It’s Where My Daleks Hide

A bulkhead slid smoothly upwards and out of the way, symmetrically framing the Dalek Elder in a burst of light. Fresh air came after, in such a tantalising lack of aroma I almost fell over forwards.

“YOUR HOUR HAS LAPSED. WILL YOU COMPLY?”

I savoured several long breaths before answering, and blinked yet more after images from my weary eyes.

“And, what? Build you guys a TARDIS? Defy my ancestry, let you run rampant in the vortex and essentially construct a great big, gold-plated ‘Fuck You’ to the rest of creation? Actually, said like that, it does sound quite fun.”

“EVADING THE QUESTION WILL RESULT IN EXTERMINATION.”

“Anything does, in this bloody cathedral of bronze and no staircases.” I can always tell when I have a plan. For starters, I adopt this pose:

I linked my hands behind my hand, and leant forwards, staring down the barrel of the Elder’s eyestalk. “And I’d go down without a second thought, right Shouty? The twenty fifth skeleton in the closet, so to speak.”

“IF NECESSARY.”

“If necessary, he says. I suppose in a way, the Doctor did you a favour. Not too long ago, I’d be Attempt One Of Three to build you a TARDIS. Now it turns out, you’ve got a whole damn planet of contenders. If it’s all the same to you, I think I’ll leave it to them.”

I took a step back, taking care to stand where I blocked most of the doorway.

“You could even pick a few more off, while you’re there.” I slipped the Dalek a wink. “Just for me.”

“YOU HAVE MADE YOUR DECISION?”

“It would appear that I have.”

“THEN YOU SHALL PERISH UNDER MAXIMUM EXTERMINATION.”

Both gun-sticks twitched, taking aim, one for each heart.

“I probably would, yeah.” I held up a finger. “Alternatively,”

I side stepped, revealing Angel Demon behind me. Their form still wasn’t complete – in essence, a hologram of a horned, winged and utterly talon-ed Demon shot forwards. The Dalek Elder’s gun blasts passed through Angel Demon harmlessly, discharged and flared on the wall behind. Before any additional shots, Angel Demon reached the Elder and kept going. The demon-shroud shrank, re-sizing and transforming, fitting to the Elder’s size, before vanishing like mist. As though the murder machine had inhaled them, somehow.

The Dalek Elder twitched desperately, pointing every which way, gun-stalks roaming all over the place, and then completely stopped. It was like someone had flicked a switch. All movement halted, the eye and gun stalks drooped, and the Dalek Elder fell silent.

I took the opportunity to reclaim my sonic, scooping it up, enjoying the reassurance of its weight in my hand.

“How we getting on, Ay Dee?”

I waited, but the Dalek and the Demon stayed quiet. I was about to move, turn to their hopeless TARDIS console, maybe work towards crafting it into a trap of some form – when Angel Demon started screaming. They’d gotten control of the Elder, I knew that when the dome bulbs flashed, and the scream emitted like a power drill going through an electric blender. Apparently the Elder was no easy target.

“THERE’S SO MUCH DARKNESS IN HERE!”

A cold, sharp slice of guilt buried itself deep into my guts. “They’re manufactured that way, their entire biology is hatred. I’m so sorry.”

But the scream kept going, driven deep into my eardrums and several feet beyond that, almost to the point I wanted to throw up. In response, the main chamber door opened, allowing entrance to the two cannon-equipped weapon specialists Daleks.

With no measurable amount of hesitation, the Elder spun on the spot and unleashed extermination upon them both. Screaming ceased, the silence replaced by two impressive explosions. A plume of shards and dripping bits of Dalek decorated the walls. A sizeable chunk of tentacle missed me by inches. Its proceeding stench was something quite devastating.

“OKAY. THAT FEELS A BIT BETTER.”

“Have you gained control?”

“GETTING THERE.” Even through a Dalek voice modulator, I could hear the extertion. “BEAR IN MIND, I HAVEN’T DONE THIS IN A WHILE.”

I nodded. So long spent in her previous form, and now she was trying to claim a new one from a relative stronghold of hardwired evil. The physical equivalent of navigating the globe after a coma.

Don’t get too close, I thought. It’s dark inside.

But before long, the Dalek Elder’s movements slowed. The eyestalk’s red glow returned. And slowly swivelled onto me.

“GOT HIM.” It was my first experience of a Dalek sounding out of breath.

“How do you feel?”

“IT IS UNBELIEVABLY CRAMPED IN HERE.”

“Let’s not hang about then. Come on, back to the Riptide.”

Dalek Elder/Angel Demon didn’t move. Its red glare motionlessly bored into the back of my head. There was also a discernible shift in the background throb of the shared Dalek heartbeat. Its pace ever-so-slightly quickened.

“I HAVE FULL CONTROL.”

My grip on the sonic tightened. I recognise that tone of voice, Dalek-ified or not. The small, open-ended expression that precedes the arrival of a dark and dangerous idea. Sure enough, DE/AD rumbled forwards, moving me back towards the wall.

“GUESS I DON’T NEED YOU AFTER ALL.”

“I would strongly suggest you reconsider.”

“WHY? YOU WERE RIGHT. THE TIMELORDS WON’T FIND YOU HERE.”

I glanced to the door. Not too far, enough distance to outrun a Dalek maybe, but not one of their gun blasts.

“FOR THAT MATTER, NO ONE WILL.”

My world suddenly became nothing but the red Hellish glare of its eyestalk.

When you feel its heat, look into its eyes.

“EXTERMINATE.”

It’s where its demons hide…

HH

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A Dalek’s Legacy

“I’ve been meaning to ask you something.”

Angel Demon and I had time to kill, before the time came to initiate one hastily prepared plan, on top of another one. Their corporeal possession/return to physical form had halted, unfinished, leading to a corpse whose decay was so far gone, it was now coming back the opposite way.

An unfortunate, haunting necessity, when they planned to inhabit another body so soon.

AD: If you must.

We were sitting opposite one another, on the floor, leaning against the wall quite casually – their pose made mandatory – as though we were a pair of stowaways passing time between warps.

“Back on the Riptide, Spark Plug told me the Daleks offered you gifts, in exchange for me.”

AD: They did.

“I mean frankly, that’s outrageous. I’m worth a hell of a lot less than the gem he’d been given, let alone four other bounties on top of that. The last time I was kidnapped, my escort paid their contractor to take me off their hands.*”

AD: I find that unbelievably easy to believe.

“Bribery in general is strange Dalek behaviour,” I went on, thinking aloud. “Although, in fairness, they did plan to kill you upon exchange. Step two, likely intent to steal the rewards back.”

AD: Does seem that way.

Spoken in the ultra-clear intention of ending the conversation in as few words as possible.

I tend to throw mud into waters like those.

“What I want to know is, what else did they offer?” They are masters of manipulation, and their creativity is – more than often – absolutely fascinating.

Angel Demon raised one skeletal arm, that promptly fell off. They raised the other, more slowly this time, and ticked the items off their borrowed fingers. Each one crunched.

AD: Sceptre wanted information regarding his father. They gave the owl a promised means to return home. Spark Plug, some precious stone.

“A magpie at heart, bless him.”

AD: And Ethereal, a means to become whole again.

The arm dropped, and fell off too. AD’s original arms, translucent, stayed in place.

AD: Ethereal was the only one to deny her gift. She kept saying, she’d seen it elsewhere.

“Me?”

AD: She didn’t say.

“Hmm. I did promise her that I’d help her. Provided she finds her way back, I will honour it.”

I cannot deny, I’d checked all the way along to the fake-TARDIS room, and still occasionally rechecked every corner of our vault. The flickering, indecisive afterimage of Ethereal had yet to appear……then disappear, then reappear, etc.

“And what about you, Ay Dee? What did the murdery machines promise you?”

AD: Tickets to see Panic! At the Disco live.

“You’re kidding?”

AD: That’s what I asked for. Their original offer was to kill me, they gave me that as a unbreakable, bona fide guarantee.

“Cheapskates. That’s nothing special. I mean, that’s their default promise to anyone. Still, at least you get a chance to re-gift.”

AD: I was willing to listen. It’ll take a lot, more than a lot, to kill me. I don’t always come back by choice.

“I know the feeling.”

AD got their wish, and we reverted to a mutual silence. I checked the Q.U.A.R.K, forgetting it was our main source of illumination. I blinked a retina burn shaped like Antarctica out of the way, and informed Angel Demon we had less than ten minutes left. Then the Dalek Elder would return.

AD: Ten minutes until freedom.

I grunted, noncommittally.

AD: What, you’d rather stay here?

“Locked up as a prisoner on a Dalek rebellion warship? Not many other places much safer than that. None of them would come looking for me, here.”

AD: You’re referring to the Timelords.

Oh the joys of telepathic companions – conversation lengths drop by about half.

AD: Surely the race I’m currently inhabiting can’t be any worse than the race that put them here.

I chuckled softly to myself. “I think I respect the Daleks more than I do my own race.”

Angel Demon looked suitably surprised; then again, their vessel had an unhinged jaw.

“I mean, at least they’re up-front and honest about their intentions. They don’t cry “We are the supreme beings” for fun. Timelords are far more dangerous than that. They have the audacity to promote themselves as benevolent, caring, protectors of the universe – and then spend their time killing parts of it, in new and exciting, unimaginable ways.”

I rested my chin in my palm.

“I think it may have even reached the point where they actually believe their own lies.”

AD: They haven’t found you yet.

“Oh they will, believe me, they will.”

There came a distant, muffled slam; followed by a dull hum increasing in volume. Our warden, come to negotiate. I moved away from the vault door.

“Until then.”

Then I switched off the light.

HH

* Hysterical story, perhaps, but true. I’d never been kidnapped before and so wasn’t sure on the proper way to behave. I settled on rants about my favourite authors, and singing my best Power Ballads as loudly as possible, for four hours.

Lived, Living, Livid

As I watched, in a mixture of horrified interest, shouty Victim One became even more three-dimensional. Their hollow skeleton grew a new, crimson coloured skin, though one that was semi-opaque – it was possible to still see the bones underneath. From its back, there came four translucent wings. Its hollow, bottomless eye sockets were, gratefully, filled with two yellow orbs.

Twenty three dead Timelords, and a half-finished Angel Demon.

“At last, a Timelord with their true nature on the outside,” I commented.

Their face wasn’t entirely all there, but I knew a scowl when I saw it.

“A better man than me might say that he’s sorry for your loss. What I’ll say, however, is I told you so.”

AD: Thank you, for conforming to character.

Their words moved the skull, but flesh hadn’t fully formed. Sounds of teeth against teeth and bone clicking on bone made my own skin crawl.

AD: You must have the last victory, mustn’t you? An old veteran, through and through.

“No no no, you don’t get to take the moral high-ground, alright? I can actually forgive you, for kidnapping me, being handed over to the Daleks. They are fantastic liars, their ancestral skill in manipulation is only just outmatched by ours. What I will not forgive is me giving you the chance to escape, for all of you to live, and you ignoring it. I warned you about the Daleks when we landed, and yet, here we are. Or aren’t, actually. If all five of you are going to throw your lives away like that, fine, it’s your decision, but I am not the one to blame.”

I feel both hearts beating hard beneath my t-shirt, my skin getting hotter.

Several lifetimes of warfare, you must stand by the kills you did make, but will remain adamant about those you didn’t. It’s best to keep the bad figures as low as possible.

And the Angel Demon’s face changed, then, into an expression I can recognise even faster than a scowl. Our steady gaze broke at their end, their eyes for the floor, alone. There is no weight quite like shame.

Having caused harm to one left to grieve, though, I got a bitter taste of my own.

“For what it’s worth,” I added, quietly, “I got the others out. The Captain, the owl, Ethereal – well, who knows with that one – but they’re with me, safe, in the future somewhere, I promise. If you help me, you will get to see them again.”

AD: Job’s done. Once I’m out of here, they’ll never see me again.

“I don’t believe that. But, either way, you need out first. You help me, I can drop you off, any place, any time. I give you my word.”

Their head rose, they rejoined me speaking eye-to-eye.

AD: Why would you help me?

“Because,” I said, and shrugged. “Because, I’ve been where you are. I’ve been lied to, I’ve trusted the wrong people, and ever since then, every passing day I get just a little bit closer to finding peace. I’ve had to claw my way to freedom, and I would have given anything for a way out. Maybe, just maybe, it was all worth it, if I can offer it to someone else.

“Because I’m trying to be better.

“And,” I added, “without wishing to detract from all that, I don’t really have another option. You appearing here is my best chance, I admit that freely, but is one I will return, in full.”

Angel Demon stayed quiet, looking away from me again. I allowed it. I wasn’t going to be the one to break that silence. I still had most of my hour left to wait, after all.

AD: I knew you were in here.

They spoke so quietly, I had to request a repeat.

“Okay. So…? Oh.” Understanding arrived, with a warm sense of relief added in, like a hot chocolate liqueur. Nothing better aids an escape plan than an equally desperate accomplice.

“Desperate times, and measures. They come to us all.”

AD: If we could get past this bit quickly, I’d appreciate it. I don’t think I’ll ever forgive myself for teaming up with you.

“Probably not,” I said, brightly, “but do your best. A lifetime of failing to forgive yourself gets exhausting after a time. Now. Say what you don’t want to say.”

The dead man and its demon sighed.

AD: Will you help me?

“Certainly,” I replied. I’m not vindictive at hearts, I just don’t hear those words often enough. I aimed for a smile that wasn’t smug, but I think I missed. “Now, like all my great plans, I start with a question. How did you get in here?”

I couldn’t fail to notice the pride, in their face and also the voice.

AD: Angels and demons are mostly ideas, ones very hard to kill. My physical form has been destroyed, but, it won’t take long to form another.

“And until then, you may occupy any body of your choosing?”

AD: Alive or dead, if that’s what you mean, yes. I elected not to take yours. Far too much darkness in there. Too much one way, or the other, and it’s harder to reclaim balance when I fully return.

“Can you control the body you inhibit?”

AD: Eventually. Living ones take more time. While still corporeal, I can alter their morality, so to speak. Change an idea here and there, to act on one side or the other, until I’m finished. Then their body’s all mine. What does any of this matter? I’ll resume full form in a few minutes.

“Hold off that thought,” I said, leaning forwards eagerly. “I think I’ve got a better one.”

Angel Demon’s face, getting more solid by the passing minute, was a picture of disbelief.

“Do you think you could possess a Dalek?”

HH

Dreamer, Dead and a Demon

They don’t have hands. They don’t. Have. Hands. It had to be deliberate. A mechanical race, built without hands, would only do this deliberately. It would take time. Effort. Dedication. And they did it. As, what? Some additional, depraved and unthinkable notion of torture?

Lights are gone. Maybe they weren’t, at first, all that time ago, when we were free. Maybe each of them were left here, like I’ve been, and then the waiting starts. Perhaps they all had their hour, too.

Or they’re the failures. Or the rebels. Or the inexperienced. Not all of us are TARDIS engineers, far from it.

I kept my Q.U.A.R.K’s light pointed forwards, away from me and towards my audience. Twenty four dead bodies, each arranged in a sitting position, and in chronological order left to right in condition of decay. Contestant number one was little more than dust and bone. Early twenties still had a bit of skin and hair to them. But all of them. All of them. Stared at me. Forty eight empty, bottomless pits for eye sockets, fixed solely on me, able to last my next eternity. The dead don’t blink. There is no end to their judgement, to their scrutiny, and I forcefully suppressed an urge to vomit not wholly related to the smell, though that did hang on the air like a bad-flavoured nightmare.

But then it isn’t my first time among the dead, and certainly isn’t my first time playing host to dead Timelords – the best kind of Timelord, at that. After the first few times, you lose a sense of conduct. In an act of nerve that most would undoubtedly find shocking, I moved towards them, and started rifling through pockets.

Not to steal, I might add, there’s nothing in this universe I can’t obtain myself – excepting perhaps a happier mood when I truly need one – but in a mildly interested means of identification. Of the twenty four, there may well be someone I went to school with, or shared student accommodation with, or stood alongside during the war.

Except after several minutes of pocket digging, I had come up with no sonic screwdrivers – or any devices of any kind, most likely confiscated – two pieces of psychic paper – something in which I’ve never seen any use* – and dusty hands. Most of the clothing disintegrated upon touch, followed swiftly by the owners. Doing my best to ignore what I was inhaling, I kept moving down the line, until I reached Victim One. Dalek Elder’s first throw of the dice to have its own personal TARDIS, later reduced to a spot of target practice. Most of its clothing had rotted to rags decorating a skeleton. I leaned forwards, trying to see if anything had dropped and fallen behind, pointing the light into the darkened corner.

“GRAVE ROBBER!”

The subsequent thump was my head hitting the opposite wall. There are a limited number of reactions to a corpse shouting at you, and bodily flinging oneself backwards is, I would think, quite acceptable.

I rubbed the back of my skull, hoping the ringing in my ears would soon stop, staring deliberately at the first skeleton. Its skull was empty, caved in at the back, the jaw bone fallen into an expression of perpetual screaming. Its mouth hadn’t moved. And it was then I realised where I had heard that voice before.

“I knew it couldn’t be that easy. To kill a demon.”

HH

* Psychic paper is an admittance to laziness, or vanity. Rather than fake an invitation, go back in time and get added to the VIP list. ID cards, well, their readers can be hacked. As for masquerading as a king or ambassador of some kind, I don’t need that kind of attention.

A Snifter

A fellow in my line of anything-but-work gets to hear a lot of stories. It is impossible to pass from one section of the universe to another without hearing of whatever hero or unfavourable happened to cross it before you. There are rumours, as well, and truths blended with truths, and some tales that I don’t believe, some that I won’t.

This is one story, one…possibility, I wish without end that it is untrue. The implication, the meaning behind it, scares me more than anything I have faced – and that’s from a veteran of two intergalactic wars.

But if there is one thing a Dalek is rarely, it is wrong.

Somewhere, lost to the endless and mysterious depths of the universe, or the multiverse, or the odd pockets of life outside reality, is Gallifrey. My home. And my people. Alive again. Something that should fill me with joy and happiness without end. Not the dread crushing my windpipe and dead weight lining my innards; not to mention refuelling my hatred for the Doctor.

Not only did he kill everyone and get away with it, but unashamedly brought them back, somehow called a hero both times, and worst of all acted oblivious to what is really true.

What if the Timelords were better off dead?

And another, long-standing faithful to that religion then re-entered the room.

“YOU WILL RESUME CONSTRUCTION OF OUR TIME DEVICE.”

I hadn’t moved from sitting on the floor. Face downcast, I returned my best withering glare, with a dash of haggardness. I do genuinely feel as though I’ve gained several years, without the use of Greed( ).

“There are more things outside this reality that require concern than your attempts at time travel.”

“IRRELEVANT. YOU WILL RESUME-“

“Did you guys knew I stole the Gallifreyan archives?”

The silence that fell between us could have been measured in kilograms. I had piqued a Dalek’s interest. Or found something they didn’t know. Both are quite an achievement.

In that stillness, I plunged a hand into a deep coat pocket, and eventually extracted a tarnished hip flask. It had seen better days, though not for several years, and the lid was rusted shut. When I finally pried it loose, the odour escaping from within could have peeled the titanium off a Dreadnought*.

In cases of abject emergency, I take a snifter from this reservoir of depression. It is almost empty. I downed what was left in one shot, and waited to see if my intestines would dissolve.

They didn’t.

“It’s true,” I said, between coughs. I wiped my mouth, tasting fuel. My throat was burning, and my brain stepped out on the diving board to start swimming. “Got them out before you lot even knew they existed, I wouldn’t wonder. Don’t get me wrong, you could have stolen them and I wouldn’t give Shit One. But, I was about to turn my back on my entire race, defect from the Time War. Had to redeem myself somehow.”

Leave everyone to burn, but take the history and reading material with you. An introvert’s guide to warfare.

“Two whole sodding years went by before I could even read the damn things.” I hiccoughed, and pointed the flask vaguely in direction of the Dalek Elder. “And you wanna know what I found out?”

Daleks – upright, metallic monoliths, are not masters of non-verbal communication. Eyestalks come sans eyebrows. Head domes don’t nod. I took a ‘What?’ as given.

“That for all their legends, all their legacies and tributes, the Timelords are more blood-soaked, depraved, immoral and downright evil, than you,” another hiccough, “could ever even dream of being.”

It required multiple attempts to get back upright, but I managed it.

“Believed by most to be dead until you set the record straight, no doubt wanting a word with me, and you wonder why I’m just a little bit distracted?”

“IRRELEVANT.”

“Are you responding, or is that just your favourite word?”

“UNLESS THE TIME DEVICE IS COMPLETED, YOU SHALL NOT LIVE TO SEE THEM AGAIN.”

“I don’t want to see them again.”

“VERY WELL.”

The wall I’d been leaning against slid swiftly upwards, tilting me back into the darkened space behind it. The stench of death and decay, that I’d noticed when entering the room, rose to a eye-watering crescendo. I landed on something soft.

“IF YOU WILL NOT COMPLY, THEN YOU WILL JOIN YOUR ANCESTORS.”

Even beneath the warm blanket of mild inebriation, a shiver navigated up my spine. Odyssey had warned me about this.

“YOU HAVE ONE HOUR TO DECIDE.”

The wall slammed shut, cutting off my sight of the Dalek Elder, and my entire world became darkness and malodorous. I went to equip my sonic screwdriver, and remembered several moments too late that I’d dropped it, leaving it on the other side of the bulkhead.

And in the act of reaching for my pocket, my elbow nudged something, one that rolled away from me with the dull, echoing rattle that could only comes from bones.

“Light,” I said, feebly, hopefully. A spotlight suddenly emitted from my right sleeve. I shook it back to reveal the Q.U.A.R.K, its screen glowing brightly in a tinge of dark blue. I rolled over awkwardly and let the light fall on whatever was in the vault with me.

And then I could see.

HH

* X99 Whisky, from the breweries of Turamentuda. It starts in life as poorly refined hyper-fuel, deemed too weak to serve any respectable starship, thus repurposed and stored in vast, metal vats which eventually melt. It is ingestible, by the slightest fraction of a degree, in the same way that cyanide is technically ingestible.

HH and The Doctor

Once upon a time, there lived two Timelords of the planet Gallifrey, born of the same race, bound by ancestral blood, and entirely unknown to the other. Upon their separate journeys through life, never did their paths cross.

The first, the younger Gallifreyan, had handed to him everything he could ever need, except choice. His occupation, his personal TARDIS, his sonic screwdriver, indeed everything even down to his name, was assigned. (Incidentally, it since remains unknown to him that all of the above, including his name, weren’t merely given. They were inherited.) This Timelord became the Guardian, and served six long generations of battle and bloodshed defending the anomaly located on Silent Plains – the name known throughout the galaxy as both a planet, and a war.

The other, older and most would agree wiser  of the pair, took his destiny as his own. He did not wait for forced enrolment. He had spent every night dreaming of the stars, and distant far-flung planets, and galaxies with secrets of unutterable majesty. In his first generation, he stole – to his mind, borrowed – a TARDIS and fled his home planet, seeking adventure and exploration, and anything else in between. He was, and still is, known as the Doctor. He chose the name, himself. The one to heal, and serve, and protect.

Their lives remained their own, and widely documented elsewhere, but even after several lifetimes passed, one catastrophic event saw both their (separate) return to Gallifrey. The Time War, the greatest and deadliest war known to creation, between the Timelords and the Daleks, with no less than the fate of reality at stake. Both the Doctor and Guardian – renamed and known by now as Homeless Helper – fought for their planet, their families, their friends, and all other life forms that held their breath in outright fear of what may fall, should the Timelords fail.

And on and on the battled raged, until there was almost nothing left to lose. The Time War had left both soldiers widows, and childless, and desperate, but still they fought back against the rising Skaro Empire.

Homeless Helper was the first to retreat. Silent Plains had been far more than enough conflict for one existence, and with his loved ones lost, the weary fighter decided to defect. He refused to leave empty handed, however, wanting to retain the Gallifrey history somehow – though would soon learn just how proud his heritage is not. Homeless Helper infiltrated the Gallifreyan archives and stole every last file and record available. He left Gallifrey for the last time via a stolen TARDIS, having lost his own ship after Silent Plains. The TARDIS in question belonged to one of the very few surviving Timelords: the Doctor.

Meanwhile, the Doctor had acquired a doomsday weapon of unimaginable power, known as The Moment; a glorified bomb that would eliminate all Timelords and Daleks alike – like a gun with recoil, his enemies would fall, but not without sacrifice.

As is not written in the Gallifrey Archives, given their interruptive theft, the legend has it that the Doctor activated The Moment and ended the Time War, committing an act of genocide against the Timelords and the Daleks. There was the exception of Homeless Helper, who had already fled the battle, and regenerated into his thirteenth, and final form.

(New accounts and information prove this to be untrue; but, until a few moments ago by correction from the Dalek Elder, that is the story as HH knew it.)

Even after the Time War, their lives still remained their own; even in the midst of battle, their paths had not crossed. But, by rumour and dubious recount, word reached Homeless Helper of the Doctor’s execution of their race, and the Timelord experienced an emptiness hitherto unknown, in which roiled flames of deepest anger, and – to add to his agony – unending shame. He tried to forbade himself his anger at the Doctor’s decision when he, HH, had abandoned them, but such is the way of grief. The soul is too broken to address hypocrisy.

So the seeds of hatred towards the Doctor had been sown; and soon after came their nourishment. As he crossed the universe, encountering rescued planets and reworked timelines, HH became aware of the Doctor’s on-going existence and exploits; namely, his heroism.

The Doctor, executor to millions, the oncoming storm across reality – a good man? A hero, to many? A God, even? Yet the ex-veteran, who kept Silent Plains safe for half of his life, and fought in the Time War, and rescued the Timelord Archives, was less than a footnote when compared to the Doctor’s achievements.

In short, it came down to jealousy. A war veteran, revered. Famous, even.

It just wasn’t HH.

And now HH has a new reason to hate the Doctor.

Now Gallifrey falls no more.

R

Elder and Older

I am sitting cross-legged on a warship, owned by a sect of rebellious Daleks. Their leader, the infamous Dalek Elder, stands beside me, unable to look down but still resigned to be present. I have loops of cabling snaked around my arms, a time refractor in one hand, and a stasis field emitter in the other. My sonic screwdriver is clamped between my teeth.

I am trying to build a TARDIS.

Because I might be killed if I don’t.

Because I want to see if I can.

Because there is something I need in return.

And. Deep down. I’ve actually been enjoying myself. So rarely do I get to witness a Major Master Plan. In a universe primarily consisting of religion and politics – same thing, really – there’s fewer and fewer people whipping a sheet off a massive laser and laughing manically over thunder and lightning. Nowadays, if someone wants to do some real damage, they just need to get elected. And that’s easier than you might think.

Creating a Gallifreyan time machine, more or less from scratch however, is not. Earlier, I wiped dust, hair and dried blood off the central console. Whatever they had so far was deader than dead. A TARDIS should respond to a Timelord’s touch; one fingertip can activate the engines, lights, air conditioning, personal playlists. I brushed a panel, and it fell off.

I blew air, dusting a microchip before scrutinising it. Little smudge of metal could have come from a mobile phone, for all I knew.

“I’d like to make small talk, if that’s alright? Helps me concentrate.”

The Dalek Elder made no reply.

“Granted, small talk is usually a warning sign for awkward silences, and I’ve just outright requested it, but, you haven’t spoken in twenty three and a half minutes.”

“Twenty four.”

I tossed aside broken circuit boards and took up some computer cores from a pile beside me. A great deal of them had been shot.

“Anyway, last time I was here, you were going to tell me something. I rather halted proceedings by blasting a hole in the hull.”

Still silent, but the deeper silence of concentration.

“And seeing as I’m doing you all a favour and making you this TARDIS – though frankly I don’t see how-”

“YOU SHALL NOT FAIL.”

“Well, no, I’d prefer not to, but if I DO-”

“THEN YOU SHALL BE EXTERMINATED.”

I chucked some spark plugs at him. “How concise.” I put down the scraps of equipment, and leant back against the wall. The bigger questions in life are so often improved when sitting on the floor.

“When I was last here, I said that all other Timelords – besides outliers like me –  were wiped out.”

“YES.”

“And at the time, you said ‘No’.”

“YES.”

I resisted the urge to throw something else.

“Well?”

“INCORRECT.”

It’d be easier to have this conversation with a toaster, and that way I might get a nice sandwich out of it. “Meaning?”

“YOUR STATEMENT IS INCORRECT.”

“How?! It’s not like it’s my own interpretation, it’s universally common knowledge! The Doctor executed Gallifrey, along with all of the Timelords – with some exceptions – and all of the Daleks…with some exceptions.”

“INCORRECT.”

I scrambled awkwardly upright, knocking metal shards and machinery out the place in an orchestra of ringing. Wires uncoiled from my forearms, and my sonic dropped to the floor. I barely noticed. I had eyes only for the Dalek Elder.

My hands rose like a lecturer’s who’s about to explain art theory, and moved about in time with my words.

“Do you mean to tell me that the Timelords aren’t actually, in fact, dead?”

“CORRECT.”

“And nor is Gallifrey?”

“CORRECT.”

I glowered at the glowing red eyestalk. My lips parted, deliberately. “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, dangerously quietly. “If this is building towards some form of blackmail, or motivation, or whatever cruel joke you have concocting in that sick, pickled brain of yours, I’m calling an end to it, right now.

The Elder looked away from me, indifferent. “ALL DALEKS SHARE ACCESS TO OUR SHARED INTELLIGENCE HIVE MIND.”

“The Pathweb, sure.” My man-child predecessor Guardian used to hack nearby Dalek outposts and flood them with anti-Dalek-propaganda, namely, The Sound of Music soundtrack.

“THE PATHWEB HAS RECEIVED NEW INFORMATION. PRESENTED TO DAVROS, HIMSELF.”

I spoke through gritted teeth. “Presented by whom?”

“GUESS.”

A voice recording played into the faux-TARDIS console room. Dalek acoustics are magnificent. His words seemed to emanate as though every particle was a sound system.

My people are alive. They didn’t die. I brought them back, I found a way. Gallifrey is back in the sky. I don’t know where. I may never know. But Gallifrey is back, and it is safe. From both of us.*

The Words of the False God, himself. The Doctor, in some regeneration I did not audibly recognise.

Having only just gotten standing, I came close to dropping back down again. I put a hand against the wall, steadying myself, the other pressed to my forehead.

So this is what it feels like to have your entire world come tumbling down. It thought it’d be louder, for one thing, and possibly involve screaming during a rain-soaked night; something more dramatic than a sickening sensation of being hollowed out, from the skull downwards.

And while I was losing myself further to the deep dark maze populated by panic, fear, confusion and anxiety, I regret to admit that my secondary reaction was: since when were we allowed to have accents?

“DO YOU REQUIRE FURTHER PROOF?”

“Some privacy, preferably.”

To my utmost surprise, the Dalek Elder relented, and crossed the room towards the exit, borne aloft and elevated above the nests of cables and wires.

“FIVE MINUTES.”

Well. They are still Daleks, after all.

I slid down the wall, returned to my seated position, just as the door slammed closed. Thus, I am left isolated, and at the mercies of the most dangerous and unrelenting enemy I’ve ever encountered.

Myself.

HH

* Doctor Who S9 E3 The Witch’s Familiar.

(Dis)Respecting an Elder

Pocket. Sonic. Hack. Deep breath. Second hack.

To have a successful plan come to fruition literally took my breath away. I magnetised the floor and deactivated the shield covering the hull damage. Space moved into the bridge, howling, depthless and terrible, swallowing whatever it could in its greed. CAUSE, now consisting of just the Captain, the Owl and Spark Plug’s body, shot out into the void, before any Dalek got in another kill. Ethereal disappeared from my side. This wasn’t a version in which she stayed.

A quick flourish with the sonic, and the shield re-activated. My coat stopped behaving like a parachute in mid-fall, and I enjoyed a simultaneous deep breath and return to silence.

Well, silent, until…

“YOU HAVE NOT SAVED THEM.”

“I suppose not,” I replied, stowing the sonic away, “but equally, you haven’t killed them.”

Nobody wins. Typical result on the Gallifrey v Skaro scoreboard.

“HOW DID YOU SURVIVE?”

I knocked my boot against the edge of the platform. There came the slightest dink sound.

“Good day to wear my steel toe-caps.” I can’t admit to being prepared for every eventuality, but once you have suffered the misfortune of anything substantial landing on your toes, your shoe wardrobe shall increase by one pair.

The Q.U.A.R.K vibrated against my wrist, announcing the arrival of a message that only I could hear; primarily because I didn’t actually hear it.

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

I rubbed my forehead, as Odyssey’s telepathic voice faded back into my own. Apparently, the second phase of my plan would be a success, too. I had a future to enjoy.

For once.

Provided I avoided the word ‘ancestors’……

No further Daleks had been lost to my shield hack; those closest to the breach seemed a little confused by this…or as confused as an emotionless tank can look. Their eyestalks considered the breach, me, than back again.

I addressed the Elder and the room entire.

“So go on, then. You got me here. What happens now?” I turned and stared down the red-tinged barrel of the Elder’s eyestalk, gazing into furious hatred without blinking. “If you wanted me dead, you’d have done it by now.”

“IN GOOD TIME.”

I gathered my coat around myself. Dalek ships are freezing at the best of times; dead-pan delivery of execution sentences only serve to lower the temperature further.

My eyes trailed around the room, as good little soldiers cleared up the mess left by one rebellious CAUSE versus another.

If I were to devise a list of Things I Never Expected To See, a rebellion Dalek faction would be in there, alongside such entries as a Cyberman fashion show, or Thanos working in a pizzeria. A manufactured and mass-produced life form showing signs of defiance should be, by definition, impossible. But, even in the most sophisticated of biology, there will still be mutations. Hairline cracks in the control, and through them came Daleks that did not want to continue and serve their race’s heritage. Their wishes were a bit more…traitorous. A war between Daleks and Timelords was chaotic, yes, but Skaro civil wars are in their own league. We used to watch footage of them as children on Gallifrey. Even then, I’d rooted for the underdogs like these.

Daleks serving under the Dalek Elder had come from up and down the Skaro timeline; new-age and vibrantly-coloured death machines rumbled about alongside the typical bronze units, old faithful silver and blue ones, and even a few in gold and ivory. As though the Dalek Elder had a past-time hobby of artefact hunting.

I liked it, personally. A Dalek ship with flair and disorder, and a near-unstoppable army.

“FOLLOW.”

I shrugged, and obeyed. Walking/gliding side-by-side, the Dalek Elder and I left the bridge down the nearest corridor – unsupervised, I could not help but notice. Then again, a Dalek with two guns against a man distracted by shiny things isn’t much of a security risk.

“How goes the war?” I asked. It’s what happens when two militaristic races make small talk.

“OUR EFFORTS HAVE HALTED, SINCE YOUR INTERVENTION. OUR SHIP IS TOO DAMAGED FOR BATTLE.”

I outright refuse to apologise to a Dalek, but, I can foresee benefits to keeping a recalcitrant Dalek on my Christmas card list.

“I’d be willing to assist with repairs, if it means you get back to killing other Daleks all the sooner.”

“NOT NECESSARY. YOU HAVE BEEN SUMMONED TO SERVE A GREATER PURPOSE.”

“Catering? Payroll? Ship mascot?”

The Dalek Elder ignored my ramblings. During both my previous visit and this, the Elder admitted to researching me, and other Timelords like the Doctor and the Master. I wondered if its knowledge included that I only ramble when I’m nervous.

So the Daleks needed me, specifically. I’m not acutely aware of any mastered skillsets that would warrant them hiring someone to kidnap me. How much can Daleks want someone who can write in binary, eat limitless burritos and offer an encyclopedic knowledge of all things Discworld?

Unless it wasn’t my mind they wanted. Timelord blood alone is a harshly hunted resource across the universe. It’s one reason (of several million) why I keep moving.

Several identical corridors passed, until we reached a large, rounded door flanked by two guards. They were both Weapon Specialist Daleks. No plunger. Just one massive gun.

Clearly they protected something of great importance.

The door split apart and together, we entered a large, curved room, its design akin to being trapped beneath a gigantic bronze bowl. A tall column ran from floor to ceiling in the centre. It was completely bordered by a waist-high desk, at floor level. Black, thick cables trailed about the room, hanging off the ceiling in places like vines and creepers in the jungle.

And then I inhaled, and sharply brought my coat to cover my nose and mouth. It absolutely reeked of death. A stench of rot, remains and decay that had been left to fester. People/beings had died in this room.

And I had a good guess as to why.

I was under no illusion. I recognised the basic shape as soon as we entered, the same instinctual way of knowing a square as a square, and a Dalek as a threat. They did always have imagination, but only now did I see the extent of their tenacity.

The Dalek Elder was building a TARDIS.

HH

Choices Choices Choices

Time stopped, by my hand. It was like standing inside an abstract, three-dimensional painting.

The Captain was locked in a statuesque expression of horror at AD’s ashes that now weren’t falling. A few extermination beams hung in the air, like florescent lamps. And my hearing near collapsed to the yawning void of silence that lurks within PAUSE( ).

But I knew, somehow, that there was someone it would not affect.

“Ethereal.”

The ghost in a ball gown stood/shifted besides me, both inside and out of this reality plane.

E: “I knew this would happen.”

“Yes.”

E: “And I could not tell them.”

“No, you couldn’t. I mean, you did. Just, not here. This is the version where you keep quiet.”

E: “Yes.”

“Can I ask what happened in the one where you didn’t?”

Her eyes closed, her form became even more corporeal as she consulted the multiple variations. Parallels are not so simple as a two-forked road, decided between by way of an atlas. One divide becomes two, becomes four, becomes hundreds – infinite branches growing infinite branches. It is not an easy feat, to find the right stick.

E: “An agreement is reached. CAUSE do not return to their employer. Worthless to them, the Timelord is disposed of.”

I grimaced. Me or them. My perpetual, pertinent struggle.

“What do I do next?”

E: “I don’t know that until you decide.”

“How many variations from this point?”

Another brief silence.

E: “14,623,577…….14,623,578….”

“Pick one.”

E: “I can’t do that.”

“Yes, you can.”

E: “No, I can’t. Judge of your fate, executioner to your free will. I refuse that power.”

I nodded. “Now I see why they never asked you.”

The longer we stood there, and the more Time started to creak in complaint, I picked out extra little details in the scene surrounding us. Spark Plug, lost to the dreamless sleep. The flower bloom of a frozen explosion. A Timelord standing side-by-side with a Dalek.

We all make our choices, a wise (if misguided) man once said. But in the end, our choices make us.

“Allow me to pick one.”

Ethereal did not deny me the chance, so I went on.

“At some point in my future, I meet with the Captain, in a ruined hotel in Croatia. Does that narrow the choices down?”

E: “Hmm. By about half.”

Seven million choices. Well, it’s still less than fourteen million…

“Now pick one where I cure you of your…misfortune.”

E: “That only loses a few hundred.”

Timelord God Complex, never failing me across the parallels.

“Okay, well….er….”

“Oh, for crying out loud.”

There is only one person in existence with that much weariness to their voice. I turned and glared into the eerily familiar and recently arrived face of my future self.

“Can’t you just let me have one stupid decision?”

“I do. Constantly. Believe it or not, this is the exception.”

E: “The ancient veteran. He who would lose everything shall walk between destruction and creation, never knowing which to choose.”

Self-destruction, would be my guess.

“Haven’t forgotten me, then.”

I waved a hand between them. “No, we’re not doing the nostalgic reunion bit, not this time. What do you want?”

“What I always want, for you to get a little perspective.”

“We’re standing around a few thousand rebellious Daleks and a discounted knock-off superhero team. I think a little foresight might come in handy.”

“But do you honestly believe that’s how it works? Cherry-picking? You can’t just hone in on one particular reality because it happens to work out a little better.”

“I think I’m allowed that choice, especially as its one seldom bestowed upon others.”

“Exactly! You have humility, and yet choose to ignore it.”

“I thought you wanted me to get perspective?”

PAUSE( ) is, by nature, quite cold and gets increasingly colder as time – or lack thereof – passes.

In that particular moment, however, FutureHH’s expression could have warmed the whole room.

My future self never looked away from me. “E. Tell me something. In how many of the infinite realities will HH here end up happy?”

E: “One.”

“No, please, take longer to answer.”

Which one?”

E: “This.”

“You see? Happiness cannot be taken, HH. It isn’t some buried treasure waiting at the end of a dark forest, yours to keep forever. You need to realise it on your own.”

“Wow. Did you get that off a fortune cookie, or someone’s Instagram story? Are you telling me I wouldn’t be happy in a world where, I don’t know…nobody dies, and no-one gets hurt, and it’s free burrito day everyday?”

“A world of masochistic eternals with spicy breath. You’d get bored eventually.”

I looked to Ethereal for assistance, but found nothing there – quite literally. FutureHH stood by her translucent side, trying and failing not to look smug. There is no greater lesson than the ones from your future self, but as always, I don’t have to be pleased about it.

“Why should I be content with what I have, when I have the opportunity to choose something better?”

“Now that sounds like a true Timelord.”

And with that debilitating blow struck, FutureHH faded like Ethereal, but stayed gone. I refused to match her gaze.

“Fine, then,” I growled.

Pause) (

HH

A Good CAUSE

I know, in my hearts of hearts, that I wasn’t going to let it happen. Yes, CAUSE had kidnapped me, and yes, they were rude and obnoxious and not my typical type of companion. But, they’d also been lied to by the Daleks, and acted in the name of what they think is right.

Thousands of Timelords, including me, are guilty of that.

And hatred wins when we can’t forgive.

I know that I had a hand partway to my coat’s inner pocket, a meagre distance away from my sonic screwdriver. I know I had a plan to simultaneously deactivate the force field and magnetise the floor. CAUSE would fly into space, myself and the Daleks would not, and whenever I get back to Odyssey, we nip back in time and catch CAUSE. Meanwhile past/present me can chat with the Dalek Elder and finish the discussion that had been interrupted the first time a hole appeared in the hull.

I document that plan for two reasons. a) because I’m rather pleased with it, and b) because I didn’t get to use it.

CAUSE didn’t know that. They thought I was going to allow it, possibly because it’s what they would have done. They didn’t know that my fingertips had just reached my inner pocket, millimetres from my sonic and a more-than-decent plan coming to fruition. And they never would know, for in that moment, CAUSE then suddenly…erm…assembled activated rolled out went for it.

The Captain switched from unarmed to sceptre-wielding with no break in-between, and whatever power the weapon harnessed, its energy beams reduced the closest Daleks to screaming, steaming heaps. Spark Plug seemed to be able to summon explosions with his finger tips – which sort of made sense. Unnamed Owl and Angel Demon both made transformations, one of them hilarious and one of them really not. The only fighter I couldn’t see was Ethereal, as to be expected, but she played her role beautifully. Daleks at random were being pushed along the curve of constants to variables. There were five foot tall pepper pots suddenly standing about the place.

Yes, there were also wheelie bins.

And the battle raged, with myself and – I noticed – the Dalek Elder doing nothing but observing, while their rag-tag band of misfits went on strike. Shards of exploded Dalek and dripping bits of tentacle went flinging across the bridge. The Captain reduced them, Spark Plug broke them, Ethereal converted them, Angel Demon tore at them with gigantic claws and talons, flapping about the place with their demonic wings, and the owl, well, offered moral support.

UO: “HOO!”

Not often such rousing battle cries come from a mouth with a beak.

And while I watched this chaotic conflict, with more and more Daleks arriving from other adjoining corridors, I admit I did feel a slight sliver of hope. CAUSE were holding their own, and that in itself was impressive. My own track record of ‘Daleks destroyed in under a minute’ had been utterly shat upon.

But, I was still being buried beneath pessimism. Cos y’see, the Daleks don’t give up. They don’t get tired. They don’t get injured, they get replaced. I know first hand that to fight them is to stand against an unstoppable force. It is an exercise in futility that I gave up a lifetime ago.

Conveniently right in the middle of the Time War…

“EXTERMINATE.”

I’d heard it hundreds of times already, the air couldn’t move for their belligerent shouting, but this one was different. Calmer, slightly quieter, even a bit matter-of-fact. Casual. The Dalek Elder casually chose to partake after all, firing upon the team like someone absent-mindedly swatting at a fly.

A beam erupted from both its guns and struck down Spark Plug.

CAUSE stopped to watch their comrade drop lifelessly to the floor, and in that moment of hesitation, the Dalek Elder EXTERMINATEd Angel Demon as well.

The death of an angel and the death of a demon are two wildly different things. One falls, the other rises; and AD didn’t hit the ground. Angel Demon erupted and vanished, in flames of the holiest white light. Shadows were cast, that moved and snarled, then, out like a spark.

PAUSE( )

HH