|Out of the Dark
Author: AstroGirl PM
Jenny finds the limits of the universe, and keeps right on going. Spoilers for seasons 3 and 4 of New Who.Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure/Sci-Fi - Jenny - Doctor's Daughter - Words: 4,505 - Reviews: 21 - Favs: 58 - Follows: 8 - Published: 12-01-08 - Status: Complete - id: 4689848
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
OUT OF THE DARK
It was possible, Jenny thought as she ran through the flaming wreckage of the Overlord's fortress, that she'd saved this particular planet a little too enthusiastically. At this rate, there was no way she was going to make it to the exit before the fire reached the nightmarish arsenal in the basement and sent this entire place sky high.
Right, then. Time for a Plan B. Jenny executed a ninety-degree turn without breaking stride and dashed for the laboratory from which she'd so recently escaped. And, there it was, right where she remembered it: the infamous time corridor device the Overlord had insisted on boasting about at such tedious length. It didn't look like much, more like a metal doorframe with no door attached than anything, but if it worked half as well as that megalomaniac seemed to think it would, it would do as an escape route. Of course, she'd got the distinct impression from his speech that he hadn't quite worked all the kinks out of it as far as setting destinations went, but as long as it could send her far enough into the future that this fire had burned itself out, she wasn't feeling terribly choosy.
She slammed her fist down on the control panel's big green "on" button -- very handy, that; she'd have thanked the old villain for his thoughtful labeling if he were here rather than being locked up by his former subjects -- and it rewarded her with a cheerful humming noise. A moment later, the nothingness inside the doorframe swirled into a shimmering gray somethingness. That seemed like a good sign. The way the cheerful humming kept on getting louder and shriller and less cheerful, however, didn't. Nor did the way the power readouts on the console quickly turned red, shot off the scale, and started blinking frantically. Must be some sort of problem with the electrical system.
Oh, well. Nothing for it. She'd just have to consider it yet another adventure, even if it turned out to be her last one. Jenny took a few steps back, then, with a wide grin and a bouncing ponytail, hurled herself towards the device in a flat-out run.
She found the experience of travelling in time interesting, at least at first. Her stomach lurched a bit, and her skin tingled in a not entirely pleasant way, but even though she was surrounded by nothing but shimmering gray emptiness, she still felt a strange sense of movement. It was almost as if she could feel moments passing, somewhere outside this little sheltered passage through time. Like a million clocks in the distance, ticking too fast. Like causes and effects and possibilities were swirling all around her, and she could feel them as gentle currents against her skin. For a while, she was fascinated by the sensation. Then she started to get used to it, and after a while it became downright boring. She wondered how long this was supposed to take, if that question even meant anything when you were essentially outside time.
And then, just as she was beginning to wonder whether she'd made a very serious mistake and was going to spend the rest of her life falling through time, something shifted. The gray nothingness abruptly gave way to black nothingness, and she found herself instinctively adjusting her balance as the emptiness beneath her feet suddenly became a surface.
She spun in a quick circle, eyes scanning for light, ears alert for sounds of approach or danger, but there was nothing. It was quieter here than it had been in the void of the time corridor, and the sense of movement and meaning had yielded to a deep and utter stillness, as if not only had she ceased to move through time, but time itself had ceased to pass.
Jenny reached into a pocket -- left leg, third from the top -- and pulled out a torch. One thing she'd learnt very quickly about the whole planet-saving business was that it was a lot easier if you made a point of carrying a few useful tools and gadgets. Switching on the light beam revealed the surface of a planet. Or possibly a moon... She bounced up and down a bit on her toes. Planet-sized gravity field, anyway. Lots of rocks. Lots and lots of rocks. And a few scraggly, scrubby plants that looked as if they'd been dead a good, long time.
She suddenly realized that she was shivering slightly, which was interesting. She was, as far as she could tell, much more impervious to cold than most people. Even on that planet where everybody'd gone around wearing electrically heated suits, she hadn't been more than a little uncomfortable. It must be terribly cold here if she was noticing it. And there was something else... She switched the light off and stared into the sky. No, she hadn't been mistaken: there were no stars visible in the sky. They could be hidden by clouds, she supposed, but the air was so dry that it didn't seem likely.
Cold and dead, silent and starless. Jenny shook her head. "Some power surge," she said, wonderingly. "I think it sent me right to the end of the universe!"
Perfect darkness swallowed up her words.
She went exploring. It was a natural impulse, and it wasn't as if there were anything else to do.
She followed the shores of a dead, dry ocean, its former coastline strewn with the crumbling remains of cities and roads. Nothing moved, except for the occasional dry breath of wind, and her torch remained, as far as she could tell, the only glimmering of light on the planet.
Giving up on the shore after a while, she turned inland and encountered what was left of a primitive encampment -- little enough that she might not have noticed it, if it weren't for the piles of skeletons. Human, she would have thought, except that most of them had sharply pointed teeth. Judging by the knife marks on the bones, she suspected they'd turned to cannibalism before the end, which was equal parts disgusting and sad, but there was hardly anything she could do about it now.
Nearby she found the entrance to a vast system of caverns, home to ruins markedly different from any on the surface, but still every bit as dead. A little beyond that, behind a fence made mostly of rust, lay a structure better preserved than most. Inside, there were even a few machines that appeared more or less intact, although she doubted they'd functioned for a very long time. Jenny hadn't been born with much knowledge of technology, other than weapons systems and defenses, but she was a quick learner, and she'd seen a lot since the day she left Messaline. From the looks of things, she'd say that someone had built a spaceship here, but the silo that must have housed it was empty now of anything but dust. She hoped that whoever they were, they'd found somewhere in the starless sky to go.
She did discover one who hadn't made it, a creature that had once been as much insect as humanoid, but was now only a dry, fragile husk. "I wonder what your story was?" Jenny said softly as she looked down at it, but of course there was no answer, only the ever-present stillness.
Following a sudden, melancholy impulse, she bent down next to the body and softly began to speak words that she'd known since birth: rites for a fallen soldier, brief and solemn. After all, whatever this creature had been, whatever it had done, it had clearly fought against the darkness. As far as she was concerned, that qualified it as a comrade.
Jenny wandered on. She was beginning to hate this place a little. It was so sad and empty. No one to talk to, nothing to fight, nothing to run from. Nothing left any more that she could help to make better. It was sort of interesting to explore the ruins, to try to imagine the lives of the people who'd once lived here, but it was a dull sort of interesting, the kind that required nothing from her.
Also, she'd eaten the last of her ration bars (right trouser pocket, second from the top), and while the occasional patches of ice she came across kept her thirst in check, she wasn't sure how long she could go without food. She'd never really tested that yet.
One place being much the same as another, she simply moved about at random. Or so she thought, until she suddenly stood in front of something that didn't belong here any more than she did and realized with a shock that every step she'd taken had inevitably led her here. This thing had been calling her, and until now she hadn't even been aware that she was hearing it, hadn't even known that the part of her that it was calling existed.
It looked ordinary enough: a small storage structure of some sort, nestled among a hundred others just like it. Except the others had all decayed to ruin and rust, and this one still looked fresh and new, as if its builders had only just left. And it hummed. Jenny wasn't sure whether she was hearing it with her ears or with whatever part of her mind had heard it calling, but it was unquestionably real.
She reached out to touch it, and a door opened beneath her hand.
It was bigger inside than the outside, a fact which interested Jenny but didn't particularly surprise her; she'd seen enough on her travels already to have a broad notion of what was physically possible. The interior was really quite pretty, in a starkly technological kind of way, all done up in gleaming shades of black and grey and silver.
Dead in the middle sat a multi-sided structure covered in dials and switches and screens, with what looked like a sort of abstract metal sculpture seated atop a column at the center. She stepped towards it, letting the door close noiselessly behind her. The ship's control console, she realized suddenly, a little surprised at how certain of that she felt. This was a ship, and more than that, it was alive. She could feel it, somewhere in the back of her mind where the humming was. It was alive, and it could feel her feeling it, and it was desperately glad to see her. It recognized her, or some part of her, and it had been so very, very lonely...
"Oh, you poor thing," she said, resting a hand gently on the console. "Well, it's all right now. I'm here." She'd have felt a bit silly, talking to it like that, except that she could feel that loneliness easing as she spoke.
For the first time since she'd arrived in this place, she smiled.
It didn't take long to find the manual, tucked away tidily in a sliding drawer beneath the console, but understanding it was another matter entirely. This ship seemed fantastically complex, far and away the most advanced technology she'd ever encountered. But she had plenty of time to figure it out; there was food here, and water, and warmth, and everything else she'd need to keep herself going long enough to puzzle out anything at all. She could feel the ship -- a TARDIS, the manual called it -- nudging her helpfully now and then, too, although she needed it less than she would have expected, as if many of the principles involved came to her perfectly naturally.
After several days of cheerful research, she stumbled across the explanation for that strange affinity, buried deep in the instructions: a single phrase in a section so dull that she'd barely been skimming it. "...the Time Lord operating the capsule..." Time Lord! Jenny jumped to her feet, sending the pillow she'd been lounging on flying across the console room. "Time Lord!" she said, grinning, almost dancing with delight. "Time Lord! That's me! I'm a Time Lord!"
The TARDIS hummed louder, that warm sense of recognition she always got from it swelling and flickering in her mind. She almost had the feeling that it was dancing with her, even hugging her. It was a little like the way she'd imagined it would feel if she ever found her dad again. Like she'd found a member of her family.
After that, she kept extra-alert for anything that might offer her more knowledge about her father's people, about this ship that they had built and how it had ended up here, all alone. But she uncovered frustratingly little. The manual seemed to assume that you knew all about where TARDISes came from and who was expected to fly around in them. And whoever the previous inhabitant -- inhabitants? -- had been, they'd left very few traces. A black-and-silver bedroom that looked as if it might never have been slept in. A few machines whose function Jenny could barely guess at. Endless empty rooms that left her with the distinct impression that whoever had lived here, they had never found the time to move in properly.
One thing she did learn, half through whatever connection the TARDIS had made with her mind and half through what she could understand of its diagnostic readouts, was that the ship had been damaged when it was abandoned here. Damaged fighting, or in the journey, or some other way, Jenny couldn't tell. But it had been sick, and here in this burned-out, low-energy place, it had taken a very long time to heal. How long, she didn't know, and wasn't sure it would mean very much to her if she did; where she came from, all of history had lasted only seven days, and however long the TARDIS had been here, it had clearly been much, much longer than that.
She got the impression from it sometimes that perhaps it had gone just a little mad in all that loneliness, but she liked to think that she was offering it a stable influence. She'd never been a stable influence before.
Jenny constantly interspersed her studies of the TARDIS systems with experiments, half of them careful and methodical, half based entirely on sudden, urgent desires to see what a particular switch or button might do if she pressed it like this.
And finally, she must have combined the two approaches in just the right way, because in an eye blink the cold, dead world around them was gone, and they were free.
They travelled through what must be the Time Vortex described in the manual for a week before Jenny figured out how to land, but she didn't particularly mind. Naked, the Vortex was infinitely more colorful and interesting than the inside of the time corridor had been. In a strange way, it almost felt... homey.
But landing, once she figured out how to do it, was brilliant. She had no idea where she was, but there was a whole robot army to defeat.
She grew skilled at takeoffs and landings quickly after that, but accurate navigation took considerably longer. That was all right, though; she had many of her most interesting experiences in places she hadn't actually meant to visit. And travelling about through time and space was so much fun -- at least twice as much fun as travelling in space alone. There were so many interesting planets to visit, so many interesting species to meet. Jenny enjoyed talking with new people, playing with them, helping them out if they happened to be in the middle of being invaded. (She'd noticed that invading planets seemed to be something of a favorite pastime across the universe. This wasn't something she really understood, unless perhaps the invaders were doing it for the thrill and the challenge. She'd tried suggesting to a few of them that high-impact exercise and simulated war games might satisfy those urges in a more acceptable manner, but they'd only looked at her blankly. Oh, well. Their loss.)
In between adventures, she continued to experiment with the TARDIS, exploring its capacities as systematically as she explored the universe haphazardly. She found the weapons systems early on, when she managed to blow up a (fortunately uninhabited) asteroid, mostly by mistake. She spent twenty minutes beaming happily at the beautiful light show, then carefully locked the armament controls down so that it couldn't happen again. It wasn't as if they were necessary. She'd done surprisingly well without using much in the way of weapons so far.
She liked mapping out the TARDIS's limits, too, testing how far it could go. There seemed to be no limit to its range in space, but she discovered that getting too close to the beginning of the universe provoked an awful lot of warning lights and alarms. As for the future, well, she'd gone as far in that direction as she cared to. If there was anything left after the darkness in which she'd found the ship, she wasn't interested in seeing it.
More interesting than the exploration of multi-dimensional back-and-forth travel, though, was the discovery that there were certain trajectories through space and time that the TARDIS seemed to find natural and easy, places and times that she'd swear it wanted to be... and other routes along which it had to be coaxed and pushed. The manual said some unhelpfully obscure things about the topography of time, about fixed events and events in flux, about knots and scars left in places where the fabric of reality had been damaged. Well, never mind the manual. She learned better by doing, anyway. And, in doing, she discovered something very, very interesting.
Probably no one would ever know it was there if they weren't deliberately looking for anomalies. The first few times she encountered it, Jenny herself didn't quite realize what she'd found. But after enough exploratory excursions, the pattern became unmistakable. An entire section of the universe -- an almost perfect five-dimensional hyper-sphere -- appeared to be gone. The TARDIS couldn't see it, couldn't give her information about it, didn't even seem to be able to acknowledge its existence. If she input coordinates that logically ought to have been inside the walled-off area, it would react as if she'd fed it nonsense. If she tried to manually steer it through, it would simply slide off like mercury off polished glass, and then act as if wherever it ended up was exactly where it had been ordered to go. It was weird.
Weird, but not nearly as interesting, or as much fun, as visiting new planets and getting captured and escaping and tricking bad people into blowing up their own superweapons, and all the other things that tended to happen to her on a good day. So for subjective months at a time she'd forget all about it, only coming back to it again when she was between adventures and bored.
She might eventually have given up on it entirely, if she hadn't found the hole.
Jenny stepped closer to the scanner projection, her lips parted slightly in amazement. For the first time, she could see the barrier, as if the damage had somehow made it more real. It was rather pretty, actually, all shimmery like the cloth spun by the insects on that planet with the evil computer. But the hole... Jenny shuddered. No, "hole" wasn't quite the right word. Wound, that described it better. The wound was dark and ragged and hard to look at, and it gave the strong impression that something obsessively determined had thrown itself repeatedly, dementedly against this one small spot until reality itself had finally yielded and torn.
Jenny had no idea what sort of creature could do that, nor could she tell whether whatever it was had been breaking in or breaking out. She did know that it frightened her, though. Very few things genuinely frightened her. It was really quite exciting.
She hit the switch that would take her through the breach. It seemed like the natural thing to do.
Passing through proved to be almost anticlimactically easy. Whatever had made the hole had clearly done all the work, and though she could feel the TARDIS's confusion at the situation, it had little trouble navigating through a hole it could plainly see. From the other side, there was no sign that either barrier or hole had ever existed, but a rapid check of the TARDIS's readouts reassured Jenny that it remembered the path it had just flown. Which meant they should be able to get out again. But not, of course, until she'd had a little look around.
She touched another switch, and the scanner view swelled to a three hundred and sixty degree projection. Jenny could see darkness, speckled with stars, and... Hang on, what were those bursts of light? Explosions? She zoomed in once, then again. Yes, some of those flashes, far in the distance, were exploding spaceships. And some of them -- much, much farther -- were exploding stars.
Jenny was still blinking a little at this extraordinary sight when the communications console chimed.
"Attention, Type 93 travel capsule! Attention, Type 93 travel capsule!" That must be meant for her; she'd seen that model number on the TARDIS manual. "Hold where you are! By authority of the Second Division Director for this sub-quadrant, you are commanded to make no attempt to move along any spatiotemporal axis until your identity has been confirmed. We are scanning your ident transponder now. Hold!"
"All right, all right," said Jenny, although she hadn't bothered to hit transmit. "I'm holding." She rolled her eyes and impatiently tapped her fingers on the TARDIS console.
"Identity scan confirmed." The voice was different now, the arrogant authority replaced with a tinge of nervous uncertainty . "My apologies, Master. We weren't expecting you here. We'd been told that you had, uh... left."
Master? The title -- or was it a name? -- meant nothing to Jenny, but she felt something tickling in the back of her mind as she heard it, an odd, distant combination of affection and abandonment and fear that faded quickly, as almost all of the stray sensations she felt through her connection to the TARDIS did. It had known this person, then. Probably its former pilot. Clearly the man who was talking to her knew him, too. And surely that meant... "You're a Time Lord!" she exclaimed into the comm link.
"Of course I'm a Time Lord!" Now the voice was offended, and suspicious. "Who is this? If you're not the Master, what are you doing with his TARDIS?"
"Oh, this thing?" She patted the console affectionately. "I found it. Whoever this Master of yours is, he doesn't seem to take very good care of his things. It had been all alone for, oh, centuries, probably. I figure finders, keepers, right?" She had learned that phrase on a brief visit to 20th-century Earth, and had liked the sound of it.
"Who are you?" the voice demanded.
She thought that perhaps she ought to be asking the same thing, since whoever it was had kept himself hidden from her sensors through the whole conversation, but she supposed that she was the one most out of place here. "My name is Jenny," she said. "I'm a Time Lord, like you. Maybe you know my dad? He's called the Doctor. And I'm..." She paused, her gaze lifting back to the scanner display. In the distance, the explosions were slowly petering out; clearly someone had lost. Far behind them, another star swelled and died a death that could not possibly be natural. She remembered what her father had said about the war, about his people being gone. It occurred to her for the first time to wonder how anything could be lost forever if you had a time machine, the question and the answer both coming into her mind at once. All that time spent exploring it, and she'd finally discovered what the barrier was.
She didn't even need to think about what to say next. "I'm here to help."
"I... see. Can you fight?" he sounded dubious now, and a little desperate. Even if she hadn't already known which side was losing, it would be painfully obvious from the tone of the man's voice.
"Can I fight? " She threw back her head and grinned. "I was born to fight!" Her hands danced lightly over the console, removing the protective cover she'd placed over the weapons controls, testing them for readiness. She could feel her hearts pounding, pulses throbbing wildly in her ears. The old familiar excitement of battle, and yet entirely new, because his was her fight at last. Her own people, making their desperate, glorious last stand. Perhaps she could make a real difference, change history, prevent whatever cataclysm had put that haunted look in her father's eyes. But even if she couldn't, then she could see the end out with them, could go down fighting like the soldier she was bred to be.
Except... Except she also remembered the way Dad had looked when she'd called him a soldier, when she'd suggested they were alike in that. Once remembered, the image became impossible to shake.
Jenny closed her eyes and swallowed, then slowly replaced the cover on weapon controls, locking them out again for good. Over the comms, the Time Lord was droning on about procedures for reporting to his superiors. She cut him off with a gentle tap on the speaker button.
"Yes," she said, her voice quietly focused and calm. "I will want to talk to your superiors. I have a new plan for them. We're not going to fight. We're going to run."
Hanging quietly in space, Jenny watched on the scanner as the last of the fugitive TARDISes pushed itself through the rift and carefully deployed the device that would seal it up behind them.
Not many of them had made it: perhaps a hundred TARDISes, in all, a few thousand Time Lords. But they were alive, and they were free, and they were as safe as anybody ever was in this marvelously, excitingly dangerous universe.
She simply couldn't wait for the chance to show her dad what she'd brought him.