sky, turning barrel roll after barrel roll to avoid the line of fire. She wasn’t even attempting to engage them with her own weapons, merely letting them smash themselves to bits in their attempts to destroy her.
Suddenly, she plunged into a dive, and began rolling and swerving again. Jack nearly jumped into the Doctor’s lap when she came within metres of hitting the earth before she pulled up, and continued racing through the city, dangerously close to the ground. Four Titans were destroyed in the dive, and another skimmed too close to the ground, hit a marble column lying on its side, and slammed into a structure which collapsed on top of it. It blew up shortly after, sending chunks of stone flying in every direction.
You’re giving Jack a heart attack.
And, another close call just then! A loose column fell as the vibrations of their engines neared, and it came perilously close to ripping off her port side wing, missing by only 1.654 seconds. The split second of hesitation had allowed one of the Titans to get too close, and there was nothing he could do but watch in helpless agitation.
You’re giving me two.
Oi! Drivin’ here.
Watch your starboard!
I see ’em, old man. Keep your knickers clean.
Starboard, Alpha! Starboard! STARBOARD!
A Titan flanked her on the right, and had her locked in its sights. Soon, it was joined by another, and a third came up on her port. She had slowed so minutely that, had he not the superior sight he did, he’d never have noticed, but it was enough to allow the machines to manoeuvre into a deadly position by her wings, which was so very not good! Was she running out of fuel? Was something malfunctioning in the engine? His hearts, once again, felt like they were trying to escape his chest.
Are you alright? Alpha! What are you doing? What’s going on? Are you okay? Selene Tyler! They’re all around you!
Shut up a minute.
Three lasers fired simultaneously, and the Doctor and Jack’s screams were lost in the deafening cacophony surrounding them, but the ship pulled into nearly vertical ascension, and, with an incredible burst of speed, dodged the laser fire. The Titans hit each other instead, and the mid-air explosion destroyed another two, leaving only two of the originally nearly thirty killing machines.
This, frankly incredible, little nightmare of a girl had done that, and he’d never felt so proud or fond of her.
Last two, be careful.
Kinda busy, yeah?
Oi! You talked to me first! Blimey. You’re allowing—
Be sickenin’ later.
Perhaps fond wasn’t the right word.
She rolled and swerved for another few minutes, the remaining stubborn machines giving her several close calls with their heavy fire, before they finally collided when she dipped low to the ground again. As they tangled together, they slammed into a ruin only half a kilometre from where Jack and the Doctor watched, gobs hanging open. Debris rained all around them and they coughed and sputtered as the noxious fumes filled the area.
Burned-out courtyard two an’ a half kilometres south, she told him as she flew over their heads and sought a place to safely land.
The Doctor grabbed the Captain’s arm, and hauled him in the direction she’d flown.
“Doc, who the hell was that? Military? A pocket of resistance? Are there some men left here after all? Amazons? Was it the women who sent us here? What the hell is going on?” Jack shouted above the din of burning and crumbling rock.
The Doctor’s ears felt like they had flannel stuffed into them, but he laughed, “No, Harkness. That was our dear little Alpha.” He spun himself around with a little hop and a clap of his hands. “She and I were chatting! We talked, Jack!” His grin couldn’t get wider. He ran faster, leaving Jack behind with a stunned and horrified look on his face.
When the Doctor finally burst into the yard where she landed, he saw all three Tylers, and felt like he could do cartwheels. They were the cleverest Time Tots in the universe, they were.
Well, not really tots, no.
Hadn’t they just proven how incredibly capable, and grown-up they were? Saved his skin in the process too! Still, tots by comparison.
Terribly cocky, idiotically fearless, hopelessly reckless, utterly brilliant tots.
The Alpha was practically bouncing in place with a toothy grin, the likes of which he would never have believed her capable.
Torin, flushed and squirming with pent-up adrenaline, supported Lios by the shoulders while he was being violently sick into some bushes.
He jogged toward the three, shouting with joy.
“I’ve never been so happy to see your scowling face, Selene Tyler! You, reckless girl, are magnificent!”
“Careful, Doctor. You might slip, an’ say somethin’ you’ll end up regrettin’.”
“Where ever did you learn to fly like that? And how? You’ve never been inside an Olympic Fighter before, have you?”
“Anythin’s flyable once you know how it works.” She rolled her eyes, then let her face split into an expression of joy once again, unable to sustain the snark through her high. “We had a couple of short-range cruisers on our ship,” she told him enthusiastically while she bounced in place. “Dad took us out all the time. Never stopped bein’ fun for me, even after he was gone. Used to play a game we called ‘Dodge-me an’ Seeker’ with Torin in asteroid fields. It was like hide an’ seek, only with massive moving rocks, an’ mortal danger. Bloody loved it! Lios would distract Mum ‘cos, well,” she pointed at the vomiting young man, “he gets all ropy, an’ off we’d go! Nearly skinned us alive the few times she found out.” She laughed, and spun in a circle on one foot, landing with a flourish of her arms.
“I never caught her even once.” Torin beamed with pride as he pushed her shoulder, and looked at the plumes of black smoke from the burning piles of wreckage of the Titans. “Best pilot in the universe, my sister. I’m brilliant too, of course, but this one is ridiculous.”
“It was worth the skinning! Incredible! Well? What are we doing standing about? Where’s Harkness?”
“Selene!” Jack finally caught up, crashed himself into the Alpha, swept her off her feet in a one-armed bear hug, and swung her in a circle. “Selene! You’re insane! Do you understand how terrifying what you just did was?”
“‘M fine, Jack, we’re all fine—”
“And I didn’t even know it was you! You’re amazing! Don’t ever do that again! What is wrong with you? Don’t you know how close you came to—”
“—dying? I don’t know how easily you’d regenerate if you blew up, you idiot! God! That was just incredible! Never do it again! But it was incredible! What’s wrong with Lios?”
The Omega finally stopped being sick in the bushes, and sat down with his head between his legs. He’d taken off the heavy grey cloak, and cast it aside as he still had cold sweats. He was looking battered in every way, from the green pallor he had adopted during the ordeal he’d just survived, to the crusted wounds across his arms and torso. He half-lifted his head at the mention of his name, then let it drop when the effort only caused him to want to resume being sick.
“Never could stomach rough piloting,” Torin sniggered. “He’ll be fine in a mo’.”
“Rough?” the younger brother spluttered into his knees. “Rough? If that was rough, then what would you call utterly shattering?“
The curly-haired brother shook his head in mock disgust, and turned his attention to the eldest Time Lord. “What next, Doctor?”
“Now, we go to Zeus Olympus, the city at the base of the mountain to have a poke about! See if we can shut down the rest of the Titans remotely. Alpha,” he turned to her, reluctant to make the request, but it could prove vital to their success, “can you manage a repeat performance, should we need it?”
“Pfft, I was born for this, old man,” she retorted with a smug, sideways smile, ignoring the whimper from her youngest sibling, and the groan from Jack, then bounced on her heels. She was still buzzing with adrenaline, and felt like she could take on anything in that moment.
“Excellent! More mincing maniacal machinery then!” he exclaimed, then caught the horrified expression Lios wore. Whether it was the idea of enduring that kind of flight again, or the danger to his sister, the Doctor couldn’t tell, but he knew Lios was not happy about it. “Though—er—maybe I ought to do the flying and you lot handle the mainframe.”
“Never happenin’.” Selene folded her arms across her chest, not quite able to scowl, but her countenance sterner than before. “You’d be flattened in seconds.”
Lios shot her an angry look, to which she simply rolled her eyes.
“Jus’ take these gits, an’ I’ll manage the Titans.” She’d be damned if she let anyone else handle them. She knew she could keep them all as safe as possible if they’d just leave her to it.
“I am a rather brilliant pilot, you know. Technically, I taught you everything you know.” He ran a hand through his fringe while Torin caught his eye with a megawatt smile.
“Yeah? Fiver says I could make mince of you an’ the maniacal machinery, Bow-tie an’ Braces.”
“Oi! Leather and Eyebrows – though you are distinctly less leathery right now, aren’t you? What is that? A cloak? You wear braces, and bow-ties are cool.” He tugged lightly at his dust-coated accessory. “Make it ten in the next asteroid field.”
She tugged at the neck of the garment concealing her exposed body, suddenly more aware that she wasn’t in her accustomed armour. “You’re on, pensioner. I wear braces to hold up my trousers, not ‘cos they make me look cool. I am cool.”
“Oh, Tyler, just you wait. Prepare to learn a thing or twelve. Might want to take notes, actually.”
“Will you two shut up already?” Lios was still a bit green from his sister’s flying, and quite cranky. “Blimey, I think I liked it better when you didn’t get on!”
“Oi! Don’t get shirty! Don’t worry, Doctor. I’ll still hate you after I’ve taken your ten quid, no matter wha’ my git brother thinks.”
“No, you won’t,” The Doctor challenged playfully, his voice full of the confidence that he had surmounted the mountain, and it was all coasting from there.
“Oi! Shut it! Both of you!” Lios snapped once again. “Selene, I’m never, I mean never getting back in that ship with you bloody flying. Let the Doctor get us to the city. He knows where it is, and just… I’m never.”
The Doctor set the ship down a few kilometres outside the city walls. Despite his boasting, the foreign telepathic control system projecting the landscape into his head was jarring. He much preferred the smooth symbiosis of his TARDIS, who worked with him, but remained autonomous, and he was quite glad to leave it to the young woman who eagerly supplanted him in the captain’s chair—shooed him out like he was a clumsy toddler touching Mummy’s good china. His head ached. There was just something wrong with her.
The Capitol, too, was in a state of total devastation. He had no doubt they would come upon Titans, he just hoped they could sneak in without alerting any to their presence. If the Alpha didn’t have to risk another flight, so much the better.
She grudgingly agreed to stay grounded until she got an alert from one of them that they needed a distraction, but she seemed to be itching for another go.
Jack stayed behind with her, while the three male Time Lords skulked into the once-proud High Capitol City of Zeus Olympus.
The air in the place felt wrong — thick with some unknowable evil. Perhaps, it was simply anxiety pressing the warning that danger was imminent, but the Doctor doubted it. To him, it felt as though something was radiating disease; seeping madness into the atmosphere, like a cancerous heart pumping befouled blood into the very fabric of existence, and they were headed straight for it.
It didn’t bode well.
As he always found himself doing in uncomfortable situations, the Doctor covered his ill ease with chatter.
So, what happened to you boys? I turned around, and you were gone. Your sister nearly murdered me for it, you know. When she didn’t, I thought something was terribly wrong with her. Thought she might be drunk on Ambrosia. Wasn’t thankfully, but what happened?
Ate a bunch of the gold fruit. You didn’t say about that. Only the drink, Lios responded, remembering how he found Torin and smirking. Then he remembered that Clytie had duped him, and became sombre again.
Right. Should have mentioned, yes, but they don’t usually allow anyone to eat enough of it to make a difference. Sorry, chaps.
I nicked four before they knew what I was doing, Torin boasted, rather proud of himself, then this old bird and her mates nabbed me. Kept trying to poke about in my head, but I wouldn’t let them. They gave me a few more to eat, hoping I’d pass out, but I never did. The last time they tried, one came alone, and I caught her off guard by screaming in her head, then told her to sleep. Worked like a charm, he preened, catching the Doctor’s eye. Then, I found this git tied up in the room next to mine. We found the Alpha while we were in the scullery trying to clear the toxins. Bunch of the nutters were hauling her off to see their leader. Bloody weird when we found her, that was. The leader, I mean, not the nutters, although, I gather she’s a nutter too. The queen… thing. The queen is also a nutter. And a thing. They’re all nutters.
Lios sent a wave of gratitude to his brother for not embarrassing him, or mentioning that he’d had his mind invaded. He was still feeling violated, and thoroughly ashamed that he’d let a pretty face undo his sense.
Wait a tick, Lios sent and shared the memory of Clytie’s story by the river. But that can’t be entirely true, can it? We know the queen isn’t dead, even if she’s… different, and we know the Titans weren’t destroyed. She seemed so honest at the time…
The Doctor smiled gently at the young man. She likely was being honest. In that moment, she shared with you what she believed – and likely all of them believe when they aren’t being controlled. I doubt that girl is aware of what she’s doing half the time.
Lios nodded sadly, then got a determined look in his eye. The Doctor was right. None of them were necessarily evil or insidious. They weren’t in control, and that needed to be remedied.
You both keep talking about the High Lady like she’s grotesque, not just wicked. What was wrong with her?
Both brothers tensed and shuddered. Torin, who had been closer when they’d retrieved their sister, faltered a step, nearly falling on his face into a pile of rubble.
She… it… was sort of impaled on some kind of rock… but still alive… ish. And the rock was fusing to her body. You’ll have to talk to the Alpha, she talked to it. I can’t… I can’t describe it properly. We just got the hell out as fast as we could, but it felt… out of order. My time senses were going mad, and it was making me ill. Bit like this, actually… Why does it feel like we’re walking into hell? Torin shuddered again, the pervasive wrongness seeping into his very bones.
Maybe we are, the Doctor returned sombrely. He was concerned by Torin’s description to say the least.
What could be affecting the fabric of time so?
Why had Hera mangled herself in such a way, and how much was it affecting the current state of their location, some two hundred miles away?
How could he set any of it right?
How much more loss of life were they facing?
What could he do to minimise it?
He picked up his pace as they approached the centre of the city.
Again, the only building left intact was the main municipal pantheon, though this one was three times as large as the one he’d been trapped in earlier, and it jutted from the very mountain itself. Intangible corruption poured forth from its walls, and was emanating from somewhere within the summit.
They skulked around the broken stones and structures, until they were half a kilometre from the crumbling stairs.
The older Time Lord knew there would be Death Engines waiting for them inside.
He assessed the massive doors barring them from making a stealthy entrance. No holes in the sides of the building offered passage inside, and nothing he could discern offered any option but to take the plunge, and rely on the cleverness of their girl and Jack.
He mentally called to her, and anxiously awaited the sound of the fighter’s engines approaching. It didn’t take her long.
The Doctor turned to the boys and grinned, bravado covering his nerves.
He took off at a sprint up the steps, and wrenched the doors open with all his might. They groaned with their weight, moving laboriously, and sending showers of dirt and corrosion raining down upon them.
They were immediately greeted by the sounds of Titans coming to life.
The Doctor didn’t hesitate. He pulled the doors open fully, taking care to stay out of sight, then grabbed the two lads who were looking in at the deadly machines with awe and horror, and yanked them with him around the side of the building.
The Titans poured out into the air. There were so many more than had been in Apollo Zephyrus. At least thirty had already emerged and were already in fast pursuit of the Alpha, and more still were coming. In the end, no less than fifty-five Titans were hell-bent on annihilating the Olympic ship moving almost too fast to follow with the naked eye.
“Blimey, that’s terrifying to watch, innit?” Torin gaped as he clutched at his brother’s arm in fear for the third part of their collective whole. “Brilliant— but properly, properly scary.”
All colour drained once more from Lios’s face. He nodded once sharply, unable to tear his eyes from the danger into which his sister had so excitedly thrown herself and Jack.
“Come on, Tylers. Let’s do our bit,” the Doctor reminded gently.
He wanted to shut the things down as soon as possible. He didn’t like that she was facing almost double what she had before. He, too, worried that all her bravery and bluster wouldn’t be enough, and, more keenly, he feared they wouldn’t be in time to save her.
They ran into the hall and split up, checking every room for the mainframe.
Torin came upon it first, up two flights of stairs. “OI!” he called as they heard the first thunderous report followed by the sounds of burning from outside.
When he re-joined the younger man, the Doctor set himself to the task of dismantling the circuit board. Between the three of them, their amassed genius, and one sonic device of many brilliant uses, they had it running again in five minutes and six seconds.
The Doctor then endeavoured to crack the database while the brothers watched with bated breath. Every management system for this city – and all the others – became available to him in seconds, but he found nothing indicating a link to whatever controlled the Titans.
He slammed a fist against the keys, uttering a filthy curse in Gallifreyan.
The boys’ eyes went wide at the outburst in their shared tongue, but it was Lios who spoke first.
“I think it’s what we’re feeling,” he whispered tensely. “I don’t think they’re going to be connected into anything within the control of the former populace.”
The Doctor nodded curtly at the young Time Lord. He’d had the same thought, but was hoping it wouldn’t be the case – or that, at least, he could create a bridge between the two systems. However, no interface that registered in any scan could be linked to whatever directed them. “Nothing for it but to go in deeper, and find it.”
The volcanic mountain had been excavated to extend the building far into its heart. The volcano was long dead, but the walls were glassy obsidian, lending eerily to the feeling that they were travelling through the halls of hell itself.
They wandered through its labyrinth, allowing the sickening feeling to guide them while it wreaked havoc on their senses.
Lios stopped to retch a few times as they moved closer, and neither of the other men felt any better. It was horrible in every way. Their time senses felt dulled and muddied, and each of them developed a headache that increased in pressure the closer they got.
Whatever it was, lay behind a sinister, steel door, and every instinct was screaming at them to run and never look back.
Torin began heaving into a corner, soon followed by the already ropy Lios.
The Doctor steeled himself against his own nausea, and heaved the door open wide.
Red glow bathed him as he stood in the threshold, and beheld the barbarity before him. Cold knives pierced his hearts. He cried out in agony and outrage at the sight.
“What is that?” Torin had come up behind him, and was trying to make sense of it all.
“It’s a TARDIS… or… or it was a TARDIS once. It’s not… not any longer – not really, not in the way that my TARDIS is, thank all that is dear in the universe for that. This one is perverted. Its heart has been ripped out, and shoved away into this room to rot and ruin this world… and… eventually… all of existence with it. It was just… waiting for something to set it off…”
Torin and Lios stood frozen in revulsion.
“How… how did they? How could they do this? How could they… How?” Torin burned with rage as he looked at the glowing red core.
It looked like someone had been over zealous with an axe, ripped out her heart, and rammed wires into it to get it beating again. Living filament trailed onto the floor like severed veins, and tubes had been shoved into it in every direction, pumping in whatever was keeping it alive. The coral branched out in splintering spikes that searched for a connection to some unknowable entity.
Torin punched the stone wall next to him to get some—any of the rage out of his system.
“How could they?” the Doctor scoffed in his own righteous anger. “Time Lords treated their sentient ships like commodities. Soulless machines rather than living beings. Respect for life isn’t universal, and often the exception, not the rule, Tyler.”
“But it isn’t right! It isn’t fair! Who could do this? It isn’t okay! They shouldn’t get away with this! They can’t! Look at her! It’s…”
“It’s sick. And, it’s the same thing growing in the queen,” Lios whispered, then tore his eyes away, and ran to retch into a corner again.
Both his counterparts stiffened at the revelation.
Torin, too, looked ready to be sick again, and nodded weakly.
It was undeniable; something that could not be unseen. Somehow, the two entities had fused, and, while the heart beat here, protected by miles of peril in the form of robotic weapons and buried deep to prevent discovery, the brain resided elsewhere, plugged in to a telepathic being to control all life on this world.
The Doctor swallowed the fury threatening to overwhelm him, it would do very little to solve the issues at hand, and schooled his features into a mask of calm collectedness. “The kindest thing we can do now is put her out of her misery. But we must be very careful. This mountain houses a rift. Those tubes funnel rift energy into the core to keep her alive. We have to remove them without blowing her up, or alerting anything to what we’re doing.”
Neither young man replied, only moved behind him to do whatever he required of them. The Doctor was grateful for both their willingness, and their silence. Words hardly felt appropriate just then.
They worked as quickly as the older man dared, and when the final, red flicker of life left the mangled core, if more than one cheek was wet, no one mentioned it.
Several simultaneous explosions outside shook the ground. It was done then. They’d permanently disabled the Titans.
No one felt like celebrating.
“We can’t leave her here. We should look for any other pieces that might be hidden away. I’ll go with your sister and bring the TARDIS, but we can’t leave her here. Look what they’ve already done. Can’t risk more…”
The boys just nodded, and hurried from the room to begin their search.
The Doctor felt like his feet were lead weights as he dragged himself into the corridor. By the time he was halfway back through the passage, he was running. He couldn’t spend an extra second inside.
He burst into the waning daylight not a moment too soon. A grinning pair greeted him, waiting expectantly as they leaned against the silver ship. He didn’t return their smiles as he approached, and both quickly dispensed with their pleased demeanours.
The Alpha knitted her brows and eyed him. “Everythin’ alright? Wha’ happened? Where’re Torin an’ Lios?”
“No, everything is not alright,” the Doctor snapped. If she’d just… if she had just been smart enough to recognise… when she’d seen… “Everything is so far from alright, they’re practically in another universe from alright. Jack, go in and help the brothers. Alpha, take me to my TARDIS.”
“Yeah, alright,” she returned, concern colouring her tone. “Get in, but you’re talkin’ to me.”
“And who are you to make that sort of demand of me? When have you willingly given up anything I’ve asked?”
She recoiled as though he’d slapped her, but nodded, and shut her mouth, climbing back into the fighter without another word.
He took a minute outside with Jack, who didn’t chastise or berate him for his harsh words, only looked at him with tired, old eyes in a young face.
“It’s that bad.” It wasn’t a question.
“I’ve never seen anything like it, Jack,” he swallowed at the persistent lump in his throat. “It’s a mess I have to clean up too. I can’t just leave it to anyone else this time.”
“See you when you get back, Doc.”
They nodded at each other, the Captain heading inside the building, and the Doctor ducking into the ship.
A bit guiltily, he shuffled into a seated position as far from her as he could manage. How he longed for the endless corridors, and many hiding places in his TARDIS.
The Alpha was already setting the autopilot coordinates, and they took off in short order.
She didn’t speak to him for the first sixteen minutes, and eighteen seconds. He sat at one end of the cockpit, and she the other. Even his mind was completely barred and blocked. She broke the silence with a long-suffering huff.
“I’m assumin’ if anythin’ happened to my brothers, you’d tell me.”
He ignored her.
“I’m also assumin’ you want to be left alone to brood, an’ I get it, love a good brood, me, but I risked my neck a bit so you lot could do—whatever it is you did, an’ I think I deserve to know wha’ happened, yeah?”
“Little girl,” he bit out, “the universe doesn’t care about what you think you deserve, and neither do I.”
“Cheers. Tha’s quite enough of tha’ then.”
She stood up, closed the distance between them, then slumped down against the wall next to where he’d puddled himself. She grabbed his hand, and began massaging his palm while sending waves of calm and comfort. He tried to pull away, but she tightened her grip and continued.
“Dad liked this,” she told him softly. It was a voice he hadn’t heard her use. Tender. Kind. “Sometimes, after we’d almost been killed, or narrowly escaped the Shadow Proclamation – did you know ’bout tha’?”
He resolutely refused to look at her. Did she want him to feel worse? Or was that just her special talent?
“Torchwood got ’em on us,” she continued gently, without the accustomed accusatory tint. “Said we were fugitives who needed to be returned to Earth. Always had us on the run, Torchwood – even a hundred years after we left Earth, we never quite shook ’em. ‘Course, warrants with the Shadow Proclamation don’t expire, not ‘til sentence is served, an’ Judoon don’t care about anythin’ but orders an’ quotas.”
She kept her eyes on his palm as she kneaded, and he chanced a small look at her face. He saw only wistfulness, and… grief.
“Anyway, sometimes, after a really close call, an’ his heart was bein’ a bit dicky, I’d calm him down like this. He never wanted Mum to know, y’know? ‘Cos, we all made it… difficult enough on her most of the time— ‘s gotta be hard, y’know? Bein’ cooped on a ship for months with… people like us who need constant stimulation. Drove her batty, we did. So, he… he jus’ tried to make it better for her. But, he couldn’t keep it from us ‘cos we could hear it… the arrhythmia. The pace.”
The Doctor didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t, only relaxed in her grip, and allowed her to continue soothing him. She’d never make this better, just as he’d never make losing her father better, but it was something.
“When he died—” she hesitated, then let the words spill forth in a loquacious downpour, “when he died, I thought my whole world would shatter. Or, I dunno, stop. Felt like it should jus’ stop. But, everythin’ jus’ kept goin’ like it always does, an’ I was… so lost… I needed him to… to help me… I needed him to tell me wha’ to do, an’ how to be—oh, lord, I dunno, brave, or clever, or right. I needed him to tell me how to be perfect, ‘cos… ‘cos he was to me. Perfect. Totally perfect, y’know? He… but he died, an’ I had to figure it out myself. Couldn’t try’n be like Mum – I mean, let’s be honest, I’m nothin’ like Mum, wha’ever Jack says, tha’s Li, not me – but I could try to be as perfect as my dad.”
She stopped rubbing, and simply stared at his palm in her hands like it held all the secrets for which she so desperately searched.
“Be as brilliant, know everythin’, an’ exactly wha’ to do all the time,” she sighed. “Never works though, does it? Tryin’ to be perfect. The best. The cleverest, an’ the most right.”
She relinquished her hold on him, gently placing his hand back in his lap as he stared at her, though she studiously avoided his eye.
“‘S like a compulsion now though, innit? Gotta be the one tha’s always right. But I’m… not. I’m really not. ‘S really wha’ I was tryin’a say… an’ tha’… I’m sorry tha’… well, it must’ve been bad. An’, I’ll leave you alone now, but I’ll listen if you want too. So, yeah… I’m gonna check trajectories, an’ flight time estimates. O-over there.”
The Doctor watched her stand up, still without looking at him, and move to the backwards-facing console, mucking about with things which didn’t really need adjusting.
“You’re a good girl, Selene Tyler.”
“No, I’m not,” she said with a bitter chuckle, “an’ I’m not a nice girl either. I’m jus’ not heartsless, an’ you looked like… Doesn’t matter… never mind.”
He hesitated a moment before wordlessly offering her his memory of the last few hours.
She jumped into it without reluctance, and within minutes was slumped against the wall opposite him with her head in her hands. Her own guilt eating her alive.
The thing she’d denied help; the thing that she’d cursed, threatened, and disparaged mercilessly; the thing that had begged her to see justice done and restore it to its proper state of being, had been…
She felt broken. She felt enraged. She felt like a monster.
They didn’t move or speak during the remainder of the flight, nor did they speak while Selene landed the craft in the courtyard next to the TARDIS, nor when they entered the very alive timeship.
She practically ran to her young one, and he to his console where they each lay tender hands on their beloved friends, seeking reassurance and affirmation that they were safe and whole.
“Wha’ now then?” Her voice was hoary and heavy despite the silence they’d maintained.
“Now we go back to remove all traces of Time Lord technology from this planet, and see if we can’t salvage a woman’s life before she dies with the coral.”
“But wha’ about the one who did it? How do we find the one who brought her here, and tore her apart? I can’t leave this until we find him, an’ he pays for wha’ he’s done to tha’ ship— to these people…”
“No. Little chance of that for either of us, actually. We’ll put a damper on her telepathic field, and try to save her body, but we won’t be pursuing this any further than that, Alpha.”
“Wha’ about the people? Wha’ happens to them? Shouldn’t we be lookin’ for survivors in the inner cities?”
“How close did you come to dying today?”
“And how often?” There was no judgement, nor any shred of concern in his voice. He was merely making a point.
“Often enough, an’ close enough.”
“Knowing that, do you think there are any survivors?”
“Neither do I.”
“So, you’re tellin’ me tha’ all the males on this planet – this species – has been wiped out?”
“I’m almost certain of it.”
“I can’t accept tha’.”
He sighed, pushing his fringe back. “It’s not about what you can accept. It’s about what is, Tyler…”
“How the hell’d they even get a hold of it? I mean, who’d do tha’? Was it on purpose? How could a Time Lord ever allow his ship to be gutted like tha’?”
“When I was here last, no Time Lords had ever even set foot here. Diplomatic dealings were strained. There’s only one way this could have—”
“Wait,” she interrupted with brewing suspicion in her gravelly voice. “You’ve been here before?”
“Pretty well-travelled, actually. Not many populated places I haven’t.”
“So… It was…? Was it you then? Are you the reason there will never be another Olympian born here?”
“Tyler, no…” he placated, putting his hands in the air and taking a few steps toward her. “I am a man capable of many things. I’ve killed… billions… Caused… You can’t imagine… But, no. I didn’t cause this.”
She relaxed minutely as he closed the distance between them.
“I was here at least two centuries prior, before the Time War. And, as you see, my TARDIS is very much alive and whole, and I’ve only ever had the one. The Time Lord who caused this could only have been the Master. He was once in possession of several ships, and has never had much regard for their status as living things. Once, I’d never have believed it possible, but as you know, I met him again, twice. He must have come here after he escaped the Timelock.”
“So, then we go back an’ stop him when he gets here. Move it.”
“It doesn’t work like that.”
“‘Course it does. Fix this.”
“It doesn’t! We’re in the time stream now! We can’t go back! I wish more than anything we could, but we can’t!” he reasoned harshly. She was being wilfully dense. “But it’s more than that! Use your senses! What do you see?”
“Doesn’t matter! Fix this!” She shoved heavily against his chest. “You’re the bloody madman with the blue box who fixes these things! Do it!“
“What do you see?” he insisted, holding his ground against her indignant rage.
“What good is all of time an’ space if we don’t fix this?” She spun on her heel and made to move in the direction of the console.
He grabbed her shoulders, effectively stopping her on the spot, and nearly shouted in her face, “What do you see? With your time senses!” He shook her roughly. “Stop avoiding it!”
She stared into the Doctor’s eyes, pleading silently that he make it not the truth, hating how powerless he was admitting they truly were.
She dropped her gaze to her feet, and whispered, “‘S a fixed point. Not here. Not now. Before. ‘S rubbish.”
His grip softened, and before he gave it a second thought, he swept her into a gentle embrace.
“I’d give anything to stop them going through all that suffering and death, but the fact that now isn’t fixed is the good news, Selene Tyler, Time Lady of Leather and Eyebrows.”
He kissed her forehead gently.
“Even if we can’t ever give them back what they’ve lost, we can give them a future.”
She furrowed her brows, and cocked her head slightly.
“Looms, Tyler, looms.”
“So, tha’s it then? All females forever?”
“Until they either find a way to clone Y chromosomes, or breed with outsiders, yes. At least they can return to the inner cities to reclaim a bit of what they’ve lost.”
He let go of her, and walked back to his console.
“Right now, we need to focus on clearing up what we can, then we’ll deal with Lady Hera, and give them the loom schematics.”
He started the dematerialisation sequence, and took them back to the nightmare within the mountain.