Chapter 20: Down the Rabbit Hole

 


 

     “I think I’ll tell her she has to do the washing up for a year,” Torin chattered to the room at large, “and that we’ll be having her chocolate biscuits for a while. I bet she’s feeling bad enough to agree to it.”

     He was feeling confident, and, if he was honest, relieved after his sister’s phone call, and more than happy to take the opportunity to rub her nose in his self-satisfaction. He knew their sister was just being stupid. Lios worried too much. And he revelled in his superiority.

     “Do you remember when I took apart her useless robot cat, and she lorded it over me forever? This is much worse than that! What else can we use this for?” Torin was almost devilish in his glee as they began to materialise in London to rescue their wayward Time Lady.

     “No way,” Lios contradicted in a small voice. “I’m not touching that with a barge pole. That’s your funeral.”

     He felt he was far from any position to make demands of his sister. He shook his head at his brother’s insistence on playing with fire, and played with the settings on the new sonic screwdriver the Doctor had made for him. The instruments had delayed their departure some, but, as the Doctor was still unsure they were not facing some trouble, and they were travelling by time machine, it was a necessary deferment.

     This new sonic device was streamlined, with a blue diode, and perfectly weighted to his grip, but lacking the claw feature he’d put on Torin’s. Sure, the Doctor claimed it was a useful feature, but Lios also suspected the Doctor based his definition of “useful” on how cool it made you look when it flicked open – which was silly, and totally impractical… even if he possibly did, almost, maybe think it was slightly cool looking. Still, he was well pleased with his utilitarian model. The Alpha would take the mickey out of Torin every time she saw his for weeks, and he could remain aloof, which was excellent.

     His own relief that she was not lost to them could not be expressed. He would let Torin crow as much as he wanted, so long as they got her back, and all his fears were unfounded. A nagging doubt still ate at him. Why had he seen her timelines? They were vague shapes of vibrating string, sure, but he’d seen them all the same, even if he hadn’t been able to properly read them. The fear that this was a red herring meant to throw them off her scent persisted, but he pushed it away as well as he could. He’d overheard her voice on the line, hadn’t he? Selene was many things – secretive, insensitive, controlling, and adept at evasion – but a liar was not among them. At least, not when it came to them. She would omit, but rarely outright lie.

     “You lot don’t seem very concerned that she gave us little more information than, ‘I’m stuck, come get me,'” the Doctor mused from his position at the ship’s controls.

     “The TARDIS is a baby.” Torin shrugged, his lack of suspicion clear. “She gets knackered. We’ve been stuck before—weeell, actually, we would get stuck for a bit more often than we didn’t – and by that, I mean we always got stuck. Sometimes, for weeks.”

     “Why not just say the ship was knackered then? Why be vague?”

     “‘Cos that’s her, isn’t it?” Torin spat, still angry with Selene despite his jokes. “Boss of everyone, so why waste time explaining?”

     Lios shot him an indignant glare.

     “Er—well, not really, I mean, she’s not the boss of you, is she, Doctor? And she asks for input sometimes before calling the shots, but still calling the shots, isn’t she? She’s always been that way. Like she can’t be bothered with any way but hers.” He made a rude, two fingered gesture at his frowning brother. “I mean, you get used to it, don’t you?”

     “Torin!” Lios admonished. “She isn’t cruel.”

     “And we aren’t babies, Li! Why does she get the final say in everything, eh? I swear, she doesn’t even know she’s doing it, so I don’t even notice most of the time… I’m just used to never questioning it, and maybe she’s usually right anyway, or it’s what I would have done, so I don’t think about it… er…right… Like I was saying, it’s just how she is, so it’s probably not anything to worry about.” He fidgeted and smoothed his curly hair down at the sides.

     The Doctor moved away from the scanner to sit on the jump seat next to the younger man. “But what is it that she is ultimately trying to accomplish here? Lios, you promised me answers if I gave her a chance and she balked. Well, this is your sister, balking. Why go to Cardiff, then completely disappear, only to call from an un-land-able Tower of London? None of this makes sense, and your sister tends to be too fanatically meticulous to allow for this much random-ish-ness.”

     It was Torin who answered, whether it was to spare his brother more guilt, or he was still feeling rebellious, or the compulsion to talk simply became too great, the world may never know, but he launched into it with a seriousness he rarely exuded.

     “Do you remember the Gelth? ‘Course you do, what am I saying? The Gelth tried to come through the rift because they had been forced into their gaseous state by fallout from the Time War, yeah?”

The Doctor nodded thoughtfully.

     “Well, the Alpha is fairly positive – and by fairly positive, I mean she’s done the maths over, and over, and over, and is willing to try to pilot through it, potentially killing herself, and us, if she’s even slightly wrong – anyway, she’s positive she can use the rift like a sort of slingshot to make a small breach in the Timelock, because that’s where it comes out on the other side. Inside the Timelock. It’s a way into Gallifrey. All she’d need is a pinhole first, and Jack said he’d give it a go.”

     “What do you mean, ‘Jack said he’d give it a go?’ Give what a go?” the Doctor asked, horrified.

     “Making a pinhole, weren’t you listening?” Torin waved a lazy hand in his direction.

     “And just how is he supposed to accomplish that without accidentally ripping it wide open, and unleashing hell on the universe?”

     “Something about fixed point reverse polarity?” Torin squinted and rubbed his neck. “Something about neutron flow? No, not quite that. That’d be silly. Never mind I said that.”

     The Doctor was not impressed with his blasé attitude toward Selene’s foolhardy plan.

     “My attention wanders a bit when the Alpha neurotically plans. It’s bad enough when she forces us to research, I think I’d’ve been sectioned already if I listened to her half the time. You try living with that for a century. It’s out of order. Still,” he placated, he was discomfited by how upset the old man was becoming with it all, “Doctor, she took Jack with her to Cardiff and the rift, but called from London, not Gallifrey. Maybe her attempt went squiffy, or she wised up, and she’s crawling back with her tail tucked. I’m tellin’ you, all her biscuits, and all the washing up.”

     The TARDIS landed with a jolt that had each of them scrambling for a handhold.

     “I’m not convinced,” the Doctor growled, “but we’ll just have to go and see, won’t we?”

     He fully intended to stop her. He couldn’t believe she had been spending all that time sequestered with Harkness to formulate such dangerous idiocy.

     No wonder she’d been avoiding him.

     He would’ve nipped that utterly irresponsible idea in the bud.

     What the hell was wrong with that girl? It was like she had a death wish, and was bent on bringing everyone else with her. Like so many times before, though for vastly different reasons, he found himself desperately wishing for Rose. Perhaps she would know what to do with her daughter. Perhaps, she could bring her to reason, and help him show the young woman a better way of life. One very much without such lunatic notions as piloting a pan-dimensional being through a rift in the fabric of reality.

     They stepped out the doors to a scene familiar to only one of them.

     The Doctor frowned as he looked around the Powell Estates, then up at his Old Girl.

     “Not the Tower of London then?” Torin mused and Lios elbowed him. “Where are we?”

     “Powell Estates; London; Earth; year…” he glanced at his watch, his eyes widened dramatically before he shot a furtive look around the alley in which they’d landed, then grabbed the two and started steering them back to the TARDIS. “Right, we’ll land closer to the Tower! Closer is definitely, much more the place where we need to be. Come along, Tylers.”

     They didn’t argue and boarded the ship without a fuss.

     Lios, however, spoke up while the Doctor began throwing levers. “What year is it?”

     “It’s Bonfire Night, 2006.”

     “Powell Estates was where Mum grew up.”

     The Doctor stiffened.

     “Yes, it is, and I brought Rose home today to visit Jackie. I imagine we’re here right now, so this is us, leaving. Immediately.”

     “Mum is here? Now?”

     “Sorry, my boy, but you can’t see her.”

     Torin perked up. “Why not? We won’t make a fuss! We’ll just have a quick look—Li! That means Gran—”

     “Noooo! No, no, no!” the old man interrupted, furiously poking at the console before they could get any other bad ideas. “I can’t see you either, actually, and that’s why we’re going. Rose and Jackie would never be the wiser, but me? I’ll sense you.”

     “Why’d you land us here then?” Torin asked with unabashed amusement, unaware, as ever, of his rudeness.

     “I didn’t intend to!” he cried, defensive as ever of his driving, and the TARDIS’s habits of ignoring his wishes. “I set the coordinates your sister gave, and the TARDIS picked the parking spot! I’m sure it was just habit!”

     “Right, well, what happened today?” Lios prompted, ever the levellest head.

     “I left Rose and Jackie in the morning, watching EastEnders on telly, and jumped ahead four hours in the TARDIS, because, well, EastEnders… and Jackie, and so we could do the bonfires, and toffee apples sooner… I dropped her home at…” he glanced once more at his watch. “Right. Hurry up then!”

     All three started their mad dash, flipping switches, pushing buttons, and throwing levers to move the ship before running into the younger Doctor.

     When they’d finally started dematerialising, the Doctors expression went from focused urgency, to resigned, and annoyed.

     He let out a long-suffering sigh. “Well, I’m either going to make myself forget, or I change my mind at the last second. I feel almost foolish holding out any hope for the latter.”

     Materialisation seemed to take forever, as if the TARDIS was having a brilliant laugh at his expense. The Doctor glared at the time rotor, only just managing not to reach for his rubber mallet in retaliation. When the last of her wheezing finished, he ushered the two to the door as fast as he could manage.

     “Tylers, why don’t you go and have a quick look around, while I deal with—er—me? And I’m sure it goes without saying, but shields up, lads. No spoilers.”

     He knew he’d be dealing with a broody, slightly volatile, but Rose-having version of himself any moment. He tried not to resent that last bit. He didn’t remember this happening, after all. It wouldn’t do to squabble with himself, and make an impression. He just needed him to move on quickly, and forget it ever happened.

     The two boys nodded, and were out the doors the moment he finished speaking.

     Dark, close-cropped hair and a dark-leather clad frame entered one minute and eighteen seconds later.

     “Riskin’ a paradox, y’know?” the Northern burr sing-songed. One might assume he took pleasure in taking the mickey out of himself. “Thought I’d get smarter, but regeneration can be a dodgy process.”

     “Obviously,” the Doctor sniffed, feigning important distraction at the TARDIS’s console monitor. He’d put on Amelia’s glasses, and had his arms tucked behind his back in a show of his thorough insouciance at the appearance of another him from another time. “And you’re pretty thick as it is. I legged it. You gave chase. Who’s the idiot, then? Older is wiser, after all.”

     He turned, almost bored, to face the trespassing version of himself, with the stormy blue eyes that had so recently seen more hell than any one person should.

     “We both know you just wanted to see what kind of trouble I was getting up to, but you’ll simply have to wait ’til it’s your turn, won’t you?” He pulled the glasses to the end of his nose, and did his best to look down condescendingly on the younger him. That was always a sure-fire way of irritating the hell out of himself. It was why he’d always hated crossing his own timeline. A more introspective person might have gleaned something from this. “Off we pop then. Make sure to forget, I’d rather not have any new memories surface just now.” He shooed at him with limp hands, turning back to the gleaming console in a clear dismissal.

     Only, he didn’t take the hint, however not-so-subtly made.

     The younger man shifted on the balls of his feet, and looked around the console casually, blue eyes searching hungrily despite his cool demeanour.

     “Not even goin’ to ask about her?” the younger him posed with smooth nonchalance. “She… possibly still with us then? What were you doin’ near her flat? Takin’ her for a visit an’ get the date wrong? Or is she gone, an’ you were comin’ back to peep? How much older are you jus’? Mind, you’re a bit pretty, an’ appallin’ly young lookin’, but maybe she likes—”

     “Ah.”

     He clapped his hands together, spun back around, then pointed accusingly at himself—er, the other himself.

     “That’s why you’re here. A fishing expedition,” he straightened his bow-tie – to the horror of the man in leather – in a dignified, I’ve-so-many-better-things-to-get-on-with manner. “As if I’d give you the satisfaction.”

     “Right. Don’t do me any favours. Clearly, you’re a prat this go.”

     “Ah, well, I’ve gotten quite cranky in my old age, you know?” he sighed, pushing Amy’s glasses back up to their proper place. “Now, I know we’ve always been terrible at waiting for things, but you’re going to have to suck it and see this time. You really should forget this. As a matter of fact, I happen to know you do, so run along, jump ahead four hours, and go collect Rose Tyler before Jackie makes another inedible tea you’ll have to choke down.”

     “Tha’s never happenin’,” Daft Ears snorted, arms folded across his chest. “Tea with Jackie Tyler? Don’t much fancy bein’ slapped again, me. No, nor propositioned. If someone had told me Rose Tyler had a mother like tha’, I’d not’ve asked twice.”

     The older of them rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Yeah, you would.”

     The younger Doctor grinned infectiously.

     It was his “better-with-two, hand-holding-and-they-thought-I-was-her-bloke-and-not-her-dad, she-loved-the-new-planet, exploring-the-universe-for-fantastic-chips” smile.

     The older Doctor felt a familiar pang of longing. It’d been a long time since he’d even wanted to smile like that.

     “Really,” he snapped himself out of it, and tried, once again, to rid himself of… himself. “I’m not telling you anymore, I mean it! And this one’s mine, just go back to your Rose, and get your,” he gagged, “toffee apples. I’ve things to do! You’re not invited.”

     The Doctor in tweed slipped past the Doctor in leather and exited his ship. He walked a few paces, staring up at the old, majestic white building, rising into the grey morning a block from the alley where he’d parked. At least he’d nailed the landing. One thing gone right that day.

     The younger man flanked him, and did his own sensory assessment.

     “Wha’ is it then?”

     “The Tower of London, obviously.”

     “Somthin’ wrong there?”

     “No idea.”

     “Why’re you here?”

     “Got a call to—er—pick someone up,” he hedged.

     Big-ears snorted. “Turnin’ the TARDIS into a taxi service, are we?”

     “No…” He thought about how often River had summoned him to pick her up from who-the-hell-knows-where. “…Shut up. Why are you still here?”

     “Who?”

     “You, you great, leathery prat! Why are you still here?”

     “Tha’s polite. Height of manners, you.”

     “Manners have skipped our regenerations more often than not,” he pointed out with a smirk.

     Had he ever had them? He wasn’t sure. His eighth body started out well, but, well, after he’d been called back to Gallifrey…

     “No, you idiot, who are we meant to be collectin’?” his ninth self wheedled.

     “Like I’d tell you. And what do you mean ‘we?’ There is absolutely no ‘we,’ you’re leav—”

     “D’you smell tha’?”

     The older man sampled the air. “Dusty. Bit like limestone, wouldn’t you say?”

     The younger nodded, then strode toward the white tower, whipping out his sonic without another word.

     “Oi!” he called as he chased himself, “I told you to get out of it! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”

     There was something very wrong with him and that ridiculous grin that stretched from daft ear to daft ear. Wouldn’t he even listen to himself? Especially when the himself was older, and wiser, and saying very logical, paradox-avoiding things?

     But, of course, that’s what kind of man he was, wasn’t he?

     The Alpha was right, he was hopeless. An utterly daft git. And he tried very hard not to allow the giddy glee of very-bad-very-wrong impending adventure to distract him from the fact that he really should not go further with this…

     …but all the kids were out there…

     …and so was he.

     Well, better he was there to make sure nothing went squiffy, right?

     He hurried after himself and into…

     “UNIT?”

 

 


Chapter 21: Bad Wolf Rising


Chapter 19: Exodus


TPOLnew4-2

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