Aftershocks

I flicked on the sonic, lighting the way by its orange glow, leading us back to the engine bay, and the Chamber of Eternity. We hesitated outside the door – or that is to say, I did. I didn’t know what I was about to see. Nor did I want to.

I heard it, before anything else. The same moment the hatch had swung even marginally open, we heard it. That primal, agonised howl that pierced the soul and cast ice in its wake, never halting, never ceasing, echoing throughout the eons and across the parallels. If all else ceased to exist, that scream would still remain.

I gritted my teeth and stepped into the room, making sure that Ethereal and Lady Zephyros joined me.

Angel Demon was still contained inside Morpheus’ time field, and had hardly moved since I’d left. They had adopted the pose of crucifixion, head tipped back and mouth agape, wailing an infinite death throe. Their body was convulsing and racked in spasms of agony, but, due to the time dilation, they happened so slowly as to barely happen at all.

I endured their endless, tortuous note as long I could, in so doing keeping the others here as well. Then, at last, I swept from the room, allowed them out, and slammed the door closed. Even though the sound was stopped, still, we heard it. Scratched into my ear drums forevermore and carved into the surface of the universe.

I found my voice at last.

“Do you see?”

Two separate shakes of one similar head.

“Before I sent away the rest of CAUSE, I trapped Angel Demon in an entirely separate time field, generated by my engines. When they went in, they were alive, and would be quite literally until the end of time. Thanks to your intervention, E, Angel Demon is now also dead – and has been for about two years.”

“And unfortunate AD here perceives both.”

Morpheus will not let up his consumption, nor would I know how to do such a thing. Angel Demon shall be perpetually confined to a place outside Time, where there exists little more than the greatest insanity, the deepest level to madness, of a conflicted mind caught between existent, and not. A mind cannot, is not built to cope when it is both alive and dead. There are memories there, an entire two years of life to prove it, overlaying what should by now be a long-standing empty space in the continuum.

And somehow, both are true. This, my dears, is Schrödinger’s theory made real. Angel Demon actually can be perceived as both alive, and dead, and it is all AD has left to do but to scream.

I fixed Ethereal with a very level, very pointed, and very cold glare.

“Sound familiar?”

I received in turn an obvious so what? gesture.

“A perfect tormentor. You take the damage inflicted upon you, and gift it to somebody else.”

E: You say that like I’m supposed to care.

“Ethereal-“

E: What?! What kind of sympathy are you expecting here? I hated that ship, I hated that crew, I hated that indecisive unholy thing the most. And I hated those two wasted years looking for you. I thought I was free from my Father, and in for some grand adventure. Did you know the Daleks had you down as some nightmare war hero, some walking doomsday weapon? Not the glorified lost little boy, who’s only made it this far by luck alone.

I recoiled from her. “Wow. You know, you’re right about what you said earlier. People do change, although it doesn’t take 1500 years and twelve regenerations to learn that. All I needed was the time between the Riptide medical bay, and right now.”

A grotesque and terrible smirk then lined her face.

E: Got you good, didn’t I? I saw enough parallels to know that to get through to you, all it took was a helpless victim, and a cry for help. You may be a hapless and fortunate idiot, HH, but you do deliver. Now there’s no Riptide, no bandits, and Angel Demon gets my headaches. Finally, the universe cuts me a break.

“That’s what you think,” I muttered. “Perhaps I didn’t get across the severity, of the situation. My TARDIS is now infected with parallel probabilities and possibilities. I’m not going to stand here and explain to you why that’s such a bad thing, but there’s a reason we Timelords never perfected the means to travel between different worlds. Time travel within one universe is complicated enough. What you’ve done to Angel Demon, and so to my engines, has the unstoppable and downright certain capacity to break this time machine. And when a time machine breaks, things tend to go wrong…on an apocalyptic scale.”

I felt it, then. The floodgates had not opened, but permitted enough flashes of anger, and I had my first taste of it. FutureHH’s astronomical glare. When the fire and fury of an infinite and merciless universe roars through your chest, and your eyes blaze like new-born galaxies.

Ethereal took a step back.

I sighed.

“Anyway. Doesn’t matter anymore. Too late for you anyway. But you,” I said, pointing at Lady Zephyros, “have a lifetime of export invoices, freighter unions, office parties and crushing unfulfillment ahead of you.”

LZ: Wh-?

I brushed my hand against the nearest wall, reached out and found a door where there had previously been none. A section of piping and panelling swung outwards, and I lightly pushed the good Lady Zephyros back into the Westford toilets corridor.

I stepped out and joined her, letting the door close on Odyssey and Ethereal. Neither was a threat to the other. Both were equally as dead.

She just didn’t know it yet.

HH

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Decision

Lady Zephyros seized the Q.U.A.R.K, and deactivated Pause( ). Hesitating not a moment, before I could even react, Ethereal lunged forwards and activated the defence mainframe. LZ, beside her, was busying herself with reactivating all shielding, and initiated a lockdown alarm.

I fell back, away from them, mouth working and unable to say anything. We three saw and observed, in unison, as the grotesque and gaudy Riptide bore down on the Westford, screaming towards us like a fallen demon ready to strike – and then, it was blasted into atoms. A thin white beam cast by some unseen weapon struck the underside of the Riptide, and it dispersed like a popped bubble full of smoke. Full obliteration, in one shot.

Nothing hit the windows. Not even dust. There was nothing left of that ship that had once carried me. Nothing left of its loot. Or its crew.

I didn’t raise my voice.

“Both of you. With me. Right now.”

Whether it was the seriousness of my voice, whether it was the lack of anything better to do, I don’t know – but both versions of Ethereal/Lady Zepheros followed me out of the flight deck and back towards the main hall. Everyone had shifted to one side of the room, doing their level best to peer out of the windows at the sudden entertainment of atomised bandit ships. It did at least make our journey easier.

On my way I passed a rather bemused waiter, bearing a loft a tray of miniature burritos. I relieved him of the whole tray. He didn’t even notice. His hand remained where it was, fingers splayed upwards, holding nothing.

I’d already scoffed half of them by the time we returned to, and re-entered, Odyssey. They were annoyingly good. I would’ve eaten them all, were it not for what lay in waiting when I stepped back into the console room.

The tray clanged to the floor, scattering Mexican food. I ran forwards two steps before being forced back, an arm thrown across my face to protect from the flames. Odyssey’s console room had descended into a personalised pocket of Hell. Each and every light burned a warning and sinister crimson; several parts and features of the control panels had shattered into pieces of casing, wires and glass; and then there were the fires.

“Odyssey!”

HH…………help……………..me…………….

I went to run forwards again, but almost the entire hexagonal console was engulfed in fire, one growing and building strength in each passing second.

“Odyssey, shut down all power! All of it! Sever each and every connection with Morpheus!”

But-

“Do it! NOW!”

The lights died; the light did not, as the flames continued blazing. I wrenched a fire extinguisher from its designated pocket within the wall, and plunged forwards at the inferno, spraying white foam everywhere I could reach.

Moments later, the emptied extinguisher thumped to the floor beside me, and I, breathless, stood before my doused handiwork. One emergency light, powered by AA batteries, poorly lit the room a sickly, grey-blue. Our shadows rippled and blurred like cloth puppets against the far wall.

We were safe, and everything but.

I was doing my best to hold back fully-fledged maelstrom-worthy wrath of a Timelord. The words I just wanted to help will have to be etched on my tombstone, while I’m buried six feet under with nothing left to my name but a time machine which is – as of now – just a glorified cupboard. A huge and beautiful and dead thing.

The Westford had been under threat from the Riptide. With this level of anger surging through each available vein, I could make every person here dream of something so kind and merciful as death…

They were lucky I’d eaten.

Hangry is far worse.

“This,” I gasped, “is why we leave altering time to the professionals.”

Ethereal snorted, somewhere behind me.

E: If you’re the professional, I fear for the amateurs.

The floodgates holding back fury bowed outwards. I kicked the empty extinguisher aside and rounded on her.

“Hilarious. Abso-fucking-lutely hilarious. Do please continue to make jokes while I try and sort out this shit show you’ve started.”

E: Which you started?

A second fire almost broke out on my forehead. I spoke through clenched teeth. “How’s that?”

E: You stopped time.

“You asked me to.”

E: “That doesn’t make me liable.”

“You then unpausing it, destroying the ship and disrupting the natural progression – that, you are liable for.”

E: Disrupting the natural…? I say again, you stopped time.”

I clenched and unclenched my fists a few times. Took a deep breath. Blew air through my lips.

“And what about you? Lady Zephyros. Was this your intention all along?”

It took once glance at her to see the answer, even before she shook her head. She met neither of our gazes, staring resolutely at the floor.

How I wished, there and then, she had discovered Odyssey under entirely different circumstances. There were libraries in here to last her lifetimes; a chance to meet her favourite poets; to return to Earth; to indulge in the perks of a time machine much like H. G. Wells had wanted. Instead she was a young adult with the heart of a petrified child, trapped in the presence of two impossible horrors.

I released a long breath, and tried to soften my voice.

“You weren’t going to make an attack.”

Her hair ruffled and danced across her shoulders, led by one shake of her head.

“You just wanted to alert your Father, didn’t you?”

LZ: Yes.

My eyes panned left. To her future. “How times change.”

E: Oh, fuck off your ivory tower. People change, sweetheart. I’d have thought Mr Thirteen Lives would understand that.”

“Oh, Mr Thirteen Lives does. In fact there are a great many things which Mr Thirteen Lives understands. Things which you, clearly, do not.”

E snapped back at me.

E: Such as?”

For every action, there is an equal, and opposite, reaction. Newton’s Third Law. Lovely guy, Newton. Able to see beyond the limits of intelligence and turn a falling apple into a scientific theory, and a nice crumble. Let’s apply that rule to you, shall we? You wanted your own life back, and what you’ve actually done, is achieve the exact opposite. That’s one thing which you can never have.”

I registered her blank expression, and savoured drawing it out a few extra moments. When I spoke, it was barely loud enough to put a dent in the silence.

“I shall come to accept the consequences of my actions here today. If you refuse to acknowledge yours, then I’ll just have to show you.”

I turned on my heel, forming an internal route in my head; one I had made very recently. It was a source of great irritation that Odyssey’s shut down meant I couldn’t turn on the extractor fans. The interior stunk of ozone and burned wires. My desire to repair him superseded almost everything else.

Except this.

“Come with me.”

HH

Options

Ethereal physically recoiled, even throwing up her hands as though to shield herself.

E: You told me—!

“No, I didn’t.”

And, without truly thinking, I waved my hand and then activated Pause( ). Properly this time. The Riptide locked into place, suspended in space like a science fiction prop, and precisely as harmless.

“There. I have now.”

E: If you’re lying again-

“I’m not. Not this time. But I wanted you both to hear this, because this is it, E. Literally your ‘make it or break it’ moment.”

LZ: Who are you?

E: Er-

“She’s you. Just two different chapters ahead.” I strode in between them. “I on the other hand am a bad Samaritan, with good intentions.”

Two pole-positioned, identical confused expressions came my way, and I could not help but smile.

“Do you see, Ethereal? I didn’t need to Pause( ) anything. You took so long to decide, and you’re still deciding, even now.”

I stood alongside Zephyros and the security controls. “Either you raise an alarm, alert everyone, save the party and your father’s reputation…”

As one, we all glanced beyond the glass cockpit. The Riptide was (was) due to arrive any second.

“Or you don’t.”

LZ: What happens then?

I silently praised her for being the one who asked. These things are so much easier when they’re open-minded. Plus, that level of involvement meant for once I might be getting something right.

I held up my index finger. “The Riptide disembowels the main hall. Every party-goer, every employee and every member of your family dies – and that’s including you, I’m afraid – and they get a defenceless space station to plunder. And the wheels and cogs of economy and crime just keep on a-turning.”

“Or,” I said, holding up the opposite finger, “you take back your misdeed. The shields go back up, the Riptide fails to make a dent, and you return to the party. The universe won’t so much as blink. You accept a lifetime of grooming to be your Father’s successor, and live out the rest of your days unfulfilled and vehemently denying anything to do with some switched off shields.”

Ethereal stood a little straighter. Her dubiousness was falling away. With the pseudo-twins Ethereal and Zephyros staring at one another, like some poor attempt at a 3D mirror, my train of thought switched tracks.

“And then, a few years from now, rather than being kidnapped at Jyrrasi, the Daleks’ll probably send some other, unspeakable escort service after me.” I was bitterly reminded of the number of times Ethereal – in full chaos spectrum mode – had uttered the phrase ‘one dead Timelord.’

LZ: If you’re supposed to be dead…how can you be standing there?

I swept back into the conversation.

“Two choices. Two outcomes. In my universe,” I gestured to Ethereal, “you perceive choosing both. That’s what you’ve been deciding between for so long, E. A life you don’t want. And no life at all.”

My voice trailed away from me. I glanced off into the middle distance, just barely aware of absolutely anything. It hadn’t sounded quite so wrong until I’d said it out loud. I’d somehow finished a few crucial points early. I was still missing something. I made a brief, panic-stricken glance at Ethereal. Lady Zephyros, though, that forward thinker, lover of poetry, akin fan of classic sci/fi; she was the one who got there first.

LZ: That doesn’t make any sense.

“No. No, it doesn’t, does it? Sorry. I’m usually better than that. It has been a long time since I had a rest. Any chance I could get a pot of tea?”

E: HH.

“Alright, I’ll focus, I’ll…just, give me a minute.”

The Westford control deck fell away from me. Heavy concentration, for me, is a like a parallel universe all on its own.

Two different timelines fused together with one poor girl caught in the middle of that crude splice. Parallel possibilities are only ever birthed at the moment of decision, one line dividing into two or more.

This line had changed back into one.

But then….what unthinkable concept had the devastating power to do that? To create a third parallel, where neither of the decisions were made? An existence made from the purest uncertainty. Not the Daleks. Not even the Timelords, I don’t thi-

Then, I heard it. That terrible, rumbling twang. Like the ripples of a gigantic spring resuming its shape. Like steel cables snapping. Like striking a frozen lake.

I stared in horror at my hand. The right, the one that wore the Q.U.A.R.K.

The one that had Paused( ).

It was my turn to look guiltily at Ethereal.

E: What?

“Me. It was me, I think……I think I did this to you.”

She believed. Oh yes, she believed me. Almost immediately. Beings as old and pained as we are on a constant hunt for someone to blame. Confessions are well received, but when confronted with those responsible for our suffering, there’s minimal reserves of mercy, and swift turns to anger. Hers was much like my own, inflicted upon Angel Demon mere hours ago. I didn’t deserve sympathy; nor did she seem willing to provide it.

E: Talk fast.

I always do.

“It’s only a theory, but the best I’ve got going to far. When I hit Pause( ), time froze on a dividing moment in the timeline. As of right now, we’re teetering on a knife’s edge, unable to fall one side or the other.”

A second creak, louder this time, and exponentially more threatening. I swallowed, and kept going.

“Time wants to crack in half, and I’m holding that back. That build up of causality energy, that damage, has to go somewhere. Time needs to right itself. My guess is, either Time breaks, or you do – and in my great and endless experience, I think I know which option it will choose.”

Ethereal was reaching an impressive concoction of baffled rage. Lady Zephyros, by comparison, appeared to be attending a rather amusing science lecture.

I held up two index fingers again, their sides pressed together.

“This one timeline was meant to become two.” I moved my hands apart. “I’ve just forced them back together,” I said, pressing both digits together until my hands shook, “with you in the middle.”

I lowered my hands. “And I’m sorry. I truly am. But, I don’t know what to do.”

LZ: I do.

HH

… & Effect

A monstrosity of a space station, akin to a star-situated mansion /slash/ aircraft carrier, connected to a network of juggernaught import-export star liners, and heavy-class haulage freighters.

Work and home, all in one. And tonight, hosting “Storage and Haulage Expo International/Interdimensional 5054.”*

I parked Odyssey – now disguised as a grandfather clock – near the toilets, in a side corridor connected to a main hall. His chosen camouflage may have surprised me, until I saw our surroundings. Money lends ostentation, but never taste. This was not the typical spaceship interior of gleaming whites, and plastic panels. The corridor we had reached was mahogany, carpeted, painted, lit by wall sconces. A loud babble of voices – mostly posh – drifted through the partially open doorway. There was the faintest piquant aroma of assorted wines.

This was a slice of classic Earth, a very long way from home.

I stepped free of Odyssey, with Ethereal following behind.

E: This is the Westford. I’m back.

I turned my head. ”Ah, you’re already looking better.” Indeed, she did. Fully opaque for the first time since our introduction. “We’re in a past time, dated before your incident occurred. Neater timelines makes for a clearer mind, don’t you think?” I asked, watching her place fingertips to her forehead.

E: My thoughts. Thought. Singular.”

A blissful sense of peace was creeping into her features – the reception of several years of continuous sensory overload, suddenly brought to a halt. I’d had a taste of that, upon leaving the Time Vortex. Ethereal had on the familiar face of pessimism: enjoying her newfound peace, while anticipating its inevitable end.

E: Why have you brought me here?

”Cos this is it. Where journeys end, and an infinite number of them began.”

On cue, a young woman left the toilets. Her eyes had been cleared of tears, though the black, icicle-shaped make-up streaks remained. A cascade of long, brunette curly hair rested on her bare shoulders, the rest of her covered by a glistening and gorgeous evening gown.

She didn’t notice us as she passed and returned to the party. I’d extended Odyssey’s perception field, but believe she wouldn’t have noticed us, anyway.

”Come on. And, keep your head down. You’re already here once.”

Ethereal and I pushed through, entering a large, clamorous, but dignified gathering, hesitant at its edge like an explorer ready to embark into dangerous, unknown territory. Our charge had mingled with the crowd and disappeared from view – almost entirely. In a room of toffs sipping overpriced champagne and attendees serving food, she was the only one moving. Fast.

”Can I interest you, sir?”

A sneer and a moustache attached to an old man leant forwards, offering eatables upon a silver tray.

”I really do hate food on trays,” I said, swiping and scoffing a generous handful of something pasty and fish. It tasted wildly overpriced.

E: You just said…

”I also haven’t eaten since Hykar 9. Hunger overwrites double standards.” I snapped my fingers at the aghast attendee. “Now go away and come back with something meaty and spicy and wrapped into a tortilla.”

I seized Ethereal’s wrist and effectively dragged her through the throng of people. There were several knocked elbows, spilt drinks, cries of “Well, really!” – but we reached the door that she had used to leave, more or less without incident.

A few more corridors and hallways that could only have belonged to someone with a surname like Barrington-Smythe. Then, we reached an airlock, a relative portal between two different worlds, and expensive décor gave way to a typical, to-be-expected space age flight deck. Two curved desks of controls before a glass windscreen larger than a barn door.

She – and several seconds later, we – were the only ones in there.

That was less to-be-expected.

While the woman took to a nearby console, I kept myself and Ethereal to the shadow walls, within view of open space beyond the glass.

A ship blasted by overhead and dropped into view, its engine’s lighting the whole room in pulsing oranges. Its fast flight kept it moving, forcing its way through space much like she had navigated a crowd of philanthropists. There was no mistaking the unholy mechanisms tacked on the rear panels of the ship disappearing into the distance.

The Riptide.

E: Wait. Do that thing you did, stop time.

I glanced sidelong at her, and made one brief, casual wave of the hand. The other woman was frozen into place; a perfect statue, caught mid-reach, her hand suspended before a panic switch.

“Problem?”

E: I’m…I’m starting to remember.

“Well, take your time. It’s an important moment, isn’t it? Lady Zephyros,” I added, gesturing to the doppelgänger across the room. “Although, you go by a different name these days, right E?”

Ethereal crossed the room, then stopped short a small distance from the duplicate’s back. I couldn’t blame her. I wouldn’t have gotten much closer. It is never an easy feat to look into the face of a past self. There stood a person she had not remembered in years; had not seen in even more. And to gaze upon them, knowing in full, agonising detail, everything that is due to happen to them – and that you cannot. Say. A Thing – well….when E came back, the emotion controlling her was difficult to read. Pity, perhaps. Or jealousy.

”Born on Earth,” I narrated, too impatient to wait for her to get there herself. “Daughter to a wealthy father and heir to the Kane lineage. A writer of poetry, avid reader of H. G. Wells and Isaac Asimov. More than a little bit keen of star gazing.”

Ethereal was the stillest, and quietest, I had ever known her. Barely a single flicker racked her body.

”She was studying the constellations tonight, wasn’t she? Before the party. After all, life aboard an ever-drifting space station, there are always new ones to see. No matter how many times Father insists she get ready for the festivities. You just had to try and name them all.”

”And that was when you first saw the Riptide.”

Ethereal shook her head, though not in an act of denial. She could not negate what I was saying. I had read it. Not in Time, for once. In her own head.

Both versions of the same chapter.

“You didn’t warn them, did you?”

She slowly strolled back to her past self.

E: He’d already shouted at me, that night. Made his usual threats. Father Kane wasn’t a very patient man. Or a forgiving one.

”Like father, like daughter, in that regard.”

Ethereal rounded on me, aiming for offended. But what lurked in those eyes instead was hurt, and shame.

”The Riptide didn’t arrive here by accident, did it? You deactivated the cloaking devices. You deactivated the shields. Open season to the rest of the universe, and whatever bandit or bad guy got here first, well…it was their lucky day.”

Off in the distance, now the size of a miniature toy car, the Riptide curved, turned and began its first run.

”The Kane Enterprise drops off the market, and collapses. Your Father, made bankrupt and disgraced, takes his own life having admitted he was wrong. No more arguments. No more being told how to live. Pure, unhindered freedom.”

Ethereal went to look back.

”That was the plan, anyway.”

Lady Zephyros looked round.

LZ: What do you mean by that?

HH

*Which, I assure you, is just as glamorous as it sounds.

CAUSE…

Captain Sceptre, with the Unnamed Owl, collected the body of Spark Plug and vacated my TARDIS – both an occurrence, and a sentence, I could never have predicted.

”See you in Croatia,” I told him. He didn’t understand. I didn’t elaborate. I merely watched his colourful receding back, as a somewhat brave and loosely moral companion exited my life – for what could only ever be the penultimate time.

UO: Hoo.

”You too. I truly do hope you find your home world.”

UO: Hoo.

”I expect so.”

Then, they were gone.

Nearly.

There was still the matter of the fifth and final member of CAUSE.

Ethereal. She was, and was not, sitting in my very own armchair, simultaneously part of this universe, and some other distant parallel. I idly wondered if her unimpressed expression existed in both.

E: You promised me. You lied to me. You died. You joined the Daleks. You died again. You bought me a new hat?

Any and all sufferers of Fear Of Missing Out syndrome should certainly avoid Abstracts like our sorta-omnipresent friend here. She prattled on a little while longer, revealing more and more variations of this instance we foolishly label “present reality.” Some sounded fun. Others sounded horrific. More than a few were downright impossible. In this universe, anyway.

That alone makes me wistful.

“Yes,” I interrupted, “I did promise you. One of the “you’s” that is. No offence meant by this, but given recent developments, I’d like this particular chapter concluded as soon as possible.”

Which just starts the next one.

”Which I shall make as long and quiet and exceedingly boring as I can manage. Now, Odyssey, be a dear, and open up any and all files we have on Abstracts. Specifically; reharmonising one.”

Very well.

I knocked a few controls, putting my TARDIS back adrift through the continuums. Ethereal barely occupies a room, even at the best of times. I doubted her absence from the Riptide would be realised anytime soon.

Let’s see. An entry from the Gallifrey Archives reads: achieving stability is not in itself the challenge, but discovering how the instability initially occurred.

Ethereal had, by now, altered the plant pot next to her into a bigger plant, a dead one, a plastic one, a fluorescent one, an upside down one, and a bouquet of marshmallow daffodils. When I reached for one, they transposed into vampiric Venus fly traps. I kept my fingers, and decided I wasn’t very hungry.

“In layman’s terms?”

Tricky bit isn’t fixing her, my dear. It’s finding out what broke her in the first place. Usually a difficult question, with multiple, difficult answers.

”Or a flying city, deranged old prophets and an ocean of lighthouses…”

Concentrate.

“Right.” I beckoned for Ethereal to follow, and led her to the open space of floor between the hexagonal console, and the helm. She stood before me, still wearing that majestic evening gown that glittered like a sky choked with the stars, and still flickering between two realities, never fully opaque, never fully gone either.

“I need you to concentrate for me, now. Try your best to focus on this reality. Think about what happened from making this choice. Can you do that for me?”

Ethereal nodded. I returned it, and held both up both my hands, fingertips hovering near her cheeks.

“This shouldn’t hurt a bit. There may be some discomfort, but if it’s too much, tell me and we’ll stop. Agreed?”

A second, solemn nod.

“Okay. Close your eyes for me. There. Just, listen to my voice. Listen to the sounds of this room. Feel its floor beneath you. Breathe its air. You’ve heard the expression to be present. That’s what I need you to do. Focus, and make yourself real.

Mid-flicker, verging more solidly on this side of the space between worlds, I placed my hands to the corresponding sides of her head. There, I closed my eyes too, and began building the bridge between my mind, and hers.

“I’ll be quick as I can.”

I do truly hate this ability of ours. It’s too invasive, too impersonal for my taste. I for one wouldn’t want someone breaking and entering into the complex fortresses of my mind. But; desperate times, as they say…

I felt her tense beneath my touch, saw the flicker of discomfort without seeing it, as the connection was made. Ethereal gave no audible cue, but to my eyes at least, her mind opened to me like I’d stepped through a portal into an entirely new world.

Another reason I dislike this trick; openness must go both ways. I resolved to work fast, lest she start looking back; and already, a tell-tale itch behind my eyes meant she wasn’t standing on ceremony. Both were reading the other.

Fortunately, I’m a fast reader. I saw all there was to be found, and shattered the connection before any damage could be done. Then, just like that, my mind was heavier with knowledge that was never meant to be mine. A trick of the Timelords, those ancient thieves of existence’s greatest and most dangerous resource.

Information.

I had precisely what I needed.

HH

Reminded

I walked my familiar hallways and corridors, quietly reassured by their return into my life; but mostly, I walked with a faint sense of nausea, and a mind that fluttered and flickered and prickled and pulsed and did all it could to tear itself apart – for whatever stupid and pointless reason.

I had woken from a dream into a nightmare. A few centuries of blissful ignorance brought crashing down to a bedrock of cruel and relentless reality.

My Ninth Self was missing from my memory. An entire portion to my life deleted, and never noticed – because how easy is it to notice something that isn’t there? Over one thousand five hundred years of life, I believe myself entitled to lose a couple here and there.

And the Timelords were alive. Somewhere, elsewhere, lost in space and hopefully out of reaching distance – but still not dead.

One of these epiphanies on its own would have been more than enough, and yet I’d gained two for the same price; two whole armies barraging at the doors of my mental defences – which are fairly weak at the best of times.

And I was insanely fixated on which obsession would get through first.

Because that was the one that would probably kill me…

“Oh.”

I’d reached my console room, at last. On the opposite side of that hexagonal console; my plush, wing-backed armchair nestled among bookcases over-stuffed with reading material, and in close vicinity to a hot drinks machine. A singular slice of peace that I’d been heading towards.

Before that, however, was the remains of CAUSE. Captain Sceptre, Unnamed Owl, Ethereal (neither here nor there) and the quiet, lifeless and little body of Spark Plug. All heads – bar one obvious one – turned my way.

CS: How did you get in here so fast?

My eyes flicked to the console screen. A radar display showed a receding dot that was the Dalek ship. I, a previous I, was still on it. Ignorant to all that was about to be seen.

I released a long sigh. Now I see why my Future Self resents me so much…

“Ah yes – Odyssey, when you picked them up, you sent me a message.”

Did I?

“Yep. Cargo received. Continue as normal. Beware the word ‘ancestors’.”

…why did I say that?

“I don’t know, you just did. So, make sure that you do.”

CAUSE – or should that read CUE now? – were still watching me, quite intently. I went to address them, making no efforts to hide my weariness.

“So, let me take stock, here. Daleks hire you to kidnap a Timelord. You deliver said Timelord, fully aware that this delivery results in his death. Daleks betray you, try to kill you. Aforementioned Timelord then rescues you, and, manages to make it out alive.”

None of them met my eye.

“Saved, by your own victim. Not your best day, is it?”

I approached the console, keen to return to yet more familiarity, and to avoid those three saddened gazes – and yes, I do include the owl in that.

Console panels lit up to my touch. Random lights dimmed and brightened, speaking between them an encrypted language that only I can understand. There was a great sensation of homely warmth. Machine though he may be, Odyssey made the effort, making every part of himself welcome me back like an old friend.

It was too good, to be back.

”Y’see,” I said, looking ahead, not at them, “I don’t like being betrayed. Any ordinary man in my place might consider murder a decent vengeance, whereas I have technology, and imagination in my favour. Less than fifteen minutes ago I condemned your esteemed colleague Angel Demon to an almost infinitely long and painful demise, as fuel for my TARDIS. Who knows what terrible things I could inflict upon the rest of you?”

CS: I’m not usually one for begging.

I made my response by slamming a lever into place.

CS: And I know you Timelords aren’t ones for mercy.

Another slam. Perhaps even more deliberate this time. A few punched buttons.

CS: But. HH-

Odyssey took flight and landed within three seconds. A gentle hum, a slight dim to the lights. Several dimensions crossed like floors in an elevator.

Then silence fell upon the room. Even Odyssey appeared to be holding breaths he didn’t have.

”I think I’ve seen enough terrible things for today,” I said, quietly. I could feel the eyes on my back. I still did not turn to face them.

”I will come to regret what happened to your friend. They were a killer, a traitor, a liar…and a species I have never seen, nor even heard of before. They may have been the last of their kind. And I destroyed them.

“I had no right to make that judgement. To deny them, and the universe, their existence.”

A blast of rage fuelled me. I whirled on them; the Captain took a step back, put up his hands.

”But AD didn’t give me a fucking choice. Have you got that?”

The Captain nodded, breathless and unblinking under my glare, and the aim of one confronting forefinger pointed his way.

”I get to choose, with you. And I choose life.”

With the same hand, I snapped my fingers, and Odyssey’s rear hatchway descended open.

“Please. Don’t make me regret it.”

Captain Sceptre, Unnamed Owl now on his shoulder, moved to the open doorway and peered out. A brief hesitation, then his head swung back into my ship.

CS: That’s…

“Close your mouth, Captain, it does nothing to improve your looks. Yes, that is the Riptide. Intact, ship-shape, left to drift not long after AD and I left. Yours to keep.”

”Now. Get out.”

HH

Repurposed

All TARDISes are powered by a star, one usually captured during a Timelord’s childhood. It is kept in stasis, perpetually on the brink of collapsing into a black hole without ever being permitted that death. Its potential energy is what keeps my lights lit, my bath water hot, and my time machine traversing all there is to see of time and space.

‘Eternity’ was the name given to the star harnessed by Guardian. She suffered full collapse some time ago. I’m not entirely without poetic justice, mind. Eternity, now a fully fledged black hole, is contained within Odyssey’s prison deck, and is responsible for keeping no less than her old master imprisoned.

My new star, Morpheus, was captured not long after Odyssey and I were reunited. It was what I believed would be a perfect return to the antics of youth, and ideal transition into a new phase of life.

How wrong I was.

Anyway. The suspension mainframe and chrono-refractors expand Morpheus’ life-force, limit his entropy, and he shines and burns like a miniaturised sun, so slowly he can hardly be said to be living at all. His form – a roiling, volcanic core of flame encased in a thin shell of diamond – hangs bodily above the ring of eight large obelisks which generate the time shielding.


Odyssey had managed to catch and contain the Angel Demon/Dalek Elder hybrid in the Chamber of Eternity – out-dated and over-glorified title for the engine bay.

I let the Chamber hatchway clang shut behind me. Morpheus casts enough light by himself. Besides he and the columns, the Chamber is quite plain. It pays to be minimalistic. Time behaves differently in here. Anything left behind tends to get assimilated into Morpheus’ timeline.

And AD/DE had crash-landed between columns three and four. The Dalek was on its side, its metal frame buckled and crumpled in places, the two weapons were bent and twisted out of shape. In the fall, its head dome had tipped to one side, and both lamps and the eyestalk had smashed – shards of glass were strewn outwards in a small blast pattern. Its entire tank was being eaten alive by rust.

“A Dalek, inside my TARDIS. You should be honoured.”

The husk of what had once been the Dalek Elder remained silent, and broken, a sad metal shell from which rose a phantom of Angel Demon.

“I can’t say it’s the most unsettling thing I’ve seen so far,” I said, addressing a transparent hybrid of good and evil. “But, it is certainly as unexpected.”

Odyssey had agreed to my terms of a safe counsel – now I saw that wasn’t necessary. I stepped closer, inspecting the damage but keeping out of range of the columns. “Seems your time inside the Vortex was more damaging than my own.”

The Ghost of AD scrutinised me, their head titled to one side.

AD: You should be dead.

“A fairly decent diagnosis, I shouldn’t wonder.”

AD: No, you don’t understand. Never before have I seen so much trauma – so much darkness – inside the mind of one individual still breathing. Anyone sane would have taken their own life by now.

“Done it. Won’t catch me doing that again.”

I smiled, or grimaced, more accurately. Funny how flippancy and breeziness come to hurt, in moods like these. That’s when I know I’ve gone too far, laughing at the dark for so long it’s started laughing back.

“No, believe me, when I’m done here, I have a long overdue appointment with my armchair and a good book.”

AD: When you’re done here? Dalek shell or not, once I’ve gotten my full form back, I promise to put you out of your internalised misery. Who knows, maybe I’ll even take over yours?

The latter half of AD grinned. They’d become more real now, more opaque. One with Time and Space, once more.

Well, maybe more one than the other…

“Any last words?”

AD: See, you’ve gotten a little bit confused. I’m supposed to ask you that.

“AD, your time for asking questions and making threats is rapidly running out. Your time left for everything, for that matter. I recommend you make your last utterances something worthwhile.”

The first flicker of fear passed across their face, quickly replaced with rage.

AD: Who are you, to threaten me?

“Easy,” I said. “I’m your saviour.”

Morpheus rumbled. A rippling shockwave burst from his surface, reached the barrier cast by the columns, and dissipated. Bit of a miss-fire, quite harmless. For anyone on this side of the obelisks, anyway.

Angel Demon started to move, ever so gradually, backwards. Two seconds later, the wrecked corpse of the Dalek moved too.

“You told me you asked the Daleks for a way to finally die. Turns out, you asked the wrong bunch of homicidal maniacs.”

I gestured to the star, behind them.

“This here is Morpheus. He’s just caught you in his gravity field, and his own little pocket of Slow Time. It was a very bad place to land,” I advised, gesturing towards the crash damage.

You’re welcome.

“Morpheus here will absorb you into his energies, drain you of all your life-force, until his death throes eventually kill the pair of you. At which point, I will have released you from this troubling little thing called Life.”

“Now, this process shouldn’t take any more than…..ooh….a few million years? Give or take.”

Angel Demon didn’t speak. Probably couldn’t speak. They were part of his timeline now, and were having their own lifespan stretched out like a piece of old chewing gum. AD had been about five minutes from being 100% whole again. That’ll need a good few millennia, now. A century will pass before they so much as blink.

If there was mercy, I had none. If there was compassion, I did not feel it. I was too preoccupied, recalling the moment on the Dalek ship when AD had turned on me. In one split, heart-skipping second, one grating cry of EXTERMINATE, our plan to unite and escape together had shifted into yet another fight for survival.

Let down, once again.

“Y’see, I don’t like being betrayed. And I really don’t like giving second chances to people like you. Your kind have a tendency to repeat offenses.”

“And the reason I know that so completely, is because I am people like you.”

I turned on my heel, letting my coat billow around me.

“Hope you like being fuel.”

I left the room, with plans to deadlock it behind me. Then I could leave it in peace. That Chamber of Eternity, of Morpheus, of Angels and Demons, and of hatred.

Then I could work on a peace of my own…

HH

Coping Mechanisms

It was simpler to move on than I might have first realised. All I had to do was stop concentrating. Which, given the situation, was not so simple. Unfiltered time is unfiltered stimuli. But, wanting to leave then had me gone from that room, that blood-soaked den of nightmares, and forced myself back down the timeline…

“Have you seen my headphones anywhere?”

No. Not him. That’s not fair. There’s only so much I can take.

I closed my eyes, and let myself drift, and realised that while I could still hear them, without being able to see the events before me, I was free. Blind to the constantly shifting “present” I became like a leaf, following through the cyclical river of Time, weightless, yet still falling. Going somewhere. Always going somewhere. Believe in, understand, control Time, or do none of these – we are all of us going somewhere.

Except her, of course. If my predictions were correct, at the moment I stopped watching, her life was about to take its second, sudden swerve.

I was reaching my own conclusions about the woman in the vortex – or more accurately, doing my best to reach another one. A simpler one. One which didn’t quicken my heartbeat, and tear a yawning chasm of dread through my guts. I wanted to deny what was undoubtedly the truth, and the more I tried to do it, the ever more truthful it became.

There’s only ever one fathomable reason a human would be handed a Timelord’s fob watch…

The background cacophony of ever-shifting times hit an abrupt pause. My weightlessness reversed, yielding to slight pressure beneath me. I had landed on something, a surface that was comfortable, and soft…and smelt faintly of old books.

I opened my eyes. I was back, in somebody else’s bedroom this time. It was warmly lit by a standing corner lamp, and contained little more besides a large bed that I currently occupied, a bed-side table, and a bookcase overstuffed with reading material. The main thing missing was a wardrobe; plus any evidence of it actually being lived-in. The bed was made, neatly folded – until I’d arrived – and there were no clothes, no shoes, not even a pair of glasses on the bedside table.

What it did have, however, was a small, white statue of a giraffe.

I liked it immensely. It was just the right distraction, for just the right moment. I awkwardly rolled to one side, swung my feet off the bed, leant forward to retrieve/steal the item in question.

And hesitated with my hand outstretched. I could be forgiven for not realising while on the bed, it supported such things, but now that my feet were on the floor……

“Odyssey?”

I’m here, HH.

Always learn a ship by its vibrations. Always.

“It’s not often you use my name.”

It’s not often I find you crying, either.

I placed a hand gently to my face, and sure enough, had to wipe clear the traces of tears from my eyes.

“I’ll try not to make a habit of it.” The tears I removed were quickly replaced, and these too, I removed. I wasn’t sobbing. My eyes just didn’t seem able to stop. I inspected a drop balanced on the tip of my index finger.

“Make a note, Odyssey. It would appear I’ve finally found my breaking point.”

In full honesty, I’m just glad that I had found one to break. What I had seen/endured inside the Vortex……that was my life. My Time. All that I saw, first-hand, was all that I have done, and all that I shall do – and located somewhere in those two categories……

I’m not surprised. You have been adrift in the Time Vortex. Speaking as your personal vehicle, can I say I am a little offended by that?

“You may. It is good to see you again, Odyssey.”

I imagine it is, yes.

I sat back against the headboard, drew my knees up close, willed myself to stop trembling.

“Where am I right now?”

Your bedroom. I’m not surprised you don’t recognise it.

“No. I’m not really in the habit of sleeping.”

And with memories such as these, I doubt even the harshest of psychologists could blame me for that.

I had to phase around you, to catch you. Damn fortuitous landing. You could just have easily landed inside the engines.

Incidentally HH, and I know you’re probably not in a good place right now, but I’ve also picked up a human, an owl, an Abstract, a dead dwarf, and a Dalek. I feel we have some catching up to do.

“Contain the Dalek for now.”

Way ahead of you.

“Good. Thanks.”

We lapsed into a silence, in which I managed to force myself to stop crying. Haven’t shed tears for a long time now. I don’t think I’ve ever done it without realising, before. This can’t be my typical background state of trauma. My emotions are running on their own, separate track now.

This is something bigger. More potent.

Sensible beings would take this chance to rest, recalibrate, seek help from others. That’s even the advice I would give anyone feeling like I do now.

Yet it isn’t the same advice I’d follow.

“Odyssey, I need an audience with the Dalek. Can you arrange some way I can safely talk to it?”

Sure I can, but I think waiting a while might do you some good. Your heartbeats and cortisol levels are nearing critical.

“I can handle it,” I said, making efforts to get up again.

HH, please. Just this once, pause a moment, take some time for yourself…

“Odyssey.” I was already reaching for the door. “We both know, that’s never going to happen.”

HH

Whatever Happened to Number Nine?

A day of endings.

She was almost home.


The old man did not finish cleaning his hands; but at least stopped trying to clean them. Consecutive attempts with hot water and soap had not yet lifted the red stains, though some had shifted some to the stainless steel sink below. He dried them on his jacket’s front, inspected his handiwork, all too aware that even if and when those red marks faded, the colours would never leave his hands. They were too marked to begin with.

He snapped off the flow of hot water, leaving silence in its wake, save for the occasional faucet drip. It was somehow worse. Noise had been distraction. Accusation lurked in silence.

He could not stay in here, nor did he wish to stand in there, either.

The mirror above the basin was fogged over with steam, obscuring his reflection. That was a blessing, at least. This day had seen enough atrocities. He would forgo a revisit to the face of a murderer. Before the steam could clear, he removed a disc from his belt, similar in size and shape to a coaster. He activated it, let it reshape into its secondary form. Then a mask rested in his palm; black and featureless, save for the eye-holes.

Attire of the executioner.


Her craft landed in its designated rooftop bay – numbered nine. A roll of thunder boomed onto the city; its preceding lightning had been missed by the driver. She paused her hand in reaching for the door release. A few moments more couldn’t hurt, to allow the rain to let up a little bit and she wasn’t expected yet, anyway. An early finish to the workday had been a pleasant surprise. It was to be a surprise for them, too.

When the pattering water on the windshield lessened, if only to a minute degree, she heaved the release handle and stepped out into the open air. The hatch hadn’t even fully opened before she closed it once more, locked it with her thumbprint, and strode to the shelter beneath the covered porch.

An elevator was already there, as though waiting for her.


He had switched rooms. The bedroom was better, but had involved going past them to reach it. He’d kept his head up, even held his breath, on a chosen path around them that would not disturb their…remains.

In their chamber, he sat upon the end of the couple’s bed, with hands clasped tightly together and trembling shoulders. He resolved himself to only look at the floor between his feet, but even so, in the periphery of his vision he could see through the open door. The growing pool of crimson had spread, and its condemning edge was visible in the next room.

He swallowed dry. It had been so messy. Excessive, even. An act of immoral depravity, of which he would have preferred to consider himself incapable. But, much as he thought otherwise, and berated and despised himself – it had been necessary. It was truth. True to time. True to form, as it were. A moment where what has been given cannot be taken back.

The mildest headache came and went. His hand didn’t get close to his forehead before it departed. It bore no implication worth considering, and was forgotten in the next instant. A lock clicked, nearby and off to his left. He stood without thinking, impulse driving each muscles, moving him out of sight but just beyond the doorframe.


Angua Idr unlocked her front door, by use of retina scanner, and opened it in much the same way she had several hundred times before. In those brief, blissful moments, before her internal foundations shattered and her life fell inwards, she was able to note that their apartment was dark. She thought little of it. Rass liked to take their son for walks in the downtown parks most days, to teach all she knew of the flora and fauna. Angua smiled, for the last time, already planning the meal she would have ready for their return.

Then the door was fully open, light from the hallway cast into the living room, throwing her shadow across the carpet.

Then she could see. Rass and young Tyo weren’t out at the park, after all.

Then she screamed.


He moved fast. Age and experience had not worn his agility; if anything, had improved it. He’d already moved when the door was all the way open, and her wail of depthless, heart-tearing anguish lasted perhaps three seconds at best. He tore from the bedroom, threw the woman aside and slammed the door closed in three seamless movements. No-one heard her, though. He knew that with abject certainty.

Door closed, he turned back. The woman was already bleeding and bruised from having been forced across the room, had apparently fallen and hurt herself badly, and did not care in the slightest. Her belongings were dropped, scattered around her, on her hands and knees crawling towards the centre of the room. The carpet was sticky and stained by the pool of blood, seeping into her clothes as she sobbed and struggled towards what was left of her wife and son.

He had been thorough. Thoughtless, in some regards. Not in others. Their bodies were barely recognisable, the humanoid shape quite removed from them. But their heads, and their faces – for the most part, they were untouched. Verging on peaceful, even. And irrefutably identifiable.

He did not allow her to mourn, did not really allow her anything. In her prone postion, he reached down, seized the back of her neck and threw her back against the wall. The resounding thump was loud and solid. Rather than fall, she crumpled and slid down slowly, leaving a vertical trail of red through strands of hair. Still breathing. Still conscious, if only just. Mumbling incoherencies under rasping breaths. He dropped to his knees beside her, seized a handful of hair and brought their eyes in line. His spare hand brought a hand-gun into view, whereupon its barrel rested against her temple. She gazed back at him with empty eyes, her expression blank, and bleeding, her mouth still moving, making sounds without words. She was elsewhere, anywhere else except here, here with those pieces that only marginally resembled the people she loved most.

Satisfied she would stay there, he released his grip on her head. Her head rocked, but remained up, leaning against the wall. Her shock-widened eyes never left the surface of his mask, glaring, burning with hatred and unhidden terror. He ignored her, reaching into his pocket. A cold, metal weight came away in his grasp; this item was placed into her own hands, slack and open in her lap.


From the distant plane of grieving insanity, she brought her focus back, turning her attention into what this demon had given her. What she held was equally her own possession – taken by him, from the mantelpiece, not a few minutes before – and entirely meaningless. There was no sense nor reason left in her world, no understanding as to why someone would do something like this, and what lay in her hand made that desperate confusion even worse.

She was holding a pocket watch.

Cast to a Cosmic Wind

You don’t get to see one and a half a millenniums without also seeing things for what they truly are.

Inventors of Devastation Devices. Crooked, corrupt, incorrigible sellers of snake oil. Boasted a new line of star ships; ones with the ability to create inter-dimensional tears, and an intergalactic sticker price. Supercars of the galaxy, sure; vehicles for the types with a lot in their pockets but little dwelling in between.

Not just that. Not now I had the chance to see the tears for myself. The crew at Dev & Dev had succeeded in a line of ships capable of entering the Time Vortex. Unauthorised, quite unprotected and through use of phenomenal, dangerous force.

Not just the Timelords; all of creation got lucky. These unreliable ships had a reputation of catastrophic failure. And I don’t mean fuel leaks and shell ruptures, but pilots becoming their own grandfather, or managing to kill their past/future selves; in summary, unstitching themselves from existence. Spark Plug must have been one almighty technician, to make it actually work.

There are a great many things that the Timelords and I disagree on, but I concur that time travel should not be shared. Better that the keys to all of time and space are in the hands of just one set of rich, entitled and self-obsessed brats*…….


Inside the Time Vortex, when one is drowning in the stuff and cast to its cosmic winds, the great illusion that is “Time” collapses. A lifetime paradigm of perception hits an unexpected, downward slope. We experience, well, experience, at its actual rate. Millennia, into moments.

Douglas Adams said it best. “Time, is an illusion. Lunchtime, doubly so.”

The expression “my life flashed before my eyes” gets thrown around a lot. Inside the Vortex, my whole life passed me by. All of it. Past and Future. I did my best to close my eyes at the latter, admittedly with a warming sense of gratuity for there being some future in there. Kupari Bay with the disgraced Captain Sceptre, that was in there. And though I did my best to avoid spoilers, I should apparently beware a short-haired, one-armed female…

A lifetime is, however you slice it, a progression through moments. One follows the other, until you run out of them. Inside the Vortex, I lived and relived each and every single one of those moments, almost simultaneously, on an infinite repeat. Darkness gave way to rebirth in the same second and we went round, all over again.

To say I was getting a headache would be putting it mildly. We used to theorise, my fellow Gallifreyans, that anyone caught inside the Vortex without a vessel would suffer a swift, painful death. That could still remain to be true, though cause of death being nothing so glamorous as obliteration or atomic unravelling. The ceaseless sights and sounds blasting through my senses, the multitude of stresses and traumas no longer buried deep in the recesses of my history; I was seconds away from brain death, a new and intense form of epilepsy, or vomiting myself inside out.

Perhaps this is it, I thought to myself, in the darkness behind my eyes. I was straining to hear my own thoughts. Using them as a focal point did help, like fixating on one raindrop in a forest fire.

Now I become FutureHH. Hate him/me as I do, I think upon my future self often. I believe there to be one unfavourable mother of an event awaiting me. One that shall turn me into him. Living with that foreknowledge is getting to be exhausting. My fate awaits not around every corner, but any corner. As bad as it sounds, I don’t mind getting it over with.

The noise stopped; its following silence slammed into my eardrum so sharply I almost cried out. I hesitantly opened one eye, then the other. Time had stopped, too. Quite bizarrely, I was sitting inside someone’s bedroom.

Had to be from the Future side of things. I didn’t recognise anything.

Then I recalled my first flight through the ripped Vortex, back aboard the Riptide. I hadn’t just seen the interaction between the Captain and I.

I’d lived it.

HH

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